Wednesday, March 20, 2019


It has been a year. Doesn’t feel like it. I sit in this empty house staring at its emptiness which seems to reflect the emptiness in my heart. I close my eyes. It reminds me of that day again. The day you left me for dad. You always wanted to go with dad. He beat you to death. Or was it the other way around. Did death beat you to get to him first? I don’t know. But death sure stormed into this house to leave me devastated. I have been alone many times in life. I felt lonely for the first time. I open my eyes. I still do.

The vacuum in my mind has not filled. The scar in my soul has not healed. The hole in my heart still bleeds. They say time heals everything. May be I don’t want it to. I have spent days in this house mentally recreating the magical moments we shared right here. They make up most of my life anyway. I don’t have much else. A stopped clock, a broken bat, a spider web, an old calendar, a torn slipper, a coffee mug, a dusted picture: all shake me up and take me back in time. I don’t want to come back.

While I feel lonely in the house I once ran riot in, I feel out of place in a crowded city that I never left. The three of us have been to almost every nook and corner it has to offer. Now I wander the streets thronging all our spots hoping to find you. It brings pain and joy at once. I see you. I see us. And then I see me. Alone!

I have been back to that day several times. I am there again now. I see you are cold. Very cold. As cold as dad was. That doesn’t seem to affect you. You seem to be sleeping rather peacefully. Like any other day. Your right eye opened ever so slightly. I touch you. You don’t stir. I kiss you. You don’t flinch. How can you be sleeping in this scorching sun? They say you can hear me. Can you? You seem at peace. Just like dad. There seems to be a faint smile in the corner of your lips. You are probably excited to see him again. What about me? Am I being selfish?

It is déjà vu again. I take you through the streets of Pondicherry one last time. But for the first time it is not on two wheels but four. And for the first time you are not touching my shoulder and asking me to go slowly. Why don’t you? I promise I will listen this time.

We stop somewhere. This place looks familiar. A little too familiar. I don’t want to get out. I am forced to. I see dad has reserved you a spot right next to him. This is not the first time fire and smoke have engulfed me. This is not the first time I have lost my sense of time or place. But this is the first time I have been truly shaken. I stutter through the ceremonies as my brain projects flashes of our times together through the lens of my eyes. You burn outside while I burn on the inside. I take your ashes to the exact same spot and watch you swim towards dad. I know you will miss me but I am also happy for you. A wonderful life comes to an end and hopefully another one starts.

It is not that simple for me though. I come back to present day. The house is still empty. And so am I as I still keep searching for bits and pieces of you to hold on to.

It seems like death has taken a liking to me. Not literally, at least not yet. But it has been around in my life for the past few years. It has given me a lot of scars but at the same time it has brought back so many memories that had been locked away in all corners of my heart and mind. Childhood, boyhood and adulthood flash through my eyes. I don’t seem to know the difference between smiling and crying anymore.

It is like we are pen friends. Did I just call death my friend? I guess he (or she) is. I hate him for taking away the two people who defined my existence. Life barely seems to tread along without them. I hate him less for making it painless. For them. It has been a world of pain for me and I will have to live with it.

A kind request to you. Don’t write to me again. Next time we meet; it should be in person.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


Time always fascinates me. Time changes constantly. We all know that. We have been told that. In the famous statement “Change is the only constant”, time is the variable. But can we really see that? Think about it. We hardly see time change. All you smarty pants out there, don’t look at your watches immediately! What I meant was that in the hustle and bustle of our lives, we fail to notice all the changes that happen around us. We are subconsciously aware of the changing times but we sort of seamlessly ease in to all these changes that we hardly notice them. Well, I am not being intentionally vague or purposefully confusing here even though you may be cursing me already.

Well, think about it. Time is like the earth or the sun or the millions of heavenly objects. Science has educated us that all these things move. But we have never really seen them do so (unless you are sitting in NASA with a super telescope). Time is like wind. We can feel the change but it eludes our eyes. So years go by and we live life adapting to (and accepting) all the changes that happen around us through the years without really stopping to think and see the extent and magnitude of those changes. And also there is the continuum paradox. Well, don’t worry. This is not a science article. Imagine you keep seeing someone every single day. You wouldn’t notice the subtle changes in their appearance as they are so gradual that they go unnoticed. On the other hand if you are seeing someone say after 5 years you are more likely to see the changes in them.

All right.. all right.. I can see a few polite folks yelling: “So what are you trying to say here?” Well, I will give you the usual answer: Nothing really. If you still want to try and peek into my brain, don’t tell me I didn’t try to warn you. Well, it is one of those random moments where I was just reminiscing the old times and my idle mind started to chronicle all the changes that it has lived through all these years. And it made me part nostalgic and part philosophical. Don’t worry…. Won’t bore you with anything too deep though.

So let us see, what has changed in our lives! Well, for starters, everything! The way of life, the people around you, the landscape, the scenery, the air you breathe, the roads you travel, the food you eat, the things you do and so on and so forth! Nothing has been spared by the winds of time and change.

Be more specific, you say. Okay! In those days, TV was not 24 hours. And it was not 240 channels either. I am sure lot of you would feel nostalgic about Doordarshan. I used to sit watching the Doordarshan symbol spinning and spinning, waiting for programming to begin. Or sometimes there used to be that multi-color bars that covered the TV screen like a rainbow which always fascinated me. And I don’t know if it is just me, but I felt that the programs in those days were better than the ones that air now. But again I digress.

The point is that in those days there were limited numbers of good quality shows (and of different genres) that kept us hooked. I remember waiting for the next Wednesday to watch Byomkesh Bakshi. Sunday mornings were always the most exciting time of the week as we had great shows and cartoons back to back from I think 9 to 12. And those were the only times you could watch these shows. If by chance you miss it, there is no way you can watch it again. There was no re-telecast. There was no internet (probably was inside some genius’ mind). I remember being so bummed when I couldn’t watch a favorite show due to a power cut. I also remember going to a friend who lived a few streets apart (where by some miracle, there was no power cut) and asking him what happened in that day’s episode. I can’t imagine anyone doing these things nowadays. To the next generation, this might even sound outright funny (I can already see Maya making fun of me), but these are bits of nostalgia for me.

