Saturday, November 18, 2017

where memory fails (not)


The place felt like a resort, all fake and great.

Problems started at the reception. The computer had no memory of my booking. The manager, that's what she claimed to be and the rest of the staff could not disagree, alloted a room, a suite she called it. It turned out to be a pokey room at the back, already occupied. The bellboy took me to another. It seemed unoccupied. There was a suitcase in the cupboard. See, only suitcase, no skeleton, he said with a laugh. It could be in the suitcase, I said. He said he was wanted elsewhere. How could he remember that, I wondered.

I went for lunch after a short nap. Have a lovely dinner, the man at the door said. I asked for steak. They got me the season's best vegetables. That's not what I ordered, I said. We don't have beef, the waiter said. Do you think I am the kind who has beef, I asked. But you ordered steak, he argued showing the slip on which my order had been noted. I did not, I said forcefully. A senior person came to the table and told the waiter to get me porridge. Who are you, we asked. How do I know, he said.

At the spa, the lady next to me kept on talking about her grandson. You know, my grandson Appu is a great swimmer, she kept on repeating. The lady on the other side whispered, she never had kids. I could not find out more. Someone objected to me being in the ladies section.

I went to the unisex toilet. Two men were sharing the same pisspot, arms over shoulders and the free hands holding the you-know-whats. A man and a woman were in a stall. They had forgotten to lock the door and also what they had intended to do. The rest were in a messier state. I wasn't sure what I was doing there.

I met an old girlfriend the next day. I pretended not to know her. My bra size is thirty six, she said. Bloody girl was trying to signal to me that she knew me. Long back, I had asked her for that information. I am not sure if that was before or after she got married. No, my dear, yours is thirty four, a lady told her. What a pity. I could have sworn she was my old girlfriend.

I came across my wife too. So, this is where you hide, she exclaimed. Who are you, I asked.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

at the zoo


"What's so special about him?" I asked.

"Trauma, it says," she read the board on the cage.

"He just sits there," I grumbled.

"But, look..." she said.

"What?" I asked, looking at the next cage.

"He has something to say all the time...but he can't say anything," she explained.

"Bah! Postmodern silence, is that what they call it?" I said.

"You are so insensitive," she said with a smile.

"Come on, let's check out the lady in the next one," I said.

"Now, that you wouldn't mind silent," she said.

"Bah!"

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

anniversary


"You forgot the anniversary," she said.

"No, I didn't. How could I?" I said.

"You always do, every year for nineteen years," she said.

"You are all I think about," I said.

"Admit it. You don't remember the day I died," she said.

How do I tell her she never died?


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

goodbye


All my life, if there's been a constant, it's been goodbyes. It was places at first. I wondered why my mom asked me, aren't you sad. I must have been six or seven. I wasn't sad but that wasn't the point, did she spot something wrong with me. Places were followed by pals. Bosom buddies I forgot overnight. Let me get this straight, I wasn't the only one doing the forgetting. Pals, loves, real close ones who were not pals or loves, I was as good as a one-night-stand. My overnight despondency turned into weeks-long depression. I wasn't just lonely, I was sucked dry.

They decided that I should talk to someone. He seemed like a good guy. He seemed to understand. Seemed, I hate that word with disappointment its shadow. He listened to me though. That must have been tough. But it was tougher when I had to listen. He told me that not all of the goodbyes were goodbyes. Just an interval, he said. That was the good news. The bad news was that not all of them were ever there. Yeah, right, I cooked up goodbyes. Can you believe that?

Somewhere along the way I got married. I thought it would be loving to confide my worst fears. I told her about the goodbyes. How she laughs. Did you marry because of that, she pokes. She can rub it in. Man, you are needy for company, she taunts. That's a goodbye not going to be a goodbye. I never forgot what the guy said. What if my wife is imaginary, I grinned. It's not bad, not at all bad, this word so real so imaginary.

She came along then. She's there, really there, I can feel it, a dream more real than real. No more goodbyes, she says, we'll be together forever. She has her moods, don't they all. Why do you treat me as if I am not here, she asks. Hey, what can I say to that.


Monday, October 9, 2017

company of story-tellers


There are two photos in my wallet, me aged 13 and 15. They would see that when I bought them coffee or tea. I would point at one photo and say, that was my twin brother. Was, they asked. He died in a train accident, I would say to the company in the train. What type of accident, he or she would ask. He went to the pantry and never came back, I would say and then stare at the passing scenery as if I was holding back tears. I would not say more. That was enough.

