Category Archives: hope

NOVELLA

(The story continues. Image is a photo of the Sivaganga Temple Tank, in Thanjavur)

His eyes looked eerily at the two men.
The harbormaster cleared his throat, fighting back a gob of phlegm, and then looked at Balaram. A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the sky.
The sudden flash threw a light onto him, leaving merely the harbormaster and the lieutenant in darkness.
“So, to continue, three years later his father got a new job opportunity in Kanchipuram. But my sister…bloody Saraswati! She’d taken a liking to this soulless bastard and wanted to go with him. Oh, by the bow of Lord Ram!” He threw his hands up with an exasperated sigh.  “Well, our parents agreed to it! I couldn’t believe it and I just wanted to slap both my mother and my father.”
He paused awhile for a short respite.
“Now we too were going to the mainland, and that demon was going to be living wherever we were. I loved to trip, but Narasimha-though he never showed it, hated it-and finally, we lived there. I married young, and so did Sarasvati. Now, Narasimha, well…there’s so much to be said, but let me skip the details. His family had always been patrons of the biggest temples of the temple. And since Brihadisvarar and Chidambaram were major places, they decided to move out of Kanchipuram. They chose Brihadisvarar so this time they shifted to Thanjavur. Of course I still saw him, because we were already soldiers by that time, new recruits. Of course, I preferred fighting out on a ship to just fighting on land. It was also mostly a way of getting away from him. He rose through the ranks and became an excellent cavalryman and brilliant commander.”
“And I think he got married too. A young devadasi, an incredibly beautiful woman; she’s descended from merchants from near the River Ganga or somewhere from the old Pala territories. It was a love marriage, and his parents didn’t really care what he did what his life. I think they understood that she felt the same way about him that he did about her. Well, and here we are now. Narasimha is an enigma, trust me. How he can conform to society and be a husband”-he shuddered slightly-“I have no clue. And if the gods know, they won’t tell me. I still don’t understand how we can still be friends. Perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder.”
A leaden silence descended over the room as a cascade of rain fell from the heavens. Men everywhere rushed from the docks to the safety of the fort. The coastguards put into shallower waters as the sea grew rougher with every drop of water.
Umbrellas were unfurled wherever possible. The roar of thunder chilled the hearts of everyone in the harbor.
Balaram felt like he was in a tomb. Harihar himself looked like the ghost of a young man, taken down during the golden years of his life. “Thank God it’s not the actual monsoon,” he laughed, but was soon subdued by the terrifying quietness.
The harbormaster’s feeble hand navigated towards his sliced mango. He looked at the piece he’d picked up with a grimace on his face, and after a second of contemplation, pushed it away.
“I know something more.”
His voice was a bell in that dead void.
Another flash of lightning illumined his entire body as he stood up, towering over the swarm of flies like a mountain of wrinkled flesh, while his associates remained in the darkness. Balaram took a second to scratch his beard, but merely sighed and remained wordless.
Accidentally kicking over a still rather full squatting pan had not been on his itinerary,  but when it happened he quickly covered his nose and mouth and turned away. The other two men with him hurried down the corridor, gripping their torches tighter in their hands.
“I can’t believe that Narasimha would even come to a damned hellhole like this! What does he do here?” demanded the disgusted Balaram.
The harbormaster and Harihar both sighed as they looked sadly at him.
The former hissed, “I still don’t know. But he keeps some rather interesting prisoners in this dungeon, that’s all I know. He doesn’t put them up for execution. Rather, he has this bizarre form of torture. Well, I wouldn’t precisely call it that as well, but he does something strange. See, all these prisoners are foreign. Well, there are a few would-be deserters from our side ready for the chopping block, but mostly Lankan men and women, soldiers and civilians.”

