Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tracing Alice...

Calvin was growing up so fast that had he placed his palm on top of his head he would have felt himself grow-up many inches daily. Just like Alice from Wonderland, his most favorite bed-time-story. He was being introduced to so many new subjects at school at such a frantic pace that he was facing great difficulties in coping with them all. His head whirled with so much information being stuffed into it, all at the same time! He was barely out of his age of devouring comic-books and he was already being introduced to Maths & Physics, Literature & Biology. He hadn't even questioned the existence of Santa yet, to deserve punishment of this kind! It seemed that his transition from a world of fairy-tales to that governed by necessities & laws was going to be rather premature & abrupt. He looked so over-informed & drowsy that day that his mom offered him a nice warm cup of chocolate-milk & tucked him early to bed along with his favorite tiger-toy.
As mommy shut the door behind her, Calvin sprang up & prodded Hobbes to stay awake. He wanted to read him his favorite bed-time story for the umpteenth time. Hobbes looked disinterested as he, by now, knew it by heart! Calvin turned the first leaf and started narrating. "A white rabbit ran past wearing a coat and carrying a watch, lamenting running late". Wondering why Calvin had stopped narrating, Hobbes asked "Ain't Alice supposed to follow it?". Hearing no response for long, Hobbes opened one eye of his to see what Calvin was up to. A perplexed Calvin was turning the pages frantically. "Something missing, eh?", inquired Hobbes. "Yeah, Alice's amiss & I need to look for her", replied Calvin. Right before Hobbes' spell-bound eyes, Calvin shrunk & entered a frame in the comic book. Hobbes followed suit...
"Now where u gonna look for her?", asked Hobbes. "Let's ask that aging gentleman with unkempt hair puffing at his pipe over there", replied Calvin. "Sir, have you seen Alice?" inquired Calvin. "Call me Albert, I'm yet to be knighted", he replied. "She went down a worm-hole, right there", he went on... "U mean a rabbit-hole", said Calvin. "Umm... u may say so", replied Albert.
Calvin walked to the 'door' of the worm-hole, but found that it was locked. A table next to the door had a key placed upon it but Calvin couldn't reach it as he had shrunk. He looked around & picked an iron nail which now seemed like a giant-rod & starting digging into the door. Irritated by this noisy activity, a man popped out his head from a bath-tub placed close-by. He had a long beard. "Don't dig. Use it as a lever & lift the door open", he advised. "But it's such a tiny nail & the door is so huge!", replied Calvin skeptically. "Duh! Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth", muttered the guy as he slipped back into the tub. Calvin obeyed & the door indeed gave way. "Eureka, eureka", yelled he with joy, as he entered.
The door opened into a beautiful orchard. Spring had just set in and the flowers & fruits of choicest colors & fragrances were in full-bloom. It looked like paradise, but there were no people around & Calvin was getting desperate. He had to find Alice! After walking some distance, he bumped into a finicky guy, Werner. "Have you seen Alice, Sir? She entered this door through the worm-hole", said Calvin. "How fast was she traveling?", questioned Werner. "And how does that matter?", asked Calvin. Sensing the irritation in Calvin's voice, he answered, "I saw a girl there, no here, no no there...". "Are you always this uncertain? This doesn't help!", yelled a disgruntled Calvin as he walked on.
After haphazardly looking around for sometime, he came across a stout balding man with distinctive side-burns quietly and intently studying the transmutations of species in a Mock-Turtle. "Sir, is this the Garden of Eden & are you Adam?", asked Calvin. "No, I'm Charles and what garden?", he replied. "The place where the first man & his wife lived after they were created by God", replied Calvin. "Don't know 'bout that but not everything was 'created' for mankind. Life evolved...", he continued. "He seems to be an Atheist", whispered Hobbes which Charles overheard. "No, I'm more of an Agnostic, or a Naturalist u may say...", he replied. "Who gave u this address, anyway?", inquired Charles. "Oh, we just followed the white-rabbit wearing a coat & carrying a watch", replied Calvin. "What!? Now those rabbits have taken to this too?", yelled a visibly upset Charles. He threw away a fat book he had nearly completed writing & started all over again. 'On the Origin of the Species - by means of unnatural selection', he wrote on its cover and turned the leaf. Calvin was shaken up, but nevertheless was happy to have run into the Mock-Turtle. Now Alice had to be around. "Where can I find the closest habitation?", asked Calvin. "Follow this path of white-pebbles left by Hansel and Gretel", directed Charles getting back to his writing.
The path sure did lead Calvin & Hobbes to a tall castle. It had two windows, but no doors nor stairs! An apple tree grew under one of it's windows. A young love-struck Romeo stood at the foot of this apple tree, contemplating how to scale it in order to reach the window. His accomplice, Euler, put a reassuring arm around him & adviced, "Traverse depth-first". "Thanks", replied Romeo as he hastily scrambled up the apple-tree. So shabby was his climb that he dropped an apple over the head of another fellow, Isaac, resting under the tree. "Why did the apple fall straight down?", wondered Isaac. Calvin enquired with Euler whether the apple tree lead to Alice. "No, this one leads to Juliet", he replied. "Check out the other window", he further added.
On reaching the other window, Calvin noticed a beautiful long braid of golden hair reaching down from it. It was 20 ells long & touched the ground! Three young men stood at its tip, caressing & admiring it. "Does this golden-braid lead to Alice?", asked Calvin. "Oh, this double-helix leads to Rapunzel", replied James. "Sigh!", uttered Calvin, with drooped shoulders. "We're new to this place. Check out with that old guy, there", added James pointing to a shabbily dressed old man round the corner.
A tired Calvin now approached the old man. He was so old that he looked ancient! "Seen Alice?", asked Calvin keeping his question short.
"Oh, this place looks new to me too, son. I mean, I do belong here but I've returned after 20 years, u see... Things have changed such a lot since then... ", replied Rip. "Phew! I've looked for her all day. I must have traveled more than Gulliver!", sighed Calvin.
"Was she lame?", questioned Rip.
"What? No!", replied Calvin.
"Then was she deaf?", Rip inquired further.
"No! She was hale & hearty", replied an annoyed Calvin.
"Then I have sad news for u kid. She must have been abducted by the Pied piper of Hamelin. One hundred and thirty boys and girls followed him out of the town, where they were lured into a cave on the Köppen Hill and never seen again."
"No!!! Take me to the Koppelberg Hills, please, please take me to Koppelberg...", Calvin kept pleading.
"You first need to go to school", said his mom as she woke him up. "You're late, Calvin!", yelled she whilst thrusting a tooth-brush into his mouth and making him stand before the mirror of his bathroom.
As a sleepy Calvin stood in front of the mirror brushing his teeth, he pondered what the world would be like on the other side of the mirror. He was so overwhelmed by the urge to experience that alternate world!
Right before Hobbes' spell-bound eyes, Calvin shrunk & walked in through the looking-glass. Hobbes followed suit...

