Friday, April 21, 2017

Flash fiction

Impatience
It was around 8am Ananthan was talking on the landline phone in the drawing hall. He seemed deferential in tone and all attentive. The caller must have been his senior boss on urgent matter.
His six-year-old son came running to the hall and tugged his shirt calling “Papa, come with me”. He looked at his child angrily and signaled with his hands to remain quiet,
The little boy did not stir but pulled him more vigorously and said sobbing “Papa, come quickly. You can talk on phone later.”
Balancing the receiver on the ear and simultaneously cupping it near the mouth with one hand, Ananthan slammed the boy on his back and pushed him away even as he shouted, “You dirty scoundrel, get lost from here before I kill you.”
The boy who fell down rose up immediately and clasped his dad’s legs crying inconsolably and telling, “Papa, amma has fallen down on the kitchen floor and not answering. Fire is burning big all around. I am terribly afraid. Come immediately
Ananthan dropped the receiver and ran towards the kitchen shouting “Why did you not tell me earlier, you fool,” even as he heard a loud sound from the kitchen side.
The Saviour
Gunaseelan was waxing eloquent at the local Corporation school on Children’s day on his concern for children and the gross violations of Child Labour Act. There was a large crowd of children and their parents, mostly mothers.
He thundered on “It is highly deplorable that in our country that tender children who should be studying in primary and elementary schools are employed in tea shops, tailoring, provision stores, eateries, match factories and fireworks units toiling all day long in unhealthy conditions. The Child Labour Act specifically prohibits children below some age limit from employment.
It may be said that the poor parents themselves send their children for work to augment family’s income. Still it is illegal as it barters away the children’s golden future for narrow temporary selfish ends. I strongly condemn this practice and vouch to take it up for stricter enforcement of laws. I would plead in the legislature for a special grant of monthly allowance of Rs. 1000 to children in BPL families. The quality of mid-day meal should also be greatly improved and books and notebooks given free.”
There was an audible appreciation with loud clapping for a long time. Gunaseelan was happy at the good impression he had made before the parents particularly two months ahead of the elections.
He concluded his speech with a loud statement in his stentorian voice, “Every child found working is a stigma to this constituency and particularly against me. I am sure you would extend your support to fulfill my pledge made before you .”
As he alighted from the car past 11pm and entered his house, he shouted “Meenakshi, send that boy Babu to my bed room. My legs are aching after a long day of speeches.
As he lay on the cot in the air conditioned room with his legs stretched, the eight-year-old kid Babu in his shorts and banyan was seen standing massaging the man’s legs continuously. At frequent intervals the leader was admonishing the boy, “You dirty scamp, massage properly giving good pressure. If you do not do well, I will flog you and starve you.”
It was more than an hour and the leader was seen dozing with a soft snoring. The room had turned cold. The hungry and sleepy boy slightly slackened a bit prompting the leader to get up and give him a sharp cuff (குட்டு) on his head with his closed fingers. “Rascal, are you sleeping when I dozed a bit? I will skin you alive you scoundrel “exploded the great saviour of children.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The distant rainbow

Palani, an incurable alcoholic beat his wife Bhagyam daily in the evenings for money. A lazy loafer, he brought no money for the house. With three young children to feed, Bhagyam worked hard in many houses. Life was a monotonous daily grind with nothing to enthuse and only back breaking work all day long. It was the last week of the month with not a grain of rice let alone other essential ingredients to cook a broth. The left overs she brought from houses where she worked hardly helped to keep even the kids from hunger especially at the end of month.  In desperation she often toyed with idea of suicide along with kids but would abandon such thoughts when she saw their trusting eyes and start visualizing a better tomorrow
Palani was tottering to get up after getting fully drunk at a cheap arrack shop when a friend by his side proffered a twenty-rupee note saying that it was found by the former’s side.
“It is not mine, I have spent all my money” Palani mumbled but the equally inebriated friend insisted it was his and added “You are ruining your life by drinking. What have you done for your wife and kids so far? Surprise them with some snacks with this.
 The confused Palani took the money and started ambling towards his home. Pricked by the taunt of his friend, he was filled with remorse when he thought of Bhagyam and the children. As he vowed that he would stop drinking, he saw the shop selling molagai bajji (chillies bajias) and other namkeens. He took molagai bajjis wrapped in old newspaper and hurried in his unsteady walk.
This particular evening, Bhagyam had made gruel from broken rice she had borrowed and diluted liberally with tangy butter milk she had brought from a household Hardly adequate, it only kindled more hunger. Each one had a large glass with some quantity kept for Palani.
The chimney lamp was flickering starved of kerosene in the dimly lit dark hut. As Palani entered, he saw the children jumping with joy amidst peals of laughter. Bewildered he saw a smiling Bhagyam with her eyes glued on a small TV placed on a rickety shelf covered by his lungi, a freebie from the generous government ahead of a municipal poll. He too joined the gaiety and danced with the kids happy with the new bounty. In the commotion, the packet of molaga bajjis lay uncared for on the floor. The distant rainbow is more enchanting than a small blessing on hand.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Turning the world into a joyful place

