Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shot to Fame-Short Story

Hi Friends,
I am uploading a short story which I had submitted for TOI Write India Contest.
Passage was given by Author Ashwin Sanghi.

Passage by Ashwin Sanghi

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. "Ten, nine, eight, seven..."
Rules by the Author

1. All interpretations of the opening passage are fair game 2. You could choose to write the rest of the story in ANY genre... surprise me 3. The story MUST be written in the first person 4. Be imaginative and have lots of fun 5. I am less concerned about words and much more about the story... simply spin a great yarn

Story starts now...

Shot To Fame
I tried to keep my cool amidst the sharp cries emerging from strangers dumped along with me. Searing pain from the wound submerged under the oozing blood was unbearable. I tried to touch my wound but my hands landed up on someone else’s bleeding limb. Wailing sound of the siren of the ambulance in which I was travelling to an unknown destination interrupted my subconscious thoughts. Somewhere in a corner of my mind, a journalist stuffed a microphone in my mouth and asked me, “How are you feeling now?”
I don’t want to die…I want to live!...
                               I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. "Ten, nine, eight, seven... three, two, one…zero”, I pounced on him, shoved his hand holding AK 47 which was spitting bullets incessantly, but he dodged my assault and knocked me with the butt of the rifle. I tumbled to the ground, in a trice he pointed the flash suppressor of the rifle to my forehead, and bullet was ready to exit from the muzzle. A wicked smile shone on his face on seeing my helplessness. He was about to pull the trigger…suddenly the door opened, an army man entered and fired at the terrorist. Terrorist collapsed to the ground but not without injuring me. One of the stray bullets hit my torso and blood started trickling from the wound. Army commando lifted me with his hands…
“Cut!” Director Yash shouted in a high-pitched voice. 

