Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In love with the rains

The broken bits of music wafted into the kitchen early Sunday morning as Nandini read the morning paper, waiting patiently for the coffee to get ready. She tapped her feet to it, filling up the broken bits as the radio coughed and skipped parts of the raga. She didn't mind, she knew the piece well and sang along with her mother's honey-like voice, never looking up, engrossed constantly in the paper.

By the time the sound of steam escaped the coffee maker, the sky was dark and it had started to rain. The radio was playing well now, the music was inter-spread with the sound of falling water, some hitting the mud outside the house and making a thumping sound, some screaming in joy as they clashed with the tin roof of the garage, while the rest found other homes and made numerous other sounds. The wind chime joined in soon, as the cold wind from the river found a path towards the land. It was all a beautiful melody together, unusual sounds mixing - Nandini, her now deceased mother, the rains, the wind, the chimes.

With the cup of coffee ready she walked into the study, looking for Manoj. She followed the music, still swaying to its beauty, her mind constantly humming the tune, her heart playing along and egging her on for some mischief. Manoj was already dozing off with the book half open and a half smoked cigarette kept in the ashtray, small wisps of smoke still escaping from its half lit end. He was trying to quit and smoking only half a cigarette was the latest in his list of efforts.

She took a small puff from the almost dying cigarette and let it work on her. Slowly dipping her finger into the hot-sweet cup of coffee she let her finger slowly spread it over his lips and week-long beard, her other hand played with his hair. His nap broken, he opened his eyes slowly and smiled as she sat on his lap and struggled with his already haphazardly worn mundu.

It was over within seconds, as her body erupted into spasms of ecstasy, while he held her tightly. The coffee was lukewarm as they enjoyed it together lying on the floor, still looking mischievously into each others eyes, the mundu entwined with their bodies, even as Nandini's mother reached her own crescendo and the piece finally ended.

Image ref - www.corbis.com

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The smell of my mogra

'How much for a bunch?', I asked, the bitter taste of my last cigarette still fresh in my mouth and on my fingertips. I liked how the faint smell of tobacco remained on my fingers, sometimes even hours after my last session with the cigarette; a far cry from the past when it disgusted me, of course my past was way past my present and no longer a part of me.

I paid the tiny sum of Rupees five to the old lady and took the sweet smelling flowers wrapped in fresh, wet green leaf. I had never quite bought flowers like this before, but this was an impulsive purchase and anomalies were allowed here. I walked further in the dimming twilight of the first cold evening of January , reading the names of shops passing by, in a language I barely understood.

I smelt them much later, through the open edges of the green leaf. The fragrance took me by surprise, I never expected it to be so extraordinarily beautiful. People stared at me as I stood right there, in the middle of the ocean of people flowing all around. Shoulders brushed against mine, and clothes rustled as everyone rushed past, some going home while others away from it. Everyone was busy. I stood alone.

I met Sonia an hour later in our usual cafe, the fragrance still with me, the flowers tucked away safely in the side pocket of my backpack. This was our last coffee date, but I heard nothing, even when she screamed and stormed out. This was her moment, yet I robbed it off her, though unintentionally. She could have stayed back and screamed some more, I wouldn't have minded. I was happy with the beauty I now possessed, with the unexpected joy of connecting with myself through the faint smell, with the mystery these little white flowers were going to reveal to me in the night.

I had the flowers crushed on my face as I worked upon myself, building up a climax I barely even knew existed. I was in a trance while the smell filled all the space around me. The bed sheet was damp with my sweat later, even as the fan whirred slowly overhead and I lay satisfied with the faintest ever smile on my face.

I got a fright the next morning when the flowers wilted and their beauty waned. The grief was as unexpected as the joy of finding their beauty the previous evening. I slept through the morning and the afternoon, dreaming intermittently about Sonia and the white flowers, my throat going dry and an expectation building up at the thought of the old woman and buying the flowers again. Even before the sunlight started fading, I was ready to go out and explore. I wasn't the same animal anymore.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Destiny...

It wasn't how I thought it would end. I never thought it would end at all, my state of blissfulness was supposed to continue for many years to come. I wasn't yet ready. I didn't want to go ahead with it, I wasn't given a choice.

Damyanti came in and looked at me again, without looking at me in the eye. She was taught never to look at me like that, she could be killed just for that; and she knew her role even now.