There was no Youtube (or multiple music channels) those days and Chitrahaar or Rangoli were the only means for you to catch a new song or reminisce an old classic. And ohhh…. Movies. What can I say? There was so much buzz and anticipation over the release of a new movie. The only way to watch a new movie was in the theater. And we only watched our most favorite actors’ movies (or an absolute classic) in the theater. So it felt like a huge deal. I would always be in countdown mode that whole week. And then there was ice cream, popcorn etc… It felt very special. Nowadays we have the option to watch every other movie in the theater though more often than not, we watch them in our laptops while multitasking a bunch of other things. And a week later, we don’t even remember if we ever watched that movie or not. It is no surprise that I distinctly remember only the movies (the theater I watched them in and several other details) that I watched up until I probably went to college.

Moving on to food. Well, that too has changed a lot. I remember fruit and vegetable vendors making rounds every single morning. I used to love the exercise of going out and picking fresh vegetables. No supermarkets, no genetically modified shiny fruits that look like that they came out of a washing machine, no cutely labelled organic fancy (read expensive) stuff! Just fresh fruits and vegetables right out of neighboring farm lands. And lots of variety too. I know it will be a weird comparison, but if you think about it, even though the number of dishes in restaurants have risen exponentially, the ingredients are actually shrinking. There are vegetables that I no longer see or are very scarce these days. And talk about restaurants and fancy places serving food! Well, I know we have a lot of options these days. But somehow I feel that they just try too much to be different and unique. Don’t get me wrong, they are very good, but I still prefer the older ones which kept it relatively simple but immensely delicious.

Let us switch gears a bit. How about the stark contrast in watching a Bjorn Borg or a Stefan Edberg play to the current crop (barring Federer of course) go on and on in endless marathon rallies like soft skinned cyborgs? How about the fact that in a few years, we could see 1 over cricket matches playing to packed arenas? I can just go on and on but I am sure you don’t want me to. And don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that all this change is bad. By no means! I am just saying that our lives are changing daily at an infinitesimal velocity and ferocity.

And if you think about it, technology is at the forefront of most of the changes that have transpired in our lives. It is what drove us out of the streets and playgrounds into our cellphones and gaming consoles. It is what gave us the option of skipping a get together with friends and to catch up later on Facebook or Whatsapp. It is the one that trumped our urge to catch a movie on the giant screen to watching it on your iPad on the go. It is the one that egged us to tear away from our roots and explore the vast expanses of the earth (and beyond). Well, I guess you get the point here.

There will be a day when we (at least some of us) will be travelling in cars that drive themselves, when robots will clean our dishes and autobots will cook delicacies for us as we watch a movie in our Google glasses while telecommuting to work. And to our delusional mind, all this would seem like life as usual. But to the deep subconscious, if and when it wakes up from a slumber, it would be another of time’s in-numerous illusions that will, like it or not, leave you transformed and transfixed to equal measure. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


In our lives, we have several relationships, some we are born with, some we forge, some we fall in love with, some we create, some we stumble upon, some we stumble into and so on and so forth. But almost no relationship is perfect and almost never is it unconditional. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, to be fair, it shouldn’t be. Give and take is the basis for all relationships to thrive. People expect things out of you and you have your own set of expectations that you hope (wishfully perhaps) they will live up to. Be it emotional, material, philosophical, physical, metaphysical, psychological, or something else, we all have our mutual needs and compulsions that we impose or have to live up to. The fact that these expectations are the root cause of strain in relationships is a different matter altogether and I don’t intend to get into that. Bottom line, most of us are not saints, and so we cannot give unconditionally.

But rarely, very rarely do a very select few of us experience a relationship that is purely unconditional. Even one sided, I may say. There are people, yes there are, whose minds are very simple and hearts extra-large. All they care about is you and they don’t care how much you love them back. They don’t broadcast their love for you. They hold it in their eyes and it reverberates into our hearts. They look out for us as we march ahead in this world without looking back. They will be your stepping stones, but they won’t tell you that. They make countless sacrifices but take every effort to mask those from your eyes. They live their lives for us and we owe ours to them. Do we realize that in time? Do we celebrate them? Do we love them back? Do we make them feel special? Do we slow down, sit back and enjoy a few moments with them? Do we make them feel it was all worth it, even though they never doubted it? These are questions each of us has to grapple with our own conscience.

I was insanely lucky to have one such person in my life. I was gifted to have you, dad. You didn’t judge me. You didn’t preach to me. You didn’t question me. You never imposed but always inspired me. You willed me to reach for the skies, yet you didn’t resort to false praises or promises. You took no shortcuts in life and made sure I appreciated that. You expected everything of me but yet nothing from me. You never ignored me. You always adored me. And most of all, you believed in me.

You laughed with me and cried for me. You carried me on your shoulders and you watched life through my eyes. You played with me, prayed for me, listened to every silly little story I had, told me the ones I wanted to hear over and over again, pushed me, held me, carried me literally and emotionally, gave me strength, took my pain, fought for me and did countless other things which will remain forever in my mind, heart and tears. You made my world yours and you were my world. You were everything for me. I don’t know if I believe in God or not. You see, I didn’t have to. I had you. Or rather, I have you.

As a school friend of mine exquisitely put it: “You were a part of every frame in the movie of my life, but you settled in a corner, letting me have the limelight.” A subtle yet surreal statement that put your life and mine in a symphonic perspective.

I have seen you when I was a child. And then I saw you as a child. Both were fascinating experiences in their own respect. I laughed in both and cried in one. I cannot forget either. Happiness gives us comfort while pain gives us strength. You taught me life without ever trying to.

I miss hearing your voice every single day. I miss playing tennis with you. I miss watching you play. I miss those laser precision serves that barely hit the line to the dismay of your opponent. I miss laughing with my mom every time you run aggressively towards the ball and clock it to the net and then curse yourself. I miss yapping pointlessly with you. I miss enjoying your silly fights with autowallas. I miss listening to you talk about random things with your trademark wisdom sprinkled all along. I miss the worldly conversations with you. I also miss the silence between us. I miss watching you sew. I miss watching you make love to that 30 year old Remington typewriter. I miss seeing you undress a coconut in record time. I miss sitting behind you on the scooter, hugging your stomach and whispering in your ear every single thing I see on the streets. I miss you sitting behind me in my bike, your hand gently resting on my shoulder and soaking in the sceneries in silence.  

