25 November 2012

Sun is sleeping

The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.
-Matsuo Bashô

From the couch I saw my daughter pulling out the kitchen chair in the far corner; the chair is taller and twice heavier than her. She used the chair to climb onto the table; and, slowly opened the chocolate box, which I had thought was out of her reach. She had approached the table quietly——knowing I’ll be into my book. But once you have a child, you cannot really concentrate on anything. You always have a background thread going on in your head, on her whereabouts. I dashed to the table——caught her red handed. This made her jump; but, when she realized it was the lenient parent, she got relaxed.

“Only one,” she said. I pointed to the fistful of chocolates. She dropped all in the box, retained one. I checked the box; there were a few left on the bottom. Over the days, she had finished most of it. Chocolate monster!

I carried her down. "No eating too much chocolate,” I said.  Two-and-half now. Why this? Why that? All the time. Thank God, there’s Google. I know now more animals, more birds, more colors, and more flowers.

One time, she pointed to a tiger in the picture book, and said ‘fox’. Then she pointed to a lion and said ‘Yellow’. I was alarmed. Did she mess up everything? Do we have to start all over again? Then she smiled mischievously; told the correct names pointing to the right pictures, laughing all the time——she was just messing with me. She was in a good mood.

On such occasions, she calls me ‘Lobo’ or ‘Ravi uncle’. In India, our neighbors taught her that her dad’s name is panji——pig; so sometimes she calls me, panji Lobo.

There are a few genuine screw-ups too. One time she saw a shark on TV and exclaimed:  “airplane!” and once she called a Kangaroo, ‘Pengaroo’. That’s because of the Penguins.

In fact, I myself cannot differentiate many things: sheep, lamb, and goat; shrimp and prawn; crocodile and alligator; tortoise and turtle. (For long, I thought the bigger ones in the sea are turtles and the smaller land cousins are tortoises; but it is not true.)

She knows four colors: yellow, purple, red, and orange. She can name more, but cannot really match them. She also doesn’t have a sense of time. When she says ‘Tomorrow’, she means sometime later. ‘Yesterday’ could be yesterday or anytime in the past. But when she says ‘Now’, she means NOW. “I want it now,” is such a big pain. Sometimes I reason with her; why we cannot watch cartoons; it’s night and sleep time. She listens patiently. Nods to everything I say and responds, “I want it now.”

Occasionally, I manage to distract her: “What’s this stupid dragon doing in the closet?” I say, and we both go on a dragon hunt.

Sometime ago there was another Ria in the community. So one was ‘Big Ria’ and my daughter was ‘Baby Ria’. The other family has moved out. But the name stayed.

“What’s your name?”
“Baby Ria.”

She thinks ‘Baby’ is her name.

She talks in rhymes.
“How much do you love Mamma?”
“Too-much Too-much.”
“and Dada?”

My wife has cast a spell on her. If you ask my daughter: do you like Dada or gutter-water? She would opt for the latter.

She makes small sentences, and fragments. I like to irritate her. When she asks questions to Mamma, I jump in and give wrong answers. “I’m not talking to you,” she says. I think she picked that line on the TV. I myself haven’t used any such line with my parents, never——they would have thrown me out. In fact, only now, in my articles I pull their legs, otherwise all along I was a nice kid, except probably in my teens.  

And sometimes, my complaints are taken to Mamma. “Dada not listening to me.”

The only time I might ignore her——that too for few seconds——is when I read something interesting. It takes a small lag to comeback to the real world. But by then she would have run to Mamma with my complaint. (You cannot become a good writer, if you don’t listen. Probably the greatest writer to follow this advice was Maugham. He had a bad stutter. Maybe, because of that he would listen all the time. Even eavesdrop on strangers. Then copy the exact dialogues in his books. He’s one of the most read authors! His books are wonderful.)

In my school days, I was not allowed to read novels. I used to hide in the bathroom, for hours——reading books. Even now, If I find something interesting, I lock myself in the bathroom and read. 

“Lobo, where are you?” She bangs on the door.
“Give me 5 minutes.”
“Watcha doin? Come out?”

Children are so impatient. Sometimes when I’m working on the laptop, she turns off the lights.
“Shooo Dolly is sleeping,” she says. Dolly goes wherever she goes. Sleeps with her. Dolly has the status of a real person. I learned this the hard way——when I used Dolly as a pillow. Something hit me hard on the face. And, Dolly was yanked off. “No sleeping on Dolly,” I heard the warning. Some toys can be effectively used as weapons.

I used to write in the evenings. She won’t allow it anymore. Why write about her, when she is right there to play. Now, I wake up one hour early and write. If you want to become a writer you should write daily. No other tricks.  (Sometimes while I am writing, from the bedroom I hear the sleepy question: “Where’s Dada?”)

