April 30, 2011

Short Story- 20

‘PRANKS FOR SALE’- the board outside the shop in Creek street read.

Old Mrs.Banham dusted the shop windows, trying to poof away the cobwebs that miraculously sprung up every morning. It was probably from the ancient street where a million spiders lived in peaceful unity.

Dust, the thickness of a ‘Complete Works of Shakespeare’, had settled on the road. People rarely came in there. “Unless they knew what they wanted,” as Mrs.Banham would say, her gray eyes gleaming for just an instant!

Old Mrs.Banham, with her frail figure, a set of pearlies she doused in Listerine every night and a mop of fluffy white hair, was not the kind you’d ever suspect would giggle if a Fartalot were to be snuck below your cushion. Neither did she appear like the kind who would clap with glee if you were hit by the Invisible SneezyWheezy. But she was very much the kind who would do both, with a ‘Mischief Managed’ sort of grin on her face.

Little childish pranks she brewed in her tiny workspace behind the shop. Her thin elbows exactly knew how not to move and set off a pile of AngelicallyAbusingChild keychains. Mrs.Banham also knew that in the secrecy of the forgotten street was the safety and success of her pranks.

Mrs.Banham was that lady who secretly dropped an Evaporating Chuckle pellet into your handbag if you looked upset. She would also carefully dust the finest WailingWeeper dust into your eyes if you were rude.

But the biggest prank she ever played was on herself. When she brewed MakeBelieveMojo on that fateful day when she turned thirty-two.

Thirty-two. That was exactly how many cockroaches she had to collect. Tears streaming with the rain and running in muddy streaks on to the gutter.

She sliced them. One after another. The prothorax aside, the abdomen beside it. In two neat rows of sixteen each. Honey warmed to feel like a cat’s paw. A teardrop. Three petals of the marigold raised on a bed of dead maple leaves. And a trickle of the glistening purple powder. Mix and heat till it turns black. Dark as thoughts. Dark as reality. Into that which would change reality. Prank her into believing whatever she wished to.

To become a widowed, successful lady, content with life, and with no memory of the past she wanted to erase.

April 29, 2011

Illundavoor Tale- 2

read http://thedreamydryad.blogspot.com/2011/04/mamis-memories-illundavoor-tale-1.html

and now...

Nasreen Gopal nibbled at the edge of her pen with a thoughtful expression on her face and eyes twinkling with a sort of un-placeable excitement. She was, in what she called, a ‘writer’s itch’, where she just HAD to write and keep on writing as if the mere thought of stopping would stifle her!

She laughed at the recollection of the incident that had been narrated. As flashes filled her mind, she began to pen down furiously, the snatches of words that could best describe the events of the preceding evening, and what I deemed was the best way to tell yet another of Illundavoor’s tales…

Little Dimple did not like Motu Uncle’s language! Such a different language from her Hindi, she bitterly thought. It wrung her soul and she tried many actions to convey to him that she was thirsty! And what was he doing? Thinking she was in need of a new toy, or a ride in the dizzying Giant wheel, giving her exactly what she had not asked for!

Little Dimple had not anticipated that her 7-year old self would be sent in the sweltering heat to the neighbouring village fair. As a matter of fact, she had not imagined that the 2-monthlong Dakshin* trip, (now thankfully coming to a close) that her parents had planned would be so boring!

All they had done so far was visit houses after houses of scary old people, with wrinkled faces and toothless smiles, forcing her to kiss their sagging cheeks. Not to forget getting her little brother Anup’s hair shaved off in some “Tripathi” where big muscled men had tonsured heads, appearing like thugs from a Hindi film, and crowds waited in cages to see a god for less than a second!

Little Dimple had been so bored when Anup was having his mid-noon nap, that when her mother suggested that she go with Pazhani uncle to the neighbouring village fair, she had agreed almost immediately, considering she had nothing better to do.

