The Chase

I spied him from a distance, standing in the balcony of a plush apartment (bloody ameer baap ki aulaad) and withdrew into the shadows of the high-rise buildings of Mumbai. I was pretty sure he hadn’t seen me standing in the dark, waiting for my friends. I quickly sent out a WhatsApp message on our gang’s group: Come quietly, without letting yourself being seen by anyone on the road.

10 minutes passed, and they were all standing next to me. I told them who I had seen, that got them all excited and pumped up. We then started discussing what to do with him, when I had another of my brilliant ideas. “Let’s jerk that jerk around a bit,” I said, with a maniacal grin on my face. I then laid out the details of my diabolical plan in front of them, and when they saw what I intended to do, they all burst into loud guffaws in anticipation of the fun that we were going to have. And just like that, the plan was on!

We started by sauntering casually across the road in front of the house where I had seen him, making loud noises so as to alert him. As expected, he came out on the balcony to investigate the cause of the disturbance, saw us passing by…and froze. He could not believe the golden opportunity that he had just been given.

So he quickly went inside, picked up his weapon, and started to jump down the balcony when better sense prevailed as he realized that he was on the 18th floor. He rushed to the lift, came down, and ran outside, raising his weapon towards the sky and shouted….

“By the power of Grayskull!” and as a streak of lightening (followed by a bout of heavy rain) came down from the sky and hit his magic sword, Prince Adam transformed into He-Man!

The only problem was, we were nowhere to be seen by then!

Even a muscled-up bimbo like He-Man knew that running around the streets of Mumbai half-naked, with a sword in his hands, was not the greatest of ideas, so he quietly transformed into Prince Adam again, and ran towards the spot where he had last seen us.

He saw us at the next intersection. “I’ve got you know, you scoundrels,” he said to himself, and ran towards us, but just as he transformed into He-Man again (accompanied by the usual lightening and rain), we slipped into a dark alley and disappeared again, and he was left rubbing his hands and being forced to convert into Prince Adam…again.

We kept on leading him on this wild goose chase across the city, causing indiscriminate lightening and rainfall in the middle of the night, chuckling to ourselves, making jokes on his stupidity, repeatedly forcing him to transform into He-Man, and then change right back, till almost one hour into this ‘game’, we saw him stop!

That surprised me, in my long association with him, I had never known him to give up. It should have warned me, but I was so pumped up with adrenaline due to the thrill of the chase that I ignored the anomaly, and kept running….till we turned into an alley in Bandra, and realized that we were in the middle of a flood.

We could see all sort of weird things floating around us, cars, trucks, cows, goats….and even a tank. And before we could apply brakes to our feet, we were in the water, floating along with the debris, and swimming desperately to stay afloat.

And as the water took us back towards He-Man, we could hear his laughter pierce our ears, as he shouted out to me, “Skeletor, while you and your gang were busy causing an unseasonal thunderstorm in Mumbai, you forgot one important thing, the legendary Mumbai drainage system, which is so choked up that even a glass of water can lead to flooding. So all the time, while you thought you were leading me into a trap, you were building one for yourself…and you fell right into it!”

And as the water led me right to He-Man, and he bound us tightly with some magic rope, I roared out loud in frustration, and my friends Evil-Lyn, Beast Man, Tri-Clops, and Trap Jaw joined in!

Narrator’s Note: And this, my dear readers, was the thundering sound that you heard at 3am the night before last in Mumbai!

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Loved No More

“That idiot!” I grumbled to myself, “He has left me hanging….This is the end!”

I could see the predators circling me, keeping their distance for now, but slowly gathering courage. One of them seemed drunk, and suddenly rushed towards me, but I swatted at him with all my might, and that gave the rest a moment’s pause, and led to them giving me slightly more space. If he happened to come in front of me, I could kill him right now. How dare he put me in such a tight spot, that too in the open?

It had not always been like that. I still remember the day when he had brought me home for the first time. “I will always love and respect you,” he promised solemnly, “I will take such good care of you that you will soon forget your old home.” And, you know, in the first few years, he HAD lived up to his promise.

He used to take me along on all his business trips, his important meetings, and his socializing with his friends. He seemed so proud of me, showing me off at the slightest opportunity. It was truly a dream come true for both of us, and we couldn’t have been happier.

But then, as the years passed, things changed…slowly at first, and then going rapidly downhill. I no longer had the silky smooth touch that he used to cherish so much, and age had started to show in my complexion also. There was no getting around it, I had grown old!

He now increasingly started leaving me at home, preferring to go it alone, or with someone else. I used to keep waiting for him at home, and he would return at some unearthly hour in a drunken state, and without even looking at me, go to sleep. I kept staring at him, wondering how I was to blame for all this!

And then, this morning, he came up to me, sniffed at me like a dog, and said with disgust in his voice, “You need to get some fresh air, you’re smelling like an old hag!” So saying, he took me outside the house, locked the door behind him, and left, leaving me hanging in the open!

