Bed time story

“I want to build a bed.” My first sentence uttered over my first cup of my favorite strong black coffee brewed by my favorite man. His usual stoic non-response was a good, no, a great sign. At least he did not oppose, I shrugged mentally. Next, I visited Dr. Google and asked about the dimensions. Sleeping in bed is my expertise, but building one? Haa! I did not even know how big my mattress is. Dr. Google tells me that my mattress is 75 inches by 80 inches.

Is 75 inches the length or the width? I wonder. My previous success with the wooden bench has emboldened me. I don’t need to refer to Dr. Google for information anymore, I decide. Armed with the measuring tape, I head to the bedroom. Feeling very wise, I pat myself on the back for my caution, for I am now also measuring the underlying box spring. Oops! I now know why we seemed to have more room than usual on the bed, and yet, the husband’s feet always dangled outside the perimeter! All this time, the box spring has been sitting right, but I had set up my mattress width wise. Hurriedly, I fix the issue, taking care not to make any sound for the man is working from home and I don’t want him to know I goofed up on the one thing I had proudly boasted about setting up myself.

Later that evening, the husband approachs me. “You said something about building our bed.” I do a mental dance and nod with serene maturity. “We’ve been traveling and living all over the world over the last decade, renting, living in company provided accomodation. Don’t you think it is time to have our very own proper bed?” As is his style, he is quiet for a long moment. Suddenly, the quiet man disappears as a grin grows wide on his face, and I fall head over heels in love with him, again. “Let’s!” rising to his feet, he fetches the measuring tape, and off we go into the bedroom to measure and talk and discuss and argue.

“This room is meant to have a Japanese theme! The bed has to be low, closer to the ground!” he repeats for the millionth time. It is a physical effort to not roll my eyes. “My zaadu (broom) needs to be able to sweep underneath. I refuse to sleep with dirt and dust under my bed!” I know I look and sound scary when I take on this tone. Wink The trick works. He gives in, a little. “Two inches” I shake my head, “the ground clearance has to be ten inches. The broom must sweep freely.”

Rising to his full height of six feet two inches, the man rests his hands on his hips and looks at me like I’ve lost my head. “You do realise we’ll need a ladder to climb into bed it we keep ten inches of clearance plus the insanely thick mattress?” So he thinks he is being funny, eh? I’ll show him, I decide. I lug the hug ladder into the room, making a big show of the weight lifting. He doesn’t even a lift a finger to help, having seen me easily and comfortably haul more than twice this weight.

“Here,” I point to the rung at the exact height the mattress will be at, and proceed to oh-so-easily sit on it. “If I can settle comfortably,” I lift a freshly plucked eyebrow, “how come a giant like you claims he cannot?” I make a point of examing my long nails (handcreams have become my go-to because of the drying effect of sanitizers. While the effects of the cream on my skin is still unconfirmed, my fingernails defnitely thank me.) I’ve touched his ego. I know I have. He rests a foot on the lowest rung of the ladder, “three inches.” We continue to bargain for inches of ground clearance exactly the way one would bargain for prices. Finally, in a classic maneuver of naa teri naa meri, beech mein sauda pakka karte hain (neither yours nor mine, let’s settle the deal at a middle point), we both agree to ground clearance of five inches.

Now you see why this bed gave us immense food for conversation. All this while, we have only covered the ground clearance. The design, let’s just say the ‘conversation’ about design will need a separate post of its own!

Back to measuring. I set about shopping – online, of course. My Indian heritage means I must begin my search with what we consider the royal of woods – Teak! Way way way out of my budget. Not ready to give up, I look for the prices of cherry wood as an ode to our Japan sejour. Uh-uh Tough luck. It is still out of the limits of my pocket. So I explore mahogany, maple, oak, and even poplar! Finally, my current budget is happy when I choose good old versatile, easily available, handy, sturdy, reliable, local, Pine. ( I need to write/dedicate an antire post to pine).

This wood is available in several dimensions, and it is a separate study in mathematics and economics to calculate exactly how many pieces of what dimension would be required, for I wantto minimise scrap. My shopping cart looks good and the number on the bottom right makes my heart aflutter with joy. Once my pocket is lighter, I set out to go to the shop to fetch the wood. They help me pile it into my car. Done. Next, I head to the woodworking guild, where measuring, cutting, planing, sanding, are all easy to do with the tools they have. The supervisor enthusiastically joins me in my tasks once I tell her what the project is. Her help halves my task time.

It is almost sunset by the time I reach home, and the husband has wrapped up his work for the day. We unload the already gorgeous, but now even more beautiful looking pieces of wood. Delegating the task of drilling pocket holes, I start working on building the platform. Both these tasks are easy, but time consuming, for they need precision and right angles. Our rumbling tummies force us to stop.

Day two, the platform is ready. I have glued and screwed it. The legs (posts) and the headboard and footboard are no mean feat, and will require the efforts of us both, and the few clamps that we possess. We finish screwing one side board to the posts. But we must stop, for it is dinner time once again. I haven’t cooked. Patidev offers to pick up the ladle this time, leaving me free to finish staining the boards.

Day three, another side board gets mounted to the posts. The first round of varnishing is done. Dinner time.

Day, I need to start referring to them as evening. Evening four, nothing much gets done as the weather is miserable and cold. All I do is sand and apply a second coat of varnish.

Evening five, it is still cold, but not bone-jarringly so. The headboard needs to be mounted, but we first need to cut it, for I had left a few extra inches on for caution. Out comes the saw. We measure thrice, cut once, and proceed to kreg it. Alas! Something is wrong. The size is right, but it won’t fit between the two posts! Idea! I check the foot posts. The board fits like a dream. This variation happens because wood is a living being and has a mind of its own. Will pen a post “Ways of the Wood” on this shortly. We kreg it and fix it. Dinner.

Day six, I have a few moments to spare during the day. I sand and apply the third and final coat of varnish to what is now starting to look a lot like the bed I had envisaged. In the evening , we carry the platform into our room, and then the c-shaped footboard + sideboard set up. Everything fits very well to together. Whew! I hold the headboard against the two posts and ask the husband to hurry up with the measurements for it is a very heavy piece of wood indeed. He marks it, and heads back to the garage to cut. In the meantime, I finish marking the second piece for the headboard.

While the second piece is being cut, I drill pocket holes into the first one. He holds the holey board flush at ninety degrees while I screw it to the post. We repeat this with the second board. All of a sudden, we exclaim, for the bed looks like a bed! We attach the platform to the bed with rails and ta-dah! Sonny boy promptly proceeds to test the strength of our work by jumping, yes, literally jumping and bouncing on it. Nothing. Not even a creak! “I wish I were still a baby,” sonny boy muses. “Why?”I wonder. “So I could use your bed as my trampoline!” he grins cheekily and jumps off before I can remind him that he will always be my baby.

It took us a little over a week, but we did it. I smile to myself, we made our bed.

