Monday, November 19, 2018

An encounter with a cannibal

A friend had asked me to write a horror story. This is an old one repeated for his reading pleasure and for the new followers.
It was late evening. I was sitting in the lounge of a hotel in an interior 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 readily agreed curious to see something strange.
In a few minutes we drove outside the city to what seemed a forest and were face to face with a bare bodied black tribal 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 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 loud thud. My companion had hit the black man hard on his head.
“Don’t worry” he said as he plunged his sharp teeth with relish on the black man’s shoulder and added with a large grin showing his blood filled mouth, “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 frozen still and dazed like a deer caught in the headlights.
” Trinng, trinng, trinng,” the phone came alive with the receptionist in her sweet drawl announcing, “Good morning,Sir. This is a wake up call. It is 4 am and your flight is at 6 am.” Highly relieved but still dazed, I thought of the terrible nightmare looking at my sweat drenched shirt.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A tough decision indeed (twists galore)

The inspector of police was about to leave the police station for home. A constable came in to announce that a young lady wanted to see him urgently. She came soon behind him, a young lady in her late twenties. The Inspector asked the constable to remain outside. She seemed educated and spoke flawless English. The inspector was an elderly man about to retire in a year with a daughter of her age and a son well settled.
Asked what brought her to the station, she said coolly “I have poured acid on my husband’s face when he was asleep. He is writhing in pain at my home.” The inspector could not believe what he heard till she assured him that it was a fact. The inspector asked her to wait and meanwhile sent a SI with a constable in a jeep along with keys to her home to admit the man in agony in a hospital. He simultaneously arranged an ambulance to reach her home
Once this was taken care of, he asked her to narrate the events truthfully as they happened. After a glass of water, she said” I am Swati, a post graduate in Botany and a lecturer in a college. I made the mistake of falling in love with this man whom I married later. He is an exceptionally handsome guy, with an infectious smile, slightly effeminate, suave in manners and an engaging conversationalist that would sweep any woman off her feet. He is intelligent, cunning, lazy and fond of good living, easy money and adept in handling girls.
When I fell in love with him, he told me that he was a MBA and an executive in a reputed company. I have waited before his office building in the evenings till he came out for spending the evenings. He took me around to places but took care not to take advantage of my mad love for him before marriage. This made me trust him more. I have no mother.
My father an old man who is no more had one look at him and said “Swati, he rings fake to me. Something about him warns me that he is not right, though I cannot pinpoint. Don’t be in a hurry to marry him. Have his statements verified independently before you take this important decision.”
Foolish and headstrong as I was, I ignored his suggestion and went ahead with the marriage. At the suggestion of my husband, it was a simple marriage with a very few friends of his. It was only later after a few months that I could find out, he had no job, had no MBA and was a plain loafer. It transpired later he waited in the office building to pose that he worked there. I also learnt to my utter shock that I was his fifth wife and that he had inveigled earlier many girls like me and married them, gave them children and robbed them of their money. He went each night to one of the unfortunate women.”
The kindly inspector asked “Do you have any child? Have you also parted with your jewels and belongings as I see no gold on your neck or hands?”
She replied “Yes, I have lost all. Luckily I have no child. He made me abort the one immediately after marriage telling me that it would be a hindrance for planned holidays and I was then not aware of his shenanigans. The immediate provocation for my drastic step today was his attempt to cheat a young girl into a marriage. I overheard his conversation telling her that he is an IRS officer and unmarried when he assumed I was not at home. When I confronted him that I would not tolerate any more of his cheating young women and that I would complain to police, he laughed derisively and asked me to get lost.
The inspector kept quiet thinking of a plan to resolve successfully this matter. I knew his looks were his asset and I decided to take it away from him so that no girl would ever fall a victim any more to his wily moves. I had strong acid for cleaning purposes and I decided to wait till he fell asleep on the sofa after watching TV as he usually does. I took this decision consciously and am prepared to suffer punishment for it.”
The inspector kept quiet motioning her to remain silent and thought over the matter for a few minutes. He could see in the agitated young girl before him a picture of his own daughter. He could visualize the mental torture of hers having been cheated by a riffraff. He had no sympathy for the young man who got his just desserts. What he was worried was the wrong manner in which the justice was administered to him by the young woman taking law into her own hands.
After a while he coughed slightly and told her in a quiet voice” You have taken law into your own hands. This is highly wrong, a big offence and punishable. Listen carefully, you are of my daughter’s age and I trust what all you have said. Still I will make independent inquiries to verify the veracity of your statements. If he is really a culprit as you have explained, have no worry at all. You said that you poured the acid on his face when he was asleep. He must have lost his vision by now. Give me a statement duly signed that on entering the house from the college, you found the door open, your husband writhing in pain on sofa and that someone must have assaulted him with acid out of enmity. Utter no word to anyone that you did it and stick to this no matter what. I will bring this case to a successful conclusion to the great relief of his five cheated wives and to the rescue of his potential sixth victim.”
 He stood up, patted her on her shoulders and said “Don’t worry; you have a dad in me. Policemen aren’t as bad as they are often depicted.”
The story can end here. However, for some of the readers who expect a twist at the end, please read on.
It was then the mobile in Inspector’s hand rang.” What did you say? Repeat it, is it that your brother is in hospital with acid burn? Which hospital and who gave the information? I am rushing there,” he replied to his wife.
He turned to see Swati trembling in fear. “Do not worry. Our deal stands. If the man is a cheat, he will pay the price. You may go home without fear. My only wish is that your husband is not my brother in law but a different man, though my brother in law is a wastrel with all the traits of your husband.” the inspector said as he rushed to the jeep.
For those not satisfied with the above twist being unrealistic, here is another.
On hearing is wife, the inspector looked at the trembling Swati sternly without a trace of compassion he showed earlier and walked to his desk. He took her statement from the drawer and tore it to shreds and bellowed to SI,” Take her to women’s police station and keep her in the lock up till you hear from me.”
If you desire the ultimate twist, here is one.
When the mobile rang in inspector’s hand, he asked, “Tell me quickly. I am in a hurry to go out. Did you say your wife is missing? What is her name? Okay. Please tell me,” and listened quietly and looked at Swati once or twice. Finally, he said to the person on the phone, “Yes, sir, she is here. You may come immediately. I will wait for you.”
In a few minutes, a young and handsome man got down from car and introduced himself, “I am Mohan, IRS working as Assistant Commissioner," and  gave his card and showed his ID. "This is my wife Swati. I am sorry she has inconvenienced you all. She is having some psychological problem and very occasionally gets into a bout of persecution complex and imagines all sorts of things. This is the third time. We are a happily married couple. She is under treatment under Dr. Sargunaraj. If you wish, you may talk to him."
Meanwhile Swati had snuggled close to Mohan and smiled innocently at the inspector unaware of the problem she had created a while ago.Evidently the presence and comfort of her husband's proximity had calmed her mind.

