Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chapak, Chapak Goes the Demon

He was an old man, with crinkled eyes, wrinkled skin and a slight stoop.

He was a young man. He was still fascinated and keen to learn.

Having lived in the village all his life, working in the fields till his back broke. Watching the sun, watching the rain and watching his land were the only things he knew and understood. He heard about the city lights, which made a day out of the night. He heard of the vehicles that moved without horses or bulls. Sometimes he saw them in village too, raking up dust in its trail. He heard of tall buildings that one had to lean far back to see the tops of.

A small, teeny weeny desire to see this place that sounded right out of a fairy tale sprouted in his heart. But he had work and he kept postponing the trip. One day, he could bear it no longer. The fascinating tales filled his ears, flowed into his brain and like a bee, buzzed only one message in his head, Visit a City.

Finally, on a day when his work was light, he went to his neighbour - an old man of the world. "Sir, I have dreamed of seeing the city for long and wish to visit it today. How should I go about it?" he asked humbly.

The old man, remembering his own younger days when he had visited the city often, tried to prepare the younger man for the surprises in store there. This further fed the younger man's eagerness to visit the city. But the old man added, "Beware, don't get lured in by the attractions of the city. Not everything is as it seems. There are many demons there that will lead you astray."

When the young old man reached the city, he found that the old man had not exaggerated at all. There was so much to see that one day seemed too little. He saw people going by vehicles without bullocks and now realised what the old man had said about demons. He was careful to avoid them. He saw people coming out from a temple and put something on their feet and start walking faster.

This was really the last straw. Having resisted all temptations of the city till now, he couldn't control his urge and slipped his feet also into these contraptions. It seemed so simple and involved no devilry.

His heart shook just a bit when it caught his feet snugly. He looked around at the others shiftily. No one seemed perturbed and he was reassured. It was not comfortable though - the feet were, but his heart wasn't. Would he have to pay a heavy price for giving in?

Soon, he became aware that he was not alone. Every time he walked, he thought he could hear the sound "chapak, chapak" near him. He stopped, looking around to see who was making that noise. The sound stopped too. No one minded him, no one seemed to take note of him or pay him the slightest attention. He started walking, and he thought he could hear the chapak chapak sound around him faintly. He looked around sharply but could detect no one around him. The sound, though, continued unabated.

He felt nervous and lost interest in his surroundings. There was something following him, and something that refused to come out in the open. He said a prayer and started walking again. The sound followed him. Oh god, the demon had caught him, he thought nervously, speeding up. As he walked through grassland, he was relieved to note the demon had left him. But the moment his feet touched the muddy track leading to his village, he heard the sound again. If he ran, the demon ran too. If he slowed down, the demon slowed down too. Fear nearly paralysed him. By now it was dusk and the oncoming night would see him standing ripe for plucking in the middle of nowhere. He decided to run for his life, but by now he was hungry and tired and the demon seemed neither tired nor hungry. Or maybe, just hungry.

He was relieved to see another villager come by in a bullock cart. He hailed the cart and was relieved to be given a ride. Seeing him limp and flustered, the cart driver asked him the reason. Shamefully he told him of being chased by a demon. "I think it doesn't like company," he said looking around him. "The noise has stopped," he added with evident relief.

The cart driver laughed sceptically. But when he dropped the villager at the corner temple and heard the demon every time the villager walked, their eyes met in fear. The villager took a step towards the cart, but the cart driver wanted none of it. He drove away fast.

It was night now and the villager stood shivering in the new contraption. He wondered if that were the reason for the demon to follow him. It had trapped him and he was now unable to shake it off. Crying, he ran through the lonely paths towards the old man's hut, wondering if he could guide him on how to be rid of this chapak chapak demon, which was also running with him. What did it want? It hadn't eaten him up yet. What was it waiting for? Its friends to join in the killing?

Tearfully and fearfully he banged on the old man's door. When the old man opened the door, the young old villager fell at the older man's feet. "Save me from the demon," he cried out pitifully.

The old man, perplexed, raised the younger man and asked him what happened.

