The Lost Life

It had been three days since I moved in with my parents. My father had got transferred yet again to this hill station after 5 years. He would be in charge of the repairs section of the Sanshet dam constructed around 40 years ago and which now stood towering in the distance.

I had barely finished college, scraped through it you could say. Pass marks in all subjects. At least I was consistent. I was wondering if I could apply anywhere with such an academic record. I had got up in the morning today earlier than I was used to. The morning mist looked inviting. The coffee cup was still waiting for me to pick it up. The newspaper sheets were flipped till I reached the appointments page for any such job that might suit my credentials.

As I was going through the various vacancy ads, I heard someone calling. Thinking it was some one calling dad or mom, I continued only to know the person whoever it was calling was trying to elicit my attention to her.

I opened my window pane to see Meena looking eagerly waiting for me as if she wanted me to show something. Meena was my classmate in school at Sanshet school before I left this small village town after my dad’s transfer.

Her hands were empty save for a couple of glass bangles on both. There was some calf love between us during those days, I must confide, which both of us were proud to admit. Her eyes seemed to talk. They looked sad and yet there were streaks of shine happy to see me after these long years which seemed ages to me.

I got dressed casually, put on my slippers and walked out of the room through a door which could open directly to the courtyard where stood a beaming she. Her silver anklets looked the same as her pretty frock she used to wear long back. Her form was the same when I last saw her. She had not changed one bit.

Before I could ask her anything, she took my hand in hers, clasped them tightly and beckoned me to follow her. The morning dew on the grass was making things slippery for my feet as the initial walk now became brisk and it was clear she would have broken into a run over the mounds and crests of fine green grass that adorned the beautiful country side, had I complied.

Where are you taking me, I enquired of her, my eyes riveted on that beautiful face etched in memory which I used to dwell upon in my loneliness and depression bouts at college.

Meena was the foreman’s daughter and they lived in the officer’s quarters that was half a mile away. But today she was taking me elsewhere. I tried to start another conversation thread. How have you been. Did you finish college? In silence she smiled at me; the same patented smile of her which I had taken care to imprint and nurture and chisel on in memory. The years spent with her in school was a dream run never to come again but the good Lord had given me the ability to replay those beautiful moments. She didn’t reply even this time but her lovely eyes did.

Where are you leading me, Meena? I thought you were taking us to your parents. How are they? Still the silence prevailed but I could see that she had slowed her steps while still holding my hand tightly.

There appeared a desolate house and I wondered if something was wrong as she led me to it. She opened the door to the house which welcomed us in with a creaking yet haunting voice. Except for a couple of old wooden benches and a chair there was nothing in this room of this shelter.

All of a sudden she let go of my hand and went into the other room. I thought maybe to bring me some water who was not used to such long walks in the morning mist which only aggravated my asthma. I now remembered I had not taken my Asthalin Inhaler before venturing out with her.

I waited for a few minutes and still when she didn’t appear, I came out, circled the house twice looking for dear her. Calling out to her also did not elicit any response. Sure she was playing a prank as was her nature. I walked to the officer’s quarters and located her house which was the fourth in the second row of houses that had got a fresh coat of white paint.

I walked in unwelcomed, so I thought, based on old memories. Her father looked very uneasy and tired sitting in the easy chair. His eyes looking into the far distance trying to solve some puzzle in which he looked entangled. Addressing him, I offered my salutations but he looked through me as if I didn’t exist. I walked around the kitchen hoping to see her mother or her but none I could see there. I walked back into the living room that looked lifeless and my eyes fell upon the picture of her mother that was garlanded with non fading flowers and was I shocked again when I saw another garlanded frame of Meena.

I sat next to her father and tried alerting him to my presence but he either looked blind and sounded deaf or both or was it I, who was dreaming all this while. I smiled how crazy dreams could get..it was a matter of time before I woke up from it. But things remained the same and I got up as there was no point sitting in front of her crazy father or was it me who had gone crazy.

As I walked back she appeared again briskly trying to catch up with my footfalls. She held my hand as we walked in silence. I tried to play along with her act not showing what I had learnt upon the visit to her house. But the silence was killing me. Are you on a vow of silence? I asked not expecting an answer. “No”, she answered taking me by surprise. I wanted you to know what had happened after you people had left. I used to frequent the typing institute to hone my skills in it. I must have gone two years and got a good speed.

