Tag Archives: a kaleidoscope world

Waiting — Flash Fiction # 13

They had been waiting for weeks when a few of them pointed out that they had waited for months, and soon enough the months changed to years, till, finally, those who were still alive forgot what they were waiting for, even though they felt vaguely that they had been waiting. 






Granny — Flash Fiction # 12

Granny too was excited to hear the patter of feet coming up the staircase on that silent afternoon, but they passed by the closed door of her empty home, climbing further up and finally moving out of her hearing range. As always.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Girls — Flash Fiction #10

Hanoi. Inside a tourist bus hired by the university. I sat next to a student volunteer. Dressed in a pristine white uniform. Young and radiating health. She told me about her family. Her father was a doctor. Wasn’t he? Not sure. Could have been an engineer or an accountant. But certainly not a pilot or a restaurant owner. We were silent for a while, watching through the window roadside shops, simple folks walking their way back home. We passed by an aged woman with a shoulder yoke. She could have reminded her of her grandparents. The girl suddenly turned towards me and asked, “Do you have grandchildren?” I must have been pretty old then. But I have grown even older with time. How old is she today? Don’t know her name. That nameless Vietnamese girl may still be in Hanoi. If you see an attractive girl there with a lovely smile, that’s she. 

***

Hong Kong. I was walking down a long, steep stairway leading down the hill from my home to my office in the university. To my left stood the colossal shopping mall, Festival Walk. It began to rain and I prepared to get soaked. When a smallish Chinese girl emerged out of the huge mall. She briskly approached me and offered shelter under her open umbrella. We chatted as we went towards our common destination. She was an undergraduate student and spoke about the courses she was taking. Once inside the university building, she took leave and went her way. I never saw her again. Did I ask her name? Can’t recall anymore. Probably not. She should not be more than thirty five now. If you come across her do tell her that I can’t get her out of my mind even though I don’t remember her face. I wonder where she lives now. Her kindness has remained stuck to me like the empty smile of eternity. 

***

New York city. Afternoon, fifty years ago. Avenue of the Americas. Pavement in front of Radio City Music Hall. I was walking aimlessly, when a girl in a green dress rushed up and confronted me. To my total surprise, she said, “I love you.” Her intonation was strange. I thought I heard her saying, “Love you?” I didn’t know her at all and stared at her dumbfounded for a moment. Then I tried to smile. I said, “You do?” “Yes,” she said and stood blocking my way, as though she was waiting for a response. Her eyes looked sad as she stared at me and her face wore an expression that I couldn’t decipher. The sadness in her eyes was too deep for her age and the manner of her voice was vaguely painful. I managed to skirt around her and briskly walk away. I had probably assumed her to be a drug addict, even though, on hindsight, she didn’t resemble one.

Like the other two, I never saw this girl again, but those sad eyes and the puzzling countenance continue to live and the enigmatic words she had uttered keep ringing in my ears. Was she asserting or interrogating me about herself? I wish I had bought her coffee and spent a few minutes with her. Instead, and as always, I didn’t even ask her name. Somewhere, now, she is a very old woman. She will not recognize me. It’s best to leave her alone.

***

Girls vanish.

 

Soya — Flash Fiction # 8


He stared across the Sea of China sitting inside a sushi bar in Otaru Port thinking absent-mindedly about that slim Chinese girl in Xidi Village when a tiny drop of soya sauce fell on his shirt sleeve and doggedly defied to be washed off for the rest of his life like the pretty, embarrassed face of the Japanese waitress.

 

 

Choice — Flash Fiction #7


He spent the day debating in his mind, should he or should he not, only to realise towards early evening that there was no third choice, and she arrived precisely at the same conclusion, but not before early next morning, which, needless to say, was most unfortunate.

 

 

Love — Flash Fiction # 6


He was madly in love with her though she was madly in love with him. But he was madly in love with her. Whereas she was madly in love with him. Yet, he was madly in love with her already, as we saw at the very beginning of this heart-rending tale.

 
 
 
 
 

Yellow House

 

Early Version: January 14, 2015 Latest Version: May 27, 2015 ________________________   By the field, the mason deftly made The yellow house, with a modest strip of a yard Latticed scaffold, a boundary-wall brick-laid All of these the mason deftly made. How deeply did he care for the house Kept it tidy, as he would his face That a failure no one called it, nor hideous Or an outpost, a forlorn gathering place. By the field the mason deftly made The yellow house, where clouds billowed and flocked And, besides, the latticed scaffold swayed Luckless fate, in trite pomposity locked. Suddenly, one eve brought tremors down the street As a vehicle pulled up southwards with panache Fun-watchers, curious, swarmed forwards to greet As he bought up all there was in cash. Alone, and away from public view to find, The mason left his scaffolding behind.

