Thursday, December 29, 2016

Space (Micro fiction 2)

Sartaj did not commit. He liked to keep an exit route free. Was this fence sitting of his out of concern for any disappointment to the negotiating partner should the proposed plan fall through? Or was it just self-preservation, honed to a craft! Ira could never tell considering she was a study in contrast, with her arms held wide open to all that life could bring her. She said yes to plans, projects, ideas, trips, requests, tasks; quite a ‘bring it on’ woman. His mantra was, “Count me in, ninety nine percent”, while she was in the habit of declaring, “Let’s do this!”

“Darling, the Fernandez’s are inviting us over for Christmas cake, shall I say yes?” Ira would begin tentatively and pat would come the response, “Tell them, we will try our level best!” This shadow committing peppered the mundane of their lives together too. Ira had lost count of the days Sartaj would first give his word about an evening walk together or a movie over the weekend only to take it right back as the hour drew close. The reasons could be anything from, “I have work to catch up with” to “I have to wash my hair” or just plain “I feel like taking a nap.”

“Sartaj, we should forewarn the family we are reaching in a week’s
time so that they can make their plans”, Ira was uncomfortable with the surprises they routinely sprung on their kith and kin. “I don’t like disappointing them. What if our plans change at the last minute for some reason? You know what my work is like!” Sartaj would defend his maddening method. It could be frustrating at times. Ira came from a family that flirted with plans freely and had no trouble keeping schedules and coming clean with commitments. It bothered her that she could not confirm to her mother any vacation plans until they were actually on their way. “You know how it is Mum, we will let you know as the trip evolves. But you should go right ahead with your calendar, don’t miss out on anything just waiting for us to firm up,” she habitually kept her folks in a limbo.

Their couple dialogue followed a map of maybes and perhaps. Ira knew better than to get her hopes up or look forward to anything too much. Their friendship had taught her a certain equanimity of excitement. She had also started to break away from the socially prescribed couple theme to assume responsibility for her own fun and pleasure. They had begun to settle into a rhythm of an easy and unfettered individuality. It was not unusual for her to watch a movie alone when he perceived a threat to his pressures. She did not seek his approval for every action of hers, at times he learnt of her adventures after they had been had!

“When do you two meet at home guys? You always seem to be at two different places! I see you walking alone too,” their friends were fond of observing. They might even have suspected a fault line somewhere. The two would joke about it, “Sartaj, we should occasionally act lovey dovey in public, the next you know there will be talk of our divorce eligibility!” and “How about you seeing me off to work lovingly and being home when I return so the neighbors get the right message!” The pair had trimmed their togetherness to an optimum functionality. What had begun as varying energy levels for living had ended up giving each the permission to plug into their personal selves in a safe space.

Ira discovered a hidden talent for linguistics; Sartaj found he had
the notes for some stunning vocals. They used their time and energy away from each other to expand and grow. It added rich and authentic nuances to their hours together. “I have to wait for my husband. He hates going anywhere without me. I so love lazing in my bed first thing in the morning but he insists I come out and have bed tea with him in the lawn!” Ira had several awe struck friends, they marveled at the autonomy she had found in her marriage. “You are so lucky Ira to have such an understanding and accommodating husband,” they were fond of reminding her.

Ira would nod with the same vigor as she would use to reach behind and pat her own back, “Hats off to me! Rather than bemoan the perfect dancer, I did good to learn the dance!”

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Peripheral (Micro fiction 2)

 “You are the closest to me my girl, the only one in this world who has heard the sound of my heart from my inside!” Rupika shifted weight on her aching legs. Her twenty five year old daughter Maira was walking away into the international terminal to check in for an outbound flight to New Jersey and the parents were merely awaiting her security clearance now. There was no place to sit it out; the only bench in the vicinity was loaded with Canadian Sikhs. “She has checked in Rupi, shall we start back for home, she has her cell phone in case she needs us?” the father asked tentatively. He knew his wife would not only wait for as long as feasible, she would be on edge for the entire duration of the flight, tracking it online and constantly checking for word on Maira’s safe arrival. Her protective antenna stopped quivering only when Maira confirmed she was safe and sound in her American apartment.

“Mum, you have to stop imagining the worst, it is bad energy,” Maira would often explode with annoyance at her mother. “Fear is a terribly low emotion; you attract disaster when you rehearse tragedies like this!” Rupika usually reacted to these outbursts with silence. She knew of no words to describe the debilitating singeing that happened to her innards at the thought of Maira leaving her side. How do you explain the urge to reach out and grab her back? What cursed emotions were these that caused her knees to dissolve at the very thought of her child being in any kind of peril? Was it nature’s way of ensuring the survival and continued protection of the species? Or was it a cultural conditioning? She did not care. It was alright so long as she knew where Maira was and her voice sounded cheerful on the phone.

“This has to be the most non-reciprocal love affair in the world,” Rupika laughed at herself with her husband. “I see you bleeding for her Rupi, you have to step back a bit, start taking care of yourself,” he would often advise his wife. “Let her be, she has to live her own life, make her own mistakes and grow. You cannot “fashion” her after your own heart. She too is a guided soul who has come with her own destiny. You have done your bit by raising her with values and giving her a good chance with stellar education. You need to disengage a little now. Give her space!”

“I would dive under a car for her, I could give her any of my organs
if she needed, I would fight any force for her survival, I would never ever give up on her,” Rupika talked to herself. Vignettes flashed through her mind’s eye of the hospital stay during Maira’s birth, the sleepless nights, the inoculations, the school years, Maira’s High School angst, the pressure of her own vision for her daughter, “Don’t try to live your life through Maira!” she had heard that over and over. “You are obsessed, you are taking her around to too many classes, she needs a break Rupi, this rushing around is hampering her creativity. Let her taste the world at her own pace!” there were so many well-wishing friends.

The world, it was a toxic place! The environment was anything but enabling. Eve teasing on the roads, bullying in the cyber space, a nasty competitiveness inside the workforce, ideas of sexual revolution and myopic feminism on the TV, any number of video games and interactive fora in her digital vicinity, easy access to alcohol and marijuana and friends that were all too often, fair weather creatures. “I must be a low, malevolent creature to have such pessimistic views,” Rupika berated herself. She had instead driven Maira around from one stadium to another dance studio to a music centre hoping that she would grow up with life affirming values of discipline, inspiration, skills and human interactions based on awe and admiration.

She dialed her mother’s mobile standing there, “Yes Mum, Maira has checked in, I don’t know when I will see her again. She never calls on her own. She is forthcoming on the logistical front but as soon as I begin to ask more, she says she is very busy! You know, we were driving past the stadium last evening where I have spent hours in the parking whilst she trained inside. I would carry all kinds of nutrition for her, don’t know what she fills up her stomach with now.”

