Elevator’s Very Known Strangers

Life in a 36-floor apartment building – where elevator’s routine – is fascinating.

Each floor has ten apartments, so roughly a total of 360 apartments. Two each on the left and the right are the four elevators in the building. Each elevator can hold up to 1500 pounds; ten people may be the limit if you average 150 pounds each; then, there are strollers, carts, luggage, and bikes guzzling up the space.

In almost a decade of living in the same building, I haven’t seen a single instance where the elevator carried more than the permitted pounds of weight. You could figure this out by looking at how cramped the lifting device is.

The elevator queue is apparently long during peak hours. After the first person in line has pushed the cream button lighting it up, the rest would – from our positions in the queue – try to read the four little screens right above the elevator doors. We’d watch the ascending or descending red digits and adjust our necks to see which elevator lands first to a creaking halt. When the screen reads 1 – and amid a collective sigh – courtesy demands that we wait for the people already in it to exit like we do on subway trains. Ninety percent of the people in line would wait for the passengers to step out while the rest might show incredible urgency.

elevator-1

Most are known strangers in the world of the elevator: you may have seen them everywhere, all these years, but recognize them only in the shaft-cage. Here are five incidents that I’ll remember for a long time:

  1. If you see someone on a particular day, it’s unlikely that you’ll see the same person a second time in the same elevator. A ten-year-old boy was in the elevator for a while, cruising up and down in semi-peak hour. A lot of known strangers saw him. I’d seen him on my way to the grocery store. When I returned, he was standing at that very corner, staring at nothing. We see this kind of behavior on light rail trains, where people buy a $3 ticket to use the transport for the duration of its two-hour validity. As I was exiting at 6th, I smiled at him, and he answered a question I’d never asked: “This is my way of busting school stress.”
  1. When there was a line of about ten people at 6 pm, I saw this fine gentleman – perhaps a Fortune 500 company director – walk up to the first man in line. And he ended up being the first to walk into the elevator. Ironically, I was the tenth in line and all ten – including the gentleman – made it and though the nine of them were bruised at the man’s discourtesy, I was injured.
  1. At 3 pm, when it was not rush hour – and no soul around – the elevators looked tempting. I was hauling a cart full of groceries to take up to my floor. I stepped into the elevator, and when the door was closing, a child, whose footsteps I’d just heard, threw his hand in the narrowing gap of the closing door. The door now opened, and he stood there, holding it for his mother who’d possibly instructed him to while she was still 20 seconds away. When she appeared, she was pushing a stroller with a toddler in it, followed by her another son who was maneuvering a grocery cart double the size of mine. I made space for them which was a mistake. What else could I’ve done since their stroller, the cart, the mother, and her children had crunched me into a corner. I didn’t mind that there was no apology from the lady, but what I did mind was that their floor was the 29th and mine was the 6th; and we’re not discussing streets here. Well, it pained them as much making space for me by exiting at 6th with all their belongings. Once out, I held the door till they were back in the cage. I don’t know why I thanked the lady: I knew it would go unacknowledged.
  1. A genius got into the elevator on the second floor to go down to the first. He’d taken the ascending one, failing to notice the up arrow. The two men who were already in the elevator had stops at 36th and 6th. The man had no choice but whoosh all the way up to the top floor before swooshing back down to his destination. Pointedly, there are four staircase exits on each floor, and only ten counts of steps from second to first; the genius was brawny, too.
  1. In an elevator with six people, we were going down to the first floor. But, before we could exit the first, a lady moved in, pushing the button for a certain floor; she then held the door and said, “Sweetie, come quickly.” She wasn’t an alien, nor did she appear to believe that she was invisible; her Chanel attracting some of the trapped men inside. Since I’d met the Fortune gentleman only a week prior, I wondered if she was the Fortune lady. The two men, including me, who were stuck right behind her, had to wait until the chanelized Romeos exited. And guess what…there entered the Fortune man, alias, her sweetie.

shuffle

Loyal to our very own elevators (Daily Prompt).

Propose a Scale to four elevators in one frame (Photo Challenge).

The Unreluctant Smoker

I usually take stairs from our sixth-floor apartment to go down to the first. I like the walk – it’s healthy – what’s not is the smell of cigarette smoke in the stairwell.

Cigarette smoke might smell different outside as air nudges and splinters the thickness of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide. Since the smoke – be it thick or thin – is injurious, most public parks are now no-smoking zones. But, when you smoke in the wrap of a closed structure, the thick white stays, and can commute up and down through the stairwell.

No Smoking is written in faint red – on each floor – on the grainy walls of the stairwells in our high-rise building. Since the faint illegibility might be the excuse for smokers to take their drags, the building management taped a warning on the stairwell doors: It is not permitted to smoke in the stairwells.

There are four stairwell doors on each floor, and 36 floors.

Not permitted? Really?

Some culprits continued to smoke.

Nobody could catch these smokers red-handed for they didn’t know their smoking schedules. And it’s unfortunate, either way, that the odor lingers long after the smoker has stubbed the cigarette butt and left for his abode.

Why don’t they smoke in their abode?

They love their family to death.

Last month, the management issued another warning: It is ILLEGAL to smoke in the building.

ILLEGAL. In caps. A severe step. Two print outs for each door. Double the budget.

Illegal worked. YAY!

Smokers are people, after all. Soon, the smoking zone outside the building swelled. And, there was no smell in the vertical shaft of the building. For a fortnight.

This morning, a strong stench greeted me in the stairwell. The more penetrating the smell, the more probability that the smoker was in action. I slowed my steps down, each foot soft and investigative in its landing. I reached the first floor. At the other end of the corridor was an exit door. I saw him, his back facing me.

He had opened the exit door; his right foot partly out as a door blocker. A cigarette was burning between his fingers; a strong wind rushing the smoke in.

“Excuse me, sir, the stairwell is filled with your smoke,” I said.

He turned around, his big eyes; his foot unmoved. “But I’m smoking outside.” He was wearing a carmine t-shirt.

“The wind’s pushing the smoke in.”

“Not at all.”

“I live on the sixth floor – could smell it there, sir.”

He took a step out, still holding the door. The corridor continued to suck the smoke in. “I’m outside now.”

The last I glimpsed him, he had an awkward posture: right hand on the door, high-strung left fingers holding the cigarette, left foot tapping the concrete, t-shirt ballooning behind him.

The wind was harsh, but for all his hard work, he was still breaking the law.

Superficial life is any addiction (Daily Prompt). Pedestrian sense to use a receptacle (Photo Challenge)

Window To Man’s Soul

There’s something about windows. In the words of Quentin Blake: You see, I don’t draw from life at all, but I do look out of my window a lot.

A window is alluring as it secures and gives us a view. What we access through it may have varied overtones: a life away from life, the blossoming beyond our reach, frightening us as much, high altitude and back.

Our 4-year-old son – isn’t this a tricky phase – doesn’t listen to us much, but when he’s in an institution he conducts himself well. Thank god. Here, I captured him through the window of his Taekwondo class.

 

Racing upwards at 14 miles per hour in a glass-fronted elevator, it took us 59 seconds to reach the observation deck (116th floor) of CN Tower. If I edit this photo, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada may look like a leaflet. For more CN Tower posts, visit CN Tower defies gravity and CN Tower in Toronto.

 

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From atop the CN Tower, and as the sun peeked through clouds, Billy Bishop Toronto city airport (center-right) looked abandoned.

 

I’ve said this several times and am saying it again that we are lucky to be living in an apartment with this view. For almost a decade now. What you see here: Freedom Tower in downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, Brooklyn, Marina yacht club in Jersey City. -It was early morning Sunday; the Norwegian Cruise Line ship was returning to Manhattan from Bahamas. We’d taken this ship for our Bahamas and Florida tour some years prior. See Life on board the Norwegian Gem and Great Stirrup Cay in Bahamas.

 

The window that gave us utmost happiness also worsened our fears during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The effects were severe in NJ and NY: businesses lost billions of dollars, half a million homes were destroyed, around 50 people were killed. I took this picture around 9 pm. Storm surge/strong wind pounded Newport, flooding the walkway up to ten feet. Sustained wind speed: 75 mph. We’d taken this advisory from our building management seriously: “…all windows in the apartment are maintained closed, locked and the blinds in the lowered position…that the wind is not permitted any opening, which if allowed, can potentially result in the further opening of window or, worse yet, ripping out the entire window.” Though we lost electricity and the fire alarm beeped all night, we survived unhurt. -Strange that I remember what Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said: Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?

 

We had fun riding this tramway that spanned the East River and connected Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island. Midway to the island and at its highest elevation of 250 feet, we saw another tramway journey back to Manhattan. The window overlooked East River, the Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island.

 

As we approached the Toronto-Pearson International airport in Canada, the pilot’s reminder to fasten our seat belts matched these bumpy clouds we saw through the window.

 

At Mount-Pleasant station in Brampton, Ontario, the windows of this moving bus reflected the not-so-clear activities behind me. Billy Wilder had said: An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation.

 

Mail trucks don’t use window doors in summer. Here, I see the driver’s seat and the bright ambiguity through it.

Windows to a soul (Photo Challenge). Witty and attitude (Daily Prompt).

All About Downtown Street Fair At Grove Street

I was not keen on attending the Annual All About Downtown Street Fair, but my wife insisted, and we did. It was a good decision. Wife’s always right?

On September 16, 2017 – between 12 noon and 8 pm – the street fair returned for its seventh year.

Featuring over a hundred vendors, the fair sold all kinds of products: handmade jewelry, exclusive art works, specialty cuisines from more than a dozen top food trucks in the tri-state area; there were band performances, and fun rides for children. It was reported that in the year 2015, this event brought over 30,000 into Downtown Jersey City. Hope it has crossed that number this time.

