Saturday, November 05, 2011

Short Fiction : Ranga and the demon king

Ranga and the demon king
a short fiction by ShaKri


Circa 19— and the land was a meat mart. Fresh ones went for a higher price while the aging skins were left on the back burner. Dicey ones abandoned in the name of the Omnipresent while the smarter ones were often found in a puddle of their own blood. A shameful dance of how meaningless and absolutely worthless a human life was became more apparent with every tabloid spill. Burning the soles of his hardened feet was the common man, stuck somewhere between the moon and the rainbow, trying to scratch his back in peace. Ignored, he sat waiting in line for an unknown finale just because others like him did too. Fanning themselves with the only other piece of clothing they had brought, they waited. And they hoped.

Thrown somewhere into this bizarre equation of simmering humanity was Ranga. Burning the tips of his fingers with a beedi he had borrowed, he smoked in deep drags with a moist hand towel on his head. Strapped in a dirty dhoti that begged for a wash and an equally shabby cotton shirt he sat enjoying his ten minute lunch break. His face was an image of eternal struggle laced with a hint of a discerning frown. Little was known about this middle aged looking wrinkle-faced nobody who minded his own business and slaved at almost every road repair, flyover construction, brick-laying and sign painting project the city would undertake. Sniffing till his mouth went dry in the blistering heat, Ranga would get soaked in sweat as he toiled relentlessly each passing day to make the few rupaiyyah he got at the end of it. A quick wipe of the weary face and another deep whiff of the foul tasting beedi was all he needed to get through the day.

He ate when there was food available. He slept where there was room. His only possession was a hand-sown cotton bag that hung in desperation along his groin. He would flap up his dhoti with an air of uncouth proficiency and stuff his earnings into that bank of atomic fortunes. Many a time this rather ghastly act of uninvited publicity would see orthodox faces in the crowd look away in utter disgust. With little care for anything around him he would sneeze out a long one, adjust his crotch with practiced ease and move on. Nothing, it appeared, could make the fellow blink an eyelid of concern for anyone else besides himself.

Not far from the invisible shanty-town that was the city’s eyesore was the new project at hand. Ranga’s discovery about this high yielding job had borne fruit when he found himself tenth in the ant-hill that was forming for rapid occupation. A name exchange, a nod of approval on the payment rules and he was in. Zaveri Builders had taken it upon themselves to provide the already bejeweled headdress of the city yet another elite column of apartments with one bedroom and two bathrooms. Ranga was once forced to join in some banter about the owner being a major power player but being the way he was, he coughed and spat before resuming work.

His apathetic reactions to the people around him had created unrest among the ranks as he quickly got the repute of being a loathsome loner. He was, without a shred of doubt, a man of few words but somehow the only salvation others like him with nastier coughing and spitting habits had was to know they were part of a community. This blatant disregard by Ranga of the working-ants brotherhood did not seem to gel well with the clan.

The meat market would remain simmering with the blister of each passing sun. The women folk carried heaps of gravel and stones during the day while their bare bottomed toddlers watched in curious glee before returning to their sand play. At night these mothers and their children nestled next to each other with a half empty stomach while the fathers drank themselves insane and yelled obscenities at the perfumed bedrooms of the snoring elite. Their make shift tents with a dull kitchen outside would be filled with badly sung lullabies and the occasional wail of a nightmare as the stars enveloped this part of the globe. Apart from this faction of noise and activity the rest of the area and all sixteen-floors of it would be the city of the dead.

The booze-hound men would sit around all night exchanging dirty jokes about the owner of the building being an impotent with only one working testis. They would guffaw at various ill conceived rumors about the project’s money being generated by the mafia. Some of them would swear on their dead mothers (‘God rest her soul!’ they would add) that they had seen with their own living eyes covert exchanges at late night meetings. Initially they would call out to Ranga to come on over and join their verbal exploits but on his consistent reluctance to do so they had confidently declared that even he was not a complete man either. Too bad, they said, that at least the owner had so much money! And they might as well have been right about Ranga’s non existent manhood had it not been for that fateful night when the demon king finally decided to make an appearance.

Literacy among these folk was pretty minimal. Agriculture had been their main occupation before the land started to crack and worms began consummating on their crops. While some of them took rat poison for dessert others fled the land to the city where the dreams were produced and caged. They left behind wailing wives and dead kin. Memories of a hard life were past them as the glitz and distraction of a disoriented metro consumed them in one merciless gulp. The silence that engulfed their empty eyes would be filled with the reflections of the stars sequined on some teenager’s ripped jean. The masks they would wear as they built someone's aspiration during the day would burn off their faces as the liquor made way into their food craving veins. With a stomach full of lost ambitions, they would disappear into a mirage of poison vials and humping ring worms before the irksome crow would croak each morning. Those few minutes of reconciliation was all they had. It was all they could afford.