Once I woke in the middle of the night and found her awake. I tried to say something.
“Shoo Dolly is sleeping,” she said.
“When will YOU sleep?”
“Tell me story,” she said.

I am very poor at children’s stories. I know only one story. I repeat that one all the time. Children’s stories are much different than the ones for grownups. Children like repetition.

5 little monkeys jumping on the bed one fell off…  
4 little monkeys jumping on the bed…

A grownup would know instantly where this is going, and toss the book immediately. But the kids like it. They love the sound of repetition. You can raise the monkey-count to 75 in the above poem, and a child would still love it.

In the only children’s story I have cooked up, she’s a character. She makes a guest-appearance in the story. She likes to hear about herself. In fact the character in the story (her alter ego) is a better version of herself: Drinks milk; Brushes teeth twice; Eats mum-mum. All without any fuss. She knows this. Knows the character in the story is better; but she’s like——what do I care?

So painful to make her eat anything; things she doesn’t like are ‘picy’——she cannot say spicy.
“Are you nice-baby or kakka-baby?”
“Kakka baby,” she pushes away the plate. This trick had worked in the past. You can ask her if she is nice or kakka, and she would do the nice thing for you. Not anymore.

Soon I’ll be out of tricks. Sometimes I say, “How come you look beautiful today? Did you drink too much milk?”

She likes that. I don’t know how long this one would work. One fine day, she might say: I would rather be intelligent than pretty.

Whenever she dresses up, she comes to me for approval. She stands at distance, cross legged, and head hung on one side. ”Wow,” I say, “You look so pretty.” The need for attention comes so early.

And, sometimes, I hear a shriek: “I want Dada!” This means she has done some mistake and, Mamma has punished her. That’s the only time she needs me. When I hear this jungle—cry I need to leave whatever I am doing, and run for the rescue. I have told her that it’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone makes them. Pencils have erasers etc. “Just say by-mistake,” I have said——Mamma would understand.

Before she came in my life, I could leave a book on the stairs, or at the kitchen sink, and there would be no question of not finding it at the same spot hours later, when I would come looking for it. But, now, If I leave a book on a low place, it’ll will be gone, I might find shredded paper, but mostly the book would have been vanished.

One day, I was reading a book; she snatched it and vanished in one of the rooms. Then she came back, and flourished the fingers. “Magic,” she said. I searched for it desperately, but the book is gone. She’s not telling me either. The next day she forgot the whole thing. I was at an interesting point when she took away the book. It’s a short story collection. I don’t know the name of the book. The story will haunt me to my grave.

On my book shelf, between classics and writing books, a small section is reserved for her. Her books are small and bright. They have many big pictures and a few sentences. A picture explains many things! (Very few writers narrate picturesquely: Tolstoy, Proust.)

People have different fears. Some don’t like spiders, some snakes. I cannot change diapers. I know what you are thinking. But, it’s just not my thing.

Now she is potty trained. So things are not that bad. One day she was in the bathroom with Mamma; I heard the command: “I want Dada!”
Gosh I said, not now! I gave her hundred reasons, why Dada might not be the right person for the job. She listened carefully, nodded in agreement, then said: “I want Dada!”

So now that I have done the stuff, I feel there are 2 types of men in the world: those who have washed the bums of their kids and those who haven’t. I belong to the former one——the holier among the two. I am now, a Kevalin. Nothing else matters.

Parenting is an experiment: what works for one child doesn’t for another. So you keep experimenting till the kids become parents! I have raised my voice only twice, so far. Sounds like an annual event. I do have the patience of a vulture. But sometimes she just gets on my nerves. Last time when I raised my voice, a little, there was much wailing and screaming, followed by kicking the nearest toy, and throwing the milk bottle, and then banging the door to lock herself in the bedroom. Luckily the door doesn’t self-lock. I am not surprised at her. I was like that too, but not at two——I was unmanageable in my teen years. My parents considered many a times to drive me to a distant desert and leave me off.

“Can you get me some See-O-Kay-E?” I ask my wife from the dining table. She brings me Coke in a china cup.
“You want milk?” I ask my daughter. Offer the cup.
“Are you sure?”
I am going straight to hell. They will put me in hot water or fry me on the giant pans. There’s no forgiving for my sins.

Once, she made a big fuss about going out at midnight. I reasoned with her; why we cannot go tata; it’s night and no sun and dark outside. All in vain.
Plan B:
“Are you nice-baby or kakka-baby?”
“Kakka baby,” she replied.
Plan C:
“What’s this dragon doing in the closet?”
That didn’t fly either. So we decided for a small ride. The moment we were out of the parking lot——she started snoring. Since we were out anyway, we went ahead with the ride, roamed for half hour. I had to carry her back to home. Once inside, she opened her eyes, looked around——all sleep gone. “I want to go tata,” she said, “NOW!”

