Trust and Mistrust: Nations at war

Hari struggled with the large beige shutters. With a mighty heave he pulled it down. The clash of steel against cement shook him. He had heard the sound a thousand times before; each signifying the end of a day and the beginning of the arduous journey from Opera House. Today, however he felt nervous and slightly giddy. He hated this part of the day, the gut-wrenching uncertainty.
To the untrained eye his gait was a sedentary stroll. On closer inspection it could be noticed that each step was measured and each swing of the arm calculated. It was the walk of a man who knew he was being watched.
The motorcycle was an old one. Stuffing spilled out of the seat, the handlebars were rusted, and the tyres were worn out. Yet Shamir loved the bike. He had bought it with his first salary. The owner seemed almost eager to get rid of it. He patted the seat affectionately. This was probably the last time he would see it. Asif had promised him diamonds as payment.
 “Brother this economy is going to meltdown someday. When that happens you’ll thank me. This ‘money’ will soon be redundant!”
Shamir didn’t care about diamonds. He saw them with the bemused air of a man lost to the intricacies of the world. Maybe he could exchange the diamonds for a bike! A good one! He spent several minutes trying to start the vehicle. But this was normal. Maybe this was the last time he would do so. His new bike would start so quickly that he wouldn’t have time to think! Asif had promised that.
Hari felt sweat collect in his clenched palm. The velvet case enclosed by his hand felt heavier. He felt his skin crawl. Something felt wrong. He felt the world close in and draw back, the cold bands of claustrophobia.  The pavement swam in his eyes. His breath came in short gasps. There were too many people.
He spotted an alley, dark and desolate. He staggered to it. There was a cool breeze drenched with the stench of rotting garbage and faeces. He felt better.
Hari suddenly spotted a young man pushing a bike, coming closer and closer. His eyes darted to the white skull cap on the man’s head.
’He will kill me! Kill me with his filthy hands!  These people, they’re a violent breed! Everybody knows that! To deny so is political correctness gone mad!’
Hari could now see the bike. It was old and woebegone. Somehow, inexplicably, he felt a wave of sympathy for the young man pushing the bike. He suddenly felt ashamed for his behaviour. He had to do something!
                ‘Brother! Where are you going’ he said.
                ‘To the Opera House. Asif said I should be there now. ‘
                ‘I’m going there too!’ he said, lying glibly.
‘What does it matter, I will reach home a bit late’ he thought to himself, guiltly.
He felt much better now. He had made his amends. He loosened his grip on the velvet bag. He felt the contents move ever so slightly.
                “You know Asif promised me diamonds.” said the young man, “he said I could buy a new bike with it.’
                “What are you doing with this one?” Hari replied jovially, “leaving it for the beggars?”
                “Diamonds… how much will get me a new bike?”
Hari laughed, thinking the boy was joking. He suddenly stopped when he saw a look of resentment on the boy’s face.
“ I’m a merchant myself. That’s why I laughed. A single diamond can get you a good bike!” he said quickly, instantly regretting it.
‘Now he’ll want a discount!’.
Hari felt the sound before he heard it. He saw a hand, a leg. The velvet bag, he had so treasured seemed meaningless now. The skull cap was a ruby red. Hari felt his body hit the pavement. The last sight he saw was thousands and thousands of diamonds descend from the sky, falling over him, over the young man, over them all.

From the portfolio- That Dusty Path We Walk

If there is one irrefutable fact of life, it is this, the human mind and body is far more resilient than most think. One need not look far for evidence of this fact.
The sun beat down on the city of Baghdad relentlessly. Shopkeepers slept on the verandas of their shops, fanning themselves languidly. Wind swept through the empty streets, picking up dust and paper, making it appear to dance. The hot, dry air swept down the street and into the houses and shops, much to the displeasure of its occupants.
A slow, rhythmic slap of slippers against the ground shattered the silence. A man walked down the street. A child sat on the mans shoulders, seemingly unperturbed by the heat. The mans face was criss crossed with lines of worry, yet there was a noble grace about him. The child's head rested on the mans turban; weary and disheveled, he kept nodding off to sleep awakening every few seconds with a sudden jerk of his head.
The duos worldly possessions were contained in a small knapsack, which the man kept by his side. As they walked past the many shops, the shopkeepers raised their heads or opened an eye to check who had disturbed their tranquility. On seeing the duo they returned to their cots with a half mumbled curse. Unaware, the man and child continued their way down the street. They turned the corner, and walked out of sight.
The sun dimmed. A cool, light breeze ran through the streets; children stumbled out of their homes, laughing madly as only children can. Dogs barked and raced down the street, snapping playfully at the now wide awake shopkeepers, who shooed them away half heartedly.
Light can be seen only in darkness. Good is born in times of evil. Sometimes Hope can walk the streets of despair.


