Destiny Sunday, Jun 22 2008 

They lay there, one on top of another, squeezing into the little place not fighting over space. Some had the luxury of a cover, but most were left open to the elements. They were all dirty, dust from the street forming a fine layer on their glossy skins marred only by the dried up residual gum – one of the last reminders of where they came from, how they were ripped out from their safe cocoons amid all the green and brown.

Every now and then, one of them would leave, never to return. They never protested. The young ones tried to hide below when they sensed danger, but the wise old ones knew that when it was time to go, it was time to go.

When it was time to go, it was time to go fulfill their destiny.

Their destiny to be eaten. After all, what were mangoes for?

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Past and Present Friday, Feb 22 2008 

She heard the words in her mind, over and over again –

“What was the current role you’re playing?”

It hurt. Like the sound of nails scraping over a blackboard. The word standing out like a sore thumb. An ugly abominable little thing, that just won’t go away from her head.

“What was the current role you’re playing?”

And to know that it came out of the mouth of someone whom she thought very high of. Ah, the disappointment that comes with a crashed impression.

She wanted to give vent to her emotions, to shout out loud what was running in her head all morning, all evening. She ran into the restroom and bolted the door behind her.

And she finally shouted –

“LEARN YOUR GRAMMAR, YOU FREAKIN’ MORON!”

The Prison Friday, Jan 4 2008 

It was a crisp, winter morning; you could bite the air and hear it crumble into a dozen shards, like crystal breaking. The sun hadn’t put in an appearance yet, but there was hope of light upon the pale orange horizon. She stepped on the lawn and felt the wet grass crunch beneath her. It felt liberating to be out in the open, open to the elements, to wonder and gaze upon the beauty that only a sunrise can bring. She had missed it, she realized then.

What if the sun decided not to rise one fine day, she mused, smiling to herself. Wouldn’t the world miss the morning, then? Imagine what chaos would arise all around! People would be confused and afraid, doomsday conspiracies would abound and some fake spiritual leader somewhere would go, ‘I told you so’. The last bit made her laugh, and she was glad her mind was still in working order. She walked to the barb-wired fence, looking out into the deep valley. The security guard nodded, a wordless ‘Good Morning’ passing between prisoner and keeper.

She placed her hands on the cold wire of the fence and felt the dew tickle her palms.

“Please move away from the fence, Ma’am. Thank you.”

The guard had moved a step from his usual place, towards her. She turned around to him and smiled. And continued leaning onto the fence.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. Please stand back.”

It was funny how formal he was being. She wondered what stopped him from just shouting, ‘Get outta there, you freak!’. Must be the uniform. She also realized she was enjoying this little rebellion of sorts.

“And what if I don’t move back? You’ll shoot me?”

He laughed. “No, Ma’am. ‘Fraid I can’t do that either. Please take your hands off the fence, it’s not safe to be that close.”

He had moved closer to where she was standing. He was cute! And he wore no wedding ring!

“You know what? You’re jus’ gonna hafta shoot me! I’m not takin’ my hands off the fence.” And she turned back towards the valley.

Her heart was hammering in her chest and her ears felt hot. She was flirting with him! She didn’t know what made her say it, and it was strangely exhilirating as if she was back in her high school, trying to flirt with the school football captain (who, in her friend’s words, was ‘way out of her league’).

She caught a whiff of his cologne, and it gave her goosebumps. He was standing right near her, baton in hand and an amused look on his face. His name tag read ‘Ken’. Nice name, she thought, it would go well with her name. Rebecca Ken.

“Ma’am, I’m going to take you to that bench over there now. It’s ok, you don’t have to be afraid. I think you’ll like the view from there.”

She resolutely kept looking at the valley, until she felt his hand on her arm.

“This way please, Ma’am.”

She let herself be walked to the little wooden bench in the garden. His hand felt good, warm and caring, she imagined. The bench was covered in a light dew and she sat down on one end, hoping he took the hint to sit next to her for sometime.

“Are you feelin’ ok, Ma’am?”. His hand was now resting lightly on her shoulder.

She nodded, smiling up at him.

“You take care now, Ma’am, ok? If there’s anything you need, I’m right there by the side gate, just holler. Ok? You have a good day now.”

She saw him walk back to his post, and unbeknownst to her, a tear trickled down her cheek. Maybe this was the new beginning her therapist was talking about yesterday. Maybe she could come back here tomorrow at the same time to see him. Maybe he’ll ask her out some day. She walked back into the hallway and as the door closed behind her, she felt a new door open in her life. She would be Rebecca Ken.

“Ken! Hey there bro!”

