The erring rains.

His broken ankles made it a slow journey. Body cramps and abdominal pain made it lethargic for him to walk the two kilometres he initially traversed with his tractor. The scorching heat made the sweat ooze out of his frail body frame. He tried to soothe his parched throat by reaching out his tongue to the sweat that streamed through small trajectories on his wrinkled face.

The scavengers flew over his head, squawked and feasted on the carcases of his buffaloes. The smell of dead meat and old cow dung reflected in the air by the sun rays. What appeared to be his flourishing field was now a dead and barren desolated area. He had nurtured the piece of land that he had inherited as ancestral property as his child. He had seen it like his child growing from an infant to a toddler to an adolescent to a young man to an old swag.

Until four years ago, the rains sung melodies in his village. The showers bestowed prosperity on his fields and household. The showers sounded like the clinking of bangles and clanking of anklets making his and other children dance in the muddy puddles. He thought he had the riches for his generations. He flamboyantly celebrated festivals in the village. Every day was Baisakhi and every night was Diwali. His harvest of crops resembled an ever-blooming garden.

However, the happy days were short-lived. Last few years, the rains had been erratic. The rainwater harvesting project was yet to receive funding approvals. Until that time, his field was at the mercy of the rain gods.  He wished he could recite raag malhaar  like Tansen to ring in in the rains at his command. The village was scorched. His crops only needed a minuscule of rain for him and his family to survive and manage his loan repayments. Alas, for the second consecutive year, the rains played a truant.

Three years ago, unseasonal rain and hailstorm caused a significant loss of harvest.  The rain swamped away everyone’s home to make it’s own. The rain sang melancholy and screamed as it outflowed gulping down the villages in its path. His savings dwindled, and debts were ever increasing. Even the money spent on Godmen to bring in rains turned to be a vain attempt.

Only if the rains were seasonal and regular.

Global warming, increasing summer heat dried up the dams. Coupled with drought, his farm was converted into a worthless wasteland. The banks refused to give further loans. Cunning bank officers asked the Panchayat  (aka village council) to intervene. The head of the Panchayat colluded with the banks to ensure that bribes were paid to get loans, sometimes the bank officers asked for bribes on their own.Moneylenders charged extremely high rates of interest. Moreover, the conditionalities attached to loans were such that it proved impossible to avail loans once repayments on the previous loan defaulted.

He was blinded by the devilish force of prosperity and wealth so much that he never planned for any such adversities. Like an invisible dragon with dreaded teeth of terror and poison of hate, the rain had started to engulf him and his family.

Only if the rains were seasonal and regular.

Bottles of pesticide were beginning to gather mould. What was their use when there were no crops to protect? That morning, he shared a bottle with his family and chose to walk to his field. He couldn’t see his wife and kids suffer.

The thoughts of happy days reverberated in his mind as he reached his field, which now resembled a graveyard. He slumped to the ground. His brittle knees couldn’t bear his weight anymore. He landed on the field with the support of one hand. His palm scratched against the rocks to peel off his white kurta and brown skin.

The pain in his abdomen grew stronger and vacillated in his body. The blood that he vomited mixed with the dust. Finally, convulsions took over, and he transformed into the next feast for the vultures. Meanwhile, the anticoagulants had made his wife and kids lay in his home asphyxiated with a mouthful of froth.

Hopefully, the compensation guaranteed on his death will pay off the loans to banks and money lenders.

Only if the rains were seasonal and regular.

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The Anti-Saviour.

It was awkward to work in a place where all you could see was people screaming and dying. One such person I was confronted with was Anita, a teenager, who suffered third-degree burns. The left side of her neck, face and hair were burnt to the bones. A spurned lover splashed a glass full of concentrated sulphuric acid on her. What remained was dripping flesh and charred bones. A beautiful girl, who was crowned Miss Photogenic in her college was permanently disfigured. She had become half blind, her hearing was impaired, throat toasted, and tongue burnt. Her soundless cries vented out as tears. A month and seventeen surgeries later, her senses didn’t improve. The pain was still a conscious throb. She could communicate only by writing. That’s how she gave all her statements to the law. Her family started living in penury. More surgeries were required. Her continuing misery and two-face visage made me thank God for the life he gave me. Her struggle was getting tougher. She was a courageous fighter, but she couldn’t let her family die with her.

