As if there was a murder scene, the noise was too heavy at the petty hotel of Amaniamma and that made Sekar wake up from his sleep. He rose, sat on the mat, scrubbed his eyes and they were burning. He adjusted his dhoti that was slipping off as he stood up, he felt a kind of giddiness. He then got himself reminded of that he didn’t eat anything last night. He drank the water in the jug till the last drop. He felt the chillness in his stomach. He was then looking for the shirt he hung in the hanger. A Charminar Cigarette and 35 paise were found along. He dropped those coins in his shirt pocket, wore the shirt and decended down from room.
“l have just asked for four Aappams*, why are you creating such a scene? Beware! You can’t run the shop from tomorrow…” Khali was telling this to Amaniamma
“You better pay; I haven’t got any customers yet” Amaniamma answered.
“I’m going to break the pan right now…”
“Don’t you dare…”.
This is their routine. Quite recently, it has become so casual that Sekar wakes up every day by the voices of Khali and Amaniamma who never gives up. Neither Khali broke the pan, nor Amaniamma refused to give him Aappam.
Kishtan tea shop was crowded. It was quite convincing to Sekar. Because, Kishtan can’t say that he hasn’t had any customers yet. The moment Kishtan saw Sekar’s face, he prepared a fragrant and yellowish tea with less sugar for him. It was so pleasant when the warm tea was passing through his throat. He looked at Kishtan’s face when he kept down the empty glass. Kishtan was facing somewhere else. Sekar got closer to him, “Add it in my account”, he said it in a tone that no one could hear. Kishtan turned to him and said, “Account is already on overdue”. Sekar felt that Kishtan was a little loud.
While returning, to lady Ammani, he said “four Aappams to the top floor”. He returned to his room, removed his shirt and hung it back in the hanger, took the cigarette and the match box, walked down again. He entered the house, crossed those eight portions, four at either sides in the corridor, he arrived and stopped in front of that room. The bathroom door was opened. But the room’s door was shut. Just close to that door, a pail was there. That belongs to Anjalai. There must be Anjalai or her husband inside.
“Hello Mister Photographer… Are you doing well?”
Yellamma from the Eighth portion asked him. She was squatting outside and combing her hair with a wooden comb. For every stroke, slight grey crystalline strained hair was falling off in clusters. Those locks of hair curled and rolled on the floor.
“Mmm” Sekar replied.
“I’ve been asking for ages. But you aren’t clicking me in your camera. It seems like you click only the young and teenage girls…”
“I will. I will.”
“What will you..?”
As the door was opened, a hand with a rubber bangle pulled the pail of water inside. After a couple of minutes, She – Anjalai came out. Sekar lit his cigarette, fetched water in the pail from the tank, entered inside and shut the door.
After bathing, Sekar returned to his room. Aappam was kept on the table. He sat on the floor, took off the plate and started eating. Pounded jaggery was speckled over the Aappam. He got reminded of his mother.
At least, weekly twice, his Mom used to prepare Aappam. The flour that was soaked in the coconut toddy from the previous night will make the Aappams fluffy just like Poori* from an Iyer hotel*. Coconut Milk would be the side dish. How great that used to be… Neither Mother is here, nor he is in his native. The City atmosphere and Amaniamma’s Aappam in debt are used to him now. It doesn’t taste at hunger.
He remembered a thing just when he was wearing the pants. He should have washed the underwear and dried it up by last night. He forgot, the yellow strained fringes were at both sides, he tolerated and wore it again. At once, it itched – he wore the pants. He then wore the shirt. He flung the camera bag on his shoulder. He locked his room and moved. He expected to be paid by the office, at least today, to buy a film roll for the camera. A little out of it must be spared for lunch and supper. The cost of a pack of cigarette is 3 rupees.
At the office, only Yelumalai, the sub editor, was present.
“What’s up man… where have you been all these while? I haven’t seen you since very long…” Yelumalai introgated Sekar.
“Isn’t the Editor here? Sir..?”
“It’s usually time. He will come. Then, why aren’t you bringing any clicks… aren’t there a lot of new arrivals? You don’t seem to bring any of theirs… still you come with the pictures of K.R.Vijaya and Sowkar Janaki*…”
Sekar was taking a look at the last week’s magazine. He signed on two pictures that were published in it.
