Page 1

Issue 2 April 2012









What Jameel Did When

While You Were

The Smoking Sadhu

Mona Left

At Your Mum’s

Kaber Vasuki

Rihan Nijab

Abbas B





The Boy in the

The Bartender

Nandini Ramesh

Orange Shirt

Niranjan Sathyamurthy

Neethi Goldhawk




Deo Volente

The Date

The Reprieve

Kailash Srinivasan

Basma Rizvi

RJ Kalpana






Archana Sankaran

Mira Desai

Chitralekha Manohar



Š Them Pretentious Basterds 2012. All rights reserved. Rights of individuals works rest with the respective authors / photographers / artists. Please do not reproduce, transmit, copy or modify without prior permission. First published in India by Them Pretentious Basterds April 2012. Editors: Chitralekha Manohar, Thomas Manuel and Satwik Gade Acknowledgements: Archana Sankaran, Kaber Vasuki, Niranjan Sathyamurthy, Yugandhara Muthukrishnan, Vishesh Unni, Rashi Vidyasagar (, Neethi Goldhawk, Visvak Reddy ( Cover Design: Satwik Gade Layout Design: Satwik Gade, Chitralekha Manohar


Basterd’s Note <>

We offer the reader a fair chance to briefly acquaint themselves with us before commiting to read this magazine’s contents. Safe for work. It gives us great pleasure to present to you the second edition of our literary rag, Them Pretentious Basterds. We are not far off from the end of the world. In times of great distress, fiction provides solace, like that pillow which you trust to comfort your existential angst. It is with such philanthropy that we bring to you works which shall add a spark to what could be your last year in the great mish-mash.

lend to the stories but also are pieces of art in their own right. Apart from illustrations for the writing, we have a comic strip as well. Remember to be patient and DON’T scroll down too fast. We hope, dear reader, that you find our little mag. entertaining enough to not be distracted by loud horns or temple bells. Write to us at

We did not expect the magazine to achieve what it did. Based on such success, we decided to open our review to outside submissions and we were not disappointed. The magazine presents an array of styles and premises. This has been possible as the writers are from varied fields—from being occupationally challenged to employed full time. The fiction pieces are all set in India. They lend different perspectives to life in our country with characters as varied as eccentric loan agents to anachronistic hermits. The poetry is bold, irreverent and candid. The verses bring out myriad dialects of a generation caught in a transient world. One might get lost looking at the illustrations—paintings, sketches and photographs which not only



what jameel did when mona left Rihan Najib <>


f the phone rings, ask them to leave a message. If you begin to feel wise staying inside for so long, get out. If someone asks if they can take your photograph, refuse outright. There is an inherent failing in the pursuit of happiness. You could suppose this is about that. The time is the afternoon, and you haven’t even decided if you would want to read this through. The time will be tomorrow and then there is no point reading this at all. Pull up a chair to the window and try to make the morning last with a cup of black tea. No added sugar. Wait till the shadows take over. Remember the kisses you’ve received, and their bland unforgettable taste. Consider a haircut. Before you begin to tie the noose looking at the online instruction manual, make sure you clean up the house. Do the dishes, unplug all electric appliances, and turn off the gas. The music can play, but not too loud. If you’re using the gun, choose a spot which wouldn’t mind getting splattered and spread the floors with plastic sheets. If you’re using prescription pills, pull a polythene bag over your head and fasten it with rubber bands. Always remember to go to the loo before you start. *** Jameel thought, She is beautiful by degrees.

Mona thought, I think I should like to die sometime this evening. Jameel said, Let me take a picture of you. Mona said, All right. *** The green doors had begun to squeak. Sometimes the rain would drip into the interiors through the cracks in the windows. And if the leaves of the bonsai weren’t pushed back as you walked through the passageway, the protruding suggestion box would ram itself into your ribs. Jameel had ordered for it to be removed and placed somewhere else, but the person to whom he’d entrusted the job was found in the exhaust fume chamber a few days ago. They sometimes did that, the employees too. Jameel said the place was called ‘Sue’s Side’ for a reason. They had cleaned out the swimming pool and it was safe again for people to drown in it. New people were being hired, and it was surprising how most of them were genuinely desirous of living. It was a sudden season of optimism, of coffee with lots of sugar. People danced in the corridors, others fell in love, some of them baked pies and visited their families. As if to commemorate this spell of buoyancy,


they mounted a polished brass plaque in the foyer, engraved with the lines from Dorothy Parker’s ‘Resume’, “Razors pain you; Rivers are damp; Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp; Guns aren’t lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live.”

Mona said, I carry small fears around with me. Tiny,

One night I placed a stereo outside his door, and played the Pathetique Sonata. He woke up, and I could hear him weeping. He said a small Hebrew prayer too. The next morning we found him soaked and dead in the bathtub with the toaster, the hairdryer and a nylon cord around his neck. Mona said, {nothing} Jameel said, That’s him right there. The one who’s not looking into the camera. *** There was an almost religious entreaty

exasperating ones. I’m a harbor for little hatreds to come and dock. Even as I walk up the stairs, I’m terrified I’ll one day trip and knock my front teeth out on the steps. If that happens, who’ll give me a part in a play then? And sometimes, I dread the characters I play. I feed off their fiction, I do. There’s no reason for all of this, but often when I’m hiding my face behind the newspaper and no one can see me, I feel myself perched on the edges of the crowded room in the form of a lampshade. I begin to wait for small mercies, like a nuclear war, or someone suddenly getting a stroke while driving me to the auditions. Hmm. Do you have a light? Jameel said, There was a man who used to imagine himself dying with the Pathetique sonata playing in the background. Eventually he began to think he would not die unless that music was playing. Mona said, You’re an insensitive dick who runs a slaughterhouse. Jameel said,

for hygiene, so most of the people who came opted for poisoning or surgeon assisted vein slashing. Sometimes they ran out of pills. And it was not safe for the ones who didn’t know what to take in what quantity, because then they ended up living with kidney failure and aphasia. Most of them came back. And when they came, they always treated Jameel like an old friend. Backslap and everything. Jameel couldn’t remember them, partly due to his medication and partly because they all began to look the same to him after a while. He could only distinguish one from the other by their chosen method, which meant he only remembered them after they were dead. Raphael was the French chap who hung himself wearing a clown suit. Lula was red haired and survived two overdoses before she gave up Sue’s Side and jumped from the fourteenth floor window of a fancy hotel. Haroun’s attempts were particularly memorable. After breakfast in the garden one day, he stuck his head into a mound of red ants nearby. Ants crawled into his mouth, down his



throat, up his nose. And then Jameel pulled him out because that was no way to die. He had to spend the next few weeks eating through a

straw. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s something Jameel often told his mother when she called him up and wept to him over


the phone, asking him to stop delivering death. “They don’t mean to drown. They just want to swim until they sink.” *** Mona said, Lately, do you know, I’ve come to understand there are heavier things than the heavy things in my day. They’re very heavy. Like the bricks that people tie around the necks of dogs when they’re drowning them. That’s a heavy thing. What else do you tie around the dog? A flat screen television, maybe. Entertained to death. Isn’t there at least one bleeding matchstick in this place? Lately, do you know? No, you don’t know. Listen to me. The heaviest thing lately is as light as a photograph on a wall. I fell asleep in church and dreamt of coming back to your bar, and taking my picture off that wall. I dreamt of your calloused hands groping across the table top for the camera, your smell of medicines and cheap aftershave. I woke up crying again. *** So then Jameel started keeping tabs to keep track of those who came to his bar to kill themselves. He would sometimes sit behind the pill counter looking at the charts of lethal dosages and drug combinations and wonder if it made him a kinder human being because he helped release these people from lives they saw no sense in living. He had heard many things about himself—sadistic psychopath, devil incarnate, Nazi. But never once did he hear ‘bartender’. It made him wistful, this lack of accurate acknowledgement. Because at the end of the day, he just ran a bar where, like all

