My daughter has got a way of being inspired by other works.
For instance, lately, we have been competing to create stories involving different animals. We give each other random animals and, then, the other had to create a story out of that animal. A couple of days back, my daughter gave me rather a tough combination: Peacock, Hippo and Rhino. I asked her to reduce the number of animals but she won’t relent. So, here’s the story I created.
Once upon a time, a peacock was flying. Since they are heavy and not used to flying too far, this one decided to sit down on a rock beside the river. It was a huge grey rock and as soon as he sat down, the huge grey rock began to move. The peacock thought it was an earth quake and flew up lest he would be crushed beneath the now freely moving rock which also sprouted four thick legs. After a few seconds in air, the peacock again felt tired and chose another rock–a huge brown one–inside the river. As soon as he sat down, this rock too gave a huge lurch and started walking out of the water. The peacock took flight in time to see the rock open its huge jaws to display teeth large as daggers. Now, wary of rocks behaving like animals, it chose a fallen log beside the river. He had come pretty close and was really hoping to sit down, since his long wings were now soggy and heavy with water, when the log opened its yellow eyes and bared a log set of sharp teeth. The peacock decided that ground was not safe for beings like him anymore and sat on a tree far away.
My daughter felt the story was not long enough. So, I asked her to create another story with the same combination she gave me: Peacock, Hippo and Rhino. She was not allowed to tell the same story as mine. She pleaded her case as being only four-years-old and requested to reduce the number of animals. I refused, hoping to give her a taste of her own medicine. Here’s my daughter’s story.
Once upon a time, a peacock was flying. Since they are heavy and not used to flying too far, this one He was flying for hours, got tired and decided to sit down on a rock beside the river. It was a huge grey brown rock. As soon as he sat down It sat there for sometime, then, the rock began to move. The peacock thought it was an earth quake and flew up lest he would be crushed beneath the now freely moving rock which also sprouted four thick legs. After a few seconds in air, the peacock again felt tired and chose another rock–a huge brown grey one–inside the river. As soon as he sat down, this rock too gave a huge lurch and started walking out of the water. The peacock took flight in time to see the rock open its huge jaws to display teetha couple of horns large as daggers. Now, wary of rocks behaving like animals, it chose a fallen log beside inside the river. He had come pretty close and was really hoping to sit down, since his long wings were now soggy and heavy with water, when As soon as he sat down, the log opened its yellow eyes and bared a log set of sharp teeth. The peacock decided that ground was not safe for beings like him anymore and sat on a tree far away. The tree began to move too. It ran in really long strides. The peacock decided that only safe place to sit was bare ground and that was where he stayed for the rest of his life.
I argued with my daughter that this was more or less my own story. But she pointed out that in her story:
The Hippo comes before the Rhino.
The peacock sits for sometime before it has to move.
The crocodile allows the peacock to sit down before deciding to make a meal out of it.
And then, there was the bonus animal–the giraffe.
Well, I really couldn’t argue against such a strong case. So, I gave up trying to pry another story out of her. With five animals, her story trumped mine!
It reminded me of remixed songs–add an extra beat, a couple of extra instruments, a few hip-hoppers, and you have a quick hit and a chartbuster.
My 4-year old daughter, a Muslim, was super excited when she created this flag and hoisted it on a stick yesterday.
It was India’s Republic Day on 26th January. It is the celebration of the birth of our Constitution, which is the backbone of all our laws–existing and new.
The preamble of the Indian Constitution is the keeper of the soul of India–a constant reminder of what we are and what we strive to be. It speaks of freedom and equality, and gives the common man the right to challenge government and court decisions where they lack. It is the backbone of becoming a Socialist Secular Democratic Republic.
Let’s keep that in sight when we choose our government this year and next.
Let’s all vote.
Let’s vote for the people who work for growth, equality and freedom, not for a particular religion.
It is time to rise above our petty quabble and stand up for ourselves and each other. Let’s ensure that your children and mine grow up as proud of being Indians.
If you are wondering why I am late by five days in wishing you all, rest assured I wasn’t drunk or nursing a hangover or dealing with an LSD side-effect. I was busy vacationing…
Of course, vacation now means a car trip from my place to my parent’s place, and binge watching cartoon movies and Harry Potter on TV. Gone are the days when people went to beach for sunbathing or to hills for watching snowfall. Earth’s smallest organism has ensured that we are all inside our pigeon holes, never daring to poke our heads out.
