Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cough Off

If the headache is more of your thing, click here.

At first I thought I’d name this article ‘Saved by a Cough’, one might think it was a grammatical mistake, after all, we all want to be saved from a cough, not saved by a cough, but, trust me when I say there is no mistake, and it was as intended, saved by a cough, also I wear I’m as sober as you are, so worry not. And there was always the problem of pharma companies having read the title and not bothering to read the actual article, spamming me asking for the miracle cure, so I settled for the above title. I have come a long way from having thousands of unread mails to having almost zero unread emails. I actually have negative unread emails; I mean some of those emails I have read more than once, so I call it having negative unread emails. It took me almost three full days, fifteen full cups of coffee and three pizzas to finally configure my Gmail with all those email filters so that I don't have too many unwanted unread emails, in the process of which I sacrificed three days of facebooking. That was actually a thrilling wait as I was expecting a burst of notifications, although, it didn’t happen, that’s another matter altogether. So I don't want to ding all this by opting for the former title, ‘Saved by a Cough.’

Cough is like a spork. Like spork combines spoon and fork. Cough combines sneeze and seriousness. It’s almost like a sneeze only looking more serious. People might laugh when one sneezes, but have you ever seen people laughing at a cough? The answer is a resounding no, that’s because the cough is very good at looking very serious. And it comes handy in quite a few situations.

For someone like me cough is a great tool. But what exactly do I mean by ‘someone like me’, no I’m not talking about my lineage when I said it, I meant in a behavioral way. I’m a very, very - not that any number of ‘very’s can do the justice here - very shy person, and won’t talk out unless it’s absolutely important, and for a shy person the absolutely important is much beyond anything normal. To illustrate, one time during snorkeling, I jumped from a two storied boat, and as someone who doesn’t know swimming, I jumped with my breathing pipe attached to my face and as expected, upon the impact it got ripped from my face and I was there thrashing and flailing in the azure waters of the ocean near the boat. My love of water made me jump, although a part of me had been warning me, ‘You don’t know swimming, dumbo!’, but who would listen to good advice from the brain, right? Anyway, as I was there thrashing in the water, I was evaluating my options, should I shout? It seems logical before I die out drowning, but my shyness didn’t let me utter a single cry, besides it forced me to step up to the situation and do something stupid. It made me dive deeper into the ocean and catch my snorkeling pipe before it sank and with a great difficulty I had finally put it on. Although I was saved, coughing all the swallowed water out - a real cough -I got nasty cuts on my legs, thanks to the bottom edges of the boats. If a drowning and possible dying scenario didn’t classify as important, I don’t know what would.

For a person as shy as me, from times immemorial it was the cough that came handy and helped us out in most situations. There are many types of coughs, I’m not talking about the chronic cough, which threatens to pull the lungs out and throw from the mouth. Rather, it's  a mere affectation, an adopted cousin of the real cough, who claims to be the twin of the earlier cough. This is a fake cough, which comes in various lengths as the situation demands.

We always get stocked from the same grocery shop, time and again. The shop looks as yellow as it always did. As if it’s painted thus, a dull yellow with greasy smudges covering all the walls, possibly because of the shop boys rubbing their hands on the walls after handling tamarind. The shopkeeper knows my grandfather, my father and mother and my brother and me. Uffff! So when we go there and if he is still attending someone else, it’s because he wants to attend to us in peace, or so I would like to think. There are others who would budge their way, pushing others until they are face to face with the shopkeeper, get their list packed, and pay the money and leave. But I stand back at a respectful distance from everyone else, almost screening myself from the eyes of shopkeeper, trying to merge in the background, so that he wouldn’t attend to me first which would irk others. I let them shop in peace and when I think people who came before me completed their business, I move ahead to give him my list. But there’s a catch, people who come after me often tend to wedge themselves in that respectful gap I’ve left and try to force their way. This is where I issue a respectful cough, just audible enough to the person who has jumped the line, and if he/she has any decency, they would come back and wait for the turn, although I must admit the success rate here would be less than 25%.

And after all the waiting when I finally come face to face with the shopkeeper, there can be two contextual coughs. If the shopkeeper is still attending some other list and not have looked at me, a cough to announce my presence, just a bit bigger in length. And when, after paying the price sometimes shopkeeper forgets to hand me change, or whenever has not given the full change, I cough, but this time looking not at him, but at currency notes in my hand, making a counting gesture, this always goads  him into handing me my change. Magic!

I’m shy even to say ‘Excuse me,’ when my path is blocked by two people who have decided that that is the right place for them to stand and exchange gossip, or by couples in park canoodling and lay there in wonky twists. Here the cough comes in two short bursts, with minimal amplitude, unless of course when I’m in a moving train, as it would require a greater magnitude to cancel out the ambient noise.

When two friends are calling me names and talking about me, not knowing about my presence, it’s a good idea to go away from there. But if I must go there, I’d clear my throat clearly and audibly before any damaging piece of gossips reaches me. Clearing-throat is, after all the little brother of cough.

When someone wrongs me and I hate them so much for that but he happens to be physically well built than me thereby denying me the possibility of going and breaking his leg, I sneeze and cough a lot in his presence, thereby trying to gross him with my saliva and hoping they would be attacked by some airborne disease to which I’m immune to, till he realizes his mistake and apologizes to me. Although I’m not sure how I can cure him if he really happens to apologize to me. I’m still working on this hypothetical situation and update you once I have an answer.