other bars, people came to lose themselves for a while. And there was an urban legend that went around with some measure of trepidation owing to the truth in it. It was called the chicken board. And if ever Jameel raised his camera and you let the flash blind you, you would return to die someday, no matter what. *** Mona said, Take my picture off that wall. I want to live. Jameel said, It’s just a rumour. Mona said, Then take it down. Burn that stupid board to the ground. Jameel said, Why does it frighten you? Do you not believe in your will to live? Mona thought, I need a fag. I should get away from this place. I should learn my lines. Why does he keep looking at me? I hate waking up in the morning these days. There’s no money for the rent. Crap, this is no good. I can’t get by. Jameel thought, I shouldn’t have taken her picture. *** If the phone rings, answer it. If you begin to feel wise staying inside for so long, call someone up and test your wisdom on their problems. Remember everything about being alive, the tiny inconsequential details. Like the way your mouth feels cool after brushing your teeth, the noises your stomach makes when it’s hungry. The rise of


the tiny hairs on your neck when he runs his hand through your hair. Consider a haircut. It might be too much to die after all, as hard as it is to carry on. Let the music play, loud enough to make the neighbours complain. Step out into the sun with wet hair, and know that it’s not yet time to go. *** Jameel said, Your hair is wet. Mona said, Yes, I know. I think I would like to live all my hours as though I had just stepped out of the shower. Stop pulling on it. It hurts when you do that. No but don’t take your hand away. Let it be there. Jameel looked. Mona said, What? Jameel said, {nothing}. *** At four, everybody is almost asleep at Sue’s Side. Jameel left his room to finish what had been on his mind all week. Before he closed the door behind him, he looked around at her sleeping soundly with an arm over her eyes. The hallway was deadly quiet, and when he stood in front of the chicken board, he caught the tang of his sweat from his armpits. He pulled up a chair to the board, climbed on it and held his breath as he reached for the tacks that secured her picture. It unsettled him how silent it was, and how sacrilegious the act seemed. His thumb touched the tack; he began to pull at it. The sweat had begun to stream

down his back, and his blood pressure took a hike. His vision began to blur and he grew nauseous and dizzy, so he tried to remove the tacks as fast as he could but he felt himself falling over backwards. She gazed back at him all this while, held firmly to the board. An animal wail of despair issued from his mouth and he heard himself distantly as his face made contact with the cold hard floor. *** Mona said, So you don’t plan to tell me what you were doing last night? Jameel said, I tripped and fell. Mona thought, I should be leaving this place. What am I doing here? I think I’ve grown fond of him. Let the picture stay. It could be something with which he’ll remember me by when I leave. Do I have an audition today or day after? I’m not getting any calls. Why am I not getting any calls? I need a smoke. Jameel thought, What if it’s true? *** If the phone rings, take the damn thing and fling it against the wall. If you begin to feel stale and decayed because you stayed inside so long, you are. Take the script of your latest play and shred them using your teeth. Cry only if you are using a bread knife to scar your sadness into the skin of your thigh. Consider cutting off your head. Perhaps it’s time you went.


*** Jameel said, She left. *** That day, Sue’s Side was rather deserted. The weather was kind, and there was a breeze as soft as cotton. People talked about politics, motor sports and the future of the economy. The fuel exhaust and immolation chambers were empty. The pool had young men and women in swimming costumes splashing around. The toxicologist who usually stood behind the pill bar was sipping a martini and playing around with the olive in his glass. Jameel surveyed the scene with his lips stretched tight and grim across his mouth. He thought them fickle, so unfaithful to their own sorrows that they could vacillate between living and killing themselves, until one day they flipped a coin and casually decided to snuff themselves out. Living there, parceling out death to those who didn’t deserve it brought a sour taste to his mouth. *** Jameel said, She would spill into me on days the construction workers drilled holes into my eardrums with jackhammers. Dressed in pain and reeking of cheroot smoke, she was Wednesday with Sunday’s hangover. Light, sound and fire made up the substance of her person, and I would breathe in her vapours with a vengeance, demanding from her the life I had so little of. Before they wheeled her away, one of the paramedics had taken a picture of

her a year ago. I carefully pinned it into the chicken board with colorful thumb tacks, next to the photo I’d taken. Someone said she croaked folk songs and sneezed blood before she collapsed. Her texture, her aftertaste of mint mouthwash, the feel of her arms where the flesh grew soft anesthetizes me now when I sit behind the counter attending to the others. She looks back at me from the chicken board with a thoughtful slant of the eyebrows. Thin lipped,


dark-eyed and cocoa skinned; seeing her, I wish I had the words to tell her how much she didn’t deserve to be there. *** Haroun said, Stupid things, really. Ant hills. Ugly things defacing the garden. And ants too. Stupid creatures, really. Jameel said, Would you do something for me? Haroun said, Flame throwers, I tell you. That’s the answer. Throw big-ass flames at these stupid insects. All that shit about biodiversity and ecofeminism. Shit, really. Jameel said, Haroun.

Haroun said, Yeah? Said something? Sorry can’t hear you, man. Stupid ants tore up my eardrums. Bastards, I say. Jameel said, Take a picture for me. Haroun said, Sure, man. Whose? Jameel said, Mine.

Rihan Najib says the author can’t be trusted to write anything reasonably honest about the Self. She can’t read graphs, maps, stage directions, palms or the writing-on-thewall. Lifelong social awkwardness qualifies her for a life as an inanimate object in the room, perhaps a lampshade. She also likes cheesecake.



While you were at your mum’s > Abbas Bagasrawala I’ve noticed the cracks in our walls finally and found them to vaguely map some exotic, faraway has-been place. The cracks themselves, I’m sure, are or were dusty highway systems, once complex, with arterial bypasses and scenic stopovers galore. There’s a point near where the wall yields to the almirah, where the cracks converge and it might be a small (and hence, probably quaint) town that might house both simpletons and psycopaths as passionate about their rituals, as they are about raising right their sons and daughters. The architecture (this might interest you) in the town is Goudi on an off day, an extremely off day if I may add and maybe its charm lies in another season or maybe this town has some uncommon local delicacy or some other point of interest but I can’t see it inspite of squinting. You’ve always asked me, with earnestness and love whether you’re holding me back and now I realize that your fears, are, in fact, true. Without you, I can build cities.

Abbas Bagasrawala, is a poet from Pune who does poetry in a manner that is not befitting his strictly conservative upbringing that puts capitalism, the obtaining of an engineering degree and religion above all else. A lover of food, of cold climates and the triangularity of the perfectly tied tie, he seeks to establish and magnify the banal into an explosion of emotions.


the smoking sadhu

an excerpt

Kaber Vasuki <>

Episode 1: The Sadhu The world had gone to rabid dogs. So it was all quite crazy. Raghu K, the Sadhu, being one of the few sane people left, decided to live as a recluse and smoke himself to death. He figured that since picking any affiliation is only choosing a different kind of crazy, he’d like to be among the dead people. They were the sanest kind of people he knew. On his twenty-fourth birthday he picked out a small flat in Thanjavur, far from Chennai where he’d lived all his life. The room had a mattress he could roll in, a book shelf, a PC with internet access and an attached bath-loo with running water all through the year. Within walking distance from the apartment was a tea shop that also sold cigarettes and variations of bajji, vada and pakora. It was all good. He didn’t bring his cell phone and ceased communicating with everyone he knew. The first night he spent at the room was bliss. On the morning of the second day he promptly started smoking. When he’d last logged into his Facebook profile, everyone he knew had posted things on his wall from photos to music videos to quotes. It was a like-whore festival on his timeline. He’d been tagged in so many notes which glorified his extraordinarily mundane former achievements. This had been done by friends, family and fans under the assumption that he

was dead. He considered enlightening them but decided to follow that old dictum “fake it till you make it”. Besides, it was an excellent way to discover what his favorite music was. Quite some time passed. He’d stopped checking his email and logging into his other accounts. His routine of eat, smoke and sleep was getting steadier. Sometimes he’d go into town for a movie, and sometimes he’d take his sketch pad out, sit at auto-stands and charge lingering auto-drivers a couple of cigarettes for instant pencil portraits. Mostly he just smoked and stared at life move slowly around him.

