“That’s the door, Dhanu,” Dhanya’s mother pointed at it.
“I’m scared, Ma. Come with me,” she stammered.
“It’s a journey you should undertake alone, dear, like every one of this lineage did, at the call of his destiny. A paradise awaits at the other end. You’ll know what to do, once you are through the door,” Ma’s voice gradually faded away and seemed distant.
“But, who would guide me?” Dhanya cried, extending her hand.
“The Book of Secrets. He’ll find you…” Ma said and vanished into thin air.
“MAAAAA….!” Dhanya woke up sweating profusely. The same incomprehensible and disturbing dream had made its appearance again.
The alarm rang at the highest pitch. It was half-past five in the morning. She rushed to the restroom to freshen up and by the time she returned, the alarm had screamed itself hoarse. She picked the phone up, silenced it, and ambled towards the balcony of her small apartment. The semi-circular space separated from the living room by gleaming glass doors was always her haven. A refuge, where she drew energy from her solitude; a cocoon, where she withdrew herself into, in search of light and solace.
A multitude of thoughts stumbled upon one another in her mind as she gulped down a bottle of water. A large blank canvas lay mounted at a corner. She wrapped herself cozy, as a pleasant breeze caressed her. Her eyes watered. And then, it happened. The moment she was waiting for and that she waited for, every day, expecting the dawn of hope. The first rays of the Sun tore through the sky. A stream of yellowish orange sunbeams scattered across the vast blue of the sky in minutes. A lone tear trickled down her cheek. She collapsed into a chair beside the canvas.
Memories of the past week came flooding in.
“These are good…but not good enough…”
“Ummm…they look lifeless, Dhanya…”
“A work of art speaks for itself, dear. Aren’t you renowned for it?”
“Where do you think you have been going wrong for the past one year?”
‘Dhanya’s Shades, the art gallery hosted by the talented artist, Dhanya Shetty, receives critical reviews for the third time in a row. She began as a small-time artist four years back and started displaying her work at small group shows and festivals, where she steadily rose to fame for her unique talent. Her paintings sway and speak as if they have a life of their own. Quite intriguing and divine at the same time, like many have noted. But, that seems to be conspicuous by its absence in her art exhibits for the past couple of times. The loss of her art’s charm has confounded even her close network of collectors and artists. She was unavailable for comment about the mixed reviews that her art gallery has garnered this time.’
Though the article appeared as a little snippet on a popular art magazine, it had done its job when it struck a dart on her credibility as an artist.
Dhanya looked up at the rising Sun teary-eyed, as she read the article once again for the umpteenth time.
“I miss you, Ma..,” She was overcome by a fresh bout of sobs.
Hundreds of miles away and hundred hours later:
In a small town nestled in the Western Ghats, a young man exhaled audibly as he threw the art magazine on the table, only to pick it up again to admire Dhanya smiling from one of its pages.
“It’s been more than a year since I saw you last, Dhanu. And this article…this is not you. You wield magic on the canvases, don’t you?” Shirish whispered to her photo as cherished memories of their childhood together inevitably planted a smile on his face. Fleeting moments of their past flashed through. The day they discovered a connection beyond friendship, the first kiss, countless tiffs, Dhanya’s emotional send-off as she flew to the city to make a mark as an artist, and their last meeting a year before when she had come home for her mother’s funeral. Her regular monthly visits to their farmhouse in the town had abruptly stopped just as how she pulled herself away from their relationship so suddenly.
“This isn’t going to lead us anywhere, Shirish. You’d do better without me.” She had ended his last call, so thoroughly overcome by grief that she deemed herself unlucky and unworthy of his love.
Their last conversation rang shrilly in his ears like it had happened just yesterday.
Shirish stood up as if on cue and walked out of his veranda. He felt her presence close by as if the breeze had carried a special scent of hers announcing her arrival.
Dhanya stood shell-shocked at the porch of her old abandoned farmhouse. There appeared to be no sign of life unless the dense cobwebs, twinkling in the light filtered through the window, could be counted as one. Her unusually vivid dream had become a constant affair and had turned out to be terrifying nightmares. She decided to come down to her roots to find the truth.The farmhouse, which she had refused to visit since her mother passed away, welcomed her home.
She pushed her way forward and deposited her luggage beside the huge tapestry weaving out two golden flowers that once illuminated their entire hallway with their brightness. The daffodil and the oleander appeared wilted and unappealing then. They seemed to wail for attention. She rang her fingers upon its petals. It left a trail of sparkles. The daffodil breathed and Dhanya smiled at it involuntarily. A renewed energy coursed through her and unmindful of her travel weariness, she busied herself cleaning the house for the rest of the day.
Every work of art that she held, every piece of furniture that she cleaned, and every other inanimate occupant that adorned the house shined like never before with her touch. The place which she once called home had turned itself somber after the inmates left one after the other, some to a point of no return. The last that remained as a rightful owner was her. The love and longing that was sensed in the dampness inside the house were tacitly mutual.
After weeks of endless nightmares, Dhanya drifted into a dreamless sleep like she used to, on her mother’s lap.
