Almost a year ago, when sitting bored with absolutely nothing to do, I had a wager with my then-girlfriend-now-fiancée @Neelima_J on the quality of our 5-minute stories. The intention was to spur on a spate of writing which would eventually result in a couple of Booker nominations in a year or so. Fortunately for the elderly Mr. Howard Jacobson, that did not happen.
We chose topics by taking turns. Each person yelled out a random phrase and in the next 5 minutes, both of us wrote little tales on that topic. And thus was born the first edition of the Chathiyan Chanthu Memorial Short-story Competition. For all games must have a name.
Anyhow, I was mindlessly going through the old files in my laptop when I ran into these 5-minute stories. They are not good, but they must see the light of the day. (My stories. I’m not endangering my marital prospects by publishing her stories without permission).
Because the world must know how Bobby lost his tooth. Because the world must know the melodrama lurking in the dark recesses of a Malayali Coconut-tree climber’s mind. Because the world must know that such lame-ass stories like ‘Green Water’ can be written.
[If you are thinking now that the world is not exactly sitting on a rocking chair, breathlessly reading these lines while furiously sipping a Pina Colada, you must know dear readers, that you are the world to me. (Bazinga!)]
And because when I get that Man Booker, I would like to talk about such interesting anecdotes from my early days as a writer and wannabe author. Extremely straight face.
So keep sipping that P.C., and let us start with the insanely pointless ‘Green Water’, move on to the nutty ‘Coconut Bunch’ and wind up with Bobby’s tale.
Even though the colour was quite unfathomable from my vantage position in the chair, I could swear that it was a variant of green. Green Water is not unheard of. It’s the norm in the French Riviera (I pretentiously lied), it’s as common as a topless woman in the Costa Branca (I pretentiously wished) – but in Kerala? In Cochin?? In Cherai Beach???
Quite fascinating, I thought. Getting up from the white cane chair in the balcony, I moved into my room. Ekaterina Oglushevich was still asleep, crumpled in a mass of hotel linen that was freshly laundered yesterday. I shifted the bedsheet to cover Ekaterina Oglushevich and then turned to the fruit basket that the room service boy had kept on the teapoy. Grabbing a reddish-brown apple, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and shuffled out of the room. I made a beeline to the beach, only pausing to check the day’s exchange rates on the maroon velvet board behind the reception. A practice that has been the norm since time immemorial in Indian hotels.
Playing with the apple, I approached the beach. The sun was quite determined today, having succeeded in forcing off the Indians from the beach. The few foreigners who were sunbathing looked orange, a strange mixture of their native white skin and the Indian sunburnt brown. Taking in these sights, I dared to look at the water once more. Yes, it was still green. Green as the greenest coconut trees dotting the landscape as far as I could see. I moved closer and dipped my finger in. The water was neither warm nor cold, and was just as normal as it always was.
But when I lifted my submerged finger, I had one green finger and several brown ones.
Kuttappai frowned at the 3 idiots staring at him with their arms outstretched. No, he wasn’t going to go through this routine every time the schools were closed.
Fine, the rich citydwellers could come in their big cars laden with suitcases and little kids during the summer vacation. Fine, the scurrying little idiots could go scurrying around in his coconut grove, playing hide and seek and its umpteen possible variations. But Kuttappai was not going to drop coconuts for them at the drop of a hat, when the perky bastards asked for it without fail every single year.
Kuttappai’s coconuts were among the better ones in the area. They were also the only source of livelihood for his family, which included his complaining wife, two or three malnourished children and a feeble father-in-law barely able to get up from his bed. Each coconut made a difference to the aforementioned children’s position on the Government-drawn line between malnourishment and nourishment (and eventually to the fact whether there were indeed two children or three), and Kuttappai was not going to give them away to these fat, rosy-cheeked city kids, fed on a daily diet of chicken and ice-cream.
The little one in the red Adidas shorts had started crying by now – He wanted a coconut so that he could throw it at the cow tied outside the farmer’s house next to the big Tharavadu. He wanted to observe whether the cow would howl in pain, break its rope and run out of the enclosure, just like the cow did in the recent Dileep movie that he saw with his parents. Crying would probably force Kuttappai to give him the coconut.
But Kuttappai didn’t budge. Maybe he was thinking of his own children crying. For food.
He told the little idiot, “Thengakkola*!”
*Common Malayalam expression, translated as ‘Coconut Bunch’, meant to convey the impossible nature of an event happening. In fact, an almost exact slang translation would be “Yeah, right!”.
How Bobby lost his tooth
Bit by baleful bit, Bobby the bunny bit off bits from his rather prominent incisor. His scorn at Scharffenberger the squirrel knew no bounds.
Scharffenberger was well-known in the Junglee community for being a Casanova and he was displaying every bit of his Casanovitude at the moment. Hanging off the tallest branch of the tallest Sherman in a blatantly arrogant display of acrobatics, jumping from branch to branch only to pause and turn sharply to flash his famed grin, showing off his elegant backside with three sharply contrasting stripes on it.
And Gloria was taking in all this with a twinkle in her eyes. A twinkle which to a simple passerby meant nothing more than a fleeting expression of life from the eyes of a young squirrel. But to Bobby, it meant much more and was a cause of intense heartache which threatened to soon do away with his tooth (which was being bit, remember?)
From the days of his adolescence, when a seed landed on his head once from God knew where, Bobby had loved Gloria. That fateful day, he had looked up to see a flash of disappearing squirrel-feet, soon to be followed by that heart-ripping twinkle as Gloria peeked at him from behind a tree branch, wondering whether the big fluffy bunny was miffed at the seed that she had dropped on him.
Those twinkling eyes starred in his dream for many more nights as Bobby developed a neck ailment from spending half his time gazing up at treetops, hoping to catch Gloria in mid-scamper.
It happened one evening, and quite unexpectedly, as Bobby caught his legs in a hunter’s cruel trap while out scurrying for food. He twisted and turned to no avail and his valiant spirit had almost resigned itself to certain death when Gloria, in her full glory, emerged from behind the bushes, and as her sharp teeth dug into the wire mesh of the trap, Bobby knew that she too was in love.
The freed Bobby enjoyed several nights of freedom with Gloria, scampering among tree-roots, smelling freshly-bloomed roses and having ravishing sex by the lakeside.
Alas, they were indeed a pair of star-crossed lovers and those days of hope and joy ended when Gloria’s father learnt of her liaison with a rabbit, which was indeed a shame upon his family. The gentleman was quick to act, cutting a deal with Scharffenberger, the rich and charming squirrel who lived on the other side of the forest, thus saving his family from much ridicule. Who marries a rabbit, for god’s sake! They eat carrots!
“What of Gloria?” you might ask. Well, a squirrel is a squirrel. She has her flings, but eventually she has to settle down.
And that was how Bobby the Bunny went batty and bit off his rather prominent tooth, bit by baleful bit.