Thriving Mindfully

Category: Short Story (Page 2 of 3)

Rags to Riches

There’s a mountain that has been growing steadily over the years in the outskirts of the city. Marooned in a corner beyond sight, this is where all of the city’s discarded things live. Welcome to the city’s ever-rising landfill, where unwanted people rummage through the unwanted refuse of a million people to make ends meet.

This burgeoning arena, is the pit stop on the journey of garbage, en route the mystical place called ‘away’ where we assume we throw our waste. The stench is unbearable, yet, should you ask a rag picker if it bothered her, she’d ask,

‘What stench?’

People have lived their entire lives here, picking and sorting waste. One among these indistinguishable many is Fareed. He celebrated his 60th birthday a month ago, and there were pastries to go with the celebration. After 5 decades of living in the rubble, he knew where exactly to find what. Finding the place where the garbage from the bakeries was dumped was a piece of cake for him.

He still had a few childhood friends in the dump-site. Most were the lucky ones who hadn’t succumbed to occupational hazards over the years. Many of his friends had while working at the landfill. His father died when a dump-truck accidentally buried him under a pile of garbage, muffling his screams forever. A woman he’d fallen in love with got poisoned by lead at the site. He still remembers her blue face, her lifeless eyes, when they took her away for cremation. It all felt like yesterday. But between yesterday and today, he’d lived his entire noxious life.

He loved to talk. Being one of the seniors at the site, he’d often find a huddle of young rag pickers around who’d plead for stories from ‘back in the day’. He didn’t complain of the sporadic bouts of attention he’d get in an otherwise punishing life.

Often, he would be heard saying his signature quote to youngsters,

‘Remember, half of the waste that comes here is still good. It’s usable. Yet under the weight of this labyrinthine landfill, even a good piece of ripe fruit starts to emit a foul odour.
Half of every person’s heart is good too, yet in this damned place, if it starts to rot, you should learn to forgive him and save the part that’s still good.’

The people found his unlettered wisdom and undeniable honesty endearing. Despite the resignation to fate, he still worked with pride, for he worked hard to earn a dignified living.
But in his quieter moments, away from it all, he still latched on to the hope of finding a treasure chest buried in the mound, a ticket to retirement.

Who can stop a man from dreaming?

Two days before, on a typical day at work, he had climbed up to the corner of a narrow stretch of the peak. On either side lay steep valleys that led deep into the whirlpool of waste. He sat down on an old computer monitor with his plastic bag of collected waste and took a good look around the place.

Generations of scavengers flew in circles over the landfill, as if waiting patiently for him to die. Flies preferred to perch on putrefying organic matter nearby, sparing him the discomfort. His mismatched shoes oozed gunk. For as far as he could see, it looked like a museum of the failure of civilization.

He narrowed down his vision and looked around to find anything he could sell for a good value. Magnets from speakers, metals, IC chips…

Scanning in this way, his eyes fell on a shapely hand jutting out of the mass. An eagle let out a shrill scream as if expressing Fareed’s horror. Amid the disgusting pile of garbage, the hand of a beautiful woman buried in the rubble only added to the wretchedness of the surroundings.

‘Who could she be? A victim of a drug war? A pregnant teenager? A trafficked girl from the village?’ he wondered.

Gingerly, he stepped closer. He saw a gem-studded golden ring on one of the fingers.
His eyes lit up. It was mid-afternoon and there wasn’t anyone around. He knelt and pulled the ring out of her finger. Her hands were cold as an ice-cream cup.

He quickly pocketed the ring. He looked around again. There wasn’t anyone within sight.

He thought,

‘Maybe she’s wearing a necklace too. Perhaps this is the jackpot I’ve been working towards all my life.’

In his mind, he had already pictured himself in a tuxedo, away from a lifetime of filth.

He held that cold-lifeless hand buried in the garbage and tugged on to it. He pulled as if his life depended on it. But the weight of garbage doesn’t even let the living people loose, what fate did the dead have?

Amid his desperate act of pulling with all his might, he managed to loosen the body out of the rubble. Suddenly, the garbage under his feet loosened out and he fell back and rolled down into the valley, still with the dead woman’s body in his hands. Both bodies fell as lovers in a romantic movie, deeply attached despite the illegitimacy of their bond.

And then there was suffocating darkness.

Hours later, Fareed woke up to such blinding whiteness that for a moment, he felt he’d died and reached heaven.

As his eyes adjusted to the lights in the hospital room, he saw the face of Sabi, a young rag picker who’d been working nearby when he fell.

He tried to speak but he found himself unable to. His head felt heavy from all the bandages. He blinked constantly.

Sabi wore a crescent smile on her face and said something, but Fareed couldn’t hear her.

On Sabi’s right arm, he saw a small bandage. Sabi pointed her eyes towards the pouch of blood hanging high on the right side of the bed. In moments, Fareed realised that he was being administered Sabi’s blood.

Old Fareed felt a sickness inside. He found a rotten part of him that had become selfish merely with the thought of a possible escape from his life at the landfill.

But he remembered his own quote that he would share with young rag pickers often –

‘….Half of every person’s heart is good too, yet in this damned place, if it starts to rot, you should learn to forgive him and save the part that’s still good.’

Somewhere between deep sighs, he found the heart to forgive himself for that lustful moment of pure selfishness.

With great difficulty, he moved a bit and felt the left pocket of his pants. The ring was still there.

He peeped into Sabi’s eyes as if asking for forgiveness.

Fareed pledged himself to give the ring in his pocket to Sabi.

He smiled. Sabi did too and held Fareed’s hand gently.

Sabi’s hand felt as warm as life.

Fareed remembered that the last thing he had held before his downfall, was a cold, lifeless hand.

Deep inside, he felt recuperated.