“Wow! Arjit, you rock!” He hugged the commando aka Arjit Kapoor, the latest bollywood sensation.
He entered in the last scene and garnering appreciation for nothing. Hypocrisy rules!
My terrorist friend Vijay could hear my mind-voice. He gave me a soft smile while rubbing the bruises on his hands which were caused by the stunts.
He came near me and slowly muttered in my ears, “Good Job Sameer, Not bad for a first timer!” and hugged me.
I bagged this petty role through Vijay who was a friend of Prithviraj, one of the Assistant directors working in this film. After coming to Mumbai, haunting failures pushed me to the brim of life before I met my School friend Vijay who shared my aspirations.
Vijay went to Prithviraj. “Dude, Shall I leave now? “
“Yes, But ask your friend to stay back. They may shoot a continuity scene in the main porch. Arjit has to carry him up to the ambulance. Hero has to be compassionate.” He winked at Vijay. 
A fair, thin figure jumped over the crisscrossing wires and came running towards Arjit. Arjit hugged her and kissed on her cheeks. It was heroine Ruby Khanna. She was almost inching towards Size 00, in that attempt she had lost her feminine curves and was looking like a teenage boy. She was playing the role of a journalist in this movie.
“I hate anorexic females and… I think kissing a female painted with multiple layers of makeup is highly unromantic” I whispered into Vijay’s ears.
“Nobody asked your opinion here!”Vijay quipped.
“Ruby dear, you look fabulous after shedding those flabs” Director Yash hugged her.
“Thank you! Now allow us to spend some time together.” swayed Ruby and smiled at Arjit with twinkling eyes.” Let us go to the Lounge!”
Arjit turned to Yash.”Meet you at 3 o clock dude.” and started walking towards the lift with clinging Ruby. He gave a cold look at me when he went past me.
“Pack Up! Will meet you in the porch after 3 o clock!” Director took the stairs to study the location of afternoon shooting.
Owner of this luxurious five star property was a close friend of the film producer, so he had given his hotel for shooting some sequences of the film.
I had never been to such an opulent place before in my lifetime. Curiosity mounted within me to see how rich people spent their bucks in luxury when I struggled to pay my rent. I opened the door of the mini conference hall in which shooting was taking place and walked along the huge hallway .There were many conference halls, Mini Bars, and a lounge to sit back for cracking deals. Exquisite art works, antiques and paintings adorned the entire structure. There was a mirror with ornate border on the wall. My reflection stared at me.
No wonder Arjit doesn’t like me! I am a handsome guy with sharp features and my six packs are real, not a steroid induced one! I cursed my luck and walked further.
Every nook and corner reflected grandeur. Will I ever be able to become rich and enjoy this luxury?
I sighed with deep self-pity and started feeling uncomfortable by the inquisitive looks of the staff.
I am a complete misfit in this place! 
To my relief, I reached an empty terrace which was partially glass walled and the other part open under the sky.
 I stood near the crystal clear glass wall. View of Arabian Sea was breathtaking. 
All of a sudden there was a huge explosion, the vibrations shook the ground beneath me and to my utter shock, a part of the glass wall shattered and shards of glass scattered all over. Jolted by the deafening noise I stepped back to take cover in a safe place.
Tremors! Is it an earthquake? Before I could think further, stream of people purged out of different exits, a mixture of muffled screams and loud cries hovered around. It was a complete mayhem.
Numbed by unforeseen turn of events, I started moving along with the crowd. Old people and children were struggling to cope up with the stampede like situation. Hotel staff tried to discipline the crowds which were rushing to the stairs.
One of them requested, “Please! Two at a time!” Staircase was quite narrow. They started getting down slowly. Staff was talking in hush-hush tone. Maybe they were also equally tensed. Evacuation had just started and two more explosions rocked with high decibel sound. One from the top and another from the ground! All I could see was expressions of horror and fear of death written over the faces.
“Please sit on the floor!” one of the staff ordered in a hushed tone.
I started wondering at the turn of events. One attack was for reel and this was real.
“It is a terrorist attack!”A bald man said in an alarming voice.
“How many terrorists?” asked a woman.
There was no answer. Only frozen looks!
Another stream of people rushed down from upstairs and filled the huge hallway. They had seen the terrorists and were escaping from them.
Loud screams and gunshots could be heard from the top floors. Another explosion rocked and some glass panes broke because of the impact.
Next half an hour witnessed the most unbelievable things happening in the history of the hotel. The rich and mighty of the city were crawling on the floor even to use washrooms. All of us knew that we were vulnerable from both sides. So, no one wanted to attract attention. Two hotel staff talking on their mobiles weaved through the crowd and zeroed in on a painting. It seemed that they were taking instructions from the other end of the mobile. It was a huge painting of Raja Ravi Varma. Damayanti and swan messenger! They talked to themselves for few seconds and slid the heavy wooden frame along the direction of the wall. After sliding it, they opened the camouflaged door which was behind the painting. They pushed open the door with force. Crowd got restless and got up as they saw a ray of hope to live. Hotel staff tried to silence them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is not safe over here. We want to evacuate you all to a secure place. Please cooperate with us.”
Everyone jostled to be the first in the queue and evacuation started. I decided to wait till all the children and aged were evacuated.
 It took almost 30 minutes to evacuate everyone. Gunshots were approaching fast near our floor. Terrorists can barge in anytime. Only staff and I were standing outside.
“Sir, Please! “ One of them politely asked me to enter the secret exit. I peeped inside. In dim illumination, I could see numerous heads jostling down the series of stairs descending to the basement.
I was about to enter, but a thought crossed my mind.
“Who will close the door behind us? It is easy for the terrorists to spot this exit if not hidden by the painting frame. Lots of lives are at stake.” I told them.
They were about to reply, but the exponential increase of the sound of heavy gunfire warned about the impending danger to many lives, I decided my fate in a flash, pushed them into the secret exit, pulled the door and shut it. It was a herculean task to slide the painting frame back to its original position single handedly, I paused to ensure that door was not visible and rushed to take cover from the gun fire. I hardly ducked behind a massive table, thumping sound of the running shoes sent chills down my spine.
How many terrorists? two, three…?I turned back to see the sky through the broken glass panes.
My soul will be roaming in the vast expanse of the sky before the day ends. My mother’s loving face came to my mind. She will be the one who will miss me. Tears welled up at the thought of my mother. She may not be aware that I am here in Ground zero.
Deafening salvo of shots was fired and bullets were flying in all the directions. Sound of the smashed splinters pierced my eardrum.
“Open all the doors to check if anyone is alive and kill all the Indian bastards,” shouted one of them in a different dialect of Hindi. Thudding sounds of yanking doors and dragging the tables to search for hiding persons pounded my heart out of the chest.
They will find me in no time! I have to escape! Did I make the mistake of not escaping through the secret exit? A ray of regret seeped in my mind.
If I had not concealed the door behind the frame, it would have been a bloody massacre by now! Many would have got killed!
Taking cover behind the huge antic teak furniture, I started crawling in the opposite direction from which gunshots came. I was like a blindfolded person walking on a rope. I didn’t know the plan of this hotel.
At the end of the furniture, to the left, there was a small corridor leading to a very narrow staircase, possibly meant for the staff, I rushed towards it and dashed down the stairs. On each landing, there were multiple exits leading to different rooms. I heard someone running down the stairs behind me. I took a turn into a narrow lane and entered a room which was full of linen and uniforms, I took cover of the clothes and uniforms hanging all around. My heart resumed its normal functioning once the sound of the steps receded. It was stuffy and hot in the Linen room, so I slowly sneaked into the Laundry room. Laundry was quite spacious with pile of clothes heaped, I noticed a movement behind a pile and slowly peeped to see, Arjit Kapoor, hero of the film was crouching down behind a pile of clothes. I tried to smile at him. He was expressionless. Perhaps he didn’t like me catching him in an awkward situation like this.
I tried to find a place to sit near him and settle for few minutes because I was extremely tired. I stretched my limbs to relax my muscles a bit and whispered, “Where are the other crew members? Are they safe? “
“How do I know?”  He snapped with irked voice.
“You were with Ruby! What happened to her? She is not seen anywhere nearby…” -I searched for a size00 figure.
“May be…She has eloped with one of the terrorist!”He smirked.
Is this supposed to be a joke? But…a cruel one!
Another powerful blast rocked. Vibrations lasted for few minutes and few burning splinters fell in the Laundry room. Entire room will be in flames in minutes.
“Arjit,Run!” I scurried out of the room, Next few minutes both of us were running in a labyrinth of corridors and staircases leading to the ground because top floors were in flames. Whenever gunshots were heard, I chose the opposite direction to escape. Door of a restaurant was open but the condition of tables, chairs, bags and sandals strewn all over clearly indicated that people had fled this place. Arjit was still behind me. Gunshots started approaching us once again.
Terrorists have found us! Shit! Hero Arjit Kapoor can be a trophy catch for them to boast!
I dashed across the restaurant, opened the door and found a wooden, spiral staircase leading to the ground. I pulled Arjit and hurried down the stairs. It was dark over there. A semi circular black granite table was behind the staircase. We hunched down under the counter. Door on the mezzanine opened and bullets flew everywhere. Thudding sound of the footsteps increased .Someone is getting down the stairs!  Hiding place seemed to be perfect until Arjit’s mobile started ringing. A volley of bullets showered on the counter. I grabbed the mobile and threw it away, next second it turned into ash as it was hit by a bullet.
It is not safe here anymore. I shook Arjit’s shoulders. He had passed out of fear.
 What an irony? Arjit was supposed to rescue me according to the script of the film!
I inched a little and saw the glimmer of light from an exit.
I cannot leave him here to die! I lifted him and started walking softly in the dark towards the exit hoping not to be spotted. I stumbled upon something and a clinking noise exposed us to the terrorist and he started firing blindly. Suddenly few commandos barged into the staircase from mezzanine and fired at the terrorist, one of the bullets knocked his rifle and others pierced his body. A stray bullet fired from terrorist’s rifle hit me in my torso and I collapsed to the floor along with Arjit. Army commandos lifted us and walked towards the Ambulance…
                                                I sat propped up in my hospital bed after seeing Vijay and Director Yash coming with a bouquet.
Yash smiled at me. “Get well soon Sameer! In my next film I want you to play the role of…” he paused. I looked at him anxiously.
“A villain!” He gave me the bouquet with a broad smile.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Blue Silk Scarf and a Blood stained Knife -Short Story

