Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017, Featured Writer, Geeta Yadav

When I Blew...

Uncle Tilak belongs to me. He is my genie at five feet two inches with handsome features and a charming smile. I so love him for his warm persona that exudes a magical appeal.  My wish list comes true in a jiffy but it is his presence that makes me smile. He is on a holiday to Goa and we’ll be meeting him at the Beach Resort in a day’s time. My excitement knows no measures for I long to be with him. He will surprise me with one of his signature pranks and then wince at the blows that I’ll playfully shower on him. This has been like an enjoyable regime from the time I was born and now I am about to be sweet sixteen. Finally the journey from Delhi to Goa is over. Our cab halts in front of the resort. I leave my parents behind for now I want to be with him.

 I call out, “Uncle Tilak, here I come. What are you up to?”
As expected there is total silence. The master blaster plans to stay quiet as I squeal but then he is a bundle of sweet contradictions that for him hold the secrets of life.  I scramble up the stairs, two at a time and find him sprawled on the rocking chair in style. He has a smile just for me and I rush up to him with a cheerful cry. I put my arms around him but he feigns indifference and plays statue. I know he has a trick designed just for me but suddenly he falls away like a windblown rag.
This prank is new and I call out, “Hey! Do not try acrobatics for you have come of age and I don’t want a limpy fellow all through the day.”

The silence that follows threatens and my nerves become tense. Suddenly I hear familiar laughter fall upon my ears and I go down on my knees with a cry of relief. I have been fooled yet again for the umpteenth time as Ma and Pa’s expressions communicate silently to me. The deafening silence that follows the short mirth confirms that it was not Uncle Tilak who had laughed seconds before. Pa laughs again as he feels the trick is on but Ma kneels down and shrieks as Uncle Tilak does not budge at all. She shudders, lets out an agonised cry and Pa rushes to his brother’s side. He thumps his chest and shakes him hard but at last he hugs his little brother’s lifeless form.

My uncle has left me trapped in the shackles of life. I don’t know what to do as my life and his death appear as a contradiction of sorts. Now I fear death, if it plans a move to clutch Ma and Pa but I shall rejoice if I don’t have to experience another loss.  Like an onlooker who gives a fleeting view, I glance at my desire inside. I fear the crawling freak that wrings out life and may position its deadly claim on my loved ones again. Uncle Tilak is now a memory from the past. I cling to the memory of how I had held the stiff palm of my Uncle all through the flight to Delhi hoping my warmth would infuse life. For no fault of mine I walked to the shamshaan ghat (cemetery) where Uncle Tilak lay still on a rough bed of wood and couldn’t share his plight. What happened next was worse as Pa set fire to his own flesh and blood. I was blinded by tears of remorse and looked around with empty eyes as the smoke moved like an apparition of death dressed in grey and white. Was she the one that crawls as well as flies? Whom would she choose next? I wondered in fright whether Ma would go next or would it be Pa’s turn to die and I walked alone towards my home with the desire that had a lot of might.  

Uncle Tilak would always tell me, ‘Sometimes our desires come as a storm, be calm and if you can’t then just tell me before they gather strength and turn snide.’

I gaped at the sky with this reminder but not even a star winked the way Uncle Tilak did. He had perhaps not reached that far or maybe he was still close by. I looked around and whispered, ‘Uncle Tilak, are you there for me?’ 

The deafening silence gave away my true reality. I was alone with darkness all around me. Uncle Tilak was no more. How many more would go just like him, leaving me all by myself. I shuddered at the thought. Wiping my tears I slowly climbed the stairs to reach my room.  A solution knocked and I opened the door to it. Memories came flooding from the fun filled past with Uncle Tilak teaching me to tie knots that would slide up and down. So we had nets tied up to play badminton and ropes knotted together to anchor the boat in mid sea. I climbed on the rickety stool, did the honours and kicked the stool. A bone in my neck probably snapped with a scrappy sound and shockingly I stood near the stool looking up at my frail form listlessly hanging from the ceiling fan. Oh! I looked a horrible sight with eyes popped out and the painful lava flowing out to make its way drop by drop on the floor. Frantic knocks at the door made me realise that I had made my point. My desire was fulfilled as now I wouldn’t feel the fear of losing Ma and Pa anymore. I would just follow Uncle Tilak’s footsteps and be with him for he would be so alone in death. A twosome up and a duo down; I am sure everything would now come around.

