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The Weekly Yarns

Emboldened by the resounding success of The Daily Verse, we have started The Weekly Yarns, where we upload stories, flash fiction, anecdotes and musings of writers. If you have a story to share, please send it to editor@thewiseowl.art

Monday, 27th May 2024

an woman sleeping with a book on her chest.jpg

The Intruder

by Anju Kishore

A poetic yarn

It was early one rainy morning

when I woke up to its loss

My prized kettle

a horror of battered aluminium

my dowry of five and thirty years

or was it five and twenty

Who knows

or cares

 

He was already calling for kattan-chaaya

like he would soon begin for his bowl of kanji

I ducked outside to collar a street urchin or two

when I found my neighbour

hands on hips

questioning passing boys

who were shrugging away her assault

They don’t play house-house

with stolen vessels, don’t we know?

 

It was fowls the next day

And worse, they were brought back dead

Strewn all over the shore

My kettle among them

sandy, salty, poorer by its lid, richer by a fish inside

that bristled like our old man

whose bowl was delayed, for that was gone too

 

The sea caressed the carcasses

and wiped the debris with her hem

Her fragrance

mingled watchfully with the women

as they pointed dagger-fingers at each other

The men folded up their lungis

and scratched their heads over toddy

as it poured

 

The palms waved their fronds in sympathy

Let us sit watch tonight, wheezed our old man

the storm in his cataracted eyes

The sky scowled assent

The wind howled dissent

snatching our tattered thatch

The nets, tangled like us

fumbled with our fingers

while the men dragged their boats farther

How far could they go...

 

That night we watched the sea rise

and smash the shore

Wails rose

The children roared

I woke up

with an open book of poems on my chest

‘The Sea Eats the Land at Home by Kofi Awoonor’

it read

*kattan-chaaya: black tea
*kanji: gruel
*lungi: a men's garment consisting of a long piece of printed cloth worn wrapped around the lower body and tucked at the waist

Monday, 20th May 2024

a terrified little bird.jpg

Vagrant

by Sasha Clark

A poetic story about an avian vagrant.

Once upon a time..

The wanderer doth
alight upon a vagrant
avian friend. He
soothes the bird with his gentle
trilling, with treats and water

He scratches his beard
and leans down slowly, quietly
with respect and care
he offers his new friend his
finger for a higher perch

"Can you tell", he says,
"the way back to the flyway?"
The little bird looks
around, turning a circle.
slowly towards him. Head down.

His body quivered
lightly. More felt then seen, thought
thought the wanderer. He
creased his brow and rubbed his chin
"I suppose," he said, you'll have
to winter with me this year."

Little bird lifted
his head slowly, fluffed sodden
feathers and released
a shaky, quiet trill. "I
can keep you warm, and bathed."

Little bird gently
ruffled his feathers melting
down into the wanderer's
hand. Slowly, quietly with
with respect and care he stood

This year winter was
particularly mild so
Little bird spent some
time outside. When in, the man
would often tell him stories

Glorious tales of
distant lands danced around the
room each night. The man
and bird soothed in their vagrant
hearts. Images dance in dreams

As winter withdrew
it's icy breath bird and man
knew their parting was nigh
quiet melancholy did
chance upon their brows at times

The morning came that
bright warm sun swirled their rooms

"I suppose you need
to leave me now." Wanderer
sighed to his bird friend
Little bird bowed his head, fluffed
his feathers and trilled sadly

The light began to grow
until they had to shade their
eyes. From the light a
beautiful fairy princess
emerged with a loving look

"Wanderer," she said
I had lost my lovely bird
companion in the
winds to find him safe and warm
with you in joyous friendship."

"Your love and caring
warms my heart. Though I'll miss
my little friend, there
is no need for his return
if you both wish he remain."

