World’s oldest religious site, supposedly. I’ve been reading about this. Fascinating.
art gallery, art movements, art trends, artist, canvas, fiction, layers, masterpiece, painter, painting, peeled paper, post post modernism, poster, poster art, poster mishmash, saatvik, Story, writing
Each layer of Saatvik’s disintegrating canvas exposed an older trend. For a decade he had waited, letting it get ready, poster by poster, outside the city’s most reputable art gallery.
And now he greedily worked away; revealing hidden strokes, forgotten colours, disputed originals and debated interpretations. Long, knobbly, rubied fingers removed strips and patches with dexterous care, painting without paints, keeping a remnant of one show, removing a chunk of another.
He did not answer the curious public, not even those who seemed genuine lovers of art. ‘It may bias what is in my head, the struggle for explanation,’ he said through confident rips of paper.
That night, an opportunistic media-man posted a snapshot of the unfinished piece on the web. By morning, the art world had debated itself out on what it conveyed. And so the decade-long wait to create his masterpiece was wasted, when Saatvik hadn’t even unveiled half of what he thought his brilliant mind held. But minds change fast, in the post-modern world.
‘A snapshot of our city’s art history, through the last decade, layer by layer,’ he told the media-man and got away with it, having been famous for decades himself. No one accused him of pulling a Duchamp.
While the original was carefully removed from the wall and auctioned off for a grand sum, the excited curator documented the masterpiece on a beautiful print. Outside the now even more famous gallery, it stayed for a week before the artist for the next exhibit put up his shiny poster on top.
A decade later, Saatvik worked at another try, after being cited as an old fraud by some; by others, a much debated, misunderstood artist. Long, knobbly, dirt-lined fingers removed strips and patches with dexterous care, painting without paints, keeping a remnant of one show, removing a chunk of another. This time, he wouldn’t let it get clicked, nor would he expose the bottom-most layer of his new canvas.
Colourful, papered, ribboned surprise.
A mass-manufactured card,
with one Labrador puppy.
Why do you hide behind
the supposed-to, the supposed-to-nots?
Instead unwrap the tinsel.
the ribbon, the carton,
the mass-manufactured card,
the circled sticky tape.
I don’t need that Labrador puppy
When your eyes might be like one’s.
Capture yourself in natural light,
Don’t edit, don’t add those vintage filters;
not the retro ones, nor the ones that make you look
like a ghost of your true self.
Don’t deliver yourself to me in a gift wrap.
Don’t show me a hazy picture of
what you could, would, should be.
Just be to me the gift that you are,
a simple present presented in the present.
An environmental movement seeking volunteers to offer services (voluntarily, in case you missed it) to help us go meet dodos that are currently partying with quaggas and passenger pigeons.
I do think it’s an interesting idea.
There’s this child, perched on his father’s shoulders, knocking people with a balloon at the fair. The ground’s thick with colour and smells, but not happy faces. Why, the boy wonders, punching his colossal emerald balloon this way and that, an elastic string anchoring it to his finger. Why, when there are balloons and wheels and kites and gigantic stuffed toys to admire.
The bony father doesn’t mind his son’s weight while they tour the fair, but he is bothered that the fair had to open towards the end of the month. Absently, he walks with the happy burden on his shoulders, oblivious to the punching of the balloon this way and that, up and down, near and far.
An upset clown hides behind a painted smile. The emerald balloon knocks him on the face. Nearby, a small girl sees this and bursts out laughing, and this makes the clown laugh too. His smile is no longer just paint.
The wind’s dying. The balloon is punched lower and lower as the boy takes in delicious caramel popcorn whiff. The father walks past the vendor hurriedly before the demand comes from above, and the balloon knocks over a girl’s tub of snack. A dog jumps in, provides some quick cleaning service. The girl is thanked with two shiny eyes and a tilt of the head. She smiles, forgets that she is upset . Doggie receives a kind pat and wags.
Every sign says five bucks, ten bucks. Some say fifteen, even. The father takes a different route. Maybe the Ferris wheel wouldn’t cost as much. ‘Boy, would you like to ride the wheel?’