I have this habit of pulling up my left sleeve of my shirt to my shoulders. Why do I do that? I have no frigging idea, and I do it subconsciously, just like I spin a pen with my fingers, And every time I’m in the presence of my teacher/instructor my friends issue a small cough which reminds me to pull my sleeve down. Although to be honest, sometimes I’ve no idea why they are coughing and if their cough is real.

My uncle, it seems, to never get a listening ear at his home, and he vents that out whenever he comes to visit relatives. He talks at great lengths about everything and anything, which is most often trivial poppycock, even going to the length of reading from the Sunday magazine, adding his own face expressions and exclamations to every line, expecting me to nod my approval every time, with clasped arms. It’s the worst punishment. The stories are meant to be read aloud, but magazines aren’t. No one ever reads a magazine aloud and it should be made a criminal offense if anyone attempts it. At these times I let out a big drawn out cough and I clutch at my throat and run for water and that’s my chance of escape, and I go as far from that room as possible, But this works only if the water bottle is not near me or kitchen is far from us. Ah! This would definitely come under life threatening situation, where no cough would work and I would get up and say I need to go to the toilet. But if I’m very unlucky and happen to be sitting in room with attached bathroom, I’d have no choice but to go to the bathroom and wait there patiently, peeping from it time to time, hoping someone to call him, and making my escape path clear.

Speaking of the bathroom, I’m reminded of the situation when a loud cough becomes the de facto savior. Whenever someone coughs in a class or a meeting I invariably tend to assume it’s because he/she needs to pass the gas and using the cough to muffle the decibels if any, and gain some peace of mind. But, bear in your mind ‘With great fart comes great responsibility,’ so here one has the additional responsibility of timing both of them exactly at the same moment. Otherwise that person becomes the cynosure of the crowd and the purpose is lost, exposed and caught red-handedly, or more like red-facedly. It’s as good as calling out, “abracadabra, look at me!”

You think that a lazy, shy student is the only species using cough as best as he/she can? Well, you are wrong. In an Indian high school context, in the tenth-grade biology there comes a lesson about the human reproductive system. Bizarrely enough all the strong and healthy teachers suddenly seem to have caught up indubitably in a chronic cough which leaves them as soon as the chapter is completed. Somehow those high-pitched coughs, and those obscure diagrams which don’t make sense go hand in hand. Suddenly you see a whole lesson filled primarily with teachers’ cough trying to escape the manscape of wry, suppressed, and tight smiles.

A Cough is as important as a sanitary pad for a girl on periods, but sadly enough, both of those are shoved under a mat as if they are a taboo. But I believe every cough has its day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

To the Fairyland

Far away in the wild meadows there were two houses just beyond the green fields, just beside the great mango tree. The village folk, who lived the other side of the fields say that, that mango tree was the first one ever. It was very big and very wooded and casted large black shadows.  The place nearby was filled with fallen ripe mangoes and anyone could just pick those. They were big, juicy and ripe mangoes. The mangoes which were plucked were all very sour and gave bad stomach aches for weeks together. So the villagers realized it was better to wait for the fruit to fall and thus no one ever climbed that tree.

Of the two houses near the mango tree, one was mansion while the other, although a little small was a cozy little home, where little Rohan lived, and everyone called him Ro.

One day the family in the mansion invited everyone to a party since they were blessed with a little baby girl, whom they called Maggie. And  Ro’s family was invited too since they have always been amicable neighbors. As Ro was still learning to walk Ro’s father was carrying him, and when it was time for a drink he put him down on the floor near the white cradle draped in black velvet, where the baby was hosted. And Maggie, who has been crying all the time stopped as soon as she grabbed the finger offered to her by the curious Ro. And all through the party Ro was standing at cradle holding the baby Maggie’s little hand, for Maggie cried whenever Ro was not in sight. The elders laughed a great deal. And in all this din made Maggie and Ro fall asleep. While Maggie slept clutching Ro’s hand, Ro slept leaning on the support staff of the cradle.


“Dad, could you please talk to the peacock king and ask him for two feathers, and take him if he gives it happily?” asked Maggie earnestly, clinging to her Dad’s leg as he was about to leave to work.

“What for?” said her dad, with eyes so wide and bright.

“Ro says that’s the payment which we need to do to enter the fairyland”

He kissed the little girl on the top of her head and ruffled her hair, “I’ll try and get it sweetheart.”

“But please make sure they are happy feathers.”

And she waited patiently for Ro to return from school because her mom said she can’t go to school yet. She didn’t understand why, “But Ro’s mom lets him go.”

“My silly sweety, that’s because he’s two years older than you.”

“What’s older, mom?”

“It’s like taller. You can start your school when you are as tall as Ro.”

Maggie flipped a bucket and stood on it, “Now I think I’m taller than Ro, mom.”

“Oh! Do you, my sweet little witch,” saying which she tickled Maggie and they both laughed.


And Maggie sat, with an eager face, waiting in front of their yard from where the path leads to the village. Ro came back in the afternoon and she ran to him to tell him that her dad promised to bring her the peacock feathers.

“Oh, no, you can’t do that.”

“But why? she asked with her lips pouting.

“Because the peacock king needs to give you his feathers himself, otherwise they won’t work.”