It was time to light the candle again. The old man lay in his chair, covered by layers of blankets. He stared at the candle, his eyes, almost milky white, willing it to light. However there was no sudden burst of light or even a feeble splutter. Sighing, he moved forward, his body creaking with age.
The light reluctantly slanted through his open window. His shadow grew. His feeble hands grasped at the matches. A crippling weakness overcame him and try as he did he could not light the candle. There was an eerie, shortness of breath. If only he could light it. He knew there would be a sea of warmth and light would rush over him.
A burst of laughter echoed in his ears. He son would be back now and his wife would be cooking. But that would mean he was still at the bank. He could smell the fresh notes. The smell of money. He could hear the laughter again. The old man frantically scrabbled at the candle. It swayed and fell off the table. There was a loud crack, not unlike a whip, and then silence. No laughter. No odors. Just darkness. The old man bent down, knees groaning, and picked up the pieces of the candle. He put one half away and lit the other. The room was lit up in an instant. Yet the shadows seemed darker. The man drew his blankets around him, and like a child hid his face under them. The laughter continued. It got louder and louder, until it seemed crazed. He joined in the laughter, maniacally. His chair creaked at the sudden movement of his rocking body.Suddenly, there was silence.
The sun rose and the shadows fled their domain. They fled until the only one that remained was the shadow of a laugh on the mans cold, stiffening face.

Cramus Maximus

"Cramus maximus" quite possibly the motto of the KSRTC.I knew this fact to be true when I unwittingly found myself engulfed in the large arms of a bear like man.
The conductor was a tiny man.i watched with awe as he made his way through the aisle, squeezing his lithe frame through impossibly small spaces.He elbowed his way ruthlessly,parting the crowd like a modern day Moses. Unfortunate, tall, men bent over in pain, tears welling in their eyes, as the conductors elbow landed on their crotch with an unerring accuracy. Finally he stood in front of me, palm outstretched , demanding my money. I placed a hundred rupee note in his sweaty hand. An ominous silence descended over the passengers as they stared unabashedly. The conductor looked at me in disbelief. Slowly, methodically he began to shout, his voice rising in a ringing baritone. The words”change”, illa” and “ticket” were mentioned several times in varying combinations. I quivered and quailed and handed him several coins. Appeased by my ‘donation’ he pushed me to the back of the bus, to the dark and dreadful abyss, that is the last seat.
Ten minutes later, the bus began to move. Writhing bodies filled the bus making a can of sardines seem quite roomy. The bus creaked and groaned as it carried the equivalent weight of three Indian elephants . The driver sweared proficiently and egged the bus on, occasionally hitting the engine with a mighty ”thump”.
The conductor screamed a medley of words, one among which was my destination. I leapt to my feet, eager to be off the bus. Twenty, large, men scrambled for my now vacant seat and I was unceremoniously pushed and prodded towards the door. Largely unscathed I exited the door with a sense of triumph. I had survived.
Looking around at the vaguely familiar landscape, I realized that I had alighted one stop earlier! A bus stopped in front of me, seeming, impossibly so, more crowded than the one I just left. I took a deep breath and dived into the sea of human beings……

A Lunch To Forget

“The problem with you young people is you have no respect”, I nodded in agreement with Mr. Crenshaw, a prospective client. ”When I was in the army, we were taught discipline, etiquette” he said, waving his spoon in the air to illustrate his point. We were at the Roost a five star restaurant, where I was trying to convince Mr. Crenshaw to invest in our company.
“Well sir", I said trying to edge in a word, "you can be sure that our company is a disciplined one in fact...”, I was going for the kill, “Would you like some drinks sir?” said the waiter swooping down from the bar .Mr. Crenshaw brightened .He scrolled down the list and ordered the most expensive drink. ”And for you...Sir” said the vulture, looking down his long thin nose. I straightened my tie and with all the dignity I could muster ordered a lime soda and added as an afterthought “stirred not shaken”. The waiter vanished with our orders.
From the other end of the room another one of them slid across with the menu. Mr. Crenshaw clapped his hands in delight and set about to ordering
A quarter of an hour later I found myself staring at a list of unpronounceable dishes. ”What’s this?” I asked the waiter .he looked heaven wards for inspiration and then said slowly as if talking to a toddler, ”Bread...Sir”. ”Aren't bread sticks complementary?” I asked innocently. Mr. Crenshaw and the waiter exchanged a look and burst out laughing. Mr. Crenshaw patted me on the arm in what he must have imagined was a fatherly way, snatched the menu out of my hand and ordered for me.
Twenty minutes later the food arrived. A tiny plate was placed in front of me. Complimentary starters I said approvingly.” No...Sir” responded the waiter “that is your meal”.
My ‘meal’ consisted of what looked like a bark of a tree coated in a slimy green liquid. It tasted even worse. Mr. Crenshaw, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying his steak and mashed potatoes.
I was getting desperate; I hadn’t even started my sales pitch. It was time. Nothing could stop me now .In a ringing baritone I began to speak...
Ten minutes later I stopped, breathless. ”Well, Mr. Crenshaw what will it be” I asked, hopefully. To my surprise, he burst out laughing ”My dear fellow, whatever in the world made you think I’m Mr. Crenshaw. I’m his personal assistant."
"Your bill... Sir" said the waiter, placing it by my hand, just out of reach of Mr. Crenshaw’s outstretched hand.

