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Short Story 2009 Special Mentions

 

Here are the stories that we thought deserved a special mention.

GOD CRYING

By Kamalika Dutta

momwaiting

14th September 1998.

God is again crying for me today. Mamma’s saying that He will continue to cry if I don’t finish my food. Okay, I will eat that yucky sabzi , but I don’t want You to stop crying, okay God ? ‘Coz when you cry, it rains…and when it rains...the earth smells so good!

I tasted the soil once, after you cried the whole night (I wonder why?). Perhaps it left marks on my face. Mamma slapped me that day…..called me ‘mad’, again and again…then burst out sobbing herself. I felt so confused! When others call me that, she fights with them, now she herself….I don’t know?!

My Mamma fights too much. She fights with everyone! With the medicine man who comes every month, the milkman, our maid…and Mamma’s boss who keeps calling every night when we play scrabble ( which I always win ).

Once, Rahim Chacha had come to our room, she fought with him too. I had broken a toy in his shop. But I never intended to! How do I know that the plane won’t fly after I left it in the air?! It always flies over our heads in the night?
You know, that day he took away ALL the money we had, for that stupid plane. But Mamma had hugged me hard and told me not to worry…her thin bones were hurting me...but it still felt so nice, so warm…and I thought, we don’t need money for this…isn’t it God ?

15th September 1998

Mamma is ill. Twice a day, Pushpa Tai comes and gives us food and a big yellow tablet for Mamma. I have seen lots of such yellow tablets in Rahim Chacha’s shop. Big jars full of them. Kids come and ask for them. Tomorrow I’ll ask Tai to bring one for me too.

16th September 1998

Tai scolded me. God, I don’t like her. She shoos me away as if I ‘m a dog. But I love dogs….they have such nice twinkling eyes. Last night, even Mamma’s eyes were twinkling…but I saw, they had tears. I don’t know why I felt so unhappy. Was she missing my father? They say, he left her because of me. Once, when I was small...I had tried to bite his hand. That , was his last day in this house. 14th September 1998. He never could slap me again.

Rahim Chacha says he got a new daughter after that…and a new wife too! She goes to college now I heard! Wish…I could see her once. But Mamma cries when I ask about them, so I stopped. Wait. Mamma‘s calling me..Oh God, she’s been crying again…

17th September 1998

I am wearing a new dress. A sari. It’s starched and making noise like a newspaper. Pushpa Tai made me wear it. She says, from now on I’ll be wearing a sari always.
Always?!! Oh no God?
I’m going to a place where Mamma will not be coming with me. Last night , she told me about it. I am going to a doctor with Tai. If he likes me, he will let me live in his BIG house and play with ALL his toys he has !!! I wanted to ask mamma if I can tell him to buy those yellow tablets for me?...But she had closed her eyes, still holding me so tightly that it hurt. Last night we slept like that.

18th September 1998

I’m sitting in a big room. Two windows on both my sides. Sister Puja standing near the door. I like this sister. She has a kind voice, unlike any of the others. She keeps her word, unlike ALL the others…
Nobody came, after they left me here. Tai went back that day even before the doctor came. How did she know that the doctor will like me?

I haven’t seen Mamma for so many days. Sometimes I try to remember her features, but her face looks so cloudy. I wait for her every night. The soft tinkle of her bangles when she used to come in with the scrabble. Nobody plays that here. I hate mamma. Why doesn’t she come to me God? Doesn’t she love me too?

19th September 1998

The woman sitting next to me is saying that the new doctor eats human flesh every night. She has seen. One day we all will be eaten up.
I don’t want to listen to her. I am writing a letter to Mamma. You know, last night she came (!) and said she’ll come today to collect it . I don’t know what is the date today. Sister Puja gave me her pen and I’ve written a LOT.

I’ve written about everyone , everything.

The friends I have made here , the cooking I am learning ( and the burn I got ..),the dresses they give us to wear..the bad girl of the last bed, who vomits every night, nothing comes out Mamma, I have seen, but she tries religiously…the Sister who slapped me that day..when I refused to sit on that horrible chair…the bread I eat every night…

And the little son of the Maali. Mamma, he calls me ‘Didi’…and it makes me so happy.
I have decided to teach him scrabble. I’ll make one for myself, as you had taught me? Oh Mamma, I so wish to hug you …..!

20th September 1998

She didn’t come that night. Something in me says, she never will. They say she died the day after I was brought here. I don’t believe them. I won’t. I feel she is here, she is there…she is everywhere….I know it…! But she isn’t coming to me. Why? I don’t know. My head spins and swirls. I have never felt this way before. It seems that finally I am turning mad and again…..

…….God is again crying for me tonight.

By Neeraj Bhople

It's an easy task - finding a crow. We see them everywhere. Every morning I say good morning to the crows on the mango tree next to my balcony before I say good morning to anyone else. One of the reasons for this of course is the fact that I stay alone, so there's no one else I can say good morning to. But you get the point.