Yay. The boy punches the balloon harder, knocking off a giant butterfly hair-clip from a tall lady’s bun. Her wig tumbles down, but no one notices. The father even walks over it unknowingly while he keeps his eyes on the distant wheel. The lady frowns for a moment, then wishes the wig hell and walks away feeling free, the cool evening breeze licking her scalp after months.
The father is a little tired by now. The boy admires the fair, green through the balloon. When they reach the bottom of the giant wheel with its makeshift ticket counter, the boy is still punching his balloon this way and that.
‘How many tickets, sir?’
The father fumbles inside his pocket.
‘Just one? We don’t allow children by themselves.’
A man with three children behind the father nudges him. Hurry up, he says.
‘What happened, daddy?’
Daddy is frowning. ‘We are a little short of money, baby. The little equals the price of the balloon we bought at the entrance.’ The emerald reflects in his weary eyes.
‘So, what if I give the balloon to the ticket-uncle?’
‘He probably won’t accept it.’
The father is well-aware of the building queue behind. ‘Let’s come back tomorrow, son.’
There’s so much disappointment on the child’s face. He pushes the balloon about moodily now. Phubb. Phubb… Phubb.
Phubb. The father gets a blow full in the face.
‘Ok. Let’s try,’ he bends towards the ticket stall, recovering. ‘Will you, mister, take this balloon instead of the amount we are short of?’
‘Tsk,’ goes ticket-uncle. ‘Tsk.’ He rolls his eyes.
The boy’s arm isn’t tired. With a soft thud from the open top of the counter, ticket-uncle receives the emerald touch on his wrinkled hand. He sighs.
‘Alright. Will do.’ His granddaughter wouldn’t mind one.
There is a sound of perforated paper being ripped. The boy looks delighted and stops punching the balloon. ‘Here are your tickets. The ride begins in five minutes,’ he says, taking the balloon by its string. ‘Have fun, sir and little sir!’
I think I met Melchizedek right outside the Nagpur airport one morning, after a short trip home this July. He was dressed like one of the security guards- in khaki, hiding boredom just like the guards did behind a strict, no-nonsense expression and ample moustache.
I handed him my ticket printout and the driving licence. He peered at it, then at me. At it. At me. At it. At me.
‘I know. That’s more than five years old. I looked different. The pic’s mine.’
I always over-explain, yes, often before the need arises to.
‘You have a lovely name.’ His eyes didn’t leave the driving licence.
What a creep.
I gave a half-smile that hardly thanked him, and pretended to observe a bawling baby on a cart in the parallel queue.
‘Do you know what it means, Vaidehi?’
I provided the automatic answer. ‘It’s one of the names of Goddess Sita. Derived from Videha. Her father.’
He smiled, handing me back the licence. At this point I noticed his eyes- brown, shiny and deep. To my shock-surprise, he patted my head. ‘That it is. But what does it mean?’ His gaze was penetrating and held a hint of mischief.
I knew the meaning but thought he would not understand it even if I told him. Prejudice born from growing up in an environment where engineers are considered more brainy than designers.
He spoke. ‘It means one who has risen above and beyond the body and self. Vi-deha. Vi = beyond. Deha = body. Transcending beyond the body. Remember that.’ I must have looked really dumb with my mouth open, because my hair was promptly tousled and I was asked with a smile to move into the lobby beyond.
The past few weeks had been bad in a number of ways. I was cribbing a great deal about the unfairness dealt out to me by fate. Most importantly, I had not asked for help, to myself or others. The daily meditation was not being practiced when I needed it most.
I must have attracted this reminder. Unlike Santiago in The Alchemist, I wasn’t handed any decision-making stones, but the reminder was good enough. The first thing I did on boarding the flight was meditate. The rest would follow.
This Dussehra, like every year, Ram was to destroy the ten-headed villain Raavan again.
