Friday, November 23, 2007

The Comeback

30,000 home supporters let out a collective sigh when his name flashed on the giant screen. A swearword escaped his manager’s lips. The coach threw a desperate look about him. The score line read 8-8. It was sudden death, one more goal and they could be in the finals, after twenty-four long years…so near … yet again. No one in the stadium that night really trusted him to win them the game. But there was no choice; the rules were simple - every player on the field had to take the spot. They all cursed the moment when he had to be brought in as a substitute in extra time.

He glanced back at his manager. The night before, they had seen the worst of each other in the dressing room. It was just a matter of time before the showdown had happened. He had been warming the bench for most parts of their last eight games and he feared very much that this was going to be the last season of his career. It was clear that the manager now had no respect left for him, and that he could sack him at the earliest opportunity. With nothing happening on the field to prove his worth, there was little anyone, even the head coach could do to save his career.

What a way to end…he thought, after all those years of promise. For a young man who had burst into the scene by equaling the legendary record for most goals a year, the decline was as swift as the ascent. He didn’t really remember how it all started going downhill. The first few missed chances were explained away as minor aberrations to an otherwise brilliant record. But then came that unpardonable lapse two years ago, one goal that would have taken them into the finals, and inexplicably, his feeble shot had just rolled gently toward the goalkeeper. Two years followed without a single strike. He saw everything that he had taken for granted till then, dwindling away in front of him… fame, confidence, money, life…he was starting to lose his will to perform and, distressingly, his respect for himself.

He thought back about each of the failed strikes and the umpteen missed penalties. Nothing he had done seemed to work, on the field or off it. His coach said he was trying too hard, his teammates complained he was trying to be too clever, the newspapers screamed that his days were over, that he couldn’t take the pressure of professional football any more – in the very same voice they had all proclaimed him as the next super star five years ago; his friends poured in with unsolicited advice, and his broken marriage became a celebration for the tabloids.


A drizzle had by now picked up, the rain drops flew down like cinders across the floodlights. His old friend, the football lay glistening on the wet grass. He looked at the 8 yard long line that seemed to always elude him. He could very well have won the game for his team in extra time, he had gone past one defender and then another in a flash of brilliance; with the crowd egging him on, he had only the goalkeeper to beat... His feet shivered again now as he neared the spot.

A penalty kick is all about nerves. It’s not so much about skill, it’s not so much about talent, it’s about who holds his nerves better, who believes he can beat the other…or so everyone told. Now he was up against a goalkeeper who seemed to be unbeatable that day. He was simply flying and getting at anything in his way; the scores were still level because of their luck more than anything else.

“Good luck buddy” The goalie told him with a mocking grin, as he picked up the football and tossed it to him as he approached the spot. The arrogance from two brilliant saves that day was all too evident. He glared back at his adversary with nervous rage.

He looked up at his home crowd behind the goal post, all of them in blue and white. They were not cheering. The hopelessness was palpable. He scanned across for any signs of reassurance, there were none. They had given up, he could sense it. He didn’t even want to look anymore. He was shivering all over now. “Are you ready” the referee shouted at him. “Yes” he replied nervously.

He looked one last time at the crowd, took a few steps back, and got ready to take the shot. He had no idea which way to go; to the left or to the right, or to the roof, or whether to go for his curl to the top corner, which used to be his trademark once upon a time. What if he misses altogether? He imagined all the uncomplimentary headlines on the newspaper the next morning. He planted his right foot behind his left and got ready to run in. The crowd waited in silence.

He took a deep breath and took one long stride, then another; three more steps and he realized he would not have his footing right for the shot. “Not again...not again…” he thought to himself in desperation. The white rectangle in front of him seemed narrower than ever as he approached the football with unsure steps. Unexpectedly, the whistle blew. First he thought it must be from the crowd. The whistle blew again, it was the referee, he seemed to be disturbed by something happening at the corner; and was motioning him to stop.

