Thursday, 25 October 2018

Poetry 2018 Shortlist

Aakriti Bhatia       Akil Bakhshi    Ananya Guha
Arkadeep Sengupta        Avantika Singhal        Bhupendra Kumar Dave
  Biswadeep Ghosh Hazra      Chandrama Deshmukh
Chintha Mary Anil     Debasish Mishra      Deepthi Acharya
Dr Diwakar Pokhriyal      Giftsy Dorcas      Hamid Khan
Harikrishnan R       Himani Dua      Jagari Mukherjee
Javeria Kausar      Joyce Job    Andrew Kai Hangsing
Khurram Nizami      Khyati Gautam     Krushna Kumari
Manjeet Banerjee       Mathew John      Mittali Khurana
Mruga Trivedi    Muhammad Auwal Ibrahim      Neelam Saxena Chandra
Nimisha Bissa      Nisha Raju       Nitin Jain        Paul Avish
Pearline Priscilla     Nandini Muzumder       Debasis Tripathy
Aadithyaa      Anila M Vivek      Mauli Joshi
Shuvendu Panda     Rashida Arsiwala    Laxmi Rane
Prajakta Chaudhari      Priti Dipa Jena      Priyanka Roy Banerjee
Priyanshi Bahadur        Promila Jakhar      Rachaita Hore
Raj Sahu       Rajat Tiwari         R G Kaimal       Ruchika Pahwa
Salman Sowdagar      Shishir Marathey      Shivani Dua
Sonali Rasal    Soumi Duttagupta      Sudeepto Mishra    Swatilekha Roy
Swetha Sadanand     Udit Bhatia      Usha Amulya
Vandana Parashar       Vikas Sharma      Yash Chandra
Zainab Aliyah Murfuah 

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, Jyotsna Bhatia

When the Blue Roof Leaked

He folded all the clothes that were to be ironed in the old sari and waited patiently at the verandah for the madam to appear.
He prayed with all his might for a yes to his question because this was the last house where he could ask and if she too denied he would have nowhere to go.
‘I am sorry Shankar, I don’t think it would be possible for us’ said the madam and his last hopes sank, moistening his eyes.
‘But Madam, it is not such a big...’ and before he could finish the sentence, the door had already closed.
He looked dejected at the sky covered with clouds, ready to burst anytime, remembering the urgent repair required in the leaky rooftop of the small room that accommodated his family of seven members.

Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, Janaki Nagaraj

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.

It was love at first sight. She had the most beautiful eyes. I could view a world in her eyes. She tugged at my heart and the feeling was quiet strong. I could not turn away and so I extended my hand towards here. She backed off, shy. They say love happens once but after that, twice, thrice….now, I am tending to her whole brood.  She had me at her first 'meow’.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, Ishan Mukhopadhyay

Lights and the City Nights

Sometimes the city feels like in coma – wrapped in dull yellow lights. Recuperating in a dim, feverish daze, and barely hanging onto life by a thread. Life seems to be suspended in slow motion, and there’s something hypnotic in the numb glow of those yellow street lamps. Walking along the streets, or taking a ride, honking, headlights, sweat dripping, couples nestling, giant hoardings and the surreal  lights…life looses it’s coherence, it’s motive, at times. People feel like complacent puppets, rude people who seem like robots – it may only be my harassed brain failing to register design, losing the thread of reason in a giant, humid metro… I don’t care. I lose myself in those lights… I gasp for breath. My hot, yellow consciousness, full of immobile, mechanical people stalls all thoughts, pain, longing… nothing distracts my stupor. I struggle to dissociate the real world... 

Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, G S Vasukumar

When you grow up!

G S Vasukumar


“Son, what you want to be when you grow up?”

“I don’t know yet, dad.”

“Okay, where do you want to live then?”

“Some place far away from here.”

“You may not have this kind of freedom elsewhere…”

“Who cares, dad? I’m really bored being a stupid elephant in this boring jungle!”


Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, Diwakar Pokhriyal

Repentance

“Wait! This is wrong” He shouted.
“I am not listening to you. You don’t understand my point of view” I said
“It’s not about the views, it’s about the future. You have the potential to rise above heaven” He tried to pull me back.
“Leave me alone! I can think and act on my own. I don’t need a compass.” I said and walked off.
“Please understand….” But till then I had left, might be forever.
I opened the door. As I looked inside, tears started welling up and I lost control of my senses.
“How can I treat a loved one like this?” My mind was drowning inside darkness.
“He did everything for me but I wasn’t able to realize his worth. I am still no one”.
 
While I was in dilemma, I saw them taking him away. His body was covered with white cloth.
   

Friday, 5 October 2018

Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, Divvisha Bharati

The Fateful Revenge

He gathered all canvasses together and made a link between them.
O tried to recollect. He started to join the unconnected points. In few seconds he was able to figure the person responsible for Zak’s condition.

And there was the entire picture. This was a beautiful picture, the ethereal kinds that poems are written about, the eyes, the form. Zak, a mere mortal, couldn’t have escaped. Was her beauty skin deep? O remembered all incidents of her betrayal and conspiracies that were aimed at him.

“I never knew fate will give me a chance to take revenge” O made a note in his journal.
His hand became restless. It lifted the brush and dipped in paint. Few blotches of paint here and there. Some crooked lines and there it was. O sighed with relief.

What? O exclaimed.  How can this be possible? The queen who plotted everything against Zak for money and power resembled his own lover.
Zak who sat perplexed on their chair now showed a movement. He blinked his eye in affirmation.

Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, Devasree Chakravarti

Pendra Local

My whole body ached in protest. Brother snored peacefully oblivious to the world. I envied the self satisfied smile playing on his lips. It was still dark when I was rudely shaken. Roli, you fat- head, get up! Ma shouted. Light the chulha!   

I staggered across. A string of chores and I was ready; running along with Chotu to catch the morning local. Ma had put new bangles on my wrists while the dusty worn salwar-kameej clung to my body uneasily.     

Contorting my body to fit through the ring I was fast outgrowing I began my performance. A few coins landed on my outstretched arms.

Chotu munched on the peanuts someone gave him.

I walked to the next coach, to another performance, to another pair of eyes. That day I got a fifty rupee note: the mausi living next door chuckled “Roli has grown up.”

Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, Aurosikha Priyadarshini

Knocking on heaven’s door

The slow tick tock of the clock, the angry winter wind blowing outside, and the ring of the telephone echoing in the mansion...

Ryan heard it all, yet he heard nothing...
He could hear the gleeful cries of his siblings in the garden.
"Ray, gimme the ball... Fast!!"' Molly was screaming.
He could hear her sister Meg having a row with her boyfriend at the front porch.
"Trrriiinnnggg!!! Trrriiinnnggg!!!. The stupid phone could not understand the simple fact that there was no one around to pick it up...

And then gradually the sounds got fainter and fainter until it made peace with Silence. And Agony...

Poetry 2014 Longlist, Ashiya Ansari

Untitled

Was sitting idle and suddenly rang the phone,
I'm feeling weary, mama please do receive the call.
Is there Ashiya to whom I want to talk?
Mama said to that curious voice to keep on hold.
I took the phone, asked whom are you looking for?
She replied, this is me who used to be your best buddy long before.
I squeaked in delight, asked where had you gone?
I misplaced your number and address I forgot,
Today it so happened for that laud the God,
Stumbled upon a school diary, old so long,
There got your number written on the top,
So as here I'm to you on this phone.
I burst into smiles, hearing the reason she told,
It's true that they too wait for us, whom we keep waiting for.

