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Tuesday, 23 February 2021

# 64 - NSFW - a short story

 There are certain words that just grab you by the collar and demand your attention, and sometimes, if the timing is right even innocuous words do the trick. 

In this case, the word and the timing – let’s just say, grabbed me a couple of feet south of the collar. I mean, how often does one hear shouts of “M*******D” at 2am?


Mind you, I stay in Mumbai, not Delhi. 


So I got up and looked down from my balcony to try and locate the source of the commotion.

 I should have known. 

There’s a slum not too far from my society, thankfully it’s not visible from my apartment, but some of the occupants had spilled over onto the street and I was well within earshot so far as late night drunken abusing was concerned. 

I couldn’t see much so I tried to discern the voices and understand the context. 

The two lead actors to the unfolding drama were arguing - accompanied by a number of equally drunk supporting actors on either side, none of whom were remotely concerned with stopping the argument, if anything, they appeared to be itching for the exchanges to escalate from verbal to physical. 


“Prakash M******, sahi bata saali ko kaha chhupake rakha hai?”

Ah, a woman, the most probable cause behind alcohol fueled late night arguments. 

“Tu bata bh****, wo boli wo maike jaanewali hai...magar uske purse ghar pe hi kaise bh****d?”


I lit a cigarette, this could be interesting. 


In a while, the absent woman’s name came up. 

“Bhanu kaha hai usko leke tera itna fikr kyun hai? Pati toh main hu”


Okay, now this was getting too interesting for my taste, Bhanu was the name of my maid who also stayed at the said slum. 

I couldn’t make out all that was being spoken, but figured that Prakash was the jealous husband of Bhanu that she spoke of frequently, the other man, whose name wasn’t uttered seemed like a childhood friend/lover who hadn’t quite moved on from Bhanu. 


Who knew that she was such a sought after commodity? But to be fair, she was quite the looker. If she did her make up right, wore the right clothes, and kept her mouth shut she would fit right in as a resident of the society. I had caught myself staring at her more often than I would –



Someone had finally made the first move and now they were exchanging blows and abuses; the other rowdies joined in, the words, though familiar, sounded coarser than I was used to, it was repulsive and yet I felt a tinge of electricity in my spine, a perverted pleasure in imagining the lowlifes fighting on the street over some girl, who in all likelihood had affections for neither of them.


The security guards of my society, no doubt considering themselves a notch or two above these people by virtue of their uniform, stepped in to intervene, partly out of their imagined superiority over them and partly concerned that the residents would blame the guards for the tranquility of the night being rudely interrupted.


They started scattering away, calling a temporary truce and grumbling in hushed tones, the fight would have to resume inside their homes or postponed for tomorrow.


I suppose I should have been worried for Bhanu, who would most certainly get a thrashing from Prakash whenever she was back.


But I guess I am a bit too selfish for that.


I was too preoccupied to notice that the ruckus had woken her up and she had silently stepped onto the balcony and had been following the events as closely as I had; she shook her head and merely said “dono pagal hai, daaru peeke halla karte hai.”

-       “Aur tum purse bhool gayee?”

She winked in what could only be called a vulgar gesture and pulled my hand, motioning me to get back to the bed.

I pulled her back and grabbed her by the waist, enjoying the longing in her breath and body that the two men were fighting over.  


Tomorrow was a Saturday, there wasn’t any hurry.

 Original image from here

Monday, 25 January 2021

# 63 - Being a Pujara in the times of Kohli


Watching Pujara bat is rarely a pleasant sight - it’s a painful reminder of the attributes he lacks as an international cricketer.

He lacks the flair of Kohli, the hunger of Smith, the talent of Rohit, the flamboyance of KL Rahul - the list is long. And one might even include a certain gentleman to whom Pujara is often compared to; let’s face it, Pujara doesn’t hold a candle to Dravid in terms of technique, nor does Pujara have the ability to amp up his game when the occasion demands, something Dravid mastered in the later years of his career.

It’s been six years since Pujara last donned the Indian colours for a limited over game, likewise for an IPL squad, and his rather mediocre run in both formats pretty much rules out a future call.

Since the recently concluded series, Pant (rightly) got the kings share of the acclaims, and while Pujara’s exploits were celebrated, we don’t see a smiling Pujara in full-page newspaper ads, or peeping out from television screens, goading you to buy a certain brand of aerated drink or cell phone.

I can imagine his manager (if he has one), telling him to be more ‘visible’, silently wishing that s/he signed up with a different cricketer - someone more exciting, someone who hits sixes, someone who is seen with Bollywood starlets; if nothing else, known to make controversial quotes or be meme-worthy - “aaj main karke aaya” types.

 But Pujara is Pujara.

His most controversial statement might be the time he rued that he hadn’t been given enough opportunities in white-ball cricket, but even that is an exception, he largely remains silent, non-reactive, non-controversial, even boring.

And ironically, it is the last quality that has ensured that he is one of the players whose spot in the Test XI is fixed and beyond any speck of doubt; something that Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, despite their talent and flamboyance, are yet to achieve.

