Fiction: The People of Punyoor

By Andal Srivatsan

The people of Punyoor were 99.7% ideal.
You have said that on more than one occasion, with a hint of regret caught at the rim of your lips. There is only one memory that often resurfaces for you.
The day began as usual, with a generous pour of fennel tea – Punyoor Daily’s current recommendation for gut health. You, mother, and father got dressed for the Annual Fair. “The Fair” was an obvious departure from its usual connotations – of course, you know that now, but in the time, it was an imperative yearly event with the usual song and dance festivities, speeches on the triumphs of the year’s achievements, elongated and emotional perorations about having achieved equitability through equanimity. It was a lot of malarkey – of course, back then, you did not know. You were enamoured as a sixteen-year-old. 
Rightfully so. There was wonderment in your eyes, about belonging in a state of utopia – a state of absolute perfection. Lawns were perfectly manicured, streets unsullied, elections timely and non-partisan, education exemplary, and living, well, utopic. The Daily constantly said that the rest of the country was buried in angst and a constant ripple of communal violence, swallowed by the accusations and tirades of ideological hardliners. Punyoor was none of that – it was truly ideal; a mosque, a monastery, a church, and a temple were built on the same street, and you could enjoy their hymns, all together, with careful, enthralled appreciation for another discipline. The town was not keen on welcoming new people into it. Almost always, someone from Punyoor married another from Punyoor. It was intentional, with a need to protect its secrecy – the world learning about Punyoor’s copybook state might make it more desirable. There was curiosity, without a doubt. You’d wondered if you’d ever stumble upon the Taj Mahal, or Yosemite, or something else with fathomless historical significance. Those thoughts never gained eminence. You knew you had it good. Why displace good?
The people of Punyoor never left Punyoor. Except you. You did. Why you did was painfully apparent on the night after the fair.
That night, you rested at home, watching the telly news. The 9 o'clock news showed an outburst of drug raids in the nearby city, and another found its citizens by the seaside, holding candles in solidarity for the gangrape and death of a woman working the mills. There you were, cocooned, as you now say – cradled in an untainted idyll, a democratic haven, where crime rates were zilch, and happiness indices towered over the highest possible numbers. That day, however, your perfect matrix sported a big snafu.
A row of vehicles rumbled from afar, and you remarked that it was odd. Your parents were not to be found on their bed, and it only seemed logical for you to step out of your house – something you hadn’t done previously. You followed the sound of the cars, and you reached the city centre. The festoon from the day was taken out. Pink and Blue banners were ripped, and a sense of void permeated through the space. You found a furtive spot behind a paint shop at the nook, and looked in the direction of footsteps approaching. The leaders of the town, along with other adults – your parents included – walked to the city centre, and stood right below the clock tower. They looked around, charily. By then, you realised that you were adept at some form of covert ops. Unanimously and portentously, they looked up at the dials of the clock – unflinching as it struck twelve.
Large vans pulled up to the centre. Twelve overall. A man or woman stepped out of each of those vans and shook hands with the leaders. Your parents stood further behind, not holding hands. It wasn’t long before others stepped out of the vans – a large group of people with conical hats, cloaked from neck to bottom, faceless figures, almost satanic, you remember thinking. The leaders gesture the crowd to an odd-looking stairwell that opened below the concrete. The crowd was hushed, but made its way before shutting the floor beneath them. If cinema was a true representation of accidental tours de force, you should have been successful at following the group. Thankfully, you were.
You had to make sure you weren’t seen, and you did. You have wondered, since that night, about how you managed the coup that day. You kept a safe distance from all of them – a good twenty minute lag from their strides. The basement was not circuitous. It was one straight, murky path that led to another spiral staircase. The exit upward opened into a meadow. The crowd climbed out of what seemed like a catacomb, and into the wild.
