T h e F i r e

T h e  F i r e

The wedding music band was too noisy. My only reason to endure that exasperating experience was that I had to drive my mom to and fro. So, I was stuck there. The function hall was packed and lively with children running all over laughing, playing and bumping into the newcomers. While talking to mom’s friends, one of them mentioned that it was a love marriage and then proceeded to narrate her love story. We finally settled down in a seat as the groom arrived in the mandap. There was a lot of media coverage; I thought that some celebrity might be attending the wedding.

After a few minutes, the bride was called to the mandap. As if it was pre-decided, all the children were ushered to an adjacent room. It seemed a bit weird but I didn’t think twice about it; the ‘arrival of the bride’ part caught my attention. The groom had good looks and physique, so I was eager to see the bride who stole his heart.

But when I saw her, I was shocked. Her face was completely covered with burnt skin and she was utterly hideous. She seemed familiar but I was unable to place her. Meanwhile, a kid who stayed back saw the bride and started crying loudly. A woman, probably his mother, consoled him and escorted him to the dining hall.

The ceremony resumed after that small hiccup. The groom looked concerned, but the bride was at ease. One of Mom’s friend told me about the bride: she was a victim of the jealous attack of her stalker who tried to incinerate her. Some said she survived because of her sheer will power; others said it was just her luck.

When I later got the chance to observe the groom closely, I saw not pity in his eyes but love towards the bride. The groom’s love for the bride introduced me to a new dimension of love, a meta-love, beyond the realm of physical attraction and infatuation. I wish I would find someone like that.

I looked once more at the bride; she was sitting in the mandap along with the groom in front of the ceremonial fire, disregarding the hundreds of eyes focused on her, some in pity and some in awe. She had the look of a seasoned sailor who faced many storms and lived to tell the tale. I was among the few who noticed her holding the groom’s hand reassuringly.

When I looked at her, I saw someone who crossed many hurdles in life and who overcame the social stigma attached to female victims. Her smile, which looked beautiful on her disfigured face, seemed like something etched on a rock: it is always present and cannot be wiped off. Her strong will reminded me of the adage “the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire”.

In comparison to the ceremonial fire and the fire that tried to destroy her, her inner fire is unparalleled.


Blind Love

Blind Love

He rang the calling bell and stood back beside her. She looked at him and smiled. “The new haircut suits you,” she told him. He acknowledged her compliment with a smile. As there was no response, he rang the bell again. “Coming…” shouted a female voice from inside. He slipped his hand into hers to reassure as she became nervous; she never met his mother before. They heard footsteps approaching the door. “Who is that?” the female asked voice from inside. “Maa, it’s me,” he replied. “Ranjith beta, is that you?” the female voice spoke, with a hint of surprise, and opened the door without waiting for his reply. “Hello maa, how are you?” he stepped forward and hugged her even before the door was completely open. The mother and the son embraced for a moment and he released her after planting a perfunctory kiss on her cheek.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming, beta?” she said with a broad smile on her face, looking at him from head to toe as if scanning him to replace his old image. After all, this was their first meeting in seven years. “And who is this beautiful lady?” she asked, feigning innocence. “Maa, this is Radha, my wife,” he said moving back, and Radha stepped in front of him. Vinati, the mother, adjusted her glasses to have a good look at Radha, but couldn’t, as the sun was directly behind Radha. Vinati suddenly realized that she hadn’t invited them in. Cursing herself for being forgetful, she welcomed them in. As they settled down on the sofa in the hall, Vinati enquired, “Beta, your voice is slightly different, are you having a cold?” He replied, “Yes maa. Change of water, probably. But don’t worry about me. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be when I have such an amazing child? Now, let me have a good look at my daughter-in-law.” Vinati examined Radha for a moment and said, “You look beautiful but slightly different from the photos. Ah! Your hairstyle is different. Do you always wear like this?” But she didn’t give Radha a chance to answer and continued, “Kids these days change their appearances so frequently that it’s difficult to keep track of it. Anyway, this bobbed hair frames your face very well.” She turned to Ranjith and said, “So beta, tell me how are you? Have you eaten anything since lunch? You must be hungry, let me get you something. I have your favorite sweet, Gulab Jamun, but not much. You should have told me you were coming.” Vinati rose and rushed into the kitchen. She was so excited and couldn’t contain it. She kept on talking, even from the kitchen.

