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Authors: Indra Sinha

Animal's People

BOOK: Animal's People
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For Sunil

SIMON & SCHUSTER
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2007 by Indra Sinha
Originally published in Great Britain in 2007 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department,
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

S
IMON
& S
CHUSTER
and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Sinha, Indra.
Animal's people / Indra Sinha.
p. cm
1. Bhopal Union Carbide Plant Disaster, Bhopal, India, 1984—
Fiction. 2. Accident victims—Fiction. 3. Slums—India—Fiction.
4. Americans—India—Fiction. 5. India—Social conditions—
20th century—Fiction. I. Title.
PR9499.4.S56A55 2008
823'.92—dc22              2007042118

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-7885-7
ISBN-10: 1-4165-7885-4

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

EDITOR'S NOTE

This story was recorded in Hindi on a series of tapes by a nineteen-year-old boy in the Indian city of Khaufpur. True to the agreement between the boy and the journalist who befriended him, the story is told entirely in the boy's words as recorded on the tapes. Apart from translating to English, nothing has been changed. Difficult expressions which turned out to be French are rendered in correct spelling for ease of comprehension. Places where a recording was stopped and later recommenced on the same tape are indicated by gaps. The recordings are of various lengths, and the tapes are presented in the order of numbering. Some tapes contain long sections in which there is no speech, only sounds such as bicycle bells, birds, snatches of music and in one case several minutes of sustained and inexplicable laughter.

A glossary has been provided.

Information about the city of Khaufpur can be found at
www.khaufpur.com.

ANIMAL'S PEOPLE
TAPE ONE

I used to be human once. So I'm told. I don't remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet just like a human being.

“So sweet you were, a naughty little angel. You'd stand up on tiptoe, Animal my son, and hunt in the cupboard for food.” This is the sort of thing they say. Only mostly there wasn't any food plus really it isn't people just Ma Franci who says this, she doesn't even say it that way, what she says is tu étais si charmant, comme un petit ange méchant, which is how they talk in her country, plus I'm not really her son nor any kind of angel but it's true Ma's known me all my life, which is nearly twenty years. Most people round here don't know their age, I do, because I was born a few days before that night, which no one in Khaufpur wants to remember, but nobody can forget.

“Such a beautiful little boy you were, when you were three, four, years. Huge eyes you had, black like the Upper Lake at midnight plus a whopping head of curls. How you used to grin. Tu étais un vrai bourreau des coeurs, your smile would break a mother's heart,” thus she'd talk.

I used to walk upright, that's what Ma Franci says, why would she lie? It's not like the news is a comfort to me. Is it kind to remind a blind man that he could once see? The priests who whisper magic in the ears of corpses, they're not saying, “Cheer up, you used to be alive.” No one leans down and tenderly reassures the turd lying in the dust, “You still resemble the kebab you once were…”

How many times did I tell Ma Franci, “I no longer want to be human,” never did it sink in to that fucked-up brain of hers, or maybe she just didn't believe me, which you can understand, seeing it used to be when I caught sight of myself—mirrors I avoid but there's such a thing as casting a shadow—I'd feel raw disgust. In my mad times when the voices were shouting inside my head I'd be filled with rage against all things that go or even stand on two legs. The list of my jealousies was endless; Ma Franci, the other nuns at the orphanage, Chukku the night watchman, women carrying pots on their heads, waiters balancing four plates per arm. I hated watching my friends play hopscotch. I detested the sight of dancers, performing bears brought by those dirty buggers from Agra, stilt-walkers, the one-leg-and-crutch of Abdul Saliq the Pir Gate beggar. I envied herons, goalposts, ladders leaning on walls. I eyed Farouq's bicycle and wondered if it too deserved a place in my list of hates.

How can you understand this?

The world of humans is meant to be viewed from eye level. Your eyes. Lift my head I'm staring into someone's crotch. Whole nother world it's, below the waist. Believe me, I know which one hasn't washed his balls, I can smell pissy gussets and shitty backsides whose faint stenches don't carry to your nose, farts smell extra bad. In my mad times I'd shout at people in the street, “Listen, however fucking miserable you are, and no one's as happy as they've a right to be, at least you stand on two feet!”

