UNRECOGNIZED MASTERPIECE

I still believe in you. I really wish to whisper that in your ears.You lay curled up in deep despair after a failed attempt  to destroy me and yourself.

I am your best  work . I fill this canvas with your whole being  subsumed in these shy and bold strokes . Pity that the world hasn’t still developed the eyes to see it. But it is just a matter of time. Perhaps you are ahead of time.

I am here waiting till you can see yourself again with your own eyes and not throgh  reactions  of men far behind  in time .

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Rusty Red

A new spider has invaded my body. For the past two days there has been an intricate crawling  and cobwebs of masterly design have adorned my rusted existence once again. I don’t mind the spiders , at least their crawling makes me aware that something is still moving , if it’s not me. Though there are cobwebs on my body but my memory is quite clear.

Pardon me! It seems I forgot to introduce myself. I am a bicycle or rather a rusting bicycle in a  junk filled storeroom that has not been opened for ages. Where even light forgets to enter. Rust and immobility is a part of my life now. I know you see me as an inanimate object. Perhaps it’s quite strange to imagine a bicycle narrating it’s life events. Well let me give you a paradigm shift , there is a life I have lived and memories that I hold on to dearly.

The first memory is of course a shining one. My brand new rusty red (which some called coffee colored) form  adorning the bicycle shop window. My beauty was absolutely breathtaking and I attracted every young boy and girl who dreamed of a bicycle. Yeah I was a born narcissist and even in this dilapidated state I think I look beautiful adorned in cobwebs. Well due to my impeccable beauty my days of  flaunting in the shop window were limited.  I was purchased within two days and  bestowed upon my owner. The owner turned out to be  a lovely young boy of eleven with a twinkle in his eyes. Prem and I bonded instantly.

Prem was very agile , playful, lively and full of mischief. He loved animals specially cows and dogs . I was now his constant companion to carry him and the goodies to feed  his animal friends.When his thumb pressed on my bell and people cleared the way in our honour I swelled with pride. We rode the wind through the mustard fields. We grew inseparable and I felt a deep kinship and love for my owner.

But an even greater love was to blossom in my heart soon. I fell for her instantly. Her radiant light brown hair and milk skinned lovely face reminded me of Russian dolls. The rose of her cheeks colored my thoughts. She was this nascent sun with a rainbow smile showering love in my rusty red heart. I was smitten and to my delight Prem understood it.

She was from another school but she attended the same extra curricular activity classes as Prem and that is where I got to see her angelic face for the first time and  on weekends henceforth .So weekends became special and so did those classes. To my delight Prem took me along even though the class was a walking distance from home.

The cow feeding and dog playing took a backseat and Prem took me circling around her house so that I could have a glimpse of her from the balcony. Prem had a single black diary which contained all his school work. School was too boring for my sharp lad and he found writing notes a waste of time . So he had this omnibus diary and he tucked it my carrier and we would ride to woo my lady love. Her beautiful hairbands made her look like a princess . As they say love is blind and so this girl with her leg prosthesis  seemed the most perfect creation of god to my eyes , who made me forget even my own beauty (yeah! I was too busy admiring her that narcissism took a backseat).

It always puzzled and delighted me how Prem understood my heart’s plight and made all possible effort to bring me to her vicinity. However true enlightenment occurred on a regular day when he offered her a lift and she accepted and she sat side saddle on my bar and my bell had an echo of jubiliation. As we three cruised through the suddenly scented breeze through the mustard fields and I was going dizzy with love that I realized that Prem wasn’t following my heart . He was following his. He had fallen for that beautiful angel and why shouldn’t he . If she could transform and inanimate narcissist like me, he was but of course a young boy with an actual heart.

From there my delight shifted to watching his heart somersault and splash in the sea of love. She beamed and shined , appeared and faded with a constant mental presence like a subtle fragrance . His eyes seeked her and mind chanted her name …. Swati.

