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Platform Three, Part Two

6 Jul

For Part 1 of this story, go here.

 

Kem chhe, Persis,” he asked gently, his eyes never leaving hers. Persis stopped to breathe deeply. In that breath, she traversed half a lifetime, to a place when, in their early twenties and giddily in love, Lohrasp had expressed his desire and devotion, and she had reciprocated fervently. He was her college friend Hutoxi’s brother, and Persis had amazed her parents, first with her dedication to studying for her B.Com. examinations at Hutoxi’s home and then by the poor percentage she had earned in spite of it. Secure in a moderately-paying job at State Bank, Lohrasp had brought up the issue of marriage with his widowed mother, to be met with hysteria, refusal, and emotional blackmail. ‘That colony girl’, Mrs. Dubash had ranted, was not good enough for her son, and he had no business picking his own life partner without his mother’s approval. Which girl from a decent family went and got herself picked by a boy instead of his family was what she would like to know, and nai jee, didn’t she know these aaj kaal ni chhokriyo with their short-short hair and midi skirts, fasaaoing poor innocent boys from good homes.

Persis had, at first, believed him when he assured her that it was a matter of time before his mother relented and saw her for the loving and beautiful girl she was. “Give her time, darling,” he’d whisper, stroking her hair and the nape of her neck as she buried her face into his chest on the rocks at Scandal Point. She wanted a life with this man who looked at her like the universe melted from around them when they were together. She wanted to wake up to the bob of his Adam’s apple each morning, hear him imitate Elvis and call her Priscilla; she wanted to cook akoori for their children on Sunday mornings and mock-scold him for leaving his shirts hanging on the backs of chairs instead of in the bathroom bucket. What was a little time when there was love to be won? They were young, they would wait.

Mrs. Dubash turned out to be made of sterner stuff than both her only son and his breathlessly waiting lady love anticipated. As Persis rejected many an admirer-with-a-willing-mother, waiting for her man to step up and make an honest woman out of her, Lohrasp battled cold wars, suicide threats and ultimatums from ‘the poor lonely woman who had brought him up as both father and mother’. Over the years, it dawned on Lohrasp that no woman would ever be good enough for him in his mother’s eyes, and she appeared happiest when he was within lilting distance, readily available to consume her elaborate meals and ministrations without a murmur. With his sister now living in America, Lohrasp was left with the sole responsibility of caring for their mother, which made it harder for him to take a heart-over-head decision. Still, Persis waited, but the wait lengthened into shadows and unspoken words and disappointment lingered at corners of her mouth, the weight of unendingness sagging her skin, small joys unnoticed, a slow shut-down of the heart. Then, there was silence.

Two decades later, when she heard from common friends that the old lady’s heart had given way, and, after her death, Lohrasp had shut the house and taken up a position as manager of a dharamshala in a small town near the Gujarat border, the details merely skimmed the surface of her thoughts. She had shut that chapter a long time ago and made peace with the circumstances of her life. Persis was not a woman of vociferous opinion, but she held a firm belief that Lohrasp was the only love of her life.

But now he was standing in front of her, still awaiting a response. “Hello,” she said quickly, in a voice that sounded like somebody else’s, his question left unanswered. They assessed each other, cautiously, then affectionately, letting little smiles slip through the tightness of their mouths. Him: Of medium height and muscular build, with darker skin than she remembered, his clean-shaven face framing a crooked-toothed smile. Her: Short, compact, with still-unlined creamy skin and tired grey eyes, gentle curls resting neatly around her earlobes, her clothes less fashionable than in their youth. Wordlessly, he unlatched the gate and gallantly stepped aside for her to walk through. Closing it behind him, he fell into step with her and they made their way to the beach.

The short stroll of less than a mile felt like a long walk home, with brief forays into unpleasant emotional alleys. Searing their silences were memories, reproaches, disappointments, and a litany of barely awakened what-ifs. With no immediate family left in Bombay once Mrs. Dubash had passed on, Lohrasp sought a change of scene in a bid to put his past behind him. The bitterness that was his mother’s legacy lurked in the corners of their lace-curtained home, and made him want to flee. Putting in his papers for voluntary retirement at the bank, he accepted a position at the Gholvad dharamshala and had been its manager since. He liked the solitude, the passengers who floated through, and grew accustomed to stars and waves for company. He would think of Persis now and then, a dull ache compressing his heart, as he wondered how things could have turned out differently. And now here she was, in the flesh, and his tongue had decided to play hide-and-seek.

