27 Dec 2012

The Last Shot

Posted by Oblivion in Poetry | 11:38pm

now that the master has left
what's left of you, o sport!
a dab of sporting fate so deft
king is out; bare lies the fort

21 Aug 2012

On the Canvas Wide

Posted by Oblivion in Poetry | 7:22pm

On the canvas wide 
the reds of the singing flowers
the greens of the dancing leaves
the browns of the ageing bark
and oh, the blues of the sky

in what moment of boundless joy
and of reckless abandon
have you, O Master Painter,
brushed these dabs, and why! 

9 Aug 2012


Posted by Oblivion in Poetry | 7:33pm

quiet of the night
was lullaby for the kid
sand was the bed
and the sratlit sky,
the luring fairy tale

the earth and the expanse
the sea, the bird in flight
and every blade of grass
were, in play, mates 
loyal, as the shadow

days, sprightly and bright
held surprises aplenty
of the sleight divine
nights, the secret roads
to the land of stories

tripping lightly, ever
on the sands of time
even the flit, gentle
of a restless butterfly
meant a glint of joy

blue of the sky
was the canvas of dreams
that eyes would weave
and the drops of rain,
whispers from heaven

the kid, in haste, then
clocked the years quick
and traded play for work
joy for stupefying pride
and life for living

the stars have fallen
the moon, usurped
by the clouds all murky
the dust has settled
under the jaded feet

yet grass, green with hope
still beckons for play
but besieged he is
too deep in the ugly
to have an eye for beauty

every whiff of spring
betrays the lull warmth
every wave of winter
marks a cold reminder
of forgotten fairy tales
into what mire of trivia
does one sink!
to join the ranks
of a world shrewd
in the race of the dead

ah, what he is now
but a pale remnant
of the life gone by
and a morbid lead
of the drag to be

30 Apr 2012

Triumphant Fool

Posted by Oblivion in Philosophy | 10:29pm

Sooner than later you will die, against all odds. All the powers of the world cannot stop you, and none will dare to beat you in that race. It's a triumph meant wholly for you. When you, then, stand alone at the line, swelling in pride, and look back, you will realise how much you ran in vain and how foolish your pride is! There's no going back; it was a stroll and you wasted it in running.

16 Mar 2012

King of Music

Posted by Oblivion in General | 1:44am

It was his first visit to India and I was taking him on a drive. As we crossed the town, radio signal went low. He admitted his liking for Indian film music, so I played the disc instead of switching off the audio. When I drive alone, I always play Ilaiyaraja, so the disc played his numbers from 80s and 90s. As he listened to one after another, he followed the music keenly. I grew up listening to Ilaiyaraja, so I was enjoying it again. 

After Enno Ratrulostayi from Dharma Kshetram, Oka Brindavanam from Gharshana (Mani Ratnam's), O Priya Priya from Gitanjali, it started playing Ekanta Vela from Anveshana. Anyone who has watched this Vamsy's chilling thriller in Devi 70mm will never forget it. A matchless composition, it blends the sensuous tone with that of subterfuge. He couldn't follow the lyrics, for he doesn't know that language. But he quite liked the tune and of course the interludes. When it ended, he asked me to play it again. He seemed to have cracked something about the song and wanted to be sure. Listening to it a second time helped his judgment. Soon after the number ended the second time, he asked me, "I get the feeling that this song was shot in a forest. Am I right?" The question stunned me. 

"Wow, of course!" I said. It was never possible for me to listen to the song and not immediately associate how and where it was shot. But that someone could crack it while listening to it for the first time made me again remember how much a genius Ilaiyaraja is. What makes it even more surprising is that unlike other numbers in the flick, this song doesn't have any obvious sounds native to a forest. 

After a couple of days when he was ready to leave, I gave him the disc of Nothing But Wind and the background scores of Gitanjali. "By Ilaiyaraja. Hope you like it", I said.

"I think I surely will", he replied, looking at the play list.

Here's to Ilaiyaraja, the king!   

5 Mar 2012

Political Ladder

Posted by Oblivion in General | 7:29pm

Barely an hour after I had reached an acquaintance's and had a cup of tea, I heard a knock on the door. He rushed and opened. They greeted him warmly, and one could see they knew him quite well. When Aunt entered the room and greeted them, her manner and tone suggested she too was familiar with them. The group, I realised soon, was out for a political campaign. And this chap, in his mid-twenties, has impressive people skills and a strong local network. They wanted him to join. 

"Leave me alone today. I have a guest and I promised to take him around our town", he offered an excuse.

The group insisted he must join. He had to agree. Aunt smiled and said, "He is always on the roads!" I smiled. 

As he prepared to leave, he told me he will return in a couple of hours and then take me out. It meant I could just laze around for some time, so I definitely had no problem. Curiously I asked about the motives of the group. He briefed me that they are, among other things, committed to support Team Anna's campaign againt corruption. 

"Great", I said. "Do you believe in Anna's campaign?"

Tucking in his shirt, he replied with a smile, "I don't have any stand on that. But then who cares? I campaign for them, and they pay me 100 bucks per day".

"That's nice!"

"Yeah, bro!" he combed his hair. "Watch some TV. I will soon be back. Ciao!"


30 Jan 2012


Posted by Oblivion in General | 11:55pm

The anthology, titled Only Men Please, is out in print, and is up on Flipkart. If author's copy means anything, I have a few to share. The launch event has been rescheduled for March 31. The Asian anthology, titled Mr Cheng's Silver Coffepot, will be available shortly, on Amazon.