बाप तो बाप होता है

किसिका बाप अंबानी, बच्चन, धोनी, गेट्स होता है, किसिका डॉक्टर, फ़ौजी, कुली, माली होता है,
चाहे जो भी काम करे, या ना करे, बाप तो बाप ही होता है!

चोट लगने पर बच्चा माँ से बिलगता है, लेकिन चोट देने वाले से बाप ही निपटता है,
चाहे किसिको डराना हो, या छोटासा ख़टमल भगाना हो, ये दोनो ही काम, अक्सर बाप ही करता है

कभी रोटी जल जाए या खाने मे नमक हो ज़्यादा, “मुझे तो ऐसी कुरकुरी रोटी ही पसंद है,”
कहकर एक तीर मे दो निशान मारता हैक्यूकी बाप तो बाप होता है

दफ्तर मे ज़्यादा काम हो, तो माँ थक जाती हैतब पिज़्ज़ा पार्टी का प्लान बाप ही बनाता है
जितना भी पैसा कमाले माँ, बच्चों की फी का जिम्मा तो बाप ही उठाता है!

बेटी चाहे माँ के कितने भी हो करीब, जीवन साथी मे बाप की छवी मिल जाए, तो कहते खुशनसीब
बेटा बड़ा होकर आईने में बाप को ढूंडता है, क्यूकी यारो, बाप तो बाप होता है

और क्या बताए इस ग़ज़ब इंसान की दास्तान, जिसके नाम से रौशन है हमारा जहां,
कभी डाँटकर, फटकारकर समझाता है, तो कभी आँखों की एक झलक से ही मन की बात बताता है,

बच्चों की, घर की, नीव बन जाता है, उसके अंदर छुपा भी एक इंसान होता है
माँ की ममता तो सब जानते हैं, लेकिन बाप, वो तो जादूगर होता है!

यूँही नही कहते उसे, बेटी का पहला प्यार, और बेटे का हीरो,
हर घर का बाप सूपरहीरो होता है!!

ये बाप हर मर्द मे होता हैं,
भाई, मित्र, पति, पिता, ससुर, बेटा, दामाद, और भी कई रोल, वो बखूबी निभाता है!

आँसू निगलके, मुस्कुराके, लाडली को वो बिदा करता है,
बेटे का भविष्या सुहाना हो, इसलिए कड़ी मेहनत करता है,
तुम दुनिया मे कही भी रहो, खुश रहो, सलामत रहो, बस यही दुआ दिन-रात करता है.

अगर नाराज़ हो अपने बाप से, फिर भी माफ़ कर देना,
माँ की कोक का अगर है क़र्ज़, तो बाप के नाम का भी तो फ़र्ज़ है चुकाना!

(I am still working on fixing the spelling mistakes in this poem 🙂 )

माय माझी माती

मायेची ममता जणू दुधवरची साय,
माय माझी माती माझी माती माझी माय
तुला कामाची गा दगदग
मागे वळून जरा बघ
मागे आहे तुझ बाळ
बांधली तुझ्याशी नाळ
पहाटे तू उठूनी
स्वयंपाक पाणी आवरोनी,
कचेरि जेव्हा निघती,
कंठ दाटूनी तो येती,
बाळ जेव्हा धडपडती
रडत तुला बीलगती,
तुझ्या कवेतच त्याला, औषध मलम मिळती,
तुझ्या कुशीची ग़ ऊब
आहे बहुतच खूब,
वर पदराची भर,
असे मायेची लहर,
कारण… माय माझी माती माझी माती माझी माय
जसे मांजरीचे दात
नाही पिलाला लागत,
तुझे फटके, नाही बसत चटके.
तुझे ओरडने, रागावणे,
असता पिलाच्या काळजीने
जरी दाखवला तू राग,
नसते त्यात काही आग.
पिल्ले होता मोठी,
आशीर्वाद तुझ्या ओठी,
म्हणे, घे तू उंच भरारी,
हीच माझ्या मनाची उभारी!
मग काय? पिल्ले उडूनी जाती,
वाट बघते ती माती,
आली परतोनि,
करी लाड आनंदानी!
कारण, माय माझी माती माझी माती माझी माय
माय माझी माती माझी माती माझी माय
अशी असते ही माता
हिची वेगळीच गाथा,
करी लाड पण खूप,
वर ओरडयाचे तूप!
तिच्या “गधदे”
मधे असतात धडे,
आणि एकाच “बाळा”
सामावितो आयुष्याचा सोहळा!
म्हणूनच मोठे झालो तरी,
दुख आले जरी,
म्हणतो आपण, “आई ग़!”
आणि आला क्षण आनंदाचा, मन मोकळेपणाचा,
मनी तुझीच माया, ओठांवर, “अय्या!”
कारण, माय माझी माती माझी माती माझी माय
माय माझी माती माझी माती माझी माय

AT: The AquaTerrestrial

Spotted: Mermaid-like beings at several beaches across the world!

The headline was as confusing as it was intriguing, and Seth leaned forward, engrossed in the news piece. He had barely read the first paragraph when his phone rang, the caller id revealing that it was a conference call from his friends, Amir and Aria. He answered the phone with, “did you read the news?” Aria interrupted, “the news is sitting before me.” Seth was puzzled, “what do you mean?” With a quick, “come over to my place,” the line went dead.

Alarmed by Aria’s cryptic words, Seth hurried out of the house and ran up the street to where she lived. Amir joined him just then. By force of habit, the two rounded the house and entered through the backyard. Aria was seated on the cosy chair in the sunroom, her back to them. Across her sat an impossibly beautiful woman. Her hair was the color of honey, her eyes, a beautiful shade of brown, and her skin was like porcelain, clear and smooth. She looked up and met his gaze, and Seth found himself rooted to the spot. Beside him, Amir seemed just as immobile.

“It’s okay,” Aria told her, “you know who they are.” The woman nodded, “I do, but I sense hostility from them.” Aria shook her head, “they are just curious and worried. I did not tell them what to expect, and they have never seen you. They will not harm you.” The woman seemed to stare at them for a long beat before Seth was able to move his limbs again. In an instant, the two were standing on either side of Aria.

“Guys,” Aria addressed her friends, “meet Tlali.” The woman stood up, and Seth was shocked to see that she had no feet! In place of feet, there were fins, similar to a fish. He blinked, realising what that meant, Tlali was a mermaid!

Amir seemed to be at a loss for words as he stood staring at her, mouth agape. Tlali smiled, revealing a set of perfect, pearly white teeth, which even seemed to shine! “Hello,” her voice was like a lilting melody, and Seth suspected she sang beautifully. “Hello,” the men smiled back at her. “Before I proceed,” she looked at them warily, “I need your promise that you will not betray my trust.”

Realisation dawned, and Seth’s smile grew wider. “You wouldn’t be here if you doubted our trustworthiness, would you? She looked at him steadily, as if studying him, then nodded. “How long have you been watching us?” he asked. She shrugged, “we have a team of surveillance specialists who observe those being tested. You four passed with flying colors, and hence this visit.”