He paused at a cell holding a long-haired, extremely young, slender boy who stared at the world outside with widened eyes.
“People like this…um, outcaste here. His name is Yasa…it’s what he calls himself, at least. Sweet young thing and innocent as a doe. I think he’s about sixteen, but looks much younger. The locals call their outcastes Rodi. They’re a group stricken by poverty; of course, we’ve seen these poor bastards plenty of times in their little mud hut villages. Their women are forbidden to wear a bodice as per local law. Silly law, I should say. But more on that later.”
His eyes lingered on the boy, who tried to return his glance with a small smile, but went to looking disgustedly and dejectedly at the outside world.
Harihar’s mind still clung onto that boy in the cell.
That innocent youngster called Yasa.
His skin was essentially golden, almost matching some of the beautiful sunsets that Harihar himself seen during his stay. A faded and rather torn-up white sarong was wrapped around his waist, reaching his slender ankles. The white cloth concealed slim, smooth-skinned legs that pressed firmly against it as he walked up and down.
Harihar tried to hide a feeling of pity within him as he remembered the youth, but emotion still tainted his words: “So what did he do to find himself here?”
The harbormaster looked wearily at the young man. “It’s Narasimha. Nobody knows, although I think he was the personal attendant of some old Valanji on the enemy side. So he speaks Tamil and the native languages fluently, although he refuses to. I once heard some plans about getting some information out of him, maybe using him as an informant to spy on his employer, but I don’t know, really. Anyhow, there are plenty of female prisoners around here too. What I do know is that he particularly enjoys the company of women, which, frankly…” His own throat was caught up with a strange feeling.
“It frightens me.” He shuddered as he gripped the wall, guiding himself. Harihar, though, held his hand strongly and gently.
After a while, the lieutenant quickly added, “We could at least free the poor thing…I mean; we can’t keep him on what I believe are invalid charges…”
“Enjoys the company of women? That doesn’t sound like the Narasimha I know!” thundered Balaram, turning around suddenly. His right hand flew to the bars of a cell holding a recent prisoner, a thin man with a sizeable beard. Neither of his companions said a thing, but looked bleakly at him.
“I mean, he would never cheat on his wife! He wouldn’t, stop giving me that look, both of you! Narasimha is a good man. Besides, what would he profit from cheating on her?”
Harihar tried to speak, but the Rodi boy’s visage still rose up in his mind. Balaram saw the young lieutenant’s eyes wandering towards the outcaste’s cell when he turned around. He tried to force a dark look in his direction, but instead set himself on the harbormaster’s course. That Yasa, whoever he was, no matter how pretty his face was, was casteless in the end.
Harihar should have nothing to do with him.
They finally encountered a wider space that before, the corridor having opened up into what seemed to be a huge indoor ‘courtyard’.  A few rafters had been broken due to rotting away in the damp air down there, and a few stray raindrops pattered into this squalid place. There were very few cells here, and most were empty. Balaram, though, was more confused to see his best friend seated on a stool facing the cell on the left corner. It seemed to be a spacious, almost homely for a prison cell.
Harihar leaned towards the sailor, and buzzed into his ear:

“This is the prisoner he’s most interested in. According to the reports he never says why. Only that this is a Lankan warrior who truly intrigues him. The Senathipathy has been reading about those warriors of old. The powerful giants who dominated this country thousands of years ago live inside this man’s soul, so he says. But he scares me,” he said knowledgeably, “every time he talks about this prisoner.”

“I’m guessing you want this one as a personal attendant too?” grunted Balaram in sarcasm. “But in all seriousness Harihar, what does this particular prisoner have to do with Narasimha? It’s like he hasn’t moved at all. And I’m pretty sure he knows that we’re here!”

“I only know this prisoner’s name: Anuruddha.”