“Ranjith?! That’s new to me,” Radha whispered to him. “It’s my middle name. Also, there is a Ranjith in the office, so never told anyone to avoid confusion,” he whispered back. Radha felt embarrassed for not knowing the middle name of her husband even though they were married for over a year. “And one more thing, I always wore bobbed hair since I met you. How can you have pics of me in a different hairstyle?” she asked like a lawyer cross-examining a witness. But before he could answer, Vinati returned with a tray and offered a cup to each, asking, “What are you two love birds whispering about?” Vinati saw the surprised look on Radha’s face and smiled and said, “Yes, I know. My Ranjith tells me everything,” and looked proudly at him. Then Radha and Vinati chatted for some time.

He was really surprised by Vinati’s reaction. He expected her to be angry and shut the door on their face, but not this. He couldn’t understand how parents can forgive their child whatever the crime may be. Maybe because he wasn’t a parent yet.

During their chat, he saw Radha glancing at him several times as if trying to confirm whether the person sitting with her was same as the one she was hearing about. He realized she could sense something was wrong. He should have told her the truth; there is nothing he could do about it now. He said out loud, “Maa, when will you make dinner? I am famished.” Vinati rose up saying, “Forgot about the dinner talking to my daughter-in-law. Blame her for being such a charming young lady,” and went into the kitchen. “Get freshened up meanwhile,” shouted Vinati from the kitchen.


As they entered the only bedroom in the house, Radha was about to say something. He interrupted her saying, “She has become rather forgetful and clumsy, recalling memories of my cousins thinking they were about me. Please tolerate her for one more day.” She slapped on his upper arm censuringly, saying “Is that the way you should talk about your mother?”

“Oh, it hasn’t been two hours since you two met and you already changed parties? You are the model daughter-in-law.”

“She is just excited to see you, that’s all. So, do you want to go first?” she asked pointing towards the washroom. “On second thought, why don’t we have a bath together? I heard it’ll be refreshing,” he said smiling and tugging her towards the washroom playfully.

*  *  *

“Are you leaving already? It’s been only a day,” Vinati exclaimed as he started packing. “I have some urgent work in the office, maa. They called in the morning. I have to go,” he said trying to console her. “Couldn’t you at least let Radha stay for a few more days?” negotiated Vinati. “I already booked the tickets, maa. They cost me a fortune,” he said playing on her weakness, frugality. Radha was uncomfortable with lying, so she kept mum.

Finally, Vinati agreed to let them go. After they packed and were about to leave, Vinati hugged and affectionately lowered him to kiss his forehead. He backed out instantly as if he touched a hot plate. Vinati was taken aback. Even Radha was surprised. After an awkward moment, Vinati hugged Radha tenderly and whispered to her, “He is a good kid. Look after him.”

*  *  *


Their flight was delayed by one hour. Both of them had been waiting at the airport for quite some time. There was complete silence between them since they got into a cab at the house. Finally, Radha broke the silence.

“So, when are you going to tell me the truth?” she started without beating around the bush. As he maintained silence, she continued, “Look, I know something is wrong. You know me, I will find out. So, better tell me now.”

He spoke after a minute, “She wasn’t my mother.”

“I knew it,” she said with fervor. “And let me guess, Ranjith isn’t your middle name either.”

“No, it’s her son’s name: the same one from the office,” he said dispassionately.

“Oh,” she said, not knowing how to react to this revelation. “So, what happened to him?” she asked after reflecting for a minute.