During my routine visit one night, she gestured to communicate. I held a notepad as she wrote in broken letters ‘e u t h a n a s i a’. The ground shook below my feet. My hands trembled as I tore and trashed the paper.

“There is nothing I can do, Anita. The law doesn’t allow. They want you to live.”, I said with a thick throat holding her hand and slowly stroking it.  Her quiet cries filled the long silence that ensued.

Anita’s hollow eyes posed the same question every night. I knew how her intense pain crippled her bit by bit and I couldn’t see her suffer. One night, a sudden rush of emotions overpowered me. Fear and disgust tripped. Kindness and pity arrived. I injected a 10 ml air bubble into her drip and left.  Her perpetrator gave her a life sentence. I just ended it.

Since then, my conscience worked overtime giving me sleepless nights. Pangs of guilt left me cold making it difficult to move on.  One night at the hospital, I wrote my confession in an email to the Dean. Before I could click ‘Send’, I was startled by cries of Sonia. Her diagnosis reported cancerous growth of cells on the surface of her cervix. The tumour had grown, she bled abnormally and her pelvis throttled with pain. The virus caused heavy vaginal discharge, urinating issues, bowel problems, and a swollen left leg.

I took this as an escape route. Maybe Satan wanted me to save Sonia too. All she expected was an intravenous to melt in her blood and end her ordeal in a quick, painless and distinguished fashion. Again the law thought otherwise.  They wanted Sonia to die in agony. Continuous chemotherapy had made her fragile. Like Sophia, her struggle was getting tougher every day, but she wasn’t ready to give up. On one occasion, she finally whispered to me through her oxygen mask. “I don’t want to live.”  A deluge of tears spilled from her beautiful eyes. I knew how much distress she had bore. With weight on my chest and shivering hands, I removed her oxygen mask, sat back for a few minutes, placed it back and left.

By then, I had buried my conscience in its grave and wore a smile to work every day. For years, how many I don’t know, I continued to kill. It was agonising to see a four-year-old girl wailing because her innocence was assaulted, a recently married lady torched with blazes of greed, a would-be mother giving birth to a stillborn baby, and a 7-year-old bravely fighting leukaemia.

People know me as a doctor, a saviour, a guy in white coat, but in reality, I am a cold blooded murderer. Call it luck or the Devil’s favour, the law never got to me. But in my own court of justice, I can never acquit myself. I had a responsibility bestowed upon me, but I used my power against the law to sin instead of save.

We have a moral responsibility of keeping our patients alive as reflected by the Hippocratic or rather a hypocrite-ic oath. Are we supposed to relieve people from pain or let them die in agony? They are ready to see beautiful souls transform into dead bodies, but they are not willing to kill them with mercy. Do the lawmakers know how it feels when sulphuric acid is thrown on their face? What if their mother or daughter had genital warts that stung like thousand bees? Have they seen patients jerking with convulsions of oscillating tingles in their body? Have they seen them waking up at midnight, stuff a pillow inside their mouth to restrain their howls and avoid breaking other’s sleep?

Every night, fangs of agony inject poison of remorse inside me. My dead conscience nurtures nightmares of every killing. My hands shudder as I write this confession. No one, except you the reader, will know my ’sins’.

Okay, so where do I post this? I am here in some anonymous ward. It looks familiar. Seems as if I have been here for weeks or months. The door’s locked from outside. Why am I dressed in white pyjamas? Where is my coat?. My mind feels frozen. May be I have a condition. Oh, my eyes hurt. Maybe I haven’t been sleeping. There appears to be freedom outside this window. One big leap and I will join all those whom I killed and ask – Are you feeling any better? 

Homequake.

‘Homequake’ is to home as an earthquake is to earth. ‘Homequake’ is a story of two individuals, who try to make a home out of an apartment. However, life has some shocks and some surprises in store for them.

 


 

 Today.

Neil’s head was reeling from a tiring work day. His hands ached and legs cramped from the long drive, amplifying the stress. The fragrance of lavender filled his senses as soon as he opened the door.  That was the one of her remembrances that somehow refused to leave the apartment.  Over the last month or so, he had become workaholic, an attempt to stay away from the recent memories. However hard he tried to forget, incidents of the last few months failed to evacuate his mind. His tears had dried up. Though it never showed on his face, inside him the skies were falling.

“This was once used to be our home”, he thought in distress and slumped on the couch.

Six months ago.

