On the way to my ancestral house in Meppadi, there used to be a well. I grew up listening to stories from my older cousins, “…. if you put three stones at once and whisper your wish to the well, then a Djinn will appear. But you have to make sure that nobody is watching you. Only and only if you are alone will this work.” At first I thought it was one of their classic pranks and did not believe them, but still decided to test it. So,whenever I was sent to Meppadi town to deliver lunch to Valliuppachi, I would always carry three stones in my trouser’s pocket. But each time I wanted to test this story/ theory, I could never manage to do it because of the passersby. Sometimes, it would be the Jeep that shuttles to Cholamala and at other times it was either the women who would cut the tea leaves in the plantations or the estate manager sporting his trousers and diesel bullet.
Soon after this, they admitted me to the Madrasa in Meppadi town and I would have to go everyday early in the morning with a small bag of religious books. Our Ustad would everyday ask questions and those who failed to answer him would incur his wrath. On most days, I would be his prime target. Although,one day when I was going to Madrasa, the road to Meppadi was deserted. There was no sight either of the tea cutting women or the manger in his bullet nor of the jeep from Cholamala. I felt really excited that at least today I could test the stones in the well. But my excitement didn’t last long when I remembered what Kunhahammdkka was telling Valliuppachi yesterday about the leopard that was spotted in the roads and the estate. Last year also, around the same time leopard had come from the hills and had eaten cattles and the elder son of Anthruman Haji. All these stories that I heard of the leopard literally sent chills down my spine.But I was determined to test the well and the story this time. With all my strength I ran towards the well, keeping the stones in my hand and I threw it finally, whispering my wish, ‘I need a Djinn by my side’.
Just then fog covered the well and the mighty Chembra at the same time and someone emerged from the well. At first I couldn’t believe myself but screamed my heart out “Djinn… Djinn….” and started running. I must have crossed the second turn from the well and was panting and sweating profusely when I suddenly stopped thinking to myself, “…I have only called for a Djinn. Why should I get scared?”
Mustering some courage, I slowly turned back and searched for the Djinn. It was completely foggy and I could barely see anything. But slowly through the fog, I saw a dwarf man with a gray beard walking towards me. I could hardly believe what I was seeing because this was not the image of a Djinn that I had ever thought of – A big oversized dirty black coloured coat with old and torned pants. It looked like someone from the Jumbo circus team that was in town last summer. Nobody else wore such coats in Meppadi, I was very sure of that. I was literally shocked and I just pointed at him and asked, “Djinn ?” He nodded in affirmation. But I was still unsure and was curiously looking at him. That’s when I saw a pair of tiny wings inside his long dirty coat. The wings were just as dirty as his entire outfit. When he realised that I was looking at his wings, he quickly covered it with his coat. But seeing the wings, it was confirmed that he was a Djinn.
I approached him with a smile and introduced myself and told him how I had thrown the stone and whispered the wish, the leopard scare and everything. But he just nodded. It was as if he literally didn’t care about it. I thought to myself that maybe he was just tired. I didn’t want to bore him or disappear so I stopped and asked him about his well being. To that he just answered in one word, “Fine”.
After getting multiple such one word answers, I thought to myself if he was tired or just lazy. And just like the fog covers Chembra, awkwardness covered us. I didn’t know what to ask and the Djinn seemed uninterested in everything. But I somehow gathered some courage and asked him, ” You can fulfill people’s wishes right? Can I tell you my first wish?” With the same poker face, Djinn nodded his head. I didn’t like this reaction at all but still I asked him, ” My Usthad in the Madrassa will asks us questions everyday and those who don’t answer properly get beaten up with this big stick.” I showed him how big the stick. You have to save me today if he beats me. ” Will you do that?” Just like his previous answers this one was also the same nod. I was very happy and asked him to accompany me to the Madrassa as we started walking.
After the attendance when Usthad started asking questions, I was very confident. My friend who sat next to me was quite terrified of seeing me this confident and asked, ” Generally you start trembling by now. What has happened to you today? Usthad is coming towards us. Aren’t you scared?” I just smiled at him and told him to wait and watch. When it was my friend’s turn he stood up, answered the question but when Usthad gave his disapproving nod he quietly stretched out his hands and took his beatings. After that Usthad turned towards me and asked me to recite a verse that he had taught yesterday. I didn’t remember the verse clearly, but I was sure that Djinn would save me. The Usthad repeatedly asked me to stand up and answer. But I sat there pretending that I didn’t hear him. When he asked me to stretch out my hand to take the blow of his stick, I did it very carelessly knowing that Djinn would save me. But just then the stick’s blow hit me and the only thing I could remember was screaming out of pain. Usthad beat me to pulp, for not answering his question but mainly for my lack of respect. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I searched for the Djinn everywhere. I had thought the Djinn would come and stop the stick from hitting me. But instead I had gotten extra beatings and punishment.