Anthology Covers


31 Dec 2011

The Great Indian Farce

Posted by Oblivion in General | 12:20pm

Besides becoming increasingly political, team Anna's campaign is becoming increasingly farcical. I find it amusing that the campaign has attracted so much attention in the first place. But this is largely due to media's obsession for creating sensation about every damn thing. It's sick that media and supporters alike are referring to Anna almost like a saint. And those innumerable references to him being a Gandhian! It's the same fawning attitude that the country had maintained for Nehru family that it is showing now for Anna and his team. 

First, he is not at all a Gandhian. Far from it. Gandhi's grandson himself admitted he finds equating Anna with Gandhi funny. However, it's an irrelevant point. It matters little if he is one or not. He may have done commendable job in his village. Reward him with Bharat Ratna, recommend him for two Nobel prizes too. But that's that. Extrapolating it to suggest that he is some saviour of the entire country is illogical and idiotic. It speaks low of the intelligence of the population, but probably that's really how dumb we are. If it is indeed true that thousands of youth are supporting the campaign, then it makes me feel sad. When the young are so thoughtless, then the future of the country is hopeless.

It appears that when some countries got sick of dictatorship and made violent yet bold moves to try democracy, India is willingly letting a despotic team take the reins.

Corruption is not about money. It's about greed. It's about values. Our entire education system is designed for the sole purpose of earning livelihood. Success is worshipped (btw, this isn't an exaggeration. The increasing number of suicides among students more than clearly suggests how much importance the society places on academic performance). Success is measured in terms of wealth. Ambition is encouraged and the young are constantly driven to compete and succeed. Naturally, the system endorses accumulation of wealth and private ownership. As much as one dislikes to admit, money is an important criterion for the institution of marriage. This is the system we live in. 

One is expected to succeed, so one is always on the run to earn more than his peers. Greed is not looked at as harmful anymore, so much so that advertising campaigns overtly suggest that greed is cool. With such a system in place, why is it then a surprise if corruption is rife? Such a system naturally encourages corruption. So when we don't do anything to change the system, but try to address a superficial offshoot, are we solving the problem totally? Will it ever stop corruption?

Media is a shameless bitch. Movies like Rann only mildly give a glimpse of how media houses are actually run. It's only the gullible who would believe that media are really concerned about citizens. We have scribes in hundreds, but how many investigative journalists do we have, for a country our size? How many of us know how actually crime and political reporting is done? Anyways, that's beside the point.

Media make it sound as if corruption is a recent phenomenon. Take a sting camera and go to any court in the country and record 30 minutes of footage at any magistrate's or lawyer's and it'll make for a brilliant piece in any documentary on corruption. Extend it further and follow a case for a week, and you can make two films. If one cares enough, catch the lower staff of police or a court, offer him a drink and converse with him for three hours and you can crack all the behind-the-scenes stories. Check with a constable how much he had paid to get into service. Check with the helpless villagers who are subject to endless rounds of visits to courts, harassed by cops, lawyers and the powerful. Check with the retired employees who slogged their lifetimes for government and are then harassed by government for months when they seek pension. Worse, check with orphans, refugees, the displaced if they receive funds and the conditions they are made to live in. Install spycams in any lawyer's and get an hour's footage and air it. Actually, no need to air it. Everyone who has been there knows it.

What have media done till the team Anna had surfaced? Sleeping? They have not woken up even now. It's funny that some people get carried away and defend the media group they follow, as being genuinely fighting for people's cause. One simply forgets that the editor, let alone reporters, is just another chap who is working to push a few points up in his next appraisal. This is not to dismiss all editors, but to only stress that the majority in the mainstream cannot be expected to be expansive and standing up for people's cause.

While electronic media exploited the campaign to their advantage, very few eds cared to ask pertinent questions of the team and its campaign. However, given the blind support from the masses, these few voices were never heard.     

We (People)
To believe that passing a certain bill will solve the problem is the upshot of very lazy and superficial thinking. The campaign suggests that it's only the politicians and bureaucrats who are corrupt. But they can't be corrupt if we are not. It's not possible. However, by supporting the campaign, we are conveniently absolving our responsibility. In the name of honesty, we are shamelessly justifying our deeds of corruption. Statements like, "but he demanded, so I had to give", "but I needed my passport urgently, so I had to bribe", etc. We are corrupt. Country is corrupt. So when the media tell me that the country is supporting the campaign, I wonder how one misses the contradiction in that! Who is complaining against whom? People often tend to ignore, or at best rationalise, personal transgressions, but this is taking it too far.

How many supporters have actually sit and read the draft? This is not a casual question, for the heck of it. I have met at least four people in media who had actively supported team Anna, posted messages on social media, made it to the venues, admit that they have not read the draft. It's easy to see that there are so many more such supporters who have no idea what the draft says. All they know is that the team is up with some permanent, magic solution for graft. Politicians and bureaucrats have failed us, so we blindly put the trust in an apolitical group that exploits the fixation for Gandhian ideals and persuades that they are above board and are here to save the country. While on the one hand there's this constant statement of pride that we are a great democracy, most of the supporters are so blinded that any voice of dissent or doubts about the campaign are being dismissed outright as rubbish and anti-national. Just like Anna and his team, the supporters are not open for any debate. And then we look down upon fundamentalists!    

