“The God of Small Things” By Arundhati Roy 46
She thought of Slow being a person. Slow Kurien. Slow Kutty. Slow Mol. Slow
Slow Kutty. Fast Verghese. And Kuriakore. Three brothers with dandruff.
Ammu did hers in a whisper. Against the side of the pot so you couldn’t hear. Her
father’s hardness had left her eyes and they were Ammu-eyes again. She had deep
dimples in her smile and didn’t seem angry anymore. About Velutha or the spit bubble.
That was a Good Sign.
Estha Alone in HIS had to piss onto naphthalene balls and cigarette stubs in the
urinal. To piss in the pot would be Defeat. To piss in the urinal, he was too short. He
needed Height. He searched for Height, and in a corner of HIS, he found it. A dirty
broom, a squash bottle half-full of a milky liquid (phenyl) with floaty black things in it A
limp floorswab, and two rusty tin cans of nothing. They could have been Paradise Pickle
products. Pineapple chunks in syrup. Or slices. Pineapple slices. His honor redeemed
by his grandmother’s cans, Estha Alone organized the rusty cans of nothing in front of
the urinal. He stood on them, one foot on each, and pissed carefully, with minimal
wobble. Like a Man. The cigarette stubs, soggy then, were wet now, and swirly. Hard to
light. When he finished, Estha moved the cans to the basin in front of the mirror. He
washed his hands and wet his hair. Then, dwarfed by the size of Ammu’s comb that was
too big for him, he reconstructed his puff carefully. Slicked back, then pushed forward
and swiveled sideways at the very end. He returned the comb to his pocket, stepped off
the tins and put them back with the bottle and swab and broom. He bowed to them all.
The whole shooting match. The bottle, the broom, the cans, the limp floorswab.
impression that you had to say “Bow” when you bowed. That you had to say it to do it.
“Bow, Estha,” they’d say. And he’d bow and say, “Bow,” and they’d look at each other
and laugh, and he’d worry.
Estha Alone of the uneven teeth.
Outside, he waited for his mother, his sister and his baby grandaunt. When they came
out, Ammu said “Okay, Esthappen?”
Estha said, “Okay,” and shook his head carefully to preserve his puff.
Okay? Okay. He put the comb back into her handbag. Ammu felt a sudden clutch of
love for her reserved, dignified little son in his beige and pointy shoes, who had just
completed his first adult assignment She ran loving fingers through his hair. She spoiled
The Man with the steel Eveready Torch said that the picture had started, so to hurry.
They had to rush up the red steps with the old red carpet Red staircase with red spit
stains in the red corner. The Man with the Torch scrunched up his mundu and held it
tucked under his balls, in his left hand. As he climbed, his calf muscles hardened under
his climbing skin like hairy cannonballs. He held the torch in his right hand. He hurried
with his mind.
“It started long ago,” he said.
So they’d missed the beginning. Missed the rippled velvet curtain going up, with
lightbulbs in the clustered yellow tassels. Slowly up, and the music would have been
“Baby Elephant Walk” from Hatan Or “Colonel Bogey’s March.”
Ammu held Estha’s hand. Baby Kochamma, heaving up the steps, held Rahel’s. Baby
Kochamma, weighed down by her melons, would not admit to herself that she was
looking forward to the picture. She preferred to feel that she was only doing it for the
children’s sake. In her mind she kept an organized, careful account of Things She’d
Done For People, and Things People Hadn’t Done For Her.
explained to Estha and Rahel that people always loved best what they Identified most
with. Rahel supposed she Identified most with Christopher Plummer, who acted as
Baron von Trapp. Chacko didn’t Identify with him at all and called him Baron von Clapp-
“The God of Small Things” By Arundhati Roy 47
Rahel was like an excited mosquito on a leash. Flying. Weightless. Up two steps.
Down two. Up one. She climbed five flights of red stairs for Baby Kochamma’s one.
I’m Popeye the sailor man dum dum
I live in a cara-van dum dum lop-en the door
And fall-on the floor
I’m Popeye the sailor man dum dum.
Up two. Down two. Up one.Jump, jump.
“Rahel,” Ammu said, “you haven’t Learned your Lesson yet. Have you?”
Rahel had: Excitement Always Leads to Tears. Dum dum.
They arrived at the Princess Circle lobby. They walked past the Refreshments
Counter where the orangedrinks were waiting. And the lemondrinks were waiting. The
orange too orange. The lemon too lemon. The chocolates too melty.
The Torch Man opened the heavy Princess Circle door into the fan-whirring, peanut-
crunching darkness. It smelled of breathing people and hairoil. And old carpets. A
magical, Sound of Music smell that Rahel remembered and treasured. Smells, like
Estha had the tickets. Little Man. He lived in a caravan. Dum dum.
