Tag Archives: Fiction

Rajaram Shah’s First Red Light

It was about eleven thirty in the night when Rajaram Shah, feeling quite unlike himself realised that only a paltry sum of fifty euros stood in front of his four inch inch penis and the six foot two inch ivory white prostitute standing in front of him.

Impossible, thought Rajaram. He had purchased dry fruits and spices that were more expensive in the past.

He stared at the perfect figure in front of him, ready to be rented out. His mouth watered. The feeling that he could afford her physical shell so easily added to it. This was a primal feeling of power. He felt his wallet bulge fatter than his penis ever had and a euphoric feeling of childlike elation stirred in him. He had never seen a woman look so desirable anywhere in his hometown. Women such as this were seen only in the inner folders of his pornography collection. His own wife back at home refused to undress in front of him, unless he agreed to look away and the lights were switched off. But then, he had been married for only half a year.

Rajaram had been sent to Antwerp to sell two solitaires that were proving themselves to be particularly hard to sell in his hometown of Surat. His family business of crafting personalised diamond sets had taken a rather unhappy u-turn after the economy had majestically crashed over the past three months. Even the most affluent of Surat’s elite who had no problem being fleeced by the Shah’s in broad daylight on a casual Wednesday afternoon were watching their expenses all of a sudden.

Rajaram’s father knew an old Jewish trader near the red light district who he knew would love to be ‘surprised’ by a visit from his Indian allies. Rajaram was packed off with a warning from his father not to eat any meat, drink any alcohol or engage in any activity that would dishonour the clan through the duration of his first foreign trip. He had sworn on different sets of Gods that he wouldn’t. His father knew he would.

The whiteness of her skin fascinated him. His own skin looked so murky in comparison. It reminded him of dirt. He wanted to know what she felt like. He wondered if blonde white girls were blonde even down there.

His deal had gone rather well. He hadn’t sold at the price his father wanted to, but none the less, he had sold at a handsome profit. Taking in account the small cuts he would need to give to bribe out customs officers back at home and the two middlemen that had helped balance out the translations, he would still come back home with enough cash to lavishly splurge through the next five months.

There were at least a hundred women to choose from, in the red light street. Each was standing in a glass cubicle, in very much the same way clothes are displayed on mannequins in stores, like meat hangs on hooks ready to be picked. The cubicles were numbered in a rural bazaar sort of a way. They were all scantily dressed, each with the same tacky neon green palely glowing lingerie.

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Rajaram had walked slowly in the rectangular block, mentally rating and forming an image of how each one would feel in bed. He walked past the first two – chestnut brown latinas with obviously coloured blonde hair. One of them raised her finger and waggled it invitingly at him. His penis was half hard already. But he must be patient. He must see all the goods before making a transaction. He must not make a hasty first timer decision, he thought.

Rajaram had turned right at the intersection. An old wrinkled man had been furiously arguing with an equally old looking transexual. He appeared to have touched her in a place she had warned him not to, and was demanding more money. A small glimmer of fear had stirred in him about what he was about to do.

Rajaram walked silently past women of every shape and size, women with large breasts and small ones, women talking on the phone about topics as insignificant as the increasing price of nail paint remover and women deformed and ugly, struggling at the prospect of getting a customer. They were from Hungary, Estonia, Germany and a hundred other places which had no importance in their lives

A dim red glow illuminated the street. Passers by were lightly painted by the colour at intervals as they walked. As each man paused and stared, Rajaram noticed the same hungry look of abject sexual desperation on each masculine face, dark and dangerous. Some made lewd signs at the women in the stalls. Some hooted and catcalled. A drunk man opened his zipper and pulled his cock out waving it in front of a Turkish woman’s face. He was promptly attacked by brothel security. The world will never be a place for women, Rajaram thought.

Rajaram stopped in front of the Red and Blue nightclub bang in the middle of the stretch. Three fifteen year old schoolgirls with their faces caked with makeup were pleading to the bouncers that they were eighteen, but had forgotten all their id’s at home owing to a very unfortunate coincidence. One of them casually pulled her dress lower, giving the bouncer a very ample view of her breasts.

Raja stared at a cubicle just behind a sex shop promising very attractive discounts on its newest range of vibrators. He went closer, drawn to the stunning vision of sexual perfection in it. She was mouth watering. She was tall, with legs large and muscular. Her bellybutton was pierced, her dark nipples standing erect behind the light fabric on her breasts. Her breasts in question were huge and firm. Rajaram felt an unquestionable urge to throw her on the floor and mount her immediately. The woman sensed his desire and spread her legs just enough for him to get a glipse of a bit of her vagina. Like a dog following meat, Rajaram came close to her cubicle.

The woman opened the door and with a causal air, asked the man in front of her, “What would you like?” Her east European accent was pronounced. Rajaram asked innocently, “What all can I do?”

For fifty euros you can touch me. You can fuck me in any position you like for twenty minutes and I also blow you.

The proposition sounded highly lucrative. Fifty euros to even see her in her nakedness was a bargain. Rajaram would have gladly paid a thousand for her to fondle him, let alone have sex.  But the Indianness in him kicked him. He refused to just agree, even though the amount was chicken feed for him.

