Voice of the lambs

 I wrote this short story for the Times of India ‘Writeindia’ contest. The following was Chetan Bhagat’s prompt – it could be used anywhere in the story, imaginatively. There were a few rules to be followed, though!

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf….     

                                

“I don’t like the taste of milk and it’s for the cow’s baby, so my tummy says ‘no’. I will not have it.” This was Tarini at 5.

Her mother had to invariably listen to her and over the years she knew that this girl was different from her elder sister and she has to just let her be. She was fiercely independent, requiring no help from anyone with things which kids of her age were still struggling with. In school she did fairly well, not in the ‘first five’ in her class, but bright in her own ways. Her questions to her teachers were different and not always answered to her satisfaction. She did not mind that because it happened with her all the time.
Today Tarini is an adult with a mind of her own. She’s a girl with dreams and vision but that rebel streak is still very much alive. She loves travelling, travelling alone. For a fiercely independent person like her she always found this the best option. A veterinary science final year student, Tarini is an ardent animal lover. Her choice of profession was her own and though people advised her of more lucrative alternatives, she could visualize her future only here. Tarini kept pursuing her dream in all seriousness hoping to provide solace to all the animals who couldn’t speak but ‘talked’ to her (she was a Dr. Dolittle of sorts!). Her feelings for animals were very strong and genuine and for the betterment of their lot she kept roping in more and more like minded people; be it in her college by starting the ‘Society for the four legged’ or through posts on her blog ‘Be the voice’. She regularly met people in coffee shops on weekends to brain storm on issues that came up from time to time. It was a wonderful way of bringing a solution to any problem (coffee just made it easier!). The active participation of the members of the Society created by her and responses to her blog entries gave her the confidence that change is possible.

It was the last day of her course and most of the students were planning a trip to some ‘happening’ place or the other to spend time on the last weekend before going back home. After some deliberation, Tarini decided to go to a nearby hill station which was at a four hour bus journey away. She just had to arrange her back pack and set off – no need for booking tickets, making lodging arrangements and things like those. She was sure that in the hilly town she would be able to find a place to stay – and she just needed it for the night as she had plans for trekking the entire day. A charged up Tarini couldn’t even sleep properly and was up and about much before dawn, all set for her trip.

She came out of her hostel as soon as the sun rose and decided to walk the 2 km till the bus stand. Walking alone always gave her that adrenaline rush and before she realized she found herself at the bus stand. Since it was very early in the morning there weren’t many souls around. After a few enquiries at the ticket counter she was guided to a bus which was ready to leave in the next 10 minutes and was told that she would be given the ticket in the bus only. After having a good look around Tarini settled in the window seat of the second row. The bus surprisingly started on dot, and her journey began.

The view outside was a photographer’s delight and Tarini was busy clicking pictures almost continuously. She realized after sometime that a young boy of about 15 years had occupied a seat next to her. She began chatting with him and found out that he was a native of the same hill station she was going to. Amongst other things, he told her about an ancient temple and an annual fair coming up there. “Wow! perfect time for my trip”, she thought. Her head resting on the window, the cool breeze put her to sleep. She woke up only when the boy tapped her on the shoulder to say “bye”. Waving him goodbye, Tarini alighted from the bus, stretching and looking around. She thought of first fixing up a place for her to stay at night and planned to explore the hill station later. After a few chit chats at a small eatery, she was guided to a lodge owned by a widow. The room was small but neat and clean – so typical of a hill cottage. This lady had a motherly persona and young and old alike called her ‘aunty’. Aunty loved her hometown so much that nothing and no one could take her away – not even her two children who failed in their attempts to lure her to the cities where they worked. She was self sufficient by whatever she managed to earn from renting out the rooms of this cottage that she and her husband had most lovingly built for the two of them to grow old in. Tarini immediately felt comfortable with the hot masala tea offered by aunty as a ‘welcome drink’ (she would have preferred coffee, though!). It had a rejuvenating, almost magical power and Tarini was energised in no time.

