Turn To Chapter: 5 Diagon Alley in ‘Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone’

It is said in the Magic world that the wielder does not choose the wand, the wand chooses You. Mr Ollivander, an elderly maker of fine wands and whose prosperous and reputed little shop in Diagon Alley has served the wizarding community in Britain for hundreds and hundreds of years, has one day a most intriguing customer pay a visit.

Harry Potter is new to these parts, a world breathtakingly different from the one that he has always known, and yet felt never quite at home in. Donned with round spectacles whose fractured middle is held together by sellotape and a scar streaked across his forehead in the shape of a lightning bolt, Harry is in search of a wand – his wand – so that he may be properly equipped and prepared for his first term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. No two wands are made out of the same ingredients, Mr Ollivander importantly insists. After a tedious number of failed attempts, Harry finally discovers that one particular wand, when he holds it, makes his fingers tingle with fizzing warmth, and after swishing it down through the dusty air of the little shop – though he does not know how – he causes an effusion of brilliant red and gold sparks to shoot out from the tip of the wand. Both Mr Ollivander and Harry are relieved and pleased, however, the old artisan thinks it is exceptionally curious that the scarlet phoenix who gave away one of its highly potent feathers for the forging of the wand’s internal core had, in fact, given one other feather to another wand. This wand belongs to Voldemort, the arch nemesis of Harry Potter and the cruel murderer of his parents.

Mazzy Tea-Char’s Q: Why do You think the author attempts to establish a connection between Harry and Voldermort in this unconventional way? Answers to be strictly directed to my home address by Owl Post only, and by no later than whatever date You think is wise! Giggle! ♥♥♥

Supplementary Quote: http://i.quoteaddicts.com/media/q4/509764.png

Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Winchester | UK 2016        

The Dreaming: Chapter 11 An Unexpected Trunk Call!

Hello, Arundhati, do you know who I am?

An entire cluster of pink lantern flowers stirred, sifted by a breeze spun out of memories too faded for her to catch the face to whom the voice belonged. Arundhati held her breath and quietly moved the phone away from her ear, only slightly, for she did not want the person on the other side to listen in on her mind frantically working things out.

And do you know who I am?

There was a second person on the other side! It was odd enough to deal with the very confusing prospect of taking a phone call in the middle of nowhere. Arundhati had honestly believed things could not turn any more mystifying than they were already. She was, of course, extremely wrong about that! Now, the resolve in her buckled in. A gnawing vulnerability seethed in its place, because to have two voices poke out at her from the unknown, she reasoned, did a pretty good job at creating the impression that a nasty conspiracy was at foot and that she was alone in her corner. Everyone else, it seemed, had the pleasure of working side-by-side, in pairs or teams, conferring and confiding in each other as they pleased, apart from her, she was the exception.

She could not delay answering any longer, although that did not mean that she was ready to speak either. An incomprehensible mumble escaped her mouth and dribbled into the receiver with flimsiness that resembled lukewarm water. “Erm…

Come on, we haven’t all day! Chop, chop!” The first voice reminded her of the smile of farmers at autumn. The time when they wheel-barrowed into the store house their first golden crop of the harvest. It was a voice that leapt out of the phone and embraced her with unconditional affection and love. Arundhati flicked through her mind as fast as she could. The owner of the voice remained elusive.

Oh my, you do sound familiar! I can’t picture you, though…” Arundhati bit her lower lip and squeezed her eyes down, whilst her thumb and index finger clipped themselves onto the top part of her nose, for she was in deep thought. Not realising it, the toes of both her feet were also tapping against the ground. Every part of her physical being was doing something besides standing still in the hope that it would hurry along the right memory.

It will come to you. Think…Arundhati…” When the second voice, a considered and soft and gently-spoken voice, addressed her by name, Arundhati felt a hundred-fold more unsettled and ashamed. She was sure that these two were most probably exchanging incredulous eye-rolls between them, a perfectly acceptable way to behave, she argued, especially since her tedious dithering was causing her to dislike her own self!

Erm, I’m not having much luck here…”, and then, out of the blue, she was struck by the thought that it had to be at school that she had met these two, for, if there was any place after home that she spent much of her time in, it was there, at school. “Do you know me from school?

What followed was an eerie silence that threatened to fill up eternity. No one spoke.

Erm, hello? Hello? Anyone there?” Once again Arundhati took the phone away from her ear and looked into its screen to see if it was still working. There was no time or date displayed on it, as one would expect on a normal phone. What she saw instead was a counter going up. To her, though, that was a tremendous relief as it meant most likely that the phone was still operational, however, on a more important note, it also suggested that the device was not a ticking bomb! She had seen plenty of movies to be wary of what they looked like. Cautiously nearing the phone to her ear again, she tried one last time and spoke into it. The distinct tremble in her voice made it apparent that she was shaken up. “Hello….?

Oh Pooja, cut it out! Can’t you see our poor friend is miserably stuck?! I can’t do this anymore!

Deflated and a tad bitter, the first voice playfully chided her partner in crime. “Well, now you’ve gone and done it, Pushpa! I was really enjoying the suspense! Duh!

Arundhati suddenly realised that the situation could not be as sinister as she had feared. There was genuine humour in the air between the two callers, a clear signal that from now on in she could carry on more comfortably and lightly. On the other hand, it did little to calm her tempers to learn that she had been made, literally, the butt of their jokes. Her courage restored, she demanded, “Ok, what is this all about?! I am busy with something and you two are holding me back!

You still can’t remember us?! I can’t believe this!” Pooja huffed.

You are right about school, that is where we used to hang out, many years ago…” Pushpa, it seemed, was always more than ready to give away the lion’s share of hints to help out Arundhati.

Arundhati sighed in half-defeat and half-boredom by the dreariness of what was fast becoming the longest guessing game she had ever played. She strained and uttered repeatedly the two new names under her breath. “Pooja… Pushpa… Pooja… Pushpa… Pooja…. Pushpa…”.

You’re thinking about secondary school. Go back to your primary years – Mr Patel’s class…” Pushpa was firmly decided that she would get Arundhati to remember.

Pooja… Pushpa… Mr Patel’s class…”, and suddenly the lightning of the memory flooded back and it shot through Arundhati as though a bullet had pierced her awake from a hundred year slumber, “POOJA, PUSHPA!! Yes, yes, I remember, only barely, that is! Oh my goodness, that was so long ago, many years ago, no wonder I was having all this trouble!” Inside she felt immensely buoyed by the fact that it was perfectly forgivable to forget people from the distant past. She no longer felt like an idiot, after all, it was understandable to have jaded memories of one’s kindergarten years.

The Dreaming Chapter 11

“… A roar of laughter and giggles stormed through the phone from the other side and blared out so loud that a few lantern flowers wobbled mid-air...”

A roar of laughter and giggles stormed through the phone from the other side and blared out so loud that a few lantern flowers wobbled mid-air. Arundhati smiled as she brushed her hand down her face, relieved that she had entered a circle of old friends. What plagued her now was the outbreak of questions bubbling on the tip of her tongue. “How is this possible? Why are you calling me and how did you get this phone number and who was the chap who handed me the phone and does this mean that you are working for The – “ Breathless, Arundhati was cut off. In her head she was still asking them a million more questions.

Ariundhati, Arundhati, stop, stop. Let us explain”. Pooja cleared her throat.

Alright. I’m listening... ”

We’re happy for you, Arundhati. Honestly, we are. We couldn’t think of anyone better to carry out this important mission”. Pooja’s each word seemed as though it had a cut-out hole in it from which she was able to peer through and check up on how Arundhati was taking it all in.

Pushpa seconded her sentiment. “Agreed!” As if she would burst into flames if she kept the next part to herself, Pushpa gleefully added, “And by the way, the ‘Street Vendor’ idea was mine!

Arundhati was at a loss for words. It was like as if she were a little dot floating in an ocean of overwhelming secrets, and the ocean was growing, exponentially, as the clock ticked past the division of each second, piling mystery upon mystery from which she thought at any moment she would be inescapably lost within its depths forever.

After a while, miraculously, Arundhati found her voice. “Your idea?!

We don’t have much time, not on these airwaves”, Pooja spoke hurriedly now, “… and Pushpa, dearie, can you stop gloating about your ideas, there is a time and place for showing off!

You are right, sorry!” Pushpa’s apology was tinged with a smile which beamed out of the excitable skip that could be heard in her voice.

I feel so left out, everybody seems to be two paces ahead of me, having knowledge of things that I don’t.” Arundhati did not mean to come across as a moaner, and soon afterwards was eager to apologise for her impulsive outburst. She tried to say this, but was halted before she could begin. Pooja spoke authoritatively.

It’s important it stays that way, Arundhati. No one in the organisation knows everything. That would be too risky. We are all like you, in that respect, each holding a piece of the answer. But, you have a special relationship with this land, that makes you the binder, gluing all the pieces together, which will eventually lead us to The Shaligram Ammonite.” Pooja purposefully paused, she was well aware that her words were solemn and heavy, and that Arundhati would need a moment or so to pull them in and accept them for what they were.

And right now, we are here to protect you. Danger lurks four paces behind you.” Pushpa could not have said it any more bluntly.

Stop scaring her like that!” Pooja sliced in.

Arundhati snapped round and deliberately scanned the pathway and the trees. She did not want to admit it to her two old friends that her heart was secretly hammering against her chest, that she was scared of what could materialise from the overlapping greenery. What if another shadowy figure were to step out from the whispering leaves? What if this time behind the mask of silence lay a creature of hideous intentions, one who truly wished to bring harm to her?

The phone made a strange cackling sound and Arundhati brought her attention back to her two friends. Her instincts told her that whatever it was that made it possible to make this call was about to be used up. Time was running out, yet she knew exactly what to ask them. “Is someone following me? Please tell me the truth.

The line grew scratchy and the voice faint, and Arundhati could not tell who spoke, but one of them managed to tell her just in the nick of time, “We will help you… now…”, and then the line went dead.

Hello?! Hello?” Pooja? Pushpa? Hello?!

There was no reply.

Arundhati’s heart sank deep down into her stomach and she flung another glance behind her. As far as she could see or hear there was not another person about. Silence descended down, ruthlessly hard and unsparing, onto her nimble shoulders. All at once she could have sworn that she was the only living person on the planet. It was too quiet. Her lips ravaged and parched by the slow-burning panic building up in her belly, Arundhati was about to slide the phone away from her ear and tear down the hill when out of the leafy mass of the sal tree next to her a long furry arm shot down like a brown lightning bolt and rudely scooped the phone out of her hand! She staggered back and nearly fell, yet she somehow managed to catch sight of the five wrinkled digits of a hairy hand, balled into a fist, and the phone glistening from inside its clutches. Before she could make heads or tails of who or what the thief was, it had vanished into the covert thicket of the sal tree.

She sprang back up on her feet and edged closer, on tip-toes, towards the tree, all the while her eyes were wide alert. Something had uncivilly filched her phone and one way or another she was going to find out what it was. She cast a sideways glance at the lantern flowers who were now, it appeared, had taken to a dance of little wriggles from the fixtures of their stems. It was a daft thought, however, one that she could not shake off, and that was, that these flowers, absorbers of secrets, did look much fatter than when she had inspected them previously. Had they already feasted on the knowledge about the culprit responsible for the disappearance of her phone?

A clump of leaves and branches in the centre of the tree shuffled, as if whatever was inside was telling the tree in as explicit a way as possible that there was not enough room for it. A sharp screeching sound came next and then there was nothing, only the now all too familiar silence.

