Idealism’s orphans inevitably discover that the grand highway of the history they proudly rode, with the wind in their faces, song on their lips, surge in their hearts – the grand highway of history, all grand highways of history, end in the bazaar. And to work the bazaar, to move and stand in the bazaar, to buy and sell in the bazaar, to manoeuvre lightly and nimbly through the bazaar, you have to leave the clunky armour of high ideals, the heavy helmet of lofty ideas, at the gate, where the bazaar begins and the highway of history ends.

~ Tarun J Tejpal
The Alchemy of Desire’

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Polaroid

Her glossy eyes belie the tumult of a churning ocean within that rises up and ebbs low, deeper and deeper it goes; within lies dormant, a sea monster, a green monster that feels a nudge, opens one eye and glares at her soul, her quivering aching soul, which stands before a forked road – one way she thinks she knows, one uncharted, and thereby, so tempting.

Her glossy smile hides the pain of a thousand heartaches inside, covering up muddy mossy pools – which is quicksand and which is vacuum, one can never know, but there’s a heart that aches for some freefall, a free run, a free pass, to be free. The cage is claustrophobia, it will close in, she will run away.

The guard is always up, the mask is always on. She keeps it up, this charade for cameras, even when there are no cameras around. Cameras can’t paint characters, they’re the unthinking, un-vocal, non-judgemental objects that only see her green eyes and apricot skin and red lips.

There’s no way they’ll manage to catch the grey within her. Not as long as she can smile her perfect smile that makes her eyes glow like fireflies on cold nights, like hope that they would all like to put into a jar and take home. They could shoot at her all day, under umbrellas, under the sun, stars, with fur, in the nude, on beaches, on rocks, in a kitchen, on a bed, in a cave, in a mood….but they’ll never get her.

The Last Hour

This was his last hour.

He knew it. Every neuron in every cell in every part of his body and every drop of his blood told him, whispered to him in chorus – this was it. The sand had begun to slip,  into the other hemisphere of the clock, out of his grasping tightened fingers, out into a vacuum, where he would soon follow.

His breathing was quick, shallow. His hands felt the tremor that reverberated inside his head. He could feel the heartbeat rise, the seizure coming on…and then his head said, wait a minute! Lets do a quick recap, shall we? And bless his cranium for relaying in realtime the sights he loved the most: his wife, arranging knick knacks around the room at that very moment; his little angel Inaayat, who was trying to get his grandson Aman to eat his dinner; his mute brother Hussain, signing furiously at him, and laughing inaudibly at the joke he’d just told; his Royal Enfield, which he wanted his grandson to have; his paintings, sitting in the dark room nobody was ever allowed to enter; his mother, may she rest in peace; his books, Virginia Woolf, Bach, Madhubala, his bed; his land, to which he had dedicated his legs, an eye and his soul; Toto, his parrot, swinging in his cage and doing imitations of him…

They said one’s last moments on earth brought everything back, reconnected one with the oldest memories. Well, he didn’t know about that, but everything that had ever made him happy was in this room, and right in his vicinity. He’d been aching inside this cage for so long – aching for freedom, and that’s all, because everything else, thank the lord, was with him, here for him. And here it was too, a chance to leave, get up and get out, go on a free run over buildings and walls and garbage bins and trees and parks and statues. Here it was, his being ready to climb, jump, run, jog, twist, clamber, throw himself away.

The recap continued, and so did the rising heartbeat. Only, now it rose for excitement about this new adventure. The runway, he realized, had been a brilliant joyride – he’d done his jaywalking, loving everything, the pleasures and the pain. This last fight might be His, but the balance sheet was in his favour, with this huge credit of happiness weighing it down immeasurably…

Inaayat was the first to look up and see her father grinning, staring straight ahead, his gaze fixed on some unknown point in the street outside the open window. Something about his rigid posture and the lifeless swinging of the armchair alarmed her. Appa! She yelled, rushing towards him. Her mother ran towards her too, Hussain was already trying to shake the unconscious form out of stupor, miming his dissatisfaction at his brother leaving so early, before he’d even tried his new recipe, the kebabs from heaven.

Aman stood in a corner, staring at his Abba, wondering why everybody was making a fuss about him napping. Abba looked about as happy as he himself felt when Sharma uncle gave him lollipops.

Abba is dreaming about red lollipops, Amma. Let him be, he said, pulling at Inaayat’s salwar.