Saturday, 27 April 2013

A Crisis of Identity

A Crisis of Identity

It were moments like these that posed the greatest dilemma. What was he to do? Rise to the occasion? Or fall by the wayside? Was it the beginning or the end?

He lingered, looking for clues on the roseate horizon. Sunlight singed the clouds and they glowed like dying embers. A cool breeze fanned his part of the world. Unseen hands began to slowly drape the thick mantle of night on a part of the globe he had graced only moments ago.

The events of the past twenty-four hours flitted through the eye of his mind, one image segueing into the next. The morning rush, a full day of work with no respite, the sinking at twilight, then a red-eye to another part of the world before its inhabitants stirred. Each day no different than the other. 

Often despair clouded his jaded mind. Surely there must be more to life than this, he wondered. 

But then a sunny day lifted his spirits. Those were the days he scaled the highest mountains, perched above the tallest cliffs, and beheld the world beneath him. On days like these, he patted himself on the back for a job well done and readily accepted there was little more he could do here, that the people here were ready to light their own paths through the darkness of the night, and that it was time for him to spread his message in another part of the world.

Today was a day like that. A day spent usefully, much had been accomplished. 
Much more was to be done too but in another time and another place. 

So when the moon started to rise from the other end, the sun decided to bow out gracefully. Not all battles need to be fought, he reckoned.

Author’s Note: 
I showed this picture to KrA and asked him whether it was sunrise or sunset. He promptly answered sunset. I asked him how he knew. He said this is to the westward and so there was no way the sun could rise from that end. :-/

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Open Sesame

Open Sesame

Ali read the signboard and scratched his head.
Surely he wasn’t lost, was he?
He pored over the treasure map in his hands and mentally traced the path he had taken, comparing it with the trail scribbled on the map. 
It was an old map, directions and crosses fading on paper now crumbling to the touch. The cliffs and valleys denoted in the map no longer existed, their places usurped by tall structures of blue glass and steep stairwells that led to underground cities.
Where Ali stood now was like a vast cave itself, several feet below the ground, made up of a criss-cross of different tunnels, each leading down unlit paths that disappeared around bends. 

He looked down at the map, then up again at the glass facade. He was certain he was right outside the mouth of the cave that had once held an endless trove of treasure and where his brother Cassim had met his fate.
But the signboard confused him.
How could anyone be so foolish as to reveal the magic words so blatantly, he cursed. 
Of course it was even more foolish to make no attempt at concealing the treasure within, he reckoned.
He reached out for the signboard, intending to take it down and burn it, but it was suspended behind the glass doors.

Open Sesame, Ali whispered. 
Nothing stirred.

Open Sesame, he said louder.
Nothing again.

He walked around to the side of the glass-fronted cave, suspecting the ‘main entrance’ lay hidden here. 
Another set of glass doors. 
Another signboard there. 
This one read “We are closed now. Opening hours 11 AM to 9 PM.
Ali hadn’t the foggiest idea what 11 AM meant but suspected it was a time of the day that clearly hadn’t arrived yet.

Open Sesame, he cried out again.
No luck.

In a fit of frustration, he kicked the glass door hard. It barely budged but promptly let out a prolonged howl that sounded to Ali like a wail of wrongdoing. And before Ali could say abracadabra, three men sprang forth from the darkness, dressed uniformly in dark blue garments, wielding metallic contraptions that they pointed at him with a menacing purpose.
Freeze, one of them screamed.
Ali stumbled backward and fell to the floor. 

The three men towered over Ali, their weapons aimed at his chest.
One asked what business brought Ali to the underground passage at that time of the night.
He truthfully replied he was trying to get into the cave but that the magic words did not work anymore.
What cave?
Ali pointed out.
And why was he trying to get into the cave, another of the uniformed men asked.
To take home some treasure, Ali replied. He and his wife had been down on their luck for a million nights now, and what with even genies demanding to be paid in gold for their services, he had had little choice but to return to the cave for more treasure. Only the cave had changed, as had the forest around it, and so have the magic words unfortunately, he explained.
You have a genie, eh? the third man smirked.
I do, Ali said but could have immediately bitten his tongue off.
And what are the magic words?
Open Sesame, Ali said. The three men guffawed. I would normally not have told you but it is written there for all to read, he said.
Time to lock him up, the first man said. All three advanced towards Ali. 
Perhaps you should ask your genie to come and rescue you, my boy, the copper sniggered.

