[Writing short stories cannot be a child's play. I know that, especially when it does not allow the same poetic freedom to bungle grammar and collocation, to misplace syntax with impunity, and to start and end up abruptly leaving the rest to the readers. In poems every pause appears to be deliberate, every departure from collocation is seen to be on purpose. Flow of muse--that is all a poet needs to scrape ahead. In the name of poetic profundity and poetic licence, things can be taken to some extent. I know that.
So, when fiction is going to be a new area for me, let me do that stage by stage. The first stage should be one of hands-on, comprising easier materials like anecdotes, reminiscences, or even small clips that would read more like news than short fictions with oomph. Let me do that, the first one in the blog. By the way, it was also posted in my first blog a couple of months ago]
Death due to spurious liquor was the big news from a small village. For a month, this village alone gave news to the national dailies for six occasions. Youth and old alike, whoever consumed the poisonous beverage, fell prey to it.
Their deaths were, however, independent and curiously unspectacular. Despite their reporting in the media, they failed to trigger any mass emotion. Probably, more deaths were needed to outrage the public or evoke their sympathy.
Then one day something tragic happened in the same village. It was even more tragic than all the recent deaths in the village put together.
An old man died hours after consuming that methyl-rich liquor, and everybody in his family cried. They cursed their luck, but not so much the bootlegger or his macabre merchandise.
There was a spurt of activities: the widowed wife was made to shatter all her glass bangles and wipe the dab of vermilion off her forehead; the six-stick stretcher was prepared to carry the body to the cremation ground; the fuel wood bundles were transported to the ground and stacked into a bed where the old man would sleep his last….
The whole thing took four to five hours. At the end of these tiring chores, the kind neighbours who helped the family do whatever was to be done to the deceased, needed entertainment. Yes—the same old entertainment that makes death acceptable and forgettable.
‘Won’t you give us drinks, you the worthy son of the dead?’ the representative of the helpful neighbours asked the bereaved son.
‘But how can I? Isn’t it the same liquor that killed my father?’ the son replied politely, folding his hands and bending himself before the group.
‘Nothing doing. Six deaths in village and all the occasions went dry! You’re trying to be miser, boy! Like the others in the village. Who on earth can avoid this expenditure? Are you the son of the dead man or are you not?’ somebody among the group chose to tease the son.
‘Why should we be blaming liquor when Yama, the lord of Death does everything? All deaths are predetermined. It is preposterous to deny the cremation people this simple entertainment—a bottle of liquor, our good old country liquor,’ another person insisted.
And their critical stance worked. Liquor came to the cremation ground in crates. It was a case of self-service, a buffet in the lawn. Each had a bottle to himself and a bottle was enough to bring the result. The old man who died had not drunk even a whole bottle. He had also his fatigue to relieve by that magic beverage, the aqua vitae.
The result in this case was no different. People from other village helped them in the mass cremation. The widow population of the village just increased by a dozen more.
A. N. Nanda