Who?

4 Oct

I have been thinking of the best opening line for this, but nothing comes to mind. For, with overwhelming emotions comes the risk of inaccurate articulation of the events that happened. So I will try to blurt it out without further ado. I still can’t believe this really happened.

We had been to Jim Corbet National Park for two days. A much-needed break for us. My parents and we shared two rooms which were interconnected. The resort was beautiful with no dearth of flora. It was beside a river. So all in all, we were very relaxed and in a holiday mood. After a sumptuous dinner the first night, we all went to bed early. Although I was very tired, I couldn’t sleep for a while. We had our customary rhyme’s session. My baby listened to me with rapt attention as I sang to him, “Hickory Dickory Dock, The mouse ran up the clock, the clock struck one, the mouse ran down, Hickory Dickory Dock.” Then, “Rain, rain, go away, Come again another day…, Five little ducks went swimming one day…” and so it went on and on till the little one was fast asleep. My better half was snoring by this time. Except the crickets chirping, I couldn’t hear anything else. No sooner had I shut my eye, than I heard the songs, Hickory Dickory Dock The mouse ran up the clock the clock struck one the mouse ran down Hickory Dickory Dock. Rain, rain, go away… Five little ducks went… AND IN MY VOICE. A cold shudder ran through my spine. I pinched myself. I couldn’t trust my senses. I shook my husband awake and whispered, “Wake up. Listen.” He was sound asleep and woke up with a start, “What?” The song stopped. I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night although the voice didn’t come back again.

Next day, we all bathed in the pool and after giving my son a bath in the room, I went in for a bath. The warm water was soothing. My parents and my husband had gone ahead for lunch and I would soon be joining them. Just as I was stepping out of the washroom, I looked at the mirror and gasped! THERE WERE TWO OF US in the mirror. I kept looking at my reflections. Both of them kept looking at me too. I couldn’t believe my eyes! What was happening to me? Maybe I was going mad. This had to stop. The previous night came back to me. I rushed out of the washroom. The whole day I couldn’t get this out of my head.

So far these phantoms had only appeared to me alone and only once of each kind. I kept reasoning this riddle in my mind. But I was way too scared. I simply couldn’t understand what to make out of this. I didn’t tell anyone anything about it. We would be leaving the next day in the morning. Just one night to go. But as night approached, the anticipation of hearing the rhymes kept me from sleeping. But nothing happened that night.

Next day, my husband was beside the pool with our son, and my parents had gone ahead for breakfast. I was getting ready to check out of the resort. I was combing my hair when suddenly there were loud bangs on the door. I could hear my husband shouting, “Open the door, open the door.” I rushed to the door and opened it. I saw my parents running and coming near my room. “Are you hurt? What happened?” they all asked. I was astounded. “Nothing. I am fine. But what happened?” I asked. They all looked at me bewildered. Then my father said, “We heard you shout for help. We were all so scared. It was a loud bloodcurdling scream.” By then, many other people and resort staff had come there. I said, “It was not me. Let’s check out of this hotel at once.” My husband kept asking me whether I was alright, and I kept assuring him.

Back home, I opened my laptop. My eyebrows were furrowed and I was simply waiting to write this down. Have any of you ever faced something like this? I was most confounded.

My reflection on the laptop screen smiled at me…

Advertisements

Pages

24 May

On an ordinary Sunday, as Ria sat for breakfast with her parents, her mind was very far away. She couldn’t forget the previous night. She couldn’t forget what she had experienced. And who would have believed her anyway? But maybe she could put down the words in her diary one day… whether someone read it or not, she would keep writing. She would have to, there was no other way.

The little shadows came every night, right after she was done writing. They didn’t know that she was secretly watching them. The first night, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing—little shadows of boys and girls. But by the fourth night, she had become accustomed to them, so much so that she would actually wait for them before going to bed. They would dance on the pages of her diary and snoop down over her writing. She was so inquisitive about them that she could hold her excitement no longer. On the fifth night, a lovely blue night, she laid a trap for them.

Ria finished writing her story that night—a story she had been working on for the last two months. Before she left her writing desk, she slowly bent down and brought a shoe box on the desk. She kept her diary in the shoe box. And then she waited. The moon beams were bright and they fell on the desk, making it shine; a rich golden ochre hue filled the room. Three minutes passed by in dreaded anticipation, and as the clock struck two, sure enough the shadows were there, dancing over the diary pages, though this time, they had to climb inside the box. With lightning speed down came the lid of the shoe box on them.

Now Ria didn’t know what to do. She had made holes in the shoe box, so that she didn’t suffocate the little shadows. But how would she talk to them? Did they even talk? She knocked twice on the shoe box. Nothing happened. It was so eerily quiet. She knocked again. This time, there was a knock from the other side as well. Ria wrote on a piece of paper: Who are you? What are you doing in my house?

She folded the piece of paper and passed it inside the box through a hole. Shwhisssssshhhh… Shwhisssssshhhh…Shwhisssssshhhh … and out popped the piece of paper again, with scribbles on the other side: We are Story-dwellers. Don’t kill us please. We live in your stories.

Ria did not know what to make of this message. Story-dwellers? What in the name of heaven is that?! She quickly tore another piece of paper and wrote: No, I do not mean to kill you. But I want to talk to you. If I free you, will you run away or wait?

She felt bad trapping them so mercilessly but she didn’t know how else to confront these little beings. Shwhisssssshhhh… Shwhisssssshhhh…Shwhisssssshhhh … and out came the reply: We won’t run away, we promise. But we can’t talk. We can write.

