Latest Entries »

I think I’ve mentioned this before, playing in the rain has got to be one of the most satisfying things to do whether you’re young or old. Growing up in Trinidad it was not uncommon to see children playing cricket or football in the rain. Nor was it strange to see people walking through blinding rain to get where they wanted to go. It was never cold. Water brings out that gay abandon in people. After all, before we began looking the way we do now, we crawled out of water millions of years ago. Our bodies consist of nearly 70% of water – depending on size and body mass of course. My point is we are drawn to it as a moth is drawn to a dancing flame. There is no better way to enjoy water in its natural form than straight from the heavens, aquaphobe or no.

I have cousins who live in Gasparillo. It’s a small town and for those of us who lived in cities around Port of Spain, Gasparillo would be considered ‘south’. In fact anywhere beyond the city of Chaguanas was considered as south by the rest of us. Gasparillo was very hilly and my cousins lived on a hill – quite a steep one too that one needed to lean forward on the way up and lean backwards on the way down to prevent from toppling over in the opposite direction.

When morning dawned and the dew was still wet and like diamonds on the grass, the sun rose over those dewy hills and poured gold over them, a signal to the living to come to life. In the rainy season everything would be lush and green. Flowers showed off their brilliance and vied with the trees and the grass for admiration. After a very hot day, usually around midday, the rain would come down like bullets from the heavens, pummelling everything with wet, warm drops of water. I would lie down on the slope and just let myself become one with it all; the warm rain, the earth and the heat emanating from it as if Mother Nature herself was breathing a sigh of relief. I marvelled at the simple wonder that is nature.

The ground would soon disintegrate into a mixture of mud and grass as we slipped and stumbled in our attempts to make enough runs to beat the other team in a game of cricket – in the pelting rain. Electrical wires that ran above our heads would be lined with pigeons or keskidees and they too would be enjoying the rain, their chests puffed out, their beaks busy with the business of grooming.

If we were lucky the sun would come out as well and in the distance a rainbow would appear. I liked it better when there was a double rainbow. In my entire life I’ve only ever seen two of these; a young vibrant rainbow being cradled by a lighter almost faded one.

Days like the one I just described came only for a time. Things change, people change and we must move on. But these are the days I remember mainly because they were at a time when being a child was all that mattered.

Advertisements

Superstition and folklore are part and parcel of any culture. The Irish have their banshees, leprechauns and changelings and their share of superstitions that get them through the day; the Scottish have their kelpies, selkies and their beloved Nessie as well as superstitions that declare that it is unlucky to have a black cat in a room where a wake is taking place or to see a funeral procession on one’s way to a wedding; the English have their boggarts, elves, dwarves, wyverns, dragons, ogres, goblins, witches, wizards and the list goes ever on, however, most of these have been taken from Celtic and Germanic sources.

When I was growing up I heard stories of soucouyants, lagahou, la jablesse, Papa Bois and duennes and duppies. Superstitions and folklore were a part of daily life. There was this one time, I must have been about ten as I hadn’t written my common entrance exams yet and I was at the back of the house brushing my teeth since we didn’t have indoor bathrooms at that time. There were a lot of bushes at the back partially blocking the view of the houses there. It must have been about nine o’clock and I was just washing up before bed time. Normally people burned dried rubbish; leaves and branches that they had piled up after cleaning the yard so seeing fire and smelling smoke wasn’t a novelty – except for this one time.

I was mid brush when there was a large wall of fire amongst the bushes. I say wall, because that’s what it looked like to me. This fire did not burn steadily. It did not lick at the bushes, nor did it set them alight. There was no smoke. The wall turned into a column before it disappeared amongst the bushes again. I dropped my toothbrush in the sink and sped inside. I had never seen fire behave like that before. I waited around in the kitchen as my mother cleaned up and packed away lunches for school next day. Perhaps she didn’t notice remnants of toothpasty spittle still around my mouth. My eyes were fixed on those bushes. The wind rustled them a little and they swayed – nothing unusual. It was only when mum called me from outside, asking why did I leave my toothbrush in the sink – then I went out.

I continued brushing my teeth as I kept one eye on the bushes and one eye on my mother to make sure she didn’t leave me outside. I must have looked like a brown gecko. Now from what I heard tell, this could have been a soucouyant. In Trini folklore, a soucouyant is an old woman who sheds her skin at night and puts it in a mortar, she then turns into a fiery ball and travels around, slipping into houses through cracks and crevices in the house where she will suck the blood of her victims. She is never seen during the day and the only evidence of her presence is a flaming ball of fire.

Well I didn’t see a flaming ball of fire – I saw a wall of fire. It didn’t matter, better be safe than dead. I remembered what my classmates and I talked about at school – well, they talked, I listened with the hair on my skin standing as straight as needles. Apparently if you put enough salt in her path, she would be unable to cross it before counting every single grain. The container of salt was almost empty. There was probably only a handful left for cooking a few times over. Mum would not have liked it if I emptied the rest on the floor. One cannot use salt after it’s been on the floor soucouyant or no soucouyant. So I just used very small pinches and flung it all over the place in the hope that the blood sucker would seek out every last grain, wherever it fell, before she pulled out her champagne glass and her straw and came at me.

