Drowned

beach

You have been warned : Do not go further, there is danger ahead.

The still waters beckoned me as my little footprints made their imprints upon the hot dry sand from the now setting Sun which was once at its zenith only a few hours ago. As the cool waves lapped at my feet tickling me, needless to say,  they were now beckoning to get in more of my self into the blue expanse lit only by a distant horizon and a few stars making their appearance.

I could feel the embrace of the heavy stillness around my waist pushing me ever so slightly, in all directions, four directions I had been taught in school. I never had experienced so much soothing, as if somebody had applied the healing balm all over me. The timid mind had made its plunge into the deep even before, though the body ever so careful made steps with my tiny legs that had now started to complain to me that the water though helping it to hold on was also pushing the weight of my fear into the quick sands that were quickly forming. But as egged on, as I used to walk with parents, I persisted to walk ahead into the inviting spectacle.

When the plush waves pushed with me playfully, I tried to balance with my hands trying to use them as paddles, oars or fins, oh I could see my vocabulary was slowly failing me. The shadow of fear that had appeared quite some time ago in my messy head was now standing next to me, not helping me, but standing still, waiting for me as my mother did, to take care of my ablutions.

I looked out to the beach, how far was I away from the people walking upon it, the playful children creative as they could get with the sand. I could see some navigating the now invisible thread of their playfully wielded kites and the hawkers trying their best to get in a morsel or two of the food in their cans into the mouths of the visitors. Shout I did as as I was slowly drifting away, the sea taking  with it, poor me, as it retreated for the evening but all I could manage was a croak. Was it because of the salt that had gotten into me or had  I become an amphibian after settling in this water for some quite some time. My skin needed to breathe, my pale self not helping,  the fish scurrying desperately getting away from a stranger who never knew or learned to swim like them. There was no log of wood for me to hold on, nor one to write my last wishes for the dear people whom I left back on the beach.

Had they noticed my absence, the dusk fast giving away to darkness, my head and frail hands that bobbed up once in a while, was it visible to them, to anyone who gazed at the deep sea or the arc of the horizon, I knew not. The body got heavier by the minute and whatever air in me gave way to the water now gushing in with a pinch of salt. Water, I was taught was life giving, but my small body could never handle too much of it. The ocean was now feeding me what it knew best, to intruders who had never understood how to step into it. Oh dear mother,  if only I had listened to you and had not wandered off into the deep water when you were not looking. I sent you on an errand so that you could not see me running into the vast expanse of bluish water which had always enchanted me, a place of wonder where a lot of my imaginative characters dwelt.

I know the lunch with the wonderful curry you fed with your hands seems to be, my last feed of the day as I now rest myself on the floor of good old nature, bidding bye to all my worries, my unanswered questions and rest now. My tired body has sunk, buried by a thin layer of sparkling sand, a blanket against the increasing cold of the heavy rumble above me. How I, fervently wish, I might be a floating log tomorrow for my loved ones to reclaim and rebury along with their fond memories of me…

beach2

 

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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

 

Rain Series

A group of clouds came from nowhere
filled with water, they turned to a shower
it is rainy days here again, remarked some
kids left their games and did a rain dance
whatever was left to dry now taken inside
whatever needed to be wet was put outside
the rain drenched and washed the stench
bringing its own perfume that was earthen.

The clouds could now be seen fast receding
a child looked up to see them now flying away
what other task you have, to go soon so fast
please stay and pour some more water on us
to our hearts fill and to fill our pots and wells
No dear, we have other places to water well
and we better not be late, whispered the cloud
as he sped away to catch up with the others…

Sun Stories

Ganga had come late to school today also. The teacher chided her for being late every now and then. She was late most of the days in a month, let alone some days when she was absent. The only municipal school that stood at the periphery of  the village had an assortment of pupils drawn from various walks of life from the village residents.

Little did the teacher know that Ganga’s day started at 4 in the morning. She had to supply milk from Lalchand Seth’s diary to around 25 households which used to get over by 5:30 and go to Ratan Seth’s house to wash and clean the dishes.
Today the teacher had had enough and decided to give the punishment to the little girl. As she stretched out our hands for the cane to land, the teacher’s eyes fell upon the marks on the hands. It was full of cuts and bruises. When asked what had happened, Ganga preferred to remain silent. She escaped the beating this time, but will have to sit outside the class for 2 hours as punishment. As she sat outside, her eyes fell on the chirping sparrows playing in the sand and the parrots flying to some far off land. If only, I was one among them, she wondered as she shielded her eyes from the hot Sun making his presence felt.