Dedicated to - All those kids who are made to grow too early, too fast.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Brimful clouds

It was a gray overcast afternoon and it thundered every now and then. The breeze carried the fragrance of wet-mud and the yellow light made everything glow in a fresh heavenly glitter. Far away, bright flashes of lightning arrowed down to the ground... But it did not rain. The brimful clouds seemed adamant. Much like a pained woman of great restraint who lets not a tear roll down her cheek.

With child-like eagerness, Clint kept drawing the curtains to catch a glimpse of a cloud-burst. He stared at the heavens and then checked the leaves to see if any stray drop had spread glittering diamonds over it. He was so eager to see the towering curtains of water looming from the heavens! But the heavens, it seemed, were out to test his patience that day. Aging Clint smiled and drew back the curtains. He was by now a master at the game of patience. Also his weak eyes could no longer bear the dim glare of even this velvety-yellow light for too long. He was in his sixties, but looked ninety! They say hardships age a person before time...

Just then the door-bell rang. Clint made effort to get off his rocking chair and slowly tread towards the door. Staying all by himself, he didn't have many visitors. So he was a bit surprised at this unexpected call. Outside the door stood a pretty young lady with tears swelling in her soft brown eyes. Maybe she had lesser restraint than the rains or her pain had simply overwhelmed the barricades. Her three-month-old daughter lay fast asleep resting on her shoulder, oblivious to the warmth of her mother's tear-drops that occasionally fell on her bare neck.

"I'm sorry, Pa!", uttered Beth, with a voice that choked at every word. Clint stood stunned for a while, then put his wrinkled arm around her and took her inside. He didn't speak a word, as though he knew & was prepared for the inevitable.

Beth lay the infant on the bed & sat by the fireplace. Clint sat next to her, in his couch that was as old as him. It was after a very long time that the father and his girl were sitting next to each other by the fireplace.

"Shall I get you something?", inquired Clint. Beth just shook her head whilst wiping off her tears.
"Is she hungry?", he inquired about the child. "No, I did feed her before leaving", replied Beth.

A long uncomfortable pause that followed was pregnant with silence.

Clint: "I told you..."
Beth: "I know, I'm sorry Pa... I was foolish..."
Clint: "Men know men better, at most times. He didn't seem a genuine person to me and I told you that..."
Beth: "I was just so much in love... It just felt so right..."
Clint: "But you could have at least given me a patient ear. I'm your only family!"
Beth: "I said I was juvenile. And now I'm paying for it..."
Clint: "Now, it's not just you who's paying..."
Beth: "I'll raise my girl all by myself, she won't be a burden to you".

Beth seemed a little annoyed by now. She was not ready to take the blame for being in love. What wrong had she done?

