Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tierless Thoughts

“There are no tiers in my thinking. It is all horizontal…” she exclaimed, her voice rising with emotion. “So why do you think I deserve a better job?” he asked her, blankly. She continued, getting more and more excited “I didn’t mean class or tier… I respect all jobs! I mean, I just think that you can do better than that. You have greater expertise! You shouldn’t limit yourself to the job delivering pizza!”.

He started with something and paused reading the signs of caution in the air. “I mean, it is just an academic angle… If something isn’t hierarchical or classed, how does it become better or worse?” he slowly said, half as a soliloquy. She was visibly upset now. “I don’t understand why you are dragging-in political correctness into the discussion. I only meant it as a compliment. You can do so better… I don’t think I can continue arguing with you… I have a lot of work to complete”. She buried her face back into the laptop.

He didn’t respond. Walking out, he stopped to look at a stuffed baby seal placed on top of an empty fish bowl. They had purchased the fishbowl from a thrift store long back hoping to find some fishes for it. That never happened. “Baby seal on a fishbowl.” It vaguely reminded him of the lyrics of some long-forgotten song. It was followed by something about “year-after-year.”

It had stopped snowing outside. But the temperature was way below freezing. Stray snowflakes drifted about in the air. A fire-truck sped past letting its shrill siren penetrate the building’s darkest corners. The wail receded in a while leaving a lingering shadow of the noise in the air. After contemplating that scene for a while from the door, he stepped out. Although aimless, he walked briskly, the crampons on his shoes crunching the hard snow crust. His thoughts drifted from the concept of tiers to the general pointlessness that seemed to be enveloping life.

A red sign blinked “open” on the window of the old café near the frozen river. Its sweaty windows revealed only the blurred shapes of few hunched people inside. After all, it is a Monday and a 10’o clock in the night at that, he thought. He paused in front of its door and on an afterthought walked away to an all-night grocery store in the next building. A sleepy girl on the cash counter reading a gossip magazine looked up with interest and apprised his appearance critically for a second. He asked her for a one-dollar scratch-and-win. She pulled out a wad from a drawer below and handed him one.

* * *

The smell of brewing coffee and warmth disappeared into the cold outside as he stepped inside the café. He sat on a table near the window with a good view of the people. A table across, one guy in a faded blue jersey was arranging something in a duffel bag beside him mumbling something to himself. "My name is John too. That's weird. Two people by the name of John...", he kept repeating for a while. Every two minutes he kept rearranging his luggage. “… and be a good Samaritan…” he said while removing his mittens and jacket in a hurry. He got up and disappeared into the washroom for a few minutes. Then he returned and started putting everything on again nervously. An old woman with a forlorn expression sat sipping coffee staring at something on the ceiling. The mumbler, fully dressed now with a backpack behind him, suddenly became still. "Calm down," he mumbled again hanging his head down. He looked like a tired mountaineer on the verge of giving up summiting. Finally, after standing still and thinking intensely for a while, he heaved the duffel bag up and slowly walked out of the café.

With no one interesting to watch now and feeling strangely insecure, he took the scratch card out and started to scratch it slowly with a coin. The figures uncovered underneath had three $2 symbols. He slowly stood up, wondering whether his actions resembled that of the mumbler and walked out planning to cash the ticket.

It had started snowing slightly. Mumbler was nowhere in sight. A regular old guitar player was strumming his final song to a close under the sinewy leafless Ash tree outside. In the silence that followed, the old man went into a coughing fit, his guitar swaying with it like a pendulum on his hunched neck. On a blank curiosity, he walked towards the guitarist. The old man looked up to his silhouette against the light. After hesitating for a moment, he pointed out to few CDs wrapped in brown paper scattered inside his guitar case and said in a hoarse afterglow of the coughing fit, “my songs, all for sale.”

He stooped down and placed the scratch card on the guitar case silently. The old man, confused, took the ticket in his hands and stared intently at it for few seconds. Then he saw the three figures and smiled. “Thank you,” hollered the old man at him as he walked away.

Feeling entirely empty now, he started walking back home. A searing wind went past, violently blowing away a tide of snowflakes.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


How do you describe desolation? Sounds? Words? Images?