In Tarun Nagar neighbourhood, they had designated a resident politician’s young grandson as Ram. The demon Raavan, obviously, being the two-storey high effigy that was being erected on the grounds. Two days later, it would be burnt down while people watch with pride, bringing with some deliberation to their conscious minds that they are, indeed, celebrating the victory of good over evil. Ram over Raavan. Tarun Nagar over Gandhi Nagar. Everyone in the small neighbourhood boasted of how much grander, taller, more expensive their Tarun Nagar Raavan was.
The metaphor of the ten heads has not trickled down well through the three yugas that followed Lord Ram’s, which was when the Bull of Morality, as it says in The Laws of Manu, stood on three legs, which wasn’t nearly as bad as the present Kali yuga, when the said bull is pretty lame. The hero’s victory is celebrated as Dussehra- the day he killed the multi-headed demon who held captive the former’s wife, Sita, on the Lankan island. Today this is just a cool mythological tale, heard and enacted for entertainment; an excuse to allot a day for eating a grand traditional fare, including sweet, gram-flour stuffed puran-polis.
Tarun Nagar people were proud of their two-storey high Raavan. It rested in the middle of the ground- multicoloured, tethered to small posts that otherwise held up practice nets for cricket. Close to a hundred residents swarmed around, working on parts of the giant like Lilliputians around Gulliver. It was being stuffed with firecrackers. Elderly Mr. Khanna fashioned its painted hay moustache on his own. A handful of teenagers rested with newspaper scraps shielding their faces from the October sun. They had stayed up the previous night working on the effigy.
Mouth-open and eyes narrowed, Ved placed the last square of tinsel carefully on the Raavan’s crown.
He ignored the excess glue oozing from under the cardboard joinery, the badly cut paper on the Raavan’s clothing, the bad paper cuts on his own soft seven-year old’s fingers. He beamed at his creation. Paper scraps, sticks and vibrant material lay strewn all over the room and around him. There he stood picking at the dried glue on his chubby hands with satisfaction, putting an occasional bit into his mouth. Then, he gingerly lifted his masterpiece and brought it out into the hall, heart pounding. ‘Dad.’
His father looked up from the garland of orange marigold and mango leaves he was making. Finally, he thought with pride and relief, happy for the shine in Ved’s eyes. ‘Much better than the giant on the ground.’
‘What do you think?’
Ved giggled. Dussehra, celebrated ten days before Diwali, held more charm for him than Diwali itself. Ramayana fascinated him. Not the hero God Ram as much as the villain with ten heads. Ved was an unwanted volunteer on the neighbourhood ground, where the cool boys ruled. ‘Cool’ meant you either owned a bicycle, or had progressed from being a mere fielder in the neighbourhood cricket gang to a batsman. Ved was neither. Tired of being told not to interfere in the making of the community effigy, he had decided to make one of his own in a burst of emotion.
And now, his father’s praise was a merit badge on his small chest. Mother scolding him for cutting up one of his notebooks for the demon’s clothing also proved worth the trouble. She hugged him and said she was proud to have their personal Raavan to set fire to, that Dussehra.
Ved had a field day. His circle of friends loved the small Raavan. No one else had made one. He couldn’t wait for his grandma, aunt and cousins to see it. The wait was hard. Evening stood hours away.
Then around lunch-time, Ved decided not to burn the Raavan because it was so pretty and he had worked so hard on it.
A little later, he decided to burn it when Grandma, Auntie Gauri and a handful of cousins would turn up in the evening to celebrate with them. Afterall, it was meant to be burnt.
The very next minute he reconsidered it.
The evening before on the community ground, Mohit Joshi, a love-struck teen on the grounds had held a giggly Prachi’s hand, behind the Raavan’s third head. Ved, preening the giant’s many eyebrows could not hear what the bully told the girl with his nose in her oily hair. Ved found this both disgusting and stupid-
They sprang apart. Mohit jumped up and grabbed Ved’s ear.
‘Out. Out of here, now.’
‘But why, Mohit dada?’
‘Because I saw you ruin the Raavan.’
