Charlie and the Seventh Graders

Image result for charlie charlie pencils

“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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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)

Unsaid.. (Blogathon Post Twenty Four)

It was yet another day in Mr.Vikranthan’s life.Early morning suprabatham,small talk with his wife over a cup of coffee,newspaper,morning walk.The rest of the day somehow seemed to pass rather insignificantly,though his mornings were quite pleasant.
Ones he could look forward to.
Except for one thought which constantly ran through his mind and made him feel guilty and worthless all the time.A thought that refused to stay in his mind and yet was too painful to be spoken out aloud.
How would she react if I told her…’,he wondered.30 years of marriage,30 years of bliss,30 years of a secret.

Sometimes,he thought if it was that big a deal.Just a little quirk in his character,but he knew it was more than a quirk.He thought about it everyday and it made him feel extremely disgusted with himself.
How would she react if she knew that every word I spoke to her was rehearsed in front of a mirror atleast 2 times?”

Not just what he spoke to her,though.He had always practised his dialogues.Even the ones he spoke to his barber.And since the birth of his grandson,he had been having one more set of dialogues to practise each morning.And that’s why people had always called him a little weird.
For his silences were always awkward.
And his speech was always stilted.
In spite of all the practice.

He’d tried everything to break the habit,of no avail.Ah,what would he not do for one spontaneous expression of the thought in his mind!It was almost as if the idea in his head,starting out as a fresh clear tender thing,lost its way somewhere in the dark alleys of practice and hardened thought.If only could someone could save his pristine idea from getting lost,if only he didn’t have to practise his lines..
Sometimes,he wondered if life was really a play with him being more of an actor than the others.For none of his dialogues had ever been his own,from the warmth of his heart.Not to say he didn’t feel.He never could express himself.

He walked out onto the veranda to watch the afternoon sun.His grandson would be home any moment from school.He would be his baby-sitter till his parents came back home.He waited patiently,his lines were ready-

Hi Pichoo..how was school?

Let’s go inside,it’s hot here.Grandma will give something to eat.

Do you have homework?

I will help you with the maths sums.

Okay now go play.


Ready to meet his grandson for what would be an ordinary event in life,almost mundane,he waited.
Suddenly he felt dizzy and sweaty,he could identify symptoms of a stroke-he’d read so much about the topic that he almost felt like a cardiologist himself.
Pichoo barged in through the gate right then,screaming for his grandfather.

‘THATHAAAA”

Vikranthan was down in a swoon,when Pichoo ran upto him,hugging him,

Thatha,I wrote an essay on you in school today,’The Family member you like the most and why’..he said,his eyes gleaming.

His thatha’s eyes opened slightly to look at his grandson,Looks just like our Vinu when he was his age..,he thought.

His wife was now bent over his face,worried and teary.He looked at her ,smiled and said,”Looks just like his father,my grandson..”

The last and the only unrehearsed line of his life.

As his wife’s tears made his shirt wet,Pichoo found something in his thatha’s shirt pocket.

The last dialogues of his thatha’s life.
Always the actor who knew his lines by-heart.
Almost.

The Beginning? (Blogathon Post Twenty Three)

He’d seen her many times in the library.
The woman with the slightly lost expression.
Amidst Milton and Asimov she was his very own Shakuntala.

What is it that you read,
Pages after pages,
When all I can see 
is the look on your face
and its intelligent cut?

She was there today as well.God,she was something,he thought.He looked on as she sat at the table,seemingly lost in John Keats.Somehow,he wondered what it was that she saw in all that poetry.

It is not Keats that I love,
If only you knew..

He went upto the Physics section,looking for something else to rest his mind upon.He did find something and he sat down with it,lost in its pages.Only to look up after a while and see that she was gone.
Damn!

Maybe I am not as intelligent as you are..
John Keats and William Blake do not a woman make..

Next day he saw her in the physics section.
Browsing through a magazine.
With the same lost expression.
Has she forgotten Keats,he wondered..
He gave her a raised eyebrow.She looked away.

I know what you’re thinking.
I hope you understand what I’m thinking too..

