Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Book Excerpt | Pawan Mishra | Coinman

Each life is yet another chance given to humanity, but it was not even a half a chance in Coinman’s case. God surely must have been undergoing some sort of mental metamorphosis when he dispatched Coinman to the world. This was how his colleagues often described Coinman in a nutshell to anyone who had no prior acquaintance with him.
Coinman was of average height, dark, shy, and lean but healthy. His looks often misled people in judging his age: some believed him to be as young as thirty, and some thought he was as old as fifty. The former perceived him as a young man who looked older for having been through hardships, while the latter thought he was an old man who looked younger for having lived a contented life. The rest either did not have an opportunity to express their opinion or did not deem the subject worthy of their reflection.
His chin was in a funnel shape, tapering down to form a very thin verge at the bottom. In addition to this extraordinary appearance, his chin vibrated whenever its owner was excited, positively or negatively—two times every five seconds, in quick succession. The two successive vibrations occurred at such speed and within such a short span that there was an ongoing debate at the office, behind his back, as to whether it happened once or twice. Each vibration made his chin contract, go up, and then relax back to its usual form. People often wondered if other children his age used to annoy him on purpose, just to enjoy this rare demonstration of a chin’s low tolerance to its master’s stress.
Time had eroded a large section of hair on his head. What had once been a dense jungle of black trees had become a barren island. The large, shiny bald area in the middle of his head was surrounded by a perfect circular band of black hair, just like a monk’s tonsure. It was as if a black ribbon had been tied in a circular fashion to guard his shining bald head against evil eyes.
He wasn’t the kind heavily invested in keeping up outward appearances, but the kind who believed in inward well-being, and hence did not pay much attention to the things that embellished his outward appearance. He generally wore loose, dull-colored clothes. These clothes, if his colleagues were to be believed, had served his father for a few years before serving him. If it had not been for his belt, which was admirably dependable for keeping the trousers from slipping beyond the territory of decorum, those loose trousers would have left no stone unturned to flow with the gravitational force. His walking style was discussed in great detail as well: a gait that made it seem as if a narrow open sewage line passed right between his legs.
The office unit belonged to an old private firm run by one of the ancient business families in the region. While the interior of the second floor was state-of-the-art, the interior of the first floor was too aged to keep secret the necessity for a comprehensive repair. The thirty-plus years of marriage between the ceiling and the cement plaster showed signs of weakness by the plaster’s frequently developing cracks and holes. Now and then a small portion detached itself from the ceiling, took flight, and attacked the proceedings below without a warning. Whenever this happened, everyone at once gathered around the site of the impact. If the plaster happened to hit a living being, it made the occasion even more special. A few pinched the victim while a few playful types took the opportunity, depending on the range of playfulness of the victim, to pat him gently on usually restricted areas, putting on an act as if clearing dust from his clothes. The victim turned into an instant celebrity for the rest of the day.
On a few occasions, when the plaster came out during lunchtime and landed in someone’s lunchbox, the mob took hold of the lunchbox from the proud owner and went on to complete two rounds within the office in a procession, interchangeably carrying the lunchbox on their heads. They passionately dramatized the proceedings, behaving as though they were carrying a coffin to the graveyard, constantly chanting a dirge indigenous to the office; the leader asked the questions and the rest answered in unison.
“What is life?”
“A lousy puzzle with missing pieces.”
“Is there a God?”
“Yes there is, yes there is.”
“Who bestows life?”
“He does, He does.”
“And who takes it away?”
“Damn! He does, He does.”
“Whose turn is this today?”
“This one is done for, surely done for.”
“What shall we ask now?”
“Rest this lunatic soul in peace, yes, in peace.”
They then surrounded one of the trash cans, seriously chanting mantras used during sacred offerings to God, and thereafter emptied the box into the trash can before returning it to the honored owner.
The interior office walls were painted light green, and the long-standing furniture matched the color well. Devoid of aesthetics, the overuse of the dull green color in the room couldn’t have been deliberate. Therefore, it seemed that the furniture had acquired the color of the wall by way of continuously absorbing it for years. And it was a possibility that there was a rapid back-and-forth transmission between both sides in order to achieve a joint convergence on a perfect sameness in color.
The office area on the second floor was very small compared to the first floor. The elevator opened up right opposite the reception desk, behind the waiting couches. There were office rooms for managers on both sides of the reception area. The biggest and most luxurious room on the right side of reception belonged to Jay, the unit head. A similar-size room on the left was reserved for ABC, and was kept locked at all times because ABC’s visits to the office were very rare, and entirely undesired because of the casualties caused by each visit. No one knew the exact roots of the sovereign power ABC savored.
There were several other office rooms on the second floor, occupied by important-looking people who were chanced upon only in the elevator, and whose source of importance was thus not known to anyone.
The tables on the first floor were always full of files. These tables appeared to be yearning for a break after several years of service. Not many at the office treated them with the respect they were worthy of. What if these tables did not watch over the important papers while the associates were away? One can easily guess how ill-behaved these papers could become at times—especially with the companionship of electric fans.

Ratiram not only knew but also felt deeply in his heart how immeasurably vital these tables were. These were simply his bread and butter. Hypothetically, if the tables were to go away for any reason—of whatever nature it could have been, presumably of the kind that invariably caught ordinary people like him unaware—he had no doubt in his mind that his job would follow them.

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