Sunday, November 1, 2015

Anything that has a chance has a chance

The picture was tagged "Coming back to life". Hands on the hips, a starry grin, flowery dress, and a green hat. The curls on the hair and the nose ring was a first-time. With every passing year, she had only added on to the charm that she was gifted with. Lying on my bed, I scanned the pictures on my iPad scrolling through them in slow motion. I paused on a picture where she was sleeping with her daughters. "A happy family sleeps together". I was happy to see a Facebook update from her after so long but the realization that it was the last picture made my heart twitch. I felt myself sinking into the deep and dark pit of loneliness. 

I first saw her in the college canteen. She was in pink pants, the first time I saw anyone in pink pants, and since then pink always reminds me of her. She was a senior and was dating a guy who looked like Brad Pitt. Despite that as the cliché goes, I couldn't help falling in love with her. She was the college tennis champion. I was one of the ball boys for the last match she played for the college. That was a golden opportunity to say hello to her but I couldn’t dare after she lost the match. It would have made no difference if she had won. She married a hot-shot and settled in the US. I'm ashamed, only slightly, but I have to admit that I regularly visit her Facebook profile. I still remember her post about her divorce last year. “Happily Married. 2008-2014.” I thought of sending her a Facebook friend request but, as always, dropped the idea.

I put the iPad face down. I needed to lift myself up. Drink and drive always works. I got into my car. The building security guard tapped on the car window and handed me a yellow envelope. It felt like a letter. A letter? For me? It must have been a mistake. I threw the envelope on the passenger's seat and drove away. Driving aimlessly with a bottle of whiskey was my remedy to sooth the heart on lonely days. There aren’t days when I'm not lonely but some days are lonelier than others. The blissful music of 70s calmed my nerves. I drove slowly, humming every song along and floating up with Kishore Kumar’s voice. I took a random left turn and went past a parked car. A young couple was laughing inside, most likely waiting for an after party to start. My heart ached.

I have passionately longed for a companion. After completing my secondary education in my small hometown, where speaking to girls was a taboo, my parents enrolled me into an all-boys boarding school. Life passed by uneventfully. My dark complexion, a height of 5'4'', a small nose, extra-large ears, and a flat, circled face was never going to make someone fall in love with me at the first sight. The two years of arranged-marriage wild goose chase that led to nowhere only added insult to the injury. First impression is the last impression. My receding hairline didn't help the cause. “I don't think it will work” was the usual response. Apart from a couple of girls though, no one was rude. I never blamed the ones who were. It was slowly dawning upon me that I lacked the charm to tickle a heart. I had no chance. I was at a juncture in my life where I had a choice to make. I did. I picked up loneliness over rejection. No regrets. Over the last five years, I've made peace with my envy pangs that get highly evoked while watching ‘happy endings’ in Bollywood movies. To envy is human. It doesn't make me a bad person.

My next day in the office was like any other day. As a backend sales analyst in a multinational electronics company, I crunch numbers on spreadsheets. I answer standard questions or at times invent and then answer them. Should the company invest in manufacturing a low range TV? Why did the sales in North drop by x%? Yadda, yadda, yadda. I think I'm good at it. I've had the desire to deliver the analysis to the head of sales but the thought of standing in the board room and presenting it to him sends a chill down my spine. The only person with whom I've had a meaningful conversation in the office is with Shilpa, my boss's secretary. For reasons that are unknown to me, she cares for me. I enjoy our one-sided conversations that are centered on her life. Boss rants, her husband Aditya's smoking or foreign trips, her boy's school admission, prickly mother-in-law, holiday plans to Goa, the list goes on. She gets to talk to someone and I get to listen to someone. Win win for both. We go out for lunch together every day. She often brings lunch for me. I cook daily, and every now and then I get food for her too. She's never asked me anything about my personal life or why I didn’t marry. Deep inside she knows.

Hi Gaurav,

This is your school friend Saurabh. I know this letter will take you by surprise. It has been so long since we spoke. I miss those days. Life was so simple. Wasn't it? Do you remember those cricket sessions? The only worry in life was Mathematics.

How are uncle and aunt? Did you marry? Do you also have kids? 

I got married two years ago. I wanted to invite you but I didn't have your address. A lot of friends from school attended. We never remained in touch but I knew that you were in Delhi as we would often talk about you. It is sad that our lives took different turns. I myself had to move here this year. I did try to look for you on Facebook but couldn't find you.

I'm sorry but it was by accident that I jumped upon your address. I do marketing research and yesterday while scanning through demographics data of people who have bought a car in last three years, your name jumped in front of my eyes. The chance that it was really you was next to none but then out of curiosity I looked into the bio-data and I knew it was you.

I didn't like the idea of calling you directly. I was worried that you'd mind. That's why I'm sending you this letter first. Please call me if you'll like to rekindle the old days. I'm mentioning my phone number below. I will wait for your phone call.

Your Friend,

It was the next morning that I read the note. At first, it filled me with a mild rage. How was it possible that my private data was so readily available? Who was I kidding though? It is the reality of the modern world. Moreover, my personal data was a useless piece of information that wouldn't sell for a rupee. I made myself a cup of tea and went down the memory lane. 

I remembered Saurabh, not vividly though. It was difficult to put a face to him after all these years. He was an average student. He was a back bencher and often bunked classes. His father beat him to pulp once in front of his friends because he had stolen money to eat out in a fancy restaurant. He was well known for the dottiest excuses that he came up with every time he missed his homework. He was very active in school extracurricular activities. Despite an average academic record he was smarter than I ever was, in fact he was smarter than most of us, and what made him stand apart was the fact that he knew it. Although I stayed away from it during my school days and only got to it in college, he was the one who introduced our friend circle to cigarette. We really didn't play that much cricket together but every time we did, I prayed that we were in the same team. My legs turned to jelly every time he was bowling to me. He was fast alright but it was his fiery red eyes fixated at my middle stump that made me piss in my pants. The only time I saw him flutter was when Asheesh sir walked in for the Math class. I never met him and most of my classmates after moving to the boarding school. After my dad passed away, my mom moved in with my elder brother. She passed away too couple of years ago. Yes, I've a brother, elder and more successful than me, settled happily with his family.

I've grown apart from all my college friends and couldn't remember when I last spoke to one. This was a school friend I hadn’t spoken to in eighteen years! I remained in two minds. It was after a week that I called him.    
"Gaurav, my friend. I'm so glad that you called up. I had a feeling you would." he said excitedly as soon as he picked up the phone. 
"Hi Saurabh. It's good to talk to you after so long." I replied.
"How are you?" he asked.
"I'm doing just fine. How about you?"
"I'm good too. Look, I'm sorry that I chanced upon your details accidentally."
"It's alright."
"I'm so happy to get in touch with you."
"What's up?" I asked awkwardly.
"Everything is good man. As I told you, got married. Life is good."
"Good. Are you in touch with others?"
"Yes and no. You know how life is these days. Hey, let's catch up. Phone is no fun."
I hesitated.
"Everything alright?"
"Yes, yes. Sorry, I'm driving." I lied.
"I can call later."
"No, no, it's fine."
"So let's meet. Where do you want to meet? I can come down to whatever works for you. Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, anywhere."
"Amm. Gurgaon is far for me and I seldom go there. Delhi?"
"Sure thing. Connaught Place?"
"Great. I'll book a table somewhere. This coming Saturday evening works for you?"
"Yes it does."
"Great. 5 PM. See you."
"Yeah, bye."

He sounded super excited, as if he was going to meet his long lost best friend. I really wasn't interested in going back and talking about school days, which probably was the only topic we could have chatted about. Bailing out wasn’t an option since I had called up and it'd be rude to cancel on him. I shouldn’t have called. 

On Saturday, I cooked my lunch but didn’t feel like eating it. I sat tapping on the floor and flipping the TV remote around in my sweaty palms, a random movie playing in the background. I decided to leave early. Despite the weekend and perfect weather, the area was deserted. This area used to be a crowd puller years ago but the advent of multiplexes and shopping malls took the cream away. I didn't directly go to Brahma, the bar that he had reserved a table in. It would be rude if he saw me drinking even before he arrived. I knew a standing bar nearby. My nerves calmed down and looked forward to the evening ahead after two whiskey shots. I got to the reserved table by 5:10, a little late, on purpose. He hadn't reached yet. Twenty minutes had passed by. No sign of him. He must be stuck in traffic. I decided to give him another ten. 5:45, still no sign of him, ridiculous. I called him up.

