If you see me not treading the same path everyday
maybe then I'll tell you that I'm alright.
When the dusk thickens and silence pervades,
when the only sounds you hear are whispers of the cleaving wind
while the rest of the world ceases to exist
maybe then you'll hear me say that I'm alright.
Perhaps when I open my eyes to a chirping bird
in the tranquility of my home, with the one I love
then you quite won't have to ask if I'm alright.
But for now, if we meet in the dark
and silently, we talk and cry,
maybe, just maybe, my heart will let go and say that I'm alright.
“Do you have a question?”
The boy had shaken his head in reply, slowly. The doubtful shake had made the teacher question it.
“If you have a question, then please ask. I’m here to answer your questions. That’s what I get paid for. And do remember, there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.”
Right at this moment, as fortune would have it on that embarrassed boy, the bell had rung, ending the lecture.
The teacher had gazed at the boy for another while and then started picking up her notes to leave for her next appointment.
Maybe it was impertinent of the boy to not even have replied that he didn’t have a question, but the moment passed and now, one can’t change it. If the teacher thought it was rude, then bad it is for the boy.
Anyway, we went through the rest of the day without such an embarrassment for any kid but that one statement hasn’t left my mind yet.
“There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.”
Is this true? How can one be sure?
During the lunch break, while eating with my unwashed hands right after touching my shoes to get rid of a “centre fresh” wrapper which had stuck to it, I was reminded of a conversation which transpired almost two years back.
One of my friends was narrating an incident about another friend; a stupid question the latter had asked.
They were sitting together at the former’s home; let’s name them A and B for the sake of clarity. (I wouldn’t want to name them, considering the stupidity of the scenario to be recited.)
So, A and B were at A’s house. And B there, saw a pair of slippers lying about uncared for by all the inhabitants of that house.
“Whose is that?” B had asked, pointing at the pair, when finally, his curiosity got the better of him. Quite weirdly, his finger was aimed towards the left slipper only.
“Mine.” A had replied, taking no notice of where B’s finger was pointing. (Maybe from A’s perspective, the finger was pointing at the pair.)
B however, had other thoughts in mind.
He then shifted his finger to the right slipper and asked, “And what about that one?”
And A, couldn’t believe his ears. And laughter erupted; laughter, even later, when A was narrating this to me.
Was this a stupid question?
“Whose is that?” – “Mine” – “What about the other one?”
Seems stupid to me.
B realized that it was stupid too, I think, and so he was denying later that this ever happened.
So, we come back to that one question.
Are there stupid questions?
Later in Physics lecture on the Bohr’s model of the atom, I was reminded of another incident long back.
We were in the 8th grade I think, then, only beginning to learn about atoms and its constituents.
“Ma’am, is atom a living being?” A kid, C, had asked.
As you might expect, the class erupted in a fit of laughter while C looked around helplessly.
The teacher had hushed the class down, maintaining a sober face and considering the question with utmost sincerity.
“I think we need to understand here that the classification as living and non-living is very crude. The smaller in size you go, the tougher it is to apply it.” The teacher had replied. “Would I call an atom living? No. But I am made up of atoms and so are you, and we are what one would say, living beings. But the problem is, that so is made up of atoms the chair you sit on, the books you write on, the pen you hold etc. So, if you ask me, atoms are non-living beings, if at all we are allowed to call them “beings”, but a collection of atoms can give rise to living beings.”
“And kids,” she had added, “Don’t laugh at questions. Understand that no question is stupid.”
I wonder now why I hadn’t pondered over that statement then, when this one today just doesn’t seem to be ready to quitting on me.
But another incident strikes me now.
In another Physics lecture, a few months back, on escape velocity and satellites, another boy, D, asked a question which I think deserves a mention here.
The professor had been teaching us about how much horizontal velocity needs to be imparted to a satellite to keep it in orbit at a particular height.
And D then, asked, “Sir, what would happen if I take a satellite up and just leave it without giving it any horizontal velocity?”
The professor had smiled; a slight, feeble, curious smile.
