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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dear Mom and Dad,

Happy Anniversary
Your happiness together means "home" to us.
Here's wishing you both years of togetherness and joy to those who behold you.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Thinking Tree

4/14/08, 11:52 AM
This time the theme is about something that is every weeping philosopher's favorite: the ingratitude of mankind. I'm not a misanthropist so don't try to psychoanalyze me based on this fable. It's nothing empirical though. I watched something like it when I was a kid- where a woman becomes a tree. The lacy additions are my own.

I could feel the sun scorching me with its rays. My throat felt dry and my vision was blurred. All I could see around me was a vast arid land - endless, and thirsty just like I was. The parched soil gave up vapors from its cracks as if the most secret tears of the Earth were evaporating in the heat from her bleeding heart. I was feeling delusional- I had lost track of time and the purpose of the errand I was running. All I knew was that I was walking alone and would die of thirst or from a sunstroke if I stopped to rest. Dying. It seemed to have a promise in it. Maybe only then I could rest. And then, almost like a mirage, I saw a tree at a distance. I walked as fast as my weary legs could carry me, and even before I could admire the grandeur of its beauty and magnificence of its branches, I fell in its shadow and fast asleep.

I woke up with thirst, and I wondered if I could find a drop of water somewhere. I tried jerking my water bottle upside down, not one drop was left from what I had when I started my journey. And I was lost. To divert my attention, I looked at the bough. It had white flowers but no leaves. But the blossoms were so dense that they gave better shade than even broad leaves could. I had never seen a tree like that. The petals were pearly white and the branches or the huge trunk was not brown or green or any other color typical or characteristic of any forest. It had a golden hue and it glowed in the sun. Not brightly but soothingly. Now, I realized why I had fallen asleep so soon- the flowers had an intoxicating fragrance, which I suspected was sleep-inducing.

I looked admiringly at the tree that guarded me from the cruel sun, when I heard a maiden's voice : You must be thirsty? Come, drink the sap from my stems. And eat my flowers. You have a knife, don't you?

I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming, but it seemed all right. The tree was talking to me. Hypnotized, I did as she bid me to and I sat like a kid in her lap, my mind void of all thoughts, only wondering about my current companion. And like she were reading my thoughts, she began: I was a young girl once.

(to be continued)

4/25/08 , 6:32 PM

I lived with my father on the outskirts of a nearby village, who worked as a water bearer, quenching the thirst of wayfarers like you. Once, my father fell terribly ill and I worked for him to make a living.

One afternoon, a group of travelers passing by the village came to buy water from me. There were three of them - all strangers to this land. They drank their full and rested for a while. Then they spoke among themselves in a strange tongue and asked me if I'd come over to the wilderness where one of their companions was lying thirsty. He was too tired to walk and they had left him under a tree to rest. I said that it was getting late and it might be a better idea to fetch the villagers for help to carry him to the village for the night, where they could all find their lodging and food if they wanted. One of the men, who was the only one who spoke to me in my language, said that they feared that their friend wouldn't survive if they spent too much time gathering people. And then he offered to pay me triple the amount that was due to me.

I gave it a quick thought and agreed to their suggestion. I needed the money for poor papa, and to give water to a dying man was a noble task. "Nobler if I can save his life." Thinking so, I grabbed a big leather pouch to carry water and bade my father goodbye, but I thought he was in a sleeping drought 'cause he didn't respond.

Then, I followed the three strange men while it was nearing dusk. I told them that we would have to return before it was night or else we wouldn't be able to find our way back if it was too far away. But they kept advancing idly and without any apparent direction.

I felt scared that I might not be able to save their friend and they wouldn't pay me as they had promised to. After a while, they stopped by a boulder and said that we were there. I looked around and said, "But I don't see a tree anywhere". They looked at me and laughed and said that they wouldn't need one. There was a vulgar threat in their laughter but I couldn't identify the source of their amusement. Maybe they sensed my fear. Maybe that gave them a distorted sense of power.

They tore at my clothes, clawed me with their nails, bit me with their hungry teeth and treated me like no man would have treated an animal bred for slaughter. And when they were done, they sat there smoking, beside my listless bleeding body, like they had hunted a game and made a kill. Only, they didn't carry me back home for glory. They left me there to die.

