It was 10:47 PM. Our bus had left the ISBT about fifteen minutes ago. It was zooming past city streets, then slowing down, making turns and then speeding up again. Except for the orange tint of the street lights scattered in arrays, there wasn’t much light which shone upon the objects inside the comfortable domain of the vehicle. Like a filter, the windows separated the cozy, air-conditioned interiors of the bus with the outside world, the scorching city heat, the dust scraping off the skin and the air not-so-breathable from the day’s happenings, only allowing parts of the sound and light to affect the people inside the vehicle. The bus was headed towards Bhuntar, making its way through the night.

Except we weren’t inside the bus.

Our bus had left the ISBT about fifteen minutes ago and we were still at home, Googling ‘natural tourist destinations around Delhi’ which are doable in a short time. We were late, our bus had left us behind and after almost a week’s thorough planning of visiting Kasol, we were finally settling down on Kasauli or Ranikhet or Lansdowne or something like that. The reality wasn’t very satisfying, because once you’ve made your mind about something, you can only compromise with something else.

We all have our own reasons to escape from our daily lives and every once in awhile, we end up doing so. Only the places differ. Some find their safe haven in music, some find it in literature, some find it in nature. For me, it’s subjective. I have lived far too long with my own contradictions to be unable to accept them, now. I might not appear to you as a sorted-out person, because sometimes, I have varying views for the same thing or event hanging between the relative and the absolute, even if the basic intent remains the same. So I wanted a trip to Kasol. My brother-in-law (and apparently a great friend, that I only recently found in him) wanted it, too, to escape from the hectic work load at his office.

We had decided on the trip to start from 1st October, 2016 and end on 5th October, 2016. Because the first week started with a weekend and he could obtain a few days’ leave from his office, so we decided we will do it. I borrowed a Nikon D5100 (and an 18-115 mm lens) from a friend and we were packed and all set to leave at 10:30 PM on 1st October.

But we didn’t.

So with heavy hearts, we settled on Kasauli.

We took a cab early morning the next day and reached Kashmiri Gate ISBT. After inquiring a bit, we boarded a Himsuta Volvo of HPRTC, headed towards Chandigarh. 2×2 air-conditioned, semi-sleeper. Nice bus, I must say, all shiny green. Our bus left for Chandigarh at 7 AM. After an hour, we were whizzing past eucalyptus trees and paddy fields on the Delhi-Karnal by-pass. That indescribable view of the northern rural plains that most of us are familiar with, was in sight. Evenly green till the horizon, spotted by a few small buildings every now and then. I observed a lot of things in the 3 hours that it took to reach that dhaba and I can go on describing it in microscopic details, but that wasn’t the whole trip. It had only just begun.

dsc_0574The bus stopped at a dhaba named ‘Haveli’ outside Karnal, sometime before 11. The dhaba was beautifully built, very scenic, but the food was overpriced. We took two veg sandwiches and two cups of tea and it costed around three hundred rupees. We got back on the bus and it started back again. I was carrying with me a notepad, few pens, few Social Science books and Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. I took it out and its flow took me with it. Next thing I remember, we were closing in on Chandigarh bus stand.
While in the bus, I had noticed three guys sitting nearby. One of them was looking for buses to Bhuntar from Chandigarh on his phone. Here, I would like to mention a few things for people who haven’t been to Kasol, or those who don’t have much idea about it. There is no direct bus from Delhi to Kasol. The best way to reach there is to take a bus to either Bhuntar or Kullu and then take a different bus or taxi to Kasol. Railways and airways are scarce.

So the guy, who was checking buses to Bhuntar on his phone, was sitting right in front of me and I got to sneak at his phone screen and what I saw startled me. These guys were also headed towards Kasol. Funnily enough, I told it to my brother-in-law (I will mention him as ‘Jimmy’ from now, on) and suddenly we were there discussing it all over again, reconsidering our decision of visiting Kasauli instead of Kasol. This led to the first great and good decision of our trip.

We got down at Chandigarh and instead of Kasauli, diverted our trip back to Kasol. Earlier that morning, when we were in the cab headed towards the ISBT, it had occurred to me that this trip is going in vain. Neither of us was happy because we both knew that we had made our minds for Kasol, so even if any other place has a great many things to offer, we won’t be able to cherish or enjoy them. So the first decision in a series of good decisions on this trip was, to visit Kasol instead of any other place.

The bus from Chandigarh to Bhuntar wasn’t as shiny and nice as the previous one. A variety of people got onboard, old couples, beautiful women, young solo travelers, few with trekking equipment and cameras clearly suggesting they were headed for the mountains. It started around 12 o’clock and the journey was going to be long. The bus began grunting and hissing when the driver changed gears, zooming past buildings scattered evenly around the city. All this time while we were in this city, I couldn’t help but ponder over its beauty, the enormity of its planning and the order and organization of the people. For once, I even ended up comparing it to Greater Noida. There was not even a bit of trash that I saw either on or around the main roads. Not even the bus depot, one of the most common public places generally considered the filthiest throughout the country. There was a strange unnoticeable thing about the people there. They were all ordinary people like us, getting ready for their daily drills, catching buses to work, opening shops and buying groceries. But unlike Delhi, no one seemed to be in any sort of hurry. It appeared to me that this was a secluded town, hidden from the rest of the world, unaffected by the malicious stings of urbanization and thriving along its own set of rules which helped its inhabitants to get rid of the ordinary evolutionary human dysfunctions.dsc_0579

In simple words, these people still cared about their city. They strive to keep it clean, all of them operating together as a community, working to let the city grow, so they could grow along with it. It was like, they had these little virtues deeply instilled inside them, those primitive values that most of us humans have forgotten a long time ago. The straight roads, the squares, the pavements and dividers, the offices and schools, the greenery and the air – everything about Chandigarh was mesmerizing.

The bus kept moving as the thoughts kept playing soccer with my mind, kicking it from time to-time from one thought to another. The bus stopped around 1:30 at another beautifully built ‘Haveli’ restaurant by the highway outside Ambala, and it was only then that I realized this ‘Haveli’ is actually a chain of dhabas across north India, mostly in Punjab & Haryana. We had eaten sufficient in the morning, so we only got bread cutlets packed for the way.

The bus began again. Now we had around eight more hours to travel, so I would sometimes either pick up my book and read, or I would take out the camera and click the scenes outside the window for practice. But mostly I was thinking, planning about the things I would do when we reach Kasol.

