Friday, June 30, 2017

The Mending – A Short Story


She took a tiny bite from the burger and gave the rest of it to him.

“You need it more than I do,” she said, her eyes shining brightly.

He took the burger but did not eat. He just stared at her hungrily. It had been so long. Who knew how much time he had this time?

He looked around. It was a deserted railway platform without a shed and no one else could be seen for miles.

She closed her eyes and quietly munched the morsels of the burger. He felt relieved. He was being needlessly worried. She seemed hale and hearty.

“You know, I scored a hat-trick in yesterday’s match. Everyone was cheering for me. It was such a great day,” she said, her big, round eyes sparkling in excitement.

He nodded, feeling thrilled to see her happiness.

“I can’t wait for the final match. Amma will be there too. I know it,” she said confidently.

A train came into sight.

“It’s time,” she said, looking at the train calmly.

His heart began thumping. No, not so soon!

The train halted at the platform. She got up quietly and boarded the train, standing at the door.

She turned to look at him. “I have to go now,” she whispered.

He tried to stretch his arms to hold her back, but they seemed stuck.

No, no, no! This can’t be happening. Not again!

“It’s alright, Appa,” she smiled. The train jerked and began moving.

“Just promise me one thing…”

Anything, anything…

“Don’t ever forget me, Appa…Please, never let me go,” her eyes glistened with tears, but she kept smiling.

He struggled, trying hard to break free.

No, no, no!

“Never let me go…”

“Nooooo…!”

Srinivasan woke up with a start, screaming loudly. He was breathing heavily and perspiring. A cell phone was ringing beside his bed. But the sound seemed very distant. He was panting, the images from the dream still fresh in his mind. He gulped in the air to steady his rampaging heart.

Srinivasan looked around. His little room was a complete mess with clothes, plates, bottles, and bits of papers strewn across the floor. There was a steady hammering of falling rain outside the window.

Slowly, Srinivasan began collecting his thoughts to come back to the present. 

The present. 

His insides ached again as realization of the present dawned on him.

The phone rang again. This time Srinivasan turned around to pick it up from the bedside table. It was Anitha, his elder sister.

He took in a few more gulps to stabilize his breath and then took the call.

“Yes, Akka?”

“Srini, where the hell were you? This is the fifth time I have called you,” she hollered into the phone.

“I was sleeping.”

“Sleeping! Srini, it's 1 o'clock in the noon right now!”

He checked his wrist watch and realized his sister was correct.

“Um! I overslept. I was not feeling well,” he mumbled.

Anitha sighed.

“Srini, you came to Cherrapunji more than three months back, despite my repeated objections. You said you will start a new life there. But what are you doing, Srini? What are you doing?”

Srinivasan remained quiet. He knew she meant well, but he simply did not have it in him to reason with her sister at the moment.

“I am worried about you, thambi. I can’t imagine what you must be going through. But you have to move on now. It’s been…”

“Akka, I have to go. I am hungry,” he cut her off mid-sentence, knowing what was coming.

Anitha paused for a moment and then said, “Okay, Srini. But at least tell me if you are rejoining the school on Monday. This is your third break. If you don’t want to carry on there, you should come …”

“Akka, I will talk to you later, okay?” Srinivasan said and disconnected the call.

He knew he shouldn’t have done so, but he wasn’t in the mood for any conversation. He looked outside the window beside the bed. The rain was unrelenting and was falling in the same steady rhythm it had been for the past six days now.

Srinivasan turned and sat at the edge of his bed, staring vacuously at the floor of the room. Although it was a rented single room apartment, it was still quite systemized. The room had a half-bed at the far right-end corner and two armchairs and a table at its opposite end. There was a tiny space near the chairs that worked as a kitchen and opposite the bed was a small bathroom. The best thing about the house was that it opened up to a little lawn outside which was always lush with green grass.

The current inhabitant of this house, however, hadn’t really given heed to any of its finer elements. Ever since Srinivasan had moved to the small town of Cherrapunji in Meghalaya from Chennai about three months back, he had been leading an almost impassive existence.

Srinivasan now realized that his head was throbbing. Perhaps it was because of the disturbed sleep or because of the incomplete dinner he had last night, but the need to focus on getting rid of the pain inside his head allowed him to momentarily forget the distressing dream.

He looked for the bottle of aspirin on the bedside table and his eyes fell on the solitary photo frame kept there. Enclosed within the frame was the picture of a little girl of about eight years old. Wearing a red, floral skirt, the little girl was laughing widely and holding a football in her hands. Adorning the frame was a peacock-blue scarf; it had been lightly wrapped around the frame.

Srinivasan stared at the picture for a moment, his eyes devoid of any expression. Then, turning his back to it, he curtly got up and headed to the bathroom.

***

Perhaps a lifetime ago, Srinivasan would have been enchanted by the view in front of him. But right now, he quietly munched at his soggy sandwich thoughtlessly. It was a clammy Saturday afternoon and he was sitting on a bench in a park at a little distance from his house. Wearing a hat and a large raincoat - apparels he wore daily to shield himself from the rain that pounded this town literally every day - Srinivasan liked coming to this place and particularly to this spot; there was hardly any soul around to bother him here.



There was a little pond in front of him and rich foliage all around. The persistent falling rain had only accentuated the verdancy of the surroundings that Srinivasan was so familiar with now.

The 39-year-old had become accustomed to the never-ending gray clouds and the incessant rains of Cherrapunji ever since he had moved here three months back. The steady drum of the unfluctuating rains here was something he woke up to almost every day and it was also the pattering of the rains that lulled him to sleep every night.

About four months back, Srinivasan was a respected English teacher in an elementary school in Chennai. A widower since the age of 32, Srinivasan had been living his life with his nine-year-old daughter Aswini. His wife and childhood love Rohini passed away just one year after giving birth to their daughter. Srinivasan did not even get the time to grieve his loss as he had to tend to his one-year-old infant then. Rather than brooding over the enormity of what he had lost, Srinivasan dove into the role of being a single father with great passion.

