Sunday, December 14, 2008

The 500 Blows

What is below is tonight's exercise. Let's see if I can start and abandon a story everyday after 500 words. I have started doing push-ups, 10 at a time. 500 words a day seems alright, especially if they don't have to go anywhere.


Khatri's boys were doing the decent thing by helping out with the neighborhood watch group. Earlier, there had been talks about requiring volunteers from each house. “Drivel,” Tham Bahadur had said. Members of the Committee had been stunned. If Tham Bahadur objected to it, what need was there for anybody else to agree to the idea? It was November already, and the nights were getting colder.

It had been agreed that Khatri's boys could become full time watchmen for the neighborhood. They had been good. The older boy had beaten a junkie to a pulp after being stabbed in the shoulder when a handful of junkies were caught trying to pry loose Bhimsen's water-pump. Even the younger boy was brave enough. Kasaju's daughter in law had stormed into the lane wailing one night not too long ago, when three motorcycles had followed her from her office, trying to kick her green scooter off the road, whooping and yelling obscenities at her.

The younger boy had pushed his bamboo baton into the spokes of a motorcycle's front wheels. There had been witnesses, by now standing at their windows, who saw the bike skid along the road, sending off bright sparks. When neighbors came to defend Kasaju's daughter in law, carrying their canes spiked with nails and naked khukuris, two motorcycles fled, leaving behind two badly bruised men. Their motorcycle was promptly put on fire, and men beat the outsiders senseless before shaving their heads and rubbing the carbon from old batteries on their faces.

Tham Bahadur hadn't gone out into the street that night. He had made no effort to stop the mob either. It had been a difficult few days for him at the office afterwards because one of the outsiders turned out to be the nephew of a policeman from another district. “Where were you when this was happening right outside your window?” the policeman had asked, pushing his face closer to Tham Bahadur.

Because he had to stand in attention while addressing a senior policeman, Tham Bahadur had clenched his jaws and stared at a point in the ceiling just above the flag as he answered. “This wasn't happening right outside my window, sir,” he had said evenly. “More like three houses away. And I was sound asleep.”

“Don't mock me, Tham Bahadur,” the policeman had said, spitting anger with every word. That was a while ago. Karki's boys had continued to patrol the neighborhood. Tham Bahadur found the sound of their bamboo canes tapping on the pavement very comforting. If they were out doing their job, he could sleep in peace. Occasionally, the older boy would blow on his whistle or make a whooping sound, like the sounds Tham Bahadur had made in the jungles in Nayadada as a boy. Sometimes, his aching back would wake him in the early morning hours, and he would wait for the whooping and tapping to approach from the Ganesh temple end of the lane. His warm bed made it easier to imagine the company of many absent loves, and knowing that Khatri's boys were within earshot made him feel less lonely until sleep returned.

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