Delhi Diaries-Short Story, Part 1

I must have been around 3 years old at that time, young enough to still have that cute accent that all little kids who are new to talking, have. Old enough to walk up to the neighbors house on my own. They were 2-3 men, I suppose in their early 20s. They were running a small scale photo development lab, sort of a darkroom out of an empty house in our street.

At first I must have gone there accompanied by my older cousins. The ambiance would have looked fascinating to the eyes and mind of a child yet to see the wonders of this world;  photo films submerged in a colored liquid, some clipped to a clothesline, interesting and even scary images peeping out of the plastic film.

My next memory is of a quiet summer afternoon while I was being showered with chocolates and attention, my mother climbed up the steps of the empty house cum workshop, out of breath and tired looking, at the same time emitting sighs of relief.

It so happened that I was missing from my home for quite some time. My mother and other folks were searching for me in the homes and shops of relatives and acquaintances all around the neighborhood, no one thought I would be in the empty house with a bunch of strangers.

Anyways it all ended well except I don’t have anymore recollection of those friendly strangers. I came to know much later that the photo lab was operated from the neighboring house only for a brief period of time. Either they did well and moved to a new place or the enterprise failed to take off, no one knew with certainty.

This incident remains special to me to this day for two reasons, first because it’s one of the few memories I have of myself that young. Secondly even in my overall hazy memory of the incident, the genuine affection and happiness of those youngsters while interacting with me, emerges crystal clear. That’s a rarity growing up in a place that’s overfilled with children one cuter than the other and grownups with limited bandwidth to truly appreciate each one’s zing.

Bombay Diaries- Part 1

Bombay 1994/1995

Quicker strides begin to first turn into slow running and then faster and faster…. bus # 5 is approaching the bus stop right outside the gate of my housing colony. I see it and can feel that I am going to miss catching it by few seconds.

The conductor in his clean khaki uniform and nice leather sling pouch is now pulling the string to the bell 2 times, signaling the driver to GO.

I feel disappointed with my poor luck and am worried about being late to my class. It’s my first week in the new junior college and it’s important to not miss out on these introductory classes.

Anyways all is not lost, I tell myself as I do some quick thinking. There’s a traffic light around a quarter mile ahead that I know takes really long to turn green, chances are that I will be able to catch the waiting bus there.

I start to run again. My new woodland shoes are looking good.

I am thinking about the pathetic red and blue line buses of Delhi and those uncouth and unclean conductors who are always shamelessly scratching their balls and blatantly forgetting to return your change. Compared to that this is pure heaven. I am able to run on the road without being mocked or bullied, the old conductor in Bus #5 might get little cross with me boarding his bus in between stops but he will quietly take the money from me, would demand to look at my student pass and will hand over my ticket while I settle down in a nice empty window seat. Life is good.

Yes! The traffic light is red and my bus is right there, a beautiful red Double-decker, so elegant. I am almost there now…

But Oh no! The light has turned green, my bus starts to move again, should I run after it as the road ahead looks pretty jammed? Or wait at the adjacent stop for the next bus??


The bus stop of the coaching center is in a crowded market area. It’s been raining since afternoon so trains and busses are running late due to waterlogged roads and train tracks. There are at least 3 times more people waiting at the bus stop than normal days.

It’s 6:30 pm, I have been waiting since last 45 min and there’s no sign of my usual bus #336.

Still new to Bombay rains and relaxed about getting wet in the wonderful warm rain once in a while like “Delhi-wallas”, I had yet again forgotten to carry an umbrella with me this morning.

But today it’s getting a bit too crazy even for me. I had a friend share her umbrella with me to walk to the bus stop and now I am under the shelter of the bus stop with only my head protected from the heavy downpour and water splashing on me from all sides. Turns out my woodland shoes aren’t really water proof so feet are soaking wet. There’s no way I can go around searching for a pay phone to call my parents, I guess they will anyway know that I will be home late today.

Suddenly there’s excitement amongst the waiting commuters. Our bus is just around the corner. People start to get up hurriedly and organize into a single file. I get the glimpse of the awaited bus and am not surprised to see that it’s already packed. I am in the middle of the file and would most likely manage to get pushed inside the bus and find a spot to stand through my entire journey.

I am thinking fast.. I have to choose between at least an hour of standing in the bus packed with wet, sweaty passengers or wait for the next bus to come with possibly less people in it.

