Eaten

No, no, babu. He didn’t die.
He was eaten. By the shadows.
Eaten from the inside.
I saw it. He came to me. Me.
Though we never got along,
Even as three-four year olds.
Though he called me names,
Though I slapped his wife,
Though he beat me naked in the street.
Sixteen-year-old. Naked.
He stripped my dignity.
Who’d marry their son to me?
I’m husbandless, childless, nameless.
Still, he came to me. Me.
Because he knew. He knew.
I’m the only one who’d believe him.
He didn’t die, babu. He was eaten.

You’re too schooled, babu.
You’ve forgotten your grandma’s wisdom.
You’re protected too. That thread.
That Brahma thread you wear.
It keeps you safe, babu.
You don’t see its power.
So, you don’t see the power of the shadows.
You choose not to see. No one does.
But I have seen, babu. I have seen.
On my bed, he shat blood.
On my floor, he peed blood.
On my plates, he puked blood.
The shadows were eating him, babu.
Eating up all his insides.

“Organ fail” they said.
What do they know?
Go ask them why his organs failed!
They said because he drank.
Every man drinks here, babu.
They have a bottle in their hand
From much before they grab their…
Chee chee. Not before you, babu.
I’ll rot in hell if I utter such obscenities.
Before a threaded Brahmin. Shiva Shiva.
Every man drinks here, babu.
You also know. They drink, they shout.
They shout, they beat their women.
They beat their women, and then stick…
Chee Chee. Shiva Shiva.
He didn’t die, babu.
The other men drink to their eighties.
And my brother’s organs fail at thirty?
They didn’t fail, babu.
They were eaten.

You know he worked the nights?
Our caste people work the nights.
We are used to cremation grounds.
Why do you think they call on us?
Because our caste knows. Knows.
Knows what others choose to dismiss.
They call us the witching caste.
Those… chee chee.
No, no, babu. It’s not alright.
You might be okay. I will rot in hell.
They have the gall to call us witches.
As if we bring the shadows.
The shadows are there. Always there.
We keep them away. Away from all.
They sleep because we stay up.
And those… Witching caste! Thoo…

He worked the nights, babu.
Like our father and his brothers.
And their father and their uncles.
He was there for the burnings.
All the burnings.
He did the things he was taught to do.
Every single time, he did.
If there was rain, he’d mix some flour.
You don’t know? You’ve forgotten.
Your grandma had wisdom. Great wisdom.
You haven’t seen the rice powder patterns?
Yes, yes. Those. The rain washes it.
So, you have to mix wheat flour with water.
The rain can’t wash it so easily.
Not the ones we make.
Our caste’s secret. Many secrets we have.
My brother knew the secrets.
All the secrets. Accomplished he was.
Even at twenty, he banished big shadows.
Powerful shadows. The shadows that roll.
Ask the Panigrahis. Their son has seen.
He saw and he went mad. Ask him.
He knows. When I told him, he believed.
He knows. We who know, know.

My brother, he did all the things.
Every single time. Without fail.
He will make others wait.
Better to wait an hour in the dark
Than have the shadows darken you.
You will never know sleep, babu.
They can feed on your dreams.
Ask the Sahu widow. Go, ask.
Not a night she has slept.
Like you, she’s schooled. Big books.
But what will books do? No sleep.
There’s also…okay okay.
My brother, he did all the things.
Very particular. Very strict.
But you know how things were.
Day and night, the bodies came.
Three weeks. Day and night.
Families came twice. Thrice also.
Today the mother, tomorrow, the son.
Today the wife, tomorrow, the man.
All families. Two-two, three-three dead.
Punishment for all this schooling.
Modern people! Modern habits.
Forgotten everything. All wisdom lost.
Your grandma too. All wisdom lost.

Day and night the bodies were coming.
No time. Fast, fast, they made him hurry.
No one wanted to wait. To stand there.
Masks, gloves, jean pants, shoes.
In the holy grounds. Sacred grounds.
Shiva Shiva. And no patience. No waiting.
They made him hurry, babu.
What’s it to them? They will go back.
Bombay, Hyderabad, Bangalore.
They will go away. We stay. We remain.
And he has to work in the grounds.
Work the nights. Every night.
What’s it to them? Those…
They killed him, babu. Ignorance!
Ignorant educated fools!
They made him hurry, babu.
He’d be here now, babu.
They made him hurry.

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