Not Really A Short Story: 20 Years Later

This should fall in the category of valentine’s day posts. But not quite Matru-Pitru posts.

 Anita’s Journal Entry, October 18, 2011. 11:30PM

Dear K,

Have you ever received a gift box, which is this big shiny box that opens up to reveal a smaller shiny box. When you open the second box with great anticipation, what you see is another box, almost as shiny, but a little smaller. Your curiosity gets the better of you. You open that one too. You see another. The process goes on for a while. You start tiring. But there is still that one more box left. Now, if you’re really the never tiring, always positive, and infinitely patient person, then you’d open this box with the same excitement as the previous one. But most people are spent by now. They just want to be done with the ordeal. Usually, they lose their excitement for this gift. The gift seems like a joke which has long since stopped being funny.

This marriage seems a lot like that. A promise that I don’t see being fulfilled. For tonight, we sleep, to wake another day.

 

Yours,

A

 

October 23, 2011: 7:30AM, Somewhere on Mumbai-Pune Expressway

 

“Can’t you drive any faster?”

Anita had always felt that the driver, Surinder, preferred driving at speeds befitting bicycles on a highway. Slow to the point of being illegal. Surinder, however, looked at the dashboard, reconfirmed that he was driving at 80, the mentioned speed limit on that signpost he’d just crossed, and continued to ignore madamji.

“I am telling you. Someday, I am going to ask him to stop and get down right in the middle of this highway, and drive myself. It will solve two problems at the same time.”

“Do it.”, Kishore knew he had made the wrong move.

“What?”

“Do it…”

“Do what?”

“Ask him to stop and get down. Then you can drive us to Pune.”

“You think I’m joking?”

“Naah. Never. My submission though is that it will help us reach at 12:30 instead of 12:45.”

“You go back to doing whatever you were doing. Tweeting. Facebooking. Whatever. Just go to hell.”

“…”

 

The song on radio at that time – Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai

 

“Saahab. Rukna hai? Cow-fee Day aane wala hai.”, crooned Surinder. Ah, that endearing stress on cow, the sweet smell of the cow-belt accent.

“Hmm…”

“Nahi. No Need. We are already late. And you should cut down on coffee. Tumhara weight mere marne ke baad hi kam hoga.”, madamji, oops, Anita was on a roll here.

(Nopes. No Need. We are already late. And you should cut down on coffee. You’re going to lose weight only after my death I suppose!)

“Ya shayad tab bhi nahi”. She added as an afterthought. The amusement on her face was irritating Kishore.

( Not even then, maybe.)

“Theek hai Manoj. Pune mein hi dhoondh lenge.” (Its OK Manoj, we will find something in Pune itself)

 

“By the way, what did you think of my Sari? Am I looking nice? Proper?”

“Hmm..”

“What hmmm?”

“Sari – good. Loking nice – yes. What do you mean by proper?”

“Arrey.. You know how it is. Riya’s in-laws are so nit-picking. They will keep discussing how I was looking long after we’ve left Pune. And this, when Riya is not even a family member.”

“Hmmm…”

“So?”

“So what?”

“Is it proper?”

“Ya ya. It is..”

“You don’t give me any compliments anymore?”

“You have never given me any compliment!”

“You don’t do anything worthwhile. You’re useless.”

 

I had gone back to tweeting about the traffic on the highway, the quality of the road, the ghats, the comparison between this expressway and the Yamuna expressway, and the latest political debate around the prime ministerial candidates.

 

The road signs had been announcing the latest property coming up in Lonavla, Aundh, Hinjewadi, Kalyani Nagar, Viman Nagar, Magarpatta, and what not. The colors and the words and the names changed. The message barely so. World-class townships or premium apartments or holiday homes.

 

“You know what? I think we should meet Anjali and her husband too”, Anjali’s said in a thoughtfully lost voice.

“Hmmm”

You think we will have time?

“I guess..”

“Should I call them?”

“Do you want to finalize it now? Or after we know whether we have the time to meet them or not?”

“See, this is what exactly happens? Now, we won’t commit to a plan. Then we won’t have a plan!”

“Arrey meri maa… All that I am saying is.. “

“I know what you are saying. No need to repeat. This has always been my problem. You just won’t plan anything.”

“… “

“Neither will you plan anything. And you won’t let me plan anything!”

“…”

“My life sucks.”

“What?”

“I want a vacation.”

“Sure. But where did that come from?”

“You won’t let me plan a vacation.”

“No… That’s not true.”

“So can I plan one for November?”

“November? Hmmm.. Let’s do it in the second half. I have a few important meetings in the first half of the month.”

“What dates?”

“Not sure. Will let you know?”

“See?? Again.. You won’t tell me the exact details. We will keep waiting. By then, the flights will be too expensive, or the hotel will be sold out or something or their mother will happen.”

“Calm down yaar”

“What calm down? Tell me. When was the last time we had a planned vacation?”

“3 months back?”

“That wasn’t a planned one. That was a break – yes. But not a planned vacation.”

“So what is a planned vacation?”

“At least one week, and with the plans firmly in place about what all we want to do”

“But..”

“I know what you’re going to say. But even if you don’t want to do anything, it’s still a part of the plan. The plan is that on day 1 we won’t do anything. We will lie down.”

“But..”

“And this is exactly what you’d do. Not let me plan a vacation.”

“…”

 

 

Kishore’s Journal, October 18, 2011,  11:00PM

Dear A,

 

I wonder where our relationship is headed. It’s like that box we often talk about. Twenty years of marriage, and I still fall in these traps. I hate these arguments.