Little did Fareed know that the ring in his pocket was a cheap piece of imitation jewellery. He also didn’t know he had fallen from the top of the garbage pile, holding the hand of a mannequin.

But, in Fareed’s story, a fake gem and an ever-lifeless body, helped him find the jewel in his own heart, the gem of a person Sabi was, and, in some way the good part of in both their souls, that was still worth saving.

The Autobiography

Little Samay had begun to feel betrayed by the weekends. Usually, these two days were reserved for playing with his father. But lately, his journalist father had been swarmed with work. The casualty – their play-time.

Gingerly, he stood near the door of his father’s study and peeped in with his puppy eyes. He waited to be noticed. But work had worked a spell on his father. He wouldn’t look away from his laptop, as if the whole world around him had disappeared.

‘What are you doing, Papa?’

‘Samay, I am writing a review for an autobiography.’

‘What is an autoto….’

‘Autobiography…say Auto…Bio…Graphy..’

‘Yes! Very good.’

‘So, what is an autobio…?’

‘graphy…..An autobiography is the story of someone’s life.’

‘Anyone can write an…graphy?’

‘Good! Well, yes, anyone can write it. Usually it is written by people who have done great work in their life, so that people can read and learn from the writer’s life.’

‘Do you have an autobiography, Papa?’

‘No son, but someday I might write one.’ added the father, still clanking away on the laptop.

‘Hmm…Does Grandpa have an autobiography?’

‘No, son, why don’t you help him to write one?’

‘Yes! Good idea! Can I write my autobiography also?’

‘Sure. Why don’t you help Grandpa write the story of his life? And then you can write the story of your life too!’

‘Yes! Auto..Auto…Autobio….’ sang out the 7-year-old and ran downstairs.

After a couple of hours there was a knock on the door.


‘Yes, Samay, it’s me. Open up!’

The little boy hopped across the hall and opened the door for his mother.

‘Ah, mom, your hair is short now!’

‘Yes, I got a haircut.’

‘I also want a haircut!’

‘Okay, next week, I promise.’

‘I am writing my autobiography, Mom. I am helping Grandpa write his autobiography too..’

‘Oh goodness, who taught you this big word, Papa?’

‘Yes, but Grandpa fell asleep. We only wrote a little until now. We will continue after lunch.’

‘Hmm…he doesn’t sleep before lunch usually. Maybe he is tired after telling you his story.’

‘Maybe. But we only wrote a few lines”

‘That’s okay. Now go call your father for lunch.’

The family chose to not wake up the eldest member for lunch. They let him rest in his room.

After a hurried lunch, as Samay’s father was rushing back to his study, his wife said,

‘Can you check in your father? I think he fell asleep in his wheelchair in his room.’

‘Sure,’ he said and walked up to the room.

He tried waking his father up. But, he was past the earthly plane. Seated on the wheelchair still, the dead man had a peaceful smile on his face, as if he’d accomplished everything he’d aimed for in life.

There was a note that rested in his lap.
Samay’s father took the note in his shaky hands and tried to read the squiggly handwriting.

It read,


Yesterday, I was a little child.
I have grown up so fast.
I enjoyed playing in life. I am happy.
It will be lunch time soon.
I am going away…’

And the teary-eyed son couldn’t tell, if this was his son’s autobiography or his deceased father’s.


Early in the morning, seated like emperors on the chewed up seats of their tractor, brothers Mansukh and Hasmukh set out against the wind, in the direction of the nearest Government-run procurement centre. Propelled by the joy of having a bumper wheat crop, even the load of a 100 quintals of freshly harvested wheat could not hold their tractor back as they drove through the rustic landscape.

True to the meaning of their names, at that moment, a deep contentment permeated their entire being. Even the hum of their tractor sounded like a celebratory roar.

A ramshackle radio blurted out an old Hindi tune…

‘Rimjihim gire saawan
Sulag sulag Jaaye mann’

(Gently the rain falls,
and my heart burns slowly)

Arey, why is this radio singing such a melancholy song at such a happy moment,’ said Mansukh.

‘Ah, Mannu, turn off the radio. Today, we’ll sing our own tunes in celebration,’ said Hasmukh.

Mansukh banged the radio with his fist, and got right back at the wheel. The old radio paid heed to the request for silence and became a mute spectator to the rapturous singing of the two happy brothers,

‘Yeh desh hair veer jawaano ka…’
(This is the land of brave youth…)

Their happiness knew no bounds. The government had announced the start of the procurement from the beginning of next week. The enthused brothers had set out for the town two days ahead of schedule, just to be sure that they were the first ones to get their harvest weighed and get the fruit of their hard work. They’d planned to reach a night earlier and camp in their tractor on Sunday outside the procurement centre.

After a day-long journey, they reached their destination and parked their tractor just outside the procurement centre. They were the first farmers to have reached there. They felt happy about the head start. They wondered why other farmers hadn’t thought of arriving early. But they didn’t complain about the absence of competition.

They cooked dal and rotis on a chulha they’d carried from home and helped themselves to a tasty meal.

‘What a joy to be tasting rotis made of this fresh harvest of wheat, Mannu!’

‘Yes, Bhai, it has a sweetness to it. That’s a reward in itself!’

‘Sharbati wheat, the pride of Madhya Pradesh,’ announced Hasmukh.


‘Let’s get adequate rest, it’s going to be a big day tomorrow.’

‘Yes, Bhai,’ said Mansukh.

‘And once we sell our harvest, we shall celebrate with a drink!’ suggested Hasmukh.

‘Of course, we shall, bhai.’

The brothers lay down on top of the sacks full of Sharbati wheat at the back of the trailer.

As they lay back, looking at the sky, the presence of a flurry of clouds unsettled them.

‘Should we put a tarpaulin over the trailer, just in case it drizzles?’ asked Hasmukh.

‘Yes, let us do that.’

