Monday, December 9, 2013

The Hotel

The chain of events that I am going to tell you about today is nothing short of extraordinary. Even though it has been two years since its occurrence, thinking about it never fails to send a chill down my spine. I have tried numerous times to explain what exactly had happened, tried to reason with logic, but failed miserably. Maybe you can figure something out after reading this. I haven't talked about it to anyone, haven't even discussed it with my wife after returning from that fateful place, all in the hope that it will cease to exist in my memory. That hasn't worked, so maybe venting it out will.

It all started in a bitterly cold December morning. We made our way up towards the beautiful city of Darjeeling. Soon, we were surrounded by lush green mountains and enveloped by a thick layer of clouds. My wife, Neeta, could not contain her excitement. We had been planning this trip for weeks now and it felt good to finally take a break and give in to relaxation.

We reached Darjeeling at around five in the afternoon. Our hotel was located a few miles away from the main city. It was a secluded spot, away from the hustle and bustle of the famous Mall Road. I stopped my car in front of a large board that said 'Hotel Mountain Retreat'. It wasn't a big hotel. It only had around five rooms, but it afforded an excellent view of the Kanchenjunga range. We entered the hotel and were surprised to find that it was nearly empty. In fact, we could not see anyone apart from the hotel staff. I confided these thoughts to the man at the reception counter, to which he replied:

'People prefer to stay closer to the Mall Road. No one bothers to come out this far. It is a pity, actually. People no longer appreciate the beauty of peace and quiet.'

All five rooms were located on the first floor. We were given room number 102, which according to the receptionist, provided the best view of the snow-capped range. It was actually a suite, with a small bedroom and a cozy living room. There was a small refrigerator in the living room which allowed us to keep in it the various food items we had bought on the way. Both rooms had large windows which opened up to Kanchenjunga. Since the journey from Kolkata was tiring, we decided to spend the rest of the day in the hotel itself, and start exploring the city the next morning.

And that is when it all began......

It was around 9 p.m. We had just finished having our dinner, and had plans to turn in early. I went and stood in front of the large window. It was pitch black outside. The only thing I could see was my own shadow on the grass below. To my surprise, there was something else on the grass. Another shadow. I could see a small patch of light on the grass, presumably coming from the window of the room beside ours. And I could see a shadow of a man, standing at the window.

'That's funny', I said aloud, 'I thought the receptionist said we are the only guests here.'

Neeta said, 'Yes we are. Why?'

'It seems there is another person staying in the room next to our own. Look.'

Neeta came up to the window and looked outside. The shadow had not moved. It was eerily still. It did not move an inch.

'Maybe he checked in after we did', suggested Neeta.

It was quite possible, of course. Curiosity got the better of us and after some trepidation, we quietly went outside. We went up to the room in question. It was room 103. Suddenly, Neeta froze in her tracks. I stopped instinctively and looked at her. She was staring at the door. Fear occupied every inch of her countenance. She pointed slowly towards the door. I followed her gaze and realized the reason for her reaction. The door was locked from the outside!

'Did...did someone lock him out?', Neeta stammered. I had no answer. I rushed back to our room and went up to the window. The shadow was gone, and so was the patch of light.

That incident kept us awake for most of the night. The next morning, I asked the receptionist about our mysterious guest. He said that no one had checked in after us and that we were the only guests staying here. I didn't ask him about the shadow and risk being thought of as a freak.

The rest of the day was enjoyable. We spent all day exploring the city of Darjeeling. The scenic beauty all around helped us get over the happenings of the previous night. We decided to dine out and had a hearty meal at Glenary's.

I do not want to divulge all the small details of our outings during the daytime and digress from the main topic. So, let us move ahead to our third night in that fateful hotel. I saw that shadow again, right next to mine on the grass. It was completely still. I raised my hand and put them on the window grills. To my surprise, the shadow did the same thing! My heartbeat raced. I raised my other hand and waved. The shadow waved at exactly the same time. I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared out of my wits. I turned around to call my wife, but before I could do that, I heard a blood-curling scream come from the other room. I had never heard such a scream before in my life. It was a cry of anguish, a cry from someone facing death. Neeta came rushing out of the bedroom. The scream from 103 continued.

We rushed outside and pounded on the door of room 103. I was shaking but managed to shout:

'Anybody in there? Are you okay?!'

Suddenly, it stopped. A deathly silence took over. I saw the receptionist come up the stairs.

'What happened, sir? Why are you shouting?', he said.

'Didn't you hear the screams coming from this room?', I asked, bewildered. 'There is someone in deep trouble in there.'