So it came as a surprise to me when we couldn't find a single crow at Shrirampur. I drove around the town, near the river, through the jungle - well, not really a jungle but something bigger than a small thicket of trees. But we were disappointed everywhere.

There were five of us in the car. I was the wrong choice for being the driver mainly because I had already antagonised the whole crow community against me by wildly running after them and cursing them often in my car parking lot. It was only after I realised that the real pooey culprits were the pigeons that I started to mend the fences by saying good morning to the crows every morning. But, except for one crow that regularly sits on my balcony, no other crow had forgiven me.

One of the passengers of the car - my cousin - was a wild life photographer and we were hoping he would have some idea about where to find a crow. Now, wild life photography has got nothing to do with crows. But in our desperation to find a crow, our logical abilities weren't working too well. The heat didn’t help either. The third passenger, another cousin, was just staring outside absently without talking. I could see that his eyes were searching, but he wasn't interested in talking. He has an ability to see things that no one else can. So I thought it’s better not to disturb his search. The fourth passenger was my dad. He doesn't normally like to go on a drive, especially with me as the driver. But today he insisted he wanted to come. So there we were, on our crow-search.

As noon approached, we were getting hungrier and edgier. So even though we knew we won't be eating, we stopped the car at a small roadside restaurant. We ordered tea and I was about to walk into the restaurant when dad stopped me. I was confused for a bit but decided to follow the instructions and turned around and got back to the car. The store owner saw that and promptly transferred the tea from tea cups to small disposable earthen pots.

Sipping the tea, I narrated my crow-experience to the others. Everyone had some observation about the crows. How the crows are always in a group but never seem to fight. They never interfere with other birds and we certainly have never seen them terrorising or causing any other problems for the humans. How the crow appears calm and composed even in the most trying conditions, even when there's no food around. A crow is also supposed to give an advance warning of visiting guests - dunno if it ever works though. But I had once cursed the crows handsomely as a kid when they didn't give us any warning of the visit of a distant relative who enjoyed pinching my cheeks as a way of showing her affection. I had to keep my mouth shut for the next two days as it ached so much. I think the crow community's anger towards me must have started that day. But they are such gentlemen, or should I say gentlecrows, that they never really bothered me much except boycotting my good morning wishes. I have a great respect for the crows but looked like they had decided to continue with their boycott even today.

We spent the whole afternoon looking for the crows. But they just didn't want to show their face and now even the sun was moving closer to the horizon. We were getting very frustrated by now. Hunger didn't help. And finally, we decided to stop and ask someone. It seemed a very stupid thing to do, but we stopped and very nervously asked a passer-by about where we could find crows. He said, sir, why are you looking for crows in this village? My cousin informed him that his dad was born here, that’s why we were here. The villager looked down for a moment and then said, “No one usually comes here looking for crows. That's because there's only one place where you can find crows here. At the big "pipal" tree that is outside the village. And you can't take car there; you will have to walk.” It was ironic that we were excited at the prospect of finding the crows.

We reached the tree after walking for twenty minutes in the rough terrain. My cousin kept the plate full of food at the base of tree and stood there with folded hands. The other cousin and I stood there looking as my dad brought out the fifth passenger, my uncle. He couldn't walk anymore. Couldn’t talk. He needed very little space in the car today - just enough for the small earthen pot with a red cloth covering its mouth. This had been his home for the last ten days. Dad kept the pot next to the plate and sat a little distance away from the tree. I closed my eyes for a few minutes, trying to hold back my tears. When I opened my eyes, I could see a few crows eating the food from the plate. All of them looked familiar to me. But I discounted the thought while they emptied the plate. I picked up the plate and my cousin picked up the pot. We silently walked back to the car and reached the river in sometime. All the rituals had already been performed in the morning. My cousin removed the cloth around the mouth of the pot and muttered a prayer as he emptied the ashes in the river.

The next morning, I took my cup of tea and walked to the balcony. As usual, my crow friend was there to greet me. But today there were a few of his friends with him. It was a pleasant surprise. Looked like the crows had finally lifted their boycott.

Spare The Rod

By Pesi Padshah

Father Beech was a bull of a man who, the story goes, could lift, over his head, an average size seventh standard schoolboy, purely with the strength of his mighty right arm. Nobody that I know, had actually seen him do it, but legend has it that he could roll up his sleeve and perform the feat anytime, and none among us whom he taught English Language, English Literature, and Scripture, at St. Mary’s school in Bombay, long, long ago, in the nineteen-forties, ever doubted it.

