By Rashid Askari

The rusty old bus skidded to a halt with a screech of brakes. The engine stopped with an ear-splitting sound. Exhaust fumes were winding into dark clouds. It was a routine picture. There was, however, plenty of room for controversy as to whether it could be called a bus. It was little bigger than a minibus and much smaller than an ordinary one. It looked like a tin-can with a turtle neck. People would call it murir tin. This grotesque shape was made by a local carpenter-cum- bus mechanic who went by the name of Dilu Mistry. Rumour had it that he was capable of making a jet engine only out of the motor accessories. However, the proof of the pudding was never in the eating in Dilu Mistry’s case. If ever asked, clever Dilu would wear a mysterious smile on his face that left a cryptic message that his hidden worth was one of the unsolved mysteries of the locality.  Dilu Mistry’s name was so strikingly inscribed on the turtle-neck’s body that it would tickle your fancy on sight. But the optical attraction would fly out of the windows after you had squeezed into it through the narrow door. Jam-packed with passengers the motor turtle used to move so sluggishly that it would take the whole day to cover the distance of about fifty miles between Rangpur and Gaibandha suffering at least a couple of engine failures. It might have amused people to call it a buffalo-cart, but they were left with no second choice.

Haripada would travel between his home in Mithapukur and workplace in Rangpur once a week. Every Thursday he would come home in the evening, stay one day and two nights and the next Saturday go back to his workplace. He was a lecturer in English at a non-government college on the outskirts of Rangpur town. He joined the college immediately after he had completed his Master’s from Dhaka University. He could have got a much better job in Dhaka, but he missed it for no fault of his own. Dhaka on and after 25thMarch (1971) was blazing. The horrific Operation Searchlight was stalking through the city. Mujib had declared independence of Bangladesh and been taken prisoner. The marauding Pakistani armed forces had overrun the capital and unleashed a reign of terror upon the defenceless people. A mighty eagle swooped on the innocent chicks.

When the buffalo cart driver with a stubbly beard braked hard, the passengers dozing fitfully woke up with a start. But Haripada was not one of them. Nor was he wide awake. Seated by a window he was brooding over his life. How things had been out of joint over a few days! The son of Kalipada Master and the grandson of Bishnupada Master had to be Haripada Master. People would call him Professor. Lecturers of non-government colleges were professors in the eye of the common people. But Haripada was not happy with his position. He was not willing to take up his ancestral profession. He had rather a mind to serve in the civil service and had the ability too. But a violent storm from the western sky had dashed all his dreams.

“Get off the bus. You, the bloody Bengali. Get cracking.” A throaty voice boomed like a rumble of thunder.

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by Aishwarya Ganesh

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My paternal grandpa was nearly bald. He did, however, have some hair to call his own until his last breath! This vision of my grandpa is etched in my mind to eternity and, that is why, I manage to crackup a smile when my heart weeps without his reciprocation.

“Remember me, as long as this life as a human still cares to remind you” — these words of his echo even today and render tranquility. The chapter of thata-thati* and me stopped being drafted when the relationship transcended beyond corporeal pages. The love, affection and care that is bestowed upon us is irreplaceable and truly defies the life-death continuum.

I am now twenty-one. My grandparents had been around me for two whole decades. I was cosseted beyond limits by the love they showered, their pampering and their pardoning. We used to all eat together, laugh and make merry at the dinner table, solve problems and discuss issues over a crumb of bread, tickle our funny bone while sipping a cup of coffee. The memories are endless, and the joy, the tears that well up are priceless.

By Padmini Krishnan

I closed my eyes for a minute, exhausted. The train huffed into Eunos. We had five more stops to reach our destination. I opened my eyes to some unknown fear and confusion. My hand felt empty. Had I missed my handbag?

“Vikas!” my inner voice said.

“Vikas! Where is Vikas?” I screamed.

My husband raised his head from his mobile in confusion.

As the train doors closed, I could catch a glimpse of Vikas running in the platform, his little head bobbing up and down.

I stood near the train doors, shaking; my body soaked despite the chill.

I vaguely heard a woman assuring me that my child would be found soon. As soon as we got down in the next stop, we hurried over to the passenger service center. My husband calmly reported the particulars of our child.

“How old is your son?”

“Five.”

“He knows his name and address, of course?”

“He knows nothing. He has the Down syndrome.” replied my husband, looking at me, irritably, as if it was my fault.

It was evident from the guy’s expression that they did not come across missing cases frequently.

He seemed sure that Vikas would be found. The authorities concerned had been notified.

We sat in the platform, waiting, as the trains rolled across, spilling out a few passengers and taking in a lot of them.

by Neera Kashyap

Ikk ōnkār satināmu karatā puraku nirapǎ’u niraver akāl mūrat ajūnī sepàng gurprasād*

Kartar Kaur murmured words from the holy book under her breath, aware both of their sacredness and the constriction in her throat that refused to leave. Sometimes she could continue repeating the mantra without a break but mostly she would falter, grope for the next phrase and lose it in the shortness of breath. Even when the repetition went on for a while, her mind struggled to invoke onkar, the one constant. For the one constant remained Harpreet …her Harpreet…who had disappeared without a trace twelve years ago. A ‘suspected militant’ was all that remained of his identity. Except in her heart…her gentle son, a poet at heart, a philosopher in his soul.