'What scream?!', he said, 'there is no one in there. That room has been vacant since summer. Like I told you, we don't have many guests here.'

I refused to believe him and demanded that he open the door. After some persuasion, he obliged. As soon as he opened the door, I rushed in. The room was dusty. It was a small room, unlike our suite. It was completely dark and completely empty. Neeta and I searched the entire room. There was no hint of anyone having stayed there recently. I went up to the window, the same one from which the shadow had emerged. I could see the light from our room on the grass. But what I saw next made my head spin. The shadow, the same one, was standing very still right at our window. 

I ran back to our room, but there was no one there. My wife says that was when I fainted.

Now, let us skip over to our fourth night at Hotel Mountain Retreat. I woke up suddenly. I glanced at my mobile phone. It was around 3 am. I felt very thirsty. I saw Neeta sleeping soundly next to me. Suddenly, I heard a thud coming from the living room. And another one. Fear gripped me again. Should I wake Neeta up? I decided to let her sleep and gently made my way to the living room. I saw the shadow move across the room. There was definitely someone there. I entered the living room and gasped. The refrigerator door was open, and I saw Neeta crouched over it. Hearing my gasp, she lifted her head said:

'Oh, you scared me honey! I woke up feeling really thirsty. So I came here to have some water. Do you want some?'

I was stunned. If Neeta was here drinking water, who was in the bedroom sleeping in our bed? Shaking with fear, I went back to our bedroom. To my horror, I saw that my wife was there, sleeping in our bed. I felt a knot tighten in my stomach. I turned back to the living room. There was no one there and the refrigerator door was closed. I could feel the fear paralysing me. I went over and woke Neeta up.

'Neeta, d-did you just get up to have a glass of water?', I stammered.

'What?', said Neeta groggily. 'I didn't go anywhere. Why did you wake me up?'

'I just saw you near the fridge. Listen, Neeta, we can't stay here anymore. There is something seriously wrong with this place!'

We decided to check out first thing in the morning. The receptionist was surprised to see us leaving so soon. We didn't bother explaining our reasons. We just took our bags and left.

We managed to find a cab that would take us back to Kolkata. On our way, I chanced upon telling our driver all about the horrors of the last few days. When I finished, he asked:

'Where did you say you stayed?'

'At the Mountain Retreat hotel', I replied.

'That is not possible', he said. 'That hotel was burnt down due to a fire in June!'

'What!', I said, shocked. 'But-but we were there, in that hotel for the last four days!'

'Let me prove it to you', said our driver and drove us back to the hotel.

I will never forget what I saw there.

It was a sorry sight to see. Hotel Mountain Retreat was completely burnt to the ground. Only a few blackened pillars remained, and a faded signboard. Our driver explained that there had been a huge fire here in June which had completely destroyed this hotel, and that there had been no survivors. He continued to tell us all the details, but I was no longer listening.....

I understand there must be many questions in your mind right now. Believe me, I have been struggling with the same questions for over two years now. How did we stay at a hotel that no longer exists? Who was the shadow? Whom did I see near the fridge? What had happened to us in those four days?

I am afraid I still do not have any answers. Neeta and I don't discuss it anymore. I guess that is the best option. We have put all those incidents behind us. There is just one thing that keeps happening to us even now. Somehow, we always wake up at around 3 am, and feel as if our bodies are burning. Like we have caught fire. It lasts for a few minutes, and then stops. Happens every night. God knows why......

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Man In The Mirror

I found myself sitting on a bench. I looked around. It was a hot, summer day. I was in the middle of a huge park. My mind felt blank. I had no idea how I had got there. I forced myself to think, but in vain. I felt tired. Disheveled. Weakness coursed through my body. What had happened to me? What was I doing here? I had no answer to those questions. Maybe I was too exhausted to even make an attempt at rational thinking. Soon, I gave up any hope of understanding my current predicament.

Very slowly, I stood up and gazed around. The park was full of other people and seemed to stretch on forever in all directions. The people seemed to be walking around with no particular aim or direction. They dragged their feet, as if somebody had tied lead weights on them. To my surprise, I noticed that almost all of them were suffering in various ways. A few of them coughed and sneezed. A couple of them were on wheelchairs. Some of them were crawling, and a few others were stooped like a hunchback. I was shocked. What kind of the place was this?

