The Adventures of Fyo and Ro #1: Summer Vacation

For Noumaan and Kareema, and the children who live on within all of us.


Once upon a summer afternoon in Delhi, two friends; Ro and Fyo; were sitting in the balcony with their legs crossed across their laps. School was out, and both had lots and lots of homework to do.

“This is hard work”, said Ro, sipping on pineapple juice with his eyebrows bunched up in concentration.

“What are you studying?” Asked Fyo. Fyo had to write a short story about a bunny for Ms Sharma’s English class, but was rapping her pencil on the floor and trying to write the beat for a rock song instead. When Ro did not respond; busy blowing bubbles into the juice with his straw; she looked at his textbook. He had been drawing horns onto pictures of Emperor Aurangzeb in his History textbook.

He saw her looking, and slammed the book shut with a loud papery whoosh. “It is too hot to do anything but doodle,” said Ro defensively. Fyo nodded with sympathy. “It is too hot to make a rock song”, she said.

Ro jumped up suddenly. “We must ask Mr. Sun to shine less brightly so that we can finish our homework”. They both nodded, and started jumping up and down, trying to get Mr. Sun’s attention.

“Mr. Sun, Mr. Sun!”, they yelled, but Mr. Sun didn’t listen.
“Dear Mr. Sun! Please listen to us!” They shouted, but Mr. Sun continued to shine indifferently.

Then, suddenly, Fyo had an idea. She started to wave her arms about, wriggling her fingers at the sky . “Mr. Sun! Look at my rays!” she shouted.

Mr. Sun, who used to be sad because children always wanted to imitate Ms. Windy, turned around to see.

Ro started to wave his arms, too.

“Wow, kids!” He said in delight. “Your rays are almost as wonderful as mine!”
He squealed with pleasure, shining brighter.

Fyo and Ro shielded their eyes.

“Thank you, Mr. Sun!” they said, proud at finally having been noticed.
“Thank you, Mr. Sun, but we have a request to make”, Ro added. The Sun nodded his head eagerly, pleased by the children’s enthusiasm.

“Would you please shine less bright for a while? We have a lot of homework to do and our teacher will be very angry if we don’t complete it”, said Ro.

“Yes, Mr. Sun, she will be veeeery angry”, said Fyo.

They both looked sad and sweaty.

The Sun felt bad for them. “Sorry children”, he said. “I went to the beauty parlour very recently, and the kind lady there said my radiance will last for a couple of weeks. There is nothing I can do.”

Fyo and Ro looked sadder and sweatier. “Please, Mr. Sun, it is too hot to do anything but doodle”, said Ro.
“and write rock songs”, said Fyo.
“And our AC is broken”, said Ro.

They looked at him with puppy eyes.

“Sorry, kids. Only Ms. Windy can help, but she has gone away for summer vacation. Nobody knows where she is”. And with that, Mr. Sun flew back up in the sky, waving them goodbye.

“Oh no!” said Fyo and Ro. There was a lot of homework to do. Ro scratched his head, wondering what to do. Fyo fanned her face with her hands.

Suddenly, they heard the sound of TV coming from inside the house.

“Cyclone Fani has arrived at the coast of West Bengal”, it said. “Heavy rains are to be expected in Kolkata”

Ro and Fyo turned to face each other. “Rain!” shouted the latter.
“In Kolkata”, said Ryo. “I wish we lived in Kolkata,” he sighed.
“Me, too,” said Fyo. “But we wouldn’t have Soupy the dog there”, she added, tapping her chin. Soupy was their neighbours’ pet, and the children used to play with him every evening.

“We could take Soupy with us!” said Ro.
“But he wouldn’t come without old Mrs. Singh”, said Fyo.

“We could take Old Mrs. Singh with us, too!”

“But what about Old Mr. Singh?”

They both stopped.

“Oh no, we can not take him with us”.

The children did not like Old Mr. Singh, for he shouted at them for playing in the park. Old Mr. Singh was very, very old, and he did not like children.

“But Soupy the dog won’t come without Old Mrs. Singh, and Old Mrs. Singh won’t come without Old Mr. Singh,” they concluded, sadly. It would be no fun playing without Soupy the dog, even if it was in the nice rainy weather of Kolkata.

“It is unfair that they get so much rain and we get so much of Mr. Sun”, said Fyo. Ro nodded. “It is. It really is”, he replied.

Then, he had an idea.
“Fyo, didn’t the TV say that Kolkata will get lots and lots of rain?”
“No, Ro. It said they will have heavy rain”, Fyo responded, feeling smart.

Ro looked at her funny. He knew that ‘heavy’ was the adults’ way of saying ‘a lot’.

