Charlie and the Seventh Graders

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“So class, you see? Qui goes before a verb and Que before a sujet, i.e,  a subject… and what do you call them?”

The teacher turned around from the blackboard where she had been creating a pretty mind map on the Pronoms Relatifs. It was the class after snack break and the students were still licking the salt off their fingers from eating too many chips during the break.

“Let’s do the exercise on page 56 for more clarity, shall we?” she announced. Sid looked around to see the sincere ones in his class quickly getting on to the task assigned. He always wondered why teachers said “we” when they actually meant “you”! Sigh, French grammar was so difficult to begin with and this teacher with her “we”and her “mind maps”! He fiddled with his pencil, trying to figure out the answer to the first question of Exercise A on Page 56, on pronoms relatifs. Of course.

Varun, who sat across him, looked equally disinterested. He was chewing off the ends of the pencil, in an effort to make the class go by faster. Sid gave him a wink and Varun smiled back. A wicked idea began to form in Sid’s mind. He put Varun’s pencil over his, the two pencils arranged perpendicular to each other, such that one pencil stood precariously over the other, shaking gently in the fan’s breeze.

Charlie… charlie … are you there?

Varun looked at him, surprised. What was Sid trying to do? He tried hard to concentrate, but his eyes and mind went back to Sid. He saw that he had slid a sheet of paper under the pencils now, with four squares on it. Two squares had “YES” written on them, the other two had “NO”.  

“Is this a new game?” he whispered under his breath. Sid shook his head. “No, the pencils are possessed.”

“Have you gone mad, “ Varun hissed, “That is my pencil!”

“Yes, but it is possessed now. Go on, ask Charlie a Yes/No question.”

Varun was the kind who would do anything to get away from the French on hand. He whispered his questions slowly.

Charlie, charlie, are you there?

A pregnant pause later, the pencil on top moved gently and settled upon YES.

Varun was intrigued. He wanted more.

Charlie, charlie, do you like French grammar?

No response. And then suddenly,  a flicker of movement, before it landed on NO.

“Me too! I hate French grammar!”he blurted out aloud. He could feel eyes upon him. Especially the teacher’s.

“Varun, if you hate French grammar so much, you may leave! “ she bellowed.

“No miss, I was talking to um….um..”

“Who?? Have you now found yet another person to chat away with? OUT! “ said Ms. Meenakshi.

Sid popped in, being the more daring one.

“Miss, we think these two pencils are possessed. So Varun is a bit scared.”

“Possessed, what nonsense!” Miss. Meenakshi walked up to their desk to confiscate the ‘possessed’ pencils. Varun pounced on them and grabbed them before she could get to them.

“Miss, “he said, “why don’t you try it? They are really possessed.”

By now, the whole class was around their desk, wanting to get to know this Charlie guy better. Arpita went first with her question.

Does Abhay like me?

NO.

Arpita quietly went back to her place, thinking it was probably a hoax anyway.

Keertana played it safe.

Do we have a math test today?

NO

Yaayyy! They were all hooked. Miss. Meenakshi was annoyed now. She decided to end it once and for all. She decided to beat them at their own game.

Stupid Charlie, can you please leave my room?

The pencils did not move. The whole class watched with bated breath, as Miss prattled away, “See, children? I told you! They were just moving in the breeze. Back to …”

“Miss, look! Charlie says NO! “ the whole class screamed.  The teacher was now at her wits’ end. She took the pencils to another desk and asked Sid to prove that they were still ‘possessed’ so far away from the fan.

Sid was thrilled to be challenged. He asked Mayur to ask the question, at the new desk.

Charlie, charlie, am I a good student?

YES.

Of course, Charlie had to say that. Mayur was one of the toppers in Grade 7. By now, the entire class had set up mini Charlie stations at each of their desks, with their own pencils. Miss. Meenakshi was strict, but she also knew kids. She let them play, just for the day. By the next day, she was sure, this Charlie would have died a natural death.

