THE MAN WHO LIVED INSIDE A STORY
Nothing more was known about this man – what he did, where he went when he was gone was anybody’s guess. But not because he was secretive! He told us children elaborate stories about high adventures in far places. These stories would begin on the day he last left our house, and end on the day he arrived this time. Not only that. The stories would continue some distance into his current sojourn, and restart sometime before it ended. Thus, he might show a slight scratch on his forearm where “the tiger”’ scraped him. And a day before he left, he might be seen meditating. Then he would say he was getting ready for his next caper involving matching wits with a great sadhu – a godman with mysterious powers. The next time he would come, it would indeed be the story of the sadhu. There was consistency and cross-referencing all around. Stories were pegged on facts known to us. If he had met a tiger-skin clad, cutlass-heaving fierce warrior in the jungles of Manipur, that warrior would turn out to have the first name of a Manipuri neighbor, and the last name of another Manipuri neighbor family. So we would think, this warrior must be real since he had an authentic Manipuri name. This occasional mental check on the part of the listener made the rest of the story believable. He hunted with the finest of fine weapons, a German rifle called ‘Manlicker Skinner’. Unbeknownst to him, we verified that there was indeed such a weapon, if not of that exact name. When he arrived with only a knapsack, we asked him where the rifle was. He would say he had left it at a gun shop to be cleaned and oiled. Then he would rub his right shoulder with his left hand and say: “It has such a kick”. He had a small shaving mirror in his knapsack, which, like everything else there, had a story. This was given him by the Zeminder of some fiefdom as a token of gratitude for solving some mystery.
So vivid were his narratives that you could not help believing that the man was just resting here between high adventures. When he visited for the very last time, he had gone stark raving mad. He stood in the courtyard circled by family dwellings, and narrated at the top of his voice very adult and lurid activities of his just-completed adventure, involving intimacy with women. All the neighborhood children gathered round. The adults moved in as soon as they heard. They told him, in a convincing way, not to return again, ever.
The last I remember of this great adventurer is that he was leaving, head lowered, still weeping and reeling from the beating he had received. I remember thinking: How could adults be so cruel?