She almost made a crying face and before she would burst out, Ro said “I’ll take you to the peacock-king who gave me the feathers, but you need to ask him yourself. Don’t worry, he’s the best peacock-king ever.”

They went near the Mango tree where a peacock lived and after bowing to him, Ro nudged a scared Maggie towards the peacock king.

“Dear sir, can you give me two feathers, just like you gave Ro.”

“I’m sorry, little child, but I can give only two feathers only once in three months. And I’ve already given them to Ro.”

And then Maggie began crying and Ro joined her as well.

It was too much for the peacock king to witness two little kids crying, “Don’t worry children, I’ll ask a friend of mine to come here and give his feathers.”

Maggie lightened up, but she scrunched up her face in a visible doubt, “But Ro said only those feathers given by a happy peacock-king would work.”

“That’s true my child.”

“But you’re the peacock-king.”

“Every peacock is a peacock-king, now come near me.”

Just as the peacock king readied himself to call his friend, he shook his head and said, “Oh, wait, I’m sorry my dear. I can’t do that.”

With an incredulous look, pulling up her upper lip, Maggie asked, "But why, sir?”

“You have this smell, my dear. The smell people acquire when they stay indoors most of the time. That smell makes the happy feathers become normal and therefore, they don’t work. But you don’t worry you’re still but a bud, from now you can spend more time in the woods and get yourselves rid of that smell. And then come back to me.”

And presently Maggie burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. And Ro, with a pitiful face, and a helplessness uncharacteristic of his age, said, “Please sir, Maggie is a really good girl. She shares her candy with me. Although she hits me sometimes I don’t really mind. And she waits for me to come back from my school.”

“Oh, dear child. There’s another way, a new currency actually, introduced because they felt there are many good people who spend their lives locked in their rooms. But you’re too young. I can’t tell you that.”

“What is young sir?” asked a confused Ro.

Suddenly finding a chance to display her newfound knowledge, Maggie wiped her tears and with a newfound enthusiasm, said, “It’s-it's, like-ah-like, peacock-king thinks you’re not tall enough to do that, am I right sir?”

“But you’re very short too,” said Ro addressing both Maggie and the peacock-king.

And the peacock king said in a louder voice, “I’m tall for my species.”

Maggie and Ro backed away scared by the voice. And the peacock king felt bad for scaring the kids, “I’m really sorry children. It was odd. It’s just that I don’t like being called short. Come here Ro I’ll tell you the other way. But will you do it for her, for she is even younger than you.”

And as Ro went near the peacock king, he told the other way.


One Day Maggie and Ro asked their parents to take them to the next village with them. And Maggie’s dad and Ro’s dad agreed after they made a lot of promises that they won’t bother their parents during meal times, and eat whatever they were asked to eat, and won’t be running away from milk every morning. That village was a little bigger than their own hamlet. It has a golf club and railroad. So they Maggie, Ro and their dads started in Maggie Dad’s car.

Once there Maggie and Ro started running away in the golf club while their dads played golf. And after some time they went to the edge of the club which had wild bushes and trees and just across it a railway line.

“Peacock king said, there’s a new currency introduced along with the happy peacock feathers. Instead of the feathers, now they can give coins. But not just any coins. Only those coins which are flattened in between the rails and wheels of a train on a railroad.”

Ro placed two coins on the rails and waited for a train to come. He adjusted it several times before he thought he heard the sound of something coming. Maggie was excited as well as scared, she never saw a train. And when it finally came, she first hugged Ro very tightly for she was scared, but after watching a few cars of the train pass by her fright left her and she was all giggles. And they got two perfectly flattened out of shape coins.

“But we only have two, what if we want more?” asked Maggie.

“We just need two coins. I can pay feathers and you can give these coins. Once we go there we don’t need anything. Once we go there we won’t be forced to eat lunches and dinners. There we can eat all the candy we want and there is no boogeyman there. And that place is monster free.


Equipped with the currency, they went to peacock-king and showed him the coins, who taking a look at those the said, “These are perfect. Now you can go.”

“But how do we go, from where?” asked Ro.

“Why from this very mango tree, of course. This is the first mango tree ever, brought into this world by me, accidentally, of course. And ever since it became a portal for beings of your world and I the guardian of it,” seeing their confused faces the peacock-king laughed and said, “I suppose you don’t understand what I said. Anyway, knock the tree respectfully and request it for an entry.”

Maggie and Ro knocked on the old bark of the tree twice and requested loudly and earnestly that they want to come in. A large swing made of plants and leaves came down and knocked the kids on to it and took them up into the foliage. 

There was a squirrel there standing who made a whistling sound and the swing stopped. She stretched her hand, asking for the payment and Maggie and Ro gave them their respective payments. She sniffed the feathers and nodded, that they were, in fact, happy feathers. And then she scrutinized the coins to her satisfaction and putting them into separate pouches made of leaves, she whistled again and the swing went up, up and up. Maggie and Ro, enclosed by a bucket of leaves were frightened as they went up and they closed their eyes.

And when they opened their eyes, they weren’t in the swing anymore. They were on the solid ground. There was a chirping noise and they turned to see what the noise was.

“Hello,” chirped a little excited blue fairy, whose wings were buzzing continuously.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tidbits #2

For some more micro stories, click here

At Anand Bhavan Singapore, where I regularly take coffee, sitting across the table was the waitress I’m more acquainted with, taking her break. She spoke intensely about so many things, almost without a gap, not letting me interrupt.

