Sunday, May 24, 2020
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 The First Kiss

1

Ankita, a 15 year old bespectacled brunette,  was exhausted of her school life and studies.Unlike other girls who would go for parties and have fun, she was always at home struggling with her books.Rebelling against her mother, she planned a hiking trip with her friends.

Next morning, determined to conquer her fears and the world, Ankita got up joyfully and met her friends at the scheduled meeting place.She was excited as this was her first trip to explore and meander between woods and meadows.

Amy, Tina, Max, Krish and Aria all squealed happily to see her.

“Thank God, your parents allowed you, sweetie!”,
declared her bestie Amy, hugging her tight.

“Ah, and here meet the new boy in town”, she exclaimed pointing to a lanky guy with shaggy eyebrows.He’s Sunny.”

Ankita gave a shy glance to the new member and he gave her a friendly hug.His touch brought an electric current into her body. She felt delicious tremors and was surprised as how her body was responding to Sunny’s touch.Maybe, because she had had no physical contact with a boy before, she thought!

Forests and woods seem to be separate universes of their own. As the whole gang proceeded, they could see soaring mountains in the azure blue of the sky.

Rambling along on the tough terrain, the whole group got separated.It was difficult walking through the dense forest undergrowth and Ankita used her machete to clear a pathway. Before her was Sunny, who was walking coolly as if he did this everyday of his life!

“Ouch”, exclaimed Ankita loudly.She had tripped over a large, ugly boulder. Stumbling down, she sat low, wondering if she had sprained her ankle.

“What happened  sweetheart?”, the deep throated voice of Sunny fell in her ears and Ankita felt his hands feeling her ankle.

“Relax, let me check”.Sunny’s fingers deftly opened her thick hiking shoes.Feeling the outer skin, he pressed her ankle. He seemed an expert at it.A sweet pain floated in her injured foot.Sweet, because his touch was producing all sorts of chemicals in her brain!

“There, you are all sorted out”, said the shaggy eyebrowed lad, after giving her ankle a twist to the left and right. Surprisingly, Ankita felt much better, the pain had gone altogether.

“No sprain,  you are lucky, dear. Next time, be more careful. Come along with me”, said Sunny and extended his hand to Ankita who moved along jauntily with him.

At night, the whole group rested and took out their food packs for a relaxed dinner.

Tina and Max hugged each other, lost in their own world. Amy, Krish and Aria sat together singing songs which created a merry atmosphere.

Ankita sat in a corner.

“Can I join you”?, Sunny voice interrupted her thoughts.

Both sat in a companionable silence as if they had known each other for years.

Sunny’s hands held hers and his lips locked hers in a sweet kiss.

Her first kiss.Ankita felt this moment would be etched in her memory forever.

***

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Conscience!!

0

“Lockdown extended! Loria

Why did this happen to us?”
“Remove those scars from your face. It’s now a part of life that knocks at your strength.
Let us not discuss or spoil our daily dose of laughter.”
insisted Loria.
“Go to sleep friend. Let’s connect to our dream world.”
Maria added.
And they found themselves in their wonderful land of their ancestral property. A land with peace and prosperity. The mystic atmosphere, the cosy environment of vegetation and the sparkling flow of crystal clear H2O.
They were screaming and chilling in the sunshine, when suddenly …
“Hey, do not touch or pluck those flowers. They’re glowing. Leave them alone”
shouted Fred.
“Let’s go over there Loria, I am hungry. I want to eat on whatever I get.” Lucy laughed as she spoke to Loria.
“Do share with us, Lucy. As we have limited resources. Do not waste, dear.
Ya, true Loria” added Maria.
Fred was humming with happiness.
“My earth, loving this freshness. I want to gobble the air and purify my soul.
That crystal waterfall, smells like heaven. The greenery is just cooling my brain. Feels like having an ayurvedic treatment on my body and soul.
“Loria, let us have a bonfire and cherish this moment for ever.”
“Bonfire! there you are. This is what is all the misery about. Why to pollute the air, when it is a blessing to us. Let us go to our rooms and have a nap.’
Loria’s words had always been an inspiration for her friends.
“Ok, fine. Let us bump into our beds for a better tomorrow.”
Fred agreed to Loria.
Next day, as the curtains were up,
Rendon was found screaming  at his friends for cleaning duties.
“Oh get up friends. We are late.
What a mess to this beautiful house. Let’s clean up before I go out to collect something to eat to prepare food for the day.”
Maria nodded and she with Lucy cleaned up the whole mess throwing everything outside the house.
“Hey! What you both have done?!” Loria was surprised to see the trash outside the house.
“I better clean it up myself, before the wind blows it away and scatter it to the greenery.”
“I am sad girls, that you care for yourselves more than the environment”
Fred poked his nose too.
“Let us plant some more saplings before we leave this place.” Loria requested.
The next day scene….
“I am happy that we followed the minimum rules to preserve our ancestral property. Isn’t it equally in demand for our earth to be safe and sound happy?”
asked Loria.
Suddenly, a splash of water !
Oops, what happened? Who is that?
“Get up Loria, help me in my house chores. I need you. “
“Ok mom.”
….and she left to her duties.
But her mind was busy creating a good play in 2021.

