My short story, published in Kitaab.
Karthi was in love.
Whether it was right for him to be in love, being only eight years old, was a different matter.
He thought Mari was the most beautiful thing he had ever set his eyes on. And though he was trying hard to do his maths homework (the terrifying prospect of facing Varadarajan sir with a blank notebook urged him on), he just couldn’t. He had been sitting in the corner of appa’s room with his back against the wall, his books spread out around him, chewing the end of his pencil and trying to focus on the problem at hand.
‘Joseph had three dozen roses. He gave half of them to Alice. How many roses did each of them have?’
Oh, lucky boy Joseph! He had three dozen roses to give away to whoever he liked. Whereas he, Karthi, could not find a way to get hold…
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And floated away into cerulean skies.
I ran after the dark flecks,
like a child chasing a runaway kite.
Until I remembered what she’d said—
that I was iron. I must fight.
I found a magnet with a burning core.
And my pieces came floating back.
Slowly, buffeted by the wind.
And settled with sorrowful sighs
somewhere around my middle.
But some were lost forever.
Caught on the underside of leaves.
And in the gnarled barks of trees.
On the fleecy backs of grazing goats,
And washed away in creeks.
The surprise is I do not feel maimed.
I’m at peace with my unwholeness.
When I miss me, I walk out into the fields.
And turn my face upwards,
Or crouch down on my knees.
The part of me that’s free
Swoops down joyfully.
And the part of me trapped inside
Flaps about listlessly.
I look at my dog sleeping
Sideways on the couch.
His golden belly gently rising.
His paws stretched, sticking out over the side.
His tail tucked under his legs,
His little ears folded back.
He whimpers, his paws tremble.
Puppy dreams, I think fondly,
Though he turned three many months ago.
I sit and watch him.
My laptop slack, forgotten.
And suddenly, I can smell bread baking.
A rich, warm, glorious smell
That wafts through the house.
Who’s baking on a Monday afternoon, I wonder.
I open the door and check outside,
but the other flats lie silent.
The corridor is cold and silent
And smells of cheap phenyl.
It is in my house, the smell of bread.
It cannot be otherwise.
Heady, rich, impossible to ignore.
My heart is filled with it.
I move from room to room, my dog at my heels.
I sniff the air, my head raised.
He cocks his head. He is puzzled.
What is the human looking for?
My windows are latched shut.
The balcony closed.
It is a cold, gloomy day with a nip in the air.
Defeated, I return to my seat.
My dog totters after and curls up at my feet.
A few minutes later, the clouds shift.
A stray sunbeam comes in.
His brown fur blazes golden.
And I sit, transfixed.
He yawns, his tongue lolls pink.
He scratches an ear. He licks a paw.
And turns melting brown eyes to me.
“Yes, human?” they seem to ask,
“Do you smell the mysterious smell again?”
I bend forward and bury my face in his back.
And it is there again.
That thick, golden, wholesome scent
Choking my heart.
Stinging my eyes.
Almost too rich to bear.
“I don’t want to be tired alone,
I want you to grow tired along with me.”
I stumbled upon Neruda’s poem ‘A certain weariness’ and caught my breath when I read these opening lines. I read the poem over and over and wanted desperately to do something. Write. Awaken my sleeping husband and read it to him. Run out onto the road and stop people, shake the poem in their faces and ask, “Have you read this? Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it the truth we’ve known all along?”
Instead, I did this. Attempted to translate the words and their meanings into Malayalam, my other tongue. Even in my amateur hands, they sound just as beautiful.
I spotted this dog while having lunch at a restaurant today. He was sleeping on a red doormat right outside the main entrance of the restaurant.
Every time someone wanted to come in, they had to step over or around him. There were people who were scared of him and who would hesitate, shuffling around for a bit before hunger and common sense took over, and they scurried past him. Each time, the heavy glass door would be pulled open and it would squeak shut behind them.
All in all, it wasn’t a great spot to catch a nap.
Ten minutes later, I looked up and noticed that he had moved to the side, behind a standee. Now he was sleeping on the cold cement floor. Obviously less comfortable than the red doormat. But he was finally fast asleep. Completely at peace, oblivious to the world around him.
And it suddenly struck me how similar the two of us were.
Until four months ago, I had a full-time job with a regular paycheck and an impressive designation. I had a schedule and a holiday list and the comfort of knowing what tomorrow would bring. The doormat I was lying on was indeed soft. But there were disturbances all around: I was chasing other people’s goals. I was jogging on a treadmill that someone else controlled. My time simply wasn’t my own.
So, like this wise little chap, I decided to step aside.
I gave up the spot upfront on the red doormat and found myself a quiet corner behind a standee. The floor is indeed cold, but I am sleeping a lot better.
ടി പി കിഷോർ എന്ന വ്യക്തി യഥാർത്ഥത്തിൽ ആരാണെന്നു എനിക്കറിയില്ല. എനിക്ക് അദ്ദേഹം അച്ഛൻ മാത്രമാണ്. ഒരു മൂടൽമഞ്ഞിലൂടെ ഞാൻ കാണുന്ന, വർഷങ്ങളായി തേടുന്ന, രൂപം.
ഓരോ വർഷവും ഈ ദിവസത്തിൽ അച്ഛനെ ഓർത്തു പല കൂട്ടുകാരും എഴുതും. എനിക്കറിയാത്ത അച്ഛന്റെ മുഖങ്ങൾ ഏറെയാണ് എന്ന് ഈ കുറിപ്പുകൾ എന്നെ ഓർമ്മിപ്പിക്കുന്നു.
അച്ഛൻ ഒരു പ്രതിഭയായിരുന്നോ? അതോ ഒന്നും നേടാനാവാതെ പിൻവാങ്ങിയ ഒരു പാവം മനുഷ്യനോ? ഒന്നും നേടിയില്ലെങ്കിലും ഇരുപതു വർഷങ്ങൾ കഴിഞ്ഞും പലരും അദ്ദേഹത്തെ ഓർക്കുന്നു, വാത്സല്യത്തോടെ, വിങ്ങലോടെ. അപ്പോൾ അദ്ദേഹം എന്തോക്കെയോ നേടിയിരുന്നില്ലേ?
വേണമെങ്കിൽ ഭൂതകാലത്തിലേക്ക് ഒരു യാത്ര തുടങ്ങാം. അച്ഛന്റെ കഥകൾ എടുത്തു വായിക്കാം. അച്ഛനെ അറിഞ്ഞിരുന്ന പലരോടും സംസാരിക്കാം.
ഇപ്പോൾ മനസ്സിലുള്ള അച്ഛന് ഞാൻ കൊടുത്ത മുഖമാണ്. അത് തച്ചുടക്കാൻ ധൈര്യമില്ല. ടി പി കിഷോർ എന്ന മനുഷ്യൻ ഇന്ന് എനിക്കൊരു അപരിചിതനാണ്. അയാളെ എനിക്കിപ്പോൾ പരിചയപ്പെടേണ്ട.
പണ്ട് വളപ്പൊട്ടുകളും കണ്ണാടിച്ചില്ലുകളും കൊണ്ട് kaleidoscope ഉണ്ടാക്കിയത് പോലെ എനിക്കിഷ്ടമുള്ള ഓർമ്മശകലങ്ങൾ കൊണ്ട് അച്ഛനെ കുറിച്ച് നെയ്ത കഥകളുടെ ലോകത്തു ജീവിക്കാനാണ് എനിക്കിഷ്ടം.