Kookie, our friendly neighbourhood not-really-tame raccoon, sneaks in one day. Bins insists on leaving the windows open on the off-chance that Kookie might want to drop by for a snack. Which he does, now and then.
However, today I happen to be reading when he comes in. So he sniffs around, opens drawers, checks my studio for tasty tubes of paint before ambling up to me. He points to his mouth and pats his plump little belly, the internationally recognised sign language for “Feed Me Now, I’m Hungry”. “Sorry,” I say to him, “I’m busy.” I show him the book I’m reading: Story Is A Vagabond, a collection of short fiction, essays, and drama by Intizar Husain.
“Who is that?” Kookie wants to know. “A great Pakistani writer who died only 10 days ago,” I say. The book is a collection of translations edited by Alok Bhalla and published by the University of Hawaii. There are a couple of photographs of the author plus artwork in a lyrical, miniaturist style by Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi. Kookie wants to know if raccoons are featured in the book. I say, “No, but I think the author would have enjoyed putting you into one of his stories if he had met you.”
“Why?” Kookie wants to know. He doesn’t often hear of humans who might want to include him in their stories. “Because,” I say, “a talking raccoon is an oddity and I think he liked oddities. He heard myths in the cries of peacocks, found fables in the shadows of ordinary life.” Kookie asks for an example and I describe to him a story called ‘The Boat’. It’s about the Ark and the flood and the floating menagerie that Noah took with him, told through the medium of three different cultures, describing a catastrophic flood. The way he plaits the stories together is both charming and poignant. We share our dreams, he seems to say, but fail to value that sharing when we’re awake.
“I still don’t see where I fit in,” says Kookie. “The stories speak of a time when India and Pakistan shared the language of thought,” I explain. “There are little chips of humour scattered throughout, like mica glittering in sand. In the world of his stories, there would be nothing unusual about a raccoon talking to a human.” Kookie looks puzzled and says, “There IS nothing unusual about that!” I nod, but feel sad anyway. I lived in Pakistan as a child and when we returned to India, the difference between the two countries was invisible to me.
“In a wonderful story called ‘Leaves’,” I say, “a Buddhist monk struggles with desire. The tale runs its course, told in poetic words. It seems like a simple fable but when it ends, what remains is the heady perfume of desire. Not release.” Kookie perks up. “Oh!” he says. “I understand that perfectly well.” “Really?” I say, surprised. I had not realised that raccoons had mystical tendencies. “Of course,” says the little creature. “I’m always hungry. That’s what you’re talking about, aren’t you?” “Not exactly,” I say, bringing him a cookie. “But never mind.”
Manjula Padmanabhan , author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column
Last episode: Gut instinct
Next episode: Murder poem