***

Photo By: Joshua Sortino

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The Jungle Book

0

The following summer break after Papa’s premature death seemed to be an opportune time to get out of the lingering gloominess and arrange for a short forest trip. On the way to my hotel, the glimpses of the ridges, the hilly serpentine road, and the vista around were calm and serene.

The next day, I waited, but the Gypsy I was to board found no other tourist. Three rangers piled into the car instead of one. To fill the car or they had any other insidious plan, I was unaware of it at that time. And the safari started. 

Amidst the wild, they claimed to spot a few rhinos but in vain. It was impossible to cross the wetland ahead. Next, they located piles of elephant dung. Upon examining the freshness of it, they confirmed that the herd was near. They took the Gypsy in several directions to assiduously rummage through and then announced, the herd had moved further into the forest where visitors weren’t allowed. They looked more crestfallen than I did and decided to take me to the watchtower. Fazed by their cloying ardency, I humbly requested them to go back. The rangers exchanged a few glances and turned the car. 

****************

With my hands tied and a soiled handkerchief shoved in my mouth, I was knocked down on the cracked, uneven floor of an ancient and damaged temple amidst the woods. I tried harder but couldn’t find a smidgen of conscience in their lustful souls. Petrified, I even forgot to remember God. 

A sudden shriek jolted me back to senses. As I looked around, I saw a giant ancient-looking creature advancing on the rangers. Covered in a snakeskin, it was bearing a striking resemblance to a fabled dragon. The rangers began to run away but stumbled over one another. The serpent, flailing its powerful tail as a weapon pursued. However, they managed a narrow escape, and moments later, I heard the rangers leaving with the Gypsy. The creature too dragged itself out of the temple and disappeared into the meadows. A strong current of wind blew through the broken window. As if, the forest was speaking to me in a mysterious voice. Baffled to the core yet, I interpreted it as a sign. Leaving trepidations behind, I freed myself and started walking with my wobbly bleeding feet. 

A group of seven local tribal men carrying bunches of woods and hay saw me. Like the seven kind and friendly dwarfs from the fairytale, they too appeared like angels. They took me to their village and nursed me. As I found strength, I narrated to them everything. Mystified, the tribal men showed me the idol of their deity. It was none other than the serpent, which had saved my pride and my life.  

*****************

Thirty-nine years have elapsed. I have left the concrete jungle and made jungle as my abode to work for the conservation of wildlife and tribal culture. Indebted, that is my bit to return the favor.  

***

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The Beautiful Ross

0

The early rays of sun slowly pulled the dark shade of the night up from my eyes as I lay there on my bed completely still. Awesome was the smell of the air as it was my day off. Life seemed to be totally different and brilliant. Mahima, Kaveri and myself were luckily for a day off together and we had planned to explore the Andaman Islands to the fullest. 

It’s seven, I ran to Mahima and Kaveri who were still log of wood. Waking them up before twelve, on day off, was near to impossible. So I poured jar of water till they all jumped off the bed chasing me like wild Boer. Awful was the scene, but I don’t want to miss my trip to Ross. 

‘You idiot, you spoiled all my romantic beach meet,’ yelled Mahima with a broomstick.

‘You creep, killer of my melodious orchestra,’ throwing stone pelts on to me. 

Defending myself, I said, ‘Shut up you kumbhkarnas, don’t you remember we planned for a trip to Ross today and boat leaves jetty by eight. Freshen up before it’s too late. I’ll not leave you all if you waste my day off sleeping.’

‘Can’t you tell this properly, before…’ wailed both of them beating their foot-steps hard on ground, they rushed to get ready.

Zooming our bikes we rushed to Marina jetty and right on the boat sailing to the island in front of our sight. Sunny was the day yet not a single ray could scorch our skin. Though small it is, the fauna is explicitly beautiful. Wandering through the island, seeing the boilers rusted, and the dilapidated tall church there whose walls are being covered with roots, the female hanging tower, all were stupendous. 

Amidst these we came across a group of tourists gathered together, we too joined. 

There was a typical lady, dressed in khadi with long dangling earrings and colorful wooden bangles typical of the local area. She was describing about the swimming pool and the large steam boilers which were rusted there. From there she took us to the back of the island where there are old dark bunkers and she described how Japanese attacked and killed the soldiers there. Moving from there she brought us back to the center from where we can see Ross at a glance; with deers so friendly.

 Amazeballs in hindi, she said, ‘Kahani to bahut inn boodhi aaknoon ne dekaha hai, Jhalak sabko hum dekhaye jate hai, imaan apna apna jo hame guide mante hai dus rupayaa thamaye jaye.’(Many stories these old eyes have witnessed, we show its glimpse to everybody, if your conscience considers me as a guide put ten rupees and go.) The weightage in her words were so much that escaping without paying ten rupees appeared insulting. Admiring her confidence and steadfastness in her old bones and no mark of tiredness on her wrinkled face the whole crowd laid a ten rupee before we adieu the Ross.

***

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Rainbow in Spring

0

Once upon a time, the farms of Whispering Willows flourished under Gatson, who lived there along with his wife and six daughters. Lovingly the couple had named their daughters after each colour of the rainbow.

