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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Waiting Room

Dinesh Mittal climbed up the five steps leading to his doctor's clinic and paused for breath. He opened the door and the receptionist smiled at him. "Please be seated Mr Mittal. Dr Batra will see you in a few minutes."

Mittal nodded and sat in the chair placed for waiting patients. He had retired four years ago. Now, every time he came to see the doctor and waited in this room, he felt it represented his life - a long wait before the final end.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

An Off-Day in Yamaloka

"Chitragupta," Yama called his accountant, looking at the karmic ledger of earthlings. It weighed heavy on his hands. Not getting a response, he raised his voice and called out more authoritatively, "Gupta!"

A smug looking Chitragupta entered Yama's official chambers. "Did you call me, Yamadeva?"

Yama peered at him from under his eyelashes. "You took your own time..."

"He, he, he," Chitragupta responded with a sheepish laugh. "I was exchanging notes with the income tax department official... I don't mean currency note... you know... I mean..." he blabbered. Seeing Yama's stern look, he immediately got on with his explanation. "He is yet to be allocated his next life... and drops in often to request a good life... He has promised..." Chitragupta gulped, realising he had said more than was needed.

Yama took in Chitragupta's growing belly and sloppy appearance. "Several pages seem incomplete, Gupta... You seem to be slackening..." Yama looked up and locked his gaze with his accountant. Chitragupta met it without flinching, though his smile became fawning - another new. "Nothing of that sort, Deva... All in good time... Errr... There are some...formalities to be completed. Have asked the waiting souls for some details... Once it's in..."

Yama frowned. "You mean you are not able to keep track? Since when did we need to get "inputs" (here he put air quotes around the word) to fill in the details?" Chitragupta hung his head silently. Yama sighed and continued, "Sometime ago, you said the population was increasing too fast and death rates correspondingly high. You asked for a system upgrade and we did as you wished. I thought the system was going to take care of everything!"

Chitragupta scratched his head. "Errr... I forgot password... And it is not compatible with our old systems... So..."

Yama shut the ledger sharply, expressing his displeasure. "Come on, I have never seen you like this! For the last few years, your attitude has been undergoing tremendous change! It is affecting our work and reputation."

"I am so sorry, sir, if I have not given pleasure. But you know how it is, long working hours with no corresponding increase in compensation... And also, the world is changing... So must we," he slipped that in quite unconsciously.

"Indeed? How must we change?" asked Yama coldly, disturbed by this transformed demigod in front of him.

Chitragupta sat down in front of the god and whispered in a conspiratorial, "We keep track of people's actions and reward or punish accordingly. But people try to escape the consequences of their actions by appeasing one god or the other. And the gods reduce or eliminate the consequences, undermining you, My Lord..." he observed Yama as the latter became thoughtful. "Nobody cares for their actions anymore. There are so many loopholes that they escape their karma. Your importance is waning. They fear you only in their death... But nobody fears when they are alive!"

Yama frowned, quite confused. Chitragupta ignored him and continued, "But where can we catch them?" Yama looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "When they come here, for their accounts to be cleared and when we decide what life they will have next." Yama looked shocked. Chitragupta nodded sagely. "The income tax official worked for the Indian government. All these years, he has been clearing files and knows how to keep the poor souls who come to him in his grip. He has given me useful tips on how to go about it..." He pointed at the ledger. "Keeping that open... That's the first step."

"How does that help?"

"We can fill it up the way we want... In return for favours," Chitragupta winked.

Yama was taken aback. "What favours do you need? You have no needs!" he said dourly.

"That's the mistake we make, Yama...ji. We must create needs and we must have them fulfilled. I will get the list..." He was out and back in no time, holding a long list. "I am making that official help me with it and that's why I am holding him back... Errr, when he is being reborn, he wants to become a minister. That will be helpful to us in furthering our cause... Do you think we can comply...?"

"You...!" Yama bounded up from his seat and made for Chitragupta, who fled the room. "I have work to do!" the accountant shouted back."

Yama shook his head and wondered if it was better to leave the corrupt souls in the lower world instead of having them influence his world too! He saw Chitragupta's list on the floor. He picked it up and glanced through. His mouth watered. Shaking himself, he crumpled it and threw it into the dustbin. In his wrath, a plane full of people crashed into the sea, a bus was set ablaze, a train went off the tracks...










Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Only True Love

"What!" Preethi asked in shock. "But Madhu was not even fifty yet, was she?" she asked Karan, her husband of 50 years.

Karan too reeled under the shock as he reread the message. Madhu, one of their chirpy neighbours, had passed away in her sleep apparently. Her children were still in college. Madhu's husband Ravi was running his own business. The two were in the forefront of any cultural events in the building, singing duets, organising tambola, putting up a skit... She walked regularly and seemed eternally cheerful and friendly.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Signs of Prosperity

Rakesh Sinha eyed his son Sujay with pride. He was just 30, and he had already bought a flat in an upmarket locality. "Papa, you enter the house first with ma," Sujay said and his wife Chandni nodded with a smile.