‘Beta, open the door,’ I could hear Ma scream as Pa slammed it down. Pa fell on the floor as Ma gaped at the ceiling in shock. I tried to reach out to console them but Pa’s hiccups became hysterical as he felt my blood with his fingers and Ma turned to stone as she simply sat with him. Pa raised himself and gently touched my lifeless feet and then let out cries one after another from his aching heart.

“Guddu, Don’t go away like that? Wait, I will call for help.” and then he ran about in the neighbourhood calling out, “Tilak! Tilak! A baby girl has come, you’ve become her Uncle. She will play with you and follow you everywhere.”

Few relatives who had stayed back after the funeral called up the police. My body was unceremoniously brought down by a constable and taken for a post mortem. I felt numb as a spirit and lurked in darkness. I waited for the dawn to sooth my parents who looked broken in plight. Suddenly I moved about here and there for some time and witnessed when Pa lit my pyre and looked through the flames as he muttered, “Tilak, take care of her for she cannot endure burns and the blisters make her cry. She won’t be able to bear her chars for she is so delicate and baby soft.”
My desire was fulfilled for I would not see Ma and Pa die but then I decided to be with them for some more time. At last both were left alone as loved ones departed towards their nests. Ma had not cried for she just sat by Pa’s side. All of a sudden I desired to be with them. I sat with them but they couldn’t see me. I touched Pa and saw his eyes melt with the stark reality. Hiding his tears from Ma, he tiptoed towards the kitchen and brewed some coffee just for three. A flood of tears washed over his face when he realised once more that I was not there. Still he poured coffee in the three mugs and carefully placed them on the silver tray. 

I followed him as he walked up to Ma and said, “Come let’s have coffee with Guddu and see if she likes it or not.” With this he smiled so tenderly that the warmth spread over the block of ice in Ma’s heart. She sobbed like a baby for so long and at last she whispered, ‘Guddu chose Tilak over us for she loved him so much more...’ 

At this I squealed, “But this is not true Ma for I ended my life to escape the uncertainty around the certainty of death. I did not kill myself to be with Uncle Tilak but yes I did that to end the ambiguous fear that prompted parental death. I would have hated walking to your pyre and setting you aflame. Ma Ma...”
My monologue fell on deaf years for I could neither reach out to them nor console them. It is only life that gives chances to touch, heal and absorb misery. I floated around helplessly as Ma and Pa grieved yet another dimension of my death. They felt the pain that had prompted me to hang myself and mourned aloud when it came to the physical trauma I had undergone before letting out my last breath. Sometimes Pa would console Ma and rarely Ma would do it for Pa. He was all by himself aging fast for the pain grew on him as he tried to gulp down the dual loss.

I was useless to them as it is only breath that gives intent. One day I called out for help in the wilderness. A wind began to blow and in a howling rage lifted me unceremoniously and whirled me around. It was torturous to realise that I had committed a sin in choosing suicide. My death was untimely, unnatural and therefore I was destined to haunt myself with no power to reach out to help or seek help the way I thought. I was supposed to accept the secret plan till the time I was forgiven by a loved one’s understanding of my destructive desire. The wind took me through cemeteries, dark forests and scary depths and dropped me back in my parental home.  

I became ageless in my present state but my parents aged a bit too fast. They celebrated my birthday every year in privacy. Ma baked my favourite chocolate cake and Pa would blow out the candles that calculated how far I had gone. The secret wind would take me over the rivers, oceans and depths that harboured life in many forms and showed death as a natural phase that followed life wherever it went. Then the wind would drop me back to take a look at Ma and Pa who with time looked ill, helpless and forlorn. I was being shown the reality of life and the naturalness of death while in the end I would always be dropped back into the place where the living died ... everyday... .
Pa looked lost for most part of the year and found himself on the day I was born years ago but it was strange as he would weep and then ask Ma, “Madam, whose birthday is it and what makes me cry for so long?” Ma would smile at him like a mother for his memory had been devastated with reminiscences of my painful death.