I went to bed that night with all my senses tingling like Spider Man. Every time I felt that I was falling asleep, I would jolt myself awake. However, I was only a ten year old human and sleep claimed me for better or for worse. When I woke up I checked myself for blue black marks over my body – supposedly the tell tale signs of her dinner service which you, the poor victim unwittingly provided. I was glad, there were none. Mum made no mention of marks on my sisters or herself and my dad, well, if he had any, he kept them to himself. He was already revving the car before leaving for work.

Just a little note about our car – it could not move without ten to fifteen minutes of revving. Whenever we had to go anywhere, while we were getting dressed, dad would be outside in the car, in the hot sun revving the hell out of that vehicle and once it finally jerked out of place and rolled out of the yard, we knew it was time for us to lock up and meet him outside. This was done wherever we went. It would explain why we stopped driving to the drive in and ‘walked in’ instead. Oh the embarrassment. Still, that car took us from A to B and with a little coaxing and a lot of petrol, it even got us to Z……sometimes.

Anyway, enough about the ghastly car, let’s focus again on the ghastly old bat who was supposed to come and visit us that night. I never heard anything about the fire in the bushes because there was no fire. The bushes were as they had always been, lush and green – a fence provided by nature. They rustled in the wind acting as if nothing had happened, as if everything was as it should be. I thought no more of it until recently.

I don’t know what brought it to mind, perhaps because I never really told anyone. They wouldn’t have believed me anyway. I was ten and I had an imagination that always left me feeling more disconnected from the world in which I lived. There was no reason for anyone to believe me. But, I know what I saw.

You believe me….don’t you?

 

 

Glossary

 

Lagahou – derived from the French le loup garou which means lycanthrope. A lycanthrope is what is commonly called – a werewolf. In Trini speak, a Lagahou (pronounced lagahoo or ligahoo – depending on who tells the story) can take the form of any animal – it is basically a shapeshifter. It roams the night with chains around its neck and has been said to leave a sickly sweet scent behind it which can be smelled for miles away.

La Jablesse – derived from the Spanish La Diablesse which is literally translated as she-devil. She is described as a beautiful woman who lures men to her and once they get near they discover that she has a cloven hoof, by then it’s too late for them.

Papa Bois – A wood spirit. He lures poachers to their deaths by changing up pathways, disorienting them. They either go mad or die first.

Duennes – These are children who died before they were baptised and are thus fated to roam the forests. It is said that one must never call out the names of one’s children who have not yet been baptised for the Duennes will learn their names and lure the children into the forests where they will keep them forever.

Duppies – These are spirits that stay on Earth and haunt those who have wronged them.

Soucouyant – (Pronounced soo-coo-ya) Read the story.


A Bend in The River

Review

Set in postcolonial Africa, A Bend in The River is considered by many as one of Naipaul’s best on the topic of post-colonialism, though not one of my favourites. What Naipaul has in common with other authors such as Salman Rushdie (Midnight’s Children) and Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) is that acute sense of being trapped between two states of being; the past and the present – the future being nothing more than an idea. The themes of defragmentation and alienation run like veins throughout the entire narrative. Born of Indian blood on the soil of Trinidad and adopted by Britain, he is a man of no single world; his allegiances can easily be blown away by the wind of change and chance. We see Naipaul in Salim and vice versa.

Salim works his way into the heart of Africa. One might say he made the reverse journey that the slaves made. Salim is a different kind of slave. He is a slave of chance and opportunity. Within his voice, one can hear the voices of Nazruddin, Raymond and Yvette, Indar, Mahesh and Shoba, Ferdinand, Metty, even Zabeth. Through the mirrors of his eyes, Africa is displayed as stark, harsh and unapologetic and one can observe the unravelling of the very delicate fabric that makes up postcolonial Africa.

Salim, the narrator and main character of Indian Muslim origin, strives against the turmoil of the country but he eventually ends up being drawn into it. The possibility of retreating from the dead-end of his life that was the Indian Muslim community in which he lived was what made him accept Nazruddin’s offer of becoming a shopkeeper in a small town at the bend in the river. Whether he realises it or not, he has only traded one dead-end for another and it takes a visit from his childhood friend Indar for him to realise that all his ambitions were going unfulfilled.

The bend in that river is almost an omen of danger. The notion of not knowing what lies beyond the ‘bend’ is as frightening as not knowing what could happen in a community plagued with social and political unrest as is evidenced in the brutal killing of Father Huismans. His beheading is symbolic of the sundering of his beliefs and notions of what Africa was really about. He dedicated his life to sowing seeds of European culture and values into a society that wished very much to be rid of it. He misread the signs, believing that one day the mingling of cultures at the bend in the river could spread to other parts of Africa.

Father Huismans was the complete opposite of Raymond who based his writings on interviews and historical anecdotes he had read. Unlike Father Huismans, Raymond has never gone beyond the pages of the books from which he gets his information. The words he writes do not come from the lips of those who spoke of their experiences nor are they accumulated from his personal observations and this is why Father Huismans’ loss was a tragedy that Salim felt. Both Raymond and Father Huismans are somewhat keepers of European history. But the stronghold that they had on the past is being weakened in the present and most likely would be non-existent in the future.

