There is something about the tales of our childhood, about those comics that had a single dialogue accompanying a colorful picture, about those stories titled ‘The Cock and The Crow’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, ‘Martin and his slippers’ and so on. Those titles caused in me a tingle of excitement and I started calling them the ‘AND’ stories. On train journeys, I would look for magazines which had such AND stories in them. This little story is for kids who like to watch ‘Oggy and the Cockroaches’, ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ and the like.
“Here, have some.” Tinku shoved a ring-like structure into reluctant jaws. “Chocolate likes these onion rings!”, he exclaimed, pointing at a feline whiskery creature, perched up onto the chair where Tinku sat, its paws clutching at the chair handles and its whiskers blowing every which way as it gobbled up the given food and purred on, asking for more.
“Why weren’t you having them before? See they are so tasty!”, Tinku scolded his pet cat while feeding it the onion rings his mother had made and which he thoroughly disliked.
“That is where all my work goes.” Tinku’s mother sighed in annoyance. “In vain.” Tinku did not like onions or anything which contained them. He felt they left a bad stale taste in his mouth which refused to leave him even after several mouthwashes. He loved his pet cat, whom he had found wandering about in the streets one day, when he decided to carry it into the house. People usually kept dogs as they were loyal and not “wily cats” as his mother had termed his pet when he had declared that he was going to keep it and named it ‘Chocolate’ after the article of food he liked best. But Tinku was wilier than cats, slyer than foxes and cleverer than most people his age.
***
“Don’t poke around. Get ready.” Mom scolded Tinku as he tried to tinker with the nailcutter, pulling the flap back as far as it could go. “I am ready.” Tinku replied, continuing with his exercise.
They were preparing to go to a wedding that evening. Mom had put on a glittering golden saree that almost blinded Tinku when he looked at her. She was clipping large gold earrings to her earlobes when she cried out, “where are my bangles?”
Tinku jumped, the nailcutter, flying from his reach. “I don’t know”, he said.
“I had kept them here. Right here!”, she exclaimed hysterically, pounding on the dressing table. But the bangles were nowhere to be seen. Mom’s hysterics made Dad and son comb the entire room but the bangles still eluded them. “They were made of gold, for God’s sake! Where are they?”
They searched and searched but Fate had something else in store. Mom had to wear some ersatz jewellery to the event and she went most reluctantly, her face forlorn and her manner most woebegone.
***
“But where could they go?” The question refused to leave mom’s lips even the next day. They had searched the entire house but they couldn’t find the bangles. “This will teach you a lesson, showing off to those maid-servants of yours!” Dad looked at Mom reprovingly.
“I never showed them a single ornament!”, she countered indignantly.
“Well, you may have opened your boxes in front of them or perhaps talked about your newest and latest collections to them or probably to your friends and they must have overheard you on the phone or something.” offered Dad.
“I obviously didn’t!”, mom retorted but with a slightly suppressed voice as if she wasn’t so sure.
***
“Clean the corners well!”, instructed mom as she followed the domestic help about the house as she swept and dusted. When the cleaning was done and the maid finally left the house, mom sank into a chair. “Give me some water, Tinku”, she called. As Tinku brought her a glass, she decided to recheck her room, wardrobe and everything, even though the thorough cleaning had left nothing to chance.
However, something had gone amiss. “I cannot find my artificial bangles either! I had worn them yesterday itself!”, mom screamed, surprised out of her wits. “I was with her the entire day and I watched her like a hawk. She didn’t take a single penny, I am sure of that.”
But just like the previous day, the bangles had gone missing. They opened the wardrobe, searched here and there but couldn’t find the bangles anywhere. Where were the bangles after all? How did they disappear into thin air? Who was robbing them?
***
“I am sure its him”, Mom pointed at Tinku. “Tinku is playing one of his stupid pranks.”
“Oh God! For the thousandth time I am telling you, its not me!”, Tinku replied hotly.
“If it turns out to be you, then you won’t be spared. Mind you! I will spank you and you will remain grounded till you know better!”, his mother’s warning rang in his ears. “And control this pet of yours! Kamla complains of its whiskers and pawprints everywhere. She has a hard time cleaning away the dust anyway.”
“Come Chocolate, I will give you some onion rings!”, Tinku fondly stroked his pet and took it to his room.
***
“Awwww, what happened to your fabled fangs? Did they really fall out or something?” , Tinku murmured while examining the interior of Chocolate’s mouth, as the cat refrained from eating the onion rings. Perhaps, the cat had also developed a revulsion to the smell of an onion.
Tinku checked the cat’s mouth and an idea struck him. He ran outside and in a few moments dashed to mom, carrying the stolen bangles in his hands.
“Where did you find them?”, mom was visibly overjoyed.
“Just know that your genius son found them!”
“I knew you had hidden them. I knew it!”, Mom’s temper suddenly flared.
“No, I didn’t! It was Chocolate! She thought they were onion rings and tried to chew them.” Tinku explained.
“What the crap are you talking about?” Mom grew impatient.
“I will tell you but first promise me that you will take her to the vet.”
“No! First, she steals and chews my bangles and then I spend money on her. Forget it! And don’t give her those onion rings! ”
“She won’t have any. Although she liked them when I fed them to her for the first time, after trying to chew your bangles, her dislike for the rings grew till she broke one of her teeth trying to sink them into your jewels, thinking that they were onion rings. Since she was sly enough to understand that she was stealing from the house, she hid the bangles near her resting place in the garden.”
“How did you know about such goings-on? Did she narrate the whole story to you or what?”
“Well, at first it was her whiskers strewn about near the wardrobe (that you pointed out to me that day). Then her reluctance to eat the onion rings, she liked so much at first. I just had to add two plus two. It was easy.”
“Well, you sure are a nosy boy. But a clever nosy boy.” Mom said with a hint of pride in her voice.
To All: I am not advertising anything. My views are purely personal and unintentional (no intention of helping anyone profit.).
To the developers of the app: I wouldn’t really mind making a few bucks out of publicizing it.
Have you ever wanted to get back at someone? Maybe your irksome neighbour or an overbearing boss or your ex? You wrote hate mails, shouted and screamed, bitched about them and what not. Writing their names on a piece of paper and burning it up or flushing it down, calling them and hurling expletives of the creamiest sort are just a few ways to vent your ire. Sometimes, your feelings cross the danger mark and nothing appears to satiate you save the blood of your sworn enemy. Some people must have realized this and came up with a way to really give the crap to them. In the literal sense of the word. Shitexpress.com is a one-of-its-kind initiative that can revolutionize the world of haters and the hated. One can use the app to buy shit. Literally. You can buy shit for the ones you have a grudge against and parcel them in a nicely wrapped shiny paper. You just shell out a few bucks and a load of horse shit or dog poop will be delivered to the one you loathe.
