Authors: Mike Stocks
There is a photograph of DDR’s spiritual guide and guru on the wall, and from time to time Swami tries to distract himself with it. It is a framed, black-and-white photograph of a man in a
loincloth standing under a peepul tree; there is a simple tattooed line spiralling upwards from under his feet, up and around each of his legs, into the loincloth, then out of the loincloth, up and
around his chest in five or six long slow loops, around his neck and head and up to the top of his shaven crown, all the way up his outstretched arms to the very tips of his longest fingers, which
point at the heavens: “His Holiness Sri Sri Dravidananda Gurkkal attaining enlightenment in Malayamaruthapuram village, 1993”, reads the caption.
Enlighten me, mighty godhead
, Swami begs.
As Swami implores the aid of the gods, DDR arrives at last, so presumably they aren’t listening. The arrival is heralded by distant thuds and shouts from diverse sources, as though people
are fleeing an imminent catastrophe; next there is a growing indistinct commotion as a shouting man approaches down a long corridor, which turns into brief snatches of words – little poems of
abuse – as the great man gets nearer and nearer (“May earth fall into their mouths! I’ll light a fire beneath their haunches if they’re lucky!”), until finally the
door is thrown open violently.
Here he is. In form he seems similar to any other middle-aged, middle-height, middle-brow, overfed shady character who loves his children and cheats on his wife with loose women and prostitutes,
with his jolly little paunch bulging above his jolly little genitals, wearing his home-spun linen Nehru suit – a humble and severe attire as favoured by a certain class of
élite politicians and
hefty goondas across the length and breadth of India… but in function he is a mightier beast, and Swami stands up respectfully.
“Who are you? Can’t remember why you’re here,” DDR admits, wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief and slumping wearily into a chair, while two flunkeys rush to stand
by his side. “What’s your name?”
“Swam ah-Swam,” Swami answers. “Swimmy,” he adds.
“Ah-swim ah-sw-w-w-w ah Swami.”
R.M. Swaminathan, sir – that’s all Swami wants to say.
R.M. Swaminathan! Is it really so difficult to say my own name? Is that so much to ask?
Yes, it is too much to ask,
and Swami doesn’t bother trying again.
“Who is this clown?” DDR says to his flunkeys, after a few moments, palms out in disbelief.
“This is R.M. Swaminathan, sir, the retired Sub-Inspector who—”
“Oh-ho!” DDR cries, leaping to his feet, energized by this new understanding, “now I remember! So this is you, so here you are, is it, Sub-Inspector,
Swaminathan?” And he stands over Swami, enraged, as though Swami should explain himself. But what can Swami explain?
“Sir?” Swami says, feebly.
Yes here you are, our
Sub-Inspector, taking it into his head to go to Madurai and see the stinking corpse of that damn
falling from my hotel window, the selfish
pig! This is you, is it?! You’re the man?!”
DDR likes to talk. He is also fond of shouting. As for ranting, it is a particular speciality, it really warms the cockles of his heart. Flailing his arms around in fury, jerking his head this
way and that, he unleashes some preliminary rants on poor old Swami, who is trying but failing to figure out whether this encounter is very dangerous indeed or merely very upsetting.
“Poking about in secret,” DDR charges him, “conducting private investigations, going above the heads of the authorities, jeopardizing the official investigation – so
that’s the way you want it, is it, that’s your game, this is how you reward the esteemed Indian Police Service who employed you for twenty years, who pay your pension! This is what you
do, setting yourself up as some crazy Inspector Eagle, sniffing around foreign dead bodies, following your own crazy agenda—”
“Don’t interrupt me!” DDR abruptly screams. So far he’s been warming up, but now he seems to be getting into his stride, grabbing theatrically at a handful of his lush
coconut-oiled hair and pulling at it in fury.
“What do you think you’re playing at?!” he bellows. “What right do you have to start your own investigations into crimes, what do you think the IPS is there
Swami isn’t sure if he is allowed to speak yet.
What crimes? What is wrong with this fellow, why does he think I’m poking around, why does he think I’m investigating
“Ninety-five,” he tries, in desperation, but his persecutor doesn’t seem to notice.