One day on my return through these same paths there was heavy rain accompanied by thunder and I had to take shelter in that house where I took you today. I couldn’t venture out that evening and got trapped there in the incessant downpour. Someone came there, a stranger. It appeared he was staying there without nobody knowing except me in my misfortune. I never saw his face in the darkness but he sensed my vulnerability and took advantage of it and as I resisted him, little did I know that he would snuff the very dear life out of me.

He fled the place and was never to be seen again in this territory of mine she said with a change of tone. Now as I looked at her she was not the diminutive Meena I had known. She was a beautiful woman yet of a pale self. Were you waiting for me these years? Yes she replied I knew you would come so that we can spend some ages together in bliss. How can we, what makes you think…. I broke off, not knowing what I should say.

Come, let us go your house, said she, sensing my thoughts…Wanting to give a glimpse of what a life i had lived I started to enlighten her. After I had left Sanseth, I had got into bad company at college. First smoking then drinking which seemed soothing at first before I got addicted with drugs whatever I could lay my hands on or whatever the peddlers could give me.

A once healthy me was a pale self now, with frequent attacks of asthma adding to the aggravation. I tried to wean away from all these considering the love of my parents and you who I knew doted on me and would wait once I came back after graduating. It was easy to kick smoking but not doping. The drugs were the demons who came to you every night and pestered you till you relented and met their demands. They pleased and praised you and left early morning with you defeated. Yesterday it looks I had a heavy dose or else how could I explain your appearance though you now appears lost to me. I couldn’t understand how such misfortune could come in our lives.

Life’s lessons are sometimes too harsh and at too short a notice. You never know what hit you and slowly we reconcile ourselves to the grim truth of reality. Isn’t life a chain of events like beads in a rosary caused by karma and a mix of choices that we make? With a throbbing head and with the shadow of Meena in tow, I walked into my quarters where could be heard a wailing from my mother with father holding her crying self over my body now lifeless, eyes looking into the distance trying to make out the purpose of dear life.

How some stream that we take channel us into paths best avoided and before the gravity of it sinks in, we get drowned before anyone could help us. There is no point thinking over it now nor staying here anymore, Meena said, as she held my hand and led me out into the sunshine…

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Arrogance Heights

There are chances that once in a life time, at least if not all the time, man might have a condition where arrogance swells in him and reaches the heights of a tall tower that I would like to name as Arrogance Heights. All this is a mental state of the mind and when it will take seed and cause our ruin, no one knows and therefore this story serves to keep our humbleness or control ourselves when we land in such situations. The post was chosen today when Basheer our driver in Bahrain was harping on this topic of how arrogance spoils an individual and complemented it with an outline of a simple story that he learnt in school. I am sure most of us at one point of time would have read or heard, but then there is no harm in narrating it for a reader for whom there is always a first time and for those who chances upon this post in their wanderings in the WordPress forest of literature. I hope after reading this story, you will not book a residence in Arrogance Heights…

Once there was a tiny mouse, who used to live in holes dug by himself, some on the ground, some in the wall of a house where he frequented at night for dishes forgotten to be tightly closed or some left overs lying here and there. There was no issue of food for the mouse, but he always was in awe and fear of an alley cat who used to frequent the place where the mouse lived. The alley ūcat would try to pounce upon him given the opportunity or whenever they came face to face, but most of the time, he used to give the cat a slip by slipping just in time into one of the burrows dug to handle such situations. There was a tree nearby the house, and it used to be difficult when the cat after his sleeping sessions on the tree would come down in a jiffy when the mouse was just loitering around and our poor guy had to scamper with many a wounds which he would lick in private and think how his world would change..

Once it so happened, that a sage visited the house and its inhabitants on his way and blessed them and was just about to leave when the mouse approached him and told all about the miserable life that he was living because of the alley cat. Sensing what was going in the tiny mind, the Sage asked him, in what form would he like to continue in life, if the cat was giving him so much trouble. I would like to be a cat so that I wont have to dread this alley cat and any others that might come this way, pleaded the mouse. So it be it, said the Sage and walked away.

The little mouse was mighty surprised to see himself as a cat and he ran the whole day in leaps and bounds, climbed the tree and jumped to the window to startle the little boy inside and then back and so forth. He went into the house through the door and no body saw him nor shrieked when they saw him. He was loving the freedom and came out to enjoy the world in his new form. But to his chagrin, the house dog barked at him and chased him and he had to beat a hasty retreat out of that house for ever. He too became an alley cat living in one street a day based on the street dogs pushing him away and he soon became tired of being on the run, leading the life of a fugitive who could barely rest in peace anywhere.