He continued in the same tone, “He committed suicide.” When she didn’t offer any response, he went on. “He killed a murderer and was sentenced to jail. He committed suicide in there as he couldn’t endure the nightmares of those hapless incidents which led to the murder. He relived them every day. He was a rather sensitive guy. I was the only friend he had when he was in jail.”

She interrupted him and asked, “If he was as sensitive as you say, then why did he kill another person?”

He took out a folded paper from his purse and handed it to her, saying, “This is his last letter to me”. As she read it, tears rolled down her cheeks. She wiped her tears as she handed back the letter. (You too can read the contents of the letter here.) “I understand why you visited your friend’s mother. But why did she call you Ranjith? Doesn’t she know her son is dead?”

He reverted his gaze to her and asked, “Can you imagine how a mother would feel if she couldn’t recognize her child from a group of kids? How would you feel if you couldn’t remember the faces of your loved ones?”

“What does this have to do with Vinati?”

“She is face blind.”

“What? Face blind? What does that even mean?”

“She suffered a severe head injury in a major car accident a few years back and contracted ‘Prosopagnosia’, also called face blindness. It means that she can’t differentiate between faces, that she can’t recognize her own son. She didn’t cope up well initially, so she had to be admitted into an asylum. Shortly after, Ranjith committed the murder. During the trial, he used to visit her and she had time to learn to recognize Ranjith by associating him with his hairstyle, gait, and voice. Doctors advised against telling her about the ongoing trial because of her unstable condition. When he was sentenced, Ranjith told her he got a job abroad. Since both of us have a similar physique, he asked me to impersonate him for her as his dying wish. That’s the reason I changed my hairstyle and voice when we visited her. I couldn’t let her feel my face as she would immediately recognize that I am not her son.”

Radha listened in silence. “I need a few minutes to contemplate this. I am going for a walk,” she said and left before he could stop her.

            After some time, he saw her return and sit a few seats away from him. He slowly approached her and said, “There is more, I am the cause of the accident. I was driving the car that hit theirs. I am sorry, Radha, for not disclosing this earlier.” The woman looked baffled and said, “I am sorry, you must have me confused with someone else. My name is Roshni.” He apologized to her, went back to his seat and waited for Radha to come back.

The Rush Hour

The Rush Hour

          “Can’t you drive any faster?” she snapped at the driver. She was angsty since she heard the news of her father’s demise. She was not surprised, she had been expecting it for a while as her father is enduring terminal cancer. She just didn’t expect it so sudden. She looked at her watch again, time is flying by. Since she can’t do anything until she reached there, she reminisced in both her fond and bitter memories of her father. Like when she was a kid, how she rode her father like an elephant, how she slept on his tummy after playing with him. She remembered the video, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, of her first steps with him and how he pretended to be hurt when her first words were ‘mama’ but was very excited for her. She thought about how he told her bedtime stories and checked for monsters under the bed, how he stood by her when she did mistakes and taught her to be honest about them. That instance when he gave her a puppy for her birthday and how he consoled her when the dog was run over made her cry even when she grew up. His struggle to keep up with her increasing homework only told her how much he wanted to be there for her.

          He worried more than her when she left for the hostel and visited her every other weekend. She recollected how he trained her to protect herself from the monsters in the society, how he cried until she returned unharmed from an accident. She remembered bitterly that the gap between them increased after her marriage. He would visit them on the pretext of seeing his grandchildren, but she knew he came for her. He still looked out for her by depositing half his pension in her name even though she is more than self-sufficient. A tear rolled down her cheek as she relived that day when he was going in for chemo and asked her how she was holding up. She saw him cry again when doctors gave up on him, but she knew that he was crying because he had to leave her forever. He would talk to her every night as his day begins, even that couldn’t satisfy him. She finally broke down when she remembered what her mother said: her name was the last word he uttered ever.

           She wiped away her tears as the car came to a halt. She handed the driver a little extra and got out of the car. She raced toward the building and took an elevator to her destined floor. She thought to herself “I’m sorry, dad” as she entered the meeting room while her father was being cremated in her faraway homeland.