He went back to the familiar smell of the rusty cupboards and yellowed books.Sometimes,in the midst of his reading,he would just look up and she would still be there,poring over something.He always left her to continue her reading.

Why do I get the feeling 
that you have something to say?

Today.
He decided enough was enough.I can atleast make conversation,he wondered..

I will walk upto you 
and say Hello..

Apparently, she felt the same too.For here she was, walking upto him.She sat down on the chair and extended her hand.
Hello.
Hello.
Seen you around the place,thought I’d make conversation.

Well,that has been on my mind for a really long time.

Ah,I was wondering about that too.
So,you seem to like physics a lot..
Well,I do love Physics.

There,she just spoilt it!He didn’t want to discuss Physics..It was just a part of his life.He wanted her to talk about herself,or maybe even tell him about Keats,not ask him what he thought about physics!

I think I saw a new book of Keats on the display this morning,he reminded her gently,scratching his head.

Oh,that sounds nice..will check it out.

If only you would realise
that it is not Keats that I am trying to understand,
Teach me something that I do not know as yet..

I have to get back home,he said.
Ah,same here.See you around.
Tomorrow was after all another day,he thought.

We’ll do better tomorrow..that was some beginning.

How the butterfly got his colours. (Blogathon Post Fourteen)

Long ago, when the world was new, and Nature played with colours and fragrances,and music and life, trying to create beauty from a clod of earth, and harmony from a discordant note, butterflies had no colours. They were the plainest of creatures, appearing in a deep shade of black.

Each morning, the butterflies set out to find the brightest of flowers, for their food of sweet nectar.And each evening, they returned, content and full. Nature provided them with the best of her lot- bright, vibrant, colourful flowers.In that garden of beauty, the butterflies ruled.

In a corner of the enchanting garden blossomed a tiny flower of the most exquisite shade of orange, with a touch of creamy white around her lovely lips.She swayed with the gentle breeze, her smile lit up the blue skies.With the break of a new day, the flower was witness to the coming of the butterflies. As she saw them come, her heart felt light as a kite. She felt extraordinarily happy, ready to forge a bond, ready to experience a little magic. 

A young butterfly gently alighted on her, drawn to her strange and arresting beauty. She welcomed him like a long-lost friend. Messages were exchanged, yet words were unnecessary. Tales were told, songs were sung. The butterfly lingered on, not wanting to go back home. The flower wanted him to stay.And so he stayed.As the afternoon wore on, the flower felt the depth of his soul, but she knew she had to make the most of her time.

The evening sun went down behind the hills. The little flower knew it was time.
Time to bid adieu.
Time to let him go.
How do you let go of a loved one just like that?
Without giving him something to remember you by, something to say, ‘I’ll always think of you’ ?

The butterfly said his teary goodbye and rose up in the air.His tiny wings now had a smear of orange.

For the hues of loved ones linger on..deep in our souls..sometimes on our wings. Just so, that when we want to fly free and reach for the stars, we may be assured of a little colour, a little life, and a little joy.

And that’s how the butterfly got its colours.

A prince for her princess..(Blogathon Post Thirteen)

Ambika hoisted herself high up on the tree,trying to reach for the ripest of mangoes.It was summer,her favourite time of the year-no school,no drill,no homework!She deftly plucked the fruits one by one,throwing them into the basket her brother held,who was standing on the ground below the tree.

“Akka,finish it fast,Amma will find out!”

“Such a coward you are!” Ambika teased,though she was secretly scared of what her mother would say.She kept a wary eye all around and expertly continued with her job.

“Look at this! A weaver bird’s nest da Aravind!”,she squealed,almost breaking the branch she was sitting on.Aravind started to jump and down in excitement as well,”Where,where?”

Ambika held out a hand for her brother to climb on.He got onto the lowest branch and slowly maneouvred his way up the tree,from where he could have a clear view of the nest.Ambika was smiling in glee and brother and sister exchanged looks of amazement and pride.

“Is it a large family,akka?”
“Yes…Or maybe no…” Ambika wavered,wondering what the right answer would be.She liked to be always right.In this case,there were so many facts missing,like who was the head of the weaver family,how many times a day they went out looking for food,how comfortable the tree at Ambika’s house was to build a home like this one..Phew!Sometimes she wished her brother wouldn’t ask so many silly questions.

