Friday, October 1, 2010

The Moon for Sixpence

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 15; the fifteenth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.


A small village in Poland at a stone’s throw from the Belarusian border. Not more than 700 souls populate its pristine oak-laden forests. And just like the mighty oak, the inhabitants of this little hamlet too take an aeon before they permit any logical succession to reach its culmination. It is a nondescript haven, far removed from the cares of the world. The only medium that punctuates the inertia of this forgotten hinterland is the railway station, a blink-and-you-miss-it pitstop that most trains rumble through without so much as slowing down.

And this is now.

Imagine the Sidra of 1935, which is where our story begins with the arrival of a young missionary crossing over from the adjoining Belarusian province with a sincere but rather misguided intent to civilize the people. Misguided because the village he chose to propagate his mission held a near total Jewish populace, none of whom were particularly enthused by the thought of a gangly youngster setting about reforming their time-honoured ways of life, more so when they realized that he was Catholic.

The village council allowed him to take residence in the abandoned infirmary but did little more to accord him a welcome. He was met with stony faces and grim stares as he went about trying to find some help but this did little to dampen his ardour. For Siddel was not just any boy. Freckle-faced with a mop full of chestnut hair, his boyish charm and impish smile made him an instant sensation with the women of the village-those elder to him wanted nothing more than to mother the poor orphan, those who were his contemporaries swooned over him and those who were younger wanted nothing more than to marry him! And Siddel used this to the hilt-what the men denied him, he ensured the women accomplished for him, in their capacities as wives, sisters, daughters and mothers to those who held sway in the village.

As time flowed by, Siddel saw his stature elevate from that of a rank outsider to that of a trusted confidant. He was still not allowed to voice his opinion in the Council meetings of this Jewish community but he took no small measure of pride in the fact that most protagonists in the meetings parroted his words when it came to new reforms and visions. His religious dissimilarity made him a second-rate citizen of sorts but accorded him the much needed anonymity that allowed him to promulgate the most radical of ideas through those who were more acceptable than him.

But even the veils of anonymity cannot stem the torrents of love. For all his severe pretences and steadfastness of purpose, Siddel could not help himself from falling head over heels for the lissom daughter of the local moneylender. The father was as boorish and avaricious as nine generations of a moneylenders blood can make a man. He did not enjoy an iota of respect among his brethren but his formidable wealth, most of it made at the expense of the forbears of the villagers, ensured that he commanded their deference.

As with all fathers, the apple of his eye was his only child whom he had eponymously named after the village that was his fiefdom-Sidra. And everything about Sidra was atypical, from her cow-like eyes dripping innocence to her nimble gait that betrayed the torpor of her surroundings. She understood all too well the vicarious burden of her father’s dreams that rested on her frail shoulders, of finding a groom befitting not just her stature and beauty but also worthy of perpetuating her father’s enterprise. But when love is not madness, it is not love.

And it was in such a moment of madness, over a cup of sweetened tea at the railway junction, that she heard him profess his love for her and heard herself pledge hers in return. Both knew the sheer temerity of such a hope as also the impossibility of keeping it hidden for long in an environment as severe and binding as theirs. But like a flower in the crannied wall, their liking found roots in the depths of privation and blossomed with a vitality that cheered all those who chanced upon the faintest glimpses of it.

All except her father, that is. The old man was livid when the news was conveyed to him. Yet, his shrewd mind was quick to appreciate the fact that in a society as inbred as his, he no longer could entertain hopes of finding a sound match for his daughter. And in Siddel he saw the lesser of two evils-better to leave his bequest to an infidel than to a pack of vultures who had always resented his success and must certainly be relishing his discomfiture now. But his ego would not let him relent until he had extracted his pound of flesh and so it was in the secrecy of the synagogue that he asked Sidell for a token of fidelity. The boy, ravaged by the listlessness of love, agreed without a second thought and the two men solemnised their pact in the presence of the only other person there, the Rabbi.

The marriage should have been a grand affair but Siddel was too conscious of the frugality of his existence and too proud to accept his father-in-law’s charity. The bride was given away at a modest community lunch and the happy couple got about refurbishing the infirmary to house a family.