"Hello" it wasn't him. It was a female voice. Someone in their twenties.
"Hello. I'm looking for Saurabh."
"Sorry, he is not home. I'm his wife. He forgot his cell at home."
"Oh, he was coming to see me but he hasn't reached yet. Is there an alternative number?"
"Sorry, no, there isn't. Yeah, he told me that he was going to meet a friend. He left almost two hours ago. I'm sure he is stuck in traffic or something."
"No problem. Thanks."

I ordered myself a drink, waited for another thirty minutes and then gave up. May be he changed his mind. May be he did come, saw me and turned around. It didn't feel bad. On the contrary, I felt very light driving back home. No conversation is better than an awkward one. I had a drink outside after ages (my night drives don’t count). 

It was late in the night at around eleven that my phone buzzed. It was Saurabh. I didn't pick up. The phone buzzed again and again. It was the fourth or fifth time that I picked up. I expected a creative excuse. It was his wife though.

"Hello. Did you guys meet up?"
"No. What happened? You sound worried."
"He hasn't come back."
"What? I waited for him till 6:30 and then left."
"God knows where he has gone."
"I think you should check with his friends."
"I've only moved to Gurgaon last month. I haven't met any of his friends."
So he lived in Gurgaon.
"He must have gone out with a friend."
"He always keeps me informed of his whereabouts. He told me he was going to see you. You guys really didn't meet today?" she asked me. 
"What do you mean? I've told you we didn't meet today." I was irritated.
"I'm sorry. I'm extremely worried right now. I'm new to this town. I don't know what I should do. Should I call the police?"
"Please calm down. Everything is going to be fine. It's just been few hours. I'm sure he is somewhere around. Please wait for him. I'm sure he'd be home soon."
"I hope so too."
There was a moment of silence. I didn't know how to end the conversation. I was groggy and wanted to sleep. I didn't need to try as she cut the phone herself. 

The phone was buzzing again. Being a light sleeper, I woke up. I guessed that the time was around 3 AM. He must haven't returned.

"Hello. Is he back?" Stupid question to ask.
She was sobbing and breathing heavily. I jumped out of my bed worriedly.
"I have this weird feeling that he is in trouble. Has he met with an accident?"
"Please don't think like that. I'm sure he is fine."
"I told you. It has never happened before. I'm always aware of his whereabouts. I knew where he was even when I hadn't moved to Delhi. I don't know what to do. It's been almost 12 hours since he is gone."
"No one from family lives remotely close so they can't help and I don't want to trouble them at this time."
"I don't know anybody apart from you in the city."
Wait, what? That was stretching it a bit too far. 
"Listen, Can I ask you for some help?"
"I'm very scared. Can you please come down to our place? May be we could talk to the neighbors? If needed, head to the police station? Please. I don't have anyone who can help me."
Her muffled sobs continued.

Not for the first time, I was in two minds. With no traffic that early in the morning, it would take me at most an hour to get to the address that she just gave me. I drove reluctantly, my mind filled with all kinds of possibilities. Accident? Road rash? It's not uncommon in Delhi. Did he elope with his mistress? That was absurd. Why would he get his wife in the town if he had to do that? Was he alive? Whatever happened to him it was unexpected, I concluded. He was coming to see me. I was hoping that he was safe for if he really disappeared, I'd surely be grilled by the police. I didn’t want that hassle. Google Maps told me that the destination was 5 minutes away. The first rays of sunlight were breaking through the dark. A left turn into a narrow street followed by an immediate right turn and I was in front of a tree in the middle of the road. That's when the phone started ringing. "I'm right in front of you." I looked up and saw a woman. Yellow pants, average height, and waving her phone at me. I waved back and slowed down. 

My head felt like lead. My mouth was dry and tasted of bitter cucumber. I found myself sleeping at the back seat of my car. I was sweating like a pig. The first thing that I noticed was the tree. The car was neatly parked at the edge of the road, the sun beating down on it. I jumped out and scrambled through my belongings. Everything was in the right place. What had happened? I remembered that I had come out of the car. She stood there waving. Then what? It was all cloudy. Did someone hit me? I checked the back of my head. Nothing. I checked my phone. "All is well," a text message from Saurabh. I called. The phone was switched off.

A week had passed since that strange night. I wasn't able to get in touch with Saurabh or his wife. The phone continued to remain switched off. I drove back to their apartment building. There were two Saurabhs who lived there, an eight year old boy and a teenager. Was he living with a false identity? Why would he? I tried to check if there was a young man whose wife had just moved in last three months. No. No common school friend that I could get hold of was aware of his coordinates. Why would she give me a wrong address and then leave me in that drugged state in my own car? Did he really return or was that message sent by someone else? I scanned Facebook but couldn't locate him. I didn't even know her name.

"He had returned and wanted to avoid me so they drugged me and left me in my car," 
"I was piss drunk and dreamt the entire episode," 
"I met them and we smoked pot," 
"Someone harmed them. I was the uninvited guest so I was left in the car," 
Crazy conspiracy theories like that engulfed my mind. How could anyone explain what had just hit me? I was able to finally get hold of a close friend of his from our school days who knew he had moved to Delhi. He was surprised to hear that he got married. My sixth sense told me that they were in deep trouble. Reaching out to the police was a hassle and I ruled it out. I had only my lunch buddy to share this experience with. For the first time, our conversations had a scoop from my life. She had no conjectures apart from telling me that I must have been smoking weed. I couldn’t reach any conclusion. 

With time, the curiosity dissipated. Life resumed to normal. A healthy dose of spreadsheets, night drives, harmless Facebook stalking, a hint of porn and good old sixties music helped me recover from the curiosity pangs. The cat had no choice.

A phone call from Shilpa three months after the incident awoke the cat again. She had never called me after work so it must be urgent. She asked me to come down to her place immediately. She wasn't ready to divulge any details on the phone. It was related to the mystery. I was asked to carry the note I had received from my friend.

This was only the third time that I was meeting Aditya in person but I knew him very well and I was sure he knew me well too. He was a nice chap. I liked him. Despite being a bigshot VP in a bigshot company, I found him extremely humble. I could be friends with him. Like wife like husband. He handed me a yellow envelope. It was something he had received that morning at his office address. Yellow envelope! I read the note inside it in a jiffy. Similar wordings to the note that I had received! Different handwriting. No mention of cricket. Something about a pretty girl in the school. It was addressed to Aditya and some Gaurav had sent it.

"What does this mean?" I murmured.
"You don't get it. Do you?" Shilpa said.
"What's going on?"
"Check the envelope you received carefully."

It took me a moment but I realized what she was talking about. How could I be so dumb? 
No last names! 
No house number in the address!

"Every Gaurav knows a Saurabh."  I said.
"Exactly, exactly! The probability that there is someone with one of those names or for that matter Aditya in a building is very high. Pick one of these names and scream it out loud in a crowded place. Chances are that at least one head will turn." Aditya boasted. After all, he was the one who had the dibs on solving the puzzle. He passed the cigarette to me. 
"What are the odds that one of these random letter reaches an Aditya who knew a Gaurav in school? Odds that they grew apart in school? Odds that there indeed was a pretty girl and this Aditya would want to speak to their school friend and call back?" I asked.
"Very slim but not zero. My head starts to hurt when I try to guess how many such letters this gang must have sent across the city." he said.

"It makes sense but why take all this trouble to leave someone drugged?"
"I don't know why. I do know something though. Take a look at this." He was waiting for this question.

He handed me three newspaper cuttings. Three different robberies. The victims - two Saurabhs and a Gaurav. All three men had gone to meet someone. A friend who had just flown in from London. A friend's brother who had made it big. A friend's wife in some kind of distress. All three were found on the roadside somewhere in or around Delhi in drugged state. Everything but their underwear had been stolen.

