We, who journeyed long
Looking for warmer weather,
Now crave the snow we left behind.
We, who journeyed long
Looking for warmer weather,
Now crave the snow we left behind.
In our zeal to achieve immortality, a lot of us forgo our humanity–and become vampires, feeding on the blood of fellow humans; cannibals eating the meat of our own kind. We choose to kill the animals who become maneaters, yet build statues of men who kill men. Cheers of achievement push cries of our fellows to the background.
Atlas Obscura shared horrifying real life references of the stories and characters in this HBO program: Lovecraft Country. It gives me goosebumps how thirst for knowledge turns us to monsters in human skin; how racial supremacy can turn us to animals…
It will be some time before I ever look at the advances in Human Anatomical science with respect again. Worth a read.
Birds wake me to the morning
While you sleep holding me in arms.
Life’s never been sweeter.
Love fails, anger reigns.
Autumn leaves cover the ground.
Dreams fly, nightmares stay.
Angel snores lightly.
Rain drizzles on burning land.
My bosom, my heart.
Yes, it is just a museum! Yes, it houses curios from across the history but then, these are just things not people…Then why am I getting goosebumps?
All summer, I have been working behind the scenes in this small museum to restore old artifacts. Most would consider it charity work, considering the payment, but the experience would help me secure a job in a bigger and better museum once I get my degree. So far, all my work has been during the day.
It is my first night at the museum, thanks to the set of recently acquired jwellery I am restoring. It goes on display tomorrow. It is a small place, and lock and key is considered enough a security–no guards. Since it would take a couple of hours, I have locked the place from inside. It should make me feel secure, but I am rather queasy instead…
Museums are rather stuffy at night. So many memories of the old stuck in one place, the latent energy of the bones of long dead ancestors (preferably not mine, squirreled illegally into the country, sold and resold until we forget they were illegal), children’s playthings, items used for life and magic, and the likes. During the day, the din of the staff and occasional visitors keeps away the prickly feeling, but at night, without these sounds and sights to distract me, the sensation of being watched is overwhelming.
I had been putting off working on this bracelet for the same reason…
It was donated by a rich old family with a history of housing curios. While the origins are unclear, it is famed that it originally belonged to a tribal woman. She was accused of using witchcraft to allure the local priest, forcing him to impregnate her. The priest was, of course, absolved of all charges. The woman was burnt alive. The priest had picked the bracelet from her ashes and worn it. He died the same night of ‘unknown causes’ with just slight burn mark around his wrist. The parish declared that the bracelet is cursed and kills the wearer, and then, sold it to a collector at unbelievable prices to raise money for the “God’s work”.
Not that I believe any of it. I have restored enough ‘cursed’ artifacts in this museum to know better.
But it is such a waste…because the bracelet is breathtaking–the delicate silver chains entwined to form a couple of entwined snakes who kiss each other when the clasp is done. The intricate dangling six animal figurines carved out of Cats eye stones…
A crow, a cat, a toad, an owl, a bat and a spider–witch’s familiars–look real enough for me to want to touch them…
Not sure when I took off my gloves…
Stroking the owl, I could clearly imagine a barn own sitting on the window sill of my cottage, the wooden walls adorned with herbs collected from the forest, the cauldron on the fireplace cooking the cough medicine for the villagers, the air thick with the incense of the cooking flowers and burning candles…
Where did that come from? I don’t have a cottage, I live in an apartment…but it looks so real, its feathers ruffling in the wind.
The toad sits atop the worktable croaks asking for his treat–the little spider weaving webs in her jar. I tell him to leave her alone. There are plenty of other insects to eat around the candles…
But I own no toad…The bat flies around the roof teasing the cat who, tired of chasing him around, jumps on my lap to take her rightful place.
I sit on the floor cross-legged stitching the beaver skin together to form another set of little shoes for the soon-to-arrive. I blush and smile at the thought as I stroke the cat, and remind her that she only has five more months until someone else claims my lap. The crow sleeps on his perch, oblivious to it all.
The door of the cottage opens with a loud thud. He is here, along with many others. Has his family arrived for our marriage as he promised? Why do they carry pitchforks? He motions at me to come out.
