Which one is the truth…?

Ridhesh and Meghna have always been the travelling types. Any travel was an opportunity for them to move out of the program codes on their computer screens and into the real world. Both had graduated together from NIT with BTech with majors in Computer Science. Making conversations with people they meet and living the customs of where ever they visited was something they revelled. They travelled with thier reluctant teen aged daughter Ridhima.

This year the trip was to the Kanaul. A sleepy hill Station, little known on the tourist circuits, but well known on the religious tourism searches. Ridhesh had visited this town as a kid with his parents. It was somehow a nostalgic trip too.

The temple of Godess Kali was the major tourist attraction, apart from the natural beauty of the hills. The temple was tucked in midst of an array of shops selling items from audio CDs to toys. The livelyhood of the town survived on the grace of the goddess. The temple diety was known for its myths and power. The folklores were in plenty which describes the various miraculous feats of the goddess, both benovalent and ferocious.

As Ridhesh and Meghna emerged from the temple after offering thier prayers, they found Ridhima sitting in the steps across the street. Ridhima who had decided to give the temple a skip. Aarti bells were still ringing as the setting sun turned the sky into a fiery red glow. It resembelled the tilak from the Kali temple.

Ridhesh flicked open his DSLR camera to capture the beauty of the sunset contrasted by the hussle of the market place. The third click satisfied him. He noticed Ridhima Siting on the roadside steps flipping stories on Instagram. In the moving mass of the tourist she was an another contrast. Ridhesh changed his lens and altered the exposure settings to capture his Daughter in a candid frame. The first click was blurred, the second spoiled by an overfilled polyethylene carry bag of an enthusiastic photo bombing tourist. Third chance is rare and the laws of statistics were not flouted this time. Ridhima noticed her father’s irritating habit in time to hide her face.

“C’mon Ridhima, be a sport”, implored Ridhesh. ‘You will remember this moments through these pictures.”

“Dad, please!!”, protested Ridhima, “I don’t want you to post them on our family group. And, I hate it when everyone would comment on what I wear.”

“Where’s Mom?“ enquired Ridhima.

Ridhesh saw Meghna checking trinkets at the street vendor’s cart. Cheap fashion jewellery shared the space on the cart with prayer beads and holy head scarfs. The spiritual and the material, combining in a philosophical way. Meghna, in a pang of guilt dropped the trinket and picked the holy head scarf.

Meghna looked up to see where the father and daughter duo were. She saw them walking up to her quarrelling on how to click pictures. Ridhima was telling Ridhesh, just having an SLR does not make one a photographer.

She had a smile on her face as the father and daughter reached her. She piosly wrapped the scarf on her head.

“Now what?“, asked Ridhesh.

” Lets checkout some shops”, said Ridhima suggestively. Although the statement was vague, but her eyes and intentions were fixed on a Souvenir shop. And that is where the three of them headed. One resolutely and the other two in decreasing order of enthusiasm.

They had to navigate through a rush of humanity gathered around a free food stall distributing ‘prasad’ or the ‘Divine food’. Divotees thronged to get the Divine blessing on the auspicious dark night of the Goddess Kali. As the custom and belief goes, the food being distributed is first offered to the goddess, who blesses the meal and then the same food is distributed to the divotees. This was also the night when the sacrifices were performed. Although the custom was on a decline but it still was being practiced in the recesses of the homes and societies.

As they reached the shop, Meghna got busy exploring the pieces from seemingly some ancient times. At least the dust and the stacking of the artifacts gave it the ancient look. Wonderful pieces of wood carving ranging from gods to animals and guarding demons adouned the busy walls of the shops. The counter was filled with old bracelets, utencils, knives, etc.

At first glance it seemed there was no one in the shop. The old lady owner of the shop almost blended with old artifact. It seemed as if after staying for so long in midst of the timeless artifacts, she seemed to become one.

She smiled a weary smile. She had seen many customers who would loiter, click pictures and move on. Ridhesh tried to strike a conversation, but the response were monosyllabic.

The shop was not too small in comparison with other match box like shops on the street. However, the crowded artifacts made it look dingy and cramped. The door on the rear was partially hidden by the life size statue of goddess kali. The blood red tongue was in striking contrast with the deep blue body. The statue was a piece of art, except the smear crack near the eyes. Possibly the reason for the statue remain unsold.

Ridhima was visibly not enjoying the experience. Ridhesh was trying to make conversation with the lady at the counter, in his usual style, however with not much of progress.

The silence was broken by the loud arrival of the husband of the lady. The old man was pot bellied with scraggy unkempt hair. These imperfection were out shadowed by the loud exuberance. He moved in carrying the ‘prasad’, which was no mean achievement considering the hungry line of devotees, eagarly queuing up to gain the divine grace.