Thirty Euros!”, he said, trying to sound like someone who does this everyday.

Fifty is base price, mister”, she replied. Her eyes sparkling blue. They were lenses, Rajaram realised.

“Thirty is all I have” said Rajaram attempting a sad and desperate face that fooled no one.

“Look mister. Forty is as low as I go. You take or you leave” said the woman with a tone of finality that told Rajaram bargaining was pointless beyond this stage.

Fine. I’ll give you forty” She ushered him in.

Money first” she demanded as he entered the brothel. Rajaram counted two notes of twenty and held them in front of her. She quickly stashed them away and guided him to her room, a corridor away. “My name is Christine“, she added giving him a formal peck on the cheek.

The room appeared to be where she stayed. There was an obnoxious red satin bed cover on the bed, which was the only bit of furniture besides a chest of drawers. Three photos were stuck on them. Two appeared to be of her parents and what seemed to be a childhood photo of hers. She was sitting on a swing in the photo, the innocence of childhood stamped vibrantly on her face. Rajaram wondered if she’d have ever thought this day would come back then.

“What are you waiting for? Take your clothes off!”, she demanded. She squeezed a generous helping of lube on her palms and rubbed it all inside her vagina with no hint of hesitation. “Don’t be shy now“, she added, a little more kindly, almost sensing his awkwardness.

Rajaram removed his shirt and jeans and threw them on the floor. He proceeded with his underwear. He faced her stark naked.

You have a big dick”, she said. He knew she was lying, but he felt the ego boost, none the less. Christina made him lie down and removed a condom packet. She ripped it open and slid it on his throbbing penis with a certain professionalism he knew he wouldn’t be able to pull off on himself anytime in the near future. She began to blow him slowly. Rajaram was turned on. He placed his palms greedily on her breasts and pressed.

“NO. Slowly. The silicon. It will break”

Christina slapped his hands away. Somewhere in a corner of Rajaram’s mind it registered. No wonder their breasts looked so firm and large. It was impossible that they were natural. Each and every one of them were loaded with silicon.

Rajaram got up and inserted himself from
the top. Her vagina felt odd, loose yet firm.

Come baby! Come in my pussy”, she droned, sounding very much like a well rehearsed script. She had repeated the same lines with the same tone to countless others. As he began thrusting harder, an animal like urge took over him. He felt nothing for the human being he was having sex with. He didn’t care if he was hurting her or not.

Go on top?” Rajaram panted, not knowing requests didn’t belong in the corners of the room that had only seen demands.
“No”, came her cold reply. “That is all you get for forty. Are you done yet? Have you come?”

It dawned on Rajaram that his usual battle of trying to last longer than the woman who was with him didn’t apply here. He was in the heat of the moment though and had no plans of dismounting anytime soon.

Fine. I’ll give you fifty!”, he mouthed

“Doesn’t work now”

“What do you mean, doesn’t work now?”

“Everyone says they pay later. After coming, they don’t”

” I’ve given you what you asked for till now. I’m telling you. I’ll give you fifty”

“Fine mister. But you don’t pay. I won’t let you leave.”

The promise of ten extra Euros saw a noticeable difference in her participation. She clawed at his back and butt with crude effort, and after twelve minutes worth of mechanised fucking, Rajaram Shah came, restoring his conscious thoughts as every drop of himself collected inside blocked by latex.

Christina was washing the lube off her vagina from a bidet in full sight by the time Rajaram finished wearing his trousers. He peeled a ten Euro note across and handed it to her. He noticed a copy of Dan Brown’s ‘Digital Fortress’ in the room, but decided against asking her for her opinion on whether the end was predictable.

Close the door on your way out mister’ she said, kissing him on the cheek, closing the contract formally, before standing outside, exactly like she had for him, just for another stranger this time.

Rajaram was thinking of a lot of things when he came out. He was thinking of whether there were cameras in the room. He was thinking of the book more than necessary. It made her seem human, almost. He walked into a dingy reeking bar in the same lane and was greeted by twelve African American women, each engrossed in convincing one or more of the men in the bar to take them to bed after buying them drinks and settling on a price for the night.

The world is a dark place, thought Rajaram as two men proceeded to put their tongues in each others mouths at a table nearby. They had a rainbow badge on their tshirts. He had no idea what it meant. He simply sat in his chair comprehending the morality of the past hour in his life and realised that there was no glory in his actions. There would be millions like him over the world, sitting the same way, arguing with themselves about the terrible shade of grey the world has painted mankind with. He swore he would never repeat it.

On his way home, he stopped at cubicle number three. He saw a girl, barely over sixteen shyly showing off her supple body. She was beautiful beyond words. She looked at each potential man crossing her with a gaze of partial fear and hope. Did she know how beautiful she looked, Rajaram wondered. What wouldn’t he do to take her to a place of comfort, of security. As remorse slowly filled him, Rajaram Shah walked home with her picture haunting his imagination with regret and a sadness that would last him for a very long time.