There were a lot of beautiful bachelor women around my seat travelling alone who, I know, were noticing me and every now and then, I would occasionally catch a glimpse of them stealing a glance at me. You see, this thing about youth is as innocent as childhood. We are automatically attracted towards a person we find a potential partner in (or the vice-versa of this statement would be more precise). It’s like, we approve of each other’s presence and we agree of each other’s awareness, but we are held back by a strange force which asks us not to approach the person, because if the ciphers were all wrong, you might end up in trouble. This strange force is our culture.

Picture this – a girl approaches a guy in an almost empty compartment of a public transport. They both chat for a while, get to know about each other, have amazing conversations about atoms and space, about philosophy and life, about love and desire, about books and road trips and then, by choice and consent, they exchange contact details so they could enjoy these conversations longer. Because, you see, it’s that urge in all of us, the desire to communicate our feelings and thoughts to others. And if we have a romantic attraction towards the other person, the conversations automatically come alive because then, we’re enjoying the tiniest of sounds, the chuckle, the clap, the gestures and expressions the other person is making. Interesting, isn’t it?

Now picture the same scene in our ‘cultured’ society (which apparently hates western values). In 7 out of 10 cases, the attempts will be discarded at the very first step. Because even though both might accept it subconsciously that they are attracted towards each other, the mere fact that the other person was daring enough to approach them is too rapid a change in their survival conditions. We might die if that person stays near us for a little longer, now. They feel infected and the infection spreads until OH MY GOD, QUARANTIIIIINEE!

And in all other cases, either the girl is too arrogant, or the guy is an asshole. So the point is, I liked that girl sitting a row behind me on the opposite window seat of the 2×2 bus. I saw her looking at me a lot of times. Me, a 24 year-old guy with (I think) a nice beard and handlebars. My appearance wasn’t so alarming to her maybe, so I guess she decided to notice my activities as I moved from one to another spot to click pictures. She was beautiful and she was traveling alone.

When I noticed her, we were way beyond Chandigarh and clouds had already started appearing. Soon, the bus was floating above the serpents of hills, the dangerously narrow and twisting & turning roads through the beating rain and it was getting dark, partly because of the dusk coming down on us and partly because of the shade of the hills which were constantly growing in size and then, like an invisible wave it hit me. For over an year, I had waited for this and now it was there, subtle but the reason behind the smile that had just lit my face. I had put my camera on the seat beside me and I was stretching my ears and making awkward faces to clear it off-the change in air pressure which had hit me due to increase in altitude. I saw her leaning on the window, her shape a silhouette against the dark green background of the hill slopes beyond the glass. And she was looking at me for split seconds or even several seconds at a time, sometimes through the corners of her eyes, observing my actions and smiling at all the silly things I was doing. When I saw her, I dropped everything out of embarrassment. Then I started again and she smiled again, so on and on it went.

I don’t remember when did I doze off. The bus stopped at a rather dry and bright Bilaspur bus depot for about ten minutes. I told Jimmy about a cousin brother of mine who had spent 7 years in Bilaspur working for NTPC as a civil engineer at the Koldam thermal project. Then we chatted for a while and got up when got chased by a bull and the bus began again. You see, how inescapable it is for men to not get down whenever a vehicle stops? Here, I didn’t even mention that we got down from the bus, because I know everyone would understand that we did, once the bus stopped.

So the bus started from Bilaspur and I picked up the book Jimmy was reading just to have a look at it. The book was ‘A Train To Pakistan’ by Khushwant Singh. Right from the beginning, the book speaks volumes about the things we have been kept unaware of about the partition of India. The lies we’ve been told, the truth erased or kept hidden. I didn’t read it beyond a few pages, but I have asked Jimmy for it, once he’s done.

We were passing through Mandi and Sundernagar when it was almost dark. These two major cities and centers of commerce, located on a large flat ground in the hills, have streams and lakes and dams and schools and surprisingly enough, a lot of four-wheeler showrooms. Volkswagen, Nissan, Nexa, Renault, you name it and it was there. The bus stopped for a while outside Sundernagar and a lot of people got down. Jimmy and I got in the front rows because our stop, Bhuntar, was about a couple hours away.

My crush for the journey had got down at Mandi, so my little love story was only upto that place. Later in the front rows, I met Nisarg, one of the equipped solo travelers who got on the bus at Chandigarh. He was coming from Bangalore and was headed towards Spiti.
Spiti! I can’t tell you how much I love that place and I badly I want to visit it.

We chatted for about an hour and he turned out to be a nice person. He was going there for a week. He told me various things and we talked about traveling and the Himalayas, politics and modern education system and our cultural differences which influence our everyday actions. He told me about the Buddhists of Myanmar and I told him about the twin Buddhas of Bamiyan.

We reached the dark, stranded-looking town of Bhuntar around 9:30 PM. Apart from a few security guard manning properties or ATMs, and a few men probably waiting for transportation to neighboring towns, there were only stray dogs and dimly-lit alleys. We checked-in to one of the nearest decent-looking hotel ‘Amit’. We ate a nice dinner in the empty restaurant ‘Havemore’ downstairs and came back to our room on the first floor. I went to sleep watching an episode of The Kapil Sharma Show featuring Anna Hazare.


Street/People photography is still a comparatively newer style of photography, even though as a form of art (portraying street and urban/rural lives through murals, paintings etc.), it has existed for centuries. I think street photography is not only a form of journalism and visual-storytelling, but is also a way of studying human behavior in the most practical manner, because as a flâneur, you’re observing life and people in their most honest, genuine & undisturbed ‘candid’ states.

Here are some pictures I clicked back in 2017. I used my Karbonn Sparkle V (5MP) phone camera to take these photos, so the image quality might not be very pleasing, but there’s a lot of mood and composition in there. As usual, the order of the images does not decide their ranks. Please go through them, once, and leave your comments, reviews, anything else you want to say.


