Forgiveness

They say that when we are about to die, our whole life flashes before our eyes. False. Certainly not for me. For me once again, it is January 1985. The fog of memory has cleared. I am standing there, with him. His hands are behind his head, he is on his knees. Eyes closed. He has already accepted what is to come. I consider briefly, walking away. I remember my promise to him, and I raise my revolver. Then, the shots ring out. Bam! Bam! Bam! He is dead.
I woke with a start, coughing. There are concerned faces looking around at me. This is my large and loving family. Worry lines are writ large on my sons’ faces. “Same dream?” a voice asks me, placing a soft hand on my shoulder. My heart beat calms down. Yet as I acknowledge the presence of my family and reassure them I am going to be alright… I sense his presence. Why is he here? I wonder… Will I ever be free from him? For forty years since that day, I have been haunted by that memory. By his twisted smile. By his calm eyes. His question that I still don’t have the answer to. Did I lose faith in myself, or the system?
As my eyelids begin to droop, I am thankful that I don’t need to look for that answer anymore. I hear gasps around me, and flatlining. It must be me. He holds his arms out wide. As he embraces me, I think that if I could feel… I would have surely broken down. This man, the bane of my existence, the ghost of my past has now become my saviour. He has freed me. As I am walking with him, a sweet fragrance envelops us and I feel a lightness of being… like never before.

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The Window and the Great White Bird

I looked through the shimmering glass window. I saw her ornate writing desk, half opened like someone had gone through it looking for something. A lot of things I remembered placing there were missing. A few journals, I think. There were a few loose sheafs of paper. I recognised her handwriting. Those were my words, in a different time. The Sun was setting in the distance, I looked to my right side. The bed so perfectly made. Mine. But it wouldn’t be slept in, it had not been. For a long time. Briefly I considered just that. I sat there and soaked in the room. My one and only chance to see it. This wasn’t my time. I had to go back after all.
I closed my eyes. I remembered. She walked around, she seemed restless. She had never been more alone, but she had also never felt more free as she looked at the elephant that seemed to have materialised before her. The elephant didn’t seem afraid of her, she felt calm looking at it. She walked towards it. It sat down, so did she. She stroked it gently. Murmured words of comfort, and also relaying her predicament. How strange, she thought… That a creature she had only encountered a while ago should make her feel so safe, as though everything was going to be just fine. She sat down, her back resting against the elephant and closed her eyes. And waited. I felt the hours pass by. I knew what was coming. Sure enough, there appeared a white bird in the sky, the wings flapping majestically. The bird rose up towards the Sun, as though to devour it. There was a great explosion of light, like a canopy of shimmering fragments of diamonds enveloping the entire forest they were in. She rose, she was free.
She had arrived at the beach. She watched as the waters lapped at her feet gently, an ever present cool breeze playing with her curls, casting them about hither and thither. She opened her arms wide and received all of it, smiling serenely.
It was at once, the most peaceful and the most heartbreaking thing I had ever seen. I wanted to see no more, I opened my eyes. My eyes flooded with joy and envy, I know not if those tears running down my cheeks were mine or hers. It does not matter.

Here I am. Once again. Till the great white bird comes, I bid you all adieu!

Free Writing – piece 1

Yesterday, the sixteenth of July 2017 I attended a writing workshop conducted by Rohini Malur and Queer Arts Movement India (QAMI). I had a great time, meeting new people and an adorable dog that wandered in. So, the workshop began with a free writing exercise, sort of stretching out the mental muscles in order to keep them limber and flexible before embarking on the journey, for the day. The only rule we had was that we had to write without pause. The topic was Movie Character. The timer was set for five minutes, and here is what I wrote:

“She is this amazing, free spirited woman. She gets up to all sorts​ of shenanigans with the boy next door, who wants to be a writer when he grows up. I like her because she is relatable in that we both want to live our own lives, unshackled by societal expectations. She leaves home at a very young age, to pursue her dreams. And boy, does she have a LOT of them. It is not that she is just confused about what she wants to do professionally, but she wants to do many things. She has one vision of herself, standing before a cheering crowd and receiving all the fame, and adoration as she belts out tune after tune. She has this lovely, scattered energy about her, which is what the aspiring writer falls in love with. Unwittingly, each day the friends grow closer, as they both are in the same city. They are new there, and don’t have anyone but each other to lean on. So the duo help one another with their professional aspirations, she becomes his muse after a fashion. Eventually, the inevitable does happen. The two friends fall in love. But while he is okay with taking their relationship to the next level and obey the diktats of society in doing so, she is not.”

