Karivardan by V Sanjay Kumar

Extracted and adapted from Accustomed Earth, a novel in progress.




Inspector Murthy made a surprise visit to Kari’s room. He had years of experience and he came in behaving like a sniffer dog. ‘I can smell infection here,’ he said. ‘Stale underwear infection.’


Kari’s room looked like a weapons store. There was a long iron rod called a kadappar that leaned in a corner. It was used to break ground. Next to it with a mud clump still stuck on it was a digging implement called a mumti. Two aruvaals were placed on a shelf above them. These scythes could cut through anything. A bent saw with its teeth intact lay next to them. There was a pair of gardening shears that looked like it had never been used and there was a pair of green dumb-bells that Kari tossed around like confetti. His muscular presentation belonged to a gymnasium and there was one nearby that he visited. He wasn’t assiduous and he was there because he liked being around men who worked their muscles and who still lagged behind him in most departments. Push-ups, sit-ups, bench presses, and weights were easy routines. He ate like a mammoth. Eggs in double digits, a full loaf of bread, a small mountain of rice, and a fistful of chappatis were part of a daily diet that was high in carbs.


He had a single bed and his one expensive purchase was a spring mattress that was six inches thick. He said the secret to good sex was a spring mattress. Thambi had tested it by jumping on it and hitting the ceiling fan.


The Inspector surveyed the domestic arsenal and he asked just one question. ‘You have all the implements but where is your garden?’


There was no garden nearby and we knew it. Kari looked at me and for once I had no answer. We stood silently till the Inspector left. He left us feeling a little unsettled. These were uncertain times. We were small-time hoods with no backing. We had not been tested by real violence so none of us knew how we would behave when the moment came and we would actually have to use a weapon.


Soon after this the Timur episode happened and it was a game changer. He was a local gang leader who had heard of us and he felt threatened. Kari had to take him on. He had no choice. For two days we sat in our little stronghold, fortified ourselves with booze, and the crude implements we had looked more and more inadequate. Should I get a gun, I asked? No, said Kari. Should I go to Nanban Sir for help? Kari laughed at the suggestion. He wasn’t saying much and I could sense something build up inside him. He looked at me finally and asked me to send word. I am ready, he said.




Timur the Lame was a brazen invader who plundered the North of India and his marauding halted above the Vindhya mountain range. There was a Timur in Kari’s kuppam. The kuppam was unruly and it was controlled by him. He had a singular quality called thimiru. Thimiru is a Tamil noun that takes equally from aggression, arrogance, and pride. Thimiru can consume you. When it does you can see it and the one so consumed is called a ‘thimiru pudichavan’. Timur was one and so was Kari. Just look at them from some distance and do so discreetly. Look at the face first, examine not its features but its tone, not skin tone mapillai – hear how he speaks, see how he looks at you – the stare he has that demeans you, the ‘moraikiriya dai’ look that dares you to look back at him. Do not lock eyes because that could hurt you. And do not stare back because that could kill you.


Timur is a slippery don. Just watch his false modesty in front of the elders and the wise. He has a knife with a serrated edge. He has taken apart a rival using a Poclain machine and lugged the remains to a slow fire. Right now he has the upper hand because he has tested himself and knows that he can kill. Watch out Kari my friend, watch out for this Timur. He will be your nemesis or your first stepping stone. He comes from the slum near the Buckingham Canal, where it yields to an overhead rail track and there is a small bridge that crosses it and there is government housing made long ago which is full of middle-class wimps who pay him money for peace and good health. Cutting Timur will make Kari an established hood, an upgrade from a common criminal. That is a separate class, one that you get into by taking down a slippery don. Timur has status and he has access to smack. Good smack that he could retail after mixing but he is in love with it. You see him seated on the floor, his nose running, his hair unkempt, his sleeve torn, his left hand holding apart his toes, his right hand holding a 4 ml syringe, and off he goes climbing, his head exploding and he looks up when he surfaces and he smiles. For a moment he could pleasure you. This Timur is without thimiru – he looks like a young man out of college stuck in a lecture that has tickled his balls, and with smack inside him he is unbound for a while from his private hell.