Out there, in that meadow, Punyoor had vanished. The vast umber field was set up with booths. From tall poles hung grey banners. Your eyes peered from the last step of the staircase. You were careful to not let your neck crane. The crowd was further ahead. The shrouded individuals from the vans proceeded to drop their mantles. They were bare-bodied, trembling in the crispness of the midnight, and went down on their fours. The booths were all labelled as disparate sexual activities. From where you were, you spotted ‘the girlfriend experience’, ‘fellatio’, ‘inter-specie sodomy’, ‘violence through miscellany’.
You never named all the booths. You said it was irrelevant – you must be right.
There were two people pulling out hatchets, ice picks, leashes, and whips from large trunks that occupied a corner. You peered into their faces, hoping it wasn’t really them. It wasn’t impossible to have imposters assume your parents’ identities. They stood stock-still, blasé, as the cries rose to a crescendo.
Above all, you were petrified.
You have never elaborated on the hours of that night.
‘There’s a lot,’ you’ve said. ‘You get the gist.’
On some days, you have enjoyed being chatty. You would drink some gin and tonic, sing karaoke, and spill secrets.
The leaders, men and women, took their prey to the different booths, dragging them by their hair, or the leashes that were fastened around their necks. Madness ensued. Soon after music played to accompany the night, you left. You took the same route, tripping along the way. Your sobs echoed a little, but the furore was far away from you. Silence wore you. In some time, you were under your covers. Trembles engulfed you.
You are often grateful that you never swallowed that incident. The morning after the barbarity, you found your parents reading The Daily, sipping fennel tea. They greeted you. Then, they found out. For a while, their expressions pretzeled – disbelief, anger, fear, confusion. They started with anger, and asked you how you had the pluck to get out of the house after bedtime.
That question, you’ve often said, took them away from you.
You weren’t supposed to find out until you were eighteen, they maintained.
But there was some distinctive fire in you that day. You never caved, and so they told you; about the 0.3% of Punyoor.
For the people, they said, it was impossible to maintain an idyllic state. There was a sense of predictability. It was that one night after the Fair that they allowed themselves some heinous indiscretions. The other times, they are faultless, while carrying within them an incontrovertible desire to submit to darkness.
The outside world, they said, is chaos. Horrific things happen at will. Leaders are temperamental. People are vessels. It was why no one left Punyoor. No one would leave a sense of assuredness, even if it carries within it, a permeating speck.
In time, they promised, you would be allowed your transgressions. Some bloom early, they asserted. They have a dash of apathy growing up. It is undeniable!
Over time, you’ve succeeded in erasing those memories. You have wondered if they had a point. You see family men and women; poster families, so quintessentially gleeful in their little worlds. Yet beyond that quintessence, a vile self awaits. When everyone sleeps, the vile self exits, submits to atrocities, and returns to bed. Things resume, people forget.
Perhaps, you’ve thought, the fault lies with the people, and not with Punyoor.
That was the day you left Punyoor, above all their pleading. You entered the real world – reality was dystopic, but so was utopia.
Right now, as you look into the mirror, you spot your greys, push out your lower lip a little. No one from Punyoor has tried to contact you; not even your parents. I’ve asked you, repeatedly, if you have been hurt over that. You have maintained your stance. You’ve said no. 
The people of Punyoor, you said, do not want to be seen. 
At times, you wonder if they exist. You’ve questioned yourself about your wearying madness, despite my many assurances about your mental faculties. For you, a state of perfection is an apparition. A ghost that haunts you.
Punyoor and the rest of the world are not very different, you remarked.
The ugly side of man emerges, regardless of the encasement. There is something deeply disturbing about the people from there; atleast the ones who know the truth. They are beaten down by their immense opacity.
I asked you once, if you were happy here. 
You took some time to answer.
You said no.
I look at you, who removed you from Punyoor.

Andal Srivatsan is a writer based out of Bangalore, India. During the day, she is a finance professional, and at night, she tends to her more creative pursuits. She has been published in places like The Bombay Literary Magazine, and writes book reviews and poetry on her Social platforms every now and then. You can find her on Instagram @andalsrivatsan


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