A Queen whose machinations shape the fate of a powerful empire. Another, a Princess whose words would change the history of that empire forever. That woman whose grace, prowess, intelligence and beauty made the prospective Emperor bow before her. Yet another, a fierce warrior. A Goddess of unparalleled skill, chosen for the most elite of missions. One woman who is driven by duty and family, the very family that goes on to betray her. Another, driven by love. A Queen she remains, even in captivity. Living without lament for the loss of her love, his life most cruelly snatched away well before his time. The other is driven by duty and sacrifice, inspiring the Saviour to take up arms and thus, changing the trajectory of his destiny forever. Setting in motion, a chain of events that inexplicably intertwined the tales of all three women as they powerfully come together to defeat The Man.
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.
(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.
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.
Recently, I read the book – The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. I know, I know. I am late to the party. But as Hazel Grace says “I take a lot of pride in not knowing what’s cool”. Below are some of my favourite lines from the book.
- Pain demands to be felt.
- Love is keeping the promise anyway.
- I take quite a lot of pride in not knowing what’s cool.
- You realize that trying to keep your distance from me will not lessen my affection for you. All efforts to save me from you will fail.
- You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.
- Contemporaneity specializes in the kind of battles where no one loses anything of any value, except arguably their lives.
- And in freedom, most people find sin.
- The Sun was a toddler insistently refusing to go to bed.
- One closed door away from the answers I’d dreamed of ever since I read that last unfinished page.
For who so firm, that cannot be seduced? Shakespeare was right. I have been thoroughly seduced, enthralled and enamoured by this book, John Green and his lazy eloquence, his word play, the inexplicable coolness of Hazel Grace, the complexity of Augustus Waters, and the love story that binds them together. A love that lives with them, and as she states… dies with them.
To the world, they come from two different worlds. But when she rests her head in the crook of his elbow and his lips graze hers ever so gently, their worlds fall away and come apart. They become one, a part of the Universe.
This story is inspired by the touching and utterly brilliantly executed Metlife advertisement that can be found here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bdm4NBYxII. The video and all corresponding rights belong to them, the story subsequently inspired, and the manner in which it has been brought forth is purely my own.
That letter from my baby girl moved me. She knew about my job. Or so she thought. I felt a strange emotion welling in my chest. Love. I made up my mind. I called up the D.A.’s office and I said I would turn approver. I carefully took all meeting memos, evidence I would need to bring down Cat’s Eye, the group that I had been working for years since my dark teenage years led me down a path that suddenly seemed no longer rewarding. Boxes of documents, letters, photos, account books, recordings all of which I was the keeper of. I was betraying their trust. They wouldn’t be happy. But I had to do this. We could start a new life. A new life where I really could be her superhero. A friend of mine had me set up in his father’s office as secretary, the pay wasn’t great compared to the amounts we made on certain transactions but we would be safe. We could live like normal citizens, just complaining about the Government and worrying about taxes, enjoying a movie or two, fretting over her when she grew up, using my former skills to keep the boys away if need be. I smiled at that. My pretty girl.
Having thus decided, I found myself in an abandoned warehouse where I met with the regional head of police, someone from the D.A.’s office and a woman in a pin striped grey suit with crinkly eyes and a thin smile. I strode up to them confidently and stated “I want full protection. I want to undergo a surgery and look different, the works. Nobody should be able to find us. Only then do you get these” I held up the stash of important correspondence. Mr. Xi, the D.A. stepped forward and shook my hand, warmly said “Please take a seat. We will discuss business shortly afterwards.” And the world went black.
When I came to, everything in my possession was missing. My limbs ached painfully and I could feel a shiner come on in the corner of my eye. I was distraught and confused. Why had they done this?
I heard some voices and raucous laughter coming from my left. I limped slowly and put my ear to a hole in the cracks. Xi, that bastard! The D.A. was going to run for office and he was discussing how taking down all of Cat’s Eye would be his greatest achievement and he would use it to further his campaign agenda, of keeping the streets safe and the community, drug free. Furthermore, he suggested that with a “raid” or a fake encounter, the State could easily skimp on having to put a low life in protection; and that the police top dog could retire comfortably with maybe a Medallion of Bravery and Honour, if he could wrangle it. The two men’s unctuously laughter punctured the air and my blood boiled. Then Xi said “That little girl, arrange for her papers, Miss Li. We can put her in a foster home, she shouldn’t have to grow up with a deadbeat like that. We will place her with one of our agent’s families and depending on how she grows up to be, we can use her in the Service too.” My blood froze to ice, I saw a white-hot rage flashing before my eyes. That woman was a social worker trying to take away my baby girl from me! I snuck in on the guards and snapped their neck, taking care that no noise was heard. As they floated out of the realm of consciousness, I picked up their guns and moved forward stealthily.