Fying is an English adjunct to a Tamil verb. What is he doing? Samalchifying, which means making up. Or if he is glad-eyeing some girls he is sight adchifying. If he is drinking up some kallu arrack he is kudichifying. But what the hell is Timur doing now? He could knife you with his right hand and he could knife you with his left and they had no term for that ambidextrous killichifying. Getting rid of Timur was big because his writ was deep, ingrained in a fishing village – that kuppam was next to more government housing that was literally falling apart because the concrete had melted under the groaning weight of the shit of the periyappas and periyammas, the aged gentry who refused to die when they should have, and kids kept getting born and all that was happening was there were more mouths to feed than fish in the ocean. Timur went twice into the waves every day and each time he came back there was catch in his boat, salt in his mouth, and red in his eyes and he headed to the arrack shop where he sat till they pleaded he go away. Fuck the catch, he said, when someone told him it was rotting. He was then ready for the night shift and his brokers came to him with small business, with stories of hurt and injustice, and this was grist to the slippery don’s mill. Transactions happened that were never recorded. When he was asked to do something really heavy he would change, like he was slipping into a storm’s eye, all calm, a neatly pressed demeanour and his hands would be sure, his gait would be straight, and his eyes would be holes. Not to be crossed then, he would be ignored by all the other hoods who knew there was still some life to be lived. Kari wanted to catch him on one such day and make his reputation. He had no choice. Word was out that Timur did not like him. Why? Because Kari was a ‘thimiru pudichavan’. He knows, Timur knows, before others do, when someone has to be put away. It was him or Kari and things were on the boil. I knew Kari, I knew what he was capable of. So I had word sent to Timur’s boss that Kari was ‘available’ and the contract was put out on Kari, and Timur came where Kari was meant to be, he was, Timur carried something for Kari, he did, and he had every right to deliver it because he was paid for it. Money had changed hands, money from the big man whose word was law. Kari was a goner for all purposes except I knew it and I knew him and his left hand worked just like his right hand did and so as Timur came up with his knife Kari had his right to defend and it held a mere stick that got cleaved easily but it held momentarily and that was enough for his left that held a broken bottle and that found Timur’s eyes. Whoever said they were hollow, he lied, and Timur was still seeing in a strange kind of way through that gush, before he fell. They all came up to see him as he lay, and they spat beside him and cursed him before the cop van came. Dhandasoru, said a periyappa, he who was a salary earner. Not true, I said, he was a fisherman, an honest one and he kept a family going – let us not take that away from him. So you are dialogue adichifying for him now, asked the old man, for this maanan ketta nai? I said maybe, there was always maybe when I wanted no argument, and I had to get away too, take the cash from Timur back to the Big Man, each bloody note save one which I would be allowed to keep. Pick one, said the Big One, smiling at the new henchman. I picked one. Henchman I am not, I told him, neither is Kari. Not for you or anybody else, and no disrespect to you, Sir. My life hung in there by a thread, prey to what went on in his head but I was prepared for whatever he decided. He was angry, furious that I said this in front of his men. He let me be. ‘Dhandasoru,’ said the Big One. ‘I am deeply disappointed. But Kari and you are like my sons.’ That way he saved his face and we lived.


Kari came to where I was, fresh from the incident. He came at me this big burly man. I loved him and he knew it. He came at me and I held him. He was shivering. He cried, sobbing loudly. His big shoulders shook and he heaved and he brought up his insides. I wasn’t his mother, don’t mistake me, but I leached the chill the first kill brings.


‘Did you not see what happened?’ he asked. ‘How are you so calm?’


‘You did what you had to do,’ I said.


He recovered slowly. ‘Was I good?’ he asked.


‘Of course,’ I said.


I was kneading his shoulders that had bunched into knots. He moved away to the window stretched his arms above him and twisted his neck, making cracking noises.


‘Did you see the look on Timur's face?’ he said.


‘I did. You surprised him,’ I said. ‘Timur wasn't expecting it. He looked surprised even if he couldn’t see by then.’


I had to help Kari out of his shirt. It was blood-soaked. I couldn't help running my hands up and down his broad back. Kari was exultant by now. I stroked his shoulders again. He hit me. I loved him more than anything. He hit me again. I sat where I fell. Kari looked like he did when he took on Timur, a big bad ‘thimiru pudichavan’.




Kari became famous after this incident. Soon he did not have to pay for the air he was breathing, that air belonged to a flat he did not own. He merely occupied it. Whose was it? No idea, said the owner, because he had been warned about Kari. He had no wish to be famous.


Nanban Sir was oblique when it suited him. He heard me relate the story and all through it he remained expressionless. ‘Moving,’ he said finally. I must have looked surprised and disappointed. ‘When did you first experience violence?’ he asked. He looked at his hands and felt the veins, then he held up his fingers as if he was counting them. ‘This was the first time I saw something violent,’ I said. He shook his head. ‘You don’t get it do you?’ he said. ‘Poverty is the biggest violence in our country. Next comes unemployment. Both cut deeper than any knife.’



V Sanjay Kumar has published two novels. Artist, Undone a narrative set in the art world was published in January 2012 by Hachette. His second work of fiction Virgin Gingelly is a set of connected stories on residents of a street in Chennai. It was published by Hachette in December 2013. His next novel The Third Squad is due to be published in the US by Akashic, New York in March 2017.