Poetry 2014 Longlist, Ankita Kumar

THE STORY OF MY LIFE

A few connected dots and a myriad of emotions that seep through my gushing soul.
A revelation in all its form, so hysterical yet well-carved.
My archaic stance dwindles every time a wave of newness is found.
The story of my life finds strength from different angles.
Harping on, it resonates the sound I have designed.
Not once, but twice, it confirms my presence,
and a shadow - check later, it floats around.
Make my way, for light and day,
the spell-binding desire seems to have cast away.
Mysteries in centuries and centuries in mystery,
the difference in two odd duals, hitch my unflinching faith.
The story of my life fills length and depth from various transcendental corners.
Chanting my name, it plays the tune I have created.
Not once, but twice, it manipulates my existence,
and a flaming venture makes things bright and hale.
Aligned beautifully and negated almost immediately,
I have built bridges, I have built walls.
So what if its a fantasy? What if its a gateway to the mind?
Who decides what's what and whats not?
The story of my life is unfolding slowly.
Gliding and advancing, its paving a path.
Some things come easy and the rest come hard,
for nothing else matters, for we all live in a house of cards.

Flash Flash 2014 Longlist, Ananya Sarkar

Long Distance Call

“Hello?”
“Shubho! How are you dear?”
“Well, things are continuing as usual here. I’m good.”

“No... I haven’t been able to give away your father’s things. It’s only been a few months since his demise...I think I need more time.”
 “Yes, I understand. By the way, are you visiting this Christmas?”
“Oh ...I was looking forward to cooking your favourite fish, making pickles for the kids...”
 “Is it really important?”
 
“Okay. Hey, can I talk to the girls? Oh yes. I remember. Long distance call. I know dear, but I feel so nervous about using the Internet with no one by my side.”

A gust of wind blows through the window, ruffling the frail woman’s grey strands, caressing her cheeks and making the deafening silence complete.

Flash Fiction 2014 Longlist, Amar Agarwala

Flowers For Amelia Sandhurst

He stood near the cemetery gates, having forgotten to bring flowers for his wife. When to his surprise, a little girl appeared from nowhere and thrust two bunches of white orchids into his hands.

“I only need one. And how much should I pay you?”
“Nothing… but please take both? One is for Amelia Sandhurst; her grave is behind the mulberry bush at the far end,” then she walked away into the gathering dusk.

Later he found her grave and placed the bunch of orchids upon them.
“A little girl bought me some orchids but never took money,” he told the old grave-keeper on his way out.
“She always helps.”
“Do you know her?”
“Yes, I do…”
“Who is she?”
“It’s her birthday today and she never forgets to bring flowers for herself and for anyone who needs them. The little girl you met was - Amelia Sandhurst!”

Flash Fiction 2014 Shortlist, Aditi Singh

Stones

Aditi Singh

Koti skidded across the slippery Worli Sea Face to reach her favourite spot by the rocky sea. The only thing that bought her unbridled happiness was pebbles: perfect, round, shiny stones. If she saw one, she had one more for her ever growing collection. The sea face was churning up quite a few of her geological treasures this monsoon. After casting a weary eye around, she leaned over the cement bund and to her astonishment saw an entire bed of perfect stones. She felt giddy with excitement. Gingerly she picked up most of the small pebbles which had landed on the bigger rocks, all but one enormous stone. As she leapt over the wall, she slipped on a perfect round stone. They never recovered her body. Maybe, she’s resting deep within the ocean, surrounded by a bed of round pebbles

Flash Fiction 2014, Second Prize, Paresh Tiwari

Beyond (A Haibun)

My evening walks often take me around the short neglected boundary of a cemetery. As the urgent horns of passing vehicles weave through the potholed roads, I can almost hear the pooling silence of the time-ravaged tombstones inside. None of my loved ones are buried here and yet the overgrown weed, the bare limbed trees, yellowing grass, a forgotten bunch of flowers, the puddle of wax from dead candles and the half-obliterated epitaphs in calligraphic Urdu beckon me like an old forgotten friend.
Every evening, I halt beside this collage of shadows and melting sun before moving on…

dew web…
the feeble struggles 
of a housefly

Flash Fiction 2014, First Prize, Verina Berryl Rasquinha

Just Another Night

Verina Berryl Rasquinha

Pallid sketches of twilight dance on the frontiers of his face. The creases on his wrinkly shirt murmur despicably as they stick to his withered body. He crawls closer to my feet. 

I’m no drunkard’s mercy. I scoff.

I look up towards the sky. The moon was at its fullest tonight.

I see an overview of the houses that sat with their torsos clinging to each other. They mock at my loneliness.

Somewhere in the neighbouring streets, dogs howl wolfishly.

I look down at the man gathered at my feet and imagine his wife sitting by the window in anticipation of her husband as she puts her children to sleep.

The stars of the sky camouflage as sunlight creeps with the first breath of dawn. I dim out. I’m a street lamp and my work is over for the night. I close my eyes as the city comes to life.

Short Story Longlist 2018

Winners & Featured Writers                                                            Shortlist                                    
Published on October 5, 2018

Aadhithyaa    Aftab Yusuf Shaikh   Akil Bakhshi    Anisha Dutta 

Bhagyashree Mishra   Biswadeep Ghosh Hazra   Chintha Mary Anil

Divya Chaudhari     Ermelinda Makkimane     Hamid Khan

Javeria Kausar   Meera Venkatesan   Neelam Saxena Chandra

Preethi Warrier    Proma Bhattacharjee    Promila Jakhar

Rajshree Parthivv    Shivani Dua      Sunita Singh

Abhishek Hazra     Viplove Sharma     Giftsy Dorcas E.

Mauli Joshi     Sonali Rasal     Shubhi Goel    Sudeepto Mishra

Sudha Vishwanathan       Tanu Malhotra Kochchar

Tarun Chakraborty    Vikas Sharma      Bindu Saxena

Debjeet Mukherjee    Nameet Shetty    Sandhyaa Venkatachalam

Swatilekha Roy  Amit Arora

Short Story 2018 Longlist, Shivani Dua

The Frantic Search

It was a tranquil dawn, saffron rays of Sun God were entering my window and the birds could be heard twittering. Soothing morning breeze was blowing. I quickly got up, ready to be a part of the scenery. I took a shower, put on my best ensemble, gulped my breakfast and thinking about my pleasant imageries rushed out. But lo and behold, I found myself on a busy road full of traffic and honking. I was walking amidst school buses, children, office goers, cars, clouds of dust and smoke. The scene at the road made a mockery of the picture which I had witnessed early morning, the imagery I seated in my heart. I quickened my steps to get out of this web. I reached office-exhausted. Yes, in the morning itself I was exhausted. I slouched in a chair and had a glass of water. A pile of files was awaiting me. I forgot everything else- I forgot both the early morning bliss and late morning fuss. I lost myself among the files.

After working for a couple of hours… I felt suffocated, choked, feverish. I threw the pen away and peeped through the window. A bunch of urchins were playing. I got jealous… I also wanted to be happy but could not even smile. I closed my eyes. The tick tock of the clock in the deadly silence of my room irked me. I got up, informed the boss about my ill health but he turned a Nelson’s eye towards my problem. I wanted to scream but contained myself, remained firm and declared that I wanted – was in dire need of a half day leave. I looked at my boss’s face getting red with fury. I ignored his frown, turned and came out, slamming the door behind me. I wanted everyone to know—I was frustrated. I wasn’t a machine working 24*7. I was a full blooded human being in need of relaxation, love and respect. I walked in a relaxed gait while going back home. I was in no hurry. For the first time in life, I observed many colourful insects crawling on the ground. I felt the gentle touch of air caressing my hair. I felt so light like a cloud floating in the sky.

