Totem : Chapter 18

Now, I’d like to point out that this was a very unusual occurrence and I certainly was not used to such events in my life. I was the king of the mundane. The barely existing, zero experiences kind of a guy. I hated traveling even though it was something everyone was doing and encouraging everyone else to do as well. I was a skeptic. You can always “find yourself” anywhere. You can have epiphanies anywhere; even while you’re in bed waking up in the morning. I found it oddly superficial and unnecessary. And those who did travel, did it only for the pictures and instagram. Them and their fake smiles and their “#blessed”. I saw through it all. It was all an act. And don’t even get me started on the journey. I hate planes, the roads are never good to the places you want to visit and it always takes hours upon hours to get there. But despite all that reasoning, it was unusual to people that i didn’t travel as much. Even if i did, i wouldn’t go out of my way and call people to tell them what i did and smear pictures all over the internet craving their validation and respect.  People thought i was anti-social and crazy. Maybe i was. But what’s the harm in that? In a world where a person can be a ton of horrible things, being anti-social is probably the least harmful. How can anyone be harmful if he or she just remove themselves from the confines of the society? How is it wrong to not give in to society’s definition of “normal behaviour” and do your own thing? 

I like it when things go according to plan. I hate surprises, good or bad. My overly active Gemini mind plans every detail of a series of events days in advance weighing all possible permutations and combinations. I think about what I’ll do if this happens and what i’ll say if she says this in response. There are times i have to stop myself from going too deep into the rabbit hole. Hours go by and to the ordinary bystander i might be staring at the wall in front of me, but by then my mind has left my body and traversed the deep dark corners of the universe. I’ve always been like this. I was like this when i was a child as well. Probably why it takes me a while to understand things because i am easily distracted. Even when i do understand something, i bring about tons of questions involving the how’s, when’s, where’s and what’s from all possible dimensions. And once i have the answers to all these questions, only them am i satisfied by my understanding of a topic. While others choose to throw words around with their limited understanding, i cast a giant web of questions that need answering first before i can contribute to a conversation. Also why i am an excellent listener. And also why i get interested in people’s stories. Because there is a reason behind why a person is the way he is. And all the clues lie in these stories. If a person was to reveal all their stories to me, i could tell you how they are at the moment. Think of us being a river moving ahead in direction as we all do in life. Think of these stories and events as giant boulders that make us change direction every now and then. Some nudge us towards a waterfall where we hit rockbottom and some lead us to the plains where everything slows down and life is calm. If one was to go back and follow the path of a person’s river, you can pin point the existence of these boulders and see how much it affected their course in life. 

But we all hide our boulders and pretend we are bulletproof. Our past failures and heartbreaks become embarrassing secrets when they shouldn’t be. They mould us into who we are now. Its a journey and not one soul has made it here without cuts and bruises. We hide them from others and thats why no one can understand each other. No one knows why a person is the way they are and why they say the things they say. Agreed you don’t do that with random strangers but when you’re with someone, it goes a long way in understanding each other. You get a better idea about what to expect, where the boundaries are and what not to say at the wrong time. While we are all smiling in our instagram posts, people deep down have forgotten what real happiness feels like. They’ve lost faith in everything and everyone. They’ve gone deeper into their shells and misunderstandings blossom. 

I remember taking each step leading me to an uncomfortable uncertainty. Time had slowed down and all the music around me had drowned out. I felt the eyes on me as i walked across the bar towards the exit. She was leading the way. Her heels clicked and clacked at the wooden floor. Her hips swayed gently with each step. Her hair had a bounce and a purpose about them. She turned to see if i was still following. Our eyes met. I could feel her peeping inside my hollow body and coming face to face with my soul. Her eyes pierced right through me.

The curious gemini inside me had to know her story. I knew i would toss and turn for nights trying to come up with scenarios till it drove me to the limits of insanity. I knew i had to know and i had to hear it from her. I had to know. 

Totem : Chapter 17

She looked back at me with a neutral expression on her face. No smile, no sign of sadness, no sign of happiness, no sign of remorse, no regrets. Nothing, just nothing. I continued to fail at reading her and something told me she knew that. She knew i had the wheels turning in my head but they were heading nowhere. She knew i was trying to make sense of what had just happened. It isn’t every day that you hear something like this 

“Ready for more?” she asked casually. 

