WELCOME TO THE NEW SCHOOL (MY FRIEND ALEXA)

Hi friends. This is the second post in the ‘Little Girl Series’ for children which is being written for My Friend Alexa.

The illustration is by my nine year old daughter, Sarah.

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It was a large playground. Rows of girls stood in pigtails and blue ribbons, knee length pleated skirts and blue blazers. The little girl watched them from a distance, marching to the beat of a huge drum. She stood there wearing an oversized brown coat. She liked the idea of a school uniform. They didn’t have one in kindergarten. So, in winters her mother made her wear the brown overcoat every day. It concealed her colourful pullovers. Moreover, she didn’t like being so repetitive. But she wasn’t given a choice.

She tried looking for her friend from kindergarten who had joined the big school almost a year ago. But all girls looked the same from a distance. However, she was able to recognize the woman at the podium- the one in a white dress and a blue veil. Oh, she too was wearing the same set of clothes!

‘I am not the only one,’ the little girl thought.

She looked at her father. He seemed worried. Over the past one year, her parents had visited the big school several times. But they had never taken her along. Yesterday, mother made her sit down and told her that she might have to appear for a test again. Did she remember her tables?

Mother didn’t know she had revised them every night in bed. Mother also didn’t know they were little interested in tables. They were only interested in greetings… probably.

The playground echoed with prayers and songs, as the little girl attempted to make sense of all that was happening. Once or twice she tried asking her father a few questions, but he seemed preoccupied with something else. As the drums began to beat again, the little girl saw the woman in white dress walking towards them. Her blue veil flowing behind her. There was an addition to her accessories, which were limited to a wrist watch last time. A pair of glasses now sat on her nose.

“Good morning!” the little girl shouted.

“Good morning!” came the prompt reply. The little girl smiled with her chin up.

“You can come along. We will put her in one of the classes,” the woman said to the father.

She then led them to the centre of the playground where some girls still stood in long rows, waiting for their turn to go back to class. The little girl took small, quick steps to keep pace with the grown ups. A box of pencils and erasers rattled in her bag. Her cheeks felt warm. So did the rest of her body. The overcoat was not such a good idea for today.

“Ma’am,” the woman in the blue veil addressed another lady in a white salwar kameez. “This little girl is going to join us. I think we can give her a place in your class.”

“My class!” The teacher raised her eyebrows. Immediately, several horizontal lines filled her white forehead.

“There’s no place, sister. I already have forty girls. We could check in section C.”

‘Sister! Did she say sister?’ wondered the little girl.

The two women then walked up to a lady wearing a beautiful floral sari and a crisp black waistcoat. Her curly, black hair fell on her shoulders. She looked at the little girl through the corner of her eye as the ‘sister’ spoke to her.

“I do have place in my class but I would like to conduct a little test. Will that be fine?” she asked looking down at the little girl.

Before she could give her consent, the little girl’s father said, “Yes! Of course!”

The little girl spent the next half-an-hour in a classroom full of other girls and while they listened to their beautiful teacher in a floral sari, she sat in a corner writing some papers. She also wrote tables of two, five and ten. Sometimes she could feel the other girls secretly looking at her. Who would she be asked to sit with? She looked around and thought.

At the end of half-an-hour, the little girl handed over her paper to the teacher.

“She has done very well,” said the teacher to her father.

Her father wanted to take the little girl home but the teacher insisted she start school that very day. So, the little girl stayed back.

It had all been quicker than she had imagined. She thought of the kindergarten. Would they miss her now?

The teacher held her little hand and introduced her to the class. She was given a seat in the front row, beside a lanky girl with brown eyes and long fingers whose hair reminded her of a poodle. The little girl looked around to see if there was anyone else with curly hair.

‘Only two,’ she counted ‘including the teacher.’

It was an exciting evening. The little girl’s family went out to shop for her new school. She needed new books, tiffin-box and colours. She was also required to get her uniform stitched.

‘Finally,’ she thought.

She wanted to go and meet her friends at the kindergarten once and tell them about her new school, but she didn’t know if she could. She would have to ask mother.

They entered a rather big tailoring shop. J-A-N-A-K-I-D-A-S, she read.