1. Satna, Madhya Pradesh [11/01/2017]



2. Sharda Devi Mandir, Maihar, Madhya Pradesh [18/01/2017]



3. Maihar, Madhya Pradesh (18/01/2017)



4. Satna, Madhya Pradesh [03/2/2017]



5. Satna, Madhya Pradesh [23/02/2017]



6. Kalkaji, New Delhi [16/05/2017]



7. Mahakaushal Express [21/05/2017]



8. Mahakaushal Express [21/05/2017]



9. Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh [23/06/2017]



10. Kanpur Junction, Uttar Pradesh [03/06/2017]



11. Kalkaji, New Delhi [01/08/2017]



12. Noida, Uttar Pradesh [22/08/2017]



13. Noida, Uttar Pradesh [25/08/2017]



14. Noida, Uttar Pradesh [30/08/2017]



15. Noida, Uttar Pradesh [07/12/2017]



These pictures tell a lot of stories, poems, and inch-thick ballads. There’s a lot of emotion, drama and unspoken narrative in them, the things which happen around us every day, but we never really pay attention to them. I hope these photos served their purpose, stimulated your brain and stirred up some emotions, helped you become a little more empathetic.



[Short Story]

“And add something yourself, mate. Like, how I used to live on the streets back in the days when I was a struggling artist and had no money. People like reading that kind of stuff, you know. It inspires them, haha!,” he said, while grumbling to one of his colleagues about how the peon had brought him the wrong flavor of ice-cream.

Even as a child, I found it hard to understand how could people be so arrogantly particular about things they consider their favorites, and how, sometimes, they would go out of bounds to maintain the persona their favorite things helped them to achieve. And here I was, sitting with a man whose gestures suggested that the thing kept in front of him was nothing less than poop. He went on cursing the peon again and finally refused to touch the dessert.

I was tired of sitting in this plush, centrally air-conditioned music studio, interviewing this self-made & self-taught musician who had come from rags to riches over night about a year ago, thanks to the viral potential of the internet. I looked at his other two colleagues and thanked all gods they had their favorite ice-cream flavors with them. I could only imagine the whining, otherwise.

About half an hour later, I was out on the road again with my camera and backpack and I had decided to discard the interview with this rather self-proclaimed artist, because ‘it wasn’t inspirational at all, mate, haha!’.

Now, I needed someone else for an interview, the last one in this series of stories by random interesting people. The sun was shouting at me that it was a bad idea to continue for the day. But there was one man someone had told me about. There was still hope I could pull this off, so I went on with mixed feelings.

I traveled to the far end of the city, to the fortstreet – the kingsroad of real life which was now merely a narrow, crammed-up alley with humans and animals in more or less equal proportion.

Growing up in one such place, I had always known that these old markets were no less than a treasure chest for someone like me, someone who was always searching for stories in the aroma of spices and incense, in the cobwebs of wires spun around electricity poles at corners – like the lives of the shopkeepers who stood under them and chatted over chai and cheap beeri.

Lost in thoughts, as usual, I realized I had walked past the address I was given. I reached a small shop and asked the man at the counter about ‘Chaccha’. He smiled at me, then pulled out a small plastic bin from under the table and spat paan in it.

“What work have you got to do with Chaccha?” he asked me, wiping off his mouth with his sarong.

I showed him the paperchit I had with me, which mentioned the name and address of the man I wanted to meet.

“A friend gave me this. I need to interview him for a story,” I replied.

He got up and invited me in. I climbed the three stairs in front of me and entered his tiny shop. Then I was led to a backroom. It was almost empty except for a few utensils, an almirah and a bed in one corner. The ceiling fan was begging for retirement and there was a dog sleeping under it. I noticed a locked door on one of the walls.

The man asked me to sit down. He then went outside and came back with two glasses of water, then pulled a small stool and sat down. I noticed maroon stains on his lunggi.

“My Dada, my elder brother, used to call me Chaccha when I was small. Then everyone started calling me Chaccha and that’s how I got this name. A few people like you have come to me, earlier. So, what brings you here?” he asked.

Okay, so THIS was the man I was looking for. Based on my recent experiences, I was expecting one of those huge, shiny-bright showrooms with lots of customers. And there was this man, breaking all my preconceptions sitting at the threshold of this room without windows. Goddamit!

“Any story you could tell me which inspires other people,” I replied. I quickly opened my bag and began setting up.

He smiled again, almost let out a laugh.

“I have enough to pass the afternoon, beta. Where should I begin?” he asked.

“You can start by telling me your whereabouts, your family and occupation. And then we can go into specific details,” I told him, fixing my camera on the tripod.

“I am 68 years old and I run this betelnut shop. I live here alone, I have no family, no children. But I was, once, married to a beautiful German lady, but she died too early. We had married against our respective families’ wishes, so you can understand how madly in love we were,” he said with enough calmness in his voice to send a whopping shiver down my spine. Brilliant, I thought.

“But why you don’t have any children?” I asked.

“We were married twelve years before cancer took her. She was very strong and we had decided it ourselves that we’ll have children once we have sufficient funds to send them to schools and colleges.

“When I was 18, I had left home and started working in a gun shop. I used to dust and wipe and clean the shop daily, and the owner Thakur saab would occasionally teach me how to shoot in his personal range.

“I remember by 25, I had begun telling customers all about guns they could ever know. That was when we met for the first time. She had visited the shop and was having a look around at the guns, not meaning to buy anything, of course. She was in India for academic purposes and, oh, mind you, she was 27 at the time,” he narrated while keeping an eye at his counter.

“How long did you work at the gun shop? And when did you get married?”

“We married a year later and I rented this nice two-room house for us. I continued to work at the shop for the next ten years after marriage.”

“Then why did you end up leaving your original line of work before getting into this trade?” I asked, immediately regretting the plain, mechanical sound of my voice. This man intrigued me, the least I could have done was to show my interest, if not excitement.

“There was a rich cloth trader in the upper parts of the city. Someone had murdered his son and after a week of tensions and shutters held low, the matter had grown into full-fledged communal riots. The situation was scary and our shop was very vulnerable, because what else fuels violence more than firearms?

“So, Thakur saab emptied the shop, put everyone at safety and left the city for a month with his family. I brought my wife here and when, even after a month the riots didn’t stop, we decided to help people. The room you’re sitting in, right now, once held over a hundred people in refuge. We fed them, treated them, cleaned them, and made sure they were safe and secure.

“By the end of a month, my wife and I had exhausted half of our life’s savings, whatever little we had collected by then. When order was restored, we let out all the people from the room and helped them reach their loved ones,” he finished, pouring himself some water from a jug.

I looked around myself. Over a hundred people shitting and pissing and bleeding and sweating in this tiny room for a month!

