Category Archives: Stories

Just Children

Little Jomu wiped the sweat from his brow as he laboured up the incline. “Hurry up Jyoti”, he urged the even smaller girl who followed him, book in hand.

“Bhaiyya! Can you read this?” she asked as she waved her dog-eared book.

“No! Now hurry!” The voice was almost a shout. “Maa will be waiting. She needs the water soon.” Not that she knew they were there.

As they reached a clump of boulders, Jomu slowed and looked around furtively. “Shhhh Jyoti!” the voice was just a loud whisper. “You know we are not supposed to be here.”

Jyoti, unused to the secrecy was full of questions but the look on her 9 year old brother’s face silenced her. She instinctively knew when he was afraid and the fear instantly registered on her face as well.

As he inched around the biggest boulder, he thought of his own carefree days. His father would get the water from the community well in the slum. He would be just in time to see Jomu off to school. But that was more than three years ago. His father, like so many around him had passed away in the outbreak of influenza. Medical help was never forthcoming. Who would want to help his kind anyway? The doctors in the big cities had their practices and most would not even deign to touch them. School was a distant memory.

It was a miracle of sorts he thought that Jyoti could go to school. She might be a doctor one day, his mother mused every day before she went off on her daily round, scrubbing the toilets of the upper castes in the nearby village. The teacher who had come from the town was nice. She gave him a toffee every once in a while as she urged him to join the other students when he escorted little Jyoti to school. He always shook his head. He had work, feeding the dogs of the village chief. He would not touch meat and so he paid Jomu to feed them for him. If he was lucky, he would get to clean up after the butcher was done too. Every paisa helped.

“Why are we hiding Bhaiyya?” Jyoti whispered. “We can’t be seen here Jyoti. This well belongs to the other village. They don’t let our kind near it.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know. But I have heard them say we will pollute it by touching the water.”

Jomu was torn between his fear of the villagers and his desire to get some water for his mother. Their well had dried up and they had to rely on the tankers the district collector had reluctantly arranged for to send them water. But it operated entirely on the whim of the contractor and he hadn’t been there for nearly two days. His neighbours had walked nearly 15 kilometers to get water from the next village where they were allowed to do so. But he had knew he couldn’t manage the trip alone.

A raid on the upper caste well seemed the only solution. It was nearing noon. The men would be at their fields at lunch. The women never ventured out. He didn’t know what they would do to him if they found out but sneaked along. His sister, carrying her little book, had tagged along. He didn’t want her with him but it was too late.

One had to make it up a small hill to reach the well. This was easy going, the other side was a cliff that fell onto the rocks below. Jomu heaved his bucket up and glanced around again. They were alone. Slowly and laboriously, he drew the water into his bucket. Jyoti sat with her eyes scanning the book which her teacher had given her, trying to make sense of the words but enjoying more the coloured illustrations.

As he began to turn, his heart stopped. The village chief and a few other villagers were emerging from behind the clump of boulders. They seemed to have come there to quench their thirst after lunch. There was no escape.

“You little pigs!” the chief screamed as he spotted the siblings. “You dared to touch this water, you scum! It has been polluted by your filthy hands!” He was apoplectic with rage. “You bastards need to be taught a lesson! Never will one of you dare come near our well again!” Jomu winced as the first of many blows fell on him.

Through a blur of fists and feet and sticks and stones, he saw someone kick the bucket of water over the cliff and could almost hear the clutter as it smashed on to the rocks below. He tried to scream and shielded Jyoti as best as he could but it was to no avail. “Enough! Finish this!” he heard someone shout. A pair of hands picked him up bodily and even as he screamed in terror, he was flung on to rocks a 100 feet below.

The blood streaked down his face through his split skull as his large eyes stared straight ahead. He heard a scream and a muffled thump behind him as his sister fell on to the rocks, never to move again. His eyes twitched. His sister’s little book was in front of him. It was a book of rhymes. His eyes saw no more.

As the wind swept along, the pebbles that had fallen on the book prevented the pages from turning. It was the rhyme Jyoti would have learned that day.

“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water……”




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“For fuck’s sake settle down!”, I shouted across at Perry, “Pacing around this cell isn’t going to help us one bit.”

Perry didn’t stop. Not that I expected him to. It was his first time in. Me, I couldn’t believe they caught up with me. My daring escape from the first prison hadn’t taught me anything it seemed. The same nameless bastards had got me. There was no trial and for a country that prided on civil rights, I felt hard done. Not once but twice I was put in the slammer for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Perry asked me, “Hey Mason! How long are we in?”

