Thursday, July 13, 2006
That breathed fire in summer
Are green velvet now
The blue sky
In million intermediate shades
Finally, has turned dark grey
Golden bhuttas roasting
And your lips purple
Of fresh succulent jaamuns
Rain is just water drops falling down
© rajendra pradhan
Saturday, July 08, 2006
When was it that I started dreading death? I can’t even decide whether it is death that I dreaded or the full stop that it puts to little things we foolishly think are perpetual.
I must have been about eight when I heard this word ‘death’ for the first time. It is not an age when one understands the meaning of life, let alone that of death. There was a lake near our house. Occasionally, a strange crowd would gather there. Whenever it happened, my mother would call me inside. She would then light a lamp whatever time of day it was, as if she was trying to stop some kind of darkness from invading our home. I was not allowed to venture out while the crowd was still there. I had seen different sorts of crowds there, noisy festive ones, and had even been a part of them. But the strange thing about this one was its silence and I was curious to know the reason.
I got my chance one day when mother was not home. I saw the crowd gather and joined it with my best friend Suresh. It was not a beautiful, picturesque kind of lake we had read about in storybooks. It was a large stinking body of very opaque greenish water, held captive by four stonewalls. What we saw there on that summer afternoon made us shiver with excitement. Something had been pulled out from the lake and laid on the pavement. Though covered with slime and waterweeds, it was still recognizable as a human body. The thing we found most amazing was the size of that body. It was very fat, so fat that it seemed to spill out of the tattered clothes. I thought it very funny that so fat a man should wear such undersized clothes.
From then on, I did not miss the macabre spectacle whenever it happened. We children would stare in awe rather than fear, as the bloated bodies were pulled out of the lake. It was stupid I thought that they should choose to drown themselves in that stinking water, since all of them seemed so very well fed. It was much later that I learnt the effects three days of submergence has on a human body. The corpses were so bloated that we could not tell whether it was a man or a woman. Only the clinging shreds of clothing gave some indication. And their faces seemed to have attracted more fish than any other part of the body.
The lake apparently was a favourite spot for unhappy souls and most of the suicides happened in the part of lake closest to our house. At least the bodies were found there. I don’t know if it was depth of water there or some other obscure reason behind it. I also don't know why but the number of suicides doubled in summer, which provided us an extra dose of entertainment during our summer vacations. I saw many dead people while we lived there. Yet, I can’t say I understood the concept of death then.
Once, my mother spotted me in the crowd. I was very afraid of repercussions in case she told my father. But apparently she didn’t. That night, I snuggled up close to her and asked her about the funnily swollen bodies that were fished out from the lake. It is called death. Everyone dies, but not necessarily so horribly, she told me. And what happens when we die? We go to heaven. But one must never call out to a dying person, or else he is distracted from his path to heaven, she told me with a kind of finality I had never expected from her.
Okay, I won’t distract anyone from the path to heaven, I promised myself. But what’s the harm in seeing them take it? However interesting the spectacle of bloated bodies might have been, it was not death in real sense to me. Seeing them drown would be more exciting, I reckoned. Given the frequency of suicides, we would definitely witness someone doing it if we stayed there whole night, I argued with my friends. But I could never persuade the gang to do that. “What if something that has stayed under water for three days, decides to come up just then?” Suresh would ask. That wouldn’t be so funny, I would agree. I did not have the nerve to stay there alone. So I missed seeing it actually happen.
Suresh had no parents but he had a grandmother. He also had a grandfather, but the old man did nothing except sit in the sun and smoke bidis. Nobody in the neighborhood seemed to care for the old couple’s existence except our landlord, who always threatened to throw them out if they did not pay their overdue rent.
One rainy morning, I heard loud wails from their house. I ran there to find the old woman sprawled on floor with her mouth open. Dark brown tea was still boiling in a blackened aluminum pot on the fire. The old man was crying loudly while neighbors crowded at the door of their tiny tenement, trying to get a glimpse of the old lady. “How pious she was! See, she was making tea for the old man, even while she was dying. Must have gone straight to heaven!” women whispered in hushed voices. I was very disappointed. Here was my chance to see someone actually going to heaven, and I had missed it! I then wondered what would happen to the tea. Will the old man drink it?
Later in the day, the old woman was decked in flowers before they took her away. Even the mighty landlord had laid a wreath at her feet and bowed to her! Death seemed very confusing to me then.