Field intruders and streakers were a common occurrence. This year had been particularly bad with the fashion catching up among youngsters. This time, it was an intruder alright, but quite an amateur one at that. The crowd burst into laughter as three security guards chased around after quite an athletic ten-year old. He dodged past one, wrong footed the other but ran right into the third one. He did show some promise as a forward. The third guard captured the little trespasser with his right arm, took off his cap and saluted to the crowd theatrically like a victorious bullfighter. The boy raised both his arms and waved to somebody in the crowd; perhaps his mother. He was wearing an over-sized blue and white home jersey. The number on it looked very familiar. The cameras zoomed in on the boy, as he was carried away to the stands. The infectious joy on his face seemed to spread out to everyone in the stadium. And yes, the jersey number was known to him…it was his own. He laughed to himself and shook his head.


The referee blew his whistle again, to signal the end of all the fun, after struggling hard to suppress the last traces of his own laughter. “Back to business” he shouted at the two grown ups who had for some time forgotten about their duel. The goalie went back to the line and took his stance again.

He picked up the football again. The crowd couldn’t help noticing the difference they saw on the screen. He was smiling, almost grinning, as he picked it up. He tossed it up flamboyantly and kissed it. A gasp went out form the crowd; they hadn’t seen him do that in a long time. He looked toward the goalkeeper with a cunning expression, as if he were sizing him up. The goalie looked back, puzzled. He looked different, he looked more like a boy who didn’t care whether he won or lost, whether he hit or he missed; a carefree ten year old, who was not concerned about his next paycheck, his career, his endorsements or his love life.

He stepped back a few yards, tapped his right boot on the ground, did a little hop, and ran in like he used to long back. He moved with the assurance of a supreme athlete, the feet landed in perfect rhythm, cameras flashed all around as his right leg swung in to take the shot. The instep slapped across the football and sent it whirling on a long forgotten trajectory. It flew to the right, spinning wildly, cutting through the rain drops in the air. The crowd held on to its breath, it seemed to be going out again, they had seen this too many times. The goal keeper stood rooted to his ground, there was no time to dive, the angle was too wide…in fact, there was no use diving. He knew it from the moment it left the ground. As the ball bent in goal-ward with a deadly swerve, all he could do was stay and watch, helplessly . When it brushed past the right corner and slid into the net, a thunderous roar erupted from all around.

He turned around and ran, with both arms in the air, grinning wide, his eyes in the sky, like a school boy had done fifteen years ago, after he had scored his first goal.


Friday, November 2, 2007

The gold ring

He looked again closely at the piece of golden metal. His hands were still trembling slightly. Whether it was out of fatigue, fear, or the excitement of the first theft, he didn’t know. He looked around once more to make sure nobody was watching. Somewhere within was a voice that still kept trying to tell him something, he shook his head forcefully as though to make it stop.

It was early in the evening. The sun was about an hour from setting on a characteristically warm and humid September evening in Chennai. As he sat there on the brick wall between the beach and the road, the crowd had just started building up on the Marina. He tried hard to shake away memories, but they just kept coming to him. He remembered the evenings he used to spend there with his father. His father had big dreams for him, wanted to make an educated man of him, a man who would do great things in life. And he worked day and night at the harbor, so his son could have a decent education.

He just couldn’t bear college; he didn’t find any meaning to the education it was supposedly providing him; the taunts of his wealthy classmates were too much for him. He still remembered the look on his father’s eyes on the day when he had told him he didn’t want to go to college again. He hadn’t said anything; just put an understanding arm on his shoulder, but the pain and disappointment in his eyes was too evident. They had spent the rest of that evening without talking, just looking out into the sea. When all the dreams set, silently, behind them.

He somehow held everyone around him responsible for playing havoc with his father’s dreams. For making him the thief he had become that day. His mind was filled with hatred for all people around him, the very crowd that filled his vision wherever he looked.

“18 ct”, was etched on the inside the ring. This may not solve all his problems, but for starters, it could take care of an empty stomach, he thought. Half a cup of tea was all he had for two days. The thought of food to a hungry man has the ability to drive away all other thoughts. He had come to realize that guilt and morals and righteousness were feeble adversaries to hunger. With the last traces of guilt erased from his mind, he put the gold ring into his shirt pocket, got up and started walking intently towards the small restaurant across the street.
It was a smallish vegetarian restaurant. There were very few customers, as the dinner rush hadn’t started yet. He approached the cash desk where the manager of restaurant sat busy counting money. He waited for him to finish counting.

