Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Girl, the Old Man, and the Moon Lit Night

My grand father worked in a mill. I assume that he was around 60 years old when I remembered him. He was my idol in my childhood since I grew up away from my parents. My father got a job in Cement Corporation and left me with my grand parents because he didn’t want to change my school. My two younger sisters went with them. So I was left at my grand parents’ home and they looked after me as best as they could though they didn’t understand my loneliness caused by the absence of my parents. To give justice to their kindness I have to say that they tried to keep me happy and occupied.
               My grandfather was respected among his peers because he was efficient, helpful and very honest in his work. But it was tricky to work as a machine operator since even a slight mistake would cause you lose one of your hands or maim you for the rest of your life. So the work needed the highest scale of concentration & I have seen people who became disabled for the rest of their lives due to lack of concentration.
                        Since my grand father was older than many of the mill workers they came to him for any trouble. But the boycotts and strikes were never heard of in my grand father’s time.
                    After finishing work my grand father would come home. After having a hot cup of tea from grand mother he gets ready for his next important task, prawn  fishing. Fishing was part of my grand father’s life. He would fry thinly sliced coconuts and some other edible ingredients together and make fragrant balls out of them to entice prawns and lobsters in the river.
                 Then we wait. And we wait. We wait for two or three hours.
                   Then, when it is dark, my grand father takes the fishing net and I take the reed bag to hold the catch. He goes first, and I follow him with the hurricane lamp. At the river bank he removes his sarong and wades into the water in his loin cloth. I look around, as I am scared to stand alone in the river bank. The shadows move, reminding me the monsters of the childhood dreams.
                 Once in the water grandfather throws the net, and it sinks into the shallow river bed, creating ripples in the water. Frogs croak continuously, and my ears are brimmed with sounds around me. Then, grand father brings the net to the river bank and let the contents fall onto the uneven surface of the river bank. At once, my nose is filled with the scent of repulsive yet fresh mud. I move the mud with my fingers looking for the glistening eyes of the prawns. I am very happy to see them and put them into the bag. Grand father goes into the water again for another netful of prawns.
                   Sometimes, we are rewarded with a treasure. Grand father is able to catch a big lobster who tries to slip away from the strong grasp of his fingers. Its green and orange tentacles are a treat to the eye and I am overjoyed when I remember its delicious flesh which would be saved just for me at dinner. Its lengthy legs are twitching to crush any thing which goes between them. I am very cautious and handle it with care.
                         Now, it’s very dark. I can’t see even the silhouette of the grand father but I hear his activities in the river. His throwing of the net, his wait, his diving to the shallow bottom of the river to collect the net and coming to the river bank. He wades the river shoulder deep, throws the net tying one end to his waist. It sinks to the shallow bottom making a plopping sound. Grand father waits for a few minutes before he grabs the net alive with prawns. Meanwhile I direct  dim light of the lamp at the slightest sound made by trillions of nocturnal creatures around me. The marsh is alive with the sounds of night. The unending music of frogs is mixed with owls and other numerous undecipherable sounds make me frightened as they come alive in my imaginary mind.
 And then; the pale moon throws her glow over the river bank above the coconut grove and let her beams dance on the river giving me a glimpse of my grand father. He is coming again with his catch and I anticipate another batch of prawns.  I never cease to wonder the miracles of nature of having created millions of different species and to let them live in one planet making my planet a suitable  place for their sustenance.
                     Grand father loosens the net and drops its contents to the rough floor of the river bank. I wait breathlessly to see the red beady eyes of the prawns glimmer, making it easy to identify them in the dark. I quickly move the mud with my bare fingers which I long to do in expeditions like this and collect the little creatures for my spicy, hot dinner and inhales again  the repulsive yet tangy and fresh mud in the process.

                 At last, we are done. Grand father takes the lead and I follow  clutching  the handle of the reed bag tightly in my left fist not to let out the slithery creatures in it. Grand father warns me  to tread cautiously on the floor  which is covered with dry leaves, sticks, cow dung and what not .Danger lurks in the disguise of snakes, centipedes and scorpions on the footpath we walk. Because it is their hour and we are the trespassers in their domain.
                      It’s around 8.00 p.m. Grand mother is waiting for us. She has already prepared the spices and coconut milk. The lobsters and prawns are taken out from the bag, cleaned and washed. She kindles the fire and cooks them on low heat on the wood fire to absorb the taste of the prawns to the rd hot curry prepared with dried chili powder and other spices and coconut milk. A delicious and mouth watering smell waft from the pot and I still yearn for grand ma’s delicious curry which makes me nostalgic because they are a few of the sweet memories I carry from my childhood.
                   When the cooking is over  grand mother dishes out the steamed rice and the prawn curry,  a red hot gravy; red prawns floating in it. It is a very delicious meal and I  have always asked for a second helping .Grand mother with a twinkle in her eye gives me the biggest prawns and after a hearty meal I sleep on the reed mat, satisfied and with a full stomach. I am content with my journey to the river which has given me many ideas to ponder over as sleep hugs me and whispers to my ears.

(I have to say a 'big thank you' to our art teacher, Mrs. Wasantha Fernando for her beautiful sketch.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Are You One of These?


The coffin lay
on the tiled floor
of the crematorium.
forlorn and withered

The lace and silk
adorns the body
pale and peeling like parchment.

Husband is at home
keeping company
to a lonely house.

