Posted in Life and After

Status Quo

Author’s note: Thank you, Stevie Turner for providing the fist line to help break my writer’s block. I hope Pete enjoys it.

Pete would never have thought it could happen to him.

The day was just another rainy day that were so common in his village. It was a life of too much time on hand where weekdays felt like weekends with no deadlines in sight. Retirement was so relaxed, Pete sometimes wished for a little excitement–something…anything that would challenge status quo. The morning walk with his dog was squelchy and uneventful as usual.

They were on their way back when he saw something lying on the road–a small round surface reflecting the grey sky above him. He bent down to look at it. It seemed to be a small pocket watch, clearly an antique piece. It had too many hands and looked one of a kind.

He wondered who dropped it. They must be worried out of their mind. The piece was worth a small fortune. He mentally debated whether he should leave it there for the owner to return for it or if he should take it to the police station just in case the owner had made a complaint.

Still undecided, he bent further to get a closer look. The brass exterior was slightly worn by the years and his hands itched to pick it up and see up close if it really was as old as it looked. So, he picked it up and almost dropped it out of surprise. The piece was pulsing faintly like a state-of-art racing car ready for a ride. The glass front had a tiny latch to open the face. He wondered if it was meant for the visually impaired so they could touch the hands to read the time. Or may be it was meant to adjust the hands, when needed. None of the many hands had moved so far–may be the watch didn’t work anymore and the owner threw it out, not knowing the value of the piece.

He opened the latch to adjust the time, though it was difficult to guess which one of its many hands was the hour-hand and which one was the minute-hand. So, he just touched the most decorated hand assuming, like on all old clocks, it would denote hours.

He felt a rush of wind, but it died down as soon as it started. In fact, he would have sworn he had imagined it if the leash in his hand wasn’t still swaying in the aftermath of the wind. Suddenly gripped by a fear like he had never felt before and he let the watch fall on the road. He knew something was terribly wrong and all he wanted to do was to rush to the wife he had left behind an hour back.

So, he tugged at his dog’s leash to get going but his pet wouldn’t budge. It started barking, trying to pull away. Wondering what caught its attention, he turned to face it and found that his dog was gone and in his place was a dog of a much younger age.

He looked around and the neighborhood looked different; well, not exactly different but greener and sort of younger. The Oak tree on his right seemed to have put on much more leaves than it had in the past few years–

Maybe, he was hallucinating. Or may be it was all a weird dream, he decided. The dog was sniffing him now. Seeming satisfied with its enquiry, it gave Pete’s hand a quick lick and started tugging the leash towards Pete’s home. Pete would have liked to go back to the park where he probably switched his own dog’s leash with this dog. But he was anxious to see his wife. Something in his gut told him that he will not like what he finds there.

So, together they rushed towards his home. He didn’t meet anyone on the way which did nothing to assuage his fear. When he reached, it was difficult to believe what he was seeing. The house was brighter, as if freshly painted and the garden was a riot of colours with flowers growing all over the place. It hadn’t been like this for several years since he quit gardening because of his backache. It couldn’t be his house. He was certain he had taken the wrong lane. He moved backwards, lest he was charged for trespassing.

But before he could take more than a couple of steps away, someone ventured out. His wife? Has she done something to her hair? She didn’t have an appointment at the beauty parlour, did she? Her skin was tighter around her face and her hair were more blonde than gray, as if the several previous years didn’t happen at all.

And she was looking at him in concern, “Oh my, Pete! What happened to you?”

He pinched himself to bring himself out of this dream. When nothing happened, he swept his eyes across the yard to find something to read. He had heard that if stuck in a nightmare, trying to read brings you out. So, while his wife kept asking questions with a worried expression about his out-of-breath countenance and sudden wrinkles, he spotted the newspaper on the coffee table under the portico where he always left it. He opened it. The front cover talked about Donald Trump winning Presidential elections in the US and how he would replace the current President Obama. How was it possible? Joe Biden had become the President of the US last year. Another election wasn’t scheduled for another five years!

He checked the date on the new paper: 21 January, 2017. The paper was new though…not something that carried 7-year-old news. His wife was still asking the same question he had no answer to. The truth dawned upon him and he rushed back to where he had seen the watch, his wife in tow.

The watch was gone. He had just got his forever wish. His life’s adventure had just begun.

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Posted in Life and After

Bath Time

Author’s note: Thank you Theo for the first line to help me break out of my writer’s block.

The clock said it was bath time, but I was not up to the struggle this evening. 

Whoever made this rule about regular bathing must be tested by a doctor. It takes days to build up the cover of mud and dirt to keep those ticks away. And once it is achieved, you wash it all off for a splash in water? Sheer madness, I say.

And who would want to sit in water and wash their face ever? I shiver at the thought.

I uncurl from my bed and sneak a peak at Becky. She is still busy on her computer. Engrossed.

May be I still have a chance…

I quietly move toward the cat flap hoping Becky wouldn’t notice. When she doesn’t move or make an attempt to stop me, I quicken my pace, covering the last few feet in a mad dash, hoping to get out through the cat flap in a single jump.

But my head in stuck in the flap and I can’t move it in or out. I mew for help. Becky replies in an exasperated tone, “Not again!”

As she pulls me out of the cat flap and off the floor, I try to scratch and bite her. Resigned, she tries to bribe me, “Come on, Mama! Be a good girl and I will give you a can of Tuna.”

What can I say? Tuna has that effect on me. I calmly follow her to the bath. As Becky settles me on my bath chair, I hear her sob.

Posted in Life and After, Nature

Demure

It was just out of reach. I stretched on my feet, balancing against the counter but I just couldn’t reach the damned tin. It was a tease if I ever saw one. He knows well how I crave for them, and right now, I had the mother of all cravings.

I looked at him for help but he was smiling dazedly at his laptop. The only thing I hate more than lapdogs is laptops. They are invaders who encroach into other people’s territory taking away their jobs and rightful places. Right now, I wanted to throw this one on the ground and grind it into tiny pieces. It has made my John it’s slave until he he wouldn’t remember I was in the room trying to get his attention.