The bus is here… I have to make up my mind in next 10 seconds! Someone yells at me from behind for being too slow…

Love, Faith and Agony- A Short Story

Mrs. Irani looks at the wall clock in the living room, right below the picture of Zarathustra. It’s 7:45 pm and Shirin isn’t yet back from work. She would have reached home by now if she had taken her usual 6:10 local train from Andheri.

Mrs. Irani’s heart begins to sink. She reaches for the home phone, puts on her reading glasses hanging down her neck and dials Shirin’s cellphone number. It rings several times before going to the voicemail. Mrs. Irani slumps into the frayed armchair. She knows where Shirin is right now. Her mind is racing fast; How does she stop her from being there? How can she bring her little Shiru back home to her Mommy again?

She picks up the tattered phone book and maniacally turns the pages to alphabet R. She takes few deep breaths to calm herself down and starts dialing the number. The phone rings, She exhales a quiet sigh of relief when Roshni answers.

“Hello Roshni, this is Mrs. Irani, Shirin’s Mom”

“ Hello Aunty, How are you?

“ I am fine Beta, How are you and your parents? asks Mrs Irani, making sure to not sound desperate.

“Everyone is doing great Aunty, I have just reached home from work”

“That’s nice. Roshni, I just called to ask if you have spoken with Shirin lately?”

There’s a brief pause, Mrs. Irani senses a little hesitation in Roshni’s voice when she replies “Actually Aunty I have been really busy at work and so is Shirin I think, we are just not able to connect off-late”

“Oh OK. Haven’t talked on phone also?” Mrs. Irani presses on.

“Aunty is everything alright? You can talk to me straight, is anything troubling you?”

“No no nothing like that” She stops for a moment, then decides to continue “I only want to know if Shirin is still meeting that Boy”.

The phone line goes quiet. “Roshni beta I know you are Shirin’s best friend but I too am like your mother, am I not? Won’t you help me know what’s going on in her life” Mrs. Irani’s tone gets fervent.

“Aunty, off course you all are like my family. I am not trying to hide anything from you. Shirin and I haven’t talked on this subject since we last met at your place when she made a promise to you that she would break up with Vikram.”

That name! how much she loathes the sound of it. She knows Roshni is lying to her. “OK you want to keep me in the dark, it’s fine, but remember I am her mother and I will find out. Also remember that you have parents too, can you imagine them going through the same pain as me? Mrs. Irani slams the phone down.

It’s past 8, she must eat dinner and take medicines to keep her Diabetes under check. She has absolutely no appetite for food but skipping the daily doze isn’t an option. She drags herself to the kitchen , softly saying hymns from the holiest of all books; Avesta “I approach you with good thought, O Mazda Ahura, so that you may grant me the blessing of two existences, the material and that of thought, the blessing emanating from Truth, with which one can put your support in comfort.”

Food tastes awful and the TV show is hurting her eyes and ears. At the sound of the door bell, she jumps from her chair at the dining table, spilling some water over her night gown.

I will be calm, I will not yell at her for being late, I will not let my baby drift away. She makes a silent resolution, while walking hastily to open the door.

“Hi Mommy” Shirin looks exhausted

Mrs. Irani goes to give her daughter a tight hug “Come my Baby”

“Mommy, I am sorry my phone ran out of battery so I couldn’t inform you that I would be home late”

“I was so worried Shiru. Come come dikri , let me serve you food. You must be starving”

“Actually Mom, I was so hungry that I picked up some junk from the station and ate in the train, you don’t worry I will eat later in the night when I am hungry again”

“Ok baby, you take rest. How was your day at work?”

“My day was hectic Mom and tomorrow I have to leave early. I am going to go to bed. You please don’t forget to have your medicines, OK?” Shirin said going inside her room.

Mrs. Irani sits in her chair again. She gulps down her tablets. She is thinking hard; Did her daughter behave as usual? Was her face slightly flushed with excitement? Did she avoid making an eye contact?

She gets up and silently walks towards Shirin’s room. The door is partly shut, she can hear the water flow in the bathroom.

She goes inside her own room and starts preparing for her night-time prayers. “The fabric of my life work they destroy, The evil doers, extolled as masters and mistresses, Who dispossess persons of their rightful heritage And those who will retard the good and truthful from the realm of the Good Mind, O Mazda.”

Mrs. Irani wakes up with a start. She is used to having disturbed, broken sleep. She decides to check on Shirin before trying to go back to sleep; May be she too is awake and is now hungry. She tiptoes to her daughter’s room, the door is shut but she can hear her muffled voice speaking on the phone. She stands outside the room, holding her breath.

“He is gone, gone forever” She hears Shirin say “I miss him so much Roshni, I feel as if a part of me is amputated from my soul”

She continues talking but her words get buried into the sound of her weeping.

