Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Shadows of the Line


The Sun was shining bright, forcing the dark grey clouds to run for cover thus lifting their shadow from the meadow that sprawled around the hostel. The darkness that had spread all across was suddenly wiped away, waking up the soft green grass that glistened in the morning dew as the touch of the first rays kissed the blue, yellow and purple wild flowers making them blush and spread their fragrance around

The meadow had never looked as beautiful as it did this morning, thought Rukhsana as she combed her long tresses standing by the window. She allowed her gaze to travel as far as it would dare to go, making her feel the pasture stretched till the horizon just like the ones back at home. The thought of home, brought a tear to her eye. Quickly she wiped it away; the last thing she wanted was to have Mansi her roommate see her cry. She had seen enough of it already.

But Mansi had been busy since morning packing her bags. She scampered around the room, hunting for the slipper she seemed to have lost months before and her favourite pearl earring which had disappeared from her shelf the previous evening.

“How on earth do you expect to find your things in this mess?” called out Rukhsana looking around her. 
The room was an unusual sight with half of it being spick and span with everything in order while the other half seemed to be ravaged by a tornado. The bed could not been seen under the humongous pile of clothes that perennially stayed piled on it; the table and chair were filled with books that threatened to topple over at any moment. The floor was littered with wedges, heels and pumps of which Rukhsana had lost count months before. The dressing table was covered with cosmetics and accessories that seemed to be there more for display than actual use. That Mansi kept adding to the museum was something she had never understood.

“I have to find them, they are my absolute favourite, how can I go home without them” wailed Mansi making her roommate roll her eyes. Everything that got lost soon enough became Mansi’s favourite.
Quietly Rukhsana slipped out, wading through the melee that had taken birth across rooms outside and in the corridors. She pulled her dupatta close to her throat, stifling a sob as she made her way through the commotion. Girls were running across rooms, packing their bags and exchanging addresses.

“Ruks, are you done with your packing? When do you leave” a random voice which she thought belonged to Hetal called out. She nodded vigorously murmuring a vague reply and opened the main door of the hostel to get away from the happiness and the excitement that smothered her within the four walls.

“You know, I am so looking forward to the silence and solitude that awaits me in the hills. I find the city so boring. It would be so much fun to spend an entire weekend at a hill station with friends” she heard a voice as she made her way towards the meadow.

“Silence….Boring…” the words triggered off the memories that she tried so hard to stifle. Everyday.

Silence had always been deathly for her and her family. The uncertainty that it brought along had strangled whatever little peace they had every single day.

Solitude. There had been more than enough of it where she came from, the home she missed, and the village she loved more than anything else. Days and days of solitude could be found in their isolated land, because that was all that they had to give them company; to suffocate them much more than the lack of food and water could possibly do.

Boring…their life was anything but that. The crash and crackle of gunfire kept them on their toes, making them play hide and seek with their own lives. One wrong hiding place and pellets of bullets could shower over them. She had seen it happen to her cousin Ibrahim right in front of her eyes.  All they could do when there was firing was sit in their hiding places, usually their thatched roof huts and pray. Pray until silence took over; the same deathly silence that made them wonder if a tempest was waiting for darkness to fall; waiting to strike when they fell into a disturbed sleep. They would gladly take boredom any day, but they were never fortunate enough to experience it.

Friends…she had no idea what that meant until she had come to Delhi for her college education. All she had known through her life till then were enemies. Foes who lurked in the shadows and opened fire the moment they got a chance. Not caring if it were a child that got caught in their fire; all they cared were for its identity to be destroyed.

Favourites…nobody in her village of two hundred and fifty had known what it was like to own more than a pair of torn shoes. She looked down at her own Kolhapuri Chappals and winced remembering the day she had bought them with the little money her Abu had given her. Slipping them on for the first time, all the while aware that her Abu would walk bare foot for a few months in order to let her cover hers.

Going home…she had kept a straight face and murmured a reply back in the corridor. How could she tell them what it meant to go home for her? Unlike the girls who were busy waiting for their trains and buses to take them home to a summer vacation full of birthday parties, shopping, movies and eating out, home for her was her thatched roof hut, the framed photos of her brother Rahim and her cousin Ibrahim, the constant shelling along the barbed wires which surrounded her village and the crouching under the charpai each time there was a new bout of firing regardless of day or night.

Partying…she had never known what it meant. Their village plunged into darkness every night, a single light burning could spell disaster for them. They could not even enjoy a meal under the starlit sky, what if a stray bullet made it their last supper?

A nippy wind enveloped around her making her wrap her dupatta around her head, reminding her of the hijab she wore back at home. She was fortunate to have parents who had a forward outlook towards life, who had taken the tough decision of battling against all odds to have her study in the city, who had asked her to be one among the others and experience what they would never be able to- Freedom.

The main doors opened, and the girls poured out, waving out madly as each made way to their own destination. She suddenly felt a movement that made her turn around. Mansi stood behind with her suitcase, ready to go home.

“Why aren’t you ready yet? We will be late for the train” she said, perching herself beside Rukhsana.
“Train… but I never go anywhere… I always stay here… you know that” said Rukhsana looking confused.

“Not this year…nor next…not till I am in your life. I cannot take you to Urusa even if I wanted to… but I can take you home…my home. Your tickets have been booked, and I have worked with the Principal to inform your Abu”

Rukshana did not know how to react. She turned around and hugged her friend; the meadow rustling in the background as if breaking into a song and dance; the sound of artillery that had thudded through her mind, slowly fading away.

