Short stories based on extracts from 'Tales from the attic'

Marri's World| Marri's World II | Marri's World III

Marri's World

Thoroughly pampered and spoilt by my bodyguards, Xamai and my great grandaunt, while my mother lay in bed, I grew up given to tantrums and wilful behaviour. Once I threw a tantrum in the crowded market of Margao, where my parents had taken me to a doll shop. I remember my father leading me by the hand through a row of shops until we came to a brightly lit shop lined with dolls. It had the strange look of a cemetery lined with colourful coffins. It had dolls with eyes of all colours blue, grey, green, honey brown and amber. So also, the shades of hair were mesmerising, red, straw yellow, peat brown, silvery white, gold and silver. Most of the dolls wore dainty clothes in pastel and floral designs trimmed with lace. Yet like an oddity in that beautifully arrayed tableau of lovely queens, there was a different doll. Placed in the fourth row, was the odd doll that hypnotised me. It was dressed in bright colours and drew instant attention. I went closer. It wore a red chequered shirt. I drew very close.
"Hampri" I said. "Look at that hampri. I want that hampri."
It reminded me of Jose. "I want it now, now, now."
My tantrum had begun. Mai tried to distract me with her usual, "See, you will burn in hell...Marri, God will punish you."
A small crowd of shoppers had gathered. But mai's admonitions had little impact. Meanwhile pai had disappeared. Mai went on with her Santa Fe's. A little while later pai returned and bought the hampri. I was ecstatic. I played with it on the front seat as pai drove back in the blue snouted carreira. Mai was very glum on the journey and pai was too busy alternating between the driver and cash collector. None of us spoke.
A month later mai went to fetch sweet potatoes. Having picked a few from the surface, she buried her hand deeper into the loose sand to get some more fresh ones. Something flat and pokey touched her groping hands. She seized an edge and pulled it out, suspecting it to be something missing from the house. The battered hampri doll emerged dripping with sand. It had been smashed flat with a rolling stone and painted over with a red crayon.
”Marri, Marri," mai called from the dispensa. I was in the sala on my swing, recovering from my seventh convulsion. The recovery had taken longer than usual and there were apprehensions that the leeches had entered my head through my ears. Jose was asking me to play his game again and mai’s call came as a saviour.
I ran to where she was squatting on the floor with a woven bamboo container: she had sweet potatoes in one hand and the smashed hampri doll in the other.
"Who did this?" she asked angrily, shaking the flattened doll like a puppet. Some sand grains coursed down as she did so. Sucking on my upper lip, I looked down.
"Don't you say anything to her, she is just recovering," said Xamai rising from her prayers.
"She is a saint for you only. Why don't you keep her on the mantelpiece with your gods," mai retorted.
When pai came home that evening, she showed him the doll.
Mai always quoted this incident as an instance of the indulgence that had spoilt me.
"There is no need to indulge her, buying her unwanted luxuries even when you have to borrow money." "Now suffer the effect of your indulgence!" "She has smashed the doll and painted it with her red crayon." "What a horror!" She was to repeat it ad nauseam. "Spoil the girl, buy the hampri."
I was caned for the second time. The welts swelled liked thick red caterpillars on my palms. Coincao placed the ground cumin-seed poultice on the welts the whole night to lessen the pain.
I had felt no pain at that time. Only an ache and dullness.