 Shanmugam sat on the step of the temple tank seeking peace for his troubled mind. He had no job and was eating for the last few days  the prasad whenever given in the temple. Despite the cool breeze from across the tank, he was restless and sweating. The noise of vendors, the chatter of devotees and the laughter of playful children around a carousal irked him. He was also feeling hungry but had no money.
He was startled when he felt a soft touch on his back and turned to see a girl of five years sobbing inconsolably. She could not tell where her parents were or where her house was. He could sense people were looking uneasily at him talking  with a well-dressed girl but he had no mind to leave the girl stranded and vulnerable. 
Before considering the option of leaving her at police outpost, he searched the pocket of the girl and luckily found a slip with address. The girl in the meanwhile tugged his shirt and showed the balloon vendor with colourful balloons. He searched his pockets to find no money to his dismay and then unrolled the sleeves of his torn shirt and found a crumpled five-rupee note to his joy. The girl started smiling in glee as she held the big pink balloon in her tiny hand.
Though the house was near, he thought it prudent, to take the child by auto to avoid skeptical glances. The driver after initial hesitation agreed when Shanmugam explained. The girl speedily ran into the arms of her anxious grandmother screaming “patti” and turned to say Ta-Ta with a beaming smile to Shanmugam who was watching her along with the driver from the gate. Evidently the parents were still tracing the child as they were not seen.
He had forgotten for a moment the auto driver looking at the happy reunion of the girl with her family and turned to see the  driver waiting patiently. Shanmugam quietly unwrapped his only earthly possession and gave the wrist watch to the driver. The driver looked with disbelief at the man and declining the watch said “Get in.I have been watching you from the temple area and it is rare to see kind hearted people like you. I noticed you did not also ask the old woman any money for the efforts you had taken. Come on, you look hungry and let us have some tiffin in a hotel. Keep the watch with you. By the way, can you drive an auto? Otherwise, I can teach you in a week.”
Shanmugam suddenly felt his heart light with no worries and the world a joyful place to live in. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Murari’s revenge

Murari walked the long stretch from the desolate railway station to his village. It was sweltering hot with not a blade of grass moving. He could see no cattle grazing or birds flying. Perspiring heavily, he took the water bottle from his bag only to find it empty. He threw it away and looked around in frustration. He knew from the familiar scene he was almost near the village that he had left five years back in anger and humiliation. The anger had not died down but still simmering inside waiting for the revenge to soften it. He could gather the guts to avenge only now. He sat on the bench of a tea stall on the outskirts of the village to have tea before proceeding further
As he entered the village, he started trudging with a deliberate limp to mask his identity towards his old house to find the hedge between his house and the adjacent Bola’s house had been removed and the whole space enclosed by a common boundary wall. His house, a small tiled structure in the vast ground that was adequate for his wife and two boys stood undemolished but the cattle shed had been expanded with many cattle in it.
Trouble started when Bola cast his covetous eyes on his land. He wanted it to make one large ground along with his to start an akhada. He tempted him with a good price but when Murari declined telling that it was a family property coming from several generations, Bola started threatening him. He was a wicked man with several criminal cases of intimidation, assault, cheating, rape and land grabbing against him. He had managed to stay out of law enforcement due to his clout with local MP as his sidekick. He became insistent that Murari part with the property and when rebuffed he warned that his family would pay one day for his adamancy. Murari ignored the veiled threat
Till one day, he came to rue for not judging correctly the extent of Bola’s greed and cruelty. He returned home one evening from the fair in the adjacent village to find to his great horror his children lying outside the house shot dead and wife lying dead semi naked inside the house with deep cuts by knife across her face and several places on her body indicating much resistance before being violated.
Shocked he ran to Bola’s house screaming incoherently and mad in rage at the enormity of the crime. He saw several of Bola’s henchmen in the compound. Bola came out instantly and denied any knowledge of the gruesome killing or having heard any noise and commiserated with Murari at the tragedy. Murari could see through the smirk on his face his false pretensions and knew who the culprit was. He swore to himself in the name of his honour that he would avenge one day the death of his family.
Five long grueling years had passed by and he was at last back at the village with revenge still gnawing his heart. He saw someone sitting inside the porch in Bola’s house with his face partially covered by a pink towel and the eyes with sun glasses. Murari involuntarily felt for the country weapon on his side and moved closer with confidence towards the gate to get a clearer view of the man. Murari was sure that his own beard, his limp and unkempt hair would not give him away. He had also grown thinner in these five years.
 “Hey, who are you and why are you standing there? What do you want? shouted the man from the porch. Murari could recognize the gruff voice with no difficulty.
“I am looking for one Murari who used to live here. He is a distant relative of mine,” replied Murari.
“Öh, oh. Don’t you know that he left this place year back along with family after selling his house? He was not making much money from agriculture and went in search of better prospects. Poor man, he was a good person,” said the man from the porch.
“Any idea where they have gone?” asked Murari
“No, he did not leave any information with anyone about his new place,” said the man.
“Thank you. I am unlucky to miss my relative. I will be on my way,” said Murari as he walked away.
There was silence for a while and the man from the porch asked one of his men to see whether the visitor was visible. The man went near the gate craned his neck and peered both sides of the road carefully as it was dusk already. He turned to the man in porch and said the man had gone and was not to be seen.
The man sprang up throwing away his pink towel and hailed his family to come out of the house. The men not knowing why the master was happy joined in the laughter much like Gabbar Singh’s men. Bola turned to his wife and said, “I knew it was Murari. The chaiwala Munni rang me up saying that one-man resembling Murari was walking towards our house with a limp. So I covered my face, had our men standing outside to scare him and asked you people to remain inside. Come on, let us celebrate our good luck.”
As Bola, his wife and two children of his danced their way to the gate and peered outside, Murari popped up suddenly from behind the side wall and as he put his hand on the side pocket he said “Lucky I am, that you celebrated your escape a bit too early. I had hidden myself inside the well outside the wall and knew you would come out but never expected the whole family. I have been waiting for this day for five long years. I thank God for my good fortune”
The henchmen who started crowding towards the gate fell back as Murari avenged the murder of his wife and children but spared the Bola’s wife and her children as he felt he had no quarrel with them. He did not care for his life anymore and started walking whistling a Sholay tune loudly. He felt lighter in his heart and better as a human as he walked with a spring in his step. The men stood back half perplexed and half afraid to follow him.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pavitra perplexed