Hi friends,I am uploading the short story which I had submitted for Times of India Write India Contest.
Preface was given by Chetan Bhagat.

Rules by the Author
The story should be a life lesson. That's the only rule. Rest, use your skills and imagination!
Preface by Chetan Bhagat
She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. ..

Story starts now...
Madhulika dashed down the stairs, kicking open the gate, paused for a nanosecond to look back. Next second she was running with a blood stained knife in her hand. The long distance runner in Madhu made her legs strike the ground at a steady pace through the green lanes of Koregaon Park. Her heart pounded with fear. Knife may attract attention! I am a fool to run like this! She pulled the blue silk scarf from her neck, ducked behind a big Banyan tree and wrapped the knife in it. Grey clouds and sleepy by lanes of Koregaon Park afforded her the luxury of going unnoticed. She turned back to gauge the distance she had covered. Her heart jumped into her throat. A speeding bike with two men was just 100 metres away.
They are looking for me! She froze for a moment behind the banyan tree. The bike went past, stopped at the cross roads ahead. They searched in both directions, talked over mobile for half a minute and took a left turn. She raced and took the right turn.
Damn! I didn’t come to Pune to become a murderer and flee like a criminal! Looking back fearfully, she cursed her fate. Road was empty. Clouds were threatening. Bolts of lightning flashed with a deafening sound. Run Madhulika! She darted again.
She passed the place where her misery started, the gates of the Osho commune, where she bumped into Shikha Roy, her senior from Kolkata.
‘It’s so good to hear Bengali after a week.’ Excited Madhulika hugged Shikha.
Shikha worked at an IT firm and was staying in Magarpatta City. Her Boyfriend was accompanying her.
‘I have joined Symbi for MBA and am staying in a Hostel.’ said Madhu .

