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Hand in hand for eternity

Friday, December 31, 2010

Red in Legerdemain

It was long ago in a city, beyond the beyond, called Legerdemain, that a certain incident brought chaos in the lives of the bored gentry there. It was a gray city surrounded with gray walls and even grayer people. Early mornings wrapped in fog would hear the whistle of the tea kettle that would awaken the sultry people to go and look for what they had to - jobs, lives, food, company, (monotonous regularity?). Scraps of newspaper filled the cobbled streets that saw many a heavy boot stub and kick cigarette butts to the sidewalk. And so would begin the day.....
In that town lived a certain man named Henrick. All of thirty five he was burdened with 5 children, a heavy set woman for a wife and an old mother who was getting sicker every day. His occupation of a street newspaper vendor was just a mere band-aid for a wound that was oozing blood and puss.
As was the ritual, Henrick woke up unenthusiastically that morning, gobbled down the dry crust of bread with tea and headed to where his cart was parked. While dragging himself there he suddenly remembered a dream he had dreamt the night before. Or was it a dream? He recalled the roar of a car engine in the middle of the night and thought it was rather odd. The nights in Legerdemain were dead - not even an owl’s hoot dared to interrupt the silence. But being only half awake he had not given it much of a thought then. Now, however, he couldn't get it out of his mind. He played with the thought obsessively as if trying to solve a murder case!
Around afternoon when he had sold about 15 papers and ensured a small meal for the family, he thought of wrapping up and heading to the nearest barber shop. No this was not a customary visit to indulge, but the last stop where he had to drop a few papers for the customers. Of course the coveted cup of coffee that the owner sometimes handed him was impetus enough.
Rupert, the owner of the barber shop was carefully fond of Henrick. He did not want to buy Henrick's miseries but always looked forward to his company. The shop was particularly empty today with just a couple of people striving to look better. Somewhere a dusty gramophone made a grumpy sound akin to music. Henrick and Rupert sat together on high customer salon chairs and acknowledged each other with a nod. "Did you hear the car last night?" asked Rupert in almost a whisper. Henrick looked on while being internally relieved of his dilemma. "They say it belonged to a business tycoon who wants to set up a brothel in town." Henrick's eyes widened. "There is a congregation tomorrow at the church to vote the evil goons out. 11.00 a.m. sharp they say."
The next day the church was cluttered. Every inch of space was occupied with people who were almost alleviated with the confusion! They chatted so happily that momentarily the matter at hand was almost forgotten. It took about an hour to get everyone's attention and start the dialogue. Men, women and children all spoke at the same time and when the end of the day arrived - there was no consensus. The conglomeration decided to get together a second time. When the same end was met the second day, the town heads and seniors only came to one conclusion - they should return to their fateful shells and watch. Nothing could be done - there was too much excitement in a gathering. People just couldn't get enough of each other.
Months passed by and Legerdemain witnessed the birth and growth of a whole enterprise right in front of their eyes. The roaring of loud car engines continued all night along and brick by brick there grew a Red Mansion in the gray town. People looked on as more and more women made the forbidden mansion their habitat. It was on one of those days that a lady approached Henrick and asked for newspapers to be delivered there. "Certainly, and his cart will go over my dead body" hollered Henrick's wife from her kitchen window, while the old mother let out a groan from inside.
The woman, with some air of solace around her, quietly handed Henrick a crumpled piece of paper and left. '20 - Legerdemain Posts to be delivered to Celia' it said.  Henrick set out an hour early the next day, went straight toward the red mansion, his legs trembling with excitement, his face pale with anxiety. A quick comparison of the brothel in his head, with the one now standing in front of him, made him feel stupid. The place was nothing like he had imagined. The building that seemed to be an eye sore for months together, ruining people's peace and adding forbidden thoughts of color in their minds, seemed to be beckoning him with the kind of warmth that he was not familiar with. The shame he felt at that moment only forced his curious legs to move on and when half way towards the door, he noticed a lady inside. Upon seeing him, she hurriedly ran inside and brought out a quilt - a deliciously warm and intricately handmade quilt. She then rushed towards Henrick and nudged him inside.
"It’s not what you think Miss" Henrick managed to splutter. "It's not what you think Sir" retorted the lady after succeeding to bring him inside and forcing him on to a polished dark wood chair. She asked him to wait, disappeared and came back with Celia. "You must help us stop this", the latter immediately ordered, addressing Henrick. "We have come a long way to work here not to be punished by your people." Henrick looked on as if watching a thriller, his heart in his mouth now!"Will you give me your word that you will come back with your wife tomorrow sir? Please?"
"What does she have to do with any of this? The other day she was just being a wife you know? She didn't mean no harm. This is between you and me and I just wanted to give you the newspapers you wanted. Now if you will be kind enough to pay me, I will take your leave," Henrick demanded.
"You don't understand Sir, we are here to help you and your wife, the people of this town. You don't get it. Look at this quilt - this is what we are here for. We are mostly widows and spinsters that have invented and developed this technique of handiwork and we are here to teach this to your women. So they can learn and make a better living out of it. Show this to your wife and explain that. Only you and your wife can do this for us. Please I beseech you! The children of Legerdemain throw stones at us. You must help us get out of this shell and live a respectable life," the lady explained all in one breath. Henrick started with a whimper and then ended up laughing long enough to make up for a lifetime of sordid existence.
The next day a group of 12 women went to the mansion and did not return till dusk. When they did return nothing was the same again. There were smiles on their faces, there were colors at home, and there was life. The men were both relieved and disappointed! The women had stumbled upon a treasure that would make posterity proud. Soon they produced hundreds of quilts everyday that were sent out of town to be sold, exported, copied and envied upon. As happens with the oncoming of wealth things like hygiene, education, nutrition and health care quickly became the buzz everywhere. Hospitals, schools, malls, and other businesses wanted to associate with the developing "quilt town". The cobbled streets of Legerdemain were painted red. And lo and behold, along with this came a real brothel followed by many more. Like I said nothing was the same again.
 That was a long long time ago. Now all that remains is a secret. Somehow the legend of the Red Mansion in the gray town slowly got entangled in a wiry confusion. It ended up being re-christened the "lowly Red Mansion that ALSO made quilts". Even though the town prospered solely because of the revolution started by the women there, it became important for political reasons, to disguise the quilts labeled "Made in Legerdemain" with other decorative tags. While the new brothels prospered the Red Mansion remained the “gray area” in town.


  1. Another superb piece of writing by my Mitr, your writing makes me think.....look forward to reading more of your work Kriti...

  2. Thanks Mitr - Love that you like it....

  3. Just returned from Legerdemain, saw all of that happening there itself - picturesque.

  4. Thanks Bou! I love the name of the city - Legerdemain - ha ha!

  5. You are a natural...Kriti, you are making me think...

  6. nicely done, kept me engaged till the end.