Monday, 13 March 2017

X for X023

Sheena Zavheri was in the bathroom touching up her make-up when she heard the muffled explosion of a gunshot from the corridor. She instinctively grasped at the gun hidden expertly under her saree and slid towards the entrance--instincts one would hardly expect from the socialite wife of an a-list actor. Sheena, born Hridi Quazi and codenamed X023, was a sleeper operative for the Bangladeshi secret agency. Hridi had married Toufique Zavheri--recognized popularly by the pseudonym: ‘Milan’--after a short affaire planned, funded and effected by the agency in coffee shops and fancy restaurants. More than fifteen years later, Sheena and Milan were at a resort on their wedding anniversary at her insistence trying to resuscitate their gasping relationship.

Hridi spied through the fisheye a muted tussle going on in the large corridor between two dark figures almost out of her field of vision. It could be an unrelated murder attempt on another guest. It would have been risky to step out. But what were the chances that an unrelated tussle would end up on their private floor, she thought.

She peered hard. It was Milan! Hridi hurried into the corridor. Milan, startled to see her, pointed his gun at her and she out of instinct, responded with the same. The other man lay unconscious between the two of them.

It was clear from the way he had moved that he had had specialized training like her. RAW? CIA? Who was this man she’d spent fifteen years with, she wondered. They circled like a fan’s blades around the dizzy man on the floor guns aimed at each other scanning the area for any potential weapons.

“So, how many more do you have hiding?” he asked, kicking the body on the floor.

“You would know,” she replied.

He frowned. “What was the point of all this now?”

“Point of what?”

“This”

“This?”

He kicked the man again to clarify.

“How would I know?”

“He’s a RAW agent,” he said.

They stopped. “And you?”

“Me?” he said incredulously. “No”

She stared at him. She would have known if he were lying. like when he’d said that her Landhi tasted great, or when he’d gone to watch the India-Pakistan match without telling her or the time when he'd told her that he didn't want children even if it were medically possible for her.

“I guess you’re not RAW either?”

She wondered if she trusted him after what she’d just seen.

“Are you worried we’re being recorded?”

Hridi nodded sheepishly. It didn’t really matter; if they knew, she wouldn’t even get a court trial anyway.

“I’m a Pakistani spy, Sh--”

Before he could complete, Hridi had let go of her gun, stepped over the unconscious body of the possibly Indian agent and jumped towards her Milan (which was foolish considering that he was pointing a fully-cocked gun at her) and embraced him with a passion she’d not felt for him since the first day of her assignment when she met him at the coffee shop.

Friday, 27 January 2017

W for Wait

“Babe…” called Tarun slumped into the sofa staring into his mobile. “Babe?”
“Yes, babu,” came the reply from the other room.
“We’re getting late.”
“Just two more minutes, baby. Doing the eyelashes”
“They’ll be waiting.” There was no reply. “Babe?”
“Wait, na. Your friend can wait some more time. He’s not the president of the America or something.” The door opened. “How do I look?”
“Patakha,” he replied. “Now let’s go?”
“Just two more minutes. The lipstick smeared,” said she returning back into the room.
He slumped deeper into the sofa.
“Why do you even want to meet them? I’m telling you, your middle-class friends are pulling you down. You should hang out more with people from our society,” she spoke pausing in between for the lipstick. “You’ll get business ideas. How many more years will you keep running? I’m telling you, start investing. You understand what I’m saying?”
“Yea babe,” came the reluctant reply.
“Or just ask your father for money. I’ll start a business. I was talking to Sheena. She was telling me that lots of sportsmen are starting up restaurants. Lots of money in it. Or I could start a clothing range—name it after me, you know? Or something like a range of clutches and bags or whatever. Sheena knows about it. I could be like its brand ambassador or something. She knows the people from Wildcraft. Just ask your father for some money, babe, I’ll take care of the rest. Okay?”
“Okay….”
“What could we name it?” she asked.
“We should of course name it after you, babe. How about Witchcraft?”

Sunday, 8 January 2017

V for Visitors

It was almost nine and the house was still in a disarray. ‘Could’ve at least informed me she’d be late,’ Sudeep thought as he collected newspapers from under the couch. ‘The guests will be arriving any moment now’. He checked his mobile. There was no message from her. He knew they were going to get into a fight over this. The only consolation was that their son wouldn’t be home to witness it this time.

