Page 1

Editor’s Letter Indranjan Banerjee

Art’s Deceit Indranjan Banerjee

Faculty Advisor’s Letter Dr. Vikram Kapur

The Pink Blanket Sona Mewati


The Unspoken Words Sonakshi Sharma

A Rose for Rose Abhishek Sharma

How to stay awake in Vasantha’s Class Ranjit Raj

Jaji’s House Indranjan Banerjee Comfortably Numb Kirithigaa K Freedom on Floor One Ranjit Raj Bright Sun Gautam Bhat

Surrender Abhishek Sharma Emiland B. Mouli

Daddy’s Little Girl Kirithigaa K Element of Doubt Ankita Srivastav

Forever 27 Ashwanth AR The Feeling of Loss Sona Mewati

Indranjan Banerjee Last year, around October, Dr. Vikram Kapur shared his idea of The Freewheeler with me. I was very thrilled to know that the English Department would be embarking on such an endeavour. But honestly, I was nervous when he asked me to be the editor-in-chief of the magazine. This was completely virgin territory for me since I had never worked with a literary publication. However, I realized that the work of an editor, at whatever level, is not as cut and dry as it looks. One thing the job demands is for you to have good coordination skills. It was quite an experience working with the whole magazine team – the designer, the illustrator, the writers and the editorial board which included myself and three subeditors. We all had to work hard against tight deadlines and yet had to be at our creative best. First, the editorial team worked on the content and then the design team took over. One of the most difficult tasks was coordinating between the two teams. But the end product is definitely more than satisfactory. Special mention goes to the illustrator, since she was solely in charge of all the brilliant illustrations put together in the magazine and the design editor who had a strong affinity for minimalism, which, of course, is reflected in the look of the magazine. I enjoyed doing the work especially because I like hunting for inconsistencies and exercising my creativity within the parameters set by the author, audience and designer. This magazine contains some of the best work produced by the students in the Creative Writing course at Shiv Nadar University. This is the inaugural issue of The Freewheeler from the Department of English at SNU and I hope to see many more brilliant issues of the magazine in the years to come.


Dr. Vikram Kapur, Associate Professor of English The decision to teach creative writing made the English department at Shiv Nadar University a pioneer in the field of higher education in India. While creative writing forms an integral part of the English curriculum in the West, in India it is still in its infancy as an academic discipline. As a result, Indian students seeking to excel in the field have no option but to go abroad. By inculcating creative writing into its English curriculum, Shiv Nadar University has taken a significant step towards reversing that trend. Once creative writing became part of the curriculum, having a literary magazine was inevitable. Excellence in creative writing is achieved by doing. The more you practice it the better you get at it. Hence, The Freewheeler was born as a vehicle to showcase the best creative writing done by students in the creative writing courses offered by the English department. The fifteen stories that have made it to the inaugural issue of The Freewheeler straddle diverse literary styles. There are stories that seek to spirit the reader away from reality into an alternative universe. There are others that are examples of gritty realism and social comedy. Still others grapple with issues of gender and the afterlife. And then there are the ones that examine the problems that can crop up in relationships and families. While stories make up the main course of the magazine, kudos must also go to the students who illustrated them and laid them out in a manner that makes them inviting to read. Just as invaluable is the contribution of the students who worked as editors and proofreaders. Their tireless work helped make the stories as good as they could possibly get. While a number of stories did not make the final cut, the passion of all the students who went through the creative writing courses is commendable. Given that a number of students had never heard of something as basic as show don’t tell before entering the classroom, the progress they made as prose writers over the duration of the course is laudatory. I sincerely hope that they will continue working at their craft and keep improving. For all of them, just like it is for The Freewheeler, this is merely the beginning. I look forward to seeing them develop and grow as writers in the years to come. Finally, none of this would have been possible without the overwhelming support received from my colleagues in the English department who backed the magazine from day one and Professor Shubhashis Gangopadhyay, the Director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, who threw his weight behind it and Faculty Advisor never wavered in his support. A big thank you to you all.

Fender Fanboy, Android Evangelist, Photoshop Jedi, Muay Thai Enthusiast, Computer Science Engineer (in progress). He unabashedly accepts that he has copied the previous sentence from his Twitter ‘About Me’ section. His excuse: ‘I have my finger in too many pies!’ He wishes he could call his loved one a liquorice. But then he realizes the irony which his agnostic god had ‘pricked’ on him: he is a poststructuralist who yearns for closure.

Editor-In-Chief Writer

Design Editor

Her friends call her crazy though she thinks that her weirdness is directly descended from Picasso himself. She is a paranoid believer of companionship, prefers to write than to speak and is so in love with Sherlock Holmes!

Illustrator Writer

You can either have a writer’s block and be dull, dim-witted and dry or rise above it, keep at it, and be fun, feisty and fabulous. She likes to believe she is the latter one.

He wanted to conquer the world through one random act of kindness at a time. To begin with, he smiled his soul out at a small shuffling grandmother. He quit.

Sub-Editor Writer

Sub-Editor Writer

Putting life into words since words put life into him, one thing he cannot pull off is to write a good bio.

Sub-Editor Writer

He hates to wish someone again and again whenever he comes across known faces in the university campus. He is currently in a quest for the true meaning of his name.

She is an inquisitive lady with a fetish for food (for thought and otherwise).



She is a chatterbox. She talks to herself when she is in dire need of expert advice.


She is pursuing a BS in Chemistry (don't hate her!). Her friends describe her as a Grammar Nazi, a wordplay ninja, and a garlic-bread maker extraodinaire. In her spare time, she reads novels and engages in heated debates about feminist issues. What it means to be a writer according to him? Well, when an editor goes from "Bravo, you've given this man a column!" to "Bravo, give this man a column!"



“With the characteristics he possesses, his life choices will either make him a delightful writer or turn him into the king of procrastination.� – God on Gautam Bhat. Gautam is the latter, by the way.


Abhishek Sharma ‘But is it all about a promise? This state of being can be ensured by a promise or by an assurance of the moment, while there are much larger schemes plotted against the ones who dare to love,’ the white rose thought, looking down at the red rose. He then giggled, thinking of a little joke that was creating waves among the flora and fauna. The blue velvety sky splayed far and wide. The sun flared, making it brighter for their new-found love to bask in its glory. Their tales were gradually reaching the edge of the sky with each ray of the Sun. Whether it was their love that brightened that part of the world, there was no way to be certain. Not that anyone cared. Some of the story’s versions were corrected, others were glorified, and still others were compensated by the amazement of those who heard it. It didn’t matter which version reached the ears of the birds; their eyes and beaks continued to widen in delight. The nightingale sang in a high pitch, while others tweeted and tapped to carefully conjure a symphony. The leaves and grasses and flowers twisted and twirled as if they were being led by the wind in a dance. The bees bumbled around, adding a sweet buzz in the background. And all of this inspired a sonata in the name of the two lovers. Near and dear ones, which included their close friends, bees and butterflies, their sister sparrow and cousin mouse, and uncle toad and brother tulip and many others came together to put up the proposed musical. The stage was set with everyone’s consent on the branch of a sturdy oak tree. Everyone

was consumed with getting the place ready before the first ray of the moon could touch it. Work began in full swing and the scene was bubbling with joy and enthusiasm. There was much to do, but then there were so many and they’d often run into one another which would give them another reason to laugh. The whole thing had to be rehearsed one last time. Creatures from far and near presented themselves, their wellgroomed selves with glossy skins and feathers were welcomed with equal gusto. With everyone seated, the event began. Woof the dog took the stage with his head bowed. He said, ‘Bless us with bliss at all times. I pray we all be bound beneath the mighty roof by the string of love, especially those whose coming together is known in all four directions; whose tales have filled our ears and brought smiles to our faces. Congratulations!’ There were thunderous claps and whistles, before the stage was filled by all kinds of stooges who thrilled the audience. This was followed by a dance by a group of frogs who hopped left and right, back and forth, and over each other, which the crowd simply adored. For the closing, a band led by the nightingale came together for a stirring performance, after which Woof the dog once again emerged to thank everyone. In a high tone he said, ‘All hail. Let love prevail. Let its shine mark your way. Let it swell beyond heaven and hell, for it is forever here to stay,’ and left bowing. The crowd slowly drifted away, bidding the white and red rose their goodbyes and wishing them eternal companionship.

The two were finally left alone to cherish their love above all the thorns. The two roses watched the constellations and promised to be together until the moon stopped shining down on them. We will have a happy ending only if I love her enough, he thought. He will regret having those thoughts instead of living in the moment. He will blame himself for the loss of the red rose. She will be plucked out of his dreams. His friends will try to help, but the sorrow will rot him and he will close his petals to a melancholic ending. It is not our fault, the way fate plays out.

After exchanging love vows, White and Rose sat by the window. Their bodies glistened as silver light traced their silhouettes. The moon hung lower than usual in the sky. ‘They say a place is reserved there for those who can love each other for a lifetime,’

All hail. Let love prevail. Let its shine mark your way. Let it swell beyond heaven and hell, for it is forever here to stay…

Rose said, pointing at the moon. ‘It would be absolutely remarkable if we could save a place for ourselves.’ She clasped her hands together as if in prayer. ‘Yeah, we could be the first ones,’ he replied. ‘What a pity, no one has been able to do that till now.’ ‘Surely our love will surpass that of any other and then the moon will be ours,’ Rose said. ‘But you do know it happens after we die, right?’ Rose let out a long sigh. She then leaned forward and placed her elbow on the windowsill and cupped her face to look directly into the eyes of infinity. As White looked at her, he remembered something. ‘Ah! I almost forgot,’ he said, reaching for his pocket. ‘Here is something for you, as promised last time.’ ‘A rose for Rose,’ Rose grinned from ear to ear, to reveal her pearly whites and pink gum. She threw her arms round his neck and planted a kiss on his cheek. ‘You’re too kind,’ she said. She tucked the rose behind her ear. Then she wore it in her copper hair and asked him how she looked each time, after which she caressed her ivory skin with it and finally twirled it between her fingers. ‘What a wonderful thing this rose is, there’s none other to match its far-fetched beauty,’ she said. White was amused by her demeanour and chose not to say anything. ‘The reddest rose I’ve seen so far. Fragile petals and sweet nectar, is it any wonder bees and butterflies dance around it,’ she continued. ‘And look at us, humbled in its mere presence.’ It was as if they had found something sublime. They held the rose between them, talking at length about it in admiration. ‘It transcends the reality of life,’ he joined in. ‘And that is why it has thorns I believe, in case one goes astray by its spectacle.’ ‘Opals and rubies

are overrated, I think. This is the true treasure. So foolish of me, how could I fail to take notice when we have one in our own garden?’ ‘Yeah, it, and the white one together were such a lovely sight.’ Rose jumped up. ‘We’ll take this rose to the moon with us and plant it there,’ she said. ‘It’ll be a symbol of our love.’ ‘Once we have proved our love,’ he said. ‘Now I must leave before someone wakes up.’ ‘Please do stay a while longer!’ she insisted. ‘I promise to come again soon.’ He climbed out of the window and landed next to the

rose bush. She watched his body disappear in the distance. Gazing at the stem from where the flower had been nipped, she said solemnly, ‘What a shame it will wither away and return to dust.’