As she was leaving the table having finished her break time, I said a big, “yeah, yeah!”, as I didn’t have the heart to say that I don’t know Tamil and didn’t understand a sentence of what she spoke.

#NoSubtitlesinRealLife  #NonFiction  ‬#TeaTimeStories


The waitress at Anand Bhavan asked me, “So you don’t like tea?”
“No, you’re mistaken, although I absolutely love both of them, I’m a tad partial towards tea.”

“But you always and always order only coffee.”

“Here is a golden rule, Just like Andhra people are good with tea, Tamilians are good with coffee, and the other way usually yields disastrous results.”

“Does that mean our tea sucks?”

*cough-cough* “That means your coffee is better.”

#NonFiction  ‬#TeaTimeStories


An aged person new to the city, new to the local language was shuffling across the platforms, not knowing the exact platform number for his train arrival. And as he stopped to catch his breath, he heard two gentlemen talking in a language, he could understand, “Yesterday it was Chennai Bangalore, today nothing.”

And the old man panicked for he was precisely waiting for Chennai Bangalore, and he approached the gentlemen, asking, “Excuse me, but are you sure today there’s no Chennai Bangalore?”

“Of course I’m. It was yesterday.”

“Oh my God!”

“And tomorrow is Chennai Mumbai.”

“But wasn’t Chennai Bangalore supposed to a daily?”

Everyone exchanged baffled looks. And right at the moment I stepped in, as the only one who understood what’s going on there, and told the old man, “Don’t worry uncle, they were talking about the ‪#ipl‬. And yes Chennai Bangalore is a daily train.”

The old man thanked me and glared at those gentlemen before leaving to the correct platform while the gentlemen laughed later, having finally understood what happened.

#NonFiction‬ ‪  ‬#TeaTimeStories


It was his favorite song. Secrets, by One Republic. And it was even more awesome to listen using his new pair of noise cancellation headphones. He stood there listening, having given his passport and flight ticket to get a boarding pass.
Halfway down the song the airline crew behind the counter waved her hand frantically, causing him to do a double take and finally take out those heavy headphones.

"Excuse me," he said.

"Any seat preference, sir?" she asked.

"Oh yeah! I forgot. Window seat please."

She pressed some keys and handed him his boarding pass, "Thank you, sir, here's your window seat, Have a pleasant flight."

He was filled with gratitude and thanked her profusely. After he left, she felt very satisfied. It was never in her job description to wave the hands.

#NonFiction ‬‬ ‬#TeaTimeStories


She drew those little fragile hands with messy nail polish away from his hands as he tried to cup her hands in his. Her lips quivered as she tried to close her ears with her hands. "I don't wanna hear any explanations," saying which she burst out into tears, smudging the freshly applied kohl around her eyes.

"She was just a friend, a childhood friend whom I met after so long."

"Really? Then how come you never mentioned her?"

"Well, we never had that discussion."

She shuddered with sobs before breaking to say, "But-But s-s-she kissed you."

"That's a sisterly kiss on cheeks."

She let the tears roll down freely and warmed up to him, letting him embrace her.

"I love you Mahi."

She looked into his eyes and asked, "So you promise you'll never cheat on me?"

With an elfish grin, he said, "I promise, except when it comes to Emma Watson."

She punched him hard in his gut and came back into his hug.

#MicroFiction  ‬‬ ‬#TeaTimeStories


“My shoes are intent on murdering me,” she complained, taking off the red, sinister looking heels off her feet. Taking a deep breath, "Better,” she said, after throwing an angry look to those shoes she was holding in her left hand while her reddened feet thanked her profusely.

“Let’s go,” she whispered into my ears while gingerly stepping out into the evening air, barefooted, as her free hand grasped mine and locked our fingers.

#MicroFiction‬ ‬‬ ‬#TeaTimeStories

Monday, May 18, 2015

Aisha #11

“Arun, you rent a taxi and wait just outside the hospital. We’ll go in the taxi to Keylong. I’ll bring Aisha.”

“But Anu, exams —”

“Please Arun, everything else can wait. Now it’s important to go to Keylong. I’m going.”

“Ok, I’ll get my friend’s car. Would be easier to get at this time, and wait outside.”

She hugged him and kissed his cheek, “Thank you Arun. This means a lot to me.”

They went to the room and Anu said to Aisha, “Amma, we are going home. If you want to, go freshen up.”

Aisha saw Anu and realized that she wasn’t joking. And she happily went to the bathroom to freshen up, helped by Ganga.


“Pssst! Now,” hissed Ganga, beckoning with her hand, after surveying the corridor. She had earlier cut off some of the wires of the corridor lights and Anu came out, piggybacking Aisha on her back. Equipped with knowledge of hospital being the staff and some keys to back door which Ganga pilfered from the security they ventured to escape from the  hospital as the doctor refused yet again when Anu asked if she can take Aisha home.
“I’m sure you’ll take care good care of her, but you see she is under medication, she has violent fits and is in a definite need of a trained nurse. And your dad will scold me if I let her out in this condition. Please don’t ask me again. I’ll tell you when it’s time to discharge her. This is a super specificity hospital, the best in the country. She is in safe hands here,” replied the doctor, earlier.

