Creative Writing Workshop | ‘I Just Love You’ – Fiction by Madhurika Sankar

I Just Love You

Twenty years ago, I made a mistake. 

“You’re embarrassing me, and yourself. Stop hounding me. What’s the matter with you?” I’d said, and those were the last words I exchanged with Shahnaz. The sun was beating down and we sought shelter in the mangroves. Even there, she found an excuse to sidle up to me that afternoon. I erupted. Our classmates were watching. The crows were cawing. The cola drinks in our hands were fizzing. 

“You look beautiful, today,” she said, and I sprung back in embarrassment.

She didn’t know then that I was unhappy. She couldn’t possibly understand that it was not a rejection of her character, or her nature, but of her sex. I liked men. Back then, boys. And it was a rejection of her unfettered, gushing and blind adoration at the most awkward moments.

“Your girlfriend is here,” Sonal would tease every time Shahnaz came to the library and I had to endure her longing stares from above the textbook she pretended to read, the room cold with the air conditioning humming in the behind.

I longed to be done with the day at university and be back home, and listen to music. I longed to be done with my degree, and hated every moment of it; it unfolded like a slowly enacted, directionless, meaningless plot to a movie. No excitement, no momentum. Just drudgery. And slow decay. And Shahnaz, hounding me at every turn.

I don’t think I am unkind. I wished the watchman a good morning at our university’s gates, every day, and fed stray dogs during lunch. For the first six months, I even took the bus to campus so I would not appear privileged. I liked people and people liked me. But Shahnaz’s constant and gratingly overt expressions of affection were getting hard to bear.

“Give her a break, girl,” Sonal would say, even as she found the situation amusing. “This is India. And, on top of that, she comes from a community where it’s probably unheard of, to be, you know, like that. She probably, just doesn’t know how to handle it.”

And so, I did. When Shahnaz gave me a red rose on Valentine’s Day, I dug my nails into the palms of my hands and accepted the flower, graciously. When she was one of the first to email me, I wrote back politely. I never disparaged her or talked about her to friends with leading questions. But, coming up to me, several times in public, and saying things like, “I just love you,” were hard to take. 

I had my share of admirers in the university, but there is a way to express admiration for superficial things. One smiles, coyly. One opens doors. Besides, they were all men and I had my own romantic tragedy to deal with: I was in love with Jay, the mechanical engineering senior, who would stare at me longingly, too, but never worked up the courage, in four years, to ask me out. It broke my young adult heart. What could I do? 

“Just go up to him and ask him out,” Sonal suggested often, half-seriously, mostly just wanting to put me out of my misery. It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it; I just knew in my heart that if it didn’t come from him, then something was probably missing. I know, the feminists at university would balk at that but that was how I was wired in my youth, and probably, still am.

I waited. And waited. Like the mosquitoes that pestered us in the canteen, digging into our youthful skin, Shahnaz would flit around me. The day I snapped at her had been particularly brutal. I was waiting for Jay by the campus convenience store, working up the courage to initiate conversation. I’d heard he was an excellent guitarist and I wanted to take lessons. Why not? If learning an instrument meant I could, also, pluck at the heartstrings of my man, it was a win-win situation.

I’d worn my red dress, the one that I believe he stared at with particular intensity and admiration, blow-dried my hair at the parlour the evening before. Sonal and some other classmates were milling about, close by, and we were drinking ice cold colas. I didn’t want to sweat and ruin my makeup, which I had applied carefully, to appear nonchalant. 

Jay walked right past me, though he did smile at me, briefly. I froze. That is when the incident occurred, the one with Shahnaz, the one where she told me I was beautiful. I lost my temper. The murmuring of my friends stopped and there was silence as I hollered at her. “Why do you do this?”I screamed. Insensitive words poured out of my mouth as I fought hard to stave the tears that were surfacing.

Shahnaz looked crestfallen and scampered away, in tears. Even Sonal looked a bit disappointed in me, but well, we’ve stayed friends through the years. Sonal has three kids and I have none, having never married. My unrequited infatuation with Jay would prove to be one of my more successful ventures in the romantic realm. I don’t know what it is with me – I’ve seemingly been given all of the advantages that’d make the trauma of dating easier, but none of the skills.

Last weekend, Sonal called me and said, “You remember that lanky girl, Shahnaz, the one…with the pimples? You won’t believe this but she’s got, umm, cancer… stage three cancer. Breast. It’s metastasized. Poor thing.” I was shocked. Stunned.

In my mind, Shahnaz had remained nineteen, wearing spectacles and being picked up by her brother on his scooter after college hours. The rare occasion when I’d thought of her or anything to do with that college after we’d graduated; I’d imagined her to have been married and happily ‘settled’ as they say. When the shock subsided, I was grateful to Sonal for not alluding to my checkered history with Shahnaz. She continued. 

“It is actually quite bad. A sad story,” Sonal continued. “She was in an abusive marriage apparently. Now, she is with her parents who’re taking care of her.”

“Where is she?” I asked, mutedly. 

“Here, in Chennai, only. I hear they can barely afford the hospital bills.”

I’m a family lawyer, kind of successful too. I could have helped her, I thought randomly. For the rest of the day, like a thorn wedged deep into my shank, I was unable to shake off thoughts about Shahnaz. I was disturbed. 

I waited until dusk, when the heat had dissipated, to stop with the obsessing. I needed a plan. I opened my laptop and logged on to my old email account, from university days, which I never used anymore. I dug up the exchange I’d had with Shahnaz, twenty years ago.

“I just love you,” it says here, as well. I ignore the words, pause for a moment at the white light glaring back at me, and then, click Reply.

“Dear Shahnaz, 

Hi! How are you? I just thought I would drop in a line and say hello. I am in Chennai, these days. Do write and say hello, if you get a moment.


I hit ‘Send’. The email isn’t rejected, indicating the account might still be active. I didn’t want to ask for her phone number. Perhaps, it was the embarrassment over the last interaction I had with the girl – woman – twenty years ago, and the look of disappointment on Sonal’s face I still, so vividly remember.) 

The response came later that evening, bringing me to this moment. I disembarked from my air-conditioned car and entered the tiny stand-alone house, painted pink, in a narrow by lane teeming with meshes of electricity wires and scrambling cyclists. 

I rang the doorbell and was greeted by an old lady, she must be her mother. 

“She’s expecting you. Shahnaz has been so excited all day, I had to calm her down with a tablet,” her mother confided, and immediately, a familiar pang of emotion resurfaced in me after twenty years – of resistance.

I was taken past a curtain which served as a door into a small bedroom and I was greeted by the sight of Shahnaz, hooked up to various tubes. She was post-surgical, something she’d failed to mention to me. I grimaced. I felt like a shameful intruder. 

Shahnaz’s eyes welled up.

“You look so beautiful,” she says, that adoration unadulterated in two decades. Something in me stirred. No one had said these words to me in a long time. She brought me up to speed on her recent and tragic past. I was vague about mine, and I appreciated that she didn’t pry.

The fan was making a continuous, clicking sound. I noticed her desktop computer was lit up and my email stood open on the screen. Shahnaz saw that I had noticed. 

“Some things don’t change, eh?” she joked, straining to get the words out.

I was not uncomfortable anymore. That had been replaced with something else. She was breathing with greater difficulty now, and her mother politely indicated to me that it was time I left. 

It was all over in fifteen minutes. As I handed her the flowers I bought for her, she held me firmly by the hands. 

“We could have been happy.” She said.

I inhaled and looked at her. “Yes, we could have.”

By the time I reached home, I had changed. I look up stage three breast cancer on my laptop. 

I searched for sexual diversity in minority communities, and then closed the browser window.

I open my email.

“Dear Jay,

How are you? I hope this finds you well. It’s been forever. There’s no easy way to segue to this but I’ve been wanting to say something for twenty years and feel I might as well just go right ahead and do it…”

Madhurika is an impact investor ( and freelance journalist whose work frequently appears in The Hindu Op Ed. She’s an engineer by training and holds a Masters in Biotechnology from Columbia University, New York. She loves to write but lives for music. Madhurika is working on her first full-length novel. She plans on pursuing her PhD in Cancer Biology, soon. She lives in Chennai, India.

Creative Writing Workshop | ‘Bollywood Menz Salon’ by Vaibhav Srivastava

Disclaimer: “This story is part of The Bombay Review Creative Writing Workshop. Changes and edits to the plot and theme of the story, suggested by The Bombay Review instructors were not accepted by the author.”

Bollywood Menz Salon


Gabriel and Peter were regulars at the Bollywood Menz Salon run by Jafar and Junaid. Gabriel and Peter were two competitive, business partners in the fast polarizing posters and billboards industry. So, while one was drawn to left leaning advertisers the other was meeting clients from the right. Jafar and Junaid were brothers, sons of a dead couple who had once fled Karachi over a murmur that Hindustan was going to be democratic and secular. 

They inherited the shop from their father and called it Bollywood Menz Salon, maybe it was destiny. Both their parents were crazy about cinema. Classics,  big-budget summer releases, animation, musicals, even merchandising: like posters, tapes and collectibles. They were fanatics when it came to movies and movie stars. They met Gabriel and Peter when they were looking for the top quality graphic decoration options for their barbershop. The collectibles they found and the posters they were able to put up in their shop really made the salon look every bit worthy of its name. From the walls to the windows their barbershop was a colorful montage of Bollywood. Love songs always played on the stereo whenever the shop was open for customers. 


Jafar – the careful – was sweeping the floor. It was an early Saturday morning. Glued to the TV set, Junaid was skipping through channels.

Gabriel and Peter were not really ‘frequenters‘ at the shop because, well, Peter’s hair took  longer to grow and frankly Gabriel had almost lost his hair. They entered the shop, deep in discussion, something about the growing intolerance in the neighborhood. 

“Everyone is equal and some are more equal than others, huh?” Peter said. 

Jafar looked at them like he would at any other first customer of the day. He was hoping that it would be a pleasant, non argumentative day. But what Gabriel and Peter were having was something which resonated with most people today, at least most with thinking minds and Jafar couldn’t help but get drawn in. He was a listener. 

Gabriel’s voice was loud when he replied, “Let it be, what have you got to do with all of it? Put your flag on the staff?”

“Brother, if this isn’t the tone one takes with an enemy then what is it?” Peter asked Jafar.

“People need adversaries so that they can get a sense of belonging with those they consider their own kind,” Jafar said.

“Such unity of the people! Dear God, we might as well be living in the United States of America,” Gabriel taunted.

“No nation is ever perfect,” Jafar added. 

Junaid got up after finally finding a decent movie to watch on the Sahara channel. “Come, sit,” he told Gabriel. They moved near the counter. Gabriel kept his mobile, glasses and wallet on the marble slab and sat down. Junaid began with his usual hair-cutting routine.

