Memory Lane

They called it the memory lane. Those who went down the street found themselves lost in delirium and were left wanting more. I was a lonely traveler in search of perks. The blue satchel I carried had only a few hundred rupee notes and a bottle of water which had been there for the last few months. As a result my only fluid companion was left undrinkable.

They say every road has its distinct character. However this particular street didn’t seem to follow that rule. The board at the entrance said- ‘Welcome to memory lane. Hope you enjoy your visit.’

The foot paths were smooth and white in some places and in others, were grey and broken. The gravel was uneven and one could easily lose his balance on certain slippery patches. There was also a possibility of losing a foot in the puddles spread across the street like polka dots on fabric.

The buildings on the side walk belonged to different eras and the hawkers had eyes resembling hawks. An old lady with a black umbrella was walking beside me; our steps matching. She whispered, pointing at one of the hawkers who was staring rather rudely in our direction, “they watch everything, they are like the omnipresent souls that fly around in search of weakness. Be sure not to stare for too long lest your eyes be burned.”

The sky was a blur of colors. A sort of confused disco ball emanating all shades of the spectrum. In some places the clouds were blurred as if the careless painter had dropped water on his canvas under the influence of spirits and melancholy. The trees decorating the street were unusually branched as if stretching their hands as a cry of help.

But there was one tree about a kilometer down the road which was illuminated with yellow chrome and sprinkles. It looked happy; euphoric even. It could well be a wise old banyan with its roots to the ground and leaves looking like chirpy school girls in the morn. That tree was bang in the middle of the road and somehow the inhabitants of memory lane had let it be.

Nearing that tree, I heard the chirping of birds, the thundering of clouds and the call of the sea gull all at once. Don’t ask me how, but I did. I could feel my smile emerge from a place I did not know existed in me. My chest felt warm and light weight. I was nearly happy.

Further away, the diverged roads, separated by a barren patch of earth for about a few feet, converged once again. Again the disco colors returned and the hawkers could be seen perched on their porch like vigilant birds of prey. By now I was used to their stare and they had ceased to be an object of concern. They were now just background noise meant to be ignored.

The road turned into the right and scene changed. Now, instead of the hawkers, there were empty stalls and the buildings had been stripped naked. The only color in the sky was grey and the trees were burnt at the bark. I could taste the rust on my tongue. The lady beside me said, “Time is the culprit you know. Look closely and look hard. This is what we all will come to.”

It was scary and thus I increased my pace. I did not want to know the games time played on people and things alike.

The road turned yet again and this time I saw water on both sides of the road. The waves were crashing on my right and a yacht was sailing lazily on the left. The latter was calmer and monotonous whilst the former was exciting and terrifying.

A tumult of emotions overcame me. Truth be told, I did not know what I was doing there. It was supposed to be rejuvenating and refreshing. But I was left with a mixture of thoughts and feelings I could not make any sense of.

Further down the road, a few kilometers walk ahead, my journey ended. The last thing I saw was a green board which said—‘Thank you for visiting memory lane. Hope to see you soon,’ before my alarm clock woke me up just in time for class.

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The Satin

I remember it hurt. Looking at her hurt.

She looked at me through the clouded glasses as she tried to stop the tears from falling on the expensive satin of the dress. She was a vision in midnight blue. Her strawberry blonde curls were neatly pinned up in a bun. But one stubborn lock fell on her left cheek. Her nose resembled a ripe tomato on her pale face.

“Can I help in some way?” I asked as a worried friend.

“Just make sure nothing happens to this dress when I am gone. You will take care of it won’t you?” she asked in between sobs.

The well cut blue satin on her had been her mother’s and her grandmother’s before that. I had heard of jewelry and china being passed on through generations. But a dress was a peculiar concept to me.

“Yes I will. You can leave that worry to me.”

“Thank you deary,” she said with a grateful smile.

Rose had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. The good doctor had given her a month at most and had suggested she get her affairs in place before she got admitted one last time.

“You know Soaf, this baby has seen all sorts of days. My granny got her as a wedding gift from her husband back in the 1900s. It was the first of its kind. A daring design and perhaps the first above-the-knee dress my gran owned. Theirs was a love marriage, you see. Grandad was a jew and she a catholic. They ran away to Switzerland and got married. They didn’t ever hear from their folks since.”

“When my mom came out of the closet in the late 1900s, my gran passed it on to her. She said, ‘you wear this to your first date, you understand that? And take good care of it. It has seen me through a lot of troubles.’”

“Five years back, my mom passed this on to me when I got pregnant with Jamie. She said to me, ‘wear it when you get him home from the hospital and make sure you give it to Jamie when he gets old enough.’ But Soaf, Jamie is gone and I don’t have much long. Now you need to take care of this kid.”

