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 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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A patchwork of ephemeral visions perturbs my sleep at night. A disorderly chaos of people back from the dead and long forgotten lovers, against a curtain of surreal scenery. In this parallel universe, the birds can fly backwards and the tigers are tame, the waterfalls are set ablaze by the sun and the dew drops freeze into shiny pearls.
You can be at several places at once, in fact, the cities walk to your doorstep. A magical mosaic of childhood homes and palaces from hazy summer destinations. Your troubles are reduced to crippled versions of their harrowing selves and your enemies morph into hilarious buffoons.
The world conspires to make you invincible, a boon so powerful that you cannot be destroyed. Gigantic butterflies rescue abandoned souls and carry them across oceans within seconds. Immortal ponies gallop over fires, sheltering your skin from the scorching flames. You can be an artist or a gypsy, a witch or a merchant, but what you really are is a goddess.
Who would ever wish to escape from such a flawless dreamland? A land devoid of painful heartbreak and blistering betrayal. Where no fall is too hard and no slope is too steep. Where the clouds are your cushions and the breeze your wings. If only life could be so glorious.
Of late the blotches of reality have been tarnishing the pretty picture painted on my mind’s canvas. Fear, anxiety, and sorrow are making an appearance in the form of horned demons. I am trapped in a fractal of nightmares within nightmares. An endless loop of waking up in a state of panic; a serpent devouring its own tail. A vicious cycle of screaming into pillows and crying myself back to sleep.
Is this the curse of growing up or the outcome of the maledictions muttered by my mistakes? Perhaps an evil ailment or the fruit of unintended sins? Whatever this brutal beast may be, I know of a way to defeat him. I will now embrace a sleepless existence and will forever walk this earth with parched eyes.