“We are witnessing ghettoization, I’m telling you,” said Peter. “This whole world will become a ghetto, divided into labels people themselves wouldn’t be able to tell apart. I feel existential myself. Wonder what category of people I fit in.”

“Poor, probably,” Gabriel laughed.

“What did you say?” Peter asked. “You called me poor? I’m doing okay for myself. I don’t need to hear anything from you about it.” 

He reached for the newspaper, sat back on the sofa in the corner of the shop and began to read. As Gabriel was getting his haircut, Peter would marvel loudly at happenings around the country mentioned in the daily, critiquing them, criticizing them and worrying on behalf of the world. 

“If the liquor ban was to ever get imposed here, I wonder how you’d survive a single day, Gabriel,” he said mockingly. Gabriel was fuming but he didn’t utter a word. He just sighed. 

Jafar didn’t like this banter and intervened. “Why do you always pull poor Gabriel’s leg, Peter? Brother Gabriel, did you bring those posters I asked you to?” Gabriel nodded quietly. Junaid was almost done with him.

“Here.” Peter said and produced a roll of posters from his side. Jafar reached for them carefully.

He stood there with the unrolled posters, mesmerized. “I like this one the most,” he said smiling. 

“Which one?” Junaid asked childishly, wrapping up with Gabriel. He came near Jafar and peeked at the poster in front of him. “It’s beautiful”, he exclaimed.

It was a burnt-out graphic print of the Bollywood megastar, Shahid Kapoor. In the poster, he was smiling, but there seemed to be some pain in his eyes. The duo considered the poster, it was pure art for them. Junaid washed his hands and went out to put up the poster on the window by the front door. In the meantime, Peter said to Gabriel, “You complain a lot. Did anything happen? Everybody knows things are bad, why can’t you  cut it out once in a while. The world is fighting like it always does, but how are you fooled by the show, the show all these political parties put up. What is this? Is it wrestling? Is this a sport? Stop being an invested spectator.” 

Gabriel was the kind of man who was always on the lookout for a fight. Gabriel knew who his enemies were. He was threatened and hurt and he never forgot about that.

“Who’s in the mood for some comedy? Let’s switch the channel to something light.” He rummaged through the channels till he found something worthwhile. Govinda was dancing in front of what looked like a multi-million dollar set. Surely, things don’t get better than that. Everybody loved to dance in Bollywood.


That was quite a weekend for Gabriel. Three of the clients he had been talking to had said no to him, until they agreed to sign a contract with Peter. That made him really sad. After a few months, he came to the barbershop, alone. It was almost closing time. Leaning against the outside wall, Junaid, wearing a Burman hat, smoking a cigarette, saw Gabriel come in. The weather was cold; Gabriel kept his golf jacket on the side table. His hair was a real mess, and he was as drunk as he could be, swinging-swaying. He sat down in front of the mirror and started rubbing his palms together for warmth.

“Peter,” he sniggered. “Thinks he is bigger than me. One day he will vanish. He’ll come calling after me then.”

“You’ll be in a grave by then if you keep drinking at this rate,” Jafar said. Suddenly, he noticed an injury on the side of Gabriel’s head. Blood was dripping down the right side of his face. All the way down to the floor. 

“Junaid, bring the first aid box here,” he said.

“You must be wondering how it happened. Don’t worry I’ll tell you,” Gabriel struggled to put his words together. “I went to Peter to tell him he was stealing all my clients. He said that all the connections were his own. He took my cut away from me. How could I not fight for what’s mine? He messed my head up.” 

Jafar and Junaid were shocked. “When I was leaving the office this afternoon, a group of men attacked me and shoved me to the ground. They kicked me, swore at me. I knew Peter sent them… Anyway, hey, Junaid! Get to my hair already! I’ve to be home. My wife is waiting for me.”  Jafar bandaged the side of his head before the haircut.

Peter and Gabriel remained drinking friends though. Month after month, for almost a couple of years now, Jafar and Junaid had seen the two show each other down over money issues but the drinking continued. The barbers were sure that the root of their problems was money.

One Monday morning, Peter came to the salon without Gabriel. At first he didn’t say a word, or act strange. He kept his eyes shut till the cut was nearly done. Jafar – the careful – asked him “Came all by yourself today?”

“So? You think of me as Gabriel’s dog? I can’t go anywhere without him?” 

Jafar eased, and explained to him that that was not what he meant. Peter calmed down immediately as well, and admitted that he had overreacted. 

“He’s been wasting my time and my money,” Peter told them. A Kavita Seth song was playing in the background softly. “Mind if I use the tap real quick?” he asked Jafar. Wiping his own hands in the towel Jafar signaled him to go ahead. 

“That day he said he was hungry, and asked me to buy him fruits, and sure! I paid for them, but you know, he is the kind of guy who is always looking to take advantage of one’s kindness. He bought more than he could eat, way more. And what do I see three days later? A cloth bag is hanging in the office, flies circling around it, and all the fruits had gone bad.” 

“He had hardly even touched them. And you know…..ah…. Sorry, I’m bothering you.”

“No. This is your home. You are our brother too. These things happen,” Jafar said. “Don’t mind Gabriel, I know he is foolish. Don’t let him take control of the business. He will only fail you again.” He added.“What did you say that to him for, huh?” Junaid asked.

“What?” Jafar looked at him plainly. “It’s business.”

It confused Junaid that his brother could say that and overlook the theft from another man’s pocket. When he was a boy, like a rag picker, Junaid would bring home tiny pieces of metal waste from the road. For him, it was a meaningless act but the perseverance with which his younger brother collected scrap impressed Jafar. To make his job easier Jafar tied a magnet to a yardstick for Junaid to take with him on his little hunts. Once he had collected enough pieces, with a blowtorch, they would melt them all down one by one and watch them change shape. Nothing could ever be permanent, they were told by their father, everything was temporary. One day when Junaid brought home a bronze coin he had nicked off a blind woman’s antique store, for his crime Jafar gave him a severe beating. He wanted his brother to know that greed was a terrible thing and stealing was truly vile. Junaid reminded his brother of that once Peter was gone.

“You are right. I cannot say such things so casually. People’s lives are their own, private.” Jafar admitted. “You know, I look around, and I feel grateful for the life I have. Our parents left us all of this. How can I not feel grateful for it? I feel indebted. I know things are tough, that is why Peter and Gabriel quarrel, but when the time is right, we will all be at peace, and happy. There is no guarantee it will be beautiful, but it will be peaceful.”

“I understand that. Just don’t interfere in the lives of others like that, that was almost the seeds of poison that you probably slipped into him today. You never know when you might disturb someone so much they set out to hurt you,” Junaid said, concerned for his brother. Times were hard.

Then one day what Junaid feared took place. Peter had come in to get his usual haircut and shave. Halfway through, a gang of men bearing party flags came flocking the narrow road outside Bollywood Menz Salon chanting absurd communal slogans. Their roar drowned the tune from the radio. From that crowd appeared Gabriel with a knife in his hand. Barging into the shop he tried to pierce the shiny silver blade through the chest of Peter. Jafar caught his hand at the right moment and the knife fell to the side. His eyes seemed to be troubled with a thirst for Peter’s blood, his jaws clenched so hard he could have bitten off his own tongue and made a mess of his mouth. Words failed Gabriel, vigorously shaking with hate his gaze turned to the mirror and caught a glimpse of his reflection. How could he not feel remorse? Carefully observing the pace of time slow down Jafar shoved and threw Gabriel out of his shop at once and told him never to come back again.

“You coward!” Peter screamed from over Jafar’s shoulder. “You tried to kill me. Sin has gotten the better of you. I thought you were my brother. Coward, come at me again, I dare you!” “I will strike you down. You are my enemy.” screamed Gabriel like a madman in the street outside Bollywood Menz Salon.

“He is not your enemy, doesn’t he have a right to live?” Junaid innocently yelled back as he stood behind the half-shut door, shivering.

Vaibhav Srivastava was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh in 1995. He now works and lives in New Delhi. He experiments with various forms of writing like plays, poetry, prose, essays and journal. Find him at

Feature of this piece on the TBR website is in line with our initiative to encourage new writers, and is not a part of the regular issues or publications of the magazine.

‘H4’ – Fiction by Vineet Deshpande | Creative Writing Workshop


Let’s meet at Mainland China, the one on SB road at 8 tonight. My Aai and Baba are coming and I would like to invite your parents as well. Is that alright? Please ask them to come.’ 

Rekha saw the text from Lakshman in office just after lunch and wondered why he had called both of their parents for dinner. They had decided to go to her favorite restaurant tonight but it was going to be just them.

Maybe something good had happened in Lakshman’s meeting with his manager. He was going to meet him today for his annual appraisal. Perhaps he had got the pay hike that he had talked about. She really hoped he had. Although Lakshman downplayed it in public, she had sensed there was a slight hint of anger and jealousy in him when their friends pointed out how Rekha was in a more senior position in her company than Lakshman. He never said anything directly, but she found him patronizing when he used clichés like “big fish in a small pond” to describe her company. They had not discussed their salaries; which was good for her. She did not want more awkwardness since she probably made more money than him. And yet,  he was good at his job and it would be good for him to get a pay rise. But that did not sound like the kind of news that one announces to both sets of parents. No, there must be something else.  

Rekha was still pondering over the text message while having lunch at her desk. Her team had gone to the canteen to have lunch and they would probably go for a walk or for some ice cream after that. She joined them once a week, on Fridays, to be a part of the team but on other days she enjoyed thirty minutes of solitude with her food at her desk. After lunch she started working again so that she could leave office in the evening around 6. She preferred this way of working than that of some of her male colleagues who spent a lot of time at lunch, tea breaks, smoke breaks, playing carrom and then stayed up till 10 in the night to cover up for lost time. She and her colleague, Fatima, were generally the first ones to reach the office. Fatima worked extremely hard and left at 5.30 to pick up her kids from daycare after which she went home and made dinner for her family. The same male colleagues were the ones who made snide jokes on Fatima taking a half day when she left in the evening. Rekha knew very well that Fatima worked more than others and managed her time extremely well in office. Luckily, being a team leader, she was able to highlight this to her boss. In most cases, the boss would have been impressed by employees who sent emails late at night to paint a picture of “hard work.” Of course, without knowing the whole story.

Rekha reached home shortly after 6. A big advantage of working in a smaller company was that they could have an office in the city and not in the far away Special Economic Zone. She was glad she didn’t have a 1–2hour commute like Lakshman every day. She entered the living room to find her parents fully dressed. “Get ready soon so we can leave,” said her mother. 

“Aai! We need to reach the restaurant at 8. It is not even 6.30 yet. Why are you both dressed already?” 

“We like to be prepared and punctual,” said her father.

“More like paranoid if you ask me. Anyway we will leave at 7.30. We will avoid traffic and the restaurant has valet parking”.

