Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 DNA-OUT of PRINT Short Fiction Shortlist: Amritha Dinesh

Venu Decides To Die
Amritha Dinesh

The wind flowed around his balls and played with the hair on his butt. A heavy, full moon emerged from the clouds and Venu decided that if he was to jump, he had to do it right now. A shudder ran from his tailbone to the crown of his head. This was it. He took a deep breath and looked down unable to move until the dawn lit up the sands. Only sand. Where did the water go? He looked down frantically. There were a few silver pools across the sand like broken mirrors, but the river had disappeared. Would the hard sand do the job or would it leave him with broken bones or a broken back. Living at the mercy of his wife until he recovered, or for the rest of his life. The thought brought on another shudder. He turned to the neatly folded shirt, ivory dhoti and briefs, next to his Hawaii chappals. Why were they called Hawaii chappals? Why had he removed all his clothes?  He had seen it in a movie a long time ago. The camera had moved dramatically to a hero unbuttoning his shirt, standing at the edge of a cliff, tears streaming down his face, or was it rain? In the next shot an evil policeman laughed as he saw the neatly folded clothes and shoes at the edge of the cliff and shouted, ‘He killed himself!’ Of course the hero hadn’t killed himself, he came back and threw the policeman off the same cliff. Venu was going to miss movies when he was dead.

There was a rumble in the distance. He looked up, goosebumps breaking over his skin, reminding him again that he was naked. At first he was spooked by the pairs of lights, one after the other, hovering and jumping over the sands before he realised it was a line of trucks. They passed under him as he crouched low, face to the ground and bum a little higher to protect his privates from the broken concrete. He scrabbled for his clothes, dressing while almost horizontal before standing up. The last truck had stopped below the bridge. A face was looking up and it was a familiar face.

‘Venu chetta. What are you doing here so early in the morning?’

‘What are you doing here? With all these trucks?’ he shouted back.

The boy was his neighbour.

‘Sand. For construction.’

‘Sand mining is illegal.’ He recited.

‘Yes, that’s why we are doing it at this godforsaken hour.’

The boy did not look very happy with the conversation and so Venu changed the topic. ‘Why is there no water? It rained pretty well last month.’

‘There are no sand bars to hold the water and the rains weren’t that good.’

The boy turned away and walked towards the truck.

Venu’s house stood half built; he would ask the boy for a favour when he needed sand for the rest of the construction.

He did not need a house. He was going to die.

His legs took him to the village party office. He was not a member, but you could get free tea and sometimes a cigarette. And newspapers. He had started reading them to while away time but now he was hooked. A few weeks back he had read an article about poison in everyday items. Toothpaste was poisonous, but you needed to eat an entire tube for it to kill you. He liked the minty taste of Colgate. He should try it out. He turned to walk home.

The house was silent except for a groaning fan in the master bedroom where his wife of fifteen years and his twelve-year-old daughter were sleeping. He had been banished to a smaller room. The toothpaste was in the common bathroom. He hoped there was a full tube and not a crumpled, folded-into-itself-end-of-month one. He was in luck. For the first time that night, smiled. There was a women’s magazine on the dining table. He took the magazine and the full tube of paste, sat on his bed and started licking it like an ice cream cone. Fifteen minutes later, there was just one dent in the tube and his tongue refused to obey him. He squeezed in a mouthful and swallowed. Venu’s stomach did not want to die. It sent frantic signals to his legs. He scrambled to the bathroom and vomited toothpaste and bile.  

A shrill roar woke him the next morning. He had forgotten to clean the basin. His wife then discovered the half emptied toothpaste tube and the roar gained intensity. Venu watched as his daughter calmly got ready for school without even a glance at her warring parents. He sat at the dining table with her, hoping to get breakfast or at least a cup of tea, but she ate without acknowledging him, smirking at some of the more creative taunts. His wife had progressed to his manhood. ‘You’re a woman. Jobless, gossiping, spineless woman. That Sheela came and complained that her husband was torturing her every night. I told her to be thankful she is married to man.’

His daughter smirked once more into the plate. Venu realised she understood exactly what her mother was saying. He wished words could draw blood. Then people would see the harm they were doing. He wished bruises would form every time his wife hurled abuses at him. His skin would cut open with every taunt so that she could see what happened every time she opened her mouth. He wished his chest would tear apart so that his daughter could see how she had broken his heart.

A year ago he had tried to ‘be a man’. He found a job as a restaurant manager. The daughter was at her grandparents and he had tried to please his wife. Rubbing his face between her humungous breasts like he had seen in a soft core movie. There was a sour smell; he opened his eyes to see a piece of idli, its edges still coated with rancid coconut chutney wedged in her cleavage. The pores on her skin looked like large dark holes trying to swallow him. A stretch mark flamed out on one side, looking to burn him. He tried, but his body had already decided that it wouldn’t function.