They sat among the rocks, pretending neither recalled other similar evenings from a long-ago youth, and reconnected hesitantly. As Lohrasp stumbled over half-regrets, Persis spoke up quietly and without recrimination. Life had moved on, she pointed out, but it hadn’t completed passed them by. It was to be lived, no matter how late the chance was presented, and really, did affection and companionship have an expiry date? As Lohrasp raised his eyes to meet hers, he felt a spark of hope for the first time in decades, and allowed it to ignite a little Bunsen burner in his spirit. There was much to be said, pasts and futures to be discussed and debated, but for now, it would keep. For now, the present was plenty. Finally, he had a passenger who wasn’t just a passerby. And with that knowledge, Lohrasp and Persis made their way back to the dharamshala, where a just-roused group of tea-demanding neighbors were making plans to brighten up the evening.

~The End~

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The Blog That Keeps on Giving / Platform 3

1 Jul

This blog, Wisdom Wears Neon Pyjamas Version 2.0, completes 7 years today. I began blogging on this platform at a time when I didn’t know what I’d be doing the next weekend. Years into the future was not even a consideration. I’ve written about it here, but pardon my middle-aged nostalgia–this little space of mine of the internet, carved out 9 1/2 years ago, has given me the community of a lifetime, and the older this blog and I grow, the less I take this blessing for granted. Even as I type this post, I am excitedly looking forward to meeting one of my earliest blog friends for the first time–9 years after we connected!

So thank you, all of you who show this corner of my world your love and appreciation. So much has changed for me in these past 7 years that it is reassuring to have a constant. These days, I choose to spend long, sunny afternoons snuggled with my Gummy Bear on our vast bed over hammering out a post (you have no idea how many times I’m tempted to write for all of 3 seconds before I go right back to inhaling that baby scent), I spend my days in endless cycles of three-hour blocks, I prefer to sing Five Little Ducks no less than 17 times a day rather than generate fresh content for this space, but I love this blog, I do, for it is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m so glad to return to it again and again and again.

And now, because I must drop dead in the next 13 minutes if I am to survive tomorrow, without further ado, here is a little present. It’s a story I wrote a couple years ago and held close to my heart. It’s time now to let it go. Enjoy it, and for the sake of continuity–because it’s the third in a series–read Chapters One and Two first.

Adios, my dearies! Until we meet again.

~
Platform Three

Dawn came early to Soonawala Colony one April. Lights were switched on a full hour earlier than Alamai’s 6 am prayers, and sounds of sandwiches being wrapped and bags being zipped echoed across the chipped-tiled corridors. Persis Kerawala stood deep in thought in the middle of the obsessively tidy bedroom she shared with her older sister and lips pursed, tapped them with her forefinger. She went through a mental check-list of items and anxieties, shrugged off whatever was bothering her, and walked into the kitchen to share a cup of choi and a khaari biscuit with Dolat. Ten minutes later, bags zipped, front door locked (and checked thrice), hats on their short wavy hair, the Kerawala sisters were the first ones ready to join the Pardiwallas on the short drive to Bombay Central station. Across the hallway, they could hear Khursheed Madon goading her teenage son Daraius to pack his chappals, lest he roam around like a ghata-ghariya in Gholvad.

“Packed the pora-pao?” called out Sarosh, whose once-fit but now-generous frame was proof of his love for this Parsi breakfast staple. His wife assuaged his fear of going breakfastless on the three-hour train journey, even as Dolat and Persis listening outside smiled and rolled their eyes. As girls growing up in the colony, Sarosh had been their little errand boy, the one who ran down to the corner store to get soda for their father’s evening drink, passed on notes from admirers who wrote forced-rhyming lines to Persis in her younger days, appreciating her grey eyes, marble-like skin, and, although only the boldest mentioned it, her compact, pert figure, draped in the latest cuts from Maganbhai darji’s ‘foreign’ catalogs. It was a mystery to many why Persis had chosen to remain unmarried, because she certainly had her pick of the field at a time when the colony boys were angling to make her their wife.