They covered the trailer with a shiny blue tarpaulin. With that as the last touch of effort, they lay down again in the trailer. The radio hummed,

‘Aaj mausam bada
Beimaan hai…aaj mausam..
Aane waala koi toofaan hai…’

(Today the weather is being
a big liar…
Seems there’s going to be
A huge storm…)

‘Turn off this omen of a radio! It better not rain tonight.’

There was a thud and the radio fell silent.

The next morning, the brothers woke up to a drizzle, and before they knew, it gathered into a storm. In a mad rush, they secured the tarpaulin firmly around the trailer and drove it under a banyan tree to get shelter from the rain. They couldn’t wrap their head around the unseasonal rainfall.

In desperation, they prayed for the rain to subdue lest their bumper harvest of Sharbati wheat gets moist.

The humidity in the atmosphere weighed heavily on them. It rained for four hours, and then the clouds fluttered away with the titanic wind.

They rested the night out under the tree as the weather cleared up. The following day, the procurement centre opened for business. A steady stream of tractors full of wheat harvest was beginning to queue in.

Still happy to be the first ones in the line, the brothers drove the trailer to the weighing area. An agriculture officer took out a sample of wheat from one of the gunny sacks for quality testing and handed them a token.

The brothers waited anxiously. Meanwhile, a few reporters were covering the story of a bumper harvest of Sharbati wheat in Madhya Pradesh.
Hasmukh being the more eloquent of the two, agreed to feature on the camera for a byte.

Mansukh held on to the token and waited to hear back from the officer.

Soon the officer came out of the testing room and informed Mansukh matter-of-factly,

‘We cannot accept your wheat. The moisture level is beyond the permissible limit.’

‘But, sahib… we’ve got 100 quintals, a bumper harvest….what are we going to do with it?’ pleaded Mansukh.

‘Why did you allow the grain to be exposed to rain? Didn’t you hear about the cyclone in Maharashtra? There was a forecast for rain on the radio. Didn’t you listen to it?’ reprimanded the officer.

‘We tried our best to protect the crop sahib….sahib… Please help us, we won’t be able to repay our loans if we don’t sell this harvest at the minimum support price.’

Mansukh was close to tears, as Hasmukh was happily sharing the joy of reaping a bumper harvest on camera, just a stone-throw away.

‘I can set you up with a distillery. You can sell it to them. They make country liquor. You might not get the minimum support price, but you will at least get something.’

The officer made the offer with an impersonal, almost calculated evasion. He made himself feel worthy of worship for his bureaucratic benevolence.

Mansukh was speechless. The officer took that as a yes for his offer. A few calls were made. Before too long, the harvest met the fate of being deliberately made to rot to obtain a ferment – the potion that promises to be the cure of all ills.

Dejected, he dragged his feet to his trailer. Hasmukh had just finished his interview. The cameraperson panned the camera to capture Mansukh’s face in the frame.

His eyes looked heavy,
as if weighed down by a surplus of moisture.

He heaved a sigh and struck his hand on the old radio.

It sang out

‘Yeh reshmi zulfein
Yeh Sharbati aankhein…’

(Oh these silken hair…
These Sharbati eyes…)

The camera froze.

The Aquarium

Seven floors up in the sky, tied between two unfinished columns, a saree swayed gently with a toddler as its guest. A 2-month-old baby slept in sublime peace in the makeshift swing, as if convinced that when he opens his eyes, his home would finally be ready.

But for his father Bala, who pours concrete for most of the day at the construction site, there is no place called home. He only knows floors. Last month he and his family lived on the 5th floor of the skyscraper to be. Once the floor was in place, they moved to the 6th floor with a few fellow labourers. And just yesterday, they’d moved to the 7th floor, their new address until the concrete sets, and it’s time to move again. He’d made peace with the idea that the people who build houses for others may never live in a house of their own.

A thin layer of cement covered the life of his family. The few belongings that they had –  a tin suitcase, some aluminium pots and pans, a broken mirror and a few drab clothes – spoke of the grey monotony of their life.

That day, as Bala was pouring water on the beams of concrete for curing, his wife Suparna filled a potful of water from the hose and told her man smilingly,

‘I am making something special for tonight’s dinner.’

Accha? Why so?’ he asked.

‘It is a special day, that’s why!’ she said a little loudly to be heard above the rattle of the water pump.

That left Bala wondering if the spike in decibel level in his wife’s reply signalled an impending tussle.

‘Is it her birthday today? What else could be special for a woman!’ he thought.

He got back to work, hoping to get off duty when the siren went off at 5 p.m. at the mill nearby. The contractor was away for the day, and he thought, if he finished the work earlier than expected, he could wrestle out some moments of rest from a painful and inhuman work schedule.

With the parting sun, the warm gusts of air changed to a cool breeze as the evening gradually set in.

Once Bala was done with pouring water over the concrete casts, he shut the water pump and called it a day in his mind.

However, how much of the day was yet to unfold was beyond his imagination.

He sat on a bamboo scaffold resting on the outer wall of the building and watched the sun sink slowly.

‘It is her birthday and I have nothing to share with her. How could I forget? But how can I be expected to remember that. It’s her first birthday since we got married!’

Wondering thus, he looked at the clear blue sky to find eagles circling far above, as if hovering over their prey. A languid lake shimmered at a distance. The view from the unfinished 7th floor was remarkable indeed. He wondered if his village at the outskirts of the city would be visible from the 25th floor once the building construction is finished. And with that thought, came a longing to live as simply as he used to, in the village. But that was an illegitimate dream in the eyes of society.

To cloud his happy memories of the village, he lit a beedi. As the spent matchstick sailed down, he looked down through the slots on the bamboo scaffolding to follow its trail.