Wanderer and bird
looked at each other and smiles
bloomed. Little bird flew
to his shoulder sealing their
friendship in forever's grace

From that day ever
on bird and man would wander

to and fro throughout
the land. Following the warmth
an inseparable pair

Wherever they went
they always found sustenance,
comfort and friendly
faces. Nights around bonfires
and space for peace and sharing

And now and then the
beautiful fairy princess
would join in the evening
to listen to their tales of
their wonderous adventures

And they lived happily ever after

Monday, 13th May 2024

Image by Varun Pyasi

Quirky Fate

by Snigdha Agrawal

The writer creates a 'once upon a time' tale with her characteristic panache

Once upon a time, there lived an old woman, believed to be endowed with supernatural powers.  She lived alone in the Sal Forest bordering a village in Purulia.

Not many knew that she was born with a birth defect and abandoned by her parents when she was ten. The girl with four hands would be a lifelong liability for the parents.  So, they blindfolded her and left her on the steps of the 'Sitala Mata'[1] mandir, in a drugged condition.  As the effects of the drug started wearing off, Pratima realised with a sense of shock, her parent's deceit.  Taking refuge inside the temple she prayed for a miracle to happen.  Her ears picked up airy music notes, having a flute-like tone.  She dozed off. 

 

The next morning, she awoke with a start.  A pair of old, tired eyes, was staring at her in disbelief.  Except for a Shikha (tuft of hair) hanging from the back of his head, the old man was completely bald, bent double with age.  Picking her up, he noticed her out-of-the-ordinary physical form. What was she doing in the temple, he asked.  The girl narrated the events leading to her abandonment.  The Priest took her under his tutelage; providing her with a home, food, and education, she would otherwise have never received. He trained her on how best to turn her disadvantage into an advantage, assuring her that far from being a freak, she was an incarnation of the Deity, sent to him as a blessing for his untiring services.  Pratima felt reborn with his love and attention.  In return, she cooked, cleaned and tended to the kitchen garden and became his caretaker when the Priest was on his deathbed.  On his demise, she took over the service of the temple, comforted in the thought, there was no one around to object or cast aspersions on her deformity. 

 

Years rolled by.  Pratima grew as old as the ruins of the temple.  Then out of nowhere, one day she found a few men praying inside the temple.  Surprised she asked what had brought them so far from the village.  With downcast eyes, they told her of the smallpox epidemic that was raging in their village, taking away the lives of children and the elderly.  The village population had halved.  The district hospital staff were reluctant to visit for fear of falling victim to the disease.  Only “Sitala Mata” could save them from their misfortune.  Seeing her four hands folded over her chest, and convinced she was an avatar of the Mata, they fell at her feet, asking for forgiveness and her help in removing the curse that had befallen their village.  They pleaded that she visit the village and perform the ‘yagna’ (ritual done in front of a sacred fire with a specific objective). 

 

Thus, Pratima visited her village after seventy-five years since she left.  Vastly changed.  She was sure of not recognising her home if it hadn’t been for the banyan tree which stood untouched by the road rollers.  Ignoring the urge to knock on the now-carved wooden door, of her home, she went along with the men to perform the rituals.  It would be pointless to rake up memories of the past with the present occupants who would not have heard of her. 

 

Any doubts she harboured about a female freak performing a yagna were instantly removed with their warm welcome.  At the end of the four-hour ‘yagna’, they bowed to her in reverence.  “Mataji…can you not stay in our village?  Your presence will be like a shield of protection”, they implored.  She refused.  Returning to her abode in the forest, she continued living under the protection of the Devi.  A few years later, the village Pradhan visited with gifts and to share that the curse had been lifted forever.  That year, and subsequent years there were no epidemics.  The villagers were healthy and happy.  They believed that her supernatural powers were responsible for the turnaround. 

 

Ironical, wasn’t it?   A freak once banished, being relegated to Devi status!

[1] Sitala is a Hindu Goddess regarded to be an incarnation of the goddess Parvati.  She is believed to cur poxes, sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases, and is most directly linked with the disease smallpox (source internet).