Life was beautiful, even if it was not luxurious. Both worked hard, he to put bread on the table and she to keep that table clean. He could give her very little and she wanted even less. But the one thing that he never denied her was a leisurely walk each evening to the railway platform. They would sit here in isolated splendour and savour the tea that she had made just the way she knew he liked it-extra creamy, extra sweet. Their aching fingers would relish the warmth of the rough-hewn earthen cups as they watched the trains rumble past to distant lands, carrying with them the promises of untold dreams and endless opportunities. Both were smart enough to know that people outside their little village worshipped different gods but neither could ever come around to accepting that there could be any other god than the one they had found each other in.The little infirmary which they called home, the little village that was their world, the unremembered platform that gave them the moon for sixpence. It was all so rudimentary, so meagre, so unremarkable. But it was theirs.

And so life sped past, finding cheer in the little joys and doggedly ignoring the dilemmas of existence. And scarce had the spring of 1939 ushered the virgin blossoms in than Sidra coyly whispered to her husband that she was soon to be the mother of their first child. They were sitting at the benches by the railway track and so joyous was Siddel that the whoop he let out almost drowned the clatter of the train that passed by. But so penurious also was the luckless fortunate that all he could offer her in celebration was his own cup of tea, in the vain hope that it would fortify her body just the little bit more that he could afford.

To their surprise, Sidra’s father was barely able to mask his delight when they told him about it. Sidra was relieved to think that he had finally started to thaw but Siddel was more sceptical, convinced that the old man only saw in the incipient grandchild a less corrupted inheritor to his legacy! But even he begrudgingly accepted the elder’s advice that they move in with him, atleast till the child was born, so that Sidra could get the appropriate care and nourishment.

They temporarily renounced the privations of their little hut for the relative comforts of the old man’s mansion but even with the advancing months of her pregnancy, their sojourns to the railway station continued unabated. The only difference was that the trains that sped past them now beckoned each of the young parents towards a new life, one unfettered by the shackles of their disparity, untrammelled in the vistas that it offered. Inviting, alluring and for the first time, just within reach of their grasp.

But forever is composed of nows. And eternity yawns its menacing grin just when things seem to be coming together. For Siddel and Sidra, the omens started in September when they heard that Warsaw had fallen to the German Blitzkrieg. The lazy village started receiving a steady stream of visitors, mostly Jews, fleeing to the relative safety of the Belarusian border to escape unavoidable persecution at the hands of the Nazis. And each new rush of migrants brought with it fresh stories of the escalating horrors against Jews that were fast becoming too surreal to ignore.

Sidra was quick to seize upon the irony of the situation. That the very religion that had always been the bane of her husband’s life in this village was the one factor that would ensure the survival and continuation of her family. She did not know whether to feel proud or grateful. And she did not have time to deliberate upon it after her father called the two of them home and with trembling hands, beseeched Siddel to look after her once he was gone. Sidra was shaken to see him in such a wretched state but soon realised the futility of persuading him to abandon his birthplace and join them. The family, for once working as one, liquidated their valuables at whatever prices they could get and used most of the money to purchase tickets for the couple on a train out of the village a fortnight hence.

It was a crisp winter evening when the family huddled at the railway platform and anxiously peered at the horizon for their salvation to come. The wait seemed interminable but it gave both the young hearts one final occasion to gaze at the one corner of the world that would forever be theirs. The railway station, with its gray facade and stony bearing, would be an unmemorable entity for most but it had given them some of their most memorable moments. Moments of rapture, moments of privacy, of joy, of anxiety and now finally, it was about to grant them eternal moments of hope and fulfilment. No matter how things turned out, they knew they would always have Sidra Junction to call their own.

As they stood contemplating the threshold of the life they were about to embark upon, a whistle sounded in the distance and they could see the faint lights of the incoming train. The instant euphoria soon gave way to the poignant fact that they would be leaving her father behind. They said their goodbyes and checked their papers one last time.

As the train slowed down, hordes of hapless souls started to make for it when they realised that something was eerily disquieting. And then it dawned upon them. The train was emblazoned with the Swastika of the Nazi party.

The baffled crowd was too stunned to even make a move before the train came to a halt and a stream of German Storm Troopers marched out and cordoned the station off. As Sidra cradled her belly to protect it from the jostling of the crowd, a smart but severe German Colonel stepped out of the train and barked an order out to his men. The soldiers quickly herded the trembling civilians to the middle of the platform whilst the Colonel commandeered an upturned barrel to serve as a makeshift podium. Standing atop it, he announced that the village of Sidra was being appropriated by the Third Reich to serve as the site for a new concentration camp. All Jews were forbidden from leaving the vicinity as they would now be conscripted to serve as labour for the construction of the camp.

While the majority of the congregation broke down at this cruel twist of fate, the moneylender hastily told Siddel to impress his Catholic faith upon the Colonel and demand permission to board the train alongwith his wife. Siddel on his part wasted no time and soon convinced the officer to allow him to proceed onwards with the train.

