Author: Behind the Wooden Door

The Fiery Wrath of the Old Mother

The Fiery Wrath of the Old Mother

It was a beautiful evening with shades of marmalade on the horizon. She stared at the hues of the evening sky as the sun set behind the blue hills. She and her sisters eagerly awaited the arrival of their father. On days like this, when their father returned from the hunt, a feast was laid for dinner. As their mother set the vessels on the cemented floor for supper, there was a loud crash. She woke up with a startle.

She was no longer in her childhood home. What a sweet dream it has been! She was in her bed; in the house that was also hers; the place that gave her everything-her family, children, love, and riches. Except that it did not feel like that womb of a home where her parents had lived and loved.

Striding turbulent paths

   I was not an easy journey that she had been through. Married at 14 to a man who was then 26, every day of those initial years in her new home was a nightmare. Her father taught her everything; all of the life survival skills- except how to retort when she had to.

The abuse she withstood was not physical, but she kept to herself the kind of harsh profanity her aurally sensitive nerves were subjected to. All the while, the man she believed in, the respectable and untainted gentleman was but a mute spectator.

During those days, when telephones were still a mystery in her part of the world, her house was one among the few that was illuminated after dusk. She had always envied those people who did not have access to electricity, for their days started at the crack of the morning light and ended when all other living beings in the neighboring forests retired to their dwelling place.

At the crack of dawn, she would be up rushing with the household chores. And after all the mouths were fed and the responsibilities at home fulfilled, she rushed to the field. There she toiled until it was time for the vibrant avian folk to return to their nests.

Before winter arrived with the distressing frost and steady drizzle, the harvested grains had to be dried. The ones meant for storage went right into the massive, 3 feet high teak boxes.  The other half of the grains had to milled and ground into fine flour- all manually.

Looking back, she wondered what gave her that kind of supreme mental and physical toughness. It did not matter; the journey is in its final phase – well almost. She had no regrets, except the fury that was buried deep down in the pit of her abdomen.

The Boundless Joy of Parenting

     Two years into her marriage, she learned to ignore the taunting jeers that were a norm with the 50-year-old matriarch of the family. The spouse who left for work came home only to catch up on a few hours of rest. Though she drifted into spells of loneliness, it helped that her parents lived just an hour’s walk away.

Soon after she turned 17, he arrived, a plump mass of a bundle, with blood red roses for cheeks. The happiness within her reached a zenith. Dharma, she had named him.  In the next 12 years, she had four more cherubic children, two boys and two girls whom to her were nothing less than celestial beings that graced her life with boundless cheer.

The years that followed were grim and challenging. It was the affection that she received from the paternal home and the devotion she held for her young ones that helped her wade through the troublesome times.

The Denied Inheritance

   It was evident that the field where she toiled and the house that she lived in belong to her. It was a part of her husband’s inheritance. That was what she was told, and in concurrence with the times, the verbal announcement was to be followed by the next generation. There was no documentation process unless the property left the holds of the family.

She was a believer in promises. But her husband’s brethren failed to believe in the power of the given word. Soon they were gone- the piece of land she worshipped and her shelter.

After a few months of living with her kind sibling, she returned to the hamlet that she now called her home-this time determined to fight for her dignity.

With her savings and substantial help from her father, she bought a bit of neglected land, worked on it and saw a bountiful harvest after a year. In a few years, slowly it came up; the roof held by the intricate rafters that she now saw from her bed. Within every brick lies the rage that she had cautiously swallowed so that it would not disturb the fabric of her home.

Time moved on

   Soon the years rolled by and one by one they left the house, except for the youngest. The youngest, named Kubera, stayed with his parents. The fields that now spread across the neighboring hills were now his responsibility. He is to share it with his brothers (employed in the city) when the time comes.

Despite the distance, the love within the family grew strong.  She visited her progeny regularly. She shifted between their homes and slowly the burden on her shoulders eased. If destiny were kind to her, that was when it should all have ended.

The troubles started when her companion of over 50 years took ill and was confined to the 6×6 feet space. The three years of his sickness was one among the biggest burdens she had ever carried. Like the occupants of her paternal home the people who flew out of her own nest, took turns in staying by her side through the tough times.

And then one morning, before the crack of dawn, he breathed his last. But before that, he had uttered ‘I am sorry, Devi. I had looked past your strife’.

‘That apology is rather too late old man; there is nothing you can do about it now. Go in peace’ was her reply.

The Curse that befell

   Upon the old man’s loss, a gloom descended on the once happy home. She spent her evenings by the fireplace, mostly weeping, sometimes in the company of a few steady friends. On one of those days when she felt immobile and lethargic, she saw a strange looking man at her doorstep. He was Kubera’s guest.