The timer ran out here, and I had to stop at this point else I would have been able to flesh out a great deal about the external conflict, and the internal conflicts that threatened the friendship, the relationship as well as the growth that both characters have to undergo before they can come back into each other’s lives once again. Indeed, the brightest dawn follows the darkest night. But setting all that aside, let’s continue with what happened at the workshop. We had to guess which character each person had written about. Nobody got mine. You know why? She is the every day woman.  She is striving to live her life, pursue her dreams while subsequently wanting to break free. She is extraordinarily ordinary. She is you, she is me.

There in lies the beauty of it.

Version 1 – Delusion

(This is the first, and the more realistic version of what might happen in these sort of scenarios. The second one, the happier version is to follow… shortly.)

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the email.  “Dear Maya, it has been fourteen months since you dropped that incisive, amusing and insightful critique of my book. We have been corresponding since then.  I think your acerbic wit is delightful, you have a way with words and our mutual love for symbolism brings me to this decision. I will be in your city next week, and I thought of sharing a first draft of my next release. I want to gather your thoughts on it, I will be there for about ten days. So, think about it and we can set it up. As always, I hope that the odds have ever been in your favour” This was followed by a ten-digit number. Had he given out his mobile number? Surely not, it was probably his P.A. or agent. My hands were trembling only slightly as I picked up the phone and headed outside to the Cherry Blossom cafe and sat at my favourite table beneath the rose gold lights casting long shadows, even as the Sun was about to go down in the distance. I gestured to the waiter that it would take a while, I had run here all the way, patting the paper in my chest pocket. I took out the print of the e-mail and re – read it several times. “Irish coffee and a slice of the red velvet indulgence” I said to the waiter who nodded smilingly, looking curiously at the paper in my hand. As he walked away, my head was full of questions. My heart was palpitating as I pressed the numbers on my phone. “Hello? ” a smooth baritone said. I dropped the phone in shock. No Way! This was his personal number! I could still hear him saying hello, before the line was finally disconnected. I took a fortifying sip of the scalding coffee that had arrived and winced. He would think I am such a wuss. I called again. He was busy. Of course, he would be, he was a best-selling author. Not a carefree teenager sitting by the phone, waiting. I wrung my palms, trying to stay calm and I started counting to a hundred. I had gotten to 86 when Shape of You by Ed Sheeran rang out loudly. My phone, it was him! He had called back! I blew on my cold hands before answering. “Hi?” I ventured nervously knowing who was on the other end of the line. “Maya, hey! How are ya? This is Amit” he said. What followed was a delightful eleven minute conversation with me oscillating between excitement and nervousness. We fixed up a weekend meeting.

The weekend couldn’t come soon enough.

“I went over to Sunshine Cafe, smoothing my hair nervously as I walked inside. He was already there. Smiling slightly as he sipped from his own cup. I held out my hand, smiling a little too brightly. We sat down. I looked around, the whole room held one table. Ours, and the setting reflected the very same as that of the first time Pedro and June, my favourite characters from his novel go on their first date. First Date? Wait, whoa. Why was this room done up in this fashion? I backed away slightly, feeling a bit strange as he took in my appearance and his eyes held a strange light I didn’t understand. I tugged at my “Owl Always Love You” tee self – consciously. “Nice choice of attire” he said, smirking at the reference to a quote from a novel by one of our favourite authors. I shrugged. He then took out a slightly voluminous bundle and handed it to me. “280 pages, I trust that you will not show it to anybody. We will meet just before I leave to discuss your thoughts on it. Okay?” he asked. I nodded. Then talk shifted to politics, books and movies etc. As we parted ways, he said “I really enjoyed meeting you. I think there is a pretty good author hidden away, somewhere within you.” I waved to him and began walking away rapidly in the opposite direction feeling happy and floaty, as I clutched the black bundle tightly to my chest.”