Mysteries of unsaid love are hard to decipher. I had started growing anxious whether Prem would ever confess his liking for Swati. But he was just a boy ignorant of the rules of love and too shy to reveal the secrets of his fragile heart. She knew her charm had worked on him. Girls are bestowed with a sharp sense to detect such things . I could see that in her knowing eyes.

Hardly had I known that while I was contemplating the fate of this young love, my own fate was jeopardized.A notorious bicycle thief was on prowl. The evening of 15th August 1994 I fell into his sly trap . I hated his sweaty hands and his horrid aura and the thought of imminent doom and  of never seeing Prem and Swati again made me panic like never before .

The thief was prolific in his skill. I was soon dumped with several stolen bicycles. I was still the most beautiful one with my shiny red of rust (well the narcissist in me keeps its composure and mind even in crisis.. forever awake!). The thief kept stealing and selling his exploits .It seemed he developed a liking for me and wasn’t ready to part with me . Not until he got a handsome bargain. Meanwhile I grew more and more homesick and yearned to see Prem, hear his voice, feel his pat on my seat and call me with the name he gave me and go on a ride. A ride in the meadows and on the open roads beneath the canopy of trees with absolutely no care in the world.

To my dismay several months passed and my hope of being rescued started crumbling to dust.The sheer irony of becoming a captive on Independence day now made me laugh. I was evermore disgusted by the filthy , ugly , uncouth thief. Little had I imagined the turn of events . On a fine January morning the thief decided to take me on a ride and once again I heard songs patriotism floating in the air and I grieved and prayed desperately to see my friend Prem once again.

The thief took a stop at a ‘dhabba’ for tea and I  sighed away to the nostalgic touch of mustard scented breeze gazing at the yellowed fields. My sad trail of thoughts was broken by smashing of glass, sound of panic and chaos , a short chase , body tussle and finally painful moaning of the bleeding captured thief. The Police had  finally succeeded in it’s five month long trap setting to nab the criminal. All I remember next is Prem running to embrace me with a euphoric smile. He looked a little taller . Thus at sunset of 26th day of January 1995 I was reunited with my friend for life.Yes , we were destined to reunite.

The spider had crawled by now to the front wheel to try his weaving skills and trap another fly. Rusty beamed with nostalgic delight and spider weaved passively listening to his rant. He finally spitted out the sticky thread and blurted “ So how did the love story end? Did Prem tell Swati?”

Oh! I do not know. One year after our reunion Prem fell ill and he was to be taken to the hospital often . He had aches and pains and fever and doctors stopped him from playing and after a few months he could not ride me anymore. He was weak and tired most of the time , living on medicines . He had a strange disease that gnawed at his joints and made it impossible for him to even go to school. His parents finally decided to take him to a bigger city with better medical facilities. Prem loved me so much that he didn’t let them sell me so I was locked up in this storeroom of their ancestral home.

Twenty years have passed and the last thing I remember is when Prem parted with me , he patted my seat with difficulty and took the name he gave me. I have been eating dust here thinking constantly of him and his love for the girl with rose cheeks and an angelic smile.

The spider had stopped weaving and  stared at Rusty “ What name did he give you ? “

“ Do you still believe in reunions ?”

Before rusty could respond  the door suddenly creeked open causing the spider to flee urgently . A gush of light flooded the room and a boyish chuckle boomed in the murkiness of the room.

“Look Ma! a bicycle !!!’

A voice with a familiar angelic sweetness echoed from behind

“No Yash that store room is too dusty, Let Dad take a look “

The boy of ten didn’t heed his mother’s advice and had already closed on to Rusty. There was a familiar agility and a lovable face staring at Rusty.

A man followed the boy and Rusty was astounded by a sudden pat on his seat that bounced the dust of twenty years of memory. He was focused now on a face with an impressive moustache but a familiar twinkle in his eyes as this man uttered those magic words

“Good old Rusty Red Rocket Bomb !”

Yes that was what Prem called him. That was what he had yearned to hear for twenty years.