Arundhati was stood under the tree. She choked down her fear and as quietly as possible raised both her arms up and grasped the nearest two branches that were thick and sturdy enough to take up her weight. She pulled herself up and as soon as her feet came off the ground she made sure that they were quick to lift with her and then pressed them against the bark of the tree for support. Resembling a koala on its way up for a nap, Arundhati hovered this way for a few seconds, for she was painfully at two minds about what to do next. She could simply jump down and leg it. The next village was not far. Yet, it was undeniable, she was actually liking all of this. Somewhere along the line she had started to grow attracted to the uncertainty and adventure, and at whatever cost it was, she had now decided that she would expose the identity of the uncouth rascal who was toying with her phone. She pulled herself up further and this time her head scraped through the thick foliage, the odd crooked twig jabbing into her cheeks and a leaf or two tickling the crescent of her ears, until finally she was waist-high inside the green, luminous heart of the tree. It was a cool and dappled world, where everything was tuned to speak in whispers so that even the few patches of sunlight, which had struggled to reach this far, appeared more like shadows of a lighter pigmentation.

The Dreaming Chapter 11

“… She choked down her fear and as quietly as possible raised both her arms up and grasped the nearest two branches that were thick and sturdy enough to take up her weight…”

At first, Arundhati saw no one. Bemused, she held firmly on the branch and swivelled her torso around to look the other way, causing the tree to judder and a few leaves to fall, and that is when she received the shock of her life.

Staring back at her was a small monkey!

The Dreaming Chapter 11

“… Staring back at her was a small monkey...”

An aged chap, his two round eyes shone like fresh amber sap that had been mixed in with copious swirls of honey, and pencilled within their centres a perfect black dot, and all this was set within a greyish-pink pointy face. His lipless mouth was a fine rug of white hairs only just visible, but the rest of his body was a different matter altogether, it was abundantly layered in brown, pink and white hairs, even the tips of his ears, whose overall shape reminded Arundhati of the betel leaves that her Amma could never live a day without. Monkeys trooped everywhere in this part of the world. Arundhati was no stranger to them and to their interrupting and opportunistic ways. What threw her off completely was that this particular monkey had one thing about it that set it apart from every other monkey on the planet, or so she believed so.

Not only was the monkey jerking the phone in its nimble fingers while beaming a proud smile at her, exposing all its pristine white teeth, as if to say that he was far more intelligent than her and that he would always be one step ahead in the game, but that this cheeky imposter was equipped with backup. He wore a headset! A black, plastic headband arced around his tiny head like a rainbow and a padded speaker, a cup dotted with many holes, cushioned against the monkey’s left ear, all of it perfectly adjusted for his comfort. From the base of the speaker a thin black tube extended out so that it curved in line with the jaw, and on its tip was a microphone that looked like a bumblebee without wings.

Oh my goodness! What are you!?” She wondered out loud.

Immediately the monkey brought its index finger to its lipless mouth. “Sssshhhh!

Arundhati’s mouth dropped.

The monkey nodded its head towards something behind her. She rubbed her eyes hard and made them sore, and then looked up again. The monkey and his impressive headset was still watching her intently. He was real! The monkey repeated his nod in the direction behind her and this time she obeyed. She quietly turned around and searched below. What was it that this strange monkey was telling her?

A few seconds later it became clear to her that he was not telling her anything. He was warning her.

Directly beneath the bulbous sal tree in which she and the monkey now hid were stood four people all of different heights. Three words she heard over and over again. The Shaligram Ammonite. For the first time ever Arundhati saw what she, alone, was up against. ♥♥♥

The Dreaming Chapter 11

“… Directly beneath the bulbous sal tree in which she and the monkey now hid were four people all of different heights…”

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Herefordshire Adventures | Herefordshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 10 The Return Of The King – Sorry – Ring, Ring!

Day blazed into brighter day, and Arundhati came to the Lantern Tree Grove, where the sharp luminosity of the noon sun overhead was proudly companioned and lit up by the presence of numerous and magnificent pendants of delicate pink drops. Lantern flowers. Each flower slanted its head towards the ground, as if addressing something that lay directly below it. It was why the people of these parts agreed that their shape resembled the papery canopy of a night-time lantern, the ones held up by the watchman as he went about making his rounds along the border of his village whilst people slept.

Unsure still of what bridge these lantern flowers served in her finding The Shaligram Ammonite, Arundhati could not escape from her delight in being surrounded by these fine specimens of Mother Nature. She was convinced that she had been born loving flowers from the moment she took her first breath, that she had the power to partition her inhalations so that half of it fed her lungs and the other was shielded from that duty so that it may be kept like a carpet of breeze reserved for carrying the scents of roses and jasmine to her nose. Of course the elders in the village, and her own Amma, on occasion, had laughed out hysterically upon hearing these strange ideas, for, they argued, how could anyone ever possibly remember if they shared a close bond with the floral world from the time of their birth? For Arundhati, these taunts never dealt her any serious blow, and she quite easily dismissed the scoffing ways of the world. As plucky as a bumblebee was to a rose, she, too, stuck to her beliefs in all weathers.

The Dreaming Chapter 10

“… She was convinced that she had been born loving flowers from the moment she took her first breath…”

She crept up slowly to the long wall of leafy shrub before coming to a standstill just inches away from the tinkling audience of lantern flowers. A strange and precautionary urge came over her to be weary and to look all about her. As far as she could tell, she was alone. But it was still hard for her to shake off that unsettling impression that she had been led here, and she soon imagined – which did little to ease her discomfort – that someone was out there, nearby, watching, spying and ticking her name off from their appointment’s diary with a sliver of smugness elasticated across their face. Just to be sure, she peered back up the path from which she had trudged down from. The tea house was firmly out of view now, and turning to face below, she saw the familiar dirt track leading a raggedy course down to the neighbouring village whose edge brushed against a mighty serpent of gushing water. Except it was not one singular vein of water. A short way along the bank and the river divided into two, the larger one running its course straight and out of view as it became engulfed under the over-arching branches of giant bristly conifers, whilst the smaller one, like an arm splintering off in rebellious defiance, wound its way north towards villages that Arundhati had never ventured into. The enormity of the task ahead of her suddenly turning to leaden weight and her feet seeming to grow heavy, Arundhati distracted herself and hurriedly turned round to face the lantern flowers again.

She came in closer to examine their form and realised that they were not enslaved by the whims of the winds. They moved as they pleased. Some of the lantern flowers nodded up and down, others shook their heads, and a few, let their heads touch the one next to it, as if they were talking about a pact or enthralling themselves in the latest schoolyard gossip. A flash of a fond memory trickled into Arundhati’s mind, the time of when she and a few friends of hers had met here after school, and how they had giggled and chuckled as they rushed to share out multi-coloured threads from an old pouch so that each would have the colours they wanted to string out their friendship bracelets. Arundhati’s shoulders jiggled as she smiled to herself, reaching out with the gentlest of touch, stroking the tips of the lantern flowers, half-hoping that they would chime as her fingers tapped and drifted through them, they telling her in unison that they had all indeed watched silently that day when she and her friends had gathered her for the marvellous swapping of threads. “You flowers soak in other people’s secrets, don’t you?” she whispered to one lantern flower. “Look how plump your pretty belly is, fattened up just like the yummy pickle jars in Amma’s cabinet!” She sighed and stepped back and scoured her eyes at all of them, daring to hold onto the chance that perhaps one of the lantern flowers would relent and prise open its fleshy petal body and shed light that would show her the way to the river that she saw in her vision back at the tea house, that vein of black water shown to flow close to the location of The Shaligram Ammonite.

The Dreaming Chapter 10

“… She came in closer to examine their form and realised that they were not enslaved by the whims of the winds…”

She was lost in thought when it dawned on her that she was not alone. The dried leaves on the ground behind her sent out a muffled sound, a rustling of laborious footsteps accompanied by the creaking of mechanical parts. She shot round, just catching her breath in time, to find that a street vendor was stood in front of her. He was not a particularly old man, his face was angular, blackened by the unforgiving sun, his black hair was stuck to his skin by sweat, and he wore a holed vest mucked by dirt and splotches of grease and food, while his blue and white sarong was tied above his navel in a tight bun so that his extraordinarily dark, bony legs and protruding ankles helplessly peered from below, his feet finished off with a pair of stringy flip-flops. His hands were fastened to a cart draped in green cloth and arranged neatly on it, row by row, glittered a handsome crop of antique-tinged wood apple, spiky jackfruit, pomegranates whose cracked ends reminded her of lips prepared to kiss, and yellow persimmons secreted forth by the frothy laughter of the summer sunshine. The cart was held up by four large rubbery wheels positioned on each corner. Patches of brownish-red rust had attacked the axis and spokes, presumably accounting for the screeching sound earlier.

Oh, I am so sorry. I will move out your way, Uncle.” It was a very narrow point on the slope, and she felt terribly oafish that she was obstructing his right of way. Arundhati leaned as far back as she could against the lantern flowers, taking care not to squash any of them in the process, and then gestured the street vendor that he could now pass.

But, he did not.

A fly buzzed down and took the opportunity to forage on one of the jackfruits whose tough outer skin had somehow received a gash, exposing a glimmer of its sticky and sickly sweet interior flesh. Arundhati swore she could hear the fly siphoning the juicy blood of the fruit into its thorax and down into it abdomen. “Excuse me, Uncle, but there is a fly on your jackfruit. Look, over there, can you see it?” The man did not move, yet he had heard her, she knew that. Arundhati felt the hundred scrawling legs of cold fear shuffle up her arms and slither across the sides of her neck. She reached up for her binoculars, slowly and tactfully, all the while slanting her eyes to her right to better understand her escape route. Her feet were already trembling, obeying the desire to flee, and she prayed to herself that he had not caught her in the act of thinking through these thoughts.

Whatever it was that prompted him to snap out of his statue was anyone’s guess, for he abruptly let go of the cart handle and lazily walked round it so that he now was only a few paces in front of her. His eyes were as black and viscous as bat wings, she could not see their pupils. She shuddered. “Is anything the matter, Uncle?” A whip of anger scorched down her throat and into her stomach. She had not meant to speak to him, she was meant to have dashed for it.

A deathly silence, a staunch standoff of crackling electricity, ensued between the two of them. If only his face could break out with a recognisable expression then at least she would derive some relief that whatever it was that she faced now could be bargained with. Alas, the man’s face remained agonisingly wooden, indeed as wooden as the table of his cart. She forced her body now to loosen, the final preparation in its readiness for scrambling down the hill. She was going to run, run away from this phantom figure, this sinister man who seemed to not belong to anywhere.

But he took one step forward.

She had planned to run, instead she maintained her sight on the man and heard herself whisper with concentration, “Help me, Mr Roald Dahl…”.

The street vendor must have heard her whisper, and not only that, he knew exactly what those anomalous words meant, for he nodded decisively towards her binoculars. Quick as a flash, Arundhati tipped her head down and managed to just catch the last of the three red flashes. She gulped and when she looked back up at the man he was wearing a smile that was fantastically camouflaged. Fine flecks of crinkled skin had collected at the edge of his eyes. He was smiling with his eyes. He approved. Arundhati lifted the binoculars and expectantly brought them to rest against her own eyes.

A brief message had been sent to her. It was about the art of disguise, and as a way of example, Mr Roald Dahl was more than happy to oblige and share his own instance of rustling up a pukka disguise from his youthful days, one that prevented him from being caught red-handed by those who wanted nothing more than to see him in the principal’s office!

