HEART OF STONES
By Neel Anil Panicker
When hearts are but stones
Pearls lie on the floor
HEART OF STONES
By Neel Anil Panicker
When hearts are but stones
Pearls lie on the floor
“This”, he said, when they broke after a while, for a while.
“Isn’t this the best part”, he said as his hands went into hiding behind her back.
“No, for me this is the best part of our love. We too together, like this, like now, just after we have made love, lying together, both of us naked and you looking up into the skies, your eyes in some far away land, and your one hand God knows where while with your free hand, a cigarette dangling between them, you puff holy smoke into the air.
Her face gleamed as she said this, the perfectly set jaw lines tightening further; and seconds later when he bound her in his arms she let out a slight gasp as her feminine self momentarily shook against the sheer weight of his heavily muscled body.
The two lovers jailed themselves in a steely embrace and this time they made love with their eyes__two pairs of fiery, determined eyes gridlocked onto one another, utterly oblivious to the world around them.
Except, of course, her mother’s coughs.
For just about the very first and perhaps the only time in her life her invalid mother was dictating her life, and that too the most critical aspect of her life_ the conduct of her affair with Rishi.
All through the night the two lovers were together, on their ‘love couch’.
It was a waiting game.
“Wait for another fifteen minutes. I will leave the door open. You come in then, only then, mind you. And darling, be careful. Don’t switch on the lights. And no shoes. Wear slippers, and better still, hold them in your hands when you climb the stairs and enter, but not before you hear her cough”.
Their love making began, stopped, resumed, and then ended at the sound of coughs__her mother’s.
Shefali found herself smiling as picked an apple from the tray.
By Neel Anil Panicker
(Chapter 11 off continuing fiction series A FAIR AFFAIR)
“Hey baby, two minutes… just two minutes… I will wrap up my work and then… wait… let me check. It is 11. Come down… by 11.05. Max! I am putting the kettle on. We will talk over tea. And I repeat, no worries, okey. Everything will be all right… you just relax.”
That was easier said than done, Shefali thought as she stepped off the phone. With Heena nothing could ever be all right, or so it seemed.
The pressure cooker whistled__the fourth in the past ten minutes. A stern reminder that her hurriedly assembled mixed vegetable concoction was well past its cooking time.
She made her way to the kitchen. Today was ‘rice’ day. Nothing unusual. It had been so for the past one month, ever since Mamma had her heart attack.
“Give her only rice, watered rice, with maybe a little curd or a mixed vegetable. That’s all, very light.. nothing too spicy”, the doctor had advised before he signed on the discharge papers.
She didn’t wait for an answer. She knew they_her father and brother, that is_ would be only to happy to get rid of the ‘burden’.
Life since then had been pretty much ordered.
Taking care of Mamma was a pretty laid out regimen. Waking her up in the morning,(a little after eight, at the third shrill ring of her mobile alarm); feeding her a glass of lukewarm milk sans any sugar; helping her around with the twin tasks of clearing her bowels followed by the regular ritual of brushing her teeth, rinsing her mouth, and fitting her into fresh clothes but not before conducting a mild mini bath was all par for the course for Shefali; something which she had come to accept as her due, and might she add, also her right.
“Who else would take care of Mamma, if not me?” The question was rhetorical, something that she posed to herself at times when the sheer mundanity of it all would get to her.
She bother with the answer that popped out of her tired brain cells. It was always the same one that which she knew very well, and also something she didn’t bother with much, anyways. Nowadays, of late, that is. ‘I mean what’s the point’, she would reckon.
At the end of the day, the only living soul who was left to and therefore perforce had to take care of Mamma was she, good old Shefali. Why? Dammit silly, because she happened to be her daughter, married or otherwise.
Oh! what a happening is that, my foot! The men of the house were free to do what they please; to come and go as they please, to roam and fuck around wherever and whomsoever they please, and here, she, by a diabolical twist, had to play, happily the or otherwise, the rather thankless job of the dutiful, obedient, loyal, and docile wife, mother, daughter and whatever else a patently parochial patriarchal male-first and male only society asked nee demanded of her, the female species.
A slight coughing sound shook her back to earth. It was a signal. Time for her to give Mamma the first of her ‘five times a day’ medicinal concoction__ a bitter bottled mix of multi-coloured liquid that the doc said was meant to ” maintain her regular sleep patterns”.
