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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Life Stories

The Secret Brotherhood of Sairam
• Namitha Varma
The party was heating up. Akhil wanted a cigarette. Now. No one had any left. But where would he get one at this god-forsaken two am?


Someone said he could go to Parle Circle and find Sairam. He didn’t even stop to think who this Sairam was and how he was to find him. He screeched the tyres of his SUV and sped to Parle Circle, eight kilometres away.

The junction was, of course, deserted. He wondered what he was supposed to do. He stopped his car at the silent petrol bunk at a corner and looked around. Was he supposed to holler this Sairam fellow’s name? Was he supposed to walk around the circle till this mysterious Sairam spotted him? Was he supposed to wait inside the car and wait for the man to turn up and knock on his window? He banged his angry fist on the car – a stray dog jumped up in alarm from his cosy spot, let out a reflex bark, gave him a dirty look, and slunk away to find a quieter spot.

He wondered if he should wait or give up. Oh heck, he’d come so far, he might as well get some fresh air and wait for a few minutes. Good thing he brought a beer along – at least he won’t feel lonely.
He slumped into the seat and opened the beer bottle with his molars, hoping this Sai-fucking-ram would apparate from thin air around him.

A few seconds later, a bike with two alcohol-high boys passed him by. He watched them turn left and stop. And within what seemed like seconds, they were smoking a cigarette.
Oh. My. God. I want that. Now.
He wasted no time in getting out of the car and walking to the pair. “Dudes, where’d you get the cigarette from?”
One of the boys looked at him through foxy bloodshot eyes and nodded towards his right. Akhil looked past his shoulders to an empty road. He was more confused than ever. “Huh?”
“Never bought from Sairam before?”
“Walk down that road. Stop when you reach a heart sign on the wall, about twenty metres down. Call out his name out softly.”

Finally it seemed right. The secret brotherhood code. He was in Sairam’s elitist late-night tobacco circle now. He felt a tingle as he walked to this clandestine wall rendezvous point.
The heart sign was there for all to see. Such a ubiquitous, simple and commonplace sign for this elite group. So clever of Sairam to devise such a ruse.
“Sairam,” he whispered to the wall. Something moved behind the wall; he unconsciously slipped back a few paces. A tiny head with a shock of messy black hair and a thick moustache sprouted up the wall.
“What brand?” the head asked. Akhil’s shock refused to die. He stared open-mouthed at the brotherhood’s mastermind. Really?
“Bhaiya, fast tell your brand. Police coming, they catch me.”
“Classic. Regular.” He managed to snap out of it finally. “Why do you have to do this?” he asked while Sairam fumbled in a jute bag to find his brand.
“Saab, you want cigarette this time, I sell. But illegal. Police see, take me lock-up. You no go, I go jail.”
Akhil pondered over that as he pulled out money from his wallet. “What is on the other side of the wall, Sairam?”
“This side? Public toilets, saab. I sitting in corner, no dirty. That side, toilet side, full dirty. Bad smell coming. I put agarbathi, saab. Very little smell coming.”

He flicked out his Zippo lighter and lit a cigarette, taking a long, relaxing drag. “Why can’t you sell during day time like others?”
“Day time sale? I sale. Afternoon three to morning three.”
“Why not from morning nine to night nine?”
“Saab why you asking question question. You police? Detective?” There was panic in the boy’s voice.
“No, Sairam,” Akhil said in his best soothing voice. “I’m curious… Interest,” he fumbled for the Hindi word for curious. Nope, he didn’t know it. But Sairam seemed to have fathomed his meaning any way.
“Oh. Saab, morning this area three shopwallahs selling cigarette. Night, after ten, no shopwallahs. I get more business, saab.” He flashed his yellow teeth in a grin at Akhil, making him smile.
“Ok Sairam. I’ll come again. And bring friends with me next time.”

Sairam looked satisfied. “Come come saab. But no make noise, okay? Police, no no.” He climbed down whatever he was standing on to allow him the roadside view, and disappeared. Akhil walked away from the secret brotherhood’s meeting point, still smiling.

Namitha Varma is a media professional based in Mangaluru, India. She is a voracious reader, a music enthusiast and an opinionated social observer. Her works have been previously published in Sahitya Akademi’s journal Indian Literature (May/June 2014), eFiction India (various issues), Coffee Shop Poems, Flash Fiction Magazine, and A Little Poetry. Her poem has been read out on NPR Radio as part of the National Poetry Month, via #TMMPoetry. She can be reached on twitter via @namithavr.

1:Bhaiya- Brother, in Hindi
2:Saab - Sir, in Hindi
3: Agarbathi - Fragrant incense sticks

© Namitha Varma December 2014

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