In the Domain, which is the president’s pet project, one cannot help but notice that its stark European-ness is incongruous in the wild abandon of Africa. It is a status symbol and a mockery of the African bush and its primitive power. The Big Man as the president is called, symbolizes the distortion of ideologies and this distortion manifests itself in the Domain and the vandalism and ruination of anything reminiscent of European influence. It is then unsurprising that the Domain eventually goes the same way as the rest of the monuments of Europe – it is eventually abandoned and falls into ruin – the unmaking of the vision of the Big Man.

Perhaps Salim would have fared better had he had some sort of grounding. He talks about not knowing about history except for what he had read about in history books. He is homeless in every sense of the word. He is without a culture that he understands and without any direction that is his own. His decision to eventually marry Nazruddin’s daughter and settle in England cannot really be owned by him and this sense of restlessness is echoed by Indar, who after his education in England cannot find his way home. His rebuff and ridicule at India House was the last straw. He didn’t belong to Africa. Africa would not own him and from the way he was treated by representatives of India and by extension India herself, it looked like he didn’t belong there either.

Africa would always be the lodestone around their necks not because of the African-ness of the place or the bush or the magic or the darkness but because after having succumbed to powers of first world colonial rulers time and time again, Africa isn’t ready to be thrown into a post colonial world.  They are at a severe disadvantage since after centuries of rule by the Portuguese and Belgians have left them reeling in illiteracy and dependence on those same colonial powers that could do very little to undo the damage done.

As one reads the novel there is the faintest notion that all the characters are in a limbo of varying degrees. Upon examining the relationship between Salim and Yvette, Raymond’s wife, there is that sense that these are two people who are clinging to one familiarity – the need to fulfill their physical needs. Neither one has any emotional grounding. Salim is as much an outsider in this village as he would be in India or England or even in the community where he first lived. Yvette’s emotional anchor should have been Raymond as he is her only link to her homeland. However, even in his presence, he is absent and can offer her no succour.

Nazruddin, in a desperate effort to set down roots on stable land keeps transplanting himself and his family. One failure follows another and he eventually settles in England and accepts the hand that fate has dealt him.

When Salim is arrested, it is Ferdinand – the son of the sorceress Zabeth who saves him. Perhaps because he felt he owed a debt. Domain educated and now in the employ of the Big Man as the town’s commissioner, he has stumbled upon the ultimate truth of their predicament. “We’re all going to hell, and every man knows this in his bones. We’re being killed. Nothing has any meaning. . . . Everyone wants to make his money and run away. But where? That is what is driving people mad. They feel they’re losing the place they can run back to. I began to feel the same thing when I was a cadet in the capital. I felt I had given myself an education for nothing. . . I began to think I wanted to be a child again, to forget books. … The bush runs itself. But there is no place to go.”

Ferdinand’s ominous speech precedes the final destruction of post-colonial Africa, the final descent into hell. Salim’s narrow escape aboard the steamer in the darkness of the river underlines the hopelessness of those who remained, who were trapped and destined to burn with the past.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited:

Naipaul, V.S. A Bend in The River. New York, Vintage International Edition, 1989.

Weiss, Timothy F. On The Margins. The Art of Exile in V.S. Naipaul. The University of Massachusetts Press, First Edition, 1992.

 

Well, today is the first day of Doors Open Toronto put on by Great Gulf. So since old man winter has finally shuffled off, I decided to make the most of the long-awaited warmth. I’ve never been to the Distillery District before today. I always planned to go but somehow I could never get there. The 30 minute tour was informative and the guide was friendly. Not much information is given on the actual distillery and the stories about the hauntings are pretty much reported information, but then again, it’s half an hour and it’s free – not too bad.

The atmosphere was festive and apart from the occasional chilly breeze, it was quite hot. It’s a great place for friends and families to visit. I was pleased with the fact that there were a few places where one could sit down and have lunch or just kick back with a beverage.

In case you are wondering, yes – I did go by myself. I don’t know many people who would like to spend the day promenading through narrow brick streets, trying to capture just a sliver of architectural history on a digital camera. But then again, I don’t know many people. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a loner. I enjoy company as much as the next person. I’m just very intolerant of anyone who tries to make me feel inferior and for some reason, I tend to attract such people. I have acquaintances who have their own lives and that’s fine by me.

 

Strange looking thing

As you enter the Distillery District on Gristmill Lane, this is the first thing that catches your eye. A War of the Worlds sort of alien creature. I would have loved to have seen this at night – in the dark – for the first time.

Distillery - from below

Naturally, my favourite features of this place were the buildings. There is nothing more profound than looking at the past through mirrors in the present. The Distillery District was first a flour mill before it became a brewery. Of course, at that time clean water was scarce and alcohol ranked higher than food.

Distillery building - close shot Distillery Building - From below Distillery Building - long shot DSCF0461 DSCF0464 DSCF0465 DSCF0463 DSCF0474 DSCF0475

I imagine this place must have been quite a hive of activity and more than likely, a place of employment for many. It still is.  Below are two whiskey barrels. The one on the left is charred on the inside and the one on the right is just smoked. I had the pleasure of speaking to a young cooper (barrel maker) who explained that a barrel this size could take up to seven hours to make. These barrels were then charred or smoked on the inside. When the whiskey is poured into them, it’s usually a clear liquid, it’s the burnt insides of the barrels that give the colour to it. Hmm, really did not know that. Quite the conversation starter I would say. By the way, they were charring these barrels on site, hence my curiousity and the young fella did not mind me taking pictures of his barrels.

