Six

She was six when she first learned about death.

As she walked to school the next day, a cold winter morning, clutching her father’s hand so tight, a plethora of emotions ran through the man who held her hand. He had covered his face with a scarf-kind-of-a-thing, so as to not reveal his face. He would not want the girl to know his father was dead, and he wanted to pretend to be one just as good. But somehow, even in front of the six-year-old, his courage faltered, and he fumbled while walking. The girl saw his eyes, and they spoke. The eyes spoke to each other of the lies they hid within them. “Where is father?” she said softly now, almost about to break into tears.

The man did not have an answer. He wanted to choose between, “He’s gone far away to visit your granny,” and “He has become a star in the sky,” but instead he chose to say, “He’s dead.”
“What is dead?” asked the small girl.
“Dead means you will never see him anymore.”
“Why? Is he angry with me?”
“Yes, he is. Why didn’t you have all your food today?”
“If I have my lunch, will he come see me?”
“He might,” he said, eyes red with lies, shamed to hell.

When she entered the class, her teacher asked why she was late, and she replied, “Because my father’s dead.”
“Who told you that?” the teacher retracted, trying to hide her tears, but her voice had already welled up too much to fake that she was still angry.
It was fascinating to see how the girl didn’t feel sad. She thought it was a trip his father had been to, to a place where her grandparents lived. She thought he was a star in the skies, but also thought it was easy to go up there, once you did good deeds.

As a mother, she narrates the tale to her daughter today. She is six, and she is thirty, pained by her husband’s death, but doesn’t want her child to be the way she was. She has learned, from experiences that were bitter, that truth might hurt, but when it is dark and you are all by yourself, truth is the only thing that will keep you warm, like a bonfire in the winter, like a warm fireplace where the cat huddles herself to sleep, awaiting another morning, another dawn, that will bring back light into her eyes, and she will see clearly albeit the fog, what awaits her on the other side on the road.

Five | Seven

Sunshine on Her Forehead

Through the tiny slit between the curtains,
That blocks her from the outside for most of the day,
Two tiny rays of sunshine slither through,
And fall on her forehead, making a tiny yellow moon.
She knows when the rains come pouring,
A pitter-patter on the windows,
She cannot smell the wet mud outside,
Nor see the birds fly back to their nests.

Sunshine on her forehead, she smiles,
A face of glee forever overshadowing,
Her life of plight that she has carefully masked,
Against day, against night, and against herself.
She dreams of a day when she’d go outside,
She sees her father, his hands wide apart,
She runs to him, and embraces him dearly,
But alas! Then she wakes up.

She doesn’t know how her story will end,
Whether her hero would rescue her,
She dreams of people who are blind like her,
And tells them to be patient, in her thoughts.
She walks up to the door sometimes,
But there are no latches on the inside,
She wonders who locked her up here,
But alas! Then she wakes up.

Sometimes when she sees the slit,
Between the curtains turn to a shade of black,
She knows it is night, and that she must sleep,
Yet never her eyes close, endlessly she stares.
She doesn’t remember the last time she cried,
She wants to wail, tears betray her,
She covers her face with the pillow she has,
It smells of her, she hasn’t known any other.

Yet next morning, when the sunshine,
Draws a tiny moon on her forehead again,
She feels a wetness in her eyes,
And tries hard to cover it with her smile.
She knows this could go on forever,
And wishes she had been dead long ago,
But she promises to herself she’d live through it,
And show to the day another black night.

She Had Wings – 3

So they travelled far away,
And the horse had to keep pace with the girl as she flew,
They walked through deserts and they flew across seas,
And sometimes they slept under the trees.
When finally they reached a valley so green,
And the sun shone and each roof glimmered,
They kept walking through narrow walkways,
Until they reached a house,
Where an old lady sat outside the house,
Knitting sweaters for her daughter she’d never see.

The girl ran up and sat in front of her,
And while the lady cringed her eyebrows,
Trying to locate where she’d seen her,
She slowly turned back and revealed her wings.
A smile so great I’d never seen before,
Shone upon the old lady’s face,
And they hugged and they wept,
And they wept and they hugged.
The prince held back his tears, but he was welled up too,
But then at this next sight he couldn’t help but cry,
When Cinderella and Cinderella held hands and rose,
And into the blue space above they’d together fly.