‘I saw you stick the wrong coloured paper on the giant’s hem. It’s not supposed to have an amber border. Don’t you know? And I think you stole some firecrackers from his crown.’
‘That wasn’t me! Must have been Janak.’
Mohit watched Prachi walk away in a huff. He bent down to look into Ved’s large, unblinking eyes.
‘We don’t need useless, meddlesome volunteers like you.’ Ved winced as Mohit gripped his arm hard. ‘Don’t want to see you around here, get it? Go away.’
So Ved had asked Mr. Khanna, while he smoothed his abundant moustache, if he needed assistance with the Raavan’s.
‘But of course not. You think I can’t do it? Go stick paper on the hem, now.’
‘But Mohit dada said…’
He approached Nirmala auntie, while she painted the giant papier-mache feet. She told him to go home and thank you, because he was such a sweet child to have offered help.
‘I won’t spoil anything. Really. I am good at craft. At school, Miss Gautam says…’
She waved the paintbrush, and Ved got speckled with skin-toned paint that smelled of acetone. ‘Go home, kid. Don’t you have homework?’
It was barely past lunchtime on the day of the festival when the hooligans turned up. Ved was halfway through a ghee-coated puran-poli when a gang disturbed the neighbourhood with loud honking on speeding bikes. Some said they were from Gandhi Nagar and were here because some boys from their own neighbourhood had probably fought with the rowdy lot. Whatever the reason, by the time the vandals left, shocked Tarun Nagar residents were closing their ears to an unexpected din magnified by the afternoon’s silence.
A rider on a Thunderbird, the last in the long line of supposed Gandhi Nagar vandals, had hurled a flaming torch in the middle of the ground. Only that morning, the Raavan had been pulled up to stand- a two-storey giant, decked in paper finery, stuffed with firecrackers for the evening’s celebrations.
The Unofficial Tarun Nagar Circle of Important People summoned a representative from Gandhi Nagar.
‘Why would we do it? Are you aware that some of us actually donated money for the Tarun Nagar Raavan?’
The host party was stunned. ‘But who asked people from your locality donations for oureffigy?’ asked Nirmala auntie.
‘We didn’t know it until yesterday. We are a large colony. Not everyone knows everyone. This teenager- a tall chap, curly haired, came around last month, ringing bells for money. Most of us gladly complied, assuming it was one of our volunteers.’
The Circle looked at each other. Who?
‘Then, when the total from receipts did not match the amount on our account book, we discovered this. A schoolmate of his lives in my block. The boy can confirm who the curly-haired culprit is, if you like. But not today. The festivities are about to start.’
‘Oh yes. Thanks to the crooks your locality harbours,’ said Mr. Khanna. ‘We aren’t even left with anything to feel festive about.’
‘See, we are not too pleased either. And, we are livid for the unethical money collection that happened from your side. But that does not mean we burnt down your Raavan.’ He rose. ‘Though Ram knows, we had the right to.’
There happened to be two teenage, tall chaps sporting curls in Tarun Nagar. Both accused the other of being the thief. Mohit Joshi versus Kiran Gokhale, Kiran Gokhale versus Mohit Joshi. Residents watched as the families joined in to exchange choicest Marathi abuses, some unheard of, perhaps invented on the spot. Joshis told the Gokhales that their children were not raised right. Gokhales pointed out the Joshis as a blight on the Konkanastha Brahmin community.
Tarun Nagar watched the referee-less match on the ground until the sun settled on the charred bunch of bamboo poles. Their Raavan’s skeleton.
Custom demands the exchange of gold leaves, along with good wishes. Thousands of Apatitrees go naked every Dussehra, sources of the said leaves which, when held at a certain angle, shine an ethereal gold in the sun.
Poeple carried sulky expressions along with the leaves that evening, spoke less of good wishes and more of the unfortunate event.
By eight, autumn stars dotted the sky. Faint cries of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ preceded pops of firecrackers from the Gandhi Nagar direction. A rumble of applause followed. The colourful fireworks could even be seen from Tarun Nagar.