Ria opened the lid of the box and the little shadows hopped out of it. Now they were standing in a row on her desk. The diary pages fluttered behind them. Ria brought her face closer to them. There were six shadows—2 boys and 4 girls. One of the girls had long hair, the other had her hair in braids and the other two had very short hair, and among the two boys, one was bald and the other had short hair.

This is the dialogue Ria had with them.

Ria: So where do you live? What do you mean you live in my stories? Where do you live in the day time?

Shadow 5 (the bald boy): We are Story-dwellers. We live in the pages of your diary. Our home is called Pages. We have lived there ever since you started writing when you were young. The day you stop writing, we will die.

Ria: Die? What do you mean? There will be a day when I can’t write anymore.

Shadow 5 (the bald boy): Then that day will be our last day.

Ria: Oh! What are you called?

Shadow 5 (the bald boy): I am Riju. He is C.

Shadow 2 (the girl with braids): I am Piya. She is Chutki, she is Rai and she is Piu.

Ria: Riju, C, Piya, Chutki, Rai and Piu—you are all characters from my stories. Oh my god. Tell me more about yourselves please. Why did you start visiting me suddenly?

C: We always came to drink your words after you were done. We sometimes came in the afternoons, sometimes, at night; sometimes, on your desk, sometimes inside the cabinet; sometimes here and sometimes there. We did not come suddenly. You noticed us only when you wanted to.

Piu: We wouldn’t survive without you, you know. We wouldn’t be here without you. Do you want to see everyone you have created?

Now Ria was beginning to feel a little frightened. Everyone she had created? Were they all living as shadows? And where? What were these children doing here? Where were the others?

Ria: Where are the others? What do you do every day here?

Rai: We gather food. We take it back to Pages. Everyone waits for us to get back. You are very special to us, Ria. Only someone who believed in what one wrote, like you, could have made us live. And you are doing great. We all depend on you.

Ria: Food, what kind of food? You depend on me? What does that mean?

Riju: Your words. They are our food. They are our life. We have a new family in Pages now. Calamity and her cat, Rincha; her parents and her grandmother. All of them are in Pages too!

Calamity and Rincha—they were characters from the story Ria had just penned down. She had been working on this story for quite some time now. How did they know all this? Her head was reeling. Was this real? Story-dwellers in Pages? She had to visit them.

Ria: I want to see all of you. I want to visit you. You have to take me there.

Riju: But that is impossible. How can you accompany us? I don’t know how that can happen.

Piya: It is possible. But it is difficult.

Ria: Tell me, I’ll do anything.

Piya: You have to write a story about yourself and us. In the story, you will have to accompany us to our homes. But, once you do this, your shadow will always be with us. Are you ready to leave your shadow with us? Don’t worry, we will take good care of you.

Shwhisssssshhhh… Shwhisssssshhhh…Shwhisssssshhhh

C: You can’t do that. You know the rules! She can’t do that.

Rai: The thing is Ria, we do not have a real person’s shadow with us. If that happens, the shadow will be alive till the person is and vice-versa. Are you ready for that? And we do not know the consequences.

Ria: Yes, I am.

On that ordinary Sunday, as Ria sat for breakfast with her parents, her mind was very far away. She couldn’t forget the previous night. She couldn’t forget what she had experienced. And who would have believed her anyway? But maybe she could put down the words in her diary one day… whether someone read it or not, she would keep writing. She would have to, there was no other way.

But it all went wrong.

When Ria finished penning her semi-autobiographical story and her shadow friends that night, she unknowingly created shadows of those six little shadows, an anomaly in Pages. They were clones. And in the land of Pages, there were no clones till date. That afternoon, C appeared on the diary. He looked very thin.

Shwhisssssshhhh… Shwhisssssshhhh…Shwhisssssshhhh

C: Hi Ria. We are barely alive. You have created our clones and hence Piya’s plans have gone astray. We will not survive much longer.

Ria: Oh no…what can I do? What if I tear those pages from the diary?

C: Then we, along with our clones, will perish. All the twelve of us. Now, at least only our lives are at stake, our clones will survive.

Ria: There has to be a way. Where is my shadow? Take me to Pages. I want to help. I can set it right. Believe me.

C: You have to believe really hard that such a place truly exists and then leap into the diary. Do that.

Ria closed her eyes and leapt into the diary. When she opened her eyes, she was still sitting in the chair, but she saw the last shadowy hue disappear into the pages of her diary. She knew she was there at the same time. Being one’s own shadow travelling into unknown magical places, was a difficult experience for Ria. And it had repercussions. But what repercussions could have stopped Ria from going there, from saving her friends, and to experience the thrill and wonder of it all?

Pages was not only beautiful, it had lots of variety in the landscape. Everything was as she had written in her stories. There were mountains and rivers on one side, and there was a spaceship on the other end of the sky, and bustling cities and colourful markets. There were shooting stars and elves and real people and ghosts. Only all of it was dark and they were all shadows. In Pages, no one could talk, they could only write. In Pages, no one ever went hungry. Because the Story-dwellers always got food from the words in her diary. There was poverty, yes. Because Ria had written about poverty. There were crimes too! But all of it and all of them belonged to one great family. As Ria had finished one diary after another, there were shadow worlds created one after the other. And she had given birth to a shadow universe. She saw her shadow friends and their clones. She picked up a shadow diary and started writing. She would keep them alive, that was a promise.

When her parents found her, Ria was sitting still on her chair, scribbling away furiously—words which no one understood. The language was also unknown to them. She finished one diary after the other in this way.

Today, she sits in a mental asylum, still writing away furiously. She doesn’t talk or eat or sleep. She simply writes.