At midnight, the old grandfather clock chimed happily. “She is finally home!”
Half a mile away, Shirish smiled in sleep as memories of the chance sight of someone he adored reigned his dreams.
As the first rays of dawn hit the tapestry directly through a conveniently constructed window, the giant daffodil bloomed, with each of its petals getting restored to its original shape and sheen. The relatively little oleander flower followed suit and the duo looked like they had woken up from a long and purgatory hibernation.
The large kitchen burst with life as Dhanya, after soaking herself under the early morning rays, buzzed with the newly found energy running through her. The cleaning spree of the previous day had enlivened her. The symbiotic gain of love and enthusiasm shimmered through every corner of the house.
The day was quite uneventful as she explored the backyard, while the evening had a visitor.
“Welcome home, Dhanu.” A long lost voice of comfort made her heart leap with joy. Shirish was at the doorstep. Memories rushed in to embrace her.
“It’s nice to be back here,” She gathered herself to give a swift reply and turned away.
“This place has loads to reveal. You know that too,” He noted and looked at the huge grandfather clock filling up a grand space on one side. The clock chimed seven times to acknowledge him and clicked to a stop.
A sly smile crossed her face as she studied the clock. But, it disappeared almost immediately, when she locked eyes with the man standing opposite to her. A lot was exchanged without words as the couple’s yearning for each other’s love engulfed them. Awkward conversations ensued followed by his hurried goodbye, leaving her to cater to her thoughts.
Her heart was bubbling with joy and the canvases were her mighty source of outlet for any emotion. Time flew by in a jiffy as she heaved her empty canvases out and erected them in the hallway.
At exactly midnight, the grandfather clock sprang to life with twelve chimes.
“The house is humming with life, Dhanu. Thank you!” The sudden familiar voice washed her with a sense of warmth. She stepped to his side, hugged him, and threw a kiss.
“You’ve no idea how I missed you all,” she smiled.
“Well…Shirish and you make a heavenly match, Dhanu. He loves you more than you have ever imagined,” Old Gran tried to capitalize on the moment by influencing her straying thoughts on a lost love.
“If truth be told, I missed him too,” she sighed. Gran regarded her and steered the conversation to a different note on purpose. He wobbled his gong rod to survey the room and exclaimed, “Awww…canvases!! Have you ever wondered why at all you wanted to be an artist, dear?”
She knitted her brows questioningly and replied. “Because I love art with all my life.”
“Yes, that’s because art transpires within you. I’ve seen your ancestors breathe life into their canvases. Their brushstrokes nurtured their piece. Such was their innate connection – all driven by the inspiration drawn from this house,” His tubular rod swayed gently to display his intimate affection for the place.
“I’m not the same as before, Gran. I’m a failure now,” Her eyes welled up.
“You aren’t, dear. It’s time you’re told what needs to be told. I’m sure that will lead you to an unparalleled experience,” Gran suddenly meant business.
She scanned him dubiously, yet, folded her hands in rapt attention.
“Well…dreams have an unearthly significance in reality. To put yours in perspective, your mother wants to guide you. There is more to what meets the eye in that kitchen of hers. Scrutinize, listen and you’re sure to find answers,” Gran posed a riddle.
“Find answers in the Book of Secrets, you mean?”
“The past should not be forgotten, dear, for they light up the present, and in turn, carve the future. I can’t reveal more. My time is up. The onus is on you now,” he declared matter-of-factly and returned to his old self.
Dhanya contemplated his words and looked around thoughtfully. The daffodil’s golden petals bloomed wide, smiling in encouragement.
The kitchen was just the same as how she had left it a few hours ago. She leaned on the counter and examined each of its belongings; listened in on the conversations. The racks and pots stood still permitting her invasion and enabling her to absorb what she wanted to. Then, she heard it.
A happy racket reached her ears and it appeared to increase in volume, as a deafening silence crept into the kitchen. It was coming from the blank wall beside the counter.
“Don’t lean on that wall,” her mother’s voice from her childhood shook her.
She took swift and careful steps towards the wall and felt it with her palm. A door knob appeared. She wrenched it to open an invisible door. What met her eyes awed her. It was a huge room comprising of rows and rows of books arranged in tall wooden shelves rising up to ten feet from the floor right till the ceiling. The books hushed up to a pindrop silence at her entry. She was astonished at the level of assortment and detailing along the shelves. Every book emitted a faint glow, except for one, whose spine’s glimmer danced gleefully to a tune known only to it. It appeared to be trying to wiggle its way out, producing a soothing clatter.
Dhanya plodded her way through the wooden bookshelves, drawn to the shimmer like a magnet. Once beside it, she looked around and took in the scene completely from that vantage point. The walls glittered with the replicas of a tastefully painted canvas, framed neatly with thick battens of mahogany.
As she tore herself away from them, she stood on her toes to touch the spine of the shining book. ‘The Book of Secrets’ in silver letters was etched into it. A low hum of music penetrated and pacified her soul, as she pulled it out. Glimpses of her complete oeuvre flashed past her.