He chanced upon our Sage one day and asked him if he could change him to a dog and the transformation happened much to his joy. But the happiness was short lived when children and adults alike threw stones at him whenever he went his way looking for food around the houses and shops across the street. To cut a long story short, our guy changed many forms till he became a man with the blessings of the sage whom he used to chance upon whenever he wanted a change. Even he became sick of being a human life soon having being subjected to mental torture from all whom he acquainted with, professionally and personally. Finally he told the Sage, human life is also not good enough, let me become a tiger in the forest, so that everybody will respect me for what I am and I can live a peaceful life. So be it, said a smiling sage and vanished.

The tiger roamed about and was happy to see nobody came his way or troubled him. He could kill any of the animal that he liked for his food, be it a nimble footed deer, a lost goat or a troubled buffalo. Days went by and slowly the tiger became more of a trouble maker in the forest. He killed animals with gay abandon even when he was not hungry and hence every animal dreaded him.

The sage thought of making a visit to know how the mouse fared in his newly acquired tiger’s form now that the mouse was not even thinking of him. On the way he saw the forest in disarray as if somebody had created havoc to the eco-system with carcasses of animals lying here and there and rotting. As he walked, some of the gentle animals came to him and said how the tiger had became a menace to the inhabitants and pleaded with the Sage to rescue them from the clutches of an animal gone wild.

The sage said he would talk to the tiger on their behalf and ask him to mend his ways for good and the retinue of animals thanked him but still followed our sage at a safe distance. Sensing some movement, the tiger came out of his dwelling and saw the sage. He just blinked at the sage without giving any respect whatsoever now that he was the king of the forest. The sage put forward his proposition and advised the tiger to come to terms and behave himself for the good of all creatures. The tiger got angry telling the Sage it was no business of his and he should beat a hasty retreat before he got hungry. The sage laughed at this, and the tiger could see the animals in the distance watching all this. How could you laugh at me, when I am ordering you to flee if you valued your life. Why are all of you tired of life and in arrogance, he spoke to the Sage and said that there was no need of him visiting him again with silly advice and demanded him to leave immediately as dusk was fast approaching.

The Sun much as he wanted to enjoy the climax of the unfolding drama below, was beating a hasty retreat behind the dense foliage. On the way down, he saw the rising Moon and told him all about what had happened, so that he could tell him all about the unfinished story when they met the next day morning.The moon ever so eager, climbed fast in time to position himself at a vantage position to see what would be the outcome of the conversation between the tiger and his preceptor, the Sage. An eagle flying that way also thought of resting his wings and he landed on one of the branches below which the Sage was standing and lent his ears as did other animals in abeyance.

The Sage seemed hurt at the dialogues from the tiger and he warned the mouse turned wild cat that it would be better to be humble rather that destroying himself with arrogance. Hearing this, the tiger who had had enough sprang at the Sage who was standing at a distance of a few feet. As he took off, he knew the Sage would be a an easy prey but to his surprise the Sage easily dodged him while he was in the air and when he landed on the ground, much to his surprise, he found himself having turned into a mouse. These moments didn’t last long, as to his horror, the eagle had already descended from the branch above to pounce on an easy prey in the darkness lit only by the glow of a smiling crescent Moon…

EID Mubarak to All..

eidgreetings
Eid Greetings

Childhood Memories

Coming back to playtime during school days in the late 70’s in Mumbai. We did have the physical training classes but the instructor was always missing and therefore were free to play any of the games that we liked to. Some of us used to run around the school building in a “Catch me if you can” game, some used to loiter around the playground and others would visit hawkers who used to descend during that time, while some used to be in the classroom, playing with paper made balls and whatnot’s.

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Pic Courtesy: FSLIndia.Org

During recess time, there used to come, a few hawkers who could understand our weakness for sweets, especially the chikkis(sweet made of groundnuts and jaggery) and the cotton candy, the sugar balloons that we used to call them during those time. The chikkiwala (hawker who sold the chikki) had a chisel with him which was used to chisel out portions of chikki from his large circular plate, which he used to keep on his bamboo stand, away from our prying hands if not from our eyes. I thought during those times the chikki was costlier than gold, the way he used to hand it over to us for our 5 or 10 paise coins.

