Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Hitman

Excited to share my first publication at Terribly Tiny Tales. It is a short, sweet and (hopefully) smart story. Read on.


Antakshari

Who doesn't love Antakshari? Read my latest article in the Spark magazine about the beloved movie song game that is a ritual whenever a group gathers for a long bus ride or simply has time to kill.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=10389

Antakshari

The hero wins a bet and places a condition to the girl that she must confess her love to her with the words “I love you” in front of everyone, which, when one realizes is a spectrum of random onlookers to the hero’s parents to his nosey relatives, is a big deal. The heroine has a gargantuan task in front of her. Luckily for her, a brilliant idea from the movie’s director, Sooraj Barjatya, comes to her rescue. An Antakshari ensues. To the uninitiated, Antakshari is really an amalgamation of two words: anta (meaning end) and akshari (meaning letter). The game is fairly simple. A participant sings a song and the next in line has to sing a song that starts with the last letter with which the previous song ended. Back to our heroine in distress. An Antakshari ensues and like a truly competent family, everyone in the group belts out Hindi numbers, passing the baton so to speak from one person to the other. The songs range from ‘Hum to chale pardes’ to ‘Hothon pe aisi baat’. The clincher however is that the heroine ends the Antakshari with the song ‘Kaante nahin katate yeh din yeh raat’. Why was it a great choice? Well, it ends with the words, “I love you”. With a deft move, the heroine meets her challenge and everyone gets a happy moment to remember the movie by.
In retrospect, the brilliance is not the lead-up to the Antakshari or the heroine’s confession. It is the director’s nod to a very popular game that is embedded in the psyche of the average Indian. A game to pass the time. A game to relive that which comes to the tip of their tongues. Movies may be integral to the Indian landscape, but the music of the movies is even more so. It can be argued that the quality of the music in the early decades (40s-70s) exceeded that of the films that they were a part of. More people remember ‘Mahal’ for ‘Aayega aanewaala’ than the plot that drove it. Rafi’s rendition of ‘Chaudhvin ka chaand’ is the best part of the movie of the same name.
Antakshari as a game has been around for a while now. It consisted of singing folk songs and the like once upon a time. My anecdotal learning is that it was around the 1970s that Antakshari of Hindi film songs became popular. For as long as I can remember from my substantial years on this planet, every road trip, every college gathering, every dull moment in search of an inspiration found an outlet in this game. Form two teams (generally divided along the middle road of the vehicle being traveled in), sing the Antakshari kick off song (‘Baithe baithe kya kare …’) and off you go.
The first thirty minutes of the contest clears up the most common songs of the ground. Everything from ‘Na na karte pyaar’ to ‘Nanha munha rahi hoon’ to ‘Dum dum diga diga’ and ‘Lekar hum deewana dil’ get out of the way. It is as if everyone is wired to sing these songs up front. As if these are the most obvious conclusions one can draw to the puzzle of what to sing when a common letter like ‘Na’ or ‘Da’ is presented to them. The length of the game of Antakshari before someone struggles to come up with a song is directly proportional to the number of people in each team. The most beautiful part of the game is the fact that it encourages even non-singers to channel their inner Kishore Kumar or Lata Mangeshkar. It essentially takes the singing out of a competition that is all about songs. The most reluctant of people find the first three bars of a song and someone else will readily join him or her. An hour or so down the line, the repetition of “Na” might put someone in a spot. It could also be that some Hindi purist might start differentiating and insisting that the songs start with the right letter. I have never seen an Antakshari contest end in blows, but it does tend to get heated occasionally.
A striking part of this is that almost everyone universally gravitates towards old songs. And while I agree that the definition of old varies depending on who you ask, I’d wager that anything pre-1995 qualifies. ‘Ghum hai kisike pyaar mein’ comes to mind a lot quicker than ‘Ghumshuda, ghumshuda’. I have often wondered why that is the case. Why is it that even popular Rahman songs don’t strike me as easily as a Usha Khanna composition? Is it the fact that I grew up with these numbers, passed onto me like a family heirloom? Is it the fact that these compositions were inherently very simple and melodious, where the words mattered and did not dissuade? Or was it the case that the words simply got to the point? It was perhaps a mixture of all of them. Think about it. Take the case of the title track of “Rock On”. Now quickly try to remember how it starts. Do you remember the first word? If not, you aren’t going to sing it in an Antakshari. One of the thrills in Antakshari is to focus on what your opponent is singing and jump to the last word even while they are in the middle of the song. With limited time on offer, you are not likely to sing songs whose beginnings aren’t at the tip of your tongue.
Antakshari hit prime time on TV when the contest aired on Zee TV with the very knowledgeable Annu Kapoor enthusiastically hosting the show. Its form has evolved from the humble contest to a game with complicated rounds and variations. Its rounds span anything from identifying a song from its video with the sound off to singing only duets in a given round to singing as many songs as you can where the given word occurs in a mukhda (the initial lines of the song)
No matter what shape and form it takes, the simplicity of the game is never lost. Without any electronic device, without a pen or a paper and without a high degree of intellectual involvement, one can play Antakshari. It is the way a long lost song finds its way back into your heart once you hear it in an untrained voice singing it with enthusiasm. It is a game that gives you the impetus to go to the Internet and seek that long lost song again, for your heart now calls out to it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Killjoy