A feeling of dread overcame Ali. He quietly slipped his hand into his pocket and rubbed an old little lamp concealed there. He rubbed it thrice and screamed, Take me home, Genie.
A puff of cloud, a loud pop, and when the smoke cleared, Ali was gone. 

An instant later, he and the Genie found themselves in their cave in the woods of Persia having travelled a million nights back in time.
This world is coming to an end, Genie, Ali said with a rueful smile. The new world will not have magic in it.
And no genies to boot, Genie added.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ramblings, because it is a beautiful Sunday afternoon and we needed to talk, my thoughts and I

I never intended for this site to contain anything other than my picture-story pairs (I was about to say ‘combo’ but it reminded me of popcorn and coke, which also I love but not on an afternoon like this). 

But it rained a good deal today. (There is a connection between the rains and this blog post, I promise.)

And the world I see from my window is still grey and cloudy as if it intends on remaining like this until the end of time. I don’t mind it at all. In fact, I quite like it. I like the impression of permanence it gives, no dark fleeting clouds but a sombre, overcast sky. It also feels as if time has finally tired of progressing with monotonic precision and is stretching over the day, because it is only about two in the afternoon and a while ago I thought the day had almost come to an end, but to be honest I really couldn’t tell what time it is without the aid of a clock. 

Anyhoo, I spent most of the morning and early afternoon browsing through Facebook and twitter and tumblr and Pinterest, assaulting my senses with the multitude of social networking/bookmarking sites out there that could potentially be used as promotional tools for Dream Pedlar. 

I do have accounts on all these sites but the only thing I do after posting a new tale is share a link to it on Facebook and if I remember to, on Twitter as well. I mainly use my Twitter account to follow and retweet interesting posts on writing and sundry other matters that other users share. A silent stalker, if you please. Off late I have spent hours debating whether or not to send tweets to my favourite authors on Twitter, I did send a couple of those in the past month, and both times I kept checking my feed every five minutes to see if they had responded (they never did), feeling dejected (in the manner of a schoolgirl nursing the woes of an unrequited crush), and wondering who the other people were to whom these authors responded and whose tweets these authors shared. Then back to silent stalker mode. 

As for Tumblr and Pinterest, I strayed that way this morning after ages and was immediately lost.

No doubt, I think it is incredibly amazing how many artists and businesses use these sites to promote their works and to interact with their audience. But at the end of my hour or two of meandering on these sites, I snapped my laptop shut feeling overwhelmed. 

I couldn’t help but worry that were I to attempt building a meaningful online presence on all these sites, I probably would be left with little time for the very thing I set out to do in the first place. 

I am a painstaking writer. I mull over story ideas almost all the time. When I cook, when I am out for a run, in the shower, when I wake up in the morning, before I drift sleepwards, even in my dreams, on my way to work, on my way back from work,. Even in office when I have some time to spare I start to scour the Internet for heart-stopping images. 

But there are also moments when I take the time to stand and stare, to look around me, to take in the sights and sounds and smells and feelings. At the grocery store, on the sidewalk, en route to some place else, I often take a moment to pause living in my head and look, really look at all the people and things around me. In a cafe I strain my ears for the lyrics accompanying a catchy tune wafting from the speakers above the din of coffee and chatter and canoodling. 

It is like living in two places at the same time, in the here and now and also in my head, transcending time and space. And I am beginning to feel as if the lines are blurring, the two worlds are coalescing, the thin film of aether that separates the two realms is fast disappearing, dreams and reality rushing towards each other in a frenzy, colliding in some sort of a mystical fusion, like the ecstatic dance of a whirling dervish. 

And I feel and experience all of this, and I put all of my soul into each tale. And when I have penned the ending of each story, I am convinced that this is it, that I have no more to say, no more yarns to spin, no more dreams to peddle. Until the next tale comes along, and the dance begins all over again. A new tune, new steps, perhaps slow, perhaps fast, I have long stopped guessing what’s in store.