“How is he doing?” Pavitra heard from behind as she was busy changing the IV fluid after observing the vital signs from the various monitors.
“One moment doctor,” she replied as she checked whether the fluid was flowing properly. “He is stable and all vital signs are normal, “she said
“Good” said Dr. Mukundan as he took the file from her hand and observed the drowsy patient for a minute. “Continue the same medicines till I review tomorrow,” he said as he moved to the next patient with Pavitra in tow.
It is a small but reputed cardiac care hospital headed by Dr. Mukundan who had earned his stripes by studying and working in a renowned American university and its hospital. He was still young in his early thirties and was considered a leading cardiologist. Pavitra has been working as a nurse for the last five years and only a year back was posted in the critical care ward after some intense training. Ever since she interacted with Dr. Mukundan in the ward at least twice a day.
Being a conscientious, hardworking and intelligent nurse with gentle and soft spoken nature, she had won the confidence and esteem of the doctor. She was the only one amongst the nurses who got an ad hoc increase in pay a few months back triggering a mischievous gossip among the nurses within her ear shot that the doctor had a romantic interest in her.
What crap she thought to herself, but felt inwardly happy though she felt that the relationship with doctor was formal and professional. However, in the nights while on bed, she could not resist thinking of him, his tall physique, handsome face and friendly demeanour. She even started wondering whether there could be a truth in the gossip as otherwise why she should be singled out for a raise in salary. But, she was quick to smother such thoughts when she remembered her family of mother and younger brother in college dependent wholly on her salary and that marriage was out of question till her brother completed his education and got a job. She was nearing thirty but still looked young with a very charming face and lissome figure.
A week later as Dr. Mukundan was leaving the ward, he asked Pavitra to follow him with a couple of files. This was the first time he was asking her to see him in his room. Could it be he wants to express his feelings, she wondered setting butterflies flutter in her stomach. Her cheeks turned red as she hurried behind him with a couple of patients’ files.
“Sit down Pavitra. I have been wanting to talk to you in private for some time Let me first tell you that I am highly satisfied with you. As a nurse you have an admirable combination of knowledge of your work your functions in the ward, nursing skills, right attitudes, and the noble values of treating your work as a service. The feedback from patients has been good. I am very fortunate to have you in my team and wish to take it forward to a personal level. I know you have a mother and brother in college and how much your salary means to the family. I have spoken about you to my mom and she would like to meet you. Can I pick you up at 5pm tomorrow?  Wear a good sari,” he said with a smile.
That night she could hardly sleep. She did not breathe a word to her mom and waited to see further development She started thinking that this could be a prelude to happy events to follow.
He came at the appointed time and took her in his car to his palatial house. As she entered, she saw an old lady with kindly eyes seated on a wheel chair. The lady smiled at Pavitra and beckoned her by name to come near her. She said “Just as Mukund told me, you look really beautiful and I have taken an instant liking for you.”
Embarrassed Pavitra looked at Mukund who intervened to say” Pavitra, you see my mother is an invalid. She needs someone to assist her and provide her company when I am not there. I know how efficient you are and decided to bring you here.” He paused to see her reaction.
This was a hammer blow to Pavitra crashing all her dreams. Her anger and frustration grew inside her as she felt cheated. When she stood dazed without replying, Mukund prodded her “Do you have any objection to being a companion to my mom? Be assured that you will find this role much more rewarding and comfortable than your present job.”
Pavitra did not know what to say to this unexpected development but realized he was cunning. She wished to run away from this treacherous man. She put her handkerchief to her mouth   and turned towards the door to hide her tears.
Mukund’s mom who was watching all the time with a grin quickly intervened to say “Stop joking, Mukund, why do you find pleasure in teasing her and playing with her emotions? She must have grown lot of her dreams. Do not ever shatter them even in jest.”
She drew Pavitra close to her and said “He is always playful. He wants you to come here as my daughter-in-law and give me your good company. You can still be associated with the hospital.Do not worry about me as I have many servants to take care of me. Ever since he set his eyes on you in the clinic, he has fallen flat for you. Would you please agree to marry him? I will talk to your amma and do the needful. They would be fully taken care of. Have no worry on that score”
When she saw Mukund watching her eagerly, she put her head shyly down and started scratching the ground with her toe.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Krishan Srivastava’s faux pas

