Awards Short story

A rumbling, deep down.

I vividly remember that Sunday. The sun was blazing, though it was just the onset of summer. The park was brimming with happy families. Children frolicking in their bright and colourful summer outfits, parents lazing around the cafe, sipping mugs of chilled beer, and security men keeping vigil on the little monkeys.

It was then, that I first saw her. Like she had stepped right out of a fairy tale. Golden hair curled into little ringlets. Blushing pink lips. A deep dimple forming in her cheeks when she laughed that tinkling laugh of hers. The boys hovered around her like bees. They vied with each other, to crack jokes and make her laugh. One stylishly ran his hand through his hair, another leaned on the wall with a macho casualness, the third kept on his silly non-stop banter. She was patient with all of them. I watched, silently, from a distance, knowing I didn’t stand a chance.

I was already, hopelessly in love with her. But didn’t have the courage to do anything but watch from afar. ‘Oh ! Unrequited love. How often will you pierce my heart ?’ They say beauty is only skin deep. Why then, does nobody want to look beneath, and find the real me ? The warm, caring, loving soul that lies deep within. This is such a materialistic world, with shallow people.

My helplessness and anger made me feel hot, and the sun didn’t do much to help. So I decided to go for a swim in the pond. My stomach was rumbling.

It never fails to amaze me, this stomach…so irreverent to the emotions of the person. No matter what one feels – anger,sorrow, frustration – all of these take a bow before hunger pangs. And happiness, oh, that’s another excuse to gluttony.

The water was cool and refreshing, as I glided through it. I steered clear of the children, for their high-pitched chatter, cries and laughter that earlier seemed so endearing, now only aggravated the ache in my head.

I swam the entire length of the pond, when all of a sudden, I heard a shriek. The group of bees, er, boys, were gathered in a nervous bunch. People were talking in loud whispers.

“How did she fall ? Does she know how to swim ?”

“Mummy, are there dangerous creatures in the pond ?”

“Poppy, where are you ?”. (So, her name was “Poppy”).

“Somebody save her..please !”

Now was my chance. Nobody had noticed me yet. However, I was never one for limelight. I gallantly ducked into the water, and searched for Poppy. Gnawing hunger pangs had already drained the bulk of my energy, and I couldn’t see much, but I didn’t give up.

‘If I could spot her, but once … if I could just get hold of her, and never let her go !’

And then, as if in answer to my prayers, I saw a bit of pink cloth moving gracefully among the weeds. I swam with all my might, and saw Poppy trying to swim upwards towards the light. It was very silent, there, in what seemed to be beneath the rest of the world.

My heart pounded with excitement. I couldn’t help, but admire her to heart’s content. Her golden ringlets waved slowly, her graceful hands and feet moved vigorously. She looked charming … almost delicious. I dared to go very close to her. She caught sight of me. Our eyes met, and instantly locked. She opened her mouth … and let out a noiseless scream.

Then came this final rumble, from the depths of my stomach. I didn’t have a choice.

As I snapped up my lunch that day, I shed tears.

People called it “crocodile tears”.

(Shortlisted as a finalist for a Sulekha EYC contest – Didn’t win it though!)

Short story Thought and Reason

Consciously Unconscious.

I could distinctly feel them clamping my hands and legs down to the table. They were talking in whispers. The big man came very close to me, and said sternly, “If you co-operate, we can get over with this in half an hour”. I nodded silently, fully aware, that I didn’t have another option. He placed a white cloth over my nose. As I breathed in, and my eyelids slightly fluttered, I felt the lights rapidly dimming. My hands and legs trembled, then froze. He had stuffed some cold object into my mouth. I didn’t know what it was, except that it made me helpless..unable to talk, to scream, to protest.

Within those milliseconds of my fading consciousness, there were hazaar thoughts fluttering uncontrollably in my mind.

“Its been ages since I met my friends…when was the last time I had a hearty laugh, almost a laugh of abandonment ? What fun we had, sitting at the college entrance, and revealing to every passer by, the name of the killer in that thriller movie ! Where is Meenu these days? Her girl must be four years old. How time flies!”

“What if something wrong happens with me now ? Can I face my parents again ? All those years they toiled to bring us up. Dear Daddy must be watching the IPL match now.”!

“Will Mumbai or Chennai win the IPL series? Chennai! Chennai! I can atleast gloat in reflected glory ;-)”.

“How cramped is Chennai now. Hot, crowded, fast-paced. Incredible India indeed…takes an hour to commute the shortest of distances. In my next birth, I’d like to be born in America. Nah, America is a scary place”.

Talking of re-incarnation brought back a devotional song to my mind … translating into: “O Lord! Make me a temple bell in my next birth”.