Along the LOC, Urusa is a village closest to the border on the Indian side. Cut off from the rest of the world, there are no buses or any form of transport that can connect it to the closest villages/towns Uri and Baramullah anymore.          

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our Indian-ness?


“Rajdeep Sardesai heckled and manhandled at Madison Square Garden” screamed most headlines across the country over the last two days. A video that claimed to be the other side of the story went viral on social media making more than one pair of eyes roll at how hypocritical the famed journalist could be. Then rose the eye witnesses from the media world who shed light on the real story about how Rajdeep was manhandled by fanatic supporters over what had begun as a simple tweet.

Was Rajdeep in the wrong or was he victimized? Were the Indian ‘brain drain’ just venting the frustrations of the fanatical supporter or did they blindly cross the line? While these are questions being thrashed over social media and argued over single malt, none of them even make it to my bemused Indian mind.

What does creep in is a feeling of shame; because we Indians have done ourselves proud; once again.
Be it the ‘Aam Aadmi’ who leads a frustrated life bogged down by the shadows of corruption and crime that are perennially cast in the motherland he lives in or the suave NRI with the ‘firang’ accent, sitting in a remote corner of the world vocally devout in his aspirations for the development of Bharat Mata or the bandwagon of senior media persons who have dropped everything to follow NaMo halfway across the world- all have proven time and again how consistent we are in displaying what I am now inclined to call the Indian-ness in our behaviour.

Be it in India or out, having a low tolerance for a different view and displaying support fanaticism through violence and abuse seems to be something we Indians excel at. Wherever we go, we don’t seem to change; possessively we cling on to this aggression and impatience and make a proud display of it at every chance we get.

As India goes gaga over its Prime Minister and his exemplary speeches; I wonder if we take a pause to give our own behaviour a thought. While we applaud NaMo for his tough response to Pakistan at UNGA and his perspective on development; don’t we feel even a speck of embarrassment at the lack of basic courtesy we display especially in public?

Why does who actually won the race to initiate the assault first at Madison Square Garden matter so much that it hogs the limelight for days together? Our behaviour shows no sign of questioning the occurrence of such an incident in public in a foreign country; instead all we care about is who did what. Why?

Or is it all but a hype created by Media? The infamous Indian Media who time and again has proved its loyalties to popularity and ratings? – News is after all whatever that sells like a hot cake. An assault on a veteran journalist definitely makes the cut. No?

And while the media and people stay busy with their applause and their insults, I watch the John Oliver show snippet about Modi’s visit and cringe wondering if a day will ever rise when we will realize what a true show of mockery we sometimes end up making of ourselves.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

A Morning To Forget


Richard hurried down the sidewalk almost tripping over when his right foot got caught in a crack in one of the numerous grey flagstones that stood stiffly in line all across. Catching himself in time, he glanced at his watch, he was running ten minutes late for the most important meeting of his life. He kicked himself, silently cursing under the breath when he realized that he had already wasted enough time to make it to the Tribune Tower, the workplace of his dreams.

If he had to make it to the city, he usually used the CTA bus or train service but today that would mean an additional twenty minutes from Terry’s condo on 53rd Street. In case of a delay Terry had suggested he use the bike center service that stood two minutes away from her apartment. He had taken the Red Eye from LAX Airport but had landed an hour late at O’Hare and missed seeing Terry before she left for work. She had left him a tiny note on the table with a Lucky Bamboo plant sitting pretty next to it. It was her way of wishing him luck for his interview, the one that he had waited for ever since both of them had graduated in Journalism from UCLA.

He smiled thinking of the bamboo and the freshly brewed coffee that he had found waiting for him. It was just like Terry to do something like that, he thought. It was one of the many reasons he admired and appreciated her so much ever since the day he had fallen in love with her, the day he had first laid his eyes on her.

“I wish I could have seen her before she left” he murmured as he covered the last few steps to the center, making an old lady sitting on the bench near the door sit up in alarm and look around wondering who had spoken.

It had been six months since they had last met. Terry had come down to celebrate Christmas with her family and him. He had been in a dark mood all through her two day stay; his job hunt had left him feeling insecure and unwanted. That she had landed the job of her their dreams had made him behave cold with her, something he had never done through their yearlong relationship. She had taken it without uttering a word, making him feel all the more bitter. Two days had flown by and they had hardly spoken. He had dropped her off at the airport in cold silence and had regretted it the moment he had seen her disappear into the departure terminal of United Airlines.

Oh how he had kicked himself and waited for the day when he could meet her and make amends. That day had come today, after a six month long wait. He felt the tiny box in his pocket as he rummaged in it for the two twenty dollar notes he knew he had stashed there. It made him smile; he had wanted to go on one knee with the box open when he had landed but the delay had thrown water over his plans. Once again he glanced at the watch, the tiny hands ticking dangerously towards the disaster that awaited if he spent an extra second in the company of his thoughts.

Quickly he pulled out the wrinkled notes and handed it to the burly guy behind the counter, grabbing the helmet and walking over to the comfort bike that he pointed at.

“How long will it take me to get to 435N, Michigan Avenue?” he called out as he adjusted himself on the bike.
“It should not take you more than fifteen minutes if you take the Lakeshore drive route. Park at the Wabash Avenue Bike Center, from there it is a six minute walk to the Tribune Tower. The map is tucked under the seat” yelled the man.

“Bless Terry for suggesting a bike” he thought pedaling out of the bike center and marveling at how easily the man was about to identify that the address he had asked for was of the Tribune Tower. It made him resolve all the more to make it to his interview on time.

