Category Archives: Fiction

Just For Today

kindled by Rumi, Ari and Haleh

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”

– Mary Oliver, from Owl & Other Fantasies

Just for today, call me anything you like and I will answer without argument as only one who has outlived her own sense of pride or shame can. Call me unrighteous and I will curtsy with no trace of irony. Tell me I have no scruples, and I will empty all my pockets just to prove you right. Condemn me as a traitor and I shall plead guilty while cuffing my own wrists. 

Only to those whose gods stay put is it given to be faithful. If I am fickle it is because mine are perennially unhoused. They roam the world recklessly with no sense of direction. Do you know what this means? Yesterday I bowed East and today facing South. God knows where I will turn tomorrow. My loyalty is chained to a moving target. Would you call me indiscreet?  I will nod vigorously in agreement. 

I am not a storehouse but a sieve, and a tattered one at that. Do not be persuaded to give me your jewels for safekeeping, lest they fly through my fingers. Let me confess: I trust the world. It is a weakness of mine. I trust its rickety bridges, quicksand, hail storms and hurricanes,  I trust its dogmatic politicians, daunting bureaucracies and dreariness. And by trust I mean praise, and by praise I mean see, and by see I mean feel them in me. Do you think I’m opinionated?  

Just for today say so to my face and I will, without spite, clasp your hand and thank you for the compliment. Our skin is bolstered by our bones. Our personality by our opinions. Without skeletons we would be amoeboid (no offense to our single-celled brethren,) and life would be fascinating in a different way. But in this present incarnation I treasure my tarsals and metacarpals, my clavicle, my occipital bone, and my opinions.  Just as one cannot produce onion soup without first having onions one cannot produce a change of opinion without first having an opinion. Evolution depends on alchemy. And alchemy some say depends on a very advanced change of opinion. You would call me unrepentant and rambling?

Such discernment on your part! I have spent far too much time pent to ever wish to re-pent. Like an origami crane I folded myself over myself in intricate and convoluted ways. Pressed all the inconvenient parts tightly together and tucked them out of sight. Until one day I came undone. Now I am very creased, not easily categorized, and I cannot stop singing. This glorious unraveling has rendered me loquacious and light-hearted. Today I haven’t the heart to chide anyone– not even myself. Is this irresponsible? I swear I can’t tell anymore. You say I’m flippant?

Ah, could you hold a moment? I must catch my breath. See how you’ve caught me off guard? How splendid! Now perhaps, the possibility of conversation. Had you caught me en garde all we would have is a duel. All those thrusts and parries, exciting at first (survival is a stimulating instinct,) but tiresome after a while, and on occasion downright tragic. Flippant you say? I see what you mean.

For so many years I took everything seriously. Then one day I stopped, and was surprised by my own buoyancy. Now I am untamed and unabashed. Self-propelling like a hummingbird. Given to flitting, and flights of fancy. Making up for lost time, and loath to shoulder much more than sunlight. Should slides of my feathers. Shall not cocks my head. I do not pretend to understand the ways of the world. I am lost in the woods that are lovely as touted. And dark. And deep. You are lost with me. And everyone else we know. And by lost I mean playing, and by playing I mean safe, and by safe I mean held, and by held I mean whole. And you are silent now. 

And so am I. 

Just for today. 


From 2005

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination – John Lennon

I am not a princess. I know this because of the story of the Princess & the Pea. For those who don’t know the story: There once lived a prince, handsome, brave, wise, good etc. In addition to all the royal cliches he was also stubborn as a donkey in his elitist resolve to marry a real princess. So he looked high & low (and why is it I wonder that no one ever thinks to look in the middle?) but in vain. There were no real princesses to be found. Only a handful of hopeful imposters. His mother, the queen (a real one of course,) began (in the manner of most mothers,) to grow increasingly anxious that her precious son would never settle down.

Until one proverbial dark & stormy night there came a knocking at the palace door. And when the queen opened it, she found dripping on her doorstep a much bedraggled creature who claimed to be Princess Yennithingkanbi (but to please call her Princess Yenni for short). Of course there was nothing to do but invite her in and offer her a dry towel and a hot cup of tea. And over tea the two of them began to talk about poetry and chocolate and the poetry of chocolate and by the end of it all the queen had decided in her heart of hearts that this was the woman her son must marry. Only there was of course this question of realness to be settled. Not quite the sort of question she could insert into polite conversation with a houseguest (royal etiquette eschews blunt forthrightness). So with the inventiveness born of maternal anxiety she devised a subtle if somewhat elaborate test.

