Raconteurs #3

Daughter: You know what happened in school today?

Dad: What happened?

Daughter: I heard a new story about how the world came into existence and now I’m confused.

Dad: Really? So what story did you hear today?

Daughter: A long, long time ago lived a curious little boy. The boy always asked questions to his parents and they had no answers whatsoever. The parents were simple farmers and wanted the boy to stop bothering them but the boy was persistent and would not stop until he had the answers to his questions.

The boy wanted to know why it rained from the skies, why the grass was green, why pigs could not speak their language, why the sun was visible only during the day, why he had two eyes and two ears but only one nose and one mouth, etc. The boy just wanted to know but his parents had no answers.

So his parents came up with a simple solution. They told him that a mighty being lived up in the clouds and that it created the world as it stands. This, they thought, would satisfy the boy and keep him quiet but they were wrong. The boy began to ask more and more questions. Now he wanted to learn about this mighty being who resided up in the clouds.

To solve this problem the boy’s parents began to tell him elaborate stories and this time the plan worked. The boy loved to hear about the mighty being and was very impressed. Soon he stopped asking questions and instead started narrating those stories to all his friends. Soon enough every child in the village had heard and shared the stories about the mighty being who resided up in the clouds.

When the kids grew up and had babies of their own they passed on the stories to them as well and the cycle continued. The stories got more and more elaborate with time and nobody dared question it lest they incur the wrath of the mighty being who resided up in the clouds.

Soon enough the village had temples and festivals to honour the mighty being. They prayed to him in times of trouble and thanked him whenever they had a bountiful crop.

Dad: That sounds so bogus and far-fetched.

Daughter: Wait there is more. Every region had its own curious child and its own stories trying to explain and make sense of the world around them. So the world was created in one particular way and every region had their own version of it.

Dad: So how exactly was the world created?

Daughter: Nobody knows, Dad. Nobody knows. All we know is that we are all raconteurs.

(To be continued)

Raconteurs #2

Dad: Are you ready?

Daughter: Yes, I am.

Dad: There was once a giant octopus living all alone in the deep waters. As there was no other creature in the waters he often came to the shore to speak with a tall mango tree. They were the best of friends and they always helped each other.

One day, the octopus felt a severe pain in his body. He swam up to the tree and asked for his help. The tree said that he was helpless and there was nothing that he could do. The octopus lay himself down under the shade of the tree and kept crying in immense pain.

The octopus asked the tree for a mango in the hope that it may make him feel better but the tree refused. The tree explained that his mangoes were cursed and that nobody was supposed to eat it.

Daughter: Why were the mangoes cursed?

Dad: Um… because the tree had done something really bad I guess.

Daughter: What had the tree done?

Dad: Or maybe um… he had got it in exchange for the ability to speak.

Daughter: But that doesn’t make sense. If the tree could not originally speak…

Dad: Shush, my little girl. Let me complete the story. So where was I? Right! I was telling you how the tree refused to give the octopus his mangoes. The octopus kept crying in pain. Soon his skin began to pale and he felt extremely weak and vulnerable.

Seeing his state, the tree dropped a mango from one of his branches and warned the octopus that he must hold it in one of his tentacles till sunset before eating it to counter the curse. After sunset it will heal his pain and there will be no repercussions. If he failed to follow the rules then they both must prepare for the worst.

The octopus held the mango for a while but the pain was too much to bear for him. Despite the tree’s protests the octopus said that he could not resist any longer. He apologised to the tree and prayed that the pain will go away on eating it.

As soon as the octopus’ mouth touched the mango he felt relieved. A tiny dot of light came out of his mouth and swallowed the two friends and trapped them inside itself.

Daughter: So that tiny dot was the cause of the pain?

Dad: Yes indeed. But it was no ordinary dot. When the two friends tried to force their way out the dot exploded.

Daughter: Exploded?

Dad: And that’s how the universe came into existence

Daughter: No way! I have so many questions.

Dad: Not now, my girl. I want you to sleep right now. Tomorrow you will go to school and narrate this story to your friend, wouldn’t you?

Daughter: Yes I will. But what was the name of the octopus?

Dad: He was Okto.

