Category Archives: Short Stories

Y sat typing furiously, every keystroke sending a thrill down his spine. He couldn’t believe it. The Aurebesh font shone on the black screen and the keys exuded a red glint that threw his face in an eerie light. He was finally receiving a response. He knew there was something special about it. It wasn’t just the wallpapers, screensavers, storyboards, movie trailers, e-book excerpts or even the concept art, it was something else entirely. He had felt something unearthly when he had touched it. Something electric seemed to have passed through him. A force.

“Audio by B&O Play! This is going to be our movie screen from today onwards!” announced R gaping at Y’s newly acquired HP Star Wars TM Special Edition notebook.

Y winced. He didn’t want his laptop to be public property too soon. But that is what happens in hostels. Nothing is really ever yours.

“i5 intel core processor and 12GB RAM! You can game your a** out, dude! You are one effing lucky guy!” S marveled, thumping Y on his back.

His roommates were more than ecstatic to have a Star Wars Special Edition notebook in their midst. There were the obvious pluses- the god-awesome audio; the considerably improved movie experience, not to mention the gaming affair. Add to that the Star Wars paraphernalia. The frenzy and the psychedelia surrounding it all was palpable. Y deemed himself lucky and kept thanking his father a million times for the pluperfect birthday gift.
But Y knew that wasn’t all. There was something about the notebook that was arresting. Something exclusively related to him. It seemed as if the notebook was intrinsically oriented towards him, although he knew that was such a stupid thing to say. But within a few weeks of spending time with it, trying to locate that which lent it a strange quality, he had hit upon something.
“Submit your assignments immediately,” the Automata professor ordered.
The class instantly began to hurry about. Sounds of scraping chairs filled the room as everyone went ahead with their laptops to get their assignments checked. Y preferred to wait till the majority had gotten theirs marked. He was possessive about his new laptop and didn’t want anything to happen to it. So he stayed on one of the last benches of the class and tested his code a few times. Satisfied that it was working, he switched to his favorite tab of late. The command prompt. He was staring at the response from last night.

“Hey!” Someone spoke into his ear making him jump.
Y quickly pressed Alt + Tab, which took the screen back to his assignment. Z stood next to him, her straight hair falling neatly on her shoulders.
“Hey–hello” Y changed greeting midway. It was an effort to speak in front of her. They hadn’t spoken in, like, ages.
“I was wondering if you could show me your assignment,” she asked tentatively. “Don’t worry, I have done mine. I just can’t seem to get this last test case.” And she brought over her notebook and placed it next to his.
Y tried to breathe normally while she spoke. He couldn’t drive away the past images from his mind. He guessed she had gotten over him. But he clearly hadn’t. Sure, it had been a fiasco, their being together. But a much-loved fiasco, as per Y. He would give anything to get those times back.
“So, should the files be displayed in this case?” she finished asking.
Some strands of her ramrod straight hair were partly resting on Y’s shoulders. He knew she wasn’t aware of it. He also knew that he himself was painfully aware of it.
“So?” she asked again, bringing Y’s attention to her words. 
Why had she suddenly come to him with her problems? Couldn’t she have asked someone else? Probably no one was willing to help. Y drove the thought away since he knew no one would refuse Z. Guys would create the assignment for her if she asked them. He brought himself back to the current situation and tried to assess the situation as objectively and emotionlessly as he could.
“Umm…let me see…” he said, staring into the code and trying to make out what had happened because he hadn’t heard a single word of what she had said. “Maybe you should put an ‘if condition’ here-”
“Is that yours?” Z asked, pointing to Y’s laptop and cutting him mid-sentence.
Y looked at her and nodded. So, his dear HP notebook had got him some attention from his ex-girlfriend. Atta boy!
“Nice,” she said and smiled.
His heart gave a lurch. Was it the doubt that had brought her to him or was she merely curious about his new laptop or perhaps she wanted to renew their friendship…? He forcefully drove away the thoughts from his mind. He didn’t want to have any expectations. He was just hoping she hadn’t read anything on the command prompt. For all he knew she might have, for the way she had stealthily crept up on him.


That night, he stared at the message, thinking of what to respond.