Suddenly, I saw something shining, a few yards away from me.I squinted my eyes in an effort to understand the source of this strange light. It was a mirror. It was reflecting the bright sunlight falling on its glass. The strangeness of this situation stumped me. What in the world, is a mirror doing in the middle of a park? Gingerly, I started walking towards it. My thighs ached and my head spun. I realized that I was no different from all the other sufferers in that park. 

While walking, I noticed something even stranger. Nobody apart from me seemed to notice the presence of the mirror. I mean, here was a mirror, bang in the middle of a park, and no one even acknowledged its presence! People just walked by it without even giving it a glance. Painfully, I made my way to the mysterious mirror, and stood in front of it. What I saw made my jaw drop.

In the mirror was a person who looked exactly like me. However, he was smartly dressed in a suit. He was clean-shaven and had a smile on his face. He looked so very fresh, and young too. He waved at me. I was stunned. I just stared with my eyes wide open. He was laughing at me now. It was a hearty laugh. A laugh from someone who didn't seem to have a care in the world. I couldn't move. I could not comprehend the sight before me. This cannot be happening. But yet, it was. I raised my arm and saw him do the same. I touched the mirror, and could see him do the exact same thing. As soon as I made contact with the mirror, I felt a pull. Everything around me started revolving, faster and faster. Terrified, I closed my eyes.

A few seconds later, it all stopped. I mustered enough courage to open my eyes. I was in the same park. The mirror was nowhere to be seen. I saw other people in the park. This time, they all seemed happy. People were talking to each other. A few of them were with their family, having a picnic. Children were running around and playing with each other. Everyone was having fun. I felt better instantly. I looked down and gasped. How can this be? I was now wearing a suit. I stroked my chin. Clean-shaven. What! I seemed to have turned into that man in the mirror!

I walked around. Everyone greeted me with a smile. A few minutes later,  I came across a carousel. I could not believe my eyes. A carousel! I used to love those when I was a kid. Without thinking, I hopped on one of the horses. I did not care about other people noticing a grown man sitting on a carousel. I simply enjoyed the merry-go-round. I felt so relaxed, so much at ease! That is when I noticed the house. It was just a few feet away, and it made me hop off the carousel in an instant. I rubbed my eyes. It was my grandparents' house. The house I practically grew up in. I was overjoyed!

I went inside the house. There didn't seem to be anybody there. I went upstairs to where my room used to be. I was in for another surprise. All my toys were strewn around on the floor, just like I used to leave them. My bed was made. A jar of cookies was placed on the side-table. My happiness knew no limits. For the next half an hour, I busied myself with my toys and my favorite chocolate chip cookies. It was like heaven! I went over to my window and looked outside. I saw people enjoying themselves. A few of them even waved at me. Then, I saw it. The mirror. Bang in the middle of the park.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I went outside again. I approached the mirror with caution and stood in front of it. In the mirror was a person who looked exactly like me. However, he wore a shabby blazer and was staring at me with his mouth open and eyes wide. His appearance made him look older. He had dark circles under his eyes and seemed weak. I smiled at him. He kept looking at me in stunned silence. He didn't move. I started laughing. Laughing at his appearance and his condition.

A few moments later, he raised his arm towards the mirror. It was as if he wanted to pull me. Take me into his world. I frowned. I did not want to leave this beautiful place. I certainly did not want to go to a place where such shabby people lived. No, I prefer to stay here. Where there is joy all around. Where people spread happiness, not disease. A world full of carousels and toys. And cookies, of course! Good people. Smiling faces. Yes, this is where I want to live. Forever.

I saw a rock lying beside me on the grass. Without further deliberation, I picked it up and threw it at the mirror. The glass shattered into a thousand pieces. The man in the mirror disappeared. A sense of relief washed over me. Smiling, I turned around and made my way back to my grandparents' house.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Hard Choice

Ramesh woke up at 5 a.m. He went through his normal morning routine. He didn't feel like going to work today, but he knew he had to. Yesterday afternoon he had consumed the last morsel of food in the house, and his stomach was already rumbling with hunger. To make matters worse, his mother was still in hospital and her condition was deteriorating. He still hadn't come up with enough cash to continue her treatment. No, as much as he felt otherwise, he had to go to work today.

Ramesh pulled out his cart and made his way towards his spot. He liked the spot very much. It was just next to a beautiful park, surrounded by lots of trees and flowers. He loved hearing the birds chirp early in the morning. It was always peaceful there, and people were friendly. But, most importantly, after a nice morning walk, people felt the need for tea. And Ramesh's tea was said to be the best in the area.