I enjoyed English Language as a subject, although I’d frequently get into a tangle over grammar. However I had a powerful imagination and a certain facility with words, which managed to see me through examinations. English Literature though, was another matter altogether. It included large amounts of Shakespeare, most of which I found beyond my comprehension and which, at exam time, diluted the marks earned from my answers on the works of other authors. The result being, I seldom passed an examination in that subject. Scripture was optional, but I chose to study it in spite of the boredom it induced in me, since the alternative was Hindi, and one look at the Devanagiri script froze the blood in my veins, although I was quite happy with the language as it was spoken. 
            On reflection, it is understandable that my sort of student would run foul of a teacher with Fr. Beech’s temperament, and what made life painfully difficult for me, was that the padre with the strong right arm, had absolutely no hesitation in supplementing his teaching skills with frequent use of a malacca cane.
            The first time Fr. Beech had cause to discipline me, was in Scripture class when I was asked to narrate one of St. Paul’s journeys in the New Testament. I naively admitted  I had forgotten to learn it,  whereupon the cleric smilingly told me that, for the next lesson, not only was I to have a fairly good idea of what St. Paul had got up to on his travels, but I was to know the text by heart. Came the day, and I glanced through the chapter in the ten minute recess before the Scripture period. When asked to say my piece, I started off in grand style, and had Fr. Beech nodding approvingly at the part where a mysterious voice speaks to St. Paul, who was also called Saul, saying: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” After that, I ran out of facts but soldiered on with my version of the narrative, keeping a straight face and using what I thought were genuine biblical phrases and expressions such as “Thou shalt not sin”, “Thus it came to pass”, and ”Forgive us Father for we know not what we do”. Just when I felt I had the situation well under control, Fr. Beech raised both clenched fists above his head, and cried  “Enough!  Come to my room directly after school.”

At the appointed time, I presented myself, looking sheepish and dejected, as I felt was expected of me. “Ah, there you are”, the padre greeted me genially. “Come right in”. Smiling, he produced an evil looking switch from a book rack on the wall, and pointing, first at my hands, and then at the seat of my trousers, offered me the choice of where I wished to be thrashed. Without a second thought, I held out my hands. For a lad of my age, my hands were huge. A medical student, after staring at them, once pronounced me ‘acromegalic’. I thought he was being rude until I consulted the dictionary. Then I felt he was probably right.

The switch came whistling down. As it smote my palm, my fingers closed over it, and I tugged gently. My tormentor wasn’t expecting that and, to his surprise, found himself empty-handed, with me pointing the cane at his midriff. Rather like a swordsman disarming his opponent and having him at his mercy. I held the pose long enough to convey the idea, before restoring the switch to its owner. After that display, I felt I had earned the right to make a dignified ---- if not triumphant ---- exit, with my head held high. I was mistaken. I found myself being seized by the neck and doubled over. There followed six excruciatingly painful strokes of the cane, upon my rump.

  In the years following that encounter with the disciplinarian Beech, and leading up to the school leaving examination, I was chastised several times by the padre, and never once was I allowed to take it on my hands. I thought familiarity with the punishment would lead, if not to outright contempt for it, to at least a partial numbing of the nerves under the seat of my pants. Neither happened. I considered myself lucky if I could space out the canings so as to be fully recovered from one painful episode, before running into the next.

Through trial and error, I found that the most effective way to achieve this, was to do my homework, and study diligently. It probably also accounted for my passing the final Senior Cambridge examination, albeit by the skin of my teeth, when all around me, expected me to fail. As it happened, I did fail in history and in geography, and since both subjects belonged to a ‘group’, I should, by rights, have failed the entire exam. What wrought the miracle of my getting through, was the fact that I managed to secure five ‘credits’. Three of them came from Fr. Beech’s subjects ; another, by way of a fluke, in mathematics ; and finally one in French, in which I received home tuition from my mother who, like Fr. Beech, was a disciplinarian, and a great believer in strong arm methods.

I remain passionately opposed to the use of violence in disciplining schoolchildren. At the same time, my list of academic achievements is so woefully short, that I treasure my Senior Cambridge certificate which I know I would never have obtained, had I not been painfully coerced into studying. It leaves me undecided whether I am glad or sorry I was made to suffer in school. Under the circumstances, all I am prepared to admit to is : “Sweet are the uses of adversity ”. . . . sometimes.

THE WORLD IS ROUND!

By Shaunak Bangale

Prologue-

Bang!! The World was shaking... People living near the sea-shores from every part of the earth were stunned by the ever-biggest earthquake… It was different from other earthquakes in the sense it only happened near sea-shores. It lasted just for few moments, but the intensity was just stunning. It caused the coastal people to re-think their entire lives. Though it had caused the heartbeats to run faster, it had made a favour by not taking heartbeats away from people.