AMBIKA…

Uh-oh.It was their mother calling from the kitchen.In a rush of fear,Ambika scrambled down the tree,like a tiny squirrel.Only when she touched terra firma did she realise that she’d left Aravind behind on the tree.

Frantically,she cried out,”Jump Aravind,jump..”

Aravind,not used to such sudden interruptions of joy and wonder started to wail.Just as Ambika was trying to shush him and get him down,she saw her mother.And by the look on her mother’s face,she knew it was going to be serious.

————————————————————

Her mother’s voice was harsh and stern.

“Do you know how old you are,Ambika?”
Ambika wouldn’t look at her mother in the eye.Yet,she wanted to seem defiant.She looked at her marapachi bommai on the floor lying near her feet and answered nonchalantly,

“Twelve”.

“You are not a little girl anymore..to be romping about like this..Play with your dolls,do some sketching,some reading,work on your skills..instead of running about in the hot sun and getting your brother also in trouble..do you understand?”

Ambika picked up the marapachi in a fit of rage and threw it furiously onto the floor.Her mother slammed the door on her face.Ambika examined her doll closely for cracks and saw an area where the wood had chipped off,because of her angry fit.Her heart sank.Who will marry her cute doll now?And she’d already promised her a nice groom.She rummaged through her things for a little fevicol,found the broken chip of wood and neatly stuck it onto her doll.There,she was all pretty and nice as before.That night she hushed her little one to sleep,promising her a nice bride groom as she’d always done,every night of her twelve year old life.

As she lay in bed clutching her doll tightly in her hands,Ambika wondered about who would make a nice husband for her.Not somebody too soft and tender,for her doll was a strong woman.And not somebody too fair, for her sweetie was a dusky beauty.And definitely someone caring,for she deserved only the best.Yes,Ambika sometimes ill-treated her doll,but she had not yet learned to deal with her sporadic bouts of anger,and if her doll didn’t understand,who would?

Slowly,her eyes closed and she fell asleep.If angels were true,then they were surely watching over her and they knew her desire to get her doll married was true..

————————————————————–

Ambika sat down under her tree,in no mood to jump about, after yesterday’s rebuke. She saw the outline of the beautiful weaver’s nest and wistfully wondered about how many eggs it held within.She had more time to think about the weaver-bird family today, without Aravind nagging her and asking silly questions.The more she thought, the clearer it seemed to her.Everything was just right.Not too fair,not too soft,and who could be more caring and responsible and beauty-loving?
She smiled a lovely smile, which seemed all the more beautiful, because of the thought in her mind.Her princess had a prince! And a handsome one at that!

Ambika rushed into the house,got out the beautiful piece of Zari from an old saree of her mother’s,that she’d been saving for this occasion and draped it neatly around her cute doll.She then sneaked a little kumkum,and haldi and a little string from the kitchen,made a yellow thread and put it around the doll’s neck.Wow,she looks beautiful,she thought.

Wrapping her decked-up bride in the folds of her frock,she tiptoed into the dining hall.There was no one there.She hurriedly grabbed a few bananas,two eclairs and four cream biscuits from the refridgerator and then slipped out slowly into the garden.

She fumbled with the things she was carrying and dropped a few.She gathered them neatly, and looked up at the weaver’s nest.She needed help now.She ran back into the house,found Aravind playing with his new gun and called him to play.Always ready to please his boisterous sister,Aravind complied.

As they neared the tree,she told Aravind in hushed tones,”My doll is getting married today!”. Aravind only looked at her sister in awe.God,she is so smart,why does amma always yell at her then?,he wondered..

Ambika gave all the things she’d collected to Aravind,asking him to hold them carefully.She tied the doll to one end of the sash on her frock and climbed the tree deftly.She peeped into the nest.Mr.Weaver bird was not there yet.Carefully placing the bride at the top of the nest, and wishing the couple good luck,she uttered a little prayer.

She got down and distributed the chocolate and biscuits between them.She placed the bananas on the compound wall for the cows to eat…
She’d found a bridegroom for her doll! Her sweetie was married now!

