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Thursday, April 17, 2014


My Story "Dilemma" Published in the below link:

Rakesh had been in the city for a while and had been Bangalored over the years. He wondered about how Bangalore had changed over the last decade. A beep on his computer drew his attention back to the code that he had been testing.
He had finished his engineering and joined the herd of software engineers spending half his waking time in front of the blue screen.
With the delivery coming up in a week, he had to stay back late and finish some testing. Lack of sleep and a long day were taking their toll on him and to keep himself awake he was alternating between Times News and the testing screen.
Warning from the Bangalore Police Department, as seen in the local newspapers: Miscreants sometimes act as if their car has been broken down and they are seeking your help. When you stop and step out of the car, a gang appears out of nowhere and flees away with your valuables and your vehicle. It’s advisable not to stop the car for any unknown person.
 He saw the system time striking midnight and decided to catch-up with the rest of his work on the next day. He got into the lift and waited impatiently as it descended slowly towards the ground floor.
The moment the lift doors opened, a spine-chilling gust of cold air greeted him. He came to the lobby only to realize that it was extremely cold after the heavy evening showers. His teeth were like a Morse code machine, punching the code into thin air because of the spine chilling breeze. Kittkittkitt. It was pitch dark outside. He could hear the distant growls of the zooming cars and trucks on the Ring Road. Rubbing his hands in an attempt to keep himself warm, he moved to the entrance gate. As the human count on the road became sparse, the canines started patrolling with their tails up. Dogs added the required Indianness to the office landscape. One of them looked inquisitively at him and after a moment joined its pack, which was howling together at a distance. In spite of all the atheism and rationale he was bred in all these years, he was still feeling really uncomfortable with a pack of dogs howling at a distance for no reason. It was a bad omen.
He quickly got into his car and closed the doors. His vehicle came to life and he drove at full speed with everything that his beast had to offer.Heavy metal music added to the required adrenaline rush. He was driving all alone on the Ring Road with no other vehicle in sight. Then he encountered a sight which screamed DANGER! At a distance he saw a man wearing helmet running towards him, who then started frantically waving at his vehicle. He recalled incidents of robbery on the highways and stepped on the accelerator. With his palms sweating and nerves on edge, he accidentally hit the man and sent him falling to the footpath.  He stopped the car and watched for any movement from the injured man. Still skeptical, he kept one foot on the accelerator. The injured man was breathing heavily and trying to hold on to the ground. Then he saw two men approaching in the rear view mirror. The gang had come. He switched off the headlights and zoomed onto the road ahead.
He reached home and realized that he was trembling with fear. He was terrified and his head was spinning recounting the last 30 minutes of his life. He pictured himself being arrested, thrown out of his job and jailed, and all the bad things that would happen to him in jail. Suddenly, the “Kill Bill” whistle ringtone rang and an unknown number flashed on his mobile, interrupting his train of thoughts. He kept staring at the phone with shaky hands wondering who could be calling up so late. He didn’t have the courage to answer and it went dead. It rang again a few more times but he didn’t pick up. Later, with great difficulty, he hit the bed and slept off hoping that he would wake up and realize that all of this was just a bad dream.
 He was jolted out of bed with the familiar ‘Kill Bill’ whistle ringtone. Groggily, he answered the call. The brightness of the room nearly blinded him and he squinted. He jumped out of bed with shock when he heard the news on the phone. He was told that his room mate, Adarsh, had met with an accident.
 When Rakesh reached the hospital, he was taken to Adarsh’s bed where he noticed that Adarsh was under the influence of sedatives and was sleeping. He was numbed when the doctor told him that Adarsh was hit by a car and his legs were badly injured. It would take him a couple of months before he could start walking normally.The doctor also told that they had tried to reach Rakesh on the previous night several times as his number was marked as Adarsh’s emergency contact. Rakesh instantly understood the entire chain of events and stood there listening numb with shock.He wondered why Adarsh had been running towards the car wearing his helmet and would Adarsh know it was him. It was a genuine mistake, wasn’t it? While the war was going on in his head, he noticed Adarsh waking up.
 Rakesh helped him to sit and asked how he was doing and if he needed anything. He told Adarsh everything that the doctor had told about his condition. Adarsh looked devastated and started crying. He asked Adarsh to recount the events of the previous night. He told Rakesh that while riding home, his mobile slipped from his pocket and fell on the road. He parked his bike and ran towards an approaching car asking to stop, to avoid it from running over his mobile. But the driver ran over the mobile and him. He pointed towards the smashed iPhone. Rakesh asked if he saw the driver or the number plate. Adarsh said that due to the blinding headlights, he could not figure out anything. Listening to this, Rakesh was relieved for the moment. He told Adarsh to rest while he brought back some breakfast for him.
 Rakesh got up with a heavy feeling in his head. His heart was filled with too much guilt. He felt like a criminal. Stepping out of Adarsh’s ward, he realized that his legs were no longer supporting his frame anymore. With a heavy heart, he collapsed into a chair at the reception.Thoughts from the previous night, kept flashing before his eyes. He tried hard to shield them and divert his attention but he failed miserably. The thought of Adarsh in crutches broke him and he started sobbing.
Should he confess?
The news on the television interrupted the war inside him. A chirpy news reader was saying: Last night a member of the highway mugger gang was hit by a speeding car on the Ring-Road around midnight. The description of the victim by an eye-witness matched the records of police. The gang fled before the police reached the spot.

