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”