Episode 2: The Day Before the World Went Mad Thanjavur was in summer. The sun made everyone squint and a lazy wind sympathetically kissed sweat soaked faces. The 5 pm Old Bus Stand bus was late. A crowd had formed at the platform where it should have arrived ten minutes ago. Most other buses stood at their positions, casting shadows on the street for the stray dogs to rest in. A narrow, open sewage drain ran along the edge of every platform. It made things tricky for the saree ladies. Most of them didn’t even try to get onto the platform. They stood on the street a step away from the drain while they waited for their buses. The push-cart food stalls were all closed, covered in blue plastic sheets, and left at random


spots. They’d roll to life in the evening. A few tea shops and fruit juice stalls were open. A speaker blared out Va, Va, Pakkam Va from a nearby saloon. The Old Bus Stand bus eventually turned the corner and the crowd got ready for the seat grabbing battles that would follow. The bus wobbled to a stop. Some of the younger footboard surfers displayed get-off-bus stunts for an imaginary audience. The bus conductor shouted his usual lines—tarting with “Don’t crowd”, “Wait your turn”, “Bloody seat grabbers”, “Stupid towels”, and ending with “Whore sons” or “Motherfuckers”. It made the college kids smile and the mothers of the

school kids mutter. When the bus came to a stop, the Sadhu got off and squeezed quietly through the middle of the two colliding crowds, one rushing in and the other hurrying out. He tucked his hands into his pockets and started leisurely towards the Periyar statue at the bus-stand exit. He carefully skipped over fresh cow dung and took a short detour to avoid the beggars. A few crows flew up lazily as he neared their gutter rat feast, hardly taking off and coming back as soon as he crossed them. He walked out through the exit arch, crossed the highway, and headed to the tea shop—his tea shop.


The plastic chairs strewn around the milk boiler stove were occupied by a handful of khaki men. The Sadhu tried to guess what their jobs might be. They could be bus conductors and drivers, auto-drivers, maybe police constables, polytechnic students, or random government workers. They were doomed to the suffocating uniform, but they were too busy discussing politics and sipping their strong teas from their stained glass tumblers to notice. As the Sadhu came closer, he overheard a rant. “The budget is bullshit.” It was a bus conductor from the jingling of his coin bag. He was bouncing on his chair, waving his glass precariously over his head. “They should stop all this free junk dispensing and build more

shade of the shop roof and sat down. He inhaled and he exhaled, letting his thoughts wander without bothering to follow them. When the tea came, it went well with the dusk light. A breeze blew through the shop making the hanging magazines and headline sheets dance. A temple bell rang far away in sync with the start of the neighborhood mosque’s evening prayer call. The Sadhu noticed that and smiled to himself. He followed the prayer call like a song he knew too well. Normal day, he said to himself in his head, and warmth spread inside him. As he stood up to return the glass and stub his cigarette butt, a heavy guitar riff blasted through the air. Adrenaline from the pit of his

schools and hospitals, these idiots.” The man sitting beside the conductor, probably a bus driver, had the quieter bit in the dialogue. He was following the trajectory of the tea glass in his friend’s hand. His momentary frown indicated that he was one of those people who liked the free junk dispensing, but he didn’t protest. His tea was enough to placate him. The Sadhu went up to the shop counter. The counter boy smiled a wide greeting. “Milds ah na?” he enquired. His hands had already located the cigarette box and were tearing it open. The Sadhu nodded an affirmative and smiled back as he exchanged coins for a cigarette. He turned around and placed the cigarette between his lips. He went to the smoldering sanal rope dangling from the cement pillar and lit his cigarette. “Master” he called out “sugar extra, strong tea.” The tea master nodded and started throwing spoons of sugar into a half wet glass. The Sadhu dragged an empty chair into the

stomach shot through to his chest. He turned towards the mosque’s speaker pillar where the sound had come from. The riff stopped abruptly and the last line of the prayer call droned out. He turned towards the counter boy and the tea master expecting to see faces as surprised as his must be, but they were busy with their routines. They hadn’t seem to have heard it. None of the other people at the tea shop seemed to have heard either. He shook his head. He couldn’t remember the riff anymore and it was probable that he’d imagined it. Why would he have imagined it though? He didn’t understand, and as he did nowadays with anything he didn’t understand, the Sadhu pushed the thought away. The tea master turned on the radio and the charanam of Pon Maalai Pozhuthu came on. The Sadhu returned the tea glass, paid at the counter and started to his room. He needed to sleep.


Episode 3: The Night Before the World Went Mad The Sadhu woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Street lamp yellow, full moon white and neon blue-green had flooded into a pool in the middle of the mosaic floor. The window was open, but the air was stubbornly still. Squinting in the pale light he saw that the ceiling fan was dead—power cut. He knew it was futile to try and go back to sleep. He stood up from his floor mattress and went to the bathroom. Inside, he threw his clothes on the hanger, opened the tap and sat down at the toilet. He reached out to the ventilator between the lowest glass plate and the wooden sill for a cigarette. He always kept a couple there, for situations like this. He lit the one he found with the lighter hanging from an arna thread on his

flush lever. He made a mental note to buy a box of Milds when he went out in the morning. When the bucket overflowed, he closed the tap. Too lazy to get up, he took a mug full of water and poured it over his head, carefully holding the cigarette away in his free hand. Cold water mingled with dry sweat and made him feel like he was covered in dirt cake. He poured more water on himself. He dropped the mug into the bucket where it wobbled. He took a drag and held it in for a while before exhaling. Boredom hit him like a bomb. “So Raghu,” he asked himself in a TV host voice imitation, “how does it feel to live like this, a spartan and reclusive existence that most people would abhor.” “Fantastic!” he replied in his own voice, flourishing his cigarette and spilling ash on the wet floor. “I think everyone must live like this at some point in their lives. It adds perspective.” The TV host part of him nodded, professionally impressed. He knew that his face probably had a stupid expression on it, but he pushed that thought away. “So, how did you do it? Did it take any planning?” “Well, first I made sure I had the money to live a decent life.” More impressed nodding by the host. “Then I made sure none of my friends or family knew where I was headed.” “You didn’t tell anyone?” “No, I didn’t. Kind of pointless isn’t it? If they keep calling you, that is. I threw away my cell phone and stopped using all my online accounts. Email, Facebook,” he chuckled ‘charismatically’, “even Reddit man.” The TV host laughed ‘heartily’. “What about the money? Do you keep it in cash? Isn’t that unsafe?”


The Sadhu stopped and looked at his cigarette. It was a question no interviewer would ask. It was too specific, too personal. The interviewer went back in time and changed the question. “How about your back account, do you still have it? Didn’t the police search for you?” “I created a few bank accounts under false ids. I wrote an email to my manager, made sure he understood. That was the last email I sent.” “That’s smart...” This was probably when they had to pause for an ad break, or did they shoot those segments separately? The Sadhu sighed, regretting that he had never given interviews when he’d had the

silent homes and quiet night traffic. The night was sleeping stray cows, sporadic traffic and a cat walking on the wall maze separating suburban homes. He was only three floors above the ground, but the whole world was at his feet, waiting on him. Craning his neck, he noticed that the sky was a solid black stretch. The almost full moon stood apart from the rest of the night. He starred at it wondering how the human imagination had made this lonely rock floating in darkness a symbol of romance. He starred it so long that it turned blue—the shade of bright school ink. He blinked. It was pale yellow again. He rubbed his eyes, and went to get his night clothes from the bathroom hanger.

chance. He stubbed the cigarette on the wall and threw it out of the ventilator. He stood up, poured more water on himself and walked out to the room naked. Drying his feet on the rug, he walked to the window. A slow breeze spread reluctantly into the room. He looked out at the spread of closed shops,



> Nandini Ramesh

I cannot remember a time when I did not know This rhythm pounding the earth into tiny pieces And soft castles sculpted by tiny hands. My fear of the great blue monster faded As I ran along its edges. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d leave, but it wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t let me go. Echoes of its whispering curls, The sand in my sheets four days later, The stench of a delicate seashell in a pocket. On a sunny December morning we stood Feet away from death, while a ravaged river silently saved our lives.


