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Chapter II: More Context Than Content

Jun 12, 2005

When Mallika was seven months old she fell out of her mother?s sari-cradle by the side of the wet green fields where paddy was being sown. She fell into the little stream that sang its way through the fields all the way to- no one was quite sure where- for they were simple, content folk in that village. Simple, content- and not particularly adventurous (which mind you is no crime).

Mallika fell into the stream, and no one noticed. Not her mother whose strong brown arms worked so hard in the fields growing rice to feed her seven growing children at home. And not the other ladies bent over the wet earth in their bright saris looking like so many gay poppies from afar.

Mallika fell into the stream, and the coolness of the water surprised her not a little, but she did not cry out. At seven months she was very philosophical, much more philosophical than her six older siblings, who it must be admitted, were sweet enough (when they weren?t quarreling) but rather dull. Surprised, but not thrown by the sudden coolness of the water, Mallika reached out and caught hold of the green stalk of a white lotus blooming beside her. The lotus took this as a signal and obediently pulled up its roots and set sail.

And so it happened that Mallika followed the singing stream all the way to- no one is still quite sure where- in a white lotus on a sparkling spring morning while the women planted paddy in bright saris looking like so many gay poppies from afar.

In the late afternoon, her mother, ready to rest awhile and dangle her daughter on her knees, looked with loving eyes in the direction of the sari-cradle, and saw at once what wasn?t there. She did not cry out as many women might have, nor did she start up the loud tearless wailing, accompanied by the beating of breast and brow or a tearing of hair, gestures appropriate to moments of inconsolable grief. For like her youngest child, Mallika?s mother was a remarkably philosophical woman. She looked at the sari-cradle and seeing what wasn?t there- she sighed. Only once and very softly. So softly that only the breeze (who happened to be passing by just then) heard it. And he liked the sound so much, for its mixture of tenderness and sorrow that he took it up himself and continued on his way sighing sadly, softly through the fields imitating without malice and much skill the woman who stood by the empty sari-cradle by the side of the green paddy fields under the late afternoon sun.


Mallika was getting hungry. She watched the stars come out one by one and counted them as far as one hundred and seventeen which was as high as she knew how to count (and you?ll have to admit that for a girl her age that was rather remarkable), and when she had counted as far as one hundred and seventeen she saw something white and wonderful flying towards her.

The white swan had watched the stars come out one by one that night, and when he had counted as many as one hundred and seventeen (the highest number known to swandom who have never had any use for any higher number leave alone infinity), he spread his white wings and promised himself that tonight would be The night.

Tonight was the night he would catch himself a falling star. Something he had meant to do ever since he was little more than just the vaguest promise of a swan in a bundle of baby feathers. For tonight was a night meant for falling-star-catching.
And as the white swan?s enormous wings beat out the moonlight?s rhythm carrying him closer and closer to the star-jeweled cheek of night, he saw quick as a flash a single star fall like a diamond from the nose-ring of the black stone goddess in the temple far below. And he followed it first with his eyes and then with his wing-stroke swift and strong.

Mallika watched with some interest the progress of this great white bird who seemed to be following something intently. She noted that he was flying towards her with incredible speed and not a little grace, his long white neck stretched like a shining sentence against a black page of sky. Not long afterwards she heard a silk soft plop in the water right by her, and in the infinitely split second that followed felt rather than saw a huge rush of white wings follow the sound straight into the water. A shining spray rose and drenched the watching child who laughed so loud at this unexpectedness that the breeze at once forgot his sighing and gladly took up this new sound before continuing on his way.


Mallika?s mother returned to their hut late that evening. Six children greeted her at the door, like six small question marks. Where is our Mallika mother?
Mallika said their mother is ? and she stopped, her lips wavering between the mystery of the truth and the illusory comfort of a lie ? and in that moment of silence the breeze entered the hut without waiting for an invitation, laughing loud enough for all to hear. Laughing the lost child?s laugh. And hearing that sound, the mother found her voice and an answer. Mallika is well and fine and where she is supposed to be. And then before she set about preparing dinner for the rest of her children, she opened wide the windows of the hut, and let the door stand open. Which was her way of telling the breeze he was always welcome in this home.


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