Monday, November 5, 2018

A mysterious disappearance

It was raining with men and women coming out of offices and  were seen seeking cover under the porticos of office buildings or shops.
“How about a hot coffee at the adjacent coffee shop?" asked Vittal to his good friend and colleague Shoba.
As they were seated in a corner with coffee cups in hands, Vittal looking at her intently said, “Are the ear studs new? The penguin shaped one with red stone fixed on it for the eye looks exquisite on your face.”
“Yes, I fell for it when I saw it. It is a new and unique design. I bought them yesterday at the mall,” replied Shoba. She readily agreed to Vittal’s wish and posed for a selfie with him that displayed the stud prominently.
” Shoba, I have been observing you for the past two weeks and notice a look of worry in your face. Are you keeping well with no health issues? I have not seen the usual smile for a long time. Tell me if there is any problem that I can help resolve.”
She kept quiet for long time. When she did not answer, Vittal said, “Never mind, drink the coffee before it gets cold. The rain has subsided. We will make a move.”
“I am sorry Vittal. You are someone more than a friend and someone whom I could trust and in whom I could confide. Let me tell you in strict confidence what is bothering me. I have been dating secretly someone in our office for a year. You know him well as I have seen you both together often.”
“Did you say secretly dating? why should it be that way? A guy in our office known to me? How come I did not get a scent of it?” asked Vittal in a baffled tone.
“It is Vikram Arora in marketing. You must be knowing him well.”
“Who will not know that dapper guy with his charming ways and flashy style. He is close to me as we were classmates in IIT. Surprising, he has not uttered one word about you so far. I have heard friends telling he is the heart throb of many female employees. You are lucky he has chosen you. Why this veil of secrecy? If the friendship is open, it would keep others away from him. When are you both getting married?”
“It was at his insistence that I did not tell anyone and secretly meeting him in resorts and hotels on weekends. You know I have no parents or any close relative here.”
“Such an amorous development should reflect joyfully in your face. Why this melancholy look then?” If you had confided in me earlier as a trusted friend, I would have advised you not get too close to him till the wedding is decided publicly. I know him well from his college days. Do not lower your guard. I would advise you,if you really love him, to get married soonest.”
“Vittal, I am actually in trouble due to my foolishness in falling for his sweet talk. I explained to him the urgency of the marriage in the condition I am. His reaction  is callous and irresponsible. He tells me it is my problem for not being careful and asks me to abort or get lost. He even has the cheek to tell he cannot marry every woman with whom he had slept,” confided a sobbing Shoba.
“I feared this response. What will you do now? Did you consult a doctor? Vittal asked her with concern
“I will not buckle that easily. I have threatened him that I have proof of all his messages in my mobile phone and that I will lodge a complaint in the office and if needed go to police. He got jittery and asked me to wait for two months when his sister would have been married and he would marry me immediately in a gala function.”
“If I were you. I would still get rid of the problem immediately. He is not trust worthy. Do what you think is best before it is too late for redemption, “ he consoled her.
“Do not worry. I can afford to wait for two months,” she assured.
Vittal left the next day on a  long tour for nearly a month. He got immersed in work and did not think much of Shoba. He was once or twice concerned about Shoba and her relationship with that wily Vikram.
On the day he returned to office, he was busy meeting senior bosses and in meetings. Only as the evening drew close, he remembered Shoba, he requested his secretary to get her on the intercom.
“Don’t you know, Sir, she stopped coming to office two weeks after you left on tour. Our HR department’s efforts to trace her at her apartment failed as she was missing there also. She had left no message to people. The landlady had also complained to police. Our legal office has also informed the police. So far they have drawn a blank with no clue of her whereabouts. Her mobile is switched off. We are all very much disturbed. She was pleasant and seemingly had no problem. She had no romantic interest to our knowledge,” replied the secretary.
When Vittal met Vikram the next day in the corridor, the latter betrayed no emotion. On the other hand, he hugged Vittal and asked, “Where had you gone? I was told you had gone one tour. I need your help this Sunday. I am shifting my house to another locality. I want you to be at my place to keep an eye on the things at my present place as I will be busy receiving things in the new house. The truck will carry the big packages like furniture, fridge and washing machine. We will take in our cars the costly electronic and delicate items finally.”
Though Vittal agreed readily, an irksome thought crossed his mind about the coincidence of disappearance of Shoba and Vikram’s shifting to another apartment.
Next Sunday the truck had carried all heavy things to the new location. Some personal items, electronic items, some expensive glass items were stacked in Vikram’s car and a few in Vittal’s. Both cars followed the truck and reached the new apartment. A few men were arranging heavy things inside the at the proper places. Vittal called two men who were standing idle to take the  things from both cars carefully to the apartment which they did
When everyone was inside the apartment, Vittal cross checked the boot of Vikram’s vehicle to see nothing has been left behind.It seemed. empty though it was dark inside. When he narrowed his eyes and looked hard, he saw something shining in one corner at the rear. Curiously, he pulled up the mat and saw to his shock, one penguin stud with red stone. There was a reddish brown smear on one side of the stud. He took care not touch it but made sure it was one of the pair he had seen on Shoba. He closed the boot even as Vikram came down with the labourers.
Vikram thanked him profusely before Vittal took leave calmly  without revealing even slightly  the horror of what he saw and his strong suspicion. He stopped on his way at a public booth and rang the Police control number 100 and said “Please listen carefully. Look for Honda City Car number DL XX XX XX**** at ..... apartments,Third avenue, …..bagh and check rear end of the boot for a penguin shaped ear stud smeared possibly with blood and connect it to the missing woman reported if any within the last fortnight. Do not waste a moment. You may lose the vital clue. You will get a photo of the missing woman with the stud very soon.”
“Hello what is your name, where are you speaking from? Can you please hold on for a moment?” asked an anxious voice from the other end only to hear a click of the phone being disconnected.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A rendezvous with ghosts

