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.”

 

 

Black Blotches

The water spilled from the glass and rushed ahead on the paper. Before Sarthak could do away with the brushes in his hand and rescue his painting the damage had been done. The water colors dissolved and mingled leaving an ugly smudge on the painting.

Sarthak didn’t know now what to do. His eyes welled up. Only fifteen minutes for the competition to end and the hard work of two hours lay spoiled due to a clumsy body movement! He cursed himself for not putting away the glass of water .

He panicked and his body seemed to have frozen . His beautiful painting was meant to win the competition. Now it’s smudged and useless. A sudden sharp ringing sound suddenly tormented his eardrums and he cupped his ears in excruciating pain. He could feel the tears rolling down his cheek.

He woke up sobbing everything was a blurr. To his relief he was in his bed and the alarm bell was still ringing. A smile emerged on his tear stained face.

“ Oh!  It was just a bad dream..

The competition was today and nothing had gone wrong for real. His heart fluttered with joy. But the horror of the dream was so real that he still wasn’t out of it. He felt the need to stay very careful as something bad might happen after all.

Sarthak got ready for the competition . The morning sun had risen with all its glory and the springtime flowers were blooming with joy. The venue of the competition was a lush green park. The children were made to sit on the soft moist grass in the lawn and the art sheets were provided to them.

The judges announced the topics “ Compassion”, “Understanding needs of disabled people”,” Science and the future”. The gong was struck. Sarthak was puzzled. These were not the kind of topics he had ever drawn on . It sounded like an essay writing competition rather than an art competition. For a long time he tried to think of something but the sinking feeling he had in his dream just magnified. About 30 minutes later for lack of ideas he decided to draw a girl helping a blind man cross a street. ‘How typical’.. he thought but he had to draw something ,couldn’t turn in a blank sheet of paper.

He diligently started painting and finished his work half an hour before time. He felt relieved . The painting was still to dry. He carefully picked up the glass of water and began to remove it first as he didn’t want the nightmare to come true. Suddenly a fellow competitor happened to pass by where Sarthak was sitting and he accidentally bumped on Sarthak’s shoulder. This catapulted an uncontrollable jerky movement and the unthinkable happened. Two large drops of the muddy mix of water from the glass rained down on the painting. The twin drops miraculously landed right on the girls’s eyes and dissolved then instantly. Her face had now two black blotches for eyes. Sarthak froze. The dream was a premonition now. Almost at the verge of panicking , Sarthak started taking deep breaths trying hard not to break down into tears. He slowly started muttering to himself. To have lived the horror in the dream has taken away the novel shock it could have on him. He had already cried over it and now it seemed like something he had known and could not be averted. He mumbled to himself “ You are thirteen years old and you are smart enough to find a way out “

The slight breeze was calming him down and he started looking at the topics intently again. Suddenly in his deep despair and a warrior resolve to help himself he was struck with an AHA moment. He knew what to do. He took his brush and covered the smudge with black paint so that the girl was blindfolded now.

“A blindfolded girl helping a blind man cross the road! .. That’s ridiculous “ He thought to himself. He was stuck again and his heart sank. He gazed at his painting for a while and then his brush started to work again.He converted the blind man’s stick into a hi-tech gadget which looked like a guiding portable robot and by little alteration he changed the hand positions which looked like the blind man was guiding the blindfolded girl.

Sarthak was so engrossed that he forgot to hear the finish bell. Most children and submitted their art sheets. The judges now were themselves coming to pick up the sheets from the kids who were still working. They were speaking encouragingly to  them and giving as much extra time as possible .

Sarthak sat unaware that for the last five minutes the oldest judge was standing and watching him work. When he realized that Sarthak was done, he slowly sat down beside him and looked at the painting.

Sarthak had  converted the blind man’s stick into a hi-tech gadget which looked like a guiding portable robot and by little alteration he changed the hand positions which looked like the blind man was guiding the blindfolded girl. Then he had captioned  the painting.

As he seemed to have finished the painting, the judge picked up the  painting and  adjusted his glasses to read the caption.

“THE FUTURE : Where children would learn compassion by understanding through experiencing other people’s disability. Where science would be so advanced that the disabled could guide themselves and others.”

Sarthak looked at the judge nervously. The aged kind eyes glimmered through the glasses . He gazed at the painting speechlessly for a while and then looked at Sarthak . Then he  removed his glasses and put his hand on Sarthak’s head blessing him before walking away with a gentle heart warming smile.

