Posted in Verses

Green Temptation 

‘Go on, go on, a little bite’ 

The wily uncle tempted

As she sat in respite

The crafty task unattempted 

She stared at the little mango green

Placed in her tiny hand 

Eyes curious and keen,

An unsuspecting infant.

Two tiny teeth on her upper jaw

And two tiny ones on the lower

She smiled with them at all she saw

And o’er the fruit now did they hover

She bit down hard and as her face

Wrinkled in betrayal’s taste

Her uncle caught her sour gaze

In a click of notorious haste

For years to come, the photograph

Remained in the Favourites pile

For his sly capture made everyone laugh

And her innocence made them smile.

Note: My uncle was in college and experimenting with photography at the time I was born, and I was soon his favourite subject. All my childhood photos were taken by him, the first time I stood up, sat up, me creeping up the stairs.. I was around 7 months when the mango pic was taken, the first teeth just out and eager to bite into anything I got offered. I could almost taste the sourness every time I looked at it – me in a yellow dress with the very green mango in my hand and face scrunched comically. Sadly I lost it when I moved.


Posted in Musings

Grandfather, Remembered

My paternal grandfather passed away last year. He was someone I knew only from afar. In my memory he is but a cheerful greeting and a pat on the back that came with summer visits after every school year.

Our visits were brief but looked forward to, as he lived in the hills. He taught at a school there and refused to leave the place even after retirement. Reaching him meant hours of exhilarating travel up steep winding roads lined by forests on one side and a precipitous drop on the other. I remember how we used to roll up the windows, for fear of monkeys that resided in the area. It was not uncommon for them to swing off low branches and latch on to slowing vehicles to grab food from unsuspecting passengers. Once night set in, there were chances we might come across wild rabbits, deer and even herds of elephants. The memory of a lone wild elephant spotted one night still fills me with awe. Another vivid memory is that of a glorious sunset witnessed once, the sun a large ball of fire in the blood red sky, playing peek-a-boo from behind the thick foliage as we traversed the sharp bends.

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A view of the valley and the road traversed as we near the top

Large tea estates awaited when we reached the top. The shrubs trimmed to perfection resembled green crocheted carpets strewn over either side of the road. We’d pass a couple of small sleepy towns, punctuated by wilderness and estates. I remember I always kept a look out for an ancient tree shrouded in mythical mystery. Every year I’d gaze upon it with wonder as my mother pointed it out and recounted the legend.

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The tea estates 

When we finally reached, the first to welcome us were large clusters of pink flowers that fell from vines that grew along the walls. All my life I have associated Rangoon Creepers with my childhood vacations in Wayanad. Grandpa would lead us in with his typically flamboyant pleasantries. In a corner of the hall lay his faithful sheepdog, oblivious to our presence, blinded partly by age and partly by the unruly mane over his eyes.

Most of my time there was spent going through his collection of books, usually abridged and illustrated classics in orange paperbacks. Every year I’d scourge the shelf for new classics, exalting in the discovery of previously unread ones. Otherwise I would explore the backyard up to where a small stream ran. An unused grinding mill stood there, surrounded by thick layers of rice husk coughed up over the years, replacing soil. There were guava and mango trees nearby which bore fruit in the summer, and I’d munch on freshly plucked ones happily if the monkeys did not get to them first.

While books and nature always engrossed me as a child, people seldom did. I don’t remember ever having a real conversation with my grandfather. This is partly due to the fact that my visits dwindled after high school and ended once I went off to college. Me coming home became a rarity in itself, and travelling to meet him was out of the question. I was too busy growing up to notice he was growing old.

Last year, I made the journey again after nearly a decade. The place has undergone drastic changes in the last years. The climb up is not as steep anymore, the roads having been widened to facilitate the growing traffic. Wayanad is now a hot spot for people seeking ethnic enclaves and picturesque getaways. Large billboards boast of ostentatious resorts that cater to every need. Institutions have sprung up in between the tea estates. My fabled tree of old is easy to make out now, as the area around it has been cleared and fenced to mark its existence.

