Friday, September 26, 2014

Options (Micro Fiction)

“I love you baby; you come first for me; there is nothing more important in my life” Suheena’s head fell back with fatigue at this exhibition of relentless assurance. She watched the earnest young mother from her TV recliner, hovering and fussing over her primary school kids. “Oh, you are trying hard Tina” her tone was sardonic “treat your children with respect, do not baby talk, appeal to their sense of reason, educate them on options, offer choices and let them make the call…..your parenting tenets are clearly in line with modern theory and thought.”

“Harrummph!” The dismissive sound came from the master bedroom. “What’s gone wrong with my family, they are forever minding their Ps and Qs? It is not our way in India to be so apologetic and grateful all the time. There are some things owed, expected and given without a thought, you don’t have to keep thanking and saying sorry” their grandmother ranted from her invalid bed, clearly offended at the excessive and unfamiliar social graces in the air.

“Nani, it is all right…..they respect each other in their country. We presume a whole lot here, in ours. Neither is right or wrong, it is a cultural thing” Suheena watched Tina lead her children into the kitchen for a discussion on the day’s menu. “This is going to take time” she chuckled to herself, leaning forward to get a good view of the anthropological drama about to unfold. The young mother began soon enough.

“How would you like your milk today kids? Cold or hot?”

“I want it cold, Devi will probably drink hers warm” little Karan cocked his head at the sister.

“Sure, would you like to try chocolate Horlicks in the milk? It is a popular brand in India” the mother began to warm up to the decision making process.

“Mom, it says here the product is for women. Devina can use it, I refuse to!” Karan’s voice went up a sharp.

“Absolutely, that’s fine” Tina acquiesced  soothingly.  “Would you like your milk in a cup or a glass? Here, take your pick? Don’t hesitate.”

“I like the tumbler, Devi likes that Twilight Forever cup.”

“How about you dip your Oreos in the milk, dunk them like I do?” this was one parent eager to lay it all.

“I’ll pass; just the fluid please!”

“Hey kids, look…..Nani has arranged to have all three available…..there is toned, double toned and full cream milk. Isn't she considerate?”

“Mum, you know I am allergic to the fat in a hybrid cow’s milk….they have withdrawn it from our school meal plan too.”

“Well, you both returned negative for the lactose tolerance hydrogen breath test. It means your bodies can break down and absorb lactose. Now shall we drink it here or out in the garden?” the mother was certainly eager to please.

“I don’t care Mum, let’s just pour the double toned!”

“How hungry are you? It is getting close to breakfast time. You want to drink the milk now or keep it for your toast and cereal? You have options.”

“You know what Mum; options spook me. No milk today, no way!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Hoax (Micro Fiction)

A bride’s welcome is an electrifying event on Armed Force Bases.

“The guiding principle is recall value. She must always cherish that first brush with our way of life,” Namita remembered her husband’s company commander laying out this informal social policy at one of their regular gatherings. “What if she gets turned off for good with this nonsense?” Namita was new enough at that time to express concern. The response had been confident, “Oh, these escapades become the stuff of service legend and most often they are evoked by the wives themselves.”

“I am telling you Mum, there is no better mother-in-law than the Indian Armed Forces!” she had excitedly told her mother on the phone that evening. “You have to see how wife after wife slips into the social stream, conforming and converting sooner than later to her adopted family,” it had bemused her mother to hear this from her once fiercely independent daughter.

But this was odd. Without so much as a briefing, let alone a brain storming, the unit was trooping into the “Station Run” to welcome the new couple. “What is the prank?” someone voiced the dominant thought as the welcome bus checked out of the guard room. There was silence and it crossed Namita’s mind “Perhaps we are finally toning down the circus.”

The vehicle trundled busily along the deserted city link road. At the height of terrorist activity in Punjab, you would be lucky to spot even a tractor chugging home at dusk from the farms. But true to their disciplined and time bound fibre, business done some three hours later, the merry gang was heading back, charged up on the somewhat shy magic between the bride and the groom. As they hit the half way milestone, the bus unexpectedly swerved. Stunned at the violent jolt, the occupants sat up, a frisson metastasizing in the aisle at the shouts and sounds of vigorous scuffles.  The front door of the vehicle banged open and five turbaned men charged up the steps, their guns aimed at the dark interior. “Give us the bridal gold, quick,” they growled from behind blankets slung around their torsos in the winter air.