"Wherever I go, the chapak chapak demon chases me," he said looking around him as if fearing the demon would spring on him from nowhere. "I promise you, just as you said, I kept away from every city allure. And yet it has trapped me. It follows me everywhere," he said, now bawling more openly.

The old man looked at uncomprehendingly. "Chapak chapak demon? What is that???"

"Every time I walk, it walks with me. If I stop, it stops too."

The old man shook his head puzzled. He had heard of several novelties of the city, but never of a chapak chapak demon. "I do not know what it is. But you say it follows you when you walk? Can you walk for me?"

The villager trembled. 'Do I really have to?' he seemed to ask. But with great difficulty, he brought his feet frozen with fear to move. First, the old man could hear nothing. Then, when the young man walked a bit faster, he could hear it distinctly. "What did you do in the city?" the old man asked, his eyes twinkling. "Surely you were up to some mischief?"

"Not at all!" the villager sat on his haunches, his hands together in supplication.

"What is that on your feet then? Surely not your own. Did you steal someone's slippers?"

The villager looked at the old man perplexed, then he looked at his feet. "These are slippers? I didn't steal them. People came out of a temple and wore them as they left. I did the same." Then, as if he realised something, he said slowly, "Only I didn't go into the temple. Do you think that is why...?"

The old man laughed and patted the villager on the back. "No, that is not why. It is not a demon." And when he explained what the sound was all about, the villager looked sheepish - it was the contraption, the slippers, that had been making that sound? The younger man felt foolish, laughing at himself for believing in demons.

He was cured of his fear, and he was cured of his desire to visit the city too.

Finding Her Way - Children's Short Story

Ammu lived with her two young sons in the fringes of the forest. The elder son, Somaiya, was all of 10 and acted all of 20 - responsible and helpful.

Rangaiya, though, was a brat and at age 5, needed to feel the stick on his back before he quietened down. For a while. Then his mischief would begin - climbing trees, hiding behind pots and pans, toppling them in a hurry to escape his mother's wrath.

Ammu tried hard to remember that Rangaiya was just a child. But at the end of a hard day, it was difficult. Though their needs were minimal, even to meet them, she needed to work in other people's homes when they needed her help in exchange for food or old clothes they gave her as payment. The days there was no work, she would venture into the forest nearby to collect wood, fruits and trap small animals.

At least one good thing was that Rangaiya also went to school, giving her respite. But taking the boy through the forest to reach the nearby village for the school was a nightmare in itself. He fearlessly tripped ahead of her, sometimes hiding behind trees and jumping from branch to branch to boo her from behind. Even Somaiya seemed tempted to follow his younger brother's lead, sometimes running away with him.

One afternoon, when the boy continued being high spirited despite a supposedly grueling day at school, she stopped half way. Glaring at her younger son, she said, "Will you stop it?"

The boy didn't even seem to hear her as he ran ahead and turned left suddenly. Something snapped inside Ammu. She retraced her steps silently, dragging her elder son and warning him to be silent. She took a circuitous route back home, sure that her son will find his way back home.

But all through the way, she started imagining the worst. Leaving Somaiya behind at home, she walked through the regular trail and panicked when she found no signs of Rangaiya. She paused at the point she thought Rangaiya had turned, but did not find him there. She wove her way back and turned into the clearing she had taken. She was relieved to see her son lying under a tree, and then she panicked, wondering if...

She ran to him, crying out his name. The boy got up with surprising agility, though it took him a minute to realise who was calling his name. Running to her with a laugh, he said in his baby voice, "Oh, I am so glad to find you. Did you get lost? Were you scared?"

Stunned, Ammu paused in the process of lifting her son up and stared at him in disbelief. Then she laughed, pure joyous laugh and hugged him tight. "I am very hungry now," he declared. "Do you know the way to the house?" he asked like a grown up, drawing a bigger smile.

"You guide me and I will follow," Ammu replied gamely as she carried the little bundle in her arms.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pet Peeve

"Did you see that lady's tweet? Really a slap on these anti-beef protesters, don't you think?" Sanju asked her friend Renu, fondly petting her Labrador. "As if vegetarians don't kill life when they eat!"

