Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Rejection...

So this got rejected for the sixth issue of an online magazine called The New Fairy Tales.

Moral of the story: don't think you or your story is so great!

The Wicker Basket.

The basket floated down the weed green marshy stream, got caught among the gently fermenting reeds near the woodcutter’s hut and lay there quite still, a wicker basket among brown, green and cloud grey water.

The woodcutter, his wood chopped for the day, went to the stream to wash his splinter bruised hands. On seeing the basket, he waded in to have a closer look.

Inside lay a baby, perhaps a few months old. Black, curly ringlets spilled over her eyes and ears, little drops of water clinging to them like fairy lights. Her eyes were green, a dark mossy wood green. Around her neck was a thick chain of gold with a pendant of green stone. In the twilight it lay on her tiny throat like a leaf with the first hints of autumn on it.

He quickly took the pendant and its ropelike chain and waded out of the marshes.

The baby began to cry as night slowly filled the spaces between the trees.

The woodcutter sat by the fireside and smiled as the stone glowed green and gold. He knew this stumbled-upon stolen treasure would fetch a high price in the market.

The next morning he did not take any of the bundles of neatly chopped and bundled wood to the market. Instead, he took with him a small bundle and on reaching the market, sat at his usual place, opened the bundle and spread out its contents.

'Oh, what a beautiful pendant!' exclaimed the woman. 'My lady', said he sadly. 'My lady, it was my mother’s, she took it off the day my father died and could never look at it again. Now that she too is gone, I cannot bear to look at it', he added.

'What is your price?' she asked.
'For you, dear lady, so lovely, so fair, it is only five pieces of gold. If you take it with the chain, it will befive more gold pieces'.

She smiled and gave him a bag of coins. He took out the gold, bit a coin and satisfied, put it back in. She laughed and clasped the pendant around her neck and walked away.

That evening, the curiosity of the guilty made him wade into the marshes to have a look at the basket again. The baby was there still, alive, perhaps sustained by tiny droplets of water that fell from the reeds that surrounded her.

Something in the basket caught the last rays of the sleeping sun and glimmered. Feeling around in the basket he found a mirror. A tiny mirror, just the size of his palm. Framed in gold and blood red stones it glowed, setting the last rays of the sun on fire.

The baby let out another wail and he waded back to the shore,

'And for this, oh lovely one, I ask you for fifteen pieces of gold.' he said the next day, back in his stall in the market place. The lady, too, was back.

She took the mirror and looked at her reflection and smiled, her lips as red as the red stones of the mirror. 'Oh your price is so high!' she said sadly.

'My lady, it pains me to see you so sad, so I will ask for only twelve. This mirror was my sister’s. She died you know, dragged down by water sprites when she went bathing in the river'.

She gave him a bag and laughed gaily at her reflection.

When he looked at the basket later that day, the baby was still, either sleeping or dead. He unwrapped the white embroidered stole that someone had lovingly, perhaps sadly wrapped around the baby to keep her warm.

The stole was made of fine soft silk. It was hand embroidered with beautiful flowers and fairies. Each delicate wing was in shadow stitch and each pink, yellow and red rose so real, he tried to smell them as he allowed the cloth to brush against his cheeks.

'And, my lady, this is for your fair shoulders. A gift to me from my grandmother, should I find a lovely maiden to marry. Alas! that is not to be, and so I must part with it.'

'What will you take for this?' said she. Green eyes and blood red lips tantalized him.

'For you my lady, just 20 pieces of gold'

'You ask for too much.'

'Fifteen then,' he sighed.

That evening he took all the three bags of coins out of his box to look at them again, to count the coins, again, and to lick his gold.

He opened the first one and screamed. It was filled with dust. He emptied it and the weightless dust spilled all over the table. In a terrible rage he tore open the other two and shook them. Dust.

Screaming he ran out and waded into the stream. The basket was there but there was no baby. He picked up the basket and crushed it.

Nearby he heard laughter. Lying stretched out teasingly with green eyes reflecting the green stone around her neck, the silk stole carelessly thrown over her naked body she lay looking at the red stone encrusted mirror, seductively biting her blood red lips. Her hair, wild and curly fell over her breasts, her hips and teasingly touched her navel.

He felt himself sink, as the reeds choked him. He did not fight, there was no struggle. He sank, slowly, looking at her all the time and she looked at him, laughing.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

a haunting?

In a way you could have called it a haunting.Whenever I would walk down the corridors of my childhood house, I would feel as if I was being enveloped by a dampness that made me shiver even in the warmest of summer days.I would also feel a black shadow that seemed to walk behind me, constantly.
In those childhood days I had no name to give it. I would turn around several times in an attempt to catch whoever it was that walked so quietly behind me.

