A tale for a little person (and the little people inside us all)

It was a balmy spring Sunday afternoon; the sun was playing a merry game of hide-n-seek with a bunch of portly, clear-skinned clouds and a lazy wind caressed the largely empty streets of the city. Even the sea seemed to have been lulled into a gentle slumber, with only the occasional wave clapping onto the rocky-sandy surface of its shore. After a rather heavy lunch, having chosen to ignore sleep’s comely arms and flirt with the pleasant charms of the outdoors instead, I found myself meandering along this picturesque but somewhat sheltered stretch of the seaside. Despite a few adventurous gulls, some bored street vendors and a thinly scattered mix of tourists and locals – probably out to enjoy the weather just as I was- it was quite a serene, unhurried setting. I was just about to light my second post-lunch cigarette – battling the frisky winds to get a match aflame- when I noticed the little girl sitting on the large rock.

She couldn’t have been more than four, chocolate-skinned with a tangled mass of dark, curly hair doing a tango with the wind. She had on a pretty yellow dress with a small, red bag slung over her shoulders and a pair of floppy, red sandals to complete the ensemble. I couldn’t see much of her face because it was buried inside a large sea-shell, almost the size of her head – while those were far from uncommon here; I hadn’t seen one that big very often. One hand was holding it up and the other was absentmindedly petting an enthusiastic stray pup clamoring for attention at her feet, tail going about sixty wags a minute.

At first I wondered what she was doing here all by herself; she certainly wasn’t a street kid. But then I noticed a Couple who seemed like her parents, lounging on the sand not too far away from her. They were probably all from out of town because the parents seemed completely fixated by the vastness and unbridled glory of the sea, tearing their eyes away from it every few minutes only to have a quick glance at the girl or to remind her to stay right where she was and not wander away. The girl herself seemed too engrossed with the shell at the moment to either pay attention to their reminders or to even consider wandering.

Something about how a child her age could stay so single-mindedly focused on that ordinary seeming shell for so long – especially when there was a whole seashore waiting to be explored – intrigued me and I strolled close to her, wearing what I hoped was a sufficiently benign and avuncular smile to not alarm the parents. They gave me a quick once-over but then apparently decided I was okay.

When I paused right next to her, it was the pup that noticed me first. It relinquished her petting hand to come say hello to my flapping trouser-legs, yipping away as it did. Perhaps it was the yipping or the sudden absence of the pup under her fingers that broke whatever spell the little girl was under; because as I bent to stroke the demanding puppy, she finally looked up from the shell and at me. She had eyes as dark as a moonless night and as shiny as happiness. Her face was flushed, possibly with excitement.

Either she was sociable by nature or seeing the pup take to me had marked me acceptable in her book because she immediately returned my smile with a sparkling one of her own. I straightened, waved softly and said, ‘’ Hi, there.’’ She waved a ‘’Hi,’’ of her own back.  ‘’So, what’s so exciting in that shell?’’ I asked, coming straight to what had been intriguing me.

She looked fondly back at the shell once more before replying in a slightly hushed tone, as if confiding a secret in me. ‘’I founded a whole World inside there.’’

That certainly wasn’t the answer I had been expecting so I gently probed further. ‘’Oh, a whole world? What kind of a world is it?’’

‘’it’s a happy world,’’ she began earnestly, scrunching her nose as she tried putting into words all that she thought she had seen. ‘’ It has a big orange Sun that has eyes; big friendly eyes and a big friendly smile. But it doesn’t talk to anyone; it just looks over them and keeps them safe. And the ground is covered with long yellow grass, and the grass is so soft you can sleep on it. There are tall, pink and red flowers also, they sing to you when the wind is blowing; not like dance songs but songs that make you smile and close your eyes. And there are lots of trees; colored red and green, not like the dirty brown we have here. And hanging on these trees are gumballs, jelly-beans and lollies; and no one minds if you pick them and eat. Oh, and right on top on the highest branches are these big, round, many colored fruits. If you’re sick and you eat them, they take the sick away.  And there’s big, big waters all around also, but there are no fish in the waters, all the fishes fly with the birdies in the sky. But there are stories in the waters, each time you drink from them, it gives you a different story; a happy-ending one, it also teaches you stuffs.  And in the faraway, there are tall…really tall mountains made of snow that looks like jelly; on the top live ice dragons, but they won’t hurt you unless you go looking for them. And all the peoples live together and work together and on holidays, play together and there is no guvinment because they look after each other and the sun and the waters and the trees look after them and like that, they’re always happy.’’ She finished in a rush and stopped to take a huge gulp of air, after that breathless rendition.

I realized that even I’d been holding my breath while listening to her, rapt; not just by the unexpectedly rich and fantastical details of her description but also because she related it with the conviction of someone who’d actually seen this place, as opposed to a spur-of-the-moment yarn.