When we entered the fair around the evening, the crowd was beginning to swell. The day was hot and humid, but the energy was electric.
A mural depicting rough waves, the Statue of Liberty unaffected. Murals and graffiti have come to define Grove Street, bringing the urban city back to life.
Stained glass studio stall – they do stained glass installation, custom fabrication, and restoration. A smiling Bob Marley wants you to know this.
Books, and more books. Do you see Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened
Curious eyes scanning the street of stalls. No running out of options or varieties here…
Except for this, and how rare. A banana pudding sold out stall.
Wife’s always right, and son too is (leaning to his) right.
Orale Mexican kitchen where…
I bought a corn with cheese and mayonnaise.
Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan waited to be picked.
White Birch Candle offered products that are hand poured, 100% soy wax, and dye free; they burn clean (no soot), have 150+ burn time, and always burn even. Ta-da!
Face painting for kids stall, hosted by Jersey City Pediatric Dentistry.
Time to pause and experience some Latino beat.
How about a drink each of Puerto Rican Sangria following the Latino beat.
The men in white sang and entertained – everyone watching them was at least tapping their feet on the ground.
The best part of the fair owned the biggest ad.
At the crack of dusk, the crowd size increased.
Highlight of the evening: Guatemalan street dance with heavy costumes, drums, and ropes.

Any fair we attend, a plate of funnel cake is a must.
One of the rides we did: the three of us sat in a tea cup with a wheel in the middle that we could steer 360 degrees, while the tray carrying all of the cups rotated; whirl within a whirl.
This mural invites your interpretation.
As night approached, this band performed soft melodies.
We ended the fair with a banana boat ice cream – with chocolate, strawberry, pineapple, and walnuts.
This was it.

Pamper yourself (Daily Prompt). Layered is the culture (Photo Challenge).

Confessions Of A Social Media Mind

Some taboos thrived in our home in Delhi. Meeting male friends was fine if they didn’t belong to rogue families; females could be friends only from a distance. Our precious lives mirrored pensive sadness.

As a teenager in the mid-90s, I was a victim of my previous generation’s regressive outlook, which had shown no signs of letting up. Their puerile conduct bound and confined me such that my superficial layers had remained unpeeled, pushing me to maintain the status quo of my limited social interactions.

Then came the dial up connection and world wide web, which turned me inside out.

With an email account on Yahoo in the year 2001, it was easy to sign up on Yahoo messenger. Soon I was in several group chat rooms: abusing Pakistanis and Australians because their teams beat India in cricket matches, flirting with (hopefully) women from Bulgaria and Hungary because they pinged me first, becoming a Slovakian woman myself to excite equally curious chatters. A certain resurgence kept me going and I was everywhere, mitigating melancholy too. One deterrent was the eldritch sound the dial-up made in the middle of the night, waking up my parents in the other room. But they got used to it and which prevented my rebellious bubbles from bursting.

AOL had acquired Instant Messaging Client or ICQ, a simple program that made abusing or flirting user-friendly without pop-ups. My stint with MSN Messenger was brief, using it to fight with a friend who’d only used MSN.

As time passed, I was making friends from as far as Honolulu to as near with a random chatter in Delhi; the fiery virtual world made me poised and assertive; there was nothing to lose. I was meeting my friends in the real world, too, which didn’t appear rosy enough to have the pull of permanence. What then felt permanent were anonymity and ubiquitousness. I chose to leave my aggression for the evenings, post the howl of the dial up.

A friend suggested Orkut, a social networking site that was quietly replacing the few real rendezvous we had. The best of friends were thrilled to be connecting online, sharing their recent profile pictures, which eliminated the need to see one another frequently. The polished stillness of these pictures simply belied the truth of the moment, as what was captured in a flashy edited-version moment was a poor indicator of how a person would appear when in the real world. Instagram deepened this divide.

Skype, which Microsoft acquired for $8.5 billion, brought me closer to family and friends, especially after I’d moved to the US. But Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion and made sure I was addicted to it. I was on Twitter too, but unaware of how I’d publicize my views since everyone was tweeting.  LinkedIn tempted me, but who cared about professional networking: if the quest for freedom from arrested development was the A of the alphabet, professional networking was Z — was a long psychological stretch.

Facebook changed everything, and after it bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in Feb 2014, we knew that the influence of social media was not disappearing any sooner.

I’ve been a member of a school WhatsApp group for two years. The friend who created it remained the admin for long before he – upon consensus or otherwise – democratized it by making every one of the 50+ members a group administrator. Most members are based out of India, the rest spread across the globe. Meetings among friends became rarer. Two guys (including the one who created the group) who were best friends had a financial tiff. One had allegedly owed the other close to half a million Indian rupees.

When their coffee didn’t brew in person, the lender brought up the matter of his roasted ground beans in group chat. He tried brewing it by way of naming and shaming the borrower and his family, not realizing that using profanity wouldn’t separate liquid coffee from the used grounds. The borrower – with not much as a convincing explanation in his defense to the group – was yet to roast his coffee beans.

Now since everyone was group admin, the two barista protagonists deleted each other, one after the other, and they could repeat this feat because they were being added instantly upon deletion by some friendly group members. Hurt not only by the naming and shaming but also by being deleted, the creator of the group, who’s also the alleged borrower removed everyone from the group before adding them (minus the lender) and becoming the sole group admin, like before.

Their coffee hadn’t brewed in person because the edited glory of their online presence had uncharacteristically replaced flesh and blood of their human presence. The lender’s trust of the borrower had died alongside the death of the humans’ valuing one another; the e-intimidation as opposed to a heart to heart talk became the norm. Nobody was surprised. Weren’t we waiting for this?

In contrast with how it was in the mid-90s when the hunt for freedom stocked up its shares on a single window, the year 2017 has forced open many windows without offering a wholesome view. These rusty and creaking windows are blinding us from any possibility to view, witness, and experience the real. Precious lives still mirror pensive sadness.

Waiting for the connect (Photo Challenge). The Sting of Social Media (Daily Prompt)

Build A Door

We see doors everywhere, and I’ve seen some interesting doors in my lifetime so far. For this particular week, I’m uploading door photos that I’ve found in my folder. Going forward, though, I’ll try to capture as many doors as possible. After all, I like what Milton Berle once said If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. And here, I replace ‘build’ with ‘capture.’

Central Park is an oasis in New York City and the Zoo is its integral part. We saw this glass door entrance to a gift shop: the painted image of a penguin, reflections on the door, and patches of shade on the ground.

 

This black door of Rev. Dr. Ercel F. Webb School in Jersey City has an arch with designs on top. Wide concrete steps, a weary window on the left with tied curtains, and a message on the wall from Tupac Shakur: “The rose that grew from concrete – did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete – proving nature’s law is wrong – it learned to walk without having feet.”

 

The blue majestic door with waffle designs – on 23rd Street/6th Avenue, New York City – appeared to be permanent-shut. The sunlight spared most of the door, and the little man – my son – totally owned the facade.

Want to see more doors or to join in on the challenge, click here where Manja Mexi Movie is hosting for Norm 2.0.

How A Vaping Tattoo Artist Felt Insulted When He Was Insulting

My first tattoo – Sagittarius the Archer – at Hoboken Body Art. The artist was friendly, dexterous.

My Yelp/Google review points:

1) My wife and I had two tattoos each, done at Hoboken Body Art over the years. We loved the place.

2) Last week, she got her third tattoo, and yesterday, I was to get my third.

3) For our first four tattoos we paid around $80 each. We had four free touch ups but never used them, saving HBA’s ink and artists’ time.

4) Last week, J – the new/head artist – looked at the design my wife had drawn: her mom and dad’s short signatures, a musical note on either end, and a heartbeat linking them. He said he’d charge $160. Which was double what we’d paid previously for more or less the same work. Also, we’d given him print outs for the design, making his job easier. He was clearly overcharging since my wife’s tattoo was 30% smaller (as requested by her) than originally planned.

5) He said, “I’m a very famous tattoo artist. You know me.” His eyes awash with pride as he let out a squeal of laughter. I smiled without a clue about who he was. I suggested that I too would get a tattoo and we’d pay $125 each ($250 in total). I even said that for my design I was willing to forgo the symbol on either end (like the musical notes my wife had for her) if the total was $250. He said his final price was $300 ($150 each), and it was clearly understood that if he was charging the extra $50 we both would get the same kind of work. (One tattoo = $160, both = $300; same work.) I was not keen, but my wife had made up her mind to get pricked. It was her birthday week.

6) So, last week, she got her tattoo done, and we appreciated the work he did. We paid him $160. I told him that I’d get mine within two weeks. He said he’d charge me $140 referring to the $300 package. All was well.

The reception

7) Last Saturday, I called HBA twice within a span of 5 minutes for a time with J at 12 pm the next day (yesterday/Sunday). Both times A – the front desk manager – confirmed the appointment.

8) When we arrived at HBA at sharp 12 pm yesterday, A said that J was running late due to a Light Rail commute issue and that we would have to wait for 30 minutes. Now, we have a toddler son who accompanies us and it gets difficult when there’s a waiting period. However, as suggested by A, we went out for a walk, grabbing some coffee at Bwe Kafe, and came back half hour later. But it was not before 1 pm that J arrived. No hint of apology from him.

9) J looked at my design and said he’d charge $160 since it had a symbol on either end of heartbeat and parents’ short signatures. I reasoned that we’d agreed on a $300 package (not $250 where I was willing to forgo those) and that I was only getting what my wife had got. $150 each. Nothing extra.

10) J didn’t remember the discussion we had seven days prior. Since A was not party to the discussion he had no clue.