I could not decide whether death was strange, confusing or plain funny. The thought that death could be a sad thing did not cross my mind at that time. To me it was mildly amusing to see grown-ups crying aloud in those strange voices seemingly reserved for a death event. I remember laughing aloud while everybody was crying, when my own grandma died a couple of years later. The funny thing was everybody had complained about her living for so long, until she finally died at ninety-eight. My uncle slapped me hard! But when two of my cousins started fighting over which ghaat (cremation ground) to take her body to, I could not suppress myself and laughed aloud again. This time, many others joined me. Death is funny, after all!
When my uncle died -the same one who had slapped me- I was twelve, old enough not to laugh. This time I insisted on visiting the ghaat for the cremation. I was even allowed to be there for collecting his ashes on the third day. So much firewood and the body, but now reduced to just a bagful of ash! The power of fire humbled me more, not so much that of death. Excitedly I raked up the ashes. I was hoping to see the black ball of carbon that I was told forms inside the chest of a chain smoker. My uncle had been a chain smoker but there was no black ball of carbon in there. Death can be a disappointment.
The next time I had a brush with death was when our dog died. The cur had never been a civilized beast. I am not too sure if it was our dog really. He had just followed us to our new house when we moved from the old one. Even touching him was a hazardous exercise but I somehow managed to bathe him once a year. I had grown fond of him and he would obey only me, to a certain extent. One chilly winter morning, the fellow just did not wake up. After several failed attempts to call him to attention, I gingerly prodded him in the ribs. Death is cold, I learnt at fourteen.
I then saw the ugly face of death when I was twenty. I had rushed into a hospital carrying a child in my arms, his feeble heart still beating. I had to request a passerby to take us to the hospital on his scooter. My sister –the child’s mother- reached there too late, riding a slow cycle rickshaw. I was alone there when I saw death in the resigned faces of white aprons that hovered over the child, like helpless angels. Finally a syringe of adrenaline sinking in the soft tissue of a tiny heart and disappearing in the dark void inside. Meningitis was just an exotic word I read on a piece of paper the doctor thrust in my hands. That was the ugliest face of death I had ever seen in my twenty years of life.
I saw many other deaths by the time I reached forty, but my curiosity about death had died by then. In its place, a faint apprehension of death had grown. No longer wishing to see it happen, I rather started dreading death. When attending funerals, I tried to stay as far back as possible, to avoid seeing the dead. Then one day I got the frantic call from my brother. Doctors had given up on my father. I did not rush through traffic signals.
Later I learnt that with his last gasp, father had chosen me for performing the last rites, a task traditionally reserved for the eldest son, which I am not. I will have to wear this shameful face that his death has given me for life. Death is a shame. It makes a coward of you.
So the day my aunt died, I stayed home with her. It was my mother’s birthday and all us brothers & sisters had gathered at my place, when my aunt’s health suddenly deteriorated. My aunt had been married to dad’s elder brother and we had stayed together in a joint family. Later, when I started living in my own house, she had moved with me. My mother too had been living with me since my dad’s demise. They both were very close to each other. A childless widow, my aunt had also become my de facto mother through the unconditional love she showered on me. We called her mothi aai (big mom). I believed I was the luckiest guy on earth with two mothers! I wanted to be there for her when it was her time. I won’t be a coward this time, I had promised myself. I left her just for a moment to check my mail. As I was typing the password, I heard the screams.
I ran to her and felt for heartbeats. I can’t say for sure when did I get this fascination for the sound of heartbeats. It was on a whim that I had bought this stethoscope though I am not in a medical profession. Put it to a loved one’s chest and listen. You can hear so many unsaid things!
For fifteen minutes I kept the stethoscope pressed to her chest. Mothi aai was alive, I told everyone! Faint, but I could hear the rhythmic sound. I waited for it to fade away, to be sure that I did not miss it this time. Finally the doctor arrived and politely told me to let go. “You are hearing your own heartbeats man, through your fingertips on that stethoscope”. Death can be very deceptive.
I was performing the tenth day rites for my aunt at the ghaat when my cell phone rang. I will not be disturbed at this moment by petty business matters, I told myself and tried to concentrate on the rites. The phone kept ringing until I picked it up in irritation. “MOTHER!” the phone screamed in a shrill voice that had no resemblance to my wife’s. I left the rites unfinished and broke every single traffic signal on my mad rush back home.
Just an hour ago, mother had sent me off to the ghaat, double-checking that I had all the things needed for the rites. Then she had discussed my aunt’s going with the assembled guests and accepted their unending condolences. Later she had excused herself and walked to the furthest room, making sure that nobody followed her; my wife told me between sobs.
I found mother there, lying on the bed, with a smile on her unmoving lips. She seemed happy to be alone in her last moment, nobody to distract her from her heaven’s path. This was a totally different face of death I was seeing. It was peaceful, yes, and almost…beautiful?