Both chatted about Bengali films, literature  and Music. Her boyfriend became a little impatient.
’Madhu! Our friends are meeting in Starbucks Café and going on to a Movie. Will catch you later!’ She smiled sweetly and left. Madhu turned back to resume her aimless strolling.
It was a Saturday afternoon. Madhu had wanted to explore Pune. Her Hostel friends were busy. So she ventured out alone. She googled  Osho Park, captured  the route map in her mobile. She had an important letter to be couriered, so she took it along with her. She took a Rickshaw to go to Osho Park. After spending 2 hours in Osho Park, she had run into Shikha on her way out.
I have to search for a good courier service. Idiots! In this cyber era, they want me to send the refund request by post. Her request of email had fallen on deaf ears. She heard a male voice speaking sweet Bengali.
‘Hi! I am Ajit! Are you a Bengali?’ A suave, stylish, handsome guy with chiseled face and rimless glasses was smiling at her.
‘I guessed right! Your silky tresses, beautiful eyes and flawless skin say it all!’
 I am talking to a stranger in an unknown city.  Madhu shrugged and started walking.
 I have to find a courier!
 She scanned the names of the shops. Should I ask someone! She stopped.
‘May I help you?’ She turned back .Ajit gave a cordial smile.  ‘I live in this area!  Think I can help you!’
Oh! Same guy again! Your looks are stunning man! But I am not interested!
‘No! Thanks!’ She tried to look as if she was just sauntering along.
 Let me ask this shop owner!
 She went near a shop. The shop was crowded. ‘Could you tell me where a courier shop is?’ She  asked in a polite tone. Shop owner was busy and not interested in answering her. Shit!  
I love Robindra Sangeet. I am dying to talk about it. Let us chat over a cup of coffee!’ Ajit was still  following her. Madhu tried to ignore him. She had other thoughts on her mind now. Her upset  bowels! Roadside panipuri had taken a toll on her digestive tract. I have to reach the Hostel before  my guts go crazy!’ She was wary of the hygiene of public toilets.
 Ajit was continuously talking about Bengali writers and Films passionately. She found that his taste  matched hers. His impeccable Bengali impressed her.
‘Are you a Bengali?’ Her eyes widened.
‘No! I am a Multi linguist. But I love Bengalis and their language!’  His eyes twinkled.
‘I resigned from an IT company two years ago and own a startup now.’ He looked dashing in a half  sleeved white Shirt and light khaki cargo pants. Madhu realized that she had got carried away by his  sweet words and had walked pretty good distance .Roads were getting quieter without much traffic.
 It’s high time I enquire about the courier shop. A petty shop was quite empty.
‘Is there any courier service nearby?’ Shop owner showed left direction but immediately changed his  pointing fingers towards right. His eyes were fixed behind Madhu. ‘Go straight and turn right in the  second lane.’
‘Thank you!’ Madhu started in that direction. First,Second… She turned to the right. Beautiful  bungalows adorned the lane. There was a courier service shop in a car parking area of an old  bungalow but it was closed. Now her bowels started troubling her. Oh! No! Not Now!
You have come very near our house. See my sister- in-law standing in the balcony. She will prepare  a good coffee for you!’
‘Sudha! Prepare a good coffee for my friend.’ He told the beautiful, dusky woman.
‘No Thanks! I am not in the mood for coffee now.’  Madhu turned back. Sharp pain in bowels started  troubling her again.
There is a woman in this house. So no harm in going to the house.  I will use their washroom at least!
‘If not coffee then please have Milkshake!’They climbed the staircase of the Bungalow and went to  the first floor. Sudha opened the door and gave an unwelcoming smile.
‘She is my brother’s wife. He has gone to US for a project.’ A fair plump old woman with bright  bindi entered the hall.
‘She is my aunt. ’ Aunt smiled and folded her hands. ’Namaste Beti!’
 Two young men came out of the bedroom. Ajit introduced them to Madhu.’Rohan and Rahul! My  cousins cum business partners! Our office is on the ground floor.’ They smiled politely and turned to  Ajit.
‘Ajit! We will be back in 30 minutes!’ They walked down the stairs.
 Madhu was desperate. Cramps had become severe. ’Mr.Ajit! May I use your washroom please!’
‘Please!’ Ajit showed her the way. After easing herself Madhu came out and stood near the  washbasin. Guys had left the bedroom door ajar, she could see the computer screen. A slide show of  nude photographs of different girls! What the hell! Anyway it’s none of my business!  She turned  towards the kitchen to bid adieu to the ladies but Sudha’s strange action puzzled her. She was adding  a white powder in the milkshake meant for Madhu.  She was whispering to the old lady ’Should I  add more essence, so that she will not be able to smell anything wrong.’
 What the hell is happening here?
 Ajit was talking on the phone in Malayalam. ‘We have caught a bong fish. I called Sudha and asked  her to be in the balcony to gain her confidence. Sudha has arranged everything perfectly. She is an  expert now. After sedating her we will do our job. I will send the video and photos...’Ajit was  continuing.
 Thanks to her Father’s posting in Kerala during her school days, she could understand Malayalam  well but not able to speak fluently. Madhu was terrified at the planned chicanery.
 How foolish of me to blabber about all my interests and personal details to Shikha in a Public place.  He has overheard our conversation and used it to trap me in this hell! Thank God! I didn’t let on  that I understand Malayalam. I have to escape. But How!
 She sneaked into the Kitchen. There was a sharp chef’s knife on the table. She stealthily picked it up  and started moving out. But the alert old woman tried to grab madhu’s hands. Madhu swiftly tucked  the knife out of sight and slapped the old woman with the other hand. Sudha ran towards the old  woman who had lost her balance. Madhu dashed out to the entrance.