The man at the counter took the measurements. Did she want the skirt a little low so that it could be used the next year as well? Mother thought it was a good idea.

As they walked out of the shop, the little girl asked her father, “When will they give the uniform?”

“In a week’s time,” he replied.

“Oh! What will I wear to school until then?” she wanted to know.

“The brown coat. It will keep you warm,” her mother replied.

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I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa Campaign.

This is the second post in the series. Read the first post here.

Read the theme reveal here.

THE BUTTERFLY FLUTTERED ITS WINGS (MY FRIEND ALEXA)

Friends, credit is due for the first paragraph of this story to my nine-year-old daughter who is delighted by this series and is also the illustrator for the same.        

“It’s a clear blue sky,” said the little girl’s mother, looking up.

“Yes!” the little girl replied, but did not bother to look up herself. She was holding her mother’s hand tightly. It was all sweaty. The little girl was worried. She had learnt the tables well and could write the alphabets too. But would she remember all of it in a ‘stranger’ school? Mother always told her not to talk to strangers. She wondered why mother and father had twisted the rule for the ‘stranger’ school? Probably because it was so big and famous.

Mother had often spoken to her about it, and told her how as a young girl she too had desired to study there. But they were a big family and so she was sent off to another school along with her siblings. But she so wanted the little girl to go to this one.

“There we are!” said mother pointing to a giant black gate. Everything in the school was so big, unlike the little kindergarten where she went to have fun and study too.

As they entered through the gate, the little girl felt a butterfly fluttering its wings inside her tummy. Was she hungry? She was not sure.

They walked up a cobbled path that led to a beautiful garden with colourful flowers. It was indeed a big school! The butterfly fluttered its wings again. Before she could tell her mother that she was probably hungry or something was wrong with her tummy, the little girl was led to the other end of the garden where on a white cane back chair sat an old woman dressed in pure white, with a blue headgear. Was she a teacher? The principal? Maybe. But teachers in kindergarten didn’t wear white skirts and blue veils. The principal there always wore a sari.

“Wish your teacher little one!” the little girl’s mother looked at her, like she always did when the neighbours came over and the little girl forgot to greet them. She was about to do so but just then her eyes fell on her friend from kindergarten sitting right next to the teacher. Hurrah! She had a companion. The little girl smiled and waved at her friend. Her plump, red cheeks made her eyes almost disappear every time she smiled. The friend waved back at her.   

“She’ll be fine,” said the teacher and the little girl’s mother walked away. The little girl watched her leave with misty eyes.

“Sit down,” the teacher said, picking up a picture book from the table. The little girl tried to talk to her friend, but the latter put her finger on her lips and simply nodded from right to left. They were not only class fellows but neighbours too. The little girl admired the flowers on her friend’s dress. She hoped she too had worn something similar and not the blue dungarees her mother so loved.

 Her friend seemed to be jumping out of her seat. She was trying to peep into the book. Had the little girl missed something?

“Which of you can tell me the colour of the sky?”

‘It’s a clear blue sky,’ the little girl heard her mother’s voice in her head.

“Blue,” the two girls shouted in unison as they tittered together. The little girl waited to say the tables. But the teacher only wanted to know the colour of the grass and of her back chair. She then asked them to leave. The little girl was disappointed…no tables! She had spent a long time trying to memorize them. But she was happy it was over and got up quickly while her friend first chose to say ‘thank you’.

The little girl was confused. Should she also thank the teacher?

“You must,” mother had always told her. But wasn’t it too late now?

“Thank you!” she mumbled to herself.  

That evening all the neighbours gathered at the little girl’s house. They always did when something big happened. The men sat in the parlour with her father while the women sat with her mother, trying to comfort her. The little girl’s mother had been crying. Her father had brought home the sad news that the little girl had not been given admission in the ‘stranger’ school unlike her friend who would now be studying there.

Both the girls ran around the garden while the elders mulled over the situation. The little girl also wondered why the school had not liked her. Could it have been the ‘thank you’ or the ‘good morning’? Because she did know about the blue sky!

Tears veiled her eyes too as she saw her mother cry. She wished the teacher had liked her…but secretly she felt relieved.

She loved the kindergarten. It didn’t have a beautiful garden but she knew all the children there and she also liked the principal in a sari. She looked at her friend. She would miss her though, she thought.