We have long suspended our own plans to keep up with Zinger’s plans. Now that he is in a hostel, these traps are becoming more frequent. I know I should have seen today’s discussion going in this direction. My mind often switches off when you go in these ten minute ranting modes, the ones you call justified anger. Any attempt to revisit the discussion at a future stage would lead to further ranting (expressing disappointment) about how useless I am, and how this marriage was such a bad idea. So, let’s bury this one too.

I think we are at that point in our marriage. The fatigue seems too high and both of us don’t care about the apparently amazing choice we had made back then – of getting married. Ah. I just read all this again. Profoundness. I have found myself to be profound this time. Profound tumblr is just around the corner.

Yours,

K

 

 

October 23, 8:15 AM

 

“Acha suno. Khurana had called.”, Kishore broke the silence

“Who? That… “

“Tarneja Vs. Khurana”

“Tarneja Vs. Khurana”

We both completed the same thought and laughed heartily about that private joke which no one else found funny. Specially, Mr. TV Khurana or Mr. Luv Khurana, as his parents had named him.

“Why?”

“He’d be coming over tomorrow night.”

“Why?”

“Something he wants to discuss. “

“What?”

“Not sure. I think he just wants a break from his screwed up office life. Last three weeks have been a little nerve wrecking you know”

“Then why don’t you two go out. I don’t want to meet Mrs Khurana who knows the answer to every question”.

“She’s not so bad!”

“She’s worse! You go and meet them. Spare me the trouble.”

“Cmon yaar. They’ve been a lot of help.”

“I know. But I just can’t get to like them.”

“Ok. We will figure out something.”

 

Another five minutes of silence.

 

“Say something nice to me”.

“Like what?” Kishore dreaded this question. Like most men do. 

“I don’t know. Something? Anything?”

“Are… but like what?”

“See? Pehle to tum kuch dhoondh hi lete the.” (Earlier, you were always able to find something nice to say)

“Haan.. but purana repeat bhi to nahi kar sakte?” (True, but can’t even repeat the older ones, right?)

“To kuch naya socho. Something new.” (Then find something new!)

“Like?”

“Ditch it.”

“Ok.”

 

“By the way, the sari is actually looking very nice.”

“Thanks. I know.”

 

 

By then, both them had started feeling a little sleepy. The eyelids were happy, and the decision to not pick a cup of coffee on the highway was adding salt to the injury. Kishore hated getting up early.

 

Her head was already looking for a comfortable resting position so that she could sleep. It can be called an old habit, but it probably was also the most comfortable position.

“Suno..”

“Haan?”

She had put her head on Kishore’s shoulder by then. And was getting somewhat curled up in the back seat of the car.

“I love you.”

“Hmm.. Me too.”

His head was resting lazily on her head by then.

 

The song had changed by then – Thoda hai thode ki jaroorat hai

 

 

 

Anita’s Journal Entry, October 24, 2013, 11:00PM

 

Dear K,

Did I tell you this?

 

The tiny box might just be worth it. So, hang in there.

 

Yours,

A

Short Story: The Tousle

We’ve all seen them. The ones who keep playing with their hair. All the time.

He was one of them. He had the ability to tousle his own hair indefinitely. It was a never ending cycle. The slight tousle. And in about fifteen seconds, a four fingered swipe that pulled the hair mop back. With that a slight jerk of the neck to mark the conclusion of the process. Repeat again in fifteen seconds. Was the ritual irritable? Yes, to start with. Then it became as natural as someone sitting in the room. I had stopped noticing.

As I came to know him better, I understood it to be his reminder to himself. Of the one thing that people had told him many a times over the years – you’ve got beautiful hair dude. In an age where people have started balding earlier than average, hair treatment and transplant clinics have started doing more befores and afters than the weight loss clinics, Salman Khan has become bushier than he ever was, and Harsha Bhogle no longer looks like his cute balding self, having naturally beautiful, strong, bushy hair was God’s way of compensating him for everything else that was wrong with him.

He had deep rooted insecurities. About his abilities. About his success. About what he wanted to become but did not have the right tools, platform, resources to be. About every small thing that went wrong in a day in an average person’s life. And the tousle and swipe helped him deal with life.

When disturbed, he would tousle his hair a few extra times before stopping to pull them back with a fierce swipe. When happy, the neck jerk would stabilize at a 15 degree upward tilt, a sign of pride and happiness with the moment. When thinking, his fingers would alternate between tousling and swiping at slower speeds but at a higher frequency than the usual fifteen second intervals. A pattern for every season. A pattern for every emotion.

When he’d walk into an elevator, his first reaction would be to check if the elevator has a mirror, or a surface so shiny that he could see his reflection. Once spotted, he would first go through a series of double hand swipes, pulling his hair back and then smoothing them over. And he would then end it with a tiny tousling. This was to add the effect of a little side romance to a gory action movie. Just as a Jason Statham would blast an entire den of gun toting villains, and then amble to that damsel (not much in distress) and confess about his hard-on.

If this story were written by Harishankar Parsai, he would talk about the agony of that strand of hair that goes through an abuse worse than a not-so-rich girl in Delhi who has to travel around the city in a DTC bus because she is in a sales job. The constant touches, pokes, forced violations, even as she is sitting petite in a corner, the constant feeling of being checked out, the groping, the molesting, and then at the end of it, getting down with a feeling that she’s been done a favor by not being raped. He might even use the metaphor of a Devadasi, for she exists to please the believers. Or a goalkeeper, who has been given this duty to protect the team. Everyone else may do anything else. But when push comes to shove, the goalkeeper has to stop the ball. Get hit in the process. Stop endless attacks and still get up every time. The only difference would be that the goalkeeper asked for it.

