Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Veil

It was around 8:30 a.m. I didn’t know it simply because I spotted my wife from the corner of my eye, holding her second morning cuppa—the one after the kids had left for school (the quiet cuppa, she called it). Nor did I know it from the crow making its first appearance on what had by now become its own ledge. It was because I spotted Saira Mohammed (or so I had christened her), appearing on the horizon.

From my second floor balcony vantage position, I could see her walking down a bit hurriedly today. Her abaya (as I had learnt was the correct term, not the more commonly used “burqa”) was flailing about as she walked toward the Chella Vinayagar Kovil, which was opposite our apartment complex. From my balcony, I could have dharshan of the Lord on a good day. Good day for me, that is.
It was a small and cute temple, actually just a shrine, but had somehow earned the reputation of bringing peace to the devotee. And so, needless to say, was nearly always full. But not today.

Saira went to the little space between the wall of the shrine and the house behind it, and removed her abaya. She then folded it neatly, almost reverentially, on her backpack, and emerged in a pink salwar kameez that brought out her features quite beautifully. Her eyes were pretty, almond shaped, and her nose was long and nicely shaped. But something seemed missing from her face.

She dutifully folded her hands in prayer, and immediately went to the brass container that was screwed to the pole in front of the sanctum, and wore the kumkum. Her chest heaved a sigh, almost audible to my second-floor ears. And her face was now complete.

Saira then went to the shrine, and recited a sloka without stopping for a break. It was as if a break would break the prayer itself. She was looking straight ahead, not at the Vinayaka on her right, as if transfixed.

When she was done, the priest, who looked at her sympathetically, or so it seemed to me, gave her a flower from the God’s garland, and she smiled and accepted it. She went around the prakara once, and returned to give God one last salutation. She closed her eyes and a tear escaped from the prison of her eyelids.

She moved away from the shrine and brought her palm to her forehead. Her hand paused for just a moment, trembled, and then the kumkum was gone. She went back to the space between the temple and the house behind it, and when she emerged, she was nowhere to be seen. She was metres of black cloth.

Her backpack was on her shoulders, and she made her way back to the bus stop. As she had been doing for the past ten months.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Unexpected Encounter

[This is for a writing exercise by my friend Ushasri Nannapaneni for]

She was sitting by the corner seat—she looked totally out of place in the bustling Data Udupi Hotel—as if she had landed there my some mistake, and would, at any moment—disappear completely. The waiters, clad in ill-fitting pants and shirts of light blue, stood a respectable distance away.
The clatter and clamour of the outside world—the dust that was thrown up every time a bus passed by the dusty main road, the honking of the cars, the general ‘people’ noise—all seemed insignificant now.
I tried hard not to stare at her, but it seemed like the locus of the hotel had changed now, and it was inevitable that we would all look at her, even if we tried not to. She was wearing a gray business suit that fit her ample body perfectly. Her face was not what anyone would call pretty—but it had a certain look some might call stately.
She ordered a plate of idlis. When the server brought them to her, he laid them on her plate and somehow ensured it made no sound. No cling-clang. No thwack. When she ate them, one by one, her head didn’t move an inch towards the idlis—her hands brought the idlis to her mouth, as if the idlis had no business expecting her to meet them halfway.
She signaled for water in a fluid, almost poetic motion, and the servers emerged immediately with a bottle of cold mineral water. No “mineral or regular water?” “Cold or ordinary?” that I had been subjected to. She unscrewed the bottle cap and drank the water as one would in an ad. I nearly expected a “cut! Cut!” from some corner of Data Udupi at any moment.
Just then, my phone rang. It provided the break from the collective trance that the hotel seemed to have fallen under. It was an embarrassing ringtone that my son had set for me—“Ayyayyo ayyayyo,” it went. She glanced across at me too, and that’s when I saw a flutter of recognition in her face. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The End of Reason.

TR012045693, or Troin 693, or Torri, as he was called, rolled out of bed. With a diameter of 3.15 metres, it was a bit of a struggle for him. He rolled over to the cabinet and picked out his pill for the morning. It was all part of his daily routine, one that had scarcely changed for the past 200-odd years.
He took the small vial, as he always had, unscrewed the top and attached it to his ingester. Yeah, that should keep him going until the evening. Torri had to go to work a bit quicker today. "Go to work" was a bit of a stretch-all he had to do was log on to the server and control the traffic from there.

There was something he had to report to HQ for today. He had received the message about 120 hours ago, and his body was automatically programmed to reach HQ by the prescribed time. He was just surprised he had to go there in person--most things would be achieved through virtual contact, he knew. But that was the limit of his reasoning, and that wasn't surprising. They had phased out the Reason 200 series, and Torri, whose "father" was one of those models, had opted to get his "Reason" attributes neutralized. "Makes for an easier life for him," he had heard his fathers tell each other.

