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….




All rights reserved



(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.)


Monday, April 3, 2017

Angel – A Short Story

‘Angel’, read the title on the sheet of paper.  

11-year-old Rajan stared morosely at his open notebook lying on the table. After more than an hour of trying, all he had been able to come up with was the title, which, incidentally, had been suggested by his English teacher.

Mrs. Gomathi Sundaram, the strict English teacher of Rajan’s 5th standard class, had assigned them the task of writing a creative story on the subject of an angel for the weekend. She had stressed that it should be something different, something unique. “Try and churn your soul. Use your imagination. Be creative.  I want to read something beautiful. Not a bland essay,” Mrs. Sundaram had declared, rather haughtily, in her thick Tamil accent to the class.

It was Saturday evening now and Rajan hadn’t been able to think of anything creative to write on this subject. He was getting frustrated by the minute. He had racked his brains hard to come up with some dazzling lines that would blow his teacher’s mind. But, unfortunately, English was a subject Rajan wasn’t naturally good at. Especially when it came to writing essays and creative stories. He was fine with mugging up lines. But hated it when he was forced to imagine and put his thoughts into flowery words.

To him, the visual of an angel had always been this: a divine lady dressed in floral whites, having two wings, a radiant smile and a sort of a glittery aura around her. He had formed these images through the descriptions of angels in cartoons, comics, and books that he had seen and read over the years. But when the teacher announced this topic, a few girls in his class had proudly proclaimed that the angel in their life was their mother. Some others even called their sisters as their angels. They certainly had their stories set.

Rajan felt a little isolated then. He wanted to write about his mother as his angel. But the thing was, he had never seen her. Or at least, he didn’t have any recollection of her. Rajan’s mother had passed away when he was just 15 months old. He didn’t have any sister either. He lived at his little house in the city of Indore in Madhya Pradesh, along with his 17-year-old brother and father.

Growing up, Rajan had heard tales about how beautiful and righteous a woman his mother was from his aunts and grandmother. He had desperately wanted to know more about her but rarely got that chance. His father was a very reserved man and spoke only when necessary and Rajan was always at loggerheads with his elder brother, Jayesh. So, Rajan never really had had the opportunity to get some pleasant anecdotes about his mother from his family.

And now, Rajan had no female to look up to as an angel for his story. Hence, his mind repeatedly drew a blank when he attempted to write something on his notebook for his creative writing assignment. In the past one hour, all Rajan had done was stare outside the window close to his desk at the trees outside their ground floor house. With no idea creeping into his brain for his work, Rajan had resorted to his favorite pastime – daydreaming.

All day, too, Rajan had whiled away reading comics and dozing away in his little room. His father had gone off for a work-related field trip to Pithampur, a nearby town, and was to return on Sunday evening. As his brother was now almost an adult, he had been assigned the task to look over him. But instead, Rajan’s brother had plonked himself on the sofa in the hall that opened outside their room and had been watching wildlife documentaries all day.

With no one to nag him about his studies, Rajan had spent a lovely Saturday afternoon doing the things he loved. But as evening dawned, he began feeling anxious as the thought of the incomplete writing assignment kept troubling him. Tomorrow, being a Sunday, he would also have to take care of his other school homework. He had to finish his writing work now.

Rajan had already failed to put up proper creative essays three times in a row this session; he had submitted incomplete versions of three different titles much to the teacher’s chagrin. He simply could not afford to slip up any further lest Mrs. Gomathi Sundaram lost his patience on him.

Rajan sighed and turned his gaze at the picture frame on the corner of his desk. Two smiling faces – of a beautiful middle-aged woman and a six-year-old curly haired boy holding a crying infant – looked back at him. The woman had a twinkle in her eyes and was holding the child safely in her hands while the boy stared in wonderment at the infant, whose head he had cusped safely in his palms. Rajan’s mother and elder brother appeared so thrilled and elated in this picture. His father, who once upon a time had a real liking for photography, had taken this photograph.

It was Rajan’s favorite photo as a young boy and he always kept it close to him. But as he was growing up, the picture, much like his relation with his brother, had grown distant from him. Now, the picture to him seemed to have been taken from the life of someone else. These were faces he did not relate to anymore…Smiles he wasn’t used to seeing in his house any longer…

Rajan got up from his chair. He needed a break. He wasn’t going anywhere with his writing and needed to clear his mind to refocus on the pending work. He looked at the wall-clock: it was 6:55 PM. Good, Rajan thought. He would watch some cartoons, have his dinner and then return at night to finish his work.


