Archive for the ‘India’ Category


Tree of love

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She was six, when she first came to a sleepy neighborhood in a small town in Mysore. And it didn’t take her much time to liven up the town. It wasn’t particularly her wish to change anything- but it was due to the playfulness she seemed to awaken in the people around her. Nobody had taken more than five seconds to say, “So Cute!” to her and pinch her large white cheeks.

Though she had to perennially endure burning red cheeks throughout her childhood, the cuteness had its perks. People would bring her chocolates, cookies, cakes, pastries and all the exotic sweets- as if she was their own daughter. She always seemed to bring out the “Let’s Party!” emotion in the adults around her and almost always parties ensued. She would sing, she would dance, and she would clap, and jump, and fall- all, as requested by the many laughing care-free adults around her. She seemed to absorb this carefree attitude- or was it her own, to begin with? Whatever the case was, it didn’t really matter- at least not when she was six. Soon she’d do more than just sing and dance and laugh and clap and jump and fall- she’d start delivering love letters.

Her name was Sharmila and she was the town’s love messenger. A kid of the conservative 90s, she was part of a town where most boys found it tough to talk with the girls they liked. Asking out for a date was a concept straight out of a sci-fi movie for them.

But boys will be boys. They prayed, requested for knowledge transfer from their helpless seniors and tried imaginary love-potions; they did many brain-storming meetings in the last benches during the class- and found the answer to their prayers- Sharmila. After all, isn’t there a saying- Use poison to break poison? Only a girl could break a girl! Sharmila was cute- and if she ever delivered a love letter to you, even if you were a girl, the least you were supposed to do was to read the letter and give a reply, preferably in another letter. Of course, writing your reply using the scented pen and the pink paper was optional- naturally, both the scented pen and blank Pink paper come with the love letter being delivered to you. And giving a blank pink paper with a scented pen to a girl in those days can be compared to giving a mobile phone with unlimited talk-time to any such girl today. And thus, the combination of love letter, plus a blank pink paper, plus a scented pen, plus the charm of Sharmila always ensured a reply.

Sharmila enjoyed all the attention she got from the boys wanting her to deliver their love-letters. Her services were the best in town- and she guaranteed a reply from the girl. And she did all this, for free. Though the boys did give her sweets and ice creams and all other sorts of bribes they could afford, it was also true, that people gave her far better sweets just for clapping and singing. In that sense she was the richest kid in town- she could play with any toy and get any sweet- and she didn’t have to cry for them like most other kids. She was the darling of the town and she was never, what some boys notoriously call, high-maintenance.

By the time she retired from her first job of delivering love letters at the age of 11, she had delivered 399 love letters- and got 399 replies and started a new field in Modern fortune-telling called Papistry. In that town in Mysore, she’s called the Prophet of Papistry who brought 230 positive replies from the Almighty Girls. Her success was probably better than the town’s marriage bureau.

Though Sharmila cannot be credited with the opening up of this new stream in Fortune-telling- she was no doubt, the cause of this Papistry. The term Papistry was coined by her first customer- Sriram. He said, “Just like the random lines on your palm, written by Destiny, can tell your future- in the same way, the pink paper brought by Sharmila, is written by your Destiny. And this pink letter contains glimpses from your future- and I call the Science of reading such Pink Papers as Papistry!”

When Sharmila first heard this from Sriram she said, “It makes sense. But why does it sound so tasty?”

“Ah, it rhymes with Pastry!” said Sriram.

“I see…”

And thus began the legend of Papistry in a sleepy town in Mysore.

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It was an unusually chilly September night. Unrelenting rains had made weather a nightmare. Another unfair unnecessary struggle the poor had to endure. The poor suffer, not because they are the victims of fate. The poor suffer, not because nobody helped them- it’s because they just don’t know how to help themselves. Take for instance, me. I am poor. But I know how to help myself. I was going to start my own business. I was going to be a big businessman. The next Dheerubhai Ambani. The next Bill Gates.

I was going to start a small fast food business on the footpath next to the entrance of a prestigious man’s home. The man was a wildly sought after Math private tutor and he was fat. Huge. Giant Meatball. The Fat tutor taught Math in four different locations in a single day- and as a result, he was generally late for his classes- which meant that the kids had time to kill. Studying would’ve been a good way to kill time. Eating junk food was better- and I would be there, a mere five steps away from them, selling all their favorite poisons.

All the preparations had been made. My dream was slowly coming true- my family would finally give the respect I deserve; the whole city will recognize me. And not look down on me like I’m a thief.

I had promised the fat tutor his favorite snack and a few big currency Notes, every day and he, in turn, agreed to come late, regularly. I had got the push cart- most of the cooking vessels, bought ingredients for three days with all my saved money, with my wife’s blessings. All that remained was an approval from the local cop. He realized the brilliant money-making potential in my scheme- and needed a little moolah, to assure me that it would be me who’d be running the business near the fat tutor’s house and not some other guy who would be willing to pay the cop more money.

The only problem was that I did not have money for the cop.

Neither my employer- the local landlord nor my dad who worked for the landlord helped me. They had plenty of cash to spare- just that they didn’t have any cash to spare for me. No surprises there. I had always found a way to feed my mouth- this time I had to find a way to fuel my dreams. With Lord Ganesha’s help, I could do anything.

