The Infinity Delusion

(I do not own the pictures used in this post, but the writing is solely mine.)

If you were there, you wouldn’t have been able to bear the heat. The smell of singeing flesh and charring bones would have been too much for your feeble senses. The raging fires, dotting the entire ghat, would have blinded you.

I wonder if you can imagine what it feels like to me. To me, it smells like opportunity, seemingly evil, but I wouldn’t expect you to understand. The heat caresses me every day, and the flesh and bones are the essence of my being.

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I photograph corpses, the ones brought for the final rites at this ghat.

I ply my trade every day, without fail. The dead don’t celebrate holidays, I’m given to believe. The irony of it, though. I have seen many a silent visage during my job. Their people wrap them up in shrouds and adorn them with flowers, all of which the river unflinchingly carries away.

They say this river washes away your sins. I perpetuate the notion because my livelihood depends on it. So, if you find me around, I will tell you how the dirtiest water in the country shall carry the burden of your wrongdoings, simply because you choose to believe it.

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I have to hawk my services around like a vendor. People want to treasure their loved ones in a grim posthumous portrait, the logic of which eludes me, but one which I refrain from questioning. I always carry my overused digital camera with me. The emotions clouding the individuals around me make my job easier because people seldom seem to notice the quality of the pictures in this state. I just need to break in and convince them to choose me as the carrier of their memory. The result seldom matters. Although the same turmoil makes the payment process a pain too.

I’ve been in this business for quite some time. I don’t feel the pain anymore. I have numbed myself to anything that could interfere with the tattered notes counted at the end of the day. Sometimes, just sometimes, I stare at those lifeless faces, in the reddish hue of the developing room, and I am paralyzed. I think about their lives and their circumstances, and their bitter heartbreaks and losses. I have to remind myself that all of that had ceased to exist and that the truth is dancing naked in front of me – I have a pregnant wife and two children to feed. But I’m human too, or so I choose to believe.

The sun bubbled out of nowhere that morning, as always, splashing the holy river with its crimson glitter. I sat by the water, basking in the glory of the tender rays, gently dipping my legs in the cool murky fluid, waiting. This has always been one of the best parts of my day. There is a strange peace in watching the faint awakening of life. The embers were dying, and grey ash flew about, filling the air with its light flakes. The ashes possess a sense of finality, of the inevitability that is the stop sign on this journey.

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A group of people moved towards the ghat in hushed tones. No funeral procession, no chants, just silence. In the name of bread, I went ahead with my equipment. As I approached the group, they slowed down. All of them were wearing dull colors.

A woman, in her twenties, her eyes bloodshot with the ache of loss and longing, glared right at me. She seemed to stare into the very depths of my soul, as only a body ravaged with the pangs of hopelessness can. You rarely see women here, a product of our patriarchal delusions. I reached out courageously and asked if they would like me to photograph, looking for a body all the while. I could see none.

Suddenly, a strange bundle caught my eye, ensconced protectively within the arms of the woman.

“Here, hold. Click, if that’s what you want.” Her voice was cold as ice, devoid of emotion.

I stopped breathing. My feet were stuck to the dusty ground, which suddenly felt hot and parched.

She thrust a small white bundle into my hands. It felt blue and heavy. The contour of tiny, hollow bones pressed into my fingers, sinking deeper and deeper.

A withered face, caught in the eye of an all-consuming storm, never returning. I could not bear to look at it anymore. A few months old. Just a few months. My insides squirmed, and my eyes felt hot with tears. I tried to imagine what the woman must be going through. I couldn’t.

In a cruel flash, my mind wandered towards my own pregnant wife, the promise of a healthy child wrapped safely in her womb. I looked at the infant again, at the irretrievable curve of its smile, and I could not stand it anymore. I carefully returned the cold bundle back, shaking all the while. I fell in a heap.

I lay still. Infants are usually buried, but I could make out the faint odor of a fresh pyre, growing intense by the minute. The heat felt chilly to me, as if the little life was defying the effort of the blaze. Or maybe it was because of my freezing veins. Her voice still echoed in my bones, banging against the dark recesses of my mind.