I looked at that tin once again. I have to get it somehow. Either I will reach it or it will have to come to me…Having lost the battle against the former idea, I decide to go for the latter.

So, I pick myself as gracefully as I can and walk towards John like the models do on TV, making demure noises. He looks around at me and smiles. Good! I have his attention now. I walk closer, circling him, rubbing my shoulders against him.

Finally, he gets the message. He moves that blasted laptop to the table, gives me a heart-melting smile and gets out of his chair.

Then he opens the tin of tuna. I run to my dish. Oh, how I love this man.

Posted in Life and After

Dark Alley

Moving in the traffic,

bodies pressed tight

in the train subway.

She returned home after

surviving another day.

Refusing to take from the good,

hungry in a world full of food,

wondering how she could get used

to the gnawing pain.

Her steps were slow

as she walked down the row

of alleys dark and dreary

in a blacked out haze.

A hand shot at her

out of a dark corner

and dragged her away.

The next day the priest

said last words on a grave,

“We lost a good man there.”

“Yeah, he was good,”

she smacked her lips,

looking in dark streets

for her next prey.

Posted in Life and After

Yarn

“There isn’t enough yarn left for him and you know it well.”

“But they have requested an extension. Maybe you could stretch a bit farther, say another six months?”

“Six months? He doesn’t have enough for six hours.”

“Then add a bit? Weave in another yarn. Jake here can help.”

“And then what? Once this one runs out, they will request an extension again.”

“Well, he’s a good man. You can’t blame them for wanting him around longer.”

“And how many times are you going to add to the yarn? And for how many of them? You know the drill, don’t you? Every time it is time for someone, everyone gets down on their knees and starts asking for an extension.”

“Well, it’s their first time and I can’t deny that. I have an image to uphold, you know. And when I say an extension is in order, you do as I say. I am supposed to be the God around here.”

“Well! You are the boss!” The Fates gave in and motioned Jake, the angel, to help them weave in the additional yarn.

An old man woke out of coma in the hospital, coughing and wheezing, as his grandchildren began shouting in celebration.

Posted in Love

Matters of Heart: Act 5

I was supposed to have grown up a long time back. But somehow my brain had frozen at 12 in the same way as my height. I was still unable to understand the cryptic language used by wannabe lovers.

It was a hot and humid day and I was getting my scooter from the parking lot at the Law College. A couple of guys approached me smiling benignly like they were serving me a Happy Meal at McDonald’s.

One of them introduced himself, “Hi. I’m…” (I don’t remember the name.)

“Hi. How can I help you?” I was absolutely sure that my sideway-parked scooter was blocking the path to his Bullet and he was waiting for me to move it and lecture me on the merits of good parking manners.

“I want to become friends with you.”

I waited for the joke to be over. Who was he anyway? I’d never seen him before. He was a Greek god with pink glowing skin, chiselled features and towering height, probably a basketball player. I was slightly jealous–being a Marwari dull-brown and 5’2″, I felt like a muddy blotch on the landscape in front of him. He probably worked for a reality show where they made practical jokes on people. I waited for someone with a camera to jump out from behind the scooters and shout, “Gotcha!”

I couldn’t fathom a reason why anybody would want to approach anybody like that to be a friend. All my friends were made generically by sitting in the same class, throwing chalks at the same teacher…

Who made friends by approaching someone in the parking lot?

“Thanks, but I already have too many friends and I can’t find enough time for them.” I started my scooter and left.

On the way home, I racked my brain for some information on this guy. Nothing.

The next day, I was again in the parking lot and saw him looking expectantly at me. I didn’t understand that look. It isn’t a look I give to anyone I want to be friends with. Honestly, this whole seeking-a-person-to-be-a-friend baffled me. I didn’t like being baffled. It wasn’t my natural mode. I was usually a know-all of Hermione level, what with my love for books. I asked my travelling companion if he was a senior. She told me he was our classmate in the boy’s section. Our classes sat together often on days when there were less students.

Seriously? He could have simply spoken with us during classes. I shrugged and started the scooter. “Boys can be so stupid,” I decided.

Next day, I found a paper slip with phone number stuck on my scooter’s handle. I decided to keep it in case I have to report the weirdo to police in future. As I turned my scooter out of the parking, he was looking at me extremely happy that I had accepted his number.

I’m afraid, he might have spent the next few days waiting for the phone call, wondering why it never came.

I wish people did not speak in code. Sigh!

Posted in Love

Matters of Heart: Act 4

When I was in the third year of Bachelor’s degree, a friend who was a cousin of my neighbours called on the home phone on Valentine’s day and asked me to meet him. We had been living in the house for a couple of years. Several cousins of these neighbours were the same age as me. They lived in another city and would often visit and inform me as soon as they reached, demanding my instant presence. I always obliged.

Since it was an old practice, his demand of my instant presence made perfect sense to me, except it was Valentine’s day, so I declined. He insisted, “I’m here only for a couple of days.” I declined again. It was difficult to talk without raising suspicion anyway. Then, he asked his cousin, my neighbour who is a girl, to call again and insist. With a weary heart, I declined yet again, giving excuse of urgent college work, promising to come the next afternoon.

Let me set the context here.

Valentine’s day (14th Feb) is celebrated in India as the day of lovers. But when I was young, most lovers celebrated it on 15th Feb since 14th Feb was unofficially the Daughter Grounding Day for 90% teenage girls from Indian middle-class. The grounding is almost invisible, heavily veiled by well-meaning parents intending to keep their daughters safe from the wolves roaming on the streets on Valentine’s day with bouquets in one hand and chocolates in the other, ready to jump their ‘innocent’ red-riding hood.

If it isn’t exams, most parents persuade their daughters to take the day off schools and colleges. Some leave direct orders, “The fridge needs cleaning and the nuts need to be cracked. Once done, make some potato chips. If there is still time make potato paapad, rice paapad…yadaa yadaa yadda.” Others cajole girls, offering supervised trips to market, over-the-top lunches, picnics in the fine spring weather or a day off to due to such a cold/hot weather. If nothing else, pre-decided emergencies come in: a visit to doctor, dentist, a really old and forgotten relative….

