Saturday, November 17, 2018


Art by Justine Osborne Más

Original story in Odia by Dr. Sachhidananda Rautrai
Translated by Bijaylaxmi Sarangi

The story "Tommy" has been referred from the book "Chaai" of prominent Odia poet, Novelist and short story writer Dr Sachhidananda Rautrai, published in the year 1950 in Odia language.

I am never been a poet. However when I see Tommy, intense feelings overpower my whole being. Alas,poor creature!! Perhaps not for a single day of her little life, she knew what respect and love is. Until now, she has grown only amidst sorrow, anguish and countless kicks. Her little incomplete life  one day, most likely would end like this. 

In our home from young to aged, every one beat back Tommy. Even the old chef's heart is not contented, if he has not beaten Tommy a good blow once in a day. It's a matter of amusement for all in our home to beat Tommy for no reason. Somewhat joy is gained by everyone through this act. That day when Tommy came near the door of our kitchen hunger stricken, the old chef banged a burning piece of wood on her small head. Tommy's crown was burnt. Her head also was wounded with the strike. Streams of blood flowing from her wounded head cloured the white floor of the kitchen. No one showed compassion for the poor creature. That day Saante Maa (Grand mother) was counting her beads near the Tulasi Vrindavan (small podium of Tulsi) on the eve of grand Ekadasi. Hearing the screams of Tommy she came running and by blessing handsomely the old chef she said, "Well done my boy! May you live long. Is the ominous bitch sparing me a little peace? She has twice made unworthy to my worship-prasad."

Poor Tommy gasped lying there, not being able to go anywhere for the intensity of hitting. Getting encouragement from Saante Maa, the old chef kicked Tommy's cracked head twice with his fleshy elephantine foot. The poor fellow remained unmoved there, only altering her glance from one face to another innocently, as if through those glances she wanted to utter many things. 

Tommy was everyone's cause of discontentment. She was, as if an unwanted thing, having no life, no feelings at all! She is placed like any left over stuff beyond others' requirements. No one ever bothers to need her or call her. She would not go even though repeatedly being driven forcibly. She had come by herself and remains herself. She endures every kick and biting like that every day. With some mysterious bondage of affection she was tied to our home. 

There was another pet staying with us. That was a Saariaa parrot. Every one valued her. In the morning after retiring from bed, Nua Bohu (wife of brother) would make her recite Raam Naam. My younger sister Haara everyday feeds her with milk-rice and coconut milk by her hand. Even the old chef visits her twice and secretly gives her cream of milk and Koraa (a sweet)

Saariaa was endearingly dotting. Everyone's love and respect towards her made her ever happy and proud. Whenever she found Tommy, she would swell her wings, curve her beaks and would speak as per teachings of Haara, "leftover eater bitch, nasty bitch, karrrr..... kachhh...". Hapless Tommy does not understand anything from those words, yet perhaps somewhat she knows that Saariaa teases her. It is because,  by standing there she stares at Saariaa quite for sometime. She bashes her tail against the floor in anger and licks her dried lips repeatedly and then she sits down silently posing ignorance. She eats merrily the remnants of milk-rice fallen from Saariaa's acting beak. This is the way her hapless, baneful life passes by. 

There is a grave shortcoming in Tommy for her being unloved by all. She looked ugly, having a body of pitch black in complexion. Her head as if has been extended upwards like a triangle; her flat and smooth chin was quite exposed separately from her mouth. In wanting of food her body was showing prominent bones and veins. Again, all sorts of lesions and eczema was spread around her dirty back and belly. All the time, from her body bugs, mosquitoes, rice louse were seen falling. It's very natural that a person is not a saint or Mahaatmaa. Thence, what's strange about Tommy's being an object of everyone's hatred and dislike?

"That small dog Bhaaluaa of Daaktar Babu from our neighborhood- how beautiful and clean body he has! His white fur glitters just like treads of silk. His thin waist bends with a curve and the vision of her large eyes can reach too far. And see our Tommy! yuk!

Apart from this, there is a big issue in Tommy, that is her calm nature in excess. She never barks at any one. She never is seen woofing or attempting to bite, may any stranger come inside  the house. Instead, she curls around and hides her face in between the stranger's legs as if she has found her favorite master of yore. In the mid night if a thief comes, Tommy would bark once or twice. However, if the thief is clever enough to throw fist fulls of baked rice in front of her, she would soon be utilising those in proper way. How stranger a person may be, only if he caresses a little at Tommy's back, she turns completely towards him. Forget biting, rather she would rub her body against the person. For this reason everyone in our house gets angry at her. Being peaceful was a grave problem in her. It lacks the qualification for any amnesty. That's why, the quality which is merit in a human, is regarded as a demerit in an animal. If Tommy was as grouchy as other dogs are, if she has remained attacking at the sight of men all the time and if she woofed day and night, perhaps then her value would have been increased to manifold. Probably, then she would not have been reduced to skeleton for want of food. Yet, the foolish bitch does not figure out the shrewd politics in human. She loves to be peaceful like that. It is difficult to find out which is to be blamed between her mind and the Nature for her peculiarity. Because, if she was clever, she might have collected her share of love by changing her nature since much earlier. Again, there is another reason for her placidity. How wouldn't she be calm and quite after twenty four hours of kicks? Is it possible to maintain one's vigour amidst such hunger and neglect? Everyday's hunger, kicks, blows has turned her inanimate and worthless like a piece of log or stone. She has no courage to woof even once. She has neither energy nor inclination to get annoyed. 

Again, she doesn't know what adoration is, since she was a child. That's why, when someone caresses her or gives a fistful of baked rice to eat, how big thief, robber or stranger he may be, Tommy turns towards him completely. The compassionate nature in human is a matter of surprise for her. She feels anew in this world, if any human can caress her and feed her. In her life, this much is her greatest delight. That grand moment alone makes a conscious wave of current flow in her inanimate life. Forgetting every thing she curls herself beneath the legs of that person. That's why when strangers enter into our house, leave the possibility of biting them rather Tommy licks their hands and legs. This is Tommy's nature. Especially for this nature, everyone in our house is displeased with Tommy. Yet Tommy is always that Tommy.