Every time I think of you, a tear makes its way down my cheek as another waits for its turn. I can’t make my peace with the fact that you have left me. I don’t think I can ever. I can’t fathom that you have gone to a place I can’t find. At least not yet. Sometimes I wonder when I will get there. How will you look like? How will I look like? I imagine all the things that we will have to talk. Lots of things to catch up. Do you miss me? I do. I look up at the sky and smile every day hoping that you are looking. Make sure you do. Take care dad. Until we meet again.

My first memory of your loss

Saturday, November 12, 2016


Time plays such a crucial part in our lives. We are very aware of time. Or at least we think we are. A lot of people (not me though) are very organized. We seem to have things figured out. We know what to do and when. We know our limitations and strengths. We prioritize. We plan our present and future (sometimes even our past) meticulously and march ahead with guns blazing (I hope, not literally) and confidence brimming. Well, we all face hurdles but let us say we get the better of them more often than not and life is good (as much as it can be). Well, I see a few of you scratching your heads and the others wondering if I will ever get to the point (if there is one). For those yawning, may I suggest some coffee?

Before you start speculating, let me point out that this is not a reflection about the purpose of our lives (though that would make some good fodder material). I hear a few sighs (of relief?!) Today something random occurred which triggered a queer thought. Let me explain. These days, as I hold my daughter in my arms and rock her to sleep, it feels like heaven. Even after she is long asleep, I stand there in front of a mirror with her tucked and wrapped around me and watch her sleep like a doll. Slowly and sadly I realize that this is a short term pleasure that I have to cherish and relish as much as I can before time runs out on me. I will not be able to hold her in my arms (or for that matter hold on to her) forever.

Now this got me thinking. This is just one little trick of time (and its partner in crime, life). There are several such instances where we are tricked into a status quo and we never think about the day when we will no longer be able to do, feel or see something that we have enjoyed, experienced or fascinated by for pretty much our entire life.  Now this is what I was referring to earlier. Time is such a con artist. It is a master illusionist. It makes us feel that we are in control and then all of a sudden, in one sweeping action, it brings us crashing down to reality. I see a few of you are looking at your watch. Don’t worry… I won’t take too much of your time. By the way… did you see time smiling back at you (or was it a smirk?)

We are all in different stages of our life. So some of you may relate to this better (even a lot more than I do) and some may be still be young enough to think that I am spitting out hot “garbage” (you are allowed to use the more stylish and cool French pronunciation here). The thing is there will come a time (or rather a moment and a very defining one) in your life when you will realize that you are no longer able to do something that was second nature to you till that point that you had not even thought about a life without that.

No one likes to be told that you cannot do something. Or more so, that you will not be able to do something. That is like the ultimate insult to our ego. So for a long time, we fight as hard as we can to convince others (and ourselves) that we can. We stretch our body and mind to be our 20 year old self as long as we can. We feel indestructible and incomparable. But then we age, not time. And slowly we start feeling vulnerable. So I felt odd when for the first time, my shoulder hurt after bowling for just one hour. My brain had still not come to terms with another shock. The fact that I had transitioned from a fast bowler to a medium pacer. That realization was reserved for another day. I felt frustrated when I was not able to run around the tennis court as I had done just a year ago. I couldn’t believe I was puffing and panting after just 2 sets. Well, had I known on that day, that exactly a year later, I would say time out after 1 set, I might have felt a little better.

I accompany my parents for their doctor visits. So every time one of them went to our eye doctor, he would ask my mom or dad to read a chart that had letters of decreasing sizes. He would then put in lenses of different powers and they would go again. At that time, there was always a small happiness inside me as I would be able to read every line in that chart (down to the microscopic sized alphabets in the last row). Had I known that one day I will not be able to read the last row (or may be even the ones above it), I am sure I would not have had that little inexplicable moment of glee. 

During my school and college days, I used to remember all my friends’ birthdays and their phone numbers by heart. Nowadays I have outsourced that part of my brain to smart phones and social media (boy that sounds cool, but it ain’t).  May be my RAM can’t handle it anymore and my ROM has reached its capacity. Or maybe I should just eat more ladies' fingers. (Relax peeps, I meant the vegetable).

I still remember my first winter in college. Winter in India is not a common thing and for a guy from South India, it is probably unheard of. I studied in BITS Pilani which is in Rajasthan, popular for its desert and heat. But it gets awfully cold during winter. So there I was, standing in the middle of the road (Courtesy a flat tire) on the coldest day in I guess 20 years, with a t-shirt, jeans and slippers. And strangely it felt amazing. I was shivering but wouldn’t have taken a sweater even if one was available. I was loving it. And that crazy ride that followed after is still etched in my memory as an uber cool adventure (I should probably write about that).

Anyways… fast forward now… winter has become an integral part of my life as I am in Chicago now. But I am not that daredevil anymore. I still love to go out and play in the snow but who knows when I will realize that I can’t do that anymore. That day is not too far off. The only difference is that on that day in Rajasthan, I was a young, happy and ignorant boy who just soaked in an adventure, whereas today I relish it with careful abandon. I know that these times won’t last forever either. Which among these two moments is more precious: well that is a real toughie.

I think I have reached a logical stopping point. By that I mean either you have left by now or you are thinking of pouring that hot coffee on my face. My intention was not to bum people out by writing about sad and high handed philosophical compost. So if I made you rue the last 5 minutes of your life, allow me to finish with a happy thought.

We know we cannot beat time. The realization may come sooner or later or never (that would be ideal in some ways). But the thing is you cannot change anything. So live life to the fullest and enjoy these precious moments. Cherish them as if they will never happen again. Treasure them in your mind and play them over and over through your eyes and heart. They will make you forget everything else and experience bliss. Freeze every moment of your life. May be that is the only way to get the better of time.   

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Read Part 1 here

Stephen sipped his cup of tea gingerly as he shifted glances between Ghanshyam and Meera. “I wanted to talk to you about your son Neeraj.”

“I don’t want to talk anything about that devil.” Ghanshyam walked out, his face red in fury.