Dimple did not mind Pazhani, alias “Motu” uncle. He let her poke his fat arm with her finger and see it cave in. He also promised her (“Chinnamma”) ** that he’d let her pour water in the dent to see if it will stay. Much as she tailed along with him throughout the day, Dimple was slightly jealous of Pazhani when he told her that there was a city named after him! So she set out for the fair with thoughts of ice golas and gray green bangles.

And what did she get in return?! A rickety car journey followed by a heap of things she never asked for! Why did NOT Motu uncle speak Hindi? She tried once more at telling him she was thirsty. Miraculously, this time, he seemed to have understood and set off, asking her to wait, into the neighbouring water stall to fetch a bottle.

Meanwhile, Ramu Mama, Janaki Mami and Mr.Gopal, after having got an amazing darisanam*** of the Ramar-Sita-Lakshmanar idol, were standing nearby, talking about the fair’s proceedings with fellow villager Narayanan.

“Adhu Illai-da Narayana(It’s not like that, Narayana),” Mami was saying, “Last time the tiruvizha(fair) had more bhakti than show. This time round, calling all these actor-actresses to inaugurate the temple dances made it too commercial, I say! Namma Ramar tiruvizhakku actor Rangarajan edhukku-da?(Why do we need actor Rangarajan to inaugurate our Rama temple fair?)”

“I agree one hundred percent with you, Mami! Next time my family’s going to be in charge… and I’ll make sure we don’t do such things. Amaam… Mr.Gopal…Nasreen enga?(So, Mr.Gopal….Where’s Nasreen?)”

“She’s gone to cover an assignment in Chennai,” Mr.Gopal replied, “She was feeling very depressed to have missed the tiruvizha! You see, she always loves all this festivity.”

Thus having concluded, and parting ways with Narayanan, Mama, Mami and Mr.Gopal beat the retreat. On their way back, whom should they meet, but a crying little Dimple, sitting on ‘Mookkan’ Thatha’s(Big-nosed Grandpa) thinnai(resting stone bench, part of the porch in South Indian homes)!

Having been made to wait an annoying ten minutes, pushed and pulled around by all and sundry till she was lost and frightened in the crowd, Little Dimple had somehow squeezed her way out into the open, and chosen that thinnai to seat her distraught self. Oh… where WAS Motu Uncle?!

Motu uncle had come back with an icy bottle of ‘colour’, only to find Dimple missing. “Chinnamma….,” he had screamed into the crowd, but in vain. Scared and angry with himself to have wasted five whole minutes smoking an OC cigarette from the shopkeeper, he rushed off to the nearby telephone booth-diagonally opposite ‘Mookkan’ Thatha’s house!

Here, Mami’s heart was moved at the plight of the crying child. Mama and Mr.Gopal scanned the crowds to find some search party but found none. “Times are bad and kidnappers are aplenty. Indha kozhandaiya inga vidarathu enakku seriya padalai”(I don’t think it is wise to leave the child here)- Mami’s words sealed their minds and little Dimple entered the portals of ‘Tejas’- 34 Ramar Koil Street.

Mr.Gopal informed pookkari(florist) Govindamma at the temple step about the child and asked her to direct any search party to 34 Ramar Koil Street.

Enter Dimple into ‘Tejas’, and the weeping child subdued on escaping the heat of the noon. The cheery faces of Mama, Mami and Mr.Gopal also calmed her down.

“Konde, un per ennada?”(What is your name, child?) Mama enquired, smiling and pinching Dimple’s red fat chubby cheeks.

Now, Dimple had a habit of throwing anything that was at hand if someone pinched her cheeks. Mami’s precious spare glasses became her object-of-smash this time and her anger only melted at the sight and sound of the fragile glass breaking into smithereens.

“Siva Sivaa… Enna da? Yaen ipdi ellathayum pottu odaikkaraai?(Lord Siva! What is this? Why are you breaking everything?) What is your name?” Mami asked, a mild irritation at the brutish behavior, colouring her tone.