The next day he had lost his job and his place in the bedroom.

Venu walked out of the house, when it became clear that he was not going to be served breakfast. Dousing himself with petrol and putting himself on fire seemed too painful. He was scared of hanging. As a child, he had discovered a neighbour hanging from a tree in their backyard, eyes and tongue protruding, bowels loosened. He still had nightmares about it. Normal poison would do the job. Why had he even tried toothpaste when there were so many other easy poisons? Because it would require money to buy and he was broke. No shopkeeper would give him credit. The party office was almost empty. He walked in and started reading the papers. The old caretaker walked past him, Venu involuntarily asked, ‘Is there any poison lying around?’

‘Rat poison. It’s in the storeroom at the back.’ Two days later Venu discovered the answer for one of the burning questions that haunted the internet. If he had better luck, someone would have made a viral star out of him. But Venu’s luck was like the only bus that connected his village. Always late, always at the verge of breaking down and only just enough to take you from one place to another.

Expired poison isn’t as potent as poison used within the recommended date. He survived and became the joke of the day at the village medical centre. His wife and daughter did not come to visit. In the bed next to him lay an old drunk who was sympathetic. ‘The house next to the broken down temple, go there and ask for elephant tamer. Drink it and go jump in front of the train. You will feel nothing. I would do it myself, but I don’t want to give my wife the pleasure.’

A really fat man was sitting on the porch. ‘Fifty rupees.’ Venu did not have any money on him and asked for credit. The man did not respond.

‘Brother-in-law! What are you doing here? Trying to get a life after trying to die?’ Venu detested his loud and successful brother-in-law, especially when he was drunk, so he tried to walk away.

‘Married to my sister, I don’t blame you. As compensation, please accept these two sachets from me.’

Venu grabbed the plastic packs and walked towards the railway station, tearing them open with his teeth and pouring the contents down his throat. This time he willed his stomach into keeping the contents.

The railway station was deserted. The board said that the next train was in an hour. He walked between the tracks, away from the station so that the train would be coming in full speed and not slowing down as it mowed into him. The thought brought tears to his eyes. The railway line grew blurred and then tilted from side to side. The elephant tamer must be taking effect. He sat down. The steel rail was cool to the touch and he placed his cheek on it. There was a light rumbling, the train must be nearing. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and waited.

At the railway station, junior reporter Sindhu and the photographer assigned to her were told that the train was two hours late. When the reclusive author who lived in the middle of nowhere refused to speak for the third day in a row, Sindhu had decided to leave. The photographer wanted some pictures of the colonial railway station. They decided to explore and were walking on the tracks to the bridge that was supposed to be older than the railway station, built to transport teak from the forests that no longer existed. There was a man lying down on the track. The photographer took a few artistic close ups. He had ambitions. ‘Man sleeps on railway line in interior India.’

A beautiful woman was shaking him awake. Had the train passed? Was he in heaven? She had her hands around his shoulders. The side of her breast was pressing against his chest. His eyes had trouble focussing but with each sliding of the eyeballs, he could see a considerable portion of her chocolate coloured breasts. Venu’s penis worked perfectly after an entire year of slumber. He wanted to whoop with joy, but strangely his tongue wasn’t working. All the blood must have passed to his member, he thought before transferring his attention back to the girl. She was asking him something. He wanted to pour out his troubles to her, starting from his incomplete house to his failure to kill himself.

‘Sand for construction,’ is what came out of his mouth. The misery of realising how stupid it is to jump without clothes. ‘Stripping the river.’ His favourite suicide method that didn’t work.

‘Killing the river?’

‘No … No.’ His tongue gave up, so he made the universal gesture for eating the poison that didn’t kill him.

How this train was going to be his final salvation and so he pointed in its direction.

‘The man is on a hunger strike combined with a rail roko against illegal sand mining!’

Sindhu had her scoop. The photographer silently took photos of Sindhu’s chest and the man’s erection for his private amusement.

A day later the short video (it was shot on a DSLR) with Sindhu, her cleavage still partially visible, hand around a drooping Venu, a stopped train in the background, and with her English tainted accent declared to the world that there were still people who cared enough about the environment to put their own lives at stake, went viral.

A few days after that Venu wondered whether he would die of starvation. It was the worst way he could think of, but now there was no option left.


Amritha Dinesh is a freelance writer based out of Chennai. She has dabbled in everything from entrepreneurship to copywriting, equity research to industrial marketing. She was a finalist in the Creative writing in English category for Toto Funds the Arts in 2010.


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