What did not bother Ranga about this scene was the familiarity of it all. He too was a child of abuse in the name of democracy. A lowly farmer whose land had been lost in oceans of debt that would take at least three generations of buttock peeling to pay back. As the heads of the administration looked the other way his home burned. His brothers hung from banyan trees with letters of sorrow cold in their still palms. The elders cremated their mortal remains but the spirits still wandered around the old banyan tree, looking for a release. A proper one. And hopefully a happy one. It seemed like the mixed emotions of the banyan tree dwellers fell on the wrong ears. Somewhere in the belly of an undigested sky slept the demon king in peace. Their cries soaked in flesh-scented fury, somehow, reached the pit of the evil that sang itself a lullaby of death. Not the silent kind O no! The noisy kind. The kind that makes stomachs churn and tongues heave. Somewhere someone somehow had managed to say those two words – magical concoctions of liberty – that would descend from the ill bowels of the skies. That unmistakable pair wrapped in one pristine request – ‘Release Us’.

Ranga squatted for a quick late night relief near the garbage mound when the signs initially appeared. Two drunks were discussing various ways of having rough sex with the latest starlet when mixed with the wind came the scent of decaying souls. Ranga picked it up almost right away. His thoughts ran back to his village, to his family, to his wife, to his twin-daughters who still had not yet reached their tenth year of existence and to his dying land. The land that sat buried inside the shame of his family. The land that had made him as hard as itself. That mass of helpless earth that sat choking on its spit with no one to care for it. As the silence broke with the demon king’s flaming eyeballs Ranga was on his feet – alert, aware, ready. He stood all set to take the monster by his blazing horns and send him back to where he came from.

It was close to 3 AM when the out of control four wheeled chariot of the demon king was on its final ride. Loud and unfamiliar music radiated with glaring insanity from its foul interiors that spat out sparks of fire as it mercilessly banged itself against the sidewalk. Ranga’s math was as accurate as it had ever been. If he did not come in the way of the demon king’s death-strewn path then more than two dozen drunks and eight sobers would be trampled under the hot wheels of the chariot the demon king was riding. The refugee camps with the mothers and children would be next in line. If he did manage to cross paths with the frenzied machine then there was no way to predict which route the dying chariot would take before fragmenting into a thousands pieces perhaps taking Ranga along with it.

Without a second to spare, Ranga took one last look at the boiling lights from hell and leaped onto the chariot’s view. The dark shades prevented him from seeing the demon king in the eye but what a sight that was! An ear piercing crescendo of unearthly noises came out of the metal chariot as Ranga clung onto it desperately trying to force it out of its path of impending mayhem. A few meters away from the snoring half-dead Ranga realized he had gained access to the chariot's steering wheel. He quickly maneuvered his arm onto the square that was dimly lit by smoke and expensive alcohol. He heard a cry behind him; a sleepy sober was shouting at the top of his lungs and trying to pull out every sleeping worker away from that cursed sidewalk. In the following moment the chariot was in Ranga’s control. At a speed unimaginable the demon king's chariot sped onto the construction site narrowly missing the snoozing booze-hounds and crashed violently into one of the weaker pillars in the basement area.

The explosion that followed echoed across the neighborhood. The roar of melting metal was so intense that life in the hundred meter radius was brought out of its slumber. Within a few seconds scores of groggy heads surrounded the smoking chariot of the demon king that was now engulfed in raging flames. Wailing children and their hysterical mothers appeared from their camps and did little to bring order to this chaos. Residents from the neighborhood rushed towards the accident spot with overflowing buckets of water and blankets. Within minutes the fire was brought under control as the entire area was engulfed in a foggy layer of invisible grief.

A burly man, who identified himself as Yadav, began pushing curious onlookers aside to try and rip open the doors of the burning chariot. Using the water and the blankets as fire-safety gadgets he pulled open the door with some effort to find two seriously injured individuals trapped inside. One of them was a young woman who seemed to have hurt her head with a bright red stream of blood dripping down her face and the second one, the driver, was a young man who was immediately identified as the impotent owner’s only son. Someone’s presence of mind worked well that dreary night as an ambulance and a police jeep arrived within the next few minutes.

The impact had been quite vexing. The front portion of the chariot had been completely damaged as the bodies of the unconscious occupants were awkwardly stuck inside. With efforts by the burly Yadav they were finally pulled out and put on sanitized stretchers before being whisked away to safety. The police quickly cleared out the area so that the clean up operation would go smoothly. Considering the owner’s son was involved in this grisly incident they did not want any delay. Not a minute more. Not a second more.

‘Hey! See this!’ screamed one of the younger workers as the ambulances disappeared into the distance. The crowd turned its attention towards the lad only to realize that one more fatality had occurred. One of the local workers, whose name no one knew, lay in a pool of blood as the back of his head had pierced into one of the metal rods that stuck out of one of the concrete blocks of aspirations. They slowly pulled out the dead body of the stranger from its entanglement and laid it out in the open for everyone to take a peek.

‘Sorry son of a bastard’ said one of the intoxicated workers. ‘We pleaded with this fellow to be with us. If he had been then he would have been alive today. You see what happens if you act too smart? I always knew he was not man enough!’ Having said this he spat on Ranga’s bloodied face before being pushed away by the others. Someone later called the local authorities and informed them about an unknown body that had been involved in the incident and needed cremation. Thus, Ranga’s historic tryst with the demon king remained undocumented.

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Note:
The inspiration for 'Ranga and the demon king' came from Shankar Nag's 1985 Kannada movie called 'Accident'.

Other posts of a similar genre:
A tale for Ambu
The death of Krsna

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