John and Arunachalam

 John and Arunachalam 
13 jan 2013

 John was his name. We clicked the first time we met though separated physically by iron bars. Later in the day, he sat on a low stool in the sunshine across me and I took notes while he talked about his life, his friends and the village but never about his family and sometimes he took my little notepad to draw pictures in the margins, careful never to intrude or trespass upon my writing. He never seemed interested in the other pages, only in the ones I wrote when with him. His songs with their deep bass, incredibly soulful and strong, boomed through the narrow corridors, hitting and bouncing off the closed doors within which the dangerous and naked ones were locked up and where they occasionally danced to inaudible tunes, while looking for the cracks to get a glimpse of the precious sunlight.

He watered the marigold and zinnias and sometimes crushed the flowers with his mighty fist sending shivers down the spines of the white-clad staff but he never was anything but gentle to me. We talked often of the night when he was returning home after seeing a Rajnikant film . ‘Arunachalam’ dominated his thoughts, affecting him at a deeply cellular level it seemed to me. It was like seeing a wooly mammoth suddenly lumbering to its feet from a deep sleep when he thought of the film or its characters or of rajnikant or if any of the tunes ambled into his vivid daydreams.

 He was the person they wanted when the huge door of the cell came off its rusty hinges and creaked as if it was a death knell. The rest of the inmates, temporarily cowed into fear, pushed each other in a mad rush to get away from the door as if it were a nightmare breathing fire. They tried to hide from the huge beam of sunlight that streamed suddenly into their secrets-as if they were afraid to be found out. It was odd and a bit comic that the ones who would hurl themselves against the windows in a bid to escape from the dark room, no longer seemed remotely interested in making an escape bid now that the doorway lay wide open. They lacked the courage and conviction that they could breathe in real free air or the chains that kept their feet from straying had imprinted and bound their will and thoughts too. John never had thoughts of running away. He fixed the door deftly and effortlessly, quite at home with the hammer and drill, though at any other time, they would not trust him with even a small nail. But nobody feared that he would turn destructive or do self harm at this time and John meekly handed over the tools as soon as he finished with the door.  

It was my last day there and John was yet again ready to talk. About that evening when he and three of his friends were returning home after watching Arunachalam. He would lose track of the narrative and break into loud song frequently “ AthaaNda, EthaaNda, Arunachalam Naanthanda” breaking into a rajni style jig too. Hey John, what happened that night? That was me trying to break his trance. He sat down again and apologized. He had the most beautiful manners when he felt like it. Then my friends went into their shacks, there was no ‘current’ in the village and when he neared his single-room shack, his mother was not there. There was a goat’s head with blood flowing out , dripping on to the small mud deities of shiva and brahma which his mother used to religiously worship and whose feet he used to touch umpteen times a day while leaving the shack. He felt afraid at first and then he found that he no longer felt any fear. That was when he made a discovery- that he, John was Shiva, he was Brahma And he was Arunachalam. None could touch his mind with fear any longer, none would ever put any more voodoo curses on him. A turning point that saved his life he believed firmly, and the  crucial one that led to him being locked up at Oolampara, according to the young psychiatrist, who so wanted to fit in with the crowd on the other side of the iron bars, that he never wore a shirt while on duty and was much loved by the inmates even though he would always find out the ones who had been hiding their tablets in their ears, noses and underarms. Big John was sad when I left but the god understood the ways of the world he presided upon. His booming voice perhaps still flows unsubdued over the metal chains, iron bars and the world that tries to shut out its inner voices “Athaanda, Ithaanda, Arunachalam Naanthanda”

©Reena Prasad

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