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The Madwoman

“Alright, let’s see the next one- if ten pencils cost 100 rupees, what is the cost of one pencil? Say, Mukul, rack your brains for once!” The haggard looking father tried hard to grasp his 10 year-old son’s attention. He was using the torn face of a carton to carry out the calculations. His filthy shirt almost fell off him, yet the spine chilling cold of January didn’t seem to bother him much. He was heavily engrossed in Mukul’s sums.

Mukul was least bothered about his father’s ceaseless efforts. He lay there grinning at his mother’s customers, a big bowl of puffed rice in his hands. He was in the fifth standard of the nearby government school. It was Saturday and school got over at 11.30. The sun was overhead and the quaint village by the river glistened peacefully. This was bliss and his father’s incessant questions were non-existent. Inaudible.

Mr. Chakraborty was Mukul’s mother’s customer. She was renowned for her priceless guavas, from her own tree. She felt gratified to have customers like Mr. Chakraborty who had come all the way from Kolkata. She always ensured not to disappoint them. Mukul’s father’s plight amused Mr. Chakraborty as well as his son.

“Why, Mukul? Don’t you like studying?” Mr. Chakraborty ridiculed, with a loving smile.

Arey, Dada! You don’t know him. He is grasped by all the diseases of the world simply at the name of studies. Either his stomach aches or he feels giddy, or feels too weak to even open his eyes, or any other ailment under the sun.” Mukul’s mother said complainingly.

“I haven’t asked him to do a single sum. I just asked him to watch me. Even that doesn’t satisfy him,” Mukul’s father laughed. Mr. Chakraborty noticed how clearly Mukul resembled his father. Their grins were hard to distinguish. He caught Mukul’s father pass a covert smile to his wife, a smile that radiated their love for their son in spite of all odds.

Mr. Chakraborty couldn’t help but remember his wife, Sujata. Her gentle comportment, her mild and loving ways, her ever supportive nature , the aura of beauty and humanity which always surrounded her, her infinite, inexplicable love for their son -everything flashed across his mind. But, the thought of that night lingered on. That pit, the shattered car, the dark, lonesome surroundings, her scream, his escape, her death. The days when he was convinced he could no longer go on. The emptiness that had engulfed his life, his being. Yet, his son’s innocent, loving face had given him the courage, the motivation. His son played the double-role for him from then on.

Now Sushanta, his son, was 14. On the verge of becoming a man, Sushanta loved his father dearly. He knew what his onus really was. And he lived up to it.

“That will be 30, Dada,” Mukul’s mother’s voice brought him back. Just as he was about to take out the money from his purse, he was startled by the helpless yells of a woman behind him.

“My son! Oh, my son! They have robbed me of my son! My son!” a shabbily dressed middle-aged woman with the dirtiest hair was groping around, tears streaming across her unclean face, her eyes nearly smoldering with anxiety.  Most of the villagers around were grinning knowingly.

“She’s a madwoman, dada. Don’t bother about her cries,” Mukul’s mother said, reading the puzzled expression on Mr. Chakraborty’s face, “They are only trying to test her. She lost her mind few years back, some say it was because her husband left her. They’ll return her boy soon.”

“See, I told you! She may have lost her mind, but she never lost her love for that kid,” one of the women remarked knowledgably.

“A mother’s love never dies. The world would have died if that happened,” said another.

“Even if the world goes upside down, a mother never stops loving her child,” Mukul’s father added, with the same grin on his drawn face.

The madwoman walked back with her child, holding on to him tightly, as if no force could snatch him away from her.

Mr. Chakraborty paid for the guavas and walked towards the bank of the river. Sushanta clasped his hands as they stood by the river. The river reddened as it prepared itself to devour the bright sun.

The silhouettes of the father and son stood there for a long time. Together.

Holding on

Ten year old Meethu was just opening her school bag when all of a sudden the slider of the zip came off. For a fraction of a second, Meethu was in utter despair, but then she tried to console herself thinking it could be sewed. She rushed off to her mother, yelling anxiously, “Mamma, my bag! Sew it, fast! Please!”

“Do you need to scream like that always, Meethu”, her mother said sternly.

“Mamma, please, it’s urgent!”

“We’ll buy you another bag tomorrow. This can’t be sewed, don’t you know?”

“Mamma, but, why not?” Meethu wailed.

“It’s the slider that has come out. I can not sew it back. Now get going! I’ve got work to do.”