"I shared a recent study on that, you remember?" Renu asked, not to be outdone. "Your vegetables scream when you cut them! That should shut them up!"

Sanju laughed. "Crazy how they want to fight for the right of the cow, but how about milk? Don't they deprive a calf to have that milk and dairy products?" she asked as she served her friend finger chips and cola. "It is none of anyone's business what one eats! I think this holier than thou, holy cow business is a bit too much mumbo jumbo. Cow, the mother, huh! Bull-shit?" The two laughed at the pun. "And who said India was a vegetarian nations? It was only with Buddha that some of the ancestors of these very protesters became vegetarians! And, even today, I know so many who eat meat on the sly? Hypocrites!" she said with righteous anger.

Renu shook her head to indicate she couldn't believe the heights of hypocrisy one could stoop to. Just then the lab got up and shook himself. "Oh! Isn't he cute!!!" She patted the lab's head who blinked and looked up at Renu with melting eyes. "I just love dogs! But my parents were quite against keeping a pet. Now I am alone, but I still can't because my house owners are against it!" she pouted.

"Oh that's the other thing I find funny! Vegetarians not giving their homes to non-vegetarians! This is discrimination!" Sanju picked up the thread again.

"Isn't it!" Renu exclaimed. I had a hard time finding a decent place! What am I going to do? Splash blood all over the house?"

"There should be a law against it!" Sanju argued. "This is a free society! People should be allowed to eat what they like!"

"I agree!" Renu replied, glad to have found a supporter. "And this recent killing for suspected eating of beef!"

"Too much! Our country is becoming unsafe thanks to these extremists!"

"We should start a petition or something, like there was one for stopping the dog meat festival! So sad that it happened despite that! How insensitive can one get!"

"That was so shocking! Can you imagine someone chopping up and eating these cutie-pies!" Sanju said, hugging the lab, as if fearing he was going to end up as meat somewhere. "Come on, they are man's best friends! So loyal, so loving! I signed and spread the word so that more like me can sign! I really wish it had driven some sense into the heads of these dog eaters!" she said with vehemence.

"As if they don't have anything else to eat!" Renu, the yes-woman nodded. "They can try chicken or beef, or pork! Why dog meat!" she protested, also petting the Lab for good measure.

The Labrador wagged its tail, its tongue hanging.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

One Earth: Just One More Tree

One Earth: Just One More Tree: He stood under the tree, taking in a deep breath and feeling refreshed. The sun burned just beyond the canopy. He felt safe...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Other Way

"Hey! We have to invite Ms Namrata Pandey as the chief guest!" Vidya insisted when the topic came up.

"Namrata Pandey! She is so hard to get!" someone whined.

"I will figure out a way if all of you are okay with it," Vidya assured them, excited about the challenge and the hope of achieving success. She idolised Namrata for her confidence, clarity of thought and speech and professionalism. Vidya had attended some of her sessions in conferences.

The self-employed women's group was organising an annual event and was planning to inviting an icon of entrepreneurial success as the chief guest. There were several names that they could think of, but Namrata Pandey topped them all. She was on the cover of all business magazines, in TV channels and was invited as a speaker to business conferences across the country. Her education venture had started small, but had suddenly grown exponentially. Investors were lining up to fund her venture, but she seemed in no hurry to take money.

In the galaxy she ruled, with her time taken up by important agenda, what value would this insignificant organisation have? But she had also started small. Maybe they could persuade her to share her wisdom on how to scale up quickly. It was worth a try, Vidya suggested.

"You have to let us know in two days," the president of the association said firmly. Vidya nodded, glad of having got at least an excuse to approach that great lady.

"Can you drop me?" Subha asked as Vidya stepped out. "Had to send my car to pick up my daughter," she added apologetically.

"Of course! Come on," Vidya said and got into the driver's seat. Subha sat beside her in the front.

"Do you know Namrata?" Subha asked as Vidya drove out of the driveway. Vidya shook her head. "She is my friend's cousin..." Subha added.