Indranjan Banerjee The shabby yellow paint, cracked and stained ubiquitously with black marks from heavy rainfall for over a century, made the house look old. So did the dilapidated windows and the scruffy ceilings supported by the wooden beams of the old nineteenth-century design visible through the windows. Inside the house, in the bedroom, Ma was sitting on the bed and rocking baby Jaji, who stubbornly refused to suck her breasts for milk. Just like Honu, for whom the frequent thirst quenching from the pond was not enough, the suckling had a desire to sip. Ma did not know what to do with the grumpy tot. She clicked her fingers and made the infant’s gaze follow her forefinger. It pointed at the old lush green amla tree outside. ‘Oi dekho, Honu!’ Baby Jaji looked intently at Honu and his waggling tail. She chuckled; the baby was finally quiet. Earlier that morning, Baba, Kaku, Jetha and their families had, like every year, boarded the rented Mahindra jeep to reach Durgapur. It was Saptami, the seventh day of Durga Puja. The next four days would call for some good effort on their part. While Baba and Kaku would look after the administration and finances, Jetha, along with the old ones and the spiritual ones, would actively involve himself in the Puja. SejKa, the famous one, would come on the eighth day in his Maruti. He was one of those who did the least and got the most. Many loved him, but more hated him. ‘Dekhecho, protyek bochhore ei kando!’ ‘Sotti, every year he will come late, that too in his car like a shaheb and then do nothing for the Pujo, not even for the house!’

There would be gossip around him aplenty, but they all knew that without him, the cracked and stained yellow paint, the dilapidated windows and the scruffy ceilings could successfully take a toll on the good health of the otherwise robust house. Unlike Baba, Kaku and Jetha, SejKa was never too keen on higher studies. He was, however, fairly well-heeled. Since he was not married, SejKa did not have any kids, though he loved their company. The kids enjoyed his company too. ‘Let’s go fishing!’ he would shout out loud to the group of kids. His long hairy legs would look hideous in the half pant or his fishing pants, as he called them, and his narrow head would be lost under his big yellow fishing hat. The kids would immediately drop the bat and ball and come running to follow him to the pond. There was someone in the place who hated SejKa through and through. It was none other than the pink-faced monkey Honu. He showed his hatred mostly by stealing SejKa’s belongings. The watch incident, a few years ago, had successfully stoked SejKa’s anger, which otherwise lay dormant. Everyone remembered the day where he couldn’t find his favourite watch. He searched all the rooms, overturning drawers, looking under the bed, reaching out with his hands in the dark corners, while shouting, ‘Where the hell is my fucking watch! Where the fuck is it!’ His cursing was bad enough to compel mothers to place their palms on their children’s ears. A few hours later, while having his lunch, grumpy SejKa finally spotted his golden watch hanging gloriously round Honu’s left hand. Honu was sitting quietly on the thickest branch of the mango tree on

the east side, unaffected by all the commotion. ‘Bastard! That bastard red-face has my watch!’ SejKa yelled and rushed outside the house towards the field. He dug in the sand with his currystained fingers and picked up a few stones to throw at the monkey. Honu sat there motionless, mocking his vain attempts as the stones whizzed past harmlessly to his left and right. Then he jumped off the branch and rushed quickly towards SejKa. Confused, SejKa, too, advanced towards the monkey with his hands stretched forward to snatch the watch. Honu, very diligently, moved in SejKa’s direction, but at the last moment when SejKa was a finger’s length away from the watch, he jumped up high and threw the watch to the ground. Before SejKa could figure out what had happened, Honu had disappeared into the thick bushes adjoining the field.

There was someone in the place who hated SejKa through and through. It was none other than the pinkfaced monkey Honu.

SejKa stood in disbelief for a few minutes like a fool. He continued to stare at the golden watch on the ground. The golden bands could hardly be distinguished from the golden dust on the field. Only the tiny pieces of the shattered glass cover of the dial and the silver watch needles shone through. SejKa’s face was as blank as the empty dial. As the Navami evening arati drew to a close, Kaku felt a tap on his left shoulder. He opened his left eye, turned his head sideways and saw SejKa. The mischievous grin on his face shone prominently. ‘What?’ Kaku asked in a hushed voice. ‘You know what! Meet you there after the arati is over.’ Baba and Ghosh Babu were tapped on their shoulders as well. By nine, all four of them were there. The chairs, the torches, the cards and of course, the beer bottles were set, courtesy of SejKa. Every year, on the Navami or the ninth day of the Puja, SejKa, accompanied by Baba, Kaku and Ghosh Babu, would go to the back of the building, where the four of them would drink and play a game or two of cards. Drinking during the days of the Puja was a sheer no-no. It was not that people were unaware of this recurrent phenomenon. Many in the house knew about it, but preferred not to bring it out in the open. SejKa was the leader of the pack, and his wealth guaranteed their silence. The card game began, and soon, the beer bottles were popped open. The game was going well when SejKa suddenly exclaimed, ‘Arre! Where the hell is my beer bottle?’ ‘Maane? What do you mean?’ Ghosh Babu asked. ‘What do you mean by what do you mean? I can’t fucking find my beer bottle,’ SejKa snapped. His eyes searched the ground on both the sides of the chair, ‘Kothai gelo bhogoban jaane!’ His more-than-halfempty beer bottle was nowhere to be seen.

‘Have any of you taken it? If you have, then it’s not funny! Eyarki merona!’ Four different forms of no were heard simultaneously. For the next few minutes, SejKa looked frantically for his beer bottle, mouthing all the Bengali swear words he had in his vocabulary. He even went into the bushes to check. But his efforts were in vain. It was his last bottle for the night. The card session ended quickly that year, since a grumpy SejKa decided to go back after that game. The other three continued for another game, but the beer got over and they became bored soon. Everyone in the house generally slept early on Navami night, since they had to wake up early the next morning for the Dashami arati, the day of the procession. Next morning, the whole family, most of them clad in white, gathered at the mandap for the arati. Unlike other years, SejKa was there early, waiting for the pujari to start chanting the mantras. Everyone repeated the mantras loudly after the

pujari. Everything was going fine, like every other year, when suddenly Honu arrived in the midst of the chanting. He jumped straight on to the mandap, causing a lot of commotion. The puja had to go on, so the pujari did not stop his chanting. The pink-faced monkey on the mandap, was not the only cause of the commotion. It was rather the thing the tipsy animal carried, neatly balanced between his mouth and one of his forelimbs. Honu advanced through the commotion with unsteady limbs, quietly placed the thing near his feet and within a few seconds, disappeared. Everybody present, including the pujari, glared first at the thing and then at a stunned SejKa. The arati had stopped by now. After many years, the noisiest corner of Durgapur fell silent. All one could hear then was the loud babbling of Baby Jaji from the mandap. The thing was an empty brown glass bottle with the labelKINGFISHER STRONG PREMIUM BEER.

Kirithigaa K Somewhere in the heart of Dubai, a young couple strolled into Café Floyd. Sara Khan was a pretty sight with the wheatish complexion and sharp features of a typical Asian Muslim. Her golden brown locks brushed across her face as her slender arms opened the door. ‘Honey, can you please come in quickly,’ she urged her companion while stepping inside. ‘Just behind you,’ Rohan Malhotra said. He was twenty-five years old, with a well-muscled upper body suggested by a tight Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt. He entered the café to be amazed by the breathtaking view. The café was situated on the roof of the seven-star hotel— Burj Al Arab— and had an exclusive area called the View Point. Rohan ambled over to that area where the floor was made of glass. The skyline of the man-made city looming outside brought a smile to his face. They spotted a quiet corner table and went over. Prism-shaped designs on the walls of the café caught Sara's eye, reminding her of the band Pink Floyd. Their song, Comfortably Numb, was playing. No sooner were they seated than Sara realized how hungry she was. ‘Darling, can you please place the order for us?’ she told Rohan. ‘I am famished.’ ‘Yeah, tell me, what do you want?’ ‘A gourmet shrimp sandwich, two croissants, and a Very Berry smoothie.’ Rohan went to the counter to place his order. After about fifteen minutes, the couple’s order was brought by the server. It filled the entire table. It looked like Rohan had ordered everything on the menu. The server gaped at them, as did the two

sitting at the next table. Rohan and Sara, however, were unconcerned. ‘Mmm…’ Rohan said, licking his lips. The couple gorged on their food, savoring every bit of it. ‘Wow! That was delectable. I have not had such well-seasoned food in a long time. I think I am going to try their tiramisu too,’ delighted Sara, once they were finished. ‘Are you sure? I think that blueberry cheesecake looks more tempting,’ said Rohan. He placed the order for dessert. Sara's brows pulled together as she frowned at Rohan. He appeared nonplussed. ‘Why didn’t you get tiramisu?’ Sara asked. ‘Because, I wanted to have this,’ replied Rohan, pointing towards the plate, ‘and anyway, all the food that we ordered today was according to your wish.’ ‘So? It’s my birthday. Can’t I just have things done my way for at least a day?’ ‘What do you mean? I always do things the way you want.’ ‘Yeah, right! I wanted to go to London for a holiday, and not Dubai.’ ‘But you know I had some business here. So it made sense to come here.’ 'Why’re you the one who calls the shots all the time?’ ‘That’s utter rubbish! I thought you were enjoying your birthday today. I even got you a limited edition Louis Vuitton bag.’ 'You can't make me happy just by splurging money!’ ‘What more do you want? You always crib that I don’t buy you anything and when I do, you've got a problem with it.’ ‘Forget it! You'll never understand

me. You treat me as an object of pleasure. Are you even serious about our relationship?’ ‘Why do you always have to bring this up? Didn’t we discuss this? I just ended my four-year marriage! It's not the right time to go public with our relationship.’ ‘I feel you are embarrassed to admit that I am your girlfriend.’ ‘What rubbish! It’s such a waste of time arguing with you. I am going back to our hotel.’ Rohan stood up. ‘Can you not be your selfish, arrogant self just this one day?’ snapped Sara. ‘Please do not create a scene here. Everyone is looking at us.’ ‘You're always worried about others. You don’t give a damn about me. I was blind to not see the selfobsessed loser in you.’ Rohan was not used to arguing with a woman. Whatever self-control he may have possessed, crumbled in the face of it.

He placed the order for dessert. Sara's brows pulled together as she frowned at Rohan.

‘Can you please just shut up? ’ he roared and started to walk away. ‘Don’t you dare walk away from me like your dad always does from your mom.’ ‘Now, this is too much! Feel free to go and sleep with a random stranger.’ Enraged by the remark, Sara got up and strode towards him to slap him hard. Seeing the situation was rapidly getting out of hand, the manager moved to intervene. The two young men, who had the table next to Rohan and Sara, stopped him. ‘Don’t do anything please. They are the most famous celebrity couple back in India. The young woman is Sara Khan, a famous Bollywood heroine, and the man happens to be the sole heir to the steel company giant Malhotra Infrastructure,’ said the one holding the camera. ‘We are from the media and have been following them for the past few days. Today’s coverage of their public spat is worthy of the front page. Please don’t disturb them,’ the other man urged.

Photo Credits:

‘But they are creating a ruckus in my café!’ the manager shot back. By now, Sara had stormed out of the café with her handbag. ‘Give my wallet and car keys, you bitch,’ bellowed Rohan, as he went after her. Alarmed because they hadn’t paid their bill, the manager hurried after them. The two men from the media stepped in again. ‘Please don’t disturb them. We don't want anything to disrupt our coverage. We will pay you double the amount of their bill after we finish clicking pictures and collecting footage,’ said the cameraman’s companion. The baffled manager remained rooted where he was, watching the drama unfold with his mouth opened wide.