Or, worse still, he could compare it to Rahul Gandhi. Having been made to believe for so many years that you are destined to become something, you lose sight of what you actually are, and start becoming the face of the existing. But the face is the face. The hair can never be the face. Or, a stop gap to compensate for the lack of personality or identity. He could compare the party cadre to the fingers that tousle and swipe this mop of hair and eventually expect it to look pretty to the outsider. And no doubt, there are a few that would not notice anything else but the hair, and assume that the person is as good as the hair itself. And maybe, then, expect Gurudev to write about where the head is without hair, into that future let my country rise. Maybe.

 

And it all might be true. But I digress.

 

I met him yesterday. He is thirty years old. He is bald. He had stage three leukemia. Detected five years back. The radiation therapy led to hair loss. I had tried to be by his side through the stages of treatment. He had been strong.

His hand still inadvertently reaches out for the tousle, and his face loses its smile when it finds nothing. I want to tell him that he is looking better now. A stronger version of himself. But I am not sure I would be able to explain.

 

 

*******

Renewal

I had written this one for the Caferati readmeet which I could not go for due to some last minute thing that came up. So, I think I should post it here. The theme for this readmeet was going to be renewal

**********

It was the June of 2004, I think. We were having a chat at the Barista. The one on MG Road in Bangalore. It wasn’t a singularly profound conversation. We were discussing music from the era where Mohd. Rafi was at the peak of his prowess. His flawless voice, and the smooth turns his  voice could take from one song to another and within a particular composition, and that surge of emotion that only he could handle at those high notes. We both loved him. The world might be divided on whether Kishore Kumar was better than Mohammad Rafi, but at the least, the world is not divided on the greatness of Rafi. The discussion started with the song that was playing  in the background – mujhe dard-e-dil ka pata na tha (I knew not of the pain of love, why did you come into my life), mujhe aap kis liye mil gaye! We discussed many more, our favorites, the poetry, the rendition, the love and the tears. And we realized the common favorites in the process. “Aap ke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai, mera dil machal gaya to mera kya kasoor hai”. A new light shines on your beautiful face, how am I at a fault, if my heart did a double take!

And yet, here, today, in 2012, as the end of world is near, we bump into each other. This time, in a crowded mall. R City Mall, it’s known as. Had we been in touch? I wonder. I know all about your vacations, and your son, and the work that’s made you travel from here to there, and the friends you’ve met. I also know about the Thai place where you were dining last week. And I am sure you are clued in about me as well. Though, I haven’t met you in these 8 years. There were those couple of conversations that we had. Yes. But what did we talk about? Guess some congratulations and some work. Do you remember what it was? I don’t. And my guess is the same as yours. That it must have been something really… really important.

We talk about a lot of things. And we talk about the noisy mall. And that we should meet again. At a quieter place. Because there’s much to catch up on. Much beyond the frivolously inane facebook, twitter and foursquare updates. Because we, as individuals, are still the same. It takes a while for us to talk about the real updates from our lives.

It’s at a mall that I visit almost every week. And so do you. And yet we have missed each other almost every time. Except this one. You know what I loved the most – the way the conversation started – “aap ke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai!, we had said almost in a chorus.

******

Someone I met the other day shared a factoid with me – The median number of friends in the pre-facebook era was 4. In the post-facebook era, it’s “0 (zero)”.
There is a little something about Mumbai that you never take time out to appreciate.  You “bump “into your friends invariably at Phoenix Mills, NCPA, R-City Mall, Leopold, Bandstand, etc. The city localizes everything in small pockets, and has these nerve centers for everything. And in this process, this city increases the odds of your bumping into someone. Despite the city being so huge.

Your friends. An accident. A serendipity.

 

विरासत (Inheritance)

उसे अकेले चलने की आदत नहीं थी। मज़ा नहीं आता था ऐसी वाक में। हमेशा ऐसा लगता था मानो बैकग्राउंड में ज़ी हॉरर शो का वो भद्दा सा संगीत बज रहा हो। हॉरर देखने वालों की तादाद दो तरह की होती है। एक जिन्हें वो भूत, वो खून, वो डरावने चेहरे देखने में कुछ मज़ा सा आता है, और दुसरे वो, जिन्हें ये सब एक कॉमेडी की तरह लगता है। वैसे इन दोनों ही पक्षों को ये संगीत कॉमेडी ही लगता है। मगर उसके दिमाग में सुनसान से ज्यादा तन्हाई का संगीत जी हॉरर वाला ही होता था। उसने कभी विश्लेषण नहीं किया था की क्यों ऐसा होता है। ऐसा भी नहीं था की उसे जी हॉरर शो बहुत पसंद था। बस एक संयुक्त एहसास था। और कुछ भी नहीं। कम से कम दूसरों को तो ऐसा ही लगता था।

वो भी एक ऐसी ही रात थी। बैकग्राउंड म्यूजिक के साथ जब वो अकेले बस स्टॉप से अपने घर की तरफ आ रही थे, तो एक खौफ की तरह उसे कुछ पैरों की आहट अपने पीछे महसूस हुई। पलट कर देखने की जगह उसने अपने कदमो की रफ़्तार बढ़ा दी। लेकिन आहटों ने पीछा ना छोड़ा। कुछ देर तक तेज चलते हुए क़दमों से उसने अपना रोज़ का रास्ता बदलने की कोशिश की। आहटें फिर भी साथ थी। उसने सोचा की वो चिल्लाये। मगर किसे? और क्यों? कुछ हुआ तो था नहीं। और मानो की ये सब उसका वहम हो? बचपन से सब ने सिखाया था की अगर डर से आँखें मिलाओ और डर को तुम्हारा डर दिख जाए, तो डर तुम पर हावी होने लागता है। येही सोच कर उसने पीछे पलट कर ये देखना अभी तक जरूरी नहीं समझा था। और साथ में दो सामाजिक डर अलग से – अगर कोई पीछे हुआ ही नहीं, और मैंने शोर मचाया तो लोग क्या कहेंगे? और अगर कोई पीछे है भी और मान लो की वो कोई यहीं का रहने वाला हो और मैंने शोर मचाया  तो बिना मतलब की फजीहत।