**


“Zindagi suhaani hai…

Jahan hai…Duckburg…

Gaadiyan, lasers, havaijahaj…

Ye hai…Duckburg…”

The song had an instant effect on Rajan’s sagging spirits. His favorite cartoon show ‘Duck Tales’ was being repeated on Doordarshan tonight and he couldn’t have asked for a better way to refresh his mind.

He lay there sprawled on the tiny sofa in front of the television and hummed the song that came on the television while swaying his head to its beats. He could not find his brother in sight and wanted to utilize the time as best as he could.

“Hey, give me the remote,” came a gruff voice from above him.

Rajan looked up to find his brother, Jayesh, staring at him in disdain, his left hand extended towards his face, waiting for the remote.

Both Rajan and Jayesh were poles apart, in behavior and in appearance. While Rajan was a scrawny looking boy with wavy hair, his older brother was a tall, well-built young man and had a curly mop of hair that went all over the place.

Even in behavior, while Rajan was quite easy going and chirpy, at least among his friends, his brother was somber and grim most of the times. He was in the 12th standard now and even with the prospect of his board exams looming large in a few months, Jayesh spent most of his after-school hours in front of the television watching nature documentaries.

Their small home made it impossible for them to stay away from each other. They shared the same tiny room with one bed, one cupboard and a study table and fought most of the time because of it. While one brother would be one room, the other would move towards the hall. Their father’s room, which opened on the wall near the television set, was out of bounds to both of them.

“But I am watching my cartoon show now,” Rajan said defiantly to his brother.

“You have already watched this in the morning,” said Jayesh and snatched the remote from his brother. He then proceeded to sit on the sofa and roughly removed Rajan’s legs from it to make space for himself.

Rajan was furious. “But you weren’t even here,” he shouted, trying hard to control himself from bursting out. It was yet another moment where his brother had defied him deliberately.

“I had just stepped outside to get milk,” he said coolly, not even bothering to look at Rajan.
Jayesh switched the channel to his favorite nature documentary one and leaned back on the sofa.

“Don’t you have any studying to do?” he asked Rajan. “Go on, move from here.”

More than getting to miss his cartoon show which he had already watched in the morning, it was his brother’s disrespectful attitude toward him that yet again infuriated Rajan.

“You give me the remote right now. I want to watch my cartoon show,” Rajan demanded and attempted to snatch the remote from his brother.

But Jayesh was too strong for him. He caught hold of Rajan’s elbow and shoved him down. Rajan fell down from the sofa and hit the floor, elbow-first. The impact wasn’t much as the distance between the floor and the sofa was hardly a few inches. But the impact on Rajan’s self-esteem was much more severe.

Jayesh looked down at his brother. For a moment it felt like he was about to say something. But Rajan did not want to allow him that pleasure.

Shaken, hurt and humiliated, Rajan got up and charged out of the hall towards their main door. He stepped outside their house and banged the door shut in anger. Sitting on the little platform that connected to their main door, he then wept quietly while rubbing his elbow.



Rajan felt miserable as he sat there breathing in the still July night air. Nothing moved. Not even the leaves on the trees outside the house. There was not a person in sight and their quiet neighborhood seemed to be busy relishing their Saturday evening with their respective families.

“Why can’t I too have a normal family? Why did God snatch my mother away from me before I had even known her?” Rajan reflected within himself desolately.

The child in him really missed his mother tonight. He needed someone kind and protective to put an arm around him and console him. If she were alive today, she would have protected him like a guardian angel. But no, fate had to be cruel to him.

All his friends had good families. Heck, they even had great rapports with their respective brothers and sisters. But Rajan and Jayesh always seemed to be at each other’s throats. What irked Rajan the most was the condescension his elder brother seemed to have towards him. He still treated him like a child. And Rajan absolutely hated that.

It wasn’t as if Rajan and Jayesh were always like this. There was a time, about 7-8 years back when the two of them had had a great bond. With their father spending almost all his time with his work and books, the two brothers found companionship in each other. They played cricket and other games and even rode their Tobu cycles to the park nearby on Saturday afternoons where they used to have great fun. And even though Jayesh did not speak much during those days as well, he was still always around his brother.

But over the years, the two brothers had drifted apart as the pressures of school life took a toll on both of them. They had both developed their own set of friends and hobbies and hardly had time for each other now.

Rajan wondered why his brother couldn’t be more understanding, friendly and compassionate towards him like the brothers of his friends were. Why did he always have to be so cruel to him?

With his father always busy and reclusive, and his terms with his brother getting sour by the day, Rajan felt suffocated in his own home. He was lonelier than ever now.

He wiped his eyes and looked at the clear night sky twinkling with a million stars. There was not a single cloud above. It was a bright and pristine night.

