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.