अब वो हांफने लगी थी। अभी भी घर कम से कम 100 मीटर दूर था। रौशनी थी। और भी घरों में रौशनी थी। उसे यकीं था की अगर वो चिल्लाएगी तो कोई न कोई निचे उतर ही आएगा। मगर जितने देर में कोई नीचे आएगा, क्या वो काफी होगा? अगर कोई उसे अगवा कर के ले गया? और इससे भी सुनसान जगह एक लोहे के सरिये से जख्मी शरीर की तरह छोड़ गया? सेलफोन कम से कम हाथ में निकाल लेती हूँ। मगर चलते चलते पर्स को टटोलने में रफ़्तार धीमी पड़ने लगी। दर से उसने फिर अपने कदम तेज़ कर दिए।

इन रास्तों पर चलते हुए अब 15 साल हो गए थे। और अब तक वो सोचती आयी थी की शायद ज़िन्दगी इन्ही रास्तों पर कट जायेगी।

उसने अपने मन को सांत्वना देने के लिए कुछ बोलना चाहा। मगर सूखे हुए गले से कोई आवाज़ नहीं निकली।

शहर कभी भी सुरक्षित नहीं महसूस होता था उसे। मगर कभी इतना डरावना भी नहीं की शाम के अँधेरे में उसे साए दिखाए दें। वो कॉमेडी क्लब में थी। लेकिन गए कुछ अरसे से उसे हॉरर शो डरावने लगने लगे थे।

काम्प्लेक्स के दरवाज़े पर पहुँच कर, जब उसे बिल्डिंग के गार्ड्स दिखाई देने लगे तो उसने हिम्मत जोड़ी और पीछे मुड़ के देखा। वहां कोई नहीं था।

वहाँ अँधेरे में उसे छह हैवानों की दी हुई वो विरासत दिखी जिसकी हिफाज़त में मुल्क के सारे सियासतदान लगे हुए थे।

उसने पर्स से फ़ोन निकाल, और अपने विश्वास और हिम्मत के लिए उस लिफ़ाफ़े को फिर से छू कर देखा, जिसमे उसका भविष्य था। किसी और शहर की किसी और गली में।

Short Story: Ten Minutes

This short fiction is part of the marathon blogging challenge that I am a part of. Though I know that I have been off for a week, but I am back and back with lots. The road trip diaries shall be live by tomorrow and the movie reviews of The Hobbit, The Last Act and Hotel Transylvania are also coming in. Till then, read on and shred it to pieces. The underlined part is the common start given to the group. Cheers! And Helloww!!

********

I ran. Fast. Out of breath. Lungs bursting. Legs hitting the earth. I thudded up the path, around the corner, right up the stairs and reached the door. I flung it open and picked up the phone. It must have been a total of one missed call and six rings on the second, fifteen steps on the staircase leading to the room on the first floor, a city in summer and a temperature of 42 degrees, and an overweight person head over heels in love to achieve that exact state of affairs. My younger brother (bro, as he prefers) still could not get used to it. A panting, gasping me on the first floor of our duplex house. He had started calling the stairs “The Milkha Way”. Well, bros can be like that.

We had never been apart despite the age differences. We weren’t very similar either. In more ways than one can imagine. For instance, I was slim once upon a time. And he is slim at this very moment. I am overweight this moment of time, and he was obese once upon a time. And at least in my case, the obesity phenomenon had happened in the last three months that I had been in India (I am awesome at defending myself, by the way and he is not!). He is funny, I am bore. He is ubercool, and I am traditionally awkward. He has hobbies, and I have work. Anyway, I digress. He usually doesn’t.

I had picked the call (before the seventh ring, if you remember), and a tiny hello came out between gasps of breath. Or, gaps of breath as bro would refer to them later. It wasn’t the call I was expecting. The call lasted about 90 seconds. My role on the call was limited. I had to do the cellphone conversation equivalent of nodding my head. And so vigorously that the other person could feel it all the way from here. The alternate was to talk like my grandma. She always felt that a long distance call meant that you had to scream louder, just in case the voice does not reach the village std booth from where my chachaji must have been calling. The longer the distance, the louder she would talk. I chose nodding vigorously. Especially since I had nothing to say. For once, in the last six years, I had nothing to say.

I disconnected the call, and kept looking down for I don’t know how long, but bro could sense it. His typical response at these moments is the Budweiser Wazzapppppp, with me joining in chorus of course. “‘vrythin ok bro?”, is all he said.
“I need to use the laptop.”
“C’mon man. Intense warfare happening. Can you give me one more hour?”
“Now”
“You suck man!”
“…”
“‘aight. I get it bro. Gimme a min”.
“And just leave me alone for ten minutes, ok?”
“Ya. Whatever man!”

