Just In Jest

“Come on! What are you afraid of, chicken?”

“I told you, I am not in the mood. Feeling really tired…it’s been a long day”.

“It’s not a competition. Just a playful thing, no marks, no winners. C’mon, where’s your sportsmanspirit?”

“Okay then. Fine”.

Dust and gravel are shaken out of their stupor; breaths in rhythm to the limbs; and an exalted cry of truimph. “Hahaha! I win. Suck it loser”.

You said it was just in jest. No winners, and definitely no taunting!”

“Oh please, there are always winners. Why else would we compete? L-oser!”

 

 

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Short Story – Nerve

proposal

The clock struck 6, and like every day in the past two weeks, the well-dressed young man with ruffled hair, walked into the restaurant and headed straight to the bar.

“One whiskey”

The bartender was already reaching for the bottle.

The young man gulped down the contents. He shuddered and ran his hand through his hair. “One more”.

The bartender had the glass ready. He slid it across, and in jest asked, “So should I keep a bottle of champagne ready?”

The young man didn’t speak, but his hand sneaked into his trousers’ left pocket and caressed the velvet box inside.

“Show it to me again” the waitress walked over.

Wordlessly the youth took the box out and flipped open the top. The radiant gem sparkled with vivacity for its enraptured audience.

“Wow!” the waitress sucked in her breath wistfully. “She’s one lucky girl!”

The bartender laughed, “Well she would be if he ever worked up the nerve to ask her”.

“We met here…”the youth spoke convulsively and in small bursts. “A common friend’s birthday…I couldn’t take my eyes off her…three years we have been going out…I thought maybe…”His voice trailed off with the despair of his nervousness.

The bartender felt sorry for his young patron, and with a paternal air said, “C’mon, just ask her today. You love each other and it will all work out”.

“Nerves. I have always suffered from it” the youth spoke again. “I would freeze whenever they sent me to the front of the class…well it’s too late now…she was there yesterday…at the metro station…if only I had asked sooner….”

*

In memory of the victims of Brussels and Turkey attacks.

 

 

This is My Life?

Daily PromptIf you could read a book containing all that has happened and will ever happen in your life, would you? If you choose to read it, you must read it cover to cover. 

“Excuse me, how much is this porcelain doll for?” I asked the ancient-looking shopkeeper with wizened eyes and a silver beard Santa Claus would be jealous of. Christmas being just around the corner I was stocking up presents for friends and family, and a rather quaint pink porcelain fairy doll in the window of an antique shop caught my fancy. I thought I would try to get it for my mother.

The shopkeeper, without even moving from his post behind the counter, pointed at the dusty label on the doll which proclaimed it’s price to be 50 rupees. A bargain by any estimate but being an astute shopper I thought I would try for more. The first rule of bargaining: don’t seem too interested in the object you are buying. So I set down the doll with a grim “hmm” to indicate my dissatisfaction with the price and looked around aimlessly. The shop was crammed with odds and ends: tarnished silver spoons, a dozen cracked mirrors (how many years of bad luck does that accrue to?) , dream catchers that have caught nothing but dust bunnies, porcelain dolls with frozen smiles and a few leather-bound books. Being the bookworm I am, I naturally graviated towards those, and froze in shock. The black leather bound book with golden edges, fifth from the right in the second row, very clearly proclaimed in its title my name in bold, engraved, and golden alphabets. A dozen possibilities ran through my mind, each more intriguing than the last: I had a namesake, who coincidentally, was also an author; I had travelled back from the future in a T.A.R.D.I.S. and this is a book I myself wrote; this was the book my parents read before they had me and named me after it. 

Intrigued and surprised I picked it up and was about to open it when a wrinkled old hand with surprising strength slammed it shut. I flinched back in shock. I was pretty sure I had left the old propreitor sitting behind the counter, at the other end of the store, only seconds ago. How on Earth did he creep up on me so fast?

“This is your book” he said. “This is your life”.

