THE FLAME

Dogg was watching people crawling walking leaping cavorting toddling hopping harping shopping spitting waltzing snorting shuffling snivelling zigzagging jigging hugging laughing swerving stalking jay walking up or down the pavements on either side of Brigade Road down the right from Sadhwanis or the left from Cauvery Handicrafts Emporium all the way down to the old shut down Opera Theatre and the circle where two, three and four-wheeler vehicles sputtered to a stop at a chaotic traffic signal before jerking onwards towards the non-existent Shoolai police station.

 

The constant outpouring of people onto this road never ceased to amuse him, the chicks with their dyed hair and zombie ears plugged into MP3 music, tits out-thrust under t-shirts asking for the inevitable grope or asses framed in blue jeans begging the expected surprise shocking taboo sometimes hated sometimes remembered pinch of the famed eve-teaser.

 

That evening there was a tamasha going on. An activist group called Blank Cartridges had generated a public art happening in the middle of the street. It was a bunch of girls who had nailed a bunch of guys who had tried to tease them and were giving them a lesson, staring them down, giving them the surround-sound treatment of shrieks, angry epithets, moral instruction, “don’t you have mothers and sisters and wives, would you squeeze their boobs or butts, assholes?”, shoving pretty pamphlets that decried gender inequality and abuse into shivering hands, handing out colourful posters decrying eve-teasing and, generally, “having a good time terrorising the fuckers”, surmised Dogg.

 

Baby, it’s just us goddesses on top now, they yelled, and the guys cowered.

 

Dogg was laughing to himself and rewinding in his head the rough-edged rhythm and lyrics of the Captain Beefheart song he had listened to precisely 43 times that morning while he jerked off to erotic images drawn by Aubrey Beardsley.

 

Another day, another way, someone’s had too much to think ….The mother father figure, somebody’s had too much to think …You picked me out, like an ashtray heart …You picked me out, like an ashtray heart, Hid behind the curtain, Waited for me to go out, Used me like an ashtray heart, A man on a porcupine fence, Hit me where the lover hangs out …While they crushed me out, You used me for an ashtray heart, Hid behind the curtain, You looked in the window when I went out, You used me like an ashtray heart, Brushed me off while I was burnin’ out …

 

Fa la la la la ….la la la la …tis the season to be jolly ….

 

Yeah. The writing’s on the wall in this aeon of the goddess, he said to himself.

 

Well, no surprise, but what else was going on out there? Mass masturbation. Dogg cursed the sonofabitch who had stolen his copy of Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power a long time ago in Chennai when it was called Madras and he had worked in a newspaper at Express Estates, close to the landmark Connemara Hotel and the original Spencer’s. Because he suddenly remembered the first line in the book: There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown.

 

Dogg covered the can of Kingfisher Strong with the flap of his jacket, if some frigging cop decided to give him trouble for drinking in public. For all his love for cute lines like “When they conk you with their billy sticks, zap them right back with Super Love”, he knew that no cop would dig that kinda rap. The only relevant place for a crappy line like that would be as a comment under a Facebook poem or status update.

 

The “Drifters” wandered about Facebook these days and it was only occasionally that Dogg decided to get a whiff of fresh air on Brigade Road. The lights had just come on bathing everything in white or yellow pools and the metro trains shot by up above flashing mercury-bright windows while hungry shadows hung out waiting below.

 

Yeah, this felt good, right yeah, watching Bangalore’s hot people window shopping on Brigade Road. Couples with their ashtray hearts eating out at Kentucky Frigid Chicken or peering at the shelves in Planet Misogyny where once a cute little discotheque had been or scuttling down Church Street or farther down into the lane on the right and up the stairs into Pecos for that beer that had become swill over the years and the music died.

 

The Rice Bowl had slithered off this road to some place on Lavelle Road; he remembered the shots of rum he and his colleagues in the newspaper he worked in would down along with their hasty Chinese lunches in there. Yeah, those lunch breaks helped the work of the hack no end. 

 

This was the pulse, the wired buzz of the evening thoughts that surrounded him like mosquitoes. He smiled where he lounged against the porcupine fence. The people poured down into the night like many-colored pieces of turd rolling along to be consumed as sewage in the Brigade Road sewer. Sewage. Bangalore’s humanity. Human-IT. Cloaked in Levis, Lee, Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Pepe, Puma … the less said about this generation, the better, he thought.

