A Reality without a Shadow- When morning comes

The glass coffin was being laid off on the ground floor, as the people stood watching silently; Priyanka being the only one whose eyes weren’t open, seemingly etched in a deep peaceful sleep. The pain is not hers anymore, Yuva thought. It’s all his. But there is another problem that he needs to address as soon as possible. He turned to his right, where Maya was standing. It’s still early in the morning, the sun is just beginning to show itself, and Maya’s eyes were red due to the lack of sleep she had last night. He is unable to explain what happened last night, in fact he is unable to explain anything that has happened in the last 12 hours. His life and everything didn’t make sense anymore. It all seemed and tasted like a bad nightmare full of haunting riddles, only that he knew he wasn’t dreaming. This is all real. But that’s how he is surviving this nightmare. By convincing himself that it is all, afterall, a dream.

Priyanka’s body was place in the coffin and the funeral house workers carefully closed the coffin. Priyanka’s parents were flooded with grief, sitting by her coffin, watching their daughter motionless. Yuva needs to know. He needs to know what went wrong, whose fault it is, and everything related to it. He needs to find out, even if not for his own sake, at least for Priyanka’s sake, because she died without having the faintest idea what is causing her death.

“We’ll talk after this,” Maya patted on Yuva’s back. She knew this was not the right time to discuss what has happened last night, even though she is eager as ever to find out more about this sickening mystery that has descended their lives into a living nightmare.

Prakash was busy tending to the funeral works. It was something he didn’t have to do. But he felt like doing it for Maya, to help all three of them recover from these haunting murders, to be able to recover and finally find the culprit who is behind all this. He knew neither Maya nor Yuva would be able to do it. Yuva is broken into pieces, and Maya needs to be there by his side in order to put him back together. They needed his help. And he is more than willing to do it for them even though they never asked.

Priyanka Raj was buried that very morning, before noon came upon, at a small graveyard at the outskirts of Chennai. There were people from the film fraternity, the police force, her parents, her one-day husband, her one-day sister-in-law and few others who attended the funeral. Her death was classified as sudden death due to severe brain damage. The medical practitioners are still split as to whether she was murdered or whether there is a natural cause to her death. They do not know the murder patterns that have been happening of late. Only Yuva, Maya and Prakash were all aware of them. The funeral was an incomplete one. Yuva did not dare to face her parents as their looks itself told the story that they demand answers for her death, and that they suspect he might have done something to cause her death.

Yuva held his head down, only occasionally looking up to see her dead body. He felt as if everyone else who came to the funeral want answers, want to know this and that, and in fact many of them asked questions aplenty, but Prakash was quick to send them away under the reason that everything is being investigated and no further questions should be asked. Forensics were not allowed to see the body; none of the normal procedure took place. Prakash used all the authorities that he and Maya together possessed to make sure Priyanka is buried and not used as a specimen to aggravate the grief that they are already suffering from.

Yuva sighed, and slowly looked up. Maya was looking at him. Yuva not only felt like a suspect, but instead he felt like he was the criminal. Now the closest person to him will tell him that he indeed that the best clue as to what is actually going on.

“Maya,” Prakash said slowly, exhausted, and he strolled over in almost slow motion towards the table they were seated at. “I did some checking, and a lot of tracing,” he added, sweat pouring profusely, something that he clearly wasn’t used to being the normally elegantly dressed man that he is. He let go a sigh himself. Yuva and Maya looked at him eagerly.

“Yuva is somehow connected to all these people who died. Of course Priyanka is the closest, but that guy Pritam is the one who shot Maya a couple of years back,” Prakash said.

Yuva was looking for words. He needs to defend himself. He didn’t even know the identity of Maya’s shooter.

“I’m not accusing Yuva,” Prakash explained before Yuva would come to any conclusions. “There’s something we need to figure here. I know something happened last night as well. You need to explain to us,” he added.

What will Yuva explain, when he does not know anything?

“The figure I saw,” Maya started. “Was a bearded saint-like person, something like a saadhu, he had a stick on his hand, he had a very cynical look on his face,” she said. She was struggling to explain his appearance, but there was a glow on Yuva’s face as he spoke.

“One of the dead guys, Pritam, apparently called one of his friends before he died, and asked him whether the friend had sent any saadhu to his house to do any rituals,” Prakash said.