And when I have finished, I wait for the applause. It gives me some kind of closure, and I can exit the stage with the certainty of having executed each performance to the best of my abilities at that point in time. 

I wondered last week if I’d ever get even a hundred Likes on my Facebook page, several Likes and comments on each post there. I wondered this morning if I ought to promote Dream Pedlar more actively on different avenues.

But now I know I don’t want to. (A solution that KrA arrived at for me, as always, shortly before I started to type this out.) 

At least for another half a year or perhaps more, the only thing I want to do is tell my tales and work alongside on a longer piece of fantasy fiction that I intend to complete by the end of this year. These were the only two things I had in mind when I set up the site more than two years ago; these were the only two things I had in mind when I decided to post the picture-story pairs regularly; and it’s only been two months now and I am in it for the long haul, so there is clearly no reason why I should deviate from this path, certainly not now for I have only just started on this route. And I want to savour every moment of the journey, from the start to the end.

As for the applause? I have already received it. The look on KrA’s face each time he reads a new story of mine, anticipation suspended over his features, as if his world has come to a halt to make way for the Dream Pedlar’s story to unfold. And you my dear friends, the one and two and three friends I have, you who said my stories made you feel happy or sad, you who permitted my tales to permeate your thoughts and dreams, you who allowed me to leave an impression on your lives, you who let me share a part of my soul with you. I thank you.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

When you meet the Door Gods, be sure to let them know you are my friend. And they will treat you well.

When you meet the Door Gods, be sure to let them know you are my friend. And they will treat you well.

They stand guard on the threshold; they have stood there since the beginning of time, and for all we know they will remain at their posts long after we’ve traipsed in and out of several lifetimes.

Their role is to ask you questions each time you arrive on their doorstep, and your answers will help them decide which door they should let you through.

They usually get you to talk about your remaining dreams and desires, any regrets you may have and wish to express, any matters you’d like sorted before you step across to the other side. 

They sometimes engage in a classic good cop, bad cop routine, but only if they have reason to believe you are not being entirely honest with yourself and with them. So I suppose the best strategy is to come clean, lay yourself bare, because usually you find yourself on their doorstep when you have nothing more to lose.

Our turn came quite unexpectedly when we were out on a long drive by the seaside on a moonlit night; one instant we were on the road, the next we found ourselves on a path leading to the doors, as if transported by a wave of a magician’s wand. 

Several people queued up ahead of us, and each time we glanced back the queue appeared to get longer and longer. 

It was difficult to say how much time had passed before we arrived on the doorstep; it could have been an instant or an aeon, all depended on how we looked at it.

Even before the Door Gods could speak, little Jeremy asked them excitedly if this was the entrance to the midnight fete we had been on our way to. They smiled at him in response, and said Yes, if that is what you’d like. The door with the red-bearded guardian swung back and Jeremy hopped through.

When the boyfriend stepped up, they asked him if he wanted to go back to where he had come from. He thought for an instant, then (as I knew he would) replied in the negative, reasoning that one could never walk through life and time backwards. The door on the right swung back and he slipped through.

They asked me if I wanted to follow little Jeremy or the boyfriend. I said I wanted to follow my own path. I am not sure if that was the right answer but the Door Gods thought solemnly for a moment and both the doors swung back in unison.

I remember thinking at that instant that perhaps there were no right or wrong answers, only true ones. Because no one has ever walked through those doors and lived to tell the tale.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

In which we see the consequences of meddling with the Truth

In which we see the consequences of meddling with the Truth - Image courtesy of DamnEngine

The nations of the world were at war, spewing bombs and missiles at each other. Years of senseless killings had taught people to live in alternating states of fear and insouciance, and now they were getting accustomed to living without hope, which, if you really think about it, is a terribly tragic thing to happen.

Which meant that someone had to take matters in their hands, and the obvious choice for the job were the do-gooders, the meddlers, as the task on hand required them to stick their oar in everybody else’s affairs.

