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Sehaj Villa
Part IV

A Short Story by T. SHER SINGH




Continued ...




I usually don’t stop at the community notice-board … Aggie is my source of all information I need to know, or should know.

But, on this particular morning, I was scooting down the corridor, heading for the exit at the back leading to the path which meanders down into the valley. Flying past the long notice board and the splatter of posters stapled on them, one particular one caught my eye.

It stood out, bright red with the letters “BORED?” emblazoned at the top in bold black. I slowed down, made a u-turn and wheeled back to read it.

Bored?“ it asked. “Interested in having some fun? Tonight (Wed) after dinner, 7:00 pm Meeting Room”.

That’s it. Other than a large emoticon -- a smiley face -- staring down at me.

I wasn’t bored. Lord, how could anyone be, with all that was going on around us! But I was curious. Another day-trip somewhere? A Bhangra-in-wheelchairs class? A mushaira night of Urdu poetry?

I made a mental note, curious who was up to what.

Forgot about it, though. Until, over dinner, somebody mentioned it.

“Are you going?” someone asked. I shrugged.

“Well, then let’s check it out.”

I had an hour to kill before the poker game, so I nodded.

There were a dozen or so already in the room by the time we strayed in. I parked myself at the back.

Imagine my surprise when Roshie turns up too and makes a beeline for the large white board in the front, grabs a marker and writes down “S-T-O-R-I-E-S” in huge letters on it. Looks like she is the ring-leader.

If Roshie is here, can Aggie be far behind? But there’s no sign of her.

“Where’s Aggie?” I shouted.

Roshie shrugged her shoulders. “Busy somewhere, I’m sure,” she said.

“I want to interest all of you,” she began, “in an activity which has given me a lot of pleasure lately. I am eager to share it with you because I know you’ll enjoy it too.”

She surveyed the group. We didn’t look like an enthusiastic, bubbly lot, most of us slumped, some even appearing ready to doze off.

“What I wish to propose, though,” she said, “is a private activity, not a group one, something you can, something you should, do alone.”

She waited for a reaction, but there was none.

“I know from a life-time of experience, from all the people I have met in my life and have got to know no matter how casually, that every one, every person everywhere, has a story to tell. Not just any story. Each and every life is a fascinating tale.

“Yes, your stories too … each one of you.”

She stepped off the podium and hovered over us, eyeing us one by one.

“For example,” she continued, “as far as I can see, not one of you in this room was born on this continent. You came here from distant lands, sometimes through super-human efforts -- your own or your parents’ -- and you battled enormous challenges. And the fact that you are here in Sehaj Villa is one indication that you did well with your lives. Ultimately, if not at the beginning.” 

She took a few steps, and walked past the front row. That’s so true, I said to myself. All those years I spent …

“Ah-h, but let me interrupt your thoughts,“ she said, doing exactly that. “Before you let your minds wander into the deep recesses of your memories, I want to remind you two things: that indeed each one of you has an epic story to tell. And, that the story will be lost … soon, if you don’t gather it together and box it by turning those thoughts into words.“

So this is going to be some sort of ‘show-and-tell‘? I’d better get out of here before she nabs me into playing these games. Not interested. I already have a game waiting for me. I don’t want to miss my poker evening, no matter what.

“It’s all in the telling, though. And the reason why your stories haven’t been told yet is because you aren’t story-tellers. At least, you think you aren’t. Because you’ve been too busy living.

“What I figured out a short while ago, to my utter delight, was that though I had no need to tell my story to others, I did need to look back at my own life, survey it, review it, and then, based on what I saw, re-tell it to myself. Since I now have the good fortune of having all the time in the world to reminisce and contemplate at leisure, I can sit back and enjoy the story of my life. My life, the movie! My life, the soap opera … the TV series!”

Time to go, I said to myself. It’s getting bizarre. I unlocked my wheels, switched on the motor, and began to wiggle towards the door.

“Wait, Tabby!” And then she corrected herself. “Mehtab, please!”

I looked at her imploringly.

“Please, Mehtab, fifteen more minutes. That‘s all. And if you still want to go, you can go. But give me a few more minutes.”

I looked at my watch. Yeah, sure, 15 minutes. That’s it.

I looked at Roshie and nodded sheepishly.

She continued. “I discovered I’m not a writer. Nor am I a philosopher. And it’s too late to turn into either. I suspect most of you, if not all of you, are in the same boat. We have stories to tell … our own stories to tell to ourselves … and yet, we don’t know how to. Or what to make of them.

“I decided it would be a terrible waste if I didn’t do something to correct this. And while I mulled over how to go about figuring out more about the life I had lived, what it meant, where it had taken me, I stumbled into a way of telling myself my story. And this is what I want to share with you.”

Roshie went back to the podium and then sat down in the chair behind the desk. She placed her elbows on the desk-top, rested her chin on her closed fists, and stared at us, wondering, I suppose, if there was any point continuing.

I put up my hand, and said, “Teacher!”

She looked at me.

“I ain’t a writer. And I ain’t going to be turning into one, the way things look. So, what am I doing here?”

