Showing posts with label Short Story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Short Story. Show all posts

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Abandoned Queen

"Narayana, Narayana," our very own friendly neighbourhood Narada entered Vaikuntha. His eyes twinkled, and mentally, he rubbed his hands in glee. He expected a storm would have disrupted the peace of his Lord's domestic bliss, and was surprised by the evident calm, contrary to his expectations.

In fact, the Lord and His Consort welcomed him with twinkling eyes. "You seem disappointed to see us, Narada?" Narayana teased him.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Ghost of Nest

Niharika embraced Neha affectionately. "I am going to miss you all... Keep in touch," she said as she kissed the little ones, all excited about moving to a new city.

Neha nodded. "I have left my house key with the manager to show the house to prospective tenants. Just keep an eye, though."

Saturday, May 27, 2017


Sheela typed away seriously on her computer, compiling the report about the latest project she was working on. At every stage, there had been delays, hurdles they had to overcome, unexpected calamities that created situations needing fire-fighting, resource crunch... a zillion other things. But the team had worked hard, overcoming each hurdle and ready to face the next... Finally, when the project was ready, the customer had delayed implementing it up due to some team churn at their end.

While she felt euphoric, she also wondered if all the sweat had been worth it. Now, as she typed out the details, of course there was pride. But there was also wonder. Are deadlines really worth it? This was not the first time that the client, after putting pressure, had become slack. Or, having implemented, they failed to use it effectively. Or even if they did use it well, they rarely acknowledged the development team...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Prize Pen

Every time she saw a car in that colour - that particular shade of burgundy-brown-maroon mix - she would pause and smile. It was the colour, not the car, that made her smile like that. A childhood memory, worth not even a pinch of salt, and yet, lodged deeply...

She must have been 8 or 9 years old at that time. The association of the colony in Delhi where she lived had organised the annual celebrations that October for Navaratri, culminating in cultural events, including Ram Leela skit with the burning of the effigy of Ravana followed by an entertainment show on the 10th day. She had been very excited that year because she, along with four of her friends from her Kathak class, were going to perform at the show.

Since she was good and picked up fast, she was slightly ahead of the rest. So in addition to a group performance with the other four, she was also going to do a solo piece. She was thrilled, and preened at the silent envious glances from her friends.

After many rehearsals, the evening of the show finally came. It seemed to fly past in the blinking of the eye. She could have gone on dancing, but had to stop with one. Her mother embraced her, her neighbours congratulated her. The events continued and she watched, but her mind kept going back to her own performance.

"Let's go home and you can change," her mother called her. "Where is your CD?"

She stared blankly. Her mother ran backstage, found the CD and came out smiling. Suddenly her name was announced on stage. "This year, we would like to honour our young star, who enthralled us with her Kathak performance!"

Her eyes opened wide and jaw dropped. She ran up the stage to receive a big box, gift wrapped attractively. The loud applause made her feel truly like a star receiving an award!

She went home and eagerly opened it to see a flask. That dampened her spirits a bit, but still, the sense of euphoria did not fade. She changed into ordinary clothes and got ready to relish the food being served as part of the events. Just then, the bell rang and a man stood apologetically. "The other mothers feel you deliberately influenced us to give your daughter the gift when you came backstage about the CD. They feel that all five children should be given equal importance."

Her mother immediately returned the flask without hesitation. Once the man left, of course, she displayed her ire. "Envious fools! Can't appreciate quality! And the organisers don't have the galls to stand by their decision. As if I have to beg them to give you an award in this insignificant event!"

She looked at her mother apprehensively. Would this mean they won't be going back to the event for dinner?

"What are you gaping for? Come," her mother snapped and dragged her to the park where it was happening.

Again her name, and that of her friends, was announced. With the same enthusiasm she ran up and took the smaller gift handed to her. She couldn't wait to open the wrapper and was excited to see a burgundy-brown-maroon ink pen.

She was secretly happy about returning the flask and getting the pen. That pen was with her for a long time. But more than the pen itself, it was getting it unexpectedly and the joy she had shared with her friends, comparing colours with the others and feeling good about the one she had received that made it more memorable.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


“I want to sleep,” Neela grimaced looking at the clock. It was 5.30 am. “I don’t even have school today!” complained the eleven-year-old as she made to lie down again.

“No, no, Neela baby!” her mother Kiran said, holding her daughter’s head before it touched the pillow. She pulled the child to her and made her get up. “You know what your new music teacher said? You must practice early in the morning for your voice to become sweeter.”

"I don't like the music teacher," grumbled Neela. 

"She is so gentle and sweet," Kiran protested. "And, she is turning you into such a fine singer!"

"I don't want to be a fine singer. I just want to sleep," the girl said as she closed her eyes and yawned.