“Chuck, you son of a devil! You’re late for your shift man! I froze my ass sittin’ here all night!”

“Yeah yeah yeah. Ev’rything awright then?”

“The hell it is! #325 almost jumped off the fence here. What a nutjob, man. Wouldn’t come off till I shot her! Aw’most called for backup there. Christ, these crazies..!”

The Room (contd.) Thursday, Dec 13 2007 

(Continued from here) 

There’s a room in my house where no one goes. It’s dark and musty smelling inside, I think. Sometimes I get a feeling I’ve been inside, but then it could’ve been a dream. I dream a lot these days, mostly about my family and friends. But I know they are just dreams.

Everyone was asleep that night, when I placed the ladder against the house right beneath the broken window. Which broken window, you ask? You know which window. The one in the room, the room where no one goes. There was a chilly wind blowing and I’d left my sweater back on my bed. I thought of my bed and how nice it would be to be in there, between the covers, planning about getting into this room rather than standing in the garden and actually trying to get into the room. I climbed the ladder and reached the window after what seemed like an hour, when really it was only 10 minutes.

I remember it was dark inside. The wind made a little whoosh when it passed through the hole in the broken pane. I took my flashlight and beamed it inside.

The light caught a chair in the middle of the room, lying on its side like someone knocked it over in a hurry. It looked like Grandpa’s rocking chair, only it had four sturdy legs instead of a rocker. I moved the light around to see what else was in there – maybe the ball that broke the pane was lying around. But no. It wasn’t there. Nothing was there but the chair. So everyone in the house is scared about a stupid chair? I felt a laugh rising up inside my throat. Until I saw the rope.

It was a rope, yes, but what was chilling was the fact that it was a noose. Hanging from the ceiling, waving gently in the light breeze, like a cradle rocking a baby. By then my hand was shivering and it was becoming very uncomfortable standing on the ladder – I had to decide then if I should go inside or not.

I pushed the window open and climbed inside. The floor was icy cold and dusty. I imagined how Mother would lose her cool if she saw this much dust anywhere in the house. But they still never go into this room. No one does. No one but me.

The chair was still there and so was the noose. The rope, I mean. It scares me to call it a noose. I went closer to the chair and looked up to look at the rope properly. It looked strangely new. Like everything but the rope was touched by time. Like the rope alone escaped it and the ruin that comes with it. I pulled the chair upright and stood on it. The noose began exactly at my head and ended somewhere below my chin.

The only thing I remember after that is hearing the chair fall down.

——————————————————————————————

Dear Jerry,

I miss you buddy.

My mum said I could write to you since I did not get to say goodbye and she will ask your mum to place this note with you, when they take you away.

I cannot believe that you’re not here anymore. What were you thinking man, actually going inside the room! I thought we were just fooling around with the plans. I would never have let you do it had you told me you meant it, Jer. I blame myself for not knowing you better. Sorry man!

So now you get to jam with the angels, huh? Boy am I gonna miss you! And if you see Abe Lincoln, tell him I hate him for doing all those great things and getting into my history textbook. I wish you were around to help me with this stupid essay, man.

You’ll always be my best bud, Jer. You take care, ok?

Your best friend,
Matt.

The Room Saturday, Dec 8 2007 

There’s a room in our house where no one goes. Fairly small, with a heavy wooden door that looks centuries old. Maybe if I looked closely enough I might even find characters from an extinct language, the things archaeologists only find in historic ruins or some such places. It’s a mystery, this room, that no one goes to. There are cobwebs around the huge iron padlock and no one knows where the key is. Not even Grandpa. He doesn’t like talking about the room, it makes him nervous and he starts mumbling something about the weather or the garden. We don’t have a garden, you see.

I have spent many summers drawing up elaborate plans to get inside the room. We are forbidden to talk about it or go near it, you know. My brother and I, both. My brother is as eager as me to know what’s inside, but he’s more eager about girls. Girls are horrible, I don’t talk to them. My best friend, Matt, doesn’t like girls either. That’s probably why we’re best friends. He helps me out with the plans these days, but I know it doesn’t mean as much to him as it means to me. I mean, its MY house and there is a room in MY house where no one goes.

One summer, we were repainting the house and I heard Father tell the painters to leave the room and paint the rest of the house. Why wouldn’t they paint that room? That day, when we were driving down to the local farmers’ market, I asked Father about the room. He braked so hard, I hit my head on the dashboard in-spite of the seat belt. I never brought up the room with him again. That day was the one time I saw fear in Father’s eyes. I asked Mother about it when we got home. There was an audible gasp and she dropped the cup she was holding. I was asked to go to my room and not come down till dinner time. Not even for my favorite show on TV! I wonder what made her so mad.

