Pritha had never seen a feather as beautiful as the one in her hand. It was light, delicate and white. Ten-year-old Pritha had seen many feathers in her life. Her best friend, Mukul, had shown her one of his most valuable possessions – a peacock feather.
It was more vibrant and way bigger than the white feather in Pritha’s hand right now but she loved the way it danced with the wind. Its tip was pointed; Pritha fancied that one day when her feather’s body would get stiff and it won’t dance anymore, she would use it as a pen-like she had seen in some of the movies about writers.
Pritha hurried to tell Mukul all about this white feather that she had discovered. She wanted him to see its beautiful dance. She ran to his house and rapped the door like a mad man. Her incessant knocks woke everybody in the house. It was the weekend afternoon, after all. Everyone in their house took a good nap after lunch but not today.
Pritha’s knocks and her loud calls of “Mukul! Mukul! Open the door, Mukul!” even had Zoozoo, the house dog who spent almost all his afternoons in deep sleep, wide-eyed.
The door opened and a visibly frustrated Mukul looked at Pritha. “Are you mad? Maa and baba are angry. Why are you shouting at the top of your voice? They were sleeping! What’s got into your head?” He thundered in a single breath.
Pritha pulled him outside and said, “I know. I know. But I have something to show you and I could not wait.”
Mukul threw a glance at her and saw that Pritha was hiding something behind her back. “What is it?” he asked.
Pritha slowly moved her left arm and revealed, “It’s a feather. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” She said with what, Mukul thought, was the biggest smile she was capable of.
“Woah! That’s great! Now both of us have feathers. This is good news, Pritha!” said Mukul and the two of them jumped with glee.
“Wait! Let me show you something,” said Pritha and then threw her beautiful feather up in the air.
“What are you doing?” said Mukul looking up.
“Just shut up and watch,” said Pritha.
The feather went up in the air and then began descending slowly. It quivered, once to the left, and then to the right. Left and right, left and right, it went until it settled on the ground with the softest landing possible.
“Did you see? Did you see?” said Pritha, catching hold of Mukul and shaking him.
“What! What did I see?” said Mukul rather afraid.
“The dance of the feather, stupid! What else?”
“Oh, yes! It was beautiful! It’s your feather after all. ”
Sometimes, things and people lose their space as easily and abruptly as they earned it in the first place. The reasons are as chequered as those that had drawn us towards them. But nothing happens in one day. When Mukul fell out of love with his peacock feather later, it was because he came to know how the majestic creatures, whose feathers are a regular product in the market – a cheap and easy gift item for everybody, are tortured and how his feather could be a by-product of this big and bad illegal trade that happens pretty regularly in the country almost matter-of-factly.
“What can be done? Nobody can catch the big fish,” Mukul’s father said when he shared his worries about this big, bad world. As easily as he had fallen in love with the feather, Mukul had also fallen out of it, but he continued to love the bird, of course.
Yes, he had shared all of this with his best friend as well and Pritha said, “To get and lose is all in the nature of things…”
She loved the feather alright, but the truth was, sometimes she didn’t as well. Like all things in the world, the feather was unpredictable. It was both sturdy and fragile! Sturdy because God knows what conditions it had survived — rain, storms, heat, humans too. Fragile because one snap, or one twist, and it would stop dancing.
Five years passed and lately, the feather was not dancing. It had also started losing its hair. One after the other, its strand would go bone dry and fall off. The leaner it became the less it could dance but Pritha still loved it enough. Enough to know that the feather had earned its way to her heart. And all she knew was that she needed to take good care of it so that they stayed together, however long that was. She did not know everything in the beginning but she got better with each day. First, she wrapped the feather in a cellophane sheet, then placed it between two paper sheets.
This was kept inside the pages of a Famous Five book, which she carried to school every day. Pritha guarded the feather like a hawk. There were unavoidable circumstances though. A visit to the staffroom was rare but inevitable in the long run. Every two weeks, a new class monitor would be selected. Mostly, it meant catching hold of a different student to carry copies back and forth. The monitor’s face remained hidden behind a pile of some 40 notebooks while he walked behind a teacher. Staffroom visits came along with it. When Pritha took the role of the class monitor, she asked Mukul to keep a close eye on the book.
Sometimes, during the lunch break, she took it out. A simple glance at it was enough to conjure the ghosts of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Quills in hand, they would hold the promise of lucid writing. “Will I ever be a writer?” she wondered.
