Sreenath Sreenivasan

Thriving Mindfully

Category: Short Story

The Yellow Balloon

It was a windy winter morning. Little Kalpana was standing on the pavement next to the traffic signal, waiting for the lights to turn red. She was a balloon seller, like the many other kids who lived on the streets. The one minute window of red lights on the traffic signal was the arena of her life. She held a wooden stick that had 10 balloons tied on to it. The colorful balloons dangled in the air as she ran from windscreen to window, hoping to make a sale.

That morning, an elderly gentleman named Ajay, was strolling on the pavements. He had taken a detour from his usual morning walk route in the park. From far away, he could see bright balloons hanging in the air, rising up from the stalled traffic. It was a wonderful sight to witness from a distance. He strutted slowly towards the balloons.

But as he got closer to the signal, the traffic lights turned green, and all cars moved onward. What was left was a little girl, with ten balloons, standing barefoot on the dusty road. The colorful sight of the balloons suddenly lost all its charm. Ajay, realized that the little girl was selling balloons for a living.

As he came closer to the traffic signal, Kalpana ran towards him, hoping to sell a balloon to the old man.

There were no words spoken. Ajay stopped on the pavement, and Kalpana stood right in front of him, with hope in her eyes.

Ajay smiled. In that moment, he gave her something that was denied to her all her life. A modicum of attention.

He dug into his pocket and slid out a ten rupee note. Kalpana’s eyes lit up. She quickly untied a yellow balloon from her stick and offered it to the old man.

Ajay gave the ten rupee note to her. He held the soft thread that was tied on to the yellow balloon. He smiled and offered the balloon to Kalpana.

She could not understand the transaction. The old man looked into her eyes one last time and walked away. Little Kalpana stood on the pavement with the ten rupee note and the yellow balloon in one hand and the stick with nine balloons in the other hand.

Before she could take a moment to understand what had happened, the traffic began to swell up. She quickly got to work again, trying to sell balloons on the roadside.

Later in the evening, she was left with two balloons. In her right hand, she had the yellow balloon and dangling from the stick in her left hand, there was a red balloon.

A lady in a car summoned Kalpana by blaring her car horn. She ran quickly to her, hoping to sell the last balloon and go home.

The lady asked for two balloons. Kalpana looked up at both the balloons.
At that moment, as she looked at the yellow balloon, a strong feeling took over her heart. How could she sell the yellow balloon? It was hers!

Somehow, she found the courage to say she only had one balloon to sell.
The lady in the car asked for the yellow one for her kid seated next to her. Little Kalpana was firm about her emotion for the yellow balloon. She told the lady that only the red balloon was up for sale.

The signal was about to turn green soon. Caving to the wheedling of her little kid, the lady in the car bought the red balloon from Kalpana. Soon, the car was gone, in the direction of the next traffic signal.

Kalpana was only left with one balloon. The yellow one.
A smile surfaced on Kalpana’s innocent face. She danced her way to her hut next to the pavement, with the yellow balloon, the sun of her life.

That morning, the elderly gentleman Ajay, had bought something priceless with just ten rupees.
With the compassionate transaction, he had brought Kalpana, a moment of her own childhood.

 


Photo by Sagar Patil via Unsplash

A tale about a Mango tree

In the village of Karmapur, there stood a young mango tree in a small farm. In the ten years of its life, the mango tree had never flowered and borne fruit. It was deemed an an infertile tree by the villagers. Nobody paid attention to it after a point, and it grew forlorn at the edge of a farm.

The farm belonged to a young farmer named Ramakant. He was facing a difficult time in his life. Repeated crop failures and famines had forced him to borrow from moneylenders at a huge interest. In hope that monsoon arrived on time, he sowed his crop and waited patiently. This was his last chance to get himself out of the debt trap.