The sound of people passing by. Occasional crescendo of footsteps in an underground corridor. Them receding into silence. Soft footsteps that feel like a bitter bite on a soggy piece of sandwich. Hard clicks reminding a shiny black horse slowly prancing by. Silence as the norm. Overbearing and scaring every noise to submission. Muffled laughs. Conscious hushed speech.

The smell of perfumes and sweat as bodies walk past.

Diffused light from a glass window high above, making soft shadows that struggle to conceal themselves.  The vision of skeletal trees above swaying in the spring breeze. Noiseless images of wind. Patches of clouds moving slowly across the blue sky. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Another Day

A woman ran after the cow letting it run amok on the railway platform. It had a black and white patchy coat. Her hoofs made a distinct clicking noise. She kept turning back, stealing glances at the lady, slowing down and picking pace as and when the woman neared it.

They faded into a distance.

Then came a mooing which kept getting louder as it neared. A calf in panic.It went on and on.  Maybe the patchy one was its mother. It looked at everyone on the platform confused and kept making that desperate call. On and on and on it went.

A small herd of cows passed by and it joined them in visible relief. They all slowly moved past the people on the platform staring at them. A big cow and three calves.

People resumed watching each other again. 

Alien Within

I have an extra-terrestrial inside me. It keeps looking at human beings with a suppressed smile. Some kind of a paranoid happiness.

Being the host, I could never detect its presence. Only once did it slip, revealing itself.

That happened on a train journey. One of those monsoon days. Rains lashed around the whole day soaking Calicut in a mucky mess. And by evening all was quiet. Creatures of dampness started squeaking and creaking after a prolonged lull.

People inside the train compartment started raising their windows reluctantly. There were almost a dozen people in front of me somehow pressing themselves on a four feet seat. Half of them were a family with few slumbering kids. Kids kept dozing, their heads swinging up and down.

One kid kept crying for tea and they got it for him. With shaky little fingers, he kept balancing that paper cup, huge in his tiny hands. Another started wildly swinging so much that his mother arranged a long towel on the floor of the train to sleep.

Everyone slept off after a while. Except me. I kept watching all these people while the damp winds from outside blanketed me. 

And my alien smiled for the first time, unable to suppress anymore. Out in the open.

That’s when I knew it. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Fire Story

And then it spread. Orange flames rose up to lick the dried leaves into glowing grey embers. People were running downstairs carrying buckets of water and desperately throwing it into the spreading fire. Thick black smoke spiralled up and filled my floor reducing my visibility to nearly half. The fire was like an enraged serpent hissing and sputtering its way into the hillside dangerously close to my building.

Two parallel thoughts wrestled with each other inside me. Help them in this losing battle or flee. There was still time to make away with a few things before the flames swallowed the buildings and trees. I ran around the house like a trapped animal, now gathering my stuff and now returning to the balcony to stupidly throw coffee mugs after coffee mugs of water into the sputtering flames below. It was as if my mind was split into two each grappling to take control of the body.

And suddenly someone ran down with a large water hose and started spraying pressured jets of water into the fire. For the first time, it displayed some signs of recession. About fifteen-twenty minutes of spraying two tanks of water, the maddened creature disappeared into the blackened soot leaving an emasculated smoke that smelt of defeat.

With a thumping heart, I went inside the house to slump onto the sofa and closed my eyes for a while. When I opened it, through the smoke-induced tears, I saw the bags I had packed. Certificates, laptop and some books. Weirdly, books. The possessions that might have defined my life had the fire ate the rest.

I remembered Frances Harrison’s narration of the civilians caught in the final battle between the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan Army in 2009. With indiscriminate shelling all around them, they moved from one "so called" safe zone to the other with their belongings as the war progressed. There were bags full of certificates which were thrown away along with the other things in their order of priority in the course of their exodus to death.

Life, defined by one’s instant possessions.


Image courtesy:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pipette Beak Incident

Morbique was a bird sized creature with insect-like characteristics that lived on bushes near swamps. With a long pipette-like beak, it would draw blood from its pray’s body without causing pain. People living near wetlands kept a butterfly-catcher like apparatus in their homes to catch morbiques. Once caught, all one could do was squash it, as it was neither edible nor cute. Devoid of life, its body would slowly disintegrate and vanish into the air within hours leaving almost nothing.

