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Birthday Girl

Today, someone very special to me has her birthday.

She is not an ordinary person. By many definitions, she is batshit crazy and has no right to exist in this world. But she does, and I am glad for it, for I haven’t ever met someone who practices and values honesty as she does. She is kind to a fault and her ability to care beggars belief.

She thinks of beautiful things, has a child-like sense of humor people tend to leave behind and thinks people think she is a bit of a fool.

She doesn’t see herself the way the rest of the world does, eminently capable, utterly loving, of unbreakable strength. She has no airs, no conceit, though she is one of the few people I know who have any right to.

She is supremely intelligent and fiercely practical, and works as the voice of reason and good sense every time I feel like spending an inordinate amount on unnecessary items. Which is every time I walk into a mall, or open Amazon.

She is my support, she is the fabric of my dreams, she is the reason for near every good thing in my life. She says she’s my No.1 Fan, but I don’t think she knows I’m hers.

She grows more beautiful with each passing day, and her smile still sends 6 Amperes running down my spine (which is a lot of electricity).

And even though we don’t spend a lot of time together, I feel alive, and complete, only with her next to me.

She is not a birthday person, though. She says she hasn’t had many memorable ones.

Which means, I will have to give her a few.

Of the many things she’s taught me (intentionally or otherwise), perhaps the most important is the fact that no matter what I accomplish, what exams I pass or success I achieve, it all loses its luster if I don’t have someone to share it with.

I am as certain as certain can be, that I want to share my life with her. With her, I want to explore all of Japan, camp out in Chile, and look at the Hobbit’s set in New Zealand.

And as a start of memorable birthdays, I’ll take her up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and give her a cake.

Sanjana, I pray that you have the most amazing year ahead, that you are safe and happy and accomplish everything you set out to do.

Have a very, very Happy Birthday, my love.

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The City

{Image Credits: D. Madison’s album, MarginalHacks}

The city we speak of here is a large city.

Today, it is beautiful. Paved cobblestone roads with trees on both sides crisscross each other in little mazes a pedestrian could get happily lost in, admiring solid white structures that seem ever so light, they could float away in a glow the city itself seems to emanate.

It was a cesspit.

People were accustomed to filth. It was almost comforting. Bodies crammed into allies, trapped in pursuit of food and cheap pleasure. Boys barely a decade old peeled cracked wallpaper off and rolled them into cigarettes, coating their lungs in muck. Babies were born and killed the very same day, for their mothers were too weak and too poor too feed them, or too weary to care. For children, chasing rats was a pastime, whereas for men, it was rape. And dead bodies were just something you had to roll away from flat places, so that you could sleep.

This was a world the stoutest of believers would admit was forsaken by the gods. Travelers, people from nearby villages, they kept far, far away, sufficiently warned by the stench that draped the city like a fluid shroud, rancid molecules of air bunched in vengeance of a people that polluted them.

And this city would have died in this state had it not been for a woman who stepped out of her chariot and walked right in.

The first day she came, she called ten children to herself, and gave them two large loaves of bread. From each she elicited a promise, that they’d have one loaf completely to themselves, but give the other to someone who was hungrier than they were. Now, you wouldn’t expect these street urchins to give a hoot about a promise made to a kindly fool when there was actual food to be had, but there was something in the young lady’s eyes, a certain sense of agelessness, that made the children want to do what she said.

Perhaps they wanted to gain her favour, please her. Perhaps in being treated humanely, they wished to live up to her expectations of their humanity. As it was, more than ten children broke fresh bread that day.

The next day, the lady came again, and saw that she wouldn’t have to call children to herself, a fair few more than ten were waiting for her, and they were not all children. She smiled as if she expected them, and handed them all two loaves, asking from them all the same promise.

A week later, the lady turned up with three large vats, and her two menservants set up firewood. Then they pulled out a small market’s worth of vegetables from the chariot. The lady beckoned to the ladies that had gathered, and enlisted their help in cutting the vegetables. The men were asked to fill pails of water from the few wells which were yet useful. The children ran about, gathering anything that could resemble a bowl.

For hours, a colony was a-flutter with activity, in anticipation of a good meal. Preparations done, the lady and her ladies stirred the contents of the vats with large ladles, and from the boiling liquid rose an aroma that, for moments, overpowered the odours the residents had grown used to. A hundred quietly watched as a few ladies sat, making soup to warm bellies and hearts, and that evening, our cesspit was serenity itself.