My musings were suddenly interrupted by the loud laughter of the predators, who had taken advantage of my reverie to creep much closer to me. I tried to swat them again, but there were simply too many of them.

And as the murder of crows crapped all over me and then tore me to pieces, my last thought was, “Gogoji….aapka ghaaghra….gaya…………

Narrator’s Note: Those unfortunate readers who have not watched Andaz Apna Apna will not get the reference in the end. I hope it drives you to watch the masterpiece today itself!

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The Germ

No one knows where the germ first came from, no one ever will, in all probability. But we do know that it took a long time in manifesting itself, thousands of years in fact. It lay dormant while Adam courted Eve, and when humans first started living in caves. Until it finally manifested itself that fateful day almost 40,000 years ago, which changed the course of history.

Ever since he was a child, Jebel had been mocked by everyone around him. Not because he was intellectually or physically challenged, but because he was as mild-mannered as the proverbial cow (Note: Proverbial, because actual cows can be deadly, they have been categorized as the most dangerous large animal in Britain based on annual number of deaths caused by them, for example). When his friends started bullying younger children, he tried to tell them how it was bad for the psyche of the children. That led to two repercussions:

  1. He became a member of the ‘bullied’ club from then on
  2. He no longer had any friends to try and influence

But Jebel did not care, because even at that young age, the germ had started influencing him, as it had recognized that this particular host offered it the best opportunity to finally gain recognition.

Time passed, and Jebel grew up into a handsome young man. It was time for him to go on his first hunt. It started off as a proud and exciting day for his father, and ended up a disaster, with his father ruing the day Jebel was born. The hunt in those days, you see, consisted of all the men in the tribe leaving their caves together, and in a bunch, running towards any animal that they saw.

But when Jebel saw this, he refused to participate in the hunt. “This is no way to hunt,” he told his father and the tribe elders, “No wonder you have to chase 10 animals before you can catch even one. I cannot be a part of this ineffective technique.” He did not know it then, but it was the germ talking, he was just the medium.

Of course it resulted in him getting a right royal beating from his father, and  a fresh round of hazing from the young blood in his tribe. But he did not care, the germ was growing in him.

His father decided to marry him off then, so that at least he could bear a boy who could contribute productively towards filling the collective stomachs of the tribe, since Jebel was a burden on everyone. Not being able to come up with a convincing-enough argument, Jebel agreed to get married.

Zenda was pretty, and smart, and had a pleasing personality. By any definition, she was everything that a cave man could ever wish for. But right from their wedding night, whenever she wanted to lay with her husband Jebel, he just said, “Not tonight darling, I have a headache…I think it is the germ.” For by now, Jebel knew that something was not right with him, there was a germ that was causing him to be different from everyone else.

And then, the great famine arrived.

There was a drought, and the number of wild beasts in their area reduced drastically, with only the fittest among them surviving. The ones that were left were, by now, so used to the crude hunting tactics of the tribe that they detected them from miles away and evaded them easily.

Many a nights went by in the caves of the tribe without the cooking fire being lit, and deaths due to hunger became the norm rather than the exception. Hardly a few hunters were left now, but for how long? The situation did not seem to be becoming any better.

And so, a meeting of the surviving members of the tribe was called. They came, thin as skeletons, many of them hardly able to walk. The chief announced, “We have decided that we will go on one last hunt tomorrow, and if we cannot find food for our tribe, we will disband, and each family can look for sustenance on their own, the tribe will have ceased to exist!”

There were cries of shock and horror on hearing this. The tribe was what had kept them alive, it was what had kept them happy, given them a purpose to live, and to feel alive. Without a tribe, they had no existence.

It was then that Jebel got up, walked up to the chief, and said in a booming voice, “I have a germ of an idea!”

Before anyone could react, Jebel picked up a stone from near the fire, and like a man possessed, started trying to scratch the wall with it. Everybody was stupefied,  cave walls were sacred, no one could even dream of spoiling them in any way. Jebel’s father got up to stop him, but Zenda held his hand and shook her head. She had no idea what her husband was doing, but she knew that the germ that had kept him awake for so many nights was finally making its presence felt.

Meanwhile, Jebel had drawn a set of figures on the wall, and now turned and beamed at the tribe. There were loud gasps, as people realized that Jebel had drawn figures that resembled them, but thin, like sticks, representing their current hunger-stricken state. This was blasphemy, they started shouting, our souls will get captured in these figures, and we will suffer for all eternity.

Jebel waited for them to run out of steam, and then said, “The wild beasts know that we will come rushing towards them, like this. And we can never catch them, as they are faster than us. So we have to do something different. We will divide ourselves into three groups. The first will quietly go to their left, and wait. The second will go to their right, and wait. The third will create lots of noise, like we do right now, and run towards the beast. They will panic, and run left and right, right into the spears of the waiting hunters there.”

They were all sceptical at first, but Jebel showed them everything on the wall step by step, and they eventually agreed to give it a shot.