Politicians have been failing us. For decades. Yet, it is we who elected them. Again and again. It's absurd to not exercise any prudence while voting and come back and complain when politicians exploit. While voting, we never press for the history of candidates. We never press for accountability or responsiveness of the state. The campaign should have actually been about this. We helplessly sit back and watch when convoys after convoys of those goons stall thousands of us on roads for hours. The campaign should have been about this. The problem is we don't have a voice. We never had a voice. Vote is our only weapon, the only moment when we feel that sense of power. And we waste it thoughtlessly. Sadly, those who vote believe that the deed of voting, by itself, is a "responsible" gesture and blame the few who stand firm and refuse to vote. Rightly, then, we deserve this state of affairs. We deserve the corrupt goons. Importantly, we also deserve these dumb and phony teams who are equally exploitative but shrewdly persuade us that they are saviours.

We have been irresponsible. We are being irresponsible and thoughtless. Loyalty to political parties is important to us than bringing upright chaps to power. During every contest, there are goons who campaign loudly and lure with incentives, and there are also these upright chaps who plead us to make an informed and mature choice while voting. But we elect the goons! So what are we cribbing about? Why is media pretending that corruption has just been discovered while it had been there as a virus, for decades? We seek and worship power. We brag our associations with the powerful and we exploit these to our advantage. We want contracts, licenses, seats in academia, favours from police and courts, and we use these very people for the same. And if at a rare moment of introspection we do ask ouselves, "why", we have a ready justification, "but everybody else is doing it, if I don't do they will trample me".

If we really believe corruption is a problem and that it needs an immediate fix, we must begin with ourselves. And it means making sacrifices. To conveniently leave it on some team to prepare the ground and if we merely want to walk in and enjoy, is to be irresponsible. How many of us are prepared and willing? The situations are often testing. Let's take a simple one - a guy is rushing for a meeting. It's rush hour. The auto fellow asks 20 bucks extra. No other auto in sight. Technically, if the guy agrees, it's corruption. If the guy refuses and risks the meeting, the boss will not take it. He will think it's dumb of the chap to risk an important meeting for a mere 20 bucks. Let him go home and share this with his spouse, and she will agree with the boss. Let him tell that the boss might screw the appraisal and, effectively, it might cost incentives, promotions and even the job, she will accuse him of being a weakling and inconsiderate too. This is the normal script. And yet, the chap, the boss, and the spouse will discuss about the evils of corruption. Nobody wants to take the risk when stakes are high. A little noise on social media, a few inconsequential conversations over coffee, a rally or two on roads are fine. That's the bit most are prepared for. Nothing more.

Why? "But I have a family to think about", is a ready answer. Exactly! As virtuous and noble as it may sound, it's an easy justification. Technically speaking, the various incentives that companies shower on employees for overtime, etc qualify under corruption, but how many of us will admit this and forego? Taleb is right when he said not to trust those in corporate confinement, for they will do anything to provide for the family. This tells why such campaigns, regardless of how regionally wide they spread, are shallow and useless.

Behind all the noble talk is the demand of petty need for survival. As the classic prisoner's dilemma suggests, it makes sense to cooperate only till the other is cooperating. So we always look for a win-win situation, which is the rational approach, as many behavioral scientists would agree. Effectively, we tend to change the external factors first. "Let the world change and I will change, too", is the stand of the majority. It doesn't work.       

The Bill
However good the intentions, as long as we don't improve the implementation process, it doesn't really matter what's there in the bill. We already have a very strongly framed rulebook. The law simply says corruption is a punishable offence, no matter who you are. Is this single statement not enough to bring the corrupt to the book? How does it matter if we frame the same statement in 20000 different ways, and brag about a 1000-page bill? We have the police, we have the CBI, we have the courts. Why do we need another group that wants a supercop status? Cops have screwed us enough. Do we seriously need supercops? Two decades hence, if we sit on a pile of complaints against these supercops, will we again ask for a super-supercop team? Are we sane? 

The government and media are unecessarily making a fuss about it. The government has nothing to fear even if it passes the bill as is, blindly. For, the rules by themselves are nothing. It's people who implement them. People are corrupt. Power corrupts. If tomorrow I must file a complaint, I have to go to some chap who represents the team. It won't be Anna or Kejriwal himself. It will be some local representative. Being the kind of body it is, the chap will have his own network. Just like the cops. If the guy I want to file a complaint against happens to be a friend or relative of this chap, will he pursue the complaint fairly and objectively? That's the whole point. Merely having a foolproof rulebook is useless if people are not taught the values of being objective and upright. 

Assuming that the chaps are, by some miracle, objective and fair, the problem is not over yet. The case ultimately must go through the judiciary. But is the judiciary under the purview of the bill? By a further stretch, even if one wins the case and ensures that the guy is behind bars, he can still bribe the courts and get away. Which is what is happening even now. So, what the fuck? Why do we need another bill or nationwide team to repeat the same circus? 

Rules and clauses are meaningless. Given the powers that the team is seeking, we are up for screwing ourselves more. More innocents will be screwed. It will be a very big price to pay to being a few culprits to the book. True, a few goons might be convicted, but a hundred innocents will get screwed. Is this what we want? If we do push for this bill to be passed, it will be a big fucken mistake that we will regret two decades later.

