‘Last night, the dinosaur’s baby came again,’ Rajeevan said. ‘It stood looking at me through the window for some time.’
Breakfast time was also story time for Rajeevan. Stories of the dreams he had. When the sunrays fell on the tabletop through the window, he would remember the details of the dreams. Then the stories would come out one after another.
Today Mohanan is bound to listen because there is only a single member of the audience! Shailaja is in the kitchen busy making dosas.
‘I was sleeping,’ he continued. ‘The dinosaur’s baby stood looking at me for some time. It liked me very much. It put out its tongue through the window bars and licked me. Its tongue was very soft. How cute its face was! Like a puppy’s.’ This is the second day. On the first day, that is day before yesterday, it came and looked through the second-floor window at Rajeevan as he lay down in bed. It looked in, standing on its hind legs. Rajeevan says it held its short forelegs pressed against the wall. It was twenty feet tall. But it was a baby dinosaur. Cute face. Rajeevan felt like kissing it. But he didn’t. He didn’t know whether it would like to be kissed!
This was the beginning of a new series. Animals who came and loved him or harmed him were numerous. There were animals ranging from the cat to elephant in that list. But this was the first time, having this big an animal around. As the size of the characters got bigger, the story itself became lengthier. And they lasted many more days.
‘Why don’t you eat the dosas, hey?’ Shailaja asks him. He does not reply. He continues describing the animal.
‘Its hind legs have great girth. The forelegs are small. It was standing, dangling those forelegs. Poor thing! It may be hungry. Daddy! What do dinosaurs eat?’ Mohanan doesn’t know what food dinosaurs ate. Is it grass? Was there grass on the surface of the earth ten million years ago? He has no idea.
‘Aren’t you going to eat your dosa?’ Mohanan asks. ‘The autorickshaw will arrive soon. Don’t need to run for it at that time, do we?’
Rajeevan’ somnambulistic trip crashed. He began to gulp down mouthfuls of dosa.
‘Mummy, did you see my blue pair of socks? Paul Sir said he would punish me when I wore black socks to the school yesterday. Give me my lunch box.’ ‘Where is your lunch box? Don’t I tell you every day that you should hand over the lunch box to me as soon as you return from school, for washing and keeping it ready for the next day? …Give it to me now, quick! See! You have two idlis in here uneaten. Why didn’t you eat them all?’
From now on, it’s mayhem. Till the auto arrives at eight-thirty, Rajeevan will send Shailaja in circles. As soon as the auto has left, she collapses in a chair. ‘Gosh! This is the kind of circus I play with just one around! How will it be like to have another four more like this one?’
‘Just keep quiet, will you?’ Mohanan said. ‘There are more important things to think about. Like the food habits of dinosaurs. I must find out before Rajeevan returns in the afternoon. Tonight, he must feed a dinosaur’s baby. Then I have my own little things too, to attend to. First, I must sell the battery eliminators worth Rs.50,000/- as soon as possible.’
The salesman from Delhi had entrapped him through his sales pitch. The fellow had shown him so many orders he claimed he had received from just two districts in Kerala. There were more than forty-thousand orders! Mohanan fell for it. And got into a sole agency contract with that company. The conditions were all very attractive. The first consignment would be of Rs.50,000. After
that, they would send him consignments of Rs.10,000 each. It was an item with high demand.
Now, he was shouldering a stock worth Rs.50,000 and going around shops, trying to sell them.
‘Did you say battery eliminator? Oh, we have too much of its stock here already. Items like this would sell maybe occasionally. Do you have transformers? They are in great demand now.’
It went on like this. He had either become a very bad salesman, or the product he was trying to sell had very low demand. Anyhow, those who had lent him money, including the banks, have begun to trouble him for repayment. The due dates of repayment have all been long past.
The next problem is of housing. They had found a small house on rent in the town. But they were expected to pay Rs.5000/- as advance deposit for it. The rate of rent was the same as the present one. The advantage was that he could cut down on the commute. That was a great thing. He had given notice to his present landlord. Only when he got a refund of his previous deposit from him, can he pay the deposit to the new landlord.
‘Let me drink some tea,’ Shailaja said.