If going out is imperative, the girl gets a guard of honour to and from the venue, and if possible, inside the venue as well. The guard of honour is often an unenthusiastic brother who would rather be out hunting his own girl rather than be stuck with his sister. If a trip to market is in order, an overenthusiastic mother would accompany the girl, get her to finish her business quickly so that they can go dress shopping and get back home together. If nothing else, the father would take the day off work, suddenly anxious to spend more time with his precious cutie-pie.

Boys are, of course, uninformed of this grounding day and spend the day unsuccessfully waiting outside girls college until the flowers wilt and chocolates are eaten.

Some of my classmates were deluded enough to throw Valentine’s day party with red colour as a dress code. They usually celebrated with only boys for company. I remember about a bunch of girls who were able to hoodwink their parents on Valentine’s day by leaving home in school uniform to meet their lovers in a restaurant. Someone noticed their school uniform, which proved they were underage (In India, schooling ends at around 17-18.), and reported them to Police. The Police caught them and, worse, handed over to their parents. The boys were booked for ‘enticing minor girls’ and, even worse, returned to their parents.

Once, one of my practical exams did fall on 14th Feb. I used to walk to school then. After my own exam ended, I stayed back to help a friend in her Home Science practical. After an hour, I walked out of school and found my father waiting for me since he ‘had some chores in the same direction’. Hence, I always kept clear of Valentine’s day invites. Since I never had a boyfriend until then, I didn’t feel the need to give my parents extra exercise.

Honestly, it was difficult even to answer the home phone (mobile phones were a rarity then) on that day without prying ears. One of my friends had birthday on 14th Feb. I never attended his birthday party. Whenever I mentioned calling him to wish him, my parents would agree but they looked rather incredulous, as if no child would ever think of being born on such a day, and I had a suspicion, or may be I was being paranoid, that I was being eavesdropped.

In the wake of these past experiences, when this neighbours’ cousin asked me to come over on Valentine’s day, I declined with the excuse of college work. I didn’t want to embarrass this really nice and genuine friend by bringing my father along who would invariably tag along on the pretext of going on a walk or visiting his family.

The next afternoon, when I went to meet him, he was rather upset at the supposed insult and I had my work cut out for me trying to make him talk to me, since I didn’t want to divulge the real reason. Why not tell him? Because there are some secrets that are better kept hidden from boys until they become fathers of young daughters themselves. And who knows, if nobody tells them, they might never figure it out and their daughters might be able to celebrate Valentine’s day on the actual day for once.

Well, one can hope…

Posted in Love

Matters of Heart: Act 3

In the second year of Bachelor’s degree, my best friend decided that she needed to join a coaching for English Grammar, one of her elective subjects. Since the coaching started half-an-hour after our classes ended, it meant she would have to leave right away and we would lose the one hour that we always spent talking about life in general and life in colour (we were both painting students and totally invested in the subject too). I would have joined the coaching myself but my father wouldn’t pay this time since he now knew that I could probably teach the teacher.

So, I started walking with my bestie to the coaching, which was in the next lane. And then, I would sit with her until her class started which was often 15-20 minutes late. Once her class started, I would walk back to the college, pick up my newly acquired scooteret and drive home.

Loads of students from other colleges also attended the coaching. There was a bunch of boys who spoke with us. When we had to find a test subject for Psychology practical exams, they even offered their younger sisters as sacrificial goats. My bestie was as thick as I, never getting the hint. I always assumed the attention was because of her (She got the spotlight wherever she went, or, may be, I was biased because I loved her.) and never took the hint too.

One day, after ‘dropping’ my bestie in her class, I started walking out of the coaching and, as a part of my daily routine, inside the pastry shop downstairs. Now that my bestie wasn’t with me and I wasn’t busy discussing colour patterns and test subjects, my senses were working as they should and I noticed footsteps behind me. Suddenly, I was hyper aware of the fact that I was alone with this person behind me. Everybody whose classes ended earlier must have left for home and the people waiting must have gone to the class that my bestie attended. I was on my own. Honestly, it was just a flight of stairs, some 20-odd steps but my life seemed to have slowed down dramatically, like a hummingbird experiencing the world while facing a predator.

In first few seconds, I took stock of my physical faculties: I was 5’2″, a pixie as compared to the trollish footsteps behind me. Having never played any type of sport except a few months of badminton in early teens, I didn’t have any strength. In theory, I did know one Judo move meant to incapacitate someone but I hadn’t tried it on anyone yet. What it meant was that I would have to depend on my wits.

In a quick move, I slung my bag diagonally across the shoulder to keep it out of the way in case I had to run.

In the same move, I pulled out my scooteret keys to use as weapon…

My fingers nails were long enough to pop out the eyes…

I really hoped he would bail if I enter the shop. Or the shopkeeper would call the police first…

As I entered the shop, the footsteps followed dashing my hope. I raised my voice to get the shopkeeper’s attention, “One Black-forest pastry.” Then I steeled myself and turned to look at the man standing right behind me for a face-off.

But he spoke first, “Make it two. I’ll pay.”

One of the tallest and thickset guys from the coaching was smiling down at me, standing so close that I had to tilt my head up all the way to look at him. He stood at the only door and I felt like a cornered animal. My heart was hammering against my ribs and I wondered if an elbow in ribs was allowed at this stage since he hadn’t really attacked me yet. First he stalked me and scared me half to death and now, he cornered me and wants to pay for my pastry? What does this guy think–I can’t pay ₹10?

Being intimidated was not my usual mode. I grew up with a brother who was quiet tall and occasionally practiced Judo moves on me and even he couldn’t intimidate me. Anger won over fear and with the sharpest voice I could muster, I replied, “I can pay for myself.”

I quickly paid and walked briskly to my scooteret in the college parking at a pace that could have won a marathon. My only thought was to get out of there. I kept looking behind me wondering if he had followed me and whether the police men who guarded my college from roadside-Romeos would hear me shouting.