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Marri's World - II

The following week, Mai took me to visit a doctor in Margao. On the way Tia Amalia met us and the three of us went to the clinic near the old Market on the first floor of a building called Arcadia. The floorboards creaked as you walked up the stairs. There were a number of patients waiting outside. Most of them were accompanied by two or three others. There was a young man who seemed as if he could not hold his head up. He kept biting at his tongue in an attempt to steady his head. Another dark girl with curly hair kept dribbling saliva in a steady stream. She had a glazed expression and yellowed uneven teeth. The woman by her side gripped her hand firmly as if to prevent her from running away. There was another middle-aged man with the most sorrowful eyes, seemingly sunken beneath his thick-knit brows in pools of dark shadows. The man and woman with him stared at each other vacantly.
The doctor had had to go for an emergency to the Hospicio, reported the attendant who entered my name in the register.
"You might have to wait awhile. A patient tried to commit suicide," he said, "and the doctor had to rush off."
"Suicide, suicide," repeated the young man nodding his head.
The man with the sorrowful eyes seemed resigned to his situation. His chaperones started discussing how the doctor was always busy and whether it might take all evening. The dark girl tried to free her hand
and get away it seemed. The young boy was lost in his attempt to hold his head high.
One of the chaperones started to converse with Mai. "The doctor is very good," she said. "She has studied medicine in Portugal and Germany. My son was born like this," she motioned to the young man trying to hold his head up. The young man gave a glassy look in her direction and moved his lips to say something. A little saliva dribbled down at the corner of his lips. "But he was very violent," she continued softly. "We used to have to lock him up or chain him. With her treatment, he has sobered down." The man continued to attempt to hold his head up. He ran his tongue over the slightly scruffy growth of down on his upper lip, leaving a trial of frothy saliva.
'"Who is the patient?" she asked Mai. Mai motioned towards me: "My daughter," she said. I looked down from the balcony. The sunlight was strong. A jumble of wires criss-crossed the street forming a web. The traffic on the road below was noisy. Hoots, clangs, the roar of tyres and the noise of crowds drifted up. It was then that an officious looking lady with thick glasses, bright red lipstick and blue sari bustled in with a portman
teau. We awaited our turn to see her.
Mai explained to her my history of convulsions, my constipated state, the tantrums, the Marri encounter and the episode of the smashed hampri doll. The lady with the red lipstick listened with a mask-like demeanour and wrote a prescription of medicines. Gadinal, Agarol and Calmpose sleeping tablets were prescribed for the next few months.
I was not sent to school, nor did I suffer the privilege of being taught at home. By this time, I had acquired two bodyguards -- Xamai and Thette. There was always the slight hint of a rivalry between them. This armoured claws-in-hand situation resulted in my being pummelled from one to another with such force and vigour that when I fell on my nose too many times , it had injured and dented my nasal bone giving me
a funny Roman nose. It was Avo who later tried to repair the damage. There was a funny black mole at the exact spot where my torsal bone ended and another where the nasal cartilage began which was to be the site of the crater a result of the many wars between Thette and Aninha. When Thette won her side of the battle I fell on my nose and the bump left a sharper point with each fall, when Aninha my Xamai won, I bumped my head.
Thette loved to tell me stories. I could listen to the magic of her ancient voice all night. Her voice carried the whisper of the monsoon, the creaking of ancient trees, the gurgle of the Sal and the heat of the fields in the month of May. Xamai would always try to wrest me away from her. I had to be bathed I bad to have the fitt-fitto soup or the mix of honey and the leafy powders that the Vaid had brought hidden in his cap for me. Sometimes I juried in favour of Thette by throwing a tantrum and won, but most times they pulled me in either direction.
Childhood companionship was provided by domestic helpers, children of wage workers who laboured on the fields under Mai's supervision. Often they brought their own troubled experiences into my life. One night, many years before I was born, as Thette was walking home in the gloaming a couple arrived from down south. They had a small child with them and looked bedraggled and hungry. They told her in a singsong version of Konkani that they had come from across several rivers and needed a place to stay. They were willing to sell themselves into bondage for a place to stay, they said. Thette needed workers to work on the fields but the idea of bondage appalled her. She took them home and Coincao served them black tea and some bread. They seemed very hungry for they ate the bread dipped in sweetened black tea in a great hurry and then polished off the crumbs. They told her they had made a long journey, and had not had much to eat on the way.
They fed the baby some sweetened milk which Coincao had warmed up. Then they told her their story.