"No, no! You have so much to prepare!! Come, come, come!" Kiran picked up her daughter and headed for the bathroom. In the last six months, the intense music practice, lack of any play and bribing the child with chocolates and sweets had made even carrying her difficult. But Kiran was ready to do anything to see her darling daughter selected as the little champ in music. She had the voice. She had the talent. Just a little bit of fine tuning... Just a little bit.

"Just think," as she helped her daughter freshen up and gave her a glass of milk with turmeric and honey. "You will be the voice of India!"

Neela sulked as she let her mother cajole her into believing how good she was. "You can pick up any rag just like that... And you can play with it, tease it out... You have a bright future in music... You just have to approach it with devotion..."

Neela loved hearing this. Every morning, every evening. Every time her guru seemed unhappy, every time she herself was unhappy. Every time a new song seemed difficult to learn. Every time she wanted to play with her friends but couldn't. Every time she wanted to sleep more, but had to wake up early. Every time her voice and chest hurt from all the practice. These words of assurance kept her going. 

Finally, the day of auditions arrived. The long cue, the hundreds of young aspirants, the sweat, the stinky toilets... 

Neela shrank under the stress. She was tired by the time her turn came. But her mother stood by her, patting her, cajoling her, boosting her confidence. "This is it, now nothing can stop you..." she whispered as Neela went on stage.

She sang what came to her naturally. As she finished, she waited to look at the judges - leading musicians in the film industry. Their heads bent, they discussed intensely. One of them looked up. Neela's heart sank, but she calmed herself that this was a ploy they always used.

"You sang well, beta..." the first one started and paused.

"Very tuneful, soulful... I liked it... Let's see what the other two say," said the second noncommittally. Neela was sure of having bagged it. But still, her heart raced and her body trembled.

"We feel that you have potential... But, you need more practice. The standards are going up every year..." the third said, trying to sound encouraging. 

Neela stood rooted to the spot. Tears flowed, but she felt nothing. She felt an arm around her and saw her mother. Her eyes accused her mother of lying to her.

Her mother's eyes blamed her for failure.

When they walked out, the mother whispered, "Next year."

The daughter replied vehemently, "Never."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Deliveries

He felt wretched as he walked up and down, caught between two in the throes of labour pain. His anxiety was not so much on account of the expectant mothers as what he hoped they would deliver. He muttered just one prayer repeatedly, "A boy for me, O Lord, and a girl for the cow."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Just Siblings

The heated battle left them both breathless. Still, sparks flew from their eyes and hot words waited to be spat out. The intensity of the emotions had drained them of all energies. The ring of fire around them kept well wishers with soothing words at bay.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Old Couple

Retirement. After having worked for 40 odd years. Ajay Thakur looked forward to this phase. He looked forward to the time he could spend on his garden, crossword puzzle, visit to the nearby temples, puja at home... And help his wife Sarala in the kitchen. Poor woman, she has seen no holiday or taken a break from the kitchen all these years, he thought fondly.

The shifting from Mumbai to Jaipur took some time, but he was glad to be back in his home town. His relatives were in and around. That will keep Sarala occupied as she loved to visit her sisters and niece and the hoards of relatives that she had been kept away from because of his job. And she also wanted to be in a different city from her son. It hurt her that Jeet had moved to a flat of his own after his marriage to Namita. Nothing Ajay could say soothed her.

Their married daughter Prabha too had moved to the US with her family - her husband and two adorable twins.

What was there to hold her in Mumbai? She had jumped at the opportunity to return to the city she loved. Now they could spend their sunset years visiting relatives, enjoying leisure and travelling to nearby pilgrim centres. Maybe even Tirupathi.

"Baba, Namita is due in January," Jeet called one evening, sending the old couple in a frenzy of joy.

Prabha too called with news of her own. "Maa, I have got a promotion in my job!"

What more could the parents want? Just these blessings to keep the smile on their faces.

"Maa, Namita needs bed rest according to the doctor. Some complication. Her parents are in the US visiting their son. Do you think...?"

"Of course!" Sarala said without batting an eyelid. She made arrangements for Ajay and left for Mumbai. Three months later, when Namita's parents arrived for the delivery, she returned to Jaipur, promising to be back whenever her son needed her.

"Maa, since my promotion, I have been commuting two hours one way. It is killing me and the twins are falling sick often... Can you please come?"

It took the couple a few days to get the right papers. But a month later, they left for the US, to be with the daughter and her family. What bliss, the twins, all over them, loving them... doting them.

But when they were at school and after Sarala had finished all the housework, she was bored. Ajay was bored. There was precious little they could do. As winter set in, they felt hemmed in and were glad to return home, Jaipur was cold too, but there was the warmth of the people around.