 

Shit, he muttered to himself, these days it’s all about UB City and Mantri Mall. What had happened to “Brigades”, “Commercials”, “MG’s”, “Impees” …? Huh? The Metro Bar had disappeared and so too Basco’s, no more cabarets for voyeurs … And these crowds, crowded moments …

 

“The repugnance to being touched remains with us when we go about among people; the way we move in a busy street, in restaurants, trains or buses, is governed by it. Even when we are standing next to them and are able to watch and examine them closely, we avoid actual contact if we can … It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched.”

 

Hence, Brigade Road, for the flaneur, derive, and voyeur. Come on, come on, come on, come on, now, touch me babe …

 

But all this was beside the point.

 

Having laughed through his beer at the tides flowing up and down Brigade Road, Dogg retraced his steps. Cutting across MG Road, ambling down under the trees on the left side, crossing the traffic junction just above Commercial Street, trudge trudge trudge pause pause to buy a Charminar huff puff huff the ones in the yellow pack nobody smoked anymore and onwards up up up up and away till the hill crested and he saw Thoms Café on his left and here he stopped yet another moment to drink a Fanta and munch on a mutton puff and then downhill again down down down Wheeler Road and up up up and away to Cox Town Circle ….ahhh ahhhh almost Cox Town Circle it was when he lingered … just before the circle …

 

So it had ever been with Dogg, whenever he approached Cox Town Circle and he knew he should cross the railway lines at Bangalore East to get into Cooke Town where his little room nestled somewhere in Da Costa Layout … but, but, then …

The Dolphin called out to him. A splash in the brain.

 

Rum 1 = three cigarettes and two songs. Thriller and Beat It by Michael Jackson.

Thought. It’s my mother’s birthday and it took me a drink to remember it at the end of the day.

Temptation. Shed a tear. Blink it back. Ah yes, think of Vincent Price and werewolves.

 

Rum 2 = two cigarettes, a smile at the people sitting at the next table, two songs. Ye Jo Mohabat Haiand Mere Sapno ki Rani.

Total Recall. Kati Patang. Aradhana. Rajesh Khanna. Asha Parekh. Sharmila Tagore. The wife and three children.

Thought. What would I pay for a dinner mother or wife would put out for me?

 

Rum 3 = two cigarettes and a song interrupted by the white man at the table opposite me gesturing at me, asking if he could join me at my table. Snatches of the song. Careless Whisper by George Michael.

Thought 1. What does he want?

Thought 2. Why me, Lord?

 

Dogg is in no particular need of company. The man slouches over, almost six feet tall, staggering a bit, a half empty bottle of Hercules XXX in one hand, an empty glass in the other. A day or two of stubble on his cheeks. Grey eyes. Blonde hair, turning a dirty grey. Balding a bit. Well built. Once upon a time he had muscles; they’ve turned mostly into mush now. Not too much of a pot belly. White, linen shirt. Grey trousers. Two buttons undone on the shirt. A smell of rum and some gent’s perfume Dogg could not identify.

 

Thought 3. Please, I don’t want to make empty conversation. Period.

 

Oi! Greetings!

Hello.

Seamus Bradigan.

Hands shake.

Irish!!

Dogg!

D’ogg?

No. Dogg.

That’s all.

That’s it.

He makes a sound like a puppy. Dogg grins.

Didn’t get offended?

Nah, what’s there to get offended by? You sounded good.

Ha, ha. Mind if I bum a ciggie off you?

Sure. It’s Charminar, though.

Hmm, a man’s cigarette, huh? Bet you have a big one!

Fucksville!!

 

When rum works in the system, cliché memories rise to the surface. As in: May your pockets be heavy, your heart be light and may good luck pursue you each morning and night.

 

Where’s this going, Dogg wonders. The clock on the wall shows 8.30 p.m. Time is sometimes measured in pegs.

 

 

Rum 4 = 2 cigarettes and some preliminary conversation flows. Seamus has much to say because he feels guilty. He is Catholic. Dogg is Protestant, but alcohol creates a level conversational field. Or does it? Dogg reminds himself through the smoke and rum that he has been turned into a confessional of sorts.

 

Father Dogg.