And still We escape at every chance we get Alone. Together. We stand at the edge of the world Our sandy toes caressed by a realm beyond ours. Finally free to really see as far as the eye can see. Rage, serenity, a playful caper A sheet of shimmering silver at my feet A roaring whisper Recognized from somewhere just beyond the shores of memory. I lie on a thin mattress on the floor Of a room in a town not so far away. This town has no edges; There is no blue margin to contain This monstrosity, this chaotic maze, This uncontrolled explosion of humanity. An oppressive cold dryness hangs over me The silence keeps me awake. A tiny reptile Struggles through giant fingers Towards home.

Nandini Ramesh is a science nerd who occasionally guiltily indulges her artsy, latte-sipping, gallery-hopping, poetrywriting side while feeding her severe travel addiction. She lives in Sydney where she studies the dynamics of the tropical ocean. For now.


the boy in the orange shirt Neethi Goldhawk <>

Get fucked or rape yourself. Now you have my favorite shirt.” It is the third day today. I know it because I had slept three whole nights (most part of the days too) characterized by unnerving fear attacks which pulsed an intense reflex of peeing each time the rainy wind blew over my face from the open slide window, cascading my dreams with unpleasant nuggets of reality. Yes, right now, every book I touch seems like a Hitchcock movie. Right now, even perforated salty biscuits taste tasty.  And now, I find myself on the outside of this world. In another, that can be explained best as inexplicable. Now, I rephrase the aforementioned as being beyond the world. The rain just won’t wash itself off, and

when you desperately want to be bright and sunshiny, a day like this can put off any zombie specimen. With the zombie-thought raining on my parade, I take out Camus and sip 7-Up as if it is tea with the icy-hot treatment. I see one too many words and realize I am still squinting. I bury my face in the damask-flock printed cushion and think about the graveyard on which this building was built. I laugh a halfridiculous laugh, sincerely. All this seems vaguely familiar. I had passed the same series of events yesterday, except that someone did bring a hot glass of tea for me. I remember yelling at some motherfucker for being loud. Maybe the nice tea-guy. But I swear each word played three rounds of squash on my eardrums. I had passed out again before I had a real shot at the tea. Damn. No tea today. The rain stops. A gloom fills my hollow


insides, and I scratch my head to recall whose mother had died. Failing, I put on a shirt and decide to take a walk to the grocery store. Why so morbid, the luggage counter fellow seems to probe. I float in the tide of washing powder packets. It reminds me of my stinking pants from the day before and I recoil. Some vomit, a lot of beer. I drop three packets into my cart for the flowery redemption my linens deserved. Even the cashier throws an understanding nod. I flip at the sight of Ferrero Rochers lined beside the counter. This is not so bad, I think as my teeth take a dig. Not bad at all.

Yesterday had not been good. Yesterday— My head stood peculiarly on my neck. It wasn’t the mirror, no. But I had an aerial view of my body from quite a distance up and my feet seemed oceans away. I wanted my head to stop bobbing physically. What was with the corkscrew motion? If I had another head to see my head, I would have LMFAO! I pinched myself and didn’t feel a thing. I affirmed that it was indeed real and shoved my head back into the cushion. Someone yelled, so I was loud. The sight of tea gave me shivers. I rolled my eyes at someone and that sent me on another spin. The clock gyrated anti-clockwise and the previous night’s events flashed back. I wasn’t sure if it was the previous night, or a previous life. But slowly my memory drew just the right lines to make a shape, and just the right shades to make a form. It zoomed out presenting a curious picture of the boy in the orange shirt. It must have been well past midnight because the double ass-faced bumpers living

upstairs would usually have their sing-song affairs till late. I woke up with his face on my mind. I remembered sensations. Like the warm feeling when we shook hands, and my mind being blown off. My head, mind and heart, all presented different channels of sensations (magnified to the power of the largest number you can imagine). His face was beautiful. Iridescent with genius and youth. Involuntarily, I threw up on myself. But it didn’t bother me very much. I tried forming a frame with whatever scattered bits of memory I had. But like a killer Cubist painting, several multidimensional intersecting planes of occurrences flashed before my eyes. I feigned waking up with a start, just in case it worked and cleared the cloud. Neah. I surrendered and passed out. The world seems indifferent towards me. I don’t know why I expect anything different. After all, it was just the four of us bedazzled by the boy. Or perhaps it was just me, I can’t remember. I turn on the radio. The classical shit easily becomes a part of my milieu. I strain to recall the events that led me to the state in which I am now. I know it will be futile, but I try anyway. Bored of it, I call up Mathew to shoot the breeze. He greets me with his characteristic Fuck You Bro and I know some things never change. I ask him where he is. “In my shack here, whore. Where else do you think I will be on a Sunday.” So it is a Sunday, check. Ten more minutes of our pleasant talk reveals that we were two bottles of rum down when the boy surfaced out of nowhere. A nice, genial young boy who also happened to be loaded, at Dev’s farmhouse party. It was refreshing to have someone with all


the youth flushing out of his pink skin, sit with a bunch of dreamers like us and talk about his accolades like they were mere grey stones. We

it too much. He thrust forward a piece of paper in return saying- “Voh, koi ladka aya tha, diya ye.” I take a grab at it and ask him to get lost.

exchanged silent nods of approval for the boy and were pretty damn impressed. We must have chatted on for hours. It was only when the girls arrived that we digressed. The boy had disappeared and I had wandered off. Mathew is a nice catholic guy and doesn’t like to disrespect his girlfriend on a Sunday morning. I understand, so I hang up thanking him with my own set of epithets. That was not just it, I know. I go out to my little balcony to be on top of that little world I clearly made my way out of recently. I let my eyes scan the view. Clouds with a golden outline, birds, squirrels, some old pots, a clotheswire… wait! An orange shirt on the wire? I run towards it, flipping out of my wits. Dammit! Before I know, the bats are taking their flight toward East. The dusk totally takes me by surprise. I must have sat there transfixed for god knows how long! Kishan brings a glass of hot water, and I look at him with a newfound brotherliness. I thank him for the water, and he is taken aback. He clearly doesn’t appreciate

He smiles in answer. “I know you are puzzled. And probably will not appreciate it immediately. But get fucked or rape yourself. That is how I have lived, and it is the only right way to live man. Sorry about the beer, you figured me out. Now you have my favorite shirt. I’d not want to part with it. Address at the back of the slip. —M” I imagine his happy shiny face saying this out aloud to me, glittery eyes looking sheepishly into mine as he fruitlessly tries to sound ahead of his age. What the fuck happened to him, I wonder. And as though it’s the first time that blood has ever run into my head, I jolt. The blackness clears out my head and I spring to my two feet. I call Mathew to hear the whole bridge of a song he had picked up on his tour to South India. No answer. “Girlfriend!” I hit my head. I decide against calling the rest. I lean against the railing on the left, stare into the dark and muse. In an out of the body experience, the boy


with shiny hair stole my soul. Even if it was just for a moment. The girls had arrived, and I wasn’t quite that high. The innate nervousness pulled me out of the crowd. It was when I was poring over the fullness of the moon that he arrived with two bottles of beer. Pushing one smoothly into my hand, he flashed a perceptive grin. So what do you write about, I asked. I was genuinely curious when he had talked about his stories. “Love, life and death… Doesn’t that sum up everything?” he proposed. He had sad eyes. Sad gleaming eyes. I didn’t agree with him, but didn’t say so. His eyes were fixed towards the sky. But he wasn’t looking into the infinity. He was looking at something that was really close.

bungalow was his own at the age of eighteen, when his parents moved back to the native town. “It was a riot then! Friends and partying. We lived everyday like it was the last. But I never missed school,” he said raising a finger in defense. I thought about the scoreless times when I have gotten out of the Bank with the will to overhaul my business ambitions. Wasn’t I just like him, once? “When I joined IIT, I thought I would miss our tight group. How was I to know that it would be even more explosive there?” he continued. “It was in my first year that I fell in love.” I thought he said that more to himself

His sight kept shifting curiously and I nearly thought he was dreaming. For a moment there, it seemed that the boy had lost his poise. When he turned to speak about his writings, he conquered me. “Engineering was alright…I thought writing would give me an edge, you know…” His casual tone had already made an impression on me. I realized that his articles had been published in a couple of monthly journals which were popular amongst my old group. I wanted to know more about this little cherub. “I live just down the block. Have the house, a car, a cook and a few ladies at my disposal. You should come sometime. My girls would be pleased to give you a nice rub.” Possibly because I was under the influence, I did consider it for a moment before laughing it off. I learnt that although a Bengali, he had spent most of his life in Punjab. A nice white

than to me. “From there, bro, I shot up like a missile,” he added. “Ah! The little black dresses they had.” He spoke ferociously. “Wilde had a wise ass. A woman’s face is her work of fiction, isn’t it?” he winked. “Wah! But my college did have some. What about you? Your women?” “I had a wife.” I had had many women in my life, of course. But whenever attacked while my guards are down, I tend to talk of her.  It was my only real heartbreak. He did not dither. “Come over. I have just the right thing for you man! You seem to be the cool type.” “Yeah…” I said, unsure. “I know what you are thinking. About your life, right? I tell you, think about your death. Living in its anticipation will wipe that dirt of fear off. That’s what I tell my girls too.” I mulled over this for a while. Looking at his profile, this somehow didn’t fit. I asked about his other friends.