“Are we watching the movie tonight?” S jumped on him unexpectedly, barely giving him time to switch screens.
What was it these days with people? Since when had they acquired this new habit of jumping on him?
“Uhh…let’s see…I have this thing to prepare for…” Y looked for a valid excuse, some project that they had been given, to fend S off.
“Do you want to- like -top the semester or what?” S said, disgusted. “Come on dude! Get a life! The mobile assignment has a week to go!”
Y thanked S inwardly for reminding him and giving him the excuse on a plate.
“Yeah but I haven’t started yet and if I don’t do it, who will you guys copy from?”
S knew most of the able programmers were kind of tight-fisted and selfish in case of their codes. Y was the only one who freely distributed his code. Open source, in the true sense. The force of the argument was too much for S. He couldn’t afford to lose his assignment which he would be copying from Y.
“Okay dude! This time I leave you. Finish this fast. We gotta live, dude! Life is not all work!” Saying so, he went off for a smoke.
Y heaved a sigh of relief. He switched back to the black screen. The message glowed red as before. Magical. Out of this world. Then suddenly came a swishing sound. The sound of light sabers-one of those special features of his Star Wars Special Edition. A new black window popped up.
A new message winked at him onscreen. This one startled him no end. What was this? Another invitation? As if one wasn’t enough.
But this time, it was from the other group…
Now he wished he had replied to the previous message. What was he supposed to do now? Should he reply at all? Or just close the window?
He kept alternating between various windows- sometimes working on his assignment, sometimes staring at the messages. Finally he fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of galaxies, Tatooine, light sabres and what-not.
When he rose next, the laptop was gleaming where he had left it before, the messages blinking like stars in the galaxy and the system clock showing 10 am. The classes were supposed to start at 9. Thankfully, none of his roomies were in. He guessed they had slept off in someone else’s room after movies and booze. He rushed into the bath, somehow clothed himself, packed his notebook and a couple of books in the bag, and rushed off to class.


After the classes, he decided to wait a while in the library, partly to get some work done and majorly for some privacy. He knew both he and his laptop would be hounded at night. And he wanted to reply to the invitations that very day. For that he needed some solitude. And some research. He was still finding it all hard to believe. He scrolled up and found the series of messages beginning with ‘A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away…’ and started going through each one of them.

Y literally jumped and closed the flap of his notebook shut in alarm. Why on earth were people doing that to him?
“Whoa! I am sorry! Did I scare you or something?” Z’s silky voice caused ripples through Y’s body.
“N-noo…” he stammered. “I was just a bit taken aback, you see.”
“I am sorry…” she said and settled down beside him.
He couldn’t understand why Z was being so friendly with him. Not that he didn’t like it. Quite the contrary.
“Did you finish the mobile assignment?” she asked him.
“No, I was at it.”
He was feeling asthmatic again as her hair brushed against his arms.
“Okay…seems as if you were at something completely different when I arrived. You just shut the lappy so vehemently I thought I had offended you.”
“Hey no no no! Don’t take me wrong! I was just a bit zapped. People have a habit of jumping on me these days, so I’m probably a bit edgy. Anyway, you tell me. How is everything? Made any progress with your assignment yet?”
“Not even started,” she said and grinned.
Y’s breath seemed to catch in his throat as the effect of Z’s grin at close range became palpable. He had worked so hard to get her face off his memory. Obviously he hadn’t succeeded much. But now, he knew her face would be pasted on his mind for weeks.
“Okay, good,” he said stupidly and instantly regretted it.
“’Guess I must get going. Catch up with you later!” And she left, making Y feel stupider than ever. Whoever says ‘okay good’ to an admission of an assignment not done? No wonder they had broken up.
However, that night, as he sat checking his notifications, a message window popped up and Z’s smiling face appeared.
“You know what, let me just get to the point,” she wrote. “I guess I have been making you uncomfortable all this while. Let me be frank, I am not a great conversationalist.”
Y read the messages with open-mouthed surprise. Talk about guilt and messing things up.
“It’s just that I wanted to ask you-”
“Hey mate!” S and R bounded into the room carrying T in their midst. “Time for some bashing!” And they hurled T onto the bed.
“Come on Y! It’s time for revenge!”
And they began to kick T playfully, who squirmed in a mock pained voice.
Y ignored them and went back to the screen. Z had already written a few messages.
“What are you up to, well?” S said and came to Y’s side to see. “Since you got this new laptop, you-”
He stopped, staring at the screen. Then he burst into guffaws.
“Oh my God! Oh my good lord! The guy has got his girl back! He is into a reelaytionship again!” he sang.
Y rolled his eyes. “I have got no girl. She was only-” he began.
“It’s okay dude! We get it,” R said in a mock-comrade voice. “Z is mighty pretty. And in the message, she says: ‘I want to-‘. What does she want? Go ahead-read it!”
Tittering madly and kicking each other, they exited the room with T following in their wake.
“Effing idiots” Y said to himself, but a smile played on his lips at the thought of Z wanting to say something to him. He quickly opened the chat box and began reading. What he read next blew away his mind.
“It’s just that I wanted to ask you if you have accessed the portal yet. I am sorry I saw those messages…I couldn’t help it. You were sitting on the last bench and pondering over that message. I was bursting to ask you then. But I thought it wouldn’t be prudent. Anyway, I tried to tell you today. But I guess you didn’t want to share. Anyway, I just want to tell you that I have joined…”
Y was suddenly all confused. What on earth was she talking about? All he could make out was that she had read his messages. But portal?
“Hey…could you go a little slow? What is this portal you are talking of? And you have joined what? I don’t get it.”
“Oh…you didn’t know about the portal? What about the messages then?”
“What messages?”
“The one I saw on your cmd…”
“Yes…I chanced upon that…I sent a few signals and got a ping…”
“Yeah I know. I reckoned you would know. It’s a portal this thing. This whole special edition notebook. I don’t know if you have felt it but there is a certain force exuding from it.”
Y couldn’t believe Z was recounting his precise experiences! How did she know?
“Yes…I have felt it…But how do you know? If it’s only the special edition that is a portal or whatever you say, how would you know about it?”
“Oh well my brother has it. My elder brother. The moment I held it, I knew there was something special about it. And then came the messages.”
“Who told you it was a portal?”
“When you respond to the message, you will know.”
“So, you responded?”
“But you got it from two of them. You got a choice. I didn’t…”
“What do you mean?”
“I got the second message first. The one from the Dark side…”
“And you accepted?”
“It was hard to resist. Only a few get the message. My brother didn’t. I did though.”
“So, what happens after?”
“You are a part of the inter-galactic team. There is a mission that’s about. And they are recruiting from all the ends of the universe. This was an Earth venture…”
“Stop wowing. Whom are you going to reply?”
That set him thinking. It had been about four days and he hadn’t been able to decide which side he was on. The Jedi or the Sith? Just then, another thought creeped in. Why was Z asking him that? Did she want him on a certain side? Was she being sent for it? Or she wanted it of her own accord? Did she still care for him?
“I don’t know yet,” he wrote.
“I guess I know which.”
No one wrote anything for some time.
“The Dark side is enthralling I guess,” Y typed.
“Yeah maybe…”
But Y knew who he wanted to join. Perhaps they were meant to be on opposite sides.
Master Yoda’s words flashed at him from the screen :
“Chosen you have been.
For the mission inter-galactic.
Awaits you the Jedi.
With you may the Force be.”
Y made his decision. He began to key in his response.