It was a large green lawn with colourful flower plants encircling it. The line of full grown trees at regular intervals on the periphery provided cool shade, though after 4 pm they made the place somewhat dark. Arogyasami enjoyed the scenic beauty daily sitting on the bench and often lost in thought on his many problems and a few happy memories, sometimes frowning and sometimes smiling. The frequent cool breeze laden with the scent of flowers made the place a happy hangout. He preferred to be alone but some days other people came to the lawn like him. Even when there were several benches, it irked him they always chose his bench to crowd together.
Today he had come earlier than usual and luckily there were none in the lawn. The sky was overcast and the place seemed darker than usual. He saw with interest a little yonder an overgrown squirrel struggling repeatedly to break a hard nut with its teeth when abruptly it dropped the nut and hurried into a bush as if it sensed danger. Wondering why it ran away, he saw to his horror a creepy figure that seemed like a bent human form flailing its arms and covered in black rushing towards the bush. It was just about 20 feet away. He crossed his chest with his fingers. Arogyasami strained his eyes hard into the darkness and saw the figure moving quickly towards him. Even as he wished to run away, his legs froze in fear and he fainted.
When he became conscious and opened his eyes, he saw three persons bent over him with their faces breaking into large smile and exclaiming, “He is alive.”
“What happened to you?” one asked and added, “You look as if you had met a devil.”
“True, I saw a ghost clad in black trying to catch a squirrel and failing in its attempt, it came after me. I could not see its face clearly but I will swear it was a wicked and violent ghost,” Arogyasami said somewhat recovered from the shock.
“All crap, why would a ghost catch a squirrel? There is no ghost here. I have been coming to this place for years and have never seen one or heard of such a thing. You must be hallucinating,” said Appadurai, a frail old man with a beak like nose.
“How could you say like this?” interrupted Rajappa, a tall and stodgy guy. I have heard that many people have committed suicide on these trees and their ghosts freely roam here, a few peaceful and most are harmful. They roam sometimes in white robes too not necessarily in black always. Many have died stricken by them or in fear. I am told nobody comes here after dark. In fact, I have myself encountered one such. It had grotesque misshapen features with hollow cheeks, toothless mouth and protruding tongue much longer than for us. It never walked on ground and caught me in a trice. I thought my heart would burst but summoning my nerve, I pleaded with it to leave me alone. It took a hard look at me and said with a weird smile that was scarier to look, “Sorry buddy, a case of mistaken identity. I am looking for one Appadurai who is responsible for my present state.”
The frail beak nosed guy turned pale and asked in shivering voice, “Did the ghost say Appadurai? I have never driven anyone to death.”
Arogyasami interrupted to say to Appadurai, “Ghosts never forget till they wreak their vengeance. I suggest you avoid this place for a few months. I have heard they have elephantine memory and haunt the place frequently. You are lucky to have escaped today.”
Gopanna, a short and stout guy, who was silent hitherto spoke at last, “I have personal experience with a ghost. I killed my neighbour who tried to misbehave with my wife when I was away. I came in the nick of time and hit him repeatedly with a hockey stick till he died. He said before he lost his consciousness,’ I will never let you go unpunished. Wherever I am, I will catch you and kill you.’ I spared my wife as she did no fault. I was let off by police. I have myself heard strange cries and noises at unearthly hours outside my house. We vacated the place. I am no more troubled.”
“You are lucky, “said Arogyasami.
It was already dark past 6pm on a wintry evening despite the dim lights on the lamp posts. It was then Appadurai screamed, “Turn behind and see. Three ghosts in white are rushing towards us. Let us run to safety,” even as the white figures closed in on them. Arogyasami fainted again. Appadurai started crying hoarsely while Gopanna tried to run. Rajappa stood still utterly confused.
When the three men in white uniform caught all the four, one of them shouted at them telling, “What are you doing here? You are all supposed to be in your cell by 6pm. Come along quietly or I will beat you blue.”
They followed the wardens meekly without demur to their cells in the mental asylum.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Raju mama's presentience

