Posted in Short Story

The Way It Should’ve Been

She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life-the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build-begin to crumble around her.

For a brief moment, it seemed to her to be some sort of practical joke, some cheap psychotic trick of a mind so tired and troubled with age. But no, this wasn’t any illusion, no misunderstanding. Indeed the time she feared and hoped so desperately would not come in her life as it did for so many of her friends had suddenly arrived at her doorstep, and looked her right in the eye. And there was no one with her to face it. No one. For that was the essence of what was contained in those cold, black pixels which had so mercilessly formed those dreadful three lines on the computer screen.

****

She remembered the kiss. It seemed like yesterday. In a sepia-tone of nostalgia, the pictures flooded her memory.

‘Promise me you won’t forget your poor little mother. Promise son, promise that you will take me away from all this… all this…’

-‘Mother, how could you say it? Don’t you know your son? Your own flesh and blood? I cannot even dream of such an ungrateful act! To think that I should desert my own mother, my only shelter, to leave her to die alone in this world, to think that I…’

-‘That’s all right son, that’s all right. We mothers tend to get so worrisome sometimes, you know that. It’s part of growing old. And besides, I’m no longer your only shelter, am I? Now that you have Judith to go along…’

-‘Oh mother, now come on! She’s my wife! You’re my mother! All that I am, and all that I will be, is because of you! Now I told you, only a matter of six months. Once I’ve got these preliminary settlement issues fixed, I’ll come marching back to you and carry you in my arms all the way to Massachusetts! Mr. Goodwin’s backing me up, you know that, and he’ll surely do his best to fix me a nice cozy quarter all for the three of us! Okay? Now no more worries, and no more tears.’

Then came the touch of firm, youthful fingers on those wrinkled, crumpled patches of darkened skin underneath her filmy eyes. The same fingers ran through her grey and white hair, for one last time. And for one last time the two souls, distanced by the gulf of age and yet held so close by blood, embraced.

‘Goodbye, mother.’

She couldn’t say it. Her voice was choked, her heart reluctant to let go. But like it or not, she had to. So she just nodded, a warm smile lingering on her pale lips. The shimmering black sedan grew smaller and smaller till it was no more than a child’s plaything and became invisible at the bend.

Pale green, yellow and brown leaves were strewn all over that long, wide and empty road which led from a familiar and secure place she had known to call her home, to the wide and intimidating outside world. She stood there, in a blank stare, when, as if to steal her attention, another such leaf fell on her right foot, where the bands of the sandal had met. It fell with such nonchalance, such indifference into this sorrowful little scene of separation, and yet, it appeared to have some subtle significance, some meaning. It had fallen. Like so many before it, it had lost it’s strength to escape the urge to let go… to fall…

****

‘Shook it away…’ she remembered. A grim smile came to her lips.

She folded the laptop and put it down on the table in front of her. Like many of her previous lonely evenings, this one also found her out on the veranda, sitting in her favorite armchair, with a laptop and photo-album bound in red velvet lying on the low cane table. Somehow, today seemed bluer than usual. The crows had almost finished their final round of cawing. The street lights started coming to life, opening up their white and yellow eyes. Those black rectangles on the wall opposite started to show their interiors swarming with life.

So it was on all those other evenings she sat there, hoping to receive some news from her son that he will indeed fulfill his promise, and take her with him. This was what she wanted all her life- to be with her son and witness his success. To see how big a figure he had cut out in the world first hand. But more than anything, to see her son, to touch him and bring back all those days when a little, helpless child knew nothing more but his mother to complete his world. This was her life.

But the weeks had turned to months, and it was now almost a year. One by one, the delicate threads of hope wore out and snapped. Then suddenly came this, the hardest, most insensitive combination of words she had ever come across:

“Sorry mother, it’s not possible now. Called Mr. Goodwin again yesterday and it seems the property is tied up in all sorts of legal disputes. It’s unlikely the entire matter can be settled even within the next couple of months. Anyways, take care, and don’t forget your medicines.”

That was all. After a lifetime of toiling, that was what she had. Not even a ghost of hope, but a world full of despair.

