Tuesday, November 29, 2005


It’s like rubbernecking.

But this time the accident was going to be me. It happened before, and they had promised it would never end, as long as I was to live, they would make sure I lived in fear.

And it had been true. I had lived all along like deer. Afraid of shadows, afraid of everything. And then when I had a family of my own, was afraid for them.

That was one of the biggest reasons why I was here. I did not want to be afraid any more. I did not want to be standing like I was, trembling like a leaf. I had heard the old man who headed this haven say that Death was the only certain thing in our lives, and if we were slowly but surely proceeding towards it, shouldn’t we then prepare ourselves to meet it whenever it chose us.

It is this thought that made me want to look at Death I was certain was standing right there in front of me. And the fact that it had not struck yet. My stomach received my heart with a silent whoosh. Why hadn’t the person struck me yet?

I knew someone was standing there. Although the breath was barely traceable, I knew there was someone there.
I decided to view Death from under the veil of my lashes, making sure I was not moving any other part of my body.

I saw.

I opened my eyes wide.

Standing in front of my was a maroon robed, bald headed, monk in tevas. He was simply standing there, in front of me, silently, waiting for me to open my eyes.


Profound, Manisha, very profound. I kick myself silently.

The smile was less than what qualified as a hint, but it was a smile. Then in a voice that was so soft, city folk would miss it, “You knocked. Don’t you want to go in?”

My jaw dropped. My eyes should have goggled, the situation demanded it, but my eyes are too slant, not big Bharatanatyam dancer like beautiful, as heroines of blogs ought to own, I mean who would want to read about an ugly broad getting killed. Good riddance it would be. But here I was standing in front of a one man rescue team, and thinking disconnected thoughts. Boy! If only he figured out how nervous I was! But I could not stop the stuff crowding. Somewhere in the recesses of the mind popped a Wodehousian description, ‘dyspeptic calf’

I have always wanted to use that description.

He was still waiting.

And I had read too many who-dun-its to let things be.

“I didn’t see the door opening…”

“The door?” he asked, “It is a ceremonial gate. Come with me.”

If his head wasn’t tonsured, and he weren’t wearing the robes, and we weren’t standing where we were, I would have surely thought this was an elaborate gag cooked up by friends who knew I pictured monks as rescuers instead of the standard Shah Rukh Khan as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford was perfect but too old!)…

Stop thinking. He obviously expected me to follow, because he was walking away.

Weirdo. Did not even ask me why I was standing shivering against a tree, eyes shut. Didn’t even ask me what my name was, who I was…

“People spend a lifetime trying to figure out who they are. Why would I ask you that? And how can I expect you to answer that question?”


He was downloading straight from my brain!

“No. I don’t read minds. Your face is very expressive.”

I rolled my eyes. Lugged my backpack and followed him.

I must have been blind. The well-trodden path was running parallel to the wall and it went by the gate. We walked maybe fifty, or sixty yards.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! How could I have missed such an obvious thing!

He turned around and made a wide sweeping gesture with his hand.

“Please, proceed ahead.”

“Why? Are you not coming?” I had visions again of a classic film goodbye between mysterious guide and traveler.

“Please, proceed.”

Just beyond the clump of trees, the wall ended. We were there! The monastery.

It was all open. There was no need for a gate of any sort. It was well hidden, but open. No wall, no gate, nothing.

I turned around. He was standing there, behind me, grinning ear to ear.

I was not sure I liked being in a monk joke.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Had visions of serene monks trooping out any minute to rescue me…but then life was not a movie, and my wait was not about to culminate in so dramatic a fashion. Although I had made the great escape, the resucers were not in the know.

The tears washed away a mixture of fear, pride and hatred. I just decided to wait. It’s not that no one ever came out of the place. Maybe there would be day trippers who would be returning soon…Hmm at least I had not lost hope…

I looked around. Everything seemed to be at rest. At peace. I knew I had made the right decision. Maybe soon I would blend right in. And become one with the drooping and gentle leaves. Maybe I would learn to move as quietly among people as the breeze was moving between leaves. Maybe I would exorcise all the ghosts that haunted me all my life.

As the light slowly went down a small twinge of panic crept into my wait. What if there were no day trippers? What if the gates were closed because they had all relocated somewhere else? What if they were all in a no-communication mode? What if the taxi driver had misled me and had deposited me to an abandoned place…

No I would not allow negative thoughts to enter such a beautiful space. I knew I had a goosedown sleeping bag tucked away in the backpack. Oh, what if the monks were strictly vegan? Would they faint at the sight of the sleeping bag and
throw me out?

But first they would have to let me in!

My thoughts were so loud I put a hand on my mouth, just to check if I had mouthed them.

That’s when I heard a twig crunch. It was not a natural sound. It had to be someone stepping on a twig. And there was no telling where the sound came from.

