A Thanjavur bobblehead doll

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Mrs Kumar was unsure of everything as she entered the market. The hustle and bustle of the market felt removed from her as if she had been left behind from it. She realized that each of the thousand times she had entered the market she had always had a to-do list or a list of ingredients to collect for a recipe. And here she was at this late hour of the evening, without a list of ingredients for her life or a recipe for how to cook it.

Mrs Kumar decided that she had wandered into the market because it was familiar. She hoped that the tired alleyways and the small shops of the market remembered enough of the items of her life that she may be able to pick up a decision about it in the next shop around the corner.

The smell of the fresh flowers wafting from the flower vendor reminded her of her husband. She had never really liked Jasmine, but he liked them so much that she had grown to like them too. The memory of a thousand intimate moments made her blush in the fading sunlight. She could always go back to him, her husband. The fight they had was just a fight, everyone fought. She could just go back to him and it would all be back to normal. She looked at her phone, it had been two days and he hadn’t called even once. Mrs Kumar covered her nose and moved on.

The toy shop down the road reminded her of her son. She would save up money each month for his birthday so she could buy him his favourite toy. And it was always worth it to see his tiny face light up. She could always go to him, he was a dutiful son and would always take her in, but she could never fail to notice how her presence dimmed his eyes just a little nowadays. There was no toy she could buy to fix that.

The bangles on the bangles vendors cart twinkled like her daughter’s laughter. Could she go to her daughter? No, it was too early to even consider that.

And then she saw it, in the window of a fancy shop, a Thanjavur bobblehead doll. Mrs Kumar froze in place, as she watched the doll nod her head and sway her hips. She had had the exact same doll when she was a little girl. It had been her most prized possession. When her father would play songs on the radio, Mrs Kumar would run to the table where the doll stood and nudge her gently, and she would join the doll in her dance always in tune with the songs. Continue reading

The recipe

todd-quackenbush-x5SRhkFajrA-unsplashRadha paced in front of the closed kitchen doors. She passed them and sniffed, she could make out the faint aroma of the dish wafting from the kitchen. Her mouth began to water and a smile played on her lips as she reminisced about the dish. She had set up the lunch table already. Everyone in the house was waiting eagerly for the meal. Radha was jumping up and down with anticipation. The kitchen doors were closed since the morning coffee. Any moment now her mother in law would open the kitchen doors and she would walk out holding her world-famous Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha swallowed as her mouth watered more. This year, somehow she would convince her mother in law to give her the recipe.

At long last, the doors opened, and her mother in law walked out, sweat gently dropping from her brow, her fingers stained with spices, a gentle smile playing on her radiant face. She looked like the goddess Annapurna herself come to serve her devotees. She was closely followed by Amba her faithful maid, who carried the large vessel filled with the aromatic Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha eagerly took in the aroma of the dish and almost joined get hands in prayer.

The table was laid and everyone was served. There was silence while everyone ate the dish. “Shanti, you have outdone yourself again. I am convinced when I die I will be sent to your kitchen, cause the door to heaven must be through there…” her father in law said licking his lips.

“Amma. Best. Dish. Ever.” her husband said licking every one of his fingers.

Her mother in law blushed and brushed their compliments aside. Radha was always surprised by her humility. Everyone knew she made the best Bisi Bele Bhath and yet she was always so humble about it. The rest of the meal was spent in silence as everyone licked their plates clean.

When they were cleaning away the dishes Radha finally mustered the courage to ask, “Amma, will you please teach me the recipe for the Bisi Bele Bhath?”

Her mother in law’s face changed, her smile dropped and her eyes hardened. She dropped the plate she had picked from the table, “No!” She said and walked back into the kitchen. Continue reading

The Polls

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A warm morning sun shone into the courtyard of the school. The tree that stood in the centre of the courtyard came to life with the cries of birds. Shiva sat in the shade of the tree, hard at work on a thick rope that he was tying into an elaborate knot. He had been up and working for a long while already. He had set up a stage that now stood beside the tree. He had brought out chairs from the classrooms in the school and placed them in neat rows in front of the stage. As the school peon, it was his duty to set up the booth on election day and the stage on the counting day. It was also his duty to prepare for the results. He inspected the knot that he had tied, he pulled on the rope to make sure it held in the correct manner. He tied the loose end of the rope to the tree and hid the other end in a nook behind the trunk of the tree. No one liked to think of the rope before the results were announced. He inspected the stage one last time and went outside the courtyard to smoke a bidi before the counting began.

