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/