But Odona had something different in her mind. She was thinking about this event as more than a mere earthquake. Since she saw the crystal ball turning black after the earthquake was over, her concern for the future of the world was obvious. She had never seen it turning black in last 30 years. Her mother had gifted it to her before dying. Her last words were punching Odona’s mind again and again, “Just take care of the crystal ball. If it turns black, it means something bad is going to happen in near future.“ She was confused because it had turned black after the earthquake. So she had become more. To investigate, she asked her son
Nick to get a team of 5 world class scientists from different continents to think upon it who could understand the present problem and its consequences. Nick made no delay in following up mother’s order, rather advice.. Nick was the lead scientist in path-breaking Geological Research Institute (GRI) located near the west coast of south America. Next day, he was ready with the talented team of geo-scientists; two of them were the physics Nobel Prize winners. Odona welcomed all of them and came to the point without making any further late. She asked openly, “All of you know the problem world is facing today.”
Veda, another young scientist interrupted her, “yes, it’s the earthquake and the people living on sea-shores have no option except migrating.”Xander spoke, “It was a mystery that such a powerful earthquake didn’t take any lives. We are lucky.”
Odona listened to them quietly and said,” Yes, you right because the real problem starts now.” “How?”Mendis questioned. Odona started narrating the story.
(25 years back)
Odona was living a happy life with her husband Lenbo who was the chief scientist at GRI. That was the time the world was running out of coal and research was going on to find out the solution to the problem. One day Lenbo got an idea. He thought, “Why shouldn’t we try to find it on any other planet?” He spent around 10 years in finding any planet with the coal content. Lenbo was very intelligent and had very strong belief in whatever he did. His efforts were not wasted. He found out that there exists one such planet named CORUS in a star system which was 3 light years far from the earth.
Previously he had created the space ship which was able to travel at a speed 1/5th of light. So it would take 15 years just to reach the planet and another 15 years to come back. So going there to bring coal was not the practical solution of the problem. Lenbo contacted the planet through his universal telepathic machine. He could find out that there are people who are made of coal and the whole planet is full of coal content. They are called kryobuts. Their average life span was 300 years. Lenbo was amazed.
After further coded conversation Lenbo could find out that they need salty sand every 30 years to expand their life span. But amount of salty sand was insufficient to sustain the increasing population on the planet. Kryobuts were so advanced that they had space ships which can travel at the speed of the light. So they could reach earth within 3 years of journey. So calling them to earth was only the way to get the coal. Lenbo was wise enough to make the deal only for 1 year. Kryobuts also accepted the deal happily. It was decided that they will live on earth for 1 year to use salty sand and provide coal to the earth.
So the things happened as agreed. Men on earth were happy to get more than enough coal. Kryobuts were enjoying their happiest life. They had started exploring the world. The different lands, weathers and cultures fascinated them. They were more powerful than men. So, they started dominating over men and created living hell for humanity. They refused to go back to Corus and decided to live on earth forever. People all over started blaming Lenbo and insisted he be held accountable.
While thinking for different options, Lenbo got a solution. He found that though they are powerful they are not as intelligent as men. So he felt he could use a Brain Hold Sensor to control their minds and make them enter a cave which was on the west coast of south America, He lured them with high quality sand there on the sea shore which was at the other end of the cave. The naïve kryobuts played into his hands, and Lenbo’s brain hold sensor had such effect on them that entered the cave without much opposition. When he could manage all of them to enter the cave, only thing remaining was to close the cave. Their master had found out that the cave is closed at the other end and they were cheated and locked. As he was smarter than his colleagues his mind wasn’t much affected by the Lenbo’s controls. But he was also under Lenbo’s will. Lenbo called Odona to close the big cave with the magical power she had got from her mother.
But while Odona did it, master tried to come out. Suddenly, he caught Lenbo and dragged him into the cave. Odona was helpless as she only knew how to close the cave and not to open it.
Meanwhile her mother also died.
-------------------------------------
And Odona cried in memories of her husband and her mother.
“So how does it relate to the present situation? I mean what can we do now?”, asked Calinden, impatiently.
Odona continued,”As my mother told the cave can get a crack if any big thing like earthquake happens in the area. I strongly believe that Kryobuts can come out of the cave through the crack. So task for you is to save Lenbo and simultaneously control the kryobuts using the brain hold sensor technique. So first you will have to analyse the old machine which is outdated now and create a new machine for the present. Just be alert. Any mistake will lead to danger.”

Odona’s wasn’t wrong. Soon they heard the news that nearby village was attacked by kryobuts. Odona herself with Nick went to the village to see the situation. He found out that there was one kryobut among them named Corag who was helping people rather than troubling them. He was allowing the weaponless people to escape. He wanted to fight with only the people who were equivalent to him. He was more powerful than his colleagues and so dominated over them. But another kryobut, Imperious always tried to kill people mercilessly.

So Corag always contradicted Imperious. But Imperious had a team of 10 other kryobuts. Meanwhile there was an announcement made by the governments. According to the news, ‘The recent earthquake has caused the rock layers under sea to displace which may be harmful. So the people near the sea shores are requested to move towards the inner part of the respective countries.’
Nick was able to create the brain hold sensor machine but kryobuts now knew how to counter-attack. Master was inside the cave in the form of a black hole.

One day, Imperious succeeded in kidnapping Odona and the 5 scientists. He took them to master. Master was draining Odona’s magical power and helpless scientists’ knowledge. Corag could no longer bear this injustice. He attacked the master. So master changed his target and attacked Corag. As soon as he attacked Corag, Corag got converted into Lenbo. 14 years back, master had transformed Lenbo into a kryobut. Master acquired his brain hold sensor technique and used it against Lenbo. But master didn’t want to kill Lenbo because he was the only source of information for them. He changed Lenbo so that other kryobuts could not recognize him and didn’t kill him. He also named him Corag. He always had an eye on Corag’s activities.

