Friday, April 8, 2011

A Story-teller's Sabbatical


The trip was meant to be a sabbatical.

They told him, it will do you a lot of good. A story-teller is always on a sabbatical is it not, he asked. You are not a story-teller, they replied. I am not, he agreed, maybe, maybe not, he added. Whatever, they dismissed him. Who is not a story-teller, he wondered wandered alone.

Some story-tellers try to write. Some become a postprandial raconteur. Some shy away from an audience. Some prefer to listen, to judge. Some try to forget their stories. Some hide theirs. Some pretend to be otherwise as if there are no stories to be told. Some assume that their story is a test quite meaningless without a grade. Some appear to know it all. Some simply ignore. Some gather kindred souls to ostracize, discourage, restrict, censor. But, stories can escape from solitary confinement. Stories might not even end with death.

Images, memories, experience, sensation, passion, thoughts, ideas…

Lover, loner, rapist, father, spouse, partner, polygamous, androgynous, misanthrope, sensual, greedy, devoted, rake, sexual, impotent, psycho, fanatical, dependable, villain, hero, anonymous…

A million lives to be lived in one…


When the bus crossed the state-border, he expected and waited for change.

He noticed the pigs, the overflowing garbage and the blocked drains. He took in the other differences: the shade of skin-colour, language, volume and tone of conversation; also, the new smell of people, place and air that made his nose twitch. The dress and demeanour though similar, of course, looked strange.  

He waited, breathing slowly, acclimatizing. For him, these days, the ‘acclimatization process’ usually took only fifteen minutes, or utmost half-hour – for his senses to match with that of a local. He knew that the changes were often virtual, a result of his expectations or desire to be different when he crosses any state-border.

Recently, he had started feeling like a stranger in his own land. He tried to overcome those attacks with the same ‘process’ – waiting, breathing slowly and trying to feel like a local, at least at home.

The thought of a distant past, of those days when he had shifted from Bangalore to Bombay, made him smile. He recollected how it took him more than three months then to even notice and appreciate women in that new city. They had seemed different and unappealing. Even the street dogs had appeared different. The Bombay ones looked like lovable pathetic characters. The Bangalore dogs he remembered were strong, muscular and waiting to be a man-eater.   

He was brought out of that reverie when the bus came to a jarring halt. By the time he got out of the bus, he felt only mildly strange in that new place across the border where he had a two-hour wait for the next bus.


At that first stop, a bus-station close to the southern tip of the country, a man was shouting at his wife. The woman looked very young, late teens probably; her husband a few years older.

They were part of a group of contract workers going home or to the next place of work. A few men in that group were drunk, with dhoti hiked till the upper thigh, swaying in the still late evening air. They told their colleague or friend, that husband, to be quiet. The husband ignored them and pushed his wife roughly. He shouted at her for money.

The wife maintained a sullen silence. She squatted on the ground, guarding their meager belongings. The husband raised his voice, telling his wife that he needed money to get something to eat and not for alcohol. She ignored him, or at least tried to, till he pulled angrily and roughly at their bags.

She reached within her blouse and took out a five hundred rupee note. He screamed at her again and told her that he wanted change. She reached within her blouse once again and brought out the rest of their savings, two ten rupee notes. He snatched the five hundred rupee note from her small hand and also grabbed one of the bags, presumably his belongings. He hitched up his once-white dirt-smudged dhoti, stuffed the note in his shorts, scratched his groin and glared at her. Then, he took that note out, crumpling it in his hand, taunting her. He shouted at her, told her to get lost, that he did not want to see her ever again. He marched off in the direction of a liquor shop.

The woman sat alone, a little away from the rest of that group. Her dark unblinking eyes followed the back of her husband. Her young lips did not quiver, her jaw remained firm and, her smooth dark sunken cheeks remained as they were, without tears, whitened by smudges of powder and dust. She looked lost. She did not bother to stuff the two remaining ten rupee notes within her blouse.

A few minutes later, a bus arrived and that group of contract workers entered that parked bus. The woman remained seated on the ground, holding onto her bag, looking in the direction in which her husband had gone.

The tableaux remained the same till the bus started and got ready to depart. The husband entered the scene then. He stood in front of his wife, glared at her and grabbed the bag she was holding. He shouted at her, about how hungry he was. He blamed her and told her that he could not get anything to eat with that five hundred rupee note. He gave her the five-hundred rupee note, untouched by others, unused, crumpled. She slipped it within her blouse, treasuring it next to her small firm bosom.

