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A Bonsai plant stood on her windowsill, a breath of Shinto in her little retreat. The children gazed at it in wonder. They compared it to the gigantic banyans and peepuls in the vicinity and pondered over whether it had been dwarfed by evil spirits. A poor little tree, cruelly restrained from its full glory. She did not see it that way. Nor did she wish others to see it that way. There lay the problem you see. She would explain, “It’s a miniature - a delicate ornament unlike those colossal beasts. This way you can see it whole, be right by its side. Feel its tree spirit. Feel its love. Can you feel that with those giants?” The children listened for they were fascinated by her. She did not speak like a child but she resembled one – just like elves and Lilliputians in their favourite fairytales. It was a delicious mystery for the kids and the very mystery endeared them to the child woman. There was nothing warm or malicious about it. It was just plain, raw curiosity.
"My sweet Pipah, come have your dinner…” she crooned, as to a baby. The sun had not yet surrendered, the ‘colossal beasts’ glowed with an unearthly magenta hue, swaying in the cool winter breeze - a breeze that gently teased your skin and senses to dangerous alertness. It is the kind of alertness that awakens the repressed among the less fortunate of the world. She shuddered and drew the curtains on the trees, not really shutting out the danger but at least gaining a momentary escape. Pipah had his dinner early. He was a miniature poodle. “Darling Pipah, my best friend,” she thought, her eyes moist. Pipah gazed back at her innocently – his blank memory a balm for all his experiences.
The children had heard sounds. A volley of high-pitched barks, not blood curdling but disturbing, emanating agony and terror. The children could feel it more deeply than the adults. The deliberate persistence and the unyielding brutality hit home and shocked them beyond imagination. One little girl lay awake at night, tortured by images of nightmare. “It must just be the street dogs having a brawl,” the adults would shrug. The children were not convinced. But after three days of such periodical echoes of canine horror, it halted. They never heard it again. Was the terror dead or the canine? They dared not wonder. And as children are, with time they forgot, their conscious memories erased. Yet, such habituation is undesirable. It gives rise to a numbness and an acceptance of violence.
The trees were tormenting her. She saw them in her dreams and her reveries – them blowing big and strong, grinning ghoulishly at her while she cowered underneath, ashamed of her debility. They intruded maliciously into her paintings and her handicrafts. She made handicrafts for a living. Once, someone had told her, “Why are you wasting time with these? Look at you, you could just dance on the streets and people would come to watch.” The trees were making her remember things best forgotten. Pipah sensed her mood and kept away. No more did he think he could tease his mistress. This was a mistress to be feared. This was a mistress who wanted things her way for she believed she was absolutely right.
The truck driver was annoyed. The trees were blocking his path. Had they fallen in the unexpected cyclone last night? Surely the storm hadn’t been so strong? Oh well, it was not his duty to mull over the causes. He had to worry about the consequence. The BMC people were called to clear the dead, grotesque shapes on the road. Nobody could explain how they had been shredded and shattered so badly. Nobody could explain the death of a man on the next street either. However, nobody thought of connecting the two events as one seemed monstrous wile the other human. It’s funny how injury to human beings seems more insensitive than destruction to other natural phenomena. The adults discussed it among themselves. “Motive. That’s what lacks. Why would anyone commit such mindless acts of violence?” “Don’t the police have any brains? Why haven’t they caught the killer yet?” “Oh well, who really cares about a poor man roaming with his dancing monkey?” The monkey had survived. The children knew nothing about it.
She was writing in her diary – a pretty, petite writing that didn’t quite befit the bony, worn and embittered fingers. The sun blazed in the relatively warm afternoon but her house seemed dark and the air cold. Cold thoughts can keep the sun out for years.