“And what Pritam said on the phone matches, somewhat, to what Maya has said,” he added.

Yuva looked stunned. But he wasn’t about to make a deduction.

“Then you know how the culprit looks like. Do I look like you friggin’ saint to you?” he asked.

“He went away when you woke up Yuva. And I could only see a reflection of him on the mirror. He did not exist in real,” Maya said.

Yuva felt a surge of ridiculous thoughts. He did not like it. These didn’t make sense. But it’s time he starts considering aspects that don’t make sense. They might all make sense at the end of the day.

“What color was his cloth?” he asked, after two minutes of utter silence to regain his composure.

“Orange,” both of them answered simultaneously. Yuva was exasperated. He is indeed living a nightmare.

He turned around and looked at his desk, on where he had been doing an abundance of writing work of late. Maya walked to desk, intrigued. There were a stack of papers clipped together, all written on, about a 100 pages.

On the cover, in Yuva’s scrambled handwriting, there was etched- ‘A Reality without a Shadow’.

“A Reality without a Shadow,” she said. “This is the novel you have been working on,” she added. He nodded.

“This sounds ridiculous, but that book might have some answers,” Yuva said.

All three of them were dumbstruck. This is impossible. But nothing that has happened so far seemed even remotely logical.

To be continued..

A prince’s tale- Three musketeers

By the time he was growing up to be a teenager, The Prince had a very striking habit, a habit that he was not conscious about. When the sun showed itself in the morning, The Prince would spring awake when the dawn starts setting in, as early as the peasants and palace workers sometimes.

Even though The Queen had prepared for him a glaring silk curtain to prevent the sunray from gushing into his chamber, he had the habit of leaving the curtain open for the night, and hugging himself tight to fight against the cold breeze of the night. And when sunshine comes, his eyes would open and stare right at it. The Prince felt good. He felt he had the entire day ahead of him to live for- all the more today will be a special day.

He walked to the verandah and looked up far ahead into the mountains- since his verandah has the best horizontal view compared to the rest of the castle. He saw a tiny dot somewhere beyond the mountains, a tiny dot that he knew was moving. A smile appeared on his face. His rested his chin on the railing, and looked on intently, wondering if that small moving dot represents the distant arrival of a person that he has been anticipating for of late.

But he wouldn’t find out if it is that person or not, because The Queen had barged into the chamber, and had called him for breakfast. By the time The Prince had finished showering and having his breakfast, he would hear the chatter at the palace’s gates, and he knew they have arrived. But whether they were the small dot that he saw in the morning, he did not know. That was how The Prince was, always that little wonder etched in his mind.

But that wonder did not stop him from running ahead of The King and The Queen to greet the person he was waiting for- The Elder Prince.

The Elder Prince is The Prince’s cousin, but a very close cousin, whom he regards as his own brother, given the fact that The Prince himself did not have a brother to begin with. Even though still relatively young, The Elder Prince had his way of being independent, The Prince thought. He had arrived is a small donkey that suited his size, beside his parents who have their own horses. This is the time of the year that The Prince loves the most- when the Elder Prince arrives to spend a short holiday here.

The Prince had plenty of relatives, both through The Queen and also The King, but many are individuals who are living a more grandeur life that The Prince, and The Prince hardly found himself feeling at home or comfortable in such surroundings. There were only two cousins with whom he feels comfortable- with the Elder Prince and the Young Prince, who is yet to arrive.

The Elder Prince loves to taunt The Prince, but at the same time, shares a lot of common enthusiasm with The Prince. He too, like The Prince, arrives from a modest background, and does not come from a grand kingdom. This is why the three of them form a great group, because all three are not pampered princes, but rather belong to modest backgrounds, and do not mind mingling even with the peasants’ daughters and sons whenever they are together.

The Young Prince comes from the most modest background of them all, and is very well versed in all the activities that the peasants’ sons and daughters take up to. He does not sleep in the comfortable chamber, but instead prefers sleeping in a patterned rug in the palace’s living hall. He also had a peculiar habit of attracting accidents. He had the same wondering habits that the Prince possessed, but he was rather adventurous and liked to try out few things much more physically rather than standing at the verandah and looking at sceneries. Instead of looking, he’d rather try to track and figure for himself what these sceneries have to offer from close.