He also knew one day this is going to happen. Odona saw Corag getting converted into Lenbo and she didn’t know how to express these mixed feelings. Nick was also amazed by seeing his father in such condition. Lenbo was still trying to fight back but in vain as he was a normal human being now.
 Just then, Veda got an alert from his another scientist, “We have found that there are great chances of Tsunami to happen on the sea-shores and nearby regions will be destroyed completely. You need to escape from there immediately.” Veda whispered this to Lenbo and Nick.

Odona, Lenbo, Nick along with rest of the scientist escaped the place somehow. Master underestimated them thinking they were accepting the defeat. Just as they left, a huge Tsunami came and engulfed the entire place.

Before they could even bat an eyelid, the tsunami swept them all off to their collective doom. As they saw the ruin it left in its wake… the very ruin because of which they survived, Odona remarked, ”As you sow so shall you reap. We made a mistake by calling kryobuts on earth and they turned against us all. Nature had to intervene against the kryobut menace and solved it by Tsunami. Whoever creates the problem has to find the solution. But whatever happens, know one thing –
You are not God to play dice with this world…”

THE MARRIAGE

By Sneha Subramanian Kanta

Morning announced itself through the perching of birds on the branches of trees. It had been 6 a.m. now and I was getting delayed to reach the airport. I woke up rather reluctantly out of my bed and went to the basin. I looked at my face in the mirror which was morose. Today was supposed to be the best day of my life. I was to get married and get the status of someone’s wife.

Only in this case, it was a runaway court marriage.

Preparations for this day had been made since many months. Today was the best day when I could sneak out of the house for a day. I was supposed to be wearing a sari as decided by myself and Shashank. Bangles shone in my wrists and flowers adorned my hair. I stood in a red saree in front of the mirror. When I now look back, I see a young, restless, bright mind standing haplessly looking at herself.

Somehow, all this hype surrounding my marriage did not get to me at all. When I left the house, I had a thousand odd things running in my mind. I kept thinking all about the possible future, about my life, the “new house” I was supposed to “adjust” into, as I was told by my father in-law.

I was just eighteen then, and didn’t know much about the intricacies that life held. All that grappled my mind was thoughts of running away from my house and to escape the harmful clutches of my step mother.

I reached the airport and in a flurry kept passing by each counter and finally reached mine. Whatever was happening didn’t really seep through my mind. There are so many instances in life, where, you don’t feel what actually happens to you. This was perhaps one of those.

As I boarded the flight to Delhi, I anxiously looked outside the aircraft. Something within me said that I should get up and run away. The very thought of me having to be in an entirely different set up haunted me.

Two hours flit by and I reached Delhi. I hurriedly walked outside the airport and saw Shashank standing there. He was his usual self, tall, with a lanky frame. For a minute, all this hoopla surrounding the aura of my “marriage” dispersed into me looking into his eyes. He escorted me out of the airport and I was bought to his house. He had most of his family members and I had none but him. I thought he understood this fact somewhere down the line, fully self-conscious of the fact of my love for him.

Finally, five of his family members and we were taken to the court of law. There, the final seal on our marriage had been put. I feel none, the excitement or the happiness a bride should feel. But I do admit, my heart leapt up to Shashak on seeing him so happy.
I was brought to his house and everyone greeted me with a smile. Elaborate meals were cooked and people had surrounded the house as honeybees surround the honeycomb. Amongst all this chatter, I felt completely left out. “Trapped,” was it? Many a times, in so many weddings I realize the bride and the groom remain objects. Objects to be looked at and then people estimate the “approximate” price of the party given. Love somewhere down the line sneaks away out of this circle of fake enthusiasm.

I’d been terrible all day with the hectic court procedures and traveling. After people left, I was left in my own element in a room. I was told by my mother-in-law that Shashak would come to the room later.

And this was the worse thing to do me thought- leave a young, sad girl all alone on the night of her wedding. The night when she’d meet her husband and tell him how much she loves him, the expression in the eye which expresses how a thousand moons give her solace when she hugs the man she loves. I’d felt none of this, all I could feel was loneliness. My heart ached and my mind moved from one image to another. I could see, somewhere in Chennai, my step mother filing for a police case for me missing. I could see the image of the neighboring children I used to play with and sing songs; I could feel the anger of my step mother, the anxiety of the children. Surprisingly, I couldn’t feel any joy that a newly wed bride is supposed to feel.

I felt like running out of the room, removing all the unnecessary jewellery that I’d wore and go and melt in Shashank’s arm. I felt like crying like a child to him, laughing like a lover to him, and loving him as a wife would yearn to.

But I could do neither. It was night, about 2 a.m. I think. I heard some crackling sound and woke up. I saw Shashank right there, wanting to drink some water. He saw me open my eyes and took me in his arms. For some reason, I’d wanted to cry and tell him how much I loved him. But, something prevented me from doing so. Why can’t I cry and tell him how I felt, I don’t fathom.

Night passed and I was unable to speak anything. He made love to me, and I felt an emotion taking me higher than where I was.