He would fuck her all three times he visited Antwerp the following year.

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Look Brother! I can fly!

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One dull winter morning, the kind of a morning where nothing of significance happens, where the clouds are a dull grey and the colours of the peacock refuse to excite the eye, Rama woke up to find out that he had grown a beautiful pair of wings overnight.

His initial reaction was one of horror. As muscles in his body that had never been used began to twitch and his eyes saw the outline of this transformation, he wanted to scream in horror, though he did not feel physical pain in any part of his body. His shoulders and arms seemed intact but did not seem the feeble twig like extensions they used to be. He closed his eyes and touched what he could touch of his left wing with his palm and realised that they were made of several folds, and had a much larger span than what he immediately perceived in his mind. Their outer covering was of fur and the inner layer of tight bound muscle.

“How did this happen?” thought Rama as he proceeded to find a mirror to examine himself. His entire body seemed to have transformed to accommodate the wings. He had become toned and lithe, and the cut of every muscle could be seen prominently against his skin. As he willed his wings to open a little and the folds undid themselves, Rama could not remember seeing a sight that was so beautiful. His wings were pearly white against his bluish dark skin tone. He was a picture of perfection, a word that had never been used near or about him since his birth.

“Could I still be asleep?”

It was a perfectly valid question. After all, no one should fall prey to hallucination. He opened the knife he would keep next to his bed and delicately poked himself. A small dot of blood formed at the spot. The pain that came with it, was the sweetest thing he had felt. It was proof that a good thing had happened on an ordinary day.

It’s your turn to milk the deer” brought his elation to the ground. His brother, Lakshman had already woken up and was screaming his set of morning orders from the inner den. Milking the family deer was the least of Rama’s concerns, at this precise moment. How would Lakshman react when he saw the wings? Would he think of his transformation as a disease? And what use were these majestic wings, anyway? Why had he been gifted them? Questions such as these kept wafting through his head.

“Rama!!!!”

The voice intensified. Lakshman had always been the commanding one, though he was older by just a few minutes. The brothers were nothing like twins. Rama was bluish and looked underfed, while Lakshman was a handsome golden bronze oak in shade, handsome as a lion in heat. His legs were like mace irons and his voice sent the python scuttling away despite it being deaf and dumb.

Rama covered himself with his lijaas and walked down the twenty foot passage that connected both their rooms into the common room. The added weight of his wings, as a thoughtful reader might have thought, did not seem to bother him. He was walking with a grace no one who knew him would have ever thought he’d develop. As he opened the door to the common room, he realised Lakshman was nowhere to be seen. He was probably in the kitchen, slow roasting meat. Rama hoped it wasn’t hare. Hare tasted fine, but it didn’t agree with his stomach after a second helping. He would have to exercise control.

Rama cautiously opened the main door, and stepped outside. The sun was just starting to reveal herself, very shyly. The tips of the tallest trees looked scarlet. As he looked up at the sky and saw three hawks cruising through the air currents, he instinctively knew what he was supposed to do and flexed his wings out. The folds of muscle neatly packed to accommodate room for himself crashed outwards in a blaze and stood out in white perfection against his blue skin. He looked like he had been born to tame the skies.

Rama  flapped his wings. His heart gushed blood to every extension, it came to him like the creator had willed it. He began to see every air current like a different person, one calm, one angry, one particularly morbid, one energetic but short lived. As the pressure under his wings started building up and the weight he felt of his own body started reducing, Rama finally came to terms with his transformation. He could fly.

As Rama rose higher, the million doubts that had flocked his mind seemed so breeze away. The trees and man-caves around seemed so small. He could see thousands of miles around. The world was so big. Rama’s eye caught the glance of a current that seemed friendly, so he decided to lock his wings to it. What a beautiful morning, Rama thought, as he levitated peacefully above his door.

“Explain yourself right now!” Lakshman’s voice radiated through the cold winter morning. Rama felt the happiness ebb out of him. How was he to make his brother understand what he was going through. What if Lakshman decided to throw him out of home?

As Rama slowly lowered himself, he prostrated himself before his elder brother and truthfully recounted the events of the morning. Lakshman’s face was inscrutable as he asked an occasional question. As Rama finished the story, Lakshman touched the left wing with his palm, almost with the same look he would have whenever they managed to pan gold at the river bed. He felt his brothers torso, and how hard it had become overnight. He even compared their shoulders, to see which seemed better developed.

The settlement healer was called, to take a look at whether the demons had bewitched Rama. Lakshman didn’t want any bad spirits changing himself, no way at all. As the healer saw Rama fly, he too had nothing to report but bewilderment and awe at the beauty of Rama’s flight. He passed the transformation as the good grace of forest well –wisher. After all, who would gift someone as simple as Rama something so beautiful? The deeper question – why?

Days passed, and news of Rama spread across caves and settlements all around. People would come by making excuses to meet Lakshman in the morning hours where Rama would practise flying. He had become so good. He would be swooping in circles and suddenly dive-bomb to skim the grass. He would levitate like the lazy stream for hours and accelerate like a falling flake of ice the next moment.

