The Crippled Carpenter: A Children’s Story

The Crippled Carpenter: A Children’s Story

In a land far away, in a town unknown, lived a carpenter by the name of Prakash. Although his name meant Light, Prakash was quite a morbid soul. He only found joy in his work and could spend endless hours sawing and polishing the wood that would take any shape, as per his whim. He thought of himself as an artist and architect, a creator of beauty who made dreams come true. In fact, when he would smoke his Hookah at night, he would even think of himself as God. The puffy clouds that fogged his brain concurred.

The fourth child born to a humble fisherman, Prakash had been left to his own devices since childhood. After all, there were only so many mouths that a Rohu fish could feed. He learnt carpentry from a flute maker that once visited the town and realised that it was his true calling. That was when the idea to create Jyoti came to his mind. Jyoti was a magnificent statue of a mythical creature. She had a fish’s tail instead of legs and wings instead of arms. Although some may think that such a creature was useless for both the sky and the sea, in the eyes of Prakash, she was the powerful mistress of the universe.

He would design and re-design every fin and feather of his masterpiece with a feverish fervour. When he ran out of paper, he drew in the mud, when the raindrops washed away her face, he moved her indoors to the brick walls of his room. So engrossed was he in completing this task that he hardly processed the pace of time and barely shed a tear when he lost both his parents to cholera. By the time that he was halfway through constructing this wooden wonder, he was a middle-aged man and his siblings had moved away, afraid of the glint that would appear in his eyes whenever he inhaled the sawdust.

He soon became famous as the Crippled Carpenter, a troubled artist who muttered to himself and drew diagrams in the air. The elders of the town who had known him as a child would leave some food at his doorstep each day. He would gobble it without gratitude; his eyes wouldn’t stop staring at Jyoti’s chiselled face. He craved for such perfection that by the time he managed to bring his vision to life, his dishevelled hair had turned grey and the walls surrounding Jyoti were crumbling in places. However, Prakash could not see anything beyond her playful smile and dewy eyes, her wings that were outstretched as if she was about to fly away, and the slight tinge of conceit on her forehead.

Prakash sat and admired her for a few hours, intrigued by how her tail reflected the light. However, he soon felt a rumble in his stomach, it was hunger, something he had not paid attention to all these years. He looked around the house, there were tattered clothes and broken chairs, a picture of his deceased parents hung lopsided on the wall. The stench of the turpentine added to his dizziness and he collapsed on the mouldy floor. He lay there in an unconscious state until a pair of wrinkled hands woke him up. It was the grandma from across the street. He had not realised that she had grown so old. She lovingly rested his head on her lap and fed him chapatis soaked in milk.

As he lay there looking at the best creation of his life, it occurred to him that Jyoti could neither offer him a mother’s embrace, nor a wife’s love. She was a daughter as oblivious to his presence as he had been to that of his caregivers’. His entire life had amounted to an intricately carved block of wood. He was no God, just a mere mortal who had created as worthless a child as he had been. His heart was filled with remorse and regret at letting his best years slip away. He yearned for a way to make amends, to make his life more meaningful.

Destiny responded to his prayers and brought an awful blizzard upon the town. Houses were buried in snow and the cold was so intense that it froze the blood of the wayfarers. As people shivered to death, they heard the sound of an axe on wood. The Crippled Carpenter hacked down Jyoti to provide firewood to the entire town. When the bonfires had melted all the snow, Prakash breathed his last, his remorse replaced by utmost content.

Originally posted on my Niume profile.

The One-Eyed Warrior

The One-Eyed Warrior

She lost one eye to glaucoma,

The same year that she lost her husband,

What she did not lose throughout the ordeal

Were her courage, her spark, and her sense of humour.

“It is easier to thread a needle with one eye.”

She chuckled at the pun with utmost glee.

Two one-eyed warriors on a wicker chair,

One piercing the fabric of time,

While the other impaled 4 layers of cotton.

~

“One can dream just as well with just one eye.”

Grandma enjoyed the most restful sleep.

It was the only time her needle would get a break

From creating beautiful blooms on barren cloth.

Her nimble fingers would never stop moving,

As yards of thread curled up to create intricate art.

Her embroidery was her way to unwind with the thread,

To conceal her sorrows and struggles

In the web of shiny and colourful yarn.

~

Her needle was more potent than a paint brush.

Her tablecloths and bed sheets told stories

Of the gardens and rooftops from her childhood.

They were adorned with caricatures

Of furry pet dogs and goats, long dead.

If you looked closely, you would find her too,

A girl in a pink frock, with two pigtails.

Her face looked different but her smile was the same,

Broad and cheerful, a few teeth missing.

~

Her vision became foggy as the days went by,

The tremors and trembles of old age arrived.

She still kept sewing sequins on Mother’s saris,

And darning the holes in our socks.

She slipped into a coma the day she finished her masterpiece,

A portrait of her family embroidered on blue silk.

