Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Monsoon In Mumbai

Home is the first rains in Mumbai.

The violence of the raindrops
Erasing summer’s fetid relics,

Where arms outstretched, we welcomed
The Rain God to his own abode

Where our paper boats floated
Before sinking in the puddles

We giggled in their misery
Assured of a dry, safe haven

Saturday, July 05, 2014


Pleased to share my contribution to this month's Spark magazine. Their theme for the month was 'Conversations' and I have written three byte-sized stories that revolve around conversations and end (hopefully) unexpectedly.
Some of it was experimental for me but so please go easy with the criticism Read on.


 The Last Banter

“Did you see the newspaper yesterday?”
“No, why?”
The two thin men sat on their haunches on the wooden platform, passing to each other a fast disappearing beedi.
“There has been a shortage of onion crop this year. The prices are going up.”
“First, they will take our jobs away, and now we can’t afford onions!”
“Oh well, at least we won’t need the onions to cry. Our tears will be real.”
A moment’s pause and they both broke into guffaws.
However, silence followed laughter as both sat reflecting on the misfortune that was about to befall them.
There had been a memo stuck with pins to the notice board. It went onto inform them that their division was overstaffed and that volume of the work did not justify the volume of the staff. Some people would be losing their jobs.
The news was accepted with a sense of inevitability. These two brothers, bonded by a common labour, could see the writing on the wall. The suspense though was overbearing. Would one of them lose their job? Or, would both? Will this be their last act of bravura? Would it be the last beedi they shared thus?
“Did you check it?”
“Yes, it’s tight. Everything is in order.”
The pride in their work was obvious in their demeanour. They believed that their work was a solemn duty.
The beedi was put out.
“It’s about time. He should be here.”
A bevy of men walked in through the door. The focus was one on a lean bespectacled man in the center. He walked with the grave air of a person lost in thought.
The two men saw him and wondered who the more condemned one was. With a careful leap, they got down from the gallows.


“What’s your name?”
The tone of the question had all the marking of a rough interrogation.
“How old are you?”
“Where are you from?”
“Pinocchio is a strange name. Are you a real boy or a wooden puppet?”
The sentence was delivered in a derisory tone and laughter was heard across the room.
“I suppose you just need to see whether my nose grows when I lie.”
The laughter died out in the hall. People nervously shifted in their seats. The answer was unexpected. It was mean. It was anything but what they had expected out of Pinocchio.
“That’s a little rude, don’t you think?” the tone softened a bit. “Never mind. Let’s continue.”
“Solve this riddle for me. A man is on an airplane with his wife and child. The plane catches fire and they have only one parachute between them. What would they do?”
“How old is the child?”
“That means that its chances of survival by itself are fairly remote. In that case, I would say that the woman should jump leaving the man and the child behind.”
“Why is that?”
“Logically, the survival of the species is dependent more on women than it is on men.”
“But couldn’t the woman take a chance and carry the child along?”
“Perhaps, but the probability of survival would reduce too much to make that viable.”
Heads shook in the room. The project file was shut down with a large thump. The subject should no signs of empathy humans are capable of. Their only currency was logic. The plan to humanize subject CRN-11 was going nowhere. A hundred years had gone by since the Turing Test was passed. What Alan Turing didn’t know is that even when he asked “Can Machines think?” he couldn’t have imagined that the only thinking they would ever be capable of was being logical.


Prasoon was fascinated by the ten avatars of Vishnu. There was a comic book on ‘Dashavatar’ (ten avatars of Vishnu), an animated movie on it, photos and idols of most of the avatars in the wood-crafted temple next to the kitchen, and at least one or two names in the extended family named after them.
Prasoon’s ten-year-old mind wrapped itself around the many possibilities that Vishnu had to offer as a superhero. His parents were happy that in the era of the Ironman and Superman and all other forms of men and women doing super-deeds, their son was found peering over his Hindu mythology book at quiet moments on a sleepy Sunday. What they were not prepared for was the many questions his enthrallment would bring about.
“Papa?” he asked his father, who was hidden behind the sports pages of the newspaper.
“Vishnu is very powerful, right?”
“And he can take many forms at the same time?”
“Can he take any form he wants?”
“Yes, he can.” said his father, a tinge of irritation building up.
“Does he always fight against evil?”
“Yes, yes, we have spoken about this many times before, Prasoon!”
“But he is always good, right? So why does he fight against himself?”
The paper was folded down and a face with a quizzical look peered at the boy.
“What do you mean?”
“In the book it says that when Rama goes to marry Sita, Parshurama comes and is very angry with him. He challenges Rama to string his bow which he claims is as powerful as the one Rama has broken. When Rama strings it, he says that an arrow has to be fired and he aims it at Parshurama. Doesn’t that mean that he is fighting against himself?”
“Why do you say he is fighting against himself?”
“Papa, you forgot? Rama is an avatar of Vishnu. Parshurama is also an avatar of Vishnu. Doesn’t that mean he is fighting himself?”
“You have a point here, Prasoon!”
After a pause, the father added “Rama was a really good man. Maybe even better than Parshurama, and he needed to prove that point. Set that standard.”
And the explanation expanded some more. “It is not that Parshurama was bad, but Rama was perfect. Not all of us can be perfect all the time like Rama. We may be more like Parshurama. Sometimes we make good choices and sometimes we don’t.”
“Are you saying that we may make mistakes and it is ok to fail?”
“Yes. You know, Rama didn’t punish Parshurama. He let him go.”
Prasoon rushed into his room and came back with a sheet of paper, handing it gingerly to his father.
“Papa, can you please sign this? You are my Rama,” he said with a sheepish smile, as his father pored over the red lines in his son’s report card.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Fleeting Image Of A House