Meera lowered her head in anguish. “What is there to talk? You probably would have heard everything from the inspector.”

Stephen gave her a blank look. “Not much. He said your son was involved in the riots. I talked to Mustafa and he says you are like family to him. I want to know why Neeraj killed his best friend.”

Tears poured down her cheeks as she buried her face between her hands and continued sobbing copiously. “I don’t know. I don’t understand. I never will. They were inseparable. They didn’t have any other friends. They didn’t need any. They had each other. They played cricket the day before. It was Ilyas’ birthday that week. We all ate biryani at his place. I don’t want to know. Satan’s shadow loomed over all of us that day.”

Stephen looked her straight in the eye. “Mustafa doesn’t know this?”

There was nothing but pain there. “No, the inspector never told anyone. He said it would serve no purpose. Lots of lives were lost that day and lots more shattered beyond repair. He said that was enough damage for one lifetime and more.”

Stephen’s next question stung. “Do you think he might still be alive somewhere?”

But Meera had made her peace as well. “I hope not. For his own sake!”


Stephen looked at Inspector Ravikant in a different light this time. “You are a good man.”

“No one is. Some try. Some fake it. Others don’t know what that means. I live two blocks away from them. Every day I cross their houses on the way to the station. Ilyas and Neeraj will always be playing cricket on the street, day and night. On my way back in the evening, I will play with them for half an hour every day. They were such happy kids. They were full of love. But hate turned to be so much more powerful and vicious. A part of me died that day. It was not death that shook me. It was the abuse of life! It was the brutality and the callousness with which people were killed, abused, raped, burnt, tortured and mangled that day that convinced of the pure evil that is dormant inside all of us. Religion is just one avenue that lets the inner devil out.” Ravikant’s agony made Stephen’s pale in comparison.

 “I think Neeraj is still alive. And I believe you know where he is.” Stephen’s words shook Ravikant.

“I don’t know if Neeraj is still alive or not. But he had always wanted to go away from here, as far as he could go. As far as the road would take him! To the farthest point he could ever reach! Where all the seas merged into one! He had told me that when he could go no more, he would sit and stare at infinity forever.”

Stephen thanked Ravikant who stopped him on his tracks. “Don’t try to find him. For your own sake! What will you get out of it?”

Stephen smiled. “I want to know why!”

Ravikant shook his head. “And then?”

Stephen shrugged his shoulders as he walked out. “You are a good man, Ravikant.” He meant it more than ever.


Stephen knew where he had to go. He had to go on until he could go no more. A place where the land ends and water begins to spread around its wings into eternity! A place where the water meets the horizon to host the sun in all its glory! A place where the three seas merge into one: Kanyakumari! He immediately set off to the southernmost part of India in search of Neeraj. He initially wondered how he was going to look for a boy in a huge town like that. But it wasn’t as difficult as he thought! After all, he knew where to look for. After one month of wandering around, on one glorious evening when the sky was lit up by the sun going to bed and the moon waking up by its side, Stephen finally saw Neeraj in the twilight. He was selling groundnuts in the beach. He followed the unsuspecting boy home.

Neeraj sat on the floor in his small hut whereas Stephen sat on the only chair that looked like it would fall apart any time. The squeaking of the chair was the only sound amidst the grave silence. Even the air in between them was still. No words were spoken. A few glares were exchanged.

Stephen did not take his eye off Neeraj who was intently staring at the floor. His eyes had no fear, no anger, no pain, no remorse! He was happy! There was a stoic calm in his demeanor that infuriated Stephen. How could one be so cold blooded?

When he finally spoke, his words reverberated thunderously across the sand walls. “Looks like you are living quite a life here. Especially after what you did in Deogarh!”

The mention of Deogarh stirred Neeraj a bit. He looked at Stephen for a moment but then turned his gaze away to the door.

Stephen spoke with rage. “Don’t you have any heart? How could there be so much vengeance in such a young mind?”

His wrath had no effect on Neeraj who had fixated his gaze on the door. It was not sure if he was waiting for someone to come and relieve him of the misery or signaling Stephen to leave. Stephen was going nowhere without an answer. “Speak up. Why did you kill the boy who loved you unconditionally? Why did you abandon your parents who adored you? And how can you lead an escapist life like this so peacefully?” He did not get one.

Stephen’s blood was boiling. He had not seen anyone more cruel or inhuman. He was so mad that he did not know what to do. He got up with ferocity and rushed towards Neeraj to confront him when he heard a sound at the door.

“Neeraj….. I am home my friend. Look what I made for you today. Pineapple Kulfi. Your favorite!” 

It was Ilyas. Stephen’s heart stopped for a second.


Ravikant saw a letter lying on his desk. It was from Stephen Dayashankar. He quickly ripped it open with trepidation. He was not ready for what came next.

“Ravi… You will not admit it. But I am sure you have been waiting for my letter every single day. And I have been dying to write you this letter. I found Neeraj. Yes I did. He is in Kanyakumari. But you won’t believe what else I saw. I saw Ilyas. Yes, you read it correct. Ilyas is still alive. He is alive! The two little devils are together. Both of them live in a small hut by the sea. Neeraj sells groundnuts in the beach whereas Ilyas has a small kulfi shop. They sent you their regards. They both are so happy. I had tears in my eyes. There is still humanity left in this world. 

Ilyas, Neeraj, Ghanshyam, Meera and Mustafa have all found the worlds they want to inhabit and the lives they want to live. They have all made their peace with nature and God. I think we have got our closure too. I guess it is good bye from me my friend.” 

Tears rolled down Ravikant’s cheeks as he smiled from the heart after a very long  time.


                                                                                                                   - A SHORT STORY BY RAJ

Thursday, September 29, 2016


“Stephen Dayashankar is a visual artist who has been taking photographs for over fifteen years. He became interested in photography at the age of sixteen upon seeing the works of Robert Capa and has since devoted his life to creating expressive images.” The announcer’s voice barely registered in his mind. “Why do you want to kill me? We were friends yesterday.” A little boy engulfed in terror. A masked face brimming with anger! He closed his eyes. It made no difference!   

