A Sign of Life!

Here I am, playing football with Baba. Is Maa there? No. We are in the park. No. It’s a field. No. It’s my school’s annual sports meet. Where are my friends? I can see them in the classroom. Which class is this? Fifth? Sixth? Seventh? I am sitting on the backbench; we are laughing about something. But I fall quiet when the teacher looks at me. I can’t feel the chill that runs down my spine. I know her. I don’t remember her name or nickname. I am back again in the park. The field. The ground. Baba is smiling, mildly, as he pushes the ball towards me. His lips are closed. I can’t feel the ball touching my feet. It’s just an object bouncing off me. The ball is gone now. The ground is breaking. The cracks are getting wider. I am falling. Baba? He is not here anymore. I am alone. No. I see people. Or are they ants? Things are falling around me. The ground is shattered. I am running towards the window. It’s like that game. You have to step on the right stones to cross the water. I forget the name. I am running, stepping, jumping. But gravity overpowers me. Physics wins. Physics? It was a subject in school. I don’t remember if I liked it. Did I hate it? What is hate? What is like?

Here I am, running, again. The ground is not breaking. There are walls with posters. Political parties. Movies. Advertisements. They are a blur. A mix of orange, green, white, red. I am laughing. No. Smiling. My teeth are out. I am bathed in sweat. I don’t feel hot. I can see others, people walking, selling, talking. I can’t hear voices. I can’t hear noise. The silence doesn’t scare me. Scare? What is that? Bits and pieces appear from nowhere. Maa is talking now. We are in the living room. No. My room. No. This is not our house. We are in a village. I can see a pond. There are trees, lots of them. And ducks, cows, cats. I know the walls are not made from bricks. It’s brown. It’s mud. There is a smell. Smell? I don’t know what it is. I can’t smell. It is dark now. But I can see a lamp. There is kerosene in it. I can’t smell it. Shadows appear on the walls. Humans, insects, leaves. There is a breeze. The trees dance. Now we are outside. There is light. I am batting. I am bowling. Batting? Bowling? Is it a game? People are running, laughing, fighting. They know me. I can’t remember their names or faces. It’s a blur.

Now, I am on a train. I am alone. I am smoking. The smoke rushes inside. Now, I am standing near the door. The air is slapping me. I don’t feel pain. Pain? What is that? Someone is there. A girl. She is pressing her lips to mine. I have no emotions. Emotions? It’s just another object touching me. Now she is lying there beside me. She is talking. I can make out the words H-A-P-P-Y. What is happy? I don’t know. She is still there, beside me. She is not moving. Is she dead? What is dead? Her chest rises and falls. She is alive! What is alive? I don’t know. I can’t feel anything.

Red balloon, Blue balloon

On a sunny Sunday morning in mid-February, the Raos arrived on the idyllic Visakhapatnam beach and joined the hordes of families gathered there for their fair share of the sun. Four-year-old Anshu had put on her favourite red dress for the special occasion but more because it impeccably matched the shiny red balloon she held dearly in one hand. Anshu looked up with pride and marvelled at the gleaming plasticky surface. How majestic it looked! And how red the world looked when she peeked through it! Gently she released the string and caught it when it tried to escape.

The Raos found a nice spot and settled comfortably on two long towels. Mr Bhavesh Rao broke into a soft tune while Mrs Nandini Rao played with a distracted Anshu.

Arre Bhavesh, you’re here too?” The voice startled Mr Rao from his humming and he looked up at his visitor.

“Pulak! What a pleasant surprise. Hello, Ramya, how are you?” The petite woman beside Pulak gave a nervous smile. The group did their usual greetings and sat down. Anshu was the least bit interested in her guests and slowly crept away when she found the perfect opportunity. And besides, her game was far more interesting and once or twice the string almost slipped out of her tiny fingers! Almost!

Anshu was busy with her game when her eye caught the shiny surface of a blue balloon. Oh, how it shone! Just like her balloon. Or was it even better? Was a blue world better or a red world? If only she could get a closer look. But before Anshu could do that, the string slipped from her clutches and in one heart-stopping moment, the balloon rose in the air like smoke from an incense stick, never to come back. Anshu jumped! But in vain. Anshu ran! But only to stumble and fall down on the hot sand while her balloon rose and rose until it became a tiny red dot on the horizon.

Anshu was crestfallen. Her rescue operation was a failure. An utter failure by her own admission. She kicked the sand and sat down even though it burned her body. Appa had told her never to cry, but how could she not cry? Wasn’t it her fault that her balloon flew away? Wasn’t she the one to blame for the debacle? Wasn’t she the one who got distracted by another balloon? Yes, the balloon! The blue balloon. That was the root of all evil.

Anshu scanned the beach and upon spotting the culprit flounced towards it. When she reached her destination she laid her eyes upon the owner of her misery. He was a skinny boy dressed in a blue T-shirt that, Anshu peevishly noticed, matched the colour of the balloon in his hand, and a pair of red shorts. He also had a pair of red-coloured sunglasses over his eyes. Anshu was especially irritated by those glasses. How dare it make fun of her balloon! And the way it shone was unbearable, to say the least

Anshu was about to give him a piece of her mind when a lady walked on them and gently said, “let’s go Ayush, we are leaving.” Ayush spread his unengaged hand and slowly turned around towards the direction of the voice. “Very good beta!” exclaimed her joyous mother. “Now slowly walk towards me.” Ayush gave a huge smile and staggered towards her mother, all the while clutching to his blue balloon which danced joyfully in the sunlight and shone majestically under the sun. And for a moment, Anshu looked through the balloon and caught a glimpse of the blue world.

Anshu watched in silence as the lady lovingly picked up an elated Ayush and planted a kiss on his cheek. Ayush screamed in joy and the two walked off towards a large family that had gathered near a coconut seller.

On her way towards her own party, Anshu quietly declared, “the red world looks better.”