In the Brisbane test, many Indians would have breathed a sigh of relief when Pujara finally fell to Cummins, with him gone, the task of getting 100 runs from 20 overs looked more achievable.

Or did it? Despite Pant’s heroics, let’s not forget that in the 17 overs that it took from Pujara’s departure to India reaching the target, three wickets fell – the tail was well and truly exposed and had the Australian attack not been as worn out, it probably could have gone either way, and that brings us to Pujara’s one redeeming quality.

No one in world cricket today can boast of resilience that matches Pujara’s.

It is an unsexy quality in the 21st century - whether on the cricket field or outside of it; we are more used to seeing brilliance in terms of raw skills, overnight rags to riches story, we admire pot-smoking tech-billionaires with a penchant for tweeting at odd hours – no wonder we can’t relate to Pujara. The man sticks out like a sore thumb in an era where loud, cocky, larger-than-life figures are what sell. He makes batting look like a task, an uncomfortable one.

He isn’t the player you would go to when the team needs forty runs in two overs, his shots won’t elicit the oohs and aahs, no one would pay to watch him bat, I doubt if any youngsters aspire to bat like him, and yet if you think about it, he has been the decisive factor behind the historic two series wins in Australia.

In the recently concluded one, his runs tally was barely impressive, but a look at the balls faced column and one would appreciate his role in the 2-1 series victory.

Pujara single-handedly blunted what was being touted as the best bowling attack at their home. He took blow after blow and remained standing - wearing out Cummins, Starc, Hazelwood, and Lyon, so that when the other batsmen faced them, they faced weary shadows of the bowlers who usually breathed fire.

Boring? Perhaps.

Easy? Anything but.

And just to put things in perspective, let me remind you that Australia was wary of Pujara from the very beginning of this series (he was the highest scorer in the 2018-19 edition), they clearly remembered the punishment he had handed out last time around and the Aussies claimed that they had done their homework and worked out a plan to neutralise Pujara. 

And so Pujara went to task and curbed his instinct to play the pulls and hooks, preferring being hit on the head, chest, back, ribs, and almost every part of the anatomy one can imagine, and refusing to give up his wicket no matter what came his way – the bouncers on the pitch and off it – including criticism for his low strike rates from experts.

But Pujara being Pujara didn’t pay any heed, and continued doing what he does best....just see through the spells, one ball at a time without taking any risk, making sure that he doesn’t get out.   

He isn’t the maverick of the team, this team, in any case, has enough of them; he is content being the ordinary man amidst the superstars, toiling away and getting hit where others would have played attractive cricket and gone for the kill. He doesn’t represent the aggressive young India that we have been hearing about, the stump mic won’t pick up anything interesting during his long stay at the crease, in his case even the bat talks through extended periods of silences.


So let the others take the glory, let the media have a different set of darlings, let his contemporaries be known as ‘the next big thing’ or ‘the most talented player’, Mr Cheteshwar Pujara I suppose is fine with that.

We will call upon him when he is needed again of course, maybe on a fifth-day track that behaves as it pleases or on the first session of a match where the more talented players have had difficulties in negotiating the bounce, and on those days we can count on Pujara being there, being boring, defending, getting hit, surviving, and somewhere along the way taking the match beyond the reach of the opposition - one ball at a time.

Happy birthday, Cheteshwar Pujara, they don’t make ‘em like you anymore.

Images from here and here

Monday, 1 April 2019

# 62 - 1983

All of us were excited, except my mother, who looked worried.

“At least give me a number, do you have any idea how many guests might show up?”

My father scratched his ear, coughed a little, and mumbled, “At last count, around 20 confirmed guests.”

Maa was suitably shocked, “Even if I could manage the cooking, you know very well that we don’t have anywhere near enough plates to serve these many guests.”

Father knew this very well and under different circumstances he would immediately rush to buy plates and other utensils, and possibly a saree for Maa, but buying a 21-inch colour television specifically for the world cup meant that he had to be more calculative than usual.

“Don’t worry, I have clearly told everyone that tea is the only thing that would be served, they obviously understand.”

Yet, after a few minutes, I was made to rush to market to buy groceries and disposable plates.
Half an hour before the toss, the house was bustling with activity, I made a rough calculation, more than thirty-two people had shown up, well above father’s estimation, but knowing Maa, I am sure she had accounted for the extra people.

The young ones like me were fortunate enough to sit closest to the action, and for once were not being reprimanded about sitting too close to the TV, the adults sat directly behind us, the elderly ones were given access to the sofa and chairs out of courtesy, my father, while not the oldest by any stretch, occupied a sofa by virtue of being the host and the master of the house.
The womenfolk drifted in and out of the room, speaking in hushed tones so that the cricket experts on TV and outside of TV were not interrupted.

