Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pattaya (Nano Fiction)

The air around them jiggled with jollity. Five Punjabi women on wanderlust by themselves, no marital benevolence in immediate attendance! Ensconced in a privileged bubble of petulant peach, their Christian Dior bags hushed everyone in range except the greasy lad on the first flight of his life to Bangkok with his friends.

“Aunties, why are you going to Pattaya at your age? It is a shame. You are going to bring a bad name to our country. You all should be visiting Haridwar to take a religious dip in the Ganges. What are you going to do on those beaches?”

The aisle erupted with rambunctious laughter. They wagged their Mac nail paint tipped fingers at the young flock, “We specially picked that town for all the hanky-panky that goes on there! Don’t you all know that the new sixties are the new forties?  And why should the young people have all the fun?!” A fresh burst of merriment bubbled out of them to see the boys beat their foreheads in disapproving despair.

Clad in designer linen, their fingers drooping with cocktail rings that winked, the ladies radiated an odd air of earned brashness. They had been good mothers and wives and had the self-assuredness of lives lived well enough, to give themselves regular breaks such as the one they were on.

“We will be at the Hilton, Pattaya. The Jomtien beach is better, a bit away and cleaner. Where will you all be staying?” they could afford their friendliness. “We, well, we won an all-inclusive vacation giveaway, four day, three night’s luxury at the Courtyard, South Pattaya,” the youngsters responded gleefully. Several pairs of tended eyebrows shot up at this and remained suspended under the colored hairlines until the two groups stopped to say their goodbyes at the Suvarnabhumi airport luggage carousel. “Be good!” the lads admonished the aunties indulgently. They were turning away when one of the matrons beckoned the greasy one closer, “Here, take this, we have two. It is our farewell gift to you all. Use it. Place it at a strategic point. These hotels are quick to compensate for poor hygiene. If nothing else, you can threaten them with a bad review on TripAdvisor.”

The bevy tittered away in the distance, leaving the curious young men staring down in silence at the gift. It was a six inches long, lifelike, realistic rubber lizard!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Full Circle (No Murder Tonight)

Please read and Upvote my absorbing page turner "Full Circle" entered in Litagram's "No Murder Tonigh" short story contest.

The story art cover is by Sadhana Atri.

Copy and paste:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jealousy (Nano Fiction)

His voice dipped to a pianissimo when directed at Coco. “Hey baby, you are such a cutie, look at those ears, so, so very soft!”

The man and his beast thrived thus in their mutual bubble of dependence and acceptance. Their needs were well met and their bond, toxin free. Their moments together were of pure joy. She would charge, bounding at him as he stood at the door, dangling the leash. Their connection showed even when she flashed the whites of her eyes if he ever said, “Sorry, busy. Your mistress will walk you today!”

Sukriti would respond with mock annoyance, “She gets more affection from you than I do! This makes me jealous.”  Blithe would come the master’s reply, “Well, if you looked at me with that same adoration, I would treat you special too.”

It was their silver wedding anniversary a week later. Both sides of the families were attending the large party the couple was hosting for their friends. Euphoric on the effervescence of champagne and good will, when the clan returned home, their chatter fell into a shocked silence. Coco was sprawled in an untidy heap of Sukriti’s belongings. There was a mauled blue velvet box, two damaged lip gels, some torn fabric and a silver heel chewed through.

The dog whimpered as her mistress lashed out at the bewildered husband, “Treat your dog like a human and she will treat you like a dog!”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Happiness (Nano Fiction)

God was on a survey.  A panic wave had hit him from around the Shastri Stadium. He rode down his beam to an abrupt stop at a rickety bench. A mother hunched over her son’s cricket bag. “I am a mess Bhagwan. My grandmother prepared my mother to be a homemaker. My mother raised me with the capacity to earn if need be. I am confused over what I am trying to equip my son for. I hear I should facilitate boredom for his creativity to flourish. But it also seems he will have to pitch in with housework. Will he be the sole breadwinner?”

God rolled his eyes, “Humans! I don’t remember wiring them with self-destruction. The template will have to return to the design table.” He prompted the anguished woman to resume.

“I just want my child to be happy. His father and I are bringing him up to be a collaborative, compassionate, creative, committed young citizen of the world. We pour all our time, energy and resources into him but we find ourselves improvising, one day at a time. Should I enrol him in a German or a Mandarin class?”

God raised his hand, “Enough woman! Joy is a by-product. Does he dust your drawing room and walk the pet? Teach him productivity and morality and reciprocity, it is all you can do. His happiness will grow on the tree he plants, nurtures and protects with his own bare hands.You breathe".

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Selfie (Nano Fiction)

Like any other award ceremony, there were two camps. One glowed while the other glowered. The cameras however, were common. People slipped effortlessly into their chronic photo poses. Selfies abounded. There were group selfies, pair selfies and the genuine selfie. Who got cut off in which frame depended entirely on the length of the photographer’s arm.

Kaveri‘s ipad was rapidly running out of memory.

