Thursday, March 29, 2012

Haunting Gift - PART FOUR

Prishaa was in good hands.  Chhaaya responded to Aarti's letters and kept her informed on her baby's development.  Aarti's parents found her a groom and she was married but her letters to Chhaaya continued.  Even though she had three more children from her marriage, she never forgot her first born and every year on the day of their dual birthday, Aarti celebrated it with special prayers and rituals at the temple.  Daily she started her mornings with a prayer when she asked the wind to carry her blessings to the land where Prishaa lived and told the Gods to keep her safe.  The world changed all around her with World Wars, countries dividing, space flights, a moon landing, computers, internet, her children's weddings, grandchildren, loss of her husband but the constant was the void.  Letters with Chhaaya ended at her passing and Aarti had lost her only connection to her first born while the abyss grew deeper and darker.  It haunted her wherever she went, shadowed her into her darkest corners, echoed in her dreams as if calling out, screaming.

On her 90th birthday, Aarti went to the temple early in the morning and prayed to see her daughter, Prishaa once in this lifetime.  Later that day, gathered around her living room for her birthday party was her entire family.  Her three children stood with their spouses while her grandchildren and great-grandchildren filled up the rest of the room.  She looked at them with pride but her happiness was incomplete.  The void deep inside her heart gnawed and tugged at her with renewed energy.

After blowing out the candles and cutting the cake she looked into her children's eyes and smiled.  Taking in a deep breath, she reached into her pocket and took out a photograph.  Her family looked quizzically at the tattered, yellowed picture of a beautiful young woman in her 20s with thick dark hair and sparkling eyes.  They realized that if their mother's eyes sparkled, they would be exactly the same as the girl in the picture.  Infact, all her features resembled their mother - her nose, the shape of her lips, the high cheek bones.

Aarti's only son stepped forward and asked about the girl.  His mother smiled and turned her gaze to the photograph.  He saw love in his mother's eyes as he had never seen before, for him or his siblings or even their father.  He touched her hand and asked again.  She set the picture on the table next to the cake, sat back in her chair, closed her eyes and began her story.

to be continued....

Friday, March 23, 2012

Haunting Gift - PART THREE

The home for unwed mothers was far from Aarti’s village. Her father and mother travelled the long journey with her over the mountains into a beautiful valley. Her home for the next six months was a serene abode on the banks of a flowing river. Women and girls of various ages and at different stages of their pregnancies walked in the gardens, took in the fresh breeze from the mountains, or dipped their toes in the icy water of the flowing river.

Aarti waved tearfully to her parents and retreated into the darkest corner of her new room as her heart felt heavier than the load she carried in her stomach. On the second day still tucked in her nook alone, Aarti looked up to see a scrawny little girl run into her room. A long dress seemed to be hanging on the girl’s shoulders as if on a hanger. With red eyes and sniffling nose, the girl came to the corner and cowered down beside Aarti. Turning her head sideways she whispered, “Chhaaya is hiding.” Aarti stared at her, nodded and went back into her shell. “Don’t tell Amma .” Before Aarti could say anything the young girl went on, “She’s very upset with me.”

Aarti looked at her and said, “I always go to my father.” The young girl glared at her as if the older girl had said a bad word. Finally, running a hand over her wet nose she spoke, “Chhaaya doesn’t have a father.” She then proceeded to enlighten Aarti about life at the nursing home since she knew everything and everybody. She had been living here from the day of her birth and her mother worked here as the nurse’s helper.

Over the several days, Chhaaya told her new friend stories about all the women or girls that came to the nursing home. The two girls became friends and Aarti was able to forget about her condition for a while. They walked around the garden stopping at roses to drink in their aromas and sometimes returning home with a bleeding finger from the tumultuous thorns. They put their feet in the cool glacial water that flowed down the river. The pebbles they tossed into the water stayed behind and became shinier over time as the river made its journey forward. Aarti’s stomach grew and she waddled uncomfortably bearing her load. The grass in the garden began to turn yellow and a chill blew down from the mountain.

On the night her moon faced daughter was born, the sky was as dark as coal. Drained from the ordeal, Aarti wanted to have nothing to do with the baby. She refused to look in its direction but when the nurse put the helpless little thing on her chest, all clean and soft she could not take her eyes off the tiny creature. She nursed her, stared at her for hours, touched her soft cheeks and thick dark hair and talked to her about her inner most feelings. She named her Prishaa for the gift she was. She was Aarti’s birthday present as mother and daughter shared the day of their birth.

Within two weeks of Prishaa’s birth, Aarti’s parents arrived to take her home. Aarti was horrified when she learned that she could not take her daughter home with her. Infact, the adoption arrangements had all been made and Prishaa was going home to a new set of parents. Her mother consoled her and explained how it was best for everyone, including the baby. Heartbroken, Aarti kissed her baby, hugged Chhaaya and started on the long journey home.