And what a glorious hunt it turned out to be! Everything went according to Jebel’s plan, and that night, there was a feast like the tribe had never seen. And at the height of the party, Jebel’s father picked up a stone, and in a drunken state, carved out the highlights of that day’s hunt. He embellished it a bit, though, he made his son Jebel the hero of the hunt, who single-handedly killed tens of animals, that too with his bare hands. That Jebel had not even gone for the hunt seemed to be a minor detail to his father in his drunken, heady state!

He finished the drawing, and turning his head, shouted, “Jebel, come and see what I have created.” But there was no response. He shouted for Jebel again, but still did not get an answer.

For Jebel had gone off to his cave, along with his wife Zenda, to finally consummate their marriage. His job was done now, he had passed on the germ of writing, and creating stories, to his father, and others in his tribe. He did not know it then, but this germ spread like wildfire, and created civilization as we know it. And till this germ is alive, mankind will continue to grow and prosper. So keep spreading this germ, write, and encourage others to write, fearlessly, because if the germ dies, so do we!

 

 

 

 

 

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Kidnapped!

I woke up to find that I could not see a thing.

No, I had not been blinded, not as yet anyways, but it was pitch dark, with just a tiny beam of light coming through a hole on the roof of the small box in which I was imprisoned.

I checked my hands and feet, thankfully, they were still free, but as for the rest of me, while I could move around, there wasn’t any place I could go to beyond the four walls of my claustrophobic prison.

Clearly, unequivocally, irrevocably, I was doomed!

And to think that just this morning, I had been fighting with my mother on what to have for breakfast, and beating up my brother for ratting on me. The latter is what had led to me ending up in this dark hole, come to think of it.

Our father had caught me hitting my idiot of a younger brother, and had grounded me on what seemed to be a brilliantly sunny Sunday. I grumbled, muttered, and protested vociferously, but he just refused to listen to my side of the story. I grudgingly went to my room and stood facing the wall, cursing the inequitable nature of this world, and of family dynamics!

But not for long.

I heard my father go out to get weekly provisions, and a neighbour come in to chit-chat with Mom, and I knew that this was my golden opportunity. I crawled slowly towards the main entrance, taking each step with utmost care so as to avoid making any sound whatsoever. Getting caught trying to escape punishment would only result in a harsher punishment, something which I was not too keen to experience.

After what seemed to be an eternity, I reached the main entrance of our house, and then…I was off, running as fast as my legs would carry me. And it was while running at that breakneck speed that I had bumped into him, the kidnapper. He saw me, and his eyes   widened with excitement. He was much bigger than I am, and so, I could do nothing at all when he picked me up and dropped me in this prison, sliding the door shut as I slowly lost consciousness.

But now I had regained my senses, and knew that I was doomed, clearly, unequivocally, irrevocably.

But then, I thought of my poor mother wondering where I had disappeared, searching desperately for me, all the time blaming my father for having been the cause of this tragedy. And then I thought of my father, whose guilt would keep gnawing at him from inside till he became a shell of his former self. And then, finally, I thought of my younger brother, gloating on becoming the sole heir to the family fortune.

And this shifted something deep inside me. I was no longer reconciled to my fate, I would stand, and I would take it head-on!

I first tentatively checked the walls of my prison for any weak points, but there were none.

I did not get disheartened. I tried running and hitting the walls with the full force of my body, and it was then that I realized that the prison was not as solid as I had initially thought it to be. The ground, as well as the walls, had moved slightly when I hit the wall.

My chest swelled with hope then, for I knew what I had to do. I targeted the wall hitting which was leading to the most displacement, and started running and banging into it…again…and again…and again….till finally….the entire prison, just toppled over what seemed to be very high cliff.

I was scared out of my wits as I fell along with the prison, but the fear was combined with exhilaration, for even if I died in the process, I had succeeded in doing something to fight my captor and foil his plans.

The prison hit the ground with such great impact that the door slid open. I could see light now, after God knows how long. I jumped out of the prison, and ran with full strength towards my home. Strangely enough, the entrance to my home was not as far as I had thought it to be. Bit I did not spend too much time over it, and just slid in at great speed, panting heavily.

The first person I saw on reaching home was my brother, and for the first time in my life, I was so happy on seeing him that I hugged him. My parents looked at each other like I had finally gone completely crazy, but I didn’t care, I had just narrowly escaped death, or worse. I was home now, and I was never going to leave.

And in his room, 5-year old Sunny started bawling. His parents rushed in to see what had happened. His eyes full of tears, Sunny told them, “I had put a small cockroach in this matchbox to take him for our Summer Camp Show & Tell tomorrow. I had kept the matchbox on the table, but I just came back from the bathroom and saw that the matchbox was lying open on the floor, and the cockroach ran and went into that small hole in the wall. What am I going to tell Miss D’Souza?”

His mother looked at his father, and said, “How many timed do I have to tell you to call someone and get that hole repaired? It seems as if an entire family of cockroaches lives down there!”