Unfortunately, with the birth of Red, his wife passed away. Grief-stricken Gatson gradually sold off his farms yet they were saddled with debts. To add to the misery one day, surprising everyone Gatson married Janette. She was half his age and renowned for her wicked nature. 

All hell broke loose when Janette became pregnant. Their financial condition worsened.

“Let your girls be under the supervision of their uncle. I’ll ask Lucier to leave them at his place.”

Like a puppet, Gatson nodded to every word of hers.

“Lucier, tomorrow morning,…”Janette whispered gesturing at him.

****

The stridulating crickets, the distant growls, the rustling leaves, scared them. 

” Will you… kill us?” Violet stammered.

“We promise, we won’t return. Spare us our lives!” Pleaded Red.

Red’s innocent eyes strung the weakest chord in Lucier’s heart. 

Since then the sisters made the forest their abode. They played with fireflies, learnt the language of the birds, satiated their hunger with the delicious produce, and danced to the melody of the breeze.

Though their heart often whined for Gatson yet they compromised.

******

Though Gatson possessed everything yet he was lonely.

And one day…

“Let’s call the girls back! We’re well-off. They’ll be elated to see their brother.” 

“Are you nuts? Forget them.” Retorted Janette.

That night, seeing his master in remorse Lucier confided the truth.

Enraged, early morning, Gatson galloped away into the Oakland forest and reached the treehouse. But the union couldn’t escape Janette’s evil eyes.

“I warned you!” She snapped from her hideout.

“But, they’re my children.” Gatson blurted.

“I don’t want to return to the poverty days. They’re a curse to my family. They’ll stay here.” She scoffed.

“Your fa..m..ily?” Gawking, Gatson snarled.

 Before anyone could realise Janette wafted some blue dust onto the air. Within moments the damsels reduced to seven blooms each exhibiting their colour.

“It’s either me or them.” Returning to her unicorn Janette faded away. 

Perplexed, Gatson shuddered.

******

 Seasons passed, Janette died, Gatson too on death bed.

One day, while reading the Bible, Gatson’s son stumbled upon an old picture.

“They’re your sisters who…” with remorse, Gatson narrated the past.

“I’ll bring them back, Father! They’re my family. Mother endowed me some special powers.” 

His assuring words lightened Gatson’s gloomy heart.

********

Recollecting Lucier’s directions, he soon reached the treehouse. 

The colourful blossoms were pretty high and the garden emitted an intoxicating fragrance.

Without delay, he sprinkled the magic dust onto the blushes. Within moments seven graceful dames stood in front of him.

********

“Father!” Clamouring, the darlings embraced their ailing father.

“Forgive me and… forget… the past. He’s your brother, your family. Love him and always be together.” 

*******

The Spring sun shined brightly on the Whispering Willows. The RAINBOW sisters together with their saviour brother looked up for their parent’s blessings.

***

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Games At Twilight

0

Adare, County Limerick 

2020

“Something ’bout this photograph takes me back in time,” said the retiring Inspector. He was looking down at the contents of his ‘Closed’ case files.

“Y’kno’, lad. An awful interesting one in all of my donkeys’ years*. Matchless!” 

“What ’bout it?” I asked surprised, pouring us coffee. I was sent to replace him.

“The queer case of the Adare Murders. Naturally, it created a mass furore. An’ made for countless, sleepless nights for the Garda*.” A drawn-out sigh.

I stopped sipping. “Tell me mo’.” 

**********

1985

The quaint, little village sat blanketed in thick snow. The hues of dusk coloured the pristine-white landscape. All was quiet when the sound of guffaws splintered the silence. A rambunctious group of teenagers trudged through the snow, wisecracking and being themselves. 

“Yer Beour* wou’d kill ya, if she found out!” 

“Shut yer mouth, Eejit!* But ev’n if she did – I’d still remain her Acushla*.”

More snickering and snide remarks followed. 

They plodded their way into the nearby forest.

“How ’bout a game of ‘Hide Agus a Lorg’!*” Someone suggested.

“Grand!” Said another, throwing a glance at the dense, snow-covered foliage.

In no time, perfect little nooks and corners were prodded and stomped to make room for them. 

At the countdown, the unfortunate ‘It’ went about ‘seeking’, whilst making heinous noises that would put the leprechauns to shame. 

Out came the children, laughing, one after another; their hideouts having betrayed them. 

All but one.

“Where’s Timmy, ya’ll?” Asked the eldest of the lot.

They shrugged their shoulders at him; nobody had seen him hide.

“Let’s pull the bastard out…!” ‘It’ shrieked and they all yelled gleefully, in unision. The woods came alive with their voices.

But after an hour, the merriment soon fizzled out as night fell upon them. On tenterhooks, they looked for him. 

A pair of eyes, peeked through the prickly thicket. A rustle of dry leaves and a figure emerged.

“Feck* ya, Timmy! Ya had us all ‘up to ninety’!*”

Timmy considered them, with a lop-sided grin. A gust of frosty wind blew in their direction, beckoning them homeward. 

But they never made it home. 

At daybreak, the County Inspector and his team stood aghast, shaking their heads at the gruesome sight:

Seven corpses lay in a row. 