When cops introduced the grievance cell for complaints about autos, everyone thought there will be no more problems with autowallahs. The grievance cell is still active. Only, the complaints are too many and the staff are too few. Over. It came full circle. The auto fellow will give the grievance cell's number himself, if you threaten him.   

Frankly, how does it matter to a citizen if a certain minister had fleeced a few crores and put it in a swiss bank? The guy never gets to deal anything directly with the chap in high-office. It's fine to discuss the macro processes, but it's more academic than pragmatic. If the guy uses only 8 bucks for every 10, and pockets the remaining 2, but does the work for me, I am fine with it. He may have a fat swiss account, but that's irrelevant for me. So long as he has used the other share for public, it's fine. So the point to push for is that he should be doing the tasks he is expected to. If that isn't done, there's no use even if we bring all the black money in swiss accounts home. I may have to pay 2 bucks for every task of 10 bucks, but so long as it's a win-win situation, I shouldn't have a problem. If I justify my giving 2 bucks, but expect the other guy to be clean, it's sheer nonsense.    

The Team (Team Anna)
I don't pretend to know much about the team. If doesn't quite matter. If they are upright, it's great. If they are not, well, it's nothing shocking. However, going by how it did in the past few months, the team comes across as despotic and shrewd. And why has the team been targetting only Congress? 

Anna: He has no direct answers to any questions. All he has is references to his stint with the Army, as if it's a qualification in itself for saving the country, or hyperbole. He believes flogging is right. An idealist. When someone slaps Pawar, he quips, "only one!?" on national television. Complete with a Nehruvian cap, he assumes a grandfatherly role and talks in the tone of "my way or highway". This man is the Gandhian saviour? The most surprising point is that even The Economist had praised him! If Anna was a young chap in tees and jeans, would the media and the masses have taken him as seriously, even if he was as earnest, if not more? It's not by accident that Kejriwal is not at the helm.  

Kejriwal: Did a fabulous job about RTI. IIT, Magsaysay and all that. Brilliant! But Lokpal is a different ball game, sorry. His illogical statements about congress goons have made a few writers doubt the standing of the IIT joint entrace exam! That says it all.

Kiran Bedi: Magsaysay again. Great. Give another and ask her to be happy with her guest lectures, inflated bills, and her organisation. If she really believes she is up against corruption, she should first understand what 'entitled' implies. If I am entitled for second-class AC fare, it just means that that's the maximum I can avail of. It doesn't mean I can claim by default, even when I travel sleeper-class. To come up with the reason that, "but I have been using that excess for running my charity organisation", is a fucken sick excuse. Simply put, to claim more than my spend amounts to corruption. If all the corrupt come with the same excuse that they inflated the bills to use the excess for their family, extended family, relations, neighbours and social service, will we accept it, as we accepted Bedi's? If we so generously accepted Bedi's, why do we have a problem with the goons?

It is these people that we put faith in? No wonder country has gone to the dogs!

We have bills and rules aplenty. As good as they come. Enough! We don't need more. What we need is that the extant rules are implemented fairly and objectively. We have enough teams and groups. Another team is redundant. If we go on adding supercop bodies, there'll be no end to it. We need to push for accountability and responsiveness of the state. Black money is a secondary issue. The country isn't bankrupt. It's sitting on a huge pile of cash. The goons spend crores for just dinners over inconsequential sessions. We need to push that the existing money is used judiciously. We need to push that the goons be stripped away off all privileges. Cut the crap of VIPs and VVIPs and VVVIPs. Everybody is important. They better realise they are just doing a job like anyone else and not doing some fucken favour.

The needs of documentation and layers of approval are infinite. The common man gets sick of this. The poor get sick of this. This is the problem. Cut the layers. Simplify the processes. Make them more transparent. Hire more people to expedite the process, not to further complicate. Incentivise the employees on the basis of efficiency, not on the basis of targets. Importantly, incentivise. Make the transactions off cash. Reward the employees with commissions. Mandate that the goons visit their constituency at least once every month. Mandate them to design KRAs and status updates every quarter. Appraise the goons, and fire them if they don't meet expectations. Teach cops and lawyers to be upright. Punish them more severely if they transgress or exploit. Expedite the trial process in courts, tighten the judiciary. Thousands of innocents are slogging in prisons. Ensure justice for them. Tipping informers for information is also corruption. If you cut that, what’s the incentive for them to crack and share the information? 

How do liquor licenses work? How do companies win contracts? How do companies route their money through tax havens? How many employees inflate bills? Who is complaining about corruption then? 

None of these is foolproof. For, it all starts with education. It all starts at homes and schools. But that comes later. First, if we must change some things, we must change the existing processes and structure and not add more.  

Money is not the problem. Reponsiveness is. 

To compare with other countries doesn't make sense. So long as we worship success and power, and measure these on the basis of money, there's no solution for corruption. Our system encourages private ownership and the practice of dowry still exists in the institution of marriage. Support from state is negligible either in education, unemployment or healthcare. So no matter how many such bills, people will continue to find ways of making money. Of saving money. For someone, chairty may be an excuse, for another, family is.     

India ranks 39th on the Democracy index. Content with fuss about shallow issues and avoiding reflection, we seem to be doing no better. 