 

Whiskey barrel - charred on the inside Whiskey barrel - smoked on the inside

I couldn’t resist. I’ve never seen an anvil before. This was placed next to a bed in the Hastens bed showroom. I say this is one hell of a side table. All it needs now is a lamp and alarm clock.

DSCF0471

This creepy looking black and white photo was hung over the bed (the one which had the anvil next to it). I was really hoping to catch the ghost’s reflection in it. You know how they do in the movies? I assume all these people worked at the distillery at one time or the other and perhaps they’re still there – we just don’t see them much.

DSCF0472

Some kind of drill

This sign goes with the above picture. It’s a drill press. I don’t know what it was used for. I’ll hazard a guess that it was used to drill a press or press a drill or both…who knows. I was distracted – too busy looking for the chocolate factory. Sorry.

Drill press

And here are more relics of the past.

DSCF0473DSCF0462

By then I was hungry and I still hadn’t found the chocolate factory.

A chicken pesto panini and a double shot macchiato distracted me for a little while. It was a nice place. Very clean with good service.

 

DSCF0489 DSCF0487 DSCF0488 DSCF0485

FINALLY! The chocolate factory.

More goodies There is no place like chocolate Chocolate goodies Chocolate heaven

To be honest, I’ve seen bigger selections elsewhere. But they were nice to allow me to take pictures in there. Once I had purchased a few of these beauties, I armed myself with a lemon gelato and headed out to face the heat. It was hotter by then. I could feel the sun’s heat boring a hole into the crown of my head.

Now walking and eating was never a skill that I developed. I’m a more ‘sit down and munch’ type of person. Somehow, my feet and my mouth just can’t seem to coordinate. Seriously, when it comes to food, my brain is good for nothing else. I cannot be distracted by anything else. DSCF0478Funny looking art.  Wacky looking artFunny looking art from a different angle.

And here is the big clock that everyone seemed to want to take a picture of, including me.

 

DSCF0477

 

Oh and let’s not forget the ghost chandelier. Apparently the employees of this cafe witnessed it swinging from side to side. Must have been a playful ghost. I would have given anything to see that chandelier start swinging.

Chandelier

That was it. At long last, I’ve seen and experienced the Distillery District. Not bad. I was glad I did it. There is something liberating about travelling or exploring on one’s own and I intend to do more of this. However, next time I’ll wear a hat. A smacking migraine is a small price to pay for adventure, but it’s annoying as hell.

Sincerely,

WordCupid.

(See my selfie? You can actually see the reflection of my hands holding the camera on my bug glasses. Should have taken off the glasses.)

DSCF0484

 

Under The Mango Tree

 

The sun was at his happiest that day, for he smiled down upon the earth and the intensity of his happiness gave off a warmth that was near scorching. I was on my two months vacation from school. No school for students meant there was no school for teachers either. It was the beginning of a new week, a Monday, and the day had already begun its slow drag and the heat made it seem even slower. Somehow Mondays always affected me that way. I called it the Monday blues. It was too hot to stay inside so I came outside and sought refuge beneath the shady protection of a huge Rose Mango tree in our yard. It grew neither at the back nor the front of the house, but along the side of it. Its green leafy canopy spread wide over the house and the yard making it cooler in that area, only in that sizeable portion of the yard.

 

I had in my hand a long yellow writing pad, and a pen which came free with a tube of Boro Plus antiseptic cream. Those were the only writing tools I required for me to squeeze out a writing career from a mundane existence. I had seated myself upon an old stump cut out from another mango tree that once grew in another part of the yard. That stump was cut and fitted carefully between the protruding roots of the mango tree under which I sat and it served the purpose of all the r’s I could think of; reading, writing or just relaxing in the cool shade while one reminisced of days and events gone by.

 

I was mulling around in my mind for something I could use as a potential story either fictional or autobiographical, and I found nothing. My mind was blank, nothing inspired me. I closed my eyes and leaned against the huge, gnarled trunk of the tree and just let the cool breeze blow around me. I could distinctly hear the tree in motion, as if it came alive. The branches, leaves and almost dried twigs above me bumped into each other making little snapping noises, the trunk creaked with the force of the movement coming from the top.

 

I always felt that trees were somehow magical, regardless which part of the world they grew. They lived longer than many of us and I was sure possessed many secrets that if we were to listen carefully they were sure to tell. My reverie was disturbed when there was a louder snapping sound and then ‘dock’, upon my head. I jerked upright in my seat and looked around rubbing the assaulted area near the crown of my head. I saw a small twig-like branch lying at my feet and attached to it was a young mango. It was very small yet but with lots of potential to become a nice golden rose colored, ripe, juicy mango, or pepper and seasoning soaked mango chow. But as small as it was, the height from which it fell gave it another potential use, a stinging, head thumping, bump making missile.

 

That bump on the head came to me as a sign from above, literally. An idea for a story or stories had actually fallen upon my head and I was no fool to ignore that. This is what I wrote:

 

I remember my early school days at the Spring Village Hindu School. It was debatable at the time and probably still is as to where the school is actually situated. Some argued that the school was rightfully named because it faced its namesake, Spring Village, which was located across the Churchill Roosevelt Highway. Others however had a different opinion and argued that the school was situated in Curepe proper, and should be renamed something more appropriate. A few who thought location was of no importance and was the reason why there were so many debates thought that the best thing would be for the school to be named after some founder or other important person in society who was a major stakeholder in the school; and so it went on for many years and the school kept its name.