“Accept me master, will you?
With me, the Force is strong.”

He pressed enter and sighed. Switching to Z’s chat box, he wrote, “I have replied.”
“Good…” came from her end.
“You won’t ask whom?”
“I guess I know…Somehow we just end up on the wrong sides. Like we did last time…”
He couldn’t believe Z was finally talking about their break-up. He didn’t know what to reply.
Her messages hadn’t ended though.
“You know, I didn’t particularly want it to end…It just happened. I was not aware…I flared up…you have always been the nice guy. Maybe that’s why they chose you. And the Dark ones chose me…”
Y’s heart had stopped in his tracks.
“Listen…I know there is nothing wrong with you. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. You just accidentally got it from them. The Jedi would love to have you, I am sure.”
“You know, perhaps we are not meant to be together…perhaps we will always be at loggerheads…”
A warmth he remembered from a long time ago suffused his heart. She did feel for him. She wanted him to choose her side.
“No…we can be together if we wish. Nothing can stop us. It is all up to you.”
“I have pledged myself. And so have you…”
“That doesn’t mean a thing. I will bring you back.”
Y knew he wouldn’t let intergalactic wars rive them apart.
He wrote to her,“The Force is strong with us.” 
#MayTheForceBeWithYou #AwakenYourForce

~This post is part of the #AwakenYourForce activity by HP in association with IndiBlogger.~

I took a peaceful slurp of the blackest tea imaginable. It seemed to fill my senses with a warmth that penetrated to the very sinews of my being. Spiky and hot. Just the way the city outside looked as seen from the glassy window panels of my office building. The tall columns of the adjacent buildings stood erect, decorated with the evening lights, sparkling and glittering like the stars that had started dotting the sky. 