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Gangtok Girl (Or How Mitesh found his Beauty from the North-East)

At the ripe-old age of seven, after watching his first Republic Day Parade on Doordarshan, Mitesh arrived upon a momentous decision, to do something that no Gujarati had done before him. No, it was not to travel to Switzerland without visiting Jungfraujoch, but something even bigger than that- He decided that he would only marry a girl from North-East India!

He had been cursorily watching the tableaux of various states in the parade when his eyes got stuck on the TV screen, and just refused to budge. It was the tableau of Sikkim, and it was a virtual wonderland- snow-capped mountains, bubbling brooks, and by those brooks, a bunch of bubbly girls the likes of whom he had never seen in his sheltered life in Vashi- Long, lustrous, jet-black hair, pretty eyes, flawless fair skin, svelte figures, and all of them dressed in exotic, printed silk dresses. Mitesh was spellbound, and turning towards his mother, made the earth-shattering pronouncement that would change his life forever. His mother replied disinterestedly, “Yes yes, first finish your thepla, we’ll see later!”

With the passage of time, Mitesh’s resolve, instead of getting weakened and forgotten as a childhood fancy, only strengthened in intensity. However, there was only one problem, no girl from the North-East had ever set foot in Vashi, nor was one likely to in the foreseeable future.

So while his friends in school, and then college, found themselves girlfriends and boyfriends, Mitesh kept on waiting. All his friends got married eventually, but Mitesh kept on waiting. He was confident that someone, somewhere, but in the North-East, was waiting for him.

And then came the day that Mitesh had been dreading for a long time- His 30th birthday. There was a huge party at his place, but while cutting the cake, he felt like his heart was being cut into pieces, for he knew what was going to follow. And his fears were not unfounded, for as soon as the last guest departed, his mother sat him down, and sternly made a pronouncement of her own, “If you do not find a girl before your next birthday, you will have to marry a girl of my choice!”

He knew that his mother would brook no dissent on this matter, but giving up on his life-long dream was also not an option he could live with. So, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He applied for a two weeks leave at his office, and decided to go to Gangtok and look for the girl of his dreams.

Once he had made up his mind, Mitesh started planning like a man possessed. He sent out emails to various tour operators to plan an itinerary for him, for he did not want to restrict his search just to Gangtok. The responses that he received all followed the same route, similar hotels, even used the same language to describe places. And then….he received Sonam’s email.

It spoke of green valleys, fresh snow on tall mountain peaks, brooks that took birth on those tall mountain peaks and transformed into raging rivers by the time they reached the green valleys, and the fragrance of the wildflowers that the brooks helped take birth on their way. To Mitesh, it spoke of only one thing, it spoke of love!

But Mitesh was not one to get carried away by his feelings, he wanted to check first whether Sonam was married or single, what she looked like, what were her passions and interests….So he decided to go about the investigation in a systematic manner.

First, he wrote her a mail, asking for some pictures of previous tours that she had conducted. She promptly mailed back with a bunch of photographs of a recent group tour of some college students from Mumbai. Mitesh excitedly downloaded all the photos, and started trying to identify her. And there she was, the girl of his dreams, standing with a group of gorgeous girls, but still standing out. It was not just her distinct features which helped him identify her, it was also the laughter that he saw in her eyes, which told him that he had finally found THE ONE!

So he wrote back to her, telling her about how he loved the mountains, but did not just want to tick boxes, it was an easy pace that he was looking for, so that he could soak in the natural beauty of the region. She read his brief, an it brought a smile to her lips, for he seemed to have his heart in the right place.

She wrote right back, and asked, “How about spending a week in a mountain village?” “Is it any good?” Mitesh enquired. “I sure hope so,” came Sonam’s response, “I have been living here since the past one year.” “Does it have a bubbling brook?” asked Mitesh. She replied with just a photograph of the most gorgeous mountain river that he’d ever seen.

He finalized the trip through her then, but the exchange of mails and phone calls continued unabated. They realized that they did not just share a common love for the North-East, but also of cricket. And when Mitesh discovered that Sonam too was a vegetarian like him, he knew that his mother too would not need too much convincing. Sonam too found herself falling for that strangely shy and sensitive guy from Vashi. Both were now waiting expectantly for the day when the trip would start and they would finally meet.

And now, finally, that day was here. Sonam wore her best dress and reached the airport and hour before the scheduled arrival of Mitesh’s flight so that she would not be late. Mitesh spent the entire time on the flight drinking glassfuls of water, and then visiting the bathroom to make space for the next glass.

The flight landed after what, to both, seemed like an eternity. Mitesh was the first one out of the plane, earning angry glances and mutterings from his fellow passengers, and also the first one to collect his baggage. He almost ran towards the Arrivals Gate, where Sonam was waiting for him, with a board, and a loving heart, that had his name on it.

He came out, and started looking around for the girl from the pictures. He quickly glanced through the crowd of people who were waiting for passengers from various flights, but could not see her. So he tried again, this time from right to left, and much slower, but she was still nowhere to be seen. He looked a third time at all the faces, but that face would have stood out even in this crowd, he knew that for a certainty. She was not there.