Some children were playing in a park-I saw innocence, untouched by selfishness, ego or malice. I threw my bag, shoes, socks, on a bench and joined them in their game. I laughed my heart out, shouted in happiness. Tears welled up in my eyes. I felt the moist touch of that dew drop which was coming out of my eyes and settled on my cheek. Yes! That’s life-carefree, light like a soft breeze. All these years I was just a dummy or to be more specific a mummy-Yes! I was dead. There was no trace of life left in me but today I felt as if fresh blood was circulating inside me, gushing into my veins, bringing a fresh lease of life inside me. It was then I realised that too much wisdom and graveness which has become the trademark of adults had served me no good. 

Rather, being crazy, a bit wild, carrying a child-like innocence inside has the miraculous power to soothe us from within. Somebody was tapping continuously on my shoulder. ‘Uncle! Uncle! Please throw the ball.’ I smiled and rejoined the children. “Uncle! You play so well. Why don’t you play with us everyday?” One of them remarked. My face beamed at this unexpected compliment. I worked diligently at my office but never got a compliment. The result of my sincerity was more and more work- an unending list. This, according to my boss was a perfect protective device that could save me from being on cloud nine. He never thought that praising someone can be a source of motivation too. But these little ones were so happy with my work and lauded my efforts whole heartedly. I gave them a treat of their favourite ice cream which they licked happily. I was even happier than them. In fact I was the happiest. For the first time in life, I tasted happiness-understood its true meaning and realised its true worth. I went home and slept soundly like a child. I got the fresh air back into my life. My frantic search was over. It was happiness which was missing from my life. I found it today.

Ah! I am ready to stake anything for that whiff of fresh air.
 

Short Story 2018, Featured Writer, Swatilekha Roy

War In The Head

The train to the Land of Calm hadn’t stopped for three days. There was this nagging feeling of being in perpetual motion, our possibilities racing faster than the train itself. The Possibilities had left on horseback a week ago. Our elders had deemed it fit to rest our futures in their hands, as sending Possibilities as heralds was considered good omen. They would be pleading with the elders of Calm for our much needed Refuge.

My cousins and I, some kids and few elders were sitting in an almost empty compartment. There were the Grief children, the Jealousy ones and the Surprises’. We had been packed off in a hurry, either due to of lack of space in other compartments, or our elders had died and been captured.

I was brooding and looking at the drizzle pattering softly against the glass and bringing plenty of bittersweet thoughts. I missed Plenty more than ever, though all that was left of it was rubble and death. Love was sitting opposite to me, looking miserable. ‘Missing my sister’, she mouthed when I asked if she was alright. I was thinking about Mum, and my best friend Loss who hadn’t made it to the train. No one knew what had happened to the Loss family.

“Calm has always been amicable to the Land of Plenty,” a Possibility elder said. He hadn’t been sent along with his peers because of his injured leg. “They might listen.” The Grief elder said, “We can hope.”

Everyone looked at me, the only Hope child in the compartment.

We were standing in front of a huge fort. Before us, the entry to the Land of Calm was guarded by its Intuitions. These people wouldn’t talk or let us through until their own elders arrived. Our Possibilities were already inside, and our Intuitions claimed that odds might be in our favour. Our Lucks and Diplomacy were singing a different tune. “Without us, Possibilities don’t exist. We should have been sent along,” they chorused. Then, they broke into an argument between themselves, each claiming they are better. Our eldest leader, a Love elder, chided them. “Respect yourselves. Is this the image of our land you’ll show Calm?” They kept silent.

I was standing towards the front of our queue. Love had been with me since the journey. Her mother stood behind with glistening eyes. The war had killed many, her husband and younger daughter, and Mum being some of them. I was left an orphan with nothing but the emotion we stood for to hold on to. “Love will heal us, child,” Mrs. Love told me. She must have seen the hopelessness written on my face. “We can rise again.”

All conversations stopped abruptly when we saw the huge iron gates opening inwards. There stood a dozen of men in green coveralls, as opposed to our magenta robes. “Welcome to the Land of Calm,” the youngest of them said. “Intuitions! Hold the gates wide open for our guests.” Among the Calm elders, we could see a few magenta robes, like plenty of beautiful berry blossoms on a lush bush. Our Possibilities had proved themselves yet again.
Our Refuge had been granted.

“That’s so kind of them,” Love whispered.“The virtue which makes us what we are!” the youngest Kind child mused.“Don’t start boasting”, Love hissed back.
Kind looked crestfallen. “That’s so unkind of you,” she whispered.

Our Possibilities made us sit on the velvet sand, torches illuminating the starless night. My maternal cousin, the youngest Hope of our clan, sat with his head on my lap. His father had been killed recently, unlike mine who had died even before I was born. Our elders were sitting on low porches, while the Calm ones sat on boat-shaped thrones. Again, the youngest one rose and addressed us.

“Once again, we welcome the people of the Land of Plenty to stay with us”, he said softly. The air around us was still, broken only by the sea. “In their time of distress, it’s our duty to stand by them. The Land of Chaos has made a massive breach of faith with their shameful act.” Our Faith elders nodded. The leader continued, “Killing children is a sin. The fact that Chaos is doing away with the basic iota of decency is terrible. For this, they must pay.

“I request all our guests to feel comfortable”, he said, in that same monotonous tone that commands silence. “We have arranged separate quarters for them, so that they are at ease. However, it’ll be wonderful if they come forward to shake the hands of our citizens, who will return the gesture with zeal.”

“We do have some rules though”, another elder in green spoke up. “We are a small people. Nevertheless, we’re strict. We are honored to uphold the name of our land and for the same, we keep our calm. We seldom talk aloud. Only whispers and dumb shows. Unnecessary yells remain unnecessary. Angry outbursts demand detention. We request our Plenty guests to adhere the golden rule of our land ‘Be Calm’.”

“Not a surprise”, a Surprise elder whispered. “Luck and Diplomacy, get that?” A couple of hoarse whispers followed.

“It’s midnight now. I advise our guests to follow us to their chambers. We’ll meet tomorrow”, the younger one concluded. We were glad to call it a day.

The chamber was as lavish as imaginable. After the hard train sleepers, the soft bread and pillows felt like heaven. I fell into deep sleep instantly, with my cousins beside me. The magnificent hall filled with gentle snores and beautiful dreams, as the Calm Intuitions stood guard outside.

Next day, we dressed and got ready for our first day in Calm. There was a mixed feeling of excitement and anticipation. Our elders made it clear that we were to follow rules at any cost.
“We should respect our privileges.”
“We shouldn’t push our luck.”
“Mostly, we shouldn’t forget why we’re here. To have our revenge from Chaos.”
“The Calm elders are your leaders now.”

It was a breezy day outside and my cousin squealed in joy, “The sea!” True enough, the beautiful expanse of blue singing with the waves and glistening like teardrops made us gawk. A Calm elder hushed him, a bit too cruelly for a kid. “I’m very sorry”, I mouthed sheepishly to the elder. He scowled.

All our life, we had lived in the mountain. So, the sea amazed us. Moreover, there was profound silence everywhere, broken only by the sea and our unaccustomed footfalls. The Calm people were all awake. Specks of green on white sand. Some were waving to us, some were busy with daily jobs. The kids were making sand castles. “Our guests can explore as much as they want”, the oldest Calm elder said. Shyly, our guardians started helping their people in the farm and boats. Kids joined on the shore. Elders started discussing. It wasn’t very difficult to observe how badly we outnumbered the citizens of Calm. “Explains their huge resources”, a Diplomacy kid said. “Unlike us.” She was true. Plenty believed in plenty, be it our varying tastes in music or population. Naturally, our resources were dim.

The lunch was elegant, to say the least. Cured fish, tofu and jaggery unlike any I had tasted. After that, we helped with chores, trying our best to mix with them and not be noisy. When night came, we all wanted to talk of our eventful day, but the golden rule interrupted. So, we receded to excited whispers, an eternal nothing of joyful exclamations and complaints. Love came up with the latter. “I don’t like their Intuitions watching us like hawks while we sleep”, she said. “Didn’t it bother you when they took away our weapons?”