“I have heard you patiently but none of the reasons given by you can explain the steep fall in your regional sales. This is the last quarter and your sales hitherto is a measly 59% of the target. Our director made a caustic mention about this. Your team members are good. I suspect there is a failure of leadership. What do you plan to do? This may be the last chance,” said Krishan Srivastava, shortly addressed KS, General manager (Marketing) to the Northern regional manager Kuldeep Singh.
“I am sorry, Sir. The market is bad with supply more than demand. Our competitors are plying the customers with heavy discounts and long credit even when their prices are lower than ours. We are trying our best focusing on our quality and brand. I am sure things would improve this quarter, Sir,”
“Kuldeep, I do not agree as other regions are doing very well. The real reason is elsewhere. You have been working with me since your management trainee days. As a father figure I have been wanting to talk to you on some personal matter but was restraining myself. I have decided to speak out today in your interest. Can I proceed?” asked KS
Kuldeep kept quiet avoiding KS’s eyes.
“Your silence is understandable. I am getting to hear from several sources that you are having illegal relationship with a woman employee in your division and spend lot of time talking, messaging and going out with her. You have a wife and two children. We have not taken action as there is no complaint. Since this has affected your official work, I am compelled to advise you to discontinue this liaison to avoid an immediate transfer,” warned KS
Embarrassed by the revelation, overcome by fear that his family would come to know and shaken by imminent transfer, Kuldeep Singh short of falling at KS feet pleaded forgiveness with the promise that he will stop forthwith his association with Pinky.
“This won’t do. You cannot resist the temptation and will start meeting her outside office. But I am clear that a transfer to another region alone would bring sense to you and justice to your wife, I am anyway getting her transferred to another office in the same city” KS said in stern tone.
“I swear in the name of my wife and children that I would have nothing to do with her,” and as an earnest, he pulled out from his pocket and placed on the table a box containing bottle of perfume. ” I intended to present this gift for her birthday this evening at a restaurant and now I have no more need for it. Kindly excuse me and I am a reformed man,” he said and wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Okay., do not worry. Take this bottle away and give it to your wife,” said KS
He shuddered and said “This will only rise her suspicion for I have never given her perfume as she is allergic to pungent smell,” and left the office hurriedly.
It was already 5.45pm and KS remembered that his wife Lalitha and children would be waiting at a friend’s house for a birthday party. In a hurry he slipped in the perfume packet in the side pocket of his coat thinking of his wife.
There were a lot of guests, some common friends and some known faces with many children playing around in the large hall that was brightly lit. Lalitha’s friend and her husband welcomed him warmly. KS removed the coat and hung it in a coat stand and reclined comfortably in the sofa by Lalitha’s side. The party commenced with cake cutting and birthday songs. The hostess soon came around the guests with hors d’œuvres and drinks. There was gaiety and laughter all around.
Suddenly a shrill tone of a mobile was heard. Everybody stopped talking and looked at the direction of sound. KS knew it was from his instrument in his coat pocket. As he was trying to get up, KS’s young son rushed towards the stand. He put his hand in the coat pocket and took out the box containing the perfume and after reading the name of the perfume on the box said loudly “Mummy, Papa has bought a scent for you”.
When Lalitha asked “What are you blabbering?” the boy   read out loudly “With deepest love to my Pinky darling, ever yours, KS” that was written on the box. The mobile had stopped ringing meanwhile. Lalitha rushed to the boy and snatched the box that had the inscription Gucci Flora.
KS sat dazed and frozen on the sofa. One jolly friend let out a loud guffaw and exclaimed “What a gaffe? Behind the innocent facade, you seem to be enjoying life with sidekicks.”
“It is not mine and belonged to one Kuldeep Singh, a regional manager in my office,” KS was explaining even as his voice was drowned with peals of laughter from men and looks of derision from women.
KS with a bewildered face looked at Lalitha. He knew explaining there would only invite contempt. There was utter disbelief and deep hurt in her face. Covering it with her hands unable to bear the shame, she ran out of the hall. Silence fell in the hall. The hostess followed by KS ran behind her. She wrenched herself away from KS when he tried to put his arm around her. They left the party with Lalitha sobbing and the children confused.The party was a big flop by one indiscretion of KS putting someone else’s gift in his pocket without checking and that too of one with the same initials 
The moral is if you have to buy a gift for your wife, buy it yourself; never carry someone else’s gift.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sunita's compassion

Sunita madam was taking her class. She saw Sumitra from the corner of her eyes sitting morose in one of the rear benches and frequently wiping her eyes. She knew the girl well and was also aware that the young thing had lost her mother and her father was an alcoholic. He had married again but the step-mother was not kindly disposed to the poor girl. The thought sat heavy on her mind. She went through the lessons hurriedly and was relieved when the bell rang announcing lunch time. She called the young girl of thirteen near her.
“Sumitra, I have been observing you during the class and you were crying. Stop it and cheer up. Tomorrow is the annual day when prizes would be distributed by the chief guest. You have been an outstanding student topping the school in every examination and extracurricular activities. You are being given a special medal and there will be a special mention by the Principal about you. You must be happy. Tell me what is troubling you?”
“M’am, you know all the prize winning students have been asked to bring their parents for tomorrow’s function. They are required to be on the dais along with the student while receiving the prize. You know the situation in my house. Dad will not be in a fit condition in the evenings to come to school. My mom has also refused to come. There is a fight daily in the house and yesterday it was the worst.”
Sumitra remembered how she sat crouched in fear in a corner listening to the noise from the hall. It was his drunken dad mouthing profanities and her step- mother sobbing. There were the noises of glasses, the bottle-opener dropping down followed by loud swears, beatings and finally slamming of the door. She never went down when her dad and mom were together. He had begun drinking ever since Sumitra’s mom died, three years back. He was a loving dad but never demonstrated his affection even when her mom was alive. It was only her mom who was her best friend in whom she could confide anything and everything. Her step-mother Savitri was also very affectionate to her initially. It was all the mistake of her dad which turned the affection to dislike. He would taunt her needlessly telling her he married her not for her beauty but only to take care of the motherless girl and in the process, he unknowingly drove a wedge between them.
The school was in all festoons and the music blared through loudspeakers. The lawn was filled with students, parents and teachers. In a corner, snacks and tea were being served. Groups of people were seen standing along with their children talking animatedly, some with teachers and others amongst themselves. Sunita madam was looking for Sumitra and smiled to herself when she saw her in the corner where tea was served helping the guests with spoons, sugar and paper-napkins.
An announcement was made requesting the guests to sit down in their seats and the prize-winning students to assemble by the side of the dais with their parents. Sunita went near Sumitra who was standing at the rear with a glum face, and said “Look here, it is not your fault that your dad and mom could not be here. Cheer up. I am there for you. Wipe the tears off your face, my darling girl.” She moved away as the proceedings began with a prayer song.
After the welcome, the prize distribution started. As the name of each student was announced by the Vice-Principal Sunita madam, the student along with parents came up the dais to receive the prize from the hands of the chief guest. There was an endless stream of prize-winners coming up the rostrum with beaming smile, with their parents in tow.
Finally, Sumitra’s name was read out with the special mention that she was declared the best-student among all the classes not only in academic performance, but also in all extracurricular activities. When the chief guest stood up with a medal, he saw the girl coming alone towards him.
He remarked “Where are your parents? Don’t they know this is a red-letter day for their child?” There was a murmur amongst the audience and some muffled jeering remarks. Sunita madam walked towards the Sumitra and stood behind her. She loudly announced that her parents were not in a position to attend. Turning to the chief guest she said “You can deem her as my adopted daughter.”
 When the chief guest saw her with a puzzled look, the Principal was seen walking towards them telling “Sir, you may consider me as her god-father. She has made us all proud by her achievements and good behaviour. I may add she is a role-model for all the other students.”
Sunita madam was seen wiping her tears even as she clasped Sumitra tightly. The chief-guest pinning the gold medal on her said loudly “Pardon me Sumitra, I didn’t know the circumstances of your parents not being here. I am so happy to hear the praise heaped on you by your teacher and the Principal. I pray to the Almighty for your success and happiness in life. Do remember that you are doubly fortunate in getting such a teacher and Principal.”
The entire crowd was surprised when they saw Sumitra falling full length at the feet of Sunita madam and the Principal. The audience rose as one man and gave a standing ovation amidst joyful cries of “Sumitra, Sumitra” 

