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The Girl With a Red Umbrella

The Girl With a Red Umbrella

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I glanced at the overcast sky. The snow was falling as well as accumulating. I wondered at the unicolored landscape. White. What if life were a single colour? What if every person was just one colour? One always happy, another always sad, another wicked and the like?


It was an eerily quiet morning. The only sound one could hear was that of the clock. Tick Tock. Tick Tock. Tick Tock… it seemed as if everything and everyone was dead and I was the only one who survived. Would I survive an apocalypse if one were to hit the world? And would I be the lone survivor? Standing alone, looking at the damaged landscape with smoke coming up here and there, and wondering how I will survive all alone and what I will do. Maybe someone else somewhere survived too and they could team-up. Fight back, maybe. Or build a new one. A better one.

Breaking off from my reverie, I got out of my warm bed to look out the window. Where did the birds go? To my surprise, everything had turned white. As in Caroline, everything beyond a point is white. Empty. Only that this was not some magic world created by a witch, it was just snow. Snow. The calming, soothing, silently falling snow. The snow that came from the Mediterranean, drifting away with the winds. The disturbances.

A disturbance for sure.

Given the inconvenience snowfall causes a common man, somebody has very rightly named these winter, snow-laden clouds. Western Disturbances. They are formed quite far away, at the Mediterranean Sea and travel this far towards East to let these mountains be adorned with snow. Quite travel enthusiastic, these clouds. Like migratory birds. Unlike the western countries where the roads are clear of snow and the remaining snow, in the gardens and sideways remains magically white, everything here becomes dirty. The snow, pristine white when nascent, somehow gets muddy in colour. In no time. All one has to do is step outside and voila! There comes the brown colour. The roads never clear enough for a safe drive.

Since it was still snowing heavily, I knew the roads would not be cleared. Neither would one be able to find any public transport on roads. Snow somehow spelt holiday in this part of the world. So I grinned at the snow and crawled back into the warmth of my bed, thanking the snow, the clouds and my luck while doing so.

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While I waited for my bed to warm up, I wondered how each snowflake had a different pattern. And if every flake was different, how was it all snow? Why didn’t they all get to be recognized individually? Why the blanket term for all of them?

Probably because they are too short-lived, too indistinguishable and probably shy. Shy. Why else would they melt as soon as someone touched them otherwise? Shy. Covert. Secretive. The togetherness of so many snowflakes probably gives them the courage to stay like that, in their original form and as soon as one of them is put in a situation individually, they disintegrate.

Or are they aliens? Saving themselves from being recognized by looking like snow and observing. Maybe we are a huge lab for their experiments like a lot of conspiracy theorists claim. At least we are helping someone who knows what they are doing. Ah, too much fantasy!

As I lied in my bed, I whiled away my time till sleep took over. Counting the shapes on my ceiling. By this time I knew the math. 49 individual blocks. 16 inner squares. 20 circles. And the like. I knew all this by heart and yet I started counting, as if by compulsion rather than curiosity. Or maybe I was trying to keep myself from thinking about graver concerns and pessimism. Cloudy days did that. Brought about strange melancholy and gloom. Sometimes it felt as if the skies were mourning instead of considering all the precipitation as a blessing. Mourning suited the aura after all. Everything turned dark even though not altogether black.

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Human beings are like snowflakes too. Everyone is supposed to be different and yet all are humans. The difference is created by a meager 0.1% difference in DNA. Everything else is the same. And look at the variety it yields. Does the formation of different snowflake patterns occur due to something similar? Do they also have a genome that decides how the snowflake is going to look? Which shape does it take?

Despite knowing everyone is different, we keep measuring everyone from the same yardsticks. As if everyone was the same and more importantly, should be the same. Why should we expect two different people to act similarly? And if everyone had similar behaviour, would we not become predictable? Would we not be something like a huge colony of robots, carrying the same program in their motherboards? Then again, “Never let me go” by Kazuo Ishiguro had a colony of clones. They were clones yet they all had different approaches, different interests. Feelings.

Difference. Difference of choices, opinions, perspectives, upbringing, environments, blah blah. Every aspect has an impact. And a different impact on everyone for that matter. Collecting every variable that shapes up an individual and merging that with how a particular person reacts – we are looking at billions and billions of possibilities, all different. Permutations and combinations. Why should then one human be similar to another, even if that similarity is small? And in that perspective, realizing this difference, why should we expect another human to be similar? Or at least in possession of certain desirable traits?

Then again, if things are this complicated and everyone is as different as the math says, why should we find two people with a similar interest? Or a similar talent? IQ? Friends? Likes and dislikes? Why isn’t every human an island in itself, all exotic and unique? And if it were to be so, would we feel lonely or just different? Would we want to know another human and recognize them for who they are or just demean their uniqueness as we do now? Would our nature be different too or would we still be bound in the same chain by certain common traits, like a sense of superiority, or the feeling that ‘I am second to none’. This reminds me of “The Dictator” and Supreme Commander. Would we feel the same then too? Or would we want to establish that superiority on everyone around us?

Snow is different. It is subtle and soothing. Soft. It brings around calm by acting as an absorbent. Sound absorbent. All snowflakes act the same way. Or so it seems. In their minuscule world (at least in our perspective. Who knows they think their world is better and we humans are giants?), do they also fight? Do they demean each other on their size, or the water content each possesses? Who is fairer? Do they fight over who is going to marry the desired flake? And kill each other too? Does killing mean they melt each other up? Or do they vaporize? Do they bleed like us? What colour? What is this world of snow like?

