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 Claustrophobic Classroom: How I Do Not Fit In

The Claustrophobic Classroom: How I Do Not Fit In

I sat on the edge of the bench in the corner, palms moist with sweat, praying vehemently that she wouldn’t make it in time for the first period. I must have said my prayers wrong because the familiar clicking of heels was fast approaching. The musky perfume tickled my nostrils even before her red toenails had crossed the doorway. She looked miffed as usual; I quickly altered my prayers and requested God to prevent any pieces of chalk from flying in my direction that day. Every tick of the clock was an achievement, a moment bravely survived, although my throat was dry with fear. The much-awaited bell finally broke the monotonous rumble of the mathematical formulae that she recited in her robotic voice. She disappeared from the room in one swift motion, with an extremely audible sigh of relief. I often wonder why she chose to become a teacher if the mere sight of children was such an annoyance to her.

We marched towards the playground for the physical education class, a meandering line of kids ranked according to height. The class was less of a learning experience and more of a humiliation as I could barely jump with my tiny legs while the lanky girls leaped from one end of the monkey ladder to the other. You cannot hide in the shadows on a playground; all your shortcomings are on display in the unforgiving sunlight. The lunch break is not much better either, the classmates exhibit delectable goodies while my humble sandwich drowns with shame in a sea of sugary jam. The barely nibbled at toast is better off as a misshapen lump that I sneakily discard in the bin.

Story time is what follows the lunch break, a faint glimmer in a realm of darkness. Now I can quietly sit and dream about a life devoid of school and bullies. A world where one is not mocked for the shabby state of their second-hand uniform or scolded for speaking too softly. Where discipline does not mean the lack of expression and everyone is not expected to have the same handwriting. Where parents do not blindly believe the notes sent back by teachers and the worth of a child is not measured by their elocution skills alone. In such a wonderful land we will not need to restrict our imagination to one period of storytelling and the playground will not be a battlefield. But for now, the story time is over and an hour of sticking beads on fabric with trembling fingers lies ahead. The sole consolation lies in the fact that only twenty days remain until the summer break.

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An Empty Canvas

An Empty Canvas

The morning sun was playing a game of Hide and Seek with her that day. Peeking through the puffy clouds, he giggled at her cheerfully and sprayed a few droplets of golden light all over her face. He was the only one who recognised her youthfulness that was shrouded by the veil of age. Indeed, it was hard to keep the buoyant spirit alive, considering that she was the oldest member of a family that spanned across four generations.

Once her grandkids started talking, she no longer remained Vimla, as everyone began calling her Amma, the term for grandmother in the local dialect. That morning she sat in the balcony of her room, stealing glances at those very children as they indulged in the festivities of Holi in the garden below. Eons ago, when she had first stepped into this household, she used to celebrate this festival of colours with much vigour. No person who dared to venture into the verandah could escape without being drenched in brilliant shades of red, blue and green.

Amma had always nurtured an unfaltering love for colours. Be it the mesmerising kaleidoscope of Bandhini dupattas at the cloth merchant’s store or the delightful display of Indian sweetmeats doused in pink and yellow syrup, the colours always implored her to bring them home. Much to the disapproval of her elders, she would wade through the slushy mud of the pond in the backyard for the violet water lilies that matched the curtains in her room. She would spend hours gazing at the butterflies that fluttered around the spring blossoms and would create colourful wind chimes out of her broken glass bangles.

Little did she know that broken bangles would soon dictate the rest of her life, owing to the untimely demise of her beloved husband. She was extremely cross at grandpa for abandoning her, but more so for snatching away the colours from her existence. A widow’s attire of a plain white sari and a lifestyle devoid of frolic and freedom made her resent each moment. However, the seasoned hands of time eventually moulded her and she slowly succumbed to her dreadful destiny. But today was the festival of Holi, the only day when dilemmas and doubts would befuddle her. Was it a sin to hug her little ones covered in Gulal or to ignore the sobbing of her great grandchild who wanted to throw a water balloon at her?

A painful scream disrupted her train of thoughts and brought her back to the present. As she rushed downstairs to investigate, the tiny bucket, carefully balanced on the door, tipped over and soaked her in a vibrant hue of vermillion. The innocent prank released her from the constraints of a widow’s garb and revived the ebullient girl who was unaware of limitations. For the first time in decades, Amma enjoyed this joyous occasion and embraced her precious colours again. Such is the power of white, it is blank and boring but ever willing to move with the times and absorb the splashes of paint that Change throws in its direction.

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The Mother Of The Moon

The Mother Of The Moon

The last black strand of her mane turned grey the day Asha lost her youngest child to the cruel clutches of tuberculosis. For the first time in fifty years, the lamp in the village temple was not lit as soon as the sun hit the horizon. The sunlight left the sky and the sanity her mind. Muttering angrily to herself, Asha ran barefoot towards the river where they had strewn the ashes of her beloved son.

She stood knee-deep in the icy water for several hours, pulling out weeds in an attempt to catch one more glimpse of her baby’s face.  She was finally broken out of her trance by the realization that there was a shimmering glow a few feet away. There he was with his innocent visage, cherubic smile, and half closed eyes. The reflection of the moon in the inky water provided her assurance that she still had a purpose, she was still a mother.

From that day, Asha became a nocturnal wanderer, who carried her son around in a bowl of water from the holy river. She sobbed uncontrollably when stormy clouds engulfed his cheeks or when he abandoned her for his monthly excursions. When the villagers brought over some food, she would drop it in the vessel. When the wind blew fiercely, she would cover him with her Sari. When thirsty birds attacked him, she would injure them with pebbles.

