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UnBound E-Magazine Issue #2: Strength of a Woman

 

Presents

Issue # 2; August 2016

Theme:

STRENGTH OF A WOMAN

Curated by

For Writers, By Authors

(https://www.facebook.com/groups/ForWritersByAuthors/)

Edited by

Pen Paper Coffee

(http://www.penpapercoffee.net/)

Cover Page Picture Courtesy

ComFreak (sourced from Pixabay.com)

Acknowledgments

A magazine is so much more than just a collection of stories and poems. It’s the product of long hours of hard work, tears of joy, screams of frustration, and many a sleepless night. Many pairs of eyes and hands join together to collaborate and compile a magazine. UnBound is a team effort and what a splendid team it was!

It all began as an idea from Pen Paper Coffee, an editorial company helmed by Neil D’Silva and Varun Vithaldas Prabhu. They are the force behind this magazine. It’s their baby. They are the ones working at putting it all together and presenting it to the world.

Since they are also the admins of the Facebook group For Writers, By Authors, the group became their promotional partner. The other two admins of the group, Vanita Bodke and Aindrila Roy stepped in to assume key roles in the formation of the magazine. While Vanita took up the marketing and promotion of the magazine, Aindrila handled the backend, such as communicating with the jury and the editors, and collating and compiling the submissions.

This time, we opted to have two sets of external juries. The juries were sent the entries anonymously and they were asked to score the entries based on various parameters. The idea was to remove all bias and give everyone a fair chance to get selected. We received a flurry of entries and we have to thank both our panels for patiently and sincerely judging the entries. The First Jury included Prachi Percy Sharma, Nidhi Dorairaj Bruce, and Dhivya Balaji. Based on their scores, the top 20 entries were sent to the Second Jury comprising of Rubina Ramesh, Percy Wadiwala, and Janaki Nagraj.

Having selected the final list of submissions, we then approached a team to aid us in the editing process. Suresh Chandrasekaran, Percy Wadiwala, and Pritesh Patil did a wonderful job of editing and proofreading the entries. The final edits were done by the team at Pen Paper Coffee.

Two other people deserve special mentions here—Omkar Pathare, who helped us in fine-tuning our cover for this issue, and Aniruddha Pathak who is making an app that will make UnBound Issue # 2 easily available to more people. Also, we cannot forget the contribution of Vibhuti Bhandarkar, the original designer of the fabulous UnBound logo.

And of course, we cannot thank the participants enough. Your love, support, and ideas have made this magazine possible.

Our deepest gratitude and the sincerest thanks to the entire team who made UnBound possible! It has been a long wait and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the unconditional love, support, faith and encouragement that you have given us. We exist because of you.

With Love,

Team UnBound

Contents

Foreword – Utkarsh Patel

Ode to a Woman – Neeti Banga

For His Own Good – Lata Sony

The Boy Named Witch – Santosh Bakaya

Goodbyes Are Not Forever – Sujata Rajpal

The First-timer – Antara Jha

Her Name Is Red – Karthik L.

The Strength of a Woman – Mani Bhushan Prasad

Lolo’s Daughter – Galina Trefil

UniverSHE – Bharath Nandibhatla

Shri Rama Raksha – Saikumar Yerubandi

Crippled Flames – Satyananda Sarangi

Soft Power Strikes – Lata Sony

Her Tiara – Aniruddha Pathak

The Gulab Jamun – Jean Spraker

I, the Himalaya – Paramita Choudhury

The Monster in My Dreams – Prachi Percy Sharma

She – Irfan Ali

The Three Faces – Kashish Kaur

My Strength? Let’s Check – Geetika Gupta

Tripped – Sutapa Basu

Liberated to My Freedom – Piyush Kaviraj

Twenty Thousand Solutions of Problems – Anirban Nanda

Woman Interrupted! – Supriya Raju Parulekar

When the Levee Breaks – Aindrila Roy

Foreword

[] Woman – Beauty and Brawn

UTKARSH PATEL

(author, Shakuntala)

 

Utkarsh Patel is a corporate-professional-turned-mythologist and now the author of “Shakuntala – The Woman Wronged”, published by Rupa Publications. He is a professor of Comparative Mythology at the Mumbai University and has qualifications in Mythology, both Indian and World from Mumbai University. He has been writing a Blog, ‘This is Utkarsh Speaking’ (www.utkarshspeak.blogspot.in) for close to five years now, and is a founder member of ‘Talking Myths Project’ (www.talkingmyths.com), an online archive of traditional tales from the Indian Sub-continent. He also writes a regular column, ‘Mythic Musings’ for ibnlive.com. Utkarsh is a regular speaker and lecturer on subjects of mythology and other topics, at various forums, organisations and colleges.

 

Epic poets the world over are men singing the glory of other men – men armed with weapons slaying a demon here, fetching the elixir there and saving damsels-in-distress somewhere else. According to Nabanita Dev Sen, out of the thirty-eight basic things upon which most epic narratives of the world are based, only nine are associated with women. A woman in such tales has little to do, other than get abducted or rescued, or pawned, or molested, or humiliated in some way or other.

 

Women portrayed in mythology are women who are synonymous with chastity, moral values and epitome of virtue, like devotion, fidelity, submissiveness, and suffering. These were women to be emulated, looked up to and revered. These were women, who were inspiration for scores to follow in foot-steps left by them, by their virtues. There were the other set of women, who were examples of what not to be. These were evil women, seductresses and those who were an anti-thesis to the ones epitomized. Very clear distinction was made between the two.

 

While the world associated women with the above, can we see the strength of a woman, exactly as we see it in men? While the physical strength of a man is lauded, do we laud the same strength in a woman, when we come across one? Or do we see it differently?

 

Let me tell you an interesting tale of an immensely strong woman. It’s the Tamil tale of Alli.

 

Alli was the only child of a Pandyan king who was born of an immaculate conception at the conclusion of a yagna by the childless king. She was found on an ‘alli’ flower and thus derived her name from there. She was sent to the gurukula like all male children and learnt martial arts and acquired the knowledge that was usually reserved for boys in the gurukula.

 

The story starts with her defeating an incompetent adopted male heir of the Pandyan king who had usurped power in the absence of the King. Alli defeated the heir and was crowned the head of the kingdom. In due course of time, she became very powerful and her name and fame reached far and wide. Some versions of the said story refer to her becoming all too powerful and often dreadful too. Her dislike for men is also part of the lore, and thus her trusted aides were all women and no men were supposed to go in front of her without her permission.

 

A particular version explains her terror as follows –

If you take the name of Alii

Even the bird will not sip water

If you take the name of Alii

The goblins (Ganas) will dance.

If you take the name of Alii

The decapitated head will chatter!

 

While Alli was ruling in Madurai, Arjuna and Krishna reach there as a part of their pilgrimage, in the disguise of ascetics. In an inn, the innkeeper mentioned their queen and her valour. Arjuna is supposed to have laughed at the mention of a kingdom ruled by a queen and suggested that this must be a castrated man. To this, the innkeeper sang paeans of her beauty and how she trusted no men. Arjuna is intrigued by such a woman and was keen to see her and seduce her to submission. He shows intense desire to ‘tame’ the arrogant and strong woman, who trusted no male.

 

With the help of Krishna, Arjun enters the inner chambers of Alli in the disguise of a beautiful snake which is presented to Alli by Krishna in the disguise of a Brahmin. Alli plays with the snake, and gets hypnotized to an intense session of love-making. Arjun achieves the sexual conquest of Alli, resulting in her loss of virginity and thus her power. This also led to the ‘burden’ of motherhood, the ultimate domestication of a woman in the hands of a man, Arjun in this case. The subsequent story is about how Alli gracefully accepts her place and relegates all power and strength to the man in her life. The story is ironically referred to as the ‘taming of Alli’. The story doesn’t quite end here and many different versions go on to show how Alli facilitates further ‘conquests’ of some more women, and aids in carrying on the status of Arjun as the alpha-male.

 

Different versions have different ways of Alli’s taming. One of them shows that Alli orders Arjun to be poisoned by snakes and crushed under elephants, but Arjun survives all. Later he is readied for a sacrifice to the goddess, who at the right moment denies the offering as the goddess is supposed to have said that how could she accept something which is hated by Alli herself.

 

Whatever be the means, the result is always a subsequent taming of Alli in the hands of Arjun, ably aided by Krishna.

 

So why am I telling you this story? Isn’t this like the Indian Amazonian woman? Isn’t this about the strength of a woman and how? It is, as we have seen in the initial description of the story, Alli is brave and strong. She was trained in martial arts and was an able ruler and her subjects were happy and proud of her rule.

 

But was the strength of Alli, lauded? Was it left as just another kingdom, with a difference that just wasn’t ruled by men? Here, the strength of a woman was not appreciated and we had her strength subjugated by a man, who is known for his strength and heroics in a much popular narrative, i.e. the epic Mahabharata.

 

From the description of Alli, her ascendance to the throne and her easy acceptance by her subjects, we can see a society comfortable with matriarchal arrangement. With the introduction of Arjuna we can see him making fun of the woman monarch and ridiculing her for her playing a role outside the domain of her home. When he learns that Alli hates men, the desire to control is all the more overpowering for Arjun. When he learns about her unparallel beauty, he is overcome with a desire –

When will I behold her

Embrace, and kiss her

The famed Parthiban (Arjuna) languishes

When will we indulge in love play

How will I take her to bed

When will we become one?

 

So once again, what is this story about? Interestingly, this is a story we find only in the Tamil version of the Mahabharata and nowhere else. Very clearly, this story was in existence prior to the Mahabharata and was also a popular folk heroine of the times. She doesn’t move into the epic, but the epic sure enough has absorbed this heroine in the popular retellings during the Sangam period. Clearly, the Alli episode is an interesting case about how the society was undergoing a change. It depicts the local aspects being absorbed in the emerging Brahminical forces in the Southern part of India.

 

Alli’s story was a strong contrast in the growing Brahminical influence in the country, which was largely patriarchal. The taming of a matriarchal heroine to subjugation, by the patriarchal alpha male hero and the acceptance around it is an important social statement. In modern times, in the local parlance, a household with all females is sarcastically referred to as the ‘Alli-rajyam’ – a house run by Alli! Unfortunately, the derogation of Alli is so complete, that eunuchs in the local parlance are now referred to as Alli.

 

The strength of a woman is seldom appreciated in physical form. Traditionally, a woman’s strength lies in her chastity, her devotion to her husband/s and her following the laid down societal norms. We love to see a Draupadi chastising her husband’s about their helplessness when she was being insulted, but never question her steadfast devotion towards them and her mother-in-law. We laud Savitri for her ‘perseverance’ in not leaving the Lord of Death and following him till the end of the world and return with the life of her husband. We sympathize with Sita on her banishment, but never question Rama being the man among men.

 

Alli was a different woman, and strength personified, but this strength was the domain of men. A woman who could compete with a man in a man’s world was questioning the patriarchal mould and needed to be ‘tamed’. This famous story is all about taming the strength of a non-conformist woman to an acceptable standard of conformity is an example of changing norms of the society.

 

Not much has changed today, or has it? How many women enroll for boxing as compared to cooking classes in our country? This data is sufficient to tell you, if anything has changed!

 

NB: Translations of the verses quoted are by the noted author Vijaya Ramaswamy.

[] Ode to a Woman

NEETI BANGA

Neeti Banga, is a fashion professional, currently teaching full time at her alma mater, NIFT, New Delhi. Her poems have been published in many anthologies including Spectrum and Just for You, My Love by The Poetry Society of India. Her second Poetry anthology, The Dewdrops… a Journey Begins, with two co-poets has recently been published and has been one of bestsellers on Amazon.in. Her short stories have been selected for various anthologies. She is currently writing her first romantic novel. Get in touch with her on [email protected] or on her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/soulcanvas.neeti.

Who is a ‘Woman’? Can this word be defined?

Within few parameters, can her role be confined?

A mother, who nourishes, with loving hands

A wife, with her man, like an equal she stands

A professional, trying to balance her career’s demands!

A daughter, showering us with unconditional love

A sister, a guardian, like an angel from above

Is today’s woman really getting her dues?

Does she have a free voice to express her views?

Aren’t judgmental clouds drowning her with political hues?

The headlines that greet us, each passing morning

Splashed with incidents, screaming with warnings!

Daily news of brutal rapes, marital abuses

False hopes and promises, fake excuses

Another innocent child, killed in the womb

The shrine of mother’s love, buried in the fetal tomb…

Her clothes, her speech; her desires, her needs

Everything is questioned, by the moral police

Cases of dowry deaths, ashes of burning brides

Can she hold her head high and take an independent stride?

It’s high time we come together as a human race

And wipe away the tears, from this beautiful face

Sensitize your heart, comfort her pain

Her place is in your heart; stop these acts inhumane!

[] For His Own Good

LATA SONY

Like any software professional, Lata Sony, a Technical Editor with a well-known multi-national company, merrily went about her life in the quest to attain the ultimate rating of outstanding performance next appraisal. Then along came a palmist who foresaw her future as a writer. When she took up the pen to try live up to that prophecy, she was published in newspapers and magazines and has an eBook to her name.

She started with romance, humor, and thrillers before she evolved into spiritual, fantasy, and sci-fi. Her future stories will similarly feature love, laughs, and spirituality.

Ritu Saxena was half out of the washroom when Natasha yelled from inside, “Hey, don’t leave without giving us an update!”

“About what?” Ritu turned back to look from Natasha to the other junior girl, both from the testing team.

A dozen shiny tubes and brushes pulled out from the girls’ cosmetic bags garlanded the white wash basins they leaned over.

Natasha’s teammate, whose name Ritu couldn’t recall, had all her focus on the lower eye lid that she pulled down to line with a kohl pencil.

“About Anish Kashyap, of course,” Natasha replied, hand-combing her wavy hair to fall on her shoulders. The effect set off the sharpness of her heart shaped face.

“You heard that already?” Ritu said.

“Everyone has. The news is a day old,” Natasha shrugged. “How’s the investigation going? If you ask me, I don’t believe Anish is like that. Or I’d have known. He’s happy with his wife.” Natasha turned to smile at her teammate, “The other day, he told me such a sweet thing about his wife’s delivery…”

“Oh spare me, ‘happily married’ doesn’t mean men stop feeling the hots for other women,” the other junior spoke, one eye closed to let the mascara dry. Instantly Ritu recalled her name – Varnika, the newly wed. Ritu knew nicknaming wasn’t a nice habit, but she used it to memory-register the juniors she never got time to interact with.

“Girls, please don’t discuss the complaints to the grievance committee. They are supposed to be confidential.” Ritu stepped out of the washroom.

Simultaneously, two young men emerged from the men’s washroom at the opposite side of the nook that housed the ground-floor washrooms of InfoBiz (India) Pvt. Limited. They hushed their loud voices when they saw her.

After the ladies, it seemed to be the men’s turn to inquire about Anish’s fate. Ritu was forced to snub at least three of them before she took the stairs to her floor. Their anxiety to prove Anish innocent was quite obvious.

I’ve never seen them talking to Anish and overnight, they have turned his well-wishers, Ritu thought. He’s the quiet type, but that doesn’t mean he’s pure as driven snow.

Now that she recalled, she had often seen Anish talking to Natasha and other girls. Ritu decided he was not quite as silent as he was soft-spoken… no, not soft-spoken either. Soft-spoken people like her lunch mate Vinod held some warmth in their voice. Anish’s voice had a boring dry tone. A discreet voice incapable of being tinged with cheer, anger, or sorrow… she paused on the stairs.

Look at me, trying to find something macabre in his voice. Just yesterday she had shook her head in disbelief when Monica had filed the complaint against him.

Just her luck. She had known the week would be busy but not in this way. She had run from cubicle to cubicle to personally coax people to plug the loopholes that kept her three projects from releasing on time. Now the week that was to be the zenith of her role as a program manager would instead test her as the head of the grievance committee.

She dialed a number on the intercom as she set her laptop on the desk.

“Monica, how does everyone know about Anish?”

There was a stiff pause before the reply, “Does it matter? I told a couple of other girls about how he touched me.”

“Do you realize how complicated the whole thing gets when everyone knows?”

“Yeah, but my workstation isn’t an island. Everyone gets to know anyway!” Monica’s shrill voice could slice a diamond.

“Okay, don’t get all rattled now,” Ritu said in an even tone. Damn these campus recruits! She had no idea how Monica had passed InfoBiz’s formidable interviews. Those interviews tested a candidate’s emotional quotient. Monica was too easily agitated, totally unprofessional, always hyper – Ritu was yet to hear her speak at a normal volume.

Monica continued her feverish pitch. “What are you going to do next? I can’t go on like this with Anish sitting diagonally across the cube. It’s tiring not to look at that side to avoid those seedy eyes. One of us has to quit.”

“You don’t have to suffer him today. I got an SMS that he’s on leave. And I have till end of today to finish my investigation.”

“Good but his wife is present. She has been following me with her eyes.”

“Rein in your imagination, Monica. With her corner workstation, the only things her eyes can follow are the shadows on the wall.” Ritu had in fact stolen a glance at Anish’s wife from the stairs. She had got a good view of Reena’s pinched face staring emptily at the monitor. Ironically, she was the only person so far who hadn’t tried to sway Ritu with an opinion on the matter.

She ended her conversation with Monica, with the feeling that she had achieved exactly the opposite of her intention.

People – the reason why she had protested against heading the grievance committee at first place.

She was not the HR, she had argued. But the VP didn’t trust the HR.

“They are just kids. You are a mature, intelligent woman, and our senior-most. The government wants the senior-most female employees to head this committee.”

She wished government had waited with their Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace act until she retired. Of course, the women’s groups in the country thought the act was late by half a century.

Perhaps the VP now regretted his decision. Yesterday when she had reported Monica’s complaint to him, the first thing he wanted to know was if Monica the type to go to the media. When Ritu couldn’t be sure, his direction was to fire Anish right away. When she didn’t agree to do that without investigation, she was given the end-of-today deadline. A kid from the HR would have been more pliable.

Rishi from the testing team walked over to her cabin. “Ritu…”

She looked up from her monitor.

“No, I have no update about Anish.”

“I came to ask about PV3000.”

“Oh okay, I thought… anyway PV3000 is pending approvals from Legal. I expect that to be sorted out today.”

“Now that you mention it, you won’t get him fired, will you?”

Ritu sighed and sat back. “I’ll have to if I have to.”

“But it can’t be right. I mean his wife works here too.”

“Maybe she’s the kind who doesn’t mind a philandering husband. Even some presidents’ wives have known to stick with their cheating husbands. And Reena is only a small-town lass.”

“I wish my wife was like that,” Rishi chuckled and then as if suddenly realizing where he was bid her a quick goodbye.

By lunch time, Ritu had ticked just two items off her to-do list. But decided to join the beeline for the cafeteria, more to unwind than to eat.

She sat at her favorite table-for-two in the café terrace, picked up a three-compartment disposable plate, and began emptying her salads, paneer curry, and chapattis into it.

Monica slid to the seat opposite her and snapped, “Is Vinod late today?”

Startled, Ritu almost poured the curry into her salad.

“I’m early I think.” Nevertheless Ritu wished Vinod would hurry.

“So what have you decided? The day has only few hours left.”

“Anish has a wife and a baby son…” Ritu said slowly. “We can’t fire him just like that. In fact, he might not be just fired. He’d be barred to take up another job in the industry. We could go for some mediation…”

“I don’t want anything to do with him, not even negotiation. Why am I being made to feel like this? How would you have felt if Anish touched you the way he did me?”

