Piyali had long pictured herself to be draped in a blue benarasi silk on her wedding reception. Ever since she had seen the photographs of her neighbour Tumpa di, she fell in love with the rich colour of the weave the bride wore. The fine meena work in scarlet and teal and gold had intrigued her. So, when given a choice, she had not dithered a bit in opting for blue. She specified it to be royal blue. Just like Tumpa di’s, she had recalled studiously. Her mother-in-law had other plans though. Driven by mores, the sexagenarian chose a hue two shades darker than Piyali’s wedding saree, a vermilion red, not blue.
Motifs of boughs in gold twined through the length of the weave. Blossoms hung at the end of each twig, so intricate in detail that guests could not stop gushing how resplendent the bride looked. But it was red. Not blue. Much to Piyali’s consternation.
Ghazali craved to see his wife’s calm face and his son’s youthful gaze again before he was finally awake.
The mixed raw metals dissolved by the raging temperature have made a thick surface on the Martian crust. Underneath, where humans live to escape from the aggressive climate, Ghazali felt, more warmly, that there was still a possibility for his return to life – to Earth. Residing beneath the ground on this new planet, with all the modern types of equipment humans could think of, has made him aware of his nature and those surrounding him. Such as, no matter how much people dump their dark side, it’ll emerge again, more rigorously, as if taking its revenge; also, it’s only the desire for new experiences that offer pleasure, not getting what you actually desire. He still has a will to die on the land where he was born, which he considers his home, despite having a separate house of his own on this new planet. He thinks of himself as a robot, but he is more than a machine because of his emotions, dreams, and nostalgia. Perhaps living among robots was not giving him the feeling of home. But how would travelling back to Earth be possible for him? He was conscious of surveillance satellites wheeling through the human-made Sky. This play of escaping from an escape is obliging him from living in his new world.
The faces, hair, and bodies in the humid metro train capsule are all a blur. But Arijit is here somewhere, according to the app.
My ears register the wails of two distinct babies, and the soft cooing of a third. I move forward, keeping my right hand firmly inside my bag’s front pocket where my phone and wallet are lodged. The metro is notorious for its pickpockets.
All the babies I can spot look at least a couple of months old. Arijit was stolen from Pinewood hospital in Kolkata right after he was born, so he would be less than three weeks old now, and just beginning to pack on some pounds, if his newborn photos are anything to go by.
Arijit’s parents are understandably distraught. Pinewood is a private hospital with high-resolution CCTVs and door locks linked to individual iris scans. But sophisticated technology needs sophisticated maintenance. You would expect Pinewood’s inflated hospital bills to pay for the security upkeep, but that the money funds only its board members’ pockets is a public secret.
Winter had worn off like an old sock, and an urgent, prickly summer under the garb of spring had creeped in. February had grown like a welt that year. Amin did not know if it was the sun’s temperate gaze or the flames from the shops underneath that were causing this rise in temperature. He, and the six members of his family, were perched at the roof of a two-storey house － the Trivedi Villa, a two storey building of a grossly utilitarian fashion; they were tenants on the first floor.
“Who knew,” Amin thought to himself. “Those were all stories back then.” That which he saw seemed to him truer than the stories that his family － his parents, their parents, his aunts and uncles － had muffled with sibilant utterances at dinner tables and family unions at Eid. The reverberating screeches held up in those voids of conversation seemed anticipatory or rather a product of years of one who has listened to them and realised their incomprehensibility. Amin had been following the news about student presence on the streets since December; he had even participated a couple of times himself without his family’s knowledge but after a photograph of him protesting appeared on the family group, his movements were greatly restricted.
“Elephant!” Gautam shrieked, raising his voice by a few decibels, stretching his seven-year vocal cords to the maximum they could reach. His joy knew no bounds as he saw this huge pachyderm come out of the corner, magnanimously waving his royal trunk to and fro.
Megha and Rishi knew there was no controlling him with an iron fist anymore. They must get him an elephant ride before their picnic at the children’s park was over, or else they would be subject to a wailing that would break all previous decibel records. There was no escaping this one, they thought, as they rolled their eyes at the magnificent animal in front of them, carrying a bunch of excited schoolchildren and gently ambling his way around the park.