Maa…” Rajan whispered, more to himself than to anyone else. A solitary teardrop trickled down his face.

He needed her. He needed his angel in his life. He was sick of the grimness that had enclosed his existence. His heart ached for the company of his loving guardian angel. The one who he had never met. But the one who he desperately required today.  

Suddenly, the main door behind him opened.

“Hey, it’s time for dinner.” It was Jayesh.

“I am putting the bread in the toaster. We are having milk, butter, and bread. The cook hasn’t…”

“I am not interested. I don’t want to eat,” Rajan cut him mid-sentence and stood up, without turning his back to look at his brother, lest he saw his tears.

“Don’t be stupid. Come inside,” Jayesh said and tried to grab Rajan’s arm.

“You leave me alone,” Rajan yelled at the top of his lungs and wrested his hand away, his voice quivering from the effort of holding back his tears.

And without bothering to look at the reaction of his brother, Rajan took off.


***


Rajan ran like the wind. He ran until his sides ached. He wanted to leave everything behind. His home, his brother, his loneliness…

“Aaargh…”

The wind was knocked out of Rajan as he tripped over a rock and fell on the road. Searing pain shot through his knees and elbows as Rajan tumbled along the road.  His slippers came off and Rajan was left gasping for breath. He had been running blindly and failing to see the pile of rocks lying on the side of the road, Rajan had tripped over a particularly large one.

It took Rajan a couple of minutes to comprehend what had happened to him. The bottom of his palms, and both his forearms and knees had been bruised as he had hit the concrete road with force. Luckily for him, his hands and knees had taken the brunt of his fall and his face had been protected. But the bruised parts were throbbing with pain and Rajan lay there, on the side of the road, unsettled and disconsolate, and checking out his wounds.

Rajan looked around. He was on one of the corners of the Shivaji Park, the same park he and his brother used to visit every weekend once upon a time. The place was deserted now and he could only see rows of trees and darkness inside the park from its bordering grille.

In his writhing anger, Rajan hadn’t realized how far he had run and what turns he had taken. He had run wildly and now was almost at a distance of fifteen minutes from his home, lying all alone outside a desolated park with no one else in sight in the lane. Only the flickering yellow streetlights illuminated the deserted road.

Rajan felt petrified and alone. He did not know how he would now reach his home now in this condition. His face contorted in disconsolateness. It felt as if he was being punished for something.

 “Hey, kid!”

A startled Rajan turned around to find three men looking over at him. He hadn’t noticed them earlier.

“Hey, your father had asked us to take a…Take a hundred rupees from you,” said one of the men. He was shaggy all over and wore ragged clothes.

The other two sniggered. One was bald and was wearing sunglasses over his head for some reason. And the third one was standing behind the other two. Rajan couldn’t get a good look at him but he appeared tall and lanky.

Rajan inched back, his heart pumping madly.

“What are you talking about? I haven’t seen you ever in my life,” Rajan said, mustering all his courage and trying his best to hide the fear rising in chest and throat.

“Well… we…we are old friends of your father’s. He had taken…Taken a hundred rupees from us last month. And had…Had requested us to take it from you,” said the shaggy man standing in the middle. His speech was slurred and he looked to be unsteady.

“You…You are lying. Leave me alone. I don’t have any money,” Rajan said, his voice was breaking now. Every cell in his body was trembling in fear. His chest beat so hard, he felt it would burst through his ribcage.

The man bent towards Rajan and tried to smile. Rajan could see his yellow uneven teeth and bloodshot eyes. His hair was unkempt and he had putrid breath. The man had probably not taken a bath in a long time and Rajan had to move his face away from him to avoid the horrible smell emanating from his body.

 “Well…son…you will have to give us...give us something at least,” he croaked and extended his right hand towards Rajan.

Whack!

“Aaaah…”

A foot had landed on the man’s shin and yelling in pain he had fallen a few feet away from where Rajan was sitting.

The shaggy man was caught unawares and he looked around wildly at the source of the foot.

“What…Who?!” he sputtered.

A tall, well-built, young man with curly hair was standing over him, his eyes raging in fury.

Rajan gaped in shock at his brother, Jayesh. He seemed like a man possessed. Even as he kept his eyes locked on the three men, Jayesh swiftly held Rajan up with one hand, without any apparent effort, and moved him behind his back.

It seemed like Jayesh was holding himself back from exploding completely onto the three men. He was breathing heavily and trying really hard to keep his mounting anger in check.