As they moved towards the bus, she gave him the two ten rupee notes for the bus-tickets. They touched briefly, then. He stood behind her in that departing bus, his arms shielding her.


An eight hour trip followed – punctuated by some stops and bright lights, silhouettes entering and fading within or without the bus and, a visit to a filthy wayside Pay and Use urinal. He should have pissed in the open, like the others. He should have saved three rupees and avoided olfactory, visual and unhygienic abuse.

When he reached his destination at 05:30, he noted that his Lonely Planet guide-book rightly describes ‘there are few more refreshing … moments than boarding a bus in the heat-soaked plains and disembarking in the sharp pinch of a … night.’

Before 06:00, he was in his hotel-room. He stripped and dumped his grimy travel clothes in a laundry bag, washed his face and hands, wrapped a bath-robe around his naked body and stepped out onto the balcony.

He watched the early morning light creep across the lake, rippling the water and nudging life into the sleepy air, lifting a light veil of mist.

He looked around. The balconies on his level were empty and the rooms dark and quiet with heavy slumber. On one balcony at the upper level, that of the suites, he noticed a lone figure. The lady was in her night-clothes, quite inadequate like his in that chilly morning air. They looked at each other for a few seconds before looking away.

Later, during his stay there, he saw her twice. They were then both deeply veiled behind the purdah of matrimony or propriety, and they had walked past each other like strangers who had never shared anything.

That first morning, they had shared the same scene in that early light; they had listened to the same birdsong; they had felt their nipples stiffening as the fresh cool touch of chilly morning air on naked skin started at the bare toes, up the legs, over the navel and torso, caressing lips and hair; and, they had breathed in the same air with that faint tinge of eucalyptus.

They had looked at each other once more before going back to another life inside.

5:54 AM                                                               6:30 AM


Mid-morning brought the first blues. The usual life and routine had a protective allure. He thought about entering an internet café. But, he walked past, without even a furtive glance within. The mail not seen, the mail not sent, hoping, avoiding an empty mail box, depending on the other’s sixth sense. Fool!


He left the main road, past the usual sights. He felt someone following. He looked behind him – he saw no one. He made a sudden turn to the left, on a gravel footpath, with a steep climb on the right and a never-ending fall on the left. He battled against vertigo, moving forward slowly, his right hand feeling rigid comfort, his left tucked in a pocket, shrinking away from the airy expanse. He listened to the crunch of gravel. It could have been the echo of his footfall. Or, it could have been that of the follower.

He reached a turn in that unfamiliar path. A tree blocked his way – a familiar tree on that unfamiliar path.

Trees have stories, too. Long ago, two lovers dreamt of lying beneath this tree. The man gripped the black thread and the locket lying between her full breasts. Remove it, he suggested. She shook her head. His hand strayed from her breasts to her neck, to her navel and thighs. The clouds were beneath them, the heavens too. They wanted to be wild and forget the world around them. What are you thinking, he asked her. She smiled shyly slyly and remained silent. Let me guess, he said. He told her about his dreams, about a trip to such hilly clime, about making love beneath open skies, or within a tent, beneath this tree. Did I get it right, he asked. Yes, she said. He kissed those lips that had uttered a lie. They needed such lies and they built their love on that. With the little time they had, they could not have done a better job with truth.

He leaned against the tree, hearing no more footfalls behind him, fearing no more the fall in front.


That afternoon, he entered a steam bath and tried to exorcise all the demons within. Each drop of sweat carried months of self-imposed thralldom.

From the health joint, he walked to a tobacco shop. He asked for JPS. They didn’t have that. He settled for his old usual. The shop-boy gave a cheeky grin and charged much more than the MRP. It didn’t matter to him, not on this trip. He went to his room, ripped it open, after reading the warning, ‘Smoking kills. Tobacco causes cancer.’ He lit a cigarette and felt the harshness of the first take. He sat motionless, watching the tip of ash grow. Loneliness kills. Solitude causes emptiness.


After tea, he tried the 5-km walk around the lake. Including photos and aimless pondering, it would take him about an hour, he calculated. He realized that the best part about places with nothing much to see is that it allows him to see that he really wants to see.

Along with the first beautiful sight came a bitter thought – he was surprised by the vehemence of that un-exorcised demon.

She and her folks had decided to ignore him, he remembered. They had collectively decided to think wrong of him. Like the aftermath of a forgiven extramarital affair, it will all be fine soon, everything will appear just fine. But, just like the situation after that affair, the relationship will never be the same ever again, never forgiven, never forgotten.  