Death had stopped being funny a long time ago. It was not even confusing anymore, or ugly. For the first time in my life, I did not feel curiosity, amusement, aversion or cowardice as I stared death in the face. 'Death is nothing without life', the smiling face seemed to say, ‘don’t dread death’.
© Rajendra Pradhan
I watch her climb down the steep slope. Her gait defies the few grey strands she has tucked behind those delicate ears. Those grey strands are the only noticeable sign of advancing age, seen from behind. I smile inwardly at her defiance to this era of hair dyes and streaks. Sandals in hand, she is taking small, deft steps with those bare small feet of hers. I wonder why everything about her seems so small and delicate, almost fragile. But in moments of eye contact, I have also sensed the inner strength in that small frame.
She pauses. As if she has sensed some invisible pull of the stretching distance between us. Then she turns and puts a delicate palm to her forehead, shielding her eyes from the summer sun. “Come on guys! We have almost reached there. I can hear the waterfall.” I look back up the slope. Our kids are left behind, making the trek at their own leisurely pace, stopping to shoot rocks and trees and each other. “They will manage. Let’s go.” says her bald husband who has been resting his tired legs under a convenient tree, with me and my wife.
The husband starts a slow descent into the valley. I follow close behind him, wife in tow, cautious of the treacherously smooth rocks in the path.
We reach base of the valley. A respite from the burning sun, the shade here is cool and damp. The waterfall is some distance away. She runs forward and sits on a rock, dangling her feet in running, shallow water. Her husband and my wife have stopped behind, waiting for the kids. Setting down the haversack, I sit besides her. Her eyes are darting from side to side, watching the little shoals of tiny fish that gather around her feet and move away when she shifts her weight. “Take your shoes off and put your feet in water” she says without looking at me. I do as she asks. As if I have been doing that all my life, doing what she asks me to.
There, sitting by her side, feet dangling in cool water, I look at her and suddenly realize that I have never seen her from so close! Hers was the front bench, while I had been a confirmed backbencher in school. All the girls were seated on right side of the classroom and boys on the left. Segregation was the norm then, at least in small towns like ours. Boys and girls spoke to each other, but only when necessary and from a distance. From this close, I see some fine lines radiating from corner of her eyes. They are not wrinkles, not yet. Silence is rude. I start talking about the reunion (what else?). But her benevolent smile is for the tiny fish.
I remember the chance meeting at a wedding. I had recognized her the moment I saw her. She had needed some efforts to put a name on my now bulky frame. But then she had talked enthusiastically. About our school days, teachers, classmates. It was the first time she had talked with me so freely. The bald man had stood patiently by her side, waiting to get introduced. It was only when my wife came searching for me, that proper introductions were made. He a scientist of some repute, she working fulltime for an NGO. Whatever happened to the dream of being a doctor? I hadn’t asked of course. Dreams are personal. Asking about them is taboo, especially before the baldy, and the wife. She too had avoided the subject of junior college.
Should I ask her now? I look towards baldy and the wife. They are still waiting for kids. “That was a great reunion. Thanks for the idea.” I am startled to hear the smile in her voice. I start to protest but then realize the futility. Yes, the reunion was grand. It had been a monumental task to contact all our classmates after twenty-five years since we had left the school. But we had accomplished it, together. Our teachers –those who were still alive- had also been there. A grand success, no doubt. Faces faintly remembered from past had floated up, now reflected in miniature on their children’s and accompanied by proud spouses.
She had been chosen for the opening address, naturally. I remembered the somewhat reserved girl that used to bag almost every award in debates and singing competitions. Whose brilliance in academics and even handwriting was constantly pointed out to rest of us as an unattainable ideal. She had choked on her words and left the address unfinished.
We had feted our teachers. Photographed ourselves sitting in classrooms, on the same old wooden benches. The new graffiti etched on desks mercifully hiding the old. Exchanged phone numbers and birthdays and wedding anniversaries. And talked endlessly of the fun we had had (but did not know how precious it was when it happened) in those days. She had related the incident in biology lab, with all the details that I did not even remember noticing when it had happened. Her frog had suddenly jumped from dissection table, with its belly slit open. Her screams had stopped only when I had caught the poor thing and pinned it down firmly in her wax tray. I was embarrassed to receive the public thanks, twenty-five years too late.
