Freedom…salvation…redemption…


girl-waiting-for-train

The engine wheels chugged in, belching smoke on to the station. She looked at the clock. 11:53 am. He had promised to come at 11.

She sat on the rusty platform bench, mopping her brow with the loose end of her shirt. She could feel it coming- the shortness of breath, the perspiration, the anxiety, the confusion of it all balling into a giant mess. She could feel this mess, she carried it within herself, day in and out- a leaden weight in her heart- expecting someone to come along and make sense of it all.

He had come, a few months ago in the dawn of winter. In the dead silence of the night enveloped in his embrace, she had found the corners of her heart being tugged, gently indicating…maybe, just maybe, her time had come. This was it- her ticket to freedom, her time of salvation, her shortcut to redemption.

12:00 pm. No sign of him. Tired and sleep deprived she questioned the validity of it all. Her initial months filled with honey like sweetness had turned into a battle of existence, of making it through. But had she done enough? In the months of their romance she had flitted between the desire to love and the desire to take for a million times a minute. She was tired now. Yet, her love of those words continued to haunt her. Freedom…salvation… redemption…

She said each of them out loud, enunciating every syllable. Oh how well she had relished their piercing illumination and agonizing beauty! She wanted it all back.

12:00 pm. She looked at the faces in the train. The newly wedded couple whose dreams intertwined in a shared space no less than paradise holding hands, their eyes promising each other of happily ever afters; the old man, decrepit and withered, gazing at the station with soulless eyes; the young entrepreneur gazing listlessly at the pages of a book titled “You Can Do It” and herself, sitting on the rusty platform bench, waiting.

They were all looking for answers, be it in the eyes of their lover, in the hope of a miracle at the end of their life or in the leaves of a book that promised inner transformation.  Yet, they were all waiting.

She wanted to tell herself that in those silent moments of waiting, she had experienced a profound revelation…that she had taken charge and boarded the train after promising herself a better life…that he suddenly appeared and whisked her away. The cogs churned in her head, calculating her triumphs and misfortunes, her yearnings and desires, her pitfalls and failures. Freedom…salvation…redemption… She wanted them badly.

Didn’t they all?

The person


The person is dead. She has built up walls to keep away people. She feels nothing, sees nothing. Occasionally she pretends to believe and see, but she finds it useless. So she retreats to her shell. It is warm and comfortable here. Nothing can touch her- no one can know her thoughts, no one can see her emotions. Sometimes she meets friends and goes out for parties and pretends to have fun. Deep down, she is lonely.

One day, someone comes along. He sits beside her beneath the stars and shows her the might of the sea. She sees the raging sea and for what feels after an eternity, she feels terror. Heart clenching, hair gripping terror. She gropes for an escape; she is unable to run away from this terror. Like a lightning bolt it strikes, and with one thunderous clash, her walls are shattered.

The person is in love. She feels things, she sees things. She feels a plethora of emotions- she feels alive. Her walls have been broken and she feels free. She is poetry- walking, breathing, dancing and loving. The person is very happy. She rejoices in the fragrance of the first blush and starts dreaming of eternity. Slowly she feels eternity slipping away. So she starts clinging. She transfers her hopes, dreams and fears onto him. Very gradually he becomes her hope, her dream and her worst fear.

He notices something is wrong. He cannot understand what has happened to her. All he knows is he is getting suffocated. So he starts moving away. But she simply cannot let that happen. She needs him for her eternity. She cries, she begs and she pleads. But he doesn’t budge. He knows he must go. Without a word, he disappears.

The person is enraged. She calls him names and destroys his memories. She drowns herself in remorse. She revels in her rage. She turns vile and mean. Her bloodshot eyes spit hatred. She loses sleep. She loses herself. The person is dead again.

After futile attempts and fruitless efforts, she begins to complain. She talks to people about how miserable she feels. People decide she cannot be sad for too long. They decide it is better for her to forget all about love. So they tell her to move on. She follows their advice, plastering smiles when her heart aches and losing herself in work when her eyes water. People are very impressed. They say her strength is commendable. The person hears this and feels very good and continues to pretend. It seems as though pretense is the way of the world.

She sees people getting up and going for work. She sees them making international phone calls and signing important documents. She sees them in absurdly tight and uncomfortable clothes. She wonders why they do so. They tell her it is to make an impression. Now the person finds this very absurd. But she doesn’t utter a word. Yet she sees hands typing away with dexterity at phones, eyes trained to avoid contact and heads filled with overflowing clutter. But the person’s eyes are not trained. She looks deep into their eyes and she sees boredom. She sees repression. And she sees fear.

So she talks to her parents and they say, “Work hard, mint money and then enjoy.” The person finds this even more absurd but again, she lets the opinions of others drown out her own voice and tries to show excitement at the ambitions others have and decide for her. But deep inside, she hates the world. She hates its people and their ways.  But she cannot show her resentment. Because the leaders say peace is the way of the world.

Sometimes her heart aches for love. She longs to be held. So she latches onto a stranger and makes mechanical love to him. She allows him to deduce her to a thing. She secretly wishes that he might look past her layers and love her. She doesn’t know the stranger wishes for that too. But the stranger is more adept at the ways of the world than her and he knows that he has to act grown up. He cannot show his emotions. He simply cannot be vulnerable. And when he sees the person breaking down and exposing her broken state, he gets angry. He very gets angry because he hates her for being weak. But deep down, he envies her. She can be something he would dare not. So he gives her a sermon on being strong and walks away.