This theme for this month's Spark magazine is 'Fun'. I, however, have decided to take the curmudgeonly route. This month's publication talks about things that people think are fun but don't appeal to me. Are any of your favorites on the list? Read on.


Killjoy

The issue of this magazine is all about Fun and I know that you, dear reader, have come to this page waiting for fountains of joy to erupt and smiling daisies to blossom in your imagination after you read what is written here. Sorry to burst your exultant bubble. I don't intend to be a Pollyanna. I will not tell you about the things that give me joy. Instead, I am going to tell you about the things that drive me up the wall; things that others think are fun but what I can’t fathom for the life of me. To each one his own, they say. Let that be true of joy and revulsion. Here goes my top picks from my curmudgeonly list.
The Cake Smear
Imagine it is your birthday. The one day in the year in your limited time on this planet where you get up beaming and feeling special. The one day where your friends and family will remember you, either aided by memory or reminders from Facebook. You wake up and get to work, safe in the knowledge that your colleagues will cut you some slack if you didn’t finish some work, crack some good-natured joke about your age and let you remain in that happy bubble. Then the end of the day arrives and a meeting is gathered. A cake with your name, ordered from the local bakery, is brought to the scene. Three candles are tactically placed inside on it. Someone realises that there is no matchbox to be found and goes in search of that one smoker they know, who’ll be resourceful enough to lend their lighter. The candles are lit, you sheepishly blow them with restraint. You hear the wonderful strains of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song but then the song is abruptly cut short as you finish cutting the cake. And then, the moment when your smile diminishes a little for the first time since morning, arrives. It is time. Goaded on like a hesitant butcher, one of your colleagues approaches you with a glint of mischief in his eyes. A piece of cake is taken and smeared over your face. Smeared, plastered, spread, pasted. No number of adjectives are enough to describe the degree to which the cake is decimated and put to the more unnatural use you could put a cake to. Why a beautiful cake should meet a beautiful face in this ugly fashion is something that drives me up the wall. What possible pleasure could one get from this, escapes my rational mind. This is a particularly Indian tradition. In that, it happens a lot in India. In college hostels, at the work place, and I am extrapolating, in senior centers as well. You can have your cake and eat it too, birthday boy, but only after 20% of it is wasted on your face and your hair. Sigh.
Halloween
Halloween is a source of joy for many. People like to dress up in costumes, have parties with the same exhausting themes and they turn it into yet another source of Facebook profile pictures. I personally don’t see the point in it. Yes, my children dress up and go to their schools and neighborhood because that is simply the way of life for them. Also, they are children. Why adults need to spend so much time and energy dressing up in clichéd costumes of exasperating characters is something I have never understood. Pass on the candies to me. As for the costumes – no, thank you.
Jumping in the air for photos
Gravity exists for a reason. It is to keep you grounded in literal and metaphorical ways. Beautiful sights also exist for a reason. They are there for the eyes to soak them in and enjoy their vastness and grandeur in a moment of stillness. And yet, some people have this strange fascination to defy both at one shot. They stand in front of beautiful vistas and do the most unnatural thing. They jump in the air. Not just once, but many times until the photographer confirms that the right combination of shutter feed and dumb luck has resulted in a picture of them suspended in the air. I simply don’t see the point of it. No need to hold your breath. We all know what happens. They all come crashing down.
Roller coasters
Imagine that you ate a tiramisu. Layer upon layer of deliciousness that puts you into a blissful mood. Imagine now that I put that tiramisu in a blender and cranked up the setting. The beautiful tiramisu would toss and turn and be destroyed while ruing its dumb luck. That’s what a roller coaster feels like to me. Why would I take a perfectly well-balanced state of being and subject it to twists and turns and dips and raises of an artificial nature? Why should I let the food inside me churn like it’s in a mixer, causing nothing but upheaval, while waiting with bated breath for the ordeal to get over? Why do I need an artificial roller coaster? I already am on a real one. It is called life.
Shopping
Someone needs to do a study on this because I have a hypothesis that walking into an IKEA or a Walmart can actually give people headaches. It does to me. Human beings parsed themselves into hunters or gatherers at the onset of time. In this post-industrial age, we are all simply gatherers, all primed to pick fruit from the aisles of consumerism. It is a royal waste of time and resources and yet many treat it as therapy. I am a reluctant consumer. I hate shopping and am often found requesting my spouse to help me find the artifacts I need to continue being a member of society. For that, I am grateful. Otherwise, my eyes always scan a coffee shop or an exit, whichever comes earlier.
WhatsApp flooding
I want a minion bot that can sit and delete jokes, forwards, inspirational messages, videos, urban legends, greeting cards with good morning messages and other "awsm" thoughts from my WhatsApp feed before they reach me.
WhatsApp feels like a giant spam folder to me for the most part! And yet, I must be in a minority, for the world is full of people who think that sending WhatsApp messages of the kind I dislike is an act of love, an act of charity. They press the forward button without compunction, keeping the rest of the world plugged into the lowest common denominator of textual entertainment. Alas, I find their jokes rather unfunny.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Vignettes

