Part One:

Suman sighed happily.

The view from her window was neither outstanding nor breathtaking. It was common place yet immensely soothing. She could see a waste tract of land, every millimeter covered with green things poking exuberantly through, joyously asserting their presence. There was a eucalyptus, a couple of ornery old neems and a huge spreading Peepul, home to hundreds of birds. Inevitably, the Peepul tree had a cleared base with a one foot high platform all around the trunk. She could also see many strands of mauli* in various stages of discoloration tied around the trunk, bearing silent witness to human desperation which led to their tying. She knew the prevalent custom in her part of the country was to tie a thread around a Peepul tree trunk and make a wish. The thread would disintegrate when the wish was granted or remain tied forever. Unbidden, a conversation with her other self (Suman called her Sim-sim, inspired by Alibaba’s story) began in her head.

Suman: What if the wish is never granted..?Mauli 2

Sim-sim: Simple. The thread disintegrates.

Suman: But it is supposed to fall off only when a wish is granted.

Sim-sim: You see Suman, Shiva is clever. When you ask Him for something, He has two ways to make you happy. Either He grants you what you asked for, or He makes you stop wanting it. Either way, you’re happy. Then the thread can fall off because the deal has been concluded.

Suman: Umm..! Clever, isn’t He..?

Sim-sim: *smugly* Of course He is…! 🙂

Sunk in a brown reverie, Suman stared sightlessly into distance. Do wishes come true this way, she wondered. Does a simple multicolored thread have the power to tame cosmic forces and harness them to give wings to a dream..? Is it the thread or human will which makes dreams come true..? She shook her head in dismissal.

Sometimes she was very conscious of the no-man’s land she was living in. She could neither be completely modern and reject this line of thought as a lot of superstitious mumbo- jumbo nor entirely shake off the pull of ancient traditions and thought processes. She sat on the wide sill of her french window, her knees brought up to her chest, her arms around them and her head resting on her knees. The sky was overcast, but it wasn’t raining. The breeze was chilled. Every once in a while she rubbed her arms vigorously to instill some warmth and to get rid of the goose bumps.

She loved this house. She was so glad she had sold off her congested little flat in the heart of the city, rancid with the mal-odor of closely packed humanity, and bought this small two bedroom independent house. It is true that her commute to her job would take the best part of an hour, but she did not mind. Anything was worth the bliss of the place.

The open spaces behind the house delighted her. She could see farms a short distance away from her window. AND she had a garden…! The garden was not very big, but it had some guava trees, a lemon bush and a huge and ancient mango tree which covered the front porch completely with its benign shade. What was perfection itself was the rope swing that hung from a branch of the mango tree. The rope had worn away when she moved into the house. The first thing she had done was to replace the old rope with a jute rope as thick as her wrist. The wooden seat fixed swing was spacious enough for her to curl up on it. Just yesterday, she had spent the entire afternoon on the swing, reading a book. She enjoyed herself so much that she couldn’t bear to come inside and make herself some lunch…!

She sighed happily at the memory, feeling peaceful. Her love for the house had deepened a little more every day.

Reluctantly, she dragged herself away from the window. She had moved into the house a week ago and still a lot of work needed to be done. The leave she had taken to get herself moved would be over tomorrow. She knew she wouldn’t be able to do much after her resumed work. “As it is”, she chided Sim-sim, “you wasted an entire afternoon yesterday. Was that the time to read a book for God’s sakes..! Don’t you know how much time it would take to sort out the junk that the workers had dumped into the tiny store room off the kitchen..? I wish you’d be a little more help.”

Sim-sim merely grinned in her maddeningly wicked way and pranced around like a pesky child, incorrigible and irrepressible.

Two hours later Suman was deep into the junk pile in the dark store-room. There was a pile of timber, some sacks of solidified cement and a mound of broken tiles. Exasperated, she kicked the pile of ceramic tile bits. At least this they should have cleared away she thought. What on earth will I do with them..? And what a lot of work it’ll be to collect it and throw it away, Sim-sim added maliciously. Suman maintained a dignified silence and went to fetch the bucket from the bathroom.Ash urns

She had barely filled half the bucket, when she discovered THEM. The two pots. Terra-cotta, small, their mouth covered with a red cloth, mauli used to fasten the cloth. She knew what those pots meant. Last year her parents had died in a car-accident and she had herself taken their ashes to Ganga at Haridwar. This is how those pots had looked.

“What do I do”, she asked Sim-sim desperately, in panic.

“Take them out you silly goose, what else..?” Sim-sim had no patience with any weakness, for she had none herself.

“Now what..?” asked Suman when they had been taken out.

“Open them”, Sim-sim said in a tone that brooked no argument.

Hands trembling with trepidation, Suman untied the mauli on both the pots and removed the red cloth. As expected, the pots contained ashes.

“Take them out in the back verandah and let us examine them”, Sim-sim ordered.

Suman carried the pots to the verandah and emptied one of them on the floor. She knelt down, puzzled. There were no bone fragments. The ashes had a strange texture with big black flakes. These were certainly not human remains. It looked like the ash of a wood/ charcoal fire in which a lot of paper had been burned. Suman sifted the ash with her fingers, gingerly at first, then with more ease when she found no bone remains. She could find charred pieces of paper and although she examined them eagerly, she couldn’t make anything of them. She knew they had not been printed papers. The paper was ruled. She could see some neat bold handwriting on a few of the scraps, a word here or a word there.

She turned over the second pot. A leather bound diary fell in the middle of the pile of ashes with a thud. Her heart pounding wildly, Suman reached out for the diary and opened it. The first page had a few short lines written on it, in the same hand as the charred scraps she had sifted through.

Tread softly O gentle stranger,

The cinders of my dreams

are warm and still alive

from the fires that consumed me.

Tread softly I beg…

To be continued…


Pics from the Internet.

*Mauli: Unspun thread unevenly dyed red, yellow and green, used in many Hindu rituals.

Cindered Dreams