“I am listening!” Rupika’s mother was soft.

“It’s funny how I have avoided calling her in the past just so she does not get homesick for us! I have told myself it is better for her not to go close to those feelings even though I would love to know what is going on in her life.”

There was a long sigh at the other end, “Don’t take it personally Rupi! Maira is central to your life but you are only peripheral to hers. You are navigating a painful separation; let her take the lead I would suggest. She has to extend into her future…without you Rupi! Just as you did!"

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Birthday (Micro fiction 2)

Monisha looked at the birthday cards piled high on her writing
table, the morning after. “Have a great one; many happy returns; pamper yourself; may you have a great day”, the wishes were pretty much predictable and safe. They were standard messages and exactly the strings she used when greeting others. But what assailed her at the sight of the left over birthday cake and the wilting flowers was social fatigue, a form of weariness with platitudes that everyone routinely mouthed. When she herself put pen to a greeting card, she tried to summon a congratulatory emotion from really deep within so as to make the experience more enjoyable but it reverted to a mechanical exercise quickly enough. Wishing, both giving and receiving had become chores, quickly to be done with and on time, the earlier the better.


But had she had a special day? She sat swinging in the bright green front lawn, staring at the palm leaves bordering their neighbor's garden. The lady was moving about on her terrace, yanking crisp laundry off the clothesline. She waved out at Monisha, “Where is my birthday cake?” Stung with neighborly courtesy, the birthday girl grinned and nodded vigorously with just the right amount of saccharine cheer expected of her, “Oh I have saved some for you, coming up right-away!” she scurried into the indoors.

Barring half an hour of cake cutting with her immediate family and some fancy snacks, her day had been usual. Yes, some flowers and gifts had trundled in but she had not unwrapped anything as yet. “Change the water in the flower vases,” she instructed her attendant and walked out into the patio with a Tupperware box. The sun was an affectionate golden, tiny rainbows winking up from the dew on the lush grass. The bird houses rang with excited chirps and warmth snaked over her limbs. “Take this cake across,” she handed it over to the guard, returning quickly to her favorite wrought iron garden chaise.

There were Facebook notifications to clear, she copy pasted her gratitude to friends who had responded to the app reminders. She fought unsuccessfully the residual guilt she had felt at her anxiety over fake smiles and compulsive birthday surprises, she did not enjoy them and thankfully there were none the day before. “Am I abnormal to feel so empty about my birthday?” she asked herself silently. "I am supposed to be joyful and excited…this feels nothing like the childhood birthday mornings! Where has the magic gone?”

Monisha’s head fell back on the chaise; she gazed at the garden Buddha. There was an imperceptible half smile on the restful face. It was just clay but the particles were reaching out to her, she quietened and sat up straighter at the streaming presence. Her eyes squinted at the suddenly luminous leaves. A calmness had descended on the garden, it filtered the cacophony of life around her. She dragged deeply at the vast confidence and certainty of the presence that had spread out in ripples from the statue to as far as Monisha could see or hear or sense. Why, everything was perfect, in place and exactly as it should be! A butterfly described an arc across her eyes. She had never registered the rugged beauty of the tree trunk. There was something terribly potent and abundant in the diversity of life around her. The pigeons cooed, her pet dog sunbathed and a peacock went treading through her poinsettias. She marveled at the order and discipline and contained infinity in the air. There was no room for an iota of doubt. She felt connected, uplifted, charged. Her throat ached and hot drops stabbed her eyelids, “I am so very glad to be alive!”

“Happy birthday to me,” she sang to herself as she vended her way to the writing table inside and pulled out her leather bound diary. There was no fear; she had a task to do.


“Birthday resolutions 2017” she inscribed carefully. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Forgiveness (Micro fiction 2)

“The Forgiveness Prayer is extremely powerful! It works. This is that one part of healing that can be said to have guaranteed results. You must repeat this daily for forty days at the least,” the Healing Class was in the midst of a Level 3 session. There was the waft of lavender oil; someone must have scrubbed salt and a drop to ward off negative energy after their bath. There was no telling how many of those present sported rose quartz medallions under their shirts to nourish and brighten their heart chakras. These sessions were conducted in a semi-formal manner, there was so much personal accounting to do that the sobriety of reflection just did not sit well with regular cheer and bonhomie. The students sat still with their eyes closed while the Master moved about, blessing them with energy unlocked from his own channeled reservoir.

“Forgiveness is essentially a letting go, a releasing, and a stepping back. Not only do you make a gift of forgiveness to all those who have caused you pain, you ask it of them for yourself. So often, we knowingly or unknowingly hurt others, with our voices, our bodies, our thoughts, our intentions even…living is such a process of evolution, there are bound to be mistakes. And don’t forget to forgive yourself. Often times, we are the harshest on ourselves! Let it all go; wash it off, scrub the grief and sense of betrayal clean. Forgive!” the teacher intoned.

For several minutes, only the chirping of birds and the stray honk
of a passing vehicle punctuated the peace in the hall. While the bodies sat still, minds took flight, there being no telling as to the distance and direction they anguished over. Was there regret? A sense of satisfaction with the way their lives had turned out? Did anyone experience a Eureka moment? Yes, some Adam apples bobbed and a few throats swallowed invisible pain, helpless salt water sneaking down resolute cheeks. No one intruded into this spiritual nudity, everyone understood and felt connected.

“Where is Charu? She hasn’t been attending even though she gave her assent in the beginning. This is the third time she has renegaded, seems she is not able to organize herself and keep a commitment. Has she been visible on our WhatsApp group? Any information, anybody? Do check what is up with her?” Master had hurled a pebble into the energy flow of the room. Eyes flickered open, foreheads went burrowing and heads nodded perceptibly before peace regained lost ground.

“Alright, rub your hands together, pat your eyes and face and remember to practise the Forgiveness Prayer tonight,” people had begun to gather up their mats and bags. Some lingered longer for social exchanges. Master had flipped open his diary and was running down figures in columns. He looked up, “Charu has not submitted the fees too, and this is not the right way to go about earning entitlement. Do convey this to her, those of you who know her,” he addressed the room at large. This caused a slight break in the departure rhythm, only the slightest, the hall emptied soon enough but for Nisha who also happened to be Charu’s neighbor. She approached the Master earnestly and began in an apologetic tone,”Charu in fact has sent an envelope for you Master,  it slipped my mind to hand it over before the class began, I am so sorry!” Master plucked it out of her outstretched hand, “Thank you so much!” he took a deep breath. The two remained silent for some moments, him out of reflection and her out of reverence. Master resumed softly, “Sometimes I feel my impatience with Charu has something to do with her name. Charu Smita used to be the CEO of the company I resigned from fifteen years ago. I remember, to the date, the humiliation of being superseded by a younger man.”