25 Dec 2011

Seeker and the King

Posted by Oblivion in Philosophy | 10:24am

A sannyasi in search of truth, sought various teachers. In his wanderings he was told that a certain king was enlightened, that he was teaching wisdom. So this sannyasi went to the king. The king had everything, palaces, jewels, courtiers, power; and the sannyasi had only two loin cloths. The king instructed him concerning truth. One day, while the king was teaching him, the palace caught fire. Serenely the king continued with his teaching, while the sannyasi, that holy man, was greatly disturbed because his other loin cloth was burning.

One may be living amid riches and yet be utterly free of it all, and another may have renounced everything and yet is living within a prison of his own making.

29 Sep 2011


Posted by Oblivion in El Eye Ef Ee | 4:14pm


29 Aug 2011


Posted by Oblivion in Poetry | 7:06pm

it hasn't sopped raining
and damp is the earth
perched in the nest
of leaves and sticks
the bird flits its wet wings

the tiny drops drip
from her dark plaits
and the little girl
runs with her naked feet
to jump in the waters

quiet slithers and descends
into the dark vast woods
and yet you hear
as you strain the ear
the rustle of leaves

adrift is his stroll
on an endless road
as the step of his feet,
shielded in soaked boots,
belies a restless heart

unheard are the whispers
of the tears that flow
on her face, moist and fair
they hide not, though
the grief of the broken heart

stopping by the untaken road
with tears that won't show
a soul, too late, looks back
pining for her love
that could have been his

millions rush for home
as she, with only torn rags
outcast and homeless
looks into the skies
and prays for death

hearing for the first time
the rumble of monsoon
the baby, alarmed,
cries for the embrace
of its doting mother

sunk in the din of living
impelled to stop and ponder
the poet asks himself
"have you heard these sounds,
o poet, the sounds of life!"

6 Jul 2011

Hell of Freedom

Posted by Oblivion in Poetry | 8:47pm

Where the mind is wanting in courage and yet the head is held high
Where knowledge is trade
Where bigots rebel to break up the world into fragments
With narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the abyss of treason
Where tireless striving lends not its arms to others
Where the clear stream of reason has lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by greed
Into ever-stifling thought and action
Into which hell of freedom, my Father, have Thou let my country drift off
- (with apologies to Tagore) 

28 Jun 2011

The Bell

Posted by Oblivion in Poetry | 8:07pm

at break of dawn
it rang loud
the temple bell
every day it did
when, as a boy,
i slept under
the shade of neem

it rang loud, too,
when, firm in feet,
in the fields i ran
and hit the bark
drunk with the pride
that of youth
to music i danced

when time, as a hawk,
flew, hovered, and flew
in days and years
the bell, still atop
the hamlet's temple
talked to my ears
deaf to its sound

the neem is dead
frail are my feet 
walls have crumbled
in ruins, the temple 
long for that sound i do
but even a faint note
the bell rings no more

26 Apr 2011

The Departed

Posted by Oblivion in Fiction | 1:49pm

When I opened the window, I felt it was cold. The sky looked cloudy, but I felt like going out and enjoy a stroll. I looked at the street. Involuntarily, I focused more on how much it has changed. "Sid, wear sweater. It's cold", I heard mom's voice. She was in kitchen, making tea for us. Earlier, it always irked me that she thought more about me than about herself. But now, it didn't. I thought I would say, "Mom, please! I lived in Ladakh for so long, this is nothing".

But I said, "Okay, mom!"

"It's in the second shelf of your wardrobe, Sid".

It amazed me how she remembered such a trivial accessory with such precision. Mothers are a rare breed.

Quickly, I pulled on the sweater. When I was about to shut the door, I noticed an old diary. Twenty years old. "Wow!", I exclaimed. It was more out of curiosity than a rush of nostalgia that I opened its cover. The pages have aged. It's a funny thing about diaries, they get heavier with time. They store your memories. It was dad's gift for my birthday. In a neatly written hand, the first page had dad's favourite quote.

"Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman."
- Beethoven

I admired how beautiful the writing looked. Dad's fingers not only played piano to perfection, but also wrote exceptionally good. He was an artist, impelled to compose and play music. He performed for years, held audiences captive, and taught music at university. For him, music was not a discipline to be learned; it was the very essence of life. On an evening when I was about to fall off the car, he tried saving me and had his fingers crushed by the car door. Doctors broke it to him that he can never play piano again. Next evening, he jumped out off our flat on the fifth floor and fell dead. Doctors took pride in being frank; I lost my dad. 

"Sid, ready yet? Tea is ready".

I closed the diary and put it carefully back in the same place. "Done, mom. In a minute".

As I sat and relished tea, she ran her fingers fondly through my hair. It felt so nice it choked me. When I left home eight years ago and chose to stay in Ladakh, I had no intent to detach myself from anything or anyone. Yet, even as I met strangers and made friends, had my moments, memorable and forgettable, a sense of distance had slowly crept into me. With every passing day, the world looked further afar, and I thought its affairs would never touch me again. Along with the feet that battered and bared many a rough terrain, and felt hardened, the heart, I thought, too, had become stronger like the solitary soldier whose armour no weapon can pierce. And how wrong I was! A simple, loving gesture felt like the touch of a gentle breeze in the midst of a desert, wafted across lands and sea to soothe a forlorn bird and break all walls and doors of the cage to set it aflutter in joy. I realised I didn't become detached; I merely shielded myself from all care. It was fear; strength was a pretense. It felt so absurd that it choked me.