Education isn't about mere numbers. It is a collection of memories we build when we are in school and college. My publication in this month's Spark magazine is a set of haikus on the moments that stay with us when we go through the grind to get a degree.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=10269

Vignettes


Teardrop emerges
Resists and finally falls off
His first day at school

“Do your homework”
A voice asserts from the kitchen
He turns on the computer

“What of the other two?”
Eager eyes scanned the ground
In hope for the lost marks

“We are very inclusive”,
Stressed the Sister. The board warned
“No Hindi in here”

“A nationwide bandh”
A newspaper flung away
A bag flung happily too

“Akshay Sunil More?”
“Present Sir”, two voices shout
The dual proxies smiled slyly

“Homo erectus”
Few giggles are heard at the back
“Boys”, sighs the teacher

The dropout remembers
With his buddies on WhatsApp
“Sigh. Those were the dayyzzzz”

A Lazy Summer Afternoon

The Bangalore Poetry Festival released an anthology of poems from contributing poets who made the cut. Glad to get my first publication as a Bangalore poet after doing it in Seattle.

Here's the poem in question.

A Lazy Summer Afternoon


Our willowy fingers traced 
the shapes of clouds.
 
One was a face, the other a ship, 
a third an army in disarray
 
One was shaped like the memory we were making, 
two clouds floating on grass, 
dew kissing their tingly feet.

Friday, August 05, 2016

The Great Indian Road Trick

I have never driven in India. Yes, you heard me right. Hence, the first time I took to the streets was obviously going to be an adventure in the making.

Read on as I take my years of driving on American roads to a new potholed laced spread.
Spark magazine was kind enough to test drive this essay

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=10174

The Great Indian Road Trick

Let me get something out of the way at the very beginning. I have never driven in India. I have an Indian license that the fine state of Maharashtra issued to me and it has been valid for a long time, but I have never really driven in India. I grew up in Mumbai where owning a vehicle was never a must. The BEST buses and auto-rickshaws and local trains would carry you wherever you needed to go and more importantly, one could still walk on the road if your legs were keen on traveling.

I spent a decade and a half in the United States. For all practical purposes, I learnt to drive there. On those wide empty roads in a college town in Texas, where traffic was never really an issue and where the biggest challenge was getting used to driving at a high speed, being comfortable changing lanes and doing parallel parking. Since then I have driven over a lakh miles or possibly more. The way of life in most American cities requires you to drive. Incessantly. And while the monotony of it gets to you, I wouldn’t call it stressful. No wonder taking a long drive is considered as natural a thing to do as barbecuing food in summer and buying things on Thanksgiving.

