The Dolphin King By Kuzhali Manickavel
"I thought you might have money in it."
"I told you I didn't have any money."
"I thought you were lying. I'll give it back
when I see you."
Two weeks later Jameson calls and asks if I
will come with him to Central Railway Station. Senthil has called to say he is
waiting for us beside some special railway tracks that come from Gujarat.
"Did he go out of town or something?" I ask.
"No," says Jameson. "You know what he did
last month? Comes to my house with two fucking geese! Geese!"
"Where did he get geese from?"
"Fuck if I know."
"What did you do?"
"I said fuck off, you can't keep bloody
geese in my house!"
Central Railway Station hits us squarely in
the nose and we weave through piles of families who have fallen asleep on the
floor, boxed in by their luggage. We find Senthil sitting cross-legged on a
concrete bench. He holds his arms out, as if he expects us to hug him.
"I wanted you both to see this," he says and
gets up. He walks over to the edge of the platform and points down to the start
of a railway line. "When the Gujarat riots happened and the earthquake and
stuff, people just got on this train and stayed on till it stopped. And this is
where it stopped, right here. No more track. This is where they all got off.
Isn't that awesome?"
"Oh for God's sake," says Jameson.
"Wouldn't it be awesome to see it stop right
here," says Senthil. "And it will stop here. Because it can't go any
further. There's no more track. I mean where can it go if there's no more
Jameson turns and walks away. I feel I
should say something that will change Senthil's life and make him go home.
"Where's my sugar tin?" I ask.
"My sugar tin. You stole it, remember?"
"What sugar tin?"
I turn and follow Jameson so I can hitch a ride back.
Something tangible needs to be done.
Something with words and a date and an incident so that years later I can look
back and say yes, I told him. Sat him down and said Senthil, drug addicts get
raped in the ass and in the mouth. They get pubic lice. Nobody feeds them. They
smell bad. But before I have a chance to, Senthil calls up and says he's got a
job with a call centre. They are really impressed with him because they think he
is dynamic and energetic and they like the way he speaks English. Rumor has it
that he will be promoted in a week or so.
We are very proud of Senthil because call
centers are easy money. Jameson throws him a party to celebrate and Senthil
arrives wearing a long-sleeved shirt that remains buttoned at the wrist for the
whole evening. He does however take his socks off and I notice that his big
toenails are missing.
"They made me this team leader kind of thing
and it's like being in charge of vampires, you know?" says Senthil. "Because we
all work at night, right? Karna King of the Vampires."
"I don't think Karna had anything to do with
vampires," I say.
"I always think of that song that happens
when Karna's trying to die- Bravely face whatever comes your way Karna,
bravely face whatever comes your way."
Senthil doesn't sing very well but his Tamil
pronunciation is flawless and beautiful like water flowing over rocks. I can
sense he is saying something very important, something that could change his
A few weeks later, Senthil goes to Mumbai on business and gets fired when he decides he doesn't want to come back.
Dreaming of Senthil is inevitable because he
is something that intrudes and lingers like a thunderstorm or the tug of a
beggar's grubby fingers. When I dream of him, he is standing alone in an
abandoned battle field and the sky is a deep, dirty red. He is leaning against a
broken pink and yellow chariot, peering into a quiver of moldy arrows.
"Have you died?" I ask.
Senthil frowns and shakes his head.
"No, I don't think so," he says. "They did
make me king."
"They were here a minute ago. I'm pretty
sure they said I was king now."
"What are you king of?"
"Eggshells. Fingernail clippings. Broken
"They didn't say anything about dolphins."
"They probably meant to."
"Probably. I feel like I'm probably king of
the dolphins too."
Something black is trickling down the
outside of the quiver of arrows. I can't tell what it is and wonder if it's
really small insects walking in a slow, straight line.
"These arrows burst into fireworks," says
Senthil. "Want to see?"
He pulls out an arrow but before he can
notch it into the bow it snaps and crumbles to the ground.
"I had no hope for success," I say.
"It's a line from the Mahabharata."
"Who says that?"
"I don't know. Someone."
"Not Karna. Karna doesn't say that."
Senthil tries to notch in another arrow and
it crumbles into his fingers like soot.
"No," I say as the black flecks skitter along the ground and disappear. "Karna doesn't say that."
We wait for Senthil to call or mail or do something but nothing happens. Jameson and I begin to consolidate things we have heard about him Ėhe was into event management and had met Deep Purple. He was working with Greenpeace. He was climbing the Himalayas. He was living in a slum and writing a novel. Someone had mentioned seeing Senthil in a railway station, sleeping under a bench but we never talked about that one. Instead we would rearrange the stories slightly or make up something completely new.
Once while we were talking, Jameson took out
his wallet and started pulling out his business cards. He began sorting them in
different piles, tearing up the ones he didn't need, putting the others in neat
stacks of five or six. It seemed like he was making a tiny city of soft,
rectangular buildings, neatly cut with straight roads and off-white buildings
that had no windows.
"We should go to Mumbai," I said. "We should
go see him. Surprise him."
"We should definitely do that."
"Do you have his address?"
"No. Someone will have it though."
"Yeah, someone will."
"He'll probably call us soon anyway. Or
he'll just show up, just like that. I think he would probably do that, don't
"He'd probably do that."
I picture the three of us wandering through
Jameson's city of cards, turning into the wrong streets, cutting ourselves on
the corners, trying to keep in step with people we canít see. I think of Senthil
sleeping under a bench in a railway station, the King of Things, Karna of the
Vampires vomiting on the side of the road, screaming at the buildings for
growing in his way and blocking out the sun.
I had no hope for success, I whisper to myself and watch as the pile of ripped business cards grows like a mountain of small mistakes.