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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

Babu’s Gents Beauty Barler

In Carnatic, Music, Music, Short Story, Social, Writing Assignments on June 23, 2013 at 10:34 am

 
 

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I entered the barber shop via a hidden and decrepit side-street. I gently stepped over Jimmy – that lazy dog sprawled across the entrance to the barber shop. It noticed me after I had crossed over and quickly stood up to wag it’s tail enthusiastically. Jimmy, and that included every mongrel here named so, practiced the art of the welcome at the slightest hint it may be required. This was the third Jimmy that stood guard at the steps in the past few years. I acknowledged him by calling it’s name. He must be a barber’s karmic avatar, just like the previous two, unable to break free from the cyclical karmic forces that tied them down to a barber’s shop. He let out a contended high-pitched whine that quickly lowered in pitch to a wide silent yawn as he coiled around himself for comfort and sleep.

I deftly pushed the glass door that had a life-size sticker of a smiling woman’s face with hands clasped in a ‘namaste’ position. This was all Babu the barber had to offer as a receptionist and I was OK by the lack of fanfare here. The banner on top of this shop provided me with gentle amusement. ‘Babu’s Gents Beauty Barler’ it proclaimed, mocking my fine sense of linguistic prowess and shaking my firm opinion on a gender biased cabal and profession. This was good. One already had a sense of psychological trimming-down outside the barber shop; and by means of a reverse meta-physical extrapolation: the real trimming of real overgrown hair awaited inside Babu’s parlous: The haircut.

“Come, come” Babu invited me in with his typical South Indian hospitality, anglicizing a word-pair borrowed from his native tongue – Tamil, that had a general predilection for reduplication. In Tamil, simply stopping with the single word “Come” would have meant giving the guest a partial welcome. An incomplete invitation bordering on business-neutral. Babu’s was different. This was home and it demanded completeness in all words, deeds and actions.

He said that out loud enough to mean a general invitation on behalf of the few contended men sitting inside. I could count at least three of them that were overstaying their welcome that only Babu’s could provide. Each one of them felt obliged at that instance to make light conversation with me sometime during the course of my haircut. A self sustaining bio-sphere of happiness. That was what drew me in. A momentary hypnotizing event, this haircut. I would pick on elements of this parlor, as I reclined on my chair to ruminate on it’s divine purpose within this cozy clam-shell of a barber shop.
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Blood, Sweatshop & Tears

In Short Story, Social, Women, Writing Assignments on May 14, 2013 at 8:08 pm

 
 

APTOPIX Bangladesh Building Collapse

 
 

The dust-fog lifted swiftly into the air. For a few minutes that followed, the eclipsed scorching sun cast a gloomy shadow on a six-storey garment factory plaza, now pancaked into a two-storey rubble.

Selva rushed to the tiny window the size of an exhaust vent, to investigate the loud explosion.  A thought raced across his mind: Indu is dead
 

 
The local elections were in full swing, and political rivalries could turn up anything – even a cycle-bomb. As he peered outside, he had an eerie sense that he might be peering through a different window. The familiar view of a brick-clad facade of the drab and decrepit six-storey garment factory refused to greet him today. What greeted him today instead, was a rubble-heap of deathly proportions: fallen concrete beams with ripped-off and twisted metal rods, crumpled factory floors, and caved-in ceilings.

But the reason he was shell-shocked and the blood drained from his face, was the wordless realization that thousands just like him worked in the garment factory that this building housed.

And there was Indu on the fourth floor of this collapsed building. Buttons Section, third row to the right, next to window the size of an exhaust vent. Always waving her red dupatta through the vent-window at the sight of Selva getting off his clackety-clack Hero bicycle at 8:00 AM every weekday morning. Just like she did today. He had waved back to her. Where is she?

The floor manager was screaming his head off.

“The workers are trapped!” he yelled. “Let’s get them out”

Selva heard loud wails coming from another worker who was calling out to her sister somewhere in that collapsed building. There was instant chaos and panic on the floor. Selva was caught up with the rushing crowd, he rushed down the stairs and moved quickly to the high gates that fenced in the garment workers. The security guards did not budge to their request of opening them as it was not the appointed time for the gates to be opened. Some of the workers scaled the high fence.  The guards were quickly overpowered. The gates swung open and a burst of men rushed out towards the collapsed building. A dust cloud emerged behind them with unmatched flip-flops and slippers strewn about in it’s wake.

There was an undefined and invisible periphery around the collapsed building where the army of men suddenly stopped.

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Gudiya – A doll that saved me

In Short Story, Women, Writing Assignments on April 28, 2013 at 10:22 pm

 
 
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Sindhu clutched the green sheet that covered her, as she lay on the stretcher.  She stared at the ceiling.  She was parked in a freezer cold room with two other patients awaiting their turn at Operating Theater #3 of St. John’s Hospital.  She shivered.  She wished the ordeal would be over soon. She let her tears roll down her cheek and wet the joyless hospital pillow.