Oh, how lovely if that had been the case. But it was not. For the truth made the headlines. The body was found in an alley, close to the highway. There had been no sexual assault. A bunch of titles by Amit Dwivedi had been found, along with an email, and a phone number, the address of a cafe. When the police questioned the author, he claimed that he had never known the victim or corresponded with her. He did not understand the diary entry either, had she written a fictitious and hopeful account of what she thought their meeting was going to be like? He had been in Bangalore, sure but not on the dates mentioned in the email. That was not his phone number either, and he furnished sufficient proof to back up his claims. The police were satisfied and let him go. They looked at the CCTV footage of Sunshine Cafe where they were supposed to have met. The baffling thing was that she had never showed up there. They looked at the call records, there had been a bunch of calls suggesting some possible last-minute plan changes. She was an extremely private person, or had not confided in her friends about the change in plans. Tracking the phone was to no avail either. The killer had gotten away scot – free. What the police, the author and media couldn’t figure out was why someone would spend over a year impersonating the author, and then fix up a meeting only to kill the girl. The sight of the mangled corpse was a grotesque one, one that would haunt the author for years to come. He explored it over the course of several years through his various stories but was never able to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Neither did the police.

Finally, the case file was closed and put away with the rest of the cold cases rotting away in the precinct’s Records Room.

 

 

A small price for love

(The word of the day, incorporated in the following story: Apple polishing)

“Jonathan, you obstreperous child! Come back here. I will tell your mother what you have done! My joints aren’t quite what they used to be, boy! Manipulating your old aunt into making those Snickerdoodles, gambling and stealing money for a corsage, just you wait till I catch you” the old woman gave chase to the young boy, breathing heavily. The boy and the family dog, Coco ran around enthusiastically. Being a worldly and self-aware young man, Jon was quite aware of his failings. His weakness was the ladies, and his auntie’s Snickerdoodles. The two had inexplicably combined when on a hot Wednesday in May, Miss Lucy walked in to Grade 6 and introduced Katie, the new girl who had been smart enough to skip fifth grade and be promoted straight to the sixth grade. Jon felt a not entirely unpleasant swooping feeling in his gut, when Katie looked at him and gave him a smile. “This must be love” the young man decided and began to develop a strategy of courting her so he could ask her to be his partner for the Estival Formal, two weeks from the day. He looked around and noted with dismay that those insidious devils, formerly best mates of his – Tom, Nate and Henry were making similar plans too, looking at the love light that appeared to have kindled in their eyes, also. They seemed to have adopted a strategy of apple polishing to gain her attention, and let her sit next to them. She was looking doubtfully at the cheerful, earnest faces. Jon schooled his face into an expression of nonchalance, but his heart threatened to explode all over the place when she laid down her beautiful pink and white backpack with flowers on them, on the seat next to his. As she settled in to her seat, he mouthed ” How about that?” to his now rivals for the hand of Miss Katie. They shook hands, and by God! He was smitten! Cupid had aimed his arrow deftly at young Jon, who fell hard.

Jon walked up to her with a playful swagger and said, “I bet you have never tasted anything as good as that of my Auntie Liz’s Snickerdoodles.” She smiled and said “Mummy makes very good Snickerdoodles too. Challenge accepted. Same time, next week?” He solemnly accepted, adding “If I win, you will accompany me to the Estival Ball.” She looked a bit surprised, let out a delightful peal of laughter that had him and the boys around them, hanging on to her every word feeling mildly disoriented as she seemed to float away from him, back to class with her newly acquired gaggle of female friends.

The next couple of days went by in a haze as he convinced his Auntie Liz that he missed his parents very much, but especially Mummy and her Snickerdoodles. He brooded in a manly fashion, and sighed when his Auntie suggested that she make her famous Snickerdoodles for him, and it would be the same since it was a family recipe that had been passed down to both sisters by great Nana herself. “That might alleviate the suffering, some” he said with the air of one giving up something great. She looked at him with pity and affectionately ruffled his hair, drew him up a list to go get the ingredients to make the Snickerdoodles.