“You should have been a Suspicion like your father, Miss Love”, I said jokingly.
“Hey, I am Love in and out.” She punched me playfully. “Like my mother.”
“Aren’t they there to keep us safe?”
“More like keeping us in,” said our youngest Intuition.

I don’t know when I had fallen asleep but something woke me. A couple of kids screamed. “Duck”, Love cried and pulled me away. I turned my head just in time to feel a hot blast wheeze past my left ear. A huge ball of fire. Before I could react, it hit a woman’s robes. Startled elders started putting out the fire with handfuls of sand. The fire was spreading.
“It’ll kill us”, I cried as loudly as the smoke allowed. “RUN!”

Kids were running around, clueless and scared. Teenagers, like me, were pushing them out. I helped a woman and her son cross the burning debris and make it outside. Love, Intuition and Possibility were sprinkling pails of water on angry flames. Every corner was filled with specks of magenta, searching for family and running for life. Still no sign of green. I saw a burning pole hit a Luck elder and throw him on the ground. I was about to run for him when an arm restrained me and said, “There is no time. Run!” It was the injured Possibility elder from the train. He pushed me towards Love and Hope, who pulled me out of the tent. Even as I ran out, another blazing pole sealed the exit.

“We’ve to save him!” I yelled. “They are still inside.” Mrs. Love hugged me tightly. “It’s too late, child!”

“Our best Possibility gone”, wept another. “Can’t get worse.” Staring around, I figured that less than half of us had made it. None of our Brave citizens remained. They had laid down their lives to save the rest. Just like your father did last time. I heard the imaginary voice of Mum. I had inherited her trait of hope, rather than my father’s bravery.

Just then, a couple of green robes came walking towards us. “Here they come”, Love hissed angrily. “After basking while we poached like their seafood.”
“We made clear that we follow our golden rule at any cost. The people of Plenty haven’t been doing the same.” The young leader said, “That demands explanation.”
“What about the golden rule of Refuge, Greed?” Our Love elder asked. “Weren’t we under your protection? Why didn’t you save us?”
“Wasn’t our safety more important than your law?” Our Hope elder demanded.
“Who did that anyway?” A Possibility asked.

“People of Chaos are here.” The Calm Greed whispered. “And we need to keep our Calm.”
It was strange how we hadn’t heard the war cry over the gushing waves. Even as we stared, a flood of brown robes made their way through the gates. Cries and screams, agony and anger. Utter chaos, engulfing Calm. By now, all the Calm citizens had left their huts, hands over their ears, taken aback by all this noise.

“Surrender, Land of Plenty,” their leader screamed, as the rest hooted. “Your time is over.”
“Stop shouting,” the Calm Greed whispered.

Strangely, his voice was clear above the din. The people in brown stopped for a moment.
“I cannot tolerate hooliganism,” he continued. “We can keep calm and negotiate our terms. Anyone who doesn’t comply, allies or enemies, shall be punished.”
Negotiate? Weren’t we here to fight?

“What is going on?” The Chaos leader cried. “Weren’t we successful in our ambush?”
“Half our innocent lives are lost, Jealousy,” Love screamed, before I could stop her. “When will you stop this onslaught? Wasn’t mutual co-existence the law on which we survived? Have we done away with it?”

“Your land broke it, silly girl,” Jealousy replied. “Left us no choice.”
“We broke no law, Jealousy,” our own Jealousy elder said. “Tired of the scorching deserts, eh? Now, you want a go on our Land?”

“Don’t be stupid. We’re completely content being close to the earth,” the other spat back. “We don’t want your land. It’s you who is after my tiara!”
“STOP!” The Calm Greed’s voice boomed like cold Death.
“Tell them, Greed,” the leader in brown whispered, fearfully. “Tell them we can’t let Plenty wipe us out and rule!”
“Calm and Chaos can never co-exist,” Greed whispered.
“Something is wrong,” our Intuition said. “Do you feel it, Possibility?”
“Absolutely,” It was Chaos Possibility who replied.
“Weren’t you supposed to help us fight them, Greed?” Plenty Love asked.
“NO!” Chaos Jealousy hissed. “It’s us he’s going to help. To stop you from taking us all.”
“There’s a misunderstanding. We help none,” Calm Greed said. “We have all your weapons. Soon, we’ll have your tiaras. Calm will rule.”

A deathly silence followed, as everything fell into pieces.

“You sent Chaos to attack Plenty, didn’t you?” Our Intuition asked.
“Yes.”
“You betrayed us all”, A Chaos leader voiced.
Greed nodded calmly.
“Oh no!” whispered Luck.
“Those among you, ready to join us, are welcome”, Calm Possibility said. “Make your minds before we change ours.”
“Please stop this, elder Possibility,” a kid whispered in front. “My mother used to tell me that there is no end to war, unless we stop before it starts. She died today.”
“You made us kill to your advantage, Calm,” a Chaos Grief declared. “That’s shameful.”
“As long as we keep Calm, we don’t care,” came the reply.
“Why do we need to rule?” came a small voice from our diminished crowd. It was the youngest Harmony child of the clan.

“Let the elders talk,” a woman from the sea of brown shouted.
“He’s right, Mama! Can’t we be free?” Her child cried.
“The war has affected all children,” Love said. “Some died, some lost loved ones. What for? Aren’t elders supposed to keep the integrity of all the emotions we stand for? Can’t we love each other and co-exist?”
“War will leave behind no emotions,” an Intuition kid said.
“Without emotions, who are we?” a kid spoke up from Chaos.
“Void”, said their leader.
“And us,” spoke up a couple of new voices. I gasped, as the Loss family made their way through the gate. My eyes searched desperately for my friend, but he wasn’t there.
“Loss?” Elder Love cried. “Where have you been since the war?”
“Waiting for this moment. Loss is difficult to accept, enemies and friends. Stop this war while you can,” one replied. “Before it overwhelms us.”
“Loss means Grief,” a Grief teenager said. “We might be proud of our virtue, but alone, we’re as deadly as calm without chaos. Like plenty without few.”
“Won’t we stop?”
“I hope we do,” I added.
“Listen to them, Papa!” We heard a whisper. To our surprise, a kid from Calm had come forward to tug at the leader’s robe.
“Are you mad?” Greed hissed.

“I miss Mum, Papa. I know how other kids feel,” he said. “Has Greed blinded you so much that you can’t see it too?” He had struck right. Slowly, Greed’s tears fell on the sand, sealing his consent. Following him, all of Calm came forward and joined him.
All three leaders threw their tiaras into the raging sea, while we cheered, “Long live Calm! Long live Chaos! Long live Plenty.”

We stood hand in hand, united by our emotions, like blossoms in a bush held together by strong woody branches.

We sit on the shore, drawing elaborate patterns on the sand. Our new magenta robes, beautifully knitted with green and brown threads braided into the hem flutter lazily. “We’re leaving tomorrow”, Love says distantly. Her expression is unreadable.

“Yeah,” I say.
“I miss home,” she says.

Instantly, I fly back to a beautiful sun kissed evening in the Land of Plenty. We are playing hop scotch and our tongues are orange from juice. We giggle and dance.
I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop.

I can almost see the sun setting behind the horizon as we sit in the valley, talking of our lovely day. The strange shimmer around ourselves is the only thing that recognizes it as a daydream. Loss, with his toothy smile and Love, with charcoal black hair adorned in ghost flowers sit beside me. Her sister, a younger Love sings a melodious mountain song. Our smiles are frozen on our faces, just like the memory frozen in my mind.