Dimple giggled, revealing a missing front tooth and figuring out that they were asking for her name (Hadn’t scores of these weird-language people ask her the same question? And hadn’t she been instructed to say “Dimple” as an answer? Oh… how can she forget the annoying times?)

“Dimple,” she answered as practiced.

“What a cute name for a cute girl…,” remarked Mr.Gopal and pinch pinch pinch he went on her ruddy cheeks!

Dimple was enraged! How dare these old people insult her and pinch her!? Letting out a wild scream, she ran around the house in circles, madly flinging her arms and pushing every object at sight.

Now Mama, Mami and Mr.Gopal could initially not comprehend the child’s act of blitzkrieg attacks! But once reality sunk, they scooted off their old bones and started chasing the girl.

Runs Dimple into the kitchen and plop, the Chinese bowl breaks.

“Ayyoda! Idhenna kodumai,(Oh! What kind of a torture is this?)” Mami screams between gasps of breath.

Runs Dimple into the Pooja room and clang, drops the Feng Shui bell.

“Dimple! Don’t run! Dear kid… stop…stop… stop… amma… I’m not able to run,” pant-screamed Mama.

Jumps Dimple though the common window and into 35, Ramar Koil Street.

“Aiyayyo! (Oh my god!)Now it’ s my turn I guess!” screeches Mr.Gopal, fleeing out of ‘Tejas’ and into his own ‘home sweet…err…collapsing home’.

And there stands Dimple, near a life size Geisha doll that Nasreen had bought from her official trip to China- all stunned and awed.

She gave an angelic smile, turned around and looked at Mr.Gopal, saying, “Bahut Sundar hain!(Very pretty!)”

“Huh? Mmm... Whatever you say,” Mr.Gopal hastily jabbered, grinning foolishly, but relieved that the pesky kid was somehow not in her maniacal mode.

By then Mama and Mami had panted their respectful selves inside, in a state of frayed nerves and disarrayed appearance.

Dimple visually weighed the three of them with interest and finding in her mental picture, the perfect treble to play “Queen! Queen!” game, proceeded towards the oonjal(swing) and throned herself.

“Ab Suno! Tum- Soldier,” she ordered at Mr.Gopal.

“Tum Minister,” she appointed Mama.

“Aur tum-meri dost aur sevak,” she uttered, pointing at Mami.

“Main, Queen,” she declared with a beatific dimpled smile.

Mr.Gopal, having a miniscule knowledge of the national language, proceeded to explain to Mama and Mami that the devil incarnate has chosen their esteemed selves as her fellow playmates in the game where she plays the Queen.

Finding this game a hopefully less destructive one than insanely running about the house, the three meekly obeyed Her Majesty, the Queen on the Swing!

“Soldier!” she clapped,” Mujhe bhook lagi hain. Khana lao!” She pointed at her tummy. Her lips quivered slightly and her eyes welled up with tears of hunger, but gulping them down bravely, she regained composure.

The soldier instantly marched to the kitchen and brought every edible item possible to shut Her Majesty’s mouth.

After an extensive meal of 3 bananas ( “Kela mujhe bahut pasand hain!”), a pack of Marie biscuits, lime juice(“aaah! Nimbu pani?!”), chips and murukku(“Theeka jalebi?!”), Her Majesty Dimple, ordered the Minister and friend to provide her some entertainment.

“Mujhe bore ho raha hain. Naacho! Gao…,” she screamed herself hoarse. Rejecting Mr.Gopal’s desperate attempts to switch on the TV, she started crying and asking them to stage a cultural extravaganza in her honour.

Where any other power fails, a kid’s pleading and lung power succeeds. Mama and Mr.Gopal, who had never danced in their life, and never, even in their wildest moments, ever imagined to see themselves dance, performed a little jig to Mami’s rendition of “Kurai ondrum illai maraimoorthy kanna”(I have no worries, Krishna)-an ironic song to be sung when troubled by the imp of a girl.

Dimple, on the other hand, was clapping her hands in glee and swaying in the swing with the most delighted expression on her face.