‘Where are you going? You can’t escape from us.’ Ajit winked with a nasty smile. He twisted her  arm behind her back. His vicious twist made her squirm but she gripped the handle of the knife  tightly, turned and lunged at Ajit’s abdomen. She pulled out the bloody knife as Ajit fell with a sharp  cry. She rushed towards the entrance with the knife and started running…Now she was running with  the wrapped knife.
 Madhulika slowed down her pace as roads were getting busier.
 It is a main road! She turned back to look for the bike.
 No! They have not found me yet!
 She looked at both sides of the road. The Starbucks symbol caught her attention.
 Shikha said that she was going to Starbucks to meet her friends!
 Madhu entered Starbucks café, and looked around for Shikha. 
 No! She is not here!
 Madhu climbed the helical staircase and scanned the mezzanine.
 No Shikha!
 Tired and exhausted, she put her handbag and scarf on a table. The sight of the two men emerging  from   the helix triggered panic in her. She quickly ducked under the table, and pretended to look for  something. Two pairs of jeans clad legs slowly approached her table, but stopped to attend the  mobile.
‘Ajit! She is not here.’
‘What did the Doctor say?... Wound is not deep!..Bandaged!...Good!’ Pairs of legs started moving  away.
 Madhulika’s muscles relaxed a bit. Devil is alive! Should I inform the police now? or should I go to  hostel?...confused!
 She slowly got up and calmed down oblivious to the fact that her handbag and Blue silk scarf had  been noticed by the guys.
 I will wait here till those demons vanish! She went down, placed her order, took her coffee and  luckily found a free table near a window.
 She sat in the Starbucks café, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood  stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf… She couldn’t believe  the way the day had unfolded.
 Now I don’t need this knife! She opened the handbag and put the wrapped knife inside.
 After spending thirty minutes in the coffee brown interiors of Star Bucks, she walked out of the café  and waited for a Rickshaw. It was raining heavily .Rickshaws were packed. She started losing  patience, but regained energy as a Rickshaw slowed down near her. She hurriedly got into the  Rickshaw and asked to be taken to ‘SB Road.’
 It was raining heavily .Name board of a shop alerted Madhu. Am I going in the wrong direction?  Before she could gather her wits, a bike slowed down near the Rickshaw.
 Oh My God!  She froze in terror. Same guys! One of the men grinned at the Rickshaw driver and  showed a Thumbs up sign. 
 Shit! All belong to the same racket!
 She thought of jumping from the Rickshaw. I may break my limbs and worsen my condition. Is this  the end of my life?  Loud crackling thunders started shattering   Madhu’s confidence.
 Tears trickled from her eyes slowly. She wiped them with her hands. Rickshaw stopped near the  gate. Rohan pulled her out of the Rickshaw.
 Now she was taken to the house in ground floor .Interiors were different. It was like a studio. Flash  lights.  Erotic Paintings, statuettes! Disgusting!
 Ajit was reclining on a couch. She was surprised to see the energy in him despite the injury.
‘Darling! Have you come back? I was waiting for you.’ He smirked. He turned back to Rahul and  Rohan. ‘Guys! Make arrangements faster. This enchantress is elusive.’
‘Bastard!’ muttered Madhu. He ignored her and turned to Sudha.
‘Sudha! Bring the nectar!’
‘Ajit!I would suggest that you inject her. That will be more effective and long lasting.’ She gave a  cold look at Madhu.
‘You Bitch!’ shouted Madhu. Sudha ignored her and went to a room.
 She hurriedly came back and called Ajit. ’Send Rahul and Rohan to Bhaiyaji’s house to bring the  drug.Quick!’They immediately left for Bhaiyaji’s house which was nearby. It was pouring outside. I  have to escape!
 ‘Baby!’ Ajit raised her chin with his forefinger.
’Sudha was my first catch. Initially she also resisted like you. But see how she is cooperating. Now  we have hundreds of women. Girls fall for me and end up like this.’ He turned and smiled at Sudha.  She smiled cruelly at Madhu.
‘We have branches all over India. You have to cater our rich clientele. Those rich and spoilt fuckers  want only housewives and young college girls. You have to heed to us. And… You will!’ jeered  Ajit.
‘We will have all your videos and photo graphs with us.’  Madhu ‘s heart pulsated at seeing his  sardonic smile. Her eyes were fixed on his wicked face.
 Very Handsome but wicked! Now I am going to kill you to save many innocent girls. Nothing wrong  in murdering a Satan!
 She used her fingers to locate the scarf in the handbag, searched for   the handle of the knife, and  picked it out of the handbag. Her silk scarf fell to the floor, she gripped the handle and with a swift  movement, she tried to stab him, but a violent blow on her wrist stunned Madhu, her grip loosened  and the knife fell to the floor. She tried to grab it but Ajit slapped her brutally. Madhu lost her  balance and fell clumsily.
‘No need of any injection. You bitch! I will teach you a lesson!’ Ajit pounced on Madhu. Madhu  steadied herself and kicked his groins.
 Ah…! He groaned with pain. ’Sudha! Give me the knife! I will kill this …! I don’t like intelligent  women.’
 Madhu was terrified at the devilish expression in his eyes. Sudha quickly picked the knife from the  floor and moved towards him. He stretched out his hand, with a quick movement Sudha stabbed with  vengeance. Not Once but Thrice. Blood spilt out of his guts and spread all over. Ajit slowly toppled  to the bloody floor.
‘Thanks for giving me the courage. Today my sins are washed. ’ Sudha was shaking terribly.
‘I will handle this. Get out of here before they come!’ She shouted at Madhu. 
 Madhu started running towards the door. ‘Take your scarf and get lost!’
 Madhu picked up the scarf and started running … the splashing drops slowly washed away the blood  stains on her blue silk scarf.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ilaa of Paithan! - Short Story

