Bed Time Stories

Sleeping Woman Sketch Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Mythili

She had read somewhere that counting sheep was a sure-fire way of falling asleep. She closed her eyes, imagining herself in a pen full of sheep and started counting

“One , two , three, four…….” By the time she got to nine, she knew it was futile. It wasn’t going to work.

She got up and went across to the dining room to get herself a bottle of water from the fridge. The clock showed 1.00 AM.

 She had been trying to sleep for the past four hours without any success.

She went back to bed and closed her eyes, trying to focus on something – counting backwards, remembering fairy tales from her childhood but sleep continued to evade her.

How she wished she could be like one of those  princesses and sleep for a lifetime! A few hours before dawn would be all that she would get before she was forced to wake up and get through the day.

It had been like that for the past two years since she had lost her husband. She went through her nights with just two to three hours of sleep – the dark circles around her eyes bearing testimony to her lack of sleep.  Her daughter had taken her to a doctor who had suggested she try sleeping pills. But Mythili was firm that she did not want to get dependent on anything. She had had thirty years of dependence- emotional and financial ,on one man and she was reaping the consequences today.

She wanted to fight this insomnia and learn to sleep by herself. If babies could do it, then a sixty year old like her could certainly do it too.

Reena

She was running through a dark tunnel. She could hear footsteps following her. She ran on, panting, afraid to turn back . She knew from that heavy breathing that it was him!  The walls of the tunnel walls were closing in on her. She felt claustrophobic. Her breath was stuck inside her throat.  She needed to get away.

 Her foot missed a step and she felt herself trip. She turned around,  absolutely terrified because she knew he was just a inches behind her his face plastered with that evil grin.  

She was screaming when she woke up! Her heart was beating fast and she was soaked with perspiration!  She looked at the clock, it was nearly midnight!

This was the nightmare that she had been experiencing for sometime now . It had started after that incident a couple of months ago when she had been followed by a stranger into the  basement  parking of the hospital where she worked as a nurse.

She was getting off her late-night shift and was walking towards her scooter when the man had emerged from somewhere and blocked her way. She had started running , finally making it to her scooter which she had started and driven away furiously.

But ever since that incident, the nightmares had started haunting her. She was afraid of falling asleep because she knew that the terror would hit her within about an hour of her dropping off to sleep. And once she woke up, she would stay awakfor the rest of the night terrified and unable to sleep.

She had tried delaying her bedtime so that she would be able to synchronise her waking up in terror to the arrival of her roommate – a call centre employee . Once Sudha came into the room the terror subsided and she felt calmer. But then it was a full four to five hours before Sudha would get back to the room. Until then she had to stay up like this- in a terrified state between sleep and wakefulness.  

Shreya

She stared  at the form next to her on the bed. He was fast asleep.

It amazed her how he could brutalize her body like this every night and go to sleep as though nothing was the matter.

How could someone be so selfish and immune to another person’s feelings?

It had been like that for much of the two years that she had been married. She had talked about it to her mother, her cousins and her friends. But everyone seemed to think it was her fault in some way.  

Would she like it if he decided to seek his pleasure elsewhere?

Well, it might actually be better if he decided to do that, so she got a good night’s sleep. She found him disgusting – the grunts, the heaving and the thrusting.

Over the months, she had got used to the pain. She learnt to wait for  him to finish and roll off her , after which she went to the bathroom and washed his fluids off her, often wiping the blood stains along with it. By the time she came back to the bed, her body aching and bruised she usually lost all desire to sleep.

She lay on the edge of her side of the bed staring out of the window and wondering why  was it that  women had to endure so much pain to perpetuate the species? Bed time had become dread time for her. Her tiered body longed for sleep at the end of a hard day’s work at the office and at home. But the pain kept her awake. And by the time sleep won over the pain, it would be time for her to wake up and begin yet another day playing the part of a loving wife and dutiful daughter in law.

Nina

She sat up on the upper berth of the train compartment watching her classmates sleep. They were on a college trip to Delhi. The silence inside was soothing broken only by the  rhythmic sound of the train on the tracks.

It was nearly eleven o’clock. Her eyelids were drooping with sleep but she resisted herself from giving in to sleep. She wanted to stay awake tonight and every night of the next few days of the trip until they were back. She wondered if she could manage it. But then, there was no other way!

She could not risk giving in to sleep and allow her classmates to hear her snore! She was the college fashionista and the campus beauty queen! There was no way she could break that image and start snoring like an elderly man.  

She had made the startling discovery about her snoring when one of her cousins came over to visit her. She had told her in the morning that she had not been able to sleep a wink for the entire night because Nina’s snores had kept her awake!

She had tried many remedies – sleeping on her stomach, buying a nose constrictor and some other gadgets. But she was not sure if any of them had worked. She had been too embarrassed to ask anyone else in her family about this. And  much as she hoped that her cousin had been lying or playing a cruel joke on her, she did not think this was the time to risk finding out the truth. She could not let herself sleep! She had to stay awake.

She sprinkled some water out of her water bottle  over her eyes. But the water made her eyes itch as she rubbed the drops over her eyelids. She wondered how many times should she keep doing this through the night? Her mind was already losing focus as sleep took over her consciousness.

Rani

Dinner as usual had not been enough for everyone. Her mother had insisted that she, as the oldest daughter forego her share of rice so that her brothers could eat a little more. And so  Rani had eaten the few grains that were part of that one spoon of rice she could have. She helped her mother wash up the few vessels under the tap at the end of the road in the slum they lived 

After getting back, she spread her mat on the floor next to her mother and her younger brothers and lay down. It was hot and stuffy inside the small room that they all lived in. She closed her eyes and waited for sleep .

But sleep seemed to take much longer to reach people like her retired for the night with a half empty stomach. She could hear it growl in the darkness.

She remembered her grandmother telling her how a clean conscience , a tiered body and a full stomach  were all that one needed to fall asleep. She tossed around on her mat , wondering why the first two conditions alone were not sufficient to bring in some sleep. She had to wake up early tomorrow morning and join the queue to collect water. She knew that she would not stay awake until then because sometime during the night her tiered body would win over her stomach and she would sleep. But the point was how soon would that be?

And thus, go on , the bed time experiences of women across the city – some fighting insomnia, while others fight sleep.

The Misfits

Sitting Sketch High Res Stock Images | Shutterstock

“Please get me a whiskey- On the rocks” she said, plonking herself on the bar stool.  

Her face radiated anger. Hell, even her back looked like it had cactus growing out of it. She cradled the glass between her palms, looking out moodily into the warm summer night.

I couldn’t re collect her ever being angry like this! But then, I remembered little about her. Like the other guys, I only remembered her friend- the stunningly beautiful Sarita, who was clearly the college sweetheart. Daughter of a rich businessman, she was something of a celebrity in the college.

Suman had been completely overshadowed by the beautiful Sarita. I used to sometimes wonder how was it that they were even friends? Was she by any chance, in awe of Sarita? But having watched them both together, I suspected it was Sarita who depended on Suman- for her notes, her books and even to visit the canteen.

Suman lived in my neighbourhood. Her father was the manager of a bank. Though we lived close to each other and sometimes rode the same bus to college, we rarely to spoke. A seemingly quiet girl dressed in dull clothes, she blended into the background of the fading, derelict buildings on campus.

She was ofcourse a bright student because her name used to be right up on top of the list when the marks were displayed at the end of every semester. Actually, that was how I came to know that her name was Suman Saxena. Otherwise in my mind, she was always “that girl with Sarita”

So it was a bit of a shock to see her lose it like that some time ago. She had blown up loudly in front of the group before stomping away to the bar. But then, those idiots probably deserved it. A college reunion where forty year olds were behaving like they were still in their early twenties!

I don’t know what exactly triggered that rage. She had been standing quiet and aloof in a corner. A few of the girls had gone up to her and tried to draw her into a conversation. Then Ravikant had gone and joined the group, followed by Ashish. But it was when that bald and fat Selwyn had approached her and asked her in his rather crude way “Hi ! What news about Sarita?” that  she had snapped angrily “How would I know? Am I her secretary”?

