Tag Archives: #MayShortReads

MayShortReads20: Admirer

01 Admirer *Image via photostock on FreeDigitalPhotos.

I wonder when you’ll turn up today. Immersed in conversations, sinking into close company I drown myself, surfacing every now and then for air. You’re usually discreet. You show up when least expected. As if you’re trying to catch me trying to catch you out.

I won’t ask anyone about you. I won’t even look around, no, I won’t. Why should I show you I care? It might scare you off. That wouldn’t be entertaining. I need to build you up, buttercup. And ah, there you are! Sliding in behind two others, you thought I wouldn’t catch you. Damn right, I won’t show I spotted you. You like hiding? I’ll give you unseen. You voyeur, you. You like to watch, don’t you? I’ll put on a show, alright.

And so my sunshine comes out again, infecting everyone with its vivacity, with its infectious enthusiasm. It’s like dancing, only no one knows I’m dancing with your eyes. Even you don’t know it, my sweet. The lenses come out, flashes popping. The party has begun!

You’re so cool, aren’t you? With your sidelong glances at the camera, never smiling. Naw, you leave that to the specimens like me. We who smile and pirouette and pout and prance up and down for your benefit. For your sole viewing pleasure. For your entertainment.

I bet you never knew that I knew so much about you. Bet it never occurred to you that somebody else turns thoughts over and over in their brains, just like you do. That the subject of your heated gaze, shielded barely by your amused eyelids, that I, have eyes too.

Oh glory! Oh joy! Oh what fun, fun, fun!

And as you watch my hands float down, your eyes tracing that sharp, sleek curve, your attention snags at my eyes. A flash, a gleam of something you didn’t catch. You start and stare again. But I’m gone, running with the wind, in the shadow of open skies, leaving behind a trail of sweet sensations for you to follow.

And then, then you smile.

You’re so cool. You are.

You are the sweetness of a stranger’s smile
The comfort of an opened collar
The freedom of a longing gaze at someone’s back after they’ve turned

You are hooded eyes dancing with excitement
And a practiced nonchalance broken in an instant with a smile
You’re the magic of effort meeting impulse

You’re…oh my, I lost my train of thought. Where did that golden manly voice come from? It couldn’t possibly be yours. You’re too cherubic. I stop and listen. I drift in closer and settle, melting, snowflake like at your feet. Guitar nestled in your arms, your fingers caressing. Your song washes over me like high tides as your melody churns. You’re captive to your own fingers and voice only. Your lips make love to the universe as they slow dance with the air. And when you bite down on them, I hear the stadium roar for an encore. Then your gaze lifts and you look straight into me.

You pierce me, stab me right through the deepest center of me. One look, I want to say. But you’re still holding it. Holding me up in your gaze, bearing down on me, heavy with the weight of your undiluted attention. You. Me. I can’t breathe, can’t breathe, can’t…

You flick the lock of hair from over your forehead and oh so casually break away. Leaving me in tatters, fragments and sharp shards of ecstasy. You are so cool. No, you’re not. No, you’re not.

You cruel creature, you. I think I love you.

Rhythm, a sequence in time repeated, featured ...

Rhythm, a sequence in time repeated, featured in dance: an early moving picture demonstrates the waltz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MayShortReads19. Swapping Confessions

19 Swapping Confessions*Image via africa on FreeDigitalPhotos

“How did we ever get here?”

Aarav was sitting up in bed. There was still some time left but given how long they’d been in the dark room, Meera’s eyes had adjusted.

“Nostalgia, Ace? Don’t forget the rules.”

But Aarav wouldn’t turn. His back arched as he hugged his knees. Meera knew it was a ploy to get her to touch him. Well, she jolly well wouldn’t. Enough with all the rule-breaking. She shifted on the sheet and reached across to the remote control to turn the air-conditioning up. Aarav stretched back onto his pillow, next to her.

“I hate cupcakes. Nothing but dressed-up mawa cakes with fancy names. Everybody acts like they didn’t grow up on Mongini’s fare but were born to kitchens that dished out these pretentious dishes everyday.”

Aarav smiled. He knew Meera worked for a high-profile desserts chain. Cheering up, he said,

“Hobby photography is a con, you know? So many DSLRs being bought and carried around but most of them don’t know how to frame a shot. When they show off their latest shots, I want to slash them across with a red pen the way my third standard teacher used to do.”

Meera turned, her hand reaching for his. She found it under the sheets.

“Do you want me to turn the airconditioning off?”

“No, it’s fine. Besides…the rules, Aina.”

Meera stiffened. He was paying her back for not embracing him earlier.

“Sorry, ACE.”

she replied, hissing out the last word. She knew his real name very well. He knew hers too. But when he put his arm around her, she snuggled into him.

“Sometimes I mark emails I’ve already checked, as unread, so I can pretend that there’s a lot of activity in my mailbox.”

In her right ear, she could hear his voice booming through his chest, even before it reached her other ear, open to the air. Like hearing a secret from within. Super secret.

“When my mother died, I slipped into the kitchen to chop an onion so my eyes would be watery.”

He stirred under her and she sensed his discomfort with the weight of her and her secrets.

“Sorry, not good?”

“It’s fine. Maybe the other way for awhile?”

“Okay.”

As they shifted positions, the sheet slipped. Little beads of sweat had formed between Meera’s breasts and the cold air rolled over them, making them tingle. But Aarav’s hand came up, smoothing the sheet in place and holding it down with his fingers. He left his hand there and the stroking resumed. They didn’t go longer than ten minutes, however.

Still, Meera felt relieved. If they hadn’t, at least once, she’d be hard-pressed to explain why she wanted to have an evening out with the Joshis again. Rishabh, her husband, might worry that she wasn’t enjoying herself. He seemed comfortable enough with the arrangement and Meera didn’t want to disturb his equation with Mrs.‘Katrina’ Ace.

She turned to Aarav, wondering if he wanted to go again. As her hand snaked down to his stomach, he grunted a No.

“I’m done. But she won’t be, as yet.”

