The Environment Engine

environment engine

Keerthi took a staggered breath as she rang the bell to Tarun’s flat. She watched a few holographic butterflies flutter in his garden as she could feel the ones fluttering in her stomach. “After all this time…” she sighed to herself. She didn’t have to look around to notice the old rusty wind chime that chimed squeakily in the artificial wind. She didn’t have to look up to remember the teal blue of the sky above his house. She had stood at this threshold a hundred times in her dreams and had never really crossed it. She opened her eyes just as Tarun opened the door.

He looked the same as he had in college. She scanned his tousled brown hair for any whites, his wide forehead for any lines, or his taut t-shirt for signs of a beer belly, nothing. He was exactly the same as he was in her dream where at this point he would gather her into him for a kiss.

“ Hey Keru, come on in…” he barely looked at her and walked back into the house.

She stepped into the house and back into all the summers of her college days. There was the same dimly lit room, the same half deflated bean bag furniture and the smell of Tarun’s musk that an ocean-scented room freshener was trying hard to mask. Nothing had changed except for the second bedroom of the house that had obviously been converted into an experience engine.

Tarun walked back with a bowl of chips and two beers and handed her a beer along with his lopsided grin. Keerthi suppressed the butterflies in her stomach. This was why it was so difficult with Tarun, he hadn’t changed at all and she knew he never would.

“So what is this about Tarun?” She took a sip of her beer.

Tarun drank his beer and stared at the wall behind her. In her head, it was a look of realization, when Tarun finally saw that his soulmate stood right beside him, always had and always would. She shook herself, hard.

“I needed her your help with something,” Tarun said, he walked to the experience engine and opened its door.

“If this is about defeating another boss in that stupid game of yours, forget it. I have better things to do.” Keerthi said.

“Please Keru, don’t pretend you have a life, it’s just me. We will get to the next level in my stupid game. But, this is about something else.” Tarun walked into the room.

Keerthi tried to resent his mock condescension and his confidence that he knew her life down to the dot, and for the thousandth time, she failed. She chugged the last of her beer and entered the room.

A warm sea breeze lifted her hair and her bare feet sank into the white sand. The door closed behind her, she turned to find a pristine row of coconut trees swaying in the breeze. A dreamy sun was setting into a lulled ocean, like a tired bather entering a hot tub. The waves crashed into the white beach a little too rhythmically. Tarun stood at the edge of the water wearing only swim shorts and a smile. Continue reading



It is past midnight. You struggle between the need to watch another episode of Black mirror, or to sleep. You take a look at the time again, 12:30 am. You calculate that if you sleep just about this minute, you would get exactly five hours of rest before your alarm starts screaming to “it’s all about that bass” by Meghan Trainor. A heavy cloud of exhaustion lowers itself and settles on your shoulders. You feel burdened, not just by your increasingly heavy frame but also by your head that carries viscous notions. You sigh and promise yourself that tomorrow you would put Adi early to bed, so that you would have the time to watch at least two episodes of Black Mirror and yet get to sleep by midnight.

You shut your laptop screen and half walk, half tumble into Adi’s room. Partly out of habit and partly out of admiration. You remember how terrified you were of sleeping alone when you were six. In fact, you admit to yourself, but only to yourself, that even now every night you have to stop yourself from begging your six year old to sleep with you, in your room.

You switch on the night-light and watch your little son sleep, his steady breathing calming the storm inside you. You are going to switch off the light and walk back into your room, but you decide against it. You don’t want your child to burden the night terrors that you did, growing up. You are about to turn your back to Adi, when you hear a scratching noise. Your hands freeze, an inch away from the night-light. You stop breathing, your eyes are wide, bulging out of their sockets. Your feet are tethered to the ground like massive Oak trees. Your heart…Your heart beating like horse hooves in a stampede, is the only sound you can hear now. You try telling yourself that you imagined the scratching noise. Yet a sane part of you begs you to double check under Adi’s bed, inside his closet and under the study table. So then, you attempt moving your feet that are still rooted to the ground, after some amount of nudging; they move and as if on autopilot, walk you back into your room. You try to convince yourself that if you don’t acknowledge the fear the fear, doesn’t exist.


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Where’s the honour in that?

tea cups

“Would you like some tea?” Nusrat idly stirred the pot on the stove.

“Tea?” Zabin adjusted her hijab, “I couldn’t drink anything right now.” She stared at Nusrat, “you do realize what they are discussing in your living room right now, right? Or have you completely lost it already?”

Nusrat looked up from the pot, “ I know what they are discussing…” she continued stirring it.

“You already know what they will decide. We all do. I don’t even know what the point of this meeting is.” Zabin shivered despite the warm day.

“The decision is already made. They are just hashing out the details…the where and how of it…” Nusrat gave the pot a violent stir and some of the milk spilled out if it.

“Khuda…how has it come to this? What will they do?”

