He stood at the Goripalayam bus stop every day from morning to night. He had a hideous face. His left eye was placed a little lower than his right one, and his teeth stood out in wild disarray. His unkempt hair rose from his furrowed forehead and cascaded like a lion’s mane. He wore a shabby lungi and a rumpled shirt with several holes in it. He was an unsightly but well-known figure in the area – the ghastly man of Goripalayam.
People would shudder at the sight of him. When he walked over, they would quickly drop some money in the tin can he held out so he would walk away.
‘More,’ he would growl. ‘Give me more.’
As soon as he uttered these words, the people waiting there for their buses would haphazardly part with some more of their hard-earned money.
Little children screamed in fright when they spotted him. School kids avoided looking at him directly. They would fearfully dart sidelong glances at him, only to find him doing the same. They would, then, hastily walk away. He would flash a toothy grin as the tiny tots shrieked again.
‘The Corporation should remove him from here,’ some older people would say.
‘Someone should file a complaint with the Police Commissioner,’ said a retired professor waiting for his bus. The ghastly man walked over to the professor, shaking his tin can at him. The professor moved away in a rush.
‘What a face he’s got!’ said a local artist, contemplating the deformed features of the ghastly man. ‘I wish I could paint his portrait.’
The ugly man turned to the artist, as if posing for his portrait. He flashed a wide smile, which made the artist wilt like wet paint. The artist picked up his paintbrush in a jiffy.
This went on for days. Mothers would threaten their unruly children with the ghastly man.
‘I’ll hand you over to that man at the bus stop!’
‘That ghastly man will come and get you!’
His name was enough to quieten down the naughtiest children.
However, students from the nearby colleges seemed to pity him.
‘What a tragedy to live with a face like that!’ said one of the students.
‘No romance for the poor man,’ commented another.
Some girls from another college seemed to feel the same way about him. They would give him a lot of money. He would even get sweets from them every now and then. On their way back from college, they would empty their lunch remains into his tin can.
‘He must be earning way more than we do,’ quipped a teacher.
‘And that too without a college degree,’ added a colleague.
Since the ghastly man had seemingly monopolized all charity in the area, every other beggar left for greener pastures. With each passing year, the ghastly man of Goripalayam consolidated his financial standing.
One day, an expensive car screeched to a halt near him. A man in a black shirt and cream coat stepped out, followed by a stocky man in a colorful shirt. They walked over to the ghastly man and peered into his face intently. He shook his tin can at these strangers, but the men ignored it.
‘This isn’t your real face,’ said the man wearing the cream coat. ‘Great job on the make-up, though!’
The ghastly man backed away. However, the two men were in no mood to let up.
‘You saw that, Hari?’ said the cream-coat-clad guy to the one in the colorful shirt. ‘It’s like Boris Karloff’s make-up in Frankenstein!’
‘Yeah, Mr. Sharma,’ replied Hari. ‘It’s definitely better than the one the Ramsay brothers used in their horror films.’
‘Look, he can even lower an eye! And check out that coarse skin!’
Hari could tell that this guy was obviously wearing a wig. His teeth were fake, too.
The ghastly man was taken aback, but Sharma and Hari were relentless.
‘Wait up, we need to talk to you,’ said Sharma.
The ghastly man rushed toward a group of grocers and sat among them. Sharma and Hari followed him and took a seat beside him.
He put his hand over his face, trying to cover it. Hari pulled his hand away.
‘What are you hiding?’ exclaimed Sharma. ‘This has to be one of the greatest make-up jobs ever. You should actually be proud of it.’
Pointing to Sharma, Hari said, ‘This is Mr. Ramkishan Sharma, a film producer from Mumbai. Not many people get the chance to see him so close up.’
Sharma and his assistant, Hari, were on their way back from Rameswaram when they decided to break journey and visit the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai. They were on their way to the temple when they came across this remarkably ugly man and decided to check him out.
By this point, a large crowd had gathered around the trio. The women selling vegetables had discerned that they were in the midst of an event of some consequence as they avidly watched the action unfold.
‘The eye make-up is like Laughton’s in the Notre Dame film. I’ve never seen anything like this in India.’
The ghastly man continued to hide his face behind his hand. He maintained a stony silence. The crowd was muttering darkly.
‘He has fooled us all these days,’ said a shopkeeper.
‘He has won our sympathy on false pretenses.’
‘What a total jerk,’ said a college student.
‘Tell the gentleman your name, or we will thrash you right here,’ threatened an auto driver. The crowd moved menacingly toward him.
‘Please don’t beat me,’ pleaded the ghastly man. ‘My name’s Narasimha. I took to this way of life because of extreme poverty. Please don’t ruin my life.’
‘Who’s going to ruin your life?’ asked Sharma. ‘I’m rather offering you a new, better life with lots of money.’
‘When Mr. Sharma makes an offer, it’s bound to be good,’ commented Hari.
‘I’m planning to make a series of horror movies in Hindi. These will be dubbed into several other Indian languages,’ revealed Sharma.
‘All films nowadays are horror films,’ quipped a college student.
‘Or at least horrible films,’ said another.
‘Well, you could be our make-up director. You seem to be an expert in this field. You can even play a few roles as a ghost, or a werewolf, or a goblin, or whatever.’
The ghastly man shot a hopeful look at the Mumbai duo.
‘But first take your make-up off,’ said a shopkeeper. ‘We want to see what you really look like.’
Someone removed his wig to expose a small crew-cut head. Someone else mussed up his face. It looked fairly ordinary now.
‘What a comedown,’ someone commented.
Narasimha is now a highly paid artist in Mumbai. He regularly stars in horror movies.
The kids in Goripalayam no longer scream in fright, nor do the schoolgirls tremble in fear. After all, the ghastly man of Goripalayam now terrorizes audiences in theaters all over the country.
…now that you’re here
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As fond of writing a good story as he is of reading one, Pravin is one of the most promising writers at Ameya. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.