********** 

“And what’s bizzare? No signs of external injury, either. But they sure look’d terrified, lad! – as tho’, something literally scared ’em to death.” The old Inspector continued.

“An’ Timothy Byrne, the priest’s son? He was found in the semifrozen pond. Far remov’d from the rest. Death due to drowning; he apparently fell through thin sheet ice. He mus’ hav’bin running…” A meaningful pause.

“So what do you think of it?” I spurred him on.

He chortled. 

“We’re Irish, lad! There’s only one explanation!” He winked at me. 

“We folk know it – but nobody’ll admit their arses.” Then he leaned in closer.

“Why, ’twas the fine work of a Fetch*,” he whispered.

I nearly fell off my chair.

**********

Glossary of Irish words/phrases used, in order of their appearance:

Donkeys’ years: A whole lot of years.

The Garda: The police department/services in Ireland.

Beour: An attractive girl; girlfriend.

Eejit: Irish for ‘Idiot’.

Acushla: An old term of endearment.

Hide Agus a Lorg: Irish for ‘Hide and Seek’.

Feck: Irish cuss word.

Up to Ninety: Old Irish phrase, roughly translated as stressed, agitated.

Fetch: A fetch based in Irish folklore, is a supernatural double or an apparition of a living person – the sighting of which is regarded as an omen, usually for impending death.

Photo credits: ‘How They Met Themselves’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. (A watercolour version)

***

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Storytellers

0

Rapturous applause followed as they concluded the storytelling session. The community fire pit was nearly empty within a few minutes except for a few meandering to know more about the strangers.

The man and the partner were alone in no time. They were gathering alms left behind by the crowd when four chubby adolescents interrupted them.

‘We want a private show,’ the meanest looking one among the four demanded.

‘My apologies. That is not possible. We wish to retire,’ the man answered.

‘Do you want us to beat you up? Your girl will give us company then, alone,’ an evil grin spread across the mean face.

The man peered at the faces in the group and sighed, preparing to narrate one last tale.

***

Many summers ago, in a faraway land, one evening, it rained as if the sky had a hole, and thundered as if the mountains were moving. A young lad braved the weather to venture into the woods in search of his brother.

‘Beware of the devil living in the forest. The night is nigh, boy,’ an old man forewarned him.

The lad ventured deep into the woods. None ever stepped into this part of the forest willingly. Something sinister lurked in these parts as per the legends. The sky turned dark, darker than he had ever seen it. The wolves howled, and the owls hooted. He shivered; wet and hungry, he was losing hope and contemplated abandoning the search.

It was then that he heard a wail. His heartbeat quickened, ‘my brother, is that you?’ he called out, again and again, in vain.

Clutching the axe in one hand and an oil lamp in the other, he followed the wail to its source.

A maiden lay injured. Her torn white gown left nothing to the imagination. He froze upon seeing her. Her youthful skin shined in the flicker from the lamp, enticing him to quench his darkest desires.

Resisting the strange temptation, he bent to cover her with his shirt. But she disappeared into thin air. He rocked back in disbelief. Then a piercing shriek knocked him unconscious.

The lad woke up in a cave, covered in the blood and entrails of unknown people. His panic-stricken mind urged him to run. Gasping for breath, he scampered towards the exit. But a lady with blood-red eyes stood in his way.

She spoke, ‘A great flame falling from the sky will annihilate these lands, soon. None living here will survive. I give you a chance to leave, but you have to permit me to travel with you as your partner. I shall harm no innocent and shall only feed on….’

***

‘Only feed on?’ the group drew closer to the man.

‘Only feed on the scum among the men!’ the man concluded the tale, adding ‘Will you beat me now?’ A pair of red eyes shone over his shoulder and a deafening thunder roared across the sky.

***

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To Be Or Not To Be!

0

In the days of yore, there lived King Chaucer who hailed from the House of Fame and ruled over the kingdom of Canterbury. He had a glorious reign and was undisputedly known as “Father of the English World.”  With advancing age and stricken with innumerable maladies, his complaints ranged from Mars to Venus. He spent countless days contemplating about a suitable heir and consulted with his friend Gower, sipping wine in the Poets’ Corner.  The Queen consort had favoured him with heirs aplenty, but the matter of contention remained with the progression. The curious case of the septuplets, born of one conception!

Chaucer summoned all the seven gems. Each one, eminent and noble. He proclaimed, 

“The forest of wisdom awaits you all, depart now and expend seven days braving the tempest and entitle the befitting heir! On the victorious one, Tales would be spun in Canterbury!”

***

To the forest of wisdom marched the seven exceptional men, each one lost in his thoughts.

Charles sniggered, “What the Dickens! I do not have great expectations, and I glimpsed in the Pickwick papers about a house to let. Farewell, dear six, hard times to you all.” He walked away. An unexpected twist it was indeed.

Edgar, afflicted with woe and caressing a Raven on his shoulder, declared openly “I read the purloined letter and do not want a descent into the maelstrom. I am on a journey to where my tell-tale heart leads, hopefully, to Anabelle Lee!” Edgar sprinted away, Raven and all.

Mark sauntered and in a nasal twang uttered “Roughing it up, are you all? I have read the diaries of Adam and Eve, and nothing captivates me here. Sorry to say I am not your huckleberry.  I am embarking on a journey to the Equator. A war prayer for you, my dear ones. Adieu.” The others nodded silently.