She took Aravind’s hands in hers.She looked at him and wondered,’Sweet brother of mine…what would I do without him?’.In a spontaneous burst of emotion she spat out,”I love you,Aravind!”
Aravind could only manage a sheepish smile.

[Ambika would be happy to know that she was right with her decision.They make one happy couple :)]

*marapachi bommai:South Indian doll made from wood.

 

Some choices in life…(Blogathon Post Three)

The auditorium was packed.  It was the last day of college and the juniors had organised a farewell, to say goodbye to their older friends. After three years of fun and learning, they would now step into the real world, of monthly salaries, budgets, work pressure and demanding bosses. That was not the only reason for the crowd, though. It was Aditya.

The man with a divine voice. He enthralled the entire university with his music. As if his voice was not enough, he could play the violin and the sitar too. Not too surprising, for Aditya belonged to a family inclined towards music. Some of his uncles taught music at university and his maternal aunt was a playback singer. His own father Mr. Ranjan Joshi , was an accomplished sitar player, who often played at family weddings, much to their delight. The young, dynamic Aditya Joshi and his music, thus, were at the helm of activities that day. 

The crowd fell silent as he walked onto the stage. In his powder blue linen shirt and frayed jeans, he looked like one of them. Until he began to sing. Not one soul in the crowd thought of their mobile phones or the upcoming fashion parade. The songs he sang, the soulful singing, his earnest brown-black eyes : Aditya just could not be ignored. Indeed, at that very moment, there was someone in the audience was making up dreams. 

” Adi, beta, there’s a call for you. It is Mr. Kumar from Hindustan Music. ” 

Aditya woke up with a start. Hindustan Music? That was one of the leading music companies in the country, churning out one hit song after another.

” Gimme that, Ma! ” 

Ten minutes later, Aditya hung up, had a quick shower, gulped down a hot cup of tea and zup! He was gone before his mother could ask him to finish his breakfast.

                                                                                                           *********************************************************************************************************************


Garden View restaurant was not too crowded at this time of the day. Mr. Kumar waited for Aditya Joshi. He was excited. Last night he had called up the dean to get the young man’s name and number. He could not wait for Aditya to join  them at Hindustan Music. He was just the voice they needed : fresh, youthful and sincere. 

” Good morning,  Sir.” 

” Nice to meet you Aditya. You had no trouble finding the restaurant, I suppose?”

” Not at all Sir. I stay just a few kilometres away. ” 

When Aditya returned home that afternoon, he felt on top of the world. He hugged his mother, tickled the dog and drenched the gardener with the hose. He felt proud that he had an offer like this, barely out of college. THREE  songs , could you imagine, from the next album released by  HM! His parents were overjoyed and looked forward eagerly to the new start in their son’s life. Why, it seemed like yesterday when he uttered his first sound, ” dada” ! 

Aditya reached the studio early. Nervous and excited, both at once. Mr. Kumar came over to wish him all the best and gave him the lyrics of the song he was to record over the next few days. After that, he was on his own with the team.  

“Ye jo nadi hai…

Kahaaniyaan laati hain…

Suno suno, o dilwale…”

Gentle and soothing, his first song was about a river, that brought stories, if you cared to listen. He poured his heart into and the music director was just more than happy. The song suited his voice perfectly and it seemed to be made to order for the actor in the film! When the first song was done, he just could not wait to start working on the next one. He treated his parents at Garden View and they spoke of the meeting that kick started his career, in full style. ” It started under these trees, ” they joked.

For his second song, his mother wanted to accompany him, for every parent loves to see their child at work. Especially someone like Aditya, who devoted himself to his work. From a corner of the studio, she could see Aditya learning his lines. She noticed a sudden pallor come over to his face. She saw him go to Mr. Kumar and as something. Mr.Kumar was laughing and patting him on the back. But Adi did not look amused. He continued to speak. Mr. Kumar stopped for a minute and called the lyricist. 

A  voice boomed through the studio. ” I will not do this.” 

With that, Aditya stormed out the studio, glancing at his mother to follow him. 