There is this modern tendency to pout in pictures. The veterans of profile pictures know precisely which angle to present. In a near universal drill, you inhale, tuck in the belly, stretch up the neck, fluff out the hair, widen the eyes and stretch those lips across the pearlies. Voila! “Let’s just check the picture is all good”, declared Kaveri.  It rarely is! One or the other will whinge, “No, let’s take a couple more, quick ones, then we can delete what we don’t like.”

Kaveri began to flit around the group frantically, trying to stay ahead of her family’s patience. Also, the clouds were getting ready to deliver their plump load. Everyone shuffled hastily under the closest door arch, huddling around her to pore over the ipad gallery.

It was a surprisingly happy group. No one noticed the flaw in any one’s picture; they were so busy looking at themselves!

All you truly own is yourself, don’t they say?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Plan (Nano Fiction)

The Singh family gathered themselves and hunkered down. Their matriarch, Dr Jasneet Kaur, had a crunch of a professional event approaching. The preparations would rival those for the Battle of Bogra. “Anticipate and project ahead and think of everything!  There are thumb rules.  It all takes longer than planned, list it out and keep striking the tasks off,” the doctor had little faith in her family’s retention power.

Things went as planned. The car was tanked up, its wheels pumped and rearing. Jasneet ran her green pen through points reading: clothes, stand by saving of content, touch base with the host hospital, stationery, phone charge, water bottle, coffee flask and wallet look over. The family help was summoned and briefed on the mission.

The evening before, Jasneet finally laid her head back on her revolving chair. She sat gazing at her peach colored saree hanging on the wardrobe. Her half closed eyes swivelled to the shoe rack. Her comfortable Hush Puppies had been given the cream treatment. Just before calling it a night, the doctor scanned her to-do list one final time before crumpling it and aiming it at the dustbin. She turned in, pulling the quilt slowly over her slack body. The radiator’s glow cupped her smiling face.

The Singh household was jarred awake by a hair raising shriek from the bathroom. Doctor Jasneet had left the geyser to chance!

It isn’t always that haste alone makes waste.

Patience (Nano Fiction)

Silky jiggled for joy, her weight would not let her jump. But no amount of refreshing the screen would update the “out for delivery” status on her courier tracker. Her college acceptance was on its way and she couldn’t wait to tear open the long awaited package.

“Bhaiyya ji, stay alert please. The delivery boy should not take my papers back because no one opened the door,” she briefed their domestic help in a tone of utmost urgency. Father, mother, grandmother were all placed on a vigilant standby. Twice she had braved the 47 degree Celsius heat outside to peep into their mailbox. “You know he is going to take your signature,” her brother mocked her. “Have some patience!”
There were three false alarms. All of them were rewarded with glares from the college applicant. The laundry guy was particularly crushed to see the disappointment on her face. “I shouldn’t have rung the bell,” he chided himself.

Silky’s mood swung like Tarzan. She flitted between tasks, unable to keep at anything long enough. Soon enough, she was rubbing her forehead and taking long breaths. Completely drained at the futility of the exercise, Silky decided to step out. Her electric blue Scooty was swallowing the corner turn when the Fedex delivery van drew up at her gate.

A watched pot never boils now, does it?

Inertia (Nano Fiction)

Maneka was used to it. “Let’s try something different for New Year this time,” was all she had said.

The announcement met with groans of dismay. “It won’t work!” said Gina. “We don’t have enough time,” was Neema’s opinion. And Rajat was categorical, “Too much effort.”

Maneka had learnt the hard way that the one who floats the idea gets to swim or sink with it. Alone! But she had made it to the shore so often that resistance no longer fazed her. The smile would just get broader as she pressed on.

In time, a few of her group began to make some listless motions. There were late shows, forgotten chores, and casual follow up, outright protests on occasions. But miraculously enough the venue got booked, permissions received and the event minutiae finalized.

India Gate had not seen a party like the eve of 2014. A hundred and fifty children from the SOS Village at Faridabad fetched up to usher in 2015 under the bright shade of India’s historic monument. The city’s Radio FM broadcasted the event and the SOS newsletter touted it as a model of civic engagement. The group was ecstatic. It suddenly became hard to tell who was claiming the evening the loudest.

Matter does remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force

Cur (Nano Fiction)

The three of them stood with bowed heads around the old tree. A tall, strapping senior officer, his helper and the lady wife in her morning walk rig, a baton in hand to keep street dogs at bay.

The officer struck a match briskly, dipping into the bag held out reverentially by his jawan. There was the usual clutter of marigold flowers, glittering red scarves, earthen lamps and a smattering of meagre coins. It was hard to tell the presiding deity from the several clay statues under the thick foliage.

At some minutes to 7 am the tiny cantonment was coming alive. Our trio bowed deeply, hands folded, the couple making offerings and observing all the rituals of a signature puja. In the silence that followed, the three souls sought to connect with the almighty, seeking the choicest of blessings. Having satisfied themselves they had been in order, they gathered up and stepped back slowly, a glow of self-satisfaction stealing up as they turned away and towards home.

They would have barely gone ten and a quarter steps when a scrawny, mangy, flea ridden cur stole up to their spot, lifted an emaciated hind limb and sprayed forcefully, all over their effort.

