Monday, September 30, 2013

Chasing the monsoon - Part 4

The first set in the Chasing the Monsoon series went very well and in those trips we had made several goals and achieved those. But the most cherished ones would be those achievements which weren't planned and which occurred to each one of us at a personal level. I crossed various personal goals and comfort zones while criss-crossing the roads and rail lines.

After the highly adventurous start to the monsoon season, many of my friends and family thought I was at the peak of my craze. But I was far from being done. It was time for another chase. This time the ideas were wilder and plans more elaborate.

The new target was the charming town in the heart of the Konkan belt, Pune and I was already tempted by the imagery and narration given by my friend.  I had my eyes on the green lands of Maharashtra for quite long, and here was deliverance. The rough plan was in place and team handpicked in a couple of days. Only three of us were in for this, due to the discrete nature in which the plans were formulated. Apart from that and the daily build up of excitement, there was hardly any arrangements done until the last few days before the trip. We had no clear idea of what we would be doing in the four days earmarked for the trip.

The journey from Bangalore to Pune and backward was planned to be in bus and bookings were done early on. The adventurous and wild trips were supposed to begin only after reaching Pune. But I seemed to have regained my charisma for surprises, as they once again came looking for me. I was supposed to catch the bus to Pune from Madiwala(30kms from my office) at 7.45pm and I was stuck in a meeting till 5.40pm, fervently glancing at my watch and almost begging my manager to reach a conclusion.
That day was ahead of a 4 day holiday for everyone, and I needn't press anymore about the nature of traffic on the road. On top of that it even showered for a while. I need you to shower me with sympathy at this point :). I now only remember rushing through the traffic to get home 8kms from office, packed and left by 6.10pm. I was on the first available bus to Madiwala soon, puffing and panting after sprinting with the heavy luggage. On any other day, I was safe. Not today..

In an ocean of vehicles, and with rain as a constant companion, I was still 15+ kms away from my destination at 8pm. Conversing fervently with my friends who had been holding back the bus at various stops, I was begging with autowallahs in the pouring rain to take me to my destination. None seemed interested until a kind soul agreed to drop me somewhere on the way so that I can reach before the final ultimatum issued by the now-barking bus driver on the other end of the phone elapsed. After various adventurous moves, and realizing my plight, the auto driver dropped me right in front of the moving bus, a full half hour behind schedule. Phew, for the first time in my life I felt completely content to hand over whatever charges an auto wallah demanded.

We opened our eyes next morning to the famed greenery that filled the sides of the highway. Hill after hill rolled by us, and the greenery never seemed to end. We were all getting recharged. Pune itself was refreshingly calmer and better organized compared to Bangalore, except for a few streets which were dug up for new constructions. Stay was arranged with a friend of one of us and we went about with the next stage of the plan, which was to acquire bikes. After many tries, we were able to arrange some within Pune itself.

Next day, we were off to our first destination, Mahabaleshwar well behind schedule due to the delays in acquiring bikes. Once outside the crazy pedestrian traffic of Pune, it was pure bliss riding through the green valleys that decorate the Satara road leading to Mahabaleshwar(120kms).

I don't know for how long I would keep repeating this line over the course of this trip but here goes - "The roads were inviting, and the scenery blessed with heavenly greenery, while the cool showers kept on drenching us to the point of bliss".

3 awestruck idiots

Meanwhile we kept our tummies filled with the staple food of the region, Vada Pav.
Once atop the hills of Mahabaleshwar, we discovered that there were several view points and a lake there, much like Ooty. The lakeside was brimming with cars and people moving around in the thick fog. There was a line of eateries on a side selling all kinds of chats and eatables. Loaded up on yet another Vada Pav, Frankie and Chai, we started checking out the place.

The boating in the eerie fog covered Venna lake didn't look inviting initially, but would have been a big miss if we had ignored it. At Rs 300/- per boat, we felt transported to another world and refreshed after the stressful delays.