 

My son, what is it that burdens you?

 

Of course, Dogg does not say that. But the way he has cocked his head and bent his ear towards the Irishman, and the way the warmth of the rum has created a sunny bubble around them, the man knows he will be listened to.

 

So then, his story. The story of sand, the symbol of progeny. The Bradigans had a promise like Abraham. “I will make your descendants like sand.” He is or was the eighth grain in a family of sixteen. Ten brothers and six sisters. He tries to draw a family chart on a napkin borrowing a pen from the waiter.

 

A Bradigan. He hails from Galway. He traces his lineage back to a King of Munster, Olioll Olum, who reigned 130 AD. Bradigans or Bradys, as they are known, elsewhere, everywhere. Some of his ancestors filled with wanderlust like him had migrated to the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

Seamus had come first to India in the mid-70s. He liked the beaches – Goa, Kovalam – he lived on. He avoided the hippies. He preferred alcohol to drugs. He hated Varanasi. He hated the filth and the haggling, the beggars and the noise. He saw no ancient exotic civilisation in India. He was only aware of people trying to eke out a survival in a hard land. Sweat, stink, stench, shit, piss, paan stains, bed bugs, insects, lepers, sores, dysentery, heat, dust, fear of contaminated water, cow worship, cow piss drinking … nor did he care too much for the hippie trail which he still did for the experience, albeit not high on acid or Mary Jane, sticking to beer and whisky, no tripping the lights fantastic at the temple festivals or at Pushkar or doing the nature thing in Manali Dum maro Dum Jai Jai Shiva Shambo Hare Rama Hare Krishna Hare Hare London Bus, Hare Hare Ladies Lavatory ….

 

In fact, he could not figure out even now as he sat across the table with Dogg what had brought him to India nor why. Except that along the way he had met a girl. A Malayali girl-child, actually. He was 22 and she was just 16.

 

It happened while he was wandering around Kerala; he preferred Kerala to the north of India for its lushness and he had developed a liking for palm toddy which in those days used to be available unadulterated, exquisite, served with spicy duck slices, fried beef or chicken curry, preparations or seafood – crab, mussels, prawns, large slices of fried sear fish and pomfret.

 

Seamus had stumbled upon an elderly person in a bar in Cochin. It was noon, 3 p.m. They drank a few beers together. The gentleman later took him to the Lotus Club. He was a director of Aspinwall and Co., a commercial enterprise on the Malabar Coast established in 1867 by the legendary English trader and visionary, John H. Aspinwall, with interests in shipping, logistics, coffee trade and exports and rubber plantations. Seamus had the good fortune of befriending a director of this hoary firm just when the English owners decided to disinvest in it. A major portion of the company’s shareholdings were taken over by the royal family of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore. Aristocracy had met royalty of sorts and where else could the trail lead but to the Lotus Club?

 

Several drinks of whisky and several games of billiards and pool later in the colonial club, Seamus espied the girl. She had come to say hello to her father, his newfound friend, with her mother. Seamus was introduced to them and the moment he looked into her coal-black eyes, heard her trembling laughter and watched her potent hips move under her pavada in her five foot three inch frame, he knew that they were trapped in a web of destiny. As if in a dream, he heard Thomas Chacko, for that was his friend’s name, ask him if he would be interested in driving down to Aymenem with them for the weekend, to their ancestral home, the tharavad.

 

In Aymenem, the girl with the coal-black eyes showed Seamus the magical secrets of a Syrian Christian tharavad, the open or secret aras in the teak structure of the house where were stored giant vessels, paddy, coconuts, or fruits like the banana and jackfruit, the paddy fields blazing with green in the bright sun, the river in which one could bathe without shame, the pond behind the house where women bathed more circumspectly, the firewood smoking in the kitchen as food was cooked continually for the family, labourers and guests who never felt afraid to drop in and eat to their hearts’ content.

 

It was there too that he and she became one, one quiet afternoon, in a quiet corner of the house. When their bodies shuddered together under a wooden ceiling, she wept. He did not understand why, but all he knew was a deep tenderness and it came to him in a flash that he would return for her. Or, she to him.