As she grew up, he saw traces of his lost love – the innocence, the warmth, the tenderness – in Aswini as well and slowly Srinivasan found a reason to smile and love again. Being a teacher himself, Srinivasan did not have much difficulty in tutoring Aswini and the two of them bonded over studies, books, and sports. Much like her father, Aswini grew up to be an ardent football fan and the father-daughter duo would often stay up late at nights watching English football league matches.

After picking Aswini up from school, Srinivasan would take her to the local park near their house in Chennai where they would spend their afternoon hours playing football. A natural at the sport, Aswini looked certain to make it into her school football team. More than her skills at football, however, what made Srinivasan surge with pride was how nicely Aswini was shaping up to be as a person just at nine years of age. He felt he had done a good job and knew that Rohini would be proud of him. He was eagerly looking forward to helping mold her growing up years and be the perfect guardian to her. Aswini was not just the light of his life but had become his singular driving force. To love. To live.

And then, in a single moment, everything changed.

It was a Saturday afternoon in June and Srinivasan and Aswini had just finished an extended game of football at the local park. Srinivasan was picking up a pack of burgers from the food stall just outside the park gates. While he was paying for the purchase, Aswini, who was dribbling her football beside her father, lost control of it. As her precious ball bounced away from her towards the middle of the busy road, the little girl ran after it. And just as Srinivasan turned around, he saw Aswini bending down to grab her football right in the middle of the road and an SUV heading straight towards her.

And just like that, everything was over.

Srinivasan had gone numb with shock after the loss of his daughter. He had no recollection of how the last rites and the ensuing rituals were performed; his elder sister and other friends took care of it. Strangely enough, he could not even bring himself to cry or mourn the loss. He had simply retrieved into a shell.

Anitha, his elder sister, and all his close friends desperately tried to bring him out of it. But Srinivasan did not want to. He was getting tired of their constant display of sympathy and wanted to get away from it all. Hence, he quit his job in Chennai, and with the help of a senior professor in the city, he got himself a job as a teacher at a government school in Cherrapunji. Srinivasan had deliberately chosen a small town far away from his home; no one would know him here, no one would pity him and no one would remind him of his past life.

But a change of place had not allowed him to get away from the torment he had hidden deep inside. Regular, disturbing dreams kept plaguing him and guilt had enshrouded his soul. Despite not wanting to, Srinivasan would keep revisiting that fatal day. “Why didn’t I turn sooner?” “Why hadn’t I held her hands?” he would keep thinking. All of this had taken a toll on his body and who was once a clean-shaven, handsome and sturdy God-fearing Brahmin man had morphed into an empty shell with a gaunt face, unkempt hair and shaggy beard and absolutely no interest in life.

He had lost his will to live completely. The death of his wife Rohini had shaken him badly but Aswini’s passing had dealt a severe blow to his spirit and had ripped his soul to little pieces; try as he might he simply could not bring himself to pick those pieces again. He had fallen into an abyss and knew there was no way he could come out of it now.

At times, Srinivasan had even considered ending his life, because living in the present with the pain and the memories of the ones he had loved and lost was getting too much to bear. But the human brain inside him did not allow him to do so. Thus, he was leading a robotic existence here, allowing nature to dictate his remaining days, and had become numb to everything.

Srinivasan finished the sandwich and threw the wrapping paper on a puddle of water nearby.  He stared at the pond and found interest in the ripples created by the falling rain on its surface. Swathes of greenness everywhere around him were soaked in water and the leaves of the trees flowed brightly and merrily.

Then he heard a sound: a whimper coming from somewhere nearby. Srinivasan looked around but could not find the source of the noise anywhere.

The whimper grew louder and after peering closely for a bit, Srinivasan finally located where the sound was coming from. It was a puppy, about six months old and light-brown in color, stuck near the banks of the pond. The cub was about eight feet at the extreme right of Srinivasan and was half-concealed in the dense underbrush at the banks. It seemed to be struggling to get up and was probably tangled in something. The consistent rain made it slip repeatedly on the grass, but the dog kept trying.

Srinivasan could not recognize the breed of the young dog, but seeing it squirming and whimpering made him feel uncomfortable. He tried to avoid looking at it, but could not take his eyes off. He noticed that the puppy was absolutely drenched and was also shivering. Its mother could not be seen anywhere. Perhaps it had passed out earlier due to weakness, tired and alone, and had only come to its senses now.

But the more Srinivasan looked at the struggling dog, the more uneasy he felt; and he did not really know why he felt so. One part of him wanted to help the poor animal, but the other part, the dead one, held him back.

As the dog’s cries grew louder, Srinivasan hastily got up and without glancing back, marched away.

***

“Appa! Where are you?”

She looked around, worried and tense.

His heart skipped a beat. He did not want to look away. He could not.

“Appa! Why don’t you say something?”

He wanted to say something desperately. But try as he might, words simply refused to come out from his mouth.

There was water all around her. Up to her knees.

She appeared to be shivering now and held herself tightly by her little arms. Her pretty, wide eyes kept searching for him. But they could not locate him.

Why?

He wanted to scream out at her. Hold her. Comfort her. But he couldn’t.

He felt helpless.

And then, very slowly, she began sinking.

The water inched upward, crossed her knees, her thighs, and then reached her waist.

His heart hammered madly in his chest. But he remained motionless.

Her eyes fluttered and a solitary teardrop glided down her cheek.

“Appa..!”


Srinivasan woke up abruptly, his chest heaving madly and breath feeling constricted.

It took him a moment to realize where he was. The dim light in his room was still on. It was dark outside and the rain was pouring down hard. He checked his watch: 1:20 A.M.

He took in a few deep gulps and steadied himself. And then, instinctively, he turned to look at the photo frame on his bedside table. The little girl was still smiling.