The man was tall and built well. His extensive features and dark complexion sent a spark of instant fear across her mind. He entered the house and performed strange rituals in front of their sacred altar. Once he was done with them, the odd-looking man ate from her husband’s massive bronze plate-the one that was considered sacred and was reserved for occasions.

Once he left, she felt something churn within her; deception had made its way into her happy home. When she encountered Kubera, his reply was lethargic and only gibberish. The very next day, Kubera asked her to hand over to him the entire pension amount that she now received after her husband, which she kindly denied. The pension fund was her only source of income and her saving grace.

Post this incident, peculiar rituals and the arrival of bizarre-looking men were a norm in the house. Every time she tried to sleep, visuals of disfigured men scared her. Deep within her, she knew it was the dreaded sign of a warning.

Least did he know a simple refusal would steal away her dignity. She was meted with unfair and bitter behavior. Every morning she was greeted with boorish expressions and impolite greetings. She was served nothing but leftovers, sometimes not even that.  The faces that once helped her with utmost cheer and courtesy in the presence of her husband now shone an amalgamation of disrespect and inconsideration.

The plate with leftover food was sometimes flung at her feet, and she was denied entry into the kitchen. The very same place from where she once fed several hungry mouths- both family and strangers was now out of her reach.

The Flee

   As she lay down looking at the ceiling, drifting in and out of afternoon slumber, dreaming about her childhood and her father’s bountiful hunt, she heard a growl from the interior layers of her abdomen. Like that vicious storm that she had learned to suppress over the years, she doused the flames of starvation and made up her mind that she has had enough of it.

The house was empty, as it usually is at this hour of the noon when a blanket of silence descended on the village. She made her way through the valley to the nearest bus stop.

When she landed at her daughter’s house, much to the bewilderment of her child and the exhilaration of her grandchildren, she swallowed her lament and all the anguish and soaked in all the love.  She failed to realize all those years of subdued outrage was bubbling inside her.

The Despicable Return

  With weakness consuming her, she had no energy for hate. As the clock ticked, rather peacefully in this new place, she made herself useful by assisting in the household chores. Then one frosty morning, she puked the remains in her stomach and saw traces of the vital red fluid in it. Strangely at that instant, she knew her time was up.

Days passed, people visited her often, and the bitter taste of the medicines lingered in her mouth all the time. She was grateful for the friendship she had built over the years and the rapport she shared with the people of the village.

Then one fateful morning, as much as she tried to open her eyes, she couldn’t. She heard voices buzzing around her. She could only partly move her lips. She heard her daughter and grand-daughter call out. She opened her eyes to look at their faces- but couldn’t keep them open for more than a few seconds. They were forced shut soon.

She sensed movement. Was she floating? It felt like someone had just scooped her. Then, there were noises of vehicles passing on a busy road, and people crying around her. She slowly drifted back to a sweet dream.

The Vengeful Flame

   She opened her eyes because the dingy smell was suffocating her. Least did she expect that her end would happen here, the very same place she ran away from.  Through her half-opened eyes, she saw faces all around her, the ones that mattered the most- her sisters, daughters, and grand-daughters. She saw their moist eyes. ‘Your duty has been done, dear ones. Send me away with smiles; the curves that raised my spirits all my life’, she wanted to say. But, her tongue wouldn’t function.

She spent the next 48 hours spitting all kinds of liquid that were forced into her mouth and occasionally throwing spiteful remarks at the people whose sight sent a chill down her spine. It was increasingly difficult to believe that the one she protected in her womb, a human that came to life from within her was capable of such atrocities.

She wanted to yell, to scream at her son, his wife, her other sons who were spectators and curse them with all her might. But now she lacked the vigor to fight, for she had spent every unit of her strength in making their lives better. She ingested her fury one last time.

There it lay the dark tunnel, the final path of her journey. All of her memories are now history. As she floated past the threshold, she could not look back. For the last breath from within the realms of the bronchi imported with a mighty force all of the doused flames that were now draconian. The blaze would soon turn into ashes everything she called her own and everything she took pride in. The fire would stand testimony to the wrath that was buried within her. She floated away with no regrets and no desire.

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What is Truth?

What is Truth?

For any coastal town, the monsoon rains are manna from heaven. The first whiff of the moist wind brings in the life to our precious crops. It is not just the crops; those winds heal our bruised selves, both inside and out after the brutal summer heat.

Monsoon is also the time my wife rejoices the most with every spell of rainfall. In her view, her kitchen garden in the balcony of our apartment is more ‘alive.’  It is amazing what this woman could do with a 400sq.ft balcony space and a set of books on gardening. Monsoons are special to me because of the extensive kappa(tapioca) meals after the yield. And I must say, the magic of her hands are beyond narration.