Note that it was broad daylight, and I was in a residential area and not alone in woods at night. But fear had wiped out all rational thought. I started my ride and raced home, leaving Michael Schumacher behind.

I was almost home when I remembered something–when he had offered to pay, his smile was expectant, which had slid down several notches at my hostility. He was probably just trying to talk. But then, why did he choose to corner me when I was alone. I was at the coaching with my bestie for around 30 minutes when he could have spoken. The doubt still planted in my mind, I never went to the coaching again.

After 20 years, now older and wiser (I hope), I realise that in India of my youth where we had grown up watching cheesy romantic movies by Shahrukh Khan but not really entered the openly dating scenario, he had been probably made an attempt to avoid a too-public confrontation, which was the norm of the era. I was just born in the wrong era.

After all these years I spent wondering why nobody ever proposed me for the first 20 years, I finally realised there were probably too many people trying to get the message across. My receptors were just too weak to pick up the signal!

Posted in Love

Matters of Heart: Act 2

I was pursuing Bachelor’s as a day scholar then. But with unplucked eye-brows and a face that never saw make-up, you would probably mistake me for a high-school student.

I was what most people called a book-worm. With my nose deep in books and mind on the last mystery novel I read, I hardly ever noticed boys and never felt the need to groom myself. So, while all my classmates moved on to low-back latest-fashion salwar-suits with designer holes in sleeves, I stuck to dresses that were functional rather than fashionable. Never having dealt with men outside family and close-friendship circle, I was also ignorant in the vague terminology used by wannabe lovers and had no idea why, in Dil Se, Shahrukh Khan had to die alongside Manisha who never said ‘I love you’.

I was studying in a girl’s college, so naturally, more boys thronged outside our college at lunch hours than inside a boy’s college itself. But I never stopped to marvel at the paradox or the fact that police had to picket-fence the area around the college eventually. I would simply walk outside with my best friend talking about the latest colour scheme I had tried on my painting, ignoring everything and everyone in the vicinity.

When my best friend joined an English Speaking coaching during the first year’s summer break, I decided to join as well, else we would have to spend the summer apart since I lived on the edge of the Earth. (What else would you call a place that came with an attached forest?) If you are wondering, English Speaking institutes grow like mushrooms in India, since as a society, we take more pride in a borrowed language than our mother tongues. (We have 18 national languages:, out of which 17 are local but the 18th language, English, takes the top spot.)

The day I joined the English Speaking course, I could see clearly that I wasn’t taking home much except good manners of waiting for others to speak as well. But I was happy because I could meet my bestie everyday.

By the end of the summer break, the coach offered me a job as a coach at the coaching. I was overjoyed but after a couple of weeks, I left the job since it was cutting down in my study time. And I was seeing my bestie everyday at college anyway.

One day, I got a call from my ex-coach. He mentioned that I was an exceptional student and I had really helped the class move forward. And then, he said that there was a student who would appreciate my help; that if I could just talk to him over the phone for a few minutes everyday as a friend…

I declined to ‘help’ this ‘friend’, quoting that I didn’t even have enough time to talk to my existing friends. He insisted, but I was firm.

Once I hung up, my mother enquired about the curious call. Apparently, she had been listening in, like all dutiful mothers do. I shrugged my shoulders and quoted the call verbatim. Then she reported to my father, like all dutiful mothers do. My father then made an enquiry with me about what it was all about. He forbade me from talking to that coach again. He explained to me that the coach was just a medium. He was probably calling from some guy’s behalf as an attempt to get me to talk to him. I was confused, “If he needed to talk, he had two and half months when I was at the coaching.”

My father never explained to me the whys and whats of the story. He just smiled and agreed with me.

It took me 20 years to figure out what it was about.

I wonder what would have happened if he had simply talked to me at the coaching. He probably did try. I wouldn’t know–I spoke to a lot of people there. After all, the class was all about speaking. If he was still attempting to speak to me in person, either he was clueless that I was hopeless, or may be he was one of the super-positive people waiting for pigs to fly.

I also wonder what if he had called directly rather than through the coach. May be, he did call and my mum picked up since I wasn’t the one to hang around the phone. Mum was the Great Himalayan Mountain range that kept intruders out. If he had not hung up on hearing her voice, she might have asked his business for speaking to me (as all dutiful mothers do). Then, she might have asked if he was employed yet and how much he earned (as all dutiful mothers do). And when he didn’t bail out and yet failed to answer the questions to her satisfaction, she might have told him that I was buried too deep in books to fish me out and he would have to call again. No man ever born would choose to deal twice with the mother of an unmarried daughter. That was when he might have chosen the coach-route.

Either way, it wouldn’t have worked. I don’t work well with people who don’t speak clearly: ‘…talk as a friend?’

Seriously?

Life would be so simple if wannabe-lovers used a vocabulary that wasn’t so vague.

Posted in Love

Matters of Heart: Act 1

Author’s note: This is a republished memoir to build momentum for my coming pieces, all of which discuss my bizarre love-life, or rather lack thereof.

I was in grade 10–fifteen-years old and a book nerd. I was denser than my brother’s ten-pound dumbbells when it came to the matters of heart. It was easier to do ten wrist crunches in a second than to make me understand the cryptic language of would-be lovers. I knew more about Maneaters of Kamaun, thanks to late Jim Corbett, than teenage boys and what went inside their ever-busy brains.

Having studied at co-education schools, I had quite a few male friends. But when it came to heart-to-heart, they steered clear of me. Though, it could have something to do with my ‘incident’ with the class bully where I knocked some sense in his brain, literally. Or, it could also be the light ‘mustache’ I had grown over the adolescent years. Whatever the reason, the boys in my previous schools avoided any chances of a one-on-one with me.

When I moved to Aligarh, the boys in the new school, however, were quite ill-informed. They knew of my love for old songs and painting. Also, I looked less like a lioness now that I had cleaned the facial hair. It was a welcome change to have friends who weren’t scared of me.