“Forgiveness Prayer Master,” Nisha whispered under her breath on her way to look for her footwear on the shoe rack.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Secret (Micro fiction 2)

“You are chattering with your fingers! Are you trying to keep down a secret?” Manyar remarked with a frown. Henna, her childhood friend stopped plucking at the lint on her trouser and shifted weight in the cane chair. She struggled to rearrange the grimace on her beautiful face, “I have bad news and it hurts!”  Manyar was dismissive, “It is not the news as much as repressing it that is eating you up. Come on, out with it! Tell me what happened.” Just the bow of betrayal had begun to emerge from the fog of anguish in the room. “I swore to my friend it would remain between us. You know how gossipy people can be!” Henna mewled. “Yes, but we are not being malicious, it is just sharing so as to feel lighter.”

The two women sat in respectful dilemma, unable to break away from the spell of a secret. They were like sailors, marooned on a desert island, their throats parched for succour but staring at a mashk that did not belong to them. Their eyes met! “Alright, just between you and me. Not a word to anyone else,” Henna entreated. Manyar was beside herself with curiosity, “What could the matter be?” She leaned forward unconsciously, trying hard to sit still just in case her friend changed her mind about sharing the titbit. She waited while Henna exhaled deeply around the waves of guilt assailing her at the impending treachery. She leaned back, an arm over her eyes.

“Listen girl, gulping down a secret requires constant effort, it will cause you unnecessary tension, in fact it might wear your body down. Have you heard of how people come down with common cold just because they are sitting on a piece of news they have been forbidden to share. The more you try squashing it down, the more it expands, takes too much mental space Henna. You want to be careful there.”

 “Alright then, make a pinky promise to me. I have only shared it
with my mother so far!” responded Hennna.
“What? You mean you have already broken your promise?” Manyar was incredulous.
“Oh come on, telling my Mum does not count. She can be very tight lipped about my affairs; she does not give out much to any outsider. Yes, she is close to her siblings but that is about it.”
“That makes it four people already in the know," Manyar ran her thumb over the fingers, counting. “And if each of them is close to four other people in turn, that is a whole bunch there. Your secret is no more one!”

Henna was dismayed, “My family is default ear for all my secrets Manyar. I would come down with depression and loneliness if I did not let them in on my emotional quicksand. I get migraine if I do not confide in them. It is not about just being better than only one other person on the planet, you understand I am sure.”

“Oh absolutely! Sharing secrets teaches empathy and social skills moreover. Now tell me quickly, you were saying?!”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Alone (Micro fiction 2)

“I want to leave this town with a grand signature. Have you seen 
how smooth and open the roads are? How about 100 Km on my Road Bike?” Dilpreet announced to her group at a party. “Are you crazy? Who bikes that far out? I haven’t driven that distance in my car ever!” the social space broke into a howl of protest. “Be careful alright. Don’t go riding out onto the highway, the traffic is crazy. Will you be riding alone?” There was another attempt at dissuasion, “What are you going to do if there is a puncture? Does your bike have tubes in those tyres?” There was no abating this flow of dire prophesies, “Just do loops girl so you stay close to help. Toilet facilities is another problem, public spaces are so filthy. I have a friend who got a urinary tract infection just from using the staff washroom at her office.”

Dilpreet retreated into her sanctum sanctum against this
pandemonium of concern, the little private space inside her heart and mind. A bit of an achiever, she was used to treading a path of her own making. Sure, there were constructive inputs and critical feedback she fed into her journey. As to the automatic words of caution that arose from those who had not even entertained mentally what she was threatening to do, she often wondered, “What is the emotion behind all the doomsday predictions? Is there fear of being blamed for encouraging her just in case the project ended badly? Did her intention threaten their self-concept with a tinge of guilt over not trying hard enough? Were they really thinking of her inconvenience and safety or their own degree of comfort with the status quo? It could just be plain and simple inertia!”

She was at another gathering later that evening. Dilpreet had done her online and telephonic homework and settled on a model of the Road Bike. “Look, the way I see it, a bike is for exercise right. Why spend so much money on just a bicycle?” the unsolicited onslaught took off all over again. “What if there is no riding space in the town you go to next? Such a waste!” With all the risk assessment and abundant precaution happening around her, Dilpreet took her thoughts to the week of riding pleasure she had found astride her rented Road Bike. It had been a suggestion from a competitive cyclist, “You will never know the difference unless you ride one, the thin tyres, the body frame, the gears…it is a technological marvel, this bike. Take one on rent for a week and use it. It will help you make up your mind about changing your Firefox!”

“Exercise? How do I explain the liberating emotion of gliding
powerfully on a well surfaced road stretching into oblivion ahead? What price would you put on the pleasant stretch in the muscles, the restful domesticity of the countryside and the wondrous look in a street urchin’s eyes as he ogles at your machine? There is a particular sting to the early morning air that rejuvenates the skin and mood like no salon spa. The occasional tear in the eye with some stray particle in the rushing breeze adds to the heroism of the mile munching odometer. There was expansion, a reaching out, a stretching of the spirit, the sweetness of meeting a self-declared challenge; yes right, cycling was not just about exercise, it was about godhood!” Dilpreet clearly had the inclination to be independent of the good opinions of others. She trusted herself. She had the desire and the yearning. She had a crystal clear notion of herself pedaling down new paths, a rose red scarf trailing from her neck. She was bent upon celebrating life! 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Syndrome (Micro fiction 2)

 As a rule, Kavneet avoided medical camps. There was no knowing how thorough the medical examination would be. In any case, she was fairly confident of her general health and doubted she was the ideal candidate to be benefitting from the exercise. Being the senior most bureaucrat however, she had no choice but to lead by example and there she was, stretched out on the examining table of a young gynaecologist. “She must be an intern, these preliminaries can’t be all that demanding,” she thought idly, more to distract herself from all the probing going on at the tail end. She sensed a sudden pause, her thoughts broke abruptly and she had to ask the doctor to repeat herself, “Sorry! You were saying?”  Kavneet raised herself on her elbows at the ensuing silence. There was no one with her, only hushed whispers behind the green folding screen. She sat up hurriedly, flicking her clothes down to cover her legs. Her heart had begun a slow drum.

