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.

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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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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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Thorny Nettles: An Unfortunate Love Story

Thorny Nettles: An Unfortunate Love Story

The yearning for solitude led them into the haunted woods. They were forewarned by well-wishers about the cursed willows, but there was no other refuge in the vicinity that could shelter sprouting love from the perils of practicality. Misty eyes firmly set on each other, they bid adieu to concerned friends and entered the realm of relentless romance. They were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by sunlit trails and chirping birds. The melodious music of nature muffled the troubled whispers of lost souls who had traversed this path before.

Seven days flew by, joyous hours doused with the sweet nectar of love, untarnished by the worries of the material world. The seventh night was a moonless one but hunger forced them to venture into the shadows in the search of food. This was their first encounter with reality since they had pledged their lives to each other. The woods seemed claustrophobic in the darkness. Shrieking bats flew over their heads, their sharp claws brushed her hair. Dead branches scraped his legs, making red rivulets flow down his skin. Shiny eyes, green and yellow, appeared in the thorny bushes. The cloudless sky began to shed tears; the grey pellets were nothing like the hailstones they had seen before.

Overcome with fear and fatigue, she wanted to return to their den but his resolve was undeterred. He left her in a cave lit up by a swarm of fireflies and continued to wade through the murky water that had engulfed the daisies. He squeezed through a dense bamboo forest to reach a path that was miraculously dry. The intertwining branches of ancient trees had created a tunnel that appeared to stretch for miles. The sound of a gushing waterfall enticed him towards the other end. He had reached mid-way when the first rays of sunshine pierced through the canopy of leaves and magically transported him back to the spot where he had left her.

The itch of defeat disturbed him all day and the moment the sun drowned in the invisible sea, he rushed back to the tunnel. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful yet again and found himself beside her as soon as dawn broke. This continued for several weeks, the rainbows, butterflies and silver clouds were not sufficient to heal the wounds of failure. Even the sight of her face, deep in a satisfied slumber, became a constant reminder of his shortcomings. He was irked because she couldn’t associate with the undying urge to win this curious game.

Each night he tried a new tactic until he was left with just one. The final strategy worked marvellously well and he plunged ecstatically into the pristine waters that sparkled in his victorious glow. Knowing that she was dead broke all restraints of inhibition and helped him run faster than he ever could.

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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.