Thugs of Hindustan
‘He’ turned out like just how his mother had said when he was born under the starry night sky amidst the celebration and joy of neighbours and relatives – ‘my prince like son.’ The child’s father hearing that had smiled then, and today both the man and his wife admired how the prince looked.
Long, slender yet tender arms, beautifully shaped eyes with a sharp nose that accentuated the carefully crafted lips. And his face had a charm – one that radiated a pinkish glow adding to his soft demure. His physical appeal attracted everyone around him often ending with high praises and at times with pinches to his cheek.
It was not just about his looks though, he was even made to feel like a prince. The man and his wife ensured that they always gave him enough attention, if not more, to take care of all his day to day necessities. The man made enough time to play games. The kind where they would punch in thin air with “dhishoom dhishoom” noises and the boy had to hunt his father down with a toy. The boy’s thin fingers struggled to pull the trigger but eventually he was always made to win. He would just clap in joy, laugh and run to his mother and hold her with all his might. The mother would invariably kiss him on the forehead and say, “Shabaash!”
But all days were not just about play. Many were also about tales; tales that his mother narrated about kings who conquered lands, about the mighty ones who battled single handedly, the man who defeated fate to become rich. The boy would clutch on to his mother’s clothing listening carefully and at times even dig his head into her chest as the tales turned into folklores of ghosts, hidden treasures and haunted mansions. Seeing him scared the wife and the man would laugh out loud and invariably state, “Be brave, my son. Be brave.”
“It was not just about his looks though, he was even made to feel like a prince. The man and his wife ensured that they always gave him enough attention...”
As the years flipped, the boy now had a new role to play. That to share his time in doing responsible chores. Ones that involved cleaning the motor car, assisting his father to repair faulty appliances, carry buckets of water, climb the tree to pluck fruits and on a few days even go to the market. And every time they went to the market, on the way back, the father while narrating his day to day achievements in work, often punctuated with an encouraging statement to the boy, “Pick it up, I am sure you can do it”. The boy who would invariably rest his arms while carrying the vegetable bags.
While not doing chores, the boy would mostly spend time in his own room reading or fidgeting with pieces of paper, scribbling in a book or just staring outside the window. At times when he would catch a glimpse of his mother in the kitchen, he would often come up and ask, “May I help?”. The mother would lovingly turn down the offer, and suggest to him to either check with his father if he wanted help or at times say, “If you don’t feel like studying, why don’t you go out and play with the other boys.” The boy did not quite like the idea of outdoor play, so he resisted. Only at times he obliged and every time he did, he would turn to his mother and say, “I am going out, stay at home. Will be back soon.” That was the boy, imitating his father.
One fine day, when the boy went out to play an incident occurred. Standing in the middle of the ground, with the other children of his age, he suddenly spotted two birds in flight. Unaware of the game, his emotions drew him to enact the birds by raising his arms and swirling them in the air. So engrossed was the boy that he did not realise that he costed his team a point. He only came to terms when a strong hand pushed him sideways and a voice hurled at him, “Idiot! Why do you dance like a girl in the field?” Before the boy gathered himself a barrage of voices announced “Girl! Girl! Girl!”, followed by statements “Everyone, look at those lips... seems like he applies lipstick; and those dangling arms that have no strength! Silly coward always sitting in the house, And, look when we shout, he just stands there silently like a sissy”. “But guys, how can he! Just see he does not even have a moustache line yet!”
The last statement put an end to the remarks but only led to a loud laughter that echoed across the field! The boy with stiffened arms and lowered head ran home and narrated the incident with tears in his eyes. The man’s wife said “Go wash your face!”, while the man put his hand around his shoulder and remarked “Boys, don’t cry!”
“The mother would lovingly turn down the offer, and suggest to him to either check with his father or say why don’t you go out and play with the other boys.”
The assuring words not only wiped away the boy’s tears, but also his childhood. Suddenly he grew up and took shape into a stoic figure. His emotions were restrained, words curtailed, and a sense of passivity prevailed across his body language. His appearance even altered. Now he bore more rougher edges, his face more rugged and his hair unkempt. His arms however were still thin. He managed to hide them behind his long sleeves but more than that he hid himself behind his own laughter that had grown louder than earlier.
As he matured, he obscured himself from the one of his own kind who ranted about how to be assertive; ways to display authority; means to showcase power; and manners to uphold the tribe. But even from the opposite kind who described vividly what his kind should look like, behave like, appear like, possess like, protect like and even love like. He was surrounded by definitions from all sides that either he could not relate to or live up to. He tried hard to fit in but failed, and sooner than later all that he was to everyone around was a living flesh of jokes, at times angst and of constant mockery. His only response was a timid smile underneath which he buried himself further.
But the smile did find a taker. He followed what she instructed, “Men should propose to woman for marriage.” He abided, she obliged. The marriage was the occasion that was attended by all. Everyone questioned the girl about her excitement and the new life that she was stepping into, and the boy was left to answer the remaining questions. “Where will you both stay? Is it closer to work? Have you worked out the finances and will you be able to run the house?” He diligently replied pleasing everyone around.
“His only response was a timid smile underneath which he buried himself further.”
One evening the couple invited their relatives over for dinner. The wife had made all the arrangements including listing specific tasks for her husband. As the dinner played out, everyone’s eyes were focused on how soundly the man was carrying out all instructions that were laid out by the woman. They kept staring, and eventually when the man picked up the plates a resounding noise of “Tch, Tch, tch!” filled up the entire living room. The woman turned around and just managed to smile. The man however did not turn around, only the noise reverberated in his ears. Who made the noise – a person, few of them or all of them? He did not know but the sound remained within him.
He went to bed that evening with an unsettling feeling. His emotions oscillated within who he appeared today, what everyone wanted and who he had buried for so long. He shuffled across his bed uneasily burdened by the years of expectancy that weighed on his shoulders and finally succumbed. Succumbed to commit a heinous act. An act where at once he could conquer like the tales he heard, defeat like the childhood games he learnt and assert like how everyone had wanted. He vanquished and avenged the way it was expected – by strength and power. Today he wanted to prove that he indeed had learnt what they taught him. And under the darkness of the night he surrendered to all.
The wife woke up the next morning and attended to the daily chores. As she finished and was about to head out, she walked up to him and said in a stern voice, “If you realise what you have done - show some guts, get out of the blanket and apologise. Do not hide underneath it.” The man did not say a word. He felt ashamed but just looked back without an expression on his face.
Only underneath the blanket was the man’s fist that was clinging onto the sheet, his legs resting one above the other to support his weak knees, his stomach squirming in hollowness and his heart beating in fear. The boy realised that it was he who was defeated last night. He had become who he never was. Now he was shrouded in guilt - a feeling that weighed more than what he carried all these years.
“Today he wanted to prove that he indeed had learnt what they taught him. And under the darkness of the night he surrendered to all.”
As the woman walked out of the door, the remains of last night reflected acutely on her body. With each step she took the reflection seeped through to the neighbours and the close ones. Almost immediately shuddering voices unanimously resounded in the lanes, “Don’t know how all men turn out to be this way!”
The man seeped further into the blanket and after so many years, cried once again. This time hiding his tears from the world that surrounded him.
Illustrations: Inspired and adapted from Phad art