Thursday, January 29, 2015

Swarna’s date

Swarna had just woken up after a heavy lunch. It was a dull Sunday afternoon and she had no plan to go out. She picked the iPad from her side and lazily browsed the net. She was wont to spend a few minutes on the matrimonial site, not with a view to find her man, but to amuse herself reading the advertisements that usually exaggerated the accomplishments of the grooms and spoke of their tall expectations from the brides.
 She was nearing 35 but remained unmarried. A senior executive in a foreign bank, she had three anthologies of poems to her credit. She had dated a few individuals but none of them clicked. She found them boring. She stopped dating, but had friends to socialize with. Nevertheless her tryst with matrimonial ads continued.
She sat up with interest when she saw this particular ad. It was unusual and candid for a matrimonial site.
Tall, 38, never married,B.Tech., MS, senior executive in IT, has a Jaipur leg on the right. Needs no help or crutch and can drive. Does lot of social work. Need an understanding partner who is equally qualified, to work or not is her choice. Would like someone interested in social work. She must ponder over the disability and consequent disinterest in strenuous outings before responding. Cell: xxxxxxx.
She read the ad again and liked the straightforward listing of his plus and minus traits and expectations from his partner. She liked his concern for the hapless and involvement in social work though she had no such interest. The age suited her. She became curious to know how he would be and that led to her dialing his number
“Good afternoon. Did you place an advertisement?” she asked and paused for a moment before continuing” I am Swarna.I have carefully gone through the ad and I think I meet your requirements though I have done no social work. I like your frankness. When and where can we meet?”
“Thank you Swarna for calling. I am Swaroop.There is some similarity in name,” he giggled and added “Can we meet this evening? Suggest me a convenient restaurant. I will be there.”
She was touched by his leaving the place of meeting to her convenience. They decided upon Adyar Park at 6Pm that evening.
She looked elegant and simple in her cotton chanderi brocade Patiala suit. He came to the lounge sharp on time and had no difficulty walking straight to her. Unconsciously she paid attention for a fraction of second to his gait and found he was not limping. He was quite handsome, dusky and reminded her of Gregory Peck.
He took her hand, led her to the appointed table and drew the chair for her before he sat opposite to her. His smile was infectious, when he said “I never expected such an attractive lady. I am glad you agreed to meet me”
“The pleasure is mine,"she replied coyly
“I was apprehensive that you might ignore my ad due to the Jaipur leg,” he said
“That was no reason to deter me. I was touched by your openness and concern for the disadvantaged people. By the way, did you meet with any accident for you to lose your leg?”she asked.
“Would you like to see the prosthetic leg?”he asked.
“No, no.It is ok for me. Not now any way” she replied.
“Ha ha, not now, did you say? That means later. I am so happy. Nevertheless you must see it”  he said, as he pulled  his trouser up to show a clean natural leg.
When Swarna looked up in confusion and disbelief, he smiled and said “Excuse me for the small test. I wanted to make sure my wife would be compassionate towards handicapped people with whom I spend considerable time to lift their lives. I am now happy I found one in you”
 “Thanks” she shyly said with a small giggle even while rejoicing inwardly at her good fortune.
“What would you  like to eat?” he asked and the date continued thereafter.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Into the forest

He decided to avoid the paved road and instead chose to tread through the forest to reach the village on the other side. What would have taken long time by road, he decided to cover in half the time. It was only three o’clock and the remaining daylight illuminated the surrounding areas. Birds chirping, squirrels running, leaves rustling were the only sweet sounds heard. With no regrets, the man walked further through the deep and serene forest.
 A couple of hours later, an eerie silence encircled save for the distant howl of a wolf. What ostensibly seemed alive was now haunted. The leaves had gone asleep, the squirrels had gone home, and the chirping of the birds had ceased. The daylight quickly receded with darkness enveloping the endless forest. A great anxiety took over the man’s mind. He could neither return nor proceed further. Helpless as he was, he involuntarily looked up and made a Sign of Cross with his hand.
He looked around carefully and saw a streak of dim light. He waded through bushes and trees and reached a small hut. He called twice, but could hear no response. He gently pushed the door and peeped in. Surprisingly there was no one inside. At the corner there was the tiny lamp shedding light. There was no sign of anyone living there. It was an empty hut with a lamp. He waited for an hour hoping someone would turn up. Tired as he was, he fell asleep on the mud floor.
 At dawn, all seemed to be back as it was when the man initially set out in the forest. The sound of birds filled the air and the squirrels played on the green grass. The man woke up, wondering how he came to be at the hut. He looked around to see where the lamp was, but to his shock, the lamp was missing.

