Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sovereignty (Micro Fiction)

“Why do you want to learn Spanish?” a proud Catalan from northern Spain, Aina began every new foreign language session thus.

The heterogeneous group of students responded tentatively, brought up in an education system that frowned upon overreaching authority, especially a foreign one! Contrary to their diffident words however, their bodies shouted defensively and unconsciously “My country may be overrun with squalor and poverty, but we have unmatched diversity.”

At most times politically correct, the classroom air in the Spanish Cultural Centre stopped short of turning adversarial on the odd day. “When the Spaniards return home from India, they begin to appreciate what they have much more…cleaner air, traffic free roads, gender equality, less poverty!” subtlety was certainly not Aina’s middle name. Most of her listeners half nodded sheepishly but not Harman Singh, “Oh no!” he was prompt with his reactions, “We share some similarities too! I believe the only thing that starts on time in Spain is a bull-fight. That makes them as much of laggards as us Indians!”

With eight years of teaching behind her, Aina well knew how to wither upstarts in her class. She was particularly sensitive to her pupils having fun at her expense, as a group. The Indians rarely united enough to do that given their genetic insecurity but there was one time! They were to identify pictures of toiletries, “Tooth brush, comb, shampoo: cepillo de dientes, peine, champú.” Champú! Champú!! Champú!!!  Quivering with glee, Harman turned to his group, “Champu  kahin ke!” The room went into strangled convulsions of mirth.

Nowhere was this cultural bandying as stark as during the term test. “I know you Indians. Please spread out, one on each table. No copying from each other please.”  Used to being spoken down to, the examinees would smile weakly through her objections, “How can you guess mark answers, it is cheating, if you don’t know, you don’t know. We don’t do that in our country.”

Severely handicapped in sessions that did not brook any language other than Spanish, the Indians were cavalier in their treatment of the centre’s resources. They maximized on the air conditioning and went poking every plug point with their smartphone chargers.

“In India, you make lesser money and die sooner.” Aina would compare.

“Our favourite food is channa bhatura, not pig’s tails and bull’s testicles!” Herman was game.

The classes used multi-media and a communicative approach to keep the teacher and taught speeding through the sixty hours of basic level. With the term end exam upon them, Aina’s brief to her students was succinct, “There will be four sections:  lecturacomprensióngramática and examen oral, I will email you all the exact format this evening.”

When Harman got home from his dawdle around the Connaught Place to log into his email that day, there it was the yellow icon from their profesora. He clicked on the envelope, skimmed and scrolled down in a rush, frowning.

It was a forward, the original having been written by one Sandeep Singh Khalsa. The bold heading read, “Sovereignty for Catalan and Khalistan: Separatism by choice!” There was a link to the operation Bluestar.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The switch (Micro Fiction)

Aditi grimaced at the needle point on her scalp; her mother was sewing the “tikka” in place. It was standard drill before a performance. Most Kathak dancers used a dab of nail paint to keep the adornment from flying loose during the “chakkars” but Aditi had a phobia of untidiness on stage. She gave herself a final once over in the full length green room mirror, checking for tucked in “ghunghroo” strings, pinned in plait and tightened waist belt. 

The dance festival anchor had begun to announce the artist to the audience with a brief biography.

An outsider in the whimsy world of Kathak, dominated by the “gharanas”, Aditi had come up the hard way. Known for grammar perfect lines and velvety moves, she was an avowed traditionalist. “Improvisations take away from the classical core of Kathak” she had instilled the belief in her disciples.

The senior dancer lifted her costume and tip toed into the wings to await the curtain rising, “I must find my light, get into the spot right. The accompanists take too long to tune up their instruments” she rubbed her hands gently, sending up her customary silent prayer to her two gurus and Lord Shiva. “Strike the heels harder, it is characteristic of our gharana; the Benares and Jaipur schools are becoming too hybrid” her self-talk continued.

