Fiction | ‘A Funeral of National Importance’ by Ciara Mandulee Mendis | Issue 42 (March, 2023)

A Funeral of National Importance

On the way back from the funeral of the Chief Incumbent of Bambalapitiya Maha Maya Viharaya, she asked the driver to stop at her favourite handloom saree shop. She ordered all the white sarees in the shop because she did not know which person of national importance might die in the coming month; she couldn’t possibly appear on national media in the same white saree over and over again.

Thankfully, a few weeks later, the Governor of the Capital Bank of Sri Lanka was killed by an accident and she was thrilled. As soon as she heard the news, she left all her files stacked up on the table and quickly got herself driven to his house because she really wanted to be there for his family in this time of need, giving instructions on organizing a funeral of national importance through her recent experience of being in a dozen State Funeral Committees.

A funeral was in the air and she felt the true funeral spirit. She showed them where the body should be placed and from which direction the people who would want to pay respect should come. Although at first the family wondered who she was, despite how responsible and relevant she looked, they later learned that this new Director General of Sri Lanka Rugatha Corporation (the official media for this event), only had their best interests at heart. She told them about the large number of Buddhist monks who would come to the house to pay respect to the body, pointing to the need of a large sofa with a white cloth laid over it. She saw that the photos and mirrors in the house were covered and the large wooden windows were open. She went to the son of the deceased and told him that there should be a table for all the awards his father had received because that was the highlight of a funeral. Then she stood in the middle of the living room and explained the roles she had played in other funerals of national importance. She made a sad but tired face when she said that although it was only March, this was the seventh important funeral she had to attend and see to, this year. However, it was difficult to run here and there in a Kandyan saree, and she was very tired in a few minutes. Though she almost slipped twice, once while helping a few men carry a cupboard, and once as she jumped up to see if someone tall could see the dust on the book shelf, she never really fell down and she was thankful. Since everyone was looking at her and up to her, it would have been such an embarrassment to fall down. She was sitting adjusting the headpiece of her saree when a servant came to her with a cup of tea. She looked up at everyone in the house looking at her, some with respect, some with wonder, some waiting for the next instruction and some waiting for her to just leave, and stood up.

“My driver needs tea as well, but you know what, let me take care of that” she said out loud. 

A second later, everyone was looking at the Director General walking to the kitchen, pouring half of her cup to another and coming back with two cups in hand. It was a small congested house in Colombo Seven with a very small living room. So everyone moved back and forth and gave her space to walk towards the driver, who was dazed, wondering if this is the same Director General who usually cannot even open the car door herself. 

After having tea, she went to the wife of the deceased. The wife, though grieving, was holding up quite well. She was discussing a possible Funeral Director with her daughter when the Director General came and sat close to her.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Alright,” the wife said with a forcefully drawn smile “so much to do, I’m trying not to miss anything.”

The Director General gave her a sympathetic smile and tilted her head to the left. Then she held the wife’s hand and said, “I know this is very very difficult for you, I understand this is the worst thing that can happen to a family, I mean it’s your husband who is dead! If it was you who is dead, it would have been kind of alright, but this is the father, the breadwinner, the backbone of the family!” she sighed. “And your children have lives of their own so you are the one who will feel this loss the most. You have to face life alone now. You will be lonely and sad, but, you have to be strong.” As she finished, the wife started bursting into tears which later turned into a ceaseless weep. Then the children hugged the mother and started crying. The Director General slowly walked towards the door with a satisfied face – her head, still tilted to the left. And as the driver drove her away from the funeral home, half of the people had joined the collective weep. Her work here was done.  

* * *

The next day, she wanted to wear a light coloured saree because she had to go to the funeral home after work. Since she expected to meet a lot of people from various walks of life, and she had her standards to maintain, she picked a rich-looking saree. No saree can look rich without a shining headpiece, she thought. So she wore the cream coloured one with a gold design in the headpiece. When she went to the funeral home, she took her crew with her. There, she pointed to the places which had be caught in the shoot – the award table, the certificate wall, the huge couch with a lot of Buddhist monks and the sofa with a few Cabinet Ministers. When the fall of her saree almost caught fire as she slinked out of the living room too close to the oil lamp by the body, she was startled. After that, she did not wander, but sat on the sofa next to the wife, nodding to everyone who entered through the main door. But she did not want to waste time just sitting there. So, she started guessing the prices of the sarees people at the funeral were wearing. She could not believe that the Chairman of The British Bank in Colombo chose to wear such a cheap saree to an event of national importance. She was sure it had nothing to do with money, she was the Chairman of a bank after all. And was it even a saree what that woman from that government thing which prepares the National Budget wearing? It looked more like a curtain from Yapahuwa period. Faded, rusted and almost torn. So stingy, she thought. Talk about National Budget.