A door opened upstairs and the sound of luggage being thumped down each step echoed across the corridors. Sanobar and Homyar appeared at the bottom of the stairs, bickering about the pros and cons of leaving the toilet window open. “Chee! Muo vaas-e-vaas aavse!” grumbled Sanobar, whose sensitive nose was perennially at odds with her spouse’s borderline agoraphobia. “Better than getting the house looted,” countered Homyar, who insisted it was only his cautious nature that made him want to shut most access points to rooms, and winked in greeting at the waiting sisters. Shortly after, the Madons—Sarosh, Khursheed and Daraius—emerged from their ground floor flat, the scent of freshly cooked omelets trailing them. Off they went, huddled in the Pardiwallas’ Scorpio, or, “packed like sardines”, like Sanobar liked to giggle. She had schooled at Presentation Convent in the southern hills of Kodaikanal, and never missed an opportunity to toss morsels of nun-crafted similes and proverbs at her friends and neighbors.

At Bombay Central, they joined other folks from the colony, also climbing out of taxis and cars, the men hoisting bags as the women took a head count of the younger children. Daraius kept an eye out for Jamasp Patel’s daughter Sanaeya, while hanging out with Khushroo and Feroz, his college-going—and therefore cool—buddies from building number 12. Once the list of picnickers had been called out and checked off, they hurried to Platform 3 to board the Saurashtra Express. “Roomal mooko, roomal mooko,” advised Silloo Damania, in an attempt to bag all the seats in the completely empty compartment. After much bustling, rearranging of luggage and silencing of whiny children, the group of 25 settled down, and the train gave a lurch and rumbled off to Gholvad—the destination of the annual Soonawala colony picnic.

Just past Dadar, the omelet packets were opened, passed around, their contents devoured in a matter of minutes. By the time, Andheri arrived, Roshan’s freshly made bhakras were being passed around and complimented on between mouthfuls. At Palghar, tender young coconuts, their mouths agape and spilling with sweet water, were passed through window bars, into the hands of waiting children first and their parents afterwards. Boisar brought the scent of fried chilies and crisp, spicy wadas stuffed in chutney-smeared pav, the vendor’s tray emptied by two dozen greedy mouths who smacked their lips and settled down for the remainder of the journey. The train slow-chugged into Gholvad, past sentinel-like banyan trees that gave the place its name, and, wheels screeching, came to a halt. The boisterous group, back to their pre-food coma-induced levels of excitement, tumbled onto the platform, and piled into autorickshaws and trr-trred away toward the blinding mirror of the sea.

Alighting at the Gholvad Dharamshala (for Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians only, announced a faded plaque on a crumbling wall), they lugged their bags up the steps into cool, white rooms with high ceilings and the sounds of pigeons gurgling outside the antique-paned windows. The manager was out, explained the local lad who served as Man Friday, and would be back by tea time. The group didn’t care, as they devoured a lunch of fried fish, prawn curry and rice, and fried papads before settling into their beds for a long siesta. The younger ones gathered on the long, sun-baked verandah for a game of Monopoly, and Persis could hear them giggle and bicker as the afternoon wore on. She sat up in bed with the latest copy of Reader’s Digest, flipping through articles on medical miracles and ordinary heroes. Dolat lay at the other end of the spacious room, gentle snores emanating from beneath the white sheet. The afternoon streamed in through open windows, the sound of the sea coming into shore, the chirp of a solitary bird, the forthright sunlight with no pretences. Feeling restless, Persis got out of bed, stuffed her feet in slippers, and decided to take a walk around the property. Stepping away from the old white bungalow with its red tiled roof, she walked in the orchard that lay sprawled on either side. Low chikoo trees and groves of guava and litchis formed a cool respite from the summer heat and she was grateful for the solitude and shade. Her feet crunched on a carpet of dry leaves and she walked leisurely toward the gate at the other end. Emerging into the sunlight, she saw a fence with a white gate. Beyond that, was the sea.

“It’s low tide right now,” spoke a voice behind her, as her heart lurched and her feet stayed rooted. She slowly turned around to find him watching her calmly, the love of her youth, his boyish crinkled-at-the-corner eyes belying the touches of grey at his temples.

 

To be continued…..

Message in a Bottle: Starchie Unbends

29 Jan

[This one was written for an adult audience. With language modifications, it can work well with ages 4 and up.]