Do not place a white shroud over her just yet,

Place an unmonogrammed handkerchief by her side instead,

I am sure that the one-eyed warrior will rise again.

~~~~

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~ The Creatures Of The Night ~

~ The Creatures Of The Night ~

If you are courageous enough to venture out after midnight in a small Indian town, you will be greeted by the creatures of the night. Your first companions will be the stray dogs with limp tails, their eyes glinting in the dark, their noses leading them to their late night snack. They scavenge through the piles of rotting garbage while their fortunate pure-bred counterparts enjoy a snooze in their marble palaces. Look up and you will find flappy wings in the sky as large bats try to cast a shadow on the moon. Don’t get startled by the shrieks of the owls, they are less dangerous than the silent serpents in the grass.

 

You might find a seemingly abandoned pair of slippers by the side of the road, don’t steal them, their owner still lives. Look inside the concrete pipes and under the heap of polythene sheets, you will find a tired rickshaw puller sleeping barefoot and possibly bare-chested. He has moved to the town from the village, to send back money for his siblings. You will notice blisters on his palms and wrinkles on his face but he will be smiling while he is asleep. In fact, don’t try to find him, let him rest until the sun announces a new morning of back-breaking labour.

If the town is big enough to boast of an ATM, there will be a group of youngsters a few feet away. Far enough from the peripheral vision of the drowsy guard yet close enough to steal some light from the vestibule, the privileged progeny of the rich merchants enjoys a party on the footpath. Leaning against their motorbikes or lying down on the boots of their cars, they laugh at a vulgar joke while draining the last drop from their beer bottles. Why they need to congregate in the middle of the night is a mystery to all but them. Perhaps at the centre of the huddle are secret lovers who cannot meet in broad daylight or maybe they just prefer the taste of the Biryani sold by the stall that opens for business after dark.

You can stand and judge these creatures of the night or can walk towards the innocent looking houses. Over the chirping of the crickets, you will hear the moans of a battered housewife as she is brutally whipped by her drunken husband. The wind might carry the whimpers of a woman abused by her own kin or the sobs of a bullied child who doesn’t want to face another day at school. If you stay really quiet you will hear the creaking of the beds, the rolling of the tears, and the whispers of protest. The creatures of the night do not just haunt the streets.

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The Girl In The Glass Chamber

The Girl In The Glass Chamber

She lives in a chamber made of glass,

Transparent walls constructed by puberty.

This magical glass restricts her motion,

Though others can walk through as if it is air.

The world flings numerous words at her,

Questions, accusations, and insults.

She screams that she is injured,

They demand to see her wounds,

But the bruises on her brain cannot be revealed.

They do not see the glass,

They cannot feel its coldness.

They blame her for not spreading her wings,

For not taking flight and exploring the unknown.

Little do they know that each time she attempts to soar,

She crashes against the invincible glass,

That does not crack but shatters her soul.

They call her feeble and lethargic,

They know not how hard she tries to breathe.

They say she gives up too easily,

Complains too much and smiles too little.

All this while the pain and panic wring her nerves,

And yet she chooses not to whimper.

She can’t break through but you can get in,

Be cautious and tread gently.

Perhaps two can break the glass together,

One poisonous shard at a time.

When summer comes and the sun glows bright,

The color of her cheeks may return.

And the warmth of love could evaporate,

The dark shadows lurking in her mind.

Show her that the world is a kinder place

Than her nightmares force her to believe.

Throwing stones at the chamber from the outside

Only makes its deadly grasp more fatal.

I hope that you liked this poem dedicated to mental health awareness. I also post these articles and many others to my Niume profile, check it out here.

The Wire Mesh

The Wire Mesh

Whenever the dust settled after an afternoon storm, the sweet seller arrived at my doorstep with a guilty smile on his bearded face. He would sit in the verandah for about an hour, carefully blowing away the red mud from the surface of the homemade sweetmeats. I often asked him how he could live with selling those contaminated sweets but he claimed that the earthiness enhanced their flavour. Despite this clever justification, he would always keep my batch at the bottom of his bag, cautiously wrapped in butter paper.

Feelings diffused through the wire mesh of my front door, creating a wonderful harmony on each side. I was sheltered yet troubled while he was wild and raw but frightened of overstepping the boundaries defined by society. He was so afraid of disturbing the fragile balance of this friendship that he always left my bundle of sweets at the door. The risk of the dream ending with an accidental brush of fingertips made him insist on keeping the barrier of the wire mesh between us at all times.

Whenever I asked him about his family, he would cheesily remark that in this city I was all he had.  This response was not unfair considering that he never questioned the absence of another soul in a bungalow that was clearly not meant for one. Our sporadic encounters were enough for love to blossom in our youthful hearts. With no means of contacting him, I would pray for a storm whenever I yearned for his company. He would magically appear from behind the murky curtain of smog, his tray of sweets dangling from his neck, his hands behind his back as if they were holding a message that he was too shy to deliver.