‘The world is too enormous. And so is the evil. The evil must not be allowed to grow. Innocence, purity, sweetness, it is all vanishing. They grow and as they grow, so does the devil inside them. I cannot take it much longer. How can I explain to them what I know, about the superiority of small, what they know as ‘miniature’? I was born a miniature. Each day, I thank God for making me so lucky. My parents were born miniatures too. Oh they called them ‘dwarfs’. But I abhor that word. To call me a dwarf is to make my size my only identity. Do they call themselves ‘talls’ or ‘fats’? But they find nothing wrong in labelling us that way. Mama and papa died from the big ones’ cruelty. I will not die. I will fight. I hate thinking about it but the winter is having its effect on me. As I walk on the street, they all stare at me - the children in curiosity, the adults in vulgar distaste, pity or contempt and some of the men, lecherously. What gives them the right to look down upon me? They are all dwarfs inside. They have dwarfed hearts and dwarfed minds. Their entire lives are a miniature - unrequited love, unfulfilled dreams, dead faces and dead realms. I always have to look up – to them, the sky, the buildings, to love, to honour and to life itself. I wish I could seize the sky and bring it down to my level. I want us all to be equals. I want it so badly.’
It all started with science class. “A malfunction of the thyroid gland or the pituitary gland can stunt growth, making the individual dwarfed. It can result in mental or sexual deformity as well.” Sona immediately thought about the child-woman in her locality. Half of her was sad that the mystery was now no longer a mystery, while the other half rejoiced at the very fact. All the children came to know. They conversed excitedly amongst themselves. “So she isn’t an elf after all!” “I doubt she has any magical powers!” But when she passed with Pipah, they would stop abruptly – some out of regard for her feelings and others to stare at her and gloat in their newfound knowledge. She was surprised. “Why are they behaving like the adults now?” she wondered in pain. She would walk on, her head downcast. She loved the earth. It was the one thing she could look down upon. They walked together - she and Pipah. Alone in their sadness. Together in their solitude. Of what avail were all her struggles and all her efforts to keep up her strength? What kind of a life was this where love was but a distant dream – a pie in the sky? Sand dusted her small shoes and the wind tossed her hair, raising it so that her ears had no protection. “Dwarfy, dwarfy! Hey stunty! We know what you are!” She would not believe it at first. Then the refrains grew louder. “You’ll never grow up! You’re just a tiny grown-up! Are you even as intelligent? Do you have any brains?” They were closing in upon her. She stood rooted to the spot, Pipah whining piteously. The children looked almost taller than her now. In the twilight, their ghostly faces glimmered with childish spite. Bile rose up inside her. Was she going to die?
They all disappeared. The children. Banyan Road attained a deathly halo. The dead leaves and a stray insect were the only beings to flutter about in the streets. The adults were all silent. Even tears were too great for the shock. All their idle gossip, their dog like professions, their married lives – nothing was worth the loss of so many lives – lives that were their only hope for a better world. Growing up is all about realising how cursed the world is. The only sounds heard were at her little house. She was cultivating a garden. She dug all day, humming a song composed by herself, Pipah by her side. Pipah, whose evil big dog-like barks she had silenced forever. She sang:
O monkey man, o monkey man, the monkey was cleverer than you
She knew what not to utter and at the sight of peril, she flew
O monkey man, o monkey man, how dared you say all that?
The very same way I dared to stick a knife into you!
O colossal beasts, my dear beasts, how lofty you once stood
Proud in your strength and slighted by the tiny brood
But did you imagine, my colossal beasts that one night
A stormy night, the rain with my aid would set it right?
All’s right with the world, all’s right with the world,
Now that the strength of the miniature’s unfurled!
The children had not been born miniature. But they had died miniature. Rage had unveiled its claws and she had unleashed her god-given gift – the brutal strength that possessed her in times of humiliation on the children. Bereft of their innocence they had no right to live. They had no right to make her life hell while they dreamt of heaven. Stones, branches, bare hands, teeth, nails – these were but weapons of death, destruction and emancipation. Shrill screams, cries of help and pleas of mercy were but ploys to turn her away from her duty – to overpower her and outsmart her. All the children she had loved and thought loved her in return were nothing but flesh and blood strung together by vile emotions. Their blood flowed and wet the dusty ground and along with it flowed all their malice and hatred. Their torn hair and stripped flesh burnt and stung the air with the fragrance of the victory of good over evil. And when the carnage was complete, she had tenderly picked up what was left of them and lovingly laid them on the ground in her courtyard. Their innocence had been entombed forever in the tiny graves, deep beneath her garden. Her duty was done. Yes, now there was no one left to love but at least she had a memory. An angelic smile spread across her face. And she continued gardening, watched by the Bonsai plant.