I asked her to come and sit with me in front of the mirror. Left confused, she didn't move and kept looking down at her feet. She had come in thrice already and every time I had ignored her completely. I knew I couldn't send her back without any answers this time.

'Do you have kids?’ I asked as I took off my bangles and placed them on the side. She shook her head in denial.
'You can talk to me Please. I need to hear someone say a word to me, this silence is deafening.'
She nodded.
'So are you married?'
'In love with someone?'
'Yes', she said, her eyes fell and she smiled.

'You are very beautiful, look at yourself in the mirror. I like your eyes, I like your lips.' She looked up and saw us both in the mirror, she too was beautiful and knew it too. She smiled and quickly looked down once again.

I touched her icy cold lips and her eyes with my delicate yet numb fingers, and slowly caressed her face. The act was sensual as well as tragic, for I knew this would be my last intimate contact with anyone. Embarrassed, Damyanti looked into the mirror and looked at me again. She smiled once again, smiled for both of us.

Something about her made me want to hug her tightly, but I didn’t. But she raised her arm and touched my face. We both cried, we both knew this was the end. And there was nothing after this. I took out a little of kohl from my eyes and put in hers, a simple gesture that finally bought us closer to being friends.

'I have this for you, they didn't want you to have it. But I know how difficult it would be without it.' I took the gray ball and played with it with my fingers. I knew I still wasn't ready for it.

'Are you too coming with me?’ I asked.
'Till the end of time.'
I wondered why was she like this, what was in it for her? But maybe she knew no other life, had no idea that there could be another life besides this. 

I opened my drawer and took out the keys to the secret door of the passage to the far outpost. There was little hope that we still had it under our control, but it was better than being with me. I knew she couldn't say a no to me, no one had taught her that. I commanded her to take the keys and run; I wanted her to be happy.

I looked at myself one last time in the mirror, adjusted my flowing skirt and looked outside from the window into the vast expanse of trees and rivers in the valley below. As I walked out of the room, two guards immediately took their place behind me as women poured out from every room, crying for me, crying for themselves, for all of us today. 

As we left my abode, I saw thousands of them there, all dressed in their best, but with their hair open and beating their chests. I couldn't take it anymore, already. They all looked at me, and I saw love in their eyes. They bowed down as I walked on the path, the red-blue steps already smeared with the vermilion; it looked like blood to me. I was shivering now, not from the cool winter breeze, but from fear. Death was crawling up my skin and I was scared.

From a distance I could hear the priests chanting the sacred vedic mantras and the loud noise of the beating drums. I knew they had been waiting for me for a while, and knew now that I was finally on my way. Women still kept pouring out from every direction, and their cries and songs filled my mind, briefly making me dizzy. The absence of men was startling; only a few remained, and they were dressed in orange, our color of martyrdom. 

I had thrown the opium ball long back, I wanted to feel the pain just like my Rana. I stepped forward and into the small temple of our kul devta. Our father-like temple priest wiped the vermilion from my forehead and blessed me with a palm on my head. I looked up and saw tears streaming from his eyes, he was crying inconsolably. All the women had stopped singing, all the other priests had stopped chanting, all I could hear now were cries. Young women, old women, kids of all ages, they were all crying. Some old women beating their chests while others pulled their hair.

Our priest took my hand and took me ahead to the steps and away from life as I knew it. I climbed up the steps alone and closed my eyes. The chanting had started once again but heard none of it. Everything flashed through my mind; they say end does this to us. I believed them all today. I took off all my jewelry and threw it in first. The gold glittered even more. My loose and long hair flew all around me, dancing with the strong wind. I spread my arms and threw my head back. But I wanted to be free, finally. 

As I spread my arms and jumped, I saw my mother. She opened her arms wide and smiled. The crying was at its peak then, but I heard nothing. The pain seared through my soft skin and the fire engulfed me completely. Before I closed my eyes one last time, I saw hundreds jumping in and joining me in this huge pond of fire.

Afterwards, it was only silence and darkness.

