From The Heart Of A Pink Forest.

Dear Inspector Sahab,

Namaste! My name is Gulab Kiko. I,stay in a small village of ” Gulabi Pahadi”. I’m about 19 years old & im to be married to a man named “Gulab Rishwa”. He’s a good man. At least I would like to presume so. But my story isn’t about me & my non existent love story with G.Rishwa,it’s about the Pink Forest. 

All of us,who live in this village have names starting with Gulab. Gulab means a rose in Hindi and Gulabi means the colour pink. Gulabi Pahadi would thereby mean ” The Pink Hill”. It’s our homage to the pink forest. A secret that mustn’t be shared with any outsider. This secret has to be kept closely guarded by each resident of “Gulabi Pahadi”. People from the outside world, find it rather strange that we have a common name. But really it’s a pact which we all have entered into. We marry only within the “Gulab” clan. We can’t and don’t want to risk the secret. 

Our village is anything but pink visually. It’s a mess. Ruins,dilapidated buildings,dung filled roads,cattle grazing,tumbleweeds,barren trees,scorching sun. There’s nothing green here,let alone pink. The only colour that we love is of the cerulean sky.

We don’t get any tourists,the people who do come here are the ones who have lost their way or people who stop for some water while travelling. Our doors are bolted at the strike of 8 in the night. The whole village lights up like those fireflies. Little lanterns aglow within mud houses. We don’t have electricity yet here,that seems like a distant dream. We do come across as rude but we aren’t. All of this is just a facade,we need to safeguard the secret. We are the guardians of the “Pink Forest”. 

Why am I telling you my secret? The forest told me so. It says it has had enough of being hidden. I did tell Ammaji & Babaji about it,but they are against what I said. But I must fulfill the wish. Listen to me carefully now…

Gulabi Pahadi is a baptised name of our village. What it was called before,I never questioned my parents.The Pink forest lies a few kilometres from our village. You will see that,it’s just a vast expanse of huge green trees with almost a certain kind of darkness to it. It’s horrific even at noon. I’ve always wondered why they called this “The Pink Forest”. Anyways,the forest is neglected except for the days when we hear that slow yet shrill cry. It’s a siren of sorts. 

All the elderly men & women wrap themselves up in thick shawls,don on black clothing and cast away their accessories. All of them leave us behind. You need to be over 45 years to join the temporary diaspora. I don’t understand why I thought it was a good idea to go against my clan and go towards the Pink Forest. I sneaked in. My Folly!! Why did I go? I wish I would’ve just ignored it & slept like every time. 

Now the burden eats me and gnaws my heart. I need to start my new life with this burden off my chest. 

I left the lantern burning,wrapped a warm black rug and sneaked out of the village. Everyone was much ahead of me. I ran as fast as I could,I could see lanterns ahead. All of them were inside the forest. It looked like a huge firefly gathering,so ethereal,so fairy like. 

Just then, I heard something. Something like a hum. But they say,I mustn’t look back in the dark. They say it’s the devil who calls you and if you turn back,he slaps you or possesses you. So I didn’t turn back. 

The hum kept on growing louder,I was terribly scared. This must be a big devil. I started my prayer chants. I could see a big tree,I climbed it and covered my rug over my head. I closed my eyes shut. Praying and calling out to God to save me from the devil. If I ran towards the gathering I would be reprimanded & I don’t know what the consequences would be. If I stayed here,I don’t know if the devil would spare me. 

Suddenly,I heard nothing. God had heard my prayers,like always. I must peek from the rug atleast. I lifted my rug. In front of me I saw 2 huge jeeps. Jeeps? What are Jeeps here for? These were the Devils? 

“Kiko,you really are crazy. These are just jeeps.” I thought. 

A bunch of raucous men got out of the jeeps. Shouting & kicking stones. They kept singing “Munni badnaam hui” **

Poor Munni,she would be in tatters if she knew how these bad men are character assassinating her. Wonder what she did or who she is. I wish her peace. 

And then,from the jeeps came bundles. 

 “Bundles of what?”I thought. 

They were long and almost man like bundles. I could count 5 of those bundles. 

The head of our village came out of the forest. Touched the bundles and kissed them. He was crying. 

The raucous guys told him,that he knew what should be done and he better do it. With that,they left. 

The village elders came,lifted the bundles & went inside. I had to see what was going on. The confusion was killing me. 

There were holes in the ground. Wait! Those were graves. Graves? There were pyres too. What’s going on?