Are you married, they asked me. Divorced and a widower, I replied. Oh, they exclaimed and sat back unsure. I would wait for their prompt. The uncomfortable would joke about divorcing after death. The concerned would say sorry. I would wait patiently for their preference. Most liked to hear about the divorce, only a few about the death. Only once did I try a mystery about death during divorce. It wasn't very convincing.

The last time I was on a train, I did not have to say much. There were two men, one in his mid-twenties, the other in his forties. One was a doctor, the other in IT, I forget which. I remember thinking that they ticked all the boxes as far as stereotypes were concerned. But I remember little else about them. They talked to each other but they treated me as the wise one, kept looking at me as if they were seeking my approval.

The twenty-something talked about a wedding that didn't happen. His ex-fiancee sexted him from her friend's phone and he had flirted back with the then unknown sender. She got onto a moral platform and sent him packing, he said. He should not have smiled then. A blank face would have kept us guessing.

No smartphones in my time but a clunky landline did the job, the forty-year-old said. I was actually ready for that call, in those days every guy expected such a call the day before his wedding, he recollected. And paused. It was too obvious a dramatic pause. He continued, the anonymous caller told me that there is a mole on my wife's upper right thigh. And there it was, he said. I should have looked at the percentages, 50% would have it or not have it, 50% of that would have it on right or left, he calculated. He should not have. When you get your math wrong, the story loses effect. This guy was nearly wailing by then, as a boy I couldn't cycle, I couldn't even whistle, and there I was a married man, and I couldn't do you-know-what. He was laying it really thick. I thought of slapping him. But, the twenty-year old seemed impressed.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Tick Tock Tick Tock

Note:

This was an entry for the Write India 2 contest (on the Times of India website). This story was written and submitted in September 2017.

I am quite sure this story did not go past the initial selection process. It is always good for the ego to blame the editorial team. Not that it would have succeeded if it had reached the 'Celebrity author of the month', Jeffrey Archer.

It has something I want/have to say. This might be its proper resting place.



Number of words: 2950


TICK TOCK TICK TOCK

The college Principal had waited for six hours, before the interview, in the front corridor of the police station. In the interview room, he was not the sprightly middle-aged man he had been that morning. The lady officer placed a glass of water in front of him. He thanked her, thanked the male officer too, and finished off the water in two gulps. He sat stooped over the table with his elbows on his knees. He was not sure of their ranks. His eyes darted from one to the other.
She said little, her dark eyes never left him. She sat slightly away from the table, to the side, disconcertingly close to the edge of his field of vision. The male officer, with a handlebar moustache, asked, growled rather, the questions. He scribbled in a notebook, the pen jabbed fiercely at the paper. His free hand remained clenched in a tight fist, as if he could not wait to throw a left punch.
“Madam…sir…believe me,” the Principal croaked.
He knew that that would be the last thing the police officers would do. He stooped a little further, his chin barely an inch or two above the table. He began his statement.
“I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So all I can tell you is why he was murdered.”

X

An hour later, in her office, Sub-Inspector Shajeeb asked, “What’s going on, ma’am?”
Circle Inspector Shokie did not respond. She placed the Principal’s statement on a pile of seven other interview reports. She leaned back and stared at it. A small smile came on her lips but that went nowhere near those dark eyes.
“Interesting,” she said.
“Bewildering,” he said.
“The murderer stands out,” she said.
“Bullshit,” he blurted out.
Even though she was the finest investigator he knew, in this case and with those reports, it was his studied opinion that she could not have a clue about what had happened.
Those eight interview reports had one thing in common. The statements began with the same three lines, same in content if not in words.

