Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dar-e-Salaam

Dar-e-Salaam.

That's where the neighbor's son went. To make money.

I don't remember a day that went by without her coming home to meet Mu and tell us about Dar-e-Salaam. I'd asked Mu where it was. It was somewhere far. Far far away. Farther than the road beyond the green fields. Farther than even Pondicherry where my parents lived.

The neighbor in her crisp white dress with her crisp red mouth who spat betel juice in a quaint old jar that she carried when she came home. She wouldn’t spit in Mu's garden. Oh no. Deference, my first sight of it.

Mu would offer her tea everyday which she would gracefully decline pointing to her blood red mouth.

Mu would sip her tea and listen to her stories. Of big buildings. Bigger cars. Lavish lifestyles. Of letters with exotic stamps which she would graciously give me. I steamed out the stamps and pressed them, still with fragments of ink from a strange country into my notebook. My notebook pages that whispered to the stamps from Dar-e-Salaam.

The stories were always happy. They made my neighbor happy, that is.

I'd sometimes go over to her in a fit of boredom and sit on her mulberry lined wall.

"Tell me about Dar-e-Salaam" and she would tell me stories of tigers that roamed the streets and animals of colors that existed not even in the paint box I got last summer.

"Are there ghosts in Dar-e-Salaam?", I once asked her.

She thought about it.


"Yes", she decided. People die even in Dar-e-Salaam.

And went on to tell me some of the most fearsome stories I'd heard in my childhood. And in my ignorance, I didn't realize that the ghosts in Dar-e-Salaam too spoke last words in Malayalam to their victims.

Mu put an end to those visits after she was repeatedly woken several nights by my tugging of her saree. The toilets were too far and too dark and the way was paved with ghosts of increasing cruelty.

But the other stories continued. Though Mu was unhappy with her for scaring me with her stories, I think Mu visited the Dar-e-Salaam in her head when she spoke. I had one too. Full of dark blue tigers and orange peacocks and ghosts with white sarees. That I would never go there was certain.

It was then that it happened. Her son died. I don’t know how, but he died. And he was brought home in a brown box.

It didn’t have a stamp on it.

We went visiting. Her screams of grief terrified me. Mu hastily walked me back home.

I brushed aside the uneasy feeling that there perhaps was someone else who walked with us that evening.

His ghost after all would be in Dar-e-Salaam.

21 Comments:

Blogger sparsh said...

You make me look back at my own childhood and the n-number of things that come flooding in with it. As always...beautiful! Somehow this reminds me of the story you wrote when you were 16.

6:31 AM  
Blogger sp said...

Ha ha...Awesome ending !!

But you know it makes me wonder as to how you manage to find the right pics. The logical mind in me refuses to believe that you pen the prose and are able to recollect the right pic for it from memory or collection. So it must be that you find the pictures and the writing flows later. If so, its really admirable...that creativity can spout from every such inspiration.

Cool !

5:57 PM  
Blogger Banana said...

Awesome again. Reminded me of the peepal tree next to my terrace that I had to cross to reach the toilet and how that 5 sec walk seemed like eternity :-)

7:28 PM  
Blogger Lost in trance... said...

gud one again! now i gotta do smthg to get this sadness off me!

8:47 PM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Sparsh: Yes, this one too looks at death from a child's eyes. Maybe that's why...

Prasanna: Trust me when I say I write first and look for pictures. The keywords could be as simple as 'Stamps on old letters'!

Banana: Oh I know all about the eternity of those walks!

Lost in trance: A stiff shot maybe?

10:30 PM  
Blogger Lost in trance... said...

not THAT bad :)

cant allow it can i?

1:36 AM  
Blogger clash said...

Africa and middle east will ve more and more "white ghosts" these days! Wonder how the indian ghost will cope up! Ghosts are they racist too? :D

2:02 AM  
Anonymous Arun Verma said...

Nice. Brings back some interesting memories.

2:21 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Lost in trance: Nope! Shut out sadness!

Clash: I hope ghosts dont have to worry about all that!

Arun: Sigh. Long time Arun. Howve you been?

5:21 AM  
Blogger Dhanush said...

There is a short story by M.T in the same name in Malayalam. But in it he describes it as peacefull.When did it turn a Ghost Valley?

Nice one

11:59 AM  
Blogger dharmabum said...

seriyana 'blade' kathaiya irukku ellamey :)

10:33 PM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Dhanush: I have seen a movie by MT on the same name. Srividya was the main character. I dont know it as peaceful, but well, the name stuck.

Balu: Unna yaaru asking to read huh?

10:41 AM  
Blogger pallavi said...

i luurved ghost stories as a kid.... and when i'd hear a good one, i'd go to school and scare the living daylights out of everyone else!
I wonder why the girls at school never liked me...

11:44 AM  
Blogger Crizzie Criz! said...

Wouldnt be a lie if i said i lost you and then, found you again!

And i meant your blog, before you raise your right eyebrow in mild amusement (like i do at reading vague sentences like the one in the first paragraph)

2:47 PM  
Blogger SilenceKilled said...

reminds me of my chilhood :)

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Ph said...

All ok?

5:31 PM  
Anonymous indu said...

Beautiful! Am a regular here. Simple and very captivating, that's what I think of your style. Keep writing girl.

1:16 AM  
Blogger Indian Bluff said...

Poornima,

One part of your story sure remind me of my childhood days when grandfather used to tell me stories about his overseas ventures when he was younger,and how I dragged to go to the toilet downstairs in the middle of the night, especially during rainy nights ;) !

Perhaps, it is the "the Ghost of Dar-e-Salaam" that makes me nervous then ;)!

Sameera
indian sarees

2:36 AM  
Blogger A.G.Sudarshan said...

The stark transition of paan gorging auntie to bereaved mother... amazing.

Beautiful take on the great leveller!

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dar-es-Salaam sil vous plait... (not sure about the French, though :-))

4:11 PM  
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11:46 PM  

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