So here we are. One more memoir. Whenever I write a short-story, some or the other responds: “The stories are fine, but when you’ll write a memoir?”

At the bottom of this article there is a list of my past articles. The first one was published somewhere in 2007. So I have been doing this gig for some time now. Most writers would move on. Not me. My readers won’t allow. I am going to be a life-time memoir writer. A writer whose memoirs are more fictitious than true events.

Anyway, there’s a big difference between what I am writing now and what I wrote then. The current articles are less funny——of course. I wish I had not read so many books on writing. I was a better writer before reading them. I was writing whatever came to my mind——incoherent thoughts. Then someone said from a podium at a gathering: “Hey you. Not you. You! The one with less hair. Yes. The fat-guy. You should learn the craft.”

I got hooked. I probably have the world record for reading the most number of books on writing. But I still don’t get it.

Anyway, having a child at home helps me look at the world in a different way. All ‘art’ is looking things in a different angle. ‘Sun is sleeping,’ she says at night, looking out the window. I myself cannot imagine such things——even after writing for so many years. She amazes me.

All right then. No more beating around the bush. Let’s see if we can end this smoothly. I need your help. Here’s what we are gonna do: Finish this off with only short sentences. And, we’ll use present tense. For a change. Let’s italicize the text to note the change in tense. No other gimmicks. No big words. Wait a second. Let me stretch a bit. Are you ready? Okay. Here we go.

We are at a carnival. She is sitting on my shoulders——legs around my neck. She holds my head for balance. We roam around. Look at the colorful things: rides and food stalls.  Then suddenly I feel something cold on the back of my neck. I turn my head. Look up at her.

“Did you make su-su?”
“Yes,” she says.
Moments pass.
“By mistake,” she says.


Note: If you liked this one, you might like the other ones in the series. Click here for my other memoirs. 
This article was first published on www.daijiworld.com; click here for the original post. 

22 October 2012


The man in the car saw the woman waving frantically and slowed down. She was almost on the middle of the road. She wore a short black skirt and a white top; though it was dark, she had sunglasses on, probably to avoid the glare of headlights. The car stopped. She came around to the door.

“Could you give me a ride to the city?”
The man leaned forward and opened the front door.

“I missed the last bus,” said the woman, “Thank God you came by. I was waiting so long.” She removed the glasses and carefully placed them in a pouch.  

“Here on the forest side it becomes dark early,” said the man.

“So cold outside,” she started rubbing palms.

The car picked up speed. “Aren’t you afraid to ask rides from strangers at this hour?” said the man, “Of late there have been a few unpleasant incidents in this route.”

“In fact, I was scared no one would come,” said the woman, “Can’t imagine spending a whole night in the forest…When I saw your car lights, I had to decide quickly, I thought, what are the odds of I missing a bus and you being…let’s say…a killer.  I mean, it has to be some weird coincidence.”

Except for the small indicators on the dashboard, and the headlights that swiped the road, darkness ruled everywhere. Tall trees stood erect on one side of the roadside; the other side had a valley.

The woman let out a sigh when the car entered the city. The amber streetlights fought the darkness.

“I’ll get down here,” said the woman. The car moved off the road and stopped on the mud pavement. She thanked for the ride——struggled to open the door.  

“I always have trouble opening car doors; they confuse me,” she tried some more.

“It’s locked,” said the man.
“Can you open it for me?”
The man didn’t respond, at length he said: “An incredible thing has happened. You have missed the bus and I am…to use your own words…really a killer.”
She gave a nervous laugh.
“Am I on TV?” she said, “Candid Camera? Is this some kind of—”

He slapped across her face. Her head hit the door. Her eyes welled up, reddened.

“Listen to me carefully,” he said, “Don’t talk. Sit quiet. Don’t make any stupid moves. If you behave I might spare you.”

The car made a U-turn, raced through the lonely forest road. The woman sobbed, took a handkerchief and blew her nose.
“Please don’t kill me.”
The man didn’t reply. He was handsome, neatly shaved and, young. Someone you won’t mind asking for directions when lost in a new place. She noticed he was wearing black gloves, quite unusual in these parts. A cold shiver passed through her spine.
“How much money you want? Tell me the figure.”
The silence continued.

“You can still leave me. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll keep quiet as if we never met.” Eventually reality seeped in. “I’ll do anything,” she said in a fit of helplessness, placing a hand on his lap——started stroking gently. “Do you like this?”
“Remove your hand or I’ll slap you again.”
She retracted instantly.

The car snaked through the mountainous road.