If this app succeeds, the concept of gifts will undergo a massive transmogrification. They will be dreaded as much as they are eagerly awaited. Parcels would then be divided into gifts and gaffes.  Since the wrappers will be shiny and pretty in both the cases, one wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them. The bell rings and the delivery boy holds out a package for you. You are overjoyed thinking it must be from one of your secret admirers or some long lost friend or your boyfriend trying to be creative. You accept it graciously and offer the boy some beverage because you are just so happy. He leaves and you retire to your favorite corner of the room to open the coveted package. The ribbons are carefully untied and the shiny golden paper reflecting the light of the room falls away to reveal a box. As you open the box, a malodor fills the room and you gag and probably puke all over your favorite space. Gaffe received. Mission accomplished.
The age of the jack-in-the-box is fading, fast being replaced with an advanced level of pranking.  This makes me wonder if perhaps perfumes with nauseous odors may also become popular. You hate someone but have to attend the party that they are throwing. You buy one of those elegant looking bottles and wrap them in the trademark shiny golden paper. Then you deliberately forget to put your name on it. Or perhaps you actually want your foe to know what you sent. So, you write your name in a beautiful font or just place a riddle in order for them to figure out. Bang! The party room is filled with a repugnant smell as soon as your ‘gift’ is opened. The guests can’t figure out where the obnoxious odor emanates from and the receiver of the package cannot reveal the fact that he/she has received a gaffe in place of a gift, hence, the impact is manifold- humiliation added to hatemail. Double bonanza!
Popularity will soon be calculated in two ways- fame and infamy. The more the number of gifts,the greater your fame. The number of gaffes, in turn, will decide the level of your infamy. It will be one of the hot topics to bitch about.
“You know Sarita received kitten stool and dog poop yesterday?”
“How did you know?”
“She opened her bag and there it was, a glimmering shimmering flash of paper. I hung about surreptitiously for a while and sure enough, a putrefying stench assailed me.”
“I think its Ravi. She shouldn’t have dumped him. ”
Venting your ire on your boss or that high-heeled flashy stuck-up colleague, who sees herself no less than the Miss Universe, does seem in accordance with your vanity pursuits. I personally find this app a very filthy idea. Sending people crap. That’s just not my thing. However, on closer examination, I think it could actually be a success. Especially in our country. In fact, if we were to develop a similar app (let’s call it i-shit for Indian shit), it could really transform our country for the better. The developers of this app would hardly incur any cost except obviously the delivery, which could be handled by a tie up with an organization dealing with transportation. As for the content, a colorful and foul-rich array of flavors is available. Step out of your building and you will surely find some animal poop lying here and there. Its so abundant that you just can’t miss it. Come to think of it, not just animal shit, even human excrement can be gathered simply enough. Although that would require searching in the dark corners on the roadsides or near the slum areas, that would be easier than finding a public washroom (If you are tenacious enough, you may find one but I will give you 50 bucks if you manage to find a clean one).  
After my confident discourse, if the developers still worry about where to find crap or perhaps trying to get hold of a poultry farm, I would happily take the contract. No, I don’t live in the countryside nor do I own a farm. But I am still confident that I can easily get the content which this app requires. On the contrary, I would also be doing a service to the country in terms of the ‘Clean India’ campaign.
In fact, you too can contribute by using i-shit. Clean India and send the shit to the ones you hate. Perhaps soon this trend might catch up so much that we start sending our friends shit just to help clean the environment. Perhaps the warring factions of the country might decide to transport their own rubbish to the others’ domain. Perhaps we could also add a bit of philanthropy to the advertisement by using only street-side shit, hence, helping to keep the environment clean. I-shit would definitely be a hit. Siphon off your rage! Send shit! Clean India!
I am twenty two. Always twenty two. Make of it what you will.
I was scrolling down my facebook wall, idly looking at posts and unconsciously hitting likes. I say if its cheap, why not use it. Liking doesn’t cost you a penny, so like as much as you want. I am in the habit of such mass liking that when (and if) I receive any likes on my pictures, I divide the total number of likes by two, assuming that at least half of the ‘likers’ probably belong to my category. 
Just then, I came across some birthday pics titled “my Double Decade” or “My 21st” or “Coming of Age” and so on. And followed pretty pictures in LBDs, gaudy lehengas or dazzling anarkali suits. It brought to my mind the fact that my birthday is approaching. I was thinking of buying a nice low-cut lavender dress that I saw a starved model showcasing online. It looked quite a catch. And then came to mind clicking pictures-endless selfies, unlimited photo-ops and a great vanity boost. Then I wondered about the title of the to-be album. I would write ‘My 20th-something’, wouldn’t I?
It struck me that I have never seen a woman put up an album with a header-‘My 31st’ or ‘My 42nd’ or ‘My 55th’ or even ‘My 28th’! Is 28 old? There is this particular age after which women seal their lips about the number of years they have been surviving on this planet. I call it the ‘freezing age’. Everyone knows the 2 precious numerals one must never ask a woman-her age and her weight. (Actually there are a load of things men should avoid asking women. It would take quite a while to compile the list.)
Between them, weight is something which one can hardly conceal. It is only the wily elusive age that can befuddle the hearts and minds of innocent men, who are lured into believing the freezing age as a woman’s true age. Like all her vital assets, a woman clothes her age in an opaque outfit of age-defying makeup and weight-loss regimes.
Vanity, thy name is woman!
A few days ago, I was clicking selfies in some new hairstyle I had copied from a youtube video. As the camera lens focused on my face, a message hovered over the focal boundaries-“32, female”. My heart stopped in its tracks. What devilish claptrap was this? I can still tolerate face recognition softwares, even though they match my face with my grandmother’s. I usually discount the errors as the usual AI glitches.No computer can be that accurate.
Then comes this supposedly age and gender recognition software that threatens to expose the blemishes, the unevenness of complexion and other such foibles of my skin, that I strove to obscure using photo-editing softwares.
I tried to change the angle of focus. The age came down to 28 and I heaved a small sigh of relief. Another adjustment though shot it up to 36, thus pouncing on my vanity and deflating my self-confidence. Numerous such attempts at lens focus created an age range for me-an age range, which seemed never to touch teenage but always seemed to go upto the 30s. Technology-boon or bane? Right then, I was in a mood to debate in favor of the latter. I was sorely disappointed and my selfie conviviality faded.
I know age is just a number. But it is a very important number.
Some of the women wear their age on their sleeves. Take Indira Gandhi, for instance, with the fashionable trademark grey streak in her jet black plumage. Take Rekha of Bollywood. Or Hema Malini. The world is brimming with examples. But the fact remains that the obsession with age cannot be downplayed. Be it accepting or adjusting to one’s age gracefully or masking it with botox and age-freezing products, women have a special bond with this magic number. This is the reason why some of the women, despite being past their middle age, take offence when you append an ‘aunty’ to their name. They prefer to be called ‘didi’ or better referred to by their names. [This little note pertains only to the Indian way of living. The western lifestyle has no age barriers anyway. Its only Miss or Mrs. or plain Jane.]