That night the little girl heard her parents talk. Her mother was sure she wouldn’t give up until the school gave admission to her daughter.

The little girl wasn’t quite pleased to hear that. She felt a butterfly fluttering its wings in her little tummy again. She wondered what made schools choose some children and not the others. She thought of memorizing the tables once again but soon fell asleep.

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#MyFriendAlexa #Blogchatter #HQsoniawrites

I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa Campaign.

To read the previous post in this series visit here

My Friend Alexa Season 5- The Little Girl Series

The little girl ran down the slope and rushed into the park. It was five in the evening. Her playmates were already preparing to go back home. She had to make the most of whatever little time she had. She was late by thirty minutes. Their usual meeting time was four-thirty. The Hindi examination had played spoilsport that day. Yes, janaab, if anything was to be blamed for her delay, it was the Hindi paper scheduled for the next day. Why did they have to hold exams for six-year-olds? Did it even make sense? 

She was short for her age and barely visible to her friends playing on the other side of the rusting gate. An old, haggard blue coloured iron door, which they often used as the wings of Pegasus during pretend plays.

The little girl gave the gate a slight push with her hands. She wanted to peep inside first and make sure all was good but it swung wide open with a creaking sound, bringing her well within sight of a group of girls playing hopscotch. Among them, in blue denims and a loose white shirt stood her nemesis.

“What are you doing here?” the bossy group leader almost pounced on her.

The little girl stood closemouthed, unable to get a word out. With her hands on her waist, the group leader now walked up to her.

“Don’t you have an exam tomorrow? My sister’s studying really hard at home, and look at you!”

The boss girl then turned to look around at the others, who also seemed to have choked up. The little girl gathered all the courage she had and went ahead to join them, taking little unsure steps but hoping to manage a game or two without being badgered, before time-up.

As she patiently waited for her turn to throw the marker, she stole a glance at the boss girl going around the park, pushing her way on to a swing or a seesaw. She thought about the sister, sitting at her study table with a Hindi book in her hand. The sister was usually quiet. She wondered if she was as scared of the boss girl as the little girl herself? She wasn’t sure, but it was most likely so.

The little girl played only for a while that evening. A certain pair of eyes following her in the park made her uncomfortable.

That day changed a few things for the little girl. Actually, only one. She never moved out to play before an exam. And never, as in, NEVER! Do you think she should have done that? What else could she have done?

Childhood is a trove of memories. Sweet, bitter, savory and sour- memories nonetheless. Not all childhood experiences are plain sailing. Neither do all of them come loaded with lessons and yet each one is endearing.

This October, join me for My Friend Alexa, Season 5 as I explore ‘The Little Girl’ series– about all that goes on in the lives of children. No lessons learnt, no moral overtones. Just simple, conventional and predictable stories for children, served with love!

#MyFriendAlexa #Season5 #Blogchatter

I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa Season 5

Mountains & the Delhi Trees

I’ve been trying to get out early in the morning nowadays. The wee hours that I normally devoted to my writing are being spent roaming the streets of Delhi. Not that the city can boast of an early morning breeze but it’s enough that I can now afford to give the strident noise of the evening rush hours a clear miss.  

I’ve always enjoyed long walks, particularly in the hills. My love for the mountains has always been evident, and anyone who has been visiting the blog regularly would know how I always pine for them. My stay in Gangtok, in the lap of the Himalayas, was almost three-years long. The roads in the capital town were serpentine and steep. Walking on them was like riding on the back of a huge python. The low clouds would make the valley appear misty, especially because I chose to go out in the evenings.  

Another place where I spent a little less than a year was Wellington, Coonoor- a tiny, little town of sublime beauty tucked in the Nilgiris. Walks in Wellington were different from those in Gangtok. Covered by pines and the jacaranda trees, the roads would lovingly run into the arms of forests, as if besotted by them.

Pines always remind me of my own hill town, Shimla. Unlike Gangtok and Wellington, where I liked to venture out in the evenings, it was always an early morning walk in Shimla. I was lucky to stay closer to the lonely jungle roads that made me swoon over them. But that wasn’t always the case. There was also a time when Shimla hills made me feel sick and caged. I felt as if the mountains were always closing in on me. Maybe that’s how I got the claustrophobia.