After my first month in the school, I was moved to section D, which was a teacher’s nightmare in the best of days. There was a gang who never took classes and were always found roaming the corridors. The most ‘influencial’ boy of the class, let’s call him A, was their ring leader. The teachers were afraid to report them. Others caused enough noise to raise the dead. Nobody listened to the teachers. Our class teacher was also the school vice-president and never available to know what was happening.

Somehow, I never got to see that roucous part of our class. Initially, I was too busy with catching up on the work done before I joined the school, since I joined mid-session. Later, I began noticing that during the hours when the teachers were missing (mostly Geography by our class teacher), my class sang–All of a sudden, A had developed a love for singing. He was good at it too. Often, he would sit on the bench behind mine and begin singing. Meanwhile, nobody dared to speak or may be they were too enthralled. He attended classes everyday now, which was a first. Thanks to his newly well-behaved presence and active participation in studies, our class was too well-behaved for the teachers to believe. They probably considered it the silence before the storm or a stroke of luck that would eventually run out.

Soon, the bench behind me became the hub for all wannabe singers. We often played Antakshari whenever there was time (a game of replying to each other in songs). In the hindsight, I have a sneeky suspicion that some of them were trying to impress me–the latest addition to class and the only girl who still wore skirts rather than traditional salwar suit. I can’t be sure, of course. Nobody ever proposed me.

Except one day after school, when I was dragging my bicycle towards the clear road that had enough space to ride it, A caught up with me.

Okay, before I get into the detail, let me clarify one thing–In small-town India, dating is not a thing. Arranged marriages are preferred and going out with boys is looked down upon. At least, that was the case at that time. So, you didn’t ask a girl out just like that.

You talk about the weather…and family…and things she liked to do in her free time…and about her friends (to gaudge if there was a potential competitor)…and how there’s nothing much to do in small towns… If the girl hesitated, and you still had brains left, you scooted. If she answered all your questions in a pleasant tone, you asked about her plans on the day when you wished to take her out and wait for her reaction with abated breath. If her day is free, you talked about your plans and if she’d like to join.

A followed all the required protocols. While we were stuck in the traffic jam caused by the several hundred bicycles and thousands of young adults pouring out of their daily prison, he talked about the weather, my family, my non-existent social life and my interests and the lack of things to do in a small town. (a pretty dull conversation, if you ask me). Then, politely, I asked about his interests.

A grabbed the opportunity with both hands and plunged, “I love watching movie. Infact there is this latest movie (he named a Salman Khan’s latest movie) that I’m planning to watch but I’m not sure.”

I was human enough to get curious, “Why not?”

“I don’t have company.”

That was my cue to say, “Really! I’d love to watch it too.” But as mentioned in the first para, I was dense enough to not understand the cryptic conversation and missed the cue. Instead, I got more curious. How could the other guys not watch a Salman Khan movie. He was the God of Indian adolescent tribes. His posters were up on every male wall I knew, “Why wouldn’t you have company?

I guess, A wasn’t ready for that. I had been pleasant enough so far and hadn’t winced even once during the entire conversation. So, in an ideal world, I was supposed to ask him the time and show up for the show. Instead, I am asking a probing question. So he got derailed, “Ahhh…because the timings clash with namaz…” (He was a Muslim and so were his friends.)

Again that was my cue to say, “Oh! No problem, I’ll join instead.” But I missed the cue again and chimed in, “Really? Then, I think you should go for namaz instead as well. A movie isn’t worth it.”

A nodded his head, forced a smile on his face and bowed out of the competition, dragging his bicycle in the opposite direction, struggling hard in the traffic jam. He looked rather disheartened, if you ask me. But I could be wrong, afterall, I was too dense to understand the matters of heart.

Posted in Love

Qabiz | Urdu | Poetry

Ek kamzarf Lubna thi qabiz wajood-e-Kais pe,

Humko BaKhuda kar de, hume bhi ishq karna hai.


A powerless Lubna permeated Kais until he ceased to be.

Permeat me, my Lord—I, too, want to love.


Author’s note:

“BaKhuda” actually means, “I swear by Allah (Khuda)”.

But “Ba” in Urdu means “permeated with” and “Khud” means “self”. Hence, I have used the word differently to mean “fill with Yourself”.


The story of Lubna and Kais is one of the most famous love stories in Urdu poetry, as Kissa-e-Laila-Majnun.

A very handsome man called Kais fell in love with Lubna who was very plain and dark as night (Laila). People were surprised at the match. At that time, the Arab law was against love marriages. They were separated. But Kais lost himself completely and was called Majnun (mad). When he found that his Laila has died of long suffering, he searched for her grave and died next to her—not because of the heartbreak but because of the ecstasy of finally finding her. Thus, they became one.

It is said that on the day of judgement, Allah will present Majnun to the mankind as the epitome of love and ask everyone why no one loved Him as much as Kais loved Lubna.

A question every woman asks her man…Sigh!

Posted in Life and After, Love

The Bell

First line offered by Marina Osipova

The doorbell rang with shrill urgency. I opened the door yet again. No one was there.

Of course, it would be so. My doorbell was having a day. Nothing I did or said could make her let go off her fear. With all the anxiety, she was close to having a cog attack and I wondered if I should get her checked by a professional. Of course, they wouldn’t really understand the problem. They’ll just open her up, oil her, double check her wires for any cuts and, then, return with a suggestion of buying a new, more reliable door bell. And there lay the problem.

May, my girlfriend, had suggested just the thing earlier that day insisting that my doorbell never rang whenever she pressed the button. She believed the thing had a faulty wiring. Well, in a way she was right. It is wired to my jealous dead-wife’s soul.

When alive, my wife would call my office landline under various pretexts to check I was really there and follow me in her car when I was too cheery about the weekend fishing with my friends. But it was nothing compared to now.

Ever since she died, I felt I wasn’t alone; that I was being watched. I would glance over my shoulder so frequently, I had kinks in my neck every now and then.

When a few months later, I mentioned it to a friend, he suggested that the loneliness was probably getting at me. He set up a blind date with his cousin, May.

Once I reached the venue for the date, my car door wouldn’t open. I had to get out by breaking a window. A few weeks later, when my car failed to start every time I planned a date with her, I sold it and bought a new one but the problem continued and I could see a pattern forming. I started calling May to pick me up instead. It was then that my cellphone stopped working whenever I called her or she called me.

