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Yarns
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July

The Weekly Yarns

July 2023

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

31st July 2023

Image by Caleb Frith
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Tune Into Yourself

By Mihika Jindal

Every time I sit at my desk, I listen. But to whom? On most days, I am by myself. The doorbell is just a part of the inventory, an appendage to this house. Besides a distant drill drilling through some neighbouring wall and occasional plumbing whoosh-wash, quiet is the default. As the silence outside gets deafening, the cacophony within picks up.

I have started paying attention to what goes on within my being by tuning in to myself, my thoughts, my judgements, assessing my behaviour, issues, and their potential solutions and realisations. But it’s a recent phenomenon that these thoughts occupy a substantial part of my being. They’ve surfaced in the past year or two.

Back in India, for the first 30 years of my life, I barely listened to myself. I never had to because work, post-work drinks, home, family, obligations, television, rinse, sleep, repeat constituted an average day. I never felt the need. In fact, most days bustled by so matter of factly that the thought of being alone — of being left alone — developed as a phobia. Heavens knows I’ve gone far and beyond on multiple occasions to avoid being alone.

But life ensures you end up in situations you most dread. The universe thrives on schadenfreude, and no matter how vain I’ve been to believe that I am one of the special few to be dealt the losing hand, we’re all facing the music, each more customised than the last.

More than four years ago, when I was uprooted from my familiar life to get planted in fresh, foreign soil, my demons showed up. The instinctive reaction was to reject new ground. I complained about not having enough to do and not having people to spend time with. I craved random coffee plans and some evening drinks. As my husband left for work each morning, I was alone, not knowing what to do with myself. Penny, Leonard, Raj or Ross, Rachel, and Chandler could only fill my days so much. Taking a remote, massively underpaying job (that I convinced myself to do because doing something would be better than doing nothing) didn’t help either. All desperate attempts crumbled like a cookie. While I mourned the mess, each crumb led me to me.

The epiphany?
I was never scared of loneliness. I was scared of spending time with myself.

No one teaches us how to be with ourselves. We are schooled to keep up the best behaviour, to be kind, polite, and empathetic but always to others. Why are we never taught to be all these things and more to ourselves? And then the society/system/guardians/whatever else you call your authority figures further push it away by teaching us to fill our days with a bazillion things, to do more, to be more.

But what about understanding ourselves? What about listening to ourselves, our minds, and our bodies? To be comfortable in our skin? Or at least not be fearful of ourselves.

I recently told a friend how we love celebrating (or at least acknowledging) the day we landed in Paris. Looking back at that first daunting cab ride from the airport to the hotel on a grey chilly January evening helps me reflect on how far I’ve come with myself. I knew we were entering a brand new environment, but when I heard the radio blaring commentary and music in French for 40 straight minutes without understanding a word, the reality hit me hard. It dawned on me that life will be tough, that silence will trump chatter, and that communications will be short and mostly misunderstood. I remember blankly staring out of the window, wiping involuntary streams of tears. Instead of being in awe of the foreign freshness, I was struck by sheer horror because this wasn’t just a passing vacation.

At some point in this conversation with the friend, I said, “I have embraced this place now.” And as soon as I blurted these words, I questioned myself out loud. “Is ‘embraced’ the right word? Embrace is when you do something willingly, right? Well, to be honest, I didn’t embrace this city. I accepted it. I was cornered, and I had no other option. But I guess I have accepted it now.” She said nothing. Sure, she was on the other side of the call, but this was a conversation I was having with myself. It was a monologue.

Do you see what happened there?

I interject myself quite often. Not always out loud, though. My observing brain has built quite a muscle constantly checking my doing/feeling brain. I have been trying to engineer an internal system where I try to be aware of what I think, why I think so, and the resultant action. I am beginning to be self-aware; a word I threw around long before I understood what it entails.

As I spend time flexing these brain muscles, I realise how deaf I have been to my existence. Most of us are. The rut, the rat race, the hustle, and the notion of doing more and being more keeps the doing brain in action without leaving much time to look inwards. Don’t get me wrong, the hustle is not the problem. At least not if we choose it. The system (obviously) prefers that we ask no questions and “yessir” our way through life. Which, again, is not an issue if one intends for it to be so. And there are plenty of reasons to choose that life: responsibilities, circumstances, material dreams, and aspirations that need material backing. So long as the reason is clear, I feel it’s a life well lived.

