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THE DREAM CATCHER

“I am the deep blue river, bubbling and burbling, through the forest. I descended from the heavens, the liquid soul of the earth. I glitter like thousand diamonds, the sun shines on me glowing like gold I nurture and provide.”

Six-year-old Narayan, named after the Lord himself was river Ganga. He moved around with his grandmother’s blue saree. Extreme poverty and forced Narayan’s parents to move to Shimla for better opportunities. Narayan was left in the care of his grandmother at the native village of Dharampur. Short for his age and gruffy, with wild curly hair, Narayan had a vivid imagination. He lived the stories his grandmother told him. He was moving around imagining that he is river Ganga. Each story he heard set in him, a powerful emotional connect to a particular character or event. Ganga fascinated him and he would be Ganga, the purest river.

Soon he had to start school. Narayan went reluctantly, but he did like the stories being told by teachers. He would come home and relate these to his grandmother. He was no ordinary story teller. He would enact as he told his stories. His movements were fluid, his expressions flawless and he would become one with the character he liked. He began to live that character, the character was alive and ticking for him. As years passed, he was intrigued by the stories he read during his Hindi and English classes. He would pick up characters following their life, their emotions. He managed to dress like most. In school is teachers triec to get him to study which he did not. He went there to listen to stories.

He soon became an oddity in the village. Everyone looked at him with suspicion. Whenever his parents came home people would suggest taking him to a doctor, thinking he had some mental illness. Some suggested witch doctors, some suggested offering prayers at the temple. His parents too were not in agreement of his actions. They believed something was truly amiss. They blamed his grandmother for spoiling him. She tried to tell them that it was evident his interest lay somewhere else, but his parents were convinced that he needed some sort of treatment and something was askew with his brain. They decided to take him to Shimla for treatment. Narayan overheard his parents and ran away from his house deep into the dense pine forest below.

He knew the jungle like the back of his hand for he had been there so often to enact the characters he loved. He knew of a man who lived alone in a hut. He had told him once, that, he used to live in Mumbai and write stories for the movies. If Narayan wanted to listen to stories he was welcome. Narayan had for long been contemplating on going in search of this man with dreadlocks, long flowing beard, dressed in a hoody and worn out jeans. He looked tall to him, almost like Indra The king of Gods, that their teacher spoke about. His mind was made up, and he sauntered along to reach his destination. Once in the company of Indra, who did not judge him, neither for his looks, nor for his eccentric love for the characters, Narayan felt as close as possible to his true self.

Narayan was christened dream catcher. Indra reinforced the idea in Narayan that, life was like a dream, you can filter out the bad dreams and keep the good ones and you could be like a dream catcher living and loving what you like. Thereafter he began narrating his story to him everyday a story of a man young, handsome, sauve and rich. He was successful in every sphere, business and women. Narayan was fascinated not just fascinated he was infatuated.

A little beyond Dharampur, the village of Naddi, had become popular with the tourists, as it was the most picturesque place over there. During the summer months it was dotted with many eating joints and Narayan started working at one, he had to after all, meet his daily needs. This cafe where he worked, had a relaxed atmosphere. It was mostly frequented by young crowd who played guitar and sang and danced while enjoying their pizza, waffle and mojitos. Narayan liked the feel of the place.

Here, he spotted a beautiful young girl, definitely not Indian, tall, blonde, blue eyes and with a mesmerising smile. She would come everyday for lunch and he gathered that she had come for the yoga and meditation camp in the village. To him she embodied the heroine to his hero. He was drawn to her, watching her everyday but not going anywhere near.

It was a particularly hot day, of June and the cafe had been busy all afternoon. She hadn’t come and Narayan sat at the cafe stairs, staring at the cobbled path. The bright rays of sun, the opening and closing of the creaking cafe door, a song on the guitar. He heard the gentle breeze ruffling the pine tree tops. Everything was serene only his heart was not calm.

He was sitting in a black limousine, dressed to the best. The door of the car was open and he could see the red carpet rolled out. And he was running his hand through a girl’s hair, she was holding his hand and smiling at him. Oh! that smile seemed to pull him towards her, tugging at something deep inside him and now he was falling falling into the endless pit. “Wake up! Wake-up boy! You’ll get a sunburn sleeping at the stairs in the blazing sun.” She was giggling and shaking him awake. She had come walking out of his dream. Yes! Her only her had to be his heroine.