For this very reason, they had the habit of sneaking out when the night begins to set down, and try to find out what is around and beyond the kingdom gates. But they would succeed in only one of the ten attempts they take, as most of the time they would be caught red-handed by their parents.

The Young Prince would, from time to time, poke his fingers to anything he finds peculiar and gets himself hurt or bitten, most of the time with generous amount of blood. The Prince and the Elder Prince have gotten so used to the habit that they would laugh every time such an incident occurs- instead of putting up a worried face. Even the Young Prince had the habit of laughing off any mess he gets himself into.

The three of them would often gather at the Young Prince’s generously built independent house. The Young Prince lives in a village, and not a kingdom. His village is much secluded, and his house a rather big one, with plenty of space to accommodate all the relatives from The Queen’s side who would often come and stay in the house during festivities.

Fireworks, imaginary camps, group activities- these were the best times The Prince had during his early youth.

This particular morning though, The Prince and the Young Prince have come to accompany The Prince through the night as their elders make a trip to the northern borders to meet a famed healer to cure certain health problems. The princes blinked at each other with the prospect of having the whole palace for themselves.

They played, shouted, ran around and ordered the peasants as they wished- they were the kings of the day. They did not sleep when the whole kingdom went to sleep. They stayed through the night, chattering and exploring and doing whatever they can do to further spend the night awake. And as The Prince strolled down to the living hall from his chamber where they were camped, he saw a white figure whizzing past him into another chamber. He was taken aback, shocked.

The other princes asked him what was wrong; so The Prince told them what had happened. But none of them shrugged it off as just an imagination. They dared to take the matter seriously.

“We need to do something,” The Elder Prince said. And they were set to do something- they felt important. They were the kings, they will be the heroes.

Diaries of a burning lamp

I have heard so many people talk and cite so many problems as to why Malaysia is still struggling to fulfill its potential as a nation. There’s always been some big promise somewhere; but end of the day it becomes half-baked, with its leftovers doing as much damage as it does good for the country.

Of course, we can go on an endless rant what is actually missing in this nation. All sorts of political statements can be dished out. Something about the system. Something about the people. Something, something…but what is it? We try our level best to set things right; we believe telling the truth would make a difference, some of us believe being non-prejudicial would make a world of difference. I was looking for this missing puzzle, like I believe many of us were as well; in short, we were soul-searching. There is a Malaysian essence, and we know it. An essence of Malaysia as a whole. There is a spirit there, an embodiment, an identity. But we don’t seem to be able to quite put our fingers on it; or maybe we are just clueless as to how we will go about to bring that essence out and make everyone feel it.

But lest we always seem to forget an important fact- it all starts with a little reflection. The answers lies within the image you see in the mirror every day. At least I realized that. What is this country missing? Forget the politicians, the corruptions, the so-called racisms, the you-don’t-talk-shits, and everything else associated with it. Because I look in the mirror and I know, for a fact, I have something to offer. I do matter. As a citizen of this ‘visionary’ country, I have something to offer. I have a potential. Me as a person and my abilities. But I’m missing.

You look into the history of so-called great countries, and you find embedded in them, a persona of art, someone who dared lift stories from a daily baking oven to the pages of a book, or with the weave of a brush on a canvas, an ink feather on a citrus paper, a hand strumming a guitar, a picture captured through a wonderful lens. My Malaysia is not made up of people who do not know where and when to make a statement, or a lawyer who strongly believes a person can commit self-strangulation. It is made up of things such as that small hawker stall, a warm smile on a hot day, a breeze of wind in early morning, a descending mist on your car window as dawn approaches- the things that actually matter.

Art is no small matter. For those who have it will know the velocity of having something so mystic brewing inside you but not being able to express it out. Am I the first person in this country to have this eye, an eye for depth, an eye for invisible connections? Definitely not. There are many who have preceded me, for sure. But lights die out when nobody takes enough care to let the fire burning. You let the wind blow it off, and the light fades. There have been many who have faded before me. And this country keeps losing the every grain of chance it has to finally find some soul. People don’t listen to you when you look back one day and say this is the land of the great KLCC or Pavilion or billion-dollar investments. Heads will turn back when you say this is the land which produced human beings of exceptional qualities rather than buildings of exceptional qualities. Art is an universal language. All heads will turn upon you when you manage to ruffle a peacock’s feather and find the beauty of it. I am a dreamer, but I am ignored.

