Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Lost Youth

The river which was flowing with clear water some sixty five years ago was muddy and dirty with plastic, toffee wrappers, and shit after a few decades. And now it was all dried up. The path of the river was visible. The society had thankfully cleared the rubbish. The stones and dried leaves were scattered by the sides of the boundary where the river used to be. The smell of dried water and watery mud was in the air. The whole landscape looked disinterested and uncared-for. The leaves were not trodden upon and the soil was unspoiled. There were little puppy footprints by the side. Walking into a little cave-like structure, smell of poop of puppies and monkeys and bird shit arose into the air. The smell was awful enough to make any young boy retreat into the comforts of his home into the multiplex city in a moment. But I stood there. My knees wobbled. My energy drained. It felt completely opposite to what this place had made me feel when I was a young girl coming here almost every weekend to feel good and observe the nature and people and write about them. A look at my right hand which was holding the walking stick firmly got a tear in my eyes. The wrinkled and dying skin could be seen. How beautiful it used to be; a moisturiser bottle would be finished in a month- that’s how much I used to take care of myself. I kept standing there; my heart heavy. I could hear the ruffle of the dried leaves. I tuned to see a puppy come by. It came and stood by my feet. I slowly bent down and sat on a near-by rock. Rubbing its ears, stroking its forehead, and trying to feel its ribs and giving it a good shake, I dug into my 60s handbag which was given by a distant relative on my thirty-fifth birthday and which I loved so much. Taking out my lunch of the day- two chapatis and a vegetable and a mixture, I opened the knot and gave half a chapati to the dog. It ate blissfully. I chewed my meal as well. I was not yet finished when two puppies came running by. I was no more hungry. The remaining food filled their appetite. After having the meal, the puppies left. I kept sitting there. I looked over to the left at my favourite spot which had held fresh green bush and in which had grown colourful wild flowers which had always been a delight for me to stitch into a beautiful bracelet. I remembered I had stitched a pretty necklace out of red and light pink flowers for my mother and she had totally loved it. Now the favourite spot was barren and had I sat there on the ground, I would have burned my ass through the saree I was wearing. The sun was burning over my head. No wonder the place was deserted now, unlike that pleasant day sixty five years ago.

I had been wearing a red knee-length frock with white polka dots on it, and the new earrings I had just bought. There, some five steps to the left, I had stood watching the river, the clear water, and the birds satiating their thirst from the clean, cold water. The water had been so cold; it soothed my throat just in a sip. But you could never have enough of that. I gulped down more water. I collected some pretty stones and a really beautiful shell I found just below a rock. The puppies came running in a while. I took out bread, ginger, pickle and the new dish they started serving in the restaurant by the road. I sat down on the cool sand. My butt felt a tinge of relaxation. I stroked and cuddled the puppies and gave them a good shake. One by one I gave the lunch I bought to them. There were people around- a young girl with her mother, a couple deeply in love, a family for a picnic, an old man. I looked at the old man, I remember. His eyes told a story. He was looking at the river as though the sight of water gave him peace. He walked towards the river and sat on the side, hanging his feet into the water. He gave a little chuckle as though he remembered something-or someone. The sound of a pleasant laugh had caught my attention and I saw a young couple conversing in soothing tones. I had looked at them thinking about the time when I would find my perfect match; hoping the polka dot dress I had been wearing to have worked its magic on a cute boy next-door.

And here I was. It was a deserted place. There was no sight of cold water to soothe my eyes, or the cold sand to relax my butt. I was sitting on a hard, rough rock. The little red polka dress was still kept beneath the pile of other garments and clothes in my wardrobe.

I suddenly walked as fast as my old age would allow back to my home making my way through the crowded bus, and got into my room. In half an hour, my room was a mess, and I was standing in front of a mirror, wearing the red polka dot dress- that showed my bulges, and which was about to burst open from the sides. I applied kajal after a long time and a red lipstick. I wore a necklace I got as a present from my granddaughters a year ago. I dug into my accessory box to find a similar earring that I wore that day sixty five years ago- a red and white pearl, with a long flexible thread and little black dots all over the white string. At last I decided on a red and white pearl earring, quite small in size and with no string. I wore it and kept looking in the mirror. I called my son and daughter-in-law. They hurried from their party wondering what had gone wrong. The bell rung, I got to the door, and asked them to click my picture from their cell phones.
I don’t have the energy to explain how they reacted. And I don’t care. This is my life. And I am the protagonist, the heroine of my tale. And I will never get old, and never be pushed aside and look like an old lady with a wrinkled face who is out of fashion.

I smiled, and click!

I treasure the photograph. A piece of me living a colourful, bright and happy life; a reminder of me at sixteen years of age filled with energy and colours and smiles and hopes and dreams, and a heart burning with desires.

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