He didn’t sound ashamed or apologetic and Meera allowed herself a frisson of pride at his nonchalance in her presence.

“I know. That’s why Rish…Rahul likes this.”

She could hear Aarav chuckle softly at her near slip, but she didn’t turn. It barely mattered.

“Yeah, RishRahul and Katrina work it out very well.”

Meera wanted to snap at him for speaking about both their spouses, not a definitive rule but definitely clanking the chains. But somehow she couldn’t summon up the energy. So she turned on her side and snuggled the pillow. On the side table, was a notepad with the hotel’s logo and next to it, a pencil with a broken point.

“Yesterday, I sharpened a pencil and emptied the powder into my boss’s coffee mug when he wasn’t looking.”

“His mother keeps badgering me for recipes so I give her ones I don’t use much with a few measurements changed.”

“Sometimes I pour Eno onto the bathroom floor and watch it fizzle. But even that doesn’t leave behind white traces on the floor like Dermicool she likes to paint the walls with, during a bath.”

Dermicool, huh, Meera found herself thinking and smirking. How utterly Borivili, even if Katrina did put on Bandra airs.

“I still love my husband, you know.”

“Yeah. And I love my wife.”

“Has it really gotten better because of this?”

Meera held her breath, wondering if he’d throw the rulebook back at her. This was a serious breach. He took a long time to respond.

“This…makes my life easier.”

“Hmm, mine too.”

said Meera, turning back to him.

And they did have another round before it was time to leave.

The next month, the Joshis and the Chaudhrys decided to take a trip to Goa together.

swing high

swing high (Photo credit: demandaj)

MayShortReads18: Sleep

18 Sleep

*Image via hyena reality on FreeDigitalPhotos

As the lift clanged to a stop on the their floor, Rahul already had the key at the ready. But he kept his hand clasped around it, inside his pocket, waiting, watching. Kavya stepped out before him and walked up the five steps to their door. He heard her bag open and the metallic click of the key on the door. So far, okay. He got out, shut the lift door gently and checked to see if it had shut completely. If it started buzzing when they were in the house, Kavya would get annoyed. When he turned to the stairs though, the door was shut. He sprinted up, losing some of the tension coiled in his own stomach and used the key still in his grasp. But he steadied his breath and forced himself to slow down before pushing the door open.

Kavya was sitting on the sofa, taking off her shoes. Her bag was set down carefully on the floor as usual. Putting the shoes on the rack, she looked up sharply at him. He turned away and pulled off his own shoes, still standing.

“I’m going to take a shower.”

she said, moving towards their bedroom for a towel.

Rahul knew she would, the minute he got back. He was counting on it to make the call. But he hadn’t figured out what to tell her as yet. He waited till she was in the bathroom and he heard the shower running, to dial.

“Suresh, I’m not coming in today. There was a death in the family. Yes, yes, Kavya’s father. He passed away this morning. So…yes, I need to finish up the arrangements. No, should be done today. I’ll be in tomorrow”

It didn’t take more than 32 seconds and the shower was still running so he had some time to formulate a plan. Kavya looked okay. The shut door was a little giveaway but maybe that was the breeze. Kavya was normally so meticulous and watchful.

Rahul walked past the bathroom, his ears cocked. But the shower was the only thing he could hear, no sobs as yet. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. Maybe it was though. The bathroom door was latched and it would be difficult to break it open if he had to reach her in a hurry.

Suddenly the bathroom door opened and Kavya stuck her head around. She seemed startled, then suspicious to see him standing right outside but she said,

“I forgot my robe. Can you get it for me?”

Rahul turned towards their bedroom. Another giveaway. He couldn’t leave her alone today. As he pulled her sky-blue bathrobe off the hook behind the bedroom door, he wondered how he was going to hang around home all day. She would get defensive and insist that he didn’t need to. Then they would end up having a fight and he didn’t want that. He couldn’t afford to sleep on the couch tonight. Not tonight of all nights.

She came out a few minutes later and the first thing she said when she stepped out was,

“Go take a bath.”

Rahul used the excuse to buy himself another ten minutes and let himself not think for that duration. When he came out, she was dressed but lying in bed. She looked up at him as he entered,

“I’m feeling really sleepy. Didn’t sleep very well last night. I think I’ll take a nap. Wake me in an hour?”

Rahul nodded and turned away. He knew she wouldn’t fall asleep if there was anybody in the room, even her own husband. Ten minutes later, he checked on her and she was asleep, breathing peacefully. He knew she had been lying. He had lain awake most of the night, checking on her at frequent intervals. Last night had been a rare, undisturbed night. He almost wished she had had a difficult night. She’d sleep better tonight then. As it was, this nap was going to ruin her sleep pattern. There were probably going to be a lot of restless nights for awhile.

“Rahul? Why haven’t you gone to office? It’s 3:30. Why didn’t you wake me up?”

Kavya was shaking him by the shoulder and Rahul snapped awake.

“Huh? Sorry, I dozed off too.”

She was staring at him. Rahul shook his head to get rid of the sleep clogged in it.

“I called in earlier saying I wouldn’t be in today. Didn’t know how long it would take over there.”

She sat down on the sofa beside him. Her face was as expressionless as it had been. But then, it contorted and Rahul reached for, instinctively. She struggled then stopped and stared at him, in horror.

“It’s me, Kavya. It’s only me. You’re okay. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you. You’re okay, Kavya.”

Her eyes still wide with horror, she began wailing, a low moan. Then she turned away and tried to bite his arm. He tightened his grasp but forced himself to keep his voice calm. Pulling her in close, he mumbled into her hair, soothing. She settled down a little later and relaxed into his embrace, eyes closed. Rahul immediately loosened his grasp and studied her face. Her breathing was still laboured so he waited patiently till it settled down. Then, ever so gently, he smoothed her forehead, drenched with sweat and brushed the wet hair strands away from her face. When she had been silent long enough, Rahul laid her down gently on the sofa and let her sleep a little longer. He set up his laptop in the hall and pulled on headphones, playing the music louder then usual to ensure he stayed awake. She slept peacefully.