Since many days earlier Bhai (brother) has desired to drive Tommy out from our home. Also he has directed him twice or thrice to act as per his wish. All the same, the chef never fell back obeying his orders. Yet poor Tommy never goes anywhere, may how badly she be bitten. May two or three bamboo rods break into pieces hitting her back, she shall not leave our home. How big foolish she might be, yet perhaps she can sense that Bhai likes her not at all. For that reason hearing the sound of tapping of his slippers at the vestibule, she slips running at one go. She returns only when Bhai leaves for court. By eating whatever fish bones she gets, when Bhai's arrival time approaches she leaves our home. It felt as if she has memorised the time of Bhai's presence at our home!

Pertaining to this issue, that day a big quarrel occurred between Bhai and Bhauja Bohu. The matter originated concerning Bulu's studies. Bulu never desires to study from Bhai. He is greatly an ill tempered man. At a little mistake he would slap hard on his cheek. 

For this reason at the time of studies, Bulu hides himself close to Bhauja Bohu. Getting irritated Bhai pulls and drags him. Bhauja Bohu gives her judgement in favour of Bulu. That day Bhai aimed a slap at Bulu's face. Bulu cried aloud. Who can control Bhauja Bohu then? Dragging Bulu from the place of his study, she enforced rough words at Bhai.

"By the virtue of the torment given by you a petty bitch is going out of home. This is only a child- oh damn, I have never seen in my past seven lives such teaching-"
Bhai felt embarrassed. It was not that Bhauja Bohu's compassion for Tommy has increased a bit since that day. Always her destiny is same. 

In our entire house, only Haara had a little soft corner towards Tommy. Yet since when Bela Bhua (a male cat) was born, she even didn't let her come near her. While going to kindergarten she carries Bela with her. While sleeping she keeps Bela near her. Again since the day Tommy swallowed her cake from the ground, she turned attacking towards her. This is how Tommy abides under the load of everyone's nagging and beating lonesomely. She alone is to bear the reserved anger of the entire house lowering her head. She never even for a day has complained, never has revolted. Even has not expressed a gesture or indication of her discontent.

Silently she bears every pain and affliction. Only the remnant fish bones make her bind with our home. She digests the chefs beating with stick, Saante Maa's broom throw and Bhai's slippers thow,  aiming at her and every other attacks. Why does she tolerate these, I don't understand. Only I sigh- O doomed life! 

That day when I reached home back from school, I heard Saante Maa groaning- "O Haara, my darling, please go, feed Tommy with some warm milk- my child. The poor being has not taken anything since morning. Ahh! her throat must be getting dried. O Chef, please go and see her."

I could not figure out what the matter was. I was surprised in my mind. I tried to think why Saante Maa all of a sudden was pouring her love for Tommy. Finding me Haara grabbed my hand and cried out- "Nandaa Bhai, be fast running, come to see Tommy. Pulling me by my hand Haara took me to our granary. I could not believe to my eyes, what I saw there. For me that happening was as dreamy as any Arabian novel. 

By reaching near I saw that Tommy slept at ease, her hands and legs spread. Her big eyes were half closed, and four puppies were sleeping surrounding her. Bhauja Bohu and the chef, both were holding two bowls of milk near her mouth. The chef by fondling her forehead was telling to her, eat-eat. 

In joy and relief I danced from inside. I was transfixed in wonder and overwhelm at them who were the reason for bringing acceptance and love into the life of the helpless and unloved creature.

The end

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A night of death

“Jeevon is a fortunate man. He has got everything he needed at the right age without much fuss. A handsome job, a lovely wife, a cute son, a cozy well decorated house near to the market; what else is needed to be happy in life! There can’t be another happy man like him in our group.”- This is what Jeevon’s friends can be spotted talking in formal get-togethers. But hardly Jeevon’s friends know about the difficult mental condition that Jeevon has been undergoing. 

How can Jeevon be happy when a strange fear has engulfed his mind completely! That is death, which he thinks can happen any day. It was not that he visited his doctor for a minor ailment and got the prescription for treatment of a dreaded incurable disease unexpectedly and is granted with a life span of only a few months; it also was not that in utter curiosity to know about his future he asked for reading of his horoscope to a local foreteller and got to know from him about a serious planetary dislocation which may cost his life very soon. Neither he has been threatened by a gang of goons nor has he some way rivalry with anyone that is potentially dangerous to his life. There was no such news of any fierce natural calamity that might smash or wash away Jeevon. Yet for several weeks Jeevon has been seriously contemplative concerning about his death. 

He has become over conscious about Beena and Sid’s future. He has a couple of death and accident covering policies. Recently he has purchased a land in Sid’s name. After all life is so unpredictable! People die just being struck with something while walking; people fall in the bathroom and die, again in Jeevon’s case there is a long family history of untimely deaths. His paternal grandparents, including his paternal and maternal uncles and aunts, one paternal aunt had died untimely for several odd reasons. His father died in his early forties with a sudden heart stroke. If he dies untimely how Beena and Sid would live; who will look after them- these questions always bothers Jeevon! 

He is so apprehensive of his untimely death that he thinks a day that passes is drawing him more and more near his death. His regular activities he thinks are mere preparations for attending to the ultimate destination named death. By nature he is an introvert person. He doesn’t like others know his state of mind. Usually he seems quite normal and confident a person to others. Now a days even his wife Beena is unable to read his glum absentmindedness. That is 22nd of December, Saturday, after arriving from his office Jeevon was too pensive in a mood to utter a word to Veena. Without delay he went straight to their bed room and locked himself inside. 

Since early noon an alarm of death knell has been ringing continuously in his ears despite of his strenuous refusal and attempts of controlling his intruding thoughts. “It’s tonight at two!” this sentence, has already occupied a position of prominence among his crowding thoughts. The world began reeling in front of his eyes. The earth is slipping away under his feet. Being placed near the bed he started recollecting precisely the entire 35 years of his past. Some of his childhood memories appeared before him as a matter of yesterday only. Yesterday he got married with Beena and Sid was born yesterday. A long innings of tragedies and comedies had happened only yesterday. Jeevon’s eyes got dampened. How short his life was! He yet has not lived properly. He yet has not got sufficient time to love Beena and cuddle Sid. He has not laughed boisterously with them. His ambitions and dreams shall be left orphaned after his death. His son will be orphaned as once he was; Jeevon stands shocked. He feels extremely restless. 

