The Unhappy Prince

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I stare at the blackboard as the class progresses with a dreary pace. When will this class get over, it is insufferable. I wait for his class with bated breath. And here he comes. God, Professor Mohanty is looking at me. This man can literally see through me. And I wish I could see through his shirt, which conceals the chiseled body of his. Shhh hold your horses. Keep the evil and forbidden thoughts at bay. Concentrate…
**********

Two bodies are entwined. Me and him. We kiss with an urgency. I feel ecstatic. My heart flutters and I feel as if I am galloping on a horse. Majestic and amorous at the same time. I open my eyes and it is him- Professor Mohanty. His lips curve into that characteristic lopsided grin. I wake up with a start.
Man..What is happening to me?
Sweaty..scandalized… scared..
Surreal..scintillating..satiated..
This cannot be. This is blasphemous.. What is wrong with me? Two men? No, this cannot be happening. It will pass..it shall pass.
**********

English class. Be still my heart.
Oscar Wilde. Picture of Dorian Gray. I have loved reading Wilde’s short stories.
Happy prince, The Canterville Ghost. This should be fun.
‘Art for art’s sake’..hmm interesting concept. I dig for it completely.
Time passes so quickly when Professor Mohanty is teaching. He is not just a looker but he has a certain aura around him. The way he reads out from those literary tomes. I am smitten. Is this love?
**********

I am at the library. Wilde..Wilde.. here he is.
He was a beauty, this man. ‘Flamboyant dressing style’..woahh. Known for his plays.
Ohh..charged for ‘gross indecency’. Involved with a younger man… Jailed for two years.. I am trembling. I cannot breathe. I should leave. Rehan, my best friend, beckons me, “Hey man, what is wrong with you? You look pale.”
I have to go. I need to leave.
Get a grip. Now.
**********

Dreams … the mirrors to our sequestered soul.
Me and him. We are making love.
Sheets ruffled.
Emotions disarrayed.
I look at his cherubic face. Oscar Wilde…
I wake up with a frenzy. This is bizarre.
Who am I?
I whimper then I howl. Tears could not possibly cleanse me. Why on earth is this happening to me?
**********

Rehan and a group of boys chattering, “So, this Oscar Wilde was actually wild.”
Uproars.. Sneers!
I join in.
I laugh.
I deride him. I am uneasy. I despise them..I am angry. I am angry at myself, at them, at Professor Mohanty and then of course ‘him’, for being so ‘wild’.
Well, I cannot be like him. Look where it got him! He was charged for ‘indecency’. He loved a man. Love as in he ‘loved him’ you know. And it was way back in the Victorian times. He was put behind bars. Obviously! He was not an honourable man. What if he was a writer par excellence. He was convicted. I am a decent guy. I cannot commit a crime. I come from a reputable family. I am not a freak. Am I? I cannot love another man. Can I?
**********

Professor Mohanty is standing right there. I look at him and my heart skips a beat. We have to submit our critique on Wilde next week, he says. Is this infatuation? But, why am I infatuated with a man? Why? I should divert my attention. Yes, this should work.
Who is the most popular girl in our class? The one the guys were talking about yesterday…what was her name? Damn, cannot remember! Oh, there she is. I should ask her out. She looks like an angel. Should I go now?
Tomorrow, tomorrow I shall..
Everything will be fine then. I am not a misfit. Dad is wrong. I will prove him wrong. Just because I did not want to join the family business, he doesn’t get to cast aspersions on me.
I am ok. I will be ok.
**********

The paper is due today. I was up all night. My mind is like a dark abyss and I am falling deeper and deeper into the pit. It is dark and bottomless and I am lost. I cannot see anything. Who am I?
I turn in the paper. I take a sigh of relief.
I am done. I am exhausted. I cannot take this anymore.
Am I forgetting something?
Yes, the girl… where is she? May be tomorrow. I feel caged.
Will she know? I don’t deserve to be with her. I am an imposter. Yes, that’s what I am.
Breathe…breathe.
**********

Professor Mohanty walks in. I try to look away. I should look away. He hands out our papers. I grab my paper. I got an A. Like seriously? How? I am hyperventilating.
Professor Mohanty asks me to meet him after the class.
I shake like an autumnal leaf.
Does he know? No…
How can he? I never said a word. May be he could make out. Oh God, I was leering at him the whole time. Of course he knows.
His cabin.
My hands are cold.
This is it. Shame on me. A disgrace to the family.
The talk is over. I am transfixed.
Professor Mohanty gives me a glass of water. I gulp it down my parched throat.
He knows. I am such a fool. I wrote an entire page about Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality and how he was not a criminal, how I am not a criminal. F**k. I divulged more than what was asked. He could read between the lines. He said he would help me see a specialist, a counselor. He said it is ok to feel lost. Denial is the first stage he said. He said I am not a freak. He said I will be fine. Love is love, he said.
Tears are trickling down my cheeks unabated. Gosh, I am a mess.
But,
I am not a loser…
I am not a loser…