Heading onto Cornell Dr, Richard increased the speed and adjusted the breaks as he neared the exit, he knew he had to ride faster if he wanted to get to the office on time. Just as he sped around the turn onto Lake Shore Dr, he saw a familiar looking old woman nervously step onto the road to cross. Quickly he swerved to the left to avoid hitting her.

A deafening crash followed by sirens was the last thing he heard before losing his consciousness. The blue velvet box slipped out of his pocket and rolled a few meters away before it clicked open.


Heather let out a bloodcurdling scream, screeching her bike to a halt behind the bus that had abruptly stopped in front of her. It had been just a few minutes since she had picked up her rented bike like she did every day from the Bike Center on 53rd Street.

She saw people rushing past her and moving towards the front of the bus. It made her forget her scare and wonder what had happened. Quickly she pedaled her bike alongside the bus, her heart skipping a beat when she saw the sight that lay in front. The entire facade of the bus was dented and what looked like the seat of a bike lay dangling from the broken headlight.

“That seat is just like mine” she thought in horror, forcing herself to look to her right where what was left of the bike lay in a crumple. The tires had bent into two and the handle had been mangled. She did not want to know what had happened to the biker but she could not stop herself from looking a few steps away from the bike where a crowd seemed to have gathered. She saw an ambulance come to a halt just next to the mob.

Gingerly she walked the ten steps that took her to become another scared face in the crowd, looking down at the unfortunate biker who lay in the center, his face covered with cuts, one of the eyes smashed out of its socket and one knee folder under his back. She winced as she took her eyes off the biker not waiting for the paramedics to confirm what she already knew.

“Poor guy, he must have been on his way to work” she thought; noticing the now brown blazer, white long sleeve shirt that was splashed in red, the black trousers and the dust coated shoes which revealed a tiny shiny spot that had escaped the onslaught of the collision.

“What a way to start the day” she thought, thinking of the candidate who was probably waiting nervously for her to arrive and conduct the interview. She glanced at her watch and realized she was running late. She enjoyed biking to work, it was the only form of exercise she could boast of in her otherwise busy schedule. But today had been different, not in her wildest dreams had she imagined witnessing an accident on the exit to Lakeshore Dr. It was not an accident prone zone. “The biker must have been rash” she thought, noticing an old lady sitting at the bus stop on the turn, shivering in shock.

For a brief moment, Heather wondered if she should check on her but the thought of the candidate waiting made her drop the idea. Just as she mounted her bike, she noticed something gleam from the corner of her eye. Getting off, she walked to the edge of the road, spotting an open blue velvet box lying covered in gravel. She saw its contents resting next to it and realized what had caught her eye.

“Did it belong to him?” the thought fleeted across her mind as she mounted her bike a second time. Something made her hesitate and look back. “Maybe I could place an ad in Lost and Found” she thought picking up the box with the contents and tucking it into her bag pack.

With one last glance at the Ambulance that was now speeding away, she resumed the rest of her journey towards 435N Michigan Avenue.


Terry was excited. She had really wanted to meet Richard when he had arrived in Chicago but it had not been possible for her to stay back. She had a deadline to meet that day and cover for another section, the in-charge of which was out sick. But that had  not dampened her excitement one bit. She knew he would love the Lucky Bamboo she had kept on the table waiting for him, with the steaming hot coffee just the way he enjoyed drinking it. Letting out a sigh, she looked out of her window which overlooked the Chicago River.

It had been a dream come true for her, to work for the Chicago Tribune. It had been their dream and not a day had passed when the guilt of it had not weighed over her. No more she thought with a smile, in a few hours that remorse would be wiped away forever.  

Feeling happy she wondered if Richard had made it to the interview on time. He had texted her when he had arrived that morning; the hint that he had weaved in not escaping her notice.

“Is he planning something?” she wondered, a different kind of happiness surging through her. She had known the day they had met that he was the one she would want to marry but his behaviour when she had last visited home had made her doubt her own feelings. Momentarily. Things had gone back to normal once again and she knew Richard had regretted his cold attitude towards her. They had put it all behind and now he had hinted at something big; the something that she had always wanted from him.

She could hear an Ambulance wail in the background. “Must be an accident somewhere”, she thought.
A sharp knock on the door made her turn behind.

“You are managing Connie’s section today right?” asked the head that popped in through the door. It was David, the intern from the Arts section. She nodded, taking the packet he handed over to her.

“Heather is running late for an interview, she asked me to hand this over to you for putting up” he said, disappearing as quickly as he had appeared.

“She must be talking to Richard right now” she thought nervously reading her boss’s scrawny handwriting on the envelope.

“Run this in today’s Lost and Found”

Curious, Terry carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a dusty velvet box. Clicking it open, she gasped as a beautiful engagement ring stared back at her. It was a sparkling diamond, encrusted on a bed of tiny peals and set onto a platinum ring. Just like the one she had shown Richard on the window display on their first anniversary hoping that he would get the hint.

This was a sign, she thought happily just as her phone began to ring.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

From the perspective of Bashful the Dwarf


“Don’t you say that again Grumpy. She is the sweetest creature I have ever seen!” said Bashful with a look of indignation that made the remaining six burst out into amused laughter. He turned a shade of red making his already rosy face blush all the more.

“Now, now… don’t make fun of Bashful here, we all know he has a soft corner for her” Doc admonished the rest of them but burst into a chuckle as soon as he had uttered the words making everyone once again roll in laughter.

“Whatever you say, we are not safe with her around. What if her evil step mother comes back? She has already tried killing her once and now that she is with us, I am sure she will try again. And then what about us? What will happen to us?” Grumpy disapproved of her presence and left no stone unturned to make his displeasure known.