“You just told me that you killed your uncle with your own hands.”

“Yup, that i did.”

“But why tell me? You don’t even know me. What if I go to the cops with this?” i was sweating at this point. 

“And who’s going to believe you? What are you going to say anyway? Some girl came and told me she killed someone? It’s your word against mine. Unless you think that the couple in the corner has superhuman hearing. Even if they did, i don’t think the rest of the world exists for them right now.” 

She was right. I didn’t know what to do with all this information. A woman had told me that she killed someone. How do you react? What do you even say? What do you do after that? 

“..and besides, you asked for it. You wanted to know my story.”

“Yup, that i did.” i replied nodding my head, staring deep into the confines of my beer bottle. 

“So, you didn’t answer my question.”

“Sorry, what’s the question again?”

“I asked if you were ready for more.”

“I need another drink first. Something stronger. Much stronger. Definitely.”

I signalled to the bar attendant who signalled back saying that the bar had shut and it was closing time. 

“Drat!! Perfect timing.”

“It’s alright. i have booze at home. We can go over there and pick up where we left off.”

I wasn’t sure i heard that clearly. I had that expression. 

“You heard me.” she replied. Apparently she was able to read me. This was a first. Of many if i might add. 

“Are you sure?” i asked, still confused by the offer. 

“Yes.”

“But you don’t even know me. What if i’m dangerous?” 

She smiled for the first time all night. She looked me straight in the eye, placed her hand on mine and said “I can take care of myself.”

She picked up the cheque. Didn’t even let me touch it. She shut me down with a glance in my direction. This woman had power. A different kind of a power. Not something that you can buy. The kind of power that grows from within. The kind of power that makes you bulletproof in the world. That no one can touch you or mess with you. And i had no intentions of doing so. 

I was lost in thought when she tapped me on my shoulder and i snapped back to reality with a shudder. She was standing right next to me. 

“Shall we?” she asked gently leaning her head towards the exit. 

I just nodded. Words had escaped me by now. I got up and walked towards the exit. 

Baby steps. I had promised myself. Tonight was just about taking baby steps. 

Totem : Chapter 16

I saw blood oozing out of his mid section, his face had changed colour. I turned my eyes down to find myself holding the knife that had penetrated his stomach. He collapsed to his knees with his mouth open in horror and pain. He was just about to let out a scream to alert his sons when I jumped over him and shut his mouth with my hands. But it wasn’t enough. He was still making a lot of noise. His boots were bashing against the deck, his muffled screams were loud. I continued stabbing him repeatedly but he just would not stop. I moved up and pierced his heart. The knife slid slowly between his ribs and went gently into his chest cavity with the greatest ease. That seemed to slow him down but I wasn’t done yet. I pulled it out and stabbed him in the chest again. And again. And again till I could no longer feel my arm. 

His blood flowed everywhere and I didn’t realise there would be so much of it. It was all over my hands and my clothes. I stood next to him holding that bloody knife peering over his hapless body. How it now lay limp just like my father’s. How any sign of life had left him. How he now lay dead and decaying in front of my eyes. It was relaxing. I enjoyed watching him draw his last breath and I sat there till the last drop of blood poured out of him. I cannot remember how long I sat there next to him watching him die but it was surely longer than I should’ve stayed. I heard the boys calling out to uncle telling him that they had reached their fishing spot. Followed by footsteps heading towards the staircase leading to the lower decks. One of the sons had decided to take a look while the other stayed up and steered. 

My feet had decided to follow my lead again. I ran and hid behind the nets again as the son came and saw his father lying in a pool of blood. He screamed and shouted and ran towards his side. I decided that was my time to slip away. I ran towards the stairs but he saw me. He shouted and alerted his brother upstairs that I had escaped and killed their father. I reached the upper deck and made a run for the side. Land was a mere speck from where I was standing. The other brother was right behind me when I made the leap to jump over the side. I had no other option. It didn’t matter how far land was, I just had to make a dash for it and see what happened. I remember I was in the air and just about to hit the water when I felt someone grab my ankle. I swung around, hit my head on the hull and fell into the water.