(To be continued)

Raconteurs #1

Dad: So what story would you like to hear tonight?

Daughter: Tonight, I am going to tell you a story. I heard it at school today.

Dad: Really? That is amazing. Go ahead.

Daughter: There was once an old lady who lived in a bizarre world where everything was black and white. Humans, animals, trees, flowers, butterflies and even the rainbows were simply colourless. The old lady loved painting and I am sure you can tell that even her paintings were black and white. It was just the way their world worked.

The old lady first started painting when she was a cute, little girl like me. And she was the best painter in the whole wide world. Everyone admired her works and she made her paintings look full of life.

In her dreams, one night, she saw some strange and mysterious things — it was something she could not describe or understand. What she had seen was a world full of colour — just like ours. She saw how everything appeared more beautiful when blessed with colours. When she woke up she wanted to recreate her dream on a canvas. She wanted to create a painting which wasn’t devoid of colours.

Alas, she had only her plain paintbrushes and colours and she felt disappointed. Nevertheless, she convinced herself that she will recreate the scene to the best of her ability. So she dipped her brush into the palette and began working on it. As soon as she put the final stroke on her canvas something magical happened.

Her painting started to grow colours on its own and the old lady simply stared in amazement. She had to pinch herself twice to make sure that she was not still dreaming. A few moments later the painting had become an exact replica of the world she had seen in her dreams. She was more than thrilled.

Dad: How did the painting get colourful?

Daughter: Aren’t you listening? I told you it was magic.

Dad: Oh yes! Forgive me! And please continue.

Daughter: So where was I? Oh yes, she got very excited with her painting and she showed it to everyone in her world and they all shared her amazement in equal measures.

Dad: I know what happens next. Someone tried to steal the painting, right?

Daughter: No, not at all, Dad. That would be so mean. That is not what happened at all. What happened is that she returned home that night still buzzing but tired and she fell asleep immediately. Again, in her dreams, she saw something similar. She began to see more of the world every night and she would wake up and paint it, and her work would magically fill up with colours.

Dad: That is a wonderful story, my girl.

Daughter: You know what the best part is? You know that the universe is constantly expanding, right? It is because the old lady is still painting.

Dad: What? No, not at all. That is a good story but not a true one.

Daughter: Yes, it is. And that’s how our world came into existence.

Dad: Who told you this story?

Daughter: My friend Kim.

Dad: And who told Kim?

Daughter: Her parents told her. Her household believes in the old lady and they worship her as God.

Dad: I’ll tell you how the world actually came into existence. It was not an old woman. It was an octopus.

(To be continued)

Big Bounce – Part 12

Arya eased the silent tension between them, “There is another Sameer I know.”

“A friend?” a visibly nervous young man spoke.

“No, he’s a photographer and a writer and his works are simply awesome. Wait, I’d show them to you.”

The young man replied with a glint in his eye, “Oh, the blogger Sameer?”

“Yes, that’s him. You know him too?”

The young man simply chuckled in pride.

Arya shrieked much to the shock of other people sitting quietly in the cafe, “No way, you are the Sameer. I cannot believe it. Small world really!”

Sameer was too flurried to say anything.

Arya broke the silence again, “So Sameer is a shy guy. Well, what can I say? Nice to meet you. I am a fan of yours and you can give me an autograph later.”

Sameer turned more red with embarrassment, “Sure. Of course.”

“But there is one thing I don’t like about you,” Arya remembered something. “Your views on God are simply not compatible with mine.”

Sameer asked her curiously, “Care to elaborate.”

Arya explained, “You don’t believe in God, do you? It’s easy to decipher from your writings. There is a God. I have no doubt about it.”

Sameer was not going to take a differing view lightly either, “Looks like you have a proof.”

Arya explained again, “Some things don’t require proof. You just know it is there.”

Sameer disagreed, “That is so convenient to say.”

Arya continued with her argument, “Look around you, this world is so perfect and beautiful. This careful design could not have been just a coincidence. It has to be the work of someone.”

Sameer defended his view, “But what if it is a coincidence? I seldom believe in a thing without proof — my writing would reflect that too. I believe life is meaningless and we are here simply to bide our time and go away. Who created this world? I don’t know. Why was it created? I have no answer either. Until some evidence to the contrary is presented I’ll prefer to hold on to my view.”