After about twenty minutes and four blocks away… ‘Alright guys, that was easy. And Sara, that slap hurt; but it looked realistic. Good job on that,’ said Rohan to Sara and the media men.

The four of them high-fived each other. ‘The food was scrumptious. It was well worth the effort. I have a place in mind. Let's try the new restaurant - Melting Pot,’ proposed Sara, pleased with the idea of more food and adventure.

Ranjit Raj So there is an afterlife, Carthik thought. He was standing with his hands squeezing what felt like a handle. He could make out light behind glass double doors standing in front of him. Push to open, a sign on the door read. Carthik looked down to see his hands were smooth and wrinkle-free; the hands he’d had in his twenties, and holding on to a shopping cart. 'Hmph?' he said and drove the cart through the door. Bright light dazzled him as he entered. He shielded his face with his hands till his eyes adjusted to the light. A familiar place greeted him. A checkout counter at the end of life. Clever. 'Welcome to your floor one— Freedom. Felt a joy so big and pure? Bill it here and head next floor!' said the cashier with a tilted face. His teeth showed in a wide grin and the handle of a spoon stuck out of his mouth. After pulling out the spoon, he dug it in his steel tiffin carrier and continued eating his meal. His hands trembled from the weakness of old age. Curd traces showed on his wrinkled lips. The sight nauseated Carthik and he walked past him quickly without looking. 'Oh, you know the instructions? See you then!' the cashier said, before vanishing. The place was huge, with no walls in sight. All Carthik could see was white space—above, below, all over. It was a boundless expanse interspersed with never-ending aisles. Empty jam jars with red polka dot lids lined the shelves. As he reached for a jar, it began to screen a movie on its glass. 'Hmmm…,' was all Carthik could say, looking at the movie. He was fifty years old and sitting in a saloon to get a haircut after a long time. The tangled mess of black and

grey hair had to be washed well before anything could be done to it. To his left sat a man in his forties who was describing to the barber exactly how he wanted his hair cut. As the barber looked helplessly at the few stripes of hair running across the man's balding head, he said, ‘You could've been here a little earlier, sir.’ Carthik pursed his lips and held his breath to keep himself from chuckling under the scissors. By now it was clear to Carthik that the jars held and screened his memories. As he stood gazing at them, he became aware of something creeping up him from behind. 'Ah!' he gasped and turned to find the cart that he had left at the counter standing next to him. 'Who is it?' he called out and started to look about in neighbouring aisles. The cart followed him. 'Hi,' the cart said. 'Oh! Hello,' replied Carthik, contining to walk. 'I'm Kart, with a K.' Carthik smiled and answered, 'I'm Carthik, with a C.' Kart turned its front wheels from side to side. They squeaked. 'Oh, that's cute.' Carthik said. Kart giggled. 'What's going on? Where is this place?' Carthik asked. 'I don't know where it is. But I’m a talking cart, and this is a supermarket, and you're a shopper.' 'I think I know that,’ Carthik answered, irritably. ‘Yes, you do.’ He shrugged his shoulders. He had no choice. ‘Okay then, let's shop,’ he said. He picked up jars at random as he walked. Memories played in the glass. He was thirty-one and working in a

store. He was telling Mithun, the store manager, ‘How many times do I have to tell you, sir? I need money but I would never steal it.’ Mithun sat, unconvinced, in his seat. Finally, he heaved himself up and walked up to Carthik. Gently holding his shoulders, he said, ‘I'm sorry Carthik, but this has to fall on someone. I'm not firing you, just deducting the sum from your salary.’ Carthik dropped the jar into Kart. The jar disappeared to reappear on the shelf. He opened two more jars. They held memories of his heartbreaks as well. A Sunday evening at a restaurant as he waited in vain for his love, Aarthi, who never showed up in his life again; A Monday morning in his forties where he stood outside Mithun's door, hesitant to walk in and ask for a raise that he knew he deserved. None of the jars filled Kart. Carthik opened whole aisles of jars for days. Fifty-five years of living had borne enough rotten memories to keep him occupied for a month. Finally, his broken spirit did not leave him the strength to open any more. He had no idea why he had opened them in the first place. Tears he had suppressed for years filled his eyes. His life had been a detestable trip of disappointments. He settled on the floor and leaned against an aisle. The idea of being stuck in a supermarket even after death annoyed him. 'Why couldn't I have worked in a bakery?' he said. 'I don't know,' Kart replied. 'Why won't anything fill you?' he asked Kart. 'I don’t know,' Kart replied. Carthik was overcome with anger. He lifted a jar and threw it hard on the floor. The jar shot through the floor and reappeared in its old place. It

It played its contents out loud. Carthik threw it down again. It reappeared to blare even louder. The same happened with two other jars he threw to the floor. Carthik’s ears hurt began to hurt from the noise of the memories playing. 'Stop it and run somewhere else!' yelled Kart, as its frame vibrated with the noise. Carthik put with his hands on his ears, and Kart rumbled after him. He ran till his stomach hurt. Breathing hard, he rested his hands on his knees and laughed out loud. 'This feels good. The only time I ever run this har..,’ he paused to catch his breath, '…this hard was to catch the A51 to school. How old was I then? Sixteen, I guess.' 'Yes. I know,' said Kart. Carthik's patience with Kart had reached its limit. He raised his hand to strike Kart. The image of the jars flashed in his head and his hand stopped in mid-air. A beam of red light rose and towered at a distance, and suddenly, Carthik knew what to do. He ran towards it, scanning the aisles on the way. He paused to pick up a jar from a shelf beside 3. Mr Vinod called out names of eleven year-olds from his class register. 'Adithya.' 'Yes sir!' 'Aravindan.’ 'Sir!' ‘Ashwini.' ‘Sir!' And the call went on till, 'Carthik!' 'Present, sir!' 'You’re Carthik?' 'Yes sir.' 'With a C?' 'Haha. Yes sir. My father wanted to name me Karthik, after his favourite actor, but the astrologer recommended the name begin with C. And so he came up with this. ‘Same. Yet different, my father keeps telling me, sir.' He placed the memory of his name in Kart. It stayed. He opened another jar. He was 17. It was a Saturday morning. He and his friends cycled fast on a long, shady road behind their apartments. Carthik's hair flew back, his half-sleeved shirt inflated by the wind.

His bruised knees and elbows showed signs of recovery from recent falls. The sun lit the road brightly. Carthik started pedalling faster. He was determined to get it right this time. When the sunlight hit him, he let go of the handle and stretched his arms out in the air. He flew, yelling, 'Woohoooo!' The aisle was filled with all of his dear memories—big and small. The stories he had narrated to his coworkers in the supermarket to pass time in his dull work life, now narrated themselves back to him. He searched out his favorite memories, reminisced, and placed their jars in Kart. Eventually, he made it to the jar from where the beam came. He was sixteen. It was about 8:00 P.M. and Carthik and Aarthi, his classmate who lived in the same neighbourhood, were studying together under the tube-light on her terrace. He reckoned this to be a special occasion, for she was in her

favourite polka dress. A small insect from the ones that circled the light fell in Aarthi's eye. Carthik leaned forward to blow the insect off. The opportunity that he had longed for had arrived. He kissed her as she rubbed her eyes. She pushed him away. It grew awkward, with Aarthi struggling to stop the irritation. Carthik leaned back and then leaned forward again to blow in her eye. After that, the two of them kissed. His gaze was fixed on the jar. Buried amidst all his happy memories was the single happiest moment of his life. It was a gift from when he lived his life driven by desire, instead of being impeded by fear; from when he believed that he was different, not just in his name, but also in the life he was going to live. His lips spread in a tender smile. He placed the jar in Kart. All the aisles had sunk into the floor. The cashier continued to finish his meal in the distance.

Gautam Bhat He woke up, drenched in sweat. It wasn’t a nightmare. It was just hot. He looked around his tiny tent for a kulhad. Upon finding it, he dampened his throat with a few drops of the bitter-sweet liquid it held, which was supposed to be water. It tasted awful. It was a long way from his village, his homeland that now seemed to almost exist in a parallel universe. He missed the dung-decorated sour cream walls of his house, and the cool water in the matka that sat near his chaarpai, and the green fields where he would spend his Sunday afternoons, carefree. He missed the smell of burning coal that would whisk its way into his room early in the morning from the choolah; a smell that told him his mother was cooking in the kitchen. Now there were no walls, no chaarpais, and no humble homecooked meals. They were replaced by torn pieces of cloth and slabs of concrete for walls. The foul odour of piss, grime and sweat constantly lingered around him. He only had himself to blame. His father, a respected vaidya in the village, wanted him to follow in his footsteps and take up medicine and after pursuing higher studies become a doctor, and a good one at that. He, though, had bigger dreams. He dreamt of a big house with cement walls and a marble floor, a number of servants, a videshi gaadi and a flourishing business. He was not interested in medicine. He knew taking up medicine and sticking about in his village would earn him little, and his dreams required him to move out and explore the world of opportunities. One day he decided to forsake everything and left for the

He travelled to a nearby town with a railway station and boarded a train that would take him to the city of his dreams. Throughout the train journey he kept thinking of things he could do to make easy money, before amassing enough to start a venture of his own. Maybe I could take up some small job at the city centre, he told himself, and work my way up from there. Hopefully, I’ll get some contacts to help me on my way. If it all works out, I’ll return to my village a hero and surprise everyone with my shehri babu avatar. They don’t see it now, but Amma and Babuji will be so proud of their shehri babu, especially when I get Amma the fancy sari she always wanted, and Babuji a new pair of sunglasses. When he got off the train, the heat was the first thing that struck him, followed by the noise and the hustlebustle around. He noticed crippled beggars on the platform and the lack of colour all over. Everything seemed grey and gloomy. ‘Beta! Help me out. In return, God Almighty will shower his blessings on you and all your dreams will come true!’ a beggar cried. He wanted to help the beggar but was low on cash; so he chose to ignore him. He also tried to ignore the drunkards squatting on the pavements of the road leading out of the station. All their gibber-jabber and hollow laughs. The shock evident on his face, though, gave him away. He looked like a doe lost among ferocious lions. His village never saw such hullabaloo. He got up and reflected back on that moment and broke out into the hollow laughter he has heard at the station. How foolish had he been to

believe that his dreams would come true in the city. Getting up, he picked up the tattered shirt lying on the ground. On another day, he would have brushed the dirt off it, but it didn’t matter to him anymore. He put on the dirty shirt and then lifted a small, broken piece of mirror that he had scavenged from a nearby garbage bin to his face. He couldn’t recognize what he saw. In his first few days, he found out that his education was worthless in the city, and that everybody was just as miserable as him. Whenever he tried to find a better-paying job, he was either turned down or offered something his ego would not allow him to accept. One time, the manager of a store where he was working managed to get him a job interview at a local fast food joint. ‘They’re looking for someone to fill in as deputy assistant manager,’ the man said,

He, though, had bigger dreams. He dreamt of a big house with cement walls and a marble floor, a number of servants, a videshi gaadi and a flourishing business.