“What?” I said. 

“This book chronicles all that has happened to you in the past and that will happen to you in the future. It details your entire life. You can read it if you want, but you must read it cover to cover”.

A thousand things crossed my mind but what crossed my lips was, “It’s so short!”

The old man clicked his tongue, “Tsk, tsk! Such a typical comment of someone your age” (Why is it that grown-ups can’t say anything without making at least one comment about your age?) “You yourself are a writer of flash fiction. You should know better than to judge a story by its length”.

The idea that my life was similar to a flash fiction story written by me didn’t really reassure me. But I had more pressing concerns, like: “You read it?”

The shopkeeper shrugged, “It gets lonely around here”.

“Ohh…” I said because what else was there to be said.

“Can you give me some tips then? Anything I should look out for, a  lottery ticket number, the question paper of the final exams?” 

He fixed me with a stern glance, “That is against the rules. You must read for yourself, if you choose to…” He let his voice trail off meaningfully.

Oh man, did I want to read that book! So many questions that I wanted an answer for – did the guy I like like me back, would I get into the institute I was aiming for, would there be a Sherlock Season 4, so on and so forth. But there was also the realization that if I did I would never be able to unread it. And that meant No Surprises – Good or Bad, ever again in life, and how boring would such a life be!

So with a heavy heart I kept the book down and told the shopkeeper, “Thanks but no thanks”. He gave me a mysteriously knowing smile, which prompted me to add, “Wait…you already knew I wouldn’t read it! You read it!” 

“Maybe, maybe not” he said. “Now where were we on the porcelain doll? 45 is my final offer, and don’t pretend because I know you want it”.

There was little argument I could offer to that so I meekly paid the price, and left.

Just before the door closed, he called out, “By the way, I would look out for Komodo dragons if I were you”.

“Wait…what?” I tried to push the door open but it had locked itself behind me.

I don’t know if the man was bluffing or not but I think I will cancel my trip to Komodo in Indonesia, just in case….

Just a Phase

Dear Readers,

(I haven’t updated my blog in a very long time. I had some important exams and also a severe case of writer’s block. Thank you for sticking around till now. Today’s post, inspired by The Daily Prompt: The Guilt That Haunts Me, is slightly a personal anecdote. I am sharing it in the hope that if someone else ever faces a similar situation, they can take some inspiration and consolation from this post.)

Like many other students before and after me, I was a victim of bullying in my school years. In the tumultuous twilight between childhood and adulthood, the concept of ‘self’ is often attenuated with segregation of people into the discrete categories:  ‘people who are like me and hence good’, and ‘people who are not like me and hence bad’. A Bengali girl from Kolkata, recently shifted to Mumbai, in a school where all other students were Gujrati, I stuck out like a pus-filled pimple on a model’s face.

Constant taunts about everything from my eating habits to my dress threw me into the deep depths of depression. I cried myself to sleep regularly, gained weight, and avoided social contacts of all type. But worst of all, I started blaming myself for everything that was happening in my life. I hated myself. I labelled myself with the worst derogatory terms I knew: ‘misfit’, ‘anti-social’, ‘unfriendly’, ‘ugly’, ‘fat’, and ‘stupid’. I was filled with self-loathing, and if it wasn’t for my parents’ love and support, I would probably have committed suicide. I contemplated it often enough.

The years passed and I graduated and joined a high school. I was happy here, and made good friends. But the self-loathing had become so imbibed in me that I still couldn’t get rid of it. Every minute, every second, I kept second-guessing myself. I thought my friends were laughing behind my back because I couldn’t believe that people would actually like me. Sometimes I felt guilty about being happy. I felt it was an insult to all that I had suffered before.

It took me a long time to accept that neither being sad nor being happy is a permanent state. Life is a battle. Some days you go out there and triumphantly destroy your foes; on other days all you can do is take it one breath at a time and just survive. Either way you are a warrior. And it’s ok: it’s ok to be sad sometimes, without reason and explanation, and no one else gets to judge you because they haven’t been through what you have been through.

