Once upon a time under the Christmas tree

Musings on everyday life


Suresh Pattali

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Published: Thu 15 Dec 2022, 9:45 PM

Not exactly under the tree. Let’s not begin with a blatant exaggeration, particularly because this is going to be plain talk about life. Something that would do justice to the title of the column, Life is like that.

“True, let’s keep it as straight as possible,” she said, after placing herself on a chair beside the green pine tree, ingeniously conceptualised to show a heavy shower of snow dust on its foliage.

“Doesn’t it look as gray as the two of us? But, my friend, there’s an achromatic gloom around the tree despite the heavy ornamentation,” she continued.

This she is an author-friend who I invited over for a chardonnay dinner under, oops, beside my Christmas tree. Wearing a cute Santa hat, she snugged down in the wicker papasan, taking in the unprofane ambience sip by sip.

Sitting a metre away, with the dazzling images of baubles and trinkets flickering in my eyes, the perennial listener inside me waited to listen to her.

“Shall I ask you something?” she whispered, glancing into her stemware and swirling its content rhythmically. “Why are you so paradoxical? Your words bleed so much anguish, bitterness, regrets and compunction, still you behave like a merchant of dreams. So ardently.”

“Because I’m a pessimist and an optimist in equal measure. At the fag end of this tangible existence, I’m still struggling with the concept of life. Who are we? Who am I to you? Why am I responsible to someone else? Why should I love my neighbour before myself? I still don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. So, I guess life is all about the faint hope of getting it right at some point in the continuum between birth and death. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“And you are gone without even knowing if you ever got it right,” she sighed and stretched her hand for help to get up.

“That’s why I say, to dream is important. There’s no option. It’s dream or doom. How else do you spend a lifetime? If you don’t dream, you will be sucked into a whirlpool of devilry.”

“Speak up. Do not hold.” She filled her glass again.

“We both are worse than a machine. We churn out words, week after week and year after year. You go to sleep at 3am and get up at 6am to write. We often forget we too are humans made of flesh and blood and feelings and emotions. Be forthright, after half-a-dozen books and hundreds of columns, what have you gained at the end of the day? I guess a well-oiled machine would be much better off and more content than us.”

“Let it be. For me, words are emotions. I write to unburden myself. What I teach my students is it’s OK to write for fame and money when they grow up, but at the end of the day, their writing should bring them peace and it should help them unburden and become a better and happier person. That should be the first objective of one’s writing. We all are writing to put out the fires burning in our hearts. And when our writings help extinguish the embers in some unknown souls out there, our life is made. We carry that contentment to the grave. That’s life for me.”

“I never think about the purpose of writing. I mostly retch it up and forget. It just helps me prove my existence in this world. Another Aadhaar card. I’m dead if I don’t write.”

I got up to watch her rub the nose on the Santa bunny hanging from the tree. She shook the boughs to see if snowflakes could rain down.

“Isn’t it so romantic? Don’t you now feel like dreaming and fantasising?” I asked.

“Once upon a time, I was a rock, which shed most of its matter in a series of avalanches early in life. After which, society pushed me around until I became a plebeian pebble. And at this point, you want me to dream up getting back to the old size and shape? Does this teeny-weeny pebble have the right to dream?”

I stood beside her watching a play of hues in her face.

“Let life flow like a stream with all its spontaneity. I am just a fossilised leaf bobbing in its laps. I have no agenda. I have buried the past on its banks. My writing is all about that acceptance. That’s my philosophy. Like my father used to say, we need to bat as long as we are in the crease. We need to keep offering strokes.”

It started to snow in the desert. “Don’t you want to dance?” I asked.

“Take me in a chariot.”

An antiquated sleigh pulled by gold-reined reindeers stopped for us. In the desert gleaming in the moonlight, she danced and danced and danced until I wrote my last chapter on a shifting dune.


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