“Ma’am, when did you hit menopause?” the doctor’s voice came up muffled from under her head, bent over Kavneet’s medical papers. The patient hemmed and hawed, scanning the years gone by, trying to make up her mind as accurately as possible in the now urgent air around her. “I don’t remember exactly but maybe a year ago,” the response was tentative. “There is no need to worry Ma’am, I don’t want to alarm you,” the doctor tried to recover lost ground with resumption of a classic bedside manner, “ but we will have to take a sample for biopsy to the Shah Cancer and Research Institute Ma’am, it is a routine procedure.” Fully aware of the need for dignity given her official status, Kavneet put on a brave, even nonplussed face, ‘Sure, you need to do what you need to do. But what is the symptom you are basing this investigation on?” The doctor was young and slightly awed at having hit a diagnostic gold with none other than Mrs Kavneet Kaur Ahluwalia, Principal Secretary (Higher and Technical Education). She gabbled, “Fresh blood! I had barely begun the internal examination Ma’am!” There was her entourage peeking into the door, Kavneet just decided to cut her losses and take it forward after perusing the papers thoroughly. On her way out to her waiting beacon vehicle, she overheard her PA instructing the medical professionals, “Madam’s investigation must be thorough and prompt. She is a very senior IAS officer.”

Back at her favourite couch in the beautiful Lutyens’ bunglow, Kavneet typed into her Dell’s search box, “Abnormal vaginal bleeding.” Ten minutes of skimming and she was picking up the telephone, “Schedule an appointment with the senior most gynaecologist at Shah immediately”. It wasn’t long before the officer arrived at the hospital for her pre-procedure anaesthesia and other relevant tests. The nosy hospital staff and her own underlings had been busy, the “VIP aboard” cry had gone out and about. “Relax Mum, it is a routine procedure, in fact in several civil hospitals, it is done in the OPD, they don’t carry out a dilation and curettage any more. I will be back home in half a day on the outside.” Kavneet’s WhatsApp was choking with messages of concern from friends and family. She assured her mother as best as she could and followed her PA towards the Surgical Wing on the designated day. Just as he was stepping back to let her into the revolving door first, she spoke up, “Oh no, I think I have left my spectacles in the car. Can you fetch them for me please?”’

There is no way Kavneet would have known that the wheel of destiny was about to turn. A mangy cur, curled up under the Principal Secretary’s car took umbrage at the disturbance to his snooze and lunged at the PA’s unsuspecting ankle. An ugly crunch resounded in the afternoon quiet as the angry canine ravaged human flesh down to the bone. The dog jangled at the leg and shook it like a stuffed doll. Her PA’s terror stricken howl went crashing at Kavneet’s ears so that she did an instant about turn. By the time she reached the car, her PA was on the emergency stretcher and being rapidly wheeled away to the ICU. The vicious bite had severed his ankle and there was no stemming the blood.

A month later however, the very same car was back in the hospital parking bay. The PA had repaired beautifully, thanks to the standard hospital protocol and was back in the saddle, fit as a fiddle. Kavneet on the other hand was undergoing yet another investigation on another accidental discovery. Even as she lay down to succumb to the radiologist’s administrations for the third time, he couldn’t help but exclaim, “Please don’t mind Ma’am but the menopause transition takes several and highly individual courses in different ladies. For some, it is stormy, others barely notice it. I believe your Gynaecologist is treating you for an altogether different syndrome.” He waited for a prompt then placed the camera head on her lower abdomen with a definitive wave, “It is called VIP syndrome Ma’am!!” 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Worrywart (Micro fiction 2)

It is an emotion to run from, that guilt mixed anger; it comes
welling up at the parent’s mention of worry. “Oh baby, where are you? The weather is packing up. Hope you are warm and cozy at home! Please don’t be wandering around at this unholy hour. Did you remember to charge your phone before leaving for the airport? Have you got a copy of your ticket?  Where have you been, your phone was switched off, I was dying here with worry!” The media fed fear in the air had made dithering blubbers of Gurjeet and Ajrawar. They were driving their young daughter up the wall with their ever present and bilious concern. “I am alive here Mum, can’t you see? And I am keeping you informed, what is the panic about? Why is everyone forever rehearsing tragedy?” she was furiously impatient with their stalking and tracking on occasions.

Having raised their darling girl in the so called “Rape Capital” of India, the couple was on edge as a matter of course. Any call from an unfamiliar number on their mobiles was enough to set them off like a pack of firecrackers, “Has something happened? Is this a bystander calling them with some devastating news?” Primed for emergency responses and dreading the worst, their busy adrenaline had given them permanent goose bumps they were forever rubbing their hands down, over and over.

The family had survived many a battle royal on tense nights when Pia would be out flouting her curfew hour. It would begin with, “I am starting back in fifteen minutes,” and eventually dissolve into a countdown ending with, “I am crashing here for the night. Don’t wait up for me.”  If only she had seen how the air went out of her parent’s rigid frames before they collapsed with fatigue into their cold beds. It was harrowing for them to stare at the front door for hours on end only to pretend nonchalance at her footsteps outside.

Perhaps it was only to stem the overzealous parental concern but Pia had gamely tucked a Pepper Spray can into her bag and dutifully carried a nunchuk below her driving seat in the car. “Never look into the eyes of other drivers on the road. Keep your windows rolled up at traffic junctions during the wee hours. Keep our numbers on speed dial. Text while setting out, will you? Avoid deserted roads and highways. Ask a male colleague to tag along after unusually long hours,” Pia had pretty much heard it all. “Mum, you think a guy’s mother is any less worried about her son!”

This parent child tug of war assumed new heights when Pia took
off for the Big Apple to pursue her undergraduate studies. Her parents now exported their imagination to the digital maze. There was the social media, the digital banking and Whatsapp for remote assurance as to her wellbeing. But of course they did their weekly FaceTime, the disparate time zones notwithstanding. Imagine the rock in these happy waters one day when Ajrawar got an SMS alert on his Android phone. Pia had apparently swiped her TCDC card at a chemist’s for 4 USD. Chemist?! Oh good dear God!!  He called up Gurjeet at work, “Could it be her eye that is bothering her? She had mentioned her wisdom tooth beginning to throb a bit! With the harsh winters coming on, one never knew with the central heating, her landlord was not accessible enough at times.”

Not one to wait for the other part of the world to wake up, Gurjeet typed out a message, “Pia darling, is all well?” Back came the cryptic response, “Why do you ask Mum?”
“Well, Papa got a bank alert for 4 $, shall I ask the Aunts to contact you for any medical follow up? Papa knows the Defence AttachĂ© posted there?”
“What are you rambling about Mum?” there was the faintest growl.
“You swiped the card at the Chemist’s, right?” Gurjeet raised it a notch.