Those were the longest ten minutes of my life. I kept staring at the screen. I didn’t want to open the mail. But I knew I had to do it. Your past always catches up with you. For once, I looked at every key of the keyboard as I typed my password. It seemed to take longer than usual to open. And then it did not. “You have exhausted your free usage. Click here to add more to your data plan or continue browsing at 256kbps.” The message seemed like a sign from the heavens at that point. I smiled. A dry smile, if someone else were noticing me. And I continued with the paleontological era speed of 256kbps.
All I could think of as I typed my password again were the last things I had heard on the call – I need to hear back from you in the next ten minutes. Or… ”

I opened the email. I clicked open the dreaded attachment. Seven years of research and a decade of planning had come to naught.  I had to accept the revised funding terms within the next 10 minutes, or it would be assumed that I am not interested in continuing with this alternate arrangement.

I kept staring at the screen with such disbelief that my eyes could have popped and fallen into the next person’s glass of Martini. Assuming I was in a bar. But I was not. The mail was a very standard mail that everyone has read. More often than they realise. Or, at least more often than any other average email. I carefully checked the sender’s email id to ensure that the mail was from the highest authority in the field of astrophysics. These alternate sponsors were ready to offer me about 150 million dollars. It was only the last line that caught me with my pants down.

I quietly picked up the phone and dialled a different number. The person did not pick the call, as expected. I cursed under my breath. And typed a short response. However, I changed the replying email id to another alias. Coincidentally, it was the same as the sender’s.

Oh. And the last line of the mail was – “BAZINGA!”

 

*Inspired by the millions of spam mails offering more than a hundred million dollars on behalf of the Nigerian president.

* Bazinga –  made famous by Sheldon Cooper in the TV Sitcom – The Big Bang Theory.

Batman: The Unfulfilled Fantasy

“You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
“…”

“Well. Not this time. The Bat is mine. And only mine.”

SLASH!!!!

Joker loses his smile as blood gushes to the floor.

“And you Mr. J, are spoiling our fun time. Don’t look so surprised. I am the dark side of this dark knight my dear. Now, off you go. Hippity Hoppity Hippity Hoppity.”

She kicks him once, blows a kiss towards Batman, turns around and walks away. Batman looks on.

She called herself Fantasy. Batman had met his equal. His Fantasy.

“30 minutes from now?”
“Uh huh Mr. Man”, Fantasy vanished. Just like The Bat.

In the darkness just before twilight, Batman and FP are making out. The masks stay on.
.

.

.
Fantasy is dressing up.
“Time to go!”
“I can go for some more of the Prime time.”
“You never had a good sense of humor, did you?”
“Well. No. Traumatized childhood, you know.”
“Funny. You never spotted the opportunity.”
“But I did”

Fantasy smiled. And vanished. And Batman too.

Six Months Back
It started with the encounter with the joker six months back. Joker was becoming more and more innovative with his strategies. He had accomplices. And Batman was getting older. And slower. And rusted. Street crimes were fodder. They were not training him hard enough. And his encounters with Joker were becoming more and more laborious. And he missed Robin. He missed having a training partner. And an ally. Alfred just wasn’t fun enough. And Alfred didn’t prowl the streets with him.

She had showed up just as he was cornered. Badly.
“Need a hand. I am up for the job.” She said.
“There is no vacancy. Who are you?”
“Well then. Let me start my own ENTERPRISE. Mr. Man.”  The way she said it, it almost sounded like Mr. Wayne.

Fantasy moved like him. Precise, planned, gadgety without being crazy. Theatricality and deception are good weapons.

He had been trying to track Fantasy down, but there were no traces. There was no linkage to the crime syndicate. And the crime rates were heading south. Gordon was under pressure. Administration hated Batman and his flaming red haired partner. But like always, Batman was a step ahead of them. And Fantasy was a step ahead of Batman.

Seven such encounters later, he got his chance. This time, Batman was late. And Fantasy at risk. Bat saved the day, and brough Fantasy back to the cave.

“Remember Romeo. Anyone can be Batman…” She said as she faded. He left the mask be.

Six hours later, they made out for the first time.

“So, I can claim The Batman’s virginity.”
“And I can claim yours.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself Bat. You’ve been around forever. I am the sexy intern. Don’t be so sure”
“… ”
“And don’t be so sore.”

Three Months Later
Gotham is a safer place. Earlier, the weed would find newer places to grow. This time, Batman cornered them, and Fantasy cured them. This worried Batman. For he was no longer the threat. Fantasy was. He could protect Fantasy, but he could not. Just as she could protect Batman, but not Bruce Wayne. And in a city like Gotham, you could never be sure. It attracted the worst scum of nearby places, and its dirt had spread to other places. He wanted to ask her. But that would break the pact. And that would increase the risk.

He was standing by the bat signal. He knew she would be there. Or should be there. She wasn’t.

And that’s how it ended. The bat still prowls around in the night. The city is safe. But the bat is not. Batman is not needed anymore. But Rachel is gone. And so is Fantasy. Some place else, Gordon is looking at his family photograph.

Chapter 4: Iti Kaand (The Final Chapter): Boomerang

Finale of the story. Chapter 1, 2 and 3 posted earlier.

******

His head was buzzing. After trying to call Caddy for the last three hours for some work and failing to get through, he had called one of his reports. That’s how he came to know. He immediately checked in on the others. He could not get through to any of them. Sweating profusely, he checked the news articles from the local newspapers online. Four victims identified. Fifth not identified. But the photograph? No mistaking him. And her. All five of them were dead. This couldn’t be a coincidence. He immediately left the office. He felt like puking. But he had to get away. Before anyone noticed. He took a taxi to Marine Drive. On a weekday afternoon, it doesn’t take long to get there.

