We are the mashup of all the things we let into our life.

We are the mashup of all the things we let into our life.
The music in my heart I bore, Long after it was heard no more ---William Wordsworth

Monday, 3 November 2014

A tempest in a human skull

Paris, 1830

The charred and blackened remains of what was left after the French Revolution constituted Paris. Dark, squalid, dilapidated and a smokey smell pervading the atmosphere. Paris during this time mainly consisted of overpopulated slums crammed with each other with a labyrinth of narrow streets creating a mesh. Beggars, thieves, vagabonds, escaped convicts and other parasites that infect the society were the chief inhabitants of this city. In short, nothing had changed after the Revolution. No vehicles were to be seen either in the morning or at night, as they were either robbed or were set on fire to provide for heat and warmth from the harsh winter. Happiness wasn't a choice, nor were there any means to acquire it from. Those people who were seen to be smiling or laughing were either deemed crazy or were killed, simply because there was no place for doubt : God had forsaken them, why then should anyone feel different? Gendarmes roamed the streets of Paris day and night, scanning for any unlawful activity and having caught the person, took him or her straight to the Gaol. It was true that they resembled hounds, nay, ferocious animals with their piercing gaze, waiting to catch the scent of their preys,who recoiled at their sight and cowered in the shadows, trembling from head to foot. Altogether, Paris was a boiling cauldron. The fiery tentacles of hell and the enveloping darkness never ceased to abate. 

All of this came into being as a result of Charles X, then the Count of Artois, succeeding the throne after the death of Louis XVIII. This was followed by bad harvests and hard winters, due to which the people in France were burdened with high food prices. Thereafter, there were clashes between the people in the streets of Paris and agents of authority. Business in Paris was at a complete standstill. Crowds were rushing through the streets with various instruments screaming : ''Down with the King!'' and ''to the Guillotine!''
A sad sight indeed to behold.

It was during this time that Pierre Tholomeys, a blacksmith working for the Gendarmerie, was faced with an opportunity : to take this distraction of the Gendarmes caused by the furor in the streets to his advantage, steal a horse and ride away from this wretched place as fast as he could. Since there was commotion everywhere, he faced no difficulty in stealthily slipping into their room and procuring what he thought would last him throughout his journey. The evening was slowly creeping over the land, and making use of the darkness, he untied a horse from the stable and rode off East in the direction of Montreuil. 

By daybreak he was in the open country with Paris a good distance behind him. He was wearied beyond endurance, having rode throughout the night. Feebly, with half opened eyes, he watched the skyline grow light, and was aware, without observing, of the chilly aspect of a winter's dawn. Morning, like evening, has it's ghosts. He did not see them but was still conscious, as though by their physical presence, of the dark shapes of trees and hills making their mournful contribution to his violently agitated state of mind. Passing an occasional isolated house at the side of the road, he thought to himself that there are people still sleeping!  The clop of the horse's hoofs, the jingle of harness and the clatter of his sac containing various instruments over the cobbles were a monotonous accompaniment to his thoughts - delightful sounds when we are in good spirits, but most dismal when we are melancholy. It was evident from the sac being dragged over the cobbles that he was almost asleep and stooped low over the horse. The horse having completely wearied itself from  trotting continuously without a stop had now stopped to catch its breath, causing Pierre to slide and fall on the  ground. 

The fall caused Pierre to start and open his eyes but had difficulty in doing so since the sun having now fully risen, shone its bright light which penetrated his feeble eyes and forced him to shade it with the back of his hand. He had lost all bearing and his mind was a kaleidoscopic whirl of thoughts. He slowly became feverish and a sharp pain in his leg caused him to scream in agony. Dark clouds had now blotted the sun as if they understood his plight, and grumbled as if to call for help. In a few moments, a heavy downpour lashed the earth accompanied by icy blasts of cold wind, and Pierre being already numb with pain made one last effort and crawled to his sac only to find it empty. This discovery further deranged him and made him question his reality until a heavy blunt instrument hit his head and he fell unconscious. 

Nothing is more terrifying than to peer into the depths of a human conscience and that too we can't do without trembling. There is nothing more obscure, complex, mysterious and infinite than the human soul. To make a poem of the human conscience is to merge all epics into a single epic transcending all.  It is the labyrinth of illusion, the furnace of dreams,and the battlefield of passions. To peer at certain moments into the the face of a human being in an act of reflection is to see something beyond their silence, is to discern struggle and conflicts of dragons and hydras, of the anger of Hades and the power of Zeus, of thunder claps and hailstorms. The infinite space that each man carries within himself, in which all the seasons are mingled with each other, and contrasts it with his spirit is altogether and overpowering thing. 