A nano pause and then a delighted cackle ballooned at Gurjeet from across the international ether, “Mum! Your default setting needs rebooting. It was at Medici, the cafĂ© round the corner! I had a croissant on your dime parents. The week’s dose!”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Enemy (Micro fiction 2)

It is not visible to the naked eye but there is a furious amount of self-talk going on inside golfing heads just before a tournament. Behind the bonhomie and all the cheerful exclamations over the lovely weather, there are these inaudible voices in the air, “Oh no, we are teeing off from the first one, I better not mess this up, there is too large an audience!” Another voice will whittle away, “Inhale, exhale…just one shot at a time, remain focused on your own game; don’t fret over your cheating buddy!” And, “Silence is golden on the course, ration the words and for heaven’s sake, don’t lose your cool with your caddy.”

It was the inaugural Coast Guard Golf Cup and the players were going about their business at a civilized pace. Nidhi watched Tara busy herself with photo sessions. A stunning woman in her thick auburn mane, Tara had the height and that great eye to hand coordination of a good golfer but more often than not, she struggled to convert her talent into winning scores. Her apologetic air and under confident shots spoke of a diffident and divided mind. The other women golfers were used to seeing Tara hurry and skip after her long suffering caddy chanting, “I am sorry Mahesh! I don’t know what is happening. I usually don’t play this badly!”

A stoic player by contrast, Nidhi was averse to playing with women
for this one reason; they wanted too great an emotional management from outside. It irked her when lady players tried to play down a brilliant shot with a quick reassurance to the rest that it was just a fluke! She couldn’t stand the self-berating and regular guilt trips that routinely unfolded on the course. And woes betide anyone who chattered too much during a tournament. “No histrionics please,” the other women were used to her forthright manner, “let’s get on with the game, shall we?!”

The goody bags were being handed out. Their four ball made a beeline for the washrooms in order to change into their spanking new T-shirts. “I love the shoe bag, and look at this sleeve of balls. So glad I took up this game. To think I had nothing but contempt for this game once upon a time and not too long ago!” The women chatted easily and exclaimed over the colour combinations of their golf attire and whether the caps matched the rest of the ensemble. “I have not played in days Nidhi but you have been practising regularly!” Tara complained. “I just hope I don’t mess up my chipping today. You have so much more tournament experience than me.”

Nidhi fought her annoyance at this emotional encroachment on her presumed magnanimity. Genteel courtesy now demanded that she bolster Tara with, “Oh no, I am as moody and unpredictable with my shots. Don’t worry! My short game is equally temperamental and about the fairway, have you not seen me in the rough skulking under the bushes for that ball of mine? Relax. You will play fine.” Nidhi kept silent instead, taking a step back from the usual, pre-tournament drama.

As they emerged from the Golf Hut, they heard crisp metallic sounds from the Men’s tee. It was their turn soon enough. Nidhi drove her ball into a spectacular flight; it seemed to sail along the white marker for the straightest drive. There was peace for a while as the foursome worked their way through the front eight holes, building their scores in relative silence, Nidhi refusing to be distracted with self-recriminating debris from Tara. She would not acknowledge the missed shots, the penalties or the sand skill with anything other than a poker face. At one point Tara stunned everyone with the longest yet driver shot, it went tearing towards the green to some 200 yards. Nidhi applauded but retreated immediately.

Nidhi’s caddie was placing her T when she heard Tara mutter under
her breath, “My three wood is giving me heart burn. Last time we played on this course, I lost two balls in the water. And three holes here have super high trees overlooking the greens.” Nidhi pulled her glove off and stepped back from addressing her ball. She tugged at Tara and gently pulled her under the shade of the small tree close by. “Look into my eyes Tara. There are so many ups and downs while playing golf, it can drive anyone crazy with emotion. But I am telling you, each one of us here is autonomous and the responsibility is highly individual and personal. The challenges are not out there on the course. Your tallest Everest is in your mind! Quieten those thoughts. Let’s just mind our own minds! Play, shall we?"

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Integrity (Micro fiction 2)

 Anureet caught herself listening to her guest’s monologue a bit dispassionately, “Mrs Gill, what did you do to get your son into a university like Princeton? It has been my daughter’s dream for the longest time. I know I would be imposing on your time but if you could help with the essays and the LORs, you will know just the right words, your vocabulary is so good.”

An inexplicable silence mushroomed in the predominantly white living room. The guest waited for a response, just like a devotee expecting a revelation. Anureet drew circles in the thick Persian rug with her pepper pearl toe nail. Seconds dragged and the anxious mother resumed, “Her school has agreed to co-operate fully. They told us to draft the letters of recommendation and the teachers will sign them. My daughter’s extracurricular accomplishments are virtually non-existent; she has been a bit of a nerd. How do you suggest we make up for it? I can get some certificates issued, what do you think?”

Straightening up with a deep breath, Anureet began in a deliberate tone, “Most of my family was against sending Rohan for under graduation abroad. In retrospect now, they may have been right. An emotional distancing happens, kind of willy-nilly; you miss out on major chunks of each other’s lives.” It was clear that the fired up parent would not be dissuaded off her track, “But what about the financial aid application Mrs Gill? Did you submit accurate and authentic papers?! I am paying some fifty thousand rupees to have professional admissions counsellor dress up her application, the acceptance rate is so scary.”

“You know, we send our children so far away from home, all by themselves in an unfamiliar culture, there are challenges we should think of and prepare them for,” Anureet made another attempt. “But Mrs Gill, what is there in our country worth staying on for, there is so much favouritism, corruption and unprofessionalism, at least out there, it is her merit that will get her places.”

“Take some time, give it more thought,” Anureet’s note of caution
was promptly dismissed with, “Is there any way we can correspond with Rohan? Get a first-hand sense, you know. My husband will have some questions, the entire family, extended included is involved in this admissions project.”
Anureet had to smile. It took her back to her days of sweating over FedEx packets and the cumbersome labels. The whiteboard over Rohan’s study table used to be plastered with document lists and deadlines. Graded analytical essay, senior secondary forms, teacher evaluations, transcripts, art portfolio, TOEFL and SAT exams, it was all a breathless whirl, followed by that interminable wait to hear back.

“How does Rohan like it there? He must be really making the most of an Ivy League education. Lucky you to be such a proud parent,” Anureet’s visitor began gathering her folders to back out of the room towards the front gate. The hostess followed, coughing and clearing her throat to get out some more advice but in vain, the caller’s rosy spectacles were firmly in place. In the still dread that ensued, Anureet pulled out the orange and black envelope from under the mantel for the sixth time. It was from the Academic Integrity Office of the university, informing that Rohan had been found guilty of plagiarism. He was being suspended from Princeton for one year, with censure having been added to his punishment for being dishonest with them. There would be a note on his transcript saying as much.