But being in it because everyone else is doing it or because you are opting for that route to escape yourself compels me to raise a red flag on your behalf. Because if it isn’t your plan, be sure you’re playing a role in someone else’s plan.

This lack of introspection bleeds into our personal lives too. We are so distant from ourselves that we often project ourselves onto others. We engage in a two-way game in our heads where we play not only ourselves but also the other person, get into heady discussions, and assume their context, their narratives to somehow fit in ours. And then act on our assumptions. We blame others for our misery. We attribute our foul mood to the doings of others. We expect others to be accountable for their actions without questioning our own. Many a time, we expect others to be our solution by telling us what to do or directing us either because we don’t want to be accountable and hope to use the other person as a scapegoat if things go south, or because we don’t know what we really want. Either way, it’s a doomsday situation.

My sister recently mentioned how an old friend got back in touch with her. In their teenage stupor a few years ago, he behaved in a manner that left her wrestling with her self-esteem. Eight years later, he called her to have her opinion on how he acted back then. Not only did he hear her out, but he also apologised for his skewed behaviour; a pebble of self-reflection flung in the pond of introspection to create ripples that leave an impact. She was relieved to shed the baggage she probably didn’t even know she was carrying, and he is on a journey of self-discovery that’ll do him good; a win-win.

This inward journey — which started inadvertently, I must add — has been replete with rises and falls. But, in retrospect, it has done me good. I can now sip a coffee all by myself. I can spend days in my house without playing music to drown internal ramblings. When anxiety comes knocking, I find the courage sometimes to sit me down and talk it out. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I have everything in control, but even small wins overwhelm me because I know where I started.

When we self-reflect, we open doors to a pile of muck collected over time: conditioning and wrong notions that have been hard-coded into us, regressive learnings, and toxic patterns that we unknowingly pick up from our immediate environment. It’s like voluntarily walking into a dilapidated house with broken windows in the winter littered with dead rats and pigeons and probably no electricity. It’s not easy. And so we invent ways to keep ourselves out of that house, crashing at a friend’s place or renting a shady lodge perhaps but never returning to the arduous task of mending the house, the house that truly is ours. But it’s worth getting down and dirty and building it up. At least for me, it has been truly liberating. Because on a good day, it means I don’t have to rely on a friend’s couch for comfort. Sure, there are bad days when the window I just repaired cracks again, and the sun refuses to shine, but hey! At least I am building my safe space, a place where I am wholly me.

It’s a work in progress, and one life seems too short to make a palace out of it. But every brick I add, every crease I iron out, it’s a win I get to celebrate with myself. And for those good days, I am ready to toil inwards rather than building something to impress the outside world.

Monthly Updates

July 2023

Week 4, July 2023

Image by Maksym Diachenko
Girl and Cat

Hyperlinks of the Brain

By Richa Joshi Pant

A free-roaming cat has adopted our porch and has been living on it. Her presence has the house divided. My millennial boys think we are insensitive in not caring for her 'enough' and my husband, the renegade finds her cute until she vomits a fur ball. "Get rid of this useless cat," he then proclaims. I have tried explaining to him using the bar graph that the cat has no use except that it is a cat. It won't wag its tail in slavery.

 

Its hidden curriculum is to ensure you understand what consent is. I like cats as pixels i.e., in cat videos that populate the internet or as sentient beings. Which means I like it as much as I like a mosquito or a house gecko or a pitcher plant. Thankfully they are independent, indifferent pets who have no qualms about using your porch and raising their family without as much as acknowledging your presence. We have reluctantly vaccinated her to protect ourselves from the mind-altering parasites she might harbour.  Here is a real hyperlink about this truly wicked parasite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqno7K2zXi4


Last month she got her two latest kittens, I instantly and momentarily felt like a grandmom. Kittens are tiny and scared of us when she is not around and stare at us weirdly when she is. They are scrawny and forever famished. I've named them Hala and Hamza, not out of love but to channel my creativity. I have always felt deep within that I'm very good at christening pets. At one point I even thought I could start a website that offered this service behind a paywall. I think people who believe that career counselling from grade 8 is a good idea will be my clients. The kittens respond to their names by looking where I'm not. The names have more of a calming effect than a beckoning effect.