Monday, October 28, 2013


“Arey Ananditaji, Aap bhi Kerala ja rahe ho? Bête ke paas?” Parminder Kaur said walking towards Anandita along with her husband; who was waiting in Dumdum airport lounge.  Anandita in a Bengal cotton saree and neatly tied up hair in bun was in deep thoughts looking into nothingness; engrossed in some deeper thoughts, least attentive to Pammi’s pleasantries. Her red and swollen eyes were covered with big sunglasses. No more tears were left in her.
“Kaisa hai Rahul? Suna hai badi tarakki kar raha hai?” She said taking seat next to Anandita.
“Hum bhi Kerala ja rahe hain, backwaters ghoomne, inka LTA benefit use karenge ji. Rahengi na kuch din wahan Rahul ke pass?” asked Pammi pressing her palms.
Slowly Anandita looked to Pammi and said in low voice- “Rahul died last night in a car accident and I am going for his cremation.”
Pammis cheer was replaced with shock as her gaze moved from Anandita to her husband.

Hi Ma, Guess what, our agency has bagged 6 awards apparently. It’s still unofficial. They will be announcing the names at the award ceremony today evening. I am hoping my name will be one of them. Pray for me. I am still wondering what to wear for the party. I know you would like to see me in navy blue blazer but it’s too corporate for me. I don’t know when the party will end, but I’ll try and call you, and hopefully with some good news.

Anandita was greeted with extreme humid weather in Trivandrum. Rahul’s colleague Sanjukta came to pick her from airport.
“How far is the house from here?” asked Anandita looking through the gods own country which didn’t mean anything to her at present.
“Do you want to go to house first?” asked Sanjukta looking up from her mobile.
“We aren’t? Where is he?”
“Actually we didn’t want to take him to the apartment. Housing society objected. They thought it might traumatize the kids there. So, we moved him directly to crematorium from hospital. Everyone has reached; they are all waiting for us.”
“Aunty, this is Mamta, our director.” Sanjukta introduced Anandita to a malyali lady in her early forties.
“I was the one who called you yesterday.” Said Mamta.
She was dark and slightly on a heavier side. She was in black saree and oversized sunglasses covering half her face. They sat there waiting for the electronic cremation to get over. Sanjukta went to check on if it’s done leaving the two ladies to talk.
“Was he sober?” asked Anandita continuing to look into distant trees.
Mamta removed her glasses but didn’t say anything.
“Don’t hide; I can’t scold him now anyways. How much did he actually have?”
“Why do you want to know? Agreed you can’t scold him, you can’t do anything also right? Leave it.”
“Aunty, it’s done.” Sanjukta said handing her the pot of ashes.
Anandita recalled how 25 years back she held Babu for the first time; round face, almost bald head and tiny eyes which were still closed. He was weighing light as feather. This was probably the last time she would hold him but the weight was unbearable; so heavy that she would not be able to carry it.

Mamta offered to drop Anandita at Rahul’s apartment. They stared at passing trees without any exchange of words.
“He was a sweet kid.” Mamta broke the silence still looking outside. “He was a real asset for our group. We all got an instant liking towards him; respectful to seniors and very dedicated towards his work.”
“They have put the date incorrectly. 18th is today.” Said Anandita absently looking at the death certificate issued.
“Let me see.” Said Mamta taking the certificate. “Yes, but it happened at 2:00 AM post-midnight so technically today.”
“Where did it happen? Near KC Road; do you want me to take you there?”
“No! Just wanted to know.”
“We’ll send someone tomorrow to sign the insurance papers as you were the nominee. Is that ok?”
They reached home and Anandita walked in collecting Rahul’s mobile and laptop from Mamta. As Anandita stepped into the apartment…
“We are holding a small condolence meeting tomorrow. We would like you to be there. Of course, if you wish to opt out, we would understand.”
Anandita nodded and went in.

Hi Ma, My new address- 407 Ram Vilas, SP Road. This is the office apartment. I will be shifting to in a week or so. It’s about time I stop living out of suitcase.

She scanned the house recalling the mail. She was glad that he taught her all about emailing before leaving for his first job.

Hello Ma, Today is my 1st day in my office apartment. It’s a huge place. Almost 3 times our Sealdah house. I’m not going to bother sending you any photos. You come and have a look yourself. It’s not as per your taste but nicely done. The house is waiting for your finishing touches. When Ma? When are u going to come?

She changed and sat in the balcony thinking about Babu. Her eyes seemed stony without any expressions.

Hey Ma, there’s lovely breeze here when you sit in balcony. I have got AC installed in one room only for you. You know how much I hate cold. By the way my colleague Sanjukta has helped me do up the place and I hope it’s going to be up to your liking. Come soon.

Was it very cold with all that ice they put around you in the morgue? Must be very cold... whispered Anandita to Rahul’s photo she was holding and tears started rolling uncontrollably.