“Well, of course, the punishment will be harsher for my Ali…electrocution seems to be in fashion this season. They will probably strap him to his bed and tie a naked wire to him. Remember when they did that to Rahman a few months back…the transformer blew up…we didn’t have electricity that night..” Nusrat stared into the distance.

“He is your son, he is hardly seventeen. How can you be so calm about this?” Zabin shook with stifled sobs.

“What else can we do? I am making him his favorite mutton biryani for his final meal…” Nusrat pointed to another pot as tears streamed down her face.

“Where is he right now?” Zabin said.

“Upstairs in his room…” Nusrat said, “ I am sure they will be kinder to Noor. She is the girl and younger. They will probably shoot her…it will be painless.” She smiled at Zabin.

“She cried herself to sleep again. She hasn’t had anything to eat ever since they brought her back. She keeps repeating Ali’s name like a kalma.” Zabin said, “ foolish children! Why did they ever do it? They  knew what would happen if they got caught.”

Nusrat added tea powder to the milk, “what does it say about us, that they would rather risk running away than talk to us.”

“What good would talking have done? When does talking help anyway” Zabin stared at the men in the living room.

“Why is anyone surprised that they eloped. They have always liked each other. Sometimes adults are more childish than the kids.” Nusrat added sugar to the tea.

A fragment of conversation drifted in from the living room, “let’s do it today. No point in delaying it.”

Zabin covered her mouth and cried. She held Nusrat’s hand, “There must be something we can do. Let’s talk to them. Plead with them. Maybe they will let the kids go.”

“Let them go? Hah!” Nusrat’s hollow laughter rang in the kitchen, “why will they let the kids go? Where is the honor in that?”

“Where is the honor in killing our own children?” Zabin shook as tears poured down her face.

“Perhaps there is more honor in letting them die, then asking them to live like this…” Nusrat pushed away her own tears.

“Then we shall not say anything to the men?”

“I already spoke to Ali’s father…” Nusrat said.

“ What did he say?

Nusrat lifter her burqa to reveal a large bruise that ran down the front of her body.

Zabin gasped, “there really is no use talking to them then…”

“We already knew that…” Nusrat said.

Zabin pulled out a pouch from her burqa and put it in Nusrat’s hand, “This is all my jewelry. Let us help the kids run away. We can smuggle them out of the house. There is a bus that leaves in a couple of hours.”

Nusrat placed the pouch back into Zabin’s hand, “Idle hope. Our husbands have already sent people to the bus station. The kids will never make it out of town. They will be dragged back right here and we will be back making more tea.”

“There really isn’t anything we can do, can we?” Zabin shuddered.

“Nothing honorable anyway…” Nusrat said, she rummaged around the bottom of the kitchen sink and pulled out an old frayed packet of rat poison.

Zabin covered her mouth as her eyes widened. She nodded to Nusrat. Nusrat slowly added the white powder to the tea like it was sugar.

“Should we drink a cup of this tea ourselves too? This will not end well for us.” Zabin said as Nusrat poured the tea into cups for all the men of both their families.

“No,” Nusrat said, she smiled as she lifted the cups on a tray, “where is the honor in that?”

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire


“For the last time Miss Rupa, did you or did you not set your own book launch on fire?” the police officer said.

“No, I mean, yes. I mean I didn’t mean to set it on fire…I mean I wanted to, but not so much fire, you know. Just a little…not enough to really burn anyone.” Rupa wrung her hands staring at the smoldering remains of the auditorium.

“Wow, you are at a loss for words. Normally, you are so eloquent in your speeches and your books. Big fan by the way…” the officer touched his hat and smiled at Rupa.

She tried to smile back but was distracted as the paramedics rolled out a few more people on stretchers.

“So far, no one has been seriously injured” The police officer tried to sound reassuring, “But there will be an investigation into the matter. It is best for you to be honest with us…”

“I guess…” Rupa sighed. Continue reading

Taking Offense

im-offended1Varun pulled the white lab coat closer around his neck. His palms were sweaty around the megaphone in his hand, he was so wrong for this job, but it needed to be done. He raised the megaphone, “Ladies and Gentlemen…” Varun said into the megaphone, his voice sounded loud but nervous.

No one seemed to pay him any attention, then again it was weekend at the mall, people continued to flow around him. Just as he was about to raise his megaphone again few people approached him, Varun smiled at them. “Excuse me…” one of them said, “ Did you just address all of us all ladies and gentlemen?” Varun was puzzled, “Um…yes I did…but can you please sign this motion to stop the asteroid  that is hurtling to our planet?”

The person gave him a quizzical look, “look here, I don’t identify as ladies or gents so that public address of yours just offended me…”

“What? No no no, I didn’t mean it like that. Sorry.”

“Oh yes, my person is offended too.” “Yes, very offended”. “How dare this person address us like that…” the other people surrounding Varun said.

A clear voice spoke in all of their ears, “Good morning. Public offense detected. Offense level 10. The Offender is Varun Naik. Thought freeze time 10 seconds.” Continue reading

Such a Roach


I feel the disgust rise within me.
When I see the Roach.
It’s there everywhere.
This insect.
Work, Play, everywhere.
The Roach.