"Are you lucky my friend or did they take pity on you?" Shilpa put her hand on my shoulder. 
"I have no clue. May be someone passed by and they had to abort the robbery." Aditya said.
"I'm not sure if it makes sense. Why take all this trouble? Just stop a passing by car and rob it." I asked.
"Evil has its ways."
"Random yet predictable! Thrill of the wait! Thrill of the chase! Some men like to relax in their boat and wait with the fishing rod instead of throwing a net in the water. The harder the catch, the tastier the dish." He looked into my eyes and lit another cigarette.

"So, Mr. Gaurav, what happened that night?"
"I don't know."
"Do you want to know?"
"There is no need to be Sherlock. Let's go and speak to the police." Shilpa chimed.
"Come on! You know that I'm a fish that thrives on any hooks that life has to offer."

"We're going to get close to the trap, not to get trapped, but to lay a trap of our own. I will dig my teeth into the hook only to pull this fisherman into the water. We'll call the police but only after we've played a bit." I liked his exuberance. She made a stupid frowning face though. I was in two minds but his confidence pushed me over.  

He had a plan. Obviously it started with him making the phone call. As expected, the receiver knew who was calling. As expected, a quick discussion and a rendezvous date was on the offer. Aditya had already thought through how he was going to play. He played his part like a veteran actor. The stage was set. It was in a South Delhi bar this time.

On the meeting day, he'd go to the bar and I were to keep in the hiding somewhere around. He was sure that no one would turn up. Why set up the date then? 
"It makes them look more real, just like mention of cricket and pretty girl in the letter did, but more importantly, they can follow you back home and get to know who you really are. The next trap, if they decide to put the plan in place, gets set up based on your profile. So I’m sure that no one will turn up but there'd be someone there waiting for me." 
That is the reason I couldn't be the protagonist. I was tasked with following whoever would follow him. He was certain that this person would find himself a seat in the bar from where they could observe him. Is the fish worth it? Is the fish too dangerous to catch? It didn't take him long to understand who this person was. "A curly haired guy with white shirt and black denims." He flaunted his iPad and passed time writing some emails. Exactly thirty minutes past the scheduled meeting time, he called the number. A guy claiming to be Gaurav's cousin picked up. Gaurav was on his way. Indeed. The chilled beer calmed me down. Aditya spent another thirty minutes there before walking out. The curly haired guy started to follow him and I did the same, maintaining a healthy distance. I had to be careful because, in all likelihood, he was the guy who followed me the other day.

Aditya had no plans of going back home. He was driving a Toyota Corolla and had purposely left his BMW 3-series at home. That might just scare the gang, based upon the three profiles they had looted. The curly haired guy was in a Maruti. As planned, Aditya parked his car outside an old apartment complex in Noida. His friend lived there and he was a regular visitor, so no one questioned him. The rogue's job was done, so he thought. My heart was pounding. Sweat tricked down my neck. Traffic is a boon and a bane at the same time when following someone on Delhi streets. No one's going to know that they are being followed amongst the chaos. On the other hand, anybody can cut your way from anywhere and you'd lose the target if you aren't paying attention. I kept myself in a different lane at a distance of two cars and smoked continuously. The guy made a short phone call, most likely updating his boss. The fish was one step away from taking the bait. I followed him into a restaurant.

I entered five minutes after he did and found him seated with a man who was sipping on his coke and intently listening into him. I was hungry so I grabbed a sandwich and coke myself. I found a seat in the corner. I sipped on my coke and ate slowly and kept a constant gaze at them. The second man, most likely the mastermind, had his back towards me. He hardly spoke a word. He kept on nodding and taking notes.

All of a sudden, as if he had realized that someone was watching him, he turned his head. My heart skipped a beat. That gaze looked through my soul. The fire in those eyes! In a moment the paranoia turned into a realization that reflected on my face in the form a huge smile. He smiled back. He setup a game of chance but chance had played a game of its own. I uttered a muffled thanks and nodded at him. He nodded back, stood up and walked out. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Aditya was calling. I didn’t pick up. My fingertips buzzed with a newly found reverence for the concept of chance.

I sent a Facebook friend request later that night.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


It has been a long time. 

If you care you must have wondered why that is the case. Where has K been? 

More importantly, what makes him come back? 

Depending upon how well you know the nincompoop, not in person, but through the tales, if you ever gave it a thought that is, you could say that it’s the diminishing creative juices and this is a desperate attempt to squeeze any remaining mojo, or may be it was a heart break and the heart has healed now, or may be the broken heart conjured up the tales and the inevitable has happened again. 

Does writing create a void or fill one?

It doesn’t matter. 

Who cares?

I'm back.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When it rains, it pours

The last 24 hours have been so BhejaFry-esque that I feel I’d be doing injustice if I don’t share it with you.

It is either that I don’t have a good sense of humor and someone out there thought the best way I can make people laugh is by sharing this experience or maybe that someone had a good reason to be pissed with me. In any case, for you I hope it turns out to be a good laugh.

A realization came to me this afternoon. I could win a Gold medal for India in Olympics. If dumbness was introduced as a category!

Life is a great leveler. It always finds ways to let you know how it controls every Higgs Boson out there and how in one snap it can turn you upside down. You’d never know if the black swan is around the corner.

I don’t know where it started, may be last week when I was thinking of what all needs to be achieved this week but I’d like to start with the moment I stepped at work. My phone was buzzing. A colleague of mine was calling. His car had broken down and he was going to be late. I joked and asked him to buy a new car. Whether the heavens were already pissed with me or was it some sort of curse he uttered after our call that led to the events afterwards, we’d never know.

The day moved along but little did I know that the motion of the atoms around me was changing ever so slightly and the electrons were starting to spin in unfavorable directions.
I was leaving at about 8:15 PM when a colleague pinged me on Skype for a quick call. I took the bait and we realized we needed another team member for the call. I called him and he asked for 20 minutes. 20 minutes is exactly the time it takes for me to drive back home. It was 8:30 PM now so I thought that's what I'd do. On my way back however, the team member pinged me on Skype (on my smartphone) and told me he got free earlier than expected.

Now, 9999 out of 10000 times, I would have just driven home and responded back then OR would have taken the call from my car and kept driving. However this day was special. First, I called in Skype through 3G, then for reasons that I can’t explain, I decided to stop for the quick chat. I parked on the dirt road on the side. The “Greater Noida welcomes you” board was in my sight. It was supposed to be a quick call to discuss a business proposal that we had been working on. I switched off the engine and kept the headlights and blinkers on. You know what’s coming but wait till you’ve reached the end. The call dragged along as we discovered new complexities that had emerged, I lost the sense of time and before we held up 40 minutes later, the car batteries had died.

The car wouldn't start and I was left stranded in the middle of the highway. It was 9:15. I drive an automatic so no chance of pushing it and getting it to start. I googled and tried calling a lot of local service stations but nobody would come to help or I was told it would take hours to get any assistance. In this process, my cell phone battery died. Luckily I had my USB charger and the laptop had some charge. I had called up a colleague and he had set out to find help but we realized that the workshops in the whole region are closed on Tuesdays. No help was available. His last resort was to come to the spot with a rope! I was on Skype discussing some work as I waited for him. I told you it is going to get very interesting.

He reached at 10:15 and now we couldn’t find a hook in the front of the car to tie the rope to. After a lot of deliberation the only option left with us was to use a metal hook in the bonnet. My home was still a good 7-8 km away. We started our journey at a little over jogging speed and I immediately knew that this would screw up the bonnet. Whatever I said, my mind was cloudy, my vision blurry, I needed to pee badly and I was hungry like a dog. Whatever the fuck it is, I will get it fixed, is was what I thought. After a treacherous 90 minutes we got home. The bonnet had come out of its base latch and won't close. “Whatever it is, I will deal with it tomorrow”. I got to my room and gulped down two large drinks cursing myself. How dumb of me? With a lot of unnecessary pain and a feeling of foolishness I tried to sleep.

"I should have called X too. Y as well. May be there was a way to tie the rope. What was the point of it all, I could have waited for 2 hours for assistance to kick the batteries on and reached at the same time. May be I should have waved and asked for help from all the cars passing by. Why wasn't I prepared for such situation? Was there no other way?"