Neil and Sara had atypical arranged Indian wedding and a quick one as well. The families believed that there was no auspicious occasion for the next two years. Neil purchased an expensive city apartment for them to stay. He let go of his choice of a modest suburban apartment when he saw how awed Sara was by the joie de vivre of the city. He put in all his savings and stretched the limits of his home loan. The apartment was closer to Sara’s workplace and where her parents lived. He didn’t care if it took him two hours to drive to work. This little trouble was nothing for him compared to the magnanimity of love that he showered on her.

Together, they custom-made the sophisticated furniture, handpicked the elegant paintings, carefully chose the regal wall paint, selected upholstery that breathed fresh air, and thematically designed each of the three bedrooms to convert the apartment into a perfect love nest. Neil was submissive to every choice Sara made to make her feel contended. He found sublime happiness in giving in to her demands. Each room of their apartment was enveloped with their memories of togetherness. Her shapely figure, his brawn appeal. Her giggles, his smiles. Her coy glances, his flirtatious talks.

Four months ago.

Slowly, they fell into their daily routines. Both resumed their work after the honeymoon. Somewhere amidst the wheel of monotony, her love for him faded away and restrained emotions took its place.

One Sunday, while Sara was sleeping, her phone buzzed and Neil’s eyes latched onto a text message from her friend unknown to him, Riya.

“Are we on for today?”

The language of the message sparked his curiosity and made him unwillingly snoop on her phone. There were many sleazy messages and emails from Riya. Minutes passed by as he gathered his wits. He quickly marked the messages unread and shared Riya’s contact with himself. But Neil couldn’t muster up the courage to confront Sara on this. What if he was mistaken? It was out of his scope to believe that Sara would be bi-curious.

Next day, when he called on Riya’s number, a man answered. The ground beneath him shook. The messages and emails explained how deeply she was in love with another man, cleverly disguised as Riya.

From that day onwards, Neil began to lose trust in Sara. He discerned that they were growing apart in different directions. He used to look into her eyes, she used to look into his and quickly lower her gaze and start fidgeting with her phone. They smiled. They used to talk about the weather, places, people, things, just like strangers would do.  When he tried to come close to her, she either faded into a deep slumber or complained of a headache. He could sense a self-protective wall around her.

Today.

Neil lived a solitary life, for a purpose, unknown to him. He followed a routine like a robot. Wake up, go to work, return from work, eat dinner, drink, sleep. Their love nest had become a desolated apartment.

Another lonely night awaited him.  When he closed his eyes, he could still feel her lips on his. Then, the picture of her in their bed, with a stranger. Then, she laying dead in the same bed.

Two months ago.

Neil had come home to grab his id card he had forgotten to take to work, but what saw was his worst nightmare. His wife was with another man, under the sheets, in their bed, naked. He wanted to scream and shriek, but his voice was buried under his shattered heart.

‘How could things turn so drastically worse? Did she never love me? Was she two-timing me all the time? Was he same guy disguised as Riya on her phone?’, he wondered in broken thoughts.

As Neil introspected more, he was able to join the dots. Sara took advantage of his simplicity, honesty, unconditional love and belief. Perhaps she knew this man before their marriage and her parents never approved of him. There used to be occasions, before their wedding, where Sara wouldn’t answer Neil’s calls or suddenly cancel their dates. Many times, Sara’s phone would be busy, but Neil never questioned. His love was blind.

Neil was possessive about Sara. He never imagined her to be someone else’s. After that fateful day, Neil maintained the distance and never spoke a word to Sara. His wounds ran deep.

Sara asked for a divorce, in remorse, as if she knew somewhere in her heart that she cheated him. Their love nest had fallen.

One month ago.

Neil informed Sara via a post-it note that he will be away on a business trip for a two days. When he returned, he saw her dead, asphyxiated. The apartment had been ransacked. The cash and jewellery were missing. Neighbours and relatives were shocked to see such an end to what they thought was a fairy tale marriage.

Forensics were not surprised to find Neil’s hair in her nails and Sara’s bites on his hand. They just dismissed it for the quirkiness of a newly wed couple. Neighbours also gave an impression that all was well between the two.

The police ruled robbery as the motive and carried out investigations but came out, clueless about the thief and killer. Neil was stoic through all the inquiries and didn’t mention anything about Riya. He didn’t want to tarnish Sara’s image even in her death.

