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Hope beguiled me
Harking lost yesterdays, fat tomorrows
Trying to make me miss ‘today’
By worrying about what should be
But what good is hope,
If not a ‘trussed up’ past
A lamentation of lost longings, missed loves,
The regret of a life lived too fast
That which is new, hope can never say
For hope feeds on memory, on reproach
Trying to fix life the familiar way
Then why is it that Tomorrow, when it comes,
Looks like Today?
So I choose to live this day, intensely, wholly
Plunge into its mystery, its wonder, its play
Letting it weave its story, have its say
Today is ‘now’, it’s me’
The ‘me’ of raging possibility
No longer do I seek this impotent hope
Of what ‘should’ be
For I am living it right now
What I need to be
Passionate, joyful, free
The waves tiptoe gently over my river so deep
A river longing to speak
Of a shining sun trapped below the rubble
A torrent of thunder rolling under the sea
A song of joy now stifled in the silent creek
And while the vastness of me trembles under the heap
Life calls out to the shores beyond
Lingering, pulling, waiting for me to seek
I could drink up the sky, breathe in some forest
or soar alongside a mountain peak
But to break the cocoon, it takes willful might
Treading a trail uncharted and steep
So I choose the comfort of herds
While my fingers cloy at my grief
tearing some skin, blistering a wound
of failed loves and new hurts
The pain reeks of remorse and retribution
Accustomed, familiar and cheap
So while my heart throbs with an ancient song
to un-cage the spirit from its sleep
I choose to look away
And lie still with my river so deep
Don’t take it to the heart,
I smiled at your remark
But I admit
Laughed a little in my head
For I have never taken to heart
Anything you did or said
That soft murmur of a kiss
Little portion of bliss
Depth of that embrace
Gateway to a quiet inner place
Roar of your laughter
Tall promises of thereafter
Small moments of big rapture..
You are not the centre of my existence,
Why do u then keep running
in my head
Sometimes it felt a bit all too much
I’ll dance with joy when I understand, you said
Why does my soul withdraw some more today, instead
No, I have not taken anything to heart
So move along your way
I will too, Someday
But tread gently
As you hurry along the path
For alongside walks a part of me
A little frayed
A little torn apart
Moments come and go
People more so
Letting go will be easy
For none of us had taken it to heart
I wander alone on the moor in June
On a wet and windy afternoon
Flashes of thunder obscure my vision
My drift aimless, without any rhyme or reason
And then I walk into your line of sight
Your spectre beckons me, my gaze mystified
The pillars stand impassive, a primeval circle of stones,
Guarding an epoch of secrets, all alone
Unchanged, unmoved, unshakeable,
O Sentinels to the ancient riddle
Your purpose I ponder
Were you a refuge for the departed?
Or a temple for sacred rites, now set asunder
A rainbow then breaks into the dark sky,
Its splendour scattering my questions,
I stand awestruck and stupefied
And then its twin joins in, as if to say
There may not be answers to all puzzles yet
So surrender to this moment, we pray
For a heart filled with wonder
Is the only price you will be asked to pay
It was 3 in the night when it began to drip again. Stephanie tried to muffle the sounds with her pillow, but knew it wouldn’t help. The drops struck the ground in a dull splat, each slowly eroding away at her carefully lined up defences. An all too familiar feeling of malaise and helplessness began to settle in around. She could feel her stomach muscles clench up in response. She could feel her stomach muscles clench up in response. She had searched the house many times, shut down every faucet, even clamped the main water pipe, but the dripping persisted. The sounds came every night with clockwork precision and would die down by early morning, leaving her drained to fall back into an uneasy slumber.
She had searched the house, shut every faucet, and even clamped the main water pipe. But the sounds would still come every night. They would die down by early morning, leaving her drained, to fall back into an uneasy slumber.
Initially the sounds irritated her. But with no apparent reason in sight, her irritation had quickly changed into a discomfiting feeling. Even the real estate agency who had advertised the house for sale had remained mum to her repeated queries.
She tried to ignore the sounds and sleep. There was still a lot of cleaning to be done. In spite of being at it every day, the house still looked the same. Several rounds of scrubbing the floor and dusting the furniture had not helped. She longed to make this place cheerful, put up some bright curtains, pick some wild flowers from the garden for her kitchen window. Make it into a home….her home
She curled herself up in to a ball and tugged her blanket closer.
But tonight was different. The sounds were more invasive, as if mocking her, chiding her for her failures. She felt a quiet rage building up and opened her eyes. The house looked back at her, cold and remorseless.
“Will not let you win this time! You hear me!” she screamed back at the house, her rage finally spilling out. She got up with a renewed sense of purpose. Today, she would find out what was making those sounds; even if it killed her.