Don't worry. Everything will get explained in due course. I'm not clever like you. I can't make fancy rissoles of each word. Blue kingfishers won't suddenly fly out of my mouth. If you want my story, you'll have to put up with how I tell it.

TAPE TWO

First thing I want to say, it's to the Kakadu Jarnalis, came here from Ostrali. Salaam Jarnalis, it's me, Animal, I'm talking to the tape. Not the one you gave. That one no longer works, rain got at it, black lumps are possibly scorpion-shit. I had to hide it after you left, I put it in a hole in the wall. Long it stayed there, I never used it like I promised, now it's fucked, I guess you are thinking what a waste of shorts.

My story you wanted, said you'd put it in a book. I did not want to talk about it. I said is it a big deal, to have my story in a book? I said, I am a small person not even human, what difference will my story make? You told me that sometimes the stories of small people in this world can achieve big things, this is the way you buggers always talk.

I said, many books have been written about this place, not one has changed anything for the better, how will yours be different? You will bleat like all the rest. You'll talk of
rights, law, justice
. Those words sound the same in my mouth as in yours but they don't mean the same, Zafar says such words are like shadows the moon makes in the Kampani's factory, always changing shape. On that night it was poison, now it's words that are choking us.

Remember me, Jarnalis? I remember you, the day you came here with Chunaram. How did you make the mistake of hiring that sisterfuck as your chargé d'affaires? With him it's anything for money, didn't he charge people to watch him rip off his little finger? I guess you weren't to know that collecting foreigners is a sideline of his. Daily he goes to meet the Shatabdi, waits on platform one, exact spot where the first-class air-conditioned bogie stops. You'll have got off the train looking clueless. Well, what else is Chunaram for? “Yes please, want a taxi? Need a hotel? Best in Khaufpur. See the city? Want a guide? Need translate? Jarnalis?” Once he knew why you'd come he'll have promised to show you everything. The really savage things, the worst cases. People like me.

“This boy,” he'll have told you, “he lost everything on that night.”

Such a look on your face when he brought you here, as you pushed aside the plastic sheet, bent your back through the gap in the wall. With what greed you looked about this place. I could feel your hunger. You'd devour everything. I watched you taking it in, the floor of earth, rough stone walls, dry dungcakes stacked near the hearth, smoke coiling in the air like a sardarji doing his hair.

When you saw me, your eyes lit up. Of course, you tried to hide it. Instantly you became all solemn. Your namasté had that tone I've come to know, a hushed respect as if you were speaking a prayer, like you were in the presence of the lord of death.

“Jarnalis,” Chunaram informed me, giggling like he's found a bag of gold, I'd already guessed.

“Speaks no Hindi,” says Chunaram. “Animal, there's fifty rupees for you, just keep talking till the tape stops.”

“What should I talk about?”

“Usual, what else?” He's already backing out the door.

Oh your face, when he buggered off. Such alarm. But see, Chunaram has other things to do, he has a chai shop to run. When he gave you his salaam, did you see his nine fingers?

So then, what was to do? You were sitting there gazing at me in a ghurr-ghurr kind of way, as if your eyes were buttons and mine were buttonholes.

I said, “Don't fucking stare or I won't speak.” I said it in Hindi, I'm not supposed to let on that I know some Inglis, Chunaram gets an extra bunce for translating. You gave a thumbs-up, carried right on staring. I called you a wanker. You nodded, smiled at me. Khaamush, silent then I'm. After some time I've joined another silence to the first.

Inside your skull thoughts were scrabbling like rats. I could hear them like voices in my own head—why has this boy stopped talking, queer as a winged snake is he, leant against the wall with such a look on his face, would be handsome if he weren't so sullen, what a chest he has, deep as a wrestler's, how does it spring from those twisted haunches to which are pawled legs like hanks of rope, oh god, his ribcage is heaving as if at any moment he may vomit, maybe he is ill, boy what is your problem, alas, my wordless enquiries cause his convulsions to grow worse, I think he may be going to have a fit, what will I do if he dies, oh dear, my further anxious attempts to communicate, with twisting “wherefore” hand motions and raising of eyebrows, seem to cause violent shudders, bugger's lips are writhing in some kind of agony, should a doctor be called, where can one find a doctor in this place, where the hell am I anyway, what the fuck am I doing here?

