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The Originality Fable of how a certain paradise still smelt of lemon after it ceased to exist

They lived in paradise, where swirls of creamy clouds tinged with rose sought each other out in a backdrop of pale bluegreen and where witches made fragrant concoctions of spices to fill the days. Their skies were blue, foliage abundant, food delicious and the weather was just right.  Their beloved or otherwise land was full ofspice trees, shrubs, vines and wild clumps of herbs. Every witch born in to this paradise dreamt of crafting the most original spice blend.

The smell of dried red chili induced energy and sneezing. Cumin soothed the body and ushered in sleep. Nutmeg relived pain and blew the cobwebs away. Cloves promised eternal youth and freshness. Beebells, dainty red flowers with a piquant touch increased sexual prowess and left you slightly dazed. Cinnamon was a rare find and a much sought after bark in many recipes for a number of charms.

In their folklore each recipe held a part of the key to truth, peace, joy and universal acceptance. Exceptional recipes gave birth to poetry, adulation and mass worship.

There was just one problem with paradise, they were all jaded in general. The witches had tried out all the possible combinations and there was nothing left to do but pressure the up and coming witches for original recipes. That was the only solution to the mass ennui that had settled over the population. So, they pressured their young. The generation of pampered witches were in for a shock. They had to raise the bar of spice blends to an unprecedented level, in order to pay for all the positive reinforcement theyhad received from babyhood.

One young boy with a red eye and a mole on his upper lip, tried his best. As a young boy, he had been one of the best students, a little eccentric but not too much, a little out-of-the-box-thinker but not too much, a little blue but not too much, and most importantly he possessed a lot of heart and stomach for spice blends. His teachers predicted a bright future for him.

The red eyed, mole sporting boy expected instant success and much praise for his first spice blend. He braced himself to receive both with the correct blend of humility, dignity and creative genius.

But, Alas! The paradise was too jaded for his ‘genius’.

“The same old mix in a different bottle”, reported the nation’s widely and wildly circulated news.

“Though I applaud the work he has put into the recipe, I can hardly conceal my disappointment at its banality,” aired one famed critics, rubbing his ancient beard that touched his pot belly.

A woman in green with short cropped hair, tasted a sip of his concoction and shook her head in dismay. “I expected better from such a bright young mind’, she said.

Grumbles hung in the thick air of paradise like a bad odour.

The red eyed, mole sporting boy hung his head in shame. He soaked his wounded heart in a haze of age old spice blends that promised to send one to blissful oblivion. He lost his heart and stomach in a land of vivid colours and dreams where spirits roamed telling him he was the best.

One fine day, while he rambled on a lone path filled with misty spirits, the red eyed, mole sporting youngster came up with the most original recipe of all.

A pinch of beebell, a thorn from a star fruit, a dash of cumin, a handful of heartbleed, all the root spices and flowers of spice trees and a jarful of lemon juice is all I need,’ said the young bright mind. I will concoct the one and only, pot full of dreams, smashed into one ball and soaked in sour lemon. I will invite all of them to taste my pot full of dreams, smashed into a ball and soaked in sour lemon. They will love the smell and I will let them approach my chef d’oevure and let it explode, annihilating all of them, along with paradise. And I will smell the lemons in the air afterwards.’

Victim Blaming

Conversation with people who hold a different world view tightly, fondly and with conviction can be thought provoking and sometimes slightly embarrassing. It can leave you feeling melancholy if you are not in a position to voice the world views that you hold dearly with less conviction. I’ve been having a number of such conversations lately and I resort to poetry to express all the emotions I am forced to bottle up during these interesting discussions.

Victim Blaming

They spoke of murder

By a man

Who took his wife and child

On a walk on the beach

It was strange

Their talk left a question mark and indignation

Like a cloud-hole

Empty, chilly and confusing

The man is invisible

He murdered his child

Attempted to drown his wife

But he is invisible to them

Because criminals are negligible?

Or is it because he is a man?