X

“Humour me, let’s recap,” Shokie said. “Start at the beginning.”
Shajeeb flipped through the pages of his notebook.
“Yesterday morning, Tuesday, around eleven, the Principal informed us that a lecturer, Aneesh A.M., male, age 38, was missing since Monday. He gave the following details.”
Shajeeb licked his finger and turned the page. He did not see his boss frown at that.
He continued, “From Monday to Friday, Aneesh lives in a studio apartment here in the city. Every Friday, he leaves for Kadalil, a town an hour from here by express train, to be with his family and returns on Monday. He has rented a larger house there. This Monday, he did not turn up for work. The Principal called Aneesh’s mobile but it was switched off. On Tuesday, he tried the other contact number in the college records. That turned out to be the landline phone of the landlord of the rented house in Kadalil. The landlord agreed to check up on Aneesh and used his key to enter Aneesh’s residence. He found a pool of blood in the drawing room. The furniture was in a state of disarray. There was no sign of Aneesh. The landlord informed the Principal and the latter reported to us. The local police was glad to hand over the case to us even though they could have argued that it was under their jurisdiction.” 
“Who likes to touch a case with a communal or political touch to it? Some creep will crawl over us soon,” Shokie said. “What do we know about Aneesh’s last actions before he went missing?”
“On Friday, Aneesh left college earlier than usual. Class got over before half past ten. A group from the Students Union had disrupted class for some protest march. From the CCTV at the railway station, we also know that he boarded the noon express.”
“That’s all we know for certain,” Shokie said.
“Well, ma’am, we know that he joined this college as lecturer six months back. The first month, he lived on campus in a faculty residence. He was made the Warden of the men’s hostel. That was only for a month. He then rented the studio apartment and shifted out of campus, giving up the duties of the Warden too. By the way, he rented the Kadalil house before taking up the post of lecturer, and gave that his permanent address to the college. All prior communication was to a residence out of state. We are following up on that.”
“Apart from the pool of blood and upturned furniture, did we find anything else in that house?”
“No, ma’am, the place was bare, no personal effects at all. The studio apartment here at least yielded the diary.”
“A diary he did not take with him last weekend,” Shokie noted. She took out a diary from an evidence bag and opened at a bookmarked page. “A diary with this last and only entry on Friday: They are after me...tick tock tick tock...the end is near.”

X

“The earlier entries in that diary agree with these statements,” Shajeeb said.
“These statements…!” Shokie brought her hand down on the pile as if she was slapping an irritating suspect. She scowled at it. “Even though it’s hearsay, let’s order this chronologically.” She paused. “Start with the Principal.”
This time, Shajeeb did not check the reports or his notes. He could recite all of it if she wanted.
“According to the Principal, trouble started when Aneesh was the Warden and lived on campus. In the first week itself, Aneesh got embroiled in a fight between two groups of students. Late one night, he heard terrific commotion, left his quarters and went to the men’s hostel to investigate. He reported to the Principal next day that two groups of students had been fighting with iron rods, cycle chains and cricket bats. He identified some students. The Principal warned the students and also told Aneesh not to get involved in the fights between left-wing and right-wing students. A fortnight later, Aneesh witnessed another incident. He saw three students sexually assault a female student. Aneesh once again identified the miscreants. It turned out to be the leaders of the three student groups, the left-wing, the right-wing and the center-right-or-left.”
“How comforting when they come together for such acts,” Shokie muttered.
“Aneesh wanted to report it to the police. But, the girl refused to come forward. The matter was hushed up. The students of course did not leave it at that. They threatened to finish off Aneesh.”
“He mentions all this in his diary…no discrepancy,” Shokie said.
“I wish he had also written down what he did on Friday,” Shajeeb said. “According to the Principal, Aneesh had been to the Principal’s office on Friday, before class. But the Principal had been caught up elsewhere. He seems sure Aneesh had come to see him about some problem with one or all of those students.”
“The Principal’s statement tallies with what we found yesterday,” Shokie said.
“Yes, ma’am, we searched the college campus and hostels yesterday. We found a huge cache of weapons, mostly the type used by students plus a few country-made guns, and some explosives, low-grade stuff used in stone quarries. We have arrested the three leaders. Not just for that.” Shajeeb paused. “In the hostel rooms of those three, we also found clothes with blood on them. The blood type matches the blood found in Aneesh’s house.” 