In persistent bewilderment and fear he refreshes himself and then after takes tea with Veena. He was not able to get back his glance from little Sid. His eyes were constantly moist and reddish. But he successfully hides his fear, grief and the feeling of helplessness from Veena. He could not leave Veena and Sid even for fraction of a second. He laughed and played with Sid as long as Sid gets tired and sleeps in his arms. He kissed and embraced Veena such passionately as the rest of his life is entwined in few hours of that night. How lovely this life was; I have lost and wasted much of it and now I have few hours left with- sighs Jeevon. Slowly and mildly the awfully glum footsteps of the maligning night are approaching. Jeevon can’t sleep. How can he? He decides to spend the night stark awake. Slight movement of his wide and warm palm on Beena’s scattered curls has made her sleep peacefully. Her lovely face looks like that of a little girl. Ah! Were it possible for Jeevon to wrap himself as a gift to present before his sweetheart Veena for rest of her life! It’s a mere substance of irony of course, when there was time in plenty, I didn’t have much time for love and now when there is no time I mean it much.... 

Tears rolls off past his eyes. How the next one hour will be passed, he wonders to himself. Suddenly his heart has begun pouncing hard. His breath has become rapid. He feels his legs and hands have begun freezing slowly. In a great fear he hugs Veena and closes his eyes determined not to open whatever happens. There is dead silence everywhere. The room is darkest at its worst. Jeevon looks at the wall clock. It’s sharp two; surprisingly his vision has improved remarkably to make him able reading letters in a dark house though without a pair of specs he can’t see properly in day time. Jeevon sat comfortably resting the wooden wall of the cot. He felt himself in a very cozy mood. He murmurs his favorite song and wished to switch on the table lamp to find and have a glance at the title of the book that recently one of his friends had lent him to read. But where is the switch of the lamp! The lamp is there to his right. But where is its switch? He makes many attempts to find the switch but when fails finally looks at Beena to ask for her help in finding the switch of the lamp. Suddenly Jeevon baffles out, who is that man in Beena’s arms? 

A gust of hot air swarmed around. Jeevon looks sharp and hard at his own self. He felt softness in his glance, ceaseless warmth in his heart. He is not afraid now. How can one be afraid of one’s own body? He thinks. He looks at his wife’s and his own body interlocked to one. How marvelous! I never have seen such a glorious act of embracing beforehand. How lovely both of us are looking! Beena looks like a sleeping angel and I myself! O good heavens! I never have seen my body as closely as I am having now. How well built I am, how wonderful I look? He feels proud of himself. He wants to have Beena as close as possible. The warmth in him gains momentum. 

When Beena wakes him up in the morning, Jeevan pulls her towards him and whispers in her ear. Darling, I can recall the title of the book last night I was searching for-Shhh… “A night of death”…

Friday, October 5, 2018


Edited by- K. Parthasarathy

Dhaniaa has just returned home from the betel shop in the narrow lane with a small pouch of gudakhu (a tobacco made tooth paste). He went straight to backyard, chewing gudakhu and rubbing with finger his stained and deformed teeth. There were two drums full of water kept ready by his wife Dhaaraa for his use. After a hurried bath he came to have tea and murmura as morning snacks, but found her no where. The earthen stove remained unlit, fire wood remained uncut on the side and the broom was lying beside the water pot. The place was also wet to foul his mood. Dhaniaa became indignant at the sight.
His temper rose when he saw Dhaaraa entering the house, swaying on both sides under the weight of two old metal buckets filled with water on both her hands. To add fuel to his bad mood, water was spilling along the way through the narrow passage. Mad as he was with anger he kicked her hard on her waist and shouted, "You, worthless woman, daughter of so and so, what were you doing all this time at the water tap without making tea for me? Get lost and die near the tap”.

The buckets fell from her hands and the entire water got spilled there. Dhaaraa much in pain rolled on the wet ground and screamed. As her scream became louder he went inside to bring his stick meant especially for beating his wife besides scaring the baboons. In mortal fear, she rose with difficulty and went silently to lit the chulla. As his fury subsides and he goes near the sewing machine kept in the verandah. 

The sewing machine was his only asset he had earned as dowry. It has been their lifeline in their four decades of marriage. He stitched all types of old and new cloths and even the temple flags and clothes for deities. Whatever he earned was just enough for their subsistence and his expenses on tobacco, betel and tea. Of late his wife had also started chewing tobacco powder which Dhaniaa did not mind. What enraged him was her tendency of collecting too much of water from the roadside tap and cleaning the narrow space they lived all the time. He felt it was a sort of disease of the mind.

Other women who collect water from the municipal tap often teased Dhaaraa calling her an insane old lady. From early morning even before the crow cawed, she would be there with her shabby buckets to fill two large drums and umpteen other things. A freak she was, she collected water more than her need ahead of others from the only tap in her vicinity and stored it besides the drums in small bottles, utensils and whatever feasible things available. She washed and mopped many times the tiny space near chulla making the floor sparkling clean.

She also joined when other women gossiped. When others spoke of their husband's stubbornness and how difficult their lives have been, she, despite her cruel husband, strangely struck a different note saying that, "For every woman woman, her husband should stand next to God. The rebukes and beatings are inseparable part of married life very much like fire and smoke in the kitchen." All other women would laugh at her credulity and call her a meek. Few young ladies delighted themselves in playfully hiding her bucket and a few would scare her by telling that Dhaniaa was watching her. All the time she would wear a broad smile that her betel-chewed reddish mouth accentuated her beauty except when she was bitten by her cruel husband. The bright coin shaped vermilion dot she sported gave her flimsy face and lean body, a distinctive and charming look.

She cooked rice and fish delicately and there after washed her hands and legs several times. Her alms and feet were bony and white. The softness and cool feel of the touch of water often transported her to her world of muse. Long time ago she had a son of eleven years old who died by drowning in the village pond. Still why she was inexplicably drawn towards water, she herself did not know. Often on such occasions she broke into a song -

Dancing water- flickering water-
smiling water- compassionate water- mother water- ..
The water descends from sky- the water descends from roof-
the water descends from my eyes-
the water descends to my throat- O ocean,
my loving water-

Very often there were complaints that she occupied the space at the tap for long time depriving and delaying others from getting water as the supply was for only a limited period of four hours. This enraged a few and quarrel erupted on the spot followed by mutual recriminations. Dhaaraa never fell back. She fought and yelled alone with grit forgetting that she had still her powerful enemy waiting to be faced with. One evening the fighting of women near the water tap was so intense that it had swollen up like an explosion and nearly brought the people to blows. The main reason about water scarcity was forgotten and the women along with their menfolk were trading all sorts of accusations and blames to shed all their frustrations, agonies, poverty and miseries.