Finally regaining his voice, Amir exclaimed, “you know there is one more person in the group?” Tlali smiled, “I know Devin, yes.” Seth’s lips curved up, “I am sure you also know the library.” Her smile was radiant, “and the cave too.” Exchanging a glance, Seth and Amir approached the table and occupied the remaining two chairs. “I take it you haven’t called Devin?” Amir asked. Aria shook her head, “he’s anyway returning home tomorrow. Why bother him on the last day of his trip?”

“So,” Amir addressed Tlali, “I take it you will explain your presence and purpose?” She nodded, “I will. I will also explain your presence and purpose.” Seth frowned, this was very puzzling indeed. Before he could voice his question, Tlali transformed into a human, or what looked like a human. Her lower torso changed to look like that of a human, and her shiny fins appeared as a beautiful skirt. “This is so much more liberating!” she eased back, sighed contentedly.

“One,” Amir began counting on his fingers as he spoke, “you are amphibian; two, you clearly possess above average intelligence, closer to that of the human race; three, you have some magical powers.” Tlali held up one hand to stop him. “One, I am multibian, that is, I can survive in water, on land, and in air; two, my species possesses intelligence far superior to that of the human race, and three, what you call as magical powers is really just child’s play for our race.”

“Oookaayyy,” Seth whooshed, “so you admit you are not human?” She shuddered, “I wouldn’t dare to be one. Poor humans.” He was impressed, “so who, or what are you?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief, “take a guess? Three chances.” Always up for a good challenge, he replied, “mermaid? Some mystical creature, like a fairy or something? No, wait, ALIEN!” Her smile widened, “warm on third. You might think of me as an alien, for now.”

Ever polite, Amir raised his hand to ask a question. “How long have you lived on earth?” She shrugged, “me, personally, about three hundred human years.” Seth tried not to let his shock show. Tlali looked about the same age as them, and yet here she was, three hundred years old. Amir continued with his questions, “Why have we never seen or met anyone like you, or from your species, before now?” She drank a sip of water from her glass, “are you sure you haven’t met anyone from my species before?”

Seth almost choked on his juice as realisation hit like a sucker-punch. “Devin!” his exclamation stunned Aria and Amir, but Tlali seemed to almost glow with joy. “Devin is one of you!” Seth finally managed to string the words together. Since childhood, Devin’s supremacy in swimming competitions had been Seth’s bone of jealousy. Moreover, Devin’s basketball jumps were always higher and longer than most, earning him the title of the best player in almost every tournament.

After taking a few moments to absorb this information, Aria asked, “but how is that possible? Devin’s parents are human.” Tlali shook her head, “Devin’s father is half-human, half us, and his mother is full us.” Amir’s jaw hit the floor. “But how did we never realise it?” Tlali shrugged, “because, like I said, our race is far superior to yours.” “So you all hid in plain sight, until now,” Seth acknowledged, “then why reveal yourselves now, all of a sudden? What’s your plan? Are you planning an invasion?”

Tlali burst out laughing, “invasion? us? No, my dear, we are a peace-loving species. In fact, we are so peace loving that we eat neither animals, nor plants.” Aria’s eyes widened, “then what’s your fuel?” A sci-fi fan, Amir leaned forward excitedly, “I know, aliens get their power from the sun. I watched it on Supergirl.” Tlali rolled her eyes, “your sci-fi movies are far too regressive. Sun powers the entire solar system, not just us. But our fuel is emotions. We feed on emotions. The happier we are, the fuller we feel. Sadness drains us, and then we must hibernate until the emotion passes.”

Seth shook his head in an attempt to clear it, “so why show yourselves to us now?” Tlali’s gaze was direct, “because humans need help.” He scoffed, “is this your twisted logic wherein your people suddenly start revealing their superpowers and lead humans into an unknown war?” Tlali looked troubled, “did you learn nothing from your dreams about the cave and library?”

The three friends stared at her, stunned, “you can even read our dreams?” Tlali shook her head, “not read, see. We can see your dreams and modify them.” Listening to her talk about dreams as if they were videos to be shot and edited, Seth wondered if he was dreaming just now. He yelped loudly as something sharp pricked him. Tlali’s sheepish grin told him she was responsible for this. “Did you just pinch me in my thoughts?” he asked, rubbing his forearm where a faint red mark was already starting to subside. She nodded, “I just wanted to demonstrate that your thoughts were on the right path, but I am afraid I got a little over enthusiastic.”

Resigned to his fate, Seth asked, “Okay, so now that we have established that I am thinking correctly, how about you tell us why you think we need your help, and… HOW do you propose to help us?” She made a face, “an image is worth a thousand words. So how about I show you instead of telling you?” He looked at his friends, who were both nodding. “I told you they’d agree,” Aria beamed with confidence. Tlali smiled, “so you did.”

“Where do you live?” Aria asked. “We can live anywhere within the atmosphere of the earth, but most of us prefer the sea bed.” Seth shook his head, “you are telling me there is an entire unexplored civilisation living under the sea?” She shrugged, “humans are yet to explore the ocean in its entirety. You are all so fascinated with what’s outside, with your fancy space missions and satellites, that you have forgotten to harness the power this very planet holds. Your submarines, under sea optic cables, these gadgets are still nascent and superficial. The raw beauty and power of our planet lies nearer to its core.”

Amir had a thought, “you still haven’t told us which planet you come from, or the name of your species.” Tlali paused for a beat, then in an even, emotionless voice, replied, “we are aqaniums, and we come from planet earth.” Seth’s jaw fell open, “but… I thought you are aliens.” She shook her head, “we have existed on earth since the time this planet came into existence. Which is why we can survive on all three of its forms – water, land and air.”

Her last line shook them all, “We are the original earthlings, and it is you, human race, that is the aliens on earth!

Part 2

Shaken, Seth looked over at Aria, who looked just as stunned. Dazed, Amir asked, “so where do you live?” She smiled, “in the bosom of earth, near the core, under the sea bed.” Amir’s eyes grew wide as saucers, “that sounds exciting. It must be so different down there, isn’t it?” His excitement was endearing, and she grinned, “actually, it isn’t too different. I can take you there if you wish.” Now, they all exchanged a glance, “you’d take us to your home?” She nodded, “yes. Don’t worry, you’ll be completely safe there, I promise.” Having been taught to be cynical and disregard verbal promises, Aria began to shake her head, but Seth stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “Alright,” he said, “Amir and I will go with you. Aria can stay back if she so wishes.”

It was soon settled, and Tlali said, “come on then, let’s get going.” Amir frowned, “don’t we need any supplies? Oxygen tanks, clothes, etc.?” She shook her head, “you’ll be fine, trust me.” She led them to the nearby lake. Together, the three waded into the water until it was at waist level. Seth noticed something shimmering underneath and realised she had transformed back into her mermaid form. Aria stood at the shore, waving them off. Seth and Amir stood on either side of Tlali and held her hand. Without warning, she pulled them both under the surface, and Seth wondered if the oxygen in his lungs would last him the trip to the core. To his surprise, he’d barely even blinked before they were on dry land, and the air was fresh and crisp. Amir inhaled noisily, and grinned, “this is so liberating!!”