And then, Namita needed to get back to work, her parents needed to return to the US to their son, and Sarala and Ajay went back to Mumbai. Ajay felt on edge, always, as if on borrowed time, waiting to get back to do all that he wanted to do.

His sister fell sick and Ajay and Sarala returned to take care of her. A widow, Chanda lived alone in Jaipur. Sarala was fond of her sister-in-law and the moment she could, she made her way back. Chanda's son Bharat came home for a few days. He was grateful to his uncle and aunt for taking care of his mother. "I have to get back to Delhi, mamu..." he said one day, hesitantly. "I am worried about leaving ma alone at home..."

"Why should she be alone here? Delhi has better medical facilities. Take her there and get her good treatment," Ajay advised his nephew.

"Right now she seems fine... Once she is better, she wants to return to her house... My wife has not been keeping well...My children have exams. I will take her during the vacation, mama..." he said politely but firmly.

Ajay's temper flared. "She is not a holiday project! She is your mother!" But as the harsh words had no effect beyond making Bharat hang his head in shame, Ajay declared, "She will live with us. She is not going anywhere!"

"How can you take this on your head, baba!" Prabha asked indignantly. "It is Bharat's responsibility, not yours!"

"Baba, this is unnecessary headache for you," sympathised Jeet. "At your age... If something happens to you?"

"She is my sister," he silenced them.

"But that means you can't travel freely!" the children echoed each other with concern.

"Don't worry. Whenever you need, your mother will be there."

Placated, they stopped pestering him about it.

That restricted his travel severely, but a price he was willing to pay as his wife traveled to the US and Mumbai alone as and when the children needed them for the next three years. When Chanda passed away, Prabha, Jeet and Bharat said, "Poor woman. She suffered so much. I am glad god ended her suffering."

Ajay and Sarala shed tears, thinking of the many years Chanda could have lived had she not died of a broken heart. Knowing that age and illness had nothing to do with the desire to live.

Time seemed to fly even as the couple flew around for their children. He was 80 now. His wife, 75. He walked erect, ready to run when his children called, if his relatives needed him. His wife, his shadow sometimes, leading him at other times, complained rarely though her aging bones protested.

Age is only in the mind - it was fashionable to say. As he thanked god for a good health and even better fortitude, he thought of the many times when he was tormented watching the malady his children suffered from - the need to run with the hares and hunt with the wolves, never a moment of peace as they tried to grow higher and higher at work, feeling weighed down by personal responsibilities, glad that their parents could take their place in the family at least for the children. Though happy to be of use to them, he wished they could have mental peace even if that meant being away from them.

He reached the door of the house and saw the neglected front yard. He crumpled the list he had made of pilgrim centres. Till their bodies remained, they would be there for their children. What greater joy could they hope for? 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Invitation

Sangeetha stood behind the mike and matched the scale given by the orchestra. The music director waved his hand and the orchestra began. Getting her cue, Sangeetha closed her eyes and began singing, her concentration only on the tune, the beat and the pitch.

When the song ended, there was total silence - she was used to it. She opened her eyes, and the applause from the director and the other assistants began. She smiled a half smile, inclined her head and stepped out of the studio.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Friend In-Debt

Madhumita saw the caller's name - Leela. Her best friend, her childhood friend. And yet... she felt her heart tightening at the prospect of speaking to her. Reluctantly, she took the call. "Hi Leela, how are you?"

"Good. I have been wanting to talk to you for so long. But you never call!" Leela grumbled.

"I was planning to..."

"Busy, always busy. I don't know with what!?" Leela complained tersely.

Madhu rolled her eyes and said softly, "You know how it is. My work, yoga in the evening, managing the house..."

"And your treatment!!!" Leela added before Madhu could complete. Madhu was stunned and kept quiet. "Yes, you didn't tell me, but your mother did... I am going to take you to the best gynec there..."

"No, really!" Madhu tried to discourage her but Leela wouldn't listen. "If you were in Delhi, I would know whom to go to. But I have found a very highly recommended fertility expert. I am coming with Rashmi next week and take you to him..." Rashmi was Leela's one year old daughter.

"Really, Leela, there is no need. I am going to a good doctor and that's fine."

"Yes, but not the best!" Leela said without any room for negotiation.

Madhu rolled her eyes, resenting this intrusion. Samarth and she had been trying for a baby for the last two years without success. She was already stressed, and now she didn't want Leela complicating her life. But would that girl understand and respect her wish?

Leela was the daughter of an industrialist, Bhaskar, in whose company Madhu's father Jaidev worked. When the company went through difficult times, Leela was not even aware. Her father would not let her daughter be denied any luxury - be it the expensive schooling she received, expensive gifts or toys... Jaidev was forced to do so, though.