Ralph, who believed in transcendentalism, gazed at his diminished circle of siblings. “Society and solitude are the two paths before me, and I do not wish to advocate on the conduct of life. It’s preferred to select our paths according to our nature. I have chosen mine. Goodbye.” 

Thomas elucidated promptly, “This is a wasteland, and you are all hollow men. I am on a journey to Little Gidding to sing rhapsodies on a windy night with Simeon. Convey my love to Aunt Helen and Cousin Nancy.” He strolled away with Ralph.

William bent his knees and announced “I am here to make peace. This is no vanity fair, and neither are we snobs. Rebecca and Rowena are awaiting my arrival, and you can take the ‘Rose and the Ring’ and kindly let me stay in the kingdom.”

The Bard curled his lips slightly “As you like it dear brother, all this was much ado about nothing. All’s well that ends well.”

He strode victoriously to rule the English Wor(l)d forever!!

Title credit: William Shakespeare.

Authors Note – My respectful tribute to a few of the eminent personalities of the English Literary realm.

***

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The Farewell 

0

Suhashini was nowhere to be seen! 

Latika checked where the other Class 11 girls were sitting, but could not find her. The seniors had arrived by the first bus. Latika, along with her Class 10 mates, had arrived later by the second bus. 

Tradition at the Shailabala Girls’ High School dictated that Class 10 students organized a farewell picnic for their Class 11 seniors before their matriculation exams. A mangrove on the banks of the Mahanadi river was chosen as the picnic spot on Christmas. The Class 11 students would break for preparatory holidays, so this was the last chance to meet them before their February exams. 

Suhashini was Latika’s favourite senior. She would help Latika with Mathematics and Physics. Spending hours at Suhashini’s house, Latika would first get help in studies and then the two would have long chats. Over time, they had built an unbreakable bond of friendship. For Latika, this was also a welcome break from her big joint family, where her older cousin Deepak’s brilliance was always the topic of discussion, much to her annoyance.

The cooks had set up makeshift chullahs with boulders. Latika led a group of girls in search of firewood, twigs and dried leaves to fire the chullah up. The senior girls, being the esteemed guests, were busy playing cards and Ludo, while the host juniors assisted the cooks. The aroma of the mutton curry was arousing the girls’ hunger. A batch of fried papads were distributed, signaling that lunch was nearly ready. The girls started settling down. Latika had, by then, checked with all her seniors but found no information on Suhashini. The cooks were ready to serve food. 

Finding all the girls seated, the Principal picked this opportunity, to deliver her speech. “The Shailabala Girls college had always delivered great results in the matriculation exams and I expect no less from this batch of 1965…” 

Latika wasn’t listening – hunger and Suhashini is what her mind was processing. 

The Principal, with years of practice in force-feeding long speeches to unreceptive, inattentive audiences, went on unfazed – “Like previous years… school.. excellence. .. ‘Best 10 in Odisha’.”

Latika was praying silently for the torture to end, when her attention was grabbed by what she heard. 

“…..uhashini, who I believe will make us proud with her results. Suhashini’s wedding has been fixed after the examinations. Join me in wishing…”

The girls started whispering. “That’s why Suhashini didn’t turn up. She must be feeling awkward”, remarked another girl to Latika.

While happy for Suhashini, Latika was also sad at the prospect of losing her friend to marriage. When she finally arrived home, her mother hounded her about the picnic details. Latika said, “Ma, Suhasinidi is getting married after the exams.”

Her mother smirked and said, “Arrey haan, she is going to marry none other than your cousin Deepak. She will come to live with us.” 

Latika was the happiest person on earth. 

Glossary

Chullah – Cooking stove

Arrey haan – Oh yes

***

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Mrs. Annie

0

Mrs. Annie’s eyes turned stone, transfixed on the picture on the opposite wall, her trembling finger pointing towards it. It appeared, she wanted to say something. A picture from her childhood, she never parted with. 

Gina, Pat’s wife was astounded. “Oh! I can’t believe this. She did reveal the secret after all. Everyone looked at her, confused. “Last few years I tried everything for this old woman to speak up and the only word that she uttered was that she had forgotten. I can’t wait anymore, we must go immediately to Stierend, that’s where this picture is from, her farm.” Gina wore a funny expression, of greed and exasperation. “She gave the farm to charity but at least her jewels..Lord those jewels, her pearls, solitaire, she hid them all away from us, they are somewhere on that farm!

“Mrs. Annie asked me to send all her belongings to the orphanage,” said old Mrs. Ming, wiping her tears. She was Mrs. Annie’s caretaker and perhaps her only well-wisher in the house. 

“Please. We have no place for this junk anymore. You may take that wretched picture with you, even the orphanage will throw it away. Now we do not need your services, you may find some other work!” 

I’ll be pleased to take the picture Madam, she was very fond of it. Even she asked me once to keep it after she’s gone. I have no will left to work anymore. She handed me some money to get myself across the sea, to my family.” Mrs. Ming left the room, sobbing.

The funeral was quickly arranged and the family left for Stierend soon after, eager to claim the elusive treasure. 

