In which I pretend to be Mani Ratnam. And adapt a well known story, and tweak it as I want! Now to get Aishwarya to act on this script!!! Though I’d prefer Asin :)
Ramaiah tucked in his stomach, conscious that dozens of admiring eyes were fixed on his bare torso as his sweat glistened in the sun amidst all the dust. As a strapping young lad with rippling muscles and from being the son of one of the richer families of the village, he was used to being the centre of attention. But his eyes sought only one face, only one pair of bright eyes amongst the crowd. Ah, there she was, Rasathi, laughing merrily with her friends, oblivious to his searching looks. Ramaiah gave a sly smile as he caught her eye, before he was violently thrown up in the air, a sharp pain shooting through his ribs. “Never take your eyes off the bull”, his father Madasamy Mudaliar’s sharp advice rang in his ears as he fell on his back amidst loud shouts of concern. The annual jalli-kattu was delivering more than the usual thrills and the villagers couldn’t get enough of it, the government’s ban on the bull fighting be damned. After all, this was a place where centuries of tradition held more weight than modern inconveniences like the law of the land.
Ramaiah staggered to his feet, taking deep breaths to reorient himself. He fought the urge to turn to Rasathi, to see if she had a look of concern, to give her a reassuring look if need be, forcing himself to concentrate instead on the pair of horns that was angrily trying to tear him apart. His friends, Bangarappa and Mayandi, had kept the bull distracted while he was down, but he could see that they were tiring too. He let out a piercing roar and deftly side stepped as the horns and hooves missed him by inches. In a flash, he had grabbed one of the horns while the bull swung its head madly, trying to shake off both the maddening effect of the strange concoction mixed in its morning feed and the foolish lad clinging to its horn.
His hands ached, the red mud stinging the bleeding cuts on his palms. But he hung on. He hadn’t given up when Rasathi, more stubborn than this bull ever can hope to be, had firmly declined his advances claiming she wanted to remain a spinster and dedicate her life to the local temple. “Who do you think you are, Avvaiyar?”, he had raged, alternately pleading and shouting, to no avail. He strengthened his grip on the bull, hoping his heroics would impress her, little knowing that bull fighting men stood little chance against rakshasha fighting gods.
A violent struggle ensued and he scarcely knew how, but he had mounted the bull and clung on to its neck while more villagers came in and finally calmed it down. While he was being feted by his friends who were now carrying him on their shoulders, his eyes searched the crowd again. And fell on a face so beautiful that he had forgotten all about Rasathi even before he was carried on to the stage for a brief felicitation by the panchayat members.
The face in question, belonged to a girl clad in a simple black dhavani and standing far away from the crowd with her friends. For Julie Thomas, the lovely daughter of Thomas Arputharaj, was well aware of the deep seated casteist prejudices in the village which wouldn’t allow her to take part in the festivities. The sole reason why her forefathers, too far back to remember now, had jumped at the chance to be ‘converted’. While the missionaries went back satisfied for having saved some souls, the oppressed folks had been too focused on keeping themselves alive to worry about such higher aspirations. Of course, they had prospered steadily over the decades, and Thomas Arputharaj was now one of the wealthier men in the village, but they knew they weren’t welcome at the village well or inside the temple. But Ramaiah wasn’t aware of who she was when he had decided who he was going to share his life with after that one brief glance.
What he was only well too aware of was the century-old rivalry between his family, the Mudaliars, and the Arputharaj family. The Arputharaj folks had been servants for generations in the Mudaliar household, long before they had even acquired a surname. Abused and tortured, treated as untouchables, but needed for the dirty tasks of cleaning up the household, which the upper castes considered too beneath their 'pure' selfs. Somewhere, a hundred years ago, someone had revolted, emboldened by the missionaries promising them a live of dignity, a life where the god was a shepherd who didn’t discriminate among his flock. From being never allowed inside a temple to being put up in the front row of a church was a dream. And the Mudaliar household, fuelled partially by the loss of underpaid servants, and partially by the jealousy at how the lowly servants had prospered to become their equals, economically if not socially, had nurtured a rivalry that had involved 14 murders on either side at last count.
(to be continued)