“Can we go home now please? Let’s see if she has lived up to her side of the deal and cleaned the house and kept our food ready. If she has, I can go sleep almost immediately” said Sleepy letting out a yawn that was accentuated by a powerful sneeze from Sneezy.

And so they set on their journey down the mountains, towards the tiny cottage nestled in the woods on the banks of a gurgling brook and surrounded by the most beautiful flower garden in the entire country side. 

“Can you smell that?” exclaimed Dopey as they neared the cottage. The flavours of an onion soup engulfed their senses making Happy burst out in laughter.

Snow White had kept her side of the deal; their cottage was spic and span, their beds had been made, the laundry done and the socks mended. If that wasn't enough, bowls of steaming hot onion soup sat waiting on the dining table.

Everything else forgotten, they welcomed her in their midst and from then on considered her as a part of their family. Even Grumpy found his disapproval fading away once he had tasted the delicious soup and found his socks looking as good as new.

A week went by but Snow White still seemed to be in the danger that had brought her to them.

“Don’t ever open the door to anyone till we return” Bashful heard the Doc tell her everyday making him worry about her safety.

“The sweet little thing that she is, it is easy to fool her” he thought, looking at Snow White with ardent admiration.

There had already been two instances when the Evil Queen disguised as a scarf seller and a comb seller had made her open the door. The scarf seller had tried to strangle her while the comb seller had tried to poison her with a poisonous comb. Both the times they had reached in time to revive her but had known if their hunch was right, Snow White’s life was still in danger. The Evil Queen, they thought would do anything to destroy their little beauty.

“Should I stay back? Oh what if something happens to her today? I cannot take it anymore” thought Bashful unable to keep his feelings to himself. He had slowly started to fall in love with his beautiful Snow White.

“Bashful, come with us, we are already getting late” called out Doc, raising a brow. He had begun to realize that the shy and sweet dwarf was falling in love.

“I need to speak to him soon. We cannot fall in love with humans, he needs to understand that” thought Doc as they walked towards the mountains.

Bashful turned around, taking one last look at the cottage and Snow White who stood outside waving out. His heart told him that something dreadfully wrong was about to happen.


“Something is wrong” panicked Bashful as they came down the mountain. He had been fervently waiting to get to the rock from where they could get a glimpse of the cottage. Once they had gotten there he had quickly perched himself up and peered in the direction of the cottage.

“There is no smoke coming out of the chimney, something must have happened to Snow White” he yelled, quickly getting down and scampering towards their house. The rest followed, the absence of smoke had worried them too.

The silence that enveloped the house was a sign that confirmed his greatest worry. Bashful ran into the house, almost tripping over Snow White’s lifeless form.

“Oh, what happened to her? What has the evil mother done to her?” he cried out holding Snow White in a tight hug as he rocked her, tears flowing incessantly down his cheeks.

“Do something, please don’t let anything happen to my Snow White” he yelled, making it more than evident to everyone present what his true feelings for her were. But for once, nobody made fun, they all stood in silence as Doc and Grumpy tried to revive her; but all their efforts were in vain. She had fallen into a magical sleep. Till they did not know the source of her sleep, it would be impossible to revive her.

“Where are you taking her? Why don’t you try some more? We all know magic don’t we? Can’t we do something?” Bashful looked from one to the other with a pleading look. Their hearts went out to him but they knew there was not much they could do.

He watched them place her in a glass coffin. She looked as radiant and beautiful as ever he thought, gazing at his love, her pure white skin, rose coloured lips and hair that seemed to be made from ebony. Every single day he placed a flower on the coffin which was now kept outside in their flower garden. The most mesmerizing flower among all the flowers, he said to the others, sitting by her side everyday  and night despite the snow that had set in, wondering if there was something he could do to wake her up and bring her back into their life. Into his life.

“Will it work if I kissed her?” Bashful charged into the house one day.

“What?” the remaining six called out in unison.

“You know, like what they say about Sleeping Beauty. She was woken up by the Prince who loved her. I love Snow White, maybe my kiss could wake her up too” he said looking happy and eager for the first time in over a week.

“Bash, it’s time we sat and had a little chat” said Doc, gently making Bashful sit next to him and silently motioning the rest to leave them alone.

“As much as we all love Snow White, she is a human and we are dwarfs. We cannot forget that fundamental fact”

For a long time Bashful stayed silent, finally nodding his head as tears fell down onto the floor.
“I know it is not easy-”
“Doc, you have to come out there. There is a young man who has come!” yelled Dopey from outside the window.

Wondering who it could be Doc walked out, leaving Bashful to control the emotions that were now pouring out. In the snow covered garden outside, was a handsome young man, leaning over Snow White and looking at her with a gaze full of love.

“Who are you, young man?” asked Doc, walking over to the Coffin and placing a protective arm over it.
“I am the Prince of the Kingdom that lies to the north of the Woods. I was going down this path on my way for a hunting expedition when I chanced upon this coffin. Who is she? She is so beautiful, I have fallen in love with her” said the young man.

Doc looked at the Prince for a long moment. He seemed to be a good and kindhearted man and his eyes were brimming in love for their Snow White. He couldn't keep her with them forever; her evil step mother would always be a threat for her, alive or sleeping. Thinking of all aspects, Doc took his decision.

“She is Snow White my Lord, the princess of the Kingdom that lies to the south of these woods…” and he narrated the entire tale.

“I shall take her with me and get the best possible medical help to revive her” said the Prince, ordering his Guards to pick the coffin and carry it back to their Kingdom.

Just as the guards picked her up, one of them stumbled, making Snow White lurch and almost fall out of the coffin. With the sudden jerk, a piece of apple flew out of her mouth, waking her up.