I had tears in my eyes as she slowly got up from her arm chair, took the dress off and held it to her ear as if to hear its heartbeat. She handed it to me and got into a spare set of pajamas she had brought along with her.

“Do not ever wash it. It has the smell of all the women who possessed it. It will give you strength and comfort all at once.”

She left shortly after, never to return again.

Ten years later…..

The bed has been slept on. I can still smell him in the sheets. The toothbrush still decorates the bathroom sink and his razor calls for him, but in vain. My head throbs. I haven’t slept in two days.

Disaster struck in the form of a phone call from Pam, his secretary.

“Soaf, I am so sorry. Mike couldn’t get out in time. The building had collapsed by the time the rescue team could reach. I am so sorry…”

Two aircrafts had struck the twin towers on a bright sunny day in September. That was the end of it. It didn’t matter who your God was now. All that mattered was that you were alive.

Little Natalie came into the room with eyes brimming with tears and held me tight. We sat entangled for almost a full afternoon.

“Why ma? Why dad?”

I couldn’t answer her question. It would have been a lot easier if Mike had been an alcoholic or a rapist or a fraud. I could have blamed it on fate. But my boyfriend was a good man and prayed to his God religiously. What could I answer my daughter? Should I tell her that bad triumphs over good these days and that our Gods are temporarily unavailable.

We have a funeral for him today.

I put on the satin and bend my face down to smell it. It smells of all those brave women who wore it before me. I can’t let them down. I have to be strong for my Natalie.

One day, not too far from now, I shall hand it over to my brave daughter. She will wear it when she needs strength and the midnight blue will be a witness to the changing times and difficulties faced by our sex.

Musings

I like treasure hunts. I like history. I like the thought of ‘El Dorado’ existing somewhere in my backyard. I like the search for things long gone. I strive to achieve the impossible. Yes, I like living in the past. Call me an escapist but I like fiction over nonfiction. It is more peaceful than the latter and allows room for imagination and possibilities. And I like my options.

The Evolution of English as a Language

English—the first global ‘lingua franca’, the most widely spoken language and the third largest native language after Mandarin and Spanish—surprisingly has neither a script to call its own nor the purity boasted of by other languages such as French and Malayalam. In order to understand the origin of this language, we need to turn back a few pages of our history books and revisit the past.

We travel back to 55 and 54 BC, Rome. A young man with the name Julius Caesar set sail for the unknown territories up north and discovered vast stretches of land which he referred to as ‘Albion’ (from the Latin word ‘Albus’ meaning white) owing to the white cliffs of Dover visible from the sea. The then inhabitants of this foreign land—the Celts, led by the lady warrior Boudica—offered resistance to his attacks by pushing boulders down the cliffs and destroying the huge Roman ships in the process. Caesar retreated to his country but came back the next summer with repaired ships. A man who learned from his mistakes, he entered Albion through a river estuary and this time he obliterated his enemies. This was the beginning of Roman Britain.

Skipping a few pages of history, we stop at 450 AD- the decline of the Roman Empire. This was the period which saw the movement of tribes across Britain and Europe. The Anglo Saxons, a tribe native to the region covering Germany and Denmark, shifted their base to Britain. The Franks, another Germanic tribe moved to Gaul and overthrew the Romans. The native Celts were pushed to the west (a region that speaks Welsh to this date). Around 600 AD, this region was dominated by the Anglo Saxons and called ‘Englaland’ or land of the Angles. This was when the evolution of the English language started—from its roots in Anglo Saxon (also known as Old English). Even today, Anglo Saxon and English share common words.

Moving ahead to 1066 AD, a Frank king by the name William the Conqueror, also known as William the Bastard, led a military invasion on Englaland. His ancestors hailed from Normandy and he spoke Norman as a result of which the administration of the new government was handled in Norman (modern French). The mixing of Anglo Saxon and Norman gave rise to what we know as ‘Middle English,’ a period which saw the rise of authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer.

The 1400s gave rise to early modern English which was a period of the Great Vowel Shift. It was further transformed by the spread of standardized London-based dialect. In 1604, the first English dictionary was published—the Table Alphabeticall. With the spread of the British Empire, the English language spread all across the globe and was influenced by the local languages and dialects of the British colonies. Overtime, it picked up words from other languages and became what it is today—a mode of communication for majority of the world.

For a language which borrows its script from the Romans—the same as Latin—it has made tremendous progress through the centuries. A ‘mongrel tongue’ lacking purity and heavy with pollution, it is indeed a funny language where there is a mismatch between the way a word is written and the way it is spoken. Despite having its constraints, it has done well for itself by adapting with changing times and molding itself according to the needs of the people.