The wife/mother is visible

Blindingly visible

For trusting her husband

To go for a walk

In the middle of the night

In their talk

They blamed her

And not him (Not even once)

For going for a walk

On the beach with her husband and child at night

They blamed her for lack of perception

For not sensing her husband’s

Murderous intent

Do they not know the manipulative power

Of some men and women

How lovers will be blind

To dangers ahead

Of journeys and letting go

You and I scampered along

a path of bliss and learning

In the shade or the burning heat

Your hand in mine

Or

Mine in yours

We climbed up a hill or two

Slid down a grassy bank

to land on a beach

Where sea shells shone,

Where waves were tame giants

in a cradle of rocks strong

A breeze calmed

Trees lulled

Beyond the rocks

Monstrous waves roamed

Hungry and restless

You sought a ship to

Play with the alluring

Monster waves

But I chose

To make my home

On the beach

And let the

Gentle waves

Rock me to sleep

Gib – It starts with Oranges

Gib stared at the swirls of pink and orange tinged with gold against a pale blue background in amazement. He sank his feet deeper into the soft and slightly moist stuff he was standing on. His uncut mop of hair flew in the air, each strand playing ‘tangles’ with the others. The strong, unruly body of water in front of him thrashed and crashed in tune to a vaguely familiar and a stirring rhythm. Gib took a timid step forward to reach for the rolling water. His feet hit a jagged edge of something buried beneath the soft stuff he loved. Gib winced in pain, cried out and aimlessly hit at the beeping sound coming from his left.

‘Beep Beep Beep’ it made a racket.

Gib hit out even harder to make it stop. He opened his eyes as his hand recognized the cool metal touch.

Gib rubbed his eyes and looked up at the plain white ceiling of his bedroom. He felt his hair to see if it was still long. It wasn’t. His short cropped hair was intact. Gib felt a twinge of sadness, a feeling which usually accompanied his recurring dream.

“Gib go and get the oranges. You don’t want to be late for school do you?” His mother screamed from somewhere inside the house.

Gib got up, threw on his day robe, picked up his basket from the hallway and exited.

The lone orange tree stood in a corner of their 3 perch garden, amidst a sea of clean cut blue-green grass. Gib tapped the tree trunk three times and held out his basket. The orange tree shook a branch and dropped three oranges neatly into Gib’s basket. Gib looked up in surprise. ” There are four people, I need one more” but the tree just ignored Gib and raised a branch to wave at an official who was riding a grey angry cloud towards Gib’s place.

The official looked stern; his face was just as grey as his cloud. ” Give this letter to your father” he said handing Gib a letter and hit the cloud pretty hard. The startled cloud flew away leaving behind a startled Gib.

His father paled and then blinked hard when he finished the letter. He handed the letter to their mother without a word. Her small eyes widened when she finished the letter and she looked as grey as the official had looked.

“When was the last time you saw Zeb?” she asked Gib.

“Last night, when we said good night to you after the story.” Gib replied.

Gib’s father pushed a red button on their dog and ordered it to look for Zeb. The dog made a few beeping sounds and put up his screen. It showed the map of the whole world. But no dot marked a place indicating Zeb, he had vanished.

“Eat your orange and get ready for school. You can’t miss school. It will look even more suspicious.” Gib’s father announced.

“But Zeb?”Gib began but his mother silenced him with a look. But she peeled his orange for him and poured extra honey over it before handing him the orange on his favourite plate.

Gib went to school as usual. An unfamiliar hollow sensation accompanied him in Zeb’s place.

His future wife, Mea didn’t seem much pleased to see him that day. “Father told me about Zeb. It’s a disgrace.” She said haughtily. “Poor Zain” she added as an afterthought.

Zain was supposed to have been Zeb’s future wife. Zain’s cool grey eyes and the impassive face remained the same as she went about her work with an air of nonchalance.