Actually, Jarnalis, I was trying not to show that I was laughing at you. After that, what else, I talked. Your tape crawled. Then you were happy, this is what you had come for. You were like all the others, come to suck our stories from us, so strangers in far off countries can marvel there's so much pain in the world. Like vultures are you jarnaliss. Somewhere a bad thing happens, tears like rain in the wind, and look, here you come, drawn by the smell of blood. You have turned us Khaufpuris into storytellers, but always of the same story. Ous raat, cette nuit, that night, always that fucking night.

You listened politely, pretending to follow, smiling now and again pour m'encourager, as Ma Franci would say. You were so fucking sure I was talking about that night. You were hoping the gibberish sounds coming from my mouth were the horrible stories you'd come to hear. Well, fuck that. No way was I going to tell those stories. I've repeated them so often my teeth are ground smooth by the endless passage of words.

With no Chunaram to tell you what I was saying, I could say anything. I could sing a filthy song:

I may be just a twisted runt

But I can sniff your mother's cunt

Hahaha, oh dear, your face, you were wondering, the song this boy is singing, with such a nasty tune, what is it, sounds like a lament, but pourquoi il rit? You scribbled something in your book. Let me guess. “Animal chanted a poem, probably a traditional song of mourning, just now he was crazy with grief.”

Jarnalis, you were such a fool. The best thing about you was your shorts. Six pockets, I counted. Two at the side, two on the front, two on the arse. With shorts like those a person does not need a house. From one pocket you fetched out a pack of cigarettes and from another a shiny lighter, it made a grinding noise when you flipped it, and a flame sprang up. I coveted that lighter, but more than that I craved your shorts.

Thus and thus time passed, Chunaram returned reeking of apologies and strong liquor, some Inglis gitpit passed between you. He said, “I shall listen to the tape.” The thing squeaked like a rat having its back broken and I heard my own voice earning fifty rupees.

Well, Chunaram was appalled. He started shouting, with great tappings of the brow and circlings of the temple. “You cretin! You are not right in your head. You have not said what's wanted.”

“Did as bid.”

“You must do it again. You must tell the real stories.”

“Balls to you!” says I with wanking gestures. “Did I ask you to go and get drunk?”

“You miserable boy,” yells Chunaram. “Who's going to pay for this foul-mouthed shit? Why didn't you just spout the usual?”

I've thought about this. “It is usual for me.”

“Mother's cunt? Where do you get that from, you twisted little bastard? Next time I ask you to record a tape, keep your mouth shut.”

After this, Jarnalis, I'm not expecting you back, but you show up next day with grinning Chunaram qui me dit que Jarnalis wants you to carry on telling your story.

“Don't ask me why,” says he. “Yesterday what you said, I thought it was one of your fucking madness fits, I admit I was wrong it has done the trick now I'm thinking it's this jarnalis who's cracked.” He shrugs and gives a thook onto the floor. So smug does he look that there and then I decide to teach the fucker a lesson.

“I'm done talking to tape mashins.”

So then Chunaram's wheedling, pleading with me. “Think of the money. Jarnalis is writing a book about Khaufpur. Last night he had your tape translated. Today he comes saying he has never found such honesty as in that filth of yours. Really I think he is mad, but listen how I buttered the shaft, I told him that you are an orphan of that night, you grew up in a crazy franci situation, you used to live on the streets like a dog, you are a unique case. Jarnalis really wants your story, this could be a big business, don't fuck it up.”

“Well,” says I, pretending to consider it. “No.”

“Listen, you can string it out. Make ten tapes. Why ten? Twenty. I will treat you to free kebabs at my place as long as it lasts.”

Wah Jarnalis, big money you must have offered him, his kebabs are famous throughout Khaufpur, well, at least in the Nutcracker, which is our part of Khaufpur, but one more look at his greedy face convinces me.

“Salty fucks to you, I won't do it.”

So Chunaram's shouting again, I am giggling, you're meanwhile wanting to know what's going on. Chunaram does some Inglis guftagoo, then he's back to me. “Jarnalis says it's a big chance for you. He will write what you say in his book. Thousands will read it. Maybe you will become famous. Look at him, see his eyes. He says thousands of other people are looking through his eyes. Think of that.”