Many of the other main view points were closed due to the heavy rains and the thick fog was rolling in by 4pm. We went onto the next open view point, which was Kate's point. It was then that we realized that Mahabaleshwar's quiver was far from empty. We were bowled over by the beauty that we experienced over there. It was a double point. From a point, you can watch the beautiful stream dropping through the greenery partially covered up fog. Walk to the waterfall and look back to realize your previous view point is shaped like an elephant.
credits: Pranav Photography

There isn't much I could express here in words, so I would let the pictures talk.

Hey, whats there?
I couldn't help myself from exploring the spot, walking off on myself away from the tiny crowd, looking for breaks in the fog and trying to determine the edges of the precarious rocks.

I had no wish to leave the spot and I had to be literally dragged out by my friends, the light was fading out fast from the spot. A false move could have landed one into the rocks hidden in the unfathomable fog..

Day 1 was up. We were entertained, exalted, thrilled, curious and exhausted, as we took the saddle again to get back to the den for a well deserved rest. The big league was yet to begin..
the ride continues..

Tips for those interested in visiting
* Bangalore-Pune is  850kms approximately through the NH4.
* Bikes are available for rent in Pune from various sources. Some dealers have limits on distance, places you can visit, and so on. Clarify these properly early on to avoid last minute confusions. Make sure you acquire helmets and ride safely, even though Pune doesn't enforce the helmet rule apparently.
* If you are not someone with an appetite for two wheeled adventures, head out on an adventure in an SUV preferably.

Please be ecologically responsible while traversing the country side, as the balance is already at stake at various places due to illegal constructions, mining and irresponsible tourism. It would be a sad fate to see such places fade off.

Update:- This blog post is a runner up for the Safari Storme "I am Explorer" contest, conducted by Indiblogger.
I am Explorer - Runner-up!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Pale Blue Dot

Zenpencil's 100th cartoon "The Pale Blue Dot" as a short film with Carl Sagan's voice over.

Deep in space..deep in peace...

friday afternoon

back in seat after a sumptuous meal from the canteen( wouldn't have believed myself saying this a couple of months ago), the mind seeks music to douse the drowsiness and to set the rhythm for the post-lunch work.

My mind immediately puts forwards its suggestions and craves for particular tracks. The hands operate the keyboard and eyes scan the screen to find these tracks frantically as the mind puts all its weight on the eyelids. But on my office laptop, none are to be found. The mind won't take no for answer and continues to drift across.

On receiving the alarm signals from co-workers, the brain decides to push one time and comes out with an answer - Grooveshark. The free online music service is a messiah to people like me. They cover our a**** when we are in dire need for quality music in a places we don't find it. Though Grooveshark's policies on its mobile versions didn't quite entice me, I love it for filling the gap that the absence of my personal laptop and pocket hard disk causes during work hours.

I load up my favourite tracks and decide I have heard too much of them recently. Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley is the track that wins the lot this time and under its cover, I am writing now.
As the playlist randomly plays through Sweet Child O Mine, Hoshwalon Ko Khabhar Kya and Elay Keechan, the mind is content and prepared to take on the loads that work offers. :-)

Happy Friday afternoon working hours :D

Living an average life - the zen perspective

As always, Zenpencils rocks!!
I don't see any problem in living an normal education, investing in regular stuff, playing the routine things and retiring the old fashioned way, IF you are able to uncover moments of passion and love in the act of doing all these. Else it is time you started opening your ears, eyes and heart to the much larger world and live life King size!! :-)

digging in the backyard

Summer holidays were the time my brother and I got to stretch our feet, spark our imagination and run around doing whatever occurred to us, without worrying about Amma's famed "bottlewasher brush". Two months of bliss and awesome food, with no one to scold or hold us back from anything.

The one who shall not be named

We used to spend most of our summer holidays with Thaatha(grandpa) and Muthuamma(this is the name my brother coined for our grandma) in their home in Trivandrum, leaving the bustle of Ernakulam. I would be in the rhythm from the beginning of the journey itself, by taking the mandatory window seat in the train.