The bundles were unwrapped. What I saw,killed me that day. There were bodies. Bodies of people. What’s happening. Why isn’t anyone against this? Who are these bodies of? 

They burned them and then buried them in those graves. A big bag was taken out and in them were 100’s of pink roses. These people had the audacity to put pink roses on those graves. This was why it’s called The Pink Forest? 

“Help us Kiko! Don’t leave us,tell what they did to us.”shouted voices I’ve never known my life.

Everything was spinning around me. The smell of death was evident. Next thing I see is I’m on my bed.

It was a dream. But when the bruises from the previous night revealed themselves during my bath,I was in for a rude awakening. I ran to Ammaji my mother. Asked her what the hell was happening.

After much reluctance,she gave in. Our Gulabi Pahadi was a huge part of an organ scandal. Given the clandestine nature of our community,the organ dealers got us in their grasp from the past 20 years or so. We were doing all their dirty work. We weren’t killing anyone,but we were certainly killing their identity. Why? Because they promised us money and that everyone would be taken care of. 

Was there not one who objected? Ammaji said no. We’ve been close knit from centuries and we were being benefitted by just burying those bodies. She thought this as a noble deed.

 She said,”we could never stop them from doing it,they in fact threatened us,if we revealed even as much as an A to the police. That’s why our village has been renamed. It’s our secret,the nearby villages look up to to us. They see how flourishing we are. Our status symbol is elevated because of this. If you can wear good clothes & eat good food,it’s because of them. If you can drink clean water,it’s because of them. They have helped us. We are just helping those poor souls gain nirvana. They have been used for a noble cause. Their bodies are giving life to others. How can you not see that Kiko?”

She said she was Giving them salvation. Giving them a goodbye they deserved. 

I cried and hated my life. My parents were brainwashed. They were repulsive to me now. Those brutes were murdering innocent people and this wasn’t seen as anything wrong? How is a poor mans life any less worthy than a rich mans?

I didn’t want to be a “Gulab” anymore. I cried for days together. Nobody heard me. And in such places,nobody will. 

Emotions and feelings are just commodities. We sell them for money here. Those voices haunt me everyday. My friend here,writes as I tell my narrative. She’s a journalist. Someone who says the truth I believe. She will give you my letter,she’s been sent by The Pink Forest.

Today,I’m a bride. I’m wearing Pink,I’ve always wanted to wear red  but my people are scared of the colour Red. They have seen too much of it. 

Please save me and my people. 

Kiko.


** Munni badnaam hui is a famous Bollywood song.

P.s: This work of fiction is Dedicated to the victims of organ trafficking.

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The Mermaid Who Never Came Back.

I have no name. I was born with one,but I macerated it away. My identity isn’t on those plastic cards,but it’s found when I plunged into the cold depths of mysterious waters. When I was born with a deformed leg,the world just abhorred me. I found acceptance in the blue waters,she embraced me with warmth,caressed my deformity and made me feel unique. 

Today I stand here at the shore,looking into the horizon,even the majestic sun goes to sleep in those waters. A gusty wind blows my auburn tresses. I curl my toes and those silica crystals stick softly in between my toes. The trees sway & the clouds colour the sky grey. Pitter patter,the raindrops start falling. There are no rainbows today,there won’t be any rainbows for me ever. 

Somehow,I never possessed the trait of mutability. I’m determined,there isn’t an ounce of doubt about what I am doing today. I think of the vicissitudes of emotions that raged my life,happy,sad,angry,calm. Just so many. After all of that,I’m here. 

I feel the burden of my duffel bag suddenly. I gently let it slide down from my shoulders. It falls with a soft thump. I zip it open to reveal a silver wetsuit,photos,books,ziplock bag,Swiss knife & a nose plug. I pull them out of their resting place. 

I stare at the photos first. Reminding myself how happy I was. I look at each one carefully and think how the world completely ossified me. These happy memories must go. I snip them up into a million pieces & carefully stuff them in a ziplock bag. It must have been 15 minutes or so,a stray tear found itself on my cheek.Well,i don’t know if it was a tear,because even if it came,it got diluted with the rain.

My books are scattered on the shore. My inspirations,my treasures & my companions. Today they must go too. I stack them in a pile and walk towards the ocean. I release them one by one into that ocean. They go floating away,getting drenched from the rain & soggy from the ocean water.

 “Adieu mes amis!!”, I whisper under my breath. 

The rain stops and the clouds have cleared. Alas! I have reached a rubicon dear me. There is no turning back. 