“ Yash meet Rusty! Me and your mom rode on this good old buddy through the mustard fields.Good old Rusty!” Prem patted on his dusty seat once again and Rusty looked at the spider and whispered

“ Yes I do believe.”

 

 

Juliet’s Mother

Summer break was almost over. Samita was excited . This session the class would be studying Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.

It was a tradition that the play was taught by making the students enact the scenes while reading it. The characters would be allotted to the students and each would read dialogues of the particular allotted character.

Samita was the most proficient reader in the entire section with several prizes for elocutions and debates to her name. She was more than sure that Juliet’s part was indisputably hers.

The day arrived and the school was buzzing with activity after the summer break. Finally the much awaited English period arrived.

However, instead of the English teacher, Mrs Srivastava, the Principal entered the class. She was accompanied by a lady. All the students were a little puzzled . The mischievous ones alarmed . The principal introduced the lady accompanying her as the replacement English teacher .

“Children , Mrs. Srivastava had a surgery and she is in the hospital.She wouldn’t be able to teach for around a month. We have a replacement teacher for you. “ The Principal announced.

Samita was heavily disappointed wondering if the replacement teacher would teach the play the traditional way.

The Principal left and the teacher introduced herself as Ms. Lal. She was a tall young woman who seemed to have taken special care of the way she looks. Her hair were braided and then assembled in a very artistic bun . Her choice of clothing was impressive. Her shiny skin reminded Samita of her newly acquired pimples.

She felt embarrassed .

However what the teacher said after introducing herself brought back Samita’s enthusiasm.

“I have been told that the play is taught by allotting characters to students and you read it according to your respective characters. “

She paused and looked around the whole class.

“So today I would make each one of you read and then allot some part.”

Samita geared up and was all ready to display her reading skills . But what happened next was the least expected. Perhaps from here on would start a series of realisations for Samita ; like her sudden awareness of the pimples on her 14 year old face.

After the reading was over the teacher started picking up students . She looked at Ananya instead of her.

“For Juliet’s part I think Ananya would be absolutely fit .”

Samita could not believe her ears . Her ego bruised and her spirits dampened . She looked at Ananya .

“ She ain’t a bad reader . But she isn’t better than me. “

By this time Romeo was chosen. Another shocker. Ritwik had a slurr and he was truly not the best choice . Ananya and Ritwik stood together and it was then it struck Samita. Almost hit by a lightning bolt . They were the best looking kids in the class. Ananya was a flawless beauty with a creamy pearly complexion and features to die for and Ritwik was a boy who would grow into a very handsome guy soon.

This was uneasy . But the worst was still to come . The teacher pointed at Samita and said “ You would play Juliet’s mother!”

“Juliet’s Mother?! Really !!! She hardly has any speeches.” She thought in dismay.

Samita was suddenly morose and shocked. Deeply aware of her looks. Her unattractive frame. Her borderline masculine features and her lack of feminine curves. She stayed quiet for the rest of the class. She anyways had nothing to read and her mind was too disturbed to focus on anything else.

Samita however was addicted to giving her best . So she read her part with earnest dedication. She could however feel the mockery in Miss. Lal’s eyes on her immensely sincere effort.

Juliet’s mother was the only character she could allot to an unattractive girl like her.This thought nagged Samita day and night.

Suddenly replica’s of Miss Lal came alive around her. Samita could see how often the advertisements talked about fair, young ,soft skin. How frequently a beauty product was called out to be the ladder to all success. As the reading of the play through the days continued Samita grew more and more disinterested and disillusioned.

The mirror was looked into often and avoided at the same time desperately. She would wonder how she could get a better , smoother, fairer skin. She also realised the importance of a sleek body. The thinner you were the more acceptable among friends you became. The food morsels became smaller and her diet reduced to half. A constant sadness and worry preoccupied her. She has definitely become quiet. It was no fun being Lady Capulet. She was growing wary of it.