I couldn’t let go. Have you ever spun in circles while lying still? You spin, round and round, a whirlpool sucking you down, suddenly you are in a movie hall, watching some episode of your life play, bizarre revolving images, you are the only one watching the show, its pitch dark, deeper and deeper, the movie won't end, just when you think it’s over, a new chapter is on display, you never hit the bottom, the marshy lands keep sucking you in. Finally thinking that it’s over after all I slept. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of the fury.

I decided to work from home and called up a local mechanic in the morning. He came with equipment and in no time the car engine hummed. It was time to fix the bonnet nut-bolts which could only happen in his garage, only 3 km away. I had my work going on so I asked him to take the car and drop it back. It was going to take an hour. After 15 minutes, I was in a meeting, when this guy started calling me frantically. I knew hell was ready to break loose. On his way to the workshop the bonnet opened from the latch and crashed on the wind shield completely cracking the glass. In one moment, the agony turned into pleasure. I couldn’t stop laughing at the veracity. I suddenly felt free. If I was a number, I was negative but the phone call had the number line flipped completely chopping away the negative in front of me. I felt light as if someone just left my body. My palms felt a waterfall whizzing by. It was at that very moment that I decided I have to share the cause-effect-cause comedy that was playing out.  

I dropped out of the call, sent an OOO email and called up Honda service stations. The car had to go there for insurance claim. It was no longer a broken nail, the arm was fractured and 2 teeth were missing as well. The mechanic drove the car slowly to the service station and I hired a taxi to get there. Insurance covered some damages, and I would only get the car back next week, but it didn’t pinch me at all. It was a day that became brighter and brighter contrary to what happened and how I thought it would pan out. I returned back at 6 PM, had the first bite of my day and logged in for usual business.

Some interesting information: There’s this highly acclaimed book that I’m reading these days that talks about our brain, how it thinks, how it takes decisions and makes choices. The chapter that I was reading this Monday spoke about luck and how it plays with us. Coincidence? Luck or dumbness?

May be you thought this episode was funny, may be painful but let me tell you what the funniest or the most painful thing depending upon what you thought is. My car was due a service since September. While I was in UK last week I had a firm thought of sending it to the service station. I only had a weeks’ window as I have to travel next week too, so yes, I had sent it to service, yesterday.

It had just returned after a royal what-ever-you-suggest-mr-mechanic service at 6:30 PM yesterday!

Daniel Kahneman would say, The Dumbness & Intelligence Quotient are not perfectly correlated.

Time for a stiff drink and some Mercyful Fate.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Holy Diver

How would this world be like after I'm dead? This is a recurring thought. What would I be like after I've breathed my last? Would a fragment of me remain in this world forever? Would I be alive in a different sense, a different form? The lines in my hand, hair on my arms, my toes and the gaps between them, twinkling eyes, boyish voice that I'm told the girls love, a balding head that I despise, an asymmetric face, parts of human body that I've seen many a times in Science text books that exist within me but I'll never see them, thankfully so, a heart that failed to love, a brain that slows down with every passing day, they would all disappear in thin air. Will this change the entropy of the universe at all?

I found these thoughts amusing as I climbed up the round metallic staircase. A teenager who seemed to be no more than half my age was climbing briskly ahead of me.
"Are you a regular? Never seen you before."
The husky voice stirred me out of my thoughts. The voice sounded like someone was calling me from another universe. It took me many seconds to make sense of what was being asked.

"Are you alright?"
"Yes, sorry. I was thinking about my work. I'm new here. I've recently moved to the city."
"Are you a pro? I haven't seen any divers of your age around."

I didn't understand what was the right thing to do at that moment. Take pride in the fact that I was the oldest around trying to dive or curse my year of birth.
"No, I'm not a pro. I saw some kids last week and thought it was fun. I thought I'll give it a try." I said adjusting my rubber cap to give some breathing air to my right ear.

The boy stopped in his tracks. He turned around completely.
"Are you kidding me? This is your first jump."
"Yeah. Don't worry. I'm only going for 5 meters. That is nothing."
"You could hurt yourself seriously. This is no age to dive. I suggest that you go and try your hand at golf."

Enough! I thought of asking him to mind his own business. To keep his advice for his father. Something stopped me though. I have always found it hard to be rude to anyone. Make no mistakes about it, I'm not proud of it. What is raved as politeness is in actuality my timidness. It wasn't the first and the last time in my life when I didn't say what I should have said. It is as if there is a transformer inside of me, placed besides my vocal chords, that takes what I want to say and converts it into what I actually say.

"Fuck off." is what I wanted to say, rather should have said.
"Thanks for your concern but I think I'll be fine." is what I said instead.

"Sir, I admire your spirit but I'm a professional diver and I think you are taking it way to easy."
"I won't die, will I?" I said displaying my irritation.
"I don't know what makes you think that 5 meters is safe for a first time diver. When I started as a kid, I did 1 meter for months."
"You could seriously hurt your back."
"I won't die, will I?" I repeated.
"Is everything about life and death? What if you get a serious injury that disables you for life? Would that life be better than death?"

That sounded reasonable. I thought hard on a line of argument but really couldn't think of one. It's not that I can't reason well. I can. I give up way too easily though. The boy based on whatever he had said so far sounded intelligent and even if I found a way to continue the debate on whether I should or should not go ahead with my first dive, I could see that he would easily win the battle of reasons. I was feeling the pressure. I had to find a way to my first dive.

"Do you suggest that I go for one meter only?" it was worth the try.
"I like your enthusiasm. I've been diving here for the last ten years. You remind me of myself. I wanted to directly go to the 10 meter board when I first came here." he said and paused.
"How about I give you some tips at the one meter board?"

I knew I had unlocked the door. I played along.
"I could do that myself. Do you really think I need coaching at 1 meter?"
"You do. Also, some injuries are more psychological than physical. It's a small lesson anyways."
That was reasonable as well. I gave in.
"Thanks. Let's do it."

We started climbing down towards the one meter board. I started thinking what if I hadn't found him? What if I had climbed and jumped from the 5 meter board unscathed? That would have surely given me the courage to go up to the 10 meter board. I imagined myself running in circles towards the highest point. I saw myself jumping from the board and then in a flash it all went wrong. I hit my head on the board. I fell down and smacked my belly flat on the water. I choked. My lungs tried hard to suck in the air but all I could sense was water in my wind pipe. My hands and legs splattered the water as I looked around. The sun changed its shape and moved frantically. It was like watching television on a rainy day. My ears buzzed. I couldn't scream. May be I did but no one heard.

Then, there was peace. They were removing my body from the pool. Someone checked my pulse. Somebody called up the police. Somebody scanned my wallet. There was commotion all around. No one realized that I was absolutely fine lying by the pool side enjoying the sun. I was in the tranquil state that men desire all their lives.

"Are you ready for your first diving lesson?"
He was on the edge of the one meter board.
"Yes coach."
I really was not. How could I tell him about my fantasies though? It was the transformer at work again.

He was facing me. "Diving is fun and it's very safe. You just have to follow some basic..."

He couldn't complete what he wanted to say. I thought he wanted to tell me that you just have to follow some basic rules. May be principles. Guidelines is probably a best fit. His right foot slipped while turning towards the pool. He fell with all the force and his balls got crushed on the edge of the board. There was a loud scream followed by a splash when his back hit the water. He struggled to find his way out. I looked around and realized that there was no one I could call for help.

I wanted to help.

I would have if I knew how to swim.