It’s been a while since we visited our friends in Sascha’s bathroom, hasn’t it? Them of the bottled feelings and mostly well-meaning hearts, they’ve lived through arrivals (hello, Hair Serum and Lotion,) and departures (adieu, Baby Powder!) as Sasha lopes eagerly toward teendom. Now a tall, long-limbed girl with blue-and-brown glasses, she undertakes athletics training at a neighborhood track thrice a week, and comes home all sweaty and red in the face. On one such evening, she bounced into the bathroom, humming a tune that the bottlehood had heard before. It was called Favorite Girl and a boy with irksome hair sang it on the telly. Peeling off her sportswear, she tossed it into the laundry basket, proceeded to shower, and hurried out when done.

All was quiet for a while. The family was in the dining room, Nanny was folding laundry and the maid worked in the kitchen. Then, in the growing darkness of the advancing evening, Condi, Shampoo, and their friends heard sniffling. It came from a far corner of the bathroom and they strained to listen. There it was again, two muffled sobs this time, and a sigh. Emboldened by his last act of bravery, Condi spoke up. It couldn’t be a burglar again, he reasoned, and this sounded like someone in distress. “Who’s there?” he ventured, glad to have Serum and Lotion by his side. The crying stopped. For a full minute, the room listened intently, and they were soon rewarded with a tremulous answer.

“It’s us,” ventured a voice from the laundry basket, “we’re Sascha’s socks. She calls us Floppy 1 and Floppy 2 because we can’t hold up,” and it broke into fresh sobs of pain. “There, there,” whispered her twin, and leaned toward her, trying to put on a brave face. The bottles saw them in the dim light, two soft ankle socks, dull white and sorrowful, huddled atop orange sweatpants. “Don’t be sad, friends,” chimed in Lotion, who was as shiny in her heart as she was outside. “How can we help?”

They shook their cotton heads and more tears spilled over. “It’s no use,” said Floppy 2, “Sascha’s tired of repeatedly pulling us up.”

“A day or two and we’ll be gone,” Floppy 1’s voice trembled.

The bottles took in this news silently. No one knew quite how to make the Floppies feel better. They all dreaded the day they would be declared redundant and have to say goodbye to the security of their bathroom world. As they stood under a pall of gloom, a throat was cleared on the top shelf.

Starchie McStarcherson was a big, tall bottle with an officious manner and deep voice. He took his job very seriously and had no time for the likes of Shampoo and Bath Salts, whom he thought frothy and irreverent. Older and aloof, he lived with his old pal Detergent on the top shelf while the rest of the bottles camped on the window ledge. The newer entrants to the bathroom kept out of his way, knowing well enough to lower their voices during his nap times.  Starchie modeled himself on a butler he had once seen on telly, while working in Sascha’s parents’ bathroom. He had been watching the unfolding dilemma with remote interest until a bulb went off in his wise old head. “I can be of assistance,” he boomed imperiously, as the bottles all craned their necks shelfward. Quickly taking charge of the situation, he crystallized a Plan.

The action began at midnight, when Sascha was safely in air-conditioned slumber, the bathroom door firmly closed.  At a signal from Starchie, the Floppies flung themselves off the laundry heap into a waiting bathroom pail. “We’re in,” they called up, rather unnecessarily, for their every move was being watched by the entire bottle sorority. Next up, Tap did a little pirouette, dribbling hot water onto them until they were submerged. Her number done, she added a curtsy for effect, and turned the other way. Now, it was the Big Moment.

With Detergent holding on tight, Starchie leaned over the shelf. His positioning had to be precise, or else he’d tip over and ruin Operation Stop-the-Flop. He leaned. He leaned further. Then he leaned some more. And then some more. “Steady on, old boy!” grunted Detergent, acutely aware of the dangers of being carried off by his bulky friend, and struggled to keep him grounded. Starchie looked below him. And then regretted it. A wave of dizziness hit him hard and he keeled. The shelf slipped out from under him. He heard a collective gasp from the window ledge. His life flashed before his tightly shut eyes, slow-motion and everything. It had been a good life, he concluded, one rooted in duty. He could’ve been friendlier with the bottles, he realized, even as the thought surprised him. Next thing he knew, he felt determined arms yank him backward and landed with a thump on his rear end.

“What…??” he cried, disoriented and embarrassed. Detergent was holding on to him for dear life, and the bottles looked delighted! “Want to look down again?” teased Detergent kindly, and when Starchie mustered the courage to do so, he saw the Floppies floating in a starch-water mixture, looking up at him in gratitude.