A strong draught from the bedroom window scattered the newspapers. He collected them and stuffed them into a drawer this time. The bedroom was messy. He didn’t want the guests to see it. He latched the bedroom door shut and entered the kitchen. He was checking for supplies when he heard a screech and a thud as the bedroom door flung open again. He latched the door and made sure that it was properly closed. The bungalow was old but it conveniently located. The previous owners had also agreed to sell it to them much below the market rate.

He reentered the kitchen wondering if he should just order for food when he heard a click. He looked towards the bedroom. The door was unlatched. There was another click. The bedroom door opened slowly. There was another click. It sounded like seashells being struck against each other. He moved carefully, reaching for the handle, but before he could grip it, the door swiveled shut violently on him. He heard a deep growl. Whatever was inside the room, didn’t want to be seen either.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

U for Under the covers


The blaring primetime television would almost drown out his arguing parents, but a harsh sound or two would still invade his bedroom through the gaps threatening to spread and fill his room up with unhappiness; but he would be safe, for he would be under the sheets, duvet or a cover, dreaming of magic, love and a future.

T for Television

Travesty of primetime news was on television again. The reporter walked frantically towards an old mud house.

“We are on our way to the home of the IITian who died yesterday at the Panvel railway station,” she reminded the viewers. The anchor sat ready with debaters in another panel on the overcrowded screen and in yet another panel were images of the dead person—pixelated enough to avoid any lawsuits but clear enough for the gore to be obvious. Below the panels flashed in bold: ‘When will the Government wake up to the need for better safety for passengers?’.

The reporter barged her mic into the window of the latched house and asked loudly, “Ma’am…. Your son died yesterday trying to board a train. What do you have to say?” Someone pushed away her mic and latched the window from inside. “As you can see, the family is clearly still in mourning. We will try to get them to speak to us. Over to the studio”

“Thank you….” said the anchor. “I’d like to remind all our viewers that this story is exclusively on our news channel.”

The studio had the usual guests: one from the ruling party, one from the opposition, one from a reputable newspaper, one from an NGO, etc.. The anchor introduced them all and began the debate with the conclusion. The blame was shifted from one to the other until the the issue didn’t matter anymore. After numerous commercial breaks and high-decibel shouting contests, the anchor contacted the reporter again.

“Any updates?”

“We were not able to contact them. They are still in mourning. We were able to talk to some of his f….”

“I’m sorry to interrupt but we will have to get back to you…. Stay there. Try to get his parents’ view on this subject. We will contact you”

The rest of the panels vanished and the camera zoomed in on the anchor. “We have just gotten a breaking news,” he said. “Superstar Vivek Khanna and Simpy Shah are back together. Stay tuned for more!”

Sunday, 22 May 2016

S for Spontaneity

The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun—typical Konkan weather! Raj folded his old patched-up umbrella and boarded the train.

“Hi. Can you please get me a cold Bisleri bottle?”

“Sorry?”

“Can you please get me a cold bottle of Bisleri? I’ll pay, of course.” calmly repeated this strange girl who was now standing in front of him.

“Oh… Okay,” he said and walked out of the train towards the stall. He must surely have felt a little suspicious. He had never seen her before. He took his bag and the umbrella along.

The stall was busy. He tried to get the shopkeeper’s attention but there were others clamouring for his attention too. Sawantwadi was a quick stop for the train. He kept eyeing the train. The girl was now sitting on the seat opposite to his.

The train whistled once. Raj ran back to the train. It would not start to move right away, but he didn’t want to take a chance. He had returned empty-handed, feeling guiltier than he should have for not being able to do a favour for someone.

“It’s fine, I have some water left” she replied to his wordless apology. “Thanks for trying. I’m Purvi, by the way.”

“Raj.”

The train whistled once more and chugged away. The rhythm picked up and the train was on its way in earnest. The town was long behind now and the sky had darkened. They began to talk.

Purvi’s seat had been the one on the adjoining berth but she wanted a window seat and also the family sharing her berth were happier to have some more free space for the kids to romp on.