Monsoon mornings are the time for prolonged reading and unlimited Kattan kappi (black coffee) in glass tumblers that my wife serves with much fuss. To get to that phase of my life, I have decades of drudgery left. If I could get over with these two decades, or maybe three; depends on my capability perhaps.

The world of words

 My life as a journalist came with a fair share of rewards, the biggest one being my life-partner.  It also gave me a sense of empowerment and social responsibility. The life that I have today is the one that I had dreamt of a decade ago.

As the only man in the midst of women in the family (mother, wife and two daughters), I have become more sensitive to their thoughts and needs. Now, all it takes is a change in their eyebrow pattern to understand what goes on in their minds. Each of them has inspired my way with the words, for which I am truly grateful.

My professional life is not as complicated as you think. Correction, my job was not complicated. I had a pleasant journey reporting from the fields- a satisfying one until the world decided to embrace the concept of post-truth. Ever since the growing sense of exasperation within my professional circle has become stronger.

At times I wish I could live in the world of my 6-year old where everything is either black or white. With the emergence of different hues of grey, I do not know what kind of grey portrayal my words disclose. As the lines blur, I find my steady oars slipping from my hands into the water darkened with disinformation and misrepresentation.

I wish facts were as bare as the monsoon winds, as reliable as the assailing showers those winds bring, its impact visible even to the visionless, like the mornings after a heavy tropical thunderstorm.

The Assignment

  On one monsoon morning, when the very kind south-west winds enthralled our town with their gracious dance, I set out to complete my assignment. I was to meet Reshmi at a baker joint; who would later take me to the victim my story was about.

I first met Reshmi through a mutual friend. Reshmi always had a divine aura about her, the kind that made every passer-by look at her in awe. For the type of tribulations she had undergone, I always wonder how she maintained her spirits high, all day, every day.

Within her mesmerizing smile, there hid a hint of sadness that glimmered in her eyes, and only those close to her could read it. As we exchange pleasantries and settle down for coffee, she enquires about my work, and I tell her about the frustration in my mind.

‘Well it bothers me too,’ she trails with her radiant smile brightening up the entire room. ‘It is annoying when you spend hours immersed in your morning paper and when you close, you do not know if you have read the right content.’

I prod her to share more of her thoughts, and she begins her sermon, something that I enjoy and yet like to mock.

‘The other day, T, (She always addressed me with the first letter of my last name) we were driving and my 12-year-old despite repeated warnings flung an empty carton onto to the road. This behaviour in spite of me slowing down close to the bin and asking her to get out of the car to discard it.’

I was curious to know where she was arriving.

‘It was not a big crime by Indian standards,’ she continued. ‘But if someone were to question her, she would blame the wind.’

‘Sorry,’ I say.

‘It is a scenario in which she could say that she had taken care to dispose the carton with care and yet it landed on the road with a strong wind.’

‘So?’ I ask, a little perplexed.

‘We are a society of, well as my 12-year-old puts it, losers. We have failed at multiple levels and hence the blame game. Well, in my opinion, the truth is not a prism. You cannot have multitude angels and myriad hues.’

I couldn’t say I agreed with her, but let her continue.

‘Well, in yesterday’s incident, I failed as a parent to correct my daughter, and my daughter failed as a citizen to keep her streets clean. Yet, we both complain time and again about our inefficient municipal workers and curse them to hell when they go on a strike’.

‘It is a similar scenario everywhere, don’t you think,’ she continues without waiting for my response. ‘From the sweeper who does a shabby work to the ward representative who is immune to erroneous work, we have all failed.’

I couldn’t help but agree with what she was saying.

She continues between sips of her coffee. ‘From the employee who manipulates his medical bills to the corporate bigwigs who abuse natural water bodies to build structures that smear our beautiful skyline, we have all failed.’

‘From the greedy vendor who uses Feviryl as a substitute for milk and sells the chemical- laden tea to children,  to the governments that sells perennial rivers to the Cola companies, we are a society of collective failure headed towards collapse.’

‘Do you get me, T? The more complex our lies get, the more variation there is to reality and for that matter, even validity. To put it in your style, the more the vicious roots of dishonesty spreads, the more alternatives there are to the hues of grey.’

While I let that thought sink in, she wipes her mouth with a tissue. ‘Brace yourself, brother, the victim you are about to meet is in bad shape.’

As we step out, the storm clouds darken overhead, and the dense winds strangulate our respiratory tract. Praying for quick relief, we run to our cars.

The Unwritten Reply

The Unwritten Reply

It was a beautiful spring morning. Aditi was determined to clear the clutter in her study, despite the temptations from her garden that was now in full bloom. Like most other women she knew, she had an urge to declutter every time she had to clear her mind off the needless muddle.

