Sunday, March 11, 2012
Men in the Xerox Pictures
In Kerala two types of people appear as xeroxed prints on A4 size paper; one, those who have gone missing, two, those who have passed away. The print status shows their social standing. Rich and powerful, when go missing, appear either as front page news or as columns. When they die, their pictures appear in embroidered frames in the third pages of the newspapers.
The hapless ones appear as Xerox prints. There is one more category of people who make their appearance as Photostat prints- the wanted ones, not the ‘most wanted’ types, but the locally wanted thugs, pickpockets and debtors. They all look at you from pillars, closed shutters, broken walls and street corners reeking in the ammonia smell of urine. Perhaps, this is not the story of Kerala losers alone. This is the story of every where, especially an ‘anywhere’ in India.
From these white sheets accentuated by the bleeding of black ink from the malfunctioning Xerox machines in the dimly lit corner shops, these people stare at you; a kind of stare only the people who have gone out of the normal trajectories of social life could give you. The moment the photographs are transferred into Photostat copies, they wear a cloak of death and distance. They look like people who have lost in themselves. They look like people who never have been.
People in the Photostat pictures are apparitions, framed tightly as decaying busts. The erstwhile smile that had been frozen by the click of the unknown camera person looks like an eerie mask that makes each of them look more and more like unnumbered and obscured creatures in a penitentiary ledger than those entries in a real voters list.
Such was that figure that was looking at me from that A 4 size paper. It was following me like a half moon stalking me throughout my nightly trips. It was there on the electric post, roughly glued so that I could trace the Braille codes made out of cement blobs. That man, to be precise that no-man with no-eyes and no-smile, but a stare that throws you into the whirlpool of nightmares, was looking at me from everywhere.
“He was sixty one year old,” someone told me from the next seat. I was almost finishing my 173 kilometer journey from Kottayam to my village. The man who told me had no ears. In their place I saw two crumbled pieces of flesh fused into the shape of a wax effigy. I looked into his face and it was hollow and it resembled the man on the Xerox copy. But the difference between them was this one next to me was simply breathing and talking to me.
“He never went to attend anybody’s death,” the man continued. And I noticed that he was burnt from neck to finger tips. But he was gleeful and the local guys traveling in the bus were acknowledging him as if he were quite an important person. Suddenly I found myself in the midst of total strangers who I thought were conspiring against me, my alien presence through their side glances and half broken smiles.
“He never went to see good bye to anyone as he was busy with his small shop,” the man continued. “And you see, one day he himself is gone. He has just become a picture on the wall. Perhaps, these guys who posted his pictures all over, are taking revenge on his pettiness that he used to flaunt as his virtue when he was alive. Now, look at me. I am a burnt stick. But I am still alive. This driver may apply breaks now. I may fall on you or you may fall on me. Who knows? Tomorrow I may be the one to go or are you the one?”
I was curious and the sudden invocation of death shook me up a little bit. The good stereo in the bus played a good music; an old song. The half burnt man started humming along. He asked me, ‘Can you identify the movie?” I made a quick calculation and said ‘CID Nazir’. Yes, right, he said. I had won that round for the first time after getting into that bus full of strangers.
‘You know, now everyone wants to know how I was burnt,” he told me. I asked him the same question. Come home, I will tell you, he replied. Funny, I thought. If you come home, I will tell you why I was burnt. Now the television channels want to know how a person comes back to life after going through death. I am treated as a person who has seen the other world, the world where you have not gone yet, he continued.
Suddenly, I thought of V.K.Sreeraman, a writer, actor and television program producer. He had produced a series of tele-documentaries on people who were different from us and showed distinct social behaviors. So I asked him, did Sreeraman come to you? “What the fuck is that?” he spat heavily on the floor. By the time the bus had stopped at the terminus. “I know only one Sreeraman and he was Sita’s husband,” saying this he walked off.
I saw my Photostat image on the floor, now covered with the phlegm that he had just spat out.