Friday, 30 December 2011

A Cup of Coffee



Lizzie has honest eyes, but she tries to hide them, and her face, in thick make up. She knows that the natural beauty she has is better than the made up beauty she gives to the world. But there is no other way. She has to be made up, the way a hooker is supposed to be. No one will think of her as a hooker if she just looks like a girl who is too confident of her natural beauty. So, she makes it a point to have the flirty scarlet and pink lipsticks and super shiny gloss ever ready in her clutch purse. Her eyes are always drowned in kohl. She experiments with various skimpy dresses and always sports nine inch stilettos. She eats a lot of chocolate, but is able to stay in shape, for her age. She has bad ankles and dry skin, and her eyes water too much. She has to pay a lot for the hair remover to give her legs a decent look. But who cares?

John is waiting for her near the department store. He is the first one who is seeing her for more than a week. That is, it’s been a little more than a week since they met, and he hasn’t dumped her yet. It’s almost like going on steady with someone, though she knows that it isn’t going to be. He is to the heavier side, the kind the guy from the ghetto would make fun of. She had the shock of her life when she ended up in the ghetto last month. She never imagined that handsome guy in the mall to be from the ghetto. He wore a clean white t-shirt and new denim jeans. But his den was horror of horrors. Anyway, he was a decent chap. He didn’t harm her, though he rambled on about the hypocrisy of the world that excluded him. Excluded him from what? She never considers herself to be excluded from anything, anywhere. There is a space for her everywhere. They just use her for their pleasure, she knows that. But she knows how to exploit them as well. Everybody around is exploiting everybody else, she knows that for sure. So, what’s wrong with being a hooker for a while, she thinks.

She throws a smile at John and they start walking towards the next street. There is a moment of silence before John says, “I write smut stories in the nights. I’m an insomniac, of sorts.”

“You should let me read them someday”, Lizzie says for the sake of it. She doesn’t like reading smut stories. It’s too much of one thing or the other, and always from the male viewpoint. She wondered why people cared for them these days. But John says that they are back in the market, and he can even make a living writing them, if he left his day job.

John is ugly. That’s what she thinks. Nothing comparable to the guy from the ghetto. She wasn’t going to settle down in the next few years, but when she saw that guy, she thought she wouldn’t mind marrying someone like him. But he was from the ghetto. What a room he had! Not even a place to sit, just a decayed chair and the floorboards all agape. And that grey tomcat on the window and its menacing look. She felt relieved, whenever she thought about how she was out of it faster than she imagined. He said he respected her profession, and knew that he was not an ideal client for her. One must respect such an attitude, but what a place where he lived!

She makes a deliberate effort to hold John’s reluctant hand. He just wants to escape from the crowd, and conversation is just an excuse to divert attention from the uneasiness. “Shall we have some coffee?” she asks. She genuinely needs to drink something.

“I can make it for you at home,” he says as she is almost dragged through the street. Lizzie just goes mindlessly in the direction he pulls her. She knows that this is to end soon, but wonders why he turns up every evening, near the department store.

The guy from the ghetto was right, to an extent. She’s getting abused, royally, on a daily basis. Here’s a guy who writes smut stories in the nights, after abusing her. Just another one. She wonders why she doesn’t feel like the guy from the ghetto. Perhaps she belongs to a different creed altogether. The guy from the ghetto can make it big if he wants to be, but he’s deliberately staying away from opportunities. He bites his anger down as he plays basketball, all by himself. Just like the way she bites her pride down every time she is reminded that her services are paid. Just a cup of coffee is what she needs now, but he’s reluctant to have it with her in a public place. It’s not good for him to be seen with her for five minutes in a place where people may identify him. She just walks, or lets herself dragged, through the street.

“You know John, I must write stories too.”

“Really? Smut stories?”

“No. I won’t think of it. It’s for men. Only men.”

“Who told you so? You must read mine. Anyone can enjoy them.”

“I am thinking of writing stories no one can enjoy reading.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Yes, I am.”

John slows down a bit, sensing something wrong in her tone.

“Hey, what’s wrong? You’re not feeling well?”

“Did I say that?”

John looks at her face and starts walking faster.

“John, you enjoy this, eh?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“But your hands are cold, and reluctant.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I doubt whether you enjoy this walk. It takes a long time to reach your room.”

“I’m waiting to reach there” he says, with a naughty smile.

“I would have enjoyed this walk, but it’s not so...and I would walk till the end of the world if we weren’t to reach that room, ever.”

John stops again. He looks closely at Lizzie’s face and withdraws his hand from her.

“Lizzie, are you saying that you don’t need to come with me today?”

“Yes”, she says, nonchalantly. “Not today, and never again.”

“Okay. There you go. Is there anything I can do for you now?”

“Nothing. Thanks for everything.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I’m just going to have a cup of coffee from here. Bye.”

“Well, may I come with you? Are you alright?”

“No. Sorry, too late.”

She turns away swiftly from John and walks into the cafeteria. She feels free. She feels like that guy from the ghetto.

*****

Note: This story is an independent one, though there is an earlier story by me, A Casual Encounter, to which you can connect the part about the ghetto man. However, it is not necessary to read that story to understand this one, because the fragmentary thoughts in the mind of Lizzie about this man is made deliberately so. The link is for those who are curious about the life of the ghetto man.