Once he lost track of the matchstick, his eyes slowly regained focus. Down below, he saw a huge safety net tied all around the building on the 4th floor. This fairly new safety feature reminded him of his friend Pradhan, who had to fall from the 4th  floor while at work a few months ago to ensure that the contractor paid an iota of attention towards worker safety. Pradhaan succumbed to the accidental fall, leaving Bala alone, for the first time since they’d known each other. A fall, a splat, and 20 years of friendship, gone with the wind.

The lake at the distance and the safety net underneath reminded Bala of childhood days, when he and Pradhaan would catch fish at the village pond.

He remembered what Pradhaan used to say on days when they could only catch a few small fish in their net. While Bala would get frustrated, Pradhaan would always say,

‘Bala! Be happy with what we have. Let the few fish caught in the net become the dinner. The fish that escaped the net, deserve their life.’

And that would comfort Bala on a bad day at fishing. And those few fish would always taste good when smoked on a fire and shared with his closest friend, the ever-optimistic Pradhaan.

Wondering about the idyllic time with his late friend, he fell asleep on the bamboo scaffolding. Floating in the ocean on memories, he smiled and turned gently to his right. With that move, his body lost contact with the scaffold and he fell through the air, three floors down, where a huge safety net cushioned his fall.

The last thing he heard before losing consciousness was the collective cry of his fellow workers all around.

A few hours later, he woke up to the yelling of the contractor. He’d been unconscious for some time now. His fall had forced the contractor to rush back to the site in the evening. The cherubic contractor weighed as much as Bala’s entire family. The contractor’s head was as bald as the eagles’ that hovered in the sky. The 7th-floor inhabitants were fretting from the rousing reprimand of the contractor. 

Bala faked a drowsy state for a while to dissuade his employer from shouting anymore. As he showed signs of recovery, the contractor felt relieved that Bala was not going to die. Another casualty on site was the last thing he wanted.

Entrusting Bala’s well-being to his floor-mates and his wife, Suparna, the contractor left the site hurriedly, as if fleeing from a crime scene.

Things began to settle down at the village in the sky.

Still feeling a bit disoriented, Bala tried to remember what had happened to him.

It was late in the evening. The son cried from the rocking swing, as if complaining, ‘Why isn’t my house ready yet?’ Suparna pacified her son with loving affection.

Meanwhile, Bala remembered what he was thinking about just before he fell. He was remembering Pradhaan’s consolatory words after an unsuccessful day at fishing…

‘Bala! Let the few fish caught in the net become the dinner. The fish that escaped the net, deserve their life.’

As he woke up gradually, an ironic smile surfaced on his face. Looking up at the sky, he whispered gently to his deceased friend,

I am the fish who got caught in the net. And you are the fish who managed to escape!’

Suparna left the dinner pot simmering and rushed to check on Bala. He was wide awake now.

‘Don’t breathe a word. Dinner is ready. Let’s just eat together’ she said.

‘Ah, what’s for dinner?’ he asked.

Maccher-jhol (Fish Curry)’ she said softly, with a touch of affection.

Bala gulped.

The smell of the fish stew permeated each crevice on the unfinished 7th floor of ‘Aquarium high-rise residency.’

The hearing aid

‘Tell me a bedtime story, bhai,’ pleaded Radha to her elder brother Raman.

‘I hope you remember you are going to get married tomorrow! And here you come with the same pleading as you used to as a child!’ said Raman with unmistakable affection.

Raman had shouldered the responsibility of their household since he was merely 10 years old. He’d never had the opportunity to go to school. Nevertheless, through his diligent industry, he had managed to provide well for his widowed mother and aurally-challenged sister. He’d had to grow up far too soon under the looming shadow of responsibility. But it was his sister who still had access to the child inside Raman.

Owing to her hearing disability, Radha suffered from learning issues early on in life. It was only after Raman could afford a hearing aid did her education take wing. With this elegant device, she could listen clearer than ever before. Gradually she learned to comprehend and converse in her mother tongue, Hindi. She began her formal studies in a school when she was 10. Today, at age 23, she was the only lettered person in their ancestry. She’d managed to find work as a teller at the local co-operative bank where she’d met her fiancé, Govind. She’d enabled other little girls in her village to dream big. She was the light of the household.

Radha, still a little girl around her elder brother, wanted to enjoy the last day at home before she gets married and leaves for her husband’s place, as was the custom in the village.

Raman was resting on a coir bed in the veranda of their freshly painted pucca house, one of the few in their village. She sat on the floor, rested her cheek on the bed and wore a look in the eye that she knew would melt her brother’s heart.

Radha had heard her first story only when she’d developed her aural comprehension to a fair degree, at around age 14. Perhaps the belated foray of storytelling in her life was the reason for her fascination for tales from lands far and beyond. So, on every visit to his village from the city, along with the gifts he would bring for his family, Raman would also lug a satchel full of stories for Radha.

The faint aroma of drying henna glistened Raman’s eyes. Hoping to find expression through a story than a teardrop, he took a deep breath and asked,

‘What kind of a story would you like to listen to tonight?’

‘Tell me about your childhood. What is the first visual memory you have? What’s the first sound that you remember hearing? Something that you will never forget?’ asked Radha.

‘Don’t you want to hear a nicer, happier story?’

‘No. Today I want to learn about my brother’s childhood.’

Raman wondered how to evade this innocent inquiry. That familiar expression, of a restless search for an excuse, surfaced on Raman’s face. Radha could read him like a book.

‘Come on, bhai!’ she wheedled.

‘It is a long story.’

‘I am all ears,’ she said, trying hard to muffle a yawn.

‘Look at you. You will fall asleep halfway like every other time!’

‘No, I won’t, I promise!’

‘Why the sudden curiosity about my first memory?’

