The Lone Tree

The lone tree

Standing alone

But standing tall

Shrivelled and stripped

Yet strong as a wall

 

They laugh at me

The greens in the distance

Huddled warm together

They pity my existence

 

Well-nourished they seem

In the company of their own

Here I struggle for a drop

Chipped, flaked, wind-blown

 

To tell you the truth

I was green as well

Then a season swept by

And took away my shell

 

Now I burn in the heat

Awaiting cool of night

Then shiver in the dark

Wishing for sky bright

 

But a bird dwells in me

It flies far and wide

It tells me many tales

My only friend and guide

 

Fly Fly – it sings to me

I stretch up on my toes

Screaming roots snap in pain

I’ll have to stay it shows

 

It squawks at me to try again

And touch the glowing dots

To beat branches in the air

And untie all the knots

 

I know I can’t do that much

But the fool knows that not

It keeps filling me with dreams

Now dreams are all I’ve got

 

I survive all the dreadful days

And look out with some hope

Can I really fly up there?

And glide down that slope?

 

But roots firmly hold me down

So I pray all day and night

For cruel winds to pluck me out

And give me once that flight

 

The bird calms me down

Do not despair, it says

Roots give you strength

To fly there are still ways

 

Spread your seeds in the air

Let thoughts grow their wings

Sow versions of you around

Imagine there are no strings

 

Imagine! There are no strings, indeed… says the bird that’s my heart.

© Sundaram Chauhan

Fiction # 2: Let’s Catch Up!

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He had been waiting by the roadside for some time now. Perhaps fifteen minutes. Maybe more. The tin shed overhead did manage to shelter him from the scorching sun but he had no shield against the heat, smoke and dust that was swirling about in the air, filling his lungs.

Across the road, the heavy wooden bar at the gate of the building rose and fell probably for the hundredth time to let yet another car pass. But there was no sign of her.

He squinted up at the building again to confirm its number. Was he even at the right gate?

Intending to call her again, he unlocked his phone, and flicked a quick glance at the gate. And he stiffened. Was that her? Twisting aside, he peered through the crowd, again.

Yes!

Swaying past the guards now, in her business suit, there she was, with a purse slung over a shoulder. His heart started pounding as he quickly hand-combed his hair, and smoothed down his T-shirt.

She came out of a small side gate, and looked across the road, shading her eyes against the sun. He took a moment gathering some courage, and then stepped forward raising a hand.

She waved him a silent ‘hi’ as he came into view, and saw him hurriedly crossing the road, dodging a speeding bike on the way.

“Hey!” She extended a hand, smiling. He had been expecting something more dramatic and emotional like a hug, but he took the hand anyway.

“You… look stunning,” he said, shaking her hand a little too eagerly.

“Can’t say the same for you, I’m afraid.” She grinned.

“I know.” He wrinkled his nose, and scratched a cheek.

“When did you last shower, Sam?”

“Hey, come on now… beard is in. And long hair never went out of fashion,” he protested. “I look no uglier than I used to.”

“Agree. There was no scope left for that,” she said, and both of them laughed.

“Let’s go someplace else. A restaurant or something. Should we?”

“Sure,” she said, and led him towards a building, a few yards away.

Inside the café, they picked their seats around a corner table, and settled in the chairs. “I’ll go order,” she said, picking up her purse.

“No. Let me.” He stood up. “You need anything to eat?”

“No, no, I’m full. Just the coffee. Thanks.” And he headed off to the counter.

Sweet old memories flooded his mind as the smell of coffee filled his nostrils. The days when he would sneak away to a café during breaks to write. And she would always cover up for him. Always. So many times, she had to finish my work… to save my ass, he recalled.

At the counter, he ordered two cappuccinos, like old times.

“Sir.” The man behind the counter squinted past him to where she was sitting, and suggested, “Would you like to reconfirm? Shariva ma’am never takes a cappuccino.”

Before he could say anything though, she was right behind him. “Right you are! Make it one cappuccino and an espresso. Thanks!”

Back at the table, he was still glaring at the counter, fiddling with a sugar pouch while she was stirring her coffee. “When did you change the job?” he asked abruptly.

“A few months after you left, I guess.”

Wrong direction, he realised, and swerved. “Well… it’s been around three years now. You must be on a senior position here.”

“Yes. A Team Lead,” she said, sipping her coffee.

“A Team Lead!” he exclaimed. “Well, you’ve always been fast.”

She shrugged. “You know me well.”