“After the crisis, Thakur saab shut down his shop and shifted to a different city. I started looking for employment as we went back to save again, but cancer came in quickly and silently. I emptied whatever we were left with, in her treatment. When it was clear that she was beyond saving, she asked me to keep the remaining, so I could still sustain and find work when she’d be gone. Without any thoughts, the strongest woman I ever knew,” he said and I caught a faint glimmer in his eyes. I am sure it was a solitary tear.

“How did you end up in the betelnut business, Chaccha?” I asked.

He turned to look at me and smiled.

“Betel nut art was flourishing those days. So, a year after her death, I restructured the home into a shop with the help of a few people and my leftover savings and started carving tiny sculptures. It has been almost 30 years. Now no one buys these sculptures and betelnut art is slowly dying, so I trade with the panwaadis in wholesale,” he said, taking out a pouch from his shirt pocket. He stuffed his mouth with another paan.

I went back home after the interview, sat in my balcony the entire night and thought deep and hard. Later, I published my series of stories which got me a lot of recognition and eventually, a beautiful and loving wife.

I remember Chaccha showing me a black and white picture of himself with his wife, that day. They were standing in front of the Taj Mahal. She was wearing a saree and Chaccha looked very handsome in his youth. They were holding hands as if they never wanted to let go of each other. But life indeed recoils like a gun, as he would’ve said.

Years after Chaccha’s death, I sat at the dinner table with my family in my three-room apartment, watching my kids eat their dal-chawal with pleasure. I was glad they never groused about favorites.

[Short Story]

Part 1: 

[Note: Depression is real; let’s not take it lightly]

I think a lot, probably three-fourth of all my twenty-four hours.

I think sometimes I am right when I hate myself. And note that by ‘hate’, I mean ‘self-pity’ and not ‘self-harm’. I think you should not fall blindly in love with yourself. You must learn to hate, too, because it makes you run from your own shadow, do things to make yourself feel more worthy in your eyes and more comfortable in your skin, find reasons to be a little less despised for your own existence.

A hatred like that is an expression of the unsatisfied feeling inside a rooted artist – an evolving mind and not a decadent one. It won’t let you die. It will keep you alive and drag you around.

Loving your own self without a reason will only make you a self-obsessed piece of shit.

On somedays, however, when this hatred is greater than other days, it sneaks in through the window, blows out all the candles and fills up the room. It wants to sniff the life out of you. So, with a heavy head and bags under your eyes full of stale tears from last night, you search for an escape under your feet. Not guns, not weapons, but an escape.

Because you can’t run any longer. Because you can’t even stand any more –

– because your cocaine stash is empty and so are your pockets, working on new drugs and pills to make you feel young and alive. Somewhere else, but not here.

Maybe you just need too much music to drown yourself into, so that you don’t have to face what you started. Maybe you want to strap the belt tight, open the hatch below the carpet, inject yourself with some jazz, take the leap of faith and hope it works. And then maybe, you want to wait for a slow-processed flanger to suck you from the back of your head into a long-lasting oblivion, for the lump in your throat to disappear.

You can cut back to reality any time you want. ‘…but only when it leaves’ you mumble with your tattered, parted lips, passed out in the bath tub an hour later.

I wasn’t listening to Jazz that day, though. It was a real hot and sweaty 4 PM, and a technical death metal band in my headphones was beating the crap out of their instruments, singing songs about the end of the world. My eardrums were in constant sync with the hard-hitting snare skin in those songs for the last one and a half hours. Maa had packed me some munchies and I just had a few extra, so I was yawning under the shade.

I enquired and a station staff told me that a train headed towards my hometown was about to depart from platform 9 and if I miss it, I’ll have to wait for the next one until 7:30 pm.

I did the math in my head. Not a good idea to wait.

So, I ran the stairs, the foot-over bridges and reached one of the general coaches of the express. I stuffed myself inside the bogie – the typical general compartment of a long-route, Bihar-UP-Mumbai-train of the Indian railways, crowded beyond capacity and stinking of cat-piss and human sweat. I looked for a place to prop myself for the next four hours or so, but couldn’t find any.

Then I saw the vacant gate on the other side of the bogie. I remembered my parents telling me stories depicting how dangerous it is to be near the door. But I am 24, I thought, so I leapt towards it.

There was a man sitting on the steps of the door. I requested him and he gave me some space without saying a word. Strange man, I thought, and looked away at the adjacent tracks, the coaches parked and the electric wires overhead to avoid any contact with him.

After a while, I took out my phone camera and started clicking the sunset (that is when I took this picture you see here).

A few minutes from the station is the historical Yamuna bridge and just before that would be the endless expanse of the kite-filled skies of Allahabad. I had been here countless times, the city of the Holy Sangam. The train would pass through those ecstatic scenes. I waited.

I was so immersed in thought that I didn’t realize when this man sitting beside me got up and moved away. I used the extra space and gave some comfort to my aching bottoms.

Moments later, he came back and tapped on my shoulder. I adjusted absent-mindedly and gave him space on my left. I looked at his feet – he wasn’t wearing any footwear this time. Also, his feet looked thinner and dirtier. I didn’t look at him beyond that, brushed off the absurd useless thoughts and jumped back in the currents in my head.

A few minutes later, he asked, “Where are you headed, babuji?”

“Satna,” I replied, still looking away.

“How long does it take to reach there?”

“Four hours, max,” I replied again, somewhat irritated. Why was this man engaging me in conversation? I wasn’t even the least bit interested in talking to him. Not that I am afraid of strangers, but people are stupid in general.

“You went to college, babuji?” he asked again.

“Yes, I am a mechanical engineer,” I told him. There was a long pause. I thought he was preparing his next question, but there came no sound except for the vendors & trollies, the crying toddlers and arguing passengers. I thought that was it, so I went back to my cold brain-waves.

“I did ITI, babuji. I worked at a rice mill for six years. I earned quite a lot of money, bought my own motorbike, but my elder brother took it from me. I used to live in Gorakhpur, back then and he was acquainted to some local leaders, there. A couple of years later I shifted to Kanpur,” he poured without any warning.

So far so good, I thought, but his story didn’t interest me enough to keep on listening. But he hadn’t asked my permission to narrate, so he went on.
I had a gut feeling, though, that there was something strange and peculiar about this rather hot day and this whole journey. I waited.

“I wanted to get married, but I lost a great sum of money in Kanpur. Then I went back to my parents’ house and started asking them for money. How far is Maihar from Satna, babuji?” he blurted out almost randomly.