She Had Wings – 2

Five years later, the girl could fly,
And everyone loved her, they called her a Dragon,
Except her father, he called her a dragon-fly.
She was pretty like an angel, eyes blue as the sea,
But the man couldn’t care less, her beauty he didn’t see,
She was his daughter, or was she her maid,
That their dog felt more loved,
Than she had ever been loved by anyone.
She was locked inside a house, and sunlight she’d never seen,
And at night she called her father by his name,
And did stuff only a mistress five times her age,
Could have done with that man.

One day a prince, richer than all other kings,
Asked his horse to take him,
To the place where the most beautiful fairy lives,
Whose name he called Cinderella.
The horse trotted day and night,
And the horse trotted night and day,
Until it finally reached the house of the girl,
Who sat inside weeping softly.

He knocked on the door, Is anybody there?
I have come from a faraway land,
Where princesses sit on cushiony chairs,
And dine on the finest ever heard in the world.
But Cinderella couldn’t open the door,
Her hands were chained to a room inside,
So she kept working in her room,
And she shouted Go away, or you may die.

I won’t, said the prince, and he waited there,
And when the father came walking by,
The horse neighed louder than any you’ve heard,
And ran towards that stubborn guy.
The poor man shouted, but what else could he do,
Beneath the legs of the strongest horse,
And the prince laughed at him and took out his sword,
And slit! Alas! Now the head was inches away from the corpse.

He took the key and opened the door,
And rushed inside to where the princess sat,
And they kissed and they hugged and they smiled and they laughed,
What is your name, he asked the girl.
Dragon, she replied, pointing to her skin,
That was harder than any metal he’d ever seen,
And she turned around, and the prince’s eyes,
Shone and gleamed, oh what a scene,
Her wings so white, like a dove, only prettier,
He took her in her arms, and asked if she would marry him.

Yes, said the princess, but only if,
You take me to a land faraway,
Where the grass is green, and people smile,
Where the sun shines with all its might,
A lady sits there weeping for me.
Yes, said the prince, does she have brown eyes like you do too?
The girl said No, but She has wings.

Read the final part on She Had Wings – 3.

She Had Wings – 1

When she was born, her mother cried,
Tears of joy flowed like a stream,
Through the valleys that were carved,
On her face by a rod, when her husband
Had tied her to the bed and beaten her up.
Tears of sorrow, a sea swelled up,
That those were the only few moments she’d see her,
Her daughter did not belong to her,
Had lost it to custody, and she had known,
That to love was to be rich, and money had spoken.

She held her in her arms, looking at her eyes,
They were closed, the eyelashes had a tinge of brown,
And it reminded her of the days when he had said,
He would be with her for the rest of their lives,
And how those brown eyelashes were the sole reason,
He ran off with another princess,
While she the Cinderella stayed back, unaware.

The doctor came in, smiled at her and said,
You’ve been blessed with a fairy, he smiled,
And as he took the girl in her arms,
The mother noticed two small skinny things,
On her baby’s fair back.
She had wings.

Read the next part on She Had Wings – 2.

Tonight I’m Missing You

16th September, 2005
11 pm

Dad returned from his trip today. He brought sweets. A lot. Grandma just looks at them. Mom wants to give her one, but refrains from doing so. Grandma has diabetes. We all go to sleep.

17th September, 2005
7 am

I wake up. The maid’s cleaning the floor. The tube light is switched on in the front room. Bhalo (my favorite uncle who stays with us) is awake too. It is not quite usual for him to be awake so early. Grandma’s sitting. Her eyes bulge out. She says she has been feeling so since early morning. Mom scolds her for telling her so late. Grandma asks Mom to call up all her brothers. Mom does so. Dad goes out to call the doctor who lives in the next building. He opens the door, and after hearing what Dad has to say, he says he can’t help since he doesn’t have anything right now at home. Dad comes back. Grandma looks choked. My uncles arrive. They take her to the nearby hospital.