As I made my way out a few minutes later, gelling and camouflaging myself among the colorful humanity filling the streets, I felt strangely at ease. Snatches of conversations reached my ears, some distant cackles, some rip roaring laughter, some intense phone conversations. I floated through the mass of vehicles, pedestrians, and hawkers. Stopping at a vendor’s stall, I got myself some chickpeas. Then popping a handful into my mouth every now and then, I made my way to the metro station drinking in the colorful sights and sounds littering the atmosphere. 

There is something about this city that feels alive. I can’t point out exactly what. But it’s like a living breathing creature. When I walk over the overhead bridge and look down, I see an array of reds and blues, the shimmering lights indicating the horde of vehicles. Sometimes I think the city looks even more alive at night.

There is a certain #drive in the city and among the population inhabiting it. A certain conviction, a certain plan in the minds of those who hit the roads every day in search of something. Sometimes, I get a chance to peer into the faces of my fellow commuters or colleagues. And therein I see it. This streak of life. This #drive. This ambition. I think it is a common trait of all the city dwellers. Everyone is on a quest, looking for something, on a path somewhere, leading to some place. And the city is like a conduit, a way to it all.

When I close my eyes and imagine what it must look like from up there among the clouds, I imagine peering down at the majestic Qutub Minar, at the famed Jantar Mantar, at the lotus-shaped temple of serenity, at the old minaret walls of the Red Fort with history etched on them in rosy pink and rusty red hues helping to color one’s imagination, at the luxurious gardens abound with flowers, at the seats of central governance controlling the country, at the high-rise office buildings, at the residential complexes and slums co-existing in a symbiotic arrangement. I imagine the historical sites and the museums taking me to olden days of yore, the days of the city’s youth and glory, of riches and splendor, of being the capital –Indraprastha to being the seat of the Mughal empire. The history and the age juxtaposed with the freshness and the novelty of the day bring to my mind a #design unique to this city.

However, the real way the city speaks to me is via the mouth-watering delicacies abound, the gastronomically pleasing street food, the ceaseless activities and events, the innovative spirit of the people, the vibrancy of it all… 

This amazing (and quite an actual depiction) of Delhi 
is courtesy of Divyam Gupta 😉

But then my dear Delhi has its own mood swings. When it’s angry, Delhi will give you such nail-biting cold that the winds will swish their way to your bones chilling them. When it’s upset, it will give you the driest summer of the desert and the infamous loo winds. But when it feels upbeat and is in the mood for mischief, it will let loose its empyrean hosepipes, and like an impish rogue, will cackle with glee, its thunder-styled laughter deafening you and its revitalizing rains drenching you through and through, driving away the sweat of the season. The #designs of this impulsive city are unfathomable but unimaginably beautiful. There is an ethereal quality to it all. 

My #connect with the charming city though is much more tangible and material. There is the lure of trying on dresses at my favorite shops at Lajpat and Sarojini – the roaming in the markets, the bargaining, ogling at colorful clothes and window-shopping, buying innumerable shoes and countless clips and earrings. I love getting lost in the circles of Connaught Place…chasing the pigeons at the central park…feeding the squirrels that prance down the trees in my college campus…pushing peas through the wires to feed the deer at the deer park…taking scenic pictures and the all-important selfies at the forts in Hauz Khas….checking out the local flavors and popular hangouts, be it the lovers’ point of DU, Khan chacha ke roll, Majnu Ka Tilla, Big Yellow Door or some famed chhole bhature joint, and multiple other such small-scale restaurants that shoot to local fame among college-goers.   

I literally squeal to buy the cute crown of flowers sold outside Select Citywalk. I dance at the scent of old paper and older books at Daryaganj, and salivate at the thought of visiting paranthe wali gali and having naan khataiat Chandni Chowk even though I hardly am able to walk due to the lack of even a single inch of space on the roads.
The charms of the city are too many to be listed. All I know is that I go lovey-dovey and dreamy-eyed when someone says ‘Dilli‘. 

You know the best thing about this city?  

It seems to have a unique #connect. The way people seem to have a trait tying them to each other. Sort of an implicit understanding. An imperceptible nod. A kinship which is evident whenever you meet a fellow city-dweller. An informality and a familiarity will put you at ease as soon as you know it’s a Dilliwallah you are talking to. Phrases like ‘arre yaar’ feel like a soothing balm to you when you perhaps go to a new place and suddenly chance upon a fellow ‘city-zen’. The singsong accent and the oft-used (read overused) words like ‘awesome’, ‘velle’, ‘katta’ are music to your ears. You know then, that there is an umbilical cord that the city has installed in you. Yes, you are a Delhiite, for sure.
When I look around myself, I find a veneer, a greyish patina surrounding everything, like a castle in the folds of clouds. They tag this city as the one of most polluted cities in the world. They call it the rape capital. 