Overjoyed, the Prince stepped forwards and helped Snow White out of the coffin while Doc narrated the entire tale to her as the rest of the Dwarfs danced in happiness.

Thanking them all, Snow White hugged and kissed them and asked “Where is Bashful?”

Before anyone could speak, Doc replied “He had to go into the mountains”

“Oh I wish I could have bid him goodbye” she said, looking coyly at the Prince with whom she had fallen in love the moment she had set her eyes on him.

“Why didn't you let her meet Bashful?” Grumpy asked Doc as they waved at the Prince and Snow White who had now mounted his horse.

“He wasn't in a state to meet her. There was no point in letting her know his true feelings” said Doc.
“Will he get over it?” asked Sneezy.

“Oh yes, he surely will. We are dwarfs, we can’t really fall in love with Humans” said Doc.

Engrossed in conversation no one noticed the lone figure that stood at the window watching Snow White fade away into the Woods. Nobody noticed the knife in his right hand slashing his left wrist creating a trail of blood red blots all over the pure white snow on the window sill.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: Mango Chutney


Anthology was not a word that made it to my most used word list earlier. Other than the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, there weren't many that caught my eye either. But in the recent few months, especially since I took to Writing, if there has been one thing that I have been crossing paths with, it has been Anthologies. There are too many of them mushrooming all over; wherever I look there is an Anthology staring back at me; they all seemed the same, not really making me sit up but that was until Mango Chutney came along.

I stopped and gave it a second look. Not only because I had the privilege of knowing a few of the Authors who had contributed to it but because of the fine way in which they had marketed its launch; it had been a lot more enticing and teased the reader into laying their hands on the first copy that was made available. I did just that; so did many others confirming how successful the promotions and campaigns were.

Given the marketing that was done and the teasers that had tormented the reader in me, my expectations were high from this Chutney which proclaimed itself to be an Anthology of tasteful short fiction. It did taste good in bits and pieces but it also had moments that left a sour taste in the mouth.

The Chutney has many ingredients ranging from Romance, Friendship, Birthdays and Sweets to Deceit, Hypocrisy, the Partition, Horror and even Sci Fi and cooking an egg thrown in for good measure. An array of diverse fiction; there were a few stories that stood out for me purely for the tight narration and the ability of the Author to convey what they wanted to, with the right amount of emphasis on both the language as well as the emotion in the tale.

The 37th Milestone by Abhishek Asthana – Writing a Horror story and being able to make a shiver run down the Readers spine is no mean task to achieve. Abhishek does it well with this story especially with the suspense he builds and does not let go off till the very end.

Tainted Red by Aathira Jim – Having been a regular reader of Aathira’s blog, I found this story to be immensely different from her usual style. She did a wonderful job in evoking the emotions and intensity of what her protagonist feels and goes through in a distant land. The depth she gave to her protagonist’s character stayed with me even after I had moved on to the next piece in the series.

The Birthday Boy by Harsha Pattnaik – This piece stood out not only for its narration but also for the fact that it oozed out of the pen of a fourteen year old. I doubt many of us could have written as well as Harsha has at this age. This girl will surely go places.

Someone with Character by Alka Gurha – A simple story but one that holds true even today in India. Having come across similar characters I could relate to Alka’s narrative all the more. Despite the issue she brings out in this tale being an age old one, her narration and flow of the story tugged at the heart for me.

Prem Ki Chashni by Sudhanshu Shekhar Pathak – A very sweet story told with a tightly held narration despite it being a translation from Hindi to English, this story made me smile all throughout. The credit for the effective translation must go to Harsh Sudhanshu as well.

There were a few others which I enjoyed reading; especially Angels and Demons by Purba Ray, The Perfectly Poached Egg by Ramya Maddali, The Girl Who Owned Castles by Giribala Joshi, Vaman by Rohit Gore and On the Other Side by Sakshi Nanda. However if not for giving me a “this is already tried and tested” or "could there have been more to it?" feeling, some of them left me wanting for more emotion rather than just words from the tales. What did stand out for me among these was the narration style that Purba Ray adopted; it was entirely different from the styles the remaining twenty six had used in this Anthology and would have worked really well if it had been more tightly coupled and descriptive. 

These were the moments I truly enjoyed in this book but unfortunately there were times when I felt let down.
Some of the stories that I came across left me wondering not only about the narration but about the stories themselves thus not really making the cut for me. While all were structured in a similar format, I was taken aback by a Moral being added to one of them, it made me look back and forth wondering if all of the twenty seven were meant to have them; somehow it stood out like a sore thumb.

From an editing standpoint, I wish some more effort was put in avoiding simple typographical errors, while I tried ignoring them, they were proving to be quite a hindrance at some places, sometimes even threatening to take away the essence from the stories. Some of the metaphors used across the book also seemed forced and did not relate to the point being made, making me wonder if the story would have been more emphatic with their absence.

Having said that; Mango Chutney is a wonderful platform that brought out talent which otherwise might have taken longer to be discovered. A onetime read, I would recommend this book to those who wish to read tales based in India and want to experience the potential of the Indian Author of tomorrow coming to the surface.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Do we need to have it all?


“Women can’t have it all” said Indra Nooyi and created a rage over the Internet. Both Facebook and Twitter couldn't get enough of it and readers had had enough. Was she right in what she said? Did she make the ever evasive ‘perfect’ sense? Was it time to place her on a pedestal and worship her every morning? Did her interview deserve the kind of attention it received? Was her article such a game changer that it could lead to a sudden wave of the phrase “Can’t women really have it all?”   