As the sun climbed in the sky, the courtyard was slowly filled with the buzz of the villagers gathered there. They greeted each other and sat in small groups among the school chairs exchanging news and gossip. The women sat to the right though there was no rule that they had to. Their whispers were loud but quickly suppressed like a bee caught in a bell jar. The men gathered to the left of the stage, they greeted each other loudly at first. But their conversations grew quieter, like a bullfrog that had grown tired of its own mating call. The children ran around the playground that they were so familiar with. They found it funny that they had to visit the school on a holiday and the empty classrooms rang with their shouts and laughter. By the time the appointed hour arrived the whole village had gathered in the school courtyard. Continue reading

The Cyclone

Mr. Rao saw the first dark clouds gather on the horizon and the waves rise as if to lick them. He pulled the plastic chair close to the balcony. His knees groaned as he made to sit in the chair and he plonked into it. “The cyclone ‘ekla’ will make landfall around midnight. Evacuation efforts are underway and most people along the east coast are being evacuated to shelters…” the news presenter told Mr.Rao from the television. Mr. Rao looked at the watch still ticking away on the wall, it told him the time was around six in the evening. He looked back at the black clouds rolling on the horizon, “take your time…” he told the cyclone.

Mr. Rao chuckled when he saw the first lightning streak through the clouds. The doorbell rang again. Neighbours perhaps or some official trying to ensure everyone had been vacated. Mr. Rao ignored it. “The cyclone is the strongest one to be recorded in more than half a century…” the news presenter was saying. Good Mr.Rao thought. The electricity was cut and the TV feel silent. “Now it’s just you and me…” Mr. Roa said to the storm.

It thundered in response.

Mr. Rao sat starting at the approaching clouds, he just wished he had something to chew on like a gumdrop, but they were all the way in the kitchen and he couldn’t bring himself to go there. But then his bladder groaned in protest. He sat there debating the urgency of it, until he had to push himself out of the chair and waddled to the restroom, his knees groaning in protest. The worst thing about old age, and there are so many, Mr. Roa thought is the number of times you have to use the restroom.

Continue reading

The toxic straight male virus

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“Sir, there is another individual here to see you about Avalon. Claims his…um apparatus is in working order” Jeffrey, my butler, announced as he placed my nightcap on the coffee table.

I paused the TV for the first time that day. I was watching a rerun of one of the seasons of my TV show “Style fails for the straight males’ from what seemed like a lifetime ago. I liked this particular episode, I had done a brilliant makeover for a mid-west truck driver if I do say so myself. And he had had the audacity to tell me Pocket squares were not a necessity in his line of work. It was memories like these that made me think that perhaps the epidemic was justified. I am sure this truck driver was amongst the first wave of victims claimed by the virus.

“Ehm…ehm..” Jeffery cleared his throat. Being a man good old Jeff had also fallen victim to the TSM virus, but had somehow managed to maintain his will to clean up and look after me, which was all for the best. But it did make one wonder which way the butler swung in such matters, not that that was a question that could be discussed obviously. I had simply placed him in that esoteric basket of asexuality, shuddered at the thought of it and moved on. Continue reading

Control experiment

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She wakes up on a small mound of hay. She notices she is naked. Startled, she searches for her clothes. She is alone for now, in a small room.

She looks around, it is a strange room, the walls all look like they were moulded from one piece of a translucent plastic material. The ceiling looks like a lid, made from the same material. She walks around the room slowly with caution. The room is flooded in light, though she can’t see where it is coming from.  Just beside her hay, there is a large glass bottle hanging on the wall. It has a clear liquid in it, that can be sucked out of it from a steel dropper. Besides​ the bottle is a metal mesh cylinder, it is filled with a jelly-like substance, that is almost oozing out of the mesh, it has a strong artificial fruit smell, raspberry she guesses, she hates raspberries.

She walks to the other end of the plastic room. She can reach the other end in ten steps. She can cover the width of the room in five. She stifles a scream, though she doubts if anyone would hear her scream or care. No, she must not scream because she doesn’t want to give into the panic, she will not acknowledge the smallness of the space. On the other side is a small treadmill, it is built into the floor of the room. Beside it is a small steel commode. Everything is vigorously clean, sterile. She goes around the room several times, she touches everything, again and again, making sure it is solid. She keeps going around the room as if she walked long enough there would be more of it. After what seems like hours there isn’t any more of the room. She feels her breathing hasten, her blood is throbbing against her temple, her heart is beating in her ears, she cannot hold her panic anymore. “I am trapped,” she says to herself, “I am trapped…” as she runs around faster and faster she touches the hay, then the water bottle, then the treadmill, then the commode. Her vision blurs, hay, bottle, treadmill, commode. She wants to stop. Hay, bottle, treadmill, commode. This is making space seem smaller. Hay, bottle, treadmill, commode. She cannot stop. She slams against a wall and falls into the hay. Continue reading

You are late

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“Ah, why am I late? Well, in fact, there is a very interesting story behind that. But, do you think we have the time of that now? Oh, we do, is it? We have time for a long story, but we don’t have time for me being late by a few minutes, is it? Ok, I see how it is. Well fine, I will tell you the story.

Long, long ago before there was anything, Father time had just begun seeing Mother space. They had decided to go on a date that day. This was before they had moved in together and Father time still lived at his own place. Father time was very different then, not the busy, bossy, no-fun time we know now. He was young and relaxed. He had flowing black hair that needed a lot of care to style. And so by the time he took a nice long shower, styled his hair, picked out his outfit, and reached the venue of their date Mother space had been waiting for what seemed a very long time to her.

“You are late!” She shouted when she saw Father time. Continue reading