Her hands reached the top shelf and scooped out the 250 ml pitch dark labelled bottle. Uncorking it, she poured its contents, intently watching as the semi-liquid form deposited itself to a little below the half way mark into a steel glass that she had retrieved from amongst the glass stand.
She knew the measure pretty well and after the first couple of days stopped bothering about fetching a spoon.
More so when everything was at arm’s length, for ease of retrieval and quickness of delivery. She had ensured that.
“Customer service at its very best,’ she mumbled, knowing fully well that the customer in question happened to be her mother. The thought made her mind go astray.
‘Heena was coming over. She needed to be serviced also. But unlike her mother, Heena would require a different kind of servicing. Her problems seemed different. Or at least it sounded different. At least that’s what she made out over the phone though with Heena one never knew. Her good old friend preferred to play the waiting game, keeping everyone on tenterhooks. Oh! the attention seeker that she was”.
Shefali knew better than to waste any more time and in the less than thirty seconds she had finished all that she had set out and was just about to close the door to Mamma’s room when she had heard the persistent sound of the door bell ringing.
‘That must be Heena, her best friend, or at least one of her best friends, true to her words and on time, especially when she was in the throes of one her ‘blues’. Now what could be bothering her,’ Shefali wondered as she turned around to open the door.
The sight that greeted her was ghastly, to say the least.
Gone was the ‘Colgate All Clear’ smiling visage; gone were the high pitched super excited shrieks of ‘How are you darlings’ , ‘Hey man’ and ‘What’s up dude’ and gone also was the super glam top to bottom ‘dressed to kill’ come hither looks complete with see-through laced lycra tops strategically cut to expose a plunging valley that all but left nothing to imagination.
Instead, Shefali stared into heavily puffed up eyes that had turned a pale bluish dark and its sockets sunk into an oceanic abyss. Dishevelled hair that fell unashamedly and nonchalantly all over a heavily aged face that was a million miles away from its natural radiance and colour, a wobbly gait and a badly shaking and shivering body completed the sorry spectre.
It was then that she noticed it.
She let out a scream,
“Oh my God, Who did this to you?”
Her fingers tried to trace its origins.
Shefali need not have waited for an answer.
She knew who had inflicted such a horrendous damage on her dear friend’s beautiful face.
It could be only one person. It had to be her. There was just about only one person in the whole wide world who could ever, could ever even think about harming, brutalizing Heena, her super strong Heena, and that too in this violent manner.
‘It had to be Esther. No it was Esther.’
Shefali held a wobbly Heena by the arms and guided her to the sofa.
Her eyes now surveyed the damage. A clear mark_ two near parallel lines and around two centimetres in width__ ran aground from just below the left ear lobes all the way to the other end, right upto the cheek bones.
Her hand went up to feel the scar.
“Don’t touch, it hurts”.
“Its Esther then, right?”
Heena’s eyes said it all.
They had turned watery and her fingers started to tremble.
Shefali rushed in and enveloped her in her arms. And then the tears flowed, first stifled sobs and then slowly, loud agonized wails until they turned into near uncontrollable howling and yowling and bawling.
Ten minutes later and when the cries had almost died out, Shefali slowly extricated herself, whispering into Heena’s ears,
“My baby. Everything will get right. I will bring us some tea”.
She didn’t wait for the answer. Her friend was fast asleep.
Back in the kitchen as she poured a handful of Darjeeling Tea leaves onto the boiling water, her mind wandered back to what had just happened.
‘So what was new. Heena was in a relationship. Nothing new about about that, isn’t it? Heena was young, single, and very much a girl about town who like all other free independent girls was free to live and love whomsover she wanted or lusted after. She also knew that in the past one Heena had turned lesbian. Turned lesbian with a vengeance.’
She stirred the kettle with the table spoon.
‘Yeah, that was the right phrase to explain Heena’s current sexual orientation.
Heena had moved on. From dating handsome virile men like Rex who wanted her for the free sex, she had now found solace in the arms of Esther, a sexy high heeled brunette built like a WWF wrestler brunette and who amongst other things liked coming down on her partners__sexual__and as the latest instance clearly showed violently physical.
The bubbling waters from the kettle let out a final gasp. She scooped spoonfuls of sugar off its jar and added then into the now almost non-existent tea leaves.
