Book ٢, Chabter ٢, glossary

by Deepak Unnikrishnan

 

In 1991, an English-speaking teen who went to an Indian school in Abu Dhabi was waiting to cross the street when his tongue abandoned him by jumping out of his mouth and running away.

Before the young man could apprehend and discipline the escaping appendage, it had grown limbs, a face, a mouth, a tiny proboscis, fountain-pen-blue hair, and thus free at last sprinted towards oncoming traffic, where it smashed into a massive vundy ferrying famished school kids released from the drudgeries of learning, causing all the nouns the now deceased tongue had accumulated in its time in the boy's mouth to be released into the air like shrapnel, hitting/injuring unsuspecting inanimate and animate things.

Verbs, adjectives, and adverbs died at the scene but the surviving nouns, tadpole-sized, see-through, fell like hail. Some, accurately.

The word Kelb found a mangy dog and settled in the mutt's eye, puncturing its cornea.

The word Vellum plummeted into a little puddle where it sank to the bottom, meeting the word Maai. Both, Vellum and Maai, troubled at first to discover each other, negotiated to cohabit as roommates.

The words Motherfucker and Kus Umuk weren't as cordial when they stumbled upon one another, crash landing side by side. Motherfucker insisted Kus Umuk needed to scram. Kus Umuk disagreed. They fought it out, with Motherfucker ending Kus Umuk's life as the Mallu man whose face they slit when they smashed into him waited by the side of the road for assistance.

Because nouns dropped like hail, there were mistakes.

The word(s) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit a window, but the word most apt to hit the window, Khiraki, crashed into a light bulb.

Some words meant for animals, like Kelb, found the right animal, but most words found the wrong animal.

The word Poocha, perfect on a cat, landed on thawing mutton.

Himar maimed a chicken's beak; its English equivalent, Donkey, speared a pigeon's throat.

The word Paksi landed on a housefly's thorax, missing the mynah on the lamppost.

These were mistakes. There was also trauma.

Because the nouns had been expelled so violently, many ended up mangled, some unrecognizable.

These damaged nouns, like Wifebeater and Veed and Secret Police, were everywhere, unclaimed, hanging off rafters, store signs, pedestrians.

Some mutilated nouns however landed on the right things.

Saiyaara landed on a car's bonnet. Burger sliced a Hardees bun. Yet these words were missing letters. Saiyaara had become Sara; Burger, Bug.

 

There was more to follow. Absolute confusion occurred when nouns pinpointing race landed on the wrong people.

The word Arabee attached itself to a Mumbaiker man and wouldn't let go, while Hind refused to be pried from a Local's knee, just as the word Saaipu plunged into a Sudanese woman's vein, swimming like a tapeworm towards the woman's brain, as a white Eurasian woman/lady looked on, before noticing two writhing nouns, Kaalia and Blackie, copulating on her wrist.

 

When the shurtha arrived in patrol cars, followed by paramedics, they tried to take charge of the situation. The paramedics removed the English-speaking boy's tongue from the street, treated victims going into shock, and threw blankets over dead nouns that did not survive the accident. The shurtha issued orders to onlooking street cleaners to bottle found nouns into glass jars normally meant for toffee, borrowed from grocery stores operated by kadakarans with names like Saleem Ikka or Ahmad Kutty. Then, as witnesses filled the shurtha in on what may have happened, they were taken to see the English-speaking boy who refused to open his mouth to speak because he was afraid his teeth would be as mutinous as his tongue, abandoning him like a defecting army, emptying his mouth of everything worthy. The English-speaking boy wrote this all out on a piece of kadalaas the shurtha tore from an official-looking notebook.He also sensed, the boy wrote, that a few words had been left behind in his mouth, clinging to his tonsils, and he didn't want to lose them too.

Nonsense, the shurtha said, assuring the fellow they would find his missing words, and one by one, put them back into his English-speaking mouth.

Really? the boy meant to say, but couldn't say, so he opened his mouth, which loosened his last words from his tonsils, pushing them out into the world, removed from the safety of the boy's mouth, popping out as a phrase, which as soon as it hit the asphalt, began to wheeze as though inflicted with acute bronchitis. Then, unable to breathe, the words turned blue.

The panicked boy retrieved the asphyxiating phrase and was going to stuff the words back into his mouth before an alert paramedic with goldfish lips snatched his last words, Yabba Dabba Doo, the first English phrase his grandfather taught him to say, and performed CPR.

For 15 minutes the paramedic tried to resuscitate Yabba Dabba Doo but he couldn't.

When the English-speaking boy realized his last words were no more, gone like his grandfather, he swallowed Yabba Dabba Doo's body whole, refusing to open his mouth to eat or drink or let in fresh air.

Before the shurtha could comfort the boy, he heard the sound of running feet, at least fifty, maybe more.

He turned.

A mob of agitated English-speaking young teens, from the same Indian school judging by the boy's reaction, all bleeding from their mouths, were yelling incoherently, in pursuit of pinkish-red tongues growing pinker with exertion as they escaped their desperate pursuers on newly sprouted limbs, refusing to be taken alive, heading in the direction of the old souk, the breakwaters by the corniche, wherever they could hide.

On the bodies of the escaping tongues, the shurtha noticed, were words – nouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions – words he knew, kinda knew, couldn't identify, words fastidiously clinging on, ferocious things with swinging tails.

 

Excerpt from Temporary People courtesy of the author and Restless Books

 

Deepak Unnikrishnan's book Temporary People, published to critical acclaim, won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing and The Hindu Prize. It was also long listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and shortlisted for The Believer Book Award. At the 57th Venice Biennale, his work was featured in the written publication of the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates: Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play. He teaches at New York University Abu Dhabi.

ديباك أونكريشنان كاتب وأستاذ جامعي محاضر وقيم، ويسعى للتجريب في الشكل الأدبي، ويركز على قضايا الهوية، والهجرة، والمنفى. وتشمل أعماله المنشورة: "الناس المؤقتون" (ريستليس بوكس) والذي فاز بجائزة الهندو، تسيناي، ونال المركز الأول في جائزة "رستليس بوكس” وقد وصل إلى القائمة الطويلة في "مركز جائزة الرواية الأولى"، نيويورك. نشر عمله سلسلة من القصص الأخلاقية "حجرة، ورقة، مقص: ممارسات اللعب والأداء” في الجناح الوطني لدولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة، بينالي فينيسيا. أونكريشنان يدرس في جامعة نيويورك أبو ظبي ويعيش ويعمل حالياً بين أبوظبي وشيكاغو ونيويورك.