At the end of the daylong orgy of nostalgia, the class of 1975 had dispersed with firm promises of frequent meetings. And then after a few months, I had received her call. Exams were over. Kids were free. How about a trip to a hill station? Yeah, sure. Delighted to hear this, I am. Let me ask the wife. “Come on, I didn’t think you were so henpecked a husband!” The mock rebuff had surprised me; coming from her who once would studiously avoid talking to opposite sex.
So here we are, both the families trekking to the waterfall. The kids had struck it off together from the instant we had boarded the train. Two of hers and one of mine. The trio now comes running towards us, followed slowly by baldy and the wife. Stripping to bermudas, baldy and me jump in the water with kids. Lot of splashing later, the kids persuade their moms to join in. They do, with their salwar kurtas on.
Wife seems worried over the clothes turned transparent by water and goes to find a place to change into dry ones. Baldy and I have a swimming race, to humour the kids. Nobody wins. Water is too shallow. She sits in the small waterfall, letting water caress her all over. I don’t envy the water, I don’t. Just noticing how much she has changed, and averting eyes quickly.
On the climb up, we four are together. Rest of the day is leisurely sight seeing. In the night, kids play games while we sit outside our cottages. Despite my protests, baldy keeps pouring some more brandy in my frequently empty glass and tells terrible jokes. I become bold and suggest she sings. She doesn’t need much persuasion. The song I remember quite well. She had sung it at the send-off of our tenth class. A Sufi song set to bhairavi, ud jayegaa hans akela (the swan will fly away, alone). The training in classical vocal is still quite apparent in the matured voice. Baldy is beaming with pride.
“What cry-songs are you singing? Come, let’s play antakshari!” kids join us. Old versus young is the natural division of teams. It is fun singing duets, my off key drunken voice lagging miles behind every crystal clear note in hers. No team loses and none wins. Kids have an inexhaustible supply of new hits and we have oldies stacked miles high in our hearts. We call it a truce and go to bed.
Morning in the hills is sudden. Despite the brandies of last night, I wake up early. Time for morning walk of a diabetic. I silently slip out of the cottage as wife and son sleep. She is sitting on steps of her cottage. “They are sleeping. Let’s go and find some tea.” She joins me. We talk, of the reunion, my business, my diabetes, our kids, her job. There is no tea. The kitchen opens at seven. We wander further. In another search.
The morning sun is mild. We sit on two rocks facing each other. A squirrel scurries past her and stops to look back at us with its beady eyes. There is no one to stop me now. She senses it somehow and speaks, “where is he these days?”
She means Rahul, my fast friend in junior college. In spite of my backbencher frolics, I had secured enough marks in SSC to get admission in the same prestigious junior college with her. We sat in different classes, but sometimes talked during recess. She was not very shy anymore like in our schooldays. The caterpillars were undergoing first stage in their metamorphosis. The newfound freedom of college was heady, after confines of the school discipline. Yet a distance was always there, maintained by some unspoken mutual consent.
Though she had not really been my friend, Rahul thought so, just because she had been my classmate in school. Rahul had just migrated to our town. The handsome Punjabi boy was center of attention for girls and boys alike. He was the only one who rode to college on a Yezdi motorcycle in those days. Rest of us considered ourselves lucky to get mopeds or even bicycles.
For no apparent reason, Rahul had appointed me as his closest friend, philosopher and guide. He would charmingly persuade my mother to let me stay the nights at his place for study. I became a second son to his mom. At my home, even the radio was rationed. But Rahul had his own stereo cassette deck. We would spend the nights listening to ABBA, Boney M and Carpenters while we dreamt of our careers.
On one such night, Rahul claimed that she loves him. I didn’t think so. “She is not the type that would fall in love,” I had told him as if I was an authority on love and psychology. Rahul became furious. “She looks at me hundred times a day. And smiles too!” he insisted. “Everybody looks at you and your bike. And she is born with a smiling face” I didn’t budge. He did not talk with me for several days.
I was chosen as editor for the college magazine. Rahul wanted me to write a poem of love for her and publish it in his name. I grudgingly conceded. He made me write her name in the poem in a manner not too obvious, but obvious enough. That was easy, for her name translated into love itself, in Hindi. Rahul treated me royally thereafter.
The all-important board exams were around the corner. For all of us who aspired for a medical or engineering career, this was the battle to be won at all costs. Rahul and me studied late into nights. We both wanted to become engineers.
In the week before the exams, Rahul became restless. His father had been transferred to Delhi and the family was to move soon after the exams. He made me write a note. He poured his heart out and I moulded it in suitable words. The gist was that Rahul desperately wanted her in his life. He didn’t want anything from her, except a simple ‘yes’. And after graduation, he would come to her from wherever he would be, to rescue his princess. He would fight fire-spitting dragons, if need be. The handwriting too was mine, as Rahul’s was quite bad. “I don’t want to make a bad impression” he had said. He had dropped all his macho bravado and looked at me with puppy eyes as I went out on the mission, alone. He steadfastly refused to come along, “what are friends for?”