I wondered…

She beamed the brightest smile i had ever seen, standing in the middle of that platform, next to the train right beside her. She wore a white dress with sunflowers on it. It went perfectly with the kind of day it was. While everyone lugged around their luggage morosely, she stood there beaming. That smile, something about it. It gave me hope. It made me believe again. I stood there looking at her from a distance and i don’t know how long i just stood there but i knew i could look at her forever. i wondered what adventures lay ahead for her. I wondered where she was going and what she must be doing. I wondered what her life must be like. I wondered what it must be like to have her in your life. I wondered what must it be like to wake up each day to that beautiful face and that beaming smile. She had her arm outstretched for a well deserved picture.

But, as soon as the picture was done, a sadness clouded her face. The smile vanished and hid like the setting sun. Her eyes lost their sparkle, her face turned serious and that smile vanished. Oh, that smile. I could’ve written pages upon pages comparing it to all the beauty in the world but now it was gone. She became just like anyone else, miserable, just lugging around her baggage just like everyone else, waiting to get on that train and get away from all the misery pouring down on her. The show she had put on for the world was now over. It now existed on some website or some app for everyone to see how happy and happening she was but shrouded her reality from everyone. I wondered why people do that, i wondered what misery ails her, i wondered why people put on a show for others, i wondered…

She got on the train and sat down on the seat opposite mine. Her eyes never left the comfort of her cellphone. it had a world where she was happy. A world where she was liked and people talked to her. A place where people wanted to be her, wanted to do the things she was doing, eating the things she was eating and drinking at the bars she was visiting. Her eyes never once looked up to see me admiring her, wanting her, wanting to talk to her, wanting to know about her, wanting to listen and ease some of her sorrow. I felt virtually invisible as she only now existed virtually. The real her stopped existing a while ago.

She now planned the details of her next show for the world in her mind. What might that be, i wondered….

Totem : Chapter 15

The entire village turned dull after father died. It just wasn’t the same happy place that it once was. Everyone kept to themselves and barely spoke. They would just see each other in passing and give a polite nod in their direction and that’s it. I wasn’t allowed to go outside or meet anyone. each time someone came to visit they were ready with an excuse. Not that I wanted to meet anyone either. I began to question why this was happening to me. My father was a devoted religious man and I failed to understand why god would do such a thing to him or me. Why he decided that a person devoted to him should have his own brother murder him in cold blood. And then take his daughter as a hostage. My father always said whatever happens, happens for good. But what good what that? How was that any good to me? I had lost my father and I had seen him die right before my own eyes. And now I was a helpless captive living a life no one would wish on their worst enemies. 

He took me on the boat again one day as usual. I was used to the drill now so after he had tied my hands I quietly walked down to the lower decks and sat behind the nets. Part of me believed that he made me sit there as a constant reminder of what had happened to my father when he didn’t listen to him. And as much as I hate to admit it, it probably worked. I would replay the scenes of that day over and over and was drawn to the state of tears each time. I would stare at the spot where he collapsed covered in his own blood. I could still remember the huge puddle of his blood that was left behind when uncle carried him to thrown him overboard. And I remember how easily it came off just by water and soap. Every trace of that horrible deed was removed within a few minutes and everything was back to normal. Like nothing had happened there at all. It was as if my father’s life meant nothing and he was tossed into the sea like a rotten fish. 

I looked around for anything sharp. I had decided to stop living like that. I had to make a run for it and figure out the rest later. I found a sailor’s knife lying around behind the fuel drums. I picked it up with my foot and transferred it to my hands which were tied behind my back. It took me a while to cut the ropes but I managed to do so. I was free but uncle and his sons were still upstairs and judging by the way we had started rolling again it was safe to assume we had come out quite far into the ocean. I needed an exit strategy. I knew I could not out race them on land, they would catch me within minutes. That was my only chance, to leave the boat quietly without anyone knowing while we were still close to the shore. The plan was pretty solid in my head. I thought it would be best to tie myself again and hide the knife under the spare nets for the next time. But before I could move, uncle started descending down the stairs. His heavy boots landing with a hard thud each time he took a step, bending the wooden stairs just a little each time. He took one look at me and came charging. I froze and stood there like a statue. The blood in my veins had turned to ice and my feet had turned into lead and refused to move. He raised his hand high up in the air and I winced as I prepared to be slapped. But it didn’t happen. I opened my eyes and could not believe what I saw. 