By the time the match started, the number of visitors had increased. There was barely any room for us to move, I had correctly predicted that going to the toilet would prove to be a difficult chore, so had finished my deed just before the first ball was bowled, and for the rest of the match, had decided to minimize water intake. Maa kept the pakodas coming and the tea flowing and the other women chipped in, there must have been forty people inside our moderately sized living room and twenty outside it.

Only us children and a handful of unrealistic adults gave India a chance, we were facing the mighty West Indies at their peak, the best bowling unit of all time, and Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, though worshipped back home, were yet to be fully regarded as gods.

The cracks on our fragile hopes started appearing early, the West Indian pace quartet ripped through India’s batting order as they were largely expected to do, the tail-enders however put up some fight, India ended up with an almost respectable 183.

The sun had begun setting and as much as we wanted to be hopeful, it was difficult. One of us kids wondered aloud if we should just go out and play some cricket while we still could instead of watching a match whose results were already a foregone conclusion, the rest of us who hadn’t queued in front of the loo, shushed him.

The second innings began, and within minutes, that legend of a man, Gordon Greenidge was out-  bowled. We started shouting and screaming in unison, and a few aunties somehow made their way inside the room, curious if we were happy or sad.In spite of all the difficulties, the pakodas, sweets, and chai managed to go from hand to hand until they reached their intended recipient.

No one was listening to the commentators any more, all of us gave our own take on the game, and for a while we thought that there was a chance, a chance for us to win the game.
And then came Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards - chewing gum, looking menacing without trying, and treating the bowlers and fielders with equal disdain. Boundaries flowed and once again the mood of the room turned glum.

Few of the uncles rose from time to time to leave, but the others, led by my father, cajoled them into staying, “we have come this far, might as well see the end of the journey.”

And then it happened - Desmond Haynes fell and King Richards departed soon after, Clive Lloyd didn’t stick around for too long either, and we sensed that slowly but steadily, the tide was turning, India was back in the game.

Jeff Dujon stood like a rock, defying the Indian attack and more than once the oldest man in the room shook his head in an all-knowing manner, “as long as Dujon is there, we won’t be able to win it.”
More tea, more snacks.

Dujon finally fell after a gritty inning, and then the end was quick. India had managed to do the unthinkable, the world cup was ours.

We celebrated as much as the Indian players on screen, irrespective of the age, all of us jumped, shouted and sang, there were some fireworks outside, and a lot of us went out into the streets to celebrate. People were calling on the landline to confirm that India had indeed won.

All of us were rejoicing well into midnight. On 25th June, 1983, close to four decades after our Independence, India had well and truly arrived in the global scene.

I still remember that night vividly, every moment from the match firmly etched into my memory, of course, it was India’s first world cup victory, how could anyone who saw the match that day ever forget it.
36 years on, it’s inevitable that my memories from that June night resurface.

It’s 2019, India is playing the world cup finals once again, and we aren’t the underdogs this time, in fact, we are on the verge of winning the match.

The living room in which I am sitting and enjoying what is left of the game is comparable in size to my living room from my childhood years.

But it’s just me here.

My wife isn’t interested in cricket and has gone off to sleep, my son is watching the match on his iPad in his room.

For some reason, I think of my friends who were in the room with me that night, I struggle to remember their names.

And I wonder what they are doing now. 

Work of fiction. Image from here.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

# 61 - Short Story - The Boot Polish Boy

The hardest thing about the transition from college life to working life is the pain of waking up early, that, and the post-lunch drowsiness. 

In a flat occupied by 3 with only one toilet cum bathroom, we had to go through our morning rituals with Swiss watch precision, 5 minutes here or there could lead to a half-day absence and since all of us were staying away from home, we needed our leaves. 

Yet, we survived, always somehow managing to punch our cards or get our fingers scanned seconds before the clock read 9:31:00. 

The obvious casualty of this was our breakfast.

Usually, after marking my entry in office, I came out and treated myself to the most important meal of the day - a packet of Good Day biscuits and a cup of chai. I also utilized this time to button my sleeves and have my shoes polished. 

There was a kid, no more than 8 or 9 years old, who used to polish shoes in the vicinity, what was odd about him was that unlike other boys of his age who were engaged in similar professions, this one wore a school uniform and had a school bag too.

One day, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him, “Kya re, instead of going to school, you’re doing all this. Do your parents know?” As soon as I had uttered the words, I realised that there was a good chance that it was the parents themselves who might have coerced the boy into this boot polish business. 

Without the slightest bit of hesitation, he said “Nahin saab, I have started this on my own. You see, school is supposed to start from 9, but no one is there till 9.45, so I thought why not take this time to earn some money.” He tapped his brush against the box to indicate that I had to put my other foot up.

There was something about the boy’s earnestness that appealed to me. And while I continued to call him somewhat derogatorily as “Chhotu” and didn’t pay him any more than his usual 10 rupees, I did get him to polish my shoes when they didn’t need any polishing, and always gave a couple of my biscuits to him, even when I was left hungry. What I liked about him was that unlike many others he didn’t seem to be apologetic about what he was doing, and even if there was a sob-story, he didn’t peddle it. He did his business and went running back to school. 

