Death

Tughlaq in the Library – Part II

Review
Read Tughlaq in the Library – Part I here.

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The siege of Daulatabad (April-June 1633).
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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But the play is more than a political allegory. It has an irreducible, puzzling quality which comes from the ambiguities of Tughlaq’s character, the dominating figure in the play. All the other characters are dramatized aspects of his complex personality, yet they also exist in their own right. Kannada critics have made detailed analyses of the play, paying special attention to the symbolism of the game of chess, the theme of disguise, the ironic success of Aziz whose amazing story runs parallel to Tughlaq’s, and the dualism of the man and the hero in Tughlaq, which is the source of the entire tragedy. Yet no critical examination of the play can easily exhaust its total meaning for the reader, because the play has, finally, an elusive and haunting quality which it gets from the character of Tughlaq who has been realized in great psychological depth. But it would be unjust to say that the play is about an ‘interesting’ character, for the play relates the character of Tughlaq to philosophical questions on the nature of man and the destiny of a whole kingdom which a dreamer like him controls.

Introduction, U. R. Anantha Murthy

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[Image by Jagriti Rumi]

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Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, in the play, commits to actions with a confidence of a master player, one who is certain of the ending, one who is far sighted somewhat like an ominous oracle – a skilful, wise puppeteer who runs the show singlehandedly, unaware and forgetful of his involvement in the drama.

People unlike puppets, even though tied to strings, quietly keep gathering the power to pull down and topple the king puppeteer, they always do.

The echo of a future that reached Tughlaq’s ears, the making of history that Tughlaq could see so clearly was nothing but an illusion, a time bound vision, a trick that tricked him.

Sure about a glorious tomorrow, he dragged his people along towards it – an ever evading tomorrow.

Sultan’s experiments done so as to unite the country as one, to build an ideal powerful state, failed pathetically, leading the kingdom to anarchy. With a staunch eye on greatness, Tughlaq couldn’t manoeuvre without ‘murdering’ the stubborn present – the present, so full of the past, so treasured by his subjects.

Subjects who wrote hate-letters, full of rebukes, all addressed to the Sultan.


Let us meet Tughlaq, whom we first met in the library, who is now placed, by the playwright, on the chess board and the game has begun –

Scene One

Old Man: You can go to the Kazi-i-Mumalik for small offences. But who do you appeal to against such madness?

Third Man: This is tyranny! Sheer tyranny! Move the capital to Daulatabad! Such things never happened in his father’s days – may his soul rest in peace. Now he’s got his father’s throne. He isn’t happy with that and—

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Tughlaq has set up the court of Chief Justice in the capital where people can file a suit against the officers of State or even the Sultan.

He talks about justice and equality after accepting the Kazi’s verdict; he declares to compensate and offers a post in the Civil Service for the Brahmin who had appealed against his land being seized illegally by the State.

The humanistic monologue ends with Tughlaq announcing his well-thought and thoroughly discussed decision of shifting the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad and without waiting for a reaction or a bird to fly by, he leaves.

The shocked public worries if their worst nightmare will come true – what are they to do? The guard shoos them away shouting “Go home! The show’s over!”

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Aazam: Anyway, why did you have to dress up in these ungodly clothes? Couldn’t you have come like a proper Muslim?

Aziz (scandalized): But then what would happen to the King’s impartial justice? A Muslim plaintiff against a Muslim King? I mean, where’s the question of justice there? Where’s the equality between Hindus and Muslims? If on the other hand the plaintiff’s a Hindu… well, you saw the crowds.

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Aziz, a thug, disguised as the Brahmin, seeking justice from the Kazi, truly understands Sultan’s ‘impartial justice’; playing along with the Sultan, he makes use of the State’s scheme and presents the Sultan a chance to make use of him – Sultan gets the tag of a “fair ruler” and in turn, Aziz makes some money.

Throughout the play Aziz maintains the stance that no one knows the wise Sultan as much as he does because it is only he who participates in the Sultan’s game.

Aziz will, sooner or later, dare to check-mate the Sultan, will he win?


Scene Two

Muhammad Tughlak orders his brass coins to pass for silver, A.D. 1330.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

Step-Mother (bursts into laughter): I don’t know what to do with you. I can’t ask a simple question without your giving a royal performance.

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Tughlaq’s step mother is his confidant; well aware about his burdens, the Step-Mother always urges him to slow down and more importantly, to make every move not in secret, not from her.

The Step-Mother too is playing alongside the Sultan, sometimes delicately trying to use him as a game-piece, but never showing it. The crime of patricide and fratricide hangs heavily on the Sultan’s soul; the Step-Mother never brings this up, never, unless it is required to make an impact.