“What if we bring some of the rain from Kolkata back to Delhi?” He asked her.
Fyo’s face lit up the way it did when she got to eat some mango ice cream.
“Then Soupy the dog can also enjoy with us!”
They both clutched each other with excitement, and started to jump up and down.

“We will bring rain for Soupy!” they chanted.

“We’re going to Kolkata to get rain for Soupy!” they screamed.

But how would Fyo and Ro get to Kolkata?
They both kept jumping and thinking, trying to find a way.

Suddenly, Fyo stopped.
“Ro! What if we stop jumping up and down and try jumping up and up?” she asked. Ro nodded, and they jumped up. Lo, and behold! The upper they jumped, the higher they got.

And so, they jumped and jumped and jumped, and reached Kolkata.

“Look! There is Mrs. Fani!” exclaimed Ro, pointing east, where Cyclone Fani was turning round and round in circles like a classical dancer.

“Mrs. Fani has a lot of clouds in her bag. If we are nice, she might let us take some back to Delhi!” responded a very excited Fyo.

Fyo started jumping towards Mrs. Fani. Suddenly, Ro held her back.
“Careful, Fyo!” He said, wisely. “If you get too close to her, Mrs. Fani will make you spin round and round with her!”

Fyo shuddered. They both decided to call Mrs. Fani in their nicest good-girl and good-boy voices.

“Mrs. Fani! Mrs. Fani!” they shouted, like good girls and boys, but Mrs. Fani was too busy spinning in circles.
Then, Ro started moving his hips like he did with the hula hoop. Fyo giggled at him, and then started to do the same.
“Look, Mrs. Fani! We are cyclones, too!”

Cyclone Fani saw the children and slowed down her spinning, pleased.
“Wow, kids! You make excellent cyclones!” she exclaimed in adoration. Children rarely wanted to be like her, and it warmed her heart to see Fyo and Ro imitate her.

“Thank you, Mrs. Fani!” said the children. Mrs. Fani nodded, and was getting ready to spin fast again, when Ro chimed in sweetly:
“Mrs. Fani, we have a favour to ask”

Cyclone Fani, who was still pleased with the children, nodded.

“Mrs. Fani, we wanted to ask if we can borrow some of your rainy clouds. We don’t have any of them in Delhi, and it’s too hot to do homework”, said Fyo.
“Or to doodle,” added Ro.
“Or to make a rock song” added Fyo, importantly.

Cyclone Fani slowed down her spinning even more. She looked very serious, and the children looked at each other, scared.

“I am so glad you asked!” Cyclone Fani said excitedly. “I’m afraid the clouds have made my luggage too heavy, and they will stop me at immigrations in Bangladesh”, she added. “You see, I’m on a tour of South Asia”, she explained, seeing the confused looks on the children’s faces.

“Yippieee!” shouted Fyo and Ro, looking very happy. “We will take rain back to Soupy the dog!”, they jumped about, rejoicing.

Mrs. Fani handed them the clouds mid-spin, and Fyo and Ro held their grey, cottony mass with both hands, still jumping. They were heavy, and both of them felt their knees shake with the weight.

Suddenly, the weight made them realise something: how would they take the clouds back to Delhi?

“These clouds are too heavy to jump up and up with”, observed Ro.
“That’s because they are filled with rain,” said Fyo, feeling smart.
“Mrs. Fani! We don’t know how to take our clouds back to Delhi!” They both shouted.

Mrs. Fani stopped spinning. She didn’t know how to help the nice children who had imitated her.

But Fyo and Ro looked at her, their mouths gaped open with excitement, for they saw what they did not expect at all: Mrs. Windy was there, spinning with Cyclone Fani!

“Ms. Windy!” They screamed.

Ms. Windy waved at them, and they felt their hair blowing about.

“Ms. Windy! You’re vacationing in Kolkata!” They exclaimed. Ms. Windy nodded.
“Tickets were cheaper for two,” explained Mrs. Fani.

Fyo and Ro smiled at each other, and then at Ms. Windy.
“Ms. Windy, we want to take these clouds back to Delhi,” they told her.
“Say no more!” said Ms. Windy. She then took a huge breath of air, and blew it out in the children’s direction.

Fyo and Ro clutched at the clouds excitedly. To their amazement, they were flying back to Delhi with the wind!

Ms. Windy and Mrs. Fani started spinning again, and they got smaller and smaller.

Soon, Fyo and Ro found themselves back in their balcony, with Soupy the dog barking nearby.

“Soupy! We have a gift for you!” said Ro excitedly, letting his arms open and releasing the clouds.
“And for Old Mrs. Singh!” added Fyo. They watched the clouds they had carried climb up the sky, where Mr. Sun was still shining brightly.

Soupy wagged his tail in excitement. Fyo and Ro held their breath.

