3 March 2010

the story of pleiku

Pleiku was born at 11 pm on a night with no moon and no power. People said it was a bad omen. Starting with the immeasurable pain he caused his mother while coming out, anything that went wrong was blamed on this. Alternatively, they could’ve blamed the cat sitting on the bed or the blue shirt that his father was wearing, but they didn’t. For the first few years everyone found Pleiku cute. But all babies are cute, no? Slowly Darwin drew out of Pleiku differences that make us different. He grew up into a slow, shy kid, not notably good at anything. He watched movies where the main guy appears useless yet has a talent hidden. Pleiku searched everyday in the mirror and found nothing. Through adolescence he got picked on by boys who couldn’t pick on anybody else. He personified purposeless existence; floating through life like nothing separated yesterday from today. The only thing he looked forward to was the next morning’s newspaper, which he loved reading over an hour long dump. Teachers with frustrating lives took it out on kids who misbehaved (as kids must). But Pleiku had no friends and didn’t say much, so it was morally challenging for the teachers to beat him. Still his teachers yelled at him for his stupidity. Back home, his parents fought silently, and the times they went too far apart Pleiku was the invisible cord that pulled them together. Wedded in a loveless relationship, their purpose in life was to educate Pleiku, keep him away from vices, and marry him to an obedient girl of their choice, who will then take care of them in old age and make babies (nothing satisfied them like seeing the baby’s penis) who can then be educated, kept off vices and married off.

Higher education took him to a college far away from home and parents, who he unfailingly called everyday. He never understood why his mother asked him what he ate in that shithole of a mess in college. Far from home, where nobody knew of his silent past, Pleiku reinvented himself. He loved the fact that he could be anybody he wanted to be; people simply assumed that he’d been like that all his life. He got ragged, made friends, drank and smoked... by now he’d learnt to score enough to get by, and thus drifted thru 4 years without a scratch. Some nights when he drank rum by the lake bordering his college, he wondered why he couldn’t live here forever. Why graduate and become like his parents?

Pleiku made so many friends that he forgot his forgettable time in school. Looking back, it seemed like somebody else lived in this body of his. His mum still called to enquire what he ate, which he found increasingly silly and irritable. He barely spoke to his father, who paid his fees unfailingly, who made sure he had smart clothes to wear, who trusted him implicitly - out of love, not confidence.

Towards the end, Pleiku found a girl who thought just like him. Next to his reinvention it was the best thing in his life. It was so unbelievable that it kept him in disbelief for a good year. By the time he believed (which promptly made it less sweet) he was sitting in a cubicle with bright white lighting for maximum efficiency, punching mindlessly into a computer like everyone else in the room. He had moved to another city, and his girl had moved on. His friends were all scattered like dots on the map, getting hitched with someone or the other. His life went back to school, where it felt like the day never ended, each sunrise merging seamlessly into the next.

Pleiku’s parents looked for a suitable girl for their kid, who they felt was calm and soft-spoken. Pleiku was sniffing 30 and had no fight left in him to find a girl for himself. He liked plump women, and picked one from the first list of 13 pictures that were given to him. Her name was Dalat. Much later Pleiku wondered how his life would’ve been if he had been as decisive all his life. He only saw Dalat once before she became his wife, when she prostrated in front of him and sought his blessings while he approved the match. Even though Pleiku had agreed to everything the rival parents had said, he still had to watch them fight in his wedding over things he didn’t care about. After such prolonged starvation, he was merely hungry to dip his beak. The girl loved the spotlight and all the pampering. Never had so many people worked so hard to make her look pretty. What she didn’t know was how her whitewashed face contrasted against her brown arms, despite which she had now achieved the pinnacle of her pretty existence… and how things would go downhill from here.

They spent the first 2 weeks welded in bed. For the sake of their families and facebook (and thanks to the digital revolution) they took 800 pictures, going out once a day so they didn’t appear too obsessed. When they got back they painfully realised that life existed outside of bed… that there were dishes to be done, clothes to be washed and chores to be completed… Pleiku hated it even more that he was now responsible for another person. Dalat went to the temple every morning and prayed that a little penis was growing somewhere inside her… when the doctor spotted the penis on the hideous scan, Pleiku’s parents opened the sweet box and fed Dalat until she threw up. They took such good care of Dalat that even in her dreamy eyes she knew it wouldn’t last after the baby came out.

As Dalat grew bigger with Hue, Pleiku cursed the baby for killing his sex life. With Dalat due in one month, Pleiku lost his head and picked up a whore on a business trip to the far-east. He liked how he could have the girl without being responsible for feeding her tomorrow. He resumed his love for alcohol and smoke which he’d shelved thanks to sober colleagues and the excitement of baby-making. On weekends he started snorting with his old pals from school, bonded by the common purpose of escaping the purposeless present.

After the initial excitement of the new baby, Pleiku couldn’t wait to see his little Hue grow up and learn to pee and crap by himself. Every Monday Pleiku cursed reality for being such a bitch. During this time he sought frequent trips to the far-east while Dalat was tormented by her in-laws. Dalat knew that the only way out was to have another penis inside her, but Pleiku – no longer hungry – steadfastly refused to be responsible for another mouth.

Dalat could smell other women on Pleiku, but by now she didn’t care enough to reform Pleiku. She quietly waited for his end, which came on a Sunday morning. They found him by the lake in his college, smelling of rum, nose white without cotton, with a filmy streak of red and bile dripping down.

Dalat took the money and Hue, and left for some place far away. Before leaving she spat blood-red betel juice on the pictures of the Gods worshipped by her in-laws. Pleiku’s nameless faceless friends had absconded, fearing questions about the white in Pleiku’s nose. His parents stood crying alone at the mortuary, watching their flesh and blood burn in the oven, wondering what they did wrong.


Nishant said...

Nice to see a post here after a long time.

Is this story from your Vietnam stay? Your story could have been easily told in the Indian context as well without any changes.

Anonymous said...

LOVE it.

Anonymous said...

Have played the Wait Game along with all fans of The Sweeper of Mines. Good to have you back in such fine form.

sudhar said...

is it not really an indian story after all...never mind the names

Artemis Foul said...

Beautifully written.

Wanderer said...

thanks for the encouraging comments!

the story is indian (who else likes plump women?:) ) but that is not the point. screw nationalism.

it was written after a chat with a childhood friend named vikram. since i run low on truly creative imagination the story and some lines have been lifted from people i know. i wish i could write in greater depth and richer details.

hey motorcycle diaries... im so happy you thought of me! who may you be?

Anonymous said...

"who may you be?"

just a fanboy of your writing and adventurous spirit. nothing else matters really.

Sriram said...

i see so many strands of yourself in that. nicely written :)

the sense of feeling free of any other compulsion while resting on a beach (or a lake here) on a cool evening with nary a care does make you want it forever! :)