“Don’t you think innovation within tradition keeps Kathak relevant to the 21st century?” a journalist had asked her once. Keeping one eye on her swirling and sweating students, she had answered with time honoured conviction, “Young dancers are too impatient these days. It takes years and years for tayyari. They must first be masters of the pure form. If we keep diluting it with outside influences we will lose our legacy. Abhinvaya is dying out as it is”.

“Form with finesse”; “poetry in motion”; “sure footed and lyrically precise”; “living legend” were some of the epithets the country’s prominent critics had used to describe her.

She thought she heard a swish of the curtain rising. Fluffing out her costume one final time, she made to step out, halting mid-step in abrupt confusion. Someone had taken her by the arm, “This way Aditi Ji; your dance therapist is waiting in the hall. Let me settle that hair band on your head!”

“Dance increases cognitive reserve and builds new neural pathways in persons with dementia” the words were travelling down the corridor in a confident voice.

The iconic performer and her hospital attendant shuffled past a plaque on their way to session. It read “Alzheimer’s Society. Remembering those who cannot remember!”

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Will (Micro Fiction)

It had been a long wait. Sardar Fateh Singh was finally leaving for his heavenly abode. The clan was in throes of gluttony outside the ICU, their masks beginning to slip. The patriarch’s estate attorney had spoken of his having left a legal Will. “What is he leaving Zorawar, that favourite grandson of his?” they were beside themselves with envious dread. “His ancestral farm, the fixed deposits or his wife’s gold he has refused to disburse in family weddings?” there was no abating the feverish fertility of speculative minds.

While the tribe carved out their imaginary entitlements, Capt. Zorawar Singh Brar patrolled a far flung sector in Zakhama, Nagaland. It would be days before he returned to a digitally accessible zone.

Fateh Singh’s last rites were performed as per the affidavit of cremation produced by his lawyer.  All that was left to do now was to await Zorawar, he had been found to have been named as the Testator’s Executor. Not only would he review the Will, he would have the power to settle the estate. “He is going to give himself a fat compensation for this fiduciary nonsense” the young cousins fretted over not being given copies of the Will right away. While Zorawar stomped the Naga Hills on the line of control, the Brar Mansion thrummed with fears of an ugly family contest.

An eminent eco-scientist, Fateh Singh was a nominee to the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth award. But for his Alma mater, the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana not many knew of what he did for a living in the USA. To most, he was merely another rich NRI, made wealthier by his agricultural legacy back home.

On a dusty July noon, Fateh Singh’s biological band gathered around Zorawar who was finally home on annual leave from his regiment. The taut air in the main hall slackened in tandem with settling of the shares as the grieving grandson went down the list in a sombre voice. Suspense over the Executor’s share however, shot up as he reached the end of the document. He had been left a shoe box sized carton! That is all. An unadorned, decrepit, harmless looking taped container.

Incredulous faces urged Zorawar to slit the binding and fling open the lid. Dirt! Ugh, a pile of ordinary, everyday, regular earth?! The ceiling shook with rambunctious laughter as the relieved descendants left in a self-congratulatory cloud of prosperity. What were they thinking? There clearly was a lot less love lost between the two than what the family feared.  How truly deceptive could appearances be!
They had missed the hand written note he was pulling out from under the clumps. “Go on! Feel this turf brought over from your 1000 acres farmland in the Sonoran, Arizona. It is live soil, the endangered dirt called cryptobiotic crust. NASA is studying the patches for greenhouse farming on Mars! You will never want for anything. Make me proud. I will watch over you from above.” 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Love Martyr (Micro Fiction)

Minnie pressed the receiver down on her ear, it sounded like dry heaving at the other end, “Who is this, please speak up!” Concern began to nip at her as darkness flowed in over the wires. Something was amiss.