‘’You actually saw ALL that in there?’’ I finally asked, after both of us had caught our collective breath.

‘’Not at first. I only saw little bits at first but then I looked really hard and carefully, and saw all the rest.’’ she replied with a proud smile.

‘’Could I have a look at this world too?’’ I asked tentatively.

She seemed to consider it for a few seconds but then shrugged and handed me the shell, her attention straying to the pup, which was now gleefully attempting some manner of cartwheels at her feet.

I put the shell to my face and stared into it, a tiny irrational part of me actually expecting to see her ‘world’ in there. But all I saw in there were many layers of darkness; accompanied by the scent of the sea. I tried looking harder, but then realizing how stupid I was being, I looked away, at the girl. ‘’I opened my eyes as wide as I could and looked really hard, but I couldn’t see what you saw.’’ I said, trying to look suitably crestfallen.

She turned to me, slapped her tiny forehead with a tiny hand and said, ‘’you have to look with your eyes closed to see it, silly.’’




On Writing

When the lovely Arathi (@miffalicious on Twitter) decided to do a feature on her Blog inviting guest-posts from people whose Craft she enjoys, she very graciously asked me to contribute as well. So this is me talking about my craft, for what it’s worth. You can also find this piece accompanied by her generous foreword; alongside her own engaging posts, here on her Blog:


A while ago I had a mild disagreement with an acquaintance. This person had just discovered that a certain Primary School was giving its students assignments on Letter writing- essentially drafting the old fashioned, long-winded snail mail missives. He found this not only amusing but also a complete waste of time. Upon being asked why, his response was, ‘’we barely even send people Emails of over 2-3 lines these days, what is the point of teaching these kids to write lengthy Letters? Communication these days is all about expressing yourself in the least number of characters. A quick SMS or a status update is how we keep each other informed about our lives, not through reams of text.’’ While he was undoubtedly just stating a truth of our times, I still disagreed on his assessment of the effort as a wasted one. To me, anything that inculcates in kids – heck, even some adults – the habit of writing freely can never be a waste of time. Anything that helps them express themselves coherently beyond 140 characters or dissuades dem frm wrytng lyk dis is an absolute, unquestionable win. Keep giving them those Letter-writing assignments, I say, and while you’re at it, drop a few Essays into the mix too.

In fact, when I look back upon my own school days, I wish back then the education process was more geared towards instilling the habit of writing in kids – beyond just the Essays and long-answer questions. I wish they actually identified kids who enjoyed and had a flair for writing; encouraged them to indulge in it more and in doing so, honed their skill – and perhaps equally importantly, made them aware that it was a skill. Growing up, I for one never knew that I had any great knack for writing. Yes, I was always a prolific and hungry reader – graduating to Novels when my friends were still finding their way through Comic books (something that I’ll be forever thankful to my parents for encouraging and not paying heed to the whispers of ‘’He’s reading beyond his age.’’). But while dipping into those fantastic worlds of imagination stroked my own and spawned many a parallel story inside my head, I never really knew if I had the ability to transfer those stories onto paper with any degree of clarity or competence. Although, having said that, on the few occasions that I did try as a kid, I think my atrocious hand-writing may well have aborted any fair assessment of their worth. Word processors were invented for people like me, I always like to think.

Anyway, as it turned out, it was only after a series of twists and turns of employment that I eventually found myself in a job –more by accident than design – where I had to constantly rely on both my writing and my imagination, and did rather well at it. It was only then that I fully realized I was fairly adept at combining the two, but, thankfully, I’ve managed to harness the skill exceedingly well occupationally ever since.

Ironically though (given how much pleasure the written word has brought me), the first time in my early adulthood that I actually sat down to write something substantial outside of work or casual correspondence – to try and pour out what I was feeling onto an electronic screen because I couldn’t contain it inside me any longer- was at a time when I was hurting emotionally. Writing then was nothing more than self-prescribed medication, a healing method. I don’t know how much it helped but it made a difference all right, certainly made me feel a tad less weighed down by my ‘wretched circumstances’ (yeah, boo-frigging- hoo, I know). Anyway, amongst the handful of folks I shared my out-pouring with then were some whose Writing I myself admired a great deal.  Presumably after sifting through all the angst-ridden layers, they informed me they actually enjoyed reading it – a lot – and that I should probably write stuff outside of work more often. So, I’ve continued to, and I’ve grown to relish it as a welcome foil to my Work fare, which for obvious reasons doesn’t allow the same creative and personal abandon. While, in some ways, I guess this ‘extra-curricular’ Writing will always remain a healing method for me, it has also become so much more.