(An old story of 2009)
It was a rainy Sunday at Seattle. With nothing pressing to do, Ram was rummaging an old box of his. He found to his delight a tiny book of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam(1000 names of Lord Vishnu). He took it in his hand and fondly caressed it. As he turned the pages of the book, a dry rose petal fell from it.
His mind went back to his childhood days at Chennai where he lived in a colony that had several blocks with six apartments in each  building on both sides of the road. He lovingly remembered Raju mama(uncle) who had given him the book. Ram was then ten years old living in the adjacent building to Raju mama’s. He had preserved it carefully as a priceless possession.
Raju mama who had just retired from a high position in government was about 60 years and lived with his wife. His children were in Northern cities. A well-read man, he was proficient in Valmiki Ramayan and could quote shlokas aptly with ease. He conducted Vishnu Sahasranama chanting sessions in his apartment where about a dozen young boys and girls in the vicinity assembled daily to chant and learn by rote the shlokas. He gave the book free to all the boys and girls who attended the session that started sharp at 6 pm. Most of the children did not need the book as they had memorized it.
Raju uncle looking stern by appearance was a disciplinarian and would get upset if someone came late to the class. It was generally mami (auntie) who came to the support of children when he upbraided them for wrong pronunciation or missing words. He gave the kids candies, raisins or plantain fruits at the end of the session daily.
Uncle had a soft heart behind the rough exterior and helped many poor children with tuition fees and books. He carried commonly used patent  medicines in a bag during evening  walk and gave them to needy people who were aware of this good habit of his. His contributions to charitable causes were never spoken about though his wife used to confide to Ram’s mom. Though his children were in comfortable position in the North, he never left Chennai. Raju mama as a rule never spoke about himself or his kind acts.
Ram lost touch with Raju mama after his dad was transferred out of Chennai. He studied in Delhi, did his IIT and left for US for his MS and doctorate. He never went to Chennai in the intervening years.
He broke from his reverie and decided to invite him and mami personally for his wedding scheduled to take place luckily at Chennai itself
He was lucky to get Raju mama’s email address from a friend in US who was also in the Sahasranama group along with him. His friend was not sure whether the email address was current. Nevertheless, Ram wrote to him immediately.
Respected mama,
This is Ram who lived in the adjacent house and learnt Sahasranamam from you about 15 or more years back. I am now working in Seattle after my higher studies here. I wonder whether you remember me. To assist you in placing me, I can give two clues. One is I have hazel eyes and when mami remarked on seeing me first time that I had poonai kannu (cat’s eye) you chided her. The second one is,  one day not a single boy or girl had turned up for the Sahasranama recitation due to heavy downpour save myself in drenched clothes. I still remember your rebuking me for coming in the rain. You hurried inside to fetch a towel and fondly wiped my head dry. Despite my being the only one present, you sat with me to recite the Sahasranamam. You had kindly praised me sky high the next day in the class. I hope, mama, these two would suffice for you to recollect me.
I have one good news to share with you. My marriage is fixed with Sita next month at Chennai. She is a colleague and her parents are from Chennai. I will be meeting you soon next month  to invite you both personally.  Kind regards, Ram
Pat came the reply from Raju mama that he remembered him well and even his face. He said the Sahasranama sessions have stopped and that Valmiki’s epic never goes stale presenting new insights each time he reads  and is keeping him busy.He had also said that both mami and himself are looking forward to meet him.
Ram landed at Chennai after six weeks. His parents had already arrived from Delhi. There were lots of relatives  assembled in his house. Ram wished to meet Raju mama that evening itself. But he could not as his parents wanted him to accompany them for some urgent shopping.
The next morning, he took the invitation, the gifts he had bought for uncle and mami, bought some sweets on the way and went to the old colony where he had lived long time back. The houses all looked the same except for some additions in the front. When he got out of the car opposite uncle’s building with the packets in hand, he saw a cluster of people standing silently outside. It looked ominous though there were six flats in the complex.
He approached one gentleman and asked him which was Raju uncle’s flat though he knew very well. Seeing Ram well dressed with sweet packets and invitation on hand in hand, he said “Don’t you know Raju Sir passed away last night? It was a massive attack and the end came immediately even before medical aid could reach him. So sad for he was a good and venerable man. May I know who you are?”
Ram replied, “I used to live in the adjacent building long back. I am his old student in Sahasranamam class. Are mama’s children there?”
“No, only his wife is there with some ladies from neighbourhood. Her children are expected any time today. Poor mami, she is devastated.”
Ram returned to the car and left all things in it. When he went up he saw mami sitting crestfallen by the head of Raju uncle. He looked very much older but the features remained the same sharp ones he was aware of. He went to mami and sat by her side. There was a sign of recognition when she saw him. He held her hands and with tears streaming from his eyes, he said “Mami, I am Ram. Do you remember me. I had told uncle that I would be meeting him. I wanted to come last evening itself. It is my bad luck that I missed seeing him alive.”
She replied “Even last evening he was talking about you. He even wrote something on a piece of paper and left a sealed envelope for you on the table. When I asked him what it was, he brushed aside my question and only asked me to hand it over to you. When I said you could yourself give, he kept quiet. It looks  in retrospect as though he had a premonition of things to happen.”
Mami cried inconsolably even as Ram tried to console her. After some time, she went to the table and handed  him over the envelope.
It was only the next day he opened the envelope. There was a small note with a thousand rupee note.
My dear Ram,
My blessings to you. Kindly accept my best wishes and the token gift. I am afraid I may not be able to attend your wedding. I still remember your young face with your drenched clothes that evening years back. You made me very happy that evening. I hope you recite Sahasranamam regularly. Affectionately Raju mama”
Ram could not control his tears and sobbed inconsolably.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The slingshot

