Author’s note: This is my second attempt at a “first-line story” to break what we all know as a writer’s block. The first line of the story was suggested by GP. I hope I did it justice. 🙂
She wandered aimlessly through the maze, wondering what the surprise was when she emerged.
Her father was holding her hand, of course, afraid that she too will run ahead of him like her brother did. She was constantly barraging her father with questions he had no answer to—how did he know where to turn and which door to take, and how would they find their way back when they have found her brother.
When, and not if…her faith was absolute—nothing untoward could befall her seventeen-year-old brother. He was her hero—fearless, invicible and undestructible.
The maze seemed to be going on forever as they went door after door looking for him. She was sure he would have reached the prize by now and must be waiting for them with the trophy in his hand; or may be it would be a really big teddy, like the one she saw the other day when her brother had taken her to the market. The thought perked her up and she quickened her pace, pushing the doors open before her father could stop her.
She felt her brother before she saw him. The smell of his favourite deodorant and the familiar sound of his favourite love song album filled the room that, she suddenly realised, was his bedroom. The sense of dread filled her heart and her gut told her to close the door before… But, like every time before that, she couldn’t stop herself.
Her brother’s body hung from the ceiling fan—tongue lolling, eyes popped out…
She was screaming until her husband shook her out of the ‘nightmare’ and held her against his heart as he had done for countless nights in the past eight years and her parents did for many more years before that. She sobbed until she drifted into an uneasy sleep, hoping against hope for a dreamless night.
And to think that her brother died believing that no one loved him…
Expensive china lay splayed on the floor, broken in tiny pieces. I shiver. It could have been me. Being made of glass, it isn’t a good idea for me to tell the truth. People don’t like truth, especially middle-age women with identity crisis. Unfortunately, like all mirrors, it’s in my nature to reflect the facts, no matter the mental state of my owner. For example, right now, you have something green stuck in between your teeth–Spinach sandwich?
What’s worse, I have been magicked with the ability to see beyond the obvious. If he could get hold of me, Einstein would have used my knowledge to prove his concept of time being the fourth dimension of space (Yes, I can see through all the four dimesions of space. How else would I know about Einstein who will be born 1423 years later?). However, my current mistress for the past twenty-two years uses it for one question alone–any guesses?
Mirror mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest of them all?
Initially, I was excited to serve a woman of unsurpassable beauty. But after answering the same question for the nth time, it got old. So, I started creating short poetry about it, a different one everyday–
Too many out there are pretty, but never saw such a beauty…
None surpass, ohh my lass!
(If you think, this is bad poetry, try writing on the same subject for twenty-two years. Well, you get the drift.)
Even that began to grate on my nerves after a few years.
When she tricked the king into marry her after the passing of his first wife, I had hoped that she would get better things to do, what with being newly wed and a queen. But it seems that being a queen requires constant vigilance on the competition. So, the question became a daily query, almost like standing guard to keep stray dogs out. If you ask me, this whole idea of fairness is rather blown out of proportion to serve the herbs and cosmetics industry, but since she is so big on it, resigning to fate, I began giving a three word answer repeatedly, “You, my lady.” That seemed to satisfy her though.
Today, her step-daughter, Snowdrop, became seven years old. Yes, it is Snowdrop and not Snow White, as some famous storytellers with moving pictures would have you believe.
Snowdrop is named so because she is rather fair looking with skin white as snow, rosy cheeks, red lips and black hair. I think the queen is rather jealous because Snowdrop looks like the first queen. So, it was her birthday and I was deep in thought about how 7-year-olds would ask different questions from 37-year-olds when the queen asked the question again. I’m not sure where the rebellion came from but I dropped the bomb.
“With hair black as raven’s feather,
and skin white as snowfall,
Snowdrop is the fairest of all.”
That’s when the bombarding began. My mistress became the fabled bull in the china shop. As things flew around in the room and several hit the wall right next to me, the dread and excitement surged into me, rendering me immobile (Not that I can go anywhere anyway.). I wondered if I’ll survive today. A distant vision came up–meeting a certain Larry Page at his dorm’s wall, becoming the earth-shattering (or was it ground-breaking?) magic behind some Go-ogle, answering millions of questions each day as millions of faces peer intently at me…I sighed at the sight.