“Yes. I do.” He nodded, and a moment of awkward silence followed before he met her eyes again. “How’ve you been, Shariva?”

“I’m doing okay, Sam.” She held his gaze. “What about you? Found wisdom in the mountains, yet?”

“Wisdom!” He laughed. “I was wise all along, wasn’t I?”

“Wise! You?” She joined in the laughter. “But yes. Actually you were. At least in breaking up I’d say. I was no easy maintenance after all.”

“Hey!” He went pale. “I’m so sorry. I… I didn’t mean…”

“Oh come on! Chill,” she said, waving a hand, “I’m not gonna cry over a breakup I had in my previous birth.”

“Right.”

“And I know it was all for the good,” she added.

“Sure,” he said, but he wasn’t so sure about that.

“Okay. So we were talking about you. What brings this lonely writer back to the materialistic world?”

He smiled broadly. “I just wanted to see if you’re doing fine.”

“Really!” She raised an eyebrow. “Well, I appreciate the gesture. Now, come on, the real reason.”

“I am shifting back,” he let the words out finally.

“Shifting back…” She leaned on the table. “What do you mean? You said you’d not until… does that mean your book is complete?”

“Book…” He winced. “No… not that. It’s for the doctorate program I’ve enrolled for.”

“Doctorate?” She seemed surprised. “Where did that come from? You went away to write a novel,” she reminded him. “What happened?”

He didn’t need reminding of that. He wanted to tell her how difficult these last three years had been. He got the solitude he sought, all right. But along came the frustrations of writing. His depleting bank account didn’t help much either.

Writing was a pleasure, as long as he did it alongside a job. But alone, the expectations weighed heavy on him. The burden of getting a novel published was too much for him to bear. It affected his writing.

It was indeed foolish of him, he felt, to have left everything for a life of such uncertainty. Just as she had told him back then.

But, instead he said, “I think I’ll benefit from literary research. It’ll only help better my writing.”

“Well…” she began, looking unconvinced, but her phone vibrated and cut her off. She picked it up. He stole the moment to scan her face while she stared at the screen, frowning. He couldn’t believe he really once held that beautiful face in his hands, and kissed those lips.

It all seemed a dream now.

He was about to dive into it, when she pushed back from the table suddenly, startling him. “Sam, I gotta go, now.”

“Hey! What happened?”

“Something at work,” she said, stuffing her phone in the purse.

“No, please stay some more?”

“I can’t Sam. This is urgent.”

“Okay then. Five minutes? Just five more minutes. I need to talk,” he pleaded.

She quickly drew back to the table. “Okay. What’s it?”

“Thanks,” he sighed. Then, hesitating a bit, he started, “Shariva…”

“Yes Sam,” she urged him on, impatience written all over her face.

“I wanted to ask…” His voice was barely more than a whisper. “If you… are you… seeing someone?”

The sudden change in her expressions told him that the question was not welcome, or she hadn’t expected it at all. “No Sam… no…” She shook her head, her tone no more friendly. “You can’t really be asking me that. You simply can’t.”

“Why not? If you have a boyfriend, tell me, I’ll understand, but if not, then…”

“…then what? I should come running into your arms, right?” she said sharply, “Yes, of course, now that you’re back in town, it’s so convenient for you.”

“It’s not that Shariva.” His voice rose slightly, but he lowered it immediately. “I’m saying that I’m here now, and not going anywhere this time. I promise.”

“You promise!” She stared at him, incredulous. “Oh, you promise! Right, and you think that’s what I live for – your fucking PROMISES!” She lurched to her feet, pushing the chair so hard that it fell back, and snatching her purse, she turned around and walked off. It all happened so quickly. Paralysed, he watched her pausing a moment at the counter, and then storming out through the door.

It all came out wrong, so wrong. He slammed a fist on the table, as his senses returned. That wasn’t how he intended to say it. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I need her. I can’t simply let her walk away. No.

He jumped to his feet, and hurriedly dialled her number. It didn’t go through. He tried again. But the call didn’t connect. Only when he dialled it the third time, did he realise, with horror, that he was blocked.

Shocked, he stood there motionless for a moment, not able to think.

Then sighing deeply, he began shuffling towards the exit, disoriented. I deserve it, he thought. After what I did to her, I totally deserve it.

“Excuse me, sir.” His hand had just closed around the doorknob, when he heard the voice behind. He wheeled around. “Sir, that’s for you. From Shariva ma’am.” He was holding a packet.