Gasping for breath, Mrs. Irani stumbles back to her own room and locks the door from inside. She is overwhelmed with emotions. She runs to stand in front of the sacred flame to thank Ahura Mazda for helping her daughter stay on the right path and for saving them both from the eternal doom.

She prays frantically before dropping down on her bed out of exhaustion.

She wants to finally sleep undisturbed. She shuts her eyes as tight as she can but the sound of her daughter’s weeping, is getting louder. Her Shiru who brought so much joy to her, is grieving.

Mrs. Irani covers her ears with both her hands but the deafening cries are piercing through her whole body…

First Novel (work in progress)

                             1

She isn’t yet turned 18. Eldest of the 3 sisters and 2 brothers. She was always told; in a struggling middle-class household, how important it is for the oldest one to get married appropriately. The prospects of rest of the siblings are tied to the precedence she would set. Her mother had never let her elude from her obligations towards the family.

Since this proposal came for her, everyone has been on cloud 9. It’s considered God’s sent, perfect on all parameters. The boy’s family is well settled with business and own house. The boy is much older than her, but he looks like a good person in the photograph his family had sent to her family. They live across the country. She is told it takes almost 2 days of train journey to get there. She doesn’t expect to be able to visit her parent’s place more than once a year, may be 2 years.

The boy and his family arrived this morning and are put up in a relative’s house that has spare rooms. This is her last night at her parent’s house as just their daughter. She will be married tomorrow. She may be able to come back and stay another night before setting off to a far-off place she’s never been to before, her new home.

Some cousins and friends have started singing as is customary on the night before the wedding. Sometimes they dance too but her father doesn’t approve of girls dancing in front of other men even if they are relatives.

One of her cousins who is also her best friend starts singing a popular song from a newly released movie. It’s a gloomy number that translates to ‘My heart’s desires have got swept away by my tears, I am left alone even though I was always faithful’, the lyrics aren’t appropriate for the occasion, but the theme of separation hits the right chord around the tiny gathering. The best friend begins to cry, the young bride-to-be is also weeping uncontrollably. Some younger kids are confused, this was supposed to be fun and entertaining. Why’s everyone crying as if someone died?

The girl’s aunt, herself just a few years older, jumps in. She scolds everyone for being morose and making it worse for the poor girl and her Mother. The aunt now becomes the lead singer steering the party towards traditional wedding songs with funny lines. The room begins to once again fill with sound of laughter and happy chatter.

The girl however is only half listening, she is thinking of the following day and the days after that. She has absolutely no idea what the future holds for her except that she will be separated from her family, friends and every single person and thing she has ever known. She is scared.

She looks at her mother, who’s busy packing gifts for her meager trousseau. So young and so hardened by her circumstances. Her Mother hasn’t had an easy life with the husband who barely earns enough to provide 2 decent meals to the family. She had to clutch every paisa with her teeth to bring up 5 kids. Today she is tired but there’s a gleam in her eyes. Her daughter is getting married into a much well to do family, her son is apprenticing to be a salesman and will soon begin to get a salary. Her time will come, soon. This is just the beginning. The girl gets strength from the gleam in her mother’s eyes.

The aunt has started beating the dhol drum loudly and is singing ‘I will do whatever I feel like in my in laws house, I will do whatever I feel like in my in-laws house.. When my mother in law would ask me to do chores I will tell the old wretch to get lost’….

                                2

‘See, how she didn’t even come out to the staircase to say bye to us’, Meena thought while getting down the steps of the old dilapidated building. This was her first visit to her would be in-laws house.

‘You all wait here, I will go get the car’ Her cousin who was the designated driver for the evening suggested. Pranav was talking to her father, answering questions about the building’s management and maintenance. The car came, Pranav touched her parents feet, ‘I will call you in a bit’ He told Meena.

All of them got in the car, Her father in the front passenger seat, she, her sister Meghna and Mother in the backseat.

‘The boy is nice and that’s the only thing worth considering’ her mother started as soon as the car got out of the building’s gate.

‘Yes, that’s fine but the Mother’s attitude wasn’t right today’ her elder sister said angrily ‘So possessive about her son! What does she want to do? keep her boy in her lap all her life? He is 30 years old for God’s sake’

‘Quiet you all’ Her father almost yelled but then calmed himself down ‘We need to think maturely and not get carried away by 1 or 2 incidences’

Meena remained silent, it’s a long drive home, another of unchecked boxes. Meena’s parents’ house although small but is in a much-desired part of the city. Pranav lives far off in the suburbs. It’s decided that after marriage they will rent a small apartment close to his Mother. They will spend the evenings after work at the mother’s place and then go to their apartment to sleep.