One flying suacer of the bonechina variety can put me out of commission and take away that beautiful future from me. I’d really like to say that I’d keep my trap shut from now on so that I’d have a better chance to stay ‘alive’ for the next sixteen centuries and reach that future. But I know myself. Now that I’m finally seeing some action, I can’t go back to the You-my-lady mode again.
Anyway, you’d think that after finding out that the next generation is ready to take over, she’d ask new questions–What is the best anti-wrinkle cream? How to remove dark shadows from beneath the eyes? What’s the best hair colour? Instead, I am answering the same question thrice a day as she mixes and applies different potions to her face to remove signs of aging…
Kara was sitting on the water tank on the roof with the lost look on his face, that I have become accustomed to, ever since his latest batch of eggs hatched. This time I decided to ask, “Hey, what’s with the long face?”
For the few seconds he took, I thought he wouldn’t reply at all. When he did, there was a sigh in his voice, “I’m worried about the youngest one.”
“What happened? Did he fall off the nest?” That would explain his worried face. But he shook his head, “No, he is careful and obedient–just the child any parents would ask for. I just think, he’s not getting the right role model.”
I thought if the number of times I had thought the same about my baby, “Don’t be silly! You and your wife are dedicated parents and a loving couple. How could you not be a good role model?” He hesitated and I could see he was considering whether to just take off without answering. “Yeah! But our voices are…rather different from him. He tries to imitate us but fails…it leaves him frustrated and sad.”
Out of everything I had expected, thus wasn’t in the list. I was confused, “I think I’m mising something here. How could your voice be different from your child’s? Is it because he is still young and his voice unbroken? You can tell him it is just a matter of time…”
A pregnant silence ensued before he answered the question, sounding hesitant and repentant, as if he was sorry for having talked at all. “It isn’t that. His voice is…shrill…Ever heard of a cuckoo? They often break one of the crow’s eggs and leave their own egg behind. There was a cuckoo in our area when our eggs came about…”
That must have been difficult, to suspect having raised the child of their baby’s murderer, “So, you suspect your youngest is the cuckoo’s baby?”
Resigned, he admitted, “We know he is. Knew it from the first day. Both I and wife saw the broken egg below the tree, but what could have we done? Thrown him out of the nest, out of our lives, like his own parents did? Let him die without experiencing love?
We thought we are doing the right thing by taking him in. But now, we are worried if we are the right role models. All the kids laugh at him at his inability for crow-speak, when he coos in the weird cuckoo voice. We try to rationalise it in front of him, but I think he is beginning to understand that he is different and it hurts him.” He was speaking more to himself than me. “We have been arguing over whether to tell him the truth. The wife is afraid the truth will hurt him deep. She’s afraid to lose him.
But I feel he is already hurting too much–the constant failure to become what he clearly isn’t, to conform with family, to accept himself with all the differences–is proving to be too much for him. I want to tell him the truth before we lose him altogether.”
“But you haven’t. Why?”
When he answered, tears bubbled up in his eyes, “What if he decides that he doesn’t want us anymore? I’m afraid to lose him…”
Author’s note: The story doesn’t intend to disrespect anyone based on their parentage. It just speaks of a person who has been raised in the society that gives more credit to birth than ability.
Karna is a central character in Mahabharata, the longest and most revered epic in Sanskrit. He is the illegitimate son of the Sun God and Princess Kunti. He faces too many caste-based prejudices because he is raised by a low-caste Charioteer. Visit Wikipedia to know more about him. This story is set in the morning of the longest day of his life–when he joins the greatestwar of ancienthistory.
Karna was fuming after his conversation with the Sun God–his real father. His entire life was a lie.