“There are more satisfying things than sex,” the man said, “Why do you think people kill?”
She didn’t reply. But when the question was repeated, she denied any knowledge. The man slapped her again.

“If you don’t think and answer, you don’t interest me. And, If I lose interest in you, you are no value to me, I might as well kill you now and throw your body in the valley.”

The woman shivered. “Please…” she begged.

“Let’s start again. Why do people kill?”
This time she took time. “Revenge,” she said.
“What else?”
“Jealousy, Wars, Communal Violence, money, Women, property——”
“Are you a teacher?”
“You teachers have an answer for everything. Though it maybe a wrong one. Someone just needs to ask a question. And, you are ready with text-book answers.”
A small animal, probably a fox, tried to enter the road, froze, blinded momentarily by the headlights, but scurried away at the last moment.

“You are not thinking,” said the man, “Let me put it this way: What could be the motive of a person who kills again and again?”
“Money,” said the woman.
“There are easier ways to make money. You don’t need to kill.”
“I don’t see any other reason,” said the woman, nervously.
“What about pleasure?”
“What about it, sir?”
“Can a person kill for pleasure?”
“No sir.”
“How about indifference?”
“Yes. A person without feelings. He just kills. For him it is just another mundane thing——like drinking tea or ordering a checkbook at the bank.”
“How’s it possible?”
“Are you a vegetarian?” said the man.
“Do you eat chicken?”
“Yes sir.”
“Do you ever think of the animals you kill for food? Why do you think you have a right to kill them?”
This line of reasoning left the woman speechless.
“People kill for weird reasons,” the man said, “Ever heard of Devil’s Photographer?”
“No sir.”
“About a decade ago he killed 18 people in a year. The victims, mostly men, were unrelated. Except one thing, the killer left pictures at the crime scenes. The victims were not really innocent. They were involved in some kind of immoral activity. Our man would study his victims for days. Take their pictures of misdeeds. Once collected proof, he would corner and kill them. Leave the pictures at the crime scene. No one knows his name; he’s known only as Devil’s Photographer. Insiders use the short form——Devil.”

“Looks like some kind of a punisher,” said the woman.
“That’s what I thought, initially,” the man nodded, “But if he’s a punisher why did he stop? Why be silent for a decade?”
“What happened to him?”
“He simply vanished. I have studied his murders. Devil is an artist. He convinced his victims before killing them. In some cases, there were no signs of struggle. The victims simply accepted their fate.” The man nodded in admiration and fear. “He’s a perfectionist. Police cannot catch him. God knows how long he would have stayed low, but for the Cyanide Killings…”

“I have read about them,” said the woman, “Cyanide Killings…I mean…The murderer lured single women with the proposal of marriage without a dowry. The couple would elope and take refuge in a lodge. The next day he would convince the women to take a pill, to prevent any unwanted effects of the un-safe sex they had the previous night. Only that the pill would have cyanide.”

“Very good. Do you know how many people he killed?”
“Ten or fifteen.”
“When the police arrested him they said he killed 17 people. But within a week the total rises to 20. Anyway, I am not interested in the Cyanide Killer. He doesn’t have style. His motives were money and sex; he used the same formula again and again till the police got the wind of it. Now comes the interesting part.”
The woman waited.
“Last month 3 murders have happened. All three crime scenes had pictures.”

“Devil is back,” said the woman. Her chest heaved rapidly.
“Yes. After a decade. Do you know what’s happening here?”
“Race to the top. That’s what it is. I have finally understood the Devil. He has stayed on top for a decade with 18 murders. But as soon as he learns there’s a new challenger with count 20, he has surfaced and murdered thrice to raise his count to 21. None of your earlier theories hold good here. No money. No sex. No revenge. Just a race. To become number one.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”
“I am in the race.”
“What do you mean?”
“In the past 5 years, around 60 people were missing. Only 20 were the cyanide victims. What happened to rest of them?”
“Not all. As of last month 21; I and Devil are equal. Do you know what happens now?”

“The devil will start killing to stay on top.”
“Exactly,” said the man, “The killing spree will continue, unless one of us is stopped. How interesting it would be to kill the Devil. I’ll be slow and deliberate, enjoying each moment.” The man seemed to imagine his glory. “I wonder what he is doing now. What’s his next move?”

The woman seemed desperate to please the captor. “If he is serious about being on the top,” she said, “he probably has an interest in you.”

“Now you are talking sense,” the man patted her on the shoulder. “Why do you think he’s not been caught so far?”
“He could be one of the police.”
“I doubt that.”
“He could be a regular person sir. Someone with a day job, a banker, a postman, Or——”
“Or what?”
“Some kind of an artist who changes his appearance smoothly. Gels with the crowd easily…”

“Go on——”

“Do you have a gun? Don’t shoot me on the face. Please…”
The woman started wailing.
“Stop it. I don’t have a gun. I don’t need one to kill you. Continue talking about the Devil.”

