Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Gift of Life- Blogisode 6

I started screaming once again at the top of my voice. Alaena was getting really impatient now. All my attempts of sending her to sleep were futile now. I myself was dying of hunger. I took some mud and started munching. I saw no other way to kill this demon of hunger that was surfacing within. Two mouthfuls and I could not help crying. I had ridiculed the Idli’s in the morning. God had taught me a very important lesson. There are many in this world that don’t even have the fortune of having one square meal a day and there are the spoilt lot like me who have food in plenty but no respect for that which God had bestowed us with. But what wrong had Alaena done? She was all of 9 months. Why was she getting this harsh treatment from the almighty? I cried when I tried to give her a little mud because her cries were getting intolerable. She ate a little and dozed off to sleep. I think the psychological satisfaction of having had something was what made little Alaena stop crying. I felt guilty. But I saw no other alternative to keep her going. I wanted to get rid of this hell. I had seen enough. Around 27-28 hours had passed since I first saw sunlight in full glare. I wanted to play with my friends once again. I wanted to run around the playgrounds. I wanted to accept the gifts that my friends would have brought along for my birthday party. I wanted to take in their greetings. I wanted to show off my new birthday dress to my friends today. I wanted to bask once again in the glory of the sun. I wanted to stay alive. I gathered all my strength and screamed again. I kept on screaming. I lost consciousness.

When I woke up, I could distinctly hear the sound of hammers and cutters on metal. There was a lot of noise from these. I glanced at Stephen uncle. He was looking in my direction and smiling. That same wide smile of his flashing his dimples. He didn’t blink for a moment and kept giving me that smile. That gave me courage and I felt stronger. For the first time I smiled back at him. I could sense the feeling of hope that these sounds had created within me. I gathered all my strength and managed to scream aloud. I was crying for help. My cries were finally heard by a group of soldiers who were on the rescue act. When they pulled us out an hour later around noon on January 28, I was half conscious but jubilant nonetheless. Alaena was still breathing but with much difficulty and I could feel her move. I could not move my legs which were numb by now. A team of doctors rushed to give us medical attention and first aid. The first question I asked the army medical supervisor, Major Reddy, was, “Is an uncle named Stephen alive?” Major just patted me and told me not to think of anything else.

It took me a good six months to recover from the trauma and the physical injuries that the earthquake had inflicted on me. Alaena also recovered quite well, never forgetting to give her toothless bright smile (though now I could see a couple of teeth sprouting out of her gums). Those 28 hours had spun a special bond between us. Maybe later years down the line, she will say something. Or maybe she might already have told her parents in baby talk about what happened in her private hell on that dark day of January 26th. But I hope she forgets it. I hope we all forget it.

It was quite later when I learnt that Stephen uncle could not make it through and had died of multiple injuries right at the spot itself. There were many newspaper and media reports on the “Smiling Corpse”. He was found dead with a wide smile on his face. I could relate to that smile of his. I knew he had put on that smile just to give me moral support and strength. The thought that he was already dead when he had given me that last smile sent shivers down my spine. I felt guilty that he was not alive when I had managed to give him a smile back. I felt a great loss. He will always have the highest place in my heart for not what he taught me in that traumatic period, but for the birthday gift that he gave me that day. The best gift any friend can give. The gift of life.