Rama’s fame seem to have cast a spell of morbidity on Lakshman. He had become competitive in every small way. He would take small delight in proving himself to be superior in every small aspect, right from who ate more bee honey during breakfast, to who found the fresher catch, when the two went net fishing.

The brothers had felt a strange shift of power in the house. Of course, Lakshman was still utterly dominant. The right to obedience that he once commanded seemed subdued now. A small amount of tension seemed to emerge when Rama finished his hunts hours before Lakshman and always managed to prey on the choicest meat. Once Rama had walked into his bed early to find Lakshman trying to flap his arms in the same way Rama would ruffle his wings after a long flight.

On Lakshman’s twenty-fifth day of birth, Rama bowed his head low and asked his brother what service he could render as the customary slave promise?  Lakshman was quiet for a very long time and asked Rama if he was strong. Rama said yes. He would do anything for his brother.

“Take me for a flight” his brother commanded.

Rama had never been happier. In the two years since his wings emerged, Lakshman had never asked even once how it felt to fly. Rama knew that Lakshman was far too proud to ask him how it felt, thought the curiosity of seeing Rama fly high up amongst the heavens with his trademark arrow like silhouette marked in a haze of blue against the sky had send darts of jealousy through Lakshman every single time.

Gripping his brother tight Rama soared higher than he ever had before. It was a wonderful moment. They were one, for the first time. Rama manoeuvred through giant Aprico trees and hooted at the scabby vultures that would haunt the skies at every alternate hour during the season end. He showed him the spot where the three sisters of Chihara’s family would come to touch themselves.

When they were down, Lakshman started asking strange questions. Do you love me, Rama? He asked. More than my life brother, Rama replied. Would you do anything I asked?

Of course, brother, came Rama’s reply.

“Sit down on this chair and don’t move till I tell you.”

Rama sat. He tucked his wings back into their folds. He wondered what Lakshman could possibly want from him? Maybe he was to go somewhere far and get him something.

As Lakshman came back, he was carrying a strange looking object with him. It looked like a saw, but it had a double blade and a hinge in between. It was almost as if…

“I want your wings”

Rama stared in horrified disbelief at his brother. Surely, he hadn’t just heard what he had heard.

A surge of emotions thundered through Rama’s head. For the first time in his life, he considered physically striking his brother. He felt utterly repulsed at the very face of his brother, the low life that he was proving himself to be. Family were meant to celebrate each other’s triumphs. They were supposed to shelter each other’s faults. He wondered how insecure his brother’s mind was. And yet, Rama sat. He did not unlock his wings and soar away, to a land where family didn’t matter. He didn’t  pick his brother up and throw him from a point in the sky where his head would crack into small fragments if he was released. He didn’t leave and consider never being seen ever again. Rama was a good man and as the observer has frequently observed, nothing nice ever happens to a man who is good.
It was a bound rule of the clan to not deny a person celebrating his day of birth a gift. Rama was bound by family law. He sat in mute silence as his brother smiled to himself and locked his wings in the hinge blade, right at the joint. As he pressed deep, the blade went through the bone with a crunch, as blood oozed out. Rama screamed in pain, but the agony of sacrifice was worse, as he saw the remainder of his beautiful lying on the ground.

No sooner had Lakshman clipped the second wing, than Ram glowed white and returned to the human state he was in. The tight skin and muscle returned to flab. The cuts evened out. The gashes healed on their own and he became once again, what he was so famous for earlier- being absolutely average.

They were equals once more, but as a famous writer had once said – Lakshman was more equal than Rama.

The brothers continued to live together, but never spoke. They did not care about each other’s existence. They just continued to live.

Rama would often wake up screaming, and touch his shoulder blades, the ghosts of wings once present bothering him with their touch. His phantom wings would wince and his mind would ache with the thought of opening them and souring through the night sky with the bats and other creatures of the night.

One winter morning, Lakshman woke up to find out that he had transformed overnight. He had grown a beautiful pair of jet black wings, powerful and strong. As he flew his maiden flight, the cold winter air filled his lungs up like a drug, and he too, wondered what Rama had wondered – How did this happen to me?

As a quiet Rama opened the door to see his brother in the sky, Lakshman looked down at his brother and for the first time in two years, opened conversation with a smile. “Look brother, I can fly” he said.

All Rama could remember was that fleeting last image of Lakshman soaring through the sky, becoming smaller and smaller till he disappeared.

He would never come back…

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Originally published on Aniket Dasgupta’s dfuse.in

http://dfuse.in/fction/look-brother-can-fly/

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The Howling of the Wind

Originally published on thereader.in

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The soldier was waiting on top of the mountain. The wind was howling like he had never heard it howl before.

Where are the others, he thought. Why haven’t they reached! Run ahead, they had told him. We will meet you at the temple. He had sprinted up till his legs were slow-burning embers. He was sure he had made the distance before the clock screamed three. There used to be a time when he could do it in two, but those were younger days, fitter days.

