28 April 2012

The last road accident

In those days, If I remember correctly, Lily-bai’s house got the first telephone connection among the neighbors. Markam, Lily-bai’s husband, had come down from Middle-East and had decided not to return. Instead he opened a small grocery shop in the market. The phone and the TV came along with him in the last trip. For years, theirs was the only house that had a telephone or a color TV. For important events——usually cricket matches——the TV would be staged outside in the veranda on a high table and, a sizable crowd would gather. On weekends, Sunday evenings precisely, after the daily chores, neighbors would gather for the weekly cinema. In those days, before the cable TV, Doordarshan would telecast a single movie in a week.

The telephone served a different purpose though. It became a communication channel to the outside world. Prior to it, the neighborhood was isolated. The phone would ring unexpectedly, sometimes in the wee hours; someone would request to deliver an urgent message, to one of the neighboring houses. On such times, Lily-bai was seen rushing out for the errand. Many of the random calls were for Neelu——her husband had to leave for Middle East shortly after the wedding. Though, Lily-bai disapproved these hour long romantic calls, in her heart of hearts, she liked being the messenger for the lovers. Thus, she had become an important person, who, prior to the phone, was hardly known in the neighborhood.  

When strangers called Markam, for some work related to the shop or about the upcoming Panchayat-election, she would answer the call in a telephone operator tone. “May I put you on hold for a moment, if that’s not much of an inconvenience for you?” she would say. She had learned that line from TV, which she used generously with the strangers.

Over the period the calls have reduced. The mobile phones have flooded the market and now, even our milk-man has one.
Lily-bai has fond memories of the past; even now, occasionally when a stranger calls she was heard making polite requests to the callers: “May I put you on hold for a moment, if that’s not much of an inconvenience for you?”


“Where are you?” asked Lily-bai.
“No dinner tonight. I have a party-”
“You had a party yesterday.”
“Yes. Today is a new day.” Said her son, Sunil.  
“You said, If I get good scores-”
“Don’t ride the bike in the night; take an auto-”
A young woman’s giggles were heard from the other side.
“Who’s that?”
“Mom…I can’t hear you. Will call you back,” The line got disconnected.

“He’s going out of control,” she told Markam. Who’s going out of control? Markam wondered. But he soon concluded, the only person in the house, who could go out of control——other than Markam himself——would be his son. Markam had just reached home after a long day at the shop.
“This is his final year,” said Markam.
“When did you get your first bike?”
“What?” Over the years, Markam had got used to wife’s out-of-context questions; still, she managed to surprise him occasionally.  
“At what age you got your first bike?”
“I never had a bike. You know Father­-”
“How many girl-friends you had, before you married me?”
“What’s this?”
“Just answer.”
“None. Father showed your picture and commanded to marry-”
“How come your son doesn’t have a single quality from you? Sometimes I wonder if you are the real father.”
“You tell me!” said he, anxiously.  

Evening, the couple had a quiet dinner, in the absence of their son. “I will miss him if he gets a job in a distant place,” said Lily-bai.
“We might have to send him to Bombay,” said Markam. “I will have to talk to my sister to shelter him for a while.”
The thought of her son going away made her sullen.
“We should have gone for a second child…” she said.
“We can try now.”
That broke the pensive mood. She got up from the chair, started collecting the dishes; “One of these days, Look yourself in the mirror,” she giggled.

“Do you think I should call him?” she asked her husband, while making the bed.
“Don’t bother him.”
“It’s late.”
“He’ll be fine. He’s the key.”

Late evening she locked the doors but, let the outside light on. In the amber light, she noticed that the helmet was on the bench, where it was left last evening. She couldn’t sleep. Many a times, she had waited for Sunil on the couch. In those long waits, she had regretted not having more children. The decision to settle for a single child was made long back, when financial conditions were dire. In the early days of marriage, for Markam, it would have been difficult to manage a large family. Things improved only after he went to Gulf. The thoughts trailed off, when she heard the bike outside. After a sigh, she got up from the couch, and before her son could quietly open the door, she opened it for him.

“I know it is late-” he mumbled.
“Wear it,” she thrust the helmet in his hands. She went to sleep, without waiting for an answer.

