MANHOLE – V.N.Giritharan | Translation By: Latha Ramakrishnan

Like the Rajaraman of Jeyakanthan’s rishimoolam he has grown beard and moustache, keeping one of the legs in squatting posture and keeping the other in a raised and folded fashion he was holding his knee with his right hand. And, he had placed his left hand firmly on the floor at his back. His hair had grown long. In the mouth there remained half of a still burning cigarette. Only his eyes were filled with a kind of abnormal glow. The man sitting on the manhole resembled the appearance of a seer seated on a sheet of deerskin. If he was one of the wayside heroes I was a small wayside vendor. And, selling hot dog was my business.

Faraway, in the north the Ontario parliament building could be seen. At my back stood the famous child care medical institution Sick Kids Hospital. For a while the seer kept staring at the Parliament of Ontario then he laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” asked I.

“See, the weird game of time…”

“Time’s game..?”

“What else but that?”

He looked at the sky for some time. He enjoyed the full moon’s cool presence there. Darkness had come to set in. Still the city was full of life. Everybody was hurrying at great speed. In the meantime some customers came my way too. One of my customers, a Nigerian taxi driver came after parking his taxi in a corner of the road.

“Hi, how are you chief?” asked I.

“Pretty good man… how are you?”

“What of me… I’m always ok,” saying so he laughed. The person standing next to him also laughed. He was a real chief. In his motherland Nigeria there were some three thousand persons under him relying on him for their very livelihood. He belonged to one of those ancient clans of Nigeria. Every time they would send documents for his approval. He had received a degree in one of the Universities here. During winter he would drive taxi here. As soon as summer sets in he would go running to Nigeria. His people not know of his taxi driving here. If they know they wouldn’t leave him here. So he would say. He had said once that so many other chiefs were also driving cabs.

Only then he saw the man standing next to him.

“Hi, chief…..How are you?” Asked he. An African chief was enquiring after the welfare of a Canadian chief. The tribes of Sami were once the rulers of the entire continent of America. One of the heir-apparents to a clan that reigned supreme. Today they live a marginalised existence of minority within the minority.

Sami smiled in reply. The African chief gave a cigarette to the Canadian chief, and left. “Good soul” said Sami and lighted the cigarette, and inhaling, released the smoke. “He, an African driving cabs in the middle of the road and so living his life,”-saying so he pointed at the Parliament building. “From there they are formulating laws….what else is this but the satanic dance of fate.” Following this observation he sang a small verse melodiously.

“ In time all independent
Or dependent
But, sure it is
So wicked, my friend…”

This Sami’s lineage looked highly mysterious. The song that he sang was that much wise and thought provoking. For me who was a lecturer in Physics in the faculty of Antiquity this native Indian appeared as highly mysterious. I knew him for the past three months. From my experience about him so far that which I had gained by way of information or knowledge could be summed up in the following manner.

Another native Indian. He appeared different from his clan of people who were seen on the pathways often with bottle and faltering steps. Except cigarette he never laid hands on drinks. He didn’t have anything like a family of his own. Was there one earlier? God alone knew. So far he had not spoken of his origin. Once when an attempt was made to probe he firmly dissuaded it. After that I had never attempted again, and he too had not spoken a word on that.

His life continued with the help of those small little coins that those who go along the way offer him. The whole day he would be smoking . He wouldn’t spend anything on cigarette. He would go collecting the small pieces of smoked cigarettes that would be strewn on the pathways in front of the very many buildings and smoke them. As for meals every now and then he would drink coffee from the nearby Donut shop. Sometimes Donut would buy and bring. At night everyday I would give Hot Dog and some juice to drink. He wouldn’t get them free of cost. He would offer whatever he would be having in his hand. Mostly he would be meditating all the time. Or else, he would chat with me. Easing himself out, washing the face, all in the nearby hospital washrooms only. Rarely sometimes he would visit a hostel sometimes and have his bath and come. Except these if there was a home and world for him that was this manhole on which he would sit. He had kept a bundle of his rags inside that only. God alone knows what at all is there in that bundle….

So far I have learnt only this much about him. Henceforth only I should fry to gather some more information about him.

Another night has come to rest a while, swaying. Business has also turned a little dull. Sami contemplated on something then, laughed.

“Why did you laugh?” asked I.

“Indians are overflowing all over the world.,” said he and laughed. A look of content has come to settle in his cantenance as if he had uttered a profound philoshopical truth.

“But, in truth, you are not an Indian. And I am also not one.”

“True, that I am no Indian. But, all those belonging to the Indian sub-continent are Indians only to them. East Indian.”

“But for many Paki” said I.

When he heard this Sami laughed aloud.

“ Here, they refer to Indian as Paki and call Pakistanis Indian. But there the two factions are always attacking each other” Said I.

For this observation of mine also, Sami laughed heartily. Only then I could observe the fatigue that could be seen widespread all over his cantenance and that if stood out despite his mouthful of laughter.

“What is ailing you?” asked I. “Nothing. Just slight fever,” said he. I always keep an aspirin strip and plaster by my side.

“Do you wan t an aspirin?” asked I.

“No need. Just slight indisposition. That’s all. It’ll be gone soon.” Said he. After that I too didn’t insist on his having some medicine.

When I spread my shop the next day I observed one thing. Sami couldn’t be seen in his place. Usually he would be the one greeting me. I could feel some sort of uneasiness within. For these three months this was the first time I was deprived of Sami’s greeting. Usually I would open my shop around 10 o’clock only. In the meantime Sami would have finished all his morning chores had his lunch and would be sitting on his throne. Those glowing eyes came to my mind. I could visualize the friendly smile. Could it be that Sami had got up rather late? It was the I remembered that he was having slight fever the previous day. ‘Has the fever intensified and he is now hospitalized?’ Wondering I. then, for a while I became involved in my business. When the business slackened night had set in. still Sami could be seen nowhere. Again I could feel some kind of heaviness within.
Around 10 p.m. Nigeria chief came. “How goes the business?” Asked he. It was then that he noticed the emptiness of the manhole.

“Where is chief?” asked he.

“The whole day he could not be seen. No idea as to where he has gone….”

“Did he tell anything last night…”

“He was with mild fever…But, he refused to take aspirin.”

“Does he stay anywhere else…?”

“As far as I know he would always lie on the man-hole cover. He would keep his few possessions too inside this man-hole only.”

“I see….” The African chief was lost in contemplation for some time and then came back to his senses.

“A thought comes to me.” Said he.

“What?”

“Can it be that he has changed his spot…. Anyway to make sure all that we have to do is to just open the manhole and look inside. If his possessions are not to be seen there, then we can be rest assured that he has moved over to another place..”

Saying so he opened the manhole cover. Opening he let out a cry. ”Oh, my God…”

He called out to me asking me to come and see. I went there and peeped inside. There, hugging his bog and baggage close to his heart Sami was lying in a crumpled and folded fashion.

“My God…he has been lying here the whole of today..”

“Yes, chief…chief..” Nigerian chief screamed.

There was no stir at all. In the mean time the passersby had gathered there. Nigerian chief jumped into the manhole and felt the pulse.

“Gone,” said he.

Faraway, in the darkness the parliament building of Ontario built in the style of Romanesque structure could be seen glowing in full splendor

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