She was also tempted to tend to the shrubs in the garden. The place reserved in her garden for the Matura tea tree has never been blessed. The bush always took life and just when there was a promise of a bloom, something killed the plant. She forgot the number of times she had to uproot the shrub. It killed her every time she did it. The place was large and the conditions favorable, but the plant probably was long dead internally, like her.

This time she had planted it in a small patch of soil right outside of her bedroom. ‘The place is too small, and there is no hope for nutrition there. That patch is polluted with concrete dust’, her father had warned. Nevertheless, her precious Avarampoo shrub gave the promise of blossom, and she felt it had found its home.  However, she had not seen it in the last week that she was away. When she had enquired her mother about the plant during one of their phone conversations, all she received was a blatant reply.

She put the garden out of her mind and entered her study. She started with the first rack of her bookshelf. Behind the books on the top shelf lay a beige paper box decorated with shells. She knew what lay inside and was tempted to open it. ‘Later,’ she thought; but soon gave in. She took the box with her and settled on the floor cushion, careful not to disturb the Ikkat patterns on its cover.

She hurriedly let her hands search through the neat stack of letters inside the box. She found the one she was looking for. It was a simple light yellow envelope, now stained and battered from the decades of preservation. She opened it to read the letter for the umpteenth time.

The letter read:

Date: April 2003.

My most beloved Child,

    I hope this letter finds you in the best of health and good spirits. It is increasingly difficult to believe you will be graduating college next year. I do not know though if I would live to see that. My hand shivers constantly and I am writing this letter with the utmost difficulty.

  If there is no further correspondence from my end, know that Nana loves you with all his heart and soul. You gave me a reason to live when I was approaching my twilight years. Yes, there were other grand-children before you, but you were you. You were the only one who sat through when I opened to read a book to you all. You were the only one who was never bored of Mahabharata. You were constantly amazed by the tale.

 I do not know what life has in store for you. I see in you a luminous spark. I wish you find contentment in living, and strength and determination to cross the hurdles that obstruct your path. Always remember my child, no matter what comes in life hold on to your dignity and self-esteem. You have to know that conceit is not a harmful term.  If you face a situation when you have to put your self-respect above everything else, never have second thoughts.

May you find everything your heart wishes for, dear one. You are in my prayers today and forever.

                                                                                  Love and Prayers,                                                                                                                                                      Nanna.  

This was the only letter that Aditi had not replied to. But she read it every time she had to be sure of herself.  She pulled the letter pad from her desk and began to scribble the reply that was long due.

Dearmost Nanna,

   A decade and a half is a very long time to reply to a letter. I write because it is summer and I miss you the most this time of the year.  I miss balancing on your shoulder while trying to pick mangoes in our backyard. I miss falling asleep on your shoulders, and I miss our dinner table conversations.

 I also write because nobody is ready to listen. There is not a single human who is willing to see me as I am. They either sympathize or dismiss me as impulsive and bullheaded.

 All along, I knew marriage was not my cup of tea. I was a fiercely self-reliant soul, and I did not see myself living in harmony with a stranger that I had never met until a year before we were destined to live our lives together. Yet, I obliged.

 I thought I could sail through the storms that were aplenty. As I tackled one high-tide, the other one emerged, stronger and fiercer. Yet, I swam with the tide.

 It was idiotic of my family to believe that a lovebird could come out of a vulture’s stick nest or crevice. My life might have been destined with an Agapornis; nevertheless, the loving bird was groomed by a deadly vulture. How can a lovebird be any different when it is nursed by a vulture? I lived in a dark, unkempt cave of those birds that feasted on the living and sometimes took me for a prey. Yet I made room while offering myself.

The birth of the twins brought-in all the light I needed within the dark cave. Least did I know, my light would kindle the worst kinds of resent in the Dowager (A demon of a woman). Through most of my postpartum days, I went to bed while the acids in my stomach consumed me. Yet, I rolled with it.

I stood up to defend myself on several occasions, only to be accursed and tagged as hot-blooded and hasty. Yet, I put myself out.

True, my ex-spouse was not an alcoholic, nor a smoker. I was never assaulted physically, ever. But the wounds my mind endured are deep and intolerable. I am still healing, and I have a long way to go. Yet, I tolerated.

My palatial mansion was rather a den that longed for some light. My luxury car only wanted a companion and nothing else. My glittery jewellery longed for some honest smiles. The more I enthralled in opulence, the more lonesome I became. Yet, I fit-in.

As the girls grew, I knew I did not want them to become desolate beings. I wanted them to be the woman that Nanni was- confident, independent, strong-willed, resilient and joyful. I knew that a den is the last place to look for joy and optimism.

 Together we walked out, one beautiful morning tackling the attacks from the beast. Yes, we have scars for life. But, they are the lessons we will carry onto eternity.

