Pinnacle

There have been times when I have thought,
That this might be the end to all,
I am falling behind the rest of the crowd,
Hold me someone, lest I fall.
Yet somehow, every single time,
I have managed to get up,
Dust off my pants, cover up the bruises,
And run again in the race.

So then what was the point,
Of feeling low at times?
It’s important somehow I think,
To feel low and upset sometimes,
Because that is the only way,
You can try to reach the zenith again,
And touch the pinnacle of happiness.

Well, if that doesn’t make sense,
I do not blame you,
‘Cause I am really sleepy,
And I don’t know what I’m writing.
But this is what I really meant,
That yes, you must, you should,
Be happy and cheerful,
Whenever you can,
But then, you must remember,
Being sad is not that bad,
Did that line rhyme in itself?
I think I’ll grow up to become a poet.

#4 – The Beginning

Sometimes I dreamed about Father. He looked thinner than when I last remember seeing him, and I always had the same dream. He pushing me to and fro on a swing in a lush green meadow on a spring afternoon, and we are both happy and shouting, and suddenly from out of nowhere a riot breaks out, people come towards us holding lathis and guns, and Father standing in front of me, protecting me from all of them, and shouting, “What do you want?” And instead of getting a reply, someone shoots him, and he falls. That was the dream. And the same dream kept on coming every now and then; I did not know why. This had never happened in real life. In real life, Father was quite different. He used to toil hard on the fields and by the time he came back home, he hardly had any energy left to strike a conversation with Mother or me. He used to eat, then take out a bottle of rum from one of his cupboards, drink and go off to sleep. He was very silent at home, no fun and no frolic, unlike the dream. Perhaps the dream was what I really wanted in my real life, only the former part of the dream though.

How I ended up in this city with Aunt and Uncle and Sam is a long story, and it starts way back with my grandmother. Grandma was nearly seventy and she needed treatment for her ailing back. It was not possible where we lived, and so Mother and Father arranged for her trip to the city. Since she was to go alone, and since that was unsafe given the current situations (riots had just broken up in Delhi and a lot of people were being killed unnecessarily, and a lot of trains were being burnt without any reason), my parents decided it would be nice if I could accompany her. Not that I would be of much help, they knew that. But then that was not how it all started. To start would mean to go to the beginning and explain how all of our lives intersected and how I am what I am today. It all started back in 1932 when in a small house in a corner of the world, a baby was born.

In autumn he was born and was a fair lad. A few more autumns came and went by and he struggled to live the way he wanted. For around him were talks of independence and wars. He saw Gandhi walk around, and did really consider him his idol, and in one of those fair summers, he learned how it felt to breathe freely. 15th of August it was and it was 1947, and the British had left India in the hands of Indians and then what we did of that all of us know. He married the prettiest girl in town and they had a gorgeous daughter who married a handsome man and they had a handsome son and thus I opened my eyes to this world. It all seemed distant now, yet to go to the beginning sometimes means to search for one’s roots, search what one actually came here for, and try to live up to that motto once you finally find out your purpose.

And so that was how it all began. My life. And a few years later, so it was that I was transported along with Grandma’s luggage to a posh town, where everything was ten times faster, where breathing required skill, and where being rustic meant you were stupid. Yet it had only started. As Grandma used to say, “Child, this is only the beginning.”

For I Will Walk

For I will walk those paths again,
Only this time you won’t be there,
And can you blame me?
Yes, you could, but deep within,
You’d cry for you know,
How much you’ve wronged me,
Day and night,
And the cycle continues,
A vicious one,
Engulfing one and all into it,
I was probably just another prey,
But you hunted me down well,
And that made all the difference.

For I will walk those paths again,
Though I really don’t know,
Where they will take me,
For the last time I walked,
You had blindfolded me,
And I knew you’d take me right,
That faith, that mistake,
But now I know,
I must go,
Come what may.

For I will walk those paths again,
And hope to find,
Another lost soul,
Looking out to find her way,
And maybe we’d hold hands,
And comfort each other,
For we both know how it feels,
To be stranded in a desert,
Knowing you’ll die soon,
And nonetheless striving,
To see it to its end,
Or at the least reach an oasis,
And that is not tough,
And I promise you,
I can do that.