One being’s meat is at times, another being’s poison.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Long Story Short

My winning story "Twitteromance" will soon be published as part of a short story anthology Notion Press is bringing out on this 25th. The book is entitled "Long Story Short" and will be available for purchase on Flipkart, Amazon, Notion Press store etc. You will also be able to buy the publication as an ebook. Do keep a look out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Twitteromance wins a prize

The Litagram results are out! 

'Twitteromance' has the second highest contest points and will be published with twenty other stories by Notion Press in their anthology of short stories.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Twitteromance (Please Vote)

Dear Friends and Followers,
I am working on my second book of micro fiction. To ease the publishing process, I have entered an original story in the Litagram Viral Story Writing Contest. I would love for you all to read the story and upvote it and help me win this contest. I am doing well on their Leaderboard but then, it IS a Viral Story Contest. Please copy and past this link or use the link I am placing on the immediate right panel.
Big big thank you!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Metrosexual (Micro Fiction)

“Cockroach..ugh..there on the croissant, please, do something,” thequeue at the CafĂ© Coffee Day counter of the Italian language school tittered. Had it been a girl protesting the lack of hygiene, they would have heard her out in a tolerant, even righteous silence, telling themselves that a man may not even have noticed the creepy crawly. But it was Chinshu sounding the alarm, Chinshu with his swaying walk and a glittering hearts studded pink wallet.

Vanya moved up closer to him at the cash counter, “Hey help me decide, which of these two sandwiches is lower on carbohydrates?” Vanya’s incredulous expression was completely lost on Chinshu . He went right ahead, calculated the calories, instructed the attendant on grilling his food just right and took his time picking brown sugar packets and mustard sauce sachets. 

The two hurried to grab a table. Class would begin in ten minutes and the professors were very punctual. “You had your eyebrows plucked?” Vanya’s tone was accusing as she ran her fingers guiltily up her hairy leg under the table. “Have you tried the new Jasmine hand cream in the market? I love the smell. And they have this beautiful birthmark camouflage procedure at this parlour,” Chinshu informed her, focusing on eating neatly while plucking at the strawberry patch near his right temple.

“Hurry up Chinshu, elevator, quick, it is going up!” Vanya led the way up to their floor and they entered the classroom. The din halted mid-sentence at their appearance. Their batch mates suddenly became overly busy to hide their mortification at being caught discussing Chinshu’s metrosexual persona. Vanya glared at a woman friend who was clearly mocking him with her censorious expressions. “Gay,” someone emitted the word forcefully.

They ignored everyone and dived into their session, under the watchful eye of a native instructor who was quite clearly a man in regular touch with his feminine side too. He often spoke of the well-loved Italian clothing and accessories brands to the students, all the time shifting weight in his fabulous floral loafers.

Class over, Vanya and Chinshu struck their usual trail to the NGO named “Mardani”. It was a common interest in activism and gender studies that had brought them together. They were two young people with quivering antennae, picking anomalies, dissonance and restlessness in the space that had created them. Vanya was an avowed feminist who sought masculinity in men despite a hypothetical empathy with a man’s right to his femininity. And Chinshu often traced his own leanings to his upbringing. A first generation college graduate in his family at Demul , Spiti valley, Chinshu dreamt of setting up his own restaurant in Italy. He was also making up for lost time with his eager adoption of the most current lifestyle trends.

“I am very confused Vanya. My girlfriend is angry with me a lot these days. I get upset if she does not reply to my text immediately. I also feel she does not say “I love you” as often as she should. She says I sulk a lot. What do you guys want woman? A man’s man or a woman’s man or some calibrated combination? Don’t you see that what men have today is merely a phantom status?”
Vanya was dismissive, “Shut up. You Indian men are brought up to just be sons. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

There was a village woman creating a ruckus near the car parking. She looked out of place in her traditional mountain tochay. Vanya would have driven past her had it not been for her distraught face and frantic waving about of her arms. Also, she kept pointing up at the NGO building. Vanya pulled over.

“Please help me. I can’t find my child. It has been two years and no news. We checked at the Italian Language School. No one seems to know. My husband and son have filed an FIR. The police say that the few calls we have received have been from this area.”

“How old is your child? Tell me the name and description? I know most people in this building.”

“Her name is Charini. She is tall. There is a red birthmark on her right forehead. I told her how dangerous a place Delhi can be. She promised to be careful!”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dystopia (Micro Fiction)

“I mean, I don’t know but our girls are really crossing all limits these days,” Namita’s pride in her two sons had dimmed a bit lately, what with the girls topping national exams and storming every male bastion in sight. “Have you seen how they walk and talk these days? So much aggression and impatience!”

The group sat nursing their drinks under a mirror work garden umbrella. The delicious winter sun and some well-groomed horses cantering a mere length off on the polo ground, the restful air sidestepped Namita’s discordant observation. “I am a guilty party, I will have to admit,” Bhavna broke the wary reverie with an admission, “We have raised our girls to be self-respecting persons. They will probably assert their ideas and not be afraid to have their needs met.”