Monday, September 22, 2008

The Gift of Life- Blogisode 5

I screamed in delight. There sat Alaena beneath a dome like structure without a single scratch but scared at the sights. I guess she recognized me given the way she toddled towards me. I grasped her tight and though I could not move an inch, I felt stronger now. Alaena did not stop crying. She kept on pressing her fingers towards her mouth. I knew that very instant that she was damn hungry. The questions that I had posed to God hours ago were being answered in a strange manner. Was this God’s way of explaining things to me? If I could interpret things for a baby whom I knew since the past few hours, then mothers can know what her child has in mind for sure. I tried to pat Alaena to sleep fearing that she would dehydrate if she kept on crying due to hunger like she was. I wasn’t a 10 year old kid anymore. Neither did I feel like one. I felt more mature all of a sudden, but scared down within none the less. After all the heart that beats within me is of a 10 year old who hasn’t seen the world enough. I thanked God as Alaena dozed off to sleep. I kept on sharing something or the other with Stephen as he insisted on us keeping on chatting for some reason he considered appropriate. And trust takes a whole new meaning when you are faced with adversities. You place your complete trust in a stranger. Had it been a normal day, I would not have trusted him with my chocolate. Today, I was trusting him with my life. It had been 15 hours since we had been trapped. It got darker because of the night setting in. I got all the more scared. Stephen tried to drive away my fears. Alaena has still not woken up. My throat was parched now. My stomach was rumbling with hunger. Anything in the name of food would have found its way to my stomach . Stephen advised me to keep on gulping my saliva so that my throat does not get parched. My legs had gone numb. I wanted to cry. I screamed. Stephen managed a muffled scream. Our screams were lost in the rumbling of bulldozers and trucks. “Would I remain buried here forever?” I asked myself. I clutched Alaena stronger. Stephen was finding it hard to breathe now. He was heaving. I told him this day was supposed to be my birthday and the gift that dad had promised to buy me. He smiled at me and wished me a very happy birthday. I think it caused him great pain but still he managed to sing a short happy birthday song for me. 20 hours had passed since we were trapped in this hell. It was getting unbearable with every passing minute. At some points I could see the heaves of Stephen getting heavier. When I would try to show concern, he would just smile back and remind me to be strong and not to cry. Alaena was getting more and more impatient. How would a baby know that he was not at the comfort of its home where the mother would feed her the finest idli’s in the whole world? How would she know that hunger and thirst did not find a place in the dictionary that they used in this place which I had christened as hell? How would she know that it could be any moment this whole rubble could come crashing on us decimating our hunger and thirst’s forever? I wanted to close my eyes. I wanted the pain in my legs to leave me. The pain in my legs was now getting unbearable. I let out a wail. I did not want this pain. Stephen was sweating profusely now. He seemed to be in considerable pain himself. He was finding it difficult to maintain that smile on his face now. Still he gave it his best shot and mumbled, “Pain is a friend molu. Pain is a friend. As long as you are in pain, you know that you are alive. And that’s the best gift a friend can give. The gift of life.” I tried to drill these words into my psyche. “Pain is a friend Meera…Pain is a friend.” Stephen uncle was now finding it hard to speak. Not that I was well off, but then in a better state than Stephen uncle. He directed me to keep on making voices so that we get heard. Else we would have to endure this torture for more hours. The very thought sent shivers down my spine.

To be continued....

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Gift of Life- Blogisode 4

I screamed…. I screamed at the top of my voice. My screams got lost in the cries of help that were originating from everywhere. “Oh God! What have I done to go through this torture?”, I was shouting at the top of my voice. People who were trapped were moaning in pain. Apart from some bruises, a sore neck and the tangle my legs had got into, I had managed to come out unscathed.

I wanted to get out of this dust and rubble this instant. I was struggling for fresh air. It was suffocating. My white uniform no more seemed white. It was eerily brown. “My class teacher would give me a sound scolding if I will reach school like this on a Republic day. Aiyoo! She will make me stand on top of the bench. Please don’t keep me trapped in this place. I will get a sound beating from my mother for going out of sight for too long. She won’t even know that I am trapped down here. Please help me god! I promise not do any sort of mischief in future. I have learnt my lesson. Now please get me out of this mess. Pleaseeeeeeeeeee!”, I pleaded to the almighty. All my prayers seemed to be falling on deaf ears as of now. I could not remember for how long I kept pleading for help. It had drained me of all my energy and I soon fell asleep. I don’t know for how many hours I slept. The screams that were so strong hours ago now seemed muffled and feeble. It seemed hope had started draining out of their bodies. All the escape routes seemed to be cut, but a dust-choked pocket of air kept me going.

