[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.

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Welcome to the shoppers, the bankers, 

the club goers and their four-wheelers.

The restaurants, the jewellery shops, 

book stores and their favorite draught beers.

This time of the year, 

(or, for that matter, 

round the calendar) 

there’s always a festive environment – 

a warm welcome speech in the air.

While the rest of the world burns its sins, 

hugs and wishes, rubs Gulaal, 

there’s a tired man, 

who pulls his rickshaw 

out of the two concentric circles, 

the white pillars, the Georgian architecture 

and the cold fluorescent light.

He coughs for over a minute, 

then smokes a few Beeris for dinner, 

couldn’t afford to get high on food tonight.

He finds a spot on the sidewalk

near a few homeless urban zombies.

His bloodshot eyes 

look greedily at their used syringes 

and burnt aluminum foils.

He checks his empty pockets for the fifth time, 

then, pulls up a blanket 

of mosquitoes and flies.

The Doppler caresses his ears, 

stray dogs sing lullabies.
But, sleep 

doesn’t come 

so easily for him.

Tomorrow morning, they’ll paint these whites 

with greens, blues and all the colors they could crush and sell.

If you look closely, you’ll find

amongst them, a red truly deep and thick.

It will flow 

and it will dry in the heat real quick.

The club goers will walk over it, 

the bankers’ four-wheelers will whiz past 

the shoppers, as they smile.

Next year, around the same time, 

there will be another man pulling his rickshaw 

from these bright concentric circles, 

never out of the cold florescent light.


A bunch of leather boots squeaked and stomped through the empty corridor. Two more doors appeared on the left and there was some distant murmur on the P.A. system. A tube-light flickered inside one of those doors which opened into a large briefing room, where a C.O. was addressing a group of young, glowing faces. The boots continued marching towards the hangar.

A row of pictures hung on the wall of the hallway at the end of the corridor and a 1971 war memorabilia stood proudly amongst them. A couple of officers walked past, shuffling files and discussing weather reports. It was going to be all clear skies for the rest of the week.
Except for the usual hustle at this hour, it was cool, quiet and peaceful. A part of her wished it remained that way, forever.

——————————
“This isn’t how it’s done. You have to flip it over before pushing the button. When you don’t know something, you should better stay away from it before your stupid brain manages to break it down,” her teammate, a guy of nineteen in a yellow T-shirt had said, snatching the model from her hand. And that’s how the apex of her story had begun. The technical fest was one of those excuses where the alpha males of the University would showcase the purity of their authoritative nature.

When she was in eleventh standard, her neighborhood aunty had a different opinion about her choice of hobbies. “You should learn to cook and stitch, beta. Chess, carrom-board and sports are for boys. You’ll be getting married after college. What would your in-laws think of you when they come to know that you can’t even make simple Dal & Chawal? They’ll talk ill about you and your mother. Your father will have to pay more dowry and god forbid, what if you don’t get a good rishta?” she had said, knitting a sweater for her son.
Her brother would never have behaved that way, though. He had always taught her to be herself, because it was every bit possible to stay strong in one’s own skin. 
“This isn’t really a man’s world, Chhoti. You don’t need to be one to get where ever you want. Just be strong and no one will ever be able to bother you,” he had told her, tucking in the shirt of his uniform.

Growing up was not that easy for Chhoti, especially in a small town of central India – one of those places where everybody knew everybody, and a major part of their daily routines went into discussing other people’s lives and safe-guarding outdated social norms and values.

——————————
The boots stopped on the edge of the concrete floor. It was 0430 hours on the Bidar Air Force Station and the pastel red sky was slowly shifting upwards. The view was so magnificent that it wasn’t humanly possible to not stop and absorb it for a few moments. 
The fuselage of the ‘Tejas’ shone bright in all its glory, reflecting some of that golden-brown light on Flight Lieutenant Aparajita Chandel. She was standing ahead of her squadron, her thoughts slowly landing back to the present day. 
The quiet and peaceful dawn would be replaced by the rage of the afterburners in a few minutes. 

She smiled.
Soon, she’d be inside that fighter jet, up in the air, flying way high above everyone – everyone who told her otherwise, tried to teach her that this was a man’s world.


There’s this thing which has been bothering me for quite some time and a genuine concern I want to talk about, today. Not too long ago, someone had said that a pen is the most powerful weapon in the entire world. It still is, but now the edges are blunt and have rust on them. Because for a long time, now, this weapon hasn’t been used – to mould the society, to change it for better.

This weapon is not being used to propagate the wisdom of the beholder to the masses, to pass it on from generation to generation. It is not being used by the writer to climb up to the top-most block of Maslow’s pyramid, the one of self-actualisation, to realise the true human potential.
Because for long, a vast majority of people have been holding it at a step just below it, gluttoning on validation which comes real cheap and easy ever since the inception of social media. Because for long, they haven’t been writing to change the world, and this tragedy – like a hamster wheel you cannot get out of – never lets you achieve what you really can, apparently acting as a reverse-mass control.
A writer is someone who challenges authority, someone who critiques and questions pre-established values, someone who reads more than they write. If read properly, there’s enough knowledge in books (and by books, I mean real books and not micro fiction or internet literature) to give someone a basic understanding of how the human world works and that you don’t have a choice in being born in a democracy. You don’t have a choice in being born at all. 
Being apolitical in a democracy is either privilege or ignorance. If you’re (officially) an adult (which means you can vote) and you still don’t have a clear political leaning (and by political leaning, I don’t mean supporting particular political parties, because they are all, more or less, shit), then you need to rethink your position in the society as a writer.
If you are educated enough to understand that there’s enough discrimination in this world which you can end single-handedly with your pen, this mighty weapon you hold in your hand, and you still choose to write for likes and comments from an audience blinded by their own delusions of luxury and comfort, then you need to stop and ask yourself how much role have you played so far as the perpetrator?
Language is one of the greatest inventions of mankind, and as a writer, you have a great responsibility on your shoulders to act as the torch-bearer of the human civilization. Today’s amateurs will be the professionals of tomorrow. We humans do not have enough time left on this planet to remain stuck in that hamster wheel.
As they say, art is meant to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

The rope laden with washed clothes arched and swung in the February breeze. Flower pots lined the railings and there was a company of parrots on the mango tree at the eastern end of the three-storey house near Ewing Christian College. This house had stood there for over half a century and had witnessed several generations of the Gupta family.