I asked him once what he planned to be when he grew up, “bijness man” he said. 

-          “But don’t you want a job instead? Businesses may not always work, with a job you can earn risk-free money every month.” 

Naah”, pat came the reply, “I want to be my own boss. Naukri toh naukar karte hai.” 

The boy was something alright, even when he spoke of his family's financial woes, he spoke matter-of-factly, never seeking sympathy. 

One morning, once the boy was done polishing, I realised that all I had in my wallet was a couple of 100s and a single 500 rupee note, for some reason I handed him the 500 rupee note and asked if he had change, he shook his head unhappily and tried to hand it back, "Kal de dena aap", he said. 

"You give the change tomorrow", I said and rushed to my office, not looking back. I didn’t want the change, I wanted to help the boy, maybe because I had developed a liking for him, maybe because I knew that he would use the money for a better cause than I would, maybe because I was feeling particularly generous with my boss out of town and the day being a Friday, who knows. 

For the rest of the day though, I felt mixed emotions, on one hand I felt good about myself that I had helped someone in financial need, another part of me said that I had treated him like a beggar, which was everything he wasn’t, and yet another part chastised and humiliated me by pointing out that I wasn’t wealthy enough to be doling out 500 rupee notes to people who were financially less fortunate than I was. 

But over the course of the weekend, I forgot about it. And on Monday morning while dipping my biscuit in chai, I realised that Chhotu was nowhere to be seen. I asked the chaiwala and he was as clueless as I was. 

And just like that Chhotu’s guest appearance in my life had come to an end. 

I did see him once more a couple of months later, I was on my way to office when I saw him walking cheerfully, his shoe polishing kit in his hand, still wearing the uniform, the school bag slung over his shoulder. 

I couldn’t help myself, I stopped the bike and called out “Oye Chhotu”, he turned around and when our eyes met the colour drained from his face, he froze for a moment but recovered quickly enough. He was soon running and within seconds he was out of my sight. 

For some inexplicable reason, I felt a wave of sadness come over me, I am not sure why, but I think I lost something that day, something more than 500 rupees. 

Image from here.

Monday, 18 February 2019

# 60 - An ode to 'Deewar'

I can't recall the first Bollywood movie I saw, but the first movie I remember watching was ‘Deewar’.

Back in the good old days of DD1 and DD2, we had a colour TV and a VCP (Video Cassette Player, Funai branded - if you must know), and one fine evening when I was probably 6 or 7, my father, returning home, proudly announced that he had rented the video cassette of Deewar, and he had brought mutton.

I knew that something special was in the offing because mutton (usually a Sunday lunch affair) was served to coincide with the start of the movie. 

How much of the movie I actually understood at the time is debatable, but I remember being awed, awed enough to watch it again the next day, and over the years, I have seen Deewar time and again, to the extent that I pretty much know every line, every pause, every gesture. 

But then, most people over the age of 18 probably do as well. 

Deewar was a special movie and had many firsts to its credit. A leading man who blurred the lines between being a hero and a villain (thereby introducing the term 'anti-hero'), a female lead with a morally ambiguous character, very few songs, and the list goes on. 

And unlike so many movies which were critically and commercially successful at the time of release, Deewar has stood the test of time, you would be hard-pressed to find faults in the movie even now, 44 years after its cinematic release. 

But what made Deewar really special was Amitabh Bachchan.

It is tough to imagine any other actor from any era playing the role of Vijay; of course, Amitabh Bachchan acted brilliantly, but there were bits where better actors would have faltered, and it was there that Amitabh Bachchan, the star, that came to fore. Deewar may have been a great film, but it was essentially a masala movie, and Bachchan played to gallery perfectly.  
What're ya looking at punk?

The thrill of seeing Bachchan emerge victorious in a fight where the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against him or the goosebump-inducing Salim-Javed lines still haven't lost their intended impact. The scenes, the dialogues, The cocky arrogance that Only Amitabh Bachchan  could carry so convincingly, who can forget the scene when Bachchan puts his feet up on the table coming to terms over his newly-acquired power, the coolness he exudes when he says that he doesn’t think he can pull off a seemingly suicidal mission, but knows that he can, the utter disdain with which he tells a gang of thugs that he had been waiting for them in their den when they had been out looking for him. 

As a teenager, on the extremely rare occasions that I managed to perform half decently with a cricket bat (my highest score is 21, the dream of scoring a half-century may remain unfulfilled) immediately after the innings I would run to the nearby tap, turn it on and place my head under the stream of water, a desperate attempt at highlighting how the efforts had taken their toll. 

Even now, every year, post-appraisal, I have to stop myself from saying things like “Main aaj bhi feke hue paisa nahin uthata,” to HR. 

Yup, that's me on the left. 