He filled the space with himself and his enthusiastic hospitality. He offered the ‘prasad’, which was essentially ‘Purees’ a kind of an Indian bread, Gram Dal curry and ‘Halwa’ – a sweet preparation seeped in clarified butter. The dishes were placed on a plate and bowl made of dried leaves. Old man had balanced the plates and bowls while navigating his ample presence through the crowd. His exuberant announcements of the his achievement was indeed credible. The possession was a consequence of vigorous strife among the dense mass of devotees. He handed his prized possession to Ridhesh.

Ridhesh was visibly embarrassed and feeling guilty of accepting the Holy meal which wasn’t initially meant for him, irrespective of the play of destiny. He was also starkly aware of the reluctant moan by the lady, who must have many times witnessed this infructuos hospitality. She sighed and started stacking back the artifacts on the counter with a sense of resignation, shared by Ridhesh as he was left holding the plates and bowls.

The old man looked at Ridhima and smiled. The return smile moved no urther than the lips.

“Little Doll!!, you must surely have the Halwa” instructed the old man to the visibly irritated Ridhima.

Before she could react, the old man had turned to his wife, and affiably rebuked his wife to leave the counter and make sure the ‘little doll’ was looked after.

“Baldev’s Mother” called the old man identifying his wife as a relation and not a person, “this ‘little doll’ is your responsibility. Look how famished she looks. Soon you shall have your own little grand daughter.”

With words assuring Ridhesh that he would be back with more prasad, he exited the shop in the the same abruptness as he had entered.

Ridhesh looked towards the old lady behind the counter. She was looking at his daughter, taking the instructions of her husband far too seriously. She turned and looked at Ridhesh and her lips smiled. The gaze lingered on Ridhesh a fraction longer. Silent was awkward.

to be continued…

Who Cares… Who’s Real?

We heard Laila o Laila
play on the FM.
As the drums
did the rolls
Me and my daughter
play our ‘guess who’ game.

“Do you know…
Who is the drummer?”,
I ask.
“I don’t know”,
she says
“It’s ‘Amjad Khan’
I answer, to score a point.

But she says
that’s only in the movie
Who was the Real drummer?
I said…
Who cares!!!
… Who’s Real??

The taste of the moment

The skillet of cast iron
Harness the heat
ingredient blend in proportion
spices sinking deep

Each bit done for the craving mouth
nothing goes waste
expressed on the grateful tongue
That we know as the taste

Taste lies
not in the fire
That heats

Nor in the skillet
That suffers the heat

Nor in the ingredients
That is cooked

Nor on the tongue
That tastes

Taste lies
In the moment
that bring it all together

Taste lies
in the hand that stirs
That blends the family together

Always young – my father, my friend

The man of details
Full of imagination
always thinking
always young

The best is not enough
For the seeker of best
always new
Always young

The myths imagined or created
Story teller recreates the epics
Always spectacular
Always young

Deligent and meticulous
Order, is the purpose
Always neat
Always young

Unwilling to share worries
But always worrying for us
Always a friend
Always young

Thanks Achan, for being you
The charming
The handsome
And forever young

Amma (mother)

For her, life is people,
In her priorities
She
comes last

Her heart does the thinking,
She feels for all,
Her own feelings
come last

Her memories are us
Her messages, sometime remind us to remember
Her ownself??
she forgets fast

She rolls the laddus and bakes the cake
Each one’s likings comes first
Her aches
comes last

She is our identity
She is Amma
Happy birthday Amma
have a blast

Inheritance

The rubber tried to hold on to the tar, but it was a losing battle. The speed was too high and time too less. Umesh was distracted by the message on the mobile as he executed the turn on the hilly serpentine road to Manali. Swathi slept peacefully as many events crowded into the last few seconds. The monstrous truck was hurtling down the same road as it appeared around the bend at the last moment. Umesh hit the breaks instinctively and the tyres screeched as they laboured to do what they were created to do. But the tyres were literally losing ground. The wet roads, the speed of truck and the late instruction by Umesh were stacking the odds against them. The inevitable was about to become a tragic reality. Swathi opened her sleepy eyes to stare at death. She never had a chance to have a last look at her husbands face as the truck rammed the chassis of the car into her rib cage. The last thought she had was for Aditya who lay strapped in the back seat. Her last prayer to God remained mumbled on her bruised lips

“….please save him!!!”