Translation-cum-transcreation of a classic Bengali poem হলুদবাড়ি (holudbari) meaning ‘Yellow House’ by Shakti Chattopaddhay. The poem appeared in the collection ধর্মে আছো জিরাফেও আছো (dhorme achho giraffe-eo achho, meaning, you exist in religion as well as in the giraffe). Surja Sankar Ray’s help is gratefully acknowledged. But for him, the project would have remained incomplete.

 
 
 
 

That Patch of Green Behind the Bright Yellow House


As I was saying, Kamala Bastralaya exists no more at the corner of Manoharpukur Road and Rashbehari Avenue, but the roads themselves are yet to disappear. In fact, even though aged, they continue to bear the stigma of the names assigned to them at their birth. Unlike wizened old cities that is, like Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram, or Kolkata itself for that matter.

As you cross Rashbehari Avenue from North to South, near the corner that never fails to extract a sigh out of me, you part company with the lilting twists and turns of Manoharpukur Road and walk into Lake View Road, which leads you straight on to the Dhakuria Lakes. In the language of mathematics, if Manoharpukur Road were to be viewed as an nth order polynomial curve, then Lake View Road is the closest approximation to strict linearity. A no nonsense look so to speak that it has borne since the day at least that I was carried home displaying unmistakable signs of a new born baby. At the intersection of Lake View Road and Jatin Das Road, where Jeloka House towers still much to my disbelief, you need to take a sharp left turn and move eastwards along Jatin Das Road, past the pink building that used to belong to a grumpy old man (who, till his last days, stuck to his single minded grouse against youngsters, that they didn’t look after the stray dogs of the locality), till it forks out into a left and a right branch. Around four buildings down the right branch stands a three storied white washed bungalow and it was in the rented ground floor apartment at the front of this building that I transformed into a biped from a quadruped and even learnt the first few human noises I managed to produce.

_70jatindas

Like Jeloka House, the total changelessness of the building took me by surprise when I landed recently on this stretch of Jatin Das Road. How many of the occupants of the premises as I knew them are still a part of the temporal world I didn’t venture to guess as I stood across the street and viewed the windows that I was so familiar with in the distant past. The perspective then was different though, for I used to stand inside my home and watch the world outside instead of being a part of that same outside as I was now. I wondered if it was I instead that was now the object of scrutiny. Unlikely I thought of course, for the shutters in the green windows were firmly pulled down.

Perhaps this building had seen too much for too long to be interested anymore in mortal happenings. The multi-storied condominium that stood bang opposite and stared back at the older house with supreme disdain today was non-existent when I had started life. In its stead, there was a green plot of land surrounded by a waist level wall on three sides, a playground for children during those long lost afternoons. On the far side, beyond the boundary wall there used to be a yellow, two storied house occupied by a Chinese family that has now disappeared along with the house itself. It was the back of the building that faced our dwelling and my mind to this day cannot resist the temptation of climbing up the rusty spiral staircase that clung to its wall and disappeared through a door into a world of mystery. The morning sun that rose behind my home lit up the yellow house with its first rays and this is invariably the picture I have associated since childhood with the arrival of mornings. The back of a sunlit yellow house standing immediately beyond the patch of a green playground.

The green bid us good bye with the arrival of Dr. Sen who built up his residence on that plot of land. The yellow house disappeared too behind Dr. Sen’s construction and our playground spilled over to the pavements and the street. Soon neighbourly relationships grew up and Dr. Sen’s youngest son, Sudip or Bachchu, and I turned into playmates. His eldest son, Prateep-da, was still finishing his medical degree and at some point of time he left his home for foreign shores to earn an FRCS degree from Edinburgh.

It was the second of the three sons, Sunip, who stood out amongst the three sister-less siblings. Not because of his achievements, but for his handicaps. Unlike his two brothers, both of whom were good sportsmen, Sunip, or Sunip-da to me given our age difference, suffered from a serious ailment, related I think to his heart. His mother visited our home often as ladies used to in those days of yore. And my mother learnt vaguely about the problem, perhaps the only problem, this upper middle class household was afflicted by. Sunip-da had to be kept under perpetual medical care and was strictly forbidden from undertaking physically arduous tasks. The result was that while his brothers went for medical and engineering degrees, Sunip-da was sent to an Art School. I have no idea how deft he was as a painter, but he managed to clear his exams.

The mother was certainly not an impartial person and, though she did not display aversion towards her physically well-equipped sons, she was more than preoccupied with Sunip-da’s health. And Sunip-da did need all the attention in the world, given his telltale look of sickness. The contrast with the brothers was quite obvious. They were tall and well-structured, while Sunip-da was short and emaciated, his thick myopic glasses providing supporting evidence of his fragility vis-à-vis a world he lacked the equipment to cope with.

