People Ruin Beautiful Things

Travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one, people ruin beautiful things.

– Khalil Gibran

She wore her pink earrings. The bright pink ones, that looked like tic-tac clips hanging from her ears. She wore her yellow kurta and her white leggings, her blue eyeliner and her red lipstick. And after she was done wearing everything she wanted to wear, she examined herself in the mirror.

Not bad, she thought, proud of her new creation. She enjoyed it, this intuitive mixing and matching of parts to create a new whole. It was the reason she enjoyed cooking; throwing ingredients together to create something unexpected.

She twirled in front of the mirror, appreciating how the clothes fit on her curves. Her mother would say she’s not conventionally pretty. But then Meera never wanted to be conventional.

“Are you done?” Mother had popped her head into the room. “They’ll be here any second!” She paused to give Meera a disapproving look, before rushing back to the kitchen. She had asked her stubborn daughter to wear something nice, something that would make her look beautiful and feminine. But Meera insisted on being her usual flamboyant self. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”, her maternal instinct reared to protect her daughter from her own criticism. “They should like her for who she is.” The mother just wanted her odd child to be happy.

Meera was still admiring herself in the mirror when mother called her outside. She burst into the living room like a blast of air, to find a roomful of people staring at her. Taken aback a little by the sheer number of people (she’d expected 2-3) and the silence that followed, she tiptoed to the only empty seat in the room, right next to her mother.

Once she had settled herself comfortably, the questions began. How old was she? What was her plan for the future? (This one was asked by the boy) She turned to him with glittering eyes and a passionate voice and began talking about her hopes and dreams. By her third sentence she saw his eyes glaze over; a blank expression now stood in those intelligent brown eyes.

Meera’s voice faltered, unsure of what she’d seen. The woman to his right, presumably his mother, took this opportunity to ask the next question, cutting Meera off mid-sentence. “All that is fine beta. But you’ll be taking care of our son as well. We’re a modern family, so you can work part time if you want.”

Meera turned to the woman with creased eyebrows. “You can cook, right?” the woman persisted.

“No.” Meera stared defiantly into the woman’s eyes. Her mother suppressed a smile. Meera had made her decision.

Every question after that was met by staunch opposition, and obstinate denials for things that Meera could do, and did in her own house. And when that intelligent brown eyed boy tried to sneak in a question of his own, her eyes bore into his with a blazing defiance, causing him to stutter. Her mother observed the growing tension in the room with growing amusement, making no efforts to diffuse the situation. Her daughter seemed to have inherited her knack for making people uncomfortable and watching them squirm.

The outsiders could finally take no more, and politely announced the end of the meeting. Finally! Meera sighed as the guests headed for the door. “This is a good thing.” she heard an uncle whisper reassuringly to the boy’s mother. “She’s a bit fat for him, don’t you think?”

Meera headed for her room, and positioned herself in front of the mirror again. She took a long look at herself as she began to wipe the color off her lips.Her cheeks were a little too chubby, her kurta a little too bright, her body a little too big, her breasts a little too small. She smiled, as her critical eyes found fault in every part of her body. “People ruin beautiful things.”


An Eyewitness Account

It was a coincidence.

That’s how these stories start, don’t they?

It was just a coincidence.

She just happened to be sitting there; at the right place at the right time. Or was it wrong place, wrong time? One can never tell in these situations. But she hadn’t meant to see it, to witness any wrongdoing. On any other day, she’d be thrilled about an opportunity like this. She was the type to press her nose against the window and spy on the neighbours. It was a childhood trait of hers. That’s why she had a flat nose, her mother would explain.

But that day was different. Tragedy had struck the Singhvi household, when the patriarch of the house refused to wake up that morning. And our Aneesha, dazed and heartbroken, had been staring out her favourite window. As you might have guessed, this is when she happened to see something that would make her such an important character in this story. But she didn’t know it back then. She didn’t care.

The mist floated, an opaque white, taking up half the view from her window. The other half seemed to have been painted in a grey palette, buildings and roads alike. And they were turning blacker by the minute, due to the incessant rainfall.

A man emerged from a building. This building was no different from the others, a cluster of mass-produced structures, except that a man emerged from it and ran across the road, trying to protect himself from the downpour with his flimsy little handkerchief. The handkerchief was pink. She remembered that because it had caught her eye, this sudden burst of colour in the monochrome of her view. Of course, she thought nothing about it then. She didn’t care.

But later, when questioned about what she saw from her optimal spying position, that’s all she could remember. A flash of pink floating among all the grey. It had seemed like a sign, she said. If that tiny little thing could survive the rain, she could survive this tragedy.

The policeman questioning her put on his best sympathetic face, his hands clenched tight, his foot tapping nervously on the tiled floor. He asked about the man’s face, his clothes, or any other feature that could help them recognize him. No, she said. Just the pink handkerchief. And wasn’t that enough, she wondered, as the policeman repeated these questions again and again. He wouldn’t even tell her what the crime was. And which man carried a pink handkerchief around anyways?

The policeman sighed. It wasn’t a pink handkerchief. It was a white handkerchief soaked in the blood of a dead woman from the building across the street.