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The Chain Tree

A great many people showed up for the funeral. I knew my grandfather as a teacher, a retired Headmaster. But everyone who gathered had a lot more to share. I was intrigued to discover he had been instrumental in turning part of that isolated village into the town it is now, using his ties with the ruling political party to erect the first schools there and the first bus depot. He had been President of a regional bank. He had a degree in Law in addition to Literature. My ideas about Grandpa faded, and in its stead I saw a curious young man, charismatic and fascinating, alive through all who had truly known him.

As the stories poured in, I felt a deep sense of loss. In all those years as I scourged for orange paperbacks, I had missed out on this particular classic.

Posted in Fiction

Red Bangles

This is something I penned for a short story writing competition some years back. The topic/prompt was Tears. It seems rather amateurish to me now, but I figured I’ll  post it anyway.

He saw her almost every day.

Not all of her of course. Now an outstretched hand with the blood red bangles, now a glimpse of the blue dupatta that waved at him in the wind. Sometimes the mere tinkling of her anklets as she ran down the street would suffice.

Every day as he walked home in the evening, he would linger there, right between the paanwala’s den and the cheap dhaba that sold much sought-after fly-ridden chaat , waiting till she appeared. And on some days she would not, even after he sacrificed three rupees on the dirty snacks as an excuse.

It was on a day such as this that he finally decided to venture into the dark alley that he knew only as her home. But a few wary steps later, his courage gave out. He was just about to turn around when –

“Hey, you!”

It was with a start that he located the voice. There she was, peering from a doorway. She of the blood red bangles and the blue dupatta. He noticed she had pretty eyes as she smiled.

“Hey you”, she repeated. “What are you doing here?”

He hesitated. Took a deep breath.

“Hi, I am Rahul. Can I be friends with you?”

She laughed, a tinkling sweeter than that of her anklets. The friendliness in her eyes gave way to curiosity.

“Why do you want to be friends with me?” she asked

“Well”, he began in a matter-of-fact tone,”I don’t have anyone my age where I live, and I see you every day on my way back from  school, so I thought maybe you can be my friend”

“Hmm..”, she said, considering the offer.”How old are you?”

“Turning 10 this summer”, he replied proudly.

“Then I’m afraid I’m a bit older than you”, she reasoned.

“Oh that’s okay”, he said. “I really like you, so I can make an exception.”

“I guess we are friends then”, she smiled again.

Rahul beamed. He was finally talking to.. wait –

“What’s your name?”

It was her turn to hesitate.

“Ch.. Charu”, she said, looking away.

He seemed pleased with the name.

“So what class are you in?”, he asked

“Oh, I don’t go to school”, she replied with a twinkle in her eye. “You see, I’m  a princess”

His eyes grew wide. “A princess??”

“Yes, a princess. I live here because I don’t want my enemies to find me”

The skeptic in Rahul spoke next. “Princesses don’t wear glass bangles, they wear golden ones!”

“I don’t wear them because that will give away my identity, idiot!”

Rahul had to admit she had a point.

“Okay then, tell me more!”

And she did. She told him of the armed guards who protected her and the old maids who waited on her. Of the snowy white bed she slept on. Of the delicious sweets she had. Of the golden plates and silver forks. Of the chandelier that sparkled at night. On and on, as the twilight set in, and the twinkle in her eyes grew brighter.

As enraptured as he was, Rahul had to admit he was getting late. He left with a solemn good bye and a happy promise to be back the next day. As she watched him walk away, she saw the snowy bed in her head. So much as a wrinkle and the Lady would hit her hard. The amazing sweets. Pinching off a crumb had the cook try to wrench her skin off. The cutlery. If they weren’t done just right, she could go without food for a day.

Of course, all this was way back. They would not keep her once she came of age. Now she was no longer a maid, but –

“Cherry!!”

Startled, she came out of the reverie. The twilight had darkened and she was needed.  Those big men with betel-stained teeth and sweaty odour always wanted her. Her innocence, they believed, would wash away their sins. Her body had long grown numb to their hungry touch, but somewhere inside her, a child still dwelled.

Which is why, as she crossed the threshold into where shadows alone lurked, the twinkle in her eyes fell away and dropped down her cheeks.