Next morning Sanjukta came with breakfast for Anandita. They had breakfast together and sipped tea near the table with fish bowl.
“Did he drink too much that day?”
“Yes, normally he didn’t drink that much? With celebrations and all…”
“None of you guys stopped him?”
“No, who wants to kill the joy? Moreover we were also high. Even if we would have asked, would he listen?”
“Why wouldn’t he? After all it was an office party not a private affair? There has to be some decorum, some restrictions. And they just let him drive back home in such inebriated state?”
“No, that’s not true. There were 3 office cars waiting to drop us home. We all got dropped home. He could have also gone. But no, he just refused.”
“Do you know exactly where it happened?”
“Yes, we all went there.”
“Can you drop me there? I want to be there for some time.”
Sanjukta drove Anandita to KC Road where Rahul met with the accident. The iron bars were still bent with broken divider.
“How critical was he when cops called you?”
“Critical, very, but he was still there.”
“What time did the ambulance come?”
“I don’t know. By the time we arrived he was already taken to hospital. Mamta got the news first. She was with him in the ambulance.
“What did he wear that evening?”
“Navy blue blazer. He ordered a new one. I will show you pictures tomorrow.”
“I want to stay here for some time. You carry on. It’s getting late.”
“No ways. I am in no hurry. Take as much time as you need.”
“What was his hurry at 2 in the night? Every time he’s driving at night on empty roads, he has to zip through. I have told him so many times Babu! Go slow, go slow. Ease off. What’s the hurry?” Tears found their way while Anandita spoke.

Anandita reached home and started packing Rahul’s belongings to be taken back to Sealdah. She saw the fish bowl and asked Sanjukta to take it with her as Rahul’s memory.

“No, no, no. Sorry Aunty! I can’t take it. In fact I never liked it. I hate life being caged. Caging everyone, putting them in boxes! You see a beautiful bird and put in in a cage, see colorful fishes and immediately keep it in the aquarium. Nonsense! Why do people have to box everything? Set them free. Let them be what they are.”
Anandita thought, she was right. Babu was free now. She thought how he was used to toddle about the dining room and reach the kitchen to see her cook, waiting anxiously for her to look and throw an endearing smile at him, and when she did, he would chuckle and clap hands singing in his own baby language loudly, and eventually land on his bums. He used to keep repeating the act while she was in the kitchen. And at the end of it, when she was done with her chores, she would hug him and kisses followed and he would sing even louder. Ahh! the joys of the first-born kids; in this case the only kid. The thought of Babu’s childhood brought a subconscious smile on her face.

Sanjukta noticed and asked what it was that got her smile. Anandita looked at her and said, “Nothing just some childhood things of Rahul. All I wanted was to love and protect my son…” said Anandita hugging Sanjukta, tears rolling of her eyes.   
“…and be with him for the rest of my life. He would fade away from our lives and I don’t want that, I want him back. I want to hold my Babu. I want to feed him and scold him when he does mistakes. I want to hold him so tight so that he is never lost again.”
“Before going back, can we go to that KC road again?” Anandita asked wiping her tears.
“Sure, I’ll take you there now and will drop you at airport after that.”
They reached KC Road and found the road to be deserted in the afternoon.
“Hey look they have repaired the railing. Do you remember which 2 bars?” Asked Anandita.
“I think these 1st 2 bars”
“No, No it’s the 2nd two bars I guess.”
“How come Trivandrum Corporation is so prompt in fixing it?
“Maybe they wanted to speed up the closure for us.”

Sealdah: Anandita reached home and wrote to Sanjukta.
Dear Sanjukta,
I have so much in my mind and heart that I don’t know where to begin. You have been such good friends to my son and so kind to me. You have helped me in so many ways, to help me know my son better. I had come there to collect my son’s belongings. What I found was much larger. He has left so much of himself with you all that it cannot be packed away and so much of me also in the process. I’m sending enclosed some pictures of you and Rahul as his remembrance to you. When Babu’s father passed away five years back, I thought it was the worst day of my life, as f nothing worse can ever happen.  Then, this day! I have survived his father’s absence but the void created is still there. Now, Babu has deepened it further. But I have his emails and pictures which I didn’t have of his fathers.
With lots of love and hugs.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Media Gimmick