"What! You get to change your school! How cool is that!" had been Leela's remarkable reaction. "Dad, I want to change schools too! Make new friends! I will be stuck to this place forever otherwise!!!" Her father obliged immediately and she was enrolled in the school with Madhu. But within a month, she couldn't stand the very bourgeois crowd. "I want to go back," she screamed and brought the roof down. "I want Madhu also to come back..." she insisted once she was returned to the fold. Bhaskar obliged, stretching his already stretched means and funding Madhu's education too. Jaidev felt obliged to Bhaskar forever. But what about Madhu?

"She would have died of boredom in that school! Oh my god! Imagine, with none of us to keep her company!!!" Leela held public discourses for close to a year. Madhu felt her gratitude turning sour and wished she could return to that very bourgeois school, if only to escape Leela's boasting.

When Samarth joined the next year - they were in X at that time - Madhu did feel the gratitude return. Samarth was shy, quiet, and bullied by the other boys. Madhu tried defending him, but realised that it was harming him more for being defended by a girl. That angered him and he avoided her. Miserable, Madhu kept to her work and friends. She was both gratified and disappointed to see him become one of the most popular boys in the class because he was good at sports and in academics.

Leela complained, "Samarth seems interested only in girls who are into sports. You are so lucky that you play volleyball well! Coach me in the game," she demanded.

Any other reason, Madhu would have obliged. But to win over Samarth? Not at all! "You need a proper coach," she dismissed her friend, and was horrified to see her get one.

"But I can't play alone with the coach. At least in the initial days, Madhu has to be there... In fact, the entire volleyball team from my class can get trained by this coach," Leela insisted. Madhu couldn't help but notice that Leela had cunningly made Samarth also a part of her training team.

Now she was in a dilemma about whether to go or not. Her father made it easy for her. "I don't think you should be going for this," he ordered.

"I will," she rebelled and went.

"I knew, darling, that you will come. It is a great opportunity that you couldn't have afforded," Leela welcomed her with open arms and a barbed tongue. Madhu wanted to walk away, but feared her father taunting her about this for the rest of her life. And so she stuck around.

The coach had not expected much from this mixed group, and was stunned to see how well some of them played. He identified three boys and two girls, Madhu and Samarth included, for playing in the under-19, inter club competition. "What a lucky break!" Leela congratulated. "Good thing you came today!" Yes, she cheered the people who were selected and gave an elaborate party since she felt somehow it was she who was responsible for this good break.

Samarth indeed found himself bound to Leela, whom he thought was his Lady Luck. Madhu watched them jealously, but decided he was not worth crying over if this is what it took to win his attention. She could never match it anyway. Still, the heart will play by its own rules, and it did cry.

Because of their good academic performance, passing in the entrance with flying colours as well as their sports achievements, Samarth and Madhu got admission in the best engineering college. Leela, despite all the tantrum she threw and the money power, could not get it in the same college. She went to the best that money could buy, probably better than theirs, but was unhappy. "Madhu, my father will sponsor you. You join my college," she told her friend confidently.

"No thanks, I am doing what I want, here," Madhu dissuaded her firmly.

As Leela watched Madhu and Samarth becoming closer and closer, she made sure Madhu remembered her indebtedness more and more.

"Samarth and I are just friends," Madhu tried to assure her more than once. For Samarth still held a candle for Leela. But Leela, used to undivided attention, was alarmed by the strong bond these two shared. "That's because we have a lot in common, Leela," Madhu reasoned. She herself wished for the relationship to move to the next level, but was disappointed at how steadfast Samarth was towards Leela. It was even hard to bitch about her to him when she was annoyed. "She is insecure, that's all," he said with characteristic generosity.

Leela was the happiest when Samarth moved to a different city to work. And very upset when she came to know that Madhu and he kept in touch. But he knew how to handle her too. "Madhu is forever grateful to you for your timely help... Don't spoil it by being mean to her..."

"No, I won't be... He is right," Leela assured Madhu when showing her the message. "Isn't he just wonderful? I am so glad he and I are a couple. Both of us have your interest in our hearts," she said. Madhu inwardly rolled her eyes and decided to snap all ties. One was bad enough, two would be unbearable. She wanted Samarth's love, not his pity.

She left his messages unanswered. She didn't call or return his calls. When he stood in front of her in her office one afternoon, she thought she was hallucinating.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded without preliminaries.

"I haven't come for an interview and I don't know anyone else here... Then it must be to meet you!"

She got up and guided him to the canteen. "I didn't know you were coming."

"You would have had you seen my messages."

She mechanically looked at her phone. 223 unread messages from him in the last six months.