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Muhammad: Surely a historian doesn’t need an invitation to watch history take shape! Come, Barani, what does he say?

Barani: It’s as Your Majesty said… He says the Sultan is a disgrace to Islam.

Muhammad: That’s all? I could find worse faults in me. What else?

Silence.

Najib: He says Your Majesty has forfeited the right to rule, by murdering your father and brother at prayer time.

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First Tughlaq makes praying five times a day compulsory, then he completely bans praying in his kingdom, only to wait in the end for a messiah to bring back pious prayers for his doomed subjects.

Like a devotee crossing all boundaries – that of life too – to connect with the almighty, Tughlaq crossed all boundaries to win over the almighty.

The far-off dream seemed the biggest truth to him and making sacrifices the only way towards it.


Scene Three to Five

Muhammad: No one can go far on his knees. I have a long way to go. I can’t afford to crawl – I have to gallop.

Imam-Ud-Din: And you will do it without the Koran to guide you? Beware, Sultan, you are trying to become another God. It’s a sin worse than patricide.

Muhammad (refusing the bait): Only an atheist can try to be God. I am God’s most humble slave.

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One Sultan, one dream, one decision, and what did the thousand eyes see – bloodshed or sacrifice, deceits or promises, Delhi or Daulatabad? Perhaps they couldn’t see clearly, perhaps they were hungry – for prayers or food?

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Shihab-Ud-Din: I’m sorry. But you have never liked the Sultan, I don’t know why. After all that he has done for the Hindus –

Ratan Singh: Yes indeed, who can deny that! He is impartial! Haven’t you heard about the Doab? He levied such taxes on the poor farmers that they preferred to starve. Now there’s a famine there. And of course Hindus as well as Muslims are dying with absolute impartiality.


Scene Six to Eight

Daulatabad Fort, Aurangabad, Maharashtra.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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Moving stealthily ahead, like an animal approaching its prey, Tughlaq finds it hard to remember that he is not an animal. Playing the game too well, he begins to lose the grip on reality; shuffling strategies, imposing with a hope to win once again.

Muhammad: I could have killed you with a word. But I like you too much.

Stabs him. Then almost frenzied, goes on stabbing him. Hits out at Shihab-Ud-Din’s dead body with a ferocity that makes even the soldiers holding the body turn away in horror.

Barani: Your Majesty – he’s dead!

Muhammad stops, then flings the dagger away in disgust.

Muhammad (anguished): Why must this happen, Barani? Are all those I trust condemned to go down in history as traitors? What is happening? Tell me, Barani, will my reign be nothing more than a tortured scream which will stab the night and melt away in the silence?


Scene Nine

Aziz, the thug, awaits a chance to be in the centre, right in front of the king; to be there not as a pawn, rook or knight, but to be invited by the Sultan himself, to be revered – he plans to replace Ghiyasud-din Muhammad, a saint.

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Aazam (giggles): So you want power, do you? What do you want to be, a Sultan?

Aziz: Laugh away, stupid. You’ll soon see. It all depends on whether Karim will bring the goods.

Aazam (seriously): But, no, Aziz, why are you so dissatisfied? We have such a nice establishment here. We take enough money from travellers and the other robbers are scared to death of you. There’s no limit to what we can make here.

Aziz: I am bored stiff with all this running and hiding. You rob a man, you run and hide. It’s all so pointless. One should be able to rob a man and then stay there to punish him for getting robbed. That’s called ‘class’ – that’s being a real king!


Scene Ten to Twelve

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Unlike the game of chess, the king wages a war against his own people; wounded and hurt, he tortures himself by giving his step-mother the death sentence.

Step-Mother: You had your share of futile deaths. I have mine now.

Muhammad (shouting): No, they were not futile. They gave me what I wanted – power, strength to shape my thoughts, strength to act, strength to recognise myself. What did your little murder give you?

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The Step-Mother too wanted power, power to rule Sultan’s heart and mind and through him the Sultanate; Tughlaq knew it, but couldn’t accept it anymore, not after she had Najib, the royal adviser, poisoned.

Muhammad: God, God in Heaven, please help me. Please don’t let go of my hand. My skin drips with blood and I don’t know how much of it is mine and how much of others.


Scene Thirteen

Aziz is finally face to face his idol, unafraid and gleefully meek, he praises every move of the Sultan, revealing it to him unabashedly who all profited from his ‘just schemes’ – some goons like him and the generous Sultan himself.