However, now I am in India. Not as a visitor, but as a resident. I work here, live here and watch Indian television serials with a great degree of amusement. Specifically, I live in what was once the city of retirees but is now a city that might just force people to retire sooner. Bangalore. Bengaluru. I wonder if the city fell off the precipice when its name was changed. Most likely, it happened when someone looked at the weather and decided that this is paradise waiting to be inhabited and ruined. IT companies decided to land in droves and city planners put up IT parks like a 2-year-old would spread LEGO blocks on the floor by tossing them. No order, no arrangement, no roads to get around, no public transport to take you there. Folks familiar with the city tell me that the city used to be navigable in twenty minutes not more than a decade ago. Twenty minutes is the time you would need to cover a car’s length in a traffic signal in Marathahalli.

Back to my driving though. A month after landing, we bought a car. My wife turned out to be a bigger braveheart than me. She drove it back home from the showroom, ferried the whole family for a first ride out and two days later, started driving it to work in it. I on the other hand stared at it for a few days – a pristine beast that I was afraid to take out in an unruly jungle. You see, driving in India is not merely an exercise in sitting behind a wheel and pressing the accelerator. It is like playing a video game. Vehicles can come from your left, from your right, cut across you, come at you from the opposite direction and it is only a matter of great relief that no car drops on you from the top. Why just vehicles – pedestrians pose challenges too. You maybe driving at 60 kmph but that is no deterrent for the chap who jumps across the median of a highway and puts his hand out like Neo expecting all vehicular traffic to stop and drop dead like the bullets that were aimed at the hero. Perhaps India is the Matrix, where people are sent to acquire new skills as drivers before they return to the real world. Why else would you see on a perfectly busy highway of a crowded metropolitan city a herd of cows who couldn’t care less about turning a “green” looking Google Maps traffic status to “red”? What better test of skill there is than two cows exactly six feet apart, moving slowly at different speeds and you are expected to drive your car through it?

Nay, driving in India is not a boring affair like it is industrialized nations like the US where the roads don’t have potholes. In USA, the failures are never minor – your car may never fall into a pothole, but an entire bridge might collapse with you on it. Driving in India teaches you that you may have a 40 lakh car but you need to respect the ground realities. The potholes, that is. If you cover a distance of 30 feet without encountering a pothole, check your engine. You may not have started the car at all! I don’t think the municipal people are apathetic. They see the potholes for what they are. Beautiful examples of abstract art. You need the eyes of your soul to admire it. But nonetheless, there are some who don’t. Recently in Bangalore, people resorted to doing a ‘pothole puja’ or recreate the ‘Princess and the frog’ fairytale to highlight the pothole menace as they see it. But potholes are nothing but a silent cry to the masses to slow down. Take a deep breath. Take stock of your life. In fact, the whole of Bangalore city exudes that message. After all, it was meant to be a city for retirees who were never known to take things fast. Sitting in traffic at the Silk Board junction or the Marathahalli bridge give you enough and more time to introspect.

In the short time I have driven in India, I have learnt some tricks that help me. For example, never drive on the extremes. If you drive on the left of the road, you might encounter cars parked right below a ‘No parking’ sign. If you drive on the right of the road, you might be blocked behind an array of vehicles trying to execute one of Bangalore’s true specialties; the U-turn. Stay in the middle and hope that you don’t encounter the devil. Over my first few days of nervous driving, I realized that the ones I was scared of the most were the two-wheelers. Like bees buzzing around in Brownian motion, there is no rhyme or reason to the manner they drive. They change lanes with impunity, they squeeze themselves into the tightest of spots, they scratch your car if the spot doesn’t turn out to be as big as they imagined it and mostly drive like they are on a death wish. Auto-rickshaws are the worst offenders in Mumbai. Two-wheelers win that prize in Bangalore. Naturally, my attempts at principled driving didn’t get me anywhere. I tried sticking to my lane and almost got hit. I let other people through when it made sense and got honked at like catastrophe had struck. I used indicators to give people fair warning of turns that I am making but people drove on around me like my two-ton car didn’t exist.