‘Well, because I was wondering today, what my first visual and aural memory in life is. And I remembered the day when you’d finally managed to ride a bicycle without holding the handle bar. How boastful you were! And that day, while showing off to me, you’d bumped into the neighbour’s bull and gotten flung into a pit full of cow dung. I can never forget that image. And that squealing that even my deaf ear was able to feel! Your artificially amplified cries did little to help you gain any sympathy. How useless was that gimmick!’ Radha shared amid irrepressible bouts of laughter.

‘As much as I’d like to forget that, you would not allow me to, would you?’ asked a red-cheeked Raman.

Radha tried hard to stop laughing but the fruitless effort only magnified the mirth of the moment.

‘Shh… You’ll wake up Maa!’

As she recovered gradually, she said, ‘And the first sound I remember is hearing my name in your voice, at the doctor’s clinic, right after I got the hearing aid. The first time I heard laughter, yours and mine, at the clinic. That is a priceless memory.

I wanted to share this with you. My first visual and aural memory is of you, bhai!’

Raman smiled as he reclined onto the comforting cushion of nostalgia.

‘Does your first memory have something to do with me? My birth perhaps? You must have been a 5 year old then!’

‘Well, that would have to be my second memory in life, the moment of your birth. My first memory is of a day before you were born.’

‘Tell me about it!’

A solemn silence filled the void in the moments that followed. Raman seemed as if in deep thought. Not because he was trying to think hard about his first memory. That memory was indelible. He was wondering if it would be right to share it with her sister, a night before the auspicious day of her marriage. But he felt Radha deserved a peek into the recesses of his childhood. He heaved a sigh and spoke.

‘I was living with our father in Nagpur during that phase of my life. He used to work as a labourer at a food processing unit. One day, father received a message from a fellow-labourer who’d just returned from a visit to our village.

Our grandfather was not doing well at that time. He was due to leave the earthly plane anytime soon it seemed then. Our mother was nearing the end of her third trimester while she was pregnant with you. Father had borrowed beyond his means from money lenders in the city and had no money left to buy a train ticket back to the village. So, in utter desperation, he decided to bicycle all the way to our village. Since he couldn’t leave me alone, he strapped me onto the carrier of the bicycle and I became the clueless pillion rider.

I don’t remember much of the week-long journey to the village. I was semi-conscious for most of the journey due to hunger and exhaustion. It was on a rainy evening that father and I reached home, two days before you were born.

Our mother was overjoyed to see us back at home. She could barely walk at that time, with you in her womb. At that moment, she must have thought that the days of pain, sadness, and separation were finally over. But fate had other plans.

The rain grew intense with each passing hour. The thatched roof of our house was bravely fighting the onslaught of the wind and rain. But soon, father realised that the roof had to be secured, else we’d end up without a roof on our head in the middle of the night. Father, even with his deathly exhaustion, worked all alone and secured a tarp over the roof, aided by the flashes of lightning on that dark night.

He came back inside the house and went straight to see our grandfather. In the feeble light of a flickering oil lamp, he tried to converse with his ailing father. Their shadows shivered ominously on the weakening mud-plastered wall. Our grandpa could hardly see anything. He touched and felt my face and a smile surfaced through all the creases of pain engraved on his face. Our father sat on the ground and watched over grandpa all night. Mother and I fell asleep watching that pious union, with a hazy picture of a complete family in our memory.

The next morning, the whole neighbourhood woke up to a deafening cry. Our mother bawled hysterically while trying to wake our father and Grandpa from sleep. But both of them had transcended to the plane of no return.

I remember being whisked away to the neighbour’s house through the slush of mud on the streets, in an attempt to shield me from the horror.

Our mother was inconsolable. The whole village had come to a standstill.

Later in the day, I remember being handed a burning log of wood. I lit a fire on two piles of wood on the banks of the Saryu river. I stood there quietly and saw the flames engulf the cold bodies of my ancestors.

That visual is the first vivid memory of my life. An inferno that roared to reach the sky. And the first aural record is my mother’s spine-chilling scream that I woke up to that morning.

The next morning, after painless labour, she delivered you. It seemed as if pain, as an act of compassion, had decided to not inflict itself on our mother anymore.

In a few months, it was discovered that you couldn’t hear so well. Some villagers saw you as a bad omen. The legend grew that the absence of cries of labour pain during your delivery, our mother’s still silence, was the reason for your near deafness, for the silence in your life. But mother never saw you the way the villagers did. She believed that you will learn to hear and speak soon.

She felt guilty for the silence in your life. The whole village was convinced of the reason behind your deafness. But mother knew, as I did, that the reason for your deafness could well be, her deafening scream the day before your birth.

But the hearing-aid has changed everything, hasn’t it, Radha?’

The bride to be had succumbed to a night of beauty sleep. Raman added a number to all the stories that Radha had never heard in its entirety.

He gently took off the hearing aid from Radha’s ear. Bearing a satiated soul, he fell asleep looking at his sister’s seraphic face.

The Little Heart

When Sheela held her hands up to undo her hair from a bun, her blouse could hardly contain her tender voluptuousness.
Kartar Singh, seated on the bed with her, was sweating profusely. And that wasn’t because he had never been with a woman before, or that he was in a brothel for the first time in his life.

While Sheela had ample experience in the sleeping business and was due to undress at any moment now, Kartar felt underprepared and overdressed for what he had come to accomplish.

Nervously, he got up and checked if the door was properly bolted. Sheela couldn’t contain her fountain of laughter on seeing the flustered rookie. She was used to men with raging hormones who’d be spent within moments from when they stepped on top of her. But this case would be much longer, she surmised. Maybe she’d have to undo his pants herself, so she thought.

She dimmed the lights of the kerosene lamp. In a slow, inviting manner, she undid a hook of her blouse.

There had been a power outage in the neighbourhood. The dark room smelt of damp wood, betel nut and cheap perfume. The growling clouds in the sky gave an ominous forecast for the night.