Made me wonder, “Is that what I really want ?”. “Or am I so deep-rooted in this quagmire of material goods, that I am actually enjoying drowing in it ? The noise, the crowd, the competition, the budgets, the largely unnecessary quarrels…. the stress of just living ! Do I abhor this, or am I actually thriving on this?” I didn’t dare reply, too horrified to hear the answer.

Infact I couldn’t hear anything, anymore. It was dark all around, strangely quiet, almost vacuus. Then, abruptly, my thoughts stopped (phew!)…my senses were deadened. It was darkness all around. I couldn’t feel myself anymore.

Strangely, I wasn’t afraid. I was floating in the air….a surge of relief came over me, as I soared far away from the tethers of daily life. I had never experienced such restfulness before.

What was this quiet ? Death ? Or just a lull ? Is this forever ? Or will I be rudely thrown back into the gallows of life again?

I don’t know what happened with me in those thirty minutes. I didn’t care either. I only remember it ended too quickly.

I was woken up after half an hour, as the man had promised. It was all hazy. My hands and legs were slowly regaining the ability to feel. My throat felt a little sore. “Do you remember your name ?” he asked. Anxiety suddenly gripped me. “Why ? What are you saying ? Of course I remember.. its..its.. Priya”, I replied, still in a daze. I could hear my own alien voice blurting.

“Good”, he said. “The operation was successful, and your throat is fine now. Just don’t exert it too much. Your vocal cords are still tender”, he advised.

“Thank you, doctor”, I croaked, as my throat hurted. I couldn’t wait to get back home, do a bit of shopping, and chill out with a couple of friends.

(Somewhere deep down, those droplets of peace are already buried and forgotten, as if from a previous birth. They will probably resurface, when it is time to merge with that mighty, numbing ocean called Death.)

Short story

The movie..and after!

“Hey, you know I don’t like watching scary movies. Can’t we see something else?” cried Ruchi.
“Please honey, I’ll turn the volume down. Its been ages since I saw ‘The Omen’ !”, Amit replied, grabbing out for the packet of potato wafers that was lying on the table.

It was a normal Saturday night. Little Parth was fast alseep in his high-rail bed, surrounded by stuffed teddy-bears and soft cushions. Ruchi and Amit were enjoying a nice candle-lit dinner, after a week of hard work.

The movie went on for another hour, while Ruchi picked up an Anita Desai novel. For every page she seemingly read, she couldn’t resist peeping at the TV screen a couple of times. “How can such a little boy be so scary ?!” she thought to herself. “And what’s wrong with the men ? Their attention is rivetted on violence, horror and sex!”. Everytime Ruchi looked up at the TV screen, she shuddered with the piercing look from Damien. Damien looked so innocent, at the same time, his visage radiated an unknown evil, sending a chill down her spine. “Can this be true”, she thought to herself.

Finally, Ruchi and Amit retired to bed too. It was a cold, dark night. Suddenly a gust of air blew in from the window. Ruchi turned, and her ears perked, by habit, to hear the beat of the night-watchman. “Tap..Tap..Tap”. Feeling slightly safe, she went back to sleep. Then again, a gust of wind, this time, stronger. The curtains flew up, and there was this tinkling sound of a window shattering.

Ruchi jumped out of her bed, and looked around (a little selfishly) to see if their windows were still intact. “Tap…tap…tap”, the beat was still on. Suddenly, she noticed a ray of light streaming in down the hallway. “I am sure I switched off all the lights. Why is it on…did Amit go in for something ?” she wondered. She wore on her worn-out blue rubber chappals.

Those unbelievable stories of strange shadows in the dark, white figures without feet, tinkling sound of anklets, and disappearing faces, that she and her sister had heard in their childhood, had left an indelible mark on their innocent mind. As she grew older, she tried to convince herself that all that was only a figment of one’s imagination. Secretly, however, she was still afraid of empty rooms, of open spaces, and of the dark. Even when she went to fetch a drink of water at night, she looked straight ahead, turned on the lights, and only then entered the room.

She walked gingerly towards the kitchen, from where the light was streaming in. She saw a shadow traversing the entire length of the wall. Who could it be at this time of the night.. some prowling thief ? There was a tinkling sound, then a rustling, crinkling sound. “No, this tinkling..what can this be ?”, she gasped, in fear and excitement. Her heart pounded so heavily she could hear her own breath. There was nobody in the kitchen, but she could still hear the crinkling ! Perspiring, trembling and trying to be cautious, she grabbed the knife, and very slowly turned around, afraid of what might be. And there she saw, Damien standing right in front of the door. He was dressed entirely in white. His eyes were piercing hers. His lips were red and quivering, as if to speak out. His face was drained white.

“Shit”, Ruchi screamed and stumbled backwards, and the knife crashed to the floor !

“Parth, what the hell are you doing in the kitchen ??” she shouted, quickly realising the boy was only her son, who was supposedly in his bed.