Image Courtesy: http://creativewriting.ie/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/prompt-7.jpg

Notwithstanding Christmas

 Louis de Bernieres: Photo by Jose Varghese


Notwithstanding Christmas: Longing Beyond Life 
in Louis de Bernieres' 'This Beautiful House'

Please do click here to read a review of 'This Beautiful House' (a story from Louis de Bernieres' collection Notwithstanding), originally published in THRESHOLDS, Chichester University, UK.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

An Angel Drove By


I love to stare at the fog. I can make things emerge out of it, if I really need to. My eyes are not great - the real ones and the inner eye as well. It's all foggy at its best, on a good day like this. But it helps a lot to stare at things, since that's all I can do. My limbs don't move as fast as my mind, and I can't read or write - with the bad eyes and fragile hands that keep shaking all the time. I am waiting for my angel.

No, it's not the unreal angel. The real one. My daughter, who drives 20 miles every evening just to come here. She brings me food, and comfort, and the best conversation possible. That keeps me alive till the next evening. She's an angel. She drives back home after the two hours here, to her unreal world. He family. Her career. She's a supermom.

She's an angel for a daughter, but she quarrels with me at times.  She says it's stupid for a man my age to pretend that he can live on his own. She threatens that she will take me by force to her home in the big town. For what? To keep me like a museum piece in the spare bedroom? To let me breathe that ugly air in the fourteenth floor? To make me ask for help every time I want to move around in the ever changing interiors of her apartment?

My questions silence her, but she jolts back to interesting conversation all the time. About her office. About the nasty work conditions there. About her children who are funny and strange at the same time. About how her husband treats her like a princess and a doormat at the same time. About the fast moving life in her town which she loves and I disapprove of. She calls me a village idiot. And I'm one.

But I am better than what Tolstoy would make fun of. I'm better than Ivan Ilyich. Because I'm in charge of my life. Never let others order me around. When I'm on my deathbed, I won't care for what others do. First of all, there won't be anyone around. This is my world. The one I created. The way I like it. This is a foggy paradise where I can create and destroy  sceneries and characters. Even ideas. I give birth to ideas that are no more transferred to paper. I nurse them for a while. Sometimes I wring their necks too soon. Sometimes I keep them beside me, like pets. I feed them a bit. Sometimes I abandon them after a while. They starve to death. It's beautiful. Perfect.

It's a pity I can't read anymore. Or may be it's not. There's a lot of reading of the self left to me. It's a pleasure doing that while I wait. My gate is always open. I can't tend the garden. And so it has become even more beautiful. The plants which were once garden plants have become real plants. They used to mock me earlier, challenging me to prune their freedom and joy with my useless hands. But they are kind to me these days. They treat me like a curious museum piece in the world I created.

I don't know whether the house will collapse before me. My daughter says she will bring someone in the weekend to do some maintenance. But no more painting, I say. The smell of paint makes me feel as if I am already in hell. It's like someone pouring gasoline over you, before setting you alight. No, they don't do that anymore in hell, my daughter says. They grill you on coal - that's a slow process. That's tougher than getting deep fried. Count yourself lucky if you are deep fried, she says. It's almost certain that I will lose my paradise once I die, and I won't care whether I get grilled or deep fried.

There are cities that I haven't visited. Beautiful cities. Ugly cities. There's only so much a man can do. In a lifetime. What a lifetime! I've had fun. Of all sorts. But I felt empty too. Many times. But I don't feel empty anymore. I know there is beauty beneath the fog. The real fog, and the fog in my perspective.

I hear the car approach slowly, from beyond the fog. That's the one that carries my angel here. She's coming here, just to see me. I am so selfish, to make her do that. And to say that I will be alright even if she doesn't come. I pretend not to see the tears in her eyes when I say that. I know that it hurts her. But that's proof that she loves me. Even angels have to give proof of their love. I know I'm nasty. But I won't be in control if I'm not like this. I can afford this. Because I have my angel. She's almost here, and it's the end of my days' wait. Let her tear the fog off to pieces for a while.

*****

Image Courtesy:  http://creativewriting.ie/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/creative-writing-prompt-photo-December-122.jpg



Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Casual Encounter

     You think that only a murderer, high on weed, detached from all things virtuous, could inhabit a place like this. The floorboards are not worth fixing. There, you've got to be careful, or you may just fall through them to a world which is equally morbid, if not more than this one. But have you ever wondered how these places come into existence? I bet you never had the time for that.
     I'm sorry I can't offer you a place to sit. The chair over there is not a chair. It's just the bones of a chair - what the mites have left after savouring its sap. Well this is not the kind of place where you can imagine spending an hour, even under compulsion. But I live here, sleep here every night, under compulsion. Why? Oh you really need to know why? Because I have no other choice.
     I use the common toilet downstairs, wash my two pairs of clothes in a bucket of water, and get them dried here, in the same room where I sleep. Well, I'm sorry there's no drinking water here. I have trained myself to live without water every time I step inside this room. I'm really sorry about that. We should have collected some water from the shopping mall.
     So, you didn't imagine me to live in a place like this? Yeah, it's true that one can't assume things about others - from their way of dressing, or talk, or the look in their eyes. No, I never lacked confidence despite what you think of as a lowly existence. Hey, no need to defend yourself. I know that you are trying to hide your impressions, but I know for sure that this is what you think about me. And how can I blame you? It's really a lowly existence for sure.
     Don't worry - there is no one around this place. That gray cat on the window is a harmless one. It's well fed - I share my food with it. You may not find a happier cat in proper houses. Just like, you won't find a man in good shape like me in those houses too.
     Now that you can't sit down anywhere, the only option is to lie down somewhere. Oh, or if you find my bearing too good for my dwelling, and want to leave, you are free to do that.
     I am a gentleman you see. I can spend my energy on another round of basket ball play, all by myself. I'm used to that. That's what I'd been doing for ages - biting my anger away, working hard, earning enough to keep myself and my cat in shape, and never hurting anyone. If you need to escape into the outside world, you are welcome. You are free to find a place of your own in a soft feathery silky bed, and get abused royally, by those rich fat frustrated idiots.
     I know you won't stay back for me even if I pay you well. Please do leave then. I respect your profession, and I know that I'm not an ideal client for you. 

*****

Concept/Image Courtesy: http://creativewriting.ie/2011/11/28/creative-writing-prompt-november-28th/

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Epiphany


We were so full of love that it kept us up in the air, like the balloons someone tied on the tree stump. Well, that’s what I thought when we sat down on the heart-shaped rock on the top of the mountain. It was not easy for her to climb all the way up from where the buses stopped, but once we were there all on our own, she started to relax. I took in the beautiful sight far below where everything looked small enough to create the feel of a painting – acrylic or oil on canvas. There was hardly any movement there. I felt elated. A perfect setting for two people to be together.
     Then there was a moment of doubt, and I knew she was fighting back memories, as her trembling hand reached out for mine.
     Life from such an altitude felt good to me...it was like being a part of the world beyond pain, and frustration. But I was worried about her at the same time. Though it felt good to be there for her at the moment, I was waiting for her to open up, to reveal her true feelings, to wipe away her past that stood between us.
     “It’s been a long time since I thought of talking to you...” she started.
     “Please do talk Julie. The silence doesn’t feel like gold to me.” I tried to humour her.
     But she didn’t smile with me. I felt stupid the way I did many times when she used that emotional high ground against me. I looked away. Sensing my discomfort, she squeezed my hand.
     “Look here Vivek, I know you are a good person. I trust you. But you will never be able to understand the mess I am.”
     “There you go again! Why do you expect anyone to understand anyone else? See, I don’t even understand myself at times.”
     “That’s not what I mean. Don’t take this lightly. If we go on like this, hoping to live together, we will reach a phase where we won’t be able to connect with each other. It’s not your fault...”, she paused.
     “Whatever it is, you have to speak it out. This is really getting on my nerves”, I said, a bit agitated.
     She looked up with some hurt in her eyes and went back to her silence. I put my arm around her, liking it a bit that my words can hurt her and a kind gesture afterwards can perhaps make her feel better. She didn’t respond.
     “Julie, speak out.”
     “Well, you must know that I lost my parents and my sister to a beautiful sight like this. The accident that took them away from me happened on a holiday. I stayed back in the boarding school, preparing for an exam.” She paused to drink a mouthful of water from the bottle we carried.
     “They took me to the site, where my Dad’s car was found almost at the bottom of the mountain, unrecognizable. And their bodies were still in it; not one of them in one piece.”
     It shocked me that she told this deadpan, in a monotone. It was my turn now to weigh the discomfort of silence as she stared at me victoriously.
     “I know you have a lot of romantic notions, but it’s not going to work, Vivek.’
     “But why not? Are you going to carry on like this – punishing yourself for not being dead with them?”
     “You don’t understand how insensitive you are Vivek”, she withdrew her hand from mine. “And that’s why I know this is not going to work.”
     I thought she was right. She had this immense capability to make me feel frustrated beyond any limit. Perhaps it was not worth struggling for this, I thought.
     “May be you are right”, I said. “But I’m not sure you’re going to stay like this forever. You’re going to find someone who...”
     “That shouldn’t bother you. Unless you need to justify yourself...”
     “Justify myself? For what? I don’t know what you mean.”
     “I know what I mean. But only you know for what. Why should you bother about my future, with or without someone? We are just not going to be together. That’s the end of it.”
     I started feeling so bad that I felt like pushing her down from the rock. After all, she will feel good to be dead, with her good for nothing family. There are prettier girls out there, with less complicated minds...
     Oh no, is this me thinking? How mean of me... She is right. I’m not the one for her, or perhaps I’m not the one for anyone...
     I looked into her eyes, and thought she was smiling at me. It seemed she was able to read my mind. There was no sadness in her eyes.
     “Why did you choose me, Vivek?”
     “What? I don’t get you.”
     “I’m asking – why did you choose me, out of all the girls you knew?”
     “Because you were different...well, you had something special in you.”
     “Listen to yourself. You are speaking in clichés. I will give you the answer to my question. You chose me because you thought there was less to hate in me than in the other girls. Also because you thought I was less demanding and more pleasing than...”
     “Stop it, Julie. You are talking nonsense.”
     “No, I’m talking sense. It’s you who were thinking nonsense all the way.”
     “Well...if you knew this all the way, why did you get close to me?”
     “I didn’t get close to you.”
     “What? So, all those times we spent together meant nothing to you? Were you just acting it...cheating me?”
     “Don’t get upset, Vivek. I spent time with you just because I felt good about it then. Can’t two people spend some time together happily, and still not get ‘close’, as you say?”
     “You are confusing me.”
     “It’s not me – it’s all those books that you read, and those movies that you watch, and those people with whom you spend your time that confuses you.”
     “I don’t understand you Julie.”
     “That’s not my fault. You see, I can’t do anything about this. And I was trying to tell you that it was not your fault that you don’t understand me. We are just two different people who can perhaps spend some friendly moments together. Don’t try to draw me into your daydreams. I am someone in flesh and blood, and I’m different, yes, different, from what you think.”
     I found it difficult to talk, and once again fought the temptation to push her down the rock. Why did I take so much trouble to come all this way with her? Why did I fail to see her problems before I let this develop so far?
     “Julie, you are trying to be more sophisticated than you are. Perhaps you got the idea from the books you read, and ...”
     “Exactly. You’ve got a point there. We experience life differently.”
     “But don’t they say that opposites attract? Can’t we have the differences and still be in love?”
     “Oh, not again. I really can’t stand these clichés.”
     “Julie, we all speak in clichés, don’t we? I am not ashamed of saying things that had been said earlier by someone else. I don’t think there’s anything that comes from vacuum to make us sound more intelligent than the rest. Our words come out of our limited experiences in life.”
     “I won’t counter that, if we are going to have a debate. My point is that we are people with different experiences and points of view, and we don’t necessarily have to be attracted to each other just because we are the opposites, if you like.”
     “You knew this from the beginning? Then why didn’t you discourage me?”
     “Discourage you from what?”
     “From loving you.”
     “Do you love me?”
I fell silent. It’s no use talking to her. She’s right, I thought. How could I love her?
     “Vivek, you just think it’s not romantic to answer the question, but I know your answer. It’s not that I cannot connect with people. But I’m sick of your quick solutions. You think forgetting is a means of survival, but for me it's the height of insensitivity. It's ingratitude to life."
     I gaped in disbelief at her eloquence, as I tried in vain to decipher her thoughts. This girl is too much for me, I decided.
     "Vivek, I don’t want you to be cured of your optimism. May be things work for you that way. But for me, life doesn’t work that way.”
      She stood up. I sat there for a moment, unable to see things clearly. The beautiful valley was there. I knew that it existed, like me, but it looked blurry now. Was it my confusion, or my eyes, or the darkness that fell like a blanket...oh no, I’m thinking in clichés.
     “Vivek, get up. Let’s make a move”, she said.