She sat down cross-legged on the mauve carpet and opened the book. Blank pages were all that it offered initially. At exactly the twenty-fifth page, the book glowed through its pages and burst into a song.
Paradise welcomes the twenty-fifth offspring of this lineage,
Listen on, for I have more to offer than an adage,
Hold me close and step aside before it rains,
All you need to do is build a tall cairn!
“Huh? Is that a task, Mr. Book?”
The mild music touched a higher chord, in reply. “Is that an affirmative? Then, where do I build a cairn?” She spoke to herself and looked around. She was taken aback at the sudden appearance of a dark tunnel to her left. She gathered herself, and walked towards and through the tunnel cautiously, holding on to the book for dear life.
Her footsteps echoed through the dark space. For one moment, she was inside the tunnel and at the next, she was welcomed by a raging group of almost a thousand fireflies. They lit up the entire place. As she squinted through the zigzags of light surrounding her, her eyes fell on mounds of pebbles of all sizes. She ran to the spot and began building a cairn, repeating ‘twenty-five’ under her breath. A drop of rain fell on her forehead indicating the onset of a drizzle.
“Gosh, didn’t the clue say something about rain?” She reminded herself and rushed to complete her task.
As she placed the twenty-fifth one atop the previous pebble, the formation began to glisten with a life of its own. It started raining and she huddled under a tree’s shade. The book started singing again.
A scarlet umbrella waits at a bend,
Twice as tall as you, my friend!
Those little fivers are not one to miss,
Quick thinking avoids an abyss!
“A clue? Umbrella…tall…five…abyss?” The last word hung menacingly in the air. “Will I fall into an abyss if I don’t make it?” She broke into a sweat. “Tall..scarlet…fiver…is it a tree with scarlet flowers, Mr. Book?” She sighed in frustration expecting a reply. A sudden squiggle of thought inside her declared the answer as ‘Gulmohar tree’. Her face lit up as she voiced it aloud. The fireflies circled her with renewed vigour urging her forward. She made her way past the cairn until she reached a bend. There it was – the handsome Gulmohar shining amidst the fireflies’ sparkles.
The book hummed a joyous tune and went on with its next rendition mellifluously.
Red shrubs open up to the beauty,
Little bright hearts show up on duty,
The secret lies within the densest,
Farewell; we end the quest!
The Book shut itself tight signaling a closure.
“End? On the last leg of this mission already? What IS that paradise?” She wondered. Meanwhile, the fireflies grouped themselves forming little hearts, and led her way.
“Love you, my dearest friends,” she grinned and followed them. She had lost track of time. The sky altered its shades from inky black to a deep indigo. The fireflies were indeed leading her to the light. At a corner beside a huge rock, they began to hover. Bright red clusters of Ixoras greeted her as the song’s lines rang through her. She meandered towards the rock looking for the densest. The sky appeared strewn with yellowish orange hues as the morning star peeped out of his abode. She never missed a sunrise. That morning, it was even special with her satiating an unfathomable longing of the past year. As she touched the densest cluster, the rock dissolved and gave way to footsteps. She descended them and millions of squeaky voices began to chorus a welcome song.
The moment was priceless. With the Sun’s rays spreading an orangish hue at a pleasant blue backdrop, she witnessed the flamboyancy of life.
A vast colourful expanse of flowers sang for her. She could notice every variety ever known, in every possible colour that she could imagine. She was spellbound and stood rooted to the ground. The Sun rose gracefully bathing the artist in her with comforting warmth and exhilarating joy. An inexplicable burden eased out of her insides.
She knew what to do. It was as though the path ahead had brightened up on its own and a lucky charm was cast over her. Her destination was indeed a paradise.
Ten months later :
‘Dhanya Shetty’s ‘Tryst with a Paradise’ is the most gorgeous, yet, eccentric artwork making rounds across the world for the past five months. It has put her in one of the elite group of artists acclaimed internationally. Such a soulful piece of art absolutely deserves credit. An observer may witness a million flowers oscillating gently in the breeze while the Sun forays itself through the horizon to not miss the picturesque view. It’s claimed that a strange peace surges through the observer. It seems to pave way for research on therapeutic forms of art.’
Shirish finished reading the article aloud.
“You knew about it all along, didn’t you?” Dhanya asked him as she took in the magnificence spread out in front of them.
“Dreams are my best friends. I speak to them,” he responded cryptically. She narrowed her eyes at him. He beamed. He bent forward stroking her cheeks. His lips brushed hers ever so sweetly that left them longing for more.
The next moment was surreal. As the couple lost themselves in a passionate kiss, the Book of Secrets fell to the ground orchestrating a soul-stirring musical to which his floral companions coordinated perfectly.
Gulmohar – An ornamental tree found in the tropical regions of the world. It is known for its beautiful display of orange-red flowers in summer.
Ixora – Again a native to tropical regions, these grow as trees as well as shrubs producing large clusters of tiny red flowers.
Team members – Lavanya P Kesan & Geeta S Upase
Team Name – Write Knights
Pic Credits: unsplash.com