Her shadow smiles. She has kept all her friends alive. And their clones too.

For in Pages, her Pages, everyone would live on till the day she writes.

She

1 May

On the stormy evening
She was looking for purple
She was looking for off beats
She was looking for mysteries

On the stormy evening
She was looking for long-lost friends
She was looking for everlasting words
She was looking for unending laughter

She was looking for afternoons
She was looking for stories
She was looking for siblings
On the stormy evening

She was looking for winding roads
She was looking for wrinkled letters
She was looking for a steady gaze
On the stormy evening

Parallel railway lines, playing ekka-dokka
Eating raw mango with salt and chilli powder
Imaginary students, chalk scribbles on black pillars
Puppies, mud, honey from flowers, ant bite on lips

Diary pages, pen friends, love letters
Chilekotha, phishphish, Shahrukh Khan
Beatles, Bob Dylan, Anjan Dutta, Suman
Santiniketan, Puri, Betla, Ranchi

On the stormy evening
She was longing for…
Poirot and Shanku
Asterix and Apu

On the stormy evening
She was longing for herself

Spoon and dish

20 Apr

It was three years after India was independent. This story is set in the-then Bombay. It would be bland to call this a love story, but it is nothing but that.

When Linda came to Pari’s house, she first looked at the wooden door behind the garden. It was slightly ajar. Then she noticed Pari dancing in the rain. Linda stood there with her rainbow-coloured heavy umbrella, transfixed by the magical Pari in the rain.

Pari was booked for a photoshoot right after this. Linda had to get her inside.

‘Coffee, Linda?,’ Pari asked as Linda approached the dancing damsel, the radiant queen, a bright winged fairy.

‘Yes, I could do with a cup,’ Linda said, folding her umbrella as she walked inside. Pari entered her house dripping wet. She didn’t mind the water dripping behind her.

Mr Percy ran after them to clean the soppy floor. There would be people soon. The crew had already placed different pieces of furniture in the dining hall: the photoshoot venue was Pari’s house.

‘You have to get ready,’ Linda said.

‘Yes… But today I don’t feel like working,’ Pari said, with a faraway look in her eyes. ‘I just want to drink coffee and watch the rain. I think I will just cancel the thing,’ she said. Linda sighed. She didn’t know why she rushed from home to be on time for the shoot. She took the tray with the coffee cups from Mr Percy. ‘Thank you, old man. That’d be all… Umm, could you please call the studio and cancel the do today?’ Pari asked.

‘Will promptly do so, Ma’am,’ he said.

Pari knew things had been taken care of. She looked at Linda and said, ‘Let’s go and sit on the terrace.’ Pari changed into dry clothes–a light blue gown, and they walked up the stairs to the terrace. The terrace garden was glowing with lush green plants. It was drizzling now. They sat themselves down.

‘It makes you think, doesn’t it? The futility of living… When was the last time we enjoyed rain, Lin?’ Pari asked. She was clearly in a very different sort of a mood today. Linda never knew what went on in her friend’s head.

‘Yes… But that’s because I don’t have the time for all such things. Money is food, babe. Everyone’s not like you,’ she said, each word weighing her down.

‘I wasn’t born into all this, love. I made all this. And some day, I am going to turn into rubble and everyone’s gonna forget me. You wanna bet? At least somebody’s gonna remember you and Mr Percy. I wish I had someone to come back home to. A Mrs Percy perhaps, or a certain Jake to meet up for a date…’ Pari teased Linda.

The latter blushed and she rose to hide her colouring cheeks. ‘Jake hasn’t been around the last two weeks,’ Linda said. ‘Haven’t you called him?’ Pari asked.

Pari lit a cigarette. As the smoke spiralled in front of her, she looked at Linda’s sad face and said, ‘Are you in love?’ Her friend had that sheepish grin. She said nothing. ‘Let me see what I can do,’ Pari said.

Later that evening, Pari called Mr Percy. ‘Find out Jake Adams. Get him to meet me,’ she told him.

‘Aye Ma’am,’ he said.

The next two days, the house was filled with unwanted people. The shoot was exhausting for Pari. She kept quiet. She was always dignified like that. She was known to reign the movie world in the most graceful way one could imagine. And life went on.

The third morning, Mr Percy woke her up at seven in the morning. ‘What’s it old man? I thought I would sleep in the whole day,’ she said grumpily.

‘Mr Adams, Ma’am. Waiting downstairs,’ he said. ‘Oh…you found him then,’ she said as she got out of bed. She dragged herself to the washroom. Half an hour later, she was dressed. God knows why she put on the very dark red lipstick.

Mr Adams saw a white beauty gliding down the stairs. She had worn a white gown.

‘Oh…Mr Adams,’ she said.

He was drop dead gorgeous. His brown hair and light green eyes could make her faint. Poor Linda. The victim of fantasy. ‘Please come to my study,’ she said.

‘Good morning, Miss Pari,’ he said.

‘Just Pari please,’ she said as she guided him to the study. The ebony table was a huge one. The two sat facing each other. Mr Percy got refreshments, and only lemon in hot water for Pari.

‘All I want to know is whether you love my dear friend Linda,’ she asked.

‘Linda… She’s a sweet girl. But am sorry I don’t love her,’ he said with a sigh, taking a sip of his coffee.

‘That’s terrible, Mr Adams. It will break her. But you can’t help it,’ she said.

The sun light was streaming in the room through the French windows. The heavy bottle green curtains gave it a lush shade. ‘Is this why you had called me?’ he asked looking at her a little disappointed.