Let us raise a toast on this Woman's day  to teachers like Sunita madam who are hard to come by and who serve with such compassion and empathy, helping the hapless children realize their self-worth and esteem.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A story for Valentine's day

Deepak works from home. Around 1pm, he heard repeated but faint knocks on the door possibly from the adjacent apartment followed by shouts of “amma, amma”. He opened his door and saw a five-year-old girl with a bag on her shoulder on the verge of crying. Evidently there was none at home.
“Come inside and sit on the sofa. As soon as your amma comes, you can go. We will keep the door open so you can see as she comes. Meanwhile you can watch TV,” Deepak said softly.
“Amma will not come. Roja will come,” she replied haltingly.
“That is fine. You can go after Roja comes. Is it okay?”
Nodding her head, she entered and sat gingerly on the edge of the sofa opposite the door clutching the bag in her hand. Deepak kept the door ajar. He had nothing to give her to eat except couple of pencils to make her feel at home. Luckily the maid Roja came running within five minutes and took the child after profuse apologies. It transpired the child’s mother comes at 4pm and Roja takes care of her during her absence as there is none else at home.
The next day, somewhat curious to see whether Roja was available at home when the child came, he was looking for the arrival of the child.  The child came promptly at 1pm and saw him. Instead of knocking her door, she came running inside with a large smile on her face. “I took your pencil to school today after telling amma that you gave me. She sharpened it for me. Do you have an eraser?” she asked innocently.
 “I am sorry. I should have given you the one I have yesterday itself. What is your name?” Deepak asked as he gave her the eraser along with a bar of chocolate
“Deepika is my name, but amma calls me Deepu.It looks like a boy’s name but she will not change. Amma told me I should not accept things from strangers especially chocolates, cookies and cool drinks. You keep the chocolate as she will get angry otherwise.,” said the child.
“Oh, ho. Tell her that I am no stranger but a good neighbor. Keep it with you and eat after showing it to amma. What is your appa’s name?”
“I have no appa,” she said sadly when Roja came and took her away abruptly.
The child came straight to his apartment frequently if the door was open and after small chat about her school, her teacher and her amma, she would go invariably with something to eat.
One day she told Deepak “Amma asked me whether you are an old man. Do you know Hritik Roshan? I told her you look like him and amma laughed uncontrollably. I tell her what all we talk and she will listen with interest. If I forget someday, she will remind me and ask what did uncle tell you today. I think she also likes you as I do.”
“We have been friends and we are called by the same name. I wish to give you a gift. Here it is but open the wrapper at your home. Be careful not to drop it, “  he said
“Can I open and see here itself,” she asked. When he nodded, she unwrapped to see a large red mug with a picture of heart on it and words ‘With love to Deepu’
“You bought it for me?” she asked
“No, it was given me by a very dear friend of mine, I have given you because I like you” he said
 It was a Tuesday and Deepak was watching TV. He was surprised when he heard the soft knocks on his door. Thinking it must be Deepika, he rushed and opened the door to find her standing with her mother. He stared at her mother in great surprise unable to believe his own eyes. She had not changed much except for a little flab and looked more beautiful than Ashwini he had known. They loved each other from college days and moved intimately after deciding to marry each other within six months. A small incident where no one was at fault magnified into a great misunderstanding of Deepak’s fidelity to her that led to separating in rash anger with ego standing in the way of rapprochement. All his attempts to contact her failed with her moving out of the city. Left with no option and highly dejected, he went abroad. She had moved to Bangalore.
“Do you recognize me, Ashwini? he asked
“How will I not, Deepu, when you are always in my heart and mind? I suspect you deliberately gave the cup I gifted you to my daughter” she said with a mischievous smile.
“Nothing deliberate except that we carry the same name. Infect I was hesitant to part with that precious memento, but I love that child very much. I never knew she was your child I was foolish and in rage when you scorned me. I had to leave without an opportunity to explain only to regret in leisure. I have not been able to forgive myself and never married,” he said
“I am very sorry. I was a big fool. Kindly excuse me,” she pleaded.
“Belated realization. You seem to have married. Who is the lucky father of Deepika?”
“No, I did not marry repenting for my mistake.”
Deepak looked at the child in a confused way.
“Don’t you see your image in her, Deepu.It is your child that I carried when you left,” she said
He wasted no moment in hugging her and smothering her with smooches much to her embarrassment and the amusement of Deepika.
“Stop it, Deepu” she said in mock anger as she freed herself when the child clapped her hand in joy in having found her father.
“What a coincidence. It is Valentine’s day today! Let us celebrate our reunion in a befitting manner,” said both in chorus.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