Bala is standing beside the road with an assortment of guavas and oranges. Like his elder brother Shiva he is also a bread winner for his family, berefit of their father, and with 2 more siblings and an ailing mother to support. Both of them are out all the time selling wares. In the case of Shiva he has a make shift stall outside the main market that he uses to sell bangles, beaded chains and all  such items.

Bala used to buy 5 kilos of guavas and oranges and walk another 2 kilometers to a vantage scenic spot on the highway so that he could sell them to people or tourists frequenting the place. There were lucky days, when before reaching the spot, his goods would have been sold on the road itself. Bala had gone to school till his 4th standard and after that what ever knowledge he had gained in the last 5 years was  from these very tourists; He had picked up a bit of few languages at least that came handy in negotiating during the purchase or the haggling saga. There were days when very few people picked his wares or gave him a decent money in return for them. Today was a hot summer day and there were not many  people who even cared to look at him, let alone his fruit basket.

Rakesh was enjoying his vacation as his summer holidays had started a few days back. He along with his family is on the way to Nasik and planned to visit places that they had skipped in their visit last year. On the way, they saw some tourists have disembarked from the magnificent vehicles to see an attractive waterfall.

They also stop to get down to take pictures, selfies with all backgrounds possible. At this time, a boy of 12 approaches them. “Saab, madam,   Peru, Santra lo na; yeh bahut sast hai, saab ” in a pleading voice (translation: Sir..please buy these fruits Peru(Guava) Santra(orange), these are very cheap). Rakesh looks at the boy aged same as him, he appears shabby and sun burnt. The boy is watching him with awe and wants him to negotiate the sale with his parents. No no, the father says, we have enough food and fruits stocked in our car, no point in buying from this boy, don’t even know from where he has plucked all these.

The large guavas, for Rakesh, seemed inviting as also the boy’s eyes but his pleas fell on deaf ears and he had to get into his car that was raring to go with his parents. But before getting in, he waved back to the dark boy with his basket of fruits who was still looking at him with one hand shielding himself from the afternoon Sun.

While speeding through, in the cool comfort of his Innova car, that was now negotiating a hump, his eyes fell on a girl sitting outside a small school veranda near to the road. Pointing to her, he nudges his father.  Why is she sitting outside father? He curiously asked. “Maybe she hasn’t done her homework before coming to school ” was the quick reply..” Put the blinds on son for the sun is really hitting us even through the tinted glass”.

 

My Story

This story goes back to my school days in Bombay, now Mumbai, where I grew up. The 4 storeyed building where we stayed had around 72 tenants. Each tenant had a home of 450 square feet that included a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom.The ground floor had an assortment of shops that had 2 laundry shops, 2 clinics, 3 groceries, a tailor, a medical shop, a co-operative bank, classrooms of a school and now to the central character of this story, the civil supplies ration shop.

The locality spread across roughly 30 plus acres was called Abhyudaya Nagar which had around 45 such buildings, and also had the Kalachowky police station quarters  opposite our building. The nearest railway station was Cotton green. To serve these tenants, around 3000 and amounting to an average of 15000 people, we had 6 or 7 such ration shops in the locality.

Since this particular ration shop was in our building, in my running around the building during play time and my weekly visits to buy our monthly ration of rice, sugar, kerosene and sometimes wheat, I became friendly with the owner of the shop, who also acted as the cashier. His job was to check the ration card, similar to a bank’s savings pass book and give out necessary receipts after collecting the payment. There was another person to help him dole out the ration to the customers as they came in whenever any or all of the above mentioned commodities was made available.

The wheat, sugar and rice came in jute gunny bags on lorries or trucks. Kerosene used to come to these shops on bullock carts from the nearby Sewri Indian Oil godowns at a distance of 3 kms. A 500 litre tank was drawn by one bullock, and sometimes the 1000 litre tank that made its appearance to these shops were drawn by 2 bullocks. In those days, the rationing for kerosene, priced at 1.20 INR per litre, was anything from 20 litres for a small family for a month or more based on the number of members listed on the ration card.