Confused, he went to the corner, where the lamp was, only to see a Sign of Cross etched on the floor. It dawned on him then, that the lamp he saw in the previous night and the cross seen now signified Lord's presence in answer to his prayer. With a grateful smile, he continued to walk towards his destination.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Maggi, noodles and pizza

“Arun, the food in the plate is getting cold. Why aren’t you eating?” asked Lalita
“I hate this South Indian food that you make daily. I will complain to dad that you are starving me often if you do not make pasta, noodles or North Indian food, “replied the 8 year old boy.”
“I love to cook different kind of foods for you, but this cannot be a regular occurrence. Your dad also does not like them much. I cannot make many varieties daily as I have to rush to office. Be a good boy and eat what has been served,” explained Lalita with a great deal of care and concern.
“No, I would rather starve than eat this horrible stuff,” defied the brat.
“Do not try to black mail me. If you starve for a day it will not hurt you. If you are not eating, better go to your room. I have already explained to you why and if you still have a problem, there is nothing I can do.
“I will not only tell dad that you have starved me but also thrashed me when I protested.”
“When did I ever beat you? Why are you lying? I have given you lot of affection, but you still hurt me when you talk like this. Tell your dad what you like, but my conscience is clear” said Lalita
Ravi lost his first wife when she gave birth to Arun. He struggled bringing up the child despite having the help of his sickly mother. He refused to marry again despite his mother’s pleas. After his mother’s demise, things became worse. He lost opportunities of promotion as he would not go to other places. He confided his problems to his colleague Lalita who always gave him a patient ear. Gradually their meetings grew frequent, and both soon found they were in love. They got married once Lalita expressed her willingness to be a mother to the boy.
Lalita really liked the boy and took care of his needs without any prompting from Ravi. Being disciplined herself, she tried to inculcate the same in the slightly wayward boy making him do things like getting ready for school on time, doing homework without fail, and keeping his things at appointed places in an organized manner. He resisted this and rebelled sometimes. Lalita would not easily let go. But in the matter of his food she was not really very strict. Every now and then, the boy would demand a pizza, chat, pasta, tacos, or noodles and when refused would threaten her. Often she would give in more out of affection than fear.
She was expecting daily that  Ravi would  talk to her about the boy’s complaints when they were alone. But he never spoke about it. He was loving and affectionate to her as ever. She wondered whether he was waiting for her to broach the subject lest she got offended. She could not bear the suspense of his total silence. When they were alone watching TV one day, she decided to ask him gently whether Arun had complained about her.
“Ravi, I think I have been a little strict with Arun on his doing home work, tidying up his things and getting ready for school bus. I have also not allowed him to eat often the junk food that he is fond of. He rebels no doubt. I do pamper his taste buds once a while and not whenever he wants. I wonder whether he spoke to you about this,” she asked softly.
“Good you are disciplining that brat. He is naughty sometimes,” he said
“You haven’t said whether he spoke about my disciplining and refusing to yield to his demands.”
“Frankly he has never spoken a word against you. In fact he was telling me one day that his teacher was praising him for not failing even once to submit the homework and that the credit went to you. He likes you very much. Why did you ask? Did he ever threaten that he would complain to me?”
“Yes, he always does that. That was why I was a bit concerned” she replied
Suddenly she found herself hugged from behind by tiny hands. She turned to find Arun giggling accompanied by Ravi’s laughter. The boy sat on her lap and said “Amma, I love you more than my dad. He calls me naughty and a brat.When I came to drink water I heard what you were telling dad..I am sorry for scaring you with the threats that I would complain to dad. I found it an easy way to get a Maggie or pasta from you though not as often as I would like. I promise I would not do so again.”He added innocently, “Tell me,Amma, is it wrong for a young boy to love pasta, noodles and such?”
“No, not at all provided it is not eaten frequently,” said Lalita even as she hugged the boy smothering him  with kisses.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