Her world came crashing last week.  Dr. Srinivasan made it clear, the baby needs to be aborted.  Sindhu was six months into her pregnancy.  The baby had already assumed a life of it’s own. Stuffed toys of every pastel color and shade filled the baby room. She gently stroked her bump.  The loss of motherhood was devastating.

Her stretcher moved forward suddenly without notice, as the nurse proceeded to Operating Theater 3.
 

 
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The miracle of childbirth eluded Sindhu for over five years after that first aborted journey into motherhood.  So long, that she almost gave up on conception. She conceded that having a baby would be a miracle, second only to the survival of their strained marriage. Dr. Geetha was her last hope. All else had failed so far. She visited her once a month. The fertility clinic was becoming an all too familiar place.

“These reports do not indicate any abnormality. Just take some time off from work. Go to a resort, a place of pilgrimage maybe…anything to take your mind off of your stress” said Dr. Geetha. Sindhu found that extremely difficult, that was like asking her to stop thinking of pink elephants.  The pink elephants immediately filled her thoughts and refused to move out.

“Where is he?” Sindhu looked around for Ramesh. “He should be back from the pharmacy by now.  Where is he?”

Maybe he met a friend and went out for tea? Oh God! I hope he does not disclose the purpose of our visit! Such a blabbermouth, that Ramesh, waiting to broadcast and make public the most intimate of secrets!

Could you believe he actually told his mother! Totally uncalled for, she has no right to know! And how is she going to help us anyway? She is probably going to start a chain-mail, asking everybody to forward it to ten other strangers.

Before long everybody in the universe will come to know Sindhu was “having problems conceiving”, as the mother-in-law had once hissed furtively into the phone, to some other crony friend of hers.

“Taking my mind off” she told herself as she picked up a tattered Femina magazine and decided to continue where she had left off last week.  She found the page missing and torn-off. She showered her irritation on Ramesh, who eventually appeared with a large green tender coconut in his hand and a still-warm newspaper-wrapped packet of idlis – those fluffy steamed rice dumplings that she loved.
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The anklet bells went dead

In Carnatic, Music, Music, Political, Short Story, Social, Women on April 20, 2013 at 11:04 pm

 
 
 

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Bhanu Devi left the small water tap running while she scrubbed off the dried-up blobs of henna paste on her palms and feet. As the olive green henna dregs, washed away on the white tiles of a dimly lit bathroom, an intricate bloody-red pattern emerged on her palms and feet. She reminisced on her own wedding preparations of a long time ago.

“Not even a mosquito should find an open spot to land” demanded her mother to the one applying the henna design, a day prior to her wedding, some three decades ago.

With that, the design grew even more intricate. Bhanu Devi snapped out of this dreamy haze when she heard foot steps behind her.

“Don’t waste the water” said Meera Bai the prison warden, rather stiffly.

Bhanu Devi looked at her palms. They were flush red with the henna design. Yes, they were intricate. Yes, a mosquito will find it difficult to find an open spot to land. She turned her palms over to reveal an equally red finger tip and nails. She weaved her fingers together and imagined herself as a dead corpse. She would make a pretty one, she thought. She shut the tap, picked up her white saree and gave it a quick wiggle. She was prepared to die.

Meera Bai escorted her back to her cell. It was too early for the other prison mates to be awake. It was 3:00 AM on a cold Tihar jail Thursday morning, and Bhanu Devi’s anklet bells proved an insufficient wake-up ringtone for the deep sleepers. She passed Rupali the prayerful, Mohsina the beautician, Savitri the musician and Jamila the vaastu expert. The anklet bells were Savitri the musician’s idea. They were all behind bars, they were all fast asleep. They knew each other for more than a decade now. They were the survivors who lived past an alarming mortality rate in this notorious maximum security prison for hardened criminals. She stopped at her tracks, as she felt a tug at her saree. She looked down. It was Jamila the vaastu expert, kneeling down, one hand holding the prison bar and the other, Bhanu Devi’s white saree.

“Face east, you will attain moksha” she whispered fiercely. Having said that she let out a loud wail and started crying.

Just the previous night, Mohsina the beautician applied the henna on Bhanu Devi’s hands and feet. She was constantly reminded of her brief as the rest of the girls giggled – “Not even a mosquito should find an open spot to land”

Rupali the prayerful, read from the scriptures, but they did not have the patience to hear it. So she slipped into a love triangle Bollywood potboiler. “Rupali, tell us what you would have done, if you caught your husband cheating?” They actually knew it in great detail, and needed nothing to jog their memories. This unusual night was a last supper of sorts, and it threw up unusual questions. They already knew that Rupali had made it impossible to find any trace of the victim – her cheating husband, and his illicit lover, some two decades ago.

