Gopal Baratham




  • an excerpt from Gopal Baratham : Collected Short Stories


an excerpt from Gopal Baratham : Collected Short Stories

I know that my existence is about to end. It’s funny. You think you will always be around though everything tells you that nothing lasts forever. Flowers fall and people perish, the pyramids and the Great Wall of China show signs of disintegration. Even the stars implode into disembodied black holes and the universe itself is grinding to a halt. The Hindus try to soften the blow. They think of destruction as change for nothing new can come about without the demolition of the existing order. For the Hindus, Shiva embodies change; Shiva, the god of destruction, who on the flip side is also the god of creation. What then could be a more appropriate symbol for him than the phallus? What organ to better depict change? One moment hugely demanding, and another as defenceless as a willy on a wet nappy.

Nowhere is change more acutely seen than in Singapore. Not change on a grand scale, not change in monumental disturbances that make you rethink your destiny but in municipal alterations: wider roads, better-looking bus-stops, easier ways for taxes to be collected… We have a term for these minuscule alterations. We call them ‘upgrading’.

What steps are we ascending or to which point are we aspiring, we do not ask. We accept that our masters know. They always know what is good for our good.

If nothing lasts forever, why do I not accept my demise? I guess that extinction cannot sit comfortably beside being. Even if I survived as long as the universe, I would regret my end and long for, maybe, a billion years more.

Perhaps I would care less if my existence had been empty. Things without purpose don’t mind not being around. I do serve, however humble, one purpose. I am, by my very nature, a protector, and one gets close to what one shields.

I have touched lives, several lives, which I now see in ghostly flashback … some clearer than others.

There was the old lady. Yes, the fat, bandy-legged one with the walking stick. She wasn’t blind but she liked to tap the ground as she walked. Just to make sure it was there, I guess. (I know only too well how things can unexpectedly change.) I used to hear her long before she came into sight. I think she felt safe when she saw me and always smiled. But my, she was a nuisance to others! Her stick often got entangled in either their legs or the straps of their shopping bags and she never had the correct bus fare. She was there every day and that was all I asked of her.

© Marshall Cavendish

by Gopal Baratham
from Gopal Baratham : Collected Short Stories (2014)
published by Marshall Cavendish Editions