I could clearly see the issue now. The feeling of being watched was intense. I craved being left alone. Desperate to get out of the horror show that my life had become, I requested a witch doctor for help. He was quite understanding, having once suffered similar pain (Not my story to tell). He offered to cage my late wife inside a house fixture and asked me to choose one. I didn’t want her shaking the walls or bringing down the pillars, nor did I want lampposts falling on my head or door handles getting stuck. So, I chose the doorbell, which was out of the way, believing it would cause me the least distress.

Well, so we are here now. The felling of being watched is less intense and limited to the area around the doorbell. But ever since my girlfriend’s mention of a new bell, my doorbell has been ringing frantically every five minutes, demanding my presence. All coddling and reasoning have failed. Frustrated in extreme with the constant ringing that kicks up my heart rate and bring my blood to boil, I finally chuck the doorbell out of the door to be rid of her forever. She can spend the rest of her time in a landfill or, maybe, a recycling plant until the day of judgement.

It is quiet now. The feeling of being watched is gone and I am truly alone. I had believed I would revel in the alone-ness, but weirdly enough, I miss it. I look outside and think of my erratic wife lying outside in the snow. True that she couldn’t feel the elements anymore but still…she loves me, even if a little too much. And I still love her, even if she is being insufferable now a days.

Half an hour later, I still can’t get away from the window, watching her protectively. Car headlights flash ahead. What if it crushes her? I rush outside and pick the doorbell up from the freezing road and bring her back in where it is warm. Placing her on the table, I hear her ring without the wiring; a faint call, reminding she was still there. It is time for tough decisions.

I call May one last time and break up with her. Then I pull off the enchanted rope that the witch doctor had used to tie my wife to the doorbell.

The feeling of being watched is back.

I’m not lonely anymore.

Posted in Life and After, Love

Karwachauth

She sat waiting for him to return home. It was Karwachauth fast, so she was thirsty, hungry and crabby. She was also annoyed that seven years after their marriage, he would choose to ignore the day. He hadn’t called all day. Neither had he come home a little early like he did in the earlier days of their marriage.

It was almost time for the moon to rise, for her to break the fast, but she couldn’t eat or drink until he fed her with his own hands. She wondered if it was worth staying hungry for the long life of a man who didn’t give a damn anymore.

He was all work now, always at office, only returning to eat and sleep. Sometimes, he would play a little with the children but he didn’t have time for her anymore. Did it have something to do with that new pretty girl in his office, Priya? That day at the office party, she seemed too intent to please. Always hovering around him, “Sir this…”, “Sir that…”.

What would she do if he decided to ditch their marriage for this one? She worried with the lace of her red sari–one she had worn for too many years on too many Karwachauth fasts. It was the only decent red sari she had, the colour she had to wear as per the tradition. She hadn’t asked for another. It seemed weird asking for a red dress at her age. That too for just one occasion an year. Not that he noticed anymore anyway.

The bell rang, she almost ran to the door but collected herself together. She didn’t want to look desperate, so she called one of the kids to open the door.

Her husband walked in with a large package in his hand, which he handed to her with a sheepish smile. “Sorry, I’m late. You know how tailors can be. I had to sit there and wait until he finished. I could have called you but I wanted it to be a surprise. You already look lovely, but this shade suits you better.”

She opened the package. It was the perfect red sari ensemble.

Posted in Life and After

The Sadist

First line suggested by Lucinda E Clarke

Tomorrow I am going to kill Caroline, but I can’t decide how to take her life away.

I can always bite her head off…the thought was repulsive, so obviously, I relished it. I run through the scene in my mind where I bite off different parts of her head one-by-one, leaving the nose, of course, since she has an allergy which keeps her nose permanently runny.

But honestly, once I bite any part of her, she would snap and throw me out of the room. I need a more plausible scenario. Maybe I’ll pick up a fight with that mad dog in the backstreet to get rabies and then bite her.

But what’s the point of revenge if I don’t live to enjoy it? I rake my brains again. What if I push her overboard when she offers to take me on a flight around the place? I’ll make sure she lands on something hard.

But then, who will steer? I hardly have the physical faculties needed for a safe landing. Well, maybe I’ll just bite off the twigs from her broomstick and then decline to go with her. Then her broomstick will surely crash and Dad will never go on a date with her. And he will never forget to feed me…

How could he forget to feed me? An overwhelming sadness engulfs me that has nothing to do with food and everything to do with losing the only man I ever loved…

The soft click of the window handle startles me. Dad glides in on his broomstick. But, how? He was only gone 15 minutes. Didn’t he say he’ll be out all night? Not that I’m complaining…

He pours kibbles and fresh fish in my bowl and then he pets me, “Really sorry, darling. I just remembered. Caroline sent me right back and told me hug you for her too.” He hugs me and leaves on his broomstick again.

Maybe I’ll let Caroline live after all!

Posted in Life and After

The Stranger

Author’s note: The First line of the story was suggested by Webb Blogs

Why is everyone being so loud, and why is this stranger claiming to be my husband? My head hurts like there is a stampede inside it. I can’t recall where I was last night or what I did but I certainly couldn’t have married a stranger overnight!

If only Priscila was here to provide me an alibi. She had promised to meet me at my home last evening. She had something to celebrate and wanted to give me the news in person. But she never showed up. I was bored and lonely. So I decided…

This is where I came up blank. I just can’t remember what I decided or what I did after that. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I am not on drugs and I didn’t have alcohol. I also don’t have a life and have lived vicariously through Priscila since forever. Ideally, I would have had dinner and slept the night off. Only, I am not in my bed. And the owner of the bed, and the house it is in, says that we dated for six months and married a couple of days back in a small ceremony in front of the minister!

How can I date and marry someone and then forget about him?

May be he’s lying. He shows me some pretty convincing pictures of the ceremony with me as the bride. But photos can be fake. Or worse, what if he slipped something in my drink last night? An LSD? That can explain the loss of memory and the headache.