“As if we men have it all?” lamented many men. Life doesn't always treat them with a chocolate lasagna or throw petals at their feet, they said. They have it bad too, being stereotyped as the bread winners of the family, being looked down upon if they chose to quit their jobs while their spouses baked the bread and earned it too. Nobody cares for their frustrations, and that frustrates them all the more.

And so the battle ensued, through heated arguments on Facebook threads, re-tweets on Twitter or just seething within.

After all it was a successful CEO being bluntly straightforward about her own views. Maybe it could have been THE article of the year?

I don’t know and here’s the thing, I don’t care.

While we can crib and lament as much as we like about how unfair life is with us, there is a simple fact that we tend to ignore. We had something on hand that decided what we are today. That tiny thing which showed up both sides of the coin, giving us an almost clear picture of what the grass looked like on either side. And we decided to do one thing over the other, simply because of that thing we had in hand, that thing we call CHOICE.

Yes, we had the choice between a domestic life or a career. To decide if we wanted to go the entrepreneurial way, be a freelancer or work for a large organization. Whether we wanted to take on challenging roles that demanded long working hours or settle for a 9-5 job which did not necessarily give growth or visibility. To agree on which spouse should work from home or quit their job to maintain that much coveted balance. To choose to get married or not to, to wear a bindi and jingle the bangles or smoke and resort to a drink. Whatever it is that we did and still do, whatever it is that makes us crib and go cranky over – we had a choice NOT to do it.

No doubt, circumstance is the biggest factor that drives the choices we make. We take the decision to do something only after weighing the circumstances and deciding what is right and what is not – for us. So, if we need to compromise our career for our personal life or vice versa, who is responsible for it if not us? If we have to bear the taunts of family and society for a decision we have taken, who is accountable if not us? If our choices hurt another, who is answerable if not us?

Once we make our choices, they are carved in stone and we are well aware of that. We take those decisions for a reason, doesn't that weigh over everything else?- esp. friends, family and society? If they did not feature while making the choice, why do we let them affect us later on?

Why do we begin to blame our choices and wonder if we cannot have it all?

Wanting to have it all, is a human desire which will never fade away. That is how we have been designed because only then will we strive to perfect the world we live in. And the tool that has been bestowed upon us to get there is Choice.

It is nature’s law that circumstances and needs/wants form a see-saw, one that we have to more often than not choose between, and rarely do we find it in balance. And we make that choice based on what is best for us in that situation. But once we move on into another, we tend to forget that choice we made and it sets us off on an emotion upheaval with only one question on mind “Can’t I have it all?”

No we can’t have it all. Even when we think we have everything we could wish for, there will always be something that we wish we could have had. Not because life is unfair or because it favours one gender over the other or lets society take its place but because that is a law of nature without which we would lose value for what we already have in our lives.

So when the Pepsi CEO says she can’t have it all it is because she valued her career over everything else. When the sole ‘bread winner’ frustrated at work says he can’t have it all it is because he chose to be the financial backbone of his family. When a woman is upset about deciding between choosing time with her children and a challenging role at work, it is because she does not know what she values more. When a girl gets irritated by the questions thrown at her westernized attires or single status it is because she gives more importance to the interference in her life rather than the choice she made.

It is never about what we can or cannot have, it is always about the choices we make and how much we allow the path not taken to affect us. 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Necklace - Conclusion

This is part of an ongoing story, read Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3 if you haven't already.

Anand was at his wits end. It was Wednesday night and he still did not see a solution in sight. This was the first time a case had left him confused. Not one suspect seemed to have had reason to steal the necklace. Bela would have anyways got it, why would she steal it? Champa had already ordered a piece, she was surely not the one. Poor Geeta, she would not have been able to wear it anyways, there was no reason for her to take it. Devendra could have staged it to make it look like a theft so that he could gift the piece to Bela; even if that was true how could he prove it? Even if he did, how easy was it going to be to tell the family what had really happened? He had run out of time and was now on the verge of giving up entirely.
Just as he decided to speak to Ajeet about his failure, he heard the door swing open.

“Any luck?” It was Ajeet looking at him hopefully. Devendra stood silently behind him.
“I am sorry to disappoint you, but nobody seems to have done this, noone had a motive to do it!” Anand’s voice broke as he spoke the words, he wished he didn’t have to.

“Its ok” said Ajeet. “For me the good news is that none of my family members are guilty. If you had concluded that, it would have been tough to handle. Let us just assume that Devendra misplaced the piece. We will look for it as soon as tomorrow’s function gets over. You did your best and we cant thank you enough for it” saying that, he gave him a hug and continued “Take some rest, tomorrow will be tiring. You leave by afternoon right? I heard you are not staying for the entire function?”

Yes, I have some work back home, I need to leave early” In the midst of all this, Anand had forgotten that Jyoti’s fees were due in two days. He had to be home by nightfall to speak to her.

Devendra thanked him for his help and both brothers walked out of the room. Once again he noticed, Devendra had been unable to look him in the eyes.
The house was full of activity the next day. Guests were coming in alarming numbers; the house had been decorated with marigold and jasmine flowers. A huge cake was placed in the center of the living room, to be cut later in the day by Daadiji. Anand had already packed his suitcase, it hadnt taken him long given the few things he had brought with him. He had hardly got time to spend with Manav thanks to the necklace episode, so he decided to look for him.

“Anand Mama, where are you going? Will you not spend some time with me?” This boy had a way of turning up at the right moment he thought smilingly, turning around and giving him a hug.
“Yes beta, show me that new video game you were talking about” he said, tugging Manav to come along.
“Yes but before that, Ma is calling you, I shall bring my game here and wait” said Manav and left the room with a sprint.