I write to tell the stories that come knocking in my head and to give my own endings to the ones I only glimpsed in the passing as Life swept by. I write to rekindle old memories, when I’m worried I might be losing them. I write to feed the demons inside me; to keep them at bay, and sometimes I write to free them, to make them go away. I write to vent but I also write to grow. Sometimes, I write to feel connected and at other times, to let go.  I write to time-travel, to explore the ‘what ifs’, to go to places I’ve never been before and sometimes I write to play God, to create and plot imaginary destinies. But I also write simply because I can, a liberating little feeling in a World often beset by ‘can’ts’.

To me, the process of Writing itself is rather uncomplicated, certainly not always easy or effortless, but yes, uncomplicated. Once I’m reasonably certain of the story I want to tell, I wallow with the Words. I play with them. Tinker and toy with them. Scatter them and put them together again. Cajole and coax them instead of trying to bully them into coming to me. I find that if I do this long enough, and lovingly enough, eventually a picture appears. Sometimes it’s pretty, sometimes pithy and sometimes just plain scary but it still speaks to whoever looks at it. It won’t always say exactly what I want it to, or what they want to hear, but it’ll speak and that’s a good start. On a particularly good day, I can get it to sing as well.

I don’t always write to be read by others, but I do, however, enjoy writing most when I’m doing it for a potential audience (technically Readers, but audience just has a nicer ring). It doesn’t really matter so much if the audience then chooses to tear my work to shreds or to appreciate it. As long as my words tether their attention – right from the opening sentence to the closing period- and provoke a reaction, my work is done and I’m happier for it.

And as I bring this self-indulgent ramble to a close, I hope it too does at least that.


The Mirror

The Mirror

It arrived in the post, with no sender’s name or address

A bulky package that interrupted my afternoon’s rest

The Post-fellow beamed at me as I accepted it with grumpy demeanor,

Wrongly thinking that it might elicit him a pittance for his labor


After shooing him away with no further ceremony,

I began inspecting this unexpected endowment a tad warily

After all, since my return from the sanitarium (from what they called breakdown and I knew as mild stress)

All I ever received were bills, refusals of job applications and whining debtors’ duress


This seemed like none of those; smothered in profuse reams of bland, brown wrapping

Upon eviscerating which, I was further impeded by vast layers of cotton padding

With growing impatience, I ripped those wispy, insubstantial guardians away,

To finally gaze at my unearned prize; only to see my face, features in habitual disarray


‘Twas a mirror, of course, an oval-shaped, ever-hungry curator of reflection

I held it up quite effortlessly; it had a strange lightness that belied its description

Its frame was built of strange metal, rich yellow, yet neither brass nor gold

Defiantly bright, despite a chafed surface and weathered edges, that proclaimed it as very old


Etched within the frame and running around it, were intricately carved tiny faces

Of gargoyles, or some other grotesque creatures, certainly none with any social graces

Their tiny jaws hung agape, uneven teeth lay bare,

Beady red eyes buried deep within, yet with a disturbingly incisive stare


At the top was carved a fellow, much like the rest, but its head bigger and more detailed

Above its head lay tiny loops, through which, the mirror undoubtedly was to be nailed

Unlike the others though, this comely fellow’s tongue lolled out- on it carved arcane gibberish

And its lips were twisted into a self-satisfied grin, like a cat that has bagged a succulent fish


The glass held within this unsightly frame though, was of a nature immaculate,

Nary a smudge, stain or crack marring its all-seeing, sparkling plate

One moment capturing every minute detail of my face, with only honesty and no blame

The next, catching a stray beam of trespassing sunlight, rendering its visage aflame


I was intrigued indeed; by who might have sent me this rather unusual gift

But decided not to spend time fruitlessly musing over it

Instead I carried this narcissist’s delight over to my bed chamber

Where an unsightly damp patch on the wall much needed a presentable cover


As I hung it from a nail, I felt a sudden, sharp prick in my thumb

And looked at it to find a tiny cut, perhaps from the chief gargoyle’s very coarse tongue

I was salving the cut with my spit, when I noticed a single drop of my blood on the mirror’s face

A blooming red rose on its otherwise pristine barren surface


I was wiping the blemish off with my other thumb

When suddenly, I felt the glass flutter and undulate at my touch

And it was not just a feeling alone,

I thought I even saw its surface ripple, as if it were water and my thumb a pelted stone


It was a surreal, frightful moment; which snatched my breath away

But it was just a moment; for when I steeled myself to touch it once more

It was completely firm and solid this time, without the slightest of sway

I put it down to a momentary sleight of the declining light and my mind,

And went about unfolding the remainder of my languid, empty day


 I came awake with a rush, when night was at its bleakest and blackest peak

Yanked out of some nightmare; details foggy but distinctly dire

I realized it was a persistent buzz, like a swarm of mating cicadas, which broke my uneasy sleep