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The wind was loud today. It seemed distressed. There was a sinister, dark tone to its screaming. Their unit of 50 men had been slowly reduced to seven. War had been going on for countless years. He had been reduced to a skeletal ruin of bone and the odd muscle after six sun rounds of blood battle. His father had died when he was six. His uncle when he was nine. He did not know how old he was, but was quite certain how old he would be when he too, would wave his farewell to the world that had given him so little.

They had all grown up near the mountain, but never climbed it at night. He knew each inch of the rocky mud like a part of himself, but it looked so different in the darkness. It was beautiful in the rains, but would scorch one’s eyes out in the heat of the summer. He loved the sun; the sun was a warm orb. He found the moon scary. It would hang lifelessly, with a glow that looked almost stolen from somewhere. He walked to the peepul tree opposite the casav‘s pond. It was rumoured that the dead came back to reclaim their debts at night. His father used to tell him that man is scared of the night because he cannot see what lies before him. The soldier would always smile at this memory. He was scared of the night because he did not know who could see him.

 

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The howling stopped his chain of thought. The wind slapped his face coldly. He wondered how the wind it would be if it turned into a person. A man or a woman? He thought of a man with long hair and a cold voice. He thought of someone who would coldly cut through flesh without emotion, without a war cry. Maybe even someone who would enjoy it. He walked up to the edge of the fort. He sat on the rusty cannon that had been sabotaged by the Janaasa tribe. It was a fine weapon when it was working. One could hear its roar leagues away. It had once torn a hole through the gut of an elephant.

He thought of his brothers who should have been sitting next to him by now. He had trained with them, fought with them, lived with them. He often wondered whether he would have been this close with any of them if it hadn’t been for the war. Men often grow common roots out of circumstance.

He had seen the fisherman take a last sip of water before he drew the final breath from the hands of the florist. He had seen the butcher lay at rest the passion of the priest using his hands and mouth several times after the priest lost his wife.

The wind had changed its tone. It sounded like the last few cries of the first woman who he had taken by force. He had slit her throat after she started screaming beyond his patience. He had finished spraying her just as her body violently shook to death. But the wind seemed to enjoy it. The woman had not.

His brothers were stronger than he was. He was a stealth fighter. He was used to the dart, the arrow, the crossbow. He preferred the touch of poison, not steel. He would aim to finish the strongest enemies at a distance, making the fight would be easier for the rest. He was weak in his hands. Age was slowly winning against him though his eyes were just as sharp as they used to be. He could still strike out a crow with a blow dart just by hearing the sound of its scavenging.

He wondered if there would ever be a time when he would see a sunrise at the beginning of a day where spilling blood wouldn’t be a necessity. He often questioned if his children would be free to roam around the towns regardless of their loyalty. That was where he cut himself short. He would never have children. The odds of him surviving the war and raising a family were against him. He looked at women now as a bed to end a bad day.

 

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He suddenly noticed a small fire break out in the valley below. What were they playing at! Who was the idiot who considered giving away their location? Why didn’t the others stop him! The wind made the fire burn a darker shade. It was deep crimson. It was definitely not wood. In the darkness of the night, he could not make out what it was. Perhaps they were setting up camp for the night and had caught a hare to roast.

A second fire started blazing alongside the firstborn. He could not believe his eyes. Something absolutely serious had to have happened for a second fire to be lit. He set a bolt to his crossbow. His heart started beating faster. His hackles rose. A third, fourth, fifth and sixth glow joined the company. Six separate fires could be distinctly seen in the valley. The howling wind soothed them, made them glow redder.

He wanted to ask the wind what his brothers were doing. The wind howled back, in a language he could not comprehend. The sky was beginning to lighten. He strained to see what was happening. Any moment now, he would see the distinctive blue cloth of his company in the distance. The sun always rose fast at this time of the year.

The fires had not died, they seemed to burn brighter with the passing moment.

The mountain began to move.

He was obviously hallucinating. The mountain could not have sparked life. He looked eastwards and saw juvenile streaks of light falling from an unseen sun in the horizon.

It was then that he realized that his brothers were being burnt.

They were all being burnt at the stake, after being impaled through the cut. The blue cloth that adorned them was charring along with their blistering skin.

He could see the blacksmith impaled on a spike. His eyes had been pushed inside before they bled him to death. He could see the butcher, who had fought till the last minute, his left arm being cut clean by the longsword. He saw the general prominently branded, his face a burnt, corroded mess.

The soldier remembered their last meal together. Flashes of memories seemed to strangle his urge to cry out loud. He remembered the time they had found a giant trout which had almost bitten his finger off. He remembered how they had castrated the captain of the first battalion they had conquered. He remembered the faces of the men who had left him and gone, the turncoats, the traitors and the lost. They would flash and leave before flashing and leaving again.

Now, they were coming for him.

He wondered how it would be to die. How would that one moment be, where life exits the physical form. He wondered what he had done to see his closest companions die with such perverted brutality just before his own life was going to be taken away. He wondered if all the tales he had heard of heaven were a big lie.

He could see the saffron robes of the climbing enemy get darker and brighter by the minute. They were a hundred foot-lengths away. The wind howled in his ear.

