Strange Kindness

He woke to the sound of cars zooming by.

There were men around him, urgent voices talking in a familiar language he could not understand, fretting over him, pulling and pressing his limbs, looking at him for any reaction.

He looked around, and found himself at a roadside truck drivers’ stop, in the middle of a highway. It was the kind of place which sold cheap tea and cheaper biscuits in plastic glasses. For the hungry trucker, they had tough chapatis with curry so hot you wouldn’t be able to identify any flavor. The seating arrangements were coir mattresses around plastic tables, all with a fine coating of dust.

Then he saw the car. If one inarticulate teenager was to describe the state of the car to another inarticulate teenager, he’d have probably said something like, “Dude, its fucked up!” The front of the car had crumpled down the middle, where it had hit the pole. The windshield had shattered, and the front seats seemed a little too far ahead to be… well, comfortable.

Beside the car was his driver. He was being similarly attended to. Only difference was that the driver needed the attention. Blood was pooling around him, from a dozen different cuts, four of which were more like gaping holes. He was heaving, as though he was having trouble breathing.

Our protagonist found it remarkable that the driver had taken such damage, yet he was practically unmarked. He then remembered he had somewhere supremely important to be, someplace he had taken great pains to get to, someplace that was critical to his future, and realized he’d never get there in time.

As it was, he was utterly unfazed.

He felt detached. There were no thoughts crowding around in his head. He felt, for the first time in ages, he could think clearly.

He went to the tap where trucker-customers washed their hands, and looked at himself in the mirror, to find an expressionless stranger staring back at him. He washed his face, and roughed up the neat arrangement of his hair. Ripped off his tie and threw it away, and ripped open his collar too.

He then took out his cellphone, and broke it into two halves. He then picked up a nearby glass, which, surprisingly was made of glass, and he broke that too.

He walked to the driver, who was now bordering on unconsciousness. He’d been bordering on unconsciousness before too, when he had been driving. He’d nodded off, and lost control of the car. Hence the crash.

So the man with his new-found clarity of thought slashed the wheezing driver with a shard of the broken glass, ripping out his carotid, and he held the dying man for the few seconds, as he thrashed about in his death throes.

The men around were stunned to silence. An old man, with great effort, managed to ask in broken Hindi, “Why did you have to kill him?”

He answered, “He would have died anyway. I saved him the suffering.”

And with that, he walked straight to the middle of the road. A truck screeched to a halt to avoid running him down, and he walked to the passenger side and calmly got in. He said something to the truck driver, and within seconds, the driver drove off.

And he disappeared.

Alagaesia

The Queen’s Favorite Foot Soldier.

Armies, thousands of men with lives and concerns and loves and cares every bit as true and important as yours and mine coalesced into little figurines on a map, and the Queen, worried by the bigger concern of protecting the realm, studied their positions.

Along with the ministers and advisers, she looked for supply lines, military outposts, deployments, geographical features, anything, anything that could give their army a tactical, strategic advantage. They desperately needed one.

The kingdom was under attack from three sides, from four armies that had colluded to overthrow the greatest Empire in the land. They had the numbers to win. Easily.

The Queen pored over the maps and saw nothing in her Empire that she could work to her advantage… save its size. She proposed a distasteful plan, and her ministers, after working the visceral reactions out of their systems, agreed that it way to preserve the Empire.

Her plan was to give the aggressors what they wanted. In part.

She would divide her army into two factions. The first would be distributed along the periphery of the state, in the villages and towns close to the borders. The second would defend the capital, remain in the heart of the Empire. All the villages, towns and cities between the two factions would be stripped of anything and everything that could function as provisions. All food was to be removed, ponds and lakes poisoned, and cattle killed.

The first faction would engage at the border, fighting for every inch given. But the inches would be given, for the only purpose of the first faction was to weaken the enemy. An outright victory was, obviously, impossible. The enemy would then have to tramp through the plains, and that is where they would be bled out.