Puzzled, Sam took it, and without wasting a second tore away the wrapper. “Her book!” the man beamed, and with a puffed up chest said, “She wrote it all here sir. Just came out last week only. Why don’t you take a seat and read it? I’ll go steam your coffee again. It’s untouched. Should I?”

He nodded, lost in thoughts. Her book!

He stared at the book in his hands, amazed, as the man walked away. With fumbling hands, he flipped through the pages, and read about the author on the last page, then came back to the cover to see her name again. It was her book.

He ran a hand through his hair, his heart hammering inside. How was that possible?

He took a deep breath, and sat down on a nearby chair, the book in his hands. He ran his fingers slowly over the smooth cover, his fingertips tracing the slightly protruding letters that made her name: SHARIVA SEN. It still feels mine, the name.

“I need the first signed copy of your novel Sam,” she used to tease, “write it quick. If you don’t I will. You know I’m a blogger, right? Who knows you might have a signed copy of my novel first…”

He quickly turned over to the page where her autograph was scrawled. She did it. Even with a job, she did it. He felt a surge of pride running through him.

He adjusted into his chair, as the coffee arrived, and looked up. “Sorry. Could you bring me an espresso instead? I’ll pay extra if needed,” he requested apologetically.

Then flipping over to the first page, he began reading, with a smile on his face.

© Sundaram Chauhan

Fiction # 1: The Trek

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Exhausted, and soaked in sweat, she decided to pause for a breath, and slumped down on a small boulder on the path. The rough-cut rock she leaned back on pressed hard against her back, but she sat there untroubled, looking out over the other side.

The world below had shrunk. Shrunk as well as expanded, she noticed, as her eyes swept across low hills, and unending forests, to settle on the horizon, light years away.

Up ahead on the winding path, the long straight line of the top announced the end of the trek. Not far now, she glanced up at the trees fringing the length of it, feeling satisfied. She’d be the first one to complete the trek, out of the group of fifty-odd people. An achievement, no doubt.

But… it could’ve been sweeter, she thought, had I been with my friends, instead. Far away this place might be from work, they were still her seniors, or rivals, and there was no way she was revealing her silly side to them. She just couldn’t trust them.

Yes, her colleagues, she had discovered in a rather short career so far, did not make reliable friends. And this sudden burst of camaraderie among them here was not going to fool her.

It’s all a fake show, she knew. Once back, they’ll forget all about the selfies they are clicking here, and return to what they do best – stealing credits, and backstabbing.

But for all her misgivings about the people it involved, she still couldn’t help loving each and every moment of the trip.

Up until the day she got a job five months back, her parents never even allowed her a night-out with friends, let alone an out of town trip. And a mountain trek was simply unthinkable. So everything here, including the very path, howsoever dangerously narrow or steep it might be at places, filled her with excitement. Even the jagged stones that constantly pricked through her shoes could not dampen her spirit as she pressed on with childlike vigour, leaving the fittest of them straggling behind.

Time to move, she nudged herself after a while, and springing to her feet strode ahead once again. It took her around fifteen more minutes of laborious walk to reach the place where the trek ended. The ascent from here was short, but very steep. So slowly and cautiously, she clambered her way up the slope, clutching the small rocks jutting out of its surface.

Halfway up she could hear the muffled sounds of laughter drifting from above. And soon afterwards her head pushed past the level of the ground. She straightened up, clapped the dust off her hands, and looked ahead. The trees fencing the place allowed only tiny incomplete glimpses through their leaves but that was enough to hook her.

All along the journey today, she hadn’t really thought about the top. Of course, she wanted to reach it, but that was it. The path itself was so fascinating that thinking of the end actually saddened her a bit. She hadn’t even cared to look at the pictures they shared on the office email. But once past the trees, she knew the pictures couldn’t have done justice to the place.

Before her stretching in all directions was a broad level field at least thrice the size of a football ground, its green surface mottled with hundreds of colourful camps amidst huge swaying trees. The place was swarming with people, laughing, playing, and crowding around shops, as if this was a regular picnic spot in the middle of a city. And, looming above it all in the background, piercing the sky, was a gigantic mountain range, staring her in the face, commanding attention.

It was so close she had to crane her head back to have a good look at it. Winking behind its high peaks, she saw, the Sun was struggling to stay afloat, throwing down great long shadows that swallowed the whole place.

Soon enough, she was walking, her steps leading her to the far end in the direction of the mountain. She weaved her way through a jumble of people, camps, shops and trees, until the last of them passed by, and all the noise reduced to a murmur, barely audible.