They watched a movie on TV that night. A science fiction thriller about robots taking the world. Nothing too emotional and just enough sound and action to keep her distracted. She ate her dinner well, with gusto even. Asking the cook to make her favorite brinjal curry had been a good idea. She didn’t read that night in bed but waited for him lock the doors and switch off the lights. He hesitated at the bedroom switch, though. Kavya was afraid of the darkness so he had had a gentle night light fitted in. Tonight though, even that might not be enough. She must have sensed his trepidation and she threw him a lifeline.

“Switch it off. Even the nightlight.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

she said, her voice firm and her eyes determined.

As he got into bed, she reached for him and he held her close. He was drifting off when he felt her shift and turn away. She must have been waiting for him to fall asleep. He opened his eyes wide, preparing to stay awake but didn’t move another muscle. He didn’t want to alert her to his being awake. She would not drop her mask until she was sure she was alone. That’s why she had wanted the darkness, unable to bear the thought of being able to see even herself.

The sniffs came before the labored breathing, surprising him a bit. Yet, he lay still. The moaning didn’t begin till nearly ten minutes later. That’s when Rahul turned and reached out a hand tentatively to her. He couldn’t see in the darkness, having gotten used to the dim visibility of the nightlight. And his palm touched her hip. Immediately she lashed out, hitting him in the nose with her elbow.

The blow to the nose stunned him and left him disoriented for awhile. She thrashed about and the moaning turned to words, low and whispered. She was muttering angry obscenities at him and he listened horrorstruck. He knew she needed to say these things but he had been unprepared for the force of the reaction. Her voice began to rise and he saw her form shift. He edged away, slightly scared. He wasn’t sure that touching her now would not provoke her further but if she hit him anywhere that knocked him out, it would be dangerous.

All of sudden she gave a huge gasp and shot up in bed, the force of her action sending a tremor through the bed. Rahul sat up and put his hands on her arm, tentatively at first, then more firmly.

“Kavya, Kavya. Shh..It was just a bad dream. You’re okay, Kavya. You’re okay.”

“Oh Rahul, Rahul, Rahul…I dreamt…I dreamt that he was back. He was coming for me again. He was putting his hand under my skirt. And oh, it hurt so much. It’s paining, Rahul, it’s paining so much..it hurts so much…make him go away…make him stop..”

She was crying now and relieved, Rahul pulled her to him, pressing her face into his chest. His teeshirt was drenched in a few seconds. This was just the beginning, Rahul knew. The suspicion and the anger had blunted over the months of daily expression. But the pain had not surfaced till today. He feared that the man dying before Kavya had had a chance to confront him would make things harder. But that would just have to be dealt with, in time. For the time being, her tears were a good sign.

He had been brought up to fear women crying. And a part of him wished that he didn’t have to face her tears. But he had made his peace with it long ago, in the nights that he had lain awake next to his new wife. Every couple must learn how to touch each other in ways that are comforting and loving. They were still learning but they were doing quite well, he thought.

She had calmed down now and he allowed himself to drop a kiss on her forehead. Then he laid her back onto the bed and waited till she fell asleep.

In My Sleep

In My Sleep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MayShortReads17: Artistic Temperament

After the success of ‘A Hard Night’s Work‘, here’s another Feardom tale. Read this before reading that and tell me if it works as a standalone.

—————————————————————————————————–

17 Artistic Temperament

*Image via Salvatore Vuono on FreeDigitalPhotos

Koriko bobbed along with the stick-man in town. Its usually yellow face was lemony but the smile stayed fastened on.

“You’re a good friend, Koriko, to come along on my first day.”

“Don’t be like that, Stix. You’ve been locked away in that studio for too long. In the real world, we’re all nice people.”

“Still, are you sure? You look a little pale.”

“Naah, that’s just the residual emotion floating around this place. It gives me allergies. You’d think the Fog of Fear factory would be a little cleaner in disposing off their waste.”

“You mean Fear affects you this way? I thought that only happens to once-humans.”

Koriko bounced up and down in mirth. The very thought!

“Thank Ixtra, no! How would I survive in Feardom if I was allergic to fear? It’s the other emotions I can’t stand. Especially guilt and there’s usually some attached to most fear. The Factory’s biggest task is cleaning it off to produce raw fear, I’ve heard.”

Stix pondered this, in the aftermath of his own recent career. He clattered faintly, his stick joints twanking against each other. Koriko ignored him. Its allergies were really getting it down; even its round form was stretching slightly oval by now. It would be glad to drop Stix off and get back to its own Netherworld beat. The air was so much clearer there with the confused new-dead. Mercifully Koriko wasn’t allergic to confusion. It was a great job and Koriko was happy, unlike its miserable friend Stix. They drew close to the Factory.

“I’ll leave you here now, if that’s okay? I’ll probably go transparent if I come in.”

said Koriko perfectly still.

Stix nodded, its prickly head tracing the clock’s path from 9 to 3 and back. Now that they were here, he was quite excited. He jerkily bade Koriko goodbye and stepped into the Factory. He had a meeting with the forespirit GoombleGomp who he had been told was mighty fearsome. Stix squared its first layer sticks, jutted out its second layer and strode confidently to find Goomble. Accolades apart, he had his own achievements. He was sure it wasn’t everyday the Fear Factory saw a former Death Designer.

Goomble was waiting for him, blobbing next to a canister-filling machine, watching the pure liquid fear pour into the can. It oozed in his direction, showing the proper respect but its colour didn’t turn the green that it should have, had it been genuine. Stix chose to ignore that. He was new here after all and he wanted them to like him. They spent the early part of the night touring the factory as Goomble oozed out the various functions.

“We thought you could be part of the spray team. You know, given your background, it’s the closest to the action.”

Stix shuddered again.

“Can I be honest, Goomble? I want to be as far away from the action as possible. It’s why I quit my last job.”

Goomble blobbed, listening. Usually these designer types were so gung-ho about their craft. Stix sighed, his first layer drooping after a full two hours of bravado.