The anchor’s words resonated across the audience. “In Stephen’s own words, the language of photography is potent and expanding by the day. Photographs hold infinite power to influence, reform, incite, heal, provoke and cure. The pictures that hold the most power are quite often the ones that are the most devastating.” A sword smeared in warm blood flashed through his mind opening up a wound in his heart.

“Stephen has dedicated his life to mirror people’s lives, echo their sufferings and transmit those emotions to the world. We pruned several hundreds of photographs before selecting his masterpiece for the “Photograph of the Year” award. This picture was not powerful because it was on the front page of newspapers. It is powerful because it is in the minds of the people of this country. Its influence was birthed by the audience and the movement that it spurred.” The voices in his head were getting stronger. “You should not be here Sir. You should leave right now if you want to live.”

“His dramatic capture etched the entire horror of Deogarh into our memory. The small boy running for his life being chased by another young lad clad in saffron will haunt us forever. A blood dripping sword in his hand, his assailant’s masked face conveyed an emotion unlike any other. The small boy’s visage and fate half captured as he runs past a brick wall with the sword inches away from his neck.” The anchor’s chronicle of his photograph sent a shiver down his spine. He could hear a distant wail. A helpless yelp of looming death amidst loud cries of anguish, clanking of swords and disturbing smell of rotten flesh and frozen blood! He closed his ears. It grew louder!

“So without further ado, we present to you the man who inspired us all to rise above communal hatred and work religiously towards bringing down the iron curtain of religion with his poignant photograph: Mr.Stephen Dayashankar.” A headless torso twitched violently trying one last time to hang on to life. Acid smoke engulfed his lungs. A tear droplet made its way out.

 “Sir, could you please come forward to receive your award?” The sea of people in front of him metamorphosed into an ocean of corpses and skeletons. One of them slowly limped towards him with one arm extended.“Mr.Stephen… Are you all right?” 

He walked out of the auditorium with tears running down his cheeks profusely.


Ravikant Pandey sat at his desk sipping his tea lazily and glanced through a case file rather reluctantly. He thought a few inmates would trickle in but did not expect a visitor.
“You don’t seem from around here. I don’t think you have come to the wrong address either. What do you want?”

“My name is Stephen Dayashankar. I am a photojournalist. I believe you were the Inspector in charge when the riots of Deogarh happened.”

The mention of the riots brought a stark change in Ravikant’s expression. “Your face seemed familiar. Now I know why. What do you want now?”

Stephen ignored the generous sarcasm in the Inspector’s voice. “I want to know what happened to a few people who were entangled in the riots.”

“The ones in your photograph?” Ravikant’s voice was stern.

“Yes. Have you seen it?” Stephen offered a copy. The inspector showed it away. 

“Everyone in this country has probably seen your photograph. It is not worth seeing again.”

Stephen was prepared for insults. “Do you know what happened to these kids?”

Ravikant continued perusing his file. “Probably dead!”

The lack of emotion in Ravikant’s voice annoyed Stephen. “Probably? Are you not sure?”

“More than 200 people died that day. I didn’t keep track.”

Stephen was clearly flustered. “Please don’t be so irresponsible and insensitive to human life.”

Ravikant was nonchalant. “If you see as many deaths as I do, you will be worse.”

Stephen was writhing in anger. “I will probably do something to prevent those deaths. Back to my question: Are both of them dead?”

“I can’t say for sure. Several bodies were mangled so badly that they were completely unrecognizable. But as far as I could tell, Ilyas, the boy who was being chased was most likely killed. There was no way he could have escaped. As for the boy who tried and probably killed him, Neeraj, there is a chance he could have fled the town, though I would give it a very low chance.”

Stephen was not impressed. “Can you give me their addresses?”

Ravikant gave him a sharp glare. “You have done enough already. Can you leave them alone?”

Stephen had had enough. “Look here Inspector. If you want to play hard ball, be my guest. I can make one phone call and you will get one the very next minute from your superiors and then you will be forced to give me the address yourself. I don’t want to that yet. And trust me, I am not here officially. I am here for my own sake. Any conversation I will have with their families will stay and die with me.”

Ravikant grudgingly wrote the addresses on a piece of paper and handed it to Stephen who walked out of the police station in a hurry.


Mustafa was a middle aged man in his late forties. He was tall and well built, walked with a slight limp and had a long half white beard. He seemed quite surprised to see a visitor at his door. He ushered Stephen in. No words were spoken for several minutes. Stephen finally decided to break the silence. “I am here to talk about your son.”

Mustafa remained stoic. “What is left to talk?”

Stephen spoke with a heavy heart. “I had seen his eyes just before they disappeared behind that brick wall. He was pale and terrified. Fear and horror had engulfed him. But I also saw a small glimmer of hope in his eyes. I couldn’t understand that. How can one feel hope in such despair? How can one think about life when death is inches away? Those eyes have haunted me for the past six months. I haven’t been able to sleep. He must have been a special boy.”

Mustafa smiled for the first time. “Extremely! I have not seen a happier child in my life. He was happy with everything. He lived life with abandon. He had a small world. He painted it with smiles. May be God wasn’t happy without him and wanted him back to spread joy in heaven. In a way, I am glad I didn’t see his corpse. I have never seen him without a smile on his face and at least it will stay that way. I can spend the rest of my life with the image of his beaming face emblazoned in my heart.”

Stephen dreaded his next question. “Why are you still here?”

Mustafa had made his peace already. “This is my home. This is my world. I have lived here all my life. These are my people. The people I have known for years. I have spent my life’s best days here, shared happiness and sorrow alike with my friends. What happened that day was unlike this place. It was possessed by some evil spirit. Darkness had consumed us that day. The people who killed were not from here. They came from some wicked place, unleashed terror and slipped into the night, leaving us broken and battered. But they still could not divide us. No one will ever. I will die here knowing that there will be more than four people ready to shoulder me to my grave.”

Stephen decided not to rekindle any more painful memories. “Thank you for talking to me. I can’t offer you any solace but you will be in my prayers every day. I need to talk to some more people. Can you tell me where this address is?”

What Mustafa said sent a shiver down Stephen’s spine. “Oh… they are our neighbors. Wonderful people! Ghanshyam and I have been best friends for the last 20 years. Ilyas and Neeraj were inseparable. But life has played a deadly game with them too. They lost Neeraj that day and have never been the same ever again.”