Oh, she said, and would say nothing more. He sighed again, this time just for effect, and walked away. She turned back to the window, looking at the black and white view outside. After sometime she saw him cross the road, his pink handkerchief fluttering in the wind.

The Date

There it is again; the fluttering in my stomach. As if a thousand caterpillars have chosen this very instant to break through their cocoons and spread their beautiful butterfly wings, and are now trying to find a way out of my dark insides. My hand moves towards my stomach and lingers for a few moments, as if to soothe my body, which is buzzing with nervous anticipation. It’s a mechanical gesture, one that I’ve been doing since many years to calm myself down. Today it doesn’t work.

I look at the wall with the patterned wallpaper. An ornate clock hangs from a nail, tilting to its left. The imperfection fascinates me. I listen to the clock’s periodic clicks. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Time seems to be moving slower than usual. I will it to move faster, it refuses. I sit back with a sigh.

I have intentionally chosen a table at the back, with my seat facing the glass door of the tiny café. This way, I’ll see him when he enters. I’ll be physically and mentally prepared. I realize I’m in my head too much. I’m overthinking this.

The waiter places a tray on my table. With a shaky hand, I take a few sips of the iced coffee I have ordered. It’s probably a bad idea to order before the other person arrives. But I needed to calm myself down. The cool glass feels slippery against my palm, which has become slimy with sweat. What if he tries to hold my hand, and thinks it’s cold and reptilian? I quickly wipe the sweat away with tissues. I want to hold the glass up against my forehead, which seems to be burning hot. Maybe I have a fever. I wonder if I should use this as an excuse to cancel. I don’t. The cold glass beckons, tiny droplets of condensed water forming along its outer later. But I’m conscious of the other people in the café, huddled around their tables, deep in conversation.  What if he walks in right now and sees me holding a glass against my face? That could happen to me. I have bad timing.

I push the glass away, and my heart begins to pound. I glance at my phone to see the time. Five minutes late. ‘Why am I getting so nervous? It’s just a date. It’s no big deal.’ I repeat this in my head a few times, till I feel my throat constricting. “I know why you’re so nervous.” I hear my bestie’s voice in my head. “You like Ethan! You like Ethan!” In my mind’s eye, I see myself blushing.

I catch the waiter’s eye, signal for a glass of water and gulp it down with growing urgency. The phone buzzes. I snatch it and read Ethan’s message.

Sorry, can’t make it tonight.

As I take a deep breath, I feel my throat clearing. Must be all the water I drank.

No problem. I was running late anyways.

His message also says some other things. I ignore them, deciding to read it properly later. As my heartbeat slowly returns to normal, I feel my body relaxing.

‘What should I do now?’ I wonder, looking around the tiny café. Going home doesn’t seem very appealing. And I like it here. Suddenly I grin. I whip my phone out, and type rapidly.

Are you nearby? Are you free?

The phone buzzes back in equal haste. Within minutes, Jake is here, sitting right across me. We talk, we laugh, we binge on fries. He asks me about Ethan. I feel the familiar tightening of my muscles, and I blush. He smiles. I feel a warmth spreading through my body; the warmth of friendship, of familiarity, of Jake.

I reach home and check my phone to see Ethan’s messages. I wonder if I should be offended that he cancelled our date, but his reason seems valid enough, so I decide to play it cool. “But he cancelled on you, so let him text you first.” There’s my bestie’s voice again. I roll my eyes and keep the phone aside. It buzzes and I grab it.

You forgot your scarf in my car again, moron.

It’s Jake.

Meet me tomorrow and take it.

I smile, feeling the warmth in my body again. Looks like I’m meeting Jake tomorrow.

The Storyteller

She had loved them as a child, listening to them with unblinking rapturous eyes, and a mind that painted pictures of every word she heard. Tales ordinary and extraordinary. Stories of hunters and monsters, heroes and villains, devas and rakshasas. They lingered in her mind long after they had been told, flashes of colourful images and strings of words woven together into stories. More stories. Different stories. Her stories. She longed to let these stories out, to send them back into the universe from which they had emerged. A universe of lights and sounds, smells and tastes, a universe of narratives.

But the stories remained stuck in her mind, like jewels embedded deep into the walls of the caves, unwilling to be separated from their rocky cushion. To smash the walls apart and pull these stories out, to heat them and beat them and shape them until they shone and sparkled with her creative zest would be nothing short of a violent act. Violence to her mind. Violence to her soul.

So the stories remained in the recesses of her mind, glowing like tiny stars in a blue sky. There they ripened, infused with the flavours of her life, until they were ready to be gently plucked off. No burning. No violence.

And when the time was right, the stories came pouring out. Stories of hunters and monsters, heroes and villains, devas and rakshasas. New stories. Her stories. She spun them into gold, and spread them far and wide.

He listened to the storyteller with unblinking rapturous eyes, and a mind that painted pictures of every word she said.

A Story

She wakes up at dawn, minutes before her alarm clock would command her to do so. She rushes through her morning chores with a quiet determination. Today is an important day.