Mine was an Indian home:
Blessed by a multitude of Gods,
Drenched in incense
and deliberation

Thursday, June 05, 2014

An Unlucky Man

Very tickled at sharing this month's publication in the Spark magazine with you. Their theme for the month was 'Mirth' and I have written a humorous (hopefully) short story about an unlucky man's travails set in the city of Mumbai. Read on and let me know if it raised a smile or two.

As I have discovered: Smiling is easy. Writing funny stories is much harder.


An Unlucky Man

Nimish Hiremagalur was not a lucky man. No Sir, he could not be accused of it. Lady Luck gave him the slip at the worst of moments. He once went gambling, won a lot of money, and promptly got robbed on the way home. On another occasion, when he came home early to surprise his wife, his wife had a surprise ready for him – a hairy man waiting in the closet full of clothes with very few clothes on him. He got so fed up with his life once that he decided that he would run away to wherever his dart landed on the map of the world. He hit his home city with great accuracy. No Sir, there was no escape for Nimish, there was no respite for him. No good things happened to him, and when they did, there was always a trip and a fall waiting for him. The Universe must have believed he was unlucky. Nimish certainly was convinced of it. He was sure that he lived at the bottom of rock bottom.

It was in the midst of this deep conviction that he stumbled home on a February evening. Most people would have probably missed it in the fading light of the day. A little brown blob lying on the road. But Nimish always looked down while walking. He saw it and it made him stop in his tracks. It was a wallet. Thick,  dog-eared, lived in. Nimish stared at it like it was about to explode. He thought about what he should do next. For the first time in a long time, he looked up, then left, then right, as if he were about to cross a road. He gingerly picked up the wallet, half expecting the police, the income tax department, a SWAT team and perhaps an entire contingent of news reporters with their mikes and cameras, to swarm on him, accusing him of having pulled off a great heist. That eruption of people never happened. No one came. It was just him and that carefully held wallet in his hand.

He opened it curiously. The wallet had two compartments. The first had an infusion of cash. A wad of notes dangled at him. Several thousand rupee notes were neatly arranged together. He turned the other flap open and looked for any signs of identification. There was nothing he could find that spoke about its owner. No license, no credit card, no photographs of a beloved. Just a slip of paper with an address. “Razzak bhai, Dharavi”. And a picture of a gun drawn on it. It seemed like the calling card of a Bollywood star. That definitive style of a man who expects the world to know who he is. Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, home to many Razzaks. But clearly, as the man must have believed, only one Razzak bhai.

Nimish’s eyes lit up. This seemed like a mystery wrapped in an enigmatic thrill. A man not trained to trust his luck suddenly found himself wanting to go on a limb and show some faith. Perhaps there was a story to be pursued here. A story to brighten up his life. A story to make his bygone be bhai-gones. He would return the purse, triumphantly, to a don of Mumbai. The don would offer him a reward that he would refuse. The don would be touched by his gesture and give him a gold chain that he was wearing, as a symbol of brotherhood. If he was lucky, he would even part with his favorite red colored scarf. If the stars were aligned, he would ask his moll, Rani, to pour him a drink. And if the stars really aligned, maybe he could spend some time petting the don’s pet tiger, Shera. Yes, yes, Nimish thought. Why not? Perhaps all his unluckiness had accrued as tax he was paying, for a day like this. His imagined don and the imagined don’s imaginary largesse was waiting for him three kilometers (or as they say in Mumbai, one hour) away.

Nimish hailed an auto-rickshaw and told him to head to Dharavi. He held the wallet very close to his heart. When the rickshaw coughed and sputtered along the Sion-Bandra link road, doubts began to cough and sputter within Nimish. Where would he start? Who would he ask? Will they take him in? Or take the wallet and shoo him away? Will he ever get a chance to talk to Razzak bhai himself?