When Anand got back, he found Manav waiting for him in his room. Geeta had called him for some very small thing which she needn’t have bothered, he thought she must have been feeling guilty about the revelations he had got to know during those two days.

After playing for a while with the video game, Anand went around meeting everyone and finally took their leave. Geeta and Manav walked him upto the gate and insisted he take an Auto to the bus stand. Geeta had already got one arranged for him through Bhaanu.

As Anand made his trip back home, he felt disappointment. For the first time in his life he had not been able to solve a case. He was still flummoxed by the incidents of the past two days. He couldn't tell what it was that he had missed. But he was sure there was a missing link to the entire story. He got home, tired and exhausted. Rajni made him some tea and then took his bag to unpack.

Sipping his tea, once again Anand was lost in his thoughts, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together when he heard Rajni scream. Immediately he ran into the bedroom and found her standing next to his suitcase with an envelope in one hand and the necklace in the other!
“What is this Anand? Where did you get it? Did you steal it from Didi’s house? How could you” she was beyond control.

“Relax Rajni, do you really think I could do that? Let me see whats there in the envelope, I think there has been some misunderstanding”. Quickly he tore open the envelope and read the letter that was inside.

Dear Bhaiyya,
We are sorry for the trouble that you were put through in the last two days. Your culprit is none other than your nephew Manav. Let me explain. The day you arrived, Manav was hiding in his hiding place in the living room, as usual observing what was happening around him. He had seen those glances that Bela and Devendra exchanged and knew then that the necklace his Papa had purchased was not for me. Manav has maturity beyond his age, having seen so many things around him, he is able to understand things much better than most fifteen year old's can.

Later in the day when I sent him to get you a set of fresh linens, he overheard the conversation between you and me.Earlier he had also been a witness to the argument I had with Devendra on lending you money. So the poor boy put two and two together and decided to take the necklace and give it to you so that you could fund Jyoti’s education. 

Please do not ever think of returning this. Devendra apologized to me last night, the loss of the necklace had scared him beyond measure that he and Bela would be found out. That’s when he realized how out of line he had been and how this could affect Manav’s life. Manav came to me this morning and confessed what he had done. Though it was wrong, the thought behind it was genuine. I have reprimanded him for this and he has promised never to do it again. On getting to know, I informed Devendra immediately. Thanks to the scare he got, he has now changed to some extent. He felt it was for the best, if the necklace now went away from this house.

Please use it to pay of your debts as well. It should be enough, if it isn't, Devendra has said he will help out. This incident has been a silver lining for all of us. I hope you see it the way I do as well.

Your loving sister

Dazed, Anand handed the letter to Rajni and slumped back on the bed. Just then Jyoti came charging in the room and asked with a desperate look on her face “Papa, were you able to arrange the money for the admission fees?”  

Anand hesitated for a long moment and then said “Yes beta, it has all been arranged, don’t you worry about that”

Finally, he thought. Jyoti would become a doctor. 

Correction: Ajeet and Champa have been referred to as Manav's Chacha and Chachi when in essence they should be referred to as his Tau and Tayi resp.. Despite the realization I have decided to leave the addressal as it was to ensure consistency and not confuse the reader.   

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Necklace - Part 3

This is part of an ongoing story, read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't already.  

Wednesday dawned bright and early. Anand was already up and ready by the time everyone came down for breakfast. By then the word had spread and the entire family knew that Anand would be looking into the theft. Every single member of the household except Manav, the twins and Daadiji looked uncomfortable. Each person ate their breakfast silently, while Geeta nervously served them. Anand spent the entire meal observing everyone at the table, but was not at all surprised by the discomfort he saw around him.

He had already visited Devendra and Geeta’s room before breakfast to check the drawer in which the necklace has been kept. The drawer had no lock attached to it. With an embarrassed look on his face, Devendra had said that he had intended to move it to the locker. There were no other signs of a break in. Nothing around the drawer or inside the drawer had been disturbed. Glancing around, Anand had seen things which would not have been visible to others. Anyone else would have seen the room to be normal, but the slight separation of the beds, cupboards that otherwise were positioned together, now spaced apart and the separation of hooks to hang their clothes, told Anand that things were not going fine between Devendra and Geeta. Keeping this knowledge to himself, he had joined the rest for breakfast.

After what seemed like ages, breakfast ended and everyone hurriedly begun to leave.

Belaji” Anand called out, making Bela freeze in her tracks.
“Err… yes, yes Anandji?” Bela turned around and looked at him.
“Do you mind if we speak for a few minutes? Just wanted to check with you on something” and he walked towards his room.
Left with no option, Bela followed him.

She was a beautiful woman with extremely elegant features. Her hair tresses fell unto her waist and today they was adorned with a red rose. Anand took in every minute detail he could of her. She was the only person in the house he had never met before.

“Belaji, sorry to take your time, but I need to know a few things. Who do you think stole the necklace?”

Bela was shocked by the directness in Anand’s question. She hadn't seen it coming. Quickly she gathered herself and said “Anandji, I know you won’t like this, because she is your sister. But I think Geeta has taken it” she looked at him, hoping that she had managed to unnerve him as much as he had her.

But Anand had been expecting this. The line of questioning he had adopted was to help him make the best of the limited time he had. The shock he had seen all over Bela’s face was normal, and so was her response. He knew she would allude to her relationship with Devendra, sooner than later.
“Why do you think that is? Wasn't it meant for her?” He leaned forward and asked.
“Well, you are the detective here, why don’t you find out?” Said Bela with a smug look on her face.