“Mum, Mum…hello, are you there?” Anureet jumped at the sound of his disembodied voice emanating from her face down Galaxy Tab. She fumbled the gadget open, heart heavy with grief. There he was, the pride of their family, reduced to tears. “I am sorry Mum, I know what all has gone into my coming here. We have this Honor Code we sign during our orientation. I believe I have indulged in “unpermitted collaboration”. I have breached the culture of academic integrity here.”
“But how, what happened,” his mother spluttered, “You are telling us now!”

Rohan’s voice dipped and climbed, “Mum, a friend told on me. We are morally obliged to report perceived unfairness. The exams here are not proctored.  I told them that in India, students score more for reproducing verbatim from notes and books rather than paraphrasing. But they say ignorance is no excuse! What would you call my superhuman admissions effort if not collaborative Mum? I am sorry but I am coming home for the remainder of this term and the next year!”

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Meltdown (Micro fiction 2)

Kira’s mind was abuzz. She had fixed a flag on the course with her gaze and was directing a silent monologue at it, “Have you ever been on the inside of a golf tournament? Behind the order and the fluttering flags and those neatly made up quote panels you see, there is a world of inner turbulence. Golfing minds are beset with the inherent imperfection of the game. No matter how competent and skilled a player is, the winds and the turf make for fickle friends. The ball has a mind of its own. Mistakes are inevitable and outcomes unpredictable.

“I must not lose myself in the woods or the pits today!” Kira’s mental chatter got acuter. Matches against strangers gave her the cold sweats, particularly when she played as a defending champion. She tried to distract her nasty self-talk by calling out to her caddie, “Nassir! Have you cleaned my bag and marked all the balls? Keep track of the score card alright; there was also some mix up last time with the yardage calculation and yes, we will use my pink ball on the greens.”  She thus extended her anxious shroud as she fought the onslaught of other people’s natty golf clothes, branded kits, their formidable handicaps, tales of the hundreds of balls they hit in practice and their impressive tournament experience.  “Dear sweet God, let me not make a fool of myself today!” went her silent prayer as the others stretched, hydrated and practice swung their drivers in the air around her.

Asked, Kira would be hard put to answer why she was there in the first place. Initiated into the sport by her parents, she liked it well enough; it was the patronizing magnanimity shown her gender and the lack of quality training that chafed. Of the only other woman she knew to be a champion, she had heard the gentlemen say, “But she plays off the ladies tees!”

“I hope I don’t mess up my fairway woods today. My drive has too
big a slice. If I end up missing any of those stupid two foot putts, I’m done!” Kira’s fidgety fingers flew over her T-shirt, patting her shoulder blades and the back, “Oh thank god! I am wearing my sports bra. My tatas get in the way of the swing, can do without all that bouncing and jouncing.”

Neil, her husband, was approaching her from the practice bay, “Just enjoy the game Kira. You look tense, decompress a bit. One shot at a time, remember. There is no making up in golf!” She nodded absently, almost dismissing the counsel, “Will you be following me?” She wanted to tell him that his body beamed the quality of her shots and that amplified her fear and frustration.

Something was amiss today. Kira’s emotions were stealing up, almost taking over. She walked towards the washrooms, conscious of jittery limbs and a humming pinball in the stomach. “It is only a game,” she whispered to herself, “nerves are good, they are priming, I am ready to go.”  Fielding myriad thoughts, she stepped into the shaded confines of the Golf Cottage. She was reaching out for the towel when a stabbing pain lit up her chest. Her throat closed and she hunkered down slowly, breathless and shivering. Dabbing at the sweat welling on her face and neck, she pulled out her phone and dialled Neil’s number.

Having materialized besides her in a jiffy, Neil took complete charge. Soon enough she could hear her sports doctor on the phone loudspeaker, he was responding to Neil’s description of her symptoms, “You are looking at a full blown panic attack. Don’t worry; she is healthy and quite safe. Her perfectionist attitude and competitive spirit have precipitated this crisis. She must have stood there, reviewing her worst moments of play. Bad strategy! Give her fifteen minutes.”

Kira lay down on the couch, taking deep breaths. “I want to WD!”

“Withdraw?!” the doctor cheeped. “Now listen to me. You have the cognitive wherewithal you need right now. Remember the two seconds rule, no more than that on bad shots then turn to your mental pre-shot routine.”

Kira pulled together her floundering muscles and straightened up at the memory of her coach’s words, “There is no other way. You play through misfortunes. That is the essence of golf!”

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Identity (Micro fiction 2)

“About saddle discomfort, opinion is in favor of going natural down there, in the nether regions, you understand? It gives good cushioning, don’t go shaving, it makes pedaling prickly,” Ajooni had to smile at how upfront sports persons were with their anatomical tips. “And girl, bacteria loves Lycra, wash and dry and wait a minute!” her team cyclist cast a surreptitious look about before dipping her voice, “There is a cream called ‘Ass magic’, it is all about loving your bum if you want to haul 100 Km daily on that road bike you fly upon. Get going now.”

A tiny push and spring, Ajooni had swung her right leg over the saddle expertly, eyes watering with merriment behind her custom glares. As soon as the bike gained momentum, she threw back her slim neck and hooted out an unladylike guffaw at the name of the chamois cream. Ass magic indeed! Had her grandmother even an inkling of this cycling culture, Ajooni would be home, honing her rajmaah and aloo gobhi skills.

“What kind of a mother are you, tell me, letting your young daughter roam around long distances alone? And on a cycle?! What if the tyres punctured out there on some deserted stretch? She could be knocked down or worse, kidnapped. Mark my words, that cycling club she is so fond of is an evil influence on her. Our Ajooni is too naive!” the home of this adventurous cyclist was thick with these hyper cautious notes.

They were three generations living together and it was the middle one that bore the brunt of foretold tragedies. Ajooni’s mother played buffer as best she could but Bebe Ji was if anything, as stubborn as her granddaughter. The two often argued over their Sikh identity. “Puttar, it is a privilege to be born a Sikh. We have some unique concepts of the Saint Soldier, the Guru, our Mul Mantra, Naam and Hukum, let me give you some books on Sikhism in English, it is important to have a sense of who you are and where you come from.”  

The intensity with which Ajooni tuned out this indoctrination was in direct proportion to its frequency.  An Ivy League graduate, she was a do-it-yourself millennial, not exactly trusting of institutions that had let down her generation more often than not. “Bebe Ji, we just need one religion in the world, that of humanity,” she was fond of cutting short her grandmother’s spiel.