Someone grabs my hands from behind and I cry in pain. My love…he speaks something that I can’t understand. It is English, but so different from the way he usually talks. He asks me about the father of our unborn child. Flustered at the implication, my voice shaking, I shout, “It’s you!” and that, he says, is my confession.
I can’t understand where this is going. He had come to me yesterday, and I told him about the baby. He was surprised but he never questioned about the father of the baby. I had reminded him of his promise to marry me as soon as his family comes, and he had agreed.
Now, he holds a book and questions me about witchcraft…I tell him he already knows I’m a healer. I had treated him when he was dying of fever. I say I love him. But he shouts me down and asks me to answer only in ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. The questions are formed so as to blame me of witchcraft, of forcing him to impregnate me…Question that, answered whether by a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ accuse me either way, no matter my answer. So, I remain silent. It earns me his knee in the stomach, every time…
I writhe in pain, my mind on the baby. At this rate, he’ll kill him…
I beg him to have mercy on the unborn. For a second, there’s guilt in his eyes as he pushes me inside and closes the door. Hope surges through me. Have I been spared?
No, they have locked me in. Smoke fills my nostrils as they set my cottage on fire. Out of the window, I see them waiting with pitchforks, bloodlust in their eyes. There is no hope for me. My familiars are scared and freaking out–clawing down the door and the now-closed windows, all on fire.
With shaking hands, I push open the burning back window. And hastily pull out the bracelet from my hand–the little effigies I had carved out of Cats eye stone to tie the familiars to me…But they don’t have to die with me. I try to throw my bracelet with all my strength out of the miniscule hole. But the smoke has blinded me and I can’t get a clear shot. It falls back in.
I am on all fours, gasping for breath and coughing. I order the cat to grab the bracelet and get out. Ordinarily, she would have complied.
Only, this time, she doesn’t. None of them do. They cover me from all sides the best they can, trying to protect me with their power. I feel their loyalty, their friendship, their love…never wavering even once while the raging fire consumes us all.
I feel their pain as my own, as our lungs burn and hearts heave. Death could never be so slow nor so tormenting. I can’t find the knife to kill us, someone has already removed it while they questioned me. So, I feel our hair, our fur, our feather, our skin burn inch by painful inch…I can hear them think of the man who deceived us into loving him. I feel my little babies of magic die one by one. I feel my real baby die within me. I beg the Gods for death and they grant it.
Little by little, I feel life leave me…Somewhere deep down, I know when they find my body tomorrow in the museum, I’ll only have a burn scar on the hand that now wears the bracelet.
Image by Ammpryt ART
You think life is difficult without love…the loneliness, the biting silence, the sense of worthlessness. This excerpt from Three Men in a Boat (1989) by Jerome K. Jerome proves how life can be difficult with love in the air…
Have you ever been in a house where there are a couple courting? It is most trying. You think you will go and sit in the drawing-room, and you march off there. As you open the door, you hear a noise as if somebody had suddenly recollected something, and, when you get in, Emily is over by the window, full of interest in the opposite side of the road, and your friend, John Edward, is at the other end of the room with his whole soul held in thrall by photographs of other people’s relatives.
“Oh!” you say, pausing at the door, “I didn’t know anybody was here.”
“Oh! didn’t you?” says Emily, coldly, in a tone which implies that she does not believe you.
You hang about for a bit, then you say: “It’s very dark. Why don’t you light the gas?”
John Edward says, “Oh!” he hadn’t noticed it; and Emily says that papa does not like the gas lit in the afternoon. You tell them one or two items of news, and give them your views and opinions on the Irish question; but this does not appear to interest them. All they remark on any subject is, “Oh!” “Is it?” “Did he?” “Yes,” and “You don’t say so!” And, after
ten minutes of such style of conversation, you edge up to the door, and slip out, and are surprised to find that the door immediately closes behind you, and shuts itself, without your having touched it.
Half an hour later, you think you will try a pipe in the conservatory. The only chair in the place is occupied by Emily; and John Edward, if the language of clothes can be relied upon, has evidently been sitting on the floor. They do not speak, but they give you a look that says all that can be said in a civilised community; and you back out promptly and shut the door behind you.