“No I was just asking” said Selwyn backing off.

“Really? How nice!! You want to know from me about someone who is not here for the reunion! Yet you  do not even have the courtesy to ask me -who is here at the reunion , how I am and what I have been doing all these years” she snapped.

“Hey relax. He just asked you because you were her friend at college ” said Ravikant stepping in to the rescue of poor Selwyn.

“I was her friend? Or was she my friend?” she demanded.

 “Isnt it the same thing ? !”asked Ravikant looking offended.

 “Mr. Ravikant Idiot, there is a difference! Sarita Rai wanted to be my friend. I could have done without her company. It was because my father was posted in that town where our awful college was unfortunately located that I had to share classroom and lab space with morons like you . And coming to think of it, now I am not even sure why I agreed to attend this stupid event ” she had shouted before walking off towards the bar.

Mr Pompous Ass Ravikant looked like someone had kicked him on his shin! The heavily made up ladies  from our batch had their mouths open in shock. I was extremely amused. The cartoonist in me wanted to frame this moment in my memory for a sketching session over the weekend. But I couldn’t stop myself from admiring Suman’s guts to speak up like that in public. Without my realizing it , my eyes and then my feet had followed Suman, outside into the bar.

Thinking about what she had said sometime ago, I also wondered why I was here. My  college days were not exactly something that I remembered with fondness. It had been a government college and I had to join it because my marks were not good enough for me to go where I had wanted to. Dad had just retired from the army and there was no way he was going to invest his pension in buying his youngest son, admission in the fancy college of his dreams.

My eyes scanned the bar, looking for her. She was walking , drink in hand, to sit on a swing in the lawn nearby. She had aged well. She wore her grey hair in a chic hair cut. Her trousers and red kurti were simple but obviously expensive ! Her high heels added at least four inches to her height. I picked up my drink and walked up to her.

“Hi Suman, my I sit here” I asked

“Yes, go ahead. This is not my private property” she said shifting a little to make room for me.

We sat quietly next to each other. The starlit night and her proximity was making me feel relaxed in a way that I don’t remember feeling in many years.

It was she who broke the silence.

“How is your Dad ” she asked

“I don’t know. He left this world a couple of years ago” I said.

“I am sorry” she said, reaching out to hold my hand.

I felt touched, in a way that was beyond the physical. I did not realize that she had known my father.

“Uncle used to come to our house often. He and my father used to play chess in the evenings” she said, as though reading my thoughts.

I was surprised. My father had never mentioned this to me. But then my father spoke very little to any of us. Most of his communication to me and my sister, had been through our mother. After her death, and my sister’s marriage, that chain had been broken leaving me, the youngest to live , in silence with my father.

“Don’t feel bad for about what those fellows said. They are a bunch of idiots” I said, suddenly feeling responsible for the bad behaviour of the guys.

“ It is alright. Now that I have spoken it out, I feel good. It was inside me for all those years, waiting to be said” she said “You know, I would not have come if it hadn’t been for Ritika. She has been the one who had tracked me down and added me to that alumni group on whatsapp. When she came to know that I would be in Hyderabad, she convinced me to attend the Hyderabad alumni chapter meeting” she continued.

“But where is Ritika? I don’t remember seeing her today” I asked

“Oh, she had some last minute emergency. Her mother in law fell down in the bathroom this afternoon. I thought I wouldn’t come but then, having cancelled other appointments for this, I had nothing to do. So I decided to come” she said looking at me.

I was struck by how unusual her eyes were. They were not big, but they were beautifully shaped and they had a piercing gaze.

“Yes, same here. I also had nothing to do. So I decided to come here. I usually don’t attend any of the these alumni events” I said, drawing my eyes away from her.

“What do you do Pradeep” she asked me

“I work for a consulting firm. I did my MBA after college. What about you” I asked

“ I studied law. I practice at the Supreme court” she said

 I was not surprised! There was something in me that had guessed she was a woman of substance, the moment I had set my eyes on her this evening.

“I also work pro bono for a NGO that helps abused women” she continued.

 “But tell me , do you still draw those cartoons” she asked me with a smile.

I was surprised she remembered! I had not been one of the popular guys in the class. I was an introvert and also a bit of an intellectual snob.

“Oh, I remember. Your cartoons of some people were amazingly like my thoughts about them” she said laughing loudly.

“I wish you had told me. I might have got some more ideas” I said grinning at her.

“ I know the one you had drawn of Sarita. It was inside your practical record ” she replied.

 “That was something I did to challenge the frontiers of  my creativity. You see, most beautiful women are muses for artists” I said with a wink

“You are too much” she said punching me playfully.

“ I wish you had been my friend” I said without realising it.

 “But we can be friends now, cant we?” she asked.

 “Yes of course!! Like Sarita, I would consider myself privileged” I said laughing

“ Yes. You should!! I can give you free legal advice” she said with a wink

 I don’t know if this was the right time, but I couldn’t help asking her “By the way, why do you have such hard feelings about your friendship with Sarita?”

“How do you think, it feels to be invisible, living in the shadow of a stunning beauty? And that too, in a small town college where most people in your class are probably first time college goers, just coming out of their villages?” she asked sarcastically. “But you know what, I realized much later that it was Sarita who needed my company. She wanted all the attention and the only way she could get it was to be with someone who wouldn’t attract any. Yes,  there were other girls in the class who fitted that bill but none of them had the confidence to go to the spaces where she wanted to go to get more attention”

 I could sense the hurt that she had been carrying with her all these years. I wanted to reach out to her and say something. But I was afraid that anything I might say now would ruin our newly formed bond.

“Sarita was  not a bad sort. She was actually a sweet girl. It was my problem that I was going through an identity crisis. We had some good times together. I even went for her wedding” she said smiling through her tears.

“You mean you went to that awful town again” I asked pretending to look shocked.

“ Ofcourse not! She had a destination wedding at Goa. I went there. She lives in Australia now. We are in touch. And yes, even she does not want to have anything to do with her former admirers ” she said giggling loudly.

“You just broke my heart” I said with a wink.

“ Go to the bar .They might have some fevicol with them. There must be a lot of drunk guys breaking glasses out there” she replied pointing towards the bar.

I couldn’t believe I was sitting here under the stars and having this conversation with Suman Saxena, the dowdy girl from college I never noticed ! I wanted to ask her so much more about herself. But I didn’t know where to start. So I began by asking what I thought was a safe question “How are your parents”

“ Mom is no more. We lost her five years ago to cancer. Dad lives with us in Delhi” she said

I suddenly had this unexplained feeling of jealousy when I heard the word “us”. There had been no “us” for me ever since the day Reena had died in an accident. For the last ten years, it had only been me, Pradeep, living alone in a big apartment . . Dad had lived in his house in the town I did not want to visit and my sister was in Canada. I travelled when I felt like it- mostly alone.

“You must come and visit us if you come to Delhi any time. Her is my address ” said, bringing out a card from her bag and handing it to me.

“Sure. What does your husband do” I asked her

“ I don’t have a husband. I live with Dad and my daughter” she said. Pulling out her phone from her bag she showed me the photograph of a mischievous looking teenager “This is Sona, my daughter. She is sixteen. Isn’t she lovely?”

 “She doesn’t look like you. May be like her father?” I said, wondering all the time, why there was no husband. Had she lost him or was she separated ?

“ She does not look like me because she is not my biological daughter. I am not married. ” she explained  I guess my surprise must have shown on my face because she said “Pradeep, those days are over when a woman had to be married to be a mother. I realized very early in my life that marriage was not for me. I could not waste my life on being a wife. I wanted to do so much more with it. Dad and Mom were  very supportive. As their only child, I suppose they may have had many dreams for me. But I am blessed that they so readily made my dreams as theirs”

I was amazed by this woman. She was the same age as me but her life seemed to have so much more meaning than mine did!

