Posted in Cultures, Short Stories, Uncategorized

Polka dots

I live in a big and busy city that never stops, never sleeps. Years could’ve flown by before you realize you never stopped to take a moment to look around you. I was standing on a small corner of a busy street on Charni Road. It was a typical scene of daily Mumbai life – a low lit barber shop, a tantalizing smell drifting from an unhygienic biryani shop, a curving road that was a safety hazard but had fancy cars, and a used-books shop owned by an old greying man with an old greying beard sitting behind the desk. I was waiting patiently for my date to find parking (which everyone knows is a game of pure luck). My beautiful date who wore well-ironed, laundry-only pure-cotton shirts with trousers, not jeans and loafers, not slippers. And lived in a four-storey building that hadn’t been painted since it had been built, with a dingy entrance you wouldn’t notice until you knew it existed and wooden stairs that made my brain automatically look for alternate fire escapes. But it was on Charni Road, which makes all the difference.

I didn’t turn to my phone while I was waiting. He’d get here soon enough. So I looked around me, taking a moment to smile about the last four hours I’d spent with a great guy. That’s when I spotted it, fluttering mid-air. Everything faded from the background. I was transfixed, staring at this red polka-dotted cloth bag suspended by a piece of rope from the fourth floor of the building in front of me. It didn’t really obstruct the traffic or the light poles, but either people didn’t notice it’s existence or they did, and knew it’s purpose. I just stared at it for what seemed like a long five minutes, trying to figure out the reason for it’s existence.

When my date joined me, I simply pointed at the bag and said, “Explain.” “Do you understand the word ‘aalas’?”, he asked. The next few minutes revealed one of the best epitomes I have for laziness. As it turns out, the bag was a sort of transportation device. People such as the grocer, milkman and newspaper boy who wanted to deliver something to the fourth floor could leave their goods in that bag. The receiver could then just pull the bag up instead of climbing up and down four storeys.

I now have a new found admiration for Mumbai and it’s jugaad.

Posted in Airplane Poetry, poems, Uncategorized

An Empty Basket of Apples

Part 3 of 100 Poems in 2018 Challenge by Airplane Poetry.

Prompt: Begin and end your poem with “I promise”.

I promise.
One day, you’ll go apple picking.
There will be a red-and-white checkered tablecloth
disguised as a picnic blanket
spread on the grass
still wet with dew.
It may even be greener
on the other side,
but you wouldn’t care.
The tree will be boundless,
to give you shade,
Laden, to give you fruit, and
Sturdy, to rest your back against.
You could spend hours reading a book,
A pencil in your hand
to capture wandering thoughts,
the end sightly nibbled,
Or climb the ladder
propped against the tree trunk,
basket in hand.
The luscious apples, yours.
If you choose them to be.
You could bake warm pies of them,
or fresh juice.
Would you share some with others,
I wonder.
But I suppose they’d prefer
fresh apples
to do with as they please.
If you went apple picking,
the day would be
the first of Summer.
The sun would be a sunflower,
the breeze, wind chimes,
and maybe a White Rabbit
would shiver
his whiskers at you.
You could tell him the time
from your pocket watch.
One day, you’ll go apple picking.
I promise.

Posted in Uncategorized

A Card Game

Everyone had gone for the evening round of Ganesh aartis, but after one of many aartis, I separated yself from the enthusiastic crowd of children with dholaks and adults with sales pitches for the Elephant God. I retraced my steps back to the house where I could be left alone to my own devices. The incessant rainfall had paused for just a breath. Usually, I was one of the people who lip-synced “Jai Dev, Jai Dev” in the back, today I just wasn’t in the mood.

I drifted into the _maazghar_ – living room – and spied with my little eye 52 somethings that could help cure me of boredom. So I picked up the pack of cards and sat down to play Solitaire. I had only ever played it on a screen, but I figured it stemmed from a real pack of cards. Although I must admit, I had to use papa’s laptop to confirm the rules and layout of the game. Somewhere in the middle of my second game, I was interrupted by a fleeting comment. Papa, who had been to a _Satyanarayan pooja_ had entered through the back door and was passing through the house to join the aarti. stooping over my shoulder long enough to guess the game I was playing, he said, “That was your ajoba’s favourite card game”. “What’s that?” called Ajoba’s voice. Blind though he may be, there was nothing wrong with his hearing. Papa resumed his stride, answering him as he went, “that game you used to play where you arranged aces, twos, threes, fours and so on in alternate colours”, and with that he vanished into the dark of the night and the pitter patter of the raindrops.