Not that I knew Lord Ganesha personally- I just knew where He stacked His cash- in a donation box near the Narrow Street. Every year the local kids would establish an idol of Lord Ganesha during September for a few days, conduct prayers, sacred rituals like Homas, organize entertainment for the God and the believers, and later collect money from the believers, as donation, like a sort of reimbursement for all the expenses incurred for conducting the Lord Ganesha festival.

And I knew where this donation box was hidden at this late hour in the night- the cop would be plenty pleased with me and my donation for him.

The boys usually make a temporary abode, from coconut branches & wooden poles, for the Lord Ganesha on the Narrow Street and sleep in this abode every night, till the festival I over. This they do to guard the abode from miscreants, vandals, dogs and thieves like me. But I knew these boys personally. And they were as lazy as anybody of this new generation.

I lighted my beedi (a cheap Indian Cigarette) as I walked towards the Narrow Street. The chilly wind made the beedi to burn erratically- like all my previous dreams. Not this one, I promised myself. I am not going to be who I am for long- tonight will be my last loot.

Except for a cricket from an unknown location, there was no sound. The chilly wind made no noise. My heart never raced anymore as it used to during my first robbery job. I was calm. Composed. I noticed the sleep movements of the boys from the distance. They were in deep sleep- probably tired after all the ghost stories they tell each other, during such camping occasions. I took cat-like steps towards the entrance of the abode. It was dark, so I had to be extra careful in my steps. Behind the Lord’s idol, on a chair, was hidden the donation box.

I wrapped my hands around the donation box like it was my long lost child and slowly walked away from the abode. Thank You, Ganesha! With every step taking me farther from the Lord, I felt happier. One more step. One more step. One more! Almost! Almost!

“YOU!!!” I heard a kid’s loud voice. It was a familiar voice. I was busted.

I turned around. And found the landlord’s twelve year old son. He had recognized me.

“That’s Ganesha’s money!” he said, “To buy him sweets and fruits!”

“Look son,” I said, “Everybody is feeding Ganesha nowadays, so don’t worry. He won’t go hungry. But do you know who’ll go hungry if I don’t take this box? My pregnant wife…”

“But my dad pays you… and your father. Your mother and your wife they also earn by making Beedis!”

“My father gambles a lot & he never wins- and he has a huge debt… Whatever money comes, it goes…”

“Why don’t you work somewhere else, where you’ll earn more then?”

“I’m an illiterate- like my parents and wife. They ask for a 10th Pass certificate, whereas I can’t even sign my name!”

“But that doesn’t mean you have to steal! That too from Ganesha! That’s not fair!” he said.

“Fair? Fair! Nothing in this world is fair! When you and your older siblings were kids, you had a toy room bigger than my house! See these scars? My father used to beat me up just for looking at you kids playing! For just watching you play and I was getting beaten up! I wanted to play too, instead of cleaning up after your cows and sheep and dogs! So one day, I took your brother’s bicycle… Took it far away from here and played with it for a while and I returned it- and nobody knew better. And I didn’t even get beaten up… This is what I am doing with this donation box… I am taking it for now… Nobody needs this straight away… And I’ll return it back soon…”

“Ganesha will need it….”

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I was hungry, as usual. But I had to meet this man from my past. He was the most sought after man in our village in that past- it was no mystery. He was the village’s only money lender Mr. Rokadpathi, after all.

He was sitting happily in his shop at this hour of the night in a seemingly deserted village. He had become insanely huge and looked very sleepy. He looked like a beggar in those ragged clothes, but he probably was a Crorepathi- an astronomically stingy Millionaire.

“Raam Raam Rokadjee” I greeted him entering his shop.

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I rang the bell. There was no familiar sound of the excited Payal of her that I love so much- the happy song of welcome that I receive when I arrive home after a long hard day at work.

Maybe she’s busy praying. I waited for a few more minutes before knocking again.

Still there was no answer. I was getting worried. She never was late in answering the door for me- she used to say that this was the best part of the day for her- opening the door for me in the evening. That’s why I don’t take the key to the home when I go to office, so that she has to open the door for me…

I heard some noise inside and a little while later the door opened. It was my beloved brother-in-law- I used to lovingly call him Popat.

“Popat! What a pleasant surprise!” I said and proceeded to hug him.

“I’m sorry… but I have… killed her… and I will… have to… kill you too…” he said with moist eyes and a bent head.

What! She’s dead! Dead! This must be a joke! Popat? And he killed her? Never! He loved her so much! In fact he had saved us so many times from those honour-freaks from the village! He gave us heads up hours before they could reach us and we’d run away-to find a new home in a new city.

He’s the only person we trusted from our past- the only person we loved from our village. Popat- and he killed her?! There was no way this happened…

I ran past him- inside the prayer room and found her. Her body lay motionless in a pool of her red warm blood… In the room of God, she was embracing tightly a picture of mine- and that happy picture of mine was covered in her blood and somehow I was still smiling in that picture- it was ironical. It was too painful. My heart hurt- it was getting heavy and soon I could feel the poisonous pain being pumped throughout my body and I… and I didn’t know what to do- the pain was too much…

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