In the corner of dimly lit and smoke filled hut, Rani was struggling to boil a broth before her parents came home tired and hungry from the field. The firewood she picked in the nearby wood was damp generating more smoke than fire. Her eyes, red and burning with nose running, the young girl of 13 persisted in her efforts to ignite the flame. She felt her lungs would burst by the repeated blowing through a narrow cylindrical bamboo pipe.
“Akka (elder sister), can I help you by blowing the pipe? You look worn and tired, “asked her brother Babu of eight years. Though lean and short for his age, he was agile and his eyes shone brightly.
‘No, I don’t need your help. Open the door fully for this oppressive smoke to escape. Get me the hand fan from that corner. Amma was using it last night. Take the chimney lamp as it is dark there,” replied Rani.
Babu gave her the fan and sat by her side meddling with the slingshot in his hands. The boy and the slingshot were inseparable.
Emaciated and bony, she was tall for her age giving an impression of a young woman. Her unkempt hair that had not seen oil for long and her ill-fitting faded clothes subdued her well defined features. Her mother stopped her from school after she came of age. The school was two kilometers away in another village and the kutcha road passed through an arrack shop. There were a few incidents of harassing young women in that desolate stretch. Babu alone attended school.
The broth was almost ready. Seeing Babu aiming at a cockroach in a corner with his slingshot, Rani shouted,” Babu, you are with that wretched slingshot 24 hours of the day. Can you not put it aside for a while? You have got addicted to it.”
“Akka, unless I practice daily my aim at distant objects will not be accurate. Do you know I got the first prize in a competition held with my friends in school? Watch me aiming at the cockroach in that corner.” Taking a pebble from his pocket, he hit it on the first attempt. Clapping her hands and hugging the young boy, Rani said,” I am proud of you. But you should spend only limited time in practicing. You must study well and come up in life.”
“Akka, I will study well, help you in your chores but please do not stop me from practicing. I beg you, akka,” pleaded the urchin.
“No you can play with it in the evening from 4 to 6 pm. I am ordering that you should keep it aside after that. Otherwise I will inform dad who will break your slingshot,” she threatened the boy.
Babu made faces at her and ran away with the slingshot in hand and pebbles of assorted sizes in his trouser pockets
The 12x12 room was all the area in the hut doing the duty of living room, bed room and kitchen. There was no running water and the common well a little away served their water needs. The folks in the village relieved themselves in the open fields under the cover of bush or rock or the banks of canal. The women generally went in the evenings in groups of two or three after the sunset when it became dark but not very late while men went in the mornings. There were complaints that some men on cycles from other nearby villages making catcalls at lone woman. There was a funny incident of two men accosting a frail old woman defecating in the open around 8pm mistaking her for a young woman and ran away when the old woman yelled at them.
It was a week later on a Sunday, Rani’s dad brought from a fair in the adjacent village a large bagful of groundnuts and chikki (bars made by mixing nuts with gur) to the glee of children. Two days later Rani was having slight pain in her tummy and drank some potion in the morning made by her mom.
Seeing her lying on the floor for long, Babu asked her, “Akka, aren’t you well? Shall I go and fetch amma?”
No, no, not necessary. I will be fine tomorrow. Do not tell her anything. Both of them would be tired after a day’s hard work,” she told him.
Around 11 pm that night, she felt an urgent need to relieve herself. Not wishing to wake up her tired parents who were fast asleep, she gently rose from her mat taking care not to disturb Babu by her side. She did not go far into the fields afraid of evil men and sat by a bush. There was a slight drizzle and moon was covered by clouds. A few minutes passed when she heard a shuffle of feet behind her and before she even got up to run, a sack was put on her head that covered her up to waist and two men lifted her like a bundle. Her shriek from inside was muffled.
The two men happy they had their quarry finally in their hands for their merriment walked carrying her towards a pump shed a little yonder. Hardly they took a few steps, one of the men dropped the sack when he was hit by something hard as if a lightning had struck on the back of his head. He fell down unconscious.
The other guy, confused at this unexpected development and unable to bear the weight of sack, dropped it and looked around to see what was happening. The next moment he wailed in pain and shock as something hard hit him between the brows with blood gushing out and making him giddy as he also. fell down.
As the sack was not tied at the mouth, Rani came out wondering at the miraculous happening when she heard,” Akka, come away quickly before they get up.”
When she saw Babu with slingshot in hand, she surmised what had happened. “How did you come here? I came without making noise and making sure you were asleep.”
“Akka, sorry, when I saw you getting up, I closed my eyes pretending to sleep. I followed you and was hiding on the other side of bush. When I heard your stifled scream, I sized up the situation and chose the biggest pebbles. They were like cockroaches and the aims were perfect, akka, though from a distance and in the dark. I knew I cannot afford to miss. Come on let us hurry home,” he said as he walked along with her proudly.
It was a week later when Babu had his birthday, Rani presented him with a packet wrapped in glittering red paper. When Babu opened eagerly, he saw it was a nicely made slingshot unlike the home made one he had. Jumping in joy, he hugged her and . asked ,"Is your order that I play with this only in the evenings holds good now?"
Rani joined him in the laughter.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pandian’s second wish

Pandian had come along with his three friends to explore the green dense forest on a Sunday afternoon and to spend time with nature to savour its raw beauty. He had heard there was a beautiful lake, clean and circular, surrounded by wild and colourful flower plants He wished to find it out and spend a few minutes. But his friends demurred telling it was getting dark. His enthusiasm overtook his caution and he went alone deeper inside after requesting them to wait for some time. Unfortunately, once inside every side looked alike and he lost his way and his friends. He tried to reach them through his mobile but the charge had drained.
 It was only 4pm but it was pitch dark. He heard unusual and strange noises and he was particularly afraid of slithering reptiles. He was scared and started praying even as he kept moving into the maze looking for a  clearing or brightness of sunlight. Something soft and cool slightly rubbed on his cheek and he jumped startled that it could be a python from the overhead branch.He could see nothing and moved away quickly.
After several harrowing minutes when he lost all hopes of escape, he was happy to see an opening that was a little brighter. When he went near, he found to his great relief,an old man of indeterminable age sitting bare bodied under a tree. He was sitting with his legs crossed in Padmasana, had a flowing white beard and his eyes were closed obviously in meditation. He sat quietly before him waiting for him to open his eyes. Pandian was afraid to disturb lest he got angry and refused to help him find his way out. Minutes clicked past and it was almost an hour and he was still sitting before him when the weird noises around him grew shriller and louder. But, nothing seemed to wake the old man from his musing. When a fly sat on the edge of Pandian’s nostril he could not stop the loud sneeze despite his attempt to smother it. It was then the old man opened his eyes and surprisingly smiled at Pandian.
In a soft voice that was almost a whisper, he asked “Son, what are you doing here in this dense forest? It is a risky place to be here with crawling reptiles and roaming wild animals.”
Pandian prostrated before him and prayed “Swami, I lost my way here and could not find my friends with whom I had come. I am afraid I have strayed deep inside the jungle. Can you kindly help me get out of the forest?”
“I have not seen a human for several years this far into the forest ever since I came here as a young boy in search of meaning of life. I am not normally visible to others eyes. Lucky you could see me. I am pleased with you. Ask me three wishes and they would be fulfilled immediately.’
“My first wish is to be out of this jungle” he said
“”It will be done immediately. Express  your other two wishes” said the sage like person
“Swami, I love Swarna, my former college mate very much but she is not reciprocating. Can you please make her fall in love with me?” asked Pandian
“What is your third wish? Tell me now this moment before I become invisible to your eyes”
“Swami, I am so tired and exhausted after the walk all day that I can scarcely think and  I wish I had a sound sleep before telling my third wish,Pandian said unwittingly.
Everything was blank till Pandian  heard his mother’s shrill voice, “Pandia, why are you sleeping like Kumbakarnan. You said you have an interview today. Get up fast as it is already late.”
I leave it to the readers to wonder like Pandian whether his  wish about Swarna would materialise.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A faux pas