So…what goes up and never comes down?
Age !!!
And what goes up, reaches a certain point and then freezes?
A woman’s age !!!
A mudra is a symbolic hand gesture used in Indian dances. ( And this must be the briefest prologue ever written by anyone.)

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“This is the way to do it. Its one of the most important mudras.” A tall slim woman, not so young and not so old, spread her five long fingers into a graceful curve, which appeared to me like a faint outline of a chalice. “And the more beautiful because of it. It is called ‘alapadma’.” That was the name my dance teacher gave to the charming shape her hands had conjured up.
I still remember that dance class of mine when this very vital mudra of Bharatnatyamwas taught to me and how quickly I adopted it as my own personal mudrain all kinds of classical dances that I performed. I became so obsessed with it that I started looking for ways to use this hand formation whenever I could. For instance, while asking ‘wh’ questions like where are you going, who are you going with, which place and so on.
I soon realized that a lot of others share my feelings towards this ingenious ‘hand’iwork. Especially the drivers on the roads. When you release the clutch a little too soon and your car bumps to an abrupt halt just when the traffic light turns green and the cars behind you start honking madly as if you had set them on fire, at that point, the overtakers show you this beautiful hand mudra, with an expression that says if looks could kill, you would be dead by now. Or when you forget to switch on the car indicator before turning left or when your car is parked  a little way off the imaginary LOC (Line of Car Control), you get this ‘alapadma’. I have begun to equate it with the middle class’ middle finger. Alapadma– the middle finger of mediocre India. The tauter your fingers and the more precise your mudra, the angrier you are and the more the tendency to wring someone’s neck with those graceful fingers of yours. The degree of your ire can also be calculated by the number of hands you use. One slack hand shape indicates that you touched a nerve. A tensed accurately formed shape means you are in trouble. Two hands though mean that you are in great big trouble. This sort of proves that dance is a popular form of expression. In more uncanny ways than one.
This gesture is not just limited to irate drivers or irascible people on the roads. You will see the people around you utilizing this dance feature as well. This mudra is often accompanied by a slight tilt of the head that spells intense derision and utter disdain in the doer’s mind. “What the hell, dude?” it seems to say.
Hands today have come to mean a lot of things. They seem to have become more expressive than either expressions or words combined together. Its not just art forms like dance that use hands extensively for the depiction of emotions and senses. When you are trying to ward someone off, you say “talk to the hand”. Owing to the dearth of time we face today, sign language is a popular lingo wherein interplay of fingers can create a myriad of signals from a ‘pataakamudra showing the Congress ‘haath’ or the ‘shikharmudra viz. ‘thumbs-up’ sign doubling up as the most popular ‘like’ statement ever (courtesy of facebook) or the newest signal of aggression/annoyance/inquiry -the alapadma-our question mark -our own trademark middle finger.
Sign language is not a new invention. It is an age-old mode of expression, dating back to paleolithic man. Man in his quest to develop more and ever more, sometimes seeks solace in the simplistic symbols of articulation. Hands are the new words and alapadma is the new middle finger.
My dance classes coming pretty ‘hand’y now, huh?


~~~PUJO SPECIAL~~~
A cousin of Rakhi, Bhai Dooj is celebrated right after Diwali, often eclipsed by the enormity and the scale of Diwali celebrations. There are many things that get eclipsed in the routine rush of our existence. Like, when was the last time you walked on grass?
The ‘I’ in the following piece is not me. I just like to take the place of people and play their part for the fun of it.
“People hardly have any time for anything these days.”
“And these festivals come like a blizzard, all at once and hardly let you breathe.”
I was eyeing the elaborate thaalis containing sweets in all shapes and sizes, my face betraying greed and ravenous hunger as my mother chatted with my uncle’s wife about the torrent of festivals that invaded as well as brightened our mundane existence.
“Get some incense sticks from the other room!”
I heard mom’s instructions and went ahead to comply.
It was another happy-busy holi-workday when some age-old rituals had to be upheld and embellished with our new age improvisations of gifts and celebratory dinners.
An array of puja stuff had  been laid out, decorated thaalis with an engraved incense stick stand and a glass of sparkling water. Laddoos and barfis lined on a large tray, salty snacks placed in another dish, flowers on the periphery of all the traditional decor. It all seemed like an offering to some deity. Obviously it is supposed to be an offering to some deity. My mother would anoint her brother’s forehead with a crimson teeka while praying for his well being and prosperity. My uncle would return the favor by blessing mom, his hands on her head, holding the customary paddy seeds, sweets and —–
“Grass. Get some grass! Quick! I had told your dad to get everything ready. Does he ever listen?”
My mother’s voice trailed into accusations as I set out to collect fistfuls of grass for the ceremony ; grass in the ritual signifies the bounty of nature and prosperity. Perhaps…
Finally, I got out, away from the alluring sight of the mouth-watering delicacies and mom’s never-ending instructions. This one was a petty task. Collecting grass. Pooh! I could get it in a jiffy. Just down near the parking lot maybe. Or in the garden.
My mother loves flowers. She had our gardener plant lovely roses, marigolds, jasmine, money plant, bonsai and so on. Our garden is a pleasing sight of ivy and vines tastefully cording themselves around the verandah railings.
No grass though. We don’t have grass in our pretty little garden. Obviously grass is not pretty. Also, our plants are all potted. Some dwarf plants do crop up in the vases but I haven’t seen grass growing anywhere. What would we do with grass anyway? It looks quite wild and unwanted as if it belongs to uncultivated land or something.
I moved on towards the parking area. What an imbecile I must be. What was I expecting to find? Grass sprouting through cement and mortar?
I decided to check out the neighbouring gardens. I saw bougainvilleas, cacti, ashoka trees, neem trees, peepul, laburnum and even those pink and white wild flowers that grow of their own accord. But I couldn’t spot grass anywhere.
My petty assignment was taking longer than I thought. I couldn’t find grass in my locality? Kids would snigger at my asininity. Just then, I hit upon my mistake. I was looking in all the wrong places. And the word ‘kids’ had given me the idea. Where do kids play? Obviously!
I just needed to check out some parks!
It came as a blow to me that my block does not have many parks, at least grassy ones. More glaring was the revelation that I had never bothered to look for any in all the years I had been living here. I came across a park which had one broken swing and a gang of boys playing cricket on sandy ground, a lot of dust accompanying their game. There were a few more in several nearby blocks where there were paved tracks for walking and a host of swings on yellowish-brown earth. These were among the well-maintained parks. Strangely, they were quite grassless. Save a few swards here and there, patches of dried yellow grass. Mom wouldn’t have accepted them for the offering. Even I knew that the ritual required bright green grass. It is said that brothers bless their sisters with grass. Grass denotes that blessings do not require anything save true devotion and feelings and even a blade of grass can be an invaluable present if you have the heart. Little did our ancestors know that soon a blade of grass would truly be tagged as an ‘invaluable present’ and plants as expensive classy gifts.
