Bitter – An Excerpt

1.

Bitterness rose up her throat like bile. And if there was anything Anuja detested, it was the taste of bitterness filling her mouth. Turning her into a replica of her mother. Bitter to the bone.

She’d gobble down sugar by the handful. From the canister in the kitchen at first. Then from her stash of candies, cookies, and sweet buns from the neighborhood grocery store. Just to drown out the choking, nauseating taste. If only for a while.

A trick she’d learned the first time her mother threw Blenders Pride at her head, missed, and smashed the dressing table mirror instead.

Gobble, gobble, gobble. You ruined my life. Fat, ugly, whore.

Gobble, gobble, gobble. No good, just like your no-good, two-timing loser of a dad. You’ve even got his stupid, squinty eyes.

Gobble, gobble, gobble. I could have been someone. Like Marilyn Monroe or Sridevi.

Gobble, gobble, gobble. Fat, ugly, whore. You ruined my life and now you won’t even let me watch TV in peace. Get out of the way. I don’t want nothing to do with you.

All day long on weekends and after-school hours on weekdays, her mother bickered from the living room sofa.

And all day long, Anuja craved sweets.

Read the rest of the story here: Bitter

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Stopover

Keywords: Bus stop

She is always there at 8. At the bus stop next to the florist. She sits there tapping her foot, watching the open sky change hues over the vacant lot across the road. Sipping the coffee she brought from home. In a thermos. Softly humming a song. The air around her alive and full of promise. She sits there, not once checking her watch. Only pushing off when the first of the daily commuters arrive, when it’s time for the 8.45.

I ask her why she comes here. There’s a perfectly beautiful park two blocks down. Is she here to meet someone? Could I interest her in a bunch of fresh peonies or a freshly brewed cuppa from down the street?

Nah, she says. Gives an easy smile. A strand of hair swaying across her youthful face. Though she’s no beauty, there’s a brightness about her that’s hard to miss.

You can sit here a while though, she says, patting the empty space next to her. If you’re not in a hurry.

She gives me a once over. My attaché, the crisp business suit and tie, shiny shoes polished to perfection, reflecting my scrubbed clean face, hers if I move in any closer, are not doing me any favors.

Sure, I say and sidle over. But only for a while.

The bus comes and goes.

The Audition – Part 4

“Is that you, Moonish?” said a voice he had all but relegated to forgotten parts of his memory.

He thought he had seen the worst of it when Chanchal from HR had come over for his documents, a little after a month of being made permanent.

“Mr. Ghosh,” he’d said, “has little to do with practical matters … such as paperwork. You’re practically a ghost in our system, Mr. Moonish. We don’t even know if that’s your first or last name.”

“Both,” Moonish had grinned boyishly, flashing his newly fixed pearly whites, at the thin, studious-looking man looking up at him all earnest, blinking rapidly behind his thick, horn-rimmed spectacles, near opaque.

After treating the man to hot tea and samosas at the nearby tea shop, Moonish was promptly guided to a photocopy-wala who also dealt with forged certificates on the side.

He hadn’t seen this coming.

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The Audition – Part 3

Among the new hires was a young woman, Ridhima, same age as him. Bright eyes, though plain-looking. Her most striking feature her chin. It gave her character, a fullness of the mouth. And though he couldn’t take his eyes off her, to her he was all eyes and hair. At least at the beginning. When she avoided him off hours.

He reeked, she told one of the other guys. Hadn’t he ever heard of cologne?

It was that that had him install a shower in his bathroom and invest in a soap more expensive than cafeteria lunch. But he realized that just smelling nice wasn’t going to be enough. Not if he wanted her to notice him as a person … as someone she may see a future with one day.

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Lines across the universe

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Lines across the universe
Intertwine
Those famous lines
That our hands define
They make me yours
They make you mine
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The Jam

Keyword: Maybe

“So what’s the fuss about?” Joy asks, looking over my shoulder. All the honking and screeching and graphic language has gotten his attention, and he has abandoned his roost with a perfect view of the television set and is now finishing his breakfast by the window, spreading bread crumbs along the sill.

“Don’t know,” I say, leaning out, trying to avoid the shower of crumbs. “This has never happened before. Normally, there is hardly any traffic. And today, the whole road’s blocked off till the very end. Maybe there’s been some ghastly accident and the cops have cordoned it off.”

A few motorists try to wriggle around and backtrack, but get trapped in a zigzag pattern by the onslaught of incoming traffic. The other roads must be clogged as well.

“You think somebody got shot? Like a drive by?” he says.

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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.

The Locket

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Keyword: Locket

It is in the bottom drawer, hidden behind her sweaters and shawls. A simple gold locket, sparkly new and heart shaped, hung on a simple gold chain.

What am I doing here, looking through her things, you ask?

Well, it’s not in my habit to go snooping around in my wife’s dresser, if that’s what you’re thinking. Not that this would be considered snooping. The house belongs to the both of us. And by extension, this dresser and its contents. And if you must know, I am looking for a shawl. A light one that looks stylish, but is warm enough to counter the unseasonable chill downstairs. It’s for the mother-in-law. You may say she is the source of this sudden chill. Her lipstick smudging the wife’s pristine glassware is frosting everything. What can I say, Meghna likes things a certain way — her way.

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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.

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Seven Lives

Keyword: Findings

I

Mittenwald, German Alps, 1885

I find him on a train. It is the last one out of town. He is standing next to the exit. Raindrops dancing off his face. My letter clutched to his heart. We kiss and make out before a wistful old lady who has clouded irises, but is well aware of the ways of desperate souls. She plays the violin and speaks of her lover from her youth, unmindful of our hot breath clouding the car’s chilled window panes as another steam train whistles by. We escape our feuding families, our conflicting pasts, but we never make it beyond the fjord.

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