There may be a revival happening across the city, but Krishna Shastri Devulapalli tells us how some things never change
When he did it the first time, I thought it was just a quirk. The way the man made an ostrich face with his hand—fingers and thumb puckered together like a shadow puppet—and tried to gouge his own eye out. But when he did it five times in quick succession, not caring that he was wearing glasses, I knew something was horribly wrong. His astonishingly quick hand movement, starting out as far away as his arm would allow, followed by the blurry peck of his fingers held together in a beak, stopping just a micron short of his spectacled eye made my blood run cold.
“Don’t you think we should stop him?” I said.
My wife pinched me so hard my hand turned blue.
He looked like he was okay for a second. Then, just like that, with his hand in ‘thumbs up’ position, the man began pounding something to dust in an imaginary pestle. The look of pain on his face was like I had never seen before. His eyes were scrunched shut and I could see his front teeth clenched in a horrific grimace even from the distance. This was a man who was clearly asking for help. I tried to rise. My wife held my hand so hard, I couldn’t get up.
“Do you see anyone else doing anything?” she said.
She was right. Not a soul stirred. I had seen cold-blooded people before but nothing like the lot around me.
Then the gouging began again, only it was with his other hand. I felt a trickle of sweat going down my spine. The man’s battle with self continued. He tried to get up from where he was sitting but it seemed like some giant, invisible hand kept pushing him back to his position relentlessly and rhythmically. Still, no one tried to help him. A man in front of me recorded the whole thing like it was the most natural thing in the world.
‘Don’t you have a heart, man?’ I said, tapping him on his shoulder.
My wife and a couple of people shushed me. The man with the iPhone looked at me like I was crazy.
I tried to look away but I couldn’t. The man’s face convulsed and his hands tried to find things in the air that no one else could see. First, a series of tiny flying insects he tried to swat in vain, then an imaginary squishy ball like the ones given to convalescing bypass patients that he squeezed with a look of profound sadness, followed by delicate, fine strokes with what could only be an imaginary squirrel-haired brush creating a Mughal miniature in thin air visible only to his fevered eye. Then the gouging and the pounding and the unsuccessful attempts at trying to get up.
As I couldn’t stand it any longer and my wife’s cruel grip around my bony wrist turned to manacle, the man tried to bring out everything in his bowels by making rapid upward digging movements in the region of his stomach. His look was not dissimilar to John Hurt’s in the Alien before the creature in his stomach tears his body open and springs out in a shower of blood and goo.
I closed my eyes and prayed.
If there was a god, this would stop.
The song ended. Everyone in the audience clapped. The man smiled and began his next song.
— The Chennai-based writer has been banned by all the music sabhas. He gets his December season bondas from the black market.
Illustration: Tapas Ranjan