 It hit me again- that deep sense of regret that I had not known her when our friendship could have made a difference to both of us. Neither of us had fitted into that college but we could have connected on so many different planes. It would have given some meaning to those years that we had until now, wanted to erase from our memory.

I wanted a second chance. But I wondered how . Would she find my attention annoying. She seemed like a no nonsense woman and I had no intentions of being snubbed if I called her for a chat.

“Pradeep, can you give me your phone number” she asked me. I gave her my card.

“Thanks, I will call you. We should stay in touch. We seem to have so much to talk about” she said getting ready to leave.

“Can I drop you somewhere Suman? I have a car with a driver” I said

“No Pradeep, thank you. The hotel I am staying in has given me a car” she replied.

Ofcourse I should have guessed! She was a high profile lawyer.

“But tell me, do you have some time tomorrow afternoon for lunch? I am free after 11o’clock. My flight to Delhi is only at night ” she said

I could feel my heart soaring with joy! Here was the chance I was craving for !

“Why don’t you come home ? I will cook lunch for us. I can come to your hotel and pick you up”  I said

“ No, I will come by myself. Just send me your location details” she replied as I walked with her to the exit.

 I was surprised that she had accepted the fact that I could cook in such a matter of fact manner. Most women would have exclaimed about it.

Was I disappointed? No! Just surprised!

 But then, I realized that was what was special about her. Her reactions to most things were so unconventional. I watched her get into her car at the portico. Just as I was turning back to go inside, I heard her calling out to me from the window of the car  “Bye Pradeep, you better cook me a good lunch tomorrow. It has to compare with my Dad’s culinary skills”

I smiled and shouted back “ I promise I will do my best” !

She was certainly worth it!

The Photo Shoot

Photo Studio Cartoon Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Dinesh was bored! His uncle had made him mind the photo studio while he himself had gone with the videography team to shoot an engagement ceremony in the town! A young man from the city, spending his summer vacation in a small village Dinesh was annoyed that he hadn’t been asked to join them! The studio was hot and cramped! He got ready to down the shutters and go home! He didn’t care if he got scolded by his aunt for shutting the shop so early and losing business! He had already brought the shutters half way down when he heard her ask “Oh are you closing early today” ?

A small built girl, dressed in a bright silk sari with a large bunch of flowers in her hair and a heavily powdered face , she looked like she had come dressed up to have her photo taken for a special occasion. Her gaudy attire notwithstanding, she looked pretty in an unassuming way.”No..I wasn’t closing the shop. Just checking the shutters to see if anything was wrong” he said putting them up.

He led her inside, behind the curtain to the brightly painted room and switched on the lights. He pointed at an ornate chair and asked her to sit on it as he got the equipment together

“Can I stand?” She asked him

“Why do you want to stand? You will look even shorter than you are l” he said with a laugh.

She made a face at him and pulling up a small stool stood on it! “Look I am taller than you now” she said with a wink.

He was charmed! Who was this girl? Why hadn’t he seen her before?

“Listen you have to make me look really beautiful in the photo. My parents are going to send it to a family with whom they are negotiating my marriage. They are very rich! They own 25 acres of paddy wetland in the next village” she said.

He wanted to ask her if she wanted to marry the rich man . But what he said instead was “Oh in that case you have to pay more. It is difficult to make a monkey look like a peacock”

She glared at him and asked “Who did you call a monkey?” “Sorry! Just joking! I will make you look so beautiful that even a film star will be proud to marry you” Switching on the bright lights ,Dinesh looked through the lens and fiddled around with it. He may not have been a trained photographer but he knew enough physics to adjust sizes and shapes of images so they looked different from what they actually were like

“Smile “he said She grinned widely , showing all her teeth and tilted her head!

Perfect!He switched off the lights and took her outside for billing.

“Your name?”

“Nalini” she said looking straight into his eyes. They had wide lashes and he was mesmerized!

“When will I get it”? She asked

“Tomorrow morning” he said

She smiled at him . This time the smile was different. He noticed a dimple on the left cheek. He watched her get on her scooty and drive away. He craned his neck and memorized the registration number.

The next day, in the evening there was a huge commotion outside the “Bright photo studio”. The Panchayat President Mr Vel Murugan was standing outside and shouting at Subramanian , the proprietor of the studio.

“Subbu! This is too much! I entrusted your studio with such an important assignment but look what your nephew has done.”

Subramanian took the photo from his hand The photograph showed a short and stout girl with a toothy grin. The light was bouncing off her skin making the dusky complexion appear an unnatural purple!!!Subramanian glared at Dinesh and said “idiot ! You are doing your Master’s in physics and you don’t know how to operate a camera”

Turning to Vel Murugan ,Subramanian apologized saying “Sorry sir. Please send Nalini again This time I will take the photograph myself”

“Too late now Uncle! I have already posted one copy to the address Amma gave me” said the girl from the window of the car inside which she had been sitting.

“What! Who asked you to be in such a hurry?” asked her father

rYou people wanted this match so badly so I wanted to help” she replied pouting at het father

“Stupid girl” he muttered loudly as he got into the car next to the driver. Dinesh peeped out of the shop timidly. She winked at him in a conspiratery way before rolling up the window !

Dinesh smiled to himself. An “idiot” of a boy and a “stupid” girl made a nice couple!

Shadows under the moon

Karwa Chauth 2020: Wishes, quotes, messages and WhatsApp status to send  your loved ones on THIS occasion | PINKVILLA

It was the fourth day after the full moon. The heat of summer had given way to the chilly evenings of Autumn. Delhi was getting ready for winter.

Nina

Nina had been on her feet the entire day. Her salon was filled with women wanting to have  a range of beauty treatments done. She went around, ensuring that her staff were not slacking in their work 

“Come on.. hurry up” she whispered into the ears of Ayesha, the new girl who was running a hair dryer through a customer’s hair. Pinky, the girl who was washing hair for another customer had been hired only for the day. Nina  had planned for this well in advance to make sure that lack of adequate staff did not mean that customers had to be turned away. She had also got into an arrangement with  a couple of “Mehendi walas” and given them  space to sit near the reception area of the salon. They were to give her a Rs 100 for every customer who used their services. Nina’s beauty  salon was new in the area. It was barely three months old. She knew this  was the day when she could make a killing and possibly get some loyal customers for the rest of the year.

Today was Karwa Chauth– the day when all married women, irrespective of their age wanted to dress up like brides and look their best. They were supposed to be fasting for their husband’s long life and would eat and drink  water only later in the evening  after seeing the moon through a sieve!

Coming as she did from the matrilineal Khasi tribe in Shillong, this custom seemed rather strange to her. But who was she to complain ? It was her special day as much as it was for her customers .She needed to leverage this  for her business. Afterall, there was a bank loan to repay. And how long was she to travel around in her scooty? The searing cold winds in winter numbed her face every time she travelled on it.

She mentally calculated the amount she would make today, taking into account the discounts that she was offering. It seemed decent. She would definitely be left with enough at the end of the month to make the down payment for the second hand car that she so badly wanted. Yes, Karwa Chauth was certainly a business puller!

Suman

Suman examined her face carefully as she came out of the booth where she had been taken for a facial. Her skin certainly looked great! She pulled out her phone, pouted into the camera and clicked a selfie.

“Getting ready for the moon sighting” she wrote as she posted the image on Instagram using the hashtag “karwachauth”. She waited , looking for the response she wanted. It was a full five minutes before she saw series of red hearts in the comments section.

It irritated her the way, Viren took so much time to respond to everything. He was a like slow lumbering elephant or may be a  buffalo . Actually, he  looked more like a buffalo- fat and dark with a brooding expression. At least an elephant could move fast when it wanted to and was a more intelligent animal.

But then, he was a rich buffalo.

She had not wanted to marry him. She had felt repulsed when her aunt had shown her his photograph. But both her mother and her aunt had convinced her that given their family situation, it would be difficult for them to find her the prince charming she wanted. Viren the buffalo had been smitten by Suman’s good looks and wanted to marry her. He ran a successful scrap iron business along with his father. He was  also an only child. His mother had died a year ago and according to Suman’s mother and her aunt, all of  this together,  made for a great married life.