“Filmi gaana gao.. Film.. F-I-L-M,” she yelled.

Knowing better to yield to her wishes than suffer the worst, Mami broke into “Unnai Ondru Ketpen”(Let me ask you something, what do I sing?) from Parakkum Paravai.

What more could have happened, one can only imagine. For one- the capabilities and ideas of kids range from the whacky and bizarre to downright innocent and wonderful. What dimple might have asked them to do might have been anything from rocking her to sleep with a story of marching on the road in a royal procession.

Thankfully for them, the infinite possibilities of torture disappeared in a whiff when Motu Uncle turned up with pookkaari Govindamma at the door. After profusely thanking the battered three residents of 34 & 35 Ramar Koil Street, Motu Uncle whisked Little Dimple away.

Just before Dimple left, she hugged and kissed Mama, Mami and Mr.Gopal on both their cheeks and with a “Nalla aadareenga! Enakku onga ellarayum rumba pidikkum! Bye bye!”(You dance really well. I really like you all.) she giggled and left!


** Little Mistress

*** View of the holy rites


Mami's Memories: Illundavoor Tale-1

Ramu mama’s snores sounded through the common window separating 35 and 36, Ramar Koil Street, and could be heard from where Nasreen Gopal sat next door, cross-legged. With nothing better to do at that time in the village of Illundavoor, and no one to talk to (as Mr.Gopal had left to Chennai for the opening of another cafe at Mambalam), Nasreen sat playing with the ends of her dupatta. Suddenly, she thought she would go and have a mid-afternoon chat with Mami and after bolting her door, she immediately knocked on the adjoining one. Janaki Mami opened it carefully, lest she woke mama up.

Ushering Nasreen into the huge dark storeroom, Mami at last opened her mouth, “Onna thaandi-ma nenachen! I was just thinking of calling you to help me clean some old trunks.”

“Of course, mami. I was so bored,” Nasreen replied, “Tell me where to begin!”

Mami and Nasreen went to one end of the room where about five sturdy trunk-pettis stood. Mami opened a dingy green one. It was full of photos, papers, letters and certificates.

Nasreen and Mami patiently went through them- Mami as a blushing bride – her now beautiful self, looking more vibrant, more beautiful and young; Mama on his graduation day, wearing a trailing gown; Mama and Mami’s son, Suresh as a little boy –now working in America; Mama’s numerous articles with rejection letters from various magazines and newspapers he had sent it to out; Suresh’s various certificates singing praise of his scholastic and non-scholastic prowess. The twosome carefully dusted the aging stuff and segregated them, neatly putting them in the transparent folders in various albums.

Next came a brown trunk with a golden plate reading Janaki Radhakrishnan. Mami began, “I used to study in a convent. I’m just a sixth pass; but I always was a good student. I used to take all my clothes in this trunk when I went to the hostel. But after my sixth standard, my father,” and she paused and fondly ran a finger on her father’s name etched in the gold plate and with a sigh continued, “My father lost all his money in business. He couldn’t send me to school. My mother- who cared more for my father’s money than him- took ill on hearing his loss and I had to take care of the household. She died after a few years and later I got married to your mama. My father passed away ten years back.” she concluded, memories clouding her face.

Mami opened the trunk and what an assortment of clothes there was! Incidentally, Suresh was enthusiastic about plays and dramas. He had been educated in the nearby town, known for its theatre culture. He had taken part in many plays and Mami had treasured all the costumes he had worn in them. She had made most of them herself. Nasreen could see what deft fingers Mami had- the sewing was intricate, the embroidery very detailed; and the sequins and chamki patterns, exquisite. Rich materials for the Rajas from old pattu pavadais; old shirts reduced in size to fit the lad; a perfect policeman outfit made from Khadi (Mami revealed that she had got the buttons from a retired police officer who had been their neighbour then!) and plenty of others. A few dirty ones they kept aside to be washed. Mami decided she had better donate the good ones to some orphanage but Nasreen very much doubted if these fanciful clothes would comfort anyone but a dramatist’s theatrical soul!