"Something happened and you just shut up. Now, I respect that. But I think I deserve to know what it is."

She felt tired. "There was nothing. Just projects and deadlines... And I am preparing for MBA."

"Story of my life. So why is it easy for me to send you a message a day but not for you to respond?"

"I don't know," she said and got up. He grasped her hand. "Madhu, don't leave me hanging like this! It was hard for me to take this break, but I have come to see you."

She jerked her hand free and laughed wryly. "Really? What does Leela have to say about it?"

"About what?"

"About your coming to meet me?"

He was silent, unable to answer. "Oh, by the way, thank you for giving me a character certificate to remain in her good books. I can't tell you how indebted I am to the two of you for keeping my best interests at heart."

He took a deep breath and got up. "I see..." And he was off, just like that...

Leela stormed into her house that evening. "When Samarth and you are having a good time, Madhu, remember to thank me. I cannot hold what is not mine, but remember that if he is yours, it is because I am letting him go without a fight," she declared with angry tears flowing down her cheeks and left immediately after, leaving a speechless Madhu behind.

But Samarth did not contact her, let alone propose. Leela remained cut off. Had Leela exaggerated a lover's quarrel and raised false hopes? Were they reconciled? Madhu couldn't focus on work or her preparations.

Finally, unable to stand the suspense, she messaged Samarth, "Sorry. I was upset."

No reply, just as she deserved, expected and feared.

When he stood again in front of her the next week, she started crying unmindful of her colleagues who shared her bay. Well... All is well that ends well. They married three years later, and had been married now for three years. "You have only me to thank," Leela said when Madhu handed her the invitation personally.

Madhu leaned forward and hugged her. "Yes Leela, I have only you to thank for my education, my sports, my husband... Every thing that matters to me is because of you"

"Don't be in a hurry to thank me! I am sure we are not done yet," Leela said, not without irony. Madhu laughed, glad that she did not begin her married life with the burden of Leela's ill will.

Of course, that feeling did not last. Many of their common friends knew about Samarth and Leela's long courtship. Leela was not above letting go of the opportunity. "I couldn't stand in her way, could I, when she seemed so deeply in love with him?" By the end of the wedding ceremonies, Madhu was totally fed up and didn't think she would look back to her wedding day with any special fondness. It was Samarth's good humour that had seen her through the day!

And now, this stress about not being able to conceive... Madhu sometimes wondered whether her childlessness was because of Leela, who herself had married and delivered a child within a year. Madhu dismissed those thoughts as mean and superstitious, but it recurred often.

She had not been keen on keeping in touch with Leela. And though Leela promised never to call again since Madhu herself never initiated a conversation, she couldn't seem to keep her promise! And now this trip! Madhu couldn't even wish for Leela's plan to fail! She just wished the trip would get cancelled.

She welcomed Leela and Rashmi with a warm smile when they came the week after. The next few days, Leela made sure that the purpose of her visit was not neglected. She fixed an appointment with the famous doctor, arranged for the treatment and was by Madhu's side, sometimes leaving Rashmi with Samarth.

Nothing helped, though. Madhu's body continued to reject any attempts at impregnation. Added to that, her failure in front of Leela humiliated her deeply. "Please leave, Leela... Whatever will be, will be," she told her friend in various tones, only to be met by stubborn refusal.

Leela's husband Guru joined them at the end of two months. When Leela talked of coming back in six months again, Madhu erupted angrily, "Just leave me alone, will you?"

"Yes, for now," Leela replied calmly. "But... I will be back," she said dramatically.

When they left that morning to catch the flight, Madhu leaned on Samarth and cried. "Madhu, I don't know why you torture yourself like this. I told you, I am fine even if we don' have children..."

"But I am not," Madhu retorted.

"Let's adopt..."

"Please Sam... Let's not talk about it right now..."

The phone rang. "Madam, there's been an accident..."

The car Leela and her family had been traveling in had met with an accident. Madhu and Samarth rushed to the government hospital to claim the bodies of Guru and Leela, who had died instantly. They traced Rashmi in the nearby police station. The child had had a miraculous escape, cushioned by her mother's body, and sat crying amidst strangers who were trying their best to placate her.

Seeing Samarth, the child toddled forward on unsteady legs and clung to him as they rushed about to complete the formalities.

Bhaskar - Leela's father, now an old man in his 60s - and Guru's father came down for taking the body with them to Delhi. Rashmi seemed to have forgotten her grandparents in the last two months of being away and wouldn't let go of Samarth. Madhu tried to prise the child's fingers free, but realised that Samarth too was reluctant to let go.

