Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Translation for Tamil short story - 3 (Iravum Pagalum)

The original Tamil version of this story is here. You can read my other short stories listed in the left hand nav bar under "My Short Stories" (below the "Featured Posts" section).

Night and Day
Ramiah Ariya

Ekambaram sat in the watchman's room outside the school. It was very quiet. A little bit ominous.
Ekambaram thought he could retire and spend time at home. But his son had not yet taken a proper job. Ekambaram wanted to work as a day watchman. It is easy to be a watchman in a school. You can chase around the children. Working as a watchman in a bank was the toughest. You have to salute people as they go in and out. Also, you need a gun license. Ekambaram liked the idea of shooting with a gun. But he had never touched a gun in his life.
In school, you just needed a small stick. He had a big moustache. He thought the kids would get scared easily. But the principal said they needed a night watchman.
Usually when the clock strikes nine, Ekambaram was ready to sleep. He had not slept alone for the last thirty years. His wife Meenakshi would keep talking and he would sleep hearing her prattle on.
Ekambaram was frustrated. What would ahppen to his health if he kept awake like this?
He asked his wife to accompany him. "We can spend the night talking", he said.
"I have work in the morning", she said. "I will be talking and you will just go to sleep."
The first day he felt like going to war. His son scanned his uniform up and down.
"You look like you are in the military", he said.
Then he turned to his mom and said, "Last week a student at that school committed suicide."
Ekambaram started and said, "Where? In the school?"
"No, at his hom. But apparently his teacher said something that caused it"
Meenakshi said,"Stop scaring your father."
"No. Ma, they say if someone dies at a young age, their soul keeps wandering round and round.."
"Why don't you start?" said Meenakshi to Ekambaram.
Ekambaram prayed for a couple of minutes and then left.