After getting a vacant berth for Sidra, Siddel went back to the platform to gather his belongings. And as he was about to get on board, he saw the old man standing alone, biting his lip to stop the tears from bursting forth. So overcome was Siddel at this fickleness of providence that he forgot all the humiliations he had suffered and the sacrifices he had made. He set his luggage down and went up to hug his wife’s father, to tell him that it would all be fine.

And that is when his undoing came about. The Colonel observed the young man who had just told him that he was Catholic go up and embrace a wretched Jew. His suspicion aroused, he had Siddel herded into the Stationmasters room and ordered him to lower his trousers. With a look of horror, Siddel remembered that fateful evening in the synagogue.

The evening a moneylender had demanded the cruel price of converting to Judaism in exchange for his daughter’s hand. The evening a forlorn young boy had not given the demand a second thought before acceding to it. The evening a Rabbi had ensured that even if memory forgot about the pact, the boy’s body would always carry testimony of his betrayal of his original faith.

Siddel had never told Sidra what transpired that evening at the synagogue. And as she was unceremoniously dragged out of the train and herded into the crowd trudging back to the village, she caught him stealing a disconsolate glance at the platform.

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.


  1. OMG.. what an ending.. super-duper story from the reigning champion :)
    And yeah, u r right.. when love is not madness, it is not love.. ur constant dedications to some'one' also lean towards madness now :p

  2. Love for travel or travel for love? Either way Libya to Poland is quite a distance; you’re treading it tactfully. I’ve only read the first paragraph so far. So will come back to add my two cents to your night halt at Sidra Junction.

    PS: I think there’s a place in Delhi by that name as well.

  3. Thanks Vipulji !
    Praise from the Marshall is always special !

    N btw, didnt quite get ur innuendo-care to elaborate?? ;)

  4. @ Sidra S
    The first paragraph? Thats just one word long !

    N nice to know, after your self-imposed veil of secrecy, that you are from Delhi !
    More on hearing from you, and do remember that the night-halt might not stretch into the day !

  5. I went to grammar school, I know! But the first “paragraph” was such a Dazzling Discovery that i just couldn’t go beyond it at first glance. In fact, I still cant ! You really do write well ! ;)

    And I thought the moon was for six pence but the sun for nothing at all! The halt might not stretch but the destinations might converge.

    PS: I don’t wear a burqua, I’m not sure which veil you’re referring to :P

  6. Hmmm as you continue to enrich your readers with great fact filled stories from the past, you never miss this opportunity to put forward a word in the favor of the best feeling experienced by anyone, which we all know is love.
    A good job done. All the best for the BAT.

  7. You did your assignment well... :)

    This is a hauntingly beautiful tale brijender, bringing us back to the Nazi's past and cruel occupation!

    It was just poignant for the couple, that train which was their all, and which also gave a sad ending...

    It's long but very interesting to read! Your grammar is flawless! :)

    All the best for BAT!

  8. Once again beautifully narrated with such an ironic twist in the end. Did not have the surreal magic of last time though.

  9. @ Sidra S-thanks for the praise for the first paragraph! Sincerely hope that you can move beyond the DD of this word and finally find some time to read the rest too!

    As for destinations converging, read on-it is written. Or should i just say "Maktub"? ;)

    P.S. Those who do not wear a burqa may nonetheless seek refuge behind the veil of a Niqaab !

  10. @Maverick-thanks for the words !
    I understand they are undeservedly munificent but thanks all the same !

  11. @ Amity-thanks. Glad you could survive the endless rantings !
    Btw,there seems to be a palpable sense of cheekiness in your opening sentence-care to elaborate? ;)

  12. @ The Fool-i couldnt agree with you more !
    But i do hope you appreciate the severe limitations of working with two prompts instead of one !

  13. Yet another lovely tale from you with a twist.. With lots of luv wishing you a good luck for BAT..

    --Someone Is Special--

  14. @ Someone is Special-thanks Sarvana ! Was waiting for you to drop by ! :)

  15. This time I made sure that I visit your blog before the voting starts. Your skills, your vocab and your conception of a tantalizing tale, blended with ornate diction, based under political background, makes it a worthy read. All the best for BAT.