There usually was nothing specific to do in Trivandrum other than playing with our cousins there, or doing the mandatory visits to Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple with Muthuamma when she asked, or some occasional visits to other homes or the market. So we usually ended up running around the old rented house in the Ramaswamy Theruvu, a street designed in the traditional Brahmin agraharam style. I don't recall anyone specifically except one maama in whose house we used to watch the occasional Tamil movies in their cable TV, which was a luxury.

The house had a special design, which we call "Paamban" meaning snake-like, owing to the long and narrow corridors that largely made up the house and its rooms. From the main door, you can run straight to the kitchen and to the backyard if you didn't stumble upon the various items stationed in between or the occasional projections from doors. I still have fond memories of this house when compared to the various houses I have lived in over time.

Maybe it was the distance of the backyard from the main door that gave it its isolation and sense of ownership. Anyway, we found ourselves busy in the rear areas of the house all the day. The house was more than 300 years old, or so we were told by Thaatha. And we didn't have much difficulty in believing it, for the state of the various doors and artifacts in the house were such. But what caught our undying curiosity each time we visited was the pile of junk items accumulated near the backyard. I recall being filled with awe trying to ascertain what the ancient items were. The backyard had another door that opened to an unknown area and was out of bounds to us. The door was always securely locked by Thaatha and he carried its key with him. Whenever we enquired about it, he either had justifications, or sometimes stories which we realized were probably fakes or he ignored us completely.

Boredom doesn't allow such things to stick in ones mind and we were soon busy, playing in our little junkyard, assuming we were dacoits, or even the Two Investigators who lived in a similar junkyard, solving imaginary cases from around and telling about them to Thaatha or Muthuamma over dinner. Occassionally, when he was bold enough, my brother used to pull out random scary and dusty things out of the pile and playing with those would be our prime activity for another 2-3 days.

It was just another such day and Thaatha had gone out and Muthuamma was busy gossiping with the neighbours. Even our cousins had been joined us that day, so the energy in the gang was maximum. Being the youngest one, I could only stand by and watch as my brother and cousin went deep into the pile to bring many things out. During their spirited excavations and ensuing fights over ownership, I was left alone with my cousin sister, who obviously didn't enjoy all these boyish adventures. I don't recall if it was me or her who noticed it first. There, on the forbidden door, was a long key.

Thaatha had forgotten to take the key with him, and when we checked the door wasn't locked too. We were both excited and scared too and this new discovery made the feuding brothers to join us in our state of shock. We four were alone in the house and there was nothing to stop us from crossing over to the forbidden lands. After Manichithrathazhu, locked doors were to be taken with utmost seriousness. I even imagined large pits of fire and snakes crawling all around, probably inspired by the tales that Thaatha fed me with every night. But curiosity has a way of getting over every other impulse and soon we boys were ready to give it a quick check and get back before some adults discovered us.
The frightening imag of the damsel behind closed doors in our minds

Leaving the lone girl as watch, we three pushed open the heavy door and I was promoted to the position of point, and was asked to put my head through the gap and give reports. After an initial denial, I took the chance to avoid further embarrassment at being younger. I recall very clearly that I could hear the thumps in my chest as I 'boldly' opened the door further and put my head through it. I could make out a medium sized portion of land and the sky was open above it. The land was filled with all sorts of wild plants and nothing else of interest seemed to be there. I called my waiting brothers in. But we didn't take the risk to walk into the open courtyard, probably trying to wrestle with the fake stories fed by Thaatha. We noticed that in the centre of this yard was a black rock shaped almost like a holy idol, only that we couldn't recognize this one.
It was surrounded by something red and yellow and we couldn't make out whether it was something natural or man-made before we heard Muthuamma's voice booming through the narrow hallway.

With a guilty pang in our hearts, we quickly dashed back in through the open door and shut it close. We must have put up a bad show in trying to be busy playing, because Muthuamma almost immediately noticed the ajar door and locked it shut and took the key with her. She shot us a menacing glance, to which we all replied with hung heads until she left. The rest of day passed in passive activities, but we couldn't muster the courage to ask anything to both of them. But we knew something was wrong when our parents came in a couple of weeks ahead of schedule with some absurd excuses and took us back to Ernakulam.