It was rumoured that the Polit had commissioned a new Super Reason series, but they would not be hybrids--they would be pure-breds, and only used for military and government.

Torri was no pure-bred: in fact, he could trace his ancestry to the time that women roamed the earth. His last known woman ancestor was Priya. On an impulse, he reached for his records in the public database and accessed her photo.There they were--his image next to hers.

She, with her long black hair, and he, has most of his species, shorn of hair. He ran his hands, with all fourteen of his fingers, over his head, feeling the smoothness of his bald pate.

And their noses and mouths: hers, long and a bit curved at the end, and his, a pair of holes punched in his round face. And that which they called a mouth--there was just too much going on in her face. Instinctively, he touched the area under his breathers. Yeah, nice and smooth, none of those ugly monstrosities they called the teeth and the lips and the gums. Too complicated.

But the eyes-black and brown, and the only feature that spoke to him. He ran a matching algorithm, as he had a thousand times earlier, and felt a wave of tenderness when the screen showed the score for the eyeprint match: 100% match.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The price is right

Titius rushed toward the agora. He had to reach there today, or it would be a waste of time. His father, Hermogenes, had asked for a few slaves, and he had to go and do the needful. His father was a good man, he knew, even if a bit stingy on the money.

As he neared the marketplace, he got ready for an onslaught on his senses. He hardly left the agora without a few things he didn't need. He saw shimmering fabric, which his father had warned him against, but then, that was what all his friends were wearing. Surely, he could bargain and get a good slave even after purchasing just a little bit of silk?

He walked towards the store, and when he was done (or rather, when the trader was done) he had way too much cloth. And now he started to panic. He didn't have enough for one slave, let alone two that his father had ordered.

"Slaves! Slaves! Cheapest of the cheap" he heard someone shout, and went over. How much? 400 drachmas only! He counted his coins--he had 300.

He approached the seller and said, 300 for two. The man looked at him as if he were uttering blasphemy. "No way! I am already the cheapest in the whole area."

Titius didn't quite know how to proceed. "What about those men there?" he asked, pointing to a group who looked mean and lean. And missing a limb or two.

"They?" the trader asked with scorn, "They are missing this or that. Although perfectly healthy," he added.

He racked his brains to remember what his father had wanted them for. Not for anything important, he knew. They were just replacements for the old man who had passed on recently. So any old slave should do, he reasoned.

"Alright--give three for 300," Titius said with a tone that suggested finality.

The trader thought, and acted as if it were a grave matter, and agreed.

It was thus that Titius went home with three men--with a total of six limbs and five eyes between them.

When he went home, his father, whose eyes flared up in anger, looked at his stupid son and said, "My son, the cost, whatever you thought you had saved, is for the arms and legs."

"But, 300 drachmas for an arm and a leg? Way too much, dad!" he said.

"Yes, my son," said Hermogenes, trying his best not to shout at his son. "Slaves do cost an arm and a leg."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Allure

Prompt from my dear friend on an omniscient POV:

Priya entered the 58-floor building with a sense of ownership. After all, she had worked at the law firm of Richman and Purzucker for several years now—she specialized in mergers and acquisitions, and was somewhat of an expert in it now. Today, senior Rip Schirtsoff had told her he had something really important to discuss—something that, he hoped, would make her happy. Everyone was talking of her promotion to junior partner, and she wondered, in spite of training herself not to speculate, was it true?

As she entered the elevator and pressed the button for the eighth floor, she saw her colleague Mark Palmer running toward her breathlessly. She kept the doors open and smiled at him. Mark and Priya didn't exactly get along very well. She avoided elevator chit-chat and played with her phone, to look busy. She had on her mind the upcoming merger of two of the city's leading retail chains.

Mark had a merger on his mind too, albeit a completely different one. He'd always had a thing for Priya and today, in her smart grey suit and skirt, she was looking hot, he decided. The top button of her silk blouse was carelessly undone (on purpose, Mark assumed, of course), simply adding to the allure. 

Priya moved away. Mark's reputation preceded him.  Sure, his face seemed chisselled and his muscles sculpted, and he looked like a Greek God, but he was supposed to chase anything in a skirt. Not something she wanted to get tangled with right now. Priya feigned to ignore him. 

