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No, Vasundhara is not my real name. I am breaking it in for a friend!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A May Affair

There is this strange lull in the times of this otherwise hyper-activity phase of merry-making. It is this deathly stillness that we the residents of Dreamorperish fear the most.

All of us dislike them but I hate storms.

No, not because of what havoc they are capable of wrecking…not even because of the dust that waits for you to sweep it out of your house, your room or portico. Not even because of the trees that fall, buckling to the fatal blow of the ghastly wind.

But because of the memories that every storm brings along with it. The memory of the day when Christopher-the Bamboozle knocked at my door.

Centuries of conmen put together would fall short of describing what gut Christopher was made of. He was the champion of his trade. Swift of hand and quick of tongue, this heavily built man was by far the most courteous of his tribe though.
It was his easy charm juxtaposed with a true cold blood manner that aided him on his trails for hapless victims.

Just as I sit waiting for my tea to brew strong enough, my thoughts float back to the day. The day of the raging storm that knew no end. The day Christopher-the Bamboozle knocked at my door…and they day he confessed his dislike for me.

It was a stormy August afternoon in the country side of Dreamorperish. Marked by the typical lazy Saturday afternoon, it was a day to just sit back and catch up on some sleep, read a book or listen to some of ones old favourites on the radio.
All of a sudden, stormy winds started blowing, the winds howled, the trees swirled, the rooftops sounded with the pitter patter of raindrops…which soon gave way to thunder showers.
The sky darkened as if Divinity had spurted vicious, black ink on to the sky. No birds chirped. No crows croaked. The streets of Dreamorperish were de-peopled and I had this inexplicable stir in my head. Something seemed to be amiss. What was it, I was not to learn until about another hour.

I sipped some water and headed for the bed. Pulling over the sheets on myself, I prayed for the stormy rage to subside. Something told me it portends a not so happy event.
I slept for a while, not long before I heard the knock on the front door. I curled up in bed…not wanting to go out. Knock again…twice …thrice…with an ever increasing intensity.
No, I cannot ignore those hammerings on my door! I get up and go out to check who that is…I have been nursing a headache for two days now…something tells me I must not go.
I fight every instinct, resolute to go give the one who disturbed me a good piece of my mind. The storm is at its peek. It knows no end…

Christopher standing at my door…with a butcher’s knife…screaming to be heard in the midst of that storm.
“I have come to kill you, Harris,”, said he, mad with rage. I do not know the reason for his anger.
He aimed at me…whilst I duck to escape the blows he dealt with that abominable knife.
I rushed back in to the house, with Christopher close at my heels.
I screamed, but no one listened. No one came to my rescue. Oh! The storm was to blame.

He deals another blow, and now I run behind the parlour, all around the table. Christopher keeps striking…he is not the one to exhaust and stop.
“I have come to kill you Harris”, says he again. Now I have reached the rooftop…hoping against hope that some one hears my screams. Oh! The fools are all huddled inside their homes.
I know I am cornered. Christopher knows it too…slowly, but surely, he inches towards me.
I still remember that look in his eyes from the day he came to kill me. There was disgust in those black, fiery eyes. They burnt with rage! Rage for me…what for, I am yet to learn.

My end is near. I await the final blow…and then Christopher speaks, “Harris, it is not for no reason that Dreamorperish town calls me mad. Why I come to kill you, I am sure you know”.
The storm is going strong and he has to scream even harder to get his words across.
“But Christopher”, I try to make him see reason, and he hushes me with a wave of his hand. “Hush, you fool”, says he, and strikes. I can feel that knife cut deep into my heart…I scream but no one comes to my rescue.
I am incapable of uttering any more words…and he is quiet too. He strikes again…this time my head bears the blow. I am bleeding all over…and screaming, as if I am possessed. Christopher has pinned me against the wall and counts every time he stabs into me. I cannot talk. The storm is still blowing and going strong. I cannot talk. Christopher is mad, so he has no words. Our eyes do the talking.
While his flash anger and inexplicable frenzy, mine flash the look of one who is lost. He is the vanquisher, and I am the vanquished. There is fear and upheaval in my eyes. The look of a dying man, who has no one to his rescue, is no different from a rebellion of sorts…if it were in him, he would strike back…if it were in me, I would devour the very being of Christoher. But I cannot move now. I am on the floor…breathing my last. Christopher, sitting by my side, and weeping. It is not without a reason that the rest of the town called him mad.
Suddenly he strikes me again, one final blow dealt to me, and I am a dead man. However, not before my final words to him. I promised I shall be back, wherever he was, to avenge my death. I am dead now. I am lying in a pool of blood.
The storm still goes strong. Christopher is planning his escape, and he is successful in managing one.
I hate to see myself lying like that. So vulnerable, so helpless. A part of me is still crying for help. The storm is finally settling down to mild howls, whispers and whistles.
It is not before a week that the local police discover me. Thanks to old Mrs. McKenzie who reported by absence…I still remember her savouring those afternoons when I read to her after she was forsaken by her son.
A prayer has been said, the soothsayer has laid me to rest. The people of Dreamorperish have wept a tear or two, and some even forgotten me. But I have not forgotten that fateful storm. I have not forgotten my promise to Christopher. I still writhe at every storm that blows past Dreamorperish. Sitting on the rooftop of my house, I keep looking for Christpopher. I shall return for him. I am a man of my words.
Oh! The disgusting storm, it will halt now, only to throw up images from that day. Chrishtopher, I am right here, awaiting that knock on my door…every passing storm, every possible day.