” Meri strawberry hai tu kahaan 

Oh baby, meri alfonso mango hain tu..

tujhe chod ke jaaoon kahaan,

tere lips, oh yeah, meri barbie doll hain tu…” 

He asked his mother, “Tell me one thing, Ma. Are you a strawberry?”

His mother looked uncomfortable. ” No.. ” 

“Would you like it if father called you a barbie doll?”he persisted. 

” I am not one! See my figure, beta!” his mother laughed out loud. 

” That IS not the point. What kind of girl do you think I will marry?” Aditya refused to give up, he wanted his mother to know how he felt.

” Someone who loves music and loves you. Intelligent and well-read. And it wouldn’t hurt if she could be my friend..” she added as an afterthought. 

” How about I marry an alfonso mango?” 

” Don’t take these things literally, Adi. these are formulae that work. Film songs become hits when they are written like this.” Finally his mother knew what he was talking about. 

Aditya’s mouth straightened into a smile. ” Then I do not want to do it. I am sorry, Ma. ”                                              **********************************************************************************************************************Today, Aditya works at a school, teaching music. On rainy days, he does think of the lost opportunity, when he threw everything away, just because of an idea he subscribed to. Yet every time he saw his wife smile (who was not a barbie doll, but a regular woman who worked and sang and cleaned and mothered and read Gödel in her spare time) or the two baby girls, who scampered around their home (and yes, they were not strawberries) – he knew it was all okay. 

He had a full life. 



A plate of sunshine…

Leaf and fruit
Dew and rain;
Melting sugar
On my tongue, here it snows!

Mani ambled along the village road, on her way to the market to buy some vegetables and fruit. It never snowed in that hot village, (you would not be able to find it on a map!), but Mani, like many ten year olds,had a fertile imagination. She was friends with the elves in her cupboard, who ruffled her clothes and made a mess; each night she said her goodnight to the man on the moon. Her teacher often told her mother that her marks would really improve if she just learnt to channelize this creativity into more productive pursuits.
She reached the market where the familiar sabzi uncle would give her all that she needed before she even asked. It was convenient, she could carry on with her silly rhyme!
Here it snows,
like milk and cream
Kanha’s dream
in flakes of white.