Sheela took Kartar’s hand and put it on her chest. The wayward wind rattled the ageing windows, startling them both. The rain felt just moments away. Sheela got up with a sigh and turned around to close the window.

When she turned around, what she saw made her shriek like a frightened mouse. Kartar Singh had lost a garment.

It wasn’t his pants. It wasn’t his shirt.

It was his beard and moustache.

Sheela was shocked to find the greengrocer across the street, Vinod, seated on the bed. For long had he been watching her in hope from his shop across the narrow street in this damned red-light district of the city. They’d never spoken before. Sheela didn’t speak Hindi. But what does language have to do with communicating an intense longing? She had been observing his furtive, love-filled glances for far too long. Their eyes had been meeting merely once a week, the only time when she came to dry her laundry in the balcony. Mondays at noon.

Sheela could understand why he was on that bed. But couldn’t understand why he had to come in a disguise. Confused, she sat on the bed.

Vinod took her hands in his. They were cold as ice. He rubbed them gently to warm her up. She didn’t breathe a word. The cold nonchalance in her being had deserted her.

She shivered from the draft seeping through the cracks in the window. Vinod undid his bright red turban layer by layer and draped it around Sheela’s half-naked body. It was the same shade of red as her saree.

The sultry seductress felt a nakedness she’d never experienced before. She shed a tear, then she whimpered, and then it began to rain.

Amid blinding lightning and deafening thunder, she cried.

Vinod put his hand on her thigh. It had a tender touch that had no intention of venturing anywhere beyond. It was a touch of reassurance, from a gender that had only broken Sheela’s spirit ever since she’d known life.

She was crying not because she’d been robed respectfully for the first time in life. She cried because she realised that she’d begun to see everyone in the world, especially men, as heartless beasts. She had begun to look at herself the way other men did, as a body meant to be derived pleasure from.

Through Vinod’s gesture of draping her in the turban’s cloth, she felt the possibility of having dignity in life. She felt the weight of all the men she’d had to sleep with, on her soul. She breathed heavily amid snuffles.

Vinod smiled. He took out a tubular plastic toy from his pocket. He uncorked the top of the cylinder and took a little plastic handle out of the toy. It was dripping with a soapy solution. As he blew into it, a flurry of bubbles floated in the room.
Sheela felt distracted and attracted, from and towards the right things.

Vinod dipped the handle in the solution again and held it in front of the crevice in the window. The incoming winds gave rise to more bubbles in the room. The wind was changing.

Vinod dipped again and held it in front of Sheela’s face. She breathed deeply, perhaps for the first time in her life, and blew.

Thus they played, as the rain pelted on the roof above. They felt as if they had spent a distant childhood, in a distant life, together. That’s what bubbles do to a suppressed soul.

It took them an hour to finally embrace each other. It was a new feeling for both of them. Vinod had never embraced a woman, and all the men Sheela had been with had never bothered to embrace her. Had it been an ordinary night with a customer, Sheela would have had to undress and sleep with a stranger, like a draining day at undignified work. But today, she curled in the warmth of the long red turban, and Vinod’s shy embrace.

What was this feeling? Was she ready to accept it the way it was?

Time flew. But Vinod had only reached halfway in the execution of his plan. He had his eye on the clock. He took a letter out of his pocket and presented it to her. It was written in Telugu, the language Sheela spoke. But alas, she couldn’t read. All she could understand was the little heart scribbled at the end of the short message in the letter.

For the first time that night, Sheela looked straight into Vinod’s eyes. Vinod allowed her to read him. His gaze was a disarming surrender. To Sheela, it felt like an invitation to a place called home. After an eternity, she nodded and held Vinod’s hands wanting to never let it go. That was all Vinod had been seeking all these years.

It rained all night, flooding the entire red-light district. The next morning, as the brothel owner came wading through the water on the street, he felt a rude shock. Not from the electric wires dangling from the poles into the water . It was a different kind of wire. A red saree and a red turban were tied end to end and fastened onto the window sill of Sheela’s room. That garment just managed to reach the puddles of water on the street. A familiar slipper was floating near the runnel.

In a frenzy, the brothel owner hurried up to the first floor to check on Sheela’s room. A pair of fake beard and moustache lay on the floor. A letter blotted out by tears fluttered on the bed.
Only the little heart at the end of the letter remained.

The Yellow Balloon

It was a windy winter morning. Little Kalpana was standing on the pavement next to the traffic signal, waiting for the lights to turn red. She was a balloon seller, like the many other kids who lived on the streets. The one minute window of red lights on the traffic signal was the arena of her life. She held a wooden stick that had 10 balloons tied on to it. The colorful balloons dangled in the air as she ran from windscreen to window, hoping to make a sale.

That morning, an elderly gentleman named Ajay, was strolling on the pavements. He had taken a detour from his usual morning walk route in the park. From far away, he could see bright balloons hanging in the air, rising up from the stalled traffic. It was a wonderful sight to witness from a distance. He strutted slowly towards the balloons.

But as he got closer to the signal, the traffic lights turned green, and all cars moved onward. What was left was a little girl, with ten balloons, standing barefoot on the dusty road. The colorful sight of the balloons suddenly lost all its charm. Ajay, realized that the little girl was selling balloons for a living.

As he came closer to the traffic signal, Kalpana ran towards him, hoping to sell a balloon to the old man.

There were no words spoken. Ajay stopped on the pavement, and Kalpana stood right in front of him, with hope in her eyes.

Ajay smiled. In that moment, he gave her something that was denied to her all her life. A modicum of attention.

He dug into his pocket and slid out a ten rupee note. Kalpana’s eyes lit up. She quickly untied a yellow balloon from her stick and offered it to the old man.