He walked past happy couples, parents and kids, nearly all holding hands laughing cheering, except for two young foreigners. They walked with long purposeful strides, discussing a research topic. He saw them later sitting together in a secluded part, still talking, now with a hushed soft tone, with their feet nearly in the water.

He liked walking against the crowd. He smiled at a newly-wed couple, struggling to get it right on a tandem bicycle. They smiled at him, nearly giggled. A young enthusiastic mother went past him following her young child on a cycle. A man, the father-husband, dragged his feet behind them, pouting his lips, serious and silent. A little later, he met another young family. There, it was the mother-wife who sulked. He should also try to be serious and silent, he decided, just for a change, for a laugh.

He stopped at a locked gate and looked up a path with roughly hewn steps. He could feel those steps beneath him, the climb to that lonely cottage at the top. He thought he could hear the quarrelling, the bickering, the nagging, the recrimination, the thud of slammed wooden doors and the reverberation within the deep green. He could nearly see the feet running down that path, slipping, hurting, hands opening the gate and shadows racing past him, shouting loudly harshly at the other following close behind. He felt a cold silence after, as if those ghosts had sucked the air and created a vacuum around him.

He followed them to the old abandoned boat-house, shackled and forgotten. He could see that ghostly couple enact out their own version of Rebecca. In their story, it would be without the refreshing and loving second chance. There will be no Mrs. de Winter for that despondent barely surviving Maxim de Winter ever again. The man held her head beneath the surface of water, counting the bubbles till there were none. That is where they lost love and decided to believe no more.


He walked away from that boathouse, away from that memory of a second trip that never happened. He walked fast.

That’s the only problem with these 5-km circuits, he thought. It is tough to get away when you are in the middle.

Another memory lashed at his senses, a memory from his first trip to this place. He felt weak in his knees, a bit breathless. It was a bright and beautiful cool evening. Was he sweating, he wondered.

He was a young boy then, walking alone around this lake. His older siblings had gone ahead on bicycles, laughing, telling him to catch up with them soon.

He must have reached the turn in the path. He must have been looking at the tree house. A respectable-looking middle-aged man was peeing behind a tree. Grey hair, prim and proper, he could still see what his young eyes saw then. The half-sweater over long-sleeved shirt, a pant with well-ironed creases, polished shining black shoes; and, those stern eyes staring at the young boy, like a predator eyeing a prey. The man’s left hand was holding his penis and with his right, the man waved at the boy, beckoning him to come close.

The tree on one side looked like that man’s hand, reaching for him. The tree on the other side will remind him of the shadows reaching over him, over the water, engulfing, incarcerating and dragging him into those depths away from innocence.

The young boy ran away. He knew the man would not chase. But the boy did not stop till he reached his siblings. They were resting on the green slopes, having an ice-cream. He had felt weak in his knees then, sweating profusely, too. Seeing him in that state, his siblings had asked him, what happened. Later, when they joined their parents, they asked him again, what happened. He kept quiet. Young boys were not supposed to talk adult stuff.

Now, decades later, he had the same fears. He walked away. He could not run. Maybe, when memories are just stories, he thought, they will be easier to live with.


On the second morning, he set out on a sight-seeing trip along with a motley group of serious kids, hyper-excited parents, stout wives and thin husbands.

The trip started late. Everyone expected that. He tried to mimic the stoic expression of the other passengers. But that scene with admirable sang-froid suddenly changed and soon got taut with tension. The Christian driver explained the situation succinctly and disappeared. The people in the bus realized that the delay was due to two over-sleeping Moslem kids.

Seated next to a fat Hindoo, he precariously hung on to his small narrow seat and every spoken word. He listened to the curses and the outrage expressed within that tempo-van. Everyone had a root cause ready to explain the problem. Ancient and new culture; new and black money; the majority made to give all to the minority; and, even the beard of the errant kids’ father joined the list of causes. He tried to think of a suitable contribution.

When the two bleary-eyed over-slept kids entered the van, they were met with stony silence and dirty glares.

At the first stop, he relaxed and admired the scenery for too long, feeling comfortable with the company of surprisingly benign well-mannered non-human monkeys. This time, when he entered the van, it was he who was met with stony silence and dirty glares. The silence seemed to echo all the complaints against Mallus that must have been aired while they had waited for him.