“I might have glared at him, given him a piece of my mind, or shamed him in some other way.”

Vinod appeared at that moment and greeted Monica.

Monica ignored him but stood up. ”Those old-school tactics don’t work anymore, Ritu. If you don’t take action, I’ll have to talk to the HR about it.”

“By all means,” Ritu picked a carrot slice from the salad compartment. “You don’t think I was dying to head this women-cell thingy, do you?”

Monica swung herself out of their view.

Vinod ducked sideways to avoid her flying hair, “Whoa, that’s one angry young lady.” He took the seat she left.

“It takes very less to anger young ladies.”

“Hmm… Obviously you haven’t yet decided her wrongdoer,” he stole a carrot slice from Ritu’s plate.

“This investigation isn’t going to be easy. The case is too subjective.” Ritu dipped a bite of chapatti into the paneer sauce, thoughtful, “Did you make up your mind about him?”

Being a social smoker, Vinod was privy to most men’s and a few women’s personal conversations.

“I thought about him last night as you asked me to and well, though it never occurred to me before, I do think him a little odd. Just a little…” Vinod spread out the two cups, a tumbler and a square container of his lunch bag.

“Go on.”

“You know at first impression, he seems like a gentle wise soul, the way he talks in his slow manner, about taxes, investments, salary and hikes, laws, politics… No one’s ever heard him raise his voice. You’d think that soon you’ll be good friends with him, discuss philosophy, share secrets, drink beer, and help in times of need. But the problem is… that you never get past that first impression.”

“What do you mean?”

“That his conversations never move beyond impersonal stuff like taxes, investments, salary and hikes, laws, politics…all money related, mind you. Except with some women. He does open up with women like Shalini.”

“Ahh, Shalini the chimney.”

“With her, he speaks about his wife, how he met her, and all those sweet things plus some absurd things,” Vinod paused for effect. “Like I can kill for money.”

Ritu raised her eyebrows.

“He can’t mean it but you see that he is off-guard when with women. And he is quite money-minded.”

“We all are. But who’d even say a thing like that?”

Vinod shrugged. “People have all sorts of itches. His is to experience everything in excess. It’s beyond greed, it’s crazy. That’s what I heard about him. Like he wants to get more value for money, the kind of person who’ll enjoy hours of delay during a flight because he got those extra flight hours for free.”

“Weird,” Ritu frowned.

“Exactly.”

“But is he dangerous?”

“I don’t think so. He’s too practical to be a molester or a rapist. You’d think he would hit on Shalini or Natasha, but they haven’t complained. There are no witnesses to this inappropriate touching with Monica. Are you sure she’s telling the truth?”

“Monica is brash but not a liar. You never have witnesses for things like this.”

“Yeah,” agreed Vinod. “She looks quite strong to me. But you know, in a genuine case, women handle it at personal level. Registering a complaint means she wants a benefit.”

“That’s so old-school, Vinod,” Ritu mimicked Monica, brushing him off with a wave. “What can Monica gain? She hasn’t asked for mediation, money, or anything. She just wants him out of her orbit.”

“To get back at him for something? Remember that girl who sent you edited chat files to implicate her ex-boyfriend. Chat logs from the server later proved her lies.”

“Yeah. We had some proof there. Something to convince everyone. Not like this case. No witnesses, no second victims…”

“Hi Ritu. Hello Vinod.” This interruption came from Pooja, the tomboyish, ever-cheerful girl from documentation.

“Hi Pooja, take the seat. I’ll pull a chair.” Vinod offered to Pooja and went in search of an empty chair. It was obvious Pooja had something serious to say though she wore a grin.

Pooja was the girl born with a toothy grin that often gave way to laughter. Her voice too would never be without cheer but her eyes… they were true. They didn’t hold the usual twinkle. Instead they looked dark and doubtful.

Pooja either giggled or cleared her throat as she took the seat. “I think I ought to share something that happened a year ago,” she said.

Ritu nodded.

“I knew Anish and his wife from a previous job in Delhi. When I got this job, I called Anish just to let him know. Because I didn’t know anyone else in this city.

He offered to pick me up from the airport and drop me to the hotel where InfoBiz had booked me. I thought it was nice of him and went along.”

“Were you close friends?” Ritu asked.

“No, just office friends.”

“He was at the airport on time and I was grateful. I kept a friendly chatter all through the route though I wasn’t really up to it. The late night flight had been tiring. When we reached the hotel, I checked into my room and all I wanted was rest.

But Anish seemed to want to spend some more time. So I babbled on till he climbed the bed and stretched himself. My patience was tested now. I was seated at a bedside stool, and I was civil to him only for the help he had accorded me.”

Pooja looked at Vinod. Vinod looked uncomfortably at Ritu. Ritu shrugged.

“Suddenly he took my hand and said, “Ohh Pooja…, how I missed you!!” and started rubbing my palm.

Needless to say, I threw him out of the room.”

“Ass!”

Saala haram…” Vinod went back to his roots when angry.

“Why didn’t you report the incident to me?”

“I was new to the company and… I didn’t want to hurt his wife. I like her. I gave him a sound lashing of my tongue anyway. He didn’t bother me after that. My department is different from his. So I don’t have to interact with him.”

“Then why now?”

“Uh…”

Monica’s head popped up from a far away table and caught Ritu’s eye before it lowered back to the other heads at her table.

“Never mind.”

When Pooja left, Vinod said, “See how she giggled it all off. That’s handling at her level.”

“Pff.. you know what, I get him now. It’s that value-for-money thing. He took the effort to pick and drop her, spent all that money on gas, let’s say. Then he demanded return on investment. He didn’t invest anything with Shalini or Natasha. Not yet.”

“With Monica?”

“Monica is a blatant seeker for help. She doesn’t request, she demands help – for free. She’s a go-getter and she asks everyone and anyone for help. Many of us are irritated with her but not Anish. Because Anish wanted his compensation for the time he spent or the tips he shared as ..um…sexual favors.”

Vinod nodded slowly, “Possible…but remember neither of these incidents has witnesses and Monica and Pooja are thick friends. Besides Anish cares for his wife. For sure.”

Hopping back to her cubicle, a plan formed in Ritu’s mind. She’ll manage to solve this in time after all. To everyone’s satisfaction and most of all hers. By tomorrow she’ll be back to focus only on her releases.

The role of the grievance committee head wasn’t that bad after all. She loved roles that made her use her mind. Nuanced handling, attitude analysis, and tailored trainings were her mantra. She knew how to handle Anish.

A strong warning. No raise this year and transfer to a department that did not interact with Monica.

Plus she would spread the word among the women in the office to not ask or take favors from him.

She dialed at the intercom to talk to the VP. She listened to the ringtone before her own mobile phone rang to claim her attention. She replaced the receiver and picked her mobile.

She didn’t recognize the number but she received the call.

Instantly she knew the voice was fake. He had stuck something between his teeth and was speaking through them. A voice-disguise tip probably borrowed from a movie. Underneath the sneering local goon effect, the words she could make out were –

“The investigation you are doing…better drop it. Or else the consequences will be bad. You’ll pay with your life.”

She disconnected.

“How dare he…”

Then she calmed down.

Anish’s voice was so dry it was hard to disguise it with any emotion, even evil. Yes she had a poor memory for faces and names, but voices were her thing. As a child, she could tell which same dubbing artist had provided the voice over for the grandpa, the mother, and the son in cartoon shows.

She knew he wouldn’t carry out his threat. Anish was too practical to be dangerous. The threat was a desperate, fool of an attempt by someone who thought woman could be easily scared. His problem was that he underestimated women. And that was harmful to no one but himself.

He needed a lesson – a lesson for his own safety. So that he doesn’t put himself into danger from women in future. Oh yes his ignorance could put him in bigger dangers, much bigger dangers indeed.

The next few weeks were exciting for InfoBiz. The case was talked for months.

Ritu painted Anish as a danger and menace to the company. Her best evidence was the phone call threat. Shalini testified between two quick sutta-breaks. Monica testified in angry tears. Pooja testified with her grin on.

Anish was fired and blacklisted for sexual harassment by a board for companies. He was barred from jobs in any of the well-known companies in the industry.

He did eventually find work in a small company that probably hadn’t heard of background checks.

From his Facebook timeline, he still enjoys discussing taxes, investments, salary and hikes, laws, politics… and has a moderate kind of following. 

The Boy Named Witch

SANTOSH BAKAYA

Conferred with Reuel International award for writing and literature for her long poem Oh Hark! , Dr. Santosh Bakaya, an academician and a prolific writer has won international laurels, both in the field of poetry and prose. Many of her poems have figured in the highly commendable category of Destiny Poets, a UK-based poetry website. In May 2016, she was awarded the Universal Inspirational Poet award by Pentasi B Poetry group and the Government of Ghana. Critically acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Ballad of Bapu, her latest book is a collection of peace poems, Where Are the Lilacs? Flights from My Terrace[_, published on Shakespir, is her e-book comprising 58 essays celebrating the extraordinariness of ordinary life, unfolding in the alleys and by-lanes of life. _]

This poem is dedicated to Anja Ringgren Loven, a Norwegian lady who saved a two-year-old Nigerian boy on January 31, 2016, who was condemned as a witch and turned away from home to roam the streets for eight months.

A witch! A witch,

They named the two-year-old;

Turned away from home

To drift and roam hunting for food

On the roads rude.

On his tiny body, not a stitch!

The warlock, the sorcerer small

The frail little doll

Staggered and stumbled on the streets

For months eight, in a sorry state.

How could a skeletal two-year-old

Practice sorcery

On an empty stomach

With worms riddled?

Ah, the world was not bothered

It frivolously fiddled.

Alas, for the tiny tot, there was no hope.

Then came a Norwegian lady, love-empowered

Picked up the human chunk who pathetically cowered.

Her soothing words cascaded in a perfect cadence of peace

To form little prisms of love

Healing the boy called Witch.

Now, she clung on lovingly to Hope

Bewitched by this witch renamed Hope

And Hope recouped and smiled

Chortled and chuckled, unleashing her charms

Snug in the cocoon of the Good Samaritan’s loving arms.

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Goodbyes Are Not Forever

SUJATA RAJPAL

[_Sujata Rajpal is a Corporate Communication & PR professional turned a full-time author. When she was half way through with her debut novel (The Other End of the Corridor, published Jan 2015), she knew she had found a new love in fiction writing. Sujata is now working on her second novel.She holds a degree in Mass Communication and has done her MPhil in Economics from Punjab University, Chandigarh, but Economics is history now. Sujata is an independent journalist and a columnist. Apart from writing, a few other things that give her immense joy are playing chess with her sons, yoga, and Toastmasters. _]

There was bumper-to-bumper traffic on the road. The flyover construction on both sides of the road and the increased vehicular traffic due to Ganesh Chaturthi had led to massive traffic jams on the Mumbai roads. The gleaming sedans, auto rickshaws, two wheelers, the BEST buses and the tempos carrying the elephant headed God for immersion in the sea, all jostled for space on Mumbai’s clogged roads.

“How much more time will it take?” Suma asked the cab driver, wiping away the beads of sweat from her forehead with the free end of her pallu. The sweltering heat was adding to her tension.

Suma restlessly looked at her watch. It was 4.10 pm.

“I should’ve started early, I am going to miss my flight,” Suma scolded herself as she looked outside at the traffic from the crawling vehicle. When the vehicles stopped at the traffic junction, waiting for the signal to turn green, a polio afflicted girl with a naked baby hoisted on her hip tapped at the windows of cars for alms. Wearing an earnest expression on her face, the beggar girl limped from one vehicle to another, balancing the baby in one hand and a worn out aluminium vessel in another. Seeing the girl approaching her cab, Suma rolled up the window and turned her face to the other side. She heard the girl’s filthy nails tapping on the window.

Hogu, no change,” Suma admonished the girl from the safe confines of her cab.

The traffic light had turned amber by then. Suma rolled down the glass when the vehicle moved. Hot polluted air was better than no air. Fanning herself with a newspaper, she looked at the tinted windows of the shiny cars and envied their occupants inside. Her eyes followed the polio afflicted girl who swiftly moved to the other side of the road with the practiced ease and sat on a broken cement slab. She was happily swinging both of her legs.

By the time the cab reached the junction, it was red signal once again.

“Oh no!” Suma looked at her wristwatch as if looking at her watch now and then would unclog the jam. The scheduled time of the flight from Mumbai to Goa was 5 pm; there was no way she was going to make it for the flight.

At that very moment, there was a sound of an explosion. All the vehicles came to a screeching halt resulting in a frenzy of honking. The deafening sound was soon subdued by the shrieking of people. Nothing was visible except plumes of thick black smoke billowing into the sky. After a few minutes, which felt like eternity, the whole area was engulfed with the sirens of ambulances, the wailing of people, the fire brigade and the police. The mangled body of the beggar girl was found one hundred meters away from the traffic junction. One of her baby’s arms was stuck to the traffic signal.

  • * *

High intensity bomb blast in Mumbai. More than one fifty dead. Seventy nine bodies still unidentified. Forty-seven missing. Families claim unidentified bodies. The headlines screamed.

The dam of tears had burst open last night when Anjali heard about the tragedy from a common friend. Throwing everything else aside, she boarded the first available flight to Bangalore to bid farewell to Suma one last time.

Anjali looked outside into the infinity from her window seat. Fighting back her tears, she once again scanned the pile of newspapers spread on her lap, desperately looking for a lead that could give her a flicker of hope that Suma L. Doddamani, 46 years, a State Bank of India employee in Bangalore who was in Mumbai for a training programme was not amongst dead when a human bomb exploded in the middle of heavy traffic.

As her moist eyes stared at the wing of the aircraft piercing through the clouds, her mind went back to the day ten years ago in Bangalore when she had met Suma for the first time in a local bus on her daily commute from office to the PG.

  • * *

The bus lurched from side to side, throwing Anjali off-balance as she hung on the overhead rail with one hand and clutched her two grocery bags with the other. Her laptop bag swung from her shoulder. There was not even an inch of space to put them down.

“Give a few of your things to me; I am getting off at the last stop.” Anjali heard a soft voice as she struggled to keep both her feet down in the crowded bus. Looking in the direction of the voice, she saw a thirty something woman peering at her from an adjacent seat amongst the melee of bags, clothes and limbs. Anjali looked intensely at the benign looking face – large hopeful eyes, flat nose, a fixed smile on her small mouth, a string of jasmine on the oily plait, and a small maroon bindi in between the fine lines on her forehead.

There was something in the way the woman asked. Anjali promptly handed over her grocery bags to a complete stranger; she didn’t trust anyone with her laptop.

“Thanks for holding my things,” Anjali said, stretching out her hand to take back her belongings when she was about to disembark at the next stop.

“Mention not! I am Suma and what’s your name?” the woman replied, offering her hand for the handshake before returning the things.

“I am Anjali.” Anjali smiled at the woman’s eagerness to shake hands with her.

Suma was the first person Anjali befriended in Bangalore when she had gone there for her internship.

The next day, when Anjali boarded the bus, Suma had already reserved a seat for her.

“I have the most interesting job in the world. I count other people’s money,” Suma told Anjali when they met again. Suma worked in a bank.

Suma was thirty-six and still unmarried. She lived with her retired father, a younger married brother, and his family. Her younger sister had got married five years ago. Suma was ten years older than Anjali but the age difference was only notional in their friendship. Anjali never prodded Suma on why she was still unmarried when her younger siblings were married; it was not her nature to intrude into other people’s private lives.

“Anjali, how do you manage to live independently? I wouldn’t even want to work if I don’t have to support my family.” Suma was always curious to know about Anjali’s life as a young career minded woman.

“There is a magic spell of number three on our friendship,” Suma said when their friendship thickened. The duo had met on January 3rd. coincidentally the blast occurred on September 3rd.

Anjali would sometimes drop in at Suma’s bank for a quick gossip update. Suma listened to her venting in rapt attention and would give her opinion in a single sentence as a last word – Suma was the calming factor in Anjali’s chaotic life. Anjali realized that there was an insecure and vulnerable person behind Suma’s ever-smiling face.

Suma’s mother had passed away when she was fifteen years old. Her father never remarried. Since then Suma had been a mother to her younger siblings and her elderly father who never broached the subject of her marriage. Suma was the highest earning member of the family and was entitled to a free accommodation, pension and all other perks which came with a government job.

“Why don’t you tell your father to find a suitable boy for you?” Anjali asked her one day.

“Anjali! How can I talk to my father about my own marriage?” she chided Anjali for an ungraceful thought. “What should I tell him? That I am desperate to get married and give birth to babies?” Suma questioned.

A few years ago, Rajan had proposed to Suma. Rajan was four years younger than her. She didn’t really love him but thought he could be a good husband material. However, Rajan was rejected by her father and brother on the pretext of caste and age differences.

Suma mutely waited for the day when like the other women of her age, she would also have a loving husband, a home, a house full of her own children and not her brother’s who called her Doddathe. She had already passed marriageable age. With her plain looks and a non-existent social life, the chances of meeting someone on her own were slim. Suma’s financial independence was a handicap in the way of her own happiness.

“If I were a burden on my family, my father wouldn’t have thought twice before marrying me off to whoever cared to marry me,” Suma had expressed frankly.

“Sometimes I think of running away from everyone,” Suma said.

“Where will you go Suma?” Anjali asked anxiously.

“Don’t know Anjali, anywhere where no one knows me, I want to start my life afresh,” Suma replied with a forlorn expression on her face.

The year flew by. Anjali returned to Delhi after the completion of her internship, took up a job, and two years later married her childhood beau. The two friends promised to stay in touch. Initially they spoke every week, then once a month and then once in a while. Suma called her a few times but Anjali was always occupied in either nursing her baby, serving dinner to her in-laws or in a meeting. Anjali had a new life; Suma’s was still the same.

I vil cal u back” Anjali messaged her but never remembered to call back.

  • * *

“Ladies and gentlemen, in a few minutes we will be starting our descent to Bengaluru…” The captain’s baritone interrupted Anjali’s chain of thoughts.

It was heart-breaking to come back to Bangalore without Suma. Anjali had visited Bangalore many times on official work but she had never met Suma. Anjali was always busy with review meetings, training sessions, and project deadlines. It was a mad rush at company’s corporate headquarters in Bangalore. In addition, she had a long shopping list from folks up north to fetch silk saris, sambar powders, sandalwood artefacts. It was too much to pack in a single trip. “Next time I will definitely meet up with Suma,” Anjali would promise herself at the end of every trip but, at that time, little did she know that the ‘next time’ would come only at Suma’s death.

The clock had already struck one. The cremation was at 3.00 pm. A cold fear settled around Anjali’s heart as she stood in the queue for the pre-paid taxies to ferry her to the cremation ground. In less than two hours from now, she would witness Suma go up in flames. Her first friend in Bangalore was no more. She would finally be bidding goodbye to Suma.

Anjali felt guilty thinking of the numerous opportunities she had lost in reconnecting with Suma. She thought of all the good times they had had. A half smile appeared on her lips, thinking of the one-by-two coffee they used to share at a small tea shop near the bank. In all these years, she often thought about Suma – how she was coping with her family responsibilities. Was Rajan still waiting for her? Was she happy? Was her father still alive? The only thing she had not done was to pick up the phone and call her.

I could not find time to meet her when she was alive and today, when she is no more, I have left everything aside to express my condolences to her family, whom I have never met. My family, child, meetings – nothing came in my way today; my love for my friend pulled me to Bangalore. Did I have to wait for a bomb blast to find time for my friend?

Tears of guilt welled up in her eyes.