P.S: These words are an attempt at a technique of storywriting/general writing...to write from differnt perspectives. More to come from time to time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Stranger on the Platform

It was a regular Thursday. Like any other-work interspersed with thoughts about life and beyond. Some more work, and then plans to reach the station on time.
I had a train to catch, with a right foot that causes me to limp occasionally.
It was at a quarter past six that I decided to finally 'pack up' and leave. Early though t'was, but considering my not-so-mobile condition, it was clearly time to go.
I found myself at the platform at 1930 hours, on the dot.
Catching the 2210 hours, Lucknow bound Lucknow Mail, and waiting on platform no.16 is like second nature to me by now.
Some rajma-chawal priced at Rupees 20 for a 320 gram packet ( I could not help but read it, as the price was mentioned so big and clear) came to my stomach's rescue.
1945 hours, it was, and I was sitting on a bench. Cold winds blew and the winter chill made the few people (waiting for the train or preparing to go to sleep for the night) hanging on to every word the announcer uttered, shiver.
Not many people for that time and platform though.
I usually enjoy watching the on-goings at the railway station; each announcement reminds me of episodes, places, people and triggers countless thoughts in my head. Simply put, I do not struggle to while away time.
So, I plugged myself out to the tune of some Hindi melodies from the days of yore, when all at once I realized I am being ‘watched’.
Adept at it now (by virtue of the ‘over-protective and respectful sentiments” of our men folk towards women), I chose to look away…thinking whether I should get up and leave.
A few minutes passed and I quite forgot about it as the radio beckoned me yet again. After some time I threw a careless glance at ‘the spot’ and the stranger was gone. I heaved a sigh of relief.
I was in for a bit of a shock as I turned my head the other way. The stranger was standing right in front of me, asking whether I could move to one side and give him some space to sit down.
Considering there were other vacant benches nearby, my first instinct was to bluntly refuse or even walk away.
I thought for a second, and made some place for him, plugging myself out yet again.
It was then that I realized that the stranger was trying to initiate small talk with me.
Announcements and pushcarts were the only other sounds that broke the silence there. I unplugged the radio and asked him to repeat what he had just said. Here I shall try to quote our conversation, almost verbatim:
Stranger: Madam, where are you going?
Me, quite nonplussed: wherever my train has to take me!
Stranger, trying to carry the conversation on: Madam, still, where to? Which train?
Me: To Lucknow; Only one goes from here and I know which one is it. Thanks!
Just as I was about to plug myself out yet again, he said,
Stranger: Madam (with some hitch in his voice, as he must have sensed my discomfort)…
Me: Yes?
Stranger: Actually madam…
Me, thinking to myself whether I should just get up and leave…who all can I summon for help,…
Stranger: So madam, don’t mind please, actually…I was observing you for a long time…
Me: Yes. Okay…
Stranger: Madamji, actually I am an army man. Madamji I saw you sitting alone here on this platform, only woman…and the police in that corner (he pointed to a far end of the platform) are not too sober. They made me leave my bench there, hurling expletives madamji. So I came here, as I saw you sitting, just to sit or stand by your side to keep you safe.
Goes on, and madamji, I have seen life, and many people, I can understand who is what kind of a person. So please do not mind, I just came in case we have a situation here.
Me, smiling: Ah! Yes, I can see you are an army man (his hair cut, posture and way of sitting cross-legged gave him away).
Where do you come from and where do you go?
Stranger: From J&K madamji, and I am going to Howrah on T.Duty.
Me: Okay. Where from, in J&K?
Stranger: From Uri madamji.
Me: Oh. It must be rather cold up there?
Stranger: No no madamji, not very, just a little below zero at times…and we are all used to it.
(He smiled)
I felt humbled by that remark.
Stranger: So madamji, are you from Kashmir?
Me: No, from Uttarakhand, though I was born and brought up in Lucknow.