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Marri's World - III

Their names were Parvati and Naga. They were from Karnataka. Naga was a Honded labourer who had worked for a Brahmin landowner. The Brahmin's wife had run away with him unable to bear his tyranny. Naga was in his early twenties while the woman seemed older. For three days the Brahmin landlords searched for him in the hovels where the bonded labourers.had lived. They came with torches at night and forced open doors, kicked the women and asked for the dog that had kidnapped the Brahmin's wife.
But Naga had by then entered the Dandeli forest where he was sheltered by the Siddhi tribals. '
A week later he heard that his aged parents and younger sister had all perished in the blaze after the bustee where lived had been torched.
They crossed over to Karwar, heard from the travellers on the ferry that Goa was a good place to work and ended up in Carmona ragged and dirty. They had a child, and needed a place to stay, so Thette was able to bargain for cheaper wages. They quietly settled in the non-descript and safe environs of Carmona. Who could have imagined, that a landless labourer who had stolen a Brahmin's wife, a double-dealing 'promiscuous' Brahmin woman, in caste-ridden Karnataka, would survive? But in Carmona they did. They both worked as daily wage workers doing odd job. In the course of time they had twelve children who lived with them in a hovel at the end of the village.
As the family expanded the priest took it upon himself to integrate
them into the Christian environment of the village. "How many children can one allow to be born out of wedlock and live in sin?" he argued. Moreover, he feared that their morals were beginning to have a detrimental effect on the young men in the village. Soon he had found godparents all over the village who taught them Catholic ways and prayers in preparation for baptism. He came one evening and asked 'Mai to take one of these new Catholics under her wing. My mother declined but Coincao volunteered to do it.
And so Khoniji one of their younger sons, became Coincao's godchild. He came to our house often to learn prayers. She sat with him for long hours with the Konkani catechism leaflet trying to teach him the Commandments and the ways of the Lord. I was only five then and he was twelve but he found it very difficult to remember them and Coincao always said that I had learnt it before him. After his baptism, he was called Jose and came to work as a domestic assistant at home, running errands and doing odd jobs in the house. In hisfree hours he played with me: With dolls. With shells. Or house, house.
Sometimes he sat by me on the floor as I sat on the mat and painted on my magic-painting books, depicting scenes of Brygin in Bergen. "Look, Jose it's magic," I exclaimed, as I trailed the wet brush across the outlines which sprouted colour as the water seeped into the paper. Sometimes we located the snake in the foliage in the puzzle books, or he simply listened to stories I invented about kings and queens, the imprisoned princess, and explained them to him as I turned the pages .
of Tio Xavier's books on the revolutions. They did not have many pictures but pages of endless text. I pretended I could read and Jose, quite cowered down by my prowess at catechism, believed I could.
The princesses in my stories were always sad. They always wore white petticoats. One day we were sitting under the round table with a thick book. The rain dribbled on the tiles drowning, out other noises and the torrent of accumulated water gushed down on the tin gogo making a din as it leapt down on the laterite stones below. I was on the twenty-first page which as I explained to Jose had one line:
The princess wore a long dress. But Jose wasn't listening. He seemed agitated. I looked up.
He had his fingers on his lips and was motioning me to be quiet. A new game I thought and smiled impishly. Jose held my hand in his sweaty palms. There was a trust of companionship and camaraderie we had developed. I let him lead me on, lured by the note of conspiracy in his voice.
* He drew closer, crossed his legs and laid my hand on something hard and hot between his legs.
In a moment like an experienced balet dancer in my magic colouring book, he had spread my legs, lifted up the boot about the imprisoned Princess so that I formed a shield between our chests and. breathing heavily, squatted closer so that the hot pokiness between his legs was suddenly jabbing into me.
Its skin was tight and there was the roughness of hair around it, scant shiny and bristly.
Look, he whispered as if filled with a strange power and drew the tight skin back to reveal a pink interior. Then he withdrew his hand and I watched with horror as it contorted and writhed and flashed its pink tongue.
The gogo was pouring rain. The house seemed empty and still. The rain poured in torrents. For a long time there were no other noises. Xamai was somewhere in the corridor calling me to have my noon soup. "Marri, Marri!" she called twice. "Come!"
Promptly Jose had slipped on his red chequered loincloth, tied it and pushed me away roughly. "Do you have a fever, child?. What's wrong with you?" Xamai touched my sweating forehead. From then on there was a condition to our play; he played with me provided I played his kind of games.
There were no other young children except my jailor grandmother. I succumbed to his games. At opportune times when Coincao and my grandmother were in the other side of the house and we played in the hall because grandma said it was bright and airy, Jose would pin me down spread my legs while he loosened his loincloth and motioned me to touch. In this game he set the rules.
I hated it. The suffocation of this silence. The aftermath of that feeling haunted the best years of my childhood. I was to yield. Do as told, I was not to tell. I was not to tell. Or.

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