You know why? 

Because the old city is like a kind king. He has been scarred and stained, embattled, ravaged and defeated. But the spirit of the man refuses to falter. He has survived all this while, greyed and withered but hardened from experience. He has welcomed all with open arms. ‘Come thither,’ he said and that continues to be his message.

Remember I was trying to pinpoint that uncanny feeling that makes the city feel alive? A strange but strong conviction? 

I realize what it is now. 

The city feels alive because it is like a large beating pulsating heart, throbbing with the dreams, visions and ideas of millions inhabiting its nooks and crannies. 

If you try to fit the city map in the shape of a heart, you might have to crunch and do a bit of jugaadbut ultimately you will manage it, if not the graphic heart image we have been used to seeing, but at least the biological depiction of heart as we have studied in the secondary school. Because it is true after all, that Delhi truly is Dilwalon ki. It is the unrivaled city of hearts. 

~ #Drive #Design #Connect with Tata Motors and IndiBlogger~


Image Source:
Tanya: “Ummm…Cherry…”
Maan: “That’s my favorite color!”
Well, obviously it was his favourite color. He picked red wallpapers for me all the time, even though it sort of ticked me off. But then I like to see him happy. If scarlet keeps him happy (be it the color or the actor), I was ready to tolerate as many shades of it as he wanted me to wear.
“There are plenty of similarities between us!” came Tanya’s words followed by a wink.
Lately, Maan had started spending too much time with this woman, who looked pretty glamorous, I must say, much more than the previous ones he had been with. Thinking of all the other women he had dated made me cringe a little with unease. But I didn’t mind much, as long as he stayed with me. And that he did, every single day without fail, for more than twelve hours at a time. Sometimes, he demanded so much from me that I would grow a fever and then he would help me cool down. When I grew tired, he would lift me up powerfully and seat me more comfortably, feeding me while he worked. I would feel rejuvenated and recharged soon enough and we would plunge into the work together.
His parents would often object and warn him to stay away from me but he was steadfast in his devotion and love. We would work together and watch movies together. He would talk to his girlfriends also but I would always be there as a silent spectator. He knew and understood every wire of my being and I understood his. Whenever he felt low, I would switch on some nice soothing songs and he would plug in his headsets, which would hurt me a little but I hardly cared. The expression on his face was one to die for. I would slog for him till the last percent of my energy.
On some days, he would put me to sleep for hours while he bathed and had his meals. On others, I would be awake, running his processes, even as he slept. When he was too overworked, he would slump onto my lap, unaware of his own exhaustion and I would keep him as warm and comfortable as I could. Sometimes, I would go to sleep along with him. I wondered at times if he really loved all those women he went out with? Mostly, he would share everything with me. But sometimes, he would go off on his own, without a care or a thought for me. On such days, I would become rigid and unyielding. I wouldn’t start, however importunately anyone insisted.
Maan and I had discovered many new worlds together. I had taught him to shop for the first time. He had wanted to buy a saree for his mother. I took him through endless stores, suggested to him endless colors and finally he settled on a lime-green silk with an embroidered border. Needless to say, his mother loved it. But these days, instead of watching TV shows or movies that I had downloaded for him, he would choose to talk to that so-called dainty damsel- Tanya. Their endless conversations and sweet nothings would pain me no end. But I persevered. This was just another woman, I thought.
Well, Maan and I went back years. I still reminisce fondly that day when he had landed in one of the best colleges and his father had gifted him with…yes…me. Maan had always wanted me. When I was brought into the house, there was a hush and a lot of secrecy. It was his birthday and I was to be his gift. His long-awaited gift. There was a cake, candles and an array of delicacies decorated on the table. I was stowed away in a separate room, festooned with gold and silver streamers. I waited impatiently to be shown to him.
After the cake cutting ceremony, the effusive wishing and the unlimited cheers and laughter, finally arrived my turn. As his father handed me to him, he squealed with delight. It was love at first sight. He looked at me, his face reflected in mine. His features lit up, his excitement knew no bounds. We spent that night together. He didn’t allow anyone near me. Over the next few days, he had pushed many wrong buttons of mine. Eventually though, he got the hang of me and we got attuned to each other’s moods. I no longer rebuffed him or went to sleep when he had some work and he learnt to be less rough with me. He realized that care and attention would go a long way in maintaining our relationship. He had started taking me in his lap and I would be happily nestled in the haunches of my handsome Maan.
I prized the fact that he let very few people touch me. He liked to take care of me in his own way; he would sprinkle me with some lubricant and wipe me with a dry cloth and though it would tickle me and make me laugh, I would sit quiet and proud. Very soon, we were inseparable.
The bell trilled. Whether it was the irregular ringing of the bell (a different sound from what the residents usually made) or Maan’s eager yelp and leap out of the bed, I can’t say but I instantly knew and perceived it as a bad omen. I was not much mistaken. Dressed in a deep sanguinary shade, Tanya looked, I must admit, ravishing, making my glassy crimson hue appear pale in comparison. Her lips had been painted a luscious red and she came and sat down on the bed beside Maan.
On the bed! How could he allow this? It didn’t matter if his parents sat on the bed, even though he expressed irritation whenever they stayed too long, saying he had work even though all he would do is watch a movie with me (which obviously made me very happy). But this woman? No woman had ever met him in flesh and blood. In fact, as per his wishes, I had helped him meet all sorts of women. I had helped him talk, suggested him words, corrected his spellings and now he had outgrown me and invited this abominable piece of halfwit home! The bed had been ours; only the two of us had shared it for so long. All through his college, right up to his job. And now, this witch had come to cast a nasty spell on my beloved. I simply couldn’t let that happen. My temper reached boiling point and my insides seethed. Maan apparently understood and took me in his arms.