“But why get them motorbikes Bhavna? It is a bit inappropriate. Our Kush kept begging for one but we refused to give in, he rides a Vespa now. Two wheelers are so dangerous in this horrible traffic,” the rest felt safe nodding their assent on this one. There were other mothers of girls sitting quietly there, assessing the flow of the conversation so as to judge when to dive in.

The ladies stirred their mocktails, looking out for the mini luxury coach that would take them on a select shopping trip. They made for a fetching picture, their Fendi and Persol and Rayban sunglasses contrasting with the colourful beverage parasols. Outwardly successful and in their prime of life, they were struggling in fact, to come to terms with the global culture that was inhaling their children like a giant anaconda. “Children are hooking up these days, they are starting to drink alcohol and use marijuana much younger and don’t even ask what the girls are up to,” Namita carried the generic unease forward.

“Nonsense, this is only a metropolitan trend and only in ‘those’ sort of families,” Kavita slapped the idea away hastily, too scared to permit it any closer. “And what is this Hookah Bar all about?” she directed the question at Bhavna, as though to suggest that of course, her daughters would know.

Without waiting for an answer though, she jumped ahead of everyone into the coach pulling up. It took all of fifteen minutes for the group to settle in comfortably with the complimentary shopping bags, the refreshments and the product brochures. As the young company hostess bent down to begin handing out the water bottles, Namita’s eyes snapped with alarm, “Look at that bum cleavage. Do her parents not object? I would never let my Luv and Kush wear anything like that.”

The vehicle came to life, its well-oiled engine softening the animated squawking  of women seeing their heaviest investments threatened, “You people come from those typical middle class backgrounds, just get a copy of Ira Trivedi’s ‘India in love’ and read,” Manika spoke with the finality of a Supreme Court Judge.

“I caught my son surfing porn the other day. I have told him he cannot lock the door anymore,” others strained to catch the sheepish admission made in a lowered voice. “I believe Vanya’s daughter is not getting married because she is seeing a girl,” some shook their heads helplessly. “These kids are putting themselves out there, they are moving too fast, I don’t know if our society is ready for them. It would be a tragedy to have them fall through the cracks,” Bhavna voiced her concern.

“The mothers are to blame. They should bring up their girls to believe that the genders are essentially unequal!” there was no abating Namita’s skirt censure.”

More voices joined the chorus. “Have you seen the i-pill panels in the DLF Promenade washrooms? It is accessory to mischief!”

“The sex was consensual in that Dimapur lynching. My son has to fight this girl off, would you believe this? He finally had to block her on his FB and email.”

“It is a shame baba. My Luv and Kush, 1992 born but I still buy them their boxers,” on a note of pride from Namita.

The free flow of revelations was arrested at the Hidesign Boutique in Connaught Place, “Ma’am, we are going to the parking, I will be back soon. You all could meanwhile begin walking under the marquee,” the hostess drove off in the bus.

The group were almost past a youth clothing store when Namita did an abrupt about turn. She stood paralyzed at the entrance, eyes unblinking. Narrowing them a little, she tried to focus. It was! It was indeed her Luv, trying on frilly tops and lacy stoles. The culturally imperious lady shopkeeper was sitting as though turned to stone, watching him with distaste.

The women! Thanks heaven they had ambled ahead. Namita scampered in their wake, “You know, our kids are just being reactionary. You know how they want to be radically different at their age, create their own identity, claim their uniqueness. It is natural, this individuation. I appreciate Bhavna’s views on giving them space,” the covey halted in surprise at more than the breathlessness in the tone.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Therapy (Micro Fiction)

Surely that chair is designed to antagonize! It is almost as though it is deliberately placed at a confrontational angle to the client.

Saloni lowered herself onto the double sofa tentatively, the husband already having registered his impatience at this couple therapy by rudely plonking ahead of her. He made a show of adjusting his coat and jiggling the Honda Civic keys. Without saying a word, he was in fact shouting out aloud, “I don’t know what I am doing here.” The rude bustle eventually died down under the Psychotherapist’s assessing gaze.

“Such beady eyes, those. Why is she looking at us as though we are specimens under her microscope? I don’t like her,” Saloni told the voice in her head to shut up, they were obviously expected to begin talking, there would be a charge of Rs 1000/- for a fifty minute session. She cleared her throat, watching her husband’s right hand go in tandem to his forehead.

The therapist leaned forward, pen ready on the case sheet, “May I use a recorder?” The room recoiled with the couple’s joint gasp of horror, “Oh no, there really isn’t much to say!”

“Well, you have driven a long way to be here, surely there is some expectation of this session,” the therapist’s tone was even and calm. Saloni kick started her throat for the second time, casting a tentative look at the man waving her to proceed.  But the brakes came slamming down again. The room remained quiet for a good nine minutes during which Saloni shredded a Kleenex and her partner scrolled his social network on the smartphone.