You are afraid to poke your nose into any room in the house now; so, after walking up and down the stairs for a while, you go and sit in your own bedroom. This becomes uninteresting, however, after a time, and so you put on your hat and stroll out into the garden. You walk down the path, and as you pass the summer-house you glance in, and there are those two young idiots, huddled up into one corner of it; and they see you, and are evidently under the idea that, for some wicked purpose of your own, you are following them about.
“Why don’t they have a special room for this sort of thing, and make people keep to it?” you mutter; and you rush back to the hall and get your umbrella and go out.
My daughter’s next killer story. Please note that the entire story has been lifted…I mean, inspired by a Disney story called Lambert, The Sheepish Lion.
It is a lovely video about finding your true identity. You can watch it on You Tube via this link.
So, I had asked my daughter to tell me a story (to escape a similar request from her). I told her I wanted a story of a Hippo. She offered the Hare and Tortoise again and later, Lambert the Sheepish Lion. But I told her, I wanted a Hippo story. So, she simply replaced ‘Sheep’ and ‘Lion’ with ‘Hippo’. Here is her story.
The guy often flies pretty close to the ground and I can often take clear pictures of him from my roof while he makes baby deliveries. He was rather pleased with his last post–It brought him quite a lot of fans, so he is posing for more.
If you notice, the picture is looking doen upon this flying beauty. It is because I am on my fourth story roof and he flying at third story level.
There is famous piece of poetry in Urdu that says, “Har shaakh pe Ullu baithe h, Anjam-e-Gulista kya hoga.” (Owls sit on each branch, I fear for the fate of my beautiful country–that it would turn into ruins).
I had assumed, considering owls as a harbinger of bad luck was a common misunderstanding in India against the gentle creature, who does nothing but sleep all day and hoot sweetly at night. My belief was further strengthened when I saw a couple of Spotted Owlets on the tree next door. They are wee creatures, barely 8 inches, sitting in the tree hooting serenely or sleeping on the electric wires across the road.
One evening while I was walking up the stairs to the roof, I heard a weird screech. I had been hearing this screech ever since my first night here five years back. It gave me goosebumps everytime, and had reminded me of witches, giving me too many nightmares. Gradually, I had assumed that it was a Night Heron along the banks of Yamuna river or something on similar lines, but definitely far away, and definitely huge.
Hearing this screech, Curiosity propelled me up the stairs in half the time and I opened the door to the roof silently. Surprise! There was this eight-inch creature sitting on a pole. He was screeching at the top of his lungs until his friend flew out of the tree to meet him. He saw me, and flew away to party with his companion.
Well, so much for being gentle…I can now see how Owls earned their reputation in India! They are Dr Jakyll by the day, and Mr Hyde at night.
There he goes again…
There go my goosebumps again…
You’re always in the room,
never in the plain sight.
I see you hiding behind the peripheral vision
in the corner of my eyes,
where yesterdays mixes with todays,
where lines of the worlds fade,
and you stand with disapproving silence
at my childish ways,
ungracefulness, wrinkles, greys,…
judging anything that I do,
no matter what I do
I carry on the facade
as if I don’t see you
frowning, shaking your head,
in every moment of my life,
wake and dreams alike…
Her knuckles were white as she gripped the handles of her two wheeler tight–lost, teary-eyed, not sure where she was driving to, except that she had to get away from…herself? Because he, clearly, wasn’t following her when she walked away without looking back.
Why would he? He hadn’t made any promises…just an ‘I love you’ spoken on the phone from a thousand miles away.
She, on the other hand, had taken another month to speak those words until she meant every syllable and was ready to make a promise, because for her, saying ‘I love you’ meant ‘I can’t live without you and that I want to marry you so that I can be around you for the next seven lives’. Her ‘I love you’ was a promise of eternity. His was a spurt-of-moment statement spoken in the wake of Valentine’s Day–a day she never celebrated before him and had never ever since.
She was going too fast–the road was too crowded for that kind of speed, but in that moment, she didn’t care that she couldn’t see with tears filling her eyes, couldn’t anticipate with her mind crowded with so many thoughts, couldn’t stop if needed because her brakes weren’t meant for that speed.
She wanted to die…
No, he hadn’t slept with her or done any thing to incriminate him, but knowing that she wasn’t anywhere on his list of priorities in life, was painful, heart wrenching. When during their date, she broke the news that her parents were looking for a groom for her, he wasn’t the least concerned. He later told her of his life plans, probably to clarify his stand about her, she could clearly see he wasn’t considering a future with her.