‘There! You witch! Look! He takes me in his arms!’ I wanted to shout at her. Just then, he put me down on the nearby table. He had removed me from my throne! My bed! What unearthly spell had this woman cast on my dear Maan?! They spent the entire day together, chatting and laughing, ignoring me completely. At long last, when the light of the day had vanished outside the window, she got up to leave.
“Finally! She is leaving!” I breathed to myself. But Maan apparently had other plans.
“Come on, stay on a bit longer. I will drop you…” he insisted. My core would have burst into a million chips if he had said another word. But gladly, he didn’t. She left and I saw him meander about a bit, fetching some snacks and finally settling down to talk to me. I had cooled down by then. I could hardly help it. His eyes staring into mine calmed me and I forgot all my earlier ire at his behavior. I was back to listening to him and ready to show him my latest music and movie downloads when…
“Heyy darling…” a face popped up. Maan’s countenance cheered up significantly. Although I was glad to see him happy, I was far from it when I espied the source. Tanya had come to haunt his virtual life as well. Well, they had started their relationship online…so this was not so unexpected. Nevertheless, it caused the connections within me tighten in envy. He spent the entire night talking to her and writing XOXO unlimitedly. In the process of converting his keystrokes, I desperately wanted to replace his kisses with punches and his hugs with fiery emoticons. Sometimes I tried it too, eliciting a shocked reaction from her.
“Sorry! That was a typo!” Maan covered it up with ease. Anyway, I wasn’t made to interfere with my inner workings.
So, I wrote helplessly and sent endless messages. And then before I knew it, he had changed the wallpaper. He had pasted her horrible picture all over my face. I felt like taking off the Tanya-styled mask he had given me and replacing it with a nice red clear complexion that he always liked. But Maan didn’t show any signs of changing the wallpaper.
My body turned feverish, I was seriously ill and weak. My energy was lower than 10% and I flashed a red signal, hoping that he would see it. But he was oblivious to such things now. At one point of time, he would never let my energy flag below 60%. He kept me nourished at all times. But now, he worked me ruthlessly, hitting my keys with wild and crude abandon. I was balanced on his chest, so close to him and yet so far. All he cared about was for the one at the other end of the Great Wall.
From that night onwards, we spent more time than we had ever spent before. But it was a time entirely devoid of me; there were no intimate activities, no movies together, no casual browsing through my features, only Tanya’s face covering every inch of mine.
There was once a time when he loved to explore my depths. My mystery enthralled him and he would sit for hours on end, trying this or that, sending me one message or another. We spent so much time together, conversing in a black world in white letters. It took him some time to learn my language but he was a sharp chap. And I helped him with all my available memory and power. When he went wrong, I would supply him with hints on how to go about things. He made many mistakes initially. Misspellings, wrong commands, stupid questions. But I was patient. For every mistake, my stern yet constant and somewhat kind response would be: “Wrong command. Try again.” After stumbling a hundred times was he able to discern the first correct step. I helped him search for the solutions and he applied them on me. Sometimes, they would backfire and he would shut me out. But he was tireless. He would start again and we would try again together to communicate. After many such hits and trials, tutorials and manuals, he succeeded in uncloaking all my mysteries.
Now, his fingers would slide over me with ease, giving commands and getting his work done. His love for me was palpable and patent. It was hard to match it. At one point, it bordered on addiction as his parents complained. I had no complaints though. Our lives had blended beautifully.
But nothing lasts forever, not even well-coded programs. And so, his other side started taking hold of him, he started searching for women, talking and befriending them. At first, I was obliging and would gladly navigate to such sites but after the episode with Tanya when I saw him drift away from me, I tried to stop him, to allure him away by presenting him with advertisements of shoes, phones and such appurtenances.
“Oh these damned ads again!” he screamed and closed every one of them. Nothing, not even a video game could restrain him now. All he wanted was that wretched witch.
Within the next few months, everything took a turn for the worse. I was bedecked with photographs. Endless photos of the two of them in traditional attire, garlanded and grinning like idiotic apes. One such picture was selected as the wallpaper to cover my face, which he no longer felt like seeing these days. Soon, the bride had come to live with him. In the very room where we had lived for so many years! I was closed and placed neatly but sternly in a corner for many days. I preferred to keep my head down lest I should be too disturbed by the events of the room.
After a few weeks which seemed to me like ages, I was called for service again. Even though I was dreadfully hurt and madly cross with Maan, I didn’t have the heart to deny him my services when he came to me after such a long time. I enjoyed his sweet sure tapping and his careful usage of my keys. And then came the worst part.
“I have to go for some work, love, I will be back in an hour or so. You can watch something if you like.”
Maan’s words cut through my processor like nothing had before. How could he? I would never deign to serve this witch. I would not have her touch my smooth glassy face or my neatly labelled keys.
“Okay dear” came Tanya’s reply and to my horror, she started fiddling about with my keys, pushing them and pressing them unnecessarily even where less force would have sufficed. But I too was determined to thwart her. She clicked on a movie (Maan’s favourite and hence, my favorite as well). I bore down on her with all my strength.
“This version of VLC media player cannot be played…” I displayed a fiery orange dialog box that refused to leave the screen.
‘There you go! Now try watching the movie!’ I said to her in my CPU. She got sick of me after a while and had to shut me down. I had never before been so badly manhandled. I so wished that Maan would come back.
A year passed and things finally started turning in my favor. Tanya had started throwing tantrums. She demanded too much and was a constant grumbler. The first fit that Maan had was when she spilled nail paint onto some of my keys, thus putting them out of use for a good number of days. So furious was he that he didn’t let her touch me for many weeks after that. I was delighted. My spirit was finally returning.
“I have been given a new project and will need to work till late, so don’t wait up for me…” Maan called up Tanya and explained the situation to her.
No words could be sweeter to me. The wallpaper had changed back to his favorite plain crimson. Finally, I had him to myself. We were together again-Maan and I, his beloved laptop.