So here she was getting ready for her first Karwa Chauth. She had got him to promise that he would buy her a pair of diamond earrings as gift. She had spent an awful lot on the new lehenga that she had ordered for today and she wanted to look her best. She looked at her phone and found a series of hearts coming up by way of comments- most of them being from her friends and her cousins. She knew they were envious of her and she enjoyed the power it gave her over them .

There was also a whatsapp message from Viren that said “Love you Janoo”. She laughed mentally. It was actually not too bad a situation. She enjoyed his attention and his awe of  her beauty. She had made this entire Karwa Chauth fast into a theatrical performance feigning fainting spells and looking at him like a tragedy queen saying “Anything for you dearest”!!

She was looking forward to the moon sighting on the terrace. She had invited her mother, aunt as well as his aunts and cousins for it. She knew she was going to look stunning in her full regalia and she was definitely going to be the star of the show.

Priyanka

Priyanka looked at the mirror once again. The hair do was certainly making her look lovely! The make up was not too bad either. She was glad that she had decided to choose this new place instead of her usual salon. The girls here seemed better trained. They had played up her best features.

Certainly worth the money that she was spending!

Her stomach was growling from want to food. She opened her hand bag and took out a chocolate and bit into it. The girl who had done her make up looked surprised.

Arre, it is okay. I have been doing this for nearly six years now. Nothing has happened because I  cheated during the fast” she said with a wink.

The entire ceremony was extremely tiresome. But she had to go through it because it was expected of her. Ashish, her husband also seemed to accept it as a matter of course that his wife should fast and pray for him. She wanted to get this all over with. She was tiered of tradition – tiered of being the pretty wife, the perfect mother and the dutiful daughter in law.

No one seemed to notice the real woman behind that façade. No one knew about the Priyanka with  unfulfilled needs who lay awake at night fantasising about male models and film stars as Ashish snored next to her.

“Well at least I have Karan now” she thought to herself with a little smile. She had met him in her office. What had started as a friendship was now a passionate affair. They spent time together after work and also travelled with each other -sometimes on work and sometimes using work as an excuse to travel.

Like her, he was also married. But that had not mattered to either of them. Though they had never discussed it ,  it was clear that each of them had a deep lacuna in their marriage that they were seeking to fill in through the other.

Their relationship existed in a universe parallel to the one that inhabited with their lawfully wedded spouses

“ Would that be all Madam or do you require any other service” asked the girl who had been attending to her.

“Oh nothing more for today. But I will be coming next weekend for a full body waxing” she said.

“Sure Madam. I will book an appointment for next Saturday. What time do you want” asked the girl

 “Make it Sunday afternoon. I have a flight to catch in the evening. Now can you get my bill ready  ?” asked  Priyanka taking out her purse.

Yet, another reason she liked this place. Unlike the other salon she frequented, there were no prying questions here. No parlour aunty who wanted to know where she was going and whether Ashish was also coming with her .

She paid her bill and walked towards the door thinking how badly  she wanted the day to get over.

“Only two hours more” she thought looking at her watch with a smile as she started her car and moved towards the place she called home.

Rekha

She had not wanted to come here but somehow it seemed to be expected that she would make an effort to dress up and look her best for today. It had been a hard day with the fasting and the bouts of crying. She had come here not so much  to dress up but to cover up her puffy eyes and the bruises through make up. 

Her mother in law and her sisters in law had been behaving like nothing was the matter. They were very good at  shutting their eyes and ears to anything that they felt uncomfortable with. In the beginning she had tried talking to her mother in law about  it But her mother in law seemed to think that it was her fault.

“You need to nag him less. He comes home after such a hard day and you go around looking like a tragedy queen with a long face” she had said.

Rekha wanted to ask her how could she bring herself to look welcoming towards a  man who inflicted so much physical and emotional pain on her. But she realized there was no use talking to her about such things.

She had tried to talk to her mother and it troubled her that her mother did not seem to understand what was happening to her either.

And ofcourse there was always the advice of having a child which  according to both of them, would miraculously solve all the problems in her life.

But Rekha was not going to have a child. She had seen a doctor  and got an IUD fixed. Under no circumstances was she going to bring a child into this violent marriage! She was looking for wings to fly  , not shackles to bind her down. It was only a matter of time before she would find her way out. She was already in touch with a NGO that helped women like her. They were advising her on how to move out quietly with everything that belonged to her.

But in the meanwhile she had to continue with the role play of being the dutiful wife who fasted and prayed for her abuser.

**********************

It was nearly seven in the evening when the moon rose to her full glory up in the sky. She watched with amusement, the groups of women standing out in the open and trying to catch her rays through the holes of the sieves they were holding up in their hands.

How ironic  it was that she was being made a central character in something that had nothing to do with her at all!

Guardian Angels

28 Best cat sketch images | Cat sketch, Cat drawing, Cat artI don’t know exactly when it was that I saw that being. Not  human, not dog not bird and definitely not a cat!

I saw it floating around in the air -a creature with spines, a grey green mass that looked absolutely vicious! Each time I saw it, I wanted a better look and craned my neck through the balcony railing! But of course the girl and her mother were paranoid! They thought I would fall out through the gaps.  So each time I felt its presence and ran out to look, they were after me shouting “Hey stop it Seb! Don’t”.

And then one morning I felt it strong! There was no one on the road , even the crows that troubled me  were quiet. The grey green creature was moving  around stealthily filling up the street. I waited for the man to open the door to get the newspaper in and before he realized  it I was off!

My nose took me towards the creature. But strangely, now that I was out I couldn’t see it!  I looked around me, confused because I realized  that I couldn’t find my way back home. The cars were honking loudly, I ran through the bushes , jumping over walls, scratching myself , slipping and falling down! I heard the girl and the man calling out to me ,but I was too terrified to come out. I found a shed behind an old house and limped my way there. I decided that this was where I would stay until I could get my wits about me !

The sun set and the street lights came on. The wind picked up,  bringing with it familiar scents my way. I was hungry and  tiered. I wanted to go home. And then suddenly I saw the creature looming around ! I could feel it’s mocking eyes on me. I was curious but I was also scared. I climbed up on a ledge and tried to get away from it.

“Hey come this way, that ledge is too narrow” I heard someone say. I looked up to find a friendly brown  faced  guy  with a toothy smile.

“Who are you” I asked him

” I am Ayyanar . I live here on the streets. ” He replied. ”

What about you? You don’t look like you have ever been alone on the streets”

“No I live in a house somewhere here” I said.

“Ah a rich princess” he said with a  grin

” But tell me, why have left your castle”

” I don’t know. I ran out.. after ….it” I replied wondering if I made sense

But he seemed to understand.

“Don’t worry. It will not harm us. But we have to ensure that it doesn’t harm others” he said

“Meaning?”

“We have a duty “he said looking at me.

“I want to go home” I said starting to cry

“Then why don’t you? ” He asked

” I have lost my way” I said helplessly.

“Try  to sleep now. We will work something out” he told me gently

I closed my eyes but sleep wouldn’t come. I could feel them  crying and asking me to come back . My heart wrenched with pain.

And then suddenly Ayyanar was beside me shaking me awake.

“Come on we will find your home” he said

“Walk with me.” he said

So I followed him ,slinking  in the shadows. I could feel the being, but I knew now that  it wasn’t coming for us  We walked slowly around streets with unfamiliar sounds and smells until I suddenly felt something familiar. I don’t know what it was that I felt but it was a pull, a strong pull coming from my heart!

“Are you okay ” he asked me

“I think we may be nearby”  I said

“Call them” he said

I called once, twice and then repeatedly.

I was in tears. I wanted to get home. But now it looked like home had to come and get me.

And then suddenly the porch lights were on

“Seb…Is that you?” I heard that familiar voice. I inched my way out of the darkness.

Yes. It was her!

I looked at Ayyanar.

“Go” he whispered.

I walked slowly towards her. She ran out and swooped me in her arms

“Seb, you little kitty you had us so worried !”