I could not just go to her home, ring the door bell and hand over the love letter. The preparation leave meant no chance of meeting in college either. But I knew a way. Every morning she visited the Ganesh temple near our old school.
She saw me standing outside the temple as she came out. Same sweet smile that had Rahul hooked hopelessly, “So the exams bring you too at the Lord’s door! How’s the preparation going?” She asked casually. “Er … okay I guess. How’s yours?” small talk is safe, as opposed to trafficking in love letters.
“I dream of becoming a doctor. You?” she had asked the unexpected question with full sincerity. “Engineer may be... Yes, an engineer. If possible.” I tried replying with same sincerity. “Best of luck then. See you at the exams!” and she turned to leave.
“Er… wait. I have something … this here… something for you.” I stammered as I extracted the note from my back pocket. People were watching us, I felt. She calmly took the note from my shaking hands and opened it. “Not here, take it home” I wanted to scream. But I just stood there, stupidly watching those big dark eyes methodically go through the whole three-page love letter, right there in the street.
I was sweating profusely by the time she finished and looked up at me. I could not comprehend the reason or meaning of the hurt in her eyes. Then she turned and firmly walked away, still clutching the crumpled note in her hands.
I didn’t have the courage to face Rahul. I did not go back to him. The exam started two days later. Rahul never showed up. I went to his house. But it was locked. The family has gone to Delhi, neighbours told me.
“Never heard from him” I say, and after a pause, add “after that day”. She must have sensed the accusation. “It was not my fault. I had never encouraged him” she takes the defensive stance. “Shall we go back now?” Yes. We must.
I get up. But she stays rooted on the rock, “It really was not my fault. I did not like the boy. I was rather afraid of his stares. I told Mom and she told Daddy. Dad asked me a thousand questions. I answered all in negative. Next day Dad went to college and got his address. Dad had settled the matter, mom told me that night. That’s all I know, honest!” She is pleading now.
“Then why did you take the note home? Why did you not tear it and throw it in my face?” I must have screamed. The squirrel seems terrified. She doesn’t say a word for ages. I never expected an answer anyway, I tell myself and turn to walk back, not waiting for her.
She takes a few brisk steps and joins me silently. Somewhere on the way back, she stops me and whispers, “why didn’t you sign your own name on that note? And on the poem too?”
Perplexed, I look at her for few long moments. And then in that moment of revelation, I see the mischief hidden in those lines radiating from corners of her smiling eyes. We both break out into a laughter that is pleasantly warm like the midmorning sun on a hill station.
“Come, let’s go back. They must be waiting for us.” She takes my hand with an ease of a lifetime friend, as we walk back to baldy and the wife and the kids.
(c) Rajendra Pradhan
Reunion - The other Side
I knew my wife Preeti would rise early in the morning. Last night Rajendra had told us about the early morning walks he needs to take for his diabetes. The guy bores me to death with his endless talk about years past, but this info I was grateful about. He had also told me (boasted rather) about his business of supplying computer hardware and software to government departments, including the Home and Foreign ministries. I pulled the quilt over my head and pretended to sleep, as Preeti got up and prepared herself for their rendezvous.
It had been a year since this reunion thing had started to bother me. I remembered the days just after our arranged marriage. Preeti would freely boast of her conquests. How she used to be the heartthrob of hundreds of boys in her school and college. And how she used to make a fool of every single one of them. She apparently thought I would be pleased to hear that she did not fall for any boy, until she married me. I used to laugh with her, letting her think I enjoyed her tales. She had even shown me that love letter as if it were a trophy. The letter that was sent to her by a boy but which in fact had been written by another one, she had told me with that glint in her eyes. The glint that gullible men usually took for mischief, admiration, love or lust; as it suited them.
Men fell for her, that I was sure of, even in those early days of our marriage. It was much later that I learned of something else. Her work for the NGO took her to odd places. My scientist’s job at ISRO kept me moored. She often traveled alone. She would look different when she returned from those trips. Like a cat that has polished off all the milk in the fridge on the sly, she would come back to me purring. Slowly, I began to doubt her. I began seeing beyond her phony smiles and the false glints in her eyes. I noticed the eagerness with which she opened her mail in the home PC, late every night when she thought I was fast asleep.