I thought this man was drunk. But he wasn’t and I didn’t have the courage to be rude enough to look at him and check. So I snapped myself for being so judgmental and kept on avoiding his sight.

“Do you know people in Gorakhpur, babuji?” he asked me a while later. I thought he was going to ask me for a favor. Nonsense.

“I personally do not, because I am from Madhya Pradesh. But a few of my relatives have some far-off relatives there, so I guess it doesn’t count, either,” I answered, hoping he’d understand my lack interest without me having to say it directly.

“Yeah, it doesn’t. You’re right,” he replied.


Part 2:

I tilted my head and saw a dusky space dotted with millions of kites. So many colors and shapes and sizes. They swam effortlessly, towering above in varied angles, their tails fluttering in the wind. I spent a significant part of my childhood growing up in this city, watching a fraction of its life revolving around these ancient objects of amusement. This city cannot exist without kites, I used to think. I grew up real slow.

I threw my gaze further and saw two of them fighting for a long time, trying to wrap each other in their manja. Then suddenly one of them balked and thudded and then in an instant it was detached, floating freely in the eddies of the warm spring air, headed towards the Yamuna. It rolled over and drifted and came dangerously close to me before moving away with another gust of wind.

I saw it fall down the banks of the Yamuna and crash into its waters. It broke open into a pulp of blood and lymph and bones and turned the river red. Then there rose a remorseful cry from the river and suddenly all of the kites in mourning, started jolting towards the water and began crashing in. Soon the whole river was flooded with blood and the smell of a slaughter house.

The train honked and I woke up. It was a dream. Dreams don’t mean anything, I told myself.

I started looking for my water bottle. I looked to my right but it wasn’t there. I looked to my left and saw the man beside me standing on the second step of the door of the bogie, far beyond the lines of safety and too close to the upcoming girders of the Yamuna bridge. One of them passed, he swung his arm towards it. Second girder passed and this time his right leg was out, too.

I froze at the sight and suddenly felt a stinging pain in my kidneys, the kind you’d feel if you sprinted for a mile. My head weighed a ton and my eyes wanted to pop out. My dry mouth was now a desert and I couldn’t move an inch. Was this happening for real? Or was I still dreaming?

The man jumped. The train honked.

I woke up again, this time for real. The man was still hanging on the door, swinging an arm and a leg and my kidneys were still aching.

I tried to shout over the noises inside the coach and the rumbling of the train, but my voice was absent.

“Are you headed towards Maihar?”

The man looked at me. For the first time during that journey, I saw his face. I noticed his small head, his eyebrows converging at the center. I knew these expressions really well and the emotions they hide underneath. I saw regret. Deep, haunting regret.

“Yes, babuji. How far is it from your home town?” he asked.

“35 kilometers. Give or take a few. Half an hour by train,” I replied. I tried smiling, but my head still felt heavy. I knew I wasn’t the right person to give hope to someone.

“Does this train pass through Maihar?” he asked me, still hanging at the door.

“Not this one, but there are several trains from my home town every half an hour. You can de-board, there, and take the next coach to Maihar,” I shouted again. The train picked up speed.

He got up and came back to his place beside me. I was right, this man was drunk. I tried seeing past his alcohol in the nucleus of time I could borrow before the pause got awkward. I saw the wish to muster the courage to jump and to numb the sensations to make the impact of the fall less painful.

I looked away, again. Then something hit my mind.

I took out my phone, opened my gallery and bent towards him to show him the pictures I had clicked in the last few months. He seemed uninterested at first, but gradually I earned his attention and for the next few minutes we discussed every picture he found nice.

He appreciated my skills, and I showed him the photo I took at the station before the train had begun moving. We talked about all the objects in those pictures I clicked, told him why I did it, told him how big the world really is and how many beautiful things it holds. I also told him that I was looking for a job and that I would get one, soon, and then I would buy a professional camera and take my hobby seriously. He wished me luck, but there was still no light on his face.

I showed him the picture of a ropeway in Maihar.

“When did this happen, babuji?”

“A few years back. When was the last time you went there?”

“It was in 2004 or 5, I don’t remember. I was young and I went with a group of friends. I had friends, back then,” he told me.

We remained silent for the next few minutes, looking straight ahead in the distance.

“It is a terrible crime to cause pain to your parents, isn’t it?” he said. For the first time, I noticed, he didn’t address me as ‘babuji’. I felt strange, yet happy. It was working, somehow.

“It is, indeed. But our parents are the only ones who understand us and love us unconditionally. They accept us even if we’ve been terrible children to them,” I replied, finally finding my water bottle. I took a sip and almost involuntarily passed the bottle to him. He gulped down several large sips and returned it to me.

“I stole a lot of money from my parents months ago when I was living with them and ran away. A few weeks back I got the news that my father passed away. I didn’t go back for his funeral. Now all my money is gone and I want to visit the Maihar temple to repent for my sins,” he said.

I felt utter disgust for this man. Even river Ganga cannot wash the sins of such men, but no matter what, I thought, this man deserved to live.

“It’s okay, bhai. We all sin. Some in greater degrees, some in smaller. We are humans, not gods,” I said to him. The train honked again and picked up speed.

Half an hour later, the train halted at Naini railway station. I got up from my seat at the door and dusted off my jeans. He, too, got up and got down from the door and walked up to the empty adjacent platform.

I caught him stealing sidelong glances at me, as if trying to hide his broken conscience. This was when I saw him in full, his torn clothes, his soiled limbs and the only belonging he had – a thin blanket. I saw him walk up the platform for quite some time and then he was out of sight.

He never returned.

The train reached my home station around 10 pm. I got down and out of the station.
For this incident that had happened with me during this journey, I decided not to share it with anyone. Because talk about sins and there exists among the top few, the sin of giving someone false hope.

It’s not so usual that you try talking a drunkard out of suicide. And for a boy who hates almost everything and everyone, listens to songs about the end of the world and constantly struggles to find the meaning of life, hope is just a construct. And he still hopes someone would, just for once, understand what people like him go through every minute of every day.

I wished that man lived to see the morning sun. But if he didn’t, I wanted to convince myself that I hadn’t sinned. My legs were still trembling and the pain in my gut was still screaming.