On the way home, as she closed her eyes, she fell asleep within seconds. The car carefully drove her away from the traffic of Colombo. She dreamed that her saree was on fire. The pure white saree she was wearing was turning black; the blazing flames of the fire were crackling up the headpiece. As she touched her chest, she felt the saree jacket heating up and gradually turning brown. She was trying to put out the fire with pirith water from a little plastic bottle (which was one of the hundred thousand bottles chanted eighteen thousand times by the best monks in Colombo), but it only made the fiery flames that were roaring, come towards her face like a bat out of hell, shredding down smoldering irregular pieces of the hem one by one. In the air, soot had gathered into a cloud and had started singing. Then she saw a fireball dancer, a classic one from the Kandy perahera coming towards her, rhythmically swiveling a ring of fireballs to the melody of the soot cloud. She started to swing to the melody herself, but she suddenly saw that her feet were showing because the burnt pieces of the saree were falling to the ground. She almost had a fit; she could not show her bare feet to the world. Tensed, she looked around; the fireball dancer was getting closer. She saw a puddle in the middle of the road and quickly jumped into it. And her feet got stuck. Her heart was beating fast. The soot cloud was singing too loud and the fireball dancer was too close. She kept her hands on the ground and gained force to pull her feet, but her hands got glued to the lava on the ground. She could not breathe. The melody of the soot cloud was now deafening and it was burning. Suddenly, a crimson fireball came towards her face and she woke up. She was in Kadawatha. 

* * *

It was the day of the funeral. She came to the funeral home quite early in the morning. She had worn one of her new white sarees and everything; but not too high heels because she had a lot of walking to do. She was all ready to bid farewell to a man of national importance. First, she made calls to make sure the small small segments of the funeral were broadcast in her channel time to time. And when she discovered that they had done no special segment about the Governor, she demanded they immediately do a documentary about the service of this brave man who steered the economy of the country in the right direction. It was alright that they didn’t get the titles of some Reports he had written right, or, a few names of the Committees he had chaired, as long as they ran the feature before the funeral ceremony started. She also asked the designers to make a television banner just for him, with a few white frangipanis on the side and everything; and perhaps, play in the background Mala ira basina sande yaame, the classic song about death sung by Amaradeva. After all they were the official media for this event.

The State Funeral Committee had organized this prestigious event beautifully. She was proud she was a part of it. The body was brought from the funeral home to the cemetery in a procession of about thirty vehicles, under a canopy of sepalika flowers. There was a huge gok kola thorana at the entrance of the cemetery in the form of an arch. The either sides of the path that led from the thorana to the pavilion, were decorated with white gerberas, carnations and fern. The coffin was kept in the pavilion on a red carpet. Orchid petals were sprinkled on the coffin from time to time and the instrumental version of Mala ira basina sande yaame was played via loudspeakers. Drones were sent up to take shots of the bank-shaped funeral pyre. She could not expect anything less. A person of national importance was dead. 

She gave the signal to start the programme. As the best announcer of her channel came to the podium to begin, someone from the crowd started weeping aloud. It was a man. A middle aged man in a white shirt and a yellow sarong. 

“Aneeey Yasalalakathissa! Aiyoooo! Yasalalakathissa!” he wept in a shrill high-pitched voice, calling out the Governor’s name.

The Monks, the Politicians, the Government Officials, the Academics, the Bankers, the family, all looked around in panic. 

The weeping man slowly meandered towards the coffin and sat on the floor, sobbing. He never ever imagined the Governor would leave him this soon, he cried. Just as the wife and the children of the Governor were trying to get a better look at the man, another from the crowd started weeping aloud. This time it was a woman. Now who will tell her funny stories, the weeping woman asked from the coffin, wiping her snot off with her shoulders.

‘Did you hire these people?’ A member of the State Funeral Committee whispered to the Director General.

‘Hire?’ She was confused, ‘what?’.

‘Aren’t they hired mourners from Negombo?’ he whispered back to her. 

But the next second when the weeping woman said aloud how she would miss the way the Governor used English when scolding people at his workplace, the entire funeral crowd knew they were not hired mourners from Negombo. ‘Idiots…bloody idiots’ as the weeping woman imitated the Governor through tears, the staff of the Capital Bank of Sri Lanka looked at each other in bewilderment. They really did not know what to do. 

‘Yasalalakathissaaaa’ cried the weeping man again, emphasizing what a loss this is for the country. The Governor just knew so much, he said. Through his wail, when he said how the Governor asked them not to believe a word the media said about the pandemic, the Director General of Sri Lanka Rugatha Corporation was stupefied. In a millisecond she dashed towards her crew and made sure the event was not being broadcast live. She gave the signal to start the programme and asked the sound operators to amplify the sound of the compere’s microphone. She was sure that the nineteen to the dozen talk of her announcer would take care of this situation. In a few minutes, things were settled and she felt as if the monsoon season was over. From there onwards, the programme flowed with no interruption. During the ninth speech, she looked at the family. The wife was staring at the far away sky with swollen eyes. The daughter was looking down, clutching a handout about the service of the Governor distributed at the funeral. She ordered someone to give the family some Smak mixed fruit drinks. After all the fourteen speeches were given, the wife had to deliver the vote of thanks. She foresaw that the wife was not in a good condition to speak which is why she asked her announcer to deliver it for her. The wife started crying convulsively as the announcer started delivering the vote of thanks and she was proud she saw that coming. And when the Minister of Finance came towards the family with the Official Message of Condolence from the President, she saw that the family did not want to look at the cameras, but the event was then going live and this was expensive air time. 