But, sex is only a temporary relief.

That night clouds had gathered and I lay awake in a now fast asleep Shashank’s arms. I quietly go up and went outside the verandah. I felt the sky curling to form a ferocious array of clouds. I stood there, my eyelids battling the drops of rain. It was now that I’d started crying too.

Morning again arrived, and a lot had changed within a day. My identity had changed, and so did my life. Shashank went to office as usual and I was kept in the house the entire day. This episode kept repeating itself day-after-day.

Months passed and I’d started feeling the need to do something. I’d been cooking in the house and looking after Shashank’s family. He did the jig that a dutiful husband is supposed to, but I realized I looked for much more.

Shashank kept coming late to the house and the tantrums of my mother-in-law increased. I was feeling like a bird which had been locked up in a cage, which looks golden from the outside, but is as hollow as any other cage. A cage afterall, is a cage.

One day, as I was ironing Shashank’s shirt, I found a bill. It read as a bill given by a lingerie shop, and I’d been in a state of horror. If there was something that he had to give me, it should have been given by now, and I have never known any instance when Shashank had bought me a gift.

That night, I felt like a robber doing this, but I checked his phone and noticed many short messages he’d sent that read-,

“She is a dutiful wife. She takes care of my house and parents. But I do love you. Don’t worry, even if I wouldn’t be able to marry you, I’d love you and only you. Love you my princess.”

I’d realize the loops in our marriage and I also could now see the futility of being into a relationship when all is lost.

I’d discovered the path I wanted to now tread on. I confronted Shashank that night and asked him about what’s going on in his life.

“What nonsense are you talking? Do you realize,” he screamed.

“This isn’t nonsense Shashank. It’s about our life,” I explained.

“Look, Priya (this was the first time someone actually calls me by my name, I thought) all you are reading is not true. Ok , tell me, even if it is true , what can you do. Where will you go? Can’t we live with it,” he asked.

“Live with it? Live with what Shashank? This life, which is futile and which binds us to a relationship we’ve long lost?” I thundered back.

“Fine, go wherever you want to. I won’t stop you. But do realize, you have no where to go,” he told me.

By this time, I almost had tears in my eyes. I took a decision in my mind that this is over today. There isn’t more I can bear.

My walking had led me to the railway station and I’d enough money to board a train to Allahabad. I waited in the waiting room of the train department. There, I felt like contemplating suicide, but something within me stopped myself.

It was again 6 a.m. of the next day and I stood near the steps of a temple All I could see is flashes of little lightning across the still black clouds, which looked like the same night. Lightning looked as though it’d would fall on me.
As I tried breaking this day that awaits me peace, I saw a priest doing the funeral of a old woman. She had many other relatives of hers who were crying. Somewhere, something deep inside me cried too.

After about an hour, I heard the preist say,

“Shantam. Shantam. Shantam.”

 THE DAY MY WORLD STOOD STILL

By Viplove Sharma

It was one of those typical Bangalore evenings when one could expect the rains at any blink of the eye. With the cool weather enticing us to slide at every corner of our lawn, the rain most of the times played the spoilsport by turning the lush greens into a pool of mud. That evening we could barely find any hint of green on our pitch and the big raindrops ensured that I would get to play my favorite game - soccer. I loved the sight of Max, gasping for breath, running behind me with absolutely no clue about how he would fetch the ball from me. By the time it was dark the rain had stopped pouring and my goal count had gone beyond Max's counting capabilities. Now it was time for another downpour - Mom's cries from the kitchen.

That was the time when I felt so lucky, especially after looking at Max's sinking face. Homework was something he hated even more than my thundering goals on the field, something which I never had to do. I did not go to school. I wonder why but Mom and Dad never felt necessary, maybe I was smart enough. But I was not spared of the scolding either with the usual words  - "Rocky! Look at you, you've gone all wet and stinking. Rob, could you please get this silly boy going?" And Dad, as usual engulfed in the world of TV, unconvincingly tried to pretend that he listened to her. I did not need anyone's help, I was a grown up, after all I could score more goals than Max.

The twilight turned into a moonlit night and the rain drops gave way to the dew. It was time when everyone slipped into their beds. And it was time when I moved to my lovely home - Rocky's Home. I wonder how much it would have cost Dad, everybody loved me. My home was right across the lawn which appeared like a swimming pool in the moonlight. I relaxed and pushed my legs into my bed gazing at the moon up in the sky. I always wondered how that sky changed colors and how that fireball became so cool at the night and totally disappeared at times. When everyone slept I remained awake. When everyone went silent I shouted. That was my life, the life that I loved so much living with caring human beings.

My eyes had almost taken me off my duties when Julie broke my sleep with her annoying songs, my usual morning alarm. That was her daily routine when she tried to impress the males in the neighborhood but ultimately turned disappointed with everyone running away from her. So did I, ran towards Dad's room. It was time for my favorite activity, of course after soccer - morning walk. Dad was just half into his pajama when I dragged the loose leg towards the gate. Every morning was so special for me. So was that one, with the clouds thick enough to prevent the Sun coloring the city, and the cold breeze strong enough to sweep the city. As we stepped out, I could smell the earth that was yet again so fresh.