The queen went down to her garden and picked a fresh pea pod. She split it open and surveyed the green pearl contents with an air of satisfaction. Four of the five peas she popped into her mouth (They were delicious. Fresh-picked peas always are), the fifth she took with her into the guest chamber and placed it carefully under the mattress of its fine feather bed. So far so simple. She then proceeded to pile on top of this mattress 99 of her finest spare feather mattresses. This unusual feat accomplished she then brought in the garden ladder, placed it on top of the kitchen stool, perched the kitchen stool precariously on an old dressing table and then stood back to examine the result. It was rather- unique. But she knew that if the princess were a Real Princess (and even if she was a passable Imposter) she wouldn’t raise so much as half a regal eyebrow at her sleeping arrangements. And she didn’t. When the time came to say Good-night, Princess Yenni thanked the queen prettily for her kindness before turning towards the bed. She paused for a moment mid-step and looked back- the queen held her breath waiting for what would come next. Then- “Sweet Dreams,” said Princess Yenni, before slipping off her shoes and climbing nimbly up the garden ladder placed on the kitchen stool balanced precariously on an old dressing table.

“Sweet Dreams, ” said the queen in a rather strangled whisper, before gliding out of the room and shutting the door. And for the record it must be said that once safely on the other side she closed her eyes and whispered a swift unspecific prayer for forgiveness. There are no rules in the Royal Book of Etiquette that explicitly forbid putting your houseguest in a bed on top of 100 mattresses resting on a single pea from your garden- but it struck the queen that the action might be deemed inhospitable in certain circles. A niggling thought, but the niggle passed. After all a hostess’s pride to a mother’s love is liable. And so the queen  retired to her own bed, to sleep and dream restlessly of flying feather mattresses, thunderstorms and a wedding feast of chocolate and green pea salad.

In the clear light of morning the queen sat in the Royal Breakfast room twisting her table napkin in an absent-minded way until the door opened, and Princess Yennithingkanbi stepped in with a bright-faced, “Good Morning!” The queen was at once so relieved and so happy to see her that she stood up without her usual composed grace and sent the teapot flying. It was quite awhile before the mess was cleared up and the two were able to sit down to a by then slightly cold breakfast.

“And did you sleep well my dear?” asked the queen, as she poured the freshly made pot of tea, pretending polite interest. Princess Yenni laughed and said, ” Not a wink.” The queen with barely concealed delight said, ” I am so sorry to hear that- whatever kept you up- I hope your bed wasn’t uncomfortable?”. The alleged princess took a sip of her tea and pronounced it “Splendid” before saying, ” The bed was perfectly comfortable- a little bumpy but I didn’t mind that at all- a little bumpiness is always to be expected when you are sleeping in a new place- it is just that I am rather unaccustomed to sleeping so close to the ceiling, and since I have a rather uncontrollable tendency to roll over in the middle of the night, and have been known to roll myself right out of bed sometimes, I was worried about doing something of the sort here, and I knew if I did fall out of bed there was a fair chance I’d hit the garden ladder and send it and the kitchen stool and the old dresser not to mention all those mattresses tumbling down to the ground- and that would have made a rather frightful racket at some ungodly hour and doubtless woken you out of a sound sleep and I just thought that would be a rather ungrateful way of repaying your enormous kindness in taking me in for the night, so I decided the best thing to do was not fall asleep, and lay awake in the dark instead, telling stories to myself all night and I had a perfectly grand time of it- so really-you’re not to worry. May I have some more of that splendid tea please?”

Of course at the end of this charmingly delivered explanation the queen found herself in somewhat of a “situation”. Her first thought was that she really ought to confess to having placed that confounded pea under all those confounded mattresses in order to test the bonafideness of Princess Yenni’s princessness. Her second thought was that she ought to apologize for having ever held stock with such a ridiculous test in the first place and for robbing a tired traveller of a good night’s sleep for no good enough reason, and the third thought that arose was- Who Gives a Cat’s Whisker about royalty anyway? Because anyone considerate enough to tell themselves stories all night just to keep themselves from creating a ruckus loud enough to wake the household that had afforded them such hospitality- anyone like that was a real sweetheart regardless of royal status or lack thereof.