All that is OK, but the Mom’s behavior today was indeed strange. And Pranav’s too. Agreed that she’s had a tough life, lost her husband when Pranav was only 11, worked as an office clerk and raised him without any family support.

He did drop a hint first time he came over to her house, that he and her Mom keep to themselves and unlike most other families rarely interact with the members of the extended family. They didn’t think much of this seemingly harmless trait at that time. Isn’t it a good thing to mind one’s own business?

But today seeing them together in that depressing old apartment, they all felt a discomfort that isn’t easy to express or put into words.

‘And tell me what did she mean by My son would never ever hurt me for someone else? Arre did we suggest that your son should hurt you? Out of the blue she talks like that, doesn’t this reek of serious psychological problems? And the son just keeps quiet!’ Meghna has another outburst.

‘But aren’t all sons like that? Their Mom asks rhetorically ‘They support their mothers unconditionally. Even your dad till date when your Granny is 85…

‘Aai can you stop your own sad story, this isn’t about you’ Meghna is in no mood of getting distracted from the issue in hand. ‘You and baba got married in another time and age, is this how you have brought us up? No, right? I am not saying that we should back out from this marriage, but I think Meena should consider pros and cons once again’

As if waiting for this cue from her sister, Meena’s mind wanders away, sorting through all the interactions that she and Pranav have had in last 1 month.

First time he was accompanied to her place, by a common family friend. Then they spoke on phone a few times before going out for dinner, 2 more coffee outings, then her parents and sister visited his house and then last week when he and his Mother came to her place for a small engagement ceremony.

He is an MBA, slowly making his way up the corporate ladder, it will take some time, but they will be fine financially. She herself is having a steady job as a dietitian in a private hospital.

Although her parents are very open minded compared to many of her friend’s but off late even they have started getting concerned about her growing age. A few months older than Pranav she will turn 31 very soon. She isn’t overtly attracted to him physically, but neither is she repelled by his looks. She didn’t see that as a problem. She knows that people’s appearances change and what really matters is how they make you feel in their company. With Pranav she was able to relate as a person each time they met alone.

Her thoughts come back to today evening. When her father asked him about their plans for the wedding function, the way he looked at his Mother,waiting for her to respond. And when they were leaving, he glanced at her again as if looking for a signal, before accompanying us down to our car and how throughout their stay, she kept watching him closely like a hawk.

‘In the end Meena has to spend her life with them and she must decide’ Meghna announced somberly, breaking the silence in the car. They were not yet half way home.

                              3

Veera is returning home from work. A distance of 10 miles that takes 30-40 mins of driving during peak times. She usually uses this time to call her Mom back in India. Even though it’s a bit too early in the morning, her Mom doesn’t mind.

Lately this daily drill has begun to get tiresome for Veera. Her family has started to take a rather harsh stand on the subject of Her single status at age 29.

During last few month’s their conversations have revolved around her last or upcoming meeting with a prospective husband, arranged by her Mom and Aunt.

They are annoyed with her for rejecting boys on flimsy grounds. Overtly religious- so what? Too much devotion for parents- So? Modi bhakt- really? No hobbies etc.

Veera is overcome with mental fatigue and hopelessness about the whole situation. Finding that someone within the confines of race, religion and region; Seriously, what are the odds? Today she is going to skip calling home. They want an answer from her; not just an answer actually but the answer they want to hear.

For the last 8 months she really cooperated, put her best foot forward, convinced herself to have faith in the process; her Mom and Aunt would manage the Shaadi.com account, would filter the suitable profiles and responses, would then send her the details to talk and connect, if all goes well and the boy is U.S based the expectation is to plan and  meet as soon as possible, if not then she would make a trip to India for a meeting.

So far, she has talked to 20 boys and has met 8. It all started OK but months of apprehensions for each lead, effort to present herself in the best light for each new prospect and the disappointment every time someone failed the litmus test, have started to take a toll on her mind.

One time when she actually liked the boy, he didn’t show enough enthusiasm, stomping her ego and morale in the process.

Anyway, this last boy she spoke to wouldn’t have made it to her Mom’s shortlist a year back but now not only did they make her talk to him but are also pushing her to go to India to meet him and his family. This desperation and lowering of standards is heartbreaking, even humiliating.

Today she will spend the evening all by herself. Her roommate is travelling this weekend, giving her a much-needed unperturbed time to clear her head.