For I will walk those paths again,
Paths which you can never walk,
For you might know the ways,
But you don’t have the keys,
To the gate that lies,
At the other end,
The gate to solace,
And freedom and happiness.

For you’re a captive,
Of emotions such as hate,
One that’ll pull you back,
Much like a spring,
The more you go,
The harder you come back,
And it serves you right,
For love you I not,
And I pray to the gods,
Those that might listen to me,
That you stay so forever,
And slowly forget that love even exists,
For you are not meant,
To love or be loved.

Call of the Mountains – [4]

Read the previous part in Part 3.

[7]

After a long drive that seemed to go on forever, we finally reached Chandratal. Among lush green fields we walked bare-footed, and shouted loud and clear and there was no reply, for there were only us there. We lied down on the grass now, which was slightly moist with last night’s dew, yet it felt refreshing to lie down, the sun’s rays beaming upon my face, a warmth long wished for, and the breeze slowly making its way across the valley, streaming through my hair, I could have fallen asleep and never got up again. A bit later, we walked down towards the lake. On my left was a cirque, going on for miles and miles. On the right loomed high mountains. And in front stood magnificently the Moon Lake. A crescent shaped lake, half of it reflected green of the mountains and the other half reflected the blue of the sky. It was one of the most picturesque moments I have ever had in my life. It was enthralling to imagine that we would be here the entire day, though I had no clue what we would do, since there was absolutely nothing else to do here. We climbed up a hill and walked down a dale, and then we lay flat for a while again. High above in the sky a lark made rounds, persistent enough, yet never swooping down.

Earphones in my ears, the song now playing was ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin. The guy said, ‘There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold’, and I dreamt of her again. She came ever so frequently in my dreams in this trip. Never had I known that she would overpower my thoughts so much, but there she was again, clinging to my dreams, like a spider to its web. “There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure, ’cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.” As I lay there thinking about the times I had misinterpreted what she said, as she my words, thoughts took shape of reality. It was as if each incident re-enacted itself in my mind, with ever so slightly a change, showing alternate endings. Yet the line that has always gripped me would be, “there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” How many times must I change my road? How many times must I switch between the two alternates, never able to see where it takes me, the end forever taking different forms and figures, such that I must always be in darkness, never knowing which path I should have always stuck to.

We started walking back now. Ahead lay our tents, though we had to look for them awhile. The rest of the day went pretty much uneventful. We had a meagre lunch of rice, pulses and some boiled potatoes. I slept for a while but it was too cold. I came out. My friend had gone down to the river beside. I did not feel like going, not even laze about there. I went and sat in the bigger tent, the one which was warm, but only because the guy constantly burned some coal in there. Already I could see the sun hiding behind the clouds. It would rain soon, I thought. No, the guy in the tent replied. It never rains here. Too cold. Only snows. Great, I thought. That was probably the last thing I wanted on this trip. It had been great till now, but now I was a bit frustrated. Probably it was the lack of communication, perhaps it was just sheer homesickness, or perhaps the wind was too cold and my brain had stopped working. The latter seemed the most plausible, because my head was already bursting, as if someone hammered on it from the inside. I was told it was because at this height, oxygen does not reach the brains sufficiently, causing the excruciating pain and also a numbness. Great again, I thought. Exactly what I needed to top my anxieties.

We also met some other travellers out here. A French who had been here for a couple of days now wanted tips whether to go to Kaza or Kalpa. He had started the trip in the opposite direction, and so we knew what he anticipated and he knew where we were going. He was a friendly guy, though he talked really less. He had a map where he had marked all the places he wanted to visit and all those he had already been to. As we sat around the heater warming ourselves and sipping tea in plastic cups, the manager-cum-cook narrated the famous Spitian folklore about Chandratal. The story goes back to more than a hundred years ago, when a lazy shepherd in the village of Rangrik decided to go to Chandratal as he had heard a lot about its beauty. It was far from where he lived and a difficult trek but he thought it would be excellent to escape his wife and her nagging. So he left and walked for many days over mountains and passes. Finally when he was almost worn out he caught sight of the lake. It was indeed beautiful and he was so moved he sat down to play his flute and was soon lost in its music. When he opened his eyes a fairy stood before him. She said, “Hello, Gangrup, I am the Chandra Tal fairy.” She told him how his music drew her to the shores of the lake, and that she had fallen in love with him. She asked him to come and live with her in her kingdom under the lake. “I will love you and keep you happy, if you play your flute for me and love me,” she said. So Gangrup went with her to her underwater kingdom and they were very happy there through summer. Then as winter came the fairy asked Gangrup to go back home. He was unhappy and didn’t want to go as he knew he would miss her. The love he had received was everything for him, and he knew his life would never be the same at home. But she said he would have to go, but he could come back next summer. She would miss him too and await his return. But she warned him not to tell anyone about them else they would never be able to be together again.