Mr. Khanna, for one, did not believe the Gandhi Nagar diplomat. Whether over an unfair act of obtaining donations from a different neighbourhood or not, it was still an anti-social act. He called in people from the local paper.
The local politician whose young grandson was to burn the effigy had thrown a grand tantrum.
Meanwhile, Nirmala auntie had a brainwave on one of the leaf-exchange visits.
‘That sweet boy of yours,’ she told Ved’s mother at the latter’s home. ‘He tried to help us so much. Alas…’ She eyed the tiny effigy planted in their front yard again next to the holy basil. ‘Oh, now when did he craft that wee demon?’
The decision was no longer Ved’s.
‘I don’t want to burn my Raavan.’
‘Well it was going to be burnt anyway, wasn’t it?’ asked his visiting cousin.
‘What do you mean no?’
‘No!’ Ved burst into tears, running to his room.
His father knew the neighbourhood wanted to burn the tiny Raavan for the sake of showing fake goodwill, for putting up a show of being brave in spite of having such unfairness thrown at them. Everyone wanted to put Ved’s labour of love high up on a pedestal in the middle of the ground, next to the burnt Raavan. A hurriedly organized ceremony would state how they were not affected.
‘Gandhi Nagar people may have a grand Raavan, but Tarun Nagar folks will have something more meaningful,’ said young Mr. Fadke.
‘Even if it’s minisc– small,’ Mr. Garge added from next to Ved’s Raavan. The entire Unofficial Circle was in Ved’s house, trying to convince the small boy and his adamant parents. Grandma occasionally interrupted the cacophony with ‘don’t force him,’ and ‘leave my poor boy alone.’
‘Not daunted by the act of vandalism, we aren’t,’ recited the resident politician to the news people. The grandson prince now wanted to set fire to Ved’s Raavan himself. He bawled, ruining his blue make-up and blue Ram costume. Meanwhile, the news people tried to convince Ved, and all they managed was ample footage of a seven-year old crying, sitting on his cot cross-legged, throwing cushions at the camera.
‘Your son is a spoilsport. Where is the good, giving nature you should have instilled in him by now?’ Nirmala auntie asked Ved’s parents. Grandma asked her to leave in a tone not too polite. The news people had already left. The small crowd of Tarun Nagar people that had accumulated to convince Ved dispersed. The politician’s grandchild was promised a new bicycle and that stopped his tears.
The metaphor has not trickled down well through the yugas. First, there’s ego- the biggest, most central, most domineering. Then there’s pride, the first of the other nine, the first step towards them. Ego and pride together prod us to become infatuated with infatuation, fall in lust with lust, be overly passionate about passion. But they do not make us hate hatred, become angry with anger or be envious of envy. They feed greed to selfishness. Ego, the pivot, arranges them all in one neat row. The ten heads glower down at us ever more oppressively.
‘All those people have left, son. You can now set fire to your Raavan all by yourself. Come. Grandma is waiting for you. She is proud of the little demon!’
‘I am not a little demon!’
‘I said the little demon. Your Raavan. And she is proud of you for making such a beautiful paper statue. Now come out, your mother has cooked some more puran-polis. Just for you.’
‘Dad, I don’t want to burn it. It took me two days to make it.’ He buried his face in the tear-soaked pillow.
‘That’s the point. See, that’s why we should burn it. So next year, you make a bigger, better one.’
Ved frowned. ‘And burn that one too?’
‘Yes. So the year after that, a bigger one can follow. And a bigger one after that. All the way till you make one as great as the one that was on our ground. Who knows, maybe yours will even be taller than two-storeys. I’m sure you can make one. I’m sure you will.’
‘And what happens after I make the tallest Raavan ever?’
‘The day you make a Raavan as tall as you possibly can and burn it, you will have truly conquered it.’
Ved considered this. ‘Like Lord Ram?’
‘Like Lord Ram.’
The family stood around the holy basil. Ved approached the Raavan carefully with Grandma, a sparkler alight in his hand.
Everyone cheered when the hem caught flame. Ved stepped back, holding Grandma’s hand. His cousins clapped.