 

Spring Village Hindu was one primary school that really impressed me. Sure it was dilapidated in some areas, but what I noticed and really remarked upon even as a young pupil there, was the presence of so many trees on the school compounds and the vast well kept playing grounds that was available for pupils’ recreational pursuits, namely; running, jumping, skating (on grass), tripping, falling or just sitting around and watching everyone else. For the least sportive there were some old but usable desks that were arranged outside under a galvanized shed in classroom formation if a pupil or pupils wished to read or just sit and chat with classmates.

 

Even though it looked small from the outside, it was spacious on the inside, with enough space for comfortable movement. Overhead fans dispelled the typical afternoon heat of a tropical climate and on cold rainy days they were turned off. The school’s environment was definitely conducive to study. Needless to say, even with such accommodations, teachers preferred to take their classes outside under the various trees on the compound where disciplines such as reading, spelling, timetables, quizzes, reading and comprehension and essay preparations required the serenity and silence of the outside. That way, when it came to quizzes, we could argue or cheer without disturbing neighbouring classes, or in the case of spelling, or reading of written compositions, the teacher and other students could hear without the disturbance from the whole school.

 

I remember all too well how my classmates and I hated to learn timetables as part of our weekly routine. Our teacher, Mr. Anand Balroop had taken it upon himself to make these colourful charts, the size of small placards; red, pink, green, blue, white and yellow, and upon them in bright contrasting marker pen ink, the timetables were written. He even managed to get some of us to help him make these charts, and not knowing that these would later become articles of torture for our own selves, readily and gladly offered our help, thinking ourselves scholarly and important. After all Mr. Balroop was the smartest man we knew and for him to request our help must have meant something.

 

So it began. Twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, after the school bell rang for students to return to classes, we would look with dread as the charts came out of the big wooden cupboard in the corner of the classroom and Mr. Balroop, already having sent a boy to reconnoitre the compounds to find a tree and claim it, would say with relish as he looked at our woebegone faces, “Under the mango tree”.   Another boy would pick up his chair, and like lambs to the slaughter we would follow him, charts in hand to the mango tree that was chosen.

 

There were two trees, one was located on the car park near the Standard five C classroom and the other was on the extreme end of the savannah.   Most often it would be the tree near the classroom and we all dreaded that one, because should Mr. Balroop happen to scold us for being lazy, the two school vendors would be there to hear, pupils and teachers passing by would hear and we would be too embarrassed to even think straight. So we tried our best to sound loud and energetic. We would be asked to hold our cards properly in front of us and when he said, “Begin”, we would start off,

One two is two, two into two one

Two twos are four, two into four two

Three twos are six, two into six three

And so on….

at first like a cheering chant, which deteriorated after about five minutes into something like a low drone.

 

After carrying on like that for what seemed like hours, he would pick us up, calling upon us randomly to recite the timetables, in both formats, multiplication and division. After which, still in that random selection he would call, “one two”, and wait for the answer. Then he would ask someone else at random, “two into ten?” and expect a prompt answer. Meantime while the chosen pupil would be on the spot, the rest of us would have our brains working like clockwork, speeding through the timetables in our minds, our lips moving silently, not a word coming out from them, all of us looking as if we were in a trance and mumbling some strange incantation in the hope that should that pupil fail to come up with the answer, whoever was called upon next would be ready.

 

At the end of that session, whoever had risen to the challenge and gotten all the questions correct were either admired by some or scorned by others for not falling below the teacher’s expectations. It was in this manner that we were taught how to learn our timetables. Even though at the time I thought it tedious, it no doubt helped me in overcoming the greater challenges of handling multiplication and division sums in Mathematics.

 

Even as a teacher myself in my own time, I know that the doctors in education would frown upon Mr. Balroop’s method of teaching the multiplication tables by rote and repetition, but honestly I don’t think they can come up with a better way.

 

Apart from the tedium of tables and reading lessons, there were some pleasurable activities too. On a cool relaxing afternoon, after we had the afternoon break, we would go out and read our compositions for the class to hear. I looked forward to this every week. Some of the compositions were funny, others were commonplace, and some didn’t make any sense at all, but were funny nevertheless.   I mostly liked it because this was my forte, my ‘territory’ as Mr. Balroop called it.

 

When it came my turn to read, the class became hushed, all were attentive, and as the cool breeze blew and the branches swayed and rustled in response, my childish voice would modulate according to my expressions in the composition. Very often, Mr. Danny Boy, (we never knew his real name) would come especially for this session and listen and at the end he would play fortune teller and go around the class foretelling who was going to be what. I was delighted to know that both Mr. Balroop and Mr. Danny Boy thought I had a number of prospects; teacher, professor, journalist, or writer. Everyone would be looking at me and I would force myself to look modest and unconcerned, but really, inside I was overwhelmed with pride and gratification, for I often thought no one saw how hard I tried to be my best.