Gangrup’s family was overjoyed to see him as they had thought he had perished on the way when he did not return for months. Winter set in and Gangrup drank and slept as always, doing nothing else. One night when he was really drunk his wife was nagging him about some work she wanted done, he turned to her and said: “Shut up woman, don’t nag me else I will go away to the Chandratal fairy. She loves me.” Saying so, he downed his drink and passed out. The next morning he remembered what had happened and started to wail out loud. Everyone was concerned and kept asking him what happened but he just kept weeping. He passed the rest of the winter in mad grief and as soon as summer set in he left for the lake.

When he finally got there he took out his flute and started to play. Soon enough the fairy emerged. She said, “Good bye Gangrup. You’ve broken your promise, and in doing so, my heart.” So saying she left. Gangrup fell to his knees and called after her. A while later she emerged holding a bundle. Gangrup was overjoyed thinking she had forgiven him, but she said “This is our daughter, born of our love. Take her back with you.” Gangrup looked down at his daughter and gasped. She was the ugliest thing he had ever set eyes on, covered in warts and boils and was very ill. He didn’t want to touch her but then filial love won and he took her along. However she died on the way. Broken hearted, Gangrup took her all the way home. His family was stunned when he told them she was his daughter from the Chandratal fairy. He buried her and built a memorial for her in the house. From then on his luck changed and his family became rich. After all, the little girl was also a Nortin (fairy). His line is still alive today though they have moved to a new house (the old house still stands in ruins). They moved the memorial to the new house too and it can be still seen today.

As he finished narrating the folklore, the cook slowly stood up, and now we went back to our tents to sleep. The night was cold. Minus five degrees was the temperature and we were almost freezing. My head was pounding ever more and to sleep was very difficult. Still somehow we snatched a few hours of sleep for tomorrow our going would be tougher. When I woke up next, it was early in the morning and the clock had just struck four. We packed our bags and got ready to leave. We were going to have a long day ahead, and hopefully we would reach home if we could somehow make good time. But our journey had not seen its end, and more places lay ahead before we’d finally sleep comfortably on our beds.

[8]

We started our descent now. The road was bad, and our car moved slowly. At many places we had to get out and push the car so that it reached level ground. At many places, the waterfalls intersected the roads, and being early morning, we stepped over ice-flakes made by the waterfalls. My socks were wet, and I had to remove them, and they instantaneously became numb because of the cold. After a long while, we finally came to the intersection of the Chandratal route with the Kaza-Keylong route. Here we took a U-turn just before the Kunzum pass. Our next destination – Lahaul Valley.

Across the Lahaul Valley we sped, though the road was still stony and the going was nonetheless difficult. It would be so until the next mountain pass, after which the road would get better. Lahaul is greener than Spiti, and a bit more populated. Now and then we spotted travellers. These travellers usually preferred cycling on these routes, and all of them either had high-tech bicycles or heavy motorbikes. After a couple of hours or more, we finally reached the Rohtang Pass. The road would be better here onwards, they said. I could hardly have wished for anything else in the world. Rohtang actually means a pile of corpses in the local language, and the name was so given due to the number of people dying in bad weather trying to cross the pass. The pass provides a natural divide between the humid Kullu Valley with a primarily Hindu culture (in the south), and the arid high-altitude Lahaul and Spiti valleys with a Buddhist culture (in the north). The pass lies on the watershed between the Chenab and Beas basins. We had now left the Sutlej in its course and had joined to follow the course of the Beas. It is said that the Mahabharata, a great Indian epic, was written on the banks of the Beas river. A diversion of the road takes one to Leh, though that was not the road that any of us save one really sought to pursue. And pursue it we didn’t. We would now make our way down to Manali, pass through Kulu and finally cross Chandigarh on our way back home to Delhi.