A sense of belonging gets deprived somewhere along the way as these chain of events continue. When a lifelong Malaysian comes back to his country one day and says he couldn’t care less anymore about the so-called progress the country is aping to capture; that he misses being in Vietnam rather than being in the mighty Kuala Lumpur, that is already a big slap on any Tom, Dick and Harry who thinks they know how to make this country progress.

Does Hanoi have more developments than this country? In our obsession to race heading to the goal posts of economy, we are losing our souls. People like me, like him, like many others, can form the Malaysian soul. But when the country has very little regard for these souls; we are better appreciated in other lands.

And I sit and think again: Why of all places, Malaysia? Why did YOU choose me to be born in this country?

And my question is someone else’s big failure. Or maybe we all should take collective responsibility for my questions.

For we have been busy thinking legends are made anywhere else but in Malaysia.

This country’s biggest sinking ship is not its submarines or billions of ringgits, but rather this soul. You’d be forgiven for thinking I have given up. No, I have not. The lamp is still burning, hope is still there. But I have to say this; this lamp will burn somewhere else one day if not here.

The last thing I’ll do is let my lamp be blown by the wind in this country. But till then, I’ll still fight.

A Reality Without A Shadow- Indianised

“This,” he said, muttering under his breath. “Is the most useless project that has ever been implemented.” She shot him a scathing look. “That’s disrespectful to two awfully big countries,” she retorted, buckling her seat belt. Her looked at her, wanting to argue. “Shut your trap till we get there. I want to enjoy my last moments as an American,” she snapped at him.

What followed was a series of completely sarcastic glances from Yuva, and he absent-mindedly browsed through a magazine; but Maya seemed intent to keep her glance away from her friend of 20 years. She was locked to the view that perked outside her window, a window that shows nothing but a cluster of white clouds moving about under the shimmering sun.

It was the last time that Maya Rathod would ever feel serene in her life over the next few years.

“I can’t hear a thing,” Maya screamed at the top of her lungs, with the wet khaki jacket she was wearing making it utterly difficult for her to walk about. “I might as well strip naked, it’s fucking heavy,” she muttered to Yuva, partially shivering with the gun trembling in her hands. Both of them are hunched behind a TATA Sumo a good meter away from the officer in charge, who had asked them to remain in their current position. Flashes of light sprinkle in the rotten old building, indicating gunshots, but the monsoon is ensuring even that sound wouldn’t be hearable enough to their ears.

Within the blurred sight of Maya, she saw a pair of hands frantically waving at them, hands covered in another khaki jacket. “I think we are on,” she said to Yuva. He flexed his muscles. “This is even more ridiculous,” he uttered as both of them rushed under the downpour, past their police chief, past a barricades of fellow police comrades, and finally endeared themselves at the entrance of that chaotic building. Hunched temporarily at either side of the entrance, they overheard sarcastic shootouts directed at them by those guarding the entrance. “Here come the American pigs, not time to send proper police into the building yet I suppose, I didn’t know you guys are this disposable,” ranted a policemen clad with inspector uniforms. Yuva noticed his tag. S. Kumar.

And with that, they moved into the building. It was a brief second of silence, like the calm before the storm- there was almost nobody downstairs worth taking a shot at. Or at least Yuva thought so as he watched suspectly, lowering his gun, until a clicking sound made him realize he has blundered. The bullet had splashed on Maya’s thigh, as she immediately crippled down, tumbling to the floor like a chair which legs have just refused to support the body anymore.

“Nice suit,” Nassar said, glancing at Yuva as he walked past him and took his place two seats away. Yuva glanced at him, indifferent to the supposed compliment he just received. “It’s trouble, isn’t it?” Yuva asked, caressing his reddish knuckles, with parts of its skin peeling off. “You bet,” Nassar said, seemingly locked at seeing Yuva’s knuckles as well. Nassar was even more dumbstruck as Maya trudged down the silent floor alley, with a walking stick to her aid, but assuredly making more walking progress than a regular man would do. Her emotion read out in her face.