Trrriinnngggg… my mobile started blaring enthusiastically in an effort to get me out of bed. Groggily I grazed my hand on the bed hunting for the source of sound. Finding it hidden under pillow, I killed it and tucked myself deeper in the sheets.
“It’s already eight o’clock. You better get up if you want to reach office on time on your first day.” My mother shouted from kitchen flipping the parathas.
“Eight O’clock!” I jumped out hearing that as if I had been electrocuted. I can’t mess up on the first day of joining. My dream job to join India’s biggest news channel Planet Plus had finally come true. I got ready within no time. Stuffing one paratha, I ran. By the time I reached office I witnessed a commotion on the floor and people were running towards the farthest room.
“Team!” The chief editor of Planet Plus, Subhash barked. “Get into the conference room right now. We got breaking news and I want us to be the first one to cover the story.”
I joined the mob running towards the conference room with their notepads and pens. Everyone wondered what could be so important news. Had there been another terror attack or corruption? I wondered.
“What’s his problem first thing in the morning yaar? I am still not fully awake.” said Sumit to Neha.
“I guess Telangana state formation had been declared; In which case, I have a nice caption for front page headline- India delivers at 66. What do you think?” asked Neha patting Sumit.
“Nice! I am sure it has to be that news. Let’s go fast else he will start biting.”
The small but neatly decorated conference room was full and everyone tried to the grab the available seat. The big oval table in the center was facing 2 large TVs on opposite walls. Everyone was guessing what could be the sensational news while waiting for Subhash to wrap-up his call and disclose. Almost three-fourth was betting on Telangana state formation while minority split was on corruption, political scandal or death of a country’s high profile personality.
“Guys!” Everyone went quiet and gave attention to Subhash. “There had been a gang-rape near Saket mall. Couple of hours back a girl had been raped and brutally injured. She had been rushed to AIIMS. I want you to be in the field right away and get it on air before any other channel.”
Part of me got excited to be part of high profile news on day one. While the other felt bad for the victim.
“Why is this rape such a big issue? Every 10-15 minutes there’s a rape in India. We can cover a small article like every other rapes that we publish.” interrupted Sumit.
“Couple of points Sumit; firstly it happened in the country’s capital, which questions the safety of women across the country. Secondly, it’s very gruesome. The rapists have cut off the breasts of the victim.” Everyone cringed the moment they heard it. “Lastly, as opposition is supporting our media group, they want this issue to be sensationalized to get some political mileage for the upcoming elections.”
Subhash continued “Our papers have already covered the basic details on front page but I want a complete story by mid-day. Sumit, I want you to take your team to the hospital and cover it LIVE from hospital. Talk to the parents, friends, relatives, school/college teachers, neighbors anyone whom you can get in touch with. Dig into her personal life and I want a complete coverage by 5:00 PM. importantly, check what her character was…”
“But sir, her character... Don’t you think we should be sensitive?” interrupted Sumit.
“See, as reporters it’s our moral responsibility to show facts without bias. So, get there fast and report back. Hold the character details for time-being; we’ll decide how to use it depending on the situation in coming days.”
I was listening intently as the drama was unfolding. As a new joinee I was experiencing how a newsroom works at the backend. I was aware that politicians back media and news channels but now I was going to be part of this circus.
“Yes Sir.” Saying this Sumit left the room.
“Neha, get a quote from Amitabh Bachchan, SRK and Sridevi and keep the ticker rolling with the news.”
“Don’t you think we should get Salman and Aamir instead of Sridevi?” said Neha excitedly.
“Neha! I don’t care what those 2 khans think. I want Sridevi! She has 2 daughters and she is back with a big bang. She is everywhere starting from movie openings to Vogue. SRK and Big B have daughter and grand-daughter so public would be interested to know their reactions. Don’t waste time on bachelors and stars with boys. Instead get a quote from Kareena, Deepika and Priyanka. Also get quotes from Shobha De; see if she can get you something interesting.”
“Understood sir! We need sensational news.” Saying this Neha got up to leave the room.
“Neha! See if you can get some debatable statements from Rakhi Sawant or Mallika Sherawat also.” Subhash said winking at Neha.
She smiled “I will” and left the room.
My mind wondered how Subhash, who lectured Sumit on moral responsibility a minute back, had asked Neha to get dramatic news. I was not able to decide what was the driving factor- money, power or morality?
Subhash scanned the room and looked at Abhishek. “Abhi, I want you to get in touch with the Home Minister, the CM and some opposition leaders for their quotes.”
“Yes Sir,” said Abhishek. I’ll go to the parliament. It is in session today, I can get hold of most of the ministers there.”
“Abhishek, how long you have been working?” Subhash said exasperated. “Even an uneducated villager knows that they don’t attend the sessions. Check with their PAs and see where they are and get their quotes.”
Abhi didn’t say anything and left the room sheepishly.
“Murli and Sunita, I want you to get quotes from IT workers and college students and teachers. Get footage of some girls in skirts or minis and some in salwar kameez/saree. Try to dramatize while talking to them. Understood?”
“Got it sir.”
“Raghu, I want you to go to the tourist spots and get quotes and feelers from foreigners. Ask them their experiences specially women traveling alone. Ignore the nice climate and hospitality part. Review your tape with me before rolling. I also want you to identify 2 freelance foreign writers. One needs to write about worse experience with molestations, groping she faced in India. The other needs to contradict that and portray wonderful experience. Release both articles with a gap of 2 to 3 days. That will fuel debates across the country. Out you go.”
“Samar, you have two things to do. First I want you to create a Facebook page demanding justice. It should demand capital punishment. Push it through all the social circles and advertisers. I want at least 50 thousand hits/likes before prime time. Ensure you do it from some local internet cafe and it should not be traced to us.”
“I’ll get Arun to get some comic strips also rolled out.” Added Samar pointing to Arun.