In the night, it got very cold and I could feel the remaining of my senses getting numb. I looked dizzily at the sky lit with stars, which was getting fainter with my loss of clear vision. I thought of my old ailing father waiting for me to go back. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine that it was all a bad dream. But the pain in my body was real. I knew I was dying.

I don't know when I woke up. After days or years or simply in a few hours. I saw a mutilated body of a girl in rags getting discovered by a caravan and being carried to the village. It could have been me or someone else who had shared the same fate. I wanted to cry but I couldn't. I realized that I wasn't a human anymore. Near the boulder that they had left me by, I had grown into a tree with white flowers.

Saying so, she stopped for a while. And I thought that I heard her sigh. But I didn't know what to ask, because I seemed to have serious concerns about my own sanity. A talking tree with a fantastic tale - what were my chances of recovery? I thought that if I ever got out of this, I would come back to this place to see if it was for real.

Again, she read my mind and said, There will be a group of gypsies passing by at dusk today. Join them and they will take you to the village. But you won't see me if you came back again.

Now that was scary! I wanted to ask her the reason why. She intimated: Several days ago, a child had lost his way while playing with his mates and I provided him shelter for the night. He went back home with the flowers I had given him and his father asked him where he had found those exotic flowers. When he described me, his father thought it would be more profitable to sell my exquisite golden wood than my stupid flowers. So, tomorrow at the break of the dawn, he'll come with an axe to cut me down and take my wood away. Of course, the poor kid knows nothing of it. He's too naive to think of profits in worldly terms. He only sees beauty. Not the business in it.

Suddenly, I realized that I had never uttered a word and she had been replying to the queries that rose in my mind. Now, I thought to myself if I could do something to save her. She swayed her branches, almost like a shrug and then said that it didn't not matter to her anymore. In a life where she didn't know the real intentions of men, and in a life where she could read thoughts- nothing had changed. People could destroy for pleasure or profit. She didn't want to continue living as a tree. She wanted to die so that she could see if there was another plane of existence where her perceptions would change.

I said nothing in reply to this and closed my eyes beneath her benign bough.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Life is transient, and happiness?

We have often heard :The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different. I don't need to defend the verity of the statement, but it intrigues me how some things never change.

I remember that as a kid, amidst others toys, I had a favorite- a talking Barbie; and like most other gifts from my father, I was extremely possessive about it. Often, I'd share my toys with other kids when they came home. But I'd never let go off that particular doll. I was probably scared that someone else wouldn't take good care of it , as much as I did, and would spoil it.

Now, when I look back, a talking bimbo with a voice chip seems like a dumb thing to invest emotions in. And though I still treasure the toys I had as a kid, I don't think I would mind giving them away to someone. But yeah, I would still expect them to take good care of something I was so attached to.

In the broader realm of relation dynamics, and without oversimplifying things, I would like to say that I can see a parallel. You come across someone you really like until you feel that it is time to let go. Sometimes because the circumstances demand so, but mostly owing to your own free will - the urgency to get ahead with life and the inability to carry on with an emotional burden while traveling fast.

You would like to see that individual happy and you would expect, quite naturally, that you find your own happiness too. However, you take care to direct it more inward now, conscious of the possibility of losing an external source of your well-being again.

The world to me seems like a huge playground; we are all kids picking up a bright colorful toy, draping it up in pretty clothes, hugging it and believing it belongs to us. Reality is, when the game gets over, you have to leave it behind.

Once I told someone that we are all nomads traveling around the world, stacking up the paraphernalia at one place, buying and selling dreams, resting for a while and then getting ready to get going on our respective itineraries again.

But somewhere, there has to be a certainty in all the uncertainties? A constant among all the variables? How do you put it across, when faced with the paucity of your own expression?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Frog Prince

Another effort at capturing an imaginary snapshot from a life somewhere. And this time Candid, I took your advice. This post is inspired by the death of Chantal Sebire.

I was an attractive man, with two kids and a loving wife, until I got diagnosed with esthesioneuroblastoma, a rare form of facial cancer. For eight long years I have struggled to stay alive, mostly because they wanted me to. Now, I am 54. Amélie is 23 - quite a lady and André is 18 - still too young to lose a father. But I have decided, I can't see myself growing into this monstrous creature everyday.

Not that I can see myself anymore. The disease has left me blind, with no sense of smell or taste. The tumor has burrowed into my nasal cavity and sinuses, causing my nose to swell several times the original size and pushing my eyes out of their sockets. The doctors wouldn't administer morphine to ease my pain because of the associated side-effects.

