Happy to share my publication this month in the Spark magazine. Their theme for the month was 'Freedom' and I have written a short story that deals with a father and a son as the father grapples with his notion of freedom while his son sees it differently.
“Go to your room right now,” Akshay hollered. The voice reverberated through the living room. It wasn’t enough that his voice would have sent shivers down the spine of young Pinak. A table lamp conspired to elevate his profile to that of a towering giant across the wall. The boy cowered under the weight of his father’s anger. His eyes had a touch of defiance at the start of the argument, but he realised very soon that his insolence wasn’t going to get him too far. He shrunk in his place. Hands on the side, head bowed, he willed his legs to take him upto his room, but he was simply unable to move. It took Akshay’s loud reminder to shake him from his stupor. The little legs rushed to the end of the hall and led him to his bed where he crashed like a meteor on earth.
Akshay stood in his place shaking with fury. His anger was half-directed at himself. The intransigence of the boy was not worth the rage directed at him. Yes, he had broken a vase in the living room, jumping off the sofas imagining himself to a superhero. But Akshay’s anger was fueled by his own frustration. The stock of his company had plummeted that day, much like the vase his son had toppled over. The stock price had slipped to the edge over the past few days, fueled by rumours of a bad quarter of sales. Then the numbers came out, and it toppled over the precipice. Office looked like a war zone that morning. There were signs of panic all around. People leaning over their desks, phones cupping one ear. Handkerchiefs were out wiping beads of sweat that lined eyebrows even in air-conditioned rooms. Computer screens that usually ran the gamut from Facebook to Email to their actual work programs were busy tracking the downfall of the stock. The Titanic was sinking and no one had sounded the warning about the icebergs. The guardians on the watch should have said something, but they had decided to be silent. Akshay was one of them.
He knew the books, he knew the story, he knew where the holes in the ship were. He remembered that Thursday night meeting with his CEO. Sitting in that dimly lit cabin of his when everyone but the janitors had gone home, he had stood quietly like a school boy being reprimanded. “It’s ok. We can salvage it. Nothing is lost. Impressions are everything.” It was pep talk and admonishment rolled into one. It was a call to arms and a sleight of hand at the same time. He was goaded, cajoled, convinced, threatened and silenced at the same time. Akshay had waited all along for another voice to appear to contradict his boss. Something from within – that little voice in the head, which would have told him that what he was doing was flat out incorrect. His job description had said nothing about having to cook up the books, but here he was, being asked to do exactly that.
He had bought into the mythology his bosses fed him. The invincibility of the market. The durability of appearances. The untouchability of the elites. He had always wondered what it would be like to be one of them. Being granted entry into the boys’ club. Here he was finally. A boy amongst men. Asked to give his share of the flesh. His entry fee.
He had brought his entire toolkit to this hatchet job he had been asked to do. The balance sheet was altered, the cash flow statement twisted and the income statement spruced up. Night after night he sat and figured out ways around the problem – keeping the company in the green and the investors in the dark. Papers were littered across the floor of his offices like discarded promises. It didn’t matter. This was it. He would do this one thing, this one time, and be on his way to a success story he had always imagined himself to be.
He stood in the living room, stooped under the weight of his thoughts. Bit by bit, he cleared up the floor, picking up the broken pieces of the vase, trying to steady his mind which was swirling in the maelstrom of thoughts. When he felt satisfied at having cleaned up the mess that his son had made, he went to his room where the little boy was huddled under the blankets in complete darkness. Akshay stood at the door. The sounds of muffled sobs reached him over the constant hum of the fan.
He turned on the light, went and sat next to the bed, and put his hand on Pinak’s head, gently stroking it. Pinak turned around and buried his head into Akshay’s lap. Akshay decided to relieve the tension by telling his son a story.
“There was once a deer who loved him home in the forest so much. He played with his friends and basked in the sun. One day, a lion entered the forest. He terrorized all the animals. There was no one he spared. He would roam around the forest and pick his prey. No one was safe from him. The deer became worried. Would his turn come next? Would his home survive? He went to the lion’s cave one day. From a distance, he called him out and said, ‘Lion, I have an idea. I’ll make sure you have an animal to eat each day if you promise to leave me and my family alone.’”
“The lion didn’t care. His job would only become easier. He said yes. Then the deer started on his promise. Each day, he would lure an animal to the pond to drink some water. Rabbits, hyenas, mongooses. It didn’t matter. They came there and the lion, waiting in the shadows would pounce on them.”
“The deer felt relieved. He had saved his family. Saved all that was dear to him. He felt a little bad for his friends, but he thought to himself that it was a cost he was willing to pay.”
“Then one day, he called in a wolf to the pond. The wolf was smart. He had noticed that many animals were being eaten at the pond by the lion. He sensed a trap. That night, he went and hid outside the lion’s cave. The deer came there after a while and shouted into the distance, ‘O lion, tomorrow you shall have the wolf’, and then went away.”
“The wolf waited a while and had his own discussion with the lion. The next day, the deer went to the pond and waited. The wolf never showed. The lion came from behind the trees and jumped on the deer, eating him up. The wolf smiled in the distance at his own cleverness.”
“Did you understand the story Pinak?”
“What did you learn from it?”
“I learnt that you should not betray your friends.”
“Good. Good,” said Akshay, patting his son’s head and looking into the distance. It wasn’t the moral he had in mind when he came up with the tale.
He thought of another deer who might be slaughtered some day for the compromises he made. That deer was trapped under the weight of his own dreams, trapped under the notion that he needed to do what was required to provide the best for his family, trapped under the belief that a small sacrifice had to be made to keep big ambitions alive. He wondered if, the deer in the story, in his last moments, would have finally felt free. An escape from the trap of his own making.