The Strange Land of Dreams
by Geetashree Chatterjee
The sky was overcast since morning. The clouds hung low till they almost kissed Mother Earth's brows nonchalantly. As I looked out of my window I wondered what sort of a day it would be. There was a breathlessness in the atmosphere which was akin to asphyxiation. One felt like a swimmer who had forgotten his strokes at the last minute, and was caught flailing his arms in air incredulously, completely taken aback by his own dumbness.
But I could not forget my way. It was important for me to reach my destination today. Miles beyond the horizon somewhere the sky shook the earth's hands in a favorable gesture, no, not gentle, but surely affable and to an extent even florid. No, I would not let my mind wander to the realms of incorrigibility, thought I, an area so chaotic as to camouflage reason. I had to swim back to the shores of reality. My duties beckoned me to the significance of day to day routine.
As I de-boarded the Metro, a rush of moist air welcomed me to the undulating roads. I would take a bus I decided. But the torrential rain prevented me from following a straight path. The rains pummeled me with watery fists spattering mud and dirt all over. The vehicles passing by humoured me equally spraying grubby sprinkles all around the pavement. Somehow I saved myself from getting dirty and drenched. The path wound and snaked up to the horizon. By the time I had scaled the elevation I was short of breath. An enervating exercise! I was about to sit by the bush to gather my wits when my eyes fell on these two huge creatures almost engulfing the space between the Earth and the sky.
I steadied my focus to ensure that I was not day dreaming. Then I shook my head in disbelief. Pelicans? No they were not Pelicans. A pair of birds though they were but unlike pelicans they had long slender legs orange in shade. An oval body covered with snow white plumes which merged into a riot of colours - red, orange and sun-flower yellow, at the tail end. A long sturdy beak in the same hue of orange to match the delicate legs. A cross between a pelican, a crane and an ostrich. However, enormous in size!!!
One was sitting, the other standing, looking up towards the sky, their backs towards me, deep in concentration. Suddenly the one sitting got up and started walking. Her mate followed. What a brisk walk! Considering their height and size they were quite light on their feet, nay claws. I knew I had to follow them. If only I could beat them. But they were too fast taking springy leaps they almost superseded the running vehicles. Panting I followed suit. Suddenly, they broke into a run. I knew I was done. I would not be able to make it till the end. But I had to give my hundred percent. Mother said so. "Whatever you do give your hundred percent without thinking about the result". I did. I ran. Sweat dropping like beads of pearls from my forehead I ran as I had never run before.
The rain swept roads, the mud splattering cars, the deepening dusk, the winding alleys could not stop me. I had to- I had to move faster and faster and faster. A few more feet and I'd be with them if not ahead. A few more steps and then darkness. Unseeing I had fallen into a pit. It was a quagmire actually which pulled me into its vortex as I tried to struggle out of its whirling snare. Was I going to die? No, not so soon. I cried, "Help! Help!" Suddenly hands flew out towards me out of the blue and I was taken out of the sucking hole unceremoniously.
A crimson bus stopped just in time to pick me up. Relieved I hopped in. Surprisingly, the dregs of grime clinging to my body and choking me a little while ago had vanished. I was neat and tidy once again as though nothing had happened. I inhaled deeply. A bout of fresh air cleansed my lungs. I was safe. Oh! I suddenly remembered. The birds? I looked back through the rear view window. The road behind was clean and clear and sunny. The birds had gone. Where?
I thought I would ask the conductor their address when a pair of rough hands grabbed and shook me rudely. I opened my eyes to a scowling forehead and a pair of blood shot menacing eyes. Ram Sharan ! Our bus conductor smiled irritatingly baring a row of paan stained teeth. "Memsaab! Ghar aa gaya!" (Madam ! You've reached home.)
I looked around a bit perplexed. It was afternoon. Extremely humid. The sun glared down fiercely. There was not a single drop of rain or pillow of cloud in the sky. Dreary patches of land seemed to be begging for a few bowls of ambrosia. It was the middle of a scorching summer noon. I was returning home from school where I taught a swarm of little urchins. Of course! The "mammoth crossbreeds" (in want of a more appropriate name) were nowhere to be seen. Should Ram Sharan be knowing where they had gone? I thought of asking but then shook my head and changed my mind. What would he know about strange birds which leapt and galloped on the road and did not fly? Moreover who would believe in such childish story like a bird race in the midst of heavy flowing traffic? Especially, when the dreamer happened to be a kid in the garb of an old woman in her early fifties who had as usual fallen off to sleep returning home after work!!!
I wondered whether my nephew, an eight year old, with his battery of electronic gadgets (I refuse to call them toys) and play station, ever dreamt of such wild, worthless dreams. I had always found him taking an almost repulsive pleasure in mean, noisy guns and other such destructive machines. But I, even in the autumn of my life, quite often found solace in the make-believe world of fairies, elves, talking birds, strange beings and weird happenings. Perhaps, it's got to do with the generation gap. We belonged to two different time zones, mused I, and quietly dragged myself back home. End