At the next stop, the group got out, ran down a moderate slope with innocent exuberance and climbed back up feeling as if they were paying for past sins. They felt good when they returned to the van, huffing, puffing and breathing hard. The exercise is good, they all said.  The driver-guide suggested another spot to the group, great for a nice trek, he said. The group laughed, smiled, hum-hawed and shrugged their heavy shoulders and gut. They prefer to stay close to the van, they all said. That helped to keep the trip short and sweet.

At that second stop, the Sardar family in the group got lost in a film-shoot on that tiring slope with never-ending rows of pine trees. This time, he joined the rest and cursed Sardars. That Sardar family looked apologetic when they returned but he and the rest received them with stony silence and dirty glares.

On the way to the next stop, the driver apologized for the Forest Department. The inconsiderate department had closed the way to Sue Zed Point because it became too popular, the driver explained. But, try the next spot with the two pillars, came the helpful advice. If it is not cloudy, you can see the way down, the driver-guide advertised.

At that stop, the lot from Bihar went missing for a long time. He along with the Sardar family, the Moslem kids and the rest joked about the end of Biharis at Sue Zed Point. When the Biharis returned, the whole lot forgot the jokes and greeted them with stony silence and dirty glares.

He mastered the rules of the game before the 3-hour trip got over. He took the initiative in gathering the majority within the bus and played the game with vicious delight. Together, they treated the last ones to enter the bus the way anyone should treat any inconvenient minority.

The driver-guide kept his choice of shops for the last stop, Sir Madam, here you get pure eucalyptus without kerosene, fresh chocolate daily change, of course, you should buy only if you want to, he implored the group. At that stop, everyone got back late to the van. They forgot to play the game. When it comes to commerce there is no majority or minority, he noted his left-leaning thoughts with rightful distaste on a disposable scrap of paper.


On that day, mid-afternoon brought the blues.

He thought about another trip. Abroad, attending a summer school or conference, on a measly official allowance, he recollected. He had managed to get a telephone card. Precious little card, limited and irreplaceable, beyond his means actually.

He had called her. Her father had picked up the phone. Casual chit-chat followed, formality made him ask for her mother, her sister, her brother and the minutes slipped by. Finally, he could ask for her. She came to the phone. He heard her say, Hello. He heard her breathing hard into the phone. He held the phone firmly, roughly, nearly squeezing, as if it was her. He asked her, How are you.

The telephone call ended. The card’s life was over. He never got to know her reply.


He was still in the same state that evening. Cigarette stubs, full ashtray, watching a movie with unseeing eyes. It was a movie about a letter in a bottle thrown into some deep dark water.

He has this box of unsent letters at home. On top, there is one to a friend he has known all his life. Nearly all his life, he corrected, he didn’t know her till the age of four.

That time, so long ago, he had received a letter from her. It had taken months to reach him, trying to follow and keep pace with his nomadic travels.

On that night, he had had a dream in which she was in trouble. He got up in the middle of the night. He wrote a long reply to her letter – wishing her well, filling the pages with care, thought, purpose, praying for her. He signed at the end, beneath ‘With lots of love’.

He did not send that letter, wondering about what she would think. It remained in the box with the rest, unsaid thoughts that meant a lot more than all that he has ever said, then, before, or later.


Around the time dusk bade farewell and night knocked lightly, he entered the near-empty bar, strangely a bit too early to be empty. He played with a peg of his favourite, for old times’ sake, he thought.

A young man sat on a stool two seats away, sporting a sardonic or wry smile and hazy eyes, downing mugs of beer, chasing it down with whiskey more frequently. The barman looked at them, shrugged his shoulder, polished glasses and wiped the bar-top.

A bar is like a train at times – strangers become bosom buddies for an hour or so, then forget and leave.

The young man told him, without any preliminary, about a beautiful lady he had met. He had helped her carry a heavy bag of shopping from the departmental store to the bus stop. For the first time in his life, he had gathered courage and decided not to let the opportunity slip. Before she boarded the bus the young man told her, I would love to have coffee with you some time. He had been stunned when she said Yes let us meet at the café coffee. She had suggested, how about 4 pm tomorrow.

The young man had dressed well and he had reached café coffee early. She was there even earlier. The young man told the rest after gulping a mouthful of beer. She asked me to join her and her husband, the young man recollected and continued, I had coffee with them and left quickly. I think I heard her laughter behind me.


A loud cackle, followed by the rough gurgle of phlegm, from behind him brought that discussion to an end.

He and the young man turned to see an old man nursing his glass. Rough shawl draped over narrow stopped shoulders, creased face which had seen many summers, a crooked toothless mouth sucking greedily at a beedi – the old man looked fit to be a stereotype of the veteran bar occupant.