At Manali, we stopped finally, because no more could we stay hungry. Nestled in the Beas River Valley, which had followed us all the way from the Rohtang, this small town is the beginning of an ancient trade route to Ladakh and from there over the Karakoram Pass on to Yarkand and Khotan in the Tarim Basin. Once we were full and I had got back into the car, instantaneously I fell asleep. The journey had been tiring and we were ever so close to the end, and yet my eyes would not stay open for it had now not rested for over a day. I slept and dreams clouded my mind. I was now in a shackle, legs and hands tied. A hookah lay in front of me, but it appeared to have been used up long ago; the coal was not burning anymore. I looked up to see a small window, which allowed a tiny amount of light to come in, but only enough that I could see the walls of my room. It was a tiny one, the walls of broken cement, and the floor was only dust. I tried to stand up, but the weight of the cuffs held me down. I appeared to be hungry, and there was some food in a plate beside, but flies hovered on it, it seemed the plate had been here for a long time. I tried dozing off, but sleep would not come. I heard shouts outside, some ceremony was being held, or maybe a battle-cry? I did not know what it was, for I had no idea where I was. Then I heard the sounds of my door opening. Looking up, I saw his face. It was him. All these years I had been looking for him, and here he was. So he wasn’t dead after all. In this strange country, I finally found him again. “Where are we?” I asked him. “Hell,” he said. I smiled. The years had turned his sense of humor to a sour satirical one. The day was growing old now, and we sat inside the cell. He had brought some pieces of coal, and we smoked the hookah until we were both very high. I knew he was dead, I saw him dying, seven years ago it was, but he was here, maybe I was dreaming? I pinched myself and it did not hurt, so I knew I was. But I could not get out of the dream. My eyes would not open. What kind of sorcery was this? I asked him, and he only smiled. “You’ve been defeated,” he said. “You have been defeated, my friend”. I did not understand, and he did not want to explain, so I just let it be. Then the doors opened again and two soldiers came in. Now they held me tight, and asked me how I came here. I told them I did not know, and one of them held me tight and started shaking me with all his might. Bam, the dream was gone. I was awake now, and we had crossed Kulu already.

The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful, we stopped once for tea, and another time for dinner. It was late night when we finally reached Chandigarh. Here we changed our cab, and hailed one for Delhi. Home would be a reality soon. Only yesterday it seemed a distant possibility. It was four in the morning when I finally reached home. I laid eyes on my precious. It had been waiting all this while for me. I jumped upon it, my precious bed. For years now, I would remember this trip. Sometimes moments are created when you least expect them to. I honestly had far lesser expectations from this trip than what it provided. The walk-man was playing ‘Leaving on a Jet-plane’ now, and I welcomed the lullaby as I dozed off to sleep.

Well that was all about my trip. I did overshoot the length I had thought I would limit it to, but sometimes less is not enough. I will be back with more posts soon, and till then, keep reading! Bye.

Call of the Mountains – [3]

Read the previous part in Part 2.

[5]

Kaza. Temperature 10 degrees. From mountains we had now descended to plain valleys, though we would go through mountains again soon, but for now the day was growing old and we needed to rest, for sleepy and tired we were and much in need of food. Kaza is the biggest settlement you’ll encounter in this empty corner of the planet. At a height of 3650 meters (11980 feet), this is the largest township and commercial center of the valley. Kaza is beautiful. I really do not have any other word for it, because it is just that. Beautiful. It feels a bit like a small frontier town with an easygoing pace. Jagged mountains rise on either side while the river coils across the valley floor like twisted locks of Medusa’s hair. The colourful new Sakya Gompa stands just above the main road in New Kaza (south of the Kaza Nullah), while the ramshackle bazaar and whitewashed buildings of Old Kaza spread out on the north side of the stream. We stayed here overnight, at a half-hotel half-home, and the manager was the chef as well, allowing us to have proper food after a very long time. Dinner consisted of chapatis (unleavened flatbreads), as well as pulses, chicken and some vegetables. We almost welcomed it akin to a feast. After a sumptuous dinner that seemed to go on forever, we finally retired to our rooms, to make plans for the next day.

Here we were divided. We had two options to pursue with. While three of us wished for one of them, the other three wanted to continue with the opposite option. The first option was this. We had come all the way from Shimla to Kalpa to Kaza, and we could retrace our paths and go back home. This seemed viable, because now we knew the way and though the road wasn’t much of a road as it was a muddy lane, we could still make-do with it. The other option was to complete a full circle, that is, go along straight and come out through Chandigarh. This road was mostly much better than the first option, but for several hours in the beginning, the path was going to be unbearable, with stones and rocks and waterfalls crossing through our paths. It would be difficult to pursue, but again it would take lesser time than its opponent. And therefore we were now divided in our opinion.

After hours of discussion and coaxing each other, we finally decided to continue with the second option. So tomorrow we would leave Kaza and move north ahead and we would spend a day at Chandratal, after which we would continue our trip back home. After gulping down a cup of hot tea, I made my way back inside my blankets. I had called up home in between, after almost a day. It is reassuring to see how much our parents care for us. Though this is really personal, I thought I should share it out here. My mother was so tensed for the fact that I had not called her up, because she did not know I was out of network, so she just assumed something horrible could have had happened with me. When I finally got a chance to call her up from the phone of the hotel’s manager, she burst into tears. It took me a while to get her back on her nerves, but that was one moment I realized how much really they love us, albeit the fact that they do not really try much hard elsewise to profess it, and do not frequently show enough gestures, so that we take them for granted, but then these small things happen, and the love comes oozing out, much like water out of a nozzle that has been kept pressed for long. I did not realize when I fell asleep.

I was again amongst my school friends. We were walking up a hill. The grass was tall, almost of our height, so that we could hide amongst them. But we held hands, lest we got lost. The going was tough, the incline was rough. The sun glimmered through the grass. When we finally reached the top of the hill, we saw a couple of dwarves hanging out. They had a barbeque in front of them, and were eating huge chunks of chicken with both their hands, smacking their lips, for the pieces were so huge the sauce splattered on their faces as well. They wore strange hats, huge and conical towards the top. One of them kept his beard in a strange fashion, tying it up under his chin, so that it looked almost as if it were an elephant’s tail. The other had no beard, but the left half of his face had a painting, more like a tattoo, which was an intricate design showing a dwarf fighting against a mammoth. Now we came close to them and they looked up towards us and smiled. We smiled back at them. They invited us to sit and have some food. But we had only taken a step forward when suddenly their faces went white; they looked aghast. Suddenly there was a bright streak followed by a roaring thunder. The fire went out. Looking behind me, I saw a huge falcon now making its way towards me. I ducked in time, and the falcon’s claws thrust into the first dwarf. Now it bled profusely, and the other dwarf looked at us and spat, clearly angry. And then he stood. Out of the blue, he started growing. Now he was a man. Now a giant. Now he loomed over all of us, his shadow covering miles. He raised his foot. One step forward and we would all be under his feet. As his foot came trampling down on the ground, my eyes opened. It was morning. The night had faded out and the sun was now gleaming on the mountains of Kaza. It was time to make our next move.

[6]

Early in the morning it was and it was a Saturday when we left for the last segment of our trip. Soon this would all be over. Soon we would be back home and these drives would be etched in memory forever. But for now, it was not the end that made me emotional, but the scenery around. The vegetation had grown scanty again, and very stony was the road too. Atop a hill to the east stood the Key Monastery. Called Kye Gompa by the local people, this 11th century creation stands at an altitude of 4166 meters (13668 feet). Though this monastery has been attacked time and again, by the Mongols and by the Dogras and by the Sikhs as well, it still stands proudly. The walls of the monastery are covered with paintings and murals, an example of the 14th century monastic architecture, which developed as the result of Chinese influence. Key monastery has a collection of ancient murals and books, including Buddha images. But running out of time we were, and so we turned west, towards our destination.

We now crossed the village of Rangrik, a scantily populated village but beautiful all the same. I pulled down the windows a bit, to feel the fresh morning air muffled by the scent of autumn. A huge twenty-five feet statue of Lord Buddha overlooked us. Now I saw men-in-arms slowly creeping out from behind the statue. I rubbed my eyes. They had all vanished. Perhaps it was just a figment of my imagination. A couple of people here and there, who smiled gleefully at all the passers-by, but other than that, the village was pretty scarcely populated. We had now reached the outskirts of the city. In a while, I would be seeing my first mountain-pass ever. We were coming close and I was excited about it. Above us loomed lofty mountains. And somewhere in between hid the Kunzum Pass.

We had still time to reach the eastern Kunzum Range of the Himalayas. Already I was hungry, but these roads weren’t ones where one could find a morsel to chew. I sat back for a while, listening to songs, introspecting how much this journey has had an effect on me. For one thing I was sure of, that I had become more patient and tolerant than I was a couple of days back. And the other thing I knew was that I had made some good friends. Sometimes, you do not realize the value of people who are around you, unless they are the only ones who are there. Though there hardly was a chance of us not surviving this trip and getting back safely, just in case we met with a landslide or an accident or anything, they would be the last faces I’d see in my life. And that thought was a mixture of comfort and anguish, of solace and grief. This was a new experience, one I had never felt before; probably would never feel again as well, well, unless I undertook another trip like this which had so much to give back yet in such a short while. Looking out into the skies, loomed with lofty mountains, some covered in ice, some in grass, some only rocks, some jet-black while others had a muddy tint to them, some shining, some silent and overwhelming, there were so many kinds of them, all crammed up in this small uninhabited corner of the world. Perhaps the best things are the most difficult to find, and perhaps we can never know what all good things exist unless we really try hard to find them, and it held true for stuff deep within our hearts too, but now was not the time to think about hearts and emotions, because I did not want to get upset in the midst of such a blissful day. We were now driving at a pretty slow pace, because the road did not allow much speed, and if we sped, our heads bumped against the roof of the car. But soon enough we would reach the Kunzum.

Kunzum Pass. Separating Spiti and Lahaul valleys, it is situated at a higher altitude than Rohtang Pass, which is at an elevation of 13,054 ft and also serves as another gateway to Lahaul and Spiti. Kunzum Pass offers spectacular views of Bara-Sigri, the second longest glacier in the world.  Also visible from the top of the pass are the Chandra-Bhaga mountain and Spiti valley. The presence of chortens and prayer flags signify a strong Buddhist influence in the area. Also popular, is the Kunzum Devi Temple where all vehicles must stop to pay respects to the goddess. And so did we stop. We now saw the Chandra-Bhaga mountain, in the cradle of which lied our destination for the day, Chandra-tal. We met another band of tourists, who were headed towards Spiti. A group of youngsters out on a road-trip. Perhaps we should have made this trip back when we were in college. But then I had no idea of such a place. And even if I had, it would be too far. The pass was serene. On the other side lay the Lahaul valley, but we would not be going there until tomorrow. For now, we needed to keep pace, and reach Chandratal on time. Our driver had finished his prayers to Kunzum Devi, and we now sped forward towards Losar, where we would stop to have breakfast, for now we were all desperately in need for food. We sped now. The road was easy-going and our car was making good time. In a short while, the vegetation increased, as did the population and we knew we were about to reach inhabited grounds again. The Losar village is located adjacent to the Indo Chinese border, and lays claim to being the last habitable land before one crosses over to China. Much similar to Ladakh in appearance, the cold desert offers its visitors magnificent views, mountains draped in multiple colours, and breath-taking vistas, with the beauty of the place almost unparalleled anywhere else. We stopped here for a while and had a meagre breakfast, which was all that they could offer, but even so I was happy for after many hours my stomach finally heaved a sigh of relief. And then we happily chirped our way ahead, talking a lot, singing songs and eagerly looking forward to reach the Moon Lake as soon as possible.

Read the final part in Part 4.

The Clientele

[1]

The black of the night gave way to light. It was just another normal winter morning. The birds chirped just as usual and the sun hid partly behind the clouds, glancing at the grass once a while, which partially covered with frost, occasionally turned back to look at the sun. The morning dew on the leaves was still as fresh as it could be, and the dogs on the street lay lazily without barking at the pedestrians who passed by them. As she woke up, she heard the bustles of cars and trucks from down somewhere. It was going to be another long day for her. Sometimes she wished she could just keep sleeping and not do anything else on a Sunday. But clearly, that was not possible. She went downstairs and looked around the house, clothes piled up on the sofa, a cup of coffee spilled on the floor staining the carpet, breadcrumbs on the table, and a half-finished bottle of fine Irish whiskey. She drew the curtains to let in some light, and sprayed a bit of the freshener to nullify the smell of cigarettes which seemed to be coming from everywhere. Slowly she staggered into the kitchen, finding the cupboards half-open, an untouched packet of chips lying on the floor, a coffee mug splintered into pieces. A slice of pizza was still left in the box, and the tap was open, so she went up to it and turned the knob. At the opposite end of the room, the television was playing songs on MTV. She lowered the volume; she wanted to sit for a while and catch up with the news, but there was hardly any place to sit. She smiled wryly and went back to the bedroom. The last week had been hectic for her, with five assignments in seven days. She took out her phone and checked her appointment for the day. Then she undressed herself and threw her blood-stained clothes carelessly upon the bed before moving into the shower. There, beside her clothes, slept the corpse of her latest client, Mr Jacob.

Once she had showered and dressed up in fresh clothes, she started with her daily chores. She cleaned up the bedroom, bundling up the blood-stained sheets that she would need to throw. She folded them one by one and put them neatly into a polythene bag. Then she took out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and an old rag from her bag. She dabbed the rag with the solution, and slowly but carefully removed the stains from the study table and from the floors around, where the blood was now turning brown. Had someone else been around, he could have pointed out that there was a blotch remaining at the corner of the bed where he was lying now, but she missed the spot. Rag and solution went back into her bag. She looked at him one last time and planted a kiss on his lips. Then she went down and cleaned up the kitchen. As she moved out of the house, she picked up the blood-stained knife from the table. It would be her souvenir from last night. Had she been more observant, she would have spotted a man standing on the other side of the road, clicking a picture of hers.

She needed to move fast, if she were ever to reach on time for her appointment. As she sped up the highway in the newly acquired BMW, her thoughts went back to the night before. She had put up a good show, and she had fought bravely. If only Jacob realized what was going to happen after he was tied to his bed, he would have never agreed. She let out a smile as his face came to her mind: the grin slowly fading out from his lips and the horror creeping into his eyes. He had tried to put up a good fight, but a businessman with his hands tied pitting himself against a trained martial artist were as good as a deer surrounded by a pack of lions. The odds were clearly not in his favour. He tried to shout for help, but she bit his tongue, and then he fell quiet. That was almost the end of it. She plunged out a knife from her side and quickly stabbed him thrice in his chest, after which she untied him. She did not want him to die a handicap. She could not be so brutal. And she was amazed at what she saw, for Jacob was man enough to still try come back at her. He staggered and pushed her against the table, and clenched his fists around hers. But he had lost too much blood by then. He only wished to have not drunk so much. The whiskey was doing its job pretty well, and he started feeling dizzy again. He picked up a cushion to hide his face as she came back at him. Knife struck cushion as sword against shield, and in moments his face had gained more scars than she had ever put on anyone. He fell back onto the bed, mumbling words of despair. She solemnly closed his eyes. And then she had a sound sleep.

[2]

She was about to reach the other end of the city. Her appointment was scheduled at eleven in the morning, and she had a good thirty minutes to reach. She called in at her office, and the secretary picked up the call. “Please mark a sick leave for me, today, Miss Donnett,” she said politely. “Sure, Mira,” she said, and added, “Get well soon,” before she hung up. As she came nearer to the sea, she started feeling better than before. She stopped by the sea for a while. She liked to visit the beach between subsequent appointments. It gave her solace. She had learnt a lot from the sea. Like the sea which took its colour from the sky, never trying hard enough to change. She believed in being controlled. Like the sky which controlled the colours of the sea, and the moon which controlled the tides, controlling when the sea be angry and when it be calm, yet the sea hardly revolted. But when it did, it did with all its might, flooding the cities and washing the sand of all its memories and the sand castles were washed and the letters people wrote in the sand of being together forever, they were all washed out. It seemed strange to her how the sea could be so tranquil and so ferocious at the same time, and how it could manage two opposite characters so well. She had always tried to do that, manage both her responsibilities with all her will, yet it seemed sometimes that one was slipping away to make way for the other. She saw a flock of white seagulls flying across the sky, and the sun gleaming blissfully over her. The clouds were gone, and the day was happy. She saw children holding hands and walking on the sands, barefooted, and she saw an American woman riding a camel in the distance where the sand met the horizon. A vendor came by, and she bought a scarf. A blue silk scarf, just like the sea, she thought. She glanced at her watch, and saw it was time she moved on.