Hacking into anyone’s mailbox is child’s play for me, an acknowledged scientist in Artificial Intelligence. When she left for her next trip, I did just that. The shock on seeing all those pictures in her mail was quite rude, even though I had suspected her since long. The mails were from some guy named Rahul. Four of her last tours were with that guy, it seemed. There were lot of pictures with both of them holding hands and worse. Apparently Rahul had shot the pictures with his digicam and mailed them to Preeti. I fought the urge to vomit on the keyboard.
Rahul’s mails contained references to their college days. So they had been classmates in college! It had been two years since they had renewed their contact, after they met at her NGO’s office. Apparently, Rahul’s company supplied materials to the NGO. In the mails, they had talked about some fool in their college whom Rahul had used as messenger boy for delivering his love letter. Rajendra was his name. Rahul and Preeti both had made cruel fun of the poor guy, in their mails to each other.
I had shut down the computer in disgust. That whole night, I had stayed awake and thought of my life. No, I could not think of murdering Preeti and then committing suicide. Or divorce either. Our two sweet kids prevented me from taking that course.
I had restarted the computer and hacked into Rahul’s mailbox this time. There were mails from his employers and friends and some ‘lady friends’ besides Preeti’s mail in his box. The guy worked in a firm that I recognized as one of contractors to Indian Air Force. Working at ISRO has its perks. Then I went into stealth mode. Using chained proxies, I retrieved some old but still classified data about Indian Air Force from ISRO servers and placed it in Rahul’s mailbox, making it look as if it were a copy of a message he had sent to someone in Islamabad. Then I sent an anonymous alert message to Military Intelligence. They will check the recipient’s mail address and draw a blank, I had made it sure. I also erased all of Preeti’s mails from Rahul’s mailbox as also the copies of mails he had sent to Preeti.
Then I had patiently waited for Preeti’s return. She had returned the next morning, acting like a coy bride and coming on to me as if she had been sex starved for the four days of her tour. I knew better. That evening, the news was all over the TV channels. Rahul Khanna, an officer of a company that supplied material to Indian Air Force, had been held on treason charges. They had picked him that morning when he had returned from a trip to the hills. I had watched Preeti’s dropped jaw with concealed amusement, as she watched the news on TV.
I pretended to be asleep as Preeti slipped out of the cottage. When I heard the two of them walk away, I got up. I watched them from the slit in the window. Talking and giggling, she was being the perfect whore she was, I thought. But this was no time for anger. Time to implement the plan! Kids were still asleep when I got out and ambled over to the next cottage and tapped on its door.
A sleepy eyed Jaya, his wife, opened the door. “Water in our cottage has run out. Can I use the toilet in yours?” I asked her. “Yes of course” she answered as she let me in and then closed the door before she went back to sleep.
The wife is not bad at all, I found myself thinking. Doesn’t talk much like her husband or my wife does. She minds her son and does what her husband asks of her. A good wife. I rather felt bad about what I was going to do next. Probably it will ruin her life too, along with his. But I had no choice.
I remembered the agony her husband Rajendra and my wife Preeti had caused me this last year; ever since that chance meeting (I have a doubt about the chance part too) at the wedding. She had deliberately insulted me by not introducing me to her ‘school days friend’ as she had went on talking to him. Then the two had decided to arrange this rotten reunion of their classmates. Their planned reunion became the excuse for his frequent visits to our home. I don’t actually know what happened during his visits to my home, because I was always away working my ass off at ISRO. But knowing her past record, I could easily guess.
Then at the reunion itself, I had kept my smile pasted on my face with some effort, even though I had watched two of them act like illicit lovers they were. The knowing glances, the half smiles, the way he rushed in to help her when she had choked on her words. You can’t fool an Artificial Intelligence scientist!
Then, as expected, Preeti had invited her ‘school friend’ to join us on this trip with his family. I am watching him. The way he observes every little detail about my wife, keeps close to her and tries to speak to her but stops when he sees me near by, these are all the indications of the affair they are having, I know. I laugh silently at the ‘secret’ of these two lovers! I know they are planning their next trip, without the kids and me and his wife. But I am prepared.
I spend the necessary time in their toilet, operate the flush and come out. Jaya has fallen asleep again. I make sure that her son too is still sleeping. The pills in that last cold drink of the previous night are still working! Methodically, I pick the locks on Rajendra’s suitcase and open it, take out all the clothes, and with a knife in my hand, make a cut in bottom lining of the suitcase . Just a slit will do. Then I take out the wad of papers from my pocket and insert it in the slit. I seal the cut with cellophane tape. It is hardly noticeable. Then I place all his clothes back in the same order they were before. Lastly, I lock the suitcase as it was.