 

But that was not how it went, immediately. He did not return to India. However, Thomas Chacko sent his daughter Meena to England to study. Seamus and Meena travelled back and forth from London to Galway, where he had set up a small business, week after week. Three years of this shuttle relationship; Seamus always mourned when she left for India for her holidays. On it went; passion and loyalty hand in hand, till some years later, down the line, after the two of them had tried different partners, temporarily, and discovered that in the end it was anyways “Sea and Me”, they were married.

 

Rum 6 = just a little bit left in the bottle between Dogg and Seamus. Another half bottle to be bought. Count of cigarettes consumed, lost. Music? Just a drone with snatches making sense. Voices louder in the enclosed space.

 

Yes, Dogg said. His ears had begun to droop but Seamus had a light in his eye. Dogg did not understand how the shift had taken place, but suddenly Seamus was talking about sin.

 

S-I-N.

Hamartia.

Missing the Mark.

 

This was a subject that interested Dogg no end. He perked up.

 

Sin.

 

The entire drama of humanity revolved around this word. If SIN was spelt with capital letters, salvation would always be spelt in small letters. That is how Dogg understood it from his life and experience. Sin we can understand, salvation is a mystery. Salvation is to be hoped for since sin is ever present, ever powerful, ever damning.

 

Dogg stretched his confessor’s ears out to Seamus and a deep tenderness arose in his breast for the man sitting before him.

 

Seamus seemed to have entered a trance.

Forgive me, Father, he began, for I have sinned.

 

He suddenly dropped to his knees beside the table, imploring Dogg as it were to have mercy upon him.

A hush fell upon the entire bar. Eerie silence.

 

As if possessed, Seamus began a series of incantations.

 

“Sin is an offense against reason, truth and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” “Sin is an offense against God: ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.’  Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God.’ 

 

Seamus now stood up, threw 60 ml of rum down his throat, and with wide staring eyes saluted Dogg with upraised hand in a Nazi salute and shouted: C.C.C. # 1849, #1850.

 

Then he was back on his knees. The intonation, taking on the tones of a magical incantation, continued. People turned their chairs around to watch Seamus. Entertainment enough, for the evening?

 

Dogg began feeling embarrassed, but how could he relinquish the role of confessor half-way through the ritual?

 

“There are a great many kinds of sins.  Scripture provides several lists of them. The Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: ‘Now, the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.'”

 

A shot of rum, the Nazi salute and a shout: C.C.C. # 1852.

 

Down on his knees, Seamus, again.

 

Incantation is poetry, reflected Dogg, as he took a gulp from his own glass and lit another cigarette.

 

“Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate.  They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbour, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.”  But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.”

 

A shot of rum, the Nazi salute and a shout: C.C.C. # 1853.

Down on his knees, yet again.

 

Incantation is resonance, Dogg reflected, dragging deep on his cigarette.

 

“Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the Sacrament of Confession. Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the private of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance of God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion to make choices for ever, with no turning back.  However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God. To choose deliberately – that is, both knowing it and willing it – something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible.  Un-repented, it brings eternal death.”

 

A shot of rum, the Nazi salute and a shout: C.C.C. # 1855, 1866, 1861 and 1874.

Down on his knees, yet again and again and the tears had begun to run down Seamus’ cheeks.

 

Incantation as verses, or shlokas. The craft of a warlock? wondered Dogg.

 

How the fuck will I get out this, he asked himself.

But he was transfixed in the moment, in the beauty and horror of the invocation.

 

Seamus began goose-stepping around the tables, eyes glazed, glass of rum in one hand and the other lifted in the Nazi salute as he chanted a list of mortal sins.

 

Abortion 

Anger

Adultery

 

He would stop at a table, stare at those sitting there, and reel off three or four of the sins.

 

 

Amending the words of the Holy Bible 

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

Carousing

 

And then, to the next.

 

False witness 

Fornication

Greed

Idolatry

Holy Communion received while in a state of mortal sin\

 

Dogg got up and followed behind him.

 

Jealousy 

Licentiousness

Loving and practicing falsehoods

 

Dogg kept pausing at each table, nodding at its occupants and muttering “Sorry, I am so sorry.”

 

Male prostitution 

Murderers

Quarrelling

 

“He’s my friend, he’s a bit too cocked, just let him be, I’ll take care of him.”

