Tulips bloomed shyly around the pool, flushed plum, their petals heavy with dew. Blades of grass had surrendered to the breeze, swaying this way and that willingly. The water shivered softly in anticipation as a tender gust of air caressed its skin. A silvery sheen rippled across the layer of grey, making the pool inviting enough for a dip. There were a dozen cows nodding off in the calm morning, their eyes half shut as they munched contentedly on the green turf. Calves frolicked about, chasing away the flies that buzzed as if in a choir.
The Sun teased the Earth when her damp bosom waited for warmth to dispel her anxiety. He was mischievous today. Obliging clouds watched the proceedings in amusement. A few of the lucky fluffs had a touch of gold enveloping them. They beamed with pride as they maintained the coveted position for a minute. But other clouds tried their best to force them aside, and there was a bit of grumbling in the air.
The damsel, meanwhile, sat at the water’s edge, oblivious to her surroundings, smiling to herself. Her eyes were dripping dreams in the morning mist. She shut them for a minute, feasting on her vision of a love she worshipped. Her feet tapped by themselves, toying with the delicate anklets that tinkled sweetly. Her bright green skirt was in cheery contrast to the deep red blouse that framed her possessively. And her face, why, it looked as if all the honey in the world had poured into her luscious lips. The mole above her lips added to her beauty. Her cheeks had a touch of rose in them, faintly pink. Was she not blushing, then?
She picked a fallen feather, and rested it against her cheek as she imagined them together. The dove that had left the quill must have been a symbol of love, surely? Her heart brimmed with pleasure, eagerly waiting for the moment when they would be united. She sighed happily as time ticked by. A peacock appeared out of nowhere, heaving in vanity. The time had come. It spread out its plumage like the rainbow come alive. As it began prancing, the damsel stirred. She felt it. HE was nearby, watching her.
She got to her feet in confusion. Where was He? And then, she heard his flute work its magic, hypnotizing her. She surrendered. And she felt a pair of arms claim her by the waist. As she blushed deeper and bowed her head, The Lord raised her chin and looked into her bashful eyes. The wise rain drops showered the lovers with blessings. Slowly and in a trance, young girls from the village crept towards the pool in envy. They too wanted a share of the beloved Lord. He smiled at them in understanding as He held Radha close to His chest. And then, they all danced like a dream to the tunes of passion…
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.
*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.
Kalen sliced the sword through the air. It obeyed the command, making a sharp cut on the villain’s arm. The villain escaped into the darkness.
“Arrr!” Anant screamed. “Next time no escape for you”, he declared. Taking off the contraptions with the devotion only an addict could manage, he switched off the monitor and went to bed with a satisfied smirk. His mother sighed as she saw him asleep already at 9 pm. If only he socialized more with his classmates or made friends in the neighborhood instead of making excuses of poor health to stay cooped up here. Of course, his deformity invited ridicule from morons, but he had to be strong, instead of taking shelter in the luxuries of the rich. He wouldn’t confide in her either… She turned out the lights and left quietly.
There was a flash of lightning and a crack of electricity. Anant jerked awake. It was cold and he had goose pimples. Where was his blanket….What the hell, he was naked. He sat up, alarmed, and found shorts and a long robe by his side, on a cold stone floor. He put them on quickly, looking around at an empty corridor, wondering if he was in some dream. He pinched himself. Ow! Where was he? He stood up in confusion, and looked around. Wait, did he actually stand up? He shuddered, and looked down at his feet. They were as they should be, normal! He walked around excitedly, even jumped. Tears welled up in his eyes as he saw for himself that he wasn’t “the differently-abled” anymore. If this was a dream, he would enjoy it!
He spent the next few minutes hopping, skipping, walking, and running around the corridor. He looked around at the bricked wall lit at intervals by torches. And then he realized he was inside his game – his favourite video game. This was Combat0.3, his game and he was Kalen, the hero! Hmm, this was weird, but what else could he do except live the moment? He pressed his ears to the brick wall. Nothing. And suddenly, he found an opening and blinked in strong, electric light. He was looking out INTO his room! And his classmate Nitin was IN Anant’s bedroom.
Anant realized that the jerk must’ve come over to borrow something from “my super-intelligent classmate Anant”, after flattering his mom with carefully practised manners. And the jerk had actually switched on the monitor to play Anant’s favourite game, not bothering to inform his mom that “Anant isn’t in bed”.
Anant was annoyed at this intrusion into his exciting dream, but just then something else happened. Nazduk, the evil villain, appeared in front of him with a nasty sword. He had no time to lose. He would deal with Nitin later. He grabbed a sword that suddenly appeared in a corner, and prepared to attack. His powerful hands moved flawlessly as he dodged every swish and inflicted cut after cut. With this new-found energy, the villain was no match. Within a few minutes, Nazduk lay beheaded on the floor.
Haiyyaah! Anant yelled a war cry. He wondered if he could get out and show his classmates how well he had played. A beep indicated – Game over.
The hum of the AC woke him. He found that he was back in his bed, back to the handicap. He grimaced. This had been a real good dream. “Just a dream”, he mumbled and drifted back to sleep.
In the morning, he wheeled himself into the living room as usual, only to find his mother talking in urgent whispers over the phone. She turned to him sadly. “Your classmate Nitin has been missing all night, Anant. He had come here to borrow your books yesterday while you were sleeping, such a polite boy, said he would not disturb you. He apparently told them he might be staying over at a friend’s place afterwards, but now they are worried. None of his other friends have heard from him. Do you have some idea of where else he might have gone? I hope he has not been kidnapped on the streets”, she sighed. The wheelchair jerked as Anant sat upright, horror-struck, the image of Nazduk’s body in his head. Suddenly, the face seemed quite familiar to him.
He sat motionless for a few minutes, and then shook his head. “No clue mom”.
Later in his room, he chuckled nastily. “Serves him right for bullying me”.