Brought up by progressive parents in a liberal environment, Ajooni
was used to following her heart and mind. At the dinner table one night, she made a declaration of sorts, “I want to cycle across India and document the ride, more as a campaign to highlight women’s safety issues on our roads,” The table clatter braked all of a sudden, multiple goldfish mouths of her family members, sucking on air in abject panic. “Oh my God, I warned you she was being given too much freedom,” Bebe Ji’s body quivered with concern. Using the dismayed silence as a cue, Ajooni expanded on the theme, “I want to prove that it can be done and that it is safe. My aim is to encourage and motivate more Indian women to step out of their fear zones when it comes to solo traveling. I have picked a challenging route from Leh to Kanyakumari, about 3000 plus kilometers. I may need your inputs Dad and Mum on budget breakdown and route plan. My fitness preparation is going well.”

That’s it. Just like that. There was no time for dissuasion. A lot had to be done. Bicycle accessories, tools, kit, spares to be bought. Ajooni’s father got busy booking her one way ticket to Leh. Her Mum pitched in with the media coverage material. And Bebe Ji settled down for what she knew would be a long haul in her tiny Baba Ji’s room. Ajooni was looking at about two months of cycling to cover the route.

Their hearts in their mouths and prayers on their lips, Ajooni’s family ticked off the days, one at a time on a special calendar Bebe Ji insisted they hang in her room. She would take the broad red marker pen and slash the date cross ways with a vengeance. Weekends came and went.

The day she was to launch on her final leg, Ajooni called to speak with her grandmother. Tears rolled down the aged eyes, as she pressed the phone to her ears, “Bebe Ji, do you know what kept me going on this ride, your Gurudwaras… our Gurudwaras, they became my default plan of action, such stunning, unhesitating, unrivalled hospitality Bebe Ji. They met my requests with good will and chai! I slept and ate there. I experienced charity first hand. This trip has changed me. You were right about spirituality being in giving with no expectation of a return.  Wahe Guru ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru ji ki Fateh Bebe Ji!”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dignity (Micro fiction 2)

 Preminder dived into Dr Neela’s eyes, there was no resisting that merry twinkle, a wholly infectious smile, beginning over the incisors and stretching into her petite, pearl studded ears. “You are a most healthy sample Ma’am, no diabetes, no blood pressure, haemoglobin is twelve plus, you are into quite a bit of physical activity, don’t worry. Just let’s get this pre-anaesthetic check-up out of the way and we will schedule your surgery. “

The patient gathered up her papers and backed out of the doctor’s room, marvelling at the brilliant young professional, “So much joie de vivre! What an amazing woman!”

Quiet as a graveyard, the hospital stretched around her. There was sombreness to patients milling about in the waiting areas and the dispensaries. Even the cafeteria smelt introspective, knitted brows hunched over plates of food. People sat in a common shroud of silent acceptance and grim fortitude.
Images of Dr Neela’s smile kept Preminder company on her trudge to the parking lot, “I am lucky to hit upon such a positive gynaecologist. It is a minor procedure. I am in confident and upbeat hands.”

At a social event later in the day, Preminder could not stop talking of her happy doctor and the affirmative energy she exuded. “Woman troubles anyone?  Neela is your saviour,” she urged her friends. There was interest, ears perked up; this was after all, the retired uterus community. Hot flashes, post-menopausal abnormal bleeding, generic fatigue were their staple diet of conversation.

It wasn’t until five days later, having completed the oral medicine dose, that Preminder texted Neela, asking for the tentative surgery date. There was no response. “That’s strange! Neela is a very prompt and courteous doctor,” Preminder cast about for possible reasons other than an ongoing operation or an outpatient visit or a ward round.  “Doctors keep terribly busy,” she decided to wait a day. But the silence extended into the long Easter week end and then beyond. By now, a peevish cloud had begun to gobble up Preminder’s good natured acceptance of Neela’s preoccupation, “How can a gynaecologist take off on a pleasure trip this long?” she grumbled to herself. “There are alternatives available, we can go to another hospital,” her husband suggested. But Preminder had taken to this doctor and would not hear of trusting another.

“Ma’am, yours is not a medical emergency. We can perform the procedure when convenient,” Neela had assured her, she recalled. And so the wait turned into a month long drag. Life put Preminder on the roller coaster that it invariably does and before long it was time to move out on a transfer. In that all too common panic of gathering up the most one can, when leaving a city, thoughts of Dr Neela came bubbling up Preminder’s busy head like flotsam. “Better get this done here before moving to a new place.”

Preminder placed the call. “Dr Neela? Ma’am, you mean the late Dr Neela?” the voice at the other end echoed out and amplified back in over Preminder’s stunned ears. She slumped into the sofa, her hand stiff on the earpiece. The hospital receptionist had handed the phone over to the supervisor. A politely impersonal tone was launching into an explanation, “Mrs Preminder, I am so sorry to inform you that we lost Dr Neela to pancreatic cancer this Friday past. We can schedule you with another gynaecologist.”

“Pancreatic cancer? I had no clue, she was so full of life,” her new doctor smiled gently at Preminder’s agonized incredulity across her table. She waited for the words to wash the distress away before holding out a metal badge. It had ‘NO CODE’ embossed on it. Preminder turned it over with a frown as the doctor spoke, “Some of us in the business of saving lives choose to die differently Ma’am. This here is a wish expressed, negating any CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Neela had done her paper work. She did not want any chemotherapy, radiation or surgical treatment.”
Preminder couldn’t believe her ears, “But how could a doctor not want the care she administers  others?”

“You are right Ma’am, Neela had access to the best oncologists but she wanted to go gently, knowing modern medicine’s limitations. No heroics, no life support, no futile care for her. She chose to manage her pain and spend time with her family, dying in peace, at home.”

The two sat in silence for a while.  “She used to say Ma’am, that the state-of-art of life’s end is death with dignity!” 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Believer

One of our greatest fears is purported to be that of dying. The thought has come to me, unbidden, as much of my own end as of those I love and live for. I have stood idly, gazing at roads and trees and structures around me, “These will remain here, long past my exit from this space.” While watching movies of the yesteryears, I have wondered, “I did not exist when these stars were singing and dancing. Where was I?”

And then, another of those stray thoughts, quickly brushed away, just in case it brings on its wings any bad luck, “How will I die? Who all will cry? Have I not moved on with my life after such losses, my family will too?” Morbid meanderings yes, but so real, so inescapable, so defining of our fragile humaneness. And the quick reassurance “It is not happening yet, that is somewhere in the distant future, right now there is a list of things to do, the day to get through, events to attend, health and finances to care for!”