‘Cookies, Heena loves them, especially the ones which were coconuts topped.’
Her eyes scanned the upper shelf and her fingers retrieved another jar.
She opened a pack of eight ‘Captain Cook’ Coconut Cookies’ onto a steel plate beside which she placed the two filled up tea cups.
Before leaving, she turned off the gas.
‘How long have the two been together. Six, seven.. no almost nine months. And this was the fourth time that the brute had plastered her face with such deadly scars.’
The last time when it had happened Heena had promised that she would leave her.
“Promise, Shefali. This is it. Now no more of this. I am leaving her now, forever”.
Her ‘forever’ lasted exactly 36 hours and poor Heena was back in Esther’s arms.
‘ She is taking her for a ride. I must be firm. I must tell her to ‘go get a life’. Tell her to leave Esther, tell her to leave that manipulative violent bitch and come back to the world of men. Tell her to go and find for herself one man who would love her for what she is and not for how thick her bank balance is or what she is capable of delivering on the bed.
I am going to tell her to call it quits.
And with those thoughts swirling in her mind Shefali entered the front room carrying in her hands the tray laden with tea and goodies.
Her eyes popped out.
She surveyed the room all around.
The sofa was empty. She looked at the entrance door.
It was left ajar and Heena was nowhere to be seen.
She was gone, once again.
Back to Esther?
Shefali was not much sure this time.
Sun ‘n Moon
By Neel Anil Panicker
Lustful sun-kissed memories
Act like a dagger,
Making love on moonlit nights.
WHAT IS YOUR LUCKY NUMBER?
BY NEEL ANIL PANICKER
Ah! there again. I am just about to fall into the trap. The number trap that is. All through life at various stages and varied ages I have been truly stumped by this question that is posed to me every now and then, mostly by well meaning well wishers or at times by yours truly itself.
Well, I will answer or at least make a brave attempt to answer that question as best as I can.
My answer lucky number is like yesterday’s rains__ erratic, seasonal and absolutely unreliable. I really don’t know when the next one is to come.
Answering or even trying to find a plausible answer to this perennially favourite question leaves me perpetually stumped and a lot amused. If I were a kid and back in school then without batting an eyelid my answer to this question would be _ NUMBER 1, numero uno.
Because way back then when I was still hopping around in my half nickers I thought that there can be nothing else to settle for in life than the number one.
The view from the top was exhilarating, exciting and dizzy; and gave me an adrenaline pumping high to say the very least.
But with the passing of several summers and the onset of umpteen winters years and as the first mild waves of maturity began to set in and life’s icy waves began to toss and hurl me around its deadly seas, leaving me with the not too appetizing option and blood curdling vision of either swimming with the sharks or drowning with the whales, I had my very own serious misgivings about this utterly farcical numbers game and fervently preyed to God or whoever was there upstairs guiding this crazy planet and everything that breathed or moved a million miles below, above, around and even beyond it to spare me the deal of choosing a number, any number as my favourite.
I screamed out aloud to the lord and all mighty__fuck the numbers; simply keep me alive.
So, quite unlike those ‘lucky’ ones who pride themselves on having a ‘lucky number’ and joyously cry from the rooftops every time their number turns lucky (for them, thats is), I prefer to watch the sorry spectacle from sidelines and not partake of this misguided fervour, instead preferring to bide my time, waiting to strike lucky sans the veneer of a number.
Until then I am happy just being alive__lucky number or not.
I will chance my luck on that, what say!
By Neel Anil Panicker
Man trundles through unknown paths
Unmindful of all,
Life’s lonely journey breathes on.
GAY AND HAPPY (CHAPTER 10 OF continuing fiction “A FAIR AFFAIR”)
By Neel Anil Panicker
As a child Aman never ever fancied school and by that extension its teachers.
He had an aversion bordering on sheer hatred for all those men, and quite a few women, of letters; those all knowing types who walked around the Earth, barging into sundry inane conversations and into peoples’ drawing rooms, espousing forth on all matters earthly and quite a few unearthly, showering invaluable pears of sheer wisdom on their less gifted brethren, the poor deprived and depraved have nots of this world.