Rakesh and Kamla entered the house - feeling overwhelmed that their eldest son at least had achieved what they themselves couldn't in all these years. Rakesh had worked for 45 years in a government department, rising up the ranks but still only modestly. And it had showed in the way they lived.

Rakesh's eyes brimmed as he saw the sparkling new home. Dull walls, leaky roofs, makeshift homes - that is what they had managed with most of their lives. In the initial years, he had to take care of his parents and siblings. Then, what he earned barely met the needs of his growing children. Though loans started becoming available when he was in his late forties, he could not afford the EMI. They had shifted from one rented house to another, sometimes changing children's school to suit the locality, sometimes the house closer to where they studied. They had to be happy with the simple joys life offered. And the greatest relief was when a loan was repaid.

Luckily, he had been able to give his children good education - or rather, they were able to make the most of what was available and all were in good jobs, earning well... And here was proof that their sacrifices had paid rich dividends.

He felt a tremor in his heart every time he thought of the loan that Sujay had taken, but his son and daughter-in-law had assured him that the repayment terms were very reasonable and easy. "In your times, being indebted to anyone was a shame... Now every one has at least one EMI to pay," Sujay assured his father.

"Times are changing," Rakesh agreed. His friends seemed to have similar stories to tell. In fact, they were envious of the current trend. "If only we had had this facility! We could have done so much for our children!"

Friday, July 28, 2017

Out of Depth

Alone, his back to the world, Mari preferred to dip deep into the pool of his emotions rather than have the noise disturb his peace.

What would he like, truly? Why, the view of the hills on one side, sloping down into green valleys with a silent lake in their amidst, where he could fish when he wished in peace.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Spirit of Music

Saveri sat at her aunt's feet, watching with awe as the elder lady, with her eyes closed, strummed the tanpura and matched her voice to the tonal sound. Even that fundamental element of music emanating from that divine voice was perfect. Saveri opened her mouth and winced at the harsher sound that came from her own throat. Albeit in the right pitch, it lacked finesse. She tried to subdue the harshness by constricting the throat.

Her aunt looked at her kindly. "Don't hold back!"

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Classmate

Saveri was excited. She had just been added to the Whatsapp group of the school she had studied but for two years in Mumbai.

It had been a rude shock at that time, about 25 years ago... When she was just an 8-year-old... They were living in Delhi before that, and she had grown up ensconced in the warmth of her grandmother's love. Suddenly, after her grandmother's death, Saveri's distraught father had sought a change and gone to Mumbai, his wife and Saveri in tow.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - Part V

For Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV

When she came to, she was lying on her mother's lap. Revathi was fanning her with the pallu of her sari, while Gautama sprinkled water on her face. Seeing her revive, he helped her up and gave her some water to drink. She saw the anxious look on his face and felt her eyes welling up in relief.

"How are you feeling?" Gautama asked Shravanti solicitously.

She nodded in reply.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - IV

For Part I, For Part II, For Part III

Part IV Continued

Their swords clashed. Shravanti felt her entire body tremble at the impact. As they sparred, she became painfully aware that mere hacking away at firewood or practicing with a young student did not prepare you to meet a battle-hardened bandit. Most of her energy went only to keep her body straight. She was also ashamed to realise that the bandit was toying with her, the leer on his face suggesting the fanciful thoughts that flitted through his mind, and that he could make short work of her if he so desired. Any fancy footwork and agility won her a slash, but the bandit seldom drove home his advantage.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - III

For Part I
For Part II

Continued
"Vikrama's father Saranga and I were very good friends. Vikram was just around 10 when you were born. Saranga and I decided to get the two of you married when you came of age. Five years later, we even formalised it with an engagement ceremony... The marriage date was fixed for two years later, when Vikrama's apprenticeship under his father would be over," Gautama said, gazing out of the window with a far away look. "There was much hope, many plans... Soon after your engagement was fixed, one evening he visited us. It was all fun and laughter when you entered the room with a sword almost your size. We were amused and though I tried to dissuade you, Saranga encouraged you to slash like a swashbuckler with the weapon. Unfortunately, when you plunged, you tripped and injured Saranga severely. We rushed him to the doctor and bore the expenses of his intense treatment, which was a big draw on our limited resources. It also severely crippled Saranga, who could not continue to give training in weapons. He was unforgiving and within a few months, both of us fell into bad days... Saranga blamed us, you specifically, for our misfortune. Our friendship soured..." Gautama hesitated.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - II

Click for Part I

The man stood tall and broad, intimidating her with a glare that made her heart tremble.

"You have repaid my trust well," he said in a quiet, deep voice.

Shravanti lowered her head, her face pale. Ajaya, who had run ahead, saw the threat to Shravanti's person and regretted leaving his weapons behind near the tree where they had been sitting. But adept at the art of turning even a twig into a weapon, he picked up dry sand and stole up to the man.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - I

Shravanti walked down the path, her hips swaying gracefully as she balanced a pot on her head and a sickle in the other. Her youthful body was wrapped in fine, soft cotton that highlighted her curves. If one were to overtake her and catch a glimpse of her face, their heart could not be blamed for forgetting to beat on seeing the delicate features that seemed to be engraved perfectly.

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

Goal

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

Betrayed

“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? 
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