She packed her vegetables in a dirty old cloth bag her Amma had given her, and started on her way back. She reached the stone bridge over the river, where the banks glistened in the sun. Stopping for a minute to admire the view, she was jolted back into the present by Rani, her friend from school.
” Hey, Mani. What are you doing?”
Mani turned around and smiled. Rani was like that, always catching you by surprise. Mani loved to call her the Sudden Girl, because most things happened to her all of a sudden! Why, just last week, the maths teacher had let her off without a beating for scoring one on twenty, because, all of a sudden, he felt that her marks would surely improve the next time!
“Amma wanted some vegetables for dinner, “Mani replied. “And what is the Sudden Girl upto?” she asked with a wicked grin.
Rani seemed pensive as they started walking towards their homes. They lived really close to each other and spent most of their free time together- plucking mangoes or doing homework. Sometimes they packed leftover rotis or dosas in banana leaves and had a picnic by the river. They always had fun, what with Mani’s imagination and Rani’s serendipity.
Today, Rani seemed extremely quiet. She did not smile and looked very scared. Finally, just when they had crossed Ramana Uncle’s house at the end of Temple Street, she blurted out in sobs,
“Appa is very sick! Amma and Anna are taking him to the town hospital tomorrow!”
Mani was shocked. What was so serious that it needed a visit to the town hospital? People went there only if there was no other way out. Why was Rani’s Appa being taken there?
Thoughts ran helter-skelter in her mind. But she had to help Rani. She offered her soothing words and took her home. Mani’s Amma already knew and invited Rani to stay the night. In the attic room, with the termite-infested bed, Mani and Rani spent the night, worried and scared. After all, ten year olds cannot embellish their conversation with fancy words, they could only worry and fear.
Day dawned. There were chores to do and of course, school. The girls could barely concentrate on anything that was happening. Even when their history and class teacher, Dhanamma Ma’am announced a picnic to Chocki Hills, Rani and Mani were the only ones in class who couldn’t scream in joy. They waited for news from the town. Rani’s Amma had promised to call. Rani waited by the phone all evening. Mani just paced the courtyard, trying to memorise the poem for Recitation Exam.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, the phone rang. Rani picked it up, tears streaming down her face. Just the anxiety of waiting had made her such a wreck!
“Rani, Appa is feeling much better now. Do not worry. Stay with Aunty and do not trouble them. Anna and I will return in a few days. I will call everyday, ok?”
” But.. but what did the doctor say?” Rani mumbled, flustered with all the instructions.
” Rani, ” her Amma seemed stressed and exasperated, ” the doctor has asked for a certain medicine. Unless we get that, Appa might not survive.. Rani..” she paused for a second, ” Appa has malaria.”
Tears flowed down Rani’s cheeks like rain.
“What is that medicine, Amma?”
“Sontoshin.. anyway Rani, I’ll go take care of him now. Be a good girl. Do not worry, my dear. God will take care.”
Rani put the phone and sat down quietly next to Mani, who was writing her ‘barahkhadi’.
After a while, she asked Mani, ” Eh.. Mani.. where do you think we can get sontoshin?”
” What?” Mani was flummoxed. She had never taken a pill before.
“It’s a medicine, that can save Appa.”
Mani thought hard. What kind of medicine was that, ‘Suntoshine’? Were they talking about the sun? Yes, that was it! The sun can cure any disease, her grandmother had told her that. Even now, every sunday, Mani recited the slokas to please the sun god.
” Of course, I do, Rani! It’s Sunshine! Soon, your Appa will be dropping you off at school on his bicycle!”
Rani was elated. ‘ Come on then, let’s pack it and take it to town!Let’s run like the wind, Mani!”
“Wait a minute! It’s sunshine, but how do you we pack it? We can’t wrap it in a banana leaf, can we?”
“True, Mani.. what do we do now?” Rani sounded dejected.
Mani could not bear to see the disappointment on her face.She was determined to find a way out. The girls went to bed, trying to think of various ways to gather sunshine, but of no avail. Sleep tugged at their tired eyes and they could keep awake no more.
Early next morning, Mani woke Rani up.
” Rani, wake up! I have found a way to gather sunshine! Come with me, quick!”
Rani ran behind Mani all the way to the stone bridge. The banks were dew-covered.
” There, ” said Mani, ” this is where I see the sun everyday, glistening from those grains of sand. We’ll gather this sand on this copper plate that my Ammamma gave me, ” she announced proudly, producing a shiny plate from her satchel.
Painstakingly, two little girls gathered the sand and lined the plate. Mani told Rani that the sand had to remain slightly wet at all times, or the sun would escape. Rani was extra-careful, so she laid her muslin handkerchief over it, to keep it moist until they reached town. Clutching the plate with both hands, the girls clambered onto the bus. They did not make contact with the curious onlookers, for they knew the medicine would not work if they frittered away their energy in idle talk. As field and river and bridge and grove passed by, they had only thought on their minds : Rani’s Appa. Rani had asked her Amma for the address of the hospital the night before. Her Amma seemed wary, but had indulged her. Rani must be missing her Appa, she felt.
” Rani and Mani, what are you doing here?” asked her Anna, amazed to see them, early in the morning, with a copper plate in their hands!
“We found the medicine!” Mani hissed, “here it is!” There was much jostling and arguing after.
Just then, the doctor passed by. He wanted to know what the commotion was all about.Mani repeated the events for him: how they gathered sunshine to save Rani’s Appa. The doctor listened patiently and took the plate from their hands. ” I see.I do not know how to thank you girls for this. We have been looking for this very medicine. Now let me administer it to him. You want to take him home with you, yes?”
“YES!” chorused Mani and Rani in tandem, so excited that they could not see the doctor winking at Rani’s Amma as he took the plate into the ward. Forty-eight hours later, an emaciated but completely cured man, emerged from the hospital room. He was received by warm hugs and tender tears. He was so happy to be going home with his family. The famiy thanked the doctor for all his help. The doctor smiled and asked Rani, “Do you realise what actually cured your Appa?”
“A plate full of sunshine!” he added, his eyes crinkling in good-natured teasing.

