Posted in My life

Negotiating with Intelligent Beings: Act 2

Author’s note: I recently had this conversation with my daughter. Note how priorities change with time.

“Mom, Make me a fairy. I want to fly.”

“Baby, I can get the wings from the market for you, but I’m afraid that won’t help you fly. You need hollow bones.”

“Fairies don’t have hollow bones but they fly.”

“First, you don’t know that yet. You’ve never met one. Second, fairies are born as fairies. You were born a human. Maybe you can grow up and become a pilot. Then you can fly.”

“Who’s a pilot?”

“Well, you saw those aeroplanes the other day? Pilots fly them.”

“But I don’t want to fly inside an aeroplane. I want to fly like fairies.”

“Well, there is hand-gliding. You hang on those gliders tied to the wings and fly.”

“I don’t want to hang to anything while I fly. It’s dangerous.”

“Okay, then become a pilot.”

“Fine, make me a pilot.”

“Well, to become a pilot, you must study a lot…for many years…”

“How many years?”

“15-16 years…maybe more…”

(A pregnant pause)

“I think, I’d rather have the scooter you offered the other day…”

Posted in Random Thoughts

Gille, The Bard of Falutia

A penny for your thoughts…

Tiny Tales

Between the treacherous forest where only foul spirits dared to tread and the wide waters of the Alamanthanine Sea, there stood the small kingdom of Falutia. And in Falutia, there lived a bard of such renown that his name was spoken in hushed whispers from the sandy shores to the peaks of the snowy mountains. The mere mention of his arts upon the lute strings sent a shiver through even the most brutal mercenary, for he was, without a doubt, the worst singer ever heard in those fair lands.

His name was Gille.

His singing brought to mind the scratch of dead branches against gravestones, and his lute playing stirred even the most war-hardened soldier to tears of despair. Wherever he went, always in cheerful song, the road cleared before him. Thief, trader, brave wanderer, or stalwart servant of the king, it made no difference. All fled at the first…

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Posted in Life and After

The Temple in the Dream

Day 1: Walking up that winding mountain road in the moonlit night, I look up again. There stands the temple, partially hidden behind the mound of grey rocky slope, looking ancient, bleak and sad. I shouldn’t be able to see it at all from this angle, but somehow I can. I don’t question the vision though. The place has a lonely aura as if no one has visited it in the longest time. But still someone certainly had recently because it has no dust, no cobwebs.

Don’t ask me how I know that–I haven’t reached there yet.

I walk slowly, for the road is full of colourful shops lit by yellow light, like old days. Colourful stone jewellery hangs from the low ceilings and is laid down on the table display…nothing of real value but too pretty to ignore. I’d stop every now and then to hold them in my fingers, maybe try them out in front of the mirror. But my heart wasn’t in it. Then, the urge to reach that temple would grip me and I’d begin walking again, only to stop at the next shop…

Day 2: There are stairs winding between shops, going up and down and up again. I am bone-tired and a little lost. I want to take rest but the temple is pulling my heartstrings, and the compulsion to keep looking for the path keeps me weaving through the crowded marketplace built on the stairs. I look up at the temple at an angle where it should not be visible. But there it is, still too far, still the lonely mysterious place partially hidden behind the grey rocky slope. How I wish to see it up close…

Day 3: I walk that mountain road again, making my way slowly through the shops. I reach a crowded temple, vibrant with pink walls and huge deities that fill the entire room making it a tight fit. It isn’t where I want to go but the crowd of temple visitors jostles me until I fall in line.

The urge to seek something else builds within, making me restless with the crowd’s antics. I push against a houseful of humans until I finally find a way out. I am now on an upward unused grey path that leads to an open gate flanked by high walls. Once I reach the top of the grey rocky mound, I look down. There it is, the temple I seek…

The temple looks mysterious in the moonlight. It is as lonely as ever. I am drawn towards it like a moth to flames. I know, I’m not supposed to go alone in a place where no one else ventures. But my feet take a life of their own. I walk inside.

The darkness is not oppressive. It is releasing.

I stroll around between the many pillars, relishing the serenity. I reach a pair of sliding doors that look like an elevator. I inch closer. There is no visible button but the lift opens for me. There is one more woman there, looking lost in peace. Not sure where she came from. But I step inside anyway as if I know what I’m doing. The door closes behind me. There are no buttons but the lift moves downwards, which does not surprise me.

The lift stops after a long time, or maybe a few seconds. Time does not make sense anymore. The door opens and both of us walk out in a long lobby. The ceiling is too high and invisible to me. There is light on both ends of the long room, but that is to be expected. The place is crowded too but there is no jostling. I look back, the lift door is closed. I know it would not open for me anymore, not that I want it to.

