All for the stars.

Ouch! My eyes are watering. I should have expected that, because I’d just looked up at the sun. Quite a powerful character,he. Knows how to make me cry. In case you were wondering, I never cry.

Never.

I did not cry when I saw my daughter being stowed away on a stretcher, she was dead and pale, in that wretched hospital, what was its name? Oh, swell, I do not remember and do not intend to. I never cried when I saw my mother die, right under my nose. Point is, I did not really care and I did not cry. That should give you some picture about me, I guess. Otherwise, I am just another man on the streets, slightly old and extremely shabby.

I have come to realise, from my days so far, that life goes on. A tea at the local café, a cigarette and my day is made. I have a small job, not that I am entirely useless-I pick up rubbish and earn a few rupees from it. Fancy that, getting paid just because you have an eye for the dirty, the rotted and the useless. Life goes on, and on. I do not have the time or the inclination to worry about my ‘fate’, as I have heard people call it. Fate or no fate, life goes on.

I have come to my usual spot now. I come here everyday to pick up trash. Quite a nice place, I must add. There is a small lake nearby and on sunny mornings like today’s, you can see beautiful girls jogging around the place. Trying to lose weight, I reckon. As for me, I love them just the way they are, I prefer round women to those skinny weaklings. Look at me, telling you what kind of women I like! My own wife dumped for another man (been quite some time now) a few years ago, she found me too ugly to be living with. I never found a woman after that, never wanted to. I am happy looking at a pretty thing once in a while, thank you.

I have managed to fill my dirty bag. All I need to do is turn in my stuff to that bald idiot in the ‘raddi’ store, see how much I get, grab a tea and dinner at Rehmat snacks, and then, maybe, gaze at the stars. Somehow feel like doing that today, watch those little lights and go to sleep.

“You think this would fetch you anything?”

His angry voice jolts me out of my reverie about those dumb stars. I look at him helplessly. There is not much I can do, is there? I just pick up stuff.

“Just take whatever you want and let me out of here”, I snap back. He flings a thin book at me and thrusts a few soiled notes into my hand.

“Go”, he adds nonchalantly.

I am pretty used to this treatment. My ego died a natural death ever since I started this job. I take the money and the book. Hell, what am I supposed to do with a book? I dropped out of school, rather was kicked out of school halfway through my sixth class. I can manage to read a bit, which is clearly enough. I did not want to touch a book ever since. But I have a book with me now. I should just dump it in the next dustbin I see.

I am walking, the book still in my hand. Perhaps I sound silly, and I am mortified to admit it, the binding feels good to touch- a little soft, a little rough, slightly coming apart.. I guess I am going mad with age. I need to trash the book soon.

I wake up to the jarring noise of an ambulance at the end of the street. I realise I have been sleeping on the pavement for the past one hour and oh! Just look at those stars above, cute boys, shining and all that! I feel something poking my tummy. It is the dirty book, still tucked between my torn pants and stomach. I pull it out gingerly, why hadn’t I managed to trash it?

Maybe it is boredom, but I feel like opening the book and reading what it has. I rub my eyes and sitting under the stars, I strain to read the letters, one by one.

What is this? I find the word ‘star’ amongst all the other words that there are. I could recognize that word anywhere! Oh, I could, you bet I could!

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night..

Do you see stars in streams too? During the day? I see stars during the day too, not in the streams, but in my head! What could that possibly mean? Am I crazy or is this just a nutty book?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

I read the lines again and again, does not make any sense to me. How could it, I should have listened to my mother and gone to school. I put the book aside and gaze at the stars instead. Some weird book, wonder why they write such stuff.

Tomorrow I am going to look for these stupid stars in the stream.

Maybe I’ll find them.

Fuelled.

Fuelled by a million man made wings of fire,
the rocket tore through the sky,
and everyone cheered.

Fuelled only by the thought from God,
the tiny seedling urged its way
through the thickness of black,
and as it pierced the heavy ceiling of the soil,

and launched itself into outer space

no

one

even

clapped.

This was a poem in my third standard Gulmohar English Reader. I remember being awed by it, especially the last few lines. I even remember a question based on this poem, “Why do you think the last sentence is broken up into one word per line? What does the poet want to convey?”. Lines from this poem used to often run in my mind, but I could never find the entire poem. I was really happy to find it today, aimlessly googling. 🙂 The author is unknown..I wish I could see him/her and give my thanks for this sensitive piece of poetry. This poem is as touching to me today as it was then.

Impressions…

God of a violent hue

Your eyes are red from fatigue

like the sindhoor on my forehead;

Both eternal, both indelible.

How can you then

take my beloved away from me?

He is a virgin’s dream

he is the blood of my heart,

Can you take away

all his words to me

Or the memory of his handsome face

etched upon my soul?