What would a snowflake marriage look like? Or, was snowfall actually a snowflake wedding? What if the snowflakes chose each other up in the clouds, got married and the snowfall was a celebration? A honeymoon?

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Brushing these thoughts aside, I got up again to gaze outside my window. Still snowing heavily. The wedding was taking long. Ha! The clock no longer spelt wee hours of the morning. It was quite late and a request to go out would be entertained. Not easily, but the goal was attainable. I packed up my knapsack first. In went a book “The Essential Rumi”, a bottle of water, a pen and notebook, a camera and a few munchies. Who knew what I would encounter, I prepared for everything. Or at least everything I could think of.  With that, I went in on the mission of seeking permission.

After assuring my parents that I will wear warm clothes and sit at an eatery, I was given a reluctant yes. But a yes was nevertheless a yes. And that made my day. An open door and freedom would make anyone’s day.

A couple of wool sweaters, a jacket, fur socks, a cap and gloves. I was ready. I also slipped a flask of warm coffee into my knapsack, in case I didn’t feel like going to an eatery. For me, travel means going where the road takes me. No plans. So I wore gaiters instead of my everyday walking shoes. And since the snow showed no signs of stopping, I opened my red umbrella before leaving. Amidst the lack of transport on roads and the heavy snowfall, I had no choice but to walk and observe things at leisure.

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Walking in the snow like that reminded me of Snow. Of Orhan Pamuk. In the book, the protagonist, K, was walking in the snow while some coup took place in a nearby auditorium. In a way, I was in a similar situation. Who knew where the armed forces might be laying seize? Who knew whose blood was turning the snow red? In so many ways, the novel could have been set in Kashmir instead of Kars and nothing else would change in the book except that.

Snow. Like humans, could snow have a will of its own? Like “I want to drop out of this cloud now!” or do they fancy humans and fall on specific people deliberately?

Empty white streets drew me close. As I walked, my feet plunged in the accumulated snow. It came up well above my ankles. That exhaustion of walking in untrodden snow gave me a strange kind of peace. Like emptying out. They say everyone has a cup, for questions, patience, basically for everything. Either one should have a large cup to take in a lot or one should empty the contents so that it can be refilled. With new and better things. As a consequence of all the physical effort, I had to put into this walk, my cup emptied out. I liked that feeling the most.

The lack of a trail did not make me lose my way. Instead, it helped me find my own self.

I reached the river and sat on the bridge. Luckily the bench had a roof over it and hence was not buried under snow. The bridge always gave me shelter and so it did that day as well. I sipped some coffee and ate some nuts. It was quite a pleasure. Being warm and cold at the same time. Being in the middle of a city and still in seclusion. Babbling of the river. The bridge spelt peace.

Like the peace and quiet it offered, was snow calm too? Did it feel the same peace and calm itself too? Or was it suffering on its own while being a blanket of calmness for everyone. Similar to so many people who offer strength and support to people and stand alone when they are falling apart. Or maybe the snow is all one, is falling apart and when accumulated on the ground gives each other support and hope. Again.

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Who knows what is what? Right and wrong? What is real and what is fake? Isn’t it possible that from different perspectives everything is right? Or maybe nothing is. Maybe everything is grey, and nothing is either black or white.

Representational Image

I glanced at the overcast sky. The snow was falling as well as accumulating. I wondered at the unicolored landscape. White. What if life were a single colour? What if every person was just one colour? One always happy, another always sad, another wicked and the like?

I jostled myself awake, out of my head. Poured myself another cup of coffee and opened my book. Rumi. In the city turned wilderness, I wanted some hope. Some form of solace. For life could be cruel and if one is constantly seeking answers without finding one, it might as well turn into a living hell. Reading Rumi somehow made God more approachable. More assessable. In those small moments of peace and belief, I always asked Him questions perturbing me immensely. Why was I born? What purpose did my existence achieve? Was I supposed to do something or did survival serve my purpose of being in this world? And even if it did, how would I satiate my own self. My own need to feel useful?

Restless.

That’s what I was. Restless for answers. For figuring out life and knowing what was what. Sometimes mere existence wasn’t enough for me and I wanted to know that higher purpose, my own higher self to be able to make sense of anything. Nobody should be useless after all. Or feel so.

Did snow know its purpose of covering all land? Did it know it was getting the land, the plants that needed rest and that once it all melted away everything would be ready to bloom and produce life again? The landscape would burst in colours. Like snow, are humans also unaware of what their life is supposed to mean? Hence all the time spent wondering and trying to find one’s purpose is futile because we are already serving the purpose? Purpose.

Oh! Nobody should have a fervid imagination and curiosity. If nothing else, it merely messes up one’s brain. Gradually it messes up all life. Every aspect. Everything.

I sighed. Hard. One of those where one hopes that all burdens would magically vanish once they exhale. They never do though. There was nothing I could do except keep my mind open and keep looking. There was nothing to be found on these snow-covered roads or the veiled sky.

I looked up one last time. To the sky. And prayed I found my answers. My solace.

On the way back I clicked some pictures as it was no longer snowing. Pictures of beauty as well as sadness. Emptiness. The unspeakable blues.

I walked back home quite leisurely.

Once home, I changed back into my cozy velvet clothes. Had my lunch. Fixed myself another cup of strong coffee and sat in my bed looking out through the window. Waiting for a reply.


(This Perspective was published in the March 2021 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)

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