This is a blog about writing. Mostly short fiction. And occasional personal rant once in a while, if I may. Feel free to make your comments and feel sane again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Chance Meeting With The God

It was 10.30 p.m. and the city traffic had lost most of its verve by the time my bus reached Nagarjun Nagar.

I held my breath as I passed the garbage dump and reached the apartment building. The lift as usual was not working. So I climbed forty odd steps and reached my one room plus tiny kitchen bachelor pad. My mail, my phone and my plastic bag tossed on the three and half legged table, I locked the door from inside.

Another boring, lonely, tasteless dinner tonight. I cursed my ancestors, my college degree, the gloomy weather, my girl friend and the God silently. Once again, I had seen the blood-red, roof-down Mercedes streaking in Banjara Hills this evening; the sight of the torpedo shaped, dreamboat of a car had clipped my mood.

One broad sweep of the wet rag on the kitchen counter and I was ready to cook my meal. I ripped open the quickie noodles packet and poured the water to boil. I diced a tomato and two onions, and kept a spoonful of masala maker ready. I had twenty minutes before my ancient gas stove could boil the rice in the blackened-beyond-washing aluminum pan. To hell with the washing for tonight.

I returned to the dreary room of mine and adjusted the pillow on the headrest of my bed. Head on the lumpy pillow, bum on the bed, my fingers aching, I put my feet on the plastic chair and looked at the grime covered ceiling fan. The clock struck eleven in nearby church tower and my head begun to spin. May be I dosed off for a while. It was not to be.

The plastic chair jerked a feet backward. My feet fell down and I almost sled down from the bed.


In a blink of my eye, a harmless looking man of about sixty, maybe seventy, occupied the chair.

"I wasn't looking for a magician's trick. I was just looking for God," he said.

He stole my words, stole my line! That was the exact, witty kind of response I was fumbling with under the circumstances. Obviously he could read the weird mess in my mind and keep a step ahead.

"You are God," I said. I was feeling stupid and hopelessly inadequate but not tongue-tied.

He crossed his legs and shifted his overweight frame to a comfortable position.

His complexion was whitish pink, shining with good health. Big shoulders. Tall. Rasping breaths of a seasoned smoker. His sparse beard reminded me of an aging Shakespeare. His nose was blunt and almost rounded, typical of him, since he would be used to profit from other people's brains and browns. His fingers were thick, like farmers. A ring with peanut-size diamond glinted from his third finger, probably to ward off the sexy, miniskirted hot bottoms at the paradise office. A gold Rolex on his wrist. His suit was Georgio Armani or some other snooty Italian brand, I could tell by its daring lapel cut and the elegant, snug fit. A violent pink paisley silk handkerchief peeked from the charcoal gray breast pocket. He looked like a steelclaws-in-kidgloves CEO of a mid size start-up with global tentacles and killer profit margins.

"The fancy suit comes with the job. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. No perks, no breaks, no stock options, no paid up vacations and definitely no profit sharing," he barked.

Was he being sarcastic? Jocular? Serious? Or was he trying to burn a lowly subject like me? The crazy, ever-shifting, white glow behind his head made it impossible to read his exact expression. One thing I was sure about - he could disappear as easily as he had materialized. Other problem-there was a premium on his time and I had a plateful of tricky problems on hand.

Not wasting a second I asked, "What should I do?" He would know my back story, so there was no need to bore him with a lengthy build up.

"Son, the woman you are tangled with is thirty six, not twenty six. She is carrying a child, apart from the girl she has put at the Panchgani School. And her former husband's death was not an accident as she claims. Did you go to Kanpur to check the official records?"

"Jesus H. Almighty, am I Sherlock Holmes or what? Where is the time to do the snooping ? Wait a minute now...assuming Somya is pregnant...the child inside her can't be more than three months old or it would show, won't it? Is it mine? This is a totally unexpected angle now. How should I go about it?"