It made me very curious indeed, the room. The room that no one goes to. The room that no one talks about. The room that I think about all the time.

The plan I made last night is perfect. I found a way to unlock the broom-shed in the backyard, where Father keeps the ladder. When everyone is asleep tonight, I will use the ladder to reach up to the window of the room. There is a small hole in the windowpane on one side, like the hole a ball makes when it hits a window. I wonder who broke that pane. Maybe the ball that made it is still inside the room. I’ll look for it when I go inside.

I just have to wait now, till everyone falls asleep. And then I’ll enter that room. The room where no one goes. The one with the broken window and the big padlock. It doesn’t scare me, that room. Does it scare you?

The last letter Friday, Aug 17 2007 

Dear M,

I’m deeply sorry for your loss, I know how much she meant to you. I can see how surreal all this seems, this undisturbed flow of life around us when she’s not here anymore. I wish the world would stop moving for a while, as if the end of her lifeforce robbed something off this earth. She was precious to all of us, she will always be. I can still see her smile when I close my eyes.

It’s very unfair, M, the way she was snatched away from us. And her violent end only makes it all the more painful. M, would it be less painful if I told you that she didn’t suffer much?

It was quick, M. You know I cannot see people suffering. I made sure it was as easy for her as possible. I think I even saw her smile once before she closed her eyes for the last time.

But you see, I had to do it. You both were a tad too perfect with each other, M. And you know how much I love you. I always have.

I love you, M. I’m sorry, but I saw no other way. It was time for her to leave.

I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me, M. After all, I did it for you. For us.

Forever yours,
S.

The Last Time Wednesday, Jul 4 2007 

It didn’t hurt anymore – she’d gotten used to it. The screams just died in her throat these days. All that remained was this constant ache in her heart. And a sense of betrayal that refused to die down no matter how much her mind thought otherwise. He had loved her. She was conscious of the past tense every time that sentence came up. Had loved her. She doubted if there was any left now. She had always believed that a heart that loved cannot hate. If hate comes in, love tiptoes away. Unheard, unseen, but felt by the heart. But she stayed on because she still loved him. Inspite of everything, she did. And she truly believed that love conquers all and giving up was not something she could ever do. But today, she was also conscious of the foreboding in her heart that something was to go wrong. Very wrong.

He hated himself. Not her, but himself. He hated his dependence on alcohol. He hated himself everytime he hurt her, physically or otherwise. He longed for those wonderful times they had spent with each other when he was not the monster he was now. The laughs, the long never ending sweet nothings…her smile! He could not remember the last time he had seen her smile, the smile he had loved more than anything else about her. Now all he found were tears. And fear! There was always a fear in her eyes. He sometimes wished she wouldn’t take all that he did and just leave. But she never let go. He loved her more for that but, somehow, that could never stop him from having that one last drink.

They found their bodies the next morning. She lay crumpled at the foot of the bed, the bedstead streaked crimson – crimson like the floor beneath her. His body was hanging from a rope tied to the ceiling fan – looking down at her, asking for her forgiveness one last time and loving her more than ever.

One Friday, Jun 29 2007 

He held the little white marble statue in his hands. Did he just imagine it or did the Buddha really seem enlightened? He smiled and put the statue back on the bookshelf, from where he had picked it up. He let his eyes run along the spines of the numerous books stacked up in the shelf. My my, she did read a lot, he thought to himself.

He caught sight of a leather bound edition of the Mahabharatha, the golden letters shimmering in the light. With a questioning look on his face, he pulled it out and turned to the page that was bookmarked. He read out the first few lines aloud –

Na vaasudeva bhaktanaam ashubham vidyate kwachit |
Janmamrityujaravyadhi bhayam naivopajaayathe ||

He remembered the words from his grandmother’s shlokam recitals every evening. He’d always liked that verse, it made him feel protected and safe.

“Do you know what it means?”

He turned sharply at the voice behind him. He didn’t know how long she’d been standing there watching him. His expression might’ve been bordering on what a monkey would look like with it’s hand in the cookie jar, for she laughed. Damn, she was beautiful. And he was so utterly smitten.

“No, I don’t know what this means.”, he lied.

“Hmmm..so now you’re testing me on my knowledge, eh? You do realize you’re bad at lying?”

“C’mon! Tell me what it means. I’d love to hear a non-Hindu’s version of the Mahabharatha.”

“Ok..lemme show you what it means.”

