(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
Ayush Kumar Singh is a B.Tech. (IT) stuadent at Netaji Subhash University of Technology, New Delhi. He became a published author at the age of fifteen with his book, ‘Adventure Stories’ (2016). He regularly writes fantastic and expressive short stories on the pictures provided by 'Junoon- The Photography Club of NSUT' (the group is also created @ facebook). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The article he was reading was about sparrows and how their numbers have dwindled. Truly, he had been seeing less and less of the little birds in the past years. He shook his head in dismay. He even mentioned it to the milkman when he arrived with his canister. The milkman was also lost in thought for a while, then he moved on.
This had become a routine. He would arrive at his spot before the first light, clean up the place, wipe the wooden benches, arrange his jars and then read the newspaper waiting for the milkman. His first customers were the security guards of the nearby college. Sometimes, they'd come even before the milkman and discussed the news with him. He had a knack of striking up a conversation with all his customers, be it college students or labourers. His tea stall was often transformed into a debating arena where he was the moderator! Politics was an all time favourite topic. What better way to enjoy tea and biscuits than to bash the politicians!
After the guards, he welcomed the shopkeepers from the nearby market. Apparently they were a distressed because the new supermarket was stealing their customers. He eagerly listened to them. The subtle aroma of the tea leaves opened up many souls. People would share their woes with him, and he would always be sympathetic.
After eight, his stall would be buzzing with people from all kinds of crafts and trade. Office goers would stop for a quick refreshment, peons would often fill thermoses for the college teachers and students would flock around during lunch.
That day when he told a group of students about sparrows, they began an interesting discussion about how nature is being disturbed by man.
He loved interacting with the students. Many would come to him with sweets when they got a job!
The skies were dark that day, and sure enough, it started raining in the evening, which boosted his sales! Passers-by gathered around his tarpaulin tent and had tea and snacks while waiting.
He never did care about the earnings. He would always get just enough to survive. Sometimes more, like that day. At the end of the day, he would not go home very wealthy, but very satisfied. Unlike most of his customers, he would actually be looking forward to coming back to work the next day!
The family was settled in a metro. Employed in the corporate sector, they enjoyed all the modernities it had to offer. But if you'd visit their home, you'd witness a different story.
Ranging from Madhubani paintings to terracotta toys, and from wooden puppets to Tibetan bells; their home had a cultural hub of its own! Originally being a family of artisans, they had never forgotten their roots. Knowing that their ancestors thrived on art and craft, they deeply respected all artworks. This was the reason why the Surajkund Mela was such a big deal for them.
The smallest member of the family was six. And she was the smartest kid in her class, enriched with the knowledge of the culture of her country. She knew that the Mela was always a big occasion, but for some reason her parents and brothers were extra excited. Close to being bubbly, in fact! This made her happy too!
When they reached the venue, she realized that the theme state of the Mela was Maharashtra, her home state! So this was why her family was so pumped!
The Mela was absolutely mesmerizing. Oh the colours of the Benarasi sarees, and the charming music of the Ektara, and the strong scent of spices; it was too much to take in!
And it was like a never ending adventure, being the largest crafts fair in the world. They took a break and everyone got to choose one exotic Bengali sweet. They got moving before the girl could finish, and she had to relish the sweet on the move.
The family often stalled and talked to the craftsmen about their work, which pleased them too! By the end of the day, a strong sense of satisfaction settled in their minds. It was a truly fulfilling experience. And as for the little girl, she couldn't wait to go to school and tell her friends all that she saw and learnt!
Being a single parent is never easy. But being a single parent with no reliable income source is tougher still. Times were desperate, and survival seemed bleak. But when her seven year old daughter wiped her tears and offered to quit school to take care of her infant brother, her will strengthened. She smiled at her girl's sincere proposition and decided that she would fight on, not for herself, but for her children.
At first, it was difficult to kick-start the business after the setback. She spent sleepless nights sculpting Buddha's busts and crafting stick fans for her crafts shop. But however tedious the situation, she made sure that her children remained unaffected. Seeing her determination, the workers slowly began rejoining. In her, they found an extremely capable leadership. Sure there were many hurdles, but the work was gradually blooming.