A few minutes before the end of the programme, she hovered around the bank-shaped pyre once to make sure everything was alright. Since it had rained the previous night, the ground was a little muddy. She was thankful only one member of the State Funeral Committee was with her to see her slipping slightly and bumping her head against a wooden plank used to support the pyre. She pretended she didn’t even feel it but she literally saw half a dozen zodiacs in that clear bright sky. Once the programme eventually came to an end, when everyone was pushing everyone, trying to gather around the pyre, she made sure they did not get to the family. But in a second there was a barrier of men with cameras around the pyre. She looked calmly at the way a man in a white sarong came towards the family, twirling a stick with a fireball up and down. He then handed over the stick to Governor’s son. She watched the pyre being lit by the son. And in a few minutes, the entire pyre was in flames. Irregular white pieces of clothes were falling to the ground one by one. An important man was burning. A man. A father. Father. And she was twelve years again. The girl who helplessly watched her father burning. Unable to get even a little close. Burnt. Burnt by the State? He was brave, they said. That was the thought that always entered her mind every time she saw a burning pyre. Is being brave more important than being alive? He was a respectable man, they said. That was the thought which always followed the first one. Respect. She felt it was the most selfish word in the world. Is burning on the side of the road as respectable as a funeral of national importance? She did not know. 

It was hot, almost as if burning. And she could not stand the noise of the soot; it was louder than the loudspeakers. The State Funeral Committee had arranged a helicopter to shower chrysanthemum petals on the pyre over the flames. She looked up and then around. Amidst the heavy showers of white chrysanthemum petals, behind the flashes of the cameras, through the thick barrier of people speaking of the greatness of the respectable man who is dead, she saw his daughter, helplessly watching her father burning. Unable to get even a little close. Annoyed, she rushed towards the men with cameras. 

Ciara is currently reading for her MA in English Studies with a special focus on language and culture, and is employed as Assistant Director (Literature & Publications) at the Department of Cultural Affairs, Sri Lanka. Her debut short story collection ‘The Red Brick Wall’ (manuscript) is at the moment shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize 2020, the most coveted award given for Sri Lankan writing in English.

Poetry | ”Of Lipstick and Labels’ & 1 more poem by Anureet Watta | LGBTQ+ (Vol 1) – Issue 35

Of Lipstick and Labels

What they do not tell you,
when you finally kiss a girl is,
that it may not feel right the first time,
it may not feel right ever.
sometimes walking out of the closet
is like walking into a new one.
The labels you choose
after years of rummaging,
through leftovers
from past revolutions,
and all the sneers thrown at school,
the labels
might still not fit as perfectly,
as you thought they would,
but you’re allowed to get them wrong again
and again.
When this confusion becomes the most familiar part of my day,
I think
I’ve spent too long in the closet,
for all these ill-fitting sizes,
and too awkward shoulders,
by now,
I should’ve figured what to do with a black eye,
how to stitch torsos to fit like armour,
what do you mean all this lace and satin wasn’t meant for me?
When you kiss a girl,
you will still not know
what to do with your hands,
they’re too wobbly for this business,
the parts of her,
you thought you knew your way around
would still feel alien,
and unfamiliar,
like going back to where you once lived,
where everything is the same, but nothing really is;

but you’ve practised
for this unfamiliarity,
your hands on her stomach,
might make you hate yourself a little less,
for her soft belly, is just soft belly,
not disappointments measured out in tacos,
after all,
you might not crave the sharp edges,
you thought you always needed,
you wouldn’t have to fold yourself so small
to fit in little pockets of love
love is Marine Drive, huge, and salty,
but waiting,
and it doesn’t care what shape you are.

when you kiss a girl,
maybe all the flowers in all the poems will make sense,
maybe you’ll want to melt all the words,
that shuffle through your mind
as her face fits perfectly
between your chin and your shoulder
and melt them with the sweetest of lies,
and pour into the cracked edges of the world,
just so it heals.

what they do not tell you,
about kissing a girl is
even when you like it
is that your eyes will always stay open
on the lookout for fire,
but there might be lipstick
and hers might wear on yours
like a swatch
Make a colour you can’t name,
and when you get home
your mother might say
this shade
this shade makes you glow.

We Swallow the Sun to Keep from Stuttering

coming out

as a person, a gender, an orientation, a heartbeat,

was never a one-time thing,

but we keep longing for it to be,

maybe soon,

it will be our last time around.

You tell me,

what it’s like to dream,

a body for yourself,

heights and hair and hands and parts,

that match your heart,

you want to pick a name,

so much softer than all the things you’ve been through,

maybe one day,

these longings will just be the memoirs and reminder,

which come after new dawns.

You have never longed to be understood,

just acknowledged,

under kinder skies and with undoubtful eyes,

but until then,

I’m here,

and I’m not really a hug person,

but I think we can both use one,

it is hard to carry so much hurt,

in chests that have never quite felt like your own,

in hearts that have learnt to love,

in ways, they weren’t taught,

in hands that still have to prove

their actuality.


longings are soft,

but it’s the soft things that destroy us in the end,

that turn fights into revolutions,

it always hurts to become,

what you’ve intended to,

no one is looking,

blossoming is still blossoming;

we are, after all,

the truest reporters of ourselves,

no matter how many times we got it wrong before.

the moon does not have to ask,

before it changes,

the moon has never learnt to apologise,

when it shines greater than the sun.