Aimée, true to her name, has proved to be the most loving wife. I didn't know entirely how fortunate I was when I married her 26 years ago. It was only during the past few years of my life that I have realized the woman I love has more strength than I'd have ever known. Under different circumstances, I wouldn't have done anything to be away from her. But her stoic attitude, and her genuine efforts to try and ease my excruciating pain, has made me all the more resolute.

I lost the legal battle for euthanasia last Wednesday. Not that I care anymore. They can't decide whether I should wish to live or die. They could only have been with me while I lived, I'd have to die alone anyways.

I still remember the Sunday morning we had gone fishing several years ago. The sun sparkled on the lake and everything appeared so heavenly. Heaven. Will I see Heaven? Or when I die, the demons will carry me to burn in an eternal inferno? And will it be like what Dante had described in his 'Divina commedia' ? "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" I had abandoned all hope long ago. Now, nothing can change my mind.

I hate to make Dr. Bertrand a part of it, but someone had to provide me the means. Assisted suicide - this is what they call it. But I see it as a choice to die with dignity. I can't wait for death to encroach upon me. I can't live to die every day.

A lethal dose of barbiturates under his supervision, that is what he said would work. I had to tell this to Aimée. She had to know. But she kept silent, and I thought I heard her weep. In another world, in another life, we could have had a fairy tale ending. But she has kissed herself sore for her frog prince. I only wish that she knew it wasn't a selfish choice. It is the only choice I have. Maybe someday she'll understand.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


This is another attempt at writing a short story. Call it a mere whim or the byproduct of a sleepless night. I don't know how it's going to end but if I don't feel drowsy by the time I finish this, I'll get back to my unfinished Economics chapter. Until then...

I had fallen in love with him even before I had met him. Dev was the best friend of Rimi, my roommate in the first year of junior college. She'd talk of him so often and so highly that I suspected her boyfriend, Neel, had a strong contender. I asked her once, "Didn't you ever fall for him or something?" She smiled and tried to evade the question. When I insisted, she replied, "He's not the kind you can own. You can only admire him from a distance and sigh and wish he were yours." I knew instantly my instinct had been right, and I believe it was exactly that moment when I told myself that I was in love with that man. The allure of the unattainable is great.

I saw him for the first time on the evening of Rahul's birthday. He had walked in late after a long day at office. Someone teased him saying, "Yeah, celebrities arrive last". But Dev merely flashed a disarming smile. Oh that smile! How could I forget it. It haunted me for nights and gave me sleepless dreams. I thought of him often and hoped I could see him again. The moment he had walked in, I knew it was him- I had seen his photographs in Rimi's album. I was singing an old romantic song when he had treaded into the parlor and I stopped dead. Everyone stared where my gaze was fixed and my voice was lost. Rahul, of course, was angry because Dev had gotten late. He considered Dev his best friend. That was a rule with Dev. Everyone esteemed him as his best friend. I wondered if he regarded any one of them as his. Probability was zero. I observed that even with his spontaneous good humor, he had a strange aloofness about him.

It took me a few more days in R&D to extract from Rahul that Dev's father was suffering from cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. He was supporting his mother and younger sister financially by working in Delhi and staying away from his family. He had a job offer nearer his hometown, but the salary negotiations were not going according to his intent, and so he was wondering if it was a good idea to shift his family, specially since his sister was in her final year of secondary education. "Maybe they'll shift next year, and his sister can try to get admitted in some college in DU. She's a bright girl, not unlike her brother." I smiled and thought, " She'd better be. I don't want to lose the opportunity of telling him how I feel about him just because she can't manage to get admissions somewhere here, and he has to change bases for that." In those days, when deciding which flavor of coffee to order was the most serious decision I took during the whole day, everything seem to be colored in sync with my imagination. Everything seemed possible, yet impossible.

I tried a lot to catch his attention, but he politely avoided me. And I felt frustrated, unable to figure out why a young, attractive girl like me, who had a decent number of wooers, failed miserably to stir the man in him.