I snuggled in the crook of her arms and looked out to wave good bye to Ayyanar. But he was gone!

I have been home for over two weeks now. I still see that creature lurking by but I know better than to run after it. I realize I have to stay here and keep it away. As my friend had mentioned, I had a duty to perform.

Colored Pencils Drawing TutorialsI have seen Ayyanar walk the streets at night. I don’t know if others see him.

But then a dead stray dog  is not someone who is missed by anyone !

 

( I have read somewhere that animals have a sensory perception that is beyond what we  humans are capable of experiencing. They often use this to protect us from evil.In Tamil culture Ayyanar is the guardian deity of a village. He is big built and vicious. Nothing evil can get past him)

Sanctuary

Pin on Projects to Try

Navin trekked up the hill, pausing every now and then to admire the beautiful view. As he focused his camera on the setting sun, his mind was trying not to focus on the fact that he was lost in the wilderness.

He had been trekking since mid-morning but every trail he had taken seemed to have led him further and further away from the town where he was staying. To add to his worries was the fact that his phone did not have connectivity. He was well and truly disconnected from the world.

The hills were suffused with the red glow reflecting off the western sky. The birds were flying back to roost. He realized he had to find his way back before it was dark or risk spending a night under the stars. It was getting quite cold  and he did not think he fancied sleeping outdoors. He started walking briskly t northwards – his estimation of where he though the town lay. He started humming a tune to keep himself calm

The path descended steeply. He walked carefully, trying not to slip on the loose soil. There was a sound of water flowing somewhere. And just when the path turned around the side of the hill, he heard it

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!

Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah. Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah.

Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah. Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah

 

The sound was of the evening Azaan- the Muslim call for prayer. Loud and clear, echoing across the surrounding hills. He hurried towards the sound looking around to see a mosque. If he could find the mosque it meant he was close to human habitation.

The road led him to a ledge overlooking a valley. His eyes followed the sound that his ears were hearing. He trailed his eyes  across the hill opposite and after sometime found it   – a green minaret obscured by vegetation!

Navin calculated the distance. It would take him about fifteen minutes to walk down hill and if he crossed the stream below , on foot , he might  make it to the mosque in another thirty minutes. But if the stream was too deep to wade across, it might take longer because he would have to find a bridge or walk along it until he found some pathway that led him up the opposite hill.

He hurried down the hill. Luckily for him the stream had some big rocks and it was easy for him to use them to cross. He found a narrow pathway and  began the walk uphill. He was hoping to find someone along the way. But there seemed to be no one walking up or down the pathway

The road wound itself along the slope of the hill and after a while, stopped abruptly in front of what looked like a small village. Strangely, everything was dark and silent

“Hello, anyone there” shouted Navin as he walked  ahead . He was sure the mosque was somewhere here. And then he saw it – a small glimmer of light and the outline of a mosque became visible. He walked towards it.

The door was open and there seemed to be no one inside. Strange!! If there was an Azaan there had to be a muezzin!

“Helloooo,  ?” he said loudly as he removed his footwear and walked into the empty prayer hall.

There was a Kerosene lamp burning in the corner. But apart from that,  there seemed to be no light. He felt his way around the walls looking for electric switches. His hands came off covered with soot!!

And then he saw a figure walking towards him – a bent old man with a flowing white beard

“ Salam walaikum Muezzin Saheb”  said Navin

“Walaikum as salaam” replied the figure. “Who are you?”

“My name is Navin. I came trekking up the hills and got lost. Then I heard your call for prayer and made my way to the mosque” he replied

“God be praised” said the old man directing him towards the water tank to wash himself.

“After washing yourself, come behind that wall. I have cooked some food. We can have dinner”

“Thank you Saheb” said Navin as he splashed the cool water across his tiered face.

The meal was simple. Rice and some dal. Navin ate silently sitting across the old man

“You can sleep inside the prayer hall. I have an additional mattress and a blanket that you can use. But be careful, sometimes snakes crawl in and if there is a storm you will have to come here because the roof of the prayer hall might not withstand strong winds”, he said leading him towards his bed.

Nevin’s mind was filled with a hundred questions. He wanted to ask him why was the mosque in this ruined condition ? Where were the villagers and why was the muezzin living here all alone by himself?

But he was too tiered now. He decided he would ask him in the morning when he had rested.

He lay down on the hard and lumpy mattress and covered himself with the moth-eaten blanket. He looked up at the star lit sky saying thanking God  for being able to find shelter for the night. The crickets were now buzzing and he could hear an owl hooting somewhere. He put his camera close to himself and close his eyes.

Dawn

 The early morning call for prayer woke him up from sleep. Navin sat up feeling confused.

Where was he ? Then he remembered. He had been lost in the wilderness

He watched the old muezzin  walk down the crumbling steps of the minaret and roll out his prayer mat.

Navin folded up his bedding and went outside. The sun had not yet risen but the horizon was lighting up. He walked outside the mosque into the village. In the morning light he saw it more clearly, ruined houses, gutted by what looked like fire.

“ I wonder what happened to these people” he thought as he went back towards the mosque.

The Muezzin had finished his prayers and was folding up his mat.

“ There is a toilet beyond the back wall. You can use it if you wish” he said.

Navin thanked him and went into the toilet, hoping he wouldn’t encounter any reptiles.

The old man was holding two glasses of dark tea in his hands when he came out

“ I don’t get milk here. So, you will have to drink black tea” he said apologetically.

“Thank you so much Saheb. Anything is welcome” he said clasping his hand around the warm glass.

As the warm liquid made its way down his throat, he decided this might be a good time to ask about why the place was deserted.

“Isn’t there anyone here besides you? I saw the village is deserted. Looks burnt”

The old man looked at him for a while before his eyes filled up with tears.

“Saheb… what happened. I am sorry if I upset you” said Navin reaching out to hold his hand.

“No, my boy, it is alright. It is more than ten years now but it feels like yesterday” said the old man wiping a tear.

“What happened” asked Navin waiting for the old man to speak.

“ It was the month of Ramzan. The village was getting ready for  Iftar when they came”

“Who?” probed Navin gently

“The Men with swords , wearing saffron and tilak marks on their forehead. They did not leave any one. Not a single person!!” said the old man breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably.

“Where were you?” asked Navin

“ I had gone to the town – to the block development office to submit some applications for widow pensions for three women from our village. When I was walking up the hill, I could see it burning. I first thought it was a forest fire. And then I saw them running down the hill. I hid behind a rock and stayed there for a long time. By the time I went to the village it was all over. Not a single person was alive”

“ Why didn’t you file a police complaint? ” asked Navin

“ How can I complain to those who were hand in glove with the rioters? I was worried that they would find me and put me inside a lock up and then kill me. No one would know” he said quietly

Navin saw the logic in what the old man said. He sat quietly holding his hand.

“ I buried each one of them” he said looking directly into Nevin’s eyes.

Navin felt ashamed ! He felt shamed as a citizen of his country. He felt terrible that an entire village had been wiped out of the map of the region and no one cared!

“Saheb, why are you still here?” he asked

“ I am here because this is my home. It is my job to call everyone to prayer” said the old man.

“But….? ” Said Navin , leaving the question unsaid.

“Yes, the dead do not come up here for prayers. But sometimes Allah, the merciful brings lost souls like you here” he said smiling gently.

“is it safe for you to stay here by yourself” asked Navin.

“Oh yes! No one comes to what is presumed to be a deserted and haunted village. Some people from the tribal village beyond this hill come by and give me some food grains and groceries” he said.

The sun was up now and shining across the valley.

“I think it is time you go back. It will take you about an hour’s walk. Follow the course of the river northwards until you come to a bridge. Once you cross the bridge you will reach the town” said the old man

“Thank you Saheb” said Navin bowing down to kiss his hands before walking away.

As he descended the slope, he could see the minaret getting smaller and smaller in his line of vision. The old man standing at the entrance to the broken mosque was nearly invisible.