Anureet Watta is a 19 year old poet from Delhi. She writes of queerness, girlhood and the overwhelming anguish of being alive. Performing across open mics in Delhi, she believes spoken word poetry is the perfect amalgamation of poetry and theatre.

Submissions open for

LGBTQ + Vol 2 (January, 2021)

Solicited entries paid.

The Bombay Review

Fiction | ‘Abdul’s Roses’ by Ayushi Aruna Agarwal | CreativeWritingW-TBR

Arjuna wiped off a speck of dirt from her brow. She was sitting in a public bus, on a rusted metal seat with no cushioning, as horns blared all around her. Behind her, a poorly dressed old man wearing a skullcap was staring down at his withered hands. She looked out of the window. 

There was much to cause her displeasure currently: Arjuna had recently quit her job as a journalist with Samachar Today, a regional news agency in Maharashtra. Her parents were insisting for her to get a ‘proper’ job. She had pursued her ‘passion’ for on-ground reporting long enough now. Although she had graduated with a degree in Mass Communications from one of the top universities in India, she had decided to take up a job with a meagre pay so that she could live by her ideal of ‘showing the truth to the world’. All the quotation marks were added by her parents, who felt that there were no buyers for truth. 

Arjuna spent two years, working on stories in the smaller towns of Maharashtra – the Dalit who was forced to do manual scavenging and who died in the process, the farmer suicides that were never registered as deaths in the first place, the small women’s collective which was struggling to get certification to sell kolhapuri chappals. Eventually, she realized that she was too full of grief, and her purse was too light. She figured that if she really did want to pursue a Masters degree abroad, she’d have to start saving up, which meant that she had to start looking for a job that paid better. 

Two weeks ago, she had reluctantly joined a small advertising company in Gurgaon. Although she could afford to travel in a cab once in a while, she had decided to continue her use of public transport, a choice she had made as a field reporter. The stench of public buses and the jostling of crowds didn’t unnerve like most people working corporate jobs in India. In fact, she had a certain affinity towards it. It was a life-link that constantly reminded her of the possibility of going back and retrieving the Arjuna that she had had to temporarily abandon. 

“Sector 45! Sector 45!” the conductor shouted, raising his chin so that his voice reached the end of the crowded bus. 

Arjuna and the old man wearing the skullcap got off. As she walked towards her society, she felt with a tinge of suspicion, that the old man was following her. He would keep sufficient distance but make all the same turns. When she entered the gate of her society, he entered too. 

Arre, Abdul, how is your grandson?” The watchman asked the old man. The two stopped and chatted for a few minutes. Arjuna slowed down to listen in, and realized that Abdul worked in the same society and was returning from Delhi. He wasn’t following her, after all. Yet, Arjuna found that this strange encounter piqued her curiosity about Abdul. Later that evening, she casually asked the watchman about Abdul on her way to the supermarket, who happily regaled her with Abdul’s story. 

Abdul was born in Old Delhi when India was still a British colony. He had a small business that sold shimmery borders to be stitched onto wedding lehengas. In the courtyard of his family house that stood opposite a mosque at the intersection of two obscure Chandni Chowk lanes, he had a small rose plant. He knew that if he didn’t sell beautiful borders, he’d be raising beautiful flowering plants. So at the age of forty when his business went under, and he was forced to sell his home to fund his son’s education, he got a job as a gardener. After having moved nearly fifteen times in the last thirty-five years, Abdul had come to be employed as a gardener in Arjuna’s society in Gurgaon.  

Winter was slowly melting into spring, and it was Arjuna’s favorite time of the year. As she entered the park for her morning walk the next day, she almost bumped into Abdul, who was exiting with a shovel in one hand and a rake in the other. He seemed to be holding them with a certain comfort, despite his frail figure. 

“Sorry madam, sorry. Sorry.” Abdul said meekly. 

“No no, don’t worry about it. I saw you in the same bus yesterday.” Arjuna said, trying to make him feel comfortable. 

“Yes. I’m sorry if it seemed that I was following you. But I had to come to the same place. I saw you looking behind your shoulder. I hope you didn’t get worried.” 

“Not at all.” Arjuna lied. 

“I didn’t even give you a salaam, madam,he said while staring at the ground with a furrowed brow, looking visibly worried. 

“No, don’t worry about it. Is everything okay, though?” 

Abdul looked up with a slightly startled face. 

“Abdul, is everything okay?” Arjuna repeated. 

Abdul hesitated before he said “My grandson will start going to school soon, and my son needs money. I don’t know what we will do…” and his voice trailed off. 

“Oh. I’m so sorry. I’m sure something will work out.” 

Arjuna felt embarrassed that she had urged Abdul to share his worries, and all she had done was offer a few vague words of consolation. As she walked in the garden, she couldn’t help but admire the beautiful roses and the love they had clearly been receiving. Abdul seemed like a kind fellow, and he was clearly doing his job very well. She decided to try and raise some funds for his family. 