X

“Next, the statements of the student leaders,” Shokie said.
“Those rascals are trying to put the blame on the other. The right-wing guy says that Aneesh had confronted the left-wing guys when they disrupted class. He says that he was unwell on Friday, wasn’t in college and that he could have protected Aneesh otherwise.”
“What a saint!”
“According to the left-wing guy, Aneesh was going to confront the right-wing guy with some evidence of their shady activities. He says that his ‘boys’…“ Shajeeb said with air-quotes, “saw Aneesh search for the right-wing leader. He himself was in some ‘high-level meeting’ on Friday. If he had been around, he would have arranged protection for the lecturer.”
“My heart bleeds for these martyrs. And, the weapons just appeared in their rooms without their knowledge.”
“Exactly, ma’am...but, when we confronted them with the clothes with blood stains, they were totally speechless.”
“What did they have to say about the evidence mentioned in Aneesh’s diary?”
“At first, when we mentioned about the physical assault, they sat with baby-like innocence but when we mentioned the video-clip, they changed track immediately. Then, it became consensual sex…that the girl did not protest…her no was too soft and sounded like a yes.”
“Bastards…!”
“Ma’am, I have left them thinking that we have the video-clip.”
“If only Aneesh had left that with his diary…” Shokie said.
“That guy had guts to record the physical assault,” Shajeeb said.
“If he recorded it…” Shokie said. “By the way, where did you find the center-left-or-right guy?”
“The idiot was hiding in his parents’ house. He has admitted to everything…weapons, sexual assault…he explained everything except the blood-stained clothes. His version is that Aneesh wanted to talk to him about another matter. He was supposed to meet the lecturer on Friday morning but he got up late. He says that everyone knew about the Principal’s embezzlement of college funds. Aneesh was going to do something about that.”
“Did you go through the Principal’s bank records?”
“His bank accounts didn’t reveal anything…but, he has got at least one huge mansion in a prime location in this city…and, recently, the extravagance lavished on his daughter’s wedding caught the attention of our income-tax friends.”
“Did you search his office and house?” Shokie asked.
“Yes, ma’am, we did that while he waited here this morning. In an outhouse of his mansion, we found a knife with blood on it…the same type of blood.”
“He couldn’t explain that, of course.”
“No, ma’am…but he has admitted to the embezzlement. That should keep him behind bars.”
“If his case ever comes to court…”
“Ma’am, do you think these four will get out?”
“I know they will get out. Isn’t that how our system works? Such people always go scot-free. All we can do is to make them stew in hell for a while.”
“How do we explain the blood-stained stuff with these four?”
“How I wish it was just four,” Shokie grumbled with displeasure.
“Eight more…” her colleague growled.

X

“What was the problem at his city residence?” Shokie asked.
“This Aneesh seems to have a nose for problems,” Shajeeb said. “His studio apartment is actually the first floor of a standalone house, the landlord lives downstairs. The landlord claims that Aneesh wanted to meet him Friday afternoon before leaving for Kadalil but that never happened because the lecturer left early. He says that Aneesh had been having problems with a neighbour over a garbage issue. The neighbour’s version is that it is them Aneesh wanted to meet and that Aneesh had a food problem with his landlord.”
“Whoa…hold on…garbage issue…food problem…?”
“Well, ma’am, the basic issue is that the neighbour and family don’t get along with this landlord and family. And, Aneesh did not turn out to be what the landlord assumed him to be.” 
“Can’t you put it simpler?”
“I will have to bring religion into it.”
“Ah, now I understand…”
Shajeeb continued, “The landlord’s problem with Aneesh was with the food he consumed. It seems they had agreed on the restrictions when Aneesh rented the place. The landlord used to go through the garbage to prove that Aneesh had violated the terms and conditions. Aneesh used to argue that the neighbours were putting their garbage along with his. A silly matter but it is the stuff of communal riots. They had flaming rows. Aneesh’s garbage bin is kept outside, to the side of the house, and accessible to the landlord and the neighbours. We had a messy spot of luck. The garbage collector did not turn up the last few days and we had lots to go through. We found bloody rags in the bin. Once again, the blood matches the type found in Kadalil. The landlord and the neighbour accuse each other of murder.”
“How are they behaving in our quarters?”
“They are complaining about police grub.”
The two smiled.

X

“Tell me about the curious incident of the kid,” Shokie said.
“We found a family who were with Aneesh on that Friday train, a young family with a three-year-old boy,” Shajeeb said. “The parents say Aneesh was a very nice fellow. They were returning home after a short vacation here. They were tired. After half an hour or so, the parents got onto the upper berths to nap leaving their kid with Aneesh. The mother says she kept half an eye and half an ear on Aneesh and her kid. It was a muggy day. Aneesh used a deodorant. The kid wanted to try it on. Aneesh obliged. The mother remembers hearing him ask the kid, how do you like the whiff of perfume?”
“Why did he use the word whiff with a three-year-old kid?” Shokie wondered.
“Now, this kid, like my own daughter, is a bit hyperactive. His speech too is a bit peculiar: his v’s and w’s sound like b.”
“Bengalis have that problem.”
“Anyway, this kid went around the compartment saying, “he gabe me biff, he gabe me biff”.”
“Oh boy…”
“The parents think they should have paid more attention to the issue then. They wonder if it would have helped if they had got off the upper berths and been with Aneesh sooner, or if they had told the other passengers that their kid meant whiff and not beef. Anyway, at Kadalil, they did get down from the upper berth to take care of their kid. They waved goodbye to Aneesh. The parents saw three men follow the lecturer. Kadalil police followed up on that lead. They got clear CCTV visuals. Those three are well-known to police, belong to a fringe outfit, repeat offenders for causing grievous bodily harm to others, and they were picked up. A bloody machete was found in their car. And the blood matches.”