Now that their concern about breathing was resolved, Seth looked down at himself, and was surprised to see he was nice and dry, much like Amir. Tlali grinned, “we have a special air curtain that helps you dry faster.” Neither man heard her, their senses captivated by the scenery around them. Everywhere they looked, there were trees with leaves of varying colors, fragrant flowers, fruits, and butterflies. “Aria would have loved this!” Seth murmured. “Don’t worry,” Tlali told him, “we can always bring her down here for a trip once you go back and tell her about this place.” She led them through the beautiful forest, and soon, they were standing amidst what could only be civilisation.

“These people look so much like humans!” Seth did not realise he had spoken aloud until Amir pinched him. Beside them, Tlali shouted loudly, startling them both. Several ‘people’ stopped whatever they were doing and turned to look at them. “Hello everyone,” she announced, “these are Devin’s friends, Amir and Seth.” The people came forward, their expressions pleasant, and welcomed the two humans in their midst.

As the day wore on, Seth and Amir were treated to beautiful sights and sounds. “The core looks and feels exactly like the surface we live on!” Amir exclaimed. “Yes,” Cheny, who had introduced himself as a scientist, replied. He continued, “we even get sunlight.” Seth looked up, “but… how?” Cheny smiled, “because it filters down through the sea, and reflects from the core.” The explanation made sense to Amir, for he nodded in excitement. “Then you must get rainfall too!” Cheny nodded, “we do. The high tides, coupled with shifting seasons, makes sure we have about three months of rain. It is sufficient to help the trees and crops.”

Seth pointed to the structures in the distance, “are those houses?” Cheny’s gaze followed the direction of Seth’s finger, “indeed they are. Dwellings and offices. Our satellite navigation is housed in one such structure.” Seth frowned, “but I don’t see any wires or cables.” Cheny made a face, “because we run on natural sources. The sun, wind, temperature, and water, all are excellent and free sources of power. Even our routing happens through nature – the trees.” Guessing Seth’s confusion, Amir explained, “by routing, he means network and internet.” Seth’s jaw hit the floor, “you have internet down here?” Cheny raised a quizzical eyebrow, “how else would our people living amongst yours communicate with us?” It made sense.

Wasting no time, Seth fished out his phone and unlocked the screen. Sure enough, he not only had network coverage, but also hundred percent internet data! A pop up on his phone showed there were several free wifi connections available. “Go for it,” Cheny encouraged, “you’ll see magic.” Seth selected one of the wifi connections, and sure enough, the internet speed on his phone multiplied! “That’s lightning fast!” he was shocked. Cheny winked, “because, my friend, it is fashioned on the projection of lightning.” A tiny pain in his brow told Seth his eyebrows had disappeared into his hairline. “What about seasons?” Amir asked, “I take it they are parallel to those on the surface?” Cheny explained, “not really. We do not get any snowfall, but we do have glaciers, thanks to mountains and cold waters. Those glaciers sometimes melt, thanks to the current.”

They walked as they talked, and came across a settlement. The houses were not dissimilar to the Neolithic times, with carved stones and tanned hides. “Look closer,” Cheny advised, clearly reading Seth’s thoughts. Closer inspection left both, Seth and Amir gasping for air. “Trees?” Amir asked, finally finding his voice. Cheny nodded, “living ones. A quick botany lesson, we’ve treated the bark to make sure the tree doesn’t develop stems upto a certain height. This lets us use these trees as pillars and beams, with the first three layers of foliage providing adequate shelter.” Amir, who had a severe case of ophidiophobia, more commonly known as the fear of snakes, asked about their presence in the houses, given the thick foliage above. Cheny shook his head, “treating the bark of the tree renders the leaves and stems inedible for crawlers.” Jumping several feet high in the air, Cheny ripped off a couple of leaves. He handed a leaf each to both the men. “This has a waxy feel to it,” Seth observed. “This is a special cutin, or wax, that repels all creatures,” Cheny told them. “Even birds prefer to stay away from such trees, thus preventing the possibility of bird nests and laying eggs.”

While the humans were still marvelling at the ingenuity of the aqaniums, a faint whoosh alerted them to an oncoming object. “Don’t worry,” Cheny was calm even as Amir and Seth tried to duck, “it is just someone on their way to work. The disc will divert them out of your path.” Seth was puzzled, “disc?”s Cheny nodded, “these discs are something you strap to your wrist and key in the destination. They fly you there in a jiffy, so that you need not waste any time.” Intrigued, Amir asked, “how do they work?” Cheny smiled, “being closer to the core of the earth gives us what, in human terms, is called as superpowers.” Changing the topic, he said, “in the meantime, why don’t you take a seat inside the dwelling and give us a chance to display the aqanium hospitality?”

The interior of the house looked quite similar to human houses, except, the walls were made of trees, and the ceilings made of leaves. It was cosy, fresh, airy, and surprisingly well-lit. “We try to make as much use of what is naturally available, without disrupting the core.” Impressed by this explanation, Seth and Amir dug into the aromatic and delicious food that was brought before them. With full bellies and content hearts, both men thanked the hosts and left the dwelling, accompanied by Cheny.

“We learnt that the earth’s core is made of iron and is hotter than a furnace and has immense pressure. Why do we not feel it just now?” Amir asked the question that had been eating at him. Cheny gave an appreciative nod, “that is because none of your studies have actually touched the innermost core.” Seth let out a low whistle, “so the innermost core is hidden under the core, unseen, undiscovered by humans?” Cheny nodded, “indeed. Also, it is very similar to the earth’s surface.” “What about airplanes?” Amir asked. Cheny shrugged, “we don’t need them. Our discs are fast and capable of transporting us from one place to another at the speed of light.”

All of a sudden, Cheny zoned out for a couple of minutes before saying, “alright, I’ll let them know.” He turned to face them, “that was your friend, Devin. It is time for you to go home, your families will get worried.” Seth frowned, “so soon? It has only been a couple of hours.” Cheny shook his head, “because the core moves at a different pace than the rest of the earth, time moves slower on this level of our planet. Our two hours down here are closer to six hours up there.” With this, Cheny flicked his wrist, and Seth and Amir were surprised to see that they were back at the spot they had first arrived at. Tlali waved at them, “let’s go.” Hands clasped together, Seth and Amir bid adieu to Cheny, with the promise, “we’ll pass this knowledge to our peers.” A blink of an eye later, they were back in Aria’s backyard. “I know you still have a lot of unanswered questions,” Tlali told them, “and I promise we will answer them all in due course of time. Why you were selected, what was the cave all about, the other earth, everything. But for now, rest assured that you humans are welcome on our earth, and we’d love to coexist with you.” With that, there was a faint whoosh as Tlali dove back into the lake just as the sun set on the horizon.