Elephants are liked for many reasons, one of them being that they are a rare sight, even in India, which is a famed destination for elephant rides and elephant trunk baths. They are usually a favourite among young children, who like everything about them, including listening to their favourite stories of the elephant-headed god Ganesha. Their huge, paunchy bodies and frivolously swaying trunks add to the curiosity and intrigue they pique in young children, especially the ones like Gautam, who have grown up on their fair share of their favourite Lord Ganesha stories.
Face tense, hands frantic, Mariam tried to cleanse her flesh and her soul by scrubbing at the warm stickiness contaminating her thighs.
As she did, the truth struck her: she was no longer a virgin.
The man she had been forced to recognize as her husband had mounted her for the fourth time that night, before she could recover her breath or dignity. He had ravished her body and spirit in a depraved assault that splintered the remains of her purity.
During the ordeal, she had felt like nothing more than a concubine at the mercy of a lustful man who only cared about exploiting her for his carnal pleasure. It disgusted her to see him behave as if it were his first and last night with a woman; however, this wasn’t Ghalib’s first marriage.
The morning was still chilly when the krishnachura tree saw the two sitting on a pile of rubbles by the large playground near the school building. They were about five or six years of age. The boy was in navy blue shorts and white shirt. The girl was dressed in blue. The two small figures obviously knew one another well. They were comfortable in each other’s company and sat there dangling their legs. The boy suddenly held out his palm and offered something to the girl. She looked at it with curiosity, but then shook her head. The boy scratched his head, baffled. He looked at the small item in his palm and took out a piece of cloth. He cleaned it carefully and then offered it to the girl again. “It’s clean now. Take it.”
In this short story, Smitha Murthy explores the fragile and tenuous relationship that develops between a lonely woman and the cleaner at the restaurant she frequents.
There’s nothing glamorous about this restaurant. It’s a regular highway restaurant you might find on many an Indian road, serving cheap food. You are meant to walk in and walk out fast. No romantic lingering, and asking for a menu is unheard of. The tables are granite, and the plastic chairs squeak when you pull them out. But the place is busy. At all hours. Every day, hundreds of people pile in and out of its open doors. As you enter, on the left is a chaat and juice shop. The watery juices it makes are only for desperate times. The chaat stall only opens up in the evening, and the food there is no better than the beverages.
But considering where I stay – in Bangalore’s “emerging” suburbs – this restaurant is all I have. It meets my needs just fine. A quick bite or two. A sip of coffee. Maybe, chapatis for takeaway once in a while. It is enough.
I have a habit of staring at horizontal lines. Railway tracks always fascinate me.
These railway lines which align trains, crisscrossing and bisecting each other in their paths, are made of the metal – iron. It seems to be yesterday my father had tutored me on the need for a man to be made of iron, so as to overcome the pitfalls that life brings in its wake.
“You’ll never know the truth, son of mine! But when you’ll reach an age, when reflection and contemplation become your only activities, then you’ll realize that you’ve indeed come a long way.”
A long way. But how long is l-o-n-g? This conversation was held many years ago, when I had gone home for my vacations. My parents had decided that a boarding school education and discipline would smooth away the rough edges of my youth. But however much they tried, the edges had remained rough till I had maturity!
On lonely nights, even the hum of a refrigerator is company, the whirring of a fan is comforting, the tick-tock of a clock is reassuring. And, of course, the night sky is a loyal companion – I talk with the moon about you, and she tells me about the sun.
I try to remember the last time we hugged, let alone made love. I can’t recollect.
Something very toxic seems to have festered between us. How, when, why I have stopped scrambling for answers. Our descent into apathy is so deep-seated that I neither have the time nor inclination to make things right. The pulp has gone out of our relationship, and I know we’re both responsible for feeding it.
Yet, our relationship is not without tender moments. I find consolation in that thought and wrap those moments around me like a warm blanket. Some of us are hoarders of such moments, even if those moments are ephemeral and transient, few and far between: Like just last night you lovingly stroked my head while I was grinding my teeth in sleep, and then, I stopped grinding my teeth.