Since kerosene was a scarce commodity and strictly available only in ration shops during the early late seventies and early eighties, people used to flock to these shops in great numbers whenever such carts made their visits to the shops. At such occasions, during my playtime that would start at 3 pm to 5:30 pm, I sometimes used to volunteer for support to give the grains and sugar to such customers, since the only man was busy managing to give kerosene and grains at the same time. The shopkeeper liked me coming, since as I was known to him, and did not mind me helping him and thereby increasing the throughput and reducing the waiting time of customers in the queue.

I never went every day, as I could now remember but made it a habit of chipping in only when the kerosene carts came and when the queue was more than 15 to 20 people. Some people especially ones from my building was only too glad to see me serving them. There was one occasion when an old woman from the police quarters who blessed me saying, “Son, you will be never be want of food in your life for what ever help you are rendering to us”. It was during those formative years that I learnt my initial customer service and support lessons.

Once, during my 9th standard, these consortium of such 6 or 7 ration shops decided to bring a lottery scheme for all the ration card holders in this area, and the shop owners went to each and every home and sold lottery tickets which had the first prize as black and white television and other prizes which I do not remember. During those times, since color televisions had not appeared, the black and white one costed as much as 5000 INR, a costly luxury item for most of the people. They came to my house and our shop owner asked my mother to buy at least 10 tickets each costing 2 INR to which she obliged, since she did not want to upset either him or me who was present at that time. 2 rupees itself was a big amount in those days, because you could buy a kilogram of sugar or rice or wheat at that time.

The day of the prize came, and I had memorized the lottery series numbers which we had bought. That day however I forgot all about it and after school, I went out to play cricket. The shopkeepers were going to each and every building and announcing the prize winning numbers on a loud speaker and when they came to our building and announced, was I glad to hear that we had won the first prize…

 

 

Clouded Vision

monsoon-6
Pic Credits: Indianlifestylez

The kid on the balcony was looking out at a bunch of twigs on fire
apart from that, what would enliven her otherwise sultry afternoon?
the cool wind gushed through the trees dousing out the feeble fire
people started hurrying, sun scampering, as the place turned dark.

She looked up wondering what was it that caused it, an eclipse?
her sight met dark clouds now gathering fast from all quarters
full of moisture, laden by weight, not knowing if they could continue
or should they stop awhile and lighten their load of life giving water?

In full array, they came and converged in a circle around the place
it would now rain at any moment, the girl thought, with sheer joy
She ran down the  stair rails to enjoy the first rain of the season
the monsoon had arrived with all paraphernalia, ready to deliver.

The streak of lightening greeted her as her feet touched the ground
thunderclaps resonated notifying that the act was about to start
army of clouds now started to pour their oblations upon the place
this ritual always appeared in time to drench her, so she thought…

Friends who blossomed

The short Jasmine and the tall Lily
would talk  daily as they swayed
the gentle wind who would listen
the bright hovering sun who watched
the merciful rain falling to protect.

The moon shining bright every month
lighting them up as they slept unaware
looking over the ever so gentle beauties
blissfully lighting many a human heart
whose scanning eyes would pick them.

Their life spans so short to us humans
who would enjoy their beauty one day
not even  bothering to look over them
bodies of two friends lying withered
their memories fading into quick sand…

The Open Window.. Childhood revisited…

One day, I opened my window
to see children playing below.

But alas, the showers came
the rain god got the blame.

As the sparrows wet in vain
the waters flooded the lane.

The kids roared like insane
while parents took their canes.

They heard their mothers calling
followed by the lightning falling.

This time they yielded with pain
sadly, I shut my window pane.

When it rained

The fields would sway to the wind

the children in trains waving back.

The tides would get back their surf

the farmers too engrossed in work.

When the rains hit us days on

it made pools of watery slush.

The mud would entrance the kids

who would make pots with the clay.

The sun would peep in on the dew

so that the grass could retain the shine.

The grasshoppers would jump in joy

crickets playing the game of life.

The butterflies were very choosy

as to which flower they would sit.

This made it difficult for us to catch

by reading their minds in tiny heads.