Related sci-fi stories:
Other Earth
The Cave in the Woods

Village Vibes

Cutey, my dog, gave us a big fright when she bolted after two deer that were passing behind our home. While she has pulled similar stunts before, (and knowing her, will most likely continue to do so) those have been limited to chasing squirrels and cats. Once the squirrels climb up a tree, Cutey tries her super best to follow them, but after falling on her head, literally, she usually accepts defeat. Cats are a different matter, for Cutey is easily fooled by their size and fluff, and more often than not, gets a resounding slap from these oh-so-cute felines she loves to chase. In either case, she returns home in a few minutes, tail tucked between her legs, a few scratches to prove her story.

This time was different from usual, because she’s never seen deer before. It was a sight to behold to watch Cutey chasing after tehm, her muscles bunched, looking so much like the hound that runs in her DNA. Social media proved a huge help, for my post about my lost dog went viral almost instantly, with people living in the neighborhood sharing it further in hopes that whoever finally saw Cutey, would know she belongs to us. The entire day went by, I kept driving in my neighborhood, near the woods, calling to her, in hope that she’d hear and come running. Tough luck. I even parked my car near a clearing and entered the forest, (on hindsight, I realise it was idiotic of me, consdering my bug spray wasn’t going to deter snakes that live in there, but you do what you have to do for your family), searching unsuccessfully for her.

When I returned home after my second search run, sonny boy told me three of our friends had dropped by to lend moral support and to offer their help to look. The shelter we adopted Cutey from over three years ago, reached out to us, offering their help. The lady who had then helped us with the adoption procedure, shared my post with her friends who work in the field of animals. I was shocked when I called her, and she told me she was in our neighborhood. Her workplace is over twenty miles from here, and she lives another thirty miles away! But she drove over right after work, just to help look for Cutey.

A friend who is terrified of dogs, walked around our community with a piece of bread in hand, calling to Cutey, in hopes that the smell would entice her to come bounding over. A little boy, who is about the same height as Cutey, offered to help us in his own, sweet adorable way. He would alternate between imitating dog sounds and cat sounds, occassionally calling to her by name, in hopes that she would hear him.

Another friend told us about a local neighborhood network, while yet another friend posted on our behalf on the network when I admitted I was unable to log in due to some technical problem.

By now, Cutey had been missing for over seven hours, and I was tired. Someone said they’d seen her in the afternoon in a lane that is about four miles from us. It was a bleak chance, but hubby dearest drove there to look for her. No luck. By the time evening rolled around, the stress was starting to get to us all. A family we love (and I have feeling they love us back), came over with some snacks and tea, saying we need to eat to keep up our strenght to look for Cutey. Together, divyying up, we resumed our search for Cutey. My phone was ringing non stop, with calls and messages from friends – ours and Cuteys, asking if she’d been found yet. I could hear the sorrow in their voice when I replied in the negative.

Happy or sad, time stops for no one, and the Sun began his downward journey beyond the horizon. I usually love twilight, and make it a point to be outdoors to watch the beautiful hues of the sky, but of course, this time, I did not even notice when the sun went down and the street lights came on; my eyes were glued to the woods all around us, my ears strained for any sounds of rustling in there.

A friend was walking his newly adopted a gorgeous little pup, and it was easy to see his hesitation in walking up to us. It was obvious that we were still looking for our silly girl. It was getting late, the watchface showed nine in the night, and we returned home with a heavy heart. Until this point, sonny boy had been quite composed, but the thought of spending the night without Cutey devastated him, and he finally broke down. Seeing my fatigue, hubby volunteered to make dinner. None of us was hungry, but like we all know, it is important to eat to keep up one’s strenght. He fixed us an omlet sandwich each, and I was eating it, when an instinct told me to take a look at my phone. At that instant, hubby’s phone rang in the bedroom where he had plugged it for charging, and he went into the bedroom to answer it. Meanwhile, I was scrolling through my messenger.

“Cutey has been found!” we both shouted at the same time. There was a message on my messenger app. “I believe this is your baby. She followed me home from my walk. Please call me on this number xxx-xxx-xxxx.” The call on my hubby’s phone was from our our friend who’d posted for us in the neighborhood network, someone had read his post and reached to him, letting him know the same message.

Sonny boy left his dinner and jumped all over the place, hap hap happy that his dog-sister had been found. Hubby, who had taken just one bite of his own omelet sandwich, grabbed my car keys and ran out of the house as soon as I told him where she could be fetched from. Twelve hours after she disappeared, Cutey was back home with us, safe and sound, save a little scratch near her nose and a limp of extreme exhaustion.

Though the twelve hours of Cutey’s absence were harrowing, and extremely stressful, we are blessed and grateful, that we did not have to go through them alone. Our entire village was with us – physically, morally, and also virtually!

It takes great fortune to find a village, a group of friends and neighbors, a community who will go out of the way to help each other, as will we for them. The overwheling outpouring of messages and support from people all over the world, showed me that we also belong to an amazing virtual community. This… correction… THIS is our village, and I love the vibe of our village. Heartfelt gratitude and love to the universe for this lovely village we belong to.

Dogasana – the yoga pose by Cutey

Wear Your Baby

On a quick run to the pharmacy, I ran into Kayla, my friend. Except, it took me an entire minute to recognize her. Gone was the glowing, glamorous looking stylish Kayla I’ve grown to admire over the past couple years. In her place was a pale, harrowed-looking, super tired woman. “How are you?” I asked her, with meaning. She gave me a ghost of a smile, “I’ve been better.”

For a moment, I wondered if I was being too judgy by observing her lack of sophisticated posh. The current pandemic has given us all so much to worry about, that make up and appearances are not even on our minds. We finished our shopping at the same time and headed out of the pharmacy. Tim, her husband, was waiting in the car for her, the engine idling. He looked just as exhausted as she did. That’s when it struck me, they were new parents! To top it off, they were both first-time parents. Which meant sleepless nights, tears, diapers, feeding, the works.

Kayla nodded in reply to my question about her fatigue being due to the baby. “She is fine for the most part of the day, but just doesn’t want to be away from me. The moment I step into the kitchen, or even outside for some air, she starts bawling, and then either I, or Tim, have to drop everything and lift her.” I nodded in complete sympathy, for, like most parents, I’ve been through that phase too. Except, in Kayla’s case, the situation seemed to be worsening.

Pciture Credits: Wikipedia

“Have you tried baby wearing?” I asked her. She shook her head, “I just lift her in my arms.” I smiled, for once, feeling like a wise person, “you should absolutely try it! It is awesome.” I will never know if it was my excited tone, or the apparent promise of relief that got her attention, but she kept the merchandise in the car and stood staring at me with rapt attention.

“What exactly is it?” she asked, “and how is it done?” Before I could get in a word edgewise, Tim had stepped out of the car, and he too was staring at me with curiosity. “Where can I get it?” man of few words, he came straight to the point. “I used the sling carrier from Amazon,” I replied. He nodded, “I might be able to go for a jog with the baby.” Aghast, I shook my head, “then you would do better to use to the Pivot Modular all-in-one travel system. It has a stroller, carrier, the works.”