I wandered a bit more, determined to hit success in this quest of mine. Just then right between two buildings, where the water tanks are kept in a neglected space, I saw a clump of grass sheltered by a few dwarf trees of unknown origin.
Green grass! What a blessing !
I snatched fistfuls of it and filled my polypack to the brim.
When I reached our flat, my mother asked me, “Were you growing grass or what?”
I felt like saying “nearly”, I was dying to tell her about my newest discovery- that grass is on its way to extinction!  

While travelling in a bus, my attention is always riveted by the variety of people flocking the cramped space from daily wage workers to IT professionals, by the calls that they make or get (which I am not supposed to overhear I am sure but I just can’t help eavesdropping), by the way some women rock their babies to and fro and speak to them in a rustic dialect. It amuses me no end and I often find myself ogling at them and then roving my eyes all over the bus when they spot me in the act. This piece though is not about the pleasures of bus travel but something just the opposite. In fact, I don’t think it has anything to do with bus travel at all. Maybe a little.  

A cackle sounded stridently in his ears and he forced himself awake. ‘What the hell was that?’, Mahesh wondered. “This good-for-nothing is supposed to take care of us? This one??” A round stout woman stood in the room, with one hand on her hips and the other holding a rolling pin. The room barely qualified as a room. It was a square space with a rusted iron-grey trunk, a table lookalike and a mattress, torn and holed, with a crumpled bedsheet containing Mahesh, who was trying to disentangle himself from a confused tangle of his bedsheets and sleep. He glanced at his cellphone, which was probably the first cellphone ever made. Those phones had probably stopped selling now and that was the precise reason he had managed to get a second-hand specimen.
It was 7:30 am. He had one hour to reach his workplace. It had not been an easy task to procure that job. From the intricate webs of babudom and “Office-Office” scenarios, he had managed to befriend a middle-aged personage with betel-stained teeth and a Bihari accent. Thanks to Mishraji, Mahesh was not unemployed anymore. He had managed to maintain the thatch above their heads;,the thatch that his father had created with backbreaking daily wage labour at the nearby mall construction site. Food, clothing, shelter and work-his life’s aim was to successfully juggle these balls that supported his existence. Today, however, he was about to drop the ball which bolstered the others, the work ball. He rushed out of the room into the balcony, to the left end of which was a tap, beneath which stood a peacock blue bucket with a flashy red mug hanging by it. On the thick railing, lay an emaciated soap block which Mahesh vigorously rubbed himself with, while the bucket filled to the brim as the tap ran. In a few minutes, he finished his ablutions. Grabbing his black backpack, he drank down a glass of milk that his mother had set for him in a single gulp.
“You must eat a biscuit with it. Never drink milk on an empty….” He didn’t wait to hear her mother finish her sentence.
Taking large strides, he reached the bus stop, already packed with people like him. As he prepared to cross the road, a black cat scurried past him. He groaned. It was destined to be a shitty day for him.
He halted at the corner most post of the bus stop so he could catch the bus as it entered. However, his efforts were not enough. There were at least a dozen youngsters like him waiting to win a paid bus ride. His daily competition started early. The day began with the race against time and the battle with sleep in the morning, proceeding further to the bus kerfuffle and the workplace chaos, consummating in household tension.
A red bus thundered by. Only a handful of people boarded it. Mahesh was not one of them. Wasting 20 bucks one-way to office was nothing less than profligacy to him. He waited for a green bus, impatiently glancing at his phone.
His prayers were answered as a green bus appeared to be coming from some way off. The green monster thundered to a halt and its preys hounded it to ultimately disappear into its jaws. Hardly a man got expelled before the jaws snapped shut.
Mahesh had failed to get sucked into the belly of the monster as the bus had parked itself far ahead of Mahesh’s standpoint. He had grown panicky now. He must take the next bus or his livelihood would be in jeopardy. He fixed his eyes on the direction from which the bus was expected to arrive.
A flaming orange hulk came blundering to a stop a few paces behind where Mahesh stood. A horde of people like fireflies attracted to light, flocked the door. Mahesh knew that he had to get in somehow. The front door had not been opened and it looked as if he would miss out on this one too. But Mahesh refused to accept it. It was his last chance to reach his work on time. He shoved and heaved but could not manage to get in. The passengers started showering him with invectives. The driver pressed the race. The bus began moving. He held on to the door handle and managed to get a single foothold as the bus assumed full speed.
Mahesh heaved a sigh of relief. However, the relief was short-lived. He was still half dangling in the air when the rear doors slammed shut, inducing panic and causing him to fall back on the other passengers, earning their displeasure. He felt his back getting clamped as he struggled to free his legs from the clutches of the automated doors.
‘High tech measures are not meant for this country’, Mahesh thought. ‘At least not in a country where every inch of space is claimed by some kind of a living creature.’  
The bus lurched to another stop.
“There is not an inch of space left!”
“Don’t you stop driver bhaiyya!” exclaimed a few passengers. The others murmured their assent. However, where there is life, there is hope. And so with the hope of managing within whatever space was available, some brave folks climbed aboard, crushing Mahesh between two men and a woman. He was now sandwiched between them in such a manner that his hands rested on someone’s shoulders, his back was taut against the woman and his legs were stiff and supported against someone else’s. He dared not move in the fear of either offending the lady or losing his balance. They were all standing on the floor of the bus, jostled against each other in such a fitting manner as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Mahesh looked out of a distant window, gauging the distance left for him to reach his office when he suddenly felt incredibly light. He reached for his bag but couldn’t find the strap on his arm. His heart nearly stopped. He hadn’t even bought his ticket yet. His eyes frantically roved over the space around him and he saw his modest bag suspended in the air supported by someone’s elbow and another’s shoulder. His confidence began to return and he fetched his bag, holding it now between his arms since the strap had come off in the hustle-bustle.
He decided to buy the ticket before the TCs decided to prey on him. He tried to adjust his bag so he could take the money out. All of a sudden, he felt as if he was being smothered and his chest felt constricted. He couldn’t breathe. He felt as if the crowd would converge on him and squash him flat. The thought brought out his fears in the form of bile. Claustrophobia tugged at his insides and he started retching.
“Oh God! Get this man out! What is he up to?!” a woman screamed. Others started making way. Surprisingly, space was automatically created at his retching. “Open the door for God’s sake! He will vomit on all of us!” someone shouted from behind.
Mahesh couldn’t have felt worse. He had never felt claustrophobic before. He was heavily mortified and yet, the uppermost thing on his mind was air. He needed fresh air.