11) J didn’t give me a good vibe even last week, appearing slightly intoxicated. He was a cry baby who kept bragging about his skills.

12) And yesterday, he was obnoxious, rude, and unprofessional. One, he came an hour late. He said people have to wait even at doctor’s. Two, he wanted $320 total. From $250 to $300 to $320.

13) Why weren’t we given an appointment for 1 pm? It turned out that A had tried to reach J on Saturday, but could get hold of him only Sunday morning. If A had informed us Sunday morning not to come before 1 pm, we wouldn’t have wasted an hour.

14) J was smoking indoors in front of our child. A Big No!

15) Forget about apology, he was accusing us of being amateurs, unprofessional, and annoying. He said he’d come all the way from his house for us and that he was being insulted; that each hour of his was worth $160, completely forgetting that all of us value time. My wife and I are professionals and we can’t wait for an hour at a tattoo shop. How are we amateurs, unprofessional, and annoying?

16) A apologized to us three times; he even tried to hand a $20 bill to J for his Uber expenses. Perhaps, J wanted those $20 from us after he made us wait? If he hadn’t taken Uber, he wouldn’t have been at the shop before 2 pm. Apparently, A didn’t want to lose us, but J, a greedy and self-centered blockhead, wouldn’t care. Such a loser! God bless him.

17) It’s unfortunate that our relationship with HBA has ended over $20. They should get rid of artists like J — I say this because HBA used to have professional, well-behaved artists.

18) Appointments should be honored — it’s between HBA and the artists. No apology from J was not only discourteous but ill-bred.

19) Such a waste of our time, energy, and the $25 we Uber-paid for commuting from Newport in Jersey City. There are so many tattoo shops nearby. We paid the price for our HBA loyalty.

20) Three of our friends had been to HBA upon our high recommendation. Not anymore.

The entrance window

Now: it was not that we couldn’t have paid the extra $20. In fact, we were planning to tip him $30. What enraged us – how odious his behavior was: last week, it was a trailer – yesterday, a performance.

Establishing a good vibe between a tattoo artist and his customer is crucial. If there’s a lack of respect, a customer might not trust that his artist would do a good job. Imagine, a tattoo is permanent, and nobody wants to be scarred trying to remove it if the artist messed it up. We’re required to sign a consent form before the procedure, making us legally vulnerable.

The day’s positive was, I went to bed thinking everything happened for the best, convincing my wife in the same breath that she need not worry about her tattoo.

Bowlmor Friday Fun At Chelsea Piers

First off, bowling has always been popular. Millions of people have played it for thousands of years, believe it or not.

Way back in 5,200 B.C., bowling balls and pins were found in the tomb of an Egyptian king. In fourth century Germany, where bowling was part of a religious ceremony, those who could knock down the pins were believed to be of good character and those who couldn’t had to do penance.

Popular in America since Colonial days, bowling started the American Bowling Congress in 1895, which is now called the United States Bowling Congress. Martin Luther was a bowler.

Located at Pier 60 – just off the West Side Highway – and with 40 bowling lanes, laneside video walls, the flashing lights and sounds of arcade games, Bowlmor gave us the outing we’d long sought: a ride into a zone that settled us into getting our focus back, decimating the days of distraction.

The entrance is a mix of dark hues, symbolic of a thick colorful interior.

To the right of the entrance is this Golf Club: Manhattan’s only four-tiered, outdoor driving range. Practice putting, take lessons from professional golfers, feel free to hit full shots.

Entering the building, the first thing you see are ropes and harness, which Bowlmar claims is NYC’s only indoor ropes course.

Stacked in the shelves behind the front desk are bowling shoes. These shoes have a sole which allows a bowler to slide before releasing the ball.

Our reserved lane. Private is cool, but expensive.

The length from the foul line to the head pin is 60 feet. On either side of the lane are gutters.

All set to bowl with Agastya, who’s super thrilled.

Rolling the ball at the pins

Warmth of bonding

Thick bright lounge area

Here, in the brief clip, it’s my second roll at the pins. I knock them down – it’s a spare.

We got a few strikes. See the X in the small square.

With reservation comes food. Chicken tenders, french fries, cheese pizza – also, fruit punch and sauces.

At the arcade, he loved Air Hockey. His takeaway.

His first attempt at an advanced racing game…

…guess what, he did really well…

I don’t know how he managed it, but he came first. He thanked me – I kissed him on his cheeks.

On our way back home, we stopped by this majestic blue door, on 23rd/6th.

Though our fingers, elbows, and legs are sore, we are all smiles.

Up To My Head

Our son, 52 months old, began his swimming lessons last month.

When he’s in the pool, he smiles and splashes water on other children, but when they reciprocate, he gazes at me: his eyebrows shrinking together = he’s complaining. From the comforts of the lounge chair, I could only gesture him to focus on his lessons.

When he’s out of the pool, he’s shivering, his teeth clattering, legs struggling to move, feet unsure of the wet concrete.

Last week, as part of the drill, all the kids had to wait in line before they jumped in the water. In the 3-second clip below, it was his turn to jump. But before he did, he said, “Up to my head,” while pointing his finger up and trembling enough to win his master’s empathy. His robust sound, rare in public, echoed off the arched glass ceiling, eliciting laughter.

“Up to your head?” his swim instructor or master retorted.

We knew he was not ready to put his head in the water yet.

After that session, when he was standing under a hot shower in the locker room, he stressed that I should tell the instructor next time that he should always do, “Up to my head.”

Glancing at his face, I saw that the space between his eyebrows shrank, the shower sound muting our silence.

In The New America People Get Slapped For Doing This

Earlier this year, I was feeling groggy from Cyclobenzaprine and Naproxen that I’d taken to treat my neck spasm. The muscle-relaxant and anti-inflammatory pills often helped, but for the drowsiness that accompanied them. Although my wife had suggested that I avoid grocery shopping, fearing the weariness might get too overwhelming, I followed on with my decision for there won’t be time rest of the week. I knew I’d be somnolent only if my body went on inactive mode, having learned how I responded after taking those pills previously. So, for the entire duration – to the grocery store, shopping, and pushing the cart back to the train station – I was super active.

I’d found a seat near the door – with my cart full of grocery in front of me – when the Path train left Journal Square. Two of the dozen Mexican tomatoes in a plastic bag that I’d kept right at the top peeped out at me. My destination was Newport with Grove Street, the only station, in between; the total travel time not exceeding ten minutes. Though my eyes were involuntarily closed from the drowsiness, I heard both sounds of door slamming shut and footsteps of people as they moved between train cars, the crispy sound when an old man flipped the pages of his book, the constant clickety-clack of the train wheels. I coughed softly a few times, I was aware.

Though I was too dozy to cover my mouth, I was certain that my mouth wasn’t open when coughing. (Wish I was alert enough to use my hands.)

At Grove Street station, a group of people boarded the train, followed by a middle-aged man. The train wasn’t crowded, but all of the seats were taken; the man was left standing. He was wearing a green shirt and black trousers. I closed my eyes; let out a couple soft coughs, my mouth still closed. Within seconds, I heard a sound barreling toward me from my right where the man was standing. “This is sick. You should cover your mouth when coughing.”

angry man

I turned my head to glance at him. He was a short man whose face turned a tinge of red that I thought meant intense dislike for me. I told him, as my eyes were closing again, that my mouth wasn’t open and that I was drowsy from a muscle relaxant. This explanation – that I hadn’t needed to give – didn’t satisfy him, and he came at me more aggressively. “This is America. You’ve no idea what you’re doing.”

None of the people who were sitting across from me uttered a word, which sort of vindicated me because they had the visual that my mouth wasn’t open. I politely told him again that my mouth was closed throughout.

He said, “I’m so sick myself – don’t want any sickness from you.”

Now: he looked sick.

I was not sick.

My unexpected coughs (more like discreet coughs) were perhaps from a can of chilled coconut water I’d drunk at the grocery.

I asserted this time that I was fine, and, “I should be more concerned about catching something from you.”

“In the new America, people get slapped for coughing like that on a public transport,” he said.

I grinned at him – my eyes won’t close for a while now – as I stood up to exit at Newport. My 6’1 frame, as I walked by him, probably forced his mouth shut. Only silence thereon. Glad tomatoes crowned the cart and therefore not crushed.

What I figured out later was that he was livid that even a grocery cart had found a space near the seat. He wanted to take his anger out at someone, and I happened to be the non-white guy he found a punching bag in? If he’d asked me, I would’ve given him my seat (I always do like I always cover my mouth.)

In last more than a decade of our life in the US, this was the first experience of its kind.

I am apolitical, but was as much against Hillary Clinton’s alleged deleting of thousands of emails as I’ve been against President Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric. The day James Comey testified before the Senate that the President had asked for his loyalty, the following happened in Union Square on 14th Street in Manhattan.

The blocks of dry ice emitted fog that drifted away.

I was a mere witness, didn’t know what to make of this. For some, it meant Trump’s ephemeral longevity; for others, it was a protest against his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. But, let’s not forget that Donald Trump became a president because he had the required electoral votes, although FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in America’s election is ongoing.

In the new America – yes – anything can happen. Since the new president took office, we’ve heard a few incidents where non-whites, especially Indians, were targeted, resulting in deaths, too. So, I decided to go back to my kickboxing routine. For self-defense. And if the man walked the talk next time, I must be ready.

But, my punching bag will remain a punching bag. I’m non-violence personified.

 

Central Park Zoo

On Sunday, we visited the Central Park Zoo in New York City.

This was our second visit in last one year and the tickets were “paid for.” Reason: Last year, during our first visit, the zoo was unexpectedly closed due to an explosion nearby. It was very unfortunate that a teenager tourist lost his foot in the blast. The visitors who’d purchased the tickets were given complimentary one-year-valid tickets since most of us couldn’t see all of the attractions. I remember we were on our way to watch a 4D movie when the accidental blast led the zoo authorities to initiate an early shutdown.