Eighteen year old Narayan, borrowed a suit from a shop and made a bouquet of wild flowers and decided to go to the village, years after he had run away. His hair wilder than ever before, but the constant labour added muscle to his short frame. His hands were gruff and his shoes were torn. He washed his face in the stream and try to tame his hair. He waited outside the yoga camp, for his heroine to come. The sun was now meeting the earth to bid farewell for the night. In the twilight she looked prettier than ever, the flowers in his hand had wilted, yet he went to her. She recognise him and smiled and then laughed at his audacious dress. He was nervous now. He offered her the flowers and she tenderly took them in her hands. He managed to say friends! She laughed and laughed. He looked at her confused. He said friends again. She said no, no, never. Returning his flowers and walked away.

Narayan could not comprehend what just happened. She is not supposed to say no. She is supposed to be my side. I am the hero. No! No! Maybe she misunderstood. But she had returned the flowers. He felt lost. How can the story change? Surely she missed out something.

He was alone, his mentor had gone to Mumbai to narrate the story for a movie. Narayan wanted to seek his advice. He was lost. The story cannot change, at any cost. He couldn’t sleep or eat. His story had to remain constant. After three long days when his Indra was back,he saw him haggard looking, in a dirty ill fitting suit, lying on the floor of the hut. Narayan sprang up as soon as saw him and asked whether his story script was accepted. Yes! He said. “You will no longer have to work at the restaurant”. “And the story? Was the story well received.” “Yes!” Narayan was told, but, “I had to make changes in the protagonist life to suit the movie makers.” And he narrated the new story to Narayan. Change! Narayan was quiet for the rest of the week. Silence seem to have engulfed him. Everything seem dark and unpleasant.

He had made up his mind. He went to the town and got himself a well fitted suit. Got a haircut and looked gentlemanly. Thereafter he went to the village. The summer festival was going on in full swing. Folk artists were performing on the stage. He could see his grandmother in the audience, he felt ashamed. He had not met her even once. He saw his mentor and the girl from the yoga camp. His teachers, classmates, and villagers many of whom he recognised. He had to take his chance today.

He hijacked the stage. There was a murmur of discontent, but he began his performance. His mentor recognised the story. Narayan was enacting scene upon scene and the audience was gripped. There was pin drop silence. He moved on the stage with such fluidity and grace. His expressions, his actions and his movements were all flawless. The story of a man who was rich and had everything in life, a beautiful house a beautiful wife and all the luxuries money could buy, but he could not buy love. His unfaithful wife stabbed him one day and he lay in a pool of blood, on the cold floor of his house.

The story ended. The audience applauded, a standing ovation. Only two people had tears in their eyes. Narayan’s grandmother and his mentor for the knew, Narayan had given the performance of his life. His heroine alas understood the meaning of friends… But it was too late. Narayan hadn’t stopped for a second chance.

Deepika..

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THE ORANGE BASKET

“Time and tide wait for no one”, read Shahid, for the millionth time, as he sat drinking tea in his office once again. He had pulled an all nighter third time since he joined. This poster probably belonged to the previous occupant, and Shahid just let it be.

It had only been two months since he had moved to Mumbai from his native place Alwar. Life in Alwar was nice and slow. No mad rushes, no deadlines. It gave you a warm feeling akin to being caressed by a loversecure and loving.

Shahid was the third of the five children, all of whom had chosen to be doctors, just not him. He was not very ambitious to begin with. He wanted a small job in Alwar, anything that could feed him and Farida, a home and little children. Infact, he would have loved it if Farida worked and he stayed at home, looking after the daily chores.

Their families had lived in the same neighbourhood since, forever. They had grown up together, studied together- they were never apart. Shahid was madly in love with her. He surrounded himself with her pictures and her thoughts. Her beautiful black hair cropped short, mesmerising deep blue eyes and her tiny delicate frame, made him go weak in the knees. There was not a day they didn’t spend together, sometimes sneaking out even at nights for a hug or a kiss.

Both had opted for same stream in college. Criminal Psychology. Farida loved what she was studying. She dreamt of solving complicated cases, interviewing criminals, making case files, she was totally absorbed by what she was studying and Shahid was absorbed by her thoughts. He had joined only to be with her, look at her, listen to her, feel her next to him. His reverie was broken by the cries of a wailing mother who was at the police station, where he worked, to report her missing six year old boy.

