I’m happy to share that two of my micro fiction stories were accepted and published in AdHoc Fiction. Hope you’ll like it.
Potholes. (Prompt: Land)
Remote Optimism. (Prompt: Room)
I’m happy to share that two of my micro fiction stories were accepted and published in AdHoc Fiction. Hope you’ll like it.
Potholes. (Prompt: Land)
Remote Optimism. (Prompt: Room)
Over the years, One World Trade Center or the Freedom Tower has become what you see below. We have seen it evolve while witnessing our own evolution. And last weekend, we visited One World Observatory at One World Trade Center.
Though I didn’t win the challenge, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I thank everyone who voted for me. Much appreciated. Attaching my longlisted entry below for a quick read. Thanks.
I am one of the several longlisted to win a very short fiction challenge. Please read and vote.
Since there’s only one URL for all the stories, you’ll have to travel some nonfiction distance.
When we were in Los Angeles, we didn’t miss the opportunity to visit the Getty Center.
The J.Paul Getty Museum turned out to be one of the best museums we ever visited: the sculptures, decorative arts, drawings, pre-20th century European paintings, to name a few.
For those who don’t know: hens will lay eggs regardless of whether a rooster gives her company or not. A hen’s body is naturally built to produce an egg in a day.
Vaccine manufacturers grow a lot of flu viruses in order to produce flu shots, and since the virus grows effectively in eggs, it’s injected into the fertilized hen’s eggs and incubated for days while they replicate; they’re then harvested from the eggs, killed or inactivated, and purified to go into vaccines.
It’s the season of flu in North America. Since anyone in the vicinity of the infected can fall sick, avoid, if possible, a visit to the hospital where there’s a flood of patients with flu because you might return home with a sore throat, the first of the signs. Although we took flu shots late last year, it’s only 25 to 35% effective. Because whenever a dominant strain like the H3N2 virus circulates, the vaccine offers weak protection.
Two malefactor species of influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal flu. Every year, public health agencies throw an educated guess as to which strains of these species will circulate in the next season. The US Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines that could treat the predicted strains based on laboratory and clinical studies; an error here could undo the vaccine’s effectiveness.
But it’s tough to vaccinate against H3N2, a strain of influenza A. This virus, unlike other viruses, can power-mutate as it spreads through crowds at a breathtaking rate. Though there are modern cell-based and recombinant methods of vaccine production, it isn’t clear whether they or the egg-based vaccines are more protective. Growing the flu virus in eggs is cheap and efficient, but the egg-based approach in relation to H3N2 has so far been ineffective, for the virus mutates to adapt to the eggs, resulting in a vaccine mismatch.
Warning: It’s Flu Season.
I was in Starbucks in Town Square, a two-minute walk from my apartment. The coffee store is not spacious, and is part of a high-rise building, sitting on the first level in a corner by the Hudson River. It has a restroom that remains open to all, although the Restroom only for Customers marker on the door is missing.
This coffeehouse has long remained my first stop to drink any espresso. My favorite spot inside is a corner at the far end of the store.
After the barista, Stacey, filled my tumbler with blonde roast, I walked a few steps before peeking to my right to see if the brown chair and table at the far corner was occupied. It wasn’t.
When I sat there, the restroom was to my left. People walked toward me before turning around to wait in line if the restroom was occupied. The bottom half of the wall lining the length of the passage was wooded, matching the brown hue of chairs and tables; the top half was an off-white coat suggesting completeness; the ceiling – an unadorned stretch of pipes and cables – infused rawness. Next to the restroom was the Employees Only room, where stocks of beans, muffins, croissants, cheese Danish lay fresh on iron shelves; although the room remained locked, employees accessed it also to change when their shift was over.
The more professional they looked, wearing green over black with a Starbucks cap crowning their pride, the more casual they were, sashaying around when it was time to head home. Employees – young or old – mostly wore ganjis and shorts after the completion of their shift in the dying weeks of summer. I remember a girl who had a language makeover, too: at work, she’d welcome everyone with a smiley “Hello” – post which, a cheerful “FO Dude” when a co-worker teased her.