His face fell upon this realization, and he started walking out with slumped shoulders and dragging feet, when he heard a soft, tentative voice call out, “Mitesh?”

He looked up sharply towards the voice, and saw that it was an extremely pretty girl, though definitely not from North-East India, whom he’d missed noticing while searching for his Sonam. He saw that this girl had a placard in her hands, with his name on it.

His heart filled with hope again, and he said, “That’s me. Did Sonam send you to receive me?” There was a hint of pain in the girl’s eyes as she replied, “I’m Sonam, Mitesh.” He asked indignantly, “Is this a joke? How can you be Sonam?” She took out her Aadhaar Card and showed it to him for verification then, but he still refused to believe her.

He showed her the photos that she had mailed him, and pointing towards the North-Eastern beauty in them, asked, “If you are Sonam, why did you send me a photo of this girl?” She seemed genuinely surprised on hearing this, took the phone from him, zoomed the photograph, and replied, “That is just some North-Eastern girl who had come on this group tour from Vashi. See, here I am, in all the photos.”

And when Mitesh looked closely, he realized that she was telling the truth, she was present in all the photographs, and now that he looked at the photographs without the race filter, he could clearly see that this girl appeared to be leading the group.

He looked up, and he saw that Sonam’s eyes were filled with tears now. Before he could say anything, she turned and quickly started walking off towards the parking. Something snapped inside him then, maybe it was the stupid childhood infatuation, or maybe it was his long-held belief that he could find true love only with someone from a specific region.

He ran after her, shouting out her name like a mad man, caught up with her just as she was about to enter her car, turned her around, and hugged her. He told her the entire story then, and said, “I accept that I initially got attracted to that North-Eastern girl in the photograph, but I fell in love with you, only you, that girl was a stranger then, and a stranger now. I know now that you can’t force love to do your bidding, you will truly be happy only when YOU do love’s bidding! So can you please forgive me? There’s no one else I can imagine spending even a moment of the rest of my life with, so let us go, the mountain village awaits!”

That brought a smile to Sonam’s tear-streaked face, and she jumped into the driver’s seat and they were off. As they got out of the airport parking, Mitesh asked her, “By the way, I still don’t know your full name, and where do you originally belong to.”

Sonam smiled mischievously, and replied, “Hi, I’m Sonam Shah. And don’t worry, you won’t lose too much face among your friends and family on marrying me.” “Why is that?” asked Mitesh. Sonam replied, “Because even though I’m not an exotic beauty from North-East, technically, I still belong to the North-East. My family belongs to North-East Mumbai, or more specifically, Thane!”

 

 

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The Directionless Snake Part 2 (In which a grand rescue is planned & executed)

I would have said that the situation in which Happy, the King Cobra with the broken GPS, and I found myself at that point was distressing, dreadful, or even dire, but words cannot possibly describe the levels of stress (me) and abject terror(him) that both of us had managed to achieve.

But since I have not whitened my Tata Salt-white fur in the sun, I quickly worked out the broad contours of a plan, and told Happy, “The first thing we need to do is find out where those rascals are holding Lavanya.” “Thank you,” replied Happy, his voice oozing sarcasm, “I would never have guessed that. BUT HOW ON EARTH DO WE DO THAT?”

I calmly ignored his snark, and said, “Not on earth, but in the sky. Now look, and learn.” So saying, I whistled sharply twice, and then went quiet, eyes focused towards the sky. Happy kept looking at me like I was a senile octogenarian who had never owned any marbles, forget losing them with age.

But then, suddenly, there was a small sound, a flapping of wings from far off…and within no time, that small sound had converted into a crescendo, with loud flapping enveloping us like Dolby Surround Sound. That forced Happy to finally look up, and he saw what I knew was the single most awesome sight he would have ever seen- thousands of eagles, hovering above us, blocking out the sunlight like a huge brown umbrella, leading to a snake, and a hare, being covered in the eagles’ shadow! I had seen it hundreds of times, of course, but it still never ceased to amaze me.

I called out to the eagles in a loud and firm wise, “O great flying hunters, I call upon our ancient blood pact and beseech thee for help.” One of the eagles, their leader no doubt, broke out of the formation upon hearing this, and said, “Hain? What language is this? We are the Twenty First Century Eagles, so can you please speak to us in a cosmopolitan language like English, Hindi, or Punjabi?”

I shook my head in disgust, and replied, “Hi, can you please help us? This poor snake’s girlfriend is being held hostage by a gang of mongooses. Can you help us find her, and then take us there, for we have time only till noon before they barbeque her.”

The eagles quickly exchanged whispers among themselves, and then, they flew off in different direction, and within two seconds, the sky was clear, and the sun visible once again. And then, before I could even gloat at Happy’s obvious embarrassment at having underestimated me so badly, the sky was dark once again. The umbrella of eagles was back, but this time, they landed on the open ground in front of us.

The leader came out once again, and simply said, “Hop on!” And hop on we did. The umbrella now rose gently into the sky, and then, with a loud whoosh, flew off in an eastward direction. We would have loved to admire the gorgeous scenery from this amazing viewpoint so high in the sky, but unfortunately, we were too busy hanging on for dear life to notice much.