Vermillion


KumKum’s eyes absentmindedly fell on the red sheen of those high heeled shoes over and over again.Those lovely red color shoes right out of a fairytale. Then in a flurry forgetting the urgent world she pondered over the shade… blood red …mmm apple?….mmm tomato… red chilli ….. As if nothing else was worth noticing in that  place.

The mansion was filled with activity, songs, gossip, giggles … hassled faces … happy faces..leisurely faces …beautiful faces….smell of marigold and vermillion.It was a different world .Mesmerising, captivating ,enchanting. The grandness of the house and the precious interiors made her feel she stepped into a palace. Yet the moment that pair of red shoes  captured her attention everything else blurred.

A sudden nudge from Ramesh , her uncle, brought her back to her purpose. He had already unravelled the henna boxes and the fragrance had  started romancing with her nostrils.The precious oils and the meticulously picked henna leaves that were tenderly treated and converted in the most exotic and magical paste .Ready to transform dreamy bridal hands into vermilion splendour of a hopeful exciting future.

Kumkum’s family was well known for their henna quality and their artistic flair for decorating bridal palms .No wedding of any significance in the town went without them. They were a traditional must for ‘Mehendi ceremony’. This was Kumkum’s first visit to a ceremony. She had been learning the art of preparing the henna paste and drawing the mesmerising patterns through those well stuffed cones. They were six of the family  at that rich Mehendiceremony .It was several hours work. The bride was a priority and her henna was to be extra special. So of course it was her uncle who was to make the patterns ,he was the best .Kumkum was given the duty to help in making cones and keeping the henna fresh and applying the oil dabs for better results. Though she was expecting to do a few hands of the relatives of the bride while she left home that day. But somehow now  the thoughts of vermillion were replaced by an alien royal redness.

She had seen heroines in movies wear such elegant shoes and dance . How they managed to do that was mindboggling for her. Perhaps it was some ‘ special effect’ as the hero’s stunts. Such high heeled shoes can’t be real, she had convinced herself. Those red pointed heels had shattered her theory completely. Though in a pleasant way to her surprise. No less than unexpectedly discovering the eigth wonder of the world. They belonged to the bride and when she wore them and walked without support or tripping, Kumkum was overtaken by a strange urge . Her feet went tingly.

She was happy when the bride retired to her room for the henna to be applied  on her feet . Kumkum accompanied her with her uncle and aunt. She stayed there after the design was done to apply the oils . She didn’t mind that her uncle did not offer her to apply any designs on the relatives. She was too preoccupied with her desire. The shoes lay near the door below the curtain oblivious of the secret admirer.

The vermillion had started peeping through the  shrinking dried  crusts of the deeply green henna. The oil still glistened on the bride’s palm. Kumkum scrutinized her palm and adviced  “ You should scrub off the henna and do not wash with water for a deeper color”.

The bride smiled at her and “ You know a lot about henna. What is your name ?”

“Kumkum”

“Do you go to school?”

“Yes… eigth standard…..

“What do you want to become when you grow up?”

Kumkum was a little taken aback. That was a novel query for her. Before she could answer anything the bride was called by some elder of the family. Kumkum started wrapping up the things . She capped the oil bottles . Collected the henna cones and as she was doing that  she felt tingly in her feet again. The bride did not wear her shoes when she went out because of the henna on her feet. Their was no one there and now the desire was too strong to ignore.

Kumkum moved towards the door as if hypnotized by those royal red shoes . Her heart was pounding but she had to be quick before the bride comes back. She put her right foot in the shoe and as she tried to get her heel in and  suddenly she felt a surge of adrenaline. She was lifted up on that pointy heel. She inserted the left foot without delay in the left shoe .A little wobbly though she had risen to a couple of inches taller then herself. The inside of the shoe felt strangely comfortable and cool. She dared to take a step ahead with her wobbly knees when she heard the foot steps. Now the thrill was replaced with fear and her mind got tangled between the thrill of stepping ahead and the wisdom of pulling her feet out . Before she could resolve the conflict she felt a sudden sharp pain in her right ankle as it twisted with a jerk.

Her eyes watered a bit and her face was flushed with pain but she ensured to be back to her earlier spot. She slowly gathered her things and bid goodbye to the bride who smiled back at her unaware of Kumkum’s littled adventure and accident.

The next morning Kumkum’s mother discovered a mysterious bright red swollen ankle and was sure that some’ totka ‘ (black magic ) has been done on her child. Her uncle however took her to the doctor who applied a bandage . But her mother stayed sure of the ‘totka’ as Kumkum never complained and very often looked at her bandage and smiled.

 

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