She reached out in the dark for the match and the candle by the side of her bed. Once lighted, its quivering glow gave her some semblance of control over her situation. She started with the faucets, all 9 of them in quick succession. She then moved into the basement. The water pipe was still clamped shut.
Now only the cellar remained. She stood outside the oak door, hesitating. The cellar unsettled her. It was dark even during daytime and always smelled musty and dank. The cellar was used by the earlier owners for curing ham and smoked meats. Later it mainly functioned as a storeroom for the things the house had collected over the years. Old books, furnishings, utensils, lawn awnings, all harking back to a warm and welcoming home, now distant and empty.
But today she would leave nothing to chance.
“Just this cellar and then I can go back to bed.”, she comforted herself.
Armed with her candle in one hand and the other on the wall, she gingerly felt her way into the penetrating shadows of the cellar, a darkness so deep and consuming that even candle flame wavered for a second. She prayed she could get this over with and retreat back to her bed soon. The wall felt cold and damp against her hand. She shivered slightly.
Suddenly she stepped on something soft and stepped back hurriedly with a scream. It was merely an old teddy bear with tattered ears and one eye missing. But there was still something very endearing about this grinning one eyed gentleman. She hugged it close, its soft fur comforting her in the cold darkness.
After a few minutes, her fingers sensed something. This section of wall felt cooler that the rest. She peered to have a closer look. This part of the wall was whitewashed, while the rest had been painted. Putting an ear to the wall, the sounds seemed louder, she noticed, with growing excitement or was it her imagination? Hope tinged with fear tugged at her heart. Maybe this was it.
She looked around with a growing sense of elation. She could arrange for help in the morning and tear the wall down and shut down those sounds forever.
But did she want to wait another day?
“I can do this on my own!”, she thought with growing courage.
As if an answer to her prayers, she spotted an old iron crowbar lying behind the dresser. She picked it up, feeling its heavy reassuring weight in her hands.
Placing the candle carefully on the ground, she began a series of blows to wall, hitting away venomously at the very belly of this unfriendly refuge. At first there was no visible damage, but soon the thin plaster started to give away. She struck back with renewed vengeance, each angry strike bringing her closer to the sounds.
Finally one brick gave in, falling away with a loud crack on the other side, creating a foot wide hole.
She peered in. At first she could not see anything much. It was very dark. She could only make out the shape of something big and heavy swaying slowly in the dark. She poked the candle through the hole and tried to prod the object with the crowbar to bring it closer.
The object lurched ahead and what she saw made her fall back on the ground in horror, a quiet scream clutching at her heart, draining her of blood. Hanging on by the meat hook, the other Stephanie peered back at her with vacant lifeless eyes. The blood dripped slowly from where the hook had pierced her in the chest.
“No, this couldn’t happen. Her mind was playing tricks.”, she thought wildly.
Suddenly it all began to come back to her like an old movie spooling itself.
She was in the cellar, cowering behind the old dressing table, when Jack found her. Her dear husband Jack, the ever smiling Jack. He was smiling even then. She begged him, pleading for the sake of their little boy. But her 5 million inheritance was much more valuable.
Yanking her by her hair, he pulled her out screaming, his eyes cold and unyielding. As she felt his hands close around her neck, she tried one last time. Kicking him hard on the shins, she ran ahead, stumbling in the dark, flaying wildly at the meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. He struck her then.
She looked down in surprise and saw a red stain growing on her gown. Strangely enough she dint feel any pain, only a cold wetness and a deep yawning sense of loss seeping through her chest. only a gnawing sense of loss seeping through her chest. The loss of never seeing Tom grow up. She struggled weakly, but the hook only cut in deeper. Jack left her hanging like this, her blood slowly dripping her life away.
She walked away from her body, empty and listless into the house. The unrequited calls, the futile attempts at cleaning, the utter loneliness, all made sense now. How many years had she been wandering like this, she wondered. And what for? To discover betrayal…? She cried out a deep aching wail at the senselessness of it all and folded into the ground, her sobs ripping away at her soul. She dint know how long she continued to lie on the ground crying.
It was almost light when she got up. She felt strangely calm. It was as if her sobs had emptied her of all her anguish. At least the search was over, she thought wryly. She wandered to the half boarded window. Dawn was just breaking across the horizon with a wide purple pink grin.
And then she saw him, walking towards the house. She knew. It was him. The same fair hair, the same cornflower blue eyes, the same endearing way of cocking his head when listening to something. He was all grown up now, her Tom she realised, her eyes welling up with tears.
He was not alone. There was a young lady who came bounding up behind him, chattering gaily.