Rekha and Lakshman were getting married in December. They had met on an online marriage portal, a couple of months ago and had connected instantly. After meeting thrice and exchanging many text messages, and phone calls, they were pretty sure that they wanted to get married. They even had similar professions, and interests. However, Rekha was convinced by Savi, a friend, to take more time and get to know him more. Her mother was not pleased about this at all. She did not like Savi and thought the woman was a bad influence on Rekha. 

But the two friends had been inseparable, since a few years now. Rekha could always count on Savi to be completely honest with her.

In the car, on the way to the restaurant, Rekha’s parents were speculating why Lakshman had invited everyone for dinner on such short notice. They usually met once a month for lunch or dinner, but these meetings were planned by either of their mothers. 


Lakshman’s parents were there already. The five of them waited for him to reach. Both the mothers were talking about the wedding shopping. Their fathers were discussing politics. Rekha was more interested in politics than the shopping conversation, but she was a bit afraid of the argument which was slowly heating up. It was inevitable, always happened. Lakshman’s father was a staunch supporter of the ruling right-wing government while her father tilted towards the left, and hated the right’s divisive ideology. 

In their initial meetings her father just nodded along and was silent, but as they got more acquainted, he then argued, sometimes vehemently. Rekha tried to play peacemaker. She hated this divisive ideology too but knew from experience that Lakshman’s father was not going to back down on anything. She was just about to interject when she saw Lakshman entering the restaurant. Great timing, she thought as everyone stopped talking and greeted him. 

“Sorry sorry, the traffic was horrible,” said Lakshman, taking off his laptop bag and sitting down next to Rekha.

“That’s always the case on Fridays. Many people who have come to Pune for jobs go to their hometown for the weekend. So Nagar road is always packed on Friday evenings” explained Rekha.

“They should just stay in their hometowns. Why do they have to come to Pune to steal jobs and add to the traffic,” Lakshman’s father said, clearly still angry about their discussion earlier. 

“Didn’t Lakshman do the same thing when he was in Mumbai for his first job? In fact, you shifted from Nasik to Pune, yourself. What if someone tells you to go back to Nasik?” Rekha asked with an exasperated sigh.

“All this Nasik talk makes me thirsty for Sula Wine. Why don’t we order a bottle for the table?” said Lakshman.

“That’s a good idea. Then we can toast to whatever good news you’re going to give us,” Rekha smiled.

“How do you know it’s good news,?” Lakshman asked, looking up.

“Why else would you call everyone for dinner?”

“Okay, okay, since you are all so impatient, let me spill the beans. I had the annual performance review with my boss today. He was very happy with my work this year. In fact, he is so happy that he has selected me for an on-site project in the States! And the timing is perfect. The project starts in three months so Rekha and I can move there immediately after the wedding!”

“Wow, that’s such wonderful news. Congratulations beta!” roared Lakshman’s father.

“I’m so proud of you. All your hard work has paid off,” his mother said gushingly.

“How long will the project be on for Lakshman?” asked Rekha’s father.

“Can’t say Uncle. It should be three years at least but it can get extended to four depending on other factors. Maybe it will extend a lot and I can get my Green Card too!”

The rest of the evening passed in a daze for Rekha. She spoke very little and tried to focus on the food. But her usually favorite dishes seemed to have lost their taste today. She listened to everyone around the table bombard Lakshman with different questions about the USA interspersed with high praises. Her mother began discussing the shopping again with Lakshman’s mother; only this time the conversation had moved towards things which the couple would need  in the USA. 

Lakshman’s father started discussing American politics. At least this time both fathers seemed to be on the same page. Later, they planned a trip to the USA to see the Fall next year. Lakshman clearly enjoyed being the highlight of the evening, while everyone, unknowingly, ignored Rekha.


Rekha hardly spoke in the car on the way home. Her mother was on a high, discussing the news and the great adventure that awaited Lakshman and Rekha. Her father was listening, but soon enough he noticed that Rekha was unusually quiet since a long time.

“Everything okay Rekha? You’ve been very quiet all evening.”

“Yes, Baba. I’m just processing all of this.”

“What’s there to process? It is great news. Didn’t you always want to visit America? After seeing so many of their movies, sitcoms, and reading their  spy novels?” her mother asked.

“Aai, there’s a big difference between visiting for a month and moving for three or four years. Sure, I like to travel but this is different.”

“A lot of things change after marriage. But this is a good change. Anyway, you were going to move to Lakshman’s house right. Now you both get to live in a new house and a new country.”

“Rekha, I understand this is a lot to process right now. As with all big decisions and events, I find it best to sleep on it and think about it the next day,” said her father.

“I agree Baba. I am also tired. It has been a long week at work. I will be in a better frame of mind tomorrow. I’m also meeting Savi after a long time and I always feel better after meeting her.”

“Don’t let her rebellious ideas get in your head. She’s the reason for this huge delay in the wedding. I don’t want her spoiling this too,” her mother retorted immediately.

“Savi’s my best friend and she’s an extremely smart and kind person. I wish you will see that someday Aai.”

“I’m sure your mother didn’t mean it like that, though Savi’s ideas are rebellious indeed,” said her father.

They reached home; Rekha wished her parents a good night and went into her room. She was tired but sleep eluded her. Her mind just would not shut off. 

Her phone chimed and she saw a text from Lakshman: ‘Good night my dear… Sweet (American) dreams!’. Rekha did not reply. She knew Lakshman was on a high and didn’t feel like deflating his enthusiasm with feelings which she was unsure about. Plus, looking at the blue screen late at night was guaranteed to make falling asleep even more difficult. She switched off her phone and wished that she could do the same with her thoughts.


Next morning, Rekha reached Savi’s apartment earlier than planned. As she was about to ring the bell, she saw a text message from Savi – ‘Rekki! I’m having a session with my therapist on Zoom. I’ll be out in 15 minutes. Let yourself in with your key. Sorry!’

Rekha entered Savi’s cozy apartment with the duplicate key which Savi had given her with an open invitation to crash there anytime she wanted. Rekha loved Savi’s apartment. It had a wonderful vibe to it and was tastefully decorated. She always felt at home there. Savi’s ever increasing book collection was lovely to browse. There were so many books there that she had never even heard of in her circle of friends, family, and colleagues. She was browsing through “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson when Savi came into the living room.

“Hey Rekki! It is great to see you after so long. How have you been?” said Savi, giving her a warm hug.

“I’m okay. How’s it going with you?.

“I am well. We are a bit short staffed currently at Beans & Books so it is a bit hectic. A bookstore cafe means double the work. On weekends, the counselling sessions keep me busy.”

“That sounds like a packed week indeed! Hope you can hire someone soon. So, that was your therapist on the call now, right?  I am surprised that you continue meeting her even though you counsel so many others yourself.”

“Well, my problems are different from others. And it is hard to work on your own problems yourself. One needs a different perspective, and it helps a lot when it comes from professionals. I have seen so many people avoid seeking help for their mental health. They will go to the doctor for a simple cold but refuse to seek help or even acknowledge minor mental health problems. Anyway, I can understand from your tone that something is troubling you. What’s up?”

Rekha gave a wry smile to her perceptive friend. “Can we make some coffee first?”

Over a cup of strong, steaming hot filter coffee Rekha explained the previous day’s events to Savi. It had been a difficult evening and night for her, but she felt better after talking about it.

Savi waited for Rekha to finish and said, “I hope you’ve talked to Lakshman?”

“Not yet, I am going to meet him later.”

“How do you feel about moving to the States?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I know I will like some aspects of it and my mother is right. I have always dreamt of going there having grown up on American pop culture. But Lakshman’s project is not a short one. It will go on for 3-4 years at least. Plus I am really enjoying my work right now. This was my first job after 4 years of Engineering and today I am leading a very talented team. It is hard work sure but I love it. It will be tough to leave all of this.”

“Those are very valid concerns Rekki and you should discuss them with Lakshman. You have studied and worked very hard to reach this point in your career. So I understand why you wouldn’t want to quit your job right now. Can you search for a similar job in the USA?”

“No, not in the near term. I will be going on a dependent visa so I am not allowed to work till Lakshman’s visa category changes.”

“In that case, you really need to give this a lot of thought and consider some other options too. Can you postpone the marriage? You can continue working and get married after he comes back to India. That way you get more time to know each other.”

“Impossible Savi. I have somehow managed to convince my mom to postpone the marriage by 6 months. More postponement is out of the question. They’ve already finished most of the shopping, the venue is booked, even the invitation cards are printed. Plus, I know Lakshman really wants us to move there. You should have seen how happy he was yesterday. And his parents too!”

“But why do you care that much about his parents? I mean, this should be about you and Lakshman firstly. Everyone else is not a party to this.” Savi said, her voice shaking.  “I’m sorry, Rekki. I didn’t mean it that way. But I’m really worried for you and the fact that you and your career seem to be the last priority for everyone else right now. At least, you should not do that maybe?”

“It’s not that easy Savi.”

They talked for a long time over multiple refills of filter coffee. Rekha felt better after discussing with Savi but was tired as well. She knew that Savi was probably right, and had sound arguments, theoretically. But there was no question of postponing the marriage. It was now written in stone. 

“Oh my! Look at the time. I must leave now, have to meet Lakshman” said Rekha, thanking her friend for the coffee and the conversation.

“Anytime! Please be blunt with him and discuss the option of postponing the marriage. You never know, he might surprise you.”

“Impossible. Let us see how it goes. But I must go now,” she said and hugged Savi goodbye.

When she was at the door, Savi asked her “Hey! What’s the visa category that you will be applying to?”



It had been 8 months since then. Rekha often thought of that day and wondered how different her life would be, had she done what Savi suggested. She had met an elated Lakshman that day who could not stop talking about how this opportunity was a dream come true for him. He had talked about all the places they could visit in the USA, meeting friends, and how this project would be a great addition to his resume. 

Rekha did not get a chance to talk much but did broach the subject of postponing the marriage which was shot down by Lakshman with the explanation that the wedding juggernaut was already in motion. It really felt that way as the next couple of months passed by in a blur. The wedding shopping, pre-wedding rituals, relatives, lunches, dinners took up all her time and space. She could find neither the mental energy nor time to speak plainly with her parents. As the days passed and the wedding date loomed closer, she convinced herself that this was what destiny had in store and rationalized that it was better to look at this move as an adventure. No one apart from Savi had talked about her work situation with her. She had quit her job and was given a grand farewell by her colleagues. Her manager told her that she could return to her current position whenever she came back to India. She missed Fatima the most.

The first few months in America had been fun and eventful. Lakshman had come earlier and had found a house in the suburbs, but it was barely furnished. He just slept there and spent most of his time in the office and had take-out for dinner. It took some time to find the right furniture, kitchen equipment, and so on but at least it kept her busy and engaged. She was happy with the way the house looked and felt. She would have liked some more artistic touches but Lakshman kept complaining about how expensive everything was on a single income. The initial months also coincided with the best weather. She enjoyed summer and loved Fall even more. 