My husband came visiting two months prior to our marriage and we decided to go for a stroll one evening. As we climbed a slope close to the house that overlooked a valley, the sky appeared drenched in an orange light as the sun went down behind the mountains on the other end. We turned to catch a glimpse of the setting sun, when he said to me, “Enjoy this. You are going to miss it.”

His words sounded almost sacrilegious. “Never!” I replied.

As I look back on that day, I think the mountains heard me and vowed to prove me wrong. For they ensured that I longed for their company after feasting on the plains of the subcontinent. The party was great but not great enough to hold me for long. Soon, I felt no more than being in a “rats’ alley/ Where the dead men lost their bones”. (T S Eliot)

I have been fortunate to visit my hometown once or twice a year to see my parents. The mountains don’t close in on me anymore. Instead my first impulse is to gulp down a fistful of air rushing down their slopes.

2020 hasn’t allowed me a visit home. The pain is piercing. And to my rescue come the morning walks along with the Delhi trees. No, I don’t see the mountains here but the relative quiet of an otherwise humdrum life is helpful. There are barely people on the roads just after sunrise and that is great by the standards of this city. I try moving through the lanes lined up with these trees─ a semblance of peace, quiet and maybe landscape in an otherwise disorderly world. I also take the liberty to remove the mask and take in my fistful of air.

It’s hard for me to tear myself apart from the sights of the mountains I behold in my heart. But for now, these Dilli trees are doing fine by me. They help me listen to the stillness I crave for. I think they will also help me sustain longer than I had hoped!

How about you? Are you lucky enough to be living in the lap of the natural world? Or, just like me, do you miss the company of nature? How do you make up for it?

बड़े शहरों में मेरा मन नही लगता

Image: Unsplash

बड़े शहरों की ऊँची इमारतों में
मेरा मन नही लगता
यहाँ जगमगाते बल्ब
दफ़्न करते हैं पहाड़ों की धाम
चटकनियों के सहारे
खिड़की और दरवाज़े
सलामत रखते हैं
बहुतायत, दिखावा और मायूसी
ठंडी बयारें पंखे का टेक लगाए
दबे पाँव ही आती हैं
बाग़ी हवाओं को यहाँ
आशियाँ नही मिलता
बड़े शहरों की ऊँची इमारतों में
मेरा मन नही लगता
उठती है टीस रोज़ ही
इनके बाज़ारों में
जहाँ बिकते हैं मख़मली कुर्ते
और मुफ़लिसी है विचारों मे
शक-ओ-शुबह की गिरफतें यहाँ
चाहो भी तो भरोसेमंद नही दिखता
मुझे बड़े शहरों में अपनापन नही मिलता
इनकी ऊँची इमारतों में
मेरा मन नही लगता

Tinted Glasses

Image: Unsplash

I see the green of jealousy
walk into the room surreptitiously,
glinting malevolence rumbles her insides;
wary and leery I steal away,
to bump into a melancholic grey.

‘Hello there!’ it smiles wistfully
‘I’m called melancholy!’
Long alleys of despondency writ on its face,
a phantasm of drudgery
methinks has overstayed.

So, I move on to yet another avenue,
to be ushered in by a serene and quiet blue.
Sitting gingerly atop a snowy mountain,
like a buoyant cloud dappled with silence,
it trickles like Zen.

That’s when I squint to catch a glimpse
of a spunk and fiery red;
the eager-beaver, I tell you, isn’t here to rest.
It dances with rapture and wheedles its way,
‘lub-dub-lub-dub’ crooning away!

I also sift from the rubble of cliché
incandescent yellows and orange glows,
piggytails in pink, affluence in mink
Satan in black and purgation in white;
pigeonholed dulls, labelled brights!

Blinkers I wear, blinkers I receive,
when through tinted glasses this world I perceive.

-Sonia Dogra

{This poem was written as part of a prompt on Poetry Parlour at ArtoonsInn}

IWSG September- The name’s Ruskin Bond!

It’s the IWSG day and what a time I had answering this month’s question. But before I move on to the answer, here is all about the IWSG.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

The Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.   
The next posting day is September 2nd. 
Sign up here.