There is much to fret about driving in traffic in India. The country’s motorists drive with no rules of conduct beyond “I’m going to drive as fast as I can in the direction I want to go until there is an immediate physical barrier at which point I will brake abruptly. I will then honk mercilessly until I am able to force my way through traffic.” What they don’t seem to realize is this only serves to cause congestion, making it such that no one can get anywhere. That civic sense does not exist in Indian drivers. You can fix the infrastructure all you want but that will only solve half the problem.
I realise now that I can’t drive like I did in the USA and I’ll need to build a lot of mental muscle to drive like everyone else here. I’ll work through this and find my middle ground, my little compromise between the Indian model of driving and the American one. As they say in India, “You don’t drive on the left of the road, you drive on what is left of the road.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Musical Introduction

"Hi, I am Kedar", he said over the singing

The girl shook her head, pointed at the stage and said, "Bhairavi"

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Shreyas and the Tyre

Shreyas was unbeatable, till a little incident got him down. Read my latest publication in the Spark magazine, a feel good story about a teenager's adversity and how he turns it into an advantage. Oh, and a tyre plays a big part in the story. I wonder why :)

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=10097


Shreyas and the Tyre


People could have been forgiven for believing that there was a halo over Shreyas’s head. Here was a schoolboy destined for great successes. His friends would chant his name, ‘Shreyas, Shreyas’ (set to the tune of ‘Sachin, Sachin’) when he would play cricket. A six needed of one ball – Shreyas delivered. A wicket needed to tilt the balance – just bring on Shreyas. An elocution competition is afoot – no one speaks as well as Shreyas. A song needs to be sung at assembly – let loose the dulcet tones of Shreyas. He was omnipotent and multi-talented. His place as a legend in his school was assured until the fateful day when Shreyas’s stoic balance deserted him. He had invited the jealousy of Anish, who had grown tired of watching the girls in his class call go ‘Shreeeeyaaaas’ longingly just to get his attention.

It was a wet morning at school. The children were stranded in their classrooms, asked to ‘do whatever you want, just be quiet’ by their teacher. It was a potent form of torture and the restless masses hushed and whispered and giggled and played games on their desks to pass the time. The decibel level was within the teacher’s comfort zone and so she merrily ignored them, sinking her heart deep into the Mills and Boons novel she was reading, which in turn was hidden within a large magazine. After a while, she left the class to answer nature’s call and left who else but Shreyas in charge of it. Shreyas walked up to the front of the class and stood still. The quiet authority he exuded had most of the class in control. Most, not all, because Anish saw this as a perfect opportunity to do some harm.

“Hey Shreyas, catch,” and he tossed a paper ball the way of Shreyas.

Instinctively, the top athlete caught it, and threw it back at Anish. Sternly, he said, ‘Stop it. Don’t do this here’.

“Come on, Shreyas,” said Anish, mockingly, “are you afraid of being caught?”

Shreyas didn’t take the bait.

“I bet you can’t disobey rules. There are some things Shreyas can’t do after all.”

Shreyas clinched his fist. There was nothing he couldn’t do. Everyone had been telling him that all his life.

“What happened, Shreyas? Are you scared?”

Shreyas snapped, “Shut up, Anish. I am not scared of anything or anyone.”

“Then prove it Shreyas.”

Mischief gleamed in the eyes of Anish.

“Stand on the teacher’s desk on one leg and catch this ball again!” He paused for dramatic effect. “With one hand.”

This is the moment where Shreyas paid the price of his greatness. Where his capacity to do the impossible made him fall prey to the mind games being played with him.

Shreyas stood as instructed and Anish unfurled a throw like Indra shooting a bolt of lightning. Shreyas, standing in the pose of a yogi, moved with the assurance of one and caught the ball with one hand. The table beneath him shifted, slid forward, and disrupted his balance. He fell backwards. Fortunately for him, the teacher’s chair was there to break the fall. Unfortunately for him, the teacher had left her purse on it. If that was not enough, the teacher had left her house keys in the pocket as well. And to add insult to impending injury, the keys were jutting out and pointing skywards. Unto this set of keys arrived Shreyas’s rear end. It settled on them with force and soft tissue. Shreyas did not know what had hit him but he felt the full impact of his impalement.