55 word fiction

I was polishing shoes.
He called me from his car.
“Drop this box in the garbage bin yonder and take these 100 rupees,” he said
I demurred.
”I will break your head. Do it now,” he threatened.
I stealthily dropped it in his car even as I proceeded towards garbage bin
“BOOM”. The car was ablaze.

2.First time
My family was away.
I found her when strolling in the mall. Tall, shapely and attractive, she was.
I took her home. What a pleasant surprise it would be I thought even as I laid her on bed.
I gingerly caressed her soft hair.
It’s my first gift of Barbie doll for my young daughter.

3. Fortune
I was sitting on the bench at the park.
When a small dog snuggled my feet, I patted it gently
Wagging its tail, it romped on the side walk happily.
A man on cycle foolishly crushed the puppy.
Struck with remorse, he thrust 500 rupees.
“What name?”
“Strange name”
I genuinely pitied the street dog.

4.A night at a motel
It was midnight
“No vacancy” said the motel clerk.
 I pointed to hanging key at the corner.
“Not suitable”
“Give me the key, I have no place to go”
“You will regret”
As I inserted key, I heard “It is my room. I live here for ages”
An icy cold hand tapped me from behind.

“I have unbearable pain below right abdomen ”.
After examination the physician asked “Have you made your will?”
Shocked, I asked “Is it life threatening?”
“Acute appendicitis”
“It is minor surgery,” I said
Yes, minor for most but not for Dr Rajan, the only surgeon available”
“He failed in anatomy thrice scoring single digit marks"

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Journey in more ways than one

I had some urgent work at my village near Kumbakonam and had to take a bus as ticket by train at  short notice was not available. It was already 11.15pm and the bus scheduled to depart at 11 pm showed no signs of urgency. Some seats were still vacant. There were murmurs of impatience from passengers but there was no one to take note of them. The conductor was outside soliciting passengers and the driver was seen smoking at a distance.
A fat man hurriedly boarded the bus and sat by my side. The bus too commenced its journey soon after. It was a deluxe bus with ample leg space and a two-seater coach. I turned to look at the man who seemed my age with a bulging paunch. He was bald with silver hairs on his temple and had thick glasses. When he turned towards me, I smiled at him and said “You ran the risk of missing the bus had the bus started in time.”
He smiled back showing his pan stained teeth and said “Yes, I know.But I travel frequently and they start only after about 30 minutes unless the bus got full.“After a pause, he asked “How far are you travelling?”
“I am going to Kumbakonam.I will take a cab to a village nearby” I replied.
“If I am not inquisitive, can I know which village? I belong to that area  and know all the nearby villages” he said.
“Not at all, Naduvakkarai, a small village, close to Ammachatiram.Have you been there? There is an old temple of Sri Rajagopalaswamy in the village” I replied.
“Do you live there? I travel frequently between Kumbakonam and Chennai and I have never seen you. From your dress and appearance, you do not seem to belong to the area” he said
“You are right in a way. I live in Delhi and have no reason to visit the place as I have no relatives there and  the land and house have been sold long back. But I spent my younger days in the village and studied at Kumbakonam.It is decades since I came to these parts”
“Oh oh!.What brings you here now? Do not mistake me for asking this” he asked
“Not at all. I am going to meet an old friend of mine. We studied in school together, but lost contact with each other after I left for Delhi”
“Wow! How nice of you to go all the way to the village to meet a friend whom you have not met or been  in touch for decades. You two must have been intimate friends” he said with a smile.”
“Not really. In fact he used to be a selfish fellow and often picked up quarrel with me on our way to school. I did not like him much. Anyway I am going to meet him for a specific purpose. I have only faint memory of his face as a young school boy. He must have changed in appearance over these long years and hopefully in his behavior too..”
“True, some age quickly while some retain youthful look for longer periods. It depends on varied circumstances. Anyway, the purpose of your visit must be an important one” he said obviously to ferret out more information.
I felt my co-passenger was an inquisitive fellow, but I did not mind conversing with him to while away the time.
“Yes, it is an important matter. I have a son in USA.He went to study and took up a job there. He fell in love with a lady who was junior in the university. I did not know this till I broached recently about his marriage. He confided their mutual love and their decision to get married preferably after a formal approval from parents. The girl’s father, I could connect from the details given by my son is my old friend. I hope to renew my friendship and get his endorsement for the alliance” I confided.
“Who is that gentleman in Naduvakkarai? I know most of the people in the village. What is your good name?” he asked
“I am Chellappa. My friend’s name is Rangabashyam. We called him Rangudu..Would you know him by any chance?” I asked eagerly.
“Do you know his father’s name?”
“Yes, Srinivasan. He was the  trustee in the temple those days” I replied
“Is your father’s name Sampath?” he asked with urgency
“Yes,,how do you know?"I asked him with surprise
“My god! Chellappa, don’t you recognize me? I am the same selfish 'Rangudu' whom you did not like much” he said with loud laughter to my great embarrassment.
When I mumbled my regret in shame, he put his arm around me and said “It is okay. We were young boys then, petulant sometimes but with no malice. Forget about it. Let us rejoice now at the prospect of an  alliance” in assuaging tone..

