🎶 It’s the most wonderful time of the year đźŽ¶

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids all-a-yelling
And everyone telling you “Buy another beer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s the snap-snappiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and fraught, last minute meetings
that make your skin crawl,
It’s the snap-snappiest season of all

There’ll be parties for hosting
Where friends will be boasting
of their latest gear
There’ll be scary split stories
and a taste of past glories
Of Ex-es long long ago

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistletoeing
And smooching and pawing
With colleagues that you mostly ignore
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

With the shops all a-heaving
And pushing and shoving
As old ladies that steer
Those shopping trollies into your rear

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
Credit cards are a-jumping
As wallets are bumping
To buy more good cheer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the yearrrrr………

🎶🎶🎶

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The mood in Delhi

This is another short piece I had written a few years ago. Strangely I think it still holds true.

The Mood in Delhi

Delhi, as I knew it, has changed so much in the two decades that I have been away. Yet it never fails to astound me every time I return. This time is no different.

I am a tad worried as we deplane at nearly midnight. “Is it safe to take a taxi?”, I asked my father over the phone. “Yes, as long as it is pre paid”. Strange that I should worry so, considering I have my rather strapping husband and young children with me and am not travelling alone. We have taken taxis from the airport as long as I can remember. However, things have altered dramatically in the last six months. Crime rates have shot up, particularly after the horrific rape of the 23 year old medical student, and the mood is sombre as well as cautious in the city.

We drive home in our luggage laden taxi, encountering a few desultory police check posts along the way. There is still a fair bit of traffic at that hour of the morning. I feel relatively safe, constantly assessing the young driver to see if we could take him on, if the need arose. I have always felt rather churlish on previous occasions refusing to let the driver’s mate ride with us. In hindsight, I am glad. This time, we weren’t asked and I know I would have refused again.

The driver is rather put out that he has to take the longer route to get to our house. The gates leading in are all locked at night, and there is just one way to get in and out. My husband points out that if there was a medical emergency, there is no way an ambulance would make it in.

Our taxi parks outside, and immediately the watchman comes over. He sees us and smiles and nods. Familiar faces that pose no threat. My daughter giggles. At 12 she is taller than him. We find out later that there was a break in next door while he was ostensibly on duty. So much for security.

All night, the locality’s stray dogs bark in a chorus, allowing us very little sleep. My father says this is quite normal. The local stray dogs association has provided them with collars and feeds them regularly. They are rather like the street gangs of East London. No one messes with them.

We acclimatise slowly to the time zone. Delhi is heaving, buzzing, pulsating. People go about their business as usual. Yet I feel there is a definite change in the air. Friends we meet for dinner confirm this. “We rarely travel alone at night anymore”, Manoj volunteers. “It’s just not safe.” There are reports every day of girls being attacked, abducted, raped. The Government makes all the right noises, but very little is being done. The laws are outdated and offer more protection to the perpetrators than the victims.

I am rather sad to see the city of my birth thus reduced. I cannot wait to leave. Albeit, a piece of my heart stays behind.

Pondicheri vs Puducherry

When I first displayed an interest in writing, my father tried to steer me towards travel writing, a genre I was not very interested in. Later in life, with the amount of travelling I had done, he once again exhorted me to try my hand at it. A couple of years ago I did. This is the outcome:

    Pondichéri vs Puducherry

The stench of the fish market assails one’s senses immediately. My twelve year old gags and steps back. My nine year old is fascinated and wanders curiously through the stalls displaying a variety of raw, freshly caught fish, all ready to be filleted to the customer’s satisfaction. The fisherwomen plying their wares chat, happily oblivious to the heat or the smell. It is 38c and we are in the Tamil quarter of Puducherry, India. 

What a contrast this is to the French quarter by the sea front. There, the wide boulevards, the mediterranean structures, and the freely spoken French harken back to a different era, when PondichĂ©ri was governed by the French. We are staying at a small boutique hotel in the heart of the French quarter. Last night’s dinner was rounded off by the best creme brĂ»lĂ©e we have eaten outside of France.

Right now, we are being urged forward by my intrepid husband. We are in the fruit market, and I stop to watch a man cut open a jackfruit the size of a mammoth baseball. He holds it between his legs and plunges the knife in swiftly, yanking back, cleaving through the hard skin to reveal the soft fleshy fruit inside. He offers me some. I look at the all flies swarming over the fruit, but take a piece nonetheless. It is as sweet as last night’s dessert, and brings back a whole host of childhood memories.

We weave our way into a flower market. My daughters ask for flowers to put in their hair, as they have seen the local women do. The flower seller shakes her head vigorously to signal no. “Sami”, she says, grinning toothlessly. After a lot of gesticulating, we figure she means that these flowers are only to be offered to the Gods at the temple. The more common place jasmine flowers are for mere mortals. As a peace offering, she gives two little pink buds to my daughters, who accept it cheerfully.