‘Shook it away…’ she remembered. And again she smiled. Standing up, she went up to the railing. Yes, she thought, sooner or later we all lose the strength to escape the urge to let go. To fall. And she had indeed fallen. The world had shed her, cast her away. And so, it was only necessary to accept the predicament. Admit it. And fall…

The crows had stopped cawing. The blue had turned to black. A brief cold wind brushed her face as she inched closer and closer to the railing. She closed her eyes…

****

‘Okay, okay cut it!’ a voice screamed out of the darkness.

And with that, the veranda turned to a small cubic enclosure of three cheap plastered wooden walls, within an enormous room the size of a basketball stadium. The darkness turned to a blinding white blob as the gigantic arc lights came on, revealing all the hidden secrecy behind the artificially crafted neighborhood. For in that light was revealed the trolley tracks hidden behind the fake hydrangea bushes, the furry, probing boom at the end of an almost ridiculously long pole maneuvered so cleverly out of sight of the camera lens all this while, flat silvery reflectors surrounding the entire scene, and a gigantic crane with a camera and it’s operator, coming down onto the porch like a mechanical brachiosaurus’ neck.

The director, a short, stout little man in a round-neck white t-shirt and khaki shorts, with a fast receding hairline jumped off the crane from behind the camera. Someone on the set promptly handed him a microphone. He turned it on, and faced everyone. The ‘mother’ was, to say the least, irked by this sudden interruption. She was so close to nailing this bit!

With a slight awkward cough, the director said- ‘Okay people, this may come as quite a bit of a surprise, but we are finally being able to keep the ending the way we had originally intended it to be. I know things haven’t been what you might call as ‘sound’ this past few weeks, but it seems that we have been able to work things out for the best. As you all know, there was a (the director cleared his throat), well…, a little clash in our team regarding creative liberty, owing to which Mr. Bose refused to work any further in this project. I tried my best to make him reconsider but he just wasn’t going to budge. So I had to get the boys to rewrite the ending.

But that was yesterday’s news. While we were rolling for this shot, I received a message on my mobile phone from our producer that he has discussed the issue with Mr. Bose, and was able to convince him to make a return. It seems that our producer has got some pretty good persuasion skills. So it’s going to be a happy ending everyone! Let’s put our differences aside and make this a film to remember!’

The entire set burst out in applause. After all, nobody wanted to see anyone die, be it in reel or real life. Miss Ghoshal, the grieving mother, gave the director a warm hug and kissed him on both cheeks. The director blushed as red as a ripe tomato. Everyone smiled and clapped in good cheer. Slightly embarrassed, the director called out- ‘Make up! Ms. Ghoshal here needs to get her nose done again!’

After their little celebration, it was decided that the re-shoot would be scheduled exactly a week from now.

****

‘Okay silence on the set! Start sound! Roll cameras! Clap in frame! And… action!’

She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life-the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build- turn into a beautiful and magnificent dream.

All her life she had dreamt of this. The greatest and the final wish in her life had been granted, as if by some wondrous gesture of magic by a genie from an Arabian fable. For a moment, it seemed to her too good to be true. But there it was on her computer screen, the most beautiful and most pleasant set of three lines she had ever cast her eyes upon.

And then, to make the moment even more beautiful, there came a ring on the doorbell. With great care she put down the open laptop on the table, stood up and left the veranda. ‘Must be the maid-servant’ she thought, ‘come to collect an extra bonus for the festive season… always an irritating element!’

She opened the door. She saw that she was wrong. And she was glad. For there stood a very familiar young man with a very familiar voice, which said, ‘Told you I’d come back…’