“I keep flying for lectures, so my circle is pretty global. I pick the coolest bunch. We smoke up, party, have a fucking good time!” He roared. “My car is the most precious baby. Don’t worry, all my babes know that too. Y’know, there comes a point in life when all the fucking feels like fuck and you just want some time to generously space out.” If he appeared casual about his professional success, he certainly did seem to be boisterous about his associations. “I only stick by my East Indian girls now. They have no games. Plus, my fellows like them same. Heheh. I thought I’d bring them along, but… y’know…I was a little worried about ...the people. Got to say, I do care. Ha!” That was it. I wasn’t sure at first, but it seemed plain now. The smile was a cover up. The laugh was a distraction. “Let’s party soon man. It will be a mindfucking rampage. You will soar!” He was alone. The boy, all he wanted was a friend. He was flailing in desperation. He laughed some more and it hurt me. “You are bluffing, aren’t you?” I said in an eager slip. Unblinkingly, he dropped the bottle. My heroic dive to rescue it rendered me colored with beer. The unintended slap on the face left him silent. I did not see the boy’s face when he slapped my arm. A yank out of the clouds, and I was flat on the ground. I could see the boy’s face now. It was all around me. I saw his lovely skin shine with a tear when he said, “A broken heart needs this. I know you need this too.”

He smiled like a rascal. I felt his face inching closer to mine. A supple energy was throbbing in my body, which lied limp, as my mind took travel. I had no voice. He said it was God’s, I thought he was God. Slowly my existence crept out of my skin, starting from where he had slapped on my arm, and saw the world. Saw wonderful nuances of death and the futility and emptiness of life. “This is how I my every breath,” he was saying. As I slowly lost all sense of time and space, I lost control over my body but gained complete understanding of my surroundings. I wanted to die, and feel that way forever. I wanted to ride in his warped warren and be his friend. I never want to feel that way, ever! The stupid moon is still there. I back off the railing and think about how I reached back home. But my head smarts from thinking. I look at the orange shirt, but with distaste. It induced no enigma, no charm, no humor or anger anymore. He was a drug. I sit on my bed with the note in my hand, not turning it around for the address. I push the thought of my ex-wife out of my system. I bury my face in the cushion, and dream about flowers.

Neethi was born with a congenital condition that causes her to have no surname; she calls herself Goldhawk. She studies textile design, and creeps people out on the internet.


The Bartender > Niranjan Sathyamurthy

That vexed vanilla-with-cherry-on-top tip of my crying thumb-nail pushes abusively into the virgin shot glass with every thud. Every strum and resonating twang. Every buttery stressed syllable of lilted lyric. All those penises rubbing on silver-tipped clits and hips. Lush burgundy fabricâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fifteen, dressing bodies seizing in an epileptic rhythm to the violently throbbing ears-


“Vodka- large!” -rip your florid face right off, sweetheart. The defeated stretch of your pasty-cream skin and the rosy blossoming wetness as my neat-trimmed nails kiss your fragile face- “Neat, please!” -say the magic word, sweetheart. SAY IT! Let those rubicund tenderloin lips part and let loose that forceful spray of diluted alcohol. Let it stain my crystalline counter-top. Do you lips not sting enough, darling? “I said NEAT!” Neat it is. That ominous wail of glass on glass as I push your poison to you. Wet your lips, darling. I’m still polishing the stainless steel blade of my nine dollar fillet knife.

Niranjan Sathyamurthy believes he isn’t fictional. You can find his fiction at his blog (


Deo Volente Kailash Srinivasan <>


o the man and woman, with their two perfect sons who were of marriageable age, booked a new flat in their younger son’s name because the elder one was already burning his blood repaying the loan he acquired for his education two years ago. And so, at least on paper, the younger one at the age of twenty-five owned a property, or two if you considered the couple’s first home, whose mortgage had just ended and which would eventually come to the brothers as inheritance in due time. They should have said no to the sales rep who had called on behalf of the builder, with his persistent spiel in a nasal, high-pitched voice, like a drilling machine used on their ears. A polite no would’ve sufficed, no thanks, we’re afraid we won’t be able to afford a three bedroom flat, at least not for a few years, and then the short click as the receiver was replaced. But one of their feet was already in the honeyed, oily hands of the masseur. It was only fair to let him do the other foot, too. So they put the phone down, got into the car and went to see the property, fifteen kilometres from where they lived. “Let’s just go and take a look,” said the woman. The man said, “We don’t need to do anything about it right away. We’re just going to take a look.” There, the rep with a glint of desperation and glee in his eyes, quickly took them to his

desk, called for glasses of cold water and hot tea and sat them down on high-back chairs with dirty-maroon cushions. The couple, anxious, looked here and there, smelling the fresh distemper in a hurriedly done up room, dank, which had a name-plate outside that read, Sales Office. The rep, in trousers too tight for him, leisurely pushed the brochure towards them with his delicate fingers and inquired in a keyed up voice if they knew how fortunate they were to land up at his office today. Only for today, he said, only for them—he said in English that sounded like it had been picked up from Speak English in 30 Days—he had a special price. In hushed tones, they switched to their mother-tongue Tamil and went back and forth over the deal. “Of course,” the man said, “he will tell us anything to try and trick us into buying.” “But we also need to think long-term,” said the woman. “Our sons will soon be getting married, no.” After a while the rep spoke. But he spoke in Tamil, broken, but well enough to be a shallow character in a cheap novel. “You have two sons. Two sons! You have nothing to worry about,” he said. “Oh,” they both exclaimed. “You speak Tamil?” The father drove back home, got his cheque book and handed the booking amount. To their home, the same evening of their return from the builder’s, banks sent house-


loan agents to evaluate them and analyse the

paid.” When the agent finally called, he was

loan sum they were eligible for. “Our youngest is the main applicant,” the man told one of them, “and this one here is the co-applicant.” “So,” the woman said, “thirty-five lacs. Possible? Because we want that much minimum.” “Possible, madam. Very much possible. I’ll try for forty.” He phoned the brothers everyday demanding this document and that, ending the conversations with grand assurances: “Hundred percent will happen, Sir.” Then weeks passed with no word from him. When the siblings rang him, he would text back saying he was in a meeting and will buzz them in five minutes but never did; or that he was still waiting to hear from his branch manager and hence needed more time. The builder’s rep pressed hard with all the pressing his womanly tenor afforded him, seeking concrete dates by when the remaining payment ought to be made and reiterating the repercussions of cancelling the booking. “Twenty-five thousand will be deducted from the sum of one lac that you’ve

subdued, mortified, even. “Sorry Sir, education loan. Big problem. Only one brother’s salary counted, Sir. Only twenty-four lacs.” “But you promised that...” “Yes, Sir. Good case yours, but manager said no. But don’t worry, Sir. I know this friend who works at Oswal Housing Loans. He will charge a commission but he will do it, Sir. Hundred percent he’ll do it.” Despite talking to several representatives and handing over dozens of documents, they got nowhere with the loan sanction letter that the builder needed to proceed with the formalities, until the man, with a Mother Teresa-like disposition and stoop knocked at their door. He scrutinized their documents and cried, “Arey, such ignorance.” He held the sides of his puffed face, raised his shoulders and dropped them. “These yesterday-born, milkdrinking teenagers with curled, wiry-haired beards that banks hire these days. Makes me want to pull my teeth out,” he said. “Blooding the youth they say. Phasing out the old dogs, they say. For what? So that these oh-my-look-


at-me-skinny-jeans dolts can douse everyone with their idiocy? Till the day I piss in my pants no one dare touch my desk.” “So we have a chance are you saying?” the man said. “Of course, you bloody well do,” the agent said, spraying the man with displeasure-laced spit. “You listen to me. This is what you need to do. You need to tell the bank that they should also consider your pension. The eligibility will automatically go up.” The man and woman were thunderstruck. The answer was sitting right there on the tips of their noses and they forgot to squint. Back in three days, the agent with the stoop was frowning unhappily at the cup of tea he