It was at this point that a peacock began to hover over their heads sprinkling love potion over them.

Arya laughed, “I knew you’d say that. At least I got you talking. I guess we shouldn’t argue on our first date.”

Sameer laughed too, “Yes, that wouldn’t be a good start.”

“After marriage, when we look back at it, it would surely make for an enjoyable memory.”

“Arranged marriages are weird, aren’t they?”

Big Bounce – Part 11

“Arya, get here as fast as you can,” a panicky voice spoke on the other side of the call.

The bag of groceries in Arya’s hand slipped through her fingers on to the road as her heart sank. Her hand, holding the phone to her ear, trembled. She thought she would faint, but she gained composure as a cab honked for way.

“Is everything okay? What happened?” she asked.

“Nothing’s happened. All’s fine. Just get here.” came the response as the call ended.

She went through a plethora of emotions in an instant – an instant that felt like eternity. Looking at the skies, she prayed and hoped for something positive with all of her heart – it didn’t matter what, she just hoped for something good, though her mind was overladen with fear.

Cab – she had to find one quickly, but she couldn’t see any empty ones around. She couldn’t possibly wait for a bus at this point. She ran, as fast as her legs could, towards the hospital.

She wanted to call her brother-in-law again and find out the reason but something held her back. A little hope still lingered in her heart and she didn’t want it to be extinguished – not now, not later, never. She continued running.

“What did you do in school?” Sameer asked.

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“School sports. You are so bad at running. Did you ever finish ahead of anyone?”

“Who cares about running? I like to wrestle. If we were together in school, I would have beaten you up.”  Arya said as she twisted his arm behind his back and had him submit to defeat.

Today she did care about running. Today she ran like she was seven years old. Straight, fast and into everyone and everything that came her way. And she hoped Sameer had learnt a little wrestling from her and would not give in to submission now.

Some minutes later she found herself at the entrance of the hospital. She took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from her forehead and stepped in. She glanced around and found nothing unusual but this was only the entrance. Her heart rested on the third floor. She hoped it would be that way too when she reaches there.

The elevator would take too long. She climbed the stairs despite her knees warning against it. As she reached the floor, Pranav came out of the ward crying. “He’s not responding anymore,” he said as he rushed away in the long, crowded corridor.

She was numb now. She felt nothing – no emotion upon hearing those words except for fatigue from running. She slowed her walk as she made way to the corner of the ward’s other half partitioned by a pale white wall.

Her eyes first glanced at her father-in-law. He was holding Sameer’s hand and without an expression on his face. Then she turned, a little hesitatingly, towards Sameer. His eyes were open. His mouth was too.

Sameer was breathing, but barely. He was mumbling some words in acute pain but it did not seem to make any sense. When he saw Arya, he tried to lift his hand towarda her. She helped him with it and noticed the coldness of his hand. At that very moment, the pulse left his body and he turned cold forever.

Sameer’s father burst into tears at the sight. Arya remained numb and fatigued. No tears came to her. She had cried every night thinking about this. She had gone through this a million times in her head. At that very moment, she felt nothing. Nothing at all. She ran her hand on his face. It was cold and disfigured; his jaw – rock-hard, his eyes – glum, his lips – dry, his scalp – bald and scarred, his skin – ghost-dark.

“Why did you marry me?” Sameer asked.

“Ah, let me think. One – you are ugly, two – you are cold-hearted, and three…” Arya began to answer.

Sameer cut her off, “No, I don’t think I want to hear the third one.”

Arya answered anyway, “… and three – because God has written it that way.”

With knees too weak to stand, Arya sat down on a chair next to his bed and fell into an instant slumber. When she awoke, there were earthworms crawling and conversing on her body.

Big Bounce – Part 10

Last night’s screams still rang through her ears as Arya filled up the forms while Sameer was taken to his bed on the third floor of the hospital. After making the necessary payments, she seated herself next to him and watched as the nurses attended to him.

Though Sameer was the one diagnosed with cancer, Arya suffered equally. Every ache of Sameer resonated with Arya. Every time Sameer screamed, it echoed hauntingly in Arya’s ears. Every drop of tear that he shed caused a waterfall in her eyes. And now, in the hospital, every needle pierced through two bodies.