Despondent, Meethu walked back to her room. She clutched on to her bag. It had been her companion for the past two years. In spite of being offered a brand new one this year, she refused to accept it, saying this one best suited her and she loved it the most. She would clean it on her own every two months. This was probably the only cleaning work she did without being told, and did so gladly. The tiny baby-pink thing was her prettiest possession. No other bag, or anything, for that matter, stood a chance in front of it. With some flowers of multiple hues on it, the school bag was her best friend. Every morning this was the only thing which would make her feel enthusiastic to go to the ever monotonous school. The thought of carrying it on her back proudly made a little corner of her heart leap with joy.

Her world was falling apart at the thought that it could not be mended. She stared at it for a long time. Suddenly, an idea struck her. She went up to her mother’s room, opened the shelf where she kept her things, rummaged through it and found one of those larger safety pins she used with her saris. With a grin of triumph, she ran back to her room. With the safety pin, she pinned up the case whose zip had broken and decided to use the other case. Exalting her genius, she felt proud of her idea. Of course, she decided to ignore the quirky appearance of the bag now. At least, it is usable.

 

The next day at school her pinned up bag became the centre of attraction. Some laughed, some mocked, some sympathized, but none of it mattered to her. She was happy, that was all. Beggars can not be choosers, after all.

Very soon, as days passed by, Meethu had to see more of destruction. One of the straps had become loose. She had ignored that, too, of course. But, how long can a dried leave stick to its branch! The strap tore off one fine day. Though now she carried it on one shoulder, Meethu almost felt as though one of her limbs had been separated from her. But then again, where there’s a will there’s a way. And where there is love, there’s an excuse. In spite of being repeatedly asked to use the new bag, she continued with the worn out bag. It looked as ugly as ugly can be- pinned up cases, torn off straps, faded flowers. Only someone completely out of his mind, or someone completely broke, would be using such a piece of trash. Meethu, however, was none of these. She was merely an innocent child, who couldn’t think of abandoning something so easily-something so dear to her.  

 

Days passed. Carrying the bag on one shoulder, ignoring the bizarre appearance, refusing to take the new bag, Meethu went on. Sadly, as fate had it, one day as she was returning home, the bag gave away. Thud! It fell onto the ground. The second strap had betrayed her. Meethu picked up the bag. And the forlorn little girl walked the empty street, embracing the fatally injured bag. As the sun set in the horizon, Meethu felt tired. There was still a long way to walk and the bag felt much too heavy. Yet, she walked on, her silhouette quite akin to that of a loving mother carrying her plump baby fondly in her arms.

Reaching home, she sat on her bed contemplating what to do next. Would she carry the bag in her hands from now on? But, that would be too much of hard work. Or maybe it wasn’t the hard work that bothered her. It was the fact that Mamma would no longer comply with her excuses. It was already too much. And the poor little bag, too, had taken more than enough. Maybe it was time for her to rest.

Meethu decided to be reasonable and stop going on with the bag any longer. She emptied it of its contents and opened Mamma’s safety pin from it. Wrapping it up with a cloth, she delicately kept it in a corner of her cupboard. “So what if I don’t use it anymore, it can still be my companion forever,” she smiled. And there lay in that little corner, Meethu’s best-loved companion, her prized possession, warts and all.

 

Reflections on a Reflection

The afternoon sun burst into the room. Passing through the light pink curtains, it gave the entire room a dreamy appearance. The house was empty. The silence of the usually chirpy birds gave her a feeling of insecurity. Yet, shrugging off the dread, she removed the towel that wrapped her, and got dressed. She then applied a lotion delicately over her entire body, gliding her fingers smoothly over the moist of her skin.

 

She walked up to the mirror.

 

There she stood, angelically beautiful, devoutly pious yet, blasphemously sinful. Her graceful frame seemed to tell a thousand stories, a little at a time. The roundness of her physique, the child-like innocence radiating from her face and yet, a melancholic tinge in her eyes, made her all the more attractive.

 

She looked her reflection into the eye. All at once, raced a million reflections through her mind-of the past, the present and… let it be. She looked at herself, rather, watched herself. She’d watched herself since a long while, from her very childhood. She’d watched herself grow; grow from a little kid to what they call a lady, a full grown lady. She had watched her own self transcend through the many seasons-the flowers of spring, the snow of winter, the sweat of summer and the bliss of monsoon. She’d watched the many tears, the many pains she had endured. All of them were like messengers from some far away land. They had messages to convey, lessons to teach.  