Since the complimentary tickets were to expire in July this year, the last Sunday had to be the day.

The Central Park Zoo began as a menagerie in the post mid-19th century; the place has since seen several modifications, making it the modern zoological garden, now home to an indoor rain-forest.

You enter the zoo walking with a sizable crowd, and disappear down the trellised walkway. It may look like a conflict zone if you believed the fear-mongering some, but multiculturalism thrives and works toward a peaceful co-existence. The vine-clad purity, breath of fresh green; the brick trimmed with granite.

Since we missed the 4D movie last time, we began this tour with a movie: Ice Age – No time for Nuts.

How a saber-toothed squirrel on a chase after his acorn, which a time machine dispatches into different time periods, makes for a fun viewing experience.

Ready with our 4D glasses – our son thoroughly enjoyed the film.

We avoid fast food but have to make do with it when options are scarce. The monopoly of a lone restaurant in the zoo can quietly drain your wallet: $14 for a cheeseburger. I ate half of my burger in disapproval. The street vendor right outside the zoo would charge more or less the same, charging $3 for a 700 ml water bottle, for example; in other places, the same bottle costs $1.50. Uniformity in food prices kicks competition out. But, french fries tasted better after a while.

Right outside Tisch Children’s Zoo which was to be our next stop, this brilliant musician played Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round on his saxophone.

At Children’s Zoo, waiting to feed the goats

Alpaca, which resembles Llama, is a domesticated species of South American camelid.

Feeding the Alpaca. (Look out – Alpacas can spit.)

Spider web play area

White-naped Crane – needs shallow wetlands and grassy marshes to forage, nest, and raise their chicks. 70% of these cranes breed in Mongolia which provides perfect habitats.

Ducks’ feeding time

Baby Tortoise with egg as shell

Cavies come from the same family as guinea pigs. A family of rodents native to South America.

Intelligence garden (in the Temperate zone) is an idea borrowed from a Chinese emperor who believed that the best way to develop intelligence was to observe animals in their natural state. 

Where next?

Walking toward the Tropic zone. Glass-roofed pergolas add to the beauty.

A grizzly bear stands 3 to 4 feet tall on all fours, but can reach 6 to 7 feet tall when standing up straight.

The bear’s private pool

California Sea Lion can dive hundreds of feet deep and stay underwater for up to 10 minutes.

Flora that lends beauty…

It was zero degree Fahrenheit…descending from the pass were the marks of the Snow Leopard; they can venture as high as 19,000 feet. Watch its eyes at your own risk.

Red panda – found in the Himalayan foothills, this flame-colored animal shares both territory and a name with the giant panda, but not genetics. Red panda is actually related to Raccoon.

The Victoria-crowned pigeon is a large, bluish-grey pigeon; has elegant blue lace-like crests, maroon breast, and red irises.

Blue-headed Macaw Parrot. Pointed tail, large bill.

Amazon Tree Boa is non-venomous, found in South America.

Banded Mongoose – females give birth within a few days of each other and everyone cares for the babies.

Texas Tortoise – thrives in exposed dry scrub and grasslands; forages on cactuses.

Slender-tail Cloud Rat – one of the largest rats in the world. Guess its weight when fully grown? Around five pounds. Its penetrating look – as if it knows what we’re thinking.

Penguins in the Polar zone. Just chill.

Pret A Manger In Newport Center Mall

Pret A Manger has always impressed me with its offering of healthy, fresh, and seasonal food. I have frequented its shops in New York City and was aware that it’d open its first Jersey City location in Newport Center mall. So, when I received a mail from Newport Center informing that the sandwich chain would not only open today but give away free breakfast/lunch, I was stating-the-obvious thrilled.

Barnstock brick-tile gives the brand a reclaimed finish

I wanted to make it to their 12 pm lunch giveaway, so had set a reminder for 11.45 am (I was in Starbucks working on a story). At 11.50 am, I was standing outside the shop, perhaps the 50th in line. When I glanced behind me, I could see a big crowd: the line snaking down possibly all the way to the entrance of the mall. And since the entrance, which was much beyond my view, was probably jammed with people waiting for freebies, the mall security quickly devised a plan to move the crowd up to line in the opposite direction. This must have eased the regular foot traffic entering and exiting the mall.

The clip here shows the constant movement of people as they line up for giveaways.

​The prospect of eating a fresh bowl of salad and cold pressed juice kept me enthused. When my turn came inside the shop, I picked Chicken and Avocado salad and cold-pressed Watermelon juice.

Chargrilled chicken (antibiotic-free), avocado, grape tomatoes, lemon juice, mesclun, dried cranberries, and roasted walnut.

A seasonal cold-pressed juice made with sun-ripened watermelons and a touch of strawberry puree.

After consuming the delicious freshness, I did a digestion walk, ending up at the front of the chain again. The lunch giveaways had long ended, but two friendly representatives were distributing free fruit cups. I picked a cup each of melon medley and grapes.

Summing up my love for Pret A Manger and its inauguration in Newport Center, I was not expecting to receive a voucher that another representative gave me for a free coffee or tea.

Such a beautiful day! Thank you, Pret A Manger.

 

When The Restroom Is Not For Customers

restroom

While I was waiting for my prescription drugs, scanning the aisles and passing my time, I heard a commotion. I could figure out from the distance that a pharmacist was in a verbal duel with a customer. I walked toward the pharmacy counter and paused at the edge of an aisle, which was a strategic spot where I could do this reporting.

It was windy outside and my drug pick-up still ten minutes away, and since I was in search of a topic to write on, I listened in to the argument.

The pharmacist and the store manager appeared relaxed on the other side of the counter; the lady customer stood across from them, a few feet away from me. Her voice was shaky as she chastised the pharmacist, asking him to be more sensitive, and that Duane Reade’s reputation might be at stake if he failed to tend to its customers.

Fifteen minutes earlier:

The lady wanted to use the restroom. (Having lived in Newport for years, I knew that the restroom in this Duane Reade wasn’t for customers.) When she’d asked the pharmacist if she could use it, he responded in the negative. When she insisted citing abdominal pain, he said he’d check with the store manager. Ten minutes passed before the manager arrived and who replied in the affirmative, giving the lady the keys.

After using the restroom, she came out and began to reason with the pharmacist.

fight-breaking-up-stopping-stop-break.png

Still standing at the edge of the aisle, my eyes saw Tylenol, my nose smelled VapoRub. She complained that he’d taken a long time to allow her access; that she was an insulin-dependent diabetic who lived 45 minutes away from the pharmacy. The pharmacist, who was relieved that she’d relieved herself, repeated that the restroom wasn’t for customers (his vocal clarity now bathing in confidence). But, her argument as to why the manager had permitted her silenced him. Refusing to surrender, however, the man yelled, at times, which looked fair given the lady was shrieking throughout this conversation.

The aisle that I’d made my corner was suddenly buzzing with customers. The narratives in their murmurs were mostly divided.

Upping the ante, the lady protested that if she had fainted in the pharmacy during those ten minutes; if an ambulance had to be called in and she’d died en route to the hospital (her choking voice surgically removing any melodramatic pretentiousness); if the law enforcement then questioned the pharmacist, could he justify his decision to deny an insulin-dependent diabetic restroom access?

This terror of a hypothesis whacked a reluctant apology out of him. However, to be fair to the man, most narratives from the aisle agreed that he was not aware of her diabetes.

Now:

Who was right? Who was wrong? Restroom policy? Exception? Who deserved the exception?

I believed the lady. Imagine she’d fought with him for 30 minutes. She looked educated? Yes, she was howling.

Had she shared her insulin-dependency fact at the start, he might have responded differently. But her illness was private knowledge, rightly, or should she have revealed it?

He was following the store policy, and might be more upset with the manager than with the lady. Would the manager have patted his back had he been considerate to the lady?

A pharmacy may look like an extension to a hospital – where one can access restrooms – but it isn’t. It’s a pharmaceutical corporate from whom the lady expected a little humility.

The Budding 90s

Literary Orphans has published my fiction piece, “The Budding 90s.”

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Mahesh Nair – The Budding 90s

 

 

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The Budding 90s by Mahesh Nair

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July 25, 1994.  Amit was studying in a high school in Delhi, but skipped school that day, lying to his parents that the school had declared a holiday due to extreme heat. He wanted to walk, and it was hot.

“Heading to a barista,” he said hoping, his mother heard him in the kitchen.

“Be back soon.” Her fuzzy voice was either due to the heat or the lack of confidence about her son’s early return.

He stepped out of his house at noon, in a maroon v-neck, khaki shorts, and sneakers; a crimson waist bag slung over his shoulder. The vindictive rays of the sun walloped him like a lightning strike would a building, but he hardly broke a sweat for he didn’t think about heat as though he had a metal rod crowning his head to conduct the strike to the ground through the wire of his will. His walking partner, Samir, was absent that day.

“Why extreme heat?” Samir had asked Amit three years ago after they’d become friends in school.

“I can handle it. You too can. Walk with me.”

Since then, they’d traveled many a mile together; walking in summers had shaded their complexion from wheat-colored in May to beige in June, to dark brown in July.

“Sweating like crazy.” Samir had whimpered before emptying a bottle of Coca-Cola. It was 45-degrees Celsius the early days of the previous July.


“Don’t drink if you want to break heat barrier.”


Their bond gushed like the two rivulets of rainwater that joined together, before falling into a conduit to never flow separately. In school: they’d sat together in the classroom, exchanged notes if either had been absent, stood up for each other if there was nettling from another student. Outside: they’d scared off a snake charmer who’d threatened to lob a cobra at them, fought a bullying group of profanity-hurling eunuchs.