I would like to conclude with one of my favourite quotes of all time by Elizabeth Gilbert:

“I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it—I will love you through that, as well. If you don’t need the medication, I will love you, too. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.”

 

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Life in Mumbai: Early Morning Woes

What are the things you need to do within 30 minutes of waking up to ensure your day gets off on the right foot?

1. Don’t Hit The Snooze Button

This should probably be my new year resolution.

My first act every morning after waking up is turning over in bed, pulling the covers snugly under my chin and muttering, “5 minutes more!”

When I finally do wake up — 15 or 20 minutes late — I inevitably curse myself and become the whirlwind of destruction and drowsiness, trying to get ready for college.

Forget dressing up in the latest college trends of the season — I don’t even have time to match my clothes. Half-asleep, peering through squinted drowsy eyes, I grope blindly in my cupboard and wear the first two things that I reach. Accessorise? Forget it!

After spending 15 minutes playing tag with the cold shower (who has time to wait for the geyser to heat up?) I emerge shivering and dressed like a gypsy, ready to wolf down a quarter of my breakfast, while my mother attacks my hair with a comb.

Five minutes later or sooner, I am clumsily fumbling into my shoes, hastily pocketing my watch (and maybe a pair of earrings) to wear in the rickshaw, and after a quick peck on my mother’s cheek — while she admonishes me for not finishing my breakfast and laments my dowdy appearance — and a hastily called out goodbye to my father, I am out of the door and jogging to the street to find a rickshaw.

10 minutes later I am at the station, running pell-mell on the platform to reach the train compartment, as it blows it’s whistle impatiently.

10 seconds before it departs I throw myself into the compartment and collapse on a seat, or if a seat is not available, against the side-bars by the door, and make an out-of-breath promise myself — Tomorrow I shall wake up on time!

2. Do Something Constructive on the Train

If you are a Mumbai suburban resident you know that you have a lot of time in hand every day while in commute. The choice then lies with you how to utilize this time. I know a friend who spends her one hour of travel solving algebra sums. Now that is dedication!

I may carry a magazine or a book, and sometimes even a newspaper and vow to read it on the train, but what I end up doing every day is plugging in my earphones and dozing off on my makeshift pillow aka my college bag. Or at the most play Candy Crush.

I am pretty sure I would be a more knowledgeable person in life if only I spent my commute time in doing some constructive reading.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Two Right Feet.”

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A No-Brainer

Let’s assume we do, in fact, use only 10% of our brain. If you could unlock the remaining 90%, what would you do with it?

This has to be the easiest prompt I have done till date. The minute I read the sentence the answer popped into my head — WRITE!!! 

I hereby declare that any additional brain power I am ever blessed with will be used primarily for writing. 

Writing is the purest form of expression according to me, and many times I find my vocabulary inadequate to express what I want to say. I know what it is that I want to write but I don’t know how to find the words that will capture it’s essence perfectly.

When I write a birthday message for a friend there is so much that I want to say — so many memories, so much gratitude and loads of love. Words seem paltry to capture all that they mean to me.

I face a similar conundrum when writing a story. How best to translate real-world sensory experiences onto paper? To preserve the fragrance of a jasmine, the coolness of water and the texture of grass using only words. So I guess if I had 90% more brain power to utilize I would spend much of it mulling over this problem.

Though writing shall be my main focus I will also try to utilize a little bit of my new-found intelligence to boost my self-esteem, to not allow jealous criticism and taunts translate into self-doubt.

Who knows, I may just finally find within myself the determination to finally pen down the novel I keep planning to write? 😛

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Brain Power.”

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“Anything Else, ma’am?”

I was on my way home from college, when my mother texted me and asked me to pick up some groceries from the local kirana store.

I listed out all that I needed to the shopkeeper, more interested to the songs on my mp3 player, tapping my fingers in rhythm and impatience.  It had been a long day, and I wanted to go home. After fetching the items, he asked courteously, “Anything else, ma’am?”