“Perhaps the memories are too painful,” the couple nearly jumped out of their skin at the carefully modulated voice of the professional facing them. “Well, actually everything is fine but it is just that I feel sad all the time,” there, it was out. Just as the therapist settled back encouragingly, the hitherto busy mobile phone was slapped down on the peg table, “I don’t understand this feelings business. I earn well, I don’t drink, nor smoke, I am a faithful husband and I don’t approve of physical violence. We have two daughters whom I dearly love. Please explain what is missing.”

Another eleven minutes of silence. “I need to go to the washroom,” Saloni made her escape. Once safely inside the closed door, she looked at herself in the mirror over the sink, scolding her own face, “This is a mistake. You have no idea what to say and he is not helping. But the talk meter is running and you better not let his money go down the drain.” She stepped out with renewed resolve, just a wee bit bolstered from her time alone.

Taking a place diagonally opposite her husband this time, she squared her slim shoulders and looked the therapist in the eye, “It is the little things that hurt the most. There is nothing major. But he brushes me off, makes me feel small in countless ways. Every night, he throws back only his side of the counterpane, as though I do not exist. He calls a simple hug a waste of time. He considers himself a first rate husband because he is not stopping me from being myself! Rather than feeling proud of my accomplishments, they make him feel small. Any sound of alarm from the passenger seat is taken as a personal challenge to his driving skills. He does not reassure, offer hope or lose any sleep over me. He told me once that he could have made do with any woman and that there really wasn’t anything special about me. There is no compassion or kindness, almost as though I am already overcompensated, what with the boarding, lodging and domestic help.”

The man pushed himself up. “Let’s go. Personal happiness is not as important as the larger picture. There is the family, our responsibilities, the society. We have a good marriage. And therapy is not in our culture!”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Repression (Micro Fiction)

“You have everything. Good looks, youth, health, great education, opportunities…why the rage? What more could you possibly want?”

Arjan whistle breathed through his mouth, his bewildered eyes locked with the defiant glimmer in his teenage daughter’s glare. The air bristled, their hearts raced and emotions ran riot. “This is your fault,” he turned his helpless anguish at Tia’s mother, “giving her so much liberty. You never let me put my foot down with her!”

Tia’s face began to crumple. She watched her mother rub her forehead. Guilt and fury fought in her head, “The migraine, but of course. It flares up every time there is a conflict in our home. How I wish Mum would come right out and say what is on her mind, this is shitty, I feel like running away from here. Why do I need to be around all of this, there is enough drama in my life, as it is?”
She clamped on her thinking horse, and exploded at her parents, “Patriarchy! I am not putting up with this, there has to be space enough to express emotions, it is inhuman, this constant appearance of control in families.”  It made her harsher to see their shattered expressions. “Ahahhaaa..,” her mother had begun her primate wail. “Mum, I can’t take this. Please! You have no clue what my generation is struggling with.”

“Oh my God, how can you speak to your father like that Tia? He carried you around in the snuggler, you have always been his princess,” the mother couldn’t believe this was happening to their family. “We did our best, were we not there for you kids always? Where have we gone wrong? We tried to be good parents!”

Tia threw her hands up in the air and bolted out of the room, past her grandmother rocking herself in the television room. The house froze for that split second, ears cocked for the sound of her scooter starting. The father peeked through the curtains, “She has gone,” the household exhaled and sat back in battle fatigue.

While Tia raced along the Ring Road towards the Hauz Khas Village to let steam off with some friends, her grandmother continued to stare at the breaking news on the television. It was about Leslee Udwin’s controversial documentary entitled “India’s daughter”. The senior watched, outwardly passive but distraught with conflicting emotions inside. Her fingers traced the prayer book lying unopened in her lap. Nirbhaya’s rapist Mukesh Singh and the defence lawyers were spouting cultural toxin:

“She should not be put on the street just like food…if you put her on the street, the dogs will definitely take her away”.
“We have the best culture, in our culture, there is no place for a woman.”
“You can’t clap with one hand…a girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy…only 20% girls are good.”

Tia’s mother had recovered enough to be bringing in a plateful of food for her mother-in-law, “Here Mummy ji, shall I get you the medicines?” The older eyes missed nothing, they saw and connected with that air of resignation, the tension of a body readying for blows. And unbidden they came, washing over their turbulent present, frames from another generation gone.

How could Mummy ji forget that late night when her adoring worship of her father had died a painful death? Daarji had returned home late from a party at the Clarks Shiraz. Bebeji had been livid, “These businessmen you associate with are not good people.” Words had begun to fly and accusations traded; the heat would have risen but for a sudden sound. Daarji had puckered his mouth and with all the force he could muster, he had spat at Bebeji. As long as she lived, Mummy ji knew that the memory of her mother banging her forehead on the flaky wall would haunt her.

The horror of that rejection, the impotent fear in her daughter-in-law’s face, her own state of abject dependence, she watched the young women swarm the television screen with their rebellious faces. A centuries old repression was striking vents. That dam of a devalued distress was riding precariously on a Scooty, eating up tar.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Trickster (Micro Fiction)

The mind is a trickster. Salma stood paralyzed, watching it thrash, “Who am I? That fabulous porcelain jug, do the others see the folds in its curvature? Does the pearly glow touch them the way it reaches my eyes? Why do I feel like I want to break free of my body and soar far away, liberated of the chains that life hooks into me? My heart is beginning to pick up speed. What if I scream? Will these people think I am crazy? Is there anyone here I can speak to without being judged or helped or rescued?”

