Life on Cloud 8


Great moments happen in the bathroom. We have seen this throughout history, be it ancient or contemporary. Archimedes had his moment in the bathtub. Had it not been for Jack Canfield’s eureka moment in the shower, we wouldn’t have the tasted the chicken soup he made for our souls. So it was only befitting when such a moment struck me in my moments of privacy.

People need something to remember me by. When I get all rich and famous, I won’t have time to answer to every gossip starved reporter’s questions. Then it struck me. Why not write an autobiography? I ruminated while I showered. If the adventures of my life are ever chronicled, I would like them to be recorded in my own words, not those of some senseless biographer’s.

My book would be called Life on Cloud 8. I have even thought of how certain pages of my autobiography would read. It would probably be something that went like this:

“I was born and brought up with books. Ever since I was a toddler, I was taught to preserve and value books. My father would bind them nice and tight, never letting a loose page go astray. From the great works of Osho to the spirited talks of Dale Carnegie, he had it all. Book after book was piled until it formed a great mountain, climbing higher and higher until it threatened to vanish beneath those laden clouds of his shirts and pants.

My grandmother possessed the art of storytelling. Her beautiful poetry wove magic as she recited verse after verse in her enchanting voice. I didn’t realize it back then; I was merely three. All I knew was that my grandma was someone special. And as I look back over the years, I realize that it was this gift of hers that I have inherited.

I laid my hands on the first book at the age of eight. Mind you, I had read books before, but all of them had to do with the solar system and the geography of the earth. But this one was different. It spoke of a court jester called Tenali Raman and his witty tales. I felt so good after reading it! It wasn’t like the comic books I had read. It had no cartoons and no illustrations. Reading it made me feel less childlike, more mature.

Then began the era of Harry Potter: the boy, who lived. And indeed he did live, right from my childhood through my adolescent years. “Promise me you will send me to Hogwarts once I turn eleven!” I would say, tugging at my father’s sleeve. I was in love and no amount of logic could coax me out of my magical fantasies. I wanted my own broomstick and my own Sorting hat. And my little brother was more than happy to encourage my desires as he stood brandishing his pen wand shouting spells at me.

Till then I had only been a silent reader, merely enjoying and reading the tales others had to tell. It wasn’t until the fifth grade that I discovered my passion for writing. I had written a short story titled Spooky Night for an essay assignment in school. I was nervously fiddling with my paper as I waited for the teacher to call out my name. “I like it, it’s funny,” said my partner. An appreciative nod from her was all it took for me to delve into the world of words. I went home and I wrote and wrote and wrote, about issues ranging from saving the environment to terrorism. My parents smiled appreciatively and encouraged me to read each poem that I had written.

Pottermania continued into my teens: the age of hormones and impulsiveness. I was suffering from heartbreak. Lonely and morose, I took solace in the world of words. They befriended me easily and comforted me in times of need. What I didn’t know was that while I was building a new world of my own, I was also building walls. Walls that fenced me from mental and emotional intimacy. Walls that kept me safe. I was so desperate for an escape that I didn’t realize when one by one, the words slipped away. I was in a blank space, stoic and emotionless with only the walls to keep me company.

And then I didn’t write for a year.

But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did.  I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

-Steve Jobs

It was during one of my little detours to the bookstore that I stumbled upon R. K. Narayan and his Malgudi days. In the dusty winding streets of Malgudi I found my innocence, my former childlike self. It was ironic that the same books that helped me grow up were the ones that wheedled me into childhood. I was in love once again. I marveled at the woody scent of the freshly printed pages and the way the words danced before my eyes, inviting me into a realm so unearthly that it seemed almost divine. I cherished it dearly, rejoicing in those moments of stillness and those moments of skin prickling illusion of proximity with the characters.

My readings helped me see things clearly now, with a fresh new perspective. So it wasn’t a surprise when one night I sat in front of the keyboard and pressed the ‘Publish’ button. It was my first piece of writing in nearly two years.

I had recommenced my journey into the world of words. It was my personal space, my safe haven. I came across many people on this blogging journey, young and old who shared and refuted my ideas. While some relished the art of baking, others cherished capturing moments in a frame. Each had contributed a part of themselves, however small, in their own special way to the world. I made friends, exchanged pleasantries and came across some really astounding people. They were all beautiful, lovely and generous. They all had something to say, something to give. It was this small commune of writers, of artists that ushered me into a realm of awe and gratitude. I enjoyed these interactions as much as, if not more than the act of writing itself.

Sometimes there would be instances when I would find all that I been looking for in a fellow blogger’s words…in his pictures, rekindling a long lost part of me. It was this mirroring…this connection… that made the world’s random turn of events less random.”

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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…