Friends! I am uploading the story which I had submitted for Write India Contest(Entry for August Month). Preface was given by Author Amish Tripathi. We had to spin the yarn around these rules.Fitting our creativity within stipulated markers was quite a tough task .Feel free to send your feedback.

Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!
But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn't working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.
'I am sick of this!' she grunted loudly.

The story starts now.....
Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!
But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn't working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.
'I am sick of this!' she grunted loudly.
She looked at her slightly protruding belly which was carrying her third child. Her mother’s disgruntled voice echoed in her ears.
“Your husband Sakharam’s third wife Bheema is due for delivery now. If she gives birth to a son, she will become powerful. His first wife Sonabai is in the control of the kitchen hearth, so ,power of the household automatically belongs to her. You are the second one. You neither have a son nor hearth. Better bear a son to  have a say in your household.”
Bearing a son brings power to a woman?  Her stomach churned in disgust. December wind was brisk. She pulled the pallu of her saree tight around her shoulders to make herself warm. She turned to see the cotton fields which were buzzing with activity. All her family members including her two small daughters were working in the fields. ‘My daughters are little angels! At least they should get a loving husband’    she muttered under her breath.
She scratched the ground with a small stick. She stumbled upon a flat black coin. She ran her fingers over the coin. It was engraved with vague symbols. ‘Should be of Shatavahana queen Naganika .Nowadays no one uses these coins.’  Her panji used to narrate many stories of Shatavahana kings, empowered status of their women, and the respect they commanded .There were many folk songs which described the qualities of   the kings who ruled the region many centuries ago. Womenfolk sang these songs while doing field work and other chores, passed the tradition to the next generation. Ilaa also remembered the folk songs sung by her panji.
 Ilaa tossed the coin.
Today’s women have  become  like this obsolete coin. I wish I were a powerful queen like them .Ilaa Raje! I would have passed many laws favoring women.
Ilaa Raje’s court will be famous for its justice like the famous Shivaji Raje who gave impartial justice. Last year when Shivaji Raje visited Paithan, entire region was decorated with flowers and big leaves. The mountains and  rivers  of the region reverberated with  powwadas  praising Shivaji Raje’s valour,  sense of justice and his stand for the weak and oppressed. Ilaa stared at the coin again.
Panji used to tell ‘If you offer a coin or flower to Godamayi with love and faith, she will fulfill all your wishes.’ she saw the playful wavelets rippling in the river.
Should I pray for a son? But... Why? Her mind revolted. Why should I pray for a son?
She closed her eyes.  Godamayi! Bless me with a healthy child. If a girl child is born, she should be blessed with a loving husband and not be trapped in a loveless polygamous marriage .If a son is born, He should grow up as a kind man who respects  women , loves his wife unconditionally.
She threw the coin into the river. One wavelet swallowed the coin greedily and vanished into the river.
She got up, tightened her nine yards saree and walked towards the cotton fields.18 years old Champa was feeding her child near a banyan tree taking a short break from cotton picking. Her sombre face reflected the sadness in her life. Her parents had got her married to an old widower of 65 years. He wanted a young girl to look after him. Can’t a widow of his age look after him? Why did he marry such a young girl?