The rest of the morning was a blur for him. There seemed to be a collection of voices all playing in the background, each overlapping the other, a mixture of laughter and concern, instructions from the doctor and the sobs of his mother, creaking of a stretcher and his own wails that seemed to override all else. Shreyas’s rear end was front and centre of his existence for the next few days, as the doctors went to town fixing that which was broken in him. His recovery was expected to happen over a few weeks and until then, he was to now carry a most unique accessory – a tyre. An inflated rubber tyre with the right circumference and the right air pressure would relieve any pressure that his area of injury would have gotten otherwise. Shreyas and his tyre were now one. He slung it on his shoulder like a lifeguard tending to the kids of rich people at a pool party. He gained four inches while sitting on it and causing the kids consternation by blocking their view. He gained a new last name – “Tyrewala” as the merciless hordes, led by Anish, chipped away at his confidence bit by bit. Medical science had let him down. Was there no inconspicuous contraption the doctor could have given him? Slowly, the invincible Shreyas was losing. The boy who could do no wrong started making mistakes, withdrawing into his shell. The unthinkable was about to happen. Shreyas was thinking of not standing for the head boy elections. What would have been a cakewalk for him now would be gifted to Anish on a tyre.

Shreyas sat all alone one evening. Alone – save his tyre, that is – on a chair in the balcony of his house. The world was going about its existence, unaware of the pain Shreyas felt. His grandfather ambled out slowly.

“I am surprised to find you here. I thought you’d be working tirelessly,” chuckled his grandfather, much to Shreyas’s horror.

Instinctively, Shreyas responded, “The joke’s inflated, Dada!” It was hard to be mad at the chirpy septuagenarian.

“Shreyas, with the tyre, you are on a roll!”

And so on and so forth they went, grandfather and grandson, exchanging puns. Shreyas could feel the colour returning to his cheeks. His lost mojo was finding its way back to him through the uplifting roads of wit.

The sun dipped below the horizon and it signalled that the two had to step back in to escape the mosquitoes.

“Shreyas, remember this. Find a way. There is always a way,” said his grandfather, sagely passing wisdom between generations in the most pithy manner possible.

Shreyas spent the evening mulling over it, walking around the room and tossing the tyre in his hand. Then, it hit him. He furiously started scribbling some ideas and felt a resurgence in his spirit. He would not allow this tyre to bring him down – the tyre was going to see him through.
Shreyas stood for the elections. His confidence restored, he walked into each classroom with the tyre in hand to make his case, his humour as effective as his arguments. Anish fought hard and dirty, but there was no stopping Shreyas. The elections came and the inevitable happened. Shreyas was victorious. His injury had healed and he no longer needed any aid. It now had pride of place in his house – hanging next to photographs of Sachin Tendulkar and Viswanathan Anand. From his pocket, he took out a voting slip that he had kept aside as a memento. Next to Shreyas’s name was his election symbol. It was a tyre.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Annual Rendezvous

Kavya and Nikesh are like chalk and cheese. Yet, they meet year after year in Coonoor in the rains. Read my latest short story published in Spark to find out why. On a separate note, this story was entirely written while sitting in Bangalore traffic.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=10066