I hold his touch, his smile

which can never be yours.

So give back his form

which is of no use to you.

Drifting..

Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?
Now they must learn from one another
Day by day
They look so natural together
Just like two newlyweds should be
Is there a canopy in store for me?
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness
And tears..

[ From “The Fiddler On The Roof”]

Evening Hope..

little lights of hope..

There is a fragrance of the earth that engulfs me. All around me I see an orange light diffusing slowly into darkness. The lamp is being lit in the temple. Flickering hope, to soothe wearied souls. The river gushes on unmindful of tiredness. Sometimes I light a lamp and send it with her. When she stops, far away from home, my light would still burn. I see figures moving down the steps of the old temple, silhouettes of a life gone by.

A thorn gets stuck in my foot. I want you to pull it out and soothe my foot with the balm of your kiss. My mirrored skirt looks drab in the twilight. It swirls around my ankles, threatening to trip me. I run alongside the river, looking for you. Where is the scorching sun that made us sweat, the heat of the earth that made us look for relief? The mud at my feet feels cold, I shiver.

I was held in your embrace in the afternoon, and now I am all alone. Your tunes are still ringing in my ears, as if to mock at my dreams. They rise like the waves of the ocean, in a resonating crescendo, to come to rest at my feet. You are not here, playing joyous tunes. Why is it that I still hear them? I crave the warmth of your lips. I rush from tree to tree, hoping to find you hidden somewhere. All I can see are the owls staring back at me.

The stillness in the air is a sharp contrast to the music in my heart. The brown earth, the green trees, the white jasmine, the scented sandalwood- all are shrouded in the blanket of dark. How can I find you in this intricate mesh of darkness and hope?

I close my eyes to see you smiling back at me. Within my mind, there is no darkness, no temple, no silhouettes. All figments of imagination vanish when I close my eyes. The crackle of the twigs and the temple bells are noises I cannot bear. I gather a little water from the river and splash it on my face. My reveries are burdens when I cannot share them with you. I gather the flowers the trees have shed and pack them in my odhni. Red, blue, white, orange: colours of love, colours of spring. I want to make a garland for you. I do not know how I shall pass time without you. I tell the garland things that I want to tell you.

I draw patterns on the bare soil with my fingers. Drowsy with the weight of your love, I welcome the bride of night, with her white crown and bedecked robe. She teases me with a gentle shower. I look on mutely, at her callous beauty.

If you find my lamp in the next village, will you not come back to me? Will you not be reminded of the high sun and the beads of sweat on my face? Will your feet not trace their steps back, into my arms?

I shall wait, even I have to wait for eternity.

Frozen…

I have lost it. I am trapped in this bubble of mine, where the world passes by, like a picture. I bang on my noiseless walls, suffocating in the depth of my own thoughts. I am caught, forever. I might dream and dream of getting out, of touching the wet soil, of feeling the rain drop on my cheek, but no, I shall not have it. This bubble that I built for myself shall be my doom. A perfect case of plastic for my frozen soul.

I do not like things beautiful. I do not like things wise. I hate women, I hate men more. The whole world and its smiles seems hypocritical to me. I fail to see that I am the biggest hypocrite of all. I smile where I do not want to, I cry to show off that I am sensitive. Tomorrow, when ‘being sensitive’ is no longer fashionable, I shall go back to my devil-may-care attitude. I will then laugh at the wounded, mock the weak.

I buy my smiles by the dozen, from the shopkeeper round the corner. He gives me smiles. I shall start buying my tears too, for nothing affects me. Good, bad, happiness, sorrow- they all look the same to me. I am stuck in my bubble, forever.

Music fails to move me; literature weaves no magical spell over me. I no longer look up to heroes. I no longer want to strive for a better life. The bubble, which I built, and wanted to keep beautiful, reeks of the old, of rubbish. All the trash that I have collected over the years. I cannot get out. Maybe I do not want to. I am stubborn. I refuse to listen. I am going deaf and blind with each passing day.

Deaf to nice words and blind to reality, I do not appreciate help. I crave loneliness and want to be shunned by the others. I want to see people’s hatred for me. I want them to kick me, to call me names. Hypocrisy should not be encouraged.

I want others to push me away, to be absolutely repelled by the sight of me. For that is what I give others. I want to die after being flogged mercilessly. Isn’t that the best punishment for someone who refuses to see beauty? Isn’t that the answer for all the hatred and coldness I distribute? I am cowardly, hypocritical and unfeeling.

I am ashamed to face others. I am not nice like them. I am not conscientious, nor helpful. I shirk my responsibilities. I want to bury my face in the sand like the ostrich. Only my action is not as utilitarian. My life does not aim for anything beautiful, or useful. I am pathetic. A hollow existence in a useless body. Rotten from within, and without.