In the dark seeing the silhouette of a large person running, a hospital inmate tried to shout, but Ganga was ready to close her mouth and muffle out the scream, saying, “It’s ok, she’s just a patient, the stretcher we got was not working and we had to shift the patient immediately. So, the piggyback-ride, nothing to worry. I’ll call someone to get these lights repaired. Please go into your room.”

It took hiding in a couple of rooms and avoiding life to come unseen and Arun was waiting, ready with the car, near the backdoor. Anu deposited Aisha in the backseat, and bent over to catch her breath, he was sweating, her shirt soaked in sweat, “You go wait on the road, and I’ll catch up with you.” Arun along with Aisha in the car drove away a little further on to the road. Anu hugged Ganga, “Thank you very much; by any means I’d never able to pull out this stunt without your help.” She kissed Ganga on her cheek. “You did a lot for my amma, and I owe you for it. Call me for any help. I’d like to do something in return, although I’m not sure if I can ever make it even. Sorry for all the trouble, I’m leaving you in a mess which I’ve created.”

“That’s ok, it’s my duty to keep Aisha better. And such a lovely person shouldn’t suffer all this just because of a crazy notion of hers. Take care of her. You’re a fine girl, in these days when old are looked upon as burden every fiber of yours is trying to keep her happy. Aisha couldn’t have asked for a finer granddaughter. My own grandmother was always cursing me, you know for being a girl. She wanted a grandson, but I came out, a waste of space. I ran out of my home at the prospect of marriage, and here I’m. I get pleasure from the love of recovering patients.”

“Why haven’t you told me this before, all this time?”

“You’re already burdened enough; I didn’t want my sad story to weigh you even more. Take care, and go now, Arun would be waiting.”

“We’ll meet again.”

It was refreshing, the drive along the mountain passes that are building up with snow and below the overcast sky. Outside the car windscreen, everything looked black, white and gray, like something out of an old world. ‘It seems amma is getting healthier as we near home,’ thought Anu. Aisha got into sitting position and rolled down the window and poked her head out from the side window enjoying the howling icy wind. While Anu zipped her shirt up to her neck and brought up her hoodie, to cover her ears Aisha seemed so oblivious of the chill. This was a journey she liked the most. She had gone with Anand many times, on bus and car, Delhi to Keylong, via Mandi and Manali, with small mountain hamlets popping up now and then.
On their way they had to cross many Railway crossings where they had to face the usual loud and high pitched cries of train horns, yet Aisha didn’t seem to mind. She was sane again. Anu silently thanked Ganga for her idea.

It was Aisha and Anand’s wedding anniversary in ten days. On the third day after her arrival, she already seemed very fit, and went into inspect how the inn is progressing, and after some customary checks she sat in the familiar money-counter, where she used to sit in and count the money. Now there was a computer there which was issuing the bills. The days of ledgers she used to input the day’s earnings seemed to belong to a past life. She asked the number combinations which issued the tokens for different food items. She tried that for a while, but she was slow, and was delaying the billing counter and so promptly gave the seat back to a younger person who was taking care of the counter these days. Anu waited patiently at a table, sipping her coffee. Coming out from the inn Aisha said to Anu, “You’ve Thapaji’s number?”

“Yeah, I’ve it.”

“Can you please call him, and ask him to return home. And tell him I said sorry.”

“Okay, I’ll,” this sudden change in Aisha’s behavior made Anu reaffirm her views that hospitals can’t treat all people. 

On the sixth day she actively took part in cooking, in the inn and even did a little gardening. She was almost back to her usual self except she wasn’t talkative now. In fact, she seemed to convey half the things using her hand gestures. On the ninth day after they went home Anu had a little discussion about the package, with Arun, asking him how to open the conversation with Aisha and how to hand her keys to it, but trusting her instincts, she placed the package near the bedroom door when Aisha was sitting in the garden, and put the keys in the tea box.

It was very late when Aisha finally headed to the house and it was very quiet inside. Anu and Arun slept in the guest rooms that were in the newer extensions and just as she entered the older part of the house, a rectangle of light from sitting room, piercing the surrounding darkness, and the buzzing old electric lighting seeping into the silence, and the old grandfather clock chimed signaling the day change. It was their anniversary. Aisha stood there remembering how it all happened. How Anand proposed, how he used the tea box, as he lacked the courage to propose directly.

Aisha went to the kitchen to get herself some tea, and just as she opened the tea box there was a key, attached to a glittering keychain — putting something in tea box, Anand’s habit — she was so excited and as went into her bedroom, excited, anticipating the unknown. And as soon as she opened the room door displaced something as it was opened. It was gift packed too. She tore the gift pack and there was a wooden case with a big slot for a key in the center, crudely resembling the weighing machine in the railway stations. She inserted the key and opened the box and inside was another courier like packaging. She opened it and inside was a collection like trump cards, and a letter on top of it, in Anand’s writing.

‘So, after all these years I still don’t seem to gather enough courage to talk to you directly.  :P (this is a tongue in cheek smiley, you non-tech old lady). You know these days, many stations are adopting new type of cards and in those instead of the quotes we get a monochrome picture of a celebrity on the back of weight. And I know you can’t live without those card-quotes, so this is my gift, my dear. Cheers to yet another year of my survival despite your continuous nags. May god bless you with a love towards cricket, so we can enjoy the evenings better. And may your love towards cooking shows fade away.  :P (this is the same smiley again).’