The dawn had not even opened its eyes yet and another child had been snatched away. The circumstances being narrated outside were repetitive. Mother had gone out to the shop to buy milk, as she turned to pay the shopkeeper the child went missing. No eyewitnesses. All the kidnappings seem to be happening at the break of dawn, when hardly a soul is out on the street. Even the animals tuck in for a longer siesta before the first light.

As the winter was approaching these cases seem to be rising. Shahid and everyone else at the police station were racking their brains trying to find a pattern. They compiled the data trying to find a pattern:

  • AGE GROUP: THREE TO EIGHT YEARS
  • SEX: BOYS AND GIRLS
  • TIME: EARLY MORNING
  • AREA: ALL OVER THE CITY
  • STRATA: POOR FAMILIES
  • TYPE: STRANGER ABDUCTIONS
  • CASES REGISTERED:
  • AUGUST – 6
  • SEPTEMBER – 10
  • OCTOBER – 12
  • TILL NOV 15 – 5
  • TOTAL CASES REGISTERED: 33

The strangest fact in all these abduction cases was that, no one received a single call for ransom, so they were unable to make any headway. Not one eyewitness, and 33 children missing, 33 hearts shattered, 33 mothers praying, 33 houses gone silent. Something was wrong, very wrong and they had to move fast.

Shahid’s boss, Arvind, a genial middle aged man, a little taller than him and fit as a fiddle, as opposed to his stout frame, ordered him to go home and come back in the evening. “A fresh mind will bring in a new perspective.” Shahid was actually thankful. He wanted to go away from the wails that ripped your soul.

His house was in south Mumbai, a studio apartment in one of the toniest commercial and residential localities. From his apartment he could look across and see a flat in the opposite building on the ground floor, probably belonged to a family he thought. What caught his attention in this particular flat was an orange basket that was always kept outside. Morning it would be full of milk, bread, biscuits, fruits and vegetables, must have been ordered by them, by evening it would be empty. This orange basket, over the days came to have a significant meaning in Shahid’s life. It represented to him, love, family, warmth, children.

Everything he loved and dreamt of with Farida, those hot summer nights when they would steal away from their homes and meet at the children’s park. He missed her touch so much. The soft feel of her hand as they intertwined with his. The warmth of the hug they both had been waiting for even though they spent all waking hours together. This rendevous at night was special to them. They could be lovers not just friends. He missed the stolen kiss, its softness, its sweetness, as if nothing else in the world existed. A feeling of floating in the air, fireworks glowing inside.

He had to move on, he sighed. He was preparing to take Arvind at his word and find some rest, when his phone rang, which he ignored, but then it screamed, this time he had to surrender. It was a frantic call from the office. There was an attempted kidnapping. The child had escaped and run to the police station, finally they had a witness!

Shahid grabbed whatever decent clothes he could and drove his bike fast to reach the police station. The little girl’s parents were still being traced. She had stopped crying now, a little bundle all but five years old, wearing a yellow suit and two pig tails. Arvind was already there. Shahid absorbed the details. The terrified little girl had described the man in detail. He was tall, limped and had long flowing hair. He was thin and skinny, hollow cheeked. He resembled a movie star she said. He had offered her an expensive doll that she had been eyeing for long but her parents, both workers at a shop, could not afford. She said, he smiled sweetly and she followed him to take the doll. He had a big car. The moment they reached near the car he tried to kiss her and grab her by the waist. She bit him hard, kicking and hitting with all her strength and ran as fast as she could without looking back even once. She did not know if he followed her. She stopped only at the police station.

They got the sketch ready. They mapped the area of the crime scene, but they knew he wouldn’t come there again. The sketch was sent to all the police stations. Plain coloured policemen were spread out throughout the city.

As crime analyst, Shahid sat infront of the computer feeding the details vigoursly, trying to map all possible scenarios. He was praying all along that the children be safe. He did not even want to imagine what these kids must be going through.

