The International Writers Magazine: Novel Extract
Michael has now published a collection of his short stories - several of which first appeared in Hackwriters - you can read more about his collection here:
Zach Runs from a Great Man
Michael Chacko Daniels
When his stories cautioned him, “Go slow and easy, Bombay boy, you’ve had only six months in the mysteries of the Brahmins of Boiled Bean Town; they need to see that you value every moment with them,” Zach reassured himself, “No one will miss an unpaid trainee even if he never returns to his desk.” Except, perhaps, Mr. UNK, the oldest man laboring in the newsroom.
Zach imagined Mr. UNK’s eyes peering after him through thick, gold-rimmed glasses, white eyebrows rising, as he sat with unostentatious contentedness within his allotted shoe-box-size, sub-editor’s space, where, never missing a workday, he edited newspaper copy—a sage deifying his cage.
Because of Mr. UNK, Zach had never left The Daily during work hours, except to visit the lavatory to jot down in his little green book the daily newsroom sayings and doings before they faded from his mind forever. He’d stand in a corner by the windowsill of the white-tiled lavatory with his notebook cradled in his left palm, ignore the rough grout work that looked like congealed cow dung, and make rapid notes in code, thankful that the sweeper cleaned and disinfected the squat toilet three times a day.
But no notes today: Mr. YRS, the god upstairs, had summoned him.
Maybe, Zach thought, it’ll be this one-floor-up deity, rather than the humble Mr. UNK, who’ll give a boost to my short stories.
It was about time: he owed it to his short stories to get them known or for him to be gone from this Brahmin-dominated city in south India.
He still couldn’t believe that Mr. YRS, the Rajah of Vernacular News, had called him yesterday from the Kannada-language The People’s News, a sister publication of the influential English-language Daily.
“Zacharia! Free tomorrow?” the Rajah had said, voice fever high. “Yes? Ha! Ha! Ha! Good. Never visited up here? Must remedy, without delay—”
Listening to the Rajah shoot words and laughter from the third floor—through the Soviet-style telephone and the jerry-built internal line, Zach felt a little foolish that he’d worked for six months for the same Benda Kalaru Newspaper Inc. as Mr. YRS, but hadn’t ventured up one flight of stairs to The People’s News although the older man often tossed him a soft smile or a hearty laugh, and even patted him on the back if close enough, when their paths crossed, going or coming, in-and-around the building.
But Boiled Bean Town Brahmins like Mr. YRS intimidated Zach, who’d grown up in a non-Hindu family—originally Syrian Christian. Besides, going up was like straying into a different country; crossing boundaries without a clear invitation wasn’t for him.
“Don’t worry so much, Zacharia, my friend,” the Rajah had rumbled on. “Unpaid trainee, upstairs, downstairs, I borrow any time. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Come, then.” An unexpected pause. “Bloody good editing . . . Shimoga floods!”
On hearing the praise, Zach’s expectations soared over the possibility of rolling out his short stories, like magical Arabian carpets, for this man who’d so captivated Boiled Bean Town’s literary and theatrical luminaries that they trekked up the stairs to sit with him, to just be in his presence, get a bit of darshan with the great man. (Were they hoping that some part of the Rajah’s greatness would rub off on them?) Men with shining long locks. Men with long, grey beards, much older than Mr. YRS. Men with portly bellies. Some ran up the stairs. Some rested after a few steps. And some used a cane or the shoulder of an acolyte. Mr. YRS was such a much-sought-after-man who’d laughed into the telephone and summoned him!
This morning, as he’d sloshed through Cubbon Park in the monsoon storm in his leech-proof gumboots, and his thoughts had tossed around like his black umbrella, Zach resolved to speak up when he met the legendary Mr. YRS. And the stories had joined in from his pocket, “Go, Bombay boy, go. That’s no lion-god in that upstairs den. He’s only a thoroughbred vegetarian, a laughing—no matter what—Rajah of News.”