‘Yes, I am afraid it’s so,’ Pari said. But she couldn’t understand why she felt a little discomfort from the moment she saw him.

‘Before you became this, we were friends once. Many days ago. You knew me as Roddy, Pakeezah,’ Adams said.

‘Squeaky Roddy, my god!’ Pari leapt from the chair and ran across the room to hug her old friend. Whatever had happened to her memory! She was so surprised.

When Linda visited Pari’s house that day at five in the evening, she didn’t find her home. Seeing her dejected, Mr Percy explained, ‘Ma’am has gone out. Why didn’t you fix an appointment? She didn’t know you were coming.’

‘Yeah…it’s alright. My fault,’ she said as she went out.

‘You must be out of films for a reason…’ Adams told Pari. She had ordered squids and was now looking at them longingly before putting them in her mouth.

She said, ‘I am waiting for a good script. I haven’t found one so far. What about you?’ she asked.

‘I teach. History. And sometimes, Maths,’ he said. He was sipping lightly on his beer.

‘Maths and History! Unusual combo…’ Pari noticed.

‘Yes, but I have always liked them both. Now, tell me about you,’ he said.

‘My life is an open book. What do you want to know?’ Pari was looking intently at him.

‘What the world doesn’t know,’ he quietly said.

‘What the world knows… is hardly me. With success comes woes. And I have had my share. I didn’t tread carefully,’ she said.

‘I am sorry to hear that. But am sure you have had a fair share of cakes and perfume, too,’ Adams said with a twinkle in his eye.

‘Perfumes, yes. But cakes? No… I may have one in say two months. A cupcake,’ she said.

This took the handsome young boy by surprise. ‘Only one cupcake in two months! How do you survive?’ he asked innocently.

‘I survive. On fame, I suppose…’ Pari was distant and cold for a while, it seemed to him. He let the subject drop.

‘Why did you change your name?’

‘You know how these people are. They already had one Pakeezah. So I became Pari. Do you like it?’ she asked.

‘I like everything about you,’ he said. They looked at each other for a few seconds. Pari felt his penetrating gaze.

Then Pari said with a thin smile forming in her near-divine lips, ‘Squeaky Roddy. Do you remember how you got that name?’

‘Yes, don’t I just?’ he said, a dejected look on his face.

Just then the waiter approached their table with their drinks. They gave each other a mischievous glance and drank the shots bottoms up.

…………………………………..

It was a Friday evening. Pari was standing in her room near the window. Her long eyelashes were weighing down on her eyelids, her gaze was cast outside on the road below. She saw the people passing by her house, cars zooming past, vendors selling vegetables and fruits. She felt very alienated from all this. She had come from a middle-class family, and her celebrity status had granted her the riches and wonders of the world, but she missed a lot of trifles. How she would love to dine with her parents every day and laugh out loudly! She wished she could gorge on all the fatty fast food instead of spending countless hours in the beauty parlour. She hated it. The world judged her for her looks, her figure—everything superficial. On Friday, she was missing all these with an unmatched intensity. Squeaky Roddy, Calvin, and Pakeezah—they were the notorious trio in their community. Pari didn’t have a clue where Calvin was. Having met Roddy after so many days, she sank in the beautiful ordinariness of her past life.

‘Hi, Pari,’ Linda said before entering her room.

‘Hi, Lin. Come in,’ Pari said, without facing her. She felt extremely uneasy meeting Linda. She had tried to avoid meeting her friend and manager in several ways, but there was no undoing the meeting that day.

‘We have to meet Prem-Raj firm for discussing the script,’ Linda said, in the usual monotone.

Pari kept looking outside the window.

‘When shall I book the appointment?’ Linda asked.

‘Any time after Wednesday. I am busy till then,’ the actress said, still looking the other way.

Linda looked at her diary schedule; in the next five days, Pari only had one interview and one charity programme to attend. Except these, she was free. In fact, she was entirely free on Tuesday and Wednesday. She was extremely confused. She thought Pari may have forgotten the programme.

‘Tuesday and Wednesday you have nothing…’ Linda had just started when Pari blurted, ‘I decide which days are free and which are not. Please do as I say.’ Pari was shocked herself at having spoken to Linda like that. Linda fell from the sky; she had never been spoken to in that way by her employer, who she had come to think of as a friend. What could have possibly gone wrong?

Linda left the room, bewildered. She didn’t want to disturb Pari further. Maybe she required some time on her own. As Pari heard the door shut, she drowned in shame and regret. She knew what was driving her actions—guilt. Did her life have to be such a poor film story? Was this really love? She couldn’t get Roddy out of her mind. Did he feel the same? And what would she do with Lin? She remembered reading a detective story by Christie—where a rich lady steals the husband of her dear friend. Her face flushed, she tried to ignore the thought for the rest of the day.

‘Old man, get Sabrina out. I want to take a ride,’ she told Mr Percy.

Sabrina was the black mare she had purchased two years back. It was a good mare and had served her well. She went out for a ride in the mango grove near the sea, and went to a secluded spot on the beach. She halted, descended, and sat near a cove. The mare stood a few feet away from her. She looked at the vastness in front of her. Her eyes became one with the marine blues. She forgot the time and day of the week. She let the moment engulf her. The abuses she had encountered, the humiliations, the attacks, the dirty politics—everything came back to haunt her. And then that bright handsome face of Adams. She felt strangely peaceful every time she remembered him. They were once like siblings. They used to write small poems and set them to tunes. One went like this:

Stars and starfish,
Spoon and dish,
Danced away away away,
At the dimming of the day.