The Dreaming Chapter 10

“… A brief message had been sent to her. It was about the art of disguise…”

The message disappeared after a short while, and Arundhati taking the binoculars away from her face, crinkled her eyebrows into a knot and searched the ground below, as if the significance of the message would miraculously appear from the undergrowth and dissolve all her confusions and take them away far from here. Slowly her voice found her again and she croaked out the best she could, “Uncle, do you happen to work for The –

Before she could finish anymore of her sentence the man shoved his hand under the row of lighter fruits at the top of the cart and pulled out a block neatly wrapped in shiny paper with bold words lavishly penned across it. He offered it to Arundhati. Her mother had strictly forbidden her to accept goods from strangers, she had warned that it could land her in very serious trouble, the consequences fatal, even. Arundhati momentarily closed her eyes and asked for her mother’s forgiveness as she reluctantly opened her palms for the man to place the block in it. It was light and cool to the touch. It certainly was not fruit. When Arundhati drew her hand away from the man and peered at the item she was hit by more puzzlement than she could possibly take in one day!

Wonka Chocolate Bar?! But, how will this help me find The –

The Dreaming Chapter 10

Wonka Chocolate Bar?! But, how will this help me find The –

Once again her sentences, her questions, were left mid-way, unfinished, drifting on the air. The man was retracing his steps back round the cart. He took hold of the handle, issued a subtle bow of the head, before trundling past her and then vanishing down below, the voiceless man and the screech of his mechanical accomplice both gone.

She had never heard of this brand of chocolate and had no desire to test it out on her palate, who knows what peculiar things were contained within it. She turned on her heels to face the watchful curtain of lantern flowers. “There, one more secret you are going to have to keep which I’m sure will fatten you all nicely!” She examined the bar and concluded that the neatness of its packaging and the sophistication of its printing could only mean that this came from another country, but her speculation only drilled more questions into her brain. Her ears picked up the distinct murmur and rumble of the two rivers down below. “Chocolate bars and rivers, what is the link?” A chiming rang out, sweet and high-pitched, like the twitter of a bird mixed in with the tinkle of a metal xylophone. She dismissively muttered, “Ah, so you lantern flowers do know how to make music!” The chime rang again. She raised her head and awkwardly poked at the lantern flowers, as expected they made no sound of such sort. When the chime rang again she realised that it vibrated her palm. The noise was coming from the chocolate bar!

Whether it was the right thing to do or not did not even cross her mind, and so her fingers scurried across to where the paper was joined together and proceeded to rip apart the layers, and there was so much of that to get through that she imagined that the final article buried deep inside it was most likely a fraction of the overall size of the package itself!

She could not believe her eyes when the last shred of wrapping swayed and fell like a feather down to the ground.

In her hand was a wafer-thin device. It was a phone.

It had a pretty cover depicting pinkish vines of flowers and for a second she thought she felt all the lantern flowers around her crane their necks in for a closer view.

The phone chimed again.

Arundhati licked her lips in anticipation and held her breath, before bringing the device to her ear and answering it.

It was the voice of a long-lost friend and the pink lantern flowers knew that before she did. ♥♥♥

The Dreaming Chapter 10

“… It was the voice of a long-lost friend and the lantern flowers knew that before she did…”

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 9 Ali Baba’s Tea Shop

The tiny hut of azure, its long narrow windows bordered in blood scarlet, had a third of its foundation teetering on the edge of the vast cliff face, as if it were flirting with the thought of diving into the gushing valley below. Of rickety build, its bricks were made more of guts and brazen defiance, not of the expected clay and shale.

Arundhati, a little out of breath from the steep ascent, felt relief soothe over the sores on her feet as she read out loud the words on the rectangle board hung on the hut’s sloping roof of tiles, “Mantola Tea Shop”. Her feet now paced on ahead faster, the words pulling her in like a fish caught in a net. Not quite understanding why or how, but she sensed it so clearly that this place had been waiting for her, that it had held a patient vigil for the day she would delve inside. High above her head, on the currents of the clear alpine breeze, swayed and fluttered hundreds and hundreds of prayer flags, squares of fierce and bright colours, and her interest soon fixed tight on them. She was close to tripping over if she had kept her eyes on them for any longer. Each one seemed to be sewn with its own character, as if it were a person, and together their hushed voices beckoned her to venture ever forth towards the hut, whose walls were painted from dyes harvested from the great Himalayan sky.

Arundhati saw the two wooden saloon doors, ribbed and chipped, motionlessly hang in front of her and nervousness pricked her skin with needle-point sharpness, for she had never entered these premises, because she had overheard at school that the old man who ran the place was a madman. What if he were to use his cunning ways to trap her inside forever? Unlike the Ali Baba of ‘Arabian Nights’, what if this man of the same name had no care or intention for goodwill, and that instead he poured all his malice into the forging of this den of corrupt things, a place cleverly cloaked under by the daytime guise of an unassuming tea house? No, she could not let imaginary horrors, truths stained out of uncertainties, stall her feet now, and with a deep sigh that came from beneath the sheath of her heart, she whispered fearlessly, “Open Sesame!”, and with that she pushed the saloon doors open and stepped inside.

The blazing light of the day suddenly became eclipsed and in its place, there she was, in a room that only suckled on the secrecies of the night, a wide room caressed in the fog of smouldering wisps of frankincense, whose sticks burnt from brass holders made of filigree bodies fixed midway along the teak-panelled walls. A naked bulb hung down from the centre of the ceiling by a single threadbare wire and when its light merged and mingled with the languorous wisps of incense smoke it made everything seem as if it were a memory that had estranged itself from the past of a stranger. Arundhati stood still, her eager eyes panning from one end of the room to the other. Small tables, each adjoined by four chairs, were strewn around the room, some were filled with bantering customers on each side talking over each other, on others pairs of old men whiled the time away as they became engrossed in deep conversations on course for lasting as long as eternity itself. Without a doubt what united them all was their singular and unspoken love for tea, glass cups filled to the rim with luscious thick brews of hot milky nectar, and from each exuded ethereal twists of steam that danced into the accumulating growth of incense smog like phantom dervishes twirling, spinning, and finally losing themselves into the bliss and ecstasy of annihilation.

Soon her searching eyes froze in their tracks. Ahead of her, beyond the counter, stretched out across the entire wall like some vestige of the Milky Way itself, she saw the most beautiful prayer mat she had ever laid eyes on in her life. It depicted the Kaaba, cloaked in black mystery, which stood in the centre, and it was surrounded by two tall minarets of pearl and beyond that lay ragged mountains and valleys that rose out from the earth, their towering presence spoke testimony to the ancientness of the site. The inner border of the rug was intricately woven in geometric patterns of black and white, and the more she peered at it, the more the patterns grew, as if it were something alive and evolving by the passing of each second. She could not take her eyes off it, and taking a step forward, she gazed through it and for a moment or so, she could have sworn a river of peacock eyes swam through the currents of the geometry, perfectly reamed and riddled inside the borders of the rug.

The janamaz you see was handed down to me by my great-great grandfather.

Arundhati snapped to her right where stood an old man, not too short, not too tall, he wore a bushy white beard, his face speckled in countless age spots, and on top of his oil-slicked hair he wore a black cap, it was flamboyantly fashioned with circular mirrors embroidered in to the velvety fabric, affixed with zig-zag threading of yellow and red. He looked at Arundhati thoughtfully. She knew then that this was no madman. She could feel that her presence was awaited by him. She chanced another glimpse of the prayer mat, in case, she feared, it became obscure or melted away without her ever paying a proper compliment to it.

It is extraordinary. Like a storybook, but with no pages.” She turned round to face the old man again and realised that he had not taken his kindly eyes away from her. He had not let loose a single twitch of an expression to tell her of what he thought of her assessment, but that was not necessary. Arundhati smiled at him just the same.

Come with me, have a better look at it”, and then he paused and she sensed that he had gone as far as reading into her soul. He resumed, “… so that my mat can take a better look at you.” The old man walked round in front of her and gestured with his left hand to follow him. Wedged within his right arm was a silver tray, and together with the single pen clipped inside the top pocket of his grey kurta, she noticed that he did not seem to be as old as she had presumed he would be, it was rather more accurate to say that here was a man who was of the moment, ageless and fantastically unhindered by the arrow of time.

As she paced slowly beside him some of the customers looked up at her from their tables. Brief swivels of the eye that made it apparent to her that she was a novice here in this steamy world of tea and incense and timeless prayer mats inherited down the generations. When they got to the counter, a smooth ledge of teak wood, the old man laid the dish on top of it and then leaned his elbow on it before cupping his head in his hand. “I dream to go there someday.

Awed by the stunning craftsmanship displayed by the weaver behind its creation, it took a while or so before Arundhati noticed that the old man was still speaking to her. “I am sorry, yes, yes, of course, you will go there someday. I hope you do. It is Mecca, right?

Are you not Muslim?

Well, to be honest with you, Ali Baba – …”, Arundhati halted herself, she felt embarrassed, for it struck her that it was foolish to presume with such haste that this man was the owner of the Mantola Tea Shop. “… Erm, you are Ali Baba, right?

The old man let out a hearty chuckle. “Your instincts serve you well, yes, I am Ali Baba”.

Arundhati smiled, happy that she had got it right. “Well….” , and she uttered his name decisively as if she were willing him to become more alive than he really was, “… Ali Baba, I am not really sure what I am. I don’t have a prayer mat – a jana –..” and she had already forgotten what it was called in the man’s native tongue and raised her eyebrows for assistance.

A janamaz”.

Yes, a janamaz. I don’t have a janamaz at home, but I do have on my bedside table a wonderful image of Maa Sarasthwathi, the Goddess of Knowledge and Music. She is like a good friend to me, I look to her for help when I need it.

The old man smiled, a wise smile that told her that he knew of more things than a tea house alone could store within its four walls. “It is important that we all have something to believe in when things turn hopeless and dark”. A glimmer of moonlight drilled a noble stand in the core of his pupils, it immediately inspired Arundhati to treat the man with the utmost respect. The lack of long years of acquaintance between the two of them, that was usually required for such respect to ferment from, was suddenly irrelevant.

Why don’t you take a seat, my dear…” He did not have to scan the room, with blinding spontaneity he pointed at a table, the tiniest of them all, near the wall on the right, it was completely unoccupied, “… and I will make you a fine cup of tea and while I do that you can sit and choose what you wish to ask me of The Shaligram Ammonite.

Arundhati looked at him bewilderingly and followed his movements as he swiftly got down with the business of making her tea behind the counter. With his focus down on the stove, he once more gave his gentle order, “Off you go, my dear, there is a free table over there, and I will come to you soon”.