An initial survey of soldiers and townspeople revealed that people felt most bereft of hope when they received bad news from loved ones; heartbreak and the ending of relations were the most difficult to cope with, sometimes more difficult than news of death, the survey revealed. And so the meddlers decided they had to set right this lapse in communication. 

So when letters were written and posted and sent on their way to different parts of the world, the meddlers secretly intercepted the messages, coaxed out the bitter words, replaced them with new ones filled with hope, and sent the notes on their way.

When pretty damsels sent Dear John letters to their men on the warfront, the meddlers saw to it that the soldiers were delivered messages of hope and love waiting for them at home when the war ends.

When the soldiers sent back home notes that spouted poetry and love, the meddlers erased all the soppiness. And the pretty damsels received friendly notes that unfettered them from their old ties - no hard feelings there - liberating them to pursue their newfound love interests.

The meddlers toiled away in secret, replacing profanities with apologies, hatred with compassion, bitterness with humour. And so the writers of the Dear John and Dear Jane letters began to believe it was a good thing to be truthful; after all they had received friendly notes of parting in response.

There were days when some of the meddlers wondered if they were indeed doing the right thing, causing people to live in illusory bubbles of happiness. Their chieftain allayed their doubts saying it was all for a good cause and that people in the town were now happier and no longer without hope. 

The damsels have moved on without guilt tying them down to the past, he said. The soldiers are fighting their battles harder in the knowledge, albeit false, that their loved ones were awaiting their return. There is a bloody war going on and we need our soldiers to be strong and our people to have hope, he bellowed.

But what will happen when the truth is revealed?, the doubting meddlers wondered. 

Truth has a way of making people get accustomed to it, the chieftain replied. It is hope we cannot live without.

It was all for a good cause alright because the war was won sooner than expected, the happy townspeople set about rebuilding their homes and neighbourhoods and their lives, and the soldiers returned home.

But when the Johns came back home to find their Janes in the arms of strangers, the truths came tumbling out like cats let out of bags. At first there was shock and disbelief, anger and denial. But as the chieftain had predicted, truth prevailed and people have eventually learnt to live with it. But now they are also getting accustomed to living without trust.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Tea Party

The Tea Party - Image Courtesy of Okkvlt

“The tea party begins at four,” the old man said.

It was only a quarter past three, so he suggested we lie in wait by the bushes at some distance. “They like neither visitors nor onlookers,” he grunted. We huddled behind the thicket in wonderment, determined to not irk the partygoers.

The old man squatted down beside us, scratched his scraggy beard in a moment of thought, then proceeded to narrate to us the history of the place.

“Folklore has it,” he began, “that the first tea party took place even before mankind came into being but obviously there is no documented evidence of this. It was the wood creatures that established the tradition of the tea party. It began as a weekly affair. 

“Back then, nectar was the beverage of choice. Wood creatures took turns at organising the party - which meant sending out invitations, laying the table, ensuring everyone has a good time, breaking up fights caused between guests intoxicated by excessive consumption, and cleaning up the after-party mess before another fellow creature assumed the host’s mantle for the following day. The guests brought along nectar and exquisite delicacies, along with news from their parts of the world. Births and deaths, sightings of new creatures, the discovery of new lands, new fruits grown and new beverages concocted, news from the mountains and the seas. The visitors gave each other the lowdown on happenings in their corners of the world.”

The old man paused, then looked up at the sun and down at the shadows of the hedges, and nodded to himself. “Another half an hour, eh,” he said. We peeped above the hedges. All was still at the tea table. 

“But the earliest credible record of the tea parties taking place as we know them today dates to the turn of time,” the old man continued. “By then, the human race had existed and evolved for aeons, but it had taken man longer than it had the wood creatures to discover and share the wonders of tea and tea parties.

“At first the tradition had continued in its original spirit of social entertainment. The parties were mostly attended by residents of the neighbourhood. They were occasionally joined by travellers passing by the woods. The visitors regaled the guests with tales from faraway lands and adventures of their travels.

“It was only when the war broke out that the tea parties began to assume a more strategic significance. Soldiers and patriots and scholars assembled here to plot their defence strategies. The woods provided shelter to fugitives who brought news of the enemies’ movements. Revolutionaries met in secret around the tea table where the seeds were sown for many mutinies and insurrections that were to take place around the world. There was never enough tea during the war, but the table became home to the ideas and plots and courage and bravery of the people that sat around it.