They waved a chunky flashlight on the blanching faces. It didn’t take them long to spot Kitty, the bride. Everyone turned to Vikas seated alongside her, willing him to stand up for his wife. He remained rooted to his seat, poker faced, as the men dragged his brand new spouse off the bus. A community paralysis had taken hold of the unit. The men had turned to stone and the women had entered into the most abject of survival modes. Mitali was holding out her mangalasutra beseechingly. Sophie was plonked on her pudgy toddler, desperate to keep him out of harm’s way. Shalini had achieved an acrobatic feat by folding her frame into half under her own seat.

Kitty’s piteous cries made them cringe. As the awful wailing grew weaker, the sound of a siren took over, swelling exponentially. It was the police, advancing at a clip! Someone had called the 181. All heads turned to Goofy, the commanding officer. The confusion was confounded at the ruckus near the front door all over again. A huddle was force entering the bus, Kitty in the lead! The bus resounded with a collective gasp at the sight of five of the unit bachelors, minus their turbans and blankets now. “Quick Goofy sir, back to base, the police will complicate things” they were entreating even as they threw their squash racquets into the back seat over stunned heads. The memorable welcome to be had just disbanded officially.

Goofy sir barked the order to move, reaching for the phone vibrating urgently in his shirt pocket. Startled out of incredulity, the bus collected itself and powered up hurriedly. Having finished listening to the guardroom duty officer at the other end, Goofy sir replaced the instrument slowly and turned to fix Vikas with a glare, “There is a lady at our main gate….she says she is the real new bride of Major Vikas Gupta! You double crossing, wife ridden rat!!”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Transference (Micro Fiction)

Kamini inhaled deeply and held her breath at the door, exhaling slowly through the mouth as she approached the teachers’ table. High school kids sweated differently; her nose itched at the overactive apocrine glands in the classroom.

Alarmed at the rising incidents of teen stress, the management had mandated a weekly dose of moral science for the senior school. Her track record of lifelong learning and a talent for seeing the larger picture had marked Kamini an ideal life coach and her day was well underway. “Our lesson today is on assuming responsibility for what we are and the person we want to be” she had barely begun, marker pen poised on the white board.

“My parents messed me up in the head Ma’am! I do not want to take the engineering entrance. I want to become a scuba diver” Atul was first off the block, his educated belligerence echoing in assessing eyes around the room.

Kamini put the marker down, falling back into her chair heavily; this filial blame game had begun to come up more and more. It sounded dissonant in a culture that venerated parenting, a mother’s role in particular. She skimmed the faces trained on her, “Are there others in this class who share Atul’s anger?” Shaily pushed her chair back tentatively, “Yes Ma’am, it bothers me to have my mother say she preferred being “my mum rather than a chum”. My friends have parents they can really let their hair down with.” A titter rose at this from the far corner where Bikram stood waving his hand, “Look, we did not ask to be born. I think it is criminal to bring children into this chaotic world and then want to control them completely.”

Kamini turned towards the sound of a throat being cleared; it was Kriti, the school head girl, “Ma’am, you have a social system so deep rooted in a judgmental hierarchy, it is easy to look for someone or something to blame!”

The ensuing silence was broken by a rude movement at the door. Shambhu, the Principal’s peon did not stand on ceremony with any of the staff, least of all with the teachers, “Madam Ji, Principal Sir wants you.”  Shaking her head at the howl of protest from the class at this interruption, Kamini hurried to the lobby.

Taruna Kalra and her mother were standing stiffly outside the Principal’s office, ragged words clashing in low tones. “I feel repressed at home, I need space….there is too much drama already in my life” the young girl was shaking with anger.

The mother stood as though turned to stone. She had fixed her eyes at a spot on Kamini’s hair. Her voice was a flat drone, “I am numb. My chest feels like I have broken a rib. I did my best. I must not cry. You are treating me like I were an invisible, middle aged woman”

“Get yourself a life mother and stop worrying about me!” Taruna continued to lash out, stung and hurting. Kamini watched the parent splinter in slow motion and the daughter crack with an impotent fury; life could bring such pain. The two women dragged on the laden air, blinking rapidly to swallow the salt pricking their eyelids.

The parent moved first; Kamini stepping back to make way. At the sound of the summon bell from inside the office, Mrs Kalra broke stride and turned to look back at her daughter, “I love you but you no longer resemble me. You resemble your times!" Her daughter’s plaintive cry vainly tried to catch up, “Principal Sir is calling us inside and now you are making me feel really alone!”