“Sounds good; do that. Secondly, get the rape statistics across the world, country and states. Also try and get India’s ranking with respect to safety of women in the world. Ensure that the states where Normal Aadmi Party (NAP) is ruling, the numbers need to look low compared to Social Janta Party (SJP).”
“But sir, we can’t tweak the numbers! We are supposed to show the facts!”
“Samar, fuck the facts. You don’t get paid for facts and no-one is going to validate them anyways. TRPs gets you your paycheck on time and this is our chance to get that. We need to beat AbTak News Channel this quarter. Show me the figures before relaying.”
“Arnab, I want you to take up this issue in today’s prime time debate.”
“But sir, we have the telecom corruption debate scheduled today.”
“Postpone that and apologize to the guests.”
“Ok, who all do you want for debate?”
“Try to get the CM or Home Minister from the ruling party. I want you to get Shruti Irani and Grishma Swaraj from opposition. Their high pitch screaming will make it interesting. Also ask Jalebi Devi to join.”
“But sir, she can’t speak English and our debate is in English.”
“That’s exactly why I want her; she is from the ruling party and will be the comic factor for the show.” Subhash said giggling.
“Sir we can also call Mamta Rani from the ‘Society For Woman’ (SOW) NGO. She is also a very aggressive lady.”
“No! No! Not her. Their NGO is sponsored by SJP. We need Prabhavati Devi from AIAMA (All India Anti Male Association). Their NGO is sponsored by NAP and she literally shouts her guts out. Check out where she is and if she is available.”
“Got it sir.” Saying Arnab left to prepare for his debate.
My mind was boggled with too much information in a national news channel office. I was witnessing the news creation process.
“Rest; please continue with your stories and prioritize this one if anything comes up.” Subhash looked at me and asked me to follow him.
“Namit, I want you to do 2000 words on this issue and run it through editor. This needs to be done by evening so that it can go in tomorrow’s morning print. I’ll sit with you for briefing later this week.”
I left to cough my 2000 words, when Arnab rushed to Subhash with terrified look- “Sir, Prabhavati Devi cannot make it to the debate!”
‘Don’t worry; I’ll talk to minister Patil. You carry on.”
Subhash rushed to his room and dialed Ramanand Patil, NAP’s party leader. “Sir, all arrangements are done as discussed. We need one help from you. We wanted Prabhavati Devi to attend today’s debate but looks like she cannot make it.” Pause. “No problem sir, we can patch her from her residence. Thank you Sir.”
At Ramanand’s Residence- Ramanand dialed Prabhavatis personal number…
“Hello Prabha.”
“Hi Patilji. How are you?”
“All that is fine, I want you to attend the debate at Planet Plus primetime tonight.”
“Anything you say. Now tell me when are we meeting? My husband is out of town for 2 days. Shall I come to the guest house after the debate?”
‘No! Not today. Meet me after tomorrow’s Woman’s Welfare Meeting.”
“Okay! Bye.”
In the channel headquarters Subhash and Arnab were happy that Prabhavati agreed to join the debate. My story was going nowhere with the chaos and running around in the office. I was getting distracted every few minutes with the TV wall where atleast a dozen TVs were hanging tuned into every major news channel. Every correspondent was talking the same issue and I was able to spot Sanjay from AbTak news channel broadcasting LIVE from the hospital.
Sanjay: "Aaiye hum aap ko le chalte hai AIIMS ke hospital pe jahan humaare samvaad daata deepak chaurasia maujood hai."
"haan Deepak kya aap hamey sun sakte hai?" (Deepak is on screen and he is as blank as Laloo's 10th board answer sheet)
"Deepak aapko humaari awaaz aa rahee hai?" 
Deepak: "haan Sanjay boliye" (People behind Deepak desperate to come on TV were waving as if stranded on an island for ages and trying to signal a far off ship in sight)
"Deepak, Is waqt wahan Abhaya ki tabiyat kaisi hai? kya mahaul hai iss waqt wahaa par?" 
Deepak: “Abhi hum AIIMS mein Abhaya ke room ke saamne khade hain aur aapko bataa dein ki AbTak pehla channel hai jo ye khabar aap tak la raha hai. Sanjay jaisa ki hum sab ko pataa hai aaj subah Bharat ki Rajdhaani Dilli mein 4 yuvakon ne milkar Abahya ka saamuhik balatkar kiya aur uske stan kaat diye. Subah se yahan saare news channel waalon ka taanta laga hua hai…”
Sanjay: Ye batayiye ki kya Abhaya ko dard ho raha hai? Use kaisa mehsoos ho raha hai?”
I turned back and came to my desk hearing to the absurd questions that were being asked and broadcasted on a national news channel. I found this more disturbing than the rape itself. Every channel continued to show some or the other irrational and irresponsible piece of information- starting from woman’s dressing to eating habits, makeup to talking on cell phones, working late nights to boy-friends, Influence by Bollywood item numbers to foreign culture and Internet. Surprisingly, none of the news channels showed the rapists pictures or upbringing of boys while the victims’ photo was pasted on the screen all the time.
Finally the day came to an end and I left office contemplating my decision to join as journalist. Sitting in the taxi, I reflected back on my day. One peep into the national news channels working day has completely changed my views about everything in life. Everything looked questionable. Is anything real or just hype created by media for selfish reasons? While engrossed in the thoughts, a little girl started tapping the window pane trying to sell some magazines. Her tiny body and saucer eyes made her resemble the classic poster girl for poverty. She tapped on the window of my taxi and said, “Ek magazine lelo saab.’’ She was shivering as she sold the magazines to motorists, most of whom shooed her away. She possibly didn’t know about today’s incident, but she knew that she would make some extra rupees by selling few magazines till late night. And that made her happy! For the little girl, those few extra rupees would translate into extra bread for dinner. She would probably never get to see the inside of a pucca house. For her, the blue plastic sheets have to suffice. When she is a little older, her life will change. The day is not far when she will be raped in some alley and no-one would bother to question. From selling magazines, she may end up selling her body. Like so many others who survive on metro’s mean streets, turning tricks, hustling, peddling drugs. Her bright eyes and cheerful smile will be replaced by a hard, stony expression and a twisted mouth. But chances are she will still be working on the same street, ducking into the back seat of an auto rickshaw to satisfy customers looking for a monsoon quickie. Try telling her Mera Bharat Mahan. She might just punch you!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Last Supper