I was so lulled by the peace that I had forgotten to be alert. But that little out of place sound was enough. I leaped up, scooped my backpack and dashed behind the nearest tree. I had been trained for just such a moment. I only hoped my heart was not beating as loudly as I thought it was. I dared not look if I had left behind any obvious clues by the gate, so I simply stayed right there, stuck to the tree, hoping no creepy crawly would choose that moment to wander down to have a look at me.

It could not have been more than a minute. My escape had ended. It was the end. Someone was standing in front of me.

I did not want to see them.

I did not have to close my eyes. Because I did exactly what I was loath to do: fainted in an inelegant heap at the feet of my pursuer. No fight. Not one single kick, not a single scream. I had disgraced myself by behaving like a chit of a girl in those beastly romances. And whoever was standing in front of me was going to be no hero.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

the door

Closed. Closed. Closed.

How long was one supposed to wait?

a walk through the jungle

It must be some bizarre scene out of Einstein meets National Geographic because the vegetation seemed to have gone unnaturally still and my body supported by my backpack still seemed to be traveling.

Suddenly the radio in my head began playing a ridiculous jingle for Hawaii chappals. I knew I had to get up and move before ameen sayani started announcing the next popular number…

The radio in my head had got me into many a scrape at school and elsewhere. It played songs that reflected my state of mind, sometimes with such accuracy that it inevitably got me into trouble. And the songs were not exactly nice. They were annoying little ditties that would translate into huge trouble for me. I remember the Professor who taught us Wordsworth had very dirty mane of hair that was always tangled and he would gesticulate wildly when explaining. It was a particularly tedious poem and his gestures were very wild that day. The radio in my head was playing songs that were drawing attention to the glorious spring day outside. And at the precise moment when he made eye contact with me, ameen sayani (my all time favorite radio voice) asked the audience of one to guess the name of the old Hindi film as Kishor Kumar yelled, “ya---hoooo!” on the music track.

I involuntarily said, “Junglee!” and I realized I had said it aloud.

The class froze. The Prof stopped gesturing mid air and mid sentence. I could feel fifty eyes on me. And then I saw his jaw drop as the word sunk in. The same must’ve happened to the class because it erupted into one big laugh.

I never got an ‘A’ for the rest of the term in his class, but that’s another story.

Right now I was facing a narrow road, a climb with a backpack which would take me god knows how long, and my head was spinning.

That’s when I realized I was all alone.

For years I had wanted to be where I was standing, and now that I was there, I was wasting my time, dithering.

A renewed surge of energy seemed to course through my veins. The stupid chappal commercial that was egging me on had been replaced ‘Chariots of Fire’.
It was a good start. But I had forgotten that I should not be putting my hands over my ears. It just served to increase the volume of the radio.

I sighed and started walking.

It was awkward at first, because the music in my head was loud. Then all of a sudden it stopped. That’s when I realized how beautiful the road was. It was quiet. Very quiet. Even the leaves that were rustling with the slight breeze that could be felt on the face, were moving silently. There were no twigs that crackled underfoot, or birds or crickets to make the forest alive. Everything seemed to be resting. And it did not seem out of place at all. It did not seem odd or sinister either.

Then coming around a corner, I stopped to gather my breath. There seemed to be no need to hurry. And all of a sudden in front of my eyes, the green and yellow leaves on the trees came to life in a flutter of wings. Butterflies! There must be a hundred of them. They weren’t fantastic or extraordinary ones at all. They were just the little yellow ones. They were everywhere! I must’ve disturbed their afternoon siesta. They just took off and were fluttering all around me.

It was the most amazing sight. Butterflies have always made me smile. Here was fodder for a lifetime of smiles.

The show stopped me for what seemed an eternity. But then just as soon as they had appeared, they disappeared too. And I knew I had to move on. With a smile pasted on my face I walked the rest of the way.

The gate was imposing in several ways. It was huge and must’ve been made of wood no human hands could have hewed. The wall looked very out of place there, and I wondered why it was needed. I pushed at the little wicket gate, That was shut too.

I knocked at the gate until my hand hurt. Tiredness suddenly seemed to overtake me. My feet were protesting now. I kicked off my shoes and sat down on the backpack, and pressed my feet. Then my back began begging for attention. And the stomach rumbled. And the voice of my evil twin said ,”Told you not to come here without informing anyone! Now just sit here!”

I did not want to hear that voice. I simply allowed sobs to overtake me.

Monday, November 07, 2005


The taxi was ancient, but the town was small. When the bumps increased, I opened my eyes. To have slept and that too in a ramshackle taxi was nothing but a miracle.

I have been an insomniac for as long as I remember… Insomniac! How I hate that word! Lack of sleep is not a disease. It simply means that my body does not require as much sleep as you or him or her. I admit it gets a bit lonely sometimes, when the whole house is sleeping and you don’t like to watch the sleazy late night fare on television. I do confess to have watched the sci-fi channel all night at one time, but watching ‘Biker Chicks in Zombie Town’ and ‘Star Trek V-- The Wrath of Khan’ (or was it IV?)… that seems like another lifetime. Now I wander about the quiet house, listening to the night sounds.