X

“Now, to statement number eight,” Shokie said.
“The landlord of the Kadalil residence told us that a group of men visited Aneesh two weekends back, made a racket with threats and curses,” Shajeeb said. “They visited him too last Wednesday. They asked about Aneesh’s wife and whether he knew that it was a marriage involving conversion of religion. He says that he should have been there earlier that Friday, and informed Aneesh.”
“Has Aneesh’s family been located?”
“The Kadalil police are helping us locate his family. No luck so far. When he took that house, he told the landlord that his wife was expecting and that they would join him after delivery.”
“How did these people know about his marriage?” Shokie asked.
“That’s the strange part,” Shajeeb said, “no one has met or even seen Aneesh’s family but everyone in the area seems to know that his marriage is an inter-religious affair with conversion. The Kadalil police found these men. They too are well-known trouble-makers. They used the conversion issue only to make Aneesh vacate the residence.”
“Why did they want him to vacate?”
“Someone else wants to live there, and buy the place.”
“Ah, just the usual real-estate game....” 
“I guess blood was found on them too.”
“Not on them…but we found an iron rod with blood on it, and the fingerprints of one of that lot.”
“What did the gentlemen have to say about it?”
“They admitted that they had carried an iron rod when they met Aneesh two weeks back. They say they left it there then. They also say that they had not gone near him since then.”
Shokie closed her eyes and thought for a while. Shajeeb went through his notes again, searching for some clue to unravel the mystery.
“What’s his full name?” his boss asked.
“No one knows what the A.M. stands for.”
“No proof of identity, not even in college records?”
“There was some lapse.”
“Fantastic.”
“But, according to what they say,” Shajeeb pointed at the reports, “the A.M. was different in different places…Abdul Majeeb for some, Antony Moreira or Anantha Murthy for others.”
“I am beginning to love this guy.”

X

“So, eight statements and a dozen people in custody, for murder or something else,” Shokie said.
“I have never come across a case like this,” Shajeeb said, “with so many to convict.”
“Too many, in fact…”
“Did all of them converge at the Kadalil residence and get involved in Aneesh’s death?” Shajeeb wondered. “How else will his blood be on all of them?”
“That would be a terrific coincidence. It’s his blood, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, we have proof. He participated in a blood-donation camp recently.”
“How convenient…”
“Ma’am, what are we going to do with all of them?”
“Try them for murder and the other crimes they are guilty of. They will sweat for a while.”
“You said that one murderer stood out,” Shajeeb reminded his boss.
“Haven’t you figured it out?” Shokie said with a small smile.
“No, ma’am…”
“It’s Aneesh.”
“What…?” Shajeeb exclaimed.
“He has finished off Aneesh,” Shokie said.
“He set up the whole thing?” Shajeeb asked.
She said, “Someday when you are free, contact the police in the other states and ask them if they have encountered such a case: man missing or presumed dead and a dozen accused of murder or other crimes.”





Monday, August 7, 2017

get-together

There's a school get-together this weekend.

Three political groups will drink together,
All for one and one for all, such saints, such friends,
Ready to kiss left, right or the all-weather center,
For a job, a transfer, some deal or development.
You will hear them whisper, "I have a problem, this guy..."
"He can be removed." "Forever...?" "Forever."

They will talk of their secular past
In anonymous black shorts and white shirts.
Notice the smirk, the glint in the eye,
How they waited to display their colour,
The believers, the atheists, the dividers.
Religion, its divisions, sub-divisions,
Origin, connections, who-screwed-who,
Hundred and counting, they knew all the labels.
My label: "Low. Penniless, then and now.
Useless. Not worth the time. Discard."

Families are allowed this time.
They will compare jobs, wives, kids.
"Man, that's an ass." "Hers?" "No, his."
It's serious business. Each one has its use.
The oncologist to the union guy,
The government guy to the corporate guy,
In every country other than Venezuela,
They are there, on call on WhatsApp.
They are the society. They call all the shots.