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Varadakutty’s tribulations

A priest in a small temple of a village on the banks of Cauvery, Varadakutty was known for his devotion to work and honesty. He got his main name presumably from the presiding deity Sri Varadaraja Perumal and the adjunct from his short physique. Well versed in the temple rituals and the mantras for traditional religious functions, he also served as a purohit to the villages around.
What made him very popular in the area was his ability in curing snake bites. The mantra for this was passed on for generations and he in turn learnt it from his father. It was a closely guarded family secret well kept. Countless number of times he had saved the people from the jaws of certain death. He would always be chanting the mantra to keep its potency at optimum level. He lived in a small house adjacent to the temple and he was always available for help.
The temple had also large tracts of lands and income was adequate to meet the expenses of trikala puja and the annual festivals. It was customary for the tillers of the temple lands to give fifty percent of the proceeds. The keys of the temple were with the priest and trustee.
The trustee of the temple was a local politician and rich man. He had annexed many areas of temple lands to his own. None dared to question him for he was a wicked man. Besides the grabbing, he forcibly took away the cultivation of the temple land from the traditional farmers of long years and gave them to his cronies for a consideration. These new men gave only a small portion of paddy despite the high yield all around.
When Varadakutty gently broached this subject of poor realization from the new farmers and depleting income of the temple, the trustee got annoyed and rebuked him.
“You are a temple priest. Your job is to take care of the temple rituals and is confined to the precincts of the temple. Why do you poke your nose in matters beyond your brief?”
“Not like that, ayya.I just wished to draw your attention to the default of farmers. Please do not get angry with me”Varadakutty pleaded.
“Did I assign you that work? Mind your business and leave these to me. I will be harsh with you if you ever raise this subject again” the trustee shouted angrily
The priest was hurt and sad at the disrespect shown to him by the trustee. When some regular devotees who visited the temple enquired why he was looking forlorn, he blurted out unwittingly about the incident and the insult heaped on him by the trustee for mere mention of the drop in the income of the temple.
This spread amongst the villagers and reached trustee’s ears. Perceiving a risk to his hold, he wished to nip in bud the attempt to defame him. A fortnight later the trustee removed some jewels that were adorning the god and goddess and hid them in the dark ventilator of priest’s kitchen.
 When the loss of jewels was noticed by the priest he promptly informed the trustee of the loss. The panchayat members and the police were called.
The trustee informed “The keys of the temple are only  with me and the priest. On the night the jewels were stolen I was away at the adjacent town. I have the highest regard for the priest and he does his job with devotion and love. I cannot dream of suspecting him but what bothers me is that only we two had access to the temple.”
This clinched the matter and when the jewels were traced in the priest’s house, everyone was aghast. None would believe at such a denouement.
The priest repeatedly hit his head with his hands and wailed inconsolably telling “I promise I am not aware how the jewels came to my house. I swear upon god whom I am serving day in day out my innocence. I have no clue why Lord Varadaraja is subjecting me to this ignominy.”