  As you would say ‘Conceit is the quicksand of success.’ I do not know in the future, but it helped me overcome an enormous demon.                                                     

                                                                                   Yours (no more in distress),                                                                                                                                                     Aditi.

As she opened the window of the study, the bright, glowing buds of the Matura tea tree spread their radiance as the grey clouds converged.

Her Contradictory Confidante

Her Contradictory Confidante

It was meant to be a bright day; at least that was what Meenakshi thought. She hates it when all the intensity of the bright star and warmth tuck away within the fluff of the grey stratus. Or was it cumulus? Ah!  Those degrading neurons! At least they have spared her memory.

It was that time of the year she nurtured fenugreek in her backyard, and she hates it when the daylight fades into the cirrus. Yes, cirrus it is! Probably her neurons haven’t withered. If there is one thing she has learnt in all these decades of her inhabitance, it is that you never know when the dark horizon would transform into hues of delightful red and tangerine.

She hoped she wouldn’t see another season of cankered tomatoes. Canker, rots… her mind eventually turns its focus on the man who lay on the bed at the corner of the room. She had walked miles to visit him today. ‘Gosh, You idiot! What kind of a demon took possession of you all these years?’ She mumbled. He smiled through his closed eyelids. The curve was kind of an involuntary response every time he heard her voice, even if it was an echo across the field with shoulder-high maize crops.

The colour of the man

    For the longest period of her life, Meenakshi’s nightmare was the red rot. Slowly and unsuspectingly the germ would creep into a corner of her tea plantation. And then like wildfire, it would engulf the entire stretch of carefully tended shrubs in one wild stroke. That meant all those months of hard work would end up down the drain.

She wondered what kind of rot had engulfed this man who lay still in the bed. It was definitely a red one she was sure- the colour of his rage.  As she sat there by his bedside, she forced herself to stroke the tuft of his soft grey curls every now and then. She reminded herself that back in the day when she knew him well… Knew him well? Was that all? She shook her head sluggishly. Back in the day, when she considered him an extension of her soul, his spirit had just one colour- pure white. Unblotted and perfect white- That was the Dhurya she knew.

Dhurya

    This almost lifeless man was once a mighty being. A man with a demeanour as majestic as the mountains they both called home. A man whose spirits was as gentle as the afternoon mountain breeze. He was at times coy; mostly amiable, but always with a genuine smile- the curve that caused a hollow on the exteriors of his buccinators. A man with a spotless mind; driven by his aspirations. A man who could handle any precarious circumstance with his characteristic savoir-faire. A man of few words, her D was an epitome of benevolence.   

   She cannot recollect how and when she first met Dhurya. Seven decades is a long time. It seemed like another life, another world. What she remembered though was in those initial days, she always recognized him with his rhinorrhoea, a characteristic that stayed with him through all seasons.

Those germinal years of their relationship

     Dhurya’s native hamlet is Meenakshi’s maternal home. In fact, it was the only place she called home as she grew up with her maternal grandparents. They both attended the local school, the best in the neighborhood and their friendship grew while competing with each other for the top spot in the class.

All through their days in the classroom, they helped each other grab the number one spot and the position of the topper always oscillated between the two. And in a jiffy, ten years had passed. Even throughout her adolescence, they had not sidestepped their friendship. The memory of the day she explained the changes her body had undergone and the pain that came with it was still vivid.

After ten years of life within the classroom walls, they were both confined to working with the rich laterite in the sloppy terrains that bordered their hamlet. In those days of tilling and sowing they had always longed to cross the hill on the eastern end of their village- for beyond that slope lay opportunities aplenty.

Dhurya’s father did not have the resources to put him through university. Though Meenakshi’s father had the resources, she carried with her the curse of the gender. As per her father’s dreadful fear, if she were to graduate, she would remain a lone woman all her life.

Desires – Some fulfilled, some abandoned

   ‘Now that my destiny is set, I know what I want’ said Dhurya one pleasant spring afternoon over their lunch, as they sat perched on the rock.  ‘What is that?’ said Meenakshi as she split the millet ball into equal halves.  ‘I know I cannot cross that hill and return as an executive or bureaucrat. But I can buy that hill and the one beyond and the one beyond.’

‘Say something’ he continued as she carefully poured black coffee from the tall yellow flask into the two steel mugs. ‘I sincerely hope and pray that you will,’ said Meenakshi. ‘Gosh! Too much jaggery; again!’ he quipped. She smiled and winked in response.

Years flew, and it was time for Meenakshi to return to her paternal home. Dhurya knew that he would miss her incessant chatter and her vivacious smile. He also knew that she would leave a void that could never be filled. What he didn’t realize though was that the vacuum would only get bigger by the passing day.

