Thriving Mindfully

Tag: short story (Page 1 of 3)

A tale of three friends

Once upon a time, three close friends went for an outing to an ancient city. Being avid architecture enthusiasts, they roamed all around the town square, looking at the remnants of a once-thriving civilization. The meticulously planned city was a sight to behold, even centuries after its prime. Everywhere they went, they saw rubble and bricks holding together the skeletal form of old houses, castles, and temples. It was fascinating for them to imagine how this place would have looked like in its golden age. After walking around all day, each of them sat at a nice spot overlooking an old temple, soaking in the day’s experience.

One of them mused,

‘How glorious would this city have been in its heyday. While only disintegrated parts of the construction remain, the architecture commands such glory and respect. I will build something like this in my lifetime.’

Later on in life, he went on to become a great builder. He designed a state-of-the-art township near the capital city that was celebrated all around the Kingdom. It was the architectural highlight of the era.

The second friend was ambitious as well, but he wanted quick success. He thought,

‘No matter how well one builds a city, it will inevitably turn into rubble in a thousand years. And while I can see that everyone celebrates the remnants of this ancient capital, the person who designed it is not alive to see his work being appreciated by the future generations. Perhaps I should build a township that turns into rubble in just a few decades. At least, I will be alive to witness how people laud my achievements.’

He went on to build a township a few miles away from the first friend’s township. While it looked majestic from the outside, it was designed to perish within a few decades to fulfil his desire to be exalted while being alive. 

The third friend was an observant man. He looked closely at the remnants of the grand old temple that stood in front of him. On one of the walls, he spotted a little sapling growing out of the crevices between the bricks. Then, he looked around, and almost everywhere, he saw little plants trying to grow similarly. There was a statue of the Buddha in the old temple that was completely entwined in the roots of a Bodhi tree. That statue was believed to be a symbol of the union of nature and divinity. It was universally revered as a living sermon by the Buddha.

The third friend had an epiphany. Later in life, while his friends were busy erecting monuments in their respective townships, he devoted himself to the humble act of planting saplings all around their city. Driven by an unshakeable faith, he dedicated his life to sowing seeds for posterity. 

Unfortunately, in a couple of centuries, their civilization was wiped out by a natural calamity. 

A thousand years later, in the new millennium, their city has become a popular tourist destination. People come to see the ruins of the glorious ancient civilization from faraway places. 

The township designed by the first friend draws in a lot of crowd. Archaeologists study the architecture of the remnants with deep interest. Even if most buildings do not hold on to their functional use anymore, they still represent a magnificent past. The spirit of a great ancient civilization is still alive in each withering brick. 

The township designed by the second friend had turned into rubble within a few decades of building. Contrary to his expectation of being lauded as a great builder, he was castigated by the community for his sub-standard workmanship. After all these years, the land where the township once stood, is barren and bereft of any life. In stark contrast, the township built by the first friend stands right next to the barren land, in all its glory, despite the deterioration dictated by time.

And, there is something else as well, in this ancient town that teems with life ­­– the third friend’s work.

A thick cover of vegetation has been thriving through the times, all around the ancient city. The forest has been serving as an arena for Mother Nature to choreograph the delicate dance of life. The wise man had managed to plant only a few thousand trees in his lifetime. But he had invested his time and energy in something that would self-replicate and sustain itself through millennia. The flora all around the township is growing steadily. In a few centuries, the forest will entwine the whole city in its embrace, just as the roots of the Bodhi tree had entwined around the Buddha’s statue in the ancient temple. He left behind such a flourishing legacy.

Today, no one remembers the name of any of the three friends. But their karmic fingerprint is alive in the quality of their work.


Today, in the ancient town of Ayutthaya, under the shade of a resplendent tree in springtime, as I look at the Buddha’s statue entwined by roots, I have a feeling about what I should do with my time, life, and work.

Excerpted from my book ‘Pedals and Perspectives
Illustrated by Marine Tellier

Whispers of a Bodhi Tree

On a pleasant summer afternoon, I was riding my bicycle in a lush green park in the city of Bangkok. In an upbeat mood, I was humming my favourite songs while breezing through a tunnel of towering trees. The birds perched on the canopy were at their poetic best, as they sang with unbridled enthusiasm about all things beautiful. Yet, even in such a happy moment, I noticed something in the vicinity that made me stop and ponder. All around me, while the leaves on the trees swayed gently to the cool breeze, the trunk stood still, with no avenue to move about in any way. I could tell that the trees and I shared the same merry mood, yet I had an advantage that my friends in the flora did not. I could move about, sing, dance, and express my happiness, while the trees could only sway to the ebb and flow of the wind. After all, they were firmly rooted in the ground.

‘How I wish that trees could also walk. Wouldn’t it be nice to see them sing and dance when they are happy?’ I lamented.

Engrossed in this wishful desire, as I stopped under a mighty Bodhi tree and rested myself against its trunk, I heard a deep, comforting voice emanating from nearby.

‘Why do you seem so low all of a sudden, my friend? Just moments ago you were so joyous in your heart. Don’t you think it is a beautiful day today?’ asked the Bodhi tree, swaying gracefully to the wind.

‘Oh, dear Bodhi, it indeed is a beautiful day. But how can I celebrate this day alone? I wish you could also sing and dance, travel freely and enjoy the experience of the world beyond your vistas. While I am grateful I can move about, sing, and express my happiness; I feel sorry that you cannot.’