She called up the exchange, “Can you get me the last incoming call?” The number was familiar. It was barely a week ago she had sat with Anu in her artistic balcony, chatting over the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. “These kids call themselves the millennial generation Minnie, I feel such disconnect with their life style.” The two had talked into the twilight, exchanging notes on their growing children. “I feel deeply concerned at the relationships they enter so early in life, multiple ones at times.”

Minnie took a deep breath. She knew Anu’s son Kabir to be a bit of a love martyr; he suffered a chronic heartache over his high school date. Attempts to wipe the rose off his besotted eyes had famously failed. “Karen is the woman in my life, the world will find out soon what true love is,” the youngster was unhealthily attached.  At an age that was best served working on his own growth, he had taken on the onus of another young life.

Minnie redialed the number nervously. Anu had spoken of their
volatile young equation,“Karen is rapidly outgrowing Kabir and he is struggling with her pace.” The two had begun to fight a lot, going back and forth like the Yo-yo.  It was distressing for the adults to see promising young lives drain thus. “He cannot stand her sprouting wings and coming into her own; and she is rediscovering the joys of personal autonomy,” the words haunted Minnie as she gave up on the phone and clambered down the steps to the garage.

There was an ambulance idling outside, ready to pull away. Minnie switched off in haste and climbed in besides Anu, pulling her close. They rode in grim grief, a soul deep helplessness gnawing at their innards. Kabir lay unconscious on the creaking stretcher, the paramedics busy over him. In a matter of minutes, they were surging into the hospital and the waiting arms of emergency wing.

“It is my fault, I was supposed to put away all the sharp objects at home,” Anu was inconsolable. She sat up all of a sudden, rummaging in her familiar rust tote. “Here, read this, it escaped me completely!” The paper was covered with Kabir’s words in black ink. Minnie flipped the green sheet over by its spiral rib. In the right bottom corner, there was a signature in red:  Karen, TL; DR!

Fraught with despair only a parent can fathom, she enveloped Anu protectively before translating in her ear, “Karen, Too long; did not read!”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Feline (Micro Fiction)

Samar looked on as her sister packed away the last of Leen’a paisley scarves. All that clung to the room of her was a hint of the Vanilla that she so ritually dabbed on.

A lifetime! How else would you describe forty years with a woman? Two children, this neat cottage and a handsome pension were all he was left with. And oh yes, there was Cotton, their feline companion and silent witness, poised over the piano cover this moment. He peered into the blue eyes, “Can you tell where she has gone? Am I ever going to meet her again?”

He heaved over to the cat, moping on the piano cover. Lifting the limp animal off the dark wood, he raised the instrument cover, his breath catching at the sight of the keys. Lowering himself on Leena’s stool, he trailed the black and white gently, willing his skin to recall the feel of hers. With a sense of urgency, he pulled off his moccasin, placing the big toe on the pedal underneath, trying in vain to get more of her. He could have sworn ‘Lara’s theme’ swirled around their living room. Shoving his hand roughly into the air, he tried tracing her form from memory. “Does this space retain her?” he wondered.

“Sam, the Canter is here for her stuff. Give me a shout if you need anything. See you in the evening!” he waved off his sister-in-law with a weak nod, numb with the process of gathering up after a loved one has gone for good.

The room began to surge with keening over Leena. A tidal of aloneness came crashing over Samar. He collapsed on his worn ottoman, desolate like a man upon the dead end. Laying back his pounding head, he reached for the switches, plunging the room in darkness. Half fearful at the march of Leena’s throbbing vignettes, he shut his eyes..

But it was Olivia! Thin fire suffused his lids. Sam pushed himself up with a stab of guilt, casting about for Leena’s cat. She was sunning outside, scratching her ears against Leena’s pot of petunias. He reclined back quickly, and let his eyes droop. There she was at the spectacular golf course, driving with that characteristic downswing. The green light bounced off her flaxen vividness; he never stood a chance. On deputation at the Canadian Forces Base, Edmonton, Sam had lost his heart on the fairway before the ball hit 220 that brittle morning, all those moons ago.