The Sens were wonderful neighbours who, despite their material success compared to others in the locality, were good friends, always ready to extend a helping hand as we were growing up through school and college.

Bachchu was two years senior to me. I was probably doing my Bachelor’s degree in college and Bachchu finishing his engineering course when Dahlia metamorphosed from a girl to a young woman. A woman that bloomed with a vengeance, doing full justice to her name. She lived with her family right next door to the Sens and Bachchu had fallen head over heels in love. This was open secret to all, but there were problems that loomed large for him. Dahlia was a Brahmin, one of the prettiest one could have ever had come across, and Bachchu, though handsome, was not a Brahmin by any stretch of imagination. Hence, there were complications that one heard of, originating from the direction of Dahlia’s family. But Bachchu was a sportsman who played his best to win. Fortunately for him though, Dahlia reciprocated with a gay abandon and Bachchu was soon the firm owner of her heart, but her father or mother (or whoever else I know not) were not yet ready to play ball with either Romeo or Juliet.

Dahlia kept on blooming ever brighter as the days progressed Marriage proposals were jamming up the living room in her residence as Bachchu agonized under a cloak of dark silence. Although Dahlia was his forever, I suppose he was not yet ready to elope. We youngsters were already familiar with their secret rendezvous spots, though we didn’t know the plans, if any, that were hatching between them.

Matters concerning the heart have a propensity to afflict without bias. Consequently, as Bachchu’s roaring relationship with Dahlia was travelling at supersonic speed, the heart patient in his household, Sunip-da, was passing through a turmoil of his own. Except for the fact that no Dahlia had as yet shown up in his life. The result was that the entire world full of budding womankind turned into potential Dahlias in Sunip-da’s eyes. He didn’t exactly chase girls, but the way he was staring at all the girls in the neighbourhood made their parents wary. And the wariest of all was his own mother. Given the physical state of his heart, the specialists had advised against marrying him off. As a result, his ailing heart was desperately wailing. So loudly and clearly in fact that his parents, especially his mother, were finding it far too difficult to make him stick to his diet of strict celibacy. The eldest brother, Pratip-da, must have been married by then. It was Sunip-da’s turn and Bachchu the youngest was finding it embarrassing to bring up the question of his wedding before his elder brother was married off. This was a tough situation. For Dahlia, as I said, was not in a position to wait much longer. Bachchu’s friends wondered if he was planning to jump the queue.

But then one day, Mrs. Sen came over to our home with an invitation card announcing Sunip-da’s marriage. A marriage it seems had been arranged, a risky matter as she told my mother. But it could not be avoided anymore if Sunip-da was to be kept away from a lunatic asylum. And one balmy evening, Sunip-da dressed up as a bridegroom, set off on a trip to marriage-land, accompanied by all the young people the family knew and I still remember the great feast we enjoyed that evening. In fact, the wedding reception was arranged in a hall located three houses down Kamala Bastralaya! Walking distance from my home too.

There was great fun and frolic and Sunip-da was smiling at last. He came back home with his young bride, whose name unfortunately I cannot remember any longer. But I do recall that she was pregnant soon after the wedding, which was only to be expected, given the state to which Sunip-da had been reduced during bachelorhood. Bachchu too probably began to feel relieved, now that the barrier in his home front had receded.

And it was exactly at this point of time that Sunip-da died. Leaving behind a wife and an unborn child. No one found out the precise details of the cause of death, but it appeared that he had slipped past a step while coming down the staircase. He rolled down to the ground floor losing consciousness, a loss that remained doggedly uncompensated. They put him inside a ventilator of sorts, or whatever it was that used to ventilate in those bygone days, without success. Dr. Sen, with all his medical connections, failed to bring his son back to life.

A pall of gloom had settled on that evening on the right arm of Jatin Das Road, with neighbours standing in silence on the road adjoining Dr. Sen’s house. The silence was so thick that one could cut it with a knife. Then the time came to lift Sunip-da’s lifeless body and start towards the crematorium. Following Bengali custom, someone gave the lead: Bala Hari, Hari Bol. This was a cue for a piercing cry, a heart rending scream emanating from the voice of the departed person’s mother. It broke the silence like the noise of shattered glass. I can still remember vividly what she had said repeatedly on that dismal occasion. With whatever strength she had at her disposal, she kept on demanding: Where are you taking him, where are you taking him, where are you taking him, no, no, where are you taking him …?

Like all fateful evenings, this one too was over and morning arrived as it never fails to. Dr. Sen’s family slowly found back its strength to face up to life and begin to hope too as the day of the baby’s arrival approached. Sunip-da’s young widow was often visible on their first floor balcony, vacantly staring at the street.