Hala and Hamza are the names inspired by a soppy, regressive Pakistani Drama serial that is trending in India and has a huge fanbase. I have watched it in a non-linear fashion. Hala is so beautiful, demure, and forever grieving which appeals to my lizard brain. The hero, her cousin, is handsome too. His weak attempts to save her from his mother, the archetypal mother-in-law of the Indian subcontinent makes the soap so popular with women. I think if there is something that unites both countries -it is misogyny! It's interesting to read the fans hailing Hamza as a perfect husband. This is when he keeps falling for his mother's devious plans. What a low bar!


I want to break the fourth wall and redo their house which is so garish that it does not go with their drop-dead gorgeous looks. The older men in the serial are very bad actors. Their acting skills remind me of my school's annual production, where we used talcum powder to make hair look grey. I always managed to be a part of the show. Punctual for practice, I hatched the same conspiracy every year. The conspiracy involved mouthing a paragraph of dialogues (self-composed) which was not part of the script. It was electrifying and afforded me extra 3 minutes on stage. The dialogues extraneous to the plot got me frenzied waving from my best friend in the 4th row. Only the teacher pretending to be the director looked visibly suspicious; secretly dazed. By some intermolecular magic no one else figured it out and I imagined a standing ovation as I exited the stage with a flourish.


I remember during my entire tenure in school, I daydreamed employing vivid imagery, mimicked people, tried to please Jesus (under the influence of a nun in school), and sleepwalked through middle school. Ok…till high school. I perfected the art of nodding my head and making confident eye contact with the teacher in 1984. This lured her into making me the class representative at the beginning of the term, she mistook me for an obedient rote learner. Then within a week Sonia the tattler took over…I was not dethroned, which would have been better because I became invisible thereafter. My timely head bob stopped working. I was that lost-winged seed with potential for growth and improvement. My Parents thought of 'potential' as a very respectable word, and they walked on air when it was mentioned in connection with me. They never reprimanded me much. They mostly seemed proud of my ability to mimic people who visited us. They liked the fact that I was observant. I also rhymed lines well which they approved of. With two approvals under my belt, writing free verse seem like a natural progression.

Free verse is what I write now, though not intentionally. When the meter goes awry free verse is born.


The ramble stops here.


And lastly- I've edited out the part about the lizard brain.

Monthly Updates

July 2023

Weekly Yarns Writers

Week 3, July 2023

Image by Hendo Wang
Image by Joe Caione

Magic Memory

By Haimanti Dutta Ray

The door creaked open, revealing a secret I never expected. I had just turned twenty five.

Returning home from the University on College Street, I was in for a very pleasant surprise. My mom called out to me as soon as I entered the door.  She beckoned me excitedly and then pointed to the cabinet placed near the door.

“Look beneath it!”

I bent down double, to look beneath.

At first, I saw nothing. Just a few specks of dirt lying around. Then I discerned a shape that seemed to be shrinking towards the wall. The shape metamorphosed into a white ball of fur.

“What on earth …?”

I mumbled to myself.
Just then a small, cuddly pup emerged from beneath the cabinet. The pup's fur was matted with dirt. 
Obviously, she’d been rummaging under the dusty cabinet.

I looked at my mother. in disbelief. Seeing my look of wonder and amazement, she laughed aloud.

“Your father's friend sent her for you. As you were not at home, she landed in my lap first! Mark you, she’s a she! Now what do we give her to eat? And what to call her ?”

Before I had the time to scratch my head, the little one looked up into my eyes, directly. Was there a note of pleading in that look? Or was it a hint of mischief? She did not give us time to analyse the look- warm, trusting, adoring, pleading...

 

We caressed her soft, shining head with tender hands as if she were a shining diamond fallen earthwards, from above.

 

Mowgli (yes that's what we called her) jumped into my lap, a little timorously at first, as if gauging whether my lap is as good as her mother's womb and then with complete adoration and trust. 
 

Happily, she sucked from the kerchief dipped in warm milk. She was so small that we were afraid to feed her otherwise. She came into our life like a treasure trove, spreading joy and immeasurable happiness for the seven years she was with us. And then all of a sudden she was gone, leaving us bereft but treasuring her beautiful memory. 

A character like Mowgli never grows up. Either in fiction or in reality. It’s best that it should be so.

Monthly Updates

July 2023

Weekly Yarns Writers

Week 2, July 2023

Image by John Salzarulo
Geometric White Dog

The Replacement

By Neera Kashyap

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One evening while going up for my daily walk, I noticed Anil’s strong squat figure loping down the hill slope. His dog Peeku was pulling at the leash as she led him down at a swift pace. Anil, a young architect had opted out of the rat race in Mumbai to live in this small Himalayan town near Ranikhet, settling in with his wife and daughter to learn and conserve the local styles of building with stone, mud, wood and slate. They had lived in the neighbourhood of our summer home, but had moved out to a larger cottage on a nearby hilltop, so I had been out of touch for a while.