*****

Image Courtesy: Creative Writing Ink,  Writing Prompt November 21st - http://creativewriting.ie/2011/11/21/creative-writing-prompt-november-21st/

Monday, 21 November 2011

Orphans



     "If God is a man, I guess he will teach me now to live without him."
     This is exactly what Sister Grace said as she handed back her neatly folded habit to the Mother Superior and slithered back to the world. Her grey coat got wet in the heavy rain into which she walked absentmindedly, holding an umbrella that failed to protect her from the rain drops that fell down like little stones of accusation. She stared blankly into the open spaces of chaos where she would have to struggle hard once again, to find a place of her own.

*****

     After two years, Grace has come back to the convent, knowing no one will recognize her. Her hair has grown back, and the girlish curiosity in her Irish eyes has come back to life.
     She stood outside the convent, in heavy rain. Cars swished past her in the Delhi traffic. She was no more a stranger in the city, since she had found a place for herself in the chaos. She wore the same coat, but her umbrella was new and bigger, the kind that could protect her from heavy raindrops.
     She stood there for a moment and let memories claim her ...
     The sense of security she felt within that old building in the initial days and the eventual loss of it as she realised the disparity between the fluidity of her concept of God and the rules written in stone there. 
      Her idea of an inner liberation and the constraints of so called faith there, which served no purpose other than the stifling of her spirit. 
     The young Brahmin girl whom she taught in the convent school, and how she fell in love with the flowing robes of the Christian God. It was good as long as she could keep it fluid and to herself, but her parents found that out and dragged her out of the convent, forever. It was just the good education that they needed, not all that nonsense about a better God and religious conversion, the father said. 
     The suffering of the inmates that went unnoticed in the process and were glorified once they were over. 
     The heartless assault on her artistic endeavours. 
     The realisation that it was not about being in the wrong place, but that she was trying in vain to escape from one thing to the other. 
     The arguments within...
     "I don't regret leaving you all" she said, as she entered the convent. She went to the shrine inside and sat there on the cement bench near the idol of the saint. It didn't surprise her that there was no living soul around. The male God looked at her enticingly from a distance, from across the courtyard where the shrine dedicated to him stood. His brown, flowing hair and blue eyes retained the same charm. And the flowing robes...
     "I have nothing against you", she whispered. "It's just that I couldn't stand it when they did misinterpret you on a daily basis. I felt like an orphan when I left you then. But now I am at peace, with the little orphans I have adopted. I see you in them." 
     She stood up and gave a maternal pat on the back of the Saint's idol and waved towards the male God's idol. She moved towards the big gate that opened to dust, noises and confusion. She couldn't help turning back to look compassionately at the idols again. 
     "Don't worry my poor orphans...I will come here as often as I can. Please don't feel that I have deserted you. I wish you had a life, and could walk with me..." 
     Grace walked back into the rain, with the open umbrella held confidently in her frail, pale hands.  Raindrops fell merrily on it.