She pressed through the thick tresses of the fragrant frankincense, a spidery web that brought impenetrable mystery to the place, and when she reached the table, she saw a gleaming hardback book on top of it. It looked like a brick that was birthed by these cliffs and its colour dyed out of the juices of a billion sal leaves. Arundhati sat herself down and put her rucksack by her feet. She glanced back at the counter where the old man quietly whistled to himself as he poured out loose tea leaves into the cast iron pot. She knew he would not mind it if she were to inspect the book on the table, but still felt safer if she were to do it whilst he was preoccupied with his work. She drew the book closer to her and brushed her palm over the large, gold-gilded words embossed deep down into the canvas of emerald green. “The Holy Qu’ran”. The inner border of the cover arrested her senses, it was a design of ornate lattice, arches and paisley shapes, and within its tracery she received that unmistakeable impression that the grace of the peacock, its plumes of elegant feathers, was staring back at her. She felt as if home had followed her to here. As she picked up the book, the gravity of its weight mimicking a miniature earth, a single loose paper stuck out from within its covers. Curious, she carefully opened the book out and discovered that one of the pages, where the inked words floated along the page in strokes that resembled the hull of boats, had been torn from the centre stitching, and not only that, the page itself had a violent rip down one side, a lightning bolt cursed only by the hands of an angry soul. It saddened Arundhati to see this, and she concluded that this could not be the wrongdoing of the old man. She believed in her heart that such behaviour was not in his constitution. Bending down into her rucksack, Arundhati poked about until her fingers hooked onto her pencil case from which she took out a small roll of clear tape. She surveyed the whereabouts of the old man. He was expertly pouring the steaming light brown concoction from a burnt pan down into the glass tumbler, a wide smile adorned his face, a tell-tale sign of a man who considered himself the grandfather of delicious waterfalls with the potency to quench the thirst of the weary.

Just as the old man came over to her, Arundhati slipped the clear tape back into her rucksack with a satisfied grin. The old man picked up the book, he discreetly brushed his thumb over the title, and Arundhati was just quick enough to catch the ghost of a tear drop swell in the old man’s eyes. He had lost someone that was close to him, someone who had walked out on him. Arundhati was certain about this, more certain than anything she had ever been certain about, and that, like the way the Mantola Tea Shop tip-toed on the edge of uncertainty, gambling each moment with the irregularities of the land, so did this old man appear to her as if he were waiting out for the return of someone who meant the world to him, and that he still did. She wished she could ask him more about why his copy of the holy book kept within its folds the pieces of a broken heart, but alas time was not on her side, and she shuffling her back straight, thanked and smiled at the old man for his generous hospitality.

The old man sat opposite her before passing over to her a delicious cup of golden tea, its flowery steam trails coiling towards the ceiling and staying up there, feeding into the already convoluted clouds of water and scent. “So, do you have a name?

It felt right to tell him of her name after her first sip, an initiation of trust fulfilled. “Arundhati Mehta. I always walk past your tea shop on my way to school, but never got a chance to come inside.” She saw that the old man had not prepared a cup for himself.

Why would a schoolgirl be so interested in The Shaligram Ammonite?” He leaned in closer, his arms crossed over the silver tray.

I think you know the answer already, Ali Baba. You must know of a treasure, the one I seek, just like your namesake once did in the ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’.

A faint smile passed by his face. He admired her precocious acuity.

She took another sip, as the warm liquid cascaded in between the valleys of her lungs an overwhelming power forced her eyes to anchor down on the beautiful janamaz on the wall. Not taking her eyes from it, she spoke to the old man, “We are both seekers of treasures, Ali Baba, and I trust you will be able to help me find mine.” She returned to meet his gaze. “Please, help me…

He was reading her soul, she could sense it with magnificent lucidity, as palpable as if it were the sun kissing her cool moist skin after bathing in rivers all day. He let out a long exhale. “There is magic everywhere, my dear Arundhati, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikeliest of places”.

Arundhati was clueless as to where to begin. The old man had spoken, word for word, the very same passage that was shown to her through her binoculars the night before. She came in a little closer, darting a look in every direction to ensure that no one was listening in, and she whispered hesitatingly, “Are you working for The British Secret Service, too?

I’ve never heard of them….”, he replied it so matter-of-fact that Arundhati’s growing crescendo of adventure and drama fell flat on its face, she reprimanded herself for being too ambitious and was about to slump back into her chair when, quick as a flash, the old man firmly gripped her arm and forced her to freeze, “… though I suspect you will ask me about Mr Roald Dahl now”. Slowly, he broke into a conspiratorial smile. With a huge wave of relief, she did, too.

The Dreaming Chapter 9

“… Slowly, he broke into a conspiratorial smile. With a huge wave of relief, she did, too…”

See that table over there, young Arundhati Mehta?” He nodded his head to his left and she followed it, and lo and behold, there was a long table scattered with a miscellany of objects comprising of old and dusty things, as if they were long ago collected up from the raining of a rare breed of meteor shower. “On that table, one of those objects is the hip bone of Mr Roald Dahl. He had it removed after a near-fatal plane crash into the desert.

Ali Baba, I don’t understand. How will identifying the hip bone of a dead writer help me to find The Shaligram Ammonite?” She was normally extraordinarily inquisitive and would have, under other circumstances, ran to the table, on the contrary now a thick sludge of confusion had set in, she could not see how the dots joined up and that mildly terrified her.

The old man folded his arms and leant back in his chair, he knew very well that she would ask him this question, a reasonable poser, if ever there was one. “All of us have been entrusted with a part of the puzzle, no one individual can see the whole picture.” He turned around his chair slightly and looked endearingly over at the table, “And my part is this. Take what you will from it.

Arundhati did not know what to do now, and secretly she was hoping her binoculars would perform that handy trick of the light show again, however, it was resiliently mute on the matter. She was on her own for the time being.

Do not waste time, Arundhati Mehta. Get up and seek your treasure.

Arundhati slowly rose up from her chair and made her way to the table, and from afar, given that the giant janamaz posed itself as a natural canvas, one would have said that the girl seemed as though she were walking against the backdrop of the desert dunes, towards the Kaaba, in the direction of treasures that did not glint like the coveted sheen of gold or silver, for these treasures in question beheld forms grained out of dust and humility.

The old man did not move from his chair, though his watchful presence walked beside her. When Arundhati found herself stood in front of the table, everything on it fiercely vied for her attention, each mothballed artefact competing to be adopted and given sanctuary inside the protection of her rucksack. Her eyes soared all over the surface of the table, possessed by the flitting motions of a butterfly. Here there were glass vials, over there old postcards, pens, metal balls, a vase of yellow pencils, rusty scissors, framed photographs, slabs of stone, the list just seemed endless the more she peered and rummaged into the sea of trinkets below her. “Mr Roald Dahl’s hip bone… where are you….?”, she muttered under her breath. She tried to spread eagle her hands over the objects, crossing above them, waiting for her palms to frizzle with a sensation that would tell her that she had located it. It did not help. She turned round to face the old man, he had not budged the slightest bit, he was still wearing an expression that said louder than words that he had an immense faith in her and in her skill of detection. She gulped and pursed her lips and tentatively turned back to face the table. The smog of tea and frankincense swirled around her, a phantasmagoria of allies caving into her ears, ushering her sight to look deeper into the odd spread of objects. “How am I supposed to know what a hip bone looks like?

The Dreaming Chapter 9

“… a long table scattered with a miscellany of objects comprising of old and dusty things, as if they were long ago collected up from the raining of a rare breed of meteor shower…”

A gust of cooling breeze whooshed through the shutters and tickled her neck, she swerved round. The room descended into a new quietness, the tables of customers no more, and the janamaz hung on the wall, fluttered a little, wanting to pull itself off so that it may float down to her. A light ripple, a gravitational wave, travelled across the woven scene of the Kaaba. Arundhati was startled as she observed a thousand million peacock eyes rustle inside its geometric borders, and the next moment each peacock eye transformed itself into a dark ribbed shell, rotating on its axis. In the centre of the rug shimmered a river as jet black as a starless night. The music of a flute player trilled out from under its surface. What sweet music it was, it penetrated deep into the fibres of her skin, and she heard it say to her that it had chosen to stay there forever.

That ought to help you, Arundhati Mehta”. The old man spoke and the world of home and Amma and school all came rushing back to her. The janamaz went back to how it was and the din of idle chattering and clinks of tumblers once again filled the room. Her mind unable to comprehend what she had just witnessed – or had she dreamt it? – she could not tell, but in her gut she was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the old man was somehow right. She had received help. She discreetly nodded at the old man and this time, determinedly, she turned on her heels, and trained her vision on the contents of the table with renewed vigour. She mumbled to herself, stressing the syllable in each word to a tight pulp, hoping by doing so would unlock the appearance of the preserved piece, an ammonite of human bone kindly donated by the great author himself! “We are all made of ammonites just waiting to happen, that is what bone is”.

The old man, from his seat, stretched his neck out a little further, he wanted a better view, something told him that she was getting closer and closer and he, for one, did not wish to miss that moment of her discovery, the moment when she would grab it from the table, as if it were the sole solution to ending all the world’s woes. He waited patiently and he did not let his neck hurt either.

So, Mr Roald Dahl’s hip bone must look like an ammonite too, something once joined, belonging to the waters of the body, now lying here, somewhere on this table, washed up, dry and smooth and well preserved.” Just as she was sweeping her hands over the splayed items for the fifth time, her hand abruptly came to a stop. It hovered above a dome of a smooth and hard material, the faded beige colour giving away that it once had lived in a different manner, inside of living matter. “Ah-ha, are you it?” Arundhati reached for the ball of rock, and held it in the palm of her hand before turning it over. An orb on the top, but with jagged slots underneath it, she shook her left hand in a victorious fist and concluded this was the bone of Mr Roald Dahl. “It must be this!” The old man’s eyes held a proud glow of approval. Now that she had the object in her hand it hit her that she had no idea of its significance in guiding her to the location of The Shaligram Ammonite. She gasped in dismay and was too ready to roll her head back in defeat.

Remember, we all have a part of the piece. Your part is yet to be seen.” The old man was forcing his cryptic words into her soul. She edged away from the table, tirelessly scrutinising the hip bone, inspecting its every surface feature as she held it between her index finger and thumb. She stepped directly under the naked light bulb and stayed there. She pondered hard. What she did not know was that she was stood exactly where she ought to be, for the light emanating from the naked bulb bounced off the rounded top of the bone and immediately sent a faint, but distinguishable beam of straight light, towards the janamaz where it concentrated onto a single spot, directly over the Kaaba.

Arundhati flicked her eyes between the bulb and the rug back and forth in fast succession, she was desperate for someone to tell her that this was indeed real magic, and if it were a trick then that too she welcomed, for she delighted in knowing the secret workings of illusions. When she disentangled herself from the flurry of excitement, she remembered of her mission and the importance of investigative reasoning. “There is no such no landmark in Nepal. I don’t understand.” She shifted her foot from right to left to watch whether the aim of the beam changed. It did not. The trajectory of the light was a promise made of pure adamant. A few customers began to take notice of the girl’s unusual behaviour in front of the prayer mat, though they paid little heed in the end, comforting their suspicions with the fact that childhood made everyone do ridiculous things from time to time.

You saw something else earlier.” The old man finally creaked out of his chair and backed up to the janamaz. He stood by it, solemnly, as if he were the chosen ambassador for giving voice to the wishes hidden in the rug’s compact castle of threads. “Think, Arundhati Mehta, think of what you saw.

Burrowing her eyebrows, she concentrated hard. She wanted to shove it out of her mind because she feared she had fallen foul of a hallucination, and yet, it was too taxing on her when she attempted to deny the vision she had of the black swathe of the Kaaba giving way to a mighty river, as pitch black as coal, as bright as day. “A river, I saw a river inked in black”.

That may be a start, little one”. The old man had already guessed that she had more to say and casually crossed his arms, waiting keenly for what else she would dare to interpret.

Arundhati stared up at the naked light bulb. “The light showed the way… before arriving at the river there will be a sign of light”.

The old man looked impressed, an unrehearsed joy sprung in him. “Good, keep going.