Now however, things were different. The cold gray winter was a different beast altogether. The days were shorter, and trees bare. She tried to go out during the few hours of sunlight, but it was not easy. All she could do was stroll past silent empty houses. They had only one car and that was used by Lakshman for his daily commute. Public transport was non-existent. Lakshman left for work early to beat traffic and worked till late. 

She tried to use the few overlapping hours with India to speak with parents or friends. But the distance was taking a toll on her relationships. Her friends in the States lived far away and as much as she tried, they couldn’t plan a trip to meet, not yet at least.  She spent a lot of time planning, preparing, and cooking meals. Initially she had fun cooking different cuisines but now the daily minutia of cooking was getting to her. It did not help that Lakshman had zero involvement in cooking apart from going grocery shopping with her on weekends.

No one had explicitly defined it, but the arrangement was that Rekha would do the cooking, cleaning, washing and all household tasks. Lakshman worked long hours during the week and played cricket  with his colleagues on Saturday. Sunday was his day of rest. He rarely cooked and when he did, he treated it as a monumental achievement and left the kitchen in a big mess. While Rekha understood that due to his hectic work schedule she would be the one doing more work in the house, the lack of acknowledgement and involvement left her irritated and resentful. She had not made any new friends, and it was not for lack of trying. She had been to many get-togethers hosted by Lakshman’s colleagues (all Indian men) but she got thoroughly bored. The colleagues grouped together to discuss either cricket or politics while the women gathered in the kitchen organizing and cooking food. Mostly discussing their kids or recipes. Rekha just did not connect with them. They all had one thing in common though. Almost all of them were working in India and had moved to America after marriage.


Rekha was in a very contemplative mood today. She had spoken with Fatima in the morning and had been brought up to date on how things were progressing in her previous company. Fatima was doing very well and had been promoted. She was happy though some of her male colleagues kept sniggering whenever she left home every day at 5.30. But luckily the decision-makers knew better. Rekha was feeling very happy that Fatima was getting her due and that the company was doing well. But that mood did not last for long. It dawned on to her again how much she missed her work, handling responsibilities, contributing to the organization’s success and being financially independent. She had good savings in India, but it didn’t make sense converting them to dollars. It was better to keep investing in India but that meant that she was dependent on Lakshman for all her expenses in the USA. She used to joke about how Lakshman gave her ‘pocket money’ every month but it really felt like that. Lakshman had not mentioned this at all but it was a huge change for Rekha, for someone who was as financially independent as her for many years. 

Rekha kept replaying the last eight months in her mind. She did not realize how the hours ticked by. It was already late evening when Lakshman came home. He immediately walked into the kitchen and paused as he realized there was no dinner prepared. 

“Haven’t you made anything for tonight? I didn’t know we were going to have take-out today.”

“Order something,” said Rekha in a deadpan voice.

Lakshman seemed quite hungry, but he realized something was amiss and did not want to stoke the fire by complaining.

“What should we order? Pizza? or Thai? or Sushi?”


Lakshman ordered 2 pizzas and wondered about Rekha’s mood, and what he could do to change that.

“Oh, guess what! We reached a major milestone in our project and the client was extremely happy. I have invited my colleagues and their family to our place on Friday evening to celebrate. Let’s plan the menu now?”

“Are you serious? Friday evening is just 2 days away and you want to call 10 adults and 5 kids home on such short notice? Also, you choose Friday evening which means that you will have no part to play in the preparation since you will be at work the whole day. Couldn’t you discuss with me before inviting them over?” 

“But there was no option. We have the cricket tournament on Saturday till late evening and no one wants to party on a Sunday evening, because, well, Monday,” said Lakshman defensively.

“Wow. So basically, your work and sports take priority over everything? Do you realize the amount of work needed to get the house ready for so many people and cleaning it the next day?”

“Let us not cook much at home. We can order Biryani from Royal Indian Kitchen. So we just need to worry about the starters. I can mix the drinks. And I will help in clearing up afterwards,” said Lakshman.

“That’s not the point!” 

“Then tell me what the point is. You were in a bad mood even before I brought up this topic. What happened?” Lakshman asked, resigned.

“Do you know that I have not been able to work for the past 8 months and what that means to me? And that will most probably continue for at least 2 or even 3 more years?”

“I know that but what choice do we have? You want to work? Maybe you can  volunteer at an NGO? Many of my colleagues’ wives do that.”

“That’s not the point. I can do volunteer work. I was doing that in India too, but that is not a replacement for the work that I used to love and was really good at. The work that I have degrees for, the work I was a professional in.”

“Maybe you can do an MS at the State University? A post-graduation degree from the USA will be great for your resume.” said Lakshman.

“We have talked about this before. I do not want to do a MS or MBA right now. I might think of it in the future but doing post-graduation just because I cannot work makes no sense whatsoever” said Rekha, throwing her hands in the air.

“Then what do you want to do? We must think practically. I have told you before that I couldn’t let go of this opportunity. You knew that before we moved here. Some sacrifices have to be made in marriage.” 

Rekha lost it at this point.

“Sacrifices? What sacrifices have you made Lakshman? I am the one who had to give up her job. I am the one who goes days without meeting people. I am the one who is cooking, cleaning, washing the whole day and trying my best to keep myself occupied because there is nothing else that I can do at home. You went from your parents’ house to this house. You still get home cooked meals, go to work every day, meet colleagues, play whatever you play, get money and appreciation for your work. You talk about opportunities. What about those that I have lost?”

Lakshman was at a loss for words. Everything Rekha said was true.

“But do you know what hurts the most Lakshman? I knew all this before. I knew I would not be able to work. I knew it would be really hard. What hurts is that no one apart from Savi thought about this. Not even my parents and especially not you. Not once did you ask me if I would be okay with giving up my job in India and not being able to work here. You, my parents, your parents, and everyone else just assumed that I would make these sacrifices for our marriage. No one thought that maybe you need to make a sacrifice instead of me.”

“So, what do we do now? We can’t change the past,” said Lakshman quietly.

“I will figure something out,” muttered Rekha.

The doorbell rang. It was the pizza delivery guy.


Rekha woke up late and enjoyed her coffee leisurely. She was thinking about what to cook for lunch and narrowed down on fried rice since they both loved it. 

The doorbell rang. It was a lovely bouquet of flowers. 

“Delivery for Rekha, care of Savitri” said the delivery person.

“That’s me. Thank you very much!” she said closing the door.

Rekha sat admiring the bouquet for a while and then hunted for a vase in Savi’s apartment. She had moved to Savi’s apartment 3 months earlier. She had spoken to Lakshman extremely calmly about her decision to leave the USA. 

It was unfair that she had to give up working, her blossoming career, financial independence, and her happiness just because he did not want to let go of his opportunity. She was not walking out of their marriage, but just out of that country. She hoped that he would understand. Lakshman hardly spoke that day. He asked her if she was sure. 

“A 100 percent.”

It had been a tough couple of months for them, but things were improving now. She found an ornate vase for the bouquet sent by him and continued preparing the fried rice.

Rekha’s return had not been taken kindly by either Lakshman’s parents or her’s. She had anticipated that and was glad that she could stay with Savi instead of at home. 

Different tactics had been deployed to make her go back to the USA or at least start considering it. But all their guilt, drama and emotional blackmail had been in vain. Recently though she had noticed progress on part of her parents as they could clearly see how happy she was, working again at her previous company. They would have still preferred her going back but did not dwell on that for long when they met. Lakshman had changed in the past few months too. After realizing that he could not convince Rekha to come back, he decided to accept her decision and tried his best to make their long-distance relationship work. He started cooking a lot and called Rekha for advice. That made him realise how difficult it is to cook for more people alone, and apologized for that fateful day when things had changed. They talked about their stalemate situation, and both secretly wondered about sustaining this long-distance relationship for 2 or 3 years more. 

Rekha was just thinking about how her life had changed for the better in the past three months despite all these difficult circumstances when suddenly her phone pinged. It was a WhatsApp message from Lakshman.

Hope you liked the flowers? 🙂 Can we talk about how our future will bloom, tonight at 8  India time?’

Wow, cheesy! But yes, the flowers are lovely, and we can talk tonight. Skype?’ replied Rekha.

Nope. There is this wonderful restaurant – Mainland China, it’s close to you. I will meet you there 🙂

Vineet Deshpande is an aspiring writer and software professional currently living in Vienna, Austria. He has done his Bachelors in Computer Engineering from the University of Pune in India. After 32 years of living in the most livable city in India, he moved to the most livable city in the world to support his wife’s PhD in Austria. He maintains a blog where he writes about issues which he feels strongly about.

Fiction | ‘The Call’ by Chinchu Kuriakose | Creative Writing Workshop

Nainital’s beauty was at its peak glory, as the first ray of sunshine kissed the greens. Tanya felt the chill when she removed the blanket from over her face. She could almost feel the warmth of a bright new morning touch her from within, she was reluctant to get up from her bed. Tanya was home for her Diwali vacations. She was a final year student pursuing a degree in medicine from a reputed college in New Delhi. Though she had gotten used to the metropolitan lifestyle of Delhi, she never missed a chance to visit her hometown.

Tanya stretched and sat up on the bed, facing the window. A cool breeze swept through the butterfly patterned curtains. She drew the curtains to look at the misty mountains outside. She inhaled and felt the fresh air around her. She remembered how suffocated she felt in the first few months when she came to New Delhi years ago. She spent some time at the window, everything still around.

After lunch, Tanya decided to stroll around, and reminisce.”Mom, I’m slipping out for a couple of hours.” Tanya called out as she picked her bag and walked out. As a young girl, she used to enjoy the picturesque lakeside and was a huge admirer of the hills that surrounded the place. She never failed to notice the little things, was always aware of every change however minute that happened around her. She realised that her childhood had passed so swiftly, that she had never taken a moment to notice it – and now she would be graduating, and become a doctor. 

Bhimtal Town

Tom, a solitary traveller from Birmingham in the UK, was loving Nainital. Travelling was something he relished deeply. He had planned this trip to the Himalayas’ foothills two years ago when a work colleague had talked for hours about Nainital. Being a Field Engineer, working at a well-known company based out of Dover, Tom had spent a lot of time with machinery. The talk was enough to ignite his dormant hobby of travelling. Tom landed in Dehradun two days back. The first couple of days, he walked around exploring; cruising the cuisines, the culture, and the people. Tom captured all of it in his DSLR. 

He remembered how his friend explained that Paragliding in Bhimtal was one of the most beautiful attractions of the small town. Also, he overheard a few other tourists talking about their adventure in the glider, on his way to the visitor’s information centre. Tom collected the leaflets on the rack, eyeballed through it, and gained further information from the help desk. The weather was rather good, and he decided to book a paragliding experience for the same afternoon. 

