Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Write... Edit... Publish... October 2021 : The Scream

 


It's horror fest time at Write...Edit...Publish... this Halloween month but I, as is my usual practice, am giving the ghosties and ghoulies a miss. Here is another retelling of a beloved old tale...any resemblance to people and/or events is purely  coincidental...

Life has been uberhectic - the wheels of relocation grind super slow and pay no attention to posting dates or writing time. Consequently my editing has been last minute rushed and the less said about word counts the better, for which I most sincerely apologise. 


Tangerine



A gasp of collective anguish came from the confinement room. The whispers started in the women’s quarters and reached the outer room where the grandfather was waiting for news. The sound of his walking stick could be heard crossing the inner courtyard. He stopped opposite and demanded to see his eighth grandchild. The weeping women brought the baby out.

“Sir, there’s a wound on the forehead. And the eyes…”

The old man gave silver coins to the midwife. “Stop snivelling. That’s God’s own thumbprint on the child. The little one’s come  with His blessings. Call him Rudraksh.”

My grandmother repeated the story often in the afternoons, the room darkened by the woven reed screens dropped over the great arches of the verandah, her voice raspy with age but still soothing, blending in with the birdcalls.

Not that I needed to be told. I’ve always known it. Because sometimes I am born as Abu, driven to a life of crime because I’ve voiced an inconvenient truth, sometimes I’m Rudraksh destined to witness evil, disguised as a divine plan.  I am the match girl who froze to death on the streets of Copenhagen, I’m the child worker scarred for life in the fireworks factories of Sivakasi. I am the refugee toddler whose drowned body has washed up on an island beach time after time. There is no end to my suffering. And to my resilience. My mothers’ agonised screams echo down from the beginning of time.

 ~*~

The man wore nothing multicoloured, all a solid shade of cream from head to toe, only his scarf was tangerine - and he played upon the heartstrings of the crowd.

“Rats!” he thundered, ”Rats have riddled your society. Unless you do something now, they will eat you out of house and home, there’ll be nothing left for your children.”

The buntings on his vehicle fluttered in the breeze as he took up his tune again after a brief breather. “Come with me, brothers. This chariot takes the road to the Lord’s birthplace on the riverbank. Come with me and reclaim your pride, correct the wrongs of history.”

And so a thousand mile journey began, the chariot with its belligerent flag leading a rabble, converging - from Somnath and Samastipur, from Rohtak and Ramgarh -  to the small hillock on the riverbank. Where history and legend and myth blended into one in the waters and lapped against the ancient steps of the ghats.

~ * ~

I was born with mismatched eyes, the right dark, the left an indeterminate blue-green-amber mix. No one had ever seen such a thing in our village before, and combined with the birthmark – I was a miracle or a freak, depending on who was looking. The doctor said it was a rare condition but he assured my parents my sight was perfectly fine.

My eyesight or colour didn’t bother me much. The thing that sometimes did was that I could see beyond the merely visible. That too, is something that carries over from birth to rebirth, this extra edge to perception.

~ * ~

“This vehicle has started out with a holy purpose, a sacred duty,” the man of the tangerine scarf shouted into the microphone. “Who will dare stop it? It has the Lord’s name on it, the people’s will fuels its journey, and our collective devotion will ensure its purpose is achieved. What the invaders tore down will be rebuilt, on that very same spot. The Lord’s temple will rise again."

 

The preparations had taken two years –  many thousand avid volunteers had shaped and fired bricks for the dream temple, each one with the Lord’s name inscribed on it. The contributions from each neighbourhood, each town, each province had been taken in triumphal marches, often leading to sectarian clashes. For to build the temple on that very same spot meant the opening of ancient wounds. It meant the demolition of an existing structure, a huge conflict between two different communities that had lived together for more than a millennium.

But now everything had aligned for this new temple  - the tune, the pipe, the piper and the route to the mountain. The chariot rolled on like a juggernaut squashing all in its path.

~*~

One December day, Shankar, Momo and I went to the riverbank. Momo was a crack shot but today his marbles kept leaping down the steps out of control. A green and white one fell. I lurched after it when it suddenly morphed into a wheel and magicked three others like itself and towered into a chariot.

I could hear Shankar muttering, “he’s off on one of his fits again, here - sit him down before he falls into the water or something.” I wanted to tell him that I was perfectly capable of staying clear of the river, but everything vanished before I could utter a word. I was standing in a huge crowd with my father.

