Different Worlds | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 04, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 04, 2020

FICTION

Different Worlds

The cloud saw the girl sitting in her balcony and reading. Peace and harmony -- thought the cloud and smiled. The feathery white cloud wafted on an unconcerned blue sky till it reached a mountain. It cast mobile patterns of shadows on the mountain top. The mountain was green, and the shadows that played on its slopes were fleeting patches of a deeper shade. The cloud crossed the mountain — there was a river... a thin silver sliver of water flowing in the middle of an abandoned rocky bed.

Scrawny cattle roamed and fed the sparse grass on the dry bed. Two children in patched clothes with snot flowing from their noses and bare feet tried to manage the cattle with thin switches made of sticks from the tall trees whose leaves looked muddy due to lack of rain. At a distance were some hutments. That is where lived the families of the children, thought the cloud. It looked on with concern but could not give rain as it was too young and feathery.

As the cloud floated, it gathered some more dust and shifted towards a mild grey. There were bright fields of mustard — yellow and green — and brick kilns as the cloud journeyed deeper into the land. Sometimes, there were cities with dust and vehicles. The landscape was dotted every now and then with little figures in colourful clothes who went about their daily business — a part of the larger Universe, part of the whole. The cloud could have appreciated the differences in culture, language, religion, ethnicity and nationality if it understood a little more of man, understood finer poetries and philosophies. But it was very primal in its instincts and had no time to read as it rolled on forward to complete its cyclic destiny.

A strong gust of wind blew the cloud over to a dark portion of the Earth, which slowly sank to slumber. The land twinkled with pinpricks of light as the sky turned starry that night. The cloud could not see much except some more of its own kind at a distance. It floated and attached itself to them... an instinct that makes us find safety in numbers.

As the cloud was touched by the golden rays of the rising sun, it turned a peachy pink, despite the touch of grey. It saw well-fed children neatly dressed in school uniform standing around … some were playing hopscotch; others were talking in groups. There were waves of laughter floating in the air. The cloud shimmered with light and contentment. It loved happiness.

Daytime with the sun shining and birds singing was always a happy time for the little cloud as it grew bigger by mingling with others of its kind. The clouds drifted over a dark patch on the ground... darker than darkness itself, a blackness that seemed to permeate from the very bowels of the Earth. The young cloud shed a tear when it saw a bare backed little boy in a torn shirt the colour of poverty tug at his mother’s heart and cry of hunger. The mother gave him a dry chapati from the day before. The child smiled with victory and fulfilment. As the water dropped from the cloud’s eye, the child looked up and said in an excited voice: “Mother look a drop of rain! Maybe it will rain. The rain water is nice to drink ...” for they had no running water or electricity. Their ground water sources were black with coal dust.

The cloud contained itself with an effort and drifted over the coal slurry. Soon merging and maturing with the larger collective of its kind, the cloud came to a tributary... rich fertile land — but what was that? A fence with barbed wire and men standing with guns on two sides?

The cloud floated over the fence. It had never understood humans or their ways... for the cloud, there was the open blue sky that connected the lands and seas. It went everywhere undaunted by wires and boundaries. It changed colours with the rise and fall of the sun. As it grew older, it deepened and learned to call out with a thundering voice. It would use a flash of lightening to announced the advent of the next cycle. It would empty itself and merge into the infinite eternity. Then, like a phoenix, it would start to rebuild itself again... but its memory stayed as a collective in the Universe — a part of the sky, stars, moon, sun and the wind that facilitated its movement. The rainbow heralded the start of a new cycle.

The cloud was reaching its full potential. It had turned grey and menacing. The farmers below looked up and said: “The Kalbaisakhi will start anytime now. Look at the thunder clouds! We should take shelter!”

But the cloud knew it had to meet a mate before the lightening could flash a new cycle. Before it could call out to its mate, the cloud heard a loud thunder from the ground. Its mate hurried in fear and drew closer for comfort as it trembled with an unknown dread. The thunder roared, the lightening ripped through the sky and the mines on the ground went off.

***

After the rain stopped, soldiers cleared the bodies of illegal immigrants, who had tried to cross the border in quest of food and a life free of violence.

 

Mitali Chakravarty’s poetry has been published online and as part of anthologies, Harbinger Asylum Quarterly (November, 2019), In Reverie (2016), An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English (1984). She is also a translator.

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