I tried to look around for some help. I saw an elderly male trapped till neck trying to wriggle out of the mess he had got into. His efforts were reducing in intensity with every attempt which indicated that he was in this act for long. He had a thick moustache which was as dark as his complexion. It was the only thing that added some years to his erstwhile boyish looks. I could bet that he had grown them to give the same impression. He had trimmed the hair on his head really short but they could not hide the curl in them. He could have easily come across as a dark skinned foreign national with his looks. He had dust smeared all over. He seemed to be muscular fellow, which I assumed from his square jaws and the way the nerves of his neck stood out and seemed to bulge out every time he tried to push down the beam that he was trapped under. Though very dark, there was something in him that would capture your attention. Suddenly he looked in my direction and our eyes met. He gave me a reassuring smile. I noticed his stained teeth. He had to be a tobacco addict like my uncle. These stains were so similar. Thinking I was scared by his looks, his smile grew wider. I saw two perfect dimples form on both his cheeks. I tried to smile back. It was here that I realized that to maintain a smile in the face of extremity is the toughest thing to do. I could not even force a smile back. All that I could manage was a few tears that were now streaming continuously from my eyes.

The man started speaking in a choked voice, “This is Stephen here…..You….ehhhh…You can call me…aaahhhh…Ste…Ste…Stephen uncle. I hope you are not…not…scared of….me. Ha ha ha…aaahhh..I never thought smiling would cause me so much pain…ouch! Yaa…I was just hoping….God..aaaahhh..just hoping that you don’t start crying as well looking at me. All the kids who catch a glimpse of mine start crying. They can’t stand my…my…aaaaaahhhh…….appearance. They slip into…depression..he he he…ohhh..but you seem to be a…aaaahhhh…brave lil girl. I had this nickname back in college..ha ha ha…aaaaahhh….My batchmates used to call me Stephen IAS. are a kid. You wont know what an IAS stands for. It is the acronym for Indian Administrative Services(IAS). Not that I was academically brilliant and a surety for civil services…. IAS stood for Invisible After Sunset…ha ha ha..ouchhh!! You have some pretty smart guys good with such acronyms….ha ha ha…just imagine…IAS! Who could come out with such…such…ouchhh…such gem? I just grew in height…just like that….ha ha..nothing else changed…the same boyish looks….but this complexion and the curly hairs on top scare the kids away. I don’t intend to make them cry, but…aaaaaaaahhh….I see that you are not scared looking at me…Great…Don’t be scared of this hell we have got into either child….eeehhhhh…..Its not long before the rescue team arrives and pulls us out of this hell. Just relax and don’t cry. The tears would dehydrate you quickly. Even if you want to cry very badly, don’t.” That words registered like God’s command in my ears and I made an attempt to stop this flow of tears.

A resounding cry of a baby made me strain my neck towards my right. My heart leapt at the sight. I could not believe my eyes.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Gift of Life- Blogisode 3

Khan uncle screamed,"Earthquake"!! Gathering his senses he gave Alaena in my arms instructing me to make a dash towards the ground floor and from there to the open, while he rushed upstairs. The intensity of the tremor and the accompanying rumbling noise gradually diminished and suddenly increased atleast three times. I could clearly the see the plinth of the nearest building oscillating through a distance of about 15 cm. I had no clue what to do. My brain had stopped functioning alltogether. I could only here people screaming and running around. Reaching the ground floor seemed like an eternity. People were rushing out in droves now pushing people along. With Alaena in my arms, almost a a munute had elapsed since Khan uncle had left us. I reached the ground floor and was just about to head towards the open when I witnessed a panel wall thrown out completely out of its frame structure. I could not hear any voices. All i could hear was wails, shrieks and a strong rumbling sound which was growing in intensity with every passing second. I stood there frozen as I witnessed two of the lowest floors of the adjacent Malhar apartments plunge into the ground. Something strong struck me at the back and I let go Alaena off my arms.My head felt sore. There was suddenly a deathly silence around me. It was unusually dark and dusty. I was sure that whatever I had seen was a bad dream and the day had just begun. But sometimes, your worst fears tend to come true. I found myself in the midst of a rubble with a bam preotecting me from the debris that had accumulated in heaps right above. I found it hard to breathe. I tried to get up the way I used to jump out of my bed every morning, but some strange force was pinning me to the ground. My legs were trapped. I was stuck under a seemingly endless rubble of cement, stone and bare rods. I could see bodies crushed by the beams lying immobile besides. Blood oozed out of their bodies draining them of their life with every passing second. "What have these innocent people done to be put through such an ordeal? What have I done to suffer like this?", I wondered. I felt like vomitting. It was a ghastly scene. I shut my eyes unable to take in these gory scenes any more. I was trembling with fear. Never in my life have I been more scared. Never. I screamed. I screamed at the top of my voice. My screams got lost in the cries for help that were originating from everywhere. I could see people trying to wriggle out of the mess they were down under. My ears were filled with pleads and cries which were emanating from all over the place. My nose had got used to the smell of blood and the rubble all over. Suddenly, i realized that Alaena was nowhere besides me. I looked around for Alaena. Where was she? I felt my heart skip a beat at the thought of she being trapped under the debris.