Ajay gave the ten rupee note to her. He held the soft thread that was tied on to the yellow balloon. He smiled and offered the balloon to Kalpana.

She could not understand the transaction. The old man looked into her eyes one last time and walked away. Little Kalpana stood on the pavement with the ten rupee note and the yellow balloon in one hand and the stick with nine balloons in the other hand.

Before she could take a moment to understand what had happened, the traffic began to swell up. She quickly got to work again, trying to sell balloons on the roadside.

Later in the evening, she was left with two balloons. In her right hand, she had the yellow balloon and dangling from the stick in her left hand, there was a red balloon.

A lady in a car summoned Kalpana by blaring her car horn. She ran quickly to her, hoping to sell the last balloon and go home.

The lady asked for two balloons. Kalpana looked up at both the balloons.
At that moment, as she looked at the yellow balloon, a strong feeling took over her heart. How could she sell the yellow balloon? It was hers!

Somehow, she found the courage to say she only had one balloon to sell.
The lady in the car asked for the yellow one for her kid seated next to her. Little Kalpana was firm about her emotion for the yellow balloon. She told the lady that only the red balloon was up for sale.

The signal was about to turn green soon. Caving to the wheedling of her little kid, the lady in the car bought the red balloon from Kalpana. Soon, the car was gone, in the direction of the next traffic signal.

Kalpana was only left with one balloon. The yellow one.
A smile surfaced on Kalpana’s innocent face. She danced her way to her hut next to the pavement, with the yellow balloon, the sun of her life.

That morning, the elderly gentleman Ajay, had bought something priceless with just ten rupees.
With the compassionate transaction, he had brought Kalpana, a moment of her own childhood.


Photo by Sagar Patil via Unsplash

A tale about a Mango tree

In the village of Karmapur, there stood a young mango tree in a small farm. In the ten years of its life, the mango tree had never flowered and borne fruit. It was deemed an an infertile tree by the villagers. Nobody paid attention to it after a point, and it grew forlorn at the edge of a farm.

The farm belonged to a young farmer named Ramakant. He was facing a difficult time in his life. Repeated crop failures and famines had forced him to borrow from moneylenders at a huge interest. In hope that monsoon arrived on time, he sowed his crop and waited patiently. This was his last chance to get himself out of the debt trap.

The monsoon was delayed by two weeks already. Every passing day robbed him of a little hope. One evening, as he was strolling on his farm, he looked at the parched earth on his land. He looked to the sky but there wasn’t a single cloud in sight. The mango tree on his farm stood at a corner witnessing all of this.
A dejected Ramakant went to his house and got a rope. He climbed onto a branch of the mango tree and tied one end of the rope to it. He made a noose out of the other end and slid it around his neck. Tears were streaming down his eyes. He thought he had no other choice.
He had decided to end his life.

He jumped down from the branch he was sitting on, hoping to hang himself to death. But as soon as the rope got tense, the branch of the mango tree snapped. Ramakant fell down on the grown, injured his ankle and lost consciousness.

Soon, the villagers found Ramakant and rushed him to the hospital. He was unconscious for the whole night. The next morning, he woke up to the sound of deafening thunder and rain. Even though he found himself with a plastered foot in a hospital bed, he was happy to be alive.
The rain gave him hope.

After two weeks, he was able to walk on his feet again. He strutted slowly to his farm. To his delight, all the seeds he had planted had germinated after the rain. His little farm was bursting with a hundred shades of green.
He walked a bit further and stood under the Mango tree from where he had jumped.

What he saw took him by surprise. At the place of the broken branch where he had fallen from, ten new branches had shot out with great vigor. Tender leaves had appeared in place of the wound. The tree displayed the spirit of fighting to the very end.

Ramakant bowed down to the tree in gratitude. He had learned a profound lesson. As a mark of respect, he started to water the mango tree everyday.

Owing to a good monsoon spell that season, Ramakant’s farm got a bountiful harvest. He was able to start repaying his debts little by little.

In spring time, he got another wonderful surprise at his farm. The mango tree that was thought to be diseased and infertile by the whole village, bloomed with flowers for the first time ever in its life !

Ramakant was delighted to watch his mango tree flower. That summer, when he harvested the first mangoes from his tree, he was taken over by a deep, satisfying happiness.

Thank you my mango tree’ he said sitting on a branch.

The mango tree swayed with the summer breeze. It only sacrificed one branch to save Ramakant’s life. But that was enough to trigger a favourable turn of events.

For the rest of its life the mango tree gave plenty of shade and bore thousands of mangoes every summer. Ramakant watered it everyday and enjoyed its reassuring presence.



The flight of Pigeons

A bald pigeon and its sullen partner were sitting on a dusty parapet. Usually, they would be seen prancing around from window to window, in the cool shade of the big building where they had spent most of their lives. But today, they didn’t quite seem all right. As if depleted of all their energy, they sat there, brooding.

‘I didn’t know humans thought so lowly of us !’ said Shambhu the male pigeon.

‘It took me as a surprise too when I overheard them today morning.’ replied Gauri, the lady pigeon.

‘I heard words like unremarkable, dumb, stupid, aimless, nuisance…ahh I wish I hadn’t heard it all!’

‘Are we really as useless as the humans deem us to be? All these years we have shared the space in this building with them, but I had no idea we were seen in such bad light!’

‘We should discuss this with our whole community! This is urgent. Let’s call a meeting.’

Shambhu and Gauri fluttered away, and informed all other pigeons of the meeting they had scheduled for the next morning at the cross road next to the park.

The next day, early in the morning, a hundred pigeons gathered at the designated spot.

Amid murmurs and whispers, Shambhu spoke,

‘Dear friends, I have called all of you here to share an extremely sad news.
Gauri and I overheard our human neighbours say extremely disrespectful things about us pigeons. I heard them say that we are useless and clueless birds. They said we had no beauty, not a modicum of grace..and…’

As he was speaking, a sports bike passed by on the road with a loud screeching noise.