We never spoke of any of these to our parents or even within ourselves. The memories of the  vacation was slowly erased by daily fights over cricket matches, wresting cards exchanges or the fight-for-no-reason. Anyway our grandparents moved to another colony the next year and we never went back to the old house again until recently. But I didn't find it necessary to dig open unnecessary things, and hence kept quiet, seeing  the old backyard door, now sealed with tufts of clothes, sacred threads and religious symbols.

This post is written for the Tata Safari "I am Explorer" blogging contest running in Indiblogger, which requires one to write about a story of exploration.  

All images used in this post are obtained from Google Image search and the copyrights are retained by the original owners.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

opening the Pandora's Box..

And before I knew it, I had hit ‘Send’.

I feared that if I thought through it any more, I might change my decision. Seeing the confirmation message sent waves of relief over me. I felt as if a huge load has been lifted off my shoulders.

But things are far from over. I knew what exactly I had to do and had everything planned out in the last couple of months.The exit has to be quick and silent. Getting into the taxi waiting for me at the corner would begin a chain of similar escapades.

Once outside the reaches of the Organization, I can be in relative safety. But in this dangerous game, safety is an imaginary luxury of temporary nature. My worries are seldom about my safety. I had made peace with the fact that I was cannon fodder, the day I started taking up the 'special' tasks. All these days, I was on the run with two fears in my mind. One was whether I would be caught before I could finish what I was upto and the other was about my friends and family. I now have only the latter. I only hope that I have done enough to protect those whom I care about.

A word about myself...My name is John, and I am not a terrorist or a spy.
I am a regular computer technician, working for Blueberry Marts, the largest retail chain in the world. My expertise is in data assimilation and pattern analysis, a part of which we use in the regular work to identify purchase patterns for ad and product planning.

I lived a regular life until about a couple of years ago, when I was approached by two guys in identical black suits. They made me to undertake some special tasks, the nature of which would be public and known to all of you in a matter of hours.

almost similar...
Then it would be upto each one of you judge for yourself the nature of my actions and of those that is mentioned in the mail I have sent to the editors of the leading dailies all over the world. I only know that I would have suffocated with the nature of secret I had to keep all these days.

Right now, I wish I could sleep for a while. It has probably been a month since I slept properly. I know that the organization has sniffed around and realized what I was upto and soon their dogs would be at my doorstep baying for blood. Time is of essence and I need to make haste.

Pray for me, my family and most importantly for humanity, for such is the nature of the content I am placing for all of you to behold.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.(All images are obtained from Google Image Search and copyrights are retained by their original owners)

This post is also dedicated to the thousands of brave whistle blowers out there who put their lives in grave danger to expose shocking truths about human rights violation, censorship and other illegal activities by the very same organizations we trust to uphold these values.  Hats off, without you guys we would have lived in a completely ignorant and blind state forever..

Sunday shopping in 2500 AD

Meanwhile, in the lab, Lana was busy preparing a list of things she wanted to buy. The central market was going to open in a few ticks and then she wouldn't get much of a chance to get the cheap deals if she stumbled with the list. The list, that was the key to efficient shopping at the market. Very few people knew this and it meant Lana had no problem getting the things she wanted in time and at the cheapest price.

She knew the system that run the central market in and out. After all, it was her husband Mani who designed it. He would never discuss details of his work with her. But she wasn't part of the central investigative council for no reason. Her skills of 'persuasion' ensured that she had the necessary details of everything she wanted to know about everything out there.

Mani was out there somewhere in the outer Andromeda on his TIME project. He rarely drops a signal when he is out working. He is a real fanatic.Yet she was ensnared by his charm when they met during a TIME conference. He was also the most popular techie endorsed by the council and the legendary Captain Vikram. She still remembered the conversations with the captain with thrill. After all, he is the single person on whom
the entire mankind owes its existence. If it was not for his foresight and strategy, this settlement wouldn't have existed as the last foothold for mankind.