  16. That was a awesome!!
    loved reading your post.
    Looks like you are going to top the voting lists again :)

  17. Hi Brij;

    Cheekiness? Oh I only mean that you are exact in your data about the Nazis and everything about Hitler's morbid acts.. :-)

  18. @Cherry Blossom-thanks so much for remembering !:)
    N hope it was worth your while.
    Have yet to visit your blog this time but am sure that the post will outdo the enigmatic title you have given it.

  19. @Muddassir-thanks,am glad you read on till the end despite the verbosity !

  20. @Amity-if i knew better,i would say that your reply to my query is cheekier than your original comment itself !!
    But i guess the Nazis and Hitler should suffice for now ! ;)

  21. I liked your historical tale, served with facts and fiction alike. It was a good, rivetting tale and an equally superlative ending. Glad that I discovered your blog through BAT.

  22. @Debosmita-thanks,am glad you liked it. Hope to see more of you around !

  23. twists n turns....i m tellin u...forget harvard...write a novel :)

  24. Brijender,
    Do you by any chance intend to impart lessons on Creative Writing? If yes, then I'd more than happy to learn a lesson or two from you. I know that might sound like a flattery but trust me when I say it is anything but that.

    You weave your words like a cobweb and I, as a reader, am glad and beyond to be held a captive by your words!

    Thank You for throwing light on this hamlet called 'Sidra' that has quite some history attached to it. From 'Gulf of Sidra' in Libya to Poland, the journey has been interesting if anything.

    This story so neatly portrays the opportunistic streak of human nature through the Money lender's character. As for love, well I guess its modus operandi has always been madness! ;)

    Your stories are not mere stories but lessons on history of geographies :)

    I second Adarsh! :) I'd be delighted to read your novels! Will it happen anytime in the near future?

  25. PS: I'm sharing this on FB. Hope you don't mind?

  26. @Adarsh-like Duracell, the cheekiness goes on and on and on???
    But am mighty glad that you chose not to delve any further and indulge in the historicity that seems to have become your favored medium of expression of late !!

  27. @Raksha-am a little too embarrassed right now by this undeservedly generous praise you have heaped onto me. So i will just say thank you very much and leave it at that. :)

  28. I liked your story. Interesting use of words & looks like you love history.......You can return to the story & take it forward. It would be interesting but yes not may people have survived the Nazis..... I wonder what would Sidra & Siddel do next

  29. @Pavil-thanks ! Cannot comment upon what happened to Sidra and Siddel but i hope they realise the frailty of emotions, whether expressed or hidden. And come out trumps !

  30. I keep returning to your post to merge into the depth of the feeling that is generated. Of course, there is so much to learn from you. I just love the way you blend your incidents with the characters. I also appreciate the effort you take to go through all the posts of the participants and leave valuable comments. Your analysis to a post is strongly sought after, which leaves good scope of improvement for novices like me. Thanks a lot.

  31. As I started reading and you mentioned the thirties the first thing that came to my mind was the World War, in fact I was a bit surprised to find the story of Sidra and Siddel but as you said Sidra was seized in the irony of the situation or was it the other way around; the idea thawed eventually.

    You’ve recreated a quaint town by merely stating the factual details, indeed Sidra is a Polish town furnished with details you’ve mentioned.

    Usually missionaries are known for spreading the word of love but they almost never root themselves, they might claim to but their inherent desire to propagate their mission never lets them rest, which leads me to ask: how did Siddel? Why did Siddel?

    The characters are etched with words and strengthened with actions “even the veils of anonymity cannot stem the torrents of love”.

    The post had many shades of grey almost like the overcast sky in the image. Indented or accidental for me the words mirrored the same, romantic to the core with an overcast of circumstance and misery.

    Sidra was dragged, so was Sidra, both under the regime of austere chance.

    You are the painter of their destiny; whether Love survives is hidden in the strokes of your brush.

  32. @Cherry Blossom-What better recompense can there be for an author than to find appreciation for not just their words but beyond those words as well.
    Am glad to have made ur acquaintance n hope to see more of you around.

  33. @Sidra S
    It is often hard to understand if we are trying to take ourselves out of the complexities or the complexities out of ourselves. And this is a dilemma as old as it is ubiquitous.

    Yet, the one truth that prevails is that it is always in the face of the severest of situations that the human spirit reveals its finest.
    And perhaps that is what Siddel and Sidra are about.

    To answer your,as usual,endless queries;

    1. Yes, Sidra is indeed a real Polish village on the Belarussian border and it has a near-complete Jewish population.(sorry to burst your bubble !)

    2. Siddel was a true missionary at heart and he had it in himself to bear any challenge. One would not have normally expected him to settle down into domesticity.But i guess even he was prepared for anything except Sidra !

