Friday 5 October 2018

Short Story 2018 Longlist, Sandhyaa Venkatachalam

A Dream Come True

“I am here!” a deep voice called out to me.
I stood still and stared at the mysterious human figure amid the bright light that was emanating from the thin, long gap and yet so strongly spreading out its rays. I wasn’t able to recognize the person; it seemed as if he had covered his head with a hood. He stretched his hand and held out something for me on his palm. Though I wasn’t clear regarding what it was; I noticed it shone blue in colour, a brilliant blue.
A loud voice rang into my ears telling me to wake up, “Wake up Sam!” I opened my eyes… It was my Dad. I realized I was on my bed and sat up. “Good morning, get ready kiddo”, he said.
I heaved a sigh of relief! So, it was a dream after all. A dream indeed!

After a quick shower and a wholesome breakfast, Mom, Dad and I, picked up our bags which we had packed the day before and arranged them at the back of our car. We began our much awaited three hour drive to Wayanad! I was elated about this trip because it was especially planned to mark my 10th birthday!!

There was just a week more left for School to reopen. My parents took a lot of effort to make every birthday of mine more joyful than the previous one. Since it’s always during the holidays, they made sure that the absence of celebration in School was compensated by organizing elaborate parties at home – calling friends and cousins, ordering a grand cake, different ‘themed’ decorations for each year by Dad and wonderful preparations of lip-smacking savouries by Mom.

This year I put forward an exceptional request to my Dad, by asking for a personal outdoor celebration. By now I had grown fond of some adventure movies and tales, that I wanted to go out for a fun-filled escapade.

We tried calling my closest buddy and elder cousin, Zane, to join us but he couldn’t come as he was busy with exams in college. Hence, it was only the three of us on a beautiful weekend sojourn.

I have read that Wayanad, is a stunning forested district located in the state of Kerala, in the southernmost part of India. It is said that its most attractive features include an idealistic location on a mountainous plateau, wildlife, waterfalls, picturesque lakes, and a prehistoric cave. This mesmerizing landscape is dotted with a countless number of ravishing resorts, inviting visitors from all over the world.

I was looking forward to it with great excitement as I could feel the fresh air ushering positive vibes of a splendid experience, as we drove on the national highway.

I remembered flashes of my dream in the car when we were cutting across the forest zone, through a meandering route, leading to our destination. Mom had once told me, “Sam, dreams are magical; they are strong intuitions and sometimes signals, giving clues about our future.”
I was thrilled beyond words! I wondered if my dream was an intuition. Or some signal? Did it occur in connection with my upcoming birthday in this tour? I decided to be cautious and be prepared for any moment which may have similar sequences as in the dream – a thin gap with bright light, a dubious person, or something…. strikingly blue!

I was not going to share any of my apprehensions with my parents yet because I wanted to uncover the truth behind my fantasy all by myself.

Suddenly, my mom shook me out of my trance and pointed towards the left. My eyes grew wide open with joy when I peeped outside my car’s windshield;

“Wow!” I spotted three elephants at the distance, enjoying themselves in a small pool of water behind the trees. My Dad had slowed down the car to capture the alluring scene in his camera. It was truly a sight to behold! Two baby elephants were having a gala time, filling up their trunks with water and letting out a fine spray on a bigger elephant which simply amused itself with the cool showers.

We resumed our journey, and in no time arrived at our pre-booked resort called the “Wood-Stream Cottages”.

From its external appearance, I knew that this resort was going to be every inch true to the description found on its website. The car sped down the sloping ground and stopped in front of the reception area, where two ladies wearing traditional Kerala attire were already waiting for us with warm smiles. They greeted us in the most polite manner; gave us a ‘garland’ welcome and also handed each of us a complimentary lemon drink. We felt absolutely royal! After these initial formalities, while Mom and Dad were busy checking our accommodation bookings with the receptionist, I sat on the sofa and took a visual survey of the venue.

The resort was a mini jungle retreat; nestled in the hilly terrain of the lush green rainforest. I could hear a peculiar rhythm combining sounds of humming bees, chirping birds, fluttering butterflies and gushing waters from a stream running all through the resort premises. There were also screeching monkeys and squirrels clambering upon tree trunks.

Soon, all three of us were following a staff member who helped us carry our luggage and led us to show the deluxe cottage where we would be staying. He carefully guided us through pebbled paths, into the thick canopy, across a rickety rope bridge, a few stairs up onto a higher ground level and finally – a small clearing where a tiny gate with its lamp post, opened up to a small courtyard with a mango tree, and then a sidewalk, to unlock the door to our cosy little ‘abode’.
It was a brick coloured lodge, with a thatched roof and raised a few meters above earth. I was happy to find it conveniently located beside the stream flowing down from an artificially constructed waterfall, for I could easily jump in for a splash anytime! The interiors were aesthetically done to give both a traditional and snug feeling to the inmates. The best part was a huge glass window panel in the bedroom, opening out to a spacious balcony, giving an imposing view of the trees and the majestic mountains at the back drop.