Suddenly, something clicked inside him. Srinivasan got up, hurriedly and purposefully; he knew what he had to do.

He grabbed his raincoat and took his torch. Without wasting another minute, he dashed out.

***

Srinivasan struggled to walk; the darkness and the heavy rain made it difficult for him to see ahead on the muddy path of the park.

But he knew where he had to go. He had come to this park every day since the past three months, and his brain automatically guided him to the precise location he was heading towards.

There was no one around. The only sound that was made was that of the rain falling on the foliage and the squishy sound of Srinivasan’s footsteps on the puddles of water in the mud. He was completely drenched despite his large raincoat covering him. But he did not seem to care. He strode ahead.

As the pond came into view at a bend and then the bench, Srinivasan literally ran. He reached the banks of the pond in just a few large steps and almost slipped over on the grass. He stabilized himself with his right hand and pulled out his torch from the inside pocket of the raincoat with his left hand.  

Crouched on his knees, Srinivasan directed the light from the torch at the spot he had noticed it the last time. It was hard to see anything, and his heart was hammering inside his ribs. He did not want to fear the worst but he could not hear any sound at all.

“Come, on! Please! Please,” he said out in desperation.

And then, finally… A little cry; almost like a soft moan.

Srinivasan jerked around and shone his light at the source. There it was!

He could make out the light-brown fur. And then he saw the little puppy, concealed behind a bunch of big leaves and twigs. He had stopped struggling, apparently, and was shivering badly, barely being able to make a noise.

Holding the torch by his mouth, Srinivasan quickly tore at the leaves that the puppy had been entwined in. He had to be careful, lest he hurt the little animal, and all the water made his hands slip on the leaves. But with one big grunt, Srinivasan was able to rip out the leaves from the soil and the dog was finally free.

He threw away the clump of leaves and put the torch down. Then, he held the puppy in his left hand and brought it close to his chest, covering it with his raincoat. It was soaked and was shuddering, taking very slow breaths. Srinivasan touched it lightly on the head. Its eyes still closed, the puppy whimpered feebly.

“It’s okay, buddy. It’s okay,” Srinivasan whispered to it, collecting his breath.

“I got you….” he said and got up, all the time ensuring that the dog was properly covered inside his coat in the pelting rain. 

“I got you…”

***

Srinivasan scoured through the little toolbox, ensuring that everything he needed was in place. He had borrowed the box from his next-door neighbour and looked very composed as he searched through its contents. The room looked much cleaner from last night; the bottles and newspapers were neatly stacked at one corner and a fresh bedsheet had been fixed tightly on the bed.

Satisfied, Srinivasan got up from the edge of his bed and then moved to the kitchen where, in a small vessel, milk was being warmed on the stove. Checking the warmth of the milk with a spoon, he then poured it in a little bowl and took it back towards his bed. He kept the milk bowl beside the toolbox on the floor and exhaled softly.

There was only one thing remaining to do now.

He turned to look at the photo frame on the bedside table. The little girl with the football and the big, round eyes smiled back at him. Srinivasan breathed in again and very gently removed the blue scarf that had been wrapped around the frame.

It was Aswini’s favourite scarf, given to her as a present by her father when she was seven. It was a blend of cotton and velvet and Aswini loved wearing it around her neck on all her excursions. The scarf was the only item of his daughter that Srinivasan had brought back from Chennai; everything else had somehow felt inconsequential.

Srinivasan held the scarf in his hands and closing his eyes, he smelled it. A whiff of a floral scent emanated from it, instantly bringing to his mind the image of his daughter; her pure, innocent face, her smile, her flowing hair and the pleasant fragrance of lily flowers that always came from them. He could hear the echo of her giggle and every little note of that laugh reverberated through his soul. “Appa…!” 

Srinivasan’s chest heaved up and down and a little pearl of tear coursed down his face. The knot that he had bound inside his chest so firmly and for so long was slowly unfastening. He buried his face in the scarf and finally allowed himself to let go. He sobbed and sobbed while taking slow, convulsive gasps. He drenched the scarf in his tears and as every tear leaked out from within, he felt that the toxins that had filled his heart were now being slowly removed.

After what felt like an eternity, Srinivasan finally removed his face from the scarf and kissed it tenderly.

“I love you, baby!” he whispered.

He wiped the scarf with his hands and neatly folded it up. He then opened the last drawer of the bedside table, containing just a few sheets, and placed the scarf at its deep end.

“I will never let you go, my baby!

Very slowly, he proceeded to close the drawer.

“I promise. I will never let you go,” he whispered and shut the drawer securely.

Srinivasan stood up and let out a few deep breaths. He then went into the bathroom and washed his face. After coming out, he picked up the bowl of milk in one hand and the toolbox in the other. With a slight push of his left leg, he pushed open the main door beside the bed and stepped onto the lawn.

Warm and pleasant sunlight greeted him. After a week of incessant rain, the sun had finally shown its face in its full splendor in Cherrapunji.

The sun was directly above him and Srinivasan closed his eyes and allowed the warmth to permeate through every cell of his body. He would have stood there for some more time, but a yelp distracted him.

The puppy was looking up at him, its little tail wagging furiously behind it. The little thing had been tied to a small piece of stick and stood under a big cardboard box. After bringing it to his house last night, Srinivasan had dried the dog clean with a hair-dryer and had fed it warm milk. He had stayed awake tending to it all through the night and had wrapped it firmly in a warm blanket. Miraculously, the dog had revived within hours and as the sun came out, Srinivasan had taken it outside in the lawn and tied it up in a temporary cardboard kennel before going out to take the toolbox from his neighbour.

Looking at Srinivasan, the puppy jumped up and down and rolled itself on the damp surface of the lawn. He bent down and placed the bowl of milk in front of the dog. Without wasting a second, the pup began lapping up the milk with great relish, its tail wagging behind in delight.