Thanking aunty for the wonder potion, she set off on her trail. The place was much more than she had expected in terms of unadulterated nature spread across the acres. The local people along the way were her ‘GPRS’ and a fairly steep trek of about two hours led her to this temple which her co passenger in the bus spoke of. The path leading to the temple was decorated with hand-made triangular paper buntings. Her camera was overworking again as she didn’t want to miss anything. There were quite a few people on the way, though not a major rush that needed the control of ‘security men’ as is visible in most of the temples of the urban areas (there were a few volunteers, though). The temple was a beautiful stone structure with intricate carving that was reasonably dull due to moss overgrowth. One thing that struck Tarini in this luscious surrounding was herds and herds of mountain goats and lambs. “A perfect abode for the Gods” was the first thought that crossed her mind. She stroked and ‘spoke’ to many of these creatures, but noticed a fear in their eyes. “What could be the reason for this fear?”, she wondered. It was nearly evening and time to call it a day. The main puja in the temple was the next day and she didn’t want to miss it. Tarini was a little uncomfortable while returning as those fearful eyes of the lambs kept haunting her.

On reaching her room, she tossed her shoes and collapsed on the bed.

Waking up fresh, Tarini readied for the visit to the temple. She wore a bright yellow outfit with a blue silk scarf to go with it.  Today there were more people going up the cliff. Men, women and children dressed in colourful attire with their puja thalis were walking in groups with a lot of enthusiasm. It was a local holiday as well, so a festive mood was evident.

The temple bells could be heard from a good one kilometre away and the hypnotic tinkle increased everybody’s excitement and steps automatically became faster. Today she took less time than yesterday. The temple was decorated with flowers and it was a perfect celebratory setting. But the lambs frolicking around were nowhere to be seen.

 The puja began with loud chanting of the mantras but Tarini wasn’t there completely – there was something in the air that was disturbing her. As soon as the puja was over, the crowd started moving to the rear of the main temple area. Tarini followed them, as if in a spell. She will never ever forget the scene that was before her eyes – all the lambs were lined up, tied with barely a 12” rope to a stump. They all had a flower garland around their necks and tilak on their foreheads. Sacrificial lambs – yes, that immediately explained those fear filled eyes she saw the day before.

Tarini knew at the spur of the moment that she had to stop this – she was their voice. She cannot be a mute spectator to the ritual. No religion, no God beckons a sacrifice of its innocent creatures to please Him. She feared that she might be the only one there with this thought, but was confident of stopping what was not right. Tarini was an intelligent girl who was aware of her inner strength. As soon as the announcement of the sacrifice was made over the public address system, Tarini ran in that direction, and snatched the mike from the person making the announcements, asking everybody to stop and listen to her. The crowd was in silence, stunned by this unexpected turn of events. She reasoned with everyone present, refuting whatever they had to say with her logical approach. She told them about the laws, animal rights and that how she was an aspiring veterinarian whose job would be to help and protect animals in pain and trouble. The people were silent, but the temple authorities were not ready to listen as they felt that by not following this ritual their village will have to face the curse. She promised to adopt their village, pressurise the government to improve its condition with schools, healthcare and sanitation only if they stop this cruelty forever, right there – today. She grabbed the knife lying nearby meant for the sacrifice and made a gash on her finger to prove to them that she meant what she said. The crowd was spell bound – by love, passion and commitment of this young girl. Her grit was enough to earn their faith and support. Slowly she moved from there and opened the rope with which the lambs were tied. They ran helter skelter……braying and jumping, searching for their parents. Their eyes were bright and shining now and the air was filled with countless ‘thank yous’ from the lambs and their parents which Tarini could clearly hear. Her eyes were moist and heart overflowing.

Tarini took the blood stained knife, covered it with her blue scarf, put it in her bag and started walking away. She had to catch the first available bus back, connect with people on social media, approach the government for a ban on animal sacrifice and  give this village all that she had promised, not the villagers but herself.

Her return journey was her planning session. She sent messages to members of ‘Society for the four legged”, fixing up a meeting at the Starbucks. Tarini also penned her latest entry “Voice of the lambs” about her recent experience on her blog. She expected a lot many suggestions for further action from the rest of the members at the next meeting. By the end of her journey, her purpose lay crystal clear before her – she knew whom to meet and how to move ahead.

 The next day, waiting for the members of the group to arrive, she sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf…. She clicked it, made it the cover picture of her Facebook page, wallpaper of her phone and background of her blog – it was to be her propeller henceforth.

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Living in the heart

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A very private person once lived here,

In a house that he built for family and friends.

Who thought so dearly for everyone around,

Didn’t realize that he had very few years.