She came to the bookshelf and pulled out another leather bound book. She appeared very familiar with the book for she went straight to the end, without bothering with the Contents or the Index. She found what she was looking for, and she handed the book to him pointing out the lines she had in mind.

He found himself holding a Bible.

“So the Bible has translations of the Mahabharatha? Wow, I did not see this coming!”

“Ok, stop being sarcastic and read the 4th verse in Chapter 21, will you?”

He sighed deeply, and read, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

He read the lines to himself again, and let the meaning sink in. And he looked up to see her smiling, smug in the realization that she just went one up on him.

“Great! When I try to convince my highly orthodox parents to let me marry a Roman Catholic girl like you, I should probably lead with this.”, he said, hugging her.

Life, withered. Tuesday, Jun 26 2007 

The yellowing paper,
the frayed edges
fighting to hold the words together –
quite like her, one would think.
The shrivelling body,
faltering limbs
fighting to hold the memories
from disappearing
into the vast nothingness that had become her life.

The Banyan Tree Friday, Jun 15 2007 

The tree was haunted. It was the dumping ground of embittered souls that hadn’t attained salvation. Souls like Chettiyaramma’s daughter Parvati, who killed herself when she failed in her tenth class exams. Like Manoj who was murdered in his sleep by the goons from the neighboring village. They were all there, in that banyan tree. Safe in its wizened old trunk, their hands entwined with the hanging roots. Sometimes one could even find their belongings scattered around – the other day, little Murugan found a gold nose pin that had belonged to Shailaja. Poor Shailaja, she was raped and murdered by those city dwellers who had come to the village for a cinema shooting. But then it’s not so bad, you know. A week ago, exactly 13 days after Shailaja akka’s cremation, one of those city guys was found dead under this same banyan tree. The village health officer said he had some heart problem. But we all know that was not why he died. It’s the tree, you know. It’s haunted.

Just yesterday, I was riding on Appa’s cycle on the main road and I hadn’t realized I was getting too close to the tree. The weather was so nice and cloudy and I had just heard my favorite song on the radio in Mani maama’s tea stall. I could see the tree looming to my right, the roots swaying as if in a trance. The souls must be feeling the weather too, I thought. It scared me a bit, so I started pedalling faster to get out of the place before anything happens. And I almost mowed down the Camera Saar from the film company. He did not have his camera today, and he was wearing shorts like me! And I don’t know why he was running so much. But I did like his shoes, they were nice. Did you know that this Saar was one of the suspects of Shailaja akka’s murder? He was. It did not strike me then, but after a few feet when I realized it, I immediately turned back to warn him not to go near the tree. But I stopped – it was none of my business anyway. And what if Shailaja akka’s soul got mad at me for denying her of another kill? (because I was sure he was going to be dead in no time) I got off the cycle and pushed it behind a bush and hid there to see what happened. He was catching his breath standing beneath the tree. The haunted banyan tree.

Dusk had begun to fall and it was getting darker. I was getting impatient, why didn’t Shailaja akka do anything? That man was still there, tying his shoe lace. I was watching the swaying roots, as if trying to catch hold of him in a vice. He was a strong man, but these souls were much stronger – my Paati told me that. The wind was howling and I imagined all those things they showed in the cinema I saw two days back. It scared me, but I was determined to find out what happened. So I waited.

The Camera Saar was still standing beneath the tree and talking to himself. Then I saw the glimmer of his shiny phone. (Magesh anna says they are small phones and we can use it like we use the post office telephone. I dont know how it will work if there are no wires and the circle thing with holes to dial the number.) I was crouched behind the bush and I did not notice my surroundings until I turned back to check on my cycle. In my hurry to hide myself I had parked it almost at the edge of a deep pit. I was not very comfortable doing that with Appa’s cycle. I slowly got up and tried to position it in a better way so it won’t fall over. And just then it happened!

There was a bright shot of lightning and a clap of thunder. I was frightened out of my wits! I didn’t even turn back to see what happened, I scampered onto the cycle and pedalled for dear life! I knew I just had to get home somehow. And then it would all be fine.

I don’t remember how I reached home, but I did. Amma was in a frenzy of worry, and Appa came running out to catch me before I fell from the cycle. I never felt so tired in my limbs before. I blurted out everything I saw to Appa and told him that the Camera Saar would probably be dead by now. They consoled me the way unbelieving parents would console a kid.

But it was ok. They did find the Camera Saar dead this morning. Under the banyan tree. Our school master said he was struck by lightning. But we all know that was not why he died. Shailaja akka had her revenge after all.

It’s the tree, you know. It’s haunted.

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