Nobody, not at least dumb Rajendra –the phony school days friend of my wife- will know that photocopies of tad old but still highly classified papers related to national security are nesting at the bottom of his suitcase. I have not yet decided whether to call CBI or RAW this time. I will decide that when we return home tonight.
Silently, I let myself out of their cottage and walk back to mine. I am back in time to watch from the window slit. The lovers are walking back towards the cottage, hand in hand, with a glow of their sinful affair on their smiling faces. I climb back into the bed and pull the quilt over my head, as I pretend to be still sleeping.
Preeti is shaking me awake. She probably thinks the glow on my face is from some dream. Yes, it is a beautiful dream, of revenge! For calling me “baldy” too, among other things!
(c) Rajendra Pradhan
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
and yet remains apart,
how could I fit him inside
a mere heart?
so I became a mirror and-
His reflection I caught
now however big He is outside,
will also be so, forever,
but unaware I was
of laws of reflection
until the moment of revelation
what was right, is now left
truths that I knew
have become untrue
black turned white
and eyes, Blue
© Rajendra Pradhan
the stories you used to weave
and would ask me to believe
they make me aware
of breaths that we take
and venom that we spew
of lives that we fake
and lies that we live
time is fine sand
and our untwined hands
make a coarse sieve
you should have stayed
when the world was conquerable
or so, I used to believe
© Rajendra Pradhan
I embarked with zest
each resolute step
like a mistake, perfect
I began by winning
to millions' surprise
the great swimming race
and life was my prize
bagful of wants
stuffed in a skin
always some room
for one more sin
I claimed as my own
with pride profound
tiny breaths snatched
from vastness around
arriving finally to claim
my rest, my birthright
I heard a soothing voice
from behind a bright light
"welcome back my child
your efforts be blessed
a tottering step you were
in my own self's quest"
© Rajendra Pradhan
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Was what I craved
So I piled up some stones
And built towers taller than dreams
Then barred their windows with my weathered bones
Leaving no escape for my screams
And here I sit alone
In this depraved
(c) Rajendra Pradhan
Friday, January 27, 2006
Rictameter is a form of poetry with nine lines. The format is
The other night, I was watching news on the telly with my family. The reporter was droning on about some politician’s visit to a home for handicapped. Bored, I picked up the day’s newspaper and successfully shut the idiot box out of my mind. After a while, I was startled to hear my daughter call out excitedly “Dad, now I know what you are!”
I froze mid-action. What black deeds from my past have finally seen the light and camera of these television reporters? I wondered. You can’t tell these days, with so many sting operations going on! I was trying to remember something I might have done that was worthy of attention of a news channel.
Could it be my first love affair that I had so successfully hidden from my wife? I didn’t think so. Nobody knew about it except me. Not even the girl I was in love with! She didn’t even know my name, I was sure. It was love at first sight when I had seen her at the bus stop, waiting for her school bus as I was waiting for mine. Every morning I would spend few minutes looking at her and then we both would board different buses to our respective schools. And the “love affair” had lasted just for a few months, as schools change after fourth grade. Yes, we both were ten at the time. Hardly worthy an affair for prime time television, I thought.
Had they finally found out who had drawn that neatly labeled caricature of our biology teacher on the blackboard of my ninth grade classroom? Nah, that was years ago. Must be something new!
Could it be that the Income Tax department had found out about the necklace…! Can’t be that. Though my wife thinks she is wearing a real diamond necklace that I gifted her on our last wedding anniversary, I know its real worth. Income Tax officials are definitely smarter than my wife.
So what in God’s name it could be? I was still thinking hard when my daughter switched the television set off and sat next to me. “Now I know dad, what you are. You are an SMS challenged person!” she said with conviction.
Hugely relieved to hear this, I sighed deeply. Yes, I can be called that, I admitted. In today’s jargon nobody is short; they are vertically challenged! So definitely I am an SMS challenged guy. I couldn’t type an SMS if my life depended on it. For me, a phone is for talking, period. I grew up with those black bulky monsters with rotating dials and the receivers designed with weight lifters in mind; if the designers had something resembling a mind, that is. For me, a mobile phone or ‘cell’ as it is called now, is just a smaller version of those monsters, without a spiral wire attached. They let you talk to people whenever you wish. What more could one wish for?
The best way of communication is face to face, I firmly believe. You can watch the other person’s reaction to what you say. You can judge whether they are lying, or they are sincere, happy, sad, excited, bored. You can learn so much from their body language! A phone deprives us of all these opportunities. Yet, there is at least some personal touch in a voice call. If it is difficult to meet physically, then voice call is the next best thing. Voices too laugh and cry, smile and lie. But an SMS brings arctic cold to our casual communications. And the menace of unsolicited advertisements! It will give me immense pleasure to strangle the fellow who thought of putting that SMS thing in mobile phones.