As she was drinking tea, she asked me: ‘Do you know what to do, Kutty, when you are facing multiple problems? My grandfather used to say: “First of all, sort the problems priority-wise, going by the importance of each subject. Then, start doing the most important one first, and very quickly. Then, attend to the next important one. Attend all the problems, one after another, in this way”. It is a very easy-to-follow method. See! Can you fetch me that dosa? And, also pour the batter for another dosa on the tawa.’
He rose, picked up the dosa and brought it over.
‘Aren’t I a wonderful man endowed with miraculous powers? Here, I am wasting time cooking dosa for my wife! Your grandfather is unlikely to have faced such difficulties.’
‘No. My grandfather used to drink rice gruel for breakfast. Besides, my grandmother’s two unmarried younger sisters used to live with them. They used to compete preparing rice gruel and coconut chutney for my grandfather.’
‘Tell me! What’s the most important of your problems, Kutty?’ ‘Food for the dinosaur.’
‘Food for what?’
‘The dinosaur. A baby dinosaur. It is in Rajeevan’s latest dream series. When all the series are over, I will secure a doctorate in that subject. This is the most difficult of them all, so far. I don’t know where to turn, to do research on this new subject.’
‘Can’t you get it done if you go over to the zoo? Ask what they feed dinosaurs.’ Mohanan did not say anything. She was mistaken. She must have confused dinosaur with rhinoceros. Or, she wouldn’t have heard about dinosaurs. It was just as well that Rajeevan was not within her earshot right now. If he heard this, he would have laughed, rolling on the ground.
He was apprehensive that Rajeevan was developing into a male chauvinist. It happened last week. Mohanan had just got into the bathroom and was urinating. On the first floor, it was a single bathroom shared by the two rooms—one of them the parents’ bedroom and the other, Rajeevan’s. When Shailaja had made Rajeevan’s bed, and opened the bathroom door, she spotted Mohanan in there. She quickly got out and shut the bathroom door. Rajeevan noticed that. He was aware that Mohanan had been urinating in there. He was observing his mother’s movements. He saw Mummy getting into the bathroom and getting out instantly.
He began to laugh. He was laughing away, somersaulting on the bed.
Then when Mohanan again went into the bathroom before sleeping, Rajeevan too came along and asked quietly: ‘Did Mummy see you?’
He whispered, ‘No.’
‘You were lucky, no? If she had seen you, it would have been embarrassing for you, no? It’s OK if boys see. But it’s bad if girls see, isn’t it?’
Saying that, he lowered his shorts, took out his small chilli, and aimed it at the bowl.
‘You are right!’ Mohanan concurred, without losing the veneer of seriousness on his face.
When they were certain that Rajeevan was fast asleep, Mohanan regaled Shailaja with details of that exchange between father and son. She pressed hard on her tummy unable to suppress her laughter.
Sitting in the Reference Section in the library, before the book on prehistoric creatures which he had laid open, Mohanan began to think. Something is wrong somewhere. As if everything is topsy-turvy. Whatever he does, turns out to be wrong. When he became certain that the Marwari was exploiting him, Mohanan fought with him, and got out of the firm. The job that fetched him two thousand rupees every month had gone down the drain. He had become a self-styled businessman from that time on. Till now, he had printed the visiting cards of three different companies for himself. He became a salesman of products ranging from iron nails to spare parts of radio. Everything ended in loss.
Everything turned out in the same pattern. When he brought a product that was enjoying good demand till then in the market, it turned out to be something with a tardy demand overnight.
‘This? We have boxfuls of this in our godown.’
Or, ‘Eighteen rupees? Do you want to buy it for twelve rupees a piece? We can sell you as many as you want. We have ready stock.’
Traders yawn when he begins his sales talk. They suggest the names of their rivals. ‘Go there. They might be interested.’
Where has his salesmanship gone hiding? His salesmanship which had garnered for the Marwari, orders for machineries worth lakhs of rupees? Something is wrong somewhere.
In front of him he saw dinosaurs that had lived in different eras baring their teeth. When those creatures with horrendous faces, gargantuan monsters which were carnivores and herbivores, walked, the earth shook. Later when the Ice Age came, they perished one after another without being able to get food. He saw the last dinosaur raising its head helplessly and looking, standing in an ice-covered valley. Craving for a little warmth, a little food.
That creature got into a long slumber, to rise again now after sixty million years, to stand guard outside a six-year-old’s window to become his pet with a cute face, with a soft tongue. A sleep that lasted countless eras.