The melody of bansuri

 The tank, with its water in greenish hue and lined by large trees, was unusually big for the size of the temple that had only a few shrines. Situated in a small town, it was not a crowded temple but drew many devotees throughout the year by virtue of the famed powers of the presiding deity Venugopalaswami and His readiness to grant the reasonable wishes of the devout supplicants.
This story however revolves around a bearded man, tall and muscular, in his late fifties whom you may call a mendicant, an aspirant, devotee, nomad or even a vagabond as he seemed fit to you. What stood out was his beak like nose and sharp eyes. He sat all day long under a tree facing the temple but never spoke a word or showed any emotion. If ever he entered the temple, no one knew when he did.
If he were a god man or an evolved soul, he demonstrated no such evidence. He wore a white dhoti with a towel over his shoulder that seemed the only worldly possessions he had. His eyes with a faraway look had the power to hold the people who gazed at him in a deferential thrall. It looked he found peace alike amid the noisy crowd during the day or the silent solitude in the night. People said, though no one vouched to the fact, that they heard from his direction occasionally in the middle of dark night dulcet tunes of seductive charm as if from a bansuri.
People never knew when, where and what he ate for he never stirred out of the place. Devotees placed before him fruits of different kinds or left coins with some even water bottles. They remained untouched and it was surmised the poor that lined at the entrance took them in the evening.
One evening a bewailing couple brought a child of seven years and laid him at his feet and prostrated before him. “ Ayya, you must save the child. He has been vomiting and having loose motions countless times. After keeping in hospital for four days, the doctor asked us to take him home telling he will not survive. Please help us, ayya. We would be eternally grateful to you,” pleaded both of them in chorus.
The man looked intently at the still child for what looked eternity and then scraped the mud from the ground below muttering something and put it on the navel of the child. He did not answer the anxious questions from the parents and the people around. One young man from the crowd even exploded in anger,” Why are you silent? Are you deaf and dumb? You seem heartless and impervious to the anxiety of the parents.”
It was then the child opened his eyes and uttered “ Amma” that was sweet music to the woman and great surprise to the people around. Some clapped their hands that looked inappropriate for the solemn occasion.
It was a week later around 11.30 am, half hour before the temple closed, a jeep screeched to a halt close to the tank where the man sat. Four policemen with baton in hand rushed towards the man and surrounded him. “Get up, you scoundrel and get into the jeep,” said one in peremptory tone.
“What for are you taking that yogi? What harm did he do to you? He has been here for three years virtually living on air with not even a drop of water. Woe would befall on you if you treat him disrespectfully,” shouted one elderly man.
“We do not know the full facts. May be someone had complained against him. We have orders to pick him up.,” said the policeman even as he pulled the hand of the man. Everyone was startled at the turn of events. Many vehemently objected and wanted specific reasons. Some who had come to pay their obeisance started to suspect him.
The man stood up, spoke nothing, offered no resistance but politely signaled to the constable to allow him to go into the temple and offer prayers before he was taken to police station. Seeing the angry mood of the crowd, the constable agreed to the man going inside the temple and returning in five minutes. They stationed themselves at the only entrance to the temple that was surrounded by high wall.
The priest who was getting ready to close the doors of the sanctum saw him hurrying and waited outside the sanctum. The man prayed for a while, sipped the holy water poured by the priest in his palm and unexpectedly walked into the sanctum. The priest ran behind him saying “You are not allowed to enter the sanctum. Come away, come out immediately.”
To his utter shock and surprise, the priest could not see him inside the small sanctum. It looked he had just disappeared into the thin air. The melodious tune from a bansuri seemed to fill the air.To add to the mystery,the temple bell also started ringing on its own giving goosebumps to everyone assembled there. The priest with folded arms and flowing tears looked at the God wondering if this was also one of his famed miracles. There were many who had crowded in wondering in total disbelief at the source of music and how he could have vanished.
The constables who had come in were equally dumbfounded. One of them patted on his cheeks looking at the god for the marvel that was beyond human understanding.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The revelation