“Time is cruel,” says Love, as if reading me. I nod, realizing that memories are all we have to relive.
[jaggery: a sweet dish]

Short Story 2018, Featured Writer, Nameet Shetty

Unrequited

The silence weighed heavy between them. Priscilla’s freckled face was drawn as she revisited painful events from the past. Her eyes looked distant, unfocused. She reached for the white porcelain teacup in front of her. Lifting it, she cupped it between her hands, feeling the warmth. She stared into her cup as she took time choosing her words. A moment later, she finally said: “I didn’t think I would ever fall in love again. I know that everyone says that after a heartbreak, but the difference is that I’m not heartbroken. I’m not cynical, or pessimistic, or sad. I’m just someone who once felt something bigger than anything else I’d ever felt and when I lost it, I honestly believed I would never have that again. But… I was 22 then and life is long. And I’m feeling things right now that I haven’t in a long, long time.”

Priscilla slowly raised her eyes to the only other person in the room, Avni, a middle aged woman dressed in a simple yet elegant saree. The woman sat poised with dignity; a woman of position. But despite her confident demeanour, there was a soft, kind look in her eyes. She had turned from a stranger to a friend to Priscilla’s confidante in a matter of hours. But then, Priscilla was all too trusting. Intrigued, she paid undivided attention as the girl continued her story: “You know Avni, although it’s all in the past now, I still remember the first time I saw Ajay – all bright eyed and charismatic. It’s a memory that has never left me. I remember when he smiled at me for the first time, and how his eyes softened when he looked at me. Something…”

She trailed off, staring dreamily at nothing in particular.
“… something had stirred in me. Something new, something I had never felt before. It was… love.”
Priscilla smiled at Avni, a heartbreaking sadness in her eyes.
“Sometimes, I feel I still love him. But- how could he?”

Avni couldn’t help but feel pity for Priscilla but she had to stay unbiased. She made an informed choice to remain silent. Her silence compelled Priscilla to reveal more:
“But I have Mahesh in my life now.” Priscilla’s eyes lit up at the name. She smiled. “He’s kind, compassionate and understands me like Ajay never did. Honestly, love holds a whole new meaning now.”

Avni could see a soft spot opening up. Carefully measuring her words, Avni asked, “But does Mahesh feel the same way about you?”
Avni’s smile widened. “Of course he does!”, she said happily. “You know how an instant connection develops when it’s meant to be? That’s what happened between us. He didn’t even have to say anything. I understood that he loved me by the way he looked at me; the way he touched me…”
Priscilla was in a happy place now. Avni decided to press a little.
“You do know that Mahesh is a married man, right?” Avni said.
The expression on Priscilla’s face darkened, as quickly as a passing shadow, and so did her tone of voice.
“Even good men can make wrong choices, Avni. You know that. How was he supposed to know that I was his soulmate when he hadn’t even met me? it was just a cruel game of fate that he had to meet that other woman before he met me. Now I’m here. There’s no reason for him to stay married to her now.”
Forgetting her place, Avni tried to reason with her. “Priscilla, Mahesh is a decade older than you.”
Priscilla countered, “These things don’t matter when you’ve found true love, Avni. We’ve given ourselves up to each other; body mind and soul. We even made … ”
“You said the same things about Ajay, Priscilla.” Avni said coldly, regretting it that very instant.
“I was 22!” Priscilla shrieked, standing up in a flash of rage. Her hands shot towards Avni, but stopped abruptly. That’s how far the chains would allow them to go. She looked at the shackles strapping her wrists to the table with the eyes of a person who couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She sat slowly back down. Avni remained unperturbed.
“Get out.” Priscilla said, her voice calm, but full of poison. Her words had a finality to them. The line of conversation had come to an end.

A moment of silence hung between them, and Avni became aware of sounds which were unnoticed up until now. Swings creaking as a light breeze blew outside. Birds chirping. The distant sound of buzzers. Metal doors sliding open and shut.

Avni sighed. It was time to go. She would probe a little more into Priscilla’s troubled mind in tomorrow’s session. She picked up both the cups and placed them in the small tray she had brought with her. As she stood up, she glanced at Pricilla. The troubled young girl had completely shut Avni out of her spectrum of consciousness. This was going to be difficult.
She walked to the only door in the room and tapped lightly on the cast iron frame. A moment later, several metal bolts slid out and the door creaked opened. Avni stepped out. As the door closed behind her, Avni reached behind her and extracted a small can of pepper spray from within the folds of her saree. She handed it back to the man who had given it to her. He had been waiting outside throughout the session.

“So… how was it, doctor?” the man asked her. He was tall, with a prominent forehead and curly hair.
“Not bad for a second meeting. Although I think the last session went better. I think I touched a raw nerve this time.” Avni said, as she took her white lab coat back from the man. “She seems to have taken quite a liking to you, Dr. Mahesh,” she teased her long-term colleague.
Mahesh’s face was impassive. “Well… De Clérambault’s Syndrome has its characteristics- delusional love being one of them,” he said, looking at the metal door that separated his former patient from him.

“Hmmm..” Avni replied, reflecting on the meeting. “Mahesh, this is my first professional case of De Clérambault’s Syndrome. I’ve read Priscilla’s file. I’ll need more details on her previous sessions with you. Anything else I should know before I formally take her case up?”
Mahesh gave it a thought. As both of them turned to walk, he said,“Well, most of it is in her file, Dr.Avni, but I have to re-emphasise that hers is a severe case of De Clérambault’s Syndrome or erotomania.”

“Any former cases?” asked Avni.
Mahesh shook his head. “Well, despite her frequent bouts of rage, she has no reported criminal or medical records before the Ajay Roy Kapur incident.”
Superstar Ajay Roy Kapur?” Avni asked, her eyebrows rising a little, even though she was familiar with the incident.

Mahesh nodded, continuing: “It all started with an obsession with his movies, a phenomenon all too common in our country, but Priscilla took it to the next level. She was convinced that it was true love, and that he was in love with her too. She believed that every time he smiled on screen, it was for her and her only. Moreover, she even believed that every romantic dialogue he delivered on screen was for her. The obsession became so deep, she even started stalking him, going to all his shoots, following him around and then eventually breaking into his house.”

“Christ…” was all Dr. Avni could manage to say.
“Yeah…” Mahesh continued, as they started climbing the stairs towards his office. “As per police records, she broke in when there was no one at the Kapur residence and set about tidying up his room. She was convinced that he loved her and that he would appreciate what she was doing for him. She even decorated the bed with rose petals.”
Avni tutted. After a brief pause, she asked, “Is it true that…”

“Yup,” Mahesh confirmed. “When Ajay Roy Kapur returned home from a party with a date, she was stark naked, sprawled on his bed. He was naturally shocked to see a broken window in his living room, and a naked stranger in his bedroom. Up until now, he wasn’t even aware of her existence. But when Pricilla saw the other woman with Ajay Roy Kapur, she turned violently possessive, hurling a heavy candle stand at the woman. She then plunged herself at the woman and that is when Ajay Roy Kapur jolted into action. He shoved her back, hurried out of the room with his date, and quickly locked Priscilla in the room.”

“The cops arrived later and found Pricilla in a pitiful state, wrapped in a bed sheet, sobbing uncontrollably. She claimed that Mr. Kapur had invited her over but the camera footages around the house confirmed that she had broken in. Mr. Kapur’s security team also confirmed that they had seen her at shoots as well as outside the house on several occasions, but had ruled out as a threat. After the break in, she was arrested and after a formal assessment by a state psychiatrist, was sent to this institution, where I undertook her as my patient. It took her over a year to get over Ajay Roy Kapur. She still believes that he misled her and then betrayed her.”
“Hmmm… and since when did she start liking you?” Avni asked, as Mahesh held his office door open for Avni.

