This is the story of myself and people of my kind. My name is Roypuri Ranjit Singh from Joypur another name is “The land of jewels.” My father, the most educated man in our town, calls himself Joypur Dorjut Singh, when I ask him the meaning of his name he just shrugs his shoulders and when I further question he says I ask too much. You see people like my old man believe that when someone dies the person goes to the Land of The Ganges so they always go about chanting some Aryan texts of which not even a word they understand. But they were given that so they just keep it close to their heart, like a monkey holding close some coconut.
Everybody is like that and everyone sticks to what they are and no one wants to go beyond what we are. My grandfather, when he was alive, would go to some grand feast all dressed up like some Bengali man yet without knowing he looked really like one. At the feast place he and the respected elders would sit and listen to songs sang in Sanskrit with eyes shut pretending they understood the words.
The people before them had done it because it was forced upon them by some Rajakumari or Maharajakumari who were only capable of self-contempt and in that state had disowned what was theirs and adopted what had been brought in by some Bengali man. Though they were then the little kings and princes busy chopping each other’s head they did have some power to impose the self-contempt on their naïve subjects, like my grandfather.
Whenever we have something at home my father would ask the man with the wooden idol painted all in blue for the quantities of several things he should buy and that he would do after he had mortgaged his paddy fields. See that’s very important, with the man entering our house with that wooden idol all painted in blue, he would do anything to save his face in front of the man and the others who had done the same thing like my old man to impress.
The wooden idol-carrying man would become much more important when some lady in our confused town got married and an old man like my old man would do anything to arrange a Bihari dowry, probably thinking his daughter would be doused with kerosene and burned alive. He would like everyone in the town to say “ The groom’s had to send in several trucks to load the dowry, oh, what a man who has managed everything so well after he had sold even his hair.” After the much-talked Bihari wedding the old man would sit on his cracked-heels for ages with his hands on his bare head.
This is my town and people in my town are a very proud people. Every individual is a Che Guevera and every educated man is more thoughtful than Plato, but what make our people different is that we use the names and do things in our own fashion. Every week the whole state freezes because there are so many strikes, stone pelting and firing on going on all over the place in the name of homeland, pay rise, human rights and justice. And the leaders precisely know how to handle in their own fashion; ignore for a while and the scare the hell out of them with come commandos firing tear gas first and then resorting to killing one or two individuals, and when all has become rather intolerable they go in secretely and shower furious strike leaders with dough and, you know, this is good for few months.
Justice here means some compensation money and a clerical job in some government office. Homeland means installing an evil in one community and turning it to a devil and therefore garnering the entire communal force to slay the evil-turned devil. Others I won’t discuss much here.
See in a way I never question this irrelevant name and the identity my old man’s old men had imported without knowing a bit but every now and then in this cold city of the largest democracy sitting among real Amar Singh, Real Raja and Real Devi I begin to have doubt that what I have is as strong as theirs. They can give you a meaning of the names and the things they do which they call culture and tradition but in my case I can ask my old man but he wouldn’t know and the further I searched for the meaning I would have to take myself to some strange place where nothing is relevant and yet it remains the source of the confused identity I and many carry.
While playing with my own name the other day I refashioned it as KJSingh and eventually because of the easiness while writing and saying it I put it on the cover pages of my old college textbooks and notebooks. Each time I ran into someone new I tried my new name and they all smiled. You know, their smiles were encouraging and there was this day when the so-called professor of our picked up my thin notebook and read out my new name. I stood up with a flamboyant air, you know the kind of air wanting the friends whom you know very little and with whom you have always been boastful whenever possible, saying crap like you are the son of some chief. The so-called professor who is a like a demi-god to all of us snickered and pronounced my new-name few times as though he was trying to me morize my face with the name, new-name. While he was busying himself with my name the Real Singh, the Real Devi and all stared at me as though I was some alien with narrow eyes whose presence they had never taken notice in the last two years. I knew the meaning of their look, “oh! A crow in peacock feathers!”
Soon I reached my hole in the slum of that big city there was something I was beginning to feel. It was confusion, then it was a confused rage, then it was a rage and a failure all wrapped in confusion. I contemplated over an idea, an idea to overcome that feeling. It was violent in its nature and for that I would have to get back to my valley. My mind wandered off to the thick jungles with its edges all land-mined where the communist pamphlet-intoxicated leaders have been polishing their Khmer Rouge rifles and talking about the exploits of Guevara and Castro. Yes, through them I could do something, something nasty which could match the confusion-wrapped feeling of mine.
Now I like to take off for that impregnable place. My decision has become harder when I realize that all that I can do in this city is to wait on some burly customers, which was once only for some particular people, the gibberish job intruding Jack and Lucy with a bogus name, but that would be a bit too much for me. The certainty that I have nothing and my talents of walking in baggy pants and XXL T-shirt have been of no use at all, you know, it’s a defeat but not the defeat which comes to you with its real face. I want to pack my things up and go back to where I have come from and see how my desire can be translated. When I mention this to someone I’m told that I should plunge into the chaos at home and do things which could be construed as reforms, but what do I know about that. I only know how to do the hip-hop walks, singing the songs which many consider hype. Books, I have read, but only textbooks, thoughts, I have written but only the memorized ones answering the known exams questions.