“Oh this is serious,” DDR is muttering now, shaking his head sadly in the manner of a man who isn’t relishing the unfortunate choices ahead; “you should have thought
about what you were doing, you don’t realize the consequences of your bumbling – the day you chose to go over the heads of the police, the day you decided there was dirty business to
investigate, the day you poked around needlessly, that will come to be seen as the worst day of your life if you’re not very careful, retired Sub-Inspector…”
DDR sits down at last, breathing heavily, mopping his brow. One of his flunkeys is nodding, in solemn admiration of the performance, while the other flunkey pours his boss a glass of chilled
Miranda fizzy drink.
Not a clue what he’s talking about
, Swami thinks, very frightened now, and as miserable as it is possible to be.
If DDR takes it into his head to destroy me, there is no
“Very sorry,” Swami mumbles.
“Very.” Swami repeats. “Blame all,” he says, indicating himself. He wipes his eyes with his sleeve –
this kind of fellow, he will only understand
DDR taps on the desk.
“What did you find out?” he asks suspiciously.
“What do you think happened?”
“Who do you suspect killed him?”
“No,” Swami starts, and “one,” he finishes.
“Why shouldn’t I get your pension stopped?!” DDR abruptly screeches, voice catching with rage, jumping up once again and bouncing around the room. “Don’t you
realize who I am? Don’t you know what-and-all committees I sit on? Why shouldn’t I get you evicted from your accommodation? Don’t you know there is a shortage of accommodation for
serving police officers? What will you do, you and your herd of women, on the street?!”
Swami is suffering too much humiliation and anxiety in his life. He has been enduring the onslaughts for two years, and this is the moment that he can no longer endure it. He folds –
not this, not this, not this as well as everything
– and every meagre shred of pride and dignity and hope comes oozing out of him in an instant; he slumps forwards, his head banging
on the edge of the desk and staying there. In abrupt, heaving gasps he starts to sob.
“Ayyo-yo!” DDR blurts, surprised – he’s gone too far, he detests the sight of a weeping man. “Hey, stop it! Hey, stop it, I say!”
“Hey get up you,” the flunkeys are joining in, “no blubbing on the desktop, get up!” and they are pulling him up roughly, but it makes no difference, his body might be
under their control but his weeping is something else, he is getting it from somewhere deeper and more desolate than they have known or imagined.
“Sir, urinating,” one of the flunkeys says apologetically to DDR, as he struggles to master Swami’s floppy arms.
DDR stares aghast at the lake of urine expanding over the marble slabs from its source at the end of Swami’s left trouser leg. At that moment the boy comes into the room with his handcart,
so that Bobby can have one of his many daily fondles. The boy stands in the doorway hesitantly, staring at the sobbing Swami, the cart sticking into the room. Bobby – lolling and obese and
also, it should be said, incontinent – lies there like an undersized bloated water-buffalo.
“Get out!” DDR snaps at the boy, but at the same time he moves over to give Bobby a tickle behind the ears, so that the boy, not knowing what to do, stands on one leg and looks
frightened. “For God’s sake will you stop crying!” DDR pleads with Swami, still tickling the dog in a mechanical frenzy, “What are you doing sobbing on my desk and pissing
on my floor, don’t you understand the way things work, weren’t you in the police for twenty years?” He stares down at Swami, who is still weeping inconsolably. “It’s
really just basic elementary business practice,” DDR explains to one of his flunkeys in an aside, “to apply a little pressure. Oh, forget it, take him home,” he orders in disgust,
but then as soon as the flunkeys are trying to haul Swami up again he contradicts himself, “No no, leave him there, get out now.”
So the flunkeys leave, and the gardener’s boy is sent away too, leaving behind them a weeping Swami, a bemused boss, and a handcart of pedigree paraplegic dachshund.