The siblings grew up watching their mom toil for them which instilled a sense of humbleness in them. Grateful for all that was provided to them, they studied hard. They didn't have a lot of outfits, or any fancy gadgets. But their mom made sure that their education was uncompromised.
Her daughter now often asks her to retire from the shop and rest. Even though she knows that she would live a very comfortable life with her daughter, she just smiles and says she can't abandon the craft which nourished them all these years. What contents her heart the most is knowing that her daughter is independent now, and her little son is now in a good college. She has learnt a lot of lessons during her struggle. But the most important one of them was-"Tough times never last, tough people do!"
It was the very first day of first standard so they had to wear a fancy dress! The little girl had two little braids made by her mother, had a little bag on her shoulders, and little red shoes on her feet. Overall, it was a little spectacle!
But on the way to the bus stand, she was quietly sobbing. She didn't understand why her parents could not see that she was a big girl now. That she could take care of her baby sister all by herself! From making space for the diapers in her bag, to putting the milk bottle in the side pocket; she had planned it all! Who says school is not a place for babies if you have such an amazing sister. But sadly, adults can be very unreasonable sometimes.
But back home, the adults had decided to make up to their girl. A trip to her favourite place, the Taj Mahal! They had gone their many times before, but it was going to be the baby's first day out!
The little girl squealed in joy when she saw her mother holding her baby sister at the school gate. Although it was a stressful day of first standard, she sang all the way to the monument!
She was the perfect guide to the baby. Explaining all she knew about the wonder of the world, she was glad that her sister was such a great listener! And being the wonderful caretaker that she was, she even insisted on letting her sister take a break when they were touring around the Mahal. Their parents had a warm wave of contentment run through them. It was a heart-warming moment watching their little daughters explore around the ancient marvel.
The return trip was a silent one. The girls had thoroughly tired themselves. And it looked appropriate for the baby to rest her head on the lap of her diligent elder sister.
When his mummy woke him, he thought it was time for school. But while getting his teeth brushed, she told him that it was Saturday. He still could only recite four days of the week, but he knew that Saturday was a holiday.
In the car, he had an endless list of questions about where they were going. Will there be ice cream at the temple? Would there be more kids to play with? And most importantly, will the temple have a playground?
But the moment they entered the temple, his mind was filled with fascination. Witnessing the hundred feet Buddha statue, awed him. It even made his papa look tiny, who was the largest person in the house! The colorful flags reminded him of the rainbow and he tried counting them. He could only count nine before his mummy pointed to the little pond. There was a big white bird on the other side of it. It was surely bigger than him and so he kept his distance from the pond!
Next thing he spotted was another statue, this time of some animal. It was like a lion, but was white with big teeth and tongue stretched out. He was convinced that it was the guard of the temple!
He saw people playing with a giant roller and asked his mummy to take him there. Finally, some playground equipment! But he just couldn't figure out how to ride it. Then his mummy told him about what the prayer wheel actually was. It was meant to be rotated, but even on his toes, he couldn't reach the handles! His mummy smiled and lifted the little boy.
On their way back, he was told the mantra that was written on the prayer wheel.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Surprisingly, he learnt that in one go!
"Attention please: Train number 12659 is arriving shortly at platform number 2."
The man was in his mid forties, with hair readily graying. With his sling bag hanging low, he descended down the stairs to the platform. He had heard this announcement so many times before, that he sometimes mouthed the words just to humour himself. He didn't do so today. Today his mind was elsewhere.
On his way here, he had started thinking about his daily life. How usual and how unchanging it was. He'd go to work via the local and return at six, every day. He'd perform the exact same clerical duties at work. He'd buy groceries on his way back and sometimes chocolates for his children. He'd wake up late on weekends and if he had got a bonus for the month, the family would go out and eat. And the entire cycle would begin the next week.
As he got on the train, the grim realization of his monotonous life took over him.