“Hey wait for me mister!”
“Aren’t you going to carry me over the threshold like a good husband?”, she stomped in front of him in mock anger.
“Of course Missus!”, Tom said with an easy laugh.
Picking her up in his arms, he looked at her for a long moment.
“Wish mother was here. She would have loved to meet you.”, he continued quietly.
Rohan felt his jean pocket and removed his wallet once again. Three crisp notes of 500/- and a change of 50/- all neatly laid out in a small bundle. Just right to buy the latest Mass Effect 3. The price tag had said 1295/- when he had last checked the CD at the Inorbit mall last week. He could hardly wait to unwrap the CD and load it on his computer.
“The latest limited version of Mass Effect 3 and a limited edition.” He nodded with satisfaction.
The CD was available at only a few stores in Mumbai. He had personally booked a copy at the game store at the mall, just last Friday. Arnav, his best friend had already purchased it last month. “But then nothing was very difficult for Arnav. His parents bought him almost everything.”, Rohan noted wryly.
But Rohan was not so lucky. Daddy strictly forbade mom from buying him more than one game in 2 months and that too if his grades were in line. But daddy was like that ; always laying conditions.
Mom was way cooler. But still not cool enough to openly oppose dad. Her approach was more subtle. She would simply smile and agree with daddy but later slip in a 50/- or a chocolate in his palm as a peace offering, when daddy was not looking.
So he often had to earn his special treats. He had completed odd end jobs for Mom, cleaned Uncle Verma’s car every weekend for the last two months, saved a significant portion of his pocket money and finally collected the princely sum of 1500/- bucks. His very own money.
So now even daddy could only shrug and mumble his disapproval. And today was the historic day when he would have his very own Mass Effect 3, the coolest game ever invented.
He felt all grown up, going to the store all on his own. He was 10 now and could take care of himself. It seemed perennially difficult to convince Mom of how fast he was growing up. But lately he knew just the trick.
He would look gravely in her eyes, pat her hand and say “Relax mom, I am 10 years old now.”
She would then look at him for a long moment, her eyes shining strangely, then relent with a sigh and a smile. He often pondered about this as to how somebody could seem happy and sad, both at the same time. But moms were strange anyways.
He shrugged off his thoughts and glanced anxiously around the bend of the road. There was no sign of the bus no 79, his ride to mall heaven.
It was beginning to get warm now. The hot October sun swirled overhead. Rohan removed his hanky from his pocket, careful not to drop his wallet and mopped his brow. There were few other people at the bus stop. But everybody seemed lost in their own world. Rohan wondered if they too were excited about going somewhere. But they all seemed bored and uninterested.
“So I guess I am the happiest boy on this bus stop today. Maybe the happiest in Mumbai.” He smiled to himself.
And as if to second that, the bus just then made a grand entrance. She lumbered along slowly as if to test his patience and finally screeched to a painful halt.
People clamoured to get into the bus and Rohan too made a bid to jump in, all the while careful to hold on against the wallet. Mom had warned him about pickpockets.
He finally managed to elbow his way around and got in. The bus was spilling with people and Rohan peered ahead hoping to spot someone, who seemed to making just the right kind of motions to get off the bus. Rohan was good at this. He always managed to stand near people who were about to get off.
An aunty wearing a red sari was adjusting her shopping bags and would glance out of the window every now and then. Rohan strategically positioned himself right near her seat and waited patiently.
She got off after the next two stops. Rohan helped her with her bags and she patted his head on her way out.
He hurriedly sat down and adjusted the bump of the wallet against the seat.
He then cast a casual glance at his companion.
It was a thin dark boy of about about 7 or 8. He was dressed up in worn down out grey t-shirt with a Reebok logo. Obviously a hand me down. He dint look the sorts who could afford a Reebok.
The boy smiled at him and pulled his schoolbag closer on his lap to make more room for Rohan. But Rohan was careful to keep a distance. He returned a polite smile and turned in the other direction, eager to get back to his plans for the day.
The bus ride usually took about 30 minutes and in this traffic today it might even be 45.
Just then there was a sudden jolt and the little boy’s school bag fell down and a medley of things slipped out. A few tattered books, an old worn out bisleri bottle of water, a spiderman with one arm missing, a plastic pencil box and a round tiffin box. Obviously the boy had not closed his bag well.
The tiffin box rolled over near Rohan’s foot and he pushed back his feet a little startled. The tiffin spilled open to reveal three Parle G biscuits and small piece of pink barfi.
The floor of the bus was dirty and Rohan winced when the boy nonchalantly started to put the biscuits back in his tiffin box.