Srinivasan smiled and caressed the dog’s nape softly; its light-brown fur felt smooth and dry. Aswini would have loved the puppy. She had always wanted one but Srinivasan had repeatedly insisted that she was too young to handle a pet. Perhaps, she would be pleased now.

“Have your fill, buddy. I will now build you the perfect home,” Srinivasan muttered.

The dog looked up at him with its small, innocent eyes.

“You will never get lost again. I promise,” he smiled and patted it again.

The puppy resumed its focus on the milk and Srinivasan then turned towards a set of plywood sheets of different shapes kept at a little distance from the dog. He got up and took out two long sheets of wood. He had bought these from the local market a little while back and it was now time to give them their purpose.

He placed the toolbox down and took out a measuring tape, a claw hammer, and a bunch of nails from inside it. Carpentry had been his hobby as a teenager – a skill gifted to him by his father – and it was going to come in handy today.

Placing the two sheets of wood at a slight angle so that both their corners were closed together, Srinivasan deftly put a nail on the top and began driving it in with the hammer.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The puppy’s ears twitched up at the noise and it glared at the wood in his hands with suspicion. Srinivasan smiled and continued his work. One nail was done. Time for another one.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Suddenly, his phone rang. Srinivasan halted and took the phone out of his shirt’s pocket. It was Anitha, his elder sister.

“Yes, Akka,” he answered.

“Oh. I wasn’t expecting you to take my call so soon,” Anitha said, sounding quite surprised.

“I woke up early,” he said simply and placing the phone down on the floor, he put it on speaker mode.

“Oh, I see,” she said. “So, are you joining the school tomorrow?”

Srinivasan adjusted the sheets of wood again and took out another nail from the tool box.

“Yes, I am.”

There was silence for a moment at the other end and then Anitha said, “So ... you won’t be returning to Chennai, then?”

“I don’t think so, no,” he said while placing the nail dexterously on the surface of the wood with his left hand and gripping the hammer firmly in his right hand again.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

“What are you doing, thambi?” she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

Srinivasan paused, took a breath and smiled ever so slightly before bringing the hammer down on the nail again.

“I am rebuilding.”

BANG! BANG! BANG!

“I am rebuilding…”

                                ********************************************************************************************


(Suffice to say, I have never written anything even close to something like this ever. It was very challenging as I had no reference points to take for the events in the story and neither could I relate to the lead character; except maybe in one little way. But, somehow, this was something that I had been waiting to write for months now. It's a very simple story; perhaps unexciting and dreary for most of you. However, writing this one, especially, made me feel extremely relieved as I was quite nervous about it prior to attempting it.

The idea for this post came from the picture I have posted here. I can't really explain why or how, but it just did. I was looking at this picture while listening to a song and the story began forming on its own. Whether it is good or bad, I do not know. But over the past three months, this story has been constantly on the back of my mind. Hence, I am quite pleased that I was finally able to finish it. 

I hope some of you would have liked it. )





Monday, June 19, 2017

GUEST POST : Rabindranath Tagore the Storyteller by Dr. Sunanda Bhattacharya


(Pleased to present to you the first 'Guest Post' in my blog: a short, informative and engaging essay on Rabindranath Tagore the storyteller.)




By Dr. Sunanda Bhattacharya
Department of English
Women’s College, Shillong


Storytelling is something that one is familiar with from one's early days of life. It is an art that when handled with extraordinary skill surpasses time and space. A good storyteller is capable of weaving magic and wonder through the stories, which has a lasting impression in one's mind. 

One such storyteller is Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who remains one of the greatest storytellers of all times. His stories are an assortment of different themes, characters, and situations. He created stories revolving around common human experiences reflecting the different shades of life. In "The Cabuliwallah" one meets Rahmun, a father who has left his home and family in Afghanistan. Like all fathers, he too is extremely fond of his daughter. He carries with him a piece of paper that "bore the impression of a little hand" which belonged to his daughter. Mini a little girl in the story reminded him of his daughter and he showers his affection on her. When he is offered payment by Mini's father for the fruits, nuts, and raisins he brought for her, he refuses to take saying that he too has a daughter in his homeland just like Mini. He says: "I too have one like her in my home. I think of her, and bring fruits to your child – not to make a profit for myself". The words not only have an impact on Mini's father, but also the reader who identifies with the delicate deep emotions expressed by Rahmun, an emotion that any father would harbor for his daughter.



When one meets Phatik Chakravorti in "Home Coming" one is at once captured by the boy's innocence and mischief. This lively boy is uprooted from his natural environment in the village and is shifted to the city of Calcutta. Pahtik was excited to go with his uncle; but once there, the indifferent, hostile attitude of his aunt coupled with his failure to adjust in the city ultimately brings his doom. Fourteen-year-old Phatik yearned for love but received none from his aunt. Tagore brings out the trauma of this free child of nature in such a manner that it leaves one teary-eyed. In an alien space, Phatik is lost completely. "The cramped atmosphere of neglect oppressed Phatik so much that he felt that he could hardly breathe". He could fit himself neither at his uncle's home nor in the city school. Tagore here seems to warn all that if one is denied his natural environment to thrive and grow there lurks the danger of being annihilated.

"The Parrot's Training" is another brilliant piece of a short story by Tagore, where he critiques the system of education prevalent in India. The "ignorant" bird is synonymous of the learners who are taught the routine syllabus during education. The pundits tell the Raja that "the first thing necessary for this bird's education was a suitable cage". There was a particular "method" that was "followed in instructing the bird" which immensely pleased the Raja. Tagore's sarcasm garbed in humour is obvious when he says: "The method was so stupendous that the bird looked ridiculously unimportant in comparison". Gradually the wings of the bird were "clipped". The bird trapped in the "golden cage" was stuffed with information and "every creature…connected with the cage flourished…excepting only the bird". The entire "Education Department" of the Raja kept themselves busy with the education of the bird. This is symbolic of the kind of education that one receives – an education that restricts the learner's imagination and creative freedom. The "sound principle of education" followed by the Raja, in reality, killed the bird. One day the Raja is informed that the "bird's education has been completed". He asks "[d]oes it hop?... ‘Never' … Does it fly? ‘No'". Tagore speaks about this kind of "parrot learning" in connection with his own education. Because he felt strongly about it, he came up with his own university Visva-Bharati. 