If Anjali hadn’t known about the tragedy, she would have continued to live the rest of her life with the belief that she had a friend in Bangalore named Suma who worked in a bank and travelled by route 273. How pleasant that ignorance would’ve been! Anjali pondered.

Suma has always been there in my heart, I knew it and Suma knew it even if we didn’t speak for a long time. Just because she happened to travel on that ill-fated road at that hour, it doesn’t mean she is dead. May be she escaped death by a whisker. May be the cab driver took her by a different route. Many bodies couldn’t be identified, so how can her family be so sure that Suma was amongst the dead. May be Suma wasn’t there at all.

Suma’s smiling face was still in Anjali’s mind when Suma had come to see her off at the railway station; that was the last time they met. Anjali wanted to capture that moment and shut her eyes. She didn’t want to give finality to her friend’s existence by watching her cremation. Anjali wanted to live with the belief, however true or false it might be that Suma used this opportunity to escape from the life she hated.

  • * *

“Are you crazy? You want to come back without attending the cremation when you went only for that?” Anjali’s husband said on the phone when she spoke to him from the airport. “Sixteen thousand rupees and…” Anjali hung up and went to the counter to book her flight back to Delhi.

Did she really think that Suma was alive or was the belief only for her own peace of mind? Anjali could not decide.

***** [* Glossary *** *]

Bindi – a dot, a kind of forehead decoration worn by women in South Asia

Doddathe – father’s elder sister in Kannada

Ganesh Chaturthi – a Hindu festival celebrated in honor of God Ganesha

Hogu – ‘to go’ in Kannada

Pallu – the loose end of a sari (Traditional dress for women in Indian)

Sambar – a lentil-based vegetable stew

The First-timer

ANTARA JHA

Antara Jha studied film-making and fell in love with the camera and the obscura. Now writes emo stuff and tries valiantly to survive the quarter life crisis. Poetry makes her happy.

Hi,

So I’m new here.

A first timer.

Antara.

Guess I should tell you a little about myself.

I love rain and lighting. Books and music.

Vincent van Gogh, okay… random.

I’m a really affectionate person.

If I know you, I’ll hug you.

At least I’ll want to

And I’ll want to chill with you,

And want to smoke with you.

God, there’s so many things I want.

Even as a kid.

I just wanted all these things.

A pink coloured bunk bed

A “riding hood” that was red.

The Hotwheels cars that did tricks.

Oh, the things I wanted when I was six.

I wanted to live under the sea

I even wanted to be in the spelling bee.

Yeah,

Stand up on stage in front of all those people..

Spell cool ass words…

Like

“ostentatious”

and

“violate”

Act cool like those kids on TV,

“Spell VIOLATE

“Can I have the meaning please?”

tr. v. vi·o·lat·ed, vi·o·lat·ing, vi·o·lates

To disregard or act in a manner that does not conform to (a law or promise, for example).”

“Alternate meaning please?”

“To assault (a person) sexually.”

Like fuck me, if I knew what that meant.

No, like don’t fuck me, not literally. Please don’t.

But, you know what I mean.

Duh, I couldn’t spell that.

As every dumb 6 year old, I didn’t even know what the fuck “violated” meant.

But, you know. I could understand.

Not in its entirety,

Not completely.

Not when your hands were in my pants.

Or could, I?

I don’t know, now, I forget.

I think I made myself forget.

Pretend it never happened.

Pretend that every time you came over,

That I was glad to see you.

Except, from then on, I slept in my mum’s bed.

Tell her, I wanted a bedtime story to be read.

Feel safe while she slept next to me.

But I couldn’t stand it if our bodies touched.

Fuck that! It was a long time ago.

I’m so much cooler now.

I go to design school.

And you’re a married cow.

But, just one more thing…

When the ‘ladkiwale’ asked for your hand in marriage.

Did they know where those hands had been?

Do you want to remember where those hands had been?

No honestly,

How do you even look them in the eye?

How do you look me in the eye?

Do you really think I’d forget?

As every dumb 6 year old forgets.

Because six year olds are too STUPID to understand what “violate” means.

You know that what makes me really MAD.

Not that it happened.

But that I didn’t even know it was happening.

Like,

What the fuck?

I get stared at every day,

Walking down the roads,

Cat-calls and the ogling.

It’s an everyday thing.

That shit doesn’t faze me.

Because I know,

If those randos even try to touch me,

I will cut them.

I swear.

I will cut them.

No one has the fucking balls to touch Antara Jha.

Except you did.

And you weren’t a rando.

And I was only six.

Maybe, it was ok I didn’t talk about it,

It was cool I tried to forget.

I thought it was accidental.

I just knew I didn’t like it.

I squirmed and moved aside,

Because you thought I was asleep.

Yes, you did that to me while I slept.

Supposedly safe in my own bed.

And all this time, I’ve been quiet.

Trying to get this out of my head.

Who was I to speak about something that seemed accidental,

What I thought was a mistake.

Only.

I know now.

It couldn’t have been a mistake.

But, back then, I was six.

And six year olds are too STUPID to understand what “violate” means.

Like fuck me if I knew what that meant.

No, like don’t fuck me, not literally. Please don’t.

Because you kinda already did.

Well,

That’s all about me.

That was my first time.

I think I’ll try to forget it.

Her Name Is Red

KARTHIK L.

Karthik L., an alumnus of IIT, Chennai and IIM, Ahmedabad works as a manager at one of the world’s leading management consulting firms. He has been an active blogger for 8 years with two blogs accounting for 10,000 hits a month between them. His blog posts have won monetary awards at over a dozen different blogging contests. His short stories have appeared in four published anthologies with a fifth _][_one due for release. He is currently working on two full-fledged novels – one a satire on corporate life set in ancient Greece and the other a retelling of Mayan mythology.

The window was open. A young girl could be seen playing. She was throwing her red scarf up and trying to catch it. She seemed to be a happy child with not a care in life. The red scarf reminded Qiong of her own childhood. She too had had a similar scarf. She had treasured the scarf and she still kept it with her. It had been her grandmother’s last gift to her and red was her favorite color. Red, the color of roses! The color of the fire that gave warmth in the winter, the color of the unpainted brick walls! Red had always held an important place in her life.

Chang Qiong had been a simple, sweet-natured girl. She had obeyed her parents and lived by their Confucian values. She had helped her mother with the household work; had cut and kneaded and baked cheerfully; and had listened keenly to her teachers and imbibed the ideas of the great Mao. She had not been the kind to go seeking trouble. So, she had generally kept away from any kind of political activism. But, then, that was before she met Wang Aiguo. The lanky bespectacled scholar’s speeches had magic in them. His voice was powerful and filled with sincerity and passion. She had found him simply irresistible.

So, it came about that Qiong joined the students’ wing of the party and launched herself heart and soul into the party activities. Her attention and efforts did not go unnoticed. His heart melted and soon mutual love blossomed. They were married the following spring and husband and wife continued to serve the communist party. By now, Aiguo was acknowledged as the rising star of the party. He was very close to senior leaders Zhou En Lai and Deng Xiapong and the great man Mao himself knew Aiguo by name. Aiguo was often sent on missions abroad to propagate communist ideals. Qiong, however, chose to remain in the background. That had been the happiest period of Qiong’s life, for what could give greater happiness than when the one whose hand you’re holding is the one who holds your heart?

Aiguo had been away on a mission to Thailand that week. He was not expected to return for a month. There was a knock on the door. She opened the door and there stood two soldiers in bright red uniform. “Come with us, Madam Wang. We need to take you for questioning. You have been charged with sedition.” She did not have to wait long in the prison cell before the questioning began. The questioning seemed designed to inflict torture than to seek answers. She was never allowed to complete her answers. Almost anything she said was twisted and misinterpreted in worst possible way. Accusations were continuously hurled at her. She seemed to have been convicted even before the trial.

She had been asked to have her self-criticism ready by morning. Her repeated refusals lead to more insults. Physical punishment followed. Finally, she had to capitulate. She wrote her self-criticism, admitting to every accusation, seeking atonement for her crimes, and agreeing to any punishment that the party considered appropriate to cleanse her of her sins. But that clearly was not enough.

Soon she began to make light of the situation. Mao’s wife Jiang Qing had been behind her arrest. Their close friends, the Wu’s had accused them in their self-criticism. She wondered what tortures had been employed to manage that. Jiang Qing clearly had nothing personal against the Wangs, but they had been a victim of their closeness to Zhou and Deng. Mao was turning senile and Jiang Qing was trying to consolidate the leadership of the communist party under her. She perceived Zhou and Deng as potential obstacles and wanted them discredited. So she was seeking out people close to them and trying to get some accusations recorded from them.

Qiong knew that the minute Aiguo heard that she was in prison, he would rush back to Beijing. He might even make the accusations against the senior leaders to spare his beloved the torture. Probably that’s exactly what Madam Qing had in mind. But that would break him. He would never forgive himself all his life.

She had her scarf among her personal effects she had been allowed to bring to the prison with her. She always kept it close to her. She took it out and ran her fingers over it lovingly, reflecting over the good times. Next morning when the prison guards opened the door, they found Qiong hanging from the ceiling, her red scarf around her neck. Dark red blood streaked the edge of her mouth.

The Strength of a Woman

MANI BHUSHAN PRASAD

Mani Bhushan Prasad, pursuing MA (English), currently lives in Delhi. He completed his school education from Sindri (Jharkhand). He is the author of The Mummy Mystery. He has been awarded by former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and by Dr. R. A. Mashelkar (President, Global Research Alliance) for two innovations.

Lady

An idol, an epitome

Of many divine roles

Many duties, many responsibilities

The first and the most respected is

The iconic role of mother

An entire universe of love, care and affection

That knows no limitation.

The role starts right from

Giving birth to a baby

And even before that

She dies a million deaths to let live the new life in her womb.

Another role she successfully executes

is that of a wife, just moments later her being a bride

Leaves a home, only to incarnate at another

The task only a lady can breathe life into.

Besides giving birth to a life,

She has a key role in shaping the existing life too.

That is, giving her husband a new dimension of success

And help him to conquer the real life challenges.

Next in row, some more roles echo

The one of them is of sister

A peculiar combination of care and clash

She cares for us and she clashes with us.

But how can we forget the arrival of Goddess Laxmi

The creation of daughter, God blesses you and me.

Innocent, intelligent and cute

They are divine and their beings are shrine.

Lolo’s Daughter

GALINA TREFIL

Rabbi Galina Trefil is the author of The Incomplete Ones: A Tale of Slavery, which centers on the 19^th^[_ century human trafficking of Romani women, and_] A Cape for Kali, a children’s book combating bullying based on skin color.  Submitting for UnBound convinced her to write a feminist short story collection, Low-Caste Girl, showcasing various Romani tribes and their struggle against discrimination in the United States.  That, in turn, led to her organization of American and Balkan Romani feminist writers pulling together for a currently-underway short story anthology.  She loves reading historical fiction, horror, archaeology, and abnormal psychology.

Lolo, considering himself a very progressive man, had allowed his daughter to continue her education at a public school. Yes, public. A school with boys. And boys not just outside of their tribe, but, worse yet, White. Gadje. And, as a result of his progressiveness, Lolo’s daughter was now, against his wishes, dating a light-haired, blue-eyed Gadjo whose defiant glare seemed to strip Lolo’s patience like paint thinner brushing against cheap acrylic. And so Lolo did what was to him was the only sensible option: to arrange his sixteen-year-old daughter’s marriage.

The boy that Lolo had chosen also came from a “progressive” background. He was a university-bound, straight-A student with pleasant enough features, sufficiently good manners, and a kow-towing deference towards his elders. True, he had no particular romantic interest in Lolo’s daughter….

“He makes fun of me,” she quipped.

“If you act like a mockery, you’ll be treated like one,” Lolo replied, before he proceeded to outline his plan for her to wed the individual who made her nose scrunch with distaste.

Lolo’s daughter refused the potential suitor outright.

“If you want him, you marry him.” Her voice flamed as hot as her reddening cheeks. Her arms gripped her schoolbooks across her chest—nails digging in tightly enough to press crescent moon imprints into their jackets.

“You will do what I say,” Lolo snapped, towering over her and pointing his finger like a police man’s nightstick.

“No.”

“You do not have to marry him too soon,” he negotiated, trying to meet her half-way. “You can wait until after graduation. Until then, there will be an engagement and you will behave like a proper bride-to-be.”

“No!”

“You think this Gadjo cares for you? He wants to have a Gypsy girlfriend because, to him, it is ‘exotic.’ He’ll get tired of you as soon as he has you. Gadje boys are all like that. He does not value your honor. He will destroy it and leave you humiliated.”

“I won’t marry some random creep just because you are paranoid and racist,” she roared.

He slapped her. He regretted it instantly, but did not apologize. She had stepped over a line and he would make damn sure that she stepped back behind it.

“You will do what I say,” he repeated finally, turning his back on her. “And from now on, you will homeschool. You will stay away from the White boy. I did not raise you to be a slut.”

Lolo’s daughter’s lip quivered, but she did not say anything. She left the next morning, while it was still dark, carrying one suitcase and a backpack. On her mirror, she wrote, “You did not raise me to be a slave.”

Lolo realized, cursing, that he should have remembered that so long as it was forbidden, the Gadjo was the first place that his daughter would run to. He rushed promptly to the Gadjo’s house, pounding on the door until his mother, groggy and indignant, appeared and spat that she would never allow her son to be with a girl whose future jobs could only be pan-handling, card-swindling, or baby-stealing.

“It is your son that has stolen my daughter!” Lolo raged, shaking his fist. “And I will not leave here without her.”

The Gadjo boy had anticipated Lolo’s arrival and, on his bed, he left a note of his own: “Don’t look for us. Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. We don’t need you.”

Lolo received a postcard from across state lines. One corner had ripped off in transit, obscuring where his daughter had signed her name.

“I won’t let you make me marry him, Dado,” she had written. “I love you, but I won’t let you do this. I want college. I want a career. I want my own paycheck someday. I want my own choices. And I’ll work for that on my own if I have to.”

“I am not your dado anymore,” he replied, crumbling the paper in one fist. His uncontrollable, Gadjo-loving daughter had made him lose face before their people and he vowed to eat his own teeth before he would forgive her for it. “Not if you beg me on your hands and knees will I ever be your dado again! Take your shame to the Devil’s table. I am done with you, girl!”

But Lolo had no other daughter and, as the years passed, he cursed her openly. Yet, in his heart, the longing to see his child again was as sore as a cracked-open mouth blister into which salt was continually rubbed. He would lie awake, thinking of the horrible places she might be, living with her filthy, probably-drug-addict White boy. He would shudder, driving home every day, as he saw the homeless tents and sleeping bags sheltered under the highway overpasses…and the unkempt, ragged women beside them that carefully guarded all their possessions in stolen shopping carts. Was one of those miserable creatures his girl? Or, worse yet, was she one of those scantily-clad, terrorized, pimped out shadows of humanity that waved invitingly at the vehicles on the bad side of the city? A few times, he drove through that district, swearing that he’d pull her into the car by her hair if she’d disgraced the family to that extent. He’d lock her in a room and never let her see daylight!

“We did not come to America for this!” Lolo cried out at the thought, slamming his flattened palms against his steering wheel. “We did not survive slavery and the Holocaust for my daughter to wind selling herself like common trash!”

But she was not there. And he was glad that she was not there, but…but…at least it would have been an answer.

What had been so wrong with the boy that Lolo had picked for her anyway? If he had been some illiterate, lazy punk playing videogames in his parents’ basement, then, surely, Lolo’s daughter fleeing would still not have been forgivable, but it would at least have been understandable. But the intended boy had made it through a prestigious college successfully and on a full scholarship at that, to both his parents’ so-vocal pride, just as Lolo had predicted he would. Yes, the boy had the entire world laid out at his feet….

And yet…as a few more years went by, Lolo noticed that the world was somehow managing to elude the young man. His health declined, but not from anything naturally wrong with him so much as personal bad habits. “Party face,” was the term that the kids called it—too much excess making lines appear on skin that alcohol had turned scarlet. He had married, of course, but he did not hesitate to post pictures of himself with other women on his Facebook account. Lolo was certain that the situation had to be more complex than simple standard adultery. Surely, the wife must have provoked the behavior. If she became more attentive, more obedient…if she only put more effort into making her husband feel cared for, he would devote himself more to his family.

Lolo did not want to meet this wife; did not want to see the couple’s interaction. He knew that he would only be reminded of his daughter were he to peer behind that curtain… but he nonetheless found himself against-his-will compulsively drawn to their apartment, creating some ridiculous pretext for himself to join them for dinner. The wife was attractive enough, Lolo supposed begrudgingly, though certainly not the beauty that his daughter had been. He wished that he could be allowed to think mean thoughts towards her; to speculate unflatteringly on what her bride price had been. But Lolo had to admit that, despite there being three children, the house was immaculately clean. The wife held strictly to proper etiquette, even placing all framed photographs of female relatives on the wall demurely lower than the framed pictures of men. She served him using her best dishes, set aside for respected guests. He wondered if she had other dishes to serve her Gadje friends… No, he sighed, that was unlikely because this was not a woman who had Gadje friends. Unlike his polluted daughter, this refined lady kept herself clean from those people.

As the men sat in the living-room afterwards, the hostess carefully stirred her husband’s coffee before setting it in front of him. He did not thank or even look at her, but continued complaining to Lolo about how things were at his job.

Lolo had imagined the young man would wind up…somewhat differently than he had. Lolo had worked independently for the whole of his life. A high-scoring university graduate, he’d figured, would surely wind up impressively employed with a more-than-decent salary. And yet the young man bagged groceries.

Bagged groceries? How was that even possible? Lolo knew Roma who hadn’t graduated middle school that provided amply for their families through sheer force of will. Life was not easy for them, but they had a good work ethic and were broke themselves physically to give their children a better life. How had this Rom, who had, had so many opportunities that others did not, wind up working for a Gadjo boss in a supermarket?

“I don’t like to gossip,” a middle-aged lady told Lolo one-day, before she proceeded to do exactly that. “But that man lives to spite his parents. They put everything that they had into his education. And he earned those grades just so that they would get their hopes up that he would make something of himself…. And what has he done for them? Learned how to double-bag for minimum wage!”

“I thought that he was on a full scholarship?”

The woman cackled in response, leaving Lolo feeling very stupid. “They mortgaged their house to pay his tuition. They scrimped and saved to keep him free from student debt. Now his debts…are theirs…and he will never pay them back. Maybe if your daughter had married him, Lolo…you would have mortgaged something too, eh?” She sobered quickly. “I suppose though, even if that had happened, at least he is tatcho rat.”

Yes, tatcho rat, Lolo nodded, gripping to that lone mental life raft in a drowning sea of disappointment. At least the boy he had chosen was “true blood,” blood of the right tribe, the right caste, and definitely not some hygienically-ignorant, daughter-absconding Gadjo with a racist mother.

A decade after he had demanded his daughter’s submission, Lolo’s cousin, in a great flurry of excitement, showed up on his doorstep in the middle of the night, calling for Lolo to come outside immediately. “I’ve found her!” He proclaimed, making Lolo stagger back against the wall.

His cousin grabbed him by the arm and, at first, Lolo allowed himself to be led forward…but then he pulled back abruptly.

“No,” he shook his head sternly. “She is not part of this family anymore. She walked out on us. She will stay gone.”

His cousin blinked. “She is your baby. You cannot refuse to see her.”

“I can—and will—do that exactly. She will not stain this house with her presence.”

“But…” His cousin began to stammer. “You must speak with her. You cannot just ignore her. Do you not even wish to know what has happened to her?”