Just then, the baby started to fidget, and Kayla automatically reached in and unbuckling her, began to bounce her on her hip. “She must be tired,” Kayla sighed, “I wish I knew a good way to soothe her.”

Luck was on my side, and I suddenly heard a familiar voice some distance away. “Tanvi!” I called out to my friend, “care to join us for a second, please?” Handing her cute little daughter to her husband, Tanvi sauntered towards us. “Kayla, Tim, Tanvi,” I introduced them, appearing calm, but doing a mental bhangra (heavy cardio Indian dance form) on the inside. “Kayla, the parenting expert is right here. She’ll be able to tell you more about it.” Seeing Tanvi’s smile and wink, I knew she’d understood my game. Now that I had the expert on my team, I could just sit back and let her work her magic.

Super cool me, I excused myself with a nod and went over to play with Kayla and Tim’s gorgeous doll who was happily gurgling in the infant seat of the car. Bits and pieces of the conversation between my friends reached my ears, and I heard words like bottles, cribs, naps, teething and so on. I felt a sense of pride when I heard Tanvi share some easy parenting tips to help soothe the baby, as well as how Kayla could sneak a few minutes of me-time. So much wisdom was occuring right beside me!

By the time the conversation got over, Kayla was looking her usual relaxed, composed self, and Tim was actually smiling. Tanvi nodded at me and walked back to her own princess and hubby. After that, I logged in to my account and started following her on instragram, completely amazed by the new age parenting tips she has given on her profile. From soothing, to teething, to diapers, to letting the child explore, to spending time with oneself, there is a treasure of information on her instagram.

New parents, toddler parents, or even those thinking about babies can benefit a lot from reading her posts. You can follow Tanvi on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/newmomsaga/. Please do like my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/shortstoriesbyshweta/ and subscribe to my blog.

Disclaimer: This post containes affiliate links and I stand to earn a commission if you chooose to buy somethig. Happy reading, happy shopping!

Black Gold

When the announcement about the pandemic was creating panic amongst us lesser mortals, Vijaya was calmly eating a green salad! “How can you be so calm?” I asked her, “don’t you need to stock up on groceries before they run out?” With the mysterious grin we all love her for, she shook her head, continuing to eat her daily quota of greens, while I was literally hopping from one foot to another with impatience. Even more shocking, she actually offered me a bowl full of rich greens! Who offers fresh produce during a pandemic? I wondered if she was even aware of the situation around us. But Vijaya makes delicious food, and the aroma of the raw greens, coupled with some homemade salad dressing, was too tempting to resist, and I greedily accepted the bowl.

It was an array of colors, kale, rocket, lettuce, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, onions, a dash of ginger, a hint of mint, a spoonful of yoghurt. I wolfed it all down in no time. Once I had finished eating, she asked, “how was it?” in her own adorable accent. “The most refreshing salad I’ve ever eaten!” Now, her grin grin grew impossibly wider, and I could swear her eyes shone brighter than the sun itself. “I made all this.” I smiled, “of course you did. I don’t see anyone else at home just now.” She shook her head, “I made all this, means…” and she pointed outside, towards her patio. My jaw hit the floor, and I stared at her, agape. “You grew all these plants?” She nodded with well-earned pride.

My tongue had to run to catch up with my brain as she led me outside. “How do you like my kitchen garden?” she asked, giving me a tour of the lush green space, carefully pointing out some special plants. “Hang on,” I pleaded, out of breath, “this isn’t just a kitchen garden, girl, this is an entire kitchen farm!” She nodded, “that is my dream, I want to be able to just pluck whatever I want to eat!” It was a green wonderland.

“How did you manage all this in such a tiny space?” I asked, referring to the apartment community we both live in. “Just a simple hello from me is usually enough to kill the hardiest of plants,” I admitted, feeling envious of her green thumb. In reply, she lifted a pot of money plant and handed it to me. I shook my head desperately, “no no, the plant will die if I touch it.” I always thought I was mule-headedly stubborn, but my Vijaya proved that my adamance is child’s play before her insistence. “This will live, and bring you great luck with gardening,” she winked.

Five whole days passed, and I would wake up each morning, dreading that the gift given with so much love would have died overnight. No such thing happened. On day seven, I was frantically on the phone with Vijaya, “the plant is alive! How?” In all these years, four days was the maximum period a plant lived with me. Day four would usually be its last day as a living green.

“The plant has black gold,” her answer served to magnify my panic into a full-blown anxiety attack. Black Gold? Being Indian, I have a healthy respect for anything to do with gold, the yellow metal, and all its variations. But I’d never heard of black gold, and thought it must be super expensive and precious. “Don’t worry dear,” she replied, “it is precious, but not at all expensive, in fact, it is free.” Now, the Indian in me was fully awake. Precious and free? FREE? “I want some more black gold,” I told her, “where do I get it from? I’ll even get some for you.” Between fits of laughter, Vijaya said, “you make it.”

I was flabbergasted. I can make black gold? Interesting. Sensing that she had finally managed to rouse curiosity in me, she said, “it is compost, dear.” Ookkaayy. I had heard of compost, something to do with wet waste, like food scraps and all such boring things. But that was as far as my knowledge, and until now, interest in the topic, reached. She described the process in detail, and taught me everything I know today about the miraculous black gold.

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Black Gold
Blue Thumbs go Farm to Table

The success of my methi (fenugreek) plant [click here to read the short story about the methi plant] continues till today, all thanks to this black gold. My family has been happily devouring methi parathas fortnightly. My blue thumb seems to have turned green, which is majorly thanks to the black gold I now have at my disposal. This compost is rich with nutrients, and works like a nitro-boost for your plants, literally. Just a few scoops of compost added to your plant soil will give them the energy to shoot skyward and thrive for at least half a year, if not more.

3deviyan
Amar, Akbar, Anthony

Thanks to the gift, my backyard is quickly turning into a lush garden, and I no more have to worry about the health of my plants (or my wallet). In just two months, I have harvested fenugreek three times, the precious money plant is thriving (how I wish it gave real money, I’d be a millionaire by now). My very own Amar, Akbar, Anthony (Title of a blockbuster Indian movie) are blossoming – the half spud I’d tossed into a pot of soil has bloomed into a tall plant which will be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks, giving me about eight to ten potatoes, the marigolds that seemed to be acting very pricey, have suddenly decided to spurt, and are almost at bud stage, while the coriander (cilantro) is ready to harvest. And the stink? What stink? Thanks to Vijaya’s constant advice, I do my composting correctly, which means there is neither any stink, nor any flies around my compost bin. In fact, the compost has a decidedly earthy fragrance!