“I hated it. I mean it’s a real art, designing deaths. Real creative satisfaction.”

He said, looking around with less than satisfaction, at the line of fear dispensers queuing up to pick up their nightly supply. Goomble took umbrage, a faint brown streaking its outline.

“Why’d you leave it if it was so perfect then? Koriko told me you couldn’t wait to get away. Begged practically to take you on.”

Stix and he squared off for a few seconds, hostility rising above them. But Goomble broke off,

“You know, I don’t care. What do you want then, if the spray team affects your delicate sensibilities so much?”

Stix relaxed, realizing Goomble was being gracious. He wasn’t really in a position to dictate.

“Umm, you must have a mapping team, don’t you? Could I do something there? I mean, I can do drawings and visualizations pretty well.”

Goomble blobbed again.

“Mapping team?”

“Well, who charts where the fear is being dispensed and how much? I could create maps for it. I can chart out the nightly reports within the factory and the dispensions. I’m real good with visualizations. If you need imagery for fear inducement, I could program those too.”

“Sounds good. The spirit that used to keep track of routes quit last week. Liked the action of the bone market too much, she said. The rest, you can check with the production supervisor. Maybe they can use a visualizer.”

Stix smiled, its toothpicky face turning up at the broad ends.

“Deaths carry too much grief around them, I think. It’s an unclean sentiment. Artists need to unburden to function well.”

But Goomble had blobbed away already. These designer types sure added to the flavour when they felt up to it but they never stuck around long. The colouring on Religious Fear was a delightful concoction thought up by the last designer who had gone back to his craft, immediately after that invention. This guy would be gone in a few months too, Goomble was sure. In the meantime, he had a factory to run.

Concrete (Fear Factory album)

Concrete (Fear Factory album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MayShortReads16: Crossing Lines

9:03 a.m.

Not a damn auto in sight. And when one turns up, you know it’s going to be a grapple to get him to go to a police station. The furtive look around, the bug-eyed scrutiny as if you might be preparing to report him, for missed red lights, for unlicensed driving and whatnot. And before you can explain that you’re just a systems technician overhauling their computers, he’s zoomed off. Before you can explain.

11:21 a.m.

The sweat is trickling down the back of your neck but you don’t dare swear. Why did you have to get picked for this assignment? But your company thought it would be such a great idea to have the Police force as a client. Well, you could tell them now, it’s nothing like CSI Miami. Not even bloody Crime Patrol. The cops are never that well-synchronised, deputies rushing in just as the inspector makes a menacing accusation, witnesses shuffling in to point fingers collectively as a stylish dude walks on to sum up the case.

Reboot now to check and hopefully, hopefully you’ll be done and ready to move on to the machines in the inspector’s room. Not that those would be easier but at least the room is air-conditioned. Give it a few seconds to breathe before turning it back on. You need to breathe too so you get up and walk out of the dank room.

A commotion outside. Cops running in (see, not well-synchronized at all), people shouting, non-cop people moving aside then getting in the way. And oh God, there’s a dead body lying outside on the ground. A human body with its face horribly mashed in.

You feel a wave of bile rise, till you realize it’s just excitement. It shocks you but you can’t resist walking just a tad taller because you didn’t chicken out and throw up, like a baby. You hang around to watch but you turn your face away. Just in case.

12:25 p.m.

What kind of a man jumps in front of a train? Nothing has moved in the past half hour or so. The commotion has settled down but nothing, including the very important something lying on the ground outside, has moved. There’s been a mix-up. The railway officials sent the body down to the police station. The cops are shouting about the mortuary.  The new recruit was made to search the body and he turned up a wallet and mobile phone. The family has been contacted and the body now has a name. Amit Buswala. You wish there was someone around for you to make the obvious joke to – bus collides into train, kills one, amuses many. Even the damn computer is refusing to start up properly.

A woman comes in, shoulders rigid, feet dragging and looks around. Wait a minute, isn’t she….she’s that woman from the second floor flat. The only nice looking female in your building. She’s noticed you and is coming over.

“You…err….I’m….”

Your eyes stray to the politically incorrect zone and you catch yourself, remembering just in time you’re in a police station. Never do to get pulled up for eve-teasing here. But what man can help noticing that a pretty girl’s shirt is tugging between buttons 3 and 4? So you say,

“I know you. I live in the floor above yours.”

“I didn’t know you were in the police.”

“No, I..”

But before you can explain, she turns to the sound of the police siren outside. A hawaldaar shouts to her across the room, to sit down on the bench and wait her turn.

1:30 p.m.

Today is not going to be a day for much work. Damn, and you were hoping it would be done by Thursday so you could be out of this wretched place and on another assignment. There’s just too much noise around and now with the body case, there’s no access to the inspector’s room.

You look up and think, perhaps you should talk to her. You know each other, after all. Well, she acknowledged you. She’s sitting alone on the bench, the next one in line to meet the hawaldaar.

You approach her, wondering what to say. What’s a girl like her doing in a police station? Her trousers and shirt look out of place in the room. She stands out, too shiny in these grim interiors. It might be to report loss of a mobile phone, you surmise but you notice her fidgeting with a phone. She looks up as you sit down next to her. And there’s no need to worry since she starts talking immediately.

“I just got a call from his number. But there was some stranger saying come to the railway station, there’s been an accident. I was at work, right in the middle of a call and I had to rush out. I went there and they told me to come here. I mean, I don’t know. He has not been answering the phone after that.”

Who is he you wonder. But the hawaldaar looks up and beckons both of you over. He gives you a strange glance as you get up along with her. It seems natural to accompany her to the desk but you don’t sit down. She pours out the same speech that she gave you and you wonder if she’s spent the last twenty minutes rehearsing it. She sounds shaky but in exactly the same places. Rehearsed alright.

The hawaldaar says,

“Who are you, madam? Name?”

“Shruti.”

“Relation? Kaise jaanti hain?”

Main…umm….Mrs.Buswala hoon.”