With every visit the lady made, the crowds grew, and when she could not feed them all, she asked them to help. The crowds started bringing whatever meager supplies they scrounged, and brought them to the very material communion. Wherever fights broke out, the lady soothed the aggrieved with a gentle touch and a loving smile. Within a fortnight, fires burned in every street, cooking soup for a community.

A month later, the lady stopped bringing food. Instead, she brought scrubs, and brushes and tools. She left them in a big pile in the center of the city, and suggested that they might clean their homes. With full bellies and resultant charitable moods, not to mention the amount of time they all had on their hands, the people decided to humour the kindly lady in her seemingly pointless request.

A week later, most homes were the cleanest they’d been in years. Two weeks later, so were the roads.

I couldn’t possibly tell you when the men started patching up the broken houses, making structures their grandchildren would be comfortable in. I couldn’t tell you how children suddenly had books in their hands, or women laid tables of food for their families each night.

I couldn’t tell you when the lady stopped coming to the city.

The generation that walks the roads today with arms intertwined, breathing in the aroma of honey and freshly baked bread and flowers, they know naught but stories, legends of a woman who could be as fictional as an angel. An woman of unassuming airs and quiet smiles, who set right the world with an intent and a gesture.

But we remember. We remember what we were, and who we are.

We remember her fondly.

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What It Would Be Like

He was in the second last-row of seats on a rickety bus that jumped 16 additional inches each time it went over a bump. And he’d laugh delightedly each time. It was like a roller coaster for children, one he wasn’t supposed to enjoy at his age, but couldn’t help anyway.

But then, he had other reasons to be happy.

He was home. It was his city. It was the place which he had hated on arrival, but come to love. It was here that he had learnt to live, learnt to love. It was this place he had left, as every boy leaves home to become a man.

And now he was back, with teary eyes, exulting at the old-world charm of this city that was forever in between times, here a mammoth flyover not quite complete but the very promise of the scintillating future, there an old man pulling a hand-pulled rickshaw with music being pumped into his years by a trusty iPhod (which is an [imaginary] cheap ripoff).

And she was back too. She made of spun moonbeams and the breeze, the beautiful young lady who was more responsible than the city for having taught him how to live and love. The one who had been gone far too long and had shone far too bright. She had returned, and they would meet, and the old spells that each had woven into the other would find their counterparts to make magic once more.

He was happy, because all that had been lost was about to be found. He was happy, because he had found his corner in this world, and he’d found the person he’d want to share it with, and it was all about to come together.

He’d see that smile again, the sparkling smile she smiled each time she saw him.

 

 

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Defiance (Line Three)

For Line Two, which continues to be completely unrelated, click here.

They found him in the attic, hunched over a book of short stories under the frail light of an old bulb.

He was dragged out, reminded of his responsibilities as the household help, reminded of the kindness his masters had done him by giving him food, clothes and shelter, reminded that the least he could do was to make himself useful. Following which he was reminded what a cold iron rod feels like with the weight of an arm behind it.

Once it was done, he could only whimper. Which, wisely, he did not do.

He was told that if they ever saw him with holding a book, it’d be the last thing he ever held.

They never saw him hold a book again.

For that night, when the his masters slept, he crept out, quiet as mice. And loud as bells, he banged on the door of the House of a God. Begged not the God, but the man who answered his insistent plea. Begged to be taught letters and numbers, the weapons his parents had tried to give him, before he had been taken.

And so he studied with this Goodman of God, in the hours of the night. Found magic in the woven word, found the single truth in numbers that all religions promised and none gave. He learnt of the particles that made more particles that made the world, and he learnt how it rained.

He did as his masters instructed, suffered their slights and their hurts wordlessly to avoid more slights and hurts. Slept when the masters’ offspring were at play, when the masters were at work, when meals weren’t to be served, whenever nothing was wanted of him.

For his life might have belonged to them, but the night belonged to him.

And like all those who learn outside of the system, he believed that he had much of catching up to do, only to find that in their earnest they had far outstripped the system, as he did when he held the results of the test his mentor had helped him prepare for, the one all the schoolchildren took.

It was the crack of dawn. And in the first light of a new day, he stood, tears streaming from his eyes, fiercely proud.

 

 

 

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?