Category Archives: fiction

The Gift

I press the flowers to my thudding heart
Red they are, like the blood in my veins
Drinking in deeply the fresh scented air
So silver it is, the moonbeam that shines

Look beyond the walls, I whisper to myself
Relish the blue hue sprawled across the night
Velvety trees seem to show off their leaves
Behold Nature, spring in her step, stars bright

It has always been this way, time standing still
The days are golden, sunlight sweeping the sky
They admit that I can bend all colors to my will
A power bestowed upon me; I am not sure why

Dreams find me in every waking moment
I paint the world in a way no one can try
I see what they miss, my eyes are so intent
They own some riches that money can’t buy

He finds his birthday girl thus, again bowled
My frozen fingers grazing a thick black curl
Hold on, I am now feeling a tight blindfold
‘You just wait dear, a surprise will soon unfurl’

For it is time to see this special day’s presents
Me first, me first, mom and dad are screaming
As they stand nearby, my crazy loving parents
The matter’s settled soon, and they are beaming

I sense in excitement that I’m oddly going cold
Oh this aura of mystery is such sweet torment
I wait as the cool cloth gives way, fold by fold
How he takes his own time, gentle and patient

The coolly ticking seconds seem like ages, I think
Voila, it feels so good to break free of soft shell
Sweet lord! I see the world firsthand, gasp and blink
And why our tears are all spilling, I just can’t tell…

Story – The Swayamvar*

Princess Shanti was on top of the world today.

She glanced at herself in the huge mirror, even as the maids fussed over her. They scampered here and there to get the essentials for the evening. “Kavita, Sulochana, why isn’t she ready yet?” demanded the queen Asha.

Shanti was the perfect picture of beauty and innocence as the maids apologized and busied themselves again. Half an hour later, she dismissed them and took time to drink in her own beauty. Flawless honey-complexioned skin peeked out through the pink silk outfit. The delicate collarbones vied for attention with the deep red lips and the cheeks touched with rouge, as if they weren’t perfect already. Her hair was tied high in a loose bun, from where stray curls slipped down the side of her oval face with those chiselled features. She looked down at her feet, eased into glittering sandals. Queen Asha stood watching the princess, whose eyes were wide with wonder. She smiled and asked, “Are you ready to greet your suitors?”

Shanti giggled; she was after all, a young girl of sixteen. Beating the nervousness aside, she decided to savour the moment. She followed the queen and her attendants gracefully down the corridor, head bowed and a shy smile radiating. The suitors were standing tall around the arena, waiting to feast their eyes on the princess.

Shanti entered the hall and gasps escaped from the spectators. Of course, the jasmine-rose garland in her soft palms would only grace the strong chest of one man. There he was, confident and striking in regal splendor. Within the hour, he had defeated them all, and stood proudly before the king, asking for the girl’s hand in marriage. The queen smiled gently at Shanti, whose heart thudded with joy. She stepped forward slowly, and blushed as she slipped the garland around Vamshi’s neck. The young man was beaming in pride. The spectators rose to applaud the couple. Shanti was lost in her own world. Ah, this was bliss; this was the culmination, wasn’t it?

The king and queen came forward with the princess and her husband, and acknowledged the crowd. The beloved daughter was wed. Amidst loud applause and blessings, the attendants rushed to usher the royal family to their chambers, leaving the satin curtains swaying behind them.

Suddenly, the ‘queen’ was all business. “Don’t forget to take back all the costumes. These street children can be such thieves you know. Such a budget sanctioned by the trust, all for this petty event with slum kids. I need to get to the evening party and meet the press. Hurry”, she ordered about. Shanti was back in her Cinderella-before-the-fairytale garb within minutes, like the rest of the kids, a samosa (Indian snack) in her hand, shown out by the peon. Some things were simply too good to be true after all, she mused, as she headed back to her shanty.

princess

 

 

*In ancient India and Nepal, Swayamvar was a practice of choosing a husband, from among a list of suitors, by a girl of marriageable age. ‘Swayam’ in Sanskrit means self and ‘vara’ means bridegroom in this context.

Story – The Jigsaw Puzzle

It was a bright day. As she looked out of her first floor apartment window, Meredith saw little children bounding across the grass. The park was buzzing with activity. Some kids were chasing each other, shouting and laughing. Some tiny tots claimed the swings and were begging to be pushed higher, and squealing in thrill once their wishes were granted.

Meredith turned away and looked at the clock. It was already half past ten, time to get dressed and head to work. She showered, half-heartedly humming a song that had wonderful lyrics she could not remember clearly. Breakfast – brunch, rather – was quick, a warm loaf of bread and orange juice. She would grab some coffee on her way. She wondered how many cups she consumed in a day. She could not remember that, either. Who cared, anyway, as long as she made it through the day?

Grabbing her bag and keys, she stepped out into the sunlight. And stopped in her tracks. On this bright, sunny day, when the kids were busy making merry, one little girl stood out. She was lying on her stomach, crayons scratching across a notebook. Her left hand covered one corner of a page, shielding it from the wind, and her brows were frowning in concentration. She looked up at the other children, looked back into her notebook, and drew.

Meredith didn’t understand why, but something about the child triggered her curiosity. She walked up to the girl, and peered into her book. It snapped shut. “I’m sorry dear, but it looked like you were drawing something very nice. Mind if I look?” “Umm, I guess not”, came the answer.

She was looking at an illustration of a girl on a swing, hair flying, pushed by a laughing woman. “That your mother, dear?” “Yes, but she isn’t here”. “Oh, where is she then?”  “‘Up there’, says dad”. Meredith swallowed. Her eyes closed momentarily, and she tried to block out a vision of her own little girl, found drowned in the pool that horrible afternoon. How many times had she looked up at the skies, thinking “She’s up there”?

She opened her eyes slowly to see the girl looking sweetly at her. “You look a lot like my mom; may I hold your hand and walk?”  “Of course, sweetheart, of course”.

They walked together for a few minutes around the park. The little girl, Mary, was sounding increasingly chirpy as she talked about herself and her school and her dreams and her dollhouse. Meredith smiled; the girl’s cheerful spirits had infected her to an extent by now.

“My dad sits by the lake, writing. He doesn’t smile a lot these days. He only buys me dolls and candy and talks softly to me. He too writes to mom I guess”. “Alright then, let’s go to him”.

Meredith gently pressed soft curls in place beneath the coloured hairband and walked with Mary. As they neared the lake, she saw the man sitting against a tree, writing furiously. She remembered someone else who had that habit. Oh, the memories of teenage crushes. She let herself recall the intense eyes and the notebooks he carried. How he never smiled, but wrote stuff that made the hardest soul melt. Sigh, those were the days, long forgotten as she graduated and allowed herself to be brainwashed into a carefully planned marriage by zealous parents. The man was a good catch, they said, but nobody warned her of consequent despair. Obviously the marriage failed. And here she was, grieving over an infant daughter, divorced from an indifferent husband, watching herself grow older and lonelier…

The man looked up. “Dad, see whom I brought along!” There was a moment of silence, broken only by her hammering heart as intense eyes pierced her soul. The hair was messed up, just the way it used to be. And the frown…She bit her lip and stepped forward, feeling that somewhere, somehow, a jigsaw puzzle was being completed.

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