The only character who manages to break Tughlaq’s dream and show him the ugly reality, the present that is far off from his historically grand future. He brings forth the truth as a twist.

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Barani: This man should be buried alive this minute!

Aziz: I only acted according to His Majesty’s edicts.

Muhammad (exploding): Hold your tongue, fool! You dare pass judgement on me? You think your tongue is so light and swift that you can trap me by your stupid clowning? Let’s see how well it wages when hanging from the top of a pole. I haven’t cared for the bravest and wisest of men – you think I would succumb to you? A dhobi, masquerading as a saint?

Aziz (quietly): What if I am a dhobi, Your Majesty? When it comes to washing away filth no saint is a match for a dhobi.

Muhammad suddenly bursts into a guffaw. There is a slight hysterical tinge to the laughter.

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Aziz wins without check-mating the king – his life is spared and a job in the deccan is offered by the Sultan – as he seals a deal to continue fooling the crowd for a while and then to vanish. He makes the king adhere to his wish.

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Judgement day!
[Source – Pixabay]

Muhammad: If justice was as simple as you think or logic as beautiful as I had hoped, life would have been so much clearer. I have been chasing these words now for five years and now I don’t know if I am pursuing a mirage or fleeing a shadow. Anyway what do all these subtle distinctions matter in the blinding madness of the day? Sweep your logic away into a corner, Barani, all I need now is myself and my madness – madness to prance in a field eaten bare by the scarecrow violence. But I am not alone, Barani. Thank Heaven! For once I am not alone. I have a Companion to share my madness now – the Omnipotent God! (Tired.) When you pass your final judgement on me, don’t forget Him.

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Barani, the historian, Sultan’s only friend, prepares to leave Daulatabad; Tughlaq will soon be all alone in the magnificent palace, alone with his deeds and this terrifies him.

As a king Tughlaq took responsibility of his subjects, confident of his vision, that when it breaks, he knows he has fallen and with him, so has his people. The cries, chaos, mayhem follow him like his shadow.

But if not a king, yet a ruler, a group of elected rulers, what does responsibility of the citizens mean to them? Who falls, if they fall? What do their shadows sound like?

The play ends with the fake Ghiyasud-din Muhammad performing at the prayer time in the background (Muezzin’s call to the prayer is heard), Tughlaq, sitting on his throne, takes a short nap, then suddenly wakes up unsure of the place or time.

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ours

Review

The Novel

Frankenstein Or The Modern Prometheus speaks to you directly, showing you with its wintery-cold hands the myth through the lens called life.

Call it a myth, an experiment, a mistake, it retells, at the same time approaching the same unknown vision, the story of Victor Frankenstein – a man who humbly tries to be god.

The novel retells, and is still retelling like a folktale in the air, how Victor Frankenstein’s passion for alchemy, chemistry and natural philosophy acted as a catalyst for his many experiments on lifeless frames he gathered from cemeteries.

Long, maddening but exact and taciturn, expeditions, not to a far off land (not as of now), but inside the laboratory, expedition to the depths of knowing the dead and undead, to the threshold of unruly desire and undue greed, greed to dominate.

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?

Chapter 5, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The creator fled away from his creation forgetting that the two are now tied to each other by a thread – a thread stronger than creator’s own shadow, voice and thoughts. Victor created a monster, not on that ‘dreary night of November‘, but over a period of time. Absolute neglect and abhorrence left the monster no choice but to be one.

Even when he learns the ways of the world – living in a hovel, grasping in silence what a family life means, secretly helping people around, picking their language and deciphering meaning in what he could read – he faces rigid rejection to whomsoever he turns to.

Shunned, he questions his existence and finds the winter weather leaping away after answering him with a static silence.

Fear fosters fear and with such weakness and anger the monster acts, brutally he acts, making sure that his master hears all about it. The monster kills Victor’s younger brother William and thus begins the downfall of both the creator and the monster.

Darkness and gloom overpower Victor and with the deaths of his best friend, fiancé and his old father, he becomes as lonely as the monster.

The pure white snow at the North Pole, that appeared to be engulfing the earth and the sky alike, could not make the monster anything less than what he had become – he was a curse, told Victor to his new friend, Robert Walton, an explorer and closed his eyes forever, hoping that in death he may find victory over his loathsome creation.

And this once Victor was right, the monster decides to put an end to his grotesque life too.

A little bit of gleaming sunshine, valley fresh flowers and joy too may feel subdued in this novel by the inky rainy nights and foggy, grey skies, but that is because it stays true to its core – a tragedy, but a modern one where the hero nurtures his flaw, unaware yet certain at first, lamenting and regretting later, truly owning it as a dead man.