Zach shook his head, thinking, Thoroughbred? Vegetarian? Nuth-thing like that, that is, if the many rumors were true about Mr. YRS “pleasuring” on all types of meat, including beef, in the Muslim parts of town. No! No! Stop! That, and worse, may well be, but how could a mere Bombay boy match wits with this polyglot editor—not the easiest person to understand? Past one illusion, I’ll find another. Like this new praise; after treating me for months as nuth-thing more than Zach, the Listener, why . . . why this all too sudden change? Could it be that Mr. YRS has come to understand that unlike the hacks on the two newspapers, I can’t be an acolyte forever? Certainly not in this time for youth in the New India. Not at all like in Mr. YRS’s salad days.
Could that be it? No, no. Not so. My only call to fame in the Rajah’s eyes is my brief history as the youngest person in the entire building. Of no consequence. A null. Really.
And what if Mr. YRS hadn’t actually said, “good editing”? What if with all the shouting Mr. YRS had done, he’d actually said: “Shoddy . . . editing—”?
Zach felt his stories crackling in the right pocket of his indigo safari jacket. He should stop all this Doubting-Thomas-thinking; at Bombay’s St. Michael’s, Father D’Souza would have treated Mr. YRS—Rajah or no Rajah, Mr. UNK, too, as if they were no different from Goan Catholic boys, like the good Father, himself. Father D’Souza had loved Nehru’s vision of a new, unshackled India even more than he loved the word unshackled. “Go, Bombay boy, go!” the stories urged. “Onward and upward!”
Once past the door of The Daily’s office, Zach bounded up the stairs, two at a time, to where Mr. YRS held court. Speed failed to banish uncertainty. It seldom did for him. He stopped on the landing and noted that outside the monsoon rains had stopped pounding the windowpane; red-tiled roofs glistened with rainwater. Soon, doused-and-cooled, Boiled Bean Town would warm up and the night would be full of water-plump frogs sounding more like a distant herd of buffalo than their dry-season selves.
Zach felt his heart, lungs, and brain slow down.
Entering the third floor, he heard the familiar sound of hundreds of horny crickets stridulating nonstop love songs. Caged in wood. All lined up in a row against a wooden partition to the left of the room. Singing the music of incoming news. Teleprinters.
Up here, he reflected, the lettered Rajah of News has a finger on the world’s pulse. Everything. He doesn’t need to talk to lowly me.
Black smudge clouded his mind. His shoulders sagged. But he forced hmself to keep taking it all in: the machines providing a squat but stolid backdrop for the typists, reporters, and sub editors, who were pecking and tapping on colonial-era typewriters and speaking in quick-fire Kannada; the whirring ceiling and floor fans; the muffled beat of the printing press filtering through the wooden partition.
And, right there, in the boiled-bean heart of ancient sandalwood country, Zach identified the muscular odor of machine oil. He filled his lungs with it. Chest expanded, shoulders swept back. With Mother, he recalled, it was the aroma of one hundred per cent Kerala coconut oil that pumped her up. For him it was machine oil, a whiff of the new India that made him stand tall. The India that they made and remade day after day in this building. In English and Kannada. Though the English-language publication still had primacy over its Kannada sister, he was sure that with people like Mr. YRS working on The People’s News, it wouldn’t be long before the Kannada paper took the lead.
Zach’s hand fluttered like a swallow around the bulge in his safari jacket. He’d bought the outfit from a vendor in Bombay’s Kalbadevi Bazaar, thinking it’d come in handy in the cooler weather of this city straddling the Deccan Plateau—about 3,000 ft higher than Bombay. But what he’d really loved was the jacket’s many pockets. For, like Dick Whittington he wanted to carry his fortune on his adventure.
Zach decided his stories were safe. But was he waddling, his rubber boots still stuck in the morning’s Cubbon Park muck? He corrected his gait, trying to walk to the rhythm of a marching band; he must make a good impression on the Rajah.
The Rajah was seated at a door-sized desk, below a photo gallery of garlanded, gold-framed pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the father of the paper’s founder.
What a formidable backup! thought Zach.
He watched the older man grip his black telephone like Hanuman his mace.
Am I supposed to do the darshan dance for the Great Man? he wondered. Bow . . . make a move to touch his toes . . . he bends . . . stops me? No, no, no. What if he doesn’t and my fingers end up on his toes?