Moved by my concern, the Bodhi tree lovingly shed an old yellow leaf that came swirling down from its canopy. As it landed on my lap, the tree whispered,

‘My friend, thank you for your concern. You are right. I cannot sing or dance or travel freely around the world. But I choose not to feel sad about it. Instead, I grow with solemn devotion and faith. I completely trust the divine design of the universe. Do you know what happens when I do that?’

‘What?’ I inquired.

‘By growing with all my creative energy, a voiceless tree like me becomes an arena where the birds choose to sing symphonies with all their heart, every morning. Yes, I cannot sing, but I do foster a million mellifluous singers in my canopy.

Even though I cannot travel, I provide shade and shelter to every fatigued traveller that crosses my path. I get to hear of all the magical places on Earth from them. Yes, I cannot travel, but I foster faith in travellers and assure them that trees will provide a place to rest whenever they are in need. I do not let my limitations bog me down. I stay true to my nature, grow with all my heart, and encourage people to do things that I am not able to. There’s great joy in living like that.’

With the blowing wind, the birds sang merrily, assenting to the wisdom the tree shared.
Resting in the cool shade of the Bodhi tree, I made a big choice in my little heart­­ –

To sing with an open heart whenever I can. And if for some reason I cannot sing, I should become the arena that fosters singing. The stage that enables others to thrive.

Swaying gently, the tree flirted with the wind, celebrating a life lived fully. Resting in the shadow of the wise old tree I realised,

‘No wonder the Buddha found enlightenment while meditating under a wise old Bodhi tree!’


Little Ahmed always had a sharpness in his intellect. He was ‘tez’, sharp, as they used to call him. And that became part of his name.

Tez Ahmed.

A fitting surname, a consolation of orphanhood, a name that represented his nature. That, sadly, was the only consolation in his life. With all the sharpness and promise, the 10-year old boy began making a living by sharpening knives as a hawker. First, he carried his gear around – a little wooden box, a small sharpening stone, a ruffled rag, and a beseeching call. Early on, he got business out of compassion. A little boy trying to make a dignified living. He had dreams. And some did come true.

A decade later, he could afford a bicycle. A couple of years down the line, he put together enough money to buy the bicycle’s better half – a disc-shaped sharpening stone. He was still young and tez. He thought of getting both these new possessions engaged. He coupled the rear wheel of the bicycle with the sharpening stone housed around the bike-frame with a rubber belt. He sat on the carrier at the back and pedalled. The sharpening stone rotated as the rear wheel whizzed in circles. Blunt blades screeched and obeyed his deft handling. It was a sparkling show. He was the priest, and the pedal and the rotating stone went around in circles, as a final rite of marriage, around searing flames of friction.
That ritual is still underway.
With a bicycle, he could cover a whole lot of ground. He knew the town like the back of his hand. The town knew him as antiquity on wheels. He spent his life bicycling around the town, wailing at the top of his voice, inviting people to get their knives and scissors sharpened.

A whole lot changed for everyone in half a century of Ahmed’s work-life. The streets got widened, renamed, dug-up, re-laid, and re-named again. Ahmed and his life were the only constants. He has been living in the same hutment for as far back he can trace his life. One could say, even with a bicycle, he never got too far. Perhaps it was the weight of the heavy sharpening stone.

The business has been on a decline for years now. It was just too slow a change to take notice of. People don’t prize their kitchen knives as much as they used to once. Now, they throw them away and buy new ones. He fears the same fate for himself. He is a fading voice of an old man, in the daily soundscape of the town, like the hum of the wind in a dwindling forest.

Sometimes he wonders if he should change his means of livelihood. But he’s too old to make a switch now. He will pedal his way to the end. He heads out every morning, on his trip around the city, hoping to find an owner of blunt knives.

Today, Ahmed is truly, an old man. Life has come full circle. His business, like his early days, relies on compassion. An old man, trying to make a dignified living. He had dreams. Most never came true.
It’s a cloudy day today. These clouds promise no rain, but they drench you nevertheless. You sweat away, and they laugh, as if calling out your folly in hoping for rain. These clouds never gave an empty promise. All the emptiness was in our hoping. Ahmed too feels as if life is laughing at him somewhere, just like the clouds. He has been wailing his lungs out all day long. The sharpening stone is becoming blunt by the day. It’s late in the evening. He walks back home; deprived of dignity, bereft of hope.

On the way back, he decides to sharpen a knife. The only knife left in his old wooden box.  He has made up his mind. Tonight, the sharpened blade will glide smoothly across his wrist. He feels it is the destiny he’s been preparing for all his life. To sharpen a knife so well that it sails through the skin like butter, giving no pain. Tonight, he feels, is his final night.

He makes his way into the winding roads in the ghetto. He looks at all the little things in the neighbourhood that he once found fascinating. None of them seems to have enough power to change his mind. He reaches outside his house. He jumps on the bicycle saddle and couples the rear wheel to the sharpening stone with a belt. He pedals, to the final destination of his journey. The whirr invites someone out of the house next door.

It’s Rubina, a newly-wed girl whose dreams of bliss are still fresh. Her sparkling eyes speak of the beauty screened by the burqa. She goes around as a house cook in a middle-class neighbourhood. When she cooks, the neighbourhood knows.

What’s missing in her life is the taste of marital bliss. Marriage is a gamble. She was dealt with an unfair hand. She is still learning to hide all her pain and bruises. The burqa helps.

She’s young still, too young to give up yet. It’s a fresh day, and she tries to make things at home better. And she needs Ahmed’s help.

‘Salaam Chacha, Sab Khairiyat (All good)?’

Ahmed applies the brakes and impedes the final run of the stone sharpener. It comes to a gradual halt. Ahmed looks at Rubina. He smiles with a tenderness he had forgotten to have nursed all these years.

