Khamosha

1.

Leila thought about the faces of the hunters. Every Friday, they drank the holy Khamosha, a secret drink whose recipe no one really knew. Except of course the Seers at the temple.

Leila’s earliest memories as a girl were going through paintings on the walls of the shrines – paintings of the God Vayuka. The green forest God, feared and revered.

Leila still blamed Vayuka for the day Romo had lifted her deep into the forest. Leila felt drugged from the lack of breath. He exposed his chest with a crude smile that suddenly became a hoarse groan. The last thing Leila remembers is running and falling over somewhere. Next day, they found Romo dead and blue. People described his look as ‘the shadow of devil’ with marks of strangulation and a snake bite.

Leila examined how Khamosha changed her man. He smiled at her too sweetly, she thought. That man who only hours before had raped her repeatedly was now almost humane. Quieter, sleepier and happier.

The women were not allowed anywhere near the Holy Drink, so they made themselves cheap substitutes by well-made guesses, and gossip recipes. Leila had tried them all, eaten up with curiosity. By Leila’s admission, the farthest she had gone to the real thing was Ramoya’s concoction. It was here that she did the undoable.

When Leila gained consciousness, Ramoya and the others were looking at her worriedly. Slowly they asked her name, her husband’s name and how many children she had. When Leila answered correctly, Ramoya, Chio and the others sighed with relief and sat down with a loud thud.

They told Leila that half way through her trip, she had gotten up from her seat and started a slow spinning dance which got faster. Nobody dared stop her thinking she was possessed. Then she slowed down and had looked directly at Ramoya and said, “Vayuka was jealous.”

She lost consciousness after that.

Leila looked around and could see her destiny written in the faces of the women who sat there. ‘Vayuka’ was not a name you were supposed to utter, murmur or mumble in this village. He went by the more revered euphemisms such as. ‘The Lord Almighty’ ‘The Great One’, ‘The Rain Bringer’ and a hundred other things. The last time anyone heard ‘Vayuka’ spelt out, was seven moons back by a minor who was just learning to speak. His mother, Greta, watched the little one get fifty lashings under a scorching summer sun in the temple patio. He succumbed to his injuries soon after. Greta was never the same after that. Once when she was out in the bazaar she almost strangled a little boy to death. The Shaman was called from the neighbouring village to take a look at her but she flung a ball of spit at his face. Since then, Greta remains chained somewhere nobody goes to or cares about. Her husband now has five wives and eleven children. The youngest boy looks exactly like Greta’s dead one. Strange things happen.

As Leila looked around, she realized that apart from Ramoya and Chio, there was little possibility that anybody remembered what she had said. The women were still recovering from their individual trips – some were laughing profusely, some made guttural sounds and others snored loudly. Leila turned to the two searchingly. Fortunately, they were her best friends. There were no secrets between these three. Their dreary lives from the edges of their kitchen knives to the hems of their bed sheets were laid bare each day through the little windows between their houses.

They swore that Leila’s secret will go to the ashes with them.

2.

Vayuka had met Leila at one of the rad swing parties in South Mumbai. Even with his standards of emotional handicap, he remembers feeling uneasy at the sheer immensity of shining flesh heaped all over the place.

She sat there untouched by the chaos, like the shell-shocked soldier from a photograph by Don McCullin. In Vayuka’s mind, she was out of a quaint scene in Kashmir – with the lotus plucker who was floating in a vessel, traversing in a pool of murk, silently treading, pursuing the lotus blooms, deftly reaching out a hand to swiftly tear the stem.

Vayuka couldn’t move. His hands were frozen with a tall Cosmopolitan as he thought he saw Leila rise up like a breeze from the dank dark crowd, an angel with a telephone, laughing over a room of drunk mortals.

Something hit Vayuka behind the head. It was a regular brawl in a regular wild party. It was nearing the end of a Greek tragedy, and the audience were thirsty for the final sigh, the catharsis.

Vayuka saw silences, millions of them. A telephone wire. Father.

Lights off and he was God.

Sreemanti Sengupta writes poetry and short prose. She has a book of poems ‘Losing Friends’ to her name. Her haikus have been translated to French and some works read at the City Lights Bookstore NY. She owns and runs The Odd Magazine. Read her at  https://senguptasreemanti.wixsite.com/sree. She tweets at @sreemantisen  

Categories: Fiction

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