No one knew his full name. He could have been Abraham, Abubaker or even Abhay. But we called him Abbu.
With a white mundu perched high over his knees, revealing the skinny legs, and with the same old Madras checks shirt , you could find him anywhere in the day: running errands for some contractor, chopping wood at the firewood depot, or bargaining at the fish market. Work for Abbu, was what he made of it. All he wanted was something to eat, and then more importantly enough arrack to stock in the large pocket of his blue striped shorts, discretely concealed under the mundu knot.
This ad-hoc life in the daytime, was just a preamble to what was to follow, because Abbu was truly a nocturnal creature. As the night grew, and the intoxication saturated his body, his senses flourished, so much so, if there was a beer bottle lying awkwardly on the road, he would walk up to it in his teeter- totter steps, bend down and place it upright. He liked it that way. It was as if he was searching for some sort of order for all the daytime chaos he lived in. From his incoherent slurs heard a furlong away and the alcoholic stench which followed it, none could mistake Abbu even during the notorious Mangalorean power cuts. The lanky silhouette swaying on the road, as if some drunken surveyor was measuring the width of the road, irrespective of people, cattle or vehicle, Abbu’s presence lingered like a ghost in the night.
Even for all the modest excitement he lived in, Abbu’s life reached maximum fruition during two festive seasons of the year: the Dasara and the Ashtami. This was when Mangalore came to life of its own as the city dazzled with a plethora of drumbeats, courtesy the famed veshas (traditional dances) that appeared on our doorsteps with gaiety and sounds: the rhythm of the ‘denderey-tetterey- denderey-tetterey’ reverberations of the pili vesha (tiger dance); the ‘dung-mudun-dunda, dung-mudun-dunda’ beats of the koragara vesha(a tribal folk dance); the ‘drum-tracterey-drum, drum-tracterey-drum’ beats of the karadi vesha (the hunter and bear dance)and the ‘chuck-jikini-jung-chikini’ sounds of the anarkali vesha (men dancing in women’s costumes). It was as if these drumbeats rattled Abbu’s dormant talent, and presented to him a stage in which he could parade himself to a much larger audience.
Yet, Abbu did not have to be flamboyant as other veshas. All he had to do was be himself. No need to varnish himself with those yellow/black paint stripes of the pili vesha. Neither in the apparent discomfort of the hairy karadi costume in the sultry Mangalorean heat. Forget about stuffing coconut shells in the chest and wearing women’s costumes for the anarkali or for that matter soil himself with charcoal for the koragara dance. All Abbu had to do was carry his half drunk arrack bottle, toss and turn, and reap his reward. During this routine the only words he said was ‘bottley, gangasara, ajpaa, noodu’ or something of that nature. As you can see, it was not as if he was doing anything outside his expertise.
No one could drink and sway like Abbu. This was the great Abbu Vesha – one which we eagerly looked forward to even among the gamut of veshas that frequented our neighborhood. Ironically, the money Abbu collected on a given day became the fuel for his performance the next.
…It was hard to believe that the king of the night, would slip into such a lonely tragic accident…
During the final day of Ashtami, this gala Mangalorean fiesta eventually converges into one grand finale at the local maidan (a central square). The celebration of mosur-kudike (the breaking of the symbolic curd pot), where young local lads, lay claim to break a pot hung high over a greased-up pole. Whoever reached this treasure first would be declared the winner. Yet, it wasn’t an easy task. First of all, fighting the slippery grease was tedious. Second, you had to trust your colleagues to keep the human pyramid stable. And when you struggled to climb two lengths, and you thought you almost made it, you found your competitors grab your ankles and jerk you down, destroying the pyramid support beneath and inviting hoots from the amused crowd. It was this back-and- forth playfulness that was exciting to watch, and strangely reflected Abbu’s own tryst with life. When the revelry was over and the night was done, Abbu would have to go back to his ad-hoc life again. Then, he would have to wait for Dasara to arrive and repeat the cycle to find some existential meaning for his drinking habit.
As the mosaru-kudike ritual continued, the massive tableaux of hundreds of different veshas now gathered around the maidan cheered by the crowd. Hissing gas lights, balloon sellers, coconut -shelled violins, wide-eyed children, girigittis, the charmburi stalls, the goli sodas. Crackers. Whistles. Fire dances. Screams. Laughter. The place was a riot.
The tigers dances now became intense, one troupe outdoing the other, somersaulting in glee, acrobatically clenching the rupee notes in their teeth. The animated karadi hunter was now showing-off his gloated mustache and dueling with the bear in a hop-skip motion. The bear-man was periodically catching his breath by stripping off his mask and catching a beedi shot. Elsewhere, the anarkali veshas were in a trance in keeping with the tempo of the brass band. All these different sounds and dances were now merging into one huge ensemble. It was deafening. The senses were numb.