And what if the Great Man puts a foot on my head? Not for nothing is he called the Rajah of Vernaclular News.
Zach recalled trimming his Old Man’s toenails, toes bloated with gout. He’d loved the quiet moments with his father, the gentle care he was able to provide. But, afterwards, no amount of scrubbing with Lifebouy carbolic soap could wash away the thought that cholera and typhoid germs had locked onto his fingers.
Just then, Mr. YRS belly-laughed, mockery giving each burst of amusement a wicked edge.
Zach’s heart pounded as if it was he who was being mocked.
He thought, Not a good time to show him my stories.
Ignoring Zach’s scrutiny, Mr. YRS roared into the black telephone in his mother tongue, “Beediyali huli, maneyalli ili.”
To Zach’s ears, untrained in the nuances of Kannada sounds, it seemed the Rajah was talking about eviscerating someone, maybe one of the state’s politicians.
“No doubt,” the Rajah continued, “North India has similar condensations of wisdom. Sans the Kannada lilt which you northerners despise, in raw, jawbone-tight English, you translate it into: ‘A tiger on the street, a mouse at home.’”
The Rajah of News slammed the telephone and Zach turned, rubber boots squeaking, and fled as if killer bees were chasing him.
He sought refuge next to the gentle Mr. UNK.
Zach Runs from a Great Man - Chapter Two starts here
Michael Chacko Daniels
For days, Zach consoled himself: The Rajah and I have nuth-thing in common. Why would a man of his standing like my stories? A week later, at the Anglo-Indian bakery, he found a common bond.
Review of Morning in Santiniketan by Michael Chacko Daniels
(Writers Workshop Calcutta, India 2010)
Reviewed by Melanie Daniels (no relation) April 8, 2011
Simply holding Morning in Santiniketan is a treasured experience. However, the colorful cloth cover only hints at the gems within. When writing haiku it is important to know the rules well enough that you break them at all the right times. In his book, Michael Chacko Daniels has done just that. Not only are the poems both playful and heartfelt, but I believe there is a certain level of magic involved. The imagery captures the imagination, but the words seem to hold a prophetic quality.
For example I opened my copy at random to haiku #29: Racoon Picnic
Ball of fur rises...
little bear fat cat Trickster?
This poem is amusing and unorthodox, and just happened to describe the exact scene in my compost bin as I approached it that evening. The book ranges from haikus like this to the profound. The images are vibrant, specific and expansive. The words create eternity from a moment, intricacy from simplicity and vision out of the everyday. This all happens in short bursts, but together these bursts create a cohesive musical score.
Each evening a few of us read aloud our favorite haiku from Morning in Santiniketan to each other. When I asked one friend which one was her favorite, she replied that if she sat with any one of these haiku that it would become her favorite. That’s high praise!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Michael Chacko Daniels is a former community worker and clown who grew up in Bombay, India. His past adventures include five years as a Volunteer In Service To America, four as editor/publisher of the New River Free Press of Grand Rapids, MI, and 16 running the Jobs for Homeless Consortium. During his years at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living he edited and designed The Architecture of Independence series. He lives and works in San Francisco. His writing has appeared in Apollo's Lyre, Cricket Online Review, Denver Syntax, dragonfire, Eclectica, Grey Sparrow Journal, Hackwriters, Popular Ink, Quicksilver, SHALLA Magazine, and The Battered Suitcase. Writers Workshop, Calcutta, has published four of his books: Split in Two (Poetry, 2004), Anything Out of Place Is Dirt (Novel, 2004), That Damn Romantic Fool (Novel, 2005), and Morning in Santiniketan (Haiku, 2010). Website: http://indiawritingstation.com/
Getting Back to Basics with Brassica
Michael Chacko Daniels
I sit in the dental chair expecting and not-expecting pain. The SF-Oakland Bay Bridge looms large outside the picture window. I turn back the clock over four decades, reflecting on the teeth I still have and the teeth I no longer have.
© M Chako Daniels May 2017
To find out more contact the author - firstname.lastname@example.org