Monday, 15th April 2024

Image by Samuel Austin

A Lesson or two in Mindfulness

by Madhuri Chatterjee

The writer narrates her serene experience at a Zen meditation centre 

The curvaceous road leading up the Palani Hills to Kodaikanal is a road I have travelled a couple of times. Usually the only real reason  to stop along the way has been  to treat a bad bout of car sickness or resurrect a parched throat at Oothu ,the first fruit  shop half way. On rare ocassions, I have stopped to poke fun at cavorters in the ever dwindling  Silver falls. But mostly the two hour journey is an idyllic ride through scenic disorder- hill dogs with boxy faces, langurs on hair pin bends, jackfruit swelling like tumours, deep everlasting shola forests- the kind of thing.

 

Recently, however I was to make a four day stop at a spot for spiritual fulfilment at Bodhi Zendo, a zen meditation centre. I tread cautiously in places which smack of New Age packaging-these rejuvenation  centres and discover-the-strength-of your chakra hubs. Not because I doubt the miraculous nature of these places but as I am sceptical of their long term results.

 

Bodhi Zendo is a wonderfully serene place, smug in the belly  of banana and coffee plantation with acres of woodland paths to explore and a spectacular view of the plains. The main building is set around a central courtyard with Japanese style Rock garden complete with bonsai and bridges. The backyard sports a vegetable garden, lily pond and gazebo-perfect for catching on Lao-Tzu.

 

Bodhi Zendo, isn’t much different except that it  makes us work for our living, which adds the proper dimension of righteousness to the wholesome experience. The day is divided between Zazen(meditation centre) and samu/seva (community work)and meals. My favourite ritual  is watching the sun redden the sky, turning it  to midnight black from my vantage position in the meditation room. This wonder of a room has three walls  of grass and is sound proof, so while there, silence takes on a primeval quality.

 

The point of zen has always been to emphasize the journey rather than the end result. Like the zen story goes-before the study of zen, a river is a river and the mountain is a mountain. After deep study and Zazen, things are no longer the same but after some enchanting point, the river and mountain come back to their place. However fruitfully my attempts at climbing up the enlightenment path goes, one thing is certain: Bodhi Zendo gives me a chance to put on a new pair of shades with which to view the world. And as New Age-y as that sounds, who can resist  a lesson or two in mindfulness?

Monday, 8th April 2024

Maya ceramics.png
Maya ceramics.png

Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image Analysis of Female Sexuality of Late Classic Maya ceramics 

by Petrouchka Alexieva

Analysis is based on Maya Vase Database coding, Kerr 2007, in short MVDB, Kerr 2007                          

The codex-style vases contain hieroglyphic inscriptions arranged in the so-called Primary Standard Sequence (PSS). Such vessels were made during the Late Classic period, somewhere at the turn of the 8th century- 50 to 60 years period.  These vases represent the only preserved record of Maya history and mythology of that epoch.

 

The majority of Maya ceramic art depicts a male dominated society and mythological universe. Within the Maya vase database containing 2105 images, less than one hundred contain female iconography. Only 26 of the vase scenes include nude or semi-nude female figures. I found only 17 depicting erotic scenes. The Moon Goddess was a key figure in connection with female sexuality as shown in the Dresden Codex. With her sexual interaction with other gods, she produced divine lineages continued into the dynasties of Maya rulers.

 

Very few of the codex-style female images can be clearly identified as the Moon Goddess. Therefore, I chose to include in my research the vases of the so called "Snake Lady sequence". The vases K1382, K1813, K4485, K5164, and K5862 show scenes of old male gods, the rulers of the Underworld - God L or God N, sexually involved with a beautiful, bare-breasted young woman. The "Snake Lady" is shown entwined in the coils of the Bearded Serpent - God K. The hieroglyphic texts on these vessels describe the birth of different younger gods, as God Chaak (Mayan God of Agriculture, Fertility, Rain and Lightning). He's also one of the Alphabet Gods known as God B.