Sattu was the notorious eleven years old younger son of the C.A. uncle next door, and he was standing at the top of the water tank with a mischievous smirk on his cute, round face for over twenty minutes, now. The pressure cooker downstairs whistled for the fourth time and Tini’s mother had been shouting from near the subziwalah in the street below to turn off the gas stove.

Tini, however, was standing several feet away, eyelids half shut due to the blinding reflection of the painted terrace on this bright 10 AM, her eyes fixed on the kid.

“Coming, Maa,” she shouted, turning her gaze back at Sattu, who knew she wasn’t just waiting for Maasi to finish pinning the washed clothes on the rope – there was more to the picture. Sattu cupped his ears and listened carefully. He could recognise the sound of the speeding scooter in the distance.

He signalled Tini. She took a deep breath, her heart raced and the gloss on her lips shone bright.

Maasi picked up the empty bucket and headed downstairs. The cooker whistled for the fifth time. Tini’s mother was still shouting and Sattu was still standing on the rooftop. She made a scolding gesture and his toothless smile broadened upto his double chin.

About five minutes later, heavy footsteps approached the last flight of stairs and there appeared from the roof tower, a five-feet-ten figure of a handsome young man in his early twenties. Ratan was late, but he was there as promised.

They both looked at each other and in that moment, the wind stopped blowing. The flowers started blossoming, the parrots stopped squawking, the street vendors stopped chanting and the water dripping from the clothes hung mid-air.

Childhood love – growing up together, hidden from almost everyone.

Ratan stared at Sattu as he giggled and climbed down from the water tank. The terraces of both the houses were finally empty except for the two young beings.

Tini walked straight towards him, ignoring the water below her feet. She slipped, Ratan ran. The boundary wall was only three feet.

He caught her safely, but she came spinning down on him tangled in the rope and they landed on the floor on a pile of wet clothes, in each other’s embrace. A moment later they were laughing.

Then they hugged. After seven long years! Tightly, fully, or however it is done when you just want to melt into the arms of your loved one.

“I missed you,” said Ratan.

“I missed you more,” Tini replied.

Someone cleared their throat nearby and both of them froze in terror.

Maasi was standing with a bucket full of clothes. She looked at them lying on the floor and sighed.

“I turned off the gas stove, but you people better hurry. Didi is coming upstairs,” she announced.

They breathed in relief and smiled again. They kissed. A long, passionate kiss.

Moments later, they were up, brushing their clothes and blushing their cheeks red.

“And hello, mister! Where are you going? Tie the rope to the nail,” Maasi snapped Ratan.

Sattu was back on the water tank with his friends. They were preparing their kites. Tini’s mother was on the terrace chatting with Ratan’s mother and aunt about some pickles and recipes.

“I heard Rattu was arriving today?” Massi interrupted the conversation.

“Yes, he’ll be here for a month,” his mother replied.

“That’s good. Have you got any rishtas for him, yet?” Maasi asked.

“Not yet, but we’re thinking about beginning our search this summer,” she answered.

Tini’s Maa was still pinching Sattu’s ear for breaking the rope and spoiling the washed clothes.

“Well, I don’t think you’ll have to search for too long,” Maasi smiled. Ratan’s mother smiled with her.


A book and a walking stick rest

beside me. I am preparing 

for the day when they will arrive

with the news.

‘It’s over. We’re going away from home.’

For the day when my eyes,

glued to the horizon,

will recieve their reward for patience – 

one last run for the sky,

one last desperate try.

For the deeds we did so fast,

the Auschwitz and the Hiroshima.

The Columbia & Kalpana;

the burn marks and deep cuts,

decrepit godmen and keen spies.

Numerous may be the black blood wells,

numerous may be the nouns,

a lot of them were poached,

but most, now extinct or dry.

They say tough times create tough people,

sometimes with shells so thick,

bullets change their path to avoid injury.

Such people, they withstand it all.

I must have witnessed something

I can’t recall. Were you there

when it happened?

.

.

.

.

.

(Image from the movie ‘Loving Vincent’, 2017)

ये कश्ती जब किनारे लग जाए

मुझे उतार देना

आंसू सूख गए सारे

बहुत दिनों से रोया नहीं हूं

समंदर की आवाज़ भी लोरी लगती है, मैं

बहुत दिनों से सोया नहीं हूं

अंत और शुरुआत के मायने

एक अरसे तक जाग कर

सोचा करता था

उन वजहों के बारे में, जिन्हें

फूलों की तरह गूंथ कर

चल सकता है काम, पर

क्या फर्क पड़ता है अब, जब

वजह ही ना रही कोई

सूख गए फूल सारे, किसी धागे में

बहुत दिनों से

पिरोया नहीं हूं

कुछ वक्त पहले छोड़ दिया था जीना

बस सांस बाकी थी कुछ उधार की

वही लेकर निकला था घर कि ओर

भटक गए जो दो-चार थे

परवाह करने वाले

सिर्फ एक मैं ही

खोया नहीं हूं