Friday, June 28, 2013

Correction (Micro Fiction)

Cantonment bungalows can take you on flights of fancy. Everything can seem right with the world as you step out of the car, swinging a tastefully wrapped gift, hugging to yourself cosy thoughts of the waiting hospitality. “What a fabulous lawn!” Komal turned to her husband, the fairy lights throwing her warm smile into soft focus.

They picked their way carefully over the cobbled path, Garv keeping a steady hand under his wife’s elbow, thoughtful of her party footwear.

The host couple was waiting graciously at the other end and soon enough the evening flowed along on smooth rounds of drinks, music and effervescent banter. “Is your son home today? How have the auditions been going?” Komal had heard from Isha about their twenty three old aspiring actor son. “He will show up for dinner,” the hostess responded, looking away.

With the bonhomie having reached comfort levels, acerbic anecdotes had begun to roll off artful tongues. Before long, they were all moving in to Isha’s elegant dining hall. A gastronomic high was clearly guaranteed if the visual treat was anything to go by.  Komal lowered herself onto an ethnic chair with a plateful and looked around.

A tall young man had entered from the rear door. She watched him stand still near the table, gazing down at the prawns. He seemed as though he was in a bubble wrap, unseeing and unhearing of others.  He reached for a plate. There was the slightest hesitation when he reached the table end. Beckoning him close, she patted the chair besides her. He came over and sat down obediently.

“Hi! I am fascinated by your choice of work,” she began. He responded instantly, “You know Auntie, acting is a very dirty line. There are mothers who bring their daughters to directors; you understand what I am saying. Also, any idiot can get a six pack at the gym these days. Have you read the Laws of success by Napolean Hill? He talks of the mastermind. I shut my eyes often and picture myself on the screen; I hear the hall resounding with ovation, it is as though the audience are chanting my name.”

Komal placed her plate down gently on the peg table, narrowing her

eyes. “You did not go to NSD or FTII, so how do you plan to crack this?” her voice was tentative, a little unsure at his stilted intensity. He sprang up, “Oh! Would you like to see my blueprint for success?” Komal was led at a brisk pace to his study, “Here, I have organized myself,” he pointed her towards the computer chair. The two turned to a medium sized green board. There were grids and columns under heads such as: personal, social, professional, emotional. Subheads included: make four influential friends; put on 8 kilos; play basketball 45 minutes daily; clean up spoken Punjabi; don’t be picky; NETWORK. Her eyes stopped at ‘BHAI!’

His high strung voice nagged at her “We skyped with my brother last night. He was depressed over some exams. I don’t know man, here, look at this book. He wrote this when he was twelve! See all those shelves there; he has read them all. He is a champion shooter; a phenomenal dancer. At our school, everyone would tell me, “You can’t be Karan’s brother?!” All my life I have been compared with him; he is better built, fairer, scores more. It hurts.”

Conscious of the sudden silence from the dining hall, Komal got up. She parted the curtains, feeling an odd sense of guilt at having glimpsed something painful and private. Isha was seated right across the study. Their eyes met, held briefly then broke contact in haste.

Forcing herself to stay upbeat through the goodbye speeches, Komal let the mask drop as soon as their car pulled away. She gnawed at her lip, brows furrowed. At the red light, she turned to her husband and asked quietly, “Garv! Have we been too ambitious for our children, pushing them beyond what their caliber justified? Time for a mid-course correction?”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dilemma (Micro Fiction)

“Where will I learn the most Dad? I want to do great things.”

Sandeep stared at the young face, fearful at this talk of life and passion and motivation. “This kid is setting himself up for disappointment,” he thought gravely, casting about in futility for something, anything to help him base his castle upon.

“The National Defense Academy is a great institution Sonny, you would be our third generation graduating,” he made another, half-hearted attempt. “NO way! Never!! Too much discipline and structure for me. I want to fly. I want to do what I love,” the young voice rang resolutely.

“What is it that you love son?” Sonny fell silent before admitting quietly, “I am figuring that out. I am only seventeen, remember!”

The liberal, modern parent that he was, Sandeep walked Sonny into the city’s foremost college, a day later, togged out in their crisps, the two. They walked through the color and splash of dreams beyond the high gates, “Yes, German would be a good option, let him take Statistics as well,” they struck off the subject options at the academic department.

