She was six when she first learned about death.

As she walked to school the next day, a cold winter morning, clutching her father’s hand so tight, a plethora of emotions ran through the man who held her hand. He had covered his face with a scarf-kind-of-a-thing, so as to not reveal his face. He would not want the girl to know his father was dead, and he wanted to pretend to be one just as good. But somehow, even in front of the six-year-old, his courage faltered, and he fumbled while walking. The girl saw his eyes, and they spoke. The eyes spoke to each other of the lies they hid within them. “Where is father?” she said softly now, almost about to break into tears.

The man did not have an answer. He wanted to choose between, “He’s gone far away to visit your granny,” and “He has become a star in the sky,” but instead he chose to say, “He’s dead.”
“What is dead?” asked the small girl.
“Dead means you will never see him anymore.”
“Why? Is he angry with me?”
“Yes, he is. Why didn’t you have all your food today?”
“If I have my lunch, will he come see me?”
“He might,” he said, eyes red with lies, shamed to hell.

When she entered the class, her teacher asked why she was late, and she replied, “Because my father’s dead.”
“Who told you that?” the teacher retracted, trying to hide her tears, but her voice had already welled up too much to fake that she was still angry.
It was fascinating to see how the girl didn’t feel sad. She thought it was a trip his father had been to, to a place where her grandparents lived. She thought he was a star in the skies, but also thought it was easy to go up there, once you did good deeds.

As a mother, she narrates the tale to her daughter today. She is six, and she is thirty, pained by her husband’s death, but doesn’t want her child to be the way she was. She has learned, from experiences that were bitter, that truth might hurt, but when it is dark and you are all by yourself, truth is the only thing that will keep you warm, like a bonfire in the winter, like a warm fireplace where the cat huddles herself to sleep, awaiting another morning, another dawn, that will bring back light into her eyes, and she will see clearly albeit the fog, what awaits her on the other side on the road.

Five | Seven

Minutes to My Death

I can count on my fingers, though they move no more,
The minutes left before I leave this world,
And yet I write, in memory of the past,
Rejoicing in life, and what I did with it.
I see myself, the five-year kid,
Walking to school clutching his mother’s hand,
And I see her smiling in front of me,
Like a wavy line of the candle, always providing warmth.
I see myself as a boy of nineteen,
Fighting for a girl I never met again,
Blood on my fingers, bloodstained shirt,
And how I wore it with pride, in mark of her love.
I see the day when I bombarded the school,
Killing my own son in a bargain,
Wearing orange, the jail, the keeper,
I see everything, and in a flash it disappears.
I see my daughter, a small girl,
But then she grows up, and spits on my face,
I see the guy who fought me for her,
And reveled in the blood, on his stained shirt.
My eyes close often, I can’t open them much,
And darkness spreads like a cloth on my face,
I hear the sound of muffles,
And a grr-grr-grr,
Then the pay-pay-pay,
Of the ambulance I hear,
And they put me in.
I close my eyes, take my last strong breath,
Don a smile on my face, and am done with this life.

The Beginning

I hear the sound of muffles,
And a grr-grr-grr,
Then they start rushing you,
And I have to run along too.
Then the pay-pay-pay,
Of the ambulance I hear,
And they put you in,
And I steal in too.
You keep shouting for a long time,
I wonder if it’s my fault,
But then the ambulance screeches to a halt.
There’s again some rushing,
Lots of people around you,
We enter a room,
People all dressed in green now,
I can feel them prying,
But then they start,
And you shout more,
I close my ears,
Can’t bear the noise,
They pull at me,
I don’t want to leave,
They force me to leave,
My world.
And I see the light,
It stings me in the eye,
I cry.
People around laugh and chatter,
You smile.
He says, “It’s a boy!”
Your smile makes me stop crying.

She Was a Knight

She trotted along, her horse never tiring,
She claimed herself to be a knight,
Yet within she knew she was only a woman,
Tired of being denied of what was her right.
Once upon a time if things had turned out,
The way she had wanted them to be,
Today her son would have been smiling at her,
And she’d have had another in her belly.
She wished that war had never happened,
She wished he had still been alive,
To carry her in her arms when she was wounded,
Or on a day when to walk she’d have to strive.
But none of that happened,
None of it was true,
And she was here, a knight today,
Heading a hundred behind, her own crew.
Soon they would fight,
Soon they’d be dead,
And in the heavens above she knew,
She would be wed.

Return – Chapter 2

I knocked on the door. I knew what was impending, and even as I knocked again, I felt it would have been a relief if I could just run down the road beside, and keep running until I was tired. But then, I wanted to face what reality had in store for me. It wouldn’t be easy, I knew. In fact, the next few minutes could be the most tough moments of my life, something that I could pass on to my grandchildren in anonymous stories. I waited. A lady shouted from inside, which roughly translated to “I swear this is the thousandth time since morning someone knocked on my door. I will break this door someday.” She opened the door, and for a while she kept looking at me. I realized she wouldn’t know me; when I had last left her, I did not have a stubble. My hair was neatly combed that morning as I left for school. That was four years back. I smiled at her, hoping that would remind her of the past. She did not look a day older. She was the same old woman that I had left a few years ago. Same white sari, same white hair, plump but weak, fat rimmed spectacles, nothing had changed; except time. “Namaste Taaya,” I said, which meant, “Hello, Taaya”. Taaya was what I called her when I was small. I did not know how I came to learnt that name, and why no one asserted a problem to me calling her by that name when she was in fact not my taaya. In relations, taaya refers to an elder aunt. But she was not an aunt of mine, neither did she have any nephews. I was the only person she had, and only had she been the only person I had, nothing would have ever gone wrong. She was my mother.