Vijaya’s gift of compost, and her tips, have made farm-to-table a reality in our tiny apartment home. My own compost pile is starting to look good, and I am eagerly awaiting the day I can use it on my plants. My contribution to the landfill has finally reduced (a topic very VERY VERY dear to my heart) substantially, what with all the wet waste, fruit peels, pits, vegetable skins, coffee grounds, tea leaves, all going into the compost bin towards generation of Black Gold. “Just treat your plants like your babies, and they’ll blossom,” is Vijaya’s favorite catch phrase. “Make sure your plants have good drainage,” she always reminds me whenever I tell her about sowing new seeds.

Sharing some pictures of Vijaya’s own kitchen garden (and the salad), to show you how this Goddess of Green has changed our lives with her advice and suggestions about gardening. I have personally seen her take seeds from inside the store-bought tomatoes and work her magic on them, coaxing them to germinate and sprout, to yield delicious, juicy, red tomatoes! Her kitchen garden yields enough roses that she makes the most delicious gulkand from them.

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Fortunately for me, Vijaya is a dear friend and neighbor, so I can pick up the phone or just hop over next door to pester her with questions about my plants. Sometimes, I even ‘borrow’ a little stem of herb or two, ‘steal’ a few chillies, and am now waiting for her lemon tree to grow so I can get fresh, organic lemons, free. I have also become a bit of a beginner level gardener, with my very own compost bin, thanks to her tips. The busy girl that she is, she sometimes cannot answer her phone, and then, I access her YouTube channel Kitchen Gardening with Vijaya to get my answers.

Black Gold

The aam Aam Panna

A few days ago, I was at the Indian store to refill my stock of masalas (spices) and chai (tea), when my gaze landed on a basket of mangoes sitting innocently on one of the counters. I froze. Literally. Froze. And then it hit me hard. The calendar is on May. MAY!!

haapusFor most desis (people from the Indian subcontinent), the month of May means three things – Summer, School vacations (holidays), and MANGO!!! In fact, May is also fondly referred to as Mango season. The state of Maharashtra is famous for a particular crop of mango, the haapus, globally known as the ALPHONSO, which rightfully wears the crown, the king of fruits! This mango, known for its heavy weight, sweet flavor, and rich golden yellow color, not to mention the heavenly aroma, has a special place in the heart of most desis

kairiMangoes are a seasonal fruit, and ancient wisdom (and our taste buds), advise that consumption of seasonal produce has many health benefits. Aam (Mangoes) are very aam (common) throughout India during summer. Therefore, the Aam Panna (Mango drink) is also very aam (common) in this time of the year.

One look at the mangoes available in the Indian store, and immediately fell in love. The fruit looked quite plump and nice, their green skin looking firm and healthy. I bought a few, and needless to say, the mood at home that evening was one of celebration. (Bringing home mango for the first time in the mango season tends to turn family time into parties at our place).

Now, the mangoes were still green, which meant they weren’t ripe. They’d be sour and tangy to taste. As a family, we lack the patience to wait for the mango to ripen. Kairi (unripe mango) makes a perfect aam panna.

I chose two kairis (unripe mangoes), and after washing them properly (I even used soap and hot water to clean the unpeeled mangoes to avoid the contamination and the risk of the donotevensayhename virus).

Next step, lazy me simply tossed the clean, unpeeled kairis into the instapot with two cups of water at the base, and set it to steam for twenty minutes. After it turned off, I removed them from the steam, and kept them to cool. It took them an entire hour to cool down, and even then, they were still a little too warm to the touch! I busied myself with some other chores, because rushing this would waste the mangoes. It is VERY important to let them cool, or the skin will not come off easily. And worse, your mixer will explode with heat. The mere thought of cleaning up an exploded mixer is what kept me patient. Next, peel off the skin. That part is fairly easy, much like peeling off the skin off boiled potatoes. Very Important: Do NOT trash the peels. They are full of good stuff and have multiple uses, from skin cleansers, to candied mango. Will share more information and how-to for mango peels and pits in a separate blog.

Once the mangoes were peeled, I squeezed the flesh out of them until the inner pit felt almost dry. Stingy me, I put the pit in about half a cup of water for a few minutes and then squeeze again, greedy for those few drops of mango. Pro Tip: Call upon the strongest person in your family to do this, for every single drop of mango, ripe or unripe, is a drop of nectar!

Next step, I poured all this juice into a mixer, with half a cup of water (optional, this depends on the strength of the mixer you are using. Mine struggles with thick, pasty fluids, so I have to add water to make them a little runny). In this, I added jaggery almost the same amount as the pulp, and half a teaspoon of rock salt. Pro tip: If you have rock salt, or better still, black salt, you have a chef’s treasure as far as the aam panna is concerned. If not, good ol’ white salt is just as good. Salt not only adds to the flavor, but also to the body of the drink. It is highly recommended in this drink because of its ability to help replace electrolytes lost due to the heat of Indian summers. 

Now that all the ingredients had met each other, I ran them together in the mixer so that there were no lumps left. As an added step, I usually pour this concoction into a vessel and simmer it on very low flame just to make sure the jaggery has dissolved completely. I like to take a tiny bit on a spoon and taste it at this stage, so that I can add more jaggery or salt to adjust the flavor to the taste buds of my family.

Once I was sure the taste was just right, I crushed a pod or two of cardamom and added it into the concoction. Pro tip: store-bought cardamom powder works equally well. Cardamom is known for its cooling properties, and is therefore, a perfect addition to this summer drink. A couple of strands of saffron, if you have it, will make you feel like royalty. Pro tip: A couple drops of saffron syrup will give you the same feeling.  

Back to the concoction. It now looks like a thick paste. Allow it to cool before storing in an airtight container. To use it immediately, take a spoonful of the concoction in a glass, and pour water over it. Pro tip: You can use chilled water, Sparkling water, Tonic water, and if you are of legal drinking, a dash of vodka. Make sure you stir well. To celebrate yourself for all this not very hard work, decorate your glass with a sprig of mint, kick back your heels, rest your feet, and sit back to enjoy your aam panna.

Here’s the complete list of ingredients for aam-panna (serves 3 to 4):

Ingredients:

Recipe at a glance:

  • Steam unpeeled unripe mangoes until they are soft.
  • Peel cooked, cooled mangoes, and save the peels.
  • Squeeze the pit for every drop of the cooked flesh of the unripe mangoes.
  • In a mixer, add this juice, same amount of jaggery as the juice, salt, and run the mixer until there are no lumps.
  • Pour into a thick-bottomed vessel (or microwave container), and take a tiny sample for tasting. Add more jaggery or salt if required.
  • Simmer on low flame on stove. For Microwave, heat on one-minute intervals and keep stirring and checking. Stop heating when you see a thick paste. This is called aam panna concentrate. You can stop even before it forms a thick paste. The thicker the concentrate, the longer it will last in the refrigerator.
  • Let cool.
  • To use, spoon some concentrate into a glass and pour water over it.
  • It is usually served chilled because of summer time, but even at room temperature, the panna is just as refreshing.

Serving suggestions: Serve with chilled water, sparkling water, or tonic water.