Of those years I remember no winter, no summer and no spring; just occasional days. Days when I crawled into the canopy of the lemon bush to lie down and read (Now, so many years later, I am surprised to find that lemon bushes have thorns, for I never remember having been scratched or having to avoid any when I hid inside the bush), days when I sat by the pond with my feet in the water, days when I made mud pies and decorated them with flowers torn off bushes ( I regret tearing those flowers now), but mostly I remember the days as days spent with myself, endlessly weaving stories to keep myself amused. I do not remember telling my parents about the other girl. Many years later they asked me about her, because they said, I would tell them about her and the games we would play, the adventures I would have with her. Amused though they were, they would tell me that I had a lively imagination but I must not let it carry me away. I would insist she was there, they said, waiting for me, and she that would play with me every day as surely as I spoke to them.

But what of this black shadow that would walk with me wherever I went, once I was inside the house? Oppressive, heavy, cold, once frightening, once thrill inducing, yet never harmful. Just walking, walking, walking ceaselessly behind me, making me want to run, making me want to stop and turn abruptly, making me wrap my arms around myself for warmth.

Two men wait for me in the kitchen, dressed in carnival costume; Punchinello, except there are two of him, tall, very tall, lanky with arms and legs that seem wobbly at the joints. They walk towards me, jerkily, grinning and I cannot escape. One of them, pushes me, hand on my face ‘Beauty Queen’ he says and laughs.

I wake up in a panic. I never ever want to enter the kitchen again. Never alone anyway.

I smell blood. The cold wind blows in and brings with a blackness that can be felt, can be tasted, and it wraps itself around me, chokes me and a knife plunges into my bed, stabbing it and then there is blood everywhere.

I wake up knowing this was real. This happened. Now I never want to enter that bedroom again. Thankfully it was never mine. Just one of the many spare ones I had wandered into one afternoon and fallen asleep.

And still, this house haunts me, so many years later. In my dreams I walk, relentlessly walk up and down those corridors, feeling the same black shade. I search for the lemon bush, the pine tree, the mango trees, I roll in the grass and let the hot sun burn red and brown blisters into my skin. This too is a haunting.
In my teen years, my mother once showed me a poem she wrote and I loved it so much, I made it my own. Now only bits of the poem come back to me

The fragrance of roses,
My garden pervades,
And the moonlight shines,
In silver cascades,
…a sudden movement,
A creaking of the gate,
Is it you that comes,
At this hour so late
Memories food,
as I rush out to see,
Ah! but it’s just a shadow,
Your spirit is visiting me.

Who then did my childhood self see? Who walked behind her? Who was the other girl? Who haunts that house? Is it me? Is it the other girl? And what of the black presence? Of Punchinello? Of the knife and the blood? I don’t know. I don’t know.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

She had been left in the animal shelter because she was old, incontinent, had bladder cancer and cataract. For someone, she had become too much of a bother to look after. I saw her in the distance, tied to a pole. She looked at me with an intense expression that I tried to ignore. I was not intending to take her home. I had just lost my German shepherd and looking at another one was too much to bear.
As is often the case with me in animal shelters, I walked up to her anyway. ‘Do not touch her’, said the shelter manager, ‘She has already tried to bite three people who have wanted to walk her or adopt her’. I looked at her. She was a huge black and tan German shepherd, with large wolf like eyes and enormous ears. She was really staring at me; I had not imagined it when I first saw her. Her tail did not wag, and in her eyes I thought I could read a deep sorrow. I went home and told my mother about her. The next day both of us went to the shelter and were told again that she was a biter and it was best not to go near her. When she saw my mother, she wagged her tail and jumped up and down. So, despite my protests, my mother walked up to her, with biscuits and to the astonishment to all those around, this dog ate out of her hand. I was asked by my mother to unchain her which I did with my eyes closed in fear, expecting a bite right on my face any minute. Nothing happened, she was unchained and I began to walk her outside the shelter. She saw our car, ran up to it, dragging me behind her, climbed in and sat down and looked at me with her tail wagging.
We took her home, I sat next to her and she licking my hands and face throughout.
Whether she would she adjust to the cats was my next fear and I told her that if she did not, she would have to go back. Once home, she settled in with cats like it was the most normal thing for a dog her size to do.
Three months later, my mother took ill and passed away. I, overcome with grief, became withdrawn and began to live a reclusive life, my only outings being the daily trip to work and back. Leela, as we named her, insisted in moving into my bedroom and she would cuddle with me through those pain filled nights. I would spread a rubber sheet on the bed because of her incontinence and feel grateful for her warmth and love.