“Never underestimate a father” I said as I rained two rounds into both, and shot them in the eye, the feared M.O. of Cat’s Eye. The terrified woman took one look at me and wisely scampered. When I was done, I collapsed. The adrenaline had worn off and fear kicked in. My limbs hurt, I coughed and there was a spurt of red. I was not a killer. Just a low-level guy who handled accounts for the Cat’s Eye. I didn’t know what to do next. We had to go on the run. I picked up one of the phones and placed a call to an ex-girlfriend who now worked as a paediatric nurse. I thought long and hard about this. There was a stash from an old hidden off the coast, I could just go there and recover even a small portion of it, sell it, come back and we could live comfortably in total anonymity overseas. I had even asked my guy to arrange documents for Ming and me to move to the US. For now, though, I had to do it alone. Having my lovely Ming with me would only complicate matters and risk her life. I asked Cecilia to take care of her and to make sure she would grow up being the sweet, pure angelic person she was. She would bring light, kindness wherever she went. My past shouldn’t be the shadow that followed her.
I picked my girl up from school, dressed in my customary suit, she smiled. And for a moment, the weight of the world and the dark days that lay ahead for me fell away. I was simply Daddy. Not a gangster. Not a killer.
“I have to go away for a while, honey. Till then, you will stay with Aunty Cecilia. She will take very good care of you, now you be nice for her okay? Study well, keep your grades up and remember to keep smiling. Stay kind and loving the way you are. I will see you soon.” My heart shattered into a million smithereens as I delivered this final line with a smile. My daughter perceptive as ever must have known something was wrong because she broke down and hugged me, begging me repeatedly not to go. I firmly extricated myself from her hug, not willing to get emotional before my daughter and turned away from her, beaming. “I will see you soon, Daddy!” her voice rang out in all its childlike naivete and optimism. “I hope so” I thought, as I got into my beat down car and drove towards the docks.
*Twenty-five years later*…
The young woman strode forward purposefully, her languid grace catching the eye of the clerks who worked in the Office of Records. She had a sweet heart shaped face with a smile to match, hair that had been secured tightly in a bun, the light blue sweater hung loosely on her gangly frame. She introduced herself as Ming Han, a social worker from an organisation affixed to the D.A.’s office, her documents checked out and the clerk gave her an address. She bowed in gratitude and walked out into the sunshine, resolute as ever. She stepped into a cab and directed the cabbie to take her to the Hope Old Convicts’ Reformatory Home. An hour or so later, the cab dropped her off before a yellowing edifice. The paint had peeled off, it looked as desolate as it felt. What an irony, she thought as her lip curled slightly. Her heart hammering slightly, she stepped up to the front desk and showed all the records she had maintained and the ones she had received about the whereabouts of her father, Joseph Han. “Oh, Joe?” the old woman coloured slightly and cupped her cheeks firmly much to the surprise of Ming. “There has not been a day when he didn’t speak about you. He will be happy to see you. He is out, de-weeding the garden.” The two women rushed excitedly to the garden, the older of the two yelling “Joe! Look who has come to see you!”. An old man in his late fifties looked up. He looked frail, skin severely tanned and a decade or two older. He blinked unsurely. His eyes quickly adjusted to the lovely vision in blue walking towards him, sobbing. He started sobbing and laughing too, as they drew closer. He held her by the shoulder and whispered, “My daughter…”, examining her closely. The shining grey of her eyes, the cheeks suffused by colour in the biting wind, the lips breaking into a huge smile. They embraced and cried. “Kelly, I want you to meet my daughter Ming.” The old man walked slowly and brought forward the woman from the front desk, fingers laced with one another. He looked at his daughter, whose eyes widened as she took in the blushing woman and her smiling father. Ming hugged Kelly and reassured her she was happy that her father had been able to find someone, and thanked Kelly for taking care of her dad. Kelly wisely left after some time, giving the duo some much needed quality time together. “Tell me everything, Daddy.” Ming said, taking her father’s hand and leading them towards a bench. The duo sat down and talked for hours catching up till the Sun went down and they were just silhouettes clinging to each other tightly, promising never to let go ever again.