Or maybe he did…..somewhere deep down.

He had to pack so much in those fifty,

That made him do things for others with sincerity.

His time was limited but his vision was not,

He was sent here with wisdom to impart.

He performed his duties and did depart,

But that private person still lives….

Not in the house but in the heart.

Chuk chuk chuk – the indelible memories

The other day in the lift I heard two 10 year olds discussing the coming long weekend plans for a holiday to a resort. They seemed excited at the thought of a break, like any other  children of their age. The lift stopped and the two of them ran out. As I continued with my evening walk I started thinking about the vacations in my childhood and  began wondering what today’s kids are missing and immediately ‘chuk ckuk chuk’ crossed my mind – yes the train!

Train journeys are becoming redundant fast, at least in the upper middle class of the society. Oh the pleasures of booking tickets months in advance, packing huge trunks, holdalls (they were giant bed sized sturdy cloth bags where the bedding was rolled up for travel) etc, the fragrance of home cooked goodies being prepared days in advance for the long journey. All these are things of a bygone era and very alien for the kid of today, who leaves the house for a journey two hours before the flight and reaches the destination in another two! The meals/drinks enroute are taken care of by the airlines with an array of branded/packaged delicacies.

A train journey was an experience – a bonding exercise, not only with the fellow travellers but also the towns, villages and states that chugged past the train. The weighing machine at the entrance (which gave you a ticket with your weight when you stood on the dancing disco lights studded gadget – your fortune at the back of it was a bonus!) of the station was the first tryst with fun. As you entered the station a bookstall was ready to entice one and all – there was something to interest the varied age group that was travelling.

The boarding was done with the assistance of a very helpful soul – the coolie, who carried the heavier bags in his bright red attire while smaller ones were handed over to each member. Once the coach and seats were sorted everyone chose the best possible options for themselves (there were invariably a few friendly neighbourhood exchange of seats that happened!) . As the journey began, the train halts at stations presented the culture in the form of delicacies like samosas, laddoos, kachoris, oranges, mangoes and whatever that particular place could boast of, every bit of experience was everlasting. I still have the taste of all of them on my taste buds. People ate to their heart’s content without any fear of the kind of oil/water used in its preparation. There was so much to learn from what was prepared in which part of the country and why. Chai was served in earthen pots – kulhars and food on leaf plates. Can anyone question the sanitary and bio degradable qualities of these indigenously made cups and plates? Another aspect of this journey on the train was to collect trinkets being sold on the stations – at the end of the journey there was a bagful of wooden and leather toys, paper crafts, bead jewellery, hand embroidered wallets and countless others depending on which part of the country one was travelling to and from. This cultural pot-pourri was an inexpensive and enjoyable experience to treasure and I’m sure people from that era may still be holding on to some items bought years and years ago (I’m sorry to say but the fancy outlets at airports today are no match to those artisan centred locally crafted trinkets!)

The co passengers in these train journeys were another highlight that remained close to the heart long after the journey ended. For the 24, 36 or 48 hour journey the fellow travellers became family. They shared your food, jokes, games and even pains, if any. People knew that the journey would end after some hours but those hours became a lifetime and were lived to the fullest. On a few occasions addresses were exchanged as well and letters/cards sent/received later on. There was no security risk in disclosing these details (today we teach children not to tell personal details to anyone during travel or share their food).

One of the things my father told us as children on a train journey was to ‘talk to nature’. That was the most meditative experience – just staring out of the window seeing the trees, huts and streams run past. The  colour of the soil, the flora and fauna, the hills and crops in the fields changed after a couple of hundred kilometres and all of it was fascinating. The children were getting lessons in Geography without a text book!

As night settled in everyone would open the berths and make a comfortable bed for each member. Younger ones had to share the berth sometimes, but that was fun too! All had their bunch of comics, magazines and books to last till sleep took them over. Once their own stock was done with, the neighbours were more than eager to exchange. The lending/borrowing continued till the end of the journey.

People kept leaving as and when their destinations arrived. Goodbyes and handshakes cemented the bonds that were made during the journey. The experience stayed, making the kids richer. In the fast paced lives of today we are unknowingly depriving a generation of a taste of life.

How I wish I could ask the two boys in the lift if they had travelled long distance in a train and if not ask their parents to do so.