                                                                                                 TO BE CONCLUDED (NEXT WEEK)…. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016


A couple of aliens wanted to explore the outer space and somehow landed on Earth. Since we have so much to offer, the aliens had a tough time deciding which place on earth they should visit first. Check out what they decided!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


His head was splitting. It seemed like every nerve was revolting, ready to explode any minute. His heart had lost its mirth long ago, but today it seems to have given up its spirit. His purpose in doubt; his existence questioned. He felt pain no more. He had had enough of it. Numbness had engulfed his veins. He felt like a slaughter sacrifice waiting his turn at the altar. Only a little too desperately. He looked at his friend who was sitting right in front of him. What has life done to us, he thought?

We were so happy, vivacious, lived life by the minute and enjoyed every second of it. We felt invincible. We fought in the mud, got drenched in the rain, sang out of tune, danced like nobody was watching, screamed at the top of our lungs. We sat for hours staring at nothing, talked for hours about nothing. We went on a long drive to nowhere, ate and drank everything we could get our hands on, fished in the pond for hours only to get a shoe for a prized catch, fished for a few more hours in search of its pair without luck, roamed the streets in the night with carefree abandon, spent the very last ounce of energy in our bodies and came back to crash into our beds as if never to wake up again. And then we woke up the next day fresh and ready for another adventure.

And so life rolled on amidst chaos, excitement, fervor and charm. Day after day went by chasing nothing and enjoying everything. I wish I had never woken up after one of those days. But I did. And here I am. A changed man. A deflated man. A lost man. A man no more.

His thoughts brought him back to reality. He looked at his friend again who smiled casually. There was the same innocence and zeal that he had seen years ago. How could that be possible? When did we part ways? How does he not have any of life’s scars? Why has God been so kind to him? Or maybe was he too cruel to me? Is he even there? His blood started boiling even more. His friend still had his smile as he looked at him with even eyes. That made him even more livid.

“What is it that makes you so happy? Seeing me like this. Helpless, hapless and hopeless. Seems like life has been very kind to you my friend. If you had been me, then probably you wouldn’t even be here. Do you know how much I have endured? Do you know how it feels when your wing is ripped apart? Feather by feather. Do you know what it does to your self-esteem? Have you felt scrutiny? Have you experienced love? Do you know how it feels to yearn for affection and not receive any? Have you experienced failure? Do you know how it is to fail in the eyes of your friends? Your family? Your foes? And the coup de grace! Do you how excruciating it is to finally fail in your own eyes? The final fall!  

Have you ever thought how would after life be? Would it be more peaceful? It certainly sounds more mysterious. Do heaven and hell exist? Wonder where I would go. Will I be transported through space to get there? It would be cool to see some planets on the way. And be it hell or heaven that I reach, I probably will be better off than I am now. I wouldn’t have to work consistently to satisfy others. I won’t be judged. I would already have been judged. I can be myself. I won’t be a disappointment to the people I know as they won’t be there. Well at least I hope so.

Yes, I have considered death. I have no shame in admitting it. You may think I am a coward. Well heck, maybe I am. Isn’t it easier to just press the shutdown button? We can restart in a new life if there is something like that or be lost into obscurity. Isn’t that an interesting prospect? To myself and to the people who are tired of me? May be. But I can’t muster courage for that either. Will someone miss me? Am I disappointing them again? For one last time. Do I owe them to live? Do I owe myself a death? I can’t seem to decide. Like every other decision, I put this one off too.

Why don’t you say something? Are you deaf? That would be so cool actually. But I know you can hear me. The smirk on your lips tells me you are enjoying this. You think you are safe inside that mirror. You think it is cool to see me make a fool of myself in front of you. In front you, of all people? While you stand there majestically reminding me again and again of my glorified past!  

He looked at the man in front of him who was so calm and composed, so carefree and happy, so blissful and naïve, so simple and kind, so full of life and love. This was a man he once knew. This was a man he once loved. This was a man he once was. He wondered how long it had been since he left him inside the mirror. He couldn’t remember. That was the man he still wanted to be. Everyday! Or even just for one day! A wry smile came to his lips. He laughed it up. Life indeed does strange things to you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Death, I believe is the ultimate mystery. Life is known, at least for the most part. Death is not, again for the most part. Probably we can feel every other emotion that is out there to be felt. But death lurks in the dark. It is just around the corner all our lives, but we don’t live to see it. Yet it embraces each and every one of us eventually. When it decides to, depends on our luck or the lack of it. But even though we mostly don’t see our death coming or prefer not to think about it, we experience death more than we realize. What we understand from it will differ and will shape our eventual tryst with it.

As I sit there watching you sleep as peacefully as ever, I feel numb. I have lost a sense of time or place. I know I am going somewhere but I don’t feel myself moving. I don’t feel the sun scorching my skin. I have lost every other sense but sight. I see you in front of me, sleeping with a gentle smile across your lips just like any other day. But something is different. Today is not every other day. Although I want it to be more than ever. I don’t recognize the streets I have driven by for the last 35 years. I don’t realize how much time we were there together in that van, seeing each other like it was the first time we set eyes on each other. I don’t remember our first encounter. And you wouldn’t remember our last.

I have never seen you cry. You have never seen me cry. Not for long I guess. I see my entire childhood flash in front of my eyes and the only thing that is constant in every frame is you. I sit there in vacuum as a single tear is resisting gravity in a last ditch attempt to prevent my defeat. All through my life, you have let me win every game we have played. I guess it is about time I lost. The tear agrees.

The lone tear slowly makes its way down my cheek as I sit there still in disbelief. There is a storm of despair stirring inside me as I try hard and resist every single tear it produces. Don’t they say one should cry his heart out? I don’t want to. Every tear is a memory. Your memory. I want to keep it inside me forever. This storm is never going to die. The tears are never going to stop. But I know I will never let you go.

The van stops. I see people around me. Nothing registers. They take you away from me momentarily. I hear voices in my head. I meander in a trance as I find you on a wooden bed. You seem comfortable. I am told to say and do things. I comply mechanically. The thought that I might not see your face again makes its way into my head for the first time. I shudder. I close my eyes. I see your face. It doesn’t exactly look like how you are now. It is not the very first one that I remember as a child either. It is a unique mixture of your face that I grew up watching and adoring all these years. It is your face just for me. I fear no more.

