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 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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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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Summer Petals: A tale of love

Summer Petals: A tale of love

The headiness of summer dulled the sword of reason and brought together two strangers with starkly different personalities. The shy periwinkle was firmly rooted to the ground. Quiet, reclusive, and comfortably shaded from the harsh sun rays by an emerald umbrella of palm leaves, she did not mind a life of solitude in the least. The bumble bee, on the other hand, was effervescent and jovial. He was a gypsy that wandered from lavenders to tulips and roses to sunflowers, on the hunt for the sweetest nectar. However, the subtle brightness of the periwinkle forced him to frequent her corner ever so often, especially since the sweltering heat had wilted most of the other flowers.

The periwinkle was shocked by the unforeseen showers of affection but soon got accustomed to his hovering presence. The furious hot winds had wrinkled the edges of her petals, but he didn’t seem to notice her flaws at all. A chivalrous soul, he even helped her out when some drops of melted strawberry ice cream from a toddler’s cone had blinded her. The intoxicating flavor of the fruit, combined with the faint aroma of her sweetness, was a pure elixir for the bumble bee. Silently but surely, a fondness developed between the two even though their intentions were not congruent.

The enthralling encounters continued for days and he soon became familiar with each bend of her petals while she could recognize his buzzing from afar. Not a single creature ventured out in the unforgiving sunlight but the two lovers were oblivious to the sorrows of the world. The streaks of clouds that had witnessed this romance since the beginning grew angrier as they realized the whimsical attitude of the bee. They puffed and darkened with rage until they couldn’t hold the wrath any longer and exploded to expose his philandering ways.

The comforting scent of wet mud tickled his tentacles; he looked around to find several buds erupting from the moistened shoots. The rain offered respite to the dried up vegetation but also kindled a spark of passion in the bee’s tiny heart. He could not defy his natural urge to fly from bloom to bloom. Soon enough, she noticed tiny specks of the pollen from a red hibiscus on his feet and disengaged from her stalk that night. He came looking for her the next day but his limited range of vision could not extend till the murky ground.

She fell in the path of a lonely ant, a dreamer who could not believe that a precious flower had chosen to pay him a visit. He gently rolled her along the cobbled path that led to his home. She got scraped and bruised but could sense the concern in the ant’s careful movements. He dug out a cozy bed for her right next to the entrance of his nest and fluffed it up with some fallen feathers. It was the soundest sleep of her life as she had finally found the meaning of true love.

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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 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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