Their bonhomie had brought their respective parents together, but Samir’s parents moved back to their village in the western state of Rajasthan in late 1993.

***

Amit meandered a street, treading an uneven terrain of gravel and crushed stones before he reached a t-point, turning left, and from where it was an uncurved stretch: a mile long road he’d sauntered over and again. He sighted in the path ahead a daily-wage laborer, who rode his bicycle on a puddle of water, leaving Amit ambivalent if, the sight resulted from the slanting rays blurring his eyes or the mirage of the noon. Whips of wind with guttural roar swept the dust off the tarred surface that had several gashes spanning its length. His eyes followed the evanescing laborer, who was the only other person then unless he too was floating for someone behind him.


***

He had joined Samir in the latter’s house on the Independence Day mid-August, two years prior. They flew kites with hundreds of others, within feet of each other, from their matchbox building terraces in a lower-class residential area. The lines escaping their spool winders had crossed one another cutting some kites, leaving the rest to eliminate each other. A tense battle, except for a few that fluttered freely. “We are the free kites in the air,” Samir said, letting go of the line that emptied the winder…soon disappearing — the dusk casting a shade of pale gray.

“Why did you do that?”


“I told you. We are free.”

***

Amit covered one-third of the stretch, saw people who, on the either side of the road had lain relaxed in the plastic chairs of their makeshift shops; which, until a few months ago were concrete structures before being razed, since they’d sat on a government land. The shopkeepers threw sluggish glances at him, easing in the shades of their tin ceilings.

From Ahmed’s store where bangles green and red hung on a wire, danced in the breeze, jingling, and clanking — to Shyam’s tea stall where the stained kettle was not on the stove and cups waited to be cleaned — to Robert’s grocery where the owner’s snore was louder than the freezer’s whir. Amit knew these people but didn’t want to stop. The shops and their products as he advanced, wore a line of sophistication since they were owned by a non-resident Indian: the shops with concrete ceilings, a bribed affair with the municipality so they remained on the government property but, with a caveat, that they’d be bulldozed if municipality lost the next election. His shops sold Onida and BPL television sets and Kelvinator refrigerators from where Samir’s father had bought a fridge.

How Samir had carried bottles of chilled water for Amit. They’d held hands, laughed, gazed at each other and, when their eyes had locked, a shiver of affection surprised them.

***

A group of right-wing fundamentalists had demolished Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in late 1992; followed by a group of terrorists who, in retaliation, had planted bombs in various parts of Bombay. Both events had triggered riots between Hindus and Muslims in most parts of the country, but Delhi was spared a great deal, and yet, a sense of suspicion had prevailed between the followers of the two religions in the capital city.

This was also the time when, among the issues the right-wing had trumpeted, homosexuality had turned their faces red with rage.

Fronting as a furniture shop, Shri Ram Woods was a symbol of preparedness for Hindu radicals; several trishuls and bamboo sticks were stocked in its storage for mass distribution if a riot were to start. Madhav, the owner, had a fleet of trucks under the same name. “I have political connections,” he’d told Samir one day.

“I don’t care. Your encroachment and your truck almost killed a child last week.”


“You, a Muslim?”.

“You almost killed a child, I repeat.”

“Go to a country where there are only mullahs.”

“Was born here, will die here.”

“Your parents are scared of us.”

“In your dreams.”

“Leave or get thrashed,” Madhav had warned. Amit intervened and took Samir away. He knew it was in their interest that they’d avoided Madhav since he’d also had seen them walk by his shop holding hands when, what two boys or men usually did upon meeting was a handshake or a brief hug, anything beyond which had triggered homophobia.


***

When he crossed the halfway mark of the stretch, a sudden verve in the air was evident. The vegetable vendors were calling out to the few people who were rushing to their homes. When one heralded that his tomatoes cost less, his helper sprayed water on them; no sooner another announced that his cucumbers were fresh than his assistant sprinkled water. It favored the vendors that their shops stood at a vantage point since a narrow lane had cut right into a residential area; Samir and his parents had lived in the A-block.

A cumulonimbus cloud had carried dusk with it one day as if, storm’s urgency craved twilight’s composure. Samir and Amit had met in the former’s house when his parents were away.

A twin-sized bed sat in a corner, the smell of the worn teak was saccharine. A rumpled cream  sheet appeared rested on a thin grey mattress. Rain whipped leaves, thunder wailed, chirrups of the unseen sparrows were unexpected. Across from the bed was a square window left ajar and through which, rain slanted in, spraying Amit’s arms, cooling his reserve of heat. He glimpsed at Samir who’d sat on the bed, glancing back; the ceiling corner right above the bed was a circle of fulvous mold ready to dribble water. The silence in the room discharged a feel of sweet uncanniness.

Water trickled in from window and ceiling, forming rills on the floor, but yet to cross each other’s path. Amit had closed the window and inched towards the door. Both were 17, in the repressed India of the 90s.

***


When he reached the end of the stretch, he met another t-point — a proper, wide road where: big vehicles plied their routes, proud shop owners rejoiced the swarm of people since a bus stop was nearby, encroachment caused jams and inconvenience. Shri Ram Woods was one of the shops. Amit unzipped his waist bag, yanked a kitchen knife before stuffing it back in; then, pulled out an Archie’s card, and a notebook: stuffed between its pages were faded petals of dried rose.

At the bus stop, his watch struck 1.30 pm. He read from the card: Your sensitivity and my charm have become too apparent to be missed — the glare and the snap of the people will be humiliating rather, more painful than from being stoned to death — the riot of religion I know, cannot rough up the strength of soul which, can confront threat in pursuit of truth, can destroy the strongest of walls that often stood on shaky grounds…

A year prior today, he’d stridden from this stop into a grocery – the nearest one then was a shop next to the vegetable vendors – to buy a bottle of water for Samir, who’d stayed back at the stop to watch the traffic. Fifteen minutes later, he’d glided back to Samir whose eyes had let out a gleam of yearning; hand had held a rose. Amit handed him the bottle that he barely held as a truck had hurtled towards them. He flung the bottle, pulled Amit aside, but was late himself to steer clear of the monster’s rush. The truck scraped Samir, its impact tossing him down to a side where, in that violent fall, his head hit a sharp edge, crushing his skull upon contact. In his dead clench, his fist had the rose, its stem breathing out from the other end, like a cupid’s arrow. Amit clambered to his feet – his body torpid and drenched in sweat – not realizing, he’d dropped a card.

With tears rolling down now like a runnel of rainwater surging alone, he read the last line. Let’s break the barriers.

O Typekey Divider

Mahesh Nair studied fiction at New York University, learned acting at Lee Strasberg, and is working on his first novel, an autobiographical fiction. His work has appeared in The Bookends Review, Smokebox, and Crack the Spine.

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O Typekey Divider

–Art by Felix Lu

Breathlessly Yours

Smokebox, a literary journal, has published my short story, “Breathlessly Yours.” The journal is an interesting mix of art and fiction.

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Mahesh Nair – Breathlessly Yours

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breathlessly yours

Somebody’s proposed to me,’ she said. A truck whooshed by outside, scattering dust. That the window they’d sat by became blinding. Blank; it hindered his outside view. His fingers on his pulse…”

 

by mahesh nair

 

A man, two decades older than the woman he lost his heart to, thought about her often, remembering her now as he recuperated from an asthmatic attack in a hospital bed in Delhi.

If the sun were too hot, Jon wouldn’t curse the sun. Instead, he’d seek the shade of a tree or be in Barista for iced coffee. He wouldn’t judge anyone even if the urge tempted him – drinking unsweetened coffee although he’d requested sweetened. A 55-year old virgin, he’d never kissed a girl as life’s events had benumbed him to the charm of women. His mother died when he was young; then father’s illness brought the best out of a dutiful son.

Only when he met Andrea, a brunette with a natural tan, did he realize what he’d been missing. She carried an aura, enrapturing him; spoke freely, matching her words with her intention; and when she kicked in the air, the demonstration validated her black belt degree.

They met a few times, but he made her memories his present, calming him in her absence; and though she found a friend in Jon, her eyes searched for the man of her dreams not realizing, she was a woman of his dreams.

He was drawn to her like the toy train car he’d attached to its engine as a child: magnet then, magic now. The engine unaware of the car being attached, he’d ensured its pull didn’t give a sound; for their age was an issue, his financial instability another.

It was a Saturday. Clear blue skies stretched till the hours of the evening. The streets were beginning to swell as dusk approached. Sounds of laughter from a nearby park indicated husbands were back from work spending time with their wives.

He was waiting outside her building about which, she didn’t know, as he’d arrived there an hour before they were to meet. He found a corner at the bottom of the stairs to her second-floor apartment, making sure she didn’t see him from her window thirty feet up. He enjoyed waiting, the flutter of longingness fondling his soul.

She rushed down at 5 sharp. “Just got here?”

“Ten seconds ago.” He scanned his watch. “How are you?” His frail voice went weaker by the discordant mixture of sounds building in the street.

They were standing in the middle of the footpath, blocking pedestrians. She pulled him aside. “Cafe Coffee Day?”

At the cafe, they ordered their drinks and sat opposite each other in a corner by the window.

“Somebody’s proposed to me,” she said. A truck whooshed by outside, scattering dust. That the window they’d sat by became blinding. Blank; it hindered his outside view. His fingers on his pulse.

He drank from his iced coffee, guzzling the news down. “Who is the lucky guy?” The dust settled outside.

“He’s a hunk, looks like a ramp model, with chiseled jawline.”

“You should talk to him, you see. Wisdom and conduct of a man should top her list when a pretty woman says yes to a proposal.”