The next morning, Lily-bai met the traffic police at the market junction.
“What’s the fine for not wearing the helmet?”
“Why do you want to know?”
She was expecting such a reply. She flourished a 100 Rs note. The policeman quickly pocketed it. “200 Rs with receipt; 50 without receipt,” He said.
“I know a college student who goes by this road everyday.”
Then she placed another hundred in his hands.
“What’s this?”
“For tea and snacks.”
“What for?”
“Make the fine a thousand.” She gave the details of the motorcycle and the rider.
“I know him; he’s a regular,” said the police. “Why so keen on this boy?”
“He’s my son,” she said.

At the dinner they spoke this and that. Lily-bai compared the father and son. Father’s hairline was fast receding, whereas the son could have started plaits anytime. The various colorful bands, on the left hand, suggested alliance to different causes, which Lily-bai didn’t know or didn’t care. 

“Things are getting expensive,” Markam said. He was referring to the retailers of his shop.
“Even fines! Do you know the fine for not wearing a helmet?” Sunil asked.
“One grand.”
“Thousand rupees.”
“Did the police stop you?” asked Lily-bai.
Markam sensed fowl business in the air; but chose to ignore it.

A few days later, while they were watching TV after the dinner, telephone rang. Lily-bai signaled Markam to reduce the TV volume.
“Mark Rodriguez?”
It was a stranger’s voice. Lily-bai remembered the old days; a mischievous smile came on her face.
“May I put you on hold for a moment, if that’s not much of an inconvenience for you?” From the couch, Markam shook his head, disapprovingly.
“Wait a moment…please…are you an acquaintance?”
“You can say that,” she said coyly.
“I have a message. May be you are the right person to inform the parents. I can’t do that…” The voice sounded hesitant. “There’s been an accident. They took Sunil to the emergency. But he died on the way-”
“Wait…hm…don’t…don’t tell them the boy died right away. Tell them he is serious and, eventually they will be ready for the sad news-”
At first, she thought someone was pulling a prank on her——like the way she was doing. Most of what she heard didn’t make any sense. Her hands started trembling. The eyes blurred. She had to sit in the chair before continuing. “Say that again please…” she said.

Around that time, they received the most number of calls——none were answered by Lily-bai. Markam answered all of them, patiently. He explained again and again, whatever minimum information he knew about the accident, to the many callers——most of whom were unknown to him. The callers were sympathetic, polite, and eager to jump for any help——deep in their hearts though, they let a sigh of relief, for such an incident had not happened to them. When the calls became unbearable, Markam put the receiver off the cradle.

Lily-bai, after receiving the news first hand, developed a fear for the phone. Later days, whenever it rang, a cold shiver would run through her spine. She didn’t touch the phone again.

Many rumors started after the funeral. The victim was eloping with stolen cash. An ex-friend had seen the departed using drugs, a few days ago. The rumors were wild, colorful, attention-grabbing, and untrue.

Markam’s neighbor and friend, Sastri, never called. He didn’t ask any questions. When needed he was available. At the mortuary, Sastri had suggested his friend to wait outside, and alone finished all the formalities. Sastri’s wife cooked food for both the families. Sastri would place the food on the kitchen counter and quietly make an exit.

“You don’t have to do this,” one time Markam told him. But the suggestion was ignored; the food kept coming. Often, the friends sat on the park bench, not talking for long. “He was wearing the helmet and he was not drunk,” said Sastri one day. Markam looked at his friend.
“I thought, you would want to know,” said Sastri.

Lily-bai didn’t sleep for 5 days in a row. The phone was off the cradle. On the 6th day, when she didn’t show any signs of sleep, she was taken to the hospital for sedation.

Markam cut down his outings and, confined himself to the house. The shop was leased temporarily.

Days dragged. One day, when she opened the door, on hearing the bell, a stranger was found.
“This is not the right time.” She slammed the door.

Later when she came out for some chores in the garden, she found the stranger sitting on the outside bench. On seeing her, he stood up, “I need only 30 minutes from you,” he said.

She looked at the tall lean man; he didn’t have the false enthusiasm of a salesman. His eyes were sunk in the sockets, glow less.

“You have waited 2 hours for a 30 minute talk.”
“It is important for me,” the man said.
She pulled a chair. The man sat on the bench.
“Do you know an organization called MADD? M-A-D-D.”
“No.” She said.