‘Ilaa Tai! Why don’t you sit and chat with me for some time?’Even before Ilaa settled, Champa  started  fretting about her Mhatara husband. Ilaa visualized herself to be Queen Ilaa Raje sitting in darbar. Her husband Sakharam was one of the courtiers in her imaginary court.
Sakharam bowed to Ilaa. ‘Ilaa Raje! Champa has come with a complaint. Her parents forced Champa to marry an old man. She hates her Mhatara husband. She wants justice Raje! Royal court awaits your orders.’
Ilaa Raje issued an edict with a commanding voice.
“I issue an order to my kingdom that a widower should marry  only a widow of his age and not a virgin, If any one flouts this order, he should serve and nurse an old woman 20 to 40 years elder to him as a punishment till his life time.’
Ilaa started laughing uncontrollably at the picture framed in her mind. Visualizing her husband Sakharam bowing to Ilaa Raje tickled her funny bone.  Her hysterical laughter puzzled Champa. Ilaa didn’t want to explain her imaginary world of Ilaa Raje to Champa. She consoled Champa with a soothing voice.
’Champa! I wish I had powers to punish your Mhatara!’ Ilaa sighed!
Champa continued. ‘Mhatara has ruined my life Tai! He told this world that he needed someone to look after him in his old age. But truth is...Tai! He married me for his physical needs.’ She abhorrently spat on the ground. Her cheeks became wet with tears. Ilaa wiped Champa’s tears.
‘Champa! Do you think that my life is anything better? My husband married three wives in the pretext of having a son. I strongly feel that he is on a marriage spree searching for new brides by giving such ostensible reasons.’
Champa hesitated for a second. ‘Ilaa Tai! Please don’t mistake me. There are rumours floating in our village that your husband Sakharam Saab is on a bride hunting process. In case Bheema doesn’t give birth to a son, he may go forward with his marriage plans.’ Ilaa stared at the distant blue sky and the roaming fluffy cotton clouds .Creating mental space for one more woman in the house would be difficult.
‘Champa! Do you remember the kirtankar’s song in which he narrated about ancient women?’
‘When?I don’t remember!’
‘Two months back…He was telling that ancient women had right to choose their husband and it was called as Swayamvar. Can we ever dream of such thing in our lives?’
‘If that was the case, I would have rejected the Mhatara!’ Champa laughed.
‘Even I would have rejected Sakharam!’ Ilaa also joined Champa.
‘Champa! Look at this banyan tree! We observe fast and pray around this tree that we should get the same husband for seven lives. Do our husbands deserve such prayers?’ Ilaa smirked.
‘Tai! Husbands never fast for their wives. Do they?’
‘They will pray for seven wives in one life.’ Both of them guffawed to their heart’s content.
‘Champa! My panji used to say that in olden days, women were able to read and write. They believed in the saying “Where women are worshipped, there the gods dwell.”
Nowadays they worship Goddesses Bhavanimata, Laksmimata, but treat their women as slaves!