Ramesh was initiated into the tea business when he was just five years old. He had watched carefully when his father had made and served tea. Those days, he was only allowed to wash and clean the glasses. Very soon though, his father deemed him capable enough to make tea. Business was going well, and life was good. However, tragedy struck when his father died of a heart attack, leaving Ramesh and his mother to fend for a living. Ramesh took on the role of sole earner with aplomb, and took care of his mother.

His mother never recovered from the shock of his father's death, and this affected her health. Ramesh did all he could to balance his work and his mother's health, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage both on his frail shoulders. It was then only a matter of time before his mother's illness grew enough for her to be admitted to the hospital. The doctors wanted money to start treatment, and that was a commodity which wasn't readily available to him.

Ramesh reached his spot and started his preparations for the day. He set up his container, milk and glasses, and proceeded to make tea. Very soon, he saw people entering the park, starting their exercises. A few of them looked comical, and he always enjoyed watching them make a fool of themselves. A few minutes later, people started coming to his stall, and so the day began.

Ramesh busied himself in making tea and keeping up with the demands. Occasionally, he looked up in search of his favorite customer, Nitin Verma. He was a tall, middle-aged man with a gentle appearance and an ever-smiling face. Ramesh had taken an instant liking to him and felt comfortable in sharing his joys and sorrows with him. Nitin always seemed to find time to talk to him and ask him about his day. He had become like a father figure to Ramesh, someone he looked up to and depended on for advice.

And there he was! Ramesh's eyes lit up when he saw Nitin. He called out:

'Hi, Nitin uncle!'

'Hello, Ramesh. Good Morning! How is everything?'

'Still the same, uncle. Maa's health is getting worse day by day.'

They chatted for a few minutes while Nitin drank his tea.

Time flew for the next few hours. It was now unbearably hot outside. Ramesh was clever enough to realize that people did not need tea around noon. So, he decided to take a break and catch up on some much needed sleep. He was just about to leave for home, when he noticed something lying on the road near his stall. It was a wallet! Ramesh picked it up and opened it. He found an ID card. He gasped when he saw the photo - Nitin Verma! He had dropped his wallet here! 

Ramesh's eyes lit up when he saw the amount of cash inside the wallet. Five-thousand rupees! He had never seen so much money at one place in his entire life. His heart raced. This will be enough to get Maa's treatment started!, he thought happily. Suddenly, a pang of guilt overcame his happiness. I cannot do this to Nitin uncle. He has always been so nice to me. How will I ever forgive myself? Ramesh took the wallet home.

At night, he lay in his bed, clutching the wallet in his hand. He was lost in thought, immersed in dilemma. On one hand, his mother was dying, and if he didn't act soon, he was sure she wouldn't make it. On the other hand, was Nitin, who was an integral part of his life. He had to save his mother, but could not cheat Nitin as well. It was late at night when he had finally decided what he had to do.

The next morning, Ramesh reached his spot, convinced that what he was about to do was the right thing. When he saw Nitin, he called out to him and said:

'Nitin uncle, you dropped your wallet yesterday. Here it is!'

Nitin came over and patted him on the head. He said:

'You are such a good boy! I am proud of you. Thank you so much, Ramesh!'

Ramesh managed a smile, but somehow he didn't feel any better. He knew he had done the right thing. He had been honest. But is honesty always rewarded? What will happen to his mother now? He had a chance to save her, but he had let it go. His mother was going to die. Will he be able to live with himself?

He felt suffocated, and decided to retire early from work. He thought of his mother, and decided to pay her a visit. Will I be able to look her in the eye, knowing what I did and could have done? She would be expecting me to do something. What will I tell her? Tears formed in his eyes and he started weeping.

It took him another twenty minutes to reach the hospital. He made his way to the general ward section where his mother was kept. To his surprise, he couldn't find his mother anywhere. Fear gripped him as he searched the entire ward. Where is she? Where have they taken her? What has happened to her? Ramesh felt helpless. As he was making his way towards the reception, he ran into Dr. Pradhan, his mother's doctor. Ramesh asked him frantically:

'Doctor! I cannot find my mother anywhere! Is she okay? What happened?'

Dr. Pradhan had a smile on his face, as he said:

'Relax, boy. You mother is in the operation theatre. Her treatment has started.'

Ramesh was stunned. What is he saying? How is it possible? He managed to say:


Dr. Pradhan's smile widened:

'The entire amount for the treatment has been paid. A person called Nitin Verma came in today, and paid the whole amount. He said he was your godfather. Don't worry, your mother will be fine.'