"Oh! Wow! That is lovely. Do you think your friend can help us get an appointment?"

"Mmm... I will ask. But I don't think they are in touch anymore."

"Oh!" Vidya asked, slightly deflated.

"My friend Bindiya said Namrata had ruffled many feathers in the family... I don't like gossiping, but you may want to know that her growth story is not such an inspiration as people make it out to be."

Vidya pursed her lips, irritated at the obvious jealousy that must have been at the root of this rumour. "Really?" she asked.

"It was a small venture, if you remember?" Subha asked. Vidya nodded. "She started it with her classmate, and over time, the two fell in love with each other. But her family did not approve for the obvious reasons and he moved out. They continued to see each other on the sly..."

Vidya did not react, disgusted at the personal story being aired so easily, but curious enough to want to hear more.

"She has not married... They are a couple, but not officially... He suddenly came into some money and invested in her company. They got themselves a big house - sad that it is lying locked. Cannot even enjoy the wealth openly," Subha said shaking her head slowly. "Then trouble started. Initially the family was upset that she still continued to see him. But when they got to the bottom of it, they discovered that the money was not clean... The family is an old one in the city and has a reputation to protect. They found out that he was a conduit for the education minister. It helped Namrata both ways - she got the money as well as approvals needed to reach her solution to schools."

Vidya stared at Subha incredulously. "Surely the business magazines would have found out!" she asked, interested despite reservations.

Subha laughed. "Oh she is smart. Many of the centres she opened in other cities are languishing. But she manages to show profits."

"How do you know that?" Vidya asked suspiciously.

"Bindiya told me. But I also run a business, Vidya. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you can make out... Namrata is a smart, intelligent woman. I can tell you, she would have got to where she is now if she had taken the slow and steady route. What she says at the conferences are possibilities, not her own experience, I can vouch for that. The speed at which she has grown is unbelievable...!"

Vidya digested this silently, still sceptical and disbelieving.

"In any case, I will ask Bindiya if she can help us get an appointment."

"Thanks," Vidya replied, suspicious of Subha's intentions.

She heard from Subha in a couple of days, but for a different reason. "Check the news," Subha said cryptically and waited as Vidya switched the TV on. "Oh my god!" she exclaimed in shock and disbelief.

"Business tycoon Namrata Pandey's body found. Suspected suicide" scrolled across the screen.

"Did you read today's paper?" Subha asked.


"Did you see the news about Arvind Sahni?"

"The man who was jailed for embezzlement?" Vidya asked.

"Yes, framed, most probably. But he is the man I was telling you about, Namrata's partner. Maybe the minister has no more use of him. Maybe they crossed some line with their extravagance."

Vidya watched silently as other people from the industry, her employees and family spoke of Namrata's brilliance and business acumen. Many expressed shock at her sudden death, some suspected foul play. "Nothing will come out, take it from me. The police will close the case as suicide," Subha asserted. "I wish she had taken the traditional path instead of this ambitious growth. She really was brilliant," she added her eulogy.

Vidya felt sorry for the woman whose photos and video footage flashed. Confidence oozed from every pore of this woman who took the mike knowing what she was about to speak. She wished Namrata had had the same confidence in her business and her skills and not take the short cut to success.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

These Young People

"Did you hear?" Mini, short for Mrinalini, asked her friend Lakshmi. "Nandu's niece has left her husband..."

"Really!" Lakshmi perked up. "Why? Hadn't she run away with that man?"

"Yes, a different community too! I remember her parents were upset. Nandu had to intervene," Mini smirked and Lakshmi winked. "All that for nothing!"

"Today's youth... they don't want to spare a thought. Just jump in and jump out!" Lakshmi complained. "Even my neighbour's daughter divorced her husband because he was moving cities too often, disrupting her career." She shrugged. "Really, I don't know... I remember my mother packing bags and following my father through big and small cities when he was in government service..."

"Ya!" Mini replied eagerly. "See my own daughter-in-law! She is upset with my son because he refuses to go abroad. He thinks he is doing fine here... But she wants them to be abroad. They are seeing a counselor..." she grimaced. "When we elders try to intervene, they don't like it..."