Forty will gather. Not forty one.
One will sit at home, never on call.

war movies

I hate war movies.
We don't shed a tear
When foot soldiers die like fire-flies
As if that's their only role.
We keep it for the officers
Who last till the end.
We don't even get irritated
When the political leaders
Don't die don't die don't die
Not even in their leather armchair
Writing their memoir about a war
They led from the front
The war that hid
Their scams and incompetence.
I hate war movies.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The One With You


I went through the reservation chart pasted by the door of the train compartment. The TTE (train ticket examiner) smiled.
‘You have the compartment nearly all to yourself, sir…just the two at the other end.’
‘What a pity!’ I said with feigned grief. The last thing I wanted was bad company, say, a noisy family with kids and packs of food.
‘I will try to get you interesting company, if I find any.’
We laughed together at the usual promise. I entered the compartment.
I got some work done before dinner. The attendant made my bed, or should I say berth, after that. He seemed happy with the tip. He warned me that there would still be a collection round the next morning. He wished me good night and left. I returned to my work.
He did not return that night, not even to lay the bed for the other who got in at the next station, around half past ten.
‘Are you a writer?’
‘Not really…just time-pass,’ I said.
It was not the first time and it would not be the last, but some company just hits off on the right note, how exactly I can’t say, but like the other similar encounters, I knew it would be a good long night of chatting.
We talked about books. We did not have much in common. It was worse in music. “Hotel California” came up, and the talk of satanic verses around that. Movies and television shows turned out to be “our thing”. It was good ol’ English stuff mostly, some domestic stuff thrown in to discuss plagiarism. We did not touch politics, not until later and even then it was not exactly about politics.
We laughed a lot. It was the laugh that really made me connect, with hindsight. Sincere, it reached the eyes and those were beautiful eyes.
I knew we would get to the personal stuff. How many times have I confessed all my sins to some poor soul traveling with me? It always started with family and ended with love.
This time, it started with love. This time, the other took the lead.
‘I was very young then, just into my teens, and love was not even a top priority then. She came to me.’
I watched those eyes. A small laugh entered those, quickly followed by sadness, the two lingered. I listened for long without uttering a word.
‘We were in some crowd, a cultural festival or something of that sort. Even today, I remember the way she looked at me. It was as if she had always known me, it was also as if she had known we could never be together. Her smile had joy and sorrow. She held my hand. I guess you know how that feels, when a love’s hand is in yours, the soft grip firmly hanging on, how it tugs at your heart.’
I nodded.
‘When did you first fall in love? How was it?’
‘Eighteen, nineteen…’ I said, ‘I think I fell in love because I felt it was time I fell in love. Either that or I thought she seemed like a worthy catch.’
‘It was somewhat like that for me…after her. There was the first lust at first. All I can remember is her body. I had a name for her then. When we met, she knew my name and all that I had was a name which I couldn’t use because it was so obviously lust-fuelled.’
We laughed.
‘Then, I had what I might call my first love. No woman has ever been so honest. Sadly, for me not for her, it remained absolutely platonic. I just could not think of her sexually. But I would still call it my first love.’
I enjoyed listening without having to say much about myself, watching the eyes light up, dim, and the hands so expressive.
‘Then, there was the one who must have been a true love. I blamed myself when she died. I later blamed her for keeping me away.’
I was confused. Which her? But, I did not interrupt.
‘There was the comic tragedy after that,’ the laugh turned bitter, ‘to be expected to love a woman I knew I could never love. God, that was cruel.’
We slipped into a long silence.
Then it came, the question, out of the blue. ‘What do you ask when you meet someone?’
‘How are you?’ I said.
‘You should ask…who is the one with you?’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘Do you know why people are scared of ghosts?’
I shook my head.
‘They never leave you. She never left me. At times, it is like she is me. People have noticed it. When I am so different, kind and angry and sincere and so trustworthy, I really am not like that usually. Give me that paper.’
I handed over the day-old newspaper tucked in the side-pocket of my backpack.
‘Look at his eyes,’ I looked at that frequent face, ‘the smile, even his anger, never reaches there. It is so empty. He is a person with no one with him. All you can see is a vacuum, the lingering danger, the darker stuff yet to be unleashed.’
‘What’s or who’s in my eyes?’ I asked.
‘You tell me.’
We laughed.
Did we sleep that night? Did we touch? We did not have to.
The next morning, the attendant woke me up with my breakfast. The other berth was empty by then. I stood up and stretched while the attendant arranged the tray and laid out my breakfast. The TTE appeared.
‘I will be getting off next station. Sorry I could not find you decent company this time too.’
We laughed.
I was surprised. I had heard the sincere laugh from last night. I turned to look at myself in the mirror. I saw sadness along with the smile in my eyes.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Coffee With Another

Everything would have been fine if I had not been thirty minutes early. But, she had mentioned in our last call that she might finish off her tasks early.