“A few months ago.” Mahesh explained. “I could notice a change in her body language during our sessions. It started with compliments about how nice I was, then later escalated to improper advances. No matter how many times I tried to talk her out of it, she wouldn’t budge. You know how delusional she is. It eventually became impossible to continue her treatment. That’s when I had to call you down for a handover.” Mahesh finished, walking around his desk and lifting a stack of files from a shelf behind his desk. He set them down in front of Avni. “These are all our sessions in the last fifteen months. Anything you need, it’s in there.”
“No recordings?” Avni asked.

Mahesh frowned. “There was a major leakage in the storage room last month. It destroyed most of what we had, but the files have whatever recordings we have in them.”
“Alright then. I’ll take it from here.” Avni said with a smile.
“Just sign these formal case transfer papers and we’re good.”, said Mahesh, presenting Avni with a few forms. Avni signed the papers and they both shook hands.

***
“Good luck, Dr.Avni. I know I’m leaving her in good hands.”, Mahesh said as both professionals prepared to bid goodbye to each other in the institute’s car parking lot.
“You bet, Dr. Mahesh.” came Avni’s prompt reply as she turned to get into her car.

Avni fired up the engine and with a final wave at her colleague, drove out. Mahesh watched the back of her car till it disappeared from sight. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his crumpled pack of cigarettes, still looking at the dust trail Avni’s car had left. He lit a cigarette and puffed hungrily on it. He went over the entire evening in his mind, making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. He had to make sure that everything was perfect. He could not afford any loose ends. He had destroyed the pipes in the storage room to get rid of the recordings of his sessions with Priscilla, preserving just enough to convince people of the authenticity of the event. Most importantly, Avni was convinced of Priscilla’s delusions. Priscilla’s reputation had made sure of that. He was done with Priscilla now. It was time to move on. He stubbed the cigarette out and slid into the driver’s seat of his car. Reaching over, he extracted a small packet from the glove compartment. Looking at it, he smirked. An empty pack of condoms. He had used them all with Priscilla and no one had the slightest inkling of an idea. The poor girl was convinced that he loved her. He would get rid of the empty packet somewhere on his way home. He had covered his tracks well. No one would ever believe Priscilla, the delusional erotomaniac.

Short Story 2018, Third Prize, Tarun Chakraborty

Eureka!

A playground separates the long row of barracks for family living quarters from a railway track, fenced by barbed wire. It’s not any game that the children of the Kalaikunda Air Force family station are playing that evening. Some eight to ten of them are standing in a semicircle and one standing at its centre lobs a tennis ball at each one of them by turn, who catches the easiest of easy catch and returns. So the game goes on. I am not in the game and keep loitering. Rather I am kept out of the game because I find it hard be attentive. I am deficient in attention.
A shrill whistle blowing reaching my ears tells me that a train is approaching. I sneak away unnoticed and cross over to the other side pulling up and making an opening just enough to pass me through the barbed wire fencing. The train is approaching. I walk briskly towards the rail tracks, as if heeding to some supernatural call. The train is on its route along the distant tracks winding its way towards me. I am going to meet it. I don’t know why. I get onto the tracks. It blows whistle- getting shriller as it comes nearer. Now I am dancing on the wooden sleepers between the rails. I am also ‘hyper active’- that completes the nomenclature ADHD to describe my childhood existence.
I hear the engine straining, as if, the train is in some kind of trouble and trying to force itself to a halt. The train pulled by a big black engine is curving toward me slowly and very soon it is going to be upon me. The train screeches as brakes are applied, sparks coming out from wheels rubbing against rails. But it does not stop. It does not have enough time. It is now almost over me when I move from the middle and stand just beside the tracks, but still on the edge of a wooden sleeper. Suddenly I see a hand popping out from the engine hurl a piece of coal towards me. The engine driver doesn’t really throw it at me- rather lobs it forwards towards me softly, the way that boy had been gently lobbing the ball from the centre at those standing in a half circle on the playground. Yet I see the piece of coal in its flight whizz past my ears speedily. I jump backwards onto the slope of stone chips. The goods train trundles past. All happens within the twinkling of an eye. 
I succumb to the suddenness of the event and lie down eyes closed for how long I don’t know. When I open my eyes I find myself surrounded by faces peering upon me. The whole populace of the barracks seemed to have gathered around me, looking too stunned to throw any abuses at me. I must have done something very grave I realize. I run home and swiftly climb on top of the cement cupboard, before mom can catch hold of me. Her howling doesn’t reach my ears as I am still haunted by– ‘If at all that piece of coal was hurled so slowly then why did it narrowly miss my ears at such a great speed?’       
Now it is well past dusk. Father is just back after doing his duties as a signaller at the Kalaikunda Air Base runway. My childhood eyes magnified him as a hero whose signal brought down mighty aeroplanes from the skies and silenced them! He wears a sombre face- must have heard everything before entering our family unit. He looks furious and ‘signals’ me down. His raised right palm is just about to inflict a heavy slap on my cheeks when I suddenly ask with a blank look, “Dad, if the engine driver had lobbed a piece of coal at me so gently, then why did that fly past my ears so fast?”
Father stares at me in astonishment, but I don’t know why. His hands get lowered. His rage has been instantly quelled. My question rescues me from his fury.
“You must be in IIT one day” he gently says looking at me intently.
“One day I will be inside that tall tower dad?” asks the seven year old ‘local boy’ that is me, from his perception about what IIT is. Father cannot help laughing out loud.  But mother breaks down. The trauma frozen into her simply from hearing about that near-miss somewhat thawed until then, the ‘what if’ afterthought sends her into a fit of sobs.
“My God! What would happen if the engine really ran over you,” she whimpers uncontrollably, her hands shiver intensely, holding me in her tight grip and with it a faint sense of something terrible that didn’t happen dawning slowly upon me makes me realize that I am now cuddled in the safest arms. Calmness invades me. I withdraw into a feel of bliss and close my eyes. That is a mother’s touch.
Yet her lamentation does not cease, “When shall you learn to think? When are you going to stop doing weird things without knowing what you are doing? I got you after suffering so much of pain, enduring so much of agony, swinging between life and death I carried you inside my belly …” Hardly paying any attention to her bawls until then, I catch that last part instantly. I release myself from her grip and jump on the cot, “Maa, but you had told me that I came down to you from the skies by an aeroplane”.
Dad and mom look at each other in surprise. That has been an emotional slip. Her wailings stop immediately.  
“Yes, I meant you were inside the belly of an aeroplane”, she tries to make over.
“His attention filters out only those juicy ones. So we will change his name from Peter to Filter” father jokes, while taking off his military cap, a practice he follows habitually just upon entering the house, taken away by the awkward happenings. I am the sensation.        
“Dady, Dady, two policemen are standing at the door”, brother a year younger but supposedly more ‘matured’ than me comes in running. Instantly my naughtiness is taken over by timidity. I hide under the cot. The Engine Driver reported the whole incident to the RPF Chief who has sent them here under permission from the Station Commander. This is a serious lapse for which father takes responsibility and gives it in writing that his minor son will not do it again. The Engine Driver gets rewarded for his presence of mind that saved an ‘errant’ child’s life.
During the next few days father looks grim. But that has very little or no effect on me. A flow of visitors follow. Mom with her every repetition of narrating the same episode becomes more skilful in doing it with lesser words.  Uncles and aunties harp on the same string– that I should learn to be calm and thoughtful like my brother. But I do not like what they say. Who says that I am not thoughtful? Ever since mom blurted out that she carried me in her belly, I had been thinking about how I got in there and then how at all I got out of there!
However, that single misadventure of dancing on the railway tracks brings me some sort of an ‘instant fame’ within the confines of the camp. Others who do not know the truth that– ‘I really didn’t know what I was doing’ take me for a ‘daring boy’. My so called ‘fearlessness’ inspires some sort of an owe among my little playmates. And most importantly, to Subhas the adolescent bully, years elder to us, who ignored and bullied me until then, I become someone to reckon with. He gifts me his whistle and never keeps me out of games anymore. I proudly keep the whistle with me as a prized possession. It is recognition from our captain. Thus many more evenings pass away on the playground after spending daytime at the local AF school and with each passing day I am possibly learning to ‘think before acting’ and ‘look before leaping’. Thus I add more years to my boyhood and with it perhaps I have grown more thoughtful or perhaps not. I am not sure because that ‘belly riddle’ still haunts me without a clue
That intrigues me. But however curious, my 9 year old murky understanding is still far away from figuring it out that,  just as my ‘brave boy image’ rests on ‘misconception’, so does the first clue to the ‘belly puzzle’ rests on ‘conception’, unless another mishap gets me any near.
The uncle next door uncle will be on night duty in the hangar for the next two nights. Aunty feels scared about being home alone, so I have to go to her house for these two nights mom tells me.
“Then why don’t you get her to come here” I say.
“Because she thinks you are a brave boy”, she says to get me going there somehow, as though, the delusion would make her feel secure in being with a weakling like me.
Dinner is just over. Mom sends me off to auntie’s house clad in striped pyjama and shirt. Keeping all lights on and playing Radio Ceylon on full volume aunty is possibly trying to keep fears away. I revel in my ‘brave boy status’ as she turns off the radio just as I enter.
After some chit chats I am tucked into a double bed beside her, formed by two conjoined charpies. The lights are turned off. Auntie doesn’t need them anymore to keep her fears at bay because I am there. I like that.
“Auntie, if you are so afraid to stay alone at nights then why don’t you go to your parents?” I ask.    
“I can’t do that always because they stay in faraway Beneras”, she replies drawing out further curiosity in me. And from there on, like a bedtime story she starts narrating about her house in Beneras where her father is a postmaster. She talks of the Ghats, the Viswanath Gali, and the Temple whose images start playing in my mind in a fantasy.
She then talks of her brother who has done Mining Engineering from BHU, unearths coal from mines at a place named Dhanbad where he stays in a big bungalow and not in small barracks like us.
“Did your brother dig out the piece of coal that was going to hit me?” my naive question sends her off to convulsions of laughter.
“Oh! You are too simple”, her giggles still do not leave her but I am feeling sleepy.    
“You also must become an Engineer, and then you too will stay in a big bungalow like my brother”, are the last words those enter my ears before I doze off, only to wake up after how long I don’t know, to find myself in her tight grip.
I am startled, but keep quiet. Is her scare so intense that is making her cuddle so tight in her arms? My eyes are wide open but cannot see her in the darkness. Her embrace in all its tightness is different from that kind of a thing from mom I can sense. Her grip further tightens on me and I can hear her intense breathing. She has kissed me on my cheek once and then twice and then again. My eyes are wide open, which she cannot see. What is happening? I still pretend to be fast asleep keeping myself as stiff as a block of wood. My heart is pounding as fear engulfs me. Then all on a sudden she releases me. Her intense breathing has stopped. She kisses me gently, on the forehead. This time, I can sense the touch is like my mom’s– as soothing as a lullaby, as comforting the calm after a storm. A lull settles inside me … I know that is a mother’s touch. Who says that I cannot think? I can well think out that all that oddity was really happening to her in her deep sleep. But what was that after all? I am on to my next puzzle.   
But what keeps me wide awake for a long time before dozing off for a second time is a revelation that– she must be doing it to uncle every night in her sleep and uncle too …  I cannot think any further…
                   