“Sahab, kahaan?”asked the rickshaw driver, pointing out to him the obvious flaw in his grand plan. Standing at the mouth of Dharaavi was like landing at Ellis Island and having the whole of USA to explore. He asked him to stop near the corner of the universe. A paan shop, around which all the comings and goings of the neighborhood found their orbits. One paan shop in Dharaavi, one of the many in a hive of local news hounds. Could he find his lead here?

“Razzak bhai?”he went up and asked as the owner greased a fine Banarasi paan with choona.

“Razzak bhai,” the paanwaala responded?

“Yes. Razzak bhai,”he said, handing him the card from the wallet.

The paanwaala gave the card a glimpse. The choona froze in its tracks. A look of disdain crossed his face.

 “Wait here,” he told Nimish. He reached out to his side and picked up a cell phone. Frantically, he punched a few numbers, never for a moment taking his eyes off the man with the card.

“He’s here,” were the only two words he uttered.

Nimish’s excitement paled and was replaced by unease. He wondered what the paanwaala had made of that card. All it had was a simple name. When Nimish had asked him about Razzak, had the paanwaala treated it like a question or a statement? Was he assuming the he was Razzak bhai?

His answer was swiftly delivered to him. Three burly men with flowery shirts with their top three buttons open, closed in on him. One held him by the hand and led him to a narrow by-lane. Nimish started saying his prayers. This was going to be the end of him.

“Do you have it?” the largest man with the squeakiest voice asked.


“The money”

“For what?”

“The guns.”

“Well look, I am not really here for the guns. I am here to meet Razzak bhai.”

“He can’t meet you. He has gone away.”

“Where? Dubai?”

The smallest fellow laughed. “Dubai? No, to his village. In Uttar Pradesh.” After a pause, he said, “The money, or else, I’ll have to call the police”

Nimish stood confused. What goon uses police as a threat to sell guns?

“How much?” he asked.

“30000 rupees.”

Where am I going to get this kind of money, he wondered? And then it struck him. His flight to a great life, that wallet, was loaded with cash. He took it out and simply handed the whole thing to his corpulent new friend. Not the don, but his right hand.

The counting of money was done meticulously and Rs. 2000 returned back to him.

“It’s good. Now take your guns and go,” the man said, handing over a rather heavy bag to Nimish.

Nimish didn’t dare open the bag. He didn’t dare look them in the eye. He simply took the bag and walked out of there as fast as he could. All the way home, his eyes nervously looked for signs of police trolling the streets.

When he got to his building, he paid off the rickshaw-waala handsomely and ran up the stairs. He nervously opened the door to his house, latched the door and ran to his bedroom with that bag. Sweat poured from his temples and his sweaty palms almost lost grip of the bag.

Nervously, he opened it. There they were. The guns. Nearly a 1000 of them. All made to order. By someone whose wallet he had accidentally found on the road. Nimish looked at them with new eyes. This could be the start of something new. Something exciting. A career in arms dealership perhaps. The lucky break that could alter his life for a better path. Nimish, no longer the loser.

With renewed vigor, he picked up a gun to examine it. The disappointment came sooner than the feel of the gun could register in his hand. It was February. In time for Holi. All these guns were built to fire was colored water. His face fell. Good fate had tempted him only to turn its back on him. That merchandise seemed to laugh slyly at him. The receipt of goods taunted him a bit louder. It had the name of the company that made them. Razzak bhai’s company.

“Lucky Waterworks”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

An Indian Immigrant's Penance

My latest publication on this fine site for poetry - Every Day Poets. This is the second time I have gotten my work published there, this time over a gap of two years, as is evident from my bio that did not get updated in time :) Read on.


Monday, May 05, 2014

A Mumbai Reprise

Mumbai. My muse. My city. My home, always. Mumbai, where I come from.

Enjoy my latest publication, which is an ode to the maximum city

Mumbai Reprise

Where I come from
Street after street
Stands silent witness
To the constant triumph
Of Darwinian principles

Where I come from
Dreams burn in a cauldron
And the ashes disperse
In the waiting arms
Of a moonlit sea

Where I come from
The greatest steal
Is a few feet of space
The greatest prize
A few quarantined thoughts

Where I come from
There’s beauty still
And a pulse that never
Subsides, late into the
Smoggy arms of night

Where I come from
Your constant companions
Amidst the teeming hordes
Are an ascending emptiness
And a clandestine pain

Where I come from
(sigh) Where I came from
I wander still, in my dreams
A city of penitent angels
A city of cavalier djinns

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Morning Song

I heard the morning song;
Stiff notes stretching
Their sinuous arms

Dawn races those
Who are racing it 
To beat it to coffee

Critters, birds sing hymns
Light filters through
"Aarush" carries 
The blessing of "Ushas"

Aarush - first ray of the sun
Ushas - Hindu deity of the morning, dawn