Am I alone in this cyclic, cerebral, futility? Why do I tell myself pretty much every other moment of the day, “I am not passing this way ever again?” There is a sense of a steady inching forward and that vast swathe of time gone by. And since no astrologer commits on one’s “ayush” it has certainly occurred to me, “How much more do I have to run down my bucket list?”

Some of the unease attached to these ruminations could be eased off if we just became as matter of fact about death as we are about birth. Were it to become more acceptable to speak of the unmentionable, even plan for it, we would free ourselves of the pall of unsaid things and oozing fears. Half the heartbreak at sudden exits comes from this sentiment, “I did not say a proper goodbye!” There is a sea of difference between a heartfelt farewell as against a sudden wrenching away and the lifelong agony of having had no closure.

I have pledged my organs, my Mum has divided her jewelry but we have not sat down with our loved ones to share thoughts and feelings around the inevitable and eventual separation. I know it would calm my mind tremendously to air out my misgivings. I want to be able to say to them, “Forgive me for my mistakes. I wish we could be together always. I never want us to separate. But remember me when we split. Think of me when you are eating a crusty, cheese laden pizza. Hug the silly dog for me. Picture me when you are sitting across my favorite swing. Look closer at the grass on the golf course; it probably has my DNA on it. I don’t know where I will be when not with you but hold on to me. I will go with peace, knowing I have said all I had to say to you. Give me a hug, look deep into my eyes so when the time comes, we go where we need to go, in peace and on a wing.”

It cannot be… life cannot be a meaningless accident. There is too much heartbreak, far too many ecstatic moments and pure frames of joy for this journey to be so random an affair. I therefore choose to believe!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Caddie (Fiction)

Shamminder Kaur had started playing golf at thirty years of age. It made her stand out amongst the majority Indian women on the courses around the country who were either in their late teens or past their forties when they first picked up a club. “Don’t copy me, I have learnt it all wrong,” she was fond of saying. Her self-deprecating statements confused her playing partners; the words just did not go with the spectacular flights she sent her drives on from their flying tees. Many a mouth would follow agape the stunning trajectories her driver smacked the balls onto.

They made for a brittle bunch, the women pushing against the velvety fairway with bodies past their primes, spongy egos and spirits leveled by life’s ravages. Barely beneath their polite masks lay something raw and stinging. It called for a curious mix of stubborn courage after all and bruised sensitivity to step onto a public space such as the golf course, a complete novice. For even in the civilized world of the gentlemen’s game, there was caddie chatter, stolen looks assessing one’s golf swing, triangular updates on how the game was progressing with the others and unsolicited advice from the male golfers. For the odd woman that flowered, she did so under a cloying cloud of low expectations and that indulgent air.

“You know, they should have prizes for every lady in a tournament. This way, everyone goes home happy. Better to distribute it all than to give only one lady the trophy.” In this conspiracy of the mediocre, it suited everyone to keep peace, for women did make for bad losers. They came to golf at such established phases of their lives that it made it difficult for them to come to terms with their temperamental golfing. Many preferred to play with the non-judgmental men for this reason rather than with another woman and her strong sense of the right and wrong.

So there it was, one pearly daybreak on the Clover Greens, a drama unfolding in this world of unmet challenges. The polished exterior of the Golf Club just about kept from the public view, the gladiatorial desire of everyone from the Manager downwards to see Shamminder pitted against Aarti, the only other woman golfer of self-belief there. A late bloomer, Aarti negotiated the golf ball with pure will, no skill for her. “Just keep hitting, I barely spent one month in the practice bay, it comes by playing,” the feisty one was fond of sharing her hands-on experience with the tentative new entrants to the game. Having played several years as the club’s sole woman golfer, it had become hard to tell self-delusion from an undeniable talent. “I carry home most of the trophies,” was a refrain of sorts with her. Blessed with a tenacious desire to win, Aarti had one flaw.  Even in a game where players blamed any and everything for a bad score, Aarti had made an art of dumping each of her golfing misfortunes on her caddie. Little wonder that Teepu’s face had come to arrange itself in five dimensions, each of them confused on what to hold and where to stretch.

Like two combatants fighting for the post of Prima Donna, Clover Greens, Shammi and Aarti would stalk each other on the course most days, assessing and waiting to prove their superiority. Before long, the opportunity presented itself in the form of a Pink Golf Tournament for a Cause. The club inhaled deeply, then waited to exhale. Would Aarti take the bait and pair up against Shamminder?

Everyone got to work, forces were drawn up and the penultimate day schedule launched. Adequate rest, special putting ball, sunscreen in place, glares firmly sitting on the noses; the two took their places in ceremonial golf slacks. 

“I want a caddie who will not open his mouth at all today,” Aarti faced the Caddie Master, a fidgety Teepu skulking near the tournament bulletin board. Shammi’s regular caddie was accompanying her; a buzz had begun though, over Teepu’s replacement. Equally suddenly, the din subsided around the ongoing arbitration. Aarti interrupted the Caddie Master’s embarrassed stuttering rudely, “It’s alright. Let it be. I will take Teepu but he better not squeak today!”

And the game was off the tee with two clean, metallic notes. Like the two seasoned golfers they were, Shammi and Aarti made rhythmic progress. One played with joy, the other with a burning desire to win. Shammi had to curb her usual impulsiveness whence she would stop and wave at the wild life on the beautiful landscape. Aarti staying focused, swinging and pitching with power and precision. A day would come, like it did for every golfer, when their bodies would not cooperate but in the heat of the competition, that sobering thought was farthest from their minds.

Even in the tense scribbles on the scoring cards, the meditative nature of the golf course reigned around them. A fuzzy rich moistness curled upwards to their nostrils, the sun dithering in the wings, not ready to step out in all its golden glory yet. It was a charmed hour and all was right with the world.

Aarti drew in a sharp gasp all of a sudden; the ball had caught the shaft end, ricocheting into a dismal slice. She glared at Teepu, her eyes flashing. “Run ahead and wait for me near the ball!” her voice commanded with urgency. The caddie scrambled ahead in a mum flurry. His player though had beaten him to it and was already addressing the wedged in ball, “Watch me now, I am going to punch it well out then hit past that tree ahead to take the dogleg,” she called over her shoulder.

True to her word, Aarti went to work, executing her plan with force and resoluteness. Releasing her breath with relief as she looked up at the ball in flight, she turned to Teepu with an uncharacteristically goofy grin, “How about that? You can speak now. I give you permission. Come on, how did you like that shot? Speak a bit louder. I can’t hear you.”

Teepu cleared his throat and repeated himself, a shade louder the second time, “That was not your golf ball Mayam (Teepu lingo for Ma'am)!”