He pointed the crossbow at himself. He knew not what to do. Should he spend his last few moments on a battle that was futile and defend his honour? Or should he end his life on his own terms?

Helplessly, he looked towards the wind and felt it a last time as it continued to slap the outline of his face. It was a slap of duty, not loyalty.

Perhaps the howling wind would tell him what to do, he thought…

 

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Artwork credit – Rohan Kapoor
Website Partners – Lipi Mehta and Rohan Kapoor

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“I’ll buy her”

There was a merchant who came home one night with a sad feeling in his heart. He did not understand why he felt that way. He had every small comfort one could want. His house was palatial, with an army of servants ready to cater to his every whim. He had recently found huge success in a trade which would assure him abundant gold for the next many years. He had no health problems, and no vices to routinely distract him.

“Perhaps you should find yourself a woman”, advised his Khizar.

Yes, maybe that was where his unhappiness came from. He had no one to share his bed with. He was told that having a woman in one’s life was a daring experience. One would begin to feel strong emotions of attachment, lust and a queer thing the others called love. No one could really explain him what this love was, but all agreed that the potency of this drug was very strong. The merchant could not wait to try out an intoxicant that did not have any physical form.

Being a rich and powerful man, the merchant organised an auction to find himself a woman he felt would suit him. The most influential middlemen brought along with them a variety of women, each was sure to catch his eye. They were dark and fair, intelligent and witty, slim and full, aromatic and pungent and skilled in an assortment of areas the common man would cringe for.

The merchant narrowed his gaze to three women whose physical shape he found very pleasing. He would decide his pick based on what his astrologer would predict about their future.

“How will we be together?” he asked about the first.

She will guarantee you a full and healthy life ahead. She will seal your fame in society and make sure you reach the heights of glory you were destined to reach. She will bear you three children who will honour your name and be the caring the wife and companion you seek. Besides, she is well gifted in the art of lovemaking, and will round up your every physical desire. You will complete her. But…

“But what?” demanded the Merchant.

She will never keep you happy.

“What about the second”, asked the disheartened merchant.

The second woman is the most beautiful woman in the world. You will be on the plate of envy of every man around for being her other half. Other women will throng to have you as a part of their bed. You will be known as the most recognisable couple for miles and miles around and have your names etched in stone as the most compatible couple around. But…

“But what?” asked the merchant again.

This will all be an illusion. You will never desire her as much as she desires you and more than anything else, she will never keep you happy.

“How about the third?”, the merchant resignedly asked.

The third woman is meant to be your better half. She will not improve your life in any way. She will not stimulate you in anyway. She will always be inscrutably mediocre. She will be cold in bed, and colder to be with after a tiring day. She will not cause any jealousy to any other woman, and will not arouse desire in other man. Her averageness will haunt you. Yet, she will steal your heart for the rest of your life. She will cast a spell on you and make you see the world in a new light. You will feel what love is around her and dote on her. But…

“But what?”, asked the merchant, a final time.

You will never keep her happy…finished the astrologer.

Deep in contemplation, the merchant walked to the auction floor. He walked up to the third woman and smiled…

“I’ll buy her”, he said.
He lived happily ever after.

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What are the odds!

Published in the Bombay Review.

http://thebombayreview.com/whataretheodds/ 

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Father’s won! Father’s won!

Sankar would always enter his house screaming. His screams would normally be requests for immediate nourishment, but today was different. He didn’t want the usual plate of last night’s stale idlis deep fried in groundnut oil. He would have only fresh tiffin made especially for him. One might enquire why he felt he deserved such presidential treatment for no reason in particular. Well, Sankar had had a near-perfect day and he was determined to keep it going northwards. He had solved all eighteen geometry problems, though sixteen of his answers would have made Pythagoras turn in his grave. The drawing teacher had patted his back looking at his perfectly proportional horse, despite it not having a tail or ears . He had even managed to bowl out Ram right after he hit his fourth consecutive six into the girls’ school.

Oh, and his father had won ten million rupees in the national lottery.

Every Sunday, all the families in the neighbourhood would buy the weekly ticket from Baba’s General Store. Baba was a small, fat man whose eyebrows threatened to take over his face. He would always ask Sankar how his elder sister was and what she was wearing at home. Sankar found it strange, but he would tell Baba the precise colour and shade of her cloth. Baba would then ask how short the dress was. Shankar would put his hand on his leg and point out how much of his sister’s leg was covered by the cloth. Baba was obviously concerned about the heat and the rising prices of twill.

Sankar would then buy milk, flour, gram and if there was enough money in the house, and if mother was in a mood- two sweets for himself as a small end of school treat. Baba would pack everything in cloth, and add the ticket of the week to each of his customers’ packages. They thought it was a free ticket, but Baba cleverly added three rupees to everyone’s total amount as and when they came.

The lottery was always important. Nobody ever won it. Nair uncle had won a consolatory cart three years ago, but the cart was green in colour. Sankar would never be seen alive in a green cart. He was partial to red. Besides him, there had never been any record of a winner in his community. Why then, did everyone follow the lottery? His father used to keep telling him something about beating the odds, something about seeing who the Gods would favour. It was bound to happen with someone, someday, his father would say.