Miss. Meenakshi had, however, underestimated the power of childhood pranks. By the next day, many pencils were being tortured by Charlie, across all grades. All sorts of questions were being asked. Charlie is in deep trouble, thought Miss. Meenakshi. She decided to try it out herself.

She closed the door to the classroom and arranged her pencils. Quietly, she posed her first question.

Am I a good teacher?

YES

Wow!

Will I get a raise this year?

NO

As if she didn’t know that! She saw the fan above her, whirring at full speed. She switched it off, and tried again.

Will I get a raise this year?

NO

RESPONSE.

Such a difficult question, eh? She tried again. And again. No replies came forth from Charlie. She switched on the fan again and tried again. This time, Charlie said YES.

She heard someone knock at the door. She cleared her desk of the pencils in a hurry and opened the door. It was Sid.

“If it is about that stupid Charlie thing, I don’t want to hear about it!” she cried.

“No Miss, I just wanted to tell you something.. About Charlie…” Sid looked at the two pencils peeking out from under her hand bag and wondered what Miss had been upto.

“Have you been talking to Charlie too, Miss?”

“Of course not, you think I am an idiot?” Miss. Meenakshi was quite flustered.

“I am glad you didn’t, Miss. Because I am Charlie. I blow on those pencils”, replied Sid sheepishly.  Miss. Meenakshi felt like a true idiot. But she managed to grin when Sid asked her,

“You won’t tell anyone right, Miss?”

“No”, she said, still grinning.

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Charlie lived on in the school for many months after this. He made many students frustrated and the juniors were frightened to call upon Charlie. But whenever Sid sat down for one of these seances, Charlie seemed to outdo himself. It didn’t take long for the smarter ones to realise what was happening.

What happened after that, you ask? Let’s just say, there were as many “Sids” in the school as there were pencils! 

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Tiny tales

Rains make me sad,

my tears washed away

in the torrents that lash

at my borrowed window panes.

I  am no queen, fair and noble

with my life etched on marble.

I am no battered slave,

whose name is called out in pity.

And no, I  am no warrior princess

with arms of steel or a soul of gold.

Like the rain-laden cloud,

I  carry my tears.

Like the brown earth,

I bear my blows.

Like the fluttering leaves,

I fight my battles.

I live and I  live.

Rains make me sad.

 

 

 

 

Why I love doing the dishes.

A few years ago, I took a quiz ( I know, I am that crazy personality quiz freak ) named, ” Which Greek Goddess are you?” The answer in front of my eyes, asking to be shared, was puzzling. I was a mix of Persephone and Hestia. Persephone, I totally understand : I have a depressive, neurotic personality. But Hestia? The Goddess of Hearth and Home? I did not have a single domestic bone in my body. This is what this site says about Hestia,

” Hestia, as keeper of the hearth, goes about her tasks in a calm, centered, focused manner – whether she is sweeping or doing laundry, she is fully engaged, focusing on her task at hand–like a meditation–and not at all concerned about the clock or what she will be doing next. She experiences a timeless calm in the midst of her immediate tasks. ” 

Ha, indeed. I wondered if these quizzes were a joke, which in all probability, they are. Who wants to identify themselves with a Greek Goddess anyway? However, I was still intrigued. Did I deny my domestic instincts because they would be considered uncool? Perhaps, I feared coming across as a “normal ” person?

I thought some more. No, I was not some organisation freak or a germaphobe or a person who believed “women should stay at home”. I hate cleaning  or cooking, not with a purple passion, but enough to not do some of them for days together. I would rather waste time watching mindless videos on cleaning than actually clean something. I zone out into nostalgia and “what-ifs” in the midst of a major cleaning spree.  Why then, was I a “keeper of the hearth”?

Later, as I did the dishes, the answer did come to me. Normally when I wash the dishes, I have a wave of thoughts that sweep over my soul. It is usually the same wave. I start out feeling thankful that I have food to eat and the energy to make it. Then I revel in how  the specks of food and stains disappear, just like our everyday troubles do, with a little soul-scrubbing. I then wander off into some poetic thoughts as the dishes get shinier and shinier. Towards the end, I break off into a song.