The shaggy man struggled to get up and kept stumbling as he attempted to stand. One of his mates, the lanky fellow who stood behind them all this while, came to his aid.  The bald one in the group looked annoyed and moved towards the two brothers.

Jayesh immediately bent down and picked up a big piece of rock, the same one over which Rajan had tripped, and held it firmly in his palms. With his left hand, he held his brother tightly behind his back and had the other one – the one containing the rock – balled into a fist.

“I will smash your head into a pulp if you move any closer. I swear to God,” Jayesh said, slowly and clearly, through gritted teeth. He stressed on each word as if saying the words and not performing the action he badly wanted to was causing him great physical pain.

“Go on…Leave…Now…Noooww,” he roared. His words resonated across the empty street.  There was a certain mad frenzy in his voice that Rajan had never heard before. His whole body trembled as he heard his brother’s deafening voice from behind him. He didn’t know what would happen now and looked on at the scene in front of him paralyzed with fear.

The bald man looked at Jayesh’s fist and then at his face, the contours of which was lined with all-consuming fury.

He knew Jayesh wasn’t bluffing. He took a step back and said to the other two, “Come…Come, let’s go.”

The shaggy man was still in shock and was rubbing his shin. The other two held him up and headed in the opposite direction.

They stumbled and looked keen to get away from the scene. Within a minute, the three of them had disappeared behind the crossing of the lane and were out of sight.

Rajan let out a breath of relief. He hadn’t realized that he had been holding his breath in the last couple of minutes. He couldn’t believe what had just happened; his falling down, the three men harassing him, his brother coming to his rescue; all of it had happened so quickly. His heart was still pounding madly in his chest.

Jayesh then turned around. The moment he did so, Rajan bent his head down. He was scared to look at his elder brother. He knew what was coming. Already so infuriated with the happenings, Rajan could sense his brother was about to really chide him, or perhaps even hit him, for running away from home at this hour.

Rajan closed his eyes and awaited his admonishing.

But Jayesh held his brother’s shoulders and bent down close to his face.

“Raju…Are you okay? Did they hurt you?” he enquired softly.

Rajan looked up at his brother, surprised. There was a tenderness in his voice that he wasn’t accustomed to. His eyes were still red from all the outrage, but there was genuine concern in them. He was scanning his 11-year-old brother’s face for any marks of an injury.

Rajan shook his head.

“Don’t worry. They won’t bother you anymore. No one will,” he said gently.

Rajan looked on at his brother’s eyes. He could feel something bubbling inside him. Something that was about to burst…

“Bhaiyaa…”

Rajan wrapped himself around his elder brother and burst out crying. He sobbed and sobbed and let everything out. In that moment, he wanted to say and ask a lot of things to his brother. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. His tears soaked his brother’s t-shirt but Rajan did not care. Nothing else mattered to him at present. Nothing… He just wanted to stay there, entwined with his brother, and cry. He felt a strange relief as he did so. A lot of the torment that had squeezed into him finally seemed to be flowing out…

Jayesh held his brother with one hand and patted his head with the other. He let him cry for a few minutes and did not allow him to see the tears that were streaming down his own face now.

After what felt like an eternity, Jayesh finally bent down and holding Rajan up wiped his face with his hands. “I am sorry…,” he whispered. “Come, let’s go home. You must be hungry.”

Then, he put one arm around his brother’s shoulder and proceeded to walk him back towards their home.

Rajan staggered and limped a little as his knees still hurt. But Jayesh held him firmly. He wasn’t going to let his little brother fall again.


**

“Do you want some extra butter?” Jayesh asked.

Rajan shook his head and quietly munched on the toasted bread and butter along with warm milk his brother had prepared for him for dinner.

Both the brothers ate in silence in their small dining table in front of the sofa.

It had been more than an hour now since they had returned home from their ordeal earlier. Jayesh had deftly cleaned Rajan’s wounds with an antiseptic lotion and then bandaged them thoroughly.

They hadn’t spoken a word about what had happened after entering their home. The two seemed to have entered an unspoken agreement that the incident will not be discussed any further.

After finishing his meal, Jayesh got up and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned a couple of minutes later and switched on the television.  Putting the cartoon channel on, he placed the remote next to Rajan.

“Don’t watch it for too long, okay?” Jayesh said politely and patting his brother on the head lightly dispersed to their room inside.

Rajan sat there, staring at the television screen and munched another piece of his bread after dipping it in milk. Even though one of his favorite cartoon shows was on, he couldn’t concentrate on it. His mind was still numb from everything that happened in the last couple of hours.

Even after completing his meal, Rajan sat there, his eyes just capturing the visuals on the television screen and his mind completely distracted.