People walk around peacefully at a casual pace, there faces grey and devoid of all emotions except eternal peace. I am here to join them. I begin walking at a casual pace, knowing I have an eternity to explore.

The last thing I hear is the final beep of my heart monitor. I know, now, I’m free.

Posted in Love

Awaiting

I look at the clock for the hundredth time. He’s still not home.

3:21 AM: It’s futile to wait up. It is only 3 hour journey. If he was coming home tonight, he would be home long back.

4:07 AM: But his friend had said he met him at VT station…

5:37 AM: He probably didn’t find a train…

6:58 AM: But why hasn’t he picked up the phone?

8:09 AM: Is he alright? Why would he not call me back? I know he is always angry but how can he ignore 26 calls?

9:16 AM: Did he have an accident?

9:45 AM: Should I call police?

10:15 AM: His text reads, “The maid will be late.”

11:13 AM: The maid is home, more cheerful than usual.

11:30 AM: He saunters in more cheerful than usual. I rush to meet him. His hair is wet from the shower.

I quietly move to the inner room. He speaks to the maid in a low tone. They laugh…

Posted in Love

Impasse

I hold the phone

hoping you’ll pick up;

hoping you wouldn’t;

hoping you’ll recognise the number;

hoping you wouldn’t;

wondering how you could forget the number

when I couldn’t…


I hold the phone

hoping you’re awake;

hoping you’re asleep;

wondering how you could,

when I couldn’t…


I hold the phone wondering

if you have company

and who could she be;

fuming, how you could

when I couldn’t…

Raging, I throw the phone

at the wall

breaking it into pieces

like me…

Still wishing,

you had taken that call…

Posted in Life and After

Voices at the Sea

Honestly, it’s a decent job. I could easily bus tables at the seaside restaurant. It wasn’t as if I had anywhere to go or anything to do. All I did all day was sit on a rock and sing. There were no more sailors to lure and drown anymore.

In the earlier days, mermaids earned a lot more. Mom boasts about drowning an average of a sailor per month. She’d then collect the souls in her neck-shell and sell them to Poseidon for bags of sea oysters with pearl-guarantee. It paid for every comfort in life and a decent retirement.

You see, Poseidon uses human souls to create sea monst…ahem…’exotic beings’ on demand. Initially, he created these beings from the scratch. But it was a long and difficult process, taking several years in tracking a suitable sea-nymph, courting her, waiting for the ‘product’ to grow up and, later, making the mother agree to hand it overn. It also gave him a bad name among the big-wigs at Mount Olympus.

So, he simplified the process by keeping a set of pre-defined ‘baby products’ ready for sale and programming them to life whenever a wannabe parent came seeking. However, the program had its own faults–sometimes there wasn’t enough voilence for ‘character building’ of the species and the ‘products’ weren’t intense enough to challenge/kill men at sea. There were talks at Olympus about Poseidon losing his touch and moving the sea-life contract to Goddess of land-life, Diana.

That’s when inspiration struck. Poseidon began sorting through captured human souls. Once he found the one with enough violence, he inserted it in pre-defined bodies and, then, customised them as per the demand. The product became a booming success and mermaids were the richest soul vendors in the entire ocean.

But now, the job opportunities are dying out.

The new ships are sturdier and have better compass. By sheer luck, if they ever get lost, the radio and GPS ensure that human find them before we can. The competition for sailors is rather tough and we are lucky if we find one per year. It hardly enough to put food on the table.

Hence, my only choice was either to go savage and hunt fishes like the old tribes did or get another job that pays enough.

This seaside restaurant already employs several mermaids and pays in river-oysters with cultured pearls. The scrumptious seafood to all its employees is an added benefit. Plus, a number of hot men throng that place, so there’s a potential to date and drown a few, at least.

You can’t fault us new-age mermaids wanting to work there.

Now, if only mom would stop freaking out…

Posted in Love

Ghostly

Sitting on a brick wall

in the sea of the darkest night,

I, a lonely siren,

sang to my sailor,

beckoning him to venture out

of the comfort of his home.

Mosquitoes sang chorus.

Bats flew around

joining my lonely vigil.

The neighbours whispered

of the ghost in neighbourhood,

while, my sailor slept

dreaming of another,

never knowing the one

who awaits him.