There I was, on the opposite side of the road, in front of Shalimar Hotel, staring at the Fidalgo, our agreed meeting point. I saw my wife sitting within Fidalgo coffee shop, with a strange man. I did not know what to do. I do not know how long I stood there staring at them.

I did not hear the woman's words till she repeated it. I do not know how long she had stood by my side staring at the same scene.

'Is that your wife?' she asked, her head tilting towards them.
I nodded.
'That's my husband,' she said. There was anger in her eyes. 'We should do something.'
'What?'
'Let's have coffee too,' she said.

We went to the coffee-shop of Shalimar Hotel. Minus the two glass walls and the road, we could have been two couples sitting at the same table, my wife and that man, this woman and I. I ordered a latte. She had an expresso and a slice of apple pie. I did wonder how she could eat at such a moment.

Fifteen or twenty minutes went by. Then, the man turned his head. He saw us. He got up angrily, his chair falling backwards. My wife saw me too. The man came out of Fidalgo, raced across the road, not minding the traffic screeching to a halt or the loud curses. He entered Shalimar. He came to our table, mad with rage, nearly frothing at his mouth.

'What the f***?' he snarled at me and his wife. His wife got up defiantly. Before she could say a word, he said, "Don't you utter a word!"

He grabbed her hand and they walked away. My wife got to the table then.

All she had to say was, 'Aha! So, she left you to pay the bill, huh? I too had to pay. That creep had two chicken puffs, one samosa and a chai. What do you have to say about that?'

Reference: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40473553

Quote from the reference: "I'm a 52-year-old, white, college educated, atheist, left-wing, married woman ... and there's no way I would have a one-on-one meal/drink with a man who was not my husband. Not even a Starbucks."

Moral of the story: Enjoy coffee on your own. If your spouse agrees to pay, take her/him along.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

tsk tsk tsk


When I was not trying to understand "kafkaesque",
I engaged in Mittyesque daydreams.

That is in the past.

Now, and forever,
It will be the opposite.

I never really believed
The state would ever work for me.
But when the judiciary destroyed
My last hope, I gave up.

When every atom
Brought only pain,
Family, friends, community, state,
Law, justice, bloody-f***ing-all...

Only one fantasy remained,
Painless death.
But,
No more of the Mittyesque!

Till life grinds to a halt
Today, tomorrow, who-cares-when,
Without a hope of a hope.

Don't tell me that that is kafkaesque.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Our Summer


