Fiction | ‘When Remnants Speak’ By Swapnil Mayank | Creative Writing Workshop

In coastal provinces, the way shocked windows gape at an impending tornado, I, too, was astounded when I discovered my long dead uncle’s casket of letters. They seemed to imperishably confab with my heavy sighs at their sight. It was the longest day of the year, in June; when the sun had nearly fried me in the city and I decided to go to my late grandmother’s house. It is difficult to essay the beauty of that place, the house was by the cotton fields on ebon soil. A rill that had parched to floury whiteness passed through it. The Dandeli woodwork provided the house’s exterior a look of rich, worn out embroidery – the art of which had joined in the frigidity of its decline. Couchant tussocks around the wood-engraved house lent to it an appearance of swollen graves of vassals. In their eternal midst, the lord seemed to be entombed in the shape of the house, coolly asleep. From the early days, I visited this ever-unpeopled house as a repose from the harshness of the school. Little did I know then, a day would arrive that would convert this house into a crypt of a sad past. 

I was discomfited at the discovery of the handsome billet-doux in a casket, prized by Akroor, my uncle, like honey to a bear. It lay wearing a dusty affair of cobwebs in the corner. Like me, he also loved to browse for his broken pieces, to arrange and mimic completeness. I wanted nothing of him to remain but this somehow escaped his descent. A gulf of thirty years lay between us, yet he never felt older to me. We were friends, however, there would still be an unsaid solemnity that governed our limited interaction. We talked like equals but I would speak less when he was sagacious. It was unendurable at times to hear him open up in manners reserved only for tragedians. Regardless, he never lost the capacity to enlighten me with his philosophies. 

Akroor’s name might not figure in the martyrology of famous lovers who ranged against Heavens and Fiends and odds to achieve union, but, to me, each time I remembered him, my heard distended. Not everybody was his devotee, as his melancholic musings would become too ponderous for others. While some were vexed by his depth and would pray for him to just be a mathematics professor;others, like Akroor’s mother, held no opinion regarding his musings. She personally treated it as a moment of apocalypse when Akroor’s heart bled with melancholia. For me all of this didn’t mean much until I got used to Akroor and what we as a family were: uncaring of others. He was only adding those fugitive hues of sadness that had escaped our alienation from one another. Or in other words, he was summoning the nakedness of reality before us. 

He wasn’t happy with the turns that his journey with Anita, his constant companion and lover, had taken. Akroor was suffering from clinical depression and arrhythmia when Anita waltzed into his life as a ‘blood brother’, as he would come to call her. She knew what he wanted. As a Ph.D scholar in Social Work, she was on a visit to the Hospital on behalf of her NGO. The same, where Akroor had been meeting his therapist. Anita got closer to him, because she wanted to study him, as a specimen. One of the reasons why they drew close was their undeniable mutual interest in poetry. Not knowing that he was a mere prop, Akroor was overtaken by Anita’s steady interest in him and had made several proposals which were all turned down, of course. Anita never gave fodder to  any form of union in their friendship. I remember when he cried in front of me for Anita, for the first time. His welled up eyes glinted like the dewy inside of a fresh coconut.

In December of 2004, there was a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that hit the coastal rim of the subcontinent and beyond. Anita was on a mission to Pondicherry, which was greatly affected by the tsunami. The death toll was steep, and oceanographers, aid workers, and missionaries across the globe stuttered to play a role. Anita had contracted pneumonia in a ward where children affected by high pyrexia were bedded. Her condition was stable in the beginning but worsened on 27th of December two days after the Christmas that was swallowed by raging waves. On the next morning, she didn’t wake up. Akroor received the word only later in the week and was astonished to silence by the news. Seven months of pain, and when he couldn’t take it anymore, he overdosed on his medicines and gulped phenol over it.          

Before her death, Anita had returned many of his letters to Akroor unanswered. It did not bother him initially because he deposited all the letters into a casket, perhaps, never to look back at them again. I discovered these letters in this dirt-caked casket. Here, I bring some of the fragments from his letters where he wrote of a spiteful raja who would lose his kingdom. Since many of his letters are missing, these parts are indecipherable to me now. Still, Akroor does write a gloss in each letter for Anita; to read the career of this raja.

“March 11th 2002 

Some parts of me refuse to believe that stargazers don’t really tell the truth. Our philosopher-king here erred in devotion to the gods and lo what he seeks; a tempestuous kingdom for himself: 

The Koyli Rajah – 2

 

What cinders we belong to

It’s hard to tell

What gods we wrong so,

I script on shell –  

 

“Oh oceans, you there!