Many years passed, the memories of the clever village priestess slowly faded and the locals got accustomed to the feverish ramblings of a senile widow. Tales of the Mother of the Moon spread beyond the precincts of the village. Claims were made that she possessed mystical powers. A place previously unheard of became a popular tourist halt, where the moon shone with an unparalleled vibrancy. However, as with everything that garners public attention, the enigmatic woman soon became the subject of a national debate.

Various organizations battled for the custody of the poor victim of misfortune. A women’s welfare trust emerged victorious and immediately transported a reluctant Asha to their nearest shelter. The treatment and care restored her reasoning abilities and she led a healthy life until she was reunited with her real son at the ripe age of 90. The moon, on the other hand, still lives on as an insignificant orb, whose former glory was stifled by the dust of reality and despair.

The Parijat Tree #2 Of Highways and Hearsay

The Parijat Tree #2 Of Highways and Hearsay

The moment she muffled the inner cries of past regrets, even the most mundane objects started speaking to her. They had some fascinating tales to tell. Wind chimes sang about the clandestine meetings of forbidden lovers while statues complained of neglect at the hands of heartbroken owners. The abandoned slipper of a drunken reveller felt as worthless as the chandeliers that lit deserted hallways.

The whimsical wind beckoned her to travel to places unseen and to challenge the invisible boundaries that were holding her back. She set out on an unusual journey, hitchhiking her way to an undecided destination. She traversed several miles sitting beside a jovial truck driver, whose humanity suppressed the stench of alcohol that accompanied his laughter. At every hairpin bend of the road, she prayed that her luck would shield them from the ill effects of the perilous liquid.

She chose not to spend the fortune that she had undeservingly inherited and instead found comfort in the strangest of shelters. On one occasion, a kind priest offered her refuge in the abode of the local deity, whereas another night was spent in the veranda of a village hospital. Curious, wrinkled faces stared at her through the windows while the less energetic patients made their presence felt with intermittent groans. The solitary compounder eventually got tired of chiding her for this irresponsible behaviour and dozed off on the steps in an attempt to keep her safe till dawn. She, on the other hand, stayed wide awake until the night was defeated by the sunshine that spread impartially over the youthful and the dying.

Not all the encounters with strangers were as pleasant. One evening she found herself walking down a hilly section of the highway with no vehicle in sight. A flickering bulb, hanging by a bare wire over the doorway of a closed Dhaba, was her only hope. The caretaker reluctantly offered her some insipid food along with unsolicited advice on how to mend her ways. He claimed to be blessed with clairvoyance and declared that she was born to ruin the life of a man. She remained undeterred as this was not the first time that someone had refused to look beyond her daring nature and undeniable beauty, an unfortunate mix for any woman to possess.

After a week of venturing into the exhilarating unknown, she found herself tracing back her footsteps to the concrete confines that she had once wanted to demolish. Only when she branched out was she able to appreciate her roots. She had blossomed like the Parijat tree but was still attached to the soil of a former prison that was now a retreat to rest her weary wings.

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The Lion and the Lamb

The Lion and the Lamb

The Bazaar was a typical bustling marketplace except that it comprised of concentric circles connected by narrow lanes that gave it the appearance of a dream catcher. Being just a stone’s throw from the Railway Station, there were shops catering to all the needs of a weary tourist, from soap to safety pins, towels to umbrellas, there was even a shady looking tent in one of the lanes that claimed to house the cure to everything ranging from a broken heart to impotence. Narasimha ensured that I never ventured near the tent, but on any given day I could be seen gorging on crispy Jalebis at the sweet shop or revelling in the kaleidoscope of colors at the bangle store. I was always atop his trusty shoulders as we spiralled our way towards the heart of the Bazaar.

Like all the domestic help employed by the Indian Railways, Narasimha was named after a Hindu God, the deity with a lion’s head. I fondly called him Lion Uncle, to which his retort was to call me a dainty lamb; we were the best of friends. Narasimha had been around for as long as I could remember, to help my mother with the household chores and odd jobs around the house, but primarily to take care of his dainty lamb. It is still hard for me to comprehend that he had a wife and several kids back home while he showered all that love on me. He masterfully played several roles in my life, that of an elder brother, a protector and a friend (I was an extremely shy kid and could seldom befriend children my own age).

He walked me to school every day, in fact, he persuaded me to go to school. I was petrified of both the teachers and my classmates alike and would readily sign up for homeschooling if that was an option back in the day. I remember sobbing into his sleeve each morning until I finally reached the dreadful gates where Narasimha promised to stand all day long. I was convinced that he kept his word because there he was each afternoon, ready to scoop me up into his arms and carry me away from the dangerous world of black boards and wooden rulers. On our way back, I would cheerfully relate the day’s happenings, and he would patiently listen, gently chiding me in case I had picked up a bad word that day.

When my parents argued, he would distract me with a game of Hide and Seek or Seven Tiles out in the garden. I remember a particular altercation that resulted in a pickle jar being smashed to pieces against the floor. He silently swept away the shards of glass and tidied up as if nothing had happened, the next day the casualty was replaced by a brand new jar.

Adolescence arrived with all the promised aches and pains, along with a transfer order for my dad. I do not remember the last time I saw Narasimha, but the dosas were never as crispy and the afternoon chats never as engrossing again. Soon I learnt to nurse my own wounds and the hobbling man and his little companion were reduced to a distant memory. I cannot recall his face anymore; perhaps he was an imaginary friend, perhaps a guardian angel, perhaps a childhood dream.