The Damu Kin

The Damu Kin

Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897. Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897

Chapter One: Dreamscaping

A new-found low hit her, right in the chest. A deep pull in there, like it was eating  away whatever light she had left inside. Gasping for breath, she woke and rolled off her bed, making a fist and pounding her chest to let some air in. Her knees hurt, she felt old, almost as if life was done with her and it was time to go. Her body and mind were tired of trying to find a purpose, something to live for, breath for, exist for. The feeling of the pit never went away. She drank water and tried to shake it off, moving her arms and legs around, huffing and puffing. She fell back onto her bed. Her tummy made noise, it needed food, but she did not. She ignored it, and enjoyed the pain it gave her, sadistically. She drank the water left from the previous night and hit the bed again. She heard a knock on the door.

“It’s 11:30 am, aren’t you going to eat something? Come out from there! What are you doing?”

She did not know what to say, she did not know what she was doing. She stared at the ceiling, thinking, dreading the next moment. Suddenly, her phone pinged, Virh :

“What have you been upto?”

She stared at it, how inadequate she felt by his side, how much she had not done in life to be his. He would expect someone normal, sane even. Why should he have to put up with her shit? It was  probably best to let him go, at least save him from this awful nightmare of a life she was living. Putting her phone down, she got under her blanket, turned on some music, put it on repeat and closed her eyes. She went back to safety, back to imaginary conversations, imaginary decisions. Anything really to forget her reality and wake up in a new world with a clean slate, or the same world, but on an island where no one knows her. Her phone pinged again, Virh :

“Did you eat something?”

So many questions, so many things for this body that she had to do – feed it, bathe it, why not just let it go? Float above it, leave it on its own, she did not want it anymore. Thinking about all this exhausted her. She went back to sleep, forcing her tired eyes shut. She did not want this reality at all. She drifted into a deep slumber.

“Ajay, why aren’t you waking up! Appa is calling, school ku late aachu!“, she heard at a distance.Who was Ajay? Probably a neighbour. She tried to look around and saw she was somewhere else. Small Mickey Mouses everywhere, blue and white, a blanket? Just the outline of it, made in checks. She felt the body move, seeing herself in the back seat. Like being stuck on the same tv channel with the remote lost. No control, only view. She did not want to wake up and go to school..SCHOOL?! What was happening!? Realising she was in for the ride involuntarily, she watched the boy get ready for school, not being able to make her presence known. The mother kissed the boy, and she felt the love, the hands, soft yet firm, telling him to be good today. A lump formed in her throat. She was reminded  of her own mother, and her eyes welled up. “Ajay, what happened kanna? Yen allure? Don’t want to go to school again?” *sobs* “I don’t know ma.“ He was unable to understand the complex emotions that were being projected on him. A boy at that age would not even know the sense of failure, as he had not been out in this manipulative, cruel, cheap world. Where you cannot find a droplet of good, not unless you search for it like your entire existence depends on it. His mother wiped his tears, but that did not stop them from running down his cheeks.

Noticing that she had caused the boy distress, she immediately composed herself, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and so did the boy. Then he smiled at his mother, and ran to his father’s bike. His mother could not recognise that emotional change in him, so complex, so mature, so unlike her son, who was only a child. She saw the boy and his father ride away on the motorcycle. She could feel the wind in her hair. She held onto the boy’s mind as a last straw and kept riding the high, wanting her other world experience, until she woke up on her bed again, with her phone beeping an alarm. She snoozed it and laid awake, wondering who he was, and why she saw what she did, and felt what she felt. Was he always with her? A part of her she was not aware of? Why could she not feel him  anymore? When would she feel the mother’s kiss on her cheek and the wind in her hair?

Chapter 2: The Girl

Her connection was interrupted by her mum, trying to wake her up. She felt irritated and cranky. She had seen the lady again. She was so close this time, watching her do her spells in the backyard. She had people around this time, who looked like a big one, some four of them, while the music in the air was played by one and the chanting continued. It looked like a cult. Keeping her distance to spy on them, she realised it sounded more like Sanskrit words than some random black magic cult. Now she needed to know more about it. She had read somewhere that no knowledge was forbidden in Hinduism, so it would be more of a learning experience to join a cult. Convincing herself that if it was for the good, it’s good to dig in, unlike Howard Carter, obviously with no disrespect intended, she thought mockingly. 