“Sir, if you are correct about the race to the top, he might follow you. He might have started collecting information on you.” She said between the sobs.

“You make me nervous. But you have a point.” The car was now moving with a steady speed.

“He could have sufficient information about your normal routes. The way you work. The victims you choose. The things you do and don’t. He might have a profile on you.”

“Go on.”
“I have another theory sir.”
“What theory?” The man shouted with impatience.
“What if the Devil is not a man?”
“What do you mean? He’s not a ghost or something——”
“Everyone is looking for a man, including you. What if the Devil is a woman? A woman could get away with all these murders easily, while the police are looking for a man. What if she knows you, sir? She has enough information on you. She has clicked enough pictures, while you were committing murders,” the woman talked as if in a dream, “One fateful day she decides enough is enough. No more waiting. She dresses up like a hooker. She waits at one of your regular roads and asks a ride.”

The car stopped with a sudden screech. The man stared in horror. A few moments went in silence. She looked at the valley outside. The wind started blowing, swaying the tall trees, mercilessly; but inside the closed car the occupants didn’t feel the wind.

“You just accepted, a few minutes ago, that you don’t carry a gun,” she said, “While I might have one in my little handbag.”  

She smiled.

If you liked this story, click here for my other stories. 
This story was published on daijiworld.com 

07 October 2012

My favorite opening lines

One of the challenges in writing these days is to grab readers attention in the initial sentences——as early as possible. If you can’t capture their attention in the first few lines, they’ll leave you.

In this article, I have listed some of my favorite opening lines——in descending order; so if you want to check my top opening line, plunge right down to the bottom.

I have omitted some of the biggies. So No, ‘Call me Ishmael’; as much I want to include it, I somehow, didn’t connect to it. In the future, I might add new ones, or drop the existing ones. But right now these are my favorites.

Here they go…

This one is from one of the initial books written in the history of literature. Cervantes is very casual and confident.

Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.
—Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605)

Mother died today.
—Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942)

Though Papa Hemingway is not my favorite author, this below line makes it to the list. I have made several tries at cracking his books, no success yet.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
—J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

For long, Proust was top on my list. But, sadly, I have to push him to the third position. Reading, In Search Of Lost Time is in my every year’s pending resolution list. And, often, it’s the only pending item. I hope to read this Elephant one day.

For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say “I’m going to sleep.” And half an hour later the thought that it was time to go to sleep would awaken me; I would try to put away the book which, I imagined, was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had been thinking all the time, while I was asleep, of what I had just been reading, but my thoughts had run into a channel of their own, until I myself seemed actually to have become the subject of my book…
-Marcel Proust,In Search Of Lost Time (1913)

If you haven’t read One Hundred years of Solitude, I highly recommend it. It’s written very beautifully.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
—Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)

And, here it is my top favorite.

When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake—not a very big one. It had probably just been crawling around looking for shade when it ran into the pigs. They were having a fine tug-of-war with it, and its rattling days were over. 
― Larry McMurtryLonesome Dove (1985)

20 September 2012


Part I
Eventually Das found out his wife’s affair from a telephone statement. Any other man would have got suspicious much earlier. But Das had developed an indifference towards life, in the past few years. He didn’t notice the occasional blank calls or her increased stay outside the home.

One Sunday, sipping coffee, he casually looked at the telephone bill lying on the ground, with no intention of picking it up. What caught his attention was the pattern on the statement.

Long back, while he was a Quality Control Engineer, his job was to monitor the assembly line for products not fitting the patterns. The long shifts of early days had a profound effect on him. His mind would look for patterns everywhere.  

The statement had one number with a pattern. It appeared at the same time, everyday——during his office hours. The duration of the calls alarmed him.

Soon he hired a private detective to follow her for a week, and to report anything unusual. The detective called the next day itself. They met in a café. “You don’t need a professional,” he said. “She is not hiding anything.” He tossed a few pictures.

Das didn’t recognize the man in the picture——definitely one from her music group. The man looked arty. Not a regular office goer. He had one hand around Vedika’s waist. Das stared at the picture for a long time; it was taken from an odd angle. Except for the couple, rest of the image was blurred. This amplified the effect. The picture was more like a piece of art than evidence.
“I was once interested in photography,” said the detective.

Long after the detective was gone, Das sat in the café, sipping coffee——mentally rehearsing various scenarios, confronting his wife. Eventually his plan was to show the pictures to Vedika, and to wait for her explanation. This plan looked reasonable. Also, it gave the defendant an opportunity to explain her actions.