Maybe because I hate them so much, but I can’t fiddle with those microscopic keys to type one straight word. Some evil fellow with a weird sense of humour has assigned the same key to three or four different letters! I start typing and the thing runs ahead of me, finishing the word before I begin! Hey wait! I didn’t mean to type this word, I shout at it. My daughter tries to teach me, but to no avail. I throw my hands up and the phone down, every time I try.
I have seen people juggle a lit cigarette, a doughnut and a pen in one hand while with the other they hold a briefcase and a cell phone, typing furiously with their thumbs on the tiny device with concentration befitting an ancient sage. Some mutant genes at work, may be. The guys must have ten fingers on each hand. Give me a full sized computer keyboard anytime. I can handle that.
But that too was not always so, I remembered with a smile.
Those were the days when computers were not so commonplace. My construction business was running all right without any need for digital diligence. One day a salesman walked into my office with brochures depicting a mightily powerful 286 machine. “Look here sir, you can do so much with a computer in your office! You can write letters, draw building plans and even play a game! Our computer has the latest chips, a whopping 120 MB hard disk and one full megabyte of RAM. Every office on the block is buying one.” He went on. The fellow wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Patiently I heard him. Finally I said, “This computer thing can do anything, it seems. It is just like God, isn’t it?” The man nodded vigorously, the broad salesman-smile firmly pasted on his face, as he anticipated a sale. “Well then, this settles it. I am an atheist you see. I don’t believe in God. And yet, I live quite happily in this world purportedly created and owned by Him. So I believe I can get by without this digital demigod of yours. Thank you.” I had said with a straight face.
© Rajendra Pradhan
may be these fields will turn fertile once again
let us sow some seeds of dreams once again
I see the heavens bowing down at the horizon
is she drying her hair on terrace once again?
she asks me the proof of our first embrace
time to open my bleeding heart once again
I tell the same tale, with the same fervor
the crowd goes strangely silent once again
was it my question or the way that I asked?
those hands firmly back, in pockets once again!
with great rush everybody's running to bazaar
they giving away rumours, for free once again?
they tell me she is likely to visit my tomb
should I start turning in my grave once again?
night falls, I look around, but she is gone
was I holding hand of a shadow once again?
ages ago 'Raj' has stopped singing his songs
yet someone still cries, 'Encore' once again!
Mr. Manish Bhatt (http://www.ryze.com/view.php?who=mokshamonger) has made an Urdu Transcreation of this English Ghazal. It is given below.
Shayad ye gulistaan lehlahayen, dobara
Aa khwab ke kuch beej toh bo aayein, dobara
Phir aasman hai jhukh raha choone ko jameen ko
Kya usne chhat pe baal sukhaye, dobara
Voh mangte hai vasl ki phir hamse nishani
Phir dil ke jakhm unko dikha aayein, dobara
Lo phir suna raha hun kissa mere junoo ka
Ye log sab khamosh ho jaayein, dobara
Mera sawal tha, ya usko poochne ka saleeka
Haath kyun jeb mein apni voh chupayein, dubara
Sab dodte phirte hain kyun phir se sare-bazaar
Kya muft mein afwahein voh batwayein, dobara
Kehta hai aa raha hai voh mere majaar par
Ab kabra mein bechainiyan satayein, dobara
Andhera jab ghira, dekha toh kab ke jaa chuke the voh
Thame the hath jiske, the kya voh saye, dobara
Gujare saal kayi ‘Raaj’ ko khamosh huye par
Aaj phir kiski sada goonjti si aaye, dobara
Gujarat had good monsoon, they said this year
bumper crop of swords, was reported this year
who says politicians, have forgotten their voters?
promise of new promises, they've made this year
Congress kisses commies, and Devegauda the BJP
everybody has a strange fellow in bed this year
Indian industry has grown up, so said the survey
bonded child labour perhaps, will be paid this year
for fifty-eight years, she has fought for euthanasia
will they let democracy, finally be dead this year?
ceasefire in Kargil now, but beware of flash floods
crocodile tears Miyan Musharraf has shed this year
Ah, the crimson sheen, on her smiling wet lips
God knows how many, she has bled this year
I promise to bring home, some butter next year
but eat for now my child, just bread this year
hungry vultures now perched atop barren houses
that in search of food, people have fled this year
Sunday, January 01, 2006