Next was a huge black trunk with brown leather straps. It contained old utensils- silverware, bronze ware (the bronze almost about to do the disappearing act) and lots of other stainless steel paathrams and plates. Mami could tell her who gave her which of those items precisely after all these years. “Ah… this dabba,” she would begin, “Devika of Tillainathan Road gave. She is now in Muscat. This piththalai paathram, my Ambuja Mami gave when I went for her golu. She was my mother’s cousin’s wife. Now this silver plate- Mama was gifted this by his senior-most officer during our marriage. You see, he worked for the Indian railways then in the accounts department,” and on she rattled as Nasreen picked one or the other object and enquiring a “who gave you this?” or a “Oh, really? Amazing!” Mami decided to give a few items to Shanti, their maid. She kept them aside.

She then opened a red leather trunk. Lots of walking sticks were there. Nasreen was amazed and enquired, “Oh…you’ve preserved all your family’s walking sticks? Mami you are some hoarder of stuff-letters, photos, utensils, clothes and now… sticks!’

“No… no… this is totally Mama’s doing. When he was young he loved to play with walking sticks. He was a very bright boy and everyone loved and petted him. Whenever anybody died, they left their walking stick to him. If they didn’t, he took it anyway! This one here is his paternal great-grandfather’s who lived to be 94. Look at the material. Pure sandalwood. Smell it. Oh… wait,” she said and wiped it clean before handing it to Nasreen.

“Smells good and mami, it’s still so sturdy!”

“Old things never die. They live on due to the love and care once bestowed. Now this was his maternal great grandfather’s. He was 80 when he died. This is scented rosewood. He was a very rich man, a diamond merchant way back in those times! He had to travel alone and through dark forests. So this one has a built-in sword to threaten the thieves who dared threaten him. Mama still believes that two notorious thieves of the nearby forests were never found after his grandfather passed that way once! He claims his grandfather killed them and threw their bodies to the vultures. I don’t know how far it is true. But yes…there is a sword inside,” and she drew out the sword á la Jhansi ki Rani (incidentally, didn’t that rhyme with Janaki mami?)

The sword gleamed in the dark and a chill ran down Nasreen’s spine. The sword still looked sharp and polished with not a peck of rust visible. Nasreen mouthed a ‘wow’.

Mami then took another walking stick and said, “This was my father’s. He bequeathed this to Mama. My father was a famous lawyer. He used to carry this always with him as a mark of dignity. This is a very finely carved one with gold edges.”

And on she went, detailing the history of every walking stick. The last trunk remained. Mami opened it and it gave out a rotting smell on opening. What a sight Nasreen beheld! Old drishti lemons hung once over the door; alums of every shape and size; a dozen rosary beads; a cardboard sheet having some weird circular diagrams in what looked like blood; different packets and parcels of age-old manjal-kumkumam-vibhoodhi; tiny crystal rings, beads; radium balls; twigs and other odds and ends!

“Goodness! Mami, what on EARTH is all this?!” Nasreen exclaimed.

“God’s blessings and a few great yogis’ gifts and good-luck charms,” Mami triumphantly declared.
“These…? Mami! You are just being superstitious!” she said, puzzled, as if that was the last thing she had expected Mami to be.

“Rubbish! These are prayers,” Mami retorted.

“A nice way for these Yogis to dupe gullible people like you and swindle off your money!”

“Dear me… no! Why… Yogi Devadutta gave me this ring so that I recover from Measles and the very next day there was not a spot!”

“Oh Mami… it was just a coincidence! Come on… throw them away! It stinks!!!”

“Heavens no! These are precious properties that have guarded our house all along! I dare not throw them away!”

“OK… Let’s assume these are God’s gifts!”

“What?! No need to assume! They ARE God’s gifts!”

“Alright…alright…they ARE God’s gifts and their power has already been utilized for some purpose or the other. So now, you are free to throw them! You don’t want an insect raid here, do you!?”