“She didn’t even make a single mistake in class today.” Mea reported to Gib during lunch. She sounded impressed. Mea and Zain were training to be gift makers and attended the same classes. Lunch was a difficult occasion. Zeb’s and Zain’s empty places at their table looked out of place in the full cafeteria. The other children kept glancing at them curiously but were too scared of the watchful teachers to ask questions.

“What will happen to Zain and where is she?” Gib asked Mea.

“An official came and took her for questioning after the presentation tricks class. They’ll take you too. Just tell them you know nothing.” Mea ordered.

“In any case that is the truth right?” She inquired with a note of anxiety creeping into her steady tone.

“True, I know nothing.” Gib replied in a dull voice.

They finished their platefuls of stew and sipped their milk in silence. Mea spilt some of her milk attracting some unwanted notice from a teacher for her trouble. Gib tried to help her but she brushed him off and wiped the steel table top with the cloth that the teacher handed her.

“Pay attention to what you do always.” The teacher warned her.

Mea nodded acquiescence timidly.

The teacher glared at Gib. “Finish your milk young man. We do not waste food and beverages here.” Gib swallowed the rest of his milk in one gulp.

The rest of the day was uneventful.

However, the hollow feeling inside Gib increased and continued to get worse as he realized his classmates were avoiding him. Mea was the only one who spoke to him during the play hour. But she spent most of the time piling up advice on Gib on how to behave when the officials questioned him.

“Don’t panic. Just act normal and say you knew nothing out of the ordinary. And don’t mention your dreams to them. If you do, we will all get into trouble.” She commanded. Then she added in a softer tone, “If you do they might separate us. I don’t want to be paired with another boy.”

Gib felt an urge to stroke her soft black hair but he fought the impulse. Such behaviours were frowned upon. He didn’t want to attract more trouble.

When they parted that day, Gib gave her his prized silver marble with the blue eye.

“Why are you giving me this?” Mea asked, her voice clenched in fear.

“You were the only one who spoke to me today. Keep it for the night. You can give it to me tomorrow.” Gib replied.

Mea nodded and walked away.

……

The officials came for the whole family that evening. They were escorted into an enormous steel building surrounded by round pillars. A special agent took Gib into a separate room. It was decorated with miniature circular pillars and globes in silver. The agent took a sample of Gib’s blood and urine and conducted various examinations on his body. Satisfied the agent began asking questions.

” Did you talk a lot with your brother?”

”Did Zeb speak to you about anything strange?”

“Was there anything different about Zeb during the past month?”

“What kind of games did you play?”

Gib told them what he knew. He and Zeb always went to school, did their home work, played with their friends, and shared their meals with their future wives, talked about being excellent medicine makers, just like their father. The agent looked satisfied and led him towards his parents.

When they returned home that night Gib’s mother made redpepper dip, vegetables and meat rondelles, Zeb’s favourite. His father gave her a withering look when he saw the dishes but helped himself to a big plateful without a word.

“Zeb would have licked the plate clean.” Gib volunteered.

“Gib, I do not want to hear that name mentioned again in this house or outside!” his father said coldly.

His mother cleared the table in silence.

…..

A week later the officials brought a charred body. They said it was Zeb. They said he has gone to a steel worker’s house. They said he had tried to work the steel machine there and that he had got burned to death. They said this happens when you go out of your own territory. A medicine maker could never work a steel machine. The governor gave a special speech on TV.  He talked about the tragic story and how it should be a lesson to everybody. They buried the remains. Gib’s father forebode his family to ever speak of Zeb.

Gib’s mother customary shout of, “Gib go and get the oranges. You don’t want to be late for school do you?” continued each morning. But her voice grew terser with each passing day. She hardly looked up at Gib when she spoke to him.

Gib still got up in the morning at 7 o’ clock sharp. He went out for oranges. He went to school with Mea. In school he went to the medicine class alone.  He bumped into Zain occasionally. She was with another boy, a future engineer with a square, serious face. So she snubbed him whenever they met. Mea took the snubbing as a matter of course and continued to stand up to Gib whenever some busybody mentioned Zeb.