Sodomy 

Sorcery

Strife

Thievery

 

The bartender and the bouncer were looking nervous but seemed undecided on what to do. They obviously knew Seamus well and when Dogg passed the bar, the bouncer whispered to him: Man, he’s never done anything like this before. What did YOU do to him?”

 

Damn, thought Dogg. Well, at least the bottle was near empty, he comforted himself.

 

Seamus returned to his seat, eyes as innocent as those of a lamb albeit bloodshot. It was as if he had no idea as to what had happened.

 

Dammit, he suddenly muttered, as if he had awoken from a dream.

“My wife, my damn wife, she must be sitting up at home right now, downing her fifth vodka and waiting to destroy my happiness all over again because I am late.”

 

Suddenly he looked at me, slyly, a sideways look and whispered: “Do you know? I haven’t slept with her for six years now. That’s when I discovered I was homosexual. She hates me, what I’ve become.”

 

He sat slouched in his chair for a while. Then he snapped his fingers. Two more rums, he called out. The waiter brought the drinks a little hesitantly.

 

“You know, I loved living in Aymenem with her. It was beautiful but things went wrong in the Thomas Chacko family. There was a partition of assets and land and things. We ended up in Bangalore and this city has been the epitome of unhappiness. She pines for Aymenem, so do I. But there can be no return. And then, in Aymenem, how would I find the little boys, those lovely little young men, whose sweet cocks I can suck, they are all over Bangalore and they await me.”

Seamus laughed bitterly.

 

Dogg tried to change the topic. He tried to speak of how he himself had been to Aymenem some years ago, a village made famous by the writer Arundhati Roy in her Booker-prize winning novel The God of Small Things; of his literary review of the book in a leading Bangalore newspaper, of a short story that had emerged from his visit to Aymenem, and so on.

Seamus was not listening.

Ahhhhh, let’s cut the serious shit, he growled.

 

Let’s laugh, he shouted.

He leaned across the table and told Dogg a joke.

“Into this Galway pub comes Seamus Bradigan, he began, looking like he had just been run over by a train. His arm is in a sling, his nose is broken, his face is cut and bruised and he is limping. ‘What happened?’ asks the barman. ‘Mrs O’Connor and me had a fight,’ says Seamus. ‘That little bitch,’ says the barman, ‘she couldn’t do that to you; she must have had something in her hand.’ ‘That she did,’says Seamus, ‘a shovel is what she had, and a terrible licken she gave me with it.’ ‘Well,’ says the barman, ‘you should have defended yourself, didn’t you have something in your hand?’ ‘That I did,’ says Seamus, ‘…O’Connor’s dick and a thing of beauty it was but useless in a fight.’”

 

Dogg stared at him and decided to say nothing. It was impossible to laugh.

 

“Father Dogg, will I be forgiven?” Seamus suddenly asked. Then he got up, staggered to the bar and threw down a 1000 rupee note. “Keep the change,” he told the bartender.

The big man came back to the table and grabbed Dogg by his left hand and pulled him up from his chair.

“Time to go, boy,” he whispered. “You’re my alibi. You can talk Ayemenem with my little bitch. Anyway, it’s not going to be easy to find my way back home, and I want you.”

 

There was something ominous in his voice. But Dogg, being both curious and afraid of making his escape, ignored the warning bell ringing in his head at that late hour. Rum does that and worse, if one wants to see the winding turns the story of life takes.

 

The air outside the Dolphin was chill and the cold exploded inside his head. Seamus had already flagged down an autorickshaw and they got in together.

“Charles Campbell Road, No. 15,” he told the autorickshaw driver sullenly. As the satanic vehicle began rolling forward, Seamus turned around to face Dogg.

“You have most beautiful features, my friend, and a quality I delight in. You have patience. It’s a heavenly virtue. But your features, your dark eyes, that flawless skin, the teeth that blaze in an endless smile in the eternal night, yes, they take me back to Meena. But you have a big one, don’t you?”

His right hand slid up Dogg’s thigh and he began kneading his crotch.

“Ahh yes, you have a big one, don’t you?” Seamus smiled, his rum-soaked breath filling Dogg’s face as his sneering lips drew near to his. Dogg was hyperventilating, taking in deep gulps of the cold night air, a terrible fear piercing his chest like a sharp lance of ice. He shook his head, trying to gain a grasp on things.