"The Patriot", a short story by Tagore focuses on nationalism and patriotism through the characters of Girindra and Kalika who are husband and wife. Kalika is involved in the freedom struggle of India and when the story opens one is told that she is an active participant "in picketing British cloth in Burrabazar". The setting is that moment in Indian history which saw the peak of India's struggle for freedom from British dominance. Because her husband refuses to subscribe to her way of thinking she calls him "unpatriotic". Girindra knows that he loves his motherland but he does not wish to be a part of that "brand of nationalism, professed by [Kalika's] own party". He refuses to "wear Khaddar". This is because he by nature "shrink[s] from all conscious display of sectarian marks about [his] person".

One day an incident takes place which is revealing in itself. A sweeper is beaten up badly by a group of people just because he accidentally "came in contact with somebody, or something". The poor man along with his little grandson pleads with the group but without success. Girindra desperately wanted to rescue the man by taking him in his car. But Kalika threatened him that she will leave the car if the sweeper travels with them.  Kalika fails to rise above the social divisions prevalent in Indian society. Who then is a patriot? Tagore here compels one to think for oneself and comprehend the difference between Kalika an active participant in the cause of nationalism and Girindra. One here understands that India will be really free when Indians rise above divisions of caste and class. Tagore had once said: "The real problem in India is that we must make the whole country a creation of our own. A creation in which all the communities and individuals will participate."

Rabindranath Tagore the storyteller has crafted a huge number of short stories. He uses them to focus on different issues whether it is nationalism, education, or social injustice in India. In them, one finds diverse human experiences of love, joy, trauma, and pain…in short, his stories reflect life.     


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Last Goodbye – A Short Story


May 2, 1998, Saturday, 9 AM

1st Period – History

The dark clouds hovering above seemed to reflect the gloom in Uday’s puny face. While almost everyone else in the classroom was extra animated and buoyant today – it was the last day of school before the summer holidays, after all – 13-year-old Uday Sharma, of small frame and crew cut hair, felt rather dismal.

Settled in the corner of the front table at the extreme right of his 7th standard classroom, Uday kept stealing furtive glances at a stout, tall boy seated in the middle front row, adjacent to the teacher’s table.  The boy, Yogesh Ramanujam, was oblivious to everyone around him and seemed deeply immersed in the book on his hands.

Uday sighed and returned his gaze to the dark clouds from the window on the opposite end of the room.  Ideally, this sort of weather would have excited both Uday and Yogesh; they would have planned some eventful activity or would have played a cricket match in the small park outside their building. But things had changed now. Just last week Uday and Yogesh were the best of friends – a friendship they had built for over eight years – and just couldn’t do without each other. But now they hadn’t been seeing eye to eye for over a week.

When Uday thought of it now, the reason of their fight seemed puerile. It all started when Yogesh announced the previous week that he and his family would be shifting to Madras at the start of the holidays. Apparently his father – an employee of the weather department in Calcutta – was getting a transfer to Madras to live with his rapidly ailing mother.

The news had left Uday stunned. He did not know what to say to his friend and silently felt really angry at him. Ever since Yogesh had come to live in Uday’s building with his family about nine years back, the both of them had literally been brothers in arms. They had shared their various common interests – comics, cartoons, cricket and board games – through the years and hadn’t needed the company of anyone else. They had crammed together during exams, had numerous sleepovers at each others’ house and even walked to and from school together every day. In fact, Yogesh was the first and only true friend Uday had.

And now, with the news of Yogesh shifting away from the city, Uday felt betrayed and hurt. What was he to do now? How would he lead his school life without his best friend by his side? Hadn’t Yogesh considered that at all? These thoughts plagued Uday’s mind for two whole days after Yogesh had broken the terrible news.

After somehow pacifying himself, Uday had made plans with his best friend for their weekly cricket match this Sunday – their last one together. But after agreeing to it initially, Yogesh called and bailed out of the plan early morning on Sunday, saying that he had some shopping to do for their shifting with his family. This was the last straw and had left Uday fuming as playing cricket on Sundays with Yogesh was like a ritual for him. They had been doing so for years at end, and it was something Uday always looked forward to. Having been robbed of the chance to experience that cricket match one final time, in the heat of the moment, he shouted at Yogesh and called him an ‘ungrateful friend’. “I am happy that you are leaving. Never come back, okay. NEVER!” he had literally screamed at the phone’s receiver.

They had had their fights previously too. But those had been mild affairs forgotten within a few hours. And neither of them had ever shouted at each other all these years. That fateful Sunday, though, changed everything in the dynamics of their friendship.

After that call, both the friends had not spoken through the entire week and Yogesh had been taking the rickshaw to school. And now, the last day of school before the summer holidays had finally arrived. Today was Saturday, a half day, and Yogesh was to leave that very night.

Uday had regretted his action and had wanted to speak to Yogesh after that day. But he did not how to go about it. Uday was always like that: very uncomfortable in expressing his inner feelings or opening up to someone. He was the subdued one while Yogesh was carefree and outgoing. The two had a very comfortable bonding and Uday never really had to go out of his way to do anything to maintain it; it was organic and genuine.

Today being the last day of school, and perhaps the last day of their friendship, Uday was determined to set things right between them before Yogesh finally parted with him forever. He did not want them to separate with that nasty fight hanging between them. He wanted to say his last goodbye. But how would he do so?

Since Monday this week, Yogesh had got his seat shifted from his usual place from beside Uday to the one in front of the teacher’s desk with Ankit Jha – the class monitor. He hadn’t so much as looked at Uday, who was now sitting in the front corner seat with Adarsh through the entire week and had continued with his activities nonchalantly.

