It wasn’t a dream


Life is complicated. Generally. But it wasn’t then. We were under the stars, open shower, disco lightening and heavy rock inside our heads. Three drinks down, the rain drops seemed like one big blob hanging down heavily from the sky. Why can’t we just shoot up to the skies and remain there? Who wants to be on the earth anyway? I remember thinking then, trying to balance myself on my wobbly legs. My friends were at a distance. So insignificant. So earthly.

IMG_20150930_222326

I wanted to distance away from them. The spirit in my belly nudged the spirit in me, and I climbed the last narrow rung to the water tank. There I was, so close to the sky, so far from the earth, so far from my family, so far from the insignificant others. Life was good, life was normal. I remember feeling the hardness of my phone in my pocket. For a second I remembered by girlfriend. But she was far away. Was she insignificant too? 

The drops pelted harder and I felt lighter. Like a baby in a crib. What will my mother be doing now? What about my sister? Does she have a boyfriend? Suddenly, like a defunct radio, my brain switched to Rod Stewart’s Love is. He was singing in front of a shop that sold bananas. So funny. I remember laughing loud. I wanted to slap someone on the shoulder and laugh. I wanted someone to see me laugh, see me so happy and carefree. “You bastards…!” I remember shouting. No one turned, the rain stole my voice. Funny thing, the rain is. 

That was the last I laughed like that for months to follow.

……

Now, the stars have been replaced by fat blinding bulbs, the dark sky has been covered by curd white sheets. The drops have stopped drumming, instead, there is a tensed mix of whispers and rhythmic beeps. My neck feels heavy, and limbs rusty. I can’t laugh, I am trying. I am sleeping.

The sheet of rain was to blame. I did not see the contours of the tank. I slid slowly to the edge, slapping my thighs, laughing, shouting at the boys, laughing again.

I can feel warm fingers on my cheek, what I can’t feel is my front tooth. My head is a ball of iron. I see a man in white coat and stethoscope.

I am in a hospital.

From the corner of my eye I can see familiar faces. That same red shirt. It looked darker last night. Now, it is a bright shade of yellow. What made him buy that? I drift again.

I hadn’t been hit that hard and that fast ever. ‘Thud’ now had a clear definition in my head. I landed on the sunshade on my side, and rolled down like a pebble on to another.

Thud! again. My muscles wailed. Only I could hear them. The sky was suddenly getting farther, the ground closer. At a dizzying speed that too. Thud!. This time I hung on. My right palm bore my weight and fear.

Skin on cement. Scrapes and scratches. It was time for the final fall. 

This can’t be. I have an MBA paper to write next week. And that mail. What will my manager say? Wait, I haven’t called my girl friend. She will be worried. SIT UP! I can’t. I am frozen inside an ice cube. It’s not that cold though.

It’s comfortably warm. Peaceful, and warm.

My nose was inches away from the very wet ground. I could smell the cement and blood. Slowly, pain shot through my nape, along my collarbones and down my shoulders. Tiny sharp arrows released from a bow.

I wanted to shout, but I also wanted to lay there for as long as possible. Be one with the cement. Could the earth just split a little and take me in?

I see tears. I smell family. I see my mother with pink nose and puffy eyes. She sees me, and her brows cringe, eyes fill, and a kerchief covers her mouth. My sister stands beside her, with pink nose and puffy eyes. It’s awkward. Dad’s nose is not pink thankfully, but he has a vein popping out on his forehead.

The dream will soon be over.

But I had already fallen, and not woken up. I was scooped up by a set of hands. Not strong enough to carry my frame. I felt like a slice of butter melting out of their hands. Stretcher was a blessing, a cushion of clouds.

Had I finally reached the sky?

(The story is a work of fiction and includes no autobiographical elements. Fortunately, none)

Yours lovingly


Nirmala blushed even before she grabbed the letter from the post master’s hand. She leaned on the closed-door behind her and read it aloud.

February 27, 2013

Love,

You are beautiful. Your grace can put the dawn and dusk to shame.

Yours lovingly

As if in reply, she ran to her balcony and smiled at the sinking sun.

Below, in the busy street, vegetable vendors were busy selling off their day’s stock, the chat shop was brimming with kids back from school and the cycle repair shop had a queue of bicycles in front, blocking the rest of the narrow road.