Five minutes later, the eagles stopped, and dropped close to the ground. That was our signal to get off, so we jumped….and landed straight into a massive melee of mangy mongooses…and one lovely she-snake called Lavanya of course.

The mongoose were so disoriented by our sudden appearance in their midst that they took some time to recover, time which we put to extremely good use. I punched, jabbed, and kicked like I had never done before, for a valuable life was at stake. And I kept moving forward towards Lavanya, leaving a bevy of unconscious mongooses with broken arms, twisted legs, and shattered noses in my wake.

Happy was moving too, but AWAY from Lavanya, because of his broken GPS of course. The mongooses who had not yet been rendered unconscious by me got terribly distracted and confused on seeing this, and kept staring at him closely, suspecting a trap. And that made it much more easier for me to overpower them and clear my way to reach the spot where Lavanya was tied up. I looked around me then, and saw that I was the only one still standing on my feet. We can’t count Happy and Lavanya in this, of course, as snakes have no feet, remember?

“You came for me,” cried out Lavanya groggily, and then, as she opened her eyes completely, she exclaimed, “But you’re not Happy.” I replied, “And thank God for small mercies. But don’t worry, it is Happy who brought me here, there he is.”

Lavanya saw him then, slithering aimlessly towards the swamp, looking for her, and then looked at me, and said, “You’re Ninja Chacha, aren’t you?” I replied, “At your service my lady, but to you, I’m just Ninja.” I realized that we should be pushing off before the mongooses regain consciousness and regroup, so I again whistled for my umbrella of eagles.

And within seconds, there they were, landing gently on the ground littered with unconscious mongooses. I could see the sheer awe in Lavanya’s eyes upon seeing this wonder. I pointed towards the top of the umbrella, and said, “After you my lady.”

Lavanya slithered up the eagles’ back, and I hopped on after her. “HAPPY,” I shouted towards him, “Hurry up, we can’t wait here forever.” But before Happy could respond, I felt a gentle tug on my right ear. I turned towards Lavanya, and felt myself falling….into her deep, green, mesmerizing eyes, with which she was gazing at me intently.

“Let him find his way home himself,” she said softly, “We can’t wait here forever, we have a new life to start together!”

And just like that, we were off, to live happily ever after in a new life together.

And what about Happy, you ask? Well, I would like to assure you that he found his way home, and lived happily ever after, but honestly, I cannot be sure of that. For all I know, Happy is still slithering around aimlessly in the forest, looking for his home, his Lavanya, and above all, Ninja Chacha, who betrayed him and stole his lady love!

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The Directionless Snake (Part 1)

I woke up with a start, and looked around wildly to see what had led to my being jolted awake like this. And then I heard him, slithering aimlessly over the fallen Autumn leaves, creating a veritable ruckus, and I knew that it could be no other than Happy, the young King Cobra, trying to find his way home…again.

Happy was quite a handsome dude, as snakes go, but he had one major flaw- His biological homing beacon, the equivalent of what humans call GPS, was broken from birth.

When he was a child, his mother used to take him to the fields for breakfast, and midway through the journey, she would realize that he was rushing away on the other side of the highway. She had taken to tying up his throat with a thin vine, and tying the other end to her own tail to ensure that they did not get separated. She’d seen Amar Akbar Anthony and Yaadon Ki Baaraat ample number of times to now what hardships THAT could lead to!

He somehow survived those tumultuous times and lived to grow up into a cool dude with a major female fan following. But he never even deigned to give a second glance to any of those nubile nymphets, for he had eyes only for Lavanya, the love of his life. She had now taken over from his mother the huge responsibility to always guide Happy in the right direction…literally!

So I was surprised to hear Happy creating such a cacophony, for when he moved behind Lavanya, you could never hear him approach, as she avoided loose stones, fallen leaves, and brittle branches like she was Rambo reborn.

I couldn’t resist my curiosity anymore, and hopped across to the area where the noise was coming from. What I saw there made me stop and stare in stunned fascination, for there was Happy, going round and round a tree, almost as if he was trying to catch his own tale.

I kept watching like a zombie for a few minutes, and eventually had to force myself to come out of the trance. I approached him with measured steps, and asked, “Happy, are you OK? Can I help you reach somewhere? And by the way, where is Lavanya?”

And as soon as he heard Lavanya’s name, Happy burst into tears. I patted his head with my furry hands to soothe him a bit, and he finally managed to blurt out his story. Apparently, he had been following Lavanya to the fields in the morning, when she had been caught by a gang of mongooses (Narrator’s Note: Or is it mongeese? Nah, doesn’t sound quite right, so let’s go with mongooses).

They could have killed her, but the wily villains wanted to use her as bait to get more snakes into their trap. So, they had let Happy go, and asked him to tell the other snakes to come and rescue Lavanya by noon if they could, or they would barbeque her and eat her with beer.

