Saira: The winter

Saira realised there is no hatred inside her. No matter what people did, what people said, how insulting the words were, how painful their deeds.

It was quite possible that if someone slapped her across her face in a marketplace, she could feel no semblance of a complaint. It wouldn’t be surprising if she giggled and asked them what was wrong, but she might as well have also masked it with a poker face for fear of being thought of as odd.

Not that she wouldn’t get antsy. In fact, when love filled her heart, she would end up arguing with the object of her interest. But arguments were just arguments, and there was no anger flowing beneath it. Most often, she would pull people into a frenzy from which they would want to fly. She would drag close ones into a messy maze from which all they would want would be to be out. Her love drained them of their vitality and they grew old quicker.

Saira was one-of-a-kind an anomaly on Earth. If someone was born with a line of destiny drawn on his head, a destiny that said you belong to a beautiful woman named Saira, God’s invisible hand over his head, Saira’s brand of love would have made him shine like a new penny. If someone could decipher her code of love, they would have unlocked a door into a lovely and serene space with all things prim and proper, even their anger and envy assuming a sheath of white innocence and love.

But there was none that way, Almighty had forgotten to pair that line he drew on her with that of another individual, a Godly error he made once in a billion or trillion, or once and for all, rendering Saira a lonely and one-of-her-kind species on Earth.

In a world that spun in dizzying speeds, a world that scorned the stupidity of emotions and redefined smartness into expertise in hording money, gift of gab, general awareness of things and even crooked connivance, Saira’s brand of life had no takers, and she was generally scorned up on as a weakling, or at the worst, her presence unacknowledged. And in a new age that conceptualised life as a mass of grey, subsuming good and bad alike into it, acknowledging them a part of life, Saira’s brand was thought to be fake, outdated or boring and hence, to be distanced.

But hatred remained elusive to her heart, an oddity like a lost limb. In situations where people usually found their bloods boiling, it couldn’t be predicted what Saira would feel. Sometimes, she fell into a despair. At times, she found a beauty in the crookedness, the lie, and smiled. When she felt a deep disappointment, her eyes would droop, and she would tell herself that they would reach a point of realisation later, may be years after, if not days or months. She prayed that light be up on them, but felt no anger.

If one defeats malice and walk around on the surface of Earth, through crowded streets and metro trains, markets and offices where greed, envy and diplomacy were undercurrents of everyday life’s bartering, would the world be blamed for finding Saira an alien, something irrelevant, and non-existent? Like an ant, or a fly, or something even tinier to its eyes?

So, Saira tread on silently like that ant, that fly, that something too tiny for notice of human eyes.

Light through the rain

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It was a beautiful rainy afternoon. Up above, the sky was a sea of white and the bamboo fencing wet. Light rain went pitter patter pitter patter.

Saira opened the cabin door half, pulled a three-legged wooden chair and lit a smoke. The world was generally quiet but for distant horn sounds of vehicles and an occasional hum of airplanes flying deep in the sky. Saira realised that she hasn’t felt this peaceful in that urban jungle for a long long while. For her thoughts were mired in unending replay of people’s faces, words and events all the time, day and night, night and day.

That is what I am, she thought. Stuck in a tangled mess of things even God wouldn’t know how to undo. A mess that was tucked neatly inside her own head, away from public glare.

Small birds tweeted from distances. Smoke twirled in circles.

Plot sketch: The pencil

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Picture courtesy: Internet

Title: The pencil

1) Exposition:

Anandi (5), her brother (8) and their neighbour Parvati (7) are out to play. It’s summer vacation and when classes reopen in June, Anandi is supposed to initiate schooling. Anandi’s mother Ahalya is a domestic help, while Parvati belongs to a well-off middle class household.

2) Complication:

In the evening, Rajan takes Anandi for a visit to Parvati’s house. Parvati’s father, who works in the city, has come home. He’s brought her all necessary stationery for school. The children admire them. A fancy pencil, with a doll at the rear end, catches Anandi’s fancy. At dinner, the children discuss Parvati’s gifts. They quiz Ahalya when their father would come home and when they would purchase stationery for school. Ahalya mumbles, “soon”.

The children are playing with a crude ball. Anandi misses the ball continuosly and Parvati scolds her. Anandi retorts saying she is going to get a pencil with a doll better than hers when their father comes. Parvati categorically tells Anandi that her father would not come, that he’s left them, and Anandi would not go to school because their mother cannot fund her education. Rajan and Anandi are stunned. Parvati tells them she’s overhead her mother talking.

Subplots:

a) The children confronts Ahalya at night, they ask whether it’s not time they give Anandi’s uniform for stitching. Ahalya is silent. “Soon,” she mumbles in the end.

b) At night, Rajan hears Ahalya muffle a sob.

c) Next afternoon, Umesh, a friendly youth in the neighbourhood, spots Rajan on the street and takes him along with him to the beach. While Umesh hangs out with friends, Rajan loiters around. He walks through the craft stalls where tourists bargain with the shopkeepers. While strolling with waves lashing onto his feet, he comes across a tiny, curious-looking shell. He examines it and is thoughtful.