Ramesh burst into tears. He couldn't find any more words to say. He wept. He thanked God. He thanked Nitin. He prayed. Through his tears, he realized that honesty is always rewarded. He had made the right choice.

That night, he had his first peaceful sleep in years.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Massacre

I feel as if the walls are closing in on me. I feel trapped. Trapped in a labyrinth from which escape seems impossible. My wife and son are dead, and I am left with nothing. Why was God so cruel? Why did he let all this happen? Why wasn't I able to stop it?

'The Ravager' was well-known in our town. He was a masked maniac who murdered people for fun. Some say he was always dressed in black, and wore a mask covering everything but his eyes. He was a ruthless killer, and he had a specific liking towards beheading each of his victims with his dagger. So far, ten unfortunate souls had fallen prey to his evil. Ten heads, that were severed from their bodies. People were afraid to come out of their homes after dusk. Children trembled at the very mention of his name. Such was the extent of his madness, that when he was caught by the police, they sent him to a mental asylum and locked him up in its deepest confines.

Everything was peaceful in our small town for about two years. People carried on with their lives. The after-hour parties started. The children were taught to forget his name. Slowly, but surely, the cloud of horror lifted from our town and the warm rays of happiness took its place. Freedom felt good and everyone embraced it with open arms.

The joy, however, was painfully short-lived. News crept in that The Ravager had escaped from the asylum and was nowhere to be found. The whole town shook with unadulterated fear. A few people left town in a hurry. Some locked themselves inside their houses. Shops closed down before dark, and no one stayed late in office. It was like a ghost town after dark, and for good reason.

Unfortunately, this time, The Ravager picked my home as his next target.

It was just getting dark when I had reached home. I found the front door ajar, which seemed a little out of place. I pushed the door and went in. I saw my wife and son, sitting on our comfortable sofa, a look of horror etched on their faces. I was puzzled. My wife seemed to be beckoning, trying to tell me something, or maybe trying to warn me. Before, I could react, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head, as if someone had hit me from behind, and everything went black.

I opened my eyes. My head was throbbing with pain. I was lying down on the floor. I looked around, and saw my wife's face. She had her head turned towards me and was looking straight at me. I tried to call out to her, but she did not respond. With trembling hands, I tried reaching out to her, but found my hands clutching empty space. It was then that I realized, her body wasn't there. Just her head.

I cried out loud. I forced myself to get up, and saw my son's head lying beside my wife's. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. Then, I saw him. At the doorway. A dark shadow. A black mask. A shiny dagger. Rage took over me as I rushed towards him, screaming loudly. I must confess the finer details are still unclear to me due to my head injury, but somehow I managed to subdue The Ravager and called the police.

I have lost everything. There is nothing more to live for. My whole life, my two precious possessions, were taken away from me by this madman! Oh Lord, why couldn't I save them? What had they done to deserve such a horrific death? I had no answers. My only solace lay with the fact that The Ravager was about to be hanged to death. At least, there would be some iota of justice. Even though I had suffered such a huge loss, the rest of the town can finally live in peace. It was I, who had managed his capture. Yes, that has to count for something.

Alas, I would have to stop writing now. They are calling me. It is time. The rope, the noose. It is ready. Am I prepared? Yes, I am. The world is getting rid of a dangerous criminal. That has to be a happy ending, right? I know it will be painful, but I promise to put the rope around my neck with a smile on my face. Yes, this world has no place for a psychopath like me. Tata!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Passenger 32C

Sameer Gupta was running late. He checked his watch. 6.00pm. His flight was at 6.20pm and he was still stuck in the long queue at security check. I knew I should not have stopped at McDonalds!, he cursed himself, that McEgg would cost me 5000 bucks if I miss this flight!

After what seemed like ages, he finally got through all the checks. Snatching his bag from the conveyer belt, he rushed towards the boarding gate. Fortunately, he was just on time. With a sigh of relief, he boarded the Air India flight to Bangalore. He quickly settled down on seat number 32C. Aisle seats were his favorites. Soon the flight took off. While everyone craned their neck to look outside the window, Sameer's sole intention was deep slumber.

Half an hour later, the food services started. Delicacies, they said. Sameer shook his head in disgust. Delicacies my foot! I'd rather eat a cactus!. He was getting bored and still had two more hours to spend on the flight. He took out his iPad, and was about to unlock it, when he stopped short, stunned. He could not believe it. There was a news flash from CNN on his lock screen, and it read:

Breaking News: Air India flight AI466 to Bangalore crashes. Many feared dead.