The names of many rivers swam and thrashed into her mind. She could not tell which one bore The Shaligram Ammonite, for all the rivers, large and small, wore a coat of black sheen in this part of the land. Dazed by the knotted possibilities she rigorously rubbed her eyes up and down until they burned. When she opened them again and rolled her head back to relieve the tension in her neck, the stream of light emitted from the naked bulb slammed into her eyes like a speeding bullet. She flinched and quickly dropped her head down. “Ouch, I should not have looked straight into it!

And, then, it occurred to her, like a fire sparked out of emptiness, the link, it was suddenly there, right inside her eyes, the second clue that would lead her onto the The Shaligram Ammonite. She ran over to her rucksack and pulled out her notebook, flicked her pen into action, and scribbled the words across the page, ‘The Lantern Tree Grove’. It was located at the crossroads between two gigantic rivers bodied by black waters. In her small triumph, she fought back the doubts, redoubling her trust in herself, she could at last accept that she had it in her to crack this puzzle down to its knees. She swung everything in her rucksack, replaced the bone back on the table, and approached the old man with a new confidence in her stride. “I think I know where to go next, but I would not have been able to do it without your help, thank you!” She was not sure why the incense smelt more fragrant now, and the tea fresher than ever before.

That is quite alright, Arundhati Mehta. I am glad you found another piece in your journey”. He extended out his hand, old and wrinkled, coarse like a layer of tree bark that had witnessed the complex undulations of living history. She shook it and they both smirked. “All the best, my little one”.

Thank you, Ali Baba!” She lowered her voice to a mousey whisper, “And when I am done with this mission I will make you a cup of tea, at my home. That is a promise!

As you wish, my dear Arundhati Mehta…

She let go of his hand and stomped off towards the table where they were sat at first, took a quick swig of the remaining tea in the tumbler, brushed the liquid residue from her face, and then swooshed out of the saloon doors, unintentionally blowing the locks and hats of many of the customers sat nearby. Before they could say a word or raise a finger against her, she was gone.

The old man pulled up a seat by the table and fondly looked at the thick compress of the holy book. At first he stared at it like he always did. Gradually, however, he become frightened and then he was gripped with panic. The loose page that so often protruded from it was missing. His first instinct was to look under the table, in case it slipped out onto the ground. There was nothing there. He sat back up and picked up the book and hurriedly flicked the pages across, and where there had been the ugly duckling of that loose page, the one torn into two, the old man, now with huge awestruck eyes, discovered that not only was the page fixed back in it original place in the book, but that the page had come together again. The pieces were sown up with the magical remedy of clear tape. The old man lovingly gazed at the saloon doors, and his heart rejoiced until it flew higher than the top of the Kaaba itself.

Ali Baba, we’ve been waiting a while, can we have another round of your fine house tea!” A family of four, all of different heights and with beady eyes, sat on one of the tables. They were fidgeting a lot. It was obvious from their attire that they were not from these parts.

Of course, of course!” The old man walked over to their table, but in his haste he had forgotten to close the holy book, leaving it wide open at the part where the loose, wounded page had once belonged. Now, clear as water, the healing hallmarks of tape ran across it, left by the girl who could fix things. Under the naked bulb, the tape shone like the fine tributaries of rivers, threads of desires winding their way down along the mountain of the page. The hull of holy words knew what it felt like to float again.  ♥♥♥

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 8 The SS Mantola

Her mother passed the thermal flask, a stumpy beige canister, to Arundhati and when she smilingly took it in her hands she felt comforted by the fact that she could still feel the heat of the tea inside. It was not blazing hot to the touch, but the pleasant echo of the warmth that had travelled from the inside to the out made easy acquaintance with her palms, the heart of her mother reaching out to her, so it seemed. It was something of home to take away alongside the fear and excitement and uncertainty.

Now, don’t you go drinking my special tea all at once!” Her mother was fumbling with the pots and pans, deciding how much of each dish she ought to stuff into the silver tiffin tower. There was not a chance in the world that she would send her daughter out on this mission without any replenishment in tow.

Would I do such a thing, Amma?” Arundhati pretended she was irreparably hurt by her mother’s commands. The old lady shot a disbelieving look, raising her eyebrows as if her daughter had already broken the rule, that somehow when she was not looking Arundhati’s impatient streak won over, sneakily sloshing down her prized tea behind her back.

Arundhati chuckled and shook her head. She walked over to the eating table where her black rucksack was sprawled out like a shrivelled up mop of algae, and expertly lodged the flask in a corner, she had also packed a miniature notebook the size of her palm in which she planned to record clues and jot down observations, a tremendously handy thing to have with her since her memory was pretty awful for remembering facts.

The Dreaming Chapter 8

“… she had also packed a miniature notebook the size of her palm in which she planned to record clues and jot down observations, a tremendously handy thing to have with her since her memory was pretty awful for remembering facts...”

Here, your tiffin”. The passing of the tiffin marked the final rite in Arundhati’s departure, and her mother tried her best to busy her eyes on random bits of the kitchen, so to not let it sink in her mind that her daughter was actually going away. She was strict in all respects, yet never had she quite mastered the art of saying farewell. It required bravery and this morning she knew she had none left. Arundhati noticed how difficult all this was proving to be for her mother, as it was the same for her, too, and so, to reassure the both of them, she ducked her hand into her rucksack and pulled out the binoculars. The outer rims, where the paint had slightly come off, exposing the grey metal underneath, suddenly caught the morning light that had now shafted through the kitchen window. A bridge of gold.

Amma, I am not alone. Remember that.” With the binoculars firmly held between her fingers, Arundhati gently shook the device like a rattle, trusting that this playful motion would relieve her mother from whatever qualms hounded her peace of mind.

Has it done that thing yet? Did the lights come on this morning?” The desperation in her question endearing, it was becoming more and more apparent that her mother was in the dark depths of worry, scraping for any proof that convinced her that Arundhati was in safe hands.

No, Amma…”, but Arundhati could not leave it untied like that, she added as consolation, “… but, like you said last night, I think the binoculars only work when they need to, when they need to direct me in the right direction.”

Her mother stepped over to where Arundhati was stood. She spoke softly, an emphasis on each word. “I hope you are right, and if it doesn’t then you come home straightaway, you understand?

Of course I will, Amma.”

I mean it, beti.

Oh, Amma…” Arundhati put the binoculars on the table and then put her arms around her mother, and she heard underneath the clothes, against the warm wall of her chest, many gulping trembles, a heart creeping closer to weeping, and for a second the girl had changed her mind and was ready to put everything away and let life just be about the two of them and the white-washed house.

Prising away slowly from the embrace, Arundhati glanced at the sullen face of her mother. She raised her hand and with the tips of her fingers she lifted her mother’s chin and brought her eyes in view with hers. “Amma, just remember, I am going on a real adventure! I am working for The British Secret Service! That’s an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I want… I want to help them. I want to save the world from a dreamless nightmare. Just imagine, no one dreaming at night, isn’t that terrible?

Her mother sighed. “Still, you are my child.” She shook her head and gave out a hollow laugh. “You wouldn’t know, you are not yet a mother.

But, I am your daughter and I care about you. I would never do anything that would take me away from you. I will return, before the day is out, I promise.

You better do, Arundhati, you better do… because I am tired of watching your food get cold!

The both of them laughed out at the same time, embarrassingly, as if they were both villainous accomplices, equal partners responsible for causing much grief at dinnertime!

Massaging her mother’s chubby arms to let her know that she should not worry, Arundhati turned round to the eating table and slung the rucksack on her back, adjusting the straps so that it dropped behind her, but not too much that it dragged her down, and then she reached out for the binoculars. Her mother looked at them with a renewed attentiveness, willing them with her stare to come alive with their blinking lights, but nothing happened of the sort. The mound of scepticism kept growing bigger by the second inside of her, however, she needed her daughter to be strong at this time, and did not wish anything to jeopardise that. Arundhati was about to garland herself with the binocular, but her mother interrupted her.

Here, let me.” And she put over Arundhati’s head the strap of the device, letting it rest at the back of her neck, and then positioning the binoculars so that they hung down at the front, an extra pair of eyes which neither of them knew to whose face they belonged, an anonymous guide who only went by the name of Mr Roald Dahl.

Arundhati took slow steps out of the white-washed house, she wanted to absorb as much of its details before she let herself become plunged head first into a world of secrets and priceless knowledge. Her mother never did leave the threshold of the house to bid farewell, for she did not know whether she would be able to return once she stepped too far out with her daughter. She imagined that to walk out too far meant she would be thoroughly tempted to accompany her daughter, a bad idea, for an old lady like herself would do nothing but slow everything down. She wanted nothing more than to have her child return home as fast as possible, safe and sound, back to the nest.

Beti, just come back to me in the way you left”.

What if I return home…”, and Arundhati looked up to one side, her thinking face on, and suggested, “… cleverer or more beautiful?

Dut!” The old lady slapped her daughter on the arm, a loving attack, and Arundhati beamed a hearty smile back before grabbing her mother one final time and pressing her lips to her cheek. Her mother did not struggle.

Arundhati tore away from her mother and ran down the path to the front gate. Neither of them said ‘goodbye’. It was a horrible word, loaded with the end of things, and they both agreed that it was only the beginning. Arundhati stopped before she crossed the threshold of the gate, she paused, her mother was still stood longingly at the front door, and yet she could feel her mother next to her, stroking her hair and patting her on the back. Arundhati not turning around, her face broke into a thoughtful grin. Her mother could not see this, yet she too smirked from where she stood.

Placing her hand on the binoculars, Arundhati took a deep breath and stepped outside of the gates. She had stood on this spot a million times, today it was not the same. She realised she had already gone so far away from the white-washed house that she believed that if she were to call out her mother’s name now her voice would not be loud enough to reach home.

Arundhati looked left and then right and then left again. Which way to go? Which direction would she find the path that would take her to The Shaligram Ammonite? One of them was the one, one of them gave her a chance to help the world. Which one? She bit her lips as she wrestled with the frustration of not knowing what to do at this critical point, this starting point in her journey. She was close to letting it be decided by the tossing of a copper coin, and fiddling in her trouser pocket she found one. Then, a far-off peculiar screeching sound flew out from somewhere in the nearby sal trees. She thought she heard the sound of four different sniggering and snickering. She became startled and jolted up, gripped by curiosity, her natural knack for investigation drove her hand to lift he binoculars up to her face and she peered through them. She saw nothing. Only pitch black. How odd a pair of binoculars were these, she thought, no lens cap on the front and still to look through them presented the viewer with nothing more than a canvas as impenetrable and dark as the night itself. She let go of the binoculars, rummaged through her bag and found her reading spectacles, she slipped these on and once more gazed out, with every bit of concentration she had in her, over to grove of rustling sal trees. Nothing. She gave up on finding out what it was, there was little time to waste, and once more she tussled with the nagging question of whether to turn left or right.

The Dreaming Chapter 8

“… She let go of the binoculars, rummaged through her bag and found her reading spectacles, she slipped these on and once more gazed out, with every bit of concentration she had in her, over to the rustling sal trees…”

Exasperated, she kicked the mud in front of her and exclaimed, “For goodness sake, which way do I go? Left or right?

In the centre of her chest a red light flashed three times.

She snapped her head down and grabbed the binoculars, shoving the lens into her eyes so hard that had she applied anymore pressure her eyeballs would have sunk into the barrel, ambushed inside the cave of a device controlled by minds whose faces she will never see or know of.

What she saw stole her breath away. A sepia postcard of a large steamer with an imposing black hull, stylish cabins and single proud funnel with flocks of tiny figures stood watching out on deck, appeared before her eyes. It was as if the entire ship had its sights set on her, all its occupants briefed on her mission and that they had arrived on her waters to guide her on, in the right direction. She was going solo, but in the truest sense of the word, she was not. A wave of relief flushed her entire body and she began to read the message, a quote from Mr Roald Dahl. Afterwards, the only word she repeated again and again was the name of the ship.