Since his family did not have a radio set at home, Sankar would go to the post office on Monday after his school and harass the clerk outside for the winning numbers. The clerk would demand his oratory fee of half a packet of tobacco before lazily removing his wallet with a bearlike snore. He would then pull out his previous night’s ticket and read out the winning numbers, which he had scribbled in a childlike scrawl on the left hand corner of the ticket. Sankar would match the numbers and let out the only swear word he knew (Puchinta, which meant flaccid penis in his dialect) and had been beaten up for using, before running home.

Of course, today was a slightly different day. Today, the numbers had matched. Sankar knew that his father had won a lot of money and was careful to not tell the clerk when he touched realisation. Money was desire, he had often been told. What if the clerk asked for a full packet of tobacco? Such luxuries were out of the question!

On his way back, Sankar wondered what all one could achieve with ten million rupees in one’s pocket. He calculated that the Wesson Willow bat, which Khan had purchased from his last trip to Bombay was worth five hundred rupees. What a bat that was! You could hit a straight drive with a flick of the wrist, like someone had loaded the handle with gunpowder. It even came with a poster of your favourite player, but you had to select your choice while ordering.

He would buy at least two of those bats, and spend an extra amount on polish. He loved the smell of polished willow. It was a very woody smell.

Sankar approached his house, which was at the east end of the village. The neighbours were killing what seemed to be the last of their chickens, judging by the feeble squawking coming from the barnyard. Thank the heavens, he thought. No more of the awful smell of fat frying. He threw a stone on a stray dog that was threatening to sleep under the mango tree next to his door before marching in.

Father’s won! Father’s won!

“Won what?”

Sankar’s mother was cutting the three idlis left from last night’s dinner into thin artistic slices when she heard his yelling. She had had a tiring day. The oil monger had fought with her for twenty-two minutes about the bonus he was supposed to have received for putting them on the credit list the previous month. He was a crook of the highest order! Her monthly bleeding had started shortly after, so she was forced to wash all the utensils and pray to the Gods for touching them before purifying herself with prayer for the week-long duration. Her abdomen ached. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the times when her mother-in-law was alive. During her bleeding, she would be forced to cook outside her house then while the monster observed with a steely eye. Her husband was way more flexible. Still old fashioned, but flexible enough for the time.

When Suparna was handed the completed ticket by her son, she did not realise what he had handed her for a moment. She continued to obsess over the symmetry of the cut idlis, before she realised in graphic horror the significance of what her son had just announced. The last cut skimmed the edge of her thumb, but no importance was given to the thin stream of blood flowing from there.

“Are…are you sure?” She asked with a trembling voice.

His answer was overlooked. She sat down in her place. It was all too much to take in. The oil in the pan had started crackling up. Suparna didn’t care. Her head was spinning. She grabbed the ticket and checked if the diamond pattern that the winning ticket was supposed to contain was appropriately filled. It added up to 77. It was perfect. Suparna started crying. She pulled her son close and hugged him tight. Her son wrenched away. Tears made him nauseous. Besides, he would be joining his friends in their fourth attempt at stealing unripe mangoes from the neighbours’ garden.

Suparna got up and started walking in circles for no reason in particular. Ten million rupees. She had not seen even a fraction of such an amount her entire life. She picked up the lower end of her sari to wipe her face. It was a blue sari, which had faded marginally over the years. She could blindly tell where it was torn and where it was darned. No more would she have to wear the same old clothes. She would pass by her sister’s house wearing an exquisite silk sari with a golden border. She would match that with a small diamond brooch, exactly like the one her mother-in-law gave the elder extended-daughter.

Suparna smelt the oil burning and went near the stove. She picked up the finely cut pieces of idli that were about to be fried. The thought of never settling for a stale evening snack again sent a jet of joy through her head. It’s high time there was a maid servant in the house, she thought.
Tonight, they would celebrate. Suparna prepared a sweet payasam laced with jaggery (the sugar in the house had finished two days ago) and made a fresh curry of potatoes and brinjal. After all, they would have to get used to the finer things in life now. The idlis lay forgotten.

How it would be like to actually be the owners of such a huge amount, Suparna thought. Does so much money smell different? She had heard that the first bundles of cash from the mint smell sweeter than the chafa flower as it blooms during the full moon. She was sure she would be proven right.

Suparna suddenly realised that she had forgotten to share this happy news with the Gods of the house. How many times had she begged for her husband to get a raise! Today, her prayers had finally been answered. She must not ignore them lest they get angry. She prostrated herself in front of the small statue of Brahma, the God of eternal knowledge. Brahma was never supposed to be prayed to, because of a curse given by the other two all-powerful Gods, but her family was an old family. They chose to specially worship him hoping that he would be partial when the curse is taken off.

“Is that brinjal cooking?”

Her second child and oldest daughter had just entered the house. She had been busy at work cleaning clothes at the village well. She appeared at the door dripping with water, her hands marked with ash. Her hair, long and shiny as it was during other times was all tangled and messy.