*****

Image Courtesy: Creative Writing Ink, Writing Prompt, November 14th 
http://creativewriting.ie/2011/11/14/november-14th-creative-writing-prompt-2/ 



Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Fast Design




The machine has to arrive by the afternoon. Captain Morris had been waiting impatiently for this day. Everything seems perfect now. The climate is good. The horse-driven carriage can easily bring the two men and the heavy machine here, sans a furore. The people in the valley have become suspicious of the inmates of the castle since the failed experiment a month ago, but they stay away, as a rule, from our affairs here. Money can buy anything. Even if they fear death at the cost of our mad science experiments, they will have to put up with it - as long as we keep them illiterate and poor, Morris thought. The last time we just blew a few trees and some rock formation. But there is more beauty here, he believed, than man can afford to appreciate or destroy fully.

Ever since he abandoned his life under the sea with Captain Nemo, he wanted to explore life in the outside world. He was never happy with that kind of life in the submarines pulling warships down and all that plunder in the name of a cause beyond man-made rules of justice. It was just a wild chase, he felt, with no clear end. But he tolerated it till Nemo's demise. All for the love of science that they shared so dearly. Now is the time for him to live in the land of Nemo's ancestors in Mysore, in this castle turned into a laboratory of sorts, hidden from the eyes of everyone but a few villagers who live in the valley. And they are more or less cut off from the rest of the world. They are just amused by the size and grandeur of the castle, which outdoes in opulence the few royal forts and palaces they were lucky to have seen or heard of. Morris keeps a safe distance from them, but is generous towards them when a natural calamity hits them bad. He lent a helping hand after the debacle last month as well. However, he never lets them come closer, to express gratitude or respect.

The machine might end the lives of all these people in the valley, and not to mention it, he himself will be the first to die, if things go wrong. But if the experiment is a success, he will be able to rule the whole world, putting an end to the imperialistic greed of all the powerful countries on the face of the earth. Nemo was wrong to cut himself off from the real world and to indulge in his own ideological sphere. Morris believed in changing the world, the whole world, for the better. And he believed that one man can change the world, if he had true conviction in his intelligence.

From the small window on the tower of the castle, Morris could discern the dust rising from the turning near the waterfall. The noise of the waterfall is faint from this distance, but their frothy merriment disturbed him. He found it difficult to put himself on a contrasting plane, and see the possible nemesis as originating from him. He tried to control his mind. It's all for the greater common good - he tried to console himself.

The horse carriage was seen as a spot from the distance. Now the dust took away the greenery from his eyes. The horses looked tired, as they strained to pull the heavy carriage up the granite bridge. Did their eyes sip in the nature, the water and the serenity that loomed over them? He wasn't supposed to feel ashamed. He didn't believe in any sort of emotional fascism. To hell with the sublime! He got rid of all that crap the moment he got convinced by Captain Nemo that a creation was in the waiting, but only at the cost of some destruction. No one cared for his family when his father and elder brother died deep down in the mine, suffering every moment, gasping for breath. An accident, they called it. And they turned their eyes to the colonies, from where better standards of life were to be smuggled. No time for those who worked hard all their life, and died, for the same reason!   

Morris ran downstairs, his heart beating fast. He was just hours away from flying. He saw his assistants heating the coal, and the vessels were full with steam. The wings, wheels, turbine and other parts of the flying machine were all ready to be assembled, the moment the machine arrived. His brother William has designed it at Bakel Fort, using his connections with the East India company officers. No one had a doubt about the things shaping up there at Bakel, since the fort wasn't designed for residential purposes. Only the guards were there, who could watch the enemies from various observation points in the towers, their guns and canons placed skilfully from every vantage point. Moreover, there were smaller forts near to it, which could be used for the research and supplies. No one realised the metal used for the work came from erstwhile warships, and some even from Nautilus. Several such machines were to be made, and because the last one could not be used, William had to work really hard to get things done fast enough. There were guards in all places, to ward off enemy attacks. No one cared for the relativity of the terms here. The enemies are now the rulers, and the patriots have been conveniently labelled rebels, or mutineers. No one imagined that some white-skinned men could make use of these premises for a larger purpose that will upset their regime - for a world beyond enemies and countrymen.

The two men allotted by William had to just transfer the machine, once it was finished, to the castle. They knew that it would take a whole day to get it here safely, but that was the only way. Now he can get this machine fixed to the flying machine, strap himself to the chair close to  it, and fly. And when he reached the places they have already marked, he could release himself and the machine, use the temporary wings to fly downwards, open the gold encrusted lid of the machine and let it sprinkle the poisonous potion downwards. People, trees, buildings, and even water will just burn. This could finish an entire country in one day. He could go on a weekly mission and finish all the unwanted countries in a matter of just three months. And, if everything goes well, he will be the one who controls the way history gets written. Otherwise, some idiots will write him off as an over-intelligent pervert, bloodthirsty hound, Mephistopheles incarnate, horns, tail, dark skin and all.