 Choose me as thy heir

 To love thee, and guard thee,

 Offer me the sovereign chair

 That once was of Poseidon. 

 

 Cast me as your own 

 For mercy is thy throne

 And bounty your life-giving face

 To us, all this is sure known

 As is the starry arm of Orion.” 



April 04th 2002

The sloganeering has it: ‘On this carcass of mankind, monarchies are the deliberate praises of their own rot.’ I don’t quite grasp Anita, what is the hubbub all about. Our philosopher king is so confused, about whether or not he should log out of his kingship and join the hoi polloi. Read on: 

The Koyli Rajah – 11

 

‘Such then were my temples,

Where priesthood was on sale

Angry the gods got and spanked

My little face with a sturdy gale

That shoogled me altogether,

Toppled me from my throne.

 

Blackberrying boys broke laughter

At the state of my rout and cheered,

“To commons the power must descend

To cages the fuehrers must depend!”


April 10th 2002

Like a dove-destroying hawk, revolt had seized our retiring king and Anita, I trust that you are unrivalled in thought. The philosopher king doesn’t have your tact. Read and compare:

The Koyli Rajah – 12

 

My empire now is the size of a postage stamp

I beg somebody there to guide me by a lamp

To the cold earth newly hollowed for me 

Damp house, morose and free of glee!

Where I must hide and rest 

Until eternity plans my rise 

Until the diadem is again a prize 

Only for me, the elect, the best. 

 

April 14th 2002

Philosopher turned fuehrer, our nasty king, with all his tricks has dug his own pit. What a passenger to a Hell-bound journey! Observe his decline as you read.

The Koyli Rajah – 14 

 

Underworld is at my doorstep

Collect me and carry me anon;

You! infernal agents do prep

To seal my fate – bid me gone. 

 

Mark my chest with a grapeshot

Or set me next to a boulder;

Charge towards me like Lancelot;

Or some fierce condottiere, 

May rifle my head that thus begot

More evil inventions than tyranny, 

And deceptions worse than simony.

 

Axes and machetes rain over me 

As I parade in my own capital

Dogs woof while courtiers carp:

‘We sound shame on this bugle!’ 

 

“Fie and decay!

Clear you away! 

False king as you were,

Grizzly shall be this stir,

To oust thee and remove thee

From the dominion of our sight:

Citizens! rap on his faux might!”

 

“Tear his gums! brand those lips

That suckled on deceitful bloodline,

 Char his face and slash his hips!”

– A lot of pain, and all of it was mine. 

 

Gibbets and guillotines – 

Don’t make for a featherbed 

From Earth to North Star

No sprite could hurt my head

Come are the pitiless days now, 

That I am the aim of each arrow.

At this thought all senses stunned, 

Each vein thus, infirm in sorrow.     

       

April 17th 2002

The ring in your voice Anita is divine, it softens me towards the king and his good shall return. But what should welcome him back because he has lost all memory of his glorious past. Think you then, of your demesne, where I am in eternal submission! And, read to know the king’s fate as he surveys his present condition.

The Koyli Rajah 15

 

My eyes are now met by a stygian realm 

Where fondness lacks everywhere; 

Dun is the sky, horizon a gunmetal hem,

Sticky is the ground like a quagmire

Just so sad are all whether youth or sire.

 

A dale, I espy, out in that fenny yonder

Where sinners go at last one after another.

But I am inhibited as conscience strikes me,

With full force, Virtue engirdles my sanity,

On the vast regiment of rheumy sea,

God’s image shimmers again so fitly.

 

June 20th 2002 

In the demesne of your elfin powers, Anita, I am but a mere glaucous shadow hiding behind a rock to witness your allure. Dismount from this dove-driven car, cast this shape of the huntress away and resume your native sorcery.  Read on this truth and learn:

The Koyli Rajah – 20

 

Dirt is the fate of a life,

Which becomes the gospel of the meek 

Painful like the work of knife

Useful yet like quartered thighs of teak 

It is so the good man’s journey 

That rings in immortality of the beast – 

‘Firstly is to famish, thusly is the feast’. “ – Akroor

Akroor’s words shall never be complete nor his creations but so aren’t Sappho’s. In the dim reaches of antiquity all become hazy, awry, tottery and yet like a grandmother’s house stand lordly. 


Swapnil Mayank is a post-graduate in English Literature from Delhi University. He has been working on a project that he hopes to develop into a book soon, tentatively titled – A Pamphlet on Beauty. He is based out of Lucknow, India, currently; where he is preparing for the Civil Services Examinations. Swapnil looks forward to being a diplomat in the near future. His work is forthcoming in Tiny Seed.

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