We jogged all the way to Cubbon Park, Dad's favorite exercise place, where he did more chatting than exercise. It was time when Dad let me alone to play with my friends. But that day it was not just that time, rather a time I never forgot to remember. It was that sight, the sight that blinded my rest of the world for a moment, just because the sight was my world. I could not hear any voice and my eyes did not move a muscle - all frozen on the flowing hair, all glued to the twinkling eyes. Then the feet moved, and the sound they made was vibrant enough to send ripples down my heart. Was it something real? The state of my mind and my heart suggested it was not. That was the day my world stood bedazzled.

And the very next moment my world came falling down from heavens to earth, and the sight changed to that of a huge man who seemed to have crashed into me and crushed my dream world. Was I daydreaming? Never happened before, but I would say why didn't it happen before? Before I could complain I saw her again, this time with moving eyes and in the real world. I was not daydreaming, maybe I was living a dream. She was smiling at me, optimistically, but the fact was that she was laughing at me. On any other day it would have been embarrassing but not when I found a reason to catch the attention of the girl every nerve of mine was attending to. A moment later, she was gone. What kind of dream it was?

It was afternoon and the Sun was out bright and beaming when I decided to take a nap in my cooler home. My eyes, that took a while to close, woke up the moment they closed. God, I saw her again, surely in dreams this time. Who was she? Where did she come from? Would I ever see her again? If not in reality I could see her in my dreams and that thought was enough for me to close my eyes hard so that she could not escape from my dreams. That would have turned to be the most romantic nap of my life had I not heard those screams. Not in the dreams but some real ones that I could hear from a striking distance. It was a girl shouting for help. I rushed out, the screams went louder and my feet faster.

The junction of Millers Road and Cunningham Road that was so flooded with walkers in the morning, had a very few humans on that Sunday afternoon, not enough to save the girl. I could sense the situation by looking at seven or eight brats circling her and cracking jokes. Without any doubt in my mind, they were Bozo's gang. Before I could think of what they could do to her, I was close enough to find out who she was. My other world's girl, right in front of me in this world of mine! I could not be daydreaming again, I pinched myself. The very next moment erupted a flame of fury in my soul. My dream life, before I could breathe it, was gasping for breath in this life of mine.

Bozo, the head of the gang, made the first move by taking his drooling tongue closer to her. Everyone else found a reason to laugh but I did not. I jumped, which was easily my longest jump ever, right onto Bozo's face taking both of us tumbling down on the road. That was my best shot, because there was merely a shot from my side after that. As I regained my composure I could see the whole of the gang over me, aiming to match at least what I did a few moments ago. I shouted - "Run girl, run away!" But she was so frightened to hear my words, the words that were barely understandable amidst the thrashing. Every part of my body went numb except my eyes that never moved away from her.

That was the last I could remember, lying on my bed, with my eyes still seeing the fear that cried so nervously down her chubby cheeks. I could not guess which part of my body was not paining but there was a bigger pain that was troubling me - what happened to her? Dad pulled me out of there, I hoped she had someone to save her - what if not? I knew what Bozo's guys were capable of. No. A bunch of morons could not break my dream. But then what did I do to keep my dream alive? I just tried. But was that enough? The dark of the night was not lending any optimism to me. Then the moon came out, as if trying to console me. I could only thank him. "Thank You" - a meek voice said instead to me. Who was that?

It was definitely not the moon talking. Then was the beating too heavy on my mind, that I was hearing voices? Before I could declare myself sick I saw her, right at the gate. It was her. I could not be wrong even in a cloudy night, even in the state of mind I was in. Although my body was not brave enough to stand up but just the sight of her was enough to break all the barriers of pain and I managed to run towards the gate. "Thank You" - was what I again heard and surely from her that time. I could not say anything as I followed her tears down to her body. She was hurt. What I feared had happened. I decided I'd not keep thinking yet again, and I jumped over the gate. Thanks Max for having taught that.

As she walked towards me to say those two embarrassing words again, I interrupted her with all that I could say - "Sorry!" The weakest of the words was strong enough to break the wall that was holding her tears so far. She cried and I had no word to make her stop, and I did not deserve to have any. After a long period of silence resonating with her sobs the clouds went away with her tears. My friend up in the sky pumped in me some confidence, and I asked her, not so confidently - "Shall we walk?" She did not say anything. She just started walking. We started walking, with our eyes on the black road shining with a tinge of blue. We walked and just walked, no words between us, as there weren't many.

It was my longest walk ever, strangely, walking the roads that were a matter of a few leaps for me every day. I was blindly following my feet that were somehow following hers. In one of my many efforts to lift my eyes up at her I found out that we were right at the place where we met in the morning. My temptation to speak broke the barriers of silence by blurting out a half-spoken sentence - "Aaa.. Rememberr.. the morning?" I did not expect any miracles from my herculean effort but what I actually got in response was something unexpected - she chuckled! Was it my choice of words or the magic of that place, I could never figure out. Soon the smile turned into a laugh and then the walk got coupled with the talk.