 

The identity of the Snake Lady herself is not completely clear, but hieroglyphs interpret her as the "lady who conjures snakes, snake winder". Her headdress is the crescent, associated with the Moon Goddess. Her depiction on 17 codex-style vases is a clear indication of her importance. According to the hieroglyphs on vase K5164, Moon Goddess is a deity herself and mother of some of the younger gods, i.e., the “bundled” characters. Snake Lady represents the Moon Goddess and her sexual interactions with God N, who is coming from a shell, usually associated with the end of the year.

 

Her eroticism and sexuality are quite obvious. Moon Goddess is half naked, which always helps to attract and keep the attention of male deities and mortals. The face expressions of the old male deities depicted on the different vases are very interesting.  The Old God L on the Princeton Vase (K0511) looks very calm, pleased and happy. His face on vase K5862 is full of lust and cunning, his eyes are directed more to the viewer of the vase rather than the object of his desires. The image on K1813 expresses raw emotions of desire. On vase K4485, he has all his attention directed to the nipples of the young lady, almost touching the nipple on the bare breast of the lady in front of him. His face is intent, his toothless jaws are clenched with effort.

 

As I noted, this apparent eroticism is linked to birth events. The vase hieroglyphs describe the birth of gods and rulers obviously associated eroticism with the procreative power of women. In this regard, the size of the Snake Lady’s breast changes on different vases.  Images of the young lady's breast vary from almost non-existent (as on K2067 and K7838) to enormously large (K5862).  

 

The body positions of the Snake Lady are even more illustrative of her eroticism. At the beginning of the sequence, she is upright and reserved. The last figure shows her leaning back with an inviting sensual expression on her face.

 

The Maya themselves were clear about the necessary relationship of procreation and the maintenance of life: without the procreative power of women and the complementary paring of female and male, nothing could be born - neither gods nor humans. Mayas understood the importance of duality of human couples, the necessity of husband and wife to give birth to children and raise a family. The artists paid attention to the specific gender relations of their society and the importance of both female and male individuals.  This concept of procreation is depicted in numerous clay figurines depicting the Old Sun God and his young wife, the Moon Goddess

 

Other religious symbols and practices of the Maya also show their respect to the sexual powers of procreation.

 

The erotic images from the Classic epoch depict female sexuality and its procreative power. In this respect, the amorous clay figurines of the Old Sun God and the young Moon Goddess are especially interesting. Such figurines are more common than the vases. As they can be replicated by molding, it is quite probable that they were much more popular and easier to access than the exquisitely painted, unique, and probably more expensive vases. Such erotic representations of the Moon Goddess in her role of a voluptuous seductress can become the "supernatural models of female power" for the Maya women during the Late Classic.

 

The Moon Goddess played a significant part in preserving the power of Maya women, asserting their sexuality and reproductive force during the colonization period. She helped them keep their religion and cultural identity throughout the years of Spanish conquest and Catholicism.  With her sexuality she changed the perception of the conquered Maya of Christianity. She helped the Maya create their own notion of the new religion preserving their understanding of sexuality, desire, and power. The Moon Goddess as the “mother of gods” merged her image into the Mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and became the most popular religious figure in Central America. Learning more about the “original” Moon Goddess, and possibly some other female deities such as the Dragon Lady, would help contemporary Maya women to better understand the power of their sexuality and gain an appropriate role in the modern male dominated society of Central America.  

Monday, 1st April 2024

Image by Rodion Kutsaiev
Party Balls

Celebration

by Kamalika Majumdar

“Thee, touch my soul with the fire/ That my life becomes auspicious”

