In a new column, 'Category Error', Amruta Patil marries news-triggered observation with fiction, history, philosophy, against the backdrop of an Indian high rise.

Read more from the series here.


1 | Walking Past Atlantis

No labourer is a free particle. Linkages — of biradari, jaati, gaon — determine everything. They bring in the exodus, they bring about work. In times of acute incertitude, such as this, it is the same linkages that tug at one another, pull the chain into motion, back towards a distant home. In choosing to leave, or choosing to stay — there are no free particle decisions.


Shifting his daughter from his shoulder to the crook of his arm without missing a beat, Lakhan Pal looks up at the windows of the buildings, lit cubes of yellow light. Level upon level, brick upon brick, polished floor by polished floor, he has a stake in Atlantis Cooperative Housing Society that can never be claimed. For the better part of two years, he lived on-site with brothers from his village. On their watch, the acacia-covered land transformed — first into a deep cavity spouting metal girders, and then into erect vertical towers A to E, whose windows kept all sounds in, whose heavy iron gates kept people like Lakhan Pal out.

2 | Why Hurt When You Can Humiliate

From her first floor apartment, C101, the asthmatic woman had a clear view of the street. Four youth had been ordered off their bikes by a policeman and made to lock their arms from beneath their legs, fingers holding onto their ear lobes. Punishment for being where they shouldn’t be during lockdown — trying to find a tetrapak of milk, an ATM machine, a breath of open air.


The asthmatic woman remembered it being a popular punishment in her school days. ‘Murga’ the posture was called, meaning ‘Rooster’. It belonged to the arsenal of preferred corporal punishment in the Indian subcontinent, deployed in crouching variant or standing variant, often taken to the next level by making the errant one hop around in murga state.

Law enforcers through history have sought intervention that brought speedy result. Simple public shaming often did. Miscreants were made to ride donkeys, faces were smeared with pitch, necks garlanded with slippers. Heads were crowned in Dunce’s Hats, or unevenly tonsured so that ridiculous tufts of hair remained. Luxuriant mustaches were shaved off, in half.

Why hurt physically when one can humiliate instead?

The murga, like the medieval pillory, happens to be humiliation and agony both. A few minutes into a murga, pain sets in that can only be erased, briefly, by raising your buttocks high — a move that furthers the absurdity of the spectacle and makes un-invested passersby laugh.

After shooting a few seconds of wobbly, zoomed-in cell phone footage, the asthmatic woman went back indoors, unable to bear it any longer — the thick air, the shame of her perch, the indignity of skinny jean-clad murgas.

3| Bardo Tales: Birth

Having binge-watched Netflix for four hours flat, the IT couple in B403 embraced. They had, for the past 10 months, been trying to conceive — a fact that had caused many details of their life to alter. They returned home earlier than they had in the past, ate and exercised more conscientiously. The woman took prenatal vitamins now, joined a belly-dancing dance class and a meditation group.

She was, of late, reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and had been quite taken by the concept of bardo states — with the idea that those seeking rebirth would hover in the realm of amorous couples, trying to find a new host-womb. Unknown to her partner who did not share her interest in the metaphysical, the woman had often wondered, So who am I going to let in?

Now, in a time where no tomorrows were obvious and shelves in the supermarket were not being restocked, she found herself swatting off potential contenders-for-the-womb. In life, timing is everything:



Writer-painter Amruta Patil is the author of graphic novels Kari, Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, Sauptik: Blood and Flowers, and Aranyaka: Book of the Forest. On Instagram: @amruta_gauri