I sit back on my computer playing Dangerous Dave, not understanding quite much what just happened. Bhalo’s in the same room, watching television.

8 am

The phone rings. I am still at my computer, clearing level 6 of Dave. Bhalo picks up the call, talks, keeps the receiver down, comes back. “Dani” (the name by which I am called at home), he says. I turn around to look at him. He is quiet for a moment. Then he looks up at me and says, “Your grandma’s no more.” The words keep ringing in my ears over and over again. And again. And again. Just an hour ago I saw her and she smiled at me. “Oh”, the wryest answer possible, I couldn’t come up with anything else at the moment. I continue playing Dave for two minutes, after which I directly turn off the main switch of the computer without shutting it down.

29th September, 2005

My mom presents the same sweet in front of my Grandma’s photo.

…….

7th June, 2011

My summer holidays after my second semester in college. Results out and I call up Bhalo. He is joyous at my result. “What do you want?”, the same same question which he asks every year whenever I score a good result, or come first in something. “Anything,” the same same answer I have been saying since I was seven. “Okay, I will come to meet you. I am a bit busy today, will call you up day after tomorrow possibly”. Phone down.

20th June, 2011
5 pm

A phone call again. A cousin. Bhalo is very ill. My dad rushes to where he is staying. They take him to the hospital. The doctors admit him to the Intensive Care Unit.

8 pm

I learn that Bhalo had a heart attack.

21st June,2011
2 am

Second heart attack.

5 pm

I learn that Bhalo had a heart attack on Sunday itself. He regarded it lightly, thinking it was a mere chest pain due to gas.

9 pm

Bhalo is shifted to the Critical Care Unit.

22nd-23rd June 2011

My parents come regularly to visit Bhalo. I stay at a nearby uncle’s house, since I feel uncomfortable at the thought of going to the hospital. Bhalo’s condition weakens. They shift him to the ventilator.

24th June, 2011

I go to the hospital myself. Bhalo sees me, first looks strangely. I understand he can’t figure me out because of my long hair. I smile and say it’s me. He smiles. There are about five pipes fixed into his nose, mouth, chest… He opens his mouth and says something. No voice. I don’t understand. I try figuring it out, am unable. His face shows a sense of disappointment and he turns to the other side. I leave. I later figure out he just might have been saying “Ma”, asking whether or not my mother was around. She had taken care of him for the past seventeen years that I know of.

25th June, 2011

Someone from the hospital informs Bhalo’s condition is better than before. An air of happiness spreads through our house.

26th June, 2011
4:30 pm

A phone call comes. This time it is from a different cousin. Dad picks up the call, listens, says “I’m coming”, keeps the phone down, and drops down on the sofa. Bhalo’s no more.

Dad’s broken. He says he is not in a condition to drive. He can’t speak. He just sits. I call up some of my relatives, inform them. Then I call up my brother-in-law, ask him to pick us up and reach us to the hospital.

We reach the hospital. Dad hasn’t spoken much till now. He holds my hand as we move through the hospital to the end where the Critical Care Unit is located. 500 meters before the room, he stops. Suddenly he clutches my hand tighter than before. I look at him. He is looking at me with a sense of helplessness. The last straw. He breaks down on my shoulder, crying loudly. I am still quiet. I can’t cry. I have to support my father first.

27th June, 2011

Bhalo’s brought to the house where everyone’s got together. As he is put down on the floor, his sisters, nieces and grand-daughters cover him wailing loudly. I leave, and stand afar. I know I will break down the moment I see his face. I still gather courage and move up to him. I touch his face. It is rough with beard, and it is cold. There’s a droplet of water in his nose which moves in and out, and I feel for a second he is breathing. I leave.

……..

17th September, 2011

I have turned an insomniac. The moment I close my eyes, my grandmother comes in front of me, I remember the moment Bhalo says to me, “Dani, your grandma’s no more.” And then all of a sudden I realize Bhalo’s no more. The words “Okay, I will come to meet you” rings again and again. I don’t know what to do. I can’t call up my parents and share this, they will become sadder. I quietly bury it deep somewhere in my heart, so that even my mind doesn’t find it.

