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You came for me?’ the beggar, so surprised, asked in Hindi.




A Tree Was Once an Embryo

Fiction by Onyeka Nwelue


An extract from Onyeka Nwelue’s forthcoming novel, The Abyssinian Boy

It was a good Diwali morning, and Rajesh Kumar Rajagopalan seeped himself through the breezy November wind that splashed the wildflower sprinkled New Delhi city into festivity. No family in Delhi, or in the entire India celebrated Diwali more sweetly than the Rajagopalan family. And it was this one festival that brought the Rajagopalan Spirits together.

The roads were filled up with cars and auto-rickshaws as Rajesh drove himself out from Connaught Place towards the Delhi Railway Station and Pahar Ganj. He felt the spurning pangs of the sky and the filtering sun, as it ravished his face and a dimpled smile appeared on his face. He was quick at concluding that that night was going to be like the night when Mahatma Gandhi popped in that riveting self-governance to Bharat. A happy night, indeed. He was so sure that it was going to be just like that. So beautiful, with the lashes from the Ramayana song that whipped the night. Those things Rama did to make sure that Sita, his wife abducted by an evil king was brought back to him and all the things that bubbled within the ambience of the moon. The stereo player in his car squished and a song rumbled out from its speakers: Dotara, ektara, dotara. Ssh! He put it off, because his son, Dravid, no, David wouldn’t be happy if he’d heard such childish music being played in his father’s Toyota Camry car. He thought of a different music. Oh! The Beatles, the Beatles.

Long before wildlands.

He played The Beatles’ album.

Thrusting through the Delhi Railway Station, Rajesh looked out through the window and his eyes met with those of a beggar, who screamed out, ‘Namastė!’ And he replied, ‘Namastėji! Aap kaise hein?’ But the beggar couldn’t respond to his ‘how-are-you?’ that he’d asked – and went on begging from passers-by. Not completely ignored, Rajesh gently parked his car behind an Ambassador car, under a sycamore tree and walked up to that same beggar who’d saluted him and said in Hindi, ‘I came for you’. The beggar was embarrassed. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard from that strange tall man, with moustache strapping the upper-part of his mouth, right under his nose, although the moustache was tad, and couldn’t tell his Air-India Maharajahness. And what troubled that beggar was the fact that the man standing before him was a Brahmin, and not an Untouchable like him, should have expected such candour and generosity from such Aryan.

You came for me?’ the beggar, so surprised, asked in Hindi.

‘Yes’, he replied. ‘Happy Diwali’.

‘The same to you’.

Rajesh stretched out his right hand to him and said, ‘This is just for saluting me’.

The beggar’s heart bumped and he choked.

‘Take’, Rajesh said, persistently. ‘Take, ok?’

‘Archa!’ he continued in Hindi. ‘Kitna paisa?’

‘Twelve hundred rupees’, Rajesh smiled. ‘Use it and take care of yourself, ok?’

He handed the rupee notes to the rag cladded man with shabby hair and dirty beards.

‘Shukriyah!’ he screamed. ‘You will have peace in your life. And everyone around you will love you. Go in peace. Stay well’.

Rajesh bade him farewell, entered his car and drove towards Pahar Ganj, so excited that his wife, Eunice was going to drown in happiness, because of what he bought for their son: a novel. Even if the wind of Delhi blew into his eyes, he didn’t care a fig. He turned on the left and was now in Pahar Ganj. He’d always thought that that part of the city was the kind in Abyss Island, the novel he’d bought for his son. It looked as such, and he had a sticking courage that as a Diwali gift, it was all that wonderful. It was certain. He drove slowly, so as not to hit anyone, because that tiny Pahar Ganj track was cramped with people, especially foreigners on tourism. Uttermostly, Rajesh indicated who was who. He differentiated the British from the Israeli. Not from their accent, but from the shape of their heads. Coconut-shaped heads. But that was not all that cramped Pahar Ganj – many things did. The rickshaws, carts, cows and cars. The small-rise houses used for guesthouses. In Pahar Ganj, was where Bharat actually showed its ugly part. Rajesh knew that. And any Delhiite could attest to that.

As soon as Rajesh passed Hare Krishna Guest House moving towards Vishal Hotel, something bubbled inside him. He could see two khaki uniformed men hitting a black man with their batons. He quickly rushed out of his car, grabbed one of the policemen by the hand and shouted, ‘Kia wah?’ Then, the policemen replied, ‘Kuchu nahin’, and the two of them walked away.