To my right was a big stained window, framing not only downtown Manhattan but part of the Hudson River, where rich people had docked their yachts.
The blonde roast tasted more pungent. The rays of the setting sun outside were almost dead in their reflections off the mast of a three-level luxury yacht, docked very close to the window. The river ripples, serenely pallid under dock lights, moved in the direction of the sun, which, now devoid of its rays, looked a tint of orange.
Glancing at the bottom of the yacht, I saw a head pop out of the first level. He was a yacht cleaner in a white V-neck and yellow pajamas, with a piece of cloth in each hand. He replaced the pieces of cloth with a muffin in his left and coffee in his right hand. His Starbucks cup startled me. I wondered as to when he’d visited the store: it would’ve taken him ten minutes of a U-turn walk from where he was. But if I could open the window that Hurricane Sandy couldn’t break, he’d be in the store in ten seconds. He shifted his half-eaten muffin to his right hand, holding it along with his coffee, leaving his left hand to wave at me.
He appeared to be in some discomfort, jumping up and down. Then, gripping the US flagpole that was tied to a railing, he looked stiff in an army posture, as though ready to negate a drone attack. I cursed the insensitive yacht owner who’d probably locked the restroom in the yacht. How could a poor soul disobey nature’s call?
I was helpless, but soon he wasn’t. His face glowed under the orange sky. His smile appeared to grow into muffled laughter; he blew me a kiss – which I rejected – and when he blew me another, I thought that was enough. But when I watched him closely through the developing blurriness of my contact lens, I learned that his gaze, its line of sight, was angled a few inches away from me, in fact over my head to a target perhaps to my left. Just then Stevie Wonder crooned I Believe on the jukebox. As I turned to my left, I saw Stacey standing right outside the stockroom, blowing kisses back, which again went over my head.
She smirked at me, indicating that I’d made a fool of myself. I stared at my computer before closing my eyes; the sound of her footsteps receding. She’d disappeared for him, and he was also not there, anymore.
What is a compromise? A settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions.
Is a compromise long lasting?
We all experience situations in life where we stand in a corner with a hand on our head, unmindful of being watched, figuring out a way – if we are sane and lucky – to end our acute or chronic misery.
The sufferer tries to combat his agony before it spirals out of control. He may walk into the solitude of an old pub to smoke or drink. Nerves calmed. But he might endure the anguish for hours for a solution remains a dream. He has long let compromise clink with forks and spoons on the dining table.
Let’s talk about husband and wife.
Compromise compresses the windpipe of this relationship gently and steadily, and for years, both might not feel the stretch in their necks. Only when the choke is felt one day – which is likely when things have reached a dead end or sacrifices began to mean nothing – does the head start to feel heavy.
The body is moved to the ER, the diagnosis of a brain stroke made. When the sufferer is unconscious and is lying in bed, the other half – husband or wife – arrives. Either might wonder if compromise was long allowed to jingle and jazz, resulting in the painful present. Either might wonder if collision was a better option, which might have spared the ER visit.
What is a collision? A brief event in which two or more bodies come together – the collision of the particles results in an exchange of energy and a change of direction.
Is collision a viable alternative?
Collision is a crash for which a husband and a wife could possibly handle the non-death part and move on to live their respective lives, effectively choking the clown of compromise once and for all.
In the beginning of a newlywed’s life, making concessions is easy, “Honey, I love you (here’s my concession),” but with time, concessions to settle differences become a habit, and one starts to take the other for granted. Repeat this for years and there one goes heading to the ER.
Suppose the ER patient is saved, and he’s out of the hospital. After a week or two of meaningful life together under a roof, who can guarantee that things won’t revert to the old concessional ways. Beware: compromise never expires; and no-compromise is a sure collision.
I watched Mad Men some years ago. In its second season, Don Draper – the lead protagonist who’s going through marital issues – is reading a book, Meditations in an Emergency. The title is self-explanatory. Would this book be of help?