Ours was a language of silence, of subdued smiles and unheard whispers. He knew nothing about the world that existed beyond the shadows of my drawing room but he knew everything about me. Softly humming my favorite song, he would display the sweet treat of the day as if it was a painting expressing his love. Layers of powdered sugar always embraced his thick fingers that were evidently meant for a hardier profession than brewing syrups. It almost seemed like he was running away from his past, trying to hide his pain in the whirls of his Jalebis, concealing the blemishes with thin slices of almonds.

His gentle voice would echo through the empty house until the next storm brought him my way. Years passed, neighbours changed, the paint of the bungalow started peeling in places, but the taste of his Coconut Barfi remained the same. Not all storms are the harbingers of happy times though. Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

One night the thunder shook the house and the pouring rain didn’t cease for hours. As the feeble rays of the rising sun struggled to pierce through the shroud of clouds, I heard a strange metallic clang at my door. There he was, wet, pale and cold. This storm was one that he could not defeat. His tray of sweets still couldn’t manage to breach the boundary that had kept us apart for years.

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A Sizzling Affair : The Perils Of A Summer Wedding In India

A Sizzling Affair : The Perils Of A Summer Wedding In India

The soothing scent of sandalwood wafts in the air. The venue is all set for the big day. The Mandap is decorated with shimmering pearls and marigold flowers, but the yellow blossoms have started to wilt already. Soon the lawn will be flooded with guests, but for now, the relatives lurk in the cold confines of their hotel rooms. They sneakily peep through the windows for any sign of movement in the garden. The clanking of cutlery will be their signal for marching out; they will guard their post until dinner is served.

The bride is an epitome of beauty tonight, but her breathing is heavy and her neck is bruised by the weight of the stunning jewellery. However, it is the happiest day of her life, so she puts on a brave smile, even though the layers of silk make each pore of her body sweat profusely. The struggle is no different for the poor groom, who vigorously fans himself to prevent the patches of sweat from ruining his Sherwani.

The wedding procession looks sombre and gloomy. No one dares to shake a leg out of the fear of dehydration. Panting and gasping, they take a shorter route to quickly end this ordeal. The twinkling fairy lights at the gate are a welcome sight, as the table fans cool their skin and destroy their fancy hair. The bridesmaids rush to powder their faces while the rings are exchanged by moist fingers.

The ceremony is a test of true love; the holy fire crackles at an arm’s length from the couple. Even the priest slowly inches away from the flames, with the recital of every vow. The number of guests keeps dwindling throughout the rituals, those who remain drift into a heat induced sleep. As the vermillion powder trickles down from the bride’s forehead to her nose, the priest joyfully introduces them as man and wife and flees from the scene.

The couple is escorted to the most palatial room of the hotel. Even the jasmine buds sprinkled on the bed seem to be dying a slow death at the hands of the sultry weather. When the last bridesmaid is bribed to let the newlyweds enter the room and the mahogany doors are bolted shut, they look at each other properly for the first time that night. Their eyes glint with sinful joy as the much awaited moment is here, they can finally turn on the air conditioner! They race towards the remote of the appliance, whoever grabs it first will get to control the temperature for the rest of their lives.

I hope that you enjoyed this short story. I also post these articles on my Niume profile. Check it out here.

A Summer Rendesvouz : A Tale Of An Indian Summer

A Summer Rendesvouz : A Tale Of An Indian Summer

I can almost taste the gale that gently singes my face. A hot and salty mix of gases that has driven the men and animals into the shadows. I seem to be immune to these poisonous winds as they barely tickle my skin and drift away to consume more innocent lives. As I stand on the balcony that looms over the melting roads, my thoughts get corrupted by the heat of the Indian summer.

One must not trust their instincts in the summer months. The angry weather gods entertain themselves by pushing us towards evil temptations. To recover my senses, I crush a mango leaf and inhale the raw aroma of heavenly nectar. The fruit is just a momentary indulgence while the potent scent of the leaf lasts all day long. It transports me to the childhood days when I would rush out in the middle of a dust storm to gather the fallen golden and green orbs.

My hosts think that I am crazy to be out in the unforgiving heat. I am summoned into a dark, cool room where the other guests are already seated. The frosted windows are an unconvincing lie; they appear to be icy but leave painful blisters on the fingers. The familiar sound of steel hitting against glass echoes in the room and the hostess hands out tall tumblers of pink sherbet. The tinkling of the spoons continues as the guests dissolve the viscous syrup in the water, only to find it settled at the bottom of their glasses again. Unable to defy the force of gravity, they hurriedly gulp down the drink to end this unfair battle.

A strong breeze brings in tufts of dried grass from the parched garden. A cruel reminder of the brevity of life, yet my heart still yearns for the scorching sunlight. These kind souls are depriving me of my one true love, the passionate rays of the sun. I feel powerless as they feed me course after course of chilled delicacies. They don’t realize that the heat is my mistress and my muse. I reach into my pocket for the vial that I carry around for such occasions. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I politely refuse the dessert that drugs the lunch party and induces a state of deep slumber. It is amusing to watch grown men and women doze off on the dining table, their hair swimming in gravy. As much as I want to stand and admire my handiwork, there is not much time to spare. I rush out of this prison of practicality with my trunk in one hand and the host’s wallet in the other.

One must not trust their instincts in the summer months.

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