“Why do you people drink liquids before travelling? You must have had milk or something! Are you a kid? Do you have to be taught these things now?”, the conductor scolded him. As if on cue, he retched. As he was about to spew up, people parted further. The woman against whom he had been standing could not move away in time. Mahesh couldn’t help it and he barfed. “Ewww!!”, the woman made a grotesque face. Mahesh was sure that now he would definitely be slapped or driven out of the bus or something but as he looked down to detect the extent of the damage he had wreaked, he saw that there was some puke right between her heeled sandals. He had miraculously managed to maintain space-time complexity. Just then, the doors mercifully opened and he vomited out onto a sidewalk while holding fast onto the door handle.
“Drop him off!”, someone suggested. However, an old man disagreed saying, “No, let him stay. Where will the poor lad go from here? There is no mode of transport around.” And so, Mahesh leaned back as the doors clanked shut again. The day couldn’t have started off worse. He was late for work, had had nothing to eat in the morning, had just ejected out whatever he had consumed the night before, had earned revulsion from the fellow passengers and must be smelling obnoxious.
The bus came to a stop yet again and suddenly there was a lot of commotion. He didn’t have to look around much for the source. The day had gone a shade more awful. His worst fears had come true. The dreaded TCs were here. He tried to hand over a 10-rupee note to the conductor over the heads of the people, when an aged tough looking TC took him by the arm and carried him down the bus. He didn’t bother to explain because he knew it would have looked like an excuse. He followed the Ticket Checkers meekly. Now, he would miss work, lose money and probably be beaten. Or he might be lucky enough to be let off with a lecture, which didn’t seem a very plausible prospect considering the course of events throughout the day. It looked like the black cat had taken its revenge on him.

~~~PUJO SPECIAL~~~


www.bhakti-online.com

As Durga Pujo comes to a close, strangely, it’s the trifoliate bel leaves which have won a place among the number of things uppermost on my mind. Don’t worry, I am not going to expound on the sanctity of belpaata or their significance in Shiv Pujo or Durga Pujo. I don’t have the faintest idea about it nor do I want to know much. As I stood waiting for pushpanjali to begin, my stomach grumbling with the long wait for AshtamiSandhi Pujo and Navami aunjoli, my mind cooked up some weird thoughts. Here they are…
The kohl rimmed eyes stared straight ahead-unmoving and unwavering. There was a smile in them. It was mesmerizing to look at them. I could look at them all day long.
“Side deen please (Excuse me),” someone shoved me, tearing me away from Maa Durga’s eyes and bringing me back to earth, back from a world where Her elegance had entranced me into believing in a heavenly abode resplendent with majestic Gods and Goddesses. I stood erect, my legs going steadily limp, as I waited for the Purohit to commence the pushpanjali. I am not into fasting. I need food as soon as I wake up. Whenever I wake up, that is. I summoned all of my patience, believing it to be some sort of a test, which, if I passed would win me choice blessings from the Mahishasur Mardini. But I couldn’t put up a show for myself any longer. Soon, I came into my own, my face wearing that worn-out look, my forehead glistening with sweat. I had put on my best attire for Ashtami, had had a haircut and tried to look decent. But now my hair (previously kept open in a layered style) was up in a clumsy bun, my hand frequently running over my face in an effort to wipe away the sweat and the irritation level rising every minute. The Purohit was doing the Aarti now. A huge crowd had accumulated. It was the final pushpanjali and mom and dad had issued a caveat that I must not move from the mandap till I was done with the aunjoli
A lady stood ahead of me, her hair brushing my face every now and then. I couldn’t say much since she had a baby in her lap. The baby kept trying to reach my spectacles. I turned my head this way and that but the clever little child would manage to extend his hand and tug at my glasses. I finally changed my place, going back a few paces, earning my parents’ displeasure.
Aage aaye! (Come ahead), my mother ordered. And I meekly went to her, saying a thousand ‘excuse me’s and nudging past people with folded hands. Suddenly, I felt the crowd converging at a certain point. Everyone seemed to move left. I finally got some space. As I stood happily, dad nudged me to the left.
Ki? (What?),” I asked.
Aarti !” dad answered.   
And then I saw a huge flame travelling inch by inch from group to group as the dhaakis continued playing their dhaak, making everyone’s voices except the purohit’s (because he had a microphone) ten times less audible. There was a mad rush to get Maa Durga’s blessings in the form of that flame. It was as if the flame contained the solution to everyone’s problems.
“A similar thing happened 3 million years ago. When man discovered fire,” someone whispered in my ear.
I looked around to see T. in a brand new kurta pajama, looking oddly out of place without his trademark Superman tee.
“Looking nice,” I complimented him.
“Want to impress Her you know,” he replied, winking at Maa Durga’s idol.
There were two more flame fights wherein in the first one, I managed to secure the ‘essence’ of the aarti and in the second, dad blessed me on the Goddess’ behalf by running his hand, that had brushed the flame, through my hair, thus imparting some of the ‘essence’ to me.
Finally, we huddled together, hands folded, eyes towards the basket of flowers.
Phool…phool…phool (Flowers! Flowers! Flowers!),” everyone chanted, groping for flowers as my dad managed to get me some. I tore up my flowers and gave my friend some petals. He did the same with his friends.
Ektu belpaata nei? (Don’t you have some bel leaves?),” someone put up a million dollar question. And everyone started rummaging in the basket for belpaata. My mom and dad couldn’t find any. They asked the distributor, clad resplendently in a white silk saree with a red border if they had any belpaata. She entered the mandap maze, trying to collect some. Meanwhile, someone had been lucky. A trident-shaped leaf stood out amongst all the flowers, the holder of the leaf triumphant, as if Maa Durga had chosen him out of all the rest to bestow her blessings. The others looked away, trying to be indifferent and act like adults and yet, feeling that irresistible pang of envy inside. Just then, the flower woman came with another basket, bringing with her some belpaatas. Everyone fell on her as she handed the basket to a man, clad in a maroon kurta. He took over the proceedings in an authoritarian way that the woman couldn’t and started asking around if everyone had received the flowers.
Belpaata! Belpaata! Belpaata! (Bel leaves! Bel leaves! Bel leaves!),” came the exclamations from different directions. This must be the only time when leaves get more importance than the flowers. 
My dad tore the tiny scrap of leaf he had managed to get. 
“It’s okay, I don’t need it,” I said as dad gave me a part of his ‘blessings’ or the coveted belpaata. I didn’t pass it on this time. I had gotten a small enough piece, barely visible.
Chheedbenna paata chheedbenna (Don’t tear the leaf),” someone protested against the tearing of the leaf to pieces. But that is how we humans are. We want to get as much as we can, take as much as we can manage, try as far as our last efforts let us.
With the amalgam of gainda phool (marigold flowers) and bits of belpaata between our palms, we closed our eyes and chanted after the purohit.
‘Om...’
The purohit’s commanding voice seemed to bewitch us as we repeated after him. “Namostute!” A kid in front of me exclaimed in a mock-purohit voice.
“You asked me to repeat after him. He spoke like that I swear!” the kid said in his defense as his father reprimanded him for insolence.
“Where are the rest?” I asked T. as another bout of flowers and belpaata began.