The attempt is to save people, not lose them to brain stroke.
Prostitution is illegal in the US, except in some rural counties of Nevada state. But it thrives in the alleys of the online world.
Websites like Craigslist and Backpage do what brothels and infamous streets once did. A large percentage of the women – that you see on these websites in New York City – are not locals, and might have exceeded the duration of their tourist visa. Since you can’t solicit in strip clubs, strippers too sign up with these sites.
The advertisement is carefully drafted to avoid direct mention of the offer of sex. But most would assert how much they expect to be paid using the word “donation” for the time spent with them. As long as the girl or the john is not from law enforcement, it’s a happy ending; but, if either is, it has to be established that sex was offered and money had exchanged hands to initiate an arrest.
The fear of getting caught always exists, but the carnal desires potentially overtake these fears. The fewer the arrests, the more the web profiles, the more the discreet hours paid for as donation.
This is a big, treacherous well that nobody should fall into:
One: Anything illegal can’t be legal no matter how conspicuous it is in their vibrant presence. There might be johns who respond to these ads and are lucky to have never been caught, but there might be a first timer, too, who’d arranged a meeting with a police officer in disguise.
Two: The johns and the women should know that condoms, if they even use them, can only guarantee 85% protection. Though latex rubber acts as a brilliant barrier against STDs, including HIV, the 15% possibility that it might break or slip off could be catastrophic if either has STD.
Three (most horrid): You are encouraging trafficking by employing these women (and men) for your eleven minutes of pleasure. Behind the lure of the tempting flesh is a world filled with pain and suffering.
A friend’s friend who I’d never met had signed up with a dating website. He had previously responded to ads on Craigslist and Backpage and when his brother found this out, he’d taken a pledge that he wouldn’t surf those sites to avoid detention and disease. With the dating website, he’d hoped that he’d find someone special; he wanted to get married.
Months later, he informed my friend that though there were intelligent and good-looking women on the site, none responded to his courteous messages. Those – including men – who’d responded, wanted to know if he had fetishes. The more time he’d spent on the site, the better it dawned on him that half of the women and some men were only the upgraded versions of those infamous websites. They’d promised him fun and secrecy, essentially looking for No Strings Attached “sugar daddies” who could pamper, spoil, and give them five-star treats. Dignifying prostitution, if you will.
The last I heard, he’d signed up with a meditation school and was happy to share that he was breathing well – both in and out.
It’s a fact that universally, men look at women more than the other way around, at least evidently. It’s again a fact that men gape at women while women stare mostly when they know they’re not being stared at. But, have you heard about a man gazing back at a woman because she ogled at him first? Not that it doesn’t happen, it’s unlikely to be routine.
Women look at men, but there’s patience and permanence with which they process their image. Men’s processing of women might be quick as though they have more images to capture. But, why do men goggle at women even after they know their gaze is not welcomed? Worse, why do they wait to be asked to mind their eyes?
Sometimes, he may be looking at her bag or hair clip, noticing how stylish or clumsy it looks on her.
When we wear captioned t-shirts, are we prepared that people will read us? If my t-shirt says something and a woman reads it, taking her time, I may not – am not supposed to – be offended. But if this happens the other way, is that a sign of lechery? If a man – wearing a formal suit and lust in his head – reads it, she might ignore him; but, if a shabbily dressed man with purity in his thoughts reads it?
Apparently, how you dress and think are two different worlds. I don’t read captioned clothes. Are they meant to be read?
I remember an incident in a restaurant where a good-looking man, sitting alone in a corner, was harassed by a group of women, frolicking in the adjacent table. They stared, giggled, and prattled about him – which was not harmful- but what was not was the extent to which they went, for example, showing their middle fingers to him in drunken unison – forcing the man to realize that he was now a tool of their taunt for no fault of his other than not giving them his attention. The haunted man appeared to feel hunted with the group’s growing viciousness which had come well disguised as women-partying. He was offended, but didn’t react.