Coupled with a soft but warm glow, like still-burning embers of a dying fire


Both, inexplicably, had their source in my newly acquired mirror

A realization that stirred within me fresh tendrils of fear

I approached it, with unsteady feet and mind still unclear

Wondering if perhaps I was still trapped within the nightmare


As I gazed into that buzzing, smoldering looking-glass

I can only imagine I fell into some kind of trance,

Had I not, I would likely have died of shock at what I saw

And this tale would not advance


For when I looked in that mirror, I saw my faces

No, not my face, but my faces;

An uncountable number of them, none that looked exactly like mine

But somehow in my head, I knew they were all innately my own,

Just as much as the one I wore since I was born


They were moving, all those faces

Whirring, spinning, like numbers in a fast slot machine

A bizarre procession of running images,

Pausing one by one within my reflected visage, just long enough to be seen


In a move both of reflex and revulsion, my hands leapt to feel my own birth face

Expecting its skin to also be morphing, shifting, like the one in the mirror

But it was transfixed in its familiar features, as still as still can be

And I instinctively knew then that the images in the mirror

Were of all the faces that lay inside of me


Hidden within each of us, there are several other people, you see

An everyman, a hero, a monster, a fighter, a lover and other motley characters, large and small

Some rise to our surface often, some rarely and some never at all

Unseen but active, although never at our beck and call

Driving our choices, actions, strength, disposition and more – in fact, shaping our very personality


Each has a face of its own, and these were the faces the mirror was showing me

Each a true reflection of everyone I had been, am and could possibly be

For our birth face is just a mask; for one of these inner faces to hide beneath

And we never know, which one – on any day – behind the mask chooses to be


These faces, my inner possibilities, the mirror was showing me

Beautiful faces, content faces, loving faces, tender faces, bold faces, assured faces, faces filled with glee;

Pained & bitter faces, jealous faces, angry faces, brooding faces, vengeful faces, faces with melancholy

All that was kind and good in me, all that was ugly and broken in me and much in between


As I gazed on, the faces were slowing down their revolution,

This slot machine was nearing its end run

And the mirror was talking to me, in my head

Telling me, I could make a choice here, forever influencing my life ahead


I could pick the face of the inner character that worked best for me,

The one I felt would always keep me happy and carefree

The mirror would then draw it to the fore, behind my birth mask for my life’s entirety,

Taking away all the other innumerable nuances that inhabited me


And forever more, through all life’s vagaries, that is who I would be

Defiantly happy in the face of the greatest hardship, heartbreak or other misery

Confidently handsome, broodingly sexy, audaciously bold, uncaringly cold; strutting brazenly

Any one of those strong inner people I could choose to be

Rid forever of sadness, guilt, weakness, fear, longing and any other character with infirmity


As the dial of faces slowed its spin further before me,

I focused hard, trying to isolate the face upon which to dwell

And just as I felt ready, to command it to stop on my chosen personality

The mirror fell…


Perhaps because the nails in the damp wall gave way

Or because the Universe wanted it that way,

I don’t know why, but the mirror fell

With all my faces, including the one I had chosen to take away


In blind panic – at seeing my life-changing prize slip away

I lunged forward, hoping to break its fall,

But I missed, and with great force, my head hit the wall

I dropped to the floor in a swoon,

But just before the darkness took me, I felt something inside me being sucked away


When I came to, I was groggy and I felt strangely empty and raw inside

The mirror lay shattered, like a broken promise, strewn across the floor at my side

Its outer frame was bent but intact; the gargoyles looking forlorn

But while its magic was gone, it hadn’t left alone

In departing, it had taken away from me far more than it had shown


For when I looked into other mirrors, any reflective surfaces or even water in a bowl

Where my face once was, there remained just an empty cowl

Vacant, featureless, a gaping pouch robbed of all substance and soul

Even though I could touch and feel my eyes, nose and other features like before,

In all my reflections, I saw no sign of them, or any hint of a face any more


Certainly, to me alone, my face was now invisible

For when I fearfully stepped out of the house, the crowds around behaved quite normal,

A tad disturbed by whatever expression I now wore, but not aghast at seeing a face no more

Clearly, I was the only victim and the only party to this loathsome travesty,

I looked whole to them, but I know longer knew who to be


Not only had the mirror left me without the character I wanted,

Out of all the ones within me it had shown

It had taken them all, even the damaged one I hitherto had worn;

Taken not just everything I could be, but also everything I ever was before

Leaving me just a mask without a face within, an empty husk without a core


That’s when I burst out into a high, keening sound – a wretched lament at this hideous irony,

That alarmed all the passer-bys, and had them call in the constabulary


And now, at this mirror- less infirmary,

When the Doctors ask me to laugh, I think I do

When they ask me to cry, I believe I try to

I try to do whatever they ask of me, searching in vain for my face in their instruments shiny

There are times when I think I should assert my own self, but I’m not sure how

Because in trying to snatch the best out of me, I’m left without any of me now

The End