Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Crystal Pond

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Fantasy is the reality of a fable. There are some standard characters that drive all fables forward, a farmer, old man or woman, and some strange creatures. But these don’t make a fable worth reading. It’s something else, something close to what we know about the world we live in. The most powerful thing about fables is that they can talk about the prohibited in a unique fashion, like the story below. 

“I never dared to do this before. I feel proud of myself at least trying to get the mangoes now,” he spoke to himself. His eyes were tracing cautiously, any visible trace of wild animals that could harm him during his lonely quest.

He was a farmer and he went to the forest to collect some seeds of a variety of rare mango tree.  

He moved deeper into the woods. He saw a pond, and that reminded him how thirsty he was. As he stooped to drink from the pond, the cloth that he wore around his neck, a part of it, fell into water and for his shock, turned into crystal.

He took it out. It had been cloth a moment before, but now changed into glass. What a transformation! It was magical but horrifying, he thought. The glass part of the cloth stuck with the other cloth as if glued together.

He had to drink water. He had water in front of him; however the reality existed not in his favor. The thirst increased beyond what he first thought.

He kneeled down near the pond and looked into it. On the surface of the water he saw something reflected. It was a flower, a white two petal flower on a tiny plant, near the shore.

“Who would be responsible for this magical pond?” He asked the flower.

“The Creatures who look after this forest,” the flower said.
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The farmer remembered the Creatures from the stories told by the older people in his village. They were Creatures with the head of a buffalo and the body of a lion. They resided in the depths of the forest; they were said to be beings from the Other World.

He felt a fierce rage for the Creatures. He felt the desire to curse; he felt it apt.

“Where are the Creatures?” He asked the flower.

I don’t know,” the flower said.
“Those are responsible for my plight. I know my thirst too is induced by them. The only choice left for me is to drink and die a crystal statue. I want to see them. Where are those cruel—“He was about to curse them, but right then the flower cut in.

“I have something to ask you,” It said.
“What did you see in the water when you looked in it?”
The farmer groped in his thoughts for an answer and said, “I think, I saw you, little flower.”
“No…” the flower said with an unsettling grunt. “It was not me,” he said, “think deeper.”

The farmer felt a light bulb going off in his mind. Yes, it was his image that he noticed first on the surface of the pond.
“Do you have any idea what that means?” the flower asked seeing the farmers’ expression.

After thinking for some time, the farmer said, “All I know is that the pond was made useless by the Creatures and I am going to have a word with them.”

“Do you know how powerful the Creatures are?” the flower said, “If they can transform the water into a magical potion just imagine what they can do to you, if you pick a fight with them,”

“Whatever…. I just want to take my revenge,” he said.

“But why do you still want to fight with the Creatures? Didn’t you understand what you found in the water?” the flower enquired in confusion.

“What? I found myself in the reflection,” the man said.
“OK. Do one thing, just check one more time, what you find in the water,” the flower said.

With enough second thoughts as common to any skeptical human being, the farmer went close the pond and looked into it. He found his own eyes staring at himself; then the little flower nearby.

Waves were forming on the surface of the water with the wind from east. It was getting late and if the night fell, he would be lost in the forest. It was believed in village that the Creatures don’t prefer outsiders in the forest after the sunset. The farmer’s heart was beating faster and throat was drying with thirst. Then, right then, he found something yellowish on the bed of the pond—the Flower of the Black Star!

He knew this flower from the tales grand mother had told him in his childhood. She had told him that the flower was brought to the forest by a group of demons who lived in the kingdom of the Beast King. However, the village storyteller had a different version for this story. He always said that the flower had descended from one of the Black Stars in the sky. No one had seen that star, because it was black in color.

Even though there are many stories about the Flower of the Black Star, on one fact, they all united—the flower was extremely poisonous. The Flower of the Black Star can poison even the air near its presence and the soil it falls upon. The farmer’s mind paced like a kingfisher’s dive.

So that was why the Creatures turned the water into a magical potion that transforms anything into crystals. They wanted to caution everyone.

The farmer looked at the little white flower. The flower smiled at him. The yellow Flower of the Black Star gleamed from under the pond like a sign of warning, a poisonous reminder of something the farmer now regretted.

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“I thought they, the Creatures were trying to kill me, but see; their intention was to save my life. Am I too late?”  He asked the little flower on the shore of the pond.

“No, my human friend,” the flower said, “However, every realization cries for action.”

The farmer dipped the long pole that he used as support for walking in the forest, in the water. It became a crystal pole. He tested its strength by thrusting it hard into the ground nearby. It was strong and sharp.

The farmer looked around for an appropriate spot and started digging a new pond. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

On this Easter Day

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On this Easter day, I would like to share a memory and a seed I had planted on the luscious ground of that memory.

Although I had thought of posting my Easter story today, I could not. The reason is that I received the Easter story only yesterday night [7-4-12] at the church where my family and I visited for prayers. I returned home late and could not write the story down. Still, I am hopeful that I will be able to contain the story in words soon and present it to you.

I feel the story and its writing down is very important, since the story is my experience itself, though it would be told in the language of fiction. It is through this experience I received the wisdom of ‘the Candle’. I am eager myself to write it down and to see how it all turns out.

The memory I intend to talk to you today about is embedded in my student days, during my graduation. I did my graduation in English Literature as correspondence course, where you get all the course materials postal and no classes to attend like regular colleges.

There were of course some days of formal classes called ‘contact classes’ where teachers come and introduce different courses to the students. These teachers were appointed by the University and were always in a hurry to finish things off within the allotted time. Yes, there was an allotted time schedule for these classes, eight hours, in two days for one paper, usually.

So a couple of my friends and I decided to join a parallel college to help us with the portions.  After one year, the manager of the parallel college called me and told me it would be difficult for them to carry us as a class, because we were just three students and we must therefore start looking for some other college to help us.

We all had this common thing, then,—and I attribute this to a specific reaction common with humans—we were totally, pathetically shaken. The problem was with the course we were doing. There was no other parallel college in the city or nearby areas that took Literature as a course, as all of them were obsessed with Commerce and Engineering Diplomas, the vogues of the day.

We felt ourselves a bunch of outmoded morons, who now had to go looking for someone to help. The first person I decided to call was Prof. Kammat, an old retired professor who taught us in the parallel college, kind, benevolent, and good hearted.

“Don’t worry, I am with you,” he said and nothing more, even though I expected more words to cool off our hearts full of the lava of concern.

The next day he rang me up and said, “I have talked with our manager and made arrangements. We can use one of their rooms and I will teach you whatever you need. Don’t worry. You are no longer vagabonds.”

Another of our teachers too came forward to help us, Mr. J.P, at the request of Kammat sir. J.P is known by this short name, and till this day I have no idea what his real name is.
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Our marks in the final exams were top row, especially among the correspondence students. Later, I joined for Masters in Literature and Professor Kammat went to Bangalore to live with his son’s family there.

I kept my contact with him all through these years. There was something always special about him; he did not just reply our queries, but always came for us, asked how we all were doing and told us how he enjoyed teaching in Bangalore.

The previous Saturday, I sent him a text message, just to let him know what I feel about him. It’s true that he knows it as I never kept my thoughts from him.      

I would like to quote that text message here, for my readers:

“Hello sir,
There is a magic in every living organism that is hidden, for the most part, in their lives, even from themselves, until a wizard comes along and transforms their lives forever. In my life, you are the wizard and I am the magic you initiated. Good day!

The seed of these fifty-one words has grown in the fertile soil of memory to become this article. I am just a spell. The wizard is hidden from everyday sight.    
Happy Easter!

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Lizard’s Tale

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Upon the wall of a University English Department I survived, almost alone with a strange sensation in my head, along with an urge to cut my tail off sometime.

I always felt the presence of a voice, like a creature inside me that I knew never would exist, which puzzled me enough to think of fleeing.

The reason why I was alone was strange too, especially for those who live in houses and other close relatives of human abodes. Mostly our enemies come in the form of strange poisonous sprays or birds, none of which appeared in the place I live in, however, most of my family and friends never came here. Those who lived fled from the Department, because they said they all felt a suffocation that cannot be explained.

I didn’t run away, though. When I was about to make off, I realized the voice was coming from my head. It said; ‘if you ran, you would find no roof ever to crawl under’.

That was it; it was this same voice that puzzled me about things in life as well as the world around me; it was thought.

The legitimate reason for thinking was life itself. One alive would think, must think. From the moment I learnt I possess this mysterious inner sound, I was happy and at peace with myself. There was a certain pleasure in knowing the presence of something mysterious by one’s side. Therefore, even though, this sound told me conflicting things, I never lost my peace.

I could see two eyes staring at me; sure they were not looking at me, but were helping the mind focus to think.

It was the teacher who taught British Prose and Drama. Most of those classes, in which he taught prose, I slept. I could hear him later, struggling in his cabin to make sense of the useless information the course taught. His face would be scaled with concerns of an unprintable sort.

Another day, the young teacher came in, his face lit with a unique light; it was clear he was not the person on the previous days. And just before speaking to his class, he did the same thing; staring at the wall, but I was watching him from behind this time.

He asked the students to write a play in two acts.

I wished I could meet his staring eyes, since each time it reminded me of the happiness I felt when I first realized what the voice inside my head was.

When I thought about this happiness, I was reminded of seeing other people around too; people who never looked at me or the wall, who never thought anything, whose thinking never bloomed into life.

One such person who taught students once in a while in that same class room, summoned the younger teacher, the next day. He was an older person, who called himself Dr. A. Bhasan, and he would stand up and chant his name all the time as if it’s a mantra along with his importance in the University, though his mannerisms betrayed the truth of the absence of anything remarkable in his mind.

The young teacher whose name was Manu Paul, surly deserved admiration; I looked for a proper place to watch them. He always thought something new for the students, and practiced it in his classes.

He thought.

Dr. A. Bhasan sat in a room with a banner hanging from its door on which these words were written: “The Head of the Department”.

Bhasan was checking through some of his piles of papers when Manu came in. There was one more person in the room, apart from Bhasan and the young teacher, a young woman who worked with Manu, one with whom I found the same problem as Bhasan, the complete absence of thoughts.

“Please sit down,” Dr. A. Bhasan said.

Manu sat down with a pleasant face.

Bhasan asked him, “You have seven plays to finish, Manu Paul?”
“Yes sir, and I have more than one and a half months’ time left, it’s just two months since the semester started,” Manu replied.
Bhasan asked, “What if you were on leave for one month? Would you be able to finish it then?”

I didn’t hear Manu saying anything in return. Bhasan’s voice rose again,
“Did you give them a writing excise?”
“Yes, I made them write a mock play in two acts, just two pages, sir. The theme was ‘Godot in Search’, an attempt to imitate the famous play Waiting for--,”
“But the students have a negative opinion about it!” Bhasan cut in.
“What sir…? I couldn’t get you.” Manu fumbled for words, and I could see his face drying off colors, I could see the season was never what I had expected.

Bhasan looked determined, “I took the feed back from students. They said you gave them a useless writing assignment. It was a creative writing assignment, right?”

I heard Manu saying, “Yes.”

“We have a literature course to run here, there is no point in creative writing exercise. You are a creative person, I know, and that is your problem too. The students told me they could not understand the relevance of the writing exercise and they also think it was a waste of time,” Bhasan said with a grave expression.

There was something that I knew existed in my memory. However, I could not remember what it was. It might have been a thought, an idea, or a thing.  Someone of my friends had told me about that long back; unfortunately I could not remember it now.

Manu turned to the woman co-worker and I could see his pale face. “I tell you, you must apply some techniques to improve your class room dynamics,” Bhasan was saying. He had changed the topic.

Bhasan’s face again put on a falsehood; it was a fake all-knowing look. He did not think genuinely, for I knew the way eyes move when one thought, I knew what thoughts are.

Under his mask of expressions Bhasan said, “I do it in the best way possible; my class room dynamics is the best. I don’t just teach the course materials. I give them works to do in the class room. I play some drama and keep the attention of the students. I even sang them one of the folk songs of the tribal people!” I could see his face exploding with ripples of gaudiness. 

Manu smiled at Bhasan, but that smile carried a question, I could feel it on my skin like how I felt when a thunderbolt hit the air. I didn’t hear him asking it though.    

“OK, then; that is all,” said Dr. A. Bhasan and I saw both the teachers leaving the room. I had the same sensation of forgetting a thought, an idea, or a thing, again.

I went inside the cupboard and found my usual comfy room between the wall and a dusty tome with hard bind, with two words—one was ‘Holy’, which was familiar to me as the happiness at the moment of finding food or a great companion—written on it. The second word puzzled me; it started with the letter ‘B’. However, ‘Holy’ pacified me, as it meant something good, for sure.

I took a long nap there, hoping that the waves of uncertainty about that lost thought would be abated.

Just before falling into sleep, I felt I remembered what I had forgotten and I dreamt of lemmings.

Truth and lie confused me, but the happiness of having thoughts was more than the confusion of conflicting ideas. Some times what happened in front of our eyes would be truth, but sometimes, it’s both. I was there when students came to Bhasan to give feedback, inside the roof between the book and the wall.

Bhasan himself invited some of the students into his office. I heard him ask about Manu’s class, and they all started telling him about the writing exercise and how excited they all were on doing it.

But suddenly Bhasan got up and asked them, “Creative writing? What is the use for that? Why do you need it?” His face looked hurt and jealous.
I saw the students standing around him nodding with their minds all gone flabbergasted at this open confrontation.

I didn’t think about Manu Paul or those students any more, but lemmings. They all followed the one that believed in a lifeless conviction and drowned.
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