 

Classes were not the only activities that took place under the mango trees; it was a favourite play area, especially on a hot afternoon during lunch break and recess. During the time of Pitra Paksh (a period during which Hindus pay respects to the ancestors), we believed that spirits lived in and under all trees. This belief did not deter us from playing under them, in fact, that was the thrill, the adventure. We took the risk, but not unprepared. We wrapped ourselves in a protective cloak made possible by the presence of garlic. Whether it was a whole bulb or just a clove, or even a small piece of it, we believed the pungent smell of garlic would keep the spirits away from us and we would still be able to play in peace without the fear of being ‘taken over’ by them.

 

During this time we would try to discourage Mr. Balroop from taking us under the tree, because even though we were heavily protected, he was not and we feared for him. So we would make up all sorts of excuses to avoid going outside under the trees. The other students and their teachers were ignorant of the danger they were in, because they continued to go under the trees. We would all look for signs that they had been ‘taken over’. Such signs would be ranting and raving, red eyes, staring blankly at nothing, rolling of the eyes, uncontrollable spitting, excessive eating, chasing people all over the place, anything that we considered not normal were symptoms of spirit possession.

 

We tried to find ways of protecting our teacher. Many of us devised ways of sneaking a piece of garlic onto his person by casually dropping it into his shirt pocket while we having our work corrected, sticking it in his hair or shirt collar as we passed behind him on our way back to our seats after having our work corrected, but no one was brave enough to actually do it. We had given up, and the period of Pitra Paksh and spirits were over and everything went back to normal. At least we went back to our normal daily duties of playing and studying. For the record, no one was ever ‘taken over’ by spirits.

 

There was also a rather embarrassing and painful situation I had found myself in under that same big mango tree in the playground. The teachers were having a staff meeting and school was dismissed at 1:30, but I chose to stay in school till the normal three o’clock because I didn’t see the point in going home so early. As usual, those of us who chose to stay back went under the mango tree to play catch and rescue. After about an hour’s play we grew tired and just sat around on pieces of brick, or made a small see-saw upon which two pupils played. I was just about to leave to go home when this older boy from the higher school came and proceeded to climb the mango tree. He had already been home and had changed into home clothes and was back to pick mangoes. We all crowded around the base of the tree to watch him climb.

 

We could tell that he was accustomed to climbing trees by the skillful ease it was done. I was sure he was also skilled in stealing mangoes and that he was watching this mango tree for a while because he knew exactly where in the tree were the biggest ones. Now this tree bore really huge mangoes of the type that didn’t grow in my yard and I had never seen before. It took both hands of a child to hold it properly and an adult couldn’t hold it for long in one hand.

 

I had not been ready for what had happened to me on that day, but I thought it was punishment for not going home immediately when school was dismissed.   The boy was dropping the mangoes that he had picked for an older boy to catch. Somehow the catcher missed or the picker miscalculated his drop and my face ended up breaking the mango’s fall. All I knew was that I was looking up and the catcher was standing with his arm outstretched ready to catch when the mango came at me with incredible force.

 

The pain was murderous. I was convinced my teeth were shattered and my lips felt as if they were vibrating. To say that I cried out in pain and agony would be an understatement. I bawled, and that was no exaggeration. My fellow conspirators surrounded to get me to be quiet for there would be hell to pay if we were found still on the school compound with no excuse other than ‘we just didn’t want to go home yet and we were watching some students pick mangoes.’ The picker and the catcher were also concerned for themselves and offered to give me as many mangoes I wanted just so that I would stop bawling fit to wake the dead. But nothing could make me stop. I wanted to go home at that moment, but they would not let me, not while I was still bawling in that manner.

 

Eventually the pain dulled. Only then did the bawls stop and became sobs, and the sobs became sniffles. I checked to see if my teeth were okay. They were surprisingly still intact and very strong, not one was shaking. My upper lip however, had begun to swell and there was a nasty looking blue black bruise on the inside where the mango had made the most impact. I knew that my parents would notice and the first thing they would think was that someone hit me and then they would want to investigate and they would come into the school demanding to know who was responsible for my misfortune and then the embarrassing truth would have to come out.

 

As I walked home with a few of my classmates who decided to keep me company, I decided the best thing to do was to tell them what happened but make it sound casual and unimportant and so let the matter rest. It was a good thing that nothing worse came out of that incident except a swollen, bruised lip, an equally bruised ego and an important lesson.

 

I could have remained sitting under that Rose mango tree for many more hours recounting the numerous incidents that happened under those trees, but to do so would require much more paper and time and I was getting tired of writing. Besides I had written about the more poignant memories of a place that many would not have considered an important factor in the early stages of a child’s life.

 

Even now as an adult, I still find solace and serenity in the company of trees, any tree. But to be absolutely honest, I prefer sitting under the mango tree.

I remember the first time I got my computer and was finally connected to the internet. It was my last semester of my final year at university. I spent two and a half years of my university life pounding out course essays, tutorials and seminar materials on a typewriter before I joined the rest of the progressive world on cyber-space.

I had my computer built according to my specifications – or rather what I was advised they should be as I was still getting ROM and RAM mixed up to the amusement of the IT guys who were building the computer for me. I wanted an excellent surround sound system for movies. Take note – The Lord of the Rings cannot be watched without the right system to hear the breath of every Orc, the clash of swords, the screams of the dying, the musicality of Elvish, the demoniac nuances of Black Speech and the heart lifting music scored by Howard Shore for Rivendell, Hobbiton and Dwarrowdelf. (You see how easy it is for me to get sidetracked?)