Over the years Aman had become something of an expert at spotting one of their ilk from a far distance. All of them strutted through life with their heads held high above their jaunty ‘don’t mess with me’ thick rimmed spectacled faces that sat smugly under heavily lined foreheads, their usually frail bodies perpetually on bent mode__thanks to a lifetime spent waltzing in and out of in high roofed forbidding university lecture halls and/or inside heavily sanitized libraries roughly the size of two football fields and all as silent and grim much like as a newly constructed graveyard still waiting for its first ever client.
The only twin thoughts that ruptured through his mind when he chanced upon one such species (though sighting one was something absolutely unfathomable in his line of business) was one of awe and the other a natural corollary to that__respect.
Visually these two emotions peeked out from his unlettered brain and what played out was the uninspiring imagery of greying, emaciated homosapiens with their backs perennially bent and their manic eyes riveted on books that were thicker than the thickest triple decker butter chicken sandwhiches that were sold at downtown Venky’s, the ‘oh so populated’ fast food joint that stood bang outside his own humble watering hole, as if in grand defiance, its glitzy all red neon-lit signage blazing out pretty much unashamedly the varied and veritable gastronomical wares that it offered, not quite unlike the gaudily dressed women of easy virtue that peopled the streets come nightfall in this ‘city that never sleeps’.
During the highly constricted non-peak hours, especially during those very lazy afternoons when barring the odd ‘die hard’ customer who sat quietly at a corner table gently nursing his drink, and when his usually busy staff of waiters and cooking staff would repair to the kitchen and lie down on whatever flat surface they could lay their backs on, Aman__sitting behind the counter in his high stooled chair__ would find himself travelling back in time, to his childhood, to his school, and to his teacher, to more specifically his English teacher, the ever smiling Jose Mathew Sir, who during his short tenure of two years taught him a lot of things other than English, which was his forte and which anyways he was tasked meant to teach.
“You have very beautiful hands,”.
Mr Mathew had a way with words.
To a nine year old born to unschooled parents and living in a remote back of beyond rag tag village shorn of electricity and potable drinking water, coming to school daily was a big boon, a God sent opportunity that he lapped up with both hands even if that meant traversing on foot a good ten kilometres; a six days a week daily commute which meant walking to and fro past a near non-existent mud road to the only school that existed in the entire village.
And all this effort for what? To get himself an education as desired by his parents.
The icing on the cake: the blessed opportunity to hear and be in close proximity to his favourite ‘Mathew Sir’.
The way he spoke, giving due stress, weightage and stretch to every single syllabic sound as he explained on the board, chalk in hand, in meticulous detail, his large hairy hands running through all the alphabetic letters; diving and delving deep into the rich repository of the English language as he mixed and matched, expertly joining and forming them into new hitherto unknown words and phrases and even idioms; all this in his very own rich, baritone timbre__the words tumbling out, in slow motion, off his full mouth ala a beautifully choreographed dance drama being watched in awed suspension by a sold out audience of afficionados.
Unfortunately, Mr Mathew could weave his magic around his eager beaver bunch of kids for just under a year, and when the next school term commenced a highly impressionable Aman found himself shorn of the warmth and love of his favourite teacher, and so began his descent into hell as far as studies were concerned.
Poor Aman somehow stumbled through two more terms_his mind and body unable to come to terms with this huge ‘tragedy’ in his life_ before he finally threw in the towel, thus effectively and conclusively putting an end to any scholarly aspirations that had even begun to sprout in his innocent heart.
The only good thing to come out of this insertion, albeit brief, of ‘Mathew Sir’ in little Aman’s life was that it had managed to instill in the young lad a deep attachment towards men, especially men who were kindly and well mannered and who had large hands, hands that were hairy and probing, that could run all over his body and under his pants the way Mathew Sir’s hands went every time the two canoodled, sitting together long past school hours, closetted inside a corner room tucked away in the far corner of the largely uninhabited library room.
“Turn over, I want to come from the back,” commanded the voice, still slurred thanks chiefly to the second full bottle of ‘Celebrations ‘ that had gone down its owner’sthroat.
Like an obedient slave much beholden to its master, Aman shifted over, releasing his hold on firm buttocks, buttocks of a man twenty years his senior, buttocks of a certain man whom he had providentially met barely a week ago.
The paradoxical wheels of life had once again turned around and dear old Aman was living through one of them. Mathew Sir had come alive in his arms this time reincarnated as Professor Raghav Acharya.