********

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Posted in Memoir

In the Making

It has been a little over a week since I uploaded my fifth short film on my YouTube channel. I remember I had started working on it sometime around March last year. Around that time, I was pretty confident I would finish it by August or September and upload it before the year was out. But man proposes and God disposes. What should have taken not more than six months, considering I undertook everything, starting from the background art and character animations to the final music composing and editing, ended up taking almost a year and four months to bring to realization. Yes there was reason for this extraordinary delay- I was swamped with my studies, my preparations for my examinations, and what’s more, I was assigned by our JAVA programming instructor the herculean task of creating a two-dimensional software game. This overthrew all my plans for the better part of the year. We were told we could borrow freely available character sprite-sheets (sheets of image stills for each position of any character for a game) from the Internet. We were told we would only be tested for our programming skills, nothing else. But I took this really a lot more seriously than I should have. It was decided from the onset that I’d make a game based on my favorite childhood superhero Batman who, I hope, needs no introduction; our instructor gave us ample freedom on the matter of making our own game stories so long as they weren’t vulgar in any way. But never for one moment could I tolerate the fact that I would borrow sprites from the net, when I always dreamt of animating my favorite superhero and his gallery of rogues.

So onward I went, keeping my short film aside. Each and every frame, be it for Batman, Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker or his reptilian henchman Killer Croc, I would draw for hours on end on my pen-tablet. Running, Jumping, Kicking, Punching, the lot! Then came the backgrounds and title cards, which were done with a little less care, for there was always the matter of limited time and the pangs of doing something which none would acknowledge. After that followed the coding, and this is where things became a whole lot trickier. I still recall, making Batman jump nearly drove me mad one evening. Fortunately, my laptop endured all the curses and physical abuse I hurled at it, and I am happy to recall that the game was fully functional by the end of the semester for final evaluation. Our instructor merely opened the software, pressed a few keys, watched the characters perform some of their antics, closed the software with satisfaction and forgot all about it after he entered the marks awarded for this paper. Anyways, it was wrong to expect anything more; it was, after all, a mere game-making assignment for undergraduates. So I buried the whole project somewhere within the multitude of moldy, unused directories nesting in my computer’s memory and forgot all about the thing, though I did learn quite a lot of interesting stuff about coding and making games and, honestly, wouldn’t mind doing it once again soon. I forgot all about it by the time the next semester began.

But what I didn’t forget was the fact that my real creative work, my short film, had suffered a serious blow. Not only had I delayed the animation process by several weeks, but my enthusiasm had also waned considerably. I realized that a lethargic reluctance had crept in. And no matter how much I forced myself to sit for an hour or two and get one sequence done, I was disappointed invariably to find myself struggling to get even a third of the way through any shot at the end of a sitting. There is a turnaround shot in my film- a shot where the ‘camera’ revolves around the subject, as a result of which the subject is seen to ‘turn around’ in three dimensions on screen. To achieve this, obviously would require drawing each and every frame of the turning character by hand. This is done in steps, beginning with the starting and ending frames of the turnaround, then adding a frame in between these frames, then adding one frame each between the first and the middle frame and the middle and last frame, a process which animators call ‘in-betweening’ or ‘tweening’ in short. And yes, it is as time-consuming, and even more complicated than it sounds. It still pains me to think that after so many afternoons and evenings, this one sequence looks, to put it very frankly, pretty bad and quite unfit to put on screen. But I did put it, for I had no option. I was helpless at that point. I had no co-animator to weed out the ugliness and polish up the sequence. I was, in the fullest sense of the word, alone. Completely alone in a venture which would have been considered by others to be utter madness.

But, in spite of such depressing outcomes and their frustration, I finally found myself a few weeks back, exporting the completed film with all its associated music and ambient sounds to disk. And I will be very honest in saying that I was relieved. Because I knew that this work, if kept unfinished any further would be left so forever. And that would be unacceptable to me. For having failed to keep a promise I made to myself a year ago. For leaving a work undone.