How grossly inappropriate it would be, rightly, if a group of men did this to a woman. The point being that not every man can ignore being ridiculed.
When we step out of our homes, we take in images and multiple moods, irrespective of gender. The outside world is full of faces and expressions: some faces are alluring; some expressions are not. But it’s easy to be trapped in its varied lure.
We might fulfill what we set out to do in a day, but plenty of exterior flashes drain and dare us along the way. How somebody’s anger, joy, lure, and lust can effortlessly become ours. The only soul we might look at without offending is the one we see in the mirror; where, though neither is piqued hopefully, it’s in our control to decide whether the person grins or frowns.
But: men’s eyes flutter at women more than they do at their smartphones; and though it’s not a crime to feel attracted to the other person, she should not be uncomfortable in your presence.
And, since most culprits are men, there’s a saying to which they might want to heed: Seek respect, not attention, it lasts longer.
I met this squirrel a few years ago in Union Square park on 14th Street, New York City.
I remember that I’d given him the peanut that you see in his nimble hands. He had sniffed it before picking it up and strangely, unlike most squirrels, he hadn’t eaten it yet.
Give the picture a closer look – you might believe he’s looking at you.
Normally, I wouldn’t look at a squirrel with hope that it would deliver me a message. That morning, I hoped.
I’d lost my uncle the previous night in India and that morning, I was to perform in a play at Lee Strasberg. It was the last day of our month-long intensive and expensive acting course.
The tragedy in the family hadn’t stopped me from going to Strasberg, because I knew that if I hadn’t gone, I would’ve upset the departed soul. But I was crestfallen, and unsure if I’d remember my lines from the play.
I’d told my acting teacher about the death. His advice: Give it your best, Mahesh. Let it be a tribute to your uncle.
In the park, the more I’d gazed at the squirrel, the more I’d felt he wanted to tell me something. And I remember that he hadn’t – until the last glimpse I had of him on my way to the Strasberg building – eaten the peanut.
I performed in the play thinking only about my character. My fellow students applauded the act, and my teacher praised that it was the best tribute I could give.
A few days later, somebody told me that squirrels do come with a message that one should take life a little less seriously. Perhaps the squirrel that morning wanted me to take it easy, demonstrating it by sacrificing his instant urge to eat the peanut.
An actor friend of mine who hadn’t known about my family tragedy linked the squirrel-behavior to indigestion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Loyal to our very own elevators (Daily Prompt).
Propose a Scale to four elevators in one frame (Photo Challenge).
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.
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 gives us a view. What we access through it may have varied overtones: a life away from life, the blossomings beyond our reach, frightening us as much, the high altitudes.
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.
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.
We see doors everywhere, and I’ve seen some interesting doors in my lifetime. 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.’
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’d paid $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) 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. 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.
7) On 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 the 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 the previous week, appearing slightly intoxicated. He was a cry baby who kept bragging about his skills. 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.
12) Why weren’t we given the 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.
13) J was smoking indoors in front of our child. A Big No!
14) Forget about an 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 his each hour 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?
15) 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’d 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.
16) It’s unfortunate that our relationship with HBA has ended. They should get rid of artists like J — I say this because HBA used to have professional, well-behaved artists.
17) Appointments should be honored — it’s between HBA and the artists. No apology from J was very discourteous.
18) 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, but we paid the price for our HBA loyalty.
19) Three of our friends had been to HBA upon our high recommendation. Not anymore.
Now: it wasn’t that we couldn’t have paid the extra $20. In fact, we were planning to tip him. What enraged us – how odious his behavior was: last week, 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 for life. We are required to sign a consent form before the procedure, making us legally vulnerable.
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.
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.
Here, in the brief clip, it’s my second roll at the pins. I knock them down. It’s a spare.
Guess what, he did really well.
Though our fingers, elbows, and legs were sore, we were all smiles.
Our child began his swimming lessons last month.
When he’s in the pool, he smiles and splashes water on other children, but when they reciprocate or retaliate, 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 chattering, 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. But before he jumped, 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 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 tell the instructor 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 us.
