The day I lost IT….
I remember the day vividly. Vividly because it hadn’t ever rained like that before….atleast not in my recent memory. Vividly because my steady food supplier, my mother, had decided to take a sabbatical. She had trudged along with her basket to her friend’s house; leaving a sour apple, a few crackers for me to munch on for dinner. A lazy egg had stared lovingly from the refrigerator, beckoning me to use it.
But I was in no mood for a self-service. I ordered a pizza instead. I purposely chose the pizza service that offers a free pizza for every missed arrival timing, just in case….Funnily enough the guy arrived before time- amidst the non-stop rainfall ! I was pissed off for a while but decided to enjoy the night with pizza and my favourite show. The fire-baked tomatoes and jalapenos had a rustic appeal. As I was about to pull out a string of mozzarella I thought I saw a finger – a greyish dark finger digging at the pizza with equal gusto. I blinked twice, thrice and even four times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. The finger by then had wound a stringy mozzarella around itself.
“Mmm…tasty, but you should have opted for baked chicken with pineapple – full bodied and value for money”, someone spoke.
I turned to look. A dark shadowy silhouette was toying with my wedge of pizza.
A series of thoughts flashed passed my mind in those nanoseconds.
I was dead and the moron was my soul!
I was possessed – by satan, devil, vampire….by whatever hell is sinister!
An evil friend was masquerading- just to scare the wits off me!
I looked closer – the dark whatever was ditto me! Just then I observed the wall. A lamp was placed not far away from me and technically, by the law of science, there should have been a shadow on the wall. But there wasn’t! Which meant, the dark figure was my shadow!
That my shadow had decided to make it’s ‘presence’ felt was an absolute improbable, bordering on psychological distress. I thought I had gone insane. For the next few days I hardly got out of my room. I bluffed my mother that I had an upcoming exam for which I needed to prepare. My mother was only too glad to push in food through my door – happy that her son had finally chosen studies over dance. I avoided my friends too, not choosing to take their calls or mumbling an excuse of a severe flu.
This went on for nearly a week. My shadow shared my bowls of chicken stew while I kept wondering about my shadow-less existence! By the end of seventh day I had almost got used to my other me. Infact I would have perhaps developed an easy camaraderie with it, had it not messed up with my things. My pillow-covers were dyed in ink, my song-list was tampered, shoes were sprayed with my perfume, paper boats were made out of my diary pages….
There was a note-pad on which I had scribbled only two lines of poetry:
“ As crystals of raindrop
Merge in emerald”
A visit to the washroom and back and I discover two additional lines:
“The frogs do a hop
And monkeys go bald”.
This was too much for my sanity! A few more hours and I would have throttled myself.
Just then there was a call from Anna, my girlfriend.
“What on earth is wrong with you sweetie poodle?”, her voice oozed concern.
Normally mushy talks like that knock off my patience but for that moment Anna seemed like a dream option.
“We haven’t practiced together for a long time babes. The dance competition is just four weeks away. Infact I am thinking of trying out a new dance form tonight – the shadow dancing….you know, the kind where the audience get to see only our shadows!”
“Done girl! Evening, at 6 pm sharp”, I delightedly confirmed.
To hell with my shadow! I whistled and packed my dance bag. And then it struck me. Shadow Dancing – that is what she said! Oh hell! How would I be able to do shadow dancing without my shadow?
Anna may be my girl friend but she is a difficult girl. If she has decided ‘shadow dancing’ then ‘shadow dancing’ it has to be! And now I was in total fix! How would I dance a ‘shadow dance’ without my shadow?
I hated the moment but I knew I had no option.
** *** *** ***
The rehearsal hall hardly had anyone. Other than Anna and myself, there were six others who were either busy in practice or watched others perform.
The shadow screen was set just in front of us. The music began. My heart was in my mouth. I eyed Anna through the corner of my eyes. She was busy adjusting her dress. I took advantage of the moment and showed a thumbs up to my shadow.
“ Not a single step away from me”, I had warned It before leaving my room.
