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Special Mentions : Flash Fiction 2009
 

 

DEBO'S FICTION

By Sandeep Shete

 The auction of literary collectibles organized by Indicart was going well till the time the journal went under the hammer. Then, the auctioneer, a diminutive man in a three-piece suit, cleared his throat apologetically.

writing

"Up next ladies and gentlemen,” he squeaked into the mike, “we have a very special item. The hitherto unknown, unpublished and untouched life journal of one of the greatest Indian fiction writers of all times, the late Shri. Debashish Mukherjee. One that he had been writing since the age of 18.”

The place exploded with spontaneous applause. People turned to their neighbours telling them how much they loved the writings of 'Debo' as he was fondly called. It seemed there was not one person in the hall who wasn't a fan of Debo's literature. Nobody took notice of the lean, bespectacled young man in a jeans-kurta who had been moving around taking pictures of winning bidders with a digital camera. But wherever the youngster went, the most stylish expressions froze on people's faces. His name was Rajiv and he was a press reporter.

The auctioneer continued: “Debo, as you know, passed away due to cancer last year at the age of 52. In his will he had directed Indicart to auction his journal and spend the proceeds as per his wishes.” He paused. “But that's not all.”

A murmur washed through the crowd now. Designer shoes shuffled, glossy lips pursed, shrewd eyes narrowed.

“Debo had also expressed the wish that his journal not be read or scrutinized in any way by anyone but its buyer. Accordingly, we’ve kept it sealed and you have our word that our eyes haven't seen its contents to date. However, as you'll understand, Indicart cannot vouch for the authenticity of this item, the reserve price for which, ladies and gentlemen, has been fixed at Rs.50000. Bidding starts now.”

A collective groan went up in the air. Soon stray comments were heard, some ridiculing the writer, some casting aspersions on his integrity. What if it's gibberish? Doodles? Blank pages? Debo was a man of fiction after all, wasn't he?

The auctioneer dabbed his brow. “Are there no takers for the great storyteller's own life story?” he asked after several minutes had elapsed.

Finally, at the very back of the hall, an arm went up unsteadily. Men and women turned in their seats, amusement on every face. Nobody upped the bid, no pictures were taken and the auctioneer brought down the gavel with a mix of relief and disappointment.

Two weeks later, a large parcel arrived at Rajiv's modest one-bedroom apartment. Inside he found 34 diaries, each one bursting with Debo's jottings: anecdotes and reflections from a remarkable life. Accompanying them was an envelope with a note scribbled in the same hand as the diaries. It said:

“On second thoughts, the one reader who truly BUYS MY FICTION deserves to have it for free. Regards, Debo”

Rajiv smiled when he saw what had come stapled with it.

 

-X-

 

Justice

By Neeraj Bhople

The loud clanking noise of the chains resonated down the hallway as I walked. Hundreds of eyes looked at me from behind the iron bars as Jailer Smith led me to the room. A small clean white room with a hard wooden bed in the middle. A white bed sheet. Leather restraints hanging from the edge of the bed. One-way mirrors all around. A solitary light-bulb hanging in the middle of the room.

Smith looked at me. He was tense from the day I walked into the prison but he had been growing paler ever since.

hanging

"Are you sure you don't want anything?" said Smith.

"Yes"

Composing him as much as he could, he said, "Ok, in that case, I will tell you how we will proceed. First..."

I stopped him. He had explained the procedure to me last. He even offered to close the viewing gallery during the proceedings. This sadistic thing happens only in this country he had said. I refused. They needed to see. They needed a closure.

He held my gaze for a fleeting moment before looking at the doctor who was preparing everything. The guards assisted me on to the bed and tied the restraints.

"It’s not your fault Mr. Smith. You are a good man."

He looked away as the doctor emptied the first syringe in my vein. I looked at the mirrors. There were people behind them. Looking at me intently. I couldn't see them but I could feel the hate, the anger in every eye. Every one of them feeling a sense of satisfaction… victory. I had killed their loved ones. One by one. In cold blood. Not repenting even once. Death was the only punishment for their crime. I was the judge. I was the executioner. They had to die. And I was tried for the judgment I gave. The punishment I executed. I had to die too. Someone always judges. Someone always punishes. Someone always gets punished. The roles remain the same. Actors change.

“Five minutes” whispered the doctor as he administered the second injection.

I searched for her behind the mirrors. The last time I had seen her she was scared. Cowering in a corner. Surrounded by the wolves ready to dig their teeth in her flesh. I was the only one standing away. Her eyes had pleaded me to save her. I didn’t. I became a wolf that night.

I couldn't feel anything anymore. I let my eyes close and there she was! Sitting in the last row. The only face with no hatred on it. No fear. No anger. No pity. The face that wanted me to die for a different reason. The face that I wanted to see...to feel… the face that even death wouldn’t be able to take away from me. I was dying. But in peace. There was one soul that knew why I did what I did. One soul that had chosen to forgive me.

That was enough.
That is enough...