‘Rubina. Yes, all good.’

‘I need a little help, Chacha.’

‘Yes, tell me, dear.’

‘I am baking a cake. I need a knife to cut it. But I want one of those blunt cake knives they show on TV. Not the sharp kitchen knife I use at home. I know you are in the business of sharpening knives. But I was wondering if you could blunt a knife as well?’

Ahmed laughs at her unusual request.

Zaroor, Rubina. In 50 years, you’re the first person who asked me to give them a blunt knife! I have a good knife I was planning on sharpening tonight. I guess its fate lay in being blunt. Well…when do you want it?

‘My husband will be home in half an hour. Before that.’

Give me 15 minutes and you’ll have it. Okay?’

Ji, Chacha Jaan.’

‘Oh wait! What’s the occasion? A cake!’

‘It is my birthday, Chacha!’ She wails as she runs inside to check on the cake.

The houses are built much like a cake. With porous walls, with roofs as thin as the gathering crust. The scented smoke snakes up into the sky. The neighbourhood longs for a taste

Ahmed inhales and whispers, ‘May Allah bless you, my child.’

He digs his hand inside the toolbox. He lay his hands on the only knife left with him. The fate of the knife has changed within minutes. So has Ahmed’s.

In 15 minutes, Rubina has a shapely butter knife in her hands.

‘This is exactly what I wanted, Chacha Jaan. Just how I saw it on TV. It will slide through the cake smoothly. I hope my husband enjoys the cake tonight,’ she says.

She hands a slice of warm cake to old Ahmed on a steel plate.

‘Oh, the aroma! Glad I can still eat this with my missing teeth!’ He laughs, with a full display of his falling troop.

He goes inside his little house with the cake in his hand. The bulb flickers in indecision. Ahmed savours the sweet interaction with Rubina. He falls asleep too soon, after eating the delicious slice of cake. The smell and the smile lingers.

Late at night, there’s a familiar thud from Rubina’s home.

Rubina weeps silently in the kitchen. A drop of blood, the stench of cheap liquor, a departure of dreams of bliss. In her home, a familiar stranger lay on the bed, passed out cold. This was her fate, approved by law, decreed by society.

Whimpering in a corner, with the cake-smeared blunt knife still in her hand, she wonders,

What if she had borrowed a sharp knife instead?
Would she be daring enough to slit her husband’s throat?
Or would she be a coward enough to slit her own wrist?

Will she ever have the courage to end this, once and for all?
She knows, she will rather hope for the impossible, than wield a sharp knife.

Thoughts swirl. The wound is still fresh.

What was the point of baking a cake? It fails to bring any sweetness to her life. What good did asking for a blunt knife do anyway?

She wonders. A teardrop lands on her cheek. A raindrop lands on the roof.

Next door, Tez Ahmed lay asleep in his bed. Crumbs of the cake still rest on his sparse beard. And there is a smile on his face.


The walk back home from school was Lola’s time for discovery. The faintest of bird calls would send her eyes in search of the winged crooner. A kite fluttering on a high branch would slow down her footsteps. A puddle on the roadside was an invitation to craft a paper boat, and the scent of flowers would swerve her footsteps towards the pink perfumers.

But today, her curious search was of a different kind. Her teacher had taught her all about different be kinds of shapes.

Round, square, rectangle, triangle, diamond shape, star shape, heart shape…

As homework, the teacher had asked her to notice things around her home. The next day Lola had to tell the shape of her favourite thing at home to the whole class.

So, on her walk back home, all she was trying to notice was the shape of things around her.

The sunflower by the road side invited her eagerly. How she loved the bright yellow sun flower. How it smiled back cheerfully at the shining sun.
But what is the shape of a sunflower? She wondered.

It wasn’t square for sure.
It wasn’t a circle. It looked like a circle. But it wasn’t exactly a circle for sure.
None of the shapes taught at school matched the shape of the scented sunflower.

Lost in thoughts, she looked up in the sky to notice a flock of sheep floating amid the clouds.
Ah, a sheep shaped cloud!

‘Is sheep a shape?’ wondered Lola.

‘Ah and there’s a rabbit behind the sheep.
Is rabbit a shape too?’ Granny must know, she thought.

Ambling on slowly, she reached near her home. Lola’s little pup named Plato had smelt its way to her. Lola giggled and patted a longing chum. Plato wagged his tail with loving enthusiasm. She wondered, what’s the shape of Plato’s tail?

“It’s not a straight line. It is curvy. But what is this shape called? Half a moustache?
It is similar to my pigtails! But is pigtail a shape? Maybe Granny would know.’

She opened her lunch box and shared the half paratha she had saved as usual for Plato. She loved the wet touch of Plato’s tongue on her little fingers. She wondered if the touch me not plant felt the same when she glided her fingers on it.

Watching Plato eat made her happy. It also made her hungry.

‘What would Granny have made for her evening snack?
Could it be a triangle samosa?
Or a round Dosa?
A square cake?
A diamond shaped Burfi?
A Circle shaped Idli?’

All of her food fantasies had a shape all of a sudden!

With Plato leading the way as a faithful friend, Lola climbed up the stairs to her home. Plato’s nose reached for the slot underneath the door. His tongue wagged with ferocious intensity. He could smell cardamoms, and almonds, and pistachios. The look in Plato’s eyes told Lola that the snack had something to do with milk. Lola didn’t have to knock the door. Plato let granny know they were home with that familiar bark.

Granny opened the door. A whiff of condensed milk came streaming forth. Granny ruffled Lola’s hair as Plato jumped, longing to be treated the same. After a quick change and wash, Lola raced to the dining table.