He had been staring at the ocean for the last eight hours since then. But all he could feel right now was a dark emptiness. And fear. He had gone through all the details a few times over. Finally, around midnight, he felt convinced that his living in a narrow street of Mumbai, as against the others being in different parts of US would make him untraceable. It was easier to track bloody Americans. Serves them right.

He took the last train back. Usually, these trains are deserted. The compartment he picked was quite, and there were 5-6 passengers sitting in different corners of the compartment. He stood closer to the gates trying to get some fresh air. The distance between Churchgate and Andheri can be quite a bit when time is not on your side. The world seems to desert you at Dadar. Or join you. Tonight, it didn’t. By the time, the train inched into the Bandra station, there were only three of them left. As the train left Bandra, the other two had moved closer to each other. For a moment, he wondered if they were after him. They were having a conversation in hushed voices. At Vile Parle they got up. By the time, the train left the station, they were standing very close to him. He could see that one of them had his hands in his pocket. His mind was playing tricks with him. Or not. The limbo can kill you, without really doing nothing. Or, by doing nothing. The train had gained momentum. The two had started necking. He felt comfortable. At Andheri station, he got down. They did too.

He walked hurriedly to catch an auto-rickshaw. Just as he was about to get down at his apartment in a not so dreamy suburb of the city of dreams, his cellphone started ringing. He hated the default ringtone. He did not know how to change it though. He took out his wallet with his right hand as he picked the call from his left hand. He did not recognize the voice at the other end. Just as the voice asked him to, he turned around. He could see two autorickshaws comings. Both of them stopped right behind his autorickshaw. From the first one, the couple from the train got down. They either were a couple that had a fight before they came aboard the train at Churchgate, or there was a price tag. It would be good to know the price tag. The other auto had an old men getting down. Is he the one? How long do I need to wait? “The couple”, the voice on the phone answered the question he did not ask.

His heart skipped a beat. The couple came closer. The man had his hands in the pocket. He could feel his heart beat louder, and the world around him slowed down to a dramatic slow-motion as the man started taking his hands out of his pocket. He was aware of everything. The old man moving towards the main entrance of the building, the red ford escort pulling over in a distance, the security guards sitting by the tiny fire not expecting any visitors at this time of the night, the girl chewing on a gum which had most likely lost its taste if one were to observe the the wider and rhythmic motions of her mouth, and pulling something out of the hip pocket of her faded navy blue jeans, his own autorickshaw about to take a U-turn and the driver bending down to spit on the other side of the road. He wanted to focus on the guy’s hand just as much as he wanted to run inside the building, but something about the twitch in the girl’s eye made him look at her. She was handing him a small piece of paper.

“Money was lost, Money was found.
What goes around, comes around.
1 played 5, but 1 played 6.
5 are dead. Are you in a fix?”

“Gotcha!”, the man said.

Chapter 3: Adi Ityaadi (Etc. Etc.)

Chapter 1 here, and chapter 2 here.

**

Adi had just turned around and left. His lack of bitterness seemed bitter than the anger that the others had felt. She watched him go towards the other apartment down the street. Just as she was about to close the door, she saw another person walk up to the doorstep.

“Found You!”

**

He turned around to leave. Lisa seemed to have left something unsaid. But he neither had the time nor the desire to know. It didn’t seem like anyone else was at home with Lisa. Adi had to hurry. And he hurried. The weather had not changed. The gloomy weather was not helping him at all.
He found 215 soon enough, across the vacant patch of land right next to 214. Just as he was getting inside 215, he thought he saw another man outside 214. He did not pay attention. He went in.
Thirty minutes later, he came out feeling better. He had got the job. Of a driver. Engineer by education. Driver. Seemed about right. As he walked past 214, his eyes followed the door of 214, and it was open. He looked down, to avoid making eye contact. The trickling blood was unmistakable. He traced it back to the door. Lisa was there. Dead. He couldn’t breathe. He stood transfixed for what seemed like an eternity. And then he noticed the guy coming out from the house.
“Gotcha too! Ain’t this my lucky day?”

**

Two men stepped out of a restaurant. As they walked down, they laughed at their shared joke. Happens a lot with people who’ve known each other for over a decade. Their jokes don’t seem funny to the man wearing the flat cap. The man in the NorthPoint jacket seemed to be smiling though. He would have plenty of time to explain/ tell the tales. Both of them, however, knew that they did not have time right now.

“Adi..”

Both of them turned around. Lifelong habit, this.

“Missed me?”, the man wearing the golf cap said.  Three muffled gunshots. Three dead bodies. And a flat cap by the pavement.

**

A cell phone was ringing somewhere. It was a distinct ringtone, the kinds that kids set up on their parents’ mobile phones when they are trying to record their own screams and shouts. He had three kids, most likely. At least, three young voices could be heard. He was a tall man. Wore Ferragamo shoes, swayed as he walked, expensive cufflinks on a custom stitched shirt. The carpet was an intricate Kurdish hand made work, which he had picked on one of his leisure trips to Turkey. He almost instinctively wiped his right shoe at the back of his left leg, arched his back suggestive of lower back disorders, and bent down to pick his mobile. He smiled as he recognized the number. He checked his watch, as he whispered dangerously.

“About time…”

The call lasted thirty seconds. He seemed visibly pleased. The only thing he said during the entire conversation was, “Make sure he knows…”

**

In the shadows of Mount Everest, there are several small villages closer to the India-Nepal border. These borders are so porous, that even the inhabitants don’t realize at times if they are a resident of India or of Nepal. People here will tell you that the mountains have memories. Elephants have long memories. Mountains, longer.