The Torch Man shone his light on the pink tickets. Row J. Numbers 17, 18, 19, 20.
Estha, Ammu, Rahel, Baby Kochamma. They squeezed past irritated people who
moved their legs this way and that to make space. The seats of the chairs had to be
pulled down. Baby Kochamma held Rahel’s seat down while she climbed on. She
wasn’t heavy enough, so the chair folded her into itself like sandwich stuffing, and she
watched from between her knees. Two knees and a fountain. Estha, with more dignity
than that, sat on the edge of his chair.
The shadows of the fans were on the sides of the screen where the picture wasn’t.
Off with the torch. On with the World Hit
The camera soared up in the skyblue (car-colored) Austrian sky with the clear, sad
sound of church bells.
Far below, on the ground, in the courtyard of the abbey, the cobblestones were
shining. Nuns walked across it. Like slow cigars. Quiet nuns clustered quietly around
their Reverend Mother, who never read their letters. They gathered like ants around a
crumb of toast. Cigars around a queen Cigar. No hair on their knees. No melons in their
blouses. And their breath like peppermint. They had complaints to make to their
Reverend Mother. Sweetsinging complaints. About Julie Andrews, who was still up in
the hills, singing. The hills are alive with the sound of music, and was, once again, late
She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee
The nuns sneaked musically.
Her dress has got a tear
She waltzes on her way to Mass
And whistles on the stair…
People in the audience were turning around.
“Shhh!” they said.
Shh! Shh! Shh!
And underneath her wimple
She has curlers in her hair
There was a voice from outside the picture. It was clear and true, cutting through the
fan-whirring, peanut-crunching darkness.
There was a nun in the audience. Heads twisted around like bottle caps. Black-haired
backs of heads became faces with mouths and mustaches. Hissing mouths with teeth
like sharks. Many of them. Like stickers on a card.
“Shhhh!” they said together. It was Estha who was singing. A nun with a puff. An Elvis
Pelvis Nun. He couldn’t help it.
“Get him out of here!” The Audience said, when they found him.
“The God of Small Things” By Arundhati Roy 48
Shutup or Getout. Getout or Shutup.
The Audience was a Big Man. Estha was a Little Man, with the tickets.
“Estha for heaven’s sake, shut UP!!” Ammu’s fierce whisper said. So Estha shut UP.
The mouths and mustaches turned away. But then, without warning, the song came
back, and Estha couldn’t stop it.
“Ammu, can I go and sing it outside?” Estha said (before Ammu smacked him). “I’ll
come back after the song.”
“But don’t ever expect me to bring you out again,” Ammu said. “You’re embarrassing
all of us.”
But Estha couldn’t help it. He got up to go. Past angry Ammu.
Past Rahel concentrating through her knees. Past Baby Kochamma.
Past the Audience that had to move its legs again. Thiswayandthat.
The red sign over the door said EXIT in a red light. Estha EXITed.
In the lobby, the orangedrinks were waiting. The lemondrinks were waiting. The melty
chocolates were waiting. The electric blue foamleather car-sofas were waiting. The
Coming Soon! posters were waiting.
Estha Alone sat on the electric blue foamleather car-sofa, in the Abhilash Talkies
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say?
The man behind the Refreshments Counter, who’d been asleep on a row of stools,
waiting for the interval, woke up. He saw, with gummy eyes, Estha Alone in his beige
and pointy shoes. And his spoiled puff. The Man wiped his marble counter with a
dirtcolored rag. And he waited. And waiting he wiped. And wiping he waited. And
watched Estha sing.
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
“Ay! Eda cherukka!” The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said, in a gravelly voice thick
with sleep. “What the hell d’you think you’re doing?”
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?
“Ay!” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said. “Look, this is my Resting Time. Soon I’ll
have to wake up and work. So I can’t have you singing English songs here. Stop it.” His
gold wristwatch was almost hidden by his curly forearm hair. His gold chain was almost
hidden by his chest hair. His white Terylene shirt was unbuttoned to where the swell of
his belly began. He looked like an unfriendly jeweled bear. Behind him there were
mirrors for people to look at themselves in while they bought cold drinks and
refreshments. To reorganize their puffs and settle their buns. The mirrors watched
“I could file a Written Complaint against you,” the Man said to Estha. “How would you
like that? A Written Complaint?”
Estha stopped singing and got up to go back in.
“Now that I’m up,” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said, “now that you’ve woken me
up from my Resting Time, now that you’ve disturbed me, at least come and have a
drink. It’s the least you can do.”
He had an unshaven, jowly face. His teeth, like yellow piano keys, watched little Elvis
“No thank you,” Elvis said politely. “My family will be expecting me. And I’ve finished
my pocket money.”
“Porketmunny?” The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said with his teeth still watching.
`First English songs, and now Porketmunny! Where d’you live? On the moon?”
Estha turned to go.