“Well, you have wisdom and certainly, conduct.” She tee-heed. “But isn’t physical attraction important?” She tee-heed again.

Her honesty was forthright, he thought, as he gazed at the window, hoping to see a reflection of his face. He did: a distorted view. “Physicality is temporary, Andrea. What stays is not jawline,” he said.

Dropping her back home, he watched her climb the stairs, one measured step at a time. Her American sophistication. The smell of her Chanel trailing her. He closed his eyes, breathing in, and sneezed, and checked his pockets for Asthalin; the inhaler was there.

He rolled in bed that night and leaped off it with clenched fists. In the bathroom mirror he saw, that his hair was grey and wispy, his jawline blurred. He opened the tap and splashed water in his eyes, then pulled his cheeks in to see, staring back in the mirror if he looked chiseled. Huh! He took a pill for hypertension before retiring to bed.

A few months later, Andrea traveled back to the US for Christmas. The NGO they volunteered for allowed Andrea that break.

Jon, the local man, reminisced his treasured moments with her, as they provided oxygen to his lungs. He hoped that his engine was not dating a car in the US, and when she returned in January, he hoped she hadn’t said yes to the hunk.

But his hopes were just hopes, not serious expectancy which, if failed, would crush him. What strengthened him was his unquestionable loyalty to her, without analysing her feelings for him; which prepared him, or perhaps not, for the bitterest of consequences.

They decided to meet a week later. It was raining.

The thick pouring of drops hurt him as he stood in the same corner by the stairs, peering at the sky with folded hands. He could have moved a few feet away to be under a shade but he worried, that if she’d stepped down and didn’t see him, she might climb back up to never return. She longs for me, I know. Water dripped from his pants.

“I just arrived, forgot my umbrella,” he said, as she’d come down fifteen minutes earlier.

“Wanna go home and change?”

“I am fine. It is only rain, you see.”

She sipped from her hot chocolate at the cafe. “He’s taking me to Agra. Taaj Mahaaal.”

A-choo…atchoo went Jon. The dryness in the cafe from the heat triggered that. He glanced around, massaged his chest, then throat; was glad Andrea’s attention was fixed on a text she just received. When his breaths became shorter, he searched for Asthalin in his pockets finding which, he covered it with his kerchief, before bringing it up to his mouth to puff it in.

When she looked back at him, he said, “Can – both of us go – to Taj Mahal?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes – I am, you see.” He took another puff and grabbed his chest.

“Jon, you okay?”

“Yes – no – it is an attack. Ambulance.” He shrunk in his chair.

He had asthmatic attacks in the past, knew how to relax, and hope, everything would be fine. His sweaty hand gripped hers, slipping…and slipping.

People from the cafe joined her, but he still grasped her hand as though, he was in a dream where they went for a stroll in the nearby park: her head resting on his shoulder; him caressing her fingers; her telling him he was her Shahjehan and him telling her she was his Mumtaz.

Then there was a thud, a whisper and a silence.

Two days later in the hospital bed, he asked the nurse if the girl who brought him there was around. “She never came back,” the nurse said.

“She must have gone to see Taj Mahal, you see,” he told the nurse as she was leaving the room. “Hopefully, alone.”

(photos: james beach)

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Originally published:
Issue Seventy-Three
July 2016

Mahesh studied fiction at New York University; learned acting at Lee Strasberg. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bookends Review and Crack the Spine.

A Distance Away

My short story “A Distance Away” is published in The Bookends Review,  a literary journal. It has three main characters with first POVs. Genre: Thriller.

Original link:

Mahesh Nair – A Distance Away

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Mahesh Nair – A Distance Away

 

A Distance Away

Randy’s wish

I’ve rented a motor boat for two hours. I’m in a maroon tee and bermuda shorts, waiting for Jane. The twilight is a tint of orange with threads of red rising from the horizon, which may not last long, unlike her presence that placates my soul.

I have known her for sometime, only know that she works for a store, but it’s enough data. Love, they say, is blind.

But I have a point to prove, and have long waited for this moment, like a poor Alaskan waiting for years to get to Florida, away from the sucker cold. Worse, I was treated like a pole a dog would lift its legs to pee on, and using the smell as a mark for other dogs to shame me and my competence. I laughed it off, never protested, but I was dying within. They pushed me into desk jobs, I wanted the field.

Listen, it’s been my persistence, and Jane’s promising presence. May this cruise be a good omen, a start.


Jane’s dream

I look soft with a pale tone of brown. Add subtleties of expression to it, and my friends say, I have an aura. Yes I ignored  Randy  initially,  as  I  thought  he’s an unemployed wanderer at best. I also loathed him, for he’d never looked at my face when he spoke to me, which I figured was a sign that he was not trustworthy. But my joy found a source, like a tulip that stretches its head to face the light, when he began to lock his eyes with mine. And guess what, he told me that he owned a boat. I have a thing for boat owners. But I’m not stupid. I cross checked with a close friend who verified, and confirmed that the boat was his. I have friends who care.

My father, who wanted to own a boat for my sake, could only clean somebody’s all his life. But that somebody died, and he lost his job. We were poor but never failed to conform to social norms, never leaving a hint to suggest otherwise. When Randy asked me out on a boat date yesterday, how could I say no?


Steve’s way

Steve’s my name, one of my names. I’m the boat owner, and I own everything in Jersey City, in a way. I steal. Great track record: 5 years of stealing, never arrested. Decimated my dad’s record; he was handcuffed on his first attempt. “You’ll smash records like my ol’ man,” he’d said. Now both father and son must be discussing their stats in some far corner of hell. I’ll go there, too. Also because I’m responsible for two homicides. Shush, the murdered ones are believed to be missing.

Randy has rented my boat for two hours. 30 minutes to go. Told him to wait for me on the boat itself. I’ll collect the keys from him, and leave, and hide in an abandoned fort in Staten Island,  before  I  set  out  on my conquests again. Because tomorrow, my sources told me, cops will raid my uncle’s house, where I stayed for a while, in Newark Avenue.


Jane, with Randy

Aboard the boat, 90 minutes into the ride, as we are cruising on the Hudson River, the breeze of the late spring caresses my lips as much it appears to tempt his, and our eyes lock under the moonlight, the smoke of passion leaving our breaths. But wait.

“Whose boat is this?” I said, as wind breezes up.

“Mine.”

“Really?”

“Of course.” He scratches his head. It’s 8 pm, and the dock is quiet.


Randy, with Jane

“We’ll do this again,” I said.

“Yes.”

“Mind if I take you to a disco now?” I’ll drop Jane at Perry’s disco, a good distance from the boat, then come back, meet Steve, and go back to her.

“We still have 15 minutes. Champagne on the boat, instead?” Her eyes glittered.

But my heart’s pumping hard. We should be out by now, the omen I was talking about. But listening to her might be a prophetic sign, too. What if my emotional weights mar my strategic steps, would soulfulness be bravery, given luck goes the brave’s way. And only I know where Steve will come to. I’ve been following him for months, but couldn’t have arrested him in public. My seniors, the dogs who ridiculed me all these years, will find nothing in Newark Avenue tomorrow.

I check my .357 magnum tucked into the back of my shorts. I’d slid a packet under the driver’s seat, just in case.


Steve meets Randy, Jane and …

I see a steady Randy on the boat that sways from side to side. A woman is looking out into the black water, while faint dock lights to her right reflect uneven ripples in the river.

“Hey Randy. You plus the lady enjoyed? Keys, please.” She turned to face me, and said, “Roger.”

I winked at her. “Kathy.”

“Hands up,” Randy said, pointing his revolver at me, but also glancing at Jane, who’s also Kathy. His feet jived, and eyes rolled left and right, as though he were at Perry’s.

I respect cops, so I raise my hands, but show both middle fingers; right on cue, the old man shoots a bullet that crushes Randy’s left eye, knocking him into the river. Cries of gulls reverberated off the docks.

“He must be dead,” I said.

“He sure is,” Kathy’s father said, as he steps out of the dark from behind me, and on to the boat.

“But dad, I think the bullet only scraped him.” The daughter gazed at the father.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said, and as I turn the engine on, my right ankle feels something under the seat. I take a peek. “It’s a packet, gift wrapped, maybe for Kathy, sorry Jane.” We speed away.


Randy’s act

The boat whirs away, and the sound recedes. I splash about in the water, my head’s above it, but I feel thick warm leaks around my left eye. I fish my hand in my shorts pocket, and take out my phone that I’d wrapped in a ziplock.

I place the call, airwaves will capture the signal, which must energize a relay I connected to the blasting cap on the packet.

A distance away, a flaming white bleaches the black waters, stacked on top of it are colors of orange and red, not particularly in that order. The smoke that went up is barely visible under the moonlight.

– Mahesh Nair

Mahesh Nair  studied creative fiction writing at New York University, learned acting at Lee Strasberg, and is working on his first novel, an autobiographical fiction.

The Mob Is Ready, And Blind

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In mid-1998, I made my first solo train trip to Kerala in South India from Delhi. I was in a reserved sleeper class, the train had pulled up in Pune, and it was late evening. I’d just finished my dinner and was preparing my bed on the upper berth when we heard a loud trumpet of bum bum bole, followed by the clatter of footsteps of people boarding the train. It was a mob of Shiv Sena, a far-right regional political party, who, in their saffron attires, and with some carrying trishuls, emboldened one another to grab not only the empty seats but also the ones that were occupied.