What the queen did next was to confess, apologize, and say, Who Gives A Cat’s Whisker about Royalty anyway? Because whenever she found herself in any sort of “situation” she tended to go with the first three things that came into her head just like that. Princess Yenni laughed so hard hearing the story that she upset the freshly made pot of tea and a second mess had to be cleared up before she could keep a straight face for more than fifteen seconds. And by the end of it even the queen couldn’t help grinning a little. Because you’ll have to admit there was a decidedly ridiculous angle to the whole affair.

“Oh but you absolutely must write this up as a short story,” said Princess Yenni finally. “It is exactly the sort of thing the public would adore!” ” Do you really think so?” asked the queen with a shy light of happy hopefulness in her eyes (she had always wanted to be a writer- because the being a queen thing did get old after awhile). “Oh absolutely,” said Princess Yenni. “I’d say do it right away while it’s all still fresh in your mind, don’t bother about clearing up the table, I’ll do that- you go write the story now.” And so the queen rose from the table and excused herself with girlish excitement, while Princess Yenni began piling up the dirty dishes to take back to the kitchen.

It was while she was carrying a particularly high stack of them towards the door that the tired prince came home after another futile excursion into the world in search of the elusive Real Princess of his dreams. He wondered briefly through his tiredness who the new help was and how on earth she managed to carry so many dishes at once, before ordering her in an amiably exhausted sort of way to bring him a strong cup of coffee, fresh toast and some red currant jam. Princess Yenni turned in some surprise. A teacup tottered dangerously at the top of the stack and then fell with an air of fatality onto the big toe of the tired prince. ” Oops,” said Princess Yenni with a friendly smile. The prince picked a few painted fragments off the floor, surveyed them closely for the first time and decided he didn’t much care for old china. ” You know I don’t think you have to carry in everything all at once,” he offered mildly. ” That’s probably true, ” said Princess Yenni, as a couple of saucers slid towards the floor and shattered cheerfully. The prince looked up in some alarm, ” I do believe that teapot is about to fall,” he said with an anxious crease between his brows. Princess Yenni looked up, ” I do believe you are right,” she said pleasantly, “And that will be the third one this morning- which would be rather a shame don’t you think?” “Indeed,” said the prince uncertainly, he was not used to morning conversation being punctuated by falling china, it was really all rather – unnerving- “Maybe I should take that from you,” he offered, and just then the teapot dove towards the floor and would have come to an untimely end, but for the prince who threw off his tiredness and dove after it to make a rather brilliant save. When he stood up again, bearing the teapot all in one piece, he felt rather strangely invigorated. It was such an intriguing feeling that he continued to help with the clearing of the breakfast table. “I’m Prince Charming,” he offered, picking up the butter dish. “Yennithingkanbe,” she said, throwing him a quick smile over her shoulder.

Prince Charming ended up doing most of the dishes that morning and by the time the last dish was dry the queen had typed up her story and sent it off to half a dozen publishers, and the prince had decided in his heart of hearts that he didn’t care a Cat’s Whisker for royalty because it was just realness that mattered, and he’d found it this morning in a manner most unexpected watching a strange young woman clearing the breakfast table and breaking the breakfast china….

I didn’t mean to cut such a short story long here. I just remembered the story of the Princess & the Pea today in a very different context –thinking of how as we become more attentive to ourselves we become more aware of all the rough spots within…the little green pea irregularities we don’t feel through the feather-down of the one-hundred mattresses because we are not real enough to strip away their comforting untruths. etc etc :-)), but also thinking about the truth of the imagination and where does one draw the line between fiction and falsehood? This question too can be a little green pea sometimes, keeping us awake at night.

All I really know is that when I first read the story of the Princess and the Pea, I placed a raisin (for lack of fresh garden peas) underneath my mattress that night. And slept like a baby to wake to the bearable if slightly disappointing-at-the-time truth: I was not a princess. And when I started to write this it was about reality and the imagination that I meant to talk about. Because I think I am just beginning to understand the prose and the cons of it all. And it can all be quite an adventure if you’re inclined to see it that way (and I am so inclined). But maybe we’ll talk about this another day.

