July 30, 2011

Chapter Three: The Sixth Tarot

I have always been good at reading people. Trying to understand their motivations and raison d’être.

Rishab seemed a bit put off when Manoj introduced me, but he recovered his composure very quickly. I wonder if it was because he recognized me, or if he disliked all journalists.

In an interview with a women’s journal recently, I was asked if being born with a silver spoon made life a bit easier.

“A silver spoon can be a choking hazard” I had said. My troubles with my siblings were very much in the public realm, so there was no need to elaborate.

My father started his paper, Kempooru Patrike, when he was in his 30s, because he was disgusted by the mainstream reporting of his time that didn’t ask the questions that needed to be asked. His paper acquired something of a cult following, a rarity especially for a non-English publication and is one of the most respected journalists in this bustling metropolis of the red earth and red gulmohars. Kempooru. The Mysore-born writer-turned-filmmaker became a journalist with the launch of his paper named after his adopted city.

Coming to work for him was the most natural and the most difficult decision of my life. But I have never regretted it. Sometimes I look at my friends’ lives – or for that matter, my siblings, with their growing families, and feel like life has moved on, leaving me behind. But the sacrifice has been worth it and I have learnt so much from working with my father. My first story was about cutbacks in infrastructure projects. All road projects were granted with the unspoken understanding that 30% of the winning bid amount went to line the pocket of the person accepting the bid. This usually meant that the contractors would adulterate and use low quality materials to pave the roads. When the rains came, they washed away and left potholes behind. Goondas followed me around for two days after that story, which was a bit unnerving. I had quietly pulled out my .32 Browning from my boot and aimed it at one of them. I didn’t see them again. For good measure, my father told one of his sources who had connections with the politicians, that he had accumulated a lot of evidence of wrongdoing over the years as a protective action. That took care of the problem. Well, I thought it had. The events of the past few days have given me pause.

I know that he would like me to take over the paper someday. But he struggles with the same questions that he had asked: will appointing his own daughter reek of the same nepotism that he had accused the politicians of?

“Everything in this country is ever-changing.. including morals and principles” says my current lover, his cheeks dimpling, when I bring the topic up. “It is quite alright for your dad to appoint you even though he had vehemently opposed politicians appointing family members to positions of power. No one will say a word. After all, we still cling so tightly to our castes, which essentially came about because children were unquestioningly apprenticed to the same professions as their parents.”

I love watching him speak. A Yakshagana artist, his face is poetry in motion. I don’t even have to listen to his words, I can tell what he wants to say just by looking at his beautiful, expressive face. The dulcet tones of his voice, an attractive distraction. I met him when I was sent to report on last year’s Yakshagana Sammelana. We are so different. I am religious, Vittala is not. And yet he takes on God-roles and plays them with conviction. My hair is close-cropped, just a couple of inches from my skull. His wavy mane reaches down to his shoulders. I grew up in the city, he, Vittala Hegde of Mangalooru, grew up on the coast.

As I open the gate that leads to my house, I notice that the drishti bombe that my mom used to hang above her door is missing. I smile. He’s home. The Yakshagana touring season ends in May, but he tries to visit when his troupe is near the city. And when he does, he removes the drishti bombe, saying ‘you don’t need the demon face to ward off the evil eye, I am here now’. He puts it back when he leaves.

I had wondered what my father would make of him. Since my mother’s death he has become very protective. I had taken Vittala over to the family house and disappeared into the kitchen to make tea. When I returned both of them were talking amicably, with my father asking questions and listening intently. A few days later, he wrote an editorial lamenting the state of Yakshagana - ignored by the masses that is necessary for the art form to survive, and incorporated Vittala’s ideas on what should be done to address the situation. I knew then that he approved.

I open the door to my house and step in. I hear music: my Chanson collection. Brel’s Marieke is playing. I look through the glass doors of my study. It is my favourite room, and I always keep it locked. My breath catches in my throat. My papers are in a disarray.

She doesn’t see Khan look up from the papers, smile and stand, and then realizing that she cannot see him, go back to reading her case files.

I think back to the case. Three of my contacts are dead. I try to make a mental list of all the people that have access and could have leaked information. I start walking up the stairs to the first floor. I find a new paper stuck to the small wooden board by the stairwell, where I put up clippings.

They shed the skins of their past
And snake far away, to a new life
Lands unknown they make their own
The strings to their skins unravel
Yet never break
Invisible, underneath the surface
They don’t see, or care to understand
The past follows, battered, bruised, always behind
Never forgotten, yet held at bay
I want to begin afresh
Join the seemingly past-less blissful swarm
But my skin stays firmly on me

Vittala’s new piece has no name yet. Marieke ends and Le Gorille comes on next. As the song starts I hear Vittala singing “Kadagola tarenna chinnave”, his clear voice loud over Georges Brassens’.

There was something else that was puzzling. When we were leaving Manoj’s office earlier today, Rishab had asked me which paper I worked for.

“Kempooru Patrike”, Manoj had said before I could answer, “She is the daughter of Mr L Prakash.”

His face went pale when he heard my father’s name, and he left immediately, without saying anything. I could have sworn that there was a glimmer of recognition, closely followed by fear. Manoj had just shrugged it off. “Bihari”, he had added, smiling.

I walk into my room and turn off the music. Vittala is facing the windows and is on the other side of the bed. He jumps happily and crosses over to me.

“What’s wrong?” he asks immediately.

It never ceases to surprise me how in tune we are with each other.

I push a lock of his hair behind his right ear, look into his eyes.

“How do you know the Shetty brothers?”


Find Chapter Four here

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