“I’ll move back if the person who booked this seat turns up. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not. Please sit”

No one would turn up to claim the seat that night. They introduced themselves. She was from Ernakulam.

“And I’m travelling to Lonavala”

“Alone?”

“Yea”

“Isn’t it a bit scary?”

“Yup. Just a bit. Also the language barrier. My Hindi isn’t very good. What about you?”

“Not bad. I grew up here.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to college. IIT Bombay”

“Oh. Great. My cousin studies there... Don’t you guys have a summer break right now?”

“Yea. I am working on a project. I need to finish it before the semester starts, or I won’t get any time later”

“Okay”

They sat quietly for a while. She started to read a novel and he got busy texting. They reached Kankavali fairly quickly. He bought a bottle of cold water for her. She offered him some. He refused politely.

“Do you take the umbrella everywhere with you?” she asked. He hesitated a bit. “Oh, I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“No problem. Actually, I don’t even notice it anymore. I carry it everywhere with me. It's special to me. Sort of our family umbrella."

They talked for another hour about themselves. He learnt that she was supposed to travel with her cousin, who had to cancel at the last minute.

“I thought it’d be an adventure to travel to Lonavala alone without a plan. Now I think that maybe it’s too much of an adventure for me! I don’t even know anyone there!”

She learnt that he would be entering the third year of his engineering soon.

“I’m in Civil. I wanted to be in Computer Science. I’m doing this project to strengthen my resume for CS jobs.”

They discussed their hobbies and lives in general. He felt a connection. They compared their colleges and their parents. He confessed how he always wanted to travel but never had the time or resources.

“You only need the will to travel. Everything else will fall into place. Why don’t you come with me to Lonavala? I do have an extra seat. Also, no TT will come at this time. Even if he does, I’ll deal with him.” She winked.

“I… really shouldn’t. There’s so much work to be done. I didn’t even spend any time at home because of this project.”

“Are you sure you can’t give one day for fun? Where’s your spontaneity? Where is your sense of adventure? What is a life lived without ever living? There is no fun in always planning ahead and making the safe choices. Sometimes you just have to take the leap without seeing what lies beneath. Also, you’d be helping me immensely.”

“Thanks for the offer, Purvi. You are very persuasive. But I really can’t take a day off. If you need any help from me, give me a call. I’ll help you to the best of my ability.”

“No problem at all. I thought you’d enjoy too.” She smiled.

“Sorry”

They talked for some time, after which she went back to reading her book while he set his alarm and tried to take a short nap.

It was almost three in the morning. Panvel station was approaching. He had not been able to get much sleep but now there was no time. He had to get down. They exchanged numbers. “Let me know how your Lonavala trip goes,” he said.

“Sure”

“Maybe we can go on a trip like this sometime when I’m free”

“Sure. Let’s see.” She smiled.

He got up and wore his bag. She extended her hand for a handshake. They shook. He couldn’t help but feel that there was something different about that touch. It felt surreal. It had the quality of a dream. Admittedly he was still groggy from the sleep. He climbed down onto the platform. She was now sitting in his old seat—looking at him smilingly.

The train slowly started to move again. Like every other station before it, it’d leave this one too. He peered longingly at her and waved once more. She waved back. It was 02:45 am. The platform was almost empty. The train had started to move. What is the meaning of life? What is a life without a few mindless adventures? He half suspected that she wanted him only because she didn't want to deal with the trouble of not knowing the local language. But--what the hell?!--he needed it too. He felt like he--the unsatisfactorily-slept teenage philosopher--was being pulled towards her by an invisible thread. He moved ahead as the train did. He walked, strode and then finally ran, as the train gathered speed. Purvi ran to the door and in a reversal of sorts of the Bollywood archetype, she held out her hand and Raj ran towards her—ran like his life depended on it. The platform was slippery. He kept struggling to reach her hand. He’d get closer but then slip a bit and have to cover some more ground. The train had started to gain some serious speed. He kept running but kept losing to the train. It all felt dream-like.

“Take the leap, Raj! Jump!” she screamed.

He looked into her eyes and in a dilated moment in which he felt as if everything had stopped (including his heart), he leapt!


‘This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’

Sunday, 15 May 2016

R for Raincoat

A little kid, not older than ten, goes stoically through the raincoat-stock of another shop. His parents stand a little away, admiring the confidence with which their son talks — in English, that too! — to the shopkeepers.