A cupful of Kheer waited for her. A crust of shredded almonds and pistachios held the warmth of the dessert. The aroma invited Lola to dig in. She watcher Plato slurp his bowl clean in seconds.

‘Plato likes it Granny!’ she shouted to her Granny working in the kitchen.

‘And how about you?’ asked Grandma.

Lola took a spoonful of Kheer in her mouth. Her eyes shone bright and her brows arched up like a rainbow.

‘Ifts the befft Granny,’ she said with mouthful of kheer.

‘Granny, what’s the shape of Kheer?’

‘The shape of what?’

‘The shape of Kheer,’ announced Lola.

Granny let out a big laugh.

‘Lola my dear, today the Kheer is the shape of your little tummy.’

‘My tummy?’

‘Yes, once you drink all your Kheer, it will be the shape of your tummy!’

‘Really?’ asked Lola munching on shreded almonds.

‘Yes, indeed.’

‘And, Granny…’

‘Yes, Lola.’

‘What is the shape of clouds?’

‘The shape of clouds…hmm…the shape of clouds is imagination.’

‘And what’s the shape of Plato?’

‘The shape of Plato? What’s with all this inquiry about shapes? Did you learn this in school today?’

‘Yes, Granny. We have to notice shapes of things around us. And…and we also have to tell the shape of our favorite thing at home to our teacher.’

‘Okay. Now I get it. Well, go around and find for yourself!’

‘Yeff,’ said Lola with another spoonful in her mouth.

All evening, with Plato running around her, she looked all around her house to notice the shape of things.The wall clock in the front room was round. But the clock in the kitchen was square. Plato’s eyes were round, so were Grandma’s bangles. Her notebooks were rectangle, so was the baking tray…But none of these qualified as her most favourite thing.

Late in the evening, she had a filling dinner with Granny and Plato. She had more of the dessert than the main course. Lola was full of Grandma’s special kheer.

Sleep tip toed into everyone’s eyes. It was time for bed, half an hour earlier than usual, thanks to the wholesome meal. Within moments Lola curled up in her Grandma’s embrace and fell asleep. Plato dozed off next to the bed. His tail finally found some rest. Granny too submitted to a good night’s sleep.

All three whistled a gentle snore from their noses as they slept.

The watchman struck the road with his walking stick, assuring vigil throughout the night.
The sound woke Lola briefly,

‘What is your shape Grandma?’

‘My shape?’


‘I am the shape of love.’

‘Ah…so…I will tell my teacher….my favourite thing is my Granny and….. her shape is…’

The faint aroma of kheer still lingered in the room. Plato yawned. Granny smiled. Lola fell asleep in a safe, loving embrace.

A tale of two sisters

Two pairs of worn out slippers cushion the brisk onward march of two petite girls.
Sudha and Radha, dressed alike in maroon polyester sarees are on their way to work.

Sudha used to help with household chores at her employers house earlier. Now, she works as a hospice for her employer’s wife who is terminally ill, lying in a comatose state at home.

Radha is a cook. A pretty good one in fact.
She has been the in-house cook for a wealthy family in a posh locality for a year now.

The sisters ended up in Delhi in search of work a couple of years ago. Sudha was just 16 then and Radha a year younger.
They decided to work so that they could send their little brother to school so that one day their family could finally climb out of the valley of poverty they’d dwelt in ever since they’d known life.

And life wasn’t easy for the young girls. They slept in a little makeshift room in the workers ghetto behind the railway station. They would spend the majority of the money back home for family.
They could afford only one meal a day,
a dinner.

But they were happy, for they were working for something larger than themselves.

Radha would often feel tempted to eat the food she cooked for the family. She had great culinary skills. The whole locality would be able to guess what was cooking whenever she cooked.
But since the food was so delicious, there would never be any left over food for her to enjoy the next morning.

Sudha’s employer (who she calls Sahib) was a hopeful man. He always believed that his wife will spring back to life and vitality the next morning.
He made sure Sudha prepared a bland Khichdi for his wife every single day,
Hoping that when his wife wakes up, she will savour the food.
But for the past one year, the woman has been on the bed, not blinking, not moving.
Sudha cooks with hope everyday still.
But her hope is different from that of her Sahib.
At the end of the day,
When she’s heading home, she gets to carry the uneaten meal of Khichdi which she prepares for the patient every morning.

That khichdi is the meal both sisters share in the evening as their solitary meal of the day.

Their lives have been running on the monorail of this monotony for the past year.

But something changed in both their lives in the past 24 hours.

Yesterday, Radha’s employer had a party at their home. She was asked to prepare a Biryani with Raita for the 30 odd guests expected. Radha, adept at her skill, cooked up a fragrant Potful of Biryani with a delicious Raita to go with it.

Today morning, when she went to work she found the aroma of the biryani still lingering around.
She checked the pot to find some leftover Biryani from yesterday.
She scraped the whole pot clean and filled up a polyethylene bag with the Biryani.
She scrubbed the pot clean and got to her usual work.
Singing to herself as she worked, her happiness knew no bounds. She couldn’t wait for dinner time when she would finally be able to share a good meal with her sister Sudha.
She had had enough of the bland khichdi Sudha used to bring every evening.

After finishing work, Radha quickly headed to her quarters in the workers colony. She heated up the biryani over a kerosene stove, laid out a plate and waited patiently for Sudha to come home.

‘Sudha! What took you so long !’ she cried out once Sudha entered the room.
‘Come , sit, we shall have something different for our dinner today !’ Radha exclaimed.

Sudha sat down solemnly.