Happy ran as fast as he could, but as usual, his broken GPS had carried him far from his home, and he had no idea as to where he was. And now, just half an hour was left for the deadline, and Lavanya, to expire. There was simply no time for him to reach home, tell the other snakes about the fate that had befallen his lady love, and elicit help.

I heard out his story, understood the entire situation in detail, and arrived upon the only logical conclusion. “Happy,” I said, “We shall just have to rescue Lavanya ourselves!”

Even in his currently hopeless condition, Happy looked at me with scorn, and said, “What do you mean by WE? How can an old hare like you help a deadly King Cobra like me?” I looked at him with disappointment, turned around as if to leave, and then jumped, and mid-air, pivoted and hit him hard with a roundhouse kick!

Happy looked at me with amazement (once he’d come to his senses two minutes after the kick, that is) and said in a voice full of awe, “There is only one hare in this world who can execute a crazy kick like that. But…but….I had heard that he died long ago.” I smiled and replied, “I am still alive and kicking (He He), as you can see Happy. I had just retired from the hustle and bustle of the animal kingdom. But now, seeing your plight, I have decided that for one final time, the world will get to see Ninja Chacha in action! Now, do not waste time standing here like this, close your mouth, and then let us go rescue your damsel-in-distress!”

Will Happy and Ninja Chacha be able to reach Lavanya before the deadline, or will her captors get to have freshly barbequed snake as a snack with their beer? How will Happy find his way back to Lavanya? And will just the two of them be able to take on the collective might of the mangy mongooses (or mongeese if you prefer, ki fark painda hai)? To find out the answers to these life-and-death questions, keep your skin, and eyes, peeled for the stunning conclusion of The Directionless Snake!

 

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The Apprentice

I stopped suddenly, turned towards him, and asked

Did you manage to complete all the tests with which you were tasked

He nodded his head, and replied with a deep sigh

With you on my heels, I cannot be lax even if I try

 

I chuckled at his grumpiness, and told him, swatting his head lightly

Now chin up, chest out, shoulders straight, you better look sprightly

It is your first day at work, and first impressions are critical

For our powers are legendary, to the point of being mystical

 

He grumbled some more, but followed my instructions to a T

And thus, we finally arrived at our destination, a high-rise in the heart of the city

We went straight to our floor, and I took him to his workstation

And said- Do your job well, and in the evening, we shall have a grand celebration

 

I left him there, then, and moved to my own spot, a few meters away

But kept a close watch to ensure that he did not shirk from his responsibilities on his very first day

A posting in a prime location like this was not easy to come by after all

And someone as successful as me knows that pride does come before the fall

 

I looked on, and just like that, it was time for his first real test

Time for his training to take over, and for him to do what he does best

For the man on the other side of the window had seen him, and now rushed towards him with a loud SHOOOOO

And my young son made me proud, as he calmly deposited a large load of poo on his AC, and away he flew!

 

 

 

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When Push Comes to Shove

She was crying, begging me not to do such a cruel thing to her. But I knew it had to be done, so I shut her cries out.

I walked up to her with measured steps, I could see the sheer, undiluted terror in her shiny eyes, which were now starting to well up with a virtual deluge of tears, but I put blinkers on my own eyes, and kept on walking.

I was towering over her now, she seemed to have shrunk drastically, appearing to be much more smaller due to the fear that had taken over her mind and her body. I hated my own largeness then, but did not stop.

She was perched precariously on the edge of the cliff, and had no place left to escape.

I saw that the moment was just ripe, and then…I pushed her……hard.

She fell down the cliff, with a massive shriek, and I could feel the bile in my mouth, and my heart hammering so loudly that my eardrums almost burst.

And then…I heard her voice first. “Woooooooohhhhhh,” she said, as she flew back up and hovered in front of me. “See, flying isn’t that difficult,” I told her, my voice choked with pride and emotions.

And my little sparrow replied with a smile, “No, it’s not, especially when one has a great teacher like you. Happy Teacher’s Day, Dad!”

 

 

 

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Guess Who’s Coming for Onam Sadhya?

If you ever asked Ruchita and Sharath what they had in common, you would find none of the usual suspects in terms of common backgrounds, shared hobbies, or synergistic traits. Ruchita is a Marwari, Sharath is a Malayali. Ruchita is a pure vegetarian, frowning upon even consumption of egg, Sharath had started considering emigrating from India when he had come to know about the Beef Ban. Ruchita, despite being a Marwari, has no head for business, or taste for numbers, and is a painter, Sharath is the son of two chefs but is a financial analyst by profession.

So what DID bring them together, you might ask, and rightly so?

Ask them, and they will give you the same surprising answer- Onam Sadhya!

The first time Ruchita and Sharath met was at an Onam Sadhya, or feast, at Sharath’s place. Ruchita was 15 years old then, and Sharath 16. Sharath’s family had just moved to Chembur from Kerala, and since this was their first Onam away from their extended family and friends, Sharath’s mother had invited their entire building to the Onam Sadhya at their place. It was Swastik Society’s first introduction to the delectable delights of Kerala food, and it led to two long-term consequences for our protagonists:

  1. It inculcated a life-long love for Kerala food in Ruchita, who now could not imagine what her life had been before she had sampled those heavenly dishes; and
  2. It heralded the start of two sets of beautiful friendships- between Ruchita’s Maa and Sharath’s Mom, and, of course, between Ruchita and Sharath!