Mr. David, Mrs. Annie’s old friend and manager of the orphanage greeted them, happy to see the family after years. 

“Mr. David. Aunt Annie wanted us to give her belongings to the orphanage. In her memory, we’d like to plant a few saplings in the farm, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh no, it’s a pleasure, the orphanage owes a lot to her benevolence. Please go ahead and if you need help, do call us.”

“Erm.. no, we will manage, thank you.” The family scrambled across all corners of the farm, digging, sniffing. By sunset, they sat exhausted, without any luck. 

“You seeded quite a lot of plants. Annie will rest happy, I am sure. We grew up together, bunch of friends, spent many summers idling on this very farm. Together, we were a riot, I tell you. My Cousin and Annie were close friends. Before leaving town, he gifted her a painting that had all of us on a treasure hunt here. ”

 “Ah yes, that painting, it was her prized possession till her last day.”

 “Oh, she didn’t sell it? I thought she would have sold it for a princely sum.”

 “Princely sum?”

“Didn’t Annie tell you? My cousin went on to become a renowned painter and that painting must be worth a fortune!”

***

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Seven Happy Kids

0

How often is it that you see some kids playing and feel nostalgic? Blissful, Isn’t it? Well, this is a simple and sweet story of seven such kids from a village somewhere in Haryana.

*****************

Every evening the kids gather on a cemented platform which the government made, around a huge Banyan Tree. They always start with the game of ChuppanChuppai. Some of them hide behind the bushes and others climb up the trees. They wait there until someone (It) finds them.

Now, he (It) starts searching for them after counting from 10 backward. He searches every bush by moving them, shakes trees to see if someone laughs or falls from the tree. These kids try their best to not laugh but occasionally one laughs and then everyone starts laughing in unison.

The next game they play is PakdamPakdai. One of them catches the others. They all run hither-dither. While running, they laugh gleefully, such is their enthusiasm.

Honestly, I can’t imagine a happier scene than this. The kids take some breather and then move back to the field because the next game in line is catch-catch. Any random object like a round stone becomes the object to be caught and then it’s all about the skill of staying in the game. Occasionally, one of them throws the object will full power, and then it falls on the main road alongside.

Sometimes, they climb up the trees and then throw stones in the pond. They enjoy this game the most.

Are you guys feeling nostalgic yet?

Let me tell you one more story.

This is a story of the same village that is also one of the spookiest places known. There is a small area in the village known as the ‘Bhootiya Jhaad’.

People of the village try their best to avoid this place. But, when they can’t, they have dreadful experiences. They see bushes moving when there is no wind at all. Some of them have also felt like someone was shaking the tree. They have heard a child’s laughter followed by the laughter of several children together.  The laughter sound fades but the experiences have left people scared, very scared.

And, why wouldn’t they be?

If you heard some kids laughing, unexplainable sounds from a tree and stones falling from it, would you not be scared?

Spooky, isn’t it?

Now, let me tell you one final story.

A long time ago there was this village of happy people in Haryana. Kids used to go to a playing field near the Banyan tree for leisure time. They would play PakdamPakadai, I spy and what not. They would often take a breather and sometimes sleep in a pit around the Banyan tree and cover it with some bushes to avoid sunlight. They loved it. How innocent they were!

But, one day, some government officials heaped concrete from a dumper into that pit to make the tree foundation strong.

They didn’t know. But, now you do.

Still feeling nostalgic?

Glossary:

ChuppanChuppa: I spy game

PakdamPakda: Tag game

Bhootiya Jhaad: Ghostly Bush

***

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Staircase to Stars

0

“Hey look there it is!” said Sa.

Re, Ga, Ma followed Sa and kept calling the rest of the team consisting of Pa, Dha, and Ni to follow the trek, carrying haystacks with them.

They were all covered in mud and tired with the trek. The rose bush and the creek was not an easy trail but they had no option. After all, day trek was not their thing. ‘Sa’ the most adventurous of the lot, was leading and moved very carefully. 

Such beautiful roses in this dusty barren land were like a ray of hope to them. They reached an abandoned house. Dilapidated house with rose bushes is where they would find their exit staircase back to their galaxy. 

‘Sa’ spotted a clue and she was sure where it could lead them to be. With her inquisitive thoughts and confidence, the group had no option but to follow her.

The house was in an outlandish condition. The roses were fresh and pink but the soil was dry and rough. The windows were creaky and broken but the house had magnetic and musical power.

They were all ‘Gone with the wind’ in the ‘fiesta’. It was the place to keep aside the ‘sense and the sensibility’ as they have to find the clue or have to die. They were in a ‘survival sandbox’.

‘Ga’ had been constantly reminding them, that the time was running out. They had to reach the Ursa Major’s gates before the dawn breaks. The great bear will close it.

“Yes, we need to go back there before humanity grabs us for a museum exhibit,” said Dha.

“I told you ‘Re’ not to jump at the sight of healing Earth. See we all landed up in this place called nothingness. Imagine the plight of angels when they would not find us in place tonight.” 

Oh, this is so scary, said ‘Ma’. How will people thank the stars today if we are not in place? How will the lost find directions if North is not for us?