Totem : Chapter 14

Amidst all his day dreaming uncle remembered that I was still alive and I had seen everything. He looked at me with grotesque hate and walked towards me. He took out his knife which was still covered in my father’s blood. I had turned white with fear at this point. I thought I was going to die just like my father. A horrible painful death full of betrayal and deceit. My cousin saw this and stopped him. He suggested that no one in the village will believe that both the father and the daughter fell overboard. They’ll smell a conspiracy and banish them. They needed me alive so that they could spin their web of lies and convince everyone that it was a total accident. 

Uncle took out the rag from my mouth and put his knife to my cheek. I could smell my father’s blood still fresh on that silvery blade. He warned me if I said anything to anyone about what happened, very bad things would happen to me. He told me I had no family left and that he was my only family. If I didn’t want to get cast off into the cold I was supposed to do everything like he told me to. Out of fear for my own safety I nodded to everything he said. Tears ran down my face and my heart sank to the bottom of the ocean, probably where my father was. I was alone in the world with my father’s killers as my only family left.  

The first thing he did was to have me drop out of school. Needless to say he didn’t want to waste any money on something he considered trivial. He didn’t want to let me out of his sight either. Probably thought that I would alert the cops about what happened that night. The people at the village had a meeting after my father’s death. It was suggested that since my uncle was my only living relative now, I had to live under his roof. He put on a great show, fake tears and everything. Very convincing. But at night when the lights went out he would tie me up after they had fed me their leftovers and throw me into the corner. In the morning he would take me with him on my father’s boat for fishing and return late every evening. I wasn’t alone for even a second. A pair of eyes were constantly on me, watching my every move. Making sure I didn’t try to run or alert the cops. 

This went on for months and months. My will to live had started receding slowly but surely much like the tides that hit our shores every night. I became a shrivelled version of myself. This was slavery, worse than slavery in fact. The fear of constant peril and the horror of living with your father’s killers, watching them laugh and have a good time while i suffered in silence in the corner tied up and gagged. But what choice did I have. And even if I ran where would I go? What would I do? How would I survive in the real world? Its not like I had any education worthy enough to give me a fighting chance anywhere. So I endured. And when it became worse I endured some more. I would cry myself to sleep and lie to myself constantly that it would get better eventually. That some day this nightmare would end and I would be free again. I wouldn’t have to live like a slave anymore.

Word power

i was in Bombay recently for a course. Something that my company had arranged. Apparently there had been far too many incidents relating to high voltage systems and people had lost their lives or were seriously injured. So they organised a training seminar with the intention of providing actual hands on experience to seafarers. But that’s not the point of this post.

Among the participants was an old friend of mine from college. Someone i hadn’t seen or spoken to since we left college. Life generally takes you in different corners of the country but if you’re a seafarer, life takes you to different corners of the world. It was nice meeting him after so long and it took us a matter of minutes to get back to our young silly selves. While standing in line for lunch, my friend said my name out loud while laughing. Can’t remember what it was about though. But someone behind him heard this and asked me if i was Arjun Sharma. I said yes and asked if we had met before, as one does in these situations. He then asked “Are you Arjun Sharma, the blogger?” I was shocked to be honest. I said yes i was.

From then on he proceeded to tell me how he came across my blog because of that one post about seafarers that went viral in 2012. That post alone had some 30 thousand hits and various seafarer websites copied that article. But he became a regular visitor and he told me about each an every short story i had written back then. He remembered stuff even i had forgotten about my own blog. He remembered the movie reviews, the product reviews, the poems, the short stories everything. He even went on to say that it was infact my blog that inspired him to become an electrical engineer on merchant ships after reading one of my stories. I couldn’t believe what i was hearing.