An old, domed building was a little way behind a low dais. A man in  a tangerine scarf was giving a speech about the wrongs of history.

He brandished a fierce trident, pointed it towards the central dome and roared, “We’ll build it here!” and the crowd roared back,” Build it here!”

A huge wave of people surged forward and started running towards the structure. My father too was running with the crowd. The noise was like an avalanche right inside my head – thudding feet on ground,  metal on stone, stone on stone, metal on flesh. People fell and were trampled underfoot in the stampede, it was a struggle to keep upright. I was being inexorably borne towards the ancient monument by the momentum. Clouds of dust rose all around and obscured everything, but the trident flashed overhead, its three points now tipped red with blood. Father had vanished completely in the melee.

When the dust settled, there was nothing and no-one. Just  a single white waterlily in small pool and Momo’s green glass marble on the edge of it. I picked it up and put it in my pocket.

~~*~~

“Hey. Hey, Rudy.” Someone was patting my cheek gently. “Rudy? Rudy!”

I blinked and said,” Take it easy, pal. I’m not dead or anything.”

Momo’s face, pinched with anxiety, relaxed a little. Shankar said, “You were out for ever so long. What happened?”

The memory of the event was already shredding away into a massed confusion.

“Chariot. Trident. An old domed building. A mob intent on building a temple.  On a foundation of destruction. Father – I lost him in the crowd. A white waterlily in a pool. And this marble – yours.” I took the marble out of my pocket.

“What does it all mean?”

“Nothing good,” I said, standing up. “C’mon, I’ve got to find my father.” 

~*~

I couldn’t find him so I took my apprehensions to Grandfather instead.

“I’ve just seen a building being destroyed. And Father disappeared into the crowd intent on razing it.”

He wasn't overly upset. “Yes, he’s going there, the journey of the chariot concludes the day after, it’s come a long way from Somnath. He’ll be witnessing history.”

“Stop him! The trident was blood tipped. There’s going to be violence. The white waterlily will bloom there for peace after much bloodshed.”

“Silence, child! You see but you don’t understand. The waterlily is the temple. It must be built.”

Grandfather, I saw, was wearing a tangerine scarf. I came away.

~*~

So my father went to the rally. And never came back. One of the hundreds killed that December.

Not all pipers are honest. Not all lead evils away, some lead it into the very heart of cities, and of men. Not all tunes are worth following. And a place of worship built on a foundation of hate is not acceptable in the sight of a just God, by whatever name He may be invoked.


WC - 1317

FCA

Tagline : Not all pipers lead evils away. Some lead it into the very heart of cities, and of men.


Read the other entries here :


 







52 comments:

  1. Hari Om
    A suitably haunting tale, Nila, and pertinent.

    Hope the resettlement moves along a smoothing path for you. YAM xx

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    1. Thank you. Sometimes resettlement and smooth feel like an oxymoron haha.

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  2. As is so often the case your words tug at my heartstrings and moisten my eyes.

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed Rudy's story. Thank you.

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  3. You always reach deep into that emotional well, Nila! Beautifully done as always!

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  4. Fascinating story with a frightening outcome! Sadly, cultish mass hysteria is a reality in this world. You've captured the frantic tone so well! (P.S. my last comment disappeared so hopefully this one will get through)

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    1. Mass hysteria and falsehoods have created a fractured, polarised society - hardest on the children I think, even without ability to see the future. Thank you for reading and your persistence - vanishing comment is seriously annoying.

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  5. Wow - great story with so many layers and ties to today's world, tucked in with the past. The pacing is fantastic. Good job

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    1. Thank you, Joanne. We are regressing into past mistakes unfortunately. Glad you enjoyed the flash.

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  6. A complex tale of prophecy. Sadly knowing the future never prevents it from happening.

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    1. True. For that one must know the past, reflect and course correct. Not something that folks like Grandfather are willing to even concede might be a good idea. Thanks.

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  7. Hi Nila - so interesting to read - and heart-rending as the story develops ... I wonder if it's about Amritsar ... something took me in that direction. The atrocities that life takes some people ... I can only 'scream' from afar - and feel blessed. Take care - Hilary

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    1. Hi Hilary. We are indeed blessed to be safe and sound. The events that this is inspired by don't go as far back as Amritsar/Jallianwala Bagh. There at least we had the excuse of colonisation. This is much more recent and based on injustices in an independent India. Unfortunately.

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  8. What a sad story. The power-hungry never bother their heads with the truth or even common sense. Lives of others are dirt to them, to use as they will for their self-aggrandizement.