Wedding Bells

   Soon Meenakshi’s big day arrived. She was set to marry an administrative official, just as she had hoped. ‘Not someone who depended on the soil, Dhurya,’ she would say quite often when asked about her intentions. She would also add, ‘The field is my territory, I cannot have a man there.’

On the day of the ceremony, as Dhurya saw Meenakshi glow from a distance, all he could think of was the contentment she bought into his life and the kind of prospects this woman could have had. As he walked back home, Dhurya realized he would never have a companion as valuable.

Seasons passed by. Their conversations were reduced to just exchange of pleasantries during common gatherings. On the rarest of occasions, they would settle for a chat that would eventually be wound-up hastily.

In years that followed, Dhurya saw some progress for the years of extreme drudgery. He was able to purchase a hectare of a fertile patch. Meenakshi hears of his progress and the occasional setbacks from family and friends as she could hardly venture outdoors with the kids; now two in number.

Another Wedding – countless emotions

   It was an unusually warm afternoon, and the kids were asleep, and Meenakshi sat down to clean the harvested millets. Just then, she saw her cousin Rukmani head towards her home.  ‘Did you know that Dhurya is engaged to marry Devi?’ she blurted, still gasping for her breath.

‘Who’s Devi?’ quizzed Meenakshi.

‘Don’t you know Devi? The beautiful daughter of the bigwig who owns the factory in the valley.’

‘Goodness Gracious! I am thrilled for him!’, exclaims Meenakshi.

Rukmani’s perturbed face conveyed untold emotions that Meenakshi decided to ignore.

The day of the wedding soon arrived. The celebrations were an intimate affair with just the closest family members. The bride with all her beauteous radiance was nothing short of an impeccable sculpture. As Meenakshi exchanged smiles with Dhurya from across the huddled room, least did she know that this would be their last heartfelt interaction.

Seasons Change

   Many winters passed-by. Some monsoons were kind, and others were not. The rich laterite blessed the small population of the village on some occasions and failed on the others. Yet, days moved on. But they lived with the hope that there was always another summer and who knows what bounty the clouds could bring at the end of the hot season.

Winters were a laid-back affair in their world. Days started late and ended soon. It was also the season they all longed for. Despite the bitter fog and brutal northern winds, their wearied muscles had the luxury of staying idle.

On one intensely frosty winter morning, Meenakshi heard a knock on her door, which grew fierce in a matter of seconds. It was Rukmani, again. With eyes barely open, Meenakshi yells ‘Oh Woman! What is the need….. ?’

‘Devi is no more.’ Rukmani blurts; her cry completely devoid of empathy.

As they spread the mat on the floor, adjacent to the fire oven, with the aroma of black coffee spreading to the others asleep in the house, Meenakshi finally speaks up, ‘How?’

‘In her sleep. Nobody knows the reason.’

‘We will leave once the kids are off to school.’

   Into the Abyss

   ‘You would never know the value of companionship until you reap the benefits, Meen, just the way you wouldn’t understand the quality of manure until harvest,’ she still remembered that conversation with Dhurya from many winters ago when they walked back to their homes up the sturdy path. He was a man with a deep sense of attachment.  How would she face him now?

She did not get a glimpse of his grief-stricken face at the funeral. It took hours to flounder past the sea of people to pay her final respects. The scene remained the same even during the post-funeral formalities.

It was the most extreme form of torment to see the once majestic man bow his head to the ground, almost crumbled like the depleted muck beneath his sturdy feet. After the formalities and rituals on that misty morning, with a fuzzy vision of what lay ahead, Meenakshi walked back home.

Her innumerable attempts to meet Dhurya and talk to him had gone in vain.

The Herald From Across the four hills

At the onset of summer, the villages on the hills first prepare their herd for the heat. The rituals last about six hours, and it involves bathing the cattle in the pristine waters of the stream that borders their village. On that particular day and the days that followed, the burble of the silver waters muttered Dhurya’s tales of isolation and self-devastation

‘He does not speak to a soul.’

‘He is extremely stern with the kids. They cry all day and night of fear.’

‘He is enraged all the time, for no apparent reason.’

The whispers never stopped. They echoed across the temple walls and the walls of the community hall.

The winds that accompanied nightfall conveyed stories of his arrogance. The defaming sough never did stop.

‘Last week he lashed at poor Aunt Shantha for dropping by his house. He does not entertain visitors.’

‘Devi’s relatives received an earful when they went to visit the kids.’

‘ Just the other day, Arjun was accursed for greeting him in the morning.’

‘He must be possessed!’

On some rare occasions, the sound of the hooves of the palfreys belonging to the colonial masters communicated the stories of his accomplishments which bought Meenakshi some solace.

‘ Heard? Last week, Dhurya registered close to 8 hectares of the fertile patch by the stream.’