The Bitter Coffee

The Bitter Coffee

“Maa, I want coffee,” he shouted for the third time from the balcony. He waited a minute and shouted again “maa, bring me some coffee.” The lack of response irritated him and his rage reached its peak within seconds. “Maa, can’t you hear me? Where is my frigging coffee?” he shouted at the top of his lungs and shattered the water glass, which was within his reach, against the wall.

After some time, he heard someone move in the hall. He turned towards the door expecting his mother to come in. Instead, his wife entered the room with a coffee cup in her hand. “Where is maa? Why are you bringing the coffee?” he asked her, even though he knew the answer. “I want maa to bring me the coffee,” he said, like a stubborn child making a demand and threatening to throw a tantrum. His wife placed the cup on his table, moved close to him and hugged him. He hugged her back, like a child who just lost something precious would hug his mother. His voice broke down and he said, sobbing, “I want maa to bring me the coffee.” His wife caressed his hair, wiped his tears and let him mourn his mother days after her death.


In His Shoes…

“Imagine yourself in the following scenario:

Having reached the age to live on your own, you left your home in search of a new one. The foremost task is to find a food source. You found one. Next, you found a neat little cozy home nearby and started your own family by mating with a suitable partner. You were contented, but have apprehension concerning the vast unknown that stretched beyond your little world of your home and food source. Sometimes you see those giants wandering, not paying you any attention. After some time, you realize that you won’t bother them as long as you don’t trespass their territory.


But what is life if not unpredictable? One day, during the hunt, you slipped and fell right into the giant’s territory. You weren’t aware what injuries you sustained, but you were enduring a tremendous amount of pain and weren’t able to move. Your home was within sight, but you couldn’t reach it. Now as you lie there, on noticing you, a giant shouted a war cry and stepped back as if getting ready to pounce on you. Soon a commotion started and more giants gathered. One of them advanced towards you with a peculiar looking weapon. You uttered your final prayers.

But then what is life if not unpredictable? The giant pushed you on to a big….ramp, for the lack of better word. Then it took you away from your home and dumped you into an abysmal pit. You cannot move and you were trapped in this pitch dark place with no way to return to home, even if you were sure in which direction it was. Although you had fed, you could sense the pang of hunger which your kin will experience in not much time. You were very much worried for your family waiting for you, ignorant of what had transpired.

Now, tell me how you feel.”

He sighed. “What do you want me to do?” he said irritably. “I refrained from killing the bloody lizard on your say so. Now you don’t want me to throw it out of the house. Do you want to breed a big family of lizards in our house? Anyway, it’s not moving. So, give me a break.”

“I’m not asking you to do anything more,” she said in a letdown voice. “I’m only asking you to put yourself in his shoes,” she mumbled and left the room.

The Reflection

The Reflection

“I don’t know you,” I wanted to say to the person staring at me. “I used to know you, but I don’t know you.” His face is devoid of feelings and creeping me out. The room is filled with steam. Beads of sweat are gathering mass and rolling down his temples in rivulets, just like mine. He changed a lot over the past few years. He is wearing torn jeans in contrast to his usual trouser fit. He grew a stubble, which gave him a manly look as opposed to the juvenile one I remember. The skin on torso is a little saggy, indicating that he gained and lost considerable amount of weight recently. His red eyes and black rings circumscribing them show his lack of sleep. I started wondering what kept him awake at nights, then pushed the thought aside, for this is not the right time. I always wanted to know what changed him from the sweet little kid loved by all to . . . to whatever he is right now. But whenever I am close to getting an answer, a cold apprehension surrounds me, that the knowledge would seep into my very fabric and leave me marked forever.

