Message Run

I have to run faster, faster than I have ever run before, but my legs are tiring. The straps of my backpack are cutting into my skin. And the worn-out slippers, which I bought off a kid by the road, lack the grip of the running shoes now lying in a ditch somewhere, sole split the whole way through.

Twigs snap under my feet dangerously.

I’m cloaked in sweat. It drips down my face, blinds me momentarily as I falter through the undergrowth.

A slithery thing drops from a branch before me, and I almost scream out loud. It’s a snake, a thin, green one and it quickly slithers away into the dense foliage.

Easy boy, easy, I mutter to myself. It’s gone. But you’ve got to stay calm, move noiselessly through the woods, or they’d pick up your trail.

They are nearby. I can hear them hacking away at the dense undergrowth, cursing in a language that sounds a lot like my mother tongue, but is not quite.

I can hear myself panting. My lungs are screaming for air.

I’ve got to run faster, put in more miles between us.

I don’t want to be caught.

A gunshot, then another echoes through the woods. It sends a chill down my spine. I stop dead in my tracks.

It’s over. I have to destroy the message. Before it falls into the enemy’s hands. The fate of our entire nation rests on it.

The message’s aflame when a voice shouts first in pashto and then in hindi: “haat khade kar.”

I turn around slowly, hands up in the air, but the soldiers are nowhere in sight.

Heavy footfalls hurry past in the opposite direction. A gun goes off again, and someone falls with a scream.

But my relief is momentary.

The woods trick me. They trip me on a protruding root; send me hurtling down a steep slope, through overgrown grass, wild, scentless flowers, and soggy earth, into the backyard of a large country house.

Freshly washed laundry flaps in the wind, on rows upon rows of clothes’ lines.

It’s almost dusk. The sky turns azure. The fragrance of a dum biryani wafts through from the inside of the huge house, two-storey high. Its red-brick walls purplish at dusk.

A figure lingers outside the back door. She seems old, frail, lost in her own thoughts, the wide, open sky enough to engage her imagination.

As she spots me, she smiles widely. Her toothless grin makes me feel safe again. I have made it. Across the border. I am home. I just need to find a phone and call it in. When I spot the enemy flag across her yard. And I see her eyes squeeze and then grow wide in alarm as she points at me … past me … and shrieks … get down. But it’s too late. The bullets can’t tell us apart.

Advertisements

Supernova: The Origin Story

I was going along just fine, minding my own business, hiding my true self from the entire world.

The way I saw it – if I didn’t bother them, they wouldn’t bother me either.

And yet they came, the pack of wolves in jocks’ clothing, hunting for weaklings like us outside of school.

We had gatecrashed a party. It was Laila’s fifteenth birthday bash and my friend here was sweet on her since kindergarten. So we had to do it. Get him his first kiss and me a feel of how the other side lived like. Our bad. We got chased down the street into a dark alley. We hid behind the dumpster, but Jay’s sniffles gave us away.

They smashed us up pretty bad. Like Sing in Kung Fu Hustle or Neo in Matrix. But we were no chosen ones. Sure, I had my occasional run-ins with my brave self and turning my thumb into a lighter could sure win me some brownie points at the freak show. But taking on these hulks right here, right now, seemed impossible.

Read More

To Young Harriet, with Love

1.

Plump, red tomatoes lay blanched, skinned, and sliced on the black marble counter-top imported from Italy. The spicy-syrupy marinate in the crystal bowl grew stale with each passing hour. Mrs. K. Suhasini paced the wooden floor of her centuries-old colonial-style cottage, debating the wisdom of venturing out. For the recipe demanded raw sugar: an ingredient whose existence she was unaware of, and which consequently could not be found in her well-stocked kitchen.

To Suhasini, the dilemma was of taxing proportions: She could add regular sugar to the mix. But if she did, it would mar the authenticity of the dish. And she was learning to cook authentic Chinese after all. Shopping was an option, yes, if only it were a Wednesday.

Read More

Reboot

The world’s falling apart. My world, the world around me; going up in ravenous flames like the Californian woods, with the roar of Greenland’s glaciers crashing into widening oceans, with the rage of tornadoes ripping through the Midwest like angry gods settling their differences with crazy arm sweeps.

Towns are dying. Worlds unknown, cultures unheard of are fast turning into dust. Like Atlantis and Avalon and others before them — great giants brought to their knees by temperamental gods.

The earth’s cracking up, like my heart, releasing the spirits long trapped in its bosom. The rivers are no longer flowing, but are mere stagnant, withering pools.

The bogs are burning, the woods are burning, the air, the seas, our homes are burning. It’s only a matter of time when we will all go up flames. And the wars we rage within and with each other, over land, oil, food, water, over love even, would cease to matter. Or matter more, more intensely than before … For what else would be there but now?

The seasons have already lost their color. One long, dry spell of white hot blaze. Blades brown and crisp like crackling crunch under trees naked with shame. Time, it seems, has given up on healing us as well.

Our atmosphere is a paradox. Thinning and bloating up at the same time, with foreign molecules worse that CFC fattening up on heat and the sun shredding away the ozone layer.

The preacher says there’s nothing like global warming. That climate change is God’s realm. Like life, like death. The scientists and leading thinkers disagree: how can you be so blind when it’s staring right in your face?

And I wonder if God has a kill switch, a restart button to reboot the whole damn world, my heart, and let them start all over again.

To End or Not to End

How should I start this story? For to tell it, there has to be an ending. And that is the most vexing part. All stories have one. To tie all plots, answer all questions, tell us who ends up with whom. People are lost without them. They consult fortune cookies, i-ching, the stars to jump to the end of the day, their life, just so they know that it all ends well. People were not meant to cope with the great mystery that life is. To most, it is as cruel as the friend who thinks wrapping gifts like a Russian nested doll is the funniest thing ever. To such friends one should say, you’re no Hitchcock. And besides, his “thrill’s in the anticipation” principle only holds true till the coin flips your way.

Read More

The Call

tmp_4024-images-1564131443

There once lived a woman by the name of Rose, in an old, weather-beaten farmhouse shaped by the hands of the generations past. They had sunk their souls into this ground, and raised not just a cottage, but a garden of herbs, a citrus orchard, and a land that grew from flowers to wheat and rice.

As the sun set each day on the sallow hills at the edge of the village, and on the plains lush green with the season’s crop, where a stream tossed and turned as it made its way to the next village, she stood atop a table rock, under the shade of an oak tree, and waited for the birds to sing. The loose strands of her hair otherwise tied up in an uneven knot gently moved in the soothingly warm summer breeze. The hem of her frock and underskirt, caked with mud from her long walk — from the cottage, through the untended fields, to the table rock view — drifted in the wind with equal ease.

She hadn’t heard the birds sing in years.

Read More

Toronto Whites

nature-sunset-person-woman

You are a teenage girl in a man’s sports world. You can’t make a pass, you suck at volleyball, your backhand is lame, and the queen eludes you on the carrom board. But you love spectator sports. And you’re crazy about cricket and the Indian team. Even though you can’t follow the game very well, and the balling end changes send your mid-off orientation smashing through the window. You ask Dad why the batsman is out leg before wicket when his leg cannot be detached from his body and he as a whole has to stand in front of the wicket to avoid being bold. Or is it bolt?

You zap your brother a quizzical look embedded with what did he say?

A white ball? But isn’t the ball red?

Read More