He wakes everyday to toll of temple bells, ring of church bells, and call of Azan in the valley. He doesn’t know if he is a Christian, a Hindu, or, a Muslim. But he prays at all these places. He knows the pujari of the temple, the reverend father of the church and the kazi at the Masjid. Nobody knows how Lalla came to the valley. But he appeared one day at his master’s door asking for a job. His master is a retired civil servant living in a bungalow with a small garden in the valley. The valley lies in the outskirts of the great city and is free from the hubbub and turmoil of its streets. His master is a kind man. It is the master’s second marriage after his first wife died and the mistress’ second one, too.
Lalla looks majestic as he is tall and has an erect posture. His long hair is tied into a bun at the top of his head. Apart from this he has little body hair, hardly any facial hair. His body is muscular and strong having strong musculature around the chest, thighs and calves. Looking at him anyone would assume he is a wrestler or a boxer. He can always be found watering plants in his master’s garden, or, washing his car, light tasks he did diligently. He is not paid a monthly salary as other servants but a weekly allowance. He says he has had primary education and can read and write. He is often seen reading a Hindi newspaper.
In the morning he brushes his teeth with a neem stick and then eats the breakfast which the cook keeps at the door in an aluminium plate. Then he waters the plants in the garden and then he washes the car before he has a bath. His bath is situated in the garden behind a few bushes. At night he is the bungalow’s guard watching over his master’s house. In the night there are intruders from the slums, a short distance away. The bungalow stands in a cluster of similar houses in a valley formed by two knots of hills. They call it the Parsik Hills. The slum had sprouted on the outer side of the valley, and was making a steady growth up the hills on one side. The slum people come and take whatever is left outside the house: the garbage bin, the car tyre, the music system of the car, and sometimes, entire patches of tiles from the sidewalk. The car is usually parked outside the garden as the gate isn’t big enough to let it enter.
“Lalla have you washed the car? Have you watered the plants?” His mistress would shout from the first floor bedroom dressed in her crumpled house clothes. He thinks she looks haggard in the morning without a bath and make up. But when she is made up and properly dressed she looks nice, even, pretty.
From as far as he knows he has been called Lalla, meaning little child. He has no surname. When his master asked his name he said “Lalla.” The eldest person in the eunuch’s colony had called him Lalla. Only he knew who Lalla’s real parents were because he had brought him to the colony. His name was Lalloo and he died one day. With that hopes of finding Lalla’s real parents waned. Soon after Lalla had to leave the colony where he lived, as he wanted to work for himself and not beg for alms.
Thereafter, he kept no score of his age or the years he has worked for different masters. He doesn’t know the names of his masters and mistresses and only knows them from their appearance. Though he knows six languages in their colloquial form – Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Bengali – he only knows how to write in Hindi and English.
When he had first come to the valley his master had immediately recognized his gender. He was getting on in age and wanted somebody as a guard of his house and of his young wife, the mistress, when he was away. The master owned a Skoda Octavia vehicle and Lalla maintained it in a spotless condition washing it every day. The driver of the car was young, a not bad looking youth, and bossed over him. When the master would ask the driver to fetch the morning newspaper, or, milk, he would tell Lalla to do it. He would do it with some resentment. “Why can’t he do his own work,” he would say.
The driver is a devious man and would scold Lalla for petty reasons. He assumes the role of the manager of the house and would send him on errands to procure grocery and vegetables. Sometimes he would be absent for days during which he would be driving tourist around the country for travel agencies. This he told Lalla as a secret and admonished him not to tell anyone. Once he had shown him a computer which he said a tourist had gifted him.
Lalla is given a small watchman’s cabin made of waterproof material. This cloistered and dingy place is his home and he lives and sleeps in it. He doesn’t sleep much except a few hours in the afternoon. In the evening he empties the garbage can, waters the plants, and then sits in his cabin for the long vigil of the night. His toilet is in the forest that surrounds the valley.
On his long watch that night he falls asleep. He usually doesn’t sleep at night but that particular night he did. May be, he was too tired, or, he was drugged. In the morning he is awakened by the mistress’ shouting.
“Oh, God, what happened, oh God why did this happen to me?”
He could hear a long monologue from his master, which seemed as if he was trying to pacify her. But she isn’t calmed and keeps wailing and blabbering.
When Lalla enters the house to see what is wrong she showers him with curses and abuses.
“Oh you inauspicious one, where were you, what were you doing?”
“Mistress I fell asleep.”
“How could you? How could you be so careless?”
All the gold jewellery the mistress keeps in the ground floor cupboard has been stolen. She has many tolas of jewellery which she keeps in the unlocked cupboard so that she could change them often, for reasons only known to her.
His master gestures to him to go away till she calms down. The cook who sleeps in the kitchen says he hasn’t heard anything.
Then Lalla, quite disturbed, goes and sits on a park bench under a tree in the neighbourhood. It was about time he watered the plants and washed the car. But he does neither. He goes and prays at the temple, the church and the mosque. People in the valley begin accusing him of theft saying he was responsible; after all, he is an eunuch. The accusation of theft is one Lalla cannot stand. Never in his life has he been accused of theft. He weeps holding his head in his hands. People begin looking suspiciously at him.
The driver comes later that day and drives the master to the police station to lodge a complaint. Lalla remembers the master asking the driver to make two duplicate keys of the bungalow’s front door. The driver had said then:
“Lalla, give these keys and the balance money to master, I got to go to pick up mistress from her Yoga classes.”
He had looked at the bill and noticed that the driver had made three keys. He probably thought that Lalla was dumb and uneducated and wouldn’t notice these things. But Lalla reads all bills delivered at the house and even the Hindi newspaper. What did he do with the extra key? Lalla’s suspicion grows stronger. He knows his master doesn’t remember these trivial things and would not even look at the bill.
He tells his master about this and advises him of its importance in the investigation. The police enquire with the local jewellers. A man fitting the description of the driver had walked into a jewellery shop in the valley wanting to sell some gold which he said belonged to his wife. The jeweller had declined to buy the jewellery. He identified the driver from a photograph.
Then the police goes to the driver’s residence to arrest him. He is nowhere. He has escaped knowing that the police is after him.
News spread in the valley that the driver has run away and that Lalla is innocent. From the neighbours police get the name of the driver’s friend who lives a few kilometres away. He doesn’t know about the crime but knows the driver’s address in a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh. A police team is sent there to arrest him.
Meanwhile Lalla tells his master that he wishes to move away to another place since he has lost the right to show his face in the valley. The mistress has also doubted him and he would never be able to forget it when he speaks to her. The master being a kind man says:
“Lalla, forget that all this happened. You are a member of this family. I would like you to stay on with us.”
“No master, you are very kind but I want to go away, somewhere.”
“I will talk to my wife. I will convince her of your innocence.”
He does as he said. His wife, an uncompromising, wronged woman who had gone through a divorce, initially disagrees. She says Lalla shouldn’t have slept on guard duty. In the end the master convinces her to keep him as the guard once more and to forgive him.
The next day the mistress shouts from her room upstairs to enquire whether Lalla has washed the car and has watered the plants. But nobody replies.
Lalla is nowhere to be seen. Nobody in the valley has seen him leave. His cabin, where he kept his things is empty.
Lalla had moved on.