She took it to her uncle’s house, which was just two blocks away from theirs. Uncle John, which was not his actual name but just what the children in the colony called him, said that the feather may have ticks. She would have to get rid of them if she wanted to preserve the feather. Pritha looked worried but uncle John placed his hand on her shoulders and said, “Don’t you worry, my child. I will take care of it.”
Uncle John went inside and came back with a zipped plastic pouch in one hand and a closed fist. He opened the fist in front of Pritha to reveal some kind of powder. Next, he asked Pritha to hand him the feather which she did rather reluctantly. “Come on, now. Put the feather in the pouch,” he said.
Once Pritha had placed the feather in the pouch, uncle John emptied the powder inside it.
“What are you doing, uncle John? What if the feather gets destroyed?” she asked anxiously.
“Just wait, Putu Pritha. Have faith in me. Don’t you want the feather to be free of ticks?” he said. Pritha calmed down, still unsure. Uncle John shook the pouch. After a couple of shakes, he gave it back to Pritha and said, “Now, take this home and keep it someplace where no one will touch it for three full days. Keep it in your study table, in your room. And do not open or touch it for three days, okay?”
“After three days, you come back to me and I will tell you what to do next. Okay?” He smiled at her with a raised brow.
Pritha nodded again and went back to her home.
Soon enough, Pritha was back at uncle John’s, three days had passed.
He opened the door and beamed.
“I see you remembered what I said to you. Can I also believe that you did not touch or open it in between?” he inquired.
“Yes, uncle John. I did not open or touch it as you said,” she replied.
“Okay, then. Come on inside and we can take care of the remaining things,” he said. He took the pouch and sat down at the dining table. Taking the feather out, he flicked it lightly. Placing his left hand at the bottom of the feather, he used his right hand to stroke it between his index finger and thumb. He started from the bottom and moved upwards, doing this 6-7 times. And? The feather changed! It looked beautiful again. White, light and sporting a slight curve.
“See, doesn’t this look better?” said Uncle John.
“Yes!” said Pritha with a big smile pasted on her face.
“But there is one last thing we need to do,” he said. He went inside and this time he came back with a cellophane sheet and two sheets of paper. He wrapped the feather in the cellophane sheet first and then placed it between two sheets, just like Pritha had brought it to him.
“Now, this will last. You can keep this in an airtight jar to make it last longer but eventually, it will wear out. And if you intend to use it like you want to as famous writers of the past did, it will wear out faster,” he said while patting Pritha’s head.
“If it will wear out eventually, was all this for nothing?” said Pritha.
“Now, we did extend the time you get to spend with your feather, didn’t we? So, not for nothing but one day, my dear, it will. To get and lose is all in the nature of things…” said uncle John and Pritha nodded.
The feather did disintegrate with time and Pritha lost her feather, despite doing everything she could to preserve it. She did not even use it for writing. Not even once! She just couldn’t. It was too precious. There was the added issue of a fifteen-year-old writing with a feather, but Pritha didn’t delve too deep into that.
This feather, her encounter with it that morning years ago, became something substantial in her life. Years later, when others asked why she loved the feather, she said many things. Sometimes it was the colour; white, sometimes it was the dance, which was a major pull. But deep in her heart, she knew that even if it did not dance, she would have still loved it. The feather and her feelings about it are a relic of the past today, but they had a transformative power over her back in the day. The feelings had become something else. They had acquired delicate power and become something larger than life.
It amazed Pritha, in her twenties now, how the memory of a love, long lost, had endured the onslaught of time. She could still feel its warmth like the blood running in her veins. “Just get another one,” her friends would say.
And it was difficult to explain something that hadn’t stabilized yet, it was growing with her every day. She tried explaining to people but most of the time, it was next to impossible. It was never about the characteristics or the body value, she said to them. She could easily get another feather–as white and as groovy as hers. There was something else to it, a pull — a strange pull towards an object she had genuinely considered to be beautiful, felt it to its bones and lived its beauty. It was unbelievable for most, intense and fantastical for others.
Her love for the feather wasn’t one that might be considered otherworldly, it was just like any other love, for say, cars, jets, lovers or gods.
The idea of the feather brought peace to her, in an otherwise chaotic life. And to think, she had lost the feather a long time ago! The fondness, the everyday leap of faith inspired by the one feather was to put it simply because she loved it the way it was.
Aware of its flaws, subtle in its being, and bound by time; Pritha, loved her white feather.
Pallavi was born in Siliguri, West Bengal and spent 10 years in Gangtok, Sikkim. Currently, she is based in New Delhi. A journalist for nearly 5 years now, writing for her is a reflective process. It’s a place where thoughts are churned and perspectives are born. More importantly, a writer must write – be it news articles, short stories or poetry.