The doorbell rings. Uncle has arrived. Auntie drowsily walks up to the door and answers.
“Good Morning” uncle wishes on entering, “Did you sleep well last night?”
“Good Morning. Yes uncle” I say aloud.
         
Uncle carries in a thermos flask the remnants of the tea that he made in the hangar to keep himself awake during the night. He pours some of it in its cap and offers me and then pours the rest into two cups for him and auntie. I had my first ever cup of tea and something that was ‘not my cup of tea’. I am going to find out what.
         
 Back home an emptiness strikes me as to be desolate. My quietness seems to be as rather unusual of me. Mother stares at me piercingly. Has she suspected that something has gone wrong? And yes she has, because on this night she sends younger brother as the ‘guard’.
         
Free of intrusive thoughts, a night of sound sleep dawns to a new day with bird’s chirpings those disappear under the rumbling of a big bird that is taking off and reappear as that big one gets airborne and flies away high into the skies. I am feeling good. Daylight is ready for the ‘everyday back-and-forth’ to school for the children, to the aerodrome for the Airmen and to the sky for the Pilots on their routine sorties.
         
But for mom, a ‘Liberty-Run’- (which is a Shaktiman Military Truck, also called a 3 Tonner, with a tarpaulin body top having open ends), brings her the eagerly awaited back-and-forth to Kharagpur town on Sunday evenings. True to the name it is quite a runaway from the regimentation, the encampment and the isolation of the cantonment area. Uncles and aunties occupy two long wooden benches placed alongside the side panels while the children squat on a mat spread on the flooring. But I love to stand at the canopy’s front end opening with the wind blowing on my face and thump on the driver cabin’s roof to the tune of a Hindi song I am humming. A new world opens up as the Liberty-Run is on the run! I am feeling so happy. Everybody inside is enjoying the joy-ride. As the town nears, the IIT tower– so symbolic it’s ‘towering technological stature’ pops up from behind a row of fleeting buildings and then again dips behind sheds of Railway workshops. Does father want to encage me inside that tower as a punishment for dancing on the railway tracks? I wonder.
         
The Shaktiman parks on a clearing just out of Golbazar and first uncles disembark down a moveable flight of steps placed at the rear and then help aunties, to be followed by the youngsters. But I want to help mom in alighting; so I jump on the ground raising squeals and my knees get bruised by gravels. First aid comes readily for me from the well-equipped military truck. That marks the beginning of the getaway mom had been weeklong waiting for! Then families disperse in separate groups and agree to get together here precisely at a fixed time. That seems like an extension of the same military discipline.
         
From here on mom takes over; after all it is her day and by the time we reassemble she has made her day. I get my first Naughty Boy shoe from the Bata Shop, conforming to what I am. Brother finally gets a whistle he has been clamouring for ever since Subhas had gifted me his own on the playground. Mom looks so cheerful even with her meagre bargains.   
          
Mounting starts with Children first and I comply this time. By the time everybody gets in, names of all the shops visited are out of the bags, but for the liquor shop finds no mention– it is not because uncles are totally abstainers but they can get that tax free at less than half the price from the Air Force ‘canteen’– (meaning a stationary cum grocery shop lying inside a cantonment.)
          
 “Start” …  Brother exalting in the joy of his new whistle blows through it raising a wave of laughter. The Shaktiman purrs to a start on its retreat and as it is on the run, the IIT Tower with its beacon light at the top stands out like a lighthouse in stark contrast against the backdrop of the darkness gathering in the distance– A lighthouse that by figuring out co-ordinates, guides in the vast technological ocean; A lighthouse that through the light of knowledge, illuminates technological destinies…
            
By the time we reach home, the far flung camp seems to be much deeper into the night than what really it is in. The same routine is to resume at the first light from tomorrow on. Mom, after her morning chores, gets some diversion in a short tittle-tattle with the other aunties which come to an end as soon as we arrive from school at noon. But the next door uncle’s being away on duty during the nights without me or brother being called, makes me ask out of curiosity, “Mom, is auntie feeling so scared that she has gone to her father’s house in far off Beneras this time?”
         
However, when mom says that she has gone there to bring a baby from the sky flying down an aeroplane, it seems to me as rather silly. Though ‘insensible’, I can sense a closely guarded secret there.
           