Abbu had gotten busy himself too, handling the biggest bottle of arrack he could find. He guzzled through the colored hooch, gyrating his waist, his mundu now hoisted to the maximum- anticipating the action to unfold , fumbling and spilling the pristine liquor, and shouting incoherent obscenities to his heart’s content. The drumbeats gained momentum now and the local lads edged in close proximity to the curd pot. One last blow and it was ready to splinter. The trumpets roared and the bamboos hit the leather with gusto. When the earthen pot broke, it dished out a mix of saffron water, turmeric and curds into the human pyramid, Abbu’s bottle bit the dirt and he felt the chill.
The next day the broken pot in the maidan and its saffron contents strangely resembled the broken arrack bottle and the colored hooch at our neighborhood well. One of our neighbors gave a muted cry when he spotted the floating body of Abbu. It was filled-up, and yet lifeless. It was hard to believe that the king of the night, would slip into such a lonely tragic accident. But, perhaps it might not have been one. Knowing Abbu, he must have scripted his end in his own terms, timing his demise to a revelry he was so much a part of, and in an attire that bestowed his worth to the world — the Abbu Vesha — a vesha not as flamboyant , but one that enthralled his audience, and gave substantial expression to the invisible beats of his inner self.
Glossary of Terms:
Dasara: Hindu festival commemorating the triumph of Lord Rama over Ravana
Ashtami: Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna
Mosaru-kudike: An earthen pot filled with curds symbolizing Lord Krishna’s penchant to break pots and feed on butter
Girgitti: A toy that spins with the wind
Charmburi : Puffed rice mixed with seasonings and served in a newspaper rolled cone
Goli soda: A Soda bottled drink with a marble stopper
Beedi: Small rolled up cigarettes with tobacco
NB: Dear Readers,
Time for some introspection. Relatively a modest milestone in comparison to the hard work of eminent journalists writers, cooks, photographers, travelers and artists in this forum — this article is the twenty-fifth (22 in voices, 2 in humor blog and 1 article) in my twenty-three month journey in M.com. Goes without saying it has been my pleasure to ‘torture’ you with these fictional experiments.
When I first chanced on this website and deliberated on some publishable material I was in quandary. I wanted to tell the story but I wanted to remain anonymous partly to protect my own privacy and partly for privacy of the characters within the article. When this request was turned down, I requested for a withdrawal. But the webmaster’s assurance and the stoic words of ‘sorry for opting out and trashing a well written article’ prevailed and I should say I have never regretted since. Yet, coming to think of it now, placing these articles in front of you made it more meaningful and purposeful to me personally. I fully appreciate the critiques and appraisals of the numerous readers and fellow writers and it’s indeed inspiring and rewarding, albeit in non-monetary ways.
So, please allow me to thank all the M’comers who commented on my articles (in alphabetical order): Agnel Pereira, Alfonso Cunha, Amarnath Bantwal, Anand Lobo, Ashley Alvares, Austin Prabhu, Carol Martis, Chelli Silvakelli, Chris Rego, Clara Fernandes, Clifford D’souza, Darryl Albuquerque, Dots Rego, Gwayne Rego, Iris Alva, Jason Alvares, Jennifer Lobo, Joyce Alvares, Judith Serrao, K B Mallya, Kirann D’souza, Lancelot D’costa, Maya Shenoy, Mel Tau, Melita Cutinho, Nithin Shetty, Rajanikanth Shenoy, Ronald Pereira, Roopa Rego, Shaly Pereira, Sonia Earl Joy, Suzaan Mahmud, and Sylvia D’souza. I would also like to add Kulamarva Balakrishna and Diwakar Kumar for the comments on my latest article (sorry I had to append this page recently).
I have also had the pleasure to rediscover through the voices several people, whom I had known before, but had lost touch: these include Senaka Dhramatilake, Virrender Kallianpur, Preeti Kudva, Chris Rego and Amarnath Bantwal.
Of course, a final thanks to the numerous anonymous readers who blessed or cursed me along the way. I could have not been more inspired than the 17, 700 members of M’com (which I predict would be close to 19, 000 by the time this article is published). I could have written all your names but sigh, space would not permit and webmaster would throw a fit! Talking about the webmaster, no words can honor the patience of Roshan D’souza and his team, especially when his mailbox is contaminated with three revisions for each draft of my article! Moreover, the choice of images to portray these articles not only convey a thousand words but shows a dedication toward reading and digesting the essence before publishing. This is a thankless job.
So, thanking you all once again and hoping I have enough fuel left for a few more, I rest in your mercy!
Author: Newton DSouza- USA