It was in the evening that his condition slightly improved and he gave off a smile or two while conversing with her.

“You know,” he turned to the nurse, “I think I must have done a lot of good in this life while my wife here must be cursed with a rotten piece of luck.”

“Really,” the nurse smiled back, “why do you say so?”

“I am fortunate,” he replied, “because I have married such a wonderful person who is taking care of me with all of her heart. I feel extremely blessed to have her by my side. On the other hand, she has married a guy who she has to tend to all day and night – a guy who disturbs her sleep, a guy who makes her skip office, a guy who is dependent on her for every little thing, a guy who can’t take care of either her or himself.”

Arya broke into tears and cut him off, “Now if you utter anything more I will kill you before any cancer would.”

“Don’t worry,” the nurse assured him, “if you are so fortunate then I am sure you will get well soon, and then you can take care of your wife and give her all your love.”

“Can you believe it?” a jubilant Sameer spoke, “We are finally married. It just seems like a dream to me.”

“I know,” Arya spoke in equally joyous tone, “it just seems too surreal. I cannot describe this feeling in words. My legs are so tired but my heart is jumping up and down.”

“You know what this also means?”

“What?”

“That you are stuck with me now,” and he gave off a devilish laugh, “you are bound to me.”

She rebuffed him, “Be ready to explain that smile when God asks you.”

“Oh why do you have to bring God in everything? You will be there to defend me there too no?”

“No, I will not be there. You will have to fight your own battles.”

“I am feeling much better now,” Sameer said as he awoke Arya from her chair, “You can go home and catch some sleep. Do eat something before you go to sleep.”

“Oh yes,” Arya rubbed her eyes as she jumped up from her chair, “Are you sure you are okay? I can stay for a while longer.”

“Yes, I am quite alright.”

“Thank God, I’ll come back tomorrow. You rest and let the nurses know in case you need anything. I’ll still tell them to keep an eye on you. Why don’t you call them when you need something? They’re doctors, not magicians. They can’t read your mind. Just ring the bell and let them know. Promise me? Great. Take care. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She got up and took her leave. Before leaving, she turned around to see him. He looked back at her and smiled as wide as his lips could allow. It was all the assurance she needed to know that he is and will be alright.

Little did she know that this was the last time she was seeing him smile.

Big Bounce – Part 9

After a few months of treatment, an appointment was set up with the doctor for his assessment and advice. They waited impatiently for the doctor to arrive. Sameer watched Arya as she paced up and down.

Arya was fuming, “The nurse informed us that the report is ready but I don’t know why they don’t let us have it. We can read it ourselves.”

Sameer tried to calm her down, “Why don’t you have a seat? The doctor will be here any minute.”

Arya wasn’t the one to be assuaged so easily, “He should have been here half an hour ago. Doesn’t anybody respect time here?”

She did eventually take a seat next to him, allowing Sameer to rest his head on her shoulder. Minutes passed like years until the doctor did arrive.

“I apologise for the delay,” the doctor said, “Why don’t you take a seat? See, I have gone through the report. So have you been feeling this pain for a long time?”

And he went on to ask a few more preliminary questions before finally giving his verdict.

“I’ll be honest with you,” the doctor’s tone turned grave, “the malignant cells have spread throughout the body and even chemotherapy hasn’t helped in diluting them.”

“Surely we could have a surgery?” Arya probed.

“There are treatments available. But considering all that, I am saying that Sameer has not more than two months.”

Arya grabbed Sameer’s hand instantly, “Two months for what?”

The doctor continued, “We could treat him but that won’t be enough. Even if we were in USA or UK, where they have the finest treatment facilities, we can keep him for six months at best.”

Arya was too afraid to turn and look at Sameer. She was afraid that they’d both break down if they looked at each other. She wanted to break down right there but she held her nerves.

“Instead of making Sameer go through any more treatment, it is my suggestion that you keep him home and spend whatever little time he has together,” so saying the doctor took his leave allowing them a moment alone.

Arya felt her blood freeze from head to toe until Sameer touched her arm, “Let’s go, Arya.”