The festivals and festivities of the village had long ceased to interest both her and Gurmeet Singh since the disappearance. They no longer went anywhere, and nobody asked. She knew that many mothers had lost their sons in that terrible decade following the desecration of their holiest shrine, Sri Darbar Sahib. But at least they knew their sons had been killed by the police or was in their custody. Their families had been able to establish it through investigation, through law courts, through eye witnesses.

There were some mothers who had not known. Like Kartar Kaur, Bibi Baljit had been clueless about her son Hazara Singh’s whereabouts. But ten years after his disappearance, she had learnt from the formal investigations ordered by the Supreme Court into these disappearances, that he had been cremated by the police at the Durgiana mandir crematorium in Amritsar — his name identifiable in black and white in the crematorium records.

A short story from Myanmar by San Lin Tun

Moe did not know what he could do while he sat in his chair and his mind drifted like a kite floating with the free flow of wind. Something dampened his strength and he felt frayed. He had been feeling this way for a couple of days. It started gradually till it took concrete shape in his mind, tending to block his mental processes. That is why he could not  focus on his job. He decided to try to deal with it…

Though he felt it, he could not name the sensation. He picked up the pen from the rectangular lacquer pen holder in front of him on the table, unconsciously. He did not intend to use the pen but his laptop. He sighed at his confusion and looked at his watch — fifteen past four in the afternoon. He stood up, pushed his laptop away and picked up his shoulder bag that lay in a slant against the foot of the table.

By Farouk Gulsara

Malaysia National Day Special

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Like the Sword of Damocles, his domestic troubles hung over his head. There was nothing much he could do about it. It had gone on too long, too deep. He just had to live with it and move around it. He could not give up everything. There was a nagging heaviness in his temples. He knew things were going to take a nasty turn and it might get worse. He had created some arbitrary goals to improve his life, but this one had crashed it all. But still, life had to continue. As they say in showbiz, the show must go on.

He knew it was a bad idea. With all these problems plaguing him, he thought it was inappropriate for him to participate in this event. But then, it was also a lifetime achievement — a success hailed by his kinsmen as the epitome of his checkered life. Akin to a water lily, growing wild amongst the filth of marsh, stench and reptiles infested wetland to glorify the lotus feet of Buddha, it was an achievement enviable to some but yearned by all and privileged to only a few!

The problem, as he understood, was not something that developed overnight. Like a crystal, the lattice had developed over the years slowly but surely to its full wrathful glory. How could he be so dumb? Or was it beyond his control and was decided by the constellations and the genetic predisposition?

By Murali Kamma

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The cyclist at Church Square didn’t attract much attention initially, even though he was just going around in circles. Back then, in the era before cellphones and the internet, Church Square was an unsupervised, if not a seedy, public square — a sprawling, unevenly grassy open island where it wasn’t unusual to see gossiping idlers, walkers, yoga practitioners, and teenagers playing cricket or flying kites. Occasionally, people gathered there for a raucous political rally. A cyclist was perhaps less common, but even in the case of Rama—or Cycle Rama, as he became known—it was only after a few hours that he started drawing a crowd. And the reason for that was the amazing tricks he’d begun to perform on his black Hero bicycle.

At first, when he stopped pedaling and raised his legs without losing balance, while the bike continued to move steadily, it was unclear why he was doing it. But soon, there were murmurs of excitement when the onlookers realized he was a performer, an entertainer.

The growing interest didn’t faze Cycle Rama and he barely looked at anybody. Between his acts, he continued to pedal, going around in rough circles—and then, without a warning, he built up his momentum and became a stuntman again. There were whoops from the swelling crowd, but his poker face remained unchanged. As the news spread, a cricket match on the other side of Church Square broke up and Cycle Rama became the only draw in the area. The routines he performed were varied and he did them without stopping the bike or slowing it down drastically. On that first day, his ride ended only after it became dark and the crowd dispersed.

By Chirantana Mathkari

 

Gandhawati stood stunned looking at the dead salmon in her kitchen sink. With its neck twisted at the edge of the sink and its eye staring at her, it had quite an appalling effect on the vegetarian!

She looked away and took a deep breath — but she just got a strong fishy odour in her nostrils. She rubbed her nose, and convinced herself by saying: “It’s someone’s food, it’s someone’s food and you need to respect that.” She brisked to the kitchen door and opened it. She inhaled the air in the garden. It was snowing.

Wondering where her husband was, she went upstairs to his study. The room smelt of masala chai (Indian tea with spices). She stood at the door, her arms crossed. Shantanu was too lost in his thoughts to notice her.

“Morning,” she said.

As if woken from a dream, Shantanu was startled. He looked at her and blinked his eyes rapidly.

“Are you okay?” she asked a bit awkwardly.

“Yes, of course,” he replied, taking his tea cup near his face, hoping the vapours would hide his tears. He took a deep breath slowly. The spicy fragrance of the tea still reminded him of Ganga. He looked away from his wife.