For some days now, Mohanan was planning to consult an astrologer. For that purpose, he has kept his horoscope ready. Beyond the rationalism he always vouched for, there were some things happening around him. He was bent on discovering that.
He got out, with a handbag filled with samples of his product. He had remembered once going to the residence of an astrologer swami to check a pair of horoscopes for someone for marriage compatibility.
The swami was sitting in the same posture, as then. On leopard-skin. He was wearing a white dhoti. And his upper torso was wrapped in a towel. He wore a sandal-paste mark on his brow. Above his nose, was a golden-rimmed spectacle. An old man and a young man were sitting in front of him. They had obviously come to check the compatibility of a pair of horoscopes.
The swami said emphatically: ‘These two horoscopes can never be joined in any way.’
‘Swami! Is there no way at all they can be joined?’
‘I have followed all that you said,’ the swami went on. ‘Eight months on, the joining of these two horoscopes will bring in untold troubles. The girl is past
twenty-six. That’s a fact. But this one won’t suit her in any way. There are certain difficult dashaasandhis, troublesome planetary conjunctions, besides.’ They slowly walked away after paying dakshina, a customary offering, to the swami.
‘What do you want?’ the swami asked Mohanan.
Mohanan roused himself. He opened the briefcase, took out the horoscope, straightened it out and placed it before the swami. A paper in which planetary positions and their fractions were worked out separately. The swami put on his spectacles and studied the paper. As he went on looking at it, the number of lines on his brow increased. Finally, his face twisted.
‘Whose horoscope is this? Is it yours?’ ‘Yes. It is mine.’
‘You must have lost your job exactly three years and four months ago. It is obvious that you have fought with your employer and were fired. There’s no other way this should have happened. You are unemployed as of now, aren’t you?’
Mohanan didn’t say anything. The status of being self-styled businessman was no job.
The swami was making calculations.
‘For the last four years and seven months, you have been passing through the Ketur dasha, the phase of Ketu. Now a stretch of two and a half years more of it remains. During this period, you cannot expect to make satisfactory progress in anything. Now, currently you are running Ezharaandashani, Saturn’s transit in your planetary house that takes seven-and-a-half-years to complete, as well. It’s a very bad time for you. You must be extra careful. Loss of property, loss of prestige, anything like that can be expected during this period. For everything that you endeavour to achieve, you are bound to meet with obstacles. You will begin something, trusting that everything will turn out well. But all of it will end in loss. If you invest five, you will lose ten. It’s that bad.’
Was the swami reading my mind? Mohanan asked himself.
Once the Ezharaandashani is over then the balance of Ketur dasha remains. It cannot be said to be that bad. But if you want to prosper, it can happen only after Ketur dasha. Ezharaandashani is running for another nine months in your case. Please be careful until then.’
The swami went on. Mohanan was ruminating: so, all these have been written down in the very beginning itself. It has been written on a palm-leaf left in a heap somewhere in the recesses where the mysteries of the universe are kept, that a child born in this particular year, under such and such asterism, in such an hour, in such a fraction of a minute and second, would be doing what, would be becoming who or what. Perhaps, even eons before the period dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures had existed, even millions of years before all that, the creator would have determined that the future of the universe should be such and such.
‘Can’t you go back to the past as well, like you predict the future?’ Mohanan asked the swami.
‘Certainly. But you of course know about the past. Like you know, you lost your job. Aren’t people eager only to know about the future?’
‘I am not asking about the near past. I am asking about a time sixty million years ago, about a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.’
The swami looked at him keenly. He picked up the specs he had set aside and wore it again. He pored over the horoscope once again. He went on calculating. He put down the specs again and regarded him.
‘No! I can’t see that you have any mental disorder. Look here! You are undergoing a bad patch right now. Be patient for some more time and do things after much deliberation. Next you are going to have the lucky phase of Venus. That will bring in a lot of prosperity for you. Live within your limits till then.
Have darshan of the Goddess twice daily.’
As he left after paying the swami dakshina he thought: the swami has got the impression that he had lost his mental balance. But he had really wanted to know whether the swami could go back beyond eons. Back through the several eras, traversing the primordial chill of the Ice Age, and reach the terrain where mountainous dinosaurs stood raising their heads. One of those dinosaurs who went about grazing then has got the good fortune to be born again after several eras. To become the pet of a six-year-old. To stand guard outside the window of the second-floor bedroom where he sleeps, with a loveable face and a soft tongue, to lick his cheek lovingly.
