The Hallowed Quest #1

It is under the greatest of tribulations that a man shapes into the self he ends at. I say ends ‘at’, because as long as he lives, he is on trial, and at times he may grow or shrink, but he is never the same.

The question is, then, which trials should be for whom? Why is it that grown men do not know the pain that an eight-year-old shrugs off? Why is it that someone is oblivious to a growth that someone has outgrown? Why is it that someone is sleepless and many others are weaving dreams? Why is it that for some, their gods are sleeping with their eyes open? And why do people without gods must look for salvation in people who escape from them in the name of god?

A little boy, too young to know but old enough to question; walks around the streets looking for someone. He may be very small for travel, but was bold enough to explore. He was probably naive for trying to poke his nose, but was brave enough to prod his finger.

On his way, he walks past tens and thousands of people who from afar looked like they were coming towards him, but as they came closer he realised they had eyes for the horizon. Everyone seemed like going away from him if he looked back, and while the opposite view presented a momentary spark of hope, the thousands who walked past him made him understand no one was going to stay.

The boy had questions, which only multiplied every second. He had no ways of research except asking, for he was poor. He had no wise old man to ask to because he was alone. And he had no time to contemplate his loneliness because he didn’t have a roof.

Within that bustling street, he saw a man standing nearby, with his shoulder resting on a pole. The man looked brusque – bare-chested and well cut, his torso gave him away as someone not to be meddled with. His loose lower garment was wrapped around his waist. While it looked a little odd, the boy presumed that it was pretty expensive – not by price but by value. The man had a strange greyish layer on his body like a baby rubbed with talcum powder. The man’s long, bony face had a look of no-nonsense. His eyes had a flame of anger, which could fire up any second. His long, thick hair was plaited and mounted on his head like an inverted cone, with celestial ornaments decorating it. He looked like he was idly playing with a black rope in his hands. A triple spiked rod rested beside him.

The boy, apprehensive as he was, decided to approach him. He came closer and before he could call him, the man said aloud, “Yes?”

Startled, the boy asked warily, “Um, how did you know..”

“That you were coming? I’ve been keeping an eye on you since long, boy.”

“What? How?”

“I have ways,” the man said, without looking up from his toy. “Anyway, what do you want?” he asked.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Is it something foolish?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then ask away.”

The boy took some time to frame it properly. Despite all that commotion around him, he found himself alone with the man, as if they were on a mountain top – away from all things worrisome. The man had still not looked up from his past-time towards him, but the boy could somehow feel his gaze on him. The boy felt a pressure unlike any he ever knew. He felt like his question could be the most important words to ever come out of his mouth. Out of a thousand things in his mind, he ended up with something he didn’t perceive to be that important. He gulped, and said, “Who are these people, and why don’t they stop?”

The man stopped fiddling with his toy. Scared, the boy hastily stepped back and was about to apologize when the man spoke.

“They’re a herd,” he said with disdain. “Dolts who think they’re each the sayers of right things. Each believes that their judgement is impeccable, and their decisions are flawless.”

“But, if they say the right things, their judgement is impeccable, and their decisions are flawless, how can they be the part of a herd?” The boy asked.

“That’s because what they say, judge and decide aren’t their thoughts, judgements and decisions.”

The boy looked about. None of the walking folk cared to even look at them – a shabby man and mere child was nothing to waste time on. They all looked focused, and while some did frown, none betrayed any steps they were taking.

“Whose orders are they following?”

“They may not be orders boy. There are many different ways to get people to do your bidding,” the man said with a tone of knowingness.

“Then? What are they following?”

“Some are following rituals. Some norms. Some are following trends while some are just following the guy in front.”

“Where are they going?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t bother myself with where they want to go. For me, they are all going to one place.”

The boy frowned. “And that place is?”

“Death and destruction.”

“Oh,” the boy paused. “But isn’t that an obvious end? Like, everyone is going there isn’t it?”

The man looked at the boy for the first time.

“Perhaps you only heard half of what I said. Yes, everyone is going to die, but not everyone will be destroyed.”

“But why destroy them? Who will destroy them?”

“Not who will – what will.”

“What..will?” The boy asked hesitatingly.

“Let’s see.. that man in the suit will be destroyed by his arrogance. That lady will be destroyed by vanity. That old lady over there will be destroyed by regret, and that child – poor one – will be destroyed by his parents. The parents, in turn, will be destroyed by ignorance. That restless runner will be destroyed by greed, and that girl will be destroyed by ego. Some will perish to lust, while some will perish to rage. Some will succumb to revenge and many will be shredded by envy.”

Stunned, the boy looked back in horror. “H-how do you know? And will each be destroyed due to this?”

The man ignored the first question. “No, these people getting destroyed don’t concern me much. It’s folks like that one..” he looked far into the crowd, beyond what was visible to the boy. “It’s idiots like him that lead to bigger, much bigger destruction.” The man seemed like he was talking to himself. “Not only destroying himself, but others around him. In the hundreds. Thousands.” The man’s eyes had a fire raging, as he gripped his toy tighter than ever.