But then he looked around himself. He saw the people who he had shared the local with all these years. He thought of their lives. One's wife was leaving him, and he'd tell about the happenings of their home. One lived in a noisy neighbourhood, and he'd tell about the happenings of his colony. But whatever the problem may be, they'd still catch the local and go to work.
He realized how lucky he was to be living a monotonous life. To have a loving wife and children was a great blessing. When one of his co-passengers waved at him to take a seat, he smiled and declined. Today he would stand by the door and enjoy the fresh breeze against his face.
That evening, his family was sure surprised when he told them to get ready to go out for dinner!
The human race has come a long way. Since the dawn of civilization, we have thrived to make ourselves home in this spherical rock afloat in space. We have survived through extreme volcanoes, destructive meteorites, gargantuan tsunamis, and countless other natural calamities. But history has shown us that the biggest threat to our race is not nature, but our own selves.
We have waged bloody wars. We have lived through the rule of tyrants. We have exploited nature indiscriminately. We have propagated hatred amongst our own selves. But no matter how grim the situation, we have survived.
As long as there lives a tiniest speck of love or a smallest measure of unity, there is still hope for us. As long as the feeling of brotherhood survives, there is still hope for us. As long as we have the sense of right and wrong, there is still hope for us.
The wishing lamp is the embodiment of hope. Every hand must let go of the lamp to let it fly, and similarly, only together can we all make sure that hope lives on. A hope for peace. A hope for humankind.
The old man was always by her side. She had learnt to walk holding his hands. Whenever they would go on walks around the small village, all the dogs would surround them. The little girl loved playing with them as her grandfather fed them biscuits. Even after multiple requests by both of them, the little girl’s mother simply would not allow any dogs in the house.
Even though he himself was illiterate, he always sat down with the girl during her study time and made sure that she was completely focused. And it was him who went around the village distributing sweets whenever the girl achieved a milestone. But when she qualified the Teacher Eligibility Test, he did not do so. It was not because of his age, but it was because he knew her only grandchild would have to move to the city.
She was teary eyed at the railway station. She hugged her grandfather and cried on his shoulder, like she had done many times before. As the train whistled, he gave her a little basket. She looked inside to see a very small Samoyed puppy. They both smiled, and did not say anything.
As the years flew by, the pup grew up. He witnessed her complete the0 training and become a teacher at a good school. They go on long walks, sometimes to the outskirts of the city. And he intently guards her when they sit and she calls her mother. Although her grandfather is no more, she is comforted by the fact that his last gift to her is still with her, always by her side.
They didn't have an alarm clock. The rattling of the milk delivery truck woke them up. On some other days, rain did that job. Thankfully monsoon was still months away.
As soon as they woke up, the family began their daily routine. The father was a rag picker, and often he'd bring some discarded tattered clothes for the rest. The mother and her two children had employed themselves at the intersection, where they would sell incense sticks, balloons, and window covers during the red light. They were working extra time these days, so that they could afford the resources to build a hut near the landfill.
Winter nights aren't merciful to those who sleep under the stars.
The frail little boy, seven or eight years of age, had grown accustomed to hunger. Growing up, he had witnessed everything his family had to go through. He knew how uncertain, how bleak his existence was. But ever since his father determined to get a roof over their heads, he had found a new ray of hope. Giving his best, he himself inflated the balloons and tied them to the stick neatly.
One night, while he was showcasing his balloons at the red light, he noticed a car which seated a girl of around his age. His mother had told him that kids could be enticed easily. And truly enough, the girl immediately started begging to her father to get her a balloon. After a full minute of deliberations, he sighed and rolled down the window. The girl squealed in joy as she took the balloon. The boy noticed that she was wearing a school uniform. Must have been some late function. Some days ago, his father had mentioned that after they get a hut, maybe the children could be admitted to a government school. And ever since, he could not get the thought out of his head.
School? It seemed as far-fetched as riding a bicycle.
But that ray of hope in him made him wonder. Could he also start studying? Could he also get an actual job? Could he also, one day maybe, be on the other side of the car's door? His thoughts were interrupted as the light turned green and he rushed to the sidewalk to give his earnings to his mother.
The night was long, and he had twenty balloons waiting to be sold off.