Champa! I will take your leave.’ Ilaa got up and walked towards the field. She sneaked into the field and mixed with the womenfolk who were picking cotton. She tied a long odhni around her back, crisscrossed it across the shoulders, knotted in the front and started picking the cotton with both hands and collected in the odhni. When the odhni started overflowing, she emptied them in a terracota Ganj and returned back to the field to pick the cotton again.
As the winter breeze got cooler, she walked towards her house. She opened the wooden gate and went to the back yard, started cleaning the cattle shed, collected the cow dung in a corner, filled the water pots meant for the bovines and  milked the cows. She kindled the dying embers in the big earthen kiln fixed to the ground in the back yard on which huge brass pot was kept. She filled the pot with water. Hot water had to be ready for washing hands and legs. It was cold out there. She entered the kitchen which was warm, sat near Sonabai who was kneading Jowar flour for making Bhakris.
Prepare thecha! ‘Sonabai ordered.
Ilaa held the lantern and collected onions, red chillies, garlic required for thecha. It was dark in the corner of the kitchen. Dark corners are the best places for snakes to hide. She was careful while collecting the materials and sat near Sonabai. Sonabai’s face glowed beautifully in the reflection of cooking fire of the kitchen. She had tremendous stamina and endurance with a strong body. Both in fields and household work she was swift and equaled a male worker. Her tanned oval face was attractive with black curls falling on her forehead which was bright with horizontal red vermillion mark.
‘Where were you most of the time today? You joined us during the fag end of the day.’ Her voice was stern.
Ilaa silently peeled the garlic pods.
‘You know that traders will be visiting within a week. Men folk are busy discussing about fixing the price for bales, so you thought that your absence will not be noticed by anyone.’ she whispered in a strict voice.’ you cannot cite pregnancy as a reason, because when I was carrying my first child, I was working in the fields till the last moment.’
Ilaa sighed.’ I was tensed .What if I don’t give birth to a son?’ She started cutting onions.
‘If Bheema gives birth to a son, problem will be solved.’
‘Really?’  Ilaa’s eyes widened. She secretly watched Sonabai’s expressions. A tinge of jealousy could  be  seen from her eyes.
‘I don’t think so. It should be a mixed feeling, happy that an heir is born to this family and little sad that Bheema will grab the attention of Sasubai and Malak.’ Ilaa replied.
‘Don’t be silly.’ quipped Sonabai.’Has Malak ever shower his love on us?’
‘Till our first child was born.’Ilaa chuckled. ‘He lost interest after that.’
‘SonaTai! Are you aware of the rumour circulating in our village? Malak is hunting for a new bride. In case Bheema delivers a girl, He will go ahead with his marriage plans.’
Ilaa was surprised to see a drop of tear rolling on Sonabai’s cheeks.Did I assume that Sonabai is a mentally tough woman?  Sonabai continued her ranting.  ‘Malak can never understand the emotions of a woman. He thinks that marriage is an easy way to get a mating partner. He has forgotten that there is an element of love in marriage.’ Exasperated Sonabai pushed the firewood inside the kiln with the iron tong.
Ilaa got up silently and went to the flat rectangular metate, placed the spices on it and rolled the pestle to crush them.
 Men also crush our feelings similarly. We call them Malak because they are our masters.Masters do not have feelings for their slaves.
Ilaa Raje was sitting on her throne. A distraught woman entered her Darbar. Courtier bowed to Ilaa.
‘Ilaa Raje! This woman’s husband has 10 wives. She is demanding justice for the emotional turbulence she is undergoing. She wants her husband to be punished for causing mental agony.’
Ilaa Raje saw the wailing woman. She started with an imposing tone which silenced the court.
‘Dear lady! Please calm down! I understand your plight. Seeing the agony of my subject, I issue an order which abolishes polygamy in my kingdom. From now on husbands will address their wives as Malkin.’
‘What about justice Raje! My life is ruined now.’ lamented the woman.
Ilaa Raje cleared her throat.’ As a punishment for polygamy, the husband should observe fast every month for his wives. From sunrise to sunset, he should not have even a drop of water and should pray for his wives’ longevity. If he has ten wives, then he should observe fast for ten days a month, each day dedicated to one wife.’ Hail Ilaa Raje!’ thundered the court.
Ilaa laughed hysterically at her queer and amusing judgment.
‘Ilaa! Have you gone mad? Why are you laughing like this? Give me the thecha.’ Annoyed Sonabai shook her shoulders. Ilaa gathered her composure, got up and entered the kitchen.
After the dinner, Ilaa wiped the kitchen floor with cow dung mixed with little water. She closed the door of the kitchen, went to her room and lied down near her daughters.
It was past midnight. Bheema’s sharp cry woke up Ilaa from her sleep.
‘Send a message to the Sueen.’Ilaa’s Sasubai shouted.
As the contractions became stronger and longer, Bheema’s painful cries were unbearable.
All the ladies were in Bheema’s room and had started preliminary preparations for the delivery. Ilaa’s husband Sakharam brought the midwife and sat on the katta in the verandah. Midwife entered Bheema’s room. Bheema’s high pitched shrill tore the night sky, it was followed by the soft crying voice of a new born baby. Ilaa’s Sasubai shouted with excitement.’ It is a boy. Heir to our house is born. My prayers are answered.’
Ilaa watched Sonabai’s face.It was expressionless. Now the power equations of this house will change. Tinge of jealousy seeped in the heart of Ilaa. Midwife cleaned the baby and wrapped it with a soft cotton cloth. She turned to Ilaa. ’Bring the lantern!’.Ilaa followed her. Midwife stood in front of Sakharam. Ilaa raised the lantern to see the face of her husband. He should be beaming with pride now. Ilaa was surprised to see the expression in his face. He was neither happy nor sad. He doesn’t have to deal with any power equations. Why is he expressionless?  Midwife greeted him happily.
‘God bless this family Dada! After a string of girl children, a boy is born in this family. ’ Sakharam tried to smile.
With the crackling thought crossing her mind, Ilaa understood his predicament. Ilaa started laughing uncontrollably. ’Oh my God! Malak is upset because this boy has put an end to his marriage spree and bride hunt.’
Her Sasubai who was distributing jaggery to the family members was surprised to see cheerful Ilaa. ‘A son is born to Bheema. But Ilaa is not jealous.’,She thought. ‘Ilaa has a golden heart. She is bubbling with joy after this boy is born.’ Sasubai told Sakharam.
Dear Sasubai! I am bubbling with happiness not because a male child is born. In the pretext of having a male child, your son will not be able to marry again and again!   Ilaa was still laughing to her heart’s content.

Panji- Great Grandmother
Panjoba- Great Grandfather
Mhatara- Old Man
Powwada – Marathi ballad
Odhni – Long scarf
Thecha- Chutney
Sueen- Midwife
Sasubai- Mother-in-law
Ganj – Vertical vessel
Bhakri – Round flat unleavened  bread
Malak- Master or owner, used to address husband in third person.

Story Title :- Cotton Candies