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NOVELLA



The house had been pretty much a hellhole for a while. Sweaty, half-nude workmen rushed around the place as they labored daily, their sinewy strong hands flying as they hammered at the nails of the mandapa. The sound of saws eating away at wood had never pleased her either, and her head was filled with it when she passed the house’s alms-hall. Looking in their direction would surely throw them off and distract the poor, simple bastards.
Perhaps these men had mastered concentration in a way that she never would.
For a minute, Vishaka stood still, feeling the softness of her supple arms and the silk kasisalushe’d decided to wear as part of her day’s attire. Her nostrils were confused by the stink of sweat and the sweet aroma of her own perfume, neither scent being particularly inviting to her when mixed together.
One laborer smiled broadly at her as she passed him on the corridor facing the courtyard.
That dark-skinned man’s gnarled hands and skinny stomach would never belong in a noblewoman’s home, but here they were! Men like him had built her house, but here he was, hands together in salute to her.
This simple man hadn’t the time to look at his cowlick in the mirror, to oil and comb out his hair! He hadn’t the time to see to his fingernails, but they still met.
“Oh, what am I thinking about?” She shook herself out of her reverie in a split second after he had passed. “He just wants to live and he wants to be reborn as someone with privileged. Maybe the next time we meet, good sir,” she told herself with a smile, leaning against a pillar. Its capital needed a thorough brushing. Already cobwebs were trapping bits of dust, and she could swear that she saw a tiny brown gecko; the little reptile had been scrounging about, ambushing flies like some miniature cat pouncing on rats.
How monstrous she seemed to this tiny beast. Its shining ebony eyes reflected a titanic monster, tan-skinned, with a black patch of something on its head, from another world as it ran-almost slithered-across the shiny surface of the pillar. The new sunlight was just filtering through, into the courtyard, and invisible waves of heat drew themselves up from the soil. Strange shadows flung themselves onto the floor around her as she passed.
His Lordship Surya was always the best artist. She smiled in acknowledgement of the solar king as she let her fingertips graze through the ethereal rays. A little shower of dust was raised into the air with every light footstep, and they rained down to the tiles once more after their short second of levitation. Vishaka’s smile lasted for about as long too, but she locked her lips afterwards. Her expression wavered between shades of uncertainty and certainty as she leaned heavily against another pillar.
The end of her long plait hung down like the head of a giant artist’s brush. Her fingers toyed absently with the individual hairs for a while, after which she let go with a sigh.
Pity her celestial artist wouldn’t be able to color a pleasanter shade over this scene.
Her expression darkened slightly.
She always told herself that she was unshakeable, but the conversation with her guest had been enough to drive Vishaka straight to the kitchen. She still had no clue as to what made her take shelter. It was small, and always slightly smoky. Today, it was bathed in what seemed to be a moderate grey fog. Quickly, her hands rushed up to her face to guard her nose and mouth from the fumes. Yet the fumes rose from the great pots of mixed vegetables on the stoves.
One of the maids constantly restocked the firewood at the heart of each hearth. When one of them opened another pot, the delicious aroma of ghee filled the room, inviting Vishaka to take a whiff. Yet her hands did nothing that allowed her to commit the olfactory sin. She did, however, find the courage to reach for the window just above the stove.
“You know I like to air the place a bit, don’t you now? Do you want to suffocate in here?” she demanded, feigning crossness.
One or two of the servants nodded at her and rushed about the kitchen.
“Pardon me, my lady.”
It was old Ran Ethana. “Oh, dear,” Vishaka attempted a smile at the maid, “I think you might be overdoing it a bit in here! We can’t have the priests eating burned or overcooked food. Also,”
“If I may say so, my lady, it’ll be a worse sin if we serve it to them under-cooked.” She had to laugh at the small, pinched sixty-year old face that grinned rather strangely at her. Ran Ethana’s eyes always sparkled so mischievously and yet were washed over with a slight tint of innocence and energy, all in one. Vishaka always sighed softly to herself in secret, “I wish I had half the ability to live as long as you.” Yet that dastardly old thing always happened to hobble over with that infectious smile and reply, as always, unabashedly:
“You were named after one of our Lord Buddha’s most pious female disciples. If she could live to a hundred and twenty, so can you, madam. So can you.” At this she would always laugh at the old maid’s sweet stupidity.  
“By the way, how many have you invited?”

“I don’t like making a show of things, Ran Ethana. Just five, not fifty. I’m doing it…for him. It’s what he wanted; it’s what I promised him before he left for the war,” she answered softly with a sigh, fighting a few tears that tried to escape the grasp of her eyes. Vishaka bit her lip immediately. The other servants had heard it, and she flounced out of the kitchen. 