She removed the rubber band around the cards and those were those railway weighing machine cards, with quotes, but they seemed different. They were obviously custom made, since instead of weight, they're printed in Anand’s handwriting was the sentence —
‘You look fine.’

Anu woke up late, and Arun didn’t yet wake. She went into the kitchen to make herself a tea.  In the tea box, the key was missing. Anu let out a triumphant smile as her idea worked. She was able to pass on Anand’s gift just the way Anand would have done. She went outside to pick up the day’s paper and the newspaper showed that the weighing machines went out of contract and will be removed from all the railway stations, as people in these fast paced days didn't have much time for those. Anu was skeptic how Aisha would react to the news, and so she tore away that part of paper, and removed the section of paper completely and threw that out before folding back neatly rest of the newspaper.

She went into Aisha’s bedroom and there Aisha was sleeping peacefully. And on her bosom was her card collection book. Anu took that book and saw that all pages were pasted with new cards, to the last page. They were evidently fresh cards pasted anew, since the pages showed the after effects of gluing. Aisha lay there with a smiley expression on her face. Anu saw something was amiss, there was no rhythmic rise and fall in the chest and as she checked she realized Aisha was in fact not breathing. Anu saw that Aisha was clutching a card in her hand and she pulled it out, and it read —

‘Time and tide waits for none.’

The End.

Aisha #10

Anu ended telling about Aisha with loud hiccups. She controlled her sobs while telling and that resulted in harsh and loud hiccups. Ganga, herself dewy-eyed, reacted started with a jerk and realized the situation and gave Anu a water bottle while patting on her chest to ease out. It took a while before the water could be administered in her twitching form. After two large gulps of water while Ganga patted her continually on her chest and head her hiccups finally subsided.

Aisha was still sleeping, peacefully, because of the powerful anesthesia. With an emaciated frame those heavy bandages on her hands looked even bigger in comparison looking like boxing gloves. Anu pointed at her and said, “This is not right. I wouldn’t wish such a condition even on my worst enemy. Death itself is much more peaceful,” saying which she gave into the flow of tears.

“Please calm down Anu. Aisha will be alright soon,” said Ganga although her words felt insincere to her own self.


Anu was showing Aisha funny videos in her mobile, and Aisha was giving an occasional laugh, although the eyes looked as if her soul has been sucked out of her and all her actions a mere mechanical clockwork. And suddenly Aisha clutched Anu’s hands with both her hands and pleaded, “Anu, please take me home. I can’t stay here. I don’t want these medicines.” This happened almost every other day. But today luckily for Anu before she could somehow try to talk Aisha out of it, there came the sound of a train horn, from the track that goes behind the hospital and Aisha suddenly left Anu’s hands and instead use those to cover her ears, tightly, as if her life depended on covering those ears, to muffle out the sound of train horn as much as possible. It was very heartening to see Aisha behave like that at the sound of the train horn, to whom train and railway station had always been a second home. Using this moment as her gateway she brought her mobile to her ears and walked swiftly out of the room, saying, “Yeah, Arun, Amma is ok.” Both Aisha and Ganga, who was mixing some tonics beside her, knew it was a faked call.

She was waiting in the reception area, fiddling her facebook wall, waiting for Arun. Ganga came and sat beside her and started talking about some more ways to keep Aisha happy. It was her idea to bring some funny videos, and suddenly asked her point blank if the call earlier in the room was true. Anu turned pink and said, “No, I pretended that I got a call from Arun. What else can I do? Every other day she begs me to take her out of the hospital, to our home, in Keylong, but seeing her condition doctor says no and dad listens to doctor's words. I tried talking with him many a times. But what he says also makes sense, given her behavior, it’d be difficult to tackle her in the house. I hoped that I could take her on the pretext of not being able to pay fees, but even that wouldn’t work as dad wires the money directly from US, and he has paid in advance.

Just as they were talking Arun came, but he was not alone, beside him was an old man, with a prominent bald head that suited him very much. He wore a characteristic sweater, which fit him so smugly as if custom made. He was talking to Arun, and sadness was evident in his voice, with an edge of anger.

Anu stood up and hugged him.

“It’s ok, Anu beti, it’s ok. Everything will be alright.”

“Thapa uncle, this is Ganga, Amma’s nurse. This is Thapa uncle, Ganga.”

“I actually came here to give this,” He gave Anu a key, “Anand sahib told me to. And as discussed I’ve secured it. I’m to put the package in his bedroom the day before their wedding anniversary.”

“What’s this? What’s the package Thapa uncle?”

“I don’t know Anu beti, I was actually to call Anand sahib after getting the package. He said it was very important. I think a gift to Aisha beti, for their anniversary. But Anand sahib’s phone was always switching off and no one bothered to tell me that my sahib died. But, of course, I’m just a servant.” At this point he burst into tears.

“Thapa uncle, please. You know my family for generations. You’re only one to my grandpa from his life before Aisha. Please understand. It had been very difficult. Same day grandpa died, Amma went into a comma. It was very rushed, admitting her in the hospital, my parents coming from the US, the funeral. It had been very difficult for all of us,” said Anu, looking at her feet, as she now felt guilty of not calling Thapa for the funeral. But part of her consoled it was really rushed, as she herself has not taken part in those rituals because she was the only one who could calm Aisha.