Anand looked at her intently, unable to decipher the look. Finally he shrugged his shoulders and said
“I don’t think I have any further questions, you may leave”

Surprised that she had managed to get away so easily, Bela got up and began to leave.
“Why have you not married till now Belaji?” the question made her turn around and snap “that’s none of your business. Don’t poke your nose into things that don’t matter to you. If Dev-“she gasped at the slip of her tongue and ran away.
It had been a satisfactory meeting as far as Anand was concerned.

“A cup of tea is what I need before I speak to Champaji and Ajeeetji” he thought. Just about to leave the room, he was surprised when Bhaanu barged in.

“Saab, I know you must think I did it. But trust me Saab I did not. You can come to my room and check if you wish. I don’t like this house but I stay on for the sake of Geeta Didi and Daadiji. I would never do anything to hurt them. Saab, please believe me” and she fell at his feet, crying rivers of tears.

“Its ok Bhaanu, don’t you worry, I know you have nothing to do with it” he consoled her till she had quietened down. He knew she had too much at stake with this family; she wouldn't have taken the risk.

“Now will you make me a nice cup of tea? I need to find out who the real thief is” he smiled at her and then followed her to the dining room.
In the dining area, he found Manav. “Mama, can I help you please? This is so exciting, I have always wanted to be a part of your adventures” he said.
“No beta, this involves your family members. I wouldn't want you to get involved” Anand did his best to convince Manav.

Finally Manav gave in but said “I can help you with information. I have been observing people around here, trying to follow in your footsteps to become a detective one day”

Knowing this was the best way to keep Manav away, Anand agreed and asked him to tell him all that he knew. Manav opened up and let out all the secrets he had kept all these years- How Ajeet Chacha manipulated in the business and how Champa Chachi disliked his Ma. That Papa was very rude to Ma and she took care Ekta and Gowri.
There was nothing new in this information, but that Manav had an idea about the darker side of his family troubled Anand. 
“Well, that’s a problem to be tackled on a different day” he thought, telling Manav that he had helped him a lot more than the child could imagine.

Now, he had to approach Champa. He knew she would be in her room; she rarely ventured into the kitchen or to do any household work. The door was open when he got to Ajeet and Champa’s room. The biggest room in the house, he thought his single bedroom flat could fit into it entirely.

“Champa Didi, can I speak to you for a minute?” he asked politely knowing how brash she could be.
“Hey bhagwan! How dare you enter my room when I am alone? Thankfully Ajeet is in the bathroom. Once he is out you can speak to both of us. I will not speak to you alone!” she turned her back before Anand could react.

He didn't have to wait long. A minute or two had passed by, when Ajeet emerged out of the bathroom, all ready to leave for their shop.
“What is it Anand? Have you come to speak about the necklace? Please sit down, ask what you want.” Ajeet seemed more than ready to help him out.

“Just a few questions Ajeetji and then I won’t trouble you. Can you tell me if you have any idea who could have stolen this necklace?” Asked Anand, with his eyes focused on Champa.
“Frankly, I wouldn't know. Champa do you have any clue?” Ajeet looked very confused.

“Me! How would I know? Yes, I did want it, but I had already asked the Jeweler to get another made exactly like it for me. In fact I had chosen the colours for the embellishments to be done as well. You should ask Bhaanu, greed must have taken over her! Or who knows, Geeta would have misplaced it. Dimwit that she is!” scorned Champa forgetting for the moment that Anand was Geeta’s brother.

Knowing that he couldn't get any more information from them, Anand thanked them and excused himself. Moment he was in his room, he called the jeweler to confirm Champa’s story. Yes, she had called and already booked a similar necklace. This piece of news put her and Ajeet in the clear.
The list now narrowed down, Anand went out looking for Devendra, who he found lounging outside in the garden.

“Jijaji, can I speak to you?” he asked, settling himself down in the garden chair next to Devendra.

“Do I have the option of saying no? “He muttered and continued “before you ask anything, let me tell you, I had nothing to do with this. I kept the necklace in the drawer, you see I was meaning to give it to Geeta later in the night” he avoided looking at Anand as he spoke.

“I have nothing else to say"
 Devendra gave him an imploring look and walked back towards the house.

The talk with Devendra had left Anand confused. He sat back mulling over his conversations since morning. Not a single suspect had shown clear motive, yet the necklace had gone missing. Going by Devendra's reluctance to speak to him, it seemed as if he had something to hide. Could he have hidden the necklace on purpose? If he had wanted to give it to Bela, wasn't a theft the perfect cover? He continued sitting in the garden, watching the birds chirp and the bees suckle onto the flowers until he was called for lunch.

Lunch was a quick affair with everyone preferring to have it in their own rooms. It was as if each person wanted to avoid the other. Anand knew that this was the best time to speak to his sister, with no one but the walls to give them company.

“Geeta is there anything you are not telling me?” he asked when she was done clearing the table.
Heaving a sigh, she sat next to him and said “Bhaiyya, you don’t believe that I could have done this do you?”
“No, the necklace was meant for you, why would you steal it?” he asked, nervously looking at her face.
“Well, I haven't done it but the necklace… well it wasn't meant for me now was it? By now, you and I both know who it was meant for. She got up and began to walk away but not before a tear had trickled down and fallen on Anand’s hand.

Suddenly she turned around and asked "Do you really believe it is stolen?” 

Read the conclusion here

Correction: Ajeet and Champa have been referred to as Manav's Chacha and Chachi when in essence they should be referred to as his Tau and Tayi resp.. Despite the realization I have decided to leave the addressal as it was to ensure consistency and not confuse the reader. 
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