Sameer blinked. This cannot be true. There must be some mistake. AI466 was precisely the flight in which he was sitting right now! And the news flash had come in forty minutes ago! His head swam and he felt faint. And then he saw it, a second update from CNN on his lock screen. He had missed reading it. It read:

Flight AI466 crash update: All bodies charred beyond recognition. Officials claim there are no survivors. Search still going on.

Sameer felt sick and the bile rushed up his throat. He got up and dashed to the washroom. The small enclosure did not help his cause and he puked into the commode. Strange thoughts invaded his head. What does it mean? Is this flight going to crash? Am i going to die? Charred? He felt helpless. Splashing copious amounts of water on his face, he went back to his seat.

Sameer's hands were shaking as he opened the CNN app and tried to see the details. To his surprise, the news details were not there in the app! He calmed down a bit. Maybe this was indeed a big mistake. Maybe they broadcasted the new flash in error. He started to take deep breaths and closed his eyes. He was almost back to normal when the cabin attendant's shrill voice rang out over the intercom:

"We are about to run into bad weather. I request all passengers to return to their seats and fasten their seat-belts. We will resume the food service shortly."

Panic returned in a flash. Turbulence! Sameer felt his hearbeat double up. He gripped the seat handle tightly. Within a few minutes, the plane was surrounded by a thick envelope of grey clouds. He could feel the entire plane shaking. Each jerk added to his fear and he felt faint. He started praying.

After a few seconds, the turbulence subsided and they were steady again. But Sameer did not feel reassured. He called the cabin attendant and said:

"Are you sure everything is okay? Are you sure there is nothing wrong with this flight?"

The attendant smiled at him and said:

"Please do not panic, sir. It was just a minor turbulence. Everything is fine. Try and relax. I will get you a glass of water."

Sameer gulped down the water and tried to calm his nerves. He glanced at the other passengers. Most of them were sleeping peacefully. A few of them were chatting happily, and some were reading magazines. Everyone seemed so relaxed. They haven't seen what I have seen! The future!, he thought bitterly.

To his utter dismay, he felt his surroundings darken and turned to see another thick layer of clouds surrounding the plane. This one was much thicker. Much more ominous. The turbulence resumed. This time the plane started shaking uncontrollably. He knew this was it. The plane was going to crash. All of them were going to die a horrible death. He closed his eyes and screamed....

With a strong jerk, Sameer woke up. He was drenched in sweat. He looked around. He was sitting safely on his seat. The plane was safe and cruising along. It was just a dream! Just a big, stupid dream! And it felt so real! Relief washed over him. He almost laughed. I have to tell Sanjana about this! Thinking about his wife added to the relief. He looked at his watch. Still an hour to go. Sanjana would be waiting for him at the airport. They had planned a lavish dinner and he was really looking forward to it. He looked around at everyone. Everything was normal. Peace. Quiet.

And then it started. The plane shook violently. The baggage enclosures flew open and bags rained down on them. Sameer watched in horror as the front half of the plane broke away. He felt his body lurch forward. He closed his eyes. Just a few more seconds. And then - Peace. Quiet.

Sanjana was about to leave for the airport. Her husband was scheduled to land in less than an hour. She had just started her car when she felt her iPhone buzzing. She grabbed her phone. It was a notification from CNN, and it read:

Breaking News: Air India flight AI466 to Bangalore crashes. Many feared dead.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


June 2008

All he could do was run. He was completely out of breath, his lungs were crying out for oxygen, and his muscles felt like lead. But, he had to run. He had to survive. He had to find out what was going on. He had to find out who was trying to kill him.

He had left home to buy groceries. His wife had given him a long list and he wasn't particularly looking forward to the trip to the mart. It hadn't taken him long to figure out that he was being followed. Out of the corner of his eye, he had seen a dark figure with a black cloak and hat pulled down low over his head. He had tried to change his route, give him the slip, but the dark figure had followed him everywhere. He couldn't think of any possible reason why someone would tail him. He had felt a lump forming in his throat. Out of sheer panic, he had started running. He had no idea where he was running to and what he was running from, but he had this sinking feeling that he had to get away somehow.

He heard a soft hissing sound, and a second later, sharp pain shot through his legs. He almost fell down, but somehow managed to stay up and stumble forward. He could feel warm liquid oozing out from the back of his thigh. 'I have been shot!', he thought fearfully. Why would someone do this to me? What have I ever done to harm anybody? He was just a lawyer. Oh wait! A lawyer does have many enemies. Is this one of my clients? Or the opposition? His mind was blank. He was going to die and there was nothing he could to about it.