“Yes” the manager looked up after a while.

“I… err… want to sell…this ring” he managed to stammer.

The manager looked at him suspiciously and said, “Let me see it”.

He nervously handed the ring across the counter. The cashier examined the ring closely and finally said looking up to him, “This is not gold”.

"Yes it is, it’s written on the inside, look at it... It is eighteen carat gold...” .

“How do I know you didn’t etch it yourself?” retorted the shopkeeper eyeing him with more suspicion.

“It’s gold, you can tell from its weight, can’t you?”

“Well, it can as well be something else just as heavy, can’t it?” the cashier replied with a hint of sarcasm, “This is bronze boy”

“Okay give it back to me, I’ll sell it somewhere else”. He said exasperated. He was finding out that being a salesman for stolen goods was not an easy job.

“Now take it easy, I’ll still buy it, for what it’s worth”.

“How much? Make me an offer”

“I’ll give you a hundred rupees for this”

“No!! that’s worth at least five hundred rupees”

“Five hundred for a worthless piece of bronze? Just get lost, here take your bloody ring with you” the shopkeeper shouted, and threw it back to him.

He glared back at the shopkeeper as he picked it up from the floor.

“Hey what are you looking at?”He just kept staring.“Hey you bloody thief, are you getting out of here or should I called the police”
The words hit him like a sledgehammer on the head. A “Thief”, that’s what the world will call him now. He looked around him, a small crowd was starting to gather around them now; their eyes stung his body like poisoned arrows. He felt his heart pounding against his rib cage. He felt his brow streaming with sweat. He fixed his eyes to the ground and started walking away, swiftly, and soon he was running, with all his might…


The sun was down; and the Marina lay sprawling across, dotted with beacons of lights from the distant shores. He stopped running and looked behind him. Everything seemed to be back to business. He walked out onto the beach which was now full of people seeking respite from the summer heat. The entire place was lit, albeit dimly, by the oil lamps from the petty shops selling balloons and fried groundnuts. His heart rate was slowly returning to its usual rhythm. He walked toward the sea and sat down on the wet sand which sloped into the sea.
He remembered what his father had once told him…”Son, whenever you feel the problems you face are too big, just lie down and look up at the night sky… Lie down and try to count the number of stars you see son, and soon, you’ll find how big this world is, how big the things you can do are, and how small your problems are”. He looked up; there were no stars in the sky that night.

He had no clear memories of his mother. The sea was the only semblance to a mother that he had ever known. He looked up again into the sky. Would he be watching from up there? What would he be thinking now? Now that his son had become a thief…The sky for a father and the sea for a mother, he thought to himself with a dry smile. His eyes strained to hold back tears. He looked longingly at the sea, as if asking her to take him back into her arms. He dug his face in his hands. The crowd kept moving on, noisily, throwing grotesque shadows all around him…as he wept silently.

“Hey you” he thought he heard a voice calling out from behind. He looked around. There, standing across from the small crowd around the kite seller, was a man; middle aged, dressed in a white dhoti, and full sleeved shirt rolled up to the elbows. “Come here” he said in a clear voice. He didn’t usually like being commanded like that, but something in the voice made him obey. He got up and walked hesitantly toward the strange man, his heart was gently picking up speed again.

“Yes...sir” he stammered after approaching the stranger.He was a dark man, quite well built; must be in his early forties he thought. He was balding slightly, had a thick mustache, and was wearing old fashioned spectacles. He held a leather traveler’s bag on his shoulder.
“I was in that restaurant there having a cup of tea, and I happened to overhear your little conversation”, he said pointing to the street which had by now been lit up with shops competing with each other for the evening customers.

"Is that gold? Can I see it?” he went on.

“Yes sir it is, of course, look at it” his eyes lighted up

“Well, I can’t buy it by just looking at it, can I?”

“I swear it is gold sir, look inside its written there, 18 carat gold, see look” he said holding up his loot to the light and pointing at the four letters etched on the inside of the ring.

“Well, yeah but anyone could have written it, right? That still doesn’t make this gold, does it?”

