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All work and no play? No way. So here’s something new on MediaBrief.com: LEISURE. Unwind with examples of some of the great stuff that people have made passions out of – fiction, rock climbing, poetry, making ‘long-nosed pics’ as my friend Mahesh Ramchandani’s dived into these days, or great old photography, short films, art (drawing-painting-carictures and more), iPhone photography, creating music for a career or just plain and simple unwinding with it, and so much more. In bite-sized, long-form, thumbnail or billboard-sized format and scale.
I’ve picked an exquisite short story, Hatch, to open the Leisure series on MediaBrief.com. It is from a book, Meet Moriarty, that my dear friend Gautam Shiknis wrote way back in 2004.
Why begin Leisure with a short story? Well, the oldest form of leisure entertainment, the most elemental, if you will, is the story, isn’t it? The what-happens-next kind your grandmother told you. Remember? But the brilliant stories in this book? No grandmother would ever narrate them to a sweet impressionable grandchild.
Eminent writer-poet-lyricist-film director Gulzar said had of Meet Moriarty: ‘The book tremendously inspired me! It is heart-wrenching!’ Perhaps because, as Savvy described it, it’s ‘a stunning book from a deliciously warped imagination!’
Tehelka had described it as ‘A work of genius! Shocking… Brilliant!”. Asian Age loved its ‘Lucid Prose’, and Businessworld simply called it ‘A Masterpiece’.
So before I share the short story Hatch, let me share Gautam’s preface to the book. ‘Laugh at this thought,’ he wrote, ‘like I did, of the repressed side in all of us. I stopped though, when, honestly alone, I squared upto my mirror. I conceded to a part of me, as me. Despite the shunning that denied. I swallowed the dark that is part of us all, tiled by those around. Laid into submission by rejection, and label of deviant.
Aware, that the walls are impermanent. Humbled by a molten anger, bubbling deep below.
Beware, for most of these characters are mirrors of real explosions; triggered by an erupting Moriarty.
Some of the Moriarties contained in this book could glimpse a you and an I.
Except that when they felt approach of a turning line, their mouths bore a twisted smile.
Moriarty,’ Gautam went on to explain in a post-script, ‘was the nemesis of one Sherlock, in his well chronicled adventures. The human manifestation of anger, as recognized by Conan Doyle. Made immortal, as Archetypal Villain, by literature.’
So here’s Hatch, from Meeting Moriarty, a brilliant short story from the book. Reproduced by permission from its author Gautam Shiknis.
Short story Hatch – by Gautam Shiknis
Reproduced with permission from his book Meet Moriarty
How do you explain heart-ache to a three-year-old? How do you get a forming child to comprehend undone? And how does a three-year-old learn to never wilfully harm again? Did you understand these then? Wasn’t everything explained in an act of play?
Ian, that three-year-old life of our home, needed them taught, when he playfully destroyed a nest.
My smoky study is a retreat with walls, lined by books in rows. Some priceless for their covers; but the most for what’s between them. The grid of paint, spines and shelves gets one welcome break at open spaces, through a window behind my table. Not directly behind it, for that would get the light in my eye, but slightly to the right, above. This is a table where many manuscripts have attempted birth. Most have found the basket. A few have managed stamped return from publishers. The rest are almost there, readying a destiny. My window is lined with sombre flowers, to protect my mood from penning chirpy fairy-tales
One of the flowerpots had recently become home to a pigeon. She’d gathered a few twigs, arranged them the best a pigeon can, and settled down. Since she was quite reserved, and never visited by a mate, I let her be. In fact I liked the company of that pigeon – she added variety to my shades of grey. Neck twisted at a strange angle, she would look at me unblinking, whenever I scribbled furiously to create my stories. Till, one day, she laid an egg. Surprisingly, neither three nor two. Just a solitary, off-white egg. When, that day, Ian saw that egg. And smashed it.
I can’t really describe what happened. It’s almost like a blur. A playful, laughing boy. A flapping, petrified bird. A warning, imploring man. A reaching, mischievous hand. A scattering, creaking nest. A searching, exploring touch. A screaming, beseeching father. A screaming, beseeching mother-to-be. A dull, splattering thud. One crushed egg. One broken bird.
All I can recall is the helplessness of the anger that I felt towards my child, one that could not explain meaning to a three- year-old. I’ve never yelled at my son, so he must have realized that something was terribly wrong when I did. He gazed. I screamed. He bawled. And bawled. The commotion brought my wife up to the study. She was, at first, a bit distraught at her son’s action. However, the mother in her soon took over in Ian’s defence against a raging father. I realized that there was no point I could prove there, so I stopped and let one mother leave my study with her child. To turn and apologetically face the other deprived of one.
The pigeon had settled back in her nest and was making throaty sounds to express her loss. I wiped the yolk off the floor, and pondered at what should have been. Heart still pulsing, I sat down at my table, head in hands. Ashamed to look that pigeon in the eye. When I finally did, I could have sworn that I saw a tear – but one of the priceless books on my shelf explains why birds cannot cry.
How does one explain “irreversible” to a three-year-old? Ian did not intend what he had wrought, and my reaction prompted him to pay for what he did. I’d always seen the similarity between those off-white marbles and a pigeon’s egg. Ian considered the two as the same immediately. His child’s mind played out a simple courtroom for him. You took the pigeon’s marble; you give the pigeon one of yours. Court dismissed.
The next day, I saw my son neatly place a round, white marble in the pigeon’s nest. I shook my head with a sad smile. At least his heart was in the right place. If only he knew what the marble was incapable of. I was certain that the pigeon knew. She had backed off a bit, when she saw the tainted hand approaching, but stopped on knowing that there was nothing more it could steal. She twisted her neck, looking uncertain at my son’s replacement act. He mouthed a “sorry” to her, gave me a son’s smile and disappeared to learn other lessons, elsewhere.
It must’ve been an hour or so later that the pigeon dared venture into her nest. She looked at that marble cautiously, studied it from afar. Then she tapped it with her beak, pushed it a little. She must’ve realized immediately that it was hard and cold – because I saw her back off. She approached it again, a little more determined this time, and brushed it with her wings. Then, to my final surprise, settled down on top it. Just as if it were her broken egg. Before it was broken.
Three months have passed and not a day goes by without the pigeon trying to hatch that stone. I look at her each day, a nagging pang in my heart – an ache that some lovers or writers are cursed to feel. I wonder if she knows that marble will never fly. I wonder how long she will sustain this, oblivious of the odds. I wonder if she’ll ever stop persisting, and see the eventual futility.
As I return to my fifty-eighth unborn manuscript, which is the love story of a half-blind king, I catch the pigeon straight in her eye. I wonder what she is thinking about, as I put my pen to cold paper, again.
Oh, and Gautam’s signoff to the book is equally interesting. ‘This book,’ he writes, “is a tribute to the billions of others who choose to live on. Despite the dominant evil. Despite the urge to look back in anger. Despite that omnipresent Moriarty. Around them, and within.’
I hope you enjoyed the story. Do share your views in the comments below. Thanks.