Posted in Dream

The Train at Naught

I wait for the train, sure that it will cross my verandah today. I plan to hop on and leave. Where to, I haven’t thought yet but, surely, somewhere nice. So, I wait alone in the dark place that feels like sitting at the bottom of a huge well. I wonder when it will arrive…

I dread the ever darkening walls, the silence, the loneliness that fills my heart…

I dread the newness of the journey, the unpredictable schedule, the uncertain destination…

I dread that I might not want to return to my life full of certainty…

I dread that the train might decide to go another route and all my preparation might be for nothing…

I dread the hopelessness of my heart…

The train enters my verandah from a door that, in ideal world, is too small. The floor vibrates by the sheer force.

I stand up shaking with anticipation, holding all that I posses tightly against my heart, afraid to lose it when I board. Balancing all of my worldly possessions in my slender arms, I wait for the train to stop, afraid yet expectant at the unplanned journey.

I wave my arms wildly at the train to stop it. It doesn’t seem to be stopping. My heart drumming a double beat, I decide to jump once it slows a little.

It doesn’t. Smoothly, it passes out of the verandah through the opposite wall. Dropping my possessions on the ground, I wake up trembling at the rejection, tears ready to spill…

Posted in Love

Matters of Heart: Act 2

I was supposed to have grown up a long time back. But somehow my brain had frozen at 12 in the same way as my height. I was still unable to understand the cryptic language used by wannabe lovers.

It was a hot and humid day and I was getting my scooter from the parking lot at the Law College. A couple of guys approached me smiling benignly like they were serving me a Happy Meal at McDonald’s.

One of them introduced himself, “Hi. I’m…” (I don’t remember the name.)

“Hi. How can I help you?” I was absolutely sure that my scooter was blocking the path to his Bullet and he was waiting for me to move it and lecture me on the merits of good parking manners.

“I want to become friends with you.”

I waited for the joke to be over. Who was he anyway? I’d never seen him before. He was a Greek god with pink glowing skin, chiselled features and towering height, probably a basketball player. I was slightly jealous–being a Marwari dull-brown and 5’2″, I felt like a muddy blotch on the landscape in front of him. He probably worked for a reality show where they made practical jokes on people. I waited for someone with a camera to jump out from behind the scooters and shout, “Gotcha!”

I couldn’t fathom a reason why anybody would want to approach anybody like that to be a friend. All my friends were made generically by sitting in the same class, throwing chalks at the same teacher…

Who made friends by approaching someone in the parking lot?

“Thanks, but I already have too many friends and I can’t find enough time for them.” I started my scooter and left.

On the way home, I racked my brain for some information on this guy. Nothing.

The next day, I was again in the parking lot and saw him looking expectantly at me. I didn’t understand that look. It isn’t a look I give to anyone I want to be friends with. Honestly, this whole seeking-a-person-to-be-a-friend baffled me. I didn’t like being baffled. It wasn’t my natural mode. I was usually a know-all, what with my love for books. I asked my travelling companion if he was a senior. She told me he was our classmate in the boy’s section. Our classes sat together often on days when there were less students.

Seriously? He could have simply spoken with us during classes. I shrugged and started the scooter. “Boys can be so stupid,” I decided.

Next day, I found a phone number on a slip stuck in my scooter’s handle. I decided to keep it in case I have to report the weirdo in future. As I turned my scooter out of the parking, he was looking at me extremely happy that I had accepted his number.

I’m afraid, he might have spent the next few days waiting for the phone call, wondering why it never came.

I wish people did not speak in code. Sigh!

Posted in Love

Matters of Heart: Act 1

I was in grade 10–fifteen-years old and a book nerd. I was denser than my brother’s ten-pound dumbbells when it came to the matters of heart. It was easier to do ten wrist crunches in a second than to make me understand the cryptic language of would-be lovers. I knew more about Maneaters of Kamaun, thanks to late Jim Corbett, than teenage boys and what went inside their ever-busy brains.

Having studied at co-education schools, I had quite a few male friends. But when it came to heart-to-heart, they steered clear of me. Though, it could have something to do with my ‘incident’ with the class bully where I knocked some sense in his brain, literally. Or, it could also be the light ‘mustache’ I had grown over the adolescent years. Whatever the reason, the boys in my previous schools avoided any chances of a one-on-one with me.

When I moved to Aligarh, the boys in the new school, however, were quite ill-informed. They knew of my love for old songs and painting. Also, I looked less like a lioness now that I had cleaned the facial hair. It was a welcome change to have friends who weren’t scared of me.

After my first month in the school, I was moved to section D, which was a teacher’s nightmare in the best of days. There was a gang who never took classes and were always found roaming the corridors. The most ‘influencial’ boy of the class, let’s call him A, was their ring leader. The teachers were afraid to report them. Others caused enough noise to raise the dead. Nobody listened to the teachers. Our class teacher was also the school vice-president and never available to know what was happening.