I could see my cracked reflection in the camera screen.

The river started swelling as the sky gathered dense grey clouds.

I should have clicked my own picture that day.

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Fractured Mirrors

Whenever I am cold, I drown myself in steaming water. It’s been a year, and the water has smoked every single day. I slowly realized the cold had settled deep inside, in a crevice, spewing numbing chills. I get myself out of bed every day. Somehow. I finish my daily ritual and return home from work, walking.

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The streets are empty today. Sodium vapour lamps throw scattered yellow light at intervals. I stand under one of those lights. A major portion of the lamp has been covered by a beehive. I can see the bees buzzing about, toiling endlessly for their queen, a veil of purpose pulled over their eyes.

I am living my life in silhouettes, fading and emerging in these hissing yellow streetlights. A solitary draft stings my cheeks and arms, beckoning my cold insides. It is peaceful, or so it seems.

I reach home. Turning the key in the lock, I feel a sense of apprehension. Of what lies behind the doors. I enter.

A year ago, it was different. I used to live alone. I still do. But it was different.

A shimmering, dark blanket creeps itself slowly around my shoulder. Really slowly, tenderly. I don’t even feel it holding my throat in an innocuous grasp. I can breathe, for sure. But I can feel it, I can feel the pores of my body filling with sparkling, blue ice.

I lie down on the carpet, wrapping it around myself. That was my futile effort to ward off the specter sucking my body lifeless. A few hours later, the blanket is gone, but the room is still heavy, waiting to pounce upon me. I can hear crickets now, their harmonious chatter giving me something to hold on to.

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The heart is weak. It loves clinging to things, materialistic expressions, even when they are nothing but illusions of nature.

“It gets better.”

“Lighter days are ahead.”

“Don’t lose hope. Hang in there.”

Let me tell you, it doesn’t get better. And even if it does, it’s temporary.

Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope is an intensely fragile thing. Hope is utterly faithless.

An abyss you ought not look into. Because if you do, it might not turn out to be a ray of sunshine but an endless tunnel. A darkness so black that there is no turning back.

What has to go wrong will go wrong. One has no choice but to accept it. That way, the delusion of hope burns out its own existence.

I gather my freezing knots into my body and turn on the light. It makes no difference to me anymore.

I am not a slave to hope.

I am a slave of my own being, lost forever in memories and pages.

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A Time for Life

This is not a story. Not a happy one, not a sad one. Just words, inconsequential.

A fragile day. Drop by drop, melting into an expanse of nothingness. I cannot move, not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow. I have tried, straining every muscle, to the point of agony, but I can’t. I am stuck.

The window is open today. It is a graceful piece of woodwork, rough at the edges, reminding of the survived winters. I live, if that is what you can call my existence, in one of those ornate, vintage homes that have adorned many a tale. It is now ensconced in the lap of snowy mountains and fir trees.

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I don’t really want to say this, but I might just burst open if I don’t. I don’t know how this reached you, and I never will. I am trapped inside my own useless body, cold and warm.

A chilly wind swirls around the room. I can see it, filling the crevices with an icy blue, gliding tenderly on my pale skin. From the way I rest, I can feel a solitary bird crooning a cracked verse. The song mingles with the breeze, creating music out of thin air.

I go back in time, to the days when running around these valleys was everything I ever wanted. The misty cliffs and frosty trees beckoned with their rustle. Small shops and cafés dotted the entire town, waiting for ignorant tourists to serve their hilly specialties to. The sun would beam amidst the cold, and iridescent crystals of dust would float lazily, and you could breathe in the slow, musty warmth.

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And people, yes, the people. You met someone new almost every day. They would be awed by your home, your town. And inside, I would be proud, really proud. That was a long time ago, long before my body gave up on me. I know nothing of the outside world except the four feet of a window now.