For days after, the father would search his son’s face on his return from college, waiting for the rays of knowledge and inspiration to light up. 

Sonny hung on for three months, believing the fire would find him eventually. He had made friends yes, but he was also fighting fatigue with the omnipresent academic indifference. “No one cares if we learn anything at all,” he admitted to his friend out of earshot of the parent. “My science practicals are antiquated; the lab assistants help with precipitates and residues. I am not sure the reagents are pure.”

Sonny watched his professors busy themselves with petty staff and administrative politics, wondering when they would turn to nurturing his spirit of enquiry. No one had spotted his desire to know, his ability to reason, his stamina for the good and the just. “If this is among the first ten science colleges of the country, what intellectual mayhem must there be in lesser portals!” He flopped down in front of his laptop, clicking on the link reading:

“Dad,” he called out with urgency.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Separation (Micro Fiction)

Cataract surgery does that to a face. It takes the character and substance away. The eyes that appeared bigger through powered glasses all of a sudden look shorn and two dimensional, the face somehow seeming flatter. 

Meha looked away, reluctant to acknowledge the welling shimmer in Vani’s eyes. “You need to sit down,” she gently lowered her friend onto the bed.

The untidy apartment bore signs of a departure. There were old baggage tags strewn around as also discarded packages of newly bought goods. An untidy heap of processed food and toiletries laid in one half of the sofa, they had to be shed so as to account for the baggage weight, the weighing machine had not moved back to its designated slot in the house yet. And there was that pall loved ones leave when they bid goodbye, that heart wrenching vacuous hole in the space they until recently occupied.  Vani was beside herself with grief and guilt, “He is gone. I was so, so harsh on him! What a terrible mother I have been. Oh God, I told him once I wished I had not given birth to him. I am downright evil. Cruella, I am Cruella!”

Meha dunked the tea infuser in a big pot, turning to get some fruit from the refrigerator, “Don’t be silly Vani! Get a hold on yourself. Nobody is a perfect parent ever, it is too difficult a task. You have poured yourself into this college admission of his. It is time to look at yourself and get your strength back. Let’s rustle you some nutritious oats.”

Vani sat vacantly, eyes glossing over at the memory of his packed luggage along the wall. Her moist eyes paused at the corner where his guitar had stood, the “fragile” label dangling from the stem cover. His folder of travel documents had lain right where her hand rested on the bed today. She clenched her fist, feeling the onrush of another panic attack. A claustrophobic sensation seized her, making it difficult to breathe. “Meha,” she croaked, flopping back on his bed.

Meha hurried back with the two cups of steaming tea, “I made Kahwah, it will soothe your stomach. Do you smell the spicy aroma?” Vani was not listening, “I was a very demanding and impatient mother, always criticizing him, calling him a duffer even, hammering at him to become self-sufficient. Oh why, why, why did I use such harsh words, berating him for not scoring as well as my cousin’s daughter? He’s gone now. Too late!”

Meha punched the power switch on the brand new laptop, “Here, let’s get on with our Skype lesson. You have to let go Vani. He is on a journey you cannot follow him on anymore. I bet he barely remembers any of the horrifying past you are kicking yourself for. Here, give me your phone, let’s place a call to your Mum. Talking to her will help ease your mind a bit.”

As Vani held out the instrument listlessly, it stung. A sunny envelope lit up the screen. There was a message. “Ma! Thank you for sending me to such a great school. I love you. In class right now. I am at the right place, just as you always dreamed I would be. Don’t worry. I am telling you. Will do you proud!”

The mother sat up with renewed vigor, holding out her hand briskly, “Would you hand me that cup please Meha?! What were you saying now about the skype lesson?” 

Friday, June 21, 2013


My mouth feels acrid most of the day. If you are a nobody like me, neither rich nor poor, you will know what a fermented existence it is to be like the fly: irritating enough to elicit a frown but not threatening enough to warrant more. Now before I get the rap from you dear reader for being an ingrate, for not appreciating my privileged existence, for pointless negativity let me assure you I am as sane as they come. Why then does my cranium curdle as the day progresses?