He asked me why i had stoped writing and why i deleted that blog. To be honest, even i don’t remember why i did that. I tell myself that it was because i was getting too addicted to seeing how many views i had and stopped focusing on the quality of the content. Another part of me thinks it was in a fit of rage and i deleted it because it had too many posts about someone who didn’t deserve my love and attention. Another part of me thinks i deleted it because it served as a reminder of a time i wanted to forget. Yet another part of me thought that too many people close to me knew about the blog and i got sick and tired of people texting to see if i was okay after a sad post. It was possibly all of these reasons. This is my 4th blog since then and i am yet to emulate the success that first blog. I only have a handful of followers and very few who have known me since that first blog. Sue Dreamwalker is one and Ben Naga is the other. No one close to me knows about this blog and i plan to keep it that way. It should remain a safe space.

Still, i was amazed to realise how much power words have. Unintentionally, i inspired a young man to take up sailing, just by using my words. And thats something people don’t realise these days. Words have tremendous power. Words are thrown around these days in an outlandish fashion and we don’t realise who they affect. They travel far and wide and you cannot know what consequences your words can have on a person unless you meet them in person just like i did. My words had such and effect that this person remembered me after 6 years. Not only that, he remembered everything i wrote. Which brings me to the question, if an ordinary human being like me can have such an effect on another person. what about those who are followed by millions upon millions? Shouldn’t they realise this and use their words more carefully? Shouldn’t they realise the true power that words possess? Something to think about before you head into this weekend…Thanks to reading.

Totem : Chapter 13

My father’s boat had a crew of 5 including himself. Six if you included me hiding behind the nets. My uncle was there with him and so were his sons, my cousins. My uncle was an admirable man, an exact image of my father. He insisted that a fishing boat was no place for a little girl but he also taught me everything there is to know about catching fish. Right from the types of fish, to the seasons and behaviour of the sea. They just wouldn’t let me do anything. If I was allowed to come with, I was supposed to carry my books with me. Which honestly ruined the entire experience. Books had their place and the sea had its own special corner in my heart. I could spend hours and hours looking at the limitless horizon. Stare as far into the distance as my eyes could see. And it was nothing like being on land. The water gives you a sense of being alive. Its active, it moves around, comes to play with you, makes your boat sway gently. But I had seen it at its worst too. That was the first time I was afraid of the sea. I could barely recognise it. It was as if some demon had possessed its soul and was making it do horrible things. The sea had to be respected, and not to be taken for granted.”

“LAST CALL!” yelled that bartender. Time had flown past, she had me hooked on to her every single word. Time was running out though, it felt like she was just getting warmed up and it was last call already. And I didn’t want her to skip any details in the middle to shorten the process. We both looked at the bartender and then at each other realising we only had a short time left. There was no time to lose; she carried on. 

“One day I hid behind the nets again and we set out deep into the ocean. This time no one had any idea that I was on the boat. I was rather pleased with myself I remember. However there was something odd. I could feel it in the air. I could hear loud voices from the deck upstairs. My father and my uncle were having a disagreement on something. It wasn’t strange at all. They had been having some issues for a few weeks now. Something money related. I couldn’t be bothered to ask what it was and why they were fighting so much all the time. Father walked down to the lower deck completely fuming with anger, his face red like I had never seen before. Uncle followed him running down the stairs. His boots landing with a hard thud on each step, bending the old wooden steps a little each time. Father had his back turned towards me and uncle, he stood near the bulkhead with one hand on massaging his forehead and the other one on his hip. Uncle had his something in his hand, something silvery. I couldn’t tell what it was. Father turned around to complete the dialogue and uncle thrust the silvery object right into his mid section. Father reeled back in shock and pain and stumbled onto the floor clutching his stomach. I let out a loud gasp from behind the nets and uncle saw me. He started walking towards me and I remember hearing my father screaming at him to stay away from me. That this was their dispute and he should leave me alone. But he didn’t listen. He picked up a loose rope and tied me up and stuffed a rag in my mouth. He then turned his attention to dad who was barely alive at this point. He picked him up and threw him over his shoulder. Took him up to the main deck and I heard a loud splash. I remember letting out a muffled deafening scream. My cousins came down with buckets of water and rags to clean up the blood that had spilt. The boat was still moving, I reckoned uncle wanted to get far away from everything. It appeared he had not thought this through and was contemplating his next move. I saw no remorse in his eyes. He had just stabbed his brother to death and thrown him over the side. A strange sort of satisfaction took over him. He was no longer working for my father. He owned the boat now. All the money from the catch came to him now. All that talk about blood being thicker than water seemed trivial at that point. It was always about the money. 