To be continued......
(* God...Let there be peace all over. Natural or manmade disasters....please dont test us. Let us pray for the Delhi blast victims.)

The Gift of Life- Blogisode 2

"Good morning Meera", wished Khan uncle. He was my favourite uncle in the building, Meera Apartments. Almost everyone in this building, right from the ground floor occupants to the Khan family on the 7th floor, knows me because i share my name with our building. Khan uncle cooks up the most amusing and make believe stories. He almost forced me into believing how the building was rechristened "Meera Apartments" after i was born to wade off evil spirits. And that they would take control if i were to move out of this building ever. So I should never ever move from this building and in doing so am helping out the other occupants. Khan uncle even jokes how i am famous in the whole of Ahmedabad. He even went to the extent of claiming that he had forwarded the story related to me and the building to both national and international news agencies and how i would be famous world over soon. I sometimes secretly wished i was. Being a celebrity was so cool. And Khan uncle said it with so conviction that i would do mock thanking sessions before my bedroom mirror everyday. That was Khan uncle. And i loved him from the core of my heart. He also enjoyed my company and i would at his place in all festivals as family. Be it Id or Onam or Diwali, we celebrated each of them like one big family. And i loved it this way."The lift is ot of order my dear. I fear that you will have to walk down the stairs all the way down sweetheart. I think Alaena and me would love to give you company all the way down in your marathon attempt my sunshine", Khan uncle giggled and i noticed Alaena in his arms. I recollected him mentioning that he was expecting his cousin's daughter and her child over on Republic day as it was a holiday. Alaena was as cute as it gets. All of 9 months, she gave her toothless smile which had me drooling all over her. Her cheeks were red and she was wearing a red frilled frock which went with her wheatish complexion. I had this desire to hold her the moment i saw her waving towards me. I didnt want to go to school all of a sudden. I wanted to play with this lil bundle of joy. I never liked babies much, but Alaena had won my heart with that toothless smile. I wanted to pull her red cheeks and plant a kiss on each of them."Sweetheart...i know you want to play with Alaena but your bus might be waiting for you. Moreover Alaena is here for a week so you can play with her as much as you wish. But school first!", Khan uncle had read my mind. I glanced at my watch. 8:44 am. All the cuddling and playing part could be carried out in the evening was what I said to myself and started walking downstairs. Khan uncle turned to my mom who was standing by the door all this while, "I think you can carry on with your household chores Mrs. Krishnan. No need to walk all the way down to the ground floor. I have to buy some bread from the market and we will accompany Meera downstairs. I will see to it that she gets on her school bus. You dont worry at all." And with that reassuring words to mom, we started our downward trek to the ground floor. Yes, a trek! I don't know how else would i describe climbing down the stairs from my 7th floor apartment. The two minutes it took us to reach the second floor seemed like hours. I glanced at my watch. It was 8:46 am and we were at the second floor.All of a sudden I felt a high frequency vibration through my feet. I felt the ground getting displaced in the northerly direction. There was a strange sound accompanying this displacement. The sound resembling to that of heavy furniture being pulled over a rough surface. I had no clue as to what was happening. I turned backwards to see a horror stricken Khan uncle. Never had i seen him in such a state. A feeling of fear mixed with horror loomed large on his face. He looked at me and screamed, "Earthquake"!!!!