The monsoon was delayed by two weeks already. Every passing day robbed him of a little hope. One evening, as he was strolling on his farm, he looked at the parched earth on his land. He looked to the sky but there wasn’t a single cloud in sight. The mango tree on his farm stood at a corner witnessing all of this.
A dejected Ramakant went to his house and got a rope. He climbed onto a branch of the mango tree and tied one end of the rope to it. He made a noose out of the other end and slid it around his neck. Tears were streaming down his eyes. He thought he had no other choice.
He had decided to end his life.

He jumped down from the branch he was sitting on, hoping to hang himself to death. But as soon as the rope got tense, the branch of the mango tree snapped. Ramakant fell down on the grown, injured his ankle and lost consciousness.

Soon, the villagers found Ramakant and rushed him to the hospital. He was unconscious for the whole night. The next morning, he woke up to the sound of deafening thunder and rain. Even though he found himself with a plastered foot in a hospital bed, he was happy to be alive.
The rain gave him hope.

After two weeks, he was able to walk on his feet again. He strutted slowly to his farm. To his delight, all the seeds he had planted had germinated after the rain. His little farm was bursting with a hundred shades of green.
He walked a bit further and stood under the Mango tree from where he had jumped.

What he saw took him by surprise. At the place of the broken branch where he had fallen from, ten new branches had shot out with great vigor. Tender leaves had appeared in place of the wound. The tree displayed the spirit of fighting to the very end.

Ramakant bowed down to the tree in gratitude. He had learned a profound lesson. As a mark of respect, he started to water the mango tree everyday.

Owing to a good monsoon spell that season, Ramakant’s farm got a bountiful harvest. He was able to start repaying his debts little by little.

In spring time, he got another wonderful surprise at his farm. The mango tree that was thought to be diseased and infertile by the whole village, bloomed with flowers for the first time ever in its life !

Ramakant was delighted to watch his mango tree flower. That summer, when he harvested the first mangoes from his tree, he was taken over by a deep, satisfying happiness.

Thank you my mango tree’ he said sitting on a branch.

The mango tree swayed with the summer breeze. It only sacrificed one branch to save Ramakant’s life. But that was enough to trigger a favourable turn of events.

For the rest of its life the mango tree gave plenty of shade and bore thousands of mangoes every summer. Ramakant watered it everyday and enjoyed its reassuring presence.

 

 

The flight of Pigeons

A bald pigeon and its sullen partner were sitting on a dusty parapet. Usually, they would be seen prancing around from window to window, in the cool shade of the big building where they had spent most of their lives. But today, they didn’t quite seem all right. As if depleted of all their energy, they sat there, brooding.

‘I didn’t know humans thought so lowly of us !’ said Shambhu the male pigeon.

‘It took me as a surprise too when I overheard them today morning.’ replied Gauri, the lady pigeon.

‘I heard words like unremarkable, dumb, stupid, aimless, nuisance…ahh I wish I hadn’t heard it all!’

‘Are we really as useless as the humans deem us to be? All these years we have shared the space in this building with them, but I had no idea we were seen in such bad light!’

‘We should discuss this with our whole community! This is urgent. Let’s call a meeting.’

Shambhu and Gauri fluttered away, and informed all other pigeons of the meeting they had scheduled for the next morning at the cross road next to the park.

The next day, early in the morning, a hundred pigeons gathered at the designated spot.

Amid murmurs and whispers, Shambhu spoke,

‘Dear friends, I have called all of you here to share an extremely sad news.
Gauri and I overheard our human neighbours say extremely disrespectful things about us pigeons. I heard them say that we are useless and clueless birds. They said we had no beauty, not a modicum of grace..and…’

As he was speaking, a sports bike passed by on the road with a loud screeching noise.

All the pigeons got startled and flew away dizzyingly in all directions. They had never heard such a noise at that close a distance.

The meeting was adjourned midway because of the disruption.

The next day, the meeting was called again. The sun had just risen and all pegions were basking in its warmth.