It’s my birthday today. They have stopped celebrating it now. They know there’s no hope. I know there’s no hope. I wish there’s a place beyond where life isn’t so unfair. I am tired of waiting, of making them wait. I am just a hollow shell, neurons firing inside, to no end, no purpose.

I happen to have a grandchild. He whispers a wish every year, though he has no way of knowing I can hear him. I have never felt his tender face in my hands, never ran it through his beautiful curls. Do you know what’s worse than not seeing your lineage at all? Gazing at your blood every single day and realizing you could have played a part, a part which he will forever be deprived of now.

“Happy Birthday, Grandma”, he mumbles in a hushed tone.

I can feel the turmoil inside my head, and the tears outside, but it is so common now that it fails to be acknowledged as a distinct emotion. He then circles slowly around the bed, as if gaping at a lost artifact, ignoring the salt altogether.

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“Dear, where are you?” His mother. My daughter-in-law.

“Coming, mom.”

“I have told you a hundred times not to disturb her. Now, get back here!”

“Bye, Grandma.”

Bye. Away from the vegetable. Bye.

Living in the hills, I always enjoyed my solitude. But loneliness and solitude are two different things. Loneliness hurts, it sticks like indelible ink. You feel an empty space previously filled by your fantasies and dreams. It doesn’t matter if the entire world reaches out to you, that dark niche repels them, stubborn in its essence.

I overhear the argument today. It is usually muffled for my benefit. Today, all control is lost. It’s about me, as most of them are. But today is different. It has the tone of finality, of an explosion. My blood is running cold in my veins, although the numbness is nothing new.

Hours pass.

Night. 3 am.

The stars float in the sky, pointed strokes of white on a dark canvas. The wind howls its own rueful tune. It’s the perfect night, serene and occasional.

My little grandchild tiptoes into the room. His eyes are swollen with sadness and tears. I can smell the ache wafting through the room.

“Grandma, please, sorry…” he stammers. It takes him visible effort to walk. It was more of a mixture of hesitation, fear, and regret. “They can’t do this. They will break if they haven’t already. Sorry for today, Grandma. I can’t see any more suffering, not theirs, not yours.”

And gently is the deed done.

I talk of this from my wooden box. I am happy now. I hope they are, too.

I was never dead, but I was never alive either.

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A Blazing Echo

Waking from the deep throes of his imagination, he looked up from the page. A slight buzz emanated from his brain, the residual whirring of a machine after it has been switched off. The pen dangled nervously between his fingers, a drop of ink slowly finding its way down and staining his starched, white kurta. He had heard it, that deep rumble of senseless souls.

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The day had come. He had known it would happen eventually, but he could not stop his heart from bursting into anxious colours. He was human, after all.

He turned around from his desk and looked longingly at his shelves and yellowed walls. It was a small abode, quaint in its minimalism. It had its own story, a deep meaning to his life. Here is where he had picked up his pen for the first time, rhyming words and stringing fiery pieces. They were bound to agitate, he intended them to.

He could still hear it, getting louder, angrier.

Books and newspapers were strewn around the floor for want of space. He smiled, a wistful feeling flooding him. That home was a treasure chest to him, and what it held was beyond anything money or power could ever achieve.

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Closer. He could hear a hollow sound now and then, the hiss of bullets.

It is strange how certain things dawn upon one in a single moment. He remembered that day, not the exact words of that blasphemous proclamation, but his own blood ringing in his ears, thumping loud and clear. That day, that moment, he had decided. His pen shall finally bleed, through the withered pages and the innards of these enslavers.

For ages, he had burned in the shadows, a meek figure questioning his own sanity, writing away,

letter after letter,

word after word,

verse after verse.

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That had meant nothing to him then, all those years of struggle. That moment defined a purpose for him, and then, what flowed through the flawed tip was pure gold.

The Underground started resonating almost instantly. The power of words was unimaginable. Youths rallied to the cause, fighters started quoting the fierce realism, and circulation never stopped. A daily was released, openly seditious in nature.

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But, all they could see was the tip of the iceberg. There was a fire brewing. They could sense the slow, dangerous warmth. Headquarters were reduced to ashes, people were shot, blatantly and unapologetically.