‘You’ve worked very hard under me, and I think you deserve something better than the pay of a watch guard. I have got someone to consider you but it wasn’t easy. He needs to be paid two thousand rupees for letting you in.’ ‘Thank you very much! I’ll always be indebted to you!’ he replied. He was thrilled. True, the bribe made his wallet lighter by two thousand rupees, but he could make up all that if he got the job. He arrived just in time for his job interview, dressed in his best clothes. ‘One of my close friends recommended you,’ the manager at the fast food joint said. ‘He was all praise for you, but you’re far less educated than I thought and I’ve got better-educated people in the pipeline. I am sorry I can’t hire you. It’ll be unfair to the people who’re superior to you in terms of education and experience.’ He remembered his father’s advice about staying in the village and completing his studies. His father had been right. As he slowly walked out of the place, he could see his dreams slipping away from him. If only he could return to the village. But how could he go back in that state? The bright sun struck him as he came out of the building. But all he could make out was an allencompassing darkness from which there was no escape.

Abhishek Sharma The plates of dried sand crunched under her heavy step and turned to dust. The warm, dry dust lifted and filled her nose before being carried by the wind. Her salwar fluttered against her body as she made her way through the wilted rice field. A vermillion drop lingered far out in the sky. She seemed to be heading towards it, but even after walking for two entire days, the distance remained. Not having received enough water, the crop had drooped, turned brown and now returned to the Earth. ‘No, it’s a girl,’ said Jaya playfully. She took Arav’s hand and placed it right below her navel where she felt the baby kick for the first time. Standing in front of the mirror, Jaya weighed her breast and caressed her swollen belly. She turned sideways, capturing the entire curve of her body, her arms resting on her hips. She looked at Arav in the mirror and said, ‘How beautiful it is, don’t you think?’ He caught her look and smiled. ‘That I have two hearts beating in me right now,’ continued Jaya. ‘It is true what they say,’ replied Arav, ‘only a mother and her child can truly be one.’ ‘I wish you could feel what I’m feeling, Arav,’ said Jaya. Arav stopped and said, ‘Please stop, Jaya. You won’t find it.’ But she did not slow down. ‘Let’s turn around and leave,’ he continued. But her gaze was set, and she kept pulling her body in that direction. ‘Because it doesn’t exist,’ he said, more to himself now. He ran forward and grabbed her arms. Far across to their right, the horizon was marked with tall, thick stalks of sugarcane. A veil of grey dust hid the sun. Arav looked at Jaya’s ashen face and

melted. Her eyes brimmed with guilt, but they were dry now. Her eyelids sagged under the weight of her sorrow. Her lips oozed words of longing, aching for the sweet kiss it could no longer give. Her wind-blown hair was in a tangle. Her empty hands hung loose in despair. Her undeterred legs, though, kept her will alive. Though tears were welling up inside him, Arav knew better than to cry in front of her. ‘I killed her,’ cried Jaya. ‘Don’t Jaya, say no such thing,’ said Arav. ‘It wasn’t your fault.’ ‘Look around, I can hear everyone talking,’ ‘It is your own voice, you hear,’ he said. ‘Don’t follow the fantasy.’ ‘I haven’t done anything wrong, have I, Arav?’ ‘No, love, don’t think like that. You would have been a perfect mother.’ ‘I can hear her crying; she needs me.’ ‘But it’s only the two of us here. In the middle of nowhere.’ ‘My child will always be with me.’ Arav looked down. Finally, he said in a tired voice, ‘How long before we reach Mara’s cave?’ ‘We are almost there.’ ‘You are growing weak; I can’t see you this way.’ ‘But together we can make it, right?’ He took her hand and held it firmly. ‘We have been walking for two days,’ he said. ‘I’m ready to walk till the end of time,’ she said. Jaya knew that Mara’s cave was at the end of the field. She had known it all her life. It was her elder brother who told her about it when she was eight. ‘Where do the dead people go, big

brother?’ she had asked. ‘Mara takes their souls with him to his enormous cave. He gives them a different life,’ he had told her. ‘What if they don’t want a different life?’ she had asked, hugging her doll to her chest. ‘They have no say in it. It is completely up to Mara to decide,’ he had replied. ‘How does he know who to take with him?’ Her brother could not tell. Now she would learn for herself. They walked in what seemed to be a vacuum of infinite grey. They only had the assurance of each other’s presence. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they suddenly reached the edge of the world. But for Jaya, she was already there. Her heart and mind were vacant, a place that had been filled by her new-born child. The labour of her huge belly and the pains she had endured had diminished when she

‘I killed her,’ cried Jaya. ‘Don’t Jaya, say no such thing,’ said Arav. ‘It wasn’t your fault.’ ‘Look around, I can hear everyone talking,’ ‘It is your own voice, you hear,’ he said. ‘Don’t follow the fantasy.’

first caught sight of her baby. But the irony of wanting to hear it cry disturbed her. If only she could hear it once she would never let her baby cry again. She had flailed and wept and tore at her hair when she found out. The grief had sunk in deeper. It had silenced her. The clouds broke the silence and began to rumble and groan. The din made Jaya shudder. Arav pulled her close and wrapped his arm around her. The skies opened up. Coming to a halt, Jaya stood completely still. The ground did not resist as she dropped to her knees. Her knees dug into the soft earth. Arav followed her, gazing into her eyes. Her eyebrows were squeezed in together.

Photo Credits:

Yet the empty spot where her bindi would have been had she not lost her baby to stillness showed. Her hands, which were bereft of bangles, stretched out. Her eyes were watery, her lips apart. There was thunder in her head and Arav witnessed lightning in her eyes as the words spilled from her lips, ‘What if we never get her back?’ She crossed and folded her hands close to her body, where her invisible child lay. She stroked her invisible head and pinched her invisible nose. Arav trembled as she smiled down at the baby.

B. Mouli Emma was about to do the laundry one evening when she heard Emily breaking the cups in the kitchen. She stormed over to the kitchen. The anger on her face, however, disappeared when she saw her daughter’s little innocent face. ‘Emily dear, what are you doing?’ she asked. ‘Mom, my friend 13 told me to break all cups in the house.’ Emma turned apprehensive again. ‘Is he the same one who told you to drown in the pool yesterday?’ ‘No, that was Brownie, a fish. We just met yesterday at the pool.’ ‘Honey, but there are no fish in the pool.’ ‘No, Mom, he swam along with me all the time. He even taught me to swim exactly like him underwater.’ ‘Emily, promise me that you will never meet that fish again.’ ‘Why, Mom?’ ‘Because you will be taken away from us if you drown in the pool, and you’ll never see us.’ ‘But, Mom, my island—Emiland—is much better than this place. 13 will always be there!’ Trying to appear calm, Emma dug deeper. ‘Where is your island?’ she asked. ‘‘It's in my room. The password to enter my island is Emily.’ ‘What do you do all the day on your island?’ ‘13 teaches me how to break everything on the island. We enjoy all day flying, throwing snow balls at each other. You wouldn't believe this! We rode to the sun last week on her pet dragon, Mouse, and the sun even let me to touch him’ ‘Oh, isn’t he hot?’ Emma said, playing along. ‘Mom, in my island the sun is cool! That’s why my island is much better

than this world.’ ‘Okay, so won’t you let me meet your friend? I’ll even make cookies for both of you.’ ‘No, she’s afraid of the people here. She's got an invisible cloak as well. It hides her from everybody she's afraid of.’ Emma tried to recollect if she had left anything sharp or breakable in Emily's room. She didn't want her down when David returned home. ‘OK, there’ll be no cups to serve both of you if you break them. Go and play with her now, dear.’ ‘OK, mom!’ Emily rejoiced.

Fifteen minutes later, David returned from the clinic with the results. He found Emma waiting by the verandah looking at the sun. Worry lined her face. He took her hand in his, before letting her know the doctor's diagnosis of Emily's condition-schizophrenia. Emma was speechless. The setting sun in the bright orange sky marked the end of their happy days, she thought. ‘So, what do you think we should do now?’ David asked. ‘I cannot talk to her like this anymore. She tried to cut her hand this afternoon so she may live with 13 all the time. She told me that 13 is compelling her to jump from the window and fly with her.’ ‘The doctor considers her smart, insightful, observant, and a girl with a great sense of humor. Try warning her strictly not to talk to that imaginary crazy girl. She might understand.’ ‘I’ve tried my best to do that. She is attempting to injure herself badly every time I tell her not to do something.’ ‘The doctor instructed me to remove

everything sharp around her; anything by which she could harm herself,’ David said, in a low voice. ‘Why is this happening to us? She was fine a year ago. And she is smarter than any of her friends!’ Emma bemoaned. She sank to the floor. Tears trickled down her eyes. David sat down beside her and embraced her. ‘Don’t worry; everything is going to be fine. How do you feel about sending her to a care center?’ he asked. ‘No, I am not sending my little child to any mental institution where she’ll suffer even more. Why can’t you understand her situation? She never sleeps for more than 5 hours. She barely eats anything and she’s not at all interested in playing and going out with other children. If we compel her to play with other kids, she becomes violent and starts fighting with them. I cannot imagine what is to happen if

‘Where is your island?’ she asked.

we let anyone but us try to control her,’ she replied. ‘Emma, we don’t have another choice. Things will only get worse. We don't have the expertise to handle the situation.’ ‘What the situation demands isn't expertise. It's love! I'll not survive a single day without seeing the innocent smile on her face. Do you not want to hear her sweet voice call you 'Daddy!' every day, David?’ ‘Emma! I love her as much as you do but she has a whole life ahead of her and unless she's given proper treatment now, she’s not going to be normal again and enjoy the rest of her life in a meaningful way.’ There was a short pause as Emma stared fixedly at the floor. ‘You're right,’ she said finally. ‘That is probably the best thing for her.’

Emma walked into Emily's room the next morning. Shocked at finding blood stains on the bed, she turned to Emily who said, ‘Mom! 13 told me to put my fingers between the door hinges and she closed the door.’ Emily showed her bleeding fingers. ‘David! David, come here quickly. Get the car keys!’ Emma hollered as she took Emily in her arms. They rushed her to the hospital. Their doctor called them in after examining Emily. ‘Doctor, we are doing everything to stop her from injuring herself but she’s finding a new way every time. Please doctor, I don’t want to lose her at this stage. Please help us.’ Emma pleaded. ‘Your child’s imagination does not know any bounds. At eight, Emily may be younger than most people with schizophrenia, but her condition is like all others. In her case, hallucinations take the form of imaginary friends and fish in the pool. She might have other characters influencing her life that you do not know of.’ the doctor said. ‘Isn't there a way to prevent those hallucinations?’ David asked. ‘Yes, we have medicines to reduce hallucinations. But what is more

more important is another medicine only the two of you can provide. Your child needs it every day.’ ‘What is it, Doctor?’ David asked. ‘Love. It's the only medicine Emily needs from you right now. Convince her that the reality can be happier than her fantasy. And don't force her to leave her imaginary friends. She may suffer a mental breakdown.’ He informed them that Emily was ready for discharge. David and Emma thanked the doctor and rushed to check on Emily. They found her sleeping peacefully in bed. Emma sat down beside Emily and stroked her hair. Emily awakened. ‘Honey, how are you feeling now?’ Emma asked.

‘Fine, Mom. 13 just visited me, and guess what? She came along with Brownie and Mouse. Let’s go home, mom! She promised to take me to the sun as soon as we get there.’ Emma smiled. Two nurses walked in to administer an injection. David had stepped out of the room and was sitting in the lobby. Emma left Emily with the nurses to join David. She settled beside her lost husband and rested her head on his shoulder. ‘I want her to be a part of our lives, no matter what.’ David said. ‘Thank you, David. I love you.’ said Emma.

