M. Mathews Sajit
Grey fields. To the edges of what he knows to be the world. Grey fields spread across the breadth and width of his world. Grey fields were all he could see. And of course, rising dust pulling together all it could, forming a pillar of wasted fabric. It well represented the predicament of the story teller. A pillar of waste, held against the background of grey fields. His writing pad and paper would say the same. He hadn't written anything for the last two years!
He couldn't bear it anymore. From his window on the first floor, he could see the wasted village. A village full of people with no dreams left! How inspiring is it? From his writer's chair, he could see almost everything in the village- the deserted church, the once-lively market, closely built houses, the village school... all covered in dust. But he could not see a single bit of inspiration for him to write.
For once, he felt that his career as a writer has come to an end. May be, like the life of a man, the life of a writer also has to come to an end. He has written about everything in the village. By the time he was on the peak of fame as the village story teller, he had exhausted all the realistic themes and had already started treading the fantastic world of philosophy and the transcendental. Using symbols and images, he wrote epics about the life of the village. Everyone identified themselves in the stories of the story-teller. He could relate his letters to the lives, dreams, disappointments and despair of the villagers. What they were and what they couldn't be appeared in the story-teller's themes. They loved him, and he wrote about them in return.
It was since two years that he began to feel this dryness. He couldn't write a word. He looked into the village through the window of his house day and night. But he couldn't spot anything that he hadn't written about. He had exhausted everything. When he realized this, he wanted to jump off the village's highest hill and kill himself. He felt that meaning had escaped his being. He couldn't think of living without meaning! Meaning was all he searched for in all his writings. “And now, see what has happened to me?” wailed the story-teller.
This was a standstill. He couldn't bear becoming a character in his own writing. He remembered writing the story of a man who sold the meaning of his own life just to buy food. That was a story that won him much acclaim. Writing that story was a great struggle for him. How could one sell one's own life's meaning to buy bread! For days, he couldn't eat or sleep because he couldn't understand the meaning of what he was writing. He denied the meaning of what he was writing. Yet he couldn't stop writing. Long after writing, he gave it to one of his priced readers- the village cobbler. He was wonder-struck by the simplicity and transparency of the story. He found himself in the story and believed that all could find themselves in it. It was he who popularized this story and won him great fame.
Now, sitting at his window, with the empty writing pad, he realized that his own character was taking life in himself. May be this happens to every writer he has heard of a few other famous writers who died as they imagined their characters would die. He no longer was able to write meaningful stories. “Does that mean that I am selling the meaning of my own life? Am I taking my own essence into the stall of this dilapidated village market?” He couldn't bear the thought.
Taking a stroll across the room, the story-teller took a sip of his favourite wine from the red bottle. That was the last one left in his house; may be in the whole village. That wine has given him inspiration to author many stories. Now even that wine is finished. The stroll with the wine, instead of consoling his doubts about his existence, deepened his anxiety. The image of his empty red wine bottle, along with the dusty grey village was enough to put him to greater despair.
He stopped at the window, struck by surprise. “What am I looking at? How did this...”
Suddenly, he was full of new sprouts, shoots and green leaves. He looked like a spring-bound tree adorned with the joy of hopefulness. He felt like getting new ideas. They perched onto him like birds on a fine spring day. He stared through the window and slowly sat at his writing desk, grabbing his old pen. He began with a heading- 'Lost in the Grey Clouds'.
He never looked up from his paper. He began writing a story. It was the story of a village. In the story the village lost all its glory and joy when time sprayed dust over it, slowly through the years. No one bothered to dust their houses or books or faces. No one swept their courtyards or backyards. Gradually over the years, everything turned grey. Houses, books, faces, courtyards, backyards, … everything turned grey.
Strange things began happening in their village. First, animals started dying together. Birds disappeared from the village. Water in the wells and the stream tasted and looked different. Some of them found it difficult to open their eyes because eyelids stuck due to dust. They lost track of time since all their clocks stopped working. Some woke up in the evening and some went to bed in the morning. Since sky was grey, they couldn't tell when was day!
Villagers did not realize anything until one fine morning when the priest's daughter died of no reason. When the village apothecary cut her open on the postmortem desk, he was shocked. Her blood was grey. He had never seen a thing like that. So he cut her heart to know why. It was also grey. Her lungs, kidneys, intestines, bowels, and everything was grey in colour!
The news about village priest's daughter's grey inside spread like wild fire. Soon, the village gathered in the Churchyard to discuss the issue. Most of them kept quiet as they didn't know what to or how to discuss. The apothecary explained what he saw. He also explained that he could not explain what he saw. The priest was asked whether his daughter had turned a witch. The priest replied saying he had never seen a quieter and more virtuous girl than his own daughter in ages.
The village wondered why the priest's daughter turned grey, not realizing that all of them had turned grey long back. That not only the body, their minds were also grey.
It was then that the blacksmith's son tripped into the forgotten pool in the churchyard. The blacksmith jumped into the pool to save his child. While everyone was looking, he emerged with his child. “oooh”, exclaimed everyone simultaneously. The blacksmith and child looked different. Uh, clean so to say. They looked fair and glowing.. and.. clean! Everyone looked at themselves and again at the blacksmith and his kid. They touched themselves and saw that they are covered in dust. They began dusting themselves. Some jumped into the pool to clean themselves. In a few moments, dust rose from the churchyard, like from a race course.
“My little daughter! What has befallen you...” wailed the priest. It was then that they realized why his daughter died. It was then that they realized why birds had fled the village, why animals were dying, why water tasted and looked different. It was all because of dust! By the time they decided to clean their houses, books, faces, courtyards and backyards, the priest was already dusting the church.
For the next two days, sun did not rise in the village. The sky was covered with clouds of dust and they could 'see' the wind. On the third day, there was great rejoicing at day break, because sun rose and there was clear blue sky. The priest wept and prayed in the church remembering his dead daughter. Others came to the church with thanksgiving.
The village was restored to its original joy. From that day onwards, the dust became part of the book of legends of the village. Grannys began telling their little ones, the story of the days of dust- how they were all covered in dust, how the priest's daughter opened their eyes, how they restored life in the village, etc. In some versions of the story, the priest's daughter was an angel, sent by god to save the village. But in all the versions, the priest's daughter still visited the village on cloudy days. She would appear in the form of a grey, dusty cloud and look down into the village with a sad smile. After all, she was lost in the grey clouds.
The story-teller stopped writing and looked up through the window into the village. He saw what he wrote. A village covered in dust. He looked at himself. He too was covered in dust. He rubbed his hand to see if it was a hallucination. No it wasn't. Dust rose from his hand. He jumped up in fright. He tried to wake up as if he was in a dream.
Suddenly he stopped and looked at what he wrote. There on his writing pad was the story, “Lost in the Grey Clouds”. Pages fluttered in the wind and showed him two words- 'priest's daughter'. With a shudder, he realized what the story meant. He looked at the sky through the window and imagined his face in a dusty grey cloud. And in the memory and imagination of a hundred generations of grandmother stories. He lied down on his bed and fell asleep. Clouds were already taking his shape. And of course, grey colour.