-X-

 

SUJATHA

By Supriya MS

It was a cloudy day in the month of October. I had just reached my house. The taxi driver helped me with the luggage. I took a quick shower and got dressed. Settled in my armchair, I looked out of the window. It had begun to rain. An earthy smell enveloped the lawn. Raindrops splattered on my window, bubbling with a mirth I found hard to relate to.

I had never really liked rain. The dark skies, the chilling breeze…the whole thing seemed depressing. But Sujatha had always loved rain. Dancing in the rain with careless abandon, splashing the water in the puddles with a childlike enthusiasm…I found all this extremely amusing. “How can getting yourself so hopelessly wet give you so much joy?” I had once asked her. She had thrown me her enchanting, mischievous smile and had dragged me from the warm confines of my armchair onto the lawn. The look on my face had made her giggle. I had chased her around the house like a madman till we both collapsed on the couch - wet, exhausted and very much in love.

Six months? Was it just six months ago that I had returned to this house from Sujatha’s funeral? I could still feel the rage that had engulfed my heart that fateful day. Helplessness, really. Every object in the house seemed to remind me of her. I had picked up a rod and smashed everything I could lay my hands on - the dressing table sitting in front of which she would admire herself, the table lamp with which she would play at night, the chair sitting on which she would write her diary. Everything, everything…I wanted to destroy everything.

But the house! The goddamn house! I couldn’t destroy the house which held her memories in its every nook and corner. Only one thought hammered in my mind - I had to get away from this place…this place which seemed to taunt me with its very existence. I had packed my bags and left. I stayed in a hotel for 6 months. But I couldn’t obviously stay in a hotel for the rest of my life. This house was to be sold…I had arranged for it. I had come to bid a final adieu. I was leaving for Trivandrum in the evening - I had requested for a transfer and got one.

It had stopped raining long back. Time to leave. I hailed a taxi and reached the railway station. It was 30 minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive. An unexplainable feeling…what was it? I felt as though I was leaving something behind…someone behind. It was then that I realized I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to abandon the house where I had spent some of the sweetest moments of my life. I didn’t want to leave Sujatha. The skies opened up and it began to pour again. I smiled. I walked back in the rain to my home. Our home.

                                          
                                                                                               

-X-

EXPENSIVE AUTOMOBILE

By Maitreyi Karnoor

An ugly fellow he was. Wore a nonchalant, vacant expression. I only saw his torso. The rest of him was covered by the 'expensive automobile' he was driving. It was off-white, with a pearly sheen and a metallic green embellishing. Looked like an SUV, but I couldn't tell. Could never tell much about cars anyway… apart from say 'Otto engines' by the sound they made.

But these days they make diesel engines so smooth and noiseless, they purr like a cat being stroked. I'm not sure if this one purred. My senses were trained on his looks. He had a short neck and a noticeable stoop as he bent over the steering wheel. Was rather rude of me to have ignored Hari next to me. We were discussing the terms of the job he’d offered me. It is a long way before punctuation will be obsolete, but Hari had promised to overlook my intolerance with detail. Then I looked at the funny man, and Hari disappeared. His face was long, with a broad forehead, tapering towards the chin. But it had the most unusual, corrugated, wave-like rise and fall of the edges. So like a designer’s version of a V—a designer with an expensive education from a fashionable school, provided by indulgent parents. As expensive as the car he was driving.  

He had a weird shirt on, looked quite like a blouse. The sleeves definitely were cut like a Goan woman’s blouse—broad at the end, going down at the armpits. It was a dull red, but looked brighter in the harsh noon Sun. It wasn’t so sunny the last time I’d been on that street. Was close to sun-down actually. I remember I had on my school uniform and was riding my bicycle. I was headed to the Ganapati temple at the end of the lane.

I’d gone home expecting awwa to be there as usual, but was told otherwise. She’d been fasting the Sankashti all day and had gone to the temple before breaking the fast. I was flabbergasted! This was the first time in her thirty years she’d done anything close to such a show of religion. Things were seriously out of place. This culture shock was more than I could take. I’d cycled like mad to fetch her before she did more damage. I hadn’t noticed the tears streaming down my face as I’d rushed into the unfamiliar confines of the temple. “The bride had consented, the gallant came late,” from the poem I’d recited from memory at school, ringing in my ears. 

Today, I only noticed the vacant expression on his face. He actually saw through me. He saw through me as he rammed his expensive automobile into me! He looked away into the rear view mirror while he put the car in reverse—but only for a brief second, before he rammed it into me a second time.
I died before I could say, “expensive automobile”.

-X-

 

Life As We Know It

By Vikram Gulati

When I was walking down the street the other day, I saw a couple of kids playing with an old football. It was torn in several places but nonetheless reasonably round. What fun those two were having! For a few moments I stood watching one of them baffle the other with his trickery and excellent ball-control. This young boy, barely thirteen years of age, had the potential to give any defender serious nightmares.