The baby to be born was not the only hope that was being nurtured in that family of course. For Bachchu still had his Dahlia to be shifted over from the neighbouring building to his own. His task was now ever harder to accomplish. Even if Dahlia’s parents were to agree, it was no easy task to raise the question of a wedding with his own parents. How Bachchu managed to solve the problem I can’t tell. But Sunip-da’s child was yet to be born, when Dr. Sen arrived at our home with a fresh wedding invitation. He was crying more than smiling, but he had to do what had to be done, for Bachchu must have put his foot down.

The wedding ceremony turned out to be a simple affair despite their means, and compared especially to the revelry surrounding Sunip-da’s wedding less than a year earlier. This was inevitable, since the yet to be grandparents barely managed to remain floating in their sea of sorrow, as time, cruel time kept the human drama alive.

I looked up again at the white house that had seen it all, and which I hadn’t. I left India for a distant destination before this tale had reached its denouement. But Einstein had told us, the universe with its space and time components tends to bend back on itself. No wonder therefore that I had come across a friend from this area, Tapas, many years later. He was visiting his daughter in Delhi and dropped by to see me at my office. As expected, the conversation veered on to the days gone by. And I asked him about the rest of the story as it had unfolded in Dr. Sen’s home.

As I heard him out, I realized that some tragedies at least continue without end. Sunip-da’s wife, I was told, gave birth to a son who became the apple of his grandparents’ eyes. They doted on him, which was natural, but the doting crossed bounds of propriety. He turned into a hopelessly pampered boy by the time he reached his adolescence. He grew up into an unemployable of sorts, one with no future to look forward to at all. At some point, as expected, Dr. Sen and his wife passed away and probably property disputes followed. The house was sold off and the condominium whose shadow I stood under came up in its place. Tapas didn’t know where Bachchu and Pratip-da had gone away to, but whatever their destinations might have been, they had lost all touch with the right arm of Jatin Das Road.

Perhaps the story is over now, but a whimper of an epilogue is still in order. Back in Rashbehari Avenue, I was sitting one day inside a shop purchasing a wall clock I think. Suddenly, as I looked out of the shop, I saw Bachchu passing by. An elderly, much changed Bachchu. Closely behind him was Dahlia, who bloomed no longer. Two middle aged persons going their way. I could have rushed out of the shop to greet them. But I didn’t. They were a part of my bygone past. That past, I felt, was no more revivable than Sunipda himself.

Like Manoharpukur Road, Rashbehari Avenue, Lake View Road and Jatin Das Road, the whitewashed house I was facing has survived the ravages of time. It had witnessed children playing on that patch of green beyond which stood the yellow house. And it had seen the rise and fall of the Sen family.

Along with Sunip-da though, the yellow house where the Chinese family had lived is itself no more, but unlike him, it still shines brightly in my memory. That’s where mornings will always begin for the rest of my own life.

Hridoypur**

This version: December 31, 2014

A veil of darkness still there was -- and yet the light of day Hridoypur was all abuzz -- with confusions at play Drowned the river bank below -- in the sky one saw recline A lustrous moon in all its glow -- its eyes a pitiless shine Why offer her a ride at all -- whose face expresses frown Who posts a guard on every wall -- and keeps her shutters down? Can a tryst with her then make much sense -- now again this day At Hridoypur where confusions -- are done with childish play?

_____________________________
Translation-cum-transcreation of a classic Bengali poem হৃদয়পুর (Hridoypur) by Shakti Chattopadhyay. The poem was published in his collection entitled ধর্মে আছো জিরাফেও আছ (dhorme aachho giraffe-eo achho, meaning, you exist in religion as well as in the giraffe) around the year 1977.

**For those unfamiliar with the Bengali language, the word “hridoy” means heart. The word “pur” means a locality. It’s a common suffix carried by a number of large as well as small towns and villages in India, such as Nagpur, Kanpur and so on. Hridoypur could mean a geographical territory, and indeed a locality by that name exists, but in the present context, the word “hridoy” (heart) lends to it a poetic connotation.

 
 
 
 
 

Drunk

This version of the translation: 22.12.2014.

Make him a little more drunk. Or else this universe He'll find it mighty hard to bear. He's only a young man still, Oh Lord. Well then, to his middle age convert him now -- Or else this universe Will find him mighty hard to bear.

__________________
Translation-cum-transcreation of a Bengali poem মাতাল (matal, meaning drunk) by Sankha Ghosh. It was published in his collection নিহিত পাতালছায়া (nihito patalchhaya, meaning Hidden Shadow of the Netherworld) in 1967.