She arranged my collar neatly around the sweater. "You are still a careless brat", she teased. "Mom, easy! Sit and have tea", I smiled and pulled the chair beside. I always liked being lazy and disorganised. I could never imagine living any other way. An organised, planned life is a dead life, I always believed. Nevertheless, when I reflected this moment, I realised it was probably not this heavy philosophy that drove my inertness. It was probably that I valued these small moments as priceless and desired them more, for every such moment attracted care and attention from mom. What if she admonished, didn't she just so lovingly notice how I wore the sweater and arranged my collar? And if I added up all such moments through the years, I would have a wealth of precious memories. The price of being disorganised! Priceless!

She didn't say it, but every glance of hers said, "I am so happy you are back, my precious child". I had regularly written her how it was there in Ladakh, what I ate and drank and where I stayed and slept and worked. But she asked about it all again. I answered in brief, as ever.

But it was enough for her. She didn't ask to know answers; she asked just to hear me talk. Just to notice that glint of joy in my eyes. She recounted how the neighbourhood has changed over the years, who moved in and who moved out, how unfortunately Steve met with the fatal accident just a day after he finally had agreed to marry Jennifer and how sad she felt, how prices have increased, how fast the neighbour's baby has grown up, how fond the kids in the society have become of her... As I listened to her, I didn't mind it was getting late for the stroll. But she remembered. "Oh, I could go on! You enjoy your stroll and come back soon. Don't stay out too long, Sid, you could catch cold".  

"Sure, mom! Will be back in an hour".

I went to Steve's. A Goan family had moved in, not long after he died. The house looked new. I rang the bell and an old man opened. He put on his glasses when he noticed me. "Evening, Mr Benjamin. I am Sid, Steve's friend". It took him a few moments to map. "Okay! come on in", his tone was cordial. I walked in and looked around. "Please", he pulled a chair for me. "That's okay! Don't bother, sir", I took it from the old man. An old woman entered the hall and smiled at me. "Steve's friend", Mr Benjamin told her. "Hello! That's nice", she said, with a smile that made me feel at home. "Hello! I... I just dropped by to... to just see the place... and say hi to you. He is my best friend, and I used to visit him often. Steve". They followed me ardently. "I understand. This is your home. You are always welcome", she said. "Let me get some coffee for you".

"No... it's fine. I just had tea at home, in fact. I wouldn't have anything. Next time, surely", I replied.

As I conversed, I looked around the house. Everything looked different. The family was nice and warm, but I couldn't relate to anything. As I got up to take leave, he gave me his card. "Do call up and drop by with your mom. Would be a pleasure", he said.

"Sure. Thanks!" I would rather never call or visit them again. I had nothing against them; I had nothing to do with them either. Steve is gone, and what does it matter who lived there? I wasn't sure why, but I was angry. Maybe I thought they had destroyed all signs I could possibly relate with. I didn't expect Steve to receive me at the door, but I didn't want the house to look so alien either. Steve was dead, and the house looked alien. I had no intent to extend acquaintance with Benjamin family.

After walking a few paces, I wanted to call Sameera. I heard from mom that Sameera got married a few months ago. She also said, "Don't call her up at late evenings now. You will cause her trouble". I always found it queer that unlike any other attribute, that of marital status affects all other equations, and perpetually alters a few. I asked quite a few people, relations, acquaintances and friends alike, to explain this to me, but none could. It was as if they had accepted it as a divine dictum, and questioning it sounded like blasphemy or at best stupid. For my part, the fact that one person's arrival should alter the equation with others meant absolute disrespect for the others. It did not, however, matter what I thought. The world runs its course. None of the friends lived in the town anymore. Sameera was the only one. Without thinking much, I called her number. A male voice answered politely and put me to her.

She was her ebullient self. I wondered if she could take some time out for coffee. She suggested me to drop by at her place instead. "You could get to meet Armaan too. He has met all my friends except you, so he would love it", she pushed. I was not up to it, as I felt somewhat lonely and lost, and preferred some time with someone who has known me for a good time. I was surely not up to striking it with strangers. "I would love that, too. Will drop by, one of these days. Take care", I assured. I thought I would visit her next week.

I walked back home, observing people and streets. It felt cold, and it was not just the weather. Streets were buzzing with trade, people were rushing, and it confounded me how distant and cold urban spaces are. But then, it's probably just me; I never felt at home in cities.

After supper, mom liked watching news and playing some music. I waited impatiently for the newscast to finish. She knew how much I hated watching news. "Just five minutes, sweetie", she smiled. "No problem, mom". Soon after, I checked if she wanted to listen to Kishore Kumar or Ilaiyaraja numbers. Listening to the music, she fell asleep. I switched off the player, closed the window and left for my room.

Lying on the bed, I stared at the roof. I saw no sky or stars; only a dark concrete wall. I don't remember when I drifted into sleep, but something woke me up suddenly early next morning. It was quite early, it may not be even 5 in the morning. I heard someone gasping, trying hard to breathe. For a few seconds, I tried to make sense of it all.

I realised I was at home. I rushed to mom's room. I switched the light on and saw her writhing in discomfort. "Mom!" I cried out loud and rushed to hold her. She was not in pain. It was rather a feeling of being strangled. She was trying hard to breathe. "Mom!" I called her, holding her by shoulder. I felt she might need some medicine, but I had no idea. "Mom, are you all right?" A stupid question, but I just wanted her to say something. Recollecting herself, she said, "tablet... it's on... the... table... coffee table..." Quickly, I fetched the medicine and offered her. "Water", I gave the bottle. A minute later, she could breathe normally.