A cheer went around the room. Bath Salts and Shampoo bubbled with delight. Condi showed off his smooth moves. Lotion sparkled in all her pink glory and Tap did several pirouettes until an annoyed Floppy 1 asked him to quit. The bottles let out hoorays for good old Starchie, and Detergent thumped him on his back. “A million thanks,” called out the Floppies, who were now delightedly doing flip-flops of their own.  “You’re welcome,” Starchie acknowledged stiffly, and managed a little smile.

When Bai found the Floppies late next morning, she hung them out to dry. Their moment in the sun had arrived and soon they were crisp like soldiers headed to battle. Sascha wore them on numerous occasions, and fleetingly wondered where her old socks had disappeared to, but you won’t tell her, will you?

A rechristening is in order: Now that they aren’t Floppies any longer, they’d love another name. And you who shared in their story are invited to chime in. Starchie will be the Master of Ceremonies, so I’d advise no late arrivals; and yes, do hazard a glance at your own socks before you come in.

Phase Two

1 Jan

Happy 2012! Here’s another tale about the good folks at Soonawala Colony. To read The One that Came Before, go here.

***

At the precise minute the earthquake struck, Silloo Damania was perched on the potty, making a mental checklist of the tasks ahead of her that morning. Must be the Chick Van, she muttered, as the floor began to quiver, but five seconds later, Burjor, newspaper and choy abandoned, was banging on her door, demanding she cut the crap and quit the shit. (Not that she recalls his exact words, but she wasn’t one to let go of some good word play if it were served to her on a ses.)

They gathered in the children’s playground, women in hurriedly wrapped shawls, the men still in their sadras, watching swings sway ominously and the ground rumble like an ogre’s belly. So animated were their numerous opinions on geophysics, that it was several minutes before any of them noticed the tremors had stopped. Of course, not all of them blathered on about the Day of Judgment. Some, like 14-year-old Sanaeya and 16-year-old Daraius, gainfully employed themselves by making eyes at each other and blushing furiously, but let’s turn a blind eye for now, shall we?

They trooped home and a gaggle of the most opinionated voices congregated at the Pardiwalla home to watch the news.  Scenes of devastation sprang to life behind the anchor, who announced in near-frenzy that an earthquake in Kutchh had wiped out villages and many of their denizens. A hush descended on this usually noisy group. Shrieks and cries of despair rent the semi-arid land and home to thousands now meant only the endless sky with its benign January sun. Nature had taken a bite of earth and snacked on it with Marie biscuits at breakfast.  You could see its teeth marks where the ground had split. The residents of Soonawala Colony, like the rest of Bombay, hung suspended between horror and disbelief, with the occasional tear cruising down an unaware cheek.

After an hour of repeat telecasts and frequent switching between Star News and Doordarshan  that drove Banoo’s glaucoma-accursed eyes batty, the phone rang and Homyar Pardiwalla walked over to answer it. A 5-minute conversation that 12 neighbors intently listened in to ensued.  Homyar ended the call to announce that Jamasp Patel, chairperson of the colony association, was rounding up a group of able young men to accompany trucks of supplies to affected areas. A cheer went around the room as the men, who had hitherto ventured only as far as Udwada for their annual pilgrimage, welcomed the idea of rumbling off into nebulous clouds of dust to assist their countrymen.  A round of tea was eagerly accepted and “Planning the Mission” began in right earnest.

In the midst of the chatter and raised voices, sat Dolat from the ground floor, listening silently, a knob of discontent growing ever larger in her throat.  Never married and in her early fifties, she shared a flat with her younger sister Persis, cooking and keeping home while the latter went to work. It was a quiet existence, but not a lonely one, surrounded as she was by friends and neighbors from her childhood, but lately, Dolat had begun to get a sense of having missed out on life. Satellite television was her bridge to the world beyond the colony and she wanted a taste of the action for herself. “I’ll go too,” she said evenly, her voice belying the burbling she felt in her stomach’s pit, and drew a deep breath in anticipation of a response.

The clamor continued. They hadn’t even heard her. Food packages, antibiotics and warm clothing were being zealously discussed, and you’d have to be a foghorn to be heard. “I will come too,” she tried again, and this time they turned. The Wall of Voices collapsed on her slowly, brick by dissenting brick, logic and reason crumbling to dust under its red onslaught and Dolat stared in seeming resignation ahead of her.