Indranjan Banerjee Sukhen Bhattacharjee liked the quiet of Kankalitala, seven kilometres away from Shantiniketan, and thanked his grandfather for building the small house there, in which the Sukhen took shelter at least once a month to calm his senses which were generally agitated by the people in his office at Dalhousie Para. He escaped the hustle bustle of Kolkata when at this temple town but what he didn’t escape was the sticky May heat which draped his body like wet plastic. That morning, however, the rainfall, that was otherwise sporadic, was uninterrupted, which helped the heat to cool down. The radio announced, what now seemed like a gazillion times that a strong tropical cyclone was advancing towards West Bengal and Bangladesh. He switched off the radio. The rain was getting more intense by the hour, and the stormy winds pushed heavy rain droplets inside the house. They pricked him on his face when he went near the window to close them. Sukhen wiped his face with his arms covered by the full sleeves of the white kurta he was wearing and picked up his copy of Howards End from his study. He took small naps between his readings, and each time the sound of the roaring thunder storm woke him up. This continued for some time when he realized that he had completed only twenty or so pages in nearly two hours. He sat up and checked the wall clock. It was well past 11:30, so he decided to go to the kitchen to cook some steamed rice and fry some fishes before taking a long afternoon nap after his lunch. Within a few minutes, the beautiful sweet pungent smell of the mustard and the salty smell of the fish lingered in the place. The sound of the fish

frying slowly dispelled the stark contrast between the noisy outside and the quiet inside. He sat down in front of his lunch and dug deep into the butter rice and fried fish. He was nearly done with his lunch when he heard loud knocking on the door. Slowly, the knock turned into a soft bang. Sukhen left his food and walked towards the door. He licked the fingers of his right hand and opened the door with the left. ‘Yes?’ ‘I’m extremely sorry to bother you.’ Sukhen saw a man with wavy long hair, drenched in rain and breathing raggedly standing right in front of him. The man was a head taller than Sukhen, and thinner too. He had a camera pouch slung by him; he was clutching the bag with both his arms close to his belly. ‘Actually,’ he continued, ‘the storm is worse than I expected and it is raining way too heavily. The town temple is closed and I am in dire need of a shelter and so does my camera! Can I stay at your place for some time till the storm dies down? It would be a big favour and I would be highly obliged.’ Although he looked wet and scruffy, his smile was a kind one. He seemed like a good man to Sukhen, in need of help. Sukhen looked outside. The rain was harsh and things were hazy at a distance. ‘Come in,’ he said, with his normal tight-lipped smile. ‘Oh thank you so so much! Allah’r daya.’ He picked up his small backpack from the ground and quietly came inside. ‘Hang on. I will get you a towel. You are awfully wet.’ ‘No no, that’s not required at all. All I am worried about is my DSLR; the bag is water proof though.’

‘Please make yourself comfortable,’ Sukhen said, and went inside his bedroom. The visitor sat down on the corner chair, took his camera out and checked for watermarks. There were none. But still for his satisfaction, he cleaned the camera with the camera cloth. ‘Here, you need this!’ Sukhen came out and threw him a towel. He smiled faintly and then dried his head and his hands. Then he wrapped the towel around his thin torso. Sukhen gave him a water bottle. He was thirsty. ‘Naam? What do you do?’ ‘Ranajit Faizal Ahmed. I am a photographer.’ He paused for few seconds. ‘I came to Shantiniketan for a photo shoot. Wanted to take photos of the town temple. But Allah’r khela.’ ‘Oh, so where are you from? Kothai thako?’ ‘Dhaka, Bangladesh. Work for a magazine there.’ ‘Can I see some of your photographs?’ ‘Of course. Here you go. Press the button on the bottom right corner.’ Ranajit handed him his camera.

Sukhen saw a man with wavy long hair, drenched in rain and breathing raggedly standing right in front of him. The man was a head taller than Sukhen, and thinner too. He had a camera pouch slung by him; he was clutching the bag with both his arms close to his belly.

Sukhen scrolled through his photographs. He was very impressed by his work. Sukhen had always been very sensitive towards good art. One picture especially caught his eye and he went back to it to study it in detail. ‘Where was this?’ ‘Shantiniketan, near Dehali.’ ‘Hmm.’ Sukhen continued to look at it. It was a black and white picture of a little boy staring above at the camera. But there was something about the boy’s gaze that hit him in his heart. It was deep and intense. Who was the boy? A poor boy whose parents were too poor to even provide him three square meals a day. Or maybe he was homeless. The eyes reflected suffering, enough suffering. And expertise too, in begging, stealing and mugging the tourists, making up for the other expertise which he could have shown if God provided him enough resources for it. And of course, there was revenge, deep seated in his big black eyes, which were darker than his curly jade black hair soaked wet in the rain.

Sukhen felt a wave of chill moving up his spine. He turned to Faizal to ask some questions about the boy but he had fallen asleep on the chair. Sukhen quietly kept the camera on the desk by the chair and went back to finish his lunch. It was cold by then. He finished it nevertheless and went back to his bed to continue reading his book. Well, one thing was for sure, he couldn’t sleep now since there was a sleeping stranger in his house. He started reading but his mind was somewhere else. It was the picture that haunted him. Sukhen couldn’t escape from the gaze.

The knock on the partly open bedroom door woke Sukhen up. He saw Faizal standing in front of the door ready with his backpack and his camera bag. ‘The storm is gone, just drizzling outside. I should better start for Shantiniketan now. It is past 4’o clock already.’ ‘Ah! Oh, okay. But don’t you want to eat anything? You must be

Photo Credits: Frozen Iris Photography by V Harish

hungry.’ ‘Not at all! And I will reach my hotel soon. It shouldn’t be a problem.’ Sukhen walked Faizal to the door. Faizal turned and said, ‘I can’t thank you enough for this.’ Sukhen replied with the tight lipped smile of his. ‘Faizal, who was the little boy in one of your photos?’ ‘Oh that! I really love that picture. That boy is a farmer’s kid, one of the richest farmers in the district. He is really scared of cameras. A very nice chap though!’ ‘Oh!’ Sukhen gasped softly, a blank expression on his face. They exchanged phone numbers. Faizal left. Sukhen shut the door and went back to the bedroom. He was wearing a frown and biting his lips.

Sona Mewati ‘Mom, I do not need to see a shrink; I am not mentally ill, or unstable. You can’t do this to me!’ the girl squawked, while shoving her books into her backpack. ‘Lekha honey, you most certainly will. Now go get the car keys; they’re on my dresser, and then I’ll drop you off at the shrink’s office and daddy will pick you up at around ten.’ Mrs Nair maintained her calm. She was sitting on an arm chair, sipping tea in the most elegant manner and admired the humble setting of her living area. Clearly, she took pride in the fact that she was a woman of great taste and aesthetics. Dressed in a pencil skirt and a crisp white blouse with hair neatly swept sideways, she made for a good looking woman. She was a woman of slender build, with an attitude typical to an elite Delhiite. ‘But this is so unfair! I just punched a guy! Punching someone is not a crime,’ the girl replied, while adjusting her skirt. She lowered the skirt to her love handles. ‘You’re screaming. He just snatched a petty amount from you, poor boy. You did not have to punch the hell out of him. We live in a civilized society and you need to learn to accept things. You’re a complete social disaster, honey, and pull your skirt back up. It looks filthy that way.’ Mrs Nair’s soft sigh was followed by a pause. The girl snapped. ‘He is Satan’s first cousin. I had to do it!’ ‘Honey, be gentle. It looks as if you’re trying to strangle yourself to death. Now off you go. Grab your

stuff and get into the car. The Delhi traffic is not making things better for me anyway.’ They reached the psychiatrist’s office, a very drab grey building. ‘Now be a good baby girl and give your mommy a kiss.’ ‘I am not a baby, and you deserve no kiss.’ Lekha stormed out of the car and marched straight into the grey dull building. Mrs Nair did not care to check on her; she immediately took off. Lekha was guided to what looked like an FBI interrogation room by one of the office boys and there sat a woman across a mahogany table, plump and dull. ‘You better take notes because repetition will cost you more. Do not hate shrinks; we go to the most expensive schools and get paid in pennies. The world’s not fair! Do not expect it to be in a particular order; there’s a limit to what a human brain can remember chronologically. Cut the shrink some slack. Speaking of which, to survive in a patriarchal society is an art in itself. Survival 101, be agreeable, whatever the hell it means.’ That was Kavita Seth, the renowned psychiatrist. ‘When a girl is born, she is wrapped in a pink blanket. Apparently the blanket is never unwrapped till the day she’s buried. The pink blanket does a great deal of harm to her psych. She will be wrapped in it involuntarily at birth and she will not be able to remove it at will, even on her death bed. Generally, people will expect you to be seated quietly in a movie theatre, sit cross-legged in a cocktail dress, and appreciate lame jokes by your superiors. If you’re intelligent, act like it, but not intelligent enough. Men can’t acknowledge the efforts made by

women with brains bigger than their own. Women apparently don’t have brains. They’re meant to rot in the kitchen and pretend to be happy about it. All the development in the social structure the sociologists proudly write about is absolute crap. You’re not even the rightful owner of your reproductive organs. Women apparently should not break the glass ceiling. If you’re lucky and receive an education, you’ll get as far as being financially independent. But that’s about it.’ Although the dimly lit room with sour cream walls made it difficult to look, Lekha could see the wrinkles on her face contract and expand, and sense the irritation in her tone. ‘But you’re telling me all this because I punched a guy in the face. It’s beyond logic and reason. I was never a rules person, and you can’t change the fact.’ Lekha was stubborn, as always. ‘Now some bullet points: you never offend your male counterparts; it just kills them, hurts their ego and makes them want to kill or probably rape. When a girl is in her adolescence, she

When a girl is born, she is wrapped in a pink blanket. Apparently the blanket is never unwrapped till the day she’s buried.