Set amidst coffee plantations with scenic beauty all around, the hillside resort offered a perfect get away from the hustle and bustle of city. The cottages with well laid pathways were clean, comfortable and well furnished. Deenadayal had chosen a cottage that had a view of a water fall slightly away. His wife Lochana and their 15-year-old son Dhana specially loved the place and were roaming around all over while the portly Deenadayal spent his time mostly confined to the room watching movies gorging on Scotch and whiskey or sitting in the balcony watching the scenery. He along with Lochana even had their breakfast, lunch and dinner served at the room. They had planned a vacation for a week.
When Deenadayal was 40 and Lochana 38, the childless couple wished to adopt a baby. It was then some friend suggested adopting Dhana, a newborn baby whose mother had died during childbirth and whose father was inclined to part with the child. When the tall and muscular man came to friend’s house with the baby, Deenadayal was assured that the baby would be healthy. Baby Dhana looked cute except for the big black birthmark on the centre his forehead which only enhanced his charm. Lochana liked the baby so much that she grabbed him from his father’s hands. The baby snuggled on her shoulders with a smile. Deenadayal struck a deal with the man that he would be paid a hefty sum as a token of gratitude and that Dhana would be looked after very well, but he should on no account ever attempt to see his son.
The boy was put in the best school, given all the comforts and he turned out to be a good student. He was a loving and obedient son making them proud and happy.
“Dhana, why don’t you have your breakfast with us in the cottage? You never eat with us,” pleaded Lochana.
“Amma, I go after my  jogging direct to the dining hall for my coffee and breakfast. Further the food gets cold by the time it reaches us. Things served in the dining hall are hot and fresh. The ambiance is good with many eating amidst chatter and laughter. The servers are friendly especially one Murari who serves me is exceptionally good. You both must dine in the hall. You are missing lot of fun,” Dhana replied.
“I am eager and willing but what can I do with a couch potato for my husband?” grumbled his mom and added “Are you tipping Murari generously for him to be very solicitous to you?”
 “I like eating here all the three of us together,” interjected Deenadayal much to the chagrin of Lochana.
“Sorry, appa, I like eating at the dining hall. Let amma decide for herself, “ replied Dhana.
Two days later, Dhana had not returned even at 10 am and the parents were worried. When Deenadayal readied himself to go to dining hall to enquire, a server came running to inform that a poisonous snake had bitten their son and that he is safe now resting in a room at the hall.
Shocked they literally ran to the hall to find Dhana sitting on a chair but pale and crying with many around him. They hugged him and asked what had happened, whether any doctor was called or he was taken to hospital.
One person came forward and signaled to Dhana to keep quiet and said to the anxious parents,” I am the resident doctor here. Normally snakes are not common here and no idea how he came to be bitten by a venomous snake. There are no hospitals nearby with necessary antidotes and it would have been risky to travel far without something being done immediately. We had put a tourniquet in the leg above the point of bite. Still the boy started frothing when one of the servers came forward and started sucking out the poison through his mouth. Luckily this helped save the life of the boy.”
“Where is the man, the savior of our boy?” cried Deenadayal and Lochana in chorus.
The doctor and the others who were around remained silent with downcast faces. When prodded, the doctor said, “Sadly the man who sucked the poison had ulcer in his mouth and the poison spread in his blood stream. He died immediately giving us no chance to revive him. His body is outside.”
“Does he have a family? Have you informed them?”” asked Deenadayal
 “No, sir, Murari was single and had no family. He stayed in the accommodation allotted to him here. He was a good person, always quiet and a bit forlorn. I don’t know why he did this foolish thing when he had a wound in his mouth. He could have asked someone else to do,” he replied.
“Murari, did you say? Is he the server who served my son daily?” asked Deenadayal at no one in particular. Someone nodded his head.
He went along with doctor and others to see the body of the server. As he saw Murari’s body, a thought flit across his mind. Then as if on an impulse, he pulled up the white sheet covering him at his legs to find to his great shock six toes on both legs.
He remembered vividly the six toes, he saw more than a decade back, in both legs of the man who gave his son for adoption and his having checked immediately baby Dhana’s legs to make sure they were normal. He could not resist from thinking that Murari must have known Dhana was his son from the large birthmark on the latter’s forehead and must have sacrificed his life for Dhana’s sake. Tears started flowing copiously from his eyes to the bewilderment of Lochana and others around. He took care however not to reveal the secret to anyone.
Lochana was surprised to find her normally thrifty husband spending a huge amount for Murari s funeral. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A tryst in the train

Sweta boarded her AC two-tier compartment just a minute before departure She looked around her lower berth and found no ladies nearby. One middle aged stout man in spotless khadi with ash and vermillion mark prominently on his forehead was in the opposite berth and was rolling beads covered partially by a cloth with his eyes partly closed. She could not see the two men who were already on the upper berths. On the side lower berth, she saw a young man of her age staring at her, who smiled when she turned towards him. She ignored him and looked at her mobile for messages. When she lifted her eyes after a while she saw the young man still watching her but he quickly lowered his eyes.
As she took out a blanket from her bag to cover herself preparing to sleep, the khadi man’s hand rubbed hers presumably by accident and he was profuse in apology. What a contrast to the ogling guy she thought. She was travelling to Chennai to attend her college mate and close friend’s wedding.
She could not sleep as she felt uncomfortable at the constant attention from the young man sitting close to her. But, she drew comfort that there was the pious gentleman clad in Khadi just across her berth whom she can always approach if a need arose.
She must have dozed off to sleep and around 1 am she felt to her horror someone rubbing her back when she heard a loud shout. She sat up abruptly to find the stout man standing close to her and the young man from the side berth shouting at him in anger.
“Why do you people wear khadi, caste mark and roll beads when your mind is dirty? I have been watching you for a long time frequently getting up and standing near that young lady and brushing your filthy hand on her. I thought initially you were going to toilet but you never went even once. Why did you do that? Don’t you have sisters or women in your house?”
“Don’t utter a lie. You do not know who I am? I will break your teeth. As I got up, my hand accidentally brushed against her once. Don’t you see I am fat and the space is narrow? Ask her if I did not apologize to her the first time?” he said in an angry tone.
“I agree if it happens once. But, you have stood by her side half a dozen times. It is because of you and concern for the lady I did not sleep and kept watching,” the young man said
“Who is she to you, sister or lover for you to take care of?” he asked with shameless audacity
The other passengers woke up meanwhile and looked in bewilderment at the stout man not knowing what had transpired. When he saw the others looking at him, the khadi man mumbled something and sat down quietly.
Sweta was much embarrassed and looked at the young man somewhat gratefully for coming to her rescue.
Turning to her, he said “Please do not worry. I suspected his intentions right from the first time he brushed his hand against you. It was deliberate. I knew he would trouble you again and did not sleep keeping a watchful eye. As I surmised he turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If you wish, you can call the RPF and complain. I will be a witness.”
“No, no. It is not necessary as I have a marriage to attend to early in the morning. Thanks to your vigilance, nothing serious happened. I will remain seated and awake for the rest of the journey. I am grateful to you,” she said in apologetic manner feeling bad for mistaking him initially.
The young man exchanged his berth with her and asked her to sleep in peace.
At the queue for prepaid taxi at Chennai Central, she noticed to her surprise the young man standing just before her in the line. When he saw her, he exclaimed “The world is round. We are meeting again,” She smiled a bit shyly
When his turn in the line came, he said “T. Nagar” and paid the money. He turned back and asked her where she was going. When she said T Nagar, he asked her whether she was willing to accompany him and that he would drop her at her place en route. She readily agreed with all her suspicion gone.
They did not speak much during the journey except exchanging names and stolen glances. When the car neared T Nagar, he asked her for her destination. When she named a marriage hall, he was startled and literally jumped making the driver to look back.
“My God, what a strange coincidence! I am also going there. Whose side are you representing?” he asked.
“Sunita, my classmate and closest friend, is getting married” she uttered when he jumped again to her great amusement and said” Oh God, she is my cousin, my mom’s sister’s daughter. She had never told me she had such a sweet friend”
“What did you blurt, something like sweet or savoury?” she asked in mocked anger.
When Sunita, who by chance was standing at the entrance of the marriage hall, saw them alighting from the same taxi ran to Sweta and hugged her tightly. Turning to the young man she asked “Suresh, how did you manage to hook my friend already? Do you know her for long? In fact, I have been wanting to introduce you both during my wedding but you two stole the thunder so cunningly. She is such a sweet girl, if you are not already aware. I bet you both would make an ideal pair”
Sweta lowered her head and started scratching the ground with her toe nail, while Suresh said “I would be beholden to you, Sunita, if you can carry it forward.”
Verily a marriage was made in the train and not in the proverbial heaven.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A young woman in distress