You have gone into the Basrurkar market, parking with care. Business done, you return and eye the vehicle placed across the road, gauging the angle of turn. No one moves so you get behind the wheel and begin to ease out, trying to catch someone’s eye for guidance. Not so much as a muscle twitches until your car comes to rest on the van behind with a dull clunk. The place erupts. You are a person of murderous intent thereafter.

You return from a shopping spree, laden with bags and the nagging feeling you were fleeced. The bargaining, the silly sweets for change, the tepid Thums Up thrust at you with an insistence it is chilled, the shoe pinching in rhythm with the sweat dripping; a dull ache has begun to hammer at the head. All you can think of is dumping yourself unceremoniously in the car to first switch on the AC. What do you know;the parking attendants have done the disappearing act.

You are blithely power walking the poodle, sniffing the moisture in the air appreciatively when along comes an Audi 4, crunching headlong into the storm water, spraying you with the drain dregs at a brisk whoosh. All you can do is gnash your denture in time to the strains of Honey Singh’s vocals emanating from the dimming tail lights.

You just shelled out something to the tune of twenty four thousand rupees for two pairs of progressive, transition, monochromatic spectacles, having settled on a green and blue david johns and another in maroon, after trying out some thirty four frames. The optician positions your head to mark the center, reaches for the frames and drops them to the floor. With nary a remorseful breath, he bends to pick them up, blows esophageal air twice and proceeds with the event. 

You have paid a packet for a holiday promised with adventure and action. A lot many people seem in charge and there are several communications, the leader guiding you to the camp on phone, even awaiting you near a mountain road for the last leg. Just as soon as the money exchanges hands, there is a Houdini act, all of a sudden you have been declared self-sufficient.

You just craned your neck at the petrol pump in response to the attendant calling attention to the zero marking on the pump. A second fellow proceeds to wipe the windscreen with flair. You debate whether to step out for greater vigilance. Too late! Payment made, credit card slip signed with a greasy pen and you drive off in relief, only to puzzle over the fuel needle that refuses to rise where you want it to.

You are out on a road trip and had the foresight to put the car through a servicing before setting out. But the water logging and moonscape on our roads have brought your steed to a grinding halt. You count your stars it happened close to habitation; there is even an ATM close by for the unforeseen expenditure. You advance, bouncing leaping, grinning at the guard outside only to find it all deathly silent inside. Of course, it is not working!

After precise spelling out of the fond message, having selected with care the most appropriate combination of flowers and cake for a loved one’s special day and having made an advance payment online, Ferns and Petals delivers it all with a minuscule card, the words scrawled in an illiterate hand!

It is these little things. After all it takes only a teaspoon of curd to ferment milk!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Karma (Micro Fiction)

“If you want a gold medal in Indian swimming, better win by ten meters or there will always be scope for mischief!” It was an unspoken creed in the Indira Gandhi indoor swimming pool that kept parents and trainees on constant edge.

It was a daily ritual. The tight circle of young, tanned, dripping faces gazed at their coach. Their parents sat yards away, smiling thinly at the trainer’s words. A lesser lead meant being open to manipulation, the bane of Indian sports. And still they came, by the hordes, with their snack bags and flasks, willing their children to swim their guts out for a glory that was just a heart break away. The inviolable fact was that India neither had the will nor the wherewithal to produce Olympians as a matter of course.

But Mr. D’Costa was not worried. His son Cary was the State star and a future National champion. And those were only the milestones. Cary’s aim, as outlined by his father, was to leave behind the league of Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal. D’Costa backed his ambition for his son with an unrelenting drive, support and dedicated care. Swimming was a mission, the pool his battlefield and the aqua folks his family. On most days, it was hard to tell him from the staff. At complete ease with the dank corridors and their indifferent occupants, he had the answer to everything a mortal parent could come up with.

It was the State Swimming Championships, day one. Busy with the registrations, D’Costa was unperturbed over his son’s event. Cary was expected to win. The coach had just the day prior, lauded his daily base metabolism record. “His torso to legs ratio is made for the Olympics,” he had grunted to the beaming father. D’Costa was not done hugging the words to himself yet over the diving splashes from the starting blocks when his head snapped up at the sudden, strident whistle. Burrows knotted in confusion, he slowly took in what he was seeing. Some swimmers were paddling water halfway, heads craning towards the flailing coach, what was he doing in the water? Three of the racers had pulled away to the finish. He squinted for Cary. Had he struck gold already?