Unfortunately for Deewar, it released in the same year as Sholay, the biggest Hindi film of all time, and for the lack of a better word, a more ‘wholesome’ one. Sholay had everything Deewar had and everything that Deewar lacked - romance, songs, a larger than life villain, comedy, memorable supporting characters. But the fact that Deewar is more often than not mentioned in the same breath as Sholay is a testament of its importance.

They say that Bollywood is going places, that the stories are coming of age and that the era of the mindless blockbusters is finally coming to an end.

They say that with the Bhatts and the Kapoors in front of the camera and the Kashyaps and Hiranis behind it, things can only get better.

They are right, the times, they are certainly a changing, but call me old fashioned (or straight up old), but when it’s a Sunday and mutton is on the cards, there’s only one thing I prefer watching, and it’s not the latest critically acclaimed Ranbir/Ranveer/Alia/Kangana starrer.

Images are screencaps from here. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

# 59 - Short Story - Unbelievable!

I know that you probably won’t believe me, I wouldn’t blame you. No one in their right mind would believe a guy who hangs out with a bunch of drug-addicts and losers and does nothing all day. 

You'd probably laugh it off, shoo me away like you would wave off a beggar child with dried snot sticking out of his nose, the smirk on your face that might as well have said "your brain's gotten soft druggie boy. You imagined the whole thing."

Maybe you might give me a lecture on how bad drugs are. How even ganja is not okay, even though it comes from plants. 

But here's the thing, even though all my buddies are high most of the time from ganja, cheap home-brewed alcohol, and that stuff they inject into themselves - I am clean.

Well sure, I have tried the desi booze a couple of times, and when in the mood I do smoke a bidi or two, but that's it...Never did any of the hard stuff myself - no weed, no heroin, no nothing. Probably even cleaner than you privileged chutiyas.

But reputation matters, you are probably the office going kind, have a family, maybe even own a house; and if you say that I am full of shit, then everyone would believe you.

It's okay, that's how things are, I can't change any of that, all I can do is put my story out there, and leave it to you, if you want to believe it or not. 

Now Vishram society lane is fine by the day, school kids wandering about, fleets of autos lined up to refuse people, vegetable vendors with their carts, housewives in nightgowns arguing with the said vegetable vendors over onion prices.

And of course, us. 

Sitting right by Chaurasia Paan House, you would find me and the gang, doing absolutely nothing.
And since you have smelled the strong smell of weed or country liquor as you walked by us, you must have assumed that along with Vishnu, Chhote and Iqbal, I too must have been high.

Can't really blame you there. 

And of course had you cared to find out, the 4 of us did stay at the same chawl, so why should I be any different?

The difference was I actually made an honest living. Well more honest than those other three anyway.
See, when the clock strikes 12 in the night and your neighbourhood stores pull down their shutters, it’s then that I walked out to your rescue, with my trusty cycle and metal canister, selling tea, cigarettes, chocolate drinks, and if you asked the right questions, maybe even some of the hard stuff.

You probably have bought things from me, stopping your car long enough to buy your goods, never noticing my face or the surroundings, you drive in a car after all, you zoom past buildings and trees and other things, keeping your eyes on the road.

But if you were in my place, standing beside a rickety cycle on Vishram Society Lane daily from 12 in the night to 4 in the morning, you would probably start respecting me and my kind. At least a little.

Now I have been in this business for five years now, and I am still not used to it.
Let me elaborate.

Till 1.30am, there are enough cars and people on the road, folks returning to their homes, respectable people like you, drunkards, rag pickers, call centre fellows, and girls you wouldn’t introduce to your mother.

After that though, mostly nothing.

You know how they say that this city never sleeps? It’s true. But you can barely tell that it’s awake.
The cars and people gradually vanish, but not entirely. There are still cars that pass the street, but it’s rare, there are still people walking by, but only an odd one or two.

And that’s when the surroundings get to you. That’s when you start feeling colder than usual.
You start to note the little things, like how the street lights, in spite of their brightness, leave so many things in the dark. How it’s not exactly as quiet as it should be, how rats make so much noise by rummaging through the garbage and piles of leaves that are collected on the sides of the roads and still manage to be unseen.

And you wonder......are those really rats?

You look up at the buildings, their lights all turned off, and then you spot a window from which the glow of a solitary bulb shines through. This is comforting to you until you spot another window from which someone seems to have been watching you, the figure disappears as soon as you catch its sight, in panic you look back at the window which had brought you relief, but the light is off now.

Sometimes you get the feeling that someone or something is standing behind you, but when you look, of course, there’s nothing.

On other days, you are convinced that there’s someone behind you and on those days you don’t turn back to look. Too afraid of what you would end up seeing. 

The dogs growl at things you can’t see, and then they whimper and run away, their tails tucked between their legs.

And there’s that other thing.

I hear footsteps from around the corner of the street. The click-clack of shoes or pitter-patter of chappals gradually become louder and just as I hope to see a potential customer emerging – it stops. There’s no one there.

It is terrifying; everything about the night and my work is terrifying. And I haven’t gotten used to it over time, and never will.