"What's your name?" Something that I should have asked first, least expected from a nervous starter with girls. "I am Rocky, not as solid as rock though." I wondered where those words came from and what were they supposed to do. But my words seemed to weave magic that night as she chuckled again. "No you were brave." The words hit me hard punching failure on my face. "Forget it. What's your name?" "I don’t have a name, no one gave me a name. In fact there is no one to give one." How could God leave such beautiful people alone? "You have one now. You are my princess, yes you are Princess from today." My words again, and a smile that time. "Thanks Rocky. Thanks for everything."

The chill of the wind and the chirps of the birds woke me up, it was morning, we had slept besides the bench which would soon be occupied. It was time for the morning walk. Dad would be awake. My feet were almost running when my eyes stopped at Princess , stunningly beautiful even with her eyes closed and without a smile. As if she sensed my situation she spoke before I could wake her up - "I think it’s late for you." I wished it was not. "Let’s go home. I'm sure everyone will love you." She moved away. "Nobody loves me." "But I love you. I can’t leave you alone. You are my Princess, remember?" "Thanks Rocky but I can't come with you." I pulled her towards me. We banged into each other. We almost kissed. We went home.

I was on top of the world. The wind that refreshed me every morning was something special that day, charging my senses with loads of curiosity and excitement. I knew Dad would be angry but I was ready to take that, anything for Princess, Rocky's Princess. I expected to meet Dad on the way back or at the least at the gate. The gate wore a barren look and our neighbors were peeping in. As I came nearer I could hear Dad shouting on top of his voice. Was he so angry on me? I never heard him that aloud. I could hear more voices, Mom that time. Something was wrong, was it Max? I flew over the lawn straight into the living room, just to find that everything was pushed to every corner of the room. Our house was robbed.

As I was trying to figure out what used to be in the room and what was missing, Mom walked out of the kitchen. "Rocky! Where were you?" Her subdued words mixed with complaint and concern were loud enough to silence Dad. He looked at me and his face went from pale to furious. And then broke the short-lived silence. "Rocky!! Where the hell were you the whole night? Do you have any clue what has happened because of you?" He kept on shouting at me, and I just listened, that was all I could do. After all I was the watchdog, a fact I had forgotten amidst all the love and care. "Get out of my house! Never dare to step in my house again. Don't even think of." That struck me hard. I could barely move but I had to, and I did.

Walking down the steps felt like climbing up a hill and the fresh air of the lawn all of a sudden suffocated me. Rocky's Home was not smiling at me anymore and my strong urge to kiss it a goodbye got crushed by the strongest of the words I had heard from Dad. The gate that I jumped over last night was wide open and did not come in my way anymore. With tears in my eyes and a last glance at my lost world I stepped on the street to tell Princess that I no more had what I had promised her. My heavy mind received a jolt when I could not find her in the crowd that had gathered on the street. I covered every corner of the street but none of them had her mark. She was gone.

My frozen legs dragging away from the just lost world soon started sprinting looking for the world I did not want to lose. I ran, and I shouted - I gasped for breath and my feet hurt, my eyes were flooded and my throat choked - but I ran, and I shouted. Finally I heard something else apart from my breath. It was Princess, and she was crying. Was it Bozo's gang again? I was all set to pen the end of Bozo's story if I saw him. I did not, but I could see Princess in a truck that was parked at a distance. Before I could be anywhere near to the truck it started moving away from me. I put in all that was left in me but unsurprisingly that was no way close to the monster's speed. Did I lose her?

I lost her. The truck was no longer in sight. I kept running in the same direction as there was no way going back for me. Soon I was in the city. To my delight the truck was parked at a traffic signal. As if some fresh pools of energy had gushed in me I was a rejuvenated soul in a worn out body. That time the truck did not move. "Princess! Where are you going? Come down. I'm dying for you." She could somehow control her sobs. "They are taking me somewhere. I don’t know where." A man got down the truck and held me by the neck and checked my strap. I wished he took me as well. But he did not. The truck moved. But I did not. I could have run. But I did not.

That was the day my world stood still. It was a dream world once and the very next moment it was pain. Not so later it was a walk in the heaven, and soon it was a run for life. Moments wavered high and low and brought along smiles and tears, but standing right in the middle of the road, I could sense the flattened world of mine that stood so numbly still. It was all over. No way back home. No home. No place for me in the truck as well. After all I was a pet dog. The strap that used to make me so proud some time back seemed like a noose around my neck that I wished choked me to death. I had lost my home. I just lost my love. Nothing else to lose, but nothing else to want as well. My world had shook, but still it stood still.

It’s been years since I last actually lived. Now I just breathe under the same old bench which has gone a little pale just like my fur. No family for me so that I don't ditch them. No love for me so that I don't lose it. But I live on, just to punish myself for what I did not do and what I could not.

 

 


 
Shaunak Bangale
 
Sneha Subramanian
 
Pesi Padshah
 
Viplove Sharma