Thinking of the mindless violence and exploitation of the Formers always upsets the day. So she forced her mind back into preparing the list. But as she was hooked to the Dreamfix machine, which was yet another innovation of Mani, the screen started showing all the disturbing images and facts about the days of the Formers. But it didn't last long as the machine detected her stress levels and moved onto Chumpa Hoolo tracks, which she found the most soothing.

The 'list', for the benefit of the readers was not something to be typed up or written on paper. Paper or papyrus was an ancient material used to write things down either using the dark colours from a mineral called graphite, or at later times with a combination of chemicals that generated liquids of various colours that stuck to the paper material on drying. People used it extensively for communication and keeping records. The 'paper' was produced out of another existent artifact called 'trees'. Ah, those are the interesting things one gets to learn from the History of the Ancient Formers course at the academy.

To create the list Lana required, she has to first hook herself unto the Dreamfix apparatus.
Navigation of interface is to be done by simulating the memories and encoded nerves to select the various offers and combo deals out there. As for the list itself, all that needs to be done is to imagine the object and its name. The machine automatically flashes details about matched products and their prices, availability etc.

Last time, they had run out of the fancy Oxy Pro 2 models and Lana  had to pull some strings with the council to release a quota for her. She would have felt naked without the latest Oxygen mask for the game of Gravo-o-Ball that everyone on Mars enjoyed during the Open days.

Anyway, she quickly composed the required mental images of all the stuff she had planned. Once she was done, she added them to the queue and ran a mental check if something was missed. "Perhaps an extra dose of Anti-Cancer cell shots would help Mani in his busy schedules." - she decided. But she was out of luck as all the cell shots were out of stock. She was annoyed at these frequent shortages at the market, especially for drugs. She recalled a finding in the recent council meet about rapidly increasing drug consumption and decline in stocks over all bases. The investigative council itself was poised to raise this issue to the head council about these.

"Ah, these days, work is too stressful. Maybe I should take a vacation to system B with Mani". She recalled his narration of the distant System B which was used for forward exploration and research by the TIME scientists. The view of multiple nebulae and disintegrated objects floating in the exospace also made it a much sought after romantic hangout, if only someone could afford it. But it also bears the marks of a completely destroyed object named Earth in the ancient days and was believed to be the original home of the Ancient Formers. 

Hearing the timeout beeps,  she quickly paid for her items through the central credit numbers and disconnected the dreamfix. The new Archo slippers would be waiting for her at their slots
and she was eager to try them out, one finger waiting on top of the SatLink to her sister...

The above article is an extension of the story "Life in 2500 AD" narrated from the point of view of the spouse of Mani, the lead scientist who starred in the original story. The extension was inspired by the contest "The future of Shopping" by Ebay India, but as usual doesn't qualify due to deadlines :-)
All images are obtained from Google Images and copyrights are retained by their original owners.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

for whom the wedding bell tolls

I woke up to the loud voices talking over my head. I caught glimpses of familiar faces and voices through the blanket. I must have bore it for another 10 minutes before I decided to drag myself to the kitchen, where a hot cup of filter coffee was immediately thrust into my hands and I was summarily shooed away by the ladies.

With sleepy eyes I noted that I was holding my alumni coffee mug which I never allowed anyone to use. I wanted to protest, but realized that more and more coffee mugs in the cupboard were already being handed out.

Walking to the porch, I was greeted by many friendly faces. The sun was just coming up and the sky was turning light grey as it was already drizzling. I am not a coffee guy, but I had a strange satisfaction gulping the hot brown drink and cupping my palms around the hot cup for some warmth. I wonder how long I sat there lost in my own thoughts.

I recalled the faint memories I have about the events that unfolded nearly 20 years back, but mostly relying on narrations of the saga. It was the occasion of our eldest cousin's wedding. I remember only the white jasmines and the orange marigolds lying in a heap, and I was probably standing beside it staring at the crowd.That was the first act of fame that elevated us to our notoriety that lasted for a good 15 years to follow. I was a toddler and still was held accomplice to the systematic dismantling of the fully decorated 'mantapam'. It was fully orchestrated by my brother and cousin who owing to the same age, were close buddies and schemers. I usually was either a liability, or a tool for them. And this was the first in the series of various exploits through which I even earned individual notoriety :-)

And I can imagine now the number of guests who would have come from the farthest ends of our rather wide spread family network. It now made sense to me  how even after more than a decade, some relative
whom I wouldn't have ever met would mention us and our exploits and guffaw loudly, much to my chagrin.
If present on the spot, my brother would slyly pass the buck onto me stating my naivety as the cause of all disasters. I had to use my standard grin to escape from danger at such situations.