During the break he shared a table with Mea. Played with his class mates during the break, headed for the showers afterwards and took leave of Mea every day at the school gate.

On Wednesday afternoons he went to see a movie with Mea and watched heroic deeds of every day warriors who contributed to the common good and were exemplary citizens.

Everything continued without Zeb. But Gib was beginning to feel funny inside. He was not sick he just felt hollow inside. He sometimes wanted to throw away all his books and run out of the class. He wanted not to go to the movies on Wednesdays with his future wife. He wanted to step on the oranges and squash them on the ground. He wanted to slap everyone around including himself. Most of all he wanted to find Zeb. This was strange because everyone else seems to have forgotten Zeb. Even Mea hardly ever spoke of him. She was busy planning for their graduation.

Whenever Gib wanted to talk to her about Zeb, Mea’s pretty brown eyes glazed over. She seemed not to hear him and went on talking about her blue robe for the graduation and the shop she planned to apprentice in.

……

Gib’s life became difficult with each passing day. The hollow grew stronger with time and refused to budge no matter how hard he tried. He knew he shouldn’t feel that way. But he did.

Nights became the worst time of the day for Gib. He just could not sleep. The hollow inside him grew heavy, stuffy, dark and unbearable.

One night, Gib found it impossible to go to sleep. He stared hard at his pillow. He just wanted the hollow feeling to go away so that he can get on with his life. Slowly it began to loosen up. To his amazement Gib saw something like water drop onto his pillow. It came out of his eyes. For a moment Gib panicked. May be he too was dying. This must be life going out of his body. But what he saw next pushed all else from his mind. Letters began to appear on his pillow. He recognized Zeb’s handwriting. Gib let the water flow out of his eyes.

Dear Gib,

If you can read this it means you are- ready to hear about the new world I found. The water drops that come out of your eyes are called tears in this world. It’s natural. And nothing to be afraid of. In this world we can choose our jobs. You don’t have to be a medicine maker if you don’t want to. Things are different here. We don’t know who our future wives or husbands are. We don’t know what we are going to be. It’s not easy but it’s beautiful.

Remember the dream you told us about. I’ve seen that place. It exists here. It is even more beautiful than you described.

Gib kept on reading.

Outside the orange tree swayed in the soft breeze, a dry leaf fell on the ground noiselessly. An automatic vacuum reached for the leaf like a snake and sucked in the leaf leaving the grass beneath spotless and orderly. A stray cloud concealed the sickle of a moon briefly and drifted on its way.

###

Image Gazing

A pool of young water

Reflected your

Proud picture

Decked in crimson and gold

And a special black cape

You were super man

The best in the world

In your eyes and those of

Others (or so you thought)

Proud and energetic

On the verge of desperate

Euphoria, you

Roamed the world…

On the bank of a young pool

You stood like a fool

Imploring the reflection

To hide your brokenness

While you died

A million times

Inside

Encounter (Flash Fiction)

He sat up and lit a cigarette. His left eye reflected the light in a shade of infernal red. For a moment he looked like the devil in disguise with sleek long hair and nerdy specs. The smell of tobacco clung to the thick air of the room. The smell of enticement (for her). He sat on his bed naked and oozing charm. He was lovable, intelligent, driven, and talented but above all a cold hearted psychopath. Incidentally, he was a chain smoker.

She sat on a chair fully clothed, blind with lust and intrigued. She was beautiful, intelligent, and curious but above all gullible or liked to pretend she was. (Because life was more interesting that way). He stared at her long orange skirt with a dark leaf pattern that covered her shapely legs. Incidentally, she had always imagined Narcissus to look like him.

He invited her to play a game. She refused and got up to go.

He said, “Forget it. Let’s just talk. It was just a suggestion”.

If you let him, he could woo the free spirit out of you.

She stayed. They talked of many things. Of seas and voyages and plunging into the unknown. He was bold and adventure was his second name. She was passionate and loved life.