In the quietness of one sluggishly drifting afternoon, with mom napping and my ‘sensible’ brother silently playing on his own, I am once again bitten by the same ‘bug’ that always makes me fail to understand what I am up to, as happened on the railway tracks that evening. I notice the door entering into the adjacent family unit wide open and I want to enter into it, as if to answer the call of insensibility. I cross the common stoop and sneak inside. The interior, with everything tucked away neatly, wears a makeshift look, as though the soldier with his family is always on the move in all readiness to move in the fleet. One piece of larger packing box placed with its open face erect, serves the purpose of a low height cupboard while its cover plank shifted on top of a medium sized packing box, with a table cloth made from a discarded curtain, serves the purpose of a table. A few other smaller sized packing boxes with pieces of discarded cloth on their tops, serves the purpose of stools. The furniture consists of packing painted boxes that are always ready to be re-tilted to their openings towards the top and their cover planks nailed back in place with belongings packed inside for the next move, except for a cement wardrobe that stands immobile. But in its entire coarseness the military cap occupies its distinguished place– hung high from a peg on the wall. That reminds him of his pride, his honour, his promise.
          
When several jumps fail me to get hold of the cap, I am on to my next move. I quietly steal into the other room where military uncle is snoring in an afternoon nap with a book resting inverted on his chest, open to the page he had been reading just before dozing off. Absurdity crosses my mind once again. I take out the whistle, my prized possession which I always carry in my pocket and blow it on his ears. He springs up startled, eyes red partly from of the sleeplessness of the night before and partly from an instant state of rage. He catches hold of me tightly by the arm, flips the book to the page he was reading and threatens- “I will pack you up inside a sack like this”, showing me the picture of a baby apparently trapped upside down inside a transparent sack and in a flash can reason what that really is. That is exactly the reason for auntie’s being away to her father’s house in far off Beneras. That is the reason for mom’s concealing this hard fact in the womb of an airplane– the aeronautical womb. Lost to the self-revelation, I am staring blankly at uncle, oblivious of his shouts which he suddenly stops in disgust, “You will never learn to become attentive in life”. But I know that is a fallacy and quietly run away.
          
Under the lowering sun, the post afternoon shadows have just begun to stretch out longer. Children have started gathering outdoors. But I am in no mood to play with them. I keep on loitering alone. A revelation that is my own,     instead of quelling my curiosity raised further confusion- I am perplexed as to how at all did the baby get into the belly in the first place and then how at all did it get out? The happenings vaguely pictured in my half understanding did not become closer to reality until the day auntie returned carrying a baby in her arms… 
          
Ever since I surprised him by asking, ‘Dad, if the engine driver had lobbed a piece of coal at me so gently, then why did that fly past my ears so fast?’, he has been trying to explain it to me in various ways. But I have been somehow finding them unintelligible, till the day he said– ‘It happened so because the velocity of the train at which the piece of coal had been already moving inside it got added to the velocity at which it was lobbed’. That makes some sense to me.
          
“Just as sixty apples added to one apple makes fifty one apples?” I ask, my eyes lighting up.
 He looks delighted and again casts that same keen look on me, as though he can sense some promise. Expectations are building up.
           
“Not exactly, because unlike the number of apples, velocity has a magnitude as well as direction”, he goes on, “Directions too can be combined, like when we air drop relief materials in marooned areas from a carrier aircraft through an opening or hatch at the bottom of a moving aircraft then we drop it a little ahead of the target because the item dropped travels in both of the directions– that in which it was moving along with the aircraft before falling and also the direction of its downward fall”.
         
I hardly hear anything until that one single thing– ‘opening or the hatch at the bottom of the belly of an aircraft’ catches my instant attention.
          “There is a hole at the bottom of an aircraft Dad?” he is taken aback by my unexpected question.
          
“Yes there is one opening at the bottom through which cargo is loaded with a hydraulic ram and then its door is closed” he replies and hurriedly leaves me alone with the junior science books  full of science facts and pictures that he has zealously given me. One of them contains ‘Newton’s Laws of Motion’ explained with pictures in the simplest manner, but first I want to know the ‘Laws of Newton’s Motion’– their general name as I came to know at IIT many years later. My interest in those junior books is suppressed deep under my curiosity for the book that uncle was reading. I must get my hands to it, but I cannot. I am slowly withdrawing into myself. I am losing interest in the games on the playground. Subhas resumes his bulling and seizes his whistle when he comes to know about the prank played with it. I feel bad about my ‘demotion’. The evening fades away. Night is falling fast and with the feeble click of the switch putting off the last light, yet another nondescript day is gone…
          
The next day is born washed in the crimson glow in the boundless open space of the camp and invites everybody to their usual chores… And as the morning ticks away to noon we are returning from school.    
          
A ‘Posting Run’ has just halted in front of the barrack. (The same 3 Tonner, Shaktiman Military Truck is called a Posting-Run when it runs back and forth the Railway Station). From a distance I can see the next door auntie alighting, holding a baby in her arms and uncle is finding it hard helping her. It seems she won’t let anyone else hold her baby. By the time I get nearer all the nearby aunties have surrounded the mother with new born for getting a glimpse. Conch shells are blown. Animated talks turn into hubbub as each one of them wants to hold the baby. Uncle has unlocked the entry door and stands quietly just out of the circle which shows no signs of melting away in the comfortable sunshine of the cold season.
          
 I stand there watching the fun till I suddenly realize that the chance I had been longing for lies unguarded just a few steps away without my asking for it. I turn back and stealthily sneak into uncle’s house unnoticed…
          
The walls have been white washed clean. The air inside is smelling of fresh disinfection. I cross over the front room and then for a while stand in cold sweat at the door of the other where the key to the secret lies. Quite unlike while dancing on the tracks, an awareness of what I am doing now gives me the jitters. There is a throbbing that doesn’t leave me as I dash inside and grab the book out from under the pillow. My hands are shivering, sweat as if oozing out from inside my head is condensing in droplets on my forehead as my prying eyes are devouring the pictures one after another. As I go on flipping the pages, I realize why my drawing teacher keeps on harping on my inattentive ears– A picture is worth a thousand words! By the time my eyes run ahead of the one uncle threatened me with, I know the ‘facts of life’ … It is a different version of the model dad had used to explain relative motion to me– starting from the hydraulic ram loading the cargo into the aeronautical womb through the hatch at the bottom of the aeroplane’s belly up to the point it is air dropped through the same hatch. I am dumbfounded at the revelation when a voice seeming to be receding away rings like alarm on my ears.  I hastily shove the book under the pillow and flee as fast as my shaky legs can get me away from the scene. Again I remain unnoticed; they are still busy with the ‘new arrival’ the difference being, I know the secret of its arrival during my exit.
          
 The world looks different when something very basic to it comes to light. The same sky glows a mysterious shade of blue, the sunny winter afternoon appears even more lit up as I run on the playground ecstatically, until I touch the fence separating the Railway Tracks. My hands can feel that the barbed wire has now been spanned so taught to prevent another trespassing, that when plucked it hummed and resonated with the tune that is playing within me– from the euphoria of the exploration, the delight of the disclosure all by me….
  
“You are not attentive when your seniors are speaking to you!” a heavy smack inflected on my head by a flat palm ejects me out from the reverie I sank into after hearing a senior ask, ‘ What are The Laws of Newton’s Motion?’ That is a ragging question at Nehru hall, that has triggered off the flash back from the depths of my timeline– the story of a simple revelation, the story of a simple wish fulfilled that I should be here someday. [My eyes are moist as I am writing the last line]
  
[When we were little and innocent, we had our own theories about how babies arrive into this world. If asked what had been your notion back then, the answers given by each one of you would differ. But as we grew older, we all learnt the well-kept secret about how babies are born- but there too, each one of us got it differently. This was the weird story about how I arrived at the ‘facts of life’]