I froze.

Ever since we moved to this neighbourhood ten years ago, this is the shop we visited most often for grocery shopping. I have tagged here along with my mother, peering excitedly at the glass bottles of candy, displayed prominently to entice kids like me. I have come here, a warm coin curled up in my fist – that week’s pocket money – and spent a long time wrestling with the conundrum of which chocolate to buy.

I have visited this shop often during the summer vacations to buy zillions of ice-creams and at Christmas, dragged my father here, to buy chocolates and plum cakes. I have come here with my playmates, when some magnanimous parent or other had handed one of us a currency note and said, “Go buy some sweets and share them with your friends”. I have stood behind, giggling and prodding each other, daring them to go talk to the shopkeeper. It was a daunting task back then.

I have heard the same shopkeeper (minus the silver streaks in his hair) tease me and address me, while I shyly hid behind my mother’s pallu. When I couldn’t reach a packet of crisps, he has many-a-time come to my aid.

I don’t know when I transcended into this new category of customers — customers who were not to be teased, but spoken to courteously. I don’t know if it is a welcome change.

*

I was sitting at my desk, next to the window, studying for my upcoming psychology exams. Now and then excited giggles and laughter from the kids playing below would reach my ears.

Suddenly someone shouted — “Priyanka Didi!

I recognized both the person being called and the caller. Priyanka was the youngest girl in our group of playmates. The one we never took seriously, the one to be picked last since she was always thought of as a liability to the team than an asset. I was the eldest, and animously called by all those in our neighborhood playgroup, Didi. To think that someday my title would pass on to Priyanka was surreal, but it had, and somehow till that afternoon I had never realized it.

As for the caller, I was already a teenager by the time she was born. I have seen her take her first steps, played ‘peek-a-boo’ with her and pulled her cheeks.

She had grown up in front of my eyes, but somehow I never realized that so had I.

*

Jolly Didi was my grandmother’s aide and companion. She had always been there, as far as my childhood memory stretches back to, and whenever we visited my grandmother, she would play with me and my sister. She would tell us jokes, teach us new games and narrate funny anecdotes from her village. My sister and I would follow her all around the house while she did her chores, constantly chatting.

She was a constant at my grandmother’s house for most of my early childhood, until she left to get married. Soon after that we moved to Mumbai, and all she became was the vestige of a childhood memory.

I never spared her much thought, until last year when we were visiting my grandmother, and she came for a visit with her son.

I don’t really know what I expected would happen. Maybe I wanted to relive the camaraderie we had shared when I was a child. I would love it if she became her previous self, tell us jokes and play hide-and-seek with us in the garden. But it was not to be.

Clad in a simple orange cotton sari, her head bowed and eyes downcast, she was not the playmate I remembered. Her behaviour towards me was courteous, bordering on reverence. I vaguely remembered her treating my mother and aunts with similar politesse, but I couldn’t fathom why she would treat me in the same way.

A particularly disconcerting moment was when she tried to sit down on the floor, near my feet. I jumped up, shocked, and asked her to sit next to me on the bed. She obeyed me but with a timidness in her behaviour that frustrated me and left me bemused. I wanted to but didn’t know how to dissipate the awkwardness in our relationship.

When her son poked me in jest, she immediately chided him, and begged my pardon. I wanted to scream that I had behaved similarly with her, when I was a child. She instructed her son to touch my feet and when he ran away shyly, she repeatedly begged pardon for his discourteous behaviour. I told her it didn’t matter, that he was just a child, and I didn’t mind – but the words sounded hollow and patronizing, even to my ears.

I was dying to relive, for even one moment, our earlier companionship and comfortable ease. But it was a thing of the past, and I didn’t know how to bring it back it back to life.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “All Grown Up.”