The person is broken. On a rainy day she stands and watches him fade. She allows the rainwater to seep into her cracks. But she doesn’t want pain. It is too strong, too devastating for her. It is just too much. So she finds another stranger. And then another. By this time, she knows what to do. She parts ways with firm nonchalance and poise. She stops complaining about heartbreaks and stops dreaming about forever. Forever seems to be a faraway reality. Loneliness is the only reality she knows.

She moves along life until one day, she feels like writing. The words leap at her out of the page, constantly streaming across her eyes. The person knows only too well that she cannot let this voice subside. So she writes. She writes about love and hate, sorrow and loss, envy and lust. She starts complaining about the state of affairs again. She shows her hatred openly.

One dark night, she lets her monster surface. The monster claws in on her heart and shrivels her insides. It threatens to take over. Its flames rise slowly, licking her feet and torso. But she patiently waits. She resists the comfort of prayer and help. She lets it overwhelm her.  For the first time, she lets herself be utterly and terribly alone. In that one waking moment, she is surrounded by her hate, her lust, her envy, her greed and her revenge. She is surrounded by her demons. They take over, consuming her like a fire. And out of that fire, the person is born again.

Playmate


The train rattled past the purple cabbage farms that lined the tracks as it made its way towards Sherganj. Between the towns of Sherganj and Mansard lay a small village called Pukri. Pukri was known for its purple cabbages. Apart from that, it was just like any other village. Small thatched roofs dotted its criss crossing dirt tracks. It didn’t have any roads. People traveled everywhere by foot. There was one trail in particular that wound around the Sewri creek and led into the woods. No one knew where the trail ended. No one had dared to find out.

Manu wondered what lay beyond the winding trail as he made his way to school. He had been told it led to a haunted mansion. He trudged along, thinking about the homework he had done last night. He hoped his teacher would like it.

                                                                     ***

“Care to explain what this is all about?” spat Ramprasad. Manu cowered behind his desk as he looked over the menacing form of his teacher. Ramprasad was a strict man who had little tolerance for children like Manu. His gaunt features turned gaunter as his paan stained lips stretched into a toothy grin. Manu hated that grin. It often spelt trouble. “Children in our days were obedient. When the elders said something had to be done, it had to be done. There were no questions or explanations. When we were told to work, we worked. When we were told to sleep, we slept. And when we were told to study, we studied,” said Ramprasad waggling a finger at Manu’s painting. “If I remember correctly, I told you to write an essay about the national bird, not paint it. Now what part of that did you not understand?” sneered Ramprasad. “Put out your hand!” he bellowed spraying red paan all over Manu’s face. Reluctantly, Manu raised a small hand and waited for the blows. They hurt more than they ever had. Ramprasad smacked the ruler on Manu’s knuckles till they turned red. “There. That should teach you not to disobey rules.”

Silently cursing his teacher, Manu walked home. “Stupid teacher,” he muttered. “He doesn’t know a thing about creativity.”

“I’m home!” announced Manu as he pushed open the door of his hut. “Go help your father in the shed!” came his mother’s reply. Sighing, Manu ran to the shed behind the house. The shed housed thirty buffaloes. To Manu, all of them looked the same. Big, fat and black. “Start on the cakes,” said his father emerging from within. The cakes were flat pancakes made of buffalo dung. They helped light the stove and when plastered to the walls, kept the hut cool in summers.

Manu made his way to the back and started rolling out small balls from the dung. “I should be out in the woods, having fun” he thought as he flattened them into pancakes. He collected a few pancakes and made his way to his fort. His ‘fort’ was an old run down cottage in the woods. It was hidden from view by the broad-leaved Palmyra trees that grew all around it. A flight of stairs led to the roof of the cottage.  Close to the cottage, was a small teepee like shack built of dung cakes.It was Manu’s favorite place. It was his safety spot. He would hide there for hours and hours when he sensed danger lurking around the fort.

“Yes! It’s complete!” yelled Manu as he placed two pancakes over the roof of the incomplete shack. But his joy was short-lived as he saw a foot flying towards his shack. Like a slow motion scene, he watched his safety shack crumble to dust. “I told you to make piles, not igloos!” yelled Manu’s father. “Do you even know the value of this dung? And you chose to waste it on this useless piece of architecture?” said his father twisting Manu’s ear. “Now go to your room and study!”

That night Manu lay on his bed thinking about the events of the day. Lifting himself up, he walked to his window and emptied his glass of milk outside till it formed a white puddle on the ground. It was only a few minutes before he heard a slurping sound.

“Tibbles,” Manu said climbing out of his window as he saw a kitten lapping greedily at the milk. He lowered himself and sat cross-legged beside Tibbles. Tibbles was the closest thing Manu had ever had. She was far better than the grown ups in his life. She did not complain, merely listened and licked her paws. Life was easy when you were a cat. No one complained if you left muddy footprints, no one cared if you failed your grade; no one bothered you if you did whatever you felt like.

Manu wished he could be more like Tibbles. She did not have to please anyone. Nor did she have to study. She did not care about grown ups and their stupid ways or about feeling lonely. Yes, Manu was heartbroken. He was lonely. He wished he had someone to play with. Someone who would be more like him. Someone who hated grown ups as much as he did. “I wish I had a playmate, you know,” he said scratching the back of Tibbles’ ears. But Tibbles did not respond. She had fallen asleep.

Sighing, Manu rubbed his eyes and he looked into the bushes. He was sure he had seen some movement. “Who is it?” he asked sleepily. The bushes parted and out stepped a boy.

“Shyam,” whispered the stranger.

To be continued…