The Red Duck – Short Story

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Photograph by Paloma Yang.

Hearing a shrill noise, the mother opened her eyes. She turned to the left side of the bed and tried to feel the face of her 7 year old son, but all she could feel was damp sheets. The crying continued, she peered over the bed and saw that her son had fallen down. Quickly she threw aside the blanket and sat down beside him. She showed no signs of panic or fear, for she was poised and calm. She took the child in her arms like the precious jewel he was, and comforted him. Within minutes, the boy was asleep. As she sat in the darkness holding her child, she could feel the vehicles veer past the bridge, over their hut; she heard a few bird chirps, a boat engine revving, the calm river as it slithered around the rocks and rushed into the bay, and thought to herself that she had only a few hours to sleep before daybreak. She looked at the boy once again, like the nightingale once looked at the rose, and fell asleep, her head resting on his.

Padma and her son were one of few inhabitants of the slum adjacent to the Howrah bridge. She worked as a flower vendor near the banks of the Hoogli river. The banks were always filled with tourists, pilgrims, taxis, colorful shops, tea stalls, and beggars even. People from everywhere came here to take a dip in the holy water which would absolve their sins, or so they believed. The locals used the water to bathe, drink, and absolve their clothes of dirt and stench. Far from the riverbank, the path led to a cluster of poorly roofed huts. There were huts of all sizes. Some were big, some small, some even had a bicycle in front of them, and of them all, one hut stood out. It was a small hut close to the riverbank, separate from the rest. It was the smallest hut in the cluster, and didn’t have a door. Instead, there was a blue saree which covered the entrance. The saree was faded and tattered, and looked like it had been there for a long time, braving the heat and rain; it had gaping holes, through which two bright eyes appeared. The eyes shone like crystals on a sunlit beach. Raju was staring at the corner where his mother sold flowers every morning. He saw her sitting at the intersection of the paths that connected his home and the taxi stand. There she was, draped in an old yellow saree, with numerous others who tried to make a living the same way she did. She waved to Raju and he waved back with excitement hoping to join her, but she sternly signaled him not to cross the blue saree. Raju was dejected, for he did not have any friends to play with, nor did he have any toys. All that was there in his home was a bed, few old rags, an old gas stove, few blackened vessels, and a tiny idol of Lord Ganesh. It was a windy day, and Raju spent most of the afternoon lying on the bed, looking at the ceiling, all the while hearing the sound made by the saree as it flew from side to side due to the wind. At one point the sound stopped, and Raju sat upright.

Padma was having great luck at her shop today. Many of her companions had drooping flowers which brought all the customers to her. Padma always had the best choice in flowers, and she never hesitated to pay a little extra to get the good ones. She even had a bright red rose in her hair. She hadn’t had such good business in a long time. Very soon, she had sold all her flowers and was headed home for lunch. She first bought a cotton candy for her child, and as she walked towards her hut, she noticed that the blue saree was gone. Not much further, she saw Raju running behind the saree trying to catch it. It must have flown off due to the wind she thought, and started hurrying towards Raju. As the saree swirled and turned with the wind, it flew higher and towards the river, and Raju wasn’t going to give up. Seeing this Padma’s heart started racing and she started running towards Raju. As Raju neared the riverbank, the calm and poised Padma was long gone. She was now running faster than ever, with a cotton candy in her left hand and holding up her saree in the right, she was screaming “RAJU, RAJU, STOP, DON’T GO THERE!”.

As Raju sat upright, he noticed that the blue saree which separated his family from the outside world, was gone. He rushed outside the house and saw that the wind had taken away their only protector, and started running towards the saree. As the saree swirled and turned in the wind, he noticed his mother running towards the saree as well, and he realized that the blue saree meant a lot to her. He jumped over small rocks and chased the wind, his gaze fixed at the flying saree. He heard his mother scream “RAJU, RAJU”, and he immediately started shouting back “I WILL GET IT AMMA”. He reached the edge of the riverbank and flew, one arm clutching tightly at the saree.