After about forty minutes, he finally packed up and went towards their room. He found that only the little dim light was on and his brother was sound asleep on their bed.

Rajan stood there at the doorway and looked at his brother sleeping so peacefully. Crystal white moonlight fell on his face from the window directly above him. Rajan’s eyes then turned towards the study desk beside the bed. It still had the picture frame at its corner, the one where his brother and his mother were holding him with a smile. Although it was dark, Rajan could still make out his brother’s figure in the picture, holding the head of his infant version safely in his palms. The young Jayesh looked so alive and delighted, standing there with his little brother and mother.

Rajan felt overwhelmed. He was seeing his brother in a new light today. All these years he had failed to realize one thing: that his brother too had lost a mother. Rajan had always thought about himself; his pain, his loss, his loneliness. But he had never paused to think the effect of their mother’s death on his brother. They had never ever discussed anything about this subject but Jayesh must have been carrying a lot of hidden grief inside him. Rajan was too young to even comprehend anything when his mother had passed away. But his brother…He was young and vulnerable then with no one to console him as their father had retracted into his own shell after his mother’s demise. How must he have coped with the loss? How had he managed to bury the memories of his moments with their mother? How had he carried on?

Rajan could feel himself welling up again. He wiped his eyes and stepped inside the room.

Usually, Rajan slept on a mat on the floor while his brother took the bed. When they were younger, both the brothers used to sleep on this bed. But as they kept growing tall the bed became too small to contain both of them and Rajan had to sleep on the mat on the floor instead.

Like every night, Rajan found the mat neatly spread on the floor beneath the bed tonight too. However, he didn’t feel like taking the mat today. While his brother slept on the bed, Rajan quietly tucked himself on his left, with his head resting near Jayesh’s legs. He felt safe and calm this way. The horrible images of his unpleasant experience a couple of hours earlier were now slowly ebbing away.

A languid breeze trickled in through the window and Rajan looked at the night sky, twinkling with stars. He suddenly remembered his writing assignment – the one about the angel. He still hadn’t finished it. It seemed liked ages ago when he was sitting in this very room and racking his brains to come up with some proper lines for his writing piece.

And now, as Rajan looked at his sleeping brother and then at the gleaming stars in the sky, the image he had formed of angels all through his childhood was slowly dissolving. Angels, he realized then, need not always be women in floral whites with wings. They don’t even need to be females, really. And as he understood this,  Rajan somehow knew that he will not be disappointing Mrs. Gomathi Sundaram this time.

With an irrepressible feeling of affection, he observed his sleeping brother’s face again, a little closely this time. He recalled the fury on Jayesh's face when he was facing those three men on the street, the way he held him tightly behind his back and the concern on his face when he checked on him after the men left.

Rajan sighed…He knew that things will be back to normal the next morning. He and his brother will fight again and get irked with each other again. Nothing will change. And yet, for Rajan, a whole lot had changed in that one moment…

Very quietly, Rajan then moved his left hand and wrapped his little fingers around the thumb and index finger of his brother’s left hand. He didn’t know why he did so, but doing this gave him great comfort.

Another breeze wafted in through the window, this time a little stronger. Rajan looked outside one final time for the night, at the stars and the pale moon. He knew then that he will always need and miss his mother’s presence in his life. But… things will be okay. They had to be, Rajan thought confidently, and clutching his brother’s fingers a little tighter, he finally closed his eyes. Why wouldn’t they be? His angel, after all, was with him …


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(Footnote: None of the incidents that I have narrated in the above story have actually happened with me. However, I did take inspiration from the little nuggets of my relationship with my own elder brother from my boyhood days while forming this story. In my mind, I have dedicated this story to my brother, or my relationship with him to be precise. 

The real inspiration for the story, however, came from this little song. It's a very old classic from the 60s.


I can't really explain why or how, but listening to this made me reminisce about my childhood days with my brother; the fights, the anger, the various little activities we did together. For some reason, this song churned out those memories. And while writing this story, I would listen to this again and again and again until the entire story came out the way I wanted it to.

This particular one will remain a special story for me. Many may find it to be a plodding bore or nothing entertaining. But I will always hold this one close to my heart. It has helped me in different ways and made me realize some of my hitherto undiscovered abilities. I am not a natural storyteller and getting this done has given me immense confidence and faith in my abilities.

Lastly, while writing this as I was looking back at some of the memories with my brother, I realized that not all relationships, especially those in the family, have to be perfect. I and my brother may not share the greatest of rapport - as many in my life have pointed out from time to time, but we are brothers. And, no matter what, I shall always want him as my elder brother, my guardian angel...In this life...And the other...)