It seldom preyed on human beings, but he once caught a morbique creeping along slowly towards his exposed legs while he was reading something. He watched the steady movement through a corner of his eye but didn’t take it off from the book and waited. Once its pipettey beak almost touched his feet, he sprung from the chair and scooped the creature up. It stood still. He looked into its eyes and saw nothing, neither fear nor vengeance. Dark and spherical, it was as blank as a desert landscape. “I am going to squash you”, he muttered slowly in a tone so ominous that it sent a shiver down his own spine. The creature remained still. He growled and tightened his grip. It still remained still. He stood up, threw the creature to the floor and squashed it with his feet.

He wished to see its remains disappear but the silence that followed had imparted a sort of criminal air to that quotidian act, and he left the house thoroughly dismayed. He felt a hundred thousand morbiques everywhere in the world watching him with their spherical cold eyes.

Before long, they swarmed the town sky and rained on the people. Millions of morbiques fell on the unsuspecting people annoying them out of their simple unperturbed lives. They kept falling for four hours straight. After heaps of those lifeless fallen bodies slowly disintegrated and faded away into the air, it drizzled for a whole week. No one ever saw another morbique again. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Blind Hunger, Sleeping Woman

Staring groggily into my watch, I saw it was about 2 in the morning. She was snoring away peacefully beside me. It took a while for me to realise why I was up so dazed. It was an intense pang of hunger. Nothing like I had ever experienced before. A curious one at that, it was not the kind that would make you snatch food or go fishing inside dumpsters. This was more like a weed induced one that gets your brain to overclock into immediate action.

It was a warm windless night as always. A crummy fluorescent bulb dangling outside lit the gate and a bit of the road beyond it dully.

I sat on the bed for a few minutes thinking. I couldn’t try the kitchen as it had nothing. And I needed something substantial. The only option was trying my luck outside despite there being no possibility of some eatery open at this hour. Everything here closed down before 10, and I have seldom seen anything but street dogs and snoring security guards after 12.

I didn’t wake her up and quietly slipped outside, locked the house, quietly opened the gate and pushed the bike outside without starting it. I didn’t wish to wake her up. “If she had the same problem, she’d be up instead of slumbering away like a log”, I thought. Once I was far enough, I started the bike and headed for the Highway.

As the highway wound into the hills towards the University, the air became mildly colder. Except for some sputtering trucks, it was practically deserted, and I revved up to 80s which was the best I could hope to get with that 9 bhp bike. It felt good to ride against the cold wind.

There was a small food cart converted to a stall near the University where they sold cigarettes during the day and did unlicensed restaurant business in the night. Seeing the light and some people, I stopped to check it out. They would close only by 4, said the guy running it. Every day, he would sneak in spiced up chicken pieces, tapioca and beef to cook them behind the stall using a kerosene stove. I ordered fried chicken, boiled tapioca and black tea.

The food wasn’t bad. It was while sipping tea after polishing off tapioca and chicken that I thought about she waking up to find me nowhere around. Appetite receiving all the focus of attention, I’d forgotten to take the phone with me. And what if I die in an accident on my way back? How would it be for her? The guy goes to sleep next to you and the next thing you hear is that he dies in an accident. It would be sort of surreal, I thought.

Surrealism wasn’t in the universe's plan for that night it seems. It was about quarter to 4 by the time I reached back.  She never got a whiff of all this happening around her, sleeping curled into a ball. I listened to the sounds from the darkness outside and watched an old cat scratching the bike’s saddle furiously for a while. The fluorescent bulb kept doing its best to illuminate the draggy picture. 


Image courtesy of Fanny Berthiaume @ deviantart
Title and general idea courtesy of Haruki Murakami

The Station House Officer

He got up and walked to the matki in the corner. Two constables standing by the door shifted uneasily and watched him gulping down two glasses of water half of which spilled down his uniform painting an odd pattern.

This was the fifth in the month. But this one was different from last two men that soldiers had brought who were alive for a few hours.

Holding the empty stained glass in his hands, he stared into the darkness outside. It was a windless summer night. Snores of dead man’s relatives huddled outside mixed with the shrill chirping of the crickets. He returned to make a final check of its pulse. Holding its wispy arm, he felt the queasy cold that had soaked up the body and realised the futility of checking for anything. He wondered how it became so cold in the warm stuffy air all around.

Soldiers carrying it inside had apologised in hushed tones for the delay, nervously glancing at the cowered relatives slumbering outside and had hastily left.