Suddenly, a raindrop landed on Ro’s cheek with a Pitter.
Then there was a Patter, and soon the pitter-patter song of the rain started falling from the sky.

“Hooraaaay!” shouted the children, running around the balcony. “Hooraaaay!” they shouted, as Mr. Sun’s dazzle yellow rays met the pitter-pattering raindrops, and made rainbows in the sky.

“Hooraaaay!” they went, as they sat down to complete their homework. Ro studied about Emperor Aurangzeb, and Fyo finished writing a story about bunnies for Ms. Sharma’s English class.

“Wow! We had a real adventure today!” said Fyo
“Yes! It was a solid one!” Ro responded.
“I think it was a liquid one”, said Fyo, feeling smart.
Ro yawned at Fyo’s terrible, terrible joke. Fyo yawned because she was tired.

And then, because they were good children who had had a very long, tiring, adventurous day, Fyo and Ro changed into their pajamas.

Plonk! went Ro.
Plop! went Fyo.

They fell onto their bed, and into deep, dreamy sleep.

The End


Category 4 Cyclone Fani, which is fast moving towards India’s eastern coast, is expected to hit Odisha and West Bengal in the coming days. Schools in Kolkata have been declared shut in anticipation of the same. With this story, I hope for the safety of all living in the affected regions. Sometimes, childlike hope gets us through the biggest disasters.

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Constructing A Poem

There are words dancing in my mind tonight.
The sky composes a waltz that only I can hear,
And thunders with a will to burst open.
We breathe together
And watch as ideas fall and disappear
Like motes of dust beyond the oblivion contained
In a sunbeam.
When I shiver from the inability to see through the dusty panes of my heart’s extent
I do
See that the world is ending somewhere tonight.

My friend rolls all his sorrow
and smokes it with tobacco
Under the night sky they painted over a billboard.
He is bored, so he lets his mind wander
And wonder
if he will be able to count the lights in the windows while he’s falling.
There are twenty seven storeys,
Stacked on top of each other:
Tin cans that rattle
with the emptiness of lives that clink at the bottom
Like small change.

My friend wanted to change the world.
His eyes were set with stars named after every
Child who did not learn to smile:
He went to the beach as one and fell in love with foam,
But try as he might to cup it in his hands
It became the sea and flowed away,
Wanting to be one with its kind.
He now tells himself that his depression had a mother
Who never picked up its calls
And figure skated on the edge of his consciousness
Waiting for the ice to thin.

My friend wanted to win
The confidence of his own heart
To be the voice that fills up the entire room
And leaves no place to sit.

Where Boys Do Household Chores Too

He brings the bread.
I serve the cooking.
I can bring the bread,
but he will never do the cooking.

A cuckoo cries out somewhere but I do not
Have the sensibility
to look out, or keep still
till the sound, or the bird,
or both, die out:
Maybe she is raising her voice,
Else reprimanding someone who did.

I can rest my unease knowing
That the language of birds
Is not understood by my kind.

Us women, we do a lot more
Than cooing.

The Big Bang (alternatively titled ‘Inconclusive Poem’)

We will explode. It may not be today,
not a few days hence. But certainly
sometime in the future,
We will explode.
Because our composure in
life is lent to us, temporarily:
Look how complacent we are
with being nothing, doing nothing.
This satisfaction we find
in idling away sounds
like the slow trickle of ambition going out
of our lives
and falling flat
into nothingness.
We will explode.
Because in that nothingness, all lost ambition
takes form again – of disappointment.
It trickles down
and pools up
right where we can see it, like a dark portrait
of ourselves.
Like a time bomb, ticking away
(Only, time bombs change themselves
elementally
before they give way; and we
are fireworks propelled by the mounting
pressure
of feeling around for reassurance. We
will combust with
out changing a thing
– nobody else will light us on fire,
the fire will stem from within).

The world was ended by a flood once. We
are already 70% water, carrying the flood inside of us,
like a souvenir from the past. We
Are dams ready to let loose
Even as the rivers we carry are pools
of stagnancy
(Staring back at us, living paradoxically)
– Everything is a metaphor for life.
We were born to this world and it has ever since been
One step ahead of us:
The earth is 71% water
Most of which is the tears it sheds
for our future:
One we look forward to, but don’t bother
To look at. But Atlas
has too much time on his hands
Time more perhaps
than the weight on his shoulders
From holding up a sky pregnant
With clouds as heavy
As our despair in merely rotating
on the same axis,
day after day.
When Atlas decides to shift
The sky to his knees, we will see
how one escapes any punishment
By mere volition, and let
the flood gates open, because we
don’t believe that free will exists.
When we
Decide we can’t help it
and continue to punish ourselves
We will explode.
And explore
the world as fire and dust
Water and rust
covering the debris
of our caged past, now shattered
and liberated
(For atoms disjointed from one
another
Will find something to bind themselves with)
We
will find a way make something of ourselves
When there’s nothing left of our selves

But pieces halved
and halved again.