I sighed, “First stop calling me Mason. That’s just the name those cocksuckers outside have given me. I am no more Mason than you are Perry. And get used to this place. You will either escape or die and rot here.” His face sank.

I didn’t mean to sound gruff. Perry was just a kid but I had to make him realize how much shit we were in. Kindness would get him nowhere in here. If I escaped, I would make sure they never caught up with me again. I would go south. Nicaragua sounded like a good place. I might even have some family there but screw them. I was never going to go anywhere they could find me. No sir, I was going to live alone.

But first things first. I had to calm Perry down and let him know what I had planned. It would take patience. I had seen all of this before. They would be careful at first and handle us with kid gloves. They didn’t want suicides. But give them a few weeks and they would get careless, they always did. That’s when we would take our chance.

I had hoped there will be a few trainees among our captors or the problem would have been enormously difficult. Thankfully there was a new kid who was being trained. It would have to be him. Violence was never my thing but there was no way I was sticking around here. I would fight and I didn’t care how much blood was spilled. Freedom was too precious to pass up.

Perry had become quiet. I turned to him and told him the plan. He agreed to be a little less excited about it. The more docile he was, the sooner people would let down their guard. The long wait began……………

Who said a parrot couldn’t make plans?


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The Watchers

“To think that the earth, universe and everything was created by some unknown being with the wave of a hand is simply ridiculous”, Shane declared. He was of course an atheist.

“You are not quite right in the head if you believe the Earth is just a few thousand years old and that man just appeared”, he almost shouted.

It’s amazing what a few Jack Daniels can do to a person. Shane was not so outspoken. It was one of those rare times when he had thrown back one drink too many.

It was a cold winter night, and such a night in Minnesota calls for some alcohol to warm the body. So we sauntered off to our local for a peg or two. Usually three.

I got no second looks in the place, which would have seemed unusual to an outsider. One does not often see an Indian in a Minnesota pub. But the regulars were used to me. There was never any hostility to begin with, but an Indian seems incongruous in a place decorated with trophies of deer and pike.

We often talk about theology and the origins and subsequent multiplication of Homo sapiens. Shane is never known for mincing words when it came to genesis. He called it a crime against reason to teach it in schools. Richard Dawkins would be proud.

“Think about it,” he said, ” Isn’t evolution the only logical conclusion?”

I nodded my assent as I was too busy fighting off my drowsiness.

“Have you ever given a thought to Intelligent Design?” the voice asked.

I looked around and the only likely source of the question seemed to be a thin, middle-aged man huddled low on the table next to ours. He looked slightly grubby and not at all the sort of person who would know about ‘Intelligent Design’.

“What?” said Shane.

“Intelligent Design dude. The theory that says human development and evolution was planned by higher life-forms”, I dutifully supplied.

Before we could react, the man had joined our table. “Good,” he said, “At least you know something about it”.

Only the finest whiskey from Tennessee would have compelled me and Shane to ponder over his statement and his rude interruption of our conversation without protest.

Lowering his voice (unnecessarily, as there was no one around) he whispered, “I happen to know for a fact that it is true.”

“Come off it”, I said, “And who the hell are you anyway?”

“Dr. Dale Osborne, professor of Botany at the University of Minnesota. Well. I used to be…….”

“And we are supposed to believe that?” I asked incredulously. He looked nothing like a professor at a reputable university. Even a former professor.

“Let him speak dude”, Shane said.

Curiously enough the situation is usually the other way round. I am more likely to be interested in something someone has to say and Shane is usually hostile. An unintentional good cop – bad cop routine.

“Well its up to you to believe me or not but I assure you I know my collenchyma from my coleoptile” , said Dale with some swagger.

“Go on,” I sighed, “How do you claim that Intelligent Design is true?”

He said, ” Well, to be honest the classic definition of Intelligent Design is that the designers knew what they were doing. That they knew exactly how humans would turn out given the right circumstances.”

“Yeah, that’s what Intelligent Design sounds like”, said Shane.

“But,” Dale continued, “I found out that it was not true. The designers were, rather they are, new at this. We are nothing more than an experiment. A prototype, if you will, of the concept of Intelligent Design”.

“And how did you make this monumental discovery?” I asked skeptically. I was slightly annoyed to see Shane looking at Dale with an expression that suggested he was Albert Einstein.

“I will come to that in a minute”, he said.

“Well the basis of any experiment is that you periodically check what is happening right?”

