A Faceless Voice
I have lost all sense of time and space. The particular has become the universal. I am a faceless voice now as I feel myself evaporate into thin air. The bamboo wood pyre is still smouldering, the thick fumes of smoke are blackening the blue sky. My soul is in trauma, seeing the mutilated physical remains of my body.
My only daughter, Kadambri has come all the way from Bengaluru to Pune to attend my funeral. Earlier, she was arguing with some people who are in charge of the crematorium. My family and relatives were waiting for our space to get free. Don’t you know? We have been pushed to one of the corners specially Reserved for us Dalits. And today, our place was occupied because of another death in our community. Finally, my family members were relieved of their responsibility and bade me adieu. Tomorrow, my cold ashes will be consecrated to a nearby river. A neat, holy end to a life! Is it all?
‘Kill the bloody bastard! This son of a bitch dares to resort to profanity!’ They used curse words and started punching and whacking me with their closed fists, and hitting me with iron rods. I felt a hard blow on the forehead and lay writhing in pain on the verandah of my house. I could feel the hot blood coursing through my hair to the floor. The next thing I remember is a white flame emanating from my body and reaching up the skies. I am free now, I have no threats, no earthly hierarchies, nothing to fear, nothing to hold on to.
All my life, I had vowed to and worked towards maintaining the sanctity of my own beliefs. As a child, even as I felt humiliated when they called me ‘cuntfaced’, ‘son of a whore’, ‘shameless pig’ and … the list went on, I was a precocious learner. My teacher couldn’t accept how a Dalit could read and write flawlessly. Probably, that was one of my first violations of norms. ‘Ay! You pariah! How dare you sit on the first bench? You stink! The bench has been polluted with your touch. You and your posterity have been condemned to live as outcastes. You have to pay for the sins of your previous birth. Dare not forget that!!!’ my outraged teacher screamed at me.
‘Sir, I take a bath daily. How can I stink?’ My counter-question had resulted in a merciless thrashing at the knuckles of my fingers and flogging on my bony back. But this did not suppress me. I challenged my teacher’s authority by taking the beating in my stride. I became a disciple of Goddess Saraswati, though not so favoured a one. I stealthily caught hold of ancient Hindu scriptures trying to get at the roots of the earned censure of our community. This was my (in)formal initiation into the world of books. As I grew older, my fascination for books eventually turned me into a teacher cum writer. Some called me a Dalit activist.
Bina Phule, whom I married, had done her Masters in Political Science, no mean feat for a Dalit woman. She is a God-fearing woman who unlike me has faith in religious rituals. However, had she been actually God-fearing, she would not have entered the temple we had been debarred entry from since decades. I think she is God-loving….
‘You polluted caste, you have defiled our God. Now when we have caught you, you have your eyes downcast. Why don’t you get buried under the ground? We shall have to undertake the cleansing rituals in the entire temple premises,’ shouted the upper-caste Hindu.
‘Sahib, God does not make distinctions between upper-castes and lower-castes. We are all children of God. People like you are a blot in the name of humanity,’ my wife said defiantly. The man struck a harsh blow on her right cheek. The incident left her shattered but in a way, more assertive. Since then, she supported me in every possible manner, supplementing my writings with her own input and ideas.
My latest book ‘The Naked Indian’ did not strike a chord with many respectable torchbearers of religion and heritage. They purported the words of the scriptures, but only during the day. I would not delve into their activities at night!
Even after my physical existence ceases to exist, I cannot resist the temptation of transcending barriers … this time a crossover to the other world, free from temporal precincts. There is no ground beneath me and my soul seems lighter, floating freely over the silver cotton clouds. I am a little tired after a steep ascent. I want to sit back, relax and rest. During my life on earth, I did not physically hurt anyone nor did I play with anyone’s emotions. Rightfully, I should be destined for heaven. Now, after a sprawling void, I can see a wooden gate with floral and animal engravings on it. I had seen such magnificence only in tv period dramas before.
Tap! Tap! Tap! I knock mildly at the gate, I have mellowed after death. My anger and frustration have finally subsided as I anticipate a welcome entry into the starry tents. A robust guard with thick-black moustaches and shining brass armour, opens the splendid gate.
‘Who are you?’ he asks in a deep, husky voice.
‘Arjun, Sir. I am a writer.. I have been a fair and honest person in my life. But I have been a victim of senseless violence. I want peace now. Kindly grant me entry.’
‘Which gotra?’ the guard asks me plainly.
‘Isn’t this Heaven? I am a Dalit. Thankfully, I have left behind my baggage of unfulfilled hopes. May I not go in now?’
‘No, No. Wait. You are right, you are in Heaven. But you know, here entry is not on a first come first serve basis but on the basis of previous karma. Since you are a Dalit, you might have committed more sins. Don’t worry. We are not judgmental. But rules are rules. There are a few Brahmins already waiting. Could you stand aside and let them come in first?’
Sunaina Jain has recently completed her PhD in English from Panjab University, Chandigarh. She is working as an Asst Professor in English at MCM DAV College, Chandigarh. She has presented papers at national and international seminars. She has published many research papers in refereed national and international journals. Her poems have featured in the journals, The Criterion, Galaxy, Langlit, Dialog and South Asian Ensemble.
The Out of Print Workshop at the Chandigarh Literature Festival 2015