The first day my computer was brought to me, there were so many boxes. I had no idea that there were going to be so many pieces to assemble before it would look complete. A desk was varnished and ready. With bright eyes and a brighter smile I followed the tech guys inside. One would think that I was welcoming a new baby into the family. I suppose it was like that – in a way. I always relished the new and unfamiliar.

They made short work of setting up and all the while I stood there, arms folded, my eyes following their every move. Then there it was – my very own computer which I still had to pay for in instalments. But it was mine.

The keys on the keyboard were soft and made very little noise when I typed on the Mavis Beacon program. My family and I hovered around it and cooed like proud parents. The tips of our fingers would gently brush over the printer, the monitor, the speakers and the keyboard. I still had to get internet – that would be a worry for the next day.

I couldn’t sleep that night. The computer was still on and the bright display on the monitor glowed in that dark – a herald into this new universe. Mesmerised by the aquarium screen saver, I marvelled at how far my family and I had come. It was a small victory and we were far behind others, but it was our victory nevertheless.

Once I got the internet up and running, I sent my first email to the IT guys informing them that everything was right as rain and got a reply within an hour. I sent emails to myself and emails to my sisters and my mother even though we were all living in the same house. A new world opened up and my old world disappeared forever.

I’ve found that it is so much easier to say something to someone when you don’t have to look at them and say it. That’s what was happening. That room in which the computer sat became our world. It was a source of information easily accessible from all across the globe. I was more efficient in my studies and so were my sisters. It was the source of contention amongst us and a place of escape. It often brought us together and often tore us apart.

Over time, like everything else that was once new, the computer and the whole notion of being linked to a world outside of our own experience lost its lustre and became commonplace. However, I don’t think I can go for very long without going online. It’s almost like a necessity of life. I wonder how did I manage for twenty of my early cognitive years without it – back then when life was simpler? Could I go back? I don’t believe so. There isn’t enough room to turn around and go back as the world has become so much smaller. It’s either that – or I’ve changed too much.

I’m being followed!

 

Normally this realisation would lead to cold sweats, hearts that race like thoroughbreds and mouths that feel drier than the Sahara. In this case I’m not talking about being followed by the guy (or girl) you won’t go out with; or the beggar at the side of the road to whom you gave a few dollars and he/she believes that if he/she follows you then there is a good chance that you will increase the amount; or the creep who refuses to understand that his crude and sexist comments will certainly NOT be rewarded with a smile or the layabout who believes deep in his heart that just because you say “Good morning” to him, you’re dying to be his bride or….Ok, so you get the picture.

I’m actually referring to my ‘followers’ who took the time to check out my blog. So I dedicate this one as a salute to all my present and future followers.

I don’t know how many of you would remember, but if you were born in the late 70’s and early 80’s then perhaps the title of this blog will spark a memory. It’s a song on Sesame Street sung by three young turtles. I dare you to Google this. It involves following someone to the redwood tree. I thought the first line of the song would be perfect for this blog.

Anyway, I’m a bit encouraged and even emboldened by the fact that this blog is not a disaster as the last one. I believe I’m the only person who visited it. No wonder it died such a lonely, unsung death.

What does it mean to have people follow one’s blog? Is that a guarantee that people are reading and even thinking about what has been written? The blogosphere is a big place and getting bigger as more and more people are discovering the writer in themselves. Well not necessarily just writing, there are blogs for many purposes. What I want to say is that it gives individuals a forum to speak out, find their inner voices and share them with the world.

I can’t tell you how many times I fought against the idea of starting a blog. My favourite excuse is that I don’t have the time – which is true. However, I’ve found that dedicating twenty minutes a day to compose a thought that may or may not be read and may or may not be enjoyed by people I’ve never met and probably never will, is quite do-able. Of course that means twenty minutes taken from playing Spider Solitaire, but who cares? I’m not really good at the game anyway. I always lose.

So now that it’s after midnight and I have to get up to go to work tomorrow, I’d just like to say to my followers present and future – Merci, Gracias, Danke, Dhanyavaad, Thank you. Best wishes on your blogs as well –and for goodness sake, write a comment……please.

 

Sincerely,

WordCupid.  DSCF0244

Another academic year was over. July and August had come quickly and we were home again while our parents worked. My sisters and I spent most of these free days doing household chores, watching re-runs of Star Trek and generally other nonsense that kept us glued to the television. Still, boredom will set in. There are only so many shows to watch and only so many books one can read before it becomes painful.

Boredom usually meant mischief. Tree climbing only diverted us for so long. We were feeling a wee bit peckish and there were no snacks so we decided to make our own. Popcorn is always an easy fix. Candied popcorn? Now that was something else. It wasn’t too difficult. I had the basic idea. The popcorn had to be prepared. Some of it burned but that was fine. We ate it anyway. All I had to do was make the sticky syrup. Sugar and a few tablespoons of water were added to the saucepan. It began to boil nicely. I had seen mum do this many times when she was making coconut tarts and sugar cake. I lowered the heat and kept checking the consistency of the syrup. Mum always said, once it starts dripping slowly off the spoon with little thread like trails then it’s ready.

We needed food colouring. The only colour we had was blue. So, in went a few drops of blue colouring. The syrup turned a nice turquoise blue. Barking orders to get out of the way, I transferred the pot of blue syrup to the sink and emptied the lot over the popcorn. There was a spoon at the ready and with that I kept turning the popcorn, bottom to top to make sure the popcorn and syrup combined properly.