She steps out of the house, basking in the sun’s glorious light that fills her with warm bliss. She has waited fervently for weeks, months even, for this day to emerge, bright and beautiful, a reward for her patience, and her faith.

She clutches tightly to the piece of paper in her hand, reading the hymn in her mind. The words keep running through her head over and over again, and she whispers them under her breath, almost like a chant.

Ah! She has finally reached her destination. She joins a group of believers like herself, and awaits the big moment.

Finally it arrives. The moment of ecstasy. The doors swing open, and the throng of devotees rushes inside. She pushes her way through the crowd, desperate for a glimpse. In her efforts to reach the front, she doesn’t even mind losing her sacred mantra-paper. She doesn’t need it anymore.

The paper floats aimlessly in the air, before resting on the floor with a finality. Abandoned and trampled upon, the big, bright red letters printed on it are still legible:

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The Shower

She stood under the shower, with nothing to adorn her bare body except her limp black hair and her red hands.

She closed her eyes with a slight shiver, focusing her mind on the water. Hot and gentle, it fell on the back of her neck, a turbulent stream or a tame waterfall. Tiny rivulets flowing down the steep curves of her body; her back, her arms, her breasts. They gushed towards the floor, forming swirling patterns of red. She arched her back slightly, emitting a loud sigh as a waterfall cascaded down her back, giving her a pleasure that was neither sexual nor spiritual.

With a raised hand, she wrote a name on the steamed-up glass, with the pride of a scribe inscribing a slab of stone, or a sheet of papyrus, watching with fascination as the name vanished in a cloud of steam.

She gave a short, wry laugh. It amused her, this fleeting existence of her art, just to be lost in fog and nothingness.  “Just like human life. So brief. So intangible. So…erasable.”

She stood under the shower, for as long as it took for the water to wash away the blood, and with it, her guilt and her fears, her suffering and her tears.

She was free.


I Dream a Dream

My eyes opened to the warm white glow of light.

I looked around, hoping for a glimpse of something familiar. My surroundings seemed to blend into nothingness; as if this place I was in had no walls, just miles and miles of white fog with a hint of blue.

I looked down towards my feet. I was standing barefoot on a snowy white floor that seemed to stretch into nothingness, just like the fog. ‘The floor isn’t cold’, I noticed. In fact, it was quite uneven and fluffy; almost like standing on cotton!! My mind jolted back to the times I had wished I could stand on a cloud. ‘But of course this can’t be a cloud!’

Lifting my right foot, I stepped ahead gingerly, if only to make sure I was standing on solid ground. I was. ‘Maybe this is a dream.’ I pinched my arm just to make sure. But I didn’t wake up. I was starting to feel a little anxious. I started moving my arms around; slowly at first, then with growing desperation, hoping that it would clear up the fog. But the fog was out of my reach.

After a few futile attempts, I gave up. I decided to further explore this snow-white world I was in. I put one foot in front of the other and started walking, only to be amazed. The floor seemed like a sponge beneath my feet, bringing a spring to my step. The more I walked, the happier I felt.

Within a few minutes, I was jumping around in joy! I would leap in the air, and the moment my feet touched the ground again, fluffy floor would throw me up higher!

Until I landed with such force that the soft floor gave way, and I was falling. Falling faster and faster towards the ground, with the wind whistling loudly in my ears. But there was no fear, no screaming. Just peace. And pure joy.

I woke up with a start and jolted upright in my bed, feeling like I was falling. As my breathing slowly came down to normal, my alarm clock rang, announcing the start of another day. By the time I got out of bed, the dream was but a foggy memory; something to be brushed aside and soon forgotten. But the feeling remained, to be felt and cherished until the end of time.

Guest Post – ‘The Puddle’

The storm is over, the rain is in the past. But in the aftermath, there are craters left all over. Puddles. At the corner of the streets, in the middle of the road, an inverse island surrounded by land.

Tiny reflections, parts of reflections, can be glimpsed at within moments as the puddle lingers on stapled to the land. It’s midnight and a scared man’s thirst is quenched as he dips his trembling cupped hands into the water. Suddenly, the sound of his shriek is absorbed into the small body of water, so sudden as if it was the quickest accidental voice heist. Slowly the blood infuses into the puddle, the colour goes a dark red as more drops hit the surface, bounce back up and then enter the water while leaving a mystique liquid fog in its wake.

The man in the cloak turns around like the moaning wind, and stomps his foot into the pool. A splashing sound echoes through the alley, half-lit by the borrowed illumination of a street light on the right side of its mouth.

Droplets of pure water fall from the sky in a haphazard manner as the strong red dilutes into a pale colour and then slowly vanishes all at once. The falling water helps clean up the thirsty man’s shirt, yet the stains are stuck on, giving a somewhat translucent clarity to the cat behind the thrash can on what had occurred in her home.

At the other end of the city it cleans up the cloaked man’s hands, his soul yet so far away from the cleansing powers of nature. The alley gets drenched with an eerie sadness and the air around the puddle gets heavier as it feels bombarded by the rain. The fresh, clean rain, with each drop into the puddle, removes the truth slowly, painfully and with sheer unfairness.

Written by Jazzyscribe