SS Mantola, SS Mantola, SS Mantola… ah, yes!” It came to her like a flash flood! “Ali Baba’s teashop is called ‘Mantola’! I must see him, I must go there first!

Arundhati turned around and broke out in a run, a run in the right direction. ♥♥♥

The Dreaming Chapter 8

“… A sepia postcard of a large steamer with an imposing black hull, stylish cabins and single proud funnel with flocks of tiny figures stood watching out on deck, appeared before her eyes...”

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016

 

The Harriet Fogg Adventures: Congratulations To The Illustrator In My Family, Jen!

Tonight let us put to one side the Arundhati Chronicles. There is a very good reason for this, for there is, unequivocally, a more pressing story that needs to be shared and celebrated. A story about my wonderfully talented baby sister, Jen. She spent most of her youth, like mine, working away long hours and did not have a chance to go to University. After the passing away of our beloved Abba, Jen set out to accomplish her childhood dream. She wanted to become an artist, an illustrator of dazzling worlds that floated in her imagination but forever sought the sanctuary of a canvas. After three years of dedicated study she has finally got her foot through the door! I am sure You will put Your hands together and clap away with fierce joy, loud enough to send tremors rippling into all the neighbouring planets, as I announce to You that my beautiful sister has achieved the remarkable feat of completing her degree in Illustration with a sparkling First Class honours degree, as well as that, she has magnetised towards her way a string of fantastic high-profile awards and secured impressive commissions from members of the public and external institutions. She will showcase her collection in London galleries next month alongside with those of her student peers. I shall, of course, be trotting to the capital to capture the event in all its glory, and who knows, a wildly eccentric story may come out from it! We shall see!

I dedicate this WordPress story to my baby sister, and to that phenomenon of the human condition whereby, above all the raging shell fire of the odds, a person can still most definitely achieve the unreachable of dreams. To grow from the humble earth is never an inhibitor, but an invitation, it is the reason for why it feels sacred and right to brush shoulders with the stars.

Pursue Your dreams, pursue them with rigorous, passionate intensity in symmetry with noble integrity, do that and it will appear as though it is not You, but the dream itself that is wanting to reach You.
Your Mazzy ♥♥♥

The Harriet Fogg Adventures

Jen and her fabulous children’s picture book, The Harriet Fog Adventures!

 

The Harriet Fogg Adventures!

A train ride through India slithers through the open land like a snake!

The Harriet Fogg Adventures!

Travelling the world is in our blood, the inks of maps sing out our pulse.

The Harriet Fogg Adventures!

In Harriet’s world, no animal is seen wicked or foul. Every living creature is connected to You in the great web of life.

The Adventures Of Harriet Fogg!

Dreaming is good, dreaming is the birth of a great commitment, which when followed through can make a beautiful difference, it can change the world.

The Harriet Fogg Adventures!

The song of the whale is the song of the ocean, the very same song is also tuned into the waters that surround the unborn baby when it is growing inside its mother’s womb.

The Harriet Fogg Adventures!

Tell me when, and I will see to it that You and I float to the top of the world!

 

Jen’s Website: http://www.jenkhatun.com/ 

Photography & Words:  Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Southampton University | Southampton UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 7 Conversations In The Night

The warm and pungent smell of delicious dal curry floating in the night mesmerised the tongues of other creatures other than those of hers and her mother, or so Arundhati observed. It roused, for instance, the silver moths, for they fluttered more keenly now around the golden aura of the kerosene lamp, excitement twined and sang in the movement of their wings. The homely scent of the spiced soup that Arundhati’s mother now carefully brought out in a large pan from the kitchen was set down like a crown on the eating table. Arundhati was sat, her feet jiggling and wriggling, her eyes poised on her mother while she anxiously bit her lips. She was waiting for her mother to be the first one to ask her about the contents of the package.

When will my beti ever learn to make it on time? God help me!” Her mother shot an accusatory glance at her daughter as she placed two plates in front of them before sitting herself down. She dipped the long wooden spoon into the pan and, like she always did, she first gestured Arundhati to hold out her plate so that she could pour out the thick and creamy mixture, it was as bright yellow as dandelion flowers. Arundhati pursed her lips tighter and watched her mother closely, her eyes widening like that of a hawk, desperate to catch her prey, the prey in question was, of course, her mother’s attention. It seemed not to be working. Her mother proceeded to dollop three big spoons of fluffy rice next to the steaming dal, all the while she dismissed every chance to meet her daughter’s pleading gaze. Arundhati pulled her plate back in front of her and laid it down, the heady aroma rising from it was heavenly, and unexpectedly her tummy let out a loud and booming grumble and, though she knew it was of no use, she reached out her hand and pressed it against her stomach, as if doing so would muffle out the culprit responsible for the sound. She was thoroughly embarrassed! Her mother could not contain it any longer and she burst out laughing!

Acha, acha, I think I have caused you enough tension for one night, and look, now your tummy is giving in too!” Her mother had not yet seen to her own plate, she was far too engrossed in teasing her daughter. All this time she had told herself that she would for once keep Arundhati in suspense, and that is why she had purposefully withheld herself from asking any questions about the package. Arundhati was outwitted.

Oh Amma!

Beti, now you know what it feels like to wait for something – you are waiting for me to ask you the question, the question about what that thing is round your neck, na?” Arundhati instantly reached up and fingered the narrow brown strap, she had only moments ago discovered the true identity of her package, yet it felt like she had always known about it, that it was an heirloom of sorts, returned to her at  last.

Arundhati quietly moved her plate to one side and then lifted the strap up and off her shoulders and as she did, her mother, for the first time saw the black device, a pair of binoculars. The glass of the lens, very briefly, caught the light of the kerosene lamp and spikes of rainbow shards reflected diagonally across the wall, stalagmite towers made of shadows and diamonds. The whole room sparkled. Arundhati put the binoculars on the eating table and her mother edged her chair closer, her expression confused and eyebrows coiled in contemplation.

Beti, is that it?

No, Amma. It is the beginning. They are binoculars, a very special pair, and…”, she paused, searching for the right words, but she knew that whatever she would say would cause her mother confusion and disbelief, “… and they talk to you – they  – talk to you.

Binoculars don’t talk, beti”.

These ones do, believe me, Amma!

Her mother’s mouth was agape. “How?

I am not sure how, but they do. You ask it questions and a red light, see this one in the middle, well, that lights up three times and then a message appears inside the binoculars. You have to read it by looking into it”. Arudhati picked up the binoculars. She wanted to present her mother with a demonstration. Like a circus master armed with his out-of-this-world feats all stashed in his bag, Arundhati felt grand as she prepared to show-off the amazing skill and knowledge she had already gleaned from her new-found gadget. She cleared her throat and asked into it, “Where is the Shaligram Ammonite?” She looked back up at her mother with a satisfied smile, she was absolutely certain the lights would start to flash at any time now and her mother would be wowed beyond recognition.

Nothing happened.

She repeated the same question again.

Nothing happened.

Arundhati began to shake the binoculars in mid-air while her mother looked on with a worried expression. “Beti, if you keep doing that you will break it!

But, Amma, I swear it worked before! Why is it doing nothing now?” She turned the binoculars in her hand and checked to see if all the parts were in place, concern had ignited in her mind that perhaps when she came down the stairs she may have, without realising it, thumped it against the wall. The staircase was an extremely narrow passageway after all. After a thorough examination, flipping the device this way and that, while her weary mother looked on with a mixture of endearment and pity, Arundhati snapped out of it, the too many failed attempts had tired her out and with a long exhale she placed the binoculars back on the table. “Why is it not working…?” Her voice trailed off, embittered and hollow, the stone of disappointment weighing down into her gut. She felt cheated out that she could not show her mother the extraordinary things she had seen, to prove to her that this was no ordinary pair of binoculars.

Her mother put her soft hand on Arundhati’s arm and rubbed it. “I believe you, beti. I really do. You may be rubbish at being punctual, but I know, I really do know, that you would never lie to me. Leave it for now, your food is getting cold again.” Her mother craned her head down, peered at her daughter’s sullen face, her eyes dancing about as they took in all the beautiful features of her girl, and then, like the way dawn oozes out of night, she broke into a thoughtful smile. Arundhati put her hand over her mother’s and patted it. It was time to eat.

Anyway, maybe they send you messages when they want, not when you want it. You can’t make it happen.” Placing all her foods on her plate, and tucking into her dal curry, her mother did not seem all that troubled if it surfaced that the binoculars worked only one way. For Arundhati it took a great chunk of the magic away if this were the case, she liked the idea that someone on the other side could hear her voice as she sent in reports of her findings. What a treasure this secret dialogue would be, but to not have it, dulled the whole arrangement a shade lower. She strained a smile and pretended that she was so painfully famished that the binoculars did not bear thinking about. Her mother cheered up and the both of them ate their meal, vibrantly chatting away about family events that were due to happen in the coming weeks. Occasionally, Arundhati would look out from the corner of her eyes, just in case the little black device chose to surprise her once again.

The kettle whistled sharply in the background. It was the sound that signalled that bedtime was approaching near, indeed, it was Arundhati’s most favourite sound in the house, and more importantly this time, the prospect of a cup of sweet milky tea was truly the most likely antidote she needed to hold herself back from pondering anymore about why the binoculars had fallen silent on her.

Both mother and daughter washed, dried, and put away all the dishes, making sure that the shutters downstairs were shut tight and the front door was closed. It was very late now. Arundhati had never felt so worn out, she could not wait to pull the blankets over her head and melt into her soft pillow. Her mother put her arm around her daughter as they made their way upstairs and before they parted into the separate rooms they exchanged a hug, as they always did, but this time a string of tender words trickled into her ears. Her mother spoke, “It will be fine, my dear darling, tomorrow the binoculars will definitely work, they will do what they were meant to do, and you will help them. Believe me. You believe me, na?

I always believe you, Amma. I am your daughter.” And she squeezed her mother tighter before tearing herself away towards the last flight of steps that led to the attic.

That night Arundhati slept a deep sleep. Her dreams came at her like the ebbing and flow of tides. She saw herself sat on a wooden bench in a peaceful garden that lay at the bottom of the sea, here the sunshine streamed through the waters and made everything look like day. Sometimes constellations of plankton would appear and disappear like breath, giant creatures with long bodies and fins and jagged teeth that were set within a smiling grimace swam gracefully above her, haunting echoes of whales travelled through her flesh and out the other side, and in the centre of all these things a black-ribbed sun spun and spun, thrashing and threshing the water around it to create bubbles of froth. The Shaligram Ammonite.

Eyes closed and unaware, Arundhati muttered gentle words as she dreamt. “Goodnight, Mr Roald Dahl.” The binoculars, now lying unattended on the low, yellow-wood table at the foot of her bed, did what it had done earlier. It flashed its little light precisely three times before switching over to sleep mode.  ♥♥♥

The Dreaming Chapter 7

“… She saw herself sat on a wooden bench in a peaceful garden that lay at the bottom of the sea, here the sunshine streamed through the waters and made everything look like day...”

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 6 Veena-Oculars

Arundhati closed the door behind her and leant her whole body against its peeling teal paint, she was out of breath, although being in her room, a still lake of greyish darkness, helped to cool and comfort and steady her nerves. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh, a soundless prayer in which she sought her Mother Goddess, to whom she always prayed, asking to now look upon her and to give her the strength to embrace whatever it was that she was holding in her hands, hidden under paper and string.

