The River – Very Short Stories

This story is fiction loosely based on a true incident. I have woven it around news and true incidents of floods and flash floods that occur at many places during the monsoon season. Read more about it at the end.

The river had always been there. It had been a part of every phase of Nandu’s life. His boyhood was spent cooling off in its cool water during the hot summer afternoons. And of course, the fish which was their daily meal came from the river. The river was their lifeline.

Nandu used to make and sell marigold garlands to the devotees, who thronged the ‘Ghats’. They were people who bathed in the river, believing it would wash away their sins

The river was holy for those who believed. For Nandu, it was an extra buck. The more the people, the more garlands he sold, as these were used in the ritual of offering prayers and other religious rites.

Nandu was an orphan who would have met a watery death in the river if it hadn’t been for ‘Nani’ (Nani is the Hindi word for maternal grandmother). Mary, who was called Nani by all and sundry, wasn’t his relative. She had picked up the abandoned baby from the riverbank. She was the only family he knew. She was poor but had a heart of gold; uneducated but wise. Very early, she taught Nandu the importance of the river in their lives.

He remembered how fascinated and scared he was as a child, when he saw the river in spate for the first time, during a rather heavy monsoon downpour. It swelled and overflowed its banks and the angry swirling water threatened to flood the town.

“Nani, where does the river come from ?”

“From a very big mountain, high up in the Himalayas,” she replied.

“Where does it go ?”

“Very, very far. To the end of the rainbow.”

“What does it do there ?” asked Nandu in wonderment.

“It goes up the rainbow and returns to the mountain.”

“Nani, does the river never end?”

“No, it goes on forever.”

He thought for a while, then turned to Nani again.

“But Nani, why is it so angry?”

“Because you have been very naughty.”

“If I say I’m sorry, will it stop from flooding the town?”

“Well, it’s always good to say you’re sorry,” was her circumspect reply.

“Will it forgive me?”

“That’s for the river to say. I cannot speak for it,” was her gentle reply. “It does what it has to do, goes where it has to go. It is controlled by external powers that often overpower man’s superior and scientific mind.”

“It scares me when it is in fury, like this,” he said. “I fear it will wash me away too. It will carry me away to the rainbow.”

“Don’t worry about that. You weren’t destined to be carried away.” She said that with the confidence that only comes with knowledge.

“How do you know that Nani?!”

“The river takes only those who belong to it,” she replied quietly, “those whose life purpose has been fulfilled. Only they flow to the rainbow.”

Nandu sat quietly, contemplating that information.

Mary’s life revolved around Nandu. Their need for each other arose from a deep-seated pain within, which grew out of rejection and abandonment. Nandu’s adoration and respect for Nani grew as he watched her slog from dawn to dusk, to keep him clothed, fed, and educated. Mary would take up any work she found. Sometimes it would be breaking stones, where a road was being built, or carrying mud and bricks on her head at a construction site. But she was always full of warmth, comfort, and love.

Her face was sunburnt and her hands were rough. She was strong. Nandu was in awe of her especially when she got into one of her tempers. Her eyes would blaze and her tongue would lash the recipient of her ire.

One day, Mary came home with Paul, whom she had met at the site where a Christian hospital was being built. Nandu and Paul sat talking late into the night. That day Nandu learned about another river – the river of life that flowed from the Rock of Ages.

Paul began visiting them often. Nandu’s curiosity led him to question and debate all that he was learning about the “great Fisherman”; His life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Day by day he grew in the knowledge and love of Christ. He would read passages from the Bible Paul had gifted him, and listen intently as his new friend explained the mysteries of the Word. Mary watched with immense joy and contentment. Her life’s work would fructify in Nandu and flow like the river, beyond the rainbow to salvation and everlasting life.

One day they gathered at the river and Nandu was baptized by a visiting pastor. That night dark clouds gathered in the sky. There was a mighty crash of thunder as a cloudburst over the town took the people unawares. Before they realized what was happening the deluge engulfed and destroyed everything in its path.

Nandu awoke in a hospital ward. He was disoriented and confused. Paul, sitting on a chair by his bedside, silently watched him.

Nandu shut his eyes and slowly it all came back.

The flash.

The roar.

The deluge.

It wrenched his heart and his body convulsed with bitter sobs. The only vivid memory he had was of Nani being carried away by the devouring water. She didn’t fight or try to save herself. She seemed a part of the river — She was the river, flowing on forever.

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(This was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009) Under the title ‘Beyond The Rainbow’. I’ve edited it a bit and changed its title.

This story was inspired by a true incident where someone I knew, an affluent lady, adopted the girlchild of a laborer she saw while driving down the hilly, undulating roads of the place she lived. The woman was on work as a part of the paid labor working on repairing the hill roads. Her baby girl, about a few months old, was in a hammock made out of cloth and hung from branches of trees stacked up to hold the hammock with its tiny load. She agreed to give up the child who was the youngest one of perhaps 4 or 5 kids! She already had two girls and was only too happy to give this one away. This little girl grew up in her new well-to-do, non-Christian family without any knowledge of her birth parents. She was educated in a prestigious Christian school.

Much later, when she was a young woman, like Nandu in the story, she embraced Christianity. I learned about this last development recently. Another similarity, like Nandu, she lost her mother, my colleague, when she was still a young schoolgirl. It was an untimely death and came as a shock. When this story was written, I never imagined in my wildest thoughts that the little girl my colleague had adopted would turn to Christ since the family followed another religion. So I was quite surprised at how this story merged in some points at the end.

The rest is all fiction.