So, a little over a week has passed by. I shared the link with family and friends. People weren’t impressed. Most of them failed to understand anything, some of them like the pictures and the way the sole character in the film moved, some liked the music. One man in particular, chief editor for an online daily who had read the original story by Indian filmmaker and writer Satyajit Ray on which it’s based, may be the only person so far who has got the point. Apart from that, it’s more or less a forgettable collage of image and sound which somehow found its way online and will stay on YouTube’s servers as one in millions of pseudo-creative trash. In fact, I do believe that everyone has forgotten about it by now. (In case you are curious, here’s the link to my channel- https://www.youtube.com/user/MrSb192)

This was, as I’ve said, my fifth work. My previous film, a sort of psychological mystery, was a live-action film, with indoor settings and a minuscule team of cast and crew- an actress, two actors, one photographer (who also did the lighting), a dubbing artist, and yours truly. My friends and me. The film received a more or less lukewarm response, and though many argued there were several loopholes and obscurities in the plot, the film still has, in my opinion, a strong audiovisual appeal, considering the limited resources and knowledge we had at the time of it’s making. Most of the people who took the time to watch it did so because they knew someone or the other in the film, mainly among the three players. I have no hesitation in saying that it is because of these three players’ ever widening social-circles that the film received a handsome amount of online circulation. It was, in fact, my first film accepted for a legitimate screening at a short-film festival two years back.

I do not hold anything against my viewers. It is not their fault they saw the film not for what it was, but for who were in it. Films are, after all, a social art form. And we humans make it social. So, if a few familiar faces on the screen hold the audiences in their seats for a quarter of an hour, then there’s nothing to complain really. And I must also admit the fact that I am terrible in mingling and getting around with people. Also, it might be that those three faces were all that was there to watch in that film, and the rest was just plain rubbish.  But rubbish or not, I enjoyed making it. I was, honestly, satisfied with what ended up on screen. Not like my latest work, where I had to make do with whatever little I could get done, just to finish it. No, in this film, I was happy. I liked the colors, the frames, the characters, the voices, the sound and music. Yes that was a good piece of amateur film-making in my opinion. I will always think so whenever I look back. It was the most fondly remembered collection of memories from the year 2016.

Memories. Yes, a lot of memories are created. And perhaps it’s those memories of making things which play on and on in your mind and sometimes become fonder than the things you made. That is, however, not to say, that I do not hold my little set of films dear to my heart. I responsibly accept all my frailties and, in a few cases, my achievements and will not disown them to give me some distant hope of solace. But times change, people drift apart, and the uncertainty of future creeps in, making you want to cling to those bygone days when you were surrounded by the people you loved and doing the thing that gave you the most satisfaction. Even now, when I write these lines, my thoughts turn to those little bits and pieces of story ideas for the films I am yet to make. And I think to myself, will those ever be realized? Will they finally take shape after days of planning and hard work? I do not know if the people I knew and worked with back then will again be available. To tell the truth, these few people gave wings to my ideas. They made me believe it was possible to create. Even for a plain-old nobody like me with no prior exposure to film-making. But as I said, people drift apart, and I am left with my hopes and my ideas and a feeling that makes me say, “If only…”.

I will not make any false pretensions in searching for some deep philosophical answer to the question- “Why do I make these films?” I make them for myself. These were commitments I made to myself. Yes, I accept they aren’t the best of what I could do, but they are pretty decent considering the limitations in which they were made. I make them solely to assure myself that I have something inside me that sets me apart from five others in the crowd. No, I am not being arrogant when I write that. We all want to be our own person; we all want to find our individuality. And I have found mine. I used to look forward to a lot of people following my work, commenting seriously on my films and waiting eagerly for more. But I don’t anymore. I have realized that the ultimate satisfaction lies within me, in making the images in my mind come true by compromising as little as possible.

I believe I have, in my mind, ideas for five more films. I do not have the least idea how to bring them to life. I do not have any support from anyone. My last film was a one-man army effort. Which is why it took so much time and ended up looking so dissatisfactory. I cannot even say when I can begin work on these projects, as I have my post-graduate studies at hand and a job to seek. I do not know what will happen. But I will hope. That is what keeps me going. And I will write…

Posted in Poetry

The Story Of A Toy-maker

Once there was a toy-maker
In one of those little cities.
And all he did was make nice toys,
And dolls for little pretties.
Beds, cots , for the playful lots
Constituted his daily work.
They say he even made a dancing frog
From out of a bottled cork.

And these he made from the finest wood
He got from the nearby forest;
On it he carved, and carved and carved
Without a word and no rest.
Sitting on the pavement, day and night
Ignored he his poverty and his plight
And toiled, but never said never.
‘For if,’ he said, ‘I’ve to serve someone,
I’d serve the kids forever.’