    3. The greys in the post are deliberate, to accentuate the blossoming of the surreal through an almost diametrical contrast with the painful realities of life.

    And after having spent such a considerable time answering your questions, i have one of my own for you-who is the second Sidra you have mentioned in the penultimate paragraph of your tome of a comment? ;)

  34. I hope there is an iota of an artist in me and perhaps that's true and perhaps That is what tips me into indulging in excesses. The details about Sidra were a part of a statement, check my punctuation of the same (period not question mark) :P

    Except Sidra ain’t? Hapless romantic, missionary, painter, writer? Really, throw some light on this one! ;)

    The overlapping theme of the image in your writing was almost unreal, I highly doubt that was orchestrated but it was a beautiful coincidence nonetheless!

    There are two Sidra’s, Sidra the woman he loved/s and Sidra the town.

    PS: Why be lazy? There is only a difference of four letters in Sidra S and the complete name.

  35. Just to relieve you a bit from the Sidra controversy, which appears to too confusing to me, just tell me if at all you have got any publications. I would be your ardent fan and will try to get hold of them somehow.

  36. @Sidra S

    Keep hoping, your conceptions of being an artist are as misguided as your math is weak !

    1.For one, the tone and tenor were deliberate, not a matter of coincidence.

    2.Siddel was a devout missionary who did not turn a romantic as much as he tried his darnedest to reach for a woman who he fell for,at any cost,by any means.

    3. There are three Sidra’s-count carefully and learn to look beyond the words.

    4. How is there a difference of just four letters? This one boggles my imagination !

  37. @Cherry Blossom-no publications ! But thanks for assuring me of a readership should i ever be foolhardy enough to try my hand at it !
    And no controversy either, that is just a little bit of light-hearted bantering over an eponymous post !

  38. A public lashing is almost as good as a hearty inspiration! I’m flattered that you’ve taken the time to acknowledge and review my words without an ounce of pretence.

    I mean it.

    I’ve a degree in arts but again that does not necessarily give me the license to call myself an artist; hence the continuing hope and not a claim.

    I wanted a strong reassurance that the overlapping theme of the image and your writing was indeed intended because I was mighty inclined to believe otherwise, for reasons only I can understand.

    We are all rambling and ranting. You’re the painter and ‘Sidra and Siddel’ mere colors who take shape with each brushstroke be it in his impermeable desire to reach for the stars or her yearning to gravitate away from ‘her’ oblivion.

    Kabhi bhi ek drishtikone sahi ya galat nahi hota. I was referring to the four distinct letters that make up the rest of my last name.

    fikr e duniyaan mein sar khapata hoon
    mein kahaan aur ye wabaal kahan

    PS: Has Sidra successfully exhausted your eponymous imagination? ;)

  39. @Sidra S

    This was not a lashing either way-it was just an honest tete-a-tete, maybe with the implied warning to beware of what you wish for.

    And I thought you had a degree in computer science engineering?? But even so, your math is weak ! Coz i think there really are just four letters !

    As for exhausting my eponymous repertoire, I guess it is time to test the veracity of the adage "what happens once will never happen again but what happens a second time will always happen a third time too" !!

    So lets just wait and watch ! ;)

    P.S. Btw, did u figure out the enigma of the third Sidra?

  40. Hi Brij;

    My cheekiness won a vote for you... ;) But honestly, you are one among the three most deserving whom am gonna vote... ;)

    Am excited to see the results after voting closes...:-) you're a strong contender huh! :P

  41. girte hai sheh sawaar hee maidaan e jung mein
    woh tufl kya girenge jo ghutnon ke bal chalte hai

    I have a bachelors in Indian Classical Dance, Engineering just happened as a matter of chance, perhaps the reason why my math, according to you, is weak ;)

    Still working on that puzzle but I'll make sure you're the first to know :P

  42. very nice....very beautifully told...specially the second half

  43. Heyy man your work is really got my appriciation to you.

    Goos work!

    Keep Improving!

  44. @Amity-thanks !!
    For both your cheekiness as well as your vote !
    Dnt knw if i am contender but atleast now i know i wont be retiring with an empty slate !!

  45. @Megha-thanks. Glad you liked it and even gladder that you read on till the second half !!

    @Makk-thanks. Hope i can keep improving till i clamber towards your expectations.

  46. Woha..Never read something so incredible not even in So called priced novels or classics :P

    After reading the first paragraph i was forced to read the whole of it just couldn't stop myself..


  47. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  48. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.