“You fucking moron!” she hollered at Yuva once she came a distance close enough to start speaking to him. He looked up, seemingly mute. “That’s brute,” she added, pointing slyly at the little mark of wet blood that appeared on his Versace suit.

“That’s why he is suspended,” Nassar added with a gloomy face. “I don’t want a suspension,” Yuva retorted. “I have no choice buddy. Look, there are people down there who would love it to see you go. You’ve been a threat from the moment you came. I mean, don’t expect us to throw tiffins at you when you come to steal our bread.”

“I’m resigning. Not stealing anyone’s bread.”

“That’s not what I…,”

“I’m leaving Nas, let me go.”

Maya shot Yuva a puzzled look, but Yuva had already made his decision. One of the only two adopted law enforcement, outsource trained law enforcement officers in India, had denounced the purpose of his arrival in the world’s second most populated nation.

Maya would, over the next three years, completely forget how to be an American. A report would land in her table stating the outsource program implemented between America and India was an immense success. And she would become the museum toy who would be used as an example, the only one there is, as to why this program was a success. She had a spiral staircase that would lead to an ala-attic house, designed just enough for two people. The place where she escapes from all of the attention- from both as the newly appointed Chief of Police and also as the guinea pig for a political experiment conducted by two countries who are too smart for their own good.

Drinking coffee at the balcony and glancing over, she wished that he, Yuva, would experience what she is experiencing. That he would be in her shoes. He should be. He’s the other guinea pig who went into hiding. “Now the whole world will declare you as my husband,” she said, turning around and looking at him, as he was busy writing something on his messy desk. He paused momentarily. “React, pig,” she raised her tone. They have been living together since the day they arrived in India, why would thoughts of a couple of conservative people matter to them now? For Maya it does, with the amount of uninvited attention she has been receiving of late. She had to do something about it. She looked at Yuva with a glint in her eyes. “I can use you,” she said, nodding to herself. “What?” he asked, still immersed in his writings.

….the continued implementation of this program would be hazardous for the law enforcement environment and would make it hostile. I wish this mistake is not repeated. It undermines the capacity or efficiency of local, Indian-bred police officers, and I have had to overcome a lot of hostile relationships for no warranted reason since I came here, all because the country had, in adopting me back here, signaled that my colleagues are incompetent. My success is not, and never should be, a gauge. I have immense passion for this profession and that is the sole reason I wish to be accounted for my success, not my American training process, or my education and upbringing there. I wish to point out that my friend Yuvaraj, the fellow participant in this program, who was with me from our times in Chicago up until now in Chennai, retracted for he couldn’t take this heat. A nominally calm person with a jovial exterior, the adverse reactions of this outsourced program was visible in the way he got into feuds with our colleagues, and in order to impress them went out of his way to release his frustrations in other ways. He eventually resigned while facing suspension for assaulting the lawyer of a criminal we caught in an ambush in Chennai three years ago. And it all started with me getting shot in my thighs while both of us entered the already gunshot-ridden building during that rainy day. The reason I’m  narrating all of these events again is because human emotions are very subjective, and whatever mission or ambitious program there were to be implemented, we should never forget the complexity of human emotions. Now a journalist by profession, Yuva had discovered his smiles and jokes again, something which went amiss in his days as an Indian policeman. Let’s not disillusion ourselves that this program works. There are no shortcuts to crime eradication. Bred in America doesn’t read as intimidating for criminals.

For a better India. For a better future.

Maya Rathod.

“You didn’t have to psyche me in there,” Yuva said. “Digging old dust, you pig,” he muttered. “Why did you publish it then? It’s your column, your space in the paper,” Maya told, fiddling with her gun while sitting on the sofa. “Well, a writer can’t say no to well written pieces, and you could have just mentioned about us. You know, botch the myth that we are married or anything like that.”

“Nobody would believe that we are just friends; that nothing ever happened. Not even in America would they believe us,” she retorted.

There was a momentary silence. There wasn’t the typical crack, the typical lame argument that Yuva would put forth.

“I have something to tell you. Well, just, you know, to share,” he said after a while, dropping down the magazine he was browsing through and sitting up straight, with a flickering grin installed on the features of his face.

She smiled. She knows him so well that she knew what is coming.

Thoda, American boy met an Indian girl.”

To be continued…