Monday, May 25, 2009

The Red Flag

He sat on the long verandah in his ancient grandfather chair. The chair's arms were scabbed with age and heavy use. Its seat and back were made of cane, carefully plaited years ago by some poor artisan. The threads were sticking out here and there. They needed replacing, but who could find skilled people these days? Those arts were dead and gone. Chairs were made of plastic these days. They lasted longer, he had heard. But nothing could be as comfortable as these old cane chairs.

He opened the morning paper and scanned the headlines. But even Desabhimani wasn't good these days - no news, just the latest doings of some party group or the other. Though he would never subscribe to those capitalist newspapers. And even if he wanted to, how could he look the news agent in the face and ask him for any other newspaper! Not that he, a young boy with barely any hair on his upper lip, would know anything. Even his parents would have been toddlers in the heydays of Communism in Kerala, when he, Cheparambil Balakrishnan, had raised the red flag in this village and led a grand procession against the landowners! Ah, the glory of those days!

Ever since Sathyabhama had died, a girl had been coming in every day to do the housework. His sons had engaged her, perhaps to assuage their guilt about living far away in the city and leaving their father to rot in this old house. They had asked him to come and live with them, of course. But he had said no. He would live out his days in this village, where he was known. Even now, when he went to collect his monthly pension, wearing his starched white shirt and his pale cream Karalkada mundu and carrying his black umbrella, the villagers always greeted him with respect. He was given preference at the lines at the pension office, too.

Of course, a lot of things had changed. The party candidate no longer came to seek his support and blessings before elections. But that was to be expected. After all, what use was the support of a lonely old man who spent his days dreaming of the glory of his youth? These days, it was all about which group you were part of and how much power and money you had.

He remembered the days when he would leave Sathyabhama in the house alone and go to the city to attend party meetings and demonstrations. God alone knew how they had survived those times! But all of them, the party workers, knew that what they were doing mattered. That they were part of a movement which would bring power to the masses, so that they could rise up against those who had tormented and oppressed them for centuries!

But those days were over now. All that was left was the scrabble for power. Nothing to work for, nothing to believe in. Nothing to experience but the twilight of decline, nothing to wait for but the certainty of death.
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