Victor Frankenstein borne the brunt of such a curse that no one may ever dare to face, even in the advanced world, maybe only by mistake, but not as a determined goal and even if one did, in the times to come, such a creation will know what happened to Frankenstein’s monster and will know it only too well.

Until then, Frankenstein will continue to live, in our memory, for the sake of the curse and so will his monster.


The Author

When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

Author’s introduction, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, London 15th October 1831

At 18, when she began writing Frankenstein, Mary Shelley had thought of it to be a tale no longer than a few pages, at 20, the novel, after initial rejections, got published anonymously – customary for most female writers of the period – with a preface by her husband, P.B Shelley.

Some thought P.B Shelley or his father-in-law, the philosopher writer William Godwin, to be the author of this phantasmagoria and Mary Shelley surely was influenced by both, but her close encounters with death that tortured her, but kept her alive, very much like the Titan god of fire, Prometheus, made her who she was.

Mary Shelley wrote in her diary – “Dream that my little baby came to life again – that it had only been cold and that we rubbed it by the fire and it lived – I awake and find no baby – I think about the little thing all day.”

Mary got her name from her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist writer, who died soon after giving birth to her. Even though deprived of this pious golden bond, Mary Shelley nurtured it solitarily, just like Frankenstein’s creation.

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s world became her world when she, at 16, fled with him, well aware that the journey ahead will be more perilous than it ever was. Percy, then 20, was already married, penniless and somewhat on the run from his creditors. After his first wife’s death, the couple got married and just for a few shy years they happily lived together.

Too strong a wave, was Mary’s beloved, for he rose to meet the light on a stormy night on the sea and drowned unabashedly. Mary Shelley kept the remains of his heart as keepsake and continued to edit and publish his poems posthumously.

Patience of deep sea grew in Mary Shelley and she decided to live – for her only son and her pen. She wrote novels, short stories, travelogues and biographies both to earn a living and stay close to the phantasmagorical world of stories.

The idea of Frankenstein came to Mary Shelley in a half-waking nightmare in the summer of 1816. She had been staying with her husband and Lord Byron on the shore of Lake Geneva when at Byron’s suggestion they were all challenged to make up a ghost story.

– Frankenstein (Penguin Popular Classics)

The summer of 1816 later came to be known as ‘the year without a summer’ because of the eruption of Mount Tamboro in Indonesia that sent clouds of volcanic ash throughout Europe, North America and Asia.

Torrential rain and grey gloominess filled the sky, it must have, when Mary Shelley sat down to write Frankenstein. And this only favoured her, even if she didn’t realise it, as she managed to breach the measurements of time in presenting a vision, hideous and terrifying, but intact and alive.

And so, it walked, with our desires and knowledge meeting, it walked – Frankenstein’s monster walked.

But what’s he up to now?


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Let’s Take The Final Curtain Call Together

Flash Fiction
A lovely dancing tree.
[Source – Pixabay]

Standing next to the giant old tree, its static presence made Saami sombre, more and more.

He cried, “Saami is now one with the rigid, rough and-and dead, yes, dead and gruesome tree bark, Saami has turned into this tree bark… O, but why?”

Resting against the tree now, now hugging the tree and mumbling, Saami stared into nothingness blankly, quietly. He opened his fist – a flint stone chip, equally dead he thought – and started ripping off the bark once again.

“Saami sees it all, Saami knows the limits, Saami’s dungeon is different from theirs, but… it’s all the same”, he announced in pain.

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Sombre Saami’s imagination.
[Source – Pixabay]

The twittering yellow bird, the prancing butterflies, a distant lullaby, the pesky kung-fu crickets’ funny civil war and the red flowers’ bold stance, Saami turned a blind eye to it all.

Even the crickets stopped their civil war to enjoy the rain and the rainbow that day, but not Saami.

“Fools! Saami knows the pattern, Saami knows hope and destiny are always stuck in a traffic jam, and love…”, said Saami two hours ago.

“Love… love coloured Saami’s world black… black is the absence of all colours… black reflects no light… Saami lives in darkness”, he completed the sentence just when the fireflies lit the jungle.

Some rested on his head and hands, but Saami refused to greet them.

With a dry look, sullen eyes and tired limbs, Saami spoke for the last time, “dead, static tallness, this soulless tree bark hates Saami, this is the death penalty, and the most terrible because Saami is not tied, Saami can move, Saami knows, but not anymore, for Saami has become one with this giant numb stubborn treeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…”


Saami spoke for the last time because the lovely, joyous and calm tree’s branch took hold of Saami’s tired body and pulled him up-up-up… in a gushing blast of speed, suddenly music broke Saami’s heart-heart-heart… ta-rum-pup-pup-paa came the sound and immediately replaced it with a musical hub-dub sensation of a heart.