Tele-Sympathy – Very Short Stories

From the archives: The answering machine, in this story, popped up in my mind when some of my calls were answered with fed-in messages on a couple of answering machines. It popped up as an ideal instrument and provided the answer to the protagonist’s dilemma!

Rrrrrrring Rrrrrrring. Susan waited for the ringing to stop.  She was thoroughly fed-up with the anonymous calls.

The bell rang insistently. She picked up the receiver and waited to hear the mocking and taunting remarks. Susan had retired from her teaching job and settled in this little hill-town, where she intended to start a Bible-School Holiday Resort, for school children. A place where they could come during their summer vacation, for a two-week program.

The concept was to approach the teaching of Christian values and principles with less legalism and preachy methods. She wanted Christian children to learn the practical way of applying God’s word to their lives so that they could enjoy being Christians while they continued to be in right-standing with God. Her friends had volunteered to contribute their cultural, artistic, and musical expertise to enhance the program. However, she wasn’t granted permission to open the resort as the locals opposed the proposition. They thought the resort was a cover to brainwash young minds.

Susan was disappointed. Then the anonymous calls began. Most of them were filled with taunts, jibes, and resentment. Susan was at the end of her tether. She had to do something about this. 

“Use their instrument but to provoke unto love and to good works,” whispered her inner voice.

Susan couldn’t understand how God wanted her to use the telephone. She decided to shift her mind away from this unpleasant situation. She called up a friend. No luck just the answering machine. She tried another and then another. Three answering machines later, she decided to go for a walk. 

Oh, God! Help me, she thought, and added as an afterthought,  at least YOU don’t put me on an answering machine! and she laughed. Then abruptly she stopped laughing. 

The answering machine, the answering machine! she whispered.

Without wasting a minute more, she hurried back to the town. A few inquiries, a few calls, and Susan returned home bursting with hope and great expectations. Finally, the answer to her prayers arrived securely packed in a cardboard box. With the help of a linesman working with the Telephone Department, the answering machine was connected and Susan waited.

All the calls were now greeted with a cheery message that said,  “Hi, I’m praying for you. If you have any problems, let me know, I’ll pray for that too. Thanks for calling.”

After a few days, the calls stopped. Was it the calm before the storm or “the peace that passeth all understanding,”  Susan wondered?

And then it came; a call; a prayer request made in a breathless, hushed voice. Others followed. Susan could recognize the voices of her five persistent callers, and she believed they were between twelve and seventeen years old. She had even given them names according to their attitude and tone and language so she could identify her anonymous callers.

Now she learned that Saucy Sue was exasperated with her parents’ constant quarreling, Giggly Gertrude wanted to run away from the orphanage because they sent the kids to work as domestic help during holidays. Stuttering Stewart didn’t like being teased, Arrogant Aaron didn’t believe in an invisible God or that one even existed, and Martyr Marty was always feeling the victim. Long conversations with each other led to a special bond of trust and faith between the two sides. This continued for some years. Susan never tried to find out their true identities.

That was fifteen years ago. And now Susan would meet them for the first time. Their visit coincided with the welcome reception her church had organized for the new pastor. Two happy events. She hurried to church eagerly that Sunday. To her surprise, Susan found Reverend Sushil Simon, the new priest, younger than she had expected.

She delivered her welcome speech and as she returned to her seat, a familiar voice said,  “Thank you, Susan, for such a warm welcome. It’s nice to come home again.”

Susan almost fainted. Arrogant Aaron! She was sure she had heard the voice that had argued incessantly with her about a non-existent God, almost to the point of making her give up.

She stood still. She couldn’t believe her ears. And was sure she wasn’t mistaken. 

“It is you!” She whispered. Later, when the formalities were over, Sushil walked up to her and smiled.

“I’d like you to meet some of the others,” he said. 

He introduced her to the others. All had done well for themselves. Susan looked at Arrogant Aaron (she still couldn’t call him anything else!) with a question in her eyes, which he answered softly, “1 John 4: 12, I finally understood it. Thank you.” (12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.) NIV

Susan couldn’t speak, but her tears spoke volumes, as she led her friends home. There was so much to say, so much to hear.

This was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009).

On Breaking Down

From the archives:

I cringed at having to attend funerals. I never seemed to know how to express my sorrow and to what degree. Emotional by nature, I was moved very deeply by someone’s grief. However, expressing it was an art I had yet to master.

Often termed ‘tough’ by my family, I had molded myself to live up to the impression, without consciously realizing it. My shoulder was always the Rock of Gibraltar that gave solace to weeping, heart-broken friends in college. Over the years, counselling, advising, and listening became my forte and I soon became the agony aunt people sought.

Marriage, in-laws, kids, and career posed new challenges along the way. Each was to be met and resolved firmly, positively, and cheerfully. I had learned the art of hiding my emotions. Displaying pain, disappointments, tears of anger, frustration, or grief did not become me, hence they needed to be hidden. At some point in time, I became a perfect pretender.

Then tragedy struck. I lost my husband. I couldn’t cry, really cry, in public. Not even in front of family. A trickle of tears was all that managed to get past the dam. I found myself incapable of expressing the deep sorrow, fear, and insecurity I felt. To people, I appeared calm and composed. They called me BRAVE.

Since then, funerals became even more difficult to attend. Fortunately, there weren’t any I had to attend of close friends or relatives till that day in August 2000. My eldest sister lost her elder son to militancy in Tamenglong. He was just 26 yrs old. My nephew was a young, brave, promising officer in the Army. Just twenty-six; he was not only the apple of his parents’ eyes but also the pride of the entire family.