Annoyed and miserable and failing to find a way to talk to his friend, Uday had carried on alone for the entire week but he was desperate to make things right between them today.



Uday was forced out of his forlorn reflections as their class teacher – Ms. Paromita Guha – entered the room. Everyone returned to their respective seats as the teacher settled into her desk.

“Open your notebooks and take down the homework for the holidays first. I will proceed with the first chapter of ‘The Mughal Empire’ after that,” she said in her usual solemn tone. Ms. Guha, a portly middle-aged woman with short boy cut hair and thick glasses, did not like indulging in unnecessary chatter with students and usually went straight to the point.

As the students hastily began noting down what the teacher said, Uday glanced at the wall clock above the main door of the classroom. 9:15 it said. He just had four more periods before he could make things right. Time was flying fast.

He turned to peek at Yogesh. But he was busy flipping through his book. Uday sighed and, despondently, scribbled down Ms. Guha’s notes in his own notebook.

The clouds rumbled, echoing the misery in his heart.

2nd Period – Mathematics

"How could anybody love mathematics?" thought Uday irritably as he looked at the bunch of girls, along with Ankit Jha, surrounding their math teacher Madhumita Ghosh. She had just given out a long list of assignments for the summer holidays to the class and some students, always eager to please the teacher, wanted to get some more crucial information regarding their summer homework.

Math was a subject that both Yogesh and Uday detested to the core. Try as they might, they simply could not handle the geometry figures or the other numbers and equations of the subject. Whenever the two friends would sit together for a math session at either of their homes, they would eventually end up playing Super Mario or Contra or go rummaging through their comic book collection.  

The image of them playing Super Mario for hours through Saturday evenings came gliding back to Uday’s mind and it caused him instant agony. While the rest of the inhabitants of the class were busy murmuring among themselves excitedly, Yogesh was wistfully looking out the window at the steadily darker growing clouds. He seemed lost in thought but still refused to look at Uday.

“Hey, what are you going to do in the summer holidays? Any plans?” asked Adarsh, the curly-haired bespectacled boy sitting next to Uday.

Always over enthusiastic and always eager with his never-ending questions, Adarsh was a fairly likable boy. But Uday was in no mood to entertain him today.

“I don’t know,” he answered truthfully. “I really don’t know…”


3rd Period – Hindi

There was absolute pin-drop silence in the classroom as Banarasi Lal Sir, the Hindi teacher, sat on his desk, brooding about something with his eyes closed.

A 60-year-old rotund man with just little tufts of silver hair remaining on the sides of his head, Banarasi Lal Sir was a very strict teacher who spoke very little but whenever he did everyone listened. He was usually very silent but was known to lose his temper every now and then and give a good thrashing to some unfortunate student. 

Presently, he had his eyes closed and seemed to be mulling something over (or perhaps he just wanted to catch a wink).

Unlike the other teachers, he hadn’t given the class any serious homework for the holidays and had just asked them to read one chapter – ‘Nasha’ by Munshi Premchand – before the school restarts.

Suddenly, the clouds rumbled loudly and violently. It was fierce and the window panes and tables in the room trembled a little.

The whole class went “Whoooooo” and everyone, including Banarasi Lal Sir, looked outside the windows on the left side of the room.

“Jo garajte hai vo baraste nahi,” quipped Rakesh Pandey, the wannabe class jester, who sat directly behind Uday. He had this really annoying habit of passing an unfunny remark every now and then for supposed comical effect. After announcing his latest one, he looked around at everyone with a wide smirk and with a glint in his eye, as if expecting the whole class to stand up and break out in thunderous applause for his extraordinarily funny remark. Unfortunately, everyone just stared at him blankly.

“Aye tum! (Hey you!)”, thundered Banarasi Lal Sir all of a sudden, with his fat index finger pointing directly at Rakesh’s face and his paan-stained teeth glistening menacingly. “Tumhare muh se ek avaaz nahi sunna chahta mai. (I don’t want to hear a word coming out of your mouth.”

The color completely vanished from Rakesh’s frail face and he quietly bowed his head down, hoping that he wouldn’t be given another flogging by the Hindi teacher today.

Uday couldn’t hold back his laughter and pressed his lips really hard lest he burst out in front of Banarasi Sir. It was the first time he had felt like laughing, or even smiling, in days and it felt oddly relieving. He turned to look at Yogesh, who was smiling as well by cupping his face with his hands, and for a very brief second, they exchanged a look.

The clouds rumbled loudly again and everyone, including Yogesh, turned their attention outside the windows again. But in that second where the two boys had exchanged that fleeting glance, Uday had felt a very tiny rekindlement of their friendship.

Getting annoyed at Rakesh’s terrible quips and wisecracks, and making fun of his absurd antics together, was something both Uday and Yogesh really took pleasure in. Today, for the first time, perhaps, Uday was genuinely thankful for Rakesh’s joke. But as the bell sounded the ended for the third period, he only wished Rakesh had made that joke earlier in the week.

4th Period – English

“Such a beautiful weather today, isn’t it?” Madhulika Kakkar, the beautiful English teacher remarked to the class at large in her lyrical voice, “I hope it rains soon.” It had darkened considerably outside and the clouds looked ominous, almost waiting to burst out.

Young, radiant and always smiling, Ms. Madhulika was the favourite teacher of the class and was the eye candy of almost all the boys in the school. She was twiddling her fingers through her lustrous hair and peered outside dreamily at the clouds, lost in some apparent thought.

She was also the coolest teacher in the school. Even today, she refused to give the students any extra homework and simply asked them to have fun. “Who wants to study on the last day of school, right?” she had said earlier with a mischievous smile.