The process of making the cotton candies was enchanting for us, as the hawker used to make it a point to do the preparation in front of our eyes, so that most of us would come out and stand around him rather than going to any other optional hawker who offered his services to us on that day.

Since we used to reach home by 1 PM, there was plenty of time after lunch for a quick nap, and then to look up your books, or keep it for the evening and dash off to play with your friends from the building blocks for a game of cricket, marbles, bow and arrows, where both bow and arrow was made of discarded umbrella frames in the rainy days, or roll a metal ring across the roads barefoot and maneuver them brilliantly. These rings were from automobile frames, and so on..every metal thing in those days had a value as far as kids were concerned..

After such games or a round of story telling where kids used to gather around a story teller, who was one among them, and the sun setting would take them to their homes to ponder over their books and deciding priorities as to which homework needed to be completed based on the strictness of the subject teacher. By 8:00 PM most of us used to hit the bed to be in shape for another day at school that started at 7:00 AM.

This was the regular routine unless one fell sick when he or she had the complete dayin bed to give free way to the thoughts that used to hover in the mind like butterflies around a flower.

Then came the short vacations in the form of Diwali and Christmas, when one used to pay visit to relatives staying in the same city, and spend days with the cousins going to parks and beaches. Most of the time in such visited houses was spent in reading since most of them used to go to work and we would have to wait for them to take us out, when they returned from their respective offices.

The Summer vacations were a time when most of the kids used to go to their native homes that used to be in the same state or in different states. There were also a few who had no native homes to go to, so they stayed in the city and played all day except for going home for certain breaks. Since it was hot, some parents did not allow their wards to play in the sun, so playtime was restricted to, in the morning and the afternoons when the shadows came on to the playing grounds. During the rainy season, the ground would be transformed to a football ground. During a long lasting shower, this could become a mixture of fine clay, when some of us would try our hands at pottery.

During summer, when the bullock carts came laden with ice meant for restaurants, that was covered with saw dust and jute blankets to keep it from melting, all of us would rush behind him. As he took his knife to cut out the ice block, we stood in attention, to gobble up the pieces of ice that would get scattered on his cart. Come marriage in nearby community halls, we would rush to savor the ice cream and the cool soft drinks, unwelcome visitors though we were, the host never did mind us visiting such reception parties…

The innocent barter

 

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A shopkeeper in the Dharia village always seemed busy, giving groceries to his customers who used to flock to the shop till he closed his shutters by 7 pm. A group of retired people and laborers used to come and sit talking to each other on the wooden planks laid out in front of the shop and comment on the happenings of the day, or about the columns in the daily newspaper which one or two would take turns to read loudly to the benefit of those who were either lazy to read or had pitched their tents only eager to hear gossip.

Every week, on a Saturday, a small boy named Golu used to come to the shop to sell the clarified butter (ghee) his mother used to make at home from the unsold buffalo milk that had few takers in a solitary tea shop and a couple of neighboring houses. The buffalo was the only means of livelihood to his family. Every time, he used to carry a kilogram of ghee and would barter it for a kilogram of sugar or pulses from the shop, as was the agreement with Bansal, the grocer.

As Golu would make his appearance whenever dusk was approaching, some of the elders would inquire about his family, some about his buffalo while some used to tease by calling him as Gheelo (take Ghee). Some used to chide him for unnecessary things just to make him cry, to make merry for themselves, while the only sane guy among them, Raichand, scolded them for showing such behavior to the poor lad.

One day, as Golu came with a kilogram of Ghee, Bansal, the grocer kept it on the weighing scale, as he was busy handing over some condiments to another customer. Someone’s attention in the group fell upon the ghee packet lying on the scale. On the other balancing pan, was a weight of 1 Kilogram. The ghee packet pan was floating in the air and therefore he deduced that the packet contained less than  the weight intended. As was their wont, the issue quickly grabbed the attention of the retired folks and some started making arguments in the shop saying that Golu and his family had been cheating Bansal all this time.

Now Bansal was in his elements having taken up the cue and started shouting at Golu. Such allegations coming at short notice from all quarters forced Golu to tears and he started crying loudly.  Raichand who was also in the shop and who was a retired sales tax inspector consoled the child and asked the others to maintain silence while he got down to inquire as to what could have gone wrong. He was one man who never thought of implicating anyone unless the facts were laid out before him.