She snapped out of her haze. All she remembered was the music, it stuck to her, she couldn’t get a clear look at what or who it was being played by, but it was the most wondrous and divine music she had ever heard before. Humming it to herself and picking up her phone to record herself about the events of the dream, she thought she could maybe find the song online through an app. It was obviously Indian classical and sounded like a sitar. She remembered her own hard and loud breathing over it too, like she had run a marathon, which seemed odd. She made recordings of her connection to keep track of them, as soon as she woke up. Humming, remembering… 

As she reached her site that day, the geological team had arrived for the survey, they needed at least two weeks to evaluate where the water recharge wells were to be located. It was a drought prone area with only two days of timed water from the government supply. The people in the region and the local farmers depend highly on the rains, and water conservation was not even a concept anymore. This area desperately needed water conservation practices. Recharging the water table by not letting the monsoon water flow away was a key aspect, as rainfalls were periodic and sufficient. The geological team had begun their surveys, marking plots and lands with sufficient slopes to drain the overflow water underground. 

After a hectic day in the sun, she returned home to find that her grandma had brought down sacks of jute filled with brass vessels from the attic where she’d found the journal. She had laminated every page that she could piece together, making sure that they stayed intact throughout the translations. Picking up a tripod looking like brass contraption, they seemed to come out of an old Chen lab. She looked at her grandma confused.

“It’s all the old pooja samaan that belonged to my mother in-law. I don’t think we used it after she passed away.”

Looking at these items and trying to piece them together she found a velakku that she had never seen before, the moulding, colour or shape, they all looked very old. There were spoons of varying sizes and lengths, lots of brass cups and plates. She’d never seen such vessels used in a pooja before, like extremely detailed sets of vessels. A tripod looking stand about a foot high, also made of brass. All of them bluntly shaped, her grandma picked one of the brass velakku (lamp) and said:

“Adade, this one is called a Perumal velakku, can you see the namamam on it? Before all these fancy kamatchi velakku came, everyone used to use these types of ones in our family. Looks so beautiful le kanna, my mother used to say, it can hold more oil to burn for longer than a day.”

They opened everything and took them to the sink to wash them. They’d have to use them now. Her grandma continued “This one is used for Shivaratri pooja,” holding the tripod looking brass contraption. 

Fitting them together she said “The snake is placed on top and the lingam in between. My mother-in-law had an emerald lingam with her. She used to do pooja everyday, but her final wish was for it to be given as a gift to her sister’s daughter. You see, that girl’s husband had just passed away and she was in a bind, financially, so she decided to give it away to her. Lord only knows if they sold it or they kept it.”

Probably at some jewellery store, with great lighting, she thought to herself. “There are so many here, I don’t know about these,” she said, pointing to the tongs that looked alike. Somehow she knew that the lady might know what to do with them, and she had all the answers, even though it was naive of her to think that, she truly did believe it. But she had to at least try it. She had to go through with it, to see where it would lead.

After the whole pooja saman shenanigans, she wanted to find the song that she had heard. She found an app to hum to, there were some suggestions but none were right. They all sounded like a version of what she had heard but something was off, an instrument maybe, it sounded like a string instrument obviously, and almost like a guitar or sitar. She gave it some rest, and went on to inspect the journal. There were so many drawings of the contraptions she saw in the pooja saman. There were things written next to it that looked like a way to use them and chant. She found one she could try, it was fully translated but needed three people to do it. It was for the rains. This particular area was not a stranger to water shortage, so it might be a good idea to try it. Her entire project was based on retaining the water that goes off as run offs during the rainy season. They said it needed local sand, a sapling of a tree that retains water, not all trees do that, eucalyptus trees don’t. 

Okay back to the ingredients now! This reminded her of cooking. A brass cup filled with water that was kept under a brass pyramid for 3 days, definitely needed to marinate the chicken, she chuckled to herself. And then there was something written at the bottom of the page ‘Raga : Amru’, it was translated as Amruthavarshini Ragam. She knew that it was generally known to cause rain or an abundance of water in a given area when it was played, but wouldn’t exactly be true for all cases because it was only music. The instructions were pretty clear though, it seemed like each one was paired with a Ragam to be played while it was performed. She found the Ragam on her phone. It was divine, played with a Veena, just the one she was looking for!

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Shanmathi Solaimalai 

Shanmathi (26) is a freelancing architect from Chennai who identifies as bi. She reads/writes for fun and is an avid meditator. 


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