When the trustee remained glum and serious, the deferential policemen took away the priest to the lock up in adjacent village. The villagers inwardly empathized with the priest and suspected some foul play. They dared not open their mouths against the trustee surrounded as he was with muscular men armed with sticks.
The priest could not sleep the whole night and was constantly grumbling to his God as to why he was being put to such tribulations when he had been fully devoted to Him. Seeing his pitiable state, the compassionate policemen gave him a few plantain fruits urging him to eat. He thanked them but kept the fruits aside. Varadakutty must have dozed off to sleep tired as he was.
In the wee hours of the morning, he was rudely awakened by the noise and wail of people outside the police station. A young boy of sixteen was brought in a cart. He was blue in colour and foaming from the mouth.
The villagers said “Ayya, Our trustee’s son was bitten by a cobra when he was returning home after a late night show. We have brought the boy without loss of time. Please save him”
The priest without a second thought poured on himself a bucket of water and tore from his wet dhoti a strip of cloth even as he commenced chanting the mantra in great solemnity. Every few minutes, he tied an additional knot on the strip and continued the incantation. This went on for some time with the boy not responding causing concern among the onlookers.
Varadakutty’s face was grim and watching the boy all the time he continued to utter the mantra with greater fervour. It was only after some suspense laden few minutes; the boy opened his eyes and asked “Where am I? Why are you all crowding around me?”
Varadakutty got up relaxed from the tension and said “The boy will be fine. Give him a glass of hot milk” before returning to his cell.
It was then the trustee who was standing a little away out of embarrassment and guilt came to the cell and fell headlong at the feet of the priest. Crying inconsolably he said”Ayya, forgive this wretch for the grave injustice done to you.. It was all due to my greed and wickedness. You are innocent. In anger I had the jewels removed and placed them in your house. God has punished me immediately. Despite my evil act, you were large hearted in promptly saving my son’s life. I crave your pardon before all the villagers. The lands would be restored to the farmers and the temple. You have made me a new man”
Varadakutty looked up at the sky as he started towards his home ”Varadaraja, I am greatly indebted to you. You have saved me from ignominy. This hardship must have been for the sins in the previous births for I have committed none in this birth”

The ringing of the  temple bell was heard from afar..

Sunday, January 11, 2015

An encounter with a cannibal

It was late evening. I was sitting in the lounge of a hotel in an African city.
”Hey, new to this place? Would you like to see a cannibal?” asked a tall and big man from the adjacent sofa.
I had nothing specific to do and agreed curious to see something strange.
In a few minutes we drove outside the city to what seemed a wood and were face to face with a bare bodied black man with shrunken face, matted hair, unkempt beard and beads on neck seated  before a bonfire to ward off the cold. There were lines in white and orange on his face and body.
There was a look of surprise and his eyes glistened as he smiled showing his yellow teeth. He made no attempt to talk but made some gestures that I could hardly comprehend. . A shudder passed through me as he looked at me in my white skin.with interest.
I looked around for my companion. He was not seen. A lump arose in my throat  when I heard a thud. My companion had hit the black man hard on his head.
“Don’t worry” he said as he plunged his teeth with relish on the black man’s shoulder and added with a large grin”I am lucky today. Black and white would make a great combo.”
As he slowly stood up with a vicious look and blood dripping from his flesh-filled mouth, I stood still dazed like a deer caught in the headlights.