Lucky bastard.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Budget

It was the beginning of the winter of 1939. That day of the year again, 1st of September, the annual day. The town square buzzed with an increased anticipation as last year there hadn't been any need for the ritual. The town square was actually a circle. It was an open amphitheatre with a statue in the middle. There were ten tiers of seating available around the statue. Some families had gathered even before the sun rose and had grabbed the front seats. Some had come early to secure seats in the tenth tier. It was all about the family beliefs and what people thought would give them the best chance. It was 1 PM. There were still two hours for the ritual to begin but most of the seats had been taken.
1st September was birthdate of the little unknown island in the North Pacific Ocean, Leonard, named after its discoverer, John Leonard. John was a British. Somewhere in late eighteen century as a British navy captain he set on a voyage that would be his last and ultimately lead to the discovery of the island. It was the most beautiful place he had ever seen in his life. He had first set his eyes on the island in the night. The moon was half lit but even then the flowers of all colours blossomed. It was as if they were not reflecting the light from the sky but had light of their own. The greenery was heavenly. It seemed like a carnival in a desert. They decided to stay there for a few days.
Leonard and his crew however never came back. There was something devilish in the air. The idea of abandoning all contact with their families and rest of the world suddenly seemed exciting to all. The island was to be their new home. The crew consisted of nine men and three ladies. Leonard became the leader of the island unanimously and married Lisa, the most beautiful lass amongst the three females. The two remaining girls, Pepa, a sixteen year old, and Anita, a girl of India origin, married four men each thus laying the foundation of Leonard.
Life was easy in the beginning. The only compromise that they thought they had to make was to turn vegetarians. There were unfortunately no animals on the island. Most of the days were spent leisurely. They would roam along the shore line during the day and walk away from it towards the dense trees in the night. The men collected vegetables, fruits during the day and kept the ladies busy in the night. They could complete one full circle of the island along the shore line in less than three days. After they had scanned most of the island they picked the spot to build three houses. It all seemed very simple, then came the winter. The days were fine but the temperatures would drop steeply in the night. They hadn't made a lot of progress in building the houses. The twelve of them would all huddle together in a little shack in front of fire in the night. 
Anita's eldest husband was the first one to die. Another one had caught severe cold. The ship was a wreck. They had all decided to live on the edge, dreaming a life far away from the world that imagined that their ship had sunk. They all doubted now if they would survive. They lost Pepa and three men that winter. They worked hard through the summer building the houses and storing enough food for the next winter. Two new members were added to the island's population when Lisa and Anita gave birth to a girl and a boy before the winter, a winter they were slightly better prepared for. One of the new born died that winter. The bitter winter remained a challenge but the civilization never looked back. Leonard got his statue made and established it in town square in 1809. The annual day ritual was started in 1917 by Leonard the V.
It was time. Every single family in Leonard, eighty nine of them, were present. Oblivious to the world that was about to engage in a massive war, one thousand and ten Leonardians, that's what they called themselves, were inside the amphitheatre. The tension was palpable. There were twelve babies, less than a year old. Three old sick men, unable to walk, but still there. You couldn't afford to miss this event.
"Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the annual day celebrations. It is the day when we together define the budget of our nation. It is that day of the year when we prepare for the winter. Since the birth of our nation the goal of our forefathers was to ensure that we survive on our own. No one gets to know that we exist, we don't depend upon anyone. All of you understand the constitution and know how it plays out." Leonard the VI started the proceedings. He was a tall handsome man with sharp features and long hair. People said that he looked exactly like the original Leonard.
"My finance minister tells me that all families have already registered and designated their family's picker. The first step is to ensure that everyone is here."
The finance minister, an old short man stepped in front. He had a smile on his face that he couldn't wipe off.
"Welcome all. This is a formality. I'm sure all of us are here but we must go through this procedure. Like the ritual goes, the whole family needs to stand up when I announce the family name. Then one by one I announce your first names and you raise your hand. Hold your kid in your lap if you have got one. Point to him or her when I announce the name. The picker of the family needs to keep standing after all names have been announced and verified. The rest of the family sits down."
After a brief moment of silence the minister pulled out a sheet of paper. The ritual had begun.
The Adams, a family of eight stood up. An old man and his wife. Two sons and a daughter. The eldest son's wife and their two daughters. One by one the minister shouted out their names and they raised their hands. The young ones were old enough to raise their hands when their name was announced. The two girls had been part of the event before. The younger son, Paul, the family's picker, was left standing after all eight names had been announced.
The names were announced in a rapid succession. It usually took half an hour to go through the entire population.
The Smith was a family of six. Old Bill and his wife Emma, two sons and their wives. Only five people stood up though when the name was announced. They were seated in the last tier.
"Where is Bill? Ask him to stand up please." asked the minister.
"I'm sorry sir. He couldn't make it. It's not his fault. You know he is a hard man. He decided to go to the fields this morning to get some peaches for our lunch. He fell from the tree and broke his leg." responded Emma. The tension in her voice was loud and clear. There was a hush-hush in the crowd.
"If we had tried to drag him, none of us would have made it here." shouted Emma. The hoo-ha in the crowd grew further.
"Silent." shouted the minister.
"Look Emma, Bill is a friend. However today it's all about Leonard and its sovereignty. I'm sorry. Add his name to the list."
"It's not right. You need to understand the situation. It's most unfortunate."
The minister quickly announced all the Smiths.
"Since Bill is not here, who is going to be the family's picker?"
"We can go and drag him here sir. Just give us a couple of hours." Emma cried.
"Don't fool around with the nation. Who is your picker?"
The eldest son Joel Smith raised his hand. "I'll be the one."
He soothed his crying mother and asked her to sit down. The verification continued.
After they had verified that everybody but Bill Smith was in the amphitheatre the minister moved towards the statue. He had a bowl in his hand. He placed the bowl at the feet of the statue.
"One by one now, starting from my left in the lowest tier, clockwise, and then moving up the tier, I request the family's picker to move forward and pick a chit from this bowl. After you have picked the chit, hand it over to me."
Peter Martin was the first in line. He stepped forward with sweaty palms.
"Be quick." the minister howled.
Peter put his hand in the bowl. He shuffled the chits. He had most of them in his hand. He let loose of the chits one by one until he was left with only one. Is it the one? He took a deep breath and picked it out. He handed it to the minister.
The minister opened it up. A blank. The Martins heaved a sigh of relief. "I told you getting the first seat always works." cheered Peter's father.
One by one the picker came forward, their family holding onto their breaths.
As the pickers drew blanks, the tension in the families sitting in upper tiers grew. Baikunth Kumar was the twenty seventh picker to move forward. He picked a chit and stood there with his hand in the bowl momentarily. In the last second, he changed his mind and let that chit go. He moved his hand around in the bowl again, picked another one and handed to the minister. The minister opened it up.
"Picker" it read.
The Kumars didn't understand how to react. They had reason to be happy as well as sad. Baikunth looked towards his family. He walked back towards them maintaining his calm. The ten family members huddled around him.
"Baikunth Kumar is added to the list."
"Next picker please. We have business to continue."
When Nick Pearl moved forward, there were still twenty three chits remaining in the bowl. He had volunteered to be the picker for his family. He rushed towards the bowl as his father had asked him to and grabbed a chit. He kissed it before he handed it over to the minster.
"Family" the chit read.
The entire amphitheatre was filled with murmurs. Nick fell on his knees and started to cry.
"Something is wrong. That is not the chit I was going to pick up. You need to give me another chance."
People had already surrounded the Pearls paying their sympathies.
"Hold on people. Stay wherever you are. Pearls are a family of seven. We still need to account for one more. We have to start the procedure once again to get to thousand." the minister announced.
"Can I say something sir?" Steffi stepped forward from the crowd. She was holding onto two babies.
"What is it about?"
"As you know I gave birth to twins this year. If not for these twins, we would have achieved thousand. The rice crop has been good this year. It’s just one more baby. Let’s call it a day."
There was unanimous support for her. "Let’s call it a day." was heard around the amphitheatre. Leonard the VI had been observing the drama unfold in front on him sitting on his throne. He got up in a flash and screamed. "A tradition is a tradition. No compromises. Go back to your seat lady."
He was right. A ritual was a ritual. As Leonard the island grew, there came a breaking point in their economy when the crop on the island was not enough for every habitant. It was estimated that the island could only feed one thousand people during the winter. The budget list was the only way.  
There was a sudden silence. In a moment, the pickers were standing again. The Kumars had declared Meena Kumar as their new picker. The Pearls were out of the draw so they remained seated.
Peter Martin was first to draw again.
Sophia Victor who had drawn a blank the last time was not lucky this time around.
As soon as the chit was announced, everyone in the amphitheatre, apart from Kumars, Pearls, and Victors started to cheer. There were eleven Victors on the island. Leonard probably won't need the ceremony next year.
The budget list was ready. A list of twenty people. It was the longest list ever in the last twenty three years. Most of the island remained at the town square that night. They sang songs, drank beer and danced that night. Some couples who left early were planning their babies.
The budget list had ensured like previous winters that there would be plenty of food that winter, and warmth. Lastly, Leonardians no longer needed to be vegetarians.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Killer is me

I had to kill him. I had no choice, he asked for it. Trust me he did.