Bhaskar placed a gentle hand on Madhu and said softly, "We are old people and may not be able to take care for Rashmi well. Rashmi seems to have taken to you both well... Leela too would have wanted you to bring her child up..."

He looked at Guru's father, who nodded with tears in his eyes.

Madhu's eyes welled up. This time, she could not even say thank you to her friend. She would have preferred Leela tom-tomming her generosity yet again. The silence was deafening.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


I sat in the veranda with my tea, watching the leaves falling from the trees. I sighed, feeling much like the loose, dry leaf. I felt one with the tree with the bare branches.

Sapped of youth, separated from my roots, I seemed to be waiting for time to destroy me, for earth to consume me, for fire to burn me, for winds to blow me away, for water to wash me...

"Naani," a tender voice called out to me.

I paused, wanting to indulge my thoughts, my melancholy. But the voice had already tugged at my heartstrings and melancholy was giving way to a sort of reluctant joy that only a grandchild could evoke.

"I am here, beta," I called Advit to me. I heard his feet pattering as he ran out and threw his arms around me. My four-year-old grandson fitted the description of a cherubic angel. The curly rings falling on his forehead, the rosy, chubby cheeks... I scooped him in my arms and kissed him. "Chalo, let's get ready for school," I said and got up with him in my arms. My body swayed and I panicked. I sat back; luckily, both of us were safe.

Advit laughed. "Again, naani," he said, thinking it was a game.

I put him down gently and said, "And miss school?"

I took him into the house. My son-in-law Brajesh was in the kitchen, making coffee while daughter Neetu rushed around, getting the day organised. Advit dutifully hugged them and then came back to me to get ready for school. The usual tantrums, the running around the house, the cajoling, the coaxing, the shouting...

When Brajesh went to drop Advit to school, it was like the calm before the next storm began in the afternoon.

I sat on the dining chair and Neetu served breakfast. "You indulge him too much," she complained as usual. "You were never this lenient when we were growing up!"

I chuckled. The best way to deal with this.

"You make it difficult for me to discipline him," she went on, with her mouth full.

"I didn't succeed in disciplining you either," I joked. "Speaking while eating," I said with mock distaste and shook my head.

Neetu grimaced and I felt sorry for her. Where was the light-hearted girl that used to laugh at even the slightest joke and make me laugh too?

She whipped her phone out. "Papa? Happy birthday, papa," she said enthusiastically. Oh, I had forgotten it was my husband's birthday! "How are you? What happened? Did you go to the doctor? Does Sanjay bhayya know? Let me speak to him!" she plied him with questions. "Ya, mama is here." She handed me the phone with a displeased look.

"What happened?" I asked with concern, forgetting yet again to wish him. Seeing my daughter gesture, I said, "Happy birthday... haan, haan... What happened?"

"Nothing, just some back trouble... Was finding it difficult to move..." he tried to dismiss it lightly. But the fact that he had mentioned it and that his voice sounded tired were enough proof that he was suffering.

"Shall I come?" I asked. My daughter, who was clearing the table, stopped and her eyes widened.

"No, no, it's okay Sharada... Nothing serious," he said softly. "Just some balm... Shail's hands have magic. When he applies the balm, all pain vanishes," he said with quiet pride. Shail was our son Sanjay's 12 year old son.

Neetu mouthed something. Since I didn't understand, she said, "Ask papa to come here."

I got up, unable to contain the bubbling hope her suggestion had sparked. I relayed the suggestion, "Why don't you come here? It's...been a year..." My voice sounded hoarse... I blinked back tears and rushed to the veranda.

He sighed, just a hint of it. "Shail's exams are on and Renu needs to be at work... Someone needs to help Shail... Can't you get away for some time?" he asked, the question coming out very hesitantly, with just a hint of expectation.

"Neetu and Brajesh are going to be on tour this month..."

"Shail needs me... Will talk to you later," he said and disconnected.

I looked out the veranda. The ground looked deceptively rich with the fallen leaves, but the tree itself stood alone.

"Ma..." my daughter called out to me on her way out to work. "I will be late tonight. Brajesh has a dinner meeting... Don't let Advit wait up for us..."

I nodded and watched her go. I longed to be with my husband. But our children needed us.

The silence pressed against me. I wiped the tear that rolled down my cheek and busied myself to keep thoughts at bay.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Loyal Friend

I peeped out of the window, hoping to see the usual cars passing by. A figure entered the picture unexpectedly and attracted my attention. I grimaced at his very scrawny look. He looked here and there, and then, called out to his friends. He was suddenly surrounded by five or six, all looking like stragglers - unkempt and rustic. I dismissed them and loitered around the house, ready for my mid-morning nap.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Tough Match

She swung her racket and then paused in disappointment. She had missed. The silence was deafening, accusing her of failure.
It was coming at her again and she swung again. This time, the crackling sound as the mosquito hit the electric racket brought a smile to her face.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The White Shirt

"Clumsy!" Kavya heard her mother's voice in her ears as she spilled coffee on her shirt. She looked at it in dismay, wondering when she would learn to be less messy. And why did she have to wear white!

