In a Future April: An Excerpt

On August 9, 2017 by admin

In a Future April 2Paramita Ghosh

Excerpt from: In a Future April (a novel)
© Radical Notes radicalnotes@radicalnotes.com
Aakar Books, 2017
ISBN 978-93-5002-510-9

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[In a Future April is a novel about revolutions in this age— but being of this age, it is truly a “monstrous abbreviation” of all times, even of those revolutionary periods which were inaugurated exactly a century ago…If this is a novel about precariats and cognitarians as vanguards, it is also about vanguards as precariats and cognitarians. But was this not true for all revolutions? In a Future April narrates and operates the stories of revolutions to abbreviate them into the pregnant dialectic of hope and dismay.]

                                                                  ~from the Foreword (Pratyush Chandra)

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The Night of the Hound

 

SIXTEEN MEN AND women were picked up all over The City that night and sent to the police station of Hardy Screw. Of the sixteen, not one had any lead to Woegore but as one officer, told Screw, they could not go around picking people up from their beds and then tell them they were innocent. They must have been upto something otherwise why would they have attracted a brother officer’s attention—pigs always smell! The best thing to do was to ask them the officer suggested. People generally think they are to blame for something or the other and if they think you are asking them nicely, they may out of concern for their health, not waste their time. Screw, smarting under the fact, that the idea had not come out of his head, took his time to scratch his chin with the tip of his pen, to give the impression that he had better ideas to mull. He dispatched his junior to get him a file from his room upstairs and threw the man shivering before him in the basement the first question. The other fifteen were not packed off into a cell, they were made to watch the proceedings and draw whatever lessons they could from it.

“What do you think you are here for?”

“Last week, I wished my wife was dead…But every once in a while I’m sure she wishes me dead too.”

“And this week you were going to act on it! And for that you hired a man called Woegore?”

“Honest sir, I didn’t.”

“What else? What else? Talk you crook, otherwise…”

Bendy Lulu, the officer sent out for the file had come in and seeing the investigation in progress, was waiting for permission to whisper in his ears. The expression on his face told Screw he was onto something. Screw nevertheless gave him a withering look to tell him he resented the interruption—let the boy stew, let him realise there were repercussions of speaking out of turn. After a few minutes, he called him over, to ask him what he had learnt. Lulu meticulously took out a sheaf of papers and dropped some in nervousness, and then found the right one to prompt his narration, but Screw did not soften. He gave the impression that he had followed the argument but was not in agreement with it. These boys, he thought, looking at the head now busy in clipping back the documents, think they are so clever, when what they really do is present ideas with an air of discovery, one had to be very careful around them so as not to be caught acting and reacting to their dual needs of being embraced by you, to begin with, and then their impatience to pull you down! Look, how he had humiliated him a few minutes back—thank god for small mercies that there had been few witnesses. But the information Lulu had extracted from the file was solid, he had to admit, and it had changed everything—it seemed he was no longer presiding over a routine enquiry over a robbery but a terror investigation! The man before him may not be Woegore or his relative but he was a Partisan, and he, Hardy Screw who had waited all his life to meet one, was going to catch one, even if they had nothing to do with the case! He looked up from the file at the man cowering before him with the love that butchers reserve for the day’s first goat and decided to tell him as plainly as possible the facts of his life which it would do him good not to deny. He could, of course, deny it if he wished, but it would not sweeten his stay.

“The walls of your house are red! The flower pots as well! And the red hibiscus is the only flower you grow—now that we have you rascal, you’re going to tell me everything about the Partisans, otherwise I will tell you what you read, how you live, who you meet and that I’m the only one you are likely to keep meeting for the next 20 years as I’m going to keep you here for a very long time!”

With every accusation, the man grew more despondent, and then started to mewl. Screw was surprised—his first encounter with a Partisan and he had made him cry! He did wish the man wouldn’t take it so hard—they hadn’t hit him anywhere yet! “There, there!” he said in his best rallying tone: “We have a very nice garden in the jail and it’s just lost its gardener, but no hibiscuses mind you.”