It was the corner office in the tenth floor of tall building overlooking the sea. The view was great, the spacious room was cool and yet Ratna Kumar (known as RK in short) was seen wiping his face with his kerchief. Today was his wife Sumitra’s birthday and he had booked a table for the evening at a posh restaurant. He was yet to buy her a gift and wished to leave office sharp at 6pm after this meeting. As Marketing Director of a big company, he was concerned at the dipping sales graph in one particular segment. Seated deferentially before him was one of his senior executives Rakesh Khurana (another RK) who was in charge of that particular area.
“Rakesh, how are your wife and children at Delhi? You were mentioning a couple of months back that your father-in-law had sustained back injury due to a fall. How is he? When are you bringing your family to this place? I know she is working in a Kendriya vidyalaya and trying for a transfer,” enquired RK.
“He is better, sir, but uses a walker. My family may be required to stay for a year more there. I am managing somehow.
“Good, Rakesh, I called you to discuss an important matter. The sales in your segment is very poor in comparison to others. Do not say the demand is low. All the others are doing well. The other day MD was specifically mentioning about your area. I told him that you are very hardworking and a very good material for higher responsibilities needing no supervision and that I would talk to you about the low sales.”
“Thanks, Sir, I will do my best in this quarter and show you much better results.”
“Good, leave no stone unturned to make up for the lost ground. This is in your own interest. Am I clear?
“Yes, Sir,” replied Rakesh as he stood up.
“Sit down. I am not done with you yet. There is a personal matter that I wish to speak to you in confidence. I am not sure how serious and true the information I got is and I am hesitant to broach on it. Nevertheless, since it may impinge on your performance in office and affect the company, I thought it fit to mention in private to you.”
Rakesh looked at his boss RK with apprehension not knowing what he was about to say.
“Of late I have been receiving complaints from market that sales in your area is going down and customers are unhappy for poor service, delayed deliveries and false assurances. I also hear that you are not easily available. The impression is that you have not been showing much interest in your work and frequently leave office early. I have myself received some complaints about your department from a few customers. I wondered what happened to a good executive like you,” said RK and paused.
As Rakesh kept mum with his head bent, he proceeded further. “I made some discreet enquiries and learn that you are close to your secretary Ms. Vimla and you two often go out together much earlier than office hours. It is not my intention to intrude into your private affairs outside office. They are entirely your own and are of no interest to me., But I am concerned at the poor outcome in your work as a result of this liaison that has affected the company. I am transferring that lady to a branch in the city,” he said.
Rakesh was seen uneasy and heavily perspiring. Rakesh tried to take his kerchief but pulled out from his coat inadvertently a small red coloured packet. He kept it on the table and took out the kerchief. RK took the packet in his hand and saw from the cover it was GUCCI perfume for women. There was a look of consternation in RK’s face and guilt in Rakesh’s when he mumbled sorry.
RK then grimly reminded Rakesh about his dear wife and children at Delhi and that his act of betrayal is being talked about in the office behind his back. He also reminded that ethics of the office would not permit such liaison between employees. If it did not stop, he would be compelled to take extreme steps, he warned.
Rakesh highly in remorse promised that he would mend his ways from that very moment and welcomed a new secretary in place of Vimla for him. He left the red packet on the table when leaving the room refusing to take it with him lest it tempted him.
 It was already 5.45pm and RK remembered his wife Sumitra would be waitingat the restaurant for birthday dinner. He had to hurry as the traffic was heavy around that time. He saw on the table the packet of perfume bottle and it struck him it would be an ideal gift for her. He felt no qualms in taking it as he can always reimburse the cost to Rakesh later.  He slipped the bottle that was lying on the table inside his coat pocket without even opening it as he hurriedly left.
When he reached restaurant at 6.05pm, he saw Sumitra already seated at the corner table. Mumbling sorry for being held up by traffic, he gave her a small hug and sat opposite to her in relaxed manner. Improvising Shakespeare, he said “Age cannot wither you, nor custom stale your infinite variety” and shook her hands warmly saying Happy Birthday. Sumitra watched him with amused smile, as he took out from his pocket with a flourish the red coloured packet.
Sumitra happily took the packet from him and noticed the words GUCCI written on the red cover to her great joy. RK was pleased to see the radiant face of his wife as she opened the red cover of the packet. A small piece of paper fell down to the bewilderment of RK. She curiously started reading what love message her husband had written. “To my sweetheart Vimla, with everlasting love, RK”
RK was shocked to see Sumitra abruptly and angrily getting up. Pushing the bottle towards him she cursed him, “You two timer, you have the cheek to gift me the perfume bottle you bought for your lover. Fie on you. You will go to hell. Do not ever make an attempt to contact me.” She stomped  out crying without waiting for the dinner with others in the restaurant turning their perplexed faces at them.
Dazed at the turn of events and not knowing what made her angry, he bent and took the chit to see what Rakesh had written. He sank on his chair as if hit by a sledge hammer ruing for his grievous mistake of using someone’s gift without checking fully. He knew it would take a very long time for him to explain the faux pas and pacify her.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A tryst with Tampa uncle