He went down the slope, following the river until he reached the bridge. Once he got on it, his cell phone came on. He walked on for about ten minutes before he got on the road that led to his hotel.

The man at the reception looked relieved to see him

“Sir, we had given up hope when you did not show up last night. ” he said handing him the room keys.

“Oh, it was a difficult night. I had got lost. I finally found refuge in a broken mosque in the village” said Navin as he started walking up the stairs to his room.

“Sir, you were in Mohammedpur ?” asked the receptionist looking shocked.  “It is a haunted village. No one lives there. Sometimes people hear the sound of the azaan floating up the valley” he said

Navin wondered if he should tell him everything . But he remembered what the old man had said.

“ No, I did not see or hear anything. I just slept inside the mosque and when it was morning, found my way back here”

“You were lucky” said the man.

“Yes, I was” said  Navin shutting the door to his room!

 

( I wake up every morning to the sound of the Azaan. It is one of the most soothing sounds to the ear. There was a muezzin whose call to prayer used to be very melodious. Unfortunately since the lock down in March I do not hear him. I hope and pray that he is safe wherever he is now. This story is dedicated to all the people who call the believers to prayer)

Mistaken Identity

Image result for twin men sketchesShe knew Gaurav had a twin brother. But nothing prepared her for the shock when she first saw him. He had not come for their marriage. Well, actually no one from either of their families had!  They had defied tradition and had had a registered marriage, with only a handful of friends in attendance. Gautam could not make it because it had been too sudden and he was too far away in London. He had promised his brother that he would come and see them in a couple of weeks. The two weeks became a couple of months and more.  And today after two years he was suddenly here at their door step.

At first, she had thought it was Gaurav. But in a moment, she knew he was not. He did not have the “occupied with his thoughts” look on his face when she had opened the door.  He wore a smile, carried a back pack and in his hand was bouquet of roses!

“Hi Sarala” he said “I am Gautam” he said handing her the flowers

“I know. Please come in, and thank you for the flowers” she said with a smile, opening the door wider.

“Where is Gaurav?” he asked settling down on the couch in the living room.

She wished she could answer it. But then it was not easy. Gaurav rarely told her where he was, who he was with or when he was likely to be back home. When she called him, he cut her calls and sent out a message saying “I will call you back”. But then he never did.

“Hasn’t told you where he is, right?” asked Gautam

She did not know why but she felt compelled to defend her husband.

“He did not know you were coming. Otherwise he would have been here” she said

“I do not need to TELL him. Remember we are twins” he said with a laugh

“I hope you are going to stay with us for some time” she said

“No, my dear! Only until tomorrow afternoon. I am transiting through Bangalore. I have to be in Mumbai the day after tomorrow morning” he replied.

“Why don’t you freshen up while I make you some tea?” she said leading him to the guest room.

“Tea? Didn’t Gaurav tell you? I never drink tea! I only have coffee. We may not have that proverbial mole on the shoulder to tell us apart but this is one sure way to guess” he said with a wink as he flung his backpack on the bed in the guest bedroom. Since she didn’t know how to respond to that, she rushed out of the room.

She felt embarrassed that she did not have real coffee powder but only instant coffee in her kitchen. As she heated the milk, she wondered why she felt a desire to impress this man. After all, wasn’t he a mirror image of Gaurav? But somehow, something about him was very different from the serious banker she was married to. The resemblance obviously ended with the physical appearance.

He was looking at the bookshelf when she came into the living room with the coffee.

“William Darlymple! Romina Thapar… you must be the history buff because I know my brother. He does not read anything beyond crime thrillers” he observed

The sun was going down and the balcony was bathed in the red glow of the sunset. He took the cup from her hand and walked out into the balcony as she followed him

“Beautiful! “he said turning around suddenly!   She did not know why but she felt herself blushing.

And there they stood together, on the balcony watching the sun go down. It had been ages since she had stood there with his twin, her husband! But then Gaurav was usually too impatient to stand there doing what he described as “nothing”!

It was six thirty when the sun finally went down the horizon.

“She is an amazing artist” murmured Gautam

“Who?” she asked

“Nature. Look at the strokes of colour on her canvas” he remarked with a smile.

She knew he had studied art history and was working as a curator in an art gallery in London. So, his comment was not surprising. She wanted to ask him about his work, his life in London and much more. But somehow, she felt tongue tied. It was rather strange because she was never at a loss for words. In fact, Gaurav often jokingly referred to her constant chatter as “nonstop nonsense”!

“Please excuse me , I have to start getting dinner ready” she said walking out of the balcony

“Ofcourse. And I hope you will let me help you” he said following her inside into the kitchen

It was very disconcerting to have him watch her as she moved around in the kitchen. She was aware of him in a way that she had never been of Gaurav- not even in the days when they were courting.

She had sometimes wondered why she had married Gaurav. Maybe it was because she was flattered by the attention from a good looking and  successful  man like him? Or may be it was just a phase in her life when she had wanted to settle down.

“Here let me chop the vegetables. You will cut yourself if you go on like this” he said taking the knife from her hand. She stood back and watched him in action. His fingers were long and slender. But then so were Gaurav’s. Why had she never noticed his fingers? Actually, coming to think of it, seeing the image of her husband in another man, made her suddenly realize what she had missed noticing in the man she had been married to for two years!

“ I think I should call Gaurav and tell him you are here” she muttered.

“ I have already sent him a message. He said he  will  be here by seven thirty” said Gautam.

“Until then why don’t you go and relax in your room ?” she asked him

“Why? You don’t like talking to me?” he asked her with a laugh

“No… no! I just thought you might be tiered” she replied.

“It takes a lot to tire me !” he said with a wink

She turned away from him and asked “ So tell me about yourself. Gaurav said you are not married yet. Do you atleast have a girl friend?”

“No, not at the moment!” he replied

Sarala felt it was stupid to ask “Why not”. It was way too personal! But then, he started talking about it.  “I have been in and out of relationships. Never found anyone with whom I felt like being with forever”

“Why? What are you looking for in a relationship ? ” she asked

“I don’t know. Stability I guess ! Someone who is caring, someone who gives me a feeling of belonging” he said locking his eyes into hers. It was only when the doorbell rang, that they broke their gaze.

“Let me answer the door” he said leaving her in the kitchen. Her heart was beating loudly and her hands were trembling as she started kneading the dough for the chappatis.

She could hear Gaurav at the door and it startled her to see both of them walk together into the dining area.  Two tall men, with almost similar hairstyles .. and both of them wearing blue! Except for the checks on one shirt  and stipes on the other it was difficult to tell them apart at first glance.

“I hope Sarala has been taking good care of you” said Gaurav.

“Ofcourse!! She offered me tea” said Gautam and both men started laughing.

“Sorry, I just had instant coffee to offer him”  she said looking at her husband

“Do not apologize!! I am happy to accept anything that you can offer” said Gautam

Sarala looked away. She somehow felt that it was not coffee that he was talking about.

It was nearly nine   and they were all sitting in the balcony. She had wanted to decline when Gautam poured out a glass of wine for her. But something in her had made her feel reckless tonight. She drank not one but two glasses, which made her now feel like she was floating in the air!  She was glad she had laid out dinner beforehand.

She had brought out her best crockery.  Even Gaurav in his semi drunken state had noticed it.

“You must come more often. Look at the table laid out like in some fancy restaurant!” he remarked

“I would do it more often if you would only notice. Most of the time you eat dinner with your phone” she said snapping.

“Hey…!! Stop annoying my beautiful sister in law” said Gautam looking at his brother in mock anger.

“Ah of course! I am always to blame” grumbled Gaurav.

She looked at them both sitting around the table.  Again, dressed similarly – in black T shirts and grey shorts – except that one had a petulant look and the other a rakish smile.

She was surprised by both the similarities and the differences. It was like two sides of the same coin! It must be the wine. that was making her think like this! She excused herself and went into her bedroom to retire for the night.

As she was changing into her nightie, she heard them both talking and laughing loudly. The TV was on, adding to the noise. She shut the door, switched off the light and got under the covers.