“Not one bit bro’….shall be a good boy . You and I will be as inseparable as Chalk and Cheese”, It let out a crude joke while pinning my favourite socks on my board wall!
I had not believed It one bit but so far It hadn’t behaved erratically – deciding to behave as a shadow should. I kept my fingers crossed.
The music flowed like dream. Anna and I waltzed to perfection. And so did my shadow. With Anna’s shadow. There was a perfect sync. I couldn’t be happier….
The music was drawing to a close. I was trying to keep pace with my shadow and hers. They seemed to be much more in love with each other, rather than Anna and Myself. Thankfully Anna was so engrossed in looking into my eyes that she did not notice the glitch.
“Close your eyes”, I whispered into Anna’s ears. She was only too happy to oblige.
“Keep your eyes shut…As the music would close I would glide you outside the hall- into eternity”, I whispered again.
There was a mild twitch of surprise in her eye-brows and then like a timid lamb she surrendered into my embrace for the final whirl.
On the shadow screen, by then, a frenzy move – quite different from ours, was being carried out.
Before the music would fade away forever I held Anna by her waist.
She kept her promise. Her shimmery eye-lids let out mild waves of expectation but she did not open her eyes.
Still holding her by waist I drew her out of the back-stage. She put her head on my shoulders – letting me lead her to wherever I wanted.
Two of us walked out through the back-stage corridor….two shadow less entities.
*** **** ****
The night of the Blue Jay
She placed her chin on the glass separator near the window. The commotion below had caught her attention. There is a public tap just below the window. Morning hours attract a myriad of interesting collage-people, events, emotions. Like today there was a group of kids chasing and making fun of another one. They had attached a paper tail to the shorts of the hapless victim. The more he ran, the more his ‘tail’ flew in the air – drawing laughter and loud fun-making from the crowd. She too laughed in mirth. I looked around. There was no one in the room. Normally they would never, ever keep the glass separator open. How they overlooked it was a mystery!
“Shall we? Now?”, I whispered into her ears.
Her crossed eye-brows told me that the timing of the question was totally wrong!
She watched the circus below for a few more seconds. But she being she, it did not take much time to change her mind. She rushed to her table and picked up the bottle. In her hurry she almost upturned the table. The pencils made a mute noise as collided against the crayons.
She held up the bottle and examined.
“Mmm..mmm..na na…not yet….the sunlight has not yet touched the pinky mark”.
She pointed to a small pink dot near the lid of the glass bottle. Golden hues of sunlight splashed the indoors of the bottle. But way below the pink spot.
Just then the nurse appeared with her breakfast. Bread, strawberry jam, milk. The everyday fare.
Her eyes shone in delight. She scooped out a spoon of strawberry jam and let it drown in the glass of milk. The milk changed hue, gradually turning pink.
“Blood, blood, blood”, she clapped.
“This is pink, sweetheart. Blood is red”, the nurse tried to reason.
“Blood, blood, blood”, she banged the spoon against the table.
Damn! Now for the next few hours she will be in the worst of her moods. Why the hell do they fix up new nurses each time!
*** *** *** ***
The golden hue of sunlight had finally touched the pink dot on the glass bottle. My happiness knew no bounds. The day had arrived. I waited for the night to dawn on the other side of the glass window. I stuck the grape-vine laurel to her curly hairs. The nurse hadn’t cleaned her face well. Her cheeks were sticky and dirty…But she still looked beautiful!
“Tonight?”, I wanted to re-confirm.
“Mmm..tonight”, she confirmed. Her concentration was however on the drawing that she was making. My eyes too were fixed on her paper. I watched in utmost concentration the slice of evening light that had found it’s way on the paper. The salmon-pink of the fading evening gradually morphed into pale blue and then a total purple.
“Tch”, she expressed dissatisfaction at the dim light. She threw the crayons away and rushed to the glass window…..A plate-like silvery-golden moon sneaked from the clouds.
“Wiffooo”, she whistled with her small mouth.