This was Jaya's favourite line- a line from Tagore's song, Jaya's lifeline. Whenever she felt blue, she resorted to the bard's soulful numbers. But rarely was she in a bad humour; it was not her nature actually- the effervescent, dynamic woman always doing this thing or the other. She had multiple engagements. She was a state- level swimmer, she was a social activist, she penned stories for children, and she worked as an officer in the Sales Tax Department of the state government. Nonetheless, the last one became a recent past as last month Jaya turned sixty and she happily took the farewell from her colleagues. Her job was a veritable and perpetual botheration for her. She had never really liked it, except for the fact that she met her life-partner Vineet through her job. Vineet came as a client in their department and his files were being dealt by Jaya. Soon they struck a chord because they shared similar likes and thoughts. The only difference they had was their age gap. Jaya was forty-two, single and an avowed celibate so far. Vineet was thirty-seven. So when they decided to choose each other as life-partners, many eyebrows were raised. There was stiff opposition from Vineet's family. But they cared little for any perturbation from outside. So, they were married and lived happily. They lived, they loved, they trekked together, they baked together, they celebrated life together. Life itself was a celebration for Jaya. She loved to live every moment of her life, she loved to drink the nectar called life up to the lees. She despised death. Any tiding of a death turned her off. And so she hated diseases.

****

“Turn on the TV and you find the grim looking newsreader delivering the corona death toll. God! So depressing!” muttered Vineet.

“Depressing indeed”. Jaya quipped.

“I’m planning a month-long expedition to Auden's Col after this lockdown is over. Only you and me.”

“Let’s see.”

“What let’s see? I thought you would offer me this proposal. Life is unbearable for both of us within these four walls. It sucks! We need a long outing yaar.”

Yes, a long vacation... very long.”

“My God! Where the devil this hell of a disease would lead us to? “

“To our end.”

“That is what it is! Just see Jaya, what a shock! Israat Khan is no more! Another prey to Corona. What a loss! Such a talented actor he was! “

“Disease leads to death. Death leads to void. Means disease leads to a void, isn’t it Vineet? A big, big void... a nothingness... a meaninglessness, a total inanity!”

“This deadly disease spares no one- high and low, rich and poor, all are the same in its scale”.

“And it makes life look so miserable, so helpless, so uncared for”.

 

****

“Keep tomorrow’s Sunday free Ajit. I may need you here at my place”.

“Can you come over here tomorrow, Punam?“

“Sumita, I expect you at my flat tomorrow. Don’t miss”.

“Vaisakha, if you want to make tomorrow's Sunday special, come at my nest tomorrow”.

“Jeeva, can you make it at my den tomorrow? Urgent”.

“Miriam, no hang-out elsewhere tomorrow, okay? You're coming at my coop”.

“Sushil, some wonder awaits you tomorrow at my little cubbyhole. Don’t miss”.

“Vineet, there will be an event at our roost tomorrow. I’ve arranged for it. For long we haven’t had one. This one going to be a big surprise for everyone, especially after the monotony of the monstrous lockdown. I'll be the host. Take care of everyone, like the good old wise owl.”

Lockdown period had just ended, and Vineet had to be at his uncle's place in the neighbouring town. His uncle was an octogenarian and was suffering from a poor health for quite a long time. The old man was quite fond of Vineet and sought a visit by him. Vineet was supposed to return on Sunday anyway.

****

Next morning Vineet started early from his uncle's house. He received Jaya's text late at night, called her but her mobile was switched off. Usually, Jaya did not keep her mobile off at any time. She used to make it a point to get it fully charged always. She had myriad social welfare activities. People called her for help, this kind or other. Jaya was always there to stand by people- ailing people, distressed people, destitute. This gave her immense satisfaction. She always said what is this life for if we can’t make others' lives a bit better.

So, turning off her mobile was quite odd. But then Vineet did not find it that odd as Jaya was in the habit of throwing surprises quite often. Little surprises in life make life more appealing, more desirable, she believed. And now she has written that she is planning a big surprise! Must be some gala party she has arranged for, Vineet reflected. She loved to have parties at home with close cronies.

****

“Jaya, open the door. Jaya? Why don’t you open the door? Now this can’t be apart of your surprise, Jaya. Open the door, please.”

This was quite unlike Jaya. She never kept anyone waiting at the door. At the first ring of the doorbell, she would rush to open the door. Even if she was planning for the surprise, she would not keep the door closed for almost half an hour. Vineet was now pressing the doorbell desperately. Inmates of the other flats in their apartment block started gathering at the door. They all called out to Jaya. There was no reply from the other end.