A handful of neighbours joined in on hearing the peppery sound of small crackers that Ved had diligently planted inside the giant’s cloak. The group watched the fire creep up the villain from the inside. Soon the Raavan’s furrowed face lit up with a final raging glow against the surrounding darkness.
In less than ten minutes, it was gone.
…that led folks to my blog. (And according to me, which posts they might have ended up on).
1. meerkat with burnt roses picture
Post: Had I been a meerkat
2. 10 examples of speech bubbles about of grandfather
I’ve no clue. Maybe because this post has the word ‘grandfather.’
3. graphic design planet earth
Wow, looks like I might just be contacted by a Pleiadian client.
4. human lookalike meerkat
Um, what were they trying to breed?
Post: Had I been a meerkat
6. horrid humans
I really hope the one who searched for this did not end up on my About page.
Posts: The murder of Aral: now we have another ‘Dead sea’ , Sublime
7. is mukhwas good for you.
Of course it is.
Post: The Joy of Churan
Can’t read Cyrillic. But Googling suggests it’s got something to do with tectonic
Post: Plate tectonics: far-apart continents
9. my son only draws distorted shapes
Is he a toddler?
Post: The distorted rickshaw
10. punjabi drawing on scooter
Like, a Punjabi sitting on a scooter and drawing or a Punjabi’s drawing on a
Post: Wincing in the Rain
Thank you, WordPress.com stats.
Mum said if I try to talk to people without giving up, it will one day break the ice. But that’s what I do, and still Annie doesn’t talk to me, not even when I offer her my favourite green pencil.
‘It’s chewed on the end. Eww!’ she always says before returning to her scribbles. Miss Gomes has told her more than once, gazing through glasses that make her resemble a praying mantis: ‘An ’E’ has only three bars, Annie dear. How many? One, two, three.’
And yet she draws four, sometimes five. I think it’s the pigtails. Makes girls dumb, see? Stuff can’t get into their heads because the brain cannot sip it in through twisted strands.
So, I walked outside through our wicket gate on my own, like I’ve been doing ever since mum said I could. When old Mrs Mascarenhas from opposite appeared at her yellow-framed window, I knew mum had called and asked her to watch me; because then I wave at her, which makes her smile. Mrs Mascarenhas has no teeth, which makes me smile.
Found a bunch of them under the street lamp this time, those light green plants at ground level. My elbows dug into the soft soil as I stretched flat on the ground to watch closely. Black ants climbed all over me, the harmless big ones that turn brown when evening sunlight passes through them.
I extended a finger in slow motion to touch a leaf nearest to my nose. ‘Careful! Don’t blink, Vicky,’ I whispered to myself. A dark crescent outlined my fingernail from yesterday’s puddle fight with Xavier. Mum’s frowning face swam before my eyes the moment my finger came in contact with the leaf.
Every time I touch even one of the tiny greens, the soft branch clamps shut like a ziplock. After a few tries, they go all lazy, as if saying, ‘Oi, aren’t you tired of this? Go home now.’
The touch-me-nots were just that, today too. Some day, I hope to get the shyness out of them. Been trying everyday, see?
But Mum said it will never happen. I said the plants are plain stupid. I speak to them everyday, but at the slightest touch, they close. So she sat me on her lap and explained that the leaves closing is just a way for the herb to defend itself.
‘But I crushed them, Mum! Stomped on all of them. Pulled them out of the mud!’
‘Why did you do that, Vicky?’
‘Because they just snap shut, and I try so hard to be friendly!’
She sighed. ‘Plants take millions of years to evolve, Vicky. Just like some people take longer to change– they evolve slowly. Let those plants be, son.’ She held my muddy hand in her floury one. ‘Just never give up on people.’
Then she hugged me and cried.
I asked her what evolve was, but she didn’t answer. I thought it was revolve without the r. So, it must mean something like only half a circle on a merry-go-round. When I was dressed up as Saturn for our live solar system model in science class, Miss Gomes had asked me to revolve around Xavier, the Sun. Round and round I’d gone, rotating within my hula-hoop ring. Nice word, evolve. Easier than breaking-the-ice. Must tell Annie, that dimwit. Maybe she’ll understand too.