You don’t know what tastes worse. The sour thought that she’s married or the more pungent bile-spice that you’ve just seen her husband with his face mashed in, an hour ago. You take a step back and wonder if you can sidle away.

But as you turn, a loud gaggle enters. A saree-clad lady, flanked by a sturdy man on either side. She’s leaning from one to another as she strides in, but she seems to be leading them.

Kidhar hai? Kahaan hain? Mujhe unke paas le chalo!”

Bhabhi, shaanth ho jaaiye.”

, the man on her right mutters faintly.

You’re just about to step past them, when the other man speaks up.

“Mr.Amit Buswala? We got a call that there was an accident. I am his brother and this is his wife. Please…”

You stop dead in your tracks. And she, Shruti looks up at you, fear, guilt and pain writ in her eyes. She clutches your hand. But the hawaldaar yells at you,

Kai pahije? Abhi yeh computer nahin mil sakta. Baad mein aao. Chalo hato yahaan se, investigation chalu aahe.

3:25 p.m.

Nobody is the gaggle in going to lunch anytime soon. Ordinarily, the hawaldaar would have shut his book and taken over his tiffin carrier to the next table to join his cronies. But in addition to the two Mrs.Buswalas, the very dead Mr.Buswala, not to mention the menacing Buswala brothers, the press has turned up to join the merry party.

The inspector is being photographed and interviewed in his airconditioned cabin right now. Damn those journalists! Sitting in the AC while you’re still slogging it outside. And no one will give you any details, even if you’ve been around since it began.

There are two journalists talking to the Buswala trio while the saree-wearing Mrs.Buswala is putting on a full show. There’s the tears, of course but also lamentations of how the family is going to cope and what will happen of her and right back to rhetorical questions of why such a wonderful man would do such a thing.

You’re not buying any of it. For one, Saree-Buswala and her bodyguards sound too much like a Hindi movie. Besides she seems able to switch on and switch off the tears on cue, when asked questions. She has even posed for a picture for one of the tabloids.

You look around for Shruti, who has been getting harangued by a youngish reporter. He seems to be finally abandoning her as realization strikes that the bigger story is with the bigger (literally) Mrs.Buswala.

Shruti stands up and walks to the door. The hawaldaar shouts after her.

“Madam, ruko. Yeh khatam hone tak aap kahin nahin jaa sakte hain!”

You’re close enough now to hear her mutter, too soft for the hawaldaar

“I’m not going anywhere dammit. Where is there to go? I’m not going anywhere.”

She looks up at you.

“So…”

There’s a hard look in her eyes. And you realize she hasn’t cried or screamed. She shuts her eyes for a few seconds, takes a deep breath and says,

“It’s so hard to get a flat in Mumbai. So you know, we said we were married. You must know how it is.”

You nod even though you don’t. How did you get recruited into being her co-conspirator? Did she know he was married? But you can’t ask her. You’re inadvertently becoming a part of the drama but you don’t know your lines.

“So you’re…”

“Not married, no. But we are a couple and have been living together for a year now.” She says and after a pause, corrects herself, “Were a couple.”

She pauses and a faintest of gulps is her only admission to the loss.

“He’s been travelling a lot recently. I didn’t even know that he was back in Bombay.”

The hawaldaar shouts out,

Tu kya jaanta hain isko? Kaam kar na apna!”

That’s your cue out. You convey as much regret as you’re able in a look. She doesn’t even acknowledge it. You walk back to your seat.

The journalist is asking the brothers questions now. One of them keeps looking at Shruti with undisguised venom, the other with unmasked lasciviousness. She stands her ground though and behaves as if they’re strangers, not even linked to the same case.

4:45 p.m.

The body was finally dispatched to the morgue about an hour ago. The girl Shruti is allowed to leave a short while later but she’s been told that the cops may be in touch. She gets up and walks out stiffly.

The Buswala brothers are walking around the police station. Oddly, none of the cops seem to be ordering them to sit down or behave. The red tilak on their foreheads may be a cue as to why.

6:30 p.m.

You’re climbing up the stairs. It’s been too much for a day so you’ve left a little early. As you pass the second floor, you pause to look at the door. Then, despite yourself, you knock.

A wide-eyed Shruti opens the door and you can see suitcases lying behind her.

“You’re going somewhere?”

“You think they’ll leave me now that he’s gone?”

And you know, you just know she’s not talking about the cops but the scary red-tilak’d men.

She hoists the suitcase out and shuts the door. It only occurs to you after she’s gone that you could have offered to help her carry the suitcase down.

You walk up the stairs, shaken. You haven’t seen her cry once. You shut your door and heave to the bathroom to vomit.

8:55 p.m.

A loud commotion outside makes you rush to the window. There are things being thrown out of a window. Utensils, clothes, books.

You come out onto the landing and look under the stairs. Oh God, it’s that Buswala brother, the one with the guttural accent. And he’s brought a couple of big guys with him, who’re emptying out the flat.

They saw you talking to her. They might think you know her. You panic and start back up the stairs. She was right, after all.

You come back into your flat and shut the door. You sit down and force yourself to turn the TV on. An old Shah Rukh Khan movie comes on with a leggy Deepika Padukone mocking that eternal Bollywood dialogue,

Ek chutki sindoor ki keemat tum kya jaano?”

Bride

Bride (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MayShortReads15: Coffeeshop

Café Mocha, Suresh had learnt, was coffee with a little squirt of that chocolate syrup they had in squeeze bottles. It’s what he always ordered at coffeeshops now. Coming from the state with the oldest and largest coffee plantations in the country, Suresh found it curious, even unfair that Indian cities had suddenly woken up to the delights of coffee. It wasn’t like the filter coffee he had grown up with, but Suresh considered himself adaptable enough to find a new favorite.

She was already there when he arrived, dressed in a bright blue drapy material. Her hair was black today, he noticed. He was glad the brown streaks were gone. He didn’t mind the rest of her make-up even though there was so much of it. He just wished she would leave her hair alone. It was so lovely in its natural form!

