VINITA AGRAWAL
(Madhya Pradesh)

 

Author of Words Not Spoken and The Longest Pleasure (Finishing Line Press, USA), Vinita is a Mumbai based, award winning poet and writer. She won the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for literary excellence 2015. Her poems have appeared in Asiancha, Constellations, The Fox Chase Review, Pea River Journal, Open Road Review, Stockholm Literary Review, Poetry Pacific and over a 100 other national and international journals. She was nominated for the Best of the Net Awards 2011, awarded first prize in the Wordweavers Contest 2014, commendation prize in the All India Poetry Competition 2014 and won the 2014 Hour of Writes Contest thrice. Her poems have found a place significant national anthologies like Suvarnarekha and Dance with the Peacocks in several international anthologies compiled in Australia. She was co judge for the Asian Cha Poetry Contest 2015. She has given readings at two SAARC events in Delhi and Agra. She also read her poetry at Hyderabad at an event organized by the U.S. Consulate to celebrate the Women Poets Of India, at Delhi for Delhi Poetree at the launch of Word Wine an an anthology of her poems and at Mumbai, Cappucino Readings, an eclectic platform showcasing poets from all over India.
Contact : vinitadl@icloud.com   visit : www.vinitawords.com



Visiting Orchids
(a short story) by Vinita Agrawal

Tony hadn’t intended to buy the orchids. A rolled down window at a traffic signal was hardly the best place to shop for flowers. Besides, they were a trifle droopy, as if they’d been in the sun all day without moisture. The gypsy-like little girl, who had sprinted up to his car at the busy crossing when the lights were red, had looked at him so appealingly. Her dark eyes held an almost coercing light in them. She wasn’t exactly begging him to buy the flowers. No! Instead, her look was curiously compelling. They were purple orchids, he noticed and they reminded him achingly of Ria. So Tony gave in. He found himself paying for the orchids in the fading twilight.

He looked at his purchase as drove home from work. Ria’s favourite flowers! When he and Ria had parted ways a month back he had though it was just another of their lovers’ tiffs – but this time they hadn’t spoken to each other for over a month. In this time he had realized that no amount of hard work, not even working like a dog in the office could fill the emptiness her going away had created. Ever since she had walked out on him, he felt as though he’d been drifting without a cause. He had worked an extra Saturday - today - for that SmithKline deal. But the passion for his work was a tawdry balm on the emptiness eating his insides. Deep down he’d been missing her like crazy. She hadn’t called and frankly, neither had he. But he’d thought of her every minute and spent every night pining for her. The separation had proved one thing – there was no way he could live without her. He missed her in his soul and wanted her back in his life forever. He wasn’t going to let his silly pride and stubborn expectations come in the way ever again. His only fear was whether Ria would want him back – but he dismissed it on a note of optimism. She would, he thought without conscious arrogance - love like theirs was meant to be.

When he got home, he filled a jug with water, thrust the flowers in it and kept it on a table on the far side of his bedroom. Just gazing at her flowers made his heart ache, it was all he could do not to grab the phone and speak to her right then. But he held himself back. This time he was going to do it properly. He would go to her house tomorrow. Even speak to her parents if it was necessary, they probably still hadn’t forgiven him for hurting their daughter. He couldn’t blame them - he’d behaved like a boor. He resolved that this time there would be no mistakes. He would be patient and wait until the next morning. Good thing that it was a Sunday tomorrow! He turned his head towards the orchids and threw them a silly smile, “You are the sign I’ve been waiting for,” he mumbled sleepily. Happiness was just a night away, he thought with warm anticipation. God! How he believed in signs.

**
He came awake with a start. Something had woken him. His breathing was uneven and he was sweating as if he’d just run a marathon. Strange, because it had been a pleasant, mild night and he’d even left the curtains half-drawn for the breeze to come in. His heart was palpitating wildly. He switched on the night lamp next to his bed and stared at the clock on the opposite wall. Just a little after three, he noticed, as he tried to figure out what on earth could have woken him up in this state of apprehension.

He turned his head to stare out of the window. It was dark of course but brilliantly so, for the moon was full and still high in the night sky. Throwing back the thin sheet, he walked over to the window and peered outside but saw nothing unusual. And then it struck him. It was the air! The room felt almost chilly – as if invisible snowflakes had been scattered all around it. When he poked his head out of the window the night air still felt warm and balmy.
The coldness of the air seemed very real. Then why was he sweating, instead of shivering? Was he having hallucinations? Was he becoming unhinged?
A rush of sheer fear invaded him – he had no clear idea why he was feeling so alarmed, except, just, that he was. He turned from the window to face his bed again and it was then that he saw something that froze his guts.

Sitting in their jug, the way he had placed them on the table on the far side of his bedroom, the orchids were glowing.
A queer light seemed to be emanating from them. A kind of a lavender mist – as if the flowers had been drenched in moon’s milk and left to dry. The sight chilled him to the core. A frisson of fear ran through him. He stood and stared at the orchids, mesmerized; transfixed by the ethereal glow. Some sane corner of his mind still wondered whether he was actually seeing this or whether it was some dream…but the tryst with sanity was brief. It did nothing to stifle his frightful helplessness.