Several years ago, I lost something. My loss was painful, at first. I then got used to it pretty soon. I could never forget it, but I learnt to live with it. Or rather without it. But it took me several years to realize what that did to you. I have always known you to be such a tough guy that I didn’t imagine the extent my loss would affect you. You never told me. But one day I saw it in your eyes. I saw a different man. A man whom you managed to hide well from me. A man more endearing than you already were.  

 Fire and smoke engulf me. Your thought alone consumes me. I come back the next day. You are still there. Well, in pieces. They say you burned all night. I am asked to collect your bones. I want to keep one. I am told not to. Well, I don’t have to worry as you are in my bones. I put your remains in a copper pot and bathe you in milk. I am supposed to give you to Mother Nature. I am not ready to let you go. I reluctantly go to the sea and am about to open the pot when all of a sudden a giant wave comes roaring as she grabs you away from me in a flash. I stand there transfixed having lost your last physical remains. Looks like nature was so eager to have you amidst her. I am sure you will love her company. But I hope you will miss me occasionally and step out from wherever you are to see what I am up to. I will look out for you.  

I come back home. I look into the mirror. I see you. I reminisce of all that has transpired. It was a strange day. You wore my shirt. I wore your dhoti. I burned with you. And you will live with me. Forever!

Saturday, April 2, 2016


Hania looked out into the canyon and took a deep breath. “He is standing right in front of you, my friend. And no, he is not famous. Nobody knows about him. Never knew!” For the first time, a shiver went down Jordan’s spine.

“I was one of those who didn’t fit in anywhere. I refused to accept the fact that this world has become incompatible to us. I tried very hard to prove guys like you wrong. I wanted to prove that this world is as much ours as it is yours. And in trying to do so, somewhere I started becoming one of you. I drifted away from my people, travelled the world, made new friends and embraced the new world I was seeing and feeling with open arms. I became a wanderer and in the end I forgot what I was searching for. In my attempt to study and understand and imbibe different cultures of the world, I slowly forgot mine; until I came back here to scale the mountain that had cradled my childhood!” Hania’s reminiscence filled Jordan with awe and intrigue. “So you came here and never went back?”

“Well, I almost did. I got through the Death Gorge. It took me 5 days. There was very little life left when I got to Hullu point. There I saw a mule. A lonely mule! It was freezing, hungry and dying. It had been abandoned by a hiking group as it was wounded and couldn’t carry them anymore. We were company to each other for the next 2 days. I nursed its wounds and fed her my food and left with a promise to come back. I returned with food and medicines after 3 days. She kept her promise and held her life for me. She died the next day. I never went back. Did you know every year nearly 10-15 mules are abandoned here to die in the cold. Now they have a friend to take care of them. They don’t deserve to die because of you people!” There were flames of anger and pain in Hania’s eyes.

“So it is you who makes these little dresses for these animals and birds! Very sweet indeed.” Jordan murmured. He looked at Hania’s little abode. “You seem pretty well stocked up, eh?”

“Well, I still visit your world once in a while my friend. Go up to the town and eat your food and try your new drinks, learn about the latest fashion trends, breathe your polluted air and come back amused. I always wonder how much longer will nature accommodate mankind! So I am trying to compensate for the sins you guys commit by helping these creatures as much as I can. Trust me, they are the best companions you can ever get.” Jordan smiled from his heart for the first time as a bird came and sat on Hania’s shoulder. Life was teaching Jordan an important lesson through Hania.

“Well.. you must get going now, my friend! Someone must be desperately waiting for you!” Hania patted Jordan’s shoulder in a fatherly affection.

“What do you mean desperately waiting?” Jordan was a little surprised.

“You will find out my friend. Well.. let me tell you a short cut to get to the top. You see that bush right there and a small alley behind it. Go through that, you will have to pass a tunnel and then cut through a sharp canyon turn and it will take you back to the trail and you will be in Hopi point in an hour. Now get going before the snow storm gets worse! It was nice seeing you, my boy!” Hania gave Jordan a huge bear hug.

Jordan’s mind was completely preoccupied during his mechanical trail back to the top of the canyon. Hania’s visage and his electric voice captivated and mystified him profoundly. He didn’t even realize that he was at Hopi point and all his friends were running towards him. Radhika jumped upon him and hugged him tightly as if she was never going to let him go. There were tears in his eyes. Hania’s words flashed through Jordan’s mind once again.

Hopi Point – Hermit’s Rest:
There was no doubt it was one hell of an adventure. But they were sad it was coming to an end. Jordan was calming his senses and resting his sore legs at Hermit’s rest as he recounted his adventures to Steven and Ming. He was scared to mention about Hania though. Meanwhile Radhika was looking for keepsakes in the gift shop. Soon she came back with a bag full of goodies and started flaunting them off. “Here take a look at this bird here. This is vintage Hopi art work! Isn’t it cute?”

“What is it in its wings?” Ming was curious. Radhika was worked up. “Oh.. this is the hand made replica of the famous fashion bird that has been spotted occasionally in the canyon. How it gets its dress has been an unsolved mystery! There are several stories around it. You see that lady over there. She knows a few such stories if you are interested!” The lady looked real spooky! Ming said he would rather pass.

Radhika turned her attention to Jordan who was already looking bewildered. “Hey.. check out this new book I got. I am sure you would love reading this one. It is about the Death Gorge. You must have been somewhere close to this for sure, right. Am so glad you didn’t find it. Otherwise they might have had to revise this book again to accommodate you as well!” She gave him a naughty wink and everyone burst out into laughter.

Jordan grabbed the book from here hand. “Oh.. wow.. Sounds fascinating! what is it about?”

“Well, it is an exclusive account about the hitherto never ventured and suicidal stretch from Skeleton Point through the Death Gorge up to the safety zone near the Hullu Point. Apparently 10 people have ventured into this death trap and none of them ever returned.” Radhika rolled her eyes in fear.

This was getting very interesting for Jordan now. “Are you sure none of them returned?”