My 21st birthday saw a drift in Ma. She looked resolute and angry with me. She set out on a mission that was all about me. Ma went from school to school educating children about life and how death of a dear one meant taking up responsibilities and not shying from them. She embraced humanity and set out to transform lives and helped them with yoga and meditation to say goodbye to any kind of fright. 

It was heartening to see that she was so right and how I had embraced a destructive desire and put them through a miserable life. Ma became so busy through the day. Pa was like a child now who would tag along no matter what. At times his childish traits would make Ma’s eyes moist. He would unknowingly pick up things to eat that used to be ‘my’ choice. It felt as if my memories haunted him far too regularly with every passing day and he was going back in time to live ‘me’ in so many ways. He would pick chocolate donuts two at a time and savour every bit of them. Ma was typically being the obstinate one, all set to brave it all by herself with a big smile. She would chide Pa for throwing a tantrum as people looked on. She would now carry an apron to a restaurant, feed him french fries, wipe his face and wash his messy hands. He would fumble with the fork and strike it on the table but she would let him be like me for it made him live with a smile.

Pa turned 74 and Ma was 69. Pa’s health and memory deteriorated. He would wander off and be lost for hours. Now Ma was left with no choice but to buy a strap for him. She would buckle him up at the grocers or in schools where she went with her message to embrace life. Then one day Pa had high fever and Ma fed him soup from my bowl. He smiled in between and then rested his head on the pillow. Ma touched his burning forehead with love and tenderness. She got up but he pulled her stray strand of hair. Then he laughed like a baby and Ma knew that he looked like baby Guddu in a way that was so strange. She sat with him as he closed his eyes to babble in sleep that Tilak was around... ‘Tikki ...Tikki ... ballllll...’ and with this Pa passed away.

Ma heaved a sigh and called up her near and dear ones for Pa’s funeral. By evening she pulled out a picture of me and Pa and framed it in a mechanical way. She went about her social duty and counselled children to be strong in the face of adversity and carry on in life. 

I never saw Pa’s soul for he now rested in peace. I floated around Ma to somehow communicate to her what she meant to me. I would find peace only when Ma found time to meditate. Slowly she would sit more and more like a statue all at peace and at times she would breathe in and out rapidly to shed tears of grief. I felt good for the supernatural world tells that a meditating loved one helps to set free a soul in captivity. I was not free like others and was bound to my doing. My Ma was perhaps the only one who would finally liberate me. My journey became purposeful for I knew the universe still loved me but I came to realise that I feared in vain for my parents were bound to live for years had I lived. 

Ma turned 75 and looked like the enlightened one. That day she embraced our picture and kissed mine so many times as if she knew my destructive desire pushed me into something that snapped the life out of me. I wondered where she would go today and she chose Ganga ghat; yes the place where my remains were submerged after that fateful day. She closed her eyes and prayed to God for she knew now that I had killed myself in a rage. I stood by her side feeling no fright and she slowly placed flowers on the space that she felt I somehow occupied in my spirit form. Then Ma smiled as if she knew that I was still there and said, “Guddu, you didn’t want to wake up to the harsh realities of life and simply decided to fall asleep. I am sorry child that we did not prepare you for life. Now you need to rest for you’ve hung around for so long. So till we meet again its goodbye from my side.”

With this Ma stood up and walked back home. She looked peaceful as she walked amidst chants that occupied the space around. The breeze was soft and picked up the fragrance of the incense sticks for Ma and the divinity guided her to step into another realm. Yes! That night Ma passed away in her sleep. Her face reflected her satisfaction as she had prepared many youngsters for life and her spirit flew peacefully to the other world. The wind blew again but to be my chariot tonight and carried me with pomp and show to my real home that night. 

I was welcomed by my loved ones and I smiled. I carried a little learning from my almost sixteen year old life:

 ‘Never give up to quit;
Instead give in to accept and win.
Life is a secret that unfolds in death;
Death is a reality that unwinds in life.
The dead are remembered for their virtues;
And in life they are forgotten for their vices.
Life is no doubt a contradiction of sorts;
Accept it as a divine plan and surrender to its will.
Desire to ascend the ladder of positive intent;
For destructive desires contain the seeds of peril.’

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