          I wanted to say many things to him, most of which are more likely to hurt him. So many things, that I lost count of them. I even forgot some of them. The problem is, he knows all of them. But he chose to ignore them, which, somehow, he thought would solve them. Whenever he looks at me, he thinks he sees his reflection in me. But the secret is that he don’t know himself profoundly enough to recognize that his true self is buried deep inside and what he sees is what he wanted to see.

          Then his glassy eyes became watery. Woah… wait a minute. Did that much time pass by already? Time flies by. The Ritual has begun. Usually I would have more time. Tears already welled up in his eyes and were about to spill. His gaze intensified, trying to look through the teary curtain. His lips started to tremble. His hands and legs became shaky. He looked as if he is about to have a seizure. If I did not know better, I too would have thought so. However, I knew better. At this point, he is most unpredictable. I have to wait just a few more seconds, until his tears depart his eyes. After that, I am safe. Then I want to console him and say what he wants to hear. I want to say the most cockamamie things to make him feel better. Like “it was not your fault at all. Your parents were to be blamed. They sinned so horrendously in their previous life that they were punished to procreate you and undergo the ramifications.” Or “you were just a tool to deliver the Judgement.” Or “you are as innocent as a butcher’s knife.” Then he would crumble down, as if his battery died. As if suddenly the Earth’s gravitational force increased many folds and his legs couldn’t support his weight anymore. He’ll sit there, wailing like a bereft animal will for its mate, until the emotions pent-up during the day are quenched. Then the crying stops abruptly. He’ll stand up, wipe the tears and will leave. His gait will make that of an 8-year-old introvert child about to face a group of thousand people seem more confident.

          This has been happening for so long a time, I forgot when it began. Why it happens is another long story, I’ll save it for some other time. Without this ritual, the day feels incomplete, like a full meal without dessert. So, when tears appeared in his eyes, I prepared myself for what was about to happen. Despite its repetition, I am never ready. Then came the trembles. I started counting seconds. And I went beyond where I usually stop. Tension built up inside me with passing seconds. Unpredictability for this long is not a good sign. I prayed to God “please, not this way. I have never been out of this room. Please, a few more days.” As his hand curled into a fist and rose, I am convinced that this would be the day of my demise. I intensified my prayers. “Please God, a few more days. I will behave. I am very young. Please God, please.” He hit the wall beside me. I trembled once and sweat dripped off me. Then he took his hand back and stood there for a minute. At this point, I contemplated my whole life. I was separated from my family at a young age only to be bought by him. I was true to him even during the worst time. After all that, I cannot die like this. I should not.

          Then an amazing thing happened. He wiped the tears from his eyes. There is a stern expression on his face, a brave expression like the one of a soldier about to enter a fight and is about to deliver the certain defeat to the enemy. Yet it is as soft as that of a mother reprimanding her beloved child. His eyes are filled with the joy you will feel when you found something you thought was lost forever. Soon after, he walked out of the room with a confident gait. Something impossible happened today. Something I anticipated for so long that I gave up on it. This incident proved to me that miracles still happen.

          It seems God heard me after all and gave us both a second chance. Not every day can you see death in the face and, as you people say, live to tell the tale. But who would listen to a mirror telling stories except a few curious one like you? Therefore, I will keep this tale mostly to myself. Before you leave, let me tell you this – “don’t tell anyone a mirror told you this story, they’ll think you are crazy.”

The Faded Flower

The Faded Flower

          I longed to run today. To run with my maximum speed, like a deer running for its dear life. To exhaust myself. After two minutes of brisk walk, I increased my pace and started jogging. The evening air is chill, typical of any wintry evening. As I jogged uphill, my breath became raspy and coarse. My lungs burned for oxygen. I took long, deep breaths to satiate them. Despite this, I started running. I felt like a raged bull dashing towards the muleta. Hundred meters ahead of me stood two towers, on either side of road, like a pair of giant bouncers at the entrance of a club, imbuing fear and ready to take out those who dare to defy their authority. As I passed by them, I felt as if I were traversing a portal into a new world painted in orange hue of the setting sun. A few meters further rose a statue of an old man, observing each and every one passing by him. As I crossed him, his ominous eyes followed me all the way until I took the next turn.