Sometimes, I also process uncomfortable thoughts somewhere in between and scrub a little more than necessary. The physical act of scrubbing brings me peace. Finally, everything is clean and I am more at peace. No, my problems did not disappear by magic. But my heart does feel lighter and I know that, tomorrow, the dishes will get dirty again. Just life Life.  I will have to clean again. Both literally and metaphorically.

I realised, this is why I am a Hestia. Not because I keep a perfect home or that I am a clean freak. It is because  the woman in me “experiences a timeless calm in the midst of her immediate tasks.” It is because, despite my messy home and chaotic surroundings, I do derive a lot of pleasure from making it better. The final product means less to me than the process itself.

Organising the books means endless hours spent reminiscing about the times gone by and thinking of people who are associated with certain books.

Rearranging the clothes in the shelves means an afternoon that is spent in warmth and fragrance and the colours of  our second skin.

Washing the windows is a different perspective to seeing the world around us.

To make it clearer, I do not always approach housework with this attitude. In fact, I rarely do. I leave things lying around or undone. But when I finally get around to doing them, this is how I feel, and this is what truly represents peace to me.

Indeed, I do have a  Hestia within me.

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The Flying Man

It is said that books and people find their way into your lives. A mere meeting or a cursory glance at a blurb might not amount to much, if it is not meant to be. How else could I explain being swept off my feet by Roopa Farooki’s Flying Man? I received the book as a birthday present almost three years ago and never managed to get past the blurb. And here I was, maniacally reading through day and night, finishing it in two days!

The protagonist is very unusual, in that he is a very ordinary man and yet, much larger than life than you and I could ever imagine. It is a story that is as mundane as Life can be and every bit as extraordinary.

“It has always mattered to me, that once upon a time, a long time ago, He loved Her, and that She loved Him back.”

That is the only thing that probably mattered to Maqil, the despicable man who is also the Hero of the story. Just like the ones in his life, the reader also goes through moments of extreme hate, love and helplessness in response to his actions. Strangely enough, you don’t feel anger towards Maqil, no. That’s just who he is. He is just compelled to live life in his head, where he is always larger than life, where it is always eternal sunshine. All dreams have to come to an end, however and in a very unusual fashion, Maqil’s disappointments with reality are yours, too. I guess we all have a Maqil, a Mikhail , a Mike : hiding within the labyrinths of our soul.

I also found the unravelling of his daughter’s character very interesting : she inherits his coldness of character without the flightiness.

The writing provides literary references without any presumptuousness, almost carelessly. The humour is sardonic and witty. One is reminded often of Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’ : certain imagery, certain words. Reading the book is like being on a roller coaster ride, tossed mercilessly on the oceans of feeling. Yet, like Maqil, like Life, it is predictable : you do know you are on the ride, after all.

This is a book written like poetry, about a mundane life made extraordinary. It is a performance, like everything else we do in life.

A brilliant performance.

“I’m a child in the womb, once more, buried in ink and blood, waiting to see if there might be darkness, or light, on the other side. Black or Red. I’ve waited too long for this; this time, I’ll take a chance.”

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Reflections of an ordinary life.

We all have those moments of extraordinary clarity. Those moments where we realize how ordinary we are, how meaningless our lives are in the larger scheme of things. You know, grow up, get married, work, die. Thoughts that would have depressed me in my twenties. Surprisingly though, they liberate me in my thirties.

It has been a journey of extreme emotional pain, my transition from the twenties to the thirties. A journey that questioned my identity, killed my self-esteem and threw me off balance in ways that I could have never imagined. I probably sleep-walked all the way, just to escape all the hurt and pain. Yet, it was all my fault. I went through the pain because I was not smart enough. I was not “me” and so I paid the price.

