Devil’s contract

agreement-business-businessman-48195.jpgSamir reached for his phone just as he opened his eyes and checked the status of his last released book as was his habit. It was still first on the bestseller list even after all these weeks. He picked up the newspaper, an article on the lower right-hand corner read, “Health of the hugely successful and controversial writer Samir Shastri rapidly deteriorates.” Samir put the paper away and wondered how much of the book’s sales were due to his supposedly sudden demise. He had wanted to finish another book before his time was up, but he found the constant headaches made it difficult to write. He had known the devil had a good sense of irony but had not predicted that he would have a brain tumor because of it. Well, as far as cancers went it was a fast way to go. He looked around himself at the five-star hospital room where he had spent the past few weeks of his life, it wasn’t a bad way to go.

Samir was sure it would happen that day because the same day ten years ago he had signed the contract.

“You can show yourself now you old hag, we can have a chat before you cap me off…” Samir shouted to the empty room.

The window on the right of his hospital bed darkened. The darkness seemed to pulse and percolate into the room where it gathered itself just a few feet from Samir’s bed. The darkness grew until it seemed to feed on the light in the room. It condensed into large leathery wings, a face that had the large eyes of a fly and lion’s mouth and a snake’s tongue. Its body had four arms with long claws and the body ended in the tentacles of an octopus.

Samir rolled his eyes.

“You will show more respect when you talk to Beelzebub, Duke of hell.”

“Hey, there you are Beelzy, you old fucker. He wants respect it seems, and what you going to do if I don’t show any, kill me?” Samir laughed and began to cough. Continue reading

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Holier than thou

 

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“Would you ever hurt your own mother?” Mr.Om glared at the audience, “Would you let anyone else hurt your mother?” Impassioned spittle flew into the microphone. “No” Mr. Om answered himself, “then why is it okay to let our gaumatas get hurt? Why is it ok to allow them to be killed just to feed Ome adharmic rakshas somewhere?” Mr.Om shook with feeling.

“Are we not here today because of our gaumatas? I know I am. I have enough calcium in my bones today because of all the milk I drank over a lifetime, from countless cows. I have enough strength in my muscles,” Mr.Om flexed a hefty bicep, “because of all the ghee I have eaten thanks to the generous gaumatas. Monsoons are here, the weather is changing, I can see a lot of you are sick with the flu, and yet here I am perfectly healthy, talking at the height of my voice. How is this possible? This is possible only because of the gomutra I drink every morning.” Continue reading

Kill your darlings

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“You are joking, right? You have got to be joking.” Ria’s laughter echoed in the basement parking lot. She sounded amused like he had actually cracked a joke but Samir could see the shadow of fear in her large brown eyes.

She pushed her hair behind an ear and Samir stopped. He hated that she could still make him stop.

“But, why? Why would you even be thinking about it?” there was that voice again, like a feather caressing skin.

“Come on Ria, you have always known someone had to go.” Samir scratched behind his ear with his pen.

“Yes, of course, someone has to go…but I thought we agreed it was going to be the other woman…” there was just a small shiver in her voice like the feather had passed over a razor. Continue reading

Blind Date

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Nisha could hear them talking about the wedding already. She plucked silk threads from the pallu of her saree. She could not remember the last time she felt her parents had been inconsiderate of her. She had always brushed aside the issue of marriage, but arriving back from work and finding a family sitting in their living room had shocked her. She had not realized her parents were so keen on her getting married. Not that she didn’t look forward to it herself. But a heads up would have been good.

When she had entered the house her mother had hurried her into their bedroom and handed her her mother’s favorite silk saree, the one with the swans swimming along the pallu. That was when Nisha knew they were serious about this. She had expected to be called into the living room for a while now. And having waited for a while she was getting restless. She paced up and down the bedroom and put an ear to the door to try and hear what was being said. When she heard words like ‘dowry’ and ‘cooking’, she shook her head, opened the door and walked into the living room.

Nisha walked directly to the empty sofa opposite the prospective groom and sat down in it. An awkward silence followed in which the prospective groom and his parents stared at Nisha and her parents as if to ask how she had walked into their conversation unassisted.

Nisha folded her hands and raised them to the groom’s parents, “Namaste!” “ Hello…” she said to the groom. They seemed too dumbstruck because no one said anything.

The overhead fan could be heard creaking in the awkward silence. Her mother’s bangles clinked as she folded her hands nervously. Continue reading

The Environment Engine

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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

Where’s the honour in that?

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“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

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“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