‘What happened Sudha, you look gloomy’

‘Let us eat little sister’ Sudha spoke feebly.

Both of them took a morsel each of the fragrant rice. Radha waited in anticipation for Sudha’s appraisal but she wouldn’t speak a word. She ate quietly.

‘What is the matter Sudha ?’ Radha enquired comforting her with a touch.

‘Sahib’s wife passed away last night.’

There was an unsettling silence in the room.

Both took another morsel of the delicious biryani.
But all they could taste,
was the hunger that awaited
the next evening.

Half Pants

Little Manjunath could not think about anything else but his brand new half-pants. Having lived in a single pair of half-pants ever since he remembers, the new pair was a luxury.

And he had worked hard to deserve them too.

One day at school, all kids had assembled in the kitchen courtyard to have their mid-day meal. A stray lump of glowing coal had slipped out of the stove, lending the haystack nearby a reason to burn.

As the flame raged into an inferno, the kids screamed and ran helter-skelter in search of a safer shelter. Manju, on the other hand, ran up to the well and fetched a bucket full of water to douse the fire.

How could he let the pot full of halwa get consumed in the flames!

Soon, the teachers at school came to help and the fire was extinguished.

He became the hero of the third standard that day. All teachers celebrated his bravery. Everyone celebrated with the sweet halwa salvaged from the fire. But what little Manju remembered most fondly was the gentle way in which Dhaara teacher, had ruffled his hair.

Dhaara was Manju’s class teacher. She was a charming lady in her mid-20s who taught her students with deep involvement and affection. Manju loved her in the most guileless, young-boy-like manner possible.

The principal of the school had taken note of Manju’s bravery. He had announced a gallantry award for Manju, to be awarded on the 15th of August, India’s Independence Day.

Manju wished to receive the honour in a new pair of clothes. His clothing situation though was a bitter irony. While his father was the local village washerman, who dealt with clothes all the time, he could hardly afford two pairs of school shorts for Manju.

But on learning of the bravery award to be conferred on Manju, he had borrowed money to buy a new pair of navy blue half-pants.

It was the night of 14th August. The new pair of half pants were swaying to the wind on the clothesline near the village pond. Manju could hardly sleep that night.

‘What if the half-pants get stolen? What if they are blown away into the pond?

What if they fall off and get muddy?’

A hundred things could go wrong, and all of them pestered him equally.

The whole household was fast asleep. It was midnight. Manju heard a deep rumble from outside. And, another worry entered his mind,

‘What if it rains?

I won’t be able to go to school with wet pants!
And I won’t be able to receive the award from Dhaara teacher!’

He longed for his hair to be ruffled again, just like the day of the fire in the kitchen.

The rumble was back again. It felt as if the clouds were forewarning about a sudden spell of rain.

Manju had to do something.

Quietly, he left his own house like a seasoned burglar. Guided by diffused moonlight and his villager instinct, he made his way to the community pond nearby.

He knew where his father always hung the clothes of the family. The topmost clothesline from the bank, near the banyan tree.

The fact that he was more afraid of missing out on Dhaara Madam’s gentle ruffle than any dangers lurking in the dark, led the little 8-year-old through the eerie theatre of the night.

He needed little searching. He got hold of his half pants and felt the damp fabric on his cheek.

‘Would it dry by morning?’ he wondered.

He didn’t want to receive the award with wet pants!

The rumble of the night got intense. Manju tried to listen for the source of the sound.

A pair of luminous eyes shone at a distance near the pond. A padded tail, curved like a bow, dangled high above the patch of grass.

It was a big cat.

A leopard.

Manju gulped all his screams.

Just as stealthily he had come out of his house, he climbed up the Banyan tree to be at a safe place, away from the feasting Leopard.

He wondered whose cattle shed in the village was one sheep short that night.

He prayed to Lord Hanuman, under his stifled breath.

Manju sweat his shirt wet in the half an hour spent in cover on the Banyan tree. Once the Leopard finished eating, he walked past the tree slowly.

Now, both of Manju’s half pants were wet.

Satiated with the kill, the Leopard sauntered into the thicket under the guard of the night.

Manju fell unconscious hugging a thick branch of the mighty Banyan tree.

The following morning, when Manju opened his eyes, he saw the angelic face of his class teacher.

‘Is this a dream?’ Have I reached heaven?’ he wondered in delirium.

He saw the faces of his relived parents on the adjacent side of the bed. He had a warm quilt around his body.

‘You’re fine Manju. Don’t worry.

We are all proud of you,’ said Dhaara teacher.

‘Good morning, teacher’ he mumbled.

‘We were worried when you didn’t come to school for the ceremony. Then the school gatekeeper told us you were on a Banyan tree the whole night.’

‘I hope it wasn’t one of our sheep. The leopard….’

‘Sshh… Don’t worry about it.

Here, I have your medal for you.

To the bravest child in our village!’

Dhaara teacher lovingly put the medal around a supine Manju.

She ruffled Manju’s hair affectionately. The gentle sweep of her fingers was worth a thousand badges of honour.

Everything seemed to be ending well for little Manju.

A bravery medal home delivered by his loving class teacher!

Everything seemed perfect.

Just the warm quilt gave him an irresistible itch on the thigh.

He slowly reached for the spot under the quilt to scratch that itch.

That’s when he realised,

He was wearing no half-pants!

Manju slept through the whole afternoon, naked under the blanket, without a worry in the world.

Both his half-pants fluttered slowly on the clothesline by the banyan tree next to the pond.

Two prayers

‘Rain rain go away,

Little Johnny wants to play…’

Little Johnny was singing this rhyme, wishing the rains away.