Rajesh held the fallen black man by his right hand and helped him rise.

‘Aap ka nam ka ne?’ he said to him. ‘What is your name?’

‘Mere nam Mazungo’, the black man replied in his tattered and shabby-looking clothing.

‘Which country?’’

‘Uganda’, he replied.

‘Why are you in India?’ Rajesh asked, as though he was one of the immigration officials.

‘I’m a student at Delhi University’.



‘Then’, he began, ‘why were those policemen beating you’.

‘They asked me of my international passport’, he started. ‘ But I wasn’t able to produce it’.


‘Because I sent it to FRRO for visa extension – ‘


‘They began to beat me – ‘

‘But – ‘

‘I have my students’ identity card’, he continued, ‘and a note from FRRO with me’.

‘Then, why didn’t you show them?’

‘I did, sir’, he wept. ‘They called me a liar. They said that black people are not to be trusted; that they are criminals’.

‘Don’t mind them, young man’, Rajesh implored. ‘I’m sorry you have fallen a victim of racism’.

Rajesh gave the young African a lift out to R.K Ashram, where he bought a twelve rupee token and entered a train that headed for Viswadviyalaya – which was where it terminated and one could find the International Student’s Hostel as you rolled down the lanes. And when he was gone, Rajesh felt a pigeon had shat into his head. He was completely depressed. He knew things, or probably, heard that things like this happened on the streets of India, but he hadn’t seen that for the first time.

He drove past the Metro station, turned on the left and headed for Panchkuian Road, where he was stopped by the control traffic light and he moved over to Delhi Heart and Lung Institute and then moved into Rani Jhansi Road. As soon as he got to the Rajagopalan House – a well – architectural work, a fine bungalow (in which David would perceive that last smell of the curry that hung on Kaveriama’s body), he stopped and blared the horn of his car, and Pankaj, the House driver (who later did a-man-and-a-woman-thing with the House Untouchable servant, Bateri) opened the dwarf red gate and he drove in; then parked his car in the garage.

Nine year-old David and Datt ran up to him.

‘Welcome, Dad’, David said.

‘Welcome, Uncle’, Datt added.

‘Thanks, kids’, Rajesh replied and handed the polythene bag he had in the car backseats to David, who began to run with it into the house, followed by Datt.

Diwali was the uttermost. Celebrated in all parts of India and by Indians in Diaspora, it was noted as the Festival of Light. On the night of this feast, houses were lit up with oil-lamps and clay lamps, that Lakshmi’s heaven shorn adorably. And it was believed that any house that was engulfed with darkness, never felt the visitation of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune. So, that morning, the Rajagopalan House was being cleaned up thoroughly by the maids.

As soon as Rajesh entered the sitting room, he found that the salagrama stone in their Brahmin home had been perfumed. He smiled up at everyone who was in the parlour, while Eunice, his wife, with a dark-skin like that of Oprah Winfrey, kissed his lips smoothly.

‘Welcome honey’, she said. ‘How was your meeting with the Chief Minister?’

‘Theeka hain’.

‘Om Nath! She squirmed.

During lunch, everyone gathered at the dinning table, laced with different dishes – chapatti, meatballs and chicken curry, aloo gobhi, mushroom curry, vegetable korma and biryani, dal makhani, saag chicken, mousasaka (sliced egg plant in a spicy bean on tomato sauce), macaroni, chowmein, and drinks like Slice, Maza, orange, pineapple and mango juices – and they were all to be enjoyed.

‘David’, Rajesh said, as they ate. ‘I bought a children’s novel for you’.

‘What’s the name?’

Abyss Island’.

Onyeka Nwelue was born in Nigeria in 1988. He studied there and in India. He has been published in the UK, the US, India, Canada and Nigeria. He lives in Nigeria. His novel, The Abyssinian Boy is yet to be published.

 posted 8 March 2007

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Home  Transitional Writings on Africa   ChickenBones Short Stories

Related file: The Train Journey (short story)    Interview with Onyeka Nwelue    Onyeka Nwelue Interviews Jude Dibia     A Tree Was Once an Embryo        Men in Suit? Give ’Em A Chance     The Land of Saints