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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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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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.

The Kitchen Window

The Kitchen Window

The colonial mansion that had once been the residence of aristocratic families and wealthy merchants now offered cheap accommodation to scores of unfortunate souls. The grandeur of this former palace had been heavily diminished by the clotheslines in the corridors that were adorned with mismatched socks. Frame-shaped patches of nothingness had replaced the paintings on the wall; the artist had fed at least a dozen mouths.

The resourceful caretaker relied on the neglectful ownership of the heir to earn a few extra pennies and some blessings from the distressed seekers of shelter. These were not people who were poor from the lack of trying, the population comprised of failed businessmen and eloped lovers, rebellious daughters, and struggling writers. They were ashamed of their living conditions but proud of their lives. These determined warriors would rather live in this shoddy house than surrender themselves to societal norms.

Vibha was probably the youngest of the lot and most definitely the poorest. Her income from selling handcrafted toys was barely sufficient to pay for the makeshift bedroom that had been created in one of the kitchens. Not a single meal had been served here in over decades, yet everything from the walls to the pillows reeked of mustard oil. The smell, however, was a smaller distraction than the perpetual noises from the room next door.

The couple that occupied the adjoining dining room seemed to be suffering from a marriage gone sour. Thanks to the tiny wooden window that the architect had added for the expedited delivery of food, Vibha knew more about her neighbors than she would have preferred. The creaking of the bed, the dissatisfied groans and the slaps delivered on the poor bride’s cheek, Vibha bore witness to the gradual progression of the husband towards permanent drunkenness.

On being startled out of sleep by a particularly loud thud one night, Vibha broke the only rule of the house to never interfere in others’ private matters. She hesitantly peered through a crack in the window. The sight of a purplish black bruise on the woman’s face gave her enough courage to unlatch the bolt and gently tap on the rotting wood. The window was soon unlatched from the other end as well. Vibha lifted the flap as quietly as possible and quickly retreated after placing a jar of salve on the ledge.

Uma never returned the jar but did slip through some incense sticks to suppress the stench of oil. The window became a portal connecting two lives; several whispered words of hope were exchanged. Neither knew whether the hushed stories the other told were true or false but the love with which they held hands through the window, while the inebriated spouse snored away, was real.

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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