The three maintained silence for a few minutes, interrupted by loud slurps, burps and careless farts. He settled the bill with the barman and stood up. That is when the old man grabbed his wrist and asked him, do you believe in ghosts.

When love dies, ghosts appear everywhere, the old man said. He continued, you will see a ghost, you will say, that is her hairstyle, that is her figure, her way of walking, the dialogue sounds familiar, the situation and the meeting places all remind you of another time, another place. But, there will always be disappointment at the end, the old man concluded, that is what ghosts do to you.

He broke away from the old man’s grip and got out of that bar.


He entered the restaurant. He was shown to a good table. He had a mismatched supper of soup, fish and chips, and chocolate mousse. He ate the fish and chips with style and finesse, using the proper knife and fork, wasting little, all properly done.

He remembered an old visit with a best-friend to Indian Coffee House. He had struggled to eat the mutton cutlet with fork and knife. He had stabbed, pierced, chased the pieces, spilled and finally, he had stooped low to get the pieces in his mouth rather than to get the act right. His friend had suggested, use your hands, dummy.

He had learned later, how to eat, how to be proper. Along that path of time, somewhere sometime, he and that best-friend had parted ways, and he preferred to eat alone. He could not remember why or when. That is one story he has managed to forget.


A young couple sat at the centre-table.

A waiter placed a vase with a beautiful rose on their table, right in between them. The man removed it. They looked at each other, oblivious of the world around them. That will probably be a moment they will store for years, among the good ones. They will talk about it. It will help them forget the unspoken bad times.

Her sari slipped. She knew that her husband was looking at it slip a little on the right. She knew he loved to see the mole above her right breast revealed by her low-cut blouse. A few seconds passed before she covered it and arranged her sari. She knew that her husband wanted her to do that, too.


In the special area between the main dining hall and the lawn, an elegantly-dressed lady and her teenaged daughter were discussing the latter’s projects in school, probably the International school there. The daughter talked about her boyfriend’s thesis on Macbeth, about how the play revolved around the carefully concealed extramarital relationship between Duncan and Lady Macbeth. The mother smiled at the idea. We have The Merchant of Venice too, the daughter complained. The mother leaned forward and picked up the daughter’s textbook. We used to have a censored version, the mother noted. Oh yes, the taunts, the vulgar, the stones, the anti-Semitic parts right, the daughter affirmed. Her boyfriend had told her about that too, the daughter informed her mother.

The father joined them. The textbooks disappeared from the table. The father called the waiter and enquired about the wine-list. For a minute, the waiter tried to sell his wares. The waiter failed to observe the sneer developing on that father’s face. Later, for seven uninterrupted minutes, that father educated that waiter and his boss, the head-waiter, about what was lacking in the hotel’s wine-list and where and how that father had had the best. The waiters listened respectfully.

The daughter rolled her eyes on the sly. She smiled at her mother, a quick smile. The elegant lady sat with great poise, expressionless.


Next morning, he woke up with the pitter-patter of little kids’ feet outside the door. Every morning, the hotel staff managed the fun-hours for the kids and they took exceptional care. The kids loved the clowns, the amusement, the games, being away from their parents with whom they will later tag along, get cuddled, smothered, scolded, instructed and coochi-cooed. They had two hours of their own, with their own kind.  The parents had two hours of their own, too; sometimes separate, sometimes together within or without locked rooms.


The staff always greeted him cheerfully. He tipped generously. It has been a long time since he stayed in such places. When the staff started to greet him less cheerfully, he wondered about his generosity, whether it had kept in touch with the times. Since it will be a long time till he stays in such places again, he stopped tipping. He stopped thinking about cause and effect. Causality is tough to prove, correlation is easy to calculate, his final thought on that subject.


He loved walking, on clean footpaths, without sweating, wearing a light jacket, munching fresh chocolate, sipping soda, watching a game of soccer on the school ground and listening to kids from every part of the globe cheering their team. Foreign kids do not pick up an Indian accent, he noted. He likes to speak but he tries to speak very little. Indians find his accent laughable, he knows. Foreigners think it is quaint.

Life around him moved in slow motion – visible, carefree, laughable life.

Three unrelated couples walked on the footpath on the right side, avoiding people and at varying distance from each other.

In front, an Indian boy and his South-east Asian girlfriend walked together. The girl’s arm was around the boy’s waist, the boy had his arm on her shoulder. Once or twice, the boy kissed her, on her hair or the side of her forehead. Each time, they laughed after the kiss.