Police came and arrested a few men and women who were released the next day. Before the police arrived, Dhaniaa dragged forcibly Dhaaraa to their home. He pushed her inside and slammed the door. The next morning, she was found crying resting upon a block of stone on the road side. Her hands were bleeding profusely and bangles were broken. No one went near her suspecting some mishap. She showed her wound to one of the head persons of the lane and sobbingly said that the cruel demon in her house had driven her out after beating her brutally. The incensed people entered her house forcibly and after heated arguments and heavy altercation, Dhaaraa was let in.

She groaned, suffered and remained quite, but for how long could she, in the advanced age? Even mother earth gave strong tremors when her patience was tried. On one such bad day, her horrible and bruised life with Dhaniaa flashed before her mind. From inside she hated his brutality so much, she involuntarily cursed him- "May all bad things befall on you. May your hands and legs be broken."

As if "Tathastu Devtaa" was waiting for her to express her desire, it was granted in no time. Dhaniaa slipped and fell down one day and was taken to hospital with broken hands and legs. He had to stay for three months in the hospital before coming out limping. The kindly people of the lane had collected money for his treatment. Dhaaraa was not visiting hospital. She stayed at home cursing her plight and cursing to her inauspicious mouth. She was crying all the time. People who visited her consoled her and even suggested her not to blame and punish herself for the person torturing her all her life. She instead would tell them that the fault was hers to think say inauspiciously and that her husband was a good man. She still believed rather naively that her salvation lay only under his feet.

Dhaniaa’s treatment was going on properly in supervision of some men from their area. After recovering a little, he declined to take his food unless his wife came to remain by his side. Dhaaraa, when pressed by neighbours had to relent and go to the hospital with her things.

On seeing her the old man cried like a small child beseeching her never to leave him alone. Seeing his warmer side,there was a change of heart in her. Both of them cried holding each other’s hands as if they were meeting after many years.

When he dozed away to sleep, she broke into a song in the solitude-

Unstable water- quivering water-
Gross water- vast water- mother water-
My beloved of heart is suffering for me-
O merciful water, years of togetherness are flowing-
It is a bondage of seven lives-
Let my last breath serve my lord- O Ocean
my loving water-

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Back of the lunatic

The Sun touches me. I too am touched by the wind, the rain, the winter, the sunshine, the moon, twinkling stars, mist and the morning. Ants cross me in que; Crane, Maina kinds of birds rest upon me, chirrup and fly away. A little desire seeded in the bottom of my heart, could I ever express my gratitude to them! They never know how much I love their presence. If I could halt them for some more time! Beneath my feet wild grass crowd up; many a times sparking tiny faces of flowers peep through them. I wish to see them every morning. But this fortune does not come for the sake of my wanting, I know that. Often I cherish to move myself and place near the banyan tree visible from here quite a little distance away. I love that banyan tree; thick, wide and a little taller than me. I cherish to remain under its shade like others. I cherish this, I cherish that.. Cherishing is my sweetest passion on earth for sure... 

I used to be a school years back. Children, their noise, their laughter, their feelings, teachers, the discipline, the anthems made me complete. Since the time when the title of school was taken back from me, I became lonely, deserted. Nobody did visit me except some drunkards and goons. I became their favorite place. This is the fate if there is a befitting meaning for it. Gradually I was ruined and wolves and hyenas started visiting me and I became their home. Now there is no sign of a house in me. I am turned into a cracked wall. Wild plants surround me to quite a long area. From here, behind the banyan tree a town is faintly visible. At the other side this wilderness is spread towards the head of the black hammock. In the evening along with the setting Sun float garlands of birds above the hammock.

In the morning, the grass beneath my feet look spirited, many butterflies fly around me, many dragonflies join them. I feel as if this wilderness wrap me altogether. Although I am unable to express my love for them, this unceasing love is showered upon me such way that I feel I am the most indispensable element of this ring of beauty irrespective of my deformities. If someone ever pondered on it, would have definitely drawn the conclusion that without me there would have been a great void in this wonderful grace of beauty... Otherwise, was it not odd to see a cracked dirty wall at the centre of the beautiful greeneries? I think on, if I were not there what would have happened? Were the birds shy without me? Were the grass lonely without me? Had the banyan tree ever mind my absence? Whatever, I am happy now. I am happy, though, gradually I am falling off, I love myself, for myself, for all who touch me.. Silently, I wait for the morning, for the birds, for ants, for the nights... 

In the course of loving, I have started loving a lunatic man. Quite recently he is coming here and takes rest beneath me. Before the dusk approach he vanishes somewhere and is seen again when Sun is above the head. Always while coming he is seen with a plastic bag containing his food which he displays in front of me. Whom does he wait for, as if someone will come and join him in lunch? In no time tree dogs and five crows appear from somewhere. It's not clear to me what the lunatic eats but his friends clean the food bag. Swinging their moist tongues and sidling their tails the dogs hide themselves behind the banyan tree. But the crows are always difficult things. They caw caw for no reason as if the lunatic is hiding something from them. The man tries to drive them out by waving his hands but they would never go. They remain firm on me and continue their cawing the long afternoon and never let the lunatic man sit calmly for a while. I feel disturbed. I wish if I could shake my body to drive out the crows! 

Initially I didn't like the man. I felt, he was very dirty. He was seen clad with a dirty- torn shirt, he must have not taken bath since an unknown time. Some bizarre thing was covering his waist. He has uprooted all the grass near me. The lunatic has presented me a cluster of flies. The place beneath me where he sat was always smeared with rice. I guessed a strong unpleasant odour was coming from him. His body and hair looked soiled. I never liked his activities around and hated when he placed his back on me. I questioned myself, why did this strange being appear here? I don't remember from when I developed an affinity for the crazy being. I laugh silently for my foolishness. Before judging the lunatic I should have looked at me once. Besides rain who else would bathe me? I don't think I am much clean a thing to be appreciated. I have a doubt by the way, whether I smell or not.. 