Once satisfied with the preparation, he went home. Vedika was not in. He waited in the study, patiently. At around 9PM, he called her cell——no one answered.

He went to the kitchen to find anything to eat. He was hungry. That’s when he found the yellow note, pasted on the refrigerator’s door. She had left notes for him now and then: Poetry reading today! or Don’t wait for dinner or No milk in the house. As usual the note was concise and to the point.

I’m leaving for good.
Don’t look for me.

Such a note would have had devastating effect on the reader, not on Das. Instead, his mind noted the pattern in the first two lines: each line had four words; the first words had apostrophe; the word “for” was in the same position.

He was subconsciously expecting something like this, or something more dramatic, from Vedika. At once the burden of facing her was gone. He felt relieved.

She had taken her stuff, which was almost everything. His preoccupied mind had not noticed the emptiness when he entered the house. Her vast collection of music CDs was gone. The shelf stood hollow and plain. A few books remained on the lower rack. They belonged to Das.

He called his daughter at the hostel, not realizing it was quite late. The warden warned him against such late calls. Soon the daughter came on line. “How come you are calling on a weekday?” Amodita asked. He said something.
“How’s mom?” she asked.

So she was not aware yet.

“Amo, don’t come home this weekend.” His mind started preparing for the next bigger task: how to break this news to Amo?

Since he had not taken any leaves in the year, his application for one got approved immediately. Das seldom took leaves, and often resumed to work early from vacation. No such plans this time.

He ate outside——slept and woke up at odd hours. Soon neighbors would start talking about the missing person. Unlike his wife, Das was not much of a social person. His interactions with neighbors were minimum, often limited to monosyllables. He was concerned about the daughter though. How would Amo take this?

Mornings he spent in the park; it was empty on weekdays. Not being in the traffic and, not having the rush to meet the mundane deadlines of the office work, relaxed him. He took out the pictures from the envelope. Vedika looked happy. Das had never seen his wife so content.

“Are you secretly gaping at women’s pictures?”
Das didn’t notice the girl till then. She wore a short skirt and a bright top. His initial reaction was that of a surprise, since no one so attractive had voluntarily stopped to talk to him, in the past.  

“She’s my wife,” he said.
“May I?” she sat next to him, without waiting for his approval——snatched the pictures and quickly glanced through them.
“She’s hot,” said the girl.
Das had never heard someone commenting on his wife like that——at least not to his face.
“Who’s the dude? Brother?”
“Her lover,” Das hesitated using the word lover. “They eloped, last week.”
The girl, twisted her lips, and blew a suggestive whistle. The women in Das’s family never whistled.
“Now what? By the way I am Anushka.”
They shook hands. He told his name. She held the picture next to his face.  “The dude looks better than you!”
It is true, thought Das. That disturbed him.
“He’s a musician,” he said.
She looked at the picture again. “Looks like a bouncer, not musician; unless, he plays different sorts of instruments.” Das searched for a hidden meaning; but concluded the remark was made spontaneously, without much thinking, hence non- suggestive.  

“Did you inform the police?”
“No,” he said; he didn’t have any such intentions.  
“Aren’t you gonna look for her?”
Who is this girl? She is asking too many questions. Das gave her the yellow post-it note.
She took a long time to read the two lines.
“Is this her leaving note?”
Das nodded.
“Super-Cool! She’s a minimalist,” concluded the girl.

The whole conversation agitated him. “Don’t you have school today?”
The girl took out a small mirror from her bag——started admiring the makeup. Re applied dark lipstick. Everything about the girl was bright and flashy. How did her parents approve all this?

“Where do you live?” he asked.
“Not far. I walk to this place. I have a car; but I can’t drive yet. I prefer walking anyway, because——”
“No. I like to meet strangers. Especially mature men. You can be free with them. No formalities. No secrets to keep.”

Something is wrong here——thought Das. Only in his fantasies such pretty women chatted so openly. Except for them the park was empty. Any other woman would have hesitated to approach a stranger in a lonely place. The girl seemed fearless. Is she one of those wonderful people who see the good in everyone? Or is this the ignorance of youth that overlooks the evil in strangers. He lighted a cigarette.

“May I have one?”
While lighting they came closer. “When was the last time you saw a woman this close?”
Das instantly retracted. She took a casual puff but an endless cough seized her.
“This is my first smoke,” said the girl between coughs.
Das got alarmed——tried to snatch the cigarette from her. “Help! Help!” the girl screamed. “This man is molesting me!”  Das let her go at once, as if he had touched a live wire.

“Hey mister, are you taking advantage of me?”

The tough look on her face made him nervous. Palms started sweating. It was a strange, surreal moment. She laughed loudly. “Did I scare you?”  She sat back and relaxed. The short skirt was raised a little; she didn’t make any effort to pull it down. The skin was whiter where it was not exposed to the sun. This pattern excited Das.