© vaidehi patil
It could have been a bad day
It could have been a good one,
For I oscillated between moods
And then an hour of
Aimless shuffling on itunes.
It could have been a bad day
It could have been a good one…
With a flat tyre
A cancelled trek
Two well-brewed coffee mugs
And a handful of
It could have been a bad day
It could have been a good one,
With a Sri Lankan souvenir lost
A good friend gone abroad
And three well-planned attacks
On my self-esteem.
It could have been a bad day
It could have been a good one…
With the restlessness transforming
And then to a trapped feeling
Of not being able to get out;
then again, wanting to, at least, roam in
the city I try to love
After a day’s work
As I held the key to my home
The dull light bulb from above
cast a city’s silhouette on the welcome mat-
the contour of my key.
© vaidehi patil
Curse of the Arabian:
She’s not a city
but a greedy mound of maggots
gnawing and growing
on a limited sliver
of decaying flesh.
From a century ago, they will tell you,
much land was re-claimed from me.
To justify the claim of re claim,
one would want to see,
if the seven bits were ever connected.
I can tell you, for I was born
around the time
They had never been her’s,
those extra pounds of flesh
she put on proudly
for the worms to thrive on.
Stolen from me.
Not re-claimed as they say,
She deserved the curse-
Uttered in the forlorn days
after I got over the shock
of having been shaken and shirked away
by the creeping city
and her maggots.
Now she slowly decays
graying in my spray
she half-drowns when my friend
mocks her in the rainy days
she burns in the sun, the smog,
under the many wheels she harbours.
and it might be
only a few more years,
maybe months, maybe days,
before I re-claim,
what was mine
from the city
I once loved.
I visited Pinnawala during a trip to Sri Lanka last year. At this elephant orphanage near Kegalle, there live all kinds of pachyderms:
Are you the bull
following wild flaying
dancing in your short-sightedness,
unthinking of what crushes under
and what your horns could gore?
Are you the mad red patch
not in your control
shiny, new, and dangerous,
annoying a beast
while being controlled by another?
Are you the one decked-up,
the puppeteer pepped with applause,
teasing trouble, flinching invisible strings
at unimagined risk
for the safely distanced applauders?
So Flew Dodo
Once a shiny moon in 1681, a flock of gulls flew across the inky sky. Dodo watched in awe from her perch on the barge slip’s edge. Streamlined silhouettes cut across the orb.
‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. What lucky things. Such pretty wings,’ Dodo gushed, panning her bucked and beaked head from west to east in slow motion. When the flock vanished, she hopped down from the splintery post and waddled to her nest under the leafless tree.
‘Whoa. Gone are the leaves again. Gone is the grass. And my eggs in plain sight too…’
‘Whoa. Gone are my eggs again.’
She hopped around the collection of twigs and straw, disappointed.
‘Scarce, these days, they are. But I must find a–’
A lead ball zoomed from behind towards her grey bulk.
And so flew Dodo.
I don’t need this. Perhaps I’ve become a little weird, as my friends say, after the brewery caught fire. All those nights spent concocting recipes– completely wasted. They say I need stability, an anchor. Something to look forward to. They are mad. I have no problems, none at all, nope. No problems. So what am I supposed to see in these stupid ink blots?
“Don’t think too much,” said the young psychiatrist, a scrawny fellow with an oversized Adam’s apple and no chin. “Say what comes to you first.” His hand shook a little as he held the card. I observed the round swirls.
“I certainly don’t see you.”
“Be spontaneous.” His voice was low.
“That was spontaneous”
“It will help us if you say what you see, not what you don’t,” he said.
“A pair of arms. Definitely not yours.”
He held out another card.
“Two heads, kissing.”
“Two singing blackbirds.”
He frowned and displayed another print. He’d said ten. Seven more to go.