All the pigeons got startled and flew away dizzyingly in all directions. They had never heard such a noise at that close a distance.

The meeting was adjourned midway because of the disruption.

The next day, the meeting was called again. The sun had just risen and all pegions were basking in its warmth.

‘So as I was saying yesterday’ continued Shambhu, ‘We need to understand why humans think of us like this….’

But before he could continue another noisy automobile startled all the birds and they flew about in all directions.
This time though, they summoned the courage to come back to the meeting once the vehicle had passed.

But soon enough, another engine fired right past them and they all dispersed in every direction possible.

Shambhu was determined. He called for another meeting the next morning to discuss the issue.

When all the pigeons gathered at the cross road near the park, they found many seeds and grains scattered on the ground. Merrily, they all started feasting on them. A little boy came up with fistfuls of green gram and showered it all around the pigeons to enjoy.

This time, even before Shambhu could begin to speak, a big bus rode right next to them and startled the pigeons.In the warm rays of the sun, the pigeons fluttered in all directions, creating a breathtaking sight for all humans around them.
Since there were more grains to be eaten, they all came back to the crossroad to feed themselves.
Every now and then, there would be some traffic noise that would startle them again and they would lodge themselves into the open sky. It was a pleasure to watch their collective flight.

As the pegions had enough food for the day, they all left the scene.
Shambhu still wondered how to deal with the constant disruption in their meeting. Gauri cuddled with him and said,

‘The problem has gotten solved on its own Shambhu!’

‘How so? We haven’t even spoken about the issue at hand!’

‘Don’t you see, while we are alone or sitting as a couple, we are seen as unremarkable pests by humans. But when we all come together on this crossroad every morning, and fly in and out together, we make for a scene that’s a feast for the eyes of humans!’

‘Really?’ asked Shambhu.

‘Well, why else do you think they left all this grain for us to feed on? Maybe being under the open sky is our natural environment. We have spent all our lives in apartments, away from nature and see what it did to us. We had doubts about our worth and beauty, people deemed us unworthy.
But once we all came out to our natural environment, our collective became a marvel of a spectacle.
We found beauty in our own existence and so did the people who once looked down upon us.
All we needed to do was to get out in the open and get together!’

There was never a need to call another meeting for the pigeons. They would all naturally come to feed on the grain left by humans for them to enjoy. And they didn’t mind the little interruptions by the vehicles passing by. They started enjoying their collective flight just as much the humans enjoyed watching it.

Maybe the solution to problems that confront us humans needs the same approach.
Perhaps, the moment we start leaving the artifice behind and come out in nature, together, as a community,
solutions will arise.

Let us come together.
The solutions are waiting.

Christmas Come Later !

It was the day before Christmas.

The whole neighborhood had come alive with lights, colours and decorated Christmas trees. Everyone in the village was brim with the spirit of Christmas.

But little Lola wasn’t as happy as her friends. She sat on the window sill, moping.

‘What is the matter Lola? Where is the smile on your face?’ asked her mother.

‘Mom, when is Daddy going to be back home?’

‘Ah, your Daddy will come home in two days, in the morning on 26th December.’

‘And when is Christmas Mommy?’

‘Christmas is tomorrow my dear.’

‘Can we ask Santa Claus to come after two days and not tomorrow?’

Her mother smiled at the innocent wish.

‘If you pray for it, maybe he will listen to you !’

And little Lola, seated on the window sill ,whispered a prayer with hope.

On Christmas Eve, she spent most of the her time indoors, praying still that Santa arrives on a day after Christmas, when her father is at home.
She fell asleep that night praying still.

On the 26th of December, early in the morning Lola’s mother found her waiting at the doorstep, dressed in her new clothes.

‘Lola, you woke up so early !’

‘Yes, Daddy will come today won’t he?’

‘Yes, anytime today. Are you excited?’

‘Yes very very much !’

There was a knock on the door.

‘Maybe that’s Daddy!’ she exclaimed.

She rushed to open the door.
And there stood a mighty man dressed in Red wollens, with a flowing white beard. He let out a loud guffaw of a laugh.
It was Santa Claus!

‘Oh Santa is here Mommy! He listened to my prayer !’

‘Come in Santa. You have to wait until my father arrives Okay?’

‘I am in a bit of a hurry my dear. And I am tired from riding on my sledge all night.’

‘Mommy can you make him a Hot Chocolate? By that time, Daddy will be home.’

‘Such a considerate little girl you have miss!’ Santa remarked.

Soon Santa had a cup of hot chocolate in his hands. He rocked gently in the wooden rocking chair next to the fireplace. He felt calm, as if he was at home.

But Lola’s heart knew no calm.
Her eyes flitted from the door to the clock and then to Santa, hoping her father shows up before it’s time for Santa to leave.

‘Are you looking for your father my dear?’

‘Yes, he should be here any minute, please wait sometime Santa.’

Santa let out a big laugh.

‘Come and sit on my lap little Lola. I can make your father appear right now. ‘

‘Really? Can you?’

‘Yes of course ! Now I will need your help though. Here, hold my beard.’

‘Okay’ she said resting in Santa’s lap.

‘On the count of three you have to pull my beard real hard and your Father will appear. Okay?’


She hung onto Santa’s beard with all her might. His flowing white beard and moustache was now in Lola’s hand and she found herself sitting in her father’s lap !

‘Ah Daddy it’s you !’ she shouted gleefully.

Her mother stood next to them with a content smile.

That day little Lola learned a lesson.

Christmas is not on the 25th of December.
It is when the people who you love with all your heart are close to you.

It is about the spirit of togetherness.

It was the 26th of December,
And it was the best Christmas of her life.

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