The mall was full of scrambling people, as always. So many faces, so many shops.
So what were the odds of me bumping into her in that very shop, in that very moment?
“Hey!” she screamed. But in a calm way. “Hi! How are you?”
“I’m alright,” I managed, not so calm. “It’s, uh, it’s good to see you. Shopping?”
“Nah. Just checking out boys.”
I opened my mouth to speak but closed them quickly. There was a knowing smirk in her face. I laughed, rubbing the back of my head. “I’m just going to believe you didn’t mean a satire.”
“I did not.” Her dramatic tone said otherwise. “So. Where have you been these days? What are you up to?”
“I’m, uh, I’m just… hanging in there, you know?”
“Mm-hmm, I know. I know all about those.”
“And you?” I said. “Did you land that bank job, by the way?”
“I did,” she nodded, not so excited. “It lasted for exactly eight months.”
“Why?” I wasn’t one bit interested in knowing why she could not continue her dream job for more than eight months, but I was afraid of the awkward silence.
She began explaining about something to do with her career plans and then about her passion and then a hefty argument about how passion and career were two different things not to be mixed. Textbook stuff, really.
“Do you think I shouldn’t have quit the job?” she said.
I snapped. “Huh? Oh.” The fuck would I know. “Are you happy?”
She made a thinking face. It suited her well. She was a smart woman, and the last thing she needed was my wisdom. Perhaps she too was afraid of that silence. “Hmm. Not any more than I was before.” She shrugged. “But I do get time for a plenty of mall visits!”
“And isn’t it all that matters?” I made a dramatic arc in air with my hand.
Ah, and finally it was there. The part I dreaded the most. That awkward silence.
She watched my face. I mean really watched. Like there was no pressure on her mind to bring up something to talk. Like it was just okay to stand and stare at each other. Like it didn’t spark any old memories. Like she didn’t care.
My mind, on the other hand, was doing thousands of computations, trying to come up with anything smart to say. The mall is exceptionally well-lit today. Was that stall here a few days ago? Don’t you think the babies shouldn’t be allowed in here?
“How’s your husband?” Oh, great. “I mean… how he’s doing? Not, uh, not how he is.”
She smiled. “He’s good.” She shook her head as if to say ‘meh’. “He’s all right, actually. He says marrying me has been, um, really painful. Worst decision.” She forced a few extra nods at the end of that statement.
I let out a snort. “You always have the right things to say.”
She feigned a bow. Then a moment of silence later, said, “I miss you. Well, sometimes. Can’t we be like this… again?”
I didn’t bother thinking about it. I had done it enough. “No.”
She nodded. I knew she understood that. Ever so practical, the two of us. Too practical, some would say.
“So,” she said, smiling a sad smile for the first time. “I guess I’ll run into you some place else then?”
“I look forward to it.”
Just before the dawn broke on one of the longest April nights, Kishore had arrived at the temple to open its holy doors. He stepped in as usual, bowing before the gods, and went about performing his daily chores.
First, he swept the floor, and mopped it clean with a soft piece of satin cloth. Then he wiped every idols and statues – removing the stains of tika and decaying flowers offered by devotees the day before. He also bathed every God with the holy water, collected freshly from the nearby river, and rubbed them dry till they shone.
All this he did with utmost passion and devotion, humming all the while the holy chants in praise of God, in praise of Creation and in praise of purity and goodness of the universe. Finally, it was time for the formal worshiping ritual. He offered the gods fresh tika, flowers, water, and then recited the devotional mantra, a prayer for the grace of the God.
After all this had been completed, he stepped outside the temple and walked toward the outer gate, to a small area where a goat had been tied to a post.
He untied the animal and almost dragged it to the temple doors. One could see, if one chose to see, that the beast seemed quite upset to be separated from the lush, juicy grass it had been chewing away idly.
Two more people joined Kishore at the temple door, who helped him hold the goat in place, making sure there was limited movement.
He put some tika on the goat’s forehead and bestowed upon it some fragrant flowers. Then out came a large scimitar, and Kishore duly worshipped the killer knife as well, repeating the process of putting tika and flowers, and reciting the mantra — the holy ritual of purification!
Once it was done, Kishore raised the sharp metal high above him, and brought it down heavy, putting his entire weight behind it, on the goat’s neck. It took him two attempts to completely decapitate the animal.
He sprayed the blood all over the Goddess who loomed large above all other idols, and handed over the carcass to his two assistants. What they did with it was no longer his concern.
For all the worshiping and rituals of purification that went down that morning, one would wonder what part was meant for the cleansing of the taint on humanity.
Don’t Talk to Strangers
Mom says to not talk to strangers. She doesn’t want her little girl anywhere near them.
Maybe that’s why we live in a poorer, isolated part of the town. Mom says it suits us well. Behind an old Hospice, shut down years ago, we live in a small group. Us, Mom’s few friends, and their few children — the only people I’m allowed to befriend.
But what I really long for is to get to know the strangers out there. That girl who jogs every morning around the park next to the Hospice, that boy crossing the street with earphones plugged in his ear, that driver honking helplessly at the cow that won’t move an inch.
I wonder what it’s like to be among them.
Frankly, I am bored with this life Mom has chosen for me.
Don’t go there. Don’t come here. Don’t talk to him. Don’t disturb him!
It’s like she doesn’t want me to be close to anyone but herself!
So one night, when I saw this young man, smoking away a cigarette by himself on the park-bench, I knew I had my one chance. Mom was at work, night-shift as always, so sneaking out wasn’t a problem.
