They named me Suresh — Mari Selvaraj
This is the first story in writer and filmmaker Mari Selvaraj’s acclaimed short story collection ‘Thamirabaraniyil Kollapadaathavargal’.
On one of those rainy days that everyone loves, they brought me home. They could take me away only when my mother was not around. Though some people in that house didn’t like me and the big, red-brick coloured spot on my nose; the little boys in the house took to me immediately. Maybe the little boys liked my thick white-coloured fur; my nose alone was brick-red. Despite everyone else, they took me to the centre of the house.
The oldest man in the house lifted my ear and predicted how high-spirited I would be. He had mucus oozing out of his nose then. As I shivered in pain, the house buzzed in excitement of the prediction. The youngest girl child of the house put a plastic pottu on my forehead. She then smiled and clapped in glee. The woman of the house brought a bowl of milk and placed a drop of it on my tongue with her fingers. Yes, she must have been the one running the house. She was the one drying everyone’s heads, wet from rain.
“Oi crazy ones, look at this puppy’s tail! It is twisted and is touching its back. It is not good for the family. Take it back to where you picked it up,” sitting in his chair the man of the house commanded. But the children hugged me like a pillow they loved, or a toy from abroad. I think that, or for some other reason, everyone including the patriarch accepted my arrival.
They were discussing their favourite names to christen me. Finally, the eldest man exclaimed, “Suresh!” Once, it seems, there was another one like me in the house — coloured like a red brick. He died while saving the man from an accident. So they adamantly named me Suresh.
“Suresh, Suresh! Suresh, you tiny boy!”
That’s how they called me. Sometimes in whispers, sometimes aloud. I was allowed to roam in all the rooms of the house. They never left me behind in the house when they went out. They must have loved my beautiful, thick white fur; someone or the other was always caressing it. Loyally, I would also lift my front legs and try to kiss their face. Sometimes they would be happy. Many a time, they would shoo me away. Yet, they never failed to share their unending melancholy and mirth with me. Alone, and in tears, the women of the house told me their secrets which I kept to myself. I know the men aimed their anger at someone else, towards me. Once, when they were watching a cricket match, I barked as I was unable to bear the mosquito bites. Tendulkar lost his wicket then, and a neighbour boy beat me up blaming me. I still don’t know who Tendulkar is.
It has been seven years since they named me Suresh. I have seen the eldest man’s death, and the marriage of the patriarch’s sister. When the old man died, I cried, and followed the family to the burial ground and back. When the sister got married and left, I ran behind her car up till the main road and on to the village well. Despite her happy tears, she shooed me in mock anger by throwing a small stone at me.
Now I am old. It is not my fault that my fur is falling and my skin is full of sores. How can I be blamed for the foul smell coming off my body, or crows pecking the wounds on my back? But I am not angry with them for any of that.
How can I suffer the accusation of going crazy and biting Mangottaaratthaal and Aiyaakutti? That toothless old lady Mangottaaratthaal stepped on my tail. Unable to bear the pain, I bit her. Aiyakutti is a fool who cannot see: I was sleeping alone in a corner, and he fell on me, which is when I bit him in fear and confusion.
I did not plan on doing it. I don’t have the strength in my body to do so. I wasn’t raised as a biting dog. But it is unacceptable, they say, I have “gone mad after eating a dead donkey, and now run around biting everyone.” My heartless owner declared death as punishment for me on hearing this.
“Oi boys, I think there is no point in keeping this Suresh anymore. Take it away and kill it somewhere before it eats more donkeys and gets mad-er.”
“Aiyyaa, all that is not needed. It has grown up like our kin. Just leave it across the river…”
The matriarch could have stood there for a while after saying this. But that cursed woman ran back into the kitchen.
“No no. It might cross the river and come back. Just tie it with a rope to the railway track. This way we won’t have to bear the sin of killing. Let it die by some passing train”, the neighbour Annadurai happily offered his suggestion. I barked at him once angrily.
“I don’t care what you do. Just not before my eyes,” the patriarch insisted before going in the house. They put down some food for me to eat; they presumed I would be tricked. Yet, for some reason I wanted to die then. So I went and just stood near them without touching the food. I didn’t wag my tail.
Three young men dragged me by a rope. One looked with pity at the sight of me following them without offering any resistance. When they brought me to the banyan tree, I knew that they were going to hang me, like they hanged my friend Vellaiyan last week, on the same tree.
One of them climbed up and threw the rope around a branch. The other end of the rope was tied around my neck. One of them then spoke the famous movie dialogue: “You, are you the loud Kattabomman who refused to pay taxes? See your end in a while. Let us hear your last wishes.” Another splashed a glass of water and absolved me of sins. As my head shivered, I heard some boys cry in the distance. These young men joyfully whistled, and pulled the rope from the other side.
The bones in my neck started to break. I could feel it very well. I cried in pain. But I didn’t wag my tail. I was not going to. Everything before my eyes started getting dark. I longed for the rain from that first day. It would have been nice to have it now. My tongue refused to stay inside my mouth. My still body announced my death to them. But I wasn’t dead. I was dying.
They took me down and dragged me towards a warehouse. I could feel the rough pebbles tearing my sore-filled, hairless body.
I was at the edge of death when they brought me to the warehouse and started to leave. I knew that I would die in a few minutes. Then one of them said, “Mapla, some dogs eat air, and come back alive they say. Should we place a big rock on this dog?”
“Dei! It is already dead, poor thing. Leave it come. So, what is its name?”
Suresh (I said).
I held my breath tightly. I should not be able to breathe. Whatever the reasons, I should not live. My heart felt like bursting. Bursting. It was about to explode. That is all…
Published first in The Satyashodhak