She spoke with little animated gestures and Suresh noticed more than one person in the café turning around to look at her. Her lips were thin, though. Today, he could see that she had applied lipstick a little outside the lips. It was a neat job and from a distance you couldn’t really tell what her lips usual size were. It made her look more pouty, he expected, a bonus in her line. Either way, thin or thick-lipped Suresh loved her smile. She flashed it every now and then, the line growing across the breath of her face and framing bright, white teeth. It lit up her eyes too, which was really Suresh’s favorite part of her smile.

Suresh got up to get something to eat along with his Café Mocha. When he returned, he turned to observe the man at the next table, tucking into a chicken tikka sandwich. Ketchup smudged on his face and a little fleck had landed on his collar too. His shirt did nothing to camouflage the paunch straining over his brown trousers. Suresh noticed his chest hair visible between the buttons contained plenty of grey. His toes in leather chappals echoed this with tufty hair on the toes. He could afford to look the way he did, in an industry run on good looks, and he knew it. Probably a producer or casting agent, thought Suresh.

This area thronged with the like. Three coffeeshops set facing each other around a little circle and yet they did whopping business because they catered to the amateur, small-time glamour industry. Models, actors, assistant directors, choreographers, dancers flocked here hoping to get spotted. And like the man at the next table, there were the other kind circling around looking for pickings. Suresh had been quick to judge the first time he visited here. But as this café became a weekly haunt for him, he came to believe that it was a far more complex organism at work. At least two beautiful faces/bodies that had passed by him at this café, he had seen on the television (and once on the big screen) months later. Everyone was hunting here.

Suresh finished his quiche and stopped at the counter to pay. She had already walked out and was standing on the pavement outside. He neared the door just in time to see her kiss the ugly old man on his cheek and walk away. The man spat out a paan stain onto the pavement and then got into a Honda Civic that had pulled up. Suresh turned to look at the girl. She had walked to the corner and she waved to the Civic as it passed her. After it was out of sight, she crossed the road and hailed an autorickshaw. As she climbed in, Suresh noticed the back of her high heels were scratched and streaked with dirt. Those heels had done more walking than they were supposed to. She sat down, yanked her dress down over her thighs as the autorickshawala leaned over the back, asking where she wanted to go. Suresh turned away.

The next weekend was a long one, abutting a Friday off so Suresh decided to take a trip home. When he returned, monsoon had arrived in Mumbai and the café was not a more crowded than usual for a Sunday, the regulars from outside forsaking their cigarettes and taking shelter from rain, within. Suresh ordered his Café Mocha and sat back waiting. He wondered where she was. She had been at the café every single Sunday that he had visited. But an hour passed and there was no sight of her. Suresh paid for his coffee and then did a tour of the other coffeeshops. He spotted the old guy at the café with the sofas but the girl with him was a different one. She had red coloured hair high in a ponytail and a tattoo on the back of her neck. Instead of a dress, this one was in baggy six-pocket pants with shoes. But her green strappy top was tight and so low-cut, the men around were not even attempting to camouflage their gazes. Old guy was staring unabashedly at her cleavage while she chatted.

Suresh went back to the first café and ordered a sandwich. By evening, he had seen three old guy types walk in and out with pretty things. One of them was even Ms.Cleavage from the other café. She had changed into a tight skirt and pulled on a denim jacket buttoned at her stomach. But it burst open at the top, showcasing her assets as she waited to be hired. The second old guy though, didn’t seem interested and only kept staring at her thighs. Suresh got up and left.

He returned to the café several times in the next three months. Ms.Cleavage turned up in a saree and heavy jewelery in a television soap opera a month later. Suresh was sure he had spotted one of the old guys in a suit, giving an award at a film function on TV. But he never saw the girl again. Maybe she had gone back home. Or somewhere worse.

need some coffee?

need some coffee? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MayShortReads14: Family Secrets

The hall was full of sound. A stir-fry sputtered and released tiny bubbles, in a shiny pan on television. But the sound was a devotional song, a chant of some sort, flanked by violin and other instruments that were loosely described as ‘classical’. And the fans were whirring.

“Ma! Can I switch off the television? Nobody’s watching!”

“What is your problem, haan? Leave in on. I’m watching!”

Her mother was in the kitchen, mashing daal with her back to the door so she couldn’t possibly be watching. But her reply had started with a warning tone to not challenge the words that followed.

“What about the music system? Can I turn that off?”

A loud metallic crash resounded as a utensil was flung into the kitchen sink, empty from the timbre of it. The scrape of rubber chappals on mosaic flooring added to the cacophony. Amaine fled. Luckily she had remembered to put on her shoes before beginning the conversation.

Amaine was the youngest in her family. Most people didn’t see 37 as young. But her mother said, that to those who’ve seen you as an infant, you will always be young. This proclamation was always burdened by layers of nuances. There was disapproval, pre-emptive so it was extra fresh and heavy. Then there was a veneer of traditional thought with the merest whiff of punishment for contradiction. A thick sheet of glass covered this, seamlessly. It was industrial strength and bullet-proof and represented the conventional role that she was expected to play.

At the park down the road, Amaine had halted her stride and plonked herself onto a bench. It wasn’t really a park as much as a grassy patch bordering the neighborhood nalla. The grass showed bald patches in several places, just like her uncle’s head.

Satish uncle, her father’s brother; it was hard to believe he had once been her favorite uncle. Amaine thought glumly of his youth. Clad in jeans and leather boots, he had been a rockstar, contrasted by the foil of a respectable middle-class family. As the family rotted and died, his star quality faded and ran to seed.

Now bitterness issued from his fingers. It wafted around the house and settled on everyone’s mood. It mingled with her grandmother’s crumbling grasp of controls and turned into dark grey fleck. It dissolved in her mother’s chronic depression and dripped into their food and their television broadcasts. Even the music system acted up and spewed tinny cacophony instead of the usual melody. And each day, when the maid played her part in the charade, it collected in corners and silted the walls in piles of resentment.