Clint: "You two are my blood. How can you or the little girl ever be a burden to me?"
Beth: "When u were warning me against him, I just thought you were jealous..."
Clint: "I was! I sure was! This guy came from nowhere and was holding my daughter's arm and was to whisk her away from me. He was to have the honor of your company for life! I strived single-handedly to raise you and now he just takes you away... I sure writhed with jealousy."
Beth: "No... I felt you were jealous as it didn't work for you... Did mom even look back once when she walked out on us? And now, him... Maybe it just takes more than me to be loved..."
Clint: "Now why are you blaming yourself for what your mother did? Women in love act so irresponsible..."
Beth: "Oh ya... Mr. Responsible... and what do u understand about being in love? Maybe that's why mom left you..."
Clint: "Beth! Think before you talk... If I didn't know what love was, I would have gone my way too. I would have got re-married and given you for adoption."
Beth: "Well, maybe that's what you should have done! At least at my hour of need I wouldn't be listening to the list of sacrifices you made for me... And Clint, if I haven't mentioned it in the past, Thank you!"

This was the first time that Beth had called her Pa by his name. To hear his name in this tone from Beth, ached Clint. He wanted to say something, but his lips just shivered and kept mum. It seemed like two hurt souls were alleviating their own pain by poking into the wounds of the other.

The raised voices shuddered the sleeping infant who woke and whimpered a little. Beth got up from her seat near the fireplace and walked towards her to pat her back to sleep as also to get away from Clint. As Beth patted her daughter, Clint patted her and said, "When she grows up, don't let her fall for some loveless man like me".

Beth was overwhelmed. She hugged her father and wept inconsolably. "You've been a great father, Pa... you've been my unfailing support. I'm sorry for being so brash". Clint couldn't hold back his tears either. "It's not your fault, it's not your fault...", he kept on repeating ceaselessly.

Meanwhile outside, the brimful clouds did burst out finally. It poured and poured. It felt as though all tension was let loose, all barricades were breached, all weights were unburdened. The blue skies shone again and diamonds glittered over the leaves of soaked green trees. Suffocating dams had collapsed and relationships had found new paths to trickle into. There was a freshness in this flow. Giggles could be heard from that home that belonged to two girls and an old man.

Acknowledgments -
Painting Illustration - "Father and daughter" by Daniel Maltzman

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The hole-thief

There is this bee,
That irritates me
Or a wasp of sorts is she?
Pays no rent,
No lease nor fee
And claims a hole that's free!

She visits twice
And makes a choice
Long & deep it need to be...
The hole she steals,
But never drills
This lazy mother-to-be!

And then with kill
She stuffs it till
There's space for an egg to fit
That she will lay
And then with clay
Will cement the lone exit!

She locks the door
And throws the key
Oh! What an horror to be...
Trapped inside,
No exit in sight
In case of urgency!

With sockets closed
My gadgets doze
For want of charged battery
Resigned to fate
I eagerly wait
For news from this hatchery!

And then one morn
The curious new-born
Opens the gates for me.
And then I vow
Never to allow
This quarterly nursery!

Acknowledgments - Unimaginable amounts of boredom.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Green ducks

It was the day before Ramzan Eid & Raza was home for the occasion. A reporter for Al-Jazeera, Raza hardly knew the concept of a planned vacation. Anytime, a major event could trigger a leave-cancellation request from the channel & Raza would gladly oblige. Reporting from these sensitive regions of the Middle-East meant a constant threat to life, but these were the hazards of the occupation he had knowingly & willing embraced. His job made him travel to not only countries in the Middle-East but also to the channels' broadcast-centres at London, Kuala-Lumpur & Washington D.C. His key role in the coverage of the Lebanese Civil War of 2000-01 had earned him credibility & respect as a senior reporter with the channel. 'Labour of love' he called it.

Whenever home, Raza loved to indulge in all the regular chores & errands that a loving husband & a doting father would. He lived out these little windows of family-bonding to the fullest. That day he dragged his wife Sakina along to fetch their 4 year old son Junaid from school. Junaid had recently started attending school & his drawing class was on when they reached to pick him. His classroom was on the ground-floor & quite a few parents stood outside the windows appreciating their kids 'study'. It must be quite a fulfilling experience for parents to see their tiny tots receive education & learn skills that would one day make them responsible & independent.

Their eyes hovered over the kids in the classroom to spot Junaid & there he was standing on the last bench with his arms raised. Two other kids had received similar punishment & they stood next to him like partners in crime. Their tiny soft tummies stuck out of their shirts as their arms pointed towards the ceiling. Raza found this sight strangely adorable & almost chuckled. Sakina smiled & nudged taunting "Like father, like son". But soon she grew concerned as she could almost feel the pain that Junaid's tiny soft shoulders were feeling. Junaid managed a sidelong glance & was delighted beyond bounds to see his dad standing outside after so long. He almost forgot pain.