Parth, probably more frightened than his mother, dropped his tinkling cushion-rattle to the floor. “Mummy, Daddy didn’t give me potato wafers, so I climbed up the pillows and came in to nibble some…”. The packet of Lays was still crinkling in his left hand.

“Phew”…Ruchi sighed…both relieved, and strangely, a wee bit disappointed. She grabbed the packet from him, threw it into the bin, and yanked him to their bedroom.

As she entered the bedroom and tucked Parth into his bed, she heard a “Click”. Turning around, she noticed the kitchen light had just been turned off. No more tinkling, only the tall shadow of a little boy, moving towards the balcony.

Short story

The drive back home

“Daddy, daddy”, the little girl squealed excitedly, as she wrapped herself around his legs. The tall man looked down in surprise and smiled at being mauled by two tiny hands. Sonal rushed towards them and apologized with some embarassment, “I’m really sorry…Rhea…my daughter…I’m sure she didn’t mean to disturb…she mistook you for someone else…”.

“That’s absolutely fine, she’s adorable !”, remarked the handsome stranger and gently detangling Rhea, chucked her under the chin and turned around to continue shooting darts at the stall, trying to win a stuffed puppy for his son.

“Baby, how many times have I told you…” Sonal started off, and two bright little eyes fast filling up with tears looked back at her. “Awww” She stopped herself, instantly pinning a smile on her face and suggesting “come on now, let’s have some yummy yummy ice-cream, shall we?” After mother and daughter had finished enjoying their strawberry cones, and whooped with delight on almost all the car and train rides, they were finally exhausted. They left the fair, sat into their car and drove home.

Within moments little Rhea, now exhausted by the days excitement, moved to the back seat, cuddled her favorite teddy bear and slowly nodded off to sleep. Sonal smiled indulgently at her daughter’s sleeping image in the rear-view mirror and absently switched on the tape recorder. It was playing one of their favorite songs, “Kabhi alvida na kehna”. She froze, her gaze fixed on the road ahead, but her mouth was twitching and her throat was beginning to hurt terribly. Was it the ice-cream, she wondered. “I hope I’m not getting a cold, I have to get back to work tomorrow….have an important meeting with the CEO…then there’s the audit next month…and school fees to be paid…there’s so much to do! I can’t afford to fall sick right now!” her palm slammed the steering wheel, even as her eyes pricked.

“Drive slowly, Dhruv, what’s the hurry?”
“Sonal darling, why don’t you enjoy the ride and leave the driving to me?” smiled Dhruv, speeding down the expressway.
“But with Rhea around, we must be more careful”
“Ok fine, now please will you let me concentrate on the road….hmmm…chaltey chaltey, meri yeh geet yaad rakhna….” Dhruv hummed in his baritone voice, as the tires ate up the road.

Suddenly, without warning, a lorry overtook them from behind and shot past them, and Dhruv swerved wildly. The last think Sonal remembered before slipping out of consciousness was that Dhruv and Rhea were lying unconscious in their badly damaged car, the beige seats now tainted with bold splashes of a deep red.

A month in the hospital and Sonal and Rhea returned home. Yes, the same beautiful home Dhruv had built for them. It looked the same but didn’t feel the same. Someone had put up lots of pictures of Daddy and Rhea on the walls now. The house was just as it was, the same huge widescreen TV, big comfortable sofas, bright yellow curtains… but somehow, it seemed too quiet, and vacant.

“Honk ..honk”, a jeep bellowed from behind, and jolted Sonal out of her reverie. Her eyes shone with unshed tears, she was too tired to cry. She swallowed down the lump in her throat, yet again, and softly whispered “Why me, why my child?” the anger building up within her. Pulling the car to the side of the road she slumped onto the steering wheel and cried out “How will I complete this journey, this long journey, all by myself? No, I’m too tired. I can’t do this any more. Help me, please!”. Deeply troubled with no answer to her constant questions she looked up to the skies, and almost screamed “You are cruel! Mean, heartless!”.

Sonal hoarse whisper must have been louder than she thought, because Rhea suddenly stirred in her sleep, but then, once again cuddled her teddybear tightly and smiled in her sleep. “My angel..” sighed Sonal, composing herself. She could not have Rhea seeing her in this condition.. broken and her spirit bruised. She turned around to watch her daughter’s serene face .. her beautiful mop of curly black hair inherited from Dhruv, her lovely dimpled cheeks, her pink lips curved in a small smile, her plump little arms wrapped tightly around Teddy. “Wonder what she is be dreaming of? It must be something pleasant..Ice-cream, probably. Toys ! Or her Daddy ?”

Sonal took a deep breath, stole one last look at her daughter and changed the tape. “Dus bahane kar ke le gayi dil” lifted her mood and she mustered enough strength to complete her journey back home, just as the setting sun set the roads awash with it golden rays.