In the interest of tying up loose ends and popularizing the queen’s version of the story, I will have you know that she found a publisher right away- only of course the editors changed the ending. They maintained the public wasn’t ready yet for something as radical as the truth. And so in their version the princess comes down to breakfast and complains bitterly about the bumpiness of the bed that she claims has left her black and blue. In their version the delighted queen jumps up and rushes out to order the wedding cake and print up the invitations. And the prince shows up at the very end for the – “and then they were married and lived happily ever after” part and then they say (as they always do) “The End”.

Except it never really is- is it?

The queen’s ending (since you ask and since I am inclined today to tell) went like this:

The rest as they say (and if they don’t they should) is- mystery.


A woman possessed of an unsettling gaze and ungentle manner. Her MO best described as bull-in-china-shop. The clatter of breaking cutlery does not perturb her. She continues placidly (if somewhat lonesomely) onto the next mishap of manners. People struggle to relax when she is near. It does not help that an air of intense displeasure seems to lift off her at all times. She is direct and sans diplomacy. It is not uncommon for tears and resentment to explode in her wake. If she notices, she pretends not to. She sees more than most people. And most people who see her prickliness, do not perceive her grief.

She is grieving.

Though she appears impenetrable as a fortress, the broken heart of a young girl lies hidden in this grown woman. Her heavyset face, her strong-willed ways do not betray her sorrow. Few suspect it. Fewer seek to know who she is. It feels easier not to. And yet. And yet.

Those who dare against their better judgment to brave the lion in its den find no lion there at all. Instead they discover, if not quite a lamb–a giraffe. Cramped and uncomfortable. With trembling, awkward limbs and fathomless, dark-rimmed eyes. An unexpected, and unexpectedly beautiful creature.

Trying like the rest of us, to make sense of this inscrutable world.

What More Is There Left To Say?

From 2012 or 2013

When the world began, there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. This meant one never, ever had to search for anything. Which sounds awfully convenient, and that is exactly what it was. Awfully. Convenient. In this impeccable order of things everything happened on a schedule. Serendipity, for instance got the 2pm slot on Tuesday afternoons (which meant of course that most people snoozed through it). Everything under the sun was reliable and tedious.

People soon began to devise little games for themselves to make things more interesting. To this end, they banished love to the rainforests and perched happiness high on a craggy mountain top. They left contentment in the middle of the sea and buried fulfillment somewhere in the desert. They also devised elaborate disguises of masks upon masks, until no one was quite sure of who they really were any more. 

All this activity spawned a dubious genre of writers, who began to write prolifically about how to discover oneself and locate true love, purpose, enlightenment and the like. Some of them actually knew what they were talking about, but most just made it up as they went along. This resulted, as you might expect, in many millennia of misunderstandings, wild goose chases and general confusion. 

Meanwhile love got lonely in the rainforest and happiness suffered vertigo on the mountaintop. Contentment  never quite found its sea legs and fulfillment grew claustrophobic underground. So they all crept back home eventually, furtively and unannounced. With spare keys they let themselves back into the chambers of the human heart, took up their old residence with sweet sighs of relief. Their return went unnoticed. 

Each person, by this time, was consumed with his or her own seeking. They were off plowing through rainforests, scaling mountain ranges, leading deep sea diving expeditions and caravanning through the deserts in search of that which had already come home. It was at this juncture that irony entered the world.

Very soon technology began to serve as a substitute for that which was hard to find. When real satisfaction could not be located, humanity consoled itself with the wonders of a GPS that could always be relied on to pull up directions to the nearest coffee shop. Tweets began to stand in for conversation and communion. In the midst of all the frenzied seeking, who had time for more than byte-sized helpings of relationship and reality? People searching for answers to life’s Big Questions began to turn increasingly to Google (who, it must be admitted, on average has a faster response rate than most Higher Powers).

And so the years rolled on, wave upon wave. People’s lives got bigger, brighter, faster, higher. An unfathomable number of ice cream flavors appeared in the market. And yet underneath the frenetic pace, glittering exterior and the availability of all that ice cream, people were more tired, frightened and lonely than they had ever been since the dawn of history. And every so often one of them would grow so sick and tired of the whole charade, that she or he would throw in the towel. They would shut off their cell phones and turn away from the screen. They would stop talking and tweeting and shopping and seeking and fall back suddenly and sweetly into the skin of their skin.

And love would rush over then to greet them at the core. Happiness would put on the kettle, contentment would tend the hearth, and fulfillment would begin to sing.