He is done.
“I didn't like any of them” he declares.
“Buy any one. We've already been to all the other shops,” entreats his mother.
“No. I'll buy something next year.”
“The rainy season has already begun. Your books get wet,” his father reasons. His bag is positively wet. His floaters are muddy and his (unironed but meticulously washed) shirt is damp.
“I'll put them in a plastic bag next time. We'll buy a really nice one next year. Pukka!”

The three of them exit the store. It's sprinkling outside. He takes out their only umbrella from his bag. His mother holds it over them—mostly over him. His father walks a step ahead of them, worrying about mending the small hole in the umbrella even when his old shirt and trouser have quite a few more.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Q for Quilt

There once was a queen, pretty and wise. Her husband was a king, just and nice. They ruled over a land far far away where faces were bright and the sky never grey.

The Queen was happy, but she was afraid. She wouldn’t always be young and her face not always fair. She rummaged through her heirloom and found a quilt.

The Quilt was magical; it made things true. She wrapped the Quilt and closed her eyes. She held it tight as the Quilt came to life.

“Tell me a wish and I shall make it true,” the Quilt spoke.

“Anything at all?”

“Just make the wish, my Queen, and it shall be yours”

“I wish for eternal youth”

“Are you sure, my Queen?”

“Yes! Yes! Please. Everything is perfect as it is. I wish nothing ever changes”

“I will do as you say, my Queen, but there’s a catch. To grant you your wish, I will need to steal a few years from a few people”

“Do I know these people?”

“No, my Queen. They are complete strangers”

The Queen thought hard. “Will they suffer for a wish of mine?”

“No, my Queen. They will not even notice the years they lost”

“Then pray make my wish come true. Make me a queen who will never grow old”

“As you say, my dear Queen,” said the Quilt as it shone bright. “Ten years from a young woman who has it all. Ten years from a mother, proud and tall. Ten years from a woman adored by the big and small. Ten years from a woman who has been through it all“, chanted the Quilt and tiny stars filled the hall. A minute later, the stars disappeared and the Quilt fell on the floor. The Queen, on the other hand, was never seen again.


This is a part of Peatoozee™ challenge for April. Today's letter was Q.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

P for Parkinson's Law

The administration on the planet of Zolgian was in shambles. An independent council of elders was convened and tasked with overhauling the system. The council was given free rein and the assurance of no external pressures. Years went by and the council grew in power and stature. More prominent citizens joined the ranks of the elders and the council kept working on. Eventually the council reached consensus and summoned an expert to finalise the plan.

Copyrights belong to owner

The expert gingerly entered the hall of the elders. One of the elders spoke.
“I believe you have received our detailed plans. Did you go through it completely?”
“No, your excellency,” she replied.
There was an audible murmur in the room.
“May I know why?”
“Your excellency… most of the projects explained in the document are already done.”
The room fell silent. “The rest are really not feasible.”
After a few seconds of reflection, the elder spoke again. “Thank you for your expert opinion. You may leave.”

The expert left and the council decided that it was its duty to review the failure of the council in suggesting a viable remedy in time. Years would pass by after this incident and the council would keep growing in number and stature.


This is today's second post for Peatoozee™. To read the previous post, follow this link

P for Prize

The final match of the national junior level chess championship had just concluded and the prize distribution ceremony had just commenced. Aiden, a first time participant and the surprise winner of the championship, stood shyly on the podium watching the audience, mostly composed of family members of the contestants and a few chess enthusiasts heartily cheering each player as they would collect the award. Finally the host announced Aiden’s name. The audience kept clapping enthusiastically, but then all of a sudden most of them stopped. Aiden looked at the host, who looked back almost guiltily at him. He turned quizzically towards his interpreter. “In addition to the cash prize, the sponsors are also giving away their brand’s latest headphones,” she signed. Aiden chortled relievedly and signed at her, “Tell them that I’ll be gifting it to my sister.” Then he turned towards the audience and signed to his sister, “Sorry I forgot to wish you on your birthday. See? God wanted me to gift you something.”

This is part of the Peatoozee™ challenge series (yes, I made up the challenge)