And here she was worrying night and day about losing him…Somewhere between their phone conversations, he had become her life. Somewhere between those conversations, she hadn’t become that for him.
Her stomach had dropped in a bottomless pit and she was going down with it. She couldn’t let him see that though. So, she had quickly ended the date and drove away in silence at an irrational speed.
Blurry-eyed, she saw an open rickshaw. She was ready to die but not to kill. Instantly, breaks screached and two wheeler halted–without skidding. She could hear the drivers from vehicles behind her shouting profanities.
The rickshaw had moved on without noticing her.
She moved to the side of the road and stopped. There, she cried with her face hidden under the helmet. She wasn’t sure how long but she could finally breath and see again. She drove back to her parental home, then, wearing that unwavering smile, pretending that all was well in her world.
This excerpt from Three Men on a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1889) reminds me of my childhood when we often travelled by railways, before the advent of digital tracking, and hopped from platform to platform looking for the elusive trains. It has been hauntingly true since the COVID 19 Pandemic began. God bless those who run and use railways…
We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it. The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.
To put an end to the matter, we went upstairs, and asked the traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a man, who said he had seen it at number three platform. We went to number three platform, but the authorities there said that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express, or else the Windsor loop. But they were sure it wasn’t the Kingston train, though why they were sure it wasn’t they couldn’t say.
Then our porter said he thought that must be it on the high-level platform; said he thought he knew the train. So we went to the high- level platform, and saw the engine-driver, and asked him if he was going to Kingston. He said he couldn’t say for certain of course, but that he rather thought he was. Anyhow, if he wasn’t the 11.5 for Kingston, he said he was pretty confident he was the 9.32 for Virginia Water, or the 10 a.m. express for the Isle of Wight, or somewhere in that direction, and we should all know when we got there. We slipped half-a-crown into his hand, and begged him to be the 11.5 for Kingston.
“Nobody will ever know, on this line,” we said, “what you are, or where you’re going. You know the way, you slip off quietly and go to Kingston.”
“Well, I don’t know, gents,” replied the noble fellow, “but I suppose SOME train’s got to go to Kingston; and I’ll do it. Gimme the half- crown.”
Thus we got to Kingston by the London and South-Western Railway.
We learnt, afterwards, that the train we had come by was really the Exeter mail, and that they had spent hours at Waterloo, looking for it, and nobody knew what had become of it.
The storm is long gone
leaving behind in rubbles
I have picked up pieces
and started over,
rebuilding the haven for my heart.
My walls are stronger.
Doors shut tighter.
Built no windows
to keep love out.
Let the people whisper,
let the friends knock,
no one crosses the threshold.
I leave my hearth stone-cold.
I’m a fortress–I’m cold.
I’m safe from hope.
Not sure why but Egrets always look to me like grumpy old men. Their expression is always downcast and sad, shoulders hunched…I love them for their grumpiness.
You see me!
I try to hide
the black shadows beneath my eyes
behind layers and layers of masks–
the poker face;
the impersonal nod;
the practical discussion
of returning belongings;
the layers and layers of accusations;
the pointing finger;
the clenched fists;
the huffed walking out–
the many masks I use to hide
the pain behind my eyes
that rakes my heart and questions my being,
bridled losely by my need to survive…
But you see me through the facade
and give that smug smile
that shows you know how well you’ve hurt me
and you’re fine with the price…
You were here again,
as angry and distant as ever.
You crossed the worlds
to see me
but you speak not a word.
Your handsome face
is marred by the scowl
that is your permanent expression…
You might think it tells me
what you wish to say,
but it only makes me wish
to run away to the place
that is safe
from the heartbreak
your hatred brings to me,
even in dreams.
There is no way to start over
until we meet again
Damn these monkeys! We’ve been following them for half an hour now. We have tried enticing with food, shouting and throwing stones. So far, nothing has worked. We can’t shoot them because the sound will alert the military of our presence, and risk igniting the RDX.
The three of us have been travelling on foot through the forest for the past 75 hours towards the closest city. From there, we’ll assume our fake identities as citizens. Once we reach our destination–the capital city–we’ll build bombs out of the RDX we are carrying for a series of blasts in the busiest public areas. The money was good, so I never asked why.