“In 1980, Candice Lightner’s 13 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, in California. The driver got away with a minimum sentence. Outraged, Candice formed a group of people who had the same misfortune. It is called MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The group fights against drunk driving, and helps victims of this heinous crime.

“The road accidents here are alarming. No where else we have such high numbers. My daughter was waiting for the bus when a truck hit her. She was not even near to the road.

“If we don’t respond now, some more lives will be lost. I don’t have a plan. But if we come together and talk about it something might come up. Some people have already showed interest.”

Lily-bai didn’t interrupt him; she eventually said: “My son won’t come back.”

“True. But you can save someone else’s son. You can save a family from ruins,” said the stranger. “Take a day to think about this. I will call you at ten in the morning.”

He gave her a few leaflets and his card, before leaving.


She got up early, and finished the chores. Though, there was no rush these days——No one waiting for the breakfast or the lunch-box. These things no more mattered. The funds, reserved for education, were liquidated for the day-to-day expenses. She had donated all her son’s clothes. His pictures were locked in a safe in the attic. However, she could not erase the memories, collected over the years, to cherish in the rainy days.  

She cleaned last night’s dishes; mopped the floor. At ten, the phone rang, as promised. Her body shivered. Palms started sweating. One time, she had run to take the calls.

She ignored the ring. Are there people like me in the outside world? she wondered; people who quietly suffer injustice and become martyrs, eventually. These thoughts disturbed her. Why no one has come forward so far?

She was never a front runner; she had never started a conversation with a stranger——never addressed a crowd. All those things were left for Markam.

What is at stake? She asked herself and realized at once, she had nothing to lose, now that she had lost everything. In that moment things became clear to her. The phone was still ringing. She picked the phone.

“Hello,” she said.


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

The story was first published on www.daijiworld.com

14 April 2012

Parenthood and some other things…

This entry is a part of the contest at BlogAdda.com in association with imlee.com

Prologue: an untold incident from the past

When I was in engineering, one day, a classmate climbed the high-wall of the ladies hostel. From there, he climbed up a water pipe to the third floor——to fetch the undergarments of one of the most beautiful ladies of that time. The stories of this incident spread like wild fire and, became more and more colorful as time passed by. When I heard this, I went berserk, pulled my hair and, banged my head——for not doing this ingenious feat myself.

Later, in a secret auction, held in a remote corner of the boys’ hostel in the wee hours, the coveted possession was bid for an outrageous price.

This was long back. Years have passed. Much water has flowed under the bridges. Governments have fallen. Sometimes, in the evenings, I sit in the easy-chair on the porch, and remunerate the old-event. I wonder, why would someone risk his life to fetch something that had no use for him whatsoever? But if you think about it, it’s not a bizarre incident. Something like this should be expected from all men. Historically, you might have noticed, men have done notoriously foolish things, apparently for no particular gain.

I am a different person, now. Over the period my values have changed. Things that once took my fancy, no more fascinate me. May be I am becoming old before my time. I no more wear an ear-ring, no tattoo, no torn jeans, no piercing, and in the last few years I have skipped Mardi-Gras. Now, mostly I go for formals, prefer ties, avoid jeans, and wear long sleeves to hide needle marks. I am erasing my past, mainly because, now I have a year old daughter. God forbid, years from now, in her teens, she won’t come across a person like me.

The reality: Baby is here.

In my case, parenting was an accident. We planned everything meticulously, nothing worked, and finally when we lost hope, God gave us a baby. Hence, a beautiful surprise. It was opposite in my parents’ case. They opted for family-planning, failed miserably, and I was born. Hence, a terrible nightmare! I was born almost immediately after my parents’ wedding; some skeptics had concluded, perhaps I was the reason for their hurried nuptials! This is not true: highly preposterous. Where do people get such ideas? My parents are just regular folks, very religious. They wouldn’t dream such a thing or——wait a minute, now that I think about it——Oh my God! Did I just stumble on a family secret? A secret buried for more than 30 years. The world is going to the dogs! Nowadays, you can’t even trust your parents!