It is a strange kind of pleasure in listening to the contented breaths of husband and children. Deep and even and relaxed. You become a good listener when you’re wandering about the house late at night. And I’ve had practice. At first I used to read. But then if reading can be done by day, is there not better use of time? There must be something else these hours were made for.

I discovered that when I stepped out on the deck one stifling evening and stretched. I had stepped out into the meteor showers in Leo. I looked around. All of Vashon island was asleep. Even the lights in the ferry pier were low. Something inside me told me that the universe had put up this show for only me. Yes, yes, the astronomers would be watching too, but who wants to be practical or grammatically correct under such a celestial show?

Ever since that night, I am compelled to listen to the stars. Nopes, this is no typo. I did say listen. Many messages are lost if you sleep the night away. And you will never get stardust in your eyes either. But I digress too much.

Sleeping in a rickety taxi then was something unthinkable. Maybe it was meant to be…like those comic books where the hero is taken to the den of the evil one blindfolded…maybe I was not supposed to know the way to the monastery because I was not supposed to go back.

But why were we stopping? Were we there? If we were, where was the entrance? I had imagined an entrance. There must be an entrance! Had the engine finally given up? Or did he need a loo break? The voice in my head was sounding like a television show host enticing people to come back for the next episode.

So I did what one needed to, next. I made a huge theatrical gesture, and asked in simple English, “What?!”

It was the grin that could break a thousand mirrors. He stepped out of the cab, making it necessary for me to do the same. Then with as much enthusiasm for theatrics as I had shown not a minute before, he pointed to the road ahead.

There was no way a cab could pass, or a camel. The road had become so narrow. Before I could exclaim coherently, I saw that he had dumped my backpack on the road, and was scratching his palm telling me I needed to pay my fare.

Maybe sleep had put that stupid ‘just woke up and my neurons are not connected yet’ look on my face, but he smiled again and pointed skywards, and I followed his finger.

I could see the monastery, perched precariously on the top of the hill.

Automatically, I dug in my pocket for the one and only five hundred rupee note in my wallet. He took it, but looked at me, wondering if I would change my mind and go back. But he saw me fling my empty wallet, and knew I was not going to change my mind. He shrugged his shoulders, and made the most amazing three point reverse turn on the narrow road and left me coughing in the dust.

I sat down on my backpack. My legs would not support me. I looked around at the mountainside. Wondered, how long the trek up to the monastery would take me.

Friday, November 04, 2005


what a coward you are! i mutter to myself, and adjust the straps of the backpack a tad too firmly. anything to bolster courage. and for anonymity, i put my dark glasses on, not realizing that i am the outsider here. i try to not notice that my hands are shaking.

i pretend to be calm but fail. my backpack feels heavier than it really is. fear has now rolled to the bottom of my stomach, coiled and ready to strike when i am least expecting it.

enough! i tell myself. get on with it.

there is only one taxi left. and it is as ancient as the owner whose rusty grin reminds me of one last crutch that has accompanied me here. will i need it?

i wave the paper with the address of the monastery at him. he nods his head as if to say where else?!

he motions me inside the cab with a wide sweep of his arms. i thrust the backpack in, before it could change its mind about traveling in that bunch of tin held together with duct tape. after checking for broken springs, i sit down gingerly. The driver kicks the door shut.

he settles into his seat but not before he has trained the broken rear-view mirror on me. i stifle the childish urge to stick my tongue out at him. there is a loud explosion as he turns the ignition. the engine comes to life after belching out a huge cloud of smoke.

i begin giggling. have not visualized going up in smoke like that. but thankfully the taxi begins to lurch forward. if they are following me, that explosion would either put them off the chase forever, or point directly in my direction.

as has become my habit, i look back often and sit low in the seat. have watched too many car chases in the movies. have been in a few myself, and traveling like this makes eminent sense. slowly but surely we leave the dusty town behind. and no one seems to be following us.

the creaks and the groans of the cab seem to follow a familiar pattern now. accompanied by the odd swaying motion of the cab, the noises begin to play a bizarre lullaby in my head. the heat also weighs heavily on my eyes, and i am quite happy to slowly sink into sleep. sleep? me? but i am not thinking. i am just relieved to have made that getaway.

the monastery seems to be a long way off.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


all i remember is fear. fear of being found out. fear of being caught. fear of having to go back. and it was coming out of every pore on my body. or was it just plain hot? i knew i had to retch it out before i got into the taxi. the airport restoom had that unique smell of supervised clean. maybe that would help. i put my bag on the gleaming sink and braced myself on the tiles.


by the time i splashed water on my face, and came out, my backpack was the only one going around in circles on the luggage belt. it was so much like my life, i had to smile. it cancelled the last few minutes in the restroom and the hour and a half spent on the flight sitting next to someone who insisted on licking every page of the in-flight magazine, audibly.

i moved towards the taxi stand. thirty kilometers to salvation.