“Stop running your fingers through my neckline, its tickling.” said Shikha giggling.
“Sorry love, but it’s what I’m meant to do. It’s called passion. We’re in love.” Rohit said pulling Shikha closer to him.
“Passion! Love! I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. By the way, we are there.” She said as the car screeched to a halt at the entrance of the restaurant.

Rohit got down and tossed the keys to the valet attendant. He walked around to the passenger seat and escorted out Shikha. Both of them walked into the restaurant, unaware of the black car which stopped on the other side of the road.

Rohit led Shikha to the lobby and asked her to get settled while he got a call. Shikha was escorted to their usual corner table overseeing the moving traffic outside. It was a perfect weather for a romantic dinner. She settled in her chair and started staring at Rohit who was on call on the other end of the room. Rohit was a successful businessman’s son and a certified playboy. He was in a dark leather jacket standing at 6 feet. She could not ignore how handsome he was with the stubble-wrapped jawline. His spiked hair and boyish charm was making him even more endearing. He saw her staring and tossed a flying kiss to her. She blushed and started wondering- Is it going to be today? Is this going to be his last supper? She has been putting away the task from past three days. It has to be done soon before someone gets to see them together and she became a suspect. She fiddled through and found the glass vial marked poison in the secret chamber of her purse. She was told that it was king of poisons for its discreteness and potency- it was virtually undetectable.

On the other end of the room Rohit was speaking to Tony- his loyal man. He was listening attentively and processing all the information being provided. He air-kissed her and she blushed. He wondered how stunning she looked in that flowing blue dress. Her long unending legs were to die for. He wondered how this is going to end. He pressed against his side pocket to make sure his revolver is firmly fastened. He ended the call and knew what to do.

Rohit came back, kissed her gently and took the seat next to her. They held hands and started talking when the waiter came with 2 glasses of wine. They ordered and got into their usual conversation. Rohit told Shikha how much he loved her and passed on a small package. The gift had a card which said- “For the love of my life”.

Clasping her hands like a child she said- “Wow! All my favorites are right here, you, the wine and the surprise gift is perfect.” She told him with a giggle. She slid the satin ribbon and opened the package to see a beautiful bracelet shining at her. Her face lit up like a 4 year old toddler looking at her mother at the end of the school. She kept staring at it while Rohit got up and offered to place the bracelet on her hand. She obliged and they kissed.

The man on the other side of the road was watching all the action unfolding through his binoculars. He gazed at the couple from distance. His eyes seem cold and steely. He took a flask out of his jacket and gulped a big swig of rum and waited patiently. He reached to the dashboard and took out his 0.22 revolver. He double checked it to be loaded and started fitting the silencer. He was all set and was waiting for their last supper to end.

Meanwhile at the corner table in the restaurant love was blooming. Shikha tilted her head slightly and asked- “So how many girls did you bring to this place?”
“Many but none was like today.” He said equally cocking his head.
“What’s so special about today?”
“It’s special today because I am in the presence of my true love.”
She wondered how many times the line was used. “True Love, hmm? What’s that?”
“hmm…True love is one soul’s reflection in another.”
“Wow!!That’s really cheesy, but it works for me.”
Shikha thought expensive gifts and such make believe cheesy lines are what girls are falling for. But she had to admit he has got those good looks and confidence to turn girls to him.
“So are you saying I am your true love? You are lying and liars go straight to hell.” Though she knew there were stronger reasons for him to go to hell.
“If you promise to be with me, I am ready to go anywhere. But let’s finish our dinner; and then I will take you to heaven.”
He gave a devilish grin squeezing her palm and thought, enjoy your last supper sweetheart.

Shikha teased and excused herself to the ladies room leaving Rohit alone.
Rohit was a 30-year old who fitted the bill of a rich spoilt brat perfectly. He was Ambadas’s only son and his reputation of Casanova preceded him. He was very charming and had the charisma to make the girls swoon over him. When Shikha left the table he wondered what she might be up to. The conversation with Tony flashed back in his mind.
“Sir, she is Mia’s elder sister and has been enquiring about you since her death.” Rohit always had the habit to get a background check of his dates and Tony was his guy to rely on.
Rohit thought what Shikha might be up to. Does she want to talk about Mia? Does she know about Mia’s pregnancy? Does she think he was responsible for her death? He was not able to figure out her intentions. Come what may, he was ready to face her and all her interrogation but will wait for her to initiate it.

As Shikha left the table, she felt her heart was pounding so hard that it would explode out of her chest’ chamber walls. She went into the ladies room and took a deep breath. When she looked up she not only faced herself in the mirror but her fears also. She seemed nervous thinking of what she was going to do. Her last interaction with her sister- Mia came flooding.

Few months back…

It was late that night when she called which was not normal on Mia’s part.
As soon as she picked the call, Mia told in a panicky voice- “Shikha, I got to tell you something and need you standby me.”
“What happened? Are you alright?”
“I am pregnant and just got to know today. I am very scared.”
“Chotu! What are you saying? Who is it?” Shikha knew it was not the time to scream and give her lessons on morality.
“It’s Rohit. We have been seeing each other for some time now.”
“Rohit, who? Did you tell him? What did he say?”
“He is very nice guy dids. He is Amba Textiles Company owner’s son. Today after the tests, I met and told him. He was very happy and asked me to marry. He will be speaking to his parents today and he wants me to meet them tomorrow.”
“Mia, everything is happening so fast and I don’t know anything about this Rohit guy. Somehow I feel something is wrong.”
“Ufff oh Didi !!! Don’t get paranoid. He is really sweet and tomorrow I’m going to get him to your place in the evening.”
“Yeah, please do that. We need to talk and also I need to meet your Rohit also. I’m so happy for you chotu”
“I Love you Dids. Catch you tomorrow”
“Love you too. Take care Good night.”
Shikha was experiencing the complete spectrum of feelings at the same time. She wished her parents were alive today to handle the crisis. At the same time she knew she had to be strong to let chotu sail through with ease. Finally after lot of agitated rounds of the room, she thought of holding her calm till she meets Rohit next day. Strange dreams kept her awake all night.