 

Then some boys banged open the door. In the hall, the dining table was set up with a sumptuous spread. The entire hall was decorated with Jaya's favourite flowers. On the table lay some envelops. From inside Jaya's bedroom a soft tune of Jaya's cherished Rabindra sangeet could be heard. Vineet dashed toward their bedroom. Jaya was sleeping. Sleeping peacefully on her beloved mauve bedspread. Vineet went near her and ran his fingers through her thick hair. She did not stir or smile at Vineet. Vineet patted on her cheeks, “Jaya, slept late at night? Come, wake up. Your guests will be here soon. You've planned for a grand celebration, right? Your preparation is fabulous, I've seen it in the hall. But it’s time to ready yourself Jaya. Get up babe”.

Jaya stayed put. Vineet felt flustered. At that time Seema, their neighbour called Vineet.

“Vineet, take these envelopes. Each contains a note for you. Two are for police. In one she has written that she is leaving us on her own will. In another she has put all her identity documents. Sachdev has informed the police.”

“What was wrong with her Vineet? Why did she take her own life? She has written she preferred death by self-will. But she looked so happy with life!” Nikhilesh sounded baffled.

Vineet was at his wit's end. In a trance he took up the letters meant for him. Notes of instructions.

“You must sleep in our bedroom even after I leave. Initially ask some relative to stay with you, but slowly you wil get used to living without me”.

“From next month onwards increase the cook's salary”.

“The kitchen needs a new sink. Call the plumber at your earliest”.

“Don’t forget the Auden's Col expedition. Take Sudip along with you. He was so eager to join”.

There was a fatter envelope. Vineet's numb fingers opened the flap of the envelope and out came a long note-

“They say life, death and marriage are pre-destined. I didn’t have any role in my birth. I've married out of my own choice. Now this is my wish that I would script my own death. Nobody knows, not even you Vineet, that this has been my long-cherished dream to determine my own end. I'm romantic about it. I've always loved my life passionately. I don’t want any disease, or any mishap get the better of my life. I'm 60 now. With age, come complications. Already I’ve so many restrictions prescribed by the doctor. So many do’s and don’ts. They constrict life, take the zest out of the spice of life. As I would grow older, these constraints would handicap my freewheeling spirit, I daresay. I hate living like this- a vegetable life. It is impossible for me to lie sick on my deathbed and pray for death day and night. No, not my type. As a mortal, I have to die some day or other. But... but I won’t let any disease or any accident manipulate my death. I've always lived life on my own terms. I will hold hands with my death on my own terms as well.

But I am ending my life’s journey with some dissatisfaction. I could not plant a single concrete brick of hope for a brighter, a discrimination-free world for our future generations. We're still living in a world which is slowly moving towards an all-devouring darkness... a world blighted with ennui. Vineet, you must not quit. You should carry on my incomplete work. I hand over my baton to you. One day there must be a brighter sun at the end of the tunnel.

Vineet, you may be cross with me. You may call me selfish. I am leaving you alone. But I could not bear to see you suffering the burden of caring for me in my old age nor could I bear to see you down with some fatal disease some day. I'm leaving this world seeing my dear ones hale and hearty- that’s enough for me.

You've showered so much love on me. You've been my beacon in the sea of life. Still this heart longs for more. To quote Tagore, “My desires are not all fulfilled. I wish to be with you in my next life”.

Vineet was looking vacantly at the empty vials of sleeping pills tucked inside the envelope. For a moment he felt like rushing out of the house and ending his own life in an accident or something. But no. He looked at the pristine banyan tree by the lake outside their apartment. Kept looking at it. How old must the tree be? Hundred? Two hundred? Still standing tall, bearing the buffets of weather. Endurance. That is the celebration of life. He will not quit like Jaya. He will live. He will live to celebrate life with thousand others for whom life has become dull, grey or meaningless. From now on, he will live to bring sunshine to the lives of the depressed and the droop-spirited souls.

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