They looked like angels, gods. Otherworldly, there is no other word that describes their beauty. Auburn hair, bright twinkling black eyes, pendulous lips, dusky complexion, goddess, I fall at your feet. There is none to surpass your beauty. Wait! I see another, (could it be possible) more beautiful than you are? Another! Yet another? This is paradise. Gold fountains that squirt pure milk, mounds of heavenly food, downy beds with drapes of silk, birds that sing delightful symphonies, bright eyed does that dazzle you with its magical elegance, smiles all around, no tears, no grief, no poverty, no greed…. Surely, this is paradise. Earthquake! in paradise? Why am I shaking back and forth, who calls my name?
Everything is blurry at first. Slowly things come into focus. The dirty tin walls, the grimy opening and the bright ray of sunlight that fights its way through the dust. My vision was obstructed by the imposing figure of Martha, my better half (three quarters, actually). She was yelling at me, waving a rolling pin. Slowly the doleful music of the birds begin to fade, I could make out angry grunts and pitiful wails of hungry children. She was asking me to move my you-know-what. “There is not a single penny in the house, not a bite in the larder, nor a speck of flour. The children are starving. Go; pawn your dead father’s chain if you have to. Don’t you dare come back without food.” She shoved me out of the shanty we six call home.
Perched on a rock, I try to get that beautiful dream back into my pumpkin. Sometimes I wonder why I ever got married. When I was a chap, someone told me I would go places, see sights. Yet nothing happened. My rag-picker dad married his rag-picker son off to a fellow rag-picker’s daughter. (Yeah, we have a pretty decent lineage) The day my dad died, he gave me a thick gold chain he had nicked one fine rag-picking day. To pawn it would be an insult to his honorable memory. I will sell it and get something to feed those stick insects who call me ‘dad’. Yeah, that will do for a couple of months or maybe, another half, but after that? I am sick of this life, I tell you. Born a rag-picker, I will die a rag-picker if I am to stay put in this hell. The angels, the gold, the food, the fountains of milk….
I can see the blue of the ocean behind me, stretching on and on; endless. Suddenly, I notice something I have never seen before, a land that isn’t all green and brown like the others, but gold. Maybe that dream was not just a nightly illusion that visits everyone, but a message, an answer meant only for me. That land I see there is Paradise, I will have angels to take care of me, food to satisfy my years of hunger, milk to quench an eternity of thirst, everything that I need to turn that permanent frown on my burnt and lined face upside down forever. My heart beats like a drum roll on a Republic Day parade. It is not fear; it is the excitement of finally knowing what I want, of knowing a goal for the first time in a life of meaninglessness. Slowly, reason transcends. How will I get there? My heart skips a beat. Will this be yet another unfulfilled dream? No! I won’t let it be. It is the purpose of my being. I will sail to Paradise at any cost, even if I have to drink and drain all the water in the ocean.
I shake my head, slap the clouded old lemon a few times, and try to get it to work properly. In sheer desperation I grab at my chest and I hit gold! My dad’s one noble piece of work; the gold chain! If Martha and her pests are hungry, they can go out and beg. This honorable piece of heirloom will not be wasted on worthless pieces of dirt; I will buy a nice little sailboat, one I can manage by myself. Ha, ha! The angels await, Paradise, here I come. My stick-legs carry me to the market. I sell the ornament and make a small fortune. I buy a few things that will come in handy for the journey. Some food, a jar of the finest wine, a nice and decent pair of clothes and on an impulse a thick woollen sweater and a pair of boots. (Who knows if it snows in Paradise?) Next, I head for the dock. I meet a nice chap there who sells me a little skiff. I spend all my money on that little beauty and include a handsome tip for the chap. I am off to Paradise, why would I need money there? Life there is free like the smelly air here. I wrinkle my nose. Heavens! The smell of this place!
Without further ado, I jump into my chariot that will take me to my dream-destination – Paradise! I row on, energetically. My spirit spurs me on, I am unstoppable. I stop to catch my breath, grab a handful of grub, take a huge gulp of that wine and row on. I can see the sky getting dark, night is falling, I do not stop rowing. At some point I might have fallen asleep. When I wake up I can see the land of gold quite clearly, it will take only a couple of hours to get there. I row on with all the strength that is in me. I stretch every sinew of my body to the breaking point. I reach the land of my dreams.