“Who? A. and B.? Come on! When have you ever seen them praying?”
“Well, last year, you know.”
“They were in XII grade last year.” He gave me a look that said ‘isn’t that obvious’. “That’s why I am here this year. Else I would have been at home. Sleeping and enjoying my hols. What about you? I always see you in the devotee line. You a fan?”
“Umm…I guess I am one of those flowing-with-the-tide kinda people. And…yes I sort of, am a fan, I guess.”  I replied.
‘Om…’
Another round of chanting ensued.
“Flowers?” a friend of mine offered me some in the third round.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” I inquired, a little surprised at seeing her otherwise uppity self, delving into the nitty-gritty of the Pujo proceedings.
“Why? Doing some pujo work, what else!”
“I thought you didn’t fast.”
“Well I didn’t. So? You need the spirit, not some bullshit rituals that decide whether you can do pujo work or not,” she said with a self-assured flourish, giving me a paltry amount of flowers sans belpaata (as an answer perhaps to my curiosity) and moving on, with a wave of her hair this way and that.
‘I guess I am one of those who go by the rule book.’ I thought to myself, as I threw the flowers at Maa’s feet with all reverence after the chanting.
The final round of prayers doesn’t require you to pray with flowers. We chanted with a namaste pose; I, all the while, wondering what to pray for after the chanting ends. That little amount of time between the end of pushpanjali and the consumption of charnamrito always had me in a fix. I just didn’t know what to say. I sorely wished I had some more mantras to utter. That space, that silence always made me uncomfortable. It was like I was on a phone call with the Goddess and I didn’t know how to open the conversation.
‘Hello? How are you?’
Oops…no…Start again.
‘Hello. Thank you for your blessings. I would like it very much if you could get me a nice job with a nice pay. It would be great if I could learn how to cook, how to take decisions and how to not be awkward. I would love it if…’
And the list would continue. And then I would feel guilty that I was asking far too much. But my heart would crave for ways to say that I wanted miracles to occur in my life, that I wanted to be loved like the princess in the fairy tales, that I wanted to find the answers to all the doubts I have ever had, that somehow somewhere I wanted everything to be just perfect, that I wanted to be assured of a utopia, that I wanted to know why we live the way we do- why we think, behave and act the way do, why we were born at all, and most importantly, importune the God to somehow exist. I was always in a terrible fix and my views swung wildly between atheism, agnosticism and theism. I didn’t want to be caught unawares at the end of my life. I wanted to know now. Then I would check myself thinking that I should pray for serious stuff like health, wealth, joy and happiness. Aaannnnnd….TIME OUT!
Charnamrito arrives and the phone call ends. Tada!   

***
You could use these meanings:
Aarti- A part of puja, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities
Ashtami- Eighth day of the Hindu lunar calendar
Aunjoli- Offering to God with folded hands
Belpaata : Bel or Bael or Bengal quince leaves
Charnamrito- Sweet drink offered after Hindu prayers to break the fast
Dhaak- drums
Dhaaki- people who play drums
Durga- Hindu Goddess
Gainda Phool- marigold flowers
Mahishasur Mardini- Slayer of Mahishasur (a demon) referring to Goddess Durga
Mandap- temple porch/ temporary platform for puja activities
Navami – Ninth day of the Hindu lunar calendar
Pujo- The act of worship
Purohit- priest
Pushpanjali- offering of flowers to Indian Gods. In Sanskrit, pushpam means “flower” and anjali means “offering with folded hands”.
Sandhi Pujo- A puja performed at the juncture of the 8th and 9th lunar day
Shiv-  Hindu God


~~~PUJO SPECIAL~~~


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A disclaimer is needed for this post. This post is dedicated to my brother with MJ style hair (Bhai insists it is HIS style, not anyone else’s since he has always pictured himself with long hair. Okay dude! Cool it! ) and a hat and his Jimi Hendrix fandom. I was recording his band performance when his ardor and the spirit with which the band members-his friends sang and played the guitar got me thinking. Guys! This is not a description or a report of your performance. Maybe this has nothing to do with you guys. It’s just my thoughts going haywire.
The night invites you to immerse yourself in her darkness
To drown your shadows in her deepest recesses
The night calling to each in her own special way
To rest and revel, to sing and sleep, to think and unthink
To come into your own and to break down the barricades and
Bonds of your own making, bonds of love and hate, of dilemma and determination
To allow the night to penetrate into your lives
To clothe yourselves in the blackness of the night
To camouflage yourselves in the music of the moment
“The performance will begin in a little while. Please be patient while the stage is being set.” An announcement blared from the backstage. The audience prepared to wait another few unbearable minutes. It was 12 am already. Many families were bidding goodbyes, marking the end of this year’s pujo. Some were heading to the food stalls to have a dinner of sorts; while others chatted on as before, indifferent to stage shows or the time of the night.
A little music wafted from the curtains. A little testing was on. It was a local band. Three to four music enthusiasts had got together a year or so ago and had been given the final slot of the final day of the pujo. It was a trend that had started two years ago. It was their third year and none of them had planned on this year’s performance. They had not sought a slot since they had not yet formed a formal band. However, everyone wanted the trend to continue and hence, in response to “we want a performance”, “you have already been given a slot” and such persistent statements, they had got a few people together and were planning on singing whatever songs they could remember. After the noon bhogand before evening, a little singing and a little strumming was all the rehearsal they could manage. The rest, the night would tell.
The audience had visibly thinned. Only the performers’ families remained. And some others of course. Friends, music lovers and pujo revellers. And a few pandalhoppers too.

“How much more time?” an impatient kid prised open the curtains and peered into the stage.
“Done, nearly done. In a minute.” said a lanky guy in a greyish kurta and blue denims, patting his long tresses under a black-blue hat.
As if the kid had given them a warning signal, the curtains parted within a minute. Four chairs were placed side by side, with all the singers and the guitarists seated on them. Three guitars and two extra chairs completed the scene. The seating arrangement looked like it won’t be a rock night after all.
The first song set the tone for a romantic gig, a soulful mellifluous night. The singers had succumbed to the night’s amorous lilting clutches. Song after song took one to their personal utopia, their favorite fantasy haven. The stage gave them a chance to live out their ideas, to express their idiosyncrasies cloaked under the shadow of the night and to be their alter egos without sacrificing their existing identities.
After almost every song though, the singers came back to life, stopping to recollect, looking at each other to ask about the next song, changing places and preparing to get engrossed in their next musical number. When they stopped singing, there was chaos. Confusion. Awkwardness. Embarrassment.
A woman waved to a singer on the stage. She mouthed, “Let’s go. Its late” showing her watch. The family of one of the singers was leaving and he was in a dilemma wondering how to get home. They were taking the car. He didn’t know if the others could drop him home. The others lived nearer and could simply walk. But he had some distance to cover.