Then, a chance glance through the glass window revealed a beacon of hope: the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, sitting outside, awaiting her appointment. She caught me staring and smiled. My mouth went dry. I fell in love in that glorious moment, when the dimples appeared. I made a quick song about them. I also made a plan that began with acquiring her number and ended at possible honeymoon destinations.
The shrink coughed.
“I see a tree reflected by a river,” I blurted. He fumbled with the cards, displaying another.
“A drunk old man on a merry-go-round. Hence the blurry lines? Bingo!” I was happy.
“There’s no wrong or a right answer.”
“Then what’s the point of this exercise, wise guy?”
He looked like he didn’t remember and simply took some notes. Is this how they planned to save the likes of me? With ten random ink blots? My eyes wandered. The girl seemed happy. I took in her bizarre dress made from what looked like jute. Boy, she did need a shrink. But I didn’t care: she reminded me of a woodcut seen years ago of the hot Sumerian brewer priestess Ninkasi, in The Pale Ale magazine. My memory was fine, at least. It was the shrink who needed some tests.
I returned to the swirls.
“Looks like a gasoline explosion,” I said, “electronic configuration of the gold molecule; the Bluebird hill in the neighbourhood; a medieval witch-burning.”
The last card was up. Phew.
“Two men brawling,” I said, “over a woman.”
He stacked the cards neatly and sighed. “Come back tomorrow for another session,” he said, after minutes of scribbling notes. I proceeded towards the door with the intention of eavesdropping till my jute-clad, dimpled beauty was through. She walked past me. I turned at the exit. She hugged the psychiatrist. Then she held his nonexistent chin.
“So how was your first session with a patient, love?” she asked.
I thought she suited him perfectly.
He tilts his head and frowns. The deep, brown eyes spell polite confusion. I repeat my question.
‘What planet are you from, Igloo?’
The angle of the tilt changes by the slightest degree. I indulge in a stretch within the comfort of the couch and persist.
‘Don’t you remember?’
No response. No woof, no ruff, no arf. Not even the rumble that starts from the depths of the stomach and ends behind the throat. Just an eye and the opposite ear raised higher than the other. His forlorn look demands clarity- and escape.
But not so soon. Not till my mind regains the strength to force itself back to the fantasy novel lying in my lap. I’ve struck a long, descriptive chapter on a llama-aardvark mix from the imaginary Machu-Tubulichu or someplace equally fantastical. I don’t remember. It’s December, my brain is frozen, and the attention span is like the day’s length.
In one quick motion, Igloo darts his eyes to the headless rubber chicken under the wicker chair and back. Too bad, I think. He’d chosen to snuggle up to me at the wrong time.
Don’t you feel like going back to where you came from?’ I ask-
‘Say, perhaps, a planet called Canidus?’
A tiny nose-twitch.
‘No? How about Yelptune?’
He inches marginally towards the toy.
This, he understands. Two paws are promptly placed on my knees. A drop of drool lands on the open book, magnifying an elegant Q.
‘Our answer is not in the book, no,’ I tell him, staring into the watery eyes that hold a hundred and one questions. If I were him, I’d snappily ask me to stop the bugging and get back to the book. But he’s Igloo- warm and accommodating like his name. Not one mean bone under all the fur and fat.
He’s an opportunist, though. While I stifle a yawn, he lands on all fours with a soft thud. I try to look insulted. His body is turned towards the rubber chicken, but the apologetic eyes are still on me. I control the urge to smile but a flicker escapes. His tail stops midway through a wag.
I bend towards him, eyes narrowed. More annoying questions pop in my head. Pop, pop, pop. Each seems less amusing than the other, so I burst them and give up. He can perhaps see this.
The tail completes the wag. With a smile in his eyes, Igloo approaches the chicken.
The sound of a rubber leg being ripped off tells me to return to the book.
A lost ant
chose to follow the directionless map
of the big leaf’s veins.
Picking this way over that
and that way over this.
Choices both knowing and unknowing,
and was rewarded-
with an unexpected patch of yellow
from a fallen fruit,
that had coloured the chlorophyll