Once inside the Empire, they would find no supply lines, and would have to depend on what they had brought at the beginning of the battle, an amount that could at maximum feed the army for two days. Thereafter they would have depended on plundering the vanquished villages to feed the army. They would find nothing. The march would take well over a week, and the enemies would have to survive on wild game and whatever water they could carry from the river. By the time they reached the capital, they would be starved, dehydrated, broken, an easy rout for the second faction.

At the cost of half the Empire, and in all probability, all her army.

It was at this point, that her son walked into the Council. Her son, the Prince, the prodigy, he who impressed his masters with his quick mind, his voracious appetite for knowledge, and his already formidable skills in physical combat, all at the mere age of twelve.

He walked in and informed his mother, that he would be fighting in the upcoming war. He recognized the crisis they faced, his sense of duty would not let him remain in the sidelines, and his pride would not let him cower inside a castle, waiting for the big bad men to come get him. He was courteous, and spoke gently, but his will was firm.

A mother wailed her frustration, but the Queen remained impassive.

She looked at him gravely, titled her head, granting permission, and dismissed him. And the Council broke into uproar.

“He is a mere child! He is untrained!”

“He is to be the King! Who would lead if he were to die?”

“Your Majesty, do not let emotion cloud your judgement! The Prince is accomplished, but on the field he will only be one sword, he cannot alone turn this battle!”

“One sword?” The Queen’s voice rang out. “My son, one sword? The blood of nine generations of emperors flows through his veins, emperors who built and held this Empire. In a little over a decade, he has proven his worth, and won the love of his people. He will fight. He will lay low all who stand before him, and inspire every warrior to give a better reckoning of himself. With him, we will hold the barbarians at the borders themselves.

Send out word. Every able bodied man without dependents is to take up weapons, and fight. They will fight for their Prince. You have your instructions. Now leave.”

With muted muttering and shaking heads, the ministers filed out. Only the Prime Minister remained.

He said as gently as he could, “Your Majesty, he is only twelve. He won’t survive.”

The Queen looked at him, and as she did, her shoulders fell, her head lowered and she placed her hands on the table, as though steadying herself. With tears in her eyes, she said, “Of course he won’t. He is twelve, so he won’t have command. When… If he falls, the army will still retain structure. But the people love him as they would love their own son, and if he falls, every man will fight like a father would fight to avenge his murdered son. Where numbers fail us, the tenacity of humans might pull through. His death will give them all the more reason to fight. His death could save half the Empire from being burned to the ground.”

The Minister had to work the words before he could speak them aloud, “You would do this? You would give up your own son, for an uncertain reward?”

“How many children will die if four armies tramp through the Empire? How is my choice any different from the choice the mother of each soldier in our army? As it is, my son can protect himself better than most men.”

“But he would be king!”

“Another will be found.”

The Minister looked at her askance, conceding her logic, but unable to digest the fact that a mother was sending her son out to die. He stammered, “How can you…?”

The Queen, in a voice like broken crystal, said, “Empires thrive on sacrifice.”

You Matter.

It is a cruel world.
Cruel through an immutable lack of interest.
That cuts deeper than any hate, any disappointment.
A world, that will go on, just the same
With you or without you.

But you plod on.
Remain with the cruel world, for
In soaring arias, in the smile of a loved one,
And in uncontrollable laughter shared with strangers
You matter.

For the world is beautiful.
And what good is the beauty, without you there to appreciate it, cherish it?

 

 

 

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Hammerfall

You don’t really fight off loneliness.

You meet friends and you talk and be merry and cheerful and then you get home and sit down, and suddenly, like a hammer-blow to the ribs with a hammer forged from diamond and ice, it hits you.

And it knocks your breath out. It freezes you. You remain, hunched over, clenching till your knuckles turn white, a thousand frantic questions slashing through your being, chipping away at your self-worth, your confidence, your pride, your strength, till you’re left begging, praying for one voice to cut through the clamor, to assuage the torrent of doubt, to assure you … that you’re all right.