Arjuna’s phone rang. It was Amit, her elder brother who had moved to California, six years ago for work. He had a slight accent,  a marker of his changing identity.  

“Hey, Arjuna. Call sometimes, no? How are you? How is the new job?”

“Yeah yeah. It’s alright. I miss reporting, so let’s see how long I can survive here.”

“What? You just joined and you’re thinking of leaving already? Listen, you need a well-paying job, in the private sector, which you finally have. Indian private sector is doing so well, thanks to our current government. You should see the kind of confidence Americans have in this government!” 

Arjuna sighed. “Of course, rich NRIs and white people in America love this government. The rising discrimination and communal violence in India since the current government came to power doesn’t affect them. Why trouble ourselves over laws designed to drive the minority out, or statements by leaders of the ruling part about putting Muslims in their place.

“Oh God, don’t start now!” Amit said, sounding fed-up already. “Anyway, call mom okay? Stop being such a loner, Arjuna.” And he hung up. 

Arjuna paid no heed. She loved her family, but she was tired of hearing the same things again and again. The job wasn’t so bad, but most people seemed to work like mechanized toys. They’d come in looking tired, smile only at lunch and start sneaking peeks at the boss’s door 6 pm onwards. As soon as the boss left, they’d trickle out hurriedly. At lunch the next day, when she knew her colleagues were more likely to be in a good mood, she announced to them that she was raising funds for her society’s aged and dedicated gardener, who wanted to send his grandson to school. She made a donation box with the sticker ‘For the gardener’s grandson’ and went from desk to desk, urging everyone to contribute some money. It was a clever strategy – no one could really say no, since she was asking for charity with the entire office watching and it was important to keep up appearances. 

When Arjuna came home and opened the box, she was ecstatic to see that she had collected almost four thousand rupees in an office of about eighty people. She decided to do this in her society as well. She went from house to house, giving a short narration of the gardener’s story, praising his work and then asking for a donation. By the time the sun set, she had collected over eight thousand rupees. She put in two thousand more as her contribution. Surely, ten thousand would be of help? 

She had spoken of the gardener so many times and with so much vigor that she felt personally invested in his cause, not unlike her field reporting days. The next morning, she went for her walk with the cash in her pocket. She saw Abdul sitting on his haunches and tending to a blooming rose plant. A coiled watering pipe lay at his side. 

Arre! Salaam Madam!” he greeted Arjuna, getting up on his feet. 

He was wearing grey pants, a shabby yellow shirt and torn socks with black slippers. Gesturing to his plant, Abdul said, “They grow up so fast, haina?

“Yes,” replied Arjuna, smiling warmly at his love for his plants. “I’ve got something for your grandson.” She took out the cash from her pocket and held it out for him. 

Abdul’s eyes widened and then his lower lip quivered, as he adjusted his skullcap. “What? No madam, no.”

“This is not from me,” said Arjuna. “The people in this society and in my office wanted to help you out. This is from all of us.” She held the cash further out and shook it, urging Abdul to take it from her. He remained quiet for a few seconds, then stretched out both his hands.

“Madamji, you are too kind. When he goes to school, I will ask his abba to take his picture and I will show that to you.” Abdul was finally smiling widely with his hands folded into a namaste around the cash. 

“That will be lovely,” beamed Arjuna. 

“I’m going to go to Delhi and give him the money this weekend itself.” It looked like Abdul’s face was no longer in the shadow of a huge dark cloud. 

“Oh, I’m going to Delhi for work this weekend too! I will be getting a company cab. You can come along. Where does your son live?” 

“He has a repair shop in Faisalnagar, he lives there. But, no madam, no. Please, you have done enough.” 

Arjuna tried her hardest to persuade him, but Abdul wouldn’t budge. Over the course of the week, they crossed paths in the garden every morning, and Abdul would flash his wide smile at Arjuna. 


When the weekend arrived, Arjuna pictured Abdul sitting in a bus, then in the Delhi metro, and then in a bus again, going home with peace in his heart. As her cab crossed the Haryana-Delhi border and inched closer to the capital city’s beating heart, she felt both familiarity and discomfort. It seemed to her that she knew the city as a tier-two friend: they had never become close enough for her to fully understand what upset her and what soothed her heart. She would often find herself lost trying to decipher Delhi’s personality, with her newly constructed flyovers lined with rickshawalahs and thelawalahs next to shiny BMWs, and posh malls that pushed the erstwhile small shops into forgotten corners. Power lay littered all across Delhi, snaking its way through the run-down monuments of the old Sultanates and the refurbished MPs’ bungalows until it emerged in its most resplendent form at the Parliament perched next to Rashtrapati Bhavan across from India Gate. 

The city had seen its fair share of contention; not just through political elections but also through assassinations, attacks, and riots. Arjuna had heard of what had happened in 1984 in the city, and her generation inherited its memories as an event that wouldn’t repeat itself. Her generation was to be wrong about many things, including this. Earlier that week, a senior leader from the party in power had peddled a blood-boiling slogan that several members of the far right Hindu faction received as a war cry. It had been Sikhs once, and it was to be Muslims in today’s Delhi. At first, there wasn’t even a murmur, and suddenly, that weekend, news broke out about attacks on mosques, merciless beatings on the streets and shootings. Twitter was flooded with carefully scripted lies and screaming truths from both the oppressors and the victims, and most people didn’t know who and what to believe. Perhaps that is the first element of a riot: to leave such confusion in its wake that it becomes impossible to trace its origin, such that even the inciters are able to argue with confidence that they were targeted first. 