A young pilot on the cusp of a brilliant career, the deputation was to be his litmus test. Barred by the official policy from marrying a foreigner, Sam had come close to throwing away his hard earned flyer’s wings and the exorbitant cost of his training that seismic summer. It took all he had to leave Olivia behind and get on with his life in India. “But now I am retired and no longer bound by service rules” the thought popped into his regurgitating head.

Olivia! He whispered the name, dreading of what it might stir up. It hurt. The Siamese had come in to rub herself against his calf. He got up, pacing to shake off the melancholy. The front path had begun to echo with footsteps once again. Leena’s sister was back, “Sam, I found this bunch of papers at the bottom of her green trunk, you know the one she kept locked.”

“Must be letters from her teen years…she was a sucker for emotional memorabilia" Sam reached out distractedly. He shuffled to the window and released the yellowing ribbon. There were some twenty envelopes of grain textured paper. He turned them over to look at the sender’s name. There it was, in her unmistakably blocky style, written in green ink, “Olivia Tremblay, Clover Bar Road, Edmonton, Alberta”. His heart emitted a banshee as he spun to Cotton accusingly.

The cat’s gaze was angry and unrepentant; his tail puffed up and thumping.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Moon face (Micro Fiction)

The wedding card was unusually simple. And it bore Hemant’s forty eight years old batch-mate Nitin’s name as the groom. “Did the bugger give his son an identical tag, there must be a mistake”, he turned the invite around, reading it several times over. “What an idiot, getting married when it is time for us to settle our kids! Has he lost his wife, divorced her….this is very strange!”

At the evening’s course reunion, the story grew steadily bigger. No one seemed to know. “I was local guardian to his daughter during her Vellore tenure, everything seemed fine,” the anecdotal exchange flowed thick and fast. “Hope he is not getting naughty at forty,” this light hearted observation was met with a pensive, “How is Tara keeping, any idea? I heard they have been living as a joint family ever since his premature retirement.”

Hemant struggled with his feelings over the event, just a week away. There were the usual logistic ends to tie up but there was also a faintly irritated concern. The two had been close until life took them on different paths with Hemant progressing professionally and Nitin deciding to quit for greener pastures outside the Navy. With the unintended callousness of the busy, the rest of their batch had forgotten him, barely responding to his attempts to stay connected. Briefly debating a phone call for clarification, Hemant decided to just show up, he would be the solo serving officer attending the wedding.

The car waiting outside Raipur’s award winning airport carried Hemant to the Byron Bazar, dislodging him at the familiar yellow, two floor building. He alighted tentatively, the home exuded stillness, quite unlike a marriage venue. He joined a small knot of people at the door, slipping off their footwear. The ceremony was already underway!

Hours of mantra chanting, incense burning and ritual relays later, Nitin’s brother escorted Hemant to the terrace where his bridegroom friend sat waiting. Unsure of how happy an expression to wear, Hemant pulled a chair close “Where do I begin? Tara and my mother had one of their more serious fights and Tara walked out of the home in a huff. I had to lodge a missing person report at the end of twenty four hours. The police turned up a day later with news of a body fitting the description, found near the Junction railway tracks. I went to the morgue and identified her, the cadaver was in a bad shape.”

Hemant got up to place his arm awkwardly around Nitin’s shoulders. “We went through with the period of mourning and cremated her,” the groom resumed his narration. By now they were coming unbidden to Hemant, images of Tara as a young bride in their parent unit and her rocky period of settling in. A typical civilian, she had taken a while to fit into the regimented rhythm of the station. “Poor thing, she must have been shattered inside to have taken her own life,” Hemant felt heavy with grief. 

“Hemu Dadaaaa,” he poked his ear violently with the index finger at the familiar lilt, shaking his head. “Good lord, I am hearing her voice. Is it Tara’s soul?!”