I have never experienced a summer like this. Last year, it was hot but there was water.
If heads should roll for all the bad stuff that has happened, it should be in the government. I could go on and on about that but who cares. I wrote letters to everyone, to the residents’ association, to the engineers in the water authority, even to the Chief Minister. I told them they should ensure fair distribution of water to all rather than be satisfied serving the majority. They should have listened. I had thought of mentioning that people were close to breaking point. But, who cares!
I was not surprised when a man hacked his neighbours, a family of three. He had not got water supply for three weeks while they had not faced any problem because their house was at a slightly lower level. The water authority could have adjusted the valves.
Then, there was that lady who stabbed her husband. She used to get water from the “water kiosk”, the 5000-liter storage tanks placed in every ghetto like ours. She had to carry buckets to her house thirty meters away, a tortuous distance in the scorching sun. No one had helped her. She must have snapped. The newspapers suggest she also had other problems with her husband and his mother. They also say she has no recollection of what she did.
I hardly sleep at night. The thin mattress on the metal bed burns. There’s too little water to drink. The humidity is high but there’s no rain. Everywhere, there’s the stink of sweat, not just the people, the sheets, the curtains, even the walls. I stand by the window most of the night.
Compared to my place, the doctor’s is heaven. The first time, he came over for a “home-visit”. He must have realized that it would be impossible to get anything done there. Now, I go to his office every Wednesday. This is my third visit. His office is in an extension to his house. He does not have a receptionist or secretary. He does not follow a fixed schedule, like the court. I do not mind waiting, that suits me just fine. The “waiting room” is the veranda attached to the consultation room. It’s quite cool there, there’s a floor fan in addition to a ceiling fan, and there’s a water cooler too. There are two or three steel chairs but we prefer to sit on the broad platform or railing around the veranda. By “we”, I mean the four of us, the regulars on Wednesday. That too is like the court. People get clubbed together by appointment date.
The stout lady always sits near the exit. Then, it is her. The first time, she said her name is Sheila. The second time it was Susan. Today, we did not touch on names. I sit next to her. Then, it is the muscular guy. Those two come with us, but they never utter a word, to us or to each other. They could be twins, always in khaki pants, black leather shoes and white cotton shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows. We think they are spies. We call her Smiley and him Daddy Harry, our inventive mix of Mata Hari and Dirty Harry. They sit expressionless, blankly staring outside or at the wall. They make it seem as if they don’t listen to us. We don’t care if they do.
We never talk about the summer or the heat. The first time we talked about food. She is a vegetarian but she cooks non-vegetarian food. She promised to make mutton chops for me, her specialty. The second time we talked about how reserved we usually are, never ever taking the initiative to meet or talk to people. I admitted that I had once poured my heart out to a stranger in a train. ‘We all do that, don’t we?’ she said. ‘But, this is not like that, is it?’ she asked. I told her, ‘No, definitely not.’
Today, she looked worried. I asked her what was bothering her.
‘Just a vivid dream,’ she said. Then she described her dream. ‘I was in an airport. I had some problem at the baggage-screening counter. By the time that was over, I realized I was late. I went to collect my bags. But, I could not find my bags. I could not even remember how many bags and which bags I had brought. I picked up one bag thinking that it’s mine but someone claimed it as theirs. I woke up then, feeling so confused.’
‘Let’s not talk about that,’ she pleaded. ‘Tell me something, something nice.’
After a while, I said, ‘The night after our last meeting, I thought of a trip…with you.’
She stared at me for a while, as if she was studying my face to make out if I was lying. I wasn’t. She did not say anything. I continued.
‘We went to a hill-station…’ I described the place, our trip there, how we camped outdoors. She kept on staring at me. She did not lower her eyes even when I described how we made love. At the end, I asked her, ‘Have you ever thought of me…like that?’
She nodded. This time, it was my turn to study her face. I am rather good at deciphering a poker face. She was lying. I preferred that to any truth she could have said.
We got a few more minutes before the doctor released his victim and summoned me. He gave a broad smile to her and told her, ‘You next, ok? Today, it’s gents first.’ She smiled back.
The doctor is a friendly guy. I am not sure if his reports are friendly but then, like everything else in life, life is more enjoyable without any thought of the consequences of one’s actions.
‘What a summer, right?’ the doctor said. I am quite sure he has not air-conditioned his office purposely, just to make us sweat it out.
‘Have you ever experienced such a summer before?’ I responded.
He thought for a while. ‘There was such a summer when I was a kid, I think,’ he slipped into deep thought. ‘When you are a kid, summers don’t bother you. What do you think?’ I let it pass as rhetorical.
He continued, ‘He had a lovely time. Day started early. Games, friends, naughty stuff…he met his first girlfriend then.’ The doctor laughed, embarrassed. ‘Then, there were mangoes. He was rather good at climbing trees. Raw mangoes with salt and chilly, ripe ones, his face all sticky…he fell and broke his hand. He did not mind it. She brought mangoes for him every day. He really had a lovely summer.’
‘It’s funny when you refer to yourself as he,’ I noted.
‘It is, isn’t it? People sometimes prefer to remember their best and worst times like that…as if it happened to someone else,’ the doctor said. ‘Anyway, let’s get back to business…shall we? Where were we last time?’
I waited for him to answer his own question.
‘Ah yes, you were talking about the guy who murdered his neighbours, hacked to pieces…brrrrrr…’ he gave a mock shiver. I joined in.
‘You told me that he later, that is after the deed, waited for the police in the victim’s house. They found him in the drawing room,’ the doctor said, ‘drinking water. That’s what you said, right?’
‘I guess so,’ I said.
‘I don’t get it. How did you get that information?’ the doctor asked. ‘I have checked all the newspapers. Not one has that detail.’
I shrugged.
‘Do you remember his face?’ the doctor asked.
I thought for a while. I shook my head.
‘You saw him drinking water. But you can’t see his face?’ the doctor asked.
I nodded.
‘You know why, don’t you?’ he prodded.
Once again, I slipped into thought.
‘Doctor, what are you suggesting? That I am he?’ I asked, incredulous.
He shrugged but did not say anything.
‘Next, you will say that the lady outside is the one who stabbed her husband a dozen times?’ I argued.
He kept a blank face. It seemed like he was trying to lie about a lie that was not really a lie.