Although Arjuna was geographically far from the hotspot of the violence, she could still feel the tension and heat as it radiated outwards into all the indifferent nooks of Delhi. The pictures she saw online were gut-wrenching. There was rising discomfort in her heart, and as she scrolled through Twitter, she realised that she was subconsciously trying to figure out the exact areas of Delhi in which the violence was unfolding. She kept scrolling when she suddenly found words that made her stop. Her throat went dry as she read, ‘Rampant and unchecked violence breaks out in Muslim dominated areas of Chand Bagh and Faisalnagar’

Arjuna had never asked for Abdul’s number. She called her society’s maintenance office and asked them if they had the old gardener’s number. When she rang the number, no one picked up. She started pacing nervously in her hotel room. Did she have any journalist friends she could call and get updates from? Arjuna rang up an ex-colleague who was now working in one of the big media houses here. He picked up after just one ring, as if he was eagerly awaiting a call. 

“Ravi? Arjuna here. We used to be colleagues…”

“Oh! Arjuna. I thought the call was from one of our field reporters. I’m sorry I’ll have to cut short at the moment. The situation is very tense, and I have to remain available to receive the updates. There’s no police at the site, and it’s a rampage… I can’t believe it is happening in our capital city!”  Ravi cut the call immediately. 

Arjuna was unable to fall asleep that night. What if she had given him the money next week and he hadn’t come home right now? But then, what about his family—his son, his grandson? Did he have a wife? Did she accompany him to Delhi too? She had never asked him any more than what he volunteered himself.  

She kept looking up the news continuously, hoping for some kind of affirmation. When she returned to her society two days later, she went to the watchman first, who had seemed to be Abdul’s friend. He told her that he too was wondering why Abdul wasn’t back yet, and promised to let her know if he found out anything. She continued to call his phone number and entered the park with nervous anticipation every morning, only to find the shovel, the rake and the watering pipe lying neglected in one corner. 


Abdul returned a week later, looking like he had aged a decade in a few days. Arjuna spotted him in the garden from her balcony and ran downstairs. His back was bent, his hands shook involuntarily and he walked like his knees would give way any moment. He wasn’t wearing his skullcap today. 

“Abdul! Abdul you’re fine! Your family?” Arjuna asked. 

“They are good, they are alive. I hid under a blanket with my grandson, and my daughter-in-law locked the door. But my son was already outside when they came. They beat him until they thought he was probably dead. He has broken bones, but he is alive. He is breathing…”

Arjuna didn’t know what to say. She knew from experience that silence was often enough, because no words could offer any respite from such trauma. 

“I had to come back to work. My son’s shop is completely destroyed, my house is destroyed, our neighbourhood is destroyed. My son has started receiving treatment with the money you gave me. I guess there will be no school for my grandson this year. I’m sorry madam.”

Arjuna shook her head, trying to convey that he owed no apologies to her. She was numb with all this information, but she could feel the onset of a wave of grief building somewhere inside her. It was in the news that the death toll was ‘not significant’. 

“But we are alive, that is what matters, no madam? I have no hatred towards anyone. If there are people like them, there are also people like you, no madam?” Abdul said, crouching down with some effort on his haunches, and gently stroking his rose plant. “No one can stop these roses from blooming, if only we decide to give them our love.”


  • Abba – Father 
  • Arre – An exclamation
  • Haan – Yes/an exclamation 
  • Haina – Yes/an exclamation
  • Ji – Signifying respect  
  • Lehengas – Traditional wear consisting of a blouse, a skirt and a long drape
  • Namaste – Greeting/salutation 
  • Salaam – Greeting/salutation
  • Rickshawalahs – The pullers of three-wheeled passenger carts 
  • Thelawalahs – Very small and temporary open shacks selling fruits/vegetables or other food items

Ayushi Aruna, known officially as ‘Ayushi Agarwal’ is a lawyer and human rights law academic, who studied at the University of Oxford and National Law School, Bangalore. She currently teaches at Jindal Global Law School. In her legal writings, she focuses on women’s issues and has published articles and blogs in The Hindu, The Wire, Oxford Human Rights Hub, among others. Now in her mid-twenties, she has finally embraced her love for writing, although she has been dabbling in poetry from a young age. She has adopted the middle name ‘Aruna’ after her late maternal grandmother, who she never got the chance to meet, but who had her own creative ways. This is her first attempt at a short story, and it weaves her reflections on the social issues of the day with her understanding of human fragility. Ayushi tweets at @ayushi_aruna; and puts up her poetry drafts on her instagram blog (@ayushiaruna_).