“Sorry beti, please don’t cry. Old Thapa, getting senile and talking all nonsense, but did you say Aisha beti had gone to comma?”

They all went to Aisha’s room where she was resting. Thapa did a double-take, having trouble believing that cadaverous lady on the bed was Aisha. He asked Anu how all this happened. Anu told him all that happened after they came to Delhi, and how Aisha has been blaming herself for Anand’s death.

“Anand sahib is a very good human. I’ve known him since I was a little boy. My father was one of the waiters at the inn. But his granny was always nice to me, she even goaded me to take education. But I could never make sense of any of those numbers, not like Anand sahib with whom I studied few classes. He was a bright student and went on to take a very respectable job in Indian Airforce, took family Inn business to a new height, with the help of Aisha beti of course. He raised a worthy son who now is in foreign and also raised you like a princess you’re,” said he stroking the hair of Anu, “Although I’m sad he died. I’m sure he had no regrets. He had seen it all and experienced it all, riches, love, son, granddaughter, and a very fulfilling life indeed. There is no point in Aisha beti blaming herself. We all die. We are old. All that matters is what we leave behind. And Anand sahib has left behind a good name for the family and gem-like for descendants.”

“Yes, grandpa had a smile on his face when he died. But whatever we do amma won’t listen.”

Ganga came to them and said, “I might be wrong, but I have an idea.”


“Amma wake up, look who has come,” said Anu tapping Aisha lightly on her shoulder.

Aisha woke up and rubbed her eyes, “Thapa!” she sighed, eyes full of cheerfulness, after so long.

“Don’t get up, Aisha beti. I’ve brought sweets from our inn, and beti our inn has become even more popular these days.” Aisha took those and immediately started eating them, relishing in each, and her home, and her inn.

He sat on the chair beside the bed, “Aisha beti, sorry for your loss. Anand sahib is more than a friend to me. He was like a brother. I’m really sorry, but all of you should have been more careful, particularly with Anand sahib’s weak heart.”

Aisha stopped eating and looked at him intensely, “What do you mean weak heart?”

“He had a wonderful and sensitive heart, but you all should have been more careful after his first heart attack. I pleaded with him not to go Delhi, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”

“He had a heart attack?”

“I’m sorry he made me promise never to tell you all this. But just before he retired from his duties, he had a stroke while he was in Raj — Rajasthan, on an army job. He said doctors advised him to stay at home.”

With shock written all over her face, Anu asked loudly, “Grandpa had a heart stro—”
Aisha didn’t let Anu complete her statement, though still weak, suddenly with a newfound energy she grabbed Thapa’s collar, swaying wildly with sudden emotion and with a shaking voice, “Why didn’t you tell me about this? How could you hide it from me?”

“I’m sorry beti, but Anand sahib asked me not to tell you this. Even now, I didn’t want to tell, but I slipped it.”

“How could you hide it, Thapa? How could you do this to me?” she wept, shaking him holding his shirt collar. And she suddenly let him free and shouted, “Get out!”

Thapa flinched at Aisha’s accusation, “Forgive me, beti, I’ve always done what Anand and his family asked me to. I always wish the best for your family. Take care.” Saying which he left, rubbing his own eyes.

After sometime Aisha, Arun and Ganga came out, to the reception area where Thapa was sitting lifelessly.

“Thank you, Thapa uncle. That was a big help. Sorry, I made you lie, and made Aisha hate you. I'm extremely sorry — ”

“That’s ok, Anu beti. I understand why you did it, it was necessary. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her, she was just bones. She will forgive me later. I do what is best for the family that has been feeding us for generations.”

She gave him a big wad of money, “Take this and stay in Delhi for a while before returning to Keylong and call me if you have any need. I’ll take amma home today.”

He refused the money, “I’ve some money. Call me when Aisha is no longer angry with me.”


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Aisha #9


After her schooling Anu decided she will go back to India and didn’t entertain any other choice. So she came back to India and requested her grandparents in Keylong if they could come along and stay with her in Delhi where she would be going to college, along with Arun, who would be senior to Anu by one year in academics, as her one year schooling in India was not taken into account in USA. It was an easy decision to make for Anand and Aisha, for they were just reaping the fruits of retired life and their presence was not required for the inn to continue, besides this wouldn’t be the first time they stayed away from home, they spent five years in Hyderabad. They happily consented.

“Aisha, come here for a moment,” called Anand, and added to Anu, “Anu go and tell Thapa that he’d have to take care of the inn all by himself again.”

And just as Aisha entered the room Anand caught the hem of Aisha’s saree and drew her into him and hugged her from behind, while Aisha said, struggling to control her titters, “Leave me, no shame at all, still thinking we are teenagers. Leave me, Anu will come and it’d be awkward.”

“Old age is new teenage my dear wifey! It’ll take Anu decades to convey Thapa the news. Her Hindi sucks as much as Thapa’s English.” He kissed her cheek and asked, “You remember this room and this position?” asked Anand, with a slick grin.

“Yeah, I remember, just like on the day of your tea-message. Leave me, Anu will come back.”

“So we’ll have our third honeymoon in Delhi. I’m so excited.”

“When did we have the second one?”

“Yeah, the second one sucked. I count our time in Hyd as our second one. It was full of responsibilities, raising Anu and all.”