The awesome co-hosts for the September 2 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, J Lenni Dorner, Deniz Bevan, Kim Lajevardi, Natalie Aguirre, and Louise – Fundy Blue! Do visit them and show some love.

Now for this month’s question. If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

Well, for me it would be none other than Ruskin Bond.Of all the things that draw me to the hills, it is the simplicity of life in a hill town that is most endearing. When I watched the series ‘Ek tha Rusty’ several years ago, I knew Ruskin Bond only as an odd writer who appeared in my English book, ‘The Gulmohar Reader’ once in a while. The simple charm of ‘Ek tha Rusty’ was enough to make me keen to read more from him. However, it wasn’t ‘Rusty’ but ‘The Room on the Roof’, the story of a seventeen-year-old boy (Rusty again) who makes his home in a tiny room on the roof of a house, that first made its way into my personal library. Finding Bond wasn’t that easy back then. You couldn’t order books at random. There was no Amazon, you see! I still managed to read some of his work. ‘The Night Train at Deoli’ hooked me to him like never before. Even some of his macabre ghost stories were as good as fairy tales for me, having grown up in Shimla where every single corner of a dilapidated house had a hundred strange tales to tell. ‘The Blue Umbrella’ made me see how an ordinary happening in life can turn into an extraordinary story- all you need is the right emotion to carry it forward.

Some of Ruskin Bond’s stories even spoke of my own little town. He was an alumnus of one of the schools there. But was it only this bond with Mr Bond that drew me to his stories? Yes, the familiarisation did play its role, but I think it was an instant connect with his simple, everyday stories that made me want to read him more. His characters have always been real. And so have been their struggles. Whether Hassan or Ram Bharose, I am sure I can meet them just about anywhere. They are like me or the people I know and see each day who talk to me!

I haven’t consciously tried to emulate Ruskin Bond in my writing but I would say he is there, very much there! I have been inspired by every bit of his writing and he would definitely be my choice for a beta partner. And here is a little secret of mine… I did think of the author once and even wrote a story of my failed attempt to visit him along with my children (great fans again) and a half-finished manuscript! Yes, I dared. If you would like to know what happened, read the story by clicking on the link below.

https://soniadogra.com/2019/08/08/to-the-writers-house/

As I type this piece, ‘A Book of Simple Living’ stares at me from the bedside. Do you think all this is enough to woo him to be the beta partner for my WIP? Who is that one writer you would choose? Let me know in the comments section right below!

WEP August- Encouragement Award

Hi everyone

It gives me great pleasure to share with you all the wonderful news that my flash fiction piece for WEP August based on the prompt ‘Long Shadow’ has been selected for the Encouragement Award. [Read the post here]. This is so gratifying as all those who read my post on how the story came about would know.

Says the judge Nick Wilford about my story, “Beautiful and exotic, I really like the introduction of the myth and accompanying intrigue.”

Visit the link below to read other wonderful winning entries. The prompt for October is also right there and it would be great if you join in.

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2020/08/wepff-winners-post-long-shadow.html?m=1

Thank you for your interest. Keep visiting!

A Hundred Quills- Behind the Scenes & The Journey Ahead

(free image, pixabay)

“If you chase anything in life chase the things that get you excited about living…”                                                                ─ Shannon L. Alder

A Hundred Quills is turning two next week. And this one is a huge personal milestone for me. From just about two readers (or followers as they are popularly called) to almost four hundred (394 at the time of writing this post) and more than two hundred posts, I think I can be kind on myself and call this a decent leap. I have also, during these years, penned my thoughts for a few online portals making several friends in the blogging world along the way. The blogging journey has opened countless new vistas for me. It has been a realm of learning and growth.

On this occasion I feel happy to share the story behind the nomenclature of this blog. Afterall, I owe it to my readers to share some details of the ‘behind the scenes’. Maybe my story resonates with you and you find a tiny bit of inspiration in there! Why I choose to do it after two long years is both special and intriguing, as you will soon discover.

Two years ago, I sent a short story titled, ‘A Hundred Quills’ for a writing competition. I had just started taking baby steps into the world of writing and was experimenting with e-magazines and their likes. The story failed to make the cut. To add a little note, it was my fifth attempt at the competition and I was already disillusioned. I thought it was time to get some expert help about my writing. After a bit of research and at the behest of a friend, I sent the story and a handful of poems for a review to someone with decent writing experience. I was warned- ‘Brace yourself, I do not mince words.’ Well, that is exactly what I was looking for. An honest opinion.