“Go home, cousin,” Lolo said. “Do not bring this up to me again. I do not wish to even hear her name again.”

“I told you that this was pointless,” Lolo’s daughter observed softly, stepping forward onto the front porch from the shadows. A motion detector set off an overhead light bulb as she moved closer to where both men could clearly see her face. A screen door separating the two of them, she held her father’s gaze tightly for a long minute and then looked away. “After I left home, I got a GED. I enrolled in junior college early and—“

“I’m not interested,” Lolo cut her off, putting his hand up to silence her.

“I worked two jobs in order to put myself through school. I was Phi Theta Kappa at the University that I transferred to.”

“I told you,” Lolo repeated, “that your life does not interest me.”

“I graduated with honors,” she persevered.

“Get off my porch!”

“I’m married. And it’s not just a marriage. It’s a happy marriage. I respect him and he respects me.”

“I don’t want you here. Go back to your mahrime life with your mahrime husband and don’t come back.”

“Our life is decent. It is not mahrime!” She cried, tears welling up. “We live clean, but we live with our own choices—not choices our parents made for us before we were old enough to realize what was happening to us.”

“You think that I am stupid, girl?” Lolo scowled. “You think that I don’t know what homeless runaways wind up doing to earn money? The troubles that they fall into?”

“You would think that, wouldn’t you?” She laughed, wiping at the wet on her cheeks. “You would have assumed the worst…. All these years, it never occurred to you at all, did it, that I was sure a long time before it started that you would arrange my marriage against my will? I knew that, that was my fate when I was knee-high and, ever since, I also knew that I would not submit to it. Other girls, yes, but not me,” she shrieked. “Not me!”

Lolo’s daughter took a deep breath. “I love you, Dado, and, no matter what you say, I know that you do love me…but you cannot imagine that the things that our grandmothers were forced to go through, my generation will mutely stand by and allow. That’s not tradition. It’s tyranny!”

“How dare you say such a thing? This is the Romani way.”

“No, this is sexism, and, I’ll tell you what’s more, there are more and more Romani women that are saying ‘no.’ As a kid…every penny of my allowance, every dollar I made from babysitting, I saved it…saved it for the day when I would need it to leave home. I knew that you would give me no other option.” She straightened her spine. “I told you, Dado, that I would do well for myself. I did everything that I said that I would and more. I succeeded completely. If I were a boy, that would matter to you. You would take pride in my accomplishments.”

“You are not a boy.”

“And I am not for sale… not for any price!”

“Get off my porch,” Lolo shouted finally, storming away from her. “And do not come back. You are disgraced!”

Once his cousin’s car pulled away with Lolo’s daughter inside it, Lolo smashed his hand into the wall. Unlike in movies, it hurt. A lot. The broken drywall stared back at him accusingly for the next few days, but he refused to repair the damage, figuring that it would remind him of all the unfair heartache that she had caused him. He did not want to weaken in his resolve to avoid her; to falter in his determination to not give her the satisfaction of thinking that perhaps she had been right to flee.

After so long with no communication, Lolo suddenly found himself seeing his daughter’s gleaming smile regularly though. On the billboard three blocks down from the shop he owned. On the plastic seat safety flaps of the grocery store carts where the rejected fiancé worked. In the newspaper. On a bench in the park where he would go to play chess. She was a real estate queen and not shy away to advertise her growing business or impressive sales ratio. “She learned it from you,” a friend told him. “If you put your mind to it, you can sell anything.”

He absorbed the compliment like gauze soaking up blood. He knew that she and she alone deserved the credit for what she had done.

Secretly, he found himself watching her online, observing the comments that she made on social media; the friends that she interacted with. These Roma women wore pants; sometimes even miniskirts. Several were in their mid-twenties, a few even in their late thirties, without children. Some never bothered to get married. The married ones flagrantly married outside their tribal restrictions. They were centered, not by their families, but rather instead by personal ambitions and achievements.

To Lolo, they were a befuddled, disgruntled entity; certainly the opposite of the Romani feminine ideal that balanced a baby on one hip while bending over her kitchen stove cooking rice sadma. But, undeniably, they seemed happy with the path that they had chosen for themselves as did his daughter.

“Was I wrong?” He only vocalized the doubt one time, staring at himself haggardly in the mirror….

But then, as his teenage son entered the room, singing loudly along with his iPod, Lolo squared back his shoulders, straightened his tie, and put on his most dapper fedora. It was polite to dress well when negotiating the bride price for one’s future daughter-in-law.

The boy grabbed a couple pens and began drumming to the music on his knees. Like a child; not like a man at all, Lolo noted with irritation.

“Where are you going, Dado?”

“Out shopping.”

Lolo’s son whistled obliviously in response.

As he approached the bank, Lolo found himself confronted with yet another advertisement staring at him from the back of a bench. His daughter’s dark eyes beamed upwards from the large photograph with a mirth that he could not remember her bestowing upon him. He sank, suddenly feeling very old and defeated, onto the seat and tried unsuccessfully to recall the name of the young girl who he was planning to withdraw the money for. And he wondered if his daughter’s rejected fiancé’s father had ever had the same problem.

Probably.

It was the first moment that Lolo ever allowed himself to feel relieved that his daughter had left.

UniverSHE

BHARATH NANDIBHATLA

A writer who ended up in a technical institution, now pursuing his B.Tech. His heart and spirit still remain in the pen, and pour life into the ink. A lover of symmetry and paradoxes alike. He has a taste for poetry and has always been hungry for it. He is no professional writer, yet a passionate one at it.

The world, a boundless rocky terrain,

on the verge of turning totally insane.

The spirits prayed to Gods,

to dispense a fairy onto this world.

The Gods thought for a while

and came up with an angelic smile.

“Mother!” they shouted in glee,

“In this world, let mothers be.”

As the heavens roared, moments hence:

On this wide, wild rocky terrain,

fell a clear, sweet drop of rain.

The skies roared in joy

and the angels soared very high.

In the fairy’s womb, life started

and all the prevalent gloom departed.

A baby was born, it cried.

For reasons that it knew better.

But the fairy smiled and only smiled

to have her wings turned golden.

Her golden wings draped the baby,

Her golden trails adorned the baby.

With time, the baby grew,

so did the fairy’s love for it.

Her wrath is just another gesture

to express her boundless love.

Her soft hands crave to tend the baby.

As she treads with her heavenly feet,

the world moves along, bowing to her every step.

Indeed, it’s as much a gift to be a mother,

as it is to have a mother.

She never rants about her nine months of labour,

as her baby’s existence dwarfs everything else.

Its Universal Motherhood that binds us all.

This moment mothers the next.

this movement mothers the next.

As the mother nourishes, the child flourishes.

Shri Rama Raksha

SAIKUMAR YERUBANDI

This is what Saikumar Yerubandi has to say about himself:

My name is Saikumar Yerubandi Naidu.[
__]Geologist _][_in the industry of oil,[
__][_In-charge of the logging unit crew,  _][
Loving son of a _][_true farmer,][
__][_Father to a maverick teenager, _][
__]Husband to the most wonderful woman,[
__]—-and I will have my own book published on Kindle or in paperback.”

“Go on, hit me,” she urged him.

He stood facing her, undecided, as she kept prodding him on.

“Ok then. It’s not my fault – you asked for it,” he said, and stretching both his hands in front of him, he suddenly shoved her hard expecting her to fall backwards.

She stood her ground and barely moved.

“You call that hitting? That’s what women do; remember you are a man and me – I am merely a weak woman, come on now, be a man, go ahead hit like one!” s=She taunted him again.

He looked into her determined eyes. There was no way out of it. He reluctantly balled his fist and took a swing at her head.

Before he could realize as to what happened he found himself flat on his face on the floor, his arm twisted behind his back and her left knee on his back. She deliberately twisted his arm a little for few moments more. He cried out in pain begging her to let him go.

She released her grip, then gently helped him get up and made him sit on the sofa.

In a few minutes she was back with the hot water pack and tenderly applied it to his injured shoulder, wincing inwardly as he yelped in pain.

He obediently swallowed the pain-killer tablet she had brought for him and waited for the medicine to take effect.

“So, my dear wife, what was that all about? You could have just told me about your judo skills, without resorting to a live demonstration,” he admonished her mildly. “You know I would not even hurt you verbally leave alone physically, I care for you so much.”

“Look Ram I feel terribly guilty for having to resort to this physical demonstration knowing very well that you wouldn’t harm an ant if you could avoid it. You are too good a man by heart, but all those criminals on the street are not like you.”

“Tell me one thing Vaidehi why are you bent on joining the police force. There are so many options available like teaching or banks.”

“Ok first you tell me why you are so ultra protective about your women that you prefer they stay indoors as housewives. One thing I know is that you are not a misogynist. Or a narrow minded person, you respect women and care for them.”

“You see, dear, unlike you, I grew up in a village; my parents are simple god-fearing folks. My sisters and I had to walk five kilometers to go to school. I still vividly remember the traumatizing day when we had to go through hell. While we were returning back from school, a gang of drunken goons affiliated with local politician passed some lewd remarks at my sisters. I being young and in spite of my sisters dissuading me, I confronted them. The goons not only beat me up black and blue, and as I was lying helpless bleeding on the ground they went ahead and physically molested my sisters. Someone informed my parents who came running and pleaded with them with folded hands to spare us.”

“The aftermath of the incident was worse, both my sisters had to quit school and get married off at a young age. My sisters blame me for their sorry state to this day.

“Probably it is the defensive mechanism or the deep psychological scar that makes me what I am. My parents from then on became even more devout and believed in Lord Shri Ram. They drummed it into me that he was the only savior. ‘Believe in him without the slightest doubt and he will take care of you,’ they said. From that day onwards my troubled mind found solace in the Lord.”

Vaidehi let out an involuntary laugh, and quickly stopped herself.

“What is that you found funny in what I said?” Ram asked, annoyed with her reaction.

“No Ram, please don’t get me wrong. It was not about what you said. The irony is that my obsession to become a police officer stems from a similar incident as yours, albeit in a different time and a different environment.”

“Oh, Really? This is interesting, how can similar incidents result in such diametrically opposite takes? Tell me about it dear.”

“Ram, as you know we are from Delhi, and as kids we had to travel by the state transport bus. We were a group of four girls and more often than not, we had to travel standing. One such normal day, a bunch of unruly guys got in, and soon the pushing touching and fondling started. We protested and we tried to move away and avoid them.

“This did not happen on a lonely street, it happened in full glare of the fellow passengers. There were women, decently-dressed office-goers and young college boys. Not one of them dared to intervene, and mostly they averted their gaze while the ruffians continued harassing us young school girls. I seethed with helpless anger.”

“A while later, the bus screeched to halt and there was a commotion. Some lady constables got into the bus and quickly apprehended the culprits. They were taken off the bus and thrashed as the public watched. I went up to the lady officer to thank her. Yes it was Kiran Bedi herself, while she was posted in the traffic department.” And I can never forget the pep talk she gave us on that day.”

“It was then I made a firm decision to become a police officer myself. What all the grown-up decent public could not do, a fearless upright officer did. I vowed to myself I will not let the cowardly goons have their way.”

Ram could see the fiery anger in her eyes even as she recollected the incident after so many years. Unfortunately this only intensified his fear for the safety of his beloved wife. His resolve to not let her become a police officer only grew stronger.

Vaidehi understood that tone of his, and knew it would be useless arguing with him at this point of time. She made a tactical retreat by keeping quiet and continued tending to her husband till he was feeling better and helped him to go to bed.

***

Vaidehi was just into her final year of her M.A, when her parents told her about the “match” that came through a distant relative. Vaidehi was not particularly against arranged marriages. Her parents had made extensive enquires and checks about the boy and were totally convinced that he was “the” Ram for their Sita.

Her husband Ram had all the qualities that a girl would want in her husband. He was good-looking, polite, had no vices, was caring, god fearing, though a bit naive and protective.

It was the protective part that was now the bone of contention between them.

Ram had no issues with her completing her master’s degree which would be over in another few months. He preferred her being a house wife and not to go to work.

The sad part was that he was not a misogynist or a control freak. His refusal to let her become a police officer emanated from the fear for his loved ones safety and a sense of misguided protectiveness. He firmly believed the streets were not safe for women and was filled with potential molesters and rapists.

When she told him about her life ambition to become a police officer, he was totally shocked. He tried to discourage her with horror stories of the organized criminals and corrupt politicians.

“Keep in mind,” he said. “You are only an ordinary woman and not protected by some divine force.”

They had many arguments on this topic to no end. Vaidehi was not the one to let the irrational fear of a man coming between her and her ambition. At the same time she loved Ram with all her heart and did not want to hurt him. She was determined to find a way out and have both of her loves.

She mulled over this for days on end. She decided to use the little piece of information he inadvertently let out to her advantage. She hit upon an idea while watching a programme on the Discovery Channel. She browsed the Net. She used her friends and contacts to put her plan into action. She was going to use Ram’s naïve nature coupled with his unquestioning faith in his idol “Shri Rama” to work to her advantage.

One day when Ram was in an amiable mood she sidled up to him and broached her desire to perform the “Shri Ram katha path” on the Ramanavami day. Ram readily agreed to it and called up his parents and invited them for the same.

The day finally arrived. Vaidehi had made all the preparations for the katha with the help of her close friends. The mandap was decorated the idols adorned, the paraphernalia in place.

Ram noticed that the tiny storeroom had a lock on it, and questioned Vaidehi about it.

“Oh that is a big surprise; you will know when I open it after the puja, just bear with me till then.” Vaidehi replied with a disarming smile.

It was three in the evening the neighbors and some close friends were assembled. The pundit came bustling in. Soon the katha commenced in all earnest and went on for four hours. The pundit and the elderly blessed the young couple. Everyone partook of the Prasad and left one by one till only the family members were left.

There was a palpable tension in the air. Everyone was curious to know what was in the room. Vaidehi brought the key from the bedroom and opened the door.

The room was almost bare except for a wooden platform (two by two feet in dimension) placed at one end on the tiny room. On the platform were placed two, one-foot-high metallic idols of Rama and his consort Sita.

Vaidehi invited Ram and his parents to come sit next to her in front of the idols.

Having paid obeisance to the idols, Vaidehi asked Ram to lift the idols and place them in the silver plate besides the platform.

Without a question Ram tried to lift the idol of Lord Shri Rama. He found the idol to be heavy, he put in more effort but still the idol would not budge. His efforts to lift the other idol also resulted in failure.

“Excuse me I will be back in a minute meanwhile. Please do as I asked.” Vaidehi said as she got up.

A few minutes later she was back with a small jeweler’s box in hand, to find both Ram and his parents struggling to move the idols to no avail.

Vaidehi sat down next to her husband and asked him to stop his efforts.

She slowly opened the box and removed a silver chain with a pendent the size of a two rupee coin engraved with the images of the divine couple. She reverently placed it at the feet of the idols.

She then closed her eyes and proceeded to audibly recite a secret mantra for the next five minutes. Ram and his parents looked on with suppressed excitement.

Vaidehi slowly opened her eyes that now glowed with satisfaction and requested Ram to try moving the idols again.

This time Ram could easily lift the idols and place them on the silver plate.

Vaidehi then picked up the plate and put it back onto the wooden platform.

Vaidehi then requested Ram to pick up the pendent and put it around her neck.

“I got these special idols and the pendent from the Badrinath temple. After performing the “Shri Ram katha” the lady of the house in the presence of her husband along with two devout elderly people must perform this ritual. Once done, the pendent is empowered with the divine protective force of the lord himself. No harm will ever befall the lady who wears it.”

“Now can you please try to move the idols again,” she requested Ram.

Ram dutifully tried again. This time he could not move the idols.

“That is because the power now got transformed to me though the pendent,” she said, and demonstrated the truth of it by easily lifting the idols.

Any trace of doubt about the miracle was vanquished by now.

***

The miracle was nothing but a simple principle of electro-magnetism at work.

The idols were made of cast-iron and were held firmly in place by the electro-magnetic force that was produced by the iron plate hidden below the wooden platform.

The iron plate in turn was connected to small electric motor hidden behind the platform. Vaidehi could power ON or OFF the electro-magnetic force by simply controlling the motor with help of a wireless switch hidden in her palm, at the appropriate time.

***

Post the miraculous incident, Vaidehi noticed the perceptible change in Ram’s outlook.

Over a period of time she played on Ram’s psyche to make him see things her way and carefully guided him towards her goal.

“Ram, you know that along with the martial skills there is a divine force that protects me now.”

“Yes, dear. I feel confident now that you are safe on the roads now with the lord himself protecting you,” he admitted.

“Ram, would it not be selfish and wrong to be content with the Lords blessings, while so many of my sisters are being harassed by the evil forces out there.”

“Yes one should always help those who are in need” admitted Ram, drawing her to his bosom. “I see where you are leading me dear I may be naïve but not a fool. Now that you have your skills, “Shri Rama’s raksha” and my permission, start preparing for the entrance tests to join the police force. You are strong physically mentally and morally that’s the true strength of a woman.”

“Your love is my Shri Rama Raksha, my Lord,” she said, teasing him as she gently laid her head onto his chest in bliss.

Crippled Flames

SATYANANDA SARANGI

Satyananda Sarangi, an electrical engineer from the prestigious I.G.I.T., Sarang is an emerging poet and fiction writer, hailing from Odisha, India. His works have featured in anthologies like ‘Roses & Rhymes’, ‘Minds @ Work 4’, ‘Shades of life’, ‘Purple Hues 2’, ‘Unbounded Trajectories’, etc. He has also been published by Ardus Publications (Germany) and esteemed journals/magazines such as ‘Incredible Women of India’ and ‘The GreenSilk Journal (USA)’. Most of his poetry and stories are a reflection of human emotions, nature and theology. Apart from writing, he takes a keen interest in quizzing, electrical machines and the sport of cricket.

The black masters each corner,

The only one that prevails;

The candle looks so miniature,

And a tiny flame it entails.

And those crippled flames struggle

To stand high and straighten;

So domineering is the darkness,

but how can it be slain?

The flames of a woman they are,

In a society of patriarchal hands;

A dwindling saga of getting up,

A tale spread over thousand lands.

For the light tears open the evil,

For she enlightens our lives;

Standing by us in summers and winters,

As daughters, mothers, and wives.

The magic they put into this cactus,

I did blossom to the hilt;

My soul has been thus conquered,

My head bowed with a forever tilt.

Soft Power Strikes

LATA SONY

Like any software professional, Lata Sony, a Technical Editor with a well-known multi-national Company, merrily went about her life in the quest to attain the ultimate rating of outstanding performance next appraisal. Then along came a palmist who foresaw her future as a writer. When she took up the pen to try live up to that prophecy, she was published in newspapers and magazines and has an eBook to her name.

She started with romance, humor, and thrillers before she evolved into spiritual, fantasy, and sci-fi. Her future stories will similarly feature love, laughs, and spirituality.

A woman is like a tea bag: you cannot tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.

Eleanor Roosevelt.

Yuck.

To think that some people actually like eating out. Give me homemade stuff any day. Something that’s not too oily, not too bland, not at all tinted with artificial colors and cooked long enough for human consumption.

This morsel, for instance, I’ve been chewing like a cow for ages. After thrashing it left and right inside my mouth, I decide to force it down my throat. One of these days, my insides might decide to throw it back up.

Mom… I miss you in more ways than one.

The landline phone in my bedroom rings. It has to be mom. Talk about coincidence. She’s the only one I know who still does landline to landline calls. I dig out the phone from beneath a pile of laundry.