We had everything planned for a long time–training for building bombs out of everyday things, language and mannerism of the country to avoid suspicion, fake ID proofs, transport, place to stay…
But these stupid monkeys raided our camp while we were sleeping (no doubt, hoping for treats). We woke up with their chatter as they sniffed our bags. When my mate grabbed for the bag with RDX, and one of them picked it and ran away–our entire supply…
We can build bombs without it but they won’t be even half as potent. We can procure it in this country too but it will waste precious time and cost another millions of rupees. Months of planning and efforts, and several million rupees gone down the drain, or up the tree. Worse, if they accidently set it to fire, the forest fire will be out of control in this season, and Forest department will have an in-depth enquiry. That will close the path for us in the future.
Our employers will never let us live it down, or even just live…we get no second chances.
So, we’re tracking these little menace, trying to get our bag back but they seem to love teasing us. They have been moving deeper in the jungle, probably towards their family to share the ‘booty’. But they aren’t in a hurry–when one of us trips over tree roots, they stop as we curse and get back up, and then move ahead.
Are they leading us into a trap? But what could it be? They are mere monkeys, not lions. What can they do to us? Tear our clothes? It’s the mysteriousness of the dark jungle, where sun never penetrates to the ground, the humidity, claustrophobia from being surrounded by so many trees, and the training of never trusting anyone and reading between the lines.
The monkeys have stopped now. We are in the middle of a clearing and the monkeys have climbed too high on the trees. Climb or wait? Wait, because if we climb, they’ll move further away.
Now once they tear open the bag and find no food, they will throw the contents down. We just need to be nimble enough to catch it; and hope they don’t tear the tiny packets; and that RDX is stable enough to not explode by the impact. Well, we are dead without it anyway. So, we gather around the tree, put our guns inside our clothes, ready to catch, keeping our eyes trained on the bag.
A military voice shouts, “Fire!” and the firing begins.
My smartphone has a thing against making calls to my husband. Specially, during the pandemic, our connection has gone for a toss.
1. On the first call, I get no dial tone, no caller’s tune–only a woman in her mid-twenties educates me about COVID 19, washing my hands and keeping a six-feet distance. Yup! That’s the standard caller’s tune in India now. I wait for her to end her ranting so I can bug my husband. She speaks non-stop for sixty seconds. Then the call goes dead.
2. I call again. This time, some random guy picks up the phone and we both hello each other without being able to talk. I hang up.
3. I call yet again. The call gives some feeble beeps and goes dead.
4. Desperate to get through to him, I call yet again. The call connects but I can’t hear him. The call disconnects after 8 seconds.
Frustrated, I dump my phone and stomp off to let off my steam.
5. Five seconds later, my husband calls me demanding to know why I had called him four times and never cared to speak. Duh!
Thanks to Ngozi Awa for nominating me for the Liebster award. Just to clarify, Liebster is a German word of endearment. It means, a sweetheart, darling or friend. Hence, I’m really honoured to be called that. Here are my answers to the questions.
1.What is your best childhood memory?
I had a privileged childhood with loads of toys, but my best memory is that of car journeys with my family. My father never hurried, and always made it a point to stop at multiple places on the way. The food at the farm side restaurants had a rural flavour and water tasted so pure…even the air felt so fresh. We had our share of traffic jams but they could not beat the freedom.
2. If you had a chance for a “do-over” in life, what would you do differently?
I would stay back at Kanpur for my Masters in Painting, and Doctorate too. Life would have been a lot simpler.
3. How do you spend your free time?
Writing and reading stories, Painting with my daughter
4. What do you feel most proud of?
My ability to empathise with peoplr and use it to teach them better
5. What skill(s) would you like to learn and why?
Concentration and patience
6. What is your strongest quality?
My forgetfulness…it helps me forgive and forget.
7. If you could only keep five possessions, what would they be?
8. What teacher in school made the most impact on you and why?
My English teacher in junior high school. In the course if three years, she taught me many things, leading by example: it was okay to be afraid, to admit you made a mistake, to ask for forgiveness from youngers without shame, to be human…
9. Who do you most admire in your life?
10. Do you believe in luck?
I do, but I also believe that there is nothing that can’t be changed by prayers.