Note: This story is a fictional account of Rani Padmini's last hour before she jumped into fire along with 16,000 more women and children to save their honor, after  Chittor fell and its king killed. This event came to be known as Jauhar and it was repeated twice more in subsequent generations by the brave queens who preferred death to the slavery of the invading kings.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Breads vs Royals

Jess, the little princess

In a three floored palace lived a princess. Her name was Jess. Her face was round, her lips were rosy pink and her eyeballs were green. Also her hairs were light blue. Jess had a mother named Sristi. Sristi had a thin face and her eyeballs were light red and her hairs were purple. Jess’ father’s name was Swayam.  Swayam’s face was long and he had golden eyeballs and green hair. The family had a servant named Sleeptastic.  Sleeptastics eyeballs had no colour because he was always sleeping. Sleeptastic’s hairs were also not seen because he always wore a sleeping cap.

One day Jess was toasting breads and suddenly the breads started attacking Jess .They broke the palace. Jess was very scared and she did not know what to do as she was alone in the palace. Everybody else had gone for a carriage ride and Sleeptastic was sleeping.

Suddenly the door opened and Jess was very scared that who had come to the door. The royals entered very confidently.  They knew what had happened in the palace. Sristi went to her room. She sat on her soft bed. She thought what to do and she had an idea. She went to the kitchen and brought two cups of butter. Then time for Swayam’s turn. Now Swayam was very scared, but he tried not to be scared. So Swayam went to his hard bed. And he had an idea. He went to his closet and took out a magic bulb. Now time for Jess’ turn. Jess went to her secret hideout and got a knife.

Sristi’s turn was the first one to try. So Sristi put the two cups of butter in the bread’s nose and the breads could not breathe. Now is Swayam’s turn. Swayam rubbed the magic bulb on the breads and the breads fainted. At last came Jess’ turn.  Jess took the knife and cut the breads into pieces and ate them. Then after a while Jess asked Sristi that how did you know that the breads were attacking me. Sristi said that she knew about this because every year on 1st January 3:30 pm if anybody toasts the breads, the breads start attacking.

After knowing this everybody slept and lived happily ever after.

Mihika is my seven year old niece and this is her first short story, along with an illustration. She shared this with me a while back and then graciously agreed to it being published on my blog. There is more on Mihika on this blog here

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Road Trip

I wasn't out on the road for the speed, or the thrill or even to travel. Or to meet new people, take part in their lives or simply to enjoy the moment, alone on my own. I didn't yet know why I was out for the almost three days now. Maybe to belong, maybe to un-belong. I didn't know.

The past two days were just the same, long winding roads, green all around, occasional people crossing my path, occasional cars overtaking me, occasional rains that I always missed. Nothing new, nothing unusual. Yes I was on a road trip, but I was alone. I was out to meet someone, someone who lived far, someone who used to be mine, someone who had moved on.

It drizzled as I started my third and the last day. I had originally planned to drive through the night and reach the end early in the morning, but then I saw the sand dunes and decided to camp. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I drove into the dunes and went as far away from the road as possible, trying to disappear, half hoping to lose my sense of bearings and get lost in these ever changing waves of sand. A sudden stillness around made me stop and look up, and look at the stars. The sky was clear now, despite the clouds and mild rains in the afternoon. I came out of the car and without even realising, screamed at the glittering sonsofbitches. They didn't flinch, and I screamed even more, never realising how tears flowed ever time I screamed.

Tired and drenched in my sweat and tears, I slept in the car itself, never bothering to camp, or look at the bright dark blue sky and the stars. All I felt was the hollowness around me, a complete lack of feelings, an absence of emotions. There was smoke, smoke of my own making. It overwhelmed me.

Morning came easily and without even thinking I went back to the road and continued driving. When rains came once again I stopped, and decided to get drenched finally. I didn't know if I would do it again today, or ever. But I couldn't feel the rain, I didn't feel anything, at all. How can things be so empty, how can I be so lost? I knew there was little meaning in going forward, and even lesser in taking the road back. The road didn't take me anywhere, anymore. Suddenly I was free of any questions, and my mind sought no answers.

I knew nothing, yet my mind and heart told me that I knew it all. There was immense knowledge in not knowing, and accepting that this was how things were always meant to be. Why seek answers, when there were none? At least none for me.

I didn't survive. I didn't exist anymore. I was dead. Finally.

Epilogue: The body of a dead man was found a days later and a few miles from the highway, rotting inside the car, stranded in the desert. The cause of death was confirmed to be Carbon Monoxide poisoning inside the locked car.

Thanks to Tej for the illustration, read and know more about him here and here.
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