The swami can never understand that.
Now, he had to meet a trader. He had promised to tell Mohanan whether he will take a certain quantity of his product in his stock for sales. If this trader too were not to show interest, he would throw the battery eliminators worth fifty thousand rupees into the attic.
Luckily, the trader was in his shop. Only that he was pretending not to have seen him. Mohanan reminded him that only the day before the two of them had sat down for half an hour for a sales discussion, and that Mohanan had agreed to sell the item to him at a reduced rate of twenty per cent. Reducing twenty per cent meant he had to lose ten per cent from his pocket. Nevertheless, he would get back at least a part of what he had invested.
Mohanan said: ‘You had promised me that you would confirm today whether you would be able to take delivery of my product.’
‘Oh, you mean the battery eliminator? It is not in demand nowadays. Maybe you can leave two dozen with me. I will pay you after I sell them.’
Where was two dozen? Where was the stock worth fifty thousand rupees? He turned around and walked off. There was nothing left to look forward to.
When he reached home, Shailaja said: ‘Two people had come to have a look at this house, half an hour ago. I have told them to come after you are back, Kutty.’
Two minutes later, they knocked at the door.
‘I heard you were going to vacate this house. When are you leaving?’ ‘On the first of the next month.’
‘Do you mind if we looked around?’ ‘Oh no! Please come in.’
‘This is the sitting room. The fan has been fitted by the landlord. This is the hall. It’s very spacious. The hall leads to the kitchen. It’s very convenient. There are racks. And a platform for the gas stove. There’s a sink over there. This door leads to the bedroom. I am using it as my office room for the time being. On the first floor too, there are two bedrooms, and a bathroom attached to both. Let’s have a look. Come!’
‘Running water all twenty-four hours. There is a pump and motor.’
He had come in tired, parched for a cup of tea. When they left, Shailaja asked him; ‘Why do you struggle so much, Kutty? Why are you so eager and anxious to find tenants for Lonappan Mappila?’
She is right, he thought. In the last ten days, at least eight parties have come to have a look at this house. There were parties ranging from two to ten members. On all these eight occasions, he had narrated about the positives of this property to the parties, like a real-estate broker.
Lonappan Mappila’s dexterity in controlling me like a robot, sitting five kilometres away, is beyond compare, he mused. He will get back his deposit only if someone takes the house on rent and gives the landlord a deposit. If he didn’t pay the deposit for his new house within the first day of the next month, he will lose that house! Therefore, when each party comes, he dons the robe of a real-estate broker, and goes on, ‘This is the sitting room ’
Rajeevan returned from school with some new suspense as usual. ‘Mummy! Can you say what I drew in school? Daddy, please don’t tell her.’
His complaint is that Daddy guesses all his secrets. Therefore, his questions and riddles are all addressed to his mother. And a warning alongside: that Daddy shouldn’t answer.
Mohanan had already made his guess.
When he realized that his mother had failed, he pulled out a paper from his bag and showed her, without giving Mohanan an opportunity to spell out what it was.
It was a baby dinosaur. A cute face like that of a puppy. Shiny eyes, long neck, thick hind legs, big belly, stubby forelegs, a long tail, trailing behind.
On the whole, the picture was not bad. A figure which was a combination of a kangaroo, a giraffe, and a Pomeranian puppy.
Suddenly, Mohanan remembered that he had become a scholar on prehistoric animals and that he could talk to Rajeevan authoritatively on dinosaurs. He waited for Rajeevan to ask him a question. He was going to get an opportunity to grow in his son’s estimation of him.
That was when Shailaja came in with two letters. The first one was from the bank. He had to remit fifteen thousand rupees at once. The other one was from someone who had lent him money. It said that it wasn’t polite of him to further delay the repayment of the loan. Therefore, he must pay at least ten, including interest, as soon as he got the letter.
Mohanan had expected that there would be some respite at least, in between. Ketu and Shani were standing opposite him and suffocating him.
Rajeevan came over. He had paint in his hand. Also, brushes.
‘Daddy, I am going to draw a big dinosaur. Give me a sheet of paper.’
‘Now, leave me alone. Do not disturb me,’ he said. ‘I have a terrible headache.’ ‘Just give me a sheet of paper. I won’t bother you then.’
