A rain-drenched figure slowly ambled towards the Tharawad house. His ebony-coloured torso covered only by a small waist clothe, the big knife in his waistband merging with his complexion. He stopped at the steps of the palatial mansion.
The sound of water gushing from the roof filled the intervals of silence between each clash of thunder.
“Thambra. Thambra,” he called out, raising his voice slightly to be heard above the sound of the deluge.
The massive rosewood door opened with a loud creak, bringing to view a stout man in his late forties. A long chain of gold-covered Rudrakshas hung from his neck and rested on his belly. The verandah slowly filled with his presence.
The man bowed at the sight of his master. “Why did you call for me Thambra?”
“So, you will come if I call, won’t you, Paramu.” There was a touch of cynicism in the voice of the potbellied landlord.
“Why do you say so master, haven’t I always obeyed you.”
“Then, why didn’t you come when I sent for you yesterday.”
“Yesterday…master…I had gone to attend a meeting in town.”
“Oh O! So who will climb the trees when our local leader is away, me?”
“No Thambra, I didn’t mean that…it’s just that Comrade Kutty insisted and I couldn’t say no.”
“You too went to hold flags. Who do you think you are going to become…that bearded German Sahib.”
“ No, Thambra. I’ll make up today.”
“Oh no, you won’t. You won’t climb my trees anymore, nor do I want you hanging around my land.”
“But you can’t send me away like that, my party will oppose it.”
The master’s eyes twitched, and with a single move he threw the heavy betel box at Paramu. The wiry coconut-climber fell on impact, blood gushing from his forehead and reddening the sand.
The old man woke up drenched in sweat. The bed was nearly soaked. For the past thirty years this very vision had haunted him day and night, reminding him of that one moment of impulse that had ruined his life.
The town was crowded that day. There was a meeting of the party. The streets were awash in red, toddlers tottering with small red flags in their hands…some sporting red berets. Festive mood was in the air.
Some distance away, the old man walked slowly towards the river. It’s been nearly three decades since he started coming here to feed the fish. It was one of those joyous concessions he allowed himself. Somehow, all the pandemonium in the street failed to catch his attention. Songs of the “Revolution” flooded the calm Saturday evening. A sea of red was slowly approaching the riverbank.
The din of crackers startled the man; he slowly turned around only to gape at the choreographed march of the cadres, all draped in red. His eyebrows started twitching and his palms sweated. His fear of the party and all things red was once again overwhelming.
The distance between him and the army of people became smaller. He could now see the fists held high and moving in unison to the aggressive drumbeats.
His eyes slowly lost focus and he cried out. His wails drowned in the drone of the slogans. He pushed in the air, as if to keep someone away. He ran into the red-hued procession, shouting at the top of his time-ravaged voice.
No one noticed him though; he had strangely become a part of the scenery. He lost his footing and fell between the multitudes of feet. Some trampled upon him.
The sound of metal echoed in the corridors as door to the cell was opened. Soon, the silence returned to its deafening self.
The old man grew restless and writhed about in his bed. Perhaps, the silence had been too loud for him. A buzz filled the room as a small apparatus beside the bed as turned on. A doctor pressed a metal band onto the man’s head. The sound became louder as electricity started flowing through the coils. The man fell back in his bed, his mind blank. Then a scream from the past woke him up!
“Come out you bourgeoisie pig.”
“How dare you call me that, don’t you know who I am,” the Thambra was furious.
“Yeah, we all know. Our visible god! The owner of all his servants! Is it not, you wretched tyrant?” it was Comrade Kutty’s voice.
Just then a man rushed in and dragged the Thambra out of his house. The man had a badly bruised forehead. It was Paramu.
“Thought I was dead didn’t you, Thambra!”
“Paramu don’t do that,” the words stopped in his throat.
The cries only fell on deaf ears. A ball of fire fell on his house, engulfing it in flames.
A moment of calm, and then there were shouts of panic as many teemed out of the burning house. Some, however, never made it; among them the Thambra’s three daughters.
The Thambra knew it was all over. His land, his power – all lost in an explosion of suppressed rage.
The asylum cell was calm, the silence unnerving as usual. The red light from the corridor filled the room. The old man bathed in crimson hue, as he lay motionless on the steel bed. His eyes twitched one last time. Maybe he was having visions…then everything was still again.
The red light appeared like a shroud over the Thambra’s body.