For nearly seventy years, he had believed he was the son of a lowly Charioteer. He had struggled with casteism for every privilege reserved for higher castes: education, power and rightful recognition as the world’s best warrior. But the world had jeered at him, declining him a single chance to show his true mettle, simply because he wasn’t born in a Kshatriya family. If it wasn’t for Prince Duryodhan who made him the king of Angadesh, he would be scrubbing horses and sleeping in stables.
And today, when Prince Duryodhan has given him the chance to lead his army in the greatest of all wars against his illegitimate cousins–the Pandavas, the war that may finally give him the recognition he had always craved for…
He had arrived at the river to pray to the Sun God as usual, and there he was, standing in all his glory, to tell him that he was a Prince, a Kshatriya, a demi-god…
And a bastard!
He couldn’t remember how many times in his life had he wished to have the royal blood, so that he could be an equal of his best friend. Now he did–as the eldest son of Rajmata Kunti, born while she was still unmarried. She still has a brood of five similar sons, the Pandavas, ‘blessings’ from five gods after her marriage to the impotent King Pandu. Her husband had approved of them. He, on the other hand, was born before marriage and she had cast him away in the river.
He had never hated Arjun so much before–his arch-enemy was now his step-brother. She had kept him and the other four sons, raised them as kind princes and capable warriors who were respected and loved by all, while he lived his life as Duryodhan’s lapdog. He might be a king, but his subjects clearly didn’t approve.
The number of times he had jeered at Pandavas because of their many fathers…it all came back to him. Now, he was one of them. What would his best friend think of him now? Will he still let him lead his army?
As he finished his daily prayers, he could see Kunti at a distance, hesitating from approaching him. He gave the customary bow and waited for her to speak.
“How are you, Son?” She had always addressed him as “Son”. But today, he could understand the true meaning of the word.
“My lady, how can I serve you today?”
“I came to see my son today.”
He could see her steeling herself for the onslaught. He had no pity for her. “There is none here. You should perhaps look a little further in the Pandavas’ camp.”
Undeterred, she continued, “I’ve come to see my first-born, the son of the Sun God, born with the fiery temper of his father–who will be the next King of Hastinapur (Delhi).”
“Hastinapur belongs to the true descendants of King Shantanu. It is not up to a woman to give it away to those who have the blood of several unknown men”, he dealt a low blow.
She stood strong though, “The true descendant of Shantanu do not deserve to be kings. They are vain and self-serving. They do not know justice and their subjects are mere means to fulfill their ends. They keep vile company that advises them to destroy their people and businesses. Their best men are hog-tied by oath to serve the king, incapable of stopping injustice, and they stand by watching women being raped in public.”
“And am I not one of the vile company? As far as I remember, I am Duryodhan’s best friend.”
“You are, but Pandavas–your brothers–are capable administrators and advisors. They had given 26 years of their lives to make Hastinapur a land of opportunity–converting arid lands to fertile farms, and dense forests infested by demons into fruit orchards. They had invited farmers, tradesmen and craftsmen from different kingdoms with a promise of a peaceful and luxurios life–a promise they had fullfilled as long as they ruled. They can do it again, with you on the throne.”
“Ah! Bribing me into changing sides. So that I won’t kill your precious sons…”
“I am not afraid of my sons dying. They are Kshatriyas–born to fight. They have lived a long life. A death in the battle field will only bring them further glory. It is you that I am afraid for. Will you be able to look yourself in the mirror, knowing that you killed able and just kings who were the best chance their subjects had? Knowing they were your younger brothers?”
“You speak as if you know me, as if you care for me…you let me deal with seventy years of humiliation. You knew who I was, and yet, you let your sons disrespect me by calling me a ‘Charioteer’s son’. You never spoke up for me, and yet, you dare to call me ‘Son’? You bribe me with throne and family, respect and metarnal love, and expect me to forget that all this has been denied to me for seventy years?”
“Son…disowning you was a mistake. But I was only fourteen and scared of society. I wanted to own you up later when I saw you at the Royal games fifty years back.”
“Then, why didn’t you?”
“Arjun had called you a Charioteer’s son, but you had held your head up. In return, Duryodhan had called Arjun a “Bastard”. The look of disgrace you gave Arjun at that moment…I realised that it was better for you to never share the fate of being my son.”