Farida was with him in the park. Tears flowed from their eyes, his and hers. No. No. Don’t say goodbye. Don’t go. Let’s get married, you can study, work, anything you like. No! I don’t want to be tied down. I want to make it big. I’m moving to US. Please. How am I supposed to live, I can’t even breathe without you. Sorry. No. No. Don’t go. NO! And Arvind was shaking him. “You fell asleep on your computer. Bad dream, I guess. Go home and rest.” Shahid moved out without a word, too choked to say anything. Went to his empty apartment and from there he glanced at the house with the orange basket. Without thinking he ran towards it. He almost rang the bell. Right now he wanted the feel of a family, to be surrounded by happy faces and laughter, but he stopped, glancing at the orange basket which seemed to sympathize with him.

For next two days he sat analyzing the profile of the criminal and trying to think like him . He was definitely rich, did not want ransom and he did not want to return the kids either. What was he doing to the poor little kids? At 2 am the phone at the office rang. Someone had seen a man matching the profile lurking outside a shopping mall. This was the fifth sighting in two days. All previous reportings turned out to be a wild goose chase. They swiftly access the security camera footage and see a man with a “big car” move into the parking holding hand of a little boy and driving off. The policeman outside followed him. Arvind and Shahid and their team followed too. The man was driving fast given the thin traffic on roads.

Shahid realised they were moving towards where they lived. By the time they arrived the man had gone into his flat. Shahid was staring at the orange basket, he couldn’t believe it. The basket stared back at him, mocking him, making fun of his naivety. This time he did not hesitate to ring the bell, the house was surrounded. They all were prepared to see the worst inside. All previous cases were running through their minds. They waited long enough and were almost ready to smash the door open, when they were greeted with a smile, invited inside. They were flummoxed.

Inside, the flat looked like a scene from Neverland- the mystic land of Peter Pan- the boy who wouldn’t grow up. The children were all there, dressed up in weird costumes, they looked scared, but safe. They were quickly made to sit in a van and taken to the hospital. Peter Pan was taken for interrogation. Shahid moved around the flat looking for evidence. He found costumes, toy trains, statues, a mini pirate ship, battery operated cars. He seized the laptop and cameras.

The children showed no signs of abuse. On being questioned they said they were well fed, but never went out of the house. They slept huddled together as Peter Pan danced and sang in the house. He never slept. He called them his lost children. He would hug them and kiss them. He dressed as a girl to feed them, as a boy to play with them and as a pirate to scare them. He would shout and scream when they got tired, some days he would forget to feed them and keep singing. He loved playing most with the new children he brought. The older ones forgotten and placed in another room. He got wild with anger if anyone called him uncle. He said he was Peter Pan and that’s what they will call him. Shahid was relieved that the children were safe.

Peter Pan or Paras, in real life was a depressed young man who was not in a state to narrate his story. Shahid found no evidence of abuse, no pictures, nothing anywhere. It made him sad to think of the circumstances that must have forced Paras to run away from reality to Neverland. The interrogations would take long.

As the police removed the items from the flat, Shahid picked up the orange basket, for him it had represented hope, faith, optimism. The orange basket had been tangible, an anchor that held him from falling into the depths of despair. How he wished he had rung the bell that day and maybe, just maybe, he could have been able to show Paras the promise of the orange basket.

Deepika…

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BROKEN MIRROR

I jumped the bandwagon of looking at the past decade only after I became part of this amazing blog hop. Hope you all like my take on the decade, with a short story. Thank you.

Vanessa picked up the Vogue magazine. She smiled. She was on the cover page again, for the eighth time in a row. She was leaning against the bay window of the opulent penthouse in suburban Mumbai. The stunning panoramic view had to compete with her beauty. Her face was perfect, almost ethereal. She was photogenic and drop dead gorgeous. She was tall with beautiful Auburn hair. Most women envied her perfect figure and would gladly give an arm and a foot to look as attractive as her, at 28.

She could not believe it had already been a decade since she first stepped on the ramp. A decade of being a model, a decade of living a dream. She looked at her home. The lavish architecture, the pools, the garden and the stunning interiors were a far cry from where she had begun.

Vanessa Barbusse picked up the script for the interview sent in by Harper magazine. The questions were always the same, nothing different, nothing remarkable, yet she sat herself infront of a small mirror which had cracked in places. The mirror meant more to her than her life. It was like the mirror in Snowwhite. It never lied.