As the carriage neared the gate, Morris saw with horror that there was no one except the driver in that. And no machine! The driver was also soaked in blood, as if someone had just let him live in order to come here and convey a message. Morris looked skywards, in helplessness. To his ultimate horror, he saw a blinding light piercing dark clouds and falling downwards like poison, on the castle and the valley.


*****

Image Courtesy: Creative Writing Ink, writing prompt November 7th
http://creativewriting.ie/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/castle.jpg

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Walk


There were but a few men who embraced austerity wholeheartedly, like the old monk Raphael who spent a cloistered life all the way -  true to his calling, and in full adherence to the norms. But as he became too old and inept, burdened with a failed vision and blurry thoughts, he realised that the time has come to leave this earthly abode. On a sunny morning, he expressed his wish to his fellow monks that he would like to go out for a while, all by himself, to the empty meadows that outlined the monastery. He wanted to feel the nature, in whatever ways it happened to welcome him. Since they knew him very well, no one raised any objection to his wish - the only one he had expressed in his entire existence with them.

Raphael went out slowly, his feet following the walking stick which led the way as much as his trembling hands would let it. He felt a wisp of freedom at some corner of his clogged mind. There were memories, which refused to emerge. He felt happy about that. When many in this world are struggling to get rid of memories and get on with life anew in a never-ending process, it's bliss to remain oblivious to the painful, insignificant past, the uneventful present that gives nothing to rejoice, and the uncertainty and false expectations of what many call the future, which they believe exists out there, far away from them. For Raphael, all dimensions of memory, experiences and expectations were rolled into one now. All that he could feel was that his back ached terribly, and his limbs refused to move in accordance with his will.

The will, or what they call self-will, refused to fade away, to his disappointment. The very same will that led him to self-denial, the renouncement of worldly pleasures. And paradoxically, he never found anyone in the monastery who could fully renounce self-will, for the attainment of the ultimate experience of being at one with what they sought. They were supposed to gain salvation only then, since it was not to come to them on their terms.

But there was always a sense of self-justification in his life. At least he did try hard, for so many years, to get rid of all the emotional and intellectual baggage in order to have a clear perspective of the essence of life, and Truth, and selflessness. Many would ask whether he had gained anything from all this, but what he kept asking himself for years was whether there was anything worth possessing that he had lost in the process. Nothing. Moreover, the quiet moments of introspection that he had within the lonesome walls of the library and prayer rooms gave him a lot of insights... to the meaninglessness of it all. Of the whole business of gaining and losing.

As he walked by, thoughts slipped in and out of his mind, without taking any shape. He just wished he could switch off the mind altogether, and be truly free. To be unconcerned about what was going to happen the next moment and...

He just felt something pulling at his walking stick, and had to strain his eyes to see that it was a puppy, or a dog, or something in between. If he strained his ears, he could hear the impatient grunts as well. What was this creature doing to him? Even though he couldn't perceive the shape or intent of things in front of him, he could feel a friendliness, or playfulness, that was tugging at the other end of his walking stick. This creature wants to lead him, a bit faster, to some place, or something. He just played along, by not trying to scare the creature away. He tried to walk to the direction to which he was led. And yes, his new friend, or the last friend, was very kind and patient. He just had to adjust his breath and forget his aching back and walk to a slightly higher terrain, feeling surprisingly better, as he did that.

And he felt the magic of the sun, filtered through the clouds, as his friend made him stand there, close to the leafless trees. He didn't know what to do then, because his friend stopped pulling at his stick and just walked around him, smelling his cassock and trying to lick the mud off his shoes.He wished he could lift up his head, but he knew he couldn't. It was enough to feel the sun through his hood. He didn't worry now that he couldn't see the source of warmth that encompassed him. It just felt good. Really good. He was surprised that one could feel so good by just standing under the sun. He stayed there for a long time, and when he began to feel tired of his newly found sense of elation, his friend sensed it and started directing him again, just the way he did earlier.

This time he was taken towards the trees, and was made to stand under them. They were really old trees, and he didn't remember seeing them before. But he never went out of the monastery, and these must have been mere saplings, if they existed, when he came to the monastery many years ago. He just remembered walking all the way through the meadow from where the road ended. There were a lot of memories, before and after that long walk, but he didn't bother to remember. The trees, though leafless, provided shade for him now through their numerous branches that spread right above his head. Once again, he began to feel good, really good.

Raphael looked at the puppy-dog-creature-friend with a smile in his eyes and asked: "Well my friend, we had some sunshine, and we had some shade, and it was all so good. Now, where will you take me next?"

He waited for a reply but got none except a playful tug at his cassock and a friendly grunt.

*****


Image Courtesy: Creative Writing Ink, Writing Prompt November 1st. 
http://creativewriting.ie/writing-exercises/

Monday, 24 October 2011

Facing It


"No one's in the water. We found nothing."