To be continued….

Friday, March 16, 2012

Haunting Gift - PART TWO

She froze in her spot when the monster jumped up in front of her. Her knees wobbled and her legs refused to move. A scream escaped from her throat into the dense orchard without any sound. The lunch basket escaped her hand and sat abandoned by her feet. Somehow, her feet dug up courage from the fertile ground she stood on and she started a run away from him. He chased with his long stride, grabbing with muscular arms. He pulled her delicate 14-year old body down, restraining her flailing arms and legs with his massiveness. He stuffed her mouth with a dirty rag muffling her cries for help. His bulging eyes coming down to her face was the last thing she remembered before passing out.

When she woke flies were playing an orchestra around her. The koel was calling for help in its lyrical sound. From her position flat on the ground she saw an army of red ants charging towards her. She sat up but when she tried to stand, her knees buckled. She crawled towards a tree and leaning against its trunk steadied her painful and bloody legs. Surveying around her she realized she was alone, the monster had done the damage and retreated into the wilderness. Aarti limped towards home, dragging her violated body as bruises grew darker and blood trickling down her legs began to dry. She ran the last steps towards her mother’s shocked face, fell into her arms and began bawling into an inconsolable fit. Between heaves and sobs, she related the nightmare and saw her mother’s face change from anger to fear to despair.

Aarti stayed in the security of her mother’s arms and tried to block out everything. She leaned on the older woman as they walked towards the bathroom. Her mother washed her, cleaned up all the blood, applied soothing concoctions on the bruises and cuts, consoled her and directed her to rest. Later, she made her drink a bitter brew made from herbs and roots but it did not make the nightmares to go away.

Several months passed and her body healed but the bulging eyes of the monster visited her every night. She woke drenched in sweat and grabbed at her sheets to shroud herself in them. One morning, when her mother found her in the corner of the courtyard, keeled over and emptying the contents of her stomach, Aarti was unprepared for what twist her fate had taken for her.

To be continued……

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Haunting Gift - PART ONE

The day had started out as a beautiful spring morning. Aarti woke to hear the koel koo ooing his favorite song from his hiding place in the branches of the acacia. The newborn calf moo’d to its mother as it swaggered towards Sita, their sole cow. Chickens clucked away in their coop in the excitement of a new day. Aarti stretched and rolled out of her bed in a swift motion. All washed up and hungry for breakfast she followed the smell of parathas and stepped into the kitchen. Her mother was crouched in front of the hot angithi roasting the pancake like paratha breads stuffed with spicy potatoes. Her father and brother had already eaten and left for the fields. She ate quickly with her mother and hurried on to her daily chores.

Late in the morning she stepped outside her courtyard into the neighborhood compound and started to walk towards the community well. Fresh blooms of pink roses encircled the well radiating aromatic smiles to all those who visited. A gang of black and gray puppies crossed her path throwing what they thought were vicious barks. She laughed at their arrogance in their pack and walked on, her bucket full of water feeling heavier at each step.

As the noon sun sparkled, Aarti prepared to take her daily trip to the fields. Her mother packed the basket for the men’s lunch and Aarti took her usual route through the mango orchard. She dawdled with her load to delay the approach to the big orchard. With dense foliage and tiny green mangos weighing the lush branches down, she struggled to find the rays of light streaming from the sky. Dark shadows lurked behind every trunk and seem to follow her through the entire path. Ominous sounds echoed from every branch making the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

As always, she picked up her pace and ran through the orchard to reach the clearing of open fields on the other side. Her father and brother always met her in the middle of their field from which they walked together to sit under the shade of the banyan tree to enjoy their mid-day meal and a well-earned nap. But this day, that started out like any other spring day was not like any other. Even though the koel’s melodic song reverberated, flowers shared their colorful smiles and scents, these are the not the memories that will haunt Aarti through the journey of her long life.

To be continued…..

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Our Mother

In loving memory of Mother Earth --
it lies in ashes beneath the Sun’s hearth.

The negligent dwellers are all gone:
No one left behind to mourn,

once our mother was lush green
sky so blue and oceans gleaming.

First, the trees were all cut off;
then the air filled with constant fog,

and waves rose to cover all land with a frown
and the polar ice caps melted and slid down

the inhabitants looked to the womb,
but all that lay there was their tomb;

in desperation they looked up to the sky --
rockets or wings, they could not fly.
Our dear Mother wept for her children --
rain clouds poured for no less days than eleven.

Now that all the water is gone,
evaporated away with no ozone,

the stark land remains parched and bare
and life in any form is hopeless, no one left to care.