 

She smiled. The reflection smiled back. But, would it last? The smile? Maybe yes, if she tried. And she did. She did try. Holding on to the smile, she raced her thoughts back to all the lovely presents offered to her, the presents that made her being worth it-the rainbows whose colours were difficult to distinguish but the fact that they were there, gave her solace; the tinkling of anklets as her mother rushed from one corner of the house to another; the sound of her father turning the pages of the newspaper and finally the contented feeling when he’d place it on the table, for now he’d come to her; her younger brother’s monotonous tantrums over the same little things. And just how there’s no end to counting the stars, there seemed no end to counting her blessings. The reflection seemed to be able to fathom that, and naturally, the smile broadened.

 

She looked at her lips and remembered him, the dreams she dreamt about him. She remembered her heart racing every time he would come closer. How desperately she hoped he would be hers, but alas! Yet, she had never let her dreams be shattered. There’s nothing wrong in dreaming, is there? Her reflection grinned, like a child, at being offered her favourite chocolate.

 

How blissful it all is! How marvelous! She carried within her a wonder, a fairytale- some of it revealed, some held back. She wasn’t at all times what she appeared to be. Not always that epitome of strength she was believed to be, was strong enough. Neither were the smiles always smiling. Like a rollercoaster, she had hurled herself to different directions, high and low, yet at all times, like the rollercoaster ride, it was joyous. She smiled all the more.

 

But.

 

But, bless the Devil that lurked in the shadows. Well, can he tolerate smiles? No. Never.

 

Like the harrowing thunder that disrupts the tranquility of the night, there barged into her thoughts the echoes of his voice – the doctor’s voice, kind yet ruthless, “Actually, it’s too late, maybe a year more.”

 

And, probably that explained the silence of the usually chirpy birds.

 

A Dance in the Rain

It was dark. The sky was clear, or so it seemed. I was all alone. My room had nearly suffocated me, so I abandoned it. The streets were peaceful, not a noise to be heard. Tranquil as tranquil can be. I lingered down the path. My thoughts had stagnated and I was thinking nothing at all. My pace was languid. My steps were reflex. I walked, walked and kept on walking. And as I was walking, nothing seemed to matter. For once I felt solitude was bliss.

As I kept on walking, somewhere out of the stillness of the night I heard a sound. Whether it was a thunder, I know not, because it lasted for not more than a jiffy. Till now, I was sanguine of the absence of life around me. However, after that interruption, once again I was aware of my surroundings. I was aware of the houses, of the dimmed street lights, of the sky. And of the clouds in the sky, who seemed to have appeared out of the blue.

I imaged in my mind that the clouds, too, were tired of some room, like me. They too, wanted to come out into the night and cherish its stillness. They wanted freedom, wanted something new, as if, they, too, had been confined…somewhere in the skies. Now that they were out, they wanted to pour their hearts out to someone.

And all at once, as though they had been listening to my thoughts, the clouds burst into rain. A little smile crept upon my face as I looked up the sky. A lightening occurred, not very loud, as though smiling back to me, as though I was a long lost friend. And as the raindrops ran over my face, I could feel the clouds caressing me. So I raised my hands to caress them back.

When I felt my entire body washed by the water, I knew the clouds had embraced me. And now, I belonged to them. They had poured their heart out to me and so did I. They loved me and I loved them back.

Suddenly, the rain slowed down a bit and there was a thunder. At first, I could not comprehend what that meant, but then I realized the rains, the clouds, wanted me to dance with them, for the rain had paced up again and this time, there seemed to be a rhythm. Knowing I’d love it, I kicked away my slippers and all at once, the girl who had never danced before, was swaying to the beats of the rain. There was no music, nor a dance partner. Yet, there was both-the rhythm the music and the rain my partner.

I closed my eyes and let the rain make me dance. And soon I felt myself getting nearer and nearer to the rain, as it held me closer to itself. We danced and danced and kept on dancing, never seeming to get tired. But suddenly, the rain stopped.

The clouds were gone. The sky was clear again. And I was all alone again.

I looked up the sky again, but this time I didn’t smile, for I knew, the rain was gone and the clouds, too. They would come back again, but it would never be the same, for we won’t dance again. As I stared at the sky, I felt like calling out to them, asking them for another dance. But I didn’t, because I knew it would be futile. So, I turned homewards and walked away.

It was almost dawn and the sky had turned pink. As I felt something wet on my cheek, I deemed it was a raindrop. But then I realized it was not. It was a sign that showed how I missed the clouds and the rain, how I longed to go back to them again.

And though my heart was heavy, as I went to bed, there was a smile on my face. And from then on, whenever it rains, I reminisce about the dance…