I took out my wallet and opened it. Seven rupees. The rickshaw to my home charges thirty rupees. I hate myself a little less, now, but I guess I am walking home, tonight.

[Short Story]

We all have those moments of reflection where we stress our minds a bit too hard to hold the controls manually and pick up a special memory for a special reason. Intrinsically, we want to always be able to successfully accomplish this task, but there are times when we just can’t. And in those times, like an uninvited guest, a lot of unwelcome memories visit us, making us feel vulnerable as we roll down and down on our own chain of thoughts, never to be brought back up again.

Why do we have to fall in line and conform, why do people leave us, why is it necessary to be like everyone else, why is there so much disturbance and difference in the world, why?

This monotony and dissonance of life was slowly getting on my nerves and I wanted all the answers.

After a full round of talking and texting with every probable well-wisher in my contacts, I kept my phone aside and realized I won’t be able to make it past this night. The thought of it asphyxiated me. The usual your-time-has-come-kid gesture from my family was overwhelming for the past few weeks, worse, they had even gotten all my friends and relatives into it, so technically there was no one left who I could talk to.

I decided I needed to stay alive, and so just like that, I had picked up a long-forgotten itinerary and now it had been fifteen days since I was traveling. After struggling for a while, my cellphone was finally dead and while a part of me was happy that I was free from this constant jeopardy of affording an urban life, another part of me was sad for not being able to tell my parents where I was and that I was alive and fine.

I was having my lunch, one day, sitting in a small, road-side shop somewhere in rural Madhya Pradesh. Absent-mindedly glancing at a few tiny bamboo and straw scultpures, dolls and vessels occupying a corner of the room, I noticed the lady working at the kitchenette. I got an urge to ask her, but she was already saying something to her husband. I noticed her fingers, her smile. It took me back nine years and somehow I felt relaxed. I went with it.

I remember looking at the walls of that first floor room. Old and fragile. I also remember a bright yellow stain on her peach-colored saree, that day, just below her knees. I remember the smell of mustard and turmeric and I remember curled, oil-soaked fingers speaking of years of expertise.

“Where did you get all these, amma?” I had asked.

“What, those? Haha! They don’t belong to me,” she had replied. Her voice was still more confusing to me than her answer.

“Taste for salt and chilli,” she had said, gently placing a tiny drop of the brine on my palm. And I still remember how I had put it on my tongue, closed my eyes and absorbed. Adolescence. The idyllic taste of nostalgia and the caring touch of a mother.

Do not, however, confuse this lady for my Maa. She’s far too old to even be my grandmother. All we share, here, is a recently-formed, cross-generational friendship in a new city and I am still trying to figure out this woman from her words. For the first time in three months that I’ve been here, I am finally sitting with her, ACTUALLY having this much-needed sensible chat and I forgot what my mother sent me for.

“You are seventeen?”

“Sixteen,” I replied.

“I was eighteen, then, and more diffident than you can imagine. But we were close,” she said to me, almost blushing at the raw mango pieces. After staying nervous about my own for sometime, I had gathered enough courage to ask about her first kiss and she had just finished telling me that it was her female roomie from college. Her first kiss, a girl. Imagine that!

“Also a few of my hostel mates had began putting up some kind of protest on the main gate on Christmas eve. Later, after being completely devoured by that feeling, I was in my room, getting ready for her birthday which was on the 25th, and she was back there screaming her lungs out against the university administration for not giving official leave to the students for holidays,” she finished.

For a few seconds I had thought I saw her youth flash in her eyes, the intensity in her words and in her voice with which she was telling me all about it.

“She was thirteen when she had began playing the guitar, partly because she had a highly privileged, a more-westernized upbringing and partly because she had always been a fighter, defying social norms ever since the day she was born. She also rejected most of her family’s help and began writing and speaking extensively for human rights after school.

“She had a handful of lovers in three years of college and she used to drink and smoke, sometimes. Now this may be an ordinary story, a few years from now, but it was an extremely bold sense of lifestyle for those times, when more than half the country’s women were still illiterate and devoid of basic civil rights in our almost entirely male-governed society. But I lost contact with her soon after college and became my closed-contained self, again,” I could hear her voice breaking.

“So what happened after college, amma?” I had asked her. Amma was the word I had chosen to show my affection. “Why couldn’t you two keep in touch?”

“While most of the girls were married straight away after college beyond their will, she continued playing bass in a music band, deviated from academics, became a political activist and continued writing for a publication. I later came to know that she married another writer and a few years later they got divorced. But that’s only what I got to hear,” she said, picking up an empty glass jar. “I haven’t heard anything since the ’90s.”

I looked at the six by eight piece of the wall, again. Dozens of certificates, awards and trophies, all in her name. This woman sitting in front of me making pickles, was a retired professor of sociology, a published writer and a former IAS officer on VRS, far more educated than the entire colony.

“I cut-off myself from the world after college because she was the last human impression I had and I wanted to keep it alive for as long as possible. I grounded myself and later began avoiding temporary people in my life before devoting myself completely to studies. I went on to earn all my degrees and doctorate, got married, bore two beautiful children and worked twenty five years before retiring.

“For me, she will always be the most eccentric woman I ever saw in my life, far beyond our time. She lived too fast and left so many burn marks on my soul, that now when I think of those three years of college, the memory of the day she taught me to kiss in an extremely suffocating world, I feel all these certificates and PhDs – they don’t belong to me. They belong to her. She was everything I ever wanted to be,” the smile followed.

I would like to tell you that I keep that smile with me to this day.

I remember we lived exactly three years in that neighborhood before shifting to a different city. Amma died a few years later and with her died a lot of great women this world saw, and a lot more it could have seen. And it was that day when I had realized that memories are just dead things which float up on the surface occasionally, like bodies on water. And because we can’t control them all the time, they will keep popping up.

I looked at the woman at the kitchenette, again. I looked at her curled, oil-soaked fingers speaking of years of expertise and I was reminded of the smell of mustard and turmeric.

“Water, madam?” she asked me.

“Yes, Amma,” I replied.

A smile followed. The smile that knows everything.

[Short Story]

//I am a common human being, 25 years old, living in a big city, working a day job. 

‘It’s 1:58 AM as I write this and I have a flight to catch at 6 o’clock. I have high fever currently and I would seriously regret not getting on that flight. 
This night’s going to be long.//

I was sitting in my balcony when I wrote this on a piece of paper because I don’t keep a diary.