Dante Alighieri found himself one day at a fateful doorway which he hesitated to enter. We too are confronted by such a doorway, and we too must hesitate but enter nonetheless. 

Pierre Tholomeys was now confronted by such a doorway and he too hesitated to enter but was about to enter when a sharp blunt instrument hit his head and shattered his reverie. 

Alas! Pierre Tholomeys was never a blacksmith, nor had he stolen a horse, he was but a servant to King Charles X and was on his way to the guillotine, the fateful mistress no one could deny. His face was haggard and covered with bruises from the blows he received from the butts of  innumerable rifles, his eyes swollen and bloodshot from the lack of sleep; his hair was unkempt and covered his forehead from where some blood flowed from a gash, and was clothed in rags and tatters like the rest of the people around him that were either shouting, laughing, crying, throwing various things at him or dancing in ecstasy. The contorted and convulsed faces of men, woman, children with pitchforks, axes, and other instruments screaming their lungs out was a frightful scene to behold. The whole place was a pandemonium filled with the roar of thousands of people which rose to a shattering crescendo.

But Pierre Tholomeys meeting the frightening gaze of the people merely managed to give a weak smile as he ascended the stairs of the stage, which further piqued them and made them raise their pitchforks at him. It was still raining heavily when he neared the 'mistress' and a sharp nudge from the rifle in his back caused him to kneel in agony, his hands being tied, and with the serenity of a man resting on his own bed he placed his head on the guillotine and closed his eyes. A radiant smile had now spread on his haggard face and anyone who pitied him then would have guessed that he was thinking of his home in Montreuil, of him being there with his wife and singing a lullaby to his daughter that slept in his lap.

The clouds grumbled furiously which was followed by a thunderclap and finally the guillotine began to swish downward, gathering speed with a horrible, metallic whistle, towards Pierre's neck and cut it with precision, his head rolling down the stage toward the spectators who clapped and applauded the fateful event. 

Darkness had now completely enveloped Pierre and he slept that peaceful eternal sleep.

To die, to sleep, 
to sleep, perchance to dream,
Aye, there's the rub,
For in this sleep of death, what dreams may come.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Contour of our Shadows

Paris, 1892

Damien always woke up just before the dawn, maybe because he never slept much, or maybe because the darkness somewhat soothed him. As per routine, he would gather his tools and head towards the graveyard with a lantern to check on the condition of graves, but on this day, he went towards a mound overlooking an old farm down the hill. He dropped his tools on the ground, put the lantern beside him, crouched and after mechanically selecting a tool, started digging. Although the light emanating from the lantern was little, it nonetheless illuminated his face and highlighted his strong cheek bones, finely chiseled creases on his forehead, deeply sunken eyes and wrinkles around the mouth. 

The time around dawn elapses very rapidly and so, a faint light from the sun escaped the clouds and slanting towards him, radiated his figure. He was a tall, thin, pallid man with an unkempt beard and shriveled hair and his mechanical digging in the earth showed his dedication to his work. He had laid aside his coat and waistcoat ; his shirt open at the throat, and from time to time wiped the beads of sweat accumulated on his forehead with the back of his hand. Suddenly a light passed on his face, a smile played round his set mouth, and his haggard eyes were fixed in thought. Lifting his eyes to the old farm down the hill, he heaved a sigh that was pregnant with emotions and sat beside the grave he had just dug up. 

His daily life was of a curious microscopic sort; his whole world being limited to a few feet from his person. His familiars were creeping and winged things, and they seemed to enroll him in their band. Bees hummed around his ears with an intimate air, and tugged at the flowers at his side in such numbers as to weigh them to the roots. The strange colored butterflies which this graveyard produced, and which were never seen elsewhere, quivered in the breath of his lips, alighted upon his bowed back, and revolved around him in a jovial sort of way. Tribes of emerald-green grasshoppers leaped over his feet, falling awkwardly on their backs, heads, or hips like unskillful acrobats; or engaged themselves in noisy flirtations under the fern-fronds with the silent ones. Huge flies, ignorant of wire-netting, and in a savage state, buzzed about him without knowing that he was a man. 

As the sun now showed itself in full splendor, small and large snakes glided in their most brilliant blue and yellow guise, it being season immediately following the shedding  of their old skins, when their colors are brightest. Litters of young rabbits came out of their forms and warmed themselves upon the hillocks, the hot beams blazing through their skin. None of them feared him.