She laughed out loud. With no one to hear her, she let her voice echo in the emptiness of the sand and sky. Then she whispered the name thrice, ‘Roddy, Roddy, Roddy. Pari Adams. Pakeezah Adams.’ As soon as she said it, she knew she had to get herself out of this mess. She couldn’t drag him into this life. It wouldn’t turn out to be a happy life, she knew. Besides, what fate did a Muslim have in this war-torn country. And he was British!

The next Wednesday, she met the director with his script, and on next Friday she flew to London for a month to shoot for a film.

Pakeezah,

I don’t know if this will reach you. I had gone to meet you the other day. Mr Percy, the good man, told me of your busy schedule. You are a star, I am a mere mortal. But I am glad you are back in the industry. We would get to see you again—the queen of the silver screen. Have I told you that I have never missed a single film you have acted in? I didn’t like most, but I could see you.

I have nothing specific in mind other than chatting with you like we used to. Having met you after all these days has made me want all that I miss these days.

I keep remembering our dinner that night. It was truly magical for me. Could you call me once you are back?

Squeaky

Pari folded the letter as she was called on the set. She touched up her make up and ran out in the sun. It was the last day of her shoot, and Mr Percy had directed this letter to her, just like he directed all mails to her wherever she was.

It had been a year Linda wasn’t her employee any more. Pari was the busiest star in the industry. But she was shrinking within herself with each passing day. She was afraid of her bare face without the make up. The cosmetics could surprisingly hide most of the skirmishes, except the ones on a person’s heart. Pari remained loyal to her friend in a weird way. She lost touch with Linda. When Linda begged her to not do something so drastic, Pari remained firm, to the point where she knew Linda would come to hate her, and moved away. She didn’t tell Linda the reason. In love, hatred or the feigning of it is a mandatory step, missed by most people. If you can make someone you love hate you when you want to move away, you have done him/her a favour; you have loved truly. And if one hasn’t loved, one hasn’t lived.

As for Roddy, he wasn’t permitted in her house ever again. He came back twice, and never went back there again.

Pari had written him a reply.

Jake,

We are very different now. Best to keep it that way.

Pari

What Roddy thought of the letter, she didn’t know and even though she wanted to take every word back, she stayed put.

She couldn’t do this to her friend.

‘Hello, Lin,’ Adams said approaching the grieving lady in the bar. She was sitting on a high stool alone, with a scotch in her hands. She started, and looked at him as if she had seen a ghost.

‘What are you doing here?’ she asked.

‘I am here for the same reason as you: to drink,’ he said, with a laugh.

Linda, who was quite drunk already, said, ‘And what’s your real reason, Mr Adams?’

‘Let me see… I can’t seem to guess. I think it’s just a drink,’ he said.

‘No, there has to be something else,’ Linda said.

‘Like what?’ he said, cheerfully.

‘Like the blues…’ Linda said, looking into the slightly shaking whiskey.

Adams looked at her and lowered his glance. What could he say? To each his own miseries. His intense light green eyes could hide more than their capacity. He really didn’t know what to say.

‘How’s Pari?’ he asked.

‘Who, Pari? Hoorpari?’ Linda asked, her face distorted in mockery.

Adams was confounded. He looked at her quizzically. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘I don’t know any Pari,’ she said, and walked out.

Adams sat at the bar alone and wretched. To the world, he was a happy-go-lucky person, but inside, he was a miserable loner.

‘Pakeezah…’ he silently whispered.

‘Hello,’ a child came up to Pari. ‘Could I please have your autograph?’

Pari was surrounded by a thick crowd. A Muslim actor in the heart of India after the country was torn with relentless riots—hence, the security measures were excessive. She was always cordoned off by her a curtain of human bodyguards. She had been attacked twice in the past couple of months.

She was pleasantly surprised to find a little boy tugging at her dress, having sneaked into the crowd bypassing the bodyguards. Thanks to his height.

‘Of course, little one. What’s your name, beta?’ she asked.

‘Pari,’ she said.

‘Hey, a nice name. I mistook you for a boy,’ she said.

‘I know. My parents are big fans. They watch every movie you are in,’ she said.

‘Oh, I would love to meet them,’ she said, as she wrote a small message to her petite fan.

The little Pari pointed at one direction. Even from that distance, Pari couldn’t miss the rainbow-coloured umbrella screening the scorching sun. And she also knew where the little cherub had got her light green eyes from.

She waved at them. And put on her sunglasses. Her eyes were welling up. Everything was a blur, but the hands waved her back.

Pari smiled. She knew she had conquered the world that day.

She retired from the cinema after completing her project and vanished from the face of earth. The newspapers went wild, ‘Where is the queen of Bollywood?’, ‘Where did Pari vanish?’, ‘is Pari alive?’

Then one day, five years after the day the two Paris met, Mr and Mrs Adams got a letter.

Hello Adams,

My friends. I took my time. Now I can safely say that the world has forgotten me. Whereas you have got a sweet little family of your own. A home. I am quite far away to bring any more harm to us. I was mad to have lost you both as friends. But I think I can make amends. I can be your pen friend. I will write to you if you write to me.

And please give the tiny box to Pari. It’s a little gift from me.

Yours forever,

Pari

When the child opened the box, there was a music box in it. And a scrap of paper with these lines inscribed on it:

Stars and starfish,
Spoon and dish,
Danced away away away,
At the dimming of the day.

Written many many years ago by Squeaky Roddy and Pakeezah…

School friends

20 Apr

‘Call me as soon as you get home,’ she chimed.

‘When have I not?’ said the other, assuring her.