The claustrophobic atmosphere in the street reminded her of the stingy toddy shop of her dad’s, back in the village. She remembered dodging the sweaty dirty bodies who tried to touch her, while she hastily served them liquor. Extreme poverty had taught her resilience.

Later, she remembered crying out her worries to her friend, who would console her and say “Everything will be alright one day”.

Her bruised past now lay buried under her new dignified life as Mrs. Gupta, whose days revolved around her husband, serving him the best food, awaiting his romantic letters during the day, listening to his office stories in the evening and sleeping to his typewriter ticking away in the night.

You were right! Everything is perfect now – she smiled to herself and pressed the letter to her chest.

Picture Source: vermeer0708.wordpress.com

Picture Source: vermeer0708.wordpress.com

Arjun Gupta, on his way back to office stopped at his lawyer’s residence. He came out with a satisfied expression on his face.

Who would have thought it to end this way? He could still remember how her pale nervous face, with a child like innocence, had looked at him with anxiety, as he had put the garland on her neck. Though his marriage was a convenient arrangement between two families, he had loved her at the very first sight.

He enjoyed her chirpiness and laughter and the way she got excited by the smallest gifts. He would simply stand and admire her, while she told stories about her childhood, brimming with tears at one moment and shaking with laughter in the next.

How wrong was I to think she loved me too, he thought, as he brought his bike to a screeching halt.

Nirmala checked her appearance in the mirror for one last time, before she ran downstairs to open the door for her husband.

She had taken extra care to darken her Kajal and make her hair. She planned to talk about those lovely letters of his. What best way to show her gratitude than look the prettiest? she had thought.

“Is anyone home?” he asked, looking beyond her, across the hall, as she stood at the doorstep.

“Someone is in a bad mood today,” she giggled, trying to brush aside the disappointment.

He looked at her. That killing smile again. He cursed himself for letting her think he was upset.

“Oh nothing, how was your day, jaan?” he asked, trying hard not to think about what he had discovered the previous week.

My mysterious husband, she sighed. So romantic in letters, yet so detached in person. “Oh it was good, how was yours?” she asked casually.

“Good as well.”

Keeping his shoes aside, he went upstairs without another word.

Probably he had a tough day, she thought as she followed him.

Arjun Gupta weds Nirmala Ram, he smirked at the album which lay on the bed.

Clearly she set it all up to leave me no room for doubts. He unbuttoned his shirt, stepped into the shower and turned on the faucet in full force. He tried to find a reason, a fault or a short coming on his part.

He had found the letters stacked in the corner of the cupboard, behind the neatly folded saris, tied with a saffron ribbon. He had opened them thinking he was going to crack some new naughty surprise of hers.

He read the letters one after the other, convincing himself that it was nothing like what he thought it was.

Since then, he observed her actions closely. He would say he is leaving to office, but stand downstairs to see how she became someone else’ once he left.

He was appalled by the cheesy lines of the letters, but Nirmala as he had found, seemed to brighten up while reading those.

“Let the aroma of your skin reach me, love”, she would go to the balcony and catch her duppatta high up in the air. Her lover would look upwards through the spokes of the cycle wheel until she went inside.

She would hop down and take a stroll along the street, clutching the piece of paper which said, “Flowers would bloom on every inch of the ground where you walk,” while the cycle guy kept the rubber tyres aside to watch her.

The last letter took it a step further.  “Look at you. Your eyes would make anyone go speechless.” She sprinted to the streets, found the nearest shop and called out for some change. The cycle guy got up, wiping his tarred hand on his shorts, looked at her and asked, “Is everything alright?”

He had extended his hands to touch her cheeks. She had moved aside. But the sign of recognition couldn’t have been mistaken.

Arjun had left the scene, unable to take it further.

Later, he had sat contemplating the issue – I should probably talk to her.. No that would make her sad. I guess I don’t deserve her. Should I confront her? No.. She would die of guilt. Am old, she is so young… I think.. I think I should just move away from her life.

Convinced with his new decision, he had asked a lawyer to file divorce papers the very next day. Sooner the better, he had thought.

Nirmala lay on her bed staring at the new sealed letter, shocked by the turn of events in her own life.

Is everything alright?.. his voice carved out her past memories inch by inch. She recalled the long afternoons which they had spent by the beachside building sand castles, the whispering talks behind the temple and the promises they made while sitting under a dripping roof, too close yet scared to hug.