And what more is there left to say?


It happened the way things always happen, when no one was expecting anything to happen, while everyone was looking the other way. Everyone except Bachelador that is. Bachelador never looked the other way. And he always expected something to happen. So when the little green Labrador bounded into view Bachelador saw him immediately. And being a courteous fellow, Bachelador stood up, brushed the crumbs off his lap (for he had been eating a pear and apricot scone,) and offered this greeting, “Greetings My Green and Furry Friend, welcome to my kingdom!” Bachelador, it must be noted, had no kingdom. But this did not stop him from welcoming people and Labradors to it.

The little green Labrador was very pleased by this welcoming party of one, and he expressed his pleasure by wagging his tail very vigorously while jumping up to place his two front paws on Bachelador’s two front shoulders. For a brief moment they gazed into each other’s eyes and in that brief moment both saw this was not the first time they were meeting– no— they knew each other from a bodiless time. A time before these eyes, these paws, these shoulders.

For the moment Bachelador was struck speechless. On only one prior occasion in his short life had speechlessness struck him before. That was when he had tasted a mango for the first time. The unfamiliar sunburst of sweetness on his tongue pulled him into the depths of a complex state of wordless wonder. Then that moment, like all moments, passed. As this one did too.

“Why have you come here?” Bachelador asked, and his voice was not challenging, only very soft and full of amazement. It was the kind of voice one might use to address a visiting unicorn or an ancestor several centuries dead. By way of answer, the little green Labrador licked his nose. Bachelador sneezed, and three members of his family who had, until then, been looking the other way, simultaneously looked in his direction, and simultaneously uttered the words, “Bless you.” None of them, Bachelador soon realized, could see the little green Labrador, for almost immediately, all three of them turned to look the other way again.

Bachelador felt an old loneliness settle on his brow like a crown of dried thistles. The loneliness of one who never looks the other way. But then he realized he was no longer alone. The little green Labrador was with him.

Personal Taste

What are you thinking of right now? he asks. Personal taste she says, and what it feels like to encounter it in other people when it’s wildly different from your own. What does it feel like? he wants to know. Well that depends, she says. Sometimes it can be unexpectedly invigorating. Like when you pull up at a light next to a vehicle emanating heavy metal- an earthquake-unto-itself that sets your car atremble. Sounds that pound their way into your bones, even your teeth are vibrating. When the light turns green and the car takes off, the silence left in its wake is both a relief and a mini-desolation. You’re still thrumming, freshly awake in your skin, full of teen spirit and ready for almost anything. 

But there are also occasions where other people’s personal taste can feel blighting. Like when your next door neighbor paints his house lime green. You believe that certain colors are best reserved for one thing and one thing only. Lime green for instance, is a color best reserved for green limes. It affects your pH balance. Now every time you look out your kitchen window, your mood turns reliably acidic. 

And then there are times when encountering the personal taste of others can be a source of unabashed wonder, like when someone pours hot sauce on top of their ice cream or– she catches an unusual expression on his face, and cuts herself off. What are you thinking right now? she asks. I was just thinking you’re something of an acquired taste. She smiles, of course, she says, all truly sophisticated things are– dark chocolate,  coffee, kimchi. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a world where taste can be acquired. Why is that? he wants to know. Because, she says, it means if you are willing to encounter strangeness often enough, chances are you’ll never run out of things to appreciate. 


This is an opportune moment, she said, and she said it so often and in so many different contexts that he doubted she was exercising any kind of discernment. Have you ever come across an inopportune moment? he wanted to ask her. But he never did. It didn’t feel like his place. Actually come to think of it, he didn’t know what his place felt like. Perhaps that was the core of the issue. 

Mallika Whose Name Means Jasmine

(from 2005)

When Mallika was seven months old she fell out of her mother’s sari-cradle by the side of the wet green fields where paddy was being sown. She fell into the little stream that sang its way through the fields all the way to- no one was quite sure where- for they were simple, content folk in that village. Simple, content- and not particularly adventurous (which mind you is no crime).

Mallika fell into the stream, and no one noticed. Not her mother whose strong brown arms worked so hard in the fields growing rice to feed her seven growing children at home. And not the other ladies bent over the wet earth in their bright saris looking like so many nodding poppies from afar. 

