Excerpts from The Polymorph (Era.Murukan)
When we reached the library, we saw the ground in front of the closed gates was strewn with wringled wet feathers, like a rain soaked trail of a debilitated eagle on its swan song flight. Strains of a devotional song set to a popular filmy tune of yesteryears sung in a wheezy voice vibrating with advanced age were oozing from the tiny house near the library. We knew it was the old lady teaching the children to sing, who were following her with unsteady yet jaunty juvenile voices. A small crowd of inquisitive bystanders stood bolt upright at the street corner where the road takes a turn to the left towards the river.
‘‘Lo, the municipal councillors have arrived’, someone walking up the dusty road to join the crowd shouted as he carried in his arms like an infant, a turkey painted in red and golden colours.
As we got off our bicycles, the old lady walked out of the house towards us with out-stretched hands as if wondering if this ever could happen. Feathers were seen dropping off her aged plumage too, of the variety of that on the ground, though not wet. We know her and her husband as outsiders who came to the town as basket weavers a couple of years ago and staying here after we the municipal councillors passed a resolution in our council meeting to offer them free shelter, without any dissent note having been struk. But for the fact the aged couple sported enormous wings and could levitate a little like poultry, which would be around five feet up in the air, they were impoverished plain looking elders that we could find in all municipal towns with active councils. As bamboo weavers with deft fingers are in short supply, our townsfolk would always like to see them around to take care of their storage and carryall needs.
It was generally believed and feared that the flying family could impact the general cleanliness and sanitation of the municipal town through discretely easing themselves while in flight and may inadvertently scare the infants being breastfed by their mothers sitting at doorsteps on full moon nights, with their sudden short flights like air borne giant roaches. There was also a genuine concern that as the fliers levitate, they may, again unintentionally, display their private parts to the townsfolk below, causing instant repulsion and triggering complaints of indecent exposure. Moreover, it is a well known fact that no one can fly without a license obtained from the Central Government. Taking into consideration all these, there was a line of thought running in the town that the elders should not be granted shelter any further but we had the votaries vetoed out and provided temporary license under local governmental jurisdiction to the couple for conducting short flights reaching not more than four feet above ground during day time and only when absolutely necessary.
It was on a rainy afternoon the council passed a unanimous resolution to grant them shelter. We, the members were busy discussing the ‘M series film lyrics’, that is those movie songs having as the first word beginning with M. An hour and a half into the absorbed discussions, we felt unanimously it was time for a break, comfort and otherwise and for a hot cup of tea and samosas, It was then the chairman of the council suggested that when we were waiting to be served tea, we could transact some minor business like deciding upon the application for shelter submitted by the winged elders. As the tea trays started arriving, we without any dissent voted for providing the shelter to them forthwith, purely on humanitarian grounds.
The municipal clerk enthused enormously by this happening, abruptly stopped the accounting he was performing absolutely clueless about the logic behind it and hurried out whistling merrily. In a short while, the winged pair of elders in a thanksgiving mood were observed flying outside the glass windows of the council, smiling and waving frantically to catch the attention of us councillors immersed in fresh discussions about P-series film songs.
It was the old lady, more aged, that approached us at the library, with outstretched hands and looking grim.
“From when?”, our chairman asked her. “It was after last night supper, my old man tried to get up and banged his head on the wall. I pleaded with him not to stir out but he muttered that the books were waiting for him and was striving to go out though he could not keep his equilibrium”, said the old lady.
“Is he a compulsive reader?”, enquired the chairman of her. “Do you have a trove of film song books at home? How many books roughly you have?”, he continued. The chairman has a massive collection of more than ten thousand film song books, as everyone is aware of.
“My old man doesn’t know anything apart from basket weaving. I have been compelling him for years to become a literate and only for the past month or so he is attending the night school for elders, diligently carrying a slate and a piece of chalk to write on it”.
“Do you teach children the old film songs?”, a council-mate asked her though he would have heard them practising a while ago.
“Yes, I do teach them”, the old lady with a trace of pride evident in her voice replied. “I have formally learnt all movie songs fifty years and more old. I can also write new songs in their tune. I tried to teach a few of those newly written ones on the fat content in groundnut oil and the recipe for lentil soup with a dash of asafoetida, to my old man but he was adamant not to learn. Sometimes throughout the day my futile pleadings with him would go on. It was then the noble souls arising from the cemeteries and arriving at our doors for fresh filter coffee laced with molasses suggested to me we should move to the house near the library to make him tolerant to the fragrance of books”.
There was an intermittent loud noise of someone banging the doors of the library from within.
Era.Murukan October 2017