 After three days I received a message for a scheduled video call to discuss my writing. I wondered why a video call! As I look back now, I think it’s always wonderful to begin in an extraordinary way.

The following Sunday at 11, I was on Skype, meeting my first ever beta reader, if I may call him so. The call went on for over two hours. While the poems received passing marks, the story didn’t quite make it. I was categorically told that there is no dearth of writers in the world and it is up to me how I choose to present my writing. I was definitely disillusioned by the ‘honest feedback’. I didn’t want to become Tagore or Dickens. Why was my writing being compared to them? It took me a few days to look at the entire episode more rationally and positively. But once there, I decided to meet the roadblocks head-on and immediately moved over to WordPress to have a place of my own where I could just write and be myself. It was then, while deciding upon a name, that I thought of ‘A Hundred Quills’, a gentle reminder to myself of how the journey began.

I often thought of sharing this part of my writing adventure on the blog but wanted the original story to accompany it. However, the story simply kept eluding me. Initially the plan was to make it the hundredth post on the blog but it took me long to be convinced about what I had written and the time didn’t seem ripe enough to present it to the world. In between I wrote several pieces of flash and went on to win writing contests, although few and far between.

 I joined the IWSG in October last year and wrote my first WEP entry (Footprints) in December 2019 which was a piece of flash. It turned out to be a winning entry and since I’ve been very active and regular with the WEP submissions. I see them as an important part of my learning. I had a long desire to edit my story ‘A Hundred Quills’ for a WEP entry. This month’s prompt ‘Long Shadow’ seemed suitable for just that. Of course, several rounds of editing went into turning a 4000-word story into a flash piece of 1000 words, but should I say it was worth the effort. Fellow writers had some really kind things to say about the story, and naturally no other piece of writing in the past two years made me happier. I would love for you to visit the story here.

Coming back to milestones. I always feel that we each reach our milestones at a different time. And once there, we no longer wish to stay. At least I don’t! I wish to move on to newer destinations, explore other worlds. I have had my share of awards and claps…even jeers and failure. Reached all of those milestones pretty early in life. Maybe that is the reason for my equanimity. I’m more interested in trying out new avenues or ventures or something more… the ‘what next’ type!

 And now I look at extending this approach to my writing as well. After all, we must keep on reinventing ourselves. It is time to venture out, maybe try new places for the poetry and the flash. But that isn’t to say that the blog is going anywhere. This is the place I call home and be sure to find my SOL stories or musings, the books I read, the life-lessons, even rants right here. And every time a poem makes the cut, watch out for a link in this very corner (fingers crossed). Who knows! You might discover a place for your verse as well.

Thank you for being a part of ‘A Hundred Quills’ and for patiently reading me once again. I hope you will not give up on the blog and it will continue to receive your love and support as I work to refurbish it for you.  

Cheers to many more novel years of writing!

Some of my earlier and raw poetry is available on Juggernaut. If you are looking to find out more about my poetry, click on the link below. Don’t forget to leave a short review if you enjoy reading the poems!

https://www.juggernaut.in/books/52454518356a4e9d

LONG SHADOW (WEP AUGUST, 2020)

Hola friends. This piece of flash is part of the WEP August 2020 Challenge, the prompt for which is ‘Long Shadow’. If you would like to be a part of this challenge and more in future visit here. Thank you to all the wonderful hosts of WEP. I love being a part of WEP!

Before I begin, just a little note. The setting of the story is a small village in Himachal. While names of places have been retained, the legend mentioned in the story is a piece of the writer’s imagination. I hope you will enjoy this take on the prompt.

LONG SHADOW

“This feather… where do you think she may have found it? I thought the birds had bid goodbye to this valley long ago!”

“My concern isn’t that Rimjhim discovered a brilliant plumage but that she looked for one… you do know what that means, don’t you?” Nirmala’s eyes drifted to the deodars outside the window.