His travel weary vision began to blur at a figure advancing in ceremonial red, holding out a tray of snacks and tea. The arm fell away from Nitin in confusion, grasping for a chair. He gaped at the bridal countenance in horror, sifting the face paint frantically….yes, it was, no doubt in his mind, the well-remembered moon face of Tara!

He only partly heard Nitin’s voice drone on, “Imagine our plight Hem, she turned up back home after a week of sulking at her mother’s. I had identified the wrong body. With the bereavement rituals all done, my mother insisted we remarry.”

Hemant was not listening. He had gone cold turkey. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Promotion (Micro Fiction)

“Abha, get me a helper just like yours, no. Does Ravi have a twin?”

Abha was used to this good humoured ragging. Her domestic help invited multitudinous reactions, part envy, some pity but always an unfailing and uniform admiration. It was hard to pick Ravi’s strength. His loyalty rivalled an ox like stamina, a time efficient output and some honest-to-goodness, steely integrity. What put him in a different league however, was his quiet DNA. He barely spoke when necessary and did not like wasting time listening to words of appreciation.

“I could learn from him,” had become one of Abha’s recurrent self-berating note. She banked on him, trusted him, overworked him but also wondered about him. “Where does he get his Spartan habits, there is something almost noble about his self-containment?” His lack of wants lent him a peculiar stature in her eyes. She found his authenticity liberating. He was a star performer who neither knew his status or better still did not care.

“Mami Ji, can I take him home with me to Spain?” the NRI nephew would ask. “Look after Ravi bête, he is your old faithful,” her father intoned intermittently. “Abha honey, you are becoming too dependent on him,” cautioned the man in her life with unfailing regularity. “Oh, you have Ravi, why would overtime and hosting parties bother you?” her colleagues made a habit of giving her the reality check.

Ravi remembered where in the boxes lay her Flamenco red flower. He had a talent for retracing long forgotten addresses. Tasks that Abha quaked at giving him were habitually made short shrift of. Dictate him a recipe, explain a delivery or collection process, outline a critical day’s proceedings and it would all stayed locked and executed, no repetition needed. To her refrain of “Will you be able to do this,” his standard response would be, “Done!”

It was the annual conference of the Merit Systems Protection Board at her company. Having gone over the principles with reference to management of the executive branch workforce, Abha was about to strike the gavel to call adjournment of the proceedings. There was a flutter at the table, four heads down the oval to her right. She held the gavel mid-air, her eyes expectantly following a paper being passed at her. Placing the wood back, she reached out, pushing back her glasses with the other hand. She knit her brow at the company’s peon recruitment form, bringing her eyes to focus on the yellow post- it in her personal assistant’s handwriting. It read “For Ravi.” Turning her head sideways, she locked eyes with him down the flank, reached for her Waterman Expert Green and scribbled firmly below his note. The gavel came down with more force than usual!

Oblivious to the sound of scraping chairs, the self-satisfied din of power and privilege and a departure protocol of his impatient boss, the PA sat stunned in his chair,

The green ink winked at him, “Too good to promote!”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Chilli Chor (Micro Fiction)

“The station is experiencing water shortage. Residents are requested not to irrigate their lawns,” Rinku scanned the notice board at the guard room, mentally telling herself to brief Santosh, their gardener. A busy teacher herself, she and her pilot husband had pretty much left their horticultural assets to him. He took the decisions on the variety and quantity of plants in their ground floor square.                               

And what a visual treat, their verdant patch was! Almost an eye sore as it sat smug amidst the surrounding lifelessness with its green trimming of Celosia and Kochia. Evening walkers would come upon it with a start, staring disbelievingly at the Zinnias and Ball Lilies. The mini-garden often came up in party conversations and the couple beamed with self-congratulation at sourcing such a prolific green thumb.

“That green chilli bed looks a bit odd there,” Rinku turned at her neighbour’s voice one evening. “Oh, it is a hardy plant, a good way to hold the soil and the water supply is restricted after all. Smart of Santosh to save some there, he rations the sprinklers,” she blithely dismissed the friendly observation. And the station life moved along, everyone gamely tolerant, even appreciative of Rinku’s magical gardener.