Soon the bell rang and kids from all over the school poured out like thousands of frenzied bats rushing out of caves at dusk. Raza & Sakina could see Junaid racing at top speed towards them. The spoon in his empty tiffin-box clanked as it hit the sides. Two rows of tiny white teeth had nibbled at the food therein during lunch break. Junaid rushed & hugged Raza with such speed that those same white teeth nearly hit Raza's knee. Raza grabbed him in delight as Sakina caressed his shoulders hoping to alleviate his pain. "And why were u all punished?" enquired Sakina right away. "Because our ducks were green..." replied Junaid as he stuck out his drawing-sheet towards his parents.

"Huh?" expressed Sakina as Raza inspected his piece of art. It was a typical topic of a house with a pond besides it. Tiny ducks swam therein & they were indeed green in colour instead of their characteristic yellow! "Oh, the yellow of the ducks has mixed with the blue of the pond rendering them green..." analyzed Raza. "Junu, you should be more careful while colouring at their edges. You should not spill colour out of the boundaries..." instructed Sakina. After what seemed like a longish pause, Raza remarked "His punishment is well-deserved. He should learn to respect boundaries & I'm glad he's learning it the hard way". Sakina shuddered. She knew what Raza was talking about.

No one knew the value of boundaries as much as Raza did. Umpteen times had he reported border-conflicts. He had first covered the Gulf-War back in 1990-91, when he was serving at CNN. Iraq had invaded Kuwait accusing them of trespassing by stealing their oil through 'slant-drilling' across the border into Iraq's Rumaila oil-fields. Back then, Raza had already relocated to the U.S. with his parents for greater freedom of expression, better career opportunities & better standard-of-living. However his parents were unable to adjust to this new land. Here people were cordial but kept to themselves. This 'closed-door culture', wherein many-a-times for months they didn't know or get to see who their neighbours were; was so different from where they came from. They had been raised in a society wherein neighbours formed an extended family. Taking heed of their growing solitude and need for company at their age, Raza had decided to move back home. He had thus seized the opportunity in 1996, when Al-Jazeera got functional from its headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

Al-Jazeera had covered the brutal 9/11 attacks at the Trade-centres in N.Y. in 2001 and had broadcasted various interviews with al-Qaeda leaders. According to al-Qaeda, it were a retaliation against the U.S. for their increasing interference into matters pertaining to the Middle-East. Raza also recalled how in 2002, Bahrain had banned Al Jazeera correspondents from reporting from inside the country, saying that the station was biased towards Israel. Raza & his colleagues were careful not to trespass Bahrain borders for fear of life. They had faced similar restrictions from Iraq during the 2003 Iraq War. They had lost count of the tussles they had covered related to the Israel-Palestine conflict & the India-Pakistan border issues. Off late they had also covered the protests from all over India & the Indian community in the U.S. over a 'headless' map of the country released by the software-giant Microsoft. He had seen how much a line over a paper meant & how much bloodshed resulted by disrespecting it. He had realized that borders & fences, walls & locks, lines and barbed-wires all had a special reason for their existence. They brought peace.

The trio then walked home. That night a faint crescent shone in the clear dark sky. It meant sweets & new clothes for Junaid. He was all excited. The next day Junaid had completed his punishment-homework wherein he had to redraw the house with pool & ducks. This time the ducks were neat & yellow. The pain experienced by those little shoulders had done the trick. Not a feather of those birds had dipped into the pond & not a drop of water had dared to splash upon them. It looked a bit artificial but nevertheless, everything seemed to be in a state of peaceful co-existence. At least the drawing-teacher would now be at peace with Junaid! This time Raza noticed a picket-fence drawn around the house. "So Junu, is this fence meant to keep people in or to keep people out?" he teased. A pair of confused & innocent doe-eyes stared back at him. "Stop it!" yelled Sakina at Raza as she curled around Junu & fed him a spoonful of sweet 'Sheer-kurma' whilst drawing his attention to the pretty crescent that so peacefully floated over the horizon.

Acknowledgments -
Painting Illustration - "April" by Kate Chu

And thanks to Tanzeem for clearing my fundae regarding Eid :)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Le Wordsworth de la Provence

(The Wordsworth of Provence)

It was a beautiful violet evening & the sun, from behind the hills, was still splashing streaks of orange & pink as far as it could. Much like an angler, who throws his line into the calm waters for his last haul before retiring for the day. Violet-red slush lay in the tank wherein sometime back pretty girls had merrily danced to crush the maiden harvest of grapes for that year. The chuckling sounds of children & the laughter of women added to the cheer of the faint tunes of mandolins being played in the distance. A feel of celebrations & delight was all over these prosperous vineyards of Provence.

All gathered for the wine-tasting ceremony late in the evening & as was the case every year; Jeremy was the guest of honor. A handsome & a cultured gentleman in his early forties, Jeremy, was the most authoritative and credible figure in the whole of Provence when it came to wine-tasting. His taste-buds were a rare gift and no hound had the sense of smell that he was blessed with. If Jeremy liked it, the world revered it & if Jeremy wasn't pleased, the world shunned it. Such impeccable representation of the wine-drinking world had culminated at this singularity, called Jeremy!