After a daylong shooting from early morning with repeated retakes, Director Manivarman sought refuge at his usual haunt for some quiet. He sat on a bench near the old bridge across the wide river in the outskirts of the city. The view was somewhat sombre with the sun setting fast and the sky aglow in deep orange with occasional flock of birds flying speedily to their nests.
His eyes were closed but he could not refrain from thinking of the day’s events. The beautiful actress was   from a different part of the country new to the local culture and the hero, a busy and impatient guy, could not hide his annoyance at the frequent retakes. Manivarman had to cajole him to go easy and be tolerant reminding him that the film was almost complete. He expected this romantic venture to be a great hit with its bold scenes and novel theme. Nevertheless, a thought flit across his mind that he should pick a local but a new face for his next film.
It was then, he heard a soft sob nearby and turned to see a young woman with disheveled hair and crumpled clothes standing close to the railings of the bridge and peering at the silent water. He immediately knew that she was in some distress and her choice of this lonely location did not augur well.
“Why are you standing alone at this hour near the railings? Don’t you know the river is deep in this part? I suggest you come away from the railings and tell me, if you wish to, what is bothering you. May be I can help you,” he said.
She did not answer though she turned her face towards him. What a beauty with her chiseled features, he thought for a second. “Haven’t you heard me or what?” he prodded her to speak.
She wiped the tears flowing from her eyes with her dupatta and continued to stare at him silently.
“Don’t you follow Tamil? he asked her.
“I am a Tamilian but why should I talk to a stranger about my problems. What is wrong if I stand here? “she asked
“Ï am glad you can speak well. You have every right to stand anywhere you like but it is unusual for a young lady in disheveled condition to be alone at dusk on a bridge with hands on railings. That reveals something is amiss. Do not act rashly with God-given life. Do remember that all these things get sorted out but a life lost can never be retrieved. Sit on this bench for a while. You will feel better.” said the director.
“Thanks for your concern. But you can do little to help me. I beg of you to leave me alone for me to find a solution to my problem, “she said with teary eyes.
 “Okay. I will leave you to your own devices but on one strict condition that you promise never to take your life. I am in a hurry to go home, “he said.
“You cannot force me to promise. But, I am willing to share with you provided you promise to leave me alone.” she said in a determined tone. He nodded his head in agreement
 “I loved a young man since my college days and he too loved me with same intensity. He sought time for our marriage till his younger sister got married. I agreed as he was a decent and honest guy. I trusted him so much that we spent several weekends together. His sister was married more than a year ago and ever since I have been pressurizing him to marry me. He was putting off initially offering one reason or the other and I did not mind giving him time. But when he came to know a week back that I was bearing his child, his attitude changed abruptly and advised me that I better abort the baby. When I refused, he avoided talking to me or meeting me. When I managed to confront him last week, he had the cheek to tell me that he had already married another woman under pressure from his family. I was devastated and initially thought of complaining to police and have him behind bars but the thought of his newly married wife deterred me. My doctor refused to abort the child saying it is late and would endanger my life. I cannot hide from my parents anymore. I was foolish and will have to pay the price. I assure you that I would not do anything rash and will think over the matter this week calmly. Please go home,” she said.
“It is dark already. Can I drop you at your place?” he asked
She agreed and went to fetch her bag while Manivarman turned and walked towards the car. It was then he heard a loud splash behind him. He looked back and found to his horror the young lady was not to be seen. He ran towards the railing and peered into the silent river for any sign. It was dark already and he could not see clearly. He hit his head repeatedly with his hand loudly remonstrating himself for trusting the troubled girl and for leaving her to walk behind him.
His legs trembled and he sat on the bench muttering to himself when he suddenly heard a loud giggle followed by peals of laughter. He saw the young woman emerging from behind a flower pot with bushy plant and said, “Sorry uncle. Did you fall for my short acting? I dropped a big stone into the river. I know who you are as you are famous and that you visit the place once a while. I was waiting for an opportunity to showcase my skill and I am happy I could do it today. The story was all a big bluff. Can you now help me with a break as promised? “she said smilingly.
Manivarman looking at her beautiful face and bewitching smile decided that here was the new face he wished to employ for his next project.
” I am angry with you for scaring me but appreciate your guts and impromptu histrionic skill. Yes, you will be the leading lady in my next film to commence soon if you pass the screen test. Here is my card. Visit me after a fortnight as I am currently busy,” he said with much relief and a large smile.