This was first published here: https://artoonsinn.com/2019/06/12/the-unhappy-prince/

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The Ruins…

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The loo* blew taking along with it a flurry of sand and Dhani pulled her odhani* and covered her eyes hastily.
“Kathe reh gayi” *, Manu bai questioned as she helped her put down the three pitchers of water that Dhani had been carrying.
Dhani adjusted her kanchli* and sprawled on the ground. It was an ordeal each day to bring water meandering through the hot sand. The dry and arid land stood in contrast to the variegated attire and persona of the people of this small desert village in Rajasthan.
For Dhani it was home. It was amidst these tawny terrains of Kuldhara village that she transformed from a little girl to an alluring beauty. “Roop (Beauty) has its consequences”, her mother Manu bai would often tell a naïve Dhani.
The Palliwal Brahmins lived in the village and led an uneventful life.
Salim Khan was a man who was abhorred by one and all. He was an unscrupulous fellow and the Palliwals swore at the sight of him. He was the Diwan* and he would levy heavy taxes on their produce.

Isn’t it perplexing as to how a singular moment can change the course of life for someone?
There was stillness in the air. Dhani was merrily treading the dusty lane with two of her friends. Their colouful odhanis shone in the scorching rays of the sun and the mirrors reflected back prismatic hues.
Just then they saw Salim khan, who sat on his camel like a king sits on his throne- majestic and with an air of arrogance. Their eyes met for some fleeting seconds. Dhani felt shivers run down her spine.

Then, it happened.

The village Sarpanch called Dhani and her mother to his small haveli*. Manu bai was apprehensive and wondered why the Sarpanch had beckoned them.
“Manu bai , Salim Khan came today. He wants Dhani. If we do not concede, then God help us. He threatened to levy more taxes and make our lives a living hell”, Sarpanch sa spoke with an urgency.

“What will we do Sarpanch sa”, Manu bai exclaimed and her voice trailed as she looked at her daughter.

“Sometimes there is no happy choice Manu bai, only one less grievous than the others”, Sarpanch said decisively.

The next day as the sun emanated its first rays on the Kuldhara village, something was awry.
The village stood gaunt and abandoned. The villagers had made a choice. In the stillness of the night thousands of them left the village- their home.
************
Today, centuries have passed. But, the dilapidated ruins of Kuldhara are a sight to behold and a major tourist attraction.
Dhani meanders through the decrepit alleys of her home. It is a sacred place for her- A place where her own people stood for her honour.
If only they did not have to make a choice!
A group of tourists walk towards the relics.
“Did you see a shadow”, one of them shouts.
Dhani disappears in thin air.

Glossary:
Loo- Loo is a strong, dusty, gusty, hot and dry summer wind.
Odhani- Piece of cloth worn by Rajasthani women over their head.
Kathe reh gayi- Where were you?
Kanchli- Blouse/shirt worn by Rajasthani women.
Diwan- Chief Treasury Officer
Haveli- Mansion
This story is based on the myth of Kuldhara ruins in Jaisalmer (Rajasthan).

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The Curious Case Of A Loner

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Sneha had always been accused of being a loner. She would often ponder though, whether she actually was a loner and if being one was a crime so to say. She was not bitten by the wanderlust bug. She found solace in books and enjoyed her company the most. Planning a holiday and then the eventual packing paraphernalia would give her the jitters- always. Was she downright laid back, she would wonder. Well for a long time her world was unfettered by any chaos and she reveled in the blissful company of her own self.

She did have friends but the shenanigans of a ‘Sex and the City’ kind of friendship was nowhere to be found. Was it even real, she would often muse. And in the absence of a ‘bosom pal’ it was quite convenient for her to lean back to books and her own blessed company.

Then she got married. And as luck would have it, she got hitched to someone who was an extrovert par excellence and who swore by ‘long drives’ and outdoorsy excursions. But, she remained unscathed by his exuberance and slowly and steadily they found a middle path. He could not move her from her comfort zone and life went on with the usual ebb and flow.

Soon monotony gripped her from behind like a dark stranger. She was miserable. Things that brought joy unabated- now seemed drab. What was missing in her almost perfect life? Sneha felt weary and soon realized that she would have to shun the land of the ‘Lotus Eaters’ and instead of living a life of languor look for newer exciting pastures.

A trip was therefore planned. They would spend a few days in the hills. Sneha was still dubious about this whole scenario. But, she conceded thinking how bad can it be. The hills were probably calling out to them.