To be continued....

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Gift Of Life - Blogisode 1

Sorry that I kept all my readers waiting for so long. I dont say that the break has done a world of good for me, but the hunger to write and cook stories has increased manifold. I bring to you another short story from my stable, "The Gift of Life". Hope you all forgive me for the long sabbatical and enjoy this story. Cheers!

“Meera, you are getting late for the flag hoisting ceremony at your school dear. It’s already 8:20 molu. The white uniform that you are wearing is just fine. No need to keep on looking at that small spot on the collar again and again. It won’t vanish by itself daa! Its hardly noticeable molu. Be quick! Ohhhhh…you still haven’t had your breakfast!! Come here this instant.”

I could hear my mom shouting from the dining room. How on earth did Amma know that I was glancing at the spot standing in front of the mirror here? “Mothers are mothers. The supreme beings. They know it all. Their sixth sense antennas are always turned on”, said a feeble voice within me.

Being Meera Krishnan was tough at times. After all why don’t these grown up’s understand that a 10 year old girl has better things to do than have breakfast. I consider breakfast a sheer waste of time. I could have slept a little more or had a longer look at the calendar to anticipate and plan my approaching birthday the next day, January the 27th. I wanted to simply stand there dreaming of the gift dad promised me this time around.

Another routine call by mom had me rushing towards the dining table. I glanced at the clock and wondered how mom managed to give me a call in exact 5 minute intervals from the moment I got up from bed to this instant. I threw my bag on the sofa and took my seat on the dining table. The seat at the centre of this dining table belongs to me, Miss Meera Krishnan. Though I dislike spending time munching stuffs made lovingly by mom, which I consider a sheer waste of time, but I do enjoy being made the centre of attention. Dad enquiring about my day and mom asking me if I would like another helping, my seat at the centre enabled me to have a clear view of both and bask in the attention being showered.

I made a dash towards the casserole and peeped into it. I closed it the very instant and threw an angry glance at mom. “Idli’s again??? Yuck….Amma, this is not fair! You keep doing this all the time. You promised to make me sandwiches for breakfast last night. I don’t want to take this to school. Kids have labelled me a South Indian ponytail because my tiffin always is stuffed with either idli’s or dosa’s. Stephen Gonzales of our section keeps bringing fancy items in his tiffin everyday. It’s a new thing everyday. Or take Asbah Alaena of Section B. She brings along sandwiches with a different filling every day. She has made so many friends in my section just because she is so cool. Mona Aiyar, Ani, Rajesh, Ttushar…ohhh…the list of the cool people in my section is endless mom. It’s only me with these idli’s and dosa’s. Yaa, there is this Sandeep Balan who brings the same stuff. But that’s precisely the reason no one hangs out with him. Students make fun of him and call him “Dosa boy”. At least I have some friends with whom I hang around. I don’t want to be like that boy and labelled as a “South Indian” mom. It’s not that cool when I have to give explanations that it’s not Parachute coconut oil that we use for cooking. I am tired of telling them that this is the costliest and purest oil around and not the cheap ones which are used for hair. It was just the other day that Mona Aiyar was making fun of me. She said that your mom applies the oil that remains after cooking in your hair. How embarrassing is that? I want to take sandwiches along to show them that we don’t cook in coconut oil mom. Why don’t you understand?” I looked up at mom and she didn’t even show a sign of registering my complaint. If I meet God one day, the first thing I would like to ask him is that why are 10 year olds treated so miserably by heir mothers. I swallowed two idli’s making faces and slipped the tiffin into my bag. I had school for only 3 hours today. Today being the republic day, we had a flag hoisting ceremony in school followed by some sports. I was looking forward to the 100 m dash in my age category where I was among the favourites. As soon as mom ordered me to stop and head towards the school bus which seemed to have arrived below, I jumped out of my chair. I could feel a feeling of triumph within me. I think this is how prisoners feel when they are set free after being behind the bars for years. It is so liberating. I made a dash towards the lift on our floor.

To be continued...