“Well, they say that they found the bodies of 9 of them down in the Canyon; 4 of whom washed up on the shores the Colorado River. Nothing was ever found about the tenth guy. Here take a look at his picture here. The guy went to Harvard, can you believe that! Seems like a damn interesting fellow! He was a scholar and a world traveler apparently!” Radhika was going on and on while Jordan’s eyes were fixated on the picture of Hania. Yes, it was him. Only he was much younger!

Then, at that moment, he saw something written at the bottom of the picture that brought his heartbeat to a stand still and drove a shiver through his spine.


                                                                                                              - A SHORT STORY BY RAJ

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Kaibab Trail - South Rim, Grand Canyon:

Nature has its own unique and unfussy way of imposing itself on human beings. It didn’t take too long for Ming, Steven and Radhika to understand that. In a span of 6 hours, they had encountered almost everything at the Grand Canyon, which they had fondly nicknamed as “The Greatest Hole on the Earth”. Thunderous rainstorms and lightning had left them stranded and shell shocked for hours in the middle of a treacherously strenuous trail that had slowly started showing its chameleon-esque nature. They already had to deal with loose footing and rock fall that came unannounced while an encounter with wild life was always a scare even though they had met only the friendliest of creatures so far. A heavy snow fall shut them off completely as the rain had started to thicken and its successor, ice was more incisive and cruel. They had overstayed their welcome at the trail and hunger and dehydration slowly set in as they ran out of all supplies. But clearly nature was not done with them as it landed its final and most lethal blow. Jordan, the fourth and most experienced hiker of the group was missing for the past 3 hours.

Radhika was fuming. “He should have come by now. He said he will meet us at the Hullu point. The idiot always does something crazy like this. What was the need for that maniac to explore that new route all alone? God knows where the hell he is now!”

“Relax Radz. Trust the man. He is a pro but remember he is a psycho as well. It is one deadly combination. He will make it all right. I am sure he is going to sneak up on us from somewhere and freak you out totally!” Steven was still optimistic about his best buddy.

Ming had other things in his mind. “Yeah.. I hope so too. The dude is totally nuts but he is a tough nut. But hey.. we can’t stay here for long. We will starve ourselves to death if the cold doesn’t kill us before that. I say we head up to the Hopi point and wait for him up there.”

“Yeah, let’s do that. Guess I could do with some hot chocolate at Hermit’s rest. “Radhika’s voice was trembling behind the brave smile she put up. She felt something strange inside she couldn’t understand or explain!

Unknown Location – near Death Gorge, Grand Canyon:

Jordan was a daredevil. His passion in life was to do things most people would only dream about. His life was one big adventure and he had loved every bit of it. Until now!

Nature was capable of breaking even the hardest of men and today it looked like it might succeed in overwhelming the gritty Jordan. He was clearly cheated by this perfidious new path that had taken him far away from the trail and into the canyon which was transferring its chill through his spine. It was beginning to break him down!

He was breathing heavily, clasping his hands together, partly to warm himself and partly in a small prayer to God. He was completely lost! At that moment he saw a strange thing. He saw a bird that flew past his ears. But there was something strange about it. It was wearing a dress. He rubbed his eyes again to make sure he was not hallucinating due to dehydration. But there it was. It had 2 small flaps covering its wings which looked like wrist bands. And it had something in its legs that looked like tiny little socks. Was his mind imagining things? A strange feeling of fear and death started to engulf him.

“Lost your way perhaps?” He was petrified by the suddenness and shrillness of the voice that came from behind him. It was a man. A man in this God forsaken place! That could not be true he thought. The figure that stood in front of him was tall, strong and slightly inhuman. It was a man alright. A man who seemed to have borne the brunt of both nature and life! A man who looked strong and wise from age and experience! He had a look in his eyes that intimidated Jordan.   

“What brings you here, my friend? I am afraid you should not be here!” The man’s voice was hoarse and Jordan despised its tone which had a hint of calm arrogance.

“I know who you are. You belong to one of those ancient tribes, aren’t you? The Havasu or Huala something!” Jordan tried to gather himself as his mind was scrambling to assimilate all that he was seeing.

The man stroked his long beard and looked impressed. “I am happy somebody still knows about us. My name is Hania and you are almost right. I descend from the Havasupai clan.” He extended his hand and Jordan shook it very skeptically. An Incredible surge of warmth flowed from Hania’s body through Jordan and he felt quite rejuvenated.

“Oh yeah.. you guys.. I have read about you. You have been calling the Grand Canyon your home, isn’t it? Still a few of you left, trying to survive in a world that has become incompatible to you! Well, guess what, you don’t control this place no more, fella!

Hania gave him a profound smile. “Nobody can control nature, my friend. And you, right now, would know that more than anybody. Lost, tired, hungry and angry amidst ruthless mountains and a devastating cold that can rip your soul out and freeze it to death; nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, nothing to embrace, no one to hold on to! Tell me, who is in control, my man?”

Clearly Jordan was getting irritated now. “Oh come on! I have been hiking for 10 years now. This is just a strenuous hike, not an impossible one. Stop scaring me, will ya?”

Hania was his composed self. “Of course. It is neither a deadly hike nor or impossible one. But only as long as you are in the trail! You are way off it my friend. Probably drifted off around the skeleton point! You have no idea where you are. I call it the “Near Death Gorge!”

“Hmm… Never heard of it dude. What do others call it?” Jordan sneered.

Hania’s response was icy cold. “The Death Gorge!”

Jordan had a smirk on his face. “Well.. tell you what! You are doing a pretty decent job of scaring the hell out of me. Now what is it that is so deadly about this passage?”

“I am just telling you the truth my friend. In the 800 years of history that has been recorded, 10 people have wandered into this place losing their way on the trail, and attempted to get back to the top through this narrow pass. Only one of them survived!”

There was something about Hania that Jordan could not understand. “Whoa… That is something. Must be a pretty famous guy! First man in 800 years and all. Who is he?”

Hania looked out into the canyon and took a deep breath. “He is standing right in front of you, my friend. And no, he is not famous. Nobody knows about him. Never knew!” For the first time, a shiver went down Jordan’s spine. 

                                                                                           TO BE CONCLUDED (NEXT WEEK)…. 

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