"That's for you to find out, if you want to." He shifted his bulk in the chair and muttered. "It's so hot for August out here. Hyderabad is getting worse by the day."

He looked at the ceiling fan and made it start with his devine prowess. He adjusted the speed by the blinks of his deep gray eyes and turned to me again.

I was ready with the all-important question. "So what should be my game plan, now that you know my past, present and future?"

"Son, there is no point in reframing the same question again and again. My job is to give, not to take away."

I didn't like his patronizing attitude and his calling me 'son' was getting on my nerve. Even my father has stopped calling me son a decade before. But it was too trifle a matter at this point of time and I wanted my question answered. I tried another angle and pressed on.

"Old man from upstair, you are talking in riddles."

"You have a dull job. Chicken feed salary. Miserably predictable routine. No close friends. No major vice except occasional drinking binges and lust for car toys you can never afford." The God threw his leonine head back to underline the punchline. "More importatnt - that thin woman from military family, that unborn child inside her, the little mystery of her husband's death in distant Kanpur. Let's keep some excitement alive in your life."

"No, don't give me that old hat!" I almost screamed but apparently it didn't make a dent in his Armani armour.

There was an unmistakable electric crackle in the air. My skin felt a strange tingle all over and in a blink, the plastic chair in front of me was as empty as a beggar's bowl.

I fell back into my bed and banged the back of my head on the headrest. It hurt like hell and made me numb all over for a while.

I had lost appetite, I realized. I looked at the whirling blades of ceiling fan till my eyes ached and my head felt like a solid, dead weight on my shoulders. I braced myself. It was going to be a long night.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Grassroot Solution

It is two thirty in the morning and the place is quieter than a tomb. Four full-blooded man are locked inside the hostel room, all of them under twenty five, and in various stage of drunkenness. One of them is myself, yours truly.

The air inside the room is thick enough to choke a diehard smoker. No one has spoken a word since Hardik's phone rang. The call was from one Mr. Kasim. He has promised to sort out everything if we do what we are told to do. He is the point man controlled and recommended by Hardik's father.

Our collective adventure last weekend has gone terribly wrong and we are supposed to travel in different directions within next few hours and not get in touch with each other for six months or more. The girl's father has lodged an FIR at the district head quarter near Bhopal, stating that his daughter was gang raped by four unidentified thugs from the Maulana Azad Institute of Technology. According to Mr. Kasim's information, the girl managed to swipe the college ID of one of us. Police will be here soon.

Hardik is second-oldest and a natural leader among us. His father is a class one gazette officer who has survived five changes of government and thirteen transfers across the country. He know the system, its joints, and the special lubricants that make it work.

Unlike any other night, Hardik tosses his drink into the wash basin and looks at us, like we are his sworn enemies. "If anyone can get us out of his mess, it is my father and his network." Hardik speaks in a trembling, low whisper as he shifts his weight from one foot to the other. His thin frame and shrunken chest not withstanding, he reminds me of a determined boxer in his final rounds.

Mohan ignores us and gets up from his chair. His cut-off jeans and torn T shirt make him look like a charity case but his father owns a string of sugarcane farms and molasses factories along the Ratnagiri belt. He chain smokes Bristol and he is known as Loaded M in and around the campus. He can catch the next plane to Tahiti or Bahama if he wants to.

Hardik fixes his gaze on Mohan. "You are not going anywhere till the we turn this right side up."

"I had to accompany you that fateful Friday, as if I can't get laid any other way," Mohan tosses a butt out of the window and lights another cigarette.

I see a thin opportunity to make a point here. "No way I can travel out of my state, my brother is getting married in the next month."

"No way, indeed," Prakash (not his real name) joins our conversation and scratches his arm. His face wears a clouded, uncertain look. He is a member of Lal Zanda-his nick name for the communist party of India, and writes in a four page monthly pamphlet no one reads.