The Roof Beam

“That was the ultimate story for the night,” said my father, keeping his glass of tea on the wooden table in front of us. And then he burst out into laughter. Mr. Farmer looked annoyed, since in his past sixty years, this was the first time someone had told him that the things he spoke were all a joke. “Ghosts do not exist Mr. Farmer, and people do not die looking at a beam under the roof,” said he, bursting out into laughter again.

Indeed, the story the farmer told us was clearly made up, just like the ones we used to see on the television. Who would indeed believe that there was a ghost in the haunted house who killed people, and the people were found dead, each one’s eyes staring at the roof beam above. Mr. Farmer, annoyed now, said, “Fine, then why do you not go there yourself and check out whether it is true? I give you a chance, prove me wrong.” Silence followed, after which my father again burst out into laughter, which annoyed the farmer even more, and said, “Okay, tomorrow night I go and meet your ghost. Let me see what is so charming about the roof beam that everyone dies looking at it,” and winked at me. I smiled wryly, already too sleepy to indulge in this conversation. I was tired by the day’s journey, and here my father was over enthusiastic and wanted to wait for another day only to prove a fable wrong.

I stood up, went into the hut where we had taken shelter for the night, and started looking for a place to sleep. There was no bed, nothing to rest my head upon, so I just went near the fireplace and lay on the floor, it was warmer there, and the mosquitoes would not come troubling me, put my head upon my hands, curled myself, took an empty dirty sack for a sheet, and went off to sleep. The noise of the heavy rain on the tinned shed behind kept me half awake. There was no light in the room, no fan, only a hand-fan which the farmer was using for himself. I stopped thinking about the ghost, or whatever it was the farmer was saying, and concentrated on sleeping.

The next night, I was not so over enthusiastic. In fact I was a bit afraid of the farmer’s story turning out to be true, but when I told my father what I felt, he gazed at me with his mouth open and gave a wtf expression that made me quiet again. We had dinner quietly, although father tried to crack a few jokes at the farmer’s expense. Post-dinner, we walked up to the haunted house that we were told about the previous day.

The house indeed looked like a haunted one. The dark sky, no light around except the full moon on the sky which made a shadow of the house overlap with the trees surrounding it, and silence all around. It had two big windows, and the door was made of wood but was broken from the bottom. A bird had made its nest in the house too. It started making me nervous too, and I wanted to stop my father, but then I realized how foolishly I was behaving. I bid bye to my father, and we had a hearty laugh about father being the ghost’s dinner for the night. Then we came back to the farmer’s hut.

I could not sleep that night, partly because of the monotonous sound of the rain on the tinned shed, and partly thinking of what was happening at the haunted house. I was somehow desperately waiting for morning to arrive, and I do not know why, but it seemed as if the night would not end. The farmer snored in the other room whilst I played with myself, and kept looking at my mobile now and then, checking whether it was time enough for me to get out and rush to the house and check the circumstances there.

The first chirp of the bird made me stand up on my feet. It was a twenty-minute walk from this hut to the haunted house, and even as I said the word “haunted house” in my mind, it made me smile wryly as to how villagers term every small thing so huge. I was almost near the house when I saw my father come out of a side-lane that led to the house. I was overjoyed to see him. I went up to him.

“So, how was your experience last night?” I asked.

My father again burst out into laughter. He threw the twig with which he was cleaning his teeth and said, “See, I told you. The farmers say anything that comes into their mind. Everything is a lie.”

I laughed and said, “And what about the roof-beam? What was so attractive about it that all people looked at it and died?” winking at him.

He suddenly became serious. “No, there is something about that beam.”

“What?”

“I do not know. I cannot explain. But there is something about that beam. You need to see it and then may be you would feel alike.”

“Okay, then into the house I go and get infatuated about the beam,” I said, and we both burst out into laughter.

I rushed into the room, and it was then that my heart pumped faster than ever before. There was my father, lying on the bed, his eyes gazing the beam, his eyes not blinking anymore, his heart, no more beating. He was dead. I rushed out to find the man to whom I talked, but there was no one outside. But I just talked to him outside. Then who was he…?