My wife and I took some time to digest the fact that we were parents. After delivery, from the hospital, we went straight home; placed the baby on the bed. My wife looked at me. I looked at her. We looked at each other. (Did you notice I just used 3 sentences, instead of one, to convey a single fact? I guess, I will always remain an amateur.)

“Oh my God,” I said, “This baby is real. And it is going to stay for times to come.”

Then it hit me that I have become a parent. Some days, I was woken up in the early hours by baby-cries, shouted obscenities at the neighbors, only to realize that it was my baby. Life won’t be same anymore. Many things were going to change: no more movie theatres, no more quiet candle-light dinners, and no more late night parties.

Transitioning to parenthood

My parents had three children. To me, they always looked composed. They glided through parenting, smoothly. I have one child, and so far, at least 3 times, I have thought of running away from home!

When my wife was pregnant, we begged God——for twins. When we realized, that there won’t be twins, I felt dejected. “God!” I said, “One simple thing I asked you in so many years. But you won’t oblige me.”

Now, after having a baby for a year, I told God, “Thank you God, for not listening to my prayer!” From this I have learned that God’s plans are better than ours——he is a better Project Manager!

Baby taught us many things: Importance of sleep. The value of this simple pleasure——that I had taken for granted——I realized only when I was deprived of it.

Either I or my wife needs to sleep whenever the baby sleeps, because when she wakes up, someone should hold her. She sleeps clutching my hand, tightly. This gives her a comfort feeling; however, I can not sleep, if someone holds my hand. This reverse requirement has cost me many sleepless nights. Life has become baby-centric (In the past it was Mom-centric, wife-centric, and boss-centric. I was never the center of my own life.)

A few weeks ago, I found myself eating food in the wee hours.

“What time is it?” I asked my wife.

“2 in the morning.”

“Which year?”


The room was revolving with a great speed. The fan was stable.

“Which year?” I repeated.

“Does it really matter?”

“It is fine if you don’t know the answer,” I said, “I guess, one is not expected to answer all the questions.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“Does it really matter?”

“What are you saying?”

“Why am I eating at this hour?” I asked.

“…we slept with the baby; she is up now.”

“Baby? What baby?”

I guess I was losing my mind.

In spite of several warnings from friends and dear ones, we used to hold the baby all the time. Now she is used to it, can’t put her down, even for seconds. Right now, I am typing with one hand. In the other hand I have the baby——I have become ambidextrous. I can type with right or left hand depending on where the baby is. I am going to demonstrate this on YouTube soon. You will believe me then.

Before the baby, I had so much free time; I was contemplating on writing a novel. I had a great plot. A young man, frustrated by family and relatives migrates to a distant country. There he meets a girl and marries her. Time flies. But this man has an immense desire to tell his story to the world. He wants to write a book. He is all set, but then the baby arrives and the dream is shattered! Intelligent readers would notice that this is my own story!

I can only write what happens in my life. My luck! (In this regard I am like Maugham.)I cannot write true fiction. I tried though. I wrote a few short stories (I know you haven’t read them); a few kind readers, who read my stories, were traumatized. My stories build-up tension till the end, but once you are there, nothing happens. They just end abruptly. This has caused frustration among many readers. Several readers have warned Daiji to stop publishing my stories, or they will go somewhere else. One person has committed suicide. His last note said: “Though, in my heart, I knew this is a mediocre world, I had some hope. But after reading Mr. Lobo’s short stories…”

Did you notice the abrupt ending? The victim didn’t even bother to complete the sentence! Such is the effect of my stories!

The India trip

Being born in the US, my daughter is a citizen. She can visit about 150 countries without a Visa: except, India! Just my luck.

On the other hand, being an Indian citizen, without a visa I get to visit only one country in the whole word: Nepal. Which is not bad—— Nepal is a beautiful country. If the chaos in Mangalore increases, I might just go to Nepal and settle down there. End of the day, I am more interested in leading a peaceful life than to find out which one of our Gods are stronger! Expecting a peaceful life has become a luxury!

At Mangalore airport, the moment I got off the plane, my phone rang. Only one person could have called me precisely at that time: Mother. All mothers have this instinct about their children. They can sense their child in the vicinity. This is a motherly thing. I can’t really explain it. God being “God”, with his tight schedule, created mothers——to delegate some of his responsibilities.