“The girl is from Kapurthala, very pretty, well-to-do family, very decent people…”

Like me, Mom’s straight-forward, never one to waste words on preambles. These days she sounds almost as cryptic as a secret agent on the lookout for matching targets. And that’s because she’s on a mission to end my bachelorhood. She got a major boost recently when I was promoted as project manager. God knows it was well-earned. I had the right qualifications but it took me six months to sell myself with the right buzzwords, the right networking, and the right attitude.

“Um!” I munch on another much-munched but still rubbery morsel. “Does she cook well?”

“We are trying to find a bride for you. Not a maid, okay?”

I sigh. She relents. “I didn’t ask. She is from Kapurthala after all. We Punjabi girls know cooking before we hit our teens. Unlike Delhi girls, who never step into a kitchen until…” I listen affably till she finishes. 

Mom is terrific for my ego. She believes the bad girls of the capital are all out to trap me. This despite the fact that the gentleman she brought me up as doesn’t as much as look at women with anything other than respect. As if I would be distracted from my career plans. Besides I take our corporate sexual harassment policies pretty seriously. No sir, no office flirtations on my list of action items.

***

The Kapurthala project turned out to be fruitful and so my mom’s mission ended with my wedding. I am at Kapurthala attending feasts mandatory for induction into my new extended family. My wife, Kiran, and I make quite a handsome team.

Between rushing from one hospitable relative to another, we manage to sneak out to the famous places in Kapurthala. As we take a long walk at Shalimar Gardens, I boast to Kiran about how the winter chill cannot tickle my skin. Suddenly I stiffen as ice water slips down my spine. I see Kiran giggling with a leaf of water from the fountain nearby. I chase her round the trees. Wow. I feel like we’re in a Bollywood movie. Erstwhile kings and queens frown at us from paintings at the palace museum as our photos mimic their regal bearing. She knows a lot of interesting history behind Kapurthala and can point out French influence in the city’s architecture.

Other than occasional fun moments like these, she’s mostly silent, which is really nice. A peaceful life lies ahead for sure. Mom, though, believes that her silence won’t last long.

“That’s typical of every new bride. She’s watching you. Soon she’ll know you’re more a mouse than a tiger. And then she’ll be the one to turn into a tigress. If you want to set anything right, do it now. Before she knows the real you.”

Seriously, something happens to moms when they become mom-in-laws. A sweet docile girl like Kiran — a tigress? Her soft face is as tranquil as a tabby cat. Clear skin, clear eyes, and a body like a branch of jasmine flowers. She’s a walking poem. And she doesn’t know it. All I need to do is look at another girl. Any girl. And her face falls. I love it.

This evening we had a feast at my new sis-in-law’s house. The paranthas tasted a bit too bland. The time to share some innermost thoughts and desires with my wife has come.

She combs her hair in the balcony. I join her there. Together we look at the full-moon lighting the Kapurthala sky.

“Reminds you of the paranthas we ate today, right?” I say and sit down on a patio chair.

“You know, Kiran, I like my paranthas a little tangier. [Aamchoor _]does that, I believe[.] Cilantro shouldn’t stand out in [_paranthas] like it did at your sister’s place, just fine specks of green here and there.” She stops her comb at the middle of a lock of hair. I bet she didn’t know how closely I look at stuff that goes into my mouth. I smile.

“Coming to tomatoes.” I cross my legs and cup my hands behind my head. “My mom boils tomatoes first and then peels off the skin before chopping and sautéing them. I mean, tomato peels in a curry are so unsightly… 

I like all Punjabi dishes. So you can cook whatever you like. I’m not picky at all, ha ha.” I rest my face on a thoughtful finger, “For a change, you could try south-Indian dishes, something simple like idlies and sambar but no coconut chutneys, please.” I wave away, nodding sideways.

Phew! I got that out of my system pretty easy. Good start. After all how many husbands are clear about their priorities this early in the marriage? The trick is to treat your personal life like your career. I have more to say but I wait to see her response thus far.

She blinks back at me. I almost ask – any doubts? Her mouth looks smaller than usual. Her eyes shift. This silence is bothersome. She could at least say, “I’ll try my best” or something.

***

We are at my flat in Delhi. The honeymoon is over. It certainly is for me, as I taste my dinner – Maggi noodles without tastemaker.

It’s been a month of revelation to me. I always thought that girls were born with some basic cooking skills — like differentiating between turmeric and coriander powder, between jeera and saunf. Let alone methidaana or aamchoor, I wonder if she’s heard of garam masala (the spice, not the movie).

Twice a week, I eat charcoal; it’s too burnt to be anything else. The last good dinner I had was boiled eggs. The shell had almost browned but at least it cracked right. Lunch I have from office. Thank god for canteens. I now love eating out. Breakfast is usually bread, butter, and jam.

I haven’t yet escalated the issue to my mom. What if this is all she needs to turn into a monster mother-in-law. I did talk to my colleagues instead. Surprising that I’m not alone. Not everyone got great cooks as wives.

Venky is of the opinion:

“It’s their sheltered upbringing. Their parents pamper them all their life and leave the rest to marriage. It’s up to us to teach them the basics of life.”

George says, “Right, right. My mother doesn’t allow me or my sister to enter into her kitchen. Kitchen is some sort of a holy haven for mom.”

Mr. Kapadia pats me on my back. “Don’t worry. She’ll learn to cook soon. They all do.”

“I’m not so hopeful about Kiran. She lacks the aptitude. Why, I know more about food than her,” I reply.

“That’s because you live away in the city from your mom. You value good homemade food. These girls live with their parents before their marriage. They take food for granted until it becomes a question of survival.”

The question is – will I survive until then?

Maggi is the last straw. How can anyone go wrong with just that one other ingredient there is in the pack? Enough is enough. Time to take out my tiger skin.

“How do you manage this?” I raise my voice. “Every day and every meal of the day, you excel in doing just this.” I slam my plate down. I know I sound like a hero in one of those old 60’s movies, lecturing sense into the heroine, bringing her to mend her ways, and discover the domestic duties that will bring her everlasting happiness in the temple called home.

But desperate situations call for desperate actions. I finish my talk with a flourish, drinking water straight from the bottle in one big gulp.

She finally replies, her voice soft but heavy with tremors, “I don’t think I can do this. Your expectation about food is too high for me. Please call my folks at Kapurthala and ask them to take me back.”

Something gurgles in my stomach. No, not hunger pangs. Laughter. More dangerous considering the situation.

The days of malnourishment have gone to my head for sure because here’s my wife asking for separation and all I want to do is laugh. I clutch my mobile and hide my grin behind the device.

The laughter threatens to double me up in folds. I hear mom say, “What! She wants a divorce. A girl from Kapurthala?” I run out of the room, out of the house and laugh out loud — at the possibility of a divorce over “culinary differences”. I lean on a tree for support, breathe in some somberness, and review my performance.

Less than two months in the role of a husband, and my team member is ready to resign. Poor show. I know she means it. Did I really push her to the brink? Food is important, but is it worth breaking a home?

I shake my head. No, it’s not about food. I used pressure tactics instead of finding a solution together, like a team.

But why can’t a girl who can tell Gothic architecture style from English Renaissance not read the instructions on a Maggi packet?

Pressure again I suppose. Ever since I tasted food made by her, I’ve been making faces, complaining, leaving food half-eaten. Ignoring the simple fact that she just cannot make great food at this point of life. The girl is right out of college, has never stepped into kitchen like George’s sis. Lack of appreciation has eroded her confidence, making her run in circles, missing the obvious.

And cooking is not the only challenge she’s facing. She left her cozy hometown, her big secure home (and her mom’s excellent cooking) to live with a stranger. She never said let’s eat out or order something. She gave this untidy pad some semblance of a home.

She does put something on my plate even if it’s inedible half the time. I know she peels tomatoes for hours (with a potato peeler) before putting them in. It’s another matter that the curry comes out like a pureed salad anyway.

She lets me be. I never heard her disagree, complain, or correct me so far. But I’m glad she spoke up this time. I finally know what a self-centered ass I have been. I tried to put myself as the boss at the first chance. Yet there’s hope for me. Love will be the food for our partnership.

I make my way back soon enough. She sits stiff, flush-face and red-eyed, furiously trying to hold tears back.

I place a hand over her shoulder and say, “Kiran, I’ll eat whatever you make. I’ll never complain again. Promise me, you won’t think of leaving ever.” 

As we hug, I make a mental note to talk about cooking classes, but that can wait.

Her Tiara

ANIRUDDHA PATHAK

Aniruddha Pathak is the founder of ‘Litera Muse’, which helps authors and readers to unite under one roof. Apart from writing and studying, Aniruddha is a music lover, and likes to spend his time helping the people flourish in their lives and loves to inspire them. Being an introvert, he feels less comfortable to write about his life, and his readers have been his all-time inspiration. He writes about them, and feels to be a part of their lives, though a distant one. He believes in learning new things every day, and hence calls himself an all-time learner.

Somewhere when walking on the lane, I saw her passing by,

Her shadow accompanying the feet, she stood – looking at the sky.

Keen to know what she was thinking about all the way through,

I stood behind her, and the shadow started speaking amidst the dew…

“See her?” it said, “She is bound to the beauty inside out,”

‘Is that so?” asked I, ‘What is so marvellous that you tell me about,’

“Those stars that she looks at tell us a story, a story of a strong soul,”

‘Go ahead, I am listening, want to know ‘bout the brawl,’

“Those eyes that twinkle bright, hide a lot of tears behind,

The anklets that jingle in her legs had went through pains – one of a kind,

See that smile? That’s a creation of the fall from which she has rose,

A single thought of her, doesn’t even leave a single trace of the path she had chose.

You might see her cheering out everyone along the way,

Though the truth hidden beside those sparkles is the ray,

She struggles with ignoring the lusty eyes on the path,

Still realizing her own essence, she hides her raging wrath,

And a moment of the past she had been carrying upon her vast vision,

Being laid a wrecking life, she succeeds to be the peaceful pigeon,”

‘Hmm,’ I broke its trance, ‘She is one in the millennium,’ assured I,

“Indeed she is,” it tried to disappear. “Look at her head,” and I turned there – my eye,

I stood there, astonished, startled to view the view,

‘Cause, ‘cause a tiara was being built on her head, a tiara of pride, a brew…

The Gulab Jamun

JEAN SPRAKER

Jean Spraker is an American writer with a love for Indian literature and food. Her articles have been published on India Food Network and HarperCollins’s Harper Stories blog. She currently stays in Bangalore.

“Dear Baba, I wish I had a hot gulab jamun^^1^^ right now.”

As the prayer escaped my lips, I rubbed my hands up and down my arms to retain the heat. My breath formed clouds against an unseen enemy. The cold had penetrated every corner of the small flat. I tucked the blanket around my shoulders. The fever hadn’t taken me yet.

“At least I’m still alive,” I said aloud. Another wave of nausea hit. I winced, closed my eyes, and waited for the wave to roll out again. I sank back into the sofa. The purple neck pillows supported my head and eased my breathing. My stomach growled.

“Yes, dearest Shraddha, my child, you are still alive.”

I blinked my eyes open. Shirdi Sai Baba^^2^^ sat on a mat opposite me. He wore a saffron kurta and dhoti. His white beard was perfectly trimmed. A smile played across his face. Was it bliss or bemusement? I couldn’t tell.

“Well, now I know I’m dead,” I thought.

“No. You’re not dead.”

How had he read my thoughts?

“But, tell me, why do you want a gulab jamun?” asked Baba.

“Dearest Baba, I mean no disrespect, but you wouldn’t ask that question if you had ever eaten one like my dadi^^3^^ used to make.  I mean a truly hot one. Fresh from the frying pan. With piping hot syrup.” I could almost taste it. “Have you eaten any gulab jamun like that, sir?” I asked.

“Of course,” he answered, “But, my experience of gulab jamun doesn’t matter. I asked you why you wanted one.”

I pulled my blanket up further. It nearly covered my chin now. What was it about the gulab jamun that I craved? The hot ball of fried milk solids? The sticky, sweet rose water? The slight bite on my tongue of green cardamon?

“Dearest Baba, I crave the jamun’s heat, its warmth on this freezing night.” I could almost smell it.

“Are you sure it’s the warmth you crave?” He tilted his head slightly as if he didn’t know the answer. Yet, to me, the answer seemed obvious.

I nodded. My stomach growled again.

“Hmm,” murmured Baba. He smiled. “Why not make it yourself? Why ask me for it?”

“I’m sorry, sir.” My teeth began to chatter. I forced out my next sentence. “I don’t get you.”

“Hmm.” Baba smiled once more. “You are obviously ill.” He pointed to my blanket, as I tucked it down my back. “You prayed to me, and here I am, but you do not ask for the thing that can cure you.”

Now, it was my turn to tilt my head, for I did not know the answer. Even the question was an enigma to me.

Why do saintly apparitions always talk in riddles?

My bones began to ache. I was about to question Baba further when fatigue gripped me. I blinked, struggling to keep myself awake. Sai Baba seemed to melt into the wall as I lost consciousness.

***

A knock at the front door woke me.

I rose slowly and draped the blanket around my shoulders. A superhero with a cape. Though, truth be told, I felt much less than super. The nausea returned. The room began to spin. I steadied myself on the edge of the sofa. The gap between me and the door seemed to widen. I took my first step toward the closest wall and stumbled. But, I did not fall down. In such moments, success is measured in small, small victories, like placing one foot in front of the other. I took another step. Tentative. Gripped by fear. Chilled to the bone. I tightened the blanket around myself. I tried to summon that classic superhero power: the ability to cross the hall without falling down. I leaned against the wall for support.

A second knock.

“Shraddha!” yelled my neighbor through the door.

I took a third step along the wall. My fingers brushed the brick interior as I tried to move away. Finally, I managed to let go of the wall completely. My bare feet continued to thud across the cold marble. A chill shot up my leg as my heel connected with the floor. I stopped to shiver.

A third knock.

“Shraddha!”

“Coming!” I called.

A few more heavy steps, and I finally managed to cross the hall. I had lost count of the steps—and the number of times I had stumbled at each one. Maybe a dozen. Maybe less.

As I opened the door, the blanket slid off my shoulders. My neighbor Jaya greeted me with a small pink tub. A dozen gulab jamun were visible through the plastic. Deep-fried dough, rose water, and cardamon filled the room with a sweet, nutty fragrance.

“I thought you might enjoy a hot gulab jamun on this cold night, didi^^4^^.” Jaya smiled as she handed the tub to me.

The heat from the syrup soaked through the plastic and warmed my hands. They had remained cold despite my fever. Now, the heat brought sweet relief from the fever’s chills.

“Shall I make some tea?” I offered as I gave Jaya a warm smile.

But, as I moved toward the kitchen, my face flushed. The room started to spin. I stepped back and steadied myself against the door frame. Jaya grabbed hold of me and helped me to the sofa.

“Shraddha, sit.” She felt my forehead. “You are burning up. Let me call the doctor.”

As Jaya called the doctor, I sat with the plastic tub in my hands. My mouth watered. I wanted nothing more than to taste those gulab jamun. My stomach growled a third time.

I opened the tub. The perfectly hand-rolled balls of khoya^^5^^ were fried to a golden brown. As I picked one up, the crystal-clear rose water syrup dripped from the edge and created a spiral of sweetness at the bottom of the tub. I wanted to savor one small bite at a time, but instead popped the entire ball into my mouth at once. My teeth cut through the gulab jamun’s crisp coating and penetrated its soft center. Warmth, but not heat, spread through my entire body. I licked the syrup off my fingers.

Jaya laughed. “Wow. You are hungrier than you look.”

“Sorry, please have some,” I said, thrusting the box under her nose. She pushed it back toward me.

“No, they are for you. Eat,” she insisted. I pushed the tub back toward her once more; she shook her head and put up her hands to stop it. I relented.

The gulab jamun started to ease my hunger. I took another from the tub. As I munched on it, Jaya busied herself in the kitchen making tea. Her presence in the house soothed me. We’d met only a few weeks ago, and yet we seemed to know each other in a way that only dear, old friends do.

“Two spoons of sugar, right?” she asked she brought the cups to the sofa. I nodded. The heat from the tea went straight to my ears and then seared my throat. My hands met Jaya’s as we both reached for a gulab jamun; her first, my third. I dunked mine into the tea; she bit into hers with small, small bites. A smile spread across her face. A radiant light shone from her cheeks and her eyes.

The engine of a rickshaw whirred to a halt outside my building. A knock at the door signaled the doctor’s arrival. Jaya opened the door for the doctor, and the rickshaw whirred away in search of another fare.

“Tea?” Jaya offered the doctor.

“No thank you,” he replied as he began to examine me.

The doctor warmed his stethoscope, but his hands were still ice cold. He made quick work of my vitals, muttering “ahas” and “hmms” at the proper intervals. His conclusion: viral fever. “Very dangerous,” he said. His prescription: strong antibiotics, frequent fluids, and lots of rest.

As the doctor packed his bag to leave, he turned to Jaya.

“Look after her tonight,” he said.

Jaya nodded.

“If she does not improve, call me…immediately.”

As the doctor stepped out into the chilled night, I melted into the sofa once more. Jaya covered me with the blanket. I kicked it off, for I felt no more need of it. She kept vigil throughout the night as I lapsed in and out of consciousness.

***

In the early morning hours, my feverish body craved cooling water. Thirst overcame me. I thought I heard Jaya in the kitchen readying the morning tea. I opened my eyes and reached for the water bottle on the side table. Before me, sat Sai Baba on a golden throne. He wore blue and was draped in garlands of flowers. In his hand, he held a gulab jamun, just as Ganesha held his mithai.

“Jaya brought you a dozen gulab jamun, yet you ate only three? Why?” asked Baba.

“I was full. Satisfied,” I shrugged.

“If I bring you a river now to quench your thirst, how much will you drink?” He took a bite of the gulab jamun in his hand.

Why do saints ask rhetorical questions about rivers?

“Only as much as I need, I suppose,” I replied.

“And what will you do with the rest?” He took another bite.

“Share it with Jaya.” She had saved my life that night, and I was grateful.

“As she shared her gulab jamun with you?” he asked as he finished the gulab jamun.

“Yes.”

And with that, Baba smiled and disappeared into the opposite wall once more.

Jaya entered from the kitchen with a tea tray in her hands.

“Feeling better this morning?” she asked as she served the tea.

“Still weak. And thirsty,” I replied as I took the tea cup into my hands. “Thank you for your loving care last night.”

“My pleasure. For me, sharing food is a form of service. A manifestation of the divine. Thank God I thought to bring you those gulab jamun.”

“Yes, thank God indeed,” I whispered as the sunlight flickered on the frame that held my painting of Sai Baba.

I, the Himalaya

PARAMITA CHOUDHURY

Born and brought up in a Hindu Bengali family, Paramita is the only child of her parents. Recently graduated with honors in Anthropology, she is further planning to pursue her Masters this year. Writing poems came to her as an inspiration from her mother, who was a Bengali poetess. Paramita composed her first poem at the tender age of eight. It was based on friendship between two animals. From then onward, writing turned out to be a hobby. When she was 12 years old, one of her poems was published in the Poetry Corner of the children’s magazine Tinkle. Currently she is working on a collection of poems, which she hopes to publish by next year.

I could hear them

Brutally, deliriously abusing her

Polluting her soul.

She screamed night and day

Praying for herself

Begging them to stop-

They amplified their torture

Every century I saw her growing thinner;

My daughter was about to die,

These tiny creatures called humans

Saw none of it, until

She was completely broke.