He looks genuinely confused, which unsettles me, but he can be a good actor, “I don’t understand. You were fine with our marriage until last night. You even went out to share the news with a friend! Have I done something wrong?” His eyes are honest. He doesn’t seem like a guy who would gaslight a woman but, then, what do I know? I barely met him five minutes back when I woke up in his bed.

Why isn’t Priscila picking up her phone? Is she alright? It isn’t like her to not show up. Already at the end of my nerves, I throw my phone down on the bed facing upwards.

His brows are crunched in confusion, “Honey, why are you calling yourself?”

“No, I am calling my best friend. She’ll help me figure it all out. She always does when I am not able to make sense of something.”

“Darling, the number is yours…”

“No, it n…” I look closely and beneath the name Priscila, is my own phone number. My stomach drops out of the bottom. “I must have messed up the contacts when I changed my phone. Maybe that’s why I am not able to get through to her. I’ll check the recent calls. She called me last evening.” Hastily, I scroll through the recent calls. I have several incoming calls from Priscila but all of them have my number.

The stranger looks at me with a guarded expression that I hate. Even though he is most certainly not my husband as he claims to be, I want him to know I am not insane. I hated when sometimes people assumed that about me; makes me feel like killing someone. I feel anger rising already, “I don’t understand. I swear Priscila called me last evening. She was so excited about something that she wanted to share. But she never turned up!”

“So you have a best friend named Priscilla too?”

I grit my teeth and my confusion comes out harsh, “What do you mean? Do you know a Priscila as well?”

He slowly stands up and inches towards the door as if I am a wild animal that might attack him. He clearly thinks I am a deranged lunatic. The gesture raises something wild within me. I am too hurt and too livid, and I begin to black out…

Posted in Life and After, Random Thoughts

The Axe

Author’s note: This is a six-line story. The first line was offered by by Sarada Gray.

It was almost dark when I realised that the four of us were suddenly five. Shivering, I quietly signaled and we cowered in the shadows trying to blend with the walls.

Hiding was the only way to survive these days. I always wanted to fix that broken door but the rest of our group felt it would give our position away.

I knew the ruse could only work so long, because now, with abated breath, we waited for the axe to fall. And sure as death, a teenage scream rented the air, “Aagh, Ghooooooost!”

Posted in Life and After

Giggles

Author’s note: Thank you, Gavin Marriott, for the first line of the story.

I had only just come indoors from the cold and wet, putting the kettle on while I was to change into something warm, yearning for that hot brew, when the phone rang. Wearily, I picked up the receiver of the old landline.

The giggle was horribly familiar. But for the first time in our three-year marriage, it gave me goosebumps.

I looked around for her cellphone. It had to be here somewhere. Wasn’t she texting on it when I struck her from behind? Gah! She had pocketed it by the time the blow made impact. Which means she still has it! And she is making calls. How did she survive? I had checked her pulse before driving her to the forest and throwing her where only animals could find her. I should have buried her! Had she called the police yet? I might still have time.

I ran to my wardrobe and threw everything of value in a bag and rushed to the door of my cabin. If I drove without stopping for food or sleep, I could make it to the next state by tomorrow. Only, the old lock on the door was stuck. I tried with all my might. But the door didn’t relent. I tried to break it down but felt like I dislocated a shoulder in stead.

I looked out of the window. I could jump out of it but I’d never survive the fall from the steep cliff. The only way to get out was through the door. I checked the storage for anything that could help me open the door. An axe, a shovel, not even a carving knife… Desperate, I threw the chair at the door but it bounced off. Not even a dent! I tried the table next. The table broke in splinters but the door stood unaffected.

I went through my options. I could wait here for the police and tell them she was lying. But with that head injury, she’d have a clear case. I could almost see the glint of cruel madness in her eyes when she knew she had me at her pity. I’d seen it too often during our marriage.

And she giggled…

She was really there, standing in the room in front of me. She had probably locked the door and had the key. I could try reasoning but had it ever worked in the past, I wouldn’t have killed her…or rather, since she was standing here, tried killing her. So, I picked the only remaining chair and swung at her. But, somehow I missed. I tried again and the chair passed through her. She giggled…

Horrified, I rushed to the door and yanked the door bolt, only managing to break the handle of the bolt. There was no way I could stay at the cabin with her. I quickly picked up my phone to call my bestie to break down the door but there was no connectivity. Only her giggles were coming out of its speakers setting my teeth on the edge.

I was shaking as I rushed to my bedroom, closed the door and opened my laptop, hoping to catch someone online. She slipped inside through the closed door and stood sentry, fixing her gaze on me with an intensity that frayed my nerves, and giggled…

After an eternity, the laptop finally booted and her grinning face filled the screen. Scared, I skittered backwards. In the process, I had upset the laptop. It fell on the floor and broke in two pieces.

I turned my eyes skywards seeking help from the almighty and found her hovering on the roof, grinning down on me.

I threw myself at the room’s door. It, too, was locked. I threw things at the door while screaming at the top my lungs for help even though I knew no one could hear me. The nearest house was a mile away. Soon I was standing in a pool of broken things with nothing left to throw at the door while she giggled from the roof.

I could not stay with her here. Anything had to be better than this.

There was only one way to go.

I opened the window and jumped off the cliff. I could hear her giggles following me all the way down. When my body made contact with the rocky floor, the pain had me blinded and, for a few seconds, all I could feel was my broken body and all I could hear was my own ragged breath as life seeped out of me until the blessed silence enveloped me. I was finally free of her…

And then, she giggled…

Posted in Life and After

60 Feet Under

Author’s note: This is short story based on the first line suggested by Beetleypete.

It was so hot there, much hotter than I could ever have imagined it would be. I had always expected it to be cool below the surface since the desert sun couldn’t get to you. But apparently, I was wrong.

It was stifling hot and suffocating, even though, I didn’t need to breath anymore. The casket I was lying in was rather stuffy. May be a walk in the tomb would help.