The Penguin Annual Lecture 2014 by Dan Brown

The line started queuing up around 4, three hours before the lecture was commenced to start at 7. Teenagers with bright enthusiastic faces and copies of Inferno or Da Vinci Code tucked under their arms stood chatting outside the famed NCPA theater. College students from nearby cities like Pune and Ahmedabad could also be seen standing in the perpetually growing queue. The excitement in the air was palpable. Mixed among the crowd were middle-aged literary veterans, calmly surveying the chaotic youngsters. The gates opened at 6:15. Seats were randomly allocated seats on ‘first come, first serve’ basis, which essentially people (read: the author) who came first were allotted seats in a far off corner, while people who arrived later got front row seats. Well played Crossword!

All complaints however died out when the man of the hour himself walked in, after having been introduced by Indian author, Ravi Subramanian. As the legendary writer of Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown walked in, the entire auditorium erupted into cheers and applause. The entire audience were on their feet, clapping hard and long. He endeared himself to the hearts of all youngsters in the audience when he started his speech by exclaiming surprise at the young age of the majority of the audience. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?!” he jovially asked

For me, and most other members of the audience, this was a dream come true. To be in the same room as one of my favourite authors isn’t something I could have ever dreamed of. The lecture on ‘Religion and Science’ was delivered to perfection by the author. Mr. Brown started by telling us about his paradoxical childhood, with a church organist as his mother and a mathematics teacher as his father. He even showed us their respective car number plates. His mother’s read ‘Kyrie’ (Greek for Lord), and his father’s read ‘Metric’. He then expounded upon his theory about the god of gaps, wherein he said that whenever the ancient Greeks and Romans experienced a gap in their knowledge, something they couldn’t explain, they invented a god to fill in the gap. So infertility was considered to be due to a falling out from the goddess Juno, plagues were brought upon by the wrath of an angry god and hurricanes were caused by the god of the sea, Poseidon. In a style reminiscent of his famous character Professor Robert Langdon, Mr. Brown further explained that as science discovered the logical reasons behind these events, the pantheon of Roman and Greek gods slowly died out. Today we turn to God for answers to those questions that science cannot answer – where do we come from? why are we here? where do we go after we die? – and in a way, we are still worshipping the god of the gaps.

One of his most powerful statements, according to this author, was when he talked about world religions. The writer said that all human beings have similar spiritual experiences: while looking at the star-lit heavens, we all have at times acknowledged a higher power beyond our understanding, and yet we follow different religions.

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It is not religion, but language that divides us, he proclaimed. When we take metaphors as history, the cosmic space as a concrete space, and when we argue over the semantics of god that we are divided. Otherwise all religions preach a similar message of kindness over cruelty, and of love and peace.

“To grow up in a world without religious prejudices is a privilege, and not one many of us enjoy”, he said.

After his speech, Dan Brown engaged in a conversation with famous Indian author, Ashwin Sanghvi. The conversation steered to many topics. When asked about the two Hollywood blockbusters Angels and Demons and Da Vinci Code, based on his novels, Dan Brown praised the hard work of actor Tom Hanks and the entire filmmaking crew. He said:

The magic of a book is in its ability to be different things for different people…When a book becomes a movie the quantum wave collapses, and all possibilities die out except one…A movie is like someone else’s child. All an author can ask for is that the filmmakers stay true to the pulse, heartbeat and message of the book.

The talk was as engaging as it was informative. His humourous jokes cracked the audience up,every now and then. The minutes flew swiftly by, and the lecture was over too soon for anyone’s liking. The silver lining was Mr. Sanghvi’s question, when he asked Mr. Brown if his protagonist, Robert Langdon, would soon be following his steps to Mumbai. Though Mr. Brown’s reply was diplomatic, hope lingers. We can’t wait to welcome him back to these shores again!

How I Came Across Harry Potter

Today’s Daily Prompt: Reader’s Block

What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without reading a book (since learning how to read, of course)? Which book was it that helped break the dry spell?