He missed a beat. They had to start the song again. Some of the people from the front row had left. But the requests for songs kept pouring in. They knew that their music dilly dallied between their passion and the others’ indifference. There are only two kinds of responses to music- either you are an ardent fan or you have nothing to do with it. It’s your luck if the people you live with plug in their earphones to listen to music or to get away from it. After a while though, the first category slides into the latter as their obsession clashes with the tolerance of the people they live with.  
With a time ballpark in mind and the thinning crowd, they concluded their show with a final song request. It was over. Their musical camouflage had ended. Now they were back to their own lives, replete with responsibilities and dependencies, to-dos and pendents. The stage time was over. The alter egos were sent back to their havens, waiting for a time they could come out in the light of the day and be accepted.  

Welcome to a world where novelty is the new obsolete , fast is the new slow, more is the new less and unconventional is the new usual. A world where every new trend is a benchmark in itself, where the word novelty is a misnomer and where you will find yourself an outdated person unless you are faster than the fastest.
“AS-400? You mean like COBOL and CL? That green and black screen ? Your life is doomed dude! Get out of there as soon as you can !” I looked visibly defeated as a senior colleague of mine tagged the technology allocated to me as —-
“O.B.S.O.L.E.T.E. Its over. You want to save your career? Then bolt! Or one day the Java guys will swallow up your jobs like sharks gulp down little goldfishes and don’t even realize it.” I mustered some courage and enquired about a technology I had been given in another MNC. “ I can sympathize with you.” The pompous looking person with two years of experience said to me as if in mock sympathy. “You have some rotten luck… Mainframes? India does not have companies that can afford to buy those smoking hot mega machines , which,sadly, are not so hot anymore.” On hearing these final words of his, I was sure that my career was over before it had even started. I consoled myself somehow saying that at least I have a job, while all the time avoiding to think about those of my friends who were well-placed and many others pursuing higher studies.
As I crossed the road to enter my office building, I was about to punch my access card into the premises when a voice shook me from my reverie.
“Hey Aashi!”
“Oh hi Meeta! What are you doing here?”
“I am joining today. WOW! We will be together after such a long time! Its like a dream come true !” Meeta gushed. 
My spirits rose. As a matter of habit , I blurted out, “Which technology did you get?” Meeta pulled a long face and said ,”Java yaar.” 
“What is there to yaaaar about in this? Java is cool.” I shot back , stung.  She fired away, “There are so many Java pros today . Every second person is a Java person you know. There is cut throat competition.” It struck me that once upon a time, it was said that every second person was an engineer. Today, every second person is a Java pro. Are people growing up faster now? ‘You cleared the competition babe. That’s why you are here. I am not even in the competition.’ I thought bitterly, not able to bring myself to tell her about my “OBSOLETE“ technology.
As if Meeta had read my thoughts , she said .”Java is like OBSOLETE you know. It’s the age of python programmers.“
“Yeah I know. You can swap variables in a single line, something for which you required at least three lines in C”, I replied. And I am far behind C. I am slightly above the assembly level that tells the computer how to add 2 and 2. My thoughts had gone down a bitter lane. Waving my new-found-old friend goodbye, I walked towards my workstation, stomping and muttering under my breath. I fished my tiffin from my bag, ready to pounce. As my office buddies fell hungrily on each other’s food, stories were exchanged and gossip floated about. “Jinping is a clever son of a biscuit. The NaMo-Jinping alliance is a thing to watch out for! ” someone piped in.
“I thought the name was Abe. Shinzo Abe.” I don’t know why I had decided to show off my GK all of a sudden.
That someone laughed at me. “The Japan PM has visited and gone. Its old news Aashi. Its Xi Jingping now. Which age are you living in?”
Yeah, I live in an age of black and green screens, an age of no backspaces and no backups. I thought sarcastically.
Someone else picked a new thread. “Did you hear what happened to Mani?”
“She came half an hour late right?” It was certainly not my day and yet, I had no hold on my tongue.
“Babe, she came late last week . Yesterday, she was caught talking to her boyfriend for half an hour on her Cisco phone. Her manager sits on the same floor . You are turning obsolete, babe.”
That word was getting on my nerves now.
***
I packed up to leave for home, my mind ringing with the word OB-SOL-ETE.
It was as if the “Secret” had come into operation. “Nice phone!” a fellow colleague complimented me. “Thanks! I bought it two days ago”, I smiled, happy for the first time during the day . Then he said again, “Although Motorola has stopped selling MotoG. You could have bought MotoG2 . It came out 4 days ago. MotoG is obsolete compared to MotoG2.” 
My temper had been on the surface all day and now it had reached boiling point. I somehow brought it down, calming myself , telling myself that the word was probably jinxed and it was just a bad day.
But perhaps it was not about the day at all or about the word. Perhaps it was about the era that we are living in . Things become obsoleteas soon as they are invented. Phones age before they can celebrate their first birthday. Age is cracking its whip on us faster than ever. Not even Botox and liposuction seem to be able to put a fullstop or comma to it. It seems even the best technologies are failing. The more technologies we invent to make things last ,the faster they are replaced by newer technologies that claim to outlive their predecessors.
After dinner I sat down to write an application that dad wanted for some bank purpose. When he saw me writing, Dad said, “Are you fond of doing double work? Why don’t you just type out the letter? Writing on paper is like…obsolete!”
That was the final stroke . I said ”Yes dad ! Didn’t you know my middle name is obsolete? ,” and I started penning down my woes on a piece of paper. Obsolete that I am.

The beauty of music, the contentment that results from having stuffed yourself with food, the adda golpo that accompanies every get together- all these things and much much more characterize the bengali spirit. Every now and then, the music, art and dance in me rear their heads and my Bengali roots clutch at my heart. I know Durga Puja is a month away. But the singer in me has started humming dhaaner khete and ekla cholo re. For all the Bongs out there!
The oppressive heat of the morning had given way to a light soothing breeze in the twilight hours. The evening was graduating to a black moonless night. Sudipto breathed a deep draught of the night air. It was quiet around him. He cherished the tranquillity. It was one of the few things he didn’t miss about Kolkata. Although, if asked to choose between the Delhi kerfuffle and the Kolkata hullabaloo, he would gladly take the latter. He picked his guitar from the car and strolled ahead. The breeze whipped his face and sent a wave of contentment through him. He took easy strides across the grass, wanting to take his slippers off and walk barefoot on the sward which gleamed emerald in the night. It did not matter to him that a thousand-plus crowd awaited his songs; he sang only because he wanted to.
The stage was crowded with a dozen people hovering about, trying to get things right. Some way behind him, his bandmates were hauling all the instruments out of the SUV, that had been sent to receive them. Sudipto wandered off to an area away from the stage and came across clusters of people chatting away. Gleeful sounds of laughter, giggles and banter reached his ears. As he came closer, he could hear the phrases that he was accustomed to, in his hometown. 