Somehow, I never got to see that roucous part of our class. Initially, I was too busy with catching up on the work done before I joined the school mid-session. Later, I began noticing that during empty hours (when the teachers were missing), my class sang–all of a sudden, A had developed a love for singing. He was good at it too. Often, he would sit on the bench behind mine and begin singing. Meanwhile, nobody dared to speak or may be they were too enthralled. He attended classes everyday now, which was a first. Thanks to his newly well-behaved presence and active participation in studies, our class was too well-behaved to believe.

Soon, the bench behind me became the hub for all wannabe singers. We often played Antakshari whenever there was time (a game of replying to each other in songs). In the hindsight, I have a sneeky suspicion that some of them were trying to impress me. I can’t be sure, of course, nobody ever proposed me.

Except one day after school, when I was dragging my bicycle towards the clear road that had enough space to ride it, A caught up with me.

Okay, before I get into the detail, let me clarify one thing–In small-town India, dating is not a thing. Arranged marriages are preferred and going out with boys is looked down upon. At least, that was the case at that time. So, you didn’t ask a girl out just like that.

You talked about the weather…and family…and things she liked to do in her free time…and about her friends (to gaudge if there was a potential competitor)…and how there’s nothing much to do in small towns… If the girl hesitated, and you still had brains left, you scooted. If she answered all your questions in a pleasant tone, you asked about her plans on the day when you wished to take her out and wait for her reaction with abated breath. If her day is free, you talked about your plans and if she’d like to join.

A followed all the required protocols. While we were stuck in the traffic jam caused by the several hundred bicycles and thousands of young adults pouring out of their daily prison, he talked about the weather, my family, my non-existent social life and my interests and the lack of things to do in a small town. (a pretty dull conversation, if you ask me). Then, politely, I asked about his interests.

A grabbed the opportunity with both hands and plunged, “I love watching movie. Infact there is this latest movie (he named a Salman Khan’s latest movie) that I’m planning to watch but I’m not sure.”

I was human enough to get curious, “Why not?”

“I don’t have company.”

That was my cue to say, “Really! I’d love to watch it too.” But as mentioned in the first para, I was dense enough to not understand the cryptic conversation and missed the cue. Instead, I got more curious. How could the other guys not watch a Salman Khan movie. He was the God of Indian adolescent tribes. His posters were up on every male wall I knew, “Why wouldn’t you have company?

I guess, A wasn’t ready for that. I had been pleasant enough so far and hadn’t winced even once during the entire conversation. So, in an ideal world, I was supposed to ask him the time and show up for the show. Instead, I am asking a probing question. So he got derailed, “Ahhh…because the timings clash with namaz…” (He was a Muslim and so were his friends.)

Again that was my cue to say, “Oh! No problem, I’ll join instead.” But I missed the cue again and chimed in, “Really? Then, I think you should go for namaz instead as well. A movie isn’t worth it.”

A nodded his head, forced a smile on his face and bowed out of the competition, dragging his bicycle in the opposite direction. He looked rather disheartened, if you ask me. But I could be wrong, afterall, I was too dense to understand the matters of heart.

Posted in Random Thoughts

The Mountain Road

The car glides on the smooth mountain road,

making the turn barely in time

to watch a herd of deer

run through the grassy meadow

that rises up on the far side.

The air is filled with the sweet fragrance

of fresh grass and pine.

I’ve been here too many times

on this mountain road

to watch this herd of deer

and smell the air

that fills me of longing for more.

Yet I don’t know where…

I’ve never been here…

Not even today…


Photo by Murat Gün on Unsplash

Posted in Random Thoughts

Phone Call at 3a.m.

Beware, don’t pick up unknown international calls at late night. They’ll cost you in ISD rates.

John Malone

I get a phone call at 3a.m.

Who calls at 3a.m?

You think the worst.

I glance across at the screen.

The call’s from Algeria.

I don’t pick up.

I don’t know anyone from Algeria.

I used to get phone calls from ‘my mate’

in Mogadishu asking me how my bank account’s going

but since I told him I’m a pisspot he’s stopped calling.

But Algeria?

I don’t even know where the fuck it is.

Africa somewhere?

But here’s the funny thing.
It rings three times then silence.

What’s the point of that?

Is it a scam?

How can you scam someone unless you speak to them first?

Perhaps he’s inordinately shy.

Perhaps he’s a mute.

Perhaps he only speaks Martian.

I knew a young man once, Simon whose father was the Lord Mayor of Mars but that’s another story.

I look up Algeria on the map.

No clues there.

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