“Oh please,” I interrupted, “Don’t tell me that all those flying saucer reports are about our ‘creators’ coming to check on us!”

“Will you stop interrupting me?” Dale said angrily. Well he sure looked like a professor now.

“Anyway, when you are running an experiment in a lab, you use some kind of recording and transmitting medium to check on the progress periodically. One does not contaminate the experimental setup and risk interrupting the progression of the experiment by coming into contact with the material.”

“Its bad enough if the experiment takes 12 hours. Imagine the risk of coming into contact with a five billion year one!”

“Irrespective of how technologically advanced The Creators are, this experiment is crucial to them. Hence they have never shown themselves.”

Well that sounded sensible enough to me. I remembered how annoyed I would get when someone forgot to connect the ammeter half way through any electrical machines experiment.

Shane asked, “What’s this about recording media?”

Dale smiled and continued, “Aah you have come to the most crucial aspect of the experiment and incidentally the point where I happened to stumble upon this astonishing discovery. After all, why the hell is a Botanist talking about stuff which would normally be associated with astrophysicists and the like?”

“In any experiment, you need the recording and transmitting device to be completely inert to the experiment. But The Creators made an error, which by a stroke of good fortune ensured that the experiment would continue as long as it had. If they had used some inorganic communication device, the experiment would never have started.”

“You see, The Creators have the most sophisticated communicating devices and those devices are completely self-sufficient. They call them The Watchers. They eat, breathe, die and reproduce and through information stored in the DNA of the original device, they and their offspring know exactly when, where and how to send their communication to The Creators”.

“Curiously enough, and The Creators did not expect this either, The Watchers became indispensable to us and are an integral part of the experiment. The conditions on our world are such that The Watchers dispelled immense amounts of a gas which was rarely found which altered the atmosphere of the Earth beyond all recognition. What used to originally look like the home of The Creators, became what it is at present. Hence we have developed in a completely different way to The Creators and much slower than they anticipated.”

“But they seemed to be happy to let us be as we were somewhat successful as prototypes.”

We were listening with rapt attention to Dale and Shane asked ,”What are The Watchers? Do they still exist?”

Dale flashed us a smile and said, “Of course they still exist! They are everywhere! Well, some of them no longer communicate because their DNA has mutated to a certain extent but in many places on Earth they work just perfectly!”

“What do they look like?” I asked and we looked at him in anticipation.

“The Watchers are nothing but trees”, Dale said solemnly.

“What? Trees?”

“Yes of course! They are the only species that have existed since as far back as our knowledge goes. In the presence of the sun, they converted huge amounts of Carbon dioxide into Oxygen which suited life here perfectly.”

We were staggered. Shane ventured, “But how do you know all this?”

For a moment he looked at us with surprise, recovered and said, “The Watchers told me.”

He said it with such simple conviction that we found it hard to disbelieve him but I was aware that he had just told us he communicated with trees.

“As part of my research I would regularly go to the most densely wooded places on the earth. It so happened that during one such trip to the Amazon rain forest, we stumbled into an area thickly populated with some of the oldest trees I had seen.”

“We started to collect samples of fungi from the trees and suddenly the air seemed to be almost electric. There was a strange squeal and like the sound made by a microphone under static, but more subtle, and all our electronic devices fell dead for exactly two minutes.”

“We tried to discover the source of this phenomenon but we did not succeed. We had more pressing work and I dismissed it as some geomagnetic anomaly.”

“I would have forgotten about it had I not experienced it exactly six months later in the Congo. I went there by sheer coincidence but the scenario played out exactly as it had six months before. I could not let it go.”

“I went back to the exact same spot in the Congo a couple of months later but nothing happened for two weeks. I returned home without an answer.”

“It so happened that around a year after the incident in the Congo, I was vacationing with my family in Redwood national park in California. The oldest tree there is over five thousand years old.”

“Suddenly I felt the static in the air and instinctively knew what was to come. My cellphone fell dead along with my watch again for two minutes. I realized that the phenomenon repeated every six months in areas which contained the world’s oldest trees and spent three years confirming this.”

“I was reluctant to share this with others because I felt I was on to something huge. Let’s just say I would have preferred it if I kept all the glory”, Dale added ruefully.

“I went back to the Redwood forest thrice after that and experienced the phenomenon each time. I could not measure anything as all instruments fell dead so I would just try to concentrate on the phenomenon itself, hoping to catch some minor detail which could offer a clue.”

“The fourth time I went and the phenomenon occurred, something felt different. The static remained in the air. And suddenly, it seemed to me as if there were voices all around. But they were in my head.”

