Fatsam and Darky

Shivaji K. Moitra

© Copyright 2007 by Shivaji K. Moitra 


Photo of Indian circus performers.

I met Laxman and Ramashray for the first time in 20 years most dramatically and in the most unlikely of places.

The spreading cone of light focused at those wispy white clouds of Spring was revolving in a wide circle across the night sky. A Circus Party had pitched its tents on the outskirts of our town. My daughter jumped in glee.

So we took our first class seats beside the ring one Sunday afternoon.

The strobe lights focused on the arena and the orchestra was churning out of some popular Hindi film songs. The visitors were still snaking in.

Suddenly there was a commotion. A row had apparently broken out at one of the entrances between some rowdy youths and the staff who stopped them from entering without tickets. Alarmed that the trouble if it snowballed could panic the visitors into a stampede I slipped within a sure distance from the exit and tried to take stock of the situation. It was then that a short fat man in a white full-shirt and black baggy trousers and a black cowboy hat emerged to pacify the crowd. He stomped up, his protruding belly flouncing in an amusing rhythm. His position at the top of the party’s hierarchy was evident from the semicircle of the staff members trailing him. He successfully assuaged the ruffled tempers and was walking back when I caught a glimpse of his face. I was taken aback; I could hardly forget ‘Fatsam’. The scar on his forehead crossing the right brow and running an inch down the right slope of his projecting nose was a landmark too unique to be forgotten. I grabbed his hand and for a moment he gave me a puzzled stare. Then he embraced me like a child; I knew I hadn’t changed much. But he certainly had. Two decades ago his black curly hair hung over his temples and ears resembling twisted wires and the skin of his face though adhering to a considerable layer of fat was taut and bore the shine of manhood in its prime. Now behind his shining bald head only a few strands of grey hair hung precariously above the nape and his face had grown much bigger and homogeneous with more fat accumulating in bags under his eyes and jaws. His real name was Laxman Samanta.

He nearly dragged me and my daughter into a small but tidy tent at the end of a line of small tents pitched in the middle of the enclosure for animals and the main tent. I was just out of college when I came to know him. At barely 20, just like every other young man coming from the average Indian family who possessed the strength of neither money nor resources to fall back on, I was hard pressed to earn my living immediately. And I was scared to face the unforgiving hostile world all by myself. Nevertheless, I found myself the job of a travelling representative of a medical firm which offered a salary enough to keep my body and soul together.

 So one evening I landed in a disagreeable part of north Bihar. The search for a shelter affordable yet safe and clean landed me in situations I had never even dreamt of. The experiences were sometimes frustrating and sometimes really funny. On one occasion I was chased out by a trident waving sadhu when I asked him if I could stay at his monastery. On another, I was chased out by dancing ghosts and weird sounds in the night after the caretaker of a dilapidated house agreed to let me stay in a back room with lichen-covered walls. At last my quest took me to a small half constructed double-storey house located in a desolate corner of the medieval town overlooking the Ganga. It housed a Mess of which I promptly became a member. The winter sun had by then paled beyond the looming mist and the evening air was cold.

 A fat short man displaying a bulging tummy, big red eyes and a walrus moustache greeted me in with a great smile. He certainly was in his early 30s and wore a crumpled half-shirt and a lungi. ‘Fatsam’ was the nickname he earned from his mates. One by one six of them emerged from the next room to welcome me into their tribe. In the following time I was astonished at not only the aptness of their nicknames but also their peculiar personalities. The bed next to mine was Faintsight’s.

He worked in a government Printing Press and had a couple of years to go. He was a lean fellow of medium height and complexion and his close-cropped white hair with isolated patches of fading black resembled freshly mowed grass. He earned his nickname from the thick glasses perched on his disproportionately big nose. Without his specks he was blind as a mole. The first time he saw me he brought his face so close to mine that he could bite off my nose. The tea cups and saucers invariably met their premature end in his groping hands.

Fatsam and Darky occupied beds opposite ours. While Fatsam worked as the Accountant of some plastic factory, Darky worked in a medicine shop. Darky got his name from his swarthy and beefy structure. He was tall man, not yet 30 with a big head on broad masculine shoulders. His broad forehead, heavyset jaws and a near mongoloid featureless face gave the impression of a boxer rather than a salesman. Fatsam was his buddy and often they returned home together after an evening booze and then quarreled into the night playing cards with ‘Longfellow’ and ‘Pundit’, both bank clerks. While Longfellow was a tall wiry fellow, Pundit donned a sacred tuft of hair four inches long and thick as a twine streaking from the back of his head. He was a devout Brahmin from Bihar and would never touch tobacco or liquor. I liked him because he took upon himself the holy duty of offering flowers and incense to half a dozen Gods and Goddesses whose pictures hung from the damp walls. Sometimes the game of cards got too bad for Darky and his partner Fatsam and then an inebriated Darky would squint menacingly at Pundit, sputter a fusillade of invectives and threaten him with a fruit knife. Not that their late night antics did not inconvenience me or put me off but my displeasure nevertheless was more than compensated for by the affection showered upon me probably for being the youngest of them all. But when he wasn’t on the fuddle Darky used to be a nice person. He had big words of encouragement for me whenever he had the inkling of my pensive mood. He told me he had lost his wife and child in a tragic accident just when he had begun to savour the bliss of family life. He told me he hated the present mean and sedentary life. “If only I had half a chance to hop onto a ship I would be a deck-hand and roam the world,” he used to mumble. And Fatsam in a vest with a big hole over the belly and a worn out lungi would nod in agreement and add, “Had I learnt a few tricks I would have been in my uncle’s Circus now travelling merrily along with those animals and huge tents.” Then brooding over his thoughts he would have a piece of advice for me. “Keep studying brother; you still have time for a bright future. Damn with this job!”

One evening Darky got into a drunken brawl with someone at a downtown pub and he was after the guy with a broken bottle when Fatsam intervened and apparently fell in the line of Darky’s attack. The jagged end of the bottle pierced his face tearing off the flesh like a huge toothed saw.

Remorse and shame made Darky wait on his friend at the hospital continuously for four days. Fatsam’s right eye was miraculously left unscathed but fourteen stitches and ten days were required to mend the wound.

In the following time the wound healed. I endured cut-throat competitive tests and earned a Government Officer’s job. I bade everybody goodbye and left the place for good. My fading memories suddenly leapt into nostalgic recollection as Darky alias Ramashray Prasad lumbered into the tent and lifted me off my feet in joy. He was still sinewy and strong at 50. Next sitting in the enclosure for special guests Fatsam and Darky told me that a couple of months after I had left Faintsight suddenly had a massive heart attack and passed away and three years hence Fatsam’s uncle was struck with cancer. He had been a bachelor and wanted Fatsam to become the master of his Circus empire which he had slowly erected with great pains and patience. And ‘Fatsam the Accountant’ had no reason to reject the great unexpected offer.

The final day came soon. Fatsam left his job, took Darky along and for the last time boarded the train chugging out of the nearest station. The Circus company thus found its new owner and new Manager. I looked into their eyes and there was the unmistakable shine of happiness in them. “Providence has finally granted them the wings of their dreams,” I mused.

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