That was years ago. It was unfair that life had brought him to her life again.

Right then she craved to tell her husband about the only episode in her life that she had kept from him. She knew he would understand, and later give her a hug. The night would again be normal with the sound of his typing.

Through the heavy veil of tears, she opened the letter.

March 6, 2013

Love,

I mean no inconvenience to you. I thought you would be happy to see me. So wrong was I.

Yours lovingly

She read it again, trying to make sense of the words. She threw the letter aside, as if it had burnt her hand.

It was her friend all this while?

Confused and hurt, she wept.

Hours later, she numbly walked downstairs to answer the door.

It wasn’t her husband. Instead, a man introduced himself as the lawyer and told her to sign few papers. Along with those, he produced another typed letter from his bag – a letter, the first ever letter from her husband.

March 6, 2013

Hi jaan,

I was too much in love with you not to realise all this while that you loved someone else. Thanks to the letters.

Here is wishing you happiness for your new life with your old friend.

Yours lovingly

Arjun

An innocent kill


668..670..672, she muttered to herself , now safe in the darkness of her room. 674..676..678..the sweat drops glistening on her forehead flowed down to her neck and were now forming dark patches on her cotton shirt. 680..682..684..the voices grew closer. There was a thud on the door and then a sharp turn of the handle – Amina shrieked, shivered and swooned.

 

Amina had woken up that morning to the sight of four strange men in suits, looking at her.  Her parents stood in a corner like the curators of a museum where she was the only showpiece.

She scorned at the men while they smiled. She collected her bed cover closer to her body and reclined to the farthest corner possible.

One of the men moved closer, “Hey Kiddo, isn’t it a fine morning?” She inserted her tiny fingers into her ears, deep enough to touch her ear drums.

While the temperature outside dipped, Amina’s body gave in to perspiration. She started counting numbers – multiples of two. This usually calmed her down. “It’s like being back in the womb,” she would say.

The men had now receded. It was the turn of the ‘curators’.

“Relax Ami. They have just come to visit you,” her mom said. Amina hardly paid attention and kept looking at the mosquito which sat on her mother’s wrist. Snap…It now lay smashed in a tiny patch of blood. For a second, she imagined herself in the insect’s place – limbs twisted at odd angles, broken teeth and hair smudged with blood. She quivered.

Amina was just nine – a fact that would appear as a joke to someone who saw her personal library. Stacked on the shelves were works of Srinivasa Ramanujam, Wu Wenjun, Andrew Wiles, Fibonacci and others – a collection that could boil the brains of any ordinary human.

But she was far from ordinary. A child prodigy, she had cracked the code to the most perplexing math and physics paradoxes and was now a research specimen for the biologists. Doctors say she has “savant syndrome” – something which her family read as “being utterly genius” syndrome ignoring the deficiency.

Picture source : tvtropes.org

Picture source : tvtropes.org

Amina was staged before people like a gorilla in chains, while her parents in their prettiest dresses, bowed, gleamed and flaunted their property. The audience sighed with admiration and later sniffed with sympathy.

That morning the cage appeared again – the cage that would take Amina to one of the wretched exposing lawns, where a million eyes would tear through her body to find an answer to why she is unique. She could already feel the bright neon lights blinding her. The applause at the end of it, which would remind her of axes trying to fell a tree.

The mosquito’s blood was now turning into a dark shade of maroon. Wiping it off, her mom said,” Now you should get cleaned too.”

“For what?”

“We have to go, another glorious moment for you.” said her mom, and left to get herself dressed.

Amina followed her. She stared while her mom chose the best of clothes, tried different accessories and rehearsed her laugh, walk and handshake in the mirror.

Surges of hatred consumed her. She took to counting. 2,4,6,8 ….

660, 662, 664, 666… Amina stopped.  Her eyes went to the pesticide near the bedroom window.

“Oh honey…..”

Unable to finish the sentence, her mom fell – unconscious and lifeless.

668..670..672, she muttered to herself , now safe in the darkness of her room. 674..676..678..the sweat drops glistening on her forehead flowed down to her neck and were now forming dark patches on her cotton shirt. 680..682..684..the voices grew closer. There was a thud on the door and then a sharp turn of the handle – Amina shrieked, shivered and swooned.