For a moment, its dark wrinkled skin reminded him of a sun-dried mango peel. This person could be anything between 50 to 80 years, he thought. A fresh greyish scar ran from it’s naval to the neck which he guessed to be from work at the camp. Some mysterious new technique, he assumed. He annoyingly wished that the soldiers would deal with the bodies themselves.

It was an unusually busy time of the year. The phone kept ringing, and soldiers came down often with bodies or poorly faxed sheets with names and addresses. Trucks were moving in and out from the mines after the lull. Villagers stood near the gate occasionally craning to take a peek at the happenings inside, some occasionally trembling their way in asking for their missing relatives.

Sighing, he signed the constables, who hurriedly stripped the dead man of his dhoti and rolled the body into a convenient bundle. Their work was pointlessly perfect, and he suddenly felt at ease and grinned. In another minute, they quietly carried it into the darkness outside. Never discussing the whereabouts, he simply hoped that they would use some creativity in their disposal method this time. Their last work was far from good with the bruised body hung on a tree not far way to make it look like a suicide. The sight of its slender silhouette swaying gently in the morning breeze had given him a nasty scare on his walk home.

One of the dead man’s relatives sleeping outside got into a fit of coughing, silencing the crickets for a while.

Resting his legs on the table, he slowly slipped into a restless sleep and dreamt of dried mango peels swaying in the wind. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015



Winter was dead. Not that it made any difference in this part of the earth. Its stale corpse lay drying in the summer sun. I spent days returning home from the prosaic work in the night and watched downloaded TV series having greasy takeaway dinner. Staying late into the night, my sweat-damp thoughts wandered into sleep to return to an uneasy consciousness in the morning under a quiet fan deprived of its life from the routine power failure.

The patterns in life that recurred were lifeless fans, mosquitoes and summer sun.

There was a sea, just a few minutes drive away.

A warm stinking sea.

*          *          *

I went fishing. With few decaying bits of shrimp as baits. Waited for a long time on the pillar of an old railway bridge. Trains passed occasionally shaking the old concrete with me on it, the rail above and all. Sun went down, leaving a humid, windless evening. Throwing the reeking shrimp into the water below, I too left.

And it rained suddenly. A vicious one at that. It drenched me and the bike I was riding. Rain pelleted its hot engine case turning itself into hot steam.

Steam that reeked of decayed shrimp.

*          *          *

They were selling tapioca in a small truck. It was just dug out wrapped in the fresh rain-soaked mud. I bought a few and stopped on the way at the fish market to get three sardines. Fried the sardines and boiled the tapioca.

I had tapioca and sardines while the rain continued through the night.

A night that smelt of the first rain.

*          *          *

Monday, August 11, 2014

Evenings set apart by 9448 kms

There was a small rectangular skylight on the attic roof. Barely enough to squeeze my head out when it didn’t snow or rain and pointlessly gaze at the scene outside. It was on the roof slant that faced backside of the building with nothing much to see. But for an attic without a window, even that bit of view was sometimes enough.

When it snowed, I blankly stared at the unending cycle of tiny fluffs slowly covering the shut skylight’s glass and then tumbling down when it became too thick. Rain was always monotonous with the droplets pelting mechanically without anything else happening. Once it was all over, I would place a chair below, stand on it and carefully poke my head out to resume watching. People pulled down shutters when it snowed and there was hardly anything for me to see outside than an occasional car speeding across drawing two parallel black lines on the road blanketed by snow.

Sometimes, I got out and took a cautious stroll in the evenings through the deserted roads with all the shops shut, as they often did. Making the boot marks on the snow all the way behind me. Cars and buses would pass by with the insulated people inside. At times there would be a prostitute waiting by the side of the road dressed in short tights in a really depressing way, rocking back and forth with the sight of every car that sped past.

It was as if the rain and snow fell on the uncovered spirits of people here. It would always be gloomy when it rained or snowed in the evenings. Even the pubs and the parks would assume a sort of worn out look. I would always be reminded of the evenings in my village as a kid where the voltage often dropped during that time of the day. If it rained, power would be cut off and we would sit in the portico with an oil lamp lit and kept at a distance with rain flies buzzing around it. Frogs would croak from the flooded paddy fields.

Turin, away from my village by 9448 kms.