I resumed playing, and ajoba made his slow way towards the cot where I sat. As he settled on the cot, there was a silence between us. Not a sullen, awkward silence but that of a shared camaraderie. Or so it was until the burning question on the tip of my tongue, but reined in by my teeth and good sense, leaped out of it’s own accord – “Dad said this was your favourite game?” The answer I expected would’ve gladdened my heart but the one that I got was the one that made sense. “It wasn’t my favourite game, per se. But what was a man to do to spend time? Four sons and an adopted daughter, all studying in the same room. I couldn’t have talked to your mother for it would’ve disturbed them. So I kept my silence, and to occupy myself, I played Solitaire.

I instantly pictured an eight year old Papa watching his father play cards every time he looked up from his books. Of course it was his father’s favourite game. Why else would an adult, who could choose to only indulge in activities he enjoyed, play a game of Solitaire? But I had gotten the bandwagon moving, and another story was revealed to be my by a lonely old man who had found an ear that would listen.

Posted in Cultures, Short Stories, Uncategorized

Of Cigarettes and Kisses

The last time I saw Rita, my bright pink lipstick mark was still glistening on her right cheek since last night. We’d spent the entire car ride from Manresa to Barcelona chattering but as the lights of Barcelona drew closer, the car grew silent. When we reached her doorstep, we hugged once, twice and ran back to one another for a final one.

A week into my youth exchange, she invited me to meet some of her friends. Most movies had confirmed that Europe encouraged – nay, expected – spontaneity, so I said yes. I got lost in the Barrio Gotico. This area of the city was wildly akin to Hephaestus’ labyrinth, and Google maps had abandoned me. Now I was on the phone trying to describe something apart from graffiti-ed walls to a woman I’d never met before. After 10 minutes of frantic talking, we realized we were under identical arches 50 metres from each other. Despite myself, I kissed the air next to her cheeks; something I was still getting used to.

Barcelona’s Pride Celebrations had a foam party that we attended. The avalanche of foam drowned us. We couldn’t breathe over the blanket of foam encasing us. From a small window of fresh air, I saw a large pair of brown eyes staring back at me wildly, just as panicked as I was. We didn’t need words to communicate. We grabbed each other’s hands and made our way out of that death trap. The cab ride home heard more personal stories than expected of fresh acquaintances.

She always knew the perfect thing to say. It intrigued me endlessly. The house party she was throwing gave me the perfect opportunity to study her. In a room full of people, languages, and drinking games I was unfamiliar with, I realized why. Rita was always listening. She didn’t hear you half-heartedly or speak over you to prove a point. She listened to you because she actually wanted to understand your perspective.

Rita had political posters pasted around her house. She passionately spoke about Catalan identity with a holistic knowledge of history and zero inclination towards violence. She translated songs for me that had political propaganda and participated in the revolution. She wants to study Conflict Resolution.

She rolled her own cigarettes and talked about feminism. She’d pour you local drinks, tell you history behind it and then agree that your ex was an asshole. She’d never let you talk yourself down. She would dance to 80’s songs like there was no tomorrow. She opened my mind to new things. And now I have a home in her.

Posted in Cultures, poems, Uncategorized


Dear Papa,
Yesterday I saw something that I didn’t understand.
They were walking a little ahead of me.
But walking isn’t the right word,
because there were two people
and only two feet.
It sounds like a math problem,
But nothing added up in my head.
It sounds like Vikram Vetal, papa,
But unlike the story you told me the other day,
there was no strong king or sly demon.
I saw, however, one dirty underfed boy of eight
dragging his crippled mother across the street.
Adhunik Shravan bal.
A Lilliputian on a Herculean task.
I couldn’t decipher her age.
When you’re that poor, does age matter?
Do they keep count of the days that pass by
when their aim is to survive just one?
Do they have a mirror to look into
and count the wrinkles on their face?
What does age matter to an eight year old boy
who, instead of attending school,
is hauling his handicapped mother across the road
on a seating board with wheels?
When I was that age, papa,
you bought me a skateboard
that was the exact leaf green
from my 50 colours oil pastels set.
I couldn’t see the colour of their clothes.
There was the dark of the night,
yellow of the street lights
and everything was in sepia
like the picture you showed me
of your childhood.
You once told me you were raised in poverty too, papa.
Are there different kinds of poverty?
Did you get toys to play with
or were your clothes in sepia too?
I told you this sounds like a math problem, papa,
And here’s what doesn’t add up.
Isn’t a parent supposed to hold their child’s hand
and show them how to cross the road?
I remember holding your hand,
looking left-right-left
and matching my steps
with your strides.
Fast, but never run.
Who taught him, papa?
Did he have his own papa to teach him?
How did he learn to walk fast enough
and pull hard enough
so that he and his mom made it across the road in time?
How did he find the strength if he was underfed?
He truly reminds me of Shravan bal,
because who else would carry his mother
across such distances.
I told you it sounds like Vikram Vetal, papa,
and now that I think about it, it really does.
Maybe this little boy is a young king.
Maybe he brings his vetal back home every day.
Maybe he hears her talk about her day.
And maybe, papa,
when he succeeds every night,
she saves him from an evil tantric.
An evil tantric called hunger.