The day she reached the sleepy hill city, she was smitten with it. It was as if life had come to a stand-still. And she was enjoying it. She liked the slow-paced aura of the place and those serpentined mountain lanes caught her attention like never before. She had extensively read Wordsworth when she was a teenager and even later, but never did it dawn on her that he was right after all. Nature do things to you which you cannot possibly explain in words- may be sketch out a hazy image to people like the Romantics did. But, it affects you way deeper than you can paraphrase through words.

The cool air cleansed her much tired mind and she felt rejuvenated. So- this is why people go about travelling the length and breadth of the world, she said to herself. The tiny break and the rendezvous with the hills gave her perspectives anew.

It is indeed good to be hidden in the safe vestibules of our home and mind, but, we humans cannot possibly reside in ‘a land where all things always seem’d the same’ (Lotus Eaters- Lord Tennyson).

And so, as the trip came to a bitter sweet end, Sneha realized that- “The vacation we often need is freedom from our own mind”. In these last few days she had not just come out of her shell that she had hitherto formed around herself but she also truly broadened her horizons-literally.

With a smile on her face and a glow that nature bestows on you- she headed home. Will she continue to be a loner and escape being a wanderer? Well- it is a start for sure 

Image Source: Christophe Dutour/Unsplash

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And She Ran…

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Trishna walked laboriously towards her apartment and looked around. The morning breeze blew her hair and the sunlight sieved through the foliage making her face shine brighter than ever. January mornings in the city were both serene and surreal. But Trishna could not care any less.

She entered her house and plonked on the beige coloured couch. She slowly moved her palm over the couch and sighed. Her mind unwittingly went back to the day when they had gone furniture hunting just after they had landed in the city. It had been six years.

She stood up and reached the bedroom. The big mirror seemed to be staring at her. The reflection did not please her but it did not surprise her either. There stood a plump, middle aged woman in her sweat pants.

Trishna realized she had errands to run and also buy a birthday gift for her daughter Tara. The mere thought of Tara brought a smile on her face. Trishna’s life revolved around Tara. Sankalp her husband was a wonderful father and every time Trishna saw the father-daughter duo she felt conflicting emotions erupt within her. “He is such a loving dad. I cannot be selfish. It is good for Tara”, she would tell herself and push the revolting thoughts in the innermost sanctum of her being.

She stepped out quickly collecting her car keys. She had to be back on time to pick Tara from the school bus.

“Hey, in a hurry?” a voice jolted her back to the present. She turned around and found herself standing face to face with a woman. The woman looked younger, way younger than her. She wore gym clothes and smiled from ear to ear.

“Hii, yes was just heading out”, Trishna managed to blurt out.

“No worries. I am Sneha. I have just moved next to you. 302. I thought I should introduce myself. I am a kindergarden teacher and I have just moved to this society as it is quite close to my workplace”.

“Oh great. I am Trishna. It is so good to meet you. I have a four year old daughter and we have been staying her for a while now. My husband Sankalp works for an IT firm. Do let us know if you need anything. Please feel free to barge in anytime”, Trishna said trying to sound as friendly as possible.

“Yes, I will. Thank you Trishna”, Sneha smiled.

The next few days Trishna would often see her new neighbor Sneha. Sometimes she would be returning after her work-out session while on some days she would be seen strolling in the society park. Trishna often looked at her bemused and could not help marveling at her exuberance which was almost infectious.

But wasn’t she like Sneha, once upon a time, she would wonder. Maybe we all have to grow up and face the bitter realities of life, she would think.

It was one of those days when Sankalp was out of town and Tara had gone to her Nani’s place for the long weekend. Trishna chose to stay back. She avoided company. Especially people close to her reminded her all the more of the lie that she was living and the farce that her life had become.

Just then the bell rang. “Who could it be at this hour”, Trishna wondered.
Sneha stood at the door beaming.

“Hii. Sorry to bother you at this hour. But, I ran out of coffee. Can I borrow some?” Sneha looked at her, doe faced.

“Yes, why not. Come in. In fact, I was going to make some for myself. I was alone. My daughter and husband are away for the weekend.”

“Perfect. I will join you in that case. I was bored to bits too.”

Trishna was taken aback but swiftly got around to showing some enthusiasm. She was not hoping for any company. In fact, with both her daughter and Sankalp away she could for sometime shed the garb of normalcy that she wore everyday and stare at the reality of her life.

“Tell me something about yourself Trishna”, Sneha sat on the kitchen slab picking up the coffee mug.

“Uh, what do you want to know?” Trishna felt utter discomfort at the presence of this uninvited guest. She had lots of friends but gradually she had pushed herself to this cocooned existence.

“Well, what are your interests? What you used to do before Tara was born?”

“I.. I ran an event management company and I was into fitness. I organized marathons and even participated in them”, Trishna stuttered.

It had been a while since she had envisaged herself doing any of the things she had just mentioned. It seemed as if she was talking about her alter ego who was lost in a quagmire of misfortune.