I am stuck in my bubble, forever. Let me suffer.

The Magic Sieve

Sunset..

Once upon a time, there was a little village by the sea. It was a beautiful village where coconut trees swayed gently to the salty breeze of the ocean, where the green sea regularly rocked the children to bed with its haunting melodies. The golden coast was decorated with shells and the crabs moved in and out of tiny openings in the sand. When the sun rose, at the other end of the ocean, it was as if the world was being lit up by an angel’s torch, flushed and divine.

.This village was made up of gentle people, soft spoken and peace loving. They loved coconut water, baths in the sea, walks on the sands, and most importantly, each other. They were woven together like pieces of a painting. Closely knit, they moved gracefully against the winds of time, like a kite fluttering in the blue skies, amidst the cottony clouds.

The people of this sunlit village had a special gift: they could see their thoughts. Each morning, they woke up, sifted through their thoughts, identified the good ones, and went about their way. Sometimes a bad thought could be found nestled in the crooks of their mind, but they persevered and threw it away. They called it ‘weeding’. Even little children there were adept at this. Of course, they had each other for help. Peace reigned over the blessed village. Many years and eons passed this way. The people of the village only got better with their weeding each day.

Until the day a magician from a far away land visited their land. He brought with him magic wands and magic potions and wanted to entertain them all. Settling down on the vast coast, the one with the long nose spread his ware.

Come one and come all,

let us not this show stall!

I draw things from thin air,

A rose, a pie or even a hare!

The people of the village had never seen a magic show before. Intrigued by this strange man, they gathered around him in a large circle. Some of them laughed, some of them were afraid. Who knows what a stranger might do? Children jumped up and down in glee, attracted by his strange clothes and singsong talk. They settled down on the wet sand, forming an inner circle, while the adults stood around them in a larger one.

Right at the middle stood the magician, pulling up things from nowhere. Lovely bouquets, prancing hares, talking parrots, paper hats- he seemed to have them all up his sleeve. The children started to clap, some of them started to sing. The adults hushed them, asking them to pay attention. The magician tore his scarf and pieced it together, with just a swoosh of his wand. Thus he went on and on, conjuring up unimaginable things. Suddenly, he stopped everything and looked around.

As the ocean here does roar,

Do you want to see some more?

All the children screamed their assent. Behind them, the adults frowned, but they wanted too, for the show to go on. They watched as the magician put his long hands into the pockets of his deep blue gown, and pulled out a round plate. The plate was made of silver, but only along the edges. The core was made of mesh, like the nets they used at night to ward mosquitoes away. The long nosed one peered at them through the mesh.

This sieve that I have with me,

with this I can your thoughts see!

People gasped. Was that true, but how was it possible? They waited for him to go on. What they thought was their special gift, was now too common! With his blue robe threatening to fly away from his form, the magician continued,

Good, bad, give them to me,

And I will let the good ones be!

One by one, child and adult, man and woman, they moved up to the centre, while the magician used his sieve to take away all the bad thoughts. He assured them only the good ones would remain. Wasn’t that so much easier, than weeding everyday? He took away everyone’s bad thoughts and packed them into his magic wand. The entire village watched in horror as he broke his wand and flung it into the sea. They now had only good thoughts! They thanked the magician over and over.They thanked him for coming to their village. They thanked him for bringing his magic sieve. They put coins into his bowl and gave him presents of precious silk. The magician walked away with a beautiful smile,

Noble ones, please do hear,

I shall be here again next year…

With that promise, he traipsed into the sunset, back to the land from where he had come. The people of the village rejoiced. What a wonderful gift the magician had given them! They went to bed with full hearts and singing souls.

Next day dawned, as fresh as ever. They woke and began to sift through their thoughts, out of habit. then they realized: no more sifting! They just had to look at their noble thoughts everyday. They searched hard, but where were all their good thoughts? They searched high and low, through the labyrinths of their minds, alas! They were left with none. First shocked, then sad, the people tried harder. But they could not see their noble thoughts at all. The stupid trickster, they thought. He has taken them all away, leaving us with none! They cursed him and called him names. They did not like each other now. Each believed that they lost out on their good thoughts because of the other. If only he had not pushed me into the middle, thought one. If only he had not praised the magician before me, thought another.

They bickered. They quarrelled. They screamed. They fought.

The once tranquil village was now a veritable ground for bloodshed. All the bad thoughts that they thought they had given away, were now ruling their hearts and minds. They were not able to sift through their thoughts anymore. Each day seemed like a torture, life seemed hard. They only complained about their difficulties now.