“The God of Small Things” By Arundhati Roy 49
“Wait a minute!” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said sharply. “Just a minute!” he
said again, more gently, “I thought I asked you a question.’
His yellow teeth were magnets. They saw, they smiled, they sang, they smelled, they
moved. They mesmerized.
“I asked you where you lived,” he said, spinning his nasty web. “Ayemenem,” Estha
said. “I live in Ayemenem. My grandmother owns Paradise Pickles & Preserves. She’s
the Sleeping Partner.”
“Is she, now?” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said. “And who does she sleep
He laughed a nasty laugh that Estha couldn’t understand. “Never mind. You wouldn’t
“Come and have a drink,” he said. “A Free Cold Drink. Come. Come here and tell me
all about your grandmother.”
Estha went. Drawn by yellow teeth. –
“Here. Behind the counter,” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said. He dropped his
voice to a whisper. “It has to be a secret because drinks are not allowed before the
interval. It’s a Theater Offense. Cognizable,” he added after a pause.
Estha went behind the Refreshments Counter for his Free Cold Drink. He saw the
three high stools arranged in a row for the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man to sleep on.
The wood shiny from his sitting.
“Now if you’ll kindly hold this for me,” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said, handing
Estha his penis through his soft white muslin dhoti, “I’ll get you your drink. Orange?
Estha held it because he had to.
“Orange? Lemon?” the Man said. “Lemonorange?”
“Lemon, please,” Estha said politely.
He got a cold bottle and a straw. So he held a bottle in one hand and a penis in the
other. Hard, hot, veiny. Not a moonbeam.
The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’s hand closed over Estha’s. His thumbnail was long
like a woman’s. He moved Estha’s hand up and down. First slowly. Then fastly.
The lemondrink was cold and sweet. The penis hot and hard.
The piano keys were watching.
“So your grandmother runs a factory?” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said. “What
kind of factory?”
“Many products,” Estha said, not looking, with the straw in his mouth. “Squashes,
pickles, jams, curry powders. Pineapple slices.”
“Good,” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said, “Excellent” His hand closed tighter
over Estha’s. Tight and sweaty. And faster still.
Fast foster flies: –
Never let it rest
Until the fast is faster;
And the faster’s fest.
Through the soggy paper straw (almost flattened with spit and fear), the liquid lemon
sweetness rose. Blowing through the straw (while his other hand moved), Estha blew
bubbles into the bottle. Stickysweet lemon bubbles of the drink he couldn’t drink. In his
head he listed his grandmother’s produce.
“The God of Small Things” By Arundhati Roy 50
Then the gristly-bristly face contorted, and Estha’s hand was wet and hot and sticky. It
had egg white on it. White egg white. Quarterboiled.
The lemondrink was cold and sweet. The penis was soft and shriveled like an empty
leather change purse. With his dirtcolored rag, the man wiped Estha’s other hand.
“Now finish your drink,” he said, and affectionately squished a cheek of Estha’s
bottom. Tight plums in drainpipes. And beige and pointy shoes. “You mustn’t waste it,”
he said. “Think of all the poor people who have nothing to eat or drink. You’re a lucky
rich boy, with porketmunny and a grandmother’s factory to inherit. You should Thank
God that you have no worries. Now finish your drink.”
And so, behind the Refreshments Counter, in the Abhilash Talkies Princess Circle
finished his free bottle of fizzed, lemon-flavored fear. His lemon too lemon, too cold. Too
sweet. The fizz came up his nose. He would be given another bottle soon (free, fizzed
fear). But he didn’t know that yet. He held his sticky Other Hand away from his body.
It wasn’t supposed to touch anything.
When Estha finished his drink, the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said, “Finished?
He took the empty bottle and the flattened straw, and sent Estha back into The Sound
Back inside the hairoil darkness, Estha held his Other Hand carefully (upwards, as
though he was holding an imagined orange). He slid past the Audience (their legs
moving thiswayandthat), past Baby Kochamma, past Rahel (still tilted back), past Ammu
(still annoyed). Estha sat down, still holding his sticky orange.
And there was Baron von Clapp-Trapp—Christopher Plummer. Arrogant.
Hardhearted. With a mouth like a slit. And a steel shrill police whistle. A captain with
seven children. Clean children, like a packet of peppermints. He pretended not to love
them, but he did. He loved them. He loved her (Julie Andrews), she loved him, they
loved the children, the children loved them. They all loved each other. They were clean,
white children, and their beds were soft with Ei. Der. Downs.
The house they lived in had a lake and gardens, a wide staircase, white doors and
windows, and curtains with flowers.
The clean white children, even the big ones, were scared of the thunder. To comfort
them, Julie Andrews put them all into her clean bed, and sang them a clean song about
a few of her favorite things. These were a few of her favorite things:
(1) Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes.
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