We spent enough time revelling in the charm of the surroundings after which we headed to the in-house restaurant for lunch. We were served local delicacies such as parboiled rice, moru curry, avial and adapradhaman.

Next, we ventured out to explore the famous tea plantations! Hardly a few minutes had passed and I could see vast stretches of green tea leaves all over the gently undulating hills. The abundant greenery was a treat to the eyes and we decided that it was worth giving a ‘photo-stop’! I just can’t tell for how long we had been smiling and posing, for our photo session seemed endless… I let my heels run freely between the rows of the uniformly laid tea plants, when all of a sudden, I hit upon a large billboard – it was an advertisement by “Dare Adventure Camp”.

The Camp offered some interesting activities such as Ziplining, Valley Crossing, Laddering and Archery. Now this was something I definitely wanted to try! I dashed across the plantation road to Mom and Dad, and squealed pointing at the board, “I don’t want to miss those ‘adventures’ for sure.” I told them how much I missed Zane on this note as being a sports buff himself; his company would definitely add more punch to these daring tasks. My parents thought for a while and looked at each other in a queer manner, but they nevertheless agreed in chorus, “It’s a good idea.”

The evening became cloudy and misty, and therefore we retired early to our cottage after a quiet dinner.
I spent some time in the balcony, before sleeping, staring into the calmness of the night with a few flickering light bulbs. I pondered over my ‘dream’ again; so far, there had been no such incident today which I could relate it with. But, who knows, maybe tomorrow I could expect something! Whatever it was, I only hoped that it would be something pleasant, for me to cherish about my ‘special’ birthday forever.
A lovely bicycle ride around the property on the cycling track, a rejuvenating stream bath and a typical ‘Keralite’ sumptuous breakfast menu consisting of kozhukatta, nool puttu, oothappam, and semiya upma; was the perfect way to start the next morning.

Without wasting further time, we hopped into our car enthusiastically to catch up on today’s itinerary – Edakkal caves! Edakkal, it seems, is one of the rarest places in India, where one can see pictorial carvings dating back to the Old Stone Age era.

I must admit, it was an arduous climb up to the caves; however I was high on my spirits as this was literally my first trekking expedition! We were scaling rocky steps, higher and higher, steeper and steeper, finding support on boulders to push ourselves forward.

Eventually, we reached the first cave, panting heavily for breath; Dad suggested, “Let’s sit down for a bit before continuing up to the main cave.” I needed this break very much to rest my limbs and bite on some jackfruit biscuits which Mom had bought last evening, to re-energize myself.

We moved on to finish the last leg of our ascent and set foot into the final cave at last! We were at that point, standing at least a thousand meters above sea level and I was feeling absolutely exhilarated.

It was quite fascinating! I have never seen something like this earlier! It was an amazing sight of drawings of human and animal figures on the walls of the cave.

A Guide from the archeological department explained to us:
“Edakkal was used as a rock-shelter by Neolithic men more than 6000 years ago. They have left indelible impressions of their survival in the form of these etchings.”
“Here”, he said, showing us the wall, “we can see plant motifs. Also here, are sketches of a tribal man and his deer. Whereas there, we have found some ancient inscriptions; particularly intriguing is this ‘Brahmi’ script which means, ‘I am here’.”

I was shocked when I heard the last few words. My heart skipped a beat.
“‘I am here’?”
Oh my goodness! That was exactly what the mystery-man in my dream had said!
I was reeling under confusion, when my Dad pulled me to the other side of the cave and showed me, “Look, this is a giant fissure or split in the rock.”
I saw a long, deep crack; through which brilliant rays of the noon-time sun were glaring. But hey! There was no hooded man here…
I advanced near the fissure for a closer inspection… But nothing suspicious to my utter disappointment… Nothing so ‘blue’…
I was taken aback when I heard the Guide yelling behind me:
“Careful, child! That’s a wrong step, you might get stuck.”

That’s when I saw that my little leg had got jammed in-between the rocky surface and the steel gate that sealed the fissure.
After battling the weight of the stone near my feet, the Guide and my Dad together managed to pull it slightly so that I could release myself. At that time, my eyes fell upon an object that was hidden below. I immediately took it out from there – it looked like a sort of ‘band’, dirty and tattered.