Mallika fell into the stream, and the coolness of the water surprised her not a little, but she did not cry out. At seven months she was very philosophical, much more philosophical than her six older siblings, who it must be admitted, were sweet enough (when they weren’t quarreling,) but rather dull. Surprised by the sudden coolness of the water, Mallika reached out and caught hold of the strong stalk of a white lotus blooming beside her. The lotus took this as a signal and obediently pulled up its roots and set sail.

And so it happened that Mallika followed the singing stream all the way to– no one is still quite sure where- in a white lotus on a sparkling spring morning while the women planted paddy in bright saris looking like so many gay poppies from afar. [For those of you who are inclined to worry about How Things Will Turn Out – rest assured they turn out well. Nobody’s heart breaks in this story. And everyone finds their happy ending. And beginning.]

On the banks of the stream a few hours away there lived an unhappy flute-player. He was unhappy for no particular reason, it was just a habit he had fallen into as a boy and had somehow never managed to find the energy required to break it. But he played the flute like a dream come true and the music he played chased unhappiness out of every listening heart but his own. So beautiful was the sound that even the stream would break journey to listen while he played on her banks. 

It so happened as she passed by his home bearing the white lotus and the child, the flute player raised his flute to his lips and released a magical combination of notes. The stream instantly slowed her soft steps and as the music continued to enchant the air and all around she came to a complete stop. The bewitching notes set free by the flute-maker wandered joyfully into the heart of the child, who had fallen asleep. And now she woke to their sound and a special sort of peace. As she blinked away the dreams crowding in her eyes, the flute-maker came into focus, and the thought came to her then that she had never heard anyone play quite as wonderfully nor had she seen anyone look quite as unhappy as this unknown flute-player playing his flute with such skilled fingers and such sad face on the banks of the still and listening stream.

When he finally lifted his lips from his flute the stream had so lost herself in the music that she had forgotten where it was she was on her way to, and as she sat still trying to recollect her destination, Mallika took the opportunity to speak to the unhappy flute-maker.

“Your music,” she said, “Is as beautiful as the sky is high. Now I am only seven months old and do not have much experience in these things but it seems to me that I have nowhere ever heard music quite as lovely, and it makes me wonder where on earth you learned to play so.”
“I do not know,” said the flute-maker sadly. “That is fair enough,” said Mallika, wrinkling her brow ever so slightly, “There are many things I do not know, and I think maybe that is what makes each day so interesting. But tell me, what are you thinking of when you play your flute?” There was a pause and this time it was the flute-maker’s brow that creased. And then:

“When I play my flute,” said the flute-maker softly, “I am not thinking.” 

And there was another brief interval of silence. “Maybe,” said Mallika, “and remember I am only seven months old so I could be wrong, but maybe, the music you play is inside of you. And that is why you do not know where you learnt it. You do not know because it is not something you learned like a lesson in a schoolbook, it is something inside you that finds its way into your flute and out into the world.” “Maybe,” said the flute-maker looking sad but interested. “And,” continued Mallika, “Because the music you play is so beautiful, enchanted, so joyous and rare, there must be something inside of you which is all of those things.” For a split second the flute-maker forgot to look sad and looked startled instead. “Do you really think so?” he asked before quickly putting on his sad face again. “Yes,” said Mallika, “That is what I think. But what do you think?” “I think- said the flute-player, and hesitated slightly before continuing, “I think that even though you are only seven months old you may be right.”

“Not everyone,” said Mallika seriously, “has found a way of playing what is inside of them as beautifully as you have, you do know that do you not?” “Ye-es,” said the flute-player and the sadness was beginning to slip away from his face the way night makes room for dawn. “You have a wonderful gift,” said Mallika. “I like gifts,” said the flute-maker and he almost smiled, “If I had known I had a gift then I would not have been so unhappy all these years,” and for a moment his face grew sad and shadowed again just thinking of all the unhappy days he had spent on the banks of this stream not knowing he had a wonderful gift. “Yes,” said Mallika, “That is unfortunate but it does not matter. Now you do know, and that is what matters– see?” Upon hearing that last word uttered, the stream who had forgotten where she had been headed remembered in a joyous rush her destination.