She looked weak. Weary. Her forbearance has worn out. She couldn't open her eyes. Sitting beside and holding her hand, I noticed the wrinkles on her face. It scared me. All these years, every day of my life, every morning when I woke up, every evening when I slept, I took her presence for granted. I held it with certainty that she was always there, whenever I needed her, and whenever I needed her not. I could walk out in anger, booze and return home at midnight and find her serve food, and I could stray for years and return and still find her receive and welcome me with a hug. For the first time, I found my certainty shaken. For the first time, mom looked mortal. For the first time, I realised how fragile it all comes down to when you sense the end. It felt as if I was looking at her for the first time. How busy we get running around for tomorrows that we rarely look at those we think we love! I cried.

Shortly later, she slowly opened her eyes. She looked at me fondly. "Don't cry, my child! Old age, you know. But... not much time left, though. I have lived well and I lived happily. I am proud of you, child. I am happy you are back. I have no regrets and nothing to seek. If this is it, this is it. I love you and I'm always with you. Always". She had tears in her eyes. "I know, mom. I know. You will be fine. No worries". I didn't have it in me to think of her death. Maybe, it seemed to me, this is why I left home. Having lost dad, I was perhaps scared to see her age every day. So I ran away.

Or maybe I felt like that being faced with a sensitive moment. Maybe it wasn't out of any fear.

Maybe I left because I had wanted to, having become quite averse with living in cities. I wanted to see the mountain, the stars, the streams and breathe fresh air. Maybe that was it.

I had a quick breakfast. I convinced her that we will visit doctor. She checked if I would take her to temple also. I assured I will. She was happy. She wanted me to select the saree. I was never good at that. But I suggested thick blue and she liked it. "I will be ready in five minutes", I told her.

When I came out of the shower and pulled on the tee and jeans and walked into her room, I found mom lying on the floor. She must've collapsed. I held her, pulled her up and cried, "Mom! Mom!" She didn't respond. I sought the neighbour's help for rushing her to the hospital. I didn't keep track, but I was sure it didn't take more than twenty minutes for us to reach the hospital. All the while, I kept checking if she was breathing. After the formalities, doctor suggested we can't afford to delay and that she be put in intensive care unit. They put her on the bed, lined in white sheets. She lay quiet and motionless. As I stood out at the door and watched through the glass, they took her into the intensive care unit.

The hands pushed, the wheels slid, and the bed retreated. And with it, mom. 

19 Apr 2011


Posted by Oblivion in Fiction | 8:41pm

Waving at the neighbour's baby, Sudip entered the house. He noticed Sucharita in the kitchen. "Here, on the table", Sudip told Sucharita, putting the packets of milk and medicine on the dining table. Sucharita looked at him and acknowledged. "Thank you", she said with a smile. Sudip responded with an indifferent shrug before walking into the bedroom. 

Ten minutes later, he walked to the kitchen to check what Sucharita had prepared for breakfast. Not finding her there, he called out her name. "Yeah, coming", she replied. He walked toward the table and found tea and breakfast arranged neatly. Serving tea for himself, he looked around for Sucharita. He found her administering medicine to Tanmoy. Tanmoy looked rather weak. "Two more doses through the day and you will be fine. Don't worry", Sucharita assured him fondly and took from him the glass of water. "Have these and tea", she gave him the plate. Sipping tea, Sudip observed her. As she stood up and walked toward the hall, he pretended reading newspaper. 

Sucharita pulled the chair beside Sudip and served breakfast for both. "He is quite down, poor fellow. Medicine should help. I advised him to take rest", Sucharita told about Tanmoy. "Okay, good. He should be fine", Sudip replied. He avoided looking at her, and his reply was rather terse. "Are you taking me for the movie next evening?" Sucharita asked. "Let's see", Sudip said, following the sports page.


Sudip returned from work early. He looked cheerful. Tanmoy was plucking flowers in the garden. "How is it going?" Sudip asked, without expecting any reply. He walked in and noticed Sucharita lying on the bed. Naina, the maid, arranged for tea and snacks. "Nilanjoy is staging a play at Nandan tonight. We have the passes. Shall we go?" he asked Sucharita. She remained quiet. "Suchi", he said and moved toward the bed. As she saw Sudip, Sucharita began to weep.

"What happened, Suchi?" Sudip enquired. She wouldn't answer, but couldn't stop her tears either. Sudip insisted her. "Suchi, what happened?" She nodded her head disapprovingly and said in a faint tone, "Nothing". Sudip held her shoulder and insisted, "What happened?" He shouted loudly, "Naina". Naina rushed. "Yes, dadababu".

Sucharita meant to stop him. "Shh, nothing happened!". He ignored her words. Looking at Naina, he asked, "What happened? Why is she down?" Hesitatingly, she said, "No idea, dadababu". "Nothing happened", Sucharita repeated.

"Tell me what happened", Sudip demanded an answer. Wiping her tears, Sucharita spoke to Naina. "Naina, arrange tea and snacks". 

"Just done, didi". She, however, knew that Sucharita wanted her to leave. She walked to the kitchen.