‘It’s vacation time. Why does it have to rain now?’ he thought.

While little Lola reached her hand out of the window to catch the falling droplets of rain.

She was delighted to feel the heaven-sent shower on her palm.

‘Johnny, it is nice weather. Come let’s sit in the porch and listen to the rain,’ said little Lola.

‘I don’t want to listen to the rain. I wish there was a big Umbrella that could shield the playground from the raindrops,’ said a brooding Johnny seated on his black and white football.

‘But the rain is nice. The plants need it. Animals need it. We need water from the rain too.’

‘It can rain in the night when we are asleep. Why does it have to rain in the day?’

‘So that you can see it, silly! Don’t you like to play in the rain?’ asked Lola.

‘I am a big boy now. I am eight years old you know. I like sports. Not dancing in the rain!’

‘Too bad for you big boy. I am still a little girl. I love the rain.’

‘Then why do you raise an alarm when you see a millipede walk into the house at night after the rain?’

‘Did you see a millipede?’ asked a terrified Lola.

‘Ha ha ha, foolish girl. If I had one wish, I would pray for the rain to go away right now!’

‘No, Johnny! Let the rain go away slowly. I still want to dance in the drizzle.’

Johnny let out a big laugh.

‘Ha ha ha, I will use my secret powers, and pray for the rain to stop in 10 minutes!’

‘No, No, Johnny!’ Lola pleaded…

Oh almighty sun, let the clouds part…Let me see your shining face….’

Lola, in turn, prayed to the clouds,

‘Dear clouds, don’t go away too soon. Let there be a drizzle as you move to other places.’

The rain began to lessen in intensity. The earth was gravid with fresh water. The seeds in the earth awakened. Soon, a gentle glisten of sunbeam spread on the soft surface of the earth.

Lola jumped out in the puddle outside her house. Her brother Johnny, flung his football into the puddle. He jumped right in and the whole neighbourhood knew the kids were at play.

They walked to the little bridge near their house. The water in the canal was ripple dotted with the falling droplets. A lotus bloom moved languidly with the gentle flow.

‘You see the Sun is out. My wish has come true!’ said Johnny looking at the emergent sun.

There was no answer from Lola.

She was looking eastward, away from the setting sun. She was entranced.

‘Johnny…’ she tugged on his sleeve and pointed to the sky in the east.

Johnny turned around and looked at the sky.

A majestic arch of seven colours shone feebly on the blue sky. A faint assembly of colours sat on top on the arch, just in the reverse order of colours.

It reflected in the freshwater flowing in the canal.

‘What is this Johnny?’

‘Some magic. Did you pray for this Lola?’

‘No, I just asked for a little drizzle.’

‘And, I asked for a little sunshine.’

The brother and sister duo, watched the sky in awe, as the sun sunk in the western sky.

Millipedes dug their way out of the moist earth. Lola never noticed.

There wasn’t any fighting between the siblings anymore.

And both prayers were answered, in nature’s own sweet way.

Forbidden Love

I felt the tender touch of her hands on mine. She was scared, but I could sense the excitement in her quivering fingers. It was the first time we had held hands in public. And that too, with her parents standing right next to us. But we were standing in the planetarium, and the lights were dim. The shadows were our cover. Gradually everything was enveloped by a darkness as deep as interstellar space. A beam shot out of the projector and the story of the universe began. The roof of the planetarium became the theatre of creation.

‘It all began with the singularity…’

I felt a big bang in my heart as our fingers flirted. The gulf of intense longing was finally bridged. The darkness in the theatre helped us submit to pleasure that though innocent was forbidden. She was the only girl I ever thought about that way. I had loved her ever since I saw her for the first time. She was my best friend, my neighbour, my school bench partner. She was my everything.

I could feel her racing pulse. Our hormones fired in harmony. We clasped each other’s hands tighter, as the loudspeakers aired trivia about nebulae and supernovas. I cared least for the movie screened at the planetarium. I had found my universe in those fleeting moments.

Her shapely nails felt cold to the touch. Her slender fingers were every bit artistic. I dreamt of adorning it with a ring one day. There was a spiritual electricity between us. Our longing was magnetically mutual. We were the twin star systems projected on to the ceiling. Love was our gravity.

Her hand was slightly bigger than mine. And she was taller by a full four inches. I was still waiting for my puberty to hurry things up while she had begun to show signs of womanhood. I compensated for my fledgling manhood with an assertion in my grip that I believed girls loved to submit to.

When they began to project pictures of the moon landing, all I could think of was the nights we had spent being lunatics in our respective balconies, yearning to see each other in school the next day.

Her eyes had a lunar charm. And she’d teasingly call me a loon. I would always think that one day I would have the courage to tell her that I will love her to the moon and back.

On the ceiling, I looked at Armstrong hopping on the moon and felt that he’d fallen in love. He looked at me and felt as if I’d landed on the moon.

It was a mystery how a beautiful thing like her could be the daughter of the most uptight, unpleasant Uncle of the neighbourhood. If I had one wish, it would be for him to disappear forever. Could he float away beyond the solar system like the Voyager probe?
But imagining the grief of my beloved, I had never wished ill on him.

However, I also wondered how her charming mother could fall for such a crude, average looking man. That’s what happens when others arrange for who you must love, so I thought.

I trusted their daughter’s choice to be better than theirs.

Slowly the movie zoomed back to life in our solar system. The frigid extremes of Neptune, the hoola hooping Saturn, the Giant Jupiter, the traffic congestion of the asteroid belt, the red planet Mars and finally, to mother earth. They showed the evolution of life on the blue planet, the oceanic life forms, the first plants, glimpses of the Jurassic age, the meteor strike, ice ages, the age of the Neanderthals, the rise of Homo Sapiens, and finally vignettes of life in our current times.