The girl observed the nail polish——gave a satisfying nod. Then she looked at the toe nails, sighed disapprovingly. Although, looking from a distance, Das didn’t find anything wrong. She took a small bottle of nail polish, and then bent forward to paint the nails.

Das suddenly noticed that she was not wearing a bra; this unexpected revelation made him uneasy——he looked away with guilt.

“How’s it?” she asked.
The question left him speechless.
“How’s my nail polish?”
Is she innocent, or Is she faking?

She held her cell phone right in front of his face. “Let me take your picture.” Once again she didn’t wait for his approval. She clicked a couple of pictures.

“Not bad,” she said. He took the cell phone. He had not seen such an advanced gadget. It was bigger than the one he was using. Unlike his phone, this one didn’t have buttons; somewhere it had a camera. Das looked at it in awe, as if it was an unearthly object——something from outer space. The phone had a pink cover. On the backside there was a picture of an attractive woman.

“Who’s this?”
“Kareena Kapoor.” Das had heard the name, but never seen any of her movies.
“Isn’t she cute?”
Das would never use the word “Cute” to refer a woman.

“Where are your parents?” he asked.
“When did you find out the affair?” girl replied with her own question. When Das insisted on his question; she insisted back. Resigned, Das narrated the events.

“My parents are on a study tour,” she said. “They do research at the university.”  The irresponsible academic parents amazed Das. The fools must be researching something interesting, to neglect their daughter like this. The topic of parents had brought a cloud on her face.

The girl said at length: “Do you know what’s common between us?” When Das didn’t answer she continued, “We are two lonely people.”
Das could not look at her face. She had turned to the other side.

“Do you want to come to my home?” she asked.
Das gulped.
“We can have fun. You know——”
She crossed her legs——smiled at him, innocently. “When was the last time you had it?”
Das looked at her. She stared, un-flinched. Das didn’t have any physical relationship with his wife in months. They even slept in different rooms when Amo was not at home. Though he had been honest to his wife, she had flirted with a different man. And, here’s a girl openly inviting him. Can I not do the same things my wife does? Or Should I lead the thankless life of a saint?

“I think,” he said finally, “I should leave now.”
“Why so urgent?”
“I remembered something. I’ll have to go. It was nice talking to you.” He started collecting his things.

“Mr. Das, Are you one of those men?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know?”
“I don’t know,” Das said.
“The ones who prefer men.”

That was the final blow for Das. He didn’t say a word. He kept walking, without responding to the numerous obscenities hurled at him.

Part II

Das didn’t go to the park after the incident. One day he returned from one of his idle walks, and found the door unlocked. Vedika might have come back to collect the remaining stuff. Instead, he found his daughter on the couch, her eyes red and swollen.

“Mom called me,” she said.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Das sat next to her. “What she said?”
“Many things. Said she found her music. Whatever that means. She said she’ll be in touch.”

Amo was affected the most. For Das, this was the most painful aspect of this whole incident.

Later in the evening she said: “I always thought you were an odd couple——Mom and you. Why did you marry her?”

He sighed. “Do you want to go out for dinner? Nothing at home.”
“No. I am fine,” she said.
“I’ll get something,” he went out.

When he came back she was watching TV. Das started arranging the dishes on the dining table. He looked at the many pictures of Amo on the wall, at different stages of her life. He was not in many of them——he had taken those pictures. He looked at the daughter fondly. She had more of his qualities than of her mother. Long back, a teacher had remarked in Red ink on the margin of Amo’s picture book, for not maintaining the order. Das had browsed the book casually: honeycombs, flowers, sand dunes, cracks on the ground. He had smiled to himself. The pictures were not random. All of them had patterns! Soon after, she solved her first Rubik’s cube under 5 minutes.

Das noticed something on her hand.
“Is that a tattoo?”
“No. it’s a sticker. It’ll go.”
“Talk to me before tattooing or piercing.”
“Anything else?” Amo rolled eyes. “No wonder it’s difficult to live with you.”

He took the remote and reduced the volume. Something caught his eyes——the girl on the TV. Das stared in horror. It was the same girl whom he had met in the park! Anusha. No, that was not her name. Anu something…Anushka! She was sitting next to a middle aged man. She wore different clothes, but they were short and revealing. Das Froze!
“What’s the naughtiest thing you ever did?” Anushka asked. The man said something.
She giggled. “Are you sure?”
The man placed a hand on her lap.
“Hey Mister, are you taking advantage of me?”