If this hadn’t been the easiest way for me to make money, I would have done something else, long back.... but it’s only at these ungodly hours that you can sell a 15 rupee cigarette for 18 rupees, a cup of chai that otherwise costs 5 bucks during the day, you can get away with selling for 10 bucks and no one would even care.

And so I carried on.

Till 22nd April, 2017.

I don’t even know when my birthday is, but I don’t think I will ever forget the 22nd of April.

The night was almost over and I shook my canister to check how much milk was left; estimating that I could still sell three or four cups, I decided to wait a while longer. My phone told me it was 3:15.

One of my regulars showed up – he frequented mostly on weekends, I knew he stayed nearby because he walked to my place, he was in his mid-20s and looked like the office going sort.

Cigarette pila do yaar Mohan bhaiya.”
"Milds na, Aman sir?" I asked him, he nodded with a smile, “aaj pura din sutta nahin maara”, his eyes returned to his phone, and then he added “Coffee bhi dena” as an afterthought.

I stepped back to get the coffee when I heard the roar of a car’s engines and almost instantly saw it – a car swerving down the street at an alarming speed, the windows were up but the muffled music could still be heard over the engine.

I knew it was trouble the second I saw it, but it was one of the things that you can’t look or step away from. You have to see it even when you know that it might not end well. From the corner of my eye, I could see that Aman was looking at the car too.

The driver lost control as the car climbed the footpath, and even though it probably couldn’t have taken more than a couple of seconds, I recall the scene in excruciating detail.

The car missed the cycle narrowly and crashed into my customer. It happened so quickly that he didn’t even have the time to scream.

I heard the crunching of bones momentarily and then the sound blended into other sounds as the car crashed into a tree barely 10 feet away, pinning Aman to its trunk.
The hood of the car had given away and the windshield was completely shattered. The head of the driver poked out, shards of glass stuck all over it. His fancy golden yellow shirt was rapidly turning crimson, and of course, he wasn’t moving.
 I couldn’t tell if there were anyone else in the car, and frankly, wasn’t thinking about it either.

A mass of flesh resembling a human body was what was left of Aman.

Yo yo honeyyy singhhhhhhhhhhh.

Now that everything else had gone quiet, the music from the car’s speakers was the only sound in the vicinity.

And then came the smell - the overpowering and nauseating smell of blood. I had seen accidents before but never from this close, and my legs almost gave away, I could have fainted then and there but I somehow managed to collect everything and cycled away as fast as I could. It was a lesson I had learnt soon after I had come to this city and it had served me well many times - anything goes wrong, don’t be the hero, run like your life depended on it.

And so I cycled to my chawl, woke the others and told them everything, they laughed when they saw how I was shaking and when they realised what I had been through they told me that I had done the right thing and offered me a bidi.

I had the bidi and then smoked a couple of my own cigarettes.

It’s simple, Chhote told me, just don’t sell your things at that spot for a week, if the cops come to ask you questions tell them that you weren’t there because you had a fever.

Then they went to sleep again.

The incident did make its way to page 6 of an English newspaper after two days, no pictures though, the man inside the car was alone, so just two casualties. I also found out that Aman sir had lied to me about being from Delhi, like me he was a Bihari.

I stayed indoors like my friends advised, reliving the incident again and again.

On the third day, the police showed up, it’s amazing how good the police can be when they want to. They asked me a few questions, I told them about my fever, maybe they took pity on me because even though I didn’t appear convincing with my alibi, they figured that there was no use in pestering me.

Now here’s where you say that while the incident may have traumatized me, it wasn’t an unusual story. Bade bade shehro mein aisi chhote chhote baatein hote rehta hai.

Yes, the incident had shaken me up, and I couldn’t help but think of Aman, he was no friend, but he had been buying cigarettes from me for years...I knew the man.

But I was in the city to make money.

And so, in spite of everything, in ten days I was back to my business like nothing had happened, the bruised tree trunk apart there were no other signs of the accident. It was as if the city had lifted a rug and brushed two human beings underneath it. Their lives weren’t important enough to matter.

But, bade bade shehro mein aisi chhote chhote baatein hote rehta hai. And I all but forgot the accident in a couple of more weeks.

Of course the place was creepy, but it had always been like that.

22nd May, 2017.

As Sunday turned into Monday, I recalled that it had been one month. And for a moment I even felt sad for Aman, and angry at the other man, whose name was mentioned in the newspaper, but I had forgotten.

Just another night.

I had all but dozed off when a familiar voice got me out of my slumber...with a jolt.

Cigarette peela do, Mohan bhaiya...

It was him. Wearing the same blue shirt, the same glasses, the same smile and the same slightly crooked teeth.

I gasped for air and felt that I was going to lose my consciousness.

It would have probably been better if I had.

He stepped closer, the light from the streetlight confirmed that it was Aman.

Bahut dino se peeya nahin hu” he said and licked his lips. He looked sad. 

And then with some hesitation, he said, “Aur haan, coffee bhi”, he showed two fingers.