“What is that? Throw it down, Sam.” Mom shouted.
“No. Wait!” exclaimed the Guide. “Gosh, it’s the head-gear! ”
“What is a head-gear?” asked Dad.

“Well, an accessory which was majorly used by tribes in this region long back.” replied the Guide. “It’s a piece which they tied around their forehead. As an archaeologist, I have collected several artefacts and deposited them at the Heritage Museum.

“But this particular head-gear is extraordinary in that it is very similar to the one worn by the man in that wall carving; I had showed you all just now. I lost this same piece a few years ago right here on an extremely crowded day. I was unsuccessful in finding it and that hurt my reputation.

“I am so glad your kid found the precious object today! You have no idea how important this is for me.”
“Seriously?” asked Mom.
“You have fulfilled your wish for an eventful birthday this year, Sam.” said Dad, winking at me.
“Is it your birthday?” the Guide asked me.
“It’s tomorrow, sir.” I replied.

“Then allow me to thank you and give you an incredible gift.” said the Guide. He fished out a white envelope from his pocket and handed it over to me, ”It contains free ‘passes’ for Dare Adventure Camp, near Wayanad Lake. You can use them tomorrow, am sure you will love it.”
My jaws dropped. I was awestruck. “Yes of course I will. Thanks a ton.” I screamed.

Later in the evening, while parents were engaged in some cheerful conversation, in the cottage balcony, enjoying the monsoon rains along with hot sips of tasty ‘bamboo rice payasam’, I lay on bed thinking…

Another day almost over and I still had no clarity on my ‘dream’. Maybe, it was nothing. Or, maybe the events got tweaked in the reality, that, the Guide replaced the ‘wary’ character and he gave me the white envelope instead of the ‘blue thing’.

I sighed in dismay, not entirely convinced with my self-explanation.
When the rains stopped, we walked down the path for a light dinner at the restaurant. After much contemplation, I decided to tell my parents everything. Although Dad didn’t react, Mom was overwhelmed.

“Mom, didn’t you say that dreams are magical and give us a clue?” I asked.
“Sure they do, Sam. Even in your case, ‘I am here’ indicating something to do with the cave and there you see, you received a fantastic birthday gift.” she beamed.
“Yes Mom. I agree. But what about the blue stuff? I am pretty confident that I saw an eye-catchy ‘blue’ on his palm in the dream. I didn’t see anything like that.”
“You will probably find something. Be patient, dear.” she replied and saw Dad with a puzzled expression.

On the way back from the restaurant, Dad wished to go for a lone walk around the resort campus. The lengthy spell of rain seemed to have silenced all the creatures, and unusually, people in other cottages also seemed to have locked themselves up inside due to the wet atmosphere.

Mom and I, heard a ‘whining’ when we stepped into our enclosure. She guessed that a street dog must have come in through the hole in the fencing behind our cottage which was close to the roadside. She advised me to get in and close the door; and that she would follow soon after chasing it out, as otherwise it would disturb our sleep.
I was too tired to disobey. I walked in, closed the door and threw myself on bed.

I woke up to the sounds of a soft knock on the door and sprang to my feet. I had fallen asleep! Both my parents hadn’t returned. Where had they gone in the dark night leaving me?
The door creaked open… I saw some light through the gap…. the light got brighter…. a person entered…. his head covered…. he said in a deep tone, “I am here”….
Oh my God! My head started spinning; “this is it”, I thought. I opened my mouth bewildered when he stretched his hand and I saw something…… Blue!!!
“SURPRISE!” I heard three voices shouting.

The door opened wider and I saw Dad, Mom and a guy who threw his ‘flashlight’ on the floor and removed the hood off his jacket. It was none other than ZANE!
“Zane!” I leapt on him.
“Did you like our surprise? I finished my exams today and came here. Your parents and I planned to keep it a secret.” Zane explained laughing.
“Yes! Yes! Thank you all so much! But please tell me what was in your hand?” I asked anxiously.
“Oh! That’s my exclusive gift to you buddy… a watch with a blue radium dial” he stated. “The one you had asked me for, on your last birthday.”
“OOH!! A ‘blue’ radium dial!” I gasped.
“Yeah, I know about your dream,” Zane grinned. Behind him, I saw Mom showing a thumbs-up to Dad.

Now, I didn’t want to investigate if this was a pure coincidence or a ‘plot’ by my parents. I was most grateful to them for showering on me a memorable birthday excursion. I had new experiences in a new place, and now Zane came into the picture to accompany me for tomorrow’s ‘daring feats’.
I jumped all around the room feeling jubilant as I had discovered my ‘blue mystery’.
It was certainly A DREAM COME TRUE !!!

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