“Konde! No!!! Even now they have their magic”

“God Mami! You are so naïve!”

Mami was so taken aback that she cautioned, “Nasreen… don’t ridicule God! You won’t believe it, will you?! Fine. I’ll make you believe. See this?” and with determination writ clearly across her face, she proceeded to show Nasreen a radium ball and a stick and continued, “A kudukuduppai kaaran gave me these. If I chant the mantra he taught me and rotate this magic ball thrice anti-clockwise and twice clockwise and then lift the magic stick five times chanting another mantra, Suresh will call within an hour! Remember he calls only once a week? And he just spoke yesterday… now keep that in mind and see if it works!”

As advised, Mami muttered some incomprehensible mantra and performed what Nasreen believed to be a “ridiculous act with a peepul stick and an ordinary radium ball!”

She completed the task and put everything back into the trunk, locked it and placed it back. The day’s work had been done.

Getting up she took the utensils and the clothes. Nasreen and she came out of the store room. Mama was leaving for his evening stroll.

Minutes trickled by and the tension slowly began to show on Mami’s face. She was so keen on proving her point. Lest she hurt Mami’s feelings, Nasreen quietly helped Mami in cutting up the urlaikazhangu for dinner.
Only five minutes remained of the challenged one hour. Mami looked upset as she roasted the urlai. Just as she kept the vaanali of nice brown oil soaked urlais on the counter, the shrill call of the telephone was heard.
Mami ran to pick the phone. “Hello?”

“Amma… Suresh here. For a while I kept having this weird feeling that you wanted to talk to me. So I called… is everything OK…?”

That night, Nasreen wrote in her diary,

“Whether love or superstition reached out, I shall never know…’

MAMI: Aunty
MAMA: Uncle
DUPATTA: a shawl or coverning worn on a salwaar-kameez, a traditional Asian dress.
CHAMKI: a type of glittering flat sequin
RAJA: a king
PAATHARAM: a container
KHADI: hand-spun material
DABBA: a container/ vessel
GOLU: a Hindu festival during the Navrathri/9 day season where people arrange dolls of gods and goddesses on steps and perform holy rites for 9 days.
MANJAL-KUMKUMAM-VEEBHOODHI: turmeric-vermillion-sacred ash
YOGI: a saint
KONDEY: a child, called affectionately.
KUDUKUDUPPAI KAARAN: a soothsayer who rattles a rattling-drum
MANTRAM: incantation
PEEPUL: a tree
VAANALI: a wide-rimmed vessel for deep-frying
AMMA: mother.

April 28, 2011


Some stories never end. Like little plotting phoenixes, they prepare their own rebirths! A never ending comma.

These are the kind of stories that sky-rocketed themselves into outerspace at their very opening paragraphs. And then the cosmos had so many things to discover, forget and refind.

It is said that the stars laugh at the continued fascination they have for themselves.

These stories live happilysadlyfightinglypeacefullyquietlynoisily... and they live ever after!

April 03, 2011

Short Story-19

It was one of those days. Long hours of work. Sitting in front of a computer. She was typing away on the keyboard.

It annoyed her that it had dirty marks on it. All the vowels and a few consonants. The O had a small patch to its top left corner. The F was barely visible. Aah, all the swearing secretly on chat!

The V had a fingerprint etched, almost! Her print for her boss's name. The numerous mails she had to type with Vimala in brackets, before she could get her signature. 

The control, alternate and delete keys were also not spared. Her rotten system that hung every two seconds. She needed ctrl+alt+del for surviving with it!

She scratched away at the dirt slowly. She noticed how crumbs of the doughnut she had everyday was lodged between P and [. How a line of dirt ran between the function keys and the numbers on top. 

The num lock glowed.

She sighed, and typed
Thanking you,
Yours sincerely,
She pressed the dirtiest of them all enter key. Thrice.
[Vimala Sriram]

© Dryad's Peak
Maira Gall