I walked up to him, silently, afraid he would consider my approach as insolence. I extended my arm to reach out and paused. Will he scream at me? Shoo me away? Complain to Mom?
I let out a breath to calm myself and placed a hand on his shoulder.
He looked back slowly, first turning to my hand on his shoulder, then around at me. He stared at me indifferently, one eyebrow raised.
Then he looked up ahead, back to enjoying his cigarette.
I wondered if his mother as well told him to not talk to strangers.”Sorry to disturb, sir.”
The man paused, and turned around. This time, looking right through me.
I was hurt. Yes, I didn’t look as good as he. I was dirty and badly dressed. But that was no way to treat me!
Tears rolled down my cheek. I’d never felt so sad in my life. “You don’t have to be mean,” I said, sobbing. “Just wanted to talk.” Before long, I was wailing like a dog right in the middle of the park.
“What the fuck!” The man now jumped, mad eyes turning all around. All around except at me.
I wanted to disappear. Right into Mom’s arms.
“Mom was right,” I screamed, running away. “Mom was right!”
As I watched around my room, silent and tranquil, it struck me for the first time that I’d perhaps won the war over the cockroaches.
The battle began three days ago, with a single spray of a bottled pesticide. Soon after, the roaches had begun coming out from the hiding, in numbers I never imagined possible. Showing up beside my bedside, my bookshelf, my work desk, and at every nooks and corners of the apartment. And I would go running around with the spray and a broomstick like a lunatic, but it would never be enough. Every half-an-hour or so, a gang of them would crawl out, as if swapping one hide-out for the other, going right beneath my feet, teasing me.
I could have stopped it all, you know. When the first wave of invaders had just begun showing up, when they were few and fragile.
But I’d chosen to do nothing. I wasn’t much at home – I left early and came back late in the night from work, only to have a good night’s sleep. So I didn’t care if a few cockroaches roamed my kitchen – a kitchen that I barely used. I imagined myself to be this good-hearted but crazed philosopher type, who meant well even for the pest infecting his home. Awwww. And I felt quite happy about it.
But the matters had quickly escalated from then on.
The bloody pests had begun taking advantage of the liberty and hospitality I offered. Lately, they had stopped even being scared, and would come out from their hiding at any hours, nibbling away at my food or climbing onto my body while I slept – one of them even tried to chew on me one night. Guess, I didn’t make for a good dinner, and it left me alone with only a nasty wound.
Perhaps, it was their way of showing appreciation, I wouldn’t know, but it frightened the hell out of me.
Consequently, I raised the war. I sat with a broomstick beside me, at all times, and squashed up the petty insects every time they dared approach me. And I sprayed the hell out of them from each of their dark corners and secret hide-outs. Then I gathered all of them together, and I watched them burn.
But now as I watch them writhe in the toxic air I sprayed all over them, and listen to their body cringe and creak in the heat, (and with a deep satisfaction in my heart as well!) I can’t help but feel like a sadist.
See, it wasn’t their fault entirely. It wasn’t like they had entered my home without my knowledge. They made it abundantly clear that they had come. But I had chosen to do nothing. Then, perhaps thinking that I was totally cool with this, they had begun raising their families, building homes, and had finally found a life for themselves in my little apartment.
Come to think of it, they had been living there more than me. No doubt, the next generation of them must have been totally convinced that it actually was their home, and I was the hostile invader who showed up at odd hours of the night with a broomstick and a funny scream.
Made for Each Other
Jiten placed his tongue on the gap left by his missing front tooth and tasted salty blood. He spit it out on the sink and looked up in the mirror at his dark eye patch, his sore lips, and torn cheek. He was a mess alright.
The sad part was he couldn’t quite remember what exactly it was that set off the bloody fight, despite his resolve and desperation to let nothing ruin his plans for the evening.
He watched the clock. 7 pm.
Great. Not only beaten up, but late as well.
He closed his eyes and and exhaled a long breath. He looked back up in the mirror and straightened his tie and his suit. Then gave his gelled hair a slight push behind the ears. Beside his missing tooth, and squashed face, he didn’t look so bad.
“Stay cool. Stay cool. You’re okay,” he spoke to the mirror, then turning away, “Yes. Just say you fell off the stairs or something.”
When he entered the front door of La’ Mirch, a wave of awkward stares welcomed him. He suddenly felt conscious. He must have looked like a carnival showpiece. All buttoned up and sleek but bearing an amusing physical anomaly.
He scanned among the rows of tables and found Number Five.
Kavitha sat there, at one of the two chairs, looking away from the door. It was his first date — in fact, the first time ever he was meeting this girl in person — but he could tell it was her, even from behind, from her carefree, uneven haircut he had come to adore from her profile picture.
“Hi, Kavitha,” he said, walking round her back, cursing the heaviness of his lip and his lack of self-restrain in fighting for a cause that he couldn’t even remember anymore. “Sorry, I had a bit of—”
He stopped short, blinking hard. The girl before him, oh it was Kavitha alright, sat with two dark patch under her eyes, swollen lips, taped cheek and an awkwardly bent nose.
“What the hell happened?”
“I, uh… I fell off the stairs.” She watched him with curious, swollen eyes. “And you?”
there is a world
quite not like ours
there is a place
that provokes our wildest imaginations
where dawn breaks with a birdsong
and rainbows smile with a million colors
it has many names
yes, there is a world
or so I have heard
but I’d like to be there someday
let’s hope it’s worth all the wait