Padma saw Raju go off the edge and gave out a shriek so loud that many people rushed towards the riverbank. Padma had seen her son jumping into the river. She never noticed the saree, it did not matter to her, not anymore. She continued running and reached the place where Raju had jumped off from.

As Raju fell, he had a strange sensation running down his spine, he felt extremely light, and as his head leaned into the river, he saw a group of ducks which were swimming away startled by him. His head went inside the water and then his body followed, everything was a blur!

Padma saw Raju’s head pop out of the water and he was gasping for breath trying to stay afloat. Immediately a fisherman dived into the water, to save the child.

Raju gasped for breath as he surfaced on the water. He still couldn’t see clearly because of the water in his eyes, and the sun shone bright on his face. He could hear his mother call his name out, and he wanted to reply that he caught the saree. As he took another breath and started to scream, he heard another person falling into the water, a few feet ahead of him, and also a whirring noise which came from his right. Within moments, Raju’s head hit the propeller of a boat that was passing by, and his vision turned red. He could not understand the warm feeling in his body; his vision grew blurrier and the sounds died with it. He was no longer gasping for breath, his body felt no pain, and the old blue saree had now turned red.

A few hundred meters ahead of the river, a group of priests were offering their prayers to the Sun God. There were a large number of pilgrims taking a dip in the holy water. And a small girl started yelling, “Look! Over there! A red duck!”. All the heads turned towards the duck at once. The crowd burst into cheers, and the chants grew louder as they had received a sign from the Sun God.

Ordered chaos

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My mind is a complete mess, it has always been! The entropy increases constantly and at times, I’m perplexed, trying to bring an order to all this chaos. I find it hard to decide upon what’s important, what’s not, things that I have to do, and the things that I want to do. There are just too many options lying around, and sometimes, I want to do them all. I don’t know if I can try to understand this chaos, but I sure would love to flow with it and see where it takes me!

Paris – The City of Light

My friends and I had been to Amsterdam to welcome 2016, and on our way back to Poitiers, France, we had a few hours to kill. We had reached Paris on 3 January 2016, early in the morning. The bus to Poitiers was at 15:00. Since we had a lot of time, we decided to head to the “Louvre”. It was still very dark when we arrived at the gigantic walls surrounding the Louvre Pyramid. We couldn’t figure out where the entrance was and there was not a soul to be seen. After a lot of walking around, we found our way inside. I must say we were extremely lucky to have arrived at the Louvre Palace in the morning. There were hardly any people around, and I never did spot any homo sapiens “selfying” with their phones! The dim lighting of the palace complimented by the dark sky was a visual treat indeed. Due to the limited time, we couldn’t venture into the museum. But I was really glad to just witness the beauty of its surroundings. We walked around the palace enjoying the changing colours of the sky, after which we took the metro and arrived at the Eiffel Tower. Seeing the Eiffel tower was an achievement for us, not because its a World Wonder, but because it had been 4 months since we arrived in France, and had never been to the Eiffel Tower. The view of the city from the top of the tower is stunning. One look from here is ample for anyone to fall in love with the architecture of this city (Paris is divided into 20 Arrondissements). 

Here are some pictures of these beautiful places,

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The Palais-Royal, home of the Conseil d’État

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The bridge, Pont des arts

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The Seine river as seen from the Pont des arts

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The Seine river

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The gateway to the Louvre Pyramid

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The Louvre Pyramid (Mona Lisa is in there somewhere)

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The Pont des arts leading to the Mazarine Library

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The Cour Carrée (Square Courtyard completed under Napoleon I) seen from the Mazarine library.

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Posters promoting Australian tourism, in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower.

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View of the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

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Chaillot’s Palace seen from the Eiffel tower.

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La Grande Roue de Paris (The big wheel of Paris) seen from the Eiffel Tower.

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The “Champ de Mars” seen from the Eiffel tower.

