A Fish Tale

It was pouring outside. The Kanikonna and Sandalwood stood intertwined, in warm embrace, one shielding the other from the furious rain. Lekshmi and Meenakshi took shelter under the old Jackfruit tree. Since morning, they had been sumptuously feasting upon the lush grass that had invaded the backyard with a fierce gusto.  Puddles were keenly waiting to transform into serpentine rivers.

Meanwhile, catastrophic images flashed across the T.V. screen. There was mayhem and devastation all around – giant uprooted trees, houses in shambles, rescue workers making their way through the wreckage, a man anxiously searching for the remains of his child among the debris…

 A pale-faced man in a raincoat, with a mike in his hand, screamed at the top of his voice. Another barrage of images struck the screen again. The apocalyptic scene ensued.

‘Ammu, where are you? Stay indoors with Ammamma. Don’t go out.’

‘Amma, I am here with Ammamma. We are watching TV.’

‘Ok, dear.’

Devi hated to be disturbed while she was in the kitchen. If by chance anyone stumbled upon her territory, she would launch into a tirade of complaints; this could be anything, right from a leaking pipe, a broken tile or the price of chappati atta to the apparent haughtiness of the lady next door.

‘Oh my God! Not again. I am totally fed up with this place. Is anyone listening?’

‘What happened, Devi? Stop yelling! You vocal cord will fall to pieces.’

Kousalyakutty Amma, Devi’s mother, was a charismatic and confident woman in her early seventies.  She was the heartthrob of the children in the neighbourhood and the best storyteller in the town. She used to tell them the stories of eternal love and valour and they absolutely adored her. A no-nonsense woman, she was the only person in the big, wide world who could offer consolation to Devi, however distressing the situation was. As Ammu always said, Ammamma was a woman of magic; she smelt like lime pickle, old books, Night jasmine and all the beautiful things in life.

‘Amma, look at this. There’s a leak in the ceiling and water is seeping through the crevices. How many times have I told Sreedhar to get this plugged? Anyway, he doesn’t have time for his family. By tomorrow, the kitchen will be flooded. The rain is messing with all my plans. I can’t even go out to get vegetables. Nobody ever listens to me.  I can’t spend my entire life cleaning this place…’

‘You are driving me nuts. Do you want the neighbours to know what’s going on in this house? We’ll find a way out. Let me see if I can get the number of a local mechanic. Call him up, and get things fixed. Period.’

‘Devi, this is what Kali Yuga looks like. Floods, storms, tsunamis…the ancients were probably right. The planet is dying.’ Every month, Kousalyakutty shouted out her prophecies to a world that never cared to listen to her.

‘Ammamma, are we all going to die?’ A shadow of doubt and fear crossed Ammu’s face.   

                                                                                                  II

Outside, the rain gathered strength every passing minute; heavy gusts of wind lashed out at the coconut trees which were frantically holding onto their roots. The plantains knelt on the ground out of fear and veneration for an invisible God. Electric lines oscillated from pole to pole unmindful of their fates.

‘Ammamma, come here. There’s something I want to show you. It’s a fish…come on, let’s put it in a bowl.’ Ammu squealed excitedly.

The floods had brought in an unexpected guest. A small fish, akin to a sardine, darted restlessly in a pool of muddy water. Perhaps, it had lost its way home. Was it desperate to return to its humble dwelling in the canal nearby? If it were Ammu, she would have traded all her Barbie dolls and sketch pens for this new-found slice of freedom.

Anyway, perceiving the gravity of the situation, Ammu instantly swung into action. She decided to build a makeshift home for the little creature. And within a few minutes, the big crystal bowl, which Devi had bought from an exhibition, became its watery abode. Thankfully, Devi was far too occupied to take heed of her daughter’s largeheartedness, or else this seemingly innocent act would have sparked a battle of ideas.

The fish gleefully swam around, scrutinizing every nook and corner of its carefully embellished home. And, needless to say, Ammu was on cloud nine.

‘Ammamma, what if this tiny thing became a big fish, like the one you told me about yesterday? What if it could save the earth?’

‘Ammu, it was just a story… and stories need not always be true. You should always take them with a grain of salt. By the way, we are not going to die so soon, my child. Not yet’

That night, a giant fish with green eyes dived into her dreams – one that was big enough to swallow the world, perhaps the whole universe itself.  The fish grew and grew until it stretched beyond the horizons. All around her was water; here, there, everywhere. The Sun stealthily hid behind the clouds and darkness crept in. Helpless cries resounded through the shores. Despair shrouded the hearts of men, and chaos reigned.  The deluge devoured everything in its wake; nothing remained, not even the faintest shadow of hope.

Somewhere, far from this madness, Amma and Ammamma desperately tried to latch a boat onto something powerful and massive. Was it a tusk or a horn? Yes, it was a horn, precisely. However, strangely enough, it didn’t seem to have a beginning or an end.  The sea lit up with a fiery brilliance, and the boat tied to the gigantic horn bobbed up and down, crashing against the waves…

                                                                                     III

The faint morning rays peeped through the windows, but the world was still drenched in darkness. An occasional call of a Koel or the crowing of a rooster shook up the silence that pervaded the streets. The lazy rain-soaked trees hummed songs of melancholy and went to sleep, not yet keen on welcoming a new day.

Devi was already in the kitchen, preparing a breakfast of dosas and coconut chutney.  She was an early-riser; seasons didn’t matter to her.  The only things that were of any consequence to her were her family and her work in the tailoring unit.

Finally, when Ammu woke up at eight, she was still caught in a haze, and the first thing she did was to check on the little guest who had paid them a visit the other day. She scanned the jar and its petite inhabitant twice to ensure that everything is as it should be.

However, later in the day, something strange happened which would have left anyone at a loss for words. Unfortunately, the incident went unnoticed. 

The waters glittered, mammoth bubbles rose up, and in a matter of seconds, a sharp, sword-like protrusion sprouted on the head of the fish. The jar cracked into a million odd pieces without the least noise and the little being disappeared into thin air, never to be seen again.

When Ammu returned from school, she was heartbroken. She cried until a pool of tears formed at her feet. To this day, Ammu thinks her Amma had thrown the bottle away in a fit of temper. She even argued ceaselessly with her mother for a couple of days. However, thankfully, things got back to normal as soon as she made friends with the neighbour’s blue eyed kitten.

As for the dream, the only thing she could recall with precision were the big green eyes. Eyes that radiated beauty, light and hope. Eyes that were not of this world.

The Secret Party

Braid your dreams into a colourful bun,

and secure it with starry pins and a crescent moon.

Crown yourself with Saturn’s icy rings

and the flame red feathers of the firebird.

Sprinkle a dash of stardust,

and plant the tail of a fiery comet to hold it firmly in place.

That’s not all…

Carry a burnished gold spear, sharp and sturdy,

in your soul’s warm, clandestine depths,

or hide it somewhere between the burning skies and the turbulent seas,

for you may need it to save your dreams

from being crushed, bullied and trampled

by menacing hands and ruthless hearts.

.

Lost in Translation

As you come closer,

I can feel the musty scent of the past in your strong arms…

Sweat runs down my spine like a slow, serpentine river.

Your eyes, razor-sharp, pierce mine,

Searching for something lost…

What are you searching for?

Don’t you know that discarded stuff gather dust over time?

Don’t you understand that it’s impossible to resurrect the glory of lost empires?

Don’t you know it is impossible to breathe life into the dead?

Don’t you know that digging up the skeletal remains of memories is pointless?

Don’t you know that the future shows no mercy for an uninvited past?

Don’t you realize that we lost each other somewhere along the way?

Still, what are you searching for…?

When glowworms make love

The dusk descends, like a burglar, with silent footsteps.

Specks of light flit amidst the mammoth leaves of the Teak.

The thick clusters of flowers shine like burnished gold and copper,

forging a ring of fire, a portal to other worlds.

This is where glowworms make love…

Luminescent globules spring from nowhere –

Flickering, hopping, twisting, twirling,

waltzing, jiving and pirouetting,

till their bodies melt into each other,

Becoming pure ecstasy in motion.

A coy moon slips among the dark clouds.

The lonely frog sighs, whines and moans,

waiting listlessly for the midnight showers.

Children of the White God

I

The white sands burn under the fiery, scorching sun;

each grain, a Kohinoor in the making.

All around me are large, endless heaps of white…

The white, parched earth merging with the blue-white skies.

White, white, and white all around.

 

                                               II

We are the Children of the White God, my mother used to say.

The eldest among the five, I spent my childhood in oblivion,

playing hide-and-seek with my siblings in this salt desert.

I was born into a family where I got food only once a day.

I have seen my mother wailing inconsolably, like a banshee,

holding a dead baby in her arms.

I have seen tears streaming down her rough cheeks,

as she held my father’s hands covered with lesions.

I have spent my entire youth in these white fields,

weaving salt from the heart of the earth.

I have known the pangs of hunger, the shackles of misery…

 

However, everyday,

when the first rays of dawn kiss the azure skies,

I tell myself over and over-

There is nothing sweeter, seductive, and more powerful than salt.

                                              III

Every year, during the monsoons,

this barren land surrenders to the mighty Arabian Sea.

They swing, swirl, and make love

until both get tired and fall asleep in each other’s arms…

and when they part,

they leave behind a universe in silvery white.

 

In the winter, when it’s time for harvest,

we pitch tents in these fields for eight months,

braving the fierce sun and the cold night winds,

to grow the whitest and the purest salt in the world.

 

                                   IV

Today, I am as old as the sun and the hills…

my face, shriveled like a rotten apple,

my eyes, deep and sunken like an ancient well,

my skin, coarse and covered with lesions,

and my hands, sharp and rugged like a knife…

my legs, covered with shimmering, white crystals,

are no longer legs; they are fragile sticks sinking deeper

and deeper into the heart of this white desert.

I don’t have much time left…

 

In a few years, my body will be at the mercy of corpse burners,

my children will perform my last rites, but what about these legs of mine…?

It seems they have a mind of their own,

for it is the blood of the White God that runs through their veins.

 

They are not the ones to give up easily –

they need to be coaxed, tamed, chided,

caned, tortured, butchered…

until they have no life left in them.

 

They will die a sad death,

buried with salt in a grave…

far, far away from my pyre.

 

                                                     V

 

Today, my mouth tastes salty and bitter than ever before…

I can hear my heart pounding on the doors of my body,

I can feel the cool drops of sweat meandering down my neck and thighs,

I can feel the stench of rotting flesh,

It’s nauseating…

 

When I close my eyes, I can see my legs,

disfigured and mutilated, burning in the pyre;

the flames steadily engulfing them, as if with a caress.

My head is reeling under the sharp, spiky rays

I can’t breathe, I can’t…