The monotony of his occupation soothed him, and was in itself a pleasure. He stooped down and with his emaciated hands touched a cockroach on his back, which immediately stopped and listened intently,its antennas ever attentive. A faint chuckle escaped his lips and his eyes brimmed with tears.
"Hey there, little one. Want to hear story?" he said to the cockroach. 

Saying this, he propped himself against the stone wall of the ancient cemetery, closed his eyes and started his usual soliloquy. a faint smile still lingering on his lips.

Paris, 1772  

It was a time of turmoil and a time of joy. A time to make amends and a time to get punished for. A time when felicity and grief walked hand in hand and reigned in the streets of Paris. When thieves, beggars, vagabonds and drunkards lived like there was no tomorrow, laughing boisterously and dancing to a broken tune, their bodies gyrating in a disgusting manner. People roamed, or rather, crawled the streets day and night wearing rags and tatters, even the men of higher class had themselves drunk and roamed with the wild crowd. The whole city was overflowing with sewer and gutter refuse. It was altogether a shameful and disgraceful picture to look at, but well, that's how Paris suffered then. 

It was during this time that i arrived in Paris and was looking for a lodging for the night when i chanced upon a deserted street, and my intuition instantly told me that this was a bad sign. I immediately slipped into the darkness of an old tavern and waited for any signs of movement. I sniffed the wind and listened, but no avail. Quivering with fear, i came out of the darkness and had advanced only a few steps when the path became muddier and muddier. 

Now i observed something rather extraordinary; the street was not deserted. Here and there were to be seen creatures crawling in a certain, vague, shapeless mass, which moved towards a light flickering at the end of the street. It reminded me of those heavy insects which drag themselves along from one blade of grass to another, towards a shepherd's fire. I was mortified at this sight and darted in the opposite way only to hear them crawling towards me and joined by more cripples, paralytic and blind men swarming around me. Also one armed men, one-eyed men, and lepers with their open sores. They emerged from the houses, from the side streets, from the cellars, howling, bellowing and screaming- all running towards the big fire at the end of the streets and that's where they forcefully led me.

"Where am i?" i cried, with tears streaming down my face. 
They all answered with a burst of demonic laughter.

At last we came to the great fire and then, it came upon me, something of a revelation : the city of thieves, a hideous blot on the face of Paris. A sewer from where there escaped a monstrous horde of people every morning only to return to this grotesque place to celebrate. People of all religions covered with painted sores, beggars in daytime and robbers at night, enacting prostitution and murder on the streets of this once famed city. 

It was a vast square, irregular in shape, lined with crooked, hideous frames of old houses whose decayed, worm eaten walls presented an ungodly sight. Fires around which swarmed strange groups, roamed here and there. All was commotion, confusion and shouting. One heard shrieks of laughter, the wailing of children and the high pitched voices of women. The hands and heads of this crowd, silhouetted against the luminous background, made a thousand fantastic gestures on the wall behind. 

Beautiful. Nay, ghastly, i would say. As soon as i regained my senses and my bearing, i had a bottle of beer in my hand and some woman's bonnet on my head. This was ludicrous, i shouted indignantly, and throwing the bottle and bonnet, stormed out of the company of this vile crowd and  climbed the roof of an old shop, in order to have a clear view of the ceremony below and propping against the wall fell in contemplation.  These poor souls weren't celebrating life, they were celebrating death. And what was more terrifying about it was that they knew it. These people were cursed. Nay, this wasn't witchcraft. They were being dogged by death the day they were born in this vile city. It was death that roamed the streets of Paris at night time, and not these people. Or rather, it was death disguised in their shadows. 

"Any time now", was the sentence which lingered in their minds everyday, every night, every waking moment. Thus, it was for this sole, unwavering reason that these men, women and children, armed with daggers and pitchforks reigned the streets of Paris at night and celebrated death in this obnoxious and repugnant manner. 

Every night. These ceremonies were held every night for 17 years and more, till these souls finally succumbed to their shadows.

Paris, 1892

"....Since time immemorial, death has been crouching in our shadows, ever watchful, ever attentive, to feast on the next soul it decides upon."
He finally heaved a sigh and opening his eyes, turned towards the cockroach.

"Little one, do the dead ever dream?", he asked in a matter of fact way.
"I guess they do, they do dream. And a lot. Maybe, the dreams are the canvas on which the dead paint their sorrows. Eh? Let me know what you think."