The Annual Rendezvous


First the dark clouds came, marching on like an army without a general, displaying the kind of indiscipline that would have lost them a war had they been men. But men they were not and there was no enemy to contend with. In fact, their invasion was a welcome relief to the blistering heat that had filled the hills of Coonoor for the past one month. Kavya sat on the edge of the window, enthralled at the sight. Kavya was looking forward to the raindrops that were to follow. I’ll embrace them as I embrace Nikesh, with no intention of letting go. The monsoons this year had two ardent fans.
Nikesh emerged from the kitchen, carrying two cups of coffee in his hand, leaving behind a trail of steam emanating from them.
“Here you go!”, he said, offering up the serving to Kavya, who accepted the cup with a smile.
“Flattering to deceive?”, he asked, raising his cup and pointing towards the clouds.
“It always rains when we come here,” said Kavya. “Trust me.”
She was of course right about it, just as she had been right about many things over the years. This was the fifteenth time they had come here. Every year, like the ritual crossing of the earth around the sun, Kavya and Nikesh would come to the unimaginably named “Hill View” lodge. The rains were a subscript that had been written into that story.
Kavya remembered the first time she had seen Nikesh, looking out the window of her room. It was during her trip to this place 15 years ago, in 2001. He was rubbing his spectacles onto his shirt, so that he could see through them. Nikesh was drenched, having encountered the wrath of the Coonoor rains that had poured on him without any warning. Kavya was sitting on the edge of the window of her room. She believed that gazing into the expanse gave her grief some space to disperse. The hills were full of lush greenery, turned a shade darker with all the rains they were getting. The sound of the thunder found great echo in the valleys below her. There was happiness bouncing in the puddles of water. There was laughter of children in the street. The city was coming unburdened from the tight grip of the heat. Yet, Kavya’s grief couldn’t elevate itself above this.
Kavya had the most intractable of problems. She had the strangest of afflictions – one she believed would grab her and sink her to the abyss before the year came to a close. Her belief in her own fallibility was so strong that it threated to become a self fulfilling prophecy. Her phobia about living was going to kill her. Her depression was diagnosed, but not cured. Her support system had tried to revive her, but failed. Kavya looked at the ground outside, pelted with the rain drops and wondered if she too would wither away like a small plant, from the effects of the downpour. She had escaped Bangalore to come to Coonoor. No one in her family knew her whereabouts. She knew that they would be distressed, but she was beyond caring.
It was in this moment of helplessness that she saw Nikesh wiping his spectacles. There was nothing remarkable about the man. Everything about him was decaying in small measure. He had a small bald patch on his head, a small paunch, small legs that he was using to scurry into the lodge. Kavya barely registered him as he vanished from her sight.
The lodge was serving dinner each evening. Warm chicken soup with parathas and paneer sabzi and biryani, cooked up by the home cook awaited them that evening. Nikesh and Kavya both petered down, realizing soon that they were the only visitors to the lodge that day.
Nikesh, sensing that staying quiet was even more uncomfortable than saying something, chose the latter.
“Strange, isn’t it?”, he said, walking up to Kavya.
“Such a beautiful lodge, such good weather, and only two people coming over to occupy it”
She gave him a half smile of acknowledgement and went back to playing with the paneer with her fork.
“I must confess I am surprised that you are here by yourself”
“Aren’t you too?” Kavya shot back.
“Touché. Would you like to go for a walk tomorrow? I am quite the expert on the local vegetation here.”
Kavya decided to look up and scan the face of the man making a proposition that seemed odd to her given he didn’t know her. Should she go, she wondered?
“Trust me. I am not a serial killer” Nikesh joked.
After all, what have I got to lose?
“Don’t all serial killers say that?” Kavya replied, to which Nikesh laughed. His laughter unlocked a trapped door within her.
“Alright,” she said, and the evening drifted away with the gentle breeze outside.
The walk through the winding woods next morning winded Kavya up, while Nikesh seemed to float on air. He seemed accustomed to the mountains; to their harshness, their challenge and the prizes they offered once you surmounted them. Nikesh continued a stream of stories while Kavya tried to keep up. He spoke about himself, his life before as an investment banker, the pressures of his job that made him quit and wander about, his love for Coonoor, for the rains that he never missed. He spoke about the time last year when he had wandered into the woods for a long hike in the midst of heavy rains.  Every step of the journey was treacherous and yet he undertook it with gay abandon.
“Why would you do risk your life for something like this? Don’t you value it?”
Nikesh paused. “Do you?” he asked.
Kavya was taken aback by the question, surprised how he spotted the inner demon that she had not revealed to him. He looked at his eyes. He knew.
“Not all of us are made the same way, Nikesh.”
“You won’t know the value of something until you have lost it,” Nikesh said.
“How would you know? Won’t you have to die to find out?” asked Kavya.
Nikesh walked up to Kavya and held her hand in his gently.
“Maybe I have,” he said, hoping that the softness of his voice would make the truth more palatable to Kavya.
“My recklessness cost me my life. Let’s see if we can save yours, shall we?”
Kavya tried to register the many things that she was hearing. The irony of a ghost exhorting her to live was not lost on her.
“Let’s make a pact. You promise to live on and I’ll always keep you company. Both of us shall not be left wanting.”
“How so?”
“Let these rains unite us year after year. Come visit this place and we’ll exchange tales – stories of living on.”
“Even though one of us is dead?”, Kavya joked feebly.
Nikesh roared in laughter, an unabashed expression of joy that reverberated through the woods.
Kavya asked for time to mull over this proposal. More than anything else, she needed to breathe in this absurd reality that had been presented to her.
“I’ll wait,” said Nikesh, and they parted ways.
The following year, Kavya arrived for the season, like the gentle breeze that brought the rain clouds with it. She got off the car and looked around her. A man who was not alive smiled from a corner. An annual rendezvous was established. With the man and the rains that never let her down.