The laptop beckoned her. She detached herself from her surroundings and settled down over the scrolling screen, “Depersonalization disorder,” her fingers manipulated the cursor expertly. There were stories online of the symptoms, the cure, and the experiences. A buzz began to grow in her ears. Her head gathered weight and the temples began to throb. In an unconscious gesture, she brought her hands up to cover her eyes, reading fearfully through splayed fingers.

One man had lived outside of his body for twenty years, settling for phone sex with his wife as a result. An ambitious young student had struggled with a blurred vision for months before seeking help from a doctor. There was a thirty something there, struck down with a malady during a high brought on by marijuana, battling his surrealist senses for ten long years. Salma read and moved as though she were underwater.

“Don’t you have class today?” her eyes flicked over her mother’s questioning face. Momentarily distracted by a grey hair poking that familiar mole on her chin, Salma shook her head viscously, all of a sudden feeling hemmed in and out of breath. “Are these my hands?” she narrowed her eyes at the two bands on them, the stones needed cleaning. She flexed her fingers, “I have lived with these for twenty eight years, but it doesn’t feel like we belong together anymore.” The sense of disconnect was growing and unknown to her family, Salma was going under a bell jar.

She boarded the metro train however, at her usual station that day. The drill was pat down and by sheer force of habit, she got up and began to move to the right sliding doors at her destination. But wait a moment, if the doors had not begun to whoosh right behind her. Confused out of her mind, she rotated around and stared at the opening gap, lurching forward abruptly in an attempt to make the exit. She stood shaking,, watching the train sucked into the tunnel ahead, completely alone in her disorientation. 

A throbbing had begun to emanate from the painful knot in her stomach. It felt like her innards had turned to sand and there was a dark, bottomless hole caving into her soul. She shook her head to clear the glop bubbling at her. But she was already beginning to see herself. There she stood, forlorn and frozen on the busy platform, a passenger stuck for direction.

Salma watched herself move ponderously onto the escalator. “There I go up in the lift,” she bobbed at a height over her body, “I have taken the wrong turn, the office is to the right.” The two continued their lumbering another few hundred metres or so, Salma and herself. “A tattoo salon?” Her body walked up to the artist who directed her to a chair. “This too shall pass: I want that on my forearm with a tiny butterfly in rust and yellow here,” the artist broke open a fresh needle.

Salma looked on at herself then shut her eyes, “I have got to feel! I have got to take my body back!!”  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Empowerment (Micro Fiction)

The presentation began to roll. Nice, understated music, pastel
colours and catchy taglines. ”Rise from home-makers to nation-makers”, Narendra Modi.  And, “The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women”, Charles Malik. There was more, “Can you better the condition of your women? Then there will be hope for your well-being. Otherwise you will remain as backward as you are now”, Swami Vivekananda.

 The smell of self-satisfaction overpowered the lemon grass room freshener.  A panellist of high achieving women sat on the red carpeted dais, their eyes skimming the heads of awe struck but just a wee bit intimidated audience. They avoided meeting anyone’s glance head on, one never knew what one might be asked to pitch in with. Mahima, a young, earnest woman, nearly driven into the ground with exhaustion and the burden of having taken on too much held the mike, “Ladies and Gentlemen, at the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, the challenge does not stop at empowering them, we have to ensure they are able to stay empowered.”

One after another, the women leaders nodded and spoke, sharing their stories of courage and grit. “This is a wonderful time to be a woman,” said the nation’s topmost woman CEO. “The sky is the limit,” came from the India Air Force’s first ever woman sky diver. Space scientists, best-selling authors, national activists, renowned artists, everyone was eager to contribute to the country’s feminine growth story.

Mahima was kept busy introducing the speakers, connecting with the hall full of audience, coordinating the digital communication and maintaining eye contact with the hospitality team. Her bosses looked on at her with an indulgent admiration, missing completely her compulsive vigil at the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime placed strategically under the lectern, but there was no message from Sarthak.

It had been two months. Mahima’s heart was sore, a yawning crevice splitting her down the middle. She half feared she was losing sight of herself in that dark hole. “Thank God for my work!” she often repeated to herself. “People like me in my company. They appreciate me. This is my home now. I cannot depend on anyone. I am alone, all by myself. I cannot burden anyone with my troubles. I have let my parents down. I hate whining. Everybody is dealing with their own issues,” her self-talk had become increasingly forced and obsessive.

To her numbing ears, it sounded like an explosion. Startled out of her brooding, it dawned that the cracking sound was that of several pairs of palms coming together in applause. “Mahima Dabhral… Mahima Dabhral,” her name was swelling out and over the hall. “And as a token of our appreciation of her outstanding performance, we award her the Star Employee Badge 2015,” the man at the mike looked faintly familiar! She shuffled up the two steps to receive the trophy, smiling vacantly at her startled employer. She had called her Dad the night before, “Baba, I am going to be on the Forbes list one day.” He had snorted dismissively, “You would still have to get married!”

