Edited by Meenakshi Varma, published by Unisun Publications, this short story collection includes the two stories, Jasmine For The Blue God and The Supervisor.
PAGES 116 & 183
THE BLUE GOD:
Saraswathi Mahal is an old Mylapore mansion sprawled into unlikely postures by a changing neighbourhood. Traffic revs up and the city sparkles as dusk descends. We enter cautiously.
Beyond a pathetically panting boxer and the virulent welcome of a woman, her soiled sari wrapped endlessly around her emaciated frame.
Beyond dank corridors with their trapped whispers.
Beyond barrenness and throttled song.
He sits on the floor, on a mat, like a relic – skeletal and crumbling, his eyes swimming. When he smiles, it isn’t at us. Some sudden memory has distracted him. The room is dimly lit and smells. Large black and white portraits of musical giants and moments clumsily crowd the walls.
Though he’s chewing paan, I catch the smell of liquor. Senthil and I exchange horrified glances. Through the introductions, Dandapani keeps nodding his head with vacant pleasure. His false teeth shine awkwardly in his sagging face. We’re told to speak louder. For some reason Senthil doesn’t mention I’m Uma Devi’s nephew. Instead, he rolls out the strengths of Divine Cassettes, his boss’s connections, their releases. He’s probably holding out bait, but it’s difficult to imagine this old man rising to anything.
Dandapani smiles and grunts. He nods as if to music in the air. Senthil finally brings up Uma Devi and the secret concert. With a tired moan the old man falls back on his cylindrical pillow. We are ushered out.
The woman at the door glares in farewell. The dog offers us a sickly smile. As we reach the gates, Senthil tells me consolingly, ‘Tomorrow we’ll get you into action.’
I mumble a story when Amma wants to know why I’m late. The last thing I want today is to run her into her sister. My father jokes, ‘Perhaps he was at some disco-thing or something!’
The night is even stranger. Towards daybreak he toddles up, iridescence merging rapidly into blue, spreading his fingers on the darkness. He stops, puzzled. The air becomes heavy with the familiar fragrance of some flower. I hold my breath. Then, even as my heart is beating hard, the blue spreads and takes him.
Their supervisor was a short dark man with a deceptively mild manner. When he lost his temper, his attitude and physique were terrifying. His raspy voice shot a bolt of lightning into his victim’s spine. They went about their routine praying that nothing would upset him. Actually, nothing much did. He was satisfied to be left alone with his files, film magazines and occasional phone calls to the sales and commercial tax offices, the Social Welfare Minister’s P.A. and of course, his wife at her office.
This morning he tiptoed in as usual, and if it weren’t for the fact that he was the supervisor, no one would have even noticed. He sat down after spending a devout five minutes before the framed pantheon of deities, the swirling incense tickling his nostrils.
Life in the office continued with its daily placid routine.
An hour later, a deafening roar from the supervisor’s cabin caused the rows of pen pushers to pause and stare at each other in bewilderment.
‘Ranga!’ the supervisor shouted, as they sat transfixed. The air reverberated!
The Ranga in question sat frozen in his chair, too scared to let the impact of the shout permeate his consciousness. He sat clutching his reverie; motionless… probably reliving whatever sin had caused this outburst. What could he have done? They were all equally curious. Sloppiness, delay, his perpetual look of stupidity – these were all faults that could provoke irritation. But for the supervisor to shout!
Finally the gentle, betel-obsessed clerk had to unfold himself from his chair and saunter over to Ranga and mutter, ‘Whatever it is, let’s face it. What can happen at most? He can’t physically assault us, can he?’ Perhaps it was the participatory tinge in his advice that moved Ranga. Here was a comrade. He stood up and sidled past the partition to the table where the supervisor sat.
The man was bristling, ‘Do you have any sense in that head of yours?’ Ranga flinched. It wasn’t that he was being abused for the first time; but the supervisor simply wasn’t the kind to use strong language. He waved a red file at him like a stationmaster in distress.