And phone numbers and Facebooks, constant buzzards, seem to somehow melt away into nothingness, like a fresh oil painting left out in the rain.

All you can do is wait. For it, whatever it is, to end.

It’s been a while since I last had such an episode. I’d almost convinced myself that’d I’d grown out of it. Hah.

Good news for my blog, I guess. After all, I am most creative when I am depressed.

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For You Won’t Hear The Stars Scream.

It is a fey night. 

Books, constant engagements, fail to interest. Carnegie and Graham convey infinite wisdom through the plainest of words, but they fail to register in my brain. 

I see crumpled sheets on my bed, and wish I weren’t the only one who crumpled them. 

I hear leaves rustle to a wind I can’t feel. Just as my body reacts to a love that’s not here. 

It is a night that begs company of a special sort, that revels in quiet words of little consequence, that yearns a warmth to spite summer, that belongs to two hearts that would beat as one. 

It is a fey night. 

It… is a lonely night. 

george-bass-coastal-walk

A Little Exercise

The old man sat facing the cliff, with his back to his massive, almost palatial mansion. He was more excited than he had been in years, quietly grateful for the mild, bracing sun, and the breeze that made the grass sway and the flowers dance.

Not that you’d know this by looking. His face had an impassive, carved-from-stone quality. Which could be attributed to many things, the writer assumes. It could be the incessant beeping of monitors attached to his wheelchair, displaying his vitals. Or the IV drip of nutrients and medicines that he needed but could not get from the small meals he struggled to consume. Or it could be the years of pain and discomfort from an unnatural disease that wouldn’t kill him, and wouldn’t let him live.

He spoke softly, using the bare minimum of words, and rarely smiled or laughed. His serving staff accounted this to him being a grumpy old man, but his wife knew it was only because he didn’t have any reason express happiness. In a slot attached to his wheelchair was a cane, beautifully made, for despite his troubles, he would not allow anyone to accompany him to the washroom.

Today, however, his pain was almost unnoticed, and the high-pitched, warbling voices of his nurses not quite as annoying, for after many years he would see his son. And perhaps more importantly, be introduced to his grandson.

Telltale tires-on-gravel sounds later, the old man’s attending nurse turned his wheelchair, so he saw his son walking up to him, his wife and daughter-in-law a pace behind, holding hands and talking animatedly. And running circles around them a boy in bright clothes, wearing a cap at a jaunty angle, just looking at whom made him feel a few decades younger.

Introductions were made, and the grandparents plied their grandson with a thousand different questions, which the young boy answered with excellent manners, till his patience ran out. At which point drop kicked a ball he had brought with him and then chased after it, causing his grandmother to break into peals of laughter, and eliciting a grin from the old man.

Soon, food was served and the adults were to take their catching-up conversation inside. The nurse was about to wheel the old man inside when -

“No. I will stay here.”

She withdrew, leaving him as he watched his grandson play.

A few minutes later, the boy came to him and asked,

“Can you stand?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you?”

“It is difficult.”

“So you can’t play with me, can you?”

“I suppose not.”

And the boy continued playing.

Carefully, the old man pulled out the needles and pulled off the pads that were stuck to him. Taking his cane out, he stood, with great care, testing his weight. With small steps, he walked to his grandson and said, “It’s been a while since I last kicked a ball.”

With little pushes, sometimes with a leg, sometimes with the stick, he’d pass the ball to the boy, and the boy would pass it back. It was slow, it was careful, and it was the most fun the grandfather had had in ages. Soon, both he and his descendant were laughing, whooping, yelling and calling for the ball loudly enough to attract the attention of those inside the house.