Serving decoration: Rim the glass! Salt and chilli are traditional favorites for most beverages, but because the aam panna has a slightly sour/tangy flavor, I like to add a bit of coarse sugar in my rim mix. A dash of ginger powder to the rim mix elevates the drink to an altogether different level.

Now that I’ve done my duty of the day (sharing my aam panna recipe), I need to cool down with a glass of the drink myself. Mango Season, after all, y’all!

aampanna

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and I stand to earn a commission if you buy anything by clicking on those links. 

The Inky Path

We all know that Pen is mightier than the sword. However, did you know that, not all pens are equal! The ink pen, a.k.a fountain pen, is undoubtedly, the mightiest!

camel inkSocial media has a funny way of taking you down the memory lane. Just yesterday, in one of the groups I follow, someone posted an image of an old Camel Ink bottle. It opened the gates to my memory lane, nostalgia rushing over me, much like the beautiful blue fluid that always flowed royally through the nibs of our pens. 

Most schools had a policy of allowing the use of pens from fourth standard (grade). Until third standard, we were only allowed to use pencils. It was a huge deal for us back then, not very different from the elementary to middle school graduations that are held today. During the summer break between third standard and fourth, most of us would develop the urge to start writing a diary (journal). Everyone knew it was merely an excuse to obtain the highly desired, Fountain Pen, early, before school started.

Hours would be spent, copiously practicing handwriting styles, pen-holding grips, and so on. Back then, handwriting, especially cursive, had a very important place, not only in our minds and the society, but also for good marks! There would be handwriting competitions, tests, and those who were very good at it, would land the much-coveted task of writing the date, word of the day, thought of the day, and the subject on the blackboard in class!! Moreover, the ones who topped the handwriting tests were treated like celebrities, for they’d often be called out of an ongoing class to write something on the main school board, to welcome some important guest. During festivals and school events, these handwriting celebrities got a free pass to miss class (plural, several classes sometimes), because they would be busy writing instructions and beautiful messages on the main blackboard! Who doesn’t want a good excuse to stay out of class and be the teacher’s pet?

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Pic: Vinay Shinde

So, the summer of third-to-fourth would see heads buried in notebooks, little hands working hard to create a signature handwriting style that they could manage, and maintain, all throughout. Some alphabets, like a, i, o, z, received extra attention, because they could be customized to look special, and with some good luck and hard work, spectacular. 

The day schools reopened, all fourth standard classes would be noisy with excitement, sounds of gushing over whose pen was the most beautiful, and whose handwriting looked beautiful. Most of us would have received older pens from our parents, for back then (even now), fountain pens were expensive. Parents would therefore give hand-me-down pens, with the carrot of buying a new pen if we managed to not lose the pen in a month, or if our scores in the first test were good, and so on.

Then, there were some, like me, who had received a hand-me-down pen that was far more elegant and smoother than the newer ones. My baba has always had a love for amazing pens. His collection, at least back then, was limited, but classy. I was one of the few people in class who had actually wanted a hand-me-down pen! I still remember how astonished I was when he handed me not one, but two fountain pens! One was the fairly common and sturdy Pilot, which I was supposed to carry to school in my pencil box, now to be called the ‘pen box’. The second, my eyes were wide with awe, was a true-as-gold, Parker! Please note, this was the early 90s in India when brands were few and imported brands were considered luxury.

I was being entrusted with baba’s Parker pen! If we’d had social media back then, the moment where the pen exchanged hands would have been flaunt-worthy! I would have asked aai to click a few thousand pictures of this ‘Kodak moment’ and shared them for an entire year, that precious was it!

A pen is only as effective as the ink inside it. Back then, the only brand of ink commonly available was Camel Ink. I still remember the day I first went shopping for my very own bottle of ink. For weeks after that, the glass bottle, with the blue fluid inside it, held a place of pride on my study table, the two pens carefully arranged beside it, a syringe lying criss cross. I wish I’d had the forethought to at least click some pictures, especially in the mornings, when the rays of sun streamed into my room, casting a halo-like glow on my ink, pen, syringe arrangement.

Our school only allowed the use of blue ink, even though black ink was also available. As an experiment, baba and I once tried using black ink in another fountain pen of his, and quickly realised that it made the pen feel different. Something in the dye of the black ink altered the flow through the nib, and every few words or so, we would have to keep tapping on the pen to get the black ink flowing. Another time, I wondered why my teachers were still using red pencils or red ball pens to grade our tests. Why hadn’t they converted to ink pens? My question roused the scientist in baba, who promptly got some red ink. We tried it on the old pen, and realised that red ink also had the same run as the black ink. (I know it would have been easier to simply pose this question to my aaji, who was a teacher, but that would have been a straight, direct approach. Baba and I, we are partners in crime as far as taking a harder approach is concerned, even if we didn’t need to. Why? Because it is more fun!) This was back then, in the 90s, and I am sure the dyes and pigments have changed now.

The black and red inks made for amazing quill inks, and I remember spending hours experimenting with a few feathers and these two inks, creating my very own versions of art. The two colors shone on plain white papers, as well as the slightly yellowish, vintage-looking papers. Unfortunately, I did not save these attempts, or I might have been an artist by now.

Back to the inks. This left us with one last colour (this post is about my memories of school days, for better understanding, please refer to the British English dictionary). This time, I dove in to the experiment and got a bottle of green ink. Soon, we realised that green and blue inks had a smooth flow. So I began using green ink to write in my diary, while blue was used for school work.

If someone forgot their pen at home, then they would have to either borrow a ballpoint pen or use a pencil. No one loaned their fountain pens, for it was believed that fountain pens took on the character, and handwriting of the person who owns it. Usually, if someone had used your fountain pen without your knowledge, you would still come to know, for it would suddenly develop a different feel while writing, and your handwriting would be affected for a few lines until the pen could adapt itself to your style and grip again!

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Pic: Vinay Shinde

The ink would run out after a few pages, and we would usually refill our pens during recess (lunch break). It was a messy affair, with inexpert, hurried hands inserting the syringe into the bottle, pulling the piston to draw in the ink, then holding the needle into the pen’s tube and pushing the plunger to fill it. More often than not, someone or the other would topple their bottle, sending rivulets of blue ink over the classroom floor!

The hand-me-down pen I used had a cartridge fitting, which meant all I needed to do if my ink ran out, was to change the cartridge! I usually carried a couple of spare cartridges in my pen box. Empty cartrdiges were taken back home, where I had the leisure to fill them up using the syringe and ink bottle without the rush of the school bell ringing to signal the end of recess.

Most of us would have mastered the art of refilling ink in pens by sixth standard, and after that, blue-colored classroom floors became a thing of the past as far as we were concerned, barring an occassional accident. As time progressed, so did technology, and by the time the new millenium started, fountain pens were fading into history, to be replaced by ballpoint pens, which were light-weight, no-mess, and could go for days without refills! Even today, however, important and valuable documents are signed on with fountain pens. The thought of fountain pens conjures up an image of timeless elegance and class.

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Pic: Vinay Shinde

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