There was a hush, like the whoosh of a vacuum cleaner. A clouded, ominous supension, people freezing mid-motion. In a split, as though by telepathy, all heads spun towards the starting blocks. Cary was floating up from the bottom of the shallow end, the top of his head bleeding red.

The father’s knees buckled to the concrete. He grasped feebly at the air. A parent bent over, pulling at him, babbling incoherently, “Karma. It is karma. You must have done bad karma in your last life!”

They say time is a healer. Not really. Over days and months, wounds tire of hurting. They patch up with the fatigue of mourning. The heart is so spent and still, it appears whole once again. It wasn’t until months later, during the sports federation inquiry into the incident that it was established that Cary had indeed executed the “pike” dive at the starting pistol achieving a catastrophic head depth and velocity. The technique involved tucking his chin into the chest at the start of the entry. When he hit the shallow bottom, his neck broke, dislocating the spine.

What made an experienced swimmer like Cary take an unusual break from his regular grab start shallow race dive to the capricious pike? “I have no memory of what followed,” D’Costa’s refusal to implicate anyone at the proceedings had remained dogged. Diagnosed with an acute stress reaction, he was prone to insist, “I suffered total amnesia.”

He was lying. There was one word seared in his memory since, eclipsing all else. Karma! It played over and over in his head. What a futile explanation? How heinous could his past life sin have been to have deserved this living death?

A pale shadow of his former self, he was shuffling out of the stadium after the final hearing that day. He had been getting wind of conspiracy theories alluding to an envious parent or two. Brought up as a good Christian, he had dismissed the “nonsense” as he called the concerned jabber of Cary’s friends and fans.  

Ah, there he was that helpful parent again, surrounded by a clutch of promising trainees. D’Costa drew closer, wanting to talk karma. But he halted at the muffled words, “To give yourself a powerful take off at the start, for the pike dive, you should go over the rope, four to five feet above water!” 

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Boxes strike terror in my heart, the ones crammed with books and papers in particular. I will procrastinate sorting them until pushed to the wall. It is not that I am lazy or disorganized; I am just scared of hurting. And so the black containers sit scratchy and sore like corns on the toes, darkly nagging while I get on with the humdrum, telling myself, “Soon!”

It begins with a reluctant dragging of a chair close. The lid clang is invariably accompanied by a sharp intake of breath. It takes more than a day. The first contact is a quick skim. I avert my eyes from the familiar covers and dog ears. They threaten to take me back to all that I have made my peace with. I am sure and strong now, more whole than I remember being. A time travel back past blocks and breakers, rasps. I’d rather be.

Technically, the contents are inanimate. There are diaries, autograph books, drawing journals, song records, dedications, notes, scribbles, letters, tickets, domestic accounts and to do lists; quite easily dismissed if I did not look too close. But of course I pause. The certainty takes root that this junk does not mean as much to any other being so why bother. “Let them chuck it all when I am gone,” is my next thought. For as long as I live, these yellowing papers are proof and a record of my evolution.

I am convinced that words do not carry our stamp, as much as our papers do. It is on parchment that we leave our life’s trail. In those mildewed and brittle covers lie our sleepless moments, the weakness in our knees, our constricted throats, the airiness of our being and the pain we have learnt to numb. No matter how bland and controlled and objective modernity brings us up to be, humans are visceral beings, ecstatic and agonized by turns. It is this gut wrenching reawakening that keeps me at bay from box full of papers. There are reminders there of what I was and what I might have been and what I chose to be. I go still at inked proofs of forgotten bonds; of friends outgrown; of sentiments faded; of days done.

It is not a place I can revisit. So I grudgingly toss some measly fliers and newsletters to justify the sorting. The rest goes all back in another metal case. I will likely not open it for another ten years but knowing it is there somewhere is enough. I wave off the “raddiwala” who has been eyeing the fraying mound, inching closer. My dismissive gestures get louder; all of a sudden I think of him as a Psychosurgeon advancing to perform a lobotomy.