I did not know how I was going to console my sister and express the deep sense of personal loss I felt. Dry-eyed, I tried the best I could. It was not difficult as both she and her husband faced it with a stiff upper lip. I wondered if they were going through the same turmoil I had experienced in my own tragedy.

The memorial plaque in my nephew’s name with many others who were martyred in action. These memorial plaques are along the Raj Path, in New Delhi, between the Rashtrapathi Bhawan (the President’s official residence) and India Gate (which is in the background, to the right, in the pic)

Their son was given a martyr’s funeral with full military honors. When the buglers had sounded the Last Post and the echo of the gun salute had faded away, the flag that had draped his coffin was presented to his parents. In the deep silence that wrapped this poignant ceremony, we heard the broken voice of my brother-in-law saying – “We bear no ill-will against those who killed our son,” as they accepted the National Flag.

Somehow, the quiet dignity in sharp contrast to their pain-wracked faces and haunted eyes unlocked the door on years of pent-up emotions and I felt the pinprick of tears. They welled up, broke the dam, and overflowed.

I cried.

Unashamed. Unmindful of the onlookers – military personal, news crew, TV crew, journalists and many civilians who had come to honor a martyr from their city – I was crying not only for my sister and her family but also for myself.

I had learned, finally, to accept the pain and sorrow, anguish; feel it and express it without feeling that I was a weakling.

In years of trying to be what my family thought of me, I had forgotten to be myself. By reaching out to my grieving sister and experiencing her pain, I came face to face with my true self and I was not ashamed. I came away laying to rest all my fears and misconceptions.

I no longer shy away from the onerous task of condoling a death or offering solace to the bereaved. I can share their pain and sense of loss because I have accepted my own pain and deep sense of irreparable loss.

And I am at peace with it.

Note: This article was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009)

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Below is a bit about my nephew Capt. Hemant J. Prem Kumar.

Capt. Hemant Prem Kumar (SM) https://www.honourpoint.in/profile/capt-hemant-prem-kumar-sm/

Captain Hemant Prem Kumar was born on 29th October 1974 and hailed from Pune in Maharashtra. Born in the military family of Lt Col Joseph Prem Kumar and Mrs. Priscilla, Capt. Hemant nursed the idea of joining the armed forces since his childhood. He followed his dream and joined the army at the age of 23 years. He was commissioned on 5th Sep 1997 into the 15 Jat battalion of the Jat Regiment, an infantry regiment well known for its gallant soldiers.

Manipur Operation: 30 Aug 2000

In 2000, Capt. Hemant Prem Kumar’s unit was deployed in the Temenglong district of Manipur. During that period Capt. Hemant was performing the duties of an Adjutant, as well as, functioning as commander of the Ghatak platoon (commandos) of the battalion. At that time several insurgents belonging to NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) one of the factions of NSCN led by Isak Chishi Swu, were active in the AOR (area of responsibility) of the unit. Capt. Hemant Kumar, in a short period, developed a strong intelligence network and undertook numerous operations against the insurgents in the area.

On 30th Aug 2000, Capt. Hemant Kumar carried out one more counter-Insurgency operation in Temenglong Bazar. After the successful operation, Capt. Hemant Kumar & his comrades headed back to the unit. The insurgents belonging to the NSCN-IM faction in a pre-planned move attacked  Capt. Hemant Kumar & his troops at around 1335 hours.  Capt. Hemant Kumar was the primary target of the attack and he received direct hits in his chest, back & leg. However,  despite being injured Capt. Hemant Kumar in a rare show of courage engaged the insurgents effectively. His gallant action forced the attackers to flee thereby saving the lives of many of his troops. However,  Capt. Hemant Kumar later succumbed to his injuries and was martyred.

Capt. Hemant Kumar displayed exceptional courage, leadership & command during the operation. He was given the gallantry award, “Sena Medal” for his bravery and supreme sacrifice.  Capt. Hemant Kumar is survived by his father an Army veteran Lt Col Joseph Prem Kumar, mother Mrs. Priscilla, and younger brother Nishant.

I Win the War, One Battle at a Time – weighty problems

Some of these ‘lost and found’ stories/articles that were entered in the challenge round on FaithWriters.com are a fillip to my soul. Like this one. I hope it speaks to someone who is going through something similar and can relate to the way I felt and it helps them.

I recall my orthopedic doctor telling me in his wonderful baritone, “Ma’am, the only way we can make any progress here is if you make a serious effort to follow my instructions and take the first step: LOSE weight.” I had osteoporosis and osteoarthritis was setting in. And the only way any treatment would work was when I reduced weight. It took some years to accomplish because of my attitude and reluctance to rise above my feelings. Years later, this article brings a wide grin and also a sense of pride and gratitude for God’s grace in what I achieved in the BATTLE of the BULGE against ill health. So here goes another from the archives with a spot of editing!

The original was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009)

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“Why don’t you join the WWF?”(World Wrestling Federation)

“Fat doesn’t suit you!”

“Oh my gosh! You’ve become soooo fat! I didn’t recognize you at first!”

These are just some of the painfully direct questions and reactions I get to hear nowadays. Till some time ago, I had enjoyed the compliments that generally came my way due to a slim, well-maintained figure and youthful looks, that had more to do with my genes than any effort on my part or help from beauty regimens. But that was many yesterdays ago.

Six years later and twenty kilos heavier, I find myself cringing at the disbelief I encounter along with the accompanying comments. The onslaught of cancer and the necessary hysterectomy (uterus and ovaries) which followed have defeated all my battles with the bulge and I watch helplessly as my girth grows.

While I labor under a 20kg (44.09 lbs) increase on a 5’2″ frame, it makes me realize how people who are overweight might feel at most times. To have been overweight right from the start is one thing, to become rotund after a lifetime of “slim” is an entirely different issue. It isn’t easy to be sane or practical when you see odd bulges and shapes reflected back at you in the mirror. No matter what you do, the plump face refuses to look anything but puffy!

I try to explain to myself that under all that ‘blubber’, I’m still beautiful because I’m the same person. But who am I kidding? I see my confidence disintegrating every time my husband eyes that pretty, slim, thing that floats by. I feel threatened by his smart, young secretary, and the innumerable slim ladies who walk in and out of his hotel. I hide behind loose, ill-fitting clothes that make me look even more hideous and bulky. And then, I sink into the abyss of “IC,” inferiority complex. (I remarried after six years of widowhood at a time when I was still slim and it’s been only five years in this relationship).

For folks at home and in the office, I’ve become the butt of their jokes. So I have learned to laugh with them. And the worse I feel the louder I laugh. I even make jokes about being a ‘heavy weight’ sumo wrestler. And since I always laugh at myself (in a good way) and joke about the slip-ups and silly things that I do, it appears normal. And I fool myself, too, into thinking that I’ve finally learned to live with it.

Then why am I so low-key? Why do I opt to stay at home so often? Why do I suspect my husband wants to have an affair with every thin woman he sees?!

Why don’t I drown in my tub of lard!!

I need to get a hold of myself. The ‘self’ that I am inside. I’m finding it difficult to live with this person I am becoming.

And then, something happens. I become a widow again! I am in the doldrums and my condition worsens.

As the days pass, thanks to my doctor, I get fresh insights about myself and a better understanding of the situation I am in. It has taken time, but my good humor is restored. I realize what being happy and content is all about. I can see that I am who I am, not because of the kilos my weighing machine records; nor the shape my clothes show off. It’s my attitude. The right attitude will finally win the day. Obese or anorexic-I need a positive mind to lift my spirit (low spirits)! I accept the situation and the reasons for it. And I know it is up to me to change it for the better. Better health – physical, mental, and emotional.

I look at what I have in my life and need to appreciate; be grateful for it.

I still have my family; I still have my friends; I’ve still got love; I’ve still got my job; I still love who I am inside – the real me – and ultimately that’s all that matters.

Postscript: And that’s how the WAR was won, one BATTLE at a time over many years- On low self-esteem. On dwindling confidence. On negative attitude. On self-pity. On ‘pity’ parties. On weakening faith, hope, and joy. On Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis from my late forties onwards. Today in my sixties, I can look back at this arduous journey and smile with joy at having removed the biggest hurdles to better health and a better quality of life.

If you are struggling in the same way as I did and have overcome your battles, I high-five you.

If you are not quite there yet, take heart. You have it in you. You can do it. Stay strong. One day at a time, one step at a time. You can do it.

Things I’ve Learned – a random selection

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

-Wayne Dwyer

So here they are – some of the things that are forefront in my mind.

There is not always comfort in my comfort zone. 

Especially these past almost three years of the pandemic. It’s not a great thing to be locked in for such a long time indoors under restrictions in my home, which is my comfort zone!

(Response: Weigh the options. Choose well. I considered the outcomes… Stay at home and be more protected from the virus. Or break the rules. Open yourself, your family, and friends, to the vicious attack of a killer virus! I chose well.)

Change is a good thing but not always easy!

It’s intimidating. And rises, at times, as an insurmountable mountain. Especially if you have no say in the decisions that are bringing about the changes in your life.

(Response: Face it and you will overcome the initial apprehensions. Things settle in when you are open to working it out for yourself without losing yourself.)

joshua-earle–87JyMb9ZfU-unsplash

When I am feeling downhearted chatting or playing games with a child cheers me up every time. (Especially the laughter and giggles of my grandkids.)

pic: joy Clarkson

That it’s not WHAT I have in my life but WHO I have in my life that counts.

(ResponseAnd remember with gratitude- also those who have been a special part of my life, at some point, and have contributed greatly to my learning experience and growth.)

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

-MAHATMA GANDHI

To accept people the way they are, their natural selves, and appreciate the differences.

(Response: Not always easy but I’ve learned more by appreciating diversity)

nina-strehl-Ds0ZIA5gzc4-unsplash Word press 11

That I should eat what I need to eat and not what I want to eat. Most times, the latter isn’t going to benefit me in any way.

(Response – Decide wisely before ill health forces you to. It took a severe health issue to knock this sense into my head!)

“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”

-OPRAH WINFREY

That no matter what happens, God never fails.

(Response – Patience. Faith. trust. I just have to WAIT for his TIMING.)

priscilla-du-preez-tfu0R745Deo-unsplash

To accept what comes and do with it the best I can to make it better suited to me.

(Response – an open mind. Something I learned from my experience of living in different countries and, at times, outside my comfort zone.)

That I can allow the tears to roll down every time something beautiful I read or see moves me emotionally. Or when hilarious laughter sets the tear ducts overflowing. I needn’t be embarrassed.

(Response – Don’t bother about what people will think. Be your natural self.)

That I need to walk every day! If the weather doesn’t permit, I just have to walk indoors!

(Response walk along a hallway in the house (if there is one) or in the basement (if it’s done up and large enough to serve the purpose) or then in my room! I’ve actually even walked over a thousand steps in my room, though I must say, it’s not something I like. Put health as a top priority and do what needs to be done.)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

I need to dedicate a fixed time to write. I do write when I have to, but it’s not on any allotted day, or time… no fixed schedule!

(Response – I’ve fixed a schedule and I’m trying my best to stick with it!)

And last but not least…That I can’t afford to spend so much time binging on web series

(Response – Realized why I needed to change this. I have many other things to do instead, like READING! It saves my eyes from stress and keeps them from watering. I need to take care of them. And reading books is good for me mentally too. And there’s an added benefit; I get to have a walk… the library is not too far from our place.)

I learn something new every day – through my own experiences or from reading about others’ lives, struggles, and victories. And also…

2photo-pots-X1RQ3b6ZhUs-unsplash

…from listening to and observing other people around me. And most importantly, from my own ups and downs – the struggles and overcoming. The wins and losses. The changes and what they teach me. At work, at home, through interactions with family, friends, neighborhood acquaintances, or even strangers with whom I might have had just brief conversations.

(Response – Observe. Learn. Grow. There’s no age limit or bar, besides it’s good for oneself.)

Let’s Talk… not on the phone

I’ve noticed, in particular, during the lockdown days, how people, who weren’t employed in any job (so no WFH) were more often on the phone calling or face timing with friends or relatives. It’s not that they weren’t doing it before, but during these days they seemed to be desperately in need to chat. I would wonder how they could keep chatting almost every day for hours. And I wondered what they talked about. And then it struck me that it was a psychological reaction. The lockdown distanced us physically. And that created a false sense of emotional distancing as well. So facetime calls and phone calls picked up to belie the false sense of being cut off from family and friends.

I’m not much of a phone person and as such, I don’t get any calls unless there’s something – some news or necessary information – that has to be conveyed to me directly. I rarely call someone just because I want to chat or someone wants to chat with me. Some have tried calling me to ‘pass time’ as they call it, but either I would be occupied with something and not pick the call or then I’d be brief, and after finding there wasn’t anything important or urgent about the call, I’d curtail the chitchat.

If at all I connect, it is via WhatsApp. And that is always a back and forth short messaging. I get to know what’s happening at their end and that all is well. They get to know that we are well. Videos allow me to see activities, conveniently at my time, without me getting stuck in one spot. Barring one friend, I’ve not had phone conversations with anyone, friends or relatives, that lasted any great length of time! And even with her, we’re not on the phone often. Our calls are few and far between, but when we connect, we lose track of time and could be on the phone for two hours! No exaggeration.

So the lockdown didn’t send me to the phone. It’s not that I wasn’t affected. I was. But in a different way. I missed not being able to have my usual pit stop after my walk, at Tim’s, where I’d sit with a cup of almond milk tea and read, write, or catch up with a group of new found “Tim’s” friends. I savored those moments… at times three hours would pass away in a jiffy and I’d be surprised.

And also the times, at least thrice in the week, the grandkids would accompany me on my walks only because they wanted to sit with me at Tim’s later. It’s amazing how they’d also keep occupied with crafty things, reading, drawing or then we’d play table games like Name-Place-Animal-Thing, Qwirkle, or Spot It! We’d talk too… joke and share little snippets of our day. These were wonderful moments. The creation of beautiful memories. I missed this very much.

I admit, the lockdown did affect me. But it didn’t drive me to the phone. My walks helped me at these times. I love to be in open spaces. But inclement weather, rainy days, snowfall, black ice, storms, played the villain quite often through, each in its own season, season after season but more so during the long winters.

Snowbound… beautiful outside, but bound inside! Pic: Joy Clarkson

I missed not being able to connect with nature. Be out in the open. Beneath the boughs of the trees that lined the sidewalks and lanes. Look at the clouds that floated above or an early moon that walked me home.

The companion that walked me home. Pic: Joy Clarkson

Still, that didn’t send me running to the phone. I never needed to chat away the hours to ward off boredom or the doldrums. Instead, I’d occupy myself with reading sitting by a window, or as I do now, where I shifted, by the wide dining room door that opens out onto the deck and the backyard.

I’m glad I connect with nature, in a way, daily via my walks. But I’m also glad I am that person who when locked in during the pandemic restrictions or then due to inclement weather, will stand by the window and look out and:

Soak in the patch of blue sky. Float on the billowy white clouds

My patch of blue. And billowy clouds. Pic: Joy Clarkson

Gaze in awe at the splendor of a sunrise or at a sunset as a masterpiece of divine art.

A beautiful sunrise. Pic: Joy Clarkson

Sway on the branches of the tree below my window.

Pic: Joy Clarkson

Run with the squirrel along the fence in the backyard.

Pic: Joy Clarkson

Hop with the little bird on the deck looking for morsels of food.

Our frequent visitor. Pic: Joy Clarkson

Or have a staring match with the black cat that also comes uninvited into the yard and at times peeps into the dining room! A peeping Tom!

The peeping tom. Pic: Joy Clarkson

Sit with a crow in silent companionship – he perched on a lamppost by my window, I leaning against the window – solitary observers.

Pic: Joy Clarkson

Dance with the snowflakes to the song, “Hey. hey snowflakes, my pretty little snowflakes, the change in the weather has made it better for me, Hey, hey snowflakes, my pretty little snowflakes, you got me warm as a fire with a burning desire for you,” as they twirl in crazy swirls, buffeted by the wind and float down past the window pane.

I need nature – the outdoors, even if it is only a glimpse, as the parched earth needs the rain.

A phone call and gossip aren’t what I need to fill a void.

I love to chat with friends and family, but not too often on the phone. I prefer a face-to-face conversation. I think that places me in a minority group. Almost everyone from teens to the elderly is connecting with family and friends daily, more than once in a day! I can’t call up someone just to tell them what I’m cooking or give them a rundown on my daily chores. Nor would I call just to pass on some juicy gossip! If at all I’m inclined to do so, there’s always WhatsApp! It keeps chatter short. To the point. Gets news across and spreads gossip even faster! 😛

“When you meet me, you think I’m quiet. When you talk to me, you’re glad I’m not. When you know me, you get scared when I’m quiet.” I have no clue who to attribute this to. I read it online.

I’m not a quiet person per se. I am quite chatty. But I like my quiet moments between exchanging news and views with the immediate family around me, conversations, and games with the grandkids. I’d rather immerse myself in a book, or in a mystery/detective/thriller/comic web series, movie. I like to cook if I have hearty eaters to feed. I like to sketch, paint, sing, and click photographs, or then get engrossed in some form of activity involving words if there’s nothing much to talk about or there’s no company!

Lately, I’ve been seriously trying to record as many memories as I can to compile coffee table books with photographs, recipes, anecdotes, etc. for the family. And all these activities preclude conversation. Unlike many others, I don’t like to chat even when I’m cooking! I want to be alone while I work in the kitchen.

The mobile phone, as far as I’m concerned, is a great thing to have when you need to communicate with someone urgently, or convey a message, give necessary instructions, and very convenient for reaching overseas contacts. Handy as a ready-at-hand diary. You have all the important information like addresses, phone numbers, etc., in one place and at hand.

So, yes, though I don’t use it all that much to chat with friends and family, nevertheless, it’s something I need. I panic if I go out without my phone. The phone is as necessary and important to me, too!

Across The Bridge – very short stories

From the archives! This one is loosely based on a true story told to me by a colleague. I’ve added some and embellished it with my own imagination.

Anna awoke from her sleep with a start. She sat up in bed. She was drenched in perspiration and her breathing was heavy. The dream was recurring more frequently these days. Teresa was by her side in an instant.

“What is it memsahib” she asked. “Is it the dream?”

“Yes, the same bridge with turbulent waters flowing beneath, and I stood looking longingly at the dreamland on the other side, but was too scared to go across. I was trembling all over.

Pic: Ronaldo de Oliveira. Unsplash

“Don’t worry memsahib,” Teresa said, and gave her a glass of water and tucked her in.

The next day, Anna woke up to exceedingly good news. Rhea, her granddaughter, was coming from Singapore. She had met Rhea for the first time the previous year. She was twenty-three, bright and vivacious. Anna’s son had married and settled in Singapore. She had met her daughter-in-law just once, when Deepak brought his newly wedded wife to meet his family. After that Deepak too was an infrequent visitor.

Anna was ecstatic. She flitted around tidying up her little room and even took extra care in choosing her clothes and doing her hair. Teresa was happy to see her memsahib looking so nice. It had been a long time since Anna had taken interest in herself.

Anna was born into an affluent family. She was the only child and her parents doted on her. Every little wish of hers became their command, till she turned seventeen. Anna fell in love with a boy her parents didn’t approve of, but she stubbornly stood her ground, and they relented quite reluctantly. Anna’s hopes of continuing her college education were cut short when she became pregnant a month after the wedding. By eighteen she was a mother; at twenty-one, she lost both her parents in an accident, and on her twenty-fifth birthday, she became a widow.

According to the custom of her in-laws’ community, she was forbidden to wear bright colors or jewelry, and she could not participate in any celebrations. And according to superstition, she was considered unlucky. Her husband dying on her birthday made things worse. There was talk about it being a punishment for this ‘interfaith’ marriage. “Manhoos” (bad luck) was what they branded her. She was shifted to two small rooms in the outhouse attached to the servant’s quarters. However, Deepak, her son, was made to stay in the main house and was brought up by his uncle.

This was when Anna realized her folly in not paying heed to her parents’ objections to her marriage outside their religion and culture. Deepak grew apart from his mother and the chasm widened when he was sent to study abroad. If it hadn’t been for Teresa, Anna would have landed up in an asylum. Teresa had been sent to her by her parents, to look after Deepak. But God had other plans and Teresa became Anna’s caregiver.

Anna couldn’t forgive her in-laws for what they had done. She was angry and thought God had given up on her too. The only person she met or spoke to was Teresa. Sometimes someone from the house would come to meet her, but she wouldn’t talk to them. Soon even these visits stopped. Then Rhea came into her life like a bright ray of sunshine. Whenever she came on business trips, she visited her and she’d spend most of her time with Anna whom she called Dadi (father’s mother). She was pained to see how Anna had been treated by the other relatives and couldn’t understand why her father did not take his mother out of this pathetic living condition. She had left with promises that she would do something if no one else did.

Anna kept looking at the clock on the wall. Time was dragging its feet! She was annoyed. She was excited. She was waiting eagerly for her beloved granddaughter. What if she didn’t show up?

The sound of a car, a honk, followed by the sound of footsteps, perked her up.

“Dadi, I’m back,” announced Rhea hugging Anna tightly. Wasting no time in further chit chat or pleasantries, she turned to Teresa, “Pack up Dadi’s things. Oh, and yours too,” she added.

“Why missy baby?” asked Teresa.

“Because you are coming to live with me too. I’ve joined a firm here and shifted base and I’m taking my darling Dadi with me.”

There was hardly anything to pack so it wasn’t long before they were in the car and speeding along to their new home. Anna closed her eyes and relaxed. And once again she was at the bridge, but this time she was not alone. Boldly she put her hand into her Maker’s hand and crossed the bridge.

“Dadi, wake up. We’ve arrived.”

Anna opened her eyes and smiled, Yes my child we have indeed, she said. What’s that line you quoted the last time you were here?

“If you hug to yourself any resentment against anybody else, you destroy the bridge by which God would come to you,” repeated Rhea.

“Ah, a wise head on such young shoulders,” and she kissed Rhea tenderly.

Joy Clarkson

(This was first published on FaithWriters.com in a series of stories between 2006-2009)

How Green Was My Valley – very short stories

I was surprised and exhilarated to find some short stories and articles I had written over fifteen years back. I had just started experimenting with writing to keep my mind off my severe bone-related problems that kept me from walking beyond a few steps at a time; sitting was painful after a short while; turning on my side in bed required help; cervical and lumbar discs kept me in constant pain… in short, I tried to take my mind off by writing in short spans as and when I was able to sit and type. I avoided painkillers and bore the pain as I didn’t want to get addicted to painkillers. This writing activity kept me going in fits and starts. How grateful I am for this discovery! And the journey I’ve taken with (I admit) many groans and moans towards a better condition. The story is pure fiction based on the current situation we were facing at the time.

Shikhara on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir. Pic: Amit Jain on Unsplash

‘Terror strikes again in the Valley

‘Car Bomb Explodes Near……in The Valley

‘Terrorists Kidnap Four Foreign Tourists in the Valley

The Valley was making headlines everyday. It had always been written about but never this way.

This beautiful hill station or “Valley,” as it had come to be called, had always inspired poets; writers of nature; naturalists; and had been the backdrop and location of many romantic stories and movies. It was a tourists’ paradise. I used to call it MY valley. But it wasn’t mine anymore. There was a time…

Three decades ago, a young college girl visited the Valley for the first time. She never left. Here she had met a handsome, young officer who had recently been commissioned into the Army. He belonged to the Valley region and his family had been living there for years.

Shikhara on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir. Pic: Ishani Mathur on Unsplash

The days that followed could well have been out of a Mills & Boons novella. Their love bloomed and one could see this pretty, young thing with her tall, handsome Adonis taking long walks along the lake. Or going on treks into the mountains. Often they would hire a shikhara, a flat-bottomed boat, and sit silently holding hands while they took in the exquisite beauty of the vast expanse of placid water, surrounded by verdant hills. The boatman would row the shikhara to Char Chinar, a little island with a small restaurant, in the middle of the lake. It got its name from the four (char) Chinar trees that grew on the island.

At the Char Chinar, they would alight and drink Kahwa, a delicately flavored tea (without milk) with green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, saffron, dried rose petals, and slivers of almonds in it.

They used to talk and laugh a lot. Her striking, gentleman officer was not only a good conversationist but also had a great sense of humor. Their return from Char Chinar was always very romantic. The sun would be setting and the water of the lake reflected the hues of the burning sky. They would ask the boatman to sing a love song of the hills. And as the lilting melody wafted across the lake, their boat glided smoothly over the slowly darkening water. She always wanted that moment to stand still…

…I felt a slight nudge. All of a sudden three decades had flown by. I was in the present, surrounded by people – Army officers, dignitaries from the Government, journalists. I mustn’t let my mind wander. I have to concentrate and listen to the announcer. Yes, he is describing the heroic exploits of an officer as he faced a terrorist attack on the Army Base in the Valley.

And then I step forward and walk to the podium to receive from the President, “the highest gallantry award for bravery in peacetime, awarded to… posthumously.” My officer of the Valley was no more.

The tears sting my eyes, threatening to overflow. I mustn’t cry. The President is saying something. There are flashes as Press cameras click away. It’s all a blur. Then I walk forward, lift my hands to take the medal and Citation and walk back. I had been made to practice this, so it came automatically but so did the tears. They never made me practice holding them back.

A young, handsome, Army officer opens his arms and holds me. He looks like his father. I lay my head on his shoulder.

The Valley had given and the Valley had taken.

I lift my head and look into the eyes of my son. How much was the Valley going to take before peace was restored…..I dared not even wonder.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Info:

  • TITLE: How Green Was My Valley
    By joy Clarkson First published on Faithwriters.com
    08/13/06
  • Jan Ackerson: This is lovely, and a wonderful glimpse into an unfamiliar (to me) culture. If you attempt publication, you may have to change the title, as it is the name of a famous novel. Very nicely written.
  • Valerie Routhieaux: This is very good. Titles aren’t copyright. The title fits this piece.
  • Lynda Schultz: Excellent. You had me glued to the page.

Questions there are no wrong answers to!

When my boys were little boys, there was no end to the questions I had to answer. The Why, What, How, Which, When, and Why not. So at times, I had to actually think about my answers; how to word them, and how much to tell. At other times I’d shoot off some funny reply that would set them laughing, and then there were those days when I’d have to look up an answer to verify my facts!

Many years later, I am back catching questions thrown at me by my granddaughters between the ages of 5-12. With the immense changes that have taken place, and the intelligence today’s kids have due to their exposure to so much of knowledge and information, my answers are questioned for further clarification and often challenged by their opinion (yes, they have opinions)!

Well, I thought I’d ask some questions today that can’t be challenged because there are no wrong answers. Just pure fun and laughter. Or you could even be serious and provoke some serious thought with an answer. It’s your answer and it’s the RIGHT answer!

Don’t worry, the Qs aren’t going to put weight on your gray matter. Nor do you have to refer to any books. But you would need a lot of imagination, a bit of humor, or (decent) crazy (there are boundaries you shouldn’t cross here!). While the questions may, at first, appear kiddish to you, pause a while. Think about it. What if… then just write down your answer/answers in the comments.

What is the nicest “I love you” moment you can recall from this week?

What is the funniest word you’ve ever heard?

When you are tempted to do something you know is wrong, what helps you stand strong and not do it?

Would you have liked to spend 40 days and nights in Noah’s Ark with Noah’s family and the animals? How would you have passed the time?

What day of this past year would you like to live all over again?

If you could be invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

That’s enough for today! I had a great time thinking about the answers. At times I had to choose between two answers, and I liked both equally. Have a nice day!

Three’s A Crowd – Cagha with a bell.

I think I’m missing the flora and fauna of my surroundings in NB. I miss the crows that would often alight on the trees behind my room and the ones that frequented the big one outside the dining room window. So, I hopped over to my photoblog to view some pics I’d clicked through my window. I liked these ones and the refreshed childhood memory of my pet crow Cagha. A crow that I didn’t call my pet because it was caged. But a crow that flew free and wild but visited me and responded to my call if it were ever in the vicinity. I am sharing this post I’d written much earlier for my Photoblog.

Through my window, I watched a scene played out within seconds between 8.21 am and 8.22 am, on the branches of a tree. At 8.21, I observed a single crow land on a branch. Quick on its tail came the second one. That’s when I decided to click them.

I hurried but by then, I saw the third fly in and perch by them. I clicked furiously and before I knew it the third whizzed off. The other two continued in silent companionship for a while and then made for wherever their heart desired. Somehow I found some humor here and also nostalgia.

Two’s company, three’s a crowd,’ I thought. My mind going back to #Cagha… my ‘Cagha with a ghungroo’! A ghungaroo is a small dancer’s bell. A number of these are either stitched to a panel of cloth or strung on a cord which is then fastened around a dancer’s ankle.

I was looking for some quotes about crows and found quite a few; poems, quotes, sayings. There are so many things written about crows and not all complimentary or kind. Its black color and lack of any aesthetic features, its nature – predatory, all seem to go against it.

Back in my country, crows don’t come under such strong discrimination. At least, I’m not aware of it. In fact, superstition says, if a crow sits on the roof shingles, patio, verandah, garden or branch of a tree in close proximity to the house, faces your property, caws away to glory, it means you’ll be having guests, usually, unexpected ones!

When I was a little child, and we lived in the Southern part of the country, locals believed that eating crow’s meat would cure whooping cough! I cannot vouch for this cure but it remained a popular belief.

To me, crows were sneaky snatchers. I’ve had sandwiches and other eatables plucked out of my hand many a time. But as a child and an adult, my attitude towards them has never been one of hatred or dislike.

In fact, as a little girl, I found them interesting. I associated them with the occult, magic, and other sinister activities and since I loved reading about witches, ghosts, and everything scary, yes, they had my attention; crows were intriguing. This anecdote from my childhood will illustrate this better.

CAGHA my pet crow –

We lived on a Naval base in the South on a manmade island in the backwaters. Flocks or should that be a murder of crows flocked to our big front garden daily because I and my brother would feed them with crumbs or anything we could snitch from the store. I would call out “Aaa, Aaa,” {”come, come”} with an outstretched arm, goodies in my cupped hand {that’s also how, sometimes, my food would get snatched out of my other hand! ;)}.

One day, a young crow landed plonk in the middle of the spacious front verandah where I sat astride the balustrade eating and feeding the crows as usual. My elder brother picked the bird to inspect what was wrong because it was hobbling, and couldn’t fly either. Someone had clipped a few of its wing feathers haphazardly and injured one leg.

We swung into action. It was so exciting. We yelled for Mummy. She always knew what to do when we were stumped! Especially with wounds, cuts, bruises, or illness. She’d come up with some home remedy that would work winders.

Sometime later, Mummy, with the cook’s help smeared turmeric and some kind of oil, coconut or mustard, I’m not sure, on the wound and bandaged it. They put the poor thing in a cage that had once housed a parrot that escaped. I removed a small brass ‘gunghroo’ from my ankle bells {Indian dancers wear them around their ankles} and tied it around the neck loose enough so it wouldn’t choke, and tight enough so the bell wouldn’t fall off.

We nursed Cagha, that’s what I named the crow, back to health. The wing feathers grew back a bit and it would hop and make short flights around the room until one day, Cagha flew out the door and perched itself on the balustrade of the front balcony. There was a sudden shout of joyful cawing from a few fellow crows gathered outside; in the garden and the tree outside the wall.

Cagha cawed, spread his wings and joined the tribe. I was sad, lost and alone.

Many days passed and Cagha never returned. Mummy consoled me saying that the season had changed and the crows would be back after a few months. Still, I would ritually make my calls for Cagha every day from the front verandah. I have always been the ever hopeful, persevering one!

She was wrong. 

Cagha returned after two weeks or so.

He flew down to where I was, bigger and stronger, with the ghunghroo jangling around the neck. Words can’t describe my joy! Our twosome companionship carried on a few months and then, Cagha disappeared.

Later that year, I spotted him, the jangling bell giving him away. He was in the branches of the tree outside. I called to him. No response. I gave up.

Then I heard a flutter of wings, a caw and there was Cagha. He flew in like the wind, perched near me for a split second, and took off. Not alone, but with the other one on the tree. He had forged his own twosome – COMPANY. I made it a CROWD!

“Goodbye Cagha,” I whispered softly.

My seven-year-old heart was broken!

Years later in my teens another pet, the wild and free kind, a chipmunk named ‘Chippy,’ conveyed the same message to me with a tiny nip on my palm! It didn’t break my heart, but it took me by surprise!