Next Wednesday came and he had been baked quite an alarmingly large batch, so he managed to give some to Katie, wrapped in a neat ribbon he found in Aunt Liz’s desk. He also distributed the rest to his classmates and Miss Lucy. The class opined that his batch was indeed the finest. That’s how Jon found himself on a date with the most beautiful young woman in all the universes ever. Katie Corden. He slipped on the corsage he had purchased with the money he had stealthily purloined from the farm’s cash register he manned during the weekends. Katie beamed widely, took his arm and walked inside the school hall that had been decorated to appear like a shindig of the Roaring Twenties. He doffed his imaginary hat to his brothers – in – arms, and walked past them with a supercilious smirk plastered firmly upon his face. The night passed in blissful oblivion, even as the moon shone down brightly upon those two hearts beginning to beat in unison while Cole Porter played on, in the background.

One jealous young ex – suitor, hurt and rebuffed worked out that with the allowance Jon got, and the number of chores he had pawned off on others, he could not have afforded the corsage. He cycled to Merry Farms, and told on his formerly bosom pal. And that is the story of how Jon found himself in the present predicament. He worked out a compromise where he promised to do chores for the next two weeks and skip the school field trip to the zoo, that he had been looking forward to from weeks. He vowed to himself to find out who had sabotaged him, and get even at the person, even while he nursed elaborate fantasies of him and Katie dancing in the moonlight, as they once did before. Hands fitting perfectly, laughing, dancing a little too close for him to be able to smell her warm, intoxicating cherry flavoured scent.

“Two weeks of chores isn’t a bad price to pay for love” he surmised, as he picked up the shovel and went to work in the farm, while the hot sun beat down on his bony back.

 

Goddess – Is She?

“It is not my fault that I am having to do this. I blame my parents, uncles, aunts, and anyone else who does not have the guts to speak up against what is to happen today. You are all equally guilty.” I write with trembling hands, the delicate glass bangles clatter as the pen moves up and down in a hypnotic rhythm, all its own. I was a class topper, I was going to have a fine future. I wanted to be a doctor, and make affordable healthcare accessible to the hundreds of women in my village like Didi who died, giving birth to her fourth child.

I looked at the ornate mirror. I had half a dozen green coloured bangles made of glass, along with a pair of gold ones, that weighed my dainty wrists down. Kohl rimmed eyes, the apples of my cheeks dusted with a hint of colour, lips stained crimson; long, elegant chandelier earrings hung from my ears, accompanied by a matching choker set and an ornamental forehead piece, or maatha – patti completing the look. I wore a forest green coloured sharara suit, the veil carefully pinned to cover every inch of my head. I looked every inch the embodiment of an estival Goddess even though I was just a tool brought in to this world to fulfill the requirements of a demonic, broken down system. The greater my fury grew, the words bled on to paper, as if they were being transferred straight from the recesses of my brain, on to the rich cream coloured paper I had at my desk. Let me tell you, I have never wanted for anything in my life. I go to an English medium school, and get to wear the finest of frocks and dresses that we get from the city. I am popular in my school, admired by teachers and peers alike. I have never thus far had even a minor setback or inconvenience that my father did not take care of, or mysteriously make disappear. So, imagine my shock when I received the horrifying news that turned my life upside down on my 13th birthday. I cried, I stomped my feet and yelled but to no avail. My parents wouldn’t budge from their stance, my father and I had stopped all communication, once or twice I thought my mother looked at me contritely… Like she wanted to say something, but she would sigh and shake her head as was her wont and walk away. She was a firm proponent of our family’s belief that women ought to be seen, and not heard. She had married my father at a young age and completed her schooling with the encouragement of my grandfather. Despite much societal opposition at the time, he even encouraged my mother to pursue and complete B. Com via distance education mode. She now handled the accounts for our business. It seemed as if my fate was fixed. “But, here is the thing about me you don’t know. I push back harder when you push me. I firmly believe that I am the captain of my destiny. Therefore, I am leaving, do not attempt to find me.” I sign my name with a sort of flourish, dotting my I’s in an almost vicious fashion, taking savage pleasure imagining the uproar that would undoubtedly ensue once the wedding party would discover that the bride had gone missing.