“But the enemy did eventually manage to penetrate the woods by which time most of its inhabitants had fled to different parts of the world. The ones who lived to tell the tale introduced tea parties in their new hometowns. The others who failed to escape were caught and beheaded by the enemy but the kind wood creatures rescued their souls. So they continue to live, only differently.”

He wiped the sweat from his brow and a tear from his cheek. Another look at the sun and the shadows, and he gestured it was time. An excited chatter began to ripple through our group but he put a finger to his lips and shushed. Like children up to no good, we covered our mouths with our palms, stifling giggles and murmurs of excitement, and peeped over the hedges.

Somewhere in the distance the church bells pealed. At the stroke of four, a merry chatter and hoots of laughter wafted through the woods. Cups and saucers rose and clinked in mid-air, an invisible hand tilted the teapot over the floating cups and filled them to the brim with tea. Scones and pastries, buns and cakes, and bowls of cream and jelly appeared on the table and floated on to plates as if by their own free will. 

Unseen voices engaged in lively conversations. The guests talked about science and technology, mankind and civilisation, endangered species and extinct ones, global warming and snowfall in summer, of hermits and spirituality. 

One voice cooed with delight that humans were eavesdropping on their conversations, and some others reckoned it was alright and that we were only human and that it would do us a world of good if we followed their example and started to host tea parties such as this one.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Big Picture

The Big Picture - Image courtesy of Luis Beltran

I have often wondered what the big picture is.

When the boyfriend broke up with me, he said I ought to take a step back and look at the big picture. That maybe this wasn’t meant to be. That maybe destiny has other, better things in store for us, he said among other such vague assurances.

When at work I was passed over for a promotion, the manager promised it would be my turn next year but said that for now I ought to look at the big picture and keep working hard, or better still, harder. 

When I ask my friend why she had to die at such a young age, she does not give me an unambiguous answer but instead says that in asking questions such as these, I keep missing the forest for the trees and that it will all make sense in retrospect.

And so I decided to set out in search of the big picture. Something that would help make sense of it all. And I looked all over, rummaging through maps and time, history and almanacs, mountain tops and ocean floors, birthdays and obituaries, yesteryears and hereafters. I kept looking until I reached the end of my tether, my nerves frayed, my mind unhinged from the constant wandering from one place and time to another.

It was only when I mounted the swing on the top of the world that I found my answer. The big picture. The city lay sprawled below me, brickworks and glass facades jostling for space. Clouds littered above, interlaced in a fluid clasp. And me in between. There in mid-air, legs dangling, no ground beneath me, no roof over my head, I saw everything around me, as far as the eye could see.

The big picture. 
Always lying in between the lines. 

Not in the breakups nor in newfound loves. 
But in the heartaches and soul-searching quests in between. 

Not in this tale nor in the next. 
But in the musings in the interim.

Not to be found in yesterdays nor in tomorrows. 
But in the here and now.

Like being in a very beautiful dream. 
Neither asleep nor awake, but being the most alive.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Out of Order

Out of Order - Image Courtesy of FlickRiver

The zaniest ideas always hit me on Friday evenings, even before I have sipped my first glass of Chardonnay, she mused. 

Sitting on the broad windowsill in their living room, from where she beheld a panoramic view of the ocean, she smoked a More Slims, expertly blowing rings that took on the shape of her puckered lips and floated away and out the window, growing larger and larger until the fumes could no longer hold on to each other and dissipated in midair, fourteen storeys above ground level.

For a long time, she sat in silence, mesmerised by the duel in the crepuscular skies, awash with myriad colours, a melange of purple, orange and red that set the scene for a battlefield. 

It had become a daily ritual. The sun hovered over the far end of the sea, preparing to retire for the night. On the opposite end, the moon rose, pale and timid in the presence of the setting sun. 