Next day Shikha woke up to the call of Mia’s suicide. She was shattered and it didn’t take her long to figure out that it was not a suicide. Her chotu was not brave enough to bleed herself to death. But she didn’t have anything to prove and decided to solve the mystery herself. She enquired all of chotu’s friends of any possible leads but it was not going anywhere. Finally she thought probably she has to get it from Rohit himself; But how? He won’t admit to the heinous crime. But does she need him to approve? Who else could gain from Mia’s death? She knew that she doesn’t need any proof because deep within she knows that it’s Rohit and he has to pay for it.
Flushing sound from the stall behind broke her train of thoughts. She fiddled through her purse again and left the washroom.
Rohit looked nervous when Shikha returned back to the table. Their meal arrived. Shikha noticed that Rohit was poking his steak without eating much. She placed her hand on his and asked- “What happened? Why did you get quiet all of a sudden?”
Rohit didn’t say much, but he could feel the sudden tension building between them.
He continued eating. Shikha noticed he seemed absent minded at the moment and this could be her moment.
She needed a diversion. She opened her purse and let it fall from her lap making all the contents spread around. “Shit, how clumsy am I, I am so sorry.”
Rohit offered to pick-up which is what she was expecting.
As Rohit got down collecting all the scattered stuff, she plunged and dropped few drops from the vial into his wine glass. The mute lights and corner seat made it easy for her. It’s done.

She thanked him and they continued eating. She finally did it. She overcame her fear and avenged her sister. Now, it’s just a matter of time. She waited so long but these few minutes seem like ages.

After what seemed like centuries he finished his drink and they were ready to leave. She had a satisfied look on her face. Mia would be happy where ever she is. Her death has been avenged. They finished their meal and got up to leave. Rohit and Shikha came out of the restaurant and waited for the valet to get his car. They got in and left. The black car from the other side of the road also left tailing them.
She was wondering how long it’s going to take for the effect when he complained of severe stomach ache. He stopped the car on the deserted road. He got down and tried to throw-up when the black car chasing them came to halt behind theirs. Shikha got down the car and before she could reach to Rohit, the man got down from the car and shot her in the head. She flew back and dropped dead. Rohit didn’t know what to do and took out his revolver but he was too weak to do anything and he fainted.

The man dialed a number and waited for it to be answered. The moment the call was picked he narrated everything that happened. Tony screamed and asked the man to rush Rohit to the hospital immediately. He picked Rohit and rushed to the hospital. The doctors declared Rohit dead on arrival. Tony reached hospital as soon as he disconnected the call. He was a loyal person to Rohit but only after Ambadas. He had been giving all updates of Rohit to Ambadas. He was the one who killed Mia on Ambadas’s order to uphold the family prestige. He has arranged to kill Shikha also but he was late this time. He dialed Ambadas and the line went dead on hearing Rohits death.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

If Only Trees Could Speak

Anita stood in front of the mirror and watched herself before gliding fingers through her dark flowing hair. She admired what she was seeing. And then she spotted the new grayness that started budding up in her sideburns. It was not there few days back. Anita realized she was getting old. She grabbed the chair and sat in front of the mirror applying eyeliner to her eyes. She bent forward and took a closer look at the mark on her right eyebrow. It has been more than 8 years since the incident but the gash was still there reminding her of that dreadful night. She suddenly felt her stomach churning loudly. She seized her tummy and slide down on the floor. It’s happening again. All her memories were emerging back from the darkest corners of her mind where she thought they have been locked. She gasped for breath. She held the sill of the window and stood up inhaling the freshness of the garden. Weakly she scanned the beautiful garden in her front yard but her eyes glued to the jasmine tree which never bloomed in past 8 years. Her thoughts came flooding.

8 years earlier…

“Congratulations, you are pregnant and all your reports look normal. You just have to keep eating healthy and have sufficient sleep.” The doctors’ voice echoed in her head as she entered the house with a big smile on her face. They have just shifted to their new house on the outskirts of the city. Her complaint of sparse population and no neighbors around were ignored by her husband- Ravi. But she ensured that the boundary walls were high enough with barbed wires for her safety. She got inside and lit some essence sticks in front of the deity thanking for the good news.
Ravi was on his way from his business trip and she can’t wait for him to hear the news. She went into the kitchen and started making preparations for the special rice pudding her mother had taught her. She was totally charged up and was waiting eagerly for the clock to strike 8 PM. She finished mundane household chores and waited for Ravi to get home. Finally the clock chimed 8 PM. She was elated; Ravi would be home any moment now. Anita checked herself in the mirror again and made sure she looked her best. She went near the window and excitedly waited for the gates to creek open. The hands on the clock seem to be moving faster than usual. It was half past 8 now and there’s been still no sign of Ravi. She was still standing at the window with her eyes racing between the clock and the gate. She was feeling agitated and started pacing the living room. Her pacing was interrupted with the loud clang of clock banging 9 times. She got into the chair near the window and kept staring at the gates. All kind of negative thoughts were making her more restless. She started cracking her knuckles nervously when she heard the gates open. She was relieved and rushed out.