I think of this awful idea. Your eyes full of eyes. Thousands staring at me through the holes in your head. Their curiosity feels like acid on my skin.

“What am I to tell these eyes?” I demand of Chunaram. “What can I say that they will understand? Have these thousands of eyes slept even one night in a place like this? Do these eyes shit on railway tracks? When was the last time these eyes had nothing to eat? These cuntish eyes, what do they know of our lives?”

“Don't talk that way,” says Chunaram, casting a fearful glance at you. “Think of kebabs. Plus,” he says with a nod at my rags, “you can buy a good shirt and pant, go to the cinema every night, take the best seat, kulfi eat.”

With Chunaram everything is a question of money, I'm about to tell him to stick it up his cul when a notion occurs.

Chunaram falls into a rage. “You idiot,” he cries. “This deal is nestling in my palm. Why ruin it with stupid demands?”

“It's my story. If he doesn't agree, I will not tell it.”

“Have some sense,” says he, “how can I ask such a thing?”

“Je m'en fous you nine-fingered cunt.”

I know Chunaram won't give up, he lives for money, but as he speaks to you every word is a stone in his mouth. I catch his thoughts, badmaash boy, too much cunt, fucking boy, francispeaking, got too grand, bastard. Mixed in with this is allwhat he's saying to you. I know most of the Inglis words, those I don't know spit their meanings into my ear. C'est normal. Since I was small I could hear people's thoughts even when their lips were shut, plus I'd get en passant comments from all types of things, animals, birds, trees, rocks giving the time of day. What are these voices, no good asking me. When at last I told Ma Franci about them, she got worried, soit un fléau soit une bénédiction, curse or blessing, that's what she said. Well, she should know whose own brain's full of warring angels and demons. She took me to a doctor, it's how I met the Khã-in-the-Jar, which I'll tell about later, but the voices, some are like fireworks cracking the nearby air, others are inside me, if I listen carefully I'll hear them arguing, or talking nonsense. Once I was looking at Nisha, this voice says, the hair pours off her head like history. What the fuck does that mean? I don't know. Some voices are slow like honey melting in the sun, Elli and I saw a locust spread scarlet wings in the Nutcracker, it was crooning “I'm so gorgeous.” I said aloud, “Yeah, till a bird sees you.” Such a look I got from Elli. She was interested in my voices, being a doctor with a mission to save, even shits like me. I will get to Elli soon, too the Khã-in-the-Jar, but right now I'm telling how Chunaram's thoughts were giving him a headache. Poor bugger was rambling like a lost soul, he did not want to put my demand to you, at one point he grew so confused he forgot to speak Inglis, whinged in Hindi, “Don't get offended by what this idiot is asking.” Then I knew greed had him by the ear.

“Sir,” mumbles Chunaram. “Sir, I am so sorry, this boy says that if he talks to the eyes the book must contain only his story and nothing else. Plus it must be his words only.”

Only his story? His words only?

“Sir, he is a beastly boy, but it's a good story.”

Jarnalis, your brow creases, strange figures dance on your forehead. You gitpit with Chunaram, who pleads, “Drop this demand. It's impossible. This jarnalis already has a plan for his book. It is already agreed. Jarnalis talks of an agent, plus a type called editor.”

Makes no sense. How can foreigners at the world's other end, who've never set foot in Khaufpur, decide what's to be said about this place?

“I guess the way it works,” says Chunaram, “is jarnalis bribes agent, agent bribes type. Business, na?” He gives a laugh, smirky bastard thinks he's won.

Well, I'm in a shining fucking rage, here and now I will cut the throat of this plan. “Give me the address of this editor type, I'll send a letter! I'll say this Jarnalis should not be allowed to tell my story. Comes here strutting like some sisterfuck movie star. What? Does he think he's the first outsider ever to visit this fucking city? People bend to touch his feet, sir, please sir, your help sir, sir my son, sir my wife, sir my wretched life. Oh how the prick loves this! Sultan among slaves he's, listens with what lofty pity, pretends to give a fuck but the truth is he'll go away and forget them, every last one. For his sort we are not really people. We don't have names. We flit in crowds at the corner of his eye. Extras we're, in his movie. Well bollocks to that. Tell mister cunt big shot that this is my movie he's in and in my movie there is only one star and it's me.”

BOOK: Animal's People
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