3) Climax:

Ahalya is upset the children are missing from home for long hours. Parvati’s mother had come in search of her and rebuked Ahalya, saying her ruffians are spoiling her daughter. When the children are back home late in the evening, Ahalya questions them. Both do not speak up. Enraged, she slaps Anandi, who cries till bedtime.

At night, Rajan watches Ahalya patting her sleeping daughter, kissing her and crying. Rajan gets up and moving towards his mother, hands over a crumbled newspaper with Rs 173 inside it, in coins and currencies. He tells her they’ve been selling earrings made out of  shells they collected on the beach. Ahalya stares at her son. Surprised by the enterprising spirit of her children, she realises that it’s high time she shrugged off her own despair and acted up. She hugs her son and tells him that she will never let them down in life and that Anandi will go to school.

4) Resolution

Anandi, Rajan and Parvati walk to school with other children in the neighbourhood. The children chatter and Parvati announces that Anandi’s father has brought her an amazing gift. Anandi is the centre of attraction as the children gather around her to see the pencil — the rear end of it has a corrugated shell with a face scraped onto it, and a tiny conch placed on the back of it resembling a woman’s hair tied into a bun. As other children admire the craft, Anandi beams in elation. Parvati and Rajan steal glances and chuckle. Rajan has made the pencil for Anandi.

How I find my way home

I moved to Delhi and rented a terrace home so that I have a sky to look up to. After nearly two years of star-gazing, I sat up on my bed one day and spread out in front of me my exploits so far. They were pathetically few — a job that sustained me alright but provided much less by way of intellectual stimulation, a couple of pals whom I can text any night and pour out my grievances as well as joy, a handful of books I managed to read, quite a few romcoms and superhero stuff I binge-watched, a lot of time which I idled away, and Bikas, my cycle rickshaw-wala and loyal friend, who ferries me through rain and shine.

While my eyes were hooked to the sky, back at home, three Eids have gone by, two weddings and numerous occasions for family get together, moments of which they’ve sent me enough photographs. That day, when I sat in my bed, I asked myself if I missed any of them. It was hard to say yes. It was hard to say no either, for I did miss a wrinkled, weather-beaten face with two sunken eyes that would melt at the first sight of me, and two hands with coarse, gnarled fingers that would run through my hair, filling me with a calmness that I could find nowhere else.

“One Umrah and a facial palsy later, her favourite pastime nowadays is to threaten everybody that her time is up,” chuckled my cousin sister over the phone some days ago. I laughed with her, but a pang of pain had tugged at my heart then.

I recollect an instance, one among many in fact, that happened decades ago. A girl aged seven, dressed in a banyan, trousers and a duppatta wrapped around her small frame for a sari; another shawl pleated and fastened to her hair at the back; a book in one hand and a stick in another, quizzes her granny:

Vallyumma (granny), what is the biggest living being on earth?”

“Elephant.”

“Wrong. It’s blue whale.”

“What is that?”

Neela thimingalam (blue whale).”

“….”

“Repeat after me. Neela thimingalam.”

Neela meenkalam (vessel in which fish is cooked).”

“Ha ha ha ha. It’s not meenkalam, Vallyumma… It’s thimingalam.”

I had spread the word to each and everybody who came by and all had had a hearty laugh.

On numerous occasions, at different stages of my life after graduating to adulthood, I have often tried to figure out what she must have felt at those moments. Did she feel stupid? She had laughed with us. Her fondness for her granddaughter hadn’t diminished one bit. But did our laughter peel off a layer of the last remains of her fading youth? I don’t know.

***

They say a good work of art can transcend barriers of time, language and geography, and connect with audience anywhere any time. If that is the criteria, Lee Jeong-hyang’s 2002 movie Jibeuro (The Way Home) is a howling success. A much celebrated work back then, the movie had fetched Lee the South Korean equivalent of an Oscar, and was the second highest grosser that year.

The Way Home is the charming story of seven-year-old Sang-woo and his grandmother. When Sang-woo’s mother had to shut her business and hunt for a job, she literally drags her city-grown son to her mother’s home in the countryside. The spoilt-yet-adorable brat rebels by snubbing the mute septuagenarian, calling her names, throwing away her shoes, breaking her pot, stealing her hairpin to buy batteries for his game.

But his granny’s tireless, uncomplaining affection for him changes the nature of Sang-woo’s relationship with her. From someone who refuses to eat the country chicken she cooked when he demanded ‘Kentucky chicken’, Sang-woo gradually transforms to a boy who takes care of his sick granny. By the time it is time for him to depart, he begins to worry how he would know it if she falls sick. He creates postcards with crayon sketches of his granny’s sick and happy faces, so that the unlettered could post them to convey if all was well with her or not. There are numerous instances and subplots that keep you hooked, make you smile or go ‘tch’.

Lee dedicates the movie “to all grandmothers in the world.”

A placid, free-wheeling, linear story that stays with you long after you watch it. I revisit this gem of a movie whenever I need a little booster. It transports me to a time when love came without conditions, attention came unasked as if it was a birthright, mischiefs did not break ties, sentences could be uttered without a second thought, laughter was routine, and world in general was safe and sound. It reminds me of an inexhaustible source of love, which shaped my virtues once and continues to fuel them even today, though I have broken off and drifted away from it afar.

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