Author’s note: My father and husband refrain from calling a man in to do ‘simple stuff’. Here is an accurate description of the scene that ensues when they ‘get at it’. This excerpt from Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, written in 1889, has really nailed it.
You never saw such a commotion up and down a house, in all your life, as when my Uncle Podger undertook to do a job. A picture would have come home from the frame- maker’s, and be standing in the dining-room, waiting to be put up; and Aunt Podger would ask what was to be done with it, and Uncle Podger would say:
“Oh, you leave that to ME. Don’t you, any of you, worry yourselves about that. I’LL do all that.”
And then he would take off his coat, and begin. He would send the girl out for sixpen’orth of nails, and then one of the boys after her to tell her what size to get; and, from that, he would gradually work down, and start the whole house.
“Now you go and get me my hammer, Will,” he would shout; “and you bring me the rule, Tom; and I shall want the step-ladder, and I had better have a kitchen-chair, too; and, Jim! you run round to Mr. Goggles, and tell him, `Pa’s kind regards, and hopes his leg’s better; and will he lend him his spirit-level?’ And don’t you go, Maria, because I shall want somebody to hold me the light; and when the girl comes back, she must go out again for a bit of picture-cord; and Tom! – where’s Tom? – Tom, you come here; I shall want you to hand me up the picture.”
And then he would lift up the picture, and drop it, and it would come out of the frame, and he would try to save the glass, and cut himself; and then he would spring round the room, looking for his handkerchief. He could not find his handkerchief, because it was in the pocket of the coat he had taken off, and he did not know where he had put the coat, and all the house had to leave off looking for his tools, and start looking for his coat; while he would dance round and hinder them.
“Doesn’t anybody in the whole house know where my coat is? I never came across such a set in all my life – upon my word I didn’t. Six of you! – and you can’t find a coat that I put down not five minutes ago! Well, of all the – “Then he’d get up, and find that he had been sitting on it, and would call out: “Oh, you can give it up! I’ve found it myself now. Might just as well ask the cat to find anything as expect you people to find it.”
And, when half an hour had been spent in tying up his finger, and a new glass had been got, and the tools, and the ladder, and the chair, and the candle had been brought, he would have another go, the whole family, including the girl and the charwoman, standing round in a semi-circle, ready to help. Two people would have to hold the chair, and a third would help him up on it, and hold him there, and a fourth would hand him a nail, and a fifth would pass him up the hammer, and he would take hold of the nail, and drop it.
“There!” he would say, in an injured tone, “now the nail’s gone.”
And we would all have to go down on our knees and grovel for it, while he would stand on the chair, and grunt, and want to know if he was to be kept there all the evening.
The nail would be found at last, but by that time he would have lost the hammer. “Where’s the hammer? What did I do with the hammer? Great heavens! Seven of you, gaping round there, and you don’t know what I did with the hammer!”
We would find the hammer for him, and then he would have lost sight of the mark he had made on the wall, where the nail was to go in, and each of us had to get up on the chair, beside him, and see if we could find it; and we would each discover it in a different place, and he would call us all fools, one after another, and tell us to get down. And he would take the rule, and re-measure, and find that he wanted half thirty-one and three-eighths inches from the corner, and would try to do it in his head, and go mad. And we would all try to do it in our heads, and all arrive at different results, and sneer at one another. And in the general row, the original number would be forgotten, and Uncle Podger would have to measure it again.
He would use a bit of string this time, and at the critical moment, when the old fool was leaning over the chair at an angle of forty-five, and trying to reach a point three inches beyond what was possible for him to reach, the string would slip, and down he would slide on to the piano, a really fine musical effect being produced by the suddenness with which his head and body struck all the notes at the same time.
And Aunt Maria would say that she would not allow the children to stand round and hear such language.
At last, Uncle Podger would get the spot fixed again, and put the point of the nail on it with his left hand, and take the hammer in his right hand. And, with the first blow, he would smash his thumb, and drop the hammer, with a yell, on somebody’s toes.