Tom had once done paragliding in the Alps, a couple of years ago. It has been a while, and he kept clarifying his queries and the technique with the guide, Manish; who was helping him buckle the harness. He took off smoothly, and as he ascended, he felt weightless as ever, like a butterfly in the air. Enveloped by the serenity of Bhimtal, the clean air, he was entirely absorbed. 

An hour of light gliding later, there was a sudden change in the weather; the wind speed had increased. It was all too quick; Tom struggled hard to regain control of the glider.

*Swish, Thud, Scratch, Louder Thud*

Tom crashed on to the ground, from a height of 350 feet. Before he could make sense of his limbs and feet, he felt a sharp pain in his head, as though a hundred tiny bombs had exploded inside his brain, piercing like needles. 

The last thing he remembered was the face of a girl, her eyes wide with shock. She shouted for help, as his vision blurred and eventually, his eyelids kissed each other. 


The medical streak in her kicked in immediately, with a jolt of adrenaline.

“Can somebody call the emergency services please?” Tanya yelled, getting down on her knees to do a quick assessment. He needed to be resuscitated. 

The siren of the ambulance approached and tyres screeched to a halt. The paramedics took over immediately. As Tanya told them about her observations, a crew member alerted the Centre to send an air ambulance, the situation seemed critical. Tanya stood in a daze as the chopper ascended with the paragliding man on board. Her lips moved in prayer subconsciously, for that young man. The incident shook her considerably, and she walked home soullessly.

Two weeks had passed since she came back, and Tanya was due to join back. After last week’s incident, Tanya spent most of her days at home. She was absent-minded at times; her thoughts were filled with the injured person’s look of bewilderment just before he had closed his eyes. When Tanya returned, her first posting was in the intensive neurological unit. She followed the general consultant during the morning rounds of the ward. They approached a room towards the end of the hall; a man was sleeping peacefully,  with the KLG cables connecting his chest to the monitor on the side table. She moved closer to the bedside, the face looked familiar, and almost immediately, Tanya gasped. She was astonished. The intern, along with Dr Sharma, the consultant, summarised the case history of the patient. He was receiving a follow-up treatment to recover from a sustained head injury.  There was ventilator support for breathing, and equipment for fluid replacement. “Tanya, we will take Tom off the ventilator early this week.” 

Dr Sharma said, looking satisfied and glanced through the results of his blood work and full-body scans. 

“It may take a month or two for a full recovery. But his body is responding to the treatment well, which is a good sign.” He remarked and handed over the reports to Tanya, advancing towards the next unit. Tanya’s initial shock at finding the man from Nainital was soon taken over by relief upon hearing her senior talk about his recovery.

In the next few days, Tanya had to cover another unit, as a colleague was off duty. Following a successful, spontaneous breathing trial, Tom was extubated. When Tanya resumed  regular duty, she walked to Tom’s room to check on his progress, almost anxiously. 

As he woke up, he was startled. He tried to recall the seemingly familiar face. Seeing his confused expression, she smiled. In a little while, when as if he had remembered something, Tom said, “It feels like a dream. Thank you.”


Tanya was home again, this time for her Christmas vacations, the semester examinations were finally over. She had been eagerly looking forward to her internship. The exam preparation and the hectic study schedules had kept her busy in the past couple of months. Being mostly cut off from all things social, she was pleasantly surprised by an email she received on her phone. Tom, the name that remained in her mind for a long while until a few months back. The man to whom, she became the saviour of his life.

Tom’s email took Tanya back to the same spot she met him first. She wanted to be there again, so she took her bag and walked to the infamous spot. She recalled the incident as if she was watching a movie for the sixteenth time. It had all happened in the flash of a moment. She almost felt proud of herself for her profession, for being a doctor, for being able to help when it was a case of life and death. She remembered that if it weren’t for her rapid response, the outcome would surely have been different. She also remembered the day of Tom’s discharge from the hospital. He was excited to fly back to his home finally. She was holding her drink, going through the discharge summary on the desktop in the doctor’s room when a knock on the door diverted her attention. Tom stood there with a smile and handed her a bouquet and a thank you card. The card read, “Thank You to the angel that appeared in my life, in a moment of critical, dire need. It it weren’t for you, I might not have seen to live the day.”

He said he would like to keep in touch with the person who saved his life, so Tanya didn’t feel awkward giving her email address, it wasn’t remotely a concern. 

Tom’s emails were about his work and life, about gas prices where he lived, about how apples don’t rot in the United Kingdom, but most importantly, how the incident had changed how he saw life and how grateful he was about it. Tanya was delighted to know that he was back on the mill, back to his everyday life. She felt satisfied, with her work and her profession, as she took small steps heading home, head high. If she ever got exhausted with the job, if at all, she would come back to this place, to read this delicate note once again, from Tom of Birmingham.

Chinchu Kuriakose is a Registered Nurse by profession, currently working and residing in Norfolk, United Kingdom. She was born and bred in Thiruvalla, a rapidly transforming town in Kerala.  Recently, she took part in a couple of fiction writing challenges, and has successfully completed the ‘Start Writing Creative Non-Fiction’ module from the University of East Anglia. At present, she is working on her first book. Blog:

Fiction | ‘Consolations of Identity: Musings of a Pet Dog’ by Chandrashekhar Mahajan | Creative Writing Workshop

My name is Shoe – or rather, it was Shoe. Now, I am called… well… let that go, what’s in a name anyway. I sit here, on a soft rug in an air-conditioned apartment staring at the impressive skyline of the City. A bowl full of tempting food lies next to me. Despite my philosophical preference for freedom over material comforts, I must say, I like it. But I can’t claim that this kind of comfort has been a lifelong friend.   

I was born amongst a set of triplets, one of whom was claimed by this City’s winter. So it was me, and Hat, my stupid brother. We lived and roamed around what seemed to be a wealthy suburb of the City. Our colour, our fur, and our demeanour were all visibly different from the rest of those wandering around haplessly – our father must have  been of a high pedigree. That we didn’t know about our roots hardly ever mattered, for, a life that trudged with a primary aim of survival did not care about lineage. Onlookers couldn’t help but adore us and often extended the only thing we needed – food. Ha! We encashed our pedigree without ever knowing it. 

Usually, not one to curse my circumstances, I was however nagged by one aspect of life. Who lent us such mundane names? I envied my fellow canines, with their princely names like Bruno or Milo or Caesar. But then I also thanked the stars for the absence of a neck-strap that bound these princely-named to their captive lives. At least I was free. What would you rather have, name or freedom?

Speaking of names, I stretched my memory and traced the source of the link to the old woman who lived behind the main street. When young, Hat and I would find ourselves at the mercy of this old woman who threw us leftover food that she had collected from the backyards of the tall buildings. (Even this second derivative of rich people’s food had served us well.) It was this old lady who first called us by something, anything. For a  considerable amount of time, I didn’t know what our names meant, at least not until I noticed an adorable shop displaying flowery, colourful, round objects which beautiful ladies adorned on their heads and walked out of the shop asking their better halves, ‘How do you like my hat?’ 

For my own name though, it took Hat’s idiocy one evening; when hunger had harassed Hat for two straight days. When he couldn’t bear it anymore, he leapt towards a leathery object a man had just removed from his foot in order to get comfortable on a garden bench. No sooner did Hat mouth it and start biting, the man shouted, ‘That’s my shoe, get away you fool!’  

Hat was a bit of a boisterous boy. His spirit often led to him getting attention, affection and sometimes, being fed. I loved the third part, didn’t mind the second but surely, abhorred the first. Somehow, Hat and I fit the locality like a street juggler showed tricks on a busy street. But for how long? Who knew, so I liked to keep my face down and scout for the leftovers of restaurants and homes. Hat – that idiot, however – didn’t mind meddling into other people’s business and attempting to claim what he thought was his rightful place in the world.  

Amongst those, Hat really loved to meddle with a three-year-old girl and her grandfather. The duo had a routine of taking evening walks. The grandfather would buy the young one candies, lollies, cakes, sweet breads – things  childhood is made of. As Hat’s familiarity with the young girl increased, he began getting a fair share of those as well. And as generous children are excessively generous, I was extended some too. While Hat and the young girl kind of had a thing for each other, me and the grandfather seemed to have mutual feelings too: that of suspicion. If we had our own way, we would reduce the quartet to a trio. The irony was, if grandfather had his way, life would have become better for the trio whereas if I had mine, life would become far, far worse for the trio. 

One evening, the girl and her grandfather came to the rendezvous spot where we were busy playing with a soft drink can. 

‘Doggyyy…’ she shouted and jumped. Hat said something in reply, circled on his spot and wagged his tail in joy. I rolled my eyes and kicked the can aside.  

The girl dropped the paper bag at a distance and ran towards Hat. She knelt and hugged him. 

‘Careful, careful,’ said the old man. 

‘Doggy…how are you?’ the girl asked Hat. 

‘Woof,’ Hat answered. The girl giggled and started scratching Hat’s head and between the ears. Hat narrowed his eyes and sat still, wagging the tail. 

‘Easy, easy,’ a voice floated behind the girl. 

The girl took Hat in her lap and mollycoddled him. Usually, Hat enjoyed such affection but at one point this time, he yelped and tried to back away from the girl. I raised my ears. On the previous day, other dogs had chased Hat and a minor tussle had ensued; one of them ended up scratching Hat’s neck. The girl must have cuddled Hat near the injury. I barked at the girl to dissuade her. 

‘Careful Nina, these are stray dogs,’ the old man came very close to the girl, protectively. 

The girl, unmindful, pressed the spot harshly a third time. I retaliated instantly and barked even louder, closing in on the girl. Hat was in pain, and inadvertently  pushed her, ending up scratching her wrist. 

‘Nina!’ the old man pulled her back. The girl, scared by the cacophony of my barks, Hat’s yelps and the old man’s alarmingly loud shout, let out a wail.

‘These stray dogs, why doesn’t someone do something about them,’ the old man bellowed, picking up his granddaughter in his arms. Assuming the shout was meant for him, a security guard came running towards us with a raised baton. Almost immediately, the scene attracted the interest of onlookers who stopped in their tracks. It was time to flee, both of us sensed and ran.

We knew where we had to run to – the old woman’s dwelling. We eased ourselves into a pile of discarded truck tyres and didn’t dare venture out until the old lady returned. 

Upon returning, the old lady sat under a streetlamp with what seemed to be her day’s earnings.  A scrap collector, the old lady opened her sack, peeped inside and her face glowed. That’s when I decided to approach her – happy souls are more considerate. Hat and I stood in front of her, waiting to be noticed. 

‘Ohh…you have come. Where were you scoundrels? You seem hungry…wait, I have something for you.’ She took out a small plastic box, opened the lid and tossed it to us. I was amazed at my luck. It was almost as fresh a food as strays can get. The old lady must have made a fortune today. We smelled the food, found it appetising and got to business. 