And then what I hadn’t expected happened. And it happened too fast. A larger-than-life blue Jay appeared on the parapet .It’s wings oozed blue fire….It was nearly blinding. Looking at it she clapped loudly. Then with fearless happiness she crossed over the barrier of the half-window. She perched on and held the wings of the Blue Jay.
It was a blink-and –you- miss moment…..Too fast for my comprehension. I ran with all my might to the glass window.
“Wait, wait for me”, I screamed.
She hardly listened. She smiled and waved. The Blue Jay began it’s flight.
“Stop! Wait for me….You cannot, you just cannot leave your shadow behind”, I screamed hoarse.
By then she was too far away.
A sudden gust of wind blew past. The glass of the half-window slid down the frame – leaving me locked behind in the room – forever.
*** *** **** *** ***
Anish looked around the room. It was dusty. A wet smell hung all around.
“Two rooms should be okay for a single person”, he thought.
Twenty years and no one had entered the room. He wondered, why.
A small two room flat on the fourth floor, without a lift, was perhaps a tough choice. He reasoned.
The rooms suited his need perfectly but there was something that nagged him constantly.
What was the rumour he had heard about a death or a suicide in this room?
Anish turned to the Broker.
“ Achha, wasn’t there a suicide or something in this room?”
The Broker laughed a sly laugh.
“Ofcourse there was! A mad girl…you know , kind of psycho case….Her father was a rich man…Couldn’t save her though. But I thought you were a budding scientist, aren’t you?”. Being a seasoned broker, he knew exactly how to touch the raw nerve.
“ Uh no…I am not bothered. Just wanted to know if the rumour was true. The rooms fits fine into my need. If you can just change the glass window and have the room whitewashed….”
“Ofcourse. That shouldn’t be a problem.”, the broker chuckled.
The Broker led the way out of the room. Anish followed him. Before the door closed he gave one last look at the room. The room was silent with just trails of dust and two of their shadows. Wait! Was that two? Or was there yet another one? What was that third shadow? Or was it a glitch of his eye sight?
*** *** *** ***
The night was blue- ink blue. Droplets of moonlight were haphazardly flowing down the ink-blue background and melting into the dark grasses. Whiffs of scent – jasmine, wet grass, grain shafts were drifting here and there in little parcels of surprise. And under the Frangipani tree Hariprasad was playing his flute.
People say Hariprasad become possessed when he plays his flute. And that his flute has magical properties. Some even claim that Hariprasad’s flute can cure one of diseases. To Rukmini, it hardly matters. To her, all it matters is that her husband is a four feet pint sized dwarf! All her life Rukmini had dreamt of marrying a charming prince-like man! She herself is no short of a princess. With a peach and milk complexion and doe eyes, she would be a befitting choice of many royals – if there had been any royals that is!
But why her father chose Hariprasad was a mystery to her. That he plays flute like magic wasn’t a satisfying reason for her. So annoyed was she with her father that she had chosen not to visit her father’s house on the eight day after her marriage – a ritual followed in their community.
Standing at the door Rukmini looked outside. Her gazed was fixed under the Frangipani. She lifted her skirt slightly and walked towards the tree. Rubbing against the tall grasses, her anklets hardly made noise. She stood for many seconds under the tree, waiting for the music to fade away.
The moonlight lent a strange mirage. His shadow under the tree looked way taller. And with the flute touched to his lips, it definitely gave an illusion of Lord Krishna with his flute.
Was there tears in his eyes?
Would this be the right time to raise the issue? She wondered.
Keeping his flute down Hariprasad looked at Rukmini. He hardly looked surprised. Infact such emotions were not really his forte.
Only his eyes bore question about her presence.
“ You know they came yet again. Those city wallahs…..This time they also had their van. A sitting inside the van and it will be done. Two thousand for a six inches , three thousand for one full foot…”, Rukmini hesitantly spelt the offer.
Now Rukmini was really scared…..rather apprehensive. What if he rejects the offer?
She had even gone and filled up the form. The sale of her silver bangles was enough to procure the money.