As she made ready to start her journey again, the flute-maker asked one last question, “Would you mind telling me,” he asked shyly, “what gifts are for?” “Why that’s easy,” said Mallika laughing, “Gifts are for giving,” “In that case,” said the flute-maker, “I think I shall wander the world and travel far and wide, to give my gift to as many people as I can.” “Yes,” said Mallika, “That sounds like a good plan,” But do not forget to come home again once in awhile. Because the stream will miss you and so will the birds in the trees and the dragonflies in the reeds. So do not forget to come back because it is here you found your gift and coming here will remind you of what it is for if you are ever in danger of forgetting.” “I will not forget,” said the flute-maker, and he smiled for the first time in as far back as he could remember, a smile like sunburst on mountain peak.

He wanted to say something more to the little girl in the white lotus; he wanted to tell her that she too had a wonderful gift, a gift that– but the white lotus was already bobbing away. So he lifted his hand in farewell, and she waved back smiling widely. And he knew then that it didn’t matter whether he told her about her gift or not. He stood there watching the little white lotus until it was a mere speck in the distance and when the mere speck had disappeared, he picked up his flute and began to play as he walked, until he too was a mere speck in the distance that looked like this–


Calling Cards

Calling cards. Plastic, pocket-sized cards — the brand he always looked for back then was called Mother India. Yellow, red and white, with a little map of the home country outlined in one corner. If you paid cash you could get a card worth $5 for four bucks. You scratched the little black strip on the back to reveal a pin number that you entered when the automated voice told you to. At 7 cents a minute it was way cheaper than what the regular phone services offered. “Calling card,” he said softly, under his breath. He’d been reflecting just the other night, about how he didn’t really have a calling. It was a thought that had never surfaced before, but he’d attended a talk that evening by a man about the same age as him, a man in his mid-thirties who’d spent the last ten years working in a middle-of-nowhere village of South India. He’d built a school in the village and started an organic farm, and founded a very successful village-version of Alcoholics Anonymous, while  his wife led a remarkably effective women’s group. They’d stopped three child marriages and had come very close to locally eradicating the dowry system (a system technically illegal, but still in practice.)

The man speaking was handsome in a way that Indian men seldom are, he was also articulate and inspiring to the point of being quite irritating. He wore a white khadi kurta with blue jeans and Bata slippers. An outfit that somehow lent him an air of offhand nobility. His wife was equally articulate, and had a quiet gravity about her just as compelling as her husband’s animated warmth. When she smiled she lit up the room. He had never seen that happen before, had always thought the phrase was a bit of a tired cliche — until that moment when someone had asked a question about boredom. “Don’t you sometimes get bored stuck out there with a bunch of rustics in the middle of nowhere?” Such an obnoxious question, he had expected the couple to get huffy and indignant. But instead the man had laughed boyishly, and at the same moment, the seriousness on the wife’s face had slipped, and there was her smile, revealed like moonburst on a dark night, and it had taken his breath away.

He thought moodily about that quality of radiance he’d witnessed in the two of them. There was nothing at this particular moment that seemed the least bit radiant about his own existence and he was often bored. True, he was successful but in an unspectacular way.  He had reasonable self-esteem, and no definite calling. He wished suddenly, and with a fervency that surprised him, that there were calling cards that actually lived up to their name –cards with lines you could dial that would be answered by a friendly anonymous stranger who would tell you in a matter of minutes what your calling is. He had no faith in the battery of personality tests and the expensive career counseling sessions that were on the market. But a calling card — now that was something he would try out if such existed. $5 for the answer to one of the most persistent riddles of humanity — “Why Am I Here?” — it seemed like there would be a sizable market for something like that.

Stream of Thought

She was sitting very still next to a silver stream and when she looked into it she saw her reflection. Clear eyes looked into clear eyes. And she wondered suddenly whether, when she rose and left, the memory of that face– her face– would still remain in the water. In a secret way she hoped it would. And she wondered then how many other faces had stopped at this silver stream to see themselves in its depths. And suddenly the face in the stream spoke up in a voice that was familiar because it was her own voice— only somehow like the stream—silvery.

And the voice said, “The stream cannot hold me forever because it is a stream and streams do not know the meaning of holding on and they do not know the meaning of forever.”

And she listened to this in some surprise (because you see she was a little unaccustomed to being addressed by her reflection) but when she had got over her surprise she nodded and said in a matter-of-fact kind of way, “ Yes you’re right. Silly me,” and she rose and walked away from the stream without a backward glance—which is why she did not see her reflection smiling after her.