“I felt I was going crazy when the ‘voices’ seemed to focus and somehow conveyed to me that we humans were in grave danger.”

“They told me that they were The Watchers and about our own history, about the experiment and the creators and told me that the experiment was failing.”

“Why they told me this is something I will never comprehend but I felt they wanted me to convey this to as many people as I could. That this was of critical importance.”

“They told me that the phenomenon I had experienced occurred when they sent their transmission to The Creators. The last few centuries, their reports to The Creators were not encouraging, they said. The Watchers were aware that we had somehow acquired a genetic trait which made us prone to violence.”

“We destroyed too many of our own kind, they said and we had already cut down millions of Watchers over the last few years.”

“Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the experiment is close to failure. The Watchers told me that before long, we were going to destroy ourselves and take everything along with us.”

“The next few years are crucial. It will decide whether we survive or fall. The Watchers have observed all our wars and they noticed how progressively destructive they were becoming. They said that we were following a similar pattern and that a war was near. Most nations in this coming war have nuclear weapons and are bound to use them.”

“I tried to tell my colleagues about this but they did not take me seriously enough. I even lost my job at the university. So here I am getting drunk.”

“I sometimes hope to God, strange word, that I imagined all of this. All of this was one big dream. But it wasn’t. I can feel the great war coming. Already the wheels are in motion.”

Dale gazed pensively at the bar and said, “Look. I’m sorry if I alarmed you. Don’t take me seriously if I you don’t want to. I am just upset. What has to happen will happen, so forget about it.”

He got up and paid his tab and walked out into the cold night.

Me and Shane looked at each other, not knowing what to make of it. He sounded so convincing. Was he just joking after all?

Thoughtfully, we started to walk back home.

As we passed a stately pine, I felt a tingling in the air and I stopped. Shane kept walking. For the briefest moment, I felt the hair on my body stand up as though there was static but as quickly as it started, the feeling subsided and I quickened my pace.

I stared at the trees thorough their covering of snow and the trees pensively seemed to stare back.

The Watchers….. they were always watching.


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The Thunderstorm

The distant rumbling woke me up.

Lightning seared the sky and the thunder was loud enough for me to imagine that the world was slowly being torn apart by immense hands.

Not for the first time, I felt scared.

The window was open. The rain was carried in by the wind and it was leaving a huge puddle in the carpet. Nanny was going to be very angry tomorrow.

I suppose I should have gone over and shut the window, but I couldn’t think of walking across that dark room, all the way to the window at the opposite end. I was scared of the monsters who were, I was sure, lurking under my bed night after night; all in the hopes of catching me off my guard.

I pulled the blanket closer and curled myself up as tight as I could. Outside, the storm raged on louder than ever.

I wanted to call out to Mummy and Daddy but they were gone. They could not come back and hold me in my arms and smother me with their love. Daddy would never tuck me in to bed and Mummy would never come and wake me up with a hug again.

I was left with the nanny. I had no relatives left they said. So I was an orphan. And they sent me to live with the nanny. The nanny looked different every time and I could not remember her different names so I just called her Nanny.

Nanny did not seem to like me so much. I thought she felt I was useless. I just lazed around the whole day and stared out of the window, but I had lost so much. How could she not understand?

I suppose she was just paid to feed me and help me change my clothes.

A particularly loud crash outside made me jump. The wind had picked up and whooshed through the neighbourhood making an eerie sound. I crept still closer to the covers.

If only someone would walk in thorough the door and give me a hug. I would feel safe. I would feel wanted. But the people I loved the most were just memories and corpses now.

I felt lonely and small.

But I guessed it would be over soon. One day the monsters would get me and I would have no choice but to go and meet Mummy and Daddy.

I would like that.

After all, who in the world has time for an 80 year old?


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An anticipated post

In the SPCE college magazine Disha (2007 or 2008, I forget), there was a brilliant story titled “Kunal Dekhane and the Legend of the Hatch” authored by Divyanshu Bhadoria aka Debu.

He has finally put it up on his blog. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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Last Dance

He was never a great dancer. He had done it in school because his teachers demanded it of him. He was not too bad but he could never be one with the music. He couldn’t shed his inhibitions and let his body flow with the rhythm of the music, not caring about what others felt. He always felt people were watching him, secretly laughing at him making a fool of himself.

Then college happened. Much against his wishes, he was recruited to his classes fresher’s dance. He agreed because he couldn’t say no to his friends. And again he did what was expected of him, ever conscious of the clumsy way his feet moved, as if weighed down by lead blocks. Thankfully he did not mess up on stage.

