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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Consequences

This story is my entry to the Short Story Contest being held by 'The Banyan Trees'. Details here. The theme is 'Light and Dark'. What do you think? :)

The Consequences

He sat on a stack of thin cardboard sheets at the entrance of his hut and watched the river flowing below him. Last year had been particularly dry, so they had not worried about the river. This year, the rains had come early. He wondered how long it would be before they'd wake to find the river inside the house.

His hut would be among the last to be flooded, he thought. It stood amongst others which were even closer to the river. Poor constructions - materials ranging from brick and cement to wood, tin, asbestos, mud, straw and woven coconut leaves. It was what people called a slum. But it was, somehow, more wretched than most slums and had grown in the slope that led to the river, just below a bridge.

It had been a very long day at the construction site where he worked alongside his wife. Now, he heard her rattling the almost empty vessels inside as she cooked dinner.

When they came, she heard the conversation as well. They spoke about the temple they were going to build - on the roadside space just after the bridge. Every house was expected to put in as much as they could spare. 'I'll let you know' he muttered and saw them off before going in to eat.

As they ate, she wondered aloud – ‘Why are those boys doing this? They are a bad lot, you know. Drunk all the time! Hardly ever work - living off their old parents and relatives. Why are they suddenly enthusiastic about building a temple?’ 'Maybe they have changed?' He volunteered after sometime. Some answer seemed to be expected of him. She shook her head, looking very worried. 'They are up to something.'

A few days later she rushed home in excitement after a chat with a neighbor. 'I told you, didn’t I?' she said triumphantly. He looked at her inquiringly and she went on – 'Those boys, they are getting everyone to pay for the temple. Then they'll just place the money collection box there and guess who'll have the key? Oh! They are clever. Not a penny from them and they'll earn out of it.'

He smiled at her excitement - 'Calm down. We can't do anything about it.' Her face fell. He was right. She couldn't go around telling people what she thought was the real reason. Everyone would pay. No one wanted to offend the gods.

Over the next few months, the temple slowly took shape. It was made from bricks and cement. It had a proper roof and a much decorated entrance. Threatening figures were molded all over, painted in heavy colors. A statue of a many armed and frightening goddess was installed. There was a money box too and one of them put the key in his pocket.

At the opening ceremony, people prayed fervently. She stood in the crowd and watched as the hired priest recited prayers and waved a camphor flame. People parted willingly with their coins. Devotional songs blared from loudspeakers set up outside.

When she returned, she sat in silence beside him at their hut’s entrance for awhile. 'I don't understand,' she said finally.

‘What happened?’ he asked, turning to look at her.

'That is how every temple is built, isn't it? Someone decides a place and brings bricks and cement and makes a building. Then they paint it in the right colors, add an idol and a temple is made.'

The song from the loudspeakers was audible still. The light of the decorative lamps looked beautiful from the distance.

'Yes. But, why is it bothering you?' he asked.

She turned back to him after gazing at the temple for a few minutes. 'Doesn't it seem wrong to you? See how temples are made - a bunch of drunks want to make some easy money and they make a building in the right shape. That’s all. It’s just a building. Nothing more. I used to think I was in the presence of God when I went to a temple. This can't be right. This isn’t about God.'

He frowned thoughtfully. ‘Those boys worked on something and kept out of trouble these few months. However selfish or crude their intentions may be – we have a temple nearby. Now you need not go to the other temple 3 miles away. They will pocket some money while they arrange for festivals. But for the first time, we will see the festival being celebrated here. Some good will come out of this as well.’

Two weeks later, they woke up to rising flood waters in their hut. Their shelter for the next three weeks was the temple. It was the only structure nearby with a proper roof, brick walls, open doors and of course, the money box.
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Resemblance

You remind me of a poem
That I worked to memorize.
I liked the idea of it first.
It spoke of things I had always felt,
but never found the words to express.
So, I read it again and again,
exploring its meaning and
enjoying its rhyme and rhythm.
I knew the words by heart soon
Could recite them in my sleep
But it took a while to get
my voice and poise right
to fit those lovely words.

Yes, you remind me of that poem.
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Saturday, August 06, 2011

The fork in the road

It had been one of those days. Yet another. The night bought no rest or peace. How could it, when the day had been as unproductive as it had been for the past many months? He tossed and turned and agonized over it every night. He knew he had to wait. The gift came with a curse. He had to be patient. But it was so hard. So hard to see the bundle of blank paper undiminished day after day. So hard to make himself eat each day so that he would live another and hope. So hard to walk through the library dreaming of the day his name would smile down at him from one of the shelves.

He went for walks. Long ones, where he watched and listened. Somewhere in all the chaos around him, was a story. A story that he would write. He only had to keep looking till he found it. So he looked and looked - wandering around the market, loitering on the railway station platform, waiting on the park benches, riding random buses around the city. He would hear snatches of conversations, note the environment, study people's features and mannerisms, capture their emotions and then imagine their circumstances. To the masses rushing past, he was some kind of still life he supposed. They presented a slice of their life to him and he tried to create a past and future to the moment.

When he went back to his room, he made notes in a large worn out notebook. It was like a diary that he spoke to - telling it all that he saw and thought and felt. His imagination took him far, but just not far enough and not often enough. And so he waited. You do understand, don't you? He was close to his breaking point. Maybe one more day would do it?

He dragged himself out of bed again. When he stepped out, you could see he was different. He carried a bag. His eyes were mostly fixed on the ground and he walked with no direction or end in mind. He walked till his legs ached and then found a place to rest, settling down leaning against a large tree. The notebook rested on his lap. Maybe he ought to burn it up, he thought, caressing the dog earned edges. He had tried enough and it was foolish to waste more time on this.

All the same, he couldn't resist opening the notebook. One last time, he told himself as he began reading. He was soon lost in the tiny splashes of life that his notebook was full of. Time passed and the sun climbed the sky and began dipping towards the west. When he was done, he closed his eyes and sighed deeply - so many story lines, so many characters, so many beginnings...it was endings that he didn't get. Ending - well, that was life's job anyway. She chose when and how and where things ended. All one could do was begin.

He had almost applied the match to notebook when he paused. His hand shook, the match fell harmlessly to the ground and his mind exploded in chaotic thoughts. Beginnings. That was the answer. All the people he watched, all the pain he had seen and all the possibilities there were but which only he could imagine. He would show them the fork in their road.

'New Beginnings for Sale' reads the little board outside the room. It is a clean, empty space with a desk and a few chairs. He sits there and waits. He doesn't mind doing that, you know. He has had enough practice. Read More......