 

Love and Loss

She would never forget that day. In the park, they were sitting cross legged, sheltered from the heavy pitter-patter of harshly falling rain drops by the expansive gazebo. Even now, twenty years down the line she could recollect every fine detail of the exquisite miniatures etched on the gazebo. She remembered his strong clear features and sharp compelling gaze. That dark green shirt that he was wearing that day. The light blue salwar she had been wearing. The harsh words she had tossed in his face. How she had frozen his passionate ardour without knowing its depth. Pausing her pen on the paper, she leaned back, crying unabashedly for here, nobody knew her and she knew nobody. She wept for him, she wept for the love she had pushed away and the even precious friendship she lost. She closed her eyes recounting the scene. His twenty-two-year-old self was holding the hand of her twenty-year-old self. He was saying “I love you. I want to be with you forever.” She got enraged at his choice of words despite knowing everything. She lashed out at him “What do you mean forever? There is no forever, we stay together only till one of us conveniently feels the need to dispose of the other.” He was taken aback, he had never seen her act like this. “Are you okay?” he asked gently holding her. Shaking him off, she got up and continued speaking, going breathless with anger and hurt. “Do you remember what he had promised me? Together forever?” “Where is he now? What happened to the forever? No, don’t make all these passionate promises, please leave, I don’t believe in love anymore. One day or the other you will leave, instead its better you leave me now when I don’t love you. If I come to love you then I’ll only be hurt. Love hurts.” He was dumbfounded, “you don’t love me?” he asked and she replied “Of course not, how can I? It is only two months since we started seeing each other.” She walked away from him, letting him grieve over his broken heart in silence. 

Bringing her pen to paper, she continued writing till she finally reached the end of the page. She did not sign the letter, why bother? She had as much significance in this village as the flea she had swatted just a minute ago. Once again, her heart squeezed painfully remembering the glamorous looking lady, who stood arm-in-arm with him at the inauguration of his new hospital a year back. Determinedly she uncorked the bottle and downed the contents in one gulp. She fell from the chair and began writhing in agony, the pain suffocating her. One last jerk of her limbs and the vase fell making a loud sound that attracted the attention of a passer-by who immediately called for the doctor.

She opened her eyes with much difficulty and saw a greying man attending to her efficiently, worry written all over his face. Then he looked at her, she gasped. It was Him. The same bright brown eyes. “What are you doing here?” she asked him, trying to get up but with no success. “We meet again” he said dryly. “Why did you do this?” his voice cracked for the first time and he seemed on the verge of tears himself. She cocked her head towards her left, indicating the letter on the table which she had finished writing. “Suicide note” he thought with disgust, hardly believing it. She was the last person he would expect to think of suicide and yet here she had, inevitably tried to take her life. He could not read through the last few lines, not without the hot film of tears coating his eyes, stinging. He turned back and instinctively knew something was wrong. Reaching out, he closed her eyes which had been looking towards him in an expression he could not make out; her message to him was lost forever. She had loved him too but what a bittersweet moment of realization. She herself had become a memory.

 He resisted the urge to break down or pound his fists angrily. He had a wife and family waiting at home, he reminded himself and yet the pain of it was too intense. Her loss was an immense ache in his heart. But he knew what was expected of him, so he picked himself up from the floor and picked up his medical kit, thanking the gods who had given him the opportunity to see her one last time. He walked outside and found that many villagers were peering curiously towards the cottage. “The patient is dead” he announced stoically. They groaned collectively. As the doctor walked away from the cottage, a young girl ran up to him and pulled at his white coat. He looked at her, taken by surprise. “Did you know her? “she asked him, carefully scrutinising the doctor’s face. “No” he said emphatically and went over to his car. The young girl wondered why the doctor had been lying. She had, after all been able to see his unshed tears.