The voice of the boys came out of the darkness faintly, as their bodies emerged into the light provided by the lantern the girl held high in the air. I couldn't discern the look in her eyes. Perhaps, she had overcome the shock and was now trying to be useful, in her own ways. Did she think that others could help her out of her misery? I didn't want to face her, but she kept looking into my direction.

"My little brother and I, ...we were playing hide and seek, when it started to rain. And then there was the storm. I ran here and there, calling out his name, but he was nowhere to be seen." She kept repeating the same sentences, as if to let reality sink into her consciousness.

"He's just four years old, and is much smaller than me. I was teaching him the game. Yes, he was wearing ... a light blue shirt and black shorts..." her voice trailed off. It pained me that there was hope in her voice.

It upset her a bit when the two boys, who were playing with them, suggested that they search for him in the water. It seemed she was going to cry, when the possibility of her brother's death by drowning dawned on her. But she didn't cry. There was a resilience in her that ruled out whatever she couldn't bear.

I had to find a way to deal with her. My colleagues pretended to strike a conversation with the boys, and distract them away from the scene. We didn't want to make things difficult for this young, courageous girl, all alone in this secluded place. It would be cruel to shatter her hopes in one sweeping gesture.

The cold, lifeless body of her little brother that we found on the other side of the stream was hidden in the ambulance. It was a bit cruel of us to make the boys continue with the searching in the water. To make things look natural, my colleagues also pretended to do some searching, while I stood near the girl, knowing not what to do, or what to tell her when she found out the truth at last. All I could think of was to let her be with her parents first. We needed to take her back to her home, but she kept refusing to move from the place where she stood, with the lantern held tightly in her tiny hands.

"I think we should take her away by force. She just keeps recounting the incident and stands there, insisting on further searching around the place. And it's been an hour, almost..." One of my colleagues mumbled. The girl threw a glance at us, sensing some conspiracy. I could see a glow in her eyes. Had she started crying at last? Yes. She seemed a bit shaken, and her trembling lips betrayed her sense of insecurity. This gave me the confidence to walk closer towards her.

"Isabel, look here... I will keep my friends Joe and Asim here. They and your friends will continue looking for your brother. I'm sure that they will find him. But we have to go home now. It's getting dark, and your Mom and Dad will get worried."

She just stared at me and started to sob. When I held out my hand for the lantern, she hesitated for a moment, and then handed it to me. I gave it to Asim and moved closer to her. Then, without giving myself or her any time to think, I just lifted her up in my arms. She didn't resist. I could feel her shivering through her wet frock. Her hat fell down, and one of the small boys picked it up from the ground and held it towards me. I took it from him, thanked him, and moved fast towards my car.

I didn't know how to console the girl who was sobbing silently to my shoulder, her arms held weakly around my neck. Her body, despite being wet, felt too warm and I wondered whether she had caught a bad cold.

"Please calm down Isabel. We'll see what we can do." I kept murmuring to her ears, like an idiot. 

*****
Image Courtesy:  http://creativewriting.ie/2011/10/24/writing-prompt-october-24th/



Sunday, 23 October 2011

Sliding Deep


The first time water claimed her was when she fell into a well in the village. She was just six years old and curious, climbing onto the loosely held stones that bordered the well. She remembered how her left foot slipped and then she fell - into a mysterious experience. The overgrown ferns inside the well brushed her cheeks softly, leaving white, powdery streaks as she slid into the soft, silent passage that led to water. It was almost like going back to her mother's womb, where she was safe from the world that hurt her in the name of love.

Then she fell deep into the water, into the unexpected cold that numbed and aroused her at the same time. There was a music that claimed her, as she started flowing downwards. It was the heavy thud that alerted those who were close to the well, and before she knew it, her sense of peace was stolen from her by the noises outside. They thought they were saving her from death. But she could never forgive them for taking away the music from her, the music that came to her, only once, as she was moving down, deeper and deeper. They thought she was gasping for breath when they took her out of the well. Only she knew how disappointing it was to be forced away from the watery layers of one's music.

The second time, it was she who claimed the water. She was then a determined woman of twenty six, though her small frame was hardly discernible in the dark night. She just felt an urge to immerse her worthless self in the big lake. There was music in full blast from the speakers, but not the kind of music she liked. But it helped her a lot. No one was going to miss her. Everyone was busy with their inane talk, food and dancing. It was easy to slip away, to this lonely corner. The lake at the back of the hotel looked quiet and enticing. She just felt its coldness by dipping her feet into it, one by one. It was easy to walk into the lake and feel its depth inviting her once again to its music. She didn't feel like looking back. There was nothing left behind. All that she needed was the coldness and music that water can give her.

She was no more that six year old child who didn't know the difference between drowning and claiming the water. She had the confidence, to claim the water, or to lose it. She started flowing downwards, once again - her ears sealed from the horrible noises from outside, and waiting for the music from within.