Finally it was ready. With Marsh and Micky trailing behind me, barely able to contain their excitement, we settled in front of the television with our blue snack. We must have been in front of the television for about ten minutes before the electricity went with a ‘blip’. What to do? We still had half a basin of blue popcorn and no television and since my mother only worked fifteen minutes away from where we lived, that meant that she would be on her way too. No electricity – no work. With fifteen minutes to clean up the scene of the crime, we sprung into action.

Micky was tasked with filling the rest of the popcorn into a plastic bag and taking it to the ravine where she would toss it all in for the fishes. The crusted sugar in the pot and in the basin had to be melted. It would only take two minutes to boil some water and hasten the melting process. Marsh positioned herself outside at the top of the drain to wash away all the crumbs and blue colouring that was coming down the drain.

All dishes were washed and dried and replaced. Three pairs of eyes scanned the kitchen for any incriminating signs of our activities. Satisfied that we were in the clear, we headed out to the pomerac tree and continued our game of hide n’ seek and stick em’ up. Sure enough, there she was and she had a bag in her hand.

We pretended that we didn’t notice her and continued with our game. Mum came to the back and asked what we were doing and with the best poker face we could muster, we simply chimed, “playing”.

“You want to go to the cinema?”

“Yeah!!” And we all ran to get washed up and changed.

She hadn’t gone into the kitchen yet and that’s where we went next. Traipsing behind her like a trio of audacious puppies, we pretended that we were interested in what was in the bag. We already knew. There were snacks.

Mum hadn’t seen anything. She never noticed anything – except – wait a minute – the colouring wasn’t where it was before and there was a clear ring of blue on the white stove top where the bottle cover was placed. I leaned my elbow against the counter and just wiped it off. Once mum had left the kitchen, the bottle was placed where it always was, right behind the bottles of spices.

We went to see our movie and by the time we got home the electricity had come back. Mission accomplished with no casualties. I don’t think mum ever knew. I don’t think we ever told her. But she knows now. Unfortunately for her, she can’t chase us around the house anymore.

We had a pomerac tree which grew in the south-eastern corner of our yard. Its slim trunk held the full weight of abundant foliage which was concentrated at the top and to add to that, this tree bore fruit twice, sometimes three times a year and it was always laden. A pomerac is sort of heart-shaped red fruit with white flesh beneath the blood-red exterior. If it was out of season, the fruit would be sour and only fit to be eaten with salt and pepper. There was this superstition that girls were not supposed to climb trees as the fruit would become sour. That didn’t stop us. Sour fruit always made an excellent chow*.

There was one time, I believe my father wasn’t at home because he was nowhere around. The pomerac tree was laden and the ones at the top were so ripe, they looked almost purple with sweetness. They beckoned and we could not resist. Like busy ants we grabbed the heavy ladder and toted it all the way from the coconut tree which was on the opposite side of the yard, across the drain and rocks and mud all the way to the pomerac tree. Since the trunk was so slim and smooth, we required a little help. My sisters and I hadn’t graduated to scaling tree trunks yet.

My youngest sister Micky stayed at the bottom and held the ladder and the bag into which we would drop the fruit once we had picked them. I was midway up and my younger sister Marsh was almost at the top since she was lighter and smaller. Now, you have to understand that all three of us are deathly afraid of heights, but we were unwilling to sacrifice the pomeracs to the birds and so with one hand gripping the branches for dear life, the other one would be used to pick and pass or pick and drop the fruit into the bag below.

We must have only picked half a dozen or so when we heard a shout in the distance. It was our dad. Where had he come from? Dammit, he always showed up when we didn’t want him to. But he wasn’t the problem. Since Marsh was closer to the top she saw it first. Its tongue flicked in and out of its mouth and it was curled around a thin branch like a vine and it was a bright green. No wonder we hadn’t seen it. It almost matched the colour of the leaves and the very young branches and stems.

(More? Click on the page to the right)

Hello,

A new post has been added. To read Nostalgia – Volume I – Into the Rain (iv), please log in and click on the page at the right.

Thanks.

Sincerely,

Wordcupid.

David Gaughran

Let's Get Digital

300 stories

A continuing mission to produce flash fiction stories in 300 words (or less)

Craig Lumen

Characters

Daily (w)rite

A DAILY RITUAL OF WRITING

Indie Hero

Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller

Writing and other stuff

Diary of a jobbing writer

Mihran Kalaydjian's Official Blog

Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s. Billy Wilder

Inside Jen's Head

Blog4LifeSake

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

Aminelle Nali - Splendiferous Doses of Happiness

...changing lives one word at a time! =)

はじめての方も投資しやすい!ソーシャルレンディング比較サイトランキング

For sharing the love of words and creative expression...go ahead, pass it on.

Young Writers Anonymous

Does anyone have what it takes to break into writing?

Don Charisma

because anything is possible with Charisma

mishrapiyush

black swan fooled by randomness

Eric Schlehlein, Author

(re)Living History, with occasional attempts at humor and the rare pot-luck subject. Sorry, it's BYOB. All I have is Hamm's.

The Task at Hand

A Writer's On-Going Search for Just the Right Words

%d bloggers like this: