Sunday, 24 October 2010

The final frontier... a hope

The year was 2071 and so many of the social problems humans had faced over the last hundred years were still a pretty big problem. Most people were still poor, corporations still ran the government, and politicians were constantly caught with invalids of both sexes, living and dead.

When politicians weren't blowing each other's personal lives completely out of proportion for political gain, they were starting wars with other countries. Sometimes, they would even start wars with people inside their own country, but those were usually ideological.

Perhaps the biggest and worst change was that the polar ice caps had melted and much of the Mojave Desert was now prime beachfront property, and the air across the globe tasted like you were sucking on a tailpipe.

As pressing and horrible as those issues were, they really didn't enter into the minds of Narayan and Venkat Pai. They were working class and average in most ways.

Narayan worked a standard 60 hour work week and, to help make ends meet, Venkat picked up 39 hours a week, part time, working at the deli counter at the local, national chain grocery emporium.

Even with all those hours, supporting their modest household and single child, Narayan, Jr., was a difficult exercise. After the mortgage, the bills, the poor tax, and their basic needs, there wasn't a lot left over for leisure, though they had saved up their pennies for quite a while to afford the sizeable Ramtech brand HD television that provided the centerpiece for their living space.

Each night after work, Narayan Pai would settle into his favorite tattered easy chair that he was still making payments on, he would crack open an ice cold beer, and watch his immense television. Despite his disinterest, he seemed to watch the local, nationally-syndicated-for-the-region news. Little Narayan, Jr., just before bedtime, would sit cross-legged in the space of carpet between his father and the television, transfixed by every image shown on the high definition display.

"Tonight, we have a special live program for you from science reporter Suresh Bharve."

"Venkat! Can you grab another beer for me, love?"

"This is Suresh Bharve, and I'm here at the Abdul Kalam Space Center in Bay of Bengal, reporting live for a momentous occasion, both for science and for mankind."

"Yes, dear! I'll grab another can from the ice box."

"With me, I have Doctor Alok Aspen, chief architect of Project: Humanity, brought to you by Exion, which is launching in a rocket in T-Minus 8 minutes."

Venkat arrived a moment later in the living room with Narayan's beer, putting it in his hand and leaning down, pulling the foot rest on his recliner up for him. He sipped the head of the beer that had flowed over the lip of the can, paying far less attention to the launch than his boy was.

"What we're doing is really quite simple. The top minds in the world have created a 60 year plan to fix the problems of the world, hunger, disease, war, and monetize those solutions for their sponsors...."

Narayan, Jr., blinked. At seven years old these concepts were still just a little too abstract for his innocent little mind. He'd been hungry before, but he couldn't understand how it could be a problem since food seemed so readily available. And he didn't think disease would have been a big deal because whenever he got too sick, he would be taken to the emergency room.

And war was something cool that his dad had showed him in movies. But he was appropriately naïve for his age, like all boys his age should be.

"And what we're doing is quite revolutionary in order to solve the mortality problem and allow these brilliant minds and captains of industry to oversee their plan to the end and beyond."

Narayan slurped his beer, worn to the bone. Venkat listened to the broadcast from the kitchen where the smells of a cooking dinner were all consuming.

"...and could you explain to our audience at home how you plan to conquer 'the mortality problem'?"

"Time travel," the good doctor said as he flashed a sparkling grin at the camera.

At the sound of the phrase, little Junior's eyes widened and his ears perked up. This was the sort of television that fired the imaginations of little boys the world over into overdrive.

"Time travel? And how is that possible?"

"By going very far, very fast. We're going to blast them into space and they're going to approach the speed of light on their way out of our solar system and galaxy. Then they'll sling shot back. The closer to the speed of light they travel, the faster time on Earth goes by.

It's the time dilation effect. Their voyage will take about 10 years for them, but we estimate about 60 years will have elapsed on Earth by the time they come back."

Junior's eyes were as wide as saucers and the hairs on his neck were raised on end. "Dad, dad..." the boy turned to his father, excited. "They're flying to the future!"

"Eh?" the older Narayan looked up, noticing the flashing images on the screen as Dr. Aspen introduced the audience at home to the rocket ship's crew, the Earth's first recorded Time Travelers. The Captain, the crew, the science team, the business leaders, the support crew, all the families, there were a hundred and four in all.

"And each of them are heroes of the highest order, embarking on this ten year odyssey in the name of science, of profit, and in the name of humanity."

Dr. Aspen cut in, taking the microphone from the reporter, "Make no doubts about it, we are sending Earth's most brilliant mind's as a gift to the future."

"And here we are, with one minute left. You can see on your television the enormity of the rocket--"

"--it has to be that big, in order to facilitate the nuclear blasts required to achieve near-speed-of-light travel."

Both Narayan and his son were completely entranced by the screen with a burning sensation of pride in their chest. This was what humanity could achieve if we worked together.

"All our problems will be solved then, won't they son?"

Narayan, Jr., could only nod; his eyes could not leave the screen.

"While they're gone, they'll have a crew of ten working in the greenhouse on board, making sure the ship is well supplied with oxygen and fresh food for all hands on deck."

"Do they have any livestock on board, Doctor?"

"Of course, they had access to some of the last remaining livestock resources on our planet. There will be very little reprocessing for them, the ship was designed to be completely sustainable on their voyage."

Narayan, Sr., took long, deep gulps of his beer, but paying an unusual amount of attention to the television.

"And why is it they decided to bring their families along, Doctor?"

"I think that's rather obvious, Suresh. They'll be gone for 60 of our Earth years. When they come back, they'll be able to carry on their family lives as though they haven't missed a beat. They won't return to be younger than their grandchildren."

"Are we sure this will work, Doctor? I mean, time travel sounds a bit far fetched..."

"The science is sound. The consensus of the scientific community is that this will work. And I've seen the data and everything suggests complete success."

Without realizing it, Narayan, Jr., had been inching closer and closer to the television. In fact, he'd gotten so close that the letterboxed screen encompassed the entirety of his field of vision. He was at a rapt state of complete attention.

"And why aren't you going along, Dr. Aspen?"

"Well, we decided to hold one mind here in reserve on Earth, to shepherd the project along while they are gone on their momentous voyage. There is a lot to do in the next 60 years if we're going to fix the world, and their work needs to carry on. They've given me the blueprint and I hope to get things off the ground before my time is up. I'll pass the torch to others beyond me, and they'll pass that torch along until these brilliant minds return."

"Fascinating, Doctor. You really are onto something important here, sir."

"I sure hope so. We're really putting our eggs into one basket, so to speak."

As the countdown to the launch began, neither Narayan, Sr., nor his son realized that they were holding their breath.

"Now, with 30 seconds left, we're about to witness the launch of the fastest, most immense ship ever fired into the outer-reaches of space."

"With 25 seconds left, I'm reminding myself that this is a moment we will all remember in the collective memory of society for years to come, like the first time we walked on the moon, or the September 11 attacks, or the annexation of Mexico."

"Indeed, and it's important to remind the audience that this is the first time humans will have left our galaxy. But now we're about to go to the countdown at mission control."

"This is mission control. We have launch in T-minus 10.









"1. We have lift off."

In a brilliant flash of light and accompanied by the sound of rolling thunder, The Hope of Humanity was launched into space, hurtling toward the heavens.

"And there it is. The Hope of Humanity has launched. It's a beautiful sight. The rocket and all of its crew are just a few seconds from leaving the Earth's atmosphere, not to return for another 60 years."

And that's when something went wrong.

With the eyes of the world watching, the rocket exploded into a fiery ball of shorn, metal debris, quite obviously killing anyone and anything inside.

The television feed cut back to the reporters, horrified looks nestled firmly on their faces. "Uhh... Ladies and gentlemen, it seems as though... this is a terrible, terrible tragedy... The rocket has exploded, everyone inside is most likely dead. The Hope of the Future exploded just before it left the Earth's atmosphere."

While Suresh and his colleagues struggled to swallow their tears and find words to describe the catastrophe that occurred on live television, little Narayan, Jr., burst into deep, troubled sobs, trying hard to comprehend what he just saw. A shivering thrill of excitement had run up his back, only to turn to tears and terror almost instantly. He stood up and ran to the loving arms of his mother who walked into the room, wondering what the commotion was about.

"What happened?" she asked as she put her arms around her son while he cried into her apron.

For all the gruffness of his exterior, Narayan was having a hard time holding back tears. "The space ship... It exploded..."

"Oh, dear," she said. The blood ran from her face as she realized that more than a hundred of the world's brightest minds were lost in that single moment.

Narayan couldn't bear going to work the next day and neither could Venkat. Narayan, Jr. stayed home from school. The entire world was in a state of shock and no one was faulted for closing their businesses for the day and curling up in the fetal position in front of their televisions, hoping to find some sense in such a senseless event.

For days and weeks and months and years after, pundits, scientists, and anyone in between would debate the cause of the explosion on TV, the news, and the internet, but the answer was pretty simple: That's just what happens when you live in a world without meaningful regulations and is run by force of profit motive: the lowest bidder always wins the contracts.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Love with a difference…

A cell-phone rings at 9 o’clock in the morning in an apartment in Pune.

The husband picks up, pauses for a moment as if hearing something, and says, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there on time,” and then he switches off the mobile phone and keeps it in his pocket.

He then shouts to his wife, who is in the kitchen: “I’m going out for some work. I’ll be back around one thirty or two for lunch.”

“Where are you going...? You’ve taken leave today. Let’s go shopping...and then we'll go for lunch and a movie.”

“Please. Not today. I’ve taken leave just for this important thing.”
“Important thing…? What important thing…? Where are you going…?” the wife persists.

The husband does not want to tell her but he knows now that he has no choice but to tell her. He knows his wife’s nature so well – she is not going to rest till she finds out. She will nag him to death until he tells her.

So he decides to tell her the bare minimum.

“I am going to the Family Court,” he says.

“Family Court…? Why…?” his wife shrieks in amazement.

“A divorce case,” the husband says nonchalantly.

“Divorce case…? You are filing a divorce case…? You are trying to divorce me behind my back…?” the wife yells hysterically.

“Will you please be quiet and listen…? It’s not us. Suhana has asked me to come for the hearing.”

“Suhana…? Who is this Suhana…?”

“You’ve met her. She’s my colleague at work.”

“ it is That Suhana…! I knew you always had a soft corner for her.”

“It’s her final divorce hearing today and she’s called me.”

“Divorce case…? Suhana…? She called you…? How are you involved…? I hope the divorce is not because of you…? I knew you’d do something stupid. You are so gullible you know – you must have got trapped by her, fell victim to her charms and now you are in trouble being summoned by courts. Respectable persons never see the insides of a court in their entire lives...!”

“Will you please keep quiet…? You just go on and on…! Suhana has called me just to give her emotional support...”

“Emotional support…? From you…? So this Suhana needs emotional support from you…? Why you…? Tell me…why you…? I knew there was some hanky-panky going on. I’m coming with you. Can’t you see what she’s up to…?”

“Please…please calm down and don’t jump to conclusions. Suhana is just a colleague going through a rough patch. As a friend, I have to help her out, show her a bit of compassion and kindness…that’s all…”

“Compassion…? Compassion, my foot…! This compassion may soon turn into passion…!” the wife says sarcastically, “I tell you…Drying a divorcee’s tears is one of the most dangerous pastimes for a man, especially a married man…!”

“Pastime…? I’m not going there for amusement. I'm going just to help out a colleague…”

“Oh, yes. An attractive colleague in distress, isn’t it...? And our Knight in shining armor is rushing to her rescue…!”

“Okay. Why don’t you come along and see for yourself...” the husband says exasperated.
The moment he utters those words he instantly regrets it, but it is too late.

His wife has already picked up her purse and is heading towards the door.

“Why are they divorcing…?” the wife asks, as they are driving in their car from their house in Shivpeth towards the Family Court in city.

“It’s divorce by mutual consent.”

“Mutual consent…? What nonsense…! There must be some other reason.”

“No. They have just agreed to separate.”

“Agreed to separate…? If they can agree to separate, why can’t they agree to stay together…?”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Suhana that…!” the husband says irritated.

“Of course I will. And I’ll give a piece of my mind to her husband too and tell him to stop harassing his wife.”

“Please…I beg you…for heaven’s sake don’t say anything stupid and embarrassing to them over there. He is not harassing her. They are parting amicably, as friends. I told you, it is an amicable divorce by mutual consent...”

“What nonsense…? Amicable divorce by mutual consent…! There is no such thing as amicable divorce…!”

“What do you mean…? So many people have amicable divorces now-a-days and part as friends.”

“Nonsense…! It’s all nonsense, a cover up… Amicable Divorce is a big lie – an oxymoron.”


“Yes. Tell me, how can divorce be amicable…? If a marriage is really so amicable, why divorce in the first place…? If they can divorce and remain friends, I am sure they can remain married and be friends, isn’t it…?”

“I don’t know. Please let's talk something else.”

“I am sure there is something fishy...”

“Will you please keep quiet and let me drive the car in peace…?”

“What’s her husband’s name…?”


“See… Suhana and Nilesh… even their names are compatible,” the wife says, I am certain that there must be some adultery involved. This Nilesh must be having an affair. Or it must be Suhana. Yes it's her. I’m sure she is having an affair…!”

“Don’t be stupid. She’s not like that.”

“How do you know…?”

“I know her for so many years now. She’s quite close to me. She’s told me everything…”

“Close to you…? She is close to you…? Oh, My God…! I hope it’s not you…?”

“Me…? Will you please shut up…? I told you it is mutual incompatibility…!”

“Mutual Incompatibility my foot…! Let me tell you there is no one in this world who is more mutually incompatible than you and me…! But are we divorcing…?”

“Why don’t we…? At least I’ll have some peace and respite from your constant nagging…”

“Ah…you want to divorce me so you can marry her, is it…? You’ve got a hope in heaven…! I’ll cling on to you till my dying day… And then I will follow you as a ghost and even to heaven after that…”

They drive in silence for a while and then the wife asks, "Has she got any children…?”

“Yes. Two. A boy and a girl. In school…”

“Poor kids. What will happen to them…?”

“They’ll go off to a boarding school for a while till Suhana settles down...”

“It’s funny. They’ve got children and are divorcing. We don’t have any children, but we are carrying on together…!”

"Yes,” the husband says, “I really wonder…! We constantly fight but we stay together... and they have such a cordial relationship but they want to separate…”

“Marriage is not supposed to be cordial and cold,” the wife says lovingly, snuggling up affectionately to her long-married husband.

“I’ve realized one thing,” says the husband dotingly hugging his much-married wife.


“The opposite of love is not hate – the opposite of love is indifference.”

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Old Mr. Bali

Hello?” he answered into the phone.

“Is Uday there?” came the gravelly, unsure voice of the aged man on the other end.

“Uday? No one here by that name.”

“Is this little Shekhar Lambe?”

“Yes. May I ask who’s calling?”

“This is Shitesh Bali.” A ghost from the distant past.

“Mr. Bali?”

“Yes, son.”

“Wow. It’s had to have been fifteen years, at least.”



“I’ve been gone for a long time.”

“You can say that again.”

“Well, I’ve been back now a week and I can’t seem to find anyone I know. They’re either dead or gone. I happened to see your ad in the newspaper for your shop and thought you might be able to point me to your father.”

“I wish I could, Mr. Bali. But, truth be told, my father and I haven’t spoken in quite a while. I’ve heard he moved out of the state, but I certainly wouldn’t know how to get a hold of him.”

“You haven’t spoken to him?”

“No, sir. We had a bit of a falling out and sort of went our separate ways.”

“How long has it been since you talked to him?”

“Oh… Nine, maybe ten years. We stopped speaking shortly after he and my mother separated.”

“Your parents separated?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Lots of reasons, I suppose. Chiefly though, I think it was money. I think he loved money more than anyone. She was the sort to spend it freely, regardless of how hard-earned it was on those she loved, not realizing that the money was the greater love for him.”

“Did she tell you that? Your mother?”

“To tell the truth, sir, I never really talked to her about it. Frankly, I never really speak to her about much of anything. Over the years I simply surmised as much. But where have you been all these years, Mr. Bali?”

“Abroad. Here and there. I don’t expect you to understand, but I had to leave the world for a while. Now I’m back and trying to pick up where I left off and it’s been so terribly difficult…”

“Everyone wondered where you’d left to. It all seemed so sudden.”


“Most people thought you must have died. You didn’t write or call.”

“It was for the best. But it does bother me that things changed so much in my absence.”

“That seems quite selfish to run away for the better part of twenty years and expect everything to be the same when you get back. People change, Mr. Bali. But I imagine you knew that.”

“Sometimes you know a thing and still hope it’s not true. And it seems as though you’ve changed into a respectable young man. You have your own business, you seem respectable and well-off. Your father would be proud of you.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure. My success doesn’t profit him.”

“Perhaps you’re being a bit cynical. Or maybe, perhaps, you’re right.”


“Since I’m in town, would you care to join me for coffee sometime? We can catch up properly.”

“Well, I am quite busy with work…”

“I understand, no time for old friends of your parents.”

“It’s not—“

“—It’s alright.”

“We could do it next week…?”

“No. I’ll be long away from this place this time next week. Truly, you’ve made me realize there really is nothing left for me here.”

“I might be able to break away this afternoon, if—“

“No. I insist. Your work is important, I understand that. Thank you for speaking to me as long as you have. If you do happen to speak to your father again, you’ll tell him that I was looking for him, yes?”

“Mr. Bali, I can’t see that happening. But, if by the grace of God we happen to run into each other and he’s gotten over himself and I’ve, by some miracle, been able to get over myself, then I’ll be sure to mention it.”

“Thank you. That is all I ask.”

“It’s all right. I suppose it was good talking to you, Mr. Bali.”

“It was good speaking with you as well, Shekhar. You’re a good lad.”

Shekhar hung up the phone and was struck by the absurd and unlikely nature of the call he’d just received.

Sunday, 25 July 2010


I really liked the idea of an older brother coming home from war and explaining to a little brother what he did there.


“Go to sleep, Venkat.”

“I just wanted to ask you a question.”

Venkat’s voice sailed gracefully down from the top-bunk above me. It quivered with his eight-year old curiosity but had a way of hanging in the air, demanding response.

“Go to sleep, Venkat.”

I don’t want to talk.

“Ever since you got back, I’ve been wondering…”

He wouldn’t let me sleep until I gave in. I think I was like that when I was his age, too. “Wondering what, Venkat?”

That was a long time ago, though.

I could hear him take a breath, summoning all of his courage, before asking me this: “Did you ever kill anybody… You know… Out there?”

I rolled to my side, pulling my blanket over my shoulder. Maybe I won’t have to answer him. “Why do you want to know a thing like that, Venkat?”

“Well, when you came back, no one seemed to want to ask you…”


“Well, I talked to Prito Suhani, down the street and when his brother…”

“…Lachu Suhani?”

“Yeah, when his brother Lachu Suhani came back from Kashmir, like you, he told everybody he himself killed three enemy soldiers and shot down a Blitz Bomber with a rifle.”


“Well, when you didn’t say, everyone assumed you hadn’t killed anybody. Prito Suhani told me it’s cause you were probably a coward or something…”

“I’m not a coward, Venkat.”

“So you killed some enemy soldiers?”

“Just one.”

“Oh.” I don’t think he liked the idea of his older brother having ended someone’s life as much he wanted to.

A cricket outside the window filled the room with it’s rhythmic harmony, as though it was counting the beats until Venkat had the courage to ask his next question: “How’d it happen, Ranjit?”

“Go to sleep, Venkat.”

“But, Ranjit…”

“No, Venkat.”

The cricket began again, this time louder, harsher, like a miniature buzz-saw. How could I tell Venkat? The night was getting cooler so I pulled the blanket tighter against my body. I adjusted the pillow beneath my head, so I could sit up a little.

The cricket grew quiet. The sound of Venkat’s breathing slowed as well.


“What… Ranjit?” He was half asleep, his voice slow as though in a trance.

“I was a cook. You know that, right? That I was a cook for the Army?”


“Well, we were in Kargil. I don’t remember the name of the village. I never got the hang of pronouncing it anyway. Well, we found an old restaurant in this little village that seemed to have avoided being bombed rather well. The officers got a couple of us to see if we could get some hot food together for the units we had there and they turned the rest of the restaurant into a makeshift command center.

“In the store room of the restaurant, I found some vegetables in plastic bins that would be good for some stews, I got a sack of potatoes from a tank driver named Swamy from Tamil Nadu, I got some meat from the supply chief, and someone even got us some beer… We were going to have a great meal. It’s the third best thing you can ask for after soldiering for so long.”

From a daze, still half-asleep, Venkat asked innocently, “What’re the first two?”

“A warm bed and a beautiful woman.”


“So, I got the potatoes peeled and Babu, one of the guys I was with, got the steaks going and we were boiling this and that and it was like old music, but instead of hearing it, you could smell it. I imagined you could smell it for miles. I remember joking to Babu, ‘Our enemy gonna smell this all the way in the mountains surrounding us and think to himself, ‘If those Indian’s are eating that well on the front, we’re done for.’’

“In the back of this little restaurant was a big spout hand pump. I was going to wash the potatoes back there. I hauled the basket of peeled potatoes out there when Babu called me back into the kitchen. He wanted to know what kinds of herbs we should be cooking the meat in. Of course I told him we should cook it in all the basil and garlic we could find. So, the potatoes went on the back burner while we tried to rustle up as many fixins for the meat as we could want.

“It was like a treasure hunt".

“So, we get that done and I go back out to wash the potatoes…”

I didn’t even notice that I had stopped talking. Venkat reminded me with, “Then what happened, Ranjit?”

“I went back out to wash the potatoes and there was a man standing there…”

“A man?”

He was a battered soldier… A enemy soldier. His uniform was in tatters; he must’ve been living in the wooded forest for the last week since our forces had moved through the village. I knew he was hungry, he had a raw potato in his mouth and he was devouring it… It took him a moment to notice me. I’d pulled my pistol from my hip, slowly… He didn’t notice until I had it leveled on him.

“If I spoke Urdu I would have asked him if he wanted to stay and eat with us, but the only common language we spoke were the rules of engagement".

“He went for his gun…

“I fired twice and caught him in the chest and guts.”

I swallowed hard.

“Babu came out to see what the gunshots were about. After him, a couple of officers came, too. I think I was in a shock. I couldn’t understand why they were patting me on the back.

“I ended a man’s life. A poor, hungry man who risked death simply to feed himself and I’d killed him in cold-blood. And I was getting a pat on the back. It didn’t—doesn’t—make sense.”

It still hurts.

I close my eyes.

“Please, don’t tell Mom or Dad.”

Sunday, 11 July 2010

together in good times and bad.....

“I guess this is the end,” said Sushil, holding onto his beloved’s hand, “I’m glad we could be with each other during our last moments of life.”

December 21, 2012. Approximately two and half years from now, the world is predicted to come to an end. Havoc dwells the streets, exterminating the entire human population, sweeping off towns, mountains, and all sorts of structures. Life, as it is known today, would come to a dead-end. People are staggering for survival; they would go down to any extent to stay alive in this hell-on-earth.

The wealthy and the infamous leaders of various countries have built a gigantic ship to stay afloat when Mother Earth unleashes its rage. Only the rich could afford the prices for survival, while the middle class and the poor were left to face nature’s wrath.

The seas have swollen to unimaginable heights, and earthquakes shake the basic foundation of the crust. Lava rips through the mountains, fusing anything that comes in its way. Ice is melting rapidly, causing tsunamis that wipe off towns, even the inner most places on the Earth’s surface. Land is shifting, making New York strike against the Sahara; the Himalayas collide with Sydney; Arab deserts merge with the North Pole; London knocks on the Great Wall of China; South Pole erupting into a ball of fire; Mexican civilians running about the street of Rome, and so on.

Such was the disastrous revenge of nature.

In India, in an apartment on the outskirts of Kolkata, sat Sushil and Sushmita. Sushil was the eldest son of a billionaire, while Sushmita was the only daughter of her middle class parents.

Having met in Standard Six, they immediately felt that they had been made for each other. They were incomplete without each other; their hearts were bound in an everlasting bond. Sushmita admired Sushil because of his innocence and his self-sacrificing character. He was unlike the spoilt brats of rich parents. Sushil liked Sushmita for her personality. She was indeed beautiful, but her helpful and polite nature attracted him the most.

During the five years they had known each other, they could only recollect love revolving around them. Sushil was prepared to give up his luxurious, lavish life only to keep his Sushmita happy. During the last moments of life on Earth, his rich father purchased the golden tickets, required for existence, for his family. But knowing that Sushmita would be left behind, he decided to stay behind, and die with Sushmita.

They sat glued to the television, watching helplessly as their fellow humans were being erased from this realm by nature’s calamities. They grasped each other’s hand more firmly, as they feared it might be the end for them. In the last one week since the news was made public, their love had only deepened. All these years of affection would prove futile if they could not support each other during their end. The events that took place during the last week of their lives were the most important ones for their relationship.

December 14, 2012. A week left for Doomsday. Everything was quite normal then, sparing some frequent disasters. An Earthquake had shaken Indonesia, and Tsunamis had wiped out the coastal areas of America and Europe. The casualties were high, sufficient enough to proclaim international emergency.

The various Governments of the world had known the fact that the world was coming to an end for about five years now, but they restrained from informing the public fearing mass uprisings and unnecessary panic.

The Secretary of the United Nations called for an immediate press conference. “People of the world, there is a fact that is need to be told immediately, and after hearing this, please don’t panic. The Mayans had predicted that the world will end on 21st December 2012, and their predictions are taking shape. The world will come to an end, and the recent calamities are supporting this.

This news should have been told much earlier, but nonetheless, it doesn’t matter much now. At least you are being made aware of the events that are taking place, and even if we expect the worst, all of us will know the actual reason for our elimination. But people, please don’t panic. Stay calm. The world has to end one day, and the day is approaching fast. It was a real pleasure serving you. Thank you.”

After hearing such news, the entire world was petrified. Some tried to revolt, while some accepted it knowing that they would complete their life cycle soon. They felt helpless, wailing for the thought of losing their dear ones. But they could not do anything; ‘21st’ December was destined for them.

December 17, 2012. The American Government and the European Community had undertaken a multitrillion dollar project to build a ship that would withstand nature’s impacts. It was almost completed, and so the American President felt it was time to reveal the top-secret project.

“It takes me great pride to announce that not all of us are going to die. Some famous personalities will survive, and for this reason, we have built a ship. Those who want to board the ship may do so buying each ticket for one billion dollar.”

Hearing the news, Sushil’s father, the owner of a multibillion dollar private company, sprang immediately to catch a berth on this ‘ship of life’. He had sold his company’s stakes and had gathered sufficient money to purchase tickets for the five in their family.

“Son, we are going to survive. Don’t worry. Here’re the tickets I’ve purchased for the special ship.”
“But there are only five here Dad, don’t you have a ticket for Sushmita?!”
“No son. I sold my company for six billion dollars and five ticket cost me five. I saved one because we need something to start our lives after we survive through this hell.”
“Dad… But why? You still had one billion left. You could have easily bought one more ticket for her.”
“But that’s not done, my son.”
“Dad, I hate you!”

Sushil ran out of his house. One could see tears rolling down his red cheeks. All he cared about was Sushmita, and hearing that Sushmita would not be with him after the disaster, he could only hate his father. He went immediately to Sushmita’s house.

He knocked on the door.
“Sushmita, it’s me. Please come out.”
It was midnight, and Sushmita was probably asleep. Sushil smote on the door.
“Sushmita, please come out. I really want to see you.”
The door opened, and Sushmita’s mother came to greet him. Yawning in the cold winter night, she was barely able to speak.
“What is it, son? Sushmita’s asleep.”
“Oh, mother!” Sushil threw himself on Sushmita’s mother. Sushil had lost his mother when he was five, and he treated Sushmita’s mother as his own. Sushmita’s mother also accepted Sushil as her son, as she knew that in the near future, he would be her son-in-law.
“That’s it. It’s okay. Now now, what happened?” asked Sushmita’s mother.
“Mom! I can’t live without Sushmita. I am incomplete without her,” he could only sob and utter the words.

Hearing such commotion, Sushmita woke up. She strode to the entrance of their two-room apartment. Glimmering in the silver moonlight, she resembled an angel. She took her mother’s side, and on seeing her, Sushil hugged her. Not anticipating it she fell down. Sushil held onto her with his life. He pulled her closer to him, as he had the fear of losing her. He kept weeping on her shoulders. Sushmita had known Sushil for many years but she had never seen him cry like this before. She immediately realized something was terribly wrong.

She took him inside, and after lighting the bulb in their miniature drawing room, she looked into his eyes. His eyes displayed grief, agony, hatred, disbelief and fear.

“What happened?” she asked.
“Sushmita I-I—” He began with tears in his eyes.

Sushmita tried to console him, but Sushil was not willing to block his tears. His father’s rude and arrogant behavior towards Sushmita’s fate was too much of a shock for him. Whenever he imagined Sushmita’s death, he could only cry. Sushil’s love for Sushmita was pure, and the thought of Sushmita’s demise was despair for him. Having understood Sushil would not stop crying, Sushmita laid her hand on his mouth. Sushil had to stop crying.

“Now tell me what happened,” said Sushmita.
“Well, you know about that ship which the American President announced?” replied Sushil.
“Well, yeah.”
“My Dad bought us the tickets, but—“
“But what?
You should be happy. You are surviving through this devastating end.”
“That’s not the point. You see, he did not buy a ticket for you or your family, so—“
“Oh, it’s okay.”
“No it’s not okay. As I was saying, he did not buy a ticket for you, so I’m not going to board the ship. I can’t live without you! Never! I’ve thought of giving the ticket to you.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Stop me.”
“Well, I’m not going to take it. I can’t live, knowing that you’re not around.”
“Sushmita, don’t“
“Sushil, you please don’t.”

Sushmita’s words had a dominating influence over Sushil’s pleas. After arguing for half an hour, she could finally persuade Sushil into not giving up the golden ticket.

“Sushil, your Dad bought that ticket with great hope. He wants you to live, and so you should not turn down his hope. You live, and when you pass over to the other world, maybe we can meet again.”
“But Sushmita“
“But nothing, Sushil. You will not give that ticket to me, and that’s final. Now please leave. It’s really late.”

Sushil left with reluctance. He could not believe his ears, or his fate. He was destined to be with Sushmita; he could not survive without her presence. As he walked towards his house, he looked down with disbelief and his vision was blurred with tears.

Inside Sushmita’s room, Sushmita gazed blindly at the stars. She had tears in her eyes. She was not afraid of dying, but she was afraid of losing Sushil. She imagined the after life, and she thought, “Will it be meaningful? Life without Sushil? Will Heaven provide sufficient pleasures to take my mind off Sushil?” As these thoughts entered her mind, she looked at a photo of Sushil, she was in tears.

December 20, 2012. Only a day remaining for the world to end. The process of the Earth’s destruction had intensified, and people scurried for protection. Vast stretches of the world had been destroyed. Kolkata was experiencing a major storm, and consequently, a flood.

Those who could afford the ticket prepared to board the ship, while others searched for alternative means to stay alive.

Sushil, his father, two sisters, and a younger brother readied their luggage. Sushil did not want to leave without Sushmita and opposed the packing of his luggage. He prevented any of his family members, or any of his innumerous servants, to touch his belongings.

“Dad, I won’t go without Sushmita. You guys leave without me. I’m not going to budge,” said Sushil.
“What rubbish?! You do as I tell you to. You will be going with us!” replied his father, now frustrated.

Sushil was an arrogant person, and was not willing to surrender to his father’s decision. He walked out of his room, and strode towards the garden. He was not allowed to leave the premises of his father’s huge land, because of the devastating flood, and especially because of his abrupt leave three days earlier. He admired the beauty of the tulips, which Sushmita dearly liked, and was instantly reminded of her.

“Sushmita, I’m sorry.” Sushil felt guilty of having to leave without Sushmita. “Wasn’t there some way I could get her onboard?”

The time arrived for them to leave. Sushil’s father threw their luggage in their custom-made Bentley.
“Sir, your father’s calling. It’s time to leave,” Sushil was addressed by a servant.
Sushil limped slowly towards the car. He sat comfortably on the rear seat. His father started the engine.
“That’s good, son. Now we will leave,” his father said.
After staggering through the flood, they finally reached the airport. It was night. The airport was deserted, sparing few employees who were loyal to their duties.
“Mr. Mittal, glad you made it. Your jet’s ready sir,” greeted one of the employees.
“Good, prepare to leave immediately,” replied Mr. Mittal.

The luggage was boarded on the private jet, and the Mittals were preparing to leave. They stood beside the make-shift ladder, waiting for the pilot’s signal to board the jet. Sushil looked back at the deserted airport, lost in his thoughts. He imagined Sushmita standing there, waving goodbye. He imagined tears in Sushmita’s eyes, as she was wholeheartedly telling him to take care, withholding her mind’s desires.

“Son, it’s time. Get onboard,” said Mr. Mittal.
Sushil did not seem to hear his father’s orders.
Before he could finish his words, Sushil dashed away from the jet.
“Dad, take care. Same to you my sisters and my brother, I can’t leave. No, not without Sushmita,” Sushil said with his back facing his family.
“Dad, you people move, I won’t come. Forget me, and just carry on with life. I’m staying behind. Go!” There was a sudden change in his tone. He sounded soft and in pain, as if he was in despair.

Mr. Mittal was stunned by his son’s words. He was boiling with anger and fear. But then he realized that Sushil was as arrogant as him. It had to be; it was his blood.

He turned towards the pilot, “Pilot, please start the engine. We’re leaving without him. Please start.”
Till then, Sushil had not disappeared from sight. Mr. Mittal cried out, “Sushil, it’s okay. You stay with your Sushmita. You don’t have to come. But I’ll miss you, son. Take care, and if the world does end, then I expect to see you in the after life, after I pass away. Now run to your Sushmita.”

Sushil felt the words echoing in his ears. He did not believe that his father would allow him to stay with Sushmita. Although afraid of losing his life, he felt the happiest person in the panic-stricken world.

“Thanks, Dad. Take care. Bye,” Sushil’s faint words reached Mr. Mittal’s ears. He was vanquished of losing his eldest son, but was relieved with the knowledge that Sushil would live peacefully during these last few moments.

Sushil made his way through the flooded streets. Rain was pouring down on him heavily, but that did not prevent him from reaching Sushmita’s house. The land under him shook, as tremors made its way through the Earth’s crust. The world was nearing its end rapidly.

December 21… 2012. Midnight.

As earthquakes repetitively shook the basic foundations of Kolkata was shaken up.

Sushmita sat up, gazing towards the disturbed sky. She saw an airplane making its way through the heavy downpour. “That must be Sushil leaving,” she thought.

She was lost in her thoughts, which was, though, disrupted by loud bangs on the door. “Who would arrive so late?” she thought.

She opened the door to find Sushil. He was drenched wet with water and was panting desperately.
“Sushil! Why are you here? I thought you left,” said Sushmita.
“How could I leave without you? I’m staying back with you till the end.”
“But Sushil, your father..”
“Dad’s left. I told him before coming here.”
Sushil wrapped his arms around Sushmita.
“Now I’m here with you. We’ll face the end together,” he said.

They entered into Sushmita’s apartment. Her parents were looking at the television with desperation, with hope of some miracle which would save the world from perishing. He looked at the walls of the apartment. Nothing was in its correct position; everything was shaken by the series of tremors underground.

“Sushil! I’m surprised to find you here! You were supposed to go?” said Sushmita’s father.
“Come on uncle. You know me for the last five years. I will never abandon Sushmita.”

Sushil made himself comfortable on the worn out sofa. They were watching the news, observing the devastating condition of the world at present. Sushmita sat beside him. Sushil felt happy with his decision. He wanted to be as close as possible during these last few hours of their lives. They held each other’s hand, gripping it firmly to form an eternal bond.

Tears rolled down their cheeks when they saw hell unfolding in front of their bare eyes. They had never imagined such torture. There were several reports of the death of innumerous people due to the disasters. One of these reports displayed a gaping trench on the Earth’s crust, which was eventually widening, as if to divide the world into two halves.

Another report showed the reporter being melted by the hot lava gushing out from Antarctica. One report showed a live cameraman shooting an approaching tsunami, and within moments, his camera lost communication with the server. Sushil and Sushmita were completely devastated by these sights.

Within moments, another series of tremors rocked the ground beneath their feet. At a distance, they saw a twelve storied tower collapse into the streets below. They knew it was their turn next. Looking down into the streets below, they saw magma emerge from the sewers. It melted anything that came in its way. Another tremor shook the Earth.

December 21, 2012. 4:00 a.m. Kolkata was petrified by the series of disasters taking place. Sushil and Sushmita still sat while holding hands. Another powerful earthquake shook their feet. They watched helplessly as the apartment beside them broke down to rumbles.

Sushmita’s mother looked out of the window.

“I think you may want to see this,” said she.

All the occupants of the room went towards the window. They were stunned to see what lay in front of them. A tsunami was approaching fast, which rose miles high. They knew that this would be the wave that would relieve them from their worries; this was the wave which would cause the extermination of the Kolkatans.

“I guess this is the end,” said Sushil, holding onto Sushmita’s hand, “I’m glad we could be with each other during our last moments of life.”
Sushil held Sushmita’s hand, gripping it ferociously, never to let go, as if by holding her hand, they would be teleported together to heaven.
“Yes, I guess this is it. I’m happy to die in your arms,” said Sushmita.

“Glad I met you, and I’m lucky to have fallen for you.”
“I’m lucky to have got you too,” said he.

Sushil bent down his head, in order to lay one final kiss on her forehead and then on her lips. They were successful in having one final private moment of pleasure as their lips met.

Within moments, the tsunami struck their building as Sushil and Sushmita’s existence was erased from this sphere.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

A full circle....

“Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor, you can present your allegations and demands now,” the Judge called out. The entire court room looked towards this separated couple. Mr. Kapoor had a frown on his face, while Mrs. Kapoor watched with helplessness. Ashish, their twelve year old son, was unaware of what had been going on, and only looked with perplexity.

His immature age prevented him from understanding the serious situation that existed there. He was, though, able to understand that something unfortunate was going on, as he thought, “Big policemen with guns meant something was wrong.”

He looked at the policemen, attracted by their shiny revolvers, but frightened by the frustrated looks on their faces. An atmosphere of tension and anxiety flouted the entire courtroom.

Ashish was the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor. Mr. Kapoor was the Chief Executive Officer of a multi- billion dollar multinational company. Mrs. Kapoor was a simple housewife. They were good friends since their schooldays. They shared a warm and intimate relationship. Eventually, they fell in love, and tied the knot after completing their graduation. Mrs. Kapoor had always supported Mr. Kapoor, standing by him in his ups and downs.

“I could never have got anyone better than you,” Mr. Kapoor frequently told Mrs. Kapoor. It was only due to Mrs. Kapoor’s dedication towards her husband that Mr. Kapoor was able to excel in life. He had to struggle, but Mrs. Kapoor’s support had pulled him up from the rags, and turned him into a successful person.

Within five years of marriage, they were gifted with a healthy son. They named him Ashish, after Mr. Kapoor’s pet name. But ever since his birth, a wave of rivalry prevailed over them, as they would compete within themselves in order to prove a better parent to him. Both loved him dearly, but his existence deteriorated the special bond that they had once shared.

Their relationship worsened to such an extent that their bond of marriage could snap at any moment. Unfortunately, within twelve years of Ashish’s birth, it was happening so. Both were so dissatisfied with each other that they decided to separate. Today was the day of the court’s decree. Today’s decision would change their lives drastically; it was a case of certain death, as neither parent was ready to live without their son.

They had already signed the divorce papers. All compensations were paid, and other individual problems were solved. Every property dispute had been resolved, but one question still remained.

“Who will be Ashish’s parent?” Today’s verdict would answer this question and decide their fate.

The couple stood separated by a large distance. Mr. Kapoor occupied one corner, while Mrs. Kapoor occupied the other.

Ashish was under the Judge’s supervision, and he was not allowed to even talk to his parents without being asked to do so.

“So Ashish, whom will you choose, dear?” the Judge asked, after hearing Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor’s resolutions.

Ashish was puzzled by this question. He loved both equally and never imagined to live without either of them. He was donned by his parents’ presence and never wanted them to separate; he wanted to live with both of them, to love them and to be loved by them.

A terrified expression grasped his tired eyes and he was frightened by the thought of losing either of his parents. He looked at each of them, trying to understand the reason for their immature, foolish decision.

Mrs. Kapoor had tears rolling down her red cheeks. She could not suppress the motherly affection which she had for her son. Mr. Kapoor gave back a forced, heart warming smile. He was by no means willing to express his emotions. He never showed any sign of weakness, as men are expected not to do so. His eyes were gloomy, but he continued to smile affectionately at Ashish.

But under his confident and glad appearance lay a dark world, which was only filled with grief. His heart longed to be with his child but this could not force him to shed his tears.

“Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor, each one of you will have just one chance to influence your child’s decision,” the Judge continued after becoming impatient by the profound silence that swerved through the Court, “Ashish, please choose your decision wisely.”

Ashish looked at Mr. Kapoor. “Son, I can give you everything you want. I can buy all the happiness in the world. Please come with me,” He said while flashing some new toys he had bought for him. But Mr. Kapoor was wrong, so terribly wrong. Everything cannot be bought with money, especially not happiness.

All that Ashish wanted was his mother and father to love him together. He desired both of their love, and although any child of his age would be attracted by the new toys, Ashish was not going to be swayed so. He remained silent, and turned towards his mother.

Mrs. Kapoor could not withhold her emotions. Her cheeks had become red with all the tears she had shed. She was barely able to mutter anything. “Son,” she said partly restraining her affection from dominating her speech, “I don’t have enough money, and I can never surely give all that your father can give. I can’t buy all the things you desire. But there is something that I can give, which is priceless. And that is, love, my son. Now you decide what to do.” Mrs. Kapoor could no longer hold back her tears, and she began wailing in such a manner that she could no longer utter a word.

“Now, choose your decision wisely, son. Take your time,” the Judge said. A long period of silence prevailed over the courtroom. Ashish was lost in his thoughts. He had to act wisely, as this decision would finalize the family’s fate.

After much thought he replied, “I’ve decided.”

“So what’s your decision, son?” the Judge asked.

Everyone present in the courtroom looked at him eagerly while his parents looked with desperation.

“I will stay with you father”

“Oh, thank God!” his father exclaimed.

“I will live with you,” continued Ashish, “not because of all the wealth you have; not because you can buy all the happiness for me; but because of your affection for this son of yours… and”

“And what, my son?” asked Mr. Kapoor.

“And, I will live with you, mother, for your motherly warmth and affection. I want to live with both of you, mother and father. Both,”

Ashish ran towards both his parents, hugging them with lots of affection.

This decision of Ashish proved most significant, as the psyche of both the parents had changed.

They never fought again, and Ashish was able to receive equal love from each of them. What proved most important was that both Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor were successful in maintaining a lovable relationship as they once had before Ashish’s birth.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The ever expanding city...

Chunee lived with Prahlad on a big, empty ground surrounded by apartment buildings somewhere in Jogeshwari East, Mumbai.

When Chunee came from her village many years ago, there had been empty grounds all around her, there were plenty of green fields and lots of cattle sheds.

The smell of the buffaloes, the clinking of the milk pails, and the milkmen in their yellowing white dhotis had reminded her of home.

But now, there were no green fields and the cattle sheds were wedged between concrete buildings so tall, that Chunee had to strain to see the tops of them.

The ground that she lived on seemed to have been forgotten for some reason, in the building frenzy.

Chunee did not miss her village all the time. But she did miss having a bath everyday. In the village, she could walk into the river any time she wanted, whenever she was feeling hot and dusty, she would splash around to her heart’s content. But here she was able to have a bath only once a week.

Prahlad had to fetch buckets of water from the well near the tea stall. The tea stall owner had become the unofficial owner of the well and even though Prahlad paid two rupees for every bucket of water he took, the self-proclaimed owner would stare disapprovingly at him whenever he took a bucket too many.

The little boy Gottya, who worked at the tea stall would help Prahlad lug the buckets to and fro while bathing times on Sunday mornings became a big event. Even twenty buckets of water could not give Chunee the pleasure she had had splashing in the river back home.

Every Sunday, after the bath, Prahlad would take Chunee to the South Indian temple in Matunga. It was a long walk, but they earned a lot of money on that day because the temple was crowded with devotees, and each one of them gave something to Prahlad and Chunee.

Chunee would be decked in all her finery and everyone would turn to look at her. She was so beautiful. Chunee would stare back with smiling, crinkled eyes.

Chunee loved to go to the temple. The lane outside smelt of flowers and incense; the women were dressed in brilliant colors and the children laughed happily at her. The roads were not too crowded on Sunday and it was a pleasant walk for Prahlad and Chunee.

On weekdays, Prahlad would eat his breakfast late at the tea stall. Chunee would wait till he was ready. Then they would start walking on their regular rounds, past the cattle sheds, crossing the busy highway, crossing the railway tracks to the more affluent western side of the suburb, Andheri, where there were many small South Indian eateries whose owners always had a little something to offer Prahlad and Chunee.

Chunee hated to cross the highway with its roaring trucks and cars that never seemed to stop.

Some days they met Mona and her keeper, Santosh. It did not happen too often, but some times, they would be called together for a wedding party or a film shoot. Mona lived far away in Mira Road and hence Chunee was happy whenever they did meet. Mona and Chunee could talk to each other all day.

Mona was Chunee’s daughter, born to her in the village many years ago. Chunee and Mona had come to the city together, but had been separated when they came here because they worked different rounds.

Chunee had another daughter, Hanno, who lived further away in Kurla, whom Chunee had never seen again after they came to the city.

One day, Chunee and Mona crossed each other near the crowded Andheri station. It was more than a year since they had seen each other. They were on opposite sides of the road, but oblivious to the traffic around them they stopped in the middle of the road and called out to each other.

The traffic policeman glared at Prahlad and Santosh, who goaded both the females to move ahead. The cars piled up around them, the drivers honking furiously. But Chunee and Mona did not hear the noises around them or even feel the prod of Prahlad’s and Santosh’s sticks. They just continued to stand still and look at each other.

Suddenly, a large red bus with an impatient, irate bus driver nudged Chunee on her back and moved forward. Chunee, shaken out of her stillness and hurt by the weight of the bus moved back a step. Across the road, Santosh too nudged Mona again, and she reluctantly but with a lingering glance at Chunee, moved away. Prahlad skillfully guided Chunee through the traffic, ignoring the abuse of the drivers around him. With great patience brought her back home.

That night, Prahlad lay awake hearing Chunee moan for Mona. Her eyes were shut, probably she was asleep after her long walk and the injury on her back must have been hurting, but Prahlad thought perhaps she was dreaming of her daughter Mona and the village to which she belonged.

Prahlad wondered if he should walk to Chunee’s side of the ground and stroke her, but he lay where he was, listening to her soft crying. Again he thought of their silent walk back home and felt a little proud that he had managed to bring her back without any further accidents, she had been so distressed that day.

After a few minutes, he picked up his thin mattress and sheet and walked up to her. He stroked her gently and murmured softly into her ear. Chunee moaned back.

Prahlad was a kind mahout. He had often told his owner, Khan-saab that Chunee, Mona and Hanno needed male mates but Khan-saab had stopped bringing elephants to Mumbai.

It was too expensive to transport them and too expensive to keep them. The three females he had brought years ago were still paying their keep, but it was certainly not worth its while to invest more money in animals, what with the new rules and regulations.

Anyway, where on earth would the elephants mate in Mumbai? There was no place big enough for that in the vicinity. Open grounds no longer existed, and they were lucky they still had place for the three elephants in the city.

Prahlad shrugged helplessly in the dark as he thought about Chunee and her daughters and their longing for their loved ones.

Then he thought of his own wife back home in the village and wondered if she too moaned for him like that in the dark. He laughed at himself and his fancies, as he remembered his silent Lalli going about her work at home and the fields, and sighing softly he turned to go to sleep.

When Chunee woke up the next day, she was still a little sad. Every time she met Mona, she was sad for days, missing Hanno and her village.

But today, Prahlad fetched buckets of water and gave her a bath even though it was not a Sunday. Chunee sprayed water on him with her trunk and tried to be cheerful for his sake.

Prahlad, soaking wet, laughed, and threw yet another mug of water at Chunee’s back. The little boy Gottya came running towards them with a fresh bucket of water, and sprayed by Chunee, he too laughed. It was definitely a sight to watch.