The lunatic never speaks. He either laughs or cries or sits like a piece of log. In my memory there is a woman quite like him. She used to laugh and cry like him. She worked in the garden and stayed here when I was a school.That is long past. Now this lunatic laughs aloud, rolls down, moves his head to and fro, looks at me and giggles as if someone has told him something amusing that it's beyond his control to stop laughing! I too feel like laughing. A current of laughter runs throughout me. The very place vibrates. That banyan tree also seems vibrating. Silently I resist him from laughing. I have heard while laughing wildly, a mountain broke and a violent waterfall fell down. He as if understands me, calms down slowly. I felt, he was the only one to understand me, nobody else. He was so innocent, like a small child. Quite often I wanted to hold him in my arms. But where is that arm? Many a times, he cries restlessly. What can be the source of his grief, I fail to think. At the very moment, a lizard chops a butterfly on me. I feel like crying. I can't cry but inside of me melts down. This body of bricks and cement loosens, as if it would fall in no time. I never know when my grief turns into waves of joy. I count many similarities between us. I try to understand the reason of our togetherness. Many a times I feel, he is not the lunatic and I am not the cracked wall; rather both of us make two tiny waves in the vast ocean of love to lose ourselves and get back our existence once again. This happening is going on since time immemorial. I get elated. My laughter and grief are equalised or nullified.. Of Course when get back to normalcy, I feel he is fortunate than me. He can laugh and cry to his heart's content and forgets everything. 

For last four days he did not come. I had an eye on his regular path on which three dogs usually follow him. The dogs also were not seen anywhere. I was waiting for him within myself. That day passed, stars appeared in the sky. Everything was as before but I felt lonely. Constantly I thought of the back of lunatic and the manner he rested on me. I was talking to myself, there must be a wall for resting the back of every lunatic and and there must be a back of lunatic for loneliness of every deserted wall like me. I gained my hope that the lunatic will certainly come tomorrow and he did. Everything was as before. I ask myself the reason of this fancy dependence that grew in me. Am I free or bonded? My happiness now is dependent upon the presence of the lunatic. Before knowing the fellow was not I happy? Few days ago, I tied my joy and sorrow with him, and now I feel as if my whole existence is tied to his back How miserable! I fall pity on me and cry- Ó lunatic, don't go anywhere carrying me on your back, I might fall and that you know will be a big fall.. The man really is a lunatic. He giggles at me and resting upon me waits for the sunset. 

That day, perhaps I was in slumber and so also the man. When woke up it was dark night. Stars heavily were covering the sky. There were no places left for a moon. I was feeling quite fresh and also the lunatic beneath me. Suddenly the soft voice of the lunatic made me aback. He was singing something, must be a tune, must be his favourite tune. It must be then the most blissful moment of the lunatic's life as it is for me. I am perhaps singing some tune within me, may be that ghost like banyan tree is also singing his favorite tune and this tune is dispersing towards the wilderness and the sky through the slender breeze.. This is how a lovely morning like a favorite tune came into existence. Since then the lunatic never goes anywhere sparing few hours of searching for his food. He sits here resting his back on me or sleeps beneath me and waits calmly for the morning to show its face. It was the greatest happiness that my fortune could ever provide.. 

One day dark dense clouds wrapped the sky from every direction. It was not that he had never been drenched in rain here, but this time inauspicious thoughts crowded in my mind. I wished him go back to his human society where he would rather be safe. He stood and slowly walked on the uneven path and vanished. He came after two days. His face was visibly swollen, there was dry stains of blood on his wretched cloth. He was lamenting. I knew, this was not the same that we used to celebrate together. This indeed came deep from within his soul. The poor being as if was telling me ''Ma, take me in your arms, I am broken, my heart is burning, I am dying with hunger, please feed me a handful of rise with all your compassion''.. I trembled; the sorrows within my heart choked me. Oh, could I take you in my arms, O my son, O could I chop my body into pieces and feed you my dear! The sky was also choked with intense grief of ours. It was about to pour tears. It joined us. This is how we began to pour ourselves completely; the lunatic, the sky and I. The wilderness followed us making all a united whole celebrating the moment of muse. At the very moment a thunder did strike the banyan tree. A tremor passed by. My son was shaken as if he had a sudden fall from a mountain. He murmured in sleep. I cherished to take him more close at my bosom to soothe him, that he does not murmur again in his sleep and wakes up from sleep. A gust of breeze passed by the lunatic touching me. It rained the whole night. Everyone else there including both of us were drenched fully, for making of an environ of bliss. Of Course that was the moment of divine. Within the circle of gloom, the sublest ray of joy was giving warmth to my lunatic and me. From where that ray was coming I had no idea. 

It was going to be dawn. Rain has ceased since long. Suddenly I was made aware of a strange sound. Alas!, that was a wolf. Oh! Oh! get out from here! Oh! get out... I screamed, how will I drive that beast out! The wolf had started nosing from his head to toe. Inside me I was scattered. I wanted to shout and ask the banyan tree for help, to ask the flying bats for help, to ask the nearby grass for help and to make the whole world awake. Who would listen to me? Everywhere then was ruling a strange silence. Wind also was hiding somewhere. I was yelling before the emptiness that stood firm in front of me for life of the lunatic. I trembled such that an undercurrent spreaded within me. Drops of bile was falling from the mouth of the wolf. Just now he took his projected face towards towards his left arm. I burst in fury. I pounced at the wolf getting out of my body. There was a serenity; I was in peace. I could not see properly, except thousands of crows rowing towards me from the hammock. They all covered me such way that I felt morning was only an illusion. I was getting immersed in the memory of last night. 

I could see some people here. They made my son sleep at a distance. He was very peaceful; my angelic son! I was feeling light, as if I have reduced some weight. Ground seemed very close to my eyes. Crows still were cawing on me. People took my boy on his reclining position. I hoped they would take good care of him, he will be in joy at last! I never have seen him visiting me again but I am in absolute joy ....... 


When deep bluish-grey clouds covered all over the sky and cool breeze was blowing, Meenu ran towards the terrace promptly. That was the merriest time for her. She tapped her anklet clad tiny feet on the bed of moss on the roof and observed how it was looking. "My feet look fairest on the bed of moss" she praises herself and moves in circular motion looking at the puffed floral frock-skirt. The bluish sky above and its reflection on the dark greenish bed of moistened moss was enhancing the beauty of Meenu's light dusky little feet and her sparkling pair of anklet presented shortly by her grand mom. Suddenly her sibling Bunu's loud cry disturbed her happy muse. 