The nagging voice came back to her however, one dinnertime, “Listen Jo,” she called out to her husband, “the chillies growing in our garden, have they struck you odd ever?”

“These locals use a lot of that in their food, they scrimp on the vegetables,” came the reassuring reply, it was what Rinku wanted to hear. “Care for some ginger ale?” Jo poured them two goblets. The couple sat back after a hard day’s work, glad to be home for an evening; their average social attendance being high. Soon enough, they were at their meal, Jethro Tull’s voice winging over the cosy living room.

“Flying day tomorrow, where is my rolled up towel?” Jo turned in early on weekdays, his fatigued neck resting on support for the night. Rinku pattered around the kitchen before settling down with her portable Remington. Two hours later, she was pulling the typewritten sheet out and sliding the machine shut.

Air Force campuses are restful and it did not take her long to fall asleep besides her somnolent partner. They were a study in contrast, he slept faster but lighter of the two, she was a night bird who eventually settled down for good. 

It was in the wee hours that Rinku stirred next. Jo was shaking her by the shoulder, his tousled hair falling over troubled eyes. “Come with me to the door,” he was speaking in a low tone. Rinku gathered herself sluggishly, limping on a half-worn night slipper. The front door was ajar, an inky sky outside. Jo beckoned her forward. She shuffled up and peered out, standing rooted to the spot.

The swarthy policeman had Santosh roughly by the arm, "Madam, your gardener is a member of the Chilli Chor Gang. They throw chilli powder in the eyes to blind their victims before robbing them!" 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Shortchange (Micro Fiction)

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…being on time is a very nice thing,” the Indigo welcome brought a smile to Dimpy’s face. She looked appealingly at the passenger in the aisle seat, who eventually gave in to lend a hand with her red tourister. Two more manoeuvres and she was falling back on her narrow seat, grimacing at the mingy leg room.

In their Indigo brisk fashion, hostesses came tripping up with their emergency drills. The cabin echoed with muted sounds of metal clicking and pre-flight intercom punch-ins.  Dimpy furrowed her brow, trying to recall what she had ordered on the last flight. The ready to eat Uppma had to stay covered eight minutes but she felt like sinking her teeth into something whole and soft, like the corn and cheese subway.

Dimpy fancied trains and buses and planes, they were her legitimate respite from life’s relentless pace. She latched her seat belt and shut her eyes, trying not to think. But they came, unbidden, slithering little snakes into the crevices of her consciousness, the thoughts. “Is the plane going to take off soon? Hope we won’t have to orbit over the airport! What is the delay? Dear God, let there not be a queue at the parking bay!”

“Cabin crew, arm all doors and cross check,” the Captain’s voice calmed her momentarily as she grabbed her book for distraction but the airplane roof had already begun to cave in. Dimpy gripped the arm rests, staring out of the window at drizzle on the tarmac. She began talking to herself, “Recite the Japji Sahib you idiot, this is ridiculous……why is your heart racing?” Fighting a rising panic, she froze in one position, letting the sweat run rivulets on her scalp. A howl began to build up in her throat. The cabin had hushed down, some passengers already in slumber-land. She willed the monitor in front to come alive, anything to loosen the steamrolling constriction in her chest. "I am locked in, there is no way out," her mind whirled. Just as she made to hoist up violently, there was a hum of the engines, some cranking and the wheels began to turn.

Dimpy shut her eyes. Her psychiatrist’s words hummed in the ears “Mrs. Dhar, does your family know of your worsening claustrophobia?”

“No Doctor, there has been no time. One has to get on. Life has been so busy.”