Hardik looks down and studies his battered Reebok before speaking. "Prakash, you are the one who planned the little picnic and promised us that it will be harmless fun. What is the alternative you have to keep us out of the jail?"

Praksh looks at me.

"I need a job after the college more than anyone of you. Police case will result in instant professional suicide. And my old man, my family, I don't want to think about it," I say.

"Everyone wants out, but how?" Mohan asks no one in particular and drags hard on his cigarette.

Prakash takes a minute before reacting. "I know a way out of this. She, the girl will survive. She doesn't know us by face. It was too dark and she will be in shock for a long time. I will take care of her."

"You will take care for her? To bury something like this is hard, if not impossible," I say.

"Kasim know the system inside out. From local constable upwards. PSIs. Sarpanch. DIGs. District Judges. Ministers and the people who can make the files appear and disappear at will," Hardik says. "We just have to pay up fast, that's all."

"How do I tell my old man that I need Rs 5 laks for pocket money this month? That too here and now?" I spill the rum in my hand as I imagine the maddening scene with my school teacher father.

"We have a day or two. Kasim can buy some more time. I can pay something upfront on my own and Mohan can chip in a bit. Don't worry about that," Hardik looks hard at Mohan and turns to me.

"What is the alternative?" I ask. "Apart from the dough delivery?"

"Self immolation." Mohan spits the flakes of tobacco in the wash basin and glares at me.

"I never thought she could go to police. She was almost enjoying it by the end," I say.

"She will enjoy the court proceeding even more." Hardik says. "You don't know these things. Do you remember that girl in the Baroda riot case who became the national media icon overnight? Everyone loved her and lapped up everything she said. Whatever she said."

"There is no way this tribal specimen can make anything stick to us."

"If the investigation does not start, that is."

"There is another possibility." Prakash says.

"Oh yes?"

"I marry her."

For a minute none of us know how to react. Hardik sits down on the window ledge and looks out at the night sky. Prakash looks dead serious.

Hardik turns his head and looks at Prakash, speaks for all of us now. "You are nuts. You are the one who suggested the cheap-tribal-girl-in-the-dark-woods idea. You are the one who made a deal with her tribe. Your contact paid them to shut up and apparently, they didn't stop a thing."

"I can marry her if I get the money you are going to pay out there. Believe me, in the long run, you will go over budget."

"Assuming that you are not insane, what is the guarantee that she will not talk and case will be buried after she becomes Mrs. Prakash."

"I am a tribal, not far from that village. I know the customs. I know their psyche and their limitations because that's where I come from. I can see this through without any hang ups, without looking back. I am going back to my roots. I will raise corn and rice, become a farmer again and never see the wind tunnels, flight simulators and you guys again." He looks at us in turn, his face rigid. "What are the alternatives you have if everyone here can't pay up and disappear without a trace?"

No one in the suffocating room has an answer for that. Prakash doesn't look like an aeronautics engineer anymore; he looks like a brown skin tribal man from a dusty Hamlet of mud huts we have never seen. He shakes his head, clears his throat before speaking. His voice is cool and precise now.

"I don't have to wait for the result date to find out I haven't got through the final, I know that for sure."

I believe him because we are in the same class, stay in same hostel room. After years in the making, he still can't get through the most basics of math and formulas. He is lagging behind in every semester. I have written half of his research papers. Despite being his best friend, I have to say this - a reserved ST class or a BC is forever.

"What will you do with the money?" I ask the stupid question to fill the deathly silence.

Prakash's face goes blank. "What can you not do with half of that money," he asks in return. "It's a different world out there. You can travel ten kilometres on a bullock cart for a cigarette. Change a course of life for a few thousand."

Hardik takes control again and stomps his Reebok on the floor. He decides for all of us. "Okay, let's do this."

So we come to an agreement that should save every one's careers, reputations, well being and future. There will be no records, no loose ends, no cross connections, no reunions and hopefully, no memories.