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.