It must have been around midnight when she saw him getting into the room. She watched him drowsily as he slipped out of his clothes and got under the blanket with her. He pulled her and kissed her hungrily. She responded with a passion that that surprised her It was like some erotic dream in action. She had never experienced anything like this!

“What has come over you Gaurav” she whispered into his ears as she lay spent in his arms. He held her close to him and she felt herself drifting back to sleep.

It was nearly seven when she woke up in the morning. She dressed herself quickly and went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash herself!

As she opened the bedroom door and walked towards the kitchen, she saw him next to the stove

“Gaurav, sorry, I overslept. Hope you made yourself some tea” she said yawning.

“Good morning Sarala. This is Gautam. Gaurav is still asleep – on the couch out there! Would you like some coffee?” he asked, his eyes twinkling as he extended a cup of steaming hot coffee towards her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curtains : A tale beyond consciousness

She

Her limbs ached as her body longed for bedtime! But so much had to be done before she could rest her head on the pillow. She went through the motions of routine, wiping the stove , the counters and finally switching  off  tImage result for consciousness imageshe lights as she made her way across the house towards her bedroom. Both Tina and Neel were fast asleep. She picked up little Tina and took her to her room ,laying her gently on her bed before tucking the blanket around her .  She switched on the night light and made her way softly out of Tina’s room into hers.

Neel  lay sprawled across the centre of the bed!! She pushed him across from her side of the bed,. He rolled over and went back to sleep muttering something! She went into the bathroom, brushed her teeth, washed her face and after changing into her pajamas and T. shirt went back into her bedroom.

The moon was bright and her entire bedroom was lit up in a magic silvery light. She looked at her sleeping husband with a sigh and drew the sheet around her. It was always like this nowadays for both of them. Feeling tiered and then collapsing senseless in bed.  The perils of urban living !! She closed her eyes waiting for sleep to overtake her.

Her eyelids were drooping, the sound of the whirring electric fan above her head, the heady scent of the jasmine from the creeper growing outside her window and the hint of silver that seemed to glow  behind her closed lids…all of this coming together to awaken senses that she sought to shut down.  She felt her muscles relax slowly and somewhere within her she felt herself being released from her day today existence and its accompanying drudgery.  And in a few moments she was liberated ….!!!

She got out of her shell and looked at the sleeping forms on the bed.  The body of the woman in the pink T shirt and grey pajamas had given way to its need for rest. But the spirit of the woman who was hovering by the window was restless to begin her nightly journey.

She began flying through the clouds, glittering silver in the moonlight…! She let the wind propel her upwards…She looked down to see the brown, blues and greens glowing in the dark! More brown these days, she noted sadly as she sped through the wind which seemed to have now changed direction. She wondered if she should go there again? After all wasn’t that what she had been longing for ?

So she  floated along, over hillocks and dusty plains until she reached the spot!! A once flourishing mining town that lay abandoned today! A crumbling old bungalow on a hill top with a broken swing swaying  in the breeze! A place that was once her home..!  A place that she came back to so often – each visit making her sadder than the previous one ! She stopped by the swing and thought about the young girl who used to sit there with a book in hand lost in the world of printed words. A woman calling out to the girl to come inside and have dinner, a car driving in, a man coming home from work, the girl shutting her book and skipping down the slope squealing with happiness! A warm glow of lights behind windows as twilight gave way to darkness. The smell of freshly made chappatis, the clink of crockery as  the table was laid for dinner, sound of crickets and an orchestra of frogs beginning to perform a symphony…

This was the scene that she always came back to- though there were others that were associated with the same place. Scenes that  she tried to avoid -of dynamite blasting, shouts of men as the earth caved in.. She shuddered as she tried to erase those thoughts.

“Let it go” he said…

She started as she  hadn’t sensed  his presence until now .

“ Why are you here?” she asked

“I am here because you called me” he said.

“ Really?” she wondered

“Yes. You may not be aware of it but you call me often” he said

“ But who are you?” she asked

“I am what you have been seeking all this while in the universe . I have often sought to reach you but you did not respond” he whispered.

“But how could that be” she  muttered

“Think….! Remember the rainy nights, the beautiful sunsets, the silver moonlight, the strains of  music ,the velvety darkness of the nights. Weren’t you calling out to me?” he asked.

“May be. But why now after all this time…?”   she  wondered

“I have always been around you. But you acknowledged my presence only today” he mentioned softly.

“So what do we do now that we are together?” she asked.

“Come with me” he said drawing her towards himself.

A wisp of  a cloud, a touch of a raindrop and she felt herself being taken across the deep blue darkness . She could smell the sea before she heard the roar of the waves as they crashed on the rocks!

“ High tide!  his voice came through in the darkness.

“Where is this?” she asked

“Along the coast. This place is a part of me” he answered.

She watched the waves glisten in the moonlight with the white foam spluttering into tiny droplets.

“Come this way” he said pulling her towards the sand.

“Do you come here often?” she asked

“Whenever I can” he replied.

The sound of the waves was a  soothing rhythm in the background. She felt a sense of calmness overtake her.- a feeling of finally having reached a destination after years of difficult travel!

“Who are you?” she wondered

“I am like you. A wanderer and a seeker” he said

“Have you found what you are seeking” she asked

“ My answer begins where your question ends.” he responded.

“You mean, it is a continuum” she murmured

She closed her eyes and felt him reach out to her in  a way that was beyond anything that she had known! She realized now, that he had always been in her unconscious, a being  who she had been searching for all these years. She had never believed he existed but apparently he did!! And today due to some strange twist of circumstances she was able to perceive his existence! Did it matter therefore who he was? He had sensed her need for him and had come through to her. Wasn’t that enough.

“Yes that is enough for me” he whispered

She lay her head on the sand feeling the vibrations of the waves as they hit the shore..!! Peace.. may be this is what all beings were looking for through eternity before they decided to rest in it!

“Don’t think about that yet” he murmured.

She looked up and tried to piece together his form. But it was difficult ! The  veil of clouds across the moon were now moving away and she could see the golden light across the horizon. The vibrations that she felt seemed stronger and she felt herself being lifted away

“Wait….for me” was all that she could say before the force pulled her away

The woman in the pink T shirt was moving around in her bed trying to put off an alarm clock. The curtain separating the day and the night , the conscious and the unconscious  had come down.

It was a different day, a different act and a different role now

(to be continued)

(This is a different genre I am exploring. Requesting readers to please be patient if I meander around like “she” 🙂 ! But do leave your comments they would be most useful in tying it together)

Hello All 

Thank you for visiting my blog. May I request you to please buy my book “Bridges and Crossings” that has a collection of stories published here. You can buy it from

Notion Press : https://notionpress.com/read/bridges-and-crossings

or

from Amazon.

Look forward to your reviews on “Good reads” and “Amazon”

Meera

 

 

Waiting

Image result for book stall at an indian railway stationRunning a book shop these days pays very less. And if it is at an obscure railway station somewhere in a tribal district of Odisha, it pays even lesser.  I would have been on the streets had it not been for my wife’s job as a school teacher and the rental we got from the two small flats on the first floor of what I often refer to grandly as my “ancestral home”! It also helps that my wife and I do not have any children. We live by ourselves managing on her small salary, the rent and the few hundreds that I make from the shop after paying for the costs.

But it had not always been like that. There had been a time when people used to get down from the trains and stop by at my book stall to buy books, newspapers and magazines. My book stall had also been a sort of gathering point for the local towns people interested in reading. I used to often lend out some copies of my books at a nominal reading charge.

However, over the years, people seem to have lost interest in reading. Everyone seems to be looking at their phones nowadays. I wonder what is the magic that this piece of electronic holds for people that they seem to be hesitant to even make eye contact.

It has been months since I have made any sales other than newspapers. With the advent of television and the drama that is enacted in the name of news, even newspaper sales are going down. People seem to prefer watching news to reading about it.

My wife Sujata often tells me to close the shop and the business. But how do I explain to her that the shop to me is more than just a source of income. It is the vantage point from where I observe the world.

