Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

The day is about to break. And just before the sun is to appear on stage, an orange sheen has engulfed the azure sky. Birds frolicking by and she, yet half asleep is all set to practice for her music competition.

Even on the final day she is far from perfecting the song her teacher has selected for her. Scared and nervous and with tears in her eyes she requests to change the song. A vehement 'No' from him falls on her ear with a loud thud.

How could you chicken out as a loser at the last minute? Don’t you know that more difficult the song is; higher is your chance to win the competition! Can’t you feel the pathos of the song? Shame on you!

Meekly she helps herself with the harmonium. Stream of tears rolls down her cheeks and leaves behind a trail of leftover kaajal. Closing her eyes in order to gather strength, she picks up her lines again from the beginning. In the other room her courtesan mother burns an incense stick to bring good-luck to her child.

The essence of her imperfect voice fills the room. Yet she continues,

Piya tora kaisa abhimaan.....

Here the day is windy and holding her pooja thali she stands by her window to witness the sunrise. It is a ritual by now and in those moments of solitude she in fact waits for something unknown to hit her hard and pierce her soul. An unlit earthen lamp along with few marigolds, chandan, incense sticks and some mishri dana adorns her plate. Her stoned eyes explore the widespread ghat. People are yet to come out to take a holy dip to attain salvation. And in this odd hour when the ghat is accompanied by quietude, she finds it to be the most beautiful.

Salvation! Is there anything called salvation at all? She has spent almost her whole life here on the banks of Ganges taking regular holy dips and at the stairs of the temples, cleaning them with utmost sincerity and devotion. Yet she doubts attaining even a part of it!

A sudden gush of wild wind hits her face and forces her out of her reverie. The adamant wind doesn’t stop there and shows the audacity to slide down the aanchal that covered her head.. Disturbed, she shuts the window close and reaches the corner of her room where a torn calendar adorns her wall. It reminds her that it’s Ekadashi today and is one of those days when she observes fasts for the peace of the departed soul. It would help her to attain salvation, that's what people told her. 

Inside the four walls of the dingy ashram room, her place looks surprisingly tidy. Simply because there is nothing enough to make it look otherwise. Dragging open her little wooden box she sits on the floor to explore the bygone days of her life. With her feeble hands she takes out a saree from it and spreads it on her lap. Her fingers cannot resist exploring the uncountable creases on it. She notices that even after so many years, the mark still remains. The gold ring was long gone but the mark of it has never left her skin. 

Safely tucked inside the folds of her saree are her only treasures. They are carefully wrapped in an old newspaper. She unfolds it neatly and a lock of jet black hair falls at her feet. She gently picks it up and on her palms it looked like a piece of vagabond dark cloud which is about to burst any moment. A sepia toned postcard and a notebook full of songs which she once sang remain still inside the newspaper folds. The ink on the postcard has given up and has fallen apart. It was his last letter to her where he had vehemently asked her to stop singing forever. After that he never came back but his dead body wrapped in white. Afterwards she was ruthlessly bereaved of everything. 

Her heart skipped a beat thinking about the songs on the pages of the notebook. She was afraid to touch her most treasured item for she knew that opening it will unchain her forever. 

With a bang she shuts the box close and hastily moves on to the banks of Ganges. By the time she reaches, herds of people have already accumulated to take holy dips. She is wearing the saree that she has kept caged inside the box for many years. It is the same saree which wrapped her body once she was bereaved of every color. It is the same saree which she wore the day when her in-laws blamed her for their son’s loss and refused to take her responsibility anymore. She was wearing the same saree on one such Ekadashi when her own brother handed her a coin and threw her in the massive pool of people gathered on the banks of Ganga. They never looked back and she hardy moved on. 

But today something made her adamant to attain her holy salvation. Once the innumerable holy dips could not salvage her, she, with her trembling wet hands tore apart the postcard into million pieces and let them go with the waves of holy Ganga. From the corner of her saree she untied the same coin and paid her last homage to the deity by throwing it in the sacred water. This time she did not adjust the headcover anymore when the wild wind exposed her bereaved head. 

Wrapped in her wet saree, Vrinda steps out of the water. Drops of water streamed down from her wet body and formed a pool around her feet. Stepping on to it she finally chooses the path of her salvation. Not towards the temple but towards an unknown horizon of freedom and self-love. Her notebook being her only companion. 

At the same time in another part of the world, a courtesan mother burns incense sticks for the success of her child. After a long wait it’s her turn to be on stage. Sheepishly she adjusts the mike as well as the harmonium. She is nervous and felt as if her throat has dried up. But she was adamant not to give up. Perhaps her mother’s prayers were accepted by her God and hence a sudden courage engulfed her from within. Just at the last minute she forsakes the song she has practiced for more than a month and decides to go with the song that her heart has always proclaimed to her. Next, the vibrancy and the essence of her flawed voice fill up every nook and corner of the surrounding. The vigour of the song spreads around and the whole crowd joins her. Kusum knows that she is not getting the words and tunes correct and yet she does not stop. She continues to sing with all her heart while touching the chord of someone’s heart somewhere in the universe.

Mann ke manjeere aaj khanakne lage 
Bhoole the chalna, kadam thirakne lage 
Ang ang baaje mrudang sa, sur mere jaage 
Saans saans mein baans baans mein, dhun koi saaje 
Gaaye re, Dil ye gaane laga hai, 
Mujhko aane laga hai 
Khud pe hi aitbaar 
Sun lo.. Ab na akeli hoon main, 
Apni saheli hoon main, Saathi hoon apni main.


This is in response to a contest hosted by Corinne, at WriteTribe. In this week's prompt we need to write a piece/a story/ a poem incorporating the following 7 words in random order : postcard, coin, tidy, wild, help, calendar, responsibility.

Write Tribe

P.S: Piya tora kaisa abhimaan and Mann ke manjeere, are songs sung by the legendary singer Ms. Subha Mudgal. Both the songs are very close to my heart.