“Sir… there are two pictures in this magazine that are mine…”
“What are those…?”
“Jaya Malini and Disco Shanthi, Sir…”
“ Is Jaya Malini yours? It seems like Chandru’s.”
“No Sir… I clicked it. I went to her house myself for the photo…”
“Okay. Have you written the name? Anyhow the Cheque will be available tomorrow.”
Sekar was shocked.
“Sir… won’t I be getting it today?”
“Accountant is not here. The editor is also not here to sign and approve it.”
Sekar got up from the seat, was roaming inside and spent around half an hour.
“Hello Sekar, are you free? Do me a favor. In that cupboard, find the row with alphabetical order “N”, there will be a picture of Nadhiya bathing” the layout artist Gopi asked for it.
Sekar started searching for Nadhiya. Bicycling Nadhiya, Dancing Nadhiya, Bent and cleaning chores Nadhiya, Boozing Nadhiya, Nadhiya in Saree, without saree – in modern dress, all those were there. Bathing Nadhiya wasn’t there.
“Isn’t it there? Where has it been? Sir, Nadhiya is missing sir” Gopi screamed at Yelumalai.
“This bloody office, what else is there? Is Amala* there? Look for it. Fix her. Look for a bold picture…”
Sekar picked and gave the picture of Amala.
“Do you have some money?”
“Are you kidding? What’s the date?”
“It’s Twenty Seven.”
The editor didn’t show up till 1 pm. Later on it came to be known that the accountant is on leave. Wearing the camera bag, he came out of the press agency.
He was hungry.
Four Aappams aren’t enough for a young man of twenty eight. That too after four or five hours, there wouldn’t even be a trace of them. The sun was scorching. He came and stood at the bus stop for a shade. At the bus station, some Anti-socialists stuck some posters on those written numbers of the buses that stopped there. Sekar wasn’t able to hold his hands back out of fury, he wanted to click a picture of it and give it to the press at once. But then, he realized that there is no film roll in the camera. He bought a cigarette from the petty shop next to the bus station and lit it. He gave away the remaining five paise to a lady who was begging with a baby in her arms asleep.
A bus that goes to Kodampaakam* came by. Whenever, he thinks of Kodampaakam, the memories of Vijaya never missed to tease the memory. When Vijaya, along with her lover, Pakkiri came to Kodampaakam, it was Sekar who clicked her pictures. For few Cine magazines, he gave her stills and got them published. Whenever he goes to her, she never failed to treat him with a good hospitality. Since, a lot of famous Vijayas and the Vijayas who wanted to earn some fame were already there, it was Sekar who renamed her as Lavanya.
Vijaya alias Lavanya’s house was around two and half miles away from the spot where he was standing. The distance is quite long for a easy walk, probably be travelled a bus. The ticket fair is eighty paise. Still, he started walking. The shirt got so viscous of his sweat. Whenever he felt the hunger, dizziness embraced his eyes. The rays of the Sun was reflecting straight at his face as if a boy reflected the Sun light over his face using a hand mirror. Shrinking his eyes, he walked and reached Vijaya’s house.
A sub road that is diverted from the main street and has a sudden crater on the way is well known as Mosque Street. At the other point of the street, there was a mosque from which the street inherited such a name. Mostly, a lot of old and ancient tiled houses and huts were there in the street. There was a stone wall house with thatched roof and it’s where Vijaya was living.
To bear the heat of the Sun with some chillness, she was laying over a shawl on the floor. As she heard the knocking at the door, she opened it.
“Hey, Sekar ! Come in… Come in… finally U decided to show up now?” She welcomed Sekar. He sat on the steel chair, kept his bag aside and asked her, “Give me some water”.
Vijaya gave him the water from the mud pot. Sekar drank it to the core in a single breathe.
“How are you?” Sekar asked.
“Somehow the days are passing… you just forgot me…”
“Nothing like that. It’s about a matter. A new magazine is coming up. It’s a Cine magazine. Need your picture… It’s a big company. They are looking for some colorful pictures…”
“Are you going to click?”