The boy was genuinely terrified now, but the incoming education kept him going. “W-hat will happen to him? And to those who are destroyed?”

The man seemed to pop out of his reverie. “If you destroy yourself, then it’s a simple thing. You die knowing what you’ve done. Your death, along with your life, will be a waste. If you are destroyed by someone, then it’s difficult, for your death will still be an incomplete end, something among the realms of could have beens and should have beens. In that case your death is futile, but your life, unfortunately, is still a waste. But if you destroy other’s lives before-” the man looked directly into the boys eyes, “let’s say someone catches up, then your death will be a spectacle and your life will be a lesson.”

The man’s toy suddenly sprang into life, and slithered onto the boy’s feet. The boy, captivated by the man’s eyes, had no idea about it. He still had the courage to prod further.

“So there’s a lesson in death?” he asked meekly.

“Depends on what you do.”

“But what if I am not destroyed before I die?”

The man’s eyes softened – they were almost kind now. “Then we will meet again, as friends.” He extended his hand and the snake slithered onto his hand, and slowly wrung around his neck. “Now run along, little boy. My job here is done, and so is your time.”

As he started walking away with the triple spiked rod, the boy’s eyes followed his footsteps, until he realised he had one last question, which he shouted out loud, “At least tell me who are you?”

The man turned, and smiled. It was the most beautiful smile the boy had ever seen. The man did not answer, but kept on walking, slowly fading away into the horizon.

Romance, Special

Here’s To Her

I closed everything on my phone and looked out of the window. The sun was just about to rise, and so was a new dawn in my life.

We had exchanged words all night. One could say that so far that was the only thing we had. But more beautifully, that night was all about the words we didn’t say to each other before. The meaning between the lines, the crafty no responses and the backspaced sentences were all shared, either directly or indirectly. A word sent that night held in a thousand sentences held back before, and each sentence read that night flooded my conscious like my subconscious usually is.

Describing her is a tough task – not because of the fact that my vocabulary often fails me regarding her, not even because my mind goes into noise cancelling mode when I think about her. I have the words, but I don’t know which ones. I’m around a cacophony, and it doesn’t bother me today. But, words are all I have.

So, here’s to her.

There’s beauty between humans – a beauty which is not seen or observed. It is felt and heard, very much like raindrops splattering on a roof. This very beauty is the one languages have tried to capture, for the pen can show what the brush and the camera can’t. Between humans, it is a mix of darkness and light which paints this beauty. It is the fine balance of shade and light which seems to create the beauty of boulevards. And life is nothing but journey along a boulevard, and at times beneath a tree, in the netted patterns of shade, you need someone to play the game of dhoop chhaon.

Here’s to her, the girl who is captivated by dhoop chhaon.

The art of succinct and sure transfer of messages may be a skill, but when it comes to bonds, it becomes a habit – a trait which is fueled by the bond itself. The proficency to ‘tell’, summarize, and share in the least of words comes after a great deal of amity has been passed back and forth. But more so, it is about you saying the right things at the right times to them, which has never happened to you with anybody else. It is about finding the words that they were struggling to find, and giving them the satisfaction that you understand what they mean. It is about how much you can say to each other while being as laconic as possible.

Here’s to her, the girl who believes in trials at brevity.

Sometimes, however, it is about letting the words flow. However difficult and troubling it seems, venting your mind is the first step to trust. As a benefittor of multiple chances to say and share things I couldn’t frame and things that wouldn’t come out, I am the testament to the blessing an open ear is. Sometimes it is a chance is all you need, but well, chances and life have one thing in common – you never know when they can surprise you. People who are a sound listener and a patient reader, the world needs more of you. Every person who has something to say needs more of you. Every struggling Manto needs more of you.

Here’s to her, the girl who stands by ‘Bol ke lab aazad hai!

Bol ke lab aazad hai!‘ comes with it’s humongous share of responsibility. The responsibility is a little about saying things well, saying the right things, and probably about touching a chord somewhere. There’s nothing as exhilirating than impacting someone close with something true and heartfelt, bringing out a response that you know is a prized one. It is that one response that makes you realise that somehow you’ve not messed up, and that you have actually, once again, done something right.  As someone who is a klutz in every sense, it is a response people like me strive for.

So here’s to her, the girl who doles out ‘aaye haayes‘.

But there are a lot more things about that night. Things that I do not have the capacity to share –  not only because I cannot pen them, but because I am so overwhelmed. So far it wasn’t me thinking, it was a warmth in my fingers driving them across the keyboard. And it’s getting hotter. There’s a stupid smile, a happy heart, and a peaceful mind. For probably the first time, I have no complaints with life. I could almost start dancing on the street. Yepp.

Here’s to her, the girl who writes yep with two ps.

Here’s to her.

Romance, Special

We Meet Again

I’m – I’m not the same person that I was five years ago,” she said.