I was awaken from my thoughts by the voice of my father, calling for me. I laughed off these memories and grabbed the car keys and walked to the porch. Even with  more than a month's heads up, I couldn't believe that my rascal brother was getting married and soon to take the title of a responsible and mature husband. The thought itself made me chuckle. I could still count the scars of the many battles we fought side-by-side and against each other for God-knows-what reasons.

There would be lot of fun as it is the first marriage after a long time in the family and a lot of cousins would come flowing in. But no gangs in the current generation would even come close to the notorious ones that me and my brother controlled. Every family that invited our parents to marriages used to make sure that we were happily fed and taken care, to avoid any untoward incidents. I kind of missed all that attention and felt bad that my brother won't get a fitting turmoil for his wedding.  I had made many attempts in the recent days to unite the cousins for trouble, but my sly brother, seeing red had broken up the 'mutiny' with grace. But that also meant that the fame of our gang would last quite long.

I watched the sky turn dark grey and waited until the huge drops started bombarding the windshield, before I put the foot on the gas. A bit of rain should only cheer up the old war horse probably lost in dreams and staring through the window of a jet approaching Kochi...

Monday, September 09, 2013

Chasing the ghosts in broad daylight..

This post is in response to BlogAdda's WOW(Write Over Weekend) prompt: Write a post including the word "Salaam" and "Namaste", though I was a bit late and probably not eligible for entering :-)

The cacophony in the street was unbearable. There were swarms of people everywhere. This was the only section of the city he hadn't been to since he moved in 15 years ago. The places were unfamiliar and thickly packed with people, thronging the various roadside vendors. He was sweating profusely, and it wasn't from the unfamiliarity, the crowd or even the sweltering heat of summer.

In the last 15 years he had grown fond of this bustling city and believed that even though the city might throw new things his way once in a while, there would be none that could take his breath away. He knew his city and commented sharply on journos who hollered away on their columns. Some people get their daily dash of ecstasy by making up stories of horror and spoiling other's morning, that was his take.

But his mind kept wandering off to the incidents of the past few hours. The phone call, the adrenaline rush of dashing down the 10 storey building through the lunch time crowd, and the ensuing dragging cab ride through the thick traffic. God, he was getting tensed. Not that he believed what he heard from the source on the other side of the receiver, but he had to see for himself and prove that it probably was another paranoid informer jumping the gun with his own delusions. These days, people seem to be having delusions every other day. "Sinful ways, that is causing these maladies of the head to even good folks." - he found himself repeating his father's favourite lines.

Charan worked for the government alright, but with no particular title that he could claim. He held VIP privileges and protocol placed him at a comfortable position in the hierarchy and gave him authority over the city police force and local government bodies. He enjoyed his duties and went about 'making sure' nothing spoiled his clear view of the city, both from his 10th storey office near the Central and from the various dailies he scanned every morning. He thought of himself as the protector of the city, often jokingly referring to himself as Batman or Superman without an affinity to the dark or a misplaced sense of dressing.

But that day, he was sweating profusely and fighting through a mad crowd that was trying to grab anything and everything that was for sale, thanks to the festivities that were set to commence in a day. If the tip-off he received was even remotely true, a lot of heads will roll and as he couldn't trust any one else with this matter, he himself came all the way out here.He glanced at his brand new Rolex watch and scowled, noticing that he would probably be too late if he didn't push through soon enough.

He didn't have much sense of where he should be headed, but from a brief glance at the outdated map in his office, he know there was a large junkyard at the other end of the market and he knew that would be the place. As he made his way through the crowd, he sensed many eyes watching him. Though he doesn't wear a uniform, he consciously makes efforts to hide his police persona whenever he heads out into public areas such as this. That day was different and he wondered if he had any tell-tale signs on him. But even if there were any, he didn't have much time or choice.