He looks like me, sometimes.
He wants to be like me, I think.
He’s trying, it seems,
To make something good,
For a while.

But then I see,
He’s a Roach.
He prefers to feed
On what I leave behind.
Its just the noise he makes,
Its not a question he asks.
Its not in earnest he sees.
This Roach.

He wants what I have, Okay.
He wants just a piece, I think.
But he wants it all, in time.
Then he wants to stand with his shaking belly in the air.
He’s mastered it all, he says,
He’s got his crown on his weird head,
But dude, we all see you,
Such a Roach.

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Trail by combat

I unsheathed my sword and rubbed it against my chest, ensuring not to break eye contact with my nemesis. My husband, stood next to her, massaging her shoulders, rubbing her arms, whispering words of motivation into her ears.

She kept nodding while staring back into my eyes, a miasma of fear and determination swirled like deep pools of unrest.

I stepped forward indicating that I was ready, and the crowd comprising of every single individual who lived in Fulton Street, burst out in a cheer, that especially rang from the right. A smirk lined my lips, and a jolt of pride rocked my insides. Of course everyone championed for me, I had grown up with these folks, and that bitch standing opposite me, with her ass being massaged by my husband (John, the prick who needed tantric sex to get it up), had only entered the scene a year ago.

Taking my cue, as always, Wansi, the unoriginal bitch, stepped forward. And suddenly I could hear a cheer louder, much louder than the one that came when I stepped forward. It rang from all around me, and I stared at my neighbors from Fulton Street in disbelief.

The realization that there was massive crowd support for my nemesis was a small bump, and it wasn’t going to stop me. I had known for more than six months now that it would come to this, to this barbaric fight until death. Plus it was almost as if she had literally begged for it.

Trail by combat

I mean, it would have been all-okay, had she just been content wrapping my husband of eleven years into her tentacles and having tantric sex with him night after night.

In fact, I remained a modicum of classy dignity even when she grew her hair and colored them to a mahogany red, just like mine. Or when she suddenly decided to start wearing light green contact lenses, just like the color of my eyes.

I remained a stoic figure of wisdom and tolerance when she started posting images of her Cheesecakes all over social media, knowing that I was the reigning queen, and had an existing brand of cheesecakes named after me.

Even though it chipped my saintly demeanor in various places, but I attempted to tolerate her less than basic attempts at poetry, knowing that she was only attempting it because I was a well-known poet.

It wasn’t until last week that my fraying thread of patience with my husband’s mistress broke.

After a long week of baking my famous cheesecakes and writing my famous poetry; my feet felt like they had run a marathon and what I really needed to end my Friday was a foot spa.

So, I walked into my favorite Spa and Massage parlor, Happy Endings, and asked for Fabio, my fabulous masseuse. But then to my utter horror, the staff at Happy Endings told me that Fabio was pre-booked.

No one pre-booked Fabio, especially not on a Friday evening, especially when they knew I was a regular.

“What do you mean pre-booked?” I shouted. “The entire Fulton street knows not to pre-book Fabio on Friday. WHO. BOOKED. FABIO?” I screamed and flicked a hair off my forehead. I took in a deep breath and realized I needed to maintain my calm.

The girl at the reception had gone pale.

“Mam…I…I’m sorry. I can’t tell you that.” She said.

I walked across the reception, almost a hair’s breath away from her. Lowered myself to her barely five foot stature, looked into her uninspired, dirty brown eyes, and whispered, “Your pathetic existence makes me want to throw up. You will redeem your existence by telling me who pre-booked Fabio. Now.”

“WANSI!” She almost jumped and whispered, loud. “Miss…miss Wansi, pre-booked Fabio.”

“That tantric whore!” I muttered under my breath and stomped in. I knew that she just hadn’t booked Fabio, she would have also requested for my favorite room. The one with a view of Fulton Lake.

And I was right. Standing outside the Platinum Spa room, I heard Wansi flirt with Fabio and both of them giggling over something, that I am almost positive were jokes about me.

That moment, I walked up to Fulton Street Municipality office and put in a request for trial by combat. I wanted that bitch to die, and die at my hands. I wanted her blood to run though my skin and drip, drip, drip down to the ground.

She had broken every single barrier of my patience by stealing Fabio and the Platinum Spa Room from me.

The cheering from the crowd finally subsided, and I took my stance. Wanda ran towards me, screaming like a warrior, her mahogany hair flying in the air, and her ample boobs bouncing as she ran; and her eyes, with light green lenses watering, because lenses hurt.

Just as she came close to me, close enough to pierce the tip of the sword, I stepped aside and let her trip on my foot. She fell down on her face and the arena fell into pin drop silence. The temptation to then bury my sword into that ass which my husband just finished massaging was too much. But I resisted.

I needed to give these people some drama; I needed Wansi to lose miserably. So pathetically, that there wouldn’t be a single person who would blame my victory to luck…