So while all the others in the classroom were engaged in some merry activity or the other – some played pen fights, some were reading comics, and most were just chatting spiritedly; exchanging ideas for their summer holiday exploits – Uday remained fidgety. He still hadn’t figured out a way to make things right with Yogesh and as he saw him giggling and chatting up with the English teacher, he felt crushed inside. It seemed to him as if Yogesh had already moved on.

It slowly dawned on Uday that this was an exercise in futility. As every second of the clock above took the time away from his hands, he had an impending feeling that he will never speak to his best friend again.

Uday’s eyes moistened up and he bowed his head down on the desk so that Adarsh sitting next to him couldn’t see him. The cool surface of the table felt nice against his temple and he closed his eyes, trying to shut out the cacophony of the world around him. The chirpy noises of his classmates were causing him torment; all he wanted to do at present was to dissolve in his own pain.  

The enormity of the situation was now really hitting Uday. He had lost his closest and only friend and with him gone soon, his life ahead appeared dark and lonesome.   

The clouds thundered again followed by gentle lightning. The class whooped again.

“Why did it have to be like this,” Uday thought miserably, feeling sick to the gut.

If only Yogesh’s father had not planned on shifting, both he and Uday would have been sitting right here and planning their various frolics for the summer holidays or would have been quietly stealing longing glances at Ms. Madhulika. Uday resisted his sob as the visuals of his past summer holidays with Yogesh swam back to him yet again. The cricket matches, the comic sessions, the gulping down of the ice-creams on the building terrace, and the excitement of waiting for the first rain of the monsoon; all those memories with his friend gnawed at Uday’s insides.

He had been by Yogesh’s side when on his first day in this school all those years back and he wanted to be with him on his last day as well. He wished he could just get up right then and tell Yogesh he was truly sorry and make it up with him. But, as the bell signaled the end of the penultimate class of the day and Ms. Madhulika sauntered out, he knew he was already too late.

5th Period – Geography

Nobody in the class liked the subject Geography or its strict and always glum teacher Ms. Sanajana Joseph. Tall, haughty and unsmiling, Ms. Sanajana never allowed anyone to have even the slightest scope of enjoyment and relished heaping on tons of homework on the students.

The scene in the classroom had transformed dramatically from a few minutes earlier the moment the Geography teacher entered, right at the sound of the bell. Even on the last period of the school day before the holidays, she had already given heaps of boring assignments that everyone was now noting down from the blackboard.

“Mr. Yogesh Ramanujam, why, may I ask, aren’t you noting down the homework list from the blackboard?”  

Uday turned around to see Ms. Sanajana standing over Yogesh’s empty desk with her pursed lips. 

“Ma’am I will not be returning to the school any longer. So there is no need for me to do the homework anymore,” answered Yogesh back coolly.

“Whether you come back to the school or not is irrelevant. You are in my class at the moment. And you will have to do what every other child in here is doing,” said the teacher, her tone resembling a slight sign of irritation.

“But that does not make any sense,” Yogesh replied calmly. “If I will not be doing the homework, why shall I note it down?”

The whole class was now listening raptly to the conversation. Everyone despised Ms. Sanajana and had always wanted to have some way to get back at her for the constant tortures she had forced on them. This was the first time in recent memory that someone was talking back to her.

Ms. Sanajana, though taken aback, regained herself and replied through gritted teeth.

“How dare you talk back to me?! You think you are very special, aren’t you?”

Without any hesitation, and without any change in his expression, Yogesh replied, “Well…Yeah…I think I am.”

There was a collective gasp at this retort in the class and Ms. Sanajana’s eyes widened in anger.

Uday sniggered loudly at this. He simply couldn’t suppress his laughter.

Every head in the class, along with that of the teacher, instantly turned towards Uday. It wasn’t a very loud snigger but since there was absolute silence in the class, it had echoed across the room like a horse’s neigh.

Her nostrils flaring dangerously, Ms. Sanajana glared at Uday and said, “You…Get out…Now!”

Uday knew there was no use arguing and quietly got up and left the class in one single motion. In fact, he was quite relieved for doing so.

Closing the classroom door behind him, Uday stepped outside into the corridor. It was a long lane with six classrooms dotting one side and a balcony on its opposite end. Uday was greeted with a great gust of wind that hit his face.

Although it was still about 2 PM, the surroundings had become completely dark courtesy the colossal gray clouds. The trees nearby swayed dangerously in the wind and blue streaks of lightning bolted across the dark clouds. Uday looked on above in wonder; the happenings of the minute gone by having been obliterated temporarily in the majesty in front of him.

The door behind him opened and out came Yogesh. Uday turned around and their eyes met, this time not just fleetingly.

Yogesh was smiling sheepishly as if he knew he had achieved something spectacular.

“She asked me whether I would like to join my friend outside. I said ‘Yes, that would be great’ and simply came out,” Yogesh said, trying hard to control his ever-widening grin.

They looked at each other for a moment, chuckled at first and then burst out laughing, at the same time. They muffled their laughter by covering their mouths with their hands. Uday didn’t know why the situation felt so funny to him. But it did. And it made him feel good, almost cathartic. Because it suddenly seemed like the last week hadn’t even happened between the two of them.

“Man, you were awesome in there,” Uday finally said, in between his laughs.

Yogesh snorted and shrugged, his wavy hair blowing all over the place in the fierce wind.

“It was nothing really. I knew I was safe. This was the last day and last period of my school life here. What could she have done? She had no choice. I really got her,” Yogesh said in his usual chirpy voice and ran his fingers through his hair. Uday was yet again fascinated by how carefree and cool he was.

“She had it coming. After the terrible week I had had, I wanted to vent out my frustration in some way. This felt the most appropriate option…My parting gift to the class,” he added loftily.

“Um…Terrible week?” Uday asked.

Yogesh looked at him and shook his head. “You know…After what happened this Sunday.”

Uday kept silent, feeling extremely uneasy.

“I was angry at first. But then…Then wanted to go back to normal. But I…I just did not know how…You know,” Yogesh said, the awkwardness apparent in his eyes.