He appeared fluttering and cried out- Nani(Sister), come downstairs soon. I have something to show you. In no time both the siblings ran together in joy crossing a set of forty stairs in one go. By running fast on the Angan within a minute they opened the partially closed main door. A tall-skinny- happy looking boy with sparkling black eyes and dimpled cheek was playing with some glass balls all alone on their veranda. The veranda was parted two by the entrance door. It was open and extended towards the main road. It often became resting place for roaming vendors during day time and of street dogs at night. The boy was completely engrossed in his game and was doing a hand gesture as if he was aiming at a glass ball. He was not able to sense the presence of the sibling duo murmuring at a little distance.

With a broad smile Bunu pulls Meenu's hand- Nani-, can we make this fellow our friend?
Meenu raised her nose- I wish it were a girl. umm..lets inquire if he can share his glass balls and does he know any other game besides that!
Being asked, the boy promptly nods his head and stands to negotiate the deal wiping his soiled palms properly on the surface of his half shirt and half pant. With a bit of seriousness on face the boy agrees to share his glass balls and also gives a bonus as a promise to make both of them learn new more interesting games that he was sure they never knew. Yet he has few conditions which they were to obey if wanted him as play mate that they will never cheat in playing and will share their respective things of play. 
Binding by the verbal concord he was taken to their home with a great honour and excitement. He was shown some rare looking collected glass balls by Bunu, all the dolls- some fine and some broken, clay toys and clay figures of deities, many plastic balls and many forgotten play things explored suddenly and displayed with great pride. He was taken to upstairs rooms, a small library and office looking room, a bed room and a large deserted store room. Balia looked all around with wide eyes. Your's is a big house like king's palace. My father builds such houses- he speaks with force. Meenu gestured agreeably. Finally they ran on the wide open roof top where they acted flapping wings as if they were flying. Suddenly large coin sized rain drops compelled them to come down stairs. 

The boy was called Baliaa- meaning ''the strongest'' came from a thatched house across the road. His mother, a fairly tall and beautiful dusky lady came with an umbrella to collect her son. She was so tall that her saree pallu was left scantily after covering her forehoad and she had to bend a little to come inside. She had been twice there so far to fetch water when she failed getting it from the municipality tap on the road side meant for public. So the mothers of the children knew each other. Meenu's mother for her pleasing and hospitable nature every time welcomed her new neighbor and had light chats.
-The children can go to school together in the morning as they study in the same school and the boys were in the same class.. said Meenu's mother. She was also relieved that her children at least found a play mate though her husband might not like their children playing with outside children and especially when there was a fair mismatch of caste, family occupation, education and economic status. This was one of the many reasons that why the brother-sister duo were debarred from visiting the lane opposite to their home to fetch friends to play with and for the same reason they felt very much lonely despite of having each others company. To a great joy to the children and mother their father gave his consent for his children to play with the boy from the Khanja (a shanty settlement).

Meenu was in fourth standard and Bunu in second, studying in a local government school which was quite popular for being one of the oldest primary schools in the small town. They used to go to school holding each others hands and helping each other crossing the traffic. Now they had a friend to accompany with who was more like a strong and clever brother to lead them finishing the ten minutes walk. Gradually they became very good friends.
In those days telephone or television did not reach early a small town like that. So for entertainment children solely relied on their friends or else played alone. The sibling duo also started visiting Balia's home, a thatched yet clean and well kept house. They were sharing a common Angan with three more families staying in other thatched housed adjacent to one another. The main attractions in that angan was a permanent bamboo swinger joining two large coconut trees. Meenu never had such luxury earlier to have such a big swing ride. Other girls present there were giving special attention similar to respect to the sibling duo addressing them Gumasta's children. They helped Meenu and Bunu sit on that dreamy thing and touch a thrilling height. Baliaa had extra efficiency of swinging swiftly even standing on the narrow wooden seat.
He said that even he could climb a big mango tree like a monkey. The sibling duo gestured broad eyes keeping palm on mouth in utter  surprise.
With a great spark in his eyes he says- My father can climb even to a much bigger height.
-Bigger than a mango tree? Is it?
-Yes, of course. You know, my father is a Raj-Mistri (Mason) who builds big houses and many people work on his instructions. I have heard from him that when he was at kalikata, he had climbed fifteen storied house. Do you know how big a fifteen storied house is?
What work your father does?
-He works as a Gumasta(manager) in some holdings.. We don't know what he does but our grandfather was a great zamindar who once fought with and even killed a tiger. Our grand father was brave and strong but our father neither has a mustache like grandfather nor has his strength. He can't climb even a small tree, sighed Bunu.
Balia consoles him by patting his back and his talk takes another stream. He tells how lord Hanuman came in his dream. Even he has seen him flying in the sky carrying a big mountain on his hand though from a great distance he looked like a bird. Next time when he finds him, will let them have a glance for sure.
They played together, sang prayer in the evening and also studied at one place. After completing few pages of handwriting and simple arithmetic, under the sparkling star covered sky (with or without a moon), Balia would tell a story of ghost, jungle, ocean and even of mermaids and aliens. Meenu and Bunu had also their respective fantastic stories to share with. Meenu speaks of a tunnel which she has discovered under an ant hole lately that was supposedly opened to a mystic land. To the describes of her sister Bunu adds spices of fantasy through his half perceivable sentences. The story telling session continues until mother intervenes.

Winter brought with it many festivals and more cheer to the children. Dragonflies were seen everywhere and it was a great pride for the children to catch those winged fellows. Meenu preferred catching the thin and colourful ones known as queens whereas the boys preferred catching bigger ones named tigers. They would catch them to play a flying race among the winged insects. The one who flies fast would be declared winner. Mother said it was a cruel game and an old milkmaid said catching dragonfly was inauspicious and it could result in death of your mother. All the three children out of fear stopped playing with the insects for the time being. In the month of Kartik crowd would manifold. A stage would be built and a man would recite Odia Bhagabat all the evenings. Old ladies would gather on varendas to listen and to doze. The children with a great excitement would be highly vigilant to shake the old lady who would roll down while dozing and laugh there after for long in amusement.

They were promoted to new classes. They showed their brand new sweet smelling books and note books, pencil boxes and every other thing special and new to them. They would walk proudly wearing the sparkling brand new white upper and blue lower uniform. They would be more happy and spirited all the time they gathered. Their loud laughter would fill the air. Days passed on, the quarterly test was approaching. Balia was not visiting the children's home as frequently as he was doing earlier. Once he came with a pair of toy golden fish that could swim just like the real ones, which he demonstrated in a bucket full of water. It was very attractive and like an invaluable thing. Balia said his father has bought  that from Hyderabad. Meenu whispered in Bunu's ears- our motor lunch which moves when a candle is burn inside is quite inferior to it. It makes a lot of noise.