Many years later, Rani and Mani learned how much the nice doctor had worked to save Rani’s Appa. They realised that true sunshine that heals, lives not on the river banks, but in people’s hearts. That’s when you can offer, plates full of sunshine.. to heal, to protect, to cherish and to love.

Just for your information, Rani grew up to be a famous doctor, inspired by the one who saved her Appa and Mani? Well, her imagination still is strong as ever and guess what she does for a living? She writes stories for children! Amen!

(A huge thanks to the prompt from http://creativewritingprompts.com/ !)

The Voice

Wonder what was it about the voice that attracted him so. To most others, it was just something that they heard everyday. Nothing special, right? A mere whisper in the everyday noise and chaos. Yet, each morning, he woke up only to discover that he had been dreaming, of THE voice. Sweet, yet not saccharine. Husky,but not masculine. Slightly raised to be heard, but never too loud. If he had some extra time in the morning, he gave the voice a form and some clothes- Not too tall and a round face, wearing a green silk shirt and cream coloured trousers with brown heels. And yes, pearl studs for the ears.
It was strange, considering that he was thirty-four and had been in no serious relationship so far.He found most women boring and their talk insipid. Clothes, make-up, cleaning.. what else do women talk about anyway? He was not a chauvinist, it was the just the way he felt about things.
He hurried through his breakfast, gulping his toast, washing it down with hot tea. His tie was askew and his laces were untied. His mind, well, we know by now, was dreaming about the softness and timbre of the voice. In another fifteen minutes, he would walk to the bus-stop at the end of the road and get on. Once on the bus, his daily rendezvous would begin. The voice never told him much.Just the usual, here and there, now and then kind of stories.
Sometimes, when the testosterone levels in his blood were high, he would want to meet the voice. She never refused, for he had never asked. How could he, it was practically impossible. He often felt to be the most unlucky man on earth. Here he was, completely, madly in love.. but with no way, either in or out of it. Strange predicament, don’t you think?
His days were filled with dreams and at nights, like most men, he made love, to the voice. He had reconciled himself to the fact that he might never actually go out with the Voice or even hug her in person, let alone share a kiss. It was a divine love, he reasoned, with no trace of physicality involved. (Just pretend that I did not tell you about his dreams, okay? He is quite sensitive.)
His days were punctuated by the voice. Friends often teased him about it. He did not mind, not many understand true love. A love that he would carry with him until his grave. For voices do not go out with you to the restaurant, nor do they get married to you, in a white gown and a golden tiara. He was indeed a sad man. He must have been truly sincere, for which man loves a voice with such passion? Most men would need a model’s body to dream about while making love, and here he was, completely faithful to a voice.

His parents found the entire idea ridiculous. They tried to reason with him.”Son, no man falls in love with a voice.You must get over it now and get married to a real woman. Pretty, intelligent and who is of real flesh and blood!”
They met with an obstinate refusal of their request. Well-wishers tried to get him drunk at the local bar and then screamed into his ears, “Get married now!” He puked on them and came home as obstinate as before. Doctors prescribed medicines to alter his mind and change his thinking. He spit the pills to save them in a velvet-lined chest in his drawer and dozed through the sessions with shrinks. What do shrinks do in any case, other than putting you to sleep? Things came to quite a stand-still until a beautiful female cousin called him and planted a beautiful idea into his head: ” What if the girl you marry IS the voice that you are in love with?” The parents wasted no minute after this. He was married to the first girl they could find.
For the first month after the wedding, he asked the girl not to say a word. He did not want his dreams shattered so early in life. The girl, perplexed at this whole drama called her life, finally blurted out, ” What’s wrong with you? Do you not love me?”
It was NOT the voice. All his hopes, flushed down the drain. He wept like a child, fallen to a heap on the floor. Gently, the girl, the new bride put his arm around him and asked, ” Were you in love with someone else? You can tell me, I understand.”
Snuggling up to her bosom, he started to talk, hesitantly..” Yes.. I still am..”
“Who is it, ” she asked. She was hurt with the candid display of vulgarly extreme love, but was determined to be kind.
“It is a voice.”
“A voice?”
“Yes. It is the voice of the woman who announces the names of bus-stops. Route Number 324. 8:25 AM. ”
Poor girl, she laughed for a full fifteen minutes after that. Like I told you, the man is quite sensitive. He has asked her to go back to her apartment and never come back. He also refused her a divorce, saying that he still doesn’t know if she can be THE voice he loves, for voices can and do change over the years.
I do not know if it is normal or not for a woman to voice her concerns so openly, but I need help.
Two months ago, I married this man.