There was a moment when the two seemed to be eyeing each other carefully, waiting for the other to make the next move. The sun, merely a shadow of his former raging self of the day, yet more than a match for the moon. Holding on, unwilling to descend lest the moon should take over. The moon, flimsy and shivering, unsure if she ought to rise further. Crawling upwards stealthily, waiting for the sun to disappear. 

For one fleeting moment, it almost seemed as if the sun would regain his rightful place in the sky. It was that moment of uncertainty that spelled his doom. He plunged into the bloody ocean, spilling the last of his rays all over the world, conceding defeat, having overstayed his welcome. As the sun bowed out, the moon sailed higher into the sky from the other end, gracefully, shining more lustrously with every ascent. Having conquered the sun, she rightfully claimed his light as her own. And then she covered the ocean with a silvery sheen, laying the sun to rest in peace.

She exhaled in relief. Dear cosmos, if I had a choice, I would be the moon, she whispered. The waxing and the waning moon, the full moon and the new moon, the restless shape-shifting moon, the one that makes oceans roar and wolves howl, whose light clandestine lovers seek out in the night, the one that drives men stark raving mad, frightening and alluring all at once, the blue moon, the orange moon, circling the earth until eternity, sometimes too close but always out of reach.

She lit another cigarette.

Night descended on her part of the world. Twinkling stars burst into view, Venus standing resolutely bright in the western sky, guarding the grave of the defeated sun. I could be Venus too, she thought. Venus, the evening star. Venus, the Goddess of Love. Venus, the Roman Aphrodite.

Fantasies are delightful, she concluded. But in reality, she was perhaps more like the princess trapped in the witch’s tower. Fourteen storeys above ground level. Confined in midair, in an enclosed apartment. Their lovers’ nest. Their first home, where she waited every evening for him to come back to her. He should be home any minute now, she told herself.

Her mobile phone beeped. It was a text message from him. Honey, just exited the MRT. Walking home now.

She leaned over the window and scanned the roads below. She squinted her eyes and saw him enter the gateway to their apartment building. Baby, she called out loud and clear. He looked up, not because he heard her but because he knew she would be waiting for him by the window. She always did. He waved out to her. She waved back.
She had to decide quickly. The moon, Venus, the princess – which one would she be tonight. The princess, she chose. The princess, whose knight in shining armour had arrived. 

Ecstatic, she punched the numbers on her mobile phone and called him.

Darling, I’ll let down my hair, so that you may climb the golden stair, she said.

He paused. Why honey? Is the lift out of order?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Story of a Horse

The Story of a Horse

Jobs were hard to come by in those days, so the horse decided to earn his keep working as a living statue. 

At first he stationed himself on the pavement but as people began to spend more time inside shopping arcades than outdoors, he moved indoors. The owner of the mall did not mind at first - as long as we rake in more business, he said - and earmarked a special nook where the horse could stand all day long. 

The children took to him instantly. They gathered around him, wondering at first whether or not he was real. He would sometimes wink at a kid or two, surreptitiously swish his tail over another’s hair, and just as they’d begin to get used to his inertia, he would raise his forelegs in the air and nicker gently, startling and delighting the kids all at once, then come back on all fours and resume a statued pose.

Then someone decided it would prove good entertainment for adults if they started to bet on the horse. And so they did, placing their bets on when the living statue would move. 

At first, the horse obliged. A swish of his tail when the clock struck thirteen, a toss of his mane at the darkest moment of the night, a neigh at the break of dawn, much to the delight of the punters. 

But after most of the public had had an initial good run on their wagers, the owner of the mall instructed the horse to curb the goodwill gestures. And so the horse began to stand still for endless days and nights, moving only often enough to persuade people to wager more. They laid their odds, lost some money, laid another wager, won a little, put more money on, and lost a whole lot more. Occasionally someone won a million bucks and it made front-page news, kindling hopes, reviving dreams.

It was funny how the horse died. He was growing old, his legs and neck stiff and sore from the tedium of his job. He eventually found himself incapable of motion. So when the time came, he simply froze in place. 

And there he has remained ever since, everyone still unsure whether or not he was alive. Children gaping at him, imagining a wink every now and then. Adults betting on him, swearing a whinny was in the making. Anytime now, anytime soon. And that is how the house always won.


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