As a youth, he wanted to get married after he had his ducks all in a row, the regular job, house, car, prospects, future... but it had taken unusually long. As a fall-out he had taken to wine-tasting as a profession & never looked back.

Jeremy picked the shapely glass partly filled with freshly crushed grape juice. All held their breath whilst he stirred the drink and hovered the glass around his nose. He then proceeded to taste it & let the taste linger on his tongue for a while before it melted away. "It feels like... first love" he proclaimed & the anxious crowd burst into a cacophony of joy! The celebrations continued & Jeremy then proceeded to the more serious business of tasting & grading every category of alcohol that was present there.

Jeremy loved everything about these crystalline drinks, and was rather knowledgeable too. He adored the different colors & the textures of various drinks. He knew the effect that each one had, the alcohol-content in them, the food that goes with each, the ideal choice of the spirit for every occasion & company, the base from which they were made, their acidity, the ideal fermentation conditions & the time-period. He loved the shapes of the bottles & the glasses that were used to serve them & also loved the sound of the ice-cubes clinkering against the sides of these glasses. They were as soothing to him as wind-chimes. He loved the rich champagne but did not look down upon the lowly beer. Cognacs & vodkas, brandies & gins, scotch & whiskeys, beer & wines... all received his unbiased opinion & undivided attention. He was indeed, a true Romeo of the spirits.

But what was rather unique to him, was his style and vocabulary for describing the tastes, aromas & flavors of various spirits. It seemed like he was a poet at heart. He gave rather flowery descriptions to drinks but at the same time was honest. Adjectives like "creamy-caramel, amber-gold, citrusy-gingersnap, smooth-blonde, soft-velvet, sparkling-fairy, shy-imp, toasty-oak..." all sounded much like poetry. It seemed like he was an ardent believer of R. L. Stevenson's remark that 'Wine is bottled poetry'. He was to the grapes what Wordsworth was to the daffodils!

Legend was that he shared a platonic relationship with these spirits. He never drank any, but just tasted them. All that went into his mouth was emptied into the spittoon. This kept his taste-buds ticking, he said. Brewers paid him heavily for his services & he had risen to be a rather popular figure in Provence. Girls of the brewers openly flirted with him & women secretly. But his flings were restricted merely to the drinks.

He was a very busy man during the harvest season as nearly every brewer wanted him on his panel of wine tasters. He was sought after by brewers from Burgundy, Loire Valley, Alsace, Chablis & Rhone Valley too. He hopped from vineyard to vineyard and tasted nearly 100 concoctions daily. At times to cater to the heavy demands, he carried the sample bottles home & provided his feedback the next day.

"Lean & dry" he remarked after tasting the sample from Edward, who was a newbie to wine-making. "Allow a short settling period for the whole-cluster pressed grapes & then rack the clear juice to French oak barrels for fermentation. Age it on fermentation lees for 5 months with regular stirring to re-suspend the lees and make a rounder, more complex wine", Jeremy advised him. "Too tart & toasty", he informed Will. "Cold-ferment to preserve the crisp, fruity flavor", was his advice.

Year after year, Jeremy's feedback & advice was unfailing. This enabled the brewers to make obscene amounts of money. The richest brewer, as a gesture of gratitude, insured Jeremy's nose and tongue for an amount never heard of. Others, as a token of their appreciation, gifted him a diamond studded spittoon neatly packed in velvet.

Shortly after this, one fateful day, Jeremy failed to turn up at a wine-tasting session. This was rather unusual & had never occurred in the past. Servants sent to fetch him brought back the worst of news. He was dead, under rather mysterious conditions. His body lay in a pool of wine & his little notebook wherein he penned his feedback lay drenched too. He had perished while serving his duty towards wine-tasting!

Local sergeants suspected foul play. They felt that some relative to inherit his insurance amount or some thief from neighboring Marseille eyeing his diamond studded spittoon might have bumped him off. The investigators conducted a search of his belongings & his body was sent for post-mortem.

Sergeant Pete, entrusted with the job of searching his home for any clues, was ready with his report. He placed his findings in front of his superior. It said that nothing really was amiss from Jeremy's home. The diamond studded spittoon lay in its velvet jacket untouched. Everything seemed to be in place and prima facie, robbery and murder didn't seem to be the angle. But Sergeant Pete remarked what he found rather amusing at the home of this finest wine-taster of Provence. A regular spittoon was missing!

The superior smiled and remarked that he wasn't amused. He pushed the post-mortem report towards Pete. 'Death due to acute liver cirrhosis', it said. The case was closed.

Provence had lost its finest lover and poet. But his spirit, they say, still lingers with the spirits!

Acknowledgements -
Painting Illustration - "Vintage red" by Carole Katchen

Saturday, March 08, 2008


"Nothing's for real
It's all dust
What lures today
'Morrow shall rust"

preached a wise old sage along the green western slopes of the Trendelburg hills. He seemed to have attained his enlightenment thru' a gruesome process of earthly woes and tortures.