He just looked back with a vacant expression in his eyes.

“Look I’m not saying that you are lying, but I don’t know you. How do I trust what you say?”

“You can check with a goldsmith if you want” he said hesitantly.

“Hmm yes, that sounds like a good idea, know any goldsmiths around here? I am new here.” said the man. Twiddling with the ring and examining it in the dim light.

“I don’t know sir, maybe there are some over in the street” he said pointing to the busy road from where he had come running away.

“Okay let’s go and check” said the man.

He did not reply.

“Okay, you can stand outside in the dark, I’ll check with the goldsmith myself, okay?”


As he waited outside in a dark corner on the roadside, he started wondering if he had done the right thing. A good half hour had passed since his prospective client had disappeared with the ring into a crowded jewelry shop. He felt like kicking himself for being so stupid. Being called thief was bad enough, now he had been cheated of his only worthy possession. He thought of venturing out and checking himself where the stranger went, but thought otherwise; what if somebody recognized him?

“Ah there you are” he heard the voice again from behind“Well, the place was a bit crowded, so I had to wait for some time.”

“What did they say?”

“They say this is gold. 18 carat pure gold”

“So you will buy it?”

“Oh yes I would, and I would pay you the full price”

“How much?”

“Five hundred was what you wanted back there right? I’ll give you Five thousand”

He held his mouth agape, unable to believe what his ears just heard.

“Look, I am a businessman, and I believe in doing fair business. Five thousand is what this is worth, and that’s what I’ll pay you.”

“Okay” he could barely get the words out of his mouth.

The gentleman opened his leather bag and pulled out a neat bundle of notes from it. He counted out five thousand rupees form it and handed it to him.His hands trembled again as he took the money in his hands.The stranger took the young man’s hand into his and put the money into them. “Keep it, it’s yours now. I had better leave now, I have a train to catch” he said looking at his watch, “Have a good night”


He walked swiftly back to into the beach. He didn’t look back for once, he was afraid that the man would change his mind. The crowd was slowly starting to make its way back from the beach. He walked to a far corner that was nearly deserted and sat down on one of the stone benches facing the sea. He took out the money from his pocket after making sure no one was watching. His hands trembled as he felt the glossy paper again, he wasn’t still sure if he was dreaming. He counted them. Yes, five thousand rupees there were, nine notes of five hundred and five notes of hundred, fresh off the mint.

But, there among the notes was a neatly folded piece of paper. It looked to be the kind of paper used to wrap jewelry. He unfolded it carefully, it seemed to have something written in it; did he slip it in by mistake?, he thought. He put the money back into his pocket, got up and walked over to a lamp and looked at the red piece of paper again. On it was written in neat hand - “I happen to own a jewelry shop in Madurai; and I have been in business long enough to tell when I see a bronze ring. You may be wondering then why I still bought it? I will be here at this very same spot three years from now, and I’ll be coming with this ring you sold me today. That day, you are going to tell me what you did with the money I gave you today, and you better not disappoint me on that day, because if you do, you are going to have to buy this back from me for double this price…and I have a reputation for being quite a ruthless businessman. Yes, I’m going to give you three years to make this ring into gold”.

He ran back as fast as he could to the place where he last saw the man. But he had been long gone, into the vast ocean of humanity, which seemed to graciously smile back at him now. He looked back up at the sky, he could see a few stars there now. His eyes brimmed, streams of tears sparkled on his face, they seemed to tell loudly “I promise you father, I will not disappoint you this time”

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Mosquito and the Yogi

The yogi held his breath with dread

He knew too well the hum that he heard

“Oh no not now!!” he almost begged,

As the frightful needle kissed his nose

Upside down in the delicate pose,

He tried to stay calm and sought some sense,

As a shock spread out from his nose till his toes,

And blood oozed out from his throbbing cells

His limbs held back for his brain’s dictate

Like arrows eager to fly off bows

As he asked himself if he should wait,

“Should I wage war or keep the truce?”