This was the daily conversation they had before leaving for home from school. Eight hours of school, shared classrooms, playtime, and several other activities wasn’t clearly enough for them. They had to catch up even more. Words poured out like never-ending fountains. Secrets were disclosed, hilarity recreated over and over again, and gossips made. They were always together.

Two years later they went to different schools for their higher secondary exams; the boards were different too. Hence, their phone conversations only increased from then on. New stories and old, miserable and happy stories, and on and on it went.

They met very frequently. It never dawned on them that soon their worlds would change. For, university life is completely different and friends may explore new areas and drift apart. They did. But, they still came back to each other and being in the same city helped. However, in 2008, one went to a university in Delhi. A student’s pocket money isn’t such that one can call up that frequently. They met only when they were in the same city. Again, new revelations filled their evenings. They met when the other returned home for her vacations. They shouted, screamed and volleyed with each other. No power in the universe could keep them apart.

Different schools, different universities, different cities, different countries—now she is in Canada. It has been a twenty-three-year long friendship with its own share of ups and downs. But here they are—one, a mother of a eight month old; and the other happily settled with her husband, who’s a gem of a guy.

It is damn difficult to match their times; even though their phones cry out to connect. And they don’t know when they would meet again.

…..

So long friend, my backbone, my guiding star, till we meet again and catch up on our eccentricities. Love is a hollow word when it comes to a person like you.

 

 

A senior to her by a year in school, she was her confidante and her go-to friend in every kind of trouble and ecstatic events. They travelled together extensively; spent endless moments cycling around; had their first smoke together (scared to death lest they met someone familiar in the quiet by-lane), and they did meet someone, and threw the unsmoked cigarette (they had money only for one more); they laughed in the dead of the night and shared their first titillating encounters with the opposite sex; they spent countless nights at each other’s places and almost every evening at either one’s place; and they dreamt on and leant on each other for support…

Distance couldn’t dampen a strand of their bond. They remain equally cracked and jolly till this day. They have sure moved on a lot from those school days but they have grown from strength to strength. What would they do without each other? Those hilarious moments—happy and truly crazy—drives them on in their struggles in their lives now. It will continue to do so. They dream about a time when they would again be able to spend time with each other every day without a care in the world!

…..

A lot of my firsts have been with her. Perhaps, one shouldn’t have these for a longer time than we had; lest they get spoilt.

We would crack the world with our irrational sense of logic, and our flamboyant laughter will drown the world’s sorrows.

 

 

Lonely Night

19 Apr

The stars were going out. The stars were going out one by one. The clouds were turning dirty green, and the moon was light blue. The rain drops had frozen mid air–not exactly frozen, but they hung loose mid air and refused to obey gravity. And night had become a sparkling shade of cream!

C had merely looked out of the window casually with a coffee in his hands; what he saw made him go breathless and he almost felt faint. He kept the coffee mug on the window sill, bent forward and stuck his face to the pane. When the outside still didn’t change and stuck arrogantly at its weird display, he moved away, put on his coat, and walked outside. C was now experiencing a turbulence within himself. A loner from his early adolescence, he cursed himself for being alone that moment. There were somethings one needed to share with someone, anyone… He tried to think who he wanted to share this incredible show of nature with. Surprisingly, he remembered no one. Then he thought of calling his father—his frail old father who lived in a different city! His father whom he called only once every year on Christmas. He called C several times though.

The old man would never believe him, he thought. But he had to tell it to him. Who else did he have anyway? He was still standing in the courtyard shifting his weight from one foot to the other, his clenched fists inside his pockets. C didn’t like surprises, least of all something like this! He looked at the sky once more. He could not see any star now. He pinched himself on his right hand, he felt it. Had this been a dream, he would have felt very reassured.

The dirty green clouds in the cream night and the blue shining moon were all too much for him to take. He walked inside but looked back many times as he did so. He picked up his mobile phone, still in a daze. He dialed his father’s number, and while he heard the rings on the other side, he wondered what he would tell him. It was very likely that his father would think that C was finally losing his mind; that the self-imposed obsessive loneliness was gnawing on the core of his son’s heart and leading him to his slow decay.

‘Hello,’ a grumpy voice answered at last.

‘Dad, it’s me.’

Silence. Followed by, ‘You? How come? Are you well, son?’

‘Yes, Dad. Absolutely fine. Just tell me… How’s the night?’

‘The night? How do you mean? It’s getting chilly… and the dogs are barking less of late…’

‘No, how is it today? Have you seen outside?’

‘Yes, I went out for my regular walk and came home just a couple of hours earlier. I don’t know what you mean…’

‘No, it’s alright Dad. Just a casual question…’

‘I never understand you. How’s your writing coming up?’

‘The usual… Okay, keep well, will call you back soon.’

He heard a tired sigh as he kept down the phone. C was losing his mind now; his perspective was turning somersaults. He went to the window, looked outside once more in hope that the cream would turn black, but when nothing happened, he pulled the curtains and walked silently to the dining table and thumped down on the chair. He had made cold salad for dinner and set it on the table. The salad and C stared at each other, but neither moved.

Then his doorbell rang. His doorbell rang at nine o’clock! Who on earth could it be? C had no friends. He never had visitors over at home. He wasn’t expecting mail, and when did mails arrive at this time of the day?