In search of that something called Love..

Girl

Sometimes eight year old hearts want revenge.

She woke up in the darkness of the night. Tiptoeing past her mother and brother, who were sleeping on mats in the living room, she went into the hall to check the time. The wall clock showed 3 AM. Just a few more hours, she thought. Will he think I have grown up? What presents will he bring? She chided herself for thinking about the presents. After all, he was coming after three years. Will he scoop me up in his arms, like they do in that advertisement? The whole scene was so picture-perfect, she wondered. Does it happen in real life too? Amma had told her that advertisements and films do not always project the truth. She tiptoed back into bed and remained there quietly, awake until he finally arrived.

” Appa! ”
He smiled at her. No scooping up in arms, she sadly thought. Tomorrow was another day. Maybe…
” Are you up so early?”
“I was waiting for you, Appa! Do you want to see my English class work book? My teacher gave me a ‘very good’,you know? And..”
” Um.. that’s good.”
Amma brought him a cup of coffee. He drank it, while trying to pry open his suitcase between sips. She hung around awkwardly, curious yet scared. Three years had not dimmed the memory of his sometimes angry self.
The suitcase seemed to be full of treasures- perfumes, clothes, colouring books, trinkets…
And then she saw it.
A pretty yellow polka dotted dress. Her heart raced wildly:I can’t wait to wear it! How she could dance along, looking like one of those posh kids in her school! Maybe she could wear her hair down, just that one day..She would look very pretty, she was sure.
” Come here”
She went ahead, unable to control her excitement. He held the dress against her and asked Amma, ” Do you think Bala’s daughter is the same size as her? ”
Baala’s daughter, that was Shruti. Her cousin from Chennai.
” I think this will suit Shruti a lot. We’ll go down to Chennai sometime next week and give it to her, okay? ”
Amma nodded, her mind more worried about the economic concerns of the family. His going abroad had done nothing to improve their state of living. With leeches for relatives, there was nothing more you could expect.

Shruti. Why does she need this dress, she wondered. She has so many pretty dresses.. Tears welled up in her eight year old eyes. She looked at the colouring book and crayon set on her lap. She had been sitting on the terrace for the past one hour, trying to draw birds with the new crayons. All she managed to do was to convince herself that yellow polka dotted dresses did not really matter one bit.

***

He came in from his morning walk, slightly sweaty and out of breath. Retirement had brought in a voracious ennui into his life and he felt himself sapped of all energy. He did not feel motivated to do anything. And now, his daughter had also flown the coop. She had decided to stay back in the US for another three years to complete her Ph.D as well.

He settled down in his easy chair, with the day’s newspaper. The usual stuff, he thought. Politician caught in scam. School kid commits suicide. Bus accident kills four. Earthquake claims two hundred.
Suddenly the phone rang. The long beep told him it was an international call. Before he could bring himself up to answer, his wife picked it up.
” Oh! It’s you.. I am so relieved to hear your voice kanna! How is everything?”
He knew it was her. It had been so long since she had called! Everyday he would wait for her call, though he knew she called up only on weekends. If she was free, that is. Work and studies kept her very busy. He felt a little angry, will she never understand how this old heart clamours for a word from her? How it waits for one phrase, ” How are you, Appa ” ?

His wife handed him the phone. Finally she seemed to have remembered him!
” Hi Appa.”
” Hello! How are you doing? How is everything going? Are you eating properly? You remember Kichami uncle from Chennai? He had…”
” Um, Appa, the line might get cut anytime. I have just a minute left on the card. You take ca…”

He put the phone back into the cradle and went back to reading his newspaper.

Sometimes eight year old hearts have their revenge.