‘Ni’ was cautiously walking and thinking, “I can’t touch the water, nor can I smell the roses, oh we the beautiful seven, the apple’s eye of the telescope and those looking for directions. We stand here clueless, we are lost.”

As soon as they reached the place they knew that this was the destined place for an asteroid to hit. This was their clue and this was their escape route too. 66 million years gone by, yet it seemed just like a day ago.

It’s time for our nirvana, the haystack is stocked up. Let’s begin the hay weave for ease of climb and let the Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni travel the time together.

Don’t forget to look up at the stars and spot us among all. Yes, that’s what we are the Saptrishi or the Great bear as they call it, you now know what lies beneath it.

***

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Rescue Mission of the Secret Seven

0

Something was urgent. Three missed rings on the landline alarmed Bittu. Code red.

“Ma, I left my maths homework copy with Piku, I’ll just get it.”

Then, without giving a chance to protest, he dashed out. Of course the adjacent house of Pikuwas not the destination.

When he reached their clubhouse, the big banyan tree across the park, all other members of his “secret seven” group including Piku, were already there.

“Ok, Piu, tell us what happened.”

But, Piu was all choked up and tears were rolling down her cheeks. Overemotional Piu was in no state to speak.

So, Tubu, her best friend took over.

“Piuwitnessed an accident from her balcony. Some idiot car ran over our beloved Lolo.”

A shock of wave overwhelmed all of them. Their brown sweetheart was no more. Riya started crying and others were also teary eyed.

“We are all sad. But, first we must think what happens to them?”Tubu was the practical one.

All eyes followed the direction she was pointing at. Six new-born little puppies, all cuddled up behind the bush. Poor souls were waiting for their mom to return, unknown to the impending truth.

“We cannot leave them here, they will die.” Piusobbed between words.

“We cannot take them home. My mom will never allow.”

“None of us can.”

The tension was real. After much thought it was decided they will hide the puppies inside the unused garage of Riya’s house. And they would take hourly turns to take care of the babies.

*****

The parents were puzzled. Suddenly all the kidsseemed to leave some important items with the other one and went out at odd hours to fetch them. Small utensils and other things, especially milk were regularly disappearing from the house.It was fishy.

The real problem arrived on the fifth day. An unannounced rain and hailstorm stunned the “secret seven”. It was raining heavily and they were quarantined inside.All of a suddenPiku’s mother discovered her son was not in his room.

****

“These blankets would help them to keep warm.”Tubuwrapped them up in her infant brother’s quilt.

“Let’s put them in this box,”Bittuoffered the box which contained their new grinder few minutes back.

“So this is where all the milks are going.”

The voice startled the busy kids.

“Tubu, you brought Babu’s quilt?” Her mother shrieked.

The mothers had caught them red-handed.

Piu immediately started crying and surprisingly, it did the magic.

The parents couldn’t hold the grudge any longer. They discussed among themselves. The six puppies were distributed among the six houses. The secret seven promised to take good care of their puppies. Only Tubu couldn’t take one home. The puppies were not vaccinated and her brother was just a few months old. But, she was always allowed to visit any of them. And the others promised to bring them during their playtime. As they say, all’s well that ends well.

***

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Co-existence

0

It was the early nineteenth century and a huge country with abundant resources was being colonised by the merchants, in phases. Another ship arrived that week and more visitors landed ashore to spend the summer and to enjoy the rich bounty. Elsa and Jack were thrilled to receive five children of their age from their motherland. The summer cottage they had recently moved in to, sprawled across a vast area. There were lawns, fountains, flowering trees and cobbled walkways. They treated the guests with mouth-watering delicacies of tender meat, cooked with local spices. 

The next afternoon, Jack and Elsa decided to take them on a walk in to the forest. 

“Once we get rid of the morons, the forest and the adjacent hamlet will be annexed to our territory.” said Elsa.

Jack continued, “They are fun to watch, they live in mud dwellings covered with dry coconut leaves.”

While the other children were all ears to Jack and Elsa, they had failed to notice a wild boar that was running straight towards them. The children were terrified. 

A half-naked, barefooted tribal man jumped from a tree, wielding a long pole.

“What can he do with just a pole? My dad would have shot the animal on its head, he’s a great hunter,” whispered one of the girls in the gang. The man made a strange noise, and swung the pole as if to hit the boar. The animal got scared and ran in to the thicket. 

“Not bad!” Said Elsa. 

When the children walked a little further, they spotted a tribal couple and a moaning cow under a tree.

“Are they slaying it?”

“Shhh! Watch the barbarians in action!”

They saw a tiny head appear from the cow’s rump. The man was helping the cow deliver a calf. It was a rather overwhelming sight. The man then placed the newborn calf near the mother cow and offered her some hay. Then he and the woman bowed in front of the cow and threw their hands up, chanting prayers. 

“A sacrifice?” shouted Elsa and the couple turned to look in their direction.  

They gestured to the children to come closer. The gang hesitantly went near the cow.  “How adorable the calf is! Look at how the mother is cleaning it! Life is really beautiful!”

The woman gave them sun-dried cakes made of honey, coconut and wild millet flour.

It was dark by the time they decided to return. No one knew the safest way back to the cottage. Jack, with a torch in his hands, led the group. They heard the tribal man follow them. 