And that’s when I saw it.

Aman hadn't come alone.

Standing right beside me was another man, and while I couldn’t recognise him by face, I knew I had seen that shirt before, and I knew where I had seen it before.

Trembling, I left my cycle, my canister of milk, I left everything and ran, refusing to look back.

So that was it. I don't care if you believe it or not. All I ask is for a piece of advice. Be honest. Do you think it's safe for me to continue selling my things from that spot? You see, there's no other place nearby.  

Image phone's camera. 

Thursday, 4 October 2018

# 58 - Short Story - The Spectator(s)

I kept my umbrella and the bag of vegetables at the counter of the tea stall, next to the jar of biscuits, and wiped the sweat off my forehead.

It was a cloudy Sunday morning and it looked like it could rain at any moment, but I was not exactly in a hurry.

I ordered a cutting chai and sipped on it leisurely. The rains would be more than welcome, it was hot.
The resident stray dog of the shop stood nearby, his hopeful eyes caught my sight and he started wagging his tail, I had fed him a couple of times earlier and he was probably expecting a treat from me.
I asked for a packet of Parle-G and gave him a couple of biscuits. 

From the dilapidated building complex across the street, harsh words from what appeared to be a young man’s voice spilled over.

“We are done, you hear? We are through, it’s finished”, said the voice.

Ah, matters of the heart.

That no replies could be heard along with the fact that the owner of the voice fell silent from time to time, I figured that the young man (or boy) was having this conversation over the phone. Of course, the ten feet high wall around the garden meant that I wasn’t able to see him.

How dare you? I’ve told you thousands of times, and every freaking time you’ve said that you won’t do it again. Not anymore.”

My mind wandered off to a time long forgotten, a time when I couldn’t care less about the increasing price of vegetables, a time when I was not a father, not a husband, a time when I was more than a sales-officer at a small company earning an even smaller salary.

I brushed my hand over my scalp, facing little resistance from the hair I had once been so proud of.

How time flies.

“What do you mean it’s my fault? Tell me how many times I have done that?”

The words may have been different, but the tone and the pain sounded awfully familiar; how many times and with how many people have I had similar conversations? But then, who hadn’t?

“Don’t you dare hang up when I am talking to you. Don’t you dare.”

The last remnants of his pride were about to be shred apart. The extended pause told me that the person at the other end of the line had, in spite of the threats, or probably because of them, had hung up.

But our unseen protagonist was not going to take it lightly, was he?

“Hello. I told you not to hang up.”

My tea was finished, and I should have left for home, I instead fumbled around for a while around my pocket, brought out two worn-out notes and asked for another cup.

Surely, I could spend a bit of my Sunday the way I fancied.

The rage had evaporated from the boy’s voice now.
“Why are you doing this to me? You know I can’t live without you.”

I chuckled sadly, still no originality.

“Okay, I am sorry okay? Just, just, please don’t do this.”

He was about to cry.

I had a sudden urge to see the boy, to tell him that he was going to be alright, that she would move on, and so would he, that in a year’s time, he would probably forget all of this ever happened.

Instead, I took a long sip of my tea and listened on.

And then I saw him.

No, not the boy, an old man, inside the building complex, he was leaning against the window grill of his third-floor apartment, and he was following the conversation with as much interest as I was.
He was looking at the boy from above and his gaze followed the path of the boy much like a predator preparing for his kill. His face betrayed the pleasure he received from seeing and hearing others who were not aware that they were being watched and heard.

Meanwhile, our protagonist had started sobbing.

“I am sorry. Just that I read everything, and I couldn’t think properly.”

The old man licked his lips, he was enjoying this, probably more than I was. Maybe when I am his age –

Oh, he is gonna regret that.

“Wait wait, don’t hang up, I am sorry.”

The clouds rumbled and almost immediately it started raining, a slow drizzle to start off with, but I knew that it would start pouring soon.
I was safe under the shed and checking that my bag of vegetables was still in place, I asked for a cigarette.

“Let’s just forget all of this ever happened. Let’s go back to how things were.”

Yeah, sure kid. Good luck with that.

“I want to meet you. Right now.”

The old man’s unhappy stare told me that the boy was going inside his building.

He craned his neck as the subject of our interest went out of his sight and out of my earshot.
The man sighed and looked at the sky, and then muffling a cough; his eyes darted around for anything else worthy of his interest, and then our eyes met.

The abruptness of the moment got the better of me and I let out a smile, meant to convey that we had been witnesses to the scene that had been playing out.

Caught unawares, he shuddered and for a brief moment didn’t know what to do, and then in an instant he vanished inside his room.


I chided myself for smiling, I had probably embarrassed him, at his age he probably had little to look forward to; that window was in all likelihood, literally and figuratively, his window to the world.


I turned and saw the shopkeeper looking at me.

“Sir, will you be taking anything else?  I am about to close the shop. The rain doesn’t look good”.

I paid for my cigarette, grabbed hold of my umbrella and rushed out in a hurry, forgetting all about my bag of vegetables.