He felt the crowd lessening and he had more space to move around and he headed straight to the tea shop ahead to catch a breath and survey the junkyard, now in sight. The owner was an aging Muslim man who greeted him in, recognizing him as a stranger and probably as someone from the Government. "Asalaam alaykum" - he muttered . Charan returned a curt "Wa alaykumu salam" and gestured for a cup of tea and pulled out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his face.  As he stood there taking a sip and surveying the junkyard area, a boy limped his way to him with extended arms. "Namaste saab, aap ko dekhke lagta hain kaam pe aayo ho. Is bechare pe thoda raham kijiye, aur aapka kaam ho jayega(Greetings sir, you look like a person here on business. Please show some mercy on this poor boy and your job would get done)". Charan was thrown out of his thoughts by that. He was suddenly nervous seeing the boy return a toothless grin. He quickly paid for the tea and walked towards the junkyard gates with one arm on the holster hidden inside his jacket. Something stunk somewhere...

The arrival of Dhinakar Jagadish, the local favourite to win the elections was probably just coincidence. He never travels without an army of supporters who shout slogans and play loud songs and announcements praising their godfather. The entire market turned into a larger ocean of people as his motorcade blocked the main roads and the loudspeakers started bellowing. There were several voluptous dancers piling out of the tempos. The celebrations were expected to go late into night and none of the newspapers the next day would even mention it.

Later that day the same limping boy sat by his mother as she cooked some meals from whatever they collected that day. He stared at her face smeared with dust crusted into mud by her tears and sweat. It hurt him to watch her suffer every day at the hands of the many men who ran the market. Asif chacha who ran the tea shop always told him that the junkyard was a lucky charm and it had changed the lives of many in the slums. That encouraged him to hang out around it all day long. He wondered about the stout man who visited Asif chacha's shop in the afternoon. Probably someone from the Police. "They always come like that"- he remembered the advices from Asif chacha. "But times are going to change for us too", he muttered to himself. His eyes gleamed in the light from the chulha as he eyed his prize collection of the day, a brand new Rolex watch with just a minor scratch and a dash of red on it.  Asif chacha was right. But the bounty was the revolver he managed to hide in the junkyard.

He shivered when he thought of it... but was soon drifting into sleep dreaming of a new life that would begin the next day..

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The axe

His shoulders stung with each swing of the axe.. and sweat trickled down his brow.
He could feel his shirt sticking to his back as the summer sun rose up to warm the day.

He loved the smell of burning firewood and the feel of wet mud on his bare foot. But the chores were difficult and physically painful. Nevertheless, he maintained the pace and went on with the task of chopping up the pieces of firewood. He secretly hoped that all this work would make him fit for some good work up the river in the winter when work is short. She wouldn't appreciate these thoughts, but he didn't care anymore what she thought.

He wasn't a servant. He was just someone who passed by everyday and seeing the plight in which she was, wanted to help. He remembered asking her if she can use some help and soon he was helping her on many chores while she chatted about how hard her life was. She never asked much about him and he was silently glad that she didn't ask any difficult questions about him. So he used to gladly listen to her tales, nod his head and go on with the chores in a rhythm. Once in a while, he too gave some advices based on what little he knew and hoped it helped her.

She was not from around there, but was living alone in the same hut for years together. He hadn't noticed her until a year ago when he came over to this side of the swamp searching for Rodger's lost puppy. He didn't ask her much about past life and she too was happy to not talk about the same.

But by now he knew a lot about her and was constantly thinking of things she used to tell him while his muscles automatically were in rhythmic motion. He loved keeping his mind busy in thousands of thoughts while his body toiled away. It kept him out of boredom or exhaustion and he rarely notices the time pass by. She would have to force him to stop and take a break. That is when he would break out of his trance like motions. He was never in a hurry or frenzy. He took his sweet time to chop the pieces of wood neatly in one powerful swing. But it had a rhythm that he didn't break for hours together and it was like a song or pattern in his mind, running infinitely.