None of them spoke a word on the way home. Arya wondered if this was the last time she was taking a cab ride with Sameer, if this was the last time he was resting his head on her shoulder, if this was the last time they were going to spend a moment together, if this was the last time she was hearing him breathe.

As soon as they reached home and locked the door behind them, Sameer erupted like a volcano in tears. Arya wanted to do the same but that was not the right time for it, “Do you believe in miracles, Sameer?”

“No, I don’t believe in miracles, Arya. I don’t. I don’t believe in anything. This pain just won’t go away and there is nothing I can do about it. I can feel it eating me every minute. I can’t bear it anymore. I simply can’t. I am too weak for all this. I am not made for this. The doctor is right. I won’t be able to survive. I can feel it. This pain has overtaken me. Please kill me, Arya. Please kill me. I don’t want to live with this pain anymore. If you love me then please kill me. I want to jump out of the window and kill myself but I can’t bring myself to do it. Please kill me, Arya. I know you are strong enough to do it. Please free me of this pain. I beg of you, Arya. I beg of you.”

Arya was too overwhelmed to comfort him. She buried her head in her hands and cried uncontrollably. “We’ll go ahead with more treatment. Miracles do happen.”

Sameer cried at the thought of having to go through more pain during the treatment. He could not decide which was worse: death or suffering. He kept crying until he fell asleep on the couch — all curled up and shivering. She put a blanket over him and then went to the bedroom to rest her aching head.

She closed her eyes and wept again.

“How can You be so cruel?” she asked. “What pleasure do You derive from making someone suffer like this? Where is the mercy in Your heart when You make a good man go through a disease like Cancer? Are we merely Your playthings that You can choose to treat us as You wish? What’s the meaning of this all? Is this why we were born? For your entertainment? Why don’t You just take him away instead of making him suffer like this?

“Take him away, just take him away now. Are You going to make him suffer like this for two months? Take him away, but don’t make him go through this, I beg of You.” She bit her lip so hard, with guilt overwhelming her heart, that it started bleeding. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t feel a thing. Meanwhile, a little butterfly fluttered across the room.

Big Bounce – Part 8

They stepped out of the clinic with heavy hearts and a light report.

Sameer wiped the sweat off his forehead, “I don’t feel anything like that. It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s just a little pain that I am feeling and they tell me this. What has this world come to? Should we get a second opinion? Of course we should get a second opinion. I am sure something went wrong in this test. I had a hunch when they took my tests that something was not right. When the other clinic gives us a clean report, I am going to sue them for this mental trauma. This is crazy, isn’t it? How can they say anything like that? It’s just a small pain. What do you say, Arya? Wouldn’t it be right to sue them?”

Arya couldn’t look him in the eye, “No.”

Sameer was not ready to believe it, “No? Why no? Do you believe in this? Come on, you know better than I do. This is not what I feel.”

She spoke slowly but firmly, “We should not waste any more time. We should get an appointment and start the treatment as soon as possible.”

“Arya, don’t keep reading that cursed report. Look at me. Just turn and look at me for once.”

She didn’t budge. Sameer, then, got himself right in front of her face.

“Arya,” Sameer spoke in a worried tone, hugged her tightly and burst in tears. “I am worried. I am scared for myself and even more so for you. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I love you, Arya. I love you so much. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t let me go.”

Arya stopped herself from crying too, “Sameer, it’s alright. Nothing’s gonna happen.”

“You’re lying to me. Why are you lying? No, it’s not alright. This report is not alright. I am not alright. Please don’t let me go.”

“Listen to me. Nothing’s gonna happen to you. These are good times. Anything can be treated today. Nothing will be able to take you away from me.”

“Promise me?”

Arya assured him again, “I promise you, Sameer. If Death comes down to get you, I am going to punch him in the face. And he’ll run away if he values his own life.”

Sameer corrected her, “Death is a she, not a he.”

“How do you know? It seems like you have met before.”

“I just know.”

“Very well. Death is a she. Now stop crying like a girl and wipe your nose.”

“So what now? What do we do?”