“I walked out of my home. I am never going to call up Baba and Amma ever again. I only have my cat. I am alone”, intoned the voice in her head.

It was past 11 pm when she let herself into her silent apartment. “Jerry, Jerry,” she called out to her cat. There was no answer. The window was open. Jerry too had abandoned her. “I cannot trust anyone,” Mahima collapsed on the ledge and began to shut down, a faculty at a time. The red ants saw her from the tree overhanging the window. They began to pick their way to her, beginning with her forearms. 

Anxiety (Micro Fiction)

Driving home along the Sardar Patel Marg, Kunal decided to give his usual road rage a break. It was Saturday evening and there was the delicious prospect of an entire day ahead for him to do as he pleased. He turned up the car radio volume so as not to miss Bahua’s punchlines. ‘What a talent for spontaneity,” he chuckled to himself, scanning the traffic to see if other drivers were smiling as well.

“I am going to start my day with a bicycle ride. It would be a good day to go shopping for that barbecue grill. On the way home, I could pick up the non-veg from ‘Ham Aadmi Party’ at the Khanna market. It has been a while since I caught a play at the National School of Drama. Must check if a festival is currently on,” Kunal’s smile broadened at the multiple prospects.

The snarl showed no signs of fraying. From his vantage point on the flyover, the view was of an expanse of metallic roaches, sullen in their impatience to get home. You couldn’t even call it a crawl. The vehicle merely oscillated in their spots. Kunal swiped his Samsung smartphone, curling his right toes simultaneously to relieve the stiffness that came from manipulating car controls over extended drives. The newly installed “Hootsuite” on his Galaxy Tab gave him a stab of satisfaction, “Let me quickly manage my social network,” he sailed through his twitter, facebook and linkdIn feeds.

The red light ahead had come back on for the third cycle. “What a pretty young thing,”Kunal’s gaze halted briefly over the driver of a neighbouring Metallic Woodland Brown Renault Duster. “Tan! Nice colour. Well maintained,” he checked the car out first. “I wonder how she would be in bed,” Kunal caught himself visualizing the woman. He turned his face away to the black Scorpio on his left. “These defence guys really burn fuel on my money. China right there, wants to gulp down Tawang but our defence ministry will not end their pity party.”

At the end of an hour and a half of numbing negotiation running through the basement garage parking, a ride in the lift, when he let himself into his apartment he caught sight of the dinner invite on the corridor table. He had forgotten! The earlier enthusiasm at the week end dimmed somewhat at the thought of hauling his tired body in a nifty ceremonial to a fake social space where the jolly mask had to be kept firmly in place.

Kunal began his deliciously anticipated Sunday with a hangover. “I might as well complete my visa application online while I lounge in the bed,” he gathered all his paraphernalia before settling back with a double mug of hot tea. Two subheads down the format, his eye began to hover over the bright yellow Sticky Note taunting him from the upper corner of the laptop screen. “Dad and Mum’s anniversary, better order the cake and flowers while I am online,” he switched screens. While he was taking a call on the flower colours and the cake flavour, there was a pop-up with the Indo-Pak cricket score from Melbourne. He dived for the remote control, “How could I have forgotten? The whole country is out there, Rajdeep Sardesai calling cricket our religion and all…I can’t miss this match!”
The doorbell chimed. Kunal rose to answer in a state of mild irritation. “Sir, we are holding a welfare meet in the society park to discuss a cleanliness drive, please come down and join us.” 

Kunal’s free day had begun to make him really anxious!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Confessional (Micro Fiction)

Some people can give you both, a nick in the stomach and a stab in the heart. You are never
completely sure of the emotion they inspire.

Ira felt buffeted between sour jealousy and an admiring envy around Janice. “What is it about this woman? She enters a room in a cloud of music and leaves it in the debris of despair. It feels like the sun came in and then there is the cloud in her wake.”

The two shared history. Alumnae of the class of 1995 at the St. Mary’s Convent Allahabad, they had gone their ways in college. The sharpest image in Ira’s memory of her years with Janice was of their last day together at the Children’s Park, near their favourite concrete Elephant slide. Janice was twirling and shaking her ‘churmura cone’ in an effort to get the green peas up. Ira was silent with the effort of absorbing the news that Janice and family would be moving to another town on a transfer.

“I feel sick,” she remembered muttering to herself. They were moving out of the park gate towards the cycle stand. The evening was nearly upon them and there was an annoying anticipation of maternal stress at home, “You must come home before dark,” their mothers made a habit of worrying themselves to ill health. The two had mounted their black, lady’s Hero bicycles and were nearly out on the main road when Janice had braked abruptly, almost causing Ira to fall. Ira remembered them pulling over to the side. Janice had stood there on one foot, the other resting on the right pedal. The words would not come, only her eyes shone extra bright. “Are you feeling all right?” she had asked. She recalled the determined shake of Janice’s head and they were both off, soon enough, towards their respective homes.