The day of departure dawned all too quickly, and after two days and nights of ceaseless activity, in which every man, woman and child played a part, the trucks and their occupants were ready to roll. Leading the pack of do-gooders was Jamasp, with Homyar and Dara as his able assistants. Khushroo, Feroz and their “gang” that hung out until the wee hours, racing bikes on Marine Drive and risking the ire of police and parents alike, provided back-up support and muscle power, as they searched the crowd for the impressed faces of Soonawala Colony’s waifs. Packages and sacks had been hauled on to the trucks the previous night, the men cursing quietly at the heavier loads. Saying their goodbyes and waving to adoring fans, they climbed on, and engines roared to life. The convoy edged out of the parking area, winding onto the street and as the men settled in for a long ride, no one noticed a tiny corner of a rather curvy gunny sack lift itself up and take a quick gulp of air before subsiding into the potatoes again.

Step One

12 Nov

The morning after Cousin S was married, Banoo Bilimoria waited until the respectable hour of 7.14 before shuffling across the corridor and pressing her gnarled, arthritic finger to the bell. Her myopic eyes took in the vivid colors of the chowk designs that had taken Sanobar 4 hours to create yesterday and she expertly pushed back the phlegm in her throat. She waited one minute, then four, then seven. Silence reigned in the Pardiwalla household. Even the maid hadn’t stirred. She turned back, the sound of her sapaat scraping the mosaic-tiled floor of building number 14 in Soonawala Colony—a green, quiet haven of Parsi existence amidst the bustle of  South Bombay.

Back in her immaculate two-room flat and many cups of choy later, she hovered by the door until Jai Singh arrived. “Kachra-walo!” he’d announce on each floor, in an accent of indeterminate origin, and the denizens of number 14 would, on cue, pop out with their garbage bins and subject him to their pidgin Hindi, never mind that he was Gujarati. She waited until she heard the Pardiwallas’ maid undo their latch and popped her head out in a hurry. “Nahin bai, they’re not up,” said the maid shortly, before Banoo could ask her usual question, and shut the door behind her.

Marere,” Banoo mumbled, feeling slighted and unsure about what to do next. She had missed out on the wedding reception the night before, thanks to a resurgence of gout, and could feel curiosity burning a hole through her faded housecoat. Silloo Damania on the other side of her had been to the celebrations and would gladly share details if asked, with the superior air of Those In The Know. As she stood in the hallway, dithering over her next move, the Damanias’ door opened and Silloo Samachar, as she was fondly known, called out her name.

Back in Silloo and Burjor’s elegant flat, where a shiny black grand piano held court, Banoo was informed in breathy undertones about the Flat in the Suburbs that the newly-weds would have to live in—in (gasp) remote Andheri East. Apparently, the boy’s mother had refused to let her son and his bride live in with her in the colony since the day both women had squabbled over who would sit in the passenger seat of his car. “Suburb maan?” Banoo repeated blankly, her eyes widening at this novel idea and her brain frothing with more questions than it could queue. She had been to the suburbs once—on a picnic to Vihar Lake in 2nd grade. They had even packed sandwiches for the journey. And now, Cousin S (mine, not hers,) was trundling off to a place where the Tata Electric Power Supply Company held no sway—and of course, everyone knew that pelo Reliance is a muo chor.

An hour in good traffic, replied Silloo, who had got this nugget of information on good authority from another clueless guest at the wedding. Yes, only rickshaws ply there, poor things, but they will take the car. I know, so far from aapru Parsi General and Doongerwadi, and not even a good naatak on Navroze, she responded to a group that had burgeoned to include Dolat and Persis from the ground floor and Dara and Roshan from building 7. The merits and demerits of modern, marble-floored apartments versus pothole-ridden streets were analyzed to an inch of their lives, and stinking politicians and “all these immigrants” verbally flayed for their role in inflation, population, corruption and Rodabeh’s bad breath, and the questions and concerns came faster and thicker, until the Damania home was in the throes of raucous agitation.

“I’ve heard you get everything there now,” chimed in the gentle Roshan, who had made the mammoth move from building number 4 to 7 when she married her chaddi sweetheart. “Cinemas show English movies?” asked Dolat skeptically, as Banoo wondered aloud whether the couple would splurge on a First Class railway pass. So far away from their parents, cluck clucked Dara, whose foray into adulthood had meant moving into the room down the passage and ended there 34 years ago.

More cups of tea and consolation were passed around, and there we shall leave them, fielding questions and cooking up answers, as the Pardiwalla family blissfully slumbers on, their daughter curled up in the arms of her sweet colony boy, ready to take their first big step into the harsh sunlight of the world outside the leafy, familiar lanes of Soonawala Colony.