And saying this, he picked the cockroach between his forefinger and thumb and turned it over on it's back. The vigorous, spasmodic kicking and flinging of it's arms and antennas gave him delight, and he burst in a fit of demonic laughter, rivulet of tears streaming down his face.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Ballad of the Winds

A Sunday afternoon in  a cold and windy November was slowly approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as the Helmcrow moor was being enveloped in a mist. It was at this precise moment in its nightly roll into darkness that the moor came into its particular glory. The solemn stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom, the moor exhaling darkness as rapidly as the heavens precipitated it. 

Slowly and gradually the place became full of watchful intentness now; for when other creatures sank brooding to sleep, the moor appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its huge form looked as if it was waiting for someone, but it had waited thus for so many centuries with no one to keep it company save for the storm as its lover and the wind its friend. Civilization was its enemy, it seemed. And ever since the beginning of vegetation, the soil had worn the same antique, brown dress and it took pride in wearing it.
Even though Helmcrow or the wasteland, as people used to call it, was the most peaceful place one could find and with its majestic form spreading to as far as the eye could see, people abhorred it. Its bleak and dismal emptiness sucked the marrow out of them, as they used to say, and made them depressed and melancholy. But with no other alternative at hand, they lived and died a dejected life. 

At this point in time, you could discern albeit not easily, a crooked and weary form amid the gathering mist moving to and fro upon the moor. Upon close inspection after a while, the contour of a man becomes dimly visible sitting on a stool in front of a small fire. The red hot coals from the perishing fire greeted him like living eyes in the corpse of day and lighted his face. He was white headed as a mountain, bowed in the shoulders, wore a glazed hat and long boots. His whole figure was wrapped in a shawl but still his frame was shaking with the cold gusts of wind that had started blowing. He neither had a whisker nor a mustache and his lips were thin, and now and then there was a twitching as if he was often engrossed in thought. The old man frequently stretched his eyes ahead to gaze in the north east direction and then reverted them to the fire.

Silence reigned supreme, save for the chilly gusts of wind that were howling among the bushes and the chatter of the old man's teeth. He picked up a stick from the ground and was using it to shift the coals in the fire with considerable alacrity when suddenly he stopped. It might reasonably have been supposed that he was listening to the wind, which rose as the night advanced. The wind, it seemed was made for the moment, as part of its tone was quite special. Gusts in innumerable series followed each other and ricocheted against the objects in its way. Treble, tenor and bass notes could be found therein. People unaccustomed to this land would have found this conspicuous murmur of the wind to be ordinary, but in fact, it held a more deeper meaning.

The frail, bony hands holding the stick started quivering as the surge of emotions swelled inside him and made his eyes well up with tears. He perpetually fought the urge to wipe the tears rolling down his cheeks and instead, closed his eyes. Listening to the winds engulfing him, caressing his wrinkled face with the remembrances of the past. These were no ordinary winds, these were the sea of voices, cries and laughter kissing the shore one last time before returning the next night. They were the wind chimes, the church bells and the laughter of the past Summer.

A chirp from a blue bird broke his reverie, and he opened his eyes rubbing them, startled at the scene around him. It was a beautiful morning and he screamed with joy and with a smile across his face started jumping, amazed at how he could do that. A deep frown now settled on his forehead and he raised his hand and saw to his surprise that he was young again! But that didn't stop him in his tracks, because there she was : Rachel. The love of his life, the very name radiating happiness. Those blue eyes and those lips could make anyone swoon.
She was walking towards him in her favorite blue dress but she was walking very slowly, as if afraid of something. As she came closer he saw the look on her face, the look which made him scream in anger, '' Oh Helmcrow, what have you done? Bring Rachel back! NO!" But no sound came out of him nor could he move. She looked worried, nay, terrified. Her face was pale with fear, and on approaching him, she raised her hand and on touching his face she immediately crumbled into dust.

Suddenly, a few drops of water fell on his face and blurred his vision, followed by a loud croak of a frog which brought him to reality. He wiped his eyes and watched it hop and jump into a nearby pond, an indication of rain. A peal of thunder further confirmed it and heralded the coming of a thunderstorm. What he uttered was a lengthened sighing, apparently at something which had led to his presence there. There was an erratic abandonment about it, as if in allowing himself to utter the sound, he was accepting something. One point was evident in this, he was existing in a suppressed state and not one of languor.

The mist had cleared by now and the gathering dark clouds further enveloped the moor in its gloominess. The bells had started ringing  to call those who were outside back to their houses. The old man stood up and wrapping his shawl around him more tightly, retraced his steps from memory towards his home, guided by the sounds of bells.

The die is cast.
But even now, if you were to venture to Helmcrow moor at night at that precise spot, you could hear the winds hissing and sighing as if it never ceased to converse.

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