Posted in Cultures, Kolkewadi, Short Stories, Uncategorized

Praying to Stone

My dad convinced some of the locals to take us for a trek to Kolkewadi Killa. Mom, dad and I packed egg bhurji and rotis and started off around 6 in the morning. We trekked for about four hours, and reached the caves we were headed to. There were a total of seven caves. One was underground, the mouth of one was about to be closed due to stone and soil filling it, and one was full of bats. There were some more, but the last one we went to had a clean water tank. We set up camp there, took out our rotis and egg bhurji, and sat to eat.  There were some random stones lying about, all carved and sculpted into some vague human shapes. Dad is experienced about stuff like this. After standing there and studying them, he said that they were at least a thousand years old. When they had been newly made, they had probably been exquisite, beautiful and perfect to the very last detail. Or they could’ve totally been just vague shapes. The locals who were accompanying us claimed that they were idols, and this was a sort of a temple. Some empty packets of incense were also lying about; proof that some people had prayed to those idols before. Papa indicated for me to come and see myself; I was itching to the exactly that. I walked over and peered at the stone slabs. Something seemed wrong, the way the idols were depicted, the postures, the positions. A nagging suspicion started forming at the back of my mind so I looked up at papa, mentally trying to frame what I knew might be true.

He caught my eye and said, ‘Yeah, I think its S-E-X’. He spelled it out so that the locals wouldn’t go through an uninvited culture shock. But my suspicion was confirmed, and I burst out laughing. Papa joined in, and so did mom. The whole day I was amused with the thought that people even today prayed there to sex like it was some god – burning incense, bowing their heads, giving salutations and considering it holy.

Posted in poems, Short Stories, Uncategorized

The woman from 17 Again

How do you tell your boyfriend that you love him?
That you love him but.
That you love him but it’s not enough.
That you don’t wanna be the woman from 17 Again
‘Cause she fell in love at 17,
Got engaged at 19,
Got married at 20,
Had a kid at 22,
And at 35 she realized she had fallen out of love with her husband.
You didn’t want to be her.
How do you tell him that he is perfect and his efforts aren’t falling short?
But you’ve seen Monte Carlo
and you want to roam about Europe
on a Vespa with a really nice guy you met there.
How do you tell him thanks for handling you
when you were really drunk that New Year’s Eve?
But you want to know what its like when a guy buys you a drink across the bar.
How do you tell him that travelling with him is goals?
But that international trip wasn’t supposed to include him.
It was supposed to be your trip with your friend traipsing around the place, making memories and having no sex.
How do you tell him that the blame game sucks but it’s never one person’s mistake?
But you’re tired of accepting mistakes that weren’t yours in the first place when all your heart actually wants to do is make all the possible mistakes in the world without regret or guilt and own it, damn it!
How do you tell him that you once saw a future with him and you still do?
But you’re 20, a graduate, unemployed and you still haven’t figured out what to do about your own future.
How do you tell him that you’re tired of the fights and maybe if you both took efforts, the fights would be resolved?
But you want to take all those efforts and put them in yourself because if you did so, maybe, just maybe, you’ll figure out a career.
How do you tell him that you may not have whirlwind romances or foreign affairs?
But you can’t afford to know that they never can ’cause you never tried.
How do you tell him that you both once wanted the same things?
But now things have changed and you’re not quite sure what you want but you’re willing to give Life a try.