“Wow. Now I know why you looked familiar. I remember reading about you in a health magazine”, Sneha chirped.

Trishna nodded nonchalantly and looked the other way.

“I have an idea. Why don’t you come running with me tomorrow morning? It will be fun.” Sneha said out of the blue.

Before Trishna could answer, she said, “I will ring your bell at six in the morning. Be ready”.

The next morning Trishna hesitantly got into her fitness gear. She headed out and slowly started sprinting. As she did she felt an adrenaline rush and with that all the memories came gushing at her. She thought of how she had met Sankalp seven years ago and how they were ardently in love. Her mind took her back to those years when she had married Sankalp much to her parents chagrin. The first year was like a dream. Soon, she had Tara who became the focal point of her life. She used to be a strong and independent woman. She was a fitness freak, a successful entrepreneur. Then, one day all hell broke loose. Sankalp had been going away for official trips on and off. And on that fateful day she found out. He told her he was in love with her colleague. He told her he did not love her anymore. But, he would never leave her. He wanted to be the best father to Tara. He said he was sorry but he was in love. Trishna’s world fell apart. It was as if she was living in a fool’s paradise. She could not tell anyone. She felt embarrassed. She looked at little Tara who had just started saying her first word- ‘papa’.

So, she carried on living a life of pretence. But, her confidence and her self-esteem stumbled like building blocks. She shut down her company. She became a recluse. Her parents and loved ones thought it was depression. She told them she was seeing a therapist. And that shut them up. She no longer despised Sankalp. She was numb.

“Trishna, lets head back. It is enough for today I guess. You are a pro I must say”, Sneha’s voice brought her back from her reverie.

“Yes, let’s go back”.

From that day onwards, it became a ritual of sorts. Every day the two women would run for hours. Trishna felt an unusual surge of energy and she looked forward to the morning runs.
******************

It was early in the morning. As she was warming milk for Tara, she saw Sankalp hastily get into the washroom. She suddenly found herself at the door.

“Yes, I would meet you at the hotel. I know you wanted to have a beach holiday. I will reach Goa tomorrow”.

Trishna stood transfixed and an errant tear trickled down unabated. She knew he was seeing her. He never said he wouldn’t. But, all these years she had sequestered herself in a box and deliberately shut her eyes and her heart to him. Hearing him talk to ‘her’ made her feel nauseated. She felt something churn at the pit of her stomach.

Wearily, she walked out. She saw Sneha already standing there. “Oh, you are here. Let’s go”. Trishna followed her and she ran. She ran till her body could permit. And as she sat down, she bawled. Sneha immediately came and held her. That day Sneha held on to her and after hearing her out, she said, “You have to stand up to yourself. Your daughter needs to see the old you- The one whom she would be proud of. You owe it to yourself. You are an achiever. Do not let him define you”.
****************

A month had passed.
Trishna was a bunch of nerves today. She stepped out and looked at the vast expanse of space staring at her. It was a familiar turf. The biggest marathon event was to begin. She closed her eyes and she ran. She ran away from her inhibitions, she ran away from pretensions and societal norms. And as she reached the finishing line, she smiled. She had found herself.

Image Source: Pexels(Leah Kelley)

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Redemption

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Circa 2110

Dr. Treud’s clinic was swarming with men. Men of varying shapes, sizes and ethnicity had lined up in his swanky clinic. The waiting room which shone radiantly underneath the translucent walls looked almost unreal.

Dr. Treud was one of the most prominent psychiatrists of his times.
After a hard day at work, Dr. Treud sighed and lamented the loss of ‘them’. Almost all his patients had similar symptoms. They were depressed, they felt their lives were mundane and they had pent up emotions which marred their mental well-being.

It had been some years since the world had begun to be inhabited by ‘men only’. The fairer sex had bidden adieu and though scientific breakthrough ensured the process of procreation, only the male progeny could be birthed.

Women had been trampled from times immemorial. All over the world they had fallen prey to inhuman acts like rape, molestation, subjugation and so on. Even the ones who asked for equal rights were mockingly termed as ‘feminazis’.
So, gradually ‘Natural Selection’ took its course and slowly but steadily women disappeared from the face of the earth.

Men grappled to face this new reality and the downfall of humanity almost hung over their heads like Damocles’ sword. They felt incomplete. And why wouldn’t they? The yin had lost its yang.

Long, long ago John Gray had coined the phrase, ‘Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus’. Today Dr. Treud knew how important the opposing traits were to maintain a fine equilibrium.

Was there a possibility of redemption? Dr. Treud was sure that nature would one day bring back the women folk. Lesson had been learnt. With this thought, he opened the website http://www.wearesorrybringthewomenback.com just as the sun emanated its crimson light and heralded the start of yet another day.

This post was written for a prompt wherein we had to picture a day on earth without women. First published here: https://artoonsinn.com/2019/03/07/redemption-2/

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