**

 

 

Tomorrow: The Final Chapter (Boomerang)

Chapter 2: Adi Kaand (The First Chapter)

Continues from Part 1 here
Note: I had earlier thought of leaving Part 1 as a standalone. But I felt like adding more to it. So, it is no longer a short story 🙂 ).

****************************************************************************************************

“So, you shot her?”

“No. I only agreed that I had good enough reasons. That does not mean I did. I have reasons to lose weight. That does not mean I have gone ahead and done anything about losing weight.”

“Funny?”

“Nah. Problematic.”

“Hmmm… Let me…”

He interrupted, “Let me complicate things for you a little more. There were five of us that night. All of us, potentially, have a motive.”

He hated his pedantic style. “Five? I thought only three…”

“Three were in the city that day. OR, so you thought. Way I see it, you were able to trace three of us. I was sure of the fourth being here as well. Fifth…”, his dramatic pause seemed like an eternity as he picked up the cup of coffee offered to him, took a long swip, and then slowly wiped the foam of his moustache, and slowly spoke, “ is here. Now I know it.”

He took a look around the room. He liked the cabin. He would have loved to have such an office. The large wooden desk, the expensive stationary, the digital photo frame on the right side of the table where he could see the entire family history of the man in front of him (not that he needed to). The ceiling was high enough, and the ambient lighting lit up the chestnut brown and white texture of the room quite adequately. This cabin was a geek paradise. With the exception of a neatly coiled power cable for a laptop vanishing into the recesses of his desk through a tiny carved out hole, he could see the entire room being completely wirelessly equipped. Expensive audio visual equipment, videoconferencing systems, a large LCD television, a zeppelin dock, a 20-inch screen connected to the laptop docking station, a gaming console and a neatly laid out stack of games, a duplex color laserjet printer,…

“Hmmm. And here I thought I was about done for the day. I know you’re not married. So, I don’t think you understand why I need to get out of here. And anyway, why the hell should I care?”. That seemed like his longest rant in many years. To his own ears. Once more, he wondered, how much he had changed in the last three years.

He did not like the interruption of his admiration.
“Well… sadly, you do.”, he coughed. And his voice trailed a little, “ And that’s your problem, not mine. My problem right now, is that you’re holding me up here. And so, let me just add one minor thing Adi.”

“Don’t call me Adi!”

You are a suspect as well. You can act all high and mighty right now with your attempts to trace a few things. But deep down, you know as well as me, that you are one of the five. Had you not called me here today, I would not have met the fifth, would I?  Yes Sir. Now the benzene ring is in place. I wish I could smoke here……. So, what were you asking me then?”, he continued as if he did not hear his protest.

“How did it start that night? I want to know the details Adi. Everything.”

“Funny you’d call me Adi. Far as I remember, there was only one person in our group who’d call me that. I prefer Maddy. Still. To your question though, that’s gonna take some time”

“Now that my Friday is screwed anyway, shall I order more coffee? Or, something stronger?”

“Do you want to do it here? On that, why would you call me to your office?”

“Can you make it work?”

“Can I smoke?

“No”

“Then….. NO!”

“…”

“Lets go get some dinner Caddy. You prefer that, right? From me?”

“From you …. ”

Three hours later, in a quieter corner of a high-street restaurant, two shadows were hunched on a table. In the fashionable dim-light that creates a wall of apparent privacy, a waiter had just refilled a wine-glass, cleared another glass, and replaced it with another – scotch, most likely, and was setting the plates for the main course. Just as the waiter left, he got a glimpse of them. It was difficult to hear anything, but he was sure of one thing. They were smiling. That same smile. He knew what that smile meant. They’d found the answer. At least they thought so.

He smiled.

 

(Coming soon: Chapter 3: Adi-Ityaadi (Etc Etc.))

Short Story: Ittefaq (Coincidence)

He had been carrying it around for the last three years. He had given up all hopes of meeting her. Ever again.

The alley was dark and the fragrance of small town summer rain was hanging in the air. It was a melancholic mix of a green life and urban aspirations, as the smell of burning gasoline mixed with the freshness of wet tropical soil and the sweet smelling leaves of a eucalyptus tree. As he turned into the alley, he was still not sure if this was the alley he was looking for. Looking for Apartment number 215 in a street where houses are not necessarily numbered in a sequential manner or properly (or both) on a day like this was not going to be easy. The thing he knew, though, was that he could not afford to be late. He hadn’t been successful in keeping a single job for the last 3 years. All because he could not be on time. All because he always had a lead that he wanted to check on.

He hurried forward. Someone looking at him from a distance would have found him to be suspicious. The way he was looking at the houses. The way he would walk up to a door, and then suddenly turn around and leave. He seemed anxious, desperate, in a hurry, had unkempt looks, wore a ragged overcoat, sported a rude and partially grayed out beard, and his winter boots had long outlived their utility. But then, there was no-one on the street to suspect his motives.

The property on the right side of the road as he took a left turn at the end of the alley caught his attention. The number was 214. But it wasn’t an apartment. It was an independent house, an odd presence in this apartment complex laden street. His Indian-ness got hold of him, and he decided to knock on the door and see if the residents here knew where 215 was. A habit his father had instilled in him. “Why waste time when you can politely ask?”, he would tell him in his gruff and muffled voice, a sound which seemed distant due to his constant paan chewing, beteljuice filled mouth. Good thing, this was largely an Indian locality. Wondering how he had never picked up that habit of his father, while picking up almost every other trait, he walked towards that house.