Image Source:

 ~published on YourStoryClub~
“I…promise…to be true to you…in good times and in bad…in sickness and in health…I will love and honor you all the days of my life…”

She pressed a button on the remote and the screen froze. She did not have time to indulge in movies now. A lot needed to be done. Her gaze swept the room she was in. The bed sheets were rumpled and crushed. The pillows lay on the floor, which itself was strewn with a variety of articles ranging from safety pins and clips to empty packets and unwashed glasses. There was a mound of clothes overflowing from the clothes hamper. She sighed. It would be a long time before she would be able to lie down on the bed with her chores all done.
Her mind went back to a month ago. They had brought both the families to a truce. It was a hard fight but they had somehow managed it. The story was not very unusual. Her father was dead against the match and his mother too was not willing to have a non-khatri daughter-in-law thrust upon her. ‘After all, my son is an MBA grad.’ she would say proudly. The love story and the battle to get together was almost every Indian couple’s story these days. Both of them had left no stone unturned in saving their four-year-long relationship. They had used trick and truth, hook and crook, peace and war; whatever they could to make sure that they would be united in matrimony.
It had been a mere few weeks since they had exchanged thick rose garlands and taken seven rounds of the holy fire. Now as she sat, waiting for her lover-turned-husband, who was currently on a call in the next room, she wondered whether she had taken the right decision. How could she know whether he was the right man? What if her parents had been right about ‘today’s men who turned rogue after marriage’? What if she started feeling lonely? She certainly felt so now as the mountain of household chores loomed large in front of her.
As her thoughts threatened to sabotage her work, she decided to snap out of the stupid vortex of her disturbing theories and resolved to get some work done. The rooms had to be dusted, food cooked and a truck full of clothes had to be washed, the white ones separately. She huffed. As she emptied the laundry basket, a voice boomed from the screen. 
“I…promise…to be true to you…” 
Her husband had switched on the movie and was walking towards her now. 
“In good times and in bad…in sickness and in health…”
He paused the movie and started speaking, his face turned up in a smile, “In the house and outdoors…in the cooking and the cleaning…in the washing and the sweeping…”
Now he resumed play. “I will love and honor you all the days of my life…”
The actor finished the line and he pressed the pause button again. She giggled as he picked up the dirty laundry and started segregating them into piles.
“Come on, leave them, I will manage…” she said. He picked up a large stack of clothes and took it with him to the washing machine. He undid the band fastening the packet of Ariel washing powder and sprinkled some all over the dirty clothes. She had followed him and now, she asked, “Hey..what is with all this?”
He looked at her with a smile,”What is what?”
She giggled and said,”Why are you being Mr. Cleaner? Trying to wash the clothes and all?”
“Oh it’s simple. Didn’t you hear the vows? I am just sharing the load, sweetie.”
Saying so, he kissed her. She knew now that she had taken the right decision. She would never feel lonely or burdened. They were both in this together.
I am writing for the #ShareTheLoad activity at in association with Ariel.