          Then I saw her, walking on a single file of bricks with outstretched hands and grace of a wildcat. I stopped right there gasping for breath, pretending I was out of breath. I dabbed the napkin at my forehead to absorb the sporadically formed sweat beads, all the while, peeping at her, for I am shy when I am around women. With the setting sun directly behind her head, she appeared like a wingless angel with a halo. She carefully pushed aside those locks of golden hair fussing about her face to prevent them from obscuring her vision, tilting a little to a side to maintain balance and in the process, revealing her exquisite countenance. Her serene, innocent face made me forget all those hurtful things my so-called friends said, which impelled me to run like a wild ox in order to quell my anger. Her eyes… Oh her eyes!!! I could get lost in them and wander forever without ever getting exhausted. The sound of her smile was like music to my ears. Seeing her there like that made the whole world, except her, frivolous to me. Suddenly she lost her balance and slipped. My heart skipped a beat.

          Relishing her beauty, I was oblivious to him walking beside her. He caught her and they remained in that posture for half a minute, like a dancing couple would at the end of their performance. She freed herself from his hold. Then she saw me, gazing at me for a full minute. Now her eyes were infused with dread, like those of a captured animal. For a moment, I doubted if what I had seen a little earlier had been my imagination at play, a byproduct of my excessive reading of romantic novels. “What are you looking at, you loser?” came his booming voice as he spat those acrid words at me. I stared at him, dumbstruck, like a deer spotted in headlights. She was looking at the grass on the ground, folding her hands in front of her, reluctant to meet my eyes. He approached me saying “what the hell are you looking at?” and pushed me, sending me stumbling backwards. I wanted to say “I am looking at an angel, not hell”, deliver an unexpected blow to his gut incapacitating him and then hold her hand forever. But my timidity stopped me from uttering even a single sound. I got up slowly, dusted my shorts and resumed my jog, all along aware of his icy glare.

          Even before I took a few steps, I heard a shrill cry which sent jitters along my spine. I turned around only to see no one there. The cry came again, instilling the agony of its composer in whatever living form it touched. I cannot make out the word at first. But the third time it came, the word is as clear as the sound of water droplets in a horror film with eerily silent ambience. “Help…” I looked around once again to pinpoint its source. Abruptly, all the scenery around me vanished, leaving me in a void which then filled with the same cry as before, only this time it is amplified thousand times. Then the void filled with her image giving me a feeling of flying in some strange 3D holographic picture. There lay her limp body in a posture that would make any onlooker look away in guilt, her ghastly face distorted in pain, streaked with tears and devoid of its previous innocence, but as serene. Her lifeless eyes stared at me as if blaming me for what had happened to her. Her dress was torn in places, along with her skin, exposing deeply cut wounds to buzzing flies, where blood oozed slowly due to the cease of its circulation. I felt my stomach churn and thought I would get sick when I observed the absence of any sound as if the world was on mute. Catching me off guard, a brilliant light illuminated the whole picture making every small detail so vivid that it made me want to gouge my eyes out just to stop looking at the horrible image. Then came again the ear-splitting cry which would have shattered each and every piece of glass within a radius of half a kilometer.

          I suddenly sat up in my bed, sweating profusely. I reached for the water pitcher, took a sip and lay back in the bed only to spend the rest of night rolling and tossing around. Ever since I saw her photo and the story of what happened in newspapers, this nightmare started haunting me, firing each and every neuron of my brain with remorse for not fighting back that hapless day. I will, forever, carry the guilt of her death on my conscience. But I have no regrets at all for what I did to that gruesome monster who committed this horrendous crime and tried to escape the wrath of justice on account of a minor technicality. No, I have none.

      One last thing. If I had learned anything in the past few years confined to this claustrophobic cell, it would be this – Never ever leave any beast, whether inside or outside, untamed, lest it shall devour you…