I wished the movie to last longer. They could show a 3-hour movie and I’d watch it happily standing in the planetarium. I could finally understand what Einstein meant by relativity. Time had flown past like a happy memory. And in that mote of a minute I had found all the meaning in the world. I was the expanding universe.

We held on to each other’s hands. We felt reassured of the mutuality of our longing. Caressing gently, we sunk in the final moment before parting.

But the lights came on too soon.

Right opposite me, I saw my girl struggling to stay afoot. She fainted and fell on the floor once she saw me in the act.

Her flabbergasted father looked at me with the consuming gravity of his twin black hole eyes.

I looked to the left and pleaded innocence.

I was holding the hand of her mother.

The weight of water

The rousing beat of the temple kettle drum awakened the village out of its afternoon siesta. Shantu, the elderly weatherman of the village could hardly contain his excitement. Standing high on the temple square, he summoned the villagers and announced,

‘Listen up my fellow villagers!
The days of suffering are finally going to end. Count this as the last day of summer, for I predict that we will get the first spell of rain tonight.’

The crowd cheered in celebration. Shantu had seen the most monsoons in the whole village, and people trusted the accuracy of his intuition.

The women were especially happy. It cost them two blisters a day to walk up to the pond in the village nearby to fetch water. Soon, the pond in their own village will have water, saving them time and effort. The kids rejoiced at the idea of showering in the rain to their heart’s content. The seedlings of rice in the earth too waited eagerly for the first spell. Startled birds expressed their surprise for the celebration of belated news. Only if humans had instincts as honed as theirs!

Amid the celebration, Shantu’s granddaughter Gauri walked up the temple stairs hurriedly. Her pet dog Kalu followed her as usual. As she heaved herself up to the top flight, she asked Shantu,

‘Daddu, Daddu, can I go to the pond to fetch water today? I’ll go with the other village women. Please, please…’ she wheedled.

‘You little child. You are 8 years old. You’ll break you delicate neck with a huge potful of water on your head,’ he said patting her head.

‘I will take the smaller pot. I can carry that.
Please let me go.’

‘Did you ask your Amma?’

‘No, she will refuse for sure. But if you grant me permission, she will let me go with everyone else.’

‘Okay, but Kalu must go with you. For your protection, okay?’ Shantu asked lovingly.

‘Yes, there is no way he can stay without me. He will follow me!’

‘Okay, go and come back safely.’

‘Really! I can go?’

‘Yes. And here, take this mango. Enjoy it on the way.’

Gauri pocketed the ripe mango and raced down the temple stairs. She headed straight to her little hut nearby.

She took a small earthen pot and followed the village women headed to the pond for the evening shift of fetching water.
This would mark her first excursion out of the village. She was jubilant.

Kalu sniffed the way forward as Gauri’s little footsteps tried to keep pace with the women who were growing smaller in size every time she tried to spot them.

‘Aye, Kalu, wait for me,’ she hollered as Kalu paced away on the path. He must also know of the impending rain, like the birds.

She met a village lady who was on her way back to the village. Effortlessly balancing two pots of water on her head, she walked gracefully through the sun-baked road.

On spotting little Gauri near the pond, she asked,

‘Aye, Gauri, what are you doing here?’

‘I’ve come to fetch water with Kalu,’ she said with an eye out for her beloved pet.

‘Go and play in the village little girl. You are too small to make this shift.’

‘ I want to help Amma in the household now.’

‘Does she know you’re here?’

‘Maybe, I told Daddu…He knows.’

‘Okay, go quickly. The pond is right beyond that bend you see behind the Banyan tree.’

‘Yes, yes… ‘ she said and rushed to keep pace with Kalu.

‘Kalu, wait for me….’

She reached the pond to find a few village women filling up their pots. One of them helped her fill her little pot as Kalu slurped away from a puddle nearby.

One of the ladies said,
‘Don’t carry the pot on your head. It is heavy. Carry it on your hip…Like this’ she gestured.

With a little help from the women, she balanced the pot on her hip and started her journey back to the village.

She measured the distance back to her village with her tiny steps…


She ran out of numbers within a minute. On the way, she started to feel a bit hungry.
She tried reaching the Mango her Daddu had given her from the pocket of her skirt while balancing the pot on her hip.

But just as soon as she managed to pull out the mango, she lost grip on the pot and it came crashing down at her feet.

The pot was shattered. All the water in Gauri’s eyes poured out.

‘What will Amma think of me for breaking this pot?’ she wondered amid snuffles.

She felt a heaviness on her head, as if she was carrying a hundred pots.

She sat right by the broken pot, with Kalu licking her face of tears.

‘Do you want to have Mango, Kalu?’

Kalu never refused food.

The best friends shared the fragrant mango while coming to terms with the loss.

The mango helped her relax. Meanwhile, the weather had begun to change, just as her Daddu had predicted.

She stared at the wet patch of earth where the water from the pot had soaked in.

‘What will Amma say?’ she wondered.

Back at the village, Shantu had begun to get worried about Gauri. Most women had made their way back from the trip.

Shantu was as afraid as little Gauri now.

‘What will Amma say?’ he wondered.

With his walking stick in his hand, Shantu started walking briskly towards the pond.

The gathering clouds had painted the path all around in a gloomy light. For the first time in years, Shantu found himself running. He raced towards the pond in search of Gauri.