He took a piece of chalk in his hand and said, “Let’s say this is a satellite and I want it to orbit at this height, a metre and half above the surface. Seems okay?”
D had nodded.
“So, what will happen if I impart it no horizontal velocity?” The sir asked, rhetorically, and to answer himself, left the piece at that height.
As anyone might expect, as that apple long back did, the chalk dropped to the floor.
As understanding dawned on the class, laughter erupted.
“This is what will happen if you give no horizontal velocity to a satellite. It’ll fall due to gravity.”
The more I thought about this question, I realized how very trivial this was – how very stupid.
So, in the end, are there any stupid questions? If yes, then why lie to us?
Maybe my father will have an answer to this. He has an answer to everything I ask.
So, when the school ended, I, with everyone else, proceeded towards my home.
In the evening, while having dinner, I asked my father.
“Dad, are there stupid questions?”
“Stupid questions?” He was puzzled, of course, because I asked this out of the blue with no context.
“A teacher today said, ‘there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.’ So, are there stupid questions?”
My father wobbled his eyeballs and raised his eyebrows in thought and finally asked me, “Have you heard any question which you thought was stupid?”
I replied truthfully. “Yes.”
“So, there are stupid questions.” Dad replied and took another spoonful of rice in his mouth.
“But you need to understand, son, that at your age, it is more important to learn courage rather than “asking the right question”. Suppose you start believing that there are stupid questions. What happens then? The next time you ask something, a fear of embarrassment stops you from asking it. You don’t ask your question because you fear that it’s stupid. That first time, you might tell yourself that this is a one-time-incident and when you have a real, good question, you’ll surely ask it. But believe me son, this effect will be compounded in your head. You won’t try to ask a question the next time. Instead, you’ll try to find replies which will make your question seem stupid and pointless. And one time later, before you realise it, you’ll find yourself unable to ask even a good question.
“So, it’s only fair I think, to feed students the lie that ‘there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers’ than face the scenario where students are afraid of asking anything.”
Understanding the matter, I continued eating, with that question no longer lingering in my head.
The nocturnal silence is broken by a faint tinkle
Rousing me, but only just.
Was it a dream, or a reality?
Did my ears lift, like a dog's would?
Did my nose discern a new whiff?
Did I taste someone's lather in my milieu,
Or did the air warm up vaguely?
Or was it my fickle mind wiling me?
A doorbell or telephone which rang in that failing illusion
Or a call from that eerie companion of my exploits
Or my own shriek at a ghastly apparition?
The answers elude me, just as that dream
As my leaden eyelids lift to greet the darkness.
Was it a mugger, trying hands on a humble sum,
Creeping in through a window which clicked in the night?
Or the night-guard, his bane, a burly bloke
Cycling in khakis, waving his baton under the street-light?
Or was it the dog devising his reprisal
With a slice of iron in his fanged bite?
Or that tabby cat, with eight more lives
Giving the dog, another fanciful slight?
My eyes, ever so droopy, strive to stay unbarred
While under the breath I curse, the jingly nightly ward
Was it the wind flapping the dreamcatchers
And wind chimes out on the porch?
Or was it that woodpecker, wuking quietly
In that damp hollow trunk of birch?
Or was it an insect roosting with a thud
On the tin roof of the garden shed
Or burrowing deeper in the sack of seeds,
It was the mouse, the gardener's dread
It was something. Was it something?
The night is silent again.
Was it a motorcar, blaring her horn
As it zoomed past by on the road beside?
Was it a plane, soaring high among clouds,
Under the full-mooned, starry sky?
Was it a ship, sailing on a voyage,
In the azure and ample oceans and seas?
Or was it roar from a hidden dragon,
Spurting wild fires from his deeps?
The mysterious root of the sound now lost,
It was something, it was nothing
Welcoming the quiet, in the twilight
My eyes calmly shut again.