Narmada exploded in anger when she saw one day the following comment in her blog from someone under the name ‘Bard from Tampa’ picking several flaws in her poem.
“Writing poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you still choose to write to a specific form of poem, adhere to the rules strictly. If you are not skilled in writing to form, switch over to free verse. Rhyme is desirable but should not be contrived spoiling the appeal. You do not have to throw a dictionary at the reader. Avoid alliteration like a plague. When I read your poem aloud, I felt like I was munching Jal muri with grains of sand replete. Good luck next time.”
Narmada felt the comment was very harsh and unfair. She wrote back contesting some of the points made and wished the critic were gentle in his words and encouraging in nature. He promptly apologized and admitted that he was in a cussed mood when he read the poem and that he regretted later. He had requested her to continue writing more poems in different forms. Thus started a regular exchange of mails initially and eventually ended in chat regularly.
While Narmada’s profile was known to him from her blog, she had no inkling about him except that he was in Tampa, US and perhaps elderly as he wanted her to address him as Tampa uncle. But she found his mails and chats very interesting, jovial and educative too. Being an extrovert, she gradually was drawn into discussing her likes and dislikes and even her personal problems in office and home.
Narmada, a young thing in her late twenties was working in a renowned software company after her engineering degree. A versatile woman she had varied interests.  She had a blog of her own where she regularly posted her poems, reviews of books she had read and films she saw besides her thoughts on the happenings. An extrovert she was friendly by nature and had innumerable friends.
During one of the chats, Tampa uncle asked her, “Do you like Carnatic music?”
“I play Carnatic music on violin at a reasonable level though I do it only to please my mother. Frankly I have no fancy for this type of music. But I am fond of Hindi film and pop music. My mom says I have a sweet voice and would make a name if I chose to enter that line. But I have no such interest,” she said.
“Who are your favourites in music? I have also seen in your profile that you are a movie buff. Whom do you like to watch?”
“Have you heard of Arijit Singh and Papon? Among the females, I like Shreya Ghosal and Sunithi. There are countless others coming up. Ranbir and Ranvir take the top positions in my list with Alia Bhatt and of course Deepika in my female list. I must admit I had a crush on Maddy but he has become obese these days. How about you?”
“I am fond of Carnatic music in any form and drawn to good music of other genres too. My problem is lack of time. I have no favourites. I like them all. I do not go to Hindi films much.”
What she liked about Tampa uncle was he seemed a perfect gentleman, vibing well with her youthful tastes and giving proper advice when sought for without seeming to be inquisitive. She grew to like him much for his gentle disposition and had even sent her resume to him.
Her mom was pressing her to get married but she was not keen about it. She desired to go to US for a couple of years. But her father had retired from service with just adequate pension and she had a younger sister in college. Narmada’s earnings were a great support to the family. But that did not deter her parents from advertising for a suitable groom and spreading word among relatives and friends for a prospective match. She could do little to stop them except whine to her Tampa uncle   about her plight and how unrelenting her parents were. She told him of her desire to visit US for two years on project and not marry immediately. To her dismay, he advised her to go along with her parents as they knew what is good for her.
It was then Tampa uncle asked her what were her favourite food. When she said she loved Italian pastas and Mexican and Chinese food instead of the drab South Indian fare, he gently advised in his avuncular manner to learn cooking of South and North Indian cuisine. He added that one cannot eat everyday Italian, Chinese or Mexican food.
 In a couple of months, her parents found a highly qualified professional from US through some friend. The young man was based in New York and was expected the next month. When Narmada informed Tampa uncle about the developments, he congratulated her and expressed his happiness for her. He told her that he has a plan to visit India and if the date of wedding matched with his visit he hoped to be present for her wedding. Narmada was elated at the prospect of meeting her good friend and mentor.
On the appointed day the young man Vasudevan came along with his parents to Narmada’s place for meeting her. He looked tall, handsome and a bit dusky with curly hair. Narmada too was an ideal match for him. Needless to say, it was a case of love at first sight. After the pleasantries, they went to a separate room to talk and know each other better.
Vasudevan broke the silence telling her that he had no questions to ask her and that he liked her very much. He asked Narmada to seek answers for any questions she had in mind. She smiled coyly and said she too had nothing to ask him. Vasudevan smiled at her and said he had one stipulation to make before proceeding further bringing jitters to Narmada. Being qualified he wanted her to work in US as additional income would be welcome.That is no big deal,she thought. He paused for some time before adding that she agree to his stipulation that she  remit a portion of her earnings to her parents each month.
 She was flabbergasted for a few minutes rendering her speechless and wondering how he read her mind. She involuntarily folded her hands doing a Namaste and bending to touch his feet. He lifted her and said he was fond of a typical Tamilian food though he liked very much pastas and had a weakness for Mexican enchiladas and cheese quesadillas. When a thrilled Narmada asked him about Carnatic music, he confessed his partiality towards Hindi songs by Arijit Singh and Shreya. He liked Chitras songs too.He was not sure he liked Maddy.
A doubt crossed her mind and she asked him whether he knew any elderly gentleman in Tampa. Vasudevan could  contain his laughter no more and asked her “Are you talking of Tampa uncle and his famous  girlfriend in Chennai?” 
She now knew the whole game and started hitting him fondly with both hands on his chest amidst shrieks of joy. The perplexed parents rushed in to see the blushing young couple holding their hands in laughter.