Image from here. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

# 57 - Movie Review - Veere Di Wedding - ek "commercial" film

Cast:Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar, Shikha Talsania, Sumeet Vyas.

Directed By: Shashanka Ghosh

Once upon a time, there lived a group of friends. One day, they decided to collaborate on a project that would showcase to the world their talent. Each contributed to the work in his/her own way. But once the project was complete and almost ready to be unveiled before the public, tragedy struck. One of the friends decided that she was getting a raw deal, and chose to back out. Not that this would affect the product - her work on it was done, it was just that her name wouldn’t be featured. So, the other friends went ahead and put the work on exhibition, and most of the people who saw it said that it was glorious. Critics were bowled over, the public hailed it as path-breaking, and while a few said that it made them uncomfortable, they were quickly termed ancient and standing in the way of progress.

In case it isn’t clear, the product in question is Veere Di Wedding and the friends are a car company, a ride-sharing app, a matrimonial website, an ice cream brand, a bank, a jewellery company, an airline that has seen better times, an educational institution, and a snack brand.

I may have missed a few.

Veere Di Wedding isn’t a movie, it is a series of advertisements around which something resembling a plot has been woven, rather hurriedly and rather shoddily.

Not since Yaadein (“Lo paas paas khao”) and the Krrish series (“Bournvita, Bournvita, Bournvitaaaaa”) have we been subjected to such blatant product placement in a film. Entire scenes, conversations and songs are set up so that a brand can be showcased.

"Oh Bournvita, is there anything you can't do?"

The plot is simple enough, four best friends with their own sets of issues and complications meet up when one of them gets married.

There’s  Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor) who is scared of getting married because she has seen the unhappy marriage of her parents, and oh, by the way, she is the one getting married here.

Avni (Sonam Kapoor), who is being forced to get married by her mother.

There’s Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar), the richest of the rich ones, she is the rebel of the gang as evidenced by her character always being depicted smoking, drinking, abusing, and wearing the least clothes.

Yes, yesterday’s vamp is today’s rebel.

Meera (Shikha Talsania) brings up the quartet, she is married to a firang, which is why her family has ceased all forms of communication with her.

"Okay gurlzz, just act like you are having fun."

There’s also Rishabh (Sumeet Vyas) who Kalindi’s getting married to and Bhandari (Vishwas Kini), who looks like a beefier version of Biswa and basically plays a skirt chaser who doesn't know where to draw the line Delhite

The plot could have worked and we could have had a light, frothy (but enjoyable) film, but way too much time is wasted in building up camaraderie, which in turn is basically an excuse for getting the characters to say out loud or use the many products written about above.

 Apart from the individual struggle of the protagonists, there are also a couple of subplots involving family disputes and gay relatives (a notch below typical gay depictions in Bollywood, but still playing up the stereotypes).

Of the performers, Shikha Talsania is the best of the lot while Swara Bhaskar puts up a fine performance as well (and no, she doesn’t seem out of place playing a rich girl). Sumeet Vyas is quite decent and Kareena Kapoor Khan is strictly okay.

But for me, the performance that really stood out was that of Sonam Kapoor’s.

In the industry for 11 years now, she is not counted amongst the better actors in spite of her winning a national award.

There’s a reason for that.

She is, to put it mildly, terrible at acting. I would say that Katrina Kaif looks like a three-time academy award winner when compared to Sonam Kapoor.

Sonam has two and a half expressions and no matter what a scene requires her to do she emotes and speaks the same way – somewhere between an 'awww' and an ‘ewwww’.

Sonam Kapoor is the one who settles the nepotism debate once and for all and single-handedly makes up for the talent that other star kids possess.

Thankfully, in Veere Di Wedding, it is her pathetic performance that makes up for an extremely dull second half.

"That's no compliment, is it?"

In films exploring the theme of friendship, it is not uncommon to have a confrontation scene which is followed by a period when the friends stop being friends. This is usually a transformative experience through which the protagonists understand the value of their friendship and often undergo a journey towards self-discovery.

In Veere Di Wedding there is such a scene, post which the friends stop being friends for an onscreen duration of 54 seconds.

How do they reunite? By one of them randomly proposing that they make a trip to Phuket.

One airline ad later all is right with the world again. Truly, a journey towards self-discovery.

Is Veere Di Wedding a progressive film? Yes, yes, it is, but only if you are the kind that feels a movie’s progressiveness quotient is directly proportional to the number of cuss words being spoken by the female protagonists.

Recommended for Sonam Kapoor fans.

PS. In case you’re wondering what the opening para is about, the jewellery brand is never mentioned (one friend backs out) even though there is a dedicated scene to promote jewellery.

PPS. The makers missed a trick. Kareena Kapoor is shown scratching her neck whenever she is nervous or indecisive, surely there was room for an ItchGuard ad. 

RATING: 2/5.

Here's a review of another masterpiece - Sarkar 3.

Images taken from here, here, and here.