The love nest was irreparably crushed. What remained was a miserable apartment. The sophisticated furniture rotted, the handpicked elegant paintings were stained with cobwebs, the regal wall paint withered and upholstery gathered mould.

Today.

Another sleepless night tortured by her thoughts awaited him. His memories of the day when he last saw her flashed before him. He started the car and pretended to drive towards the railway station. Longing lust, lasting hate and persisted anger weaved a sinister plot in his mind. He parked the car at some distance. Leaving his mobile phone in the car, he walked back towards home. He knew the CCTV was under repair. He used his keys to enter. He made love to her one last time and strangulated her with her scarf. He rummaged the apartment and took the cash and jewellery, walked back to his car, drove back to the train station, and boarded his train. He disposed of the scarf somewhere along the journey. When he returned two days later, he raised an alarm.

Every day, the agony and guilt made him feel like a thousand snakes biting from within. That night he relieved himself of the despair with an overdose of sleeping medication. At least his soul could now wander peacefully.

Could the wounds have healed? Would anger have ceased to exist? Could the hearts be repaired?

The apartment was never destined to become a home. Instead, it shook and trembled under a quake of betrayal, deceit, and wrath, to finally become a grave.


Tiny Tragedy.

He stood motionless. His puffed eyes gazed silently at her lifeless body in his hands. She resembled a wax doll, whose nascent goodness filled the emptiness of the cemetery. Her bare innocence hurled a barrage of allegations at him.

Why didn’t you do something? 

“I couldn’t. It wasn’t in my hands.”, he pleaded.

She didn’t respond.

He imagined her to be a naughty but lovable child who would run all over their house and garden, harassing her cousins and escaping in her mother’s saree.  He wished she would grow up to be a smart and intelligent child. It was all irrelevant now. Their worst fear had come true. It didn’t matter how long they struggled to bring a life into the womb. It didn’t matter that she moved when they saw her on the screen. It didn’t matter that she had a heartbeat. The truth is that they failed, and they will light the candle today and not on her first birthday.

As the crowd chatted in sorrow, he continued to stare at her wrapped up body and held her tight to his chest. He breathed in broken gasps. His vision blurred. His legs shook. He lost balance and slumped. The surface pierced his knees through his white clothes  He touched her soft cold skin and caressed his hand over her tiny head for one last time. A thousand swords pierced his soul as he covered her in the shroud. His shivering arms moved unwillingly as he placed her in her final resting place.

“Sara.”, He choked. That was the name they thought for her.

 

He pushed a handful of mud, and others filled in. Her unspoken allegations were brushed away under the ground. He sat beside her, helpless, as mother earth took her in protection. As a father, he could only provide her a  farewell. But she was worthy of much, much more.

The day his cradle rocked

The sea view was the reason I agreed to stopover at Aunt Anita’s house every afternoon. I enjoyed watching the sun submerging in the sea. The evening breeze brought the fishy smell of sea water and traces of sand to create a saline taste. The darkness had enveloped the blue sky. I picked up my canvas school bag on my shoulders, tied my shoe laces and reclined in the chair. Aunt Anita lived alone and was one of the few, who owned a TV when it first came out, which I could enjoy until Mummy came to pick me up after finishing her work.  Though tired, Mom still used to be her same effervescent self when she dropped me to school in the morning.

The doorbell rang. A harsh voice alerted me like a soldier who had received marching orders.

“Abby? Come on let’s go. Didn’t mom come to pick you up today?”

“Huh?..No, Dad.”

“Why didn’t you go home yourself?””, Dad’s tone reached new decibel levels.

“That’s okay Ranjeet.He’s only six.”, Aunt Anita stepped in. “He’s been a good boy, and he has finished his homework too.”

“Can you give me our spare keys Anita? Maya isn’t home, and she keeps the house keys.”

Dad drove me back home in his Ambassador car. I was delighted at the thought of seeing Mom, running towards her, embracing her, kissing her and climbing over her, but I couldn’t see her anywhere.

“Dad, where is Mommy? Why isn’t she back?” I asked in despair.

“She must have gone to the market, son. It’s 8 pm already. You should be in bed.”

I went to bed on my own that night, a process unfamiliar to me. I changed into my night suit somehow and kept gazing at the stars through the window near my bed. I yearned for her touch that soothed me, her voice that sang a melodious lullaby, and her crossed legs that made up my silky pillow. I tried hard not to succumb to sleep without Mom. Eventually, the angels befriended me and pulled me into the deep slumber. I woke up next day to a noisy chatter, but Mom’s voice wasn’t among them.