I still remember his warm hand wrapped around mine. I can't have that sensation tonight, even with the warmth of his blood on my hands. It's not that he was an asshole, quite the opposite really, he was a good man. I might have killed him but I am not a bitch either. It was late afternoon and he was dozing in the bedroom after what could be the last meal of his life. I walked gingerly into the room. Standing beside the bed I looked at him sleeping and found myself torn. There had to be another way out of this.

She walked in behind me and sensed my resolve running like the jelly in to my legs. She placed her hand on my shoulder and nodded, showing me I had to be strong. "It's time junior." she whispered in my ear. She was right, it had to be done. She handed me a handkerchief soaked in chloroform. I took a deep breath and pressed it on his face with all the force that I could gather. I knew he was a light sleeper and as he startled awake I saw the shock in his eyes. "What the fuck are you doing?" he screamed. He grabbed at my hand and tried to free up his face. I kept the pressure on. After about half a minute of struggle he was able to push me away. By then though the fumes had started to play their games. He got up from the bed, finding it hard to keep his eyes open, and his legs shaking.

She had so far watched the scene calmly standing with her back to the wall but at that moment she pounced on him and crashed her right knee between his legs. He crumpled back onto the bed, unconscious, shock and chloroform doing their work. We stood there for the next few minutes, motionless, her hand placed on my shoulder calming my nerves down. As my breathing slowed she handed me an ice pick. "Go ahead. This is the only way out."

I closed my eyes and once again gathered force from all the corners of my body and rammed the ice pick in to his neck. As I opened my eyes I saw the pick was buried four inches deep. Some vestigial urge for life shocked him awake but he was already dead, he just hadn't realized. Maybe the drugs had slowed down the impulse that told him to die. Blood spurted like a natural spring. She dragged me out of that room. She didn't want me to see him die. We went back to the bedroom after a couple of hours. We spent the entire evening and night cleaning up the room. Blood, I tell you is not an easy thing to wash away. It takes more than bleach to wash away someone’s life.

She left at 4 am. After she left I cut the body in seven pieces. Two legs, two arms, one hand, the head and torso. I stored the parts in my refrigerator like a busy day at the supermarket. By now the sun was out and I was already late for work. You must be wondering how just five feet of a skinny woman like myself could gather the strength and courage to kill a man with such disdain. As you saw I was not alone and for your kind information I'm a surgeon as well and that helps. More importantly, it was not the first time that I killed a man.


I am twenty seven. My name is Raatri Sanyal. And just like you I had no say in the family that I was born in. The Sanyals are a family of doctors. You aren't a Sanyal unless you are a doctor. I'm not kidding, everyone in my family is a doctor. My grandparents, my parents, uncles & aunts. Even our house maid could write a prescription for the most common ailments. All the god damn Sanyals are doctors including myself. I never met one who wasn't. When I was nine I learned about an uncle of mine who had married a teacher. I had never heard of him before because he was no longer from our family. He was the Lord Voldemort of our family - he-who-must-not-be-named.

I had two elder brothers. We were fourteen and eleven years apart. By the time I attained puberty the eldest one had started his own practice and the younger one was on his way to becoming a heart surgeon. My fate was sealed at birth, as soon as Sanyal was added to my Birth Certificate, they may as well have added Dr. I'd be a doctor one day. I thought I knew it even before I could spell the word doctor.

I knew myself better at thirteen and realized that one day I would become the black sheep of my family. The day I was told that there are two hundred and six bones in a normal human skeleton, the most exciting information for me was two hundred six. While some idiots in my class were worried about the constituents of a human bone, I wondered how God had arrived at that number. Why not two zero eight or two zero four? The human body is symmetrical so that implied one hundred three bones on one side. One zero three. That's a prime number. 27th prime number. 27 is 3 cubed.Was there some hidden agenda in there? 

As you might have guessed this question of mine was snubbed as soon as it was raised. All I needed to know was what the number was. Morons!


My journey started with my first crush. My Mathematics teacher. Sahil Kumar Shastri. I was in Vth standard when I learned the formula for a + b whole square. It was him who in his smooth cursive had explained the formula to a class of thirty people. "The three two's" he had said.

To this date I still can’t say whether my heart fell for him because I had a thing for Mathematics or whether it was the other way round. My love for the subject didn't necessarily mean that I was good at the subject. In fact I sucked at it, I still do. It's a very strange relationship that I developed with the subject because of him. In my class a lot of students used to dread Mathematics. I used to as well and then came Mr Shastri. A knight in the shining armour.

No, he wasn't able to make me any better in Mathematics. I remained a resounding dud but I wasn't afraid of it anymore. I was far from his favourite student and yet I don't think anyone waited for the Maths class as I used to. No matter how hard I tried I barely scored enough to pass. I knew he didn't like me, his attention limited to the brilliant ones. It pissed me off. I wanted to hate him. However his rasping voice that made the numbers sound like soul music would melt the anger away.

I couldn't make sense of the formulas but did understand the most important voice, the beat of my heart. Someone who was afraid of heights was now finding solace on the edge of a roof top. For two years I tried my best to win his attention but it never worked. My last resort was to simply not complete my homework. It led to his wrath but at least I got the attention. He never understood my feelings despite of all my efforts. Then he dropped the bomb. The bastard decided to move to another school. How could he do that? He decided to move to another city simply because he was being paid higher bucks. What about me? I was heartbroken when I was told that he would be replaced.

On his penultimate day at my school he visited our class for the last time. He wished us all good luck. I waited, but he never even glanced at me, his eyes stuck with his favourite bunch, the 90+ lot. I had a storm brewing inside of me. It was that moment that the idea came to me.

The next day he was found dead in teacher's room, eyes open, white froth protruding from his mouth. A snake bite. No one knew how a snake got in there, no one but me. I had no choice. He had forced me.


The scar of his disappearance remained but the wound healed. It wasn't the clichéd time that did the trick, it was Abhay, Shastri's favourite student. In fact every one's favourite, he was Mr 100, the leader of the 90+ lot, a typical annoying front bencher who would raise a hand to every question. He was the brightest kid in the school, possibly the town, brilliant in every subject, extraordinary in Maths and I thought he smelt of nothing but arrogance.

He filled the gaping hole that had remained since Shastri left me. It all started a couple of years after Shastri had that unfortunate accident. The school Principal, a dumb ass, a Hitler who had every student pissing in their pants when he passed by, an ugly old and bald man with thousands of hair on his ears came up with a brilliant idea, an idea to improve the weak students, weak students like me. Make the dumb sit with the bright ones. The dumb won't remain dumb.

What a joke! I hated the idea. Didn't he care about the intelligent minds? What if they got poisoned? No matter how much I hated the situation in the beginning I realized it wasn't that bad an idea two weeks after sitting with Abhay. Abhay was everything you would want your bench-mate not to be, especially if he or she is a smart ass. Of course he hated the idea of sitting with a lowly moron like me as much as I did when it was announced. My feelings though had a completely different plan. They started traversing an unpredictable trajectory at a rapid pace.

I knew he hated me from day one, after all he was Shastri's disciple. Have you ever been with someone and they acted as if you weren't there, that you were nothing but vapourware that they couldn't see? Do you know the feeling? Maybe you don't, maybe you remember being on the other side of this equation, ignoring and whistling your way to glory. My heart burned. I wanted to talk to him, wanted him to hold my hand, to tell me that he'll help me in Mathematics, share my lunch with him. I wanted to be more than thin air. The arrogant bastard paid no heed. Did I ask for too much?


The Xth final examination was a month away. My parents had already picked the subjects that I would be opting for in XIth. No points for guessing. They were also busy finding the tuitions that I would need to attend in the three month break after the exams. For the last fifteen years I had lived with a time bomb ticking in my heart. I had never questioned them ever but it was time, even if it was pointless.

"I don't want to be a doctor." I dropped the bomb on the dinner table.
"What do you mean you don't want to be a doctor? Do you know how much money we have spent on your education?" my father asked lividly.
"I never asked you to."
Even as it left my lips I braced myself for the inevitable onslaught.
"How dare you talk to dad like that?" my eldest brother joined the party. He got up from his chair and rushed towards me jabbing his finger.

"Hey, stop. She's probably just stressed out because of the exams." my other brother intervened. Ajit always took my side. "You are lucky that your grandfather is out of town. You know how angry he'd be if he had heard that. Now go to bed. I don't want to talk about it again." my dad said and that was that. I was not going to get into a pointless debate with them. There was no way around them. I had to go down the dark path.


You'd laugh at what happened after that. I failed. Yes, I could only score a twenty three in my Maths exam. It sounds funny now, it sounded funny then. Raatri Sanyal, granddaughter of the most respected doctor in town, sister of a future award winning heart surgeon, a future surgeon herself, who claimed Mathematics to be her favourite subject had flunked in that very subject.

Not surprisingly I got the thrashing of my life. No, it wasn't my father, it was my elder brother. My father simply decided to not to talk to me. It could have ended there but for my brother who had a habit of acting like he was my father. Apart from some not so very nice words, I got a swollen face, no dinner that night and was locked in a room.

I had never cried as much as I did that day. I was in pain and vulnerable. It all seemed so worthless at that point in time. The thought of ending my life was playing in my mind but there was one last hope, one last raft that I could cling on to. I picked up the phone and dialled.

"Hello, Can I speak with Abhay?"
"Yes, can you please hold." a male voice said. It must have been his dad. Loud music played in the background.
"Hello, before you congratulate me, may I know whose this."
"Congratulate you for what?"
"What do you mean for what? For scoring hundred percent in Mathematics. Who are you?"
I put the phone down. I understood what was going on, he was celebrating his hundred. Can you believe that? I knew he didn't care much about me but the least he could have done on that day was to not go out and singing his glory song. Yes, I was going to end a life, his.

There was no other option. While he celebrated what would be the last hundred of his life, I was busy hatching the plan. There was a new hunger inside of me. Whatever I did it had to be swift. A snake bite was the first thing that played in my mind but it was not a viable idea. First, last time I had been lucky to have found a snake in the garden. Second, even if I searched for a snake and found it, it would be too much of a coincidence.

No problem. I would use the very thing all this had been about. Belonging to a family of doctors, you get to know many ways to kill that others don't. I thought of all the possible ways to get rid of the bastard.


I was fed and set free in the morning by my younger brother. In the family of tyrants, Ajit was the only one who had emotions. I loved him. There was no one who understood me better than him. He was the only one who had never forced anything upon me. I felt at times that just like me he didn't want to be a doctor but had given up to an authoritative father. May be that's why he understood me so well. "It's OK sister, it happens."
He held my hand tight. He always did when I felt down. He was always there.

"I'm sorry for what happened. Please forgive me." I said sobbing.
"It's OK. I'll talk to dad. You'll have to promise me that you will do your best this year. A rebel will not survive in this family." he said. I nodded.
"Why don't you come to the hospital with me?"
The hospital where my younger brother was learning practice, the same hospital where I would practice many years later wasn't very far away from our house.
"What will I do there?"
"You shouldn't be at home alone, no one will be home for hours."
"I'm going to be very busy today but still I think it's a good idea for you to come with me."

My mind was still sifting for that perfect idea and I wanted to be alone but I couldn't say no to him. We walked, the cool breeze calming down my mind. He did not take me to his office, instead he left me in the canteen. He told the waiter there to take care of me and handed me the remote control of a TV that was attached to a pillar. "Don't worry about me. You do your work, I won't disturb you."
"Send the waiter if you need me."
"Go now, you are getting late."


My mind got into action immediately after he had left. What better place than somewhere dedicated to life, to find death? The irony made the idea even more delicious. I got up and headed towards the elevator and the third floor.

The hospital was not new to me. My brother had taken me there before. I took a left and walked for a little bit to find myself in front of a long hallway with rooms to the left and right. I was confident that I would find what I was looking for in one of those rooms. The operation theatres were all on the third floor. I was told once by my brother that potassium chloride is at times used in heart surgery. I had no clue though where would I find it.

The commotion that erupted on the floor behind me was caused by an urgent surgery that had to take place. I saw my brother with a bunch of young doctors, all being led by a short man. He must have been a senior doctor at the hospital. There were a couple of nurses in the party as well. I rushed towards the first door I could get to in the hallway. Locked. My heart was pounding.

I rushed towards the next one. Locked again. I got lucky with the third room to the right. The door opened. There was a nurse in there pulling up the curtains. The room was not very well lit and it worked in my favour. I tiptoed towards the left and hid myself behind a medical instrument that looked like a Xerox machine.
The nurse switched off the lights and moved towards the door. Panicking I realized she was going to lock the door from outside. What was I supposed to do? To my utter surprise she didn't go out and proceeded to lock the door from inside.


"Come out. I know you are there."
"Shit, I'm dead. Even Ajit is not going to be on my side now." I thought. I inched out from behind the machine. Isn't it silly when we do that, like the inevitable terror will just get bored and walk away?

The room was dark and I could just make out her silhouette. She moved towards the bed and turned a lamp on. She was a plump lady in her early forties. "Come here and sit."
I moved towards the bed and sat at its edge. "You seem to be in distress junior. Shall I get some water for you?" she asked. "Please don't tell anyone that you found me here. My brother works here in this hospital. I just lost my way and got myself into this room."

"Don't worry. I'm your friend. Tell me what's troubling you. You are looking for something, aren't you?" she said caressing my hair. The tears started to roll on my cheeks. She sat beside me and put her arms around my shoulders. "Let those tears flow, don't worry. I will not tell anyone that you were here. It's OK. Cry. Let it all out."

I placed my head on her shoulder and cried for longer than I thought possible. I didn't know her but for some reason I felt the safer than I ever had with my head placed on her shoulder, her sleeves moist with my tears. No inhibitions, no insecurities, no fears, no baggage, you can let it all out on a stranger's shoulder. I didn't know when the tears dried up and when I slept.


I woke up with a heavy head. The room was completely lit now. She was standing there like an angel watching me sleep. I wasn't sure of the time. What all had I said in my moment of weakness? I got up from the bed. "Please don't tell anyone. I must leave now. My brother will be worried if he goes looking for me and doesn't find me in the canteen."

"Don't worry. I'm on your side. You are not alone. In this cruel world, no matter what happens, no matter where you are, always remember, I will be with you." she said. There was something about those words. It was one of those moments when time stops flowing. You can feel yourself flowing through the time. It's when you can separate yourself from the fourth dimension of the world. I had no idea of what I had said that had made this strong connection. I stood there, motionless.   

"You should go now but before you go, there is something I need to give you."
"Junior, they call me Miss Gonsalves. Come here any time you need any help. You will find me." she said handing a small brown paper bag to me.

Worrying about the time I rushed to the canteen, not even stopping to check the bag. I opened it up once I got back to the canteen. I couldn't believe what I saw inside. Was it really what I thought it was? The hair on the back of my neck rose. I could hear my heart beat. I closed the small bad and put it in my pocket. Sweat trickled from my forehead. With my heart thumping louder than ever I waited for my brother.


Two things happened the next day. One, the sense of insecurity that had engulfed me all my life disappeared. Whoosh. Two, Abhay the dog died. Whoosh. No one ever found out why someone would poison such a bright student. Some people suspect jealousy, but they were wrong. It was love.


By the time I got into the final year of medical college and started my clinical rotations my life had changed significantly. There was only one person responsible for this drastic change. Miss Gonsalves. She was the mentor I had missed all my life. She was not someone who would impose herself upon me and yet she paved the way forward for me. She was the one whom I relied upon for anything and everything. If not for her I wouldn't have even passed my exam to get into the medical college.

She was a mother, a teacher, a friend, a bodyguard, a shoulder, a touch, a hug, an ear, all at the same time. She was my strength every time I felt the world was not worth it. She was always there, unconditionally. It was because of her that I was no longer the door mat I used to be. She gave me the sole that helped me trample all who got in my way.

I was a self-confident woman, even if I appeared to leading a life my parents wanted me to lead. I wasn't the brightest but Ajit helped me get into the hospital. The bonus of course was that now I could spend more time with Miss Gonsalves.