Just then, the autorickshaw stopped with a jerk.

“Saar, your house.”

 

Seamus jerked back, anger blazing in his eyes for a moment. Dogg and Seamus staggered in through the gate. Seamus pushed at the wooden front door of the big house with his right foot. The door eased itself open inwards. There, on a sofa facing the door, sat a small but stately woman, fully grey but with blazing black eyes. In her hand was a glass. The smell of vodka pierced Dogg’s nostrils.

“I’ve a friend with me. I thought you might like to meet him, Mee. He’s been to Aymenem, he knows our home and we have many mutual friends,” Seamus said. She watched him carefully, staring him down. He sank into the sofa beside her, stroked back his hair. She edged away from him.

“Why are you here?” she asked Dogg.

“I…I…well we just met and Seamus invited me home to meet you…” Dogg stammered.

Seamus got up and went to the bar.

“A vodka for you?”

“Sure,” said Dogg. Meena kept staring at Seamus and then at Dogg.

Seamus placed a glass of vodka in Dogg’s hands.

“Can I get you a refill, Mee?” he asked.

“Bastard!” she suddenly spat out through tight, thin lips.

She turned to Dogg and said: “One drink, and then you leave.”

“Sure,” said Dogg.

 

“Come on, come on with me,” said Seamus. “Darling, you don’t mind if I show him my collection of books in the bedroom, do you?” She didn’t seem to hear him.

Dogg entered the room. There, an entire wall lined with books in shelves of teak. The shelves rose to the high ceiling. There was a ladder too, if one desired to climb it and reach the tomes on the highest shelves.

Dogg gasped. He moved to the lower shelves, his eyes roving lovingly across the books.

 

1984 by George Orwell, England, (1903-1950)

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Norway (1828-1906)

A Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, United States, (1835-1910)

The Aeneid by Virgil, Italy, (70-19 BC)

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

Beloved by Toni Morrison, United States, (b. 1931)

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin, Germany, (1878-1957)

Blindness by Jose Saramago, Portugal, (b. 1922)

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, Portugal, (1888-1935)

The Book of Job, Israel. (600-400 BC)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)

Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, England, (1340-1400)

The Castle by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

Children of Gebelawi by Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt, (b. 1911)

Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina, (1899-1986)

Complete Poems by Giacomo Leopardi, Italy, (1798-1837)

The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

The Complete Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, United States, (1809-1849)

Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo, Italy, (1861-1928)

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, Russia, (1809-1852)

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, Italy, (1313-1375)

The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil, (1880-1967)

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun, China, (1881-1936)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Italy, (1265-1321)

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain, (1547-1616)

Essays by Michel de Montaigne, France, (1533-1592)

Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark, (1805-1875)

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany, (1749-1832)

Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais, France, (1495-1553)

Gilgamesh Mesopotamia, (c 1800 BC)

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, England, (b.1919)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, England, (1812-1870)

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Ireland, (1667-1745)

Gypsy Ballads by Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain, (1898-1936)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

History by Elsa Morante, Italy, (1918-1985)

Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Norway, (1859-1952)

The Idiot by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

The Iliad by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)

Independent People by Halldor K Laxness, Iceland, (1902-1998)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, United States, (1914-1994)

Jacques the Fatalist and His Master by Denis Diderot, France, (1713-1784)

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, France, (1894-1961)

King Lear by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, United States, (1819-1892)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Ireland, (1713-1768)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Russia/United States, (1899-1977)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)

Mahabharata, India, (c 500 BC)

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, Austria, (1880-1942)

The Mathnawi by Jalal ad-din Rumi, Afghanistan, (1207-1273)

Medea by Euripides, Greece, (c 480-406 BC)

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, France, (1903-1987)

Metamorphoses by Ovid, Italy, (c 43 BC)

Middlemarch by George Eliot, England, (1819-1880)

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, India/Britain, (b. 1947)

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, United States, (1819-1891)

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)

Njaals Saga, Iceland, (c 1300)

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, England,(1857-1924)

The Odyssey by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)

Oedipus the King Sophocles, Greece, (496-406 BC)

Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac, France, (1799-1850)

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, United States, (1899-1961)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)

The Orchard by Sheikh Musharrif ud-din Sadi, Iran, (c 1200-1292)