“Overlook, what?” “The CIBIL ratings. You have a pending credit card payment Sir, to the tune of sixtythousand rupees.” The man, shocked, declared, “No, I do not,” then said, “Do I?” “Also you have defaulted twice on your EMI payments for your present property.” “Oh.” “It’s all there. So are my failures, out of the crypt. You will not get more than twenty-four or twenty-five maximum.” “But the mortgage is completely paid out. How does it even matter now?” the woman said. “Matters to the bank. Shows unreliability.

was sipping from. Swallowing the last of his tea he placed the ceramic cup and saucer on the table. He shoved his right hand into his pant pocket to keep it from trembling. He inquired about the brothers and was told they were both at work. He seemed to approve of that. “So, the loan?” the woman said. He looked at her with mournful eyes and said, “I resigned from my job this morning. They have already hired some MBA bloke at three times my pay.” “I’m sorry to hear that but we’re actually in a hurry. The builder called again today,” the man said. “Yes, yes. He will keep calling till he gets all his money. Bloody leeches,” the agent said. “You know why I quit my job? They would have tossed me out in a few days anyway, but you know why?” The man and the woman said, “Tell us. We wonder why.” “Broken reed, if you will, is this man in front of you. How could I overlook it?”

Look at me.” “So there’s nothing we can do?” the man said. “Twenty-four is no good. With the twenty percent that we have to pay, it still only comes to about thirty-three lacs.” “Nothing. No longer the lovely, erudite man people came to for advice. Soon I will be fed through an IV tube and dark nurses from Kerala with coconut oil in their black-black hair will give me sponge baths after cleaning my bum. And when people come closer to me they will have a scented handkerchief under their noses.” “Would you like some more tea?” the woman asked. “Some scotch, maybe?” the agent said. “At twelve-thirty in the afternoon?” the man said. “Why is that so incredible?” the agent said. “It’s funny though, people never drink a one-year old scotch. It’s always a twelve- or eighteen-year-old. They call that ‘beautifully aged’. It costs more, too.” He laughed till he


broke into a bout of coughing, and said his chest hurt when he laughs too much. “Tea will do just fine, thank you,” he said. “Any chance of us getting the booking amount back in whole?” the man said. “Can I see the papers he drew up for you?” He scanned them quickly and let his eyes rest on the refund clause. “See, it says so here. Twenty-five thousand processing fee is non-refundable.” He said his only tiny worry was that even if some bank manager was foolishly gallant enough to lend them the money they need and they happen to pay the builder, what guarantee do they have that he won’t dust his posterior and take off with the greens? He was, after all, just a project old and still did not have much credibility in the market. Brothers deceived brothers and sons murdered their fathers, so what if he was just

a phony shamming the working middle-class? He said he even wondered if they would get the booking amount back at all, any of it. “I’m going to leave you with that thought,” he said, “and ask you, for what might seem a bizarre requisition. Can I lie down in your bed for a little while? I think if I attempt to take the bus home this moment, I’ll just crumble and turn to dust.” The man dutifully showed him the bedroom where he and the wife slept, which was stacked with a pile of soft-quilts and neck-supporting, doctor-recommended pillows. The agent said he needed to use the bathroom before anything. When he came out, he had slipped into the man’s pyjamas that were hanging by the hook inside and left his own clothes there. He asked for a bottle of water that he preferred at roomtemperature. He carefully placed his bag and


glasses on the computer desk and got into the bed. He told the couple he would appreciate it if they kept their volumes low for he was a light sleeper. “I will wake up when I have lamented, to my heart’s content, over the shrivelment of my usefulness.” As soon as he closed his eyes, he drifted into a dream. In this one, the CEO was at his feet, begging him not to leave. His business will take a hit, he cried. He might even have to shut shop. Later, in the same dream, he was devoting his leisure time to playing a game of bridge at the Poona Club, expensive scotch in hand, surrounded by young agents asking him this and that, looking at him in awe and wonder. ‘Super Agent’ they called him. There was no case that he couldn’t disentangle, not a

long as you’re able to dodge the stinkers and patiently wait out for that one sloppy delivery, you have every chance for a win,” he said with a quiver in the flabby, mottled skin under his chin. He seemed pointedly deaf to the subtle signs of restlessness the couple displayed. The man felt compelled to slap the agent and get him out of there. They would have to start the process all over again. Approach some other bank, the rigmarole, the rat running inside of a wheel. The agent kept tapping the glass with the pen and humming some old-time song that the couple didn’t know of, whose tolerance was by now hair-thin. They felt they were being punished for obtusely trusting anyone who

single Sudoku puzzle he couldn’t decipher. The humour of the situation had waned for the couple. Tensed and uneasy, they sat mutely, tormented by this agent’s presence in their personal bedroom. When the agent emerged from the bedroom, nearly two hours later, his mood was pleasant. He went straight to the bathroom and returned after changing into his own clothes. He sat down and said a jolly hello. He plunked his bag on the table, drew out a fresh loan application and a Reynolds ball-point pen. “I will have my scotch now, if you don’t mind,” he declared. “Two cubes of ice, please.” “Ah, Chivas. You have good taste, Sir.” With the glass of scotch in his hand, he held his chest and laughed. “Ha-ha, how did I not see this before?” He gave the man a tutorial in investigative journalism, police work, computer hacking, winning a game of cricket. “There’s always a weakness in the opposition’s armour,” he snickered. “The excellent and comforting thing about this is, Sir, is that as

remotely resembled hope. Such a deliberate sadist, the man thought. “Frankly, I’m embarrassed by this slip-up. You know, it’s like going into a war with a blunt sword and expecting to sever heads.” “Okay, that’s all fine. But we need to go for a wedding and if we don’t move now we will be awfully late and the couple are one of our best friends,” the woman said. The man looked at his wife in a completely different light, the spontaneity of her mind pleased him, this ingenuity of a fool-proof idea. “So rude of me to have outstayed my welcome. Just one precious moment of yours and then I’ll be out of your hair. It’s my years of carefully carved reputation at stake.” At least the man was moved somewhat. He replaced his imaginary hammer into the tool box. “Thank you. Can you guess the loophole I just chanced upon?” The couple couldn’t. “Have a look at my trump card then. You will tell the bank...that you will be using your


pension money to pay the remaining sum of your elder son’s education loan. And this way...” “The bank will have to consider the entire salary of both my sons, thereby increasing the loan amount,” the man said. “That’s possible, right?” “Deo volente,” the agent said, on his feet and picking up his bag. The solution was so unexpected, the couple, shivered with fear and held on to each other. “Keep the form ready. I’ll pick it up on my way to work tomorrow.” The couple strained their eyebrows. “I’m withdrawing my resignation. That MBA kid would have to work harder than that

So the couple sat down and began filling the form once more, and then realised, the agent’s Reynolds pen was with them.

Kailash Srinivasan holds a Masters in Writing from Macquarie University, Sydney. He published his first book, What Happened to That Love, at the end of 2010. The book is a collection of 13 stories set in India and Australia, and was longlisted for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award. His second book will be released by Gyaana Books later this year (2012). He will soon be a part of a literary anthology to be e-published by O&S Publishing. Apart from this, some of his work has appeared in Urban Shots – Love Collection (Grey Oak Publishers), Bluslate Magazine, Chicken Soup Books, and on the O&S Publishing website.

to claim my place.”