Dreaming is Dying
A night, darker than the abyss, but not dark enough
A dream, colder than the moon, but not cold enough to wake up
An emotion, violent as love, but still you are asleep
A wave, hard-hitting as a whip, and you lead on naively
A jolt, deadlier than lightning, you're out now
A fear, stronger than death, but not just strong
A coverup, delicate as a petal, sad as the tear
A life destroyed and another born, but was the dream worth it?
The helper sat across the annalist under the bright sun of noon. A quiet wind flowed, wafting the parchment which lay on the annalist's lap. The wind carried lime and sand from the nearby construction site.
Workers were diligently working to finish a four storey house. The building was going to be a home to help people like the helper, Damian.
Damian had no home. Now, he might.
The annalist's case was different, however. He lived in the northern annex of the Celestial Castle.
Boren the Annalist, Master Historian, Master Archivist, Boren the Knowing; he came by many names but each referred to only one man.
"What are you recording now, Master Historian?" Damian asked.
He could see symbols and letters on the fluttering parchment but couldn't understand them. He had never been taught to read or write. His parents themselves were mere labourers, working petty jobs to fill their stomachs. As a helper in the Western wing of the Celestial Castle, Damian had already surpassed his parent's achievements.
The Annalist didn't reply but gazed at the building, his face emotionless. Damian wondered what stories might be unfolding behind the veil of the archivist's mind.
But that emotionless face slowly contorted. Eyes filled and glistened. But just before the first tear could form and drop out of his eyes to mar the parchment, Boren blinked it away.
"What is it, Master Historian?" Damian, who had noticed everything, asked. Concern flowed not just in his words but also his eyes and his slow, gentle movements.
"In the reign of the previous king, such construction would never have happened." Boren whispered, making Damian wonder if the annalist was answering him. "King Hored was concerned, mostly, with his own pleasure."
True, or at least that's what everyone said about the former King Herod. His entire family in fact, they said, had been concerned with personal pleasures. The empire was in ruins and Herod held banquets every day.
"And what then? King and his wife, then considered childless, go on a voyage eleven years ago and never return. And when we find their heir... no one needs mention what happened, right?" Boren had turned towards Damian now.
One of the reasons people confided their feelings in the annalist was his unparalleled compassion towards every section of the society. He considered them all as his equal.
"We don't need to say that, indeed, Master Historian. It's very sad." Damian sighed.
Silence followed. The wind tried to pierce it but couldn't. So did the workers but even they failed. So did the playing children but they too had been muted.
"Four years later, a girl is seen in the Eastern Wing of the Rising Sun of this Celestial Castle, playing with the then, Royality Mart, brother to Herod. The helpers don't recognise her and wonder. The birds don't recognise her and chirp. The sun doesn't know her and keeps her in shade." He paused to catch his breath. "And she isn't seen again."
Damian knew this story but he had never heard it from such a commendable source. Damian heard only rumours. In his place, you only get to hear what flows in the wind. And often, the wind carries mud, just like now.
"Two years after this, she surfaces again but is hidden again. And so transpires the next year. The sun doesn't shine on her. The helpers notice the kid growing but they don't see her. Next year, Royality Mart brings her out of the castle. He introduces to the Kingdom." Boren broadened his shoulders. ""This is Laura Salvadian, the last of my brother, Herod Salvadian's bloodline." The Kingdom welcomed her while some doubted the integrity of Royality Mart himself. They wondered if Mart had kept this heir hidden from the world. But there were worse ailments in play." Boren looked at Damian. "You see, helper? The girl knew nothing. She was eight years old and knew nothing of the world. She only knew her room in the castle and she knew how to run, eat, drink and sleep. Is that enough to live by? In the Celestial Castle, the summit of civilisation, yes but among us? Is it adequate?"
Damian knew the answer but he said nothing.
"So, she comes and runs around. And she gets tired. And she eats a berry. And she dies in three minutes." Boren concluded.
Damian gazed at him. Boren had said that which Damian didn't want to hear.
"We failed to keep her safe, helper. From this world. And from not just this world." Boren muttered with his head down.
"What do you mean, "not just this world"?" Damian asked, quite incredulously. But Boren only shook his head.