However, he never will. He lives in a slum near my house and will soon be working for a living. When he turns fourteen, his father will make him work as a cleaner in a nearby restaurant. For ten hours of hard labour, he will take home a paltry sum of forty rupees. Some of us will spend his entire monthly wages for a few minutes of fun without batting an eyelid. Some of us will look the other way when he comes to clean our table in the hope of escaping reality. Some of us will become experts in looking the other way whenever we find it convenient. The rest of us will become masters at ignoring our guilt. All of us will find solace by asking the following question: "How many can we help? There are too many".

There are indeed too many. This is life as we know it. We just have to deal with it. Unfortunately, I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel for the boy. He looks set to live a life of poverty and there seems to be nothing on offer to change that. Looking at him playing football, blissfully unaware of the future that waits, I feel like a fool. Why? Because I spend far too much time worrying about things. If only I could be more like the boy, joyfully enjoying his moment in the sun. Perhaps I need to learn the true meaning of contentment. As the saying goes – "To get what you want is success. To want what you have is happiness". I intend to start living that way.

-X-

 

I’LL BREAK YOUR BACK.

By Anu Elisabeth Antony

My bag could make its presence felt, especially when it wasn't there. I'd carried it all around school, happy that it latched on to my shoulders like a rather stubborn child – ironic, considering that despite the weight of the dog-eared books and scraps of paper that would incessantly add up to make me groan and bend, I was the stubborn one. Now that I'd suddenly decided to walk without a slump, the memory of it clung to my spine, its tentacles pushing me lower and lower.

Remember, you have a college interview in a month's time, Mummy would say, can you ever imagine Rani walking that way? I had shot back with the retort that I wasn't my cousin and would never be, but had regretted it when I spotted her worry lines. She loved me, and her voice tugged uncomfortably at my brain even as the whisper in my vertebrae spelled out discouragement to every cell.

My bag was in my parents' bedroom, locked up to fight off disturbances during their afternoon nap. There had been times when I could feel the nakedness of my back through layers of clothing, feel the cool air pierce where tough material and the warmth of heavy books had once touched. In a moment of weakness, I decided that walking straight would break my back more than bending ever did.

When I couldn't summon up courage, I summoned hate. I knew that a straight back would win me an elocution contest, let me perform Bharatanatyam without a whisper of embarrassment, help me say whatever I wanted without looking like I didn't believe it.

This bag leeched away my pride; the last vestiges of my dying ego. The pain would make up for every rejection loaded over my back, for every insult digested.

Was anyone worth the trouble, though? The deathly squeeze of tender muscle and intricately interconnected bones? The interview would be one moment in my life, after all. Not worth this back-breaking, heart-breaking experiment. My bag, always dead over my back, screamed life in every nucleus of every cell. Over the din of my parents' expectations, an interviewer's derisive laughter, friends' jibes. It kicked, raged, rallied like a caged animal in my groaning, aching body.

I lay on my bed like a dead one, knowing it could hardly break my back.

-X-

Socio-economic status of Deities

By ALIYA KHAN

Mrs. Deepa chocked her voice when she heard her husband’s jeering on the Hindu Godhoods.  It is all owing to her day long intermittent worship on gods and deities that have crowded the walls of her inner bed room to the threshold holy basil plant.  Deepa for the first time got confused with her vision blurred and perception undergoing utter deception.

Akash could probably feel the nerve of her better-half.  He said with his tone containing the same amount of derogation.  “Do you know Deepa, the Hindus in our country worship as many as thirtythree crores of gods and a genuine ration of godman population in the land will be one is to three.  In other words, there is one deity employed by the almighty to take care of three men and it is still a hard concept to believe as to why there is anarchy, parochialism, disintegration and gross inhumanness prevalent in the land.”

Akash kept making his speech more relevant and clear.  “There are major five different types of gods reigning the ecclesiastical as well as the socio-economic worldly status of India :

Deepa was thunderstruck to hear such casual, playful and godless categorization of deities by her husband.  But there was no way out.  It is because she knew the temperament of her husband who had talk-o-mania then.  He did not mind gossiping and arguing on issues, for hours together and for this, she kept mum and she thought it would probably serve as a better silent appreciation.

Akash continued, ‘See, Deepa, the proverb goes ‘Man is the maker of human destiny.  It is in other words, has been a much talked acknowledgement that it is man who has created god and for that reason, he has made all worldly gods maintain a socio-economic status for the betterment of the human living.

It is here that Akash’s humour crossed the perview of sanity and he categorized Indian Hindu deities into five major categories – each according to ability and each according to capacity and credibility.

The first category to remain top in the list as per Akash, there are certain gods in India having multi-millionaire identity.  As per instance, there is Vaishno Devi, there is Tirupati Balaji and infact, a score of powerful deities who enjoy darsanas and worships round the clock and went back to their nativity in the evening having lacs in collection.

The second category, as Akash perceived, are the middle class deities.  They also enjoy customers who offer them with sumptuous alms and satisfy them with burnt offerings.

Akash guffaw knew no bound when he further categorized a quite different category as the gods in the BPL list quite dependent on truckers and motorists whose sole offering during their enroute tour.

Both, Deepa and Akash, chocked with their heart throbbing.  The wife prostrated before the house deity to forgive her husband and to bless her only son.

-X-