As soon as Balia goes the children demanded before their mother for such beautiful pair of fish for themselves. Mother assured them that their father would bring such play thing for them. Bunu was waiting eagerly for his father to come home so that he can place his demand of golden fish. Father came, but when Bunu repeatedly asked that he can't wait to have the pair of golden fish Balia owned and he immediately needed that, father got irritated and slapped on Bunu's face. Bunu went crying. His sister was watching the scene from behind the door screen. She went with her brother to make him calm. Since that day Balia was not seen, even he was not coming to school. The girl said to his poor little brother, It was only the pair of golden fish which induced Balia to forget us. He was telling that day that it was his most precious possessions. He must have been spending day long playing with his pair of fishes and forgot all and even is bunking school.
We no more would be his friends- angrily yells Bunu, in his usual sharp girlish voice.

That evening Meenu's mother sends her children to inquire why Balia was not going to school. On reaching, Meenu slowly presses the door and it opens. A little lamp was lit by which side Balia was reading his book. To his left, his father was lying on a grass mat he himself being fully covered with a blanket when his wife was doing some household work. With facial expression Balia denies them to make any noise and he himself steps out. He said his father was ill, for what he was not going to school and he would join immediately when father is cured. Wearing his usual smile he showed his golden fish getting from his pocket. Bunu requested him for touching its smooth body once again. Smilingly Balia gives that to Bunu and says- you keep these with you, play and I will take back from you after two days. Being very satisfied Bunu ran dancing and frolicking. Meenu was shy and pensive, she went alone.

A week passed soon. One fine afternoon of Chaitra, Balia came with cheer in his eyes.
- My mother has offered a "Ghoda Naacha"-horse dance to Goddess Baseli who would be pleased to cure my father. We are Kaibartas and mother Baseli wanted we should not forget our origin though my father became a mason. Both of you please be present in the evening. Many people will visit to see the dance. I will keep seats for both of you. Bunu returned the pair of golden fish to him though Balia was in hurry and had forgotten about it.

In the late evening many people occupied the road and sat on the floor where cotton carpet was spread. Two traditionally decorated men were carrying two horse bodied mask. A lead singer was accompanied with co-singer-dancer, that is a man in woman's attire and two other men playing required instrument like jodi Mahuri and mridang. The children watched the folk dance in awe and wonder. That was very amusing to see two horse heads moving to and fro, the tinkling sound of aklet bells of the dancer and her colourful attaire and the singing. The program ended late at night. Well before Meenu and Bunu went and retired to bed.

In an absolute hazy ambiance Meenu watches two peculiar giant wooden horse faces, a sturdy female face smeared with a lot of white powder and glitter dusts and who was laughing boisterously.. that was a huge crowd in front of Balia's house, they all were mum hanging loosely their heads. His mother was crying incessantly, yet he was not seen anywhere. Meenu was trying to find him but the crowd didn't let her. Her heart beat rose and she woke up with a loud cry. She could find neither her mother nor her father in that room though it was the busy late-morning hour. Only her brother was sleeping like a little mouse. She felt a ball of fire moving inside her heart and she was perspiring excessively. She moves to find her mother. Her throat was getting dried. Her mother was standing near the main entrance. Slowly she pulls her and by moving herself her mother immediately slams the door and asks her to go inside and remain with her brother. Quietly, sobbing she goes inside and sticks to the horrifying noise outside. It was, the nightmare came true so blatantly that she was feeling guilty and scared.

But when Bunu got up, she acted in a senile manner and played the role of a calm and loving sister by taking him to brush and get fresh. She gave him some biscuits to eat and asked him to do his handwriting as they are not going to school that day. The boy was pleased for he need not get ready for school. Meenu heard her father telling to mother- That man was a drunkard. He had damaged his kidneys quite early. Doctors in the city hospital had returned him knowing sure chances of failure. Alas! Poor Balia and his mother! The shocking words of his father as if were chocking Meenu's tender heart, she could not stop her tears, an unknown fear clutched her mind. She hugs her brother and wished to hug her father to tell how much she loves him.

The next day Meenu was standing on the varenda and was looking around vacantly. Bunu was sitting silently on the cement chair watching the movement of cycle rickshaws and counting in numbers. Suddenly Balia appeared wearing his usual broad smile and spark in eyes. He took sit near Bunu.
With a surprised glance and tremble in her voice Meenu asks...
- Balia, your father died, you still are smiling? Balia speaks with unaltered smile...
- My father, he is mixed in the sky where Hanuman flies. Why should not I smile?
My mother and me are leaving this home and will stay in village with my uncle. I will read and write there and will work with my uncle as a fisherman. I may not have time to play because I am to become big early to be able to earn like my father."

There was a killing silence in the air.

Balia laughed again and took out the golden pair of fish from his pocket and gave it to Bunu. You keep it, I will catch real golden fishes. Bunu denied by moving his head. Without any further talk Balia put the pair of fish in his pocket and went frolicking like a gust of wind.

Rainy season came again with all its force. Grey clouds covered the sky all the time. Everywhere there was only watery show. Meenu was watching the flow of water like a flowing river under the varenda. Bunu was helping small boats of paper float properly. Suddely he screams out- Nani, look... Balia's golden fishes are swimming there in the flow.  Meenu looks in amazement. What!!! Oh really..
Nani- can I collect them? Meenu pulls his hand preventing him from going to water..
- No, No- don't touch- let them swim in a bigger flow..

Sunday, February 7, 2016

My Angel Kitten

I am taking you back to my childhood days my dear friends. My brother and I were like any other school going children in our lane. But we were very special and honourable because we had with us four cute kittens to play with. Keeping a pet cat was a long run tradition in our family beginning from the time when our forefathers might had seen a little mice running freely from this room to that. 