A little help, a good word, where to get these from? He sat, supporting his head in his hands. He had not felt so much load of helplessness ever before. He felt angry at himself.
Rajeevan was still waiting for the sheet of paper. Mohanan suddenly exploded: ‘Get lost!’
He roared, ‘You and your dinosaur! How did you get such an ugly creature? A likely pet of yours, indeed! Do you know how macabre its face is?’
Rajeevan fell silent, stood listening to what his father said. His face fell. When Mohanan was done, Rajeevan slunk away to the kitchen.
Mohanan could hear his sobs. And also, his complaints.
‘My dinosaur is very cute. Why does Daddy say that it is not cute? Look at what I have drawn! It comes at night and licks me. It’s licking me because it likes me, doesn’t it?’
Nowadays, Mohanan sleeps less and less. Rajeevan’s dinosaur is giving him trouble. What he sees when he shut his eyes is a small child walking away along a path in the wilderness, holding in his hand one end of a rope latched around the long neck of a twenty feet tall dinosaur. In each footfall of the creature, the earth is trembling. However much he walks, the features of the path don’t change. They both are walking away along identical-looking, unending paths.
In the midst of all this, the loss of fifty thousand rupees or the state of homelessness from the first of next month onwards do not affect him at all. Rajeevan is anxious about the new residence. Because it is a single-storey building, it does not have an upper floor. His bedroom would also be on the ground floor. He says that it will create problems for his baby dinosaur. When it bends down to peep in through the window at the ground floor level, it causes pain to its neck, he says.
Mohanan suggests a solution for this. It is a wide expanse beyond his window in the new house, the father assures the son. The dinosaur can lie down, pressing its tummy to the floor. In that posture, it can look through the window, without its neck paining.
Mohanan could not bring himself to reveal to Rajeevan at that point that beyond his window, actually there is a dirty drain in which mosquitoes swarm, and still
farther, it is a very narrow street which is always jam-packed with people jostling each other.
‘Won’t you be afraid to lie down on the ground floor, near the window?’ Shailaja asks him.
‘Why should I be afraid?’ He asks her. ‘When such a gigantic dinosaur is standing guard all night outside the window, will the thieves make bold to come near?’
Rajeevan used to sleep alone. One day, he comes over with his blanket and pillow.
‘I am sleeping today with you, Mummy!’ ‘Cche! With mummy? No way!’ Shailaja said.
Their plan was all going to the dogs! Mohanan tells Rajeevan, in a mellow, diplomatic tone: ‘Mon! Please go and sleep now!’
Rajeevan doesn’t relent.
‘Aren’t I sleeping alone always? Just for this once...’ From age two, he used to sleep alone.
‘What’s special about today?’ Shailaja asks. ‘I read the book, Hardy Boys Mystery today.’
‘Who told you to read that book just before going to bed?’
‘There weren’t any other books. Mummy, may I lie down here for some time?’ ‘No, no! Big boys don’t usually sleep with their mothers. Do not get into bad habits!’
‘Rajeevan, go and sleep now!’ Mohanan says sternly.
He is afraid. He goes back to his own bedroom, with his pillow and bedsheet. Tears rolling down his cheeks.
Shailaja says, after lying silently for some time. ‘I am not in the mood anymore. We could have let him sleep with us. Call him back.’
Mohanan did not say anything. He lies supine, his eyes open. He remembers meeting the swami. He remembers the trader who fed him hope for an entire
day, and then thwarted him in the eleventh hour. He remembers the Delhi salesman who cheated him, showing him the bogus orders he claimed he had received. He remembers the letters and threats of his creditors.
An hour must have passed. Shailaja was asleep. He rose, went to Rajeevan’s room, and switched the light on. He was sleeping, hugging a pillow. There were four other pillows, on the four sides. He says it is a fort. When he lies down in the middle, surrounded by them, he says he does not feel fear. He didn’t answer the question as to what that pillow was that he hugged. That was his secret.
Near the pillow lay the picture of the dinosaur that he drew. He had attempted to beautify its face further, by painting it over again. He bent over and kissed Rajeevan’s sweet face. Then softly licked on his soft cheek, once.
He felt envious of the baby dinosaur that stood outside the window gazing at Rajeevan and licked on his cheek when he felt intense love towards the boy. Mohanan painfully yearned to be a dinosaur that stood guard over his son all night long.