It was just as dark outside. There was no way of knowing whether it was day or night. Who would want to live for eternity stuck in a hole where you could see neither the sun, nor the moon and stars. Not that I needed light to see. My eyes adjusted to the dark just fine but it didn’t take away the claustrophobia, reminding of the one time I had been foolish enough to hide in a closet.

The paintings on the walls depicted my life in the world outside–my wife, sons and daughters, my territory and the time of my glorious reign. As if I needed a reminder of that now! I already thought of it all the time. The other paintings were decorative and I had already memorised every single line from the countless lonely walks in the past years.

The bandages on my body were making me itchy. I wished I had my wife to scratch out that itch on my back but she was still out there, alive. Sigh! I will have to wait until she is done with her time on the surface until she is lowered here with me. If she chooses to sleep in the same tomb as me…Not sure she would. I wasn’t a model husband–too many mistresses to make her jealous.

She wasn’t allowed to have another husband to get even with me but what if she took a slave? Did she do that while I was still alive? With the dark one with the tall soldier-like build–the one she had chosen to keep when we were sifting through the war prisoners? In my mind, I could see the longing in her eyes for the tall monstrosity who became her personal guard and the knowing smirk on the guard’s face when he had leaned on one knee and kissed her knuckles.

I wanted to throw my fists through the walls. If I had a heart anymore, it would have burst with the pain. You would think that, with an eternity to brood, I would accept fate but, with an eternity to brood, the thoughts kept coming back. Like the day our last child was born–the child was darker than usual. The pain of deception had cut me through. It was one thing for me to sleep with another woman but to find out that my wife was doing another man…

When I had voiced my doubt, she had cried her heart out, reminding me of my own many indiscretions and fainted in her bed. I was aghast. I knew what she had done. I should have ordered their beheading right then. But here I was sitting in her bed, holding her hand, feeling guilty, waiting for her to wake up. Not sure when I fell asleep too. The choking sensation had had me reeling.

I wondered if he helped her or she did it on her own…

I wondered if she cried for me at all…

I woke up inside the casket in the tomb. It was so hot there, much hotter than I could ever imagine. I had always expected it to be cool below the surface since the desert sun couldn’t get to you. But apparently, I was wrong. The bandages were itchy and I wished I had my wife…

Posted in Life and After

Dogs Know Everything

Author’s note: The first line of this story was shared with me by Jennie to help me break the writer’s block. Thank you, Jennie, for all the help.

Dogs know everything. The boy followed his Lab, his best friend. It was a different path and that worried the boy.

Usually Molly always took the same path for their walks. She knew it was difficult for the boy to navigate through unknown terrain even with her help. Not being able to see what lay ahead put him on the edge and, in his nervousness, he tripped more often. So, ever since Molly, a stray, joined his family, they always stuck to the same route.

But, that evening, when she stopped to sniff the air and moved in a different direction, the boy wondered what had changed.

She pulled at the leash hurrying him. He couldn’t run as fast as she wanted but she wasn’t patient as always. He wondered if Molly was after a squirrel but it was unusual. She never went after squirrels. She knew never to rush because he couldn’t follow. As he ran breathless and clueless after her, he wondered if other people were right and he should have bought a dog trained by the professionals.

She suddenly veered left and ran off-road. He tripped and fell. He thought she would stop for him to get up but Molly grabbed him by the back of his collar and pulled him behind what smelled like hydrangea bushes. He could feel his blood from where it trickled down his bruised right elbow. She licked at the wound and a horrible thought crossed his mind. Aren’t all dogs related to wolves? Now that she has tasted his blood, what was she going to do with him?

As he pushed her away and tried to stand up to defend himself, she jumped on him. He fell face down with her sitting on his back with all the weight of a grown-up labrador. He lashed out at her but she didn’t budge. He hated feeling powerless but there was no other option. He would have to shout for help, he decided.

That’s when he felt them–the dank wiff of cheap alcohol, the sound of several staggering footsteps and the reckless, cruel laughter. He didn’t know any of the voices but the fear in his gut intensified and his instinct told him to stay still as the raucous procession passed. He felt Molly tense up on his back in what felt like a protective stance. Suddenly, there was a sound of a glass bottle shattering on a tree trunk close to where they lay. Someone whooped at the perfect shot. Another challenged to try a ‘moving target’. He shivered with fear. Had they seen him through the foliage?

But they moved on to find that ‘target’.

Once the prcession passed, Molly finally got down from his back, pulled his stick urging him to get up and move back to the safety of their home. He didn’t know the path anymore after having run pell-mell to the place but he felt safe with Molly. She would never let him get lost.

Posted in Life and After

The Maze

Author’s note: This is my second attempt at a “first-line story” to break what we all know as a writer’s block. The first line of the story was suggested by GP. I hope I did it justice. 🙂


She wandered aimlessly through the maze, wondering what the surprise was when she emerged.

Her father was holding her hand, of course, afraid that she too will run ahead of him like her brother did. She was constantly barraging her father with questions he had no answer tohow did he know where to turn and which door to take, and how would they find their way back when they have found her brother.

When, and not if…her faith was absolute—nothing untoward could befall her seventeen-year-old brother. He was her hero—fearless, invicible and undestructible.

The maze seemed to be going on forever as they went door after door looking for him. She was sure he would have reached the prize by now and must be waiting for them with the trophy in his hand; or may be it would be a really big teddy, like the one she saw the other day when her brother had taken her to the market. The thought perked her up and she quickened her pace, pushing the doors open before her father could stop her.

She felt her brother before she saw him. The smell of his favourite deodorant and the familiar sound of his favourite love song album filled the room that, she suddenly realised, was his bedroom. The sense of dread filled her heart and her gut told her to close the door before… But, like every time before that, she couldn’t stop herself.

Her brother’s body hung from the ceiling fan—tongue lolling, eyes popped out…

She was screaming until her husband shook her out of the ‘nightmare’ and held her against his heart as he had done for countless nights in the past eight years and her parents did for many more years before that. She sobbed until she drifted into an uneasy sleep, hoping against hope for a dreamless night.

And to think that her brother died believing that no one loved him…


Photo by MontyLov on Unsplash