After the performance, he went with the rest of his team to the Quadrangle. That agora where people let their hair down and swayed to the beat as they rejoiced being young, being carefree. And he saw people like him. People who were even worse than he was just moving their hands and feet in spasmodic jerks but they all had smiles on their faces. They were actually enjoying it.

Before he knew it, hands dragged him into that maelstrom of shouts and wildly thrashing arms and asynchronously gyrating hips and he finally let go. He jumped with them, he screamed with them. He had heard about dance moves like the moon walk and the macarena. Here he learnt the rope, the workshop dance, the PT, the naag dance and a hundred nameless others. And he enjoyed doing each one because he finally didn’t care what he looked like.

4 years went by in a blur. He was out of college. Each one of his dance buddies went his or her separate way. There was no more dancing for him because there was no more quad. No more opportunity. No more renditions of Summer of 69 or Lotela. And he stopped thinking about it because still, dance was not something he really enjoyed unless he was with his friends.

It was 2017. 8 more years had passed by. He got the card in the mail. A wedding invitation. It was a close college friend. The wedding was to be held in Mumbai. He had a few days leave saved up anyway so he decided to go home. To his surprise, every one of his friends had made it for the wedding. He had liked the whole ceremony, the catching up, the nostalgia, the jokes and backslapping. And he went back for the reception.

It was a formal affair. Everyone had turned up in shiny suits and fancy clothes as the occasion and the venue demanded. There was the usual banter as the bride and groom received the gifts. Suddenly the dance floor was open. The couple decided to open the dance with a mellow, rehearsed waltz. Other couples joined. But he stood back. It still wasn’t his thing. And he looked around to see many of his classmates on the fringes doing the same. Hanging back and avoiding the floor.

On an impulse he went to the DJ and made a request. As he went back to his friends, the famous intro played out. A once young Canadian’s voice began to sing about his first guitar. He shot a look of triumph at his friends and flung his jacket down. His friends did the same, loosened their ties and ran onto the floor. And as random people joined them, his mind went back to that first time in the quad. The people around him. The funny dance moves. The voices shouting “DJ sucks”. And for a careless hour, he was back there, with everyone he knew and cared about, doing what he never thought he could do. He danced again.


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A Cold April Night

Joseph checked his watch before stepping out on the deck. 11.45 said the time-piece once owned by his grandfather. He shivered and drew the overcoat closer and headed starboard. He had told Lord Asquith that they would settle the issue of his debts on the Starboard deck at midnight. Just 15 minutes remaining.

His father, having had more money than sense, managed to die leaving him several thousand pounds in debt. So he took the easiest way out. He caught the fastest train to Southampton and booked his passage out of the country on the first available ship.

America. That’s where he would make his future.

Misfortune struck as soon as he arrived for dinner in the ballroom. Charles, the young Lord Asquith, his childhood friend, who was unperturbed by the ties of days past when someone owed his money, managed to spot him in that large crowd of pretense.

Charles did not need the money. A hundred thousand pounds were just drops in his bucket. It was just the damned principle of it all. It was pure bad luck for Joseph that Charles was also on the ship. But he should have known better. Everyone who was anyone was on board.

Charles never mentioned the money over dinner. But over cigars, he casually brought out the topic, leaving Joseph in no doubt as to what his future in New York was, if he did not clear his debts.

Joseph thought long and hard for two days. He would never be able to come up with that kind of money. There was only one way out. He planned it out carefully. April was by no means warm in the North Atlantic. No one would be around the deck at midnight. It would just take one shot. He would bundle Charles over the deck easily and retire back to his room. No one would question him.

11.55. As he approached his destination, he saw Charles waiting. He was gazing pensively across the moonless horizon. As he drew closer, his hand tightened around the revolver. He was an excellent shot. He could not miss.

11.57. He approached Charles and said, “Hello, old friend. About the money…….. This is the only thing you are going to get out of me.” Joseph drew out the revolver and pointed it at Charles. Charles looked thunderstruck.

But there was something strange about the scene. Charles was not looking at him. He was looking somewhere beyond him. He thought it was a trick. But then, he heard the ship’s horn blaring out the three warning hoots. He also heard the sound of something enormous drawing close. Terrified, he turned around to see the huge mass of ice towering above him. In an instant, it slammed into the ship at the spot where they were both standing and bore down upon him with all its might, determined to take him to the very depths of hell, where Satan awaited with wide open arms…….


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