D. Ravikumar’s Unique Letter: A Tamil Short Story in Translation


The title of the original story is ‘ழ’, a character in Tamil script read with a voiced retroflex approximation sound. Referred to as “zha” in translation, it resembles the sound of the letter “r” in the word “red” in the native English language. Tamil is the only language that has an exclusive character for this sound in its script. In fact, the word ‘Tamil’ should be pronounced as ‘Thamizh’, with the voiced retroflex approximant at the end.

“Wthere’s something going on, paasked Adheethan with eager eyes. I looked in the direction he was pointing.

A man was stretched out. Two people stood on either side of him, pulling the ends of a rope tied around his neck. His face was contorted with pain, his eyes bulged and his mouth open. Another man spread his legs and inserted a needle into the man’s erect phallus. A few policemen stood around with serious eyes like doctors at an operating table. The picture resembled a painting in its lighting and clarity. The photographer who took the picture must have been an expert.

“This man is sick and the doctors are treating him,” I replied, averting Adheethan’s face from the nauseating picture. But his head involuntarily returned there. Despite the air conditioning, the low roar of which seemed to tell us to remain silent, my shirt was soaked in sweat. I felt the silence spread across the room and lay heavy on me like melted wax. I thought I heard the groans and screams from the pictures on the wall and shuddered.

Adheethan sat on my lap. I tousled his hair with my fingers, trying to focus on the strange calm his presence caused in me. But the next moment the fear of what was going to happen rose up my spine.

I didn’t notice it until I walked into this room: the investigative office was run entirely by women. Their olive green uniforms made even these pretty women look menacing. With faces as hostile and stern as their starched uniforms, they ran like machines in straight lines.

I couldn’t stop my eyes from scanning the walls. Huge, colorful pictures were lined up on the plain walls – illustrations of torture methods used in the investigation.

It brought back memories of my childhood. In my teacher’s house there used to be a calendar with pictures of the various punishments that were imposed in hell. There was one of the women impaled on long poles and dragged to a vat of boiling oil for adultery. It was the first time I saw adult women naked. These pictures never scared me. In fact, they had a strange attraction. But perhaps out of my fear, the images in this room made me fearful of punishment.

I never thought I’d end up in an interrogation room. The more I thought about it, the angrier I was with my wife.

I had specifically asked her not to let anyone into the house. These people came and said they had to write down our electricity meter readings. That had landed us here now!

Chaos had broken out after the country’s oldest guru suddenly died last week. After an investigation, authorities claimed the death was caused by an A shell vaazhai pazham [banana] who lay on the path of the guru and suspected that the residents of Paazh city were behind this conspiracy. Since the unique “Zha” sound was the common thread between the words Paazh and vaazhai pazham, they also concluded that the Language War movement was involved in the plot.

The government announced two days ago that the letter “zha” had been removed from the language and any further use by anyone would be considered an act of sedition; the letter “sha” was recommended as a replacement.

I never thought that such measures would follow.

How could anyone have thought that forensic scientists would search every home to see if anyone was still using the forbidden letter?

I looked at the picture that hung in the center of the wall. It was one of Krishna that Arjuna was preaching, saying, “You pay tribute to God through sacrifices. God loves you for it. By becoming one with him, you attain a sublime state. ”Was it intended to prepare me for whatever awaited me?

The door connecting this room to the next opened noiselessly and a policeman came out on the other side.

“Are you Kumar?”

“Yes, that’s me,” I got up. He motioned for me to follow and passed the door he had come out through. I took Adheethan’s arm and went into the other room. It felt like a different room. I couldn’t decide whether it was a hall or a courtroom. His style was a mix of modern architecture and the style of palaces that I had only seen in old movies.

A man in a saffron uniform was sitting on a dais in the middle of the room. You could tell from his demeanor that he was a high-ranking official. Adheethan and I were put on a cage-like witness stand.

In the distance I heard something like a temple bell ringing. The interrogation began as if on cue.

“Don’t you know the government’s order?” asked the officer in a friendly voice.

“I know, sir. It was announced on TV, ”I replied. The tremor in my body betrayed the fear I was trying so hard to hide.

“How did that happen then?” he asked and pressed a button. A picture appeared on the opposite wall. The letter “zha” was scrawled in familiar handwriting throughout. Occasionally the letter “i-” also appeared. Now everything suddenly made sense. That was Adheethan’s job! That was a wall in our house! Adheethan had scrawled all over the wall with the colored pencils Arulapan had given for his birthday.

“How beautifully he writes the letter ‘i-‘ … See how perfect his ‘zha’ is! His strokes have an artistic touch, ”Arulapan said when he bought the colored pencils.

“My son wrote this on our wall to practice the letters he learned in school. And … besides … he did it last month, “I stammered, pointing to Adheethan.

“You teach your child to paint graffiti on walls?” The friendliness in his voice had disappeared and was now replaced by suspicion.

“No, nothing like that…. He’s just a little boy. He did it himself…. He didn’t mean anything, sir. “

“We also checked his school. His class teacher confirmed that he is the only student who can write this letter that well. How do you explain that?”

“There is no particular reason, sir. He just practiced it so much that he does it well. ”My voice cracked pathetically.

“We checked your files. There are no comments so far. Since this is your first offense, we’ll let you go with a warning. You have to make Sanskrit your second language. And whitewash your walls white right away and get a certificate from forensics after they inspect your home. Don’t let us catch you for such an offense again. You need to know what the sedition penalty is by now, right? So you better be careful! “

I didn’t know what to answer and nodded.

The friendly smile reappeared on his face now. “You can go now, son!” He raised his arm as if to bless us.

The policeman leading me motioned to me with a nod, and I followed him with Adheethan. I was glad they let us go. I didn’t expect the interrogation to end so quickly. I wondered if Adheethan’s presence with me was the reason. For some reason I was convinced that they would not punish children.

We came out of the interrogation office. The city was as busy as ever. I wanted to buy something for Adheethan.

“Do you want to eat something?”


“Would you like to buy some toys -” I started to ask, but stopped abruptly. I didn’t know where we’d end up if he asked about a toy gun.

“No, pa,” he said.

Thank you God!

“Shall we go home then?”

“For sure, pa. “

We walked to catch a tram.

Pa… Can I no longer learn ‘a-‘ for ‘amma’, ‘aa-‘ for ‘aasiriyar’? ”He asked.

“Let’s go home and talk. You mustn’t ask about anything now. You are a good boy aren’t you? Now listen to your app “, I answered and looked around carefully.

Fortunately, we caught a tram shortly afterwards.

Story selected by Mini Krishnan

Reproduced with permission from Vitasta

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