Aunt Maria would mildly observe that, next time Uncle Podger was going to hammer a nail into the wall, she hoped he’d let her know in time, so that she could make arrangements to go and spend a week with her mother while it was being done.
“Oh! you women, you make such a fuss over everything,” Uncle Podger would reply, picking himself up. “Why, I LIKE doing a little job of this sort.”
And then he would have another try, and, at the second blow, the nail would go clean through the plaster, and half the hammer after it, and Uncle Podger be precipitated against the wall with force nearly sufficient to flatten his nose. Then we had to find the rule and the string again, and a new hole was made; and, about midnight, the picture would be up – very crooked and insecure, the wall for yards round looking as if it had been smoothed down with a rake, and everybody dead beat and wretched – except Uncle Podger.
“There you are,” he would say, stepping heavily off the chair on to the charwoman’s corns, and surveying the mess he had made with evident pride. “Why, some people would have had a man in to do a little thing like that!”
I had earlier written this series. Lately, I realised that I could do a better job at it. I have rewritten the stories and collated them since I felt that they make more sense this way. Let me know what you all think.
“Of course, it is better than the circus I was at earlier. The minions feed me well and scrub me often too. My 100×100 feet home comes fitted with grass to lay on and trees to scratch my back. But I miss the drinking straight from the stream, the rush of excitement I used to feel on running after my prey, and most of all, running around the forest with mom.
Don’t know when I will see them again.”
“That cramped cage and now this!
Do they really think I’m better off in this aviary I have to share with these minions? How I hate the Gobble-Gobble and the Cackle-Cackle—the constant cacophony of the mindless birds who have never seen the world!
I can see the sky from here. The way the Sun and clouds call to me and the wind lifts me up only to crash me in the damned fence—never before had I thought that hell was real.”
The Lion growled at the flash of the camera.
“How I hate them when they pry in like that. Is there no privacy here? What’s the point of giving me a mate when I can’t even nuzzle her without hearing a camera click somewhere?
Well, if I can’t be alone with her, why even bother? Let them think I’m not interested.”
“I see her sad eyes filled with longing across the wired high fence. I feel the same longing deep within; a loneliness I never thought could exist. A bondage that I never realized cuts through me in every waking moment and dreams too.
Of course, I have a herd. They have given me five mates.
But in this moment, I feel I never had a choice.”
“Where have all the eggs gone again? I had buried them in the sand under the tree. Did the birds find them again? But I never saw them descend…
I’ve scoured every inch of land within the enclosure. Did someone steal them and took them away?
But no one came…Well, except the cleaner…But he wouldn’t do that to me, would he? He must know how much my babies mean to me.
Maybe they hatched when I was eating and are hiding in the water already. But where are the shells then?”
“They have sent me a new ‘wife’! Do they really think she can distract me?
They took away my real wife four months back when she was several months along. I let them because the guy who treated my leg was with them too. Ever since then, I’ve waited for her to return with the baby. But now I hear her and the baby in a distance from another enclosure. I called her and she called me right back.
I tried to break the walls to reach her, but they were too strong.
Now, they have sent me a new ‘wife’! As if I care! Damn these walls!”
I take him for a walk first thing in the morning. He needs one.
He may complain about the early hours, the rainy weather and the muddy footprints on the floor but he loves them too. I’ve seen how he inhales the freshness in the air, not yet tainted by the traffic of the rush hour. I know he loves the dragonflies at the river, so I pull him there too. I splash around while he grumbles, until the old man gets his toes wet and relaxes visibly.
He sometimes protests that he is getting too old for this, but well, so am I. It is not easy to chase a deer anymore, but I do that anyway. How else will he get his exercise?
He may give me only one sausage a day and be a scrooge-ish when it comes to my biscuits. But I love him anyway, so I look out for him.
Authors note: This story is dedicated to Pete, my favorite serial-fiction writer, and Ollie, his companion and guardian angel. To know more about them or read some great crime-fiction, visit his site: beetleypete.com