‘Look at this’, the old lady pulled out a necklace from the sack. She adored it for a while and then put it on her neck, saying, ‘I always wanted something like this for myself, but it will fetch some good price too. Should I keep it or sell it? I will keep it, maybe, it’s very nice.’ Then she pulled out a container, the kind they use for tea. It was pretty looking, but broken. ‘How about this? We can keep warm water in it in the winter. What do you say?’ she poked me with a stick. I glanced at the kettle for a while and decided to go back to my slurping. The old lady kept pulling out things, examining them to decide whether to keep them or sell them, while we ate. She pulled out a strap from the sack next. 

‘Shoe, shoe, look at this.’ 

I looked up and instantly gauged that it was a dog’s collar. Oh no. Holy crap. 

‘Come here, come,’ she said  and held my foreleg. I detested those belts anyways and after the incident with the little girl, more so. Humans treat us as their property and these collars are symbolic of that. Every collar claims: I Own You. It can’t be, the old lady can’t make me wear that, I thought and tried pulling back but the old lady wouldn’t let go. 

‘Come here, come,’ her voice became more authoritative. I yelped and resisted.

It was then that Hat looked up at the commotion. A belt! A collar! He leapt into the old lady’s lap and stared at the belt adoringly, his neck bowed. 

‘You like it?’ the old lady asked. Hat’s demeanour clearly suggested that he did, and was eager to wear it. 

‘Nice,’ muttered the old lady, patting Hat. She looked at me, almost repulsively, and hissed – ‘See, you thankless rat. You want my food but you don’t like my belt. Run away from here.’ The next moment, she was putting the belt around Hat’s neck. 

‘Aha…you look nice’, she said and let him go. Then out of nowhere, she picked up a stone and hurled it at me. I couldn’t believe it. A moment ago, she wanted me as her pet and now she was hurling stones at me? Humans are strange. I fled.

The last thing I saw was the old lady tying Hat down with a rope, while he tried to get away from her hopelessly.

Stupid Hat. Idiot.


I was wrecked from within. I would have barked at him, for his stupidity, but that’s how Hat was. Who knows though, maybe Hat would have cursed me for my independent streak, because what’s really the harm in having a strap around the neck if it ensures timely supper. 

The ball was in my court – to try and seek the blessing of the old lady so Hat and I could stay together. But of course, I needed to sleep over it. Thankfully, the weather was perfect for a good sleep and I found a place on a rug near the shutter of the showroom. 

At dawn, I felt unusually heavy around my neck. I could smell it. It was Hat! Hat was lying on me and breathing in a slow rhythm. He must have missed me. His wailings would have driven the old lady nuts so she had to let him go. I opened one eye; the collar around Hat’s neck was still there. Truce seemed to be in order during the day. 

However, fate likes to play. 

Just before dawn, two men jumped out of a truck that had entered the street – a burly one with a large net and a pale one with a catch pole. They closed in on us. I sensed danger. I rushed towards Hat, but the men were already upon us.

‘These ones?’ The pale man asked. 

‘Yeah, looks like,’ replied the other. 

The pale man shot the pole at me and I ducked. I tried jumping left to find an escape route but the burly one quickly raised his net, blocking the path. In his second attempt, the pale man put the loop through my neck and tightened it. I jerked and thrashed and pulled, but to no use. The game was over. ‘Put the net on the other one.’

‘No, this one’s got a belt.’

‘He said there were two. This must be the second one. Just catch it.’

‘I am not doing it. It’s got the belt, you idiot. I am okay letting a stray one go but I am not taking chances with someone’s dog here. This area has got mad people, with connections everywhere. To hell with it.’ 

‘How could a domestic dog be sleeping on the road?!’ This one was seemingly losing patience.

‘Not my problem, you wanna do it, be my guest.’ The burly man said down in finality.  

The other one grunted and, considering the argument, pulled back. I didn’t have strength to stop a seasoned dog-catcher from dragging me to the vehicle. He threw me inside and closed the door. 


In the shelter, I was given a little cell, the first one from the door. When morning arrived, I saw all emotions known to dogkind on the faces of the inmates. Hope, despair, optimism, anger, dejection and even that eagerness to appease the provider – something I didn’t approve of much. And this appeasement was directed towards a man who had just entered the common area with a handful of bread loaves.

‘Shoe, shoe, here, take this,’ the man extended a loaf to me. I was surprised that the man knew my name. An acquaintance in the middle of a shelter! I did a somersault and caught the loaf. ‘Arf!’, I thanked the man.

He moved on, without acknowledging.

‘Shoo…shoo, here, take this,’ he said to the dog in the next cell. And then to the next. And then to the next. 

That’s when it dawned upon me.I was never Shoe – I was always a shoo. 


A day later, I was adopted by Shalini, my current mother. 

At home, it was comfortable. I got used to her, the home, and the strap. She looks like a very important person. She talks to me  too, a lot. My sumptuous food and the wonderful view from the balcony allow me my own philosophical musings. 

So; about my current name. When the shelter people told her the story of my capture, she laughed and said, ‘You little Hector!’

Who is this Hector?


Chandrashekhar Mahajan is a finance professional from Mumbai who prefers visiting the world of words in his personal time. He likes to weave stories around the emotions and questions humans try to grapple with throughout their lives. He would like his stories to leave the reader with something to ponder about while looking out of a window on a rainy day with a cup of coffee in hand.

Fiction | ‘Crossroads’ by Tushar G | Creative Writing Workshop

“Guys, can we please hurry?” asked Ritvik.

“We still have plenty of time, it’s only 2 in the afternoon,” Abhi replied. 

Ritvik never really enjoyed trips with too many people. But this college trip was a once in a while thing, so he came along. 

Even though all of them were from the same college, they divided themselves into small groups. The city folks hung around with other city folks, the dormitory guys hung around with other dormitory students. 

Ritvik didn’t have a group. He moved around with his roommates. But even they had their own subgroups. He was jumping from one  to another, that seemed to work at the moment. 

The city folks were busy taking each other’s pictures, and the hostel guys were trying to outsmart each other as the fastest climber on the trek.  

How amazing it would be if there weren’t so many tourists on the plateau, Ritvik thought. 

Aditya and his girlfriend were taking selfies for a long time now. Rashid, the tour lead had to remind them to keep moving every five minutes. Ritvik didn’t enjoy waiting.

This wait irritated Ritvik, and he confronted them. 

“Are pictures that important? I mean look around you, all that nature around is beautiful too,” Ritvik said sarcastically. 

Aditya didn’t take it well. He said, “You don’t have to take pictures if you don’t want,” 

People turned to look at Ritvik. He had nothing to say. He just looked down. 

“Let everyone enjoy their way Ritvik, why are you so pissed. You should try to enjoy too,” Hemant said.

“I am sorry,” Ritvik mumbled before going quiet for the rest of the afternoon. 

He wasn’t walking with them anymore. He didn’t really want to be with them. 

“I am just taking a stroll a little off track, I will catch up with you guys soon,” Ritvik told his roommate when he asked.  

The group planned to climb downhill towards the riverbed, but Ritvik started walking towards the hill point in the opposite direction. 

“Does this road go to the waterfall?” Ritvik asked a passerby who seemed to be on the way back from the point.

“The hill crossing spot, but it will be closed soon so no point in going there,” he replied. 

“Thanks!” Ritvik said and kept walking.

The narrow road frightened him a bit, but he didn’t stop.  

As if poised to surprise, an animal emerged from the trees and startled Ritvik. He sprinted, and stopped after a while. The panting made it hard to stand erect, as he took a deep breath and looked back. It was a buffalo foraging in the wilderness. It had returned into the trees and Ritvik heaved a sigh of relief, heading back to the road. He couldn’t see the end of the road. Now, he was walking on a small hilltop. 

The weather had been grey all day, and Ritvik wasn’t surprised when it started drizzling, and lightning struck. The thin rain seemed to add music to the atmosphere, a pleasant one. 

Slowly, the clouds moved away, turning the day darker. People were returning from their touristy spots, headed back to their hotel rooms. The lightning struck again, louder than before. He looked around and saw very few people around. 

“Is the valley crossing still on?” Ritvik asked a tall man, who looked like he was 60 plus.

“No, we just stopped because of the rain,” he replied. 

Maybe I should turn back.

But it’s still 3 o’clock, I will make it in time, Ritvik thought. 

It started pouring heavily soon after. Ritvik was wet now, so he looked for a quick halt. A hillside nearby was inclined inwards, creating a sort of temporary shelter. 

He waited for the rain to stop. 

There wasn’t a soul in sight, Ritvik decided to move on. He felt lost, but he had to reach the hilltop. 

There was a unique kind of satisfaction that comes with finishing an adventure, a quest. He was nearing the spot, and could even see the waterfall that everyone had talked about. He increased his pace and adjusted his shoulder bag as he climbed the rock.

It didn’t seem to work, so he threw his bag over it and tried again. He used the edges and holds on the rock to push himself up. 

The waterfall was in sight now, and the rain had stopped too. He could smell the grass, almost as if it had been mowed and watered seconds ago. It smelled different. Not like a city lawn but like an organic and country grass smell. The stream was piercing through heavy boulders around the hill. A small village was lit up towards the south. There was still no one around, but Ritvik didn’t feel that at all. 

With the music of a natural orchestra, the smell of earth and water,  and a sight that could  beat any Windows’ 98 desktop natures poster, he was not alone. 

Wish I had brought my DSLR.

To his surprise, and to an extent disappointment; he heard someone shuffling around.  Was someone else there? 

He went behind to have a look; some guys had a campfire going. They were probably sitting there for a while since the fire seemed to be dying. 

He didn’t talk; settled on a rock nearby and took the bottle and book out.

There were five of them; two guys and three girls, around the fire. One of the girls was reading something. Ritvik didn’t want to stare. But his eyes connected with the girl just as she looked up. She was probably not expecting anyone, and looked up at him in bewilderment.  

She walked towards him. His heart started pacing. What I am going to say?

“Hey there, we didn’t think anyone else would be out here, you alone?” she asked. 

“Yes, pretty much. I thought I was alone here too. The hike is kinda dangerous, isn’t it?” Ritvik replied. 

She nodded, before asking, “What are you reading?” 

“To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“Ah nice! I have read it; I remember enjoying it. I like Scout, right? It was Scout, wasn’t it?”

“Yea, Scout, or Jean Louis Finch.”

“Oh ya, that’s her actual name,” she chuckled. 

“And what do you have?” Ritvik inquired.

“The murder of Roger Ackroyd,” She replied. 

“It is on my wish list, haven’t read it yet,” Ritvik replied.

“Hi, I am Disha.”

“I am Ritvik. Nice to meet you.”

“So how come you are alone?” She asked.

“I was with my college friends, then I took a brief detour.”