In July last 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 except 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 would not be time the rest of the week. I knew I’d be somnolent only if my body went into inactive mode. So, I was alert for the entire duration: the train ride to the store, grocery shopping, then back to the station with the cart.
I’d found a seat near the door when the train left the Square station. My destination was Port Station with Grove in between. The total travel time wouldn’t exceed ten minutes. Though my eyes were shutting from the drowsiness, I heard the sounds of the door slamming shut, footsteps of people as they moved between train cars, when an old man flipped the pages of his book, and the constant clickety-clack of the train wheels. I was aware that I coughed softly a few times.
Though I was too dozy to cover my mouth, I was certain that my mouth wasn’t open while coughing. (Wish I was alert enough to use my hands.)
At the Grove 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, and the man was left standing. He was wearing a green shirt and black trousers. I closed my eyes and let out a couple of 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.”
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 shutting 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 could see that my mouth wasn’t open. I told him again that my mouth was closed throughout.
He said, “I’m so sick myself and don’t want any sickness from you.”
Now: he looked sick.
I was not sick.
My discreet coughs were perhaps from a can of chilled coconut water I’d drunk at the grocery.
I said, “I should be more concerned about catching something from you.”
“In the new America, people get slapped for coughing like that on public transport,” he retorted.
I grinned at him – my eyes won’t close for a while now – as I stood up to exit at Port. My 6’1 frame, as I walked by him, perhaps forced his mouth shut. Only silence thereon.
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 on 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 offer my seat.)
In more than a decade of my 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 the Union Square on 14th Street in Manhattan.
Blocks of dry ice emitted fog that drifted away.
I was a mere witness and 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 the 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 should be ready.
But, my punching bag will remain a punching bag. I’m non-violence personified.
On Sunday, we visited the Central Park Zoo in New York City.
This was our second visit in the last year and the tickets were paid for. Reason: Last year, during our first visit, the zoo was 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 tickets, valid for a year, since most of us couldn’t see all the attractions. I remember we were on our way to watch a 4D movie when the blast had led the zoo authorities to initiate an early shutdown.
The complimentary tickets were to expire in July this year, so 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 rainforest.
You enter the zoo with a sizable crowd before disappearing down the trellised walkway. It might look like a conflict zone if you believed the fear-mongering of some, but multiculturalism thrives, and it works toward a peaceful co-existence. The vine-clad purity, the 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.
Our 4D glasses on; 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 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 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 the Children’s Zoo, we waited 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
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.
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 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 had opened its first Jersey City location in Newport Center mall. So, when I received a mail from the Newport Center informing that the sandwich chain would not only open today but give away free breakfast/lunch, I was 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. Glancing 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 beyond my view, was perhaps jammed with people queueing up for the freebie, the mall security devised a plan to move the crowd up to line in the opposite direction. This would ease 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, 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.
After consuming the delicious freshness, I did a digestion walk, ending up at the front of the chain again. The lunch giveaways had 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.
Literary Orphans has published my fiction piece, “The Budding 90s.”
Hope you like it. Thanks.
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.
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.
–Art by Felix Lu
Crack the Spine Literary Magazine has published my short story, “Alert, Alert.”
Hope you like it. Thanks.
Smokebox, a literary journal, has published my short story, “Breathlessly Yours.” The journal is an interesting mix of art and fiction.
Please read if you have time. Thanks.
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)
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.
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.
Please read if you have time. Thanks.
A Distance Away
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.
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 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.
“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.
“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.
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 studied creative fiction writing at New York University, learned acting at Lee Strasberg, and is working on his first novel, an autobiographical fiction.
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.”
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.
The reactions that came pouring in post the announcement 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, appreciating 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 might 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 helps.
Sugared drink manufacturers will do anything 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 how much they value their health, only to then drink a can of sugared soda.
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 piece appear on their website. I was desperate to write a post here linking it to the piece. I waited.
Eight weeks passed and 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I link Sabiscuit for this challenge. Sabiscuit is an impressive blog.
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 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.