“You talk as if you raised her. Anu was always with me. Don’t lie, I raised her, you just helped a little.”

Anand turned Aisha towards her and said, “Does it matter since it’s not honeymoon even if one of us in engaged in a different work. What I meant was we didn’t have time for ourselves, but yeah, now that you mention it I should have gone in search of another girl, as you say I wasn’t very busy then,” he winked.

Aisha beat him softly on his chest and said, “Why not give a try now, I’m sure so many girls will be interested in you to think of you as their granddad.”

“Yeah, right! I’ll have to settle for a granny. Don’t worry granny we’ll enjoy this time. Anu will go to college every day and we would be free. And we’ll roam all around Delhi,” and he added looking intensely into her eyes, “After all, that’s where we met.” And he released her after a long, fulfilling hug, in that tranquil moment punctuated only by the rhythmic whirring sound of the ceiling fan. He asked her, “Aisha, can you please make me a tea. Not the inn tea, but the one you make.”

And Aisha went to make the tea, emotion welled up inside her, like a hydrogen balloon, and tears came out of her eyes as she tried to contain that cheery floating feeling in her chest. Her giggles were too raw to have sound. There in the tea-box was a note, I love you.


The three of them, Anand, Aisha and Anu, came to Delhi, and Anu went out to hail a taxi and in the Railway station, Aisha, continuing her old habit, went onto the weighing machine, and after taking that weight card from the weighing machine, of which the number showing weight was diligently cut off by Anand, she read the quote;
You might want to run, but you should stay and fight.

 She didn’t like it. It was like an ultimatum. She asked him to try his weight. In all these years, Anand has tried those weighing machines only a couple of times.

“Well, I look fine, I don’t need to know my weight, I’m a hero, my dear,” replied Anand.

“Not for the weight, we’ll see what quote you'll get. All these years I’ve taken thousands of those weight cards and you’ve barely tried it.”

“That’s not true, I used to, when I was a kid.”

“You know what they say? Old people are same as kids, so maybe it’s time you tried again.”

“Talk for yourself, granny, you’re the only old lady here, I’m as young as ever. I’m wolverine. I don’t age.”

“Yes, right, with that snow white hair of yours, huh?”

“Maybe I’m silver blonde?”

“No, you’re not.”

“How can you say that?”

“What about those wrinkles on your face?”

“Loose skin?”

Hmmm, I can’t argue with you, just take that damn card.”

He finally obliged and stood up on the plinth of the weighing machine, and she popped a coin into the slot and out came the weight card.

“See I’m 70kg, very healthy.”

“Read the quote.”

“Time and tide waits for none.” He read it aloud, and he went on, “That’s true. Time the seductress.
This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down,” said he quoting from the book he was reading, The Hobbit, presented to him by Anu.

“It’s my mistake to ask you to take that card. Only you can attribute such negativity to such a terse quote.”

“There is nothing negative in it, my dear lady. Time heals the wound which it gives. Time is a double-edged sword. Time neither betrays nor bestows, it just follows the nature and set’s appointment with death, to everything.”


With the help of Arun, they moved to a house near her college. He stayed in the college hostel. At night before sleeping, Anand kissed Aisha, “You’re the best thing that happened to my life. Agreed you nag a bit, but everything else has always been picture-perfect. Thanks for everything.”

She hugged her back and said, “Hmmm, you’re going maudlin old man. But yes, it has been picture-perfect, and you helped me fill a big emotional void, which I honestly never thought I’d be able to overcome, thanks to you too,” and she suddenly scrunched her nose. “What’s that smell? Did you take Hajmola Candy?” she hated the smell of Hajmola Candy.

“I’m sorry. I just drank Jal-jeera,” he said moving back.

“You sleep on the couch today, how many times I should tell you not to drink those at night. I don’t how you drink it; it smells horrible and later makes you pass gas in sleep. No, no, go to the couch.”

Little did she know she missed her opportunity to snuggle in his warmth one last time. In the morning, when Aisha brought coffee to him, he was still on the couch, sporting a happy smiley like expression. She tried to wake him up and he fell down from the couch promptly.

“Anand,” she screamed and froze onto the spot standing there as a statue.

Anu came in, fully dressed for college, seeing her grandpa on the floor, she tried pulling him onto the couch, which is when she realized he was no more.

Aisha did something weird. She let out a cruel hollow laugh, just like she did when she came to know of her father’s death. She clawed her cheeks, screaming all the time, and then she spun as if her head suddenly became heavy and finally collapsed onto the floor. Anu called Arun and together, both of them took Aisha and Anand’s body to the hospital. 

And she has been in the hospital ever since. She blamed herself for Anand’s death. She made him get the weight card. Why did Anand have to interpret in that way? And she was somehow convinced that the card was the cause of Anand's death. She shouted at every nurse and doctor, not to come near her, saying she was a murderess. Only Anu could go near her confidently and administer her medicines. And most of the times Aisha was kept on anesthesia.

The trauma of Anand’s death was too much for her to handle. She ripped many hanks of her hair, and hurt herself, sometimes calling Anand’s name wildly, groping around in the air around that collection book, which she demanded to be brought to the hospital the very next moment she came out of the comma. She sometimes threw away the book and she hated it so much now that she always wanted that book to be in her presence to look at it and glare it, and to beat it repeatedly.

Continued in part 10

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