Comic Basma Rizvi <>



At present, Basma Rizvi is a research scholar at AMU, studying Carbon Finance (you could call it Green Business). She lives in Aligarh, UP. The Date was her first comic strip, drawn back in September 2010, inspired by a day at Pizza Hut. Recently, she has been drawing comic strips more frequently. She has a blog called Lined Paper and Me where she posts a Sketch Journal (like an online comic-diary) and other drawings. She also contributes to InkLink Collective Unschool as a sketching teacher. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been into sketching for a long time, mostly inspired by cartoons and animes. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also a big fan of indie comics. She plans to write her own comic book soon.


the reprieve RJ Kalpana <>

The letter slipped from his lifeless fingers and fluttered to the ground. She was permanently moving into his city, leaving her husband and children. He stood unseeing into the distance. The lean, long fingers of the graphic equalizer leapt hither and thither, licking at presumed shapeless nuances, a hideand-seek in the recording studio. But one lonely note already atrophied into a narrow stream in the dry cold air conditioning, flowed painfully like the memory of the distant past that refuses to fade gracefully away. It was just such a cold day when he had completed the recording of Madurai Aiyer and his troupe. Discussions followed long into the night, when voices were raised occasionally to the tune of a raga to emphasise a point. Other voices mingled, creating a quaint symphony. This spontaneous concert would last all night long, and entertain anyone who would care enough to listen.

At first he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t notice her. So silently she stood by the shadows of the wall. Later he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t notice her either, even when she walked into his studio with her pitiable collection of music. He had just finished a training session with one of the new musicians and he was tired, tired of their greedy desire to become a star without talent, without practice. But he couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t find it in his heart to turn the young hopefuls away. He was always teased for this by his colleagues who assured him that his kindness would one day be the death of him. But he smiled and tried his best to help the artists. He was an artist too, and he understood all too well the pain of an empty stomach. She wanted his help too, just like everybody else. He tried to break the news gently to her. But how gently can one say to hopeful eyes that they had no talent? He sent her away saying he was a busy man and he had many appointments. She went away that day,


thankfully. He was grateful for the reprieve. He called a packup of the recording and looked forward to spending some time on the beach with his wife and children. Perhaps he would eat roasted groundnuts or maybe steamed groundnuts with slivers of mango and onions and a drop of lemon juice for tang. Yes, he would like that, his mouth already salivating from anticipation. Did he say it was a reprieve? So it was, for she was back the next day. His mind didn’t warn him of anything dangerous, so peacefully did the day dawn. Yet, there was something at the back of his mind, some memory he vaguely pursued or was it a feeling? He sighed and refocused his attention on her once again.

time he would get so used to this living that he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anymore. He saw all of this with aching clarity that would gradually seep away with the mists of time. But for now, there were the sharp reminders of the here and now. Reminders kept coming so thick and fast that the only way he could exist was to chase them into oblivion as quickly as possible. He turned a tired eye towards her, so eager to go down a path that really had no future. He sighed knowing he was becoming a slave once again, a prisoner of his own making. And so he informed her that she can start attending his classes from the next day. In that bustling studio, she had eyes only

Nodding his head, he refused to take her on as a student, he already had a full class. He gave her referrals to other music teachers but she was an adamant one. It wasn’t that she was eloquent and persuasive, but that he was weak and tired. He gave in meekly for the sake of peace. Yet he continued to wrestle unsuccessfully with the doubts in his mind. He tried to reconstruct all that he had observed of her during the initial meeting into a logical whole. She was plain, of that he was sure. There was hesitancy to her steps, as if she was uncertain of where she was going but wanted to go anyway. He knew that gradually he would get entirely lost in the idea of teaching her, so he wanted to hang on for as long as possible to this grasp of reality that he currently felt he had. That he could still turn her away. This was his latest spell. He wouldn’t commit the same mistake over and over again of taking in students who really had no potential in music; maybe he would try a few new mistakes while they remained yet to be tasted and spat out. In

for one person. How funny that she never noticed him before. But then again, why would she? There was nothing remarkable about his tired exterior. His eyes were like shut windows set in a face faded with the ravages of life and living. Had he ever peeked out from the shut windows he called eyes to watch the world going by, she wondered. Had he ever watched her? Followed her with his eyes as she walked into the hall, sat down near the harmonium, preparing for her music lesson? Did he look down at the world insulated in his cocoon? She felt his sadness pour forth wave after wave until she was drowning in it. Gasping for breath, she wished the sadness would ebb and offer a reprieve. Softly she launched into the first notes of raga Kalyani, “Krishna, nee begane baaro.” As the seven notes wafted gently towards him, he turned surprised. He debated on the wisdom of her choice of such a major raga and wondered vaguely if he should stop her. But there was a certain joy in her eyes as she sang and he


stretched around them, encompassing them within its spotlight. Her face turned up to his in expectancy, and his looked down at hers in hushed silence. She moved then, gracefully shifting the harmonium to the side, she stood and walked up to him. He nodded once and opened his mouth, but words were washed away in the clamour of his other students entering the studio and readying themselves for their class. She smiled and walked away. He was faintly relieved. He busied himself with the new cacophony of noise that had erupted in the name of music. He loved the orchestra, the way he could stifle and stretch and play and mute the notes that danced

blinked. Mildly apprehensive, he rubbed a sweaty palm down his pants and waited for the elaboration and exploration of the notes. She didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t fail him. She offered exactly what he thought she would; lack of technical dexterity, lack of vocal quality, and yet there was that elusive something that seemed hard to pin down. He waited some more, listening deeply, thinking to name what escaped him. He should have watched instead. Perhaps then he would have noticed how she shaped herself to the sound of the raga and flowed with the music. The steel in her spine that made her arch when she lifted her voice to hit the high notes, the slopes of her lips gentled as they shaped themselves to the soft cadences and slowly flowed to a stop. He sat oddly stilled by the lingering reverence in her voice that was eerily familiar. The moment shaped and

and tripped their way around the studio. He snorted. If only humans were that malleable, he would be a considerably successful man. But there were somethings he ruefully admitted that even he wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t able to control. Days passed into days exhibiting a defiant air of permanence. Notes stood guard over unlit ragas, charms adorned entrances to lure in desires and keep out sanity. It was eminently possible to lose oneself amidst all this clutter of hidden thoughts and half-formed gestures. Every day the thought stood out a little uglier than before. While every day, for every idea planted, every plan neatly laid, every path paved seems to will their inevitability. He paused and shook his head as if to clear off the grittiness of fate. It took on a battle of wits, this personal relationship with every note and the stake in what it eventually becameâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; a part of him. Did he really expect to find a semblance of his life here? Recording studios were for ambition, truant talent, and distilled egos.


But she stole the passion he didn’t even know he had. The quiet card games with neighbours were now games with her. Did he ever win? Perhaps he did play to win, not initially though. He was too bewildered at the swift inevitability of events. So he played along. Later, he tried a half-hearted attempt to win. After all, hadn’t he trained the notes to reverberate to the nth degree of vibration to perfect a composition? How difficult was this going to be? He didn’t know then and couldn’t care less, later. He saw everyday evidence of his new lifestyle taking its toll. He grew more nervous, more hesitant. His lethargy, already wellknown, peaked to breaking point. But she

Huddled in his woollens, he stood staring at the nondescript building in front of him. There was nothing to mark this building out from the others that were cramped wall-to-wall in the narrow side lane. Walls were stained with red spittle he noted as he dodged bored bullocks and brash bikers to enter its gloomy inside. The passage was dark, he groped his way up the stairs by the flickering light of a television from the nearby flat. Upstairs he stood for a long time facing that door that had once had a number. He was sure he knew what was behind that door and that made him all the more hesitant. Even as he stood shifting from foot to foot, the door slowly opened with inevitable

took on a new form. Everyday her skin glowed and her laughter echoed throughout the studio. Fear appeared with uncompromising regularity. But his greatest tragedy was the loss of his individuality. All those quirks were soon hers. It won’t be long now before she blends in right with the best of them. He averted his eyes as compromise after compromise danced in front of him. He suffocated his guilt with her synthetic sophistication. Now, he adopted a new social rite in his life. He was forced to adopt coping stratagems gleaned from watching and smart decoding of his fellow artists. Artfully dodging expectations took on a new form as his life seemed like patches of wall in his house that needed a fresh coat of paint. He tried playing at ‘middle class moron’ so he could sidle away from the onerous responsibility of his compromise. But she wouldn’t let him. Every show, launch, release, where friends and family were there to clap, praise, buy, so was she. She claimed it was a modern-day friendship ritual.

