A night with aliens
Sulaiman aged seeing most of the world. Birds of different hues - hundreds of them - perched on his countless hands every day. They used to tell him tales, of distant lands and distinct people. His flying friends would go away, leaving Sulaiman all alone for the rest of the night, when the giant red fruit went to its bed below the western horizon. Sulaiman spent hours recollecting the tales. He held a vivid imagination of the sea, mountains, palaces and creatures. That was how he became a lonely traveller. However, none of his fantasies was enough on that particular wintery night when an alien ship descended upon earth. Sulaiman was under the spell of a chilling breeze and didn’t notice the two strange-looking creatures walking towards him. He was startled when they came closer and started watching him keenly. He had heard stories of two-legged creatures cutting down an entire forest in a matter of hours. Fear started flowing through his veins. There was no one to call for help at that odd hour. His fears soon ebbed. These two aliens seemed to be interested in something else. All of a sudden, a bunch of green flowers fell on him; the aliens were doing something. Sulaiman stood still, for the wind had gone resting. The flowers had no fragrance and were numerous. Sulaiman tried to feel the flowers, but they vanished as soon as his fingers touched them. The aliens sat under his shade and murmured in strange voices. Once in a while, they threw the green flowers at him. By then, Sulaiman was relaxed. These creatures didn’t mean any harm. When the wind returned with more chill, Sulaiman let his hands dance. The aliens seemed to have been waiting for that moment. They too started dancing with him. When the wind went away again, the aliens came closer and hugged Sulaiman one after another. He too hugged them back. He felt sad when they returned to their ship. Sulaiman waved all his hands when the ship ascended to the clouds. He didn’t feel lonely that night. From then on, he would wait every night for the ship to return.
A bouquet of steel flowers
Some people revered her as their ‘mother’ while some others worshipped her as a ‘goddess’. Millions drank from her. Many breathed her in. She had pleaded with them to stop but nobody listened. Which mother would want her children to swallow poison? It was not her fault. The only mistake was her love for travelling. In the snow mountains in the far north, where she had taken birth, everything had been pristine. She was pure and free like a spring bird. Having abandoned the protection offered by her home, she was on her own. Men had looted her to the very last drop. She would have given them everything they sought if they had let her live. Instead, they kept on feeding her poison, tearing down her womb gradually. Men often found ways to thrust steel into her wrinkled breasts. Limping and crawling, she somehow reached the gates of this famed city, where poets and kings had adored her once. The city had a multitude of celebrations, some of them even dedicated to her. She knew very well what awaited her, but fate was unstoppable. She took a deep breath and looked ahead for one last time. The forts and palaces of her beloved city were glittering in festive colours. As she crossed the gates, the dark poison of unbearable stench started gushing in from all sides. She closed her eyes, and cold darkness descended on her. She lay motionless even as fireworks painted the night sky. Her still waters reflected the shadows of a towering steel bridge and the fleeting motors. Powerful machines showered giant sparks on the metal poles rising from her breasts, giving a red glow to the surrounding night. She shed no tears, for she was dead by then.
In the graveyard of empires
Desert wind was blowing across the evening sky, lifting dust and dead leaves from the parched ground. The emperor shut his eyes. He didn’t want to watch the specks of grass and worthless grains of sand flying freely in the saffron sky. Everything around him was on the move. Even the thorny bushes under his feet were dancing. He too dreamed of such freedom but had long since abandoned any hope of walking away. A century had been eclipsed since the majesty, who belonged to a castle thousands of miles away, arrived on this land of unheard languages and untasted spices. Summer winds, monsoon showers and Himalayan chill had worn out his stony face. Of late, he had become a jealous watcher of young couples passionately kissing under the shadow of his towering figure. He was tired of merely standing as a clown to the grandchildren of his erstwhile subjects. He hated it when kids made fun of his royal attire. They didn’t seem to realise that every soul from the east to west had bowed in front of him in his youthful days. Having gulped down the poison of power at a very young age, the majesty could never accept that he became a useless object. There was even a time when he had found solace in the belief that his empire, in which the sun never set, might be thriving in other parts of the world. Eventually, he was disillusioned when no one from the empire paid him a visit for decades. Knowing very well that he couldn’t even shake a bird off his head, the emperor had accepted his fate with a resigned look. Often, the majesty remembered the prophecy that whoever built fortresses on this land would be perished along with their empires. Left with no more desires, he probably contemplated the path of Buddha. As the parting sun painted the western sky in crimson, the emperor wished for an early night, so that he could open his eyes and stop seeing.
A corrupted memory
The looming tower stood amid the thick jungle, radiating its presence in all directions. The ground lay intoxicated by darkness. Ear-piercing cries of peafowls echoed from all corners when Memory-Maker stepped on the dew-laden grass. He watched the towering object like a child seeing the ocean for the first time. A cigarette burned in his hand, venting plumes of white smoke into the icy air. The light from the tower reflected in the eyes of Memory-Maker. He dreamed of creating a new memory from that frozen moment. Unmindful of the chill, his eyes, ears and nostrils started forming an image of the tower rising to the night sky. He had heard umpteen stories about it – really imaginative tales. Memory-Maker always wondered how everyone made stories that fit their own beliefs. He didn’t want to create a story or make a belief. He just wanted to have a memory of that night. He was about to complete the memory when the grass started moving. Awakened from the dream, Memory-Maker saw a snake crawling towards him. It raised its hood with a hiss and started telling a story. Memory-Maker knew the problem with such stories; they poisoned even the most beautiful memories. But the snake was unstoppable, and its story was fearsome. It told about the predators who roamed the ground around the tower. It warned against making them a part of the memory. Memory-Maker stood helpless, for the ground where he stood belonged to the snake. His memory corrupted, Memory-Maker walked out with a sunken head. He wished he could complete the memory without remembering the story.
Produced in collaboration with Jagadeesh R., a Delhi-based visual artist
Published in 2022