I looked at her. There was the same set of dark brown eyes; her beautifully shaped jawline which was perhaps even more distinct now; same slender arms, one of which still had the silver quartz watch her mom gifted her; and a rather dull colour choice of clothes. She would seem the same to anyone who’d known her before.

Yet I could see some differences. Her eye sockets were a shade heavier than her cheeks, and her once restless, trusting gaze was now steely and fiery. Her hair, which she liked long, was shorter than usual. Once jet black and thick, her hair seemed a little thinned and betrayed a couple of white strands. Her knuckles looked bonier than before, and her skin whiter than before, which made me worry about she skipping her iron supplements. Her poise had changed, it portrayed strength which overshadowed her previously held mild joviality. It was as if she was constantly on her toes.

If she was a cinnamon roll then, she definitely looked like she had left it in the past.

When I had met her initially, I knew straight away that I was going to immortalize her. I knew that my pen would jot her down and prepare a sketch of her in the only way it knew – with my words. If I wasn’t lucky, I would have to do with only a fleeting glance as inspiration. However, I was lucky. Very, very lucky.

Which may or may not have been a blessing.

You see, the moment I saw her, she birthed a range of verses and poetry within me. I knew that this woman was going to be the fodder of my pieces. I knew that she would make me get up from my bed at three in the morning because my heart had just shown me an imagery of her which I just had to write then and there. The catch was, what emotions would weave themselves into the writing. She could be the panache of requited love, or she could be the spiritlessness of love unanswered. The more I knew her the more I could craft, but the more I got of her the more direction our story would get. And then the direction would control the quill. I could imagine me and her entwined in a hug, but that hug could be of union or of farewell. And depending on how things panned out in reality, the subsequent piece would either make the reader giddy in the stomach or heavy in the eyes.

But here we were, years after the hug of farewell. During that time we had been subjected to the phenomenon of change, along with the responsibility of moving on.

Initially, it was just the change in the habit of each other. The first few days were the worst, when every small thing echoed her presence. Her scent was everywhere, her influence engraved on my days. As the days passed her essence slowly diffused, but never really went away. Her absence led to a decrease in her influence, and I learnt to do things for myself again. As the weeks passed by she turned into a reminder of the past I had. This was the buffer zone, wherein I felt I had moved on – only to see her picture on social media and drop back into her. I ended up checking her profile for hours, investigating every face in her pictures to overstating and trying to read between the lines of her posts – until I finally checked myself. Then, as soon as I abolished her out of my days, she barraged into my nights – again. She popped up in one too many dreams, which would ruin mornings and the subsquent days. And then, months later, when I finally started ‘living’ without her, I thought I was through. Until I finally met her again.

The changes in my situation led to many changes in me – I stopped being dependent on the small things she brought into my life. I began doing things on my own, engrossing myself and engulfing her out. I spoke to people with greater cautiousness, which at times helped me out as it passed off as respect. I did not prod around, minded my own business, but never allowed someone to encroach. I was definitely not available. I grew up, I matured. I learnt pain, and learnt how to deal with it. I began to download older songs whose lyrics began to make more and more sense to me day by day. Soon, my playlist was only mine – it no longer was something universally praised. I became a better listner, probably because I feared talking more would make me let things out which should not be out. I became an empathizer from a sympathizer. I learnt how to defocus from a trigger. Soon, I started giving out advice at 2 AM calls instead of asking for it.

The day I would meet her again was the day I feared the most. The prospect of facing her again and telling her, probably untruthfully, that I had moved on from her was horrendous. What would she think? That I didn’t love her enough at all? Or that my love is fickle and easily washed off? Another thing which scared me even more was if she had moved on? What if she refused to acknowledge me? Or worse, even refuse to recognise me? What if, she was still something to me, but I was nothing to her? What if, she has moved on so well that she’s found somebody else?

They say you have to face your worst fears. And that’s what I did when we met again, by chance.

I could see some changes in her which were similar to mine. I saw some changes which were not, and I wished to ask her about them. And then I realised I don’t have the right anymore. Nor do I have the permission, else she’d have asked me about the way I’ve changed. Instead we talked about the good times, and then after we were done we looked into each other’s eyes. I did not back away, but she looked away exasperated. I realised I’d made her uncomfortable, and we awkwardly sat in silence. But there was one question that was nagging me ever since I had met her again, and I willed for her to look at me again. Reluctantly, she obliged, and the fact that we still possesed that telepathic connection made it worse – and gave me half of my answer. Nevertheless, I implored the question with my eyes, and this time, she stared right back, as tears formed into her eyes, which said without voice, “Not yet.

I hope, for the sake of us both, that the “Not yet” doesn’t change to “Probably never.

Maybe we have differently aged, contrastingly matured souls now. Maybe we were in love but incompatible then, and we may be more compatible now as much in love, but probably not meant to be.

I pray, this is a case of “Not yet” over “Probably never.

Whatever it is, but we respect each other’s changes and take certain responsibility for it – to the extent that when she said, “I’m – I’m not the same person that I was five years ago,

I replied, “I hope so,” and smiled.