A few more words were scribbled on it, but I couldn’t make out what they were. I was thinking about a name and a mountain. Something about cycles and computer screens.

I opened my eyes earlier that morning to a grey blot on the ceiling. It was oval in shape, a clear dark shade over the rest of the white paint. I found it rather funny because it looked like a bean bag.

A drop fell from it and landed just above my lower lip. The water tasted sweet. It had rained last night.

Later during the day, a peon offered me coffee inside a cozy five-star office. I refused, because it was a humid day and I wasn’t particularly feeling like it.

Then, a while later, I was next in the line, waiting for my turn. I was getting restless and impatient of waiting for a long time, and it was quite unusual, because I had been used to waiting for my turn since school, thanks to my name’s initials. I was offered coffee and water a couple more times, but I declined.

Next, I was sitting in front of three huge ones, probably in their fourties. One of them had my documents’ file in his hand and the other was going through my CV. The third one was simply watching me.

“You refused the coffee out there, son. May I know, why?” the one going through my file demanded, straightening his reading glasses. His tie looked funny to me.

“Well, I wasn’t quite feeling the need, so I refused it. Sir.”

“That’s interestingly confident, mister, the way you gave your first answer. Was it all, or let us assume that you refused the coffee because you prefer tea and were expecting it? And that’s why you refused the water, too?”

I cringed, then sighed. His eyes caught it. It was getting really hot despite the air conditioner. 

Sweat had broken out on my temples and as the air touched it, it felt really cool. I loosened my tie and eased up a bit. What kind of a question is that? These guys are real assholes, I thought. 

Junior was right. Fuck you, meatballs.

“I see you have attempted the cross-country cycling and mountaineering challenge. But not much is written here about it, so can you please share your story with us? I would like to understand whether it would be of any help to us in the future or not, if we were to hire you,” he requested.

I looked at his tie. It appeared funny. There were bean bags on it. I almost slipped a smile and he saw it. Dammit, again!

“Yes, I attempted the challenge when I was in the second year of my college. However, that was just a hobby, so there’s nothing more about it. I’ve earned several state and national trophies for both cycling and mountaineering, even tried for the Olympics, once.”

“So you are saying that you’re a beaten man, son?” He folded the file and kept it on the table. “You failed, and then you didn’t try”.

Now all three of them were looking directly at me. I was burning with rage. I was a champion in school, I enjoyed that position, I was fucking addicted to it and this meatball just called me a beaten man? If only there weren’t so many restrictions on these conversations, I would have told him to suck his beanbags.


A peon was standing beside me with glasses of water on a tray. The glasses looked so clean and the water so pure, this is for sure a really expensive office, I thought. I wanted to drink, but I refused. I felt I was suddenly less confident.

“You don’t look particularly well, son. Are you sure you don’t want water? Or maybe some tea?”

“I would, sir, but first I’d like to tell you the story behind the cross-country challenge that I took. I was eleven when the self-motivation came,” it took me a lot of effort to finish my sentence and I gasped for breath.

“Self-motivation because, I don’t really believe in luck or fate or destiny. Life is just heartbeats. You spend your whole life in a very microbial area on a tiny dustball in an infinite space. Think about that and it’s pretty creepy. One moment you’re here, the next you’re gone.

“So, when I was eleven, I visited my maternal village for the summers and for a wedding function in the family. One of my uncles used to work as a professor in the tehsil’s government college in that area, and they were having exams. The college was on a barren plateau landscape.

“I was hired for writing fake copies of students who weren’t appearing for the exams and had submitted chunks of currency notes that a guy, few feet away from me, was counting. There were others like me, but since I was from an English medium city school, I was presumably more ‘intelligent’ of the lot, so I had sixteen copies to write. That was my first employment, my first job.

“I came out eight hours later, took the money I was promised and drank a glass of water. I didn’t eat or drink or shift from my place until I wrote all 16 copies, all 320 pages. 320 pages equals a book, sir. It was on my principle to not cost myself up before I’ve earned for my employer,” I finished.


“Oh, how did I miss this? Now I see that interestingly confident tone in your voice, you’re a writer! Wonderful how you presented, in a heroic manner, such a major crime that you’ve committed in the past.



“Do you write fiction? Do you have a girlfriend?” he chuckled. All of us laughed.

Moments later, there were cups of tea and glasses of water in front of everyone. I felt relaxed and there were a minute or two available to let my mind wander. 

Heroic, eh?

I remember I received 1100 rupees that day. I took a cycle to the far end of the plateau through all the hills and ravines, and back home before dark, riding 36 kilometres in four hours. 
‘Try doing that, you bean bag!’

//I reached home in a very low condition to a bean bag with popping eyes hanging from the ceiling and 6:48 PM on the clock. I woke up six hours later at 12:50 to a 102° F body temperature and a mail in my inbox which said that I have been appointed as the executive design head of something at Studio Ghibli, and my training begins in a week. 
Tokyo, Japan. I have my flight tomorrow…//

I got the job. The screen of the laptop hurt so I looked up at the water blot on the ceiling. It looked funny and I remembered the sweet taste of the water droplet from the morning. 
It reminded me of my fever. 

Then I thought about everything that had happened at the interview, all that I had blurted out and still managed to score the job. I felt funny.

I laughed.
//A droplet finally got me this nut job today. 14 years. Tokyo, Japan. Studio Ghibli & Mount Fuji. Here I come..//

[Short Story]

I was rolling the cables and moving the equipment out of the way, when a giggling kid ran from the courtyard through the tiny, low-ceiling room with mud walls and adobe brick-roof, towards the small verandah outside, as he tripped on one of the wires and fell to the floor. Within seconds, a girl about ten approached him and gave him a tight slap on his back while picking him up and taking him back to the courtyard. 

She looked at me with a side-long glance which made me shiver. Her eyes were hauntingly beautiful.

I could hear the kid’s cries from the courtyard after a while and I wasn’t sure what was the real reason – the bruises from the fall or the beating that he got afterwards. Because I know it was way before his brain could react to the first blow, when he got the second one from his sister. This is how kids are taught to behave here, I thought.

There were eight other kids in the house with different ages peeking from the door of the courtyard, and their mother, sitting in front of me for the interview, was yelling something to her children in the regional dialect, which I could not understand. She was probably telling the older ones to keep everyone in the courtyard.

“They don’t listen to us.”