Exactly a year later, as the sun went down on the village, wondering about how the people stole his colours, a child saw a blue blob walking along the coast. She was playing alone on the sand, for she had no friends. She saw him and certain memories came back. She ran back to her father to tell him that the magician was back, she was sure of it. Father and daughter searched the coast for him. They found him lying in a corner, sorting out his seashells. The father grabbed him, livid. You stole our thoughts, he said, give them back to us! The magician smiled, I did not take them at all, he said. The father looked on, surprised. The whole village gathered around him once again, like it had one year ago. They saw the magician and started pelting him with rocks. They hit him, called him a cheat. He fell down to the ground in a heap. A child saw something between his fingers. He went forward and snatched the piece of parchment.

Good, bad,

Can you people, good thoughts see

If you did not let the bad ones be?

Fight your bad thoughts,

do not throw them away…

the easy way,

is not always

the best way.

Fight, fight, fight the bad,

for that is how you can see the good.

Before the child could get past the violent adults to sit and ponder over the verse, the magician had already breathed his last.

Please, love?

Amble on, love

on the softness of my arm.

what sweetness do you seek,

that lies on my finger-tip?

you tickle me

you make me squirm

can’t you see

I’m not a lump of sugar?

Move on,

pass the grand valley of my palm

and fall off the side;

won’t you please stop bothering me

and jump into my cup of tea?

Let go of me, sweets!

Contentment..

Dream on, my angel.

I sit next to her on the bus everyday. She likes to save a place for me. I get into the bus now; settle down into the window seat. She shows me her file, the card she made in art class and the invite to a birthday party. I look at them all, smile at her and say it is all wonderful. Especially the card. She is not vibrant like the other kids. She is boisterous and rude. She does not like to smile. But she guffaws like a crazy donkey when she sees something funny. Sometimes, she reminds me of myself.

The bus scurries along. I hug my bag close to my chest, and sink deeper into the seat. She is looking straight ahead, frowning in thought. She is all of six years old. The only time I saw  her smile (a ‘real’ smile, I mean) was when her Dadi and Dada visited her. She was full of life for a couple of days. Then they left, and she was back to her angry self.

I look at her now, browsing through her file for the umpteenth time. Slightly broken, slightly yearning for affection. She will not accept false displays of love, though.

Strong little girl.

Slowly, with the lilting movements of the bus, she dozes off. I am looking out of the window when I feel something soft on my shoulder. It hits my shoulder very softly and moves away. I feel a vague loss until the head comes back to place again.

Against my left arm.

She sleeps, with her head on my arm. She looks so calm and at peace with herself. I let my mind drift. Does her mother hug her enough? Does she tell her she is loved? I take a strange pleasure in having her head against me. The very feel of her wispy hair and the soft cheek-at times on my elbow, at times through the sleeve of my kameez, makes me happy.

Content, in fact.

I do not want the bus ride to end, just so that I can have her sleeping by my side forever.

Soon enough, it was time for her to get off. I gently nudge her awake, give her the file that had dropped to the bus floor, and watch her get down, thumping on the steps.

The next seat seems painfully empty now. My left arm, curiously enough, feels lost.

Tomorrow, maybe, she will doze off again against my side.

I want her to.

I can never have enough of it.

One more time.

She slowed down as she saw him. Her eyes darkened as she saw him walk. She saw him everyday. Her heart raced with thoughts, thoughts too timid to be spoken aloud. Sometimes a flutter, sometimes a marathon. She wished he would look back.

At her.

She was no beauty, however. She was made of very plain features and an even plainer presence. Definitely not the one to attract people to her. She spoke with a tremor and smiled within a small circle built around her heart. Her smile did not go out and reach people, like it did with some others. Her laughter was private, contained within inexplicable tears. Though at times, it rained like a torrent. People never understood what to do then. For it was so unlike her.

She looked at him standing at the end of the road. Drenched in the drizzle, he was dripping, his hair falling flat against his forehead. Please look at me, she prayed silently. She cursed her ugly existence.

Yet another time.

She saw them huddled together, under one umbrella. He and that pretty girl she had often seen on the road. She was beautiful, delicate, angelic. He was looking into the pretty girl’s eyes and smiling. Unknown hatred, seizing jealousy buried her smiles for a while.

She averted her eyes and looked at the muddy puddles on the road.

The rain stopped. The pretty girl smiled at him. He smiled back. Green stars rose to the centre of her heart as she saw their smiles. Then they settled down quietly again, like dried leaves after a breeze.

One.

Two.

Three.

I wonder how many such leaves I’ve collected until today, she wondered. All of them gathering dust. Making her heart a garbage pail.

Of unfulfilled dreams.

Perhaps he will look at me now, she muttered to himself. She cursed her ugly existence.

Yet another time.

She saw his receding back vanish down the road.

Wet hair, dripping blue shirt.

She watched his back mingle into the gray blobs of life on the road.

One more leaf fell down to the ground, softly.