“You need to grieve your grandmother’s unnatural loss completely Ma’am.  Please, I appeal to you…..do not short-change the mourning process. Let the pain wash over and away. You must heal before moving on. Your body is telling you something. ”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reversal (Micro Fiction)

Pic by Aqseer
Shekhar frowned at the thought of his son. He talked all too much about feelings. “What’s with the boys these days?” he complained to his wife, “I don’t remember airing my thoughts and emotions so much. We mostly kicked ball or spent time doing house errands. All Pat does is jabber and sit around with friends over God knows what all; they call it chilling I believe. I hope he is not doing drugs?”

Shamita shooed him off, too busy surveying her pantry. Growing boys were such hogs, dinner time was approaching and she had her usual challenge of putting both quality and quantity on the table. “The snacks vanish from our cabinets before I can get them in, Prateek demolishes the reserves too. I feel so nervous when guests visit; there is nothing in the house to offer them.”

“Pat! Sam! Mug! What a waste of those elaborate naming ceremonies, why do we Indians even bother, these children are ruthless with shortening their original names!”

“I feel so disconnected with this “want it all” generation, may God bless them with wisdom and patience!”

The father gathered up his papers, unperturbed that neither the wife nor he was hearing the other, they both had peeves to air and time came at a premium. Pat had miraculously come home for the night and Shekhar was not about to waste this event. The youngster often slept over at his friends’ and was so self-absorbed  at home, an array of digital gadgets plugged into his physiology that it took forbearance and tremendous self-esteem to break through the opaque exterior.

Reaching out with trepidation now, Shekhar knocked at the teenager’s door, Pat liked his privacy. “Could he be watching pornography?” the father shook his head to clear the thought. He entered hesitantly at the silence from inside. There was the sound of water rushing in the toilet. Brushing aside his ‘deer in the headlight’ moment, he decided to wait, lowering himself on the single bed in the room. He skimmed the usual disarray in the room, looking up at the sound of the latch clicking. Pat had frozen at the sight of his father bunking in his room.

“Dad, please say you are not parked here to discuss my future plans! We have gone over that an umpteen number of times. ”

“Well, I did hope to bounce some thoughts off you…..” Shekhar trailed off lamely.

“I am good on email father, how about shooting me one, I promise to be prompt.”

Shekhar stared at the floor, his heart heavy and then heaved himself up, fighting down images of the two year old toddler he used to carry on his shoulders. His dismissive young son had already busied himself with rummaging around in his dresser. ‘How trustingly the baby would snuggle into his neck that lifetime ago’ Shekhar continued to reminisce. Back then, the roles had been reverse, Pat was the one seeking closeness. The older man nearly tripped over the doorway on his way out but what was this, Pat indeed was calling out to him, “Hold it Dad, have you any use for these? I am going off action for a while, need to keep it together, my SAT and all, you know how it is. I can’t afford distractions at this stage of my life.”

The room went suction vacuum still as the man squinted with his mid-forty vision at the packet the boy was holding out.

A cheerful pouch of Kamasutra Wet n Wild! 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lifetime (Micro Fiction)

It was her last day at work. She collected herself and entered the imposing black gates one final time. There was some trepidation, also a state of wonder at what the place had come to mean to her. How could a concrete space take on life in one’s gut, she berated herself silently.  It really hurt! 

Butterscotch light and sharp green reflections beamed off the red of the school building. She dreaded going up to her class room to look out of the window at the brilliant white canopy over their basketball ground with that thought that she would never again stand there in a teacher’s capacity. Oh yes, it was a bonnier, sunnier campus now that she was leaving. 

“Was it just the lighting and the wide open spaces punctuating the concrete structures that made the organization so appealing?” She had heard many voices credit the school’s inherent cheer to the proximity of temples close by. How wondrous that a brick and mortar place have affection and humour drip off its columns, the corridors humming with cheerful chatter. Smiles hovered on faces in that building and there was time for the purely human. Impervious to the world spinning busily outside, the school went about the business of learning and teaching at a calm, confident pace.

“So much to etch in the mind for a takeaway!” she told herself on that final meandering.