“Let us not dwell in a past where we can never find redemption. Memory only serves to confirm our rotten selves.” Rupali slipped into a simple sermon to an attentive audience of four that night. “Only action is a great redeemer, hence let us do good deeds”

Bhanu Devi leaned forward to clutch Rupali, but stopped abruptly realizing that she had pasty henna on her hands. “Thank you for keeping me alive in this dark world”

Mohsina the beautician pulled her gently back and signaled to Savitri the musician to wipe the tears from Bhanu Devi’s face “Just dab, not wipe. We do not want the kajal to smear the entire face”

Savitri the musician made it abundantly clear that the anklet bells be of the seventh note of the swaras. The “Nishadha” or the high pitched “ni” of the musical scale. “Nothing else would do” she had mentioned to Lalu the pimp, who was a tone deaf gate-keeper of prisons, and got it right after the fifth try. “Ni, you bloody idiot!” yelled Savitri the musician loudly into his ears. “Ni, Ni, Ni, SaRiGaMaPaDhaNi, Ni, Ni, get it?”

Lalu, finally got it by sheer luck. It was the luck of trial-and-error. The anklet bells matched the damned “Ni”, a high-frequency note that Savitri the musician swore you could hear from the other side of the universe. It was her damned idea, that this high pitched note, could be heard loud and clear from a distance. Even from the gallows, that is.

Jamila the vaastu expert, gasped for breath, by which time everybody was awake. “Do not worry darling, we are with you!” cried somebody in the dark and it was clear it was a male voice.

Bhanu Devi walked the 240 steps north, 300 steps east, up a small staircase of 5 steps, 34 steps right and across the multi-faith temple-mosque-church for lost causes to arrive at the gallows. “Hey, Bhagwan!” said the hangman as he nervously slipped the black mask over her face and proceeded to tighten the noose that he hoped would not fail. He was no professional hangman. But they said they will pay him Rs.5,000 if he gets it right. They forgot to tell him it would be a woman though. India’s first woman to be hanged to death. “Beyond rarest-of-rare cases” he thought to himself as he pulled the lever.

Bhanu Devi slumped out of sight and into the dark gallows. She did make a valiant attempt to jangle the anklets in the depths to produce the “Ni” that Savitri assured would reach their ears. That she had moved on from this world to another.

“Did you hear that?” asked Savitri at around 5:01 AM that fateful Thursday morning. That high pitched “Ni” reached her ears.

Three times before it went dead.

 
 
 
Notes

  1. Pranab clears way for first-ever hanging of a woman
  2. Vijay Madhav’s cover – ARR’s Uyire/Tu Hi Re
  3. The Death Penalty Worldwide
  4. “It’s like living in a graveyard.”
  5. Dearth of hangmen in India

 
 
 

 

Other Short Stories
bharathi raghu pieta
A Delivery in the Slow Mail Lesson One – Mayamalavagowla Gudiya – A doll that saved me

 
 

 

Stand by Me

In Short Story on April 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm

 
 
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She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

As Bhanu rose from the Obstetrics and gynaecology ward’s creaky teak wood bench, her right hand reached for the wall behind her. Her sweaty palm rested on the Mumbai Government Hospital’s white-washed wall as she steadied herself. It left a pudgy palm print on the wall that would soon dry up from the warm air being circulated by a monotonous sounding ceiling fan. Her polio-stricken left leg was a bit shorter than the right. Her awkward gait made her lean back as she moved forward. She walked carefully because she believed she was pregnant. She had sat on this bench for over an hour and was quite happy to hear the nurse call out other pregnant women’s names. The book she was pretending to read was a bound copy of ten tattered Femina magazines of five years ago. It provided for her the perfect foil to her confused eyes that were brimming with tears. Her neighbor on this creaky old bench was wearing a veiled hijab and was emanating a strong perfume that made Bhanu’s eyes water profusely. She looked at the door through watery eyes, behind which the soothsayer-doctor might be seated on his throne, deciding for each that entered, if they were pregnant or not.

“Bhanu” called out the nurse with a green folder held tightly in her petite manicured hands.

Bhanu never thought that she was capable of falling in love with a man, let alone bear a child for him. To be bestowed with these strange magical powers was unthinkable. Her thoughts, more than her legs, bore the brunt of the disfiguring attack when she was three years old. She was the last girl child for her mother and the youngest among three other sisters. She grew up in a poor slum neighborhood in Mumbai, hopping over open sewers and landing on firm ground yonder. About a year ago, she almost stumbled but fell into the arms of a handsome priest – Fr. Renju Thomas. A young lad brimming with such spiritual joy and an amazing tenor that reverberated within the church that Bhanu later frequented. Thus began an unlikely romance. She never revealed it to anyone, including herself for a long time. It could not possibly exist where womanhood was nullified by such a disfiguring desease.

Fr. Renju found himself rehearsing a lot more on his tenors than before. Without realizing, he had added a few pompous hand gestures. There was an accident eagerly waiting to happen between the two.

[…continued]

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