He drew the curtains to cover the windows completely – to block out the gleaming moonlight but a second glance confirmed that the moonlight was not the source of the luminous halo around the orchids. Trepidation warred with fascination. The latter won and he walked closer to the eerily magical spectacle. Up close he could still see their light!
Terrified and completely perplexed he whirled around gazing at the room wildly, searching for explanations. They were flowers for God’s sake, he told himself. Flowers did not glow. Besides he’d bought them himself, just this evening – from the little urchin with huge dark eyes. Her bright dark eyes!

He chided himself for being fanciful. Nevertheless, he could feel his throat drying up. Panic assailed him. The walls of his bedroom seemed to close in with claustrophobic intensity. His hold on rationality was slipping. Nothing was making any sense any more. He couldn’t bear to stay in here a second longer. He needed to flee.
**
He awoke around seven the next morning with a sense of immense foreboding. The events of the night before exploded in his mind with renewed potency, making him spring from the uncomfortable sofa in his living room where he’d tossed and turned for the rest of the night. He dashed to his bedroom. The orchids looked quite ordinary from the doorway. The sunlight filtering in through the drawn curtains seemed to have usurped their spooky glow. But as he got closer, he was dumbfounded to discover that they were amazingly fresh, as if they’d been smothered in dew. Their serene beauty reached out to him and filled his heart to the brim. Like Ria! The thought came unbidden to his mind.

Just then the phone rang, disconcerting him. He fumbled as he picked up the receiver. His friend Arun was at the other end. He worked in the same office as Ria’s sister Charmaine.
“I’ve got some bad news buddy,” there was a give-me-the-strength-to-say-this- kind of pause. “Charmaine asked me to tell you - Ria’s dead.” Arun spoke in a low tone, his voice heavy with grief.
Tony felt every muscle in his body clench and brace itself at Arun’s words.
“A Truck driver rammed into her car on the highway, man!” Arun was saying, “ A pretty awful mess-up, I hear. She was alone, returning from some official trip when it happened. Died on the spot, she did. She was buried yesterday at 11 – at the Bandra Cemetery. If there’s anything I can do Tony…”
The receiver slipped from his fingers and dangled in the air. The room started to spin like a top. Some far corner of his mind screamed silently that he should have been informed earlier. The thought was followed by a stinging whiplash of realization - did Ria’s folks hate him so much that they wouldn’t let him attend her funeral? It certainly looked that way.
With the greatest of efforts he put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, grabbed his car keys and dashed out of the house. He reversed from the parking lot with a wrench of the steering wheel and a squeal of tyres and drove like a crazed man towards the Bandra cemetery.

The Sunday morning traffic was sparse. He found himself at the same signal where he’d bought the purple orchids last evening. The lights were red again. He braked. A little boy ran up to him, his face eager, in his arms a bunch of roses and orchids and lilies. With a devastating sense of déjà vu he turned his face away from the sight. Just then another car drew up next to his. A balding man in his fifties with a jovial set to his lips was in the driving seat. He took in the scene with one glance, nodded and smiled.
“That’s right, young man! Never buy those flowers.” He flicked his head towards the children selling the flowers. "They pick them straight from the graves in the cemetery, they do. Crying shame, I say! To pick up flowers from graves and sell them! God bless the departed souls! It’s a cryin’ shame I tell you… Hey! You look awful! Are you all right? Ah! It’s our turn to go now…gotta go or I’ll be late for Sunday mass," the man drove off with a wave of his hand.

All right? Was he all right? Would he ever again be all right?
Oh God! He hadn’t known this macabre truth behind the flowers sold here.
Oblivious to the impatient hooting of horns around him, blind to the funny looks that the other motorists directed at him, he sat there like a zombie. All he could see was the dewy-fresh image of the orchids he had seen this morning– Ria’s orchids. He knew in his heart that she was at peace. Love like theirs was meant to be.


Two poems by Vinita Agrawal

Fading Earth

flattened forests;
grandeur on its knees.
newly-felled trees
smile valiantly
like sentinels
green is so white inside.
Fading widths

beheaded mountains
smoky, reminiscent,
their aura still croons
the pied piper’s tune
of dependability.
Fading heights

cringing streams
trickle;
bedrocks jut out
their shadows strut about
in the introductory sunlight.
Fading depths

dishonored zephyr.
the breeze- a ballerina
who will never dance again
pock-marked with fumes
and poison‘s bad-breath
she swoons at my feet.
Fading earth

Office

The night rises
like a tide of thirst
a fallout of
squandered
togetherness.

I am stranded on
the sinking shores
of a lonely doorway,
the echoing ring
of ‘I’ll be late tonight’
from your office
for company.

We are a braid
coming loose
with the winds of time.

Bereft
in the middle of
our living room,
I stare at the carpet and wonder
why vacuum cleaners
cannot remove the vacuum

and whether we need
the money or the love…

I peel off the flatness
of waiting from my body
and try hard not to
let the scent of an office
get into bed with me.