I watch people who board a train, the people who are there to see them off, I watch again those who arrive at this station and those who come to receive them. And then there are those who come and go alone, people who get off the train for a few minutes and wander around at the station. My day and timings are punctuated by the arrival and departure of trains – six in all, two out of which that do not stop at my station.

I also have friends at the station – there is Biswa the tea shop owner and Raju the boy who works for him. Then there is Baba, the blind beggar, Bipin the porter, the various station masters who had come and gone since the time I had opened the shop here, the railway cleaning crew and then there was Mausi.

She had been part of the station for as long as I can remember. No one knew her name. She was just Mausi. A frail old lady with snowy white hair and glasses, she usually arrived at the station by seven o’clock in the morning and did not leave until the last train had left the station –which was usually by nine o’clock in the evening. She spoke to no one but kept looking at each train expectantly as it stopped at the station.

Biswa used to offer her tea which she sometimes took and sometimes declined. Bipin and the cleaning staff used to keep the seat on which she sat, very clean. I had often tried to make conversations with her but she only answered in monosyllables. She used to buy a newspaper from me every day, which she read from cover to cover, looking up every now and then when an announcement was being made on the arrival of a train.

Most of us felt very bad for Mausi. A lady from what was once probably a well to do family, she lived in a crumbling old mansion in the outskirts of the town. A widow with an only child, a son, who had left home many years ago, she mingled very little with the rest of the towns people or with the people of the villages which were near her house. She used to come walking to the station in the early days but nowadays some of the rickshaw pullers at the rickshaw stand outside the railway station often brought her here and dropped her back.

There had been a lot of stories about why she had been coming to the station every day for so many years. The most common one of course being that she was waiting for her son, the boy who had left home many years ago and had never come back. People liked to speculate about why he had not returned. Most of them felt the boy’s wife, the lady’s daughter in law must be the culprit. She must have influenced her husband against visiting his mother. But then, I had always pointed out that a man usually likes to use his wife as an excuse to get away from looking after his parents.

It pained me a lot when I saw Mausi sit there like that at the station, day after day waiting for her son. I had often wanted to ask her about him but I never had the courage. I wondered what she did when she was ill. Who looked after her? How did she manage to arrive so early in the morning? Did she have anything to eat before she came here and did she have something cooked for her to eat, when she left the station for her home at the night?

I had even asked Sujata once, if we should visit Mausi at her home some day and try to find out how she lived. But Sujata, who was caught up with our day today struggles of life never paid any heed to my request.

Today had been one of those hard days for poor Sujata. She had had trouble at the school with her headmistress who had accused her of taking too many days off. At home, the motor used for pumping water to the overhead tank on the roof had conked off and the plumber had taken his own sweet time to come and fix it, making the tenants descend on my wife in anger and frustration. And then there was me, who had been ill for more than a week, making demands on her time.  I feel ashamed to say so, but now that I was feeling better, I had run away from the chaos at home, planning to take refuge in my shop at the station.

Sujata would be sick with worry when she finds out that I had slunk away from home but I did not care. I missed my shop and the station.

I walked into the station and pulled up the shutters of my book stall. The place was a mess…!! It was dusty and dirty.

I sneezed as I wiped the dust and pulled out the broom to sweep the floor. The public announcement system was announcing the arrival of the train from Visakhapatnam. I quickly arranged my counter with the usual hope that someone from the train would buy something from the stall.

The train was pulling into the station. It was nearly eight thirty in the evening- the train was a full hour late. Biswa was running around with his tea glasses. Raju seemed to be on leave – probably suffering from malaria like me, I thought.  The train hooted and I saw the station master wave the green lamp as it chugged out of the station.

Biswa seemed to be tiered after his efforts at serving tea to the passengers.

“Where is Raju?” I asked him

“The rascal has not come back from his holiday. He said he was going to his village for his brother’s marriage” said Biswa angrily.

“How have you been” he asked calming down when I dusted a chair inside my stall and motioned him to sit down

“Just recovering. Had to run away from being an invalid” I said trying to laugh off my tiredness.

“I think we should go home. It is so windy and cloudy. Looks like a storm is brewing” he said getting up to go to his stall and down the shutters.

“You go. I will leave in some time” I said settling down on my chair.

I looked around the station. It looked more deserted than usual. But I was reluctant to go back home.

I moved out of the stall and started walking along the platform. My eyes were drawn involuntarily to the cement seat on which Mausi used to sit. It was empty. But then it was quite late and well past the time that she usually left. I sat down on the seat  with a sigh and closed my eyes. My illness had definitely drained all my strength.

“Are you feeling tiered my boy” asked a soft voice

I looked up with a start. Mausi was standing near me. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed her. I stood up and offered her the seat.

“Why are you here so late Mausi” I asked her

“Is it late? I did not realize. I was waiting for the   Visakhapatnam express” she said

“Well it left some time ago. You had better go. It looks like there is going to be a storm.” I said

She turned around and started walking away. I squinted in the dim light looking at her retreating back. It seemed to me like she was floating in the air. Well, it was either my tiredness or her frail build that made it look like that. I felt guilty about letting her go away alone, in the face of what looked like bad weather.

Mausi please wait. I will take you home” I said shouting after her.

She was already half way up on the foot over bridge by the time I closed my shop and caught up with her. She did not seem to be listening to me as I called out to her at the parking lot asking her to wait for me to unlock my cycle from the stand and get on the carrier at the back.

I finally gave up on getting my cycle out and started walking with her.

The wind had picked up and there was lightening forking across the sky.

She walked on quickly, rather fast for an old woman I must say. I was huffing and puffing trying to keep up with her pace.

We passed the market place, that was quite deserted by now, the collector’s office, the government houses, the high school building, the bus depot and finally we were on the highway with paddy fields on both sides.

I was amazed when I realized how far away Mausi’s house was from the station. What did she do when no rickshaw was available, I wondered. My respect for her went up. A mother’s love for her son was obviously so strong that  distances seemed to fade away .

We were approaching her house. I could see the ramshackle building outlined in the flashes of lightening. I struggled with the rusty latch on the gate. By the time I opened it and walked in I found Mausi was already ahead of me. I walked fast to catch up with her.

When I reached the front door, she seemed to have disappeared. The door was unlatched.  So I pushed it open  and walked in. I looked around for the light switch. None of the switches worked.  Either there was a power cut or she had not paid her electricity bill!

I walked into the house, feeling my way around. By the time I entered what must have been the bedroom, my nose was assaulted with a terrible stench. It was only when a flash of lightening illuminated the room and I saw her –  a stiff form lying on the bed, did I realize what the smell was all about!

I felt suffocated as I collapsed unconscious on the floor.

It was almost a day later that I came to my senses. Biswa, Raju and Sujata were all there next to me at the district hospital.

“It is a wonder you are alive” cried my wife

“We had to take a search party out for you that night” said Biswa

“What happened to her… Mausi” I asked with a shiver

“It seems like she had died a couple of weeks ago. No one knew. What possessed you to go looking for her?  “asked Raju

I kept quiet. No one was going to believe me if I told them that it was she who had led me to her house.

I was discharged the next day. I went back home and this time,  put up with all the fuss and care that Sujata showered on me. But a few days later when I was well, I went back in the afternoon to the house in the outskirts of the town.

There were some people there when I reached. It seemed like they were her relatives.  I asked one of the men  if her son had come down to perform her last rites.

“Her son? No of course not. He had died long ago in a mining accident at Dhanbad” said the man as he went back to examining the value of the things he had taken out from her cupboard.

I cycled back from her house to the station, my heart heavy with grief.

The nonstop mail train was expected when I arrived at the station.  I pulled up my shutters, and started arranging my books. I could hear the train roaring past the platform. It was mid-day and the sun was shining brightly.

I don’t know if you will believe me but I swear, when I turned around, I saw an old lady with snowy white hair walk up from the cement seat and jump into the speeding train.

I never saw her again at the station! I like to believe that she had finally reached her destination

 

 

 

 

Previous Older Entries