Stranger: Oh okay madamji.
(On some second thoughts)…are you from an army background?
Me: Well, yes and no. A lot of my family and friends and their family have and still serve in the Army.
Stranger: Ok madamji. So you definitely know a few names of divisions and units?
Me, laughing: Are you trying to test my knowledge?
Stranger: No madamji. Nothing like that. I trust your words. (Smiles)
Me: Thank you. I understand. (I too reciprocate his smile)
Stranger: Madamji, an army man has traveled far and wide and as one I have seen the world and life from close quarters. We do a lot for our country and countrymen, but we do not get the respect we should, madamji.
Me: I quite understand your words and your sentiments behind them. I am with you on this.
Stranger: Yes madamji, it shows you understand.
(By this time more people had started getting on to the platform, and there was quite some hustle and bustle. I had not cared to check the time off late. Some people I noticed were staring at the two of us talking.
Soon, a middle aged man walked by, and asked us to shift and give him some space to sit too.)
The stranger and I resumed our conversation.
Stranger: So madamji, when we come to civil life, we find it difficult.
Me: Yes. I understand.
Stranger: We are honest people madamji and people just want to make fools out of us. This, when all we want from the Nation is some respect.
Me: Yes, I understand. I truly can.
Stranger: So madamji, I am also happy that this time our General saab is an infantry chap.
First time for the Army madamji. He is a very good man madamji.
Me: Ah. (smile)
The third person: Ah, so you are both from the Army?
Stranger: I am. Madamji has family and friends/their family who have or are served/serving the Nation.
Me: Yes. (smile)
All: smile
The third person: The Army, it should really be respected. The army men do a lot for us. High time we acknowledge them and respect their gesture towards the Nation, towards us.
Stranger, smiling: Madamji also thinks that way.
Me: Oh, absolutely. We should move away from jingoism though, and feel more often and in a non-contextual way. Yes!
Stranger: Yes madamji. (smiles)
The third person: Very true. (smiles)
Also, there is some not so good news about the Army lately. Not a very nice thing.
Me: It is with every organization. Exceptions are always there. But why don’t we focus on the good instead…it clearly out weighs the bad?!?
Stranger: Yes madamji. Yes…we have a good General Saab now. He is taking good care of us. These things keep happening. We try not to lose our morale at such times. Our officers help keep our spirits high.
Me: (smile)
The third person, smiling: Nice to hear that from you. Good. We are happy to know that.
(Announcer: Train so and so, from NDLS to Howrah to depart 3 hours late than its scheduled time of departure, from platform number 14. We regret any inconvenience caused to you by this.)
It was 2100 hours by now.
Stranger: Okay madamji, I will go now. My train is at 0030 hours, but I must go.
Me: yes, you must go to the designated platform. It was nice talking. Happy Journey.
Stranger: Okay madamji, same here. Happy Journey to you too.
Jai Hind madamji.
Me: Jai Hind! (smile)
The third person, smiles: Okay (waves to the stranger)
(The stranger smiles and leaves)

The third person: Amazing sentiment. We definitely need to respect them more.
Me: Yes! The Nation must!!
The third person: So, what about you? Where do you study/work?
Me: I work with the TATAs.
The third person: Oh! Another great organization. A few of the honest ones at the top. Good!
Me: Yes.

It was 2115 hours by now. My friends came calling so I took the third person’s leave.
After a few minutes passed, the train chugged into the station. We boarded and got ready for our journey.
I do not know whether the stranger understood that he was preaching to the convert all this while...or rather he did...for he singled the third person out in the conversation...including me in most of his assertions.
I was quite dazed for most of the time that night. There are some moments in life when you cannot quite figure out why or how something happens. You just sit dazed through them, trying to make the most of these poignant moments.
It was one such night.
It was quite a Thursday. Unlike any other!

- On the night of 20th January, 2011 @ the New Delhi Railway Station.