“I am with my friends too.” She pointed back towards the fire. 

“You from Mumbai too?” Ritvik asked. 

“Yes, Thane, you?”


She was wearing a blue sweatshirt and had a gray cap on her head. Perhaps she was cold. Her dimples made an impression on him, as she smiled. She had a wide face, skin smoother than chalk powder, and eyes, oh eyes. 

“Are you in college?” She asked. 

“Yeah, I am in my last year of engineering, IT.”

“So, you must be getting campus offers by now?”

“No, I am doing this content writing internship. I want to explore something around that field.” “Wow, an engineer doing a writing job!” She smiled. 

“What about you?” Ritvik asked.

“I am in the third year of my Electronics engineering. I am planning on doing a masters afterwards. Perhaps in the US. I might do my post-graduation in computer science, though. I am confused, but I feel that’s the way to go.”

“Do you like to read?” Ritvik asked, changing the subject. 

“I do; I enjoy reading fiction, especially sci-fi.”

“What’s your favorite novel?”

“I like the Dune series.”

“Oh how lovely. Mine is 2001: Space Odyssey,” Ritvik replied. 

“I enjoy hiking, do you?” she asked after a pause. 

“Ya, me too.”

“I like it because I think it helps me meet myself. It’s like being close to our  gene,”

“I like it because I like the isolation and peacefulness of it. Whatever problems you have, here it’s just you and present, and nobody is there to disturb you,” Ritvik replied. 

“Well, I prefer to be with a group. I like to explore it all with people; new people too. Like you, for instance, we would have never met in Thane, and even if we did, we would not have talked to each other.”

“You are probably right. I guess I just find it hard to meet and start a conversation with strangers. I am an introvert. At least that’s what I think,” Ritvik said.

“Really? I don’t know what you are talking about; you seem to be doing fine so far. You are talking to me, aren’t you?”

“I guess so.”

As her friends began to take pictures, he remembered how the day had begun. 

“Why do people need to take so many pictures? I don’t understand,” she said almost immediately. “I think people should leave all their electronics behind at the hotel. You can best enjoy something with your own eyes, what good is trapping it in a 16:9 frame for future.”

“I know right, I like to think that a camera should be used to capture moments, rather than people.” Ritvik said, looking at the village in the distance.

“Hmm, interesting perspective,” She replied in agreement. 

The conversation was slow, but paced right, and they lost track of time. He forgot about the rest of her friends and so did she. 

When one of them hollered for the round game, Disha introduced him to her gang. The fire was lit again. The sunlight was fading as the evening descended upon them. One guy suggested a charade game as Ritvik’s eyes found a guitar. That’s when one of them suggested, “Do you want to play? You look like you are itching to.”

Ritvik picked it up and started playing – Somewhere over the Rainbow. He sang the entire song and played almost all the chords correctly. Disha’s mouth was wide open. 

Ritvik smiled coyly. 

Disha smiled back and said, “You didn’t tell me you could sing and play the guitar too! What else can you do? Tell me more.” 

As the evening  took over, they began to prepare for the descent. 

Ritvik’s heartbeat jumped, he was about to ask her. Something he had never done before.

“I want to keep talking to you. Can I take you to coffee tomorrow? I know a nice café.”

A The Bombay Review Creative Writing Workshop piece.

Tushar is an emerging young writer. An engineer trying to explore his artistic identity. A cinephile who gets inspired by stories and enjoys writing one. He also has a blog that covers financial investments and various niches. He graduated from VJTI Mumbai with an Electronic and telecommunication B. Tech degree. He lives in Ahmednagar Maharashtra, India. 

Children’s Folklore | ‘The Pea-Sized Girl’ by Suyasha Singh | Creative Writing Workshop

Once upon a time, a girl was born to a middle aged couple living in the hills, surrounded by evergreen valleys and brooks. She was very tiny, almost the size of a pea. The couple was blessed with a child after innumerous prayers and she was their jewel. They named her Xiao. The couple had always thought that Xiao would grow up in size some day, but even at thirteen she had only grown to be the size of their thumb. She was very lively, full of spirit, and quite intelligent for her age. 

Not a single chick would be left out of the coop and not a single egg was misplaced under her watch. Xiao had a way with money. Whenever she went to the local market with the eggs, she always got the highest price. Everybody knew Xiao in the village, and while she could be considered a bit different from the conventional, she was loved unabashedly. She was cheerful, and a thoughtful child. She always knew deep inside that she was different, right from childhood. And as her parents got older, she realized that she had to become their strength. She decided to go to the capital, to secure a more comfortable future for her parents.There was something out there that she was supposed to do, a destiny that she had to fulfill. 

The next day she told her parents, “I’m going to the capital.”

“But you’re so small. You won’t be safe,” her parents asked worriedly.

Xiao knew it wouldn’t be easy. Her size was indeed an issue, anyone could trample her, unknowingly too. As was being a girl. Tiny, girl, Xiao. But she was determined. 

The old couple sighed and watched their child set out on her journey; they could only give their blessings. Xiao’s mother packed her things in a new, shiny cloth tied at the top. Her father made her a fresh pair of straw sandals. The day to leave came soon. Xiao  bowed to her parents, looked back at her mountain home adoringly, and set for her journey. She shared a boat ride to the capital, excited and nervous about the new life that awaited her. 

The hustle-bustle of the capital was a stark contrast to her life in the mountains. Everyone looked busy. The mighty Wei River could be seen at a distance. It was the power of ‘words’ that had brought Xiao to the capital. She had heard of a learned monk who ran an academy which was open to all – boys and girls, rich and poor, and possibly – tall and tiny. She looked at herself. Xiao had enquired about the academy, it was at the centre of the city; but reaching there was a hard task in itself. She was practically invisible to the people walking around. The crowd pushed and shoved her. Xiao jumped over a straw sandal, and barely managed to survive a lady’s carriage procession. Next, she escaped the fatal fall of a toddler’s burnt sugar candy on her head. Xiao’s parents were simple folks, with kind hearts. They didn’t necessarily understand the depth of Xiao’s desire to learn; learn everything – from language to medicine, statistics to history. It wasn’t easy for her to convince them. Yes, there seemed to be millions of people out on the streets, it didn’t matter, because today she had to meet the monk! Xiao braced herself and continued onwards.

The Head monk sat in his study and looked at the unusual visitor who had come to his academy. Though the school had been long open, and to everyone; it was the first time a girl had come in to learn about ‘the power of words’. The girls usually came about to learn zither or embroidery. 

The determined girl, about the size of his thumb, calmly sipping tea was quite a surprise. The monk appreciated those who sought their own destiny. Xiao was special, and he gladly accepted her as his pupil.

Born with a natural curiosity about everything under the Sun, Xiao excelled in all her studies: mathematics, poetry and governance. It wasn’t easy of course. The brush everyone used to write and paint was too heavy for her. The more her colleagues pointed out that it wasn’t fit for her, the more she felt that herself. She decided to make a brush with her own hands, from a young bamboo shoot. Her learning and her calligraphy got better. However, the problem was the brush. Writing itself was not hard for her; there were just no brushes which she could call her own. Xiao decided to make her own brush, by hand. She adjusted all the gigantic letters to her size and mastered the strokes. She copied scriptures and interesting books from older texts in the academy and wrote them by hand, adapting her style to them. Her tiny calligraphy started getting famous in the night market of the capital. People appreciated the strong, yet flexible calligraphy style that she had mastered.  Notebooks and scrolls with her writing began circulating around. 

The eldest son of the minister and the fourth son of the renowned merchant couldn’t take this news lying down. A thumb sized girl tried to steal their glory? She needed to be taught a lesson. They tip-toed in to her study room, opened Xiao’s desk drawer and poured half a bucket of colored water on her written submissions and scrolls. Seeing the dregs of paper floating around, they snickered and were smug. Early next morning, when Xiao went to the study to collect her work and head to the bookstore of the night market, she saw the mess. Although she was prepared for all kinds of obstacles, this incessant bullying by her own classmates disheartened her. Weren’t they all supposed to support and care for each other? She couldn’t understand what she had done to warrant such treatment. Still, she continued to persist.

After three years of her education and all the hard work she put in, Xiao passed the Imperial examination, only one of the two to get selected from her academy. The head monk blessed her and said, “You had a destiny to fulfill Xiao and you have successfully done that. You can now chart your own course, child.”

Xiao knelt in front of her shifu and kowtowed three times with tears in her eyes. If not for the monk who cared about all students, irrespective of any divide, it would have been a long, winding road for Xiao in the capital. 

The top three scholars of the national examination were invited to the palace banquet by the emperor. Everyone at the banquet was excited to see this year’s top three students. Upon the entrance of the last scholar in the room, everyone quieted down, and in the middle of the huge hall stood Xiao, a thumb sized woman. How could a woman pass the imperial examination and such a tiny one at that? No one could believe their eyes, even the emperor strained his eyes to make sure he wasn’t mistaken. 

The Emperor was intrigued, and asked Xiao, “You are a woman; what made you give the Imperial examination?”

Xiao was standing in the middle of the banquet hall, head slightly bowed.

“Replying to Your Majesty, there are no rules against women appearing for the examination. Anyone who passes the exam is a national scholar.”

The Emperor continued, “But women have never held any court positions.”

Xiao stood before the piercing gaze of the Emperor and replied, “Just because there haven’t been any in the past doesn’t mean there can’t be any in the future, Your Majesty.”

The hall burst into muffled whispers – a woman in an official position? This was unprecedented. Suddenly, the hall’s quiet shattered with the hearty laughter of the Emperor, who thought that this girl was indeed courageous! 

Xiao stood her ground, among so many courtiers, and the Son of the Dragon eventually went on to become the Prime Minister of the Right. Her life is remembered in stories and in songs, which the people of the kingdom sung and narrated in classrooms, in theatres, on the streets, and even across the great land. This story of the thumb sized girl from the mountains and the first woman minister in His Majesty’s Court paved the way for more such stories of more such women who came after.



A Modern Folklore*

(*It is the thought behind the piece that’s modern here, written while remembering Ruth B. Ginsburg and Isher Judge Ahluwalia, stalwarts in their own fields and inspiration to women worldwide.)

Suyasha Singh spent her formative years in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, before moving to New Delhi. She is a graduate from Miranda House, Delhi University and is currently pursuing her Master’s from Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Fiction | ‘When Remnants Speak’ By Swapnil Mayank | Creative Writing Workshop

In coastal provinces, the way shocked windows gape at an impending tornado, I, too, was astounded when I discovered my long dead uncle’s casket of letters. They seemed to imperishably confab with my heavy sighs at their sight. It was the longest day of the year, in June; when the sun had nearly fried me in the city and I decided to go to my late grandmother’s house. It is difficult to essay the beauty of that place, the house was by the cotton fields on ebon soil. A rill that had parched to floury whiteness passed through it. The Dandeli woodwork provided the house’s exterior a look of rich, worn out embroidery – the art of which had joined in the frigidity of its decline. Couchant tussocks around the wood-engraved house lent to it an appearance of swollen graves of vassals. In their eternal midst, the lord seemed to be entombed in the shape of the house, coolly asleep. From the early days, I visited this ever-unpeopled house as a repose from the harshness of the school. Little did I know then, a day would arrive that would convert this house into a crypt of a sad past. 