The room erupted in laughter and at least ten men belched out sounds in imitation of low-paid stage villains. That there were so many officers in the room watching him conduct the investigation he had not realised, but Screw knew this was nothing new. Professional envy and camaraderie did exist side by side and he had been at the receiving end of both to know these were temporary knocks—take it on the chin, or give it back and move on. He turned around thinking he would join in the general cheer but a pair of still eyes paralyzed his spine.

Caelian Dado was standing at his back ignoring the many minions requesting him to take their chairs to go through the file he had just abandoned, Bendy boy in attendance. Screw rearranged his face and moved forward to greet him which he acknowledged without taking his eyes off the file. There would be hell to pay if there was some intelligence they had not spotted or worked on though everyone who had worked with Dado, said a marked change had come over him in the past one year. In the earlier days, Dado had been excitable, ready to go off the rails at the slightest deviation from his plans, but the medals they had stuck to his chest since that time, had cooled the furnace. But why was he here, Screw wondered. What had he been told? That they had caught Woegore? Even so, why would the Lambda’s finest intelligence officer be sent to be an observer in a case about an armed robber? It was too minor an investigation for his intervention.

Or was it?

His head spun with the din of unanswered questions. Saunders’ army, too, had been drafted in for the search last evening, he remembered. The boys in the field had begun to say that he and Dado were working at cross purposes but with Plebiscite around the corner, with power at a sniffing distance, there was bound to be various alliances and uncouplings. There were rumbles of a few generals being unhappy about handing The Lambda over—but that was probably nothing, you can’t take back a house after the signatures are done or tell the new owners how to arrange their furniture. The meeting of The Partisans with the Fairlanders was another curious affair. Just a day or two away, there were no security arrangements being made at The Malacca where the meeting was to be held. It was as if no one was expecting them to eventually turn up… Lala’s son Polo would represent the Dongs he had heard but the talk in town was he hadn’t been seen for days… Anyway, all that’s nothing to do with me, I’ll get on with my work. What else does a policeman do but adjust his cap in the direction of the new masters, whoever they may be? Screw caught himself smiling in the glass of one of the room’s almirahs, and quickly composed himself. He found he didn’t know what to do with himself, or how to proceed with Dado in the room around whom worshipful islands of cops were forming in imitation of the other.

The story of Dado’s rise was often told to promising juniors who wanted to quit the profession in order to retain them. Truly, what a meteoric rise the man has had! Caelian the Clown was now the model officer, he was loaned across all departments, coming in when an investigation was going nowhere to help rebuild it from scratch. There was, however, that unexplained case of that reporter from The Meat who had collapsed right outside the Fairlander jamboree last week and had not been heard of since. Dado, he found out later, was present on the spot. It was said that one of his operatives had brought the reporter in but it was still unclear as to what purpose—had he expected the reporter’s capture to force the Partisan hand in some matter but they had not bitten that bait? Or had the reporter gone over to the other side and was hiding out in a cell with Danny the painter, another Partisan like him, whose escape and capture during his transfer from the barracks to the jail at about the same time when the reporter was just outside the jail was too perfect a coincidence to be true. Screw had heard the story from different sources, but he always felt no one had really got it right… Each time he had tried to work it out, the trail began with The Partisans but always led back to The Meat. Surprisingly, there had not even been a para in the papers about these two incidents and none whatsoever in The Meat, the paper that employed them—but what if they didn’t know, people disappear all the while, if I don’t walk back here tomorrow, which motherfucker here would really care, so he might as well return to the cross-examination where, at  least he was asking all the questions. He took up the old thread—he wanted to bump off his wife did he, or didn’t he?