Holy Matrimony?

What could be better than a wedding in July" my mother exclaimed early one morning. "No wedding at all" replied my father, grumpily. On further inquiry I learnt that my cousin John was getting married in July. I was overjoyed; it meant that I would miss a week of school. My joy was short lived, however, when I found out that I was to visit Aunt Lucy’s (John’s mother) house during my holidays to help out. My protests were muted however by the angry glare I received from my father over the top of the morning paper.
I arrived at Aunt Lucy’s house to find the doors open, clothes strewn on the floor and odd pieces of paper floating in the fish tank. ”Aunt Lucy “ I said horrified “you’ve been robbed!” .But Aunt Lucy had not been robbed ,she was only searching for her late husbands wedding suit. I joined in the search but to no avail. The ever efficient John’s arrival an hour later speeded up the process and we found the suit in a dusty box.
The suit however was filled with holes. Generations of moths seemed to have feasted on it, only the pockets were spared as they contained the ill fated mothballs which Uncle had inadvertently swallowed, ten years ago, thinking they were peppermints!
I was now put on decoration duty. For the next month and a half I dusted cleaned, bought streamers, frankincense and myrrh (gold being in short supply) and generally spruced up the house.
As the date of the wedding drew closer, I noticed a marked difference in John. He seemed to be more nervous than usual, but perhaps this was due to the strain of handling the caterers.
The flurry of activity ensuing during the last week before the wedding died down on the day before. I suddenly found the silverware polished, candles ready and snacked stocked in the fridge. As we sat down for dinner, John looked visibly upset .Since it was my turn to ‘cook’ dinner .I had made baked beans and toast, which I proudly served John. To my surprise, he burst into tears “It’s not that bad!” I said, offended” You haven’t even tasted it”. But John was not crying because of the taste of the baked beans (or lack of it), but because he felt that he was going to loose all the freedom of life as a bachelor. My father tried to pacify him, telling him how he lived he lived his life after marriage. John’s wails redoubled in intensity.
Finally, the day arrived .all the preparations made ,the church ready, the caterers on time(surprisingly).A now calm and smiling John waited at the altar for his soon-to-be-wife. I breathed a sigh of relief .All responsibility was off me. I had only forgotten the candles at home, but the church provided us with spare ones. Then the priest asked for the rings. Images of the candles and rings paced side by side on the dining table flashed through my mind. John turned to me expectantly, his hand reaching out for the ring…. but I was gone!

Passport To France

Sam Davenport stared at himself, in his passport .His graying, wispy hair barely seemed to be able to traverse the breadth of his head. Those photographers, you can never trust them with photographs .he looked mournful. Not pensive or contemplative as Lucy had said comfortingly before he left, but mournful. Pah ! Women, they would never understand men.
Sam looked back at his photograph. Those photographers, they always make you look worse than you actually are. His hair really did seem to be extremely sparse for a man of fifty three.He patted the top of his head just to make sure it hadn’t vanished in the last ten minutes.
And the double chin .He had never had one before, but that blasted photographer had made him bend his head downwards, towards his chest, to “make sure your nose fits in the frame”. The arrogant toerag. Didnt he know that a long nose was a sign of aristocracy. No one in his family had ever had a double chin or any excess fat to speak of, except aunt Sarah who was just weird in that way. He also seemed to sport a few straggling hairs at the end of his chin..No doubt the photographer ‘forgot’ to touch up the photograph. The Davenports prided themselves on being a clean shaven lot, again with the exception of Aunt Sarah. Once he returned from France he would have a stern word with that photographer, he would...
“Excuse me ,”said the old man in front of Sam ,”is there a problem with my passport, as I hope to reach France before the next millenium”. Sam looked up, startled, to see an entire line of people queued up in front of him. Behind the old man was a young boy with rather odd teeth, like a chimpanzees, trying hard not to laugh.
“No, no” said Sam hastily stamping the passport” no problem at all sir, enjoy your flight”. The old man walked away ,mumbling indistinctly.
Sam davenport stared at himself, in his passport, his odd teeth seemed to make him look a bit like a chimpanzee. Those dentists, you could never trust them with teeth…….