‘So as I was saying yesterday’ continued Shambhu, ‘We need to understand why humans think of us like this….’

But before he could continue another noisy automobile startled all the birds and they flew about in all directions.
This time though, they summoned the courage to come back to the meeting once the vehicle had passed.

But soon enough, another engine fired right past them and they all dispersed in every direction possible.

Shambhu was determined. He called for another meeting the next morning to discuss the issue.

When all the pigeons gathered at the cross road near the park, they found many seeds and grains scattered on the ground. Merrily, they all started feasting on them. A little boy came up with fistfuls of green gram and showered it all around the pigeons to enjoy.

This time, even before Shambhu could begin to speak, a big bus rode right next to them and startled the pigeons.In the warm rays of the sun, the pigeons fluttered in all directions, creating a breathtaking sight for all humans around them.
Since there were more grains to be eaten, they all came back to the crossroad to feed themselves.
Every now and then, there would be some traffic noise that would startle them again and they would lodge themselves into the open sky. It was a pleasure to watch their collective flight.

As the pegions had enough food for the day, they all left the scene.
Shambhu still wondered how to deal with the constant disruption in their meeting. Gauri cuddled with him and said,

‘The problem has gotten solved on its own Shambhu!’

‘How so? We haven’t even spoken about the issue at hand!’

‘Don’t you see, while we are alone or sitting as a couple, we are seen as unremarkable pests by humans. But when we all come together on this crossroad every morning, and fly in and out together, we make for a scene that’s a feast for the eyes of humans!’

‘Really?’ asked Shambhu.

‘Well, why else do you think they left all this grain for us to feed on? Maybe being under the open sky is our natural environment. We have spent all our lives in apartments, away from nature and see what it did to us. We had doubts about our worth and beauty, people deemed us unworthy.
But once we all came out to our natural environment, our collective became a marvel of a spectacle.
We found beauty in our own existence and so did the people who once looked down upon us.
All we needed to do was to get out in the open and get together!’

There was never a need to call another meeting for the pigeons. They would all naturally come to feed on the grain left by humans for them to enjoy. And they didn’t mind the little interruptions by the vehicles passing by. They started enjoying their collective flight just as much the humans enjoyed watching it.

Maybe the solution to problems that confront us humans needs the same approach.
Perhaps, the moment we start leaving the artifice behind and come out in nature, together, as a community,
solutions will arise.

Let us come together.
The solutions are waiting.

Christmas Come Later !

It was the day before Christmas.

The whole neighborhood had come alive with lights, colours and decorated Christmas trees. Everyone in the village was brim with the spirit of Christmas.

But little Lola wasn’t as happy as her friends. She sat on the window sill, moping.

‘What is the matter Lola? Where is the smile on your face?’ asked her mother.

‘Mom, when is Daddy going to be back home?’

‘Ah, your Daddy will come home in two days, in the morning on 26th December.’

‘And when is Christmas Mommy?’

‘Christmas is tomorrow my dear.’

‘Can we ask Santa Claus to come after two days and not tomorrow?’

Her mother smiled at the innocent wish.

‘If you pray for it, maybe he will listen to you !’

And little Lola, seated on the window sill ,whispered a prayer with hope.

On Christmas Eve, she spent most of the her time indoors, praying still that Santa arrives on a day after Christmas, when her father is at home.
She fell asleep that night praying still.

On the 26th of December, early in the morning Lola’s mother found her waiting at the doorstep, dressed in her new clothes.

‘Lola, you woke up so early !’

‘Yes, Daddy will come today won’t he?’

‘Yes, anytime today. Are you excited?’

‘Yes very very much !’

There was a knock on the door.

‘Maybe that’s Daddy!’ she exclaimed.

She rushed to open the door.
And there stood a mighty man dressed in Red wollens, with a flowing white beard. He let out a loud guffaw of a laugh.
It was Santa Claus!

‘Oh Santa is here Mommy! He listened to my prayer !’