A The Bombay Review Creative Writing Workshop story.
August, 2020

Short Fiction | ‘A Long Journey Home’ by Teevranshu Vashishtha | Student Writing

Raman and Prakash were sitting on the side of NH30 brooding over the setting sun. They had left Lucknow with a meagre ₹1000 each. The last full meal they had had was three days ago when they were leaving the city. They had been surviving on biscuits and water since. Raman was a native of the village of Umarpur in Amroha. He had been working in a construction site in Lucknow for the past few months alongside his cousin from his village, Prakash. On the morning of March 25, the two came to know of the nationwide lockdown due to the spread of the novel COVID-19. They both hurried to the bus station hoping to catch a bus home, but all transport services were already suspended. So, they both decided to embark on their journey home on foot. They were anxious to reach their homes for it had been 6 months since Raman last saw his 1-year-old daughter, Neha and Prakash his 3 years old son, Raju. Raman and Prakash had been walking for the past 12 hours, without any food. That night, they fell asleep on the roadside, the tormenting hunger lulling them. The journey was a laborious one and they still had a long way to go but were adamant and went arduously forward. The next morning, their prayers were answered for they found an open eatery. They had a hearty meal and bought some takeaways for the journey before carrying on. That night they reached a small settlement after a long and exhausting journey and took shelter under a tree on the roadside.

On that ominous night of the 28th, Prakash suddenly felt an acute pain in his chest. Raman was awakened from his slumber by the painful cries of his brother. Prakash had a known history of hypertension and Raman feared that it was a stroke. They were on the highway near the city of Bareilly that night. They couldn’t call for an ambulance because they had both sold their mobile phones before the journey in exchange for some extra cash to send home. The nearest settlement was 2 kilometres away. “I’m going to go get help Prakash,” said Raman, frightened yet sturdy. Raman rushed to the nearest house in sight and upon reaching there, rapped on the door of the house like a madman. A sexagenarian man answered the door. “Sahabji, my brother is in danger, he has had a stroke. Can you please help us Sahabji!” The man who answered the door with a stoic look on his face was Suresh. Suresh Sharma was a retired cardiologist from one of the most prominent hospitals in Delhi. Mr Sharma spent his childhood in the city of Bareilly and after the completion of his service, had decided to spend the rest of his days in his native city and bought a quaint little house on its periphery where he lived with his wife Radha and their cute little beagle, Mojo.

Fate had brought Raman to Suresh’s house for he was to be their saviour. 

“Who are you? Where do you come from?” asked Suresh with a vigilant look.   

“I am a construction worker in Lucknow. I am travelling with my brother towards our home in Amroha,” replied Raman with a broken voice.

Suresh took a moment and thought about whether he was telling the truth. He had heard stories of robbers who played out the same scenarios to rob people. Suresh took a good look at the man standing at his door and convinced himself of the veracity of the man.

“Where is your brother? What happened to him? What is his condition?” asked Suresh with the air of urgency you find in a doctor. 

“He is down the road 2 kilometres from here. He was fine when we went to sleep tonight but suddenly in the middle of the night he complained of having chest pains.”

Mr Sharma thought for an instant and then went inside his house. He returned with the keys of his car.

“I am a heart surgeon, let’s go and bring your brother back here.”

In an instant, both Raman and Suresh were on the road fleeing towards Prakash. It had been 20 minutes since Raman was gone and Prakash was unconscious when they reached him. When Prakash woke up the next morning in the house of Suresh, he saw his brother by his side with his sleep-deprived eyes full of tears of joy.

“Where are we Raman?” asked Prakash.

“We are in the house of this Sahabji who has saved your life,” said Prakash pointing towards Suresh. 

Suresh had indeed saved his life, for the stroke that Prakash had was a life-threatening one and needed the care of a brilliant doctor.

“You are going to be perfectly fine my friend,” said Suresh to his patient. “For how many days have you two been walking?” asked the doctor with a curious look at Raman.       

“We have been walking for 3 days straight, Sahabji,” came the doleful reply. Raman told Suresh all about their heart-wrenching journey of the past few days. Suresh’s heart commiserated with the two of them. 

“We are finally here,” said Raman full of mirth after stepping out of the car. They were parked near the Banyan tree underneath which the two brothers had spent their childhood playing. Their toilsome journey was finally at its end. Who would have thought that only 3 days ago, one of them was in a life and death situation?  “I hope you both are happy now,” said Mr Sharma coming out of the driver’s seat of the ambulance. Only 4 hours ago they were in a hospital in Bareilly, lamenting their misfortunes. The sagacious doctor had pulled a rabbit out of the hat to make their dream of reaching home come true.

The doctor had sworn to personally make sure that the two brothers reached their destination. He had planned a meticulous plan to carry out his intentions. 

“There are no adequate facilities here. I need to take him to Meerut for better treatment,” said the doctor intensely to his acquaintance.

“But he is perfectly fine Mr. Sharma,” said a doctor in his early thirties. 

“No, he is not. He is my patient and I want to make sure he gets the best treatment.”

“You stopped seeing patients a long time ago, Mr. Sharma. Why the sudden zeal for this one?” asked Dr Aggarwal with a cunning smile. “From the looks of him and the man he is with, he doesn’t strike me as the type of a person who can afford your treatment, Dr Sharma.”

This was factually true–Suresh was renowned to be one of the best and costliest heart surgeons in the country.

“He is my old childhood friend,” replied Suresh with a voice full of affection.