"With the royal bloodline drawing to a close, Royality Mart became the new King. King Martin." Boren said. "And he began this construction."
"He did!" Damian exclaimed, glad to have found something else to talk about. "I am glad we had King Martin with us. Who knows how our land would've fared bereft of him. Someone could've attacked and we could all be their slaves now. But now, look at this building! We are progressing!" Damian had heard this word "progress", only two days back.
He quietly puffed with pride for having successfully changed the topic and used the word he wanted to.
Boren looked at him, wondering.
"What does it take to build a house, helper? Does one need human bones?" Boren asked.
Damian tried to remember what he had seen and what his father had taught him. "We need sand and clay and cement and water... I don't think bones are required, Master Historian." Damian looked confused. "You didn't know, Master Historian?"
Boren didn't answer.
Instead, he picked his scribber again and started making new symbols and letters on his parchment.
"What are you recording now, Master Historian?"
"I killed my Dad."
No scar. This five-year-old killer is starting to look terrfying.
"I didn't mean to." No scar again.
I wonder. "What happened?"
Silence. Then he began.
"I hid... inside the cabinet, outside my room... to frighten him. He arrived... and called me. He opened my room and found it empty. It usually isn't. He laughed saying, "I've never seen your room—" I... I jumped out and interrupted him."
The Blanket’s Cadence
The blanket’s cadence.
I feel it with my palm, rising and falling, like an entire life engulfed in every breath. Her chest heaves; I am so glad.
Have I ever been terrified of the thought that one day, I’ll put my hand on this very blanket and it won’t move? Isn’t that the fear which wakes me up every night just to feel her presence again beside me?
Her breath, a beacon beckoning me to live on with her; a hope of a garden in this barren world; the slight blueish hue of the sky through a small crevice within the clouds of a thunderstorm; a motion of the Gods.
I see her small face. I could cup it in my hands and just gaze at it till the end of the times.
Open mouthed but the nose breathes. Closed eyelids but with colours flowing underneath them. Smooth cheek and chin, flawless. She is serenity redefined.
I’m happy I haven’t disturbed her sleep. Once I had. I had cried then, while apologizing through my sobs for waking her up at three. She had hugged me to calm my turmoil and we had slept like that.
But not today.
I get off the bed and quietly, make my way towards the bathroom.
The flush will make a sound, I know. I just hope it won't be enough to wake her up.
Of course, my dog, Timothy, wakes up. I pet him slightly on his head and take light steps further.
Once inside, I sit down and pee.
How much has she affected me? A small voice asks. And without even trying?
When did I start sitting down for peeing? Was it back when I saw her sit and pee? Or was it when I accidently peed on the side and in the hubbub, forgot to clean, much to my embarrassment? I think the former. Being with her has always been... enlightening.
But not just enlightening, right? The voice asks again as I close the lid and flush while wondering if you can ever stop yourself from questioning yourself.
Anyway, the voice is right. Not just enlightening.
Once we planned to list fifty qualities we loved about the other. The list was never completed, predominantly because we forgot about it, but I did, quite successfully, form a part of the list in my mind.
She's a friend, a teacher, a lover, a confidant, a guide... does the list become redundant with more and more points? And so, I moved to something else.
I like her smile, her cheeks and chin, her small eyes and ears, her hands and feet, her back expecially when it curves away from me, her elbow which is so clean that I envy it, her neck and also, I admit, her vagina. I love the way she dresses and the casual way she undresses...
I stopped making the list there when the voice asked whether I should be disgusted with myself for having fallen to my carnal desires.
She once said I shouldn't. I think she's right. But the voice asks nevertheless.
"She's gorgeous!" The voice whispers. I'm standing by the bed now. Timothy has gone to sleep again. "She's so cute, you'd want to chew her up. Even Timothy thinks that."
But what is it? Is "Love" more sexual than I imagine it to be? Do I love her?
I don't know.
What I do know is that she's the one who matters the most in this world. And so, I feel the blanket's cadence again and fall asleep.