Slowly Leela began to look after me. She would go to the kitchen and wag her tail, so I had to go there too, to give her a snack, and so would eat as well. She would flop down next to me when despair would fill me. Few things can equal the peace and joy that comes when you hug a dog, especially one her size. She began to screen everyone who came home. Some of my friends were fine according to her and she liked them, others she hated and as the years showed me, were well worth her displeasure. She would not leave my side when I had repairmen at home and they could hardly talk to me because she would bark continuously not letting them come anywhere near me. She bit one or two people who tried to come too close to me when I walked her and soon had the reputation of a ferocious dog. An excellent reputation that she worked hard to build I am sure, to protect someone who was living alone.
Three years passed and she grew weaker and more incontinent. Her kidneys failed and she was dying. I begged the vets to save her. I just could not lose her. I could not. After fifteen days of dialysis, her creatinine count came down to a near normal level and she came home. Once home, she resumed looking after me, protecting me and bossing over me.

More than a year passed and then she began vomiting blood and I knew that she would not live much longer. Around that time someone called me and inquired if I had a kitten that he could adopt. I said I did and he said he would come over in the evening to have a look at her. I warned him about Leela when he rang the doorbell and waited to se Leela’s reaction. She walked up to him, sniffed him, wagged her tail and walked away. I was relieved. Usually anyone new would be barked at for at least fifteen minutes, more, if she disliked the person. ‘She likes you’, I told him. He took the kitten home and Leela died a week later. Once again I was devastated. My lifeline had been cut again.
But Leela knew something I did not know. It was as if she had been waiting, just as she had been waiting all those years ago to be taken home. She was waiting for this man who came to take the kitten. It sounds rather dramatic, but I married the man who adopted the kitten from me. We have adopted many dogs and cats since but I will always remember my special friend who looked after me like a parent does and even made sure that I got ‘settled’ in life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Peggy the pigeon was found on M.G road outside the Deccan Herald Office almost two years ago. An employee of Deccan Herald found her and went to my husband who was having breakfast in Coffee House next door, to ask for help. We were looking after the coffee house cats at that time and the regulars there knew that we help out animals in distress. So my husband packed up the pigeon and took her home. Now came the problem of putting her in a safe place in a house full of cats.

We put her in the dressing room, called the vet, described her condition and asked what she could be given to eat. It turned out that she had a B-complex deficiency and all we needed to do was add B-Complex tablets to her food.

Because the dressing room was between the bathroom and bedroom, Peggy, as we named her, had to put up with us going back and forth through her room several times a day. She would flap her wings indignantly, fly up and perch on the curtain rod and look down at us, annoyed.’ You smell of cats' she would say.

It did not take long for the cat network to get to know that their humans had brought home something different for dinner. They ran into the bedroom and sat outside the closed door of the dressing room in anticipation of being let in to the feast inside. Some tried to break the door down when they found that we were of no help. Others, in rotation, kept a constant watch at the door. Inside Peggy would flap her wings furiously each time a cat mewed. This only frustrated the cats more.

One day they got in, five of them, Peggy flew up to the ceiling and flew from one end to another. Poor thing, she must have been terrified. The cats were trying all they could to get at her, but there was no way they could. They were shooed out and the door was shut. We realized that it was time Peggy was released. It had been close to three months, she was getting very fat and she seemed fine.

I did not want to part with her despite the permanent bird poop stains on the floor, despite the difficulty of preventing cats from running in, despite her not making friends with us. But she had to go, there were pigeons in the area and she would surely find friends and live happily.

So we opened the window and hoped she would get the idea. Promptly a cat walked in from the open window. I had forgotten that they could climb from the parapet below the window. Peggy flapped angrily till we locked all the cats away and waited. By the evening, she had flown away. I looked out for her for many days after that, hoping to see her on some tree, somewhere nearby. I scattered grains into any likely area where pigeons might roost but I never saw her again.

I won’t forget her, little Peggy, the pigeon among the cats.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The graveyard of the ants.

I will never know why there were squares cut into one of the compound walls of my childhood home in Lucknow. The squares were small and ran along the length of the wall, right in the middle. Perhaps they were meant for lamps. One day I discovered ants in one of the squares, hundreds of them and they were all dead. As I watched, I saw a procession of ants bring a dead one into the square. It was carried across the other dead ones and left in a corner and then the others went away. I had found an ant graveyard!.

From that day on, I would go there everyday to observe and check if I had indeed found an ant graveyard. On most days it lay there silent. The dead lying there naked, exposed, vulnerable. What if the gardener decided to clean up the squares? All of them were becoming collection points for dead leaves and mud and would soon become too obvious even for him to ignore. What if he decided to clean everything up? Where would the ants put their dead? I kept a vigil from that day on. I made myself the protector of the ants and their graveyard.

I even kept flowers there. Purple bougainvilleas, tiny wildflowers whose names I did not know and covered their bodies with leaves. At least twice more, as far as I can remember, I saw a procession of ants carrying a dead one and depositing it in the graveyard.

Ant graveyards do exist. Most of what I have found is anecdotal evidence. Ants graveyards in kitchens, in the bathroom of a hilltop home, in some shed and other such places. The people who have discovered them have been as surprised and fascinated as me. I would love to have a scientific explanation for ant graveyards but I have not been able to get much.