A mob can infuse dread in anyone: their terror is synonymous with terrorism, only that their ideology isn’t firmer or clearer yet to push them into taking their own lives, as happens in terrorist killings; plus, the fear of the law softens some of their fury. I was lucky that no sainik wanted a share of my seat, but not everyone was as fortunate. The passengers who happened to be in the toilet then, lost a good percentage of their seat space when they returned; and those who protested, received some choicest local Marathi abuse. Shiv Sena was running the state of Maharashtra in an alliance with BJP, which is the ruling party of the Indian government now.

It was a mob of RSS – a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization – and VHP, its outfit, that demolished Babri Masjid five years earlier in Uttar Pradesh, and it was the same mob that was active during Gujarat riots three years later. These fiendish events, etched into our collective memories, had resulted in deaths then and in the aftermath, when sorrow and revulsion were the feelings shared by both communities. A mob pattern was emerging which – with the tacit approval of the states, BJP-ruled in the above two cases – attempted to assert that India is a Hindu nation (almost 80% are Hindus) and the minorities, especially Muslims (14% follow Islam), should know this.

It’s been almost 18 months since the BJP came to power. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been travelling the world, talking of investments, and talking Mann ki Baat on radio. He was given a grand welcome by several Heads of States, NRIs, and the media overseas, until a journalist in London asked him about the climate of intolerance in India. His response was confident that India is a land of Buddha and Gandhi and that her culture wouldn’t accept anything that is against the basic social values. Two months prior, a Muslim man was wrongly suspected of having beef in his fridge. A mob barged into his house and lynched him to death. This was amidst the frenzy of beef ban the BJP-ruled states were imposing, the monitoring and implementation of which was leased to the religious zealots who became the mob on the ground.

Cow-reverence being a practice in Hinduism, has a political history to it. In the book “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” the author writes: “The first agitation over cow slaughter in the Raj took place in the Sikh state of the Punjab where cow slaughter had been a capital offense right up to the moment when the British took over…In 1888, a British court in Allahabad ruled that a cow was not a sacred object, that Muslims who slaughtered cows could not be held to have insulted the religion of the Hindus, and that police were to protect Muslims who wanted to slaughter cows…At the Bakr-Id festival of 1893, riots broke out involving the entire Hindu population of villages, and thousands of people attacked Muslims…Cows continued to provide a lightning rod for communal violence from then until the present day.”

Modi’s condemnation of the lynching wasn’t specific, as he appeared to restrain himself. Agreed, this happened in Uttar Pradesh where SP, a regional party, was ruling, but a local BJP senior justified the mob’s action. Besides, the Prime Minister hasn’t reprimanded the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sangeet Som, the party hardliners. His limited reaction to their polarizing statements has been vague; and his party unleashed fingers at other parties’ hardliners, including a Muslim political party that threatened to unleash bloodbath against Hindus.

The truth is, if the PM – who has the people’s mandate – doesn’t nip the Hindu fringe in the bud, the impression he leaves is that he’s in agreement with them and that this is part of a conspiracy theory.

Since India’s independence from the British, the Congress party has ruled the country for six decades. The 42nd amendment of the Constitution of India, enacted in 1976, asserted India’s secular identity. The state has to enforce religious laws instead of parliamentary laws, and respect pluralism; whereas in the West, the concept of Secularism envisions a separation of religion and state. Congress has long shown a contrived secularism mindset, which their opposition contests can best be construed as minority appeasement. Six decades is a long period for generation after generation of Indians to have faith, though shaky at times, in the secular fabric of the country.

There were communal riots under Congress’ rule and though, the party has had no alliances with religious fundamentalist groups, it failed to prevent the riots or maintain peace. What perhaps worked for them was that if a communal fire was lit somewhere, the top leader of the party, more often than not, would address the nation condemning the riots, appearing to do the right thing. In retrospect, this looked more like the appeasement of both sides for political survival than an effort to bridge the religious divide.

In my growing up years, I have heard not only Hindi-Chini bhai bhai, but also Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai. Congress’ minority appeasement politics, the BJP has long said, took the majority for granted. The vengeful BJP is now reversing the trend: appease the majority and take the minority for granted. The danger of doing this, which the BJP ignores, is that majority of Hindus don’t want to take their religion seriously: at least not serious enough to consider other religions inferior. The recent BJP debacle in Bihar elections was an eye-opener for the party.

Now: if the seed of conspiracy has been sown at all by RSS/BJP, it’s not working — because as I said above, Congress’ rule has prepared a comfortable secular mattress to sleep on for the majority of us, and our genetic code is peace-personified to begin with. However, if the theory blooms, it’ll take decades for the majority of Hindus to have an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder about Hinduism, and the OCD once diagnosed may only be to countervail Muslims’ obsession with Islam. How secular or communal we will then be, only time can tell.

Intolerance has been the darling word of the media for some time now, often used against the Hindus in matters of religion to favor the Muslims. However, if a Muslim family refuses to stand up while the rest of the crowd does when the national anthem is being played in a theater in Mumbai, it calls attention to their strange conduct. The government guidelines say that one must stand up when the national anthem is played or sung; the crowd that stood up in the theater might also have Muslims among them. The crowd’s jingoistic bullying of the family to ensure they leave the theater, wasn’t perhaps as harsh as the family’s intolerance to the anthem. Media may want to coin the use of intolerance both ways to bring balance and depth to debates.

Recently, Aamir Khan, a famous Indian actor, expressed his views that there was intolerance in India and that his wife was scared to live in the country. There was an immediate backlash and people reviled him. Several reactions flooded the internet including that he became a superstar because majority of Hindus had paid money to watch his films, and that he’d played a “Hindu” good guy killing a “Muslim” bad guy in a movie.

Let’s look at this in the right perspective: Aamir Khan was born a Muslim. He’s free to follow his religion and verbalize his thoughts. He became the fall guy, however, going from the one who beat up the Muslim bad man to the beaten one himself. Was the problem with Aamir Khan or with people who’d adored his films? Had they expected Aamir to extend his reel characters on to his real life? Was there an implicit agreement between the ticket paying majority and him that they’d watch his movies only if he never spoke his mind? His speaking his mind doesn’t make him a Pakistani. And the loud cry now to boycott his future films? Well, the majority will still flock to the theaters to watch him; the fringe minority will continue to burn his effigies outside.

We are in a democracy, not theocracy.

The Prime Minister was on the cover of Time with paragraphs chronicling how he’s the dynamic leader of a vibrant democracy. I have personally experienced a transformation here as people look at Indians with a lot more respect. Though India’s economic growth was talked about in the West under Manmohan Singh’s government, Modi is touring the talk, and his broader objective is development indeed. His vision appears to be that of an India where each citizen is strong and self-reliant; also, where Hindutva’s representation of cultural nationalism is understood not as an attempt to get a Hindu nationhood, but rather to attract all of the communities under one mainstream fold. But, could the development agenda mask for now, or eradicate for ever, the communal agenda? As things stand now, he only knows his Mann ki Baat.

When the train departed Pune that night, I wasn’t looking forward to a sound sleep, as loud lullabies of bum bum bole reverberated through the compartment. A Shiv Sainik who seemed comfortable under a white sheet, grinned at me from the opposite upper berth. When I asked him if he really was a Shiv-bhakth, his response was abrupt: “You pay me Rs. 50 and I’ll become Krishna-bhakth, Ram-bhakth or any bhakth.’ He smirked, then continued, “We make more money as sainiks than as laborers, you see, and we don’t have to carry weights.”

Sugar’s The Target

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Target, the retailer, announced that it would remove signage that has long communicated separate aisles for boys and girls. Boys’ aisle had toys and action figures, girls’ had dolls and costumes.

Reactions came pouring in post the announcement and were divided among the shoppers. Some complained that the removal of signage was preposterous: that boys and girls would always be boys and girls. I too thought the signage was necessary as it carried forward a long-held tradition, also saving shoppers their time. But, when some shoppers welcomed the announcement and I understood why they did, I scrapped my deep-seated rationale and appreciated Target’s move wholeheartedly.

The belief that boys can’t wear pink or girls can’t play with action figures is a fundamental mistake. If a boy wants to play with a barbie doll or a girl wishes to imitate a superman figure, let them. Let us not decide what they should have or which aisle they must avoid. When we make these decisions we apparently are limiting their evolving worldviews. What let-them-be will do is that when they grow up, they may be far more schooled about gender diversity and complexity.

If a girl loves action figures, her inclination to take up a sport or join the military in the future may be natural. Similarly, a boy’s fascination for dolls may, in later years, put him at ease when caring for a baby as a father. Being natural is effective.

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Sugared drink manufacturers will go to any length to make consumers sip Coke, Pepsi and other sodas. They were covertly funding some scientists to come up with findings that a good exercise could offset a bad diet.

There hasn’t been a single evidence to prove that if we exercise every day, we can eat anything. When food enters our system, it causes metabolic and hormonal changes, and exercise can only do so much. Science says that the more sugar we consume the more pressure we put on the insulin to process it; insulin will gradually lose its power and make way for diabetes and other diseases.

Isn’t this shocking enough that a can of sugared drink has 15-18 teaspoons of sugar?

People drink their coffees and teas without sugar, leading by example of how much they value their health, only to drink a can of sugared soda.

Acceptance, Publication

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I can’t believe that I’ve been away from blogging for almost four months. It’s a long time and yet it’s not, as though a truck whooshed past in slow mo.

I sent a couple of stories out during those months. An online journal accepted a story. I was thrilled.  They publish a new piece every Monday. So I waited to see my fiction appear on their website; I was desperate to write a post here linking it to the piece. I waited.

Eight weeks passed, Mondays continued to be menacing. I considered writing to the Editor to check on the date of publication, but feared that my email query might be perceived as impolite. But, when the story didn’t appear last Monday, I wrote to them and got a response within an hour: that my story would publish on May 23, 2016.

I rubbed my eyes, scratched my head, comforted myself thinking the month of May this year was still away.