Why was she so kind to me? Why was she that possessive about me? I thought of the day I had met her often and tried to remember what was it that I told her that aroused this unconditional love. Every time we were together I had thought of asking that question but could never find the courage. Fearing that asking the question would lead to her realizing this was all a mistake and I would be alone again. I was confident, but only because she was there.

It's something that I still haven't understood. Many times I asked her about the story of her life but she didn't want to discuss any of that. My brother told me once that she was a single mother who had raised his son singlehandedly. The son however married against her wishes and had left her all alone. That was all he knew. My brother was a married man now. The place we had for each other in our lives had been overtaken but we still loved each other. He was the only man I trusted. He had moved out from our parent's house. He knew that I wouldn't survive in that suffocating place without him. I moved along with him and his wife Sunita.


I forgot to mention an important detail. I had killed two more men. Why they lost their lives is not important. They asked for it. They were no different than Shastri and Abhay. They deserved it. Obviously Miss Gonsalves had helped me. 

I had never broached the topic of her son. I was rushing home one day late in the evening when she asked me to stay in the hospital, not something unusual, she often asked me. "I want you to do me a favour." she said holding my hand. "If you can't help me it's OK, just tell me".
"Please tell me. You know I'd do anything for you."
"I have always wished for my son to be dead. Will you make my wish come true? I want you to kill my son."

How cold had I become in her company? Was it her company or was it about who I was? She had probably just touched the right chords. I never gave it a second thought. It was done. That was the only option. The count stood at five.


"You should get married."

I was happy in my own world and wasn't really looking forward to get married. I had fallen in love once again after Abhay and the boy was dead now. She was however adamant that I should find the right partner. Ajit had found some matches for me, I never wanted to meet anyone but she persisted.

"It is important to find the right partner in life. I'm not going to be around all the time. Now I don't know what you think you want but I do know what you want. The guy who makes your heart swoop the first time you meet is not the guy you want to marry."
I took that advice and started going through the list of boys that Ajit had prepared.


I met him after a couple of dull meetings with boys who I thought were intimidated by my confidence. He not only swooped my heart but blew my mind away. Not at the first sight though. Samar came across as a timid character when I first met him. He lacked the confidence to be able to carry the conversation he should have lead. Slim, average height, average looking, short hair, flat faced, a small nose, black eyed and a curious look on his face. It took him five minutes to pick the coffee he wanted to order. He was an engineer and was working with a reputed IT company. For the first fifteen minutes we sat there like idiots looking in different directions, me waiting for the conversation to start, he waiting for the world to end.

"I'm sorry. I have never been in a situation like this before." he finally broke the silence. I smiled.
"Guess not everything in life can be faced like a Mathematics exam."
"Mathematics exam?"
"I feel like it's an exam today for both of us. You will judge me. Have you already started giving me points? I always wondered why my friends pissed in their pants before Maths exam. I now know. This, right here is my Maths exam." he said sheepishly. His shyness along with the ability to speak out his heart got to my heart.

After that meeting we met again a couple of times and settled it. We were going to get married. It was not love but we were certain that love was waiting for us on the other side of the marriage.


Something extraordinary happened three months before the marriage. It was something straight from Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I vividly remember the day. It was one of those days that you don't keep a record of, at least that's the way it started. Late afternoon, I was at home going through a routine clean-up exercise when Ajit returned.

"Can you get me some water?"
I rushed to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water to him. "Sunita is going to be late today."
"Do you know who she operated yesterday?" he asked.
"Do you remember your Mathematics teacher? Mr Shastri."
Shastri! Of course I did. "Yes I do. Someone in his family got admitted?"
"No. He suffered a massive heart attack couple of days ago and needed a surgery."
The glass almost slipped out of my hand. "How can that be? He died several years ago when I was in 7th."
"Shastri died when you were in 7th? Are you out of your mind? He was my Maths teacher as well. I saw him today. You are possibly mistaking him for someone else."


I rushed to the hospital after my brother got to his room.

My brother surely was out of his wits. Dead people don't suffer from heart attacks, especially after ten years. I believe in ghosts but they don't suffer from heart attacks either. My heart was pounding and my mind raced back to the day when he had died.

He was leaving the next day and I was furious at him. How could he do that? I couldn't even breathe that evening. I came out from my house to fill in my lungs with fresh air. I was in the backyard garden. The sun was about to set when my eyes fell upon a green coloured snake. My sinister mind didn't need any further invitations.

It was a beast of a reptile, at least one and a half feet long. I tip toed towards it. It would become my first weapon. The snake remained still, unaware of my presence. My legs on either side, I stood right on top of it. In one swift motion I got the damn thing by its neck. The resolve to kill Shastri had blown away any fear that I should have had. My little friend turned out to be very supportive. It made no attempt to set itself free. I pulled it up and rushed inside.

I emptied the contents of my school bag with my left hand and shoved my green friend in. It curled around calmly as if waiting for its time to come.

The next day I hid myself in the teacher's room and waited for Shastri to make an appearance. At the right time, when he was alone in the room, I got the snake out from my bag, and came out from the hiding. He didn't even get the time to react. I threw the snake at him. It fell on his left shoulder, curled around his neck and bit him twice, first on his cheek and then the forehead. Did I err by not staying there to see his end?


"How can he be alive?" I asked. Miss Gonsalves had of course heard about him before. She was perplexed as well. "Don't worry junior. If it's really him, we will settle it once and for all."
"Wait here. I will be back in a hour." she said looking at her watch. I passed the next one hour counting the ticks of the wall clock to get my mind away from Shastri. 

She came back with a small handbag hanging on her shoulders. "Let's go."
She led me to the single rooms located on the fifth floor of the hospital and stopped in front of a room. "Be quiet. Let's see if it is really him."
She used her key to open the door and opened it up slowly. I walked in slowly. The man on the bed was fast asleep, his face half tucked with in the blanket. I had no problem recognizing him however. He was Shastri. I was jolted, feeling an electric shock pass through my veins. How could he be here? I looked at Miss Gonsalves worriedly. My head was spinning. She put her finger on her lips asking me to be quiet.

She put her left hand in the handbag and with a jerk got a snake out of it. This one was coloured steel grey. She held it from the neck and handed it over to me. I was startled looking at the snake in my hand. It was shorter than the one I had held several years ago. I got it close to me and looked in its eyes. They were screaming out loud at me, asking me to do it all over again. I walked towards the bed and slipped the reptile under the blanket.

Whoever the man was, Shastri, his lookalike, his ghost, his shadow, was dead. It left me in a state of bewilderment for quite some time though. If not for Miss Gonsalves, I would have probably broken down. Samar was of no help. We hardly met as I found myself spending more and more time in the hospital. Things were getting back to normal. The marriage was only a month away.


"Miss Gonsalves died in an accident."

My brother dropped another bomb. My world came tumbling down in front of me. I felt like a hand passed through my skin, pounced upon my heart and pulled it out. Before the tears could come out I crashed on to the floor and passed out.

I woke up and found myself in a room. It didn't take me long to realize that I was in my hospital. My heart was aching badly. I wanted to cry but the tears won't come out. Going back to my unconscious state seemed to be the only way. How was I to live in this cruel world without her lap? It was a brutal joke that God had played with me. I lied awake on the bed consoling myself for a long time.

I heard a voice from outside the room. It was Ajit. I walked towards the door. "I understand your decision. I don't want to keep you in dark either. You shouldn't marry her. I will explain it to her."

To this date I haven't understood why Ajit and Samar ganged up against me. I was thinking of them as my support system after Miss Gonsalves. It's a savage world that we live in. I had lost my will to live. I came back to my bed. Darkness engulfed me, completely.


The creak of the door woke me up. She walked in smiling at me. Miss Gonsalves! I couldn't believe my eyes. I jumped out of my bed. Finally, the tears rolled down. "They told me that you died."
She put her hand on my head and kissed my forehead. "They lied. Don't you worry junior, we will deal with both of them."

"Look what I got for you she said holding an ice pick in her hand. "Ajit will be at home this afternoon."
"What about Samar?"
"Yes junior. He will also get the last lesson of his life soon. Go to sleep now."
I held her tight, and slept with the scent of her body.


"It's time." she said waking me up.