These lives, with fire in their hearts and murder on their minds, weren’t afraid to die anymore, no, they were willing to.

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And he went on, free and emboldened.

Soon, the Underground sea was huge, threatening to force this unrest out as a tsunami.

That’s when they caught on. And they were here. To get him.

He knew what his words had done, and he was proud of it; peaceful for the first time in his life. He knew what this meant. He had stabbed into the heart of it, splattered blood. He had shaken them from the inside. All with the ink that slithered into vicious grooves and burnt their supremacist egos.

The doors burst open with a loud thud. They were screaming, but he never heard them, because he had submitted to himself. He allowed himself to be cuffed and was dragged along. Once outside, he nodded ever so slightly in the general direction of the sky.

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He coughed and brought his hands closer to his mouth. The pill killed him almost instantly. He fell in a calm motion and was kicked and beaten blue in his final moments, as if they wanted to deprive him of his final comfort. They couldn’t.

This might be a delusion, but the slight hint of a satisfied smile never left his face.

Hours later, when his house had been searched and documents and writings had been towed away, a boy climbed down from the terrace opposite his home. He had seen it. He quietly slipped into the empty home with a small hammer.

Dust particles sparkled and twinkled in the orange sunlight. The home echoed of ache and loneliness.

A section of the wall was softer than the others, but they hadn’t noticed that. He hit the section a couple of times and it gave away. Inside was his treasure. A thick pile of sheets was wrapped in a red cloth, preventing it from decay. He picked it up. On his way out, he saw a solitary sheet of paper flying about.

On it, in an ornate calligraphic hand, were the words – Inquilab Zindabad.

Some legacies never die.

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This is a work of fiction, but it is meant to acknowledge every fighter who decided to let his veins fill with ink and embraced the darkness.

While popular culture connotes the final phrase to radicals like Bhagat Singh, the real face behind it gets lost between the lines. History books barely mention him, even when he was the inspiration for an entire school of ideology.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani (real name: Syed Fazl-ul-Hasan) was a freedom fighter and a poet, although that is not mutually exclusive. A lot of his work centres around romance, but he was the first person to claim complete independence instead of Dominion Status.

It is time to remember the forgotten pages and burnt souls.

Inquilab Zindabad – Long Live the Revolution.

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(I do not own the pictures used in this post.)

A Soliloquy of Colours

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It is blue here, deep, edging on black. I look at my hands, thin and wrinkled, shaking. The water trickles slowly through the tap, forming ripples in the stagnant water. The sound haunts me. Drop after drop, banging like drums in my head, refusing to stop no matter what. Drenched in the cold, I sit and stare.

I can hear the hiss of the cameras flashing outside, the self-appointed judges of moral code crying out red chants of blasphemy. I walk out of the bathroom. The curtains have been closed, leaving the room sprinkled with the vestiges of a soft sun. I peep through the broken glass. Chaos guides this crowd, who claim to be united, but would be at each other’s throats as soon as a little thorn threatens their inflated egos.

A stone crashes into the house, shattering the glass into tiny edged crystals. Third one today. I had always thought that the glass was strong. I now realize good times are not the perfect judges of adversity. I walk back and slump down on the sofa. It is strange how people can twist the truth to mould and soothe their own trivial realities, how seamlessly their minds can wrap around their mistakes, transforming it into a self-glorifying truth.

My eyes catch sight of a photograph, old and ruffled in the frame, a frozen tear of time. I pull it out. It is fragile, torn at the edges, and it smells of memories. Lost, faded memories. A boy looks happy, all smiles and joy, ignorant of the vicious whirlpools life is going to plunge him into.

They say life is but a journey, and every sunrise is preceded by a dreary night. But what if it’s not a day, but a season, a cold, grey winter? Reckless, unending. The leaves fall and the spring doesn’t greet. Isn’t that a fair possibility? The edges are not smooth and rounded. They are sharp, jagged, waiting for someone to falter and bleed. I have been cut, deep and purple, and I do not want to wait for the light.