There at the edge, though imperceptible from the other end, the ground ended abruptly, and dropped hundreds of feet down to a narrow green valley kissing the feet of the arrogant giant in front of her.

She glanced down at the valley. Thick green trees tangled in a fight for space were crawling up the mountain that rose almost vertically like a wall, stopping only in the clouds.

The wind gusting authoritatively here was whistling in her ears and flooding her nose with the aroma of pine trees, making her eyes droop. Mesmerised, she let the backpack slide off her shoulders and peeled away the shoes. A stream of freshness shot up through her toes when her naked feet touched the grass below, melting all her tiredness away. She stood there, intoxicated, letting the wind caress her face.

It was running right through her, she felt. Cleansing her heart and purifying her soul. A vast sea of calmness seemed to be filling her being, drop by small drop. Overwhelmed, she lowered herself on the ground, shivering. There, she sat hugging her knees – sobbing yet smiling, famished yet somehow fulfilled.

The dusk had begun to settle around her when a sudden burst of music in the camps behind broke her reverie and made her heart leap up in delight. A latent longing to be among people – dancing, cheering, and laughing ones, rushed to the fore, and took hold of her as she gathered herself.

Just as she was turning to go back, the shouts of her name startled her, making her jump. Peering down the ground, she saw half a dozen people moving towards her, silhouetted against the campfires in the background. Their steps hurried, as they waved at her frantically, visibly relieved at finding her at last. She was surprised to find herself waving back in excitement too. Their voices, and their forms were all too familiar to her but she never knew they cared enough to come seeking her.

Maybe she was wrong about them, maybe not. But she seemed not to care anymore. At that moment she knew she wanted to be with them, and that was all that mattered – the moment. She would deal with everything else later on, but tonight she was going to be herself, even if that meant people judging her. She decided she wasn’t going to stop being herself for that fear. Nor was she going to judge them in return.

Forgetting everything, she just wanted to dance. And, if she was still hesitant, she had vodka inside her bag, she thought. But she knew she wasn’t going to need it.

She was already drunk.

Quickly, she scooped up her bag, and then ran towards them beaming, dreaming of the night to come.

© Sundaram Chauhan

Shoes

Me (irritated): Where the hell are my shoes?

Her (calm): I picked them up yesterday, and hid them somewhere.

Me (angry): What the f**k! Why would you do that?

Her (dramatic): Because that’s what I fantasise about all day. That you’ll come back, take off your sexy shoes, and go to washroom; and I’ll pounce on them undetected, and hide them at a place only I have access to. So that long after you’ve slept, I could just enjoy watching them make love to each other.

Me (terrified): I think I kept them under the sofa last night… I’ll go find them.

© Sundaram Chauhan

Tiny Tale

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I pause
Stare hard
At screen with bleary eyes
It’s time
Let’s go!
Something inside me cries
I peep into the cabin
My boss is on the phone
My day is not yet over
I let out a groan
She knocks
Comes close
And hands over her work
I nod
Lips pursed
God, I am such a jerk!
I want to go
Along with her too
Her earrings are new
What am I going to do?
She spins
Glides out
Her fragrance still stays
I close
My eyes
My heart is ablaze
I hear her say bye
To everyone outside
Out of my league she is
I should’ve still tried
It’s been some days
My life is such
We talk sometimes
But nothing much
Today is the day
I thought I’d say
Something concrete
And clear up the way
But,
She has left
I am alone
A couple of hours gone
I rub my eyes
Stretch my back
Open my mouth to yawn
I shuffle across
the hall to my boss
A pat on my back
still feels like a loss
Elevator I take
Grab a burger and a cake
Wish I could sit
By the side of a lake
I reach my car
A heart with a scar
In sight is a tree
Beneath a faint star
Just then it glows
With a tremble and a tone
That’s her message!
Her message on my phone
I read it aloud
She wants to talk
There’s a bad news
She’s in some shock
The project she did
Was wrong, she cries
I never cared to check
My blood all dries
Head pounding hard
My eyes on the tree
I call up my boss
Just say it was me
I take all the flak
And then call her back
I state what I’ve done
She screams I’m a crack!
She says she is sorry
I say, that’s alright
She laughs and she talks
Right past midnight
Still dreaming of her
Not blinking at all
A small win this is, but
We’ve broken the wall.

© Sundaram Chauhan
(Image Source)

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