They came to find the old man running as fast as he could, chasing after the ball, racing his grandson. laughing as he did so. A moment of stunned silence was followed by shrieks of urgency and fright. Nurses ran to the old man, flapping their arms, mouthing admonishments under their breath, still not quite over the shock of seeing the usually grim old man jolly. A nurse pushed the wheelchair towards the old man, while another pushed the old man towards the wheelchair, till they were both reunited. The IV needles and instrument pads were hastily stuck back onto him, and everyone stood around, anxiously waiting to see what would happen next, expecting unconsciousness, stroke or worse.

The child wondered what all the commotion was about.

The adults stood with their hearts in their mouths, but all they saw were a heart beating strongly, perfect O2 stats, steady BP and a small smile on his face.

After a few minutes, when it was evident that the old man was in no immediate danger, the son broke into a grin, while the grandmother berated her husband loudly for his stupendously idiotic exhibition in the lack of caution, while he quietly tried to calm her down.

***

They were walking (in one case: rolling) back to the mansion when:

Son: “So, who’s the better player, your grandpa or me?”

Grandson: “Grandpa, any day!”

Son: “But surely I am way faster than the old man.”

Grandson: “Grandpa has three legs! You can’t beat that.”

Grandpa: “And so, son, your argument is invalid.”

Grandfather and grandson hi-fived and kept walking, while the young man followed, a bemused expression on his face.

 

Today was the kind of day a dark story full of murder, rape and death would have come easy. It was ridiculously difficult, writing a happy, positive one about cheerful old men. Critical comments, opinions and advice are solicited, invited, requested. 

Thank you, reader, for reading thus far. 

Image credits: http://www.hikingfiasco.com/

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The Fruit Seller Problems.

I was a bit of a genius when I was a kid. Through no credit of my own, mind. My father used to teach me Math those days. He would come back from work, freshen up, and then we would sit and do the Fruit Seller Problems.

My father is an amazing teacher. He could spend an hour with a person and in that hour, said person would end up with skill, purpose and drive he/she’d never known. (Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but well, I’m biased. Sue a jackass. Go on.)

He was so good, that when I was in Class 1, I could solve Class 3 problems with ease.

Of course, soon enough my natural tendencies took over, such that when I was in Class 3, I could not do Class 3 problems. With or without ease.

The Fruit Seller Problems. My father and I had this imaginary fruit seller. It started out simple, as in, the fruit seller sells 5 apples to one and 3 apples to another, then how many apples did he sell in total? Similarly, how many he had left after a sale, for subtraction. I progressed, so we calculated how much his entire stock was worth, multiplication. We would calculate how much a customer could buy with some money, and I’d learn division. The fruit seller would go to a village and buy from a farmer so that he could sell in the city and I could learn cost price, selling price, profit and loss. Some of his stock would go bad, and I would know weighted average.

Thus it went. My father would weave stories around this fruit seller, and at each step would be a mathematical problem, the solution to which would extend the story. I enjoyed the Math, because the numbers had so much significance, they were part of the story, the fruit seller depended on them and he would not be able to go on with his work if I didn’t solve it.

It was wonderful. Math and stories together. Other children went to tutors for one and the idiot box for the other, I went to my dad for both.

He stopped teaching me when he thought I had enough of an understanding to progress on my own. At which point I fell flat. Around Classes 6 and 7, my father tried to teach me again, but by then I was too old for stories, and without them, Math lost its magic. It is rather difficult to weave a realistic story about how the fruit seller used the algebra to calculate… anything, really.

I grew a bit distant from my dad, perhaps a result of constantly avoiding him to hide poor scores. Nothing serious, just that we didn’t have much to talk about.

Nowadays, we talk a lot. About my upcoming job, the economy, Indian and world politics, my sister’s studies. We don’t chat per se, as in we do not discuss cricket, or girls and all, we just talk of… relatively more important things. We’ve been talking a lot more the last couple of months.

And I’m very happy for that. I like my dad. He’s a great guy,

It’s strange, how impending separation deepens bonds.

 

Image: My father and I, somewhere in Arunachal Pradesh. A while back. He looks younger now, and I look older. A lot older.