No use crying over
spilt milk.
Life must go on
as it used to be.

Son and daughter
sit far from her
eagerly waiting
to finish things over.

Mourners observe time
to go home
to resume their work
 half done.

All wait
for a close relative to come.

A car door opens.
A man gets out and
hurries to the coffin.

 Mutters a few
 comforting words
to the son, standing.

The hot fire
embraces the woman!
A sigh of relief

from the son!
Now he can resume
 his thesis writing!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The cockroach;the book lover

(Thanks go to the art teacher in my school for the drawing of the cockroach)

It was a long awaited journey; my going to the annual book fair.I have been going there for around ten years. I used to go there with my son and we made it a point not to miss it at any cost. It was more than buying books.  I was able to enjoy freely with my son for a full day without listening to husband's complaints of leaving home unattended for a whole day.He  shied away from these kind of trips as he has no interest on books. (he reads but never buys!) Both my son and I enjoyed the food at the book fair, we bought books; he-computer books and I ; hunting Arthur.C.Clarke's and Issac Asimov's  books which are not  easily found on the other days.

                              We chatted while enjoying an ice-cream and observed others who had come to the exhibition from all over Sri-Lanka.It was like a  huge party thrown by an invisible person making us bound together  by the humanity and the recreational activities.

                         But as time went by my son got busy with his exams and  he could not accommodate my requests to accompany me with my roamings to the big capital.

                    Yet, I continued my roamings to the book fair as usual and  enjoyed them to the fullest.I walked among crowds with my gunny bag and other bags slung over my shoulders and touched books, read pages,memorized designs, recipes and sometimes even drawings when the book was too expensive for me.

                         I felt naughty when I noticed that a salesman came to stand near me pretending to select books and keeping a close look on what I was doing.Then I would purposely linger there more to make the poor man uncomfortable and letting him puzzle over  my unusual behaviour, with that particular book in my hand.

             So, I went to the exhibition this year too. Yes.Alone.I went to EXPOGRAPHIC first.It is my favourite book shop.Many science fictions were there and I read the reviews on the back page and selected a few books. Books went into the gunny bag which hung on my shoulder.
            Then I remembered an Ad on T.V. and went to an IT stall, looking for a software which is used  to read books on I pad.  The place was not crowded and there were two cute girls in the reception.
          "Yes, Madam, What can we do for you" ?

                                I explained them what I needed.Then while I was talking, my back tingled with a slight sensation.I ignored it and paid attention to the girl who was very keen on explaining their new product.

                  The second time I sensed that the thing I felt on my back was something alive! It moved very,very,very  slowly on my neck and my hairs stood at end.I wanted to scream and wriggle my body to drop the thing but my conscience warned me to behave cautiously in the presence of an audience.I gritted my teeth and tested my patience to the last drop scarcely paying attention to the girl who gibbered near me.Unfortunately the thing moved a  little bit up along my neck and all my sanity was lost to reason. 

                                    I frantically dropped my gunny bag to the floor, shook my body with full force to drop the evil thing while  letting out a long drawn scream making people freeze.As soon as my scream was over I heard another similar scream and then I saw it was  coming from  one of the two  girls.  

                                             The girl was wiping something, plunging her hand in the deep  cleavage in her blouse and I could see her face distorted with fright.She continued to scream with a shrilly voice  calling every one's attention to the scene.It was like a behaviour of a madwoman.She was trying to take something out in her blouse but it seemed that her efforts were futile for all the screaming and running .Unaware of the audience her wail collected, she held the two  edges of the front of her blouse in  two hands and shook it frantically to drop something while giving a wild dance to the rhythm of her fluctuated cry, remembering me  an African Tribal dance I have seen in Discovery Channel many years ago.I thought that all the limbs in her body would come loose to that vigorous shake but luckily it didn't happen. 

                                Unexpectedly the girl stopped her wild dance in the middle of the climax and ran  to an inner room in the stall crying,  but  a  small brown lump lay helplessly on the floor. It slowly stretched  its tiny limbs and tried to walk shakily as it too was overwhelmed by the incidents it had to face few minutes ago.

                    It was a tiny cockroach!

The others in the room were more concerned of the girl as the gathering mainly consisted of her co-workers and people who ran other stalls in the book-fair.The crowd dispersed with different emotions on their faces; some exciting as she had given them a free entertainment which is rare in any book fair and some others genuinely sorry for their friend for the discomfort and embarrassment she underwent in public.

                               But I was more concerned with the object on the floor because my mind argued it was my doing at last. My heart was scolding me for  being the cause of this commotion and letting an innocent girl, how silly her behaviour was, to be ridiculed by others.

                              I just stood there while observing others' behaviour and once made sure that they have resumed work, slowly took  a few steps close to that object and gave a little push from the tip of my shoe. It lost its orientation and took fer circles on the floor but crept under the carpet as promising me not to disturb others in the future.

                                     Then and there I stopped my inquiry on the software and I even lost the desire to buy more books or to stay further in the exhibition and left the place with misgiving thoughts.

                         I think that the cockroach was in my gunny bag  as  it was sitting in my cupboard  for some time without being used. When I carried it, slung on my shoulders it must have crept up to my back and you know the rest. 
                                            It was unintended but I should have been more careful of  my paraphernalia.Whenever I remember that incident I regret for my  crime  in the book fair.

                   What will be your verdict, fellas?