And so passed the days, and days to months,
And it came to the end of the year;
But firm was the toy-maker in his work
For never did he shed one tear.
Then upon a winter night,
When the moon was in sight,
A man came trotting his way
And asked, ‘Are you
The toy-maker who
Has been working this livelong day?’

‘Yes,’ said the toy-maker
‘I am the man who give the children joy.
Are you, for your son or for your daughter,
Looking for a handsome toy?’
‘No, my man, I am not.
For it is not the case.
But first, look at you,
Without further ado,
Let us get you a better dress.’
And so followed the toy-maker the plump old man
For indeed he seemed very rich.
The prospect of getting new clothes to wear
Made his senses twitch!

In the warmth of the fire,
Away from the dire
Cold of the winter night,
The man spoke his thoughts
Aloud to the toy-maker
To set his life upright.
‘ I am the master,’ said the man,
‘Of the Great Toy Factory.
And our toys have been, for many many years,
Very satisfactory.’
But what I seek is a real professional
With skills as good as yours.
I’d rather have you in my factory as a worker
Than in the multitude of the poor.’

Having said this, the man added ‘Please,
Will you accept the offer?’
‘Yes,’ said the maker,
‘For I could not have got
A better job as a chauffeur.’
‘Well, it is set,
So let us get
Ready for tomorrow.
You’ll get your vest on next Sunday.
In the meantime, you can borrow.

So it followed on the very next day
The toy-maker got the job.
And the very first toy that he made was
A clown whose head could bob.
‘Splendid, splendid!’ said the master
‘What a perfect job you’ve done!
I’m sure with this all the kids out there
Would have a lot of fun.’
‘Make such toys and your job
With the factory’s sealed.’
With this word, he left the toy-maker
A pioneer in his field.

One after the other, and then the next
Churned out the toy-maker toys
And the sales of the factory doubled and trebled,
Delighting Mr. Royce.
Mr. Royce, oh yes, for it was the name
Of the factory’s master.
Gripped by greed, and by money,
He ordered, ‘More and faster!
Come on my man, d’ you not see
We need a hundred by tomorrow!’
And the marks on the maker’s forehead
Had deepened to a furrow.

More and more, and many more again
Came one toy after another,
For the thought of the red-faced Mr. Royce
Made the toy-maker shudder.
‘Another hundred! On the double!
I need them now, d’ you hear!’
Cursed the toy-maker to himself
And continued to work in fear.
When the month had come to an end,
The maker was paid but it had
Spoiled the joy from making a toy
And making the children glad.

Day followed day in the same old way
But it made no difference now,
For disgust and anger and boredom
Had grown accustomed to his brow.
Here comes another order,
‘Four dozen puppets
To be deliver’ d by Tuesday night!’
‘Oh no! Not another, not one more toy!
I cannot stand their sight!’
They haunt his dreams, the same old creatures,
That he once loved to make,
And the very glance of a blonde doll smiling
Does make his body shake!

‘Oh that is it!
I resolve to quit!
For it is too much to bear.
Mr. Royce! D’ you listen?
Hear me now, hear me loud and clear.
You’ve killed my passion, and my love
For creating the perfect toys.’
‘Is that so, then out with you!
Get out!’ cried Mr. Royce.
Followed the toy-maker strictly his orders.
Not a sound of revolt did he make.
For he knew that toys
Are made for love.
Not for money’s sake.

Posted in Poetry

A Better World

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She showed me hope

That a better world lives

Amidst the dirt and grime

Among the dead old leaves

She showed me hope

That a better world lives

 

She showed me hope

That a better world thrives

In the hearts of a few handful

Of precious evergreen lives

She showed me hope

That a better world thrives

 

She made me see

That a better world can

Be built by those same hands

That churned weapons for Man

She made me see

That a better world can

 

She made me see

That a better world grows

When a hand is held by another

And two hearts come close

She made me see

That a better world grows

 

She made me trust

That better world is true

And for that I shall make this world

A better world for you

And for that I shall make this world

A better world for you…