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The World famous “Tour Eiffel” (Eiffel Tower)

Experiencing the French Culture

I’ve been in Poitiers(France) for a month and have met many amazing people here. I want to introduce you to an amazing couple, Jeannie and Joel. Jeannie was a primary school teacher and Joel, a supervisor/Manager in a shop. They’re both retired now and they just travel to different parts of the world to make pictures and experience new cultures and learn from them. Yesterday, they invited my friend and I to spend a day with them. We visited a really nice photo festival based on the theme “Humanity”, after which we were offered a traditional French dinner. I must say the food was pretty delicious, and their hospitality, amazing! 
They have a simple home filled with a lot of plants, which are souvenirs from various parts of the world, and also a camping car to go on bold adventures across Europe. We look forward to meeting them again soon.

When you are thousands of miles from home and a stranger makes an effort to make your stay comfortable, it is very heartwarming!

Here are some pictures.

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Jeannie and Joel in their beautiful garden

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A delicious meal

Thoughts from a Window sill

I’m leaving for my Masters in a month and figured I’d spend some time with my father before I leave. He’s off to work early and I’m home alone until dusk. I’ve been cooking, washing vessels, cleaning the house and trying to stay productive. All this work keeps me occupied and it feels like a lot of work sometimes. Until now I’ve never realised the importance of the fact that my mother had given up her career to take care of us and manage the house, and has been doing it for decades now. I sit on the window sill and contemplate a mother’s patience & perseverance, and the things she sacrifices, for her family’s well being.  

Love story during 3rd grade

During our road trip, I got to meet my primary school classmate, in Kochi. Chacko and I were classmates during Primary school, in Kerala. We had a crush on a really cute girl, and fought regularly about it. This guy always sat next to her and I never got a chance to sit next to her. I used to follow her all around the campus and this guy too, used to follow her. Once I was outraged and when I asked him “Why do you keep following her?”, he replied, “I don’t know” and gave me a big smile. That was the day I hit him. The teacher punished me and we didn’t talk for many days. In the one year that I studied in Kerala, I spoke to her only twice. Once to borrow a sharpener or a pencil, and then on the last day of school, when I finally walked up to her and said “I want to sit next to you today”. I sat next to her that day!

Over the years Chacko and I stayed in touch by writing letters, then emails, and then came all this social networking crap. And 15 years later, here we were talking about all this just like it was yesterday. Despite the big fight we had when we were 8 years old, he let my brother and I sleep at his place for the night. That’s what kindhearted people do right? 😀

P.S – Presently I’m in touch with the girl and my best friend/enemy, Chacko.

That’s Chacko and I (left to right).  

Ganesh Visarjan at Girgaon Chowpatty, MUMBAI

 

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Lord Ganesha emerging from thick smoke (It was an incredible sight).

The last day of Ganesh Chaturthi – Anant Chaturdashi, probably attracts more crowd than any rock concert. Lakhs of people witness the visarjan/immersion of over 6000 Ganesh idols in the sea.
47000 policemen along with the Indian military stood guard for the Ganesh Visarjan procession in Mumbai this year. Also thousands of volunteers from various NGO’s supported this main event. Hundreds of life guards were stationed all across the immersion points. Numerous roads blocked, watch towers established almost everywhere, and the bomb squads were on constant alert. I have never seen a city so well guarded. There were cops in every fucking corner! 

         Lakhs of people that witnessed the event, I too stood amongst them trying to imbibe the festive mood around me. Sweat dripping from every inch of my body, unable to push forward or move backward, I did manage to lift my camera and click some pictures as well.

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The coast guard continuously monitors the events on land as the people look on.

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More and more people flooding the Girgaon Chowpatty.

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The Ganesh Idols being carried into the sea at Girgaon Chowpatty

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A devotee pushing people aside to make way for the Ganapati Maharaj.

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Ganapati Maharaj being carried into the sea.

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So many people, and so many many cameras (or should I say cellphones?).

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People waiting to see more Ganesh Idols.

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The Ganesh with trishul being brought in, a man nearby looks at a different Ganapati further ahead.

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Lights, Camera, Action!

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A kid sitting her father’s shoulder watching the visarjan.

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More and more Ganesh idols coming in for Visarjan.

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Vehicles have nowhere to go. People, people everywhere!