Once was my city

It used to be a charming, little city, with old trees lining its sleepy roads. A sense of familiarity floating in the air, and a genteel, if predictable, demeanour of modest living.

Where has that friendly place – which could listen with equanimity to the voices of dissent and to the voices of reason – disappeared? Who are these rowdy, greedy, intolerant fanatics that have ripped apart the civilized serenity that lived in my city, once?

Once was my city

This city
Which was once my city
Now
Feels like a stranger I bumped into
At one time
He would have
Gathered his papers
And I
My purse and specs and the keys
From the ground
A gentle apology
Exchanged
Before we went away
Now
I will be wary
Of airing my thoughts even
In this city
Which was once my city
Lest
They bump
Into someone
And he whips out a gun
And
Silences
The voice of reason
Just because
He doesn’t like
The sound of it
Reverberating
Through this city
Which
Once was my city.

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Feed it to the fire

Photo Courtesy: https://unsplash.com/@hip_dinosaur

It was so long ago, but she remembered it still. A pile of wood stacked sky high in front of the house, waiting to go up in flames. She watched as women in silken fineries circled it, worshipped it, offered specially made sweets to please the Gods in an act of penance, an easy way to scorch the demons that consumed the soul.

And always, from her charpai in a corner of the aangan, Dadi would summon her… ‘Feed the fire!’ She would say in a voice filled with urgency.

‘Did Dadi see herself in me? Was she trying to save me from a future that spoke of the past? Had she seen my downfall?’ The woman wondered.

Feed it to the fire

She walked towards the fire
That was now leaping towards the sky,
Flicking a thousand orange tongues
To satiate its burning appetite.

“What will you feed it?”

She could hear her grandmother ask.
And just like that, she was six again,
Chanting the words over and over,
Until they finally were branded on her brain.

“Greed… and jealousy…
Anger… and hatred…
Selfishness… and…”

“And…”

Even today, she didn’t want to say the word,
Although she remembered it rather well.

“Something that means I shouldn’t think
I am smarter or prettier or better than anyone else.”

“Is there a word for it, little one?”

“… but I am Gramma!”

“You are what, little one?”

“Smarter, prettier and better.”

“Such a tiny being and such ego.”
The old voice quivered.
“Feed it to the fire, little one. Or
You’ll be your worst enemy. Feed it to the fire…”

She stood there,
Intently watching the flames,
That had the power to destroy,
That had the power to cleanse.

Tomorrow,
Her ego intact,
She would start afresh.

Jyotsna Atre
April 07, 2021

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Death of a dialogue

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@travisessinger

Memories are a constant dialogue in our minds, reminding us of the years gone by in vivid colours, smells, sounds, fleeting touches… They are snapshots of our entire lives from birth until…

But what happens when memories begin to fade away, leaving white spaces where colour used to be? When silence echoes where sounds used to be? When we can talk with our memories no more? When the mind is emptied of its thoughts and its conversations with the past die…. stripping even the most brilliant, the most creative minds of the rich tapestry that they spend their lives weaving.

And what happens to those who love you when they see themselves die in your memories?

Death of a dialogue

The vacuous eyes, the empty stare,
The way the doctor said it’d be,
Her mind is shutting down,
She is losing her memory.

The memories in my head,
They don’t chatter anymore,
And when I try to remember,
I wonder what I’m looking for.

I push back a loose strand of her hair,
‘I am here, Ma! I say,
A fleeting flicker of recognition, and
The blank stare again. She just looks away.

I wonder who you are,
I wonder why you stare,
I wish you’d keep quiet, and
Please don’t touch my hair.

‘Tomorrow she’ll remember,
Don’t you worry, honey.’
But why can’t I believe,
What you are saying Daddy?

Someday, I hear voices from faraway,
Ma singing a lullaby, sitting next to my bed,
The baby gurgling happily,
When Daddy held her above his head.

‘Do you need something dear’?
Dad is trying his best.
I can see he is tired,
At his age, he too needs some rest.

The hands in my lap look so wizened,
And my bones feel frozen and cold,
I want something to keep me warm,
But I can’t think of the word for what keeps out the cold.

Do you remember Ma,
When I burned your favourite cake?
Do you remember how we laughed
And you told me I should never try to bake’?

That woman who holds my hand every day,
I think I know who she is,
We played together once, and shared secrets
Can you tell me her name, please?

Shall I play your favourite song,
The one you always loved to sing?
The one about flowers and birds,
When it was time for Spring?

Why do I feel so confused, so weak, so lost…
Why do you hold my hand?
Who are you? Do I know you?
And why do you keep calling me Ma?

Jyotsna Atre
April 05, 2021

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Packing away the memories… One box at a time.

Every two years, I pack my house in large wooden boxes, painted black, and neatly labelled with a code that tells me exactly what each one holds… K18, for example, has all the expensive crockery that will come out, when friends in the new station bring cheer at the housewarming party, and then for the many lunches and dinners that I will host thereafter.

Labels don’t always work though. M7 holds, among other junk, a large number of curtains that hung around a colonial bungalow with a humongous 37 windows and 9 doors! In the 17 years since, I never could use all of them together again. First, because I never got to live in such a grand bungalow again; and then eventually, I tired of them and had new ones stitched. Then why haven’t I thrown them away yet? Because they are not just curtains, you see… They are a precious memory. That house is where my son was born.

Many other things spill out as I painstakingly go through the contents of each box once again… some I can fit into the modest 3 bedroom house… like the Buddha head that I came across in Kalimpong. Others must be stowed away only to be seen two years from now, when it will be time to call a new place ‘home’, and do it up with the enthusiasm of a young bride… which I clearly am not!

Its a strange life we lead…

With memories in boxes, and years that we count, not in numbers, but by places, (with tongue-twisters for names), where we lived…

In houses we call our own but will never have again… And gardens that we plant for people who will walk in them after us…

Sharing a laugh with friends knowing we might never meet again, but who will become my family in the two years I will spend with them.

C’est la vie… eh?