“Don’t you worry! Do you see the Deo Tibba* out there?” Nikka Ram waved to the ranges perched behind the wooden walls of his tiny shack. “It guards our tiny village Rumsu, and nobody can ever escape its dome shaped peak. That is where the congregation of our Gods meets…”

“Your Gods couldn’t hold my son back,” Nirmala hit the ladle on the edge of the karahi.

“Woman, you need to get your facts right. The mountains can never be left behind. Those who dare leave their fold, must return. Now, I need to go and let the elders know that we have a jujurana** feather back home. I’m not giving away any of this without being rewarded.” Nikka Ram slipped his foot into a worn out rubber chappal. “And while I’m away, get hold of your girl and ask her!”

“Ask her what? Should I ask her where she found a useless feather belonging to an endangered bird, or should I ask her if she is all set to run away just like her brother and leave her old parents to lament all their life? You know collecting these rare plumages is symbolic of a new life she may be on the lookout for! Why don’t you care?”

Nirmala stood at the door, the ladle ranting and raving in her hand as her voice rose to a crescendo. Nikka Ram was already out of earshot . He was a tall man and it took him barely a few steps to reach the next bend. He would demand a good price for the plumage and maybe someday he would find the bird too! That would mean at least a year’s ration and of course, his name would appear in the papers for having added to that miniscule number of jujuranas in the state. Or at least, to the rare collection of their feathers.

‘But only if that stupid woman would mind her own business. What a mess she had made of it last time. Running helter-skelter like a lunatic, blaming it on a mere bird… “The bird’s taken my son away, the bird’s taken him away!” Crap. Young boys always want to move out of a chit of a village and find a life for themselves. But the mountains…they make sure to bring them home. A year, two, ten, fifteen- nobody ever escapes the rugged ranges. It’s for the very reason that the Gods parley on the top of the Tibba. They pull you back to the verdant meadows and imposing oaks… this time I am making no mistake. Neither am I going to let a crazy woman spoil it for me. I will get my due for this unusual find.’

Nirmala’s gaze was fixed on the door when Nikka Ram returned.

“Rimjhim isn’t back. I tell you it is the plumage. The jujurana doesn’t forgive those who secretly nurture the desire to own the bird. Legend says it follows them like the long shadow of late afternoons until they become endangered…or extinct. The bird’s taken my daughter away, the bird’s taken her away!” she said, looking at him with her bloodshot eyes. Her face was blotchy and red. Was it because of the onions in the karahi that had turned to ashes? She bent down, falling to the ground.

“That is no more than your imagination woman. Your girl will be back. If not today, then tomorrow, day after or may be ten years later. But the plumage, we won’t get this opportunity again. They are paying me good money. The last time you had your way. I am not letting you throw away that feather in a god forsaken place this time.”

Nikka Ram turned over the only chest in the house. “Now tell me where is it? The fellows are waiting for me and I must take it to them. I’m going to ask the Gods to get your children home. Just help me get done with this.”

He had overturned the cauldrons and emptied the rice canister. The clatter of utensils pricked through Nirmala’s cochlear membrane. Before she could react, Nikka Ram pulled her up, pushing her tiny frame against the wall.

“Look woman, you threw away the plumage last time. It’s been three years and your son isn’t back. I tell you, there is no truth in the legend. The mountains are going to bring them home. Their shadow hangs over all of us… over all of Rumsu, over your children. The Tibba will never desert them…just tell me once…”

“Yes, the shadow hangs over them,” a sob tore through Nirmala’s throat. “But it isn’t your Gods, it’s the jujurana. Trust me, it’s the bird.”  Nirmala looked up at the lone bulb hanging from the ceiling of the shack.

 The fog rolled into the night outside as the shivering pine needles glided in the wind.

One of those trees held an exotic orange plumage, buried in the hope that it might return to its owner. An invisible jujurana flew past the hut, casting its shadow over the heart of a lonely woman.

   The old shack was home to a noisy riot that night. A striking contrast to the silence of the Tibba, where the Gods whispered to each other only to be heard by an angry, battered man.

*********************

*Deo Tibba – a mountain range in the Pir Panjal in Himachal, India

** jujurana- The Western Tragopan, called jujurana in local language. An endangered bird that is also the state bird of Himachal Pradesh.

Total words – 975

FCA

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