We walk everywhere in Pondy, as it fondly known. Most tourists hire motorbikes or cycles. Hawkers don’t pester you here.They are far too used to seeing foreigners in their midst, and people are happy to let you mind your own business. 

We deposit our shoes, and walk barefoot into Aurobindo Ashram. Almost immediately, a sense of calm envelops us. People sit around the flower bedecked samadhi or tomb of Sri Aurobindo, the great yogi philosopher, and his disciple, the Mother, in silence. A wander through the Ashram reveals an impressive array of memorabilia. This is the very soul of Pondicherry, and people flock here from different parts of the world, in search of spirituality. At Auroshikha, we stock up on scented candles and incense sticks.

Once more, however, we are lured back to the hustle and bustle of the street stalls. I want to take some photos to show friends back home. My daughter yanks my arm, and leads me to the fish market. “Mummy”, she says, “I’m hungry. Can we get some smoked salmon please?”, expecting a Waitrose fish counter to fulfil her innocent request. I laugh and hug her close. The fisherwomen smile at us in tacit understanding.

Rebel

Here’s a story I wrote quite a while ago and forgot completely about! I stumbled upon it today, while searching for something. Here it is. Enjoy. 🙂

REBEL

“Do you see that planet over there? No, not there…there. Do you see it? Well, that’s where I am from.”

Ruja looked at Sita. His frown spoke volumes.

“You’re not going to do something stupid,are you?”

“Stupid? What makes you say that? It’s taken me months of spying to figure out this little detail. I am not about to throw it all away.”

Ruja shook his head imperceptibly. He had been working alongside Sita for over six months. They were friends in a manner of speaking. Temperamentally they could not be more different. Sita was impetuous, hot headed and prone to flights of fancy. Ruja was calm, decisive and patient. He knew that is why they had been put together.

“Sita, we must get to the RTP zone now. It is time.”

They walked together, heads bowed. It was always a good idea to keep one’s eyes on the floor. One child had been blinded when he had looked up too suddenly. You had to be ready for the Great Light. They weren’t. In fact, they were a long way from being ready.

Ruja wondered why the PLE (Previous Life Erasure) program hadn’t worked on Sita. All the other children he knew, himself included, had very few memories of what had gone on before they were brought here. He preferred it that way. It was so much easier to be reprogrammed, and he knew he was making good progress. Sita, on the other hand…

“Do you not wonder what happened to your parents after you were taken?”

In actual fact, he didn’t. She carried on, not waiting for an answer.

“I think of them all the time. I cannot remember all the details, but I remember my mother’s smell. A sweet, musky smell. I remember my father’s eyes. Ruja, I cannot pretend anymore….”

She stopped in her tracks.

“I have to find a way back. I don’t care how, and I don’t care how long it takes me!”

“That is impossible Sita. You know that. It could jeopardise everything.”

“Everything?”, she laughed, “Surely the Elders could fix that? Aren’t they powerful enough? The Great Light could help. If it deigns to.”

“The Great Light is an observer. It does not interfere. That was our first lesson Sita, don’t you remember? Please don’t do it.”

Sita ignored him, and hurried into the classroom.

The theme for the day was green. She had never liked the colour green, and even as the Elder prattled on, she felt herself zoning out of the lesson. She knew, of course, that Ruja was right. It was near impossible to return, even if she could find a way to. There had been no precedent in the recent past. There was some talk of a rebellion many many years ago, but she could not find any trace of it in the records. She would have to find her own way back.

“Sita, when we move through the spectrum of green, what is the mid point?”

The Elder looked at her in anticipation.

“I do not know Master.”

“Once again you are not paying attention. It is imperative that you do. You cannot move to the next level till then, dear child. There is a fresh batch leaving in a few days. How do you think they got there? By studying hard, and learning their lessons well. Sita, I implore you to apply that bright mind of yours to the course.”

He shook his head, disappointed, and directed his question elsewhere.

Sita barely noticed. An excited humming had begun inside her. A fresh batch! If she could find a way to smuggle herself into the Transporter, she had a chance.

At dusk she got the opportunity to speak to Ruja again.

“I need your help.”

“I cannot help you with your mad mission Sita. You know that.”

“Ruja, please! Just one thing, and I promise never to bother you again. I need you to get me a copy of the list.”

“What list?”

“Of the fresh batch”

Ruja stared at her, astonished.

“How do you expect me to do that? It is in the most secret recess. I do not have access there.”

“You’ll find a way Ruja. They trust you. They know I am trouble.”

He smiled slightly at that. Sita did have quite the reputation.

“Very well. After that Sita I don’t want to know anymore.”

“Zero culpability Ruja, cross my heart!”

***

The list had no names she knew, but she recognised her planet straight away. Two recruits were heading there. A plan was fermenting in her mind. It was insanely ambitious, but if she could pull it off…

Luckily for her, the housing for one of the recruits was located close to her own. With less than two days at her disposal, she had to befriend, distract and ultimately replace her in the Transporter.