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    1. Unashamed power hungriness seems a definer of our times and leaders. The more humans advance the more sophisticated they become in devaluing justice and compassion.

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  9. I feel for your character. No one listens. While I don't have future sight, I certainly know the feeling of people driven to do something they think is right when it leads to destruction and harm. Well written.

    I hope your move goes well.
    Nancy

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    1. Thank you. No-one listens - that's the crux of all our ills. If we only learned to listen a bit better we'd have a whole heap of problems solved in two tics.

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  10. Wow, what a powerful piece of writing. Your tagline says it all.

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  11. Hi,
    Be careful what you choose and shun the sweetest tunes. They are not the best.
    Very well written.
    Shalom aleichem

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    1. Indeed the sweetest tunes are the most suspicious. Peace to you and yours.

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  12. Thank you Nilanjana for this complexe tale of premonitions. Maybe you could link the different passages slightly better with a sentence, so as not to lose the reader. Overall the atmosphere is very well rendered. I enjoyed your story and the open ending.

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    1. Thank you for that specific feedback. Agree about the disjointedness - that's happened due to a time crunch re revisions/editing. But glad you enjoyed reading.

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  13. That was really powerful and had a dream-like quality to it. And sad.

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  14. Wishing you peace as the chaos moves into the past!

    You excel at making the old tales fit the real world. Such a disastrous end. Having such a gift but still no power to change the outcome. So frustrating. Well told!

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    1. Thanks, Renee. I keep trying to shove the chaos into the past but they surface in unexpected places all the time. :)

      I often feel that the gift of premonitions/foresight etc is not really a gift but a curse. To know the future is deadly if one can't do anything about influencing the events.

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  15. Your writing is always so powerful and moving, and this is no exception. It would be so frustrating to see the outcome and have your own family refuse to listen.

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    1. Families can be the worst and children often go unheard, unfortunately.

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  16. Nila, so frustrating when people with foresight can't get others to listen, to follow them. The Pied Piper in reverse. I love your retelling of old folksy tales. At this you excel, as in so much else.

    You've done exceedingly well to create this piece amidst the chaos of moving. I hope the chaos is coming to an end, and I hope soon you will be happily settled amongst the bosom of your family. Keep us posted...

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    1. Both foresight and hindsight are uncomfortable things to deal with. I am foreseeing chaos continuing for me in the immediate future.. :)

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  17. Hi Nila!

    I really enjoyed your piece. Seers are always misjudged and never taken seriously. The rebirth of this seer only added to the intensity and saddened beauty of your prose. Nicely done!

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    1. Hi Michael. True that seers rarely get taken seriously in their own lifetimes, especially when they're young. Our attitude to children can be dismissive and that's what the MC was up against here. Thanks.

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  18. An interesting and complex story. It deserves more time than I’ve given it, but at the least I get some echoes and some fearful premonitions.

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    1. Fearful is a good word to describe the events. Thanks for reading.

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  19. Such a complex tale in such few words, Nilanjana. This could be a novel, and I'd read it--look forward to reading your longer work.

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    1. Yes fact is often stranger than fiction, and also far more complex, isn't it? Thanks.

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  20. Oh no, my comment disappeared! I wrote something like… Great tale, well told Nila. So complex, I feel I’d have to read it a few more times to begin to dig up some of the treasures hidden in its depths. A great tale of bigotry, naivity and arrogance. Well spun. Carole Stolz

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    1. Hi Carole! The comments are set to be moderated beyond a fixed number of days. Get bombarded with spam all the time, that's why have had to turn moderation on. Thanks so much for persevering, much appreciated!

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  21. How you can write such a wonderful story when you're in the middle of relocation defeats me. Brava!

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  22. I loved the layered complexity of this one. A wonderful contribution to this WEP!

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  23. How poetically you told the tale we know so well. This cries out to be expanded, to be part of a larger work. I loved this, "And so a thousand mile journey began, the chariot with its belligerent flag leading a rabble, converging - from Somnath and Samastipur, from Rohtak and Ramgarh". Where are you relocating to?

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    1. Kolkata, return to roots :) Glad you liked the retelling. Thanks.

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  24. Interesting. A bit of flashbacks between lives made it more captivating .

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    1. Flashbacks are always a good tool for backstories. :) Not this here though. Thanks for reading.

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  25. Enchanting. love the tangerine color in it, not just orange, but tangerine. Nicely done. Dixie

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