A Pawn’s Impression of Chess 

Am I the teller 

Of a story? 

I try to grasp it with both my hands 

And all my mind 

But it often, 

Inexplicably, 

Floats away. 

Sometimes I feel 

Like a story 

Of the tellers. 
 
 
Who was I 

Before they gave me my name? 

If I didn’t choose it, 

It is anything 

but mine. 

Indeed, who am I 

Without my name? 

A lost pronoun 

Irreplaceable and mourning 

the loss of a word. 

Symbols, they say 

Are for the symbol-minded 

But I’ve questions in mine. 

Are the questions my own 

If I am not? 
 
 
I feel 

Like a tune 

Composed with care, 

But not yet written 

And still unheard. 

Real, 

But not quite. 

There was a queen long ago 

Who was birthed 

In the mind of a poet. 

When they wrote her down, 

They made her history. 

History can be forgotten. 

So can music, 

If it isn’t put to pen. 
 
 
I feel 

Like a gamepiece: 

Wooden, painted, 

In the hands of another,  

Taking a two-step 

And then one at a time, 

To be sacrificed at the altar 

From which a More Important One 

Can be saved. 

Indeed, I feel 

Like I could be pawned 

For something 

Of more immediate value 

In the future. 

They never call it 

A herd of soldiers 

Although that it is. 
 
 
I feel 

The world is beautiful – 

But feeling 

(The world is beautiful) 

Is not the same 

As knowing 

(The world is beautiful) 

And know I not: 

The tellers never 

Wrote it for me. 

You see, the story 

Can only read 

What is written for it. 

The story never writes 

(The world is beautiful) 

Itself. 
 
 
 
 
[The title and primary metaphor for this poem is inspired by the literary criticism on Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass. ‘The Queen’ refers both to Alice Liddell and to Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavati, who has recently become subject to national controversy.]

Artifacts

My thoughts are creepers 

Which grow, leaning against reality,

Watered by the night in all its darkness 

And dewdrops in the form of stars that twinkle:

Cool to the touch, glistening with hope

Wrapping themselves far too tight 

Around me – alive and also not, 

like a goat for sacrifice. 
I blink. 
My hands are free to wander 

Above, around, beneath, below:

Against the grain, and sweat from bodies

From which I pull all of my despair out and hang 

It out to dry in the heat of the sun when 

My thoughts shrink back into their pod

disappear from the recesses of mind 

Like acetone off linoleum.
I inhale. 
My mouth unveils my verses 

And raises the hair on the back of his back 

And my neck to stand in ovation, respecting 

The distance between us, like water on the edge 

Of a waterfall receding – slowly; to the rhythms

Of instruments facing extinction, sacraments

Of single copy smudged by fingers of overuse 

Like the language of love. 
I laugh.
My eyes are suddenly a fertile

Ground for tears, a fabric ripped apart 

From the seams of feeling by the agonies

Of life: such is the story, that if I wove every tear 

In this stained tapestry together, close into 

A circle, and hung it with feathers from 

Birds that sing of murder and sleep

It still wouldn’t catch a dream. 
I turn around. 
I walk away. 

With No Last Rites 

You and I, we sit around and kill time.

 
We are living. We are living every moment for what it is – a moment. There is no making a name for ourselves, no saving our stories for later, just the comfort in how panic evades us as we watch time slipping through our fingers to fall into the past. We are living, looking onwards without so much as a single backward glance.

 
Our fathers turn 50 this year. They are left with wrinkles on their faces and in their minds, like souvenirs from vacations of a past which they no longer remember. They have lived, too. They can tell time better than we do.

 
The weight of human life after fifty years of living is crushing enough that we start to forget – age is a number with a penchant to unlearn. And so I say that nobody will remember us fifty years after we say our final goodbyes. The world will unlearn us. No books will bear our names. We may not even fill the compact pages of history, stay off the record with our reticent lives pushed between the lines – did you notice how we never bothered to read between the lines?

 

We have lived, but nobody will remember.

 
We say that it does not matter. You say that time will stop existing once we die, anyway. I hear the clock nod in agreement every second of the day. We stand in our graves-to-be.

 
And we kill time.

 
Till one day, time will take its toll: it will make itself known when our bones rattle. It will brush against us, pulling us away from the future, stacking us in the shelves of the dusty past.

 

One day, long after we are done killing time because it will die with us, anyway;

Time will bury us, forever.

 

(Based on a line from Epitaph of a Small Winner by Machado de Assis)