The waiter very helpfully offered her tissues. But though she knew she should try to wash off the stain, getting a white shirt wet in a cafe!!!

She controlled the tears of frustration as she paid up and came out. She checked her watch - 10. Her house was in one direction, and her venue for the appointment in another. "Damn!" she thought. There was no time to go back home and change her shirt. She would have to buy another shirt. White shirt. Which idiot thought of making white the uniform at her workplace, she wondered for the nth time!

She looked across the road, wondering if she should just walk into the meeting with the stained white shirt and pretend it was the latest design!

She sighed, knowing that was not going to work. She was about to hail an auto when she realised there was a mall next door. She headed there, thanking gods for this little mercy on her. She entered her favourite shop. She looked for her size in her preferred brand and was disappointed to see they were out of stock. There was S, M and XL but no L.

Reluctantly, she looked for white shirts in other brands, and even in other shops in the mall, giving herself just 10 minutes to complete the survey. She didn't even need so much time. The stores in teh same floor didn't have white shirts. In the next floor, the only store that had didn't have her fit. Either they were too tight in the chest or too loose around the waist.

She recollected her mother's lamentation, "I can never find ready made clothes for you. Why can't you fit the mould?"

Ever since she turned adolescent, she had to opt for tailor made clothes. While for Indian she didn't mind that, getting a good tailor for western wear was a challenge. Now that at the workplace she had to wear western clothes most of the time, shopping was becoming a nightmare. Was it only she who had a problem, she wondered as she finally opted for an L size in an inferior brand and tried to get it to mould to her shape.

She reached the venue 20 minutes late, and not even feeling good about her purchase...

Who decides what a woman's body should be like - the thought wouldn't leave her. Was she abnormal? Was she misshapen? She started looking at herself closely every time she crossed a mirror. She started assessing the expression in the eyes of the people looking at her during conversations. She didn't see ridicule or even surprise in their eyes. Sometimes she even detected admiration and desire...

Then why couldn't she find a simple shirt? She went back, again and again, to try out different western designs and found the same problem. She spoke to her friends, acquaintances, wives of colleagues. It was heartening to know she was not the only one, but she wondered why no one had thought of all the other women who did not fit into the standard sizes.

Finding a solution became her only obsessive thought in the next few days. She searched the web, and all she came up with were tailor names and addresses abroad. Or high end fashion designers...

Her quest took her to e-commerce sites. Nothing much for women, but it gave her an idea.

It took her two years and much talking to her parents to convince them to back her. When she successfully commissioned western wear to fit her shape, she felt liberated. But when she launched a site for women to buy made-to-order wear, she was the first one to order the kind of clothes she had fantasised about all her life!

"My ugly duckling turns a swan," her mother said fondly, kissing her daughter. "Can I order some for myself too?" asked she, surprising Kavya. She thought her mother preferred the regulation uniform she wore. "I never found what I wanted in the shops," her mother confessed and the two had a hearty laugh.

(This story is a creative twist based on an interview I did for a management magazine about a woman who started a portal for customised western wear. It may differ in actual points as I do not know much about the person. The actual article on how her entrepreneurial journey turned out will appear in the next issue of the magazine.)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Not As In...

"How did your day go?" Vivek asked when Sadhana returned from work.

"Mmmm..." she replied noncommittally.

"Is that a yes or a no?" he asked, more from masochistic intentions of needing evidence to lament later on.

"It was good," Sadhana answered, but her tone did not reflect 'good.'

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Just Another Day

"Ma," 13-year-old Smita called out from inside. "Can you please get me my uniform?"

Ganga looked at the clock and shouted back, "Wrap a towel around you and pick it up yourself."

Jay was in the dining room, reading the paper. "Poor kid, why don't you get her the dress?"

"You are most welcome to," Ganga said as she kneaded the dough indifferently. Jay just shook his head as he continued reading. Ganga felt a pang of guilt but didn't budge - she couldn't. She had a meeting at 10, and if she got delayed, then traffic would delay her.

Smita came out grumbling. "It would have taken you a second."

"Right, and if you had taken it with you in the first place, it wouldn't even need that second," Ganga said and returned to the kitchen.

Smita made a face as she dressed up and tied her hair. She filled up the water bottle, packed her snack and sat down for breakfast. Ganga served her hot chapatis with paneer butter masala. "Yummy! Keep extra," Smita said.