‘Come in Santa. You have to wait until my father arrives Okay?’

‘I am in a bit of a hurry my dear. And I am tired from riding on my sledge all night.’

‘Mommy can you make him a Hot Chocolate? By that time, Daddy will be home.’

‘Such a considerate little girl you have miss!’ Santa remarked.

Soon Santa had a cup of hot chocolate in his hands. He rocked gently in the wooden rocking chair next to the fireplace. He felt calm, as if he was at home.

But Lola’s heart knew no calm.
Her eyes flitted from the door to the clock and then to Santa, hoping her father shows up before it’s time for Santa to leave.

‘Are you looking for your father my dear?’

‘Yes, he should be here any minute, please wait sometime Santa.’

Santa let out a big laugh.

‘Come and sit on my lap little Lola. I can make your father appear right now. ‘

‘Really? Can you?’

‘Yes of course ! Now I will need your help though. Here, hold my beard.’

‘Okay’ she said resting in Santa’s lap.

‘On the count of three you have to pull my beard real hard and your Father will appear. Okay?’

One…Two…Three…

She hung onto Santa’s beard with all her might. His flowing white beard and moustache was now in Lola’s hand and she found herself sitting in her father’s lap !

‘Ah Daddy it’s you !’ she shouted gleefully.

Her mother stood next to them with a content smile.

That day little Lola learned a lesson.

Christmas is not on the 25th of December.
It is when the people who you love with all your heart are close to you.

It is about the spirit of togetherness.

It was the 26th of December,
And it was the best Christmas of her life.

Human Nature

It was a winter morning. A shaft of warm sunlight shone on an old and mighty tree.
Ready for the day’s play, a clan of monkeys, squirrels and sparrows frolicked from branch to branch.
But they all noticed something odd.

The mighty tree that would usually sway to the breeze stood still, brooding.
It looked sad and pale, quite unlike its usual lively self.

Bali, the leader of the monkeys hushed up all the clamouring creatures. He sat next to the trunk of the tree and asked,

‘What happened my good friend? You don’t seem like yourself today. Is everything all right?’

The tree kept mum, as if holding a secret inside that it wished it never knew of.

‘Please tell us what’s wrong. You are in the company of friends’ muttered Shilpa the squirelle.

The tree heaved a sigh and spoke,

‘ My dear friends, I overheard a terrible news today. The owners of the house across us is quite miffed with all the leaves and seeds that fall during winter time.’

‘But that’s only natural !’ exclaimed Bali the chimp.

‘ Not only that Bali, he was angry with the monkeys for jumping on his brand new car’

‘But that’s parked on our playground !’ retorted Shilpa the squirelle.

‘And he was upset about all the droppings on his car from birds and squirrels.’ said the tree.

‘But that’s where we’ve been going all these years. It was his choice to park his car under our toilet !’ reasoned Salma the Sparrow.

‘He is considering to chop me off so that there are no more monkeys or birds or squirelles to ruin his car, no leaves for him to clean from his front yard.’

They all fell silent.
They could be losing a friend, a playground, an abundance of food, a place they called home.

‘I wonder what will happen to my future generations. There is no way my seeds will sprout on the concrete pavements that I am surrounded with, no way for rainwater to reach the aquifer so that I can quench my thirst. My roots grew deeper and deeper in the search of water and now that I stand firmly on the ground, the owner wants to just behead me!’

‘I tried to tell this to the owner, but before I could enter the house, he shut the doors’ shared Vayu the wind.

‘Why is this human divorcing himself from nature to this extent?’ they all wondered.

Watching the tree and the animals in plight, the owner’s dog came out to the front porch.

‘No need to worry my friends’ he spoke,
‘I overheard my master speak to his father this morning over breakfast.
He is much interested in buying a new house advertised in the newspaper this morning. His father agreed to the suggestion as well. I think they will move into this new place next month.’