Jeremy the Crow, Part III

8 Feb

[Continued from here.]

Each box was numbered and Jeremy knew from watching the children that you were supposed to go from one number to the next. Gingerly, he hopped onto square 1. Square 2 was right beside it. “How can it hurt to try?” he thought, and before he knew it, he had number 2 under his feet. “This is fun!” he said to himself, as he quickly hopped to 3.

4, 5 and 6 later, he had only two squares left. 7 and 8 were a piece of cake, and soon he was hopping back in full gusto, pebble in his beak like he had seen the children hold. So thrilled was he at his achievement that he almost swallowed the pebble and remembered to spit it out only just in time. He bounced all the way home, brimming over with news for Mamacita, who listened with a kind smile on her face.

After that evening, there was no stopping Jeremy. Each day, he’d wait for the children to disperse and hop onto his territory to claim his squares. On some days, he’d hop backward for fun. On others, he’d close his eyes. Even though he did it twenty times each evening, Jeremy never tired of this delightful game that he called Hopparoo. It was on precisely one such evening that Jeremy was hopping along the squares, this time backwards and with his eyes closed, that he heard a commotion.

Opening his eyes with mild irritation, he realized he was surrounded by children, all gaping and pointing and smiling wonderingly at him. “The crow plays hopscotch!” they were saying to each other in amazement. The shy bird watched as if in a dream. He, Jeremy, wasn’t being mocked or laughed at. On the contrary, he could see delight and respect on the children’s faces and he wasn’t afraid of them. Showing off a little, he hurtled from one square to another, doing a pirouette at the end and blushing at the resounding applause.

From that day on, the children would look out for Jeremy and ask him to join in their games. He rode on the back of bicycles and brought back their marbles in his beak, but his favorite sport remained Hopparoo. Mamacita was so proud of him and he now had many friends. He was bolder, happier and had the best legs ever seen on a crow. And so it came to be that Jeremy M. Hoppola became the neighborhood hopscotch champion, loved and feted by the residents of Glen Gate Street. He learned that it’s okay to be different, as long as you’re happy and not hurting anybody. And that being all the same isn’t that much fun anyway. So if you see a crow with the shiniest black feathers, bright raisin eyes and a lopsided gait hopping up to you, you’ll know who it is, won’t you?

~The End~

Jeremy the Crow, Part II

6 Feb

[Continued from here.]

*******

“Oh Jeremy,” wailed Mamacita, “Crows can’t forget to fly!” as she bandaged his swollen leg and tattered wing with velvety catnip leaves. The little fellow hung his head in shame and feared he’d never see the outside world again. His leg throbbed painfully, but he put up a brave front and lay quietly in bed as Mamacita went about her chores. The days passed. With his siblings gone, the nest was quieter and Jeremy lay watching racing clouds during the day and colorful kites in the evenings. He felt much better, but his leg wasn’t any stronger. Every time he tried to stand up, it would give way and he would tilt lopsidedly on his good leg. His right wing wouldn’t open out fully and he’d eventually give up after hours of trying. “Look, Mamacita!” he’d say in those early days, when he still believed he could fly, but soon the disappointment in his mother’s eyes became more painful than his battered body and he gave up.

Mamacita, in her defense, was a practical crow. She knew she wouldn’t be around forever and that Jeremy needed to make the best of the situation and learn to look after himself. And so, with much goading and prodding, she taught him how to half-climb, half-tumble out of their home and hop along the ledge that ran below it. Soon, Jeremy was confidently making forays into the neighborhood dustbins, feasting on leftover meat and scraps of Chinese takeaway. He grew into a handsome bird with glossy, inky feathers, shiny, alert eyes and a face wiser than his years. He was happy with his own company and would spend hours watching children at play and cars trundling past the barricade on Glen Gate Street.

One particular game intrigued Jeremy. The children threw a pebble onto a square on the ground, raised a leg and hopped over to that square, whipping around and hopping back to pick up the pebble. They reminded Jeremy of himself, and he edged nearer to the park to see them. He was usually careful not to get too close, because he couldn’t fly away like other crows, and he preferred to watch from behind the safety of a bush. Today, however, there were fewer children in the play area, as most of them were attending D Baby’s birthday party, and Jeremy felt bolder. After quickly checking that no one was looking, he hopped onto the fake turf with its chalk pattern.

(concluding part coming up…..)