“Let it be. It’s become dirty.”, Rohan advised him. Just then he thought, he sounded exactly like his mother. His mother would have never allowed him to eat stuff which had fallen down. She was always lecturing on the dangers of germs to him. It seemed to be her favourite topic.
The boy shook his head vigorously.
“No it’s not dirty. See!” he showed the piece of barfi to Rohan, his eyes shining with merriment.
Rohan started to say something, but then stopped. No point explaining all this to him. These people lived differently.
The boy looked around for the tiffin box cover.
Rohan saw it lying in the aisle and bent down to pick it up.
The boy accepted it with a big smile and said a thank you. He then shoved the tiffin back in the bag and attempted to close it. But the buckle was broken.
There was also a long gaping hole on one side. It had been held together with a brave army of safety pins.
“You should buy another bag. This one will open again and again.”
“No problem. Ammi will stitch it back again. It will good as new.”, he explained with an air of familiar nonchalance.
“So which class do you study in?”
“3rd standard, Marathi medium.”
“ But we have also started English now.” He piped in the extra bit of information. Obviously learning English was very important to him.
“So are you going to school?”
Oh no! We have morning school. I am going to meet Abba. I meet him every day after class. He works at the construction site near the big fountain. We then leave together in the evening for home.
Rohan nodded politely. He wondered if he was expected to continue the conversation.
“So you dint finish your tiffin today.”,
“Oh no, I did.”
“These biscuits are for abba, for his evening tea. Mom gives me 5 biscuits every day and I keep three for abba. He often misses lunch because of the work.”, he said, his round eyes all serious.
“He says they are making a big mall. It will also have special swings for children. Abba says it’s good if I observe and learn the work now. “
“So you also want to work on a construction site like your Abba?
“Oh no! I will become a police officer like Singham. But abba doesn’t understand these things.” He shrugged his shoulders happily.
“So it’s just you and your parents?
“ Oh no! I have a younger sister. She just likes to trouble my mom and cries all day.”
Rohan smiled. Little sisters are all alike he thought.
“Dosent she go to school?
“She will from next year and then this bag will be hers”, he pointed to the bag with an obvious sense of relief.
“Good! Then you can buy another one?”
“Oh no! I don’t want a bag this year. I can carry my books in a plastic bag. Plus plastic bags are good. You tear one and you can take another one.”
“Then what do you want.”
“I want to buy sports shoes! , his eyes suddenly all bright.
“I always come first in running. But my Pt teacher says that if I want to run faster I must wear sports shoes.”
“Where did you buy your shoes from.” , he asked gravely, looking at Rohan’s red and white Nikes
“From a mall.”, Rohan answered hesitatingly.
“For how much?”
“Uhh, I don’t remember.”
“They are very nice”, he said with an open easy gaze, his voice strangely devoid of any envy.
Rohan shuffled his feet consciously and smiled. He dint know what to say.
Fortunately the conductor made an entry just then and the next few minutes they both bought their tickets. The boy carefully put the change back into his shirt pocket.
They both then resumed looking out of the window. The ride was slow and the traffic was sluggish.
The boy rested his head against the window pane and continued to stare outside, lost in his own thoughts. After a few minutes his head began to drop and he started nodding off to sleep, his mouth slightly open.
With every jolt he would wake up, look outside and then nod off to sleep again.
Rohan stole a glance at his feet. They were thin and brown and clad in rubber chappals, a tad too big for him. He wondered how he could manage to run in them.
They reminded him about the three brand new pair of shoes strewn carelessly under his bed, unused and unappreciated.
“Anyways, I can’t help it if he is poor. And Mom does always give away all my old stuff to the maid’s children.” , he concluded with satisfaction. But his mind kept turning back to those feet.
He just couldn’t shake off that uneasy vague feeling in the pit of his stomach.
The conductor cried out ST junction, and Rohan straightened up. His stop was now just two blocks away. He unconsciously put a hand to his pocket and felt the comfortable swell of his wallet.
He glanced at the boy again. He looked fast asleep, his arm carefully wound around his torn school bag, the one held together with safety pins. A faint smile played on his lips. Probably dreaming about his sport shoes.
Rohan peered out. The shining arch of the mall was now visible, its entrance teeming with the lazy swell of afternoon shoppers.
He stood up to get down and then hesitated. The conductor cried out again.
Rohan removed the precious bundle from his wallet and slipped it in the boy’s shirt pocket.
“It will of much more use here. Instead of just one CD, it could buy a schoolbag, shoes and probably even a water bottle.”
He moved towards the exit and cast one last glance at the sleeping boy.
He then got off the bus with a surprising spring in his step, lighter both in the wallet and spirit.