Das turned to his daughter. “What’s this?”
“Candid camera,” Amo said, “She seduces lonely strangers. There’s a camera crew somewhere but the victim doesn’t know that. She convinces the victim to go to her home, she being alone. When they reach home, there’s police waiting and a team of reporters and TV people…”

A cold shiver passed through his spine. “Looks like she’s the one seducing him,” he said, when recovered sufficiently, regretting using the word ‘seduce’.
“Yes. But she’s a teen——minor.”
“Does she tell the victim that she’s a minor?”
“Not directly; she would say she can’t drive or drink. Something not legal for a teen.”

Das watched the rest of the show without any questions. Do you know what’s common between us? When was the last time you were so close to a woman? How’s my nail-polish? Oh God! Everything was a script. 

Anushka had convinced her victim to take her to home. The moment they opened the large gate, something like a siren sounded. Many people materialized from thin air, like the characters from a mythological drama. Some were in uniform. The camera zoomed on the victim’s face, which had a look of horror, with many questions. Das switched off the TV.


The next day Das went to the train station to drop off Amo. He waited till the train departed. Last night’s TV episode lingered in his mind. Someone, sitting on the cement bench, caught his eye. They looked at each other at the same time. She didn’t have the makeup and, her hair was cut short.

“Am I on camera now?” Das sat next to her.
Anushka didn’t reply to the question. “I no more work for the TV channel,” she said.

“Why not?”
“I have a train in a few minutes,” she said, “I am leaving town.”

A tall man with a heavy build came towards them. Two muscular men were with him.
“Well well well,” said the tall man, “look who’s here?”
Anushka stared at the man. Das noticed her lips quivering.
“Is this is your new victim?” the man asked Anushka pointing to Das.
“You’ll become famous soon,” the man assured Das. “We are all on TV. Or I may be just lucky to find her without her crew. This crowded station is not her usual hunting ground.”

“I think you are mistaken——”
“No. I am not,” shouted the man. “I have seen all your episodes, ever since you sent my brother to jail. First, I thought it’s the right thing for him. Fucking child molester. He called me from jail. Narrated the whole thing. The things they didn’t show on TV. You people have smartly edited the unwanted parts.”

The girl recoiled in horror. The man addressed his mates: “My brother was minding his own business. But the hot- bitch here goes to him. Flashes her mini skirt. Talks dirty. My brother has no mind. The fool thinks he’s a film star. I am going to put an end to this. I am going to make a nice little cut on her cheek with my knife. People will recognize her right away.”

By now Das had recovered sufficiently; he said feebly, “she’s not who you think.”
“Shut up,” said the man, “Did she invite you to her home?”
“She’s not—”
The man grabbed Das by collar. Already a crowd had gathered around.
“You think I am a fool?”
“You think I cannot recognize the horny-bitch?”
“You tell me who’s she?”
Das remained silence.
“Looks like you know everything,” the man squeezed the collar. “Tell me who is she?”
“She is my daughter,” Das said.

The girl looked at Das.

“I came to drop her at the station,” Das said. “If you don’t believe me, check her purse. She has a pink cell phone and, on the back cover she has her favorite actress…Bobby.”
“Bebo,” corrected Anushka. “Dad always confuses Bebo with Bobby.”

She offered her cell. “Hey mister,” said an old school- teacher from the crowd, “don’t harass these good people.” His age and profession had given the old man the required courage. Someone had alerted the station police and a man in uniform was coming towards them.

“Munna, this is not the time to get noticed,” One of the two men——who was a silent observer so far——warned the tall man. The goons took off. The crowd dispersed. Das started towards the exit. He stopped on hearing his name. Das looked back. It was Anushka. She ran to him and, hugged him tightly.

“I am sorry,” she mumbled, fighting tears, “I didn’t mean whatever I said in the park.” She continued between sobs, “I said all the bad things to you. I got paid only when I trapped someone.”

He patted on her shoulder. “Forget all that. It’s all past.”
The girl wiped off her tears. Das bought her a cold drink from the stall.

“Are you angry with me?”
“Not anymore,” said Das.
“Is your wife back?” she was relaxed now.
“She’s at bigger loss. You are a good man.”
“Well, I’m not sure about that,” he smiled. The train’s departure was announced. “You should go now.”

The girl sipped till the straw made noise, then returned the empty bottle to the vendor.
“Sure, not angry with me?” she said.
“Yes. I am not angry with you.”

She took a step back from him. “Say Mister Das,” she smiled coyly, “Do I look sexy to you?”
She was no more a girl. She had transformed into a woman overnight.

Das hesitated, then said: “You are the prettiest woman I have ever seen.”
She smiled. Waved to him and ran to the train. Das waited till the train disappeared at the horizon; then walked towards the exit.


Note: If you liked this short story, you might like my other short stories as well. Click here for more.

This story was published on Daiji