I walk towards the terrace. The sky is slightly clouded. I walk over to the ledge and prop myself on the thin, rough surface. I stumble, balance again. A cool breeze strokes my face. I feel myself giving away.

Police personnel enter the house sometime later.

It’s Blue.

And Black.

And Red.

I just wanted my freedom.

A Curtain of Smoke

This is her tale of love, loss, deception, and desperation.

This is her journey through the depths of the nine circles.

This is her encounter with the devil of her life.

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An angel of dreams

Swinging in a flourish of stars

Swept me off my feet a fine day

One whisper at a time 

All little things and slow kisses

The meaning of life,

The homely wishes.

 

I see those little protrusions now

And what all the temptation was about

What those eyes lured me into

What they made me say and do.

 

He soars flapping those evil wings,

Clawing into my head,

Digging out little pieces of flesh,

Bathing in the leaking crimson.

He walks with a soft gait,

Baring his teeth, rotten, sick,

He pins me on the executioner’s block,

And stabs me dry with his diabolical spear.

Blood curdles and gurgles out of me,

Splashing on the sea of pain,

Mingling, swirling,

And I don’t feel it anymore.

 

I am reserved for hell

Temptation, perhaps.

I see him, I see him still

That smile, those teeth,

The bloody spear, the omen ill,

He’s here.

 

He walks with his patience,

And then loses it all at once

As one world collapses into another,

I lose my voice in this pyre of ash

Where infernal sins adorn vernal suns

Where words stagger into abysses of hurt

Where gazes rip my soul into weak, little pieces

Too fragile to be gathered, 

Too tough to be moulded,

Too dark to be coloured.

 

I can’t rise now

Neither can I drown

Just gasp for air 

Every day, every minute, every second

Wishing, wishing for the smoke

To melt my skin

To take me far away

In a wisp of mist

On a shooting star.

 

(I do not own any of the pictures used in this post.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Misty Muse

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Roaming around the place was a daily ritual for him. The sunshine, the greenery, the sparkling river, held a romance of sorts. He could see the people there, lost in their own thoughts, lost in their lives, lost, and trying to find themselves. The one thing that intrigued him was that they were almost always alone. That was the irony. A place full of cliches from the world, and yet, lost souls knew no way out.

It was a particularly chilly day. He had worn his withered brown jacket, as always. He could see a couple today, young and gentle. They stood staring at the dazzling water, talking to each other. The only curse was the intrinsic nature of this place. They were talking to each other, but a silence captivated their minds and hearts. A silence too deep to be ignored. It is sad how we explore masks as a means to protect the ones we love or the ones we think we do.

A cool breeze touched his cheeks. The mild fragrance of roses hung in the air. Sometimes, he could smell things others couldn’t. He could clearly feel the hot breath of freshly mown grass at times, of a steaming coffee brew, of an old parchment at others. He had a strange sensation then. His vision reflected a clear stream, but he was transported to another place, a figment of his fertile imagination, a phantom. It was a place he felt close to. He could almost feel the tender touch of the elements, reaching his nerves, entrancing them.

He always carried a book with him to this open haven of his. It made him feel safe, not of the physical, but of things unknown. It gave him a power nothing else could. It was a higher form of interaction, mingled with the beauty of invisibility. It was like a warm hug in times of despair, and he could not remember the last time he was happy. He could not live without it.

He contemplated going back, but where would he go?

Right then, a little girl passed by with her mother.

“Momma, look! There’s the man with the brown jacket Granny was telling us about!”

There was apprehension in her mother’s eyes. “There’s no one, dear! You need to give your mind some rest. Sleep early.”

“No, momma, I’m not making it up! Please, Momma, believe me.”

For once, she did. Composing herself, though, “Granny’s ghost stories are for entertainment, my love. They are not real. Ghosts do not exist,” her mother smiled.

The girl kept staring at the man in the withered brown jacket. That day, lore took on a deeper meaning for that tender mind, as the apparition of despair turned into mist.