She smiled. “That’s exactly what I had said to myself. And then, quite by accident, I found a way.

“I sat down one day with a paper and pen and began to make a list of all the best friends I’ve had in my life. Starting with the very first one I could remember. Pinky, it was, a girl in pig-tails, I remember, in my kindergarten class. And step by step, I’ve sifted through the sands of my memories and jotted down each and every ‘best friend’ thereafter that I can recall.

“At times, I’ve lost track of time. Which means, I can’t remember sometimes who came first, who followed. But I’ve listed them all. I know I’ve missed a couple, but maybe they’ll come to me … later. As other names have come to me, sometimes leaping out of my memory, sometimes sitting there, hiding, staying just out of sight, nagging me, teasing me, until I dig them out and jot them down on my list ...”

“So …?” I said.

I knew I was being a pest, but I knew I could get away with Roshie. We were old friends. Partly, I was getting curious where she was going. And partly, because I was in a rush … my 15 minutes were ticking by.

“You’re correct, Mehtab. So? Well, all the work goes into digging out the names. The rest happens on its own. Each name brings with it a flood of stories, all long forgotten. Each time I retrieve a name, I sit back for an hour, sometimes hour after hour, reliving all the times I had had with that particular friend. The stories tell themselves. I merely sit back and let go … and on the screen of my mind, the images appear … in technicolor … and sensurround sound. I can smell the smells too, taste the flavours, feel the air and the warmth of days gone by …

“And all I have to do is find the names and list them. The floodgates open on their own, the stories unravel by themselves.”

My mind was already elsewhere. Sudhir is the name that leapt out at me. During lunchtime, we’d wander off towards the stream that ran through the school grounds, just past the short meadow and the copse behind the swings and the see-saw. We’d crouch right at the edge of the water, and we’d dip our half-open fists, using them like sieves, to catch tadpoles …        

“Each name,“ Roshie was still talking, “will unleash a string of stories, complete with a full cast of characters, a plot, dialogue, everything. You know, my list of Best Friends kept me busy and used up all of my spare time for two weeks. And I still go back to it from time to time. Only, other lists have taken over.

“But imagine, all I have on paper is a list of about a dozen names. Some, only first names, a couple only last names. But, that’s all I needed … and I’ve become a writer of stories … my personal Collected Works!

“I haven’t stopped there. When I had exhausted mining my ‘best friends‘, I turned to a new list. All the cities I have visited in my lifetime. Why, when, how … that kept me entertained for several weeks, this one. And at times, it intertwined with my Best Friends narrative and the stories would go off on a frolic of their own.

“I have moved on to other lists. ‘Favourite Teachers’ was another good one. ‘Jobs’ was another.”

Roshie got up again and this time stood there, looking down at us as we digested her words.

Strange. No one said a word. Looked like we were all lost in our thoughts.

Roshie smiled. She could see that she had scored a hit.

“Good,” she said. “I’m going to leave you with only those words. The rest is up to you. Like me, each one of you can turn into writers of epics, and bring forth a library each of your best works. And all you need to do is find yourself a quiet corner, some alone time, and pen a few words. You need no vocabulary, no grammar, no composition skills.

“Now, off you go. You’re on your own. If you need to talk about it, any questions, just grab me … wherever.”

As we began to filter out of the room, I felt a hand on the grip of my wheelchair. I swung around. It was Roshie.

“We need to talk,” she said.

I switched off the motor, and the two of us held back while the others left the room. Once alone, I swung around and faced her. She was going to scold me, I suppose, for being a naughty fella.

“Tabby,” she said, her voice was down to almost a whisper. Looked like we were switching to another subject. I felt relieved.

“Tabby, this exercise was meant specifically for you.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I want you to be doing this with Aggie, together, everyday. Take out some time, every morning, every evening, and go over your memories, together.”

I wasn’t sure what she was getting at. “Why don’t you tell her about it and she’ll do it too, I’m sure,” I said, but hesitatingly. I was searching her face. I wasn’t sure but there was something not right.

“Is there a problem?” I asked.

‘No-o … I don’t think so“ she said.         

“Are you two having a tiff?” I asked.

“No, no, it’s nothing like that.”

“Then, what?”

“Nothing. It’s just that I thought she’s been going at break-neck speed and needs to slow down.” She came over and planted a kiss on my turban. “And the two of you need to spend some alone time together.”

“You joining us for poker?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “you two go ahead. I think I’m going to go to my room and rest a bit. I‘ve exhausted myself.

I wheeled away towards the Games Room. Roshie disappeared in the direction of her apartment.

There was a quorum waiting at the cards table. Karan was already shuffling the cards. I squeezed into the group as they shifted and grumbled to make room for me.

“Where’s Aggie,“ I asked.

“Dunno!” somebody said. The others shrugged.

“Last minute stuff, I suppose,” I muttered, and then, “Let’s go!”  


To Be Continued ...

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July 2, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Rosalia (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), July 04, 2013, 11:47 AM.

Another cliff hanger! Waiting impatiently for the next part! :)

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Part IV"

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