‘The entire slope of Brook’s hill, close to 16 hectares of cultivable land is now his.’

‘He works for more than 12 hours’.

‘The first in town to cross the 50-hectare mark. What greed!’

‘He is also in talks for another 30 acres around the forest. Will he ever stop?’

The Meeting

    Meenakshi now learnt of all of Dhurya’s milestones and his lowering integrity from across the three hills that separated them, almost every other week. Those tarnishing remarks in the form of verbal scourge meant to hit Dhurya always bruised her internally, but she always pleaded for his well-being with the Gods and believed that that the malignant spirit would soon leave his body.

One autumn morning, when the crowds had assembled in the village at a funeral of a respected septuagenarian, Meenakshi saw a man seated away from the group, in solitude, looking in the direction of her house. His toiled physique may have bulked-up over the years, but from the poise, she knew who he was.

She had walked up to him, thrilled yet reluctant while he sat his back faced to her. He turned around to the very familiar sound of her tread and at once leapt to his feet.

No matter how her memories fail her; Meenakshi would never forget that day. As they held each other’s gaze for a brief moment, the grey clouds threatened overhead, and she had swallowed a soft sob. His moist eyes had conveyed a billion emotions that his stoic expressions couldn’t.

After minutes of staring into each other’s face, Dhurya finally spoke: ‘I went far and wide in search of light, Meen. But all the while I had failed to realize that I had found it ages ago within your shadow’.

Their brief meeting had only lasted as long as a few gushes of the wind that announced rainstorm, but for Meenakshi, it was a moment she had waited for all eternity.

The Colours of Farewell

   Words! If only the right ones were spoken at the right moment.

As she leaned on the chill wall, recollecting all these years that passed by in a flash, she smiles at the familiar being, now motionless by her side, and strokes his curls, one last time.

As the intervals between his breaths widen, Meenakshi bends down to his ears to utter what she had meant to.

You were and still are the voice of my conscience, D. You will always be– telling me right from wrong and pushing me to aspire for more.’

As she walks out, she stands at his gate enthralled at the sight of the colours of twilight. She was right; you may never know when the grey clouds would clear up to reveal the myriad shades of the bewitching evening skies.

As for Dhurya, the name that instantly and involuntarily sets a curve on her lips; he will always be the first realm of sunlight on a frosty winter morning, bringing along light, warmth, and hope, most of all- Hope.

The Bane of the Womb

The Bane of the Womb

Yet another dinner table conversation in our home:

‘But he spoke to me first, Amma,’ my five-year-old quips. I retort with my usual advice, warning her of the probable adversaries. ‘This will be the last time you speak to a stranger,’ I warn her. As I say this, there isn’t a speck of guilt within me that I am inculcating hatred in the little mind. I am aware that instilling panic is the last duty of a responsible mother.

Like many other mothers in my part of the world, I have no choice. Bringing a girl child into a misogynistic and pessimistic world and trying to protect her is no mean task. To activate the subdued fear alarm in mind, there is some incident you read, way too often.

Can they overcome?

Every time I read about the atrocities meted to the little girls, my thoughts are always with the mother. Can anything on earth be more horrendous than to see your child face barbarity and yet feel helpless about it? How ludicrous is it to let the law take its own course in this age of extreme malfeasance and extortion?

The young victim might need a lifetime to therapy to rise above the maltreatment. The mother is doomed to live in the shadow of fear. Speaking of therapy, we are aware of the acute shortage of shrinks in our country.

What gives him the courage?

What makes a man think that he could assault a woman (be it a random passerby or kin) and walk away with it? What gives an offender the audacity to cause agony to a woman or a child and cause mental and physical distress? Have we as a society become deplorable and hideous?

What makes a man think that the opposite sex is but a puppet in his hands? This is not a scenario just on the streets; it is prevalent in the vast majority of Indian homes. Why should the woman of the house stay immune to exploitation, injustice and your offensive jeers?

Is chauvinism a piece of wisdom passed on for generations since the late Vedic age? Or was it acquired enlightenment post the Victorian times?  Despite laws and amendments, why is inequality woven into the fabric of our being?

Is Safety of women a myth?

Will women’s safety be brushed aside as a myth? What if the ripples of change spread steadily? What if they lead to rebellion? What if the collective consciousness of the XX bearers result in a revolt? Can we teach our girls to stand-up? Will our biased society let them stand firm on their feet?

Should the caregivers of the girl children live in angst? Will our voices be heard? Will there be an advancement regarding equality? Can the confined minds undergo metamorphosis?

Will our rights be safeguarded? Or should we camouflage ourselves in the bovine skin to protect our dignity?…..

Just a humble lament of a mother raising a daughter.

A Reverie and Memories of Her

A Reverie and Memories of Her

Eighty years is a long time to live. As he sat on the cane chair reminiscing his achievements in the last two decades and the turmoil he faced in the recent past, all he wanted was to enter the dark tunnel and find that bright light. At least, that is how those who had near death experiences described the journey.

Memoir

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. It can evoke the kind of feelings that are hard to construe. He felt her presence in the thick, frosty air he breathed. With the density of her memories and the oxygen almost choking him, how he wished they succeeded.

Like earlier times, it was difficult to bury her vision and thoughts deep within and focus on the task at hand. There was no task, no errands to run and nothing to supervise. He tried to take a walk and reached for his shawl. The paleness of the soft fabric reminded him of her touch.

When the mind’s eye refuses to shut

It was only a vague memory, yet it has haunted him all his life. He remembers the sound of hooves that night and the way he and his siblings were whisked away to her father’s house. He recalls every moment of that fateful sundown hour- her partly opened eyes, the mild curve of her lips and the way she held his hand.

He was carried away shortly, and he never saw her again. Or, did he?

He always dwelled upon her thoughts and sometimes found solace in conjuring up those visions buried deep within the subconscious spirit.

Her dark brown eyes and the way they lit up every time she laughed- which was too often. Her pale pink, Caucasian- like complexion, her soft curls, the tenderness of her touch, her chiseled chin and broad jawline- he was surprised by the mind’s ability to recapture every single detail.

While he looked at the hill eastwards, images of her fetching water in the mud pot conjure up. The whole house was alive in her presence. She would tell him and the siblings endless tales of the woods, spirits, and Gods. Those tales were not fixed in his mind, but the vivid movement of her eyes and her spirited talk were.

In all these years as a father, entrepreneur, and grandfather, every time he felt he was falling into an abyss, it was the feel of her warm embrace that cheered him up. His favorite memory was the walks to the nearby stream, her firm grasp and the way her arm tightened around his wrist every time they stepped into the ankle-deep water.  The vision of both their feet beneath the crystal clear bubbles was still lucid.

Pie in the sky

It was almost near, he could feel it. But all he longed for was those piggy-back rides, the herbal scent of her hair, a place on her lap, the feel of her strong grasp, to rest on her shoulders and to call her Amma (Mother) one last time. Just One Last Time.

A Tot Gives a Lesson in Perseverance

A Tot Gives a Lesson in Perseverance

It was a warm and sultry monsoon morning in Chennai. A sleepy suburban locality abundant in precious flora was bustling with vehicles, the numbers far too many for a Sunday morning. A Sports event attracted the sudden hustle.

This event was not a regular one. The oldest participant in the event was not more than five years old, and the youngest was barely three. After the regular inauguration and performances, it was time for the races. The competitions were carefully crafted so that they are appropriate for the tiny feet and do not harm the developing muscle.

This contest was one with a difference. There was no podium wins, and the winners were not announced. Every child went home a winner. It was just another regular event until little Miss.N stepped on the track for her race.

Like every other child, the four-year old N couldn’t contain her excitement when she was made to stand at the start of the 30-meter track. With dark hair curling close to her jawbone, a cherubic face and a radiant smile, she was a sight to behold.

Once they were motioned to start, N and her friends hurriedly dragged a coconut with the help of a hula hoop across the track. They had to walk backward, pulling the coconut all the way to the finish line. There was anxiety in the air, but these tots were determined.

It was not a simple task considering the undulating terrain, the muddy track, and the penetrating heat. Some kids finished the race in a few minutes, and some took longer. When all of the others had completed, N had barely moved ten meters from the start.

What followed next is something all those who witnessed it would remember for a lifetime. N entirely focused on the coconut and the hoop, dragged the nut very carefully so as to not let it slip away.

As the cheers grew louder, N was more determined. Not once did she lift her head to look how far she has come nor did she look around to assess the distance left. Slowly and steadily, ignorant of the blaring music and the resounding cries of encouragement, she moved towards the finish line, her valor rising with every step.

It took her close to 11 minutes to reach the other end of the 30-meter track. As she halted at the end, (carefully watched over by her teachers), the 400 odd spectators gathered at the venue rose to their feet.

With her head held high and flushed cheeks, clinging on to her mentor, N walked back to the rest area. As she walked, the thundering applause grew louder and so did the whistles creating a melodious cacophony. While some eyes turned moist, others stared in awe.

Every onlooker assembled there witnessed a tale of diligence and persistence in that short span of time. A four-year-old taught the others well ahead of her in The Race of Life what it means to stay focused, resolute, and tenacious. In the end what matters the most is that you have a purpose and finish the race with dignity.

“The Child’s way of doing things has been for us an inexhaustible fountain of revelations” – Maria Montessori