is given an instruction manual with the following table of contents: agreeable clothing, words, mannerisms, and useful insights on some other crappy concepts. On the contrary, the boys, oops, men are told the world is their oyster and they could just about do anything. While girls are told to cover up, boys are never told about the concept of consent. But then there’s no one to blame; its mental conditioning. Speaking of which, since you’re in high school and claim to be clinically depressed, you should learn a thing or two about mental conditioning. Your folks usually do that for you, but in case you want to do it yourself and end up in a shrink’s office, good luck! This was to answer your question as to why you’re here. Your mom’s a feisty lady. I know those. I pity you.’ On hearing the bit about her mother, Lekha cracked up at once. She was smiling now. ‘You are something, aren’t you? You’re not like my mom and aunts; you’re cool!’ said Lekha in a relaxed tone. ‘If you don’t want to be frowned upon by your aunts, avoid chewing the gum while talking. You will at some point of time be asked to comply with the social norms that were prevalent some thousand years ago, because, let’s face it, the world is not getting any better. We’re moving ahead in time says the calendar, but the social calendar reads 1704. Now, let’s work on your PR skills, while an advertisement is paid, publicity is free. You don’t want to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. PR suggests, you should not have punched the guy who tried to snatch your lunch money; you should have let go, gossiped about it later in order to defame the guy. It was entertaining though; the wuss could not even fight you back. Back to PR. Well, they say a day is as long as a week in a PR calendar. It is not late to make amends. People have fickle memories. Act as if nothing happened, put on a pretty outfit, brush your hair back so that your face is out in the open, get rid of the

gothic makeup, wear a decent hemline with a buttoned up shirt and use a conditioner if that’s not too much to ask.’ ‘It’s like my mom gave you a handbook of my life and what mess it is in!’ ‘Well, she did, I read it and threw it in the bin. I think you’re completely normal, but we need to do something about what degree of normal your mom expects you to be.’ Kavita winked at Lekha. ‘You’re awesome; I do need to do some damage control at school too.’ ‘You will have to learn the art of gossiping. Your aunts can be your best teacher, but that is plain gossip. You need to be articulate because people are vampires and feed on gossip. Gossip is an integral part of crisis management. You need to be careful who you talk to. Befriend the gossip crowd. Tell them a little about the incident, so much of a hint will do. When you’re sure you have generated enough curiosity, strike the hot iron. Be careful not to reveal the ugly details, exclude the bloodshed and include the helplessness of being the damsel in distress part. People will buy it straight. The general public is dumb enough, they will never vindicate a story or get their facts right. Now that is where you need to concentrate and turn the tables around.’ ‘Wow, that does sound complex. My mom never explained stuff to me in this manner, plus she’s always whining about how I need personal grooming; don’t even get me started on what she has to say about my clothes!’ ‘People have weird concepts about beauty as long as you’re pretty and pink you can even get away with murder. You need to peek into the look book, so if you’re a nerd, people will expect you to be dressed in formals, and fidget. If you’re a cheerleader, you can ditch clothes all together and if you’re one of those underdogs with few words, and mind you, that is what you should aim for, you can be dressed in just about anything. Something loose around

the bust and flattering on the waist. Never wear an off-shoulder while you’re ‘officially’ sulking. Like back in the old ages, women in mourning wore black and sulked all day. History does repeat itself, honey.’ ‘You’re amazing. I am sorry you have to sit in a dungeon like office and put up with social screw-ups like me.’ ‘I like the profession, honey. I get to curse the society for what it is. Could not have asked for more. Finally, if you get through the centuries old mindsets of people and the thing is fixed, you’re good to go. Offend a wuss all over again and end up in the shrink’s office. You might think it is personal vendetta. The shrink against the world. Well, it’s actually true.’ Suddenly Lekha’s phone rang and she picked up. ‘I’ll be right outside, dad. You’ve no idea as to how cool my day was. I am going to tell you everything. I met the most amazing woman there could be,’ Lekha spoke on the phone while collecting her stuff. After Lekha stormed out of the room, Kavita sat there in silence. She felt good at the sight of Lekha’s lit up face.

Sonakshi Sharma It was the day when I met my first 10year-old patient— an adorable kid with a cute pink face and a round body who had come with his mother. ‘Hello, I'm Sheela Oberoi,’ his mother said. ‘Ma’am, you are our last hope. My son is becoming more violent day by day. It has reached the point where last night he tried to kill his new-born sister.’ I found it very hard to believe that this lovely boy could want to kill his new-born sister. ‘He took a knife from the kitchen and walked to her room to stab her,’ she continued. ‘His dad saw him walking with a knife in his hand and stopped him immediately. Please help us.’ Nodding, I turned to the boy. ‘What is your name, beta?’ I asked. ‘Aakash,’ he replied in a flat voice. ‘So Aakash, which school do you study in?’ ‘Um… St. Joseph's.’ ‘Where is it?’ ‘Two streets away.’ ‘So, you like Mumbai?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Okay! So what is your favorite food?’ ‘Chocolates.’ He was giving the kind of answers I’d expect from a normal child. Something, though, seemed amiss. His face remained impassive as he spoke, as if he was repeating something he had learned from a script. I continued. ‘Aakash, whom do you love most in your family?’ He did not answer. Not one question related to his family was answered. I told his mother to keep him away from his sister and indicated I’d visit their home to have a more meaningful conversation with Aakash. Not everybody was comfortable

discussing their feelings in a hospital. Yet, even allowing for that, Aakash's behavior was strange. There were signs that one could consider as potentially psychotic, but something told me that wasn’t the case. The next day, I went to their place. Aakash was playing outside with his friends and enjoying himself like any normal child. I said hi to him, before stepping inside the house. Aakash's mom welcomed me and asked me to sit on the couch. Mr. Oberoi soon joined us. I was taken aback to see him. He wore thick golden chains round his neck, had two stone rings on each finger, and had a big teeka on his forehead. When Mrs. Oberoi offered us tea, he reminded her that he was fasting, because it was a Tuesday. I enquired after Aakash, but couldn’t get much out of them. After finishing my tea, I went out to talk to Aakash, who ran away upon seeing me. That day, I made little progress. However, I continued going back over the next three weeks, in a bid to form a bond with him. I also met him in the hospital. Gradually, he started trusting me and starting opening up. One evening, while playing ball, I asked him, ‘Whom do you love the most in your family?’ ‘My sister.’ ‘Then why did you try to kill her? Don’t you want her to stay with you forever?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then why did you take a knife to her?’ ‘What knife? Why are you asking me so many questions today? Give me my ball back, I'll play with somebody else,’ he yelled, before running away.

There was anger in his eyes. I understood that he was shorttempered, and let his parents know that his anger could go out of control if provoked incessantly. To test his tolerance was my objective for the next session. It took only a moment for him to throw a tantrum when something was done against his will. He would scream and throw whatever he had in his hands, at the instigator. I was sure by now that his temper was the reason he had held the knife that day. ‘Aakash, I am your friend. Right?’ I asked. ‘Yes, doctor.’ ‘Why do you get angry with me then?’ I said in a voice that was low and calm. ‘Because you don't listen to me,’ he responded. ‘Sorry, Aakash,’ I said, pretending to be upset. ‘Why are you sad? What's wrong?’ ‘I'm upset because you get angry and shout. Nice kids do not behave that way, Aakash.’ ‘Okay. I won't, from now on. Now can we please play Ludo? I'm sorry.’

It took only a moment for him to throw a tantrum when something was done against his will.

From that day on, I pretended to be upset each time he became difficult. Gradually, he recognized the immaturity of his behaviour and desisted from indulging in it. A calmness entered him, and his demeanor changed. Other patients and meetings started taking up my time, and before I knew it, two weeks had passed since I had seen him. Feeling an urge to meet him, one morning I went to the Oberoi residence. The sight of police in the house unsettled me. Mrs. Oberoi was sitting like a stone on the sofa. I touched her shoulder. She turned and said in a low voice, ‘Neha. Aakash killed his sister. He killed her.’ I was appalled. I ran to Aakash's room to find him standing with blood all over him. The knife was thrust deep inside the three-month-old baby's stomach. A chill travelled down to my foot. I stood there, unable to believe what I was seeing, when the policemen came and arrested him. Later, he was sent to rehabilitation. that Mr. Oberoi had given him the

Photo Credits:

It was a week before I could get permission to see him. When he saw me, he rushed to me with tears in his eyes. ‘Doctor, why am I here? I want to go back home. Please.’ he wailed. ‘You will go home very soon.’ ‘When?’ ‘Soon. But tell me, Aakash. Why did you kill your sister?’ ‘I did not.’ I was confused. ‘What happened that day?’ I asked him. The senseless brutality of the crime he described left me aghast. I informed the police commissioner immediately. I accompanied him and a patrol of policemen to the Oberoi residence, where we found Mr. Oberoi reading his newspaper as he would on any morning. Upon he seeing me, he asked, ‘How are you doing, Neha? Is everything all right? What's with the sudden visit?’ I glared at him and asked the police commissioner to arrest him immediately. Aakash had told me that Mr. Oberoi had given him the

knife to hold after the murder of his sister. It was Mr. Oberoi who had killed his own daughter. Mr.Oberoi turned ashen as I related this and confessed to his crime. ‘I had been suffering losses in my business after Aakash was born,’ he said. ‘And when the baby girl arrived, the losses only multiplied. I sought out Yashik Baba for help and he advised me to get rid of the two children and assured that the third child would be very auspicious for me. That is why I killed the baby girl and put the blame on Aakash.’ It’s been two years since that happened. I still see Aakash from time to time and am happy to see him growing into a fine young man. We don’t talk about what happened. But the memory remains indelible.

Ranjit Raj Oi, stop listening to the lecture da. First, get out of the first bench. What made you think you could sit in the first bench? Dei! Dei! Dei! Don't go and sit in the last bench now. Vasantha will see all of you sleeping and ask, ‘Do you think I am giving you a lecture or do you think I am singing you a lullaby?’ Before you can answer, she will ask all of you to get up, wash your face and make you sit on the first bench again. Washing your face is a bad idea. One thing I don't understand is how do you feel even more sleepy after washing your face. Anyway, change your seat. Sit next to someone who is not sleepy. Ask him to tap your thigh if he sees you falling asleep. If you get a connection, use the internet. Text. Facebook. Do something. Do anything! Try this. Watch other people sleeping in class. Semma fun. Watch Shaky. See how he slowly closes his eyes, leans forward, and wakes up again with a jerk. Even better, get long hair and specs like him and you won't have to worry about all this anymore. Or sit next to P.V. and whisper to him, ‘Hey da. What's up?’ Open your notebook, write down what all stuff that is up on the board and chat him up. It's P.V. you know, so you'll soon get to the interesting gossip round school--who’s dating whom and all the trivia. Or draw. Finish sketching Chelsea's logo, the one you started on the back page of your notebook. If you are too sleepy, force your eyelids wide open with your index finger. Or when you yawn, try to yawn wide and big. It works. I've tried it lots of times. But cover your mouth or Vasantha will see and exclaim, ‘Aaahhhhh!’ and try to imitate your yawn in a way that

makes you feel like an idiot. She will tell you that you have no manners at all. And the entire class will giggle like her minions. Hmm, practice spinning your pen with your fingers. Keep a notebook below when you do that or Vasantha will come and throw your pen in the dustbin. Somebody will be secretly munching Aloo Bhujia or Happy Happy. Ask him to pass you the packet and eat behind Vasantha's back. Find someone tall and always sit behind him in the corner seat. Or simply watch Vasantha da. Semma entertainment. Watch her kneelength jadai shake this way and that when she bounces a little to write on top of the board. Just look at her thayir-saadham-fed body. Breakfast, lunch, dinner—curd and rice all the time. Try to calculate how much thayir saadham she has eaten in her life. I tried it once. The answer was about 90 kg—her full body weight. If Vasantha gives a break in the middle of the class, run and order your coffee. No da! Don't even think of going back to your room. All this time in class will go waste. Also, no one can put a proxy in her class. If you want to spend a couple of extra minutes outside, everybody else will be doing the same, so don't worry. After the bell rings, tell everybody to close the book at the same time loudly. Only then will Vasantha stop teaching. Or else she will say, ‘What? When did the bell ring? We still have five more minutes,’ and plunge headlong into a new topic.

Try to calculate how much thayir saadham she has eaten in her life.