“HonorĂ©, may I please ask you something?”

HonorĂ© was kind and keen to indulge a young one like Sita. They talked for hours about various colours, their meanings, their applications, and how important it was to be in touch with one’s own Chakras. Sita feigned an interest that bordered on hero worship. Flattered, HonorĂ© said, “I had heard so much about you Sita, but you are not what I imagined. You are a good listener, and a quick learner. Why are you not willing to apply yourself at lessons then?”

“Sister, I am tormented by my past. I cannot concentrate. I am scared to tell the Elders that the PLE did not work completely.”

“I see. That explains a lot. Perhaps doing a reset might help? It is not as drastic as the PLE, but it removes all short term memory. That could be a start.”

Sita nodded eagerly. ” Only if you are willing to do it for me? I trust you. The Elders scare me…and the Great Light…I…I don’t understand any of it…”

HonorĂ© smiled at her. ” Knowledge comes with time and experience. You are very young yet. There is much you have to endure before you can gaze upon the Great Light. The Elders are here to help you and me, and the rest of us get there. They were once where we are standing today. But worry not. I will help. Once my day’s work is over, I will meet you in the Reset Zone.”

“But come alone, dear Sister. I do not want anyone else to know my shameful secret.”

***

Ultimately, Honoré was far too trusting for her own good. Having done the reset on her, Sita led her back to her own housing. Compliant and somewhat befuddled, Honoré settled in for the night.

Sita took her place, excited and terrified at the prospect of returning to her planet. If she could get past the Elders without being spotted for the imposter she was, she would be home! She had given no further thought to how she would find her parents, or whether she would even be in a state to look for them.

***

As the recruits filed past the Elders, Sita kept her eyes firmly on the ground. Her robes and hood covered a good bit of her, and she hoped against hope they wouldn’t notice how much shorter she was than HonorĂ©.

The Elders hovered above them in a semi circle. They bowed together and said a quiet prayer. Then the Great Light filled the room, and a Voice reverberated from around them, inside and above them.

“You are the chosen ones. You go back to seek knowledge and experience. You return richer and wiser. The lessons you learn abroad are reinforced here. You climb through the circles and although it takes you several millennia, you finally achieve the apex.”

“Some of you, however, are forever consigned to spin through those circles infinitely. Why, you ask? Because, you are not willing to let go. You are not willing to trust.”

Sita shook in terror. It seemed as though the Great Light was addressing her in particular.

“Go forth now, and make your journeys. Sending you Light and Love.”

***

Her first breath was a gasp. The light surrounding her had been so real, but it was fading already. She was cold and wet and scared and hungry. Her shriek sent a dozen arms rushing towards her. She was placed tenderly at the breast, and as she suckled at her mother, she vainly tried to recall what her mission had been.

In time, all memory of the Great Light, the Elders, and the Voice that knew too much, faded. She was caught up in the business of growing up.

“Samaira, run for the ball. Quick, quick! There’s a good girl…”

She was clever, she was pretty, she was loved. Her impetuosity delighted her family. She was the cosseted daughter of a powerful man. Nothing was out of her reach.

The coup destroyed it all. As she lay under the body of her slain mother, pretending to be dead, life as she had known it was transfigured beyond belief.

Loyal servants smuggled her out of the Grand Palace. She lived in hovels amongst peasants. She scraped by on the meagre pickings salvaged by a few followers. It was a miserable existence far removed from the luxury of her former life. She learned to be inconspicuous. To subsist on little, to move often, to hide like prey, to pray for another day.

The end when it came, was equally ignominious. As she stared into the barrel of a gun held by a twelve year old, she wondered what the point of it all had been.

***

“The point Sita is, that these were lessons meant for another soul. HonorĂ© had chosen that life. Misery, suffering, repentance were her lessons in red. The problem was that you hijacked her life.”

Her Master stood before her. Sita looked around her, puzzled. Her life, her past lives, all flashed before her. What had seemed so momentous, so real a second ago, was already starting to feel like a dream.

” I don’t understand. I was desperate to go back. I needed to find my parents. I don’t feel that thirst anymore. I am content to be here. Has the PLE worked this time?”

“Ah, child. You have not even been to PLE yet. Perhaps, you did learn something then. The Great Light allowed you to go on this journey for a reason. Nothing is random.You have learnt something valuable.”

“What is that Master?”

” That all attachments are temporary. We garb our souls in various forms. We perform our assignments in various ways. Our time abroad is merely a secondment.”

” Now off to PLE you go Sita. A friend is waiting to escort you.”

Ruja stood by the archway. Sita walked slowly towards him. Something in his smile triggered a memory. Another life, a brother, a sardonic grin. She stopped short. Could it be?

“Come on, trouble. You are late for your lessons as it is. We are on the second phase of green now.”

Sita groaned. More lessons! She had to find a way out.

Another plan started to bubble in her mind. She smiled and bowed her head.

This time she would succeed.

***

THE END

© Poornima Manco 2014