Othello by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo Juan Rulfo, Mexico, (1918-1986)

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Sweden, (1907-2002)

Poems by Paul Celan, Romania/France, (1920-1970)

The Possessed by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, England, (1775-1817)

The Ramayana by Valmiki, India, (c 300 BC)

The Recognition of Sakuntala by Kalidasa, India, (c. 400)

The Red and the Black by Stendhal, France, (1783-1842)

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, France, (1871-1922)

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, Sudan, (b. 1929)

Selected Stories by Anton P Chekhov, Russia, (1860-1904)

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence, England, (1885-1930)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962)

The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata, Japan, (1899-1972)

The Stranger by Albert Camus, France, (1913-1960)

The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki, Japan, (c 1000)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, (b. 1930)

Thousand and One Nights, India/Iran/Iraq/Egypt, (700-1500)

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Germany, (b.1927)

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)

The Trial by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, Ireland, (1906-1989)

Ulysses by James Joyce, Ireland, (1882-1941)

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, England, (1818-1848)

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece, (1883-1957)

 

Dogg had not heard Seamus latch the door of the bedroom from within. As he stroked the cover ofUlysses and lifted the book to his nostrils to smell the paper the Irish tale was printed upon, he felt Seamus’ presence loom over himself. Two white hands, the skin like crinkled paper, opened the buttons of his shirt and began to stroke his nipples, the fingers gently roving through his chest hair.

 

“You have a big one, don’t you,” he heard Seamus whisper in his right ear. Dogg heard his breathing speed up. He stood stock still, holding fast to the copy of Ulysses, and two names surfaced out of the mist invading his mind: Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier.

 

Then he heard a bottle shatter and the tinkling of glass pieces on the floor somewhere. There was a loud banging on the bedroom door.

 

“Quick, quick …that’s my fucking wife …you go into the bathroom, I’ll deal with her,” came Seamus’ hurried whisper.

 

Dogg swiftly rushed into the bathroom and locked the door. The book remained in his hand.

 

“It’s dark in here,” he thought, as he put down the cover of the water closet and sat upon it breathing deeply.

 

Outside, he could hear Meena screaming at her husband.

 

She used just one word, repeated a thousand times in a thousand different tones.

 

“Bastard.” “Bastard.” “Bastard.”

 

On and on and on, or so it seemed to Dogg.

 

There was a thud, the sound of someone or something falling onto the carpeted floor.

 

Silence.

 

Then, a quiet knock at the bathroom door.

 

“You can come out now,” she said.

 

Dogg edged himself out of the dark bathroom.

 

Seamus lay on the floor, bleeding from a cut on his forehead. His face was full of terror.

 

“What did she hit him with?” Dogg wondered.

 

Her voice was sharp and insistent as it pierced the fog in his mind.

 

“You had your drink. Now, GET OUT!”

 

Dogg placed the book with deep reverence on the bed.

 

She looked beautiful to him just then, black eyes blazing in a brown face surrounded by aristocratic grey hair.

 

“Goodbye. I am sorry,” he said.

 

She watched silently as he left.

Outside the gate of No. 15, Charles Campbell Road, shivering in the chill wind, Dogg looked at his watch.

It was five minutes to midnight.

 

He felt cold all over. But then a flame arose inside him. His heart blazed like a stone of fire.

 

All he felt at the stroke of midnight, as he stumbled on his way towards his dwelling place two furlongs away, was that he missed his mother very much, asleep in her grave, and his wife and children too much, four angels asleep in their beds, somewhere far away.

 

And he missed his own collection of books, asleep in their shelves, somewhere very far away.

 

Distance is a flame.

 

(end)

 

(c) 2012 Ampat Varghese Varghese, all rights reserved by the author.

9 comments on “THE FLAME

  • Wonderful. For the record, I like your meeting an Irishman in a bar story hajaar better than my meeting a Scotsman in a pub story.

    That collection of books sounds yummy. I need to build a similar one. I’ve got too much junk on my shelves.

  • Strong, compelling write. Somehow felt an atmosphere of Anitha nair’s -mistress fleetingly where the tharavadu is explored. Also thought of Arundhati Roy before she actually came into the pic. Distance is a flame–packs a punch with its truth. Are the books from your collection? Thanks for the tag. I am in awe of this masterful write.

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