Atop the hill stood a tall tower with no doors nor stairs. There was only a small window at the very top. Legend was that the tower was under an evil spell and that it was the den of the wicked sorceress, Dame Gothel. No one knew for sure, but no one dared to find out. Who'd play with fire?

A handsome young man, with strong built and blue eyes secretly visited this tower everyday.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel
Let down your hair
That I may scale
The golden stair"

yelled he upon reaching it. A beautiful long braid of golden hair then reached down from the window. It was 20 ells long! He scaled it to reach his lady love everyday. Rapunzel had magnificent long hair that had never been cut. It grew fast as summer vines and seemed as gold sunlight trailing behind her as she walked. Curious wisps of golden hair fell across her forehead to peek into the coffee-brown mystery of her lively eyes.

These visits continued for days and their love blossomed. All was fine and dream-like till that fateful day when Rapunzel observed that her man was all covered with dust when he arrived. "Have you been at war, my Lord?", she inquired. "No!", he replied. "Then what's all this dust resting over you?", she asked. "Err... Pollution" he replied, avoidingly. This word was new to the vocabulary of Rapunzel, who from her window, had only seen the greenest of hill-slopes, the yellowest of fields and the sparkling blueness of the river Diemel. She hadn't seen a speck of pollution in this quiet little country-side.

Next day was the same story. "Oh, I was caught in a steed stampede" was his excuse. Explanations got designer till the day Rapunzel got suspicious. "I won't let down my hair anymore if ya won't tell me the mystery of this dust all over you", she yelled at him. "Ok ok... it's not all that important", he said as he gave her a sheepish glance. Hands on her hips she kept looking sternly at him with intent and wouldn't budge without hearing. "It's dandruff" he admitted. She stepped ahead to inspect his curly brown hair, but he stepped back and remarked "Yours".

Rapunzel was all shaken up. She had the finest of hair in town and would not tolerate any damage to them. She pulled up her braid to inspect & it was indeed infested with soft grayish-white flakes of dandruff. "Look, split ends too!", she yelled. "But they are 20 ells away from u", trivialized the man. She looked up and gave him a nasty look. Fearing that split-ends might split their relationship, he quickly changed the topic. "Oh, don't you worry my lady-love. Morrow, I shall get ya a cure", he assured.

The next day he visited the local therapist and picked a hair-cleanser made from the finest of green apples and walnut bark. It seemed to work but was not very effective against dandruff. "Get me the one made from the natural sap of the Margosa tree", demanded Rapunzel. "And where will I find that?", quizzed her lover. "50 yards to the south of the water-hole in the forest is a thick growth of Margosa trees", she directed him. That afternoon the love-slave ventured into the scary dense forest for Margosa.

"U think these cleansers are making my hair too dry?", inquired Rapunzel after applying the Margosa sap. "Oh, they're just fine and lustrous again", assured the guy in a desperate attempt to avoid any more trips to the forest. "Oil from the Flame-of-the-forest & Hibiscus is very good for hair", she said as she looked longingly at him. These ever-increasing demands had started to irk him. Nevertheless he loved Rapunzel too much to say, "No".

Oil made her hair shine but also made it greasy. "I need to wash it off with egg-yolk", she said. "Oh, that's easy" said the man as he jumped up to fetch eggs from the poultry-farm just round the corner. "But the eggs need to belong to the weaver-birds. That makes the hair fine and full as their nests", corrected Rapunzel. Now that was a tall order! He knew that the weaver-birds were the picky kind who almost always built their nests over branches of acacia trees spread over water bodies.

On his way down from the tower, he slipped over Rapunzel's greasy braid like a bead over the line of an abacus and had a bad fall. He dusted himself and limped his way to the water-hole again. The soles of his feet were now blistered from the pebbles and the thorns along the forest-path.

"Weaver, weaver
Let down your nest
That I may pick
Few golden eggs"

he sang to the weaver-birds. A flock of agitated tiny weaver-birds attacked him and pecked him all over. Their eggs weren't meant for charity and they fiercely guarded them. He braved their attack as he climbed up the acacia tree. His clothes were all tattered by the thorns as he stretched over the branches to reach the nest. He did manage to pick an egg, but slipped and fell into the pool of water.

"Did ya get the eggs, my Lord?", asked Rapunzel excitedly as a tired, wet, tattered, blistered, pecked lover put his scratched hand into his pocket. A croaking frog leaped out of it. "Oops, wrong pocket", he said as he fetched a tiny-round dotted egg from his other pocket. Rapunzel lovingly hugged him.

"Tell me something, Rapunzel... How do u know so much about hair-products?" asked the agitated man who had by now become frail from his frequent forced visits to the remotest of places in the forests and hills. Rapunzel felt flattered. "Oh, Dame Gothel tells me" she answered as she cracked the egg. "What???" quizzed the shell-shocked guy. "U mean, she knows all about my 'secret' visits?" he gasped. "Oh yes, and she likes it. She gets to use all the left-over hair-products from me. U see... U are only the second man in her life. The first one was her lover. He used to fetch facial-products for her from the hills. He did so for several months till one day he did not return. He had gone to fetch her mud-pack when news reached that he had perished after being stuck in quick-sand along the western slopes of the Trendelburg hills". Women blabber too much, when flattered.