Totem : Chapter 12

“I wasn’t always this way. Forget about going to bars, I didn’t even know bars existed. I was born in a small village along the coast. The term village being used in its most elaborate form here. It was a collection of huts and nothing else. Fifteen to be precise. Fifteen families of fisherman that lived together, fished together and pretty much depended on each other for everything. We lived a simple and quiet life. It was as if we had our own country to ourselves. The existence of the outside world was alien to us. Neither of us had seen any of the big cities buzzing with traffic till late hours in the night. And it didn’t feel like we were missing out because we had everything. Friends, family and loved ones all within arm’s reach. There were no markets or any signs of civilization nearby for miles. One would have to travel ten kilometres on a bicycle to buy necessities. And we didn’t have a lot. My father would usually make those trips. Mum used to be sick almost always and I eventually lost her when I was still young. She claimed it was some illness she picked up from the sea. She hated what my father did. She hated the smell of fishes and the sea would always make her nauseous. But it was the exact opposite for me. I couldn’t get enough of being at sea with my father. There was a sense of freedom that comes attached when you set sail. The ocean is one big highway and you can go wherever you want. There are no rules, you can be as loud as you want, you don’t have to worry about traffic, you don’t have to worry about other people because there are none. 

My father would get me ready for school and set sail soon after. My school was roughly fifteen kilometres away and I used to use my father’s bicycle to get there. I was too small for it but we could only afford one bicycle. And I didn’t complain, I was happy. I never really liked going to school but father insisted that I should focus on studies so that I can build a life for myself. So that I wouldn’t have to become a fisherman like him. I didn’t understand that at all. Father always thought that he had let us down and he worked extra hard to make sure that I was comfortable. However, I never saw him as a failure. He was my hero and still is. I didn’t know what he kept going on and on about. He wanted me to finish school and go to some far off university to study some more. I couldn’t bear the thought of being away. Studies did not make sense to me. It wasn’t that I was poor in studies, I aced everything. I just didn’t see the point and I didn’t know how it would help me earn a better living. And I didn’t understand what was wrong in doing what my father did. I loved being out at sea and everything I loved was right in front of me. I often questioned his love towards me  but rubbished it instantly. And in any case I was a little girl, there was no way my father would have me skip school. 

There were times when I would pretend that I had left and hide in his boat. Somewhere on the lower decks behind the nets. Once the boat started rolling with the ocean waves, I knew we had come out far enough and he wouldn’t turn back. That’s when I would come out and have a good laugh. Father was not amused by this at first. But he knew I was stubborn too, if I wanted to go out to sea with him there was nothing he could do to stop me. I would always find a way. Eventually he gave up and would call out my name saying “You can come out now,” and I would emerge giggling profusely. But he made sure that this did not become a habit. 

I knew things were hard and father was working hard to make ends meet. I wanted to help but he would tell me that my only job was to study hard and do well at school. And I didn’t disappoint. Every time he would come to visit, the teachers would sing praises. None of them had anything negative to say about me ever. As a reward, he would take me with him on his boat and we would stay out till the stars came out. It was everything I ever wanted. Happiness beamed out of my skin in a luminous aura. And everywhere I went I sparked life. Frowns turned upside down and laughter followed soon after. Everyone loved me there and I loved everyone. I was everyone’s little darling. 

As the years went by, school became more serious. It was no longer fun and games. The topics changed too. Things like geography and history were introduced to us and they expanded my horizons. It made me realise what a long lineage we had that lasted thousands of years and is still thriving. With geography I loved the chapters on oceans. The science behind waves and tides was fascinating. I tried to explain all this to my father and he would just sit and smile at me. I don’t know how much he understood but I could tell he was proud of me. I still continued to go out with him on his boat whenever school work didn’t keep me busy.