Amaine imagined her house coated with the colourless, shiny layer that grew from her family. It was constantly being replenished by cast-off emotions, long rotted experiences and too-often recycled platitudes. She felt it clog her breath when she slept and woke up coughing. It got into her hair and sometimes her eyes too, and made them itch. It even made her cheek muscles heavy.

She wondered if it was flammable. It wasn’t washable, that she knew. She had tried, once when the maid was on leave. Scrubbing the corners, the walls and even the pelmet had taken two hours. But it made no difference. Her grandmother accused her of trying to steal her jewelery, her mother cried and said she had tried her best and was this what she was destined to have to listen to? Even the scented phenyl smell didn’t last longer than five minutes. Cheats, thought Amaine. She had spent fifty rupees on it and secretly emptied it into the wash water in the bathroom.

Then she had thought, perhaps it was an organic thing, a living layer. That made sense because emotions came from living people and had a way of multiplying in a manner that was exactly like life. The maid was regular after that (possibly because of the combined shouting by Amaine’s mother, Satish uncle and grandmother). So Amaine, at grave risk, woke up at 2:25 a.m. and washed the floor with water mixed in with rat poison. She couldn’t do the bedrooms where everyone was asleep but she made sure the hall and kitchen were covered completely. But this morning, the layer was still there.

Amaine sat back in her seat and put such thoughts out of her head. It was a pleasant morning, fresh with the ripe smells of a moving city. The stench never bothered her. It tingled inside her senses and woke her up from within. She drew in a deep breath and savored it as a siren rattled on by. She closed her eyes and drifted.

There was a crowd collected in the building compound when Amaine returned. Someone pointed to her and people started to look at her. As she climbed the stairs, she encountered it. It smelt like the layer melting and cooling – hot then cold and now liquefied and flowing out, down the stairs. It flowed past her but it didn’t cling to her clothes the way it did, within the house. And when she reached her door, heavy hands tugged at her and draped themselves around her. Three bodies lay covered with white sheets. Amaine noted how they were perfectly lined up parallel, in the hall. Nothing in this house was ever placed so tidily except in her own room.

The coroner’s report pegged it at food poisoning. Chemicals in the food, usually found in pesticides. Her downstairs neighbor had protested that there were no rodents in their building but that was attributed to crass, personal motives. Everybody knew he had been receiving prospective buyers for his flat throughout the summer. They looked at him with derision and at her with pity, quickly finding their hero and villain in the story.

When Amaine was finally alone a week later, she drew in a deep breath and was pleased with what she discovered. The layer wasn’t there anymore. A new coat called age settled around her shoulders and she nestled comfortably into it. Amaine wasn’t the youngest any more.

English: A girl on the bench in Tel Aviv עברית...

English: A girl on the bench in Tel Aviv עברית: נערה מעיינת בספר על ספסל בטיילת הרברט סמואל בתל אביב, Original Image Name:נערה על ספסל, Location:תל אביב (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MayShortReads13: The Fad

To: Governing Bodies Incorporated,
Beauty Business Group,
Society for Teenage Unrepresented Politics, Issues & Debate

Subject: The Owner of ‘Anti-Beauty’

In response to your earlier communication, we present a few further comments and evidence.

There were two very important things that happened to Tania that day. A phone conversation with her best friend and a note that she typed out soon after. Both have been documented as follows:

The first is the transcript of her phone conversation. This has been obtained with permission from her mobile service provider. Tania claimed later that she had not consented to their recording and sharing her conversations, even though her signature appears on the contract as agreeing to these terms. Since her friend Seena, does not subscribe to the same service provider, they are unable to share her contribution to the conversation:

—————————————————————————————————

Document 1: Transcript of Tania’s phone conversation

“No, I’m not hooking up to the bloody call center. It’s a 45 minute waste of time only to listen to a drone who’s probably 20 and has the brains of a 5-year-old.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. Have you gotten to work as yet?

Ah, you lucky girl! Sorry, I forgot. Don’t let me keep you up at this hour, then.

Already?  It’s only your third day. You still have 11 days left. Why don’t you go to the movies or maybe the salon? They’ll be great on weekdays, no waiting, no loud phone-boors.

Heh, yeah right. Shouting inside my own car does not make a loud phone-boor. Why don’t you catch that new movie then?

Oh, okay. Damn, you make weekday holidays sound bad.

Naw, I wish. I used up all my leave on Kyra. Ungrateful little brat won’t let me have my peace in my own house, even if I take off.

Yes, I do mean that. C’mon, don’t go all judgemental on me. It’s just the two of us talking. It’s bad enough having one foul-tempered teenager at home. But why’d I have to go pick up a job at a ‘young’ company too? I am dying. Dying of youth.

I mean they are killing me, literally. I sound like my mother when I say this and that makes me feel old. But honestly what are kids today thinking??

No, absolutely not. Don’t you remember our fads? Torn denims, those signaled rebellion alright. But what is this with clothes that don’t fit??? This generation wears their jeans so low, their fingers have muscles from the workout of having to constantly pick them off the ground.

It’s not an exaggeration. I think they’re too privileged. They’re begging for misery.

Huh. Yeah, I’m here. I just thought of something.

No, it’s still coming to me. Hey, let me hang up now. I think I have it.

Hmm? Just an idea for the marketing brief I’ve to present tomorrow.

Yeah. I’ll call you tomorrow.

—————————————————————————————————

The second document is a word-processed file that was created by Tania on the same day, estimable at 20 minutes after the phone conversation.

Document 2: Concept Note

Target Audience: 13-22, SEC A, metros

Core Premise: The youth is bored and disengaged from the world. Information overload, over-privileged lifestyles leave them jaded. The beauty myth has been saturated with a cluttered product market, technological advancements in medicine as well as digital touch-up technology.

Also, the influencers in the current social order are proponents of physical perfection. The ones who do not conform to this ideal, lack social currency. This segment is the majority but also under-represented in consumer outlook.

Need Gap: A new aspiration needs to be created for this segment. A guiding philosophy, goals, events and associated products can drive the campaign. We need to oppose beauty as a aspirational standard of appearance.