Behind them, a young married couple walked, talked, hardly noticing anyone else. They held each other’s fingers. They looked at each other once or twice, smiled sweet secrets, laughed too.

The third couple watched the two pairs in front. They didn’t touch each other, not even once. But, more than once or twice, they looked at each other. She looked at the smile in his eyes, at the laugher wrinkles, his eyes crinkled at the edges. He studied her dark brown eyes, the dimple on her left cheek, her front teeth biting her lower lip. When they looked at each other, they slowed their walking pace. They too laughed and kept on walking.

He watched life go by in slow motion. Some had a life like his, some lives seem different. He was comfortable with the familiar stories, people he wanted to see, people who seemed to be like him. He preferred and yearned for the uncomfortable lot, the real strange ones, stories he wished for as his own.

Twenty one

On the journey back from that hill-top place, he took a taxi rather than a bus to reach the heat-soaked plains. He decided to pamper himself with no thought of saving for tomorrow, for that rainy tomorrow. What if that rainy tomorrow brought an earthquake or a tsunami or a nuclear disaster, he wondered.

The taxi stopped at a petrol pump. When the taxi was ready to go, the taxi-driver came to his side and mentioned, policeman. He wondered why a policeman wanted to meet him. He felt nervous.

The policeman, a sub-inspector, requested for a lift till his village, quarter of the distance down the hills. My kid is sick, the man in uniform explained.

He sighed with relief. He asked the policeman to sit with him in the back. I do not want to cause any inconvenience to you, the policeman said and got in front.

The policeman’s presence helped at the various check-points. The car was not stopped. The policeman talked about a curious case. A man had been caught with a two-day old human carcass in the boot of his car at one of these check-points, the policeman narrated. There are lots of places to dump a body, the policeman added, it is a popular idea in these hills, the policeman laughed.

It would be tough to dispose a human body in the plains, he knew. If he had a human carcass in the boot of the taxi, it would be a good idea to have a policeman in the car to cross the checkpoints. He noted the ideal places to dispose the carcass before hitting the hot plains.

Twenty two

He was dropped at a railway station in the hot plains. He felt like Rip Van Winkle waking up in a new world. There were no newspaper stalls at that station. For the first time in those few days, he wanted news and started to feel lost without news, even though it had no bearing on him, even though the world went on as usual without him.

He claimed a seat in the waiting room. He looked at the brave new world around him. Women sat with parted legs or with one leg on the chair, airing their groin like the men around. Men listened to their wives. Men brought food for the women. The women complained about that food, munching slowly, grimacing, spitting. Young boys and girls tried to behave like men and ladies, but with decreasing differences.

Universal suffrage, education for all, equal opportunities, he picked up discussions on all that in that hot waiting room with few fans. Some talked about the next government to rule that state. The pan-India lot talked about corruption and governance, they disagreed to agree that each government and their followers should have a free hand. A wise scholarly man talked about a weak ineffective leader. A loud spittle-spraying woman suggested a strong effective candidate. That Hitler, the wise man queried. He tried to join their discussion. Commie, he said. Who me, they asked without rhyme or reason.

He felt like Rip Van Winkle, hell, only men should sit with parted legs, he thought.

Twenty three

A young family sat near him in the train – a cute daughter, a handsome caring father and a sulking attractive mother. It was a sulk that faded fast and the three made a pretty picture. Their kind form the majority, he noted, the kind who don’t enter stories and remain happily ever after.

At the next station, a professional with a laptop joined them. The new entrant lay on the upper berth, exhausted after a hard day’s work, roughly stuffing his wallet into the front pocket of his pants. A few stations later, the young family got out.

About two hours later, the professional woke up with a start, as if from deep sleep or as if he had had a dreadful nightmare. A few minutes later, after buying coffee from a vendor, the professional realized that he had lost his wallet. While he had snored and snoozed, the wallet must have slipped from his pocket. But, where was it, the professional searched and investigated. Or, he was a victim of pick-pockets. He and that professional suspected the young family. That seems to be the only way young happy families can enter stories.

It was nearly midnight when he reached his station, his hometown. The professional was still searching.

Sweet home, alas! He got into a pre-paid auto-rickshaw. The auto-driver stopped midway, at a secluded place and started haggling for a better rate. He was tired, too tired to carry his suitcases the rest of the way, too tired to fight, too hungry too. He agreed to the auto-driver’s demands.

Sweet home, alas! He felt like a stranger there. He slept fitfully on his own bed, sans dreams, sans hope, with stories.