I tried to stop them, but

The creator made me stand still;

Far away I could see her narrow body.

She lost her vigor,

No longer is she the mighty

She now flows like a little brook,

I know she could destroy them

She could have flooded them

Yet she didn’t;

For patience is her strength

She waited until they repent

And rue they did.

Without her they lost lives,

There were droughts they

Couldn’t stop, nor subsiding nature.

They are enlightened now,

Her patience paid off,

They know what they lost.

She is still strong

And will remain so,

For centuries to come.

The Monster in My Dreams

PRACHI PERCY SHARMA

Prachi Percy Sharma is a clinical pharmacist, aspiring behavioral scientist, researcher, criminology buff, book blogger, author, content writer, bookworm and foodie. Her crime novel A Predator in Paradise (2016) has been published on Cosyreading as a serialized e-novel, and another crime novel to be out later this year. Two of her short stories have been published in anthologies, and several have appeared in e-lit magazines like Writer’s Ezine and online story websites like StoryMirror and Readomania.

She blogs at The Crimocopoiea (http://www.thecrimocopoiea.blogspot.in/) and you can find excerpts and short works on her Facebook page The Maverick Writer.

It’s all hazy, confusing and frightening at the same time. Images. Sounds. Smells. Memories.

The bathroom. The tap running at full capacity. The noise of the water on the floor drowning out other sounds. The strong fingers on my mouth, preventing me from crying out. The pain. The tears. The pungent scent of aftershave, sweat and cologne. The smell of lemon grass soap. The watch glinting in the illumination from the overhead lights. The closed bathroom door. The din from the rest of the house. No one had any idea what was happening to me. Waiting for it to be over. The nightmares. The disfigured dolls.

“I can’t recall anything properly. Every time I try to remember the details, I come up short. I think I’m unconsciously blocking myself or something,” I tell the shrink.

“That’s okay. We all block out unpleasant memories. It’s how we cope with trauma,” she replies. Dr. Bordello is a well-known psychiatrist at NIMHANS Delhi. I think I’m lucky to have found her on such short notice.

“Then what do I do, Doc? I’m tired of the nightmares, the torrid but hazy flashbacks. I’m tired of the insomnia and the not knowing. I’m just so tired.”

In fact, I’m not just tired- I’m actually exhausted. I already have a rewarding but highly stressful career as the associate editor of a national fashion magazine. Add to that sleepless nights coupled with traumatic flashbacks, and you have a woman hurtling towards becoming a nutcase.

“ Don’t worry, Jan, we’ll work this thing out. That’s my job- to help you through your trauma so you can move on. Now, tell me about the nightmares. That’s the reason you came to see me, isn’t it?” she asks, peering at me from behind her large, gold-rimmed spectacles.

“ Yes. The nightmares—they started about three weeks ago. And I have the same kind of nightmares every time I fall asleep- they’re recurring. I’m woken up in the middle of the night and can’t go to sleep after that.”

“Alright. What are the nightmares like? What do you see?”

“Sometimes… I dream of a little girl trapped in a forest. She is attacked by a huge, black hairy monster. The girl finds out that she can’t move, or fight back, because her hands and legs are bound by creepers.”

The monster reeks of lemongrass soap, aftershave and cologne. It has horns and scaly skin and slits for eyes and a large sucker for a mouth. Its hooves clatter as it moves, and fingers with sharp claws click as it prepares to rip me apart. I scream for help. What comes back to me is an echo of my voice, but no help. The forest is dark and silent around me. The monster sighs loudly, and then tears into me, grunting, clawing at me, and spreading my legs, pushing something hard and cylindrical inside me…

“Jan? You okay? Janice? Please answer me!”

Someone is shaking me by the shoulders.

I rouse with a start, and find myself on the carpeted floor in Dr. Bordello’s cabin. She is kneeling down by my side, her hands on my shoulders. Her chocolate brown eyes seem genuinely concerned.

“What… happened… Doc?” I murmur. My throat feels parched.

“Well… you had better sit up first.”

“Can I get you anything? Like a glass of water?” Dr. Bordello asks, after she has helped me back onto the couch.

“Yes… water… thank you…”

I feel weak and drained, and even talking comes with a lot of conscious effort. I also feel a little embarrassed- going to pieces like that in front of her. Even though this is a shrink’s office, and I’m allowed to have my episodes here. That’s how I let her know how messed up I am on the inside.

I gulp down three glasses of water in quick succession.

“What happened, Doc? Did I pass out or something?” I ask her, reclining on the couch.

“Yes… kind of. You passed out after you started thrashing around, screaming and cursing.”

“I’m sorry… thrashing around?”

“ Yes. One moment you were describing your dreams, and the next you seemed to go into a trance- a violent one. You were flailing your limbs about and screaming and cursing someone.”

“Oh.”

“You know, Jan, I think we’ve done enough for today. Whatever has been disturbing you in your nightmares is serious. But we don’t need to do it all in a day—these things need to be taken slowly. I’ll set an appointment next week. And it’ll be the last of the day so I can give you more time.”

“But what do I do until then?”

“I’ll prescribe a sedative which will help you sleep at night. This is temporary, of course, and is to be used only till your insomnia is treated. Apart from that, I want you to maintain a dream diary. If you have the nightmares again, I want you to try and describe it in the diary, as clearly as possible.”

***

Three weeks later

Dr. Bordello’s Office

“So? Am I any clearer in there?” I ask the shrink, as she flips through my dream diary.

“Have you read this yourself?” she asks, glancing at me.

“No. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m afraid of learning what’s in there, or the fear of realizing that I’m a nutcase.”

“That’s alright. We all avoid learning about the traumatic memories stored within us at first. Are you sleeping well now?”

“Yes. I don’t think I need the drug anymore. I forgot to take the tablet last night, but I fell asleep without a hitch and slept till morning. And I don’t feel tired or hung-over or anything.”

“ That’s good. Alright, I will taper the dose. You can’t stop taking the medication altogether- you have to do it gradually. Now, I’ve gotten a rough idea of your dreams from the diary. Have you been able to figure out anything new from the dreams?”

“You mean to say the implication behind the monster I see in my nightmares, and what it does to me? Yes, I think I’ve figured it out. I’m not blocking out the memories anymore.”

I had the same dreams when I was a kid. Three to four times a week, my parents were woken up in the middle of the night by my screaming and thrashing about. They used to rush into my room and try to calm me down. My aunt thought it was demonic possession. As if.

“Great. Now I need you to tell me something else.”

“Okay. What is it?”

“What do you think prompted you to have these nightmares again? You said they started about six weeks ago. Have you found the trigger?”

“Yes. I have, Doc. Last month I attended my cousin’s wedding in Goa. All my relatives were there. Including him. He still wears the same perfume, the same watch and the uses the same lemon grass soap.”

[_ My uncle- my mother’s brother. I went back to my childhood home, to the same places where it happened. In the bathroom, the only place where he could take me when my parents and siblings were home. When they weren’t, he took me in my bedroom. He always gave me chocolates before he pounced on me. Chocolates were, predictably, his way of luring me. And I suspect they were often laced with sedatives, because I couldn’t move my limbs after eating them, and felt drowsy, so I couldn’t even scream for help. _]

I have hated chocolates since I was eleven.

“Did you talk to him? Or did he attempt to talk, or come near you or anything?”

“No. I knew he would be there and I was in danger. So I stayed in a hotel and only went there on the evening of the rehearsal dinner and the wedding day. I only stayed till it was important. Eyebrows were raised when I was the first one to leave the venue…but…you know…”

“Do you remember when it started?”

“The first time I remember is when I was around five. He moved to Dubai when I was eleven, and then it stopped.”

It’s not like no one knows. My mother does. I told her when I was seven. Not that she believed me. She said I was trying to get attention because I was the third of four children. And that I had an overactive imagination. But that never explained my frequent vaginal and urine infections, or the episodes of bloody diarrhea.

“And your family never thought anything was amiss?”

“No.”

Nightmares were not the only thing. I used to color my Barbie dolls with a black marker pen. I used to tear their clothes off, and make them lie, naked, with Ken dolls, also naked. I used to cut off the heads of dolls and scatter the heads in my room. My parents, again, thought I was trying to get attention. And the aunt who proposed the demonic possession theory was Uncle Joe’s wife. She covered up well for her husband.

“The cousin getting married was his daughter.”

“Excuse me?” Dr. Bordello asks.

“ My cousin who got married- Melanie- she was Uncle Joe’s daughter. I wonder if he…I wonder if she too…” I stop mid-sentence. The possibility that another girl went through my pain is too horrible.

Dr. Bordello is silent for several minutes.

“Did he shower you with a lot of gifts? More gifts than is normal to give to a kid?” she asks.

“Yes. He used to bring me chocolates from Germany and Belgium, and dolls and books and stuff. Even my parents thought it was too much but they chalked it up to his extreme affection for me. Only I knew what affection he really showed,” I reply.

And with that, hot tears are once again rolling down my cheeks.

“You okay, Jan? Can I offer you a glass of water?”

“Yes, yes please, Doc.”

I drink some water and wipe off my tears. It’s the first time I’ve cried in years for what was done to me. Otherwise I’d learnt to bury the memories and the pain.

“You know, this therapy will help you to a large extent, but it won’t be complete unless you get this off your chest,” the Doc says.

“Haven’t I already got this off my chest by telling you?”

“ I mean, tell your father and siblings. You said you have a sister- do you think she was assaulted too?”

“ Sera and my uncle were never close. She wasn’t very ‘girlish’ for my uncle- she was more like my brothers. She still is. I think he chose me because I was fond of dolls and chocolates and other such ‘girlie’ stuff. Sera never experienced any problems I had. She was the strong one. Always,” I reply.

“I see. You will be able to live normally after your therapy ends, but you have to tell your family.”

“That’s easier said than done, Doc. What if they don’t believe me? What if I’m accused of still trying to get attention? I’m already unpopular for my rebellious streak and independent lifestyle. And going by the way our society suppresses uncomfortable truths, I might end up estranged from my family after this. Sexual abuse is supposed to be a ‘western’ problem, apparently.”

“You make a valid point, Jan. It’s not easy talking about or dealing with sexual abuse in a society which is still struggling to grow up. But you still must tell them. Unless you do, you’ll never be completely at peace. This is the last step in your therapy.”

“But what’s the use, Doc? I can’t get him punished for what he did to me. I have no physical proof he abused me. Even if I tell my family, how will I ever get closure?”

“That’s not hard. I work with an NGO for survivors of child sex abuse. You can come and work as a part-time counselor for them, whenever it’s convenient for you. We can’t punish the ones who hurt us, but we can help others heal. And in the process, we can heal ourselves. Believe me, I’ve seen many grown survivors of child abuse come to terms with their past, and become stronger in the process.”

“Seems like a good idea. I would love to join the NGO. I can make time over the weekends. When do I get to start?”

***

A few months later

“ And so, you must remember that no matter how much you feel ashamed and violated, you should never back down from speaking about the injustice done to you. You must never allow yourself to become a victim- because you’re not one. You’re a survivor- never forget that. Because you shouldn’t be ashamed- the man who took advantage of you and the people who covered for him should be ashamed. Even if they are your family. Unless we have the courage to speak out, they’ll keep on oppressing us. Don’t make the mistake I made by staying silent. Speak out and get justice for yourself. You will come out of this feeling stronger.”

I finish my latest counseling session at the NGO for abused kids where I volunteer on the weekends. CRO, Child Rehabilitation Organization, has become my second home. The children and the other counselors, activists and psychologists and mental health professionals have become my family.

Connecting with these children and helping them speak out against child sex abuse has given my life a new purpose. Dr. Bordello, who has now become a good friend, was right.

I now write columns on child abuse in newspapers and magazines, and even attend court hearings of cases whenever I can. CRO is one of the few support systems for these kids in the country. Like rape survivors, most kids don’t have supporting families or the courage to even report abuse, forget getting justice and proper counseling to move on with life. Children from ‘liberal’, upwardly mobile families with highly qualified elders face this problem too. You can never be liberal enough, apparently.

My life has returned to normal. I’m doing well professionally, my quality of life has improved- I sleep and eat well now. Nightmares rarely trouble me now.

I’m dating one of the counselors at CRO- Jerry Hayden, also from Goa, also a survivor of child abuse. We are getting serious. Fingers crossed.

I did call my father and tell him about the abuse.

“What? What nonsense is this, Jan? Is this another one of your attention gaining tactics?” he shouted, after I told him about Uncle Joe, and his special brand of ‘love’ for me.

“How can you accuse Joe of such a dastardly crime? He loves you so much. How can you be so ungrateful, Jan? Plus, sex abuse is a Western problem. Things like these don’t happen in our country. Do you understand?”

“Oh yeah? Sexual abuse is a Western problem? Was it a Western problem when I disfigured my dolls? Was it a Western problem when I got frequent urine infections and bloody diarrhea? Was it not an Indian problem when he pounded my ass so badly that urinating was difficult? Was it a Western problem when I had nightmares? What is a Western problem when I felt so ashamed I wanted to kill myself?”

I’m yelling now. Years of suppressed anger has come to the forth.

“Jan…calm down. You don’t understand. Girls don’t talk about such things in our country. Such things are not proper in our culture. Do you know how this will damage our family’s honor and reputation? No one will marry your sisters – or even your brothers. We will become social outcasts. People will laugh at us. Don’t do this to us, Jan. Do whatever you want in your life, but do not pollute our lives in this manner!”

“Your honor? This family’s honor? What about my honor? My pain? Uncle Joe didn’t violate our family honor when he forced himself on his own niece? Isn’t he the one polluting all our lives?”

Now I’m yelling and crying. Tears are streaming down my cheeks, drenching my shirt. These people haven’t changed at all.

Family honor my foot.

“You know Jan, I think we’ve spoilt you too much! You have those perverted thoughts and desires for Uncle Joe. And when Uncle Joe refused to reciprocate, you accused him of such an offense! You are disgusting, Jan. For heaven’s sake, curb your sexual desires. Do not blame others for your dirty and disgusting thoughts! Uncle Joe is an honorable man, so do not accuse him of such crimes.”

I can’t believe this. I’m disgusting? I have perverted desires?

“You know what Dad, I’m done. I’m tired of trying to explain myself, to get someone to listen and understand me. I’m tired of having an unsupportive family. I’m tired of your attitude. I told mom and she accused me of trying to get attention. Now you say I have impure urges and call me disgusting. I’m never calling you, or Mom, or anyone from this family again. I have had it with your apathy. I’m never contacting anyone from the Jacobs family again. You can pretend I don’t exist. I don’t mind.”

“Jan… please… don’t…”

“Bye Dad. I love you and Mom. I always will, believe it or not. Have a good, blessed life.”

I cut the phone before he could reply. He called back multiple times. Mom called back multiple times. They had Melanie and my siblings call me, but I wouldn’t respond.

Needless to say, none of my siblings believed me.

Melanie was positively scandalized about the ‘allegations’ against her father.

That made it a lot easier for me to sever all relations with the Jacobs’ clan.

She

IRFAN ALI

A voracious reader and a passionate writer, Irfan is a management student and Chief-Editor of a general interest magazine, Rising Litera. His interests include creative writing, literature, and psychology.

She was born,
and ‘She’ rejoiced.
She did dread,
but, she was glad.

She was six,
When she lied.
Ah! t’was bad,
Yet, she tried.

At 13, she bled,
Satin sheets turned red
And she sighed,
And she cried.

Sweet 16, she fell in love,
Sweet little dove.
Her eyes smiled,
Heart raced miles.

At 21,
Just before graduation,
She turned bride.
Had customs to abide.

New Home, dull life.
New roles, no guide.
Same Story, everyday;
Every single ‘Night.’

High hopes,
For male child.
She prayed for might,
She prayed for light.

And then,
‘She’ was born
and ‘She’ rejoiced.

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The Three Faces

KASHISH KAUR

[Kashish Kaur is currently pursuing her third year of BCA.  Her love for History, Mythologies and Philosophy makes her an avid reader and passionate toward fantasy fiction. Dark poetry is her poison of choice, she is working on writing the fantasy novels that have consumed and claimed her head for so long. Inspired by Lana Del Rey’s song _]Once Upon a Dream[, Kashish has written ]The Three Faces [_— her first short story and published work for] UnBound eMagazine.

Enter her Virtual Realm— _][_www.bloodandbeloved.wordpress.com

Facebook: _][_www.facebook.com/bloodandbeloved

[_ Say hi to her on Twitter and Instagram: @kkgupta_writes _]

I stepped out of the hospital, confused by my abrupt discharge from the hospital without letting my family in. The woman who had escorted me out of the hospital (was she a nurse?) had just mentioned, “Seema, you have been here for quite a long time,” briskly she added, “You may go now.”

The thought of returning to my family after so long excited me, but as I remembered the note on which I had left my family, grief and guilt gripped my heart. Ajit, my beloved husband, had lost his life in a snowstorm, while he was on the Mountain Warfare duty for the Indian Army. 

For people, I had gone from being an Army Wife to an Army Widow and my husband had become the embellished name on a few silly medals, which were supposed to be my pride. My man had died the death of honour, but that pride wasn’t the safe haven Ajit’s presence had once been. Neither could be those medals. His death had been the reason my health had gone downhill and why I was at the hospital.

You would think that losing a husband would do that to anyone. But my mother-in-law, Rani, had lost both her son and her husband (who had served the Indian Army as well). My father-in-law had succumbed to lung cancer and while she had been shattered by their deaths, my mother-in-law had worn the fact that her husband has served the country before his death like a crown. And she felt the same way about Ajit, if not more. Mili, my daughter, had just been fifteen when her dad died, and yet, she hadn’t been as miserable as me.

I felt bad at comparing their grief with mine but despite being the wife of a soldier, I wasn’t a braveheart. What would I say to them now? How could I go back after all I did, after failing them so badly? Tears stung my eyes as I began walking down the road. I had to go back to my house and check on the remainder of my family. If I want to know how they were doing, I would have to make sure they didn’t see me.

***

Carefully, trying not to make any noise, I leaned against the wall of my former house and I tried to glimpse inside through the glass window. Rani was watching news on the television. Looking at her, I realized how long it must have been since I had seen her. Yet again, the guilt for not being able to fulfill my responsibilities clawed over me. Her hair was whiter than the last time I had seen her and her skin seemed to crawl to its winter too.

Had I been in the hospital for months? Years? The journalist was almost shouting something into the microphone but the headline caught my eye. “High Altitude Warfare School: Where Indian jawans are trained to survive in Siachen.” My heart clenched and one look at my mother-in-law’s face confirmed that she was thinking about the same thing. Ajit was also an official in The Mountain Warfare and things weren’t like this during his time. What if he knew all this stuff that was being taught in the Warfare School nowadays?

Rani ran her hand through her hair. Was she, like me, contemplating how the circumstances would have been today if her son had survived his fate? I, for one, wouldn’t have been in such a bad shape. But there was something about Rani that I couldn’t quite figure out. Despite the sadness in her eyes, she was still smiling serenely. She looked at the clock, whose hands announced that it had been five minutes since my arrival. “God, retirement! Seems like the only productive things I can do now are watch TV and rub arthritis ointment on my knees,” she scorned to herself. “And they say that retirement is finally the time that you get to yourself.”

***

I was waiting outside the orphanage that Mili, my daughter had gone into. The moment I saw her I had had difficulty believing that this was the same little princess that once used to cry in my lap and then later, after her father’s death, used to convince me to have dinner even when I would be rude to her. She was so grown up now and the grace and sincerity with which she carried herself, was admirable. I had made sure that she didn’t get a glimpse of me, as I didn’t want to alarm her with my presence.