Once he got one step closer when others entered the lift, his nose crinkled—what was that smell? Could not be her, could it?  It was like man-repellant spray. What was it called? An Indian friend had told him once. Mark racked his brains until it came to him—yes, sambhar. “Damn you, sambar,” Mark said, as he walked off as soon as the doors opened on their floor.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

It takes all kinds

Prompted by my friend Ushasri:
(It's from a WIP novella about a dog who can read and understand words and has someone writing her memoirs)

That day, I went and stood by Maya's table, so that I could get some love. From here, I could clearly see her computer monitor. I was aghast! Her chat window had lots of emoticons. Oblivious of my literary and sight powers, Maya absently stroked my head while she kept typing in “blushing” icons. And at the top of the chat window was the username: sexygod.

The chat was quite inane—what did you have for breakfast? You were always good at cooking. I would die to eat from your hands. Oh, stop it. I’m serious. You know, things you’ve probably read a lot in books. From the conversations, it was unclear where they stood relationship-wise, I guess. And that was part of the elaborate mating dance.  

This was nice. 

I heard a noise in the kitchen, and Maya typed in, “I gotta go.” 
Sexy God says, “Where to? We were just getting started.” 
“My parents-in-law are downstairs. It looks like they need something.” 
“That’s ok. They can figure it out. Tell me, you’re alone, right?” 
“No. I have my friend here with me.” 
“It’s a she. Why? Do you want to know all about her now? She’s pretty,for sure.” 
“Really? Who is she?” 
“you’ve seen her too.” 
‘Really? Where? I am looking for pretty girls, you know.” 
“But this one’s a real bitch.” 
“I thought she was your friend?” 
“So what? Arjun’s not your friend? You don’t like him much, do you?” 
“Tell me more about this friend of yours.” 
“Are you jealous?” 
“What do I care? I think you’ll be perfect for her.” 
“I know who’ll be perfect for me.” 
“I’ll tell you later. Now, let’s know more about his mystery girl.” 
“She’s no mystery. She’s quite an open book.” 
“What is she wearing?” 
“How about nothing?’ 
“And what is she doing?” 
“She’s actually looking at me lovingly.” 
“You’ve got to be kidding me! I’m coming over right now, to watch.” 
"Hahahaha. Gotcha.” 
You get the drift. Haha. Very funny play on words. Making fun of me in the process. Maya was usually okay. She was behaving quite strangely today, though. 

You might wonder what the purpose of the chat conversation was. It’s funny—the first thing that my publisher said when he looked at my first draft was this: There are no dialogues in this book. Won’t sell this way. And then, the clincher: You know Paris Hilton’s dog’s book—it was full of dialogues. 

Oh well, the pain of being compared time and again, time and again. Why would there be dialogues in my book? I cannot understand what people say. So I had to bring in this chat conversation into the story. Without rhyme or reason. What can I say? Can’t a dog write what she wants? 

Sounds like fun!

The party was on in full swing when Priya arrived. She didn't know where Dev's house was, and was directed by all the noise. The noise from the stadium, punctuated by the irritating bugle"pa-pa-pa-ra pa-ra-paen", which was inevitably followed by a higher intensity general stadium noise was loudest from the direction of his apartment. 

When she reached the fifth floor, she could barely hear herself think. There were more discernible voices here, Adhi's and Manoj's, she could make out from near the lift, but could that shrieking voice be hers? Was it Kim's voice that she heard? "Dev, come hee-yer," she could recognize that voice anywhere: at least an octave higher than everyone else, and taking at least twice as long as anyone else to say anything. And the giggle--like a lizard's chuckle was cut into smaller bits and played back on loop--it was definitely her. It was like her voiceprint--no one else could possibly have that voice. She had half a mind to turn and run. But she stood her ground and entered. She heard Kim was now going out with Dev, but she couldn't be sure. 

The place was a mess, and there were people everywhere. She recognized most of them as her classmates, but some others were Dev's friends from college. Some of the boys turned to look who had come, and when Laxman Sivaramakrishnan shouted, "What a wonn-der-ful shot that was," returned to the large 42 inch screen. From what she could glean within five minutes of being there, looks did matter. And so did size. 

The sofa, faux leather and cherry, occupied nearly the entire length of the hall. And there were couples of all sizes there. Here and there. She thought a few of them had switched their other halves. It was all very confusing for her. She went to the nearest chair and took a bottle of beer for herself. 

A few overs later, the ruckus had died down a bit. CSK was doing badly, and the opponents were scoring above 10 an over. Ashwin was bowling this over, and the stadium was going crazy for Shane Watson--his home ground.

Amidst the general relative noiselessness, there arose a roar, from next door. "What a wicket," one could hear the unmistakable voice of Ravi Shastri, and then here, in Dev's house, all eyes were on the TV. Which ball got the wicket? And then the roar here. And then, once again, like Deja Vu, the sauve Ravi Shastri, "What a wicket." A pause. "This game keeps changing by the minute." 

Deja vu.