Yes,I’m ready. I slip into my silver wetsuit and I hold my nose plug tightly. It has to be today. There is no other day. The sunlight strikes the ocean and I see a myriad of colours in the ocean. Is that a rainbow? No,it can’t be. Even if it is,I don’t care.

My countdown to freedom has begun. My grandfather’s words hit me like a thunderbolt,” When the Water summons you,You will go.” How germane are those words today. Yes grandfather the water summons me today. 

I lost him to this ocean 2 years back. He went Freediving,never to surface again. I waited on this shore,looking frantically at my watch,at every passing second. “Grandfather,grandfather”,my echoes had cried when it was well past 10 minutes. I would never see him again. 

I was an orphan all my life. My grandfather raised me on his “Senior Citizen’s Pension”. It was him who discovered my Inate ability to hold my breath for an astounding  8 minutes underwater. While the other kids would be gasping & turning pink at 20 seconds, I would be coursing the community pool like a mermaid. Coming up for a breath of air at 2 minutes. 

We started attending competitions & I started winning all of them. Every school,every college wanted me. But the nasty comments would never stop from my peers,”Goose Step, Chicken Feet, Limper”, these were just a few names thrown at me because of my deformity. 

Whenever I cried,grandfather used to take me to the ocean and we went freediving. Me and him, mermaid and merman. Endorphins gushing my system and me forgetting that I was a human. I went swimming with the school of fish & went piggybacking on a beautiful Manta ray. These were my family,after my grandfather. How happy we were.

It’s been 2 years since I went in those waters. The waters repulsed me because they snatched my Raison d’etrê. I had nothing to live for. Today I surrender. 

I hear the waves hit madly at the seashore and I’m not scared. My neon duffel bag lies on the shore. I walk away from it,with a ziplock bag in one hand and a nose plug in the other. I leave behind finprints in the sand,I turn back and see how beautiful they look. I feel happy. I am a mermaid. A bi finned one. 

The sunshine’s bright now & everything glistens. It’s like a welcome party for me. ” I’m coming Grandfather”. I throw the ziplock bag as far as I can. My memories must drown today.

The cold waves hit me and engorge me in their grasp. I’m swallowed by a big blue turbine of water. I’m rolling and rolling. I find myself free somehow. I come out of the water,to pack in some air. I’ve learnt every technique. Nothing can pull me down. 

I swim and start delving deep into the waters. I see everything blue and green and blurred. I swim like I was born for this. My 8 minutes have started. I go deeper,I see little stars.. Oh! Those are fish again. My ears are starting to hurt. Nothing must stop me. 6 minutes to go. I go a few more feet deeper,now my ears feel like they could burst,my lungs are starting to cramp. It’s painful,but it’s worth it. 4 minutes to go. 

I swim deeper and deeper and deeper. Physically I feel I can do no more,but mentally I know I can. This is my home. This is me. I hear the whales. Whales? Are they here? Now I hear laughs. Grandfather and mine. I hear the carnival sounds,the merry-go-rounds. I hear celebratory cries. How many things I hear,in this soundless space.

“Lizzy” grandfather shouts. “Oh god! That’s my name.” A sense of Euphoria strikes me. I don’t know what am I doing. I can’t think clearly with this pain. I can feel nothing. This is how I wanted to feel. Empty.Blank.Devoid.Null. 

What time is it? Should I start ascending back to the surface? I,do need air. I don’t think I want to die. I change my mind. I change my mind. I want just one breath of air. I wanna live. I wanna pick my duffel bag and go home. I wanna sleep on my bed. I swim upwards with all my might. 

 My lungs are burning,my ears are numb. I need some oxygen now.I swim up again,piercing the depths. Yes,everything’s going to be fine. I will make it out alive. I’m ascending,there’s nothing to worry. I’m just going to keep calm.

And then a fierce water current shakes me and pulls me with it. 

Nitrogen narcosis hits me and I blackout at depths I don’t know of. I must clearly be 400 feet into water. I sway like an autumn leaf. Unknown. Lost. In my own motion. I’m a name you won’t find in the books of history. 

I can see me. 

Gosh! I’m beautiful in that body. I’m moving. Look at me. I’m moving. 

The water clears up,I see green trees,red fruits and the air smells fresh.  I’m out of my wetsuit,I’m wearing a beautiful green gown with pearls and crystals on it.

“Lizzy,I’m glad you came.” Says grandfather. 

“Im glad I did grandfather”

“Well,let’s go meet mom and dad shall we, my mermaid? They’re all waiting for you” he smiles. 

P.s. This is a work of fiction. This is a tribute to all those freedivers who lost their lives doing what they loved the best.