It was a simple procedure. They would fix some screws – shoulder upwards and staple on some fresh skin. That would be enough to add the inches.
Infact she couldn’t believe her eyes when a five feet something came out of the van as six.
“So what do you say?”, Rukmini enquired. “They have this offer for the next two days only. After that they will move on to a new place.”
“What time?”, Hariprasad enquired casually, wrapping his flute in his bag.
For the first time since marriage Rukmini actually felt overjoyed.
“Ten in the morning. Sharp. Their technician will arrive at that time”.
“Ten then…”, Hariprasad looked away while confirming the time.
*** *** *** ***
It didn’t take much time. Twenty five minutes. Just as they had promised in their television ads.
Hariprasad sat still on the chair while the technician worked on him. Rukmini had anticipated that he would back out in the last moment. He didn’t. That he would be anxious and jittery. He wasn’t. There was a certain annoying calmness about him that irked Rukmini.
It rather shook Rukmini for seconds when the technician neatly sliced off his head and kept it on the table. She almost shrieked in horror. But the ‘Silence’ light that was immediately switched on and she had to swallow in her horror.
Hariprasad’s head stared at her in sheer nonchalance as the technician fixed screws and calipers to his headless neck, straightening and pulling it up.
“How much did you pay?”, the technician queried.
“Three thousand – paid in full”, Rukmini announced proudly.
The technician glanced at her and smiled.
“Your desire for a tall husband is really strong, eh? But looking at the current height of your husband he won’t be taller than five feet at the most. Another thousand and I’ll transform that to six.”
Rukmini sighed. Desires and abilities always shared an antagonistic bonding. Three thousand itself was tough for her.
“May be next time…is it possible to add on later?”, she enquired softly.
“Always….but you won’t get the season’s discount that we are offering now. Moreover, you will have to bring him to our workshop in the city”, the technician informed helpfully, letting his fingers attach more pins and screws to the bare neck.
It took another five minutes to reattach the head and staple on the skin.
It was finally over in the twenty fifth minute and a few seconds.
“After an hour give him a glass of milk and he will be back to normal’, the technician informed helpfully.
“And take this slip. It contains the terms and conditions. Also the warranty card. If you ever find the skin peeling off or the screws not tight enough, we’ll service him….free of cost….for the next two years of course. After that, you’ll have to pay”.
*** *** *** ***
The moon wasn’t like the night before. There was a pretty dent in it. But the oozing moonlight was as wondrous as the previous night. Hariprasad was back under the Frangipani tree. The flute adorned his lips. His lips moved in amazing fierceness. But it did not make any music. He filled in as much air as possible and blew in again. His flute remained silent. Tears flowed down his eyes. But no music flowed from his flute.
Rukmini ran as fast as possible. Her anklets tore out tufts of grass. Her delicate feet rubbed against the here-and-there rocks but she was not bothered. At least not at that moment.
By the time she reached the Frangipani tree, little beads of sweat had kissed her forehead.
She looked at Hariprasad. And then his shadow. Like a tiny blob under the tree, the shadow with the flute was hardly close to the surreal magic it creates everyday.
Like a man possessed, her husband was blowing into the flute with all his might. But the only sound that was being heard was that of the night crickets and the howling of a she wolf far away in the wilderness.
Rukmini could no longer control herself. Holding a branch of the tree she sobbed like a child.
Just a few moments ago, while pushing in the warranty card and the slip inside her tin trunk, she had happened to glance through the ‘Terms and Conditions slip’. Within seconds, the hardly readable bit of a paper had turned her ice-cold.
“Though the customer of our ‘Hi-Fi Height Control’ technique will be blessed with a desirable height, his/her shadow will reduce in proportionate rate”, read the third condition.
“ A customer of our ‘Hi-Fi Height Control’ will however never be able to play any kind of wind instrument – bagpipe, flute etc. A small price for a larger benefit! Condition is irreversible. M/S Jing-Ping and Company – the patented license holder of ‘Hi-Fi Height Control’, will not be held liable in whatsoever manner”, read the final condition.