I was meeting Mom after 2 years; so many emotions; so many stories to tell. My eyes welled up; lips quivered.

“Hello Mom”

“Sir!” said the voice, “ICICI welcomes you to Mangalore.”

Apparently it was my NRI bank. They had some “ingenious” scheme, created having only myself in mind——so kind of them.

“I just landed,” I said.

“What better time than Now sir? Gandhiji had said——”

“Let’s not drag Gandhiji into this——”

[During the course of my vacation, I got several calls from the same person——for they had created several schemes, keeping only me in mind. My vacation almost got screwed. I am so tempted to mention the name of the person.]

When my mother saw me at the gate, she was surprised.

“I thought you were coming tomorrow.” So much for the motherly instinct!

“Even the bank people have my correct itinerary,” I said.

The dog at the gate started barking. My daughter cried in alarm. She had never seen a barking dog. In America dogs don’t bark. Their mere purpose: aesthetic.

I had not seen the dog before.

“Why do you entertain stranger’s dog on our property?”

“It is not a stray dog.” Mom said.


“It is our dog.”

“Why it is barking at me?”

“It thinks you are a stranger!”

The dog was stupid, because it was barking at me——its owner! Though I said, I am the owner, eventually my younger brother will get everything——he being the favorite. I will get Grandpa’s ancient book-shelf. One time, in a literary fervor, I had announced that the shelf is the most important thing in my life——Mom took that literally.

In Mangalore, I became busier. Sometimes I attended three weddings in a day. And sometimes, the schedule was so tight, I attended one wedding, my wife attended another and the baby third one. Everyone wants to marry in December and wages a life long grudge if you miss the wedding. Thankfully, I didn’t have to visit any friends——all my friends are on FaceBook. I have about 27000 friends. Most of them don’t even know me. Many don’t have a clue, whether I am a man or a woman or an android. They don’t care if I am 16, 46 or 256. But they want to do farming with me. They send Farmville requests. I would rather go to our fields and do some real ground work.

Accidentally, I met my ex-girlfriend at Citi-Center. We carefully avoided the past, and discussed unrelated things: New York Stock Exchange rates, rainfall in Peru, alchemism, and global warming.

“I have made many mistakes in life,” she said, eventually.

I gasped. Time froze. For a moment birds stopped in mid air; everything went black and white——someone mistakenly had turned the color knob to minimum; barking dogs lost their voices; American radars monitoring North Korean borders malfunctioned for a few seconds.

My heart——that ticks 72 times per minute——skipped a few precious beats. Oh! God! Am I going to be another Humbert Humbert? Vronsky? Mellors?

“I have made many mistakes,” she continued, “but rejecting you is the only right thing I did in my life!”

Birds continued their flight; dogs found their voices; color got restored; Heart beat resumed steadily. All is well.

Tips for future parents

Now, whenever we go out with the baby, we take a big bag with baby stuff. The first time when we went to the hospital, we just took the baby. We had just changed the diapers and the hospital was near by, so we decided against taking the extra luggage, for a half hour outing.

In the hospital, there was this big million-dollar ultra-sensitive machine to check the baby weight.

I was about to place the baby on the machine, the nurse said: “No! No! No! Remove her clothes first.”

So I placed the baby, only with the diaper.

“Remove the diaper too”

“This may not be a good idea!” I said.

“Just do it!”

“I have a better solution.”

“What is it?”

“Weigh the baby with the diaper. Then weigh a fresh diaper. Subtract the weights. Take an absolute. The resultant is the point-in-time weight of the baby!”

“Are you an engineer?”

Shocked! “How did you guess?”

“Because you just gave me a perfect solution that is totally useless to me!”

With that she snatched the baby, removed her diapers and placed her on the machine. And the baby did what was forecasted. My point: Never hold a baby without a diaper, especially in public places. Don’t try it, however confident you are.

At this point of my article, I am supposed to give some tips, for future parents. Parenting is great­­­­——but marry first! (One of these days, I am going to be in deep trouble for my liberal thoughts! You know, how touchy we Mangaloreans are about Culture and Heritage!)

New parents are suckers for tips; they would go to any length to get the tiniest bit of information. The best thing about being a parent is that now you can give advice to future parents.