Sunaina wondered why her mother was preparing brinjals on such a dreadfully ordinary day. Dishes like curried brinjals were reserved for birth-anniversaries and sacrifices, where one couldn’t feed the presiding Brahmins the simple curd rice usually reserved for the twilight hour. The smell of the dish was deeply ingrained in her head since she was a child. Her mother had prepared it for her brother’s thread ceremony. It had even been made the first time a prospective groom had been called home matchmaking for herself. Of course, that night had been a fiasco.

Sunaina was surprised to see the remains of happy tears on her mother’s face. She was quite used to seeing her mother routinely crying, almost immune to it, in fact. Most of the times, the reason for her outbursts would be petty. Sankar would say something callous. She would have a fight about living in the same house for two decades with her husband. When her mother informed her that their fortunes had changed, Sunaina too was besides herself. She was hugging her mother and tearing up out of a different set of emotions herself. She would finally be free of the moral obligation of getting married in the next few months. She would be free to read a book in public, rather than in the closeted darkness of her brother’s blanket. She often questioned why he was pushed into studying, when he didn’t care what he was doing with his life. She was self-taught on the other hand. She saw herself reading about red cows, how trees grow and how the Ganga flows across her land. She would decorate her books with brown paper and neatly write down everything the teacher demands, not in the scrawny shorthand her brother barely made an effort with. Gleefully, she jumped and pushed her mother away and added the finishing touches to the curry, careful to add the crushed coconut after the water was simmering at low fire.

 

I often wonder if any of the members of this family know what the odds of winning the lottery are! I’ve been informed that the chances are about one in fourteen million. I highly doubt that any of the family members would even understand what a staggeringly high amount fourteen million is! But being educated is my privilege. So is having an outsider’s perspective on the situation as well as having a decent exposure to society in general. Maybe I’m being harsh, as I still haven’t met the man of the family.

 

He, as I gather stepped in the house half an hour after dinner was ready. He had had a tiring day, and had been forced to file his reports twice as he overlooked a small decimal point in the third last row of the fourth file. To make matters worse for him, his application for leave the following weekend had been denied. How would he be able to stick to the promise he had made to Lord Balaji the previous fall? He had even grown his hair to make sure his offering of a full head of hair was satisfactory.

Sanam saw two pairs of slippers outside the front door. His son was loafing around somewhere, no doubt. What would it take him to sit at his books once a while, instead of playing truant with all his friends. That short wolf like boy who always lurked around his son reportedly stood second in the school after winning the local amateur wrestling tournament. His son was doing amiably well at wasting time and sleeping through the afternoons, desk or no desk around. Maybe it was time he gave him another cane hiding.

Sunaina on the other hand, seemed to be in the house. She was a good girl, she was. What was the use! She would never be his to hold his hand when he grows old. Sometimes, Sanam slept thinking he should have just joint the army and worked for the country. His father was too high headed to let him do what he really pleased. He had never enjoyed learning accounts. Seeing small piles of money he would never be allowed to touch.

Suparna was quietly sitting in a cane chair in the corner of the room. His daughter, Sunaina was sitting besides her. No doubt, a combined effort or an early attack into extorting money to feed some fantasy with no future. Even if medicants from the Himalayas came with a battalion of vegetable vendors and fruit sellers demanding money, he would not surrender a single paisa. Did they know how tough it was to earn the paycheque that he managed the house with every month?

“What is it? Why is everybody so quiet?” asked Sanam.

Sanam scouted his inner mind for the occasion when his entrance in the house had earned a smile from both the mother and the daughter. They were beaming. Was he supposed to have brought a gift home? He could not recall. His wife was clad in one of her newer saris and was adorned in dark kaajal around her eyes. His daughter too had laid out the entire table, which was giving off a heavenly smell.

“You have won the lottery, father”, said Sunaina as she walked up to him. She placed the ticket in his hand.

Sanam’s mouth went dry as he heard Sunaina’s voice. He blankly held the ticket in his hand and stared at it like it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He couldn’t seem to read it; the shock of her sentence was so bad. A shooting pain moved from his heart to his left arm and before he knew it, he was clutching his chest, struggling to stand. He collapsed in front of the Brahma statue and fell flat on his back, his eyes rotating upwards as he tried to get a last glimpse of his wife before his heart gave way to the pain.

He was pronounced dead the moment the village physician came to inspect him.

The next day the surviving family was told that the father had a debt of half a million rupees on his head, which he was expected to clear in the next six months. They were also informed by the National Lottery Company that as the ticket had been purchased on the father’s name, they were under no obligation to give the money to his survivors, though the ticket was perfectly in order. They were offered the National Lottery’s deepest sympathies and were sent a garland of flowers from the Chairman of the Lottery, who personally offered his help should they need anything at all during these dark and trying times.

 

I often wonder if anyone in the family knew that the odds of someone dying of shock are even slimmer than winning the lottery. Especially if the news one hears is good news.

Maybe the Gods were being partial.

Or maybe, like the father would say, it’s just all about the odds…

 

 

 

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This story is a work of Fiction.

 

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