No. We’re already in August and the year mentioned in the response was 2016. Huh.

There was a note in the Editor’s reply that though my story would certainly appear on their website, it might also be in print if chosen for their yearly anthology.

I wanted to send a mail seeking clarification on the bewildering year-long gap between the dates of acceptance and publication. But I stopped, and surfed their website. The contributors, whose stories have appeared, are published writers with some having been published in ten other journals. This journal – with categories like fiction, non fiction, academic, poetry, and multimedia – chooses one piece from among these categories every week. The last short story under fiction was published six weeks ago.

Math: 4 pieces per month multiplied by 12 is 48. Since their reading periods – when one can send the stories – are three months in the beginning and three months in the middle of a calendar year, they possibly accepted 45 stories for publication before they accepted mine. They claim that they receive hundreds of submissions every year.

Which means May 23, 2016 is rewarding; a truck whooshing past in slow mo is comforting.

 

CN Tower Defies Gravity

My legs shivered. I feared that the glass would break.

But a note that was written on the wall in bold letters THIS GLASS FLOOR CAN WITHSTAND THE WEIGHT OF 14 LARGE HIPPOS redbulled my limbs. A dozen-plus hippos might not be heavy after all, and tragedy could happen – went the thought in my head. My moist palms.

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It was sunny that morning, but Toronto trembled in the December chill. The observation deck of CN Tower with this straight down view could terrify even those without acrophobia. The glass floor was 1,122 feet above the ground.

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I walked baby steps, but some children ran the length of the floor. I stepped on to a side, and squatted, placing my hand on the glass. My sweaty palm left cold trails on the glass.

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You are safe: 256 square feet of solid glass – five times stronger than the standard required weight – should be the only thought in your head.

Virtues

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She’s quiet, but there’s a flow
of unvoiced thoughts, her glow
has warmth of color, they blend in,
like the bows after the rain.

She smells pure
like the dews of the morning grass
her presence, her lure
seen a gerber in a vase?

She smacks his forehead
might hurt — glad it’s a sign
that she trusts his word
as they toast Mumm Cordon.

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But: like a gazelle, she’s ahead,
in a jungle, as the lion pursues
she finds a cave, is almost dead,
she sees that he sees her virtues.

In a world where happiness is rare,
where pretense is the new care
she loves as he lays bare
his truths, nothing more to share.

Refreshing is the breath of the spring,
when awash in the warmth of the sun,
their shadows are proportional, they grin,
their creating memories, moments of fun.

Now she isn’t quiet
her words sound right
she sees that he sees her,
gives him permission, her.

The Bond Of Brothers

For Day 5 of my B/W Photo Challenge, here’s the proof that I’m not only a proud father but also a proud uncle.

My brother and I are two kids in the family. The elder in the pictures is his son and the younger, mine. Both were born – 5 years and 7 seas apart – on the same day (Indian Standard Time), April 20/21.  They are the Bond of Brothers.

Casual

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Shush

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Observation

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Embrace

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Camaraderie

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The Empire State Building

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Clouds may gather, dusk may approach, people may whisper – the Empire stays true to its name.

For Day 4 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I show you the 360-degree views from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Seeking happiness among the concrete?

South view: downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Hudson River, New Jersey. The Freedom Tower stands tall.IMG_3046

North view: midtown, uptown, Central Park (oasis among the concrete).IMG_3078

East view: East River, Queens, Brooklyn.IMG_3148

West view: New Jersey, the Hudson River (a beautiful river separating Manhattan from New Jersey).IMG_3066

A panoramic view encompassing East River, downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, New Jersey, and a slice of the observation deck itself.IMG_3051

I link Sabiscuit for this challenge. Sabiscuit is an impressive blog.

The Yacht Man

For Day 3 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I present to you the Yacht man. I captured these moments one evening from the living room of our apartment.

He was up on the mast, repairing the halyard. When I was clicking him I wondered: what he’d eaten for lunch, if he’d fought with his family that morning, and weirdly, if he’d added coke or soda to his vodka.

I don’t think he’s checking his phone here. He may want to — the altitude might give him a good reception.DSCN1555

Here, he’s trying to pull a tool out of his repair kit; he’ll have to find it first.DSCN1564

Work has begun, and he’s peering in the direction of Brooklyn.DSCN1553

Is someone calling him from below, or is he gauging the altitude? “Will I survive if I fall, and if I survive, what’ll be left of me?”DSCN1554

He has a good view of downtown Manhattan, and with dusk approaching, the Hudson River traffic will peak.DSCN1562

The full view of the yacht and the man. Way ‘up’ to go.DSCN1545

A wider view.DSCN1559

The widest view the camera could get. Spot the yacht man?DSCN1561

The most zoomed-out click. He looks tired.DSCN1565

I figured by the end of it all that I had forgotten to eat lunch, fought with family in the morning and that, I would’ve added soda to my vodka.

I link Blewbird for this challenge. This blog has several breathtaking pictures.

Love/Hate Snow 2

For Day 2 of my B/W Photo Challenge, let the snow assault continue. But I promise I’ll kindle you with warmth from Day 3 onward.

Tried sitting on them? If they are flurries the first five seconds may feel cushy. Then: sit at your own risk.IMG_0359

Workers shoveling snow was a good sight. The sun shone bright; their shadows were big.11053084_10153219093570625_6815545349298158174_n

Insignificant when we don’t have to answer nature’s call? But when we do, this has top significance. There are some who want cleaner options even in times of crisis.IMG_0329

What tires could do to snow: it becomes muddy, slushy, and lose what, the white.11025163_10153219094380625_8579846165506570706_n

All of us have a long, lone journey. We come and go, alone. The only truth.IMG_0371

I link Maniparna for this challenge. Her posts and photos are interesting.

Love/Hate Snow

This is my B/W post for Day 1 of the 5 Day photo challenge. The wonderful Prior linked me for this challenge.

We all know what happened in Massachusetts when it topped 100 inches of snow in a record breaking winter. Contrary to what the weathermen had predicted, New York, New Jersey, and other states in the East Coast were spared the assault.

Though it’s been snowing in NY and NJ intermittently, the snow that fell for two consecutive days last week showed aggression:

This gull’s perched on a snow-assaulted railing. When you look into its eyes, you see purpose and no purpose. Contradictory? Well, gulls live a purposeless life, I believe, but are purposeful enough to be purposeless. They’re the spiritual heads of the birds fraternity.DSCN1816

Bicycle told snow: “Spare me. Jam Mercedes’ tires instead.” DSCN1838

These are not my footsteps — could’ve been mine. I followed them, some followed mine.DSCN1867

Gravity-defying stuntDSCN1869

Whose car is it? Mine. What next? What next!IMG_0379

I link the great Kim Gosselin for this challenge. She’s a lovely photographer, too.

Faces And Hearts

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I see faces, aching
for acceptance, hearts
prepping for penance.
Acceptance and penance, use them
They’re available, mean them.

An old, homeless man wobbled,
waiting for red to turn green
When a taxi hit a puddle,
his soaked shirt stuck to his skin.

The car shrieked to a stop, the driver,
his teeth glistened, he laughed
The man’s eyes lowered, the poorer,
he stood there as the car moved.

The breeze was cold and wet
The man walked, then paused
He had no cash or check
He walked, and stopped.

Night glowed, stars assembled
He on a bench slipped into dreaming
Someone patted him and whispered
I’m the driver, he said, you were forgiving.

Both ate sandwich the driver brought
He scanned the man, a deja vu from before
The man had stood, the driver remembered, between him and a gun
Look at the scar, the man quickly said, from the bullet of ’84.

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The driver’s eyes swelled with tears,
the man’s with pride – and both hugged,
then smiled and sighed
Who said acceptance and penance have died.

But, I see faces aching
for acceptance, hearts
prepping for penance.
Acceptance and penance, use them
They’re available, mean them.

Spiritual Dessert At Santo Domingo And Amsterdam

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A calming, bluish dusk at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Labeling a quiet place serene is one thing, the one who’s labeling it is miles away from serenity is quite another. The moment we’re out of a serene location that certainly pumped us up, our psychological dominance, if you will, may crush under the enormous weight of life’s routine chaos.

It’s a given that all of us can’t inhabit serene areas all the time: At best once a year. Knowing this, we’re left with a dish of find-serenity-wherever-you-are spiritual dessert.

But this dessert may taste bitter, the task is uphill, clock’s ticking.

Therefore: either develop the will and bludgeon the issues or, seek peace while issues bludgeon you. Playing a victim is weakness and dumb, given life will come at you hard, every time.

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As time approached sunset, Vondel Park in Amsterdam was quieter

 

Breathing Halloween Skeletons

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We met this bunch of suave guitar-holding skeletons at a Halloween party for children, which my toddler son thoroughly enjoyed.

My first reaction looking at them was, though they were barren their presence was paramount, shrouding the rest of us in the hall. Setting the mood for the occasion, they sent vibes of joy and were unlike other blood-curdling or spine-tingling skeletons.

Though their smile was endearing their eyeballs cautioned that they’d long been dead: Stare at the “balls-eye” and you’ll know.

How different are we from them? Dead and insensitive we too are? In flesh and blood we certainly are breathing. We are worse shadows.

The Spirit House At Royal Ontario

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I captured this image of the Spirit House, which was a hall of intrigue and in it were myriad story possibilities, at Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Daniel Libeskind – the architect of Freedom Tower in New York City – designed Lee-Chin Crystal, also designing some of the chairs in the House.

The stainless steel chairs held a glossy rhythm with the crystalline surrounding. From the center of the house one could see in the arch above an interwoven pattern of concrete, which linked exhibit spaces with elevators, speaking of conflicts and order in stories.