I can now see a lot of people for who they are. I know nothing really matters and so, everything I do matters. It is tough to explain if you are somewhere else at this point of time. We all have a map to traverse, a certain journey to make. And sometimes, you don’t understand things if they are not part of your map. Yet, the ego loves doling out advice, so here goes a few pieces of advice. To all those souls who are struggling to fit in. Or wriggle out of.

The throes of society.

The hypocrisies of the mind.

Those unseen labyrinths of fear and monotony.

Well, the very first thing is,

Never, ever do anything that does not make you happy. I am extremely serious about this one. Fights end, arguments get smoothened over – but the resentment from doing something that you did not wish to do? That requires serious nerves of steel to get rid of.

Which brings me to the next thing,

There is no one “normal” life. I know, we have heard this many times before. But now I know it’s true. We are all products of probability, all our life events are victims to chance. Meeting that one person, landing that one job, meeting that one fertility expert or adoption agency, winning that one lottery. See how ridiculous it is? Let go.  When you die, none of it will matter. It might sound negative but is actually a very liberating thought. Just give an F. I mean, damn. See how easy that is?

Once you have done that, go back to the first thing. Do what makes you happy. You’ll do it really well, whether or not it matters. Keep doing it.

Over and over again.

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On the wings of Time…

Many eons ago, humans and Gods lived together. It was a time of abundance and joy. Thirst or hunger were unknown and the slightest flicker of a desire was fulfilled. Into this world of bounty tiptoed Love in her chariot of flowers and myrrh, not to forget her gifts of passion and lust. 

With Love visiting them, the humans and Gods were put in a state of disarray. Suddenly, desires were not crystal clear as before. Their minds were often in the throes of passion, love and lust to think  without pause. They were like leaves on waves, tossed about mercilessly. 

For the first time in history, a conference was called. Humans and Gods and animals and plants and insects and birds – they wondered how they could address this strange yet seemingly unsurmountable problem. Love was an extremely powerful force and they couldn’t stand up to her. They had never seen someone like her.

Love attended the conference in her robe of jasmine flowers and lotus leaves. She heard them speak and listened.  And then, she listened some more.  Finally,  she told them they had a choice. 

A choice?

Yes, she said , in her strong, clear voice. It can help you stay calm and yet seat me on your mantle, worshipped with incense and doused in perfume.  

Time is the choice, she continued.  You have been living a timeless existence. But just a little distance away, unknown to any of you, lies the eternal dark. A darkness that can be transcended only by me. An obscure land wherein lies the most beautiful thing in the world : death. When life can begin again.  Where we can begin, again and again. And that is my choice.

You can live timelessly without me . Or you can choose to step over into the dark, where time can heal and soothe your soul. Over this wondrous thing called Time, you can become one with me and we can flow seamlessly over time (again), beginning again and yet again. It is your chance to be as powerful  as I am. The creatures of the world were perplexed. Love spoke again, 

When you choose Time, you also choose me for but a short while. For I cannot fly but on her arms. And my charms are powerless before her magnetic, radiant smile.  

It is decided then, said everyone.  We, the creatures of the universe, choose Time. We welcome her into our world.

And that is how Time, Death and therefore Life, came to be.

(This story has been submitted to the Bluebell Books Short Story Slam  at :

http://bluebellbooks.blogspot.com/2016/07/short-story-slam-week-49-july-21-august.html)

VeKuSaMo

Ve Ku Sa Mo is a frequent event in our largely canine, mildly human, tiny household. It’s a state that has followed us across homes, cities and time. We have tried to prevent it from happening, but the tugs of this powerful phenomenon never let go.

What is Ve Ku Sa Mo? No, it has nothing to do with NaMo or politics. It is not a Japanese cuss word, either. A new parenting philosophy, perhaps? Now that, I cannot say!

Ve Ku Sa Mo is an abbreviated version of a tamil expression ( there are versions in many other languages too!) : Vecha Kudumi, Saracha Mottai! Basically, it means you do everything  or you do nothing. Sounds familiar?  Welcome aboard!