Sucharita looked at Sudip. "I am not finding the necklace that mom gave for Puja. I fear I might have misplaced it, but I have no clue where". Trying hard to suppress tears, she said, "It's her last gift to me and it's precious to me". She broke down.

"Do you remember where you had put it last?" Sudip asked. "It's unlikely you have misplaced it. You hardly do. And if someone has taken it, that's a dangerous move. It must not happen".

"No no. It's not possible that anyone has taken it. I must've misplaced it", Sucharita assured. 

"Suchi, I know how precious it is to you. You cannot be so careless about it. This is certainly someone's doing".

"But who can it be? That's impossible".

"Naina", Sudip called. "No, Sudip", Sucharita held his hand and suggested not to call her. Sudip ignored her gesture. "Naina, Suchi di has lost her Puja necklace... her mom's gift. I am sure she hasn't misplaced it. Someone has surely taken it. And I don't tolerate that. If you did, you better admit. If police step in, it will be, let me tell you, very bad for you". Naina has been working for them for years and it came as an insult for her, although she very well knew Sudip's outspoken nature, sometimes bordering on rudeness. All the same, the mention of police scared her. "Dadababu! At least for my belief in God, I wouldn't be doing such a thing. I swear on my children", she pleaded. "Sudip, please. She cannot have done that", Sucharita said.

"Okay, okay! I had to ask anyways. Don't mind. Get the tea", Sudip looked at Naina. Naina gestured obediently and reflected a sense of gratitude. She went to the hall to fetch tea.

"Sudip, relax. We will find it", Sucharita stressed.

"Rubbish. Your decent nature makes others easy to exploit. And necklace is not a small thing, Suchi... if only not for money... it's precious to you for deeper reasons. Let me check with Tanmoy". 

"Sudip, that's ridiculous. You are not doing it".

"Stop it. I don't know why you defend him so much". The tone of arrogance and a deeper grudge surprised Sucharita. Naina walked in with cups of tea. "Naina, call Tanmoy in".

"Sudip, please! This is getting unpleasant. We will ask Naina to search the house. Am sure it is somewhere".

"Suchi, enough. A precious thing is gone and it's fair to check with people living in the house. What's so outrageous about it?" Sudip paused. He added, "He asked me for some money the other day. He needs money. I feel he is the one".

Sucharita feared where this would lead to. She is fond of Tanmoy and it pained her heart that he was being put to the wall. At the same time, she didn't know how to convince Sudip to stay quiet. But she feared the worst and wanted to stop. "Sudip, please stop. I don't care if it's lost. Let it go", she said in a firm tone. 

Sudip ignored. "Stop defending him. I am only doing a fair job. Why don't you let me even check with him?"

Tanmoy walked in and sensed an air of grimness. "Sudip da", he looked at Sudip.

"Tanmoy, I saw you at the jeweller's the other day. What work did you have there?" He was brash in tone.

"Sudip da! Not at all. I never went to the jeweller's", Tanmoy answered hesitantly. 

"Oh, so you mean I'm lying?"

"No, Sudip da. I don't mean that. But I never went there".

"So who was it then? Your clone? Your apparition? Or you are saying my vision is at fault? Now I get it! You wanted money. I didn't give, so you stole Suchi di's necklace. You sold it or mortgaged it? How much did he give?"

Sucharita was completely taken aback by Sudip's words, but she knew it would get worse if she interfered. She just prayed it ended soon. Naina watched helplessly. 

"Sudip da, I swear!" Tanmoy broke into tears. "I couldn't have done that", he pleaded. "Believe me, didi", he looked at Sucharita. Tears rushed to her eyes.

"Stop this mushy drama. It's okay if you did it. I can understand... people do all sorts of things for money. Just admit and tell me if you sold it or mortgaged. I will convince police to not handle you roughly".

"Sudip da!" Tanmoy fell on Sudip's feet. "I didn't do it. I swear. Please believe me".

"This is useless. Thieves cannot be trusted with promises. Nobody else could have done it. None has the need to do it. Except you... except you. I know you did it. You better admit".

Sucharita couldn't take it anymore. "Sudip, I beg you. Please stop this", she said, tears running down her cheeks.

"I plead you, Sudip da. I swear I haven't done that". 

"Okay! I know you did it. But I don't intend to hurt people. I know you did it. I will forgive you. Will not take it to police. Only, walk out of the house this very moment and never come back. Go!"

Sucharita cursed herself why she had told Sudip about that necklace. She wept. But she realised there's little she could do to stop Sudip. After the deathly blow on his credibility, she felt it's better if Tanmoy left and went on his own. She was heartbroken, though. 

Tanmoy took his belongings, thanked Sudip with folded hands, bid a moist-eyed farewell to Sucharita and Naina and left the house. Sudip sported a faint smile of victory. Shortly after, Naina finished her errands and left for the day.


At midnight, Sudip woke up. He noticed Sucharita sleeping. Quietly, he walked to the next room. He pulled on shawl, picked up his two bags and walked out of the house in silence. Thirty minutes later, he reached the railway station. "When is Guwahati-Trivandrum Express arriving?" he checked at enquiry counter. "In ten minutes", the attendant answered. 

The train approached slowly. Standing on the platform, Sudip pulled the necklace out of his purse, looked at it carefully and smiled, and put it back. He located the bogey, checked his name on the chart and stepped in. Two minutes later, the lady made the departure announcement of the train.

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