There was a sigh of relief from each of the members of the tree’s brethren. They all danced around, jumped from branch to branch, the sparrows fluttered in the sky and landed back in utter joy.
Their lives are safe they all thought.

‘But where are they moving to?’ asked the old tree.

The dog said,

‘I couldn’t read the fine print when I took the newspaper from the gate this morning.
The ad said in big block letters that the new homes were built in the lap of nature. I think that’s what sold the idea to my master.’

Oh the irony !

The tree and the animals wondered whether to celebrate for the safety of their lives, or to feel sorry for the nature’s lap that will soon be desecrated by an inveterate human.

 

A story from a Sewer

It is early in the morning. Leela and her daughter Sita are preparing breakfast for their family of 5.
They live in a shanty that looks no different from the hundreds of other houses in their ghetto that dots the railway line.

Sita’s two younger brothers are still asleep. Her father Suresh is getting ready work.
Work that he finds despicable, but submits to nevertheless for his fate was sealed the day he was born in a Dalit family.

Dalits are a section of the Indian society that finds itself at the bottom of the Hindu Caste hierarchy. For hundreds of years, they have been treated as untouchables, destined to do all the lowly tasks in the society.

As much as Suresh can trace back his ancestry, all of his forefathers were manual scavengers, people who take care of the human waste santation of their community.

Even in the modern era of technology, urban sanitation is still dependent on people like Suresh climbing down the sewers to manually get rid of decaying human excrement.
It is a thankless job which people from lower castes still do mostly because the society has destined them to never rise above this age old practice.

This is a means of survival, with both feet sinking slowly in marshy sewage every Single workday.
He works with no job guarantee, irregular pay, no safety equipment and worst of all with no hope.

Deaths are common in this ‘profession’, if you will. And 9 out of 10 manual scavengers do not make past the age of 60 because of constant exposure to toxic gases in the sewer lines.

The only way to cope with the work environment is alcohol. Maybe this is the only job in the world where the person must show up drunk to go on with the work.

———

Sita brings two flatbreads and some curry for her father. Each morsel is punctuated by a generous gulp of the locally brewed liquor.

Hurriedly he leaves for work after his meal.
The two boys awaken to the sound of a bicycle bell. Their 4 year old friend Harish is on the doorstep with his new bicycle.

Harish’s father was Suresh’s work mate. He passed away a month ago in a sewer after exposure to toxic fumes.
It was an tragedy that took no one by surprise.
Perhaps the worst of tragedies is when a tragedy becomes a norm.

There was no hope of any help for orphaned Harish and his mother.
By the grace of a kind person who reported the incident on social media,
People pooled in money to help the family. A corpus of 30 lakhs was collected which now is a fixed deposit in the name of Harish. The interest on the amount pays for his education and household expenses.
He also got a bicycle his father had promised on his birthday.

The demise of his father in a way, brought much needed financial relief to the family.
Of course, this is an exception than a norm.
Not a day passes without a sewage worker succumbing in the chamber of death.
Nobody cares.
The government, even less than God.

But the ring of Harish’s bicycle bell gives some people hope that if the goverment offers a deaf ear, maybe compassionate citizens will help in the case of a loss.

It is better than having no hope at all.

Leela calls Harish in and all the kids line up for breakfast.
She can’t help but think how different the lives of her kids is going to be as compared to Harish’s.

‘Would she ever be able to give access to good education to her children and hope that they become the first generation in their family to not be a sewage worker?’ she wonders.

In Indian culture, the wife wishes a long life upon her husband.
But could Leela ever wish for that, when she knows that her husband would never live beyond 60.
The sludge in the sewer is quicksand, destined to engulf all lives that set foot in it.

In a fair world, she would wish life on her husband,
But today, seeing little Harish and her kids side by side,

Crushed in her soul, she hopes her husband doesn’t return from work.

Life has never been fair.

Maybe,
A death would do them all better.