He could not take it any longer. His body gave up, his legs buckled, and he fell down heavily on the road. He knew his assailant would be on top of him anytime now. He closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable death. But it never came. He opened his eyes and looked behind him. His assailant was gone.

He could not believe it. Maybe they only wanted to scare him. His relief was short lived when he realized that he had to get himself to a hospital. He somehow got back on his feet and trudged along, gritting his teeth and pushing back the pain in his leg. In ten minutes or so, he managed to reach a hospital. He had barely made it through the doors when he fell down and fainted.

He wasn't sure how long he had been out. He felt weak and disoriented. He could make out that he was lying on a hospital bed. My leg! He tried to raise his head but felt as if a thousand knives had pierced his brain. He lay there for what seemed like ages, until finally a doctor came up to him. Smiling, the doctor said:

'Good to see you awake. Feeling better now?'

'No. I feel terrible!'

'Sorry to hear that. Rest assured you will be fine. I just need to ask you a few questions. Formalities, you know. What is your name?'

'Gary Hill. I am a lawyer by profession. I was chased by a man and got shot!'

The doctor raised his eyebrows in surprise. He spoke slowly:

'There is no bullet wound on you. Nobody shot you.'

'What! You must be joking. Can't you see here my leg--'

He forced himself to raise his head and stopped short. His leg was perfectly fine. No wound. No blood. He winced in pain as the migraine gripped him again.

'I want my wife', he breathed,' Pam! Where are you?!'

'Your wife is here', the doctor said. 'I will get her for you. Please try and relax.'

His eyes lit up when he saw his wife come in through the door.

'Pam! I am so glad to see you. I don't know what is happening to me! Someone tried to kill me and I managed to escape, and....'

His wife looked shell-shocked. She could barely move. It was as if she had seen a ghost.

'Honey', she said, ' my name is Lisa, not Pam. What are you talking about? You had just gone to the market to pick out some groceries.'

He was stunned. Surely, there must be some mistake. This must be some sort of a joke.

'Pam', he said, 'Please stop kidding around. I am your Gary.'

His wife let out a gasp, 'Gary? Do you mean Gary Hill?'

'Yes!' he shouted.

The wife felt faint, and the doctor looked on in surprise. What the hell is going on there? After a few minutes of eerie silence, she spoke, this time to the doctor:

'Doctor, I know who Gary Hill is. He is the main character of my husband's latest thriller novel. You see, my husband is a struggling author. His name is Brian Grant. Over the last couple of years, he has immersed himself in writing this book, obsessing over it. He spent all day and night working on it, often forgetting my existence. I was afraid of this, and now it has come true. I have lost my husband." She started crying.

'Please calm down, Mrs Grant' , said the doctor. 'I will give him some medicines. He will be fine. Just make sure he doesn't go near books for a while.'

April 2013

Detective Inspector Rod Franklin cursed loudly. Who the hell is calling me at five in the morning?! Groggily, he picked up the phone. It was his superior.

'Rod, you need to go to 19, Mansion Road right now. Suicide case.'

Still grumbling, Franklin drove to the scene of the crime. The deceased was hanging from the ceiling fan. He was a middle aged man, very thin and weak. Franklin found a letter on the table. Intrigued, he started reading:

I am sorry, Tina. I am sorry for cheating on you. I deserve nothing more than death. I know this will cause you more pain, but I cannot live with my guilt. Please forgive me. Goodbye. Love, Aaron.

Grunting, Franklin began examining the body. Suddenly he heard a loud scream. He rushed outside, and saw a woman sitting in the garden and sobbing uncontrollably. On seeing Franklin arrive, she managed to say:

'I tried my best. I really did! But, I failed!'

Franklin noticed a pile of papers strewn around her feet. He went over and picked them up. It seemed to be a manuscript for a novel. He gasped when he saw the title of the book:

Aaron's Infidelity.

Friday, June 28, 2013

What Goes Around.....

Sanjay paced up and down, his face grim and his brain working overtime. How did I get myself into this mess? What should I do now? Thoughts such as these flew in and out of his mind. The 'mess' that he is alluding to, is something that would normally be a cause for celebration. And yet, the very thought of it filled him with dread. The thought, that he was going to get married in three days.

It had been just like any other love story. Sanjay had met Anita in college. He was then in his first year, a time when you are considered 'cool' if you are dating someone.Several factors, including peer pressure, led them into a relationship.