At length, he heard a voice speak,

Calm and clear from across the hills,

Like a tranquil wind that sternly seemed

To hold the reins of his senses still,

“It’s wrong for a yogi to lose restraint,

Wise men of yore have thus ordained,

It’s his duty to keep his pose,

Whether earth rolls or storm blows”

The voice came nearer, in tranquil gait,

“Let not your mind be frail, nor your poise weak,

Be not tempted by distractions that bait,

Large or little, even the air that you breathe”

Begging to differ was a hoarse voice,

That seemed to grunt through hard-clenched teeth,

“What use is your control and all your poise

If you can’t defend against such malice?”

“Act! the limits of tolerance have reached,

The lines your patience have been breached,

The moves are yours to end this game

Victor or coward? You choose your name!”

His mind swung wild from discourse to discourse

Torn between extremes, he weighed each course

When all that while a pest drank his blood,

“Enough is enough!,” and thus more he said,

“This mischief should be punished

The laws of nature must be obeyed,

Lions must hunt and fish must swim,

This fly must die, it’s time is done!”

With stealthy resolve he lifted his arm,

And slowly brought it in place for strike,

In one swift motion he slapped on his face,

Right at the spot where the insect grazed

His neck shifted on the sudden impact,

His body swayed this way and that,

He tried to stay upright in his fragile stance,

It was soon proving to be a hopeless dance.

The insect’s moves were a little better,

Quick as wind she was out of the way,

Her tricks were sharp and well prepared,

Much unlike her hapless prey

Arms and legs flung wild around,

Bones and joints strained all about,

With a crashing thud, he hit the ground,

The game was up, he’d been knocked out

As he lay injured counting many a star,

All arms and legs and a twisted neck,

He heard faint laughs from voices afar,

And waited, helpless, for the hum was back…

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Appu's Onam

The sunlight slipped in through the gaps between the coconut leaves, and made bright little squares and circles on Appu’s face. The early morning sea breeze made them move around. Ammu climbed onto the bed and cuddled up on his stomach with a muffled meow. The neighborhood rooster soon joined the grand conspiracy with a resounding morning cry.

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and rubbed them with his hands. He yawned and stretched with a lazy vacation relish. Ammu jumped off his stomach and did her own slightly more extravagant version of the stretch.

Dreamy eyed, he climbed down the stairs; Ammu followed close behind, rubbing against his feet. The earthly fresh voice of Yesudas’ wafted in from grandma’s old radio. The smell of fresh steaming puttu and the clatter of plates emanated from the kitchen.

“Good morning!” said his mother as he sauntered into the kitchen. “Finally you thought of getting up, your highness?” She asked, ruffling his hair. “Have you brushed your teeth?” He never liked these early morning questions. “When will she start treating me like a grown up…? And when will she start giving me tea in the transparent glass” he thought as she handed him a steel glass half filled with warm tea.

Holding the glass with both his hands and sipping the tea, he walked out to the verandah, where he found his father reading the morning newspaper. “Ah Good Morning Sir”, he said and dragged him into the fold of the newspaper. He liked the Sunday newspapers, they were colorful, and had lots of pictures. This being a Saturday, the newspaper was all black and white. He tried to read the big black letters which had some exclamation marks at their end, but gave up after a brief try.

“Where’s your Achuchechi?” his father asked. “Oh I don’t know” he said uninterestedly, as he took one serious sip from the glass. “And where’s your pookkalam? Where are all the flowers? I thought you two will have it ready by the time we woke up”

Appu slipped away from his father’s hands and sat down on the stairs. “Appu! don’t sit on the stairs, its dirty” It was his mother. Appu didn’t move, but just kept looking out into the front-yard with his chin in his hands.

“What’s with these two kids today?” the mother asked the father of her two children, “I have no idea” he said shrugging his shoulders and looked at the chalk drawing on the floor from which the flowers were missing; he also noticed that some parts of the drawing looked a little vague.

Appu still didn’t understand why Achuchi didn’t like the little circles he had drawn on the floor behind him the last night. Every time he drew them, she kept rubbing them off. First he thought that was because they were not perfect circles, so he kept drawing more cute circles. It was only when she got really mad and pushed him away that he understood her aversion to small cute circles. Not one to give up easily, he had then turned his creative energy into small squares – only to learn that his sister had a general abhorrence to all cute shapes. He didn’t clearly remember everything that followed after he retaliated by rubbing off the weird shape she had drawn in the center. In hindsight he didn’t regret that - it was not that great a shape, it looked very ugly in fact; but then, he thought he could probably have avoided a thing or two, like the hair-pulling and the biting.

He got up from his contemplations and walked out to the front yard. “Appu, wear the slippers!” his mother shouted from behind again. He ignored the voice again. “Appu wait, don’t run, you’ll fall down” he heard father shout as he ran barefoot to the back of the house.

He stopped as he reached the backyard that looked out into the sea. Little beads of morning dew glittered from the tips of the grass in the early morning sunlight. There was a light breeze blowing into the shore, which carried with it the chirps of the morning birds. Ammu was out in the grass trying to catch butterflies.

Appu ran out towards the sea. He liked to sit on the grass near the cliff and watch the waves crash into the rocks. He was stopped in his track though by a shrill voice from across the hedge. “Appu, Appu come look at our pookkalam!!” It was his neighbor Ali. “Where where, let me see” Appu asked enthusiastically and turned towards Ali’s house.

“Hello! Look who is here” Ali’s father lifted him off the ground as soon as he entered the yard. He didn’t like being lifted off the ground, but he didn’t mind this time, since that gave him a good view of the pookkalam. It looked beautiful. Ali and his elder brother Mansoor stood proudly beaming in front of their work of art. White, red, orange and yellow flowers were neatly laid out in a fine design on the ground like a thick carpet. Appu noticed that the shape in the middle looked a lot like what Achuchi had drawn last night. “Hmm it’s not that bad a shape after all”, he thought to himself.

“Where’s your sister?” Ali’s father asked him as he put Appu down and he was getting busy with the sweets Ali’s mother had presented him by then.

“I don’t know” He said, and then asked Ali after finishing with the sweets” did you see her?”
“She was here some time back, she helped us do our pookkalam, and then I think she went towards the shore” said Mansoor pointing his finger towards the sea.

“Come let’s find her” said Ali and took off towards the cliff that overlooked the sea. Appu followed with half hearted footsteps. After reaching the edge of the cliff they stopped and looked around. The sea was calm, except for the waves that kept lashing at the rocks. It was a lot more peaceful than last month, now that the monsoon had eased out. Still, there were very few boats in the sea since it was Thiruvonam day. A few cows and goats were grazing on the field nearby. There was no sign of Aswathi anywhere around.

“Where could she have gone” Ali thought out loud, “she had a basket with her, she has probably gone to get flowers”. They looked around, there were no flowers anywhere. All flowers - small and big, from the gardens and from the wild, were already taken. Even Appu and Aswathi had collected some flowers the previous day and kept them for their pookkalam. “The only place she would get flowers now are from the fields” said Ali with both arms behind him, with the air of a detective who had cracked the last missing piece of a complicated case “but that is really far away”. “Come on, let’s go and check” he said to Appu after some thought. Appu would rather have sat there and watched the waves, but he agreed at length, and followed Ali who was already sprinting away in the direction of the fields.

“Unniyetta have you seen Achuchi” Appu shouted out to Unni who was coming in the opposite direction with his little herd of goats. “Yes, I saw her some time back, I think she went that way, Unni said pointing toward the direction of the fields.

He looked ahead and saw that Ali had stopped running. He was pointing at something that was lying on the ground and shouting something. Appu ran towards him. “Look! a slipper” said Ali. There on the ground lay a little slipper, but there was just one of them. “Is it hers?” Ali asked. They looked at each other, and then looked at the sea. Appu ran out towards the edge of the cliff and looked down. He saw Moosakka sitting on the rock with a fishing rod “Have you seen my Achuchi??” he shouted out to Moosakka. “No mone I haven’t” Moosa shouted back. Ali looked at Appu again; his eyes had started to fill up.

“Achuchi!! Achuchi!!”, he started calling out loudly. The waves kept breaking upon the rocks relentlessly; a few vagrant clouds tried to obscure the sun. Appu ran towards the direction of he fields, Ali followed him. “Achuchi, Where are you??” his voice was now at the verge of breaking into a cry.

A familiar feline sound came from somewhere nearby. They hadn’t seen Ammu follow them, it was not like her to come this far out. They looked up and saw Ammu balancing herself precariously on a branch, amidst a bunch of yellow flowers. There was a rustle from the leaves above, and then came a bright red frock jumping down from the tree. There was Achuchi! with a basket full of yellow flowers. Appu for a moment didn’t know whether to smile or sulk. He just stood there with a confused look on his face. Ali ran to Aswathi and started checking out the flowers. “Appukkutta!! Come home fast, I want you to draw those circles”, Aswathi said as she took off towards their house. Appu thought for a moment, then his face lit up and he raced after his sister, Ali followed with shouts of joy.

The man and the woman looked on happily as they saw the little figures running home in the backdrop of the calm sea which sparkled golden in the sunlight; the wind carried their happy laughter to them. They sat down leaning against each other and waited to take their children in their arms.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

First Rains

He paused as he saw his ugly reflection on the closed windowpane, sighed to himself and moved on. The moon was barely half her full self, but there was enough light for a passer by to notice him (that is if anybody thought of passing by at that hour). Luckily for him, the streetlights were on the other side. He carefully moved behind the heavy branch of the old mango tree, which looked over her house like a tired and sleepy watchman. A steady cool breeze kept its leaves restless.

There was one window that seemed to be unlatched. He gently moved towards it and pulled it open with trembling hands, trying his best not to make any noise. The moonlight slipped in through the opening, and there it gently fell on her face as she slept.

He felt like reaching out and touching the dark hair which lay all over her shoulders in tumultuous waves, but then he held his hand back just in time... what if she wakes up.

The wind had grown a bit stronger. The leaves had gotten a bit noisier. A blinding flash of lightning lit up the sky, and all of a sudden, it started to rain. It rained heavily; the raindrops fell on the windowpanes with a wild clatter, like an army against a castle wall. The air now had that smell of new monsoon he loved since he was a child.

Roused from his sleep, the mango tree slowly spread his arms wide to take in the smell with lusty breaths; as he welcomed his lover on her yearly visit. The monsoon lashed her moist arm through the half open window. A few bracelet beads broke off and fell on her face. She opened her eyes (those eyes, he had never quite got them right).

The sight of the silhouetted face of a man at the window gave her quite a fright. She let out a shriek, but that was drowned by a timely thunder. His first impulse was to run away, but for some reason he held on to the window grill and kept looking into her eyes. The raindrops glistened on his bearded face. His eyes sparkled from the dim moonlight. She recognized them. The wind and the rain roared on in the background.

“What are you doing here?” she managed to ask after 5 minutes, during which they said nothing, but gazed at each other (the best 5 minutes of his life…he thought).

“Answer my question, why are you here?” she persisted. He was starting to get that strange burning sensation on his right cheek, soon it started to spread to his right arm and then to his right leg, and then he started to shiver all over. Whenever that happened, his ability of speech failed him too. And by strange coincidence, this sort of thing happened invariably when the situation badly demanded his speaking. And as usual, he didn’t try to say anything.

The fact of the matter was that he wasn’t really sure why he was there; why he had scaled walls on a cold windy night, braved the moonlight, and pried open sleepy windows. Why he couldn’t sleep that night…or any night.

“You better tell me why you are here, or I am going to wake up the whole neighborhood”, she tried a threat. “…I…don’t know...” he replied after a long pause, and then added eloquently, “I… Just wanted to…” “What?” she was starting to lose her patience. He lost his speech again. A peal of thunder seemed to answer for him.


"Amma, did it rain last night?"., she asked her mother as she was lighting a match for the stove. "What rain? It didn't, this is still May girl", came the sharp rebuttal. "Yes…I know that..." she said sheepishly.

The window was closed. She opened it and looked out. The sky was a clear blue, the mango tree looked dry, no sign of rain anywhere. Must have been a dream. She tried to forget it as she diverted her attention to the morning newspaper. As she sipped her tea and tried to read the newspaper, her thoughts wandered away to a night a few weeks back. That was the last time she had seen him.


"I hope I don't ram into a post one of these days" he said glancing sideways at her after pair of glaring headlamps had thrown them off the road temporarily, and they narrowly missed an electric post. She laughed. He'd actually be handsome without the beard she thought.

He looked at her again. He was trying his best to keep his attention on the road, but it was starting to get difficult. It had been a long day. He had been at the wheel of the Scorpio since seven in the morning. The only sleep he had got was when he dozed off to Ghulam Ali while waiting for her.

He glanced again to get a good glimpse of her face, the thick dark waves that brushed her cheeks, and the big expressive eyes (that tormented him day and night). He had been working on it for a month now. "What will I name it", he thought.

"But then, what would I do with it.? What would people think? What would she think? Should I destroy it?" A wave of guilt was starting to sweep over him.

"Why do you drive so fast" she asked, cutting out his train of thought.

That was a recently acquired habit. "Really? .is this too fast?...maybe you are right. you know, people used to tell me I drive very slow. and I think without my knowing it, I have actually started to drive very fast" He was quite surprised by the length of that sentence. Must be the lack of sleep, he thought... or was it something else? (It wouldn't have been much of an exaggeration to say that he rarely managed more than five or six words in conversations with women, except his mother that is)

"You want me to slow down?" He continued his good form. "Yes please" she said looking at his eyes intently. There was something about those eyes, she thought. deep, dreamy..."

Why do you work so hard?" he asked; just as her cell phone rang. She fumbled it out of her bag, she thought of taking the call, but thought otherwise after a moment's consideration. "I don't know", she said after silencing the music," I don't know. maybe it's because everyone else does the same." she tried to reason. "That's not a very good reason for losing your sleep like this", he said. "Why do you work so hard?" she came back after a brief silence. He glanced sideways again and smiled. He didn't have an answer to that either.He had just wanted to hear her talk. There was something about the sound of it. He wished she would go on talking. He wished he could paint her voice. He was driving much slower now.

"Aren't you going to work today? ", her mother inquired over the newspaper.


He stood there transfixed by those eyes. With brush in one hand and easel on the other he stood there gazing at the canvass. His hands had trembled slightly when he made the final strokes to her eyes. It never trembled while he painted, but this time, it did.

He took one more sip of the black coffee that he made himself, and sat down looking out into the dark through the half open window. It was unusually cold and misty. There was a hint of a breeze too.

He looked at the mirror, which he used for shaving. It was all dusty; he hadn't used it for weeks now. He wiped it clean and looked at his reflection. Below, on the windowsill lay the matchbox.

It had to be destroyed…that was the promise he had made to himself. He picked out a match and struck it. The wind had grown much stronger, and it put out his flame. Then like a naughty child paying an unwelcome visit, the rain gushed in through the window. He tried to strike the match again after closing the window, but it was too wet. He threw it away in frustration and looked at those eyes again. A few drops of rainwater had fallen on her face, a little bit of the red had spread into her eyes.


As she stepped out onto the road to her bus stop, a few droplets of water fell on her arm. She looked up at the sky; it looked very dark now. The early monsoon clouds were rumbling in the skies. A steady breeze was blowing across. It grew stronger and started to dislodge dry leaves from their perch. The coconut trees started to sway wildly. The rolling of the drums soon culminated into a deafening thunder. And then, like a dam that could hold no more water, the clouds opened up, and poured forth a torrent. She ran as fast as she could to the bus shelter.

She saw his face as the wiper stroked the raindrops clean from windshield. The beard had grown thicker. She tried to smile but he was looking ahead.

The sound of breaks screeching and metal clanging against metal filled the air. He was thrown off his seat by the impact and fell onto the road. He cried out in pain as his bones broke; blood started to flow from a cut in his forehead. The asphalt around him slowly turned red.

She screamed out loud and ran towards the middle of the road where his trembling body lay bleeding in the rain. She took him in her arms and frantically tried to stem the flow of the blood with her dupatta. "Are you alright, are you alright" she kept asking hysterically, tears streaking down her cheeks. He looked up into her eyes; they were teary and red, but still beautiful, much like they had been the night before.

He couldn't speak a word. The pain had given way to a sweet numbness, as he lay there in the arms that he cherished to be touched with…looking at the eyes that held…the best moments of his life.