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

Sunder Lal was alone at home, going about his routine, which, more or less, had got fixed since he retired 12 years ago. It was 30 Sep 2006, 12 years since his wife had died at the Military Hospital in New Delhi. She succumbed to the fatal consequence of Dengue. This was the first outbreak of such a deadly fever. No one could predict such a catastrophe. He was serving his last day of his army service in the north east when he recieved the tragic news. The doctor had assured him of the improving situation.  Lulled by this apparent hope, he gave in to his foolish desire to stay back for his farewell dinner.

She had left him with two sons Bhavesh and Umesh.  Bhavesh was the elder one. He stayed at home with mother. He had completed his Bachelor Degree in Commerce. He was preparing for the Bank examination. Well that is what he claimed he did. Umesh, the younger one, had recently joined IIT Guwahati. He was the very first to have cleared the coveted exam among the community. Sunderlal and his wife were so proud of him. Sad his wife had to leave before she could see her son becoming an Engineer. Sunderlal asked him to join him at Guwahati Airport.

Bhavesh was yet to reach home with the mortal remains, when Sunderlal and Umesh reached home. The house was teeming with the relatives. The mood was of disbelief. Each one was speculating the cause and was placing the blame. The blame shifted from the irresponsible government, the unusually hot weather in September caused by global warming and to state of disinterest shown by Bhavesh while pursuing the treatment.

Sunderlal could not blame any one else. He would live with this heavy burden of the cross. The ‘whys?’, ‘what ifs?’  were questions which were likely to haunt him recurrently in his mind space.

The questions still echoed in his mind with an eerie clarity.

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

Today, it was another day of routine. 12 years hence, the pain had reduced to a mere  numb throb. But at days like these, when no one else was around he missed his wife. In these day bound by routine, he painfully missed another significant event which had kept him alive. He missed taking Aditya, his favourite grandson to school. His scooter, although old, was faithful enough to never fail him on this critical task of the day.

The circle on the calender marking the date of Aditya’s return from his holiday at Manali, was still four days away.

RRRRINGGG!!!!!

The phone rang with a uncultured and intrusive ring. It lived up to its jarring personality.

“Am I speaking to Mr Sunderlal?” spoke the omnious voice on the other end of the device.

Sunder Lal would have normally banged the phone after speaking his heart out at the intrusive tele-marketer. But this time he knew it wasn’t going to be any selling. The omnious voice warned of a “Loss”.

“This is Sub Inspector Dhumal” identified the caller. The tone combined with the identity of the caller made his gut recoil and his hand grip the phone harder.

“Yes…? Sunderlal… er… Col Sunderlal, retired… speaking”, he replied, trying to hide his worry.

“I am sorry to inform you that your Son Umesh and his family have met with an accident” said the officer with a practiced ease.

The details sifted through the dazed ear of a man losing his sanity. He was not hearing a word, but he did not need words to feel the deep sense of loss.

“But, by the God’s grace, the child has survived, unhurt. But he is in no state to identify the bodies of his parents. Can I request you to come here to identify and collect the body?”

The last statement made him break down and cry. The phone slipped and crashed on the floor.

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

Nobody spoke as they traveled on the same winding road in the opposite direction. The irony of the situation was stark. In one direction it led to happiness and fun, while on the opposite end it led towards gloom and despair.

The gloomy silence was broken as Bhavesh recieved a call from his office enquiring his likely date of return.

“Your sanctioned leave ends tomorrow. Manager wants you to meet him tomorrow”. The officious voice of the office clerk echoed on the bluetooth speaker of the car.

“I am not dead. I will return!!” Retorted Bhavesh, irritated by so many factors. The tragic occurance, the inconvenience and the added responsibilities of his father and Umesh’s child were weighing on his mind.

“How can you talk like that to your employer, the provider of your bread” implored Sunder Lal.

“For the money that they provide you cannot even buy a loaf of bread. And now I have two extra hungry mouths to feed.” complained Bhavesh.

“Be sensible Bhavesh, there is a child in the car who has just lost his parents. He is your Nephew goddammit!!!” spoke Sunder Lal in a hushed but stern whisper.

“Thats your grandson, born out of your favourite child. Don’t lecture me now.”

Aditya snuggled closer to Sunderlal, his only thread of sanity left.

Sunderlal looked affectionately down at the young boys face. He ran his hands tbrough the boy’s hair. He thanked god as he saw the eyes were shut tight.

“God bless you, dear angel of sleep for saving this poor soul from the brutal teuth of life” he said a silent prayer.

Sunderlal failed to notice the shifting of the eyeballs under the clinched eyelids as they battled the welling up of the tears inside.