Kirithigaa K ‘Have you lost your mind, Nikita? Why are you suing your dad?’ Aarthi said into her phone, before the signal inside the metro weakened and she could no longer hear the voice from the other end. Meanwhile, some seven miles away in the swarm of people in the Rajiv Chowk metro station, Nikita, a young girl in her early twenties dressed in a black turtleneck sweater and beige baggy pants, was screaming into her phone, ‘Hello… Hello…Can you hear me, Aarthi? I have reached the metro station and am waiting for you…’ Just then, a message from Nikita’s younger sister, Sheen, flashed on her phone: Come home soon. I am feeling very lonely. Nikita’s olive green eyes swung up to the metro’s information board that told her that the next train would arrive in seven minutes. Nikita could easily be mistaken for a foreigner with her blonde hair and snow-white complexion. She belonged to one of those Kashmiri Pandit families who had been ousted from their homeland and now lived in Greater Kailash. Although their community had been in Delhi for as long as anyone, their influence on the city’s culture was miniscule compared to the flashy Punjabis or the pious South Indians. The blue line metro arrived at Rajiv Chowk, and Nikita spotted a silhouette that looked like Aarthi. She wriggled through the crowd like an earthworm makes its way in the soil, and was about to approach that person when someone tapped from her from behind to hug her tightly. It was her best friend, Aarthi Ganesh. Since their school days, Aarthi had been her soul sister and confidante. That day, Aarthi was wearing a shift dress and had left her long hair loose.

Her heavily kohled eyes accentuated the distinct dancer-like feature that all South-Indians seem to have. ‘Aarthi, I have missed you. Why did you have to leave Delhi for college?’ demanded Nikita, not letting Aarthi out of her embrace. ‘Arre baba, this is the umpteenth time that you have asked me this. Anyway, I always see you during my vacation, and I practically call you every day when I am vela in college. ‘Accha, I have to tell you something important, so let’s go sit in that Café Coffee Day.’ “Ya, I couldn’t believe what you told me on the phone.” The two of them entered the Café Coffee Day. The café wore its characteristic hue of purple and red interiors, with staff members moving about in their black and red uniforms. Aarthi and Nikita occupied the first vacant two-seater that their eyes could spot. They were comforted by the soft cushions that rested on the dark oak wood chair. Aarthi looked across at Nikita inquisitively and said, ‘So what’s the matter? Is there anything I don’t know?’ ‘Okay, it all started in 12th grade when we were fully engaged with our board exams and entrance preparation. It had only been a year since my mother passed away,’ recollected Nikita. Aarthi was taken aback, for Nikita’s mother was a forbidden topic. In spite of the passage of five years since her death, they chose never to speak of her. It was kind of a tacit agreement between them. Aarthi vividly remembered that horrific day when she had died. It was a bright summer morning and they were all midterm exam that day. She was

surprised when Nikita’s doting mother did not drop her off at school that day. Her gut told her that something was amiss. Upon enquiring, she learned that Nikita’s mother was down with the common flu. Later that afternoon, Aarthi got a call from Nikita’s aunt saying that her mother had passed away, as one of the flu bacteria had attacked her heart, which in medical history was so rare that it didn’t even have a term for it. Aarthi immediately rushed to Nikita’s home with her family. She couldn’t imagine what Nikita and her younger sister, Sheen, who was just seven at the time, were going through. ‘Remember the time when I shifted to my mausi’s home in the first year of college? That was when I couldn’t take it anymore,’ confessed Nikita. ‘What couldn’t you take anymore, and why would you want to do such a thing to your dad? He has been so caring to the two of you after your mom died. And, I am sure he is also deeply scarred by your mother’s death. I still remember how loudly he wailed at her funeral.’

Remember the time when I shifted to my mausi’s home in the first year of college? That was when I couldn’t take it anymore,’ confessed Nikita. ‘What couldn’t you take anymore, and why would you want to do such a thing to your dad?

‘Well, that was what I also thought four years back, until all that I believed shattered before my very own eyes. After Maej’s death, he completely immersed himself in his job. In addition to being a domestic pilot, he also started flying internationally, and wouldn’t come home for days. I was fine with it as I thought this was his way of running away from his sorrows, and anyway Sheen and I could always stay over at Mausi’s place on those days.’ ‘Oh yes! I remember that, and I always thought you lived at Mausi’s place as it was closer to school, and more convenient.’ ‘At the end of our 12th grade, I saw a different man who was no longer interested in Sheen or me. Instead, he chose to spend most of his time on the phone. One day, he brought home a lady whom he introduced as his friend. But I knew at that moment that this wasn’t any normal friendship. Later, I mistakenly read a few of their texts which confirmed my suspicions. What was most disturbing was that their conversations dated back to the time when my mother was still alive. Gradually, the woman became a frequent visitor to our house and during dinner the two of them would feed each other with their hands in front of Sheen and me.’ Nikita could no longer hold back her emotions and two giant tear drops rolled down her cheeks. Aarthi moved her chair closer to Nikita and held her arms tightly. After wiping her tears, Nikita continued, ‘You remember the day of our Sanskrit pre-board exam and how it was cancelled at the last minute?’ Aarthi nodded. ‘That day, I went back home early and could hear voices inside the house. On peeping into the backyard, I saw a woman leaving the house and to my utter astonishment, my dad was home that day. I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked out of our house and asked Mausi if I could move into her place with Sheen. Our family home was now just a building holding our belongings, as both Sheen and me.’

spent all of our time at Mausi’s, while my dad got into a live-in relationship with that woman.’ ‘I can’t believe this,’ Aarthi said. ‘How could your dad do such a thing? And why haven’t you told me any of this?’ ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what I would have done without you in my life. I just couldn’t muster the courage to tell you this. I was embarrassed about myself, about my background. I thought my father’s behaviour would reflect poorly on me as well; after all, I am his daughter. It also disgusted me to think that I share the same blood.’ ‘But, did you try telling your dad about how you feel, or talked to that lady? And what does your dad’s family feel about it?’ ‘I tried reasoning with him, but his only answer was an offer to move in with him and the other lady. I tried doing that, but that woman is a

divorcee and has two kids of her own whom she clearly favours. When I raised my voice against that, my dad slapped me in front of everyone. What is even more painful is that my dad is only forcing us to come back, because he is worried what society will think of him. He has stopped paying my college fees. He doesn’t give anything for poor Sheen either. It doesn’t stop there, every day he threatens not to give me any family property, the part that came from mom as well.’ They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Aarthi took Nikita’s hand in hers. ‘It’s okay, Nikita. You are right. Sue the bastard.’ Nikita nodded, squeezing Aarthi’s hand. The spring sun continued to shine brightly outside.

Ankita Srivastav I was not in love with Paras...yet. I was in love with his idea. I was in love with the independence he lived with. I was in love with his easiness. I was in love with his whole life... I wanted that life to be mine. Paras was a friend. Although I could never really grasp the concept of friendship, he was one of the few people who mattered to me. If I were to mark the beginning of our companionship, I would be at an utter loss for memories. Studying in the same university and living within two yards of each other, somehow, at the beginning of the semester our paths had crossed. Over the next few months, the spark of our acquaintance became the full-blown flame of close friendship. He was a friend, yet he never opened up. I had to rely solely on my observations to determine the kind of person he was. There was this rest of the world that followed a single code and then there was he for whom nothing general applied. He was not caged like the rest of us. He was free. Free like flowing water, making his way smoothly around all the obstacles. All this time I tried to break you… so that you could paint a new picture of your life; one without me. These words, scribbled in his handwriting, resounded like echoes in my mind. It was eleven months since it all began. I was twenty-one years old, yet so severely tangled in the cobweb of time and memories that even after almost a year, I could not get a hold of myself. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I was swimming in

the ocean of my memories of him... Tiny pearls of water dropped from my eyes. …keeping my hands in resign. I see that you’re doin’ fine, leaves nothing else for my mind. So grateful… So grateful. I could hear the distant melody of Lady Danville: My job is done…I have to leave. I could see his eyes dancing with amusement as he played the song. It was as if he was right in front of me, speaking to me. Job? What was his job? The bond of friendship that we shared was a job for him? Stuck in the darkness of confusion for so long, I still couldn’t believe the obvious. Even the idea of him not being a part of my life broke me each time I tried to imagine it. Our friendship was a tale without a happy ending. I had barely begun cherishing it when it came to an abrupt halt. Whether it had really terminated, I was still unsure. From talking in riddles every single day, it had come to thinking twice even before greeting him. From debating the silliest of topics, it had come to an abominable lull. The fact that we were once defined by the sacred knot of friendship had now become a myth. However short -lived our friendship was, that time was one of the happiest of my life. To investigate what went wrong was beyond my capabilities. Nevertheless, I kept looking for answers. His sudden leave had left me devastated and plunged me into denial. Another drop of warm liquid on my right cheek brought me back to the present. Why did he have to leave me? I had known him for two years… yet,

who was he? Once the wisest and the most sought-after friend of mine, he had shown a face which I was sure hardly anyone had seen. How could a friend become so cruel, so tortuous in a blink of an eye without leaving a trace of reasoning behind? Why would he be smitten by the worm of starting fresh all of a sudden? Had he turned into the Devil as weariness crept into his mind? We still bumped into each other, just like the old times. However, now, when I looked into his eyes, searching for his old self, I found them blank, hollow and dead. His cold absence saddened me, and I longed for his warmth. Yet somehow, I always managed to mask my feelings behind my fake smiles. As though seeing through, he then simply burst out laughing at my vulnerability, while mocking my façade. Was I a fool to persist and keep looking for the truth? Or was the idea of truth merely an illusion of my own mind and the reality was so foul that I could not bring myself to see it?

We still bumped into each other, just like the old times. However, now, when I looked into his eyes, searching for his old self, I found them blank, hollow and dead. His cold absence saddened me, and I longed for his warmth.

My mind was torn between two versions of him, good and evil, and an endless battle of choosing between the two. The battle had been fought for so long that I had practically lost all sense of who he was. The only thing that remained was the fact that I believed in him. No matter how hard he tried to create an impression that he was beyond saving, no matter how hard my own mind debated on his being, I still believed in him. For the reasons mysterious, there was this strong faith, set deep in my heart that I just could not erase. He was an invaluable support each time life handed me lemons. He was ever ready with his light humour and advice. He was the light of hope in my dark hours. A light that had now been extinguished unexpectedly. In the midst of the shadows, I had learnt not to seek him. With Paras gone, I had learnt to stand up for myself. He had led me to the brink of the life I desired, to live. I blinked in realization. My tears dried up, I rang him up to meet.

‘I figured out what your job was!’ I said, standing face to face with Paras in the alley. The golden rays of the setting sun fell on him, colouring his eyes light brown. He looked saintly. ‘After eleven months, you figured it out,’ he said, with a smile on his face. I searched for a tinge of sarcasm in his voice or a shade of mischief in his eyes. There was none. ‘Oh! It just popped up into my head,’ I said. ‘What is it?’ he asked, smiling wider. He had caught my lie. ‘All those times, you were a…,’ I began, looking around, searching for the right word. ‘…a…support.’ I stopped abruptly, gazing at him. Was I right? Had I figured it out correctly? Or had I gone back to square one? ‘Mission accomplished,’ he smiled serenely and walked away, leaving a blend of shock and satisfaction in me.