Anita noticed that Ravi was drunk and hardly able to walk straight. She rushed towards him and tried to support him on her shoulders. She was horrified to see his bruised arms and clotted blood on the forehead. Slowly she took him into the house and put him in the sofa. She rushed and got some Dettol to clean the wounds. “What happened to you? Why are you so drunk? How did you get injured? Did you get into a brawl in some bar or were you attacked by someone?” She started shooting a volley of questions breathlessly. He didn’t reply to any of her questions and tried to get-up. She held his hand but he pushed her away and started going, mumbling something which she could not make out. He started climbing the stairs to go to the bedroom. She ran and supported him lest he slipped. He pushed her aside again and yelled- “I don’t need you. Get away from me.” She stood there looking at him with tearful eyes. She couldn’t understand what’s wrong with him?

She followed him and went and tried to speak to him. “Ravi, what happened? Tell me please” he looked at her and handed her an envelope. Anita was not sure what it was. She opened the envelope with trembling hands to find her pictures with Sameer.

Sameer was Ravi’s friend and a bachelor staying alone. He used to be a regular visitor to their place for dinners. Ravi’s marketing job kept him out of town all the time and Anita was left alone.
Anita started finding company and comfort in Ravi’s absence. His constant travels and lack of companionship she expected got her closer to Sameer eventually. It’s been sometime they have developed a connection and their love had bloomed. Ravi was unaware of all this development and never suspected either of them.

She didn’t know how to react or what to say. She stood there motionless trying to figure out what’s going on in Ravi’s mind. She put her hand on his shoulder and said- “Ravi, let me explain.” Ravi removed her hand from his shoulder and slapped her. She fell on the table nearby and her eyebrow started bleeding. He picked her and held her shoulders and asked- “How could you do this to me? I loved you so much.”
He pulled her closer into tight grip and held her throat- “I can’t live with you anymore. It’s over between us.” She was feeling the grip tightening, gasping for breath. When she could not take any more, she pushed him aside and moved back panting. Ravi, in his drunken state lost control and tumbled down the stairs.

Anita ran down screaming- “Raviiii…” but it was too late. His skull smashed open and blood pool was growing with every passing second. She was horrified looking at the scene in front of her. After few minutes which felt like ages, she realized what she had to do. So, she dialed the number and waited with a baited breath for the call to be answered.
“Hello, this is Sameer speaking; who is it?” The voice from the other end echoed. She said- “Sameer come home urgently. Don’t ask anything, just come home NOW.”
“Ok, but tell me what happened? Are you okay? Did you and Ravi have a fight?” He asked realizing her chocked voice over the phone.
She told “I can’t speak over the phone. Please come home immediately.”
“Don’t worry, I am coming right away” He said realizing the panic in her voice.
Sameer reached Ravi’s place and was stunned to witness the scene. He saw Ravi in the puddle of blood lifeless. Anita was on the other end of the room in a shocked state sitting still looking at the body. Sameer entered home and closed the door. He went to Anita and hugged her as she broke in his arms. He tried to console her and told her that he had a fight with Ravi at his place. Anita narrated everything that happened and how Ravi fell to his death. Anita was trembling with fear and could hardly form complete sentences. Sameer was equally worried thinking what to do next? How can this be explained to everyone? Who would believe their innocence if people get to know that Anita and he were having an affair?

Sameer agitatedly started marching in the living room while Anita was hysterically blabbering something in a state of shock. The banging of clock jolted them to the reality. Sameer rushed to the garage and on his way back saw that the street was totally deserted at that hour of night. Few canines were patrolling the street with their tails held high. He got the shovel and started digging ground in the garden. Anita understood what’s happening. When the hole was sufficient enough they checked the roads again. The canines seem to have lost interest in the deserted street and left but their howling could be heard from distance. They went inside and picked Ravi’s body and dumped him in the garden. Sameer leveled the ground while Anita was keeping a watch on the street for any human movement. By midnight they were done with the garden work. They went inside and started mopping and cleaning the living room. By the time they cleaned everything it was well past midnight and they were exhausted.

They went upstairs and took shower together. Anita was still in a state of shock and Sameer was also fatigued. They came out and got into the bed together. They laid there without speaking anything for long time. Anita broke the silence- “I’m pregnant.” Sameer was pleasantly surprised and kissed her. To keep her mind away from all that happened, he asked what the doctor said. They spoke about the probable names and possibility of it being a boy or a girl. Suddenly Anita got up and sat. She turned to him and asked “what do I say when people ask about Ravi? “

Sameer thought for a while and then told her “Don’t worry about anything. Since you moved recently no-one would notice him missing. Don’t say anything to anyone. In-case, anyone enquires, tell them you got divorced. Moreover he doesn’t have any close relatives’ so, no-one would enquire.”
Anita felt little skeptical but thought the idea might work because there were no intrusive neighbors around.
Sameer added, “After sometime we can get married.”
Anita nodded consenting to the plan and they discussed whole night trying to fill any possible gaps in the story. Sameer left home before dawn.

Later around mid-day he went to a nursery and brought grass sod and rushed to Anita’s house. There they laid the new grass sods across the fresh dugout area carefully and watered it. High fence and lack of visitors helped them. He also got a jasmine plant and planted it there.

In the next few days the story of Anitas divorce and second wedding flew across her friends like a wild fire. Even though some might have suspected something to be wrong, no-one bothered enough to probe the issue. It had been now eight years since the jasmine shrub was planted but it never blossomed. Anita thought if only trees could speak what would the jasmine tree say?