C walked to the door, not knowing what he would see after opening it. As he unlatched the wooden door, he saw the vast emptiness greet him, there was nobody there; all he saw was a cat walking past his courtyard. He kept looking at it. Suddenly, the cat paused, turned its head towards him and looked directly at him. It was not looking merely into C’s eyes; it was looking within him. It was a cold stare. But not a blank one. Yet, nothing could have been more cryptic for C that night. He found himself stepping outside his house and closing the door behind him. As he heard the door close with a click, he felt stupid. He had locked himself out. It was his fate, cruel and nasty, to be on the streets on a cold rainy day. He forgot about the night, the doorbell and the cat. What would he do now? He didn’t know anyone apart from the people at his publisher’s. And they were hardly the sort he would seek advice from for his present condition. He knew what they called him behind his back—the snooty duchess, the weird belly etc. He had noticed that the editors liked to address the authors with a feminine adjective among themselves.

Suddenly he was feeling very sleepy. Sitting in the front porch, he fell asleep and his head thumped on the wall in front of him. He dreamt of his mother. But it was a strangely odd dream. She had her head bent down over a well. A very deep well. Her hair, wild and unkempt, hid most of her face. She kept standing there, trying to find something/someone in the well. The dream was stuck at this moment. There was no other vision. He couldn’t see the face. How did he know it was his mother? He woke up with a jolt. Before the dream could fade away, he tried to remember the details. The dream surprised him more and more. Just then, a strange thing happened. The raindrops which were hovering mid air, started rising up. Now he was feeling dumb. As he witnessed the supernatural event, he wished he wasn’t so friendless…

The cat reappeared in the courtyard. It sat down looking straight at C. C stared at the cat for a long time. It seemed that the feline beast would enter into the deepest recesses of his innermost insecurities and weaknesses, and wring out the truth from the bottomless pit. C got up and walked towards the cat. The cat soon turned around and walked across the courtyard, as if gesturing to C to follow her. C did just that. As they walked on, the rain kept moving upwards or back. They crossed grasslands and soft muddy mounds. C didn’t have a clue where he was going. The cat stopped near a bench in the middle of nowhere. A nowhere man in the heart of nothingness. This had to be the maddest experience C had ever had. He turned around to look at the scenery. He looked at the sky, looking for puddles of water in the sky…

When he turned back, he suddenly noticed someone sitting on the bench. It was a woman, who was in white clothes. Her hair was flowing freely and covering her face. C didn’t know why but he quietly crept beside her and sat himself down on the bench. They sat there in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Then she held his hand. It felt warm and…really nice. No one had ever touched him. He stood up and she stood up too. He held her in his arms and in the curtain of receding rain, they danced. The wind beat a slow retreat and the rain went up with a merry jingle. The music in the air lifted C’s moods and he led his companion to a dance in the rain. He didn’t know how long it had been before he found her arms wrapped around him. It felt the bodies had merged into being a single one. He felt happy and sad at the same time. And he wanted to laugh out loud and cry softly, hiding his face in her bosom. Then he moved the hair strands from her face. The face was the most beautiful he had seen. He kissed her… While his lips were locked with hers, the land seemed to slip from under his feet, the sky seemed to dissolve into nothing, and the horizon was fading fast. He held her hands tightly and didn’t want to leave her, but something was pulling them apart—the force was far greater than what he could fight against. And he didn’t have any strength to fight against anything anymore. Love was intense and its weight was conquering his senses.

He heard a glass shattering nearby. C opened his heavy droopy eyes, and found himself sitting on the table. He had made cold salad for dinner and set it on the table. The salad and C stared at each other, but neither moved.

C smiled a sad smile… It wasn’t that unreal. He was loved. Once at least. In the dead of night…in the enchanted land of loneliness…

 

The Hawk

11 May

‘You are late by two weeks. You have to pay a late fine,’ the tall bony woman said, looking over her half-reading glasses. Her voice was somber and almost a whisper. She was extremely careful about speaking in hushed tones inside the four walls of the library. Being a librarian for almost two decades now, the building with its tower of books on all sides was her sanctum, a spiritual and peaceful abode of sanity. Her life beyond this place may have been quite a different story, and for now, we will not focus on it. For now, we are interested in the bony lady with a tight bun on the top of her head who reigned over a world of distant charms and erudite consciousness with vivacious robustness. She knew the name of every book on every shelf on the first floor of the library. She knew what her regulars liked and disliked; she could guide them with grace. Though she wasn’t very friendly and approachable, one needed patience to see her crack out of her shell.

It was once a palace, which had now been turned into a three-floor library, and a clubhouse at the backside, overlooking the river. The clubhouse boasted of commercial good fortune, and was a well-visited place. Though the library once had more regular visitors, the clubhouse being the centre of attraction for many in the locality, it too shared in the latter’s allure.

‘Um…yes, I couldn’t finish the book in a week. I wasn’t…’ he mumbled. But she caught him in the middle of the sentence.

‘You could have renewed it,’ she said, her disposition like the head teacher of a convent school. She reminded him of a giant hawk, with its keen sense of sight and smell, always on the guard to catch its prey. He could imagine her sitting perched on a tall branch overlooking the activities in the forest through its lush green cover of foliage.

‘Yes, I wasn’t too well; so I couldn’t renew it,’ he finally finished his sentence.

At this, the hawk looked at him worriedly, took off her glasses, and leaned forward. Then she said, in a kind tone, ‘I’m sorry. I should have noticed you weren’t here these two weeks. What had happened? Are you alright now?’

He eased a bit and smiled. He felt amused to see her in that mood—the kind hawk, he thought. He said, ‘Yes…no, it was a mild cold, that’s all. Nothing much.’ Then, he took out fifteen rupees, and kept the money and two other books on the table to borrow. She suddenly, with a twitch, went back to being the dutiful keeper, and put on her glasses and wrote return dates on the first pages of the books. Then she handed them over to him.