"You know darling, Mountain-ebony is very good for hair-regrowth", Rapunzel added.

"Most certainly, my lady" said her man with a smile. Rapunzel had seen a smile upon his face after such a long time!

Rapunzel kept waiting for her Mountain-ebony, but the guy never returned back to the tower. News was that he was mauled by a hungry pack of wolves in the forest.

"Nothing's for real
It's all dust
What lures today
'Morrow shall rust"

preached a handsome young man, with a frail built, blistered soles, tattered clothes and blue eyes along the green eastern slopes of the Trendelburg hills.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Paul's pens

Seven pens lay neatly next to each other in a wooden box that was handed over to Isabelle as per the will of her grandpa, Paul, who had recently expired. Young Isabelle was studying law then and was amused to receive this gift. It was an old heavy decorative box of wood that contained these old fountain pens. They looked shabby and she did inspect a few. However their broken nibs and dried up ink rendered them useless. They weren't of much use to her anyway as with the advent of computers, hardly anyone used fountain pens anymore! Nevertheless, she kept the gift, thinking it was a token of encouragement from her grandpa for her pursuit of studies. Her sister Sophie, an aspiring model, had on the other hand received a decent amount of cash as per Paul's will.

Years passed by, Isabelle graduated, got married and had a son. She served for years as a lawyer at the local court in this crime-stricken city of Marseille. She was known to be honest, shrewd and just. She also pursued further studies and later rose to the ranks of a judge in the very same court that long back Paul had presided upon. Soon, it was her first case as a judge and all rose as she entered the court-room. It was a moment of honour for Isabelle and she was sure that grandpa Paul would have been very proud of her to see her seated in the very same seat as his.

A little nod from her and everyone seated themselves. The proceedings began. It was a case of rape and murder of a seventeen year old girl from the neighbourhood. Caroline's body was found badly mutilated and tortured beyond recognition. The perpetrators had shown no signs of guilt, mercy or remorse while committing the act. The accused was a 23 year old yuppie, Sam and his friend Petit of the same age. Isabelle was no newbie to such cases, but the ghastly acts still disturbed her from deep within.

The trial went on for days and the prosecution as well as the defence played all tricks in the game that she was so familiar with. Over days she learnt that the victim was the only daughter of the Garcia couple and that Sam had a troubled childhood and was raised by his grandparents. He was their only support. This did not belittle his crime though and Isabelle made every effort to hear the proceedings clinically. What disturbed her was that Sam was nearly the same age as her son and wondered if she would have been this strong emotionally if it were to be her son in place of Sam.

Soon forensic evidence was made available by the labs and the DNA analysis besides the circumstantial evidence proved beyond doubt that Sam and Petit were indeed the perpetrators of the ghastly act. The defence had run out of all means to save these two lads and pleaded for mercy. They now played the emotional cards claiming that Sam was the only support for his ailing grandparents.

The judgement was scheduled for the next day and Isabelle sat very disturbed in her study. She was going thru' all the case papers and setting them in place for the next day's procedures. Somehow she just couldn't lay her eyes off the file-photos of Sam and Caroline in their happier times. "Why?" yelled out Isabelle's soul at Sam's photo without uttering a word. Just then a security guard knocked at her door and informed her that an elderly man wanted to see her urgently. "Let him in", she said and saw a very old man enter her room. The lenses of his eyes had clouded and he trembled with age. She was just gonna rise to provide him support when he fell on his knees wailing. With his head touching the ground he cried "Let him live, let him live" with words choked with age and grief. "Let him suffer his crime, but let him live. He's all I've got", he kept wailing.

Isabelle was overwhelmed by this unexpected incident. She learnt that he was Sam's grandpa as she rushed towards him. She ran her hand over the back of the wailing man as she said, "Sir, I understand your pain. But I'm not allowed to meet you. It's against the law". She nodded at the security who held his hand and guided him out. "Drop him home", she instructed the security as she rushed back to her study, visibly shaken. She rubbed her chest in pain as she frantically searched for Paul's box of pens. Some scattered pieces from her life-long riddle had all-of-a-sudden fallen in place. She held the box close to her heart as she whispered "Gimme strength. Guide me. Gimme strength".

The next day saw a poised and a composed Isabelle go over the final procedures. The defence wished in hope. "Death by guillotine" she pronounced as she wrote her judgement over the file papers and broke the nib of her pen as was customary.