It was only a week ago that she started having visitors. Visitors, he guessed by the voices he heard, who were mostly from outside the valley. They talked about businesses and music tours. He remembered that she once told him about her time as a singer in some big town far outside the valley. She always spoke of those days with a gleeful smile and then quickly return to the present, only to spit on the mud. She never told him how she got here or why and he never asked, though he often wondered about it. He just knows she was someone very popular and she would now be happy only if her younger days were to return to her.

One day he heard one of the guests recite a couplet which fetched him an applause from the crowd. It seemed that there were at least a dozen people out there feasting on the food she served. He figured out that these were important people and she was trying to coax them into bringing her back her days of glory. There were more poems and verses recited that day. He heard all of them and smirked at the silly ones and smiled at the good ones, while his hands were continuously at work. The poems were a welcome break to his monotonous chores and it was almost turning into a punishment as he didn't enjoy her stories much anymore as they always had the same feel.

For days together, these poems used to play around in his mind as he worked on the firewood. He imagined himself composing better lines, or singing for a crowd of dignitaries. He loved creating new meanings out of the various words he heard. He knew that he could write better ones and even recited a few to her one day. She just nodded after he finished and immediately started talking about how one of the visitors had promised her a chance to recite one if she could write. She was terribly bad at it and wanted help from him. So he recited his poem again asked her if she could learn it by heart and try it out. She was reluctant at first, as if his works were not worth presenting to a class crowd. But as she had no other options, she agreed.

He heard his poem being recited on the next visit and he was happy to hear the applause and comments from various unknown voices. His was jubilant and wanted to write more. That night he managed to write some more and he recited them to her the next day. She seemed indifferent and used to give curt nods when he asked her how his works were. Anyway he continued writing as he seemed to like it and he continued reciting them to her.

The summer was almost ending and he knew he wouldn't be coming along for long. His muscles were strong, writing fluid, mind active, but his heart was heavy. That day he saw she had put up elaborate decorations and on enquiring she informed that an elaborate show was being put up for the visitors. She asked him to not work on the chores and instead watch her perform. She asked him to stay out of the visitor's area though. He didn't mind as long as he managed to watch her. There was a crowd of about a dozen, none of whom he recognized. They were dressed like noblemen and artists. So he kept his distance, lest they get upset.

The curtains opened up and there she stood, in pretty clothes. In spite of her age, she looked charming and soon she was enacting the lines of one of his poems. Obviously, she had put some work into it to turn a poem into a song or a drama. He didn't know what a drama was anyway. But it was fascinating to watch and soothing to the ear as well. He could see that most of the visitors too were enjoying it. He was glad that his work was actually being enjoyed by so many learned men.

The show ended with a heavy round of applause and soon people were jingling their glasses and making merry. He heard someone say that she was sure to be a hit in the towns outside the valley and that they would have to reach there in a month or so to make use of the pleasant climate. He started wondering if he could find some interesting work in these towns. A couple of months ago, he would have laughed at this idea. But now things had changed. He has changed. The lanky dull boy had turned into a muscular man who could write beautiful poems as well as he could cut down any tree. But should he ask her if he can accompany her? She anyway hadn't spoken to him for days together, and didn't seem to be interested in involving him in these matters.

But again, if he were to somehow go along, what would he become? One among the likes of those who thronged her place today? They didn't seem fit for anything other than drinking wine,dining and watching a good show. Its true they had a way with their words, but it didn't seem enough. A man has to have the ability to earn his decent bread by his muscles, and not words. That's what his father had taught him.

His mind was in a turmoil and he stood there by the oak tree for a long time, even as the last of the visitors left the hut. He didn't notice anybody. The evening was turning cold and the leaves were falling already. He watched one particular leaf making circles and being taken around all over the yard, back and forth by the howling winds. The long shadow of the oak hid his. He felt blood rushing to his legs and he suddenly jerked himself into motion and walked off, carrying the heavy axe on his shoulders, its blade blunt..