Remember there are no bad children, only bad parents. (I hope, someone would tell this thing to my parents.) The things you have been postponing to do after the baby, do them now. After the baby you won’t find time.

If you are pregnant right now, you should not read this article. I would highly encourage you to read better literature. You don’t want a child with mediocre literary taste. When pregnant, eat to your heart’s content; people will think the extra weight is because of the baby. With higher buoyancy, this is the right time to learn swimming. Watch movies, read books, take prenatals, no weight lifting, avoid flights, avoid seafood, exercise, walk, sleep, paint your tummy, talk to the baby, no smoking, no alcohol, no caffeine, and no sex——oops! All right, once a week!

There will be people ready to obey orders, exploit them. Once you are in the last trimester, don’t stray far from the hospital. Visit the delivery room in advance, don’t look for it at the last moment. Go for epidural, it’s worth it! Don’t worry about the back pain——it’s a myth.

Like all mammals (including platypus and echidna) nursing is the best thing for newborns! Go for it! No second thoughts! You can count on me on this one. Apparently some of you want to become Models. Nothing wrong with that. Or may be, it is better to be models for your children than to do a ramp walk for strangers! Oh my god! Did I just say something taboo? I have an eerie feeling that I just lost some of my fairer fans. I have dug my grave.

The great expectations

My parents are simple people; Father used to be 10th in the class, Mother stood 15th——there were 15 students in her class! These two seemingly simple folks expected me to be number one in virtually everything!

As a child, I started talking quite late; one could see my lips moving, framing sentences in my mind, before actually uttering them. Einstein had the same problem. My parents misinterpreted these signs. Thought the successor to Einstein was born in their house——nothing is more preposterous! Einstein was working on The Unified Theory at the end of his life, which he could not prove. My parents thought, I would resume his work. Such was their expectation.

I begged them. “Com’on guys, please be practical,” I said, “How can I become a super-achiever when the two of you are just plain?”

Mom said: “Einstein’s parents were not scientists!”

I replied: “Einstein’s children were not scientists either!”

That caused more confusion.

With all these expectations, I used to manage a second rank in the class. The first rank holder was a divinely gifted genius: A Tendulkar. Where as I was a look alike: A Sehwag. I had some shining but I was nowhere near number one. My mom was immensely sad about my second rank.

She couldn’t have been sadder, had I been the last rank holder in the class. Secretly she coveted a son like the first rank holder. But the Gods had cheated her, and blessed her with a son destined to be number 2 in everything he tried! A second rater! A fake!

All my life, I had been second to someone superior. I am the person whom the photographers push aside, to get a clear picture of someone prominent. Being second is a fate worse than losing. How many people know the second highest mountain in the world? or the second fastest man on the planet? or the second longest river? How many people know Buzz Aldrin? No one remembers a second position.

With these experiences, I don’t have any expectations from my daughter. I hope, she realizes the uselessness of the rat-races early in life. I have either become a mystic or set my goals too low——probably, the latter one.

On retrospection, I feel, I haven’t done that bad. In fact I am doing better than some of the number one people of my student life. On the other hand a few last benchers have become millionaires. Not being number one (in anything!) doesn’t bother me much, now. I guess, some people are chosen only to clap hands. We all have roles to play. Probably this is what Milton meant in his quote: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Epilogue: A Happy man

I was holding my daughter so far; just now I placed her on my desk. I can see her from the corner of my eyes. In a few days she will babble her first words. She is making the efforts. I can see her lips moving, She is formulating the words in her mind. Like me, she is a trifle slow in her responses. Her unruly hair, permanently disheveled, gives her the look of a scientist. Oh! My God! Are these some kinds of signs?

List of short stories


Here are all my memoirs in a sequence. 
Memoirs of Ria 

1. A simple life (22 Jan 2008)
2. My wedding and related incidents (23 November 2008)
3. Good news (27 September 2009)
4. The long wait (14 Jan 2010)
5. Everyday is a miracle (01 June 2010)
6. Parenthood and some other things (14 March 2011)
7. Summer with Daughter (19 september 2011)
8. Paradise (27 Feb 2012)
9. I'm just fine (17 June 2012)
10. Sun is sleeping (31 October 2012)
11. Parenting, Memories (16 March 2013)

Some more memoirs...