Now, a decade and more later, they were back in the same space, two well-trained professionals at the TV 20, a news and entertainment channel. Ira was a writer-cum-production manager and Janice, a highly successful news anchor and analyst. What was missing was their old connection, that sweet sentiment of adolescence, bordering on the romantic. Ira pinched her forearm hard, “Idiot!”

“Hello, but how long is Janice going to take in the conference room, her computer has been blinking on and off with that floral screen saver,” Ira dragged her thoughts back to their office. She drew closer to Janice’s table in an absent minded flow, “I could put the machine into hibernation,” she tapped the cursor pad smartly, focused on the left corner bottom icon. But her peripheral vision caught the bold black letters right at the top of the screen: New Age Online Confessional! There was an incomplete note, “I confess to almighty God, and to you, dear brothers and sisters. I am told I have a disease and have sinned for I am consumed by a “degrading passion” for my childhood friend Ira. It is a lust that will destroy our physical bodies, ruin relationships and bring perpetual suffering to our souls. I honour your word, seek your salvation and ask for your forgiveness. I understand that I will never inherit the Kingdom of God. I am grateful for your respect and sensitivity. I do not wish to walk on hot sands under a rain of fire. My friend must not so much as guess or else…”

Ira moved back heavily, rubbing her eyes with violence. They had begun to smart with the grit of agonized emotions.                                                                                                                            

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Delhi World Book Fair Feb 2015

Naveen Valsakumar

Narinder Jit Kaur

Rohit Khilnani

Neeta Chaudhari and Deepshikha Khosla

Rajeev Mahajan

Deepa Basu

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

'Googly Gaathas' at the Delhi World Book Fair 2015

With Vandana Valsakumar of Notion Press
With Jana Pillay, Co-founder Notion Press

With Class X batchmate Sushila and kids (KV Pachmarhi)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Googly Gaathas come home

My copies came today

Hospitality (Micro Fiction)

Asmita was your typical Indian mother. Guests were gods and friends of her children avatars of God. The household pulled out all stops when the young people came visiting. Not only would all the domestic services be pressed into action, family members took time out to be social around the visitors. The best of snacks would be served in the fanciest of cutlery. The farthest nook of the pantry would be dredged up to rustle every possible snack. “Girija, pull out the dry fruits and slice some apple. Isn’t there something in the freezer, are the sausages over? Steam them quickly,” the help at home was used to the drill.

Smiti bustled around the dining table while her friend Saurabh flicked his phone screen. “Mum, why don’t you let the eats be, he will help himself if he wants to,” Smiti’s voice held a speck of exasperation.

“Come, come…try the chips Saurabh. Would you care for some fruit juice?” Asmita was unfazed by the lack of response from their guest. A lifetime of conditioning had rendered her incapable of registering anything but gratitude for hospitality. One corner of her mind did curl at a certain look that passed between her daughter and the boy but the generic focus on playing a role did not permit any great realization.

“How are your parents? Where do they live? What does your father do?” went her one way friendliness, articulated to put the guest at ease.  Saurabh had begun to shift, his chair scraping a few times. The smile was in place but his hair had begun to lose its shape. He lowered his head a little, the spectacle frames screening his gaze safely.

“Smiti, would your friend prefer lemonade? Ask him to stay back for dinner. Where is he going to go eating now, his roommate is out of station as it is.” A quick dash into the kitchen to brief the cook and Asmita was back with the guest, “Twenty minutes, the food will be on the table. Would you like to freshen up?”

Smiti led him away in the direction of the bathroom. There was the sound of urgent whispers, almost a verbal duel. “Are they arguing?” the mother knit her brows, quickly dismissing the thought , “Can’t be, they are such sweet kids. It is so wonderful to meet friends of our children, we must make them feel at home. It builds faith and trust and communication with the young people.”

“Auntie, I will be making a move. It is getting late and I have an exam to give tomorrow,” Saurabh had begun to edge towards the front door.

“You don’t 'give' an exam beta, you 'take' an exam,” Asmita smiled her indulgence. Two pairs of eyes met again over her happy head.  “Do come again!” she trailed after the pair to the lawn gate.

“Mum, I will just walk him to the bike,” Smiti forced a smile at her mother.  Asmita nodded encouragingly and held back a little, all the time staying in their line of vision. In a few moments, the mother daughter pair was strolling back into the house. “Mum, I need to get going, there is a workshop planned at college,” Smiti escaped into her room and within seconds, her ‘getting ready’ music had come on, audible through the door.

Asmita was still gathering up after Saurabh when an angry vibration startled her. Smiti’s phone was protesting. Just as she lifted it, the screen lit up, “Dude, your Mum is painful, too much formality man…not meeting you at home ever again!” 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Googly Gaathas

My  book "Googly Gaathas" by Neerja Sangha (my maiden second name) will be on display at the New Delhi World Book Fair taking place from the 14th February to the 22nd February in Hall No. 64 at Stall No. 11. There are heavy discounts and promotional activities planned. I will be there on the 16th Feb until the lunch hour.

Friday, February 6, 2015

It is coming!

The book I have been threatening to write