Somabari (the one born on a fine Monday) was the grandmother of our kittens. She was a great huntress but was equally ill famed for spoiling the milk pot many a times by directly putting mouth into it. One day she disappeared from our house. She was an expected mother then. All searched every nook and corner of our house for where she could be. One fine Thursday morning with a different sound of  howling she was cat-walking at the center of our house. She had with her a new born kitten in her mouth delicately held by the neck of the kitten. She had given birth to five kittens at once in our neighboring house. Why she preferred one among them to be with us and why she didn't bring all her kittens to our home was a mystery for me then. But in a later time I could well understand why Somabari did injustice to one of her kittens. I felt envious with our neighboring family as our Somabari preferred their house to be perfect for upbringing of her kittens. As the lonely kitten was there, she visited thrice or four times to feed her milk. And rest of the time the poor kitten was lonely. So we siblings had to take good care for her, starting from feeding her cow's milk with a dropper to changing the cloth meant to be her bed. It was a great feeling of motherly service for us. As the kitten came to our house on Thursday, we called her Gurubari. She was white except black patch on one side of her head just like her mother Somabari. 

Gurubari was a very good natured cat. She had vegetarian traits as we family members. Non veg food like fish, meat and eggs were strictly prohibited in our family on religious ground. So the only source of non veg food was self arrangement, either by preying a rat or by managing to eat at neighboring houses where fish was cooked very often. When Somabari was staying regularly at our home there were no rats as she haunted every last rat before it could make plans to save its life. But surprisingly when her daughter Gurubari began to grow by age as a young, strong and pretty cat, the number of rats began to grow day by day. Rats became so fearless that they didn't hesitate to sit alongside Gurubari. Her mother was growing old day by day. She visited very often our house to prey rats but she had not that youthful energy that she had in the past after becoming mother of a whole platoon of cats by then. She had become like a leader, a serious grand mother. Whenever she came to our house, besides haunting a rat she made a big fight with her daughter Gurubari whose bizarre behaviour of indifference towards rats she never had thought of. I guess, through her extra cat sense she had a doubt on haunting career of that special child, that is the reason why she separated her from her siblings just after her birth so that her bad influence would not spoil her other pure cats. So thus happened what she ever desired. Gurubari though was a worthless cat in the eyes of her mother, she was very happy, healthy in our home. Why not? She was the fortunate one rather than her siblings to relish all the delicious sweets made of pure ghee, cheese and milk that our father used to bring from Jagannath temple every evening. Whatever we ate, she had a fair share. She loved Ghee-rice or milk-rice most along with smashed potatoes as her regular diet. Beside that her digestive system had accepted all the green vegetables and Dal those our mother cooked at home. 

Such a healthy and lovely cat she was who won't have liked to be her friend! One day she was found roaming with a male cat supposedly her boy friend. We were not allowing an unknown male cat to roam freely like Gurubari in our home because male cats make a strange sound like a crying baby and also they have a bad habit of frequent urination. Few days passed. Our Gurubari gave birth to four kittens in our home. That was the happiest day, a day of celebration when we explored Gurubari for the first time cleaning them by licking and feeding them. The kittens became the apple of our eye. We siblings took every effort for their comfort and entertainment. It was also a great challenge for us besides her own mother to protect them from the savage baboons who notoriously steal kittens in the absence of their cat mothers. 

We had a long discussion on the topic of what names would be chosen for the kittens. Among them three were male  and only one was a female kitten. One, having dark couloured fur was named Kalu, one white with black patched kitten was named Chiku and the female kitten was named Chikki. We remained undecided naming the last kitten until a distance cousin once visited us. She named the kitten 'Cheuka' quite befitting to it's hyperactive behavior and unmanageable look. 

Actually the hero of our story is Chikki, the cute little girl kitten of Gurubari and grand daughter of Somabari. Grandmaa once came to see what was happening there at her daughter's place. She nosed out the kittens separately and then went away. All the kittens grew day by day. Unlike their mother all of them were good hunters. Together they chased after small insects and cockroaches. Chiku and Kalu were able catch small rats and made a feast with that. Only Chikki had no interest in the feast. She was  satisfied with her usual vegetarian diet. Her fur was so soft to touch that many a times it appeared to be a soft toy made of very costly imported fur. We had pretty enjoying time with our kittens. Friends from neighborhood and classmates started flocking around to see our kittens playing. And we felt proud caretakers and owners of the lovely kittens. One day a terrible fate did happen to Cheuka. A giant monkey mom took it to a tree branch.. It is said the childless monkey moms steal kittens and treat them as their own child. But at last their motherly love takes away lives of poor kittens. We were very sorry for Cheuka. 

When smell of fish came from  other houses, Kalu and Chiku became so crazy that ultimately they left our house. Chikki became lonely and seemed missing her brothers. But she never went outside in search of more delicious food. Gurubari was still their and loving her good daughter who was quite like her. Now we should come to the point that how Chiki became a hero. One cloudy evening we were playing on our terrace. It was the rainy season. So playing on terrace was a special joy. Suddenly we heard a howling noise. Never could Chikki make such noise, we expected another cat instead. We ran towards downstairs. It was Chikki only whose hair stood just like that of a porcupine. She was making strange noise by raising her nose and projecting her sharp teeth. What was the matter? That was something of concern indeed. We called our mother. By then Chikki jumped on something. Really, that was a snake. Our eyes were wide opened. O my God! Chikki was fighting with a snake. Our mother dragged us to a little distance. Father was away from home. All of us were stammering out of fear. But surprisingly little Chikki was so brave! The snake tried to curl Chikki with it's stout muscles. But Chikki escaped every time due to her super swiftness. It jumped back and forth. The snake hissed terribly. The fight continued for long fifteen minutes. At last Chikki got hold of the neck of the snake by her sharp teeth.The snake died. Chikki took her prey away with pride as if she has caught a big mouse! We were surprised. Chikki's heroic act did spread like wild fire among our friends and known people. I would say Chikki was an angel cat.

Not only human but animals, plants and everything on this earth we have to be grateful. We should say our gratitude to all who help us and love us and make our life beautiful. In my memory Chikki would be alive forever whom even today I say my gratitude silently within heart...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Secret of being a novelist

For-Write tribe  

Mr Capable after experimenting on many areas of occupation decided to be a writer. He visited Mr Wise who is a realistic novelist. After much pleading Mr wise raised his head from heaps of books. With a sagely gesture he said- "Go son, live like one with the lead character and write such that readers will get real life experiences from your novel. Come after a week."

After a week Mr capable came with a bundle of notes.

Mr Wise says- So you think now you know it all. 

Smilingly Mr Capable nods and says, Sir I lived so much the lead character that when I am stepping out of my house people from neighborhood shout thief.. thief. And you know the best thing is that when all of them get to read my novel will certainly find their real life experiences.