She sped up her car, and reached just in the nick of time. She went in, and took a seat at the end of the aisle. Having order a crème latte, she sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. She took out her phone and checked her messages. Somebody had sent her a picture. As she took her last sip, she saw a man in a black suit coming out of a car and heading towards the café. He was the same one as in the picture. As he entered, she stood up. They came face to face, and she shook hands with her next client. “Good to meet you,” she said. “Good to meet you too,” he replied, “I hope you know how important this day is for me.” She replied, “Yes, I hope you don’t start hating me by tonight,” and they both laughed together. Had he been observant, he would have noticed how her voice stiffened when she said that line. Had she been observant, she would have seen a man on the other side of the road, clicking a picture of them.

Wilderness

Issue:
Nations should pass laws to preserve any remaining wilderness areas in their natural state, even if these areas could be developed for economic gain.

Response:
Nature has its own way of showing its wrath upon the humans. While on one hand, we have ever so increased our standard of living by letting industrialization encroach upon both nature and our lives, on the other hand, we also know that this comes at a price. Though the governments have been willing to pay this price for long now, they have come to realize that this bargain is not going to end on a happy note. And so we come to the topic of wilderness areas. These are those areas, those patches of land, that have yet kept themselves hidden and safe from the wrath of mankind. These are those tiny specks of land here and there (and by specks I mean forests, because if you see the world, or the universe, they indeed are merely specks), which are still in their natural state, and which flourish in themselves with habitats yet untouched, with animals yet unharmed, with trees yet not felled, and with life yet undisturbed. What should then be the approach of a nation towards such a land?

What every nation wants today is to be on top of the world, and for that what it needs is economic prowess. So suppose an area can be utilized for economic gain, though that could literally mean extinction of a particular species, should the government allow the land to be encroached and utilized for public benefit? Or should it pass laws to preserve any remaining wilderness areas in their natural state, even if these areas could be developed for economic gain? Only if the answer to this question was in black or white. Now and then I have been talking of the grey area, the grey thoughts, the fine lines between the right and the wrong where seemingly most of the solutions lie, the potholes in the ever increasing miseries on the road we take. And this is one of those potholes, secretly filled, but taken out at night, so that one who does not see or is used to the light will be mistaken and fall into it, an ever swirling down spiral, taking one down to the depths of wrong, to the castles of misery, to the wrongdoings and the hidings and the money and the shutting up and the darkness and the spiders and the moths and the bats and the distant memories of sound of the chirps of the crickets and foggy mornings. Well then, to answer this question, one must get into their shoes, and see if they can really distinguish between the correct and the wrong.

What I say is my view, and maybe it does not reflect well on you. But then, this is my way of thinking. Because I am in love, in love with nature. I would rather see the trees around me and listen to the chirps and at night silently shiver at the howl of the wolf, rather than remain amidst the bustle of the city and the horns of vehicles and the smoke from chimneys and the pollution and the grief. I would rather see a sunny morning with the sun gleaming bright and the sunflowers turned towards it rather than walk on a path made of bricks and a road full of bikes. And that is because I believe in freedom. The freedom of thought. The freedom to let everyone live as they wish to, without interfering in their business, without encroaching their lands, without asserting my right on them, without anything that would lead to the thought of one being superior to the other, because in this world, there is no superiority, and there is no inferiority. We all are equals, and we must believe that, come to terms with that, because the fact that we believe otherwise (and yes, we do), is what is leading us to our doom. And it is ever-increasing. We first thought that we were superior to animals, and could do whatever we want. We now think we are superior to other humans, and can do whatever we want. Of course, we can. But should we? That is the more important question. That is the question that needs to be answered. Do we really need to prove ourselves? Who are we proving it to? Do we really need all this? Do we really need money? Do we really need space? What are we? Grey questions, so many unanswered that a life could be spent searching for the answers. And then there will be none.

Let us stop for a while, and stop considering this planet as a place where humans were meant to be, and start imagining it as a place where humans just happened to be. Maybe that will be the time we finally relinquish our desire to control everything, and maybe that will be the day when things will again become normal, and everyone will live happily ever after.