“We consult an expert. He will tell us what to do next. Most probably he will tell us to go for a few rounds of chemotherapy. If things are good after that, then that’s it. There is nothing more to be done then. If chemotherapy is not enough then there are other treatments we will have to do. Either ways, you’re not going anywhere.”

“How do you know all this? Seems like you’ve been through this a hundred times.”

“I just know. So stop worrying about her?”

“Her? Who?”

“Death.”

Big Bounce – Part 7

When they returned home from the hospital, Sameer was more worried about work than anything else. He was busy talking to himself loudly about the work that must have gone unattended that day. Arya, however, was worried about something else. She urged him to stop worrying about work and pay a little more attention to his own body but he kept mumbling to himself. She asked him to stop talking and rest on the bed. When Sameer kept getting hysterical about work, Arya butted in.

“Today things could have turned out to be really bad. You are lucky to be discharged so quickly. You have no idea what the reports tomorrow might suggest. So stop worrying about work and look at yourself a little.”

“Oh no! I have to take another leave tomorrow. Who would do all the work there? My boss is going to kill me.”

Arya grabbed his phone, “Give me his number. I’ll call him and tell him that you won’t be coming to work for a week. If he comes here to kill you, he’ll have to go through me first.”

Sameer was awed, “Oh babe, I know that you will fight with the devil if you have to.”

Arya threw the phone back at him, “You only have one work to do tomorrow. Go and get that report and rest all day. You will not do anything else tomorrow.”

“But…”

“And rest your little head too. You have to give your body some rest. What happened today was not normal.”

“I feel quite fine right now.”

“Trembling in pain and nearly fainting is not fine.”

Sameer turned mute.

Arya continued screeching, “What kind of work do you do that forbids you from revealing a chronic pain to your spouse? What’s the point of earning so much if you die like this?”

“Who said anything about dying?”, Sameer playfully replied. “I am going to bother you for at least another fifty years.”

“If you bother me even for a minute more, I’ll kill you myself.”

“Have I ever told you that you look beautiful when you are angry?”

Arya put up an enraged face, “What’s so beautiful about this?”

“That little nose turning red.”

“That’s it. Where’s the knife?”

“Alright, alright. No more jokes. Just come and sit with me for a little while. See the good part about me fainting — now we can spend the day together. How I wish I could faint everyday!”

“Sameer! Don’t ever…”

“Alright. Alright. Who would dare to take me away when you are here to protect me?”

Arya hugged Sameer tightly, “I wouldn’t let anybody. Never ever.”

Big Bounce – Part 6

Arya was about to leave for work when her phone began buzzing. It was Sameer.

“Now what could the guy want?” she thought to herself before picking up the phone.

“Hello, Arya. Sameer here. I need you to meet me at the hospital.”

Arya did not believe him at first, “Nice try, honey. Haven’t you annoyed me enough today already?”

“I am serious,” Sameer pleaded in a sincere tone. “I was waiting at the bus stop when the pain in my back became unbearable. Karan offered to take me to the hospital but I told him not to skip work.”

Arya’s face turned grave, “Is everything alright?”

Sameer faithlessly assured her, “Yes, yes; everything’s alright.”

Arya was not the kind of person to fall for any false assurances, “Sameer, if everything is alright then why are you going to the hospital?”

“I am just feeling a bit of a pain.”

“What kind of a pain?”

“I don’t know. I told you, it’s paining around my back.”

“You’re going to the hospital for a back pain?”

“It’s more than what I can bear now.”

“What? How long have you been bearing this pain?”

“For some time.”

“And why did you never tell me about it?”

“I thought it was just a minor ache and it will go away.”

“Very well, doctor. So smart of you, as always.”

Sameer pleaded again, “Arya, please just come to the hospital. I will explain to you everything. I need you here. You know how afraid I am of doctors.”

Arya suppressed her fury, “Yes, I know that very well.”

“I have taken the day off from work. You might also have to take an off today. I am really sorry.”

Again, Arya suppressed her fury, “Yes, I know that too.”

Sameer now had two problems to tackle. A back pain and a fuming wife, “Arya, don’t be mad at me. Just come here please.”

Without any further delay, Arya rushed to the hospital. She knew something was wrong. Sameer would never take a day off from work for something trivial. Arya was worried. A drop of sweat glistened on her forehead.