Ganga smiled, "Already packed 5. Is that enough?"

Smita nodded with her mouth full and then hugged her mother from the side.

The house was empty by 9 as each went their way. Smita returned first, at 4.30. She was tired and looked at the dining table expectantly. She felt like having hot dosas, but all she could find was bun and jam. She sighed and ate the snack. She called her mother, "Can you make dosa at night for dinner?"

Ganga was silent for a minute. "Not tonight. I have a dinner meeting. Tomorrow breakfast, I promise."

Disappointed, Smita was about to put the phone down when Ganga said, "I will ask daddy to order something... or the two of you can go out. But..." she paused to let Smita scream joyfully. "You have to finish your homework before that. Do you have any classes?"

"Only maths tuition."

Jay, however, was also tied up at work. Ganga wondered what to do. "Why don't you order something?"

"Come on, Ganga. It maybe 8 by the time I reach home and it will be too late for her. Why don't you go home, make something before leaving for dinner?"

"Won't have time," she replied thoughtfully. "Will order pizza."

"No! I hate pizza."

"Then tell me what? I know the pizza guy will deliver in 30 minutes, but not anyone else. She will be alone at home. I don't want her to open the door for delivery boys..."

"But what if he does not come before you leave?"

"Jay," she said sternly, "If you can give me solutions, do. Don't just tell me about the problems."

"Skip the dinner," he said suavely.

"Return home early," she snapped back and cut the call before it erupted into a fight. She sat back with her eyes closed. She felt she was snapping all the time. She called Jay again. "I will pick up something on the way," she said.

"No, it's okay. I just  rescheduled my meeting to tomorrow. Don't plug in something then..." he warned her, but she smiled feeling the warm rush of love.

"Don't be hard on her," she said softly. "She likes to keep the door closed, just let her be."

She called Smita up to inform her. "Yaay!" her daughter exclaimed. She knew it would be a night of indulgence, but, well, why not. "Just make sure you complete your work and don't aggravate father," she cautioned her daughter.

When she returned after the dinner, she felt tired. Jay was awake but Smita was asleep. "How was the dinner?"

She nodded, but rushed to the bathroom and threw up. "I told you to miss it," Jay said and earned a glare. He got her some cumin seeds and made buttermilk, and though it calmed her churning stomach somewhat, she had a restless sleep.

Next morning, when Smita woke up, she was startled to see her father pottering about in the kitchen and her mother in bed. "Sandwich for breakfast?" she asked with a weak smile.

Jay smiled, "Yes! How did you guess?"

Smita rolled her eyes. "Guess..."

He chuckled. "Oh come, half the world lives on it."

"I belong to the other half," she said over her shoulder as she went about her morning chores. "What's happened to mom?"

"Stomach bug. So please help around if you can," he cautioned her.

Ganga opened her eyes and panicked, seeing it was already 8! She rushed to the kitchen to see Jay clearing up the kitchen and Smita packing her lunch - curd rice with pickle.

"Go to the doc today," father and daughter said in unison. "We can't have you packing up like this," Smita added and hugged her mother. Jay's and Ganga's eyes met over their daughter's head and they smiled.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Valuables

Sofiya locked the locker in the bureau securely. All that she valued was kept here. She would have to keep it in the bank locker, but she wouldn't be able to go till the weekend.

She put the key in her wardrobe and locked that too. She took the key and put that in the inside zip of her handbag and closed it, as well as the top zip. She clutched it close to her side and stepped out. She locked the house, put the key safely inside her bag and walked to the bus stop.

She walked casually enough, but her hand held the bag tightly. The bus stop had several pickpockets and she did not want to lose the keys.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Dobie and Me: Chapter 20

My head reeled. He pulled me up and took me in his arms. “She thinks that you will never take this…relationship forward.”

I pushed him away. “Are we to marry to prove her wrong?” I asked, feeling a stirring of a slow rage within me.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Dobie and Me: Chapter 19

For the previous chapter, click here

I sat puzzling over his last words. Had he said Shivani? Had he meant Vandana?

I took my car out and drove to his house. I couldn’t stand the suspense.

He was surprised to see me there but let me in. I quickly glanced around to see her presence, or the evidence of her presence. It looked every inch a male bastion. It should have been reassuring, but it was not. I turned to look at him. “What did you say?”

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Dobie and Me: Chapter 18

For the previous chapter, click here

Gautam was as if he had been released from prison. There was no holding him back.

Enjoying his new found freedom and making up for lost time, he started travelling often. I saw less and less of him. He had plans for every weekend, and he was busy reviving contact with his friends. He asked me to join him sometimes, but not always, and never hard enough for me to accept. I was relieved, in a way. Dobie was a big reason, but, I could have done something about it.

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