Well, I made new year resolutions: rising early and daily exercise, which I have already broken on the first day. It is a norm, of course. I have made that resolution every 31st December night for the last 19 years and broken it the next day. It is sort-of a private joke now.
I remember my first time clearly. I slept through it, of course. After five months, when my parents could clearly see that I needed help waking up, they voluteered. They woke me and my elder brother up on a cool morning in May. It was 5 am. We walked sleepily with them to the closest park and sat down. When they forced us to walk around, we slouched for a few metres and sat down again. My parents left us there and began walking along the diametre of the park.
My brother, with his charming and respectable personality, was in a traditional kurta-pajama that day. He was sitting on a bench and I was down on the grass in a traditional salwar suit. Not sure what inspired him. My brother began preaching me in pure traditional Hindi about ‘Nidra Devi‘ (the godess of sleep), which was a beautiful construct of his overactive imagination. Like a true Swami, he preached me that sleep was a way to being close to God. I sat at his feet with my hands joined like a true follower, crying out intermittently in a loud voice, “Swami ji satya kehte h. Swami ji amar rahe.” (“The Great Preacher says the truth! Long live, Great Preacher!”) Together we sang a bhajan in praise of this newly-discovered goddess. His language and my acting was so impressive that people began to come close to hear what the wise man had to say. By the time, my parents had done two rounds of that park (around 1 km), we had shamed them enough never to bring us along again.
I tried again some years later when I had joined office gym, but that meant bathing and breakfasting in office. After having heavy breakfast (exercise makes you hungry) with a bunch of friends (laughter helps gain weight), I gained even more weight in that month. So I stopped.
Well, now the first resolution is broken, I made new New Year Resolutions: I will try to remember when to take medicine; I will try to eat healthier, if not less; I will try to spend less time on laptop and more with real people…Of course, the promises were broken the same morning when I forgot to take my calcium tablets, ate gajar ka halwa and potato sandwiches for breakfast while watching a movie on my laptop.
I am unsure if I should make more resolutions or ‘re-resolute’ myself to keep these old ones.
Those of you who have followed me for some time must have noticed that lately, my posts are less and farther between than ever in the past. It’s not that I am out of juice…just out of energy. My househelp had to leave suddenly and I haven’t found a replacement.
I am not sure how many of you can truly understand the place of househelp in an Indian household. Losing one is akin to losing a hand and both legs.
If her husband is ill, an Indian woman will be concerned. If you tell her that her maid is unwell, she will be hysterical. She will cry her eyes out and blame her husband for all her misery while washing utensils in the kitchen or kneeding the dough, as if he’s the only one who eats. And while washing clothes, she will pray for her sons (even six-months old…or rather, especially six-months old) to grow up quickly and get married so that there will be someone to help in washing their clothes. If it is a daughter, she will try to help, keep getting in the way and falling over the spilled detergent, increasing the size of laundry. Then, the woman will wish that she would grow up and stop helping.
A house without househelp is a complete chaos. Mountain of utensils keeps toppling over. The mop gathers dust and clothes gather in piles all over the house–piles of washed clothes, piles of dirty clothes, piles of clothes okay to be worn again and so on. The family winds its way around these hillocks, trying to find space enough to place their feet.
Visitors are returned from the door on the pretext of COVID to avoid potential embarrassment due to the lack of space to sit, since all chairs are covered with clothes of varied level of privacy. Husbands might have to sleep in a sitting posture if the clothes on the bed are not dealt with, until a replacement is found.
With my househelp gone for a month, I am now looking for a spot big enough to sit so that we can sleep. If not, one of the hillocks will do…
I had long wondered why my family had the tradition of eating peanuts on long winter nights while sitting on the bed, preferably, inside the quilt. It is certainly warm but considering that peanut shells and their inner pink foils tend to stick to the quilt cover until washed, and makes them look dirty and forces us to wash them more frequently, it seemed like a lot of work for a little bit of warmth.
Hence, I tried to break out of the age-old tradition and eat peanuts at a table yesterday. I began to break open the shells using my fingers. That’s when it happened…
As soon as I would turn my head to talk to my daughter, who talks non-stop, peanuts would jump out of my fingers, land on floor and dive for cover. I would look around, meaning to find the lost bounty, to wash and eat it anyway. But to no avail…
The peanuts would just vanish in thin air. Frustrated at defeat and adamant on finding them anyhow, I moved the furniture and everything within three feet radius, even sweeped the floor using a broom so that, at least, we won’t step on them. But somehow, they managed to avoid me.
That’s when I realised why we eat them on the bed and inside a quilt–to trap them…
That’s what I am doing tomorrow too–I will wash the quilt covers later!