*****
Image Courtesy: http://creativewriting.ie/2011/10/17/writing-prompt-october-17th/


Monday, 17 October 2011

Aqua


My wings were made of dreams
but I fell sideways to the tunnel
that pressed its air on me
from all real surfaces

Sliding
deep
into water

I dissolved

My tears
got mixed up
with the chlorine
that claims to clean
the pool
of dirty dreamy particles

There's
something in me
that pulls down
the urge to go up in a swirl
of urgency
to regain life

It fails

***


Image courtesy: Creative Writing Ink, Writing Prompt - October 17th

Friday, 14 October 2011

Alive and Beautiful


They say you died that day, but I know for sure that you are alive, like me. We just need to sit on this branch that is separated in the middle of the tree from the other branch that slants towards the river. I love the way this one bows tantalisingly towards the land, as if it's made for couples like us to sit on. But it's a very lonely place, and we could be the first to be drawn to its charm. From here, we can see the miracles that moonlight performs on our small world. There is a great divide between our world and the one on the other side that moves like a serpent, circling the roads around the river. The illusory glow that falls on it is not for us, since it lacks the warmth of our palms held tightly in each others' as we sit here, bathed in the real glow from above.

Inches away from our dangling feet lies the boat that could once have bridged the gap between the two worlds.  Instead, we made it a part of our world, so that we could stare at it every day and night, and comment on the effect of varying lights, and the lack of it, on its rough, decaying surface.

When all our friends walked away to the mountains for the better, I stayed back. They thought you were dead, but I knew that I could find you here, if I went after the right tracks. I just followed the scent you left in the air, and your songs too. They thought I was the one who went after a mirage, but they were the ones lost in a world that was just a reflection of what could have been the real. I didn't want to be complacent like them, taking my new senses for granted. The leap of conviction that took me to your songs was beyond any sense. And here we are, real as our breath that swims through the air, and the charcoal heavings of our eyes that could burn all doubts.

You were waiting for me, on the spot where I lost my senses of the other world. I was in a daze, when the others made me follow them for a distance, away from you. They thought they were to enter a new life, free from the misery of the one that was part of the dead. For a while, none of us were able to recover from the shock of it when our adventurous picnic turned out to be a nightmare of sorts. The wild fire consumed our tents before we could even move. When I woke up from the blinding lights, the heat, and the smell of my own flesh burning, I was already with those who thought that the other life was dead. You were the only one among us who remained dead, they thought, as we moved on to the new life in the mountains.

But I knew that you were alive, like me. I was not drawn to the mountains, no matter how many flowers bloomed there, or how sweet their scents spread, or how heavenly the music that filled its air happened to be. I came back in search of your songs and tears. And after my journey that lasted days, I found you back here under the tree, separated from both worlds, struggling to cling to a life of your own where memories mattered the most.

You sensed my arrival, and held your weak hands in the air, searching for my love with your fingers. The boat was the only other witness, helpless like us, forced to a decision to stay with us, in our small world. But it was faster in your case, to leave behind the remnants of your death. It was just a matter of days, as we watched from above, that your body was consumed so fast by the creatures of the other world. The boat remained, despite the slow decay.

And we stay here, leaving the mountains behind us, and staring into the other world where death lives on, like worms wriggling in the light that fills the nights. We should be in the mountains. There are people, and a better world, waiting for us there. But we can't move away from here, because there is so much love left between the worlds, and so much of the real light that falls on us, and the boat, and the water... that makes our own small world the best place to be in.


* * * * *

Image courtesy: Creative Writing Ink, Writing Prompt - October 10th

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Bearable Moments


It feels good to sit here, you know, when there is nothing more to lose from life. After all, one has to feel at ease to know that the journey has come to an end. Then, it's time to rejoice like never before - the last attempt to hold back sensations, even as your cells disintegrate in a race against time.

It's all foggy now, and the raindrops that fall on the ground brings forth a smell that rises above the park bench to embrace me. There was a time when the place looked all green, and my little body longed to be everywhere at once, to inhale the pleasure-misery of life to its full. There were other colours too, of flowers, of the carefully (and sometimes carelessly) selected dresses and hats of people who chose to spend the evening in the park - some walking around and some just sitting in their comfortable spots. They all used to sense it when it got too dark, and left - in groups, in pairs ... and some all alone, just the way they came in. I too used to sense the time to leave, in those days when I was a young woman, when I cared for safety. But now, the world is a different place, and I am past care.

It's funny, that the park looks much more beautiful now than it ever was. This is the place where I came across many banal and extraordinary experiences, and how ignorant I had been then about them! How unnecessarily expectant, and how unreasonably depressed...Now I can have a few sweet smiles thinking about them, and stay assured that I know better. Thank God there's no one to spy on me and think that here's a lady who has gone bonkers - sitting all by herself over the red park bench in the rain at this unusual time, half drenched, but trying to protect her fancy shoes from rain drops...and yes, smiling to herself! Well, I may say- That's life child, and I'm so glad that I realised it just before losing my grip on it.

There is no time to leave now, nowhere to go back to, no job to finish, before falling into the rut again, doing the same things day after day. And the colours that are lost in the fog can be claimed back, if I sit here long enough and stare into my favourite spots. I can claim them again ... the colours, the smells, and the intensity of feelings one by one - no matter how stupid they happen to be. After all, it's play time for me now, till I leave these solid things forever.


******


Image courtesy: Creative Writing Ink - October 3rd Writing Prompt