“It’s okay, ma’am. I am used to it. The equipments are insured and whatever damages occur can be taken care of. You don’t need to worry about that,” I said to the lady, as she and her husband looked at me with open mouths for more than a passing second. A fly buzzed around the husband’s face, sat on it and roamed freely around his mouth. I felt awkward.

“Oh no, babuji. These kids are very mischievous. They need to be taught a lesson once in every while,” she replied. I smiled.

“So, what you’ve told me so far, is that you have a small piece of land, twelve mouths to feed, three terminally sick members in the family, one girl to be married away and there hasn’t been any rain in the last five years?”

“Yes, uh…and eighty-five thousand rupees loan to be paid to the bank,” replied the husband.

I was filled with disgust the moment I calculated this all, putting myself in their place. How were these people even alive? I noticed a small place of worship in the corner of the room. It looked untouched and undisturbed for a long time, now.

“What are the government schemes that you’re aware of, which could be beneficial for you?” I asked the couple, as I took notes and my camera recorded the footage.

“We are illiterate people, babuji. Last time I wanted to give an application to the District Collector, it took me seven days and equal number of round trips to the parchoon shopkeeper about ten kilometres away to get the letter written. We don’t know about any government schemes and we are not told about them. People just come, give us hopes and then leave,” said the husband.

For a moment, we all stayed silent. This was my last interview of a seemingly quick-and-happy excursion, the last piece for my documentary and it was taking more time than the whole trip. Or maybe I just wanted to get out from there as soon as possible, from all the stench and heat.

I felt thirsty, so I looked at the glass of water in front of me. I didn’t touch it.

“Why are you people staying here, then? You can sell your ancestral land and move to a better place where life could be easier,” I suggested, hoping to make them happy.

“We have been living here for generations and still there’s not much for us here, how could there be anything for us out there? We are still alive here because of the great-man of the village who gives us two buckets of water everyday, pays us some money to work on the farms, and has recently employed our daughter, too, the one who is to be married.

“Often we come across a problem, just like a couple of years ago, when a kid died of diarrhea. But the great-man doesn’t help us in our problems, because he says he’s got to feed so many families in the village. We can’t complain because we owe them money,” she replied.

“Nobody wants to hear our story, babuji. We can speak, but they don’t listen to us,” added the husband.

I sighed. The sobs of the kid were still clearly audible from the courtyard. I almost thought about his future for a second.
Glad that the interview was finally over and that within minutes I would be on my way to the comfort of my own house, away from the views of the ‘unjust’ world, I packed my notepad and camera in my shoulder bag. I picked up the glass of water and drank all of it. I thought they could manage quite well with one glass less in the two buckets.

As I moved out of the house, the shoulder bag suddenly felt a lot heavier. But I don’t want to think it was because of the weight of the hopes I had recorded and kept in my notepad and camera – the hopes which had been shattered every single time, generation after generation. Or because of the glass of water.

[Short Story]

The helper boy at the tea shop brought two cups of chai and a pack of Parle G biscuits. He was still in his early teenage. Why he was working here? He should be studying.

An SUV crossed in speed, breaking the silence. A farmer was rearing his cattle nearby. It was still hot outside and there weren’t many humans in a large circumference.

The shopkeeper looked up again from his newspaper and his glasses  at his customers, as they waited for another pack of Parle G biscuits while talking. A boy and a girl. Not such an unusual sight, but you know, THE LOOK.

“You make life seem like a struggle. I think you’re a fucking idiot,” said the girl.

“What’s the point if it’s not a struggle?” replied the guy.

“Alright, don’t start again with all your philosophical bullshit and what all answers you have found this week for the meaning of life. Enough of that depressive stuff, already. There are so many things out there, so much more to talk about, you don’t really need to uproot the fucking tree everytime. I think you’re being too hard on yourself.”

The boy sighed. The shopkeeper wasn’t reading anymore. A couple of street dogs were taking their afternoon nap in the shade of the shop.

The boy took a sip from his tea cup and looked in the distance to avoid the gusts of hot air on his face.

“You see, this world is made up of two things – Maths and Art. And both are relative. Maths is basically numbers. And art is everything else. And at certain places, the whole structure of this universe is balanced upon some really strong alloys of  both. Everything that exists within the boundaries of this universe, lives in these two realms. Everything, including us. I’ve heard some of them say that life is actually a struggle to balance ourselves in the ones and the zeroes,  because we live in binaries, right? Everyone with all their different leanings? So now you can have a simpler version of all my answers for all the complexities of the world,” replied the boy, scuba diving for the drowned bit of Parle G inside his cup.

“I told you, no other-worldly bullshit for now? We live in this world, can we please talk about it?” the girl snapped.

“This is no other-worldly bullshit. I am telling all this to you because we can’t maintain the maths and the art all the time. You see, we can’t fucking balance. We are humans, we are imperfect. And that’s why life has always been a struggle and will always be a struggle. Now it’s upto us whether we accept the deepest truths or not. Whether we, at least once in our lives, uproot that tree and check the ugly roots or not,” the boy replied, looking up from his cup.

A long silence followed. The old aunty washing the dishes near the tap had paused to wipe off her sweat and give THE LOOK.

“I want to earn money,” the boy began softly. “I want to earn so much money, I could put the weight of it on the maths side, the survival side, the uninvited weight of existence and give myself completely to the other side, the art. Because I have my own leaning, you see? The complexities. And that’s why for now, I am being just another head in the crowd, another corporate bot running this race to save my numbers, be it time or cash, so I can afford to build on these little artistic escapes one by one, these week-long road trips with you. So I could just be with you all the time.”

The girl looked at the boy. His beard. His empty cup.

“Wanna breakup, baby, huh? What, I don’t excite you anymore?,” asked the girl, making all kinds of naughty gestures.

The shopkeeper coughed and turned the page of his newspaper. The aunty began washing her utensils. The dogs went back to sleep.

The boy and the girl chuckled to each other, looking around, as they paid the bill, zipped up their riding gears and picked up their helmets. The Parle G packet had finally arrived.

“You know, I will buy us better bikes, next year. I am planning for Triumphs,” said the guy, picking up the packet.

The girl came closer to him, gave him a kiss and whispered in his ear, “I want BMWs,” as she walked towards their bikes parked beside the highway.

The boy stood there for a while as the girl looked back from the bikes and smiled at him. After a minute, they were on the highway, riding towards the setting sun.