There was another woman with her, whom Mili addressed as Sarika, and both of them were carrying bags of books that I assumed were for the children who lived in the orphanage. They came out of the orphanage with big smiles on their faces. Three little girls ran behind them, waving as they passed, holding books in their hands and laughing. It was the most genuine sound of joy I’d ever heard. Both the women waved their hands at the girls, bid each other goodbye and left for their homes.

***

Mili frowned as she took note of her grandma’s expression, as she opened the house door. Concerned, Mili asked her grandmother about her well-being, discarding her purse and phone on the couch.

“Yes, my dear, I am okay,” Rani replied not meeting her granddaughter’s eyes. “Dinner’s ready.”

Mili got up and disappeared into her room. Rani had served the food by the time Mili returned and asked her about her day. Mili told her grandma that her supervisor was finally appreciating her work. That made Rani smile. She patted her granddaughter’s back and told her that she had earned it.

Standing at the window, I noticed that her voice was heavy with emotion. Mili blushed and asked her grandma about the thing that was bothering her. Rani, finally not being able to hide things from her grandchild sighed, and dropped the spoon on her plate.

“Retirement is stupid. I am used to teaching Social Studies to students and this new routine of staying at home, in front of the television all the time, is just not my thing.”

Mili stopped, deep in her thoughts. “Do you miss teaching or do you dislike staying at home without work?”

Rani shook her head. “I miss teaching, Mili. The satisfaction that the students were gaining something from my knowledge, used to give me hope when times were tough. I miss that satisfaction and hope now.”

Mili looked as if she too could feel her grandmother’s pain. “How about opening a private tuition center?”

That lit Rani’s eyes. “That would be great! We would have to rent a place for setting up the classes, though.”

“I will see what I can do, Daadi!” Mili said, smiling.

***

Mili was sipping her coffee while looking intently at her friend and colleague Sarika, who was trying hard to convince Mili to go out with another co-worker named Sahil. At first, protectiveness gnawed in me but then, I realized that I had yet to gain the right in Mili’s eyes, as being absent for so long had taken away every motherly right from me.

“Do you want to talk about the reason we are here or are you going to cheer for Team Sahil until the office break’s over?” Mili said dryly, and a nervous laugh escaped me.

Both Mili and Sarika looked around but luckily I had decided to cover my face today, so they looked straight past my table, without recognizing me. Heart hammering, I sighed with relief. What if Mili had spotted me? I had almost lost it!

“Go on,” said Sarika.

“Before I start, I want to say that at the moment, my Daadi and my job are my only priorities. I don’t want a relationship just yet.”

At that, Sarika rolled her eyes. “Okay. But he really is a nice guy.”

“I know he is. But like I said, I am not ready.”

“So, what’s bothering you?” Sarika asked with concern.

“It’s about my Daadi. Retirement doesn’t seem to be her cup of tea and she really misses teaching kids,” Mili fidgeted with her coffee mug. “I suggested that she open a tuition center and she loved the idea.”

“But opening a private tuition center would require quite an amount of money. And you already have those monthly returns for the home loan you took a few years ago,” Sarika said sadly.

“Yeah. I thought maybe, I could find a place with cheaper rents but that won’t do her arthritis any favours,” Mili replied sinking low on her chair.

I wish I could help, but I had no resources. It was all my fault. I had let Ajit’s death crush me so badly that I had forgotten about the family I had left. And then my health had taken away my remaining capability of fulfilling my responsibilities. Eyes wet, I stood up and went for a walk. Now that I was back and my health was in good shape, I could do something for my daughter and my mother-in-law. I had the chance to right my wrong now. I just had to wait for the perfect time.

***

I was standing at the office gate that Mili used during her lunch hour to go for coffee in the adjacent cafeteria. I felt grateful that she chose not to stay inside the office during the breaks because this allowed me to get to know her well, albeit I was technically eavesdropping on her. Mili and Sarika were both going toward the same cafe.

“Oh! There he goes,” Sarika said looking at the bespectacled man coming out of the same coffee shop. His eyes lit as they fell on Mili and in that moment, I knew that this was Sahil. All the doubts I had concerning him were gone now, as his eyes screamed love when he saw Mili. I noticed that she had a glint in her eyes too. He nodded at both of them as they entered the cafe and left for the office.

“You know, I was thinking about what Sahil said in the conference,” Mili said thoughtfully after setting into the chair.

“Wow! Somebody seems to have joined Team Sahil now!” Sarika commented with a grin.

I sat on the table that was next to theirs, making sure that they didn’t notice me.

“Uh! Not that!” She scratched her head. “I was talking about the idea of our company using video sharing sites for advertisements. That could work really well for reaching the youth directly as the majority of people accessing those websites are youngsters.”

“Sure, will. Providing services to the youngsters have always been their strong suit,” Sarika said, making herself comfortable on the chair and grabbing the menu.

Sarika noticed that Mili had not spoken for quite a few minutes.

“Are you okay? You look worried,” Sarika interrogated, straightening up a bit.

“Videos!” Sarika looked as puzzled as I felt. “Daadi can create an online school where she would put video lectures recorded at home. That way, we won’t need to rent a coaching center,” Mili said with excitement.

“And those videos would reach the entire damned world!” Sarika said slapping the table excitedly. “And her arthritis wouldn’t be an issue at all as she won’t have to go anywhere.”

“This is it!” Mili was triumphant. I realized that this was the second time I was seeing her this happy. The first time when she had been this happy, she had won the school scholarship. My eyes filled with tears. When had my daughter grown so smart? In her parents’ absence, my mind taunted.

“I just have one last thing to do, though,” Mili said, doing something on her phone that I couldn’t see.

***

I was at home now, peeking in from the usual window that served as a bridge between me and the family that I had once abandoned. The aroma of cooked kheer reminded me of the days when Ajit would come back home after months of duty and I would cook kheer for the entire family. It was how the dessert had become Mili’s favorite, after all. She loved having it with both her mother and father.

The bell rang and Rani rushed to open the door, her arthritis forgotten. I noticed that she was happier now, as Mili had called her Grandma with the news that she had a perfect solution for her. I had seen the smile that had lit on Mili’s face when she had called Rani from the cafe.

After a few minutes of greeting and Mili’s gratifying comments on kheer, they approached the subject of the tuition center.

“Daadi, I found a better option than any tuition center. You are going to teach the kids at the orphanage from home using video. Each of your lectures would be recorded and saved on a video sharing website which is accessible to anyone in the entire world.”

Rani’s eyes were wide open and for a moment, she couldn’t speak.

“Oh! My child, you have found a new vision for me when all I asked you was a few moments’ satisfaction,” Rani said, her voice heavy with too many emotions.

Mili smiled. “There’s one thing, though,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I want this vision to be known as the A.S. Foundation, in my parents’ honour.”

“Oh! Mili…” A teardrop rolled down her cheek.

“Trust me, child, their souls must be so proud of you!” she hugged her grandchild.

My mind felt numb. What does she mean, their souls, I was right there! I walked through the door and went right in front of them, called out their names but they wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t look at me. Denial and pain took over my heart in a vise-like grip. Was that true? Was I really dead? Tears stung my eyes and I wanted to scream and escape into the night sky. As if that mere thought was manifested into reality, I was out of the window. My breath was ragged, but was I really breathing?

In a heartbeat, a blinding white light fell next to me. I looked up and saw Ajit, standing as handsome and as graceful as my recollections reflected him. He drifted next to me and touched my cheek.

“It is time, my beloved wife,” he said.

“Since when have I been like this?” I demanded, between my sobs.

“Five years, Seema. You took your last breath five years ago in that hospital and now it’s finally time for you to forgive yourself. It was all meant to be that way. Nothing was your fault.”

My heart clenched. I looked inside the window, trying to listen to what Rani and Mili were saying.

“I couldn’t have been this way if it weren’t for you, Daadi,” Mili said. “You became both my father and mother and I love you for everything you ever did for me.”

Rani embraced Mili again and when they broke the contact, she said, “This will surely be a long road, but definitely not longer than the one we have travelled so far.”

I looked back at Ajit and realized that death hadn’t changed the way his smile made him look younger. He held out his hand. I finally realized that I had to forgive myself and let go of the regret. Shuddering, I took it and the strangest sense of peace took over me. It was as if I was going to open my eyes into a place of ethereal beauty and blessedness. I didn’t know how I had been away from this peace throughout my whole life and five oblivious years of the afterlife. It was bliss yet I could feel that my eyes were wet, it was lonely yet I knew that I was going to be imbibed into the oneness. I was at peace, and so were both life and death.

My Strength? Let’s Check…

GEETIKA GUPTA

Geetika is a passionate teacher and finds solace in the joys of her students. Writing is one thing that helps her be and brings out the best forms of expressions. Her work is published in ‘Skipped Heartbeats’, a poetry anthology and ‘It’s all about Dogs and Bitches’, a short story anthology, both by Gargi Publishers. Her work can also be seen at Women’s Web, Writer’s Ezine, Visual Verse, Story Mirror, etc. Reading, writing, learning new things, and travelling are few of her interests. Intelligence, humour and honesty attract her the most. She lusts for knowledge and quenches her thirst in finding out the answers for herself. Loves excitement and is a sucker for love. You can read her brooding thoughts at http://www.geetikagupta.com.

That girl next door

Is a fighter you so much adore

She was in the army before

Fearlessly she fought and caught all the eyes galore!

That woman at the end of the lane

Lost her husband while fighting the pain

Bearing the pain while birthing his son

Made him a freedom fighter and rejoiced the battle she won!

That lady with green eyes and red hair

Has lot of cooked up stories coz of the clothes she wears

Chose to ignore all of them

Lived her life on her own terms!

“You won’t pass in the finals,

Looking at the number of boys you’ve dated.

It requires serious studies,

Of the books and not how many times you’ve mated!”

She dropped a tear from the corner of her eye

With anger and courage, her eyes went dry

It was self pity that rolled down the cheeks

And now within 10 years, it’s her career that speaks!

Yes, she was a lot into boys

But they only helped her become poise

She owns her business and runs another club

She opened her school that became an educational hub!

That girl in the neighbourhood

Loved to dance in the evening

By the time we got up in the morning

She was back from her mountaineering!

With hockey in one hand and frying pan in the other

Hard from outside and soft from inside, she’s your mother

Never play with her feelings and make her smother

For you will never ever get another!

Women, their strength lies in the roles they play

Stating them as strong and powerful would be a cliché

Respect them, value them and acknowledge their worth

For you wouldn’t be here had she refused to give you birth!

Tripped

SUTAPA BASU

An author, poet and publishing consultant, Sutapa Basu also dabbles in art and trains trainers and is a compulsive bookworm. During a thirty-year old professional career as teacher, editor, and publisher, she travelled the Indian subcontinent, Nepal and Bhutan. She has visited UK, USA, Dubai and Singapore while working with Oxford University Press, India and Encyclopædia Britannica, South Asia until 2013 when she decided to start writing seriously.

Sutapa is an Honours scholar from Tagore’s Visva-Bharti University, Santiniketan and holds a teaching as well as a Masters degree in English Literature.

As a publisher, Sutapa has developed and published around 400 books. Recently, her short story was awarded the First Prize in the Times of India’s nation-wide WriteIndia Contest, under author Amish Tripathi.

Gathering speed, the tube whooshed down the tunnel. Carefully, without turning her head, Ipshita glanced at the man again. He was still staring at her. She looked away. A blush rose up her cheeks and desperately, Ipshita willed it down.

So embarrassing!

Why can’t I be cool like others when men look at me? Anyway… why does that man need to look? Am I eye candy? Disgusting! Staring away like that…constantly. Still…he doesn’t look like the typical scruffy Romeo.

Indeed, the man in question was quite elegantly clad in a conservative, charcoal-grey business suit under the long, dark overcoat preferred by the professional crowd of London. Yet, he had been watching her, ever since she had stepped into the tube.

Today, of all the days, Ipshita was in no mood to indulge unwanted male attention. Her mind was busy with how she would handle the interview. It would be aired to a huge viewership, most of it international. After all, it had been a great honour to be singled out from a global panel of media professionals for the ‘Most Creative Travel Show Award’ at the Annual International Visual Media Awards by The Herald. And that was not all. She happened to be the only woman among the awardees.

Ipshita was visiting London to receive her award at a ceremony held the next day. In connection with it, this morning, she was being interviewed by Jerry McGuin, the renowned host of BBC’s ‘The Chat’ at The Herald office. She was on her way to the venue; King’s Place, where the office was located, a short walk from King’s Cross tube station.

Ipshita slid her hands over the black and white tartan mini covering her thighs and offset by a fire-engine red short blazer and a soft Kashmiri silk scarf at the neck. She ran her fingers through the curls cascading beyond her shoulders making its tawny streaks catch light. Stretching out her long legs, encased in black silk stockings and calfskin ankle boots, she turned to look at her reflection in the thick glass window. A heart-shaped face with large brown eyes stared back at her. Her small nose pertly perched atop a pair of pouting red lips; lips capable of tempting second looks.

But this man was too much.

Ipshita touched the large pearls glowing in her ears – a congratulatory gift from her parents, and her lips curved into a small smile.

How I wish they were here with me, but everything has happened so fast…

Tilting her head, she saw the man’s reflection in the glass. His eyes had not moved from her.

What the hell! Even London men are blatant stalkers, like the ones in Delhi.

Abruptly, a hot flame curled up from her belly. Darting through Ipshita’s limbs, it left in its wake a curious restlessness. Ipshita swallowed to subdue it, but the tingling wouldn’t go away. Another bolt flashed through her; a familiar feeling. Bringing in its undertow coils of fear that twirled, unfurled, weaving their way through the fiery internal vehemence that was getting stronger; leaping up; inflaming her. Ipshita looked back at the opaque window pane as the train rushed on, oblivious to the conflict of desire and terror rampaging through the girl.

Do all girls feel this? This morass of attraction and revulsion bubbling in their innards? Or do contradictions rule only me? Why do I react in this bizarre manner? When strange men look, why does my blood go hot and cold? Why do I choke the moment a man turns to me? I have to control myself; my feelings, my body, my senses.

Her eyes went back to the glass. Quite a looker, he was, though; brown hair curling on his forehead and grey glinting eyes.

Attractive alright but a stalker, nonetheless!

Then her heart leapt up her throat.

Was he? Wasn’t he? Was he smiling at me? Outrageous! Impossible!

Beneath her feet, the motion slowed. Announcements came on. Their coach emptied rapidly. Doors closed and they were moving. Ipshita felt a jerk and turned sharply. The man was beside her; taking the seat next to her. Ipshita shifted away but was trapped between the man and the window. The tube speeded up, rushing through the dark, nether regions of the city. Alarmed at the daring of the stalker, Ipshita glanced at the only other passenger. Hopeless. Too far to help me.

Her heart was thudding—-whether in panic or anticipation, Ipshita couldn’t say. The man leaned towards her, his lips moving. Ipshita heard nothing…the train roared. Besides, she was encased in a bubble of fear. Nothing penetrated it. Horror at what was about to happen mounted rapidly through her.

He placed a hand on her thigh and leaned closer. Ipshita squeezed her eyes shut waiting for the inevitable. Fear strangled her. She was choking.

Will he hit me? Will he touch me? Will he hurt me?

Her skin crawled expecting his touch at any moment. Blood rushed through her. Suddenly, a fierce red rage spurted—at herself!

I have to fight…I can’t be passive…wait for him to hurt me. No. NO. I won’t let anyone hurt me. I have to act. I must fight my way out …I will NOT him take me.

The train was slowing.

Ipshita opened her eyes. She was looking directly into his grey ones; his face was so close. For endless moments, his eyes held hers. With a mighty effort, she turned away. Breaking through the spell that was keeping her inert, Ipshita jumped up. Nearly losing her balance, she half-ran, half-stumbled towards the doors of the still-hurtling train. From the corner of her eye, she saw the man put out a hand but deftly avoided his grasp. The doors opened and she stumbled out. What station this was, she didn’t have a clue. Absorbed in her predicament, she had not heard the announcement. Somehow, she had to escape; get away…away from the stalker…away from the assault.

Once outside, she took long strides to the platform turnstile; to put a distance between her and the stalker as quickly as possible. To panic stricken to look behind, she prayed he was not following. When she had reached the escalator, she turned and surveyed the area behind her. The man was nowhere to be seen.

THANK GOD! He had not come after her.

Hurriedly gulping the cold air to ease her panting, she inspected the Underground map to get her bearings.

Okay…So she was at Baker Street Underground station. Oh! King’s Cross was not far. I can take a cab or walk; certainly no tubes.

Exiting the Underground, Ipshita turned right. In the distance, a few blocks ahead, she could clearly see the tall, red Herald building. She started walking. Gaggles of tourists ambled about on the pavement, office goers strode purposefully in black coats with briefcases past her, window-shoppers idled around.

Ipshita felt safe among so many people. But her mind wouldn’t let go. The flashback played in her head. Ragged images…grey eyes…lips close to hers…the hand on her thigh… Oh God! I can’t believe it happened to me. Mercifully I escaped.

Involuntarily, she looked down at her thighs where he had touched.

A strange thought meandered through her mind. Did he actually touch me? Or did I imag… NO. No, of course, he touched me. I acted in the nick of time. Thank God the tube stopped. What if it had not stopped? She could have been mugged, assaulted, robbed! He touched her leg…so he could have easily raped her…shit!

She could not stop reliving the moments. What happened – or did not happen! Her breathing became faster. Her legs trembled and her steps faltered.

Hey! Control yourself…it’s over…you escaped…you won and he couldn’t do it… Well! I am a Delhi girl, ain’t I?…Tough luck, Mister! Not easy to take me on. Right, Mr Stalker?

New confidence pumped into her and Ipshita increased her pace. Very soon, she was ascending the wide sweeping stairs to the grand entrance of The Herald building. She paused for a second and composed herself. Self consciously, she tugged down her blazer and brushed a hand over her skirt. Then poised and graceful, Ipshita entered the warm interiors.

The lobby was more redolent of a classy, glamorous hotel than that of a newspaper office. Nevertheless, when Ipshita gave her details at the desk, she was gratified to see that her name was instantly recognized. A young receptionist waved her towards a lift. She was whisked up to the tenth floor of the building where the lift doors opened onto a magnificent library. Italian marble floors and polished oak-panelled walls gave it a quiet elegance. All around were tall shelves stacked with thick tomes interspersed by gilt-framed portraits of media barons looking down benevolently. Hearth-fire burned merrily in a corner. Facing the fire were the backs of a pair of large chintz-covered arm chairs with a table between them. Ipshita could spy a perfect English tea laid out complete with a silver service, thin cucumber sandwiches and cheese cake.

This is cheerful! A hot cuppa can really warm my cockles after my walk and such a frightful experience.

Eagerly, she stepped forward and stopped. A man rose from a chair and turned to face her, extending his hand.

Ipshita froze. Her body numbed; paralyzed.

No…no…NO.

Tripped! She had not escaped. She was caught.

Brown hair curled, grey eyes gleamed. Very debonair, this stalker in his charcoal suit!

How did he get here…right into the Herald office? Does he work here? Was it all a trap?

No. He must have followed her; all the way here. Like a cat going after a mouse. Now, just one grab and I…

Frantic, Ipshita looked around. Alone…

Nobody to help… only way to exit is the lift. I can’t run. I can’t hide…I can’t escape the stalker.