Ashwanth A R I feel certain I am going mad. I don’t seem to have a lot of options and I can’t fight this any longer. It’s nobody’s fault really. Knowing where the road finishes, I’m pretty sure I would have taken the same road anyway. I accept my fate and leave this world in peace as my apprehensions are put to rest. It’s not all bad though. I felt a slight tapping on my head. I garbled as I rolled over. Whack! ‘Ow, you son of a …’ ‘Happy birthday, motherfucker!’ cried Dave. ‘What! I barely got any sleep. Now get off my bed or so help me throzzzzzzz’ I could hear a distant Dave mumble… Blah! Rite of passage…Blah! Whack! ‘Ow!’ I jolted up in pain. ‘Open wide for your birthday shot, Matty!’ Dave announced as he thrust a tilted glass of vodka into my open mouth. Impulsively I spat it back right on his face. To be honest, I think he deserved it for not giving me a headsup. I started coming back to my senses, still sputtering from the vodka burning through my throat. I checked my digital Rolex: 5th Sept, 2022; 12:01 am. Still hazed and half asleep, I looked around my childhood home. It was just yesterday that I was halfway across the globe completing my record-breaking world tour. The ambience of the room was still as pristine as I remembered it. My first ever rock guitar hung on the wall. Back in high-school, it used to be the first thing I laid my eyes on every morning. I had but one dream, one purpose – to be a glorified musician. Most would say, I’ve made the mark, but for me – almost, but not quite.

‘Nothing like vodka to wake you up, eh Matt?’ grinned Dave, wiping the saliva off his face. How he could grin with saliva on his face, I never understood. ‘You would have made for a fine girlfriend,’ I teased Dave. ‘Well maybe if you’d stop sleeping around so much, you’d have had an actual girlfriend to wake you up.’ ‘It’ll never be the same without you, man!’ I said as I fist-bumped him. One side of the room was decorated with faded posters. They were mostly John Petrucci, my inspiration, and Van Halen. My Dad was a big fan of Eddie Van Halen. He had taken me to my first rock concert: ‘Rite-of-Passage, Progressive Nation, 2009’. My parents had been very supportive of my music career. That was why I always came back to spend some time at home and I still did even after they had passed away. Dave raised his glass. ‘A toast to Matt Morgan - millionaire, lead guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and founder of the world renowned rock band, ‘The Linchpin Theory’.’ ‘Co-founder’, I corrected, ‘along with Dave Alesko, bass guitarist and a vocal baritone which gels into any song!’ That was the first of my many shots that night. We got badly sloshed, enough to lose track of what happened next. Suddenly I had a strange feeling. And then I saw it. A premonition. Pictures, in pieces. One in which I die that very day – the 5th of September, on my birthday. I dismissed it as something stupid, and focused on the psychedelic music playing in the background.

I woke up the next morning, with rays of sunlight beaming onto my face through the window slits. I tried to

wake Dave up, but he was far too stoned to respond. And then I recalled the premonition. For some reason I felt uneasy, freaked out, and a little fidgety. I convinced myself that I was feeling skittish for no reason and there was nothing to worry about. Just as I descended into the hallway, the hanging chandelier crashed right in front of me. My fidgetiness had helped me anticipate the crash and I had stopped just in time to watch it just about scrape my nose. It shattered into smithereens. I froze in terror. This did it for me. I bounded up the staircase into my room. Dave was still knocked out. ‘Dave, you stupid fuck! Wake up! Wake up, right now,’ I cried, almost shoving him off the bed in the process of waking him up. A little panic and a lot of perseverance was what it took to wake that snoring bastard up. I quickly explained what had happened to a perplexed Dave. He seemed really annoyed, but looking at my serious face, he realized I wasn’t kidding. He came downstairs with me have gotten out of this unharmed.

We got badly sloshed, enough to lose track of what happened next. Suddenly I had a strange feeling. And then I saw it. A premonition. Pictures, in pieces. One in which I die that very day – the 5th of September, on my birthday. I dismissed it as something stupid, and focused on the psychedelic music playing in the background.

Although I did not blatantly refuse his logic, I was still not convinced. I didn’t want to sound like I was losing it. He suggested leaving the house to go grab something to eat. We got into the car. We had barely left the place, when I realized that the brakes wouldn’t budge. I frantically tried to do something about it, as I weaved in and out of traffic, honking frantically. I inevitably crashed, but thankfully, not into someone or another car. The car crashed into a tree and we got out just in time to see the front of the car flame up. ‘What did I tell you, man?! You should have listened to me. But no, you had to look at me like I was going mad or like I just smoked some pot.’ ‘Oh please, Matt. You really want to fight about the fact that you were right or you want to save our asses?’ ‘So what do we do now?’ I relented. ‘Well, there is only one thing to do! Get back home and stay locked up until tomorrow.’ ‘That’s your plan?’ ‘Yes, that, and making sure we don’t die.’ We made a rather dangerous trip back home, with my reflexes always keeping me inches away from harm. We got back into the bedroom. I sat on the bed and after what seemed like hours of just sitting, I

started to doze off. Suddenly, Dave let out a suppressed yelp. I jumped up, glanced around and then at Dave. He looked spooked as he kept alternating between me and the laptop. I walked over to him. Tension hung in the air like remnants of cigar smoke. It was an article. As I read it, horror clenched my stomach. Forever 27 The phrase refers to a strange phenomenon that raises eyebrows, inspires the conspiracy buffs, and stimulates the imagination of all music fans – a long list of famous musicians who died at the age of 27. Apparently some mysterious force out there in the universe has set its sights on musicians who reach the magic age, and death rains down on them. Or maybe it’s all just a huge coincidence. Many of these musicians died by their own hand or because of substance abuse, but just as many of their lives end in tragic accidents or foul play. However their passing happened, the amazing truth is that they all met their death at 27. ‘So…are you trying to tell me that…?’ ‘Someone,’ Dave paused and gulped, ‘or something is trying to induct you into this club.’ He looked appalled, as I felt a chill down my spine. I couldn’t

Photo Credits:

‘So…are you trying to tell me that…?’ ‘Someone,’ Dave paused and gulped, ‘or something is trying to induct you into this club.’ He looked appalled, as I felt a chill down my spine. I couldn’t really think of anything at this point, save that I had to make it through today and I would be free of this…this… whatever this was! I checked my watch as it read 11:30 pm. Time had never before gone any slower. Every tick and every tock meant I was one second closer to survival. After all, my premonition specified that it would be Sept 5th only. The needles inched closer to 12 as I counted down. Sept 6th, 12:01 am. Nothing happened. 12:23 am. Nothing at all. The curse was over. I fell asleep elated, on my couch, tired of everything I had gone through that day. I felt a slight tapping on my head. I brushed it off. Whack! ‘What the fuck!’ ‘ Happy birthday, motherfucker!’ cried Dave. ‘You know the rite of passage, don’t you? Vodka shot time.’ I froze as I checked my watch. It read: 5th Sept, 12:01 am.

Sona Mewati He was a man of fifty-four, tall and broad shouldered, with soft, almost feminine features, but old nevertheless. His age had started to show, with the wrinkles just starting to gain prominence on his face. But his heart remained young. He loved her, but could never confess. When she swung open the door and the wind brushed against her lustrous hair, he could not help but look. His heart skipped a beat when he saw her tall, slender frame, rich brown skin, and jet black hair. Her heavily kohled brown eyes were her most striking feature. He lost control of his motor senses when she winked at him while asking for a double soy latte. She was twenty-four and she would visit Madras Cafe where he was the proprietor every morning to collect her coffee. The billing was never a two-minute process. He would interest her in his conversations and tell her tales from across the globe, while she giggled and played with her hair. She would laugh and playfully hit him with her umbrella whenever he went overboard. They found a common ground in history; she was a research scholar at the University of Delhi, for whom caffeine was like the fuel of life, while he was just a history buff. ‘No, it’s not so. Cleopatra was ugly,’ she told him. ‘Get your facts right, she was beautiful and she made the world’s most powerful men drool,’ he countered. ‘Pretty or not she was in an incestuous relationship.’ ‘Which was tradition!’ he said, desperate to catch her beautiful eyes that kept flitting all over. ‘Yeah yeah, the Egyptian chick dated quite a few powerful men,’ she said,

before leaving with her coffee. He would look hopelessly for signs of reciprocity from her. He spent hours staring into oblivion and wondering why she insisted that he do all the billing. When she turned around to leave, he traced the curves of her body with his eyes. He could not think of anything else when she was around. He could feel the heat of her palms resting on the cash counter and he cherished the fleeting touch of her hand when she extended it to pay. He woke up every morning looking forward to her electric smile, the way her skirt twirled when she walked, her sunshine-yellow umbrella and the jasmine smell of her hair. He wished he could gather the courage to confront her about his feelings. But each time he thought of doing it, his courage failed him. ‘It’s sad the divorce rate is at an alltime high.’ he said one day, and immediately felt stupid for even mentioning it. ‘I know. Marriages just don’t last. You’re with someone, it’s all going good, then all of a sudden one morning, the butterflies die and the spark’s lost,’ she said. ‘Hey Jaya, what kind of marriage do you fancy?’ He felt like kicking himself as he spoke. It was abrupt and way too personal, and could be the end of it all. He just did not want her to say arranged because then the memories of his own failed marriage would come flooding back to him. ‘Marriages that last,’ she said and giggled hard. There was scope, he thought. ‘Would you date someone older than you? You know what they say about older men.’ he said. Shit. He was making it way to

‘I would!’ she chuckled. ‘Men are like wine, isn’t it? The older, the better,’ she said, playing with her hair. He swelled with so much with joy that his heart felt too big to fit in his chest. The next day, she did not come to collect her coffee. Or the day after. That went on for a month. Where he went wrong, he wondered. Was he too old to fancy a romance? Was his age too evident? He knew he could not play football or ride a Ducati. He could not take her out dancing at a club. He could not go down on one knee and propose, because he had a bad knee. The world might be less bright for a middle-aged man. He had never regretted not being young before, but now he wasn’t so sure. It was a month before she showed up to collect her coffee. He felt a familiar ache in his heart. She was the same pretty woman, but something was different about her. Her smile was missing. The bounce in her walk was gone. She ordered her coffee and stood at the billing counter looking down at her knees. It was

The billing was never a two-minute process. He would interest her in his conversations and tell her tales from across the globe, while she giggled and played with her hair

almost like a melancholic wall had sprung up between them. ‘Cutting down on caffeine, huh?’ he said. She did not react. ‘Well, I think it might rain. You’ve got your umbrella, right?’ he said, looking at her cheeks and itching to caress them. She stood there in silence, taking little or no notice of him. ‘Is everything all right, Jaya?’ he said, concerned. She didn’t speak, but extended her hand to pay her bill as if she wanted him to observe it. He froze at the sight of a golden band on her ring finger. Was it? Was she? Could it be? Before he could say anything, a young man appeared out of nowhere and put his hand around her waist. She tried to smile at him, but it came out looking like a grimace. He felt like punching the guy. He could not stomach the thought of the guy’s arm around her. He could bear to look.

‘Are you done, honey? We’re incredibly late!’ the young man said, while texting on his Blackberry. He knew instantly she was sad and did not want any of this. She was drowning, but he could not rescue her. He felt powerless. The fact that she had picked a younger man over him did not bother him; the fact that she was not happy, though, did. He wished he could comfort her, run his fingers through her hair and pull her close to him. But he could not move. He could well understand what had happened, but his young heart, almost like that of a child, was not ready to let go. He had to, though; it was one of those things that were not meant to be. Yet he had learned that silence would not earn him love, and he would have to act on his feelings when they struck him. Jaya may be a distant dream, but he was not ready to give up on love. He would find it again and this time he’d act to make it his.

The Freewheeler 2013-14  

Creative Writing magazine by the English Department of Shiv Nadar University, India.