A forceful kiss

Purple lips

Ginger flakes

And chilies

A moan

Sea foam

Salty kisses

And heartache

Afterwards

It was wrong on many levels for neither of them had a right to play with other children. He turned back to his Mac book air and replied to a work email. She ran away ashamed and guilt-ridden.

Melancholia followed her wearing a hat made of fear.

Actual scenes from deep and satisfying friendships

  • A day spent at the beach, pretending to be mermaids in a vast universe of possibilities and sea dreams.
  • Plain tea in cupfuls in a dingy student canteen with a side dish of a miniature spicy roti and conversation.
  • A bike ride on a river bank while the sun set and the moon rose on either side of your vicinity.
  • Sliding down a river bed, in fear and delight, letting the waters clasp you in a jealous embrace, only to dump you on to a rocky bottom.
  • Throngs of dragonflies, flitting past rays of sunshine.
  • Missing the sun during a drive to the beach and breaking into a smile when the sun burst through the clouds like a long-awaited super hero.
  • Dancing the night away in a frenzied oblivion.
  • Saving a reckless fly from drowning in a glass of water at a fancy restaurant while a chocolate mousse looks on with mockery in its sweet, sweet being.
  • Staying up to study together and ending up with stolen moments of a world cup opening ceremony.
  • Shared feelings of anger and frustration at a bully of a manager and escaping her clutches.
  • Sour mango dipped in chili-salt mix.
  • Licking wounds and over-analyzing over cups of tea or alcohol.
  • Long walks leading nowhere.
  • Stumbling upon a street full of pale pink blossoms and a sky-ful of rosy clouds on those walks.
  • Conversation, oodles of it about the world, its ways and how fucked up it all is.
  • Conversation, oodles of it about the world, its ways and how beautiful it all is.
  • A mutual love of the whimsical.
  • Accepting the ‘walking-contradictioniness ‘in each other.
  • Shared cynicism, dreams, madness and sunsets.
  • A mutual love of star tingles and moonlit walks.
  • A fantasy land somewhere, where Sylvia Plath and Pablo Neruda co-exist in bliss.
  • All the stories found.
  • All the stories lost.
  • All the stories lived.

Butterfly haunting

Just weeks before my wedding Butterflies haunted me.

One rested on the wall next to my bed. He was white with delicate pink and yellow patterns outlined in a rich dark blue. He kept me company while I sank into the world of Hemingway. He was right beside me when I chased hunters in Africa, watched bull fights and sobbed about a hinted at abortion and the human condition. He refused to move. In the end I gently chased him out of the window for I feared he would starve to death otherwise.

 Literature cannot feed your body.

One followed the bus I caught with my bridesmaid to visit the salon. She was a velvety brown with white swirls on the wings. She couldn’t keep up with the bus but managed to wish us good luck, fluttering about in a frantic good bye dance.

“Lovely colours!” the bridesmaid exclaimed.

One sat on a broad green leaf in the garden while I poured my doubts into a sympathetic ear of a long-suffering friend. She (the butterfly) looked like a would-be butterfly-zebra with her black and white patches. The two tiny patches at the end of her wings were a pleasing orange tinged with the palest of greens.

“You will cross the bridge when you come to it.” The long-suffering friend stated.

One escorted me home on a sunlit morning following a night of revelry with the girls. He had blue-black wings sprinkled with a hint of silver. He was the largest of them all and reminded me of a childhood friend I once made in the woods. The said friendship lasted a single blissful day for he was a migrant butterfly of a largish size.

“That was a beautiful day in the woods.” I reminisced

A week before the wedding, a throng of butterflies infested a mango tree near the Kelaniya Bridge. They were orange, yellow and white. They swarmed above the gold tinted mango flowers in a frenzy. I drank in the beauty, the dust, petrol fumes, warm sunshine, the noise, the pulsating energy and the dirty waters beneath the bridge.

The End

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