Once Golu’s crying had subsided to sobs with deep breaths in between, Raichand asked him, “Golu, could you let me know, how do you weigh your ghee at home in the packet before you bring it here”. Golu between sobs, pointed at Bansal and said, “I always weigh our butter pack against the sugar or the green gram packet that is given to me in barter”.

The Lost Garden

It was an October evening and there on the playground made green by the lush grass and the receding rains were butterflies hopping from one shrub to another on the lookout for that elusive flower that could provide some nectar.

A group of children were huddled together making huts of mud and sticks where the sticks came from twigs, discarded ice cream sticks and dried branches. In that group were budding potters, architects, masons and designers. They surveyed their creation and now made walls of clay. They planted some twigs that now looked as trees in the tiny courtyard. In that group was a boy who was telling stories of long lost kings and warriors to eager ears as the huts were being built.

The sun which was shining so bright on glazed leaves when they had started off was now beating a hasty retreat behind the large block of buildings in which they lived. A miniature well was getting dug and some kid brought water from the nearby tank and poured it into it only to see it disappear. The next generous lot of water persisted in the freshly dug well to make things look complete. They surveyed their creation and sat for some time as the storyteller among them was fast finishing his story partly because it was getting dark and also it was getting difficult to feed his imagination that was now running wild as the script.

There was some sand that had been dumped for construction by a shop long back and this was used by another group of kids who were designing roads and tunnels across and over it.

A puddle of water made by the overflowing tank in the morning had some kids busy digging canals and launching paper boats. This all looked funny to elders and adults surveying the group below from floors above but nevertheless it meant so much to the children who always descended on this play field and got creative every day to make most of the strip of land to feed their imagination.

With the disappearance of such strips of land in metro cities, imagination that was once put to constructive use in such a lost garden, was now restricted to new games that came up for the new generation…

Wonderful foggy night scene at a playground, BBD Bagh, Kolkata, India
Brett Cole Photography

 

Branding Birthdays

To all those, to whom a birthday every year, is a day to cherish!

Perceptions

I woke up to the sound of
birds chirping and the
bard singing his tunes.
In the distance, a church
bell rang in sweet chimes.

Down in the street, there
appeared a few people
celebrating some event.
With bugles and trumpets
they were all ready to start.

The wind had a fragrance
and a vibrance never seen
before, and yet little
flowers kept beckoning it
to keep them swaying.

I wondered what it could be
memorable as it seemed to be
and then remembered it to be
a special day, that could only be
a day to cherish, Your Birthday!

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Diwali musings

Diwali is round the corner; that is when I thought of writing this post to re-live good old memories in the seventies and early eighties in a now bustling metro city named Mumbai, or for that matter, Bombay to the so called old timers like me.

For us children, days were divided into 3 parts. One was definitely school time, another was playtime and the third was holiday time that came in the form of winter and summer holidays and to some like me who lived in Bombay, the Diwali holidays.

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The lanterns hung up by most households with a variety of shapes and colors was fun to watch and compare. In every household, family members and neighbors would chip in to prepare sweets for Diwali and that would include Laddu , Shankarpali, Chivda, Bombay mix, the Chaklis(muruks for tamil/malayalees) and the good old Karanji. Purchasing the raw materials was a daunting task in itself to prepare all such sweets at home. The preparation used to take a few days after which we used to exchange samples of these with our neighbors who used to give us what they had prepared.

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The earthen lamps that used to grace all homes during this festive occasion was another pretty sight to all in the late evenings.

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The colorful rangoli patterns on the floor outside every door was a marvel. The whole town was painted with new colors outside each door step bringing out the artist in each household.
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This also used to give a divine aura to the surroundings and everyone from the children to the elders with pretty new clothes bedecked with jewelry was always a pretty sight to watch. The illumination was also seen on each face, the innocent joy on children’s as they lighted up crackers and looked at each other. Each group of houses was, a city into itself, plunged in celebrations. The crackers and other fireworks used to light our lives in the night and create a headache for the elderly. With the earthen diyas, the illuminated rangoli designs, the lanterns, and the shooting crackers, Diwali definitely lives up to its name of Festival of Lights. Though the main festival lasted 5 days, for us, it was as long as our sweets, crackers and the vacations lasted.

Here is wishing you, all my readers, who are getting ready for the festival of lights, a prosperous, happy and safe Diwali..