I was discomfited at the discovery of the handsome billet-doux in a casket, prized by Akroor, my uncle, like honey to a bear. It lay wearing a dusty affair of cobwebs in the corner. Like me, he also loved to browse for his broken pieces, to arrange and mimic completeness. I wanted nothing of him to remain but this somehow escaped his descent. A gulf of thirty years lay between us, yet he never felt older to me. We were friends, however, there would still be an unsaid solemnity that governed our limited interaction. We talked like equals but I would speak less when he was sagacious. It was unendurable at times to hear him open up in manners reserved only for tragedians. Regardless, he never lost the capacity to enlighten me with his philosophies. 

Akroor’s name might not figure in the martyrology of famous lovers who ranged against Heavens and Fiends and odds to achieve union, but, to me, each time I remembered him, my heard distended. Not everybody was his devotee, as his melancholic musings would become too ponderous for others. While some were vexed by his depth and would pray for him to just be a mathematics professor;others, like Akroor’s mother, held no opinion regarding his musings. She personally treated it as a moment of apocalypse when Akroor’s heart bled with melancholia. For me all of this didn’t mean much until I got used to Akroor and what we as a family were: uncaring of others. He was only adding those fugitive hues of sadness that had escaped our alienation from one another. Or in other words, he was summoning the nakedness of reality before us. 

He wasn’t happy with the turns that his journey with Anita, his constant companion and lover, had taken. Akroor was suffering from clinical depression and arrhythmia when Anita waltzed into his life as a ‘blood brother’, as he would come to call her. She knew what he wanted. As a Ph.D scholar in Social Work, she was on a visit to the Hospital on behalf of her NGO. The same, where Akroor had been meeting his therapist. Anita got closer to him, because she wanted to study him, as a specimen. One of the reasons why they drew close was their undeniable mutual interest in poetry. Not knowing that he was a mere prop, Akroor was overtaken by Anita’s steady interest in him and had made several proposals which were all turned down, of course. Anita never gave fodder to  any form of union in their friendship. I remember when he cried in front of me for Anita, for the first time. His welled up eyes glinted like the dewy inside of a fresh coconut.

In December of 2004, there was a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that hit the coastal rim of the subcontinent and beyond. Anita was on a mission to Pondicherry, which was greatly affected by the tsunami. The death toll was steep, and oceanographers, aid workers, and missionaries across the globe stuttered to play a role. Anita had contracted pneumonia in a ward where children affected by high pyrexia were bedded. Her condition was stable in the beginning but worsened on 27th of December two days after the Christmas that was swallowed by raging waves. On the next morning, she didn’t wake up. Akroor received the word only later in the week and was astonished to silence by the news. Seven months of pain, and when he couldn’t take it anymore, he overdosed on his medicines and gulped phenol over it.          

Before her death, Anita had returned many of his letters to Akroor unanswered. It did not bother him initially because he deposited all the letters into a casket, perhaps, never to look back at them again. I discovered these letters in this dirt-caked casket. Here, I bring some of the fragments from his letters where he wrote of a spiteful raja who would lose his kingdom. Since many of his letters are missing, these parts are indecipherable to me now. Still, Akroor does write a gloss in each letter for Anita; to read the career of this raja.

“March 11th 2002 

Some parts of me refuse to believe that stargazers don’t really tell the truth. Our philosopher-king here erred in devotion to the gods and lo what he seeks; a tempestuous kingdom for himself: 

The Koyli Rajah – 2


What cinders we belong to

It’s hard to tell

What gods we wrong so,

I script on shell –  


“Oh oceans, you there!

 Choose me as thy heir

 To love thee, and guard thee,

 Offer me the sovereign chair

 That once was of Poseidon. 


 Cast me as your own 

 For mercy is thy throne

 And bounty your life-giving face

 To us, all this is sure known

 As is the starry arm of Orion.” 

April 04th 2002

The sloganeering has it: ‘On this carcass of mankind, monarchies are the deliberate praises of their own rot.’ I don’t quite grasp Anita, what is the hubbub all about. Our philosopher king is so confused, about whether or not he should log out of his kingship and join the hoi polloi. Read on: 

The Koyli Rajah – 11


‘Such then were my temples,

Where priesthood was on sale

Angry the gods got and spanked

My little face with a sturdy gale

That shoogled me altogether,

Toppled me from my throne.


Blackberrying boys broke laughter

At the state of my rout and cheered,

“To commons the power must descend

To cages the fuehrers must depend!”

April 10th 2002

Like a dove-destroying hawk, revolt had seized our retiring king and Anita, I trust that you are unrivalled in thought. The philosopher king doesn’t have your tact. Read and compare:

The Koyli Rajah – 12


My empire now is the size of a postage stamp

I beg somebody there to guide me by a lamp

To the cold earth newly hollowed for me 

Damp house, morose and free of glee!

Where I must hide and rest 

Until eternity plans my rise 

Until the diadem is again a prize 

Only for me, the elect, the best. 


April 14th 2002

Philosopher turned fuehrer, our nasty king, with all his tricks has dug his own pit. What a passenger to a Hell-bound journey! Observe his decline as you read.

The Koyli Rajah – 14 


Underworld is at my doorstep

Collect me and carry me anon;

You! infernal agents do prep

To seal my fate – bid me gone. 


Mark my chest with a grapeshot

Or set me next to a boulder;

Charge towards me like Lancelot;

Or some fierce condottiere, 

May rifle my head that thus begot

More evil inventions than tyranny, 

And deceptions worse than simony.


Axes and machetes rain over me 

As I parade in my own capital

Dogs woof while courtiers carp:

‘We sound shame on this bugle!’ 


“Fie and decay!

Clear you away! 

False king as you were,

Grizzly shall be this stir,

To oust thee and remove thee

From the dominion of our sight:

Citizens! rap on his faux might!”


“Tear his gums! brand those lips

That suckled on deceitful bloodline,

 Char his face and slash his hips!”

– A lot of pain, and all of it was mine. 


Gibbets and guillotines – 

Don’t make for a featherbed 

From Earth to North Star

No sprite could hurt my head

Come are the pitiless days now, 

That I am the aim of each arrow.

At this thought all senses stunned, 

Each vein thus, infirm in sorrow.     


April 17th 2002

The ring in your voice Anita is divine, it softens me towards the king and his good shall return. But what should welcome him back because he has lost all memory of his glorious past. Think you then, of your demesne, where I am in eternal submission! And, read to know the king’s fate as he surveys his present condition.

The Koyli Rajah 15


My eyes are now met by a stygian realm 

Where fondness lacks everywhere; 

Dun is the sky, horizon a gunmetal hem,

Sticky is the ground like a quagmire

Just so sad are all whether youth or sire.


A dale, I espy, out in that fenny yonder

Where sinners go at last one after another.

But I am inhibited as conscience strikes me,

With full force, Virtue engirdles my sanity,

On the vast regiment of rheumy sea,

God’s image shimmers again so fitly.


June 20th 2002 

In the demesne of your elfin powers, Anita, I am but a mere glaucous shadow hiding behind a rock to witness your allure. Dismount from this dove-driven car, cast this shape of the huntress away and resume your native sorcery.  Read on this truth and learn:

The Koyli Rajah – 20


Dirt is the fate of a life,

Which becomes the gospel of the meek 

Painful like the work of knife

Useful yet like quartered thighs of teak 

It is so the good man’s journey 

That rings in immortality of the beast – 

‘Firstly is to famish, thusly is the feast’. “ – Akroor

Akroor’s words shall never be complete nor his creations but so aren’t Sappho’s. In the dim reaches of antiquity all become hazy, awry, tottery and yet like a grandmother’s house stand lordly. 

Swapnil Mayank is a post-graduate in English Literature from Delhi University. He has been working on a project that he hopes to develop into a book soon, tentatively titled – A Pamphlet on Beauty. He is based out of Lucknow, India, currently; where he is preparing for the Civil Services Examinations. Swapnil looks forward to being a diplomat in the near future. His work is forthcoming in Tiny Seed.

Poetry | ‘Villanelle of Lies’ by Prakhar Sharma | Creative Writing Workshop

A feral mourner catches sight of his bliss,

With ardour he reaches out to it,

Aglow with lies it responds with a gentle kiss. 


Pleading justice yet the world judges amiss.

He arrives at the mountain, of regret,

A feral mourner catches sight of his bliss.


A wicked reality, it is.

A life of love, its warmth turned to threat,

Aglow with lies it responds with a gentle kiss


The mourner wishes to seek justice,

Adjourn this curse,

he frets.

A feral mourner catches sight of his bliss


Unknown amongst the known is mourner’s remiss.

His mourned son now rests easy, yet the mourner protests.

Aglow with lies it responds with a gentle kiss.


The tired mourner now lay and reminisces,

A faint whisper – the voice is unfit.

A feral mourner catches sight of his bliss,

Aglow with lies it responds with a gentle kiss.

Prakhar Sharma was born and brought up in India. He currently resides in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. His work has appeared in various anthologies and he is a certified co-author under Penbrew publishers; currently pursuing Mechanical Engineering from Vellore Institute of technology.

Poetry | ‘Epiphany’ & ‘Roll the pebble Sisyphus’ by S V Rao | Creative Writing Workshop


The car halted

raindrops on the windshield

Crystals necklaced

against  the ink of the sky.

he rolled the window down,

saw the cafe distant, bright,

Lights and decibels streaming through,

The laughter and gaiety too,

Faces; naked and unconcerned.


His breath choked afresh,

recollection dawning

of struggles to free

himself of the blue cocoon.

The mirror not just reflecting

his face, a maze of 

mask inflicted furrows,

But the etched memories of

the intubated, now

tragically lost.

He was drawn again to

the night’s untrammelled celebration

while his mind live-streamed 

the epiphany,

Both didn’t care,

one unknowingly 

beyond consciousness. 

The other wilfully so.

The car started.


I wonder at the thought, what

if ever, a meteor of revelation

Had streaked  through his imagination

The unravelling of the solution, overriding 

the fear of the Gods

The slow but enticing circling of a premise 

The unfreezing of the mind bringing

The thought of a lever, pressed against,

 All while they told him it’s destined

 Hey roll the pebble Sisyphus 

 Roll it

S V Rao is a postgraduate geologist from Mumbai University and a roving resident of the city. Freshly minted scribbler of merakian aspirations, with well-wishers alluding to his attempts more as a product of the Dunning-Kruger effect.