“Why is he following us?” someone said in panic. 

The man insisted on something that nobody understood.

He walked past them, pointed at the torch and said, “Light! No! Animals! Fear!”

He escorted the children back to the cottage. The children then stood there and watched, as the unarmed moron disappeared in to the darkness. 

***

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The Jason Sisters

0

In the course of our journey from the bungalow, the chatty, Caucasoid guide had politely inquired about my place of work and the purpose of this visit. I told him that I worked in one of the museums under the King, and I had come there to make a sketch of the potentially famous Jason Sisters and note all relevant details. “My lord, you will see that those figures cannot be the work of a mortal,” he said as we got down from the coach.

Instructing the driver to stand guard over the carriage and the horses, we entered the Blackie Forest. My companion walked slowly on the matted grass, indicating the places where I must be careful to avoid entangling my feet in the dense undergrowth. I urged him to walk quickly as the excitement of seeing this masterpiece gripped me.

The undergrowth thinned as we moved on and then in a patch of open ground, under the bright sun, stood the statues. “Incredible,” escaped my lips, as I gazed at the figures of the seven maidens. While five figures were completely visible, the other two had only their torsi insight. I went around the figures. Strangely, the torso of one was stuck on the trunk of a tree and that of the other rested on the back of another statue. All the figures were painted in bright natural colours. Sculptures like this in the middle of a forest, I thought in awe. They, indeed, looked as if flesh and blood creatures were magically frozen in time.

I took out the cardboard, clipped a sheet on it, and began to sketch. The Caucasoid, patiently stood beside me for some time and then requested, “If it pleases your grace, would you care to hear about a belief that our people have about the Jason Sisters?” I nodded, and he rattled on. Though I did not listen, I knew what he was talking about.

The people here believed that long ago near this Forest, lived a family of seven sisters. They proudly traced their ancestry back to Jason, the man who had got the golden fleece. Once it had been raining for a fortnight, and the people were afraid that there would be a flood. A blind seer, who used to stay in this place, had told that in order to avoid the impending calamity the seven sisters must go together in the forest at night, and bring him seven pink roses before dawn. If the seven sisters, the seer had warned, could not return before dawn they would become statues. The sisters had never returned.

After completing my work, we were walking back to the carriage when my companion asked if I acceded to the belief of his people. “It’s conjectural,” I commented. He courteously remarked that the sisters had an uncanny custom of proving sceptics wrong. I smiled. Entering the coach, I saw seven pink roses scattered on the seat.

***

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Stardust

3

‘Here we go, éna dýo tría!’ The seven colors of the rainbow chortled transforming into fairies. Laughing they flew off towards the forest.

As they landed daintily on the terra firma, a whiff of air laden with the sweet aroma of alyssum welcomed them. It was a rare phenomenon when the fairies visited the woods. Only the centuries old oak tree perched on the cliff could vouchsafe of their existence. Rest, all thought they were just lore.

The fairies ran from one end to another touching everything; breathing in fresh color to whatever they touched.

‘Don’t forget the reason why we have come,’ Kitrino, the yellow hued fairy said. ‘We have to collect the stardust. Remember*Asteria’s promise?’

‘Yes, we will not let her down,’ other fairies said in unison and moved towards the crater in the middle of the dense forest.

Asteria, the night queen had been ruling the shooting stars. Of late, one of her favorite shooting star, *Perseid had landed on Earth’s surface and turned into dust.

Asteria was petrified when she got the news.

Each night the celestials would gather, twinkling and shimmering to please her. But her heart sank thinking of Perseid.

She knew of a way to bring him back to life. But for that, she needed to get the stardust before*Zeus, the only person who could illumine Perseid with life.

She wanted to get Perseid’s remains herself. But when she tried to go to Earth, she was stopped by Earth’s guarding angel, Atmosphere.

‘Behold Asteria! Dare you enter my domain. I shall turn you into dust.’

Asteria was too broken to fight with Atmosphere. She pleaded with him to let her go and collect the stardust, but Atmosphere stood strong, holding his guard.

For a minute Asteria thought to show her strength. She knew that the Atmosphere would not be able to hold her energy. But her compassionate heart did not want to hurt the beings thriving on Earth.

The seven colors of rainbows were hanging in the welkins witnessing all this. They heard Asteria lamenting for Perseid. The rainbow cried too hearing her longing for the star.

They came forward to help her.

‘Milady, if we get the stardust for you, will you take us on a tour to the universe.’ They requested innocently.

Asteria was more than pleased to hear this.

‘Get the stardust before the nightfall. I shall make you discover all the space between heaven and earth.’ She promised them wiping her tears.

The color fairies had witnessed Perseid zooming towards Earth. Happily, they alighted in the forest to collect the stardust.

Perseid was reduced to dust, but there were sparks of hope in Asteria eyes for his life.

Lore is that now once in a year Perseid comes to thank the fairies. He puts a grand show in the sky in gratitude and takes them for a ride to explore the universe.

Glossary:

Asteria: Greek goddess of shooting stars

Perseid: name of meteor showers

Zeus: King of Gods in Greek mythology

Thank You to Sonal for proofreading.  

***

Photo By: Alice Alinari

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