I was very disappointed while walking back home and I didn’t speak to Djinn who was walking right behind me. He tried to talk to me, but I was so angry at him that I didn’t even want to see his face. But after some time had passed, I feared that if I stayed angry at him for longer he might disappear. Then I meekly but firmly asked him, ” Why did you cheat me? Look at my hand, it’s still red.” He didn’t say anything but he looked at my hand with a sad face and said ” All the authorities who use their force against common men will face the heat one day.’’ I didn’t understand anything but didn’t mind it much because this was the first time he had actually spoken something more than a syllable. I was so excited that he had spoken to me and said, “I forgive you. Ustad’s beating isn’t new for me, but I have a serious wish and you have to fulfill this for me. Will you do it?”
His facial expression changed quickly at this question and he nodded in his usual way. I reminded him, “You can’t cheat me this time. I need you to do this for me, Djinn. I want to fly.” I was expecting either a ‘YES’ or a ‘NO’ but Djinn didn’t say anything and had his usual expressionless face. I was so excited to fly therefore suggested that we go to the hillock and try. But somehow Djinn didn’t like the idea and convinced me that it was not a good day to fly. He dropped me at home and promised me that the next day I would fly from the hillock.
I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I woke up, when it was dark and was waiting for the sun to rise. When the sun was up, I ran to the hillock. Because I didn’t want to be late for the madrassa, I carried my bag. But only when I reached the top of the hillock did I realize that Djinn wasn’t anywhere to be seen and neither was my skull cap. Even though I knew that if I went to the madrassa without my skull cap, I decided to wait for Djinn till it was time for the madrassa. Because then I could fly home and collect my skull cap before the madrassa started. I waited for Djinn to appear like he had appeared the other day from the well, but he was nowhere to be seen. I searched for him everywhere and even screamed for him. But I didn’t really know his name. Later when it was almost time for the madrassa, I gave up any hope of either finding Djinn or flying. I felt so dizzy as if everything around me was moving very fast and I was caught in a whirlpool. I cried a lot on my way to the madrassa. On reaching there, I got extra beatings from Usthad that day for being late, forgetting my skull cap and as usual not being able to recite the verses that were taught yesterday. But I didn’t feel the pain that day at all. I wasn’t sad because I was not able to fly but because I lost the djinn. I felt like I had lost a friend.
Days passed by, I missed the Djinn and one day when I was coming back from the madrasa I saw the Djinn near the well. He looked very tired, his old coat and pants were torn and there were blood stains on his wings. He tried to smile at me when he saw me. I was so excited to see him that I ran towards him. Panting I asked him all the questions that I had, “Where were you, Djinn? You know that day I searched for you everywhere. I even got beatings from Usthad because I reached late that day. Can we please fly today?” Djinn had the same expressionless face and didn’t reply to any of my questions. He just looked at me with his sad eyes. In my excitement, when I almost touched his blood stained wings, he tried to hide it away from me, just like a shame plant when it shuts its leaves. I took his silence for a yes and grabbed his hand and ran towards the hillock. I was sweating like a cross country runner when we reached the top but the Djinn didn’t sweat at all even in his coat. I thought to myself that maybe Djinns do not sweat. I didn’t want to waste any time so I almost dragged him to the end of a huge rock and told him, “I will sit on your back, You run from the mangosteen tree and jump towards the end point of the rock and fly. Are you ready?’’ He didn’t say anything. This time he did not even nod. Without waiting for his reply, I jumped on his back as he started running.I tightly held his bruised wings as he jumped from the rock. I closed my eyes and raised my hands hoping to touch the clouds. But when I opened my eyes I wasn’t touching the clouds but was clinging to a tree branch. There was blood dripping from my hands and when I looked down, Djinn had fallen on a rock. His dirty off- white wings were fully covered in blood and his eyes were closed. All that was left of him was a feather from his wings in my fist.
I am Sorry, dear readers, that Djinn died because of me. I didn’t know that my childish wish would be the reason for his death. But recently, I saw Djinn again. His face was on a white banner that the tea estate workers were carrying in their protest along with their red flags. On the banner, Djinn surely looked a little older than when I had last seen him. His beard was a little more gray, but his small eyes and old coat were exactly the same. But I couldn’t see his wings anywhere. Maybe they turned red with his blood the day he fell from the rock. Maybe that’s how the worker’s flag turned red.