Hay-bee laagchhish(Looking great!)”, he heard a changda chhele compliment another chhora. It was weird that all the sounds and voices sounded the same to him. It was as if all bengalis had the same voice, the same tone. You would feel as if the woman saying “ki re (what’s up?)or “khaisis? (Had any food?)might just be your mother or sister. In case of his mother, it was not really valid. He saw Maa everywhere. If there was one thing in life that he regretted not doing, it was not taking his mom along with him when he left home. Leaving home had not been difficult for him except that his mother’s crying face had haunted every song of his. He decided to leave on a spur of the moment. It came to him naturally. He never accepted any circumstance that obstructed him from doing what he liked to do. And what he liked to do was to immerse himself in music and let go. Music was his religion and his instruments were his oblations.

***
The audience consisted of two kinds of people-those interested in the band and those interested in the idea of entertainment. A precious few were seated patiently on the front rows. Most of the others were torn between commenting on the politics of the country, discussing the cultural complications of being probaashi (immigrants) bangaalis, ogling at the designer sarees, inquiring about the impending saree melas and…indulging in the favorite bengali pastime- FOOD, all in capitals. Everyone save those precious few, had their mouths full, either with gossip or with kathi roll, ghugni, puchka, biryani or jhaal muri.
Sudipto plonked down on the grass, some distance away from the crux of the crowd. Although he was not someone to be noticed easily since he could easily pass off as a rundown college guy with an old guitar, he still preferred solitude. He squatted cross-legged as if he was about to play the sitar. And his fingers brushed the strings of his guitar, creating tunes his mind liked the most. He looked at his band mates who were being given kingly treatment by the managers. Sudipto abhorred the fakeness of it. He hated the obsequious treatment he would receive whenever he went anywhere as part of his band. He hated the yawning gap in the behavior towards Sud, as he was called by his fans, and Sudipto. He saw Taposh at the forefront of the band, discussing something with a person in a two-piece suit.
Sudipto averted his eyes. He couldn’t understand why it was so bitter between Taposh and himself. He just couldn’t remember when such a rift had arisen. Taposh had always been the hoity-toity guy, the boss, the one with the lead, the one with all the contacts. However, Sudipto was the public face of the band- Sud, as he was fondly called by the people around him. Taposh did not envy this. He did not mind Sudipto hogging the limelight. What bothered Taposh was the fact that Sudipto did not accept him as the boss. He, Taposh, bagged the contracts, drew the schedules for practice and made the arrangements. He was the one who had led the band to fame, who had got the members together, who had found Sud via a common friend and convinced him to join the band. Was Sud grateful to Taposh for introducing him to the world of lucre? It did not really matter to Sudipto. He would have survived on two square meals a day, by taking classes or singing in hotels. He sang because it was his chosen religion. He did not follow any rules. He missed a lot of rehearsals. He cancelled commitments at the last moment. Yet, Taposh persisted with him. Whether it was out of companionship or to keep the band intact, no one knew or cared. All that was apparent was that Taposh and Sud were nearly always at loggerheads. And the bad guy usually was Sudipto.
As Sud mulled over his relationship with his fellow band mate, he felt some auditory aberration. The vibration was not just of his instruments but of a foreign nature. Before he knew it, his hand fished his cellphone out of his pocket. It was time for his show. “Aashchhi (coming)”, Sud spoke into the phone and started moving towards the backstage area.
“Check. Check 1-2-3-check-check.”
“Tone down the guitar a little.”
“Amp up the keyboard.”
Sud had come into his own now. The testing had to be perfect. The sound quality should be just right. Else, he would leave the stage as he had done twice before. This was one of the few matters on which Taposh and he were on the same page.
Sud started humming a Rabindra sangeet song. His melodious baritone tugged at the audience’s hearts and in an instant, all the attention was riveted on him. He, then stopped abruptly and went on with the checking procedure imperiously. The audience, freed from the spell, went back to adda, golpo (chat) and khawa-dawa (grub and nosh).
Finally, the sound was in order and the drums were in place. The members had taken their positions and the audience waited with bated breath. They were scheduled to start with the first song of their latest album.
However, Sud suddenly had an urge to go traditional. He wanted to start with a Rabindra sangeet. He hardly listened to Taposh’s protests that it would upturn their planned circuit. He felt that this was the song-the only song that should be sung that night at the opening of their performance. Before the rest of the band had come to terms with the unexpected change, Sud had closed his eyes and begun with his soothing mesmerizing rich voice-
Graam chhada oi raanga maather pauth Aamaar Maun Bhulaayye Re…”               
(The reddish soil leading away from my village makes my mind wander…)
There was pin-drop silence among the audience. Sud never failed to deliver, never failed to bewilder, never failed to make people fall in love with him. He sang as if to each one, personally; there was a special touch to his singing, as if he physically touched those who listened to his voice. He always sang for himself. All the same, he sang to each one of those who listened to his silver tones.
Taposh played the flute, his second instrument, apart from the drums. The others contributed to the melange in such a way that there was no telling who was singing what. When the song came to a close, there was a resounding applause from the audience as if they were trying valiantly to arouse themselves from the Sud spell.
Soon enough, a new song poured forth from Sudipto’s voice box. It was a soulful one, from their own album- “Beginning from the End”. The Sud spell had everyone in a grip again and Taposh momentarily forgot the issues between them, delving into their music comradeship and revelling in their heavenly synergy. Maybe that is why he put up with Sud. For this duet that united them the way nothing could.
The medley went on for a good half hour with the audience up in a dance. Bengalis don’t need much encouragement for either music or dance. They are literally M.A.D. ; music, art and dance reside in their blood. The audience seemed drunk with music. Sud started with the final song of the night. He looked ahead at the gyrating audience, at the black night, at his alter ego. Taposh was drunk in the music too. His locks had come loose from the rubber band he had used to hold them in place. Sudipto wondered about what he had put the people he loved through. He had hurt his mother, never listened to his father,struck up quarrels with his only friend in the world-Taposh. He had let down people. Even though he had never meant to. He was not made for relationships. Of any sort. He was made for his music. He began and ended with his music. Sud knew what his last song would be.
Shedin dujone…dule chhinu bone…
(Remember that day when the two of us played on the swing in the woods…?)
Ekhon amar bela nahi aar, bohibo ekaki biroher bhar-
Bandhinu je rakhi porane tomar she rakhi khulo na khulo na…
(I do not have much time left now. Its time for me to carry the burden of my solitude.
Do not forget the bond I share with you, the band of friendship we tied with our souls. )  
And then, at the final syllable, all the sounds ceased. His guilt had evaporated. His feelings were mere shadows. Nothing was real now. Nothing but his music.
He saw everyone rushing hither and thither. But he felt still. Oddly still. He couldn’t hear anything. Everything was as if on mute. The movements of the people surrounding him had also slowed down. He felt light, weightless. He looked down. And there it was, Sudipto Basu lying spread-eagled on the stage, his hands clutching his guitar.
***