“Very well Dr Sharma, but you are going to have to acquire a written letter of transit from the DM.”

Suresh had forgotten that this document was almost impossible to obtain in such times of crisis.

“Yes, I have it with me, Vinod,” said Suresh with a little fear in his heart.

“Ok then, I will provide you with the referral certificate in 10 minutes.”

When Suresh reached the room of his patient, he told Raman all about his plan. Raman fell to the feet of the Doctor crying and weeping, saying that he was an angel of God sent to their aid.

“Yes, Radha I’m going to take him personally to the hospital in Meerut,” said Suresh lying to his wife on the phone.

“All the commuting in the country is at a full stop. How do you propose to take him there?” questioned the anxious Mrs Sharma on the other side.

“I have all the required documents for the journey. I am going to leave with him early in the morning,” he replied.

“I know there is no point in convincing you to not do this but please think about it again. The deadly virus is spreading at an alarming rate. Think about that too.”

“I know all about that Radha but they both need me too. I am fully prepared, don’t you worry, take care of yourself, I’ve got to go now!”

“Just be careful and be safe, goodbye!” replied the anxious wife.

The doctor ended the call and went to prepare for the journey. At the dawn of the first day of April, an ambulance was seen on the roads of Bareilly speeding towards Rampur.

“I am taking this man to a hospital in Meerut officer,” said a man dressed in a white dress sitting at the driver’s seat of the ambulance to the police officer at the checkpoint for leaving Rampur.

“For what reasons?” asked the officer.

“To be admitted there, he is going to have surgery there.”

“Where is this doctor Suresh Sharma whose name is written here?” asked the police officer looking carefully at the referring certificate signed by Dr Vinod.

“Here I am,” came a voice from the back of the vehicle. A man dressed in a doctor’s robe stepped out from the back of the vehicle.

“Hello, officer my name is Suresh Sharma, I am the doctor of this patient,” replied the man with an air of haughtiness.

“Hello, Doctor I am SI Sandeep Pal, the officer in charge of this checkpoint. So, you are taking this patient of yours for surgery in Meerut?”

“Indeed, I am, Officer.”

“What kind of surgery is he going to have?”

“He is going to have coronary artery bypass surgery.”

The reply was made so astutely that it put even Suresh in a dilemma whether the man portraying him was a doctor in real life or had he lied to him in the first place. Suresh had decided not to take any risks and took matters in his own hands, he became the driver of the ambulance so as not to leave anything to fate. He had made Raman an acquaintance in his plan and made him portray himself as the doctor and even taught him a few scientific notions related to cardiology to be used in a state of emergency so no questions would be raised to his veracity as a doctor and no objections at the presence of another person being in the ambulance apart from the patient as it was opposed to the law.

“Doctor, do have you the requisite papers for the transit of this patient to the hospital in Meerut?”

“I have them with me, Officer. Would you like to see them?” came the confident reply.

“No, I believe you, you are good to go, Doctor,” replied the officer after a moment of deliberation.

“Ok then, Driver let’s go,” said Raman suppressing a big smile on his face.   

Suresh said a little prayer under his breath and after closing the door of the ambulance, drove the vehicle towards its destination.

“Phew! that was a close one, you did a good job back there, ‘Doctor’,” said the ‘Driver’ with a cunning smile.

“Thank you, Sahabji,” replied the man wiping the few drops of sweat from his temple. Fortunately, it was the only time they were questioned throughout the journey.  

 It was at 10 in the morning when the ambulance reached the village of the two brothers. The plan of the doctor had worked miraculously, the brothers were finally at the end of their journey.

“You are going to have to take good care of Prakash for the coming days, Raman,” said the doctor to the man who was standing under the tree crying of joy. Raman took Prakash’s stretcher out of the ambulance and brought it under the shade of the tree and woke him up.

“Do you know where we are now Prakash?” 

“Am I hallucinating or are we really under the old banyan tree?”

“You tell me, Prakash.”

“It is the old banyan tree Raman. Are we home Raman?”

“Yes, yes, we are finally home, Prakash.”

“But how did this happen? When did you do this?” asked Prakash with a bewildered look.

“I didn’t do this, it was Sahabji who brought us both here,” said Raman pointing towards the doctor. He told his brother the full story of how the doctor had carried out a dangerous plan and brought them home.

“You must be God! You must be the almighty Sahabji!” said Prakash with his eyes full of tears.

“No, I am just a man who carried out the will of God,” said Suresh holding the hands of his patient. The doctor then helped Raman in taking all their luggage towards their home.

“Baba!” came a sound from Raman’s little cottage. It was Neha who upon seeing her father return home, let out a cry of joy. Raman took his little angel in his arms and held her tightly.

“I am here my child,” said Raman as tears rolled down his cheeks.

The wait was finally over, they were finally at the end of a harrowing journey. The doctor helped Raman in taking Prakash to his home. Raju was happy that his father was home with him. The doctor gave all the requisite medicine to Prakash’s family and informed Raman that Prakash would be fine in a week or two. The doctor then took his leave and went towards the ambulance. Just when he was about to leave, he heard someone calling his name.  

“Doctor Uncle! Doctor Uncