Journey through life

Time and again, she stopped. Sometimes, she had reached a crossroads… at other times, a roundabout. But today was different. Today, there was no way forward. she was staring at a dead-end. There was no turning to be turned. And definitely no circles to run.

She looked back at the path that had led her here… one that so many army nomads like her had walked before… traipsing around the countryside, a newborn strapped to their backs, a dream tucked away in their hearts… a track through wilderness. It wasn’t an easy stretch at all. She had plodded through streams and climbed up slopes, tumbled over stones… and yet, her footprints barely showed through the mud and gravel and grass.

Her sigh lingered for a moment longer than she had thought it would. Was it regret for every dream she had allowed to fade… or gramercy for how fortunate she had been all along? She remembered sending work files over a dial-up connection when remote working was not even a word, and who returned to work after a career-break?! At every turn, friends, colleagues, bosses had held her hand. And yet, here she was again… wondering what next.

The wave of gratefulness receded… leaving in its place a damp mood. There was a time when life had been full of possibilities. So much that could have been, and yet so much that had simply fallen by the wayside… An annoying little voice grated in her mind, ranting about a life gone waste. It mocked her, derided her, made her feel so utterly worthless.

‘We all walk our own paths dear girl…’ Aai had said. ‘Your journey is no less important because you didn’t leave a blazing trail. I can’t tell you if the routes you have chosen will lead you to places of glory… But there will be plenty of times, when doubt will seize your mind and darkness will descend… When that happens, think of the magnificent valleys you stumbled into and the spectacular views from the peaks you climbed. And celebrate your journey, because you had the courage to take a step forward when you hardly could see…’

She closed her eyes. Aai was right. Before she could dig and claw her way ahead, she needed to think of happier places… of a moment frozen in time… And of those, she had many.

Journey of life
Through wildflowers and grass
Warm memories

This post is a part of BlogchatterA2Z 2022.

Pic sourced from https://unsplash.com/@madebyjens

Inky black

That summer in the 90s… do you remember it still? How we sat by the lake and talked of endless love? And when the tape in the walkman broke, how our voices rose high, until you pulled me by the arm and we danced in slow whorls… It was magical wasn’t it, that summer when we were young still… and the sky was just an arm’s length away for us to write our song on.

They said that summer love is just a gorgeous lie. We laughed when we heard it. We believed in love. We believed in forever. We believed in us.

When did the summer turn cold? Why did our sky turn an inky black? Where did love go?

Scribbled carelessly
A galaxy of sorrow
Light years away

Rather delayed, this post is part of BlogchatterA2Z 2022. The pic is sourced from https://unsplash.com/@denisdegioanni

The hegemony of clothes

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

‘Clothes are a code.’ The old lady points knowingly towards my uncovered legs. Barely ten, I am already too tall for my age. Aai understands something much beyond my grasp and averts her gaze. Her cheeks are slightly pink from embarrassment. I have never seen my fiery mother like this. Curiously I stare at the old lady sitting next to us in the women’s clinic. 

She has dropped the knotted corner of her billowing farrashia, so her face is visible now. But the younger woman with her is still wrapped in the white sheet, leaving only one eye uncovered with which to see the world. I wonder who she is shielding her face from now that she is out of the harsh summer sun… for that’s what my friend from school told me. Her elder sister Maha has stopped coming to school and now covers herself with the white sheet on the rare occasion that she steps out, and never without her father or brother.

‘Do you think she can breathe inside that tent?’ I ask Aai in Marathi.

‘Don’t stare. It’s rude.’ Aai’s face is expressionless. She looks straight ahead, lest the old woman thinks that we are talking about her and her companion; which we are… but I don’t think Aai would appreciate me pointing it out.

‘But she is still staring at my legs. That’s rude too.’

‘Shall we stop at the hymermart on our way back? You can pick out some nice trousers for yourself.’

‘Bell-bottoms? Pink ones?’ I am already super-excited. Aai laughs and nods a yes. Distracted by the thought of pink bell-bottoms, I forget about the disapproving looks my bare legs are receiving.

It is only years later that I understand what the old woman was alluding to. There is no age when your legs, arms, face, body are not sexualized.

Are you worthy of

Dignity and respect, girl

Clothes alone can tell

Women themselves participate in setting up the hierarchy of domination and denomination. Clothes are the first step towards exerting control over another woman’s body… towards limiting her to a constricted role within this politics of class, wealth, culture and more importantly gender.

No matter how it looks in different cultures… it is still the same. It could be the farrashia covering women from head to toe… It could be the corset that leaves nothing to imagination…

A complex subject for sure… I will return to it later… perhaps do a series of posts. But for now, I understand that clothes are a code.

This post is a part of BlogchatterA2Z 2022.

Gulliver and me

Image from Wikimedia

Faraway, in another time, was a place called Childhood.

A magical place it was for sure… with twisting trees and rising roads… toad-stool seats and round fairy doors… built between stacks of books. Little men and women lived there, burrowing between pages, where anything could happen anytime. It all depended on which book one chose to open. Dragons breathing on some days, elephants flying the next!

Then one day, the little girl bumped into a shiny new book. The cover was a bright red, and its name was embossed in gold… Gulliver’s Travels. She loved the name. She loved to travel, especially during her summer holidays. It didn’t matter if she was sitting in the back of their green car, or sailing bravely to places that existed only in books.

She traveled with Gulliver to Lilliput and then to Brobdingnag! The words were so fantastical that she felt the tug on her hair, when each strand on Gulliver’s head was fastened strongly to the ground, feeling helpless when he could not move his hands or legs. And in Brobdingnag, she was filled with dread when the eagle flew away with the box, with her and Gulliver still inside.

Of all the books she read that summer, she chose to keep Gulliver’s Travels in the Forever Shelf in her mind, flipping through the pages now and then as the years passed by.

They say, time takes away everything… and so it took away that place called Childhood.

The little girl now lived in a world called Real Life. Navigating its alleys and lanes was fun and exciting at first, but soon she realized that people in Real Life were not very different from the Lilliputians, who lived inside the pages of that Red Book in the Forever Shelf. And with every passing day, she felt more and more helpless, straitjacketed into the inane rules set up by the small humans filled with pretensions and self-importance in Real Life. And although they were not like Lilliputians to look at, these perfectly normal-looking Real Lifers were just as small on the inside, consumed by greed and jealousy and moral ineptitude.

She grew tired of Real Life, wishing for an escape to somewhere better. ‘There has to be Some Place where people are without malice… where people will recognize and appreciate my knowledge and skills.’ She thought time and again. Slowly, her contempt for the Real Lifers grew. She felt she was better than most everyone around. The bumptiousness grew and grew, until one day, Gulliver took her to Brobdingnag, into the dark recesses deep inside her own mind. There, the mirror could only reflect her feet of clay.

Seeing her own ordinariness made her feel like she was sinking. She struggled with the storm in her mind… Fighting off the world around her… trying to escape the predictability of her ordinary life. But there was no Some Place. So she built a Maze.

The Maze was a beautiful place too… not as beautiful as that faraway place called Childhood. But here she could burrow even deeper into the fantastical words and mind-boggling worlds that could not really exist… or could they?  

Lost between pages
A silent summer of peace
The best place on Earth

This post is a part of the #BlogchatterA2Z2022.

Fireflies

https://unsplash.com/@phanchutoan

Its the end of April. The dusty table-land is dotted with tents. The teacher accompanying us has already called it a day. It must have been an exhausting day for her… what with having to manage fourteen unruly girls for the weekend camp. But in the tent farthest from hers, we are enjoying the last few days together as the outgoing seniors of the French department.

Its not long though, before our crazy laughter starts to grow quiet and with every passing hour, heavy eyelids begin to droop.

‘Hey! We can’t be sleeping tonight!!’ That must be Amrita. But she has a point. Who knows when we will be so carefree again… ‘Anyone knows how to do planchette?’

That gets everyone alert and excited. So there we sit, crouching over a newspaper scribbled with alphabets and letters and a plastic cup.

‘But what do we want to know?’

‘If I will get into Sorbonne?’

‘If I will get a boyfriend…?’

‘Duh! Who is going to be the next US president!’

The cup spins and slides under our fingers… spelling out answers to question after silly question. With every word that spills our secrets, we squeal and laugh… oblivious to how fast the cup is moving now… almost as if it has come alive… a whorling maniac… like it too is enjoying the little game.

‘Which one of us is going to be the most successful?’ The question catches us unaware. Surprised, we turn to look at Nima. Her usually quiet eyes are burning with a fire we have never seen before. If she has sensed our gaze, she doesn’t show it.

What happened in that charged moment, we will never know. Perhaps, it was the storm raging inside each of us, released with that one question…

The wind gushes in, putting out the candle. The tent must have been ripped somewhere. A queer silence fills the tent. ‘Where’s the torch?’ Someone whispers. But none of us is listening. In the darkened tent, we can hear the scraping noise as the cup moves and traces an answer.

Outside, the sky is twinkling with fireflies.

Midnight skies flicker
With the shadows of fireflies
Chimera awakes

This post is a part of BlogchatterA2Z 2022.

An Extinct Past

We have left the squat, flat-roofed houses of Homs city far behind now, and the car is cruising comfortably along the serpentine road bordering the sea. Aai picks out a tape from the many she has brought along on the trip. Its her favourite… an assorted Rafi. She starts singing along. In the back of the car, I sigh happily. It is the perfect start to our summer holidays.

When the car finally slows down, my brothers and I tumble out, anticipating an empty beach where we could swim and play all day long. Instead, we are staring at a sight unlike any other we have ever seen. Juxtaposed against the shimmering blue of the Mediterranean Sea are the towering ruins of Leptis Magna.

Carved figurines and ancient motifs are everywhere, watching us as we follow the young guide through empty cobbled streets; medusa heads stare stonily from crumbled walls. For a while, I try to imagine the children who must have run through the endless lines of pillars once. What battles were fought here? What tragedies wrought? I listen keenly to the inflections of the young man’s voice, as he drones on in Arabic, throwing in a few words of English. I cannot understand him, or the history. Losing interest, I wander off.

The whispered words are startling… floating in waves to the edge of the amphitheatre where I stand. ‘… the pygmies were made to fight crocodiles here.‘ I look back but there is no one. Am I imagining them? ‘…they were slaves mostly… captives… unarmed.’ The words are fragmented by silence. But they have shocked something deeply primeval inside me. I strain to hear more, thirsting for gory details… no different from the frenzied spectators lusting for blood and death.

A statue of Hercules, buck-naked, scrutinizes me impassively from his high perch. Behind him, the fallen arches and the perfectly chiselled steps are stained by centuries of salty moisture. 

Marbled arches stood

Protruding like exposed ribs

From an exhumed tomb

Once an important Roman city, Leptis Magna was discovered in the 1930s. Only partially excavated, it is the best preserved of the seven world heritage sites in Libya, and a fine remnant of Roman architecture.

Colonnaded streets, piazzas, triumph arches, public baths, gymnasium, basilica, an amphitheater built in A.D. 56, are just some of the archaeological remains that can still be seen.

The port city ceased to be a commercial centre after the Arab conquest in the 7th century, and fell into ruin. For more pix, click https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/183/gallery/

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z2022.

Do leave a comment to let me know if you enjoyed it. Or not.

Desert Storm

Pic: metofficenews

In the first inkling of the khamsin headed our way, the skies have turned a dull orange. A veil of fine red dust hangs in the air, a warning that the Saharan sands are flying north.  

I know the drill. We are hit by the sand storm at least once every summer. The slatted wooden shutters have to be pulled close first, then the glass panes. When this is done, I run around the house drawing the thick curtains. The red dust will still find its way inside and coat the inside of our house; so that afterward, I would have to spend the day shaking out rugs and cushions.

What a colossal waste of a beautiful summer Friday… I grumble. It is the weekly off for my parents… a day we were to spend on the beach. Instead here I am, pushing a tape in the VCR and hoping that the storm doesn’t trip the power.

The busy neighbourhood has gone quiet. I imagine all my friends holed up in their houses, knowing that they will be as bored as I. But already, we can hear the roar of the billowing wall of sand. No-one dare step out. Not unless they want the sand to choke their lungs and scrape the skin off their bones.

Later, the scene outside will resemble a sandy graveyard instead of a happy beach-side town. Even the cars parked on the road will be buried under metre-high mounds of sand. Then we will play Map, trying to locate the streets.

Plumes of desert sand
Levitating above ground
How do camels live?

Each year, these sandstorms carry millions of tons of dust from the Sahara desert, and these enormous walls rising thousands of feet above ground fly across to Europe, and even travel across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Its a terrifying phenomenon… one which helps us realize how powerless we are against the might of nature. Heck… did you know, while we hole up in our homes, camels can survive this harshness of weather.

This post is part of the #BlogchatterA2Z 2022.

Candyfloss

Summer days always stretched into nights.

When the blazing sun had lowered itself in the west and the scorching afternoons had cooled sufficiently, the square in front of the town hall would resemble a fête. Everyone we knew would be there. And if you didn’t hurry along, it was impossible to find a spot where fluffy clouds of mist from the huge fountain could cool your skin.

My favourite spot though was in front of the candy floss vendor. A huge Arab with a jolly laugh and fat fingers magically coaxed wispy threads out of a spoonful of sugar, while children, like flies, thronged his stall. But if you wanted a ringside view, the trick, I learned, was to hold a piesta in your outstretched hand, as proof of your willingness to buy the next neon pink blob. When finally the last grain of the sugar had disappeared and the pink wool wound nicely around a straw, he would exchange it for a shiny piece of silver.

It was at this precise moment, when the candy was ready that I would quickly close my fist around the coin and wander away. Over time, the candyfloss man realized that I only liked to watch him at work. Perhaps, he also understood my disappointment with the spun sugar. Not only did it always leave me with sticky fingers, there would practically be nothing to bite into.

Lesson of a lifetime.

Pink clouds of sugar
Squished in shiny plastic bags
Mere hollow fluff

This post is part of #BlogchatterA2Z2022

I love knowing how you enjoyed reading it, or not.

Blue Summer Sea

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Somewhere deep in the alcoves of my mind, clear turquoise waters lap gently against the silver shore, on a hot summer day.

I run forward until the water is touching my waist. I look around to see who will fish me out if I venture any deeper. Faraway on the shore, Aai and her friends are sitting under an umbrella, draped in yards of georgette with floral prints. Women don’t swim publicly in these parts of the world. Not even expats. But I am only a little girl still… flat as a surfboard… devoid of any womanliness and so, protected from the male gaze. Why, even my curls are cropped close to my head. It’s a nod to my free spirit that soars high, higher than my brother’s… and even at eight, I am convinced that gender has nothing to do with the freedom to be.

So today I am going to be a seagull, or a sea turtle, or maybe I would like to be a starfish… The possibilities of make-believe are endless and exciting. Then I notice Baba floating on his back. I have found my make-believe for the day.

I hurry forward, until I am sure he can hear me… at least I hope he does because the waves are gathering around my shoulders and I daren’t go in any further. “Baba, I want to be dead too!”

Streaked with salty air
Mind is a watery grave
Today I’m the sea

I discovered haiku rather late… but it has quickly become the form that I explore the most.

This is my second haiku in the #BlogchatterA2Z2022 challenge. I am always open to conversations, so do leave a comment if you enjoyed, or would like to critique.

Capturing the Melodies of Mind

Melody of a Muddled Mind by Kashish Mahtani

Poems are but whimsical words that take shape in the mind, and disperse like whispers with the wind… It’s fortunate that Kashish Mahtani has penned her words, in verse after beautiful verse, in her book ‘Melody of a Muddled Mind’.

They say, the human mind has 70,000 thoughts per day. That is roughly about 50 thoughts every minute. We hold on to some of these, and we let go most. Kashish has delved deep into the myriad thoughts passing through her mind, and ‘carefully… jot(ted) every stray rhyme, plot and thought’, and has penned gems that truly deserve a reading.

Poets are thought to be moody people, struck with a paralysis when commanded to summon words. Not Kashish. If in ‘A 2-minute Poem’, she has ‘conjured verses off the top of (her) head’; she opens the poem ‘Fill My Heart with Love’ with a delightful verse describing love’s exhilarating effects, that is sure to bring a smile to your lips.

“You fill my heart

With a love so sweet,

It trickles down my spine

And tickles my feet!”

Her eclectic choice of subjects, from insouciant to the serious, takes the reader on a roller-coaster of sentiments. One moment you are on a high before dipping unexpectedly to a thoughtful, sombre mood. Consider for example, the poem titled ‘The Admirable Stranger’. You stumble into it just after reading a love’s missive. And when you peek into the world of the ‘boy who grew up too fast’, the poet tells you of the ‘the pain… in his smile’ and how ‘his stories tore through (her) soul’.

The book is divided into five segments – Whimsical Whispers, The Heart’s  Rhapsody, Segue into Chaos, Death Knell, and The Phoenix Song, which appropriately ends the book with poems such as Closure, Don’t Cry, Rise Phoenix – Rise!

I would love to write about each of the poems in each of the segments, but I don’t want to take away from the reader’s joy of diving into the ‘Melod(ies) of a Muddled Mind’, and discovering their own interpretations in the poignant words of the poet.

About the Author

Kashish Mahtani – born & brought up in Kolkata, now living in Pune – is a blogger by passion and copywriter by profession. She is perpetually enamoured with those who spin magic with words. Old-school at heart but a millennial in spirit, you will find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Mehkashi. Melody of a Muddled Mind is Kashish’s first book.