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

It had been an year since the unfortunate event had turned the lives of Sunderlal and Aditya into an tangled mess. Post that tragic event, both of them had shifted to Bhavesh’s place. The shift was more economic and administrative rather than emotional. The rental expenditure and the cost of maintenance of the palatial house was considered unnecessary by Bhavesh. The tragedy caused the double jeopardy for Aditya. The loss of family combined with the loss of familiar surroundings caused a severe strain on the psyche of the little boy. The cynical attitude of Bhavesh wasn’t helping either. It drew Aditya closer to his grand father. His grandfather was Aditya’s only island of solace and sanity. He never realised that Sunderlal felt the exact same feeling for Aditya. Each were a support for each other .

The routine was fixed.

Everyday, Sunderal would drop Aditya to school on his old and faithful scooter. He would be there much before the bell rang for the end of the school, waiting patiently under the old shady banyan tree opposite the school gate. As the long bell rang, heralding the long awaited “Chutti”, Sunderlal would cross the road and place himself at the centre and in the first file of the waiting mass of parents or assigned caretakers. Aditya would search him out and would feel happy to see him at the familiar spot. For that smile of recognition and relief, Sunderlal was prepared to jostle with the other claiming the same spot.

The ride to the school was filled by stories of Sunderlal. Stories of bravery and stories of patriotism, Stories of Mythology and stories of fantasy. Aditya would remain quite, partly because he was wanting to hear the stories and mostly because he was scared of the prospects of the school. Stories of Sunderlal took him on the ride of fantasy and wonder, away from the crippling thoughts of the school. The ride back would be full of stories from Aditya. Stories of fun and stories of deceits, stories of friendship and stories of enemies, stories of victories and stories of loss. Sunderlal would patiently listen to them, without judgement and prejudice.

Together, they lived in the world woven around with their stories. Truth and fantasy were unrecognisable as they merged into one glorious reality. These stories were their world. A well preserved world existing within the outer world. It was, as if the real world did not exist.

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

Aditya woke up to a frenzied commotion. Bhavesh uncle was speaking in an urgent tone with someone on the phone. Aunty held her son close in a tight embrace possibly trying to shield him from the cacophony. Aditya wasn’t sure what was happening. He couldn’t dare ask. His eyes met Bhavesh uncle. There was irritation in the eyes.

Aditya felt unsure of what was happening. He wanted to dive back into his own world. He saw his grandfather’s room uncharacteristically open. He slowly walked in. He was filled with a heavy gloom. Somehow it seemed their world was breached. The environment was lifeless, there was no breeze. It was as if, it had died.

Sunderlal lay calmly, his face serene in contrast with the the frenzy outside the room. Was he dead? If this was death, why was his grandfather so peaceful. He felt happy for the peace his grandfather was experiencing. He was also slowly realising the enormity of the change in his life. The reality closed in on him.

The walls seem to rush in and create a wedge between him and the serene body of his grandfather. He was petrified. He wanted to shout at his grandfather to move quickly towards his side, because he was rooted to the floor. He panicked as his voice was also stuck within him. It seemed to echo within him with no perceptible effect on the outside. His silent screams were making no effect on the oblivious body of his grandfather. The walls were looming large. It rose from within the floor too. It was getting claustrophobic.

Aditya shouted his lung out. It was not a cry. It was a shriek.

Bhavesh uncle was shouting instruction to his wife, “Stop this imbecile from creating a ruckus. I am trying to speak to the hospital guys. These people want to be sure he is dead” grumbled Bhavesh. He cupped the receiver as added conspiringly “All these are ways to extract some money. I know how to handle these leeches. You just make him quite!!!”

The deal was done. Bhavesh was good at it. There was no need of a travel to the hospital. The body could be taken to the cremation ground. There was no family to waited for. The rituals were to be completed earliest. Why waste time and money. It would be a private affair.

The body burned over the sandalwood. The charred remains were collected as the mortal remains only to be prepared for being sprayed over a flowing water. Submitted and consumed by the fire and returned to the water.

The fire was lit by Bhavesh. He was entitled to do it. It was the rule of inheritance.  He was allowed to offer the mortal remain of his father to the fire. Inheritance of this obligation was his right. This right also entitled Bhavesh to be the legal heir.

Aditya looked at the urn full of ash. The ashes were the mortal remains. It wasn’t his grand father. This wasn’t what he was looking for. Aditya was looking for something they both shared. Then he looked up into the sky. No answer seem to appear. No answer seemed to be an explanation. He wasn’t even sure what to ask. His world had disappeared. The world that they shared. He suddenly blamed his grandfather for taking his entire world. He was not supposed to take that.  Their world. For that he was the heir. He was the only entitled one. The worldly laws were of no consequence for this pronouncement.

That was his inheritance. And it had turned into ashes.