She looked at me melancholically, kept looking at my eyes for about a minute, and then shut the door on my face. I couldn’t expect anything less or more than that. When I was young, sometimes we used to fight over small trivial matters. Then I used to pretend I was angry and would shut the door of my room and lock myself inside for hours. My mother would cry, thinking I was really angry. I felt sad about that, but I didn’t want to break it to her. If I did, she would never again think I was angry, and things wouldn’t work out. So many incidents flashed into my mind. But then, things changed. Today we played a role reversal. I was crying, and she had shut the door. Only, she literally did it. There was only one person I could now go to. I didn’t know if she would remember me at all, or whether she would give it any thought if I stepped up in front of her, but I owed it to myself, and I owed it to her, to meet her once more, to try to set things right, and to live my life as I should have done before. It was late, but they say it’s better to be late than never. I was praying they said it right. As I walked down the road, an old friend met me. He looked at me strangely, as I stood, stagnated, not moving an inch. He hugged me for a while, and as we walked, he narrated all what had happened in the interim that I was gone. I was gone. I had never thought anyone would put it that way. I was not gone, I was right here. All the while, I was right here. But I couldn’t explain that to him, nor could I talk about it to anyone else around. So I just nodded. He left me after a while, when he saw the way I was headed. “Don’t do it,” he said. “For your sake.”

I strolled on. I had to see if there were a life that I wished for, if there were a destiny that defined me. So I reached her house. And I knocked, hoping she would open and recognize me. I hadn’t been away that long that she’d not recognize me. Unless she did it purposefully… The door opened. She looked at me with her shining eyes. So much of her had changed. Except her eyes. They were still the same. They still said the same story that they said four years ago. And her tears still pained me as it did in my dreams. She had grown thinner, and she looked prettier than I could have ever imagined her to be. “I still love you,” I said. She put a finger on her lips, indicating me to stop talking. And she hugged me. “I’ve missed you,” she said. “I’ve missed you too, Shaena,” I said.

Previous | Next

Black Rose 3

It’s mind-boggling to see,
How people change with time,
How life is such a strange humdrum affair,
How the clocks never stop,
How love dies slowly.
The rose turned black and withered off,
But the plant didn’t lose hope,
It grew another rose and then another,
Each withering after a while.
Hardly did it know it was not her fault,
She wasn’t a bad mother at all,
But the gardener had hardly paid attention to it,
And had watered the prettier shrubs,
Leaving the rose plant to its misery.
But the plant never tired,
Hoped that one day,
The gardener would see the black rose,
Be embarrassed and start nurturing it again,
Enliven the plant, give it a rebirth,
So that the roses would be red forever.
For the new ones may be close to mind,
But the old ones will forever be close to heart.

Wintry Fragrances

Sunshine kisses the floors of my house, mosaic floors, painted luminously with red, blue and green stones, and my feet get a degree warmer. I sit in the verandah, on a chair which we had bought some nine years from now, that day I was so happy we had new chairs; now they lie there, gathering dust, unless I go there, take the pains of dusting it, and sit on it. Two kids, one of nine, and the other, I think of nine as well, play badminton. They play it really bad, and they never touch the shuttle-cock. They are happy still.

There, on the road, a mother takes her child on a walk in the perambulator. The baby sits up and looks out, and raises its hands signaling to the mother to take it in her arms, while the mother, oblivious of all this, keeps walking, talking to one of her friends on the phone. A van comes in, and a thousand schoolchildren get down, shouting, happy for the fact that today was their last school day; it’s winter vacations from tomorrow. As I sit, a mynah comes and sits in the verandah, but as soon as I move a bit, it flies away, and goes and sits on the window sill of our neighbor, the fat but kind Mr. Abdullah.

Through the opposite window, she, smiles at me. She is inside a blanket, and she refuses to get down when her mother comes in. The mother sees me looking at her, and then comes to the window. I feel a bit awkward, but then she doesn’t say anything. She only draws the curtains and returns. Inside, I hear her scolding her for making friends with a boy like me. As her mother leaves, she comes, draws the curtains aside, smiles at me and signals me to leave, then draws the curtains back. Someone in the adjacent room rings bells. He pretends to the world he is a pious man, and yesterday evening, I saw him molest a girl.

The paper boy comes. He is very regular in his business. He takes a newspaper, folds it into a cylinder, then halves it like a boomerang; and there, he throws it. He throws it accurately enough to land into the balcony of the fifth floor Mr. Karim, who can shout at petty things like someone sitting on his scooter. The song playing in my walkman changes. It now plays a song by Mehdi Hassan, and it reminds me of the day when I first heard that song. It was the day when she had last talked to me properly. Then something happened, and I still do not know what it was that happened.

The fragrance of winter kisses me, it lingers around my soul, and asks me to come back to where I had left it alone. It asks me to go back to the winter years ago, when I jumped and laughed and shouted in happiness. I smile at it wryly, smelling it all the time, and promise it that I will fulfill its wish soon, very soon.