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The lead singer-cum-dancer-cum-poser.
[Image by Roy N from Pixabay]

From the top-most branch of the tall lovely tree, Saami could see melodic colours and no darkness, nothing was static for the entire jungle and the river and the wind and the sky and the stars and the moon and the sun (together) danced to the twee peppy tune – and equally soothing, thought Saami – that the animal orchestra was playing.

Every animal – jamming freely – sitting on the top of some tree just like Saami… Saami who started clapping, swaying along and tip-tap-toeing in the air.

The tall lovely tree finally spoke, “Saami, yoi-knowi-da-cosmic-i-dance-sO-‘ell”; Saami was seen blushing brightly before the curtain was drawn.

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Cosmic-i-dance!
[Source – Pixabay]

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Two Blind Crows

Ra-ra’s famous window story.
[Image from Pixabay]

Ra-ra: Why did the window go SHUT… who closed it SHUT… my question is just HOW?

Ra-ra’s friend Coo stays quiet, looking absolutely nowhere.

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  Ra-ra: S-H-U-T shut, right when I was about to pick my share and leave…  

Coo: I believe you, it has been so many years since you first told me this story.

Ra-ra: (astonished) Many years you say, gone nuts…? It happened an hour ago.

Ra-ra: Coo, this ain’t the time to argue.

Coo: A while? He died ages ago.

Coo: You’re standing fine, 900 years have passed.

Ra-ra: 900? I have come flying from the west port of Oraffa city just now.

Coo: Oraffa city? Hah! Blind dreams!

Ra-ra: How dare you? I can see very well… you can’t, you blind ugly funny-sounding bad crow!

Coo: I said blind dreams… didn’t call you blind.

Ra-ra: Oh, oh-my, then let me apologise.

Coo: For what? We are blind, the world knows it. Yet…

Ra-ra: Blind we are, yes, yes… very much… (mumbles).

Coo: I’ll complete my sentence… yet we are still alive.

Ra-ra: (flaps wings) Death sentence, I have been given a death sentence and yet I am alive.

Coo: Cool-cool yourself Ra-ra. We are together in this.  

*

Ra-ra starts sobbing, mumbles again.

  Coo: I am turning left.

Ra-ra: (softly) Left?

Coo: Turned.

Ra-ra: Wait for me!

Coo: Can’t.

Ra-ra: I think I also turned left unless it is the right, or it is somewhere in the middle, who knows.

Coo: Not me.

Ra-ra: (laughs) You’re funny!  

*

Both Ra-ra and Coo stand quietly. Coo speaks after some time.

  Coo: Hey Ra-ra, you never told me your famous window story.

Ra-ra: I didn’t? How come?

Coo: That’s the truth.

Ra-ra: Well, then listen… the window was SHUT before I could pick my share… someone just closed it SHUT…

*

The two blind crows talked facing what they thought was the left.

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Two Blind Crows
[Image by Santa3 from Pixabay]

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A Seeming

Flash Fiction

That I am and that I am not is a seeming. Life is a seeming just like its partner, death.

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A beautiful sunrise/ sunset… a beautiful seeming.
[Source – Pixabay]

Rosaline, sitting on the branch of a huge tree, was collecting the passing clouds. Though friends with the clouds, she didn’t like to see them at night, maybe because she also collected stars.

The day-night cycle confused her. Grandma’s solution “you’ll understand it once you become a big girl” didn’t help Rosaline at all.

And so she started living in different worlds – the-bright-blue-sky-world, the-mischievous-cloudy-world, the-paper-boat-rainy-world, the-sparkling-starry-world, the-moon-pie-world, the-ghostly-pitch-black-world…

Two worlds sometimes merged into one and formed something unique.

Whichever world Rosaline was in, she was always excited to live it fully. Happily, she always announced early in the morning “today I’ll be in the-mischievous-cloudy-world’ or ‘give way to Rosaline, the-moon-pie-world awaits her.”

Lost in her myriad worlds, she lived madly. She even recorded her visits to these wonderful worlds.

She was proud to be the youngest and the oldest member of her family, youngest by age and oldest by the many visits she made to these worlds.

On her 92nd visit to the crunchy-autumn-leaves-world, she died. She fell from a huge tree.

Her last words were, “Grandma, you need to plus 22 more worlds to break my record”.

*

A crunchy-autumn-leaves-world.
[Source – Pixabay]

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