The black Sedan inched its way slowly through the traffic. A young man in a black dapper two-piece suit sat in the rear seat, fiddling about with some buttons on his 8-inch touchpad. Another man, slightly older, was at the wheel, sweating away, despite the lowest possible temperature of the aircon. He wore a brownish white shirt and similar hued pants, which looked as if they were worn everyday without washing. The driver applied the brakes suddenly as the car in front of him jerked to an abrupt halt. A second man, barely a man but a boy, younger than both the men in the car but as shabbily dressed as the driver, sat in the passenger seat beside the driver’s, both timid and pleased, trying to gauge the situation but mostly keeping to himself.
“Shit!”, exclaimed the smartly dressed man in black at the back. “Shit! I will be late again! This place will never improve!”
The traffic moved painfully slow, increasing the man’s impatience and making him swear. The driver tried to make a left cut into the service lane. But that happened to be a bad idea. The lane was narrow and many other drivers had had similar thoughts, hence cramming their vehicles into the congested lane. There looked to be no way out. Except for moving in first gear. The driver moved on, the owner providing him a fillip via his invectives. All of a sudden, a dog ran in front of the car, tottering and puttering about, unable to decide which side to move and then finally dashed to the left, thus making the driver swerve violently to the right and jerk to a stop. There was a sickening crunch and the owner looked up, livid. He finally extricated his eyes from the tab, abandoned it for the time being and got out of the car, slamming the door. The car’s right front headlight had smashed into the pavement on the right. In a bid to save the dog, the driver had driven it straight into the pavement, stopping just in time before a huge dent could be inflicted on the door.
The man’s face grew red and he snatched the driver’s shirt collar, shaking him violently. He slapped him twice. Thrice. Hard. So that the red of his fingers marked their shape on his cheek while the other boy looked on, agitated. The onlookers now had a scene to behold and their frustration on the traffic sort of abated a little. The other guy in the car had got out by now and watched the owner manhandle his driver, punch him in the face and once in the ribs, all the while raining expletives on him. The younger boy’s heart went out to the driver, feeling embarrassed at such an erosion of dignity and the loss of self-respect. The driver’s face was expressionless, his head bowed while he bore the treatment inflicted by his employer on him. The other guy wondered if the amount would be deducted from his meagre salary. Perhaps it would. After the owner of the car had his fill of the other’s dignity, they set off and finally reached a large bungalow where he resided. The car had to be taken for repair. Before that, the servants proceeded to a nearby tea stall to shake off the episode. The younger man brought two cups of tea, offering one to the injured driver.
“Where are the biscuits?”, he demanded and the young servant went to get some biscuits. “Here”, he handed them to the driver, who began to sip his tea, one hot sip at a time. “Aaaak-thoooo!!”, the driver spat the tea out on the young servant, his shirt and a part of his chin bearing the brunt. “What kind of tea was this?”, he ordered and scolded his younger counterpart for a crappy tea. The boy looked at him, astonished at the change in his behavior, indignant at the treatment he had received after his sympathy and feelings for him. When the older servant crumpled and threw the cup away, the boy’s feelings for him had evaporated. In its place, was born a lingering dislike, a feeling that the man had been given an apt deal by the employer. He went away, his faith shaken.     

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.
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.

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.  

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.