“MOMMA! “ I yelled, wiping the sleep off my face. My eyes searched for her in a large gathering of people. Like every day, I anticipated her to hug and pick me up so that I could sit in her lap till I get over the morning blues.

Instead, it was Aunt Anita. She whisked me into her house.

“I have to go to school,” I cried and protested.

“Where’s Mom?”

“She had to go to work early today.”, Aunt Anita stated in woeful tone.

“And Dad?”

“He has also left for work, as usual.”, her tone unchanged.

“Who will take me to school?”

“You should stay here today. Watch TV, okay?” Without explaining further, she locked the door and went away.

Why was I in Aunt Anita’s house that morning? Why were there so many people in our house? My mind couldn’t fathom the situation. It was very unusual. Being alone in her house was scary and gloomy. Mom was the one whom I needed most now, and I couldn’t see her anywhere.

Aunt Anita came back after a while,  I persisted with my question “Where’s Mamma?”

“She has gone to meet God in heaven.” she sniffled and blurted out the truth, to elude any further questions from me and avoid giving false answers.

“What? But why?”

“To tell him to make you a fine and respectable man when you grow up.”

“So, will she return tomorrow?”

“No, son. God will keep her with Him.” she said crying incessantly. She pulled me towards her, hugged me tightly, and pinned my head to her chest.

“Why?” I went into cry mode and tried to break away from her embrace.

“Because she is a kind and lovely lady. God likes all nice people and calls them early to be with Him.”, words barely made it to her throat.

“But, that’s not fair. God should have his Mom. He should give mine back.”, I hollered.

I didn’t believe that Mom had gone to heaven permanently. I couldn’t trust anyone who confirmed this to me. I felt my soul being drained out of me creating a big void in my life. Did God take her away because she was nice or she left me because I was naughty all the time? I purposefully attempted to shed away my naughty behaviour and prayed to God to send her back. I developed the habit of not depending on anyone for anything. This, I thought mitigated the risk of the person leaving you in case you developed a dependency. Although it may sound extreme, it made me stand on my own feet, be independent. To start with, I learned to do all my routine activities myself.

As I grew older, I understood the truth that ensued that fateful night. Dad returned home from work and found the door locked. He checked at neighbours and he could neither find Mom nor me. Dad came to Aunt Anita’s house to take the spare keys and figured out that Mom hadn’t picked me up yet. When she didn’t come home till late, he went to a nearby payphone and called Mr. Mishra, the manager of the library where Mom worked. Luckily, her manager, Mr. Mishra had a phone connection newly installed. Mr. Mishra informed that Mom didn’t report to the library today. He thought she would have been sick.

When phone calls and visits to all friends and relatives didn’t yield any of her whereabouts, a frantic search followed – at the bus station, railway station, shopping plazas, even personally asking people walking on the road and showing them her photograph to know if they had seen this woman. When all attempts were futile, Dad filed a missing complaint at the police station that night.

A police constable visited our home around 7 am next morning. They had found an accident victim that resembled Mom’s description in a nearby hospital closer to mom’s workplace. Dad had gone to the hospital for identification. Mom dropped me at school that day but never reached her office. A drunken driver, in an attempt to turn at the signal,  moved the truck on the pavement where she stood for crossing, taking the life of 3 people.

Gradually, I realised that there is no use shedding tears in those lonely nights and hating truck drivers. I had to move on. The other two victims would also have children, and I was not the only one who was suffering. I clutched on to the limited memories I had of Mom. Whenever I was in a pensive mood, I dug deeper into my imagination to gather more of her remembrances, a treasure that I will hold onto till the ground calls me six feet under. Her beauty still breathes in my heart and my love for her can never die. Perhaps, she is another world and dimension, happy and observing me through a tesseract. Her guiding force helping me conquer all troubles.

When I became a parent, I perceived that ensuring the well-being of your child is your top priority. Today, 30 years later, I believe that Mom has born again, looking through my daughter’s eyes to confirm that her son is safe, just as I do for my children. The pain can never be alleviated. However, the love that I receive from my wife and kids more than compensates the loss.  I just want to let Mom know that she has made me strong, and I have grown up to be a fine man.