Friday, September 21, 2018

A new beginning

It was a lower middle class apartment complex built by government with thin cracks on the faded walls and with plants sprouting from the crevices. Ramaswamy Iyengar had bought this flat about twenty years back after selling his tiny share of land in the native village. Iyengar has been happily living in this comfortably situated and well connected place. Another reason for his happiness was that Kesavan Nambiar, his colleague and close friend of several years, is his neighbor in the adjacent flat.
A retired government servant Iyengar was getting a small pension. He had a son and a daughter born late in life. Govind his son had finished his MCA and joined a reputed IT company. Being bright, he was chosen by the company for long term work in US four years back. Although of marriageable age, Iyengar was waiting to finalize first his daughter Veda’s marriage. Veda after her M. Com joined a private bank earning a good salary. He was frantically searching for a suitable match for her. Traditional and conservative, always clad in Dhoti in conventional manner, he sported his caste mark prominently on his forehead and spent long hours mornings and evenings at the local Kodandaramar temple assisting in its administration.
Nambiar’s only daughter Padmini, a close friend of Veda and of same age, was an extremely good looking and tall girl. She had learnt multimedia and web designing at advanced level and was working with a big publishing company. Nambiar’s financial position was not good and the family lived mainly on the income of Padmini. Though Nambiars often claimed that his search for a good match for his daughter has not been fruitful, Iyengar confided to his wife now and then his suspicion that enough efforts were not put by them possibly due to their dependence on Padmini. The lady agreed with him lamenting at the plight of Padmini and blaming her destiny.
It was then one fine morning a rich Kerala business man with his wife and son approached Nambiars wanting Padmini’s hand for their only son. It seems they said their son was struck by the girl’s beauty when he went to the bank on some business and that they were not particular about the status or the wealth of the girl’s parents. They assured that they would take care of all the marriage expenses including jewelry, clothes, marriage hall and food. The young man looked decent and handsome. It seemed that he was assisting his father in the lucrative family business. Padmini’s parents were flabbergasted at this godsend development and readily agreed after checking with Padmini. The marriage soon over, Padmini left for her husband’s place in the same city. Nambiar shared with Iyengar under strict confidentiality that a tidy amount was given to Nambiar during the wedding as a token of gratitude by groom’s family.
 Initially for a couple of months Padmini visited her parents frequently but was not seen thereafter. It appeared that her in-laws were not letting her visit her parents and also forced her to quit her job. She was strictly told not to contact her parents. Nambiars were very much shaken and frequently shared their grief with Iyengar couple.
After three or four months, Iyengar was surprised to see Nambiar at the sanctum one morning from his office space in the temple. The latter rarely visited the temple. When Iyengar found him standing before the Presiding deity praying for long, he went near him and found his eyes closed and tears trickling down his cheeks. He stood by his side quietly waiting for him to finish.
 When he opened his eyes, Iyengar put his hands on his shoulder and asked him,” Kesava, are you alright?”
Nambiar tried to be normal and said,” Yes, I am quite fine physically.”
“I did not mean physically. You seem to be mentally tormented with some problem. I have never seen you in tears in all these years as you are a strong personality. If it is not very confidential, you can share with me. It will lighten your burden.”
Nambiar hastily wiped his eyes and said “Ramaswamy, we have been deceived. Padmini’s life is totally ruined,” and started sobbing even before completing the sentence
“Are they ill treating her because she did not bring adequate jewelry or dowry?”
“No, the matter is much more serious,” and he kept quiet without telling what the problem was.
 It took a while for Iyengar to ferret out the information that the marriage has not been consummated and that the young man was unfit for married life. It appeared that it was beyond any medical remedy.
Iyengar was shaken initially and after some deliberation said, “Kesava, there is no point in her staying there. You must bring her back immediately to your home. She is a major and can come out on her own volition. As a matter of caution, I will accompany you along with a lawyer friend of mine. He can put fear in their minds, if there is a need. Can we go in the next hour?”
When Nambiar agreed, Iyengar told him, “We will carefully think of a solution later after talking to Padmini. Whatever be the solution, staying at their place is no more acceptable.”
By afternoon, the presence of lawyer friend enabled easy release of Padmini from that hell and she was safely back at the apartment. With Veda providing company, the smile returned to Padmini’s face.
 Two days later after dinner Iyengar broached the subject to his wife. Veda was also present. His wife also sympathized with Padmini and wondered what could be done. Divorce is inevitable but what next? The fate is cruel in some cases,” she added.
 Iyengar told his wife “I have thought of a plan and wanted to know your views before expressing it to Padmini and her parents. Firstly, I am going to ask Padmini to get a divorce. This can be obtained within a short time, my lawyer friend tells me. Secondly, Govind may be willing to marry her as they know each other well. She is a good match for him. I am not going to see horoscope or bothered by any tradition or opinions. I have almost decided and just need your approval.”
Before her mom spoke out, Veda intervened and turning to her dad said exuberantly,” Appa, you are cute and an ideal father I am proud of. I can now share a secret. Though Govind and Padmini have not openly uttered, I think they are very fond of each other. How nice to have her as part of our family. Appa, please talk to Govind now itself,”
“Let me hear your mom too,” said Iyengar.
” Padmini is no doubt a very good girl. Nevertheless, I would prefer Veda’s marriage to be finalized first.”
On hearing this, Veda exploded “Do you think my marriage would be affected. I don’t care. I will find someone for me. But Govind should give a new life to Padmini immediately. It has nothing to do with my wedding.” Her mom remained silent.
Iyengar softly said, “I have already spoken to Govind. Do you know what that wily fellow said? He tells me ‘Appa, have I ever said no to you ?’”
In six months Padmini was happily married to Govind after due formalities. Veda too got a good match. 
When Iyengar went to the temple after a fortnight to resume his honorary duty, he was slightly apprehensive of how the orthodox and conservative management would react, He was pleasantly surprised to see the Trustee of the temple warmly welcoming him with extended hands and congratulating him for his  gesture. 
Kesavan Nambiar who rarely visited the temple earlier  came these days daily.