My face is wet, washed in a torrent of salty water. No, it is not the water of the ocean; it is mine, my bloody tears! What do you reckon? Tears of happiness? Joy of reaching my destination? The pain of salvation? Bah! To hell with all that! There is gold here, true, piles and mounds of gold. Tiny specks, they are. SAND! A vast expanse of sand, nothing else. And the HEAT! You could fry an egg on my head now. Aaargh! Yeah, I met the first life-form here; it is not a doe, it is a rattle-snake! Is this P-A-R-A-D-I-S-E? I feel a kind of numbness all over my body and a kind of pain deep down. Now I know what it feels like to get your heart broken. Mine isn’t just broken, it has been fist-pounded into fine powder, in a way you can never glue it back together. I weep shamelessly. Why be ashamed when there is nobody to see you in this unmanly act of crying, of converting your sorrow into comforting beads of salty water that cools at least two tiny parts of your face?
I shake myself up; try to cajole myself to move my backside. It is no use crying over spilt milk. I walk on and on. It is miles and miles of sand. I throw away my costly sweater (pashmina, they told me). I rip most of my new clothes off. It is too much heat for me to bear. I am itching to throw away my boots too but I bear the heat in my legs for fear of snakes and the burning sand. I do not know how many times I fainted or how many times passed. In my solitary march, many a time the sunlight becomes too much for me and I blink. When I open my eyes next, I would be lying on the sand. On one such instance when I rub my eyes and shake the sand off my person, I spot green and long trees laden with some strange fruit. I drag my feet along hoping with the only trace of optimism that is left in me that this isn’t another one of those illusions that haunt me. Every other day I would see springs of fresh water, my thirsty eyes would urge my tired legs to go on and on. My parched lips would wait for the fulfillment of their unquenchable thirst. Yet there will be nothing, just sand and more sand for my eyes to feast upon. No, this isn’t another of those, the green is getting closer. I can make out shapes. There are people there, there are houses and there are some horse-like animals with huge lumps on their back. I am relieved.
I reach the pool of water; I lap up water like a dog. A man with a huge handkerchief tied on his head speaks to me in some alien language. I am bewildered. I point to my stomach. He nods. There is no language for hunger. I am provided with those strange fruits. No taste registers in my mouth, I just eat. Even dog meat would suffice to satisfy my hunger. The woman who served me was covered from head to toe except for a rectangular portion that revealed a pair of hawk’s eyes. She said something in that alien tongue. I shook my head. She mimed by rubbing her thumb and index finger. Oh! Money! I do not have anything left. I shrug my shoulders and look to the ground. They throw me out, swearing. Language is no boundary for that too.
I wandered through the market alleys that displayed wares I had never seen. I came by a shop that sold perfumes. They smelled heavenly. I sniffed in deeply and my heart knew at that moment that I had come to the wrong place. I had not reached Paradise, but left it. My nostrils craved for that smell of garbage, of the uncovered sewers, of Martha’s sweat, of the land that was mine. I do not want succulent meat or pure, wholesome milk; some chlorinated water from that ever-dripping tap and dry, unleavened bread that knew Martha’s touch would do. I don’t want this otherworldly music that the chap plays on his accordion; I want the chirp, the irritating chirp of my stick insects, my children. I don’t want gold; I just want to be back to where I was born, to where I belong. I fill my wine jar with some water, trade my boots for some food and start my journey back. Luckily, my little skiff was there by the shore. Who would take it? Who would come here? I start rowing, enthusiastically.
This is a journey to where my heart belongs and not to where it longs to be. It is my land, the paradise I dreamt of. The land of happiness and fulfillment,happiness of the hourly sorrows, fulfillment of the daily denials. I crave for all that, for that is what I am made of- my element. You complete me, my home-soil. I set upon my final voyage where the destination is the land from where I embarked on this journey to Paradise. And I tell you, I have found it, my Paradise.
Darsana Vijay is a second year MA student. Her interests include reading, writing and playing the Veena. She blogs at www.darzwrites.blogspot.com.