A FEW MORE PETALS

(A story about personal evolution and the hope that comes with change)

                                         (Photo by Sakuna Gamage. Do not use without the photographer’s prior permission)

The drumming of mingling voices old and young, was resonant thunder against the petrified coldness of the concrete square. A rough hide of armor sculpted with cracks and crevasses was this forbidding entity. It had lived on, standing strong through the years of weathering. 
The gentle roar of voices was never over.
They were inconstant as the moon, tones changing, mouths changing, death and birth an eternal cycle. Footsteps came, footsteps went away from the dead behemoth. Shadows fell on it, darkening its ashen hue with another wash of hard color.

The thunder continued again, clouds insatiable brown mammalian physiques that shifted to and from other places.

Aerial thunder is the herald of more rain-blooms of all breeds start to cheer, smiles of color shooting across dehydrated lands which become verdant with every sip of nature’s airborne blood. So is the vocal thunder the rain that one flower looked forward to.
A small flower.
A little wallflower, seeing all but seen by very few. His was something of a strange time. His roots dug forever into the stony beast, miles beneath what anyone could detect.

More voices thundered gently.

He opened rosy petals, angelic and delicate to welcome-if he could-the fluttering, muttering butterflies-the social butterfly, a species in his own who would dance up to an open blossom and make his petals fall. He was still waiting.
White blended carefully into the lightest baby pink by the gentlest of all artists with the softest of brushes, his petals were light and warm as they stretched out. But the wall kept calling him back. His roots must not be pulled from the wall, from the welcoming heat of the ancient concrete.

Not noticeable, invisible, omniscient, knowing, inquisitive, innocent was he.

Whenever he was home he looked in the glassy pane before reaching back to his old, powerful guardian. Fifty kilograms of five foot five or five foot six-he had forgotten which, for who would care?-intelligent mammal, round of face, a skeleton thinly draped with taught and young skin. The guardian was nowhere as he sighed and stared at the smoothness of the concrete around him, fresh and green.

Here he was beautiful.
Here he was a monarch, here innocent in ignorance.

But what else was he but a little wallflower?
Why, he would think sometime later, was he unlike the others? Something none else were, was the wallflower; they did not embrace the protector’s power. Flowers of all breeds. Roses, jasmines, bluebells and snapdragons. Forget-me-not, lupines, rhododendrons and orchids. The wallflower was the rarest breed.
What a strange little blossom was he!
He wondered in his kingdom of the home, why was he not the beautiful one to the others? More sweat and more breaths, sighs through skeletal chest rattled out of him. He, the wallflower, was still so beautiful, so…beautiful….

Wallflowers have the queerest life.
They go on life with no change, misunderstood and unseen by the other beautiful, soft flowers in the field and unseen by the flirting, rainbow-dashed wings of the butterflies, extravagant lips kissing and touching the hidden hearts of these others. But the wallflower’s nectar is the sweetest, a godlike gift, water from the heavens which needs to be searched from the heart of the blossom. He knew at his heart, his weak gaunt heart was nectar, but what butterflies would take a sip? None he knew but he cried that his heart did not belong.
He wept rivers when their petals fell as the butterflies kissed his field-mate flowers. They were digging away from the wall, angrily releasing roots, gentle cascades of petals falling as a carpet onto the emerald grass, moss and sod.




                            (Pic by Banuka Athuraliya. Taken from http://www.androdollar.com/. do not                                                          use without the photographer’s prior permission)


The rains of change swept past.

Broadened back and chest, fuller face, twelve glorious solid kilos later in his prime. He stood stronger now, more than some but less than others. He paddled the midmost stream in his path. New. But as he looked at the wall, he saw the butterflies flitting closer.
Tears swelled no more within, but a glow of the purest gold showered from his heart, ethereal arms gently and strongly lifting the pools of divine nectar to the rim of his heart.
Where his feet were, petals formed a sweet and smooth rug. Rose-white. His petals.
Only the stubbornest held on, claws still digging angrily into his heart. Their grasp was light.
They would fall.

Wallflowers are a strange breed. They are beautiful in their hearts and minds, and feel the ringing pain in others. Innocence makes the flower’s heart ache and beat when the other heart aches and beats. Paddle evolution’s pristine creek though and they find beauty beyond their hearts could ever know.