“I need to wash my face… need to put on some make-up… should change my dress…”
“You have that green gown, right? Wear it…”
She got up, went inside the dressing closet. There was a gap for an inch from the floor to the closet underneath where the slipping of her saree was visible. In next ten minutes, in green gown, rose powder and face cream on her face, her lips were reddish when she showed up.
Opening his bag, Sekar took the camera out of it.
“How do you want it? Sexy or Casual?”
She gave different poses like bending down, raising the hands above, looking upright in a side pose, lying in prone position, laughing, crying, biting the lips. Sekar kept making the flash.
Once it’s done, just in front of him, she leaned on the bamboo pillar with the betel box.
“Do you want some betel, Sekar?”
Along with some betel nuts, she applied some slaked lime on the betel and started chewing it. Suddenly, her lips turned into a different red. The mixture of the betel saliva and the color of the lipstick made her lips bleed in red. It felt like kissing her. But Hunger; it made that feeling controlled.
“How is your business, Vijaya?”
“Limping. It’s been ten days since I’ve gone for a shooting. It’s being so tough. Haven’t yet paid this house rent.”
“Haven’t you had any customers?”
“It’s been four days. A guy came. I got fifty rupees. There is not enough space here, no Cot, no bed and my age is thirty. So that was more than enough, I managed to spend four days with it.”
“Must see to Kandasamy…”
“Don’t talk about that Scoundrel! If a guy gives me fifty rupees, he takes ten as brokerage and gives me back just forty. Then, the policeman demands 5 rupees bribe, 5 rupees for this area’s rowdy. At the end, I’m left with just thirty rupees at my hands. How can I manage my expenses or feed myself? Just imagine…”
“You used to get customers every day, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But I couldn’t entertain their visits for the past three days. I’ve asked to come tomorrow”.
“Its that thing. I’m keeping myself aloof for these three days. Also, wounds all over my body… A drunkard came and tore me apart.”
Sekar felt like leaving.
“Vijaya, do you have some money? It’s nothing. I need to print these pictures. Have to give them to the press…”
Suddenly, she faced him up straight.
“Ohw… Sekar, I can’t be ashamed to tell you… I’ve been hungry since morning. Its very shameful to ask money for debt. But you are asking for money now” as she said it, she looked at his face, very deeply.
“Wait. I’ll be back”, she opened the door and went out, she returned after quarter an hour.
“I’ve borrowed it from Varalakshmi.. for interest… take it… come next week, Sekar… I’ll give something’ she said. Five ten rupees notes were there in his hands.
“You too have some…” saying it, Sekar gave her twenty rupees and he kept thirty rupees for himself.
“Shall I leave?”
“Do you want to sleep with me before you leave?”
“Alright. Come next week. Come for sure. Let’s have a drink.”
Few minutes after Sekar left, Varalakshmi showed up.
“What happened? You told me that it was an emergency and got money, but a guy with a bag was leaving from here, what’s the matter?”
“It’s nothing. A friend.”
“The friend didn’t give you money?”
“No. It’s me who gave.”
“It’s upside down?”
“He is a good man. A photographer. In the beginning, when I came here, he was the first one to click me pictures.”
“Did he click now too?”
“He did. But…”
“He clicked without a film roll in the camera.”
“You let him away just like that?”
“He is a poor chap. I could see it from his eyes. He didn’t eat at all… A good man is lying for food, just okay…”
Vijaya got up and took the lock pad and key.
“I haven’t eaten. Let me go to Bhai’s hotel and be back!”
“Meals won’t be there at this time”
“Biriyani will be there, want to join?”
“I’ve eaten. You go on…”
Vijaya locked the door and started walking in the street. The heat of the sun had subsided in the street.
- In English : Leno
Leno, the translator of this story hails from Dindigul and works as a Production Editor in the field of academic publications. His passion as a writer and translator, has already been reflected through his short stories in Tamil as well as his translations of Karl Marx, Taslima Nasreen and Bob Dylan in Tamil. The story ‘A Woman’, though his debut in translation from Tamil to English, carries almost every peculiarity of the original text written by Writer Prapanjan and reads more or less very close to its original version.
Courtesy -Prapanchan photo: Bala Murali