precision. He stepped inside, reluctant to disturb the very air in the room. The interior was gloomy as well. Posing as a curtain, a sari was tucked into the window grill. The insufficient strip of cloth hardly kept the light out, for puddles of sunlight pooled at his feet here and there. Waiting was no problem for him. Hadn’t he waited patiently to coax a reluctant note from the innumerable instruments at his studio? An impatient sound behind him made him start from his reverie. He dreaded to turn around. He knew the long drawn out conclusions of his presence here. He didn’t have to like it but he acknowledged them just the same. So he reconciled himself to the idea that this is what his life would be. The constant anguish punctuated occasionally by modicum of relief. He was always looking forward for the next dose, of relief that is. He could hardly do anything else. It was an addiction that he sought after and savoured with savage satisfaction. The eternal forgetfulness was bliss.


Otherwise this constant leeching left him drained. He shifted on the horns of dilemma and his power of thought suspended. Sweat beaded out on his forehead. He did not know what was happening but that it was happening to him. He pondered his next step. But there was nothing that he could do. He was a creature of habit and habits die hard on solitary grey mornings. But every creature has honed a strategy for survival to escape the rigours of a harsh climate. Could he do anything less? He stored up experiences like fat reserves in his body. It wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t his inability to spot the danger that was at stake here, but his inability to ward it off. He flirted with this too, for a while. To ward off made matters worse. She was justified in her anger of course. And so was he. He felt the stinging sensation on his skin and the mortification pouring like hot lava. He did not choose this to happen. But this too he accepted as inevitable. He noticed for the first time where he was in his life. He looked

around his studio, experiencing what it was to inhabit the world. He looked at the musicians with intention, insight and awareness. And for the first time he understood. He hoped it was a reprieve and he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have to live his life over again as he keeled over slowly. People rushed towards him but he was already beyond himself. He was where he had always been. Standing outside, looking back in. And this time, he chose to stand.

R J Kalpana has published a 3-vol set on Feminist Issues in Indian Literature: Feminismand Family, Feminism and the Individual, Feminism and Sexual Poetics. She has published Temple Dreams, a book of poetry and has won prizes for her poetry which have been published in both national and international journals and anthologies. She was an editor for the Encyclopedia of Hinduism and has completed a Biography of a Theosophist which will be released in 3 volumes in June 2012. She has a Doctorate in English and professionally a management consultant for Knowledge Management.


Repentance > Archana Sankaran >

Archana Sankaran

What I would like to do is to drown you in brown bile. Feed this anger in my heart with the wine of your blood. And as bread to break the bone that connects your elbow to your wrist. To slake this fire in my upper chest with a cooling draught of beer brewed on your repentance. And to shrink your head and hang it as a dollar around my neck to remind me that this interaction is never to happen again.

Archana has been writing poetry since she was thirteen. She finds it a great medium to communicate the nuances of life. She loves the rhythm of words, an emotional tone and prefers to write naturally. Archana is a banker and is training to be a psychologist. You can find her in Chennai, trying to make her peace with the people and the past.


brittle Mira Desai <>

The drummer swayed almost in a trance as he stepped up the beat to a maddening crescendo. An ancient beat, a sound that borrowed from primeval forces—the crash of waves, the roar of thunderstorms, the rumble of continents clashing, the fracture of the earth when great mountains come to life. Sweat glistened on the faces of the young dancers leading the procession as they let off a loud cheer. Showing off their prowess with the bhangra, they deftly executed a few complex moves, thrilling to the beat, egging the drummer to play faster, louder.

Someone—a youngster from the crowd probably—scattered colored abir and gulal in the air with a loud whoop, the color hanging in the air like a sheer curtain. She’d pasted a smile on her face all day, now she kept her place in the surging crowd, her palms raw from clapping in rhythm, her heartbeat racing in tandem with the percussion. At peace, for once. The excited crowd chanted the age old call, “Bappa Morya” as they escorted the slow flower-decked truck. The Ganpati deity was being taken to the sea for immersion.


After ten days of prayers and celebration, ten days of sheer goodness, of gratitude to the valued guest—an abundance of thanksgiving pervaded everything like a scent in the air. Ten days of protocol, of do’s and dont’s to be strictly adhered to, if the idol, the harbinger of good fortune, were installed in one’s home. Ten days of chants and prayers, of voices rising in unison to the sky, and of temple bells chiming. Now it was over. Wasn’t it strange? The same deity who had more or less held all enthralled, all over the bustling city, God of Wisdom, much loved, worshiped and feted; the Remover of Obstacles, a God to be placated with hymns and devotion, with devotees in silks and finery waiting all

be gently let go, immersed into the sea. And life would go on. As it should. So Ayi, her mother, had told her, with a shake of her grey head. And then Ayi had drawn the widow’s veil low over her forehead and stepped back into the shadows. She felt a tear slip out of her eye, even as she struggled to smile. She’d sign the divorce papers once she got home. There was little point in stretching something so far beyond its expiry date.

Mira lives and writes in Mumbai, and works at a day job in pharmaceuticals.

night for a glimpse, a blessing—he would now


Gravity > Chitralekha Manohar

Falling backward through time on a warm January night with nothing to do but to look up at the stars and feel yourself stretched into twenty five billion different directions until the past and the future come apart and all that is left is quietness knowing that your question only has an answer you cannot understand.


Gravity is resentment— wishing you could pluck a star out of the sky and squash its weak flickering between your finger and your thumb and shape all its metaphors for longing on your distant presence. If only you could bring its attention to the great big love tearing you up on the inside about how you think being in love is a little like believing in god— you yearn to open your throat and speak aloud all those unsaid hymns on truth and beauty and coincidences but you are shushed into silence by the magnificence of the night sky. Gravity is that sharp intake of breath when a stranger’s hand lights a match in the pit of your stomach with a single touch— and you burn every time you lay awake under an indifferent sky. You cut free the safety wires and freefall into yet another mistake. Gravity is the complete surety that no matter how hard you try to fling yourself forward, you will always have to return to where you came from. It is every dream that races before you— It is every burning beacon summoning you home— It is what tethers you to low parapet walls as you look back over your shoulder to those you love.

Chitralekha Manohar is from Chennai. She has been writing since she was ten years old. Through her somewhat varied career, she has performed poetry, written business reports, edited school textbooks, and proofread illustrated books on Indian art and culture. She is one of the founding members of TPB Chennai. You can find more of her poetry at


Contributors The Basterdâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Note Written by: Vishesh Unni What Jameel Did When Mona Left Written by: Rihan Najib Illustrations by: Satwik Gade While You Were At Your Mumâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Written by: Abbas B Illustration by: Mani Maran The Smoking Sadhu (An excerpt) Written by: Kaber Vasuki Illustrations by: Satwik Gade Edges Written by: Nandini Ramesh Photograph by: Mani Maran The Boy in the Orange Shirt Written by: Neethi Goldhawk Photograph by: Mani Maran; Yugandhara Muthukrishnan The Bartender Written by: Niranjan Sathyamurthy

Photograph by: Sreraam Subramanian Repentance Written by: Archana Sankaran Photograph by: Archana Sankaran Deo Volente Written by: Kailash Srinivasan Photograph: Siddharth Srinivasan; Mani Maran The Date Written and Illustrated by: Basma Rizvi Reprieve Written by: R J Kalpana Photograph: Mani Maran; Vishesh Unni

Brittle Written by: Mira Desai Photograph by: G V Balasubramanian Gravity Written by: Chitralekha Manohar Photograph by: Mani Maran Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved


Them Pretentious Basterds - Teal Issue  

The Teal issue of Them Pretentious Basterds brings you fresh works of fiction, poetry and art from India

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