Then one day, I tried to make a desperate attempt. We were strolling after dinner, when Rahul and Dev had joined us in campus. Rimi, Neel and Rahul had fallen behind and I had paced up with Dev, pretending to listen to him. While all the while, all I was thinking of was how to make him kiss me without appearing too eager. But then I saw him looking at his watch and I felt Rahul et al would catch up with us soon. I had to act quick. I stopped suddenly and held his wrist, gesturing him to stop. He looked at me questioningly, though I suspected that he knew fairly well what I was up to. He was 29 years old, almost 10 years elder to me. He couldn't have been that naive! All my fantasies about love's first kiss was about to come true and I closed my eyes in anticipation. It was a starry night and the pebble laid path that led to the campus entrance was deserted. I could feel the wind gently blowing my hair on my face. I imagined him to put them behind my ears with his fingers. But nothing happened. I opened my eyes to see a ludicrous look on his face. And then suddenly, unexpectedly he said: "You are so young! You have to learn to control your emotions. Things can go terribly wrong if you are not careful! "

I had never felt so insulted in my not-so-long life. It was my turn to wear the expression of absurdity. My face felt hot and suddenly I wished I hadn't come out for the stroll. I wanted the others to join us as soon as possible so that I didn't have to be in the company of that horrible, frigid man. He looked like a cold corpse in the moonlight. I heard footsteps and exhaled deeply in relief. And then I made up some excuse about an assignment the following day and bade the others good bye.

Days passed, I kept a low social profile. I hardly talked to Rimi and when she asked me in clean mirth one day, "What is it? Or who is it?" , I completely ignored her question and started scribbling vigorously in my notebook a flowchart with misplaced connectors.

It was the final year of my college. Things had changed considerably. There was love lost between Neel and Rimi and they had broken up. She had left residing on-campus in the beginning of third year and I hardly interacted with her since. In fact, I hardly saw her in college. I wondered if she had dropped out but the idea seemed too far fetched even for someone with a fertile imagination like me. I had taken up part-time modeling for fun. But now that I had got placed in an IT consultancy firm, I was faced with the decision to pursue my part-time hobby as a full-time job or let it remain a secondary career.

I decided on the later. My parents who had a conservative value system did not approve of my hobby. Initially, they only thought that their kid was just getting her pictures clicked in a few stupid poses, but when a Marketing Communications professional saw me and offered me to pose for a lingerie ad, my mom almost threw a fit about it. My father simply nodded his head in disapproval and I understood what it meant. He never had to say a definitive no. His authority on me was greater than that.

One day, while heading for work, I came across Rahul. He said that he was getting married the following month and he was organizing his last bachelor birthday party at his house. I asked in as much disinterested and conversational tone as I could possibly feign "Dev must have been married by now?" Rahul gave his characteristic laugh which some people could easily mistake for an animal's snort, and opined: "Oh no no! He's still playing the role of an eligible bachelor. Btw, he's coming to the party."

He needn't have said more. All the past memories flooded back to me. The evening, the wind, the stars- I remembered Dev exactly the way I had seen him the last time and unanticipatedly my head felt heavy as if I had a drink too much. Or as if I finally had a hangover from that night. I counted days till I could see him again. And the day finally arrived.

But once again, it wasn't as I had expected. When I saw Dev, I felt that he had aged ten times more than the world around him. But that wasn't an issue, his gaze had turned hazy and if I might say - lecherous. He kept staring at me throughout the evening and kept undressing me with his eyes. It didn't make me uncomfortable, because I had gotten used to such looks. But he disgusted me outrightly. The Dev I had loved and had fond memories of was nowhere. This pitiable, sex-starved creature was not even his shadow. I was not acting self-righteous, but I was turned off completely. And I couldn't help it. I didn't want to help it in anyway.

I walked out of the hall into the balcony with my glass of cocktail. It was a clear starry night again. After a while, Dev walked into the porch too. He seemed drunk or at least high on something. He talked with a slur and told me:You look different. You look ... sexy

I didn't know whether to take it as a compliment, but I said, "Thanks" perfunctorily.

"I heard that you have started modeling and stuff.. that's good. You have changed.. changed a lot."

"People change"
I said without any real affection.

"No, I mean, look at you. You look seemly.. simly.. amazing ! I have been thinking about you a lot lately." At this, he drew closer to me and I could feel his hot, fervent breath on my face." I... I have been a fool.."

I glanced at him one last time and decided my mind. I turned several degrees to my right, away from him and said, "My glass is empty, excuse me." And I walked into the hall again. He probably got the clue and didn't bother me for the rest of the evening. Only when I was about to leave, he said, "Hey, I am sorry. I didn't mean to offend you." I said," It's ok " and walked out into the night.