He wiped his face as he rang the doorbell. He could hear the footsteps coming towards the door. A lady wearing a gray dress and a pink scarf opened the door. She was in her early thirties.
“Excuse me, ma’m….”, he stopped abruptly in the middle of his mentally rehearsed question, just as he looked up to make eye contact with the lady.
A curious expression was on her face as she looked at him. It was a frown mixed with a smile of recognition. He, on the other hand, had a smile.
“What a coincidence, Adi!!”
“Lisa….”
“I just wanted to tell you….”
“I just wanted to tell you…”, they both stumbled on their confessions, but he continued, “that I love you. And I was there that night.”

His hands were inside his overcoat pocket. He took it out. And as he lifted it in his hands, every thought, every dream, every desire of last three years of waiting came rushing onto him. He could barely breathe. He braced himself.

No-one heard the gunshots. The man in the ragged overcoat turned around, and started looking for 215 again. He needed the job now.

 

 

(To be continued… )*

*T&C apply

Short Story: Notebook

Being stuck with his car for the last three hours was not fun. And he wasn’t expecting the next three to be fun either. He had a pack of cigarettes, a book, a car with 3 flat tyres, a car stereo and one audio cd with 9 tracks, no radio network, hundreds of trees, lots of grass, a fabulous view of the ocean and a beautiful girl to give him company. The audio cd had 9 tracks. 9 fabulous tracks. Carefully handpicked for a potential romantic or unromantic drive of about an hour. The sequence was something that he had mentally planned. Starting from “ye shaam mastaani” to “woh shaam kuch ajeeb thi”.. And somehow, this particularly romantic setting was just not working out in his favor. Because he wanted to talk. Thats the only thing that was magical between them. Their conversation… Can you beat that? The only thing magical between them was their conversation. Stored in three spiral bound matrix notebooks. One month and three notebooks… He was cursing himself in the highest pitch. She was troubled, sorry, but oblivious to his curses.

If only she could hear. If only she could talk. If only he had brought a pen and a paper….

 

Change

At times its a little difficult to understand. Not just your silence, but also your words…

” You remember? The times when we had a lot of time. A lot of time to think about the lot of time that we could use. These days its a little different. We don’t have time.”

You seem to have forgotten! You don’t seem to miss anything anymore…

“Don’t I? Let me think. To be honest, I have never been a good multi-tasker. I need time to get things done.”

Ahh.. I dont agree. I think you do multi-task quite well.

“Well.. you shouldnt be saying that…”

Why?

“If I were a good multi-tasker, I wouldn’t have forgotten. I would still miss.”

No.

“What?”

No…

“….”

I mean.. you would not have missed. You would have done..

“So… what is it?”

The letter you wrote a zillion aeons back…

“??”

About changing.. and still being the same..

“??”

You still are the same! You still have a lot of time.

“??”

You have changed as well. You don’t do the same things anymore!

Turnaround

He turned around and left….

It seemed like the perfect setting. They had been talking to each other for an unusually high amount of time every day for the last 3 months. He was was everything for her. Everything except that one thing she yearned for him to be. They both knew it. They both knew that it could not come to be. Yet they prolonged their agony. The perfect sunset had a dark spot.

He used to wait for her outside her office. Drop her home. Talk to her for hours standing next to the ice cream trolley. Every day, the cellphone would ring. Every day, he said bye. Every day, he turned around and left.

Both of them wanted to end this. The suffering, the pain, the longing. They both knew it was not right. Yet, they continued fooling themselves. The temptation to give in was strong. The pragmatism to hold back, was equally compelling. Who would blink first? While cracking jokes, sharing anecdotes, till the wee hours of the night, thinking about all this, he would turn around and leave.

That day was the same. Yet, it wasn’t. That day, they both decided to end it. They agreed that it was not what they ever wanted. That day also, he waited for her outside her office. She finished work, came down, and sat next to him in the car. He drove back silently. After stopping at her home, he did not say anything. She kept looking at him. With hope, a silent prayer going up in the air, she clinged on to the belief that this was also not something that they ever wanted. He still did not say anything. She wanted to cry. It was over. He turned around and left.

The next evening, he said I Love You. It was a Saturday, one of the best weekends of his life…

A short story : Lets sleep over it

I live alone. I sleep in a messy little corner of my room. Or, is it an apartment? Are there other rooms? I think there are. It seems like yesterday. There were a couple of people in the other room fighting with each other. Some minor squabble , I remember. They don’t seem to be fighting anymore. They seem to be debating. About rights, duties, Karma, and Dharma! Someone switched on the TV

You fill up my senses

Like a night in the darkness….

I live alone. I lie down for a bit of rest on the bed that I cleaned up just now. I cannot sleep on messy beds with unclean bed-sheets. This is my sweet little one-bedroom apartment. Me , myself, and my poochooo. Poochooo? My teddy bear! Let me call up someone. Or, maybe pick up that MB I have been thinking of reading. Where’s my iPOD?

You say it best…

When you say nothing at all…

We live together. It’s a 2-bedroom apartment. We haven’t been to the other room in the last three months . Its meant for our guests. But both of us have hardly spent anytime at home. I work till long past midnight. Me too! We haven’t had guests. We haven’t had time to have guests. It’s a weekend. We manage to somehow spend sometime together on weekends. A few hours? The saving grace! I like candlelight dinners. Someday, you would cook me a special dinner at home. And I would set the table, near the red colored curtains. For the large glass windows that overlook the garden. And there will be candlelight.

Kabhi yun bhi aa, meri aankh mein..

Ki meri nazar ko khabar na ho

Mujhe ek raat nawaaz de

Magar uske baad sahar na ho…

(Let there be that moment, when you walk into my dreams, so sweetly that I dont even notice

I just want that one night, but let there be no dawn to that night of my dreams!)

I am sleepy!

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