Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ginger Tea

The pounding on the kitchen slab was gentle and familiar. Every morning at six am these cheerful moderate thuds made her smile while she was still in bed. Rishi liked to get up early and prepare ginger tea for both of them. Beating the ginger pods with a stone was something he did without knowing how it made her feel.

He had taken her to Shimla on their tenth wedding anniversary. The recently released Hindi movie had made it a popular destination. Her in-laws insisted they leave the children behind and take this much needed break.

She loved the place. It was cold and beautiful. After much coaxing, she agreed to cross a small stream bare-feet. Scared and jittery she twinkle toed her dainty self away. He used to tease her that if it weren't for her mangalsutra, people would think she was still in school. She turned around to look at him from time to time to make sure he was right behind.

At one point when she looked back, he tossed something at her. She caught it but slipped in the bargain and sat with a splash in the middle of the shallow stream. What he tossed at her was this very stone. She sat in knee deep icy cold water holding it tight and watched him come near. She wanted to to be angry with him but couldn't be. He laughed with such joyous abandonment and picked her up in his arms that any heart would melt. She simply clung on. The rest of the crossing was one of the most beautiful moments of their trip.

This smooth white stone which looked like a shapeless potato had been with her since then.

They married young. Both were nineteen years of age. Played together, studied together, grew up together.

She was to marry her father's business partner's son when she was 16. As the business fell apart so did the marriage plans. No one said anything, no one heard anything. Everyone behaved as if the marriage plans never existed. But the young bride to be was crushed. In the next two years she finished her matriculation and stayed at home.

That is the time Rishikesh and his parents had come over to her house. It was very clear that they had come against their will, only for the sake of their son's happiness. They lived in the neighbourhood. Now she understood why he taught her how to ride a men's bicycle cross leg, how to change a light bulb even when she didn't want to learn it and how to write a nice love note in disguised handwriting to her then 'would be husband'. His eyes gave it away.

The marriage was simple. She turned out to be a great wife and a daughter-in-law but for one handicap.

She could never get up early in the morning. Rishi got up early. Prepared tea. Poured them into tiny ceramic cups. Placed them on saucers and called out to her. She would place them on a tray, cover her head with the saree pallav and knock on the door of her in-laws.

Every family has secrets. This was theirs.
It kept changing with time from being a tell-tale gossip to a funny story to a romantic legend.
Now it was a tradition.

The children had planned a grand get together for next year.
Their sixtieth wedding anniversary.

Rishi walked in with two cups of tea.
He propped the pillows and picked her frail body up to make her sit.
She didn't want a celebration.
She didn't want the world to wish her.
All she wanted was to get her ginger tea in bed as long as she lived.
She knew that the day the stone stopped pounding, her heart would too.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Tree Ghost

The wandering spirit took a quick dip in the river and emerged refreshed. It had no where to go. It decided to go and live in a tree. A nice, big, safe tree.

There was one by the road. "What luck", he thought and snuggled inside the hollow of the giant tree.
There was a lone traveler resting under it in deep sleep.
"How wonderful it would be to live in this tree and shower tired passers by with some delicious fruits", exclaimed the ghost. 

There was an overwhelming deluge of juicy ripe mangoes when the traveler woke up.
He picked them all. Tied them tight in a sac and went away singing.

This made the tree ghost very happy. He had done something good. He was a little sad too as the man didn't look up to acknowledge the Ghost's magnanimous gesture.

"Never mind", thought the contented spirit.

The next traveler came along shortly. He was going to rest for a little while but as he sat down, the ghost shook the tree and flooded the poor man's mat with a downpour of mangoes. Some were ripe, some not.

The man was taken aback but happy. He collected them all and rushed home to tell his family about it.

This broke the tree-ghost's heart. No one acknowledged his deeds.

He decided that the next time someone came along, he was going to do something different.

A group of young maidens were returning from the river. They decided to rest a bit.

This was his chance. He shook the tree and made a lot of noise.
Nothing happened.
He made more noise and shook the tree with all his might.
There were no mangoes left on the tree. None fell.
But the girls were swamped with broken branches and leaves.
This scared them and they ran away cursing the wicked tree.

This angered the tree and its inhabitants.
Not only had the ghost done away with the fruits but had also brought the tree a bad name and destroyed many a nests. The tree asked the ghost to leave at once.

The spirit departed with a heavy heart.
He couldn't understand what had gone wrong. He was just trying to be nice to the travelers.

Spirits are meant to wander, trees are meant to be unmoved, fruits are supposed fall on their own and the travelers are meant to earn their rest. This was the simple law of nature which it had failed to realise.

Oblivious to all this, the tree ghost drifted away across the mountains in search of another tree that would house him willingly. Such is the blissful bond of ignorance and hope.