It felt terribly alone on the climb up the stairway to the top floor. Her mind kept up the monologue to self, “There are inanimate places more powerful than living, breathing souls.” Pausing at the landing, she exhaled. The air washing over the bannister pulsated with bits of those who had built this institution. There it was, enveloping her, the pride, the pain, the appreciation and lack of, the investing of selves, the presence of an entire community gone by.

There was also the other, slightly acrid note "Like the oasis in a punishing desert, organisations keep you going, just about paying you to exist”.  At the end, you get to leave with gratuity, pension, provident fund and this echo in your ears, if at all “I kept the legacy going”. There are no great riches, no grand growth except for the sum total of a 7th pay commission or so, bonding with colleagues over half-pay leaves, rainy day holidays and staff welfare events……hail the sisterhood of harmless, half-serious, posturing office politics that keeps the juices flowing.

At the entrance to her classroom, she paused, remembering the first day she had entered the space all of those thirty three long years ago. It was going to be a busy day. There was a farewell tea in her honour and a few formalities to be tied up with the administration.
By way of gesture, there was also an audience with the institution head, “We wish you all the best Madam. But we cannot write you a letter of appreciation or recommendation. Staff in the past has taken us to court, claiming promotions or increments based on our commendation letters. We wish you the very best Madam.”

Not all that many hours later, she stood outside the structure she had helped breathe life into. It felt like a shorn stone, chewed around and spat out as though by a giant, placid, unmovable giant anaconda. All that throbbed in her mind were the words, “Thirty three long years.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Shell (Micro Fiction)

“My brothers are perfect fathers and husbands,” Kanta willed herself to stay calm through this routine idealization, briefly locking eyes with Vani, the younger and only other daughter-in-law in the family.

“What is our karma that has brought us into the same clan,” the two would often wonder aloud to each other. They shared the bond of alterity, of being the other, outsiders in a way. But for now, it was self-glorification time for the biological band. “We had a wonderful childhood, everyone is blessed…the two brothers in particular are saints for nurturing their families in so complete a manner,” and so on it would go.

Having heard the aggressive praise once too often, Kanta tuned it out, the exaggerated words becoming a static behind the raw flashes in her mind. Her healer had warned against entering a circular thought pattern of pain with its mortal effect on her cells and tissues but the violent images would not abate.

Kanta’s eye caught a movement. Vani was plucking at her sari fold, caught under Nawab, their golden retriever. The tug intensified, drawing Kanta’s attention to a purple bruise on her pale forearm. “We can help you budget your finances and manage living expenditure smarter so that our brothers are less stressed,” the sister was intoning, as the sari discreetly crept up over what was quite certainly a marital night’s fruit.

“We are a very close knit family, our parents could not have done us any better, our mother stayed alone for our education, our father was a thoroughbred professional,” the folklore continued relentlessly. While the family beamed patronizingly, in a self-conscious bubble of smugness, the two outsiders struggled with force smiles. Centuries of conditioning and a lifetime of Bollywood viewing had rendered them incapable of recognizing abuse.

“Oh, it is nearly four thirty, time for tea and snacks,” the two got up as though on cue, dropping their masks once safely inside the kitchen. Vani held out the bruised arm for Kanta’s inspection, “Last night, there was an argument over house repairs. This building needs constant maintenance……you are fortunate, at least Bhaiyya Ji does not hit.”

Kanta turned away quickly, placing the pan on the gas range, grabbing for the makings of tea. Her wounds were invisible but she carried a chronic sore from her own marital space. Her husband hid so well under the family mantle, his position as the paragon of virtue set in stone. To all appearances he was gentle and thoughtful.  She alone knew his secret armour.

He practiced his sabotage from behind a brick wall, unavailable and distant. Her family would have called her crazy if she ever admitted to feeling alone, unimportant and rejected.  Who would believe how invisible it felt to be among such a mutual admiration society?