Nothing much is said for a time while DDR stands over Swami and watches him weep. “Come come,” he tries, feebly, “let us not be unduly pessimistic,” but he gets no
response. He looks at his watch, nearly gives Swami a pat on the shoulder, nearly opens the door to bellow, “Get this blubbing fool out of here!” At last he sits down in exasperation
and says, “All right all right, I wasn’t going to stop your pension, it was just my little threat, I just don’t want you sniffing around this white man. The reputation of my
hotels is a valuable commodity, don’t you understand? What’s the matter with you, haven’t you ever leant on anyone to get what you want?” Still no response from Swami, and
just as DDR is wondering if Swami is ever going to move or lift his head up, just as a bizarre thought comes to him about Swami having his own handcart and being wheeled around, like Bobby, from
place to place, he hears something.
“Six!” Swami repeats in a whisper, raising his tear-stained face. “Six!”
“More numbers? Six? Six what?”
“Daughters! No money!” His head goes down once more and then comes up again. “Job – no! No – dowry!”
“Yes yes but—”
“No… talking, no…”
“No,” Swami groans, in desolation, “elefates.”
“Elefa. Ele… phants,” Swami snivels, thinking of those long-lost times when he would pick his screaming daughters up and trumpet majestically.
“No elephants…” DDR echoes helplessly, “yes yes that is very bad,” he agrees. He scratches his head. “But – I was just giving you small instructive
fright, you didn’t let me get to the end. It’s a question of correct procedure,” he adds, pained, as if Swami is guilty of a breach of etiquette. “I was going to frighten
the daylights out of you and then offer to get your disability pension moved up to full pay as long as you keep your nose out of this business – after all, you got your disability in the line
of duty. I am definitely super-supporter of the police!” This is true, he supports them in all kinds of ways. They are no slouches in supporting him, either.
After he has made this generous offer – which has come to him spontaneously – he strokes Bobby’s nape with long, slow sweeps of his hand, and wonders to himself whether
he’ll fulfil the promise or not.
Swami lifts his head cautiously. He looks at the slobbering hound in the handcart, which is ecstatic under his master’s attentions, then up to DDR. When he tries to speak, nothing comes
out at first. He tries again and there is not much difference. At last he gives up and just says, “No talking,” then holds his head in his hands once more.
“The Mahatma himself observed a vow of silence on Mondays,” DDR observes. There is a long pause before he continues. “My guru hasn’t spoken in over fifteen years,”
he says at last, and he gestures towards the photograph of Sri Sri Dravidananda Gurkkal, a man whose mysterious encircling tattoo is said by his devotees to have been present at birth; a man who
stands in front of a tree for twelve hours a day, every day, doing nothing, saying nothing, not moving, while thousands and thousands and thousands of pilgrims watch enraptured; a man around whom
has grown up a vast ashram complex, a minor town, and an ever-expanding programme of charitable endeavours, all founded and funded and managed by his inspired devotees; a godhead, whose silence is
said to have penetrated to the starting point of the centre of the spiral of all knowledge.
Swami is sitting on a white plastic chair on the verandah of Number 14/B, gazing unseeing into the belching traffic, occasionally glancing at his books in a faraway fashion; he
has done little else since being returned to his family from D.D. Rajendran’s house some four or five days ago. But what about Amma? Why is she coming out onto the verandah every few minutes,
peering down the road anxiously, and clicking her tongue in frustration before going back inside?
Swami takes no notice of her comings and goings, and Amma takes no notice of Swami. Amma has stopped speaking to Swami. If this seems rather harsh of Amma, given Swami’s lamentable
psychological condition at present, and the extensive indignities to which he has been subjected, it should perhaps be pointed out in her defence that Swami has decided to stop speaking at all.
Amma comes out onto the verandah again and at last sees what she’s been waiting for – Jodhi and Pushpa returning from college, threading their way up the obstacle course of the
senses that is this street.
“Hurry up!” Amma mouths, watching her two pretty daughters walking back home – rather reluctantly, it seems – arm in arm in their dark-green
“Well?” she demands as Jodhi gets within hearing range. “Did you send it?”
“Oh no Amma, not again, I can’t stand it, please let me get into the house and—”
“Never mind all this and all that and all those other things too, I am wanting to know, did you send it?”