Ipshita could not breathe…her eyes wide…desperately flickered over the books…furniture…

Can I pick up something… to fight him? Any weapon? Books! Heavy… I can hit him…

He was coming towards her. Ipshita began stepping back. She clawed through her bag looking for anything…something…maybe a safety pin…Can stab it into his eyes…or a hairpin…

The stalker was still coming…a smile flitted across his face…viciously… Ipshita kept putting one foot behind the other. Only option was to reach the lift before he reached her. Her eyes were steadily fixed on his face; alert for any sudden moves.

When her back hit the wall next to the lift, Ipshita scrabbled at it with desperate fingers, to punch the lift buttons. Her eyes remained on the predator.

Suddenly, she lost balance and fell backwards as the lift doors opened. In one motion, Ipshita was inside the lift. To regain balance, she grabbed the walls, her hands sipping off the smooth metallic surface.

A girl, who had arrived in the same lift, gave Ipshita a bewildered look and stepped out. Automatically, the lift doors started closing and Ipshita silently thanked her guardian angel. Through a chink in the lift doors, she heard the girl’s dulcet tones, ‘Good morning, Mr Mcguin.’

The thin crack made Jerry Mcguin’s response quite audible. ‘Just ‘Jerry’, Sophie. By the way, are you sure that really was Miss Ipshita Sen, the awardee? She seemed a bit…’

The lift doors closed, leaving Jerry Mcguin’s emphatic last word ricocheting inside it. ‘…weird’.

All the air knocked out of Ipshita as the lift dropped. It whined triumphantly in her ear, ‘Fear tripped you, agaaain!’

Liberated to My Freedom

PIYUSH KAVIRAJ

Piyush is a research scholar working in the field of cancer biology and used the name ‘Piyush Kaviraj’ when in his realm of rhymes and rhythm. He has both scientific and literary publications to his credit. Better known as author of Mahlon Ko Bikte Dekha Hai, Piyush is an avid reader and writer with love for languages. He has been writing poetry since school days and is trying to write better poems with every passing day; now also trying various genres in short stories.

He tries to contribute tosociety through writing and through guidance to students, cancer patients and their relatives or blood donors. He is the cofounder of The Benevolent Fools, an organization dedicated to helping the underprivileged. His recent books include Mahlon Ko Bikte Dekha Hai, Ishq, Crumpled Voices 2, and the upcoming Jazbaati Galiyaan.

He blogs at http://piyushkaviraj.com [_ and is accessible on Twitter at @piyushKAVIRAJ. _]

I could never attend the schools

Thanks to your orthodox, abominable rules.

I could never go and play out,

I could never talk or sing loud.

You wanted to, but preserve me,

For a ‘Prince Charming’ who would deserve me!

The prince staked him claim-

Huge dowry for his fame

And I became his wife

For the rest of entire life.

I bore him children,

I took care of his wealth,

I did my ‘duties’ solemnly, in sickness and in health.

Was I born only for this much?

Life of a caretaker, as such!

I could never gather courage

To live a life, free of bondage.

I grew old in his house telling stories to grandchildren,

But, inculcated in them values to love and respect women.

And one fine day, when cherries were about to blossom,

Death did me apart, liberated me to my Freedom.

Twenty Thousand Solutions of Problems

ANIRBAN NANDA

[_Anirban felt a sudden urge to write on one fine Monday morning and missed his classes. A moviebuff, a tealover, and a bookworm, Anirban is trying to write his first novel. Currently he is a postgraduate student at IIEST, Shibpur. _]

[_He has published a few anthologies with Readomania (Defiant Dreams, When They Spoke) and with a few other publishers. _]

He also has a keen interest in translating Bengali works to English.

Present Day, 9 P.M.

The train starts again, leaving another desolate station in its wake, piercing the thick, dark night ahead. I don’t care what station it is. The same goes for the train as well. How mechanically it goes on, passing tree after tree, land after land divided by stations, slums, cities, the whole country. If only I could pass through time like that; day after day, year after year. If only I could continue my ninth standard, if only I didn’t have to kill…

Present Day, 6 P.M.

It was a Sunday evening like any other summer evening; dark, humid and sullen. She was sitting beside the wooden window without any railing. The kerosene lamp was not lit yet and the mosquitoes gathered over her head were humming continuously. There was a stinking smell of urine and filth in the slum, but she was used to the odour as she had been living there since her birth. She was neither fair nor dark, but her symmetrical face was attractive, and poverty had not yet begun to take a toll on her health

Present Day, 9 P.M.

This evening, while sitting beside the window, I was wondering about what to do with my life; day-dreaming, when Maa suddenly called me. She scolded me for not having dressed up till then, as it was getting dark. She urged me to get washed and dressed and went to the kitchen to make a plate of noodles for me. The train runs on, spraying my face with cold, soothing wind. I fear I shall not be able to meet her in this life again.

Present Day, 6 P.M.

I have already made some, Maa. Left it on the table for you.” Durga pointed.

Oh… Then you get ready, girl. I’ll eat later.” Parvati hurried to bring out her ironed saree and asked Durga to start dividing her hair in two plaits.

Durga went to the table and covered the left-over food with a plate.

Parvati had been living in that slum since the day Durga’s father Bhola married her. Bhola was a factory labour who soon got fired due to turmoil between two political unions. Since then, he had surrendered himself to alcohol’s embrace. Life in the slum was hard and Parvati had to work out ways (like becoming house-maid or working daily at a local brick factory) to run the family. Within the next three years, Parvati gave birth to two stillborn male-children before the arrival of Durga, who was lucky to live as her father wanted to kill her the moment he got the news that his wife had given birth to a girl child. It was Parvati who saved her only child from him. The bad news of Durga’s birth came with a worse one: Parvati would not be ever able to give birth to another child. From then on, Durga was an eyesore for Bhola.

Ah, not that way. Come here.” Parvati gave Durga the saree while she took over the intricate job of braiding her hair.

Wearing a saree and dressing up the hair at the same time was tricky but the two of them were so habituated to the process that the mother knew exactly when her daughter was going to turn to wrap the saree around herself and the daughter knew when the mother was going to complete the braiding in neat, quick steps and ask for the ribbon.

Hand me the ribbon.”Holding the ribbon between her teeth, Parvati quickly fastened the joint between the two plaits and then sealed them with the ribbon.

Present Day, 9.30 P.M.

“You are looking very beautiful in this red sari. My god! You look like a lady. Who can guess you are only sixteen? ” Maa told me that just a few hours ago. When I asked her about for how many times I had to go there, she replied, “It will soon be over, my girl.” I always get the same reply. It will soon be over. Such an innocent lie. If that was true then Baba would have stopped drinking even after he had contacted liver cirrhosis, Maa would not have to do housework and run door to door for Baba’s hospital bills. Maa would not have been rewarded with kicks and slaps for not coughing up money for my loving father’s liquor. Seldom have I slept well when Baba comes home late at night after losing all his sense to desi daaru.

The train has stopped at a station. This must be some major railway junction or they wouldn’t have stopped for ten-odd minutes. Ah, it starts again. Nice. The breeze comes alive once again. What was I thinking?

Today, Maa was with me when we were walking to Hakimbabu’s place through dingy, smelly alleys between shanties and it always reminds me of the first time I went there with Maa. All along the way, I was asking her where we were going. I thought Maa was finally taking me to the bioscope I had been pleading to go to for so many days. But to my surprise, a great iron gate opened in front of me and I was presented with a huge palace with fountains, waiting servants and a goofily moustachioed person smiling with clasped hands.

“This is Durga.” Maa introduced me and asked me to greet him with a namaskar. I did. Then I was given a few laddoos and Maa started to go to the gate leaving me there after tacitly exchanging some gestures with the strange person.

Twenty thousand rupees was big money, at least big enough for Baba’s surgery without which he would die in few months. Hence, my clever mother thought of the home-grown bank-balance she had, which she could pawn and save her pati-parameswar.

And, don’t think he had given the bulk of the money to her instantly. Today was the fourth time I was to sleep with him, to collect the next instalment of the twenty thousand. I still shiver to think of the first time he…

A Few Months Ago

After giving her food that Durga never imagined could exist, he called her to see his palace. Every time she saw a new room her eyes would grow large. At last when they reached the bedroom and he closed the door, Durga tensed. She could not sense what was going to happen. But Hakim’s lustful smile made it clear. She ran towards the door but got trapped in Hakim’s large paws. Her tearful struggle was useless, and it only excited him further. He threw her on the soft cotton bed and got above her. Her glass bangles broke, leaving red marks around her wrist. She did not know the exact reason for her screaming. She did not understand whether it was due to her mother’s treachery or the pain caused by the man slumped over her, the man who had unceremoniously ripped her apart.

Present Day, 10 P.M.

Today, something had changed inside her. Today, I did not want to sell myself once again. After reaching his place…

Present Day, 7 P.M.

Where are your servants?” Durga asked.

I gave them a holiday as my queen is coming.” Hakim said smiling.

Durga laughed. “Am I? I am flattered”

You look beautiful today, just like goddess Durga.” Hakim said with a big smile, which only made him seem uglier.

You liar!” Durga softly punched Hakim’s chest. “Will you keep me standing at the door?”

Oh! I am utterly sorry. Come my darling, the house is yours.” Hakim rubbed his hands together, stepped away from the door and let her enter.

Today is quite hot. Let’s go straight to the bedroom and drink some beer.” Durga said fanning herself with a newspaper lying on the table.

Won’t you eat something? I had ordered the cook to make special dishes for you.”

Thank you but I don’t feel like eating anything.” Durga said reluctantly.

Okay. Okay. As you wish…”

They went to the luxurious bedroom. Durga closed the door and began making two glasses of drinks for both of them. They drank the beer and talked for a while and then Hakim made himself another peg of a strong cocktail.

These electric lights are very artificial. Let me light some candles.” Durga went searching and returned with three lit candles. She placed them on the bedside table.

You really know how to satisfy a man.” Hakim said, his eyes gleaming with desire.

Durga came closer to Hakim and pushed him on the bed. She untied the ribbon, letting her meticulously braided hair fall over her shoulders and came even closer to him, slowly kissing his face. He was amused and began enjoying the moment. She gripped his wrist and fastened it to the bed with her ribbon. Hakim’s joy knew no bound. He liked these games. Something different, something exciting. Then she removed his pants and came closer to his knees, kissing his hairy thighs while fastening his legs with another nylon ribbon. She was smiling. That smile! That was no common smile. It showed both pity and anger.

What are you going to do? Untie me. You filthy bitch!” Suddenly his eyes were red and big and he began sweating.

Durga laughed and said, “You know, you are such a monster that you made this room soundproof. How many girls do you fuck in a day? Aaah! Oooh! You love those shouts and moans, no? Now shout as much as you want.”

Durga removed a knife from the fruit stand. Seeing this Hakim started shouting with fervour as his face became pale with terror.

Don’t worry. I won’t stab you with this. I am not that cruel.”

She started heating the knife in the flames of the candles and stared at him.

What are you doing? Do you know what I will do to your mother when I get out? ” Hakim warned her through crunched teeth.

Do you think I care for a woman who sells her daughter to a monstrous rapist?” Durga was laughing. It was maddening. There was no joy in that laughter.

The knife became red from the heat. She got up and sat over Hakim’s waist. She drew the knife closer to his face and whispered; “Now you will know the rage of a raped girl.”

She buried the burning red-hot knife half a centimetre deep into his chest. Hakim was screaming, his eyes closed shut. She carved with the knife above and below, all over his body, drawing different patterns and melting his flesh. Tears were falling from her eyes but her face was expressionless. Starting from the chest, she soon covered his entire torso.

She stood up, looked at his chest and said; “It is quite a work of art. Don’t you think so? ”

Hakim’s voice was hoarse from screaming. He somehow managed to catch a glimpse of Durga’s handiwork on his flesh. It said,

I

RAPE.”

You’ve got some real energy in there. You better think before raping another Durga.” Durga stated, looking at his loins. She left the knife reclining there, making him wail and plead and scream with new vigour. “Ah…this is exactly how I screamed that day.” Durga was dressing up, chuckling. And while she was taking out all the money from his shelf, she said, “Aww! You look so nice. I want to take a picture of you now. But I don’t have a camera, you know. Okay then. Got to go. Have fun!”

Present Day, 10.30 P.M.

What an awful evil thing I am! But what can I do? The venom was infused in me the first time he secreted his liquid inside my body. I am no noble person who believes in forgiveness. I am the kind of stench from whom people turn away with a grimace, a person who is so morally destroyed that she does not hesitate to mix her own poison in others, not even sparing her own mother. I will not return. I’ll go wherever this train will take me.

Present Day, 11 P.M.

Parvati is staring at the roof made of plastic covers. The oil lamp is teeming in front of her, making the shadow of her plate of noodles dance. She has finally decided to eat the food despite knowing that it was poisoned by her own daughter. She saw Durga mixing and stirring the liquid in the noodle when she went inside to bring out the saree. She realized at that very instant that Durga was not going to come back ever again. Tears roll down her eyes when she takes a handful of the grub from her plate.

“Forgive me, my child.” She mutters as she puts the food in her mouth.

The door made of cane almost breaks apart when Bhola comes in, drunk and ready for yet another session of torture on Parvati, who spits the food on the clay-floor in surprise.

“You spit on me, bitch.” He now has his cue to begin. He starts slapping and kicking and swearing at her, just like the many other nights, and she tolerates silently, as always.

“Have you made anything for me to eat, bitch?” He kicks her again.

“Yes.” She croaks. She is lying curled up, with eyes closed in pain, tears spilling out of them.

He sits down, cross-legged, and orders, “Bring it then.”

“Yes, let me heat it for you.” She takes the plate of noodles to the clay furnace.

Woman Interrupted!

SUPRIYA RAJU PARULEKAR

Supriya is an author of six books of different genres, taking you on a roller coaster ride of varied hues of emotions and height of thrill and captivating adventure. ‘Life is all about writing, weaving stories and enjoying the ride till it lasts,’ is what Supriya believes in. She has been praised for her writings and criticized, and showered with love and appreciation for her work, but what keeps her going is her passion for writing, creating something new.

The stark white walls, smell of antiseptic and the agonising pain.

My little girl, now a mother of two, lay in pain.

With bruises on her face and a bleed in her nose,

Her fault, she had given birth to yet another girl!

As a father, today I grieve. I remember the day she was born.

With pride and happiness, I had brought her home!

I looked at her feet, scarred by cigarette burns.

Those same feet once, had filled happiness in my world!

Her lips were swollen and tubes ran down her throat

She groaned and moaned, words I couldn’t fathom,

Once my world was filled with her chatter!

Every effort to breathe seemed a task, the monsters had ripped her soul apart.

What was her fault? I tried to discern, but my mind drew blank

as I watched my girl writhe in pain.

In a land where brave women have fought, shown their valour against enemies strong.

In a land where we worship goddesses along with gods, is there no place for a girl new born?

With deep anguish I ask of thee, the monsters who tried to kill my baby.

Why didn’t you ask to be born from a man then? A man whom you hail mighty and strong!

A day will come, when there will be no girl for your boy, to marry and take home.

A day will come, when you will have no womb, to carry forward your name, you fool!

So unfortunate you are, for you don’t know, the joy a girl can bring to thee!

I have to look at her, her eyes so soft and find my worries disappear!

I know my little girl, will be always there for me, in times of sorrow and pain, mostly.

In trying times, she held my hand, gave me hope to carry on!

Her gentle words were comforting ever, her loving ways brought tears.

Who will wipe my sorrows and pain, now that she lay here, between life and death!

You can’t go now, after the fight you put on. You can’t let these monsters win.

Wake up now, for the sake of your little ones.

Show the world how strong you are. In spite of the odds, a fighter you are.

Remember the brave queens and the goddess’s blessings we seek!

Wake up, open your eyes, this is your world, your loved ones await.

My little girl is fearless, I know, an epitome of strength!

A broken father, I pray to Lord!

Let these atrocities on woman stop.

Don’t let it be a lost cause.

Show some respect, show some care,

A woman has a right to live, we say!

When the Levee Breaks

AINDRILA ROY

[_ The writing bug bit Aindrila at the tender age of eleven and she has been scratching that itch ever since. She likes to mix fantasy and horror and create a blend of dark fantasy with complicated, twisted characters. She is also a fairly adept romance writer and enjoys writing children's books as well. When not writing, she can be seen nursing, fighting, running, building Lego tunnels and hospitals, and driving toy school busses- all for her four and a half year old. And in the odd chance that she finds a moment free, she likes to read. An erstwhile voracious reader, she is now perpetually yearning to read more. She is also a paleontology lover and can be seen going on long monologues about prehistoric creatures that have been extinct for millions of years. Her first book, ] I See You[, has topped the charts of Amazon India’s Horror section multiple times._]

The following is based on a true story. Names and identifying details of the characters have been changed to protect their privacy.

Rishabh and Asmita stared at each other, uncomprehending. It had been hours since they had been given the news but they were still unable to react. As they left the doctor’s office, all Asmita could think was — what am I going to tell Dhruv? It never occurred to her to think how she was going to handle what was coming.

What had begun as a simple ache in her left arm had ended up in a diagnosis of Breast Cancer. When my husband and I first heard about it, we tried to reassure them by saying that people survive Breast Cancer. Today, we regret saying those words so casually.

When the doctor chalked out the treatment plan, they realized that it would be months of rigorous treatment before they could even think of a surgery.

As treatment went on, even getting up from bed became a challenge for Asmita. I could see how much of a struggle it was for her to even lift a sandwich or keep a glass of water down. Being the mother of a three year old, her biggest concern was to be the parent Dhruv needed. But how could she be a parent, when even holding a spoon was a challenge for her?

Meanwhile, Rishabh had to set his priorities straight. As a consultant, he was lucky to be in a project that allowed some flexibility, but to stay on, he couldn’t let the quality of his work falter. He’d rather care for his wife and son first, but he couldn’t jeopardize the health insurance that came with his job.

Despite their best efforts, Dhruv picked up on the strained vibes and tension at home and began to act out.

It did not help that even well-meaning friends would sometimes, inadvertently, say things that was insensitive. Everyone wanted to empathize but truth was, no one really understood. Even surrounded by friends, they were alone in their difficult and arduous journey. Cancer was testing them to the hilt. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.

We as outsiders could see that it was putting a tremendous strain on their marriage and on Dhruv. We often wondered whether they realized it or not. Today, we understand that it was not as if they were not noticing what was happening, they were just overwhelmed. Imagine having all the problems thrust on you at the same time. The hits just kept on coming, relentlessly.

Respite came in the form of both their parents who came in to take care of their children after Asmita’s surgery. Dhruv began to respond positively to the love and affection from his grandparents. However, in a nuclear family, having ones in laws can be strenuous, even at the best of times. And Rishabh and Asmita were going through the worst.

Today, almost three years after the nightmare, they have emerged victorious. It is from them that I learned that it is very easy to love when things are going well. But true love means to be there for your partner even when things go terribly wrong.

1 Popular Indian dessert consisting of a fried ball of milk solids dipped in hot rosewater syrup. The dessert is often served at weddings and other celebrations.

2 19th century spiritual leader often called Sai Baba. He was born in the town of Shirdi in Maharashtra.

3 Paternal grandmother

4 Elder sister. The term is often used to refer to any young woman who is older than the speaker.

5 Milk solids that are rolled into small balls and fried. The texture is spongy, cake-like.

 


UnBound E-Magazine Issue #2: Strength of a Woman

  • Author: varun prabhu
  • Published: 2016-08-07 08:05:30
  • Words: 32941
UnBound E-Magazine Issue #2: Strength of a Woman UnBound E-Magazine Issue #2: Strength of a Woman