She would read the question and look in the mirror and answer the question. This was her only way to remember her past which she kept well hidden. Also, the mirror was the only souvenir left of her father, mentor, guide, God, Louis Barbusse.

Question 1 (Q): How does it feel to see yourself on the cover of Vogue for the eighth time?

Answer (A): I’m grateful that I’ve been chosen. Vogue is very close to my heart and I’ve been associated with it for long, almost a decade.

Mirror (M): It feels great. I love the attention, the glamour, the glitz. I was greedy for it and still am. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Q: You call Louis Barbusse, the greatest designer our country has seen, your God?

A: Yes, Louis has been the father figure for me. I’m not overtly religious, but if there was God he would be like Louis.

M: Mirror smiled. That was true. Louis Barbusse is my God. He helped me live, when many years ago. I was lying naked on the streets of Mumbai. He picked the thirteen year old me and gave me life.

Q: You lived in Goa before moving to Mumbai. How was life in Goa?

A: Goa is a beautiful place. The beaches, the people, the festivities, naturally would be the happiest time for any kid. It gave me security to be who I am today.

M: Mirror was sad. Growing up was wretched and glum. My parents, sisters, teachers, classmates hated me. I was an outcast, right from the age of three. I was always deviant, an outsider, a rara avis, a black swan.

Q: You don’t talk much about your family?

A: There isn’t much to say really! Louis Barbusse is the only family I have. My birth family was killed in a plane crash, and I’ve been with Louis since then. I don’t really have any memory of them.

M: Tears welled up in Mirror’s eyes. My family ostracized me. At 3, they hated me for playing with my sisters. At 6, they detested me for stealing a skirt from my sister’s wardrobe. At 8, I was loathed and abhorred for wearing lipstick, a string of pearls and high heels for a birthday party. “Are you a whore? A slut, to dress up like this.” I was screaming for them to let me be, to understand what I want, but all I got in return was scorn. I was turned out of my house at 11. My soul was ripped and torn. I was trapped in blackness of despair. I had to survive. I was living in the streets begging for food, but was given drugs, drugs to numb my senses. It felt great to be relieved of all the agony. I felt free. By 13, my body was giving up. I was in a ghetto in Mumbai where I was beaten to a pulp, because I did not conform to the oppressive norms the society laid for me. I was smothered with desperate terror, a soundless agony of being silenced.

Q: Being beautiful is a gift. Do you feel privileged? Isn’t it the reason for your wonderful life?

A: Thank you for appreciating. Yes beauty is a gift and I’m thankful for it. It did help me open doors which would have been difficult otherwise, but I’ve worked for my better life. I’m definitely lucky.

M: Mirror felt choked now. Beauty? Privilege? Louis brought the 13 year old me into his home that ugly night. It was the blackest night. It was pitch dark, the thunder seemed to rip open the heart of heaven. Even the skies were conspiring against me. There was not a shred of cloth on me, only bruises and blood which refused to stop even in the incessant rain. He nurtured me back to health. Asked my name. Victor, I said, feeling ashamed. I was trapped, trapped in the wrong body. I knew it at 3, but boys don’t play house with girls. At 6, boys don’t wear skirts. At 8, boys never wear lipstick and high heels. You are devil incarnate. At 11, stop growing your hair, stop wearing makeup. NO. I’m not a boy. I’m a girl. I’m not Victor. I’m Vanessa. Leave the house now. At 13, Mumbai, dressed as a girl, performing at a bar. Found out by rouges, beaten, molested, raped, left to die. Louis Barbusse hugged Victor. You don’t need to feel trapped anymore. We’ll transform together. Louis took Victor to a room and directed him to pick any dress he liked. You are Vanessa from now. Louis did not have the courage and killed his desires when he accepted his fate, but Vanessa shall live. Not just live, she shall conquer the world.

Mirror says let go, understand, forgive. Vanessa, having risen from Victor’s ashes, only wants to proclaim to the world: I SURVIVED !

“This post is a part of ‘DECADE Blog Hop’ #DecadeHop organized by #RRxMM Rashi Roy and Manas Mukul. The Event is sponsored by Glo and co-sponsored byBeyond The Box, Wedding Clap, The Colaba Store and Sanity Daily in association with authors Piyusha Vir and Richa S Mukherjee”

DEEPIKA..