Sharath saw Ruchita licking her fingers after the feast, and immediately fell in love with the North Indian who could instinctively shower so much love for what he believed was the best food in the world. He approached her boldly immediately, and started explaining the name of each dish, the history and significance of everything, and even the recipes involved in preparing them. Despite herself, Ruchita found herself getting impressed by the breadth and depth of his knowledge about food, as well as his apparent passion when he spoke about it.

The rest, as they say, was history….till the time their relationship almost became history.

They started meeting outside school, going to different Kerala restaurant each week, then graduated to bunking school to meet, till they found themselves in the same college for their graduation.

He went away to Hyderabad for his CFA course after that, while she went to the UK to study painting at the Royal College of Art. But wherever they might be in the world, they made it a point to return to Swastik Society in Chembur for Onam, for the legendary Sadhya at Sharath’s home, feasting their hearts out along with the entire building.

They both started working in Mumbai after their studies got over, and their weekly meetings over Kerala food continued seamlessly, as if it had never been interrupted by life.

Ruchita was 25 years old when Sharath first proposed marriage to her. They’d been working for an year now, and had been going steady for exactly a decade. There was no reason at all for Ruchita to refuse, but still, she demurred, saying that she needed more time.

Sharath proposed again the next year, but the response was the same, as it was the year after that. Ruchita tried to explain to Sharath that it was too big a commitment, and she did not feel brave enough to take the leap yet. He seemed to understand, but slowly, started drifting away.

Ruchita shared everything with her Maa, and this relationship was anyways too important to hide from her. She had updated her on every single aspect of it ever since she had started seeing Sharath, and she cried on her shoulder now, when she saw the prospect of a beautiful relationship going sour due to her own cowardice. Her Maa did not say anything, just patted her head lovingly, as if saying- Don’t worry, it will all work out for the best in the end.

And now, Onam was just four weeks away when Sharath got an unexpected call in the middle of the day. “Meet me at Just Kerala tonight at 8pm,” said Ruchita in an insistent tone, not giving him an option to equivocate. Sharath was utterly confused, they hadn’t met each other for almost two months now. But her call also rekindled all the lovely memories of the times they had spent in each other’s company, talking primarily about food, but more importantly, just being supremely comfortable around each other.

He reached the restaurant at 8pm, and was surprised to find it empty and dark. He still tried the door, and was relieved to find that it opened easily. “Maybe they are opening late today, or they are saving on costs as their business is slowing down because of demonetization,” thought the financial analyst in Sharath as he walked in.

One section of the restaurant lit up then, and his eyes fell on the most amazing Kerala feast that he had ever set eyes on, outside his own home that is. He started walking towards it, but froze in his tracks when he saw Ruchita step out from behind a door, looking like a vision from heaven.

“I cannot imagine a life without Kerala food,” she said softly, “But every time I bite into an appam, or dip into vegetable ishtew, I am reminded of you. Every time I try to eat Carrot & Beans Thoran, I can feel your hands feeding it to me for the first time. Without you, Kerala food has started turning into dust in my mouth, and I have realized that it was never the food, it was always you! So will you be the food for my soul, for my life, for now and forever?”

Sharath just nodded, finding himself unable to speak. Ruchita continued, “But I have only one request. Can we please get married before Onam this year?”

And so, after 12 years of courtship, Ruchita and Sharath were finally married one day before Onam. It was almost midnight by the time the long drawn-out ceremonies and functions got over, and they finally retired to their room.

And it was then that over a glass of wine, Sharath finally gathered sufficient courage, and said, “I am never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but can I ask you one thing? Why did you insist on getting married before Onam?” Ruchita seemed embarrassed at this query, and after a fair bit of hesitation, replied, “Actually Maa told that your Mom has declared that from this year onward, only immediate family will be invited for the Onam Sadhya at your place, as she is now getting old and finds it difficult to cook for so many people. I could not bear the thought of not having the Onam Sadhya at your place, and so I finally gathered the courage to overcome my commitment phobia!”

She looked with concern and nervousness at Sharath’s face as she said this, and saw his expression change from surprise, to shock, then to disbelief….and then, as he performed some complex mathematical calculations in his head, his eyes lit up, and he exclaimed loudly- “OH THESE WOMEN!”

“What happened?” cried out Ruchita, as she saw Sharath start laughing so hard that tears started flowing from his face. Sharath took a moment to collect himself, and said, “Do you realize, we are together tonight only because of those two wily women- your Maa and my Mom?”

“No, how?” replied Ruchita.

Sharath broke into laughter again, as he said, “Because my Maa has never cooked the Onam Sadhya for Swastik Society, it was always I who prepared the feast!”

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