Key Messages:

  1. Anyone who has depth, has problems
  2. Perfection is for the last century

Product Range: Anti-beauty product line

  • Acne enhancement – to increase pimples & open pores, to convey someone who does not want to be plastic and is proud of it.
  • Dirt dust – for smudging on the rear of jeans, to show someone willing to sit anywhere to think and talk on matters of consequence (variant possibilities for eco-friendly consumers).
  • Blood paint – for tiny spatters on clothes, to convey being closer to life and away from plastic perfectionism. To be marketed to young women on the lines of menstruation pride and to young men as a return to real manhood.
  • Dulling mist – for spraying on face to convey sallow complexion and other conditions associated with working too hard

—————————————————————————————————-

These two documents conclusively prove that Tania Rodrigues is the owner and bears full responsibility for the Anti-Beauty ideology. We believe that she should bear all the damages resulting in this case. We also believe that all the earnings of this campaign should be accrued to Ms.Tania Rodrigues.

We await your thoughts at the earliest.

With regards,

Messrs. Lawyer, Lawyer & Lawyer

MayShortReads12: Pain

Turena wipes the wood-top desk and arranges the white sheet over it. It’s impractical, she has been told, but that’s what an architect would think. No artist would deny the magic of a white surface, the dichotomy of blank or plain, the lure of bleeding the pristine. Funnily enough, that architect would be considered an artist in the important circles, while she would probably not.

The familiar finger of sensation unfolds inside her skin but she doesn’t pay too much attention. It’s gotten to be habit now, managing these impulses. Besides, it’s going to be a busy day and she wants to conserve all her feeling for the appointments.

The first one arrives a little early. They always do, these first-timers, probably standing outside the door till they can’t stand to wait any longer. Well, she can understand the pleasure of deliberate pain, completely. It’s exquisite, the real art, not the patterns and inks that she proceeds to emboss on people’s bodies.

The second one is a girl and Turena has to insist on seeing an identity proof before she takes her over to the chair. Turena doesn’t want any problems with the authorities. It will disturb the delicate balance of her world and chaos scares Turena. It always surprises her younger customers, who imagine her as a gun-wielding, tank-top-6-pocket-jeans-and-boots-wearing heroine of rebellion. Turena’s plain workshirts, neatly buttoned at the cuffs and light blue jeans always throw them off. Most of them ask her how come she doesn’t have a tattoo herself. She usually shows them the ankle quiver. It’s the one that was created for business purposes only. It usually satisfies them.

The girl has asked for a butterfly on her left breast. A romantic, Turena judges and smiles inwardly. If it had been the right breast, she’d have known the girl was an attention-seeker, a tease even. Women’s clothes button right over left and a tattoo on the right side is a better option for peek-a-boo games. The ease with which the girl takes off her shirt and then her bra, tells Turena something more. She is sure she got chosen, not for her steady hand but for her gender. But the girl isn’t coy about shedding her clothes and when she turns around, Turena’s notions are confirmed. A fading, almost not-there dark patch marks the area a little north-west of her areola. A love-bite. The girl expects more and she’d like camouflage. Perhaps even an invitation for the future.

She sees that Turena has noticed and starts to say something. Turena interrupts her and tells her that a tattoo must not be touched too much or even brushed hard for at least a month and would she like to reconsider the location? To ease her discomfiture, Turena tells her bra-straps can be painful on a fresh, sore tattoo. The girl considers for a whole minute and then shakes her head and lies back. The canvas is ready. Turena’s fingers are already tingling and she mentally thanks the person whose lips left that mark on the girl’s body. It gives added impetus to her work.

By the time she is done with her appointments, the tablecloth is splashed with colour flecks and an occasional red-brown spot that only Turena knows isn’t colour. She picks it up and tosses it into the laundry bag behind the door. Then she sits back in the chair and opens her cuff buttons, folding up her sleeves neatly.

On her left arm, just above the inside of her elbow, a long vine creeps up and turns around to the front, ending three inches under her wrist. Turena admires the leaves and scrutinizes the colour, with a professional eye to check if it needs retouching. Then she runs a finger along the vine, stopping mid-way. The finger feels it, even if the eye doesn’t – the scar and a memory of a time past. She leaves her finger where it is and looks up, thinking.

She can still hear the screaming. The colours are very bright and blurred, sunlight streaming in through a window and diffused all over her eyeball by salt water. The screaming turns to loud, unpleasant wailing. It hurts her throat and her chest too, to make that sound. But it is not enough. Her right hand reaches out and closes over something small, cold and metallic. Dimly, she registers it as the bronze statuette she bought on their honeymoon. He hasn’t noticed, his face is still cold with disgust and indifference, egging her on to make him care. The hand moves quickly and begins to carve her story out. It stings, the cool air burning as it touches torn flesh. It feels so good. So damn good. Then it’s being pulled away from her and in the scuffle that ensues, a little rip of flesh tears itself out of her arm. And there’s red everywhere.

Turena looks away and her eyes fall on her table. Thank God, she whispers. She looks down at her left arm again. It’s beautiful. A story of pain. She created that grapevine herself, to hide back then. But with it, she created art. She dwells on that thought for a full minute. Then she contemplates whether she needs to open a few more buttons to remind herself. Her hand rises slowly to her midriff but she stops there, letting her palm rest over the masterpiece on her stomach that tells about one of the greater tragedies of her life. That’s all she needs. It’s not that bad today. She smoothes the shirt down and just then her stomach rumbles. Turena feels quite proud of herself for being able to manage her pain so well.

Life is pain, this is true. But the world looks to the artist to look that pain in the eye and fall in love with it. There is a smiling glimmer inside her as she gets up. Dark feelings always feel acute, sharp and defined while good feelings are more like a gentle glow. Turena dwells on that thought for a brief second as she turns out the lights.

Then she locks the door to ‘Turena’s Tattoos’ and she goes home.

English: Auschwitz survivor Sam Rosenzweig dis...

English: Auschwitz survivor Sam Rosenzweig displays his identification tattoo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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