The man lunged for his feet. Screw lifted him by the chin as if he were about to knight him and then crashed his face to the ground. The nose broke, blood spilled. Such moments tested Screw but then so what, he told himself, so had theorems, and for a second he led himself to pause one by one on the other terrors of his childhood, why what a day that had been when the bandicoot, big and hissing like a cat, had hidden in their kitchen and he had grown tall not by measure but by taking responsibility. On seeing his sisters howl, had he not picked up a jute bag and his mother’s rolling pin and walked up to the creature, as if he had a club in his hand and had adopted the tone of voice he had used with vermin of all kind ever since, telling it, there was no need for things to get dirty, there was no need for its skull to crack under the club, that it should just climb onto the bag, surrender, leave their kitchen, find a home elsewhere, don’t be seen in their parts—there, it had already made him feel better, so Screw saw no reason not to bear on the head of the unfortunate man in front of him all the hardness of which he was capable had not the sight of blood disturbed him for a few treacherous moments.

“Don’t know Woegore! The man won’t say anything else! If you don’t know him—who does? I do? ”

Of the sixteen people caught, thirteen were blind alleys. The first lot, those who were the first to claim that they were Partisans or seemed they were dying to be, changed their tune as soon as the first floggers were brought in through the door. One of them had been brought to the police station because his neighbour was convinced he had plans to burn the locality down on seeing him daily throw a cigarette butt into the hedge outside the flats at very late hours. He had been posting a letter to the department every other day urging action.

“Well, there were prices to pay of asking for public participation, but it had to be done, there was information coming in from all corners and not all’s bogus, anyone here taking that attitude would be grossly wrong,” said Dado with a nod taking in the room.

“The public should feel we rely on them and are acting on their suggestions. Never laugh at somebody offering you information otherwise he won’t inform you the next time.” Besides, not all the arrests, he added, were a waste, a few of them were people in whom the radical germ was strong, and while they had begun to look for Woegore, there was no harm in cracking down on The City’s Partisans.

Who knows they might have given Woegore refuge, termites nest with their like, and by the night was over he said he was depending on officers like them, mindful of the security of their old dame, The Lambda, and their buildings, their schools, their streets, their banks, their parks, to beat the shit out of The Partisans, to tell them they were wrong to dream of wanting to take them away. As to what was to be done with them, let the forceps, pliers and truncheons, first do their work, and then he would decide. No one spoke, in the presence of Dado it was unthinkable that anyone else would take that call.

As they took a break and everyone milled around Dado, someone ventured to ask him if he knew the future of The Murkys who often worked in tandem with them. Dado’s answer was short. He didn’t start it, he wasn’t closing it down, it was time the force learnt new methods to do their job without sound or spectacle.

“The Lambda is going to be free. A policeman should be on school and housing committees and not get excited about marchpasts in the city. What is its use anyway? It bloody alerts everybody and makes us seem like invaders.”

By the end of the night, every police station had been wired Dado’s instructions. The time for deliberations was over; it was time to put the screws in place, the meeting with The Partisans wasn’t until the day after tomorrow and they had to move in fast. At the police station of Hardy Screw, the fate of The Partisans was sealed, they were not going anywhere. Just because some of their leaders had been invited to a meeting in The City, it didn’t mean they would be running around The City beating their drums. No newspaper was to be informed about the event, there was going to be no grand reception, they had been summoned and they were coming, and they had been told to be on time. The City’s motor, when they arrived, would hum at the same rate as it did every day. The City’s gate would open the inch it always did and not an inch more. They would be picked up at The Gates by police escort and led to The Malacca for their meeting. Dado picked up an artist sketch that had just come in of the woman who was leading The Partisans at the meeting with the general tomorrow. Hair falling from the crown like water on either side of rebellious eyes—the artist had let his sympathies show, who commissions these guys he wanted to know, get the bugger and gouge out his fingernails! Dado’s eyes searched the room for Screw to shout at—the man had for long had it coming—but his face suddenly contracted in a grimace. Climbing the staircase up the basement, Dado suddenly felt short of air, his new office at The Meat had spoilt him. His lungs pumped gratefully as he came to stand out in the open outside the police station. If he didn’t find Woegore before the meeting at The Malacca started, he had to know whom to blame.
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