Darkness drives the instinct to see the world with hands and that is what Arundhati began to do. She had not yet lit up the rusty kerosene lamp on the low, yellow-wood table to her right, and yet without meaning to, her fingers began to ripple over and wander around the course brown paper, eking out any hint as to what could be inside the package. It was not too heavy, and not too light, and furthermore, it was not an object that was perfectly square or oblong, there seemed to be breaks in the solidity of its form, a bit missing from the central part, otherwise it would indeed have been a more simple shape. What could it be, I wonder, she quizzed to herself. She cautiously edged closer to the yellow- wood table and bent down, placing the package beside her, then lit up the lamp. Slowly, the darkness was pushed away out of the room before all began to glow in an orange sea of light. It was now apparent that the kerosene lamp was not the only object stood on the yellow-wood table, there was beside it a framed picture, alive with lustrous colour and energy. It depicted the beautiful and smiling figure of her most beloved Mother Goddess, the four-armed Maa Saraswathi, emerging gloriously upright from the Book of Knowledge and behind her feet peeked out a magnificent peacock of deep blue, its handsome plumes of blue and green feathers fanned down onto the ground, and each was marked with a prying eye. What Arundhati particularly loved about this painting was that Maa Saraswathi wore her musical stringed instrument, her veena, as if it were a rucksack, strapped behind her back. It gave the distinct impression that the Goddess was about to embark on a great adventure in the cosmos.

Arundhati got up from the floor and sat on her rattan bed that leaned against the entire length of the wall on the right. After the bed there was not much more room left, it was a very cramped space, this attic, but still she felt that she had made good use of it. Books and books and more books crammed themselves on the rickety shelves of the bookcase that spanned against the left side of the room, and one of the shelves looked frightfully bent, for any time it could give way and her tomes, heavy and hard, would be helpless but to avalanche down to the floor with a bang.  She promised to see to it in the summer holidays, well, at least she would try!

Arundhati shuffled onto the bed and got comfortable. She cleared her throat and, carefully, oh so very carefully, untied the oat string. When all of it had come off, she thought she had felt the package breathe a sigh of relief, a floundering fish released from the net and into the oceanic hands of its true home. A gust of cool breeze sneaked into the room and stroked her ears, and she looked up, momentarily, in the direction of the window. It must be a sign that something incredibly fantastic is bound up inside the package, she told herself.

Arundhati turned the package over so that the two flaps of the paper that had been pressed down with transparent tape were visible. She did not want to ruin the paper, somehow all of it was important, and so with meticulous precision her nimble fingers got to work, peeling off the tape from both sides, little by little. Now she began unrolling the package, with each roll towards the right more of the paper streamed outwards the left. In all this time she did not breath, not for a moment, in case it were to distract her from the task, for she was adamant to absorb every iota of this moment, a moment that promised to unfurl a secret and reveal something gloriously new on the other side.

The last of the wrapping paper came off and fell to the floor.

In her hand was a black device with glass eyes. A pair of old aviator’s binoculars attached to a narrow leathery strap. Arundhati did not know what to think of the object, what it meant or, indeed, what to do with it. The flurry of questions rushing into her head did not at all hinder her curiosity. She brought the binoculars closer and noticed the slight peel of paint around the rim of the lens, as well as, after touching the haggardly strap, concluded that the wearer was an avid of explorer who did not go anywhere without this second pair of eyes. Right then, out of nowhere, a sudden longing came over her, she did not know why, but she knew for certain that had she met the owner of this device she would have found a good friend in him. They were alike, they saw the world alike. It was then that her eyes shifted back to the fallen wrapper on the floor, and there she saw peeping out of the last curl of the paper, a white piece of card with printed words. She could not believe that she had missed it in the first place, and bent over to pick it up.

Roald Dahl’s Binoculars”, she whispered. She repeated the caption again as if by doing so would provide her with additional information about their use. Nothing came to her. She had never heard of him in her life. However, she remarked to herself that here was a man whose surname sounded like her favourite dish as rustled up by Amma – dal curry! Yummy! She suddenly shook her head and smiled away before regaining composure, acknowledging that this was serious business, she ought to concentrate! She read the rest of the caption and discovered that he was a pilot, soon enough in her mind she painted a picture of him, high in the skies, flying his plane over strange lands while the enemy was intently on his tail. She wanted to live that life of adventure, too. She wanted to be like Mr Roald Dahl!

The Dreaming Chapter 6

In her hand was a black device with glass eyes. A pair of old aviator’s binoculars attached to a narrow leathery strap.

Another lazy cool breeze swished into her room and she looked over to the window. It had grown pitch black outside. She had lost her chance to use the binoculars today, and not only that, she was positively confounded by the object, how was this antique device supposed to help her track down the Shaligram Ammonite? How could one evening pump out so many questions for which she had not a single thread of an answer? Doubtful that the focus would work properly with the short-range targets in her room, Arundhati was about to look through the eyepiece and train her eyes on the books in front of her, when she spoke out loud into them, out of pure frustration. “How do I find the ammonite with a pair of shabby binoculars, you tell me?

A very tiny red light positioned in the centre of binoculars, which she swore was not there before, flashed three times before it stopped. She froze. What was that? She waited patiently for the light to flash again, but it did not. Arundhati shook the binoculars, she reasoned that it was possible the device was faulty, interpreting the refusal of another light show to happen at her request the proof of its malfunctioning. As she flung the binoculars on the bed she chided the device as if it were a person who had annoyed her. “You are not going to show me anything, are you!?” Suddenly, Mr Roald Dahl’s binoculars spoke again, three flashes of red sparked in the centre, and this time her heart lit up as well! She grasped the binoculars and placed the eyepieces against her own eyes, and she looked into them, and saw a message:

The Dreaming Chapter 6

She grasped the binoculars and placed the eyepieces against her own eyes, and she looked into them, and saw a message…

 

All of a sudden it all made sense.

The British Secret Service had chosen an ingenious way to communicate with Arundhati without risking detection! Mr Roald Dahl was an author, she deduced, and it would be by using his quotes that The British Secret Service would relay messages to her which would guide her to the location of the rare The Shaligram Ammonite before it fell into enemy hands.

So the Shaligram Ammonite is hidden in a very unlikely place…. and there’s a magic inside these walls and in the walls outside that will help me to find it.” Arundhati thought hard about this, leaning her head to one side and peering up, tossing many ideas in her overworked mind, as one does with an omelette first thing in the morning! No obvious answer came to surface, even after scratching her head for the tenth time in a row!

BETI ARUNDHATI! Dinner is ready – AGAIN!” Her mother was understandably furious, the poor lady had waited long enough. Arundhati skipped the part where she was going to freshen up her face, instead she determinedly flung the thin strap of the binoculars over her head and the device fell down her shoulders. Since it was a long strap, she adjusted herself so that the binoculars lay over her back. She walked over to the door, opened it and walked down the stairs, a new horizon growing inside her heart. Watching her glide down from the top of the stairs, her figure strapped in a garland of olden binoculars, some might have muttered to themselves that it was no one but Maa Saraswathi herself making her way down. ♥♥♥  

 

 Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 5 The Froggies

They were possibly the most cutest and adorable children in the neighbourhood, never one of them had ever come under the fire of suspicion from their parents or the locals who lived in the area, they shone as four perfectly taintless cherubs blessed with pink cheeks sumptuous enough to entice any grown up to pinch and squiggle them, and to follow on up by indulging their appetites with liquorice strings and cola-flavoured gums.

Irresistibly well-behaved, there were many instances where childless couples had pleaded on hand and foot to take all four of them in, raising them as their own offspring. The parents of these four, obviously, treated these urgent requests as an exemplary compliment, and it only went on to inflate their doting and mollycoddling tendencies, making it highly impossible for there to be anything in the world that might ever serve to betray the sparkling regard they held for their little bundles of giggling joy. Even if it were that someone were to bolt in the through the door and accuse the children of beating the neighbour’s cat with a stick the parent would turn the other way and ignore the voice, as if it did not exist.

But the moon is said to have a dark side. So did these four, not-so-better-known as The Froggies.

There was the super chubby Mama Froggy who was the ringleader, the cold and calculating engineer of nasty plans. Papa Froggy was, in comparison, a categorical midget in size, his manicured hairstyle took central precedence in his life and he always had an air of aristocracy about him. Tall Froggy was an expert in gymnastics and in the art of the ninja, she could take down anyone in two breaths flat. Baby Froggy was not as naive as she seemed, she was admired by her peers for her fabulous academic know-how in chemistry, ancient myths and beetle anatomy.

When the adults left them to their own devices, they did not stay the same, they became other people, stepping into their true and macabre personalities. But all breeds of villainy had a weak spot. These four had one thing in common, one enfeebling trait that haunted them and drove them to insane criminal ruses. You see, they slept, but not like the rest of us. They slept for excruciatingly long hours, like the fuzzy grey koala bear of eastern Australia, up to 15 hours at a time and no less than 10. Many people, especially grown-ups would, upon hearing this peculiar fact, revolt and put up a kick in protest, arguing that letting the days pass by in comfortable slumber in bed was not such a bad thing at all! To The Froggies, however, those hours were intolerable, a prison of dreamless sleep in which they were trapped, writhing in hours of agonising monotony.

All that empty space of sleep with not a single, cinematically cool dream to remember for the next day, The Froggies had reached the end of their tether and were now stood on a precipice and to go forward was to jump off into the extreme unknown. They were daring to try anything just so that they could fill that enormous nightly sea of grey with an incredible spray of dreams.

They reasoned that there was one cure, an unconventional sort of remedy. They decided they would steal dreams. They planned to filch the dreams of other children and their parents, in fact, to be totally honest, they chose not to be shy on the matter and agreed to rake in the dreams of the whole world if they had to!

A few days ago, The Froggies held an urgent meeting in the garden of a sort-of-grownup lady, and while the lady was on her adventures and oblivious to what was brewing in her absence, the four vile and naughty minds got together on the bench and discussed the progress of their devilish plot.

Well done fellow Froggies! No one suspected a thing, our parents fell for it! A school trip to Lyme Regis, huh?!” Mama Froggy exploded in deranged laughter and then flicked her head, she could not resist herself from loving the aura of the limelight in which she found herself in right now.

It was cool and I want to go there again! But, lets book a five-star accommodation next time, the guest house mirror was way too high for me to look into. I could not comb my hair properly in the time we were down there!” Papa Froggy suddenly realised that the other three girls were staring at him, tediously unimpressed. He quickly shut up to avoid further embarrassment.

Three down and one to go!” Tall Froggy had a formidable knack to getting down to the facts. It proved to be a wretchedly muddy and soggy venture for the others but not for her, out there on the shallows and beaches of Lyme Regis she loved every bit of it, and one occasion laughed her socks off when a mentally unbalanced cormorant had swooped down and nearly picked up Papa Froggy to be taken away for food! In the end, they did it, they finally found what they were determined to find. Three specific ammonites, each measuring across in diameter of 1cm, 5 cm and 8cm, were identified and collected, and brought back to the school laboratory.

And it was super pleasurable to grind down those three ammonites, the powder was as fine as baking flour, and I can’t wait – just cannot wait – to see what happens when I spoon the mixture inside the fourth ammonite!” Baby Froggy leapt about the place, crazed and dizzied as she began to imagine in her maniacal imagination her greatest chemistry experiment whirling away, one that was so close to becoming reality.

