“Listen! The best way to defeat an enemy is to try his own tactics!” Antony proposed. “For example, what’s the process of purification in a temple? If the astrologer augurs any impurity, a cleansing ritual, which purportedly increases the radiance of the deity, is carried out. But we should conduct a reverse purification instead! By removing the godliness from the street’s name, we’ll sanctify it anew.”
“But how?” Bhaskaran asked.
“No point in being poetically silent like the idealists! We should make surreptitious moves without revealing the sanctification ploy. If a street where the god reigns is called Deva Theruvu or God’s Street, why can’t the street where the Abhasa rules be named Abhasa Theruvu, the Debauched Street?”
“Abhasa Theruvu! There’s oomph in it,” Sahir said with a guffaw. “Don’t laugh at it so soon!”
“I am not the only one laughing. Look at the peepal and the mango!”
The leaves of the peepal seemed to be chattering incessantly, like raucous kids racing upon hearing the school bell. And the mango leaves were bobbing along in agreement. Even when there was no trace of a breeze, the leaves of the peepal, possessing an extreme sensitivity, were receptive to the subtlest movement of air. Due to the virtue of constant companionship, the mango tree, too, had imbibed the habit of nodding, even when idling.
“Even if we rename the street, who will accept it? People will mock us openly,” Sahir objected. This was a perfectly justifiable comment.
Sahir found not only the temple bells but also the calls of the muezzin vexatious. The atheist in him refused to follow a life delineated by five sessions of prayer.
“I have an idea!” Bhaskaran piped up. “Of course, we have to do it rather stealthily. Let us scribble the new name of the street on all walls. At first, folks might laugh, but over the course of time, the new name will start sinking in!”
Though the strategy did not have much potential, the duplicitous pleasure associated with its secretiveness amused Antony. Secrets intrigued him to the level of an obsession. He was of the opinion that sins committed clandestinely were doubly intoxicating. The moment an idea took root in his mind, Antony would tuck in his mundu and set about its implementation. Antony’s body language was blatantly aggressive, like that of the macho superheroes of mainstream films, setting out to fight capriciously.
Though he was nearly forty years old, Antony had never worn any clothing other than shirt and mundu. His preference was for mundus with kasavu borders. One could say that he took after his daredevil father in many ways, including his preference for this attire. Due to him faithfully following his father’s many secret penchants, the villagers had crowned him with the title of being “born true to the progenitor’s loins”.
It was another matter altogether that the son, “born to the father”, was yet to sign any nuptial contract to become a father himself! The honest rumination, that marriage would not suit his way of life, was the reason. If anyone ever pestered Antony about the topic, he would retort, “If lucky, even a priest can become a father!”
The next day, the village woke up to the humungous odour of debauchery. The name “Abhasa Theruvu” had been scribbled on all the walls in the vicinity.
The natives took the episode as a tasteless joke and shrugged it off with the contempt it deserved. Just because someone wrote something, could the godliness of the street vanish overnight?
But soon the black humour started getting its due. Through cold- blooded strategy, the Abhasa managed the changeover. Whenever they referred to the street in conversations, they intentionally spoke about Abhasa Theruvu. They started a spate of events by complaining in writing to the local electricity board office that the lights were not working in Abhasa Theruvu.
It was another matter altogether that it was a deliberate act of insurrection which made the bulb conk off. That veteran of stone pelters, Bhaskaran, had accomplished the mission meticulously, incessantly chanting that “the ends justify the means”.
The petty bureaucrats at the electricity board scratched their heads when they received the complaint about the outage. “Abhasa Theruvu? Where the hell is that?” On mentioning the area, the officials laughed. “Ah, you mean God’s Street!” But the name blazed the passage of an electric signal in their brains, and when hearing of Abhasa Theruvu subsequently, their memories lighted up with the speed of electricity.
Whenever Bhaskaran, Antony and Sahir trooped to the city to booze and indulge in their other weaknesses, the trio made it a point to request for bus tickets back to Abhasa Theruvu. Though the conductor of the Sri Vidya bus found it amusing initially, when the bus rumbled to a halt near the street, he took a puerile pleasure in announcing loudly, “Alight, all of you belonging to Abhasa Theruvu!”
Belonging to the debauched category himself and prone to venting his debauchery by rubbing against the young girls boarding the bus, the conductor took a liking to the new name. He started experiencing a verbal orgasm akin to rubbing against tender bodies whenever he hailed “Abhasa Theruvu” on nearing the bus stop. It provoked him to announce the new name of the street more than was warranted. Since a hundred ears hearken when a tongue begins its job, the contribution of the bus conductor to popularising the new name was indeed immense.
The participation of the lower strata of society was desirable in cementing the new name further.
For that purpose, the trio singled out a male and a female. Maniyan, the barber of the land who shaved the citizens, and Janaki, the prostitute of the land who soothed their secret lusts, were the chosen ones.
The barber’s shop and Janaki were venues of commercial exchange frequented by all sections of society, the kind psychologically prone to yielding to monetary temptations. Antony typically felt an engorged crick in his neck if he did not get his hair trimmed military-style by Maniyan every month. In the same way, whenever he felt a turbulence in his loins, it called to his mind Janaki’s voluptuous curves.
At the cost of a few extra rupees, Maniyan was glad to oblige by squeezing in the words “Abhasa Theruvu” on the tin name board dangling above his shop entrance. Apart from the money, the Abhasa also offered to get the barbershop’s ancient board painted afresh. Other than falling for the attractive bait, Maniyan’s ready acquiescence was without much forethought towards its ramifications. The barber was oblivious to the fortuitous role he was to play in the imminent saga of the Nireeswaran.
Even without a board of her own, Janaki’s business was prospering. As a result, she transformed into a board herself, advertising the Debauched Street.
Excerpted with permission from Nireeswaran, VJ James, translated from the Malayalam by Ministhy S, Vintage Books.