As a lot of you would know, today is World AIDS day. It is unfortunate how we have to create a day to spread awareness about a disease.
Out of all diseases, AIDS is the most unfortunate because of the stigma associated with it. A COVID patient, at least, recieves government aid, society’s sympathy and family’s emotional support but an AIDS patient, at least in India, is thrown out of the house for being infidile and bringing shame to family–as if those not infected have not been doing exactly the same things. AIDS patients are simply unfortunate to have received the disease that someone else had either hidden or carried unknowingly.
Shabana Azmi was India’s first actress to openly support the cause and come on television and say in a public service ad, “Chhoone se AIDS nahi failta.” (Touching doesnot spread AIDS.) That someone had to say that out loud on national television in an ad that was repeated everyday speaks volumes about how AIDS patients were treated then. Unfortunately, they are still treated the same way.
Virginity before marriage is the first demand for social acceptance in India. AIDS shatters that mirage. If an average Indian meets an AIDS patient, they jump to conclusions regarding their character without accepting that it could have been a mistake, true love, or simply blood transfusion or infected needle.
When Phir Milenge, a movie on AIDS with big starcast, was relesed in India in 2004, it only recieved critical acclaim, not box office success. People were afraid to be seen outside the movie hall that showed such a movie.
Even with laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a person with AIDS, it is sad how AIDS patients are still treated the same way. It doesn’t just kill them, it kills their wish to live.
Let’s remember, we are all humans who err. Let’s be humane…
Recently, my daughter asked me to check whether it was really Johney Flynn 👦 who drowned the cat 🐈(Ding-Dong-Bell-Pussy-in-the-well fame). All of a sudden, I started wondering how we can be sure of certain facts told in Nursery Rhymes.
I mean, the cat 🐈 could certainly not tell who threw her in the well and this Johney Flynn 👦 doesnot seem like a I-cannot-tell-a-lie kind of person. So, it is simply Tommy Stout’s word against his. Yet, through the centuries of this rhyme’s existence (first recorded in 1580 AD), we continue to blame him for being ‘a naughty boy who drowned a poor pussy cat’. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was bullied as a cat drowner and grew up to be an emotionally defunct serial-cat-murderer, seeking revenge for the unjustified blame.
Similarly, people speak of Humpty Dumpty 🥚 as a careless egg who sat on a wall and fell. Nobody cared to explain why king’s horses 🐎 and men 👮 were involved in trying to put it together. Was he a kin of the king? Was he a victim of a conspiracy? Did someone push him off the wall?
And what about Jack and Gill 👫? How did they fall? How can we merrily sing about someone breaking their head 🤕?
All these questions have taken away my faith from all the nursery rhymes I have ever read. I fear a conspiracy behind every story now. I am scared someday someone will tell me that Santa Claus 🎅 doesnot exist…
This is the seventh part in an ongoing serial I’m writing. To read from the beginning, click here.
‘So what you been doing for two hundred and fifty years?’ Damon asked his brother.
Crispin shrugged. ‘You know…stuff.’
‘What sort of stuff?’
‘You know,’ Crispin repeated. ‘Same old, same old.’
Damon was about to sigh, when he realised he wasn’t particularly interested in hearing what Crispin had spent the last two and half centuries doing. No doubt it was nefarious. No doubt some of it at least, was criminal.
They fell once more into silence, though it could hardly be described as companionable. Yet it wasn’t too long before the sound of rattling could be heard somewhere amongst the gravestone to their right.
Damon halted and peered into the gloom and a moment later the cause of the noise became apparent. ‘Oh no,’ Damon whispered.
Authur’s note: Haiku is a form of short poetry originally from Japan. Traditional Japanese haiku consist of three phrases in a 5, 7, 5 pattern (5,7,5 syllables or words in English), and a seasonal reference.
Resuse, Repurpose, Recycle is the rage of the day. It is fashionable to paint stained T-shirts, cut old socks into mittens and carry the old, ‘vintage’ bag your grandmother received on her wedding day while sporting the latest shoes (that needed a home loan to buy) to eat out in restaurants that were once aeroplanes. I am supporter of recycling old stuff to save the environment.
But my daughter has taken the ‘Resuse, Repurpose, Recycle’ phrase to another level. I had once shared her story where Lambert, the Sheepish Lion was repurposed to be Lamabert, Hippoish Hippo.