It was time for Rakshabandhan and so was time for aunty Jaya to come for her annual visit . The great ritual of coming home to tie rakhi on her brother’s wrist was followed religiously by her aunt. This time of the year was best as her aunt otherwise based in US would come for a month’s holiday . Samita was always excited around this time. Jaya aunty called her Sammy.

“Sammy haven’t you lost weight “ She had noticed the instant she hugged Samita at the airport. Samita’s working mother , Kumud ,was worried about her going quite and eating less and she shared it with her best friend and sister-in-law , Jaya.

Aunty Jaya pacified Kumud that teenagers go through such phases and all they needed to do is to give her all the encouragement ,love and support and perhaps then she would herself share her problem.

“Sammy how is school?”

“Alright , Bua.”

“You will have your boards soon “

“Yes, Bua.”

“ So here’s the time to shine and then you will be a senior student…”

Samita had lost interest in the conversation.

“Any cute boys in your class.” Jaya changed the topic

Samita grew more sullen.

“What’s the matter honey? You don’t want to share with me … we always shared . I know teens are difficult years but we all still love you the same.”

Samita looked at her and gave a faint smile. But a bit of reassurance had seeped in her heart.

Two days later they were strolling in the stalls of the National Book Festival . Samita felt her usual self after months . Books always made her feel happy. She was excited and chirpy and Jaya felt relieved. They spent hours together strolling, surfing and buying books .

While they enjoyed ice cream together chit chatting … Samita suddenly posed a query..

“Bua is that only beautiful girls do well in life ?”

“Sammy tell me whats wrong? I know you would share with me”

Samita tried to put in words her disappointment on being allotted the speeches of Juliet’s mother and the deep confusion and identity crisis she was facing regarding her looks .

“Oh , being Lady Capulet isn’t flattering at all .”she concluded.

Jaya paused with an intense look and a sweet smile.

“Not because she is old and so you presume her to be all wrinkled and unappealing. The time the play was set . Lady Capulet would have been in her thirties perhaps . That’s not old honey. But I think your Mrs. Lal was concentrating on looks and in that case your resentment is right. “

Samita looked at her without speaking.

“It’s not great to be Lady Capulet because she was too obedient and to traditional . Nothing wrong in being traditional but she refused to help her only child just to stay obedient to her husband. That’s what I feel and she hardly shows affection to Juliet.”

“But why would you want to be Juliet either , honey? Except that she was the lead of the play.”

Samita was not expecting this query.

She spoke to herself “Why do I want to become Juliet except that she is the lead of the play and has a lot of dialogues.” As if something dawned on her.

“Well Mrs. Lal might be crazy about good looking people but I don’t think you should be bothered about that. It’s her problem. You are a pretty child and you will become a beautiful woman. You have to look at yourself that way and accept the way you are. Beauty is an abstract concept very often used to tie down women. But don’t be fooled by it.” Jaya continued.

“The world glorifies beauty and the beauty product companies create false hype about beauty. It’s there business. Don’t ruin your life and health because whatever they are saying is to only to promote their product. If fairness creams could change skin colour we would have no dark skinned people left. Think about it! Sammy it’s important to be healthy and to take care of your looks as well. But don’t try to be a certain prototype of beauty. “

Jaya went on speaking and Samita was listening intently the worry lines on her face vanishing miraculously and her smile becoming brighter.

“ Bua, I don’t want to become Juliet .” She spoke with excitement and then with a serious note to her voice Samita continued .

“ Since I love both biology and literature I would rather be Rachel Carson or Beatrix potter. I liked only one thing in Juliet that she rebelled against the norm but beyond that I think she was just a hopelessly confused teenager who was fascinated by Romeo. She died in utter confusion due mismanaged scheme to unite the lovers . Perhaps if she had lived she would have known better things to do with her life “

Jaya hugged Samita and smiled. Her work was done. Her old brainy, well read, talented niece had won the first battle of the teenage years .

“So Lady Capulet, Shall we have a large, juicy, yummy pizza ??”

Samita nodded with a beautiful smile.