"So what's Nandu's niece's story? Her name is Mala, right?"

Mini nodded. "I don't know. But I know he is unwell..."

"Oh! She left him because he is unwell?"

"Nandu didn't say much... Just that he has some debilitating condition. I thought it was very unfair. To marry when he was healthy and handsome and to leave him the moment he fell sick. I didn't tell Nandu anything, she seemed to think her niece had escaped in time... I was surprised, you  know..." Mini gave vent to her feelings.

"Really!" Lakshmi's eyes widened in surprise. "Hmmm... That's really sad. What happened to 'through joys and sorrows'? My husband has been so difficult of late. The lower back pain has been killing him and he snaps at everyone. Even I feel like walking out sometimes. But we have had such good times together, how can I just leave him?"

"Exactly Lakshmi! You know how my husband would shout because of stomach pain. When we discovered he had cancer, he just crumbled. He was in so much pain, I would run away! My son only took him for the treatment. I couldn't stand it, you know!"

"Ya Mini, I don't know how you went through it. You even stopped coming for kitty parties initially I remember!"

Mini nodded, her face puckered as she remember those days. "But look at girls these days... Leaving the moment they sense trouble..."

Lakshmi sighed. "Who told you about Mala?"

"Nandu only. She was in Mala's parents' home at that time. Said she was talk later."

"Did she?" Lakshmi asked, jealous that Mini should know the latest before she did.


"Let me call her. It has been a while since I spoke to her. In case she needs any help..." Lakshmi dialed. Mini pulled her chair closer. She became impatient as the conversation seemed to drift away to their next kitty party. Finally Lakshmi asked, "So how is family. All well?"

Lakshmi made faces at Mini as Nandu spoke about her immediate family and the usual woes. Finally, unable to stop herself, Lakshmi said, "Hey, is your niece Mala still in Madurai?"


"Oh, not Madurai...? ,,, Oh, what happened? ... Really?" Lakshmi made appropriate noises. When she cut the call finally, her eyes expressed horror.

"That man... he started beating Mala," she blurted out. "As the disease progressed, some muscular disability that affected his lower part, he started suspecting Mala and would abuse her mentall and hit her if he could get his hands on her. When she ran away from him once, he flung a knife that lay next to him...! Oh the poor girl! Luckily she took it on her shoulder. Now her parents have forbidden her from returning to that man..." She looked at Mini, feeling guilty about their assumptions.

"Oh these young people," replied the indefatigable Mini. "They cannot handle their illnesses. Not once did a cross word cross my husband's lips when he was unwell," she said.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Hundred Mistakes

Shishupala's mother knew that her son was destined to die at the hands of Krishna. She begged him to please spare her son.

Krishna promised his aunt, "I will forgive a hundred errors..."

The mother was content, thinking she had bought her son redemption with that promise.

At Yudhishthira's Rajasuya Yajna, ignoring warnings from others, Shishupala insults Krishna and continues to do so till he reaches his quota of 100. At 101th insult, Krishna lets fly his discus and beheads Shishupala.

Devdutt Pattnaik, in the notes at the end of the chapter on Shishupala in his book 'Jaya' points out that the mother sought Krishna's promise not to harm her son, but did not caution her son not to give Krishna a reason.

So many times I see children running to their mothers with complaints and their mothers immediately taking up arms on their children's behalf. Never are they asked for the complete picture, nor helped to take responsibility for their actions. When they make a mistake, some mothers brush it aside, and expect other children to overlook it... They are not taught to forgive others and forget small oversights. When they feel slighted, they are not taught to rise above the situation.

As a mother, many of us take our role as protectors too seriously. But we are not going to be there all the time. Children will grow up to be adults, out in the world on their own. These very things that seem small and insignificant in childhood will lead to bigger and unpalatable personality traits that will be hard to overlook and forgive. They will not know how to handle being ignored or rejected. They will not know how to be accepted... As parents, we will be unable to help them at that stage.

Or, if that becomes the norm, will that cease to matter?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...