—————————————————————————————————————————There weren’t too many places for him to ask a girl out in the vicinity. The river bank was too crowded a place. All he could think of was the library. Somehow, the dark, damp, lofty hall, with reading lamps dangling from the ceiling was a soothing place and had the dignity of composure and calm. So, he called her there. Once inside though, he didn’t know how they could exchange words or a laughter even, under the scrutiny of the hawk at the corner of the room.

He didn’t know much about this girl. He had recently met her at a friend’s. He could say that she was as excited as him. He could see her lean face, her high cheek bones, and the play of light and shadows made her look more endearing.

‘What kind of books do you like to read?’ he asked her in a whisper. The speech seemed like the sound of the wind that rushes past one’s ear while driving through the countryside in high speed.

‘What?’ she asked. He wasn’t surprised. He wasn’t very good at whispering. He had a bass voice, which made his whispers hoarse and the words rather indistinguishable.

‘Um…I said, what kind of books do you read?’ he said, this time, his voice muted, but not in a whisper.

‘Thrillers…mainly…,’ she said, a little unsure.

‘Oh! The thrillers are right behind you,’ he pointed to the shelf behind her. At the same time he berated himself silently for making the most awkward conversation. Somehow, he didn’t know what to say after this. They were in a library, his favourite one too! What else could he say? But he wasn’t sure he was making progress with her moods.

‘You are too loud. This is a library!’ the hawk had noticed them, as he was sure, she would.

The girl turned around, and ran her fingers over the books. He couldn’t say whether she was paying much attention to them. He went near her and stood beside her, and looked at the shelf too. He was put off by a row of Dan Brown books. He didn’t like the author. She looked at him again. ‘Could we go somewhere else?’ she said, finally. He could say she looked terribly bored. He was bored with her as well—she didn’t like books.

While walking out of the library, he saw the hawk at the desk staring at them angrily. Then she put her hand on her forehead and went back to a book she was reading. He noticed a dark red scar on her right cheek. He stopped short, looking at it. But then she stared again—the cold, hard stare. He ran outside the building not being able to meet her steely glance. Something had caused him a vague discomfort. He kept wondering about the scar…

—————————————————————————————————————————

‘I can’t find the copy of Hemingway’s Complete Poems,’ he said, worried.

‘They were taken,’ the hawk didn’t look at him, while saying this. She was scribbling something, and her bun seemed to be talking to him.

‘All the copies?’ he panted.

Now she looked at him. ‘Yes, all of them. There were three,’ she said. He thought she smirked at him. He walked out of the library in a huff. Were there so many who read Hemingway here? He couldn’t believe this.

The next day, he went to the library at three in the afternoon. He had to return four books. But he always sat reading a new book for an hour or two before returning the old books and borrowing new ones. He sat reading a poem by Robert Brooke in an anthology. He had suddenly found interest in war poetry.

Out of the blue, he felt a thump on the table. When he looked beside him, he saw the Hemingway book perched on the table and the hawk standing next to him. He looked at her bemused. ‘You said they were all taken,’ he garbled. ‘Yes, they are. This is my personal copy. You can keep it for a while,’ she said.

While walking out of the library that day, he found himself liking the hawk. And, he couldn’t help feeling happy that she had also probably taken a liking to him.

—————————————————————————————————————————

It was a rather usual and ordinary summer day. But seldom, one feels like taking off from work on such a day. There was some fun in taking a sudden unplanned holiday. So, the forty-year-old decided to bunk office that day. He switched off his mobile phone after informing his colleagues of a sudden bout of incorrigible diarrhoea. And he decided to spend time cleaning his bookshelf. Books gather a lot of dust; they needed constant attention. His wife, while leaving for work, gave him an envious look. She too needed a break, she said. Then she kissed him and bid him goodbye. He sat, amid rows and columns of books, dusted them, patted them and took time with each one before turning them back on the shelves. He marvelled at the scribbles on the front pages—‘To Bony, For scoring the perfect grades…Love Baba, Ma’, or ‘Keep your cerebral poises intact, Joyee’ (This was from his third girlfriend. They were twenty-five years old then.), ‘Don’t forget to steam up before you read this one…’ (This was a book on Bach’s symphonies—he didn’t know what the friend had really meant by ‘steam up’. He was still in touch with him. He would ask him what he had meant, he thought.). Some books had dog-eared pages; he tried straightening them. Some, he smelled. He sat surrounded by paperbacks and hardcovers, coffee table books and magazines. He kept smiling from time to time. He was enjoying a day with his beloved. As he crouched near the bookshelf perching more and more books, out came, Completed Poems—Ernest Hemingway (Revised Edition). A surge of guilt passed through him as a flurry of memories choked him. He remembered how in a sudden haste of activity, his application to Boston University had been accepted and he had flown away the very next week after the day she had given him the book. He had never had the time to go back to the library—a place, so far far away, in which he had spent almost every day for over a decade. He didn’t know if the library still existed. There were no scribbles in the book, no sign of personal attachment; yet he could say the book had been read multiple times, the pages were fluffy and wouldn’t sit tight. He dusted it, and while running his hand over the cover, looked outside the window.

The summer sun was glowing in its might, the trees wore a golden corona of radiance; there was no breeze. He remembered the dark dank library, its monumental columns of books, and amid the floating reading lamps, a tall grim woman sitting behind a desk, her forehead in her hands, engrossed in reading. He could see her waiting for the boy to come visiting for days on end; he could see her staring at the door, without her glasses, blank-eyed, worrying for his unusual long spell of absence. He had never said goodbye.

He remembered the dark red scar on her bony cheek… he wondered how the hawk was, he wished he could see her again.