That evening eight pens lay neatly next to each other in Paul's wooden box.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pen pals

Private Christopher, a retired ageing war veteran, was going thru' the roughest patch of his life. A widower, he stayed alone at the Wodehouse cottage along the Ranch road in the hill country of Wimberley, Texas. This was his ancestral home that he had inherited. Even at that age, he toiled all day at the small farm he owned. He tilled, sowed & reaped a bi-annual harvest that sufficed his meagre needs. In a way, this was his excuse for staying away from his cottage. Therein, time seemed to stand still & solitude brought back old memories that troubled him. Some ghosts from the past haunt for a lifetime!

Chris was a changed man after he had returned from war. He was in his late-twenties then and had seen enough brutality already. A bubbly youth that he was when he had joined the army, he had now been transformed into a quiet serious thinking man. Something seemed to have died within him. He stayed aloof, spoke little & kept to his work. He had left the army after his return from the war & had started looking after this farm that he still owned.

His parents noticed the change and realized that the war had claimed their child's cheer. They decided to get him married to the neighbours' daughter thinking that a companion would bring delight into his life. He did seem jovial for the first year of his married life but soon suffered another blow. His wife passed away while delivering his son, James. He never remarried. He cared for his son and saw him grow into a young bloke. But bad company seemed to overshadow James' lifestyle. They say that motherless children are more prone to temptation and crime. James used to go missing from home for days on end and then one day he never returned for good. All attempts to trace him proved futile & Chris gulped a lump in his throat as he thought that he had lost his first born to the big bad world of crime.

Years passed by and Chris seemed to have aged before his time. The number of wrinkles on his face equalled the number of strands of silver white hair over his head. But off late he seemed to have developed a new hobby. He would write a lot. Letters & letters of content to his pen-pal, Harry. The study in his cottage was full of letters to and from Harry. No one knew who Harry was or where and when Chris had met him, but Harry seemed to care for Chris. Who else would write so often to Chris?

Chris poured out his heart to Harry. He wrote about the brutalities of the war, of war-crimes, hunger, death and disease that had gripped his batallion when they had strayed far into the enemy territory. Of how the taste of rust and gun-powder had lingered on his tongue when an enemy soldier had thrust a pistol in his mouth before he was brought down by a fellow comrade just in the nick of time. He had heard his heart beat unruly then. He also wrote of how they slept under the stars and wished upon them. He proudly mentioned his medals that he had won for courage under fire and fondly remembered how his day was made when James had flashed his first toothless grin at him from his cradle.

He also hesitatingly mentioned his deep love for Sylvia, a lady he had fallen for while fighting deep within the enemy territory. Something that he had not mentioned to anyone before. How he wished he had confessed his feelings to her! He wondered how life would have shaped up if Sylvia was by. Back then, he had feared rejection as after all, Sylvia was the enemy's daughter. At times he did feel that Sylvia too shared feelings for him but wondered if it merely were his wishful thinking. He was fighting two wars then. A war of the guns and a tougher one within. He had pumped many a bullets thru' the hearts of the enemy soldiers but this Sylvian bullet seemed to have pierced deep in his own. She had the same effect on him that the Cheshire cat had on Alice. She had left an 'indelible impression'.

"What light is light,
If Sylvia be not seen?
What joy is joy,
If Sylvia be not by? ..."
he muttered to his fellow-troops who pulled his leg in friendly banter. These lines from some Shakespearen novel coincidentally fitted his situation and he found them quite intriguing.

War brought along with it all the insecurity & uncertainty and that was another reason he never expressed his feelings to Sylvia, something he regretted all his life. Later he was thrown to various other postings and witnessed his closest of buddies die right next to him. He wondered if the bullets had missed their target by a foot.

Harry patiently read everything that Chris wrote to him. He soon rose to the ranks of his confidante, something that no one else had the privilege of. He was the jovial optimistic kind and tried to cheer Chris up. He wrote to Chris asking him to open up his mind to the land of possibilities.

"Life ain't about possibilities, it's about facts. Face them.", wrote back Chris. The warrior in him hadn't died yet.

"Oh think of what would have happened if u weren't in the army, or if there was no war or if u were a girl, or a bird or if u won a lottery. Life is about possibilities" wrote Harry. Harry's aim was to keep the conversation going, to challenge Chris into thinking differently or to pull his attention elsewhere. He feared that Chris was slipping into depression and might end up harming himself.

"U can't escape reality by fantasizing", was Chris' short & shrewd response.

"Think of what would happen if one day out of the blue, u turn around and see Sylvia", wrote Harry. He felt that this might stir up Chris' imagination.

He was right. On reading this, Chris was quiet. He seemed lost deep in thought as he puffed his pipe. He often smiled to himself. "You really feel this could happen? I would trade all my doubts and cynicism if this would!" wrote Chris.

Harry had touched upon the fondest wish that Chris had nursed. Chris was all stirred up by dreams & possibilities as he folded his letter and slipped it into the envelope whereupon he wrote -

"To -
Wodehouse cottage,
110, Ranch road,
Wimberley, Texas"

Acknowledgements -
Painting Illustration - 'Man writing in his study' - Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)