The first thing I noticed was that the dog was not Peeku but another hill dog that resembled an Alsatian – lean, sprightly, ears pricked up and alert. I had known Peeku since she was a pup, her small body, even on a leash, throwing itself at a familiar person with an excitability that was as endearing as it was disconcerting. Peeku’s quality of unbridled enthusiasm never really left her even as she grew older and bigger, her sharp claws clawing at one’s midriff, her tail wagging in ever-widening arcs of excitement. Unfailingly, she thrust her wet nose into one’s hands - her own distinct gesture of loving recognition.

This dog showed no excitement, kept its distance and stayed close to Anil. I asked after Peeku. For a while, Anil did not answer but stared at the approaching monsoon clouds. When he spoke, his face settled into lines of grief. He and his family had gone on a long road trip to Mumbai. They had planned to take Peeku along but had given in to the offer made by a close ecologist friend, Manan to let Peeku remain with him on his estate – a large piece of land wooded on all sides with oak trees, streams flowing naturally from the roots of the abundant oaks. One Sunday afternoon, Peeku went missing. Manan and his workers combed the entire estate and the forests beyond for any trace of Peeku. There was none. The foreboding settled into an unconfirmed reality: she had been taken away by a leopard. Manan’s estate was known to have visitations from these big cats.

Anil and his family wasted no time in returning to their home in the hills. Meanwhile, Irena, a dog lover and activist, while walking the forests near Manan’s home, stumbled upon the remains of what looked like a dog. There were scattered bones, part of a skull and hair. She collected samples of the hair in a bag and cremated the remains. She buried the ashes and prepared a small mound of mud over it on which she placed fresh flowers. From examining the hair sample, Anil and his wife Astha knew this to be Peeku’s. “The last we knew of Peeku was this small bag of her hair”, said Anil, “whereas she is everywhere at home – calling out to us from every corner.”

In recounting the incident, Anil’s grief lines resolved into the calm of acceptance. The new dog – Beeru – had moved closer to him. He looked up at Anil, moved away to stare at the dark clouds. He stood on his haunches – calm, detached, alert. It began to rain.

Writer's Note: This is a true incident.

Monthly Updates

July 2023

Weekly Yarns Writers

Week 1, July 2023

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Grateful

Nothing Lazy About this Day

By Peter A Witt

Sun peaked its rays of golden light above the horizon, setting the birds atwitter, stopping the frogs from croaking, increasing the whoosh of traffic on the freeway, bringing the sound of trash cans beings hoisted into idling trucks into kitchens where coffee was brewing, eggs and bacon were frying, and the toaster was spitting out english muffins ready for butter substitute and sugar free strawberry jam. Children, a boy and his outspoken older sister, trundled downstairs having dressed for school, sister to be sent back upstairs by Mother convinced that above knee dresses were inappropriate attire for an eleven year old, while junior snickered in the background, not knowing that later he'd be scolded for getting mud on his overnight polished shoes. Father soon took his place at the head of the table, reading the news on his phone, not hearing when his wife asked him to make sure he picked up the dry cleaning on his way home from work, and would he please walk the dog before leaving for work. Breakfast was soon set on the table, where everyone ate in silence, long practiced to avoid morning conflicts. Family airedale sat hopefully nearby glancing from table to floor in hopes that junior would accidentally drop scraps of bacon or father would sneak him a piece of muffin. Mother looked at her family knowing they'd soon be gone and peace and quiet would set in, and she'd have to walk the dog. She'd spend the day contemplating how to tell her husband and children that during her doctor's visit she learned she had breast cancer, and later during a vet visit was told that the family dog had an inoperable tumor. Her thoughts were interrupted by a call from her mother asking when she was coming to visit, a call from the bank saying a check she'd written two days ago had bounced, and a knock on the front door where a fly-by-night driveway paving company con artist offered her a deal to blacktop their driveway, she declined. Then it was laundry folding and dishwashing, and sitting on the porch with a cup of tea wondering if life was this complicated for her neighbours and wondering if the dog would still be alive when she had her mastectomy.

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Neera Kashyap reads 'The Replacement'

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