An owl emitted a wild cry. He could hear a dog howl far away. He remembered watching a movie called "Jagan Mohini" and getting so scared, he had a high fever for a few days. During those periods, most places had a burning ghat.
The clock struck twelve somewhere.
Are ghosts real?
He shook his head. Why think about that now..let us think of something good.
He started remembering his old friends. There was a guy called Rao. He worked in the military for a long time. His wife used to cook very well.
At one point, Rao said he had actually seen a ghost. He conveyed this information when they were all sitting and chatting in the terrace of a house in Villivakkam.
They were playing cards and one of them was narrating his visit to the Chottanikkara Bhagavathi temple. He said the women danced wildly like ghosts and one look at them was enough to scare you for life.
In that gathering there was an intellectual who used to read newspapers. He said, "All of that is caused by mental illness".
"It is not mental illness. If you don't believe in this, you can't believe in anything."
"If there is a God.."
"If you don't have faith, there is no life"
"I can understand believing in good..but why believe in this?"
Another person said,"You are talking as if there are no ghosts. Remember the time Maari's father died? Remember how that ghost scared all of us?"
Everybody agreed with this.
"In the night there were weird sounds. Sounded like someone crying. We all ran away."
The intellectual said, "We have to be rational and think about this."
"By the time you are half way thinking, the ghost would beat you up and run off"
"If you are so brave, why don't you go to the burning ghat at night?"
"Why don't you go? The ghosts would chase you and kill you"
"It is only because of such people without faith that we have no rains", said a guy from Thirunelveli.
"Boss, I can understand if you believe in God. Why should we believe in ghosts?"
At this point, when nobody knew how to counter the intellectual, Rao started talking. He was staring at the sky. He spoke in that pose.
" In Nineteen Sixty Seven, I saw a ghost".
Everyone looked at him.
"Yes, I saw a ghost. I even touched it"
The intellectual joked, "Did you get married at that time?". Nobody laughed. The nearby trees whispered to themselves.
"I was walking near my home in Pattukottai. A white female form came before me. It came straight for me. I tried to step away. But it came right in front of me. When I got very close I waved my hand to push it away. My hand went in and came back out"
Rao's voice kept falling.
"Yes, I saw a ghost", he finished.
Nobody spoke for a long time.
Ekambaram got up and started walking. He had to go round the school building. What if someone came floating in front of him? His body shook thinking about it. It was two in the morning. He went through the school corridors.
In the second floor, he heard some noise. There was a door named "Biology". He could hear something scratching the door. He turned and walked stiffly away.
There was a movie called "The Exorcist". Some guy went to watch it alone. AT the end they found him dead after vomiting blood. Ekambaram had heard of this. Who asked this guy to go watch the movie alone?
This job was like watching the Exorcist. If he were at home now, he would be fast asleep, hugging Meenakshi.
Dawn arrived soon. Ekambaram ran home.
"Meenakshi, let me quit this job", he said.
"Why? Are you sleepy?"
"No, I keep remembering ghost stories. Remember we saw this movie "Jagan Mohini"? All those ghosts are dancing before my eyes."
"Mother slept very well here", said his son.
"Did you really?" said Ekambaram.
"Shut up. If it is very quiet, it is natural to be scared. Take our transistor radio today."
Ekambaram begged his son to accompany him that night.
"I will come tomorrow night", he said. "Tonight is the New Moon day - a period in which ghosts go nuts."
That night Ekambaram saw the skeleton.
When he was walking near the Biology lab, he took out his whistle and blew it. The sound echoed around in the still night. When he turned to go, he felt someone observing him.
He looked around slowly. It was his own reflection in the glass window. He cursed himself for being so afraid.
A guy took up a challenge to go to the burning ghat in the middle of the night. He did go. When he was leaving after going around the burning bodies, he felt someone grabbing him from behind. He yelled out and fell dead of shock. The next day, they found that his shirt had caught in a tree branch. That was it.
Like that story, Ekambaram thought he was afraid of everything. He went without thinking, to the glass window and peered inside.
First nothing was visible inside. Then, slowly, like the riverbed showing up in disturbed water, he could see a white skeleton.
Ekambaram rubbed his eyes and looked again. Yes, there was a skeleton there. And it seemed to move slightly!
In dreams sometimes he used to feel like moving. But he could not move his arms or legs. The same feeling came over him now. He moved with great difficulty. After stepping away from the window, he ran down the stairs.
He came panting to his place. If there was someone there it would have helped. But in the houses around the school everyone was sleeping. They were sleeping without pity or knowledge of the blood bath going on here.
He wanted to lock up the doors and leave the school. If they asked the next day, he would tell them he cannot spend the night with a skeleton.
But he had no wish to walk in the pitch dark to his home.
He switched on the radio. Initially there was just static. Then a shrill female voice started singing "Beez Saal Baadh..".
The next day, during lunch hour, Ekambaram and Meenakshi entered the principal's room. A girl was just leaving the principal's room crying. The principal's face changed as soon as they came in - she smiled at them.
"Come in Ekambaram. Come in..what is the matter?"
"Madam, I am not able to work the night body hurts."
"But you have only been here for two days."
"He is scared", said Meenakshi.
The principal laughed. "Scared..why?"
Ekambaram responded: "No Madam, I am not really scared. Why should I be scared. I have worked in hospital mortuaries earlier"
"He is lying Madam. He is always a little easily scared. This morning he came running home"
Ekambaram felt humiliated. Now, in day light, when he thought of the skeleton, it looked funny.
The principal said, "Do you have any other job available?"
"No Madam."
"OK, from tomorrow come on in the day shift. Let us try that for two or three days."
Ekambaram was happy. He said, "I am not really scared madam. In my younger days, when we came back alone from night show cinema.."
"Let us go", said Meenakshi.
The next morning, Ekambaram twirled his imposing moustache and was ready at work. The principal arrived at eight thirty. He saluted her.
"Close the door exactly at Nine" she instructed and left.
No body came till eight fifty. Suddenly, with ten minutes to go, students started rushing in. Moms and Dads came dragging their children and threw them in through the gate. Some children went wailing inside.
Ekambaram looked at the clock. It was nine. It was time to show the legendary Ekambaram strictness. He tried to close the door. Students ran faster inside. A couple of people rammed into the door.
Somebody yelled "Hey..." from behind the closed door. They pushed the door from the other side. Ekambaram imagined that he was defending the fort from enemy soldiers and pushed back.
"Boom!" The door opened wide and Ekambaram fell down.
A woman built like Sylvester Stallone stood at the door. She laughed at Ekambaram.
Ekambaram said, "I have to close the door", and ran forward.
"Why are you closing the door?"
"Why don't you come before nine?"
"Do you know who I am?"
"I don't care..rules are rules"
Several mothers stood behind the door in anger. The principal came.
"Ekambaram, why did you push the door"
" said..Madam"
"Yes, but you should not have done this..sorry madam"
Stallone lady went inside after yelling, "Be careful" at Ekambaram.
Ekambaram sat tired all over. He has just finished watering all the plants. At some distance, Kinder Garten children were coming out of their room. They ran helter skelter. The teacher was herding them together.
Ekambaram closed his eyes. Someone shook him awake. It was the KG teacher.
"Come with me", she said.
There was a pump close by. Two boys stood below the pump. The teacher pulled down the boys' trousers.
"Start pumping", she told Ekambaram.
Ekambaram started pumping water.
Suddenly there was some commotion in in the ground. The children started running back and forth. The teacher said, "Wash them clean" and left.
Ekambaram looked down. The two children held their trousers in their hands and leered at him.
At lunch time, Ekambaram started for the biology lab. Some students were sitting in the room. He entered with hesitation and stood before the skeleton.
He thought, "Was I really afraid of this?". It looked sad. Who knows whose skeleton this was. It was tall.
They used to say long back, that you need not be afraid of vampires or poltergeists - the only ghost you should really be afraid of is the Mohini. When you are walking alone in the night, the Mohini comes behind you and asks for betel leaves. You have to handover the leaves on a knife edge. Then it would leave you alone. Otherwise, you are finished.
When he turned around, the students were standing behind him. They were also staring at the skeleton.
"It is the previous watchman", said one of them.
Everyone laughed at this.
"It looks like Thanigai", said another guy.
" looks like your father", said Thanigai.
"Hey, be respectful", said the first guy.
"Boys.." started Ekambaram. But when he turned to look at them, the fight had started. Two of them were hitting each other and then, quickly, rolling on the floor.
Ekambaram said, "Boys..stop it." The other students were watching the fight like watching cricket.
Ekambaram tried to separate them. He got a couple of blows himself. Then one of the students pushed him away.
He staggered and fell at the feet of the skeleton. The skeleton seemed to be laughing at him.

The principal looked at Ekambaram with pity. He had a small band-aid on his finger.
"So you want to go back to the night shift?"
"Yes Madam"
"I know..I feel like running away from here myself."
Ekambaram started for home. At night he would think of all those ghosts. It would even be soothing.


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