“Yogi…” Uday finally said. “I…I am sorry, man…I shouldn’t have…I did not know…” he stuttered.

Yogesh waved his hand. “It’s okay. Let’s just forget it. I was waiting for you all week to come up. But then I realized you simply wouldn’t be able to,” he said, smiling slyly.

“So I was determined to mend things up with you after school today, walk home together and have that ‘jhaal muri’ for one last time.”

“Really?” Uday asked, his heart exploding with happiness with every word his friend said. This was just like Yogesh; always making things easier for him, always ensuring that he didn’t have to say or do the uncomfortable things.

“Of course, my friend,” Yogesh said and punched Uday on his shoulder. Uday beamed widely. He was relieved, elated and overwhelmed at the same time. He wanted to hug his best friend and cry. He wanted to tell him that he will miss him. He wanted to tell him how sorry he was and how selfish he had been for only thinking about himself this last week; for not even considering what his friend must have been going through. But he didn’t do any of those things. He just stood there and smiled.

“So…All set to leave then?” Uday finally said.

“Not really, no,” Yogesh replied matter-of-factly and moved towards the railing of the balcony. Uday too followed him. “It’s going to be tough. But I will return here…Eventually. I have to,” Yogesh said with unusual confidence.

He then took a little parchment out his trouser’s pocket and handed it to Uday. “It’s my Madras address. I will send you letters every week and you do the same, okay?” Yogesh said.

Uday nodded and neatly placed the paper in his back pocket.

“And I will come every year during the Durga Pujas,” Yogesh said, and then with an impish smile, added, “I still owe you a cricket match, isn’t it? You are yet to hit me for a six.”

Before Uday could say anything, there was loud roar above and suddenly the skies opened up. With a great gushing sound, it began pouring down heavily.

They could hear students yelling and hooting in delight all over the school at the distance. The entire corridor they were standing in presently was filled with the noise of cheering students. The rain lashed down harder and people below were scampering for cover.

Almost at the same time, both Yogesh and Uday extended their right arms out and let the rain batter it.

“Ah…I will miss the Calcutta rains…” Yogesh remarked and stared above. After a moment, he added, “And I will miss you too, yaar. I really will.” He kept looking up but Uday could feel his voice quivering at that last sentence.

Uday didn’t say anything.  He didn’t have to. Both the friends just stood there in silence, allowing the falling rain to drench their outstretched hands and their shirts. Uday wanted to soak in every second of this moment because he knew facing the morrow without his friend by his side was going to bring him a lot of distress. But if this was going to be his last memory together with his best friend in the school, it really was a pretty fine one.

And as the final bell signaled the end of school and he heard the scraping of chairs and delighted shouts of children from everywhere around him, he knew he just had a few seconds left to live this moment. But those precious few seconds, with the pounding rain, the blowing wind, and his best friend by his side, was all that he cared about for now…

 And then, of course, there was also that ‘jhaal muri’ to look forward to.

                                                                             ********************************************

May 22, 2023, Sunday, 5:30 PM

An old woman wearing a floral gown emerged on a tiny first-floor balcony of a dilapidated three-storey building. Stuttering about with a cane in one hand, she finally seated herself on the sole chair kept there. After resting her head back for a minute, she picked up the cup of tea kept on the table beside the chair.

She took a small sip with her shaking hands and as she kept the cup down, her eyes fell on the two lone figures scrambling about in the small park opposite the building.

“Ah!” the woman remarked with a crinkled smile.

Two middle-aged men – one holding a bat and one holding a red ball – were fiercely arguing about something. The old woman had been noticing these two men come to the park every Sunday afternoon ever since she had shifted to this building two months back. She really enjoyed seeing them play and squabble with each other. They seemed to know each other well, and despite their endless bickering, they somehow always managed to go off all laughing and cheerful in the end.  

Presently, the one holding the bat – a plump man with crew cut hair – was constantly repeating, “I need one more ball. Just one more”

The one holding the ball – a sturdy, bald man – just snorted and said, “You do this every week. You know that you will never be able to hit me for a six. Even your son was able to do that, but you…”

“Will you quit yakking and just get on with it? We shall see about that,” retorted the other man peevishly and took his position at one end of the rectangle park, with a large brick wall behind him. Holding his bat firmly in his right hand, he was now literally grinding the bat on the ground vigorously.

The old woman did not understand what the fuss was about. But by now she had known not to give any heed to their chatter. She just enjoyed seeing them together. There was a certain freshness about observing their bonding that helped her escape the weariness of her daily life.

The bald man with the ball shook his head, smiling slyly, and went to the other end of the small park, his gait reflecting absolute nonchalance.

The batsman took his guard and the bowler readied himself to bowl. The old woman sat up on the chair and squinted to take a closer look. The sun was rapidly fading and she could only make out their silhouettes now.

The bowler ran up and leaped in the air gracefully before delivering the ball at speed. The batsman shifted to his left slightly, stepped out and met the ball with force.

Craaaaaaack….




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(End Note: 


I had an interesting time writing this story. I had almost given up on it after a couple of paragraphs. But somehow I determined myself to go through with it and, in end, I am happy I did. I know it is nothing spectacular or special; it is a very simple, uncomplicated and predictable story perhaps. But for me, who is not a natural story-teller, it is another step up. Some scenes and dialogues had really troubled me in the planning stages, but as I sat down and wrote, things became easier. Hence, this story served me another lesson and made me realize that I do have some natural story-forming abilities if I can simply give myself enough time and back my instincts. 


The events in this story are not inspired by my life; none of them ever happened with me. The idea for this story was actually formed while listening to an old country song. The first visuals I imagined were, in fact, that of the epilogue I have written in the story. The rest of it took a lot of time to create. I did look for reference points for the basic structure of things in the story from my school life. And it was quite a pleasurable experience. I hope some you enjoyed reading it.)