I wanted to  post about this today as I  am currently in the “saracha mottai” phase, as in the “do nothing” phase . I have no idea how one does a little every day.  I spent the past four weeks cleaning up our home like a maniac and cooking in a frenzy. Here’s all that I made. Drool and enjoy.

Circle 1 : Irani Samosas

Circle 2 : Whole Wheat jim-jammy Nankhatai.

Circle 3 : Peanut-Jaggery Chikki

Hmmm, wonder why I don’t have nine circles, considering all the fire (not particularly hellish, but delish!)  I waded through in making these!

This does not include, of course, the puffed amaranth breakfast cereal that I hit upon or the yummy peppery crackers I made last evening! Also to be added are the non culinary areas of “ativrishti”, viz, the decluttering of the basement, the organization of the pantry and general mental cleaning overall. Oh, I  forget the two whole days I spent on work not related to the house.

And now… you can guess where I am right now.

Just to keep you in the loop (I am very familiar with corporate jargon, you see? Makes me more professional, I am told!) , my “saracha mottai”phase started yesterday. God save my home and my family!

P.S : It’s possibly “lunatic”, don’t you think, all this waxing and waning?

Sunrise, sunset…

 

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I wake up, I lie down

and life goes on.

Around me, the world crumbles

and is rebuilt again.

Each day, each second

time flies or stays still. 

I have learnt naught

Or maybe a lot.

Life and death co-exist,

Games of light and shadow

Play upon windows of ice. 

Acts of love entwine themselves

with the darkness of my soul. 

Sunrise, sunset

How can you tell the difference?

 

 

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns…

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I read Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner ten years ago, as a girl. I enjoyed the depth of his writing, but felt that it lacked style. The story was gripping and the writing was brutally honest, but there was a little something that I felt was lacking. It is difficult to explain without coming across as presumptuous. Today, a decade hence, the Afghan born doctor cum writer crawls back into my (grown up) heart all over again, with A Thousand Splendid Suns.

The book touches upon Afghanistan, fresh from its upheaval of monarchy and takes us through its journey of war, Soviet occupation and finally, the dark regime of the Taliban. When Mariam’s mother gives her lesson for life at the beginning of the story, little do we realize how much impact those few words have over not only Mariam’s life, but also Laila’s (the other protagonist) :

“Only one skill. And it’s this : tahamul. Endure.”

Mariam’s life is made up of one difficult situation after another, one pain after another. The reader’s heart feels her pain but just like her, is helpless. You almost endure it all over again. And again. Suddenly I think of these lines from The Kite Runner : When tumblr_mcdbhoF9671riifgzo1_500

You know that what Mariam really wants is to escape it all, like in those lines above, but she is trapped into her life, that husband, that country and her mother’s curse : to endure. When you think of women like her, who are still battling reality in patriarchal societies all over the world, your heart is sure to bleed and suddenly, your own life feels like an enormous luxury.

The descriptions of Herat and Kaboul evoke very strong feelings about the places and country. The Boudhas of Bamiyan, the minarets of Herat and the night life in Kaboul stay etched in your mind long after you have closed the book. It is the city of Kaboul that is behind the title, too.

Kaboul

Beautiful, isn’t it? As a person who gives away her soul to certain places and cities, I could totally identify with it.

If Mariam’s curse was to endure, Laila’s was to wait. Waiting for love, waiting for clouds to pass, waiting for times to change.

“Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”

While Laila’s story can retain some hope, Mariam’s is devoid of any. Probably the story of many women in Afghanistan and in many other societies as well. Khaled Hosseini’s might touch upon aspects of politics or history but the central story is always that of these two women, stuck together by kismet, born into a world and a time that was cruel to its women. The book is poetic and poignant, very hard to put down once begun. It is an extremely heart-wrenching tale of life, that goes on, despite all odds.

“Each snowflake was a sigh heard by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. All the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how women suffer, how quietly we endure all that falls upon us.”