Now, this is what I call a tough prompt – I can’t remember the last time I did not have a few books lying around, except….maybe….uh, there’s a little spark of memory here —

I was in seventh grade, and had ‘overgrown’ Enid Blyton. Well overgrown isn’t the right word, but I had finished seven mystery series be her, three sets of school stories and thousands of short stories. I had read all the Nancy Drew novels in my local library, and was now in the painful dilemma of trying to decide what to read further. Needless to say, I had quite high standards.

This was when my mother suggested that I give the ultra-famous Harry Potter series by JK Rowling a try.

“I have been reading quite a few reviews of it in newspapers. Apparently children all over the world love it”.

I wasn’t really enthused, “Ma, you know I don’t like all that magical mumbo-jumbo. I never liked ghost and fairy stories. I want real stories, mysteries if possible!

But my mother was adamant, “People wouldn’t like it if there wasn’t something good in it. Read it. You might be surprised“.

I grudgingly agreed to borrow the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the library, but made sure to borrow a Nancy Drew mystery at the same time. Just in case!

The Book that changed me

The Book that changed me

While we were still on the bus, I flipped the book open, and started reading the first chapter – The Boy Who Lived

 I couldn’t put it down! The Nancy Drew mystery lay untouched, gathering dust, as I reveled in the magic of Rowling’s words. I was hooked. 

The next two weeks, I dragged my mother to the library every alternate day for the next part, and gobbled it up with as much enthusiasm as I had read the first book. I forgot everything else in the world….including my studies. So my dad laid down a ruling – NO MORE BOOKS TILL AFTER EXAMS. 

I was on the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the verdict destroyed me. I just had to find out what happened next! The suspense was agonizing. Voldemort was out there somewhere, and(*SPOILER ALERT*) Dumbledore was dead! There were seven horcruxes and they could be anywhere! Ginny and Harry had broken up, and stupid Ron still hadn’t kissed Hermione! I had to know what happened next.

But my parents remained firm.

That night I dreamt of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I kept trying to pick it up and read it, but it kept moving away from my reach; so tantalizingly close yet just an inch away.

DeathlyHallowsCover

I pounced on it and was about to read it — when I woke up, and found myself clutching my pillow.

I burst into tears, which melted my mother’s heart long enough to let her make a bargain with me – I could get the book, but I had to finish it in one day.

It wasn’t a bad bargain. The book was so engaging that I could barely put it down anyway! I stayed up the entire night reading it, and fell asleep with the book still in my hands.

With Harry Potter began my newfound love for the fantasy genre. Soon Chronicles of Narnia followed. Followed by Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, Artemis Fowl, The Mediator Series and The Kane Chronicles. I remain an ardent fan till date, and all because:

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Just Be – the Conundrum of a First-Year College Student

The four years of my high school I spent in studying as hard as I could….so that four years down the line I could get into my dream college, and I did. I topped my class, passed out with flying colours and a lot of accolades, and before I knew it, I was standing at the gates of the college I had always wanted to get in, doing the course I wanted.

I should have been happy — but instead I felt lost. Where do I go from here? I wasn’t the only one. A few of my friends reported feeling similar symptoms of lethargy. We had lost the drive, the one goal that had been guiding our life till now. I lost interest in studies. Everything felt worthless. I tried planning for my career after college, but the road beyond the three years of college seemed so dark and gloomy, so full of unexpected twists and unknown obstacles, that thinking about it gave me goosebumps and panic attacks. I was almost in the midst of an existential crisis. I had spent most of my teenage life driving at breakneck speed towards this destination, and now that I was here, I had no idea where to go now.

It struck me quite suddenly, randomly out of the blue, but one day I just shook myself:

What are you so melancholic about? This is where you wanted to be for the last four years. You worked hard to reach here, and now that you are here, you are thinking of what to do when you leave?! 

Idiot! (Being me, I am allowed to call myself names 😛 ) Enjoy these three years to the fullest. Revel in the glory that is today. The rest will sort itself out, as and when it happens. Don’t think about that. 

Just BE!