 They started with the night-call phone tariff plans and cheap early morning movie tickets. Gradually, they moved on to fancy restaurants and picnic trips. They enjoyed every minute of each others company. Anita seemed to be smitten and went head over heels for him. Sanjay, however, remained at level one. His feelings for Anita hadn't grown a bit, and he still saw the whole thing as a college-only gig.

Time flew by and their college life came to a close. Anita was seriously in love with him, and Sanjay was searching for ways to break it off with her. But, he could not muster up enough courage to confront her. Things went from bad to worse, when they got job placements in the same city. Anita was thrilled to bits, Sanjay simply cursed his luck.

A couple of years went by. Sanjay was hoping she will get the hint eventually. To his horror, she asked him to marry her. Tongue-tied and stunned, he could barely utter a word. Anita seemed to take this as a 'yes' and jumped with joy. Thus started the wedding preparations and Sanjay's misery.

And now, with just three days to go, he could not stand it any longer. He had to do something about it. Marriage is serious business. He would not only be ruining his own life, but Anita's life as well. No, enough is enough, he had to get to get his life on track. 'I will call her right away, meet her some place, and tell her the truth', he thought fiercely.

Just as he was about to convert his thoughts into action, his phone rang. It was Anita's father:


'Hello, Sanjay! Anita is missing, and I can't find her anywhere!'

'What?! Where did she go?'

'She went out with her friends to do some last minute shopping. It has been over five hours now. Her phone is switched off, and I cannot reach any of her friends! Oh, I don't know what to do!'

'Uncle, relax. I know where she goes for shopping. I will go out and look for her. I will keep you updated.'

Sanjay disconnected the call and rushed out with his car keys. He tried to call Anita and her friends, but their phones were switched off. Panic gripped him as he drove towards Anita's favorite shopping mall. He rushed inside and searched the entire place. She was nowhere to be seen. Neither were any of her friends. He then drove to a few other locations where she might be. No luck.

Unrestrained fear coursed through his veins. Where could she be? What had happened to her? His mind went blank. Bad thoughts kept flowing in. Delhi has a notorious history of being unsafe for women. He could not help but fear the worst.

And then it hit him. Guilt. He was about to marry a girl who loved him and cared about him a lot, and all he had thought about was how he was going to break it off with her. How stupid can one person be? How could he not realize that she had always be the one? What if something bad had happened to her, and he would never see her again? He could not bear the thought. He realized that his feelings for her had always been genuine. He had been a blind fool all his life. A coward.

He rushed home and prayed to God: 'Oh God, please let her be safe. I know I do not deserve someone like her. I have been a complete idiot and could not see the obvious. I promise to marry her, love her and take care of her, always. Please let her be safe, God!'

His prayers were disturbed by his mother calling out his name. He went down and saw his mother holding a piece of paper in her hand.

'This is for you, Sanjay. Some guy came to give it to you. He left before I could invite him inside.'

Sanjay took the piece of paper from her mother and went back to his room. It was a letter. His eyes widened in surprise when he recognized the handwriting. It was Anita's. He started to read:

Dear Sanjay,

I am writing this letter to you out of desperation. I am at my wit's end and don't know what to do. But you deserve to know the truth. So here goes...

I never loved you, Sanjay. Believe me, I tried a lot. I just couldn't. After a while, I gave up trying to love you, and started trying to break off with you. I am basically a coward. I could not tell you face to face. I knew men are afraid of commitment. So, I pretended to get closer, pretended to be serious about us, and pretended to be smitten by you. I honestly thought this would scare you and drive you away. But, you didn't flinch. That is when I realized that you were actually in love with me.

I panicked. Things got worse for me when we got placed in the same city. But I still kept up my act, pretended to be overjoyed. I really thought you would get the hint. But you never did.  Out of sheer desperation, I asked you to marry me. I was sure this would frighten the living daylights out of you and you would run away. But you said yes! I knew then that I was doomed. Oh, why did you love me so much? 

As the D-day grew closer, I thought of ways to get out of this mess. My parents were involved now and I didn't have the courage to tell them that this was all a big lie. See, how much of a coward I am. I am not brave and honest like you.

So today, I decided to run away from home. I know all of you would be worried to death, but I was desperate. Maybe I will come back soon, but right now, I need some time to gather myself. You can tell my parents not to worry about me.

I have ruined your life, and my family's. I know I may never be forgiven, but you had to know the truth. I am sorry I could not love you back. Thank you for always loving me and caring for me.

This is a final goodbye.


To say that Sanjay was stunned would be an understatement. His mind was in a twirl, and he realized the true meaning of the phrase 'what goes around, comes around.'