After creating several versions of the story (Lambert, The Sheepish Crocodile, Lambert: The Wolfish Lion, Lambert: The Sheepish Hippo), she stopped and I sighed with relief. I am not the one for plagiarism. Now, she has taken a similar approach for a Hindi kids song, “Aaj Mangalwar h“.
Original plot: A mouse gets ill on a Tuesday and goes to doctor. The doctor gives him injection and he cries in pain, “Ooi, Ooi, Ooi”.
First day she asked me to replace the story with another animal, I got creative, using a Giraffe, I built a story where Giraffe, being too tall, could not find shelter on a rainy day and fell ill. His mom took him to the doctor. The doctor tried injection but it broke. So, he gave him a medicine and Giraffe became well.
Big mistake! Now my daughter asks me to build stories around the same plot, using:
Different relations: Mom ill, Baby ill, Father ill, Sibling ill…∞
Different diseases: Fever, runny nose, runny stomach…∞
Different causes for the diseases: Bad weather, playing in rain, over eating, stomach infection, swimming too long…∞
Doctors of different species
Different forms of medication
The idea is superb since the combinations are endless but it is a blow to my creativity.
Once, when I retaliated and declined to honour the request for these stories, my daughter decided to humour me by telling me the stories herself. In one of them, she gave 100 injections to a lizard baby.
I feel for the lizard baby and wonder if she survived the wrongful detainment and the horrific treatment. Nobody deserves that, even in imagination. As the diseases and their treatments become more graphic, I am praying this fetish passes soon before we get a notice from PETA…
Author’s note: This is a painting-promt story based on my four-year-old daughter’s painting ‘Stork in Dress’. Please don’t look for logic. There is none.
Long ago, a stork was in love with a princess or, to be more accurate, in love with the long, flowing dresses she wore. He wished he could have one for himself. He spent long fruitless hours standing alone in the pond in front of her window in the palace grounds, looking grumpily at the princess.
One evening, when the drowsy sun dipped its feet in the carmine horizon and an orange moon rose in the star-studded sky rubbing its eyes, he saw something that looked like a large insect near the pond. Contemplating eating it, he stalked closer. The ‘thing’ magicked the beautiful rose bushes to look like cactus with flowers–he realised it wasn’t an insect but a sprite. Sprites are eternal mischief-makers with magic. A plan formed in his mind.
Taking her by surprise, he caught the sprite in his beak by one arm. The sprite cried out in pain, “It hurts! Let me go.” With his mouth still closed to keep a grip on the fae, he muffled out, “Promise to give me anything I ask for?” Writhing, she cried, “I promise!” He let her go and sat her on a rock.
The sprite was angry but fae can’t lie–she had promised and would have to give him anything he asks for. But, there is always a loophole, so, she asked, “What would you like me to do?” The stork said, “I want a dress just like the one the princess is wearing today–the one with rainbow colours.” The sprite thought for a moment and smiled, “So shall it be, then. I will weave you a dress out of light.”
The stork was excited beyond words. The sprite quickly called upon her powers. The lake waters shined like crystals, splitting the light of the setting sun and the rising moon into thousands of colourful ribbons. The sprite quickly wove the ribbons of light in to a dress even more breathtaking as that of the princess. The bodice shined on its own and sparkled against the palace’s crystal windows drawing gazes of the residents.
At the sprite’s nudging, the stork greedily put it on, but his wings would not fit in.
“Oh! The dress looks rather weird on your thin waist and legs, and your wings cannot enter it’s sides. Would you like a human body to go with it too?”
“Oh! Of course!”
So, the sprite mumbled as the stork looked at his reflection in the pond, admiring his gradually changing body: human legs, stomach, chest, hands, neck, hair…
…and the sprite vanished. He still had the stork’s face!
He was irritated in extreme. Now he will have to catch the sprite again to complete the change. In all this excitement, he missed the fact that he stood in the palace grounds smack in front of the princess’ window as half a human in a dress that shined like a beacon. The palace servants had seen him changing his body without spotting the tiny sprite. Now all of them ran towards him, brandishing swords and pitchforks, shouting, “Monster! Monster!”
He attempted to fly away but his wings were gone. He tried to swim away in the pond but his dress, now wet, pulled him down, nearly drowning him. He came out of the pond somehow hoping to run away, but too many men surrounded him. No one asked him questions.
He never saw when his life-blood seeped into the rainbow dress he had wrested out of an irate sprite.
Shaily Agrawal is a small-town Indian and a working mother. Her skewed perspective is apparent through her stories on her blog: https://fishinthetrees.home.blog/ You can read her first short story collection, The Forest Bed on Amazon Kindle.