From a distance, he could hear Kalu howling back at the low rumble in the sky. He felt a bit relieved. Within moments, he saw the emerald of his eye and heaved a sigh of relief.

‘Gauri…Chalo.. Let’s go home!’

‘Daddu..!’ she cried out.

Shantu saw the broken pot and understood the whole story.

Gauri had mud all over her hands and Kalu had mango pulp stains on his face.

Shantu wiped Gauri’s tears. She held his hands and began to walk towards the village.
Kalu led the way, barking at the sky.

‘Gauri, don’t worry about Amma scolding you, okay?’

‘Hmmm…’ she whimpered.

‘Did you enjoy the Mango?’

She nodded.

‘Why did it take you so long to head back home?’

‘ I was digging a small pit Daddu…right where the water had soaked into the earth. Kalu helped me too.’

‘Accha? Why so?’

‘I buried the mango seed there.’

Her Daddu slowed down his pace a bit.
He turned to look into her eyes.

‘How could I let the water go to waste, Daddu?’

Her eyes were pure as love. Shantu had never felt more proud of his little granddaughter.

He hoisted her up and sat her on his shoulder. That was her favourite ride. Slowly, they headed towards their village.

Soon, it began to drizzle. Gauri smiled. Kalu howled in joy.

‘Daddu, the Mango seed will grow, right?’

Thunder roared in the sky. It was a resounding answer from heaven.

And every little raindrop said,

‘Yes, it will.’

The fakir with the flute

It was another bad day at work.
After all these years, I couldn’t understand whether it was the work that was bad, or was it I who was bad at work. Nevertheless, the pay was good, and that had kept me going.

My mind was a scramble since morning in my cubicle and I couldn’t wait for that hallowed half-hour of repose – lunch-time.

After a hurried lunch, I walked up to the chai shop across the street for the sake of maintaining at least one habit unfailingly.

It was a cloudy day and the usual clamour of the street was a bit subdued. As I sat under the Neem tree, rationing miserly sips of hot chai, a faint, evocative melody fell upon my ear.

Happy to have heard some music on the street, I looked around to find its source. Soon, I saw an elderly flute-seller walk up the street with a playful air.

He wore a black turban, a faded yellow kurta and flowing black pyjamas. A stick that leaned on his left shoulder was festooned with a bunch of flutes of different sizes. His traditional leather footwear curled back in at the front, much like his sinuous moustache.

With an easy, graceful gait, he approached the chai-shop. He played a familiar filmy tune that most of the generation on the street had grown up listening to. We measured our age with the breadth of the smile that the prized piece of nostalgia brought forth on us.

He slowed down his advance near the chai-shop and with that timeless melody, he slowed down the pace of the street.

Once he finished playing the tune, the hum of the traffic resumed, as a poignant, practical applause.

He gave himself the reward of a content smile.

Having subconsciously judged his petty life at first glance, I felt perplexed by the quiet complacency in his demeanour. Or should I say, a bit envious.

I waved at him and asked,

‘Aye, bansuri-wallah, chai?’

He nodded as if he saw the invitation coming.

As I offered him a cup of chai, I asked,

‘What’s your name?’

He gently swayed his head, like the topmost branch of a young tree, as if in no hurry whatsoever.

After a sip of chai, with a nod of approval, he said…

‘Kanha…My name is Kanha…’

‘Kanha, tell me, why is it that you keep playing this old filmy tune? Is that the only song you know?’ I asked with a hint of disparagement.

‘I can only play what people are ready to hear, Babuji.’

I felt I heard a part of me in his answer. How I had learned to sell what people were willing to buy, thinking that was the only way.

But what separated him from me? I couldn’t remember even a fleeting instant from my life when I was as content as this flute-selling fakir.

‘Why don’t you play something new, something original for me? If you do so, I might buy a flute,’ I said.

He smiled.

‘I have been waiting for a pair of ears that pine to hear a new message through music.
Do you think you are ready?’ he asked in his throaty voice.

‘Yes, I am,’ I said on the behalf of the street.

They say that the value of any thing is in the way it alters your perception of time and space. Whoever has been in love, has lived this truth first hand.

As he began to play, perhaps it was love that he weaved in those ennobled breaths.

The whole street stood entranced. All involuntary work suddenly lost its relevance. Hawkers, pedestrians, spent cows, orphans on the street; felt magnetically drawn to the caress of that tune. The wind flowed with a gentler hiss and the sun peeped ever so little to shine a spotlight where it was due. Just as lost as the street was in the music, so was Kanha, the seraphic source of those mellifluous moments.

The thousands of questions people had in their mind were answered, all the pain in their hearts was soothed, and everyone, for that hallowed span of time, learned to smile again without longing for a lasting reason.

As he held the final note on his bansuri, the clock began to slowly tick again.

He opened his opal eyes and invited me to lose all my guards. I looked into his eyes, those fabled tunnels with a blinding light at the other end.

I submitted to a hypnotic spell, and let him read the maze of my mind.

He blinked twice, and I began to sense my surroundings again.

‘Did you enjoy the music?’ he asked humbly.

‘Yes…Yes…It was… the truth…’

‘To answer the question on your mind, Babuji…
That music…
That’s the value of my breath.’

He had read my mind like a book. And I was glad he could read the script that I’d begun to forget.

He reached his hand to one of the other flutes in his collection and pulled out one with a pink thread at its end.

He handed me the flute and lovingly said,

‘Go find the value of your breath.’

I took the flute in my hand and looked at it with a hope that I’d thought I had given up on long ago.

Slowly, I looked up. Kanha was already walking away with his easy, nonchalant stride.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask him,
How much I owed him.

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