This post is written for the #BachpanWithFlinto blogger contest on Women’s Web

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Peace from broken pieces by Iyanla Vanzant – a review

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Peace from broken pieces by Iyanla Vanzant is a book which is categorised as ‘non fiction’ but has almost all the ingredients of a fiction. This is actually true of life as well. If any one us looks back on the years that have gone by, we will be amazed at what a story life has woven for us. All of us are capable of weathering rough weather and what we are today is a result of that. This book presents the result of the ‘fight against all odds’ by the protagonist.

The book is written in the first person and from the opening lines it has the power of making the reader a part of the story line. One is able to connect immediately, and lives life with the protagonist feeling the pain and then the delights of a fight back by her.

The book is of a long struggle but reaffirms the hope and faith in the ability of a woman to be there – strong and hopeful – to never ever give up. Relationships form an integral part of the storyline and however complex they seem as the story progresses, they give the readers a reason to understand the real her and appreciate the fight – in fact, they want her to come out a winner.

Peace from broken pieces is about hope, about self realisation in spite of the sad, depressing and difficult phases of life. The importance of deriving peace no matter what by a woman who is very strong just being there, and being her is what the book conveys…and conveys very positively.

Holding hands

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Two to a tango, two to a cheer,

That’s what life has been for both of you so dear.

Life brought you to each other from places unknown,

To shower you with blessings unbound.

You are sure of facing what life will unfold,

When the partner’s hand is close by to hold.

Because it’s not only the hand that you hold,

It’s the faith, the love and the trust that is held close.

That you are there for each other come what may,

And there’s nothing in the world that cannot be controlled.

The year moved like a smooth dance,

As the music of life matched every stance.

May you continue to enjoy travelling the path,

Holding hands when there is light and more tightly in the dark.

Forever

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It’s been ten years……ten long years,

Missed you each moment…..but felt you all along,

In the pleasures…..and the pains,

In summers, winters and the rains.

You have been by my side when I smile…..

And then too when my eye wells with the tear I try to hide….

You taught me to be strong…..to always brave the storm,

And I know where the strength comes from…..

It is from the memories ….. memories that are pillars,

Memories that are precious…… memories that are forever.

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That thing we do

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We all keep doing things…..some are meant to be done, some we love doing, and yet some we do on an impulse. All three have their own implications. For the first category, we can’t do much about, because whether we like it or not we have to do them. I feel that we should do the second thing as religiously as the first one because whether we realize it or not it is essential for us. Actually this is for the soul….very personal, may be a little selfish too (because we do it for ourselves….) but this is, if not more, equally essential for our survival…..our growth…..our sanity. It may be as mundane as cleaning and scrubbing the house to cooking and baking to as specialized as painting or dancing. Each one of us gets a comfort, a leveller in a myriad of activities and we have to keep doing them for our own selves. It is while performing them that we may find solutions  to many problems, get new ideas and perspectives and above all they are our ‘stress busters’ as they say.

Now, it’s the third one that has a position of its own – the activities that we do on impulse. There is seldom a reason behind them. We just do them. But they can be life turners….. I cannot say that they are always correct or always incorrect (that is precisely why they are done on an impulse!) but they sure teach us a life lesson.

I would like to share one such thing that I did and which is from the third category. It happened decades back when I had just learnt driving. Me and my daughter got a little adventurous and headed for a long drive in the evening. It was during winters, when evenings turn to darkness early. It so happened that there was a traffic jam on the main road due to a VIPs visit and I impulsively decided to take an unknown route to our destination. It was a semi constructed narrow road which was just enough for a one way traffic (all these were later realizations – what would have happened if another car came from the opposite direction?). It grew dark as we moved ahead, and it was nearly double the time/distance we had otherwise taken/covered through the normal route, and the familiar surroundings were yet to appear. For someone who had just learnt to drive, it was turning out to be quite a challenge. Then, after, a long drive (precisely for which we had set out for, but which was by now turning out to be a tad bit uncomfortable), I sensed familiarity and assured myself of the credibility of the route. The implusive decision, besides perfecting my driving skills, taught me something more, which sometimes, clearly thought through decisions are not capable of – having confidence to brave the odds (taking risks is not always the correct answer, but keeping the faith is – faith in yourself! )

So, the jumpstart to do the third category of the thing we do comes from within….. in the spur of the moment. If we think too much about it, it won’t fit into the category, anyway J