Mama Froggy gently raised her hands in the air and the other three became quiet. She smiled, a strange smile it was because it appeared motherly, and she spoke, her eyes decidedly boring into her accomplices like the thrust of a menacing scimitar. “The Sudarshana Chakra…” She let out a long sigh and shifted her gaze up, towards the wide blue sky, “… the spinning celestial energy that contains the power to influence the waters of oceans and of people, once a weapon of the gods, now to be brought back to life.

A hushed silence fell on them, each Froggy knew what it would mean to them if the Sudarshana Chakra were to be recreated once more on earth using the mythic formula of three parts of ammonites – of specific dimensions – mined from the west, and one special ammonite of the east.

With the spinning disk in our hands we can at last dream in our long sleep. It will suck in the tidal forces that live inside all humans, the force that fuels the dreams to come alive. Yes, to feed ourselves of dreams we must snatch it from others. However, it must be said, that is their problem, obviously, not ours!” Mama Froggy said this in an airily manner, there was no sign on her face that she felt any regret for the actions she and her gang were conspiring to commit.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t wait, I can’t wait to dissect the The Shaligram Ammonite into two and pour in its inside chambers our powdery mixture and then put it back together again, and watch it spin and spin and spin into motion!” Baby Froggy was as jumpy and as fast of speech as a box of fireworks gone out of control, spitting and shooting off sparks in every direction. The others could not believe how accelerated her words came out, yet they somehow managed to get the gist!

But what of The Shaligram? Heck, who knows where it is!” Papa Froggy was troubled, they had come this far and now here was a stumbling block that could put a beastly blockade on all their hard work.

Yeah, Papa is right on that one. The last piece is in the east, you told us that, but whereabouts in the east of England?” Tall Froggy, her forehead crinkled in worry lines thanks to her frowning eyes, beckoned Mama Froggy to provide them all with an answer.

A chubby professional with an astounding set of skills, including that of how to allay the fears and tensions of her associates, Mama Froggy smiled smugly, she was as conceited as she was expert in her methods of research.

East means the east, my dear comrades.” She knew perfectly well that none of the other three quite caught sense of her cryptic response.

Well, duh! Of course, east is east, what else could it be? Which means we will have to tell our parents we’re off to a new school trip to – I don’t know…”  Baby Froggy leant her head to one side as she re-created the map in the school corridor, that big colourful poster of a funny looking island floating on a sea of light blue, and as she did so, she tried hard to remember the famous beaches along the eastern coast of England, “….Eastbourne, Hastings, Folkestone, Dover…” As she blurted out names she was hoping that Mama Froggy would stop her to point out that she had guessed correctly, that would be a most marvellous way to show off her intellectual finesse, she thought. But, it so happened that none of her answers satisfied Mama Froggy, who, as it so happened, was patiently waiting for the little one to stop her racket!

Mama Froggy stood up and extended out her arms and then clasped her hands together and cracked her knuckles. The others knew that she knew something that they did not.

We are going to have to come with a pukka school trip form this time, the mission ahead demands it.” Mama Froggy was pacing up and down in front of her juniors like a drill sergeant who had seen the war and was about to enter another one.

What do you mean, Mama?” Tall Froggy screwed her face and then peered at the others in case they were willing to shed some light on the matter. The others were as befuddled as she!

Mama Froggy stepped closer towards the gang and pulled out from her hoody a folded piece of paper. She held it up and stared at it with devotion and then smiled. She placed it on the table. “Go on, open it.” Papa Froggy took a long breath in and then proceeded to unfold the paper. It was a single page, a photocopied page, but absolutely incomprehensible to him, for it was written in ancient hieroglyphic script.

What is THAT?!” They all shouted.

Let’s just say that it is always good to have connections in high places.” Mama Froggy beamed a smile brimming with pure and evil self-satisfaction. “Prepare to pack your bags and your passport. We are going to Nepal, my dear children…”  ♥♥♥ 

The Dreaming Chapter 5

“… But the moon is said to have a dark side. So did these four, not-so-better-known as The Froggies....”

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Winchester | UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 4 Do As Fantastic Mr Fox Would Do!

It was a square room, perfectly square, and the walls were of such a brilliant white, as was also the ceiling and the floor, that to stare at it for too long was to invite certain itchiness to the eyes. So pristine and shiny, were it if a single delinquent speck of tomato soup were to stain it, or a crawling fly were to scurry across it, a fit of frustration and madness would soon grip the onlooker tight! If the spotless walls of this room were captivating, in its own creepy way, what was more startling was the strange compendium of mechanical apparatus that whirred and whizzed and did whirligigs inside it, and of the people in polka dot overalls who operated them.

This room of fantastic secrets, only entered by stepping down from the trapdoor pasted with the face of Sherlock Holmes and lying beneath the chair of an illustrious writer, existed below a very public complex, below The Roald Dahl Museum And Story Centre, and only a select few would ever come to know about it.

As the many little lights of different colours flickered on and off across the three giant grey mainframe computers stationed at the back end of the room, and the tapes within them rotated and stopped and returned to rotating again, Mr Penton, his face lost in deep concentration, sat on his black leatherback chair that was positioned dead centre in the square room. Laptops and bigger computers jutted out of the surrounding walls and by each an assistant was at work, crunching reams of encrypted code, formed of letters and numbers and unfathomable symbols, and all this data was being sent in from all over the world. It was obvious from a mile away that one had to be pretty clever and exceptionally fast with numbers to be in this kind of job!

Sir, we have just received incoming intel and it is not good!” The man had hurried up to Mr Penton, from one side of the room to the other, and even so as he bent over double and rested his hands on his knees it was as if he had just finished a grand marathon!

Calm down.” Mr Penton leaned back further into his chair, he was used to hearing worrying developments and was prepared to take whatever was about to be blurted from the panic-stricken man before him. “What is the status?

Rubbing his palms together, to reassure his nerves, the assistant spoke, and there was a distinct shakiness in his voice. “The Froggies were spotted in Lyme Regis in Dorset, Sir. Our field agent reports that the dastardly gang have successfully mined the penultimate mineral for the creation of The Dream Snatcher.” The assistant paused, for he was grappling with anxiety over how Mr Penton was reacting to this news. Lyme Regis was world-renowned for its coasts which were heavily rich in fossilised ammonites originating from the Jurassic seas of 180 million years ago.

Mr Penton made a fist out of his right hand at which sight his assistant flinched back, heart thumping loud in his chest. But there was no reason to be afraid, Mr Penton simply rested his chin on his fist and looked on at the assistant with piercing intensity. He wished to learn more about the situation.

The assistant cleared his throat. “Sir, The Froggies, they are only a step away from building The Dream Snatcher. If the final piece, The Shaligram mineral, comes into their possession they will have all the necessary components, as cited in the Egyptian Book of Ammon, to forge a weapon that will destroy dreams.” When the assistant saw that this elicited no recognisable response from the seated figure, he mustered up the courage to emphasise the consequences. “Humanity will no more know how to dream. Sir, what are we to do?

Most people would have shivered in fear or felt unnerved by the grotesque prospect of a world washed out of dreams, however Mr Penton sat there, still and unfazed, but he was definitely thinking, one could tell that by the slightly reduced size of his eyes, he was squinting. Mr Penton reached into his blazer pocket that was slung across his chair and pulled out his wooden pipe and got to the business of lighting it up. The assistant was thoroughly stumped by the man’s cool indifference to what was clearly a very serious matter. Puffing out immaculate circles of smoke that floated upwards, a mesmerising elegance in its up-drift, Mr Penton let out a long sigh because he knew something, something awfully brilliant and critical, that his assistant did not. “The final mineral, only to be found in a single dark ammonite, The Shaligram, will never reach their criminal hands, not if I can help it.” He leaned back on his chair and surveyed the face of the assistant. Mr Penton was amused by the fact that he knew so much more than all the knowledge put together of all his assistants. He continued, “My undercover associate, based in Chitwan National Park in Nepal, relayed to me a message a few days ago. He spoke of a girl with the finest and most detailed grasp of the geographical strata of the area. I sent message requesting her to participate as a civilian agent in our mission and she very promptly agreed.

The assistant let out a chuckle and then silenced himself when he saw that Mr Penton did not find his humour one bit funny. Nevertheless, the assistant spoke in his defence. “But, Sir, she is only a girl!! How can she possibly carry out any of this? The threats, the hazards, the pitfalls!

You analyse things too much. She is a girl, a schoolgirl. Yes. But, that will work to our advantage. No one will ever suspect her to be under the employment for The British Secret Service. It is perfect and infallible.” Mr Penton looked pleased with himself.

But, Sir, why Nepal?

You have not read up on your myths, have you?” Mr Penton shook his head and then looked down, negotiating in his mind, silently, that he had better enlighten the poor assistant before the chap melted in a pool of ever growing puzzlement. “The Egyptian Book of Ammon, which we have secured in our vault and that which The Froggies are oblivious to, states that The Shaligram ammonite, the final piece in the jigsaw from which The Dream Snatcher could only ever be made from, is buried somewhere in or near the Krishna Gandaki River in Nepal.

Oh, I see…. but, perhaps the dark ammonite has passed down those rivers and gone elsewhere, to India or beyond. How can we be certain it is still to be found in Nepal?

Good question.

The assistant was chuffed by his own surprise show of sharp thinking and he smiled.

The answer is actually quite straightforward. The Froggies have spores after spores of networks in India, so, had the dark ammonite of Nepal passed beyond its home borders it would have soon been captured by them and they would have built their ghastly dream-stealing device by now. And, yet, I dreamed last night and so did the rest of the world. The Shaligram is still out there, lying in wait, in Nepal, where it will be found, but not by them, by us, by a girl, our newest recruit!” Mr Penton rose from his chair and walked past the assistant until he stood facing the giant rows of metallic columns, computerised cogs tossing and turning over uncountable bits of data. He put his hands on his hips, his back straight, and his pipe once more clamped between his fingers, and then gave out the order with a renewed manliness in his voice. “We are going to go basic on this one, old-fashion communications is what I want. We will utilise sophisticated technology to aid our search, however, our contact with the girl, as we guide her, will involve the suspension of all modern assistive devices. We cannot afford to be intercepted. The Froggies are technophiles, it is impossible and humiliating for them to even begin to revert back to the old ways of espionage.

Not only was the assistant listening carefully to every word spoken by Mr Penton, each and every other assistant in the room, and there were a great many of them, had stopped what they were doing and had now turned round. If a pin were to fall on the floor at that precise moment it would have sounded with a bang as loud as violent thunder struck out by the hammer of Thor himself!

Sir, we don’t have any working communications devices from the past, and most of them that did survive are housed in museums. Imagine the red tape!

Mr Penton turned on his heels and faced his entire team. “Where are we right now? Hmm?

After a few seconds of hesitation in the room, everyone called out in concert. “The Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre”.

Then learn to think like one of his famous creations. The Fantastic Mr Fox! If we don’t have what we want – an unbreachable communications device – then what are we waiting for? Let us make one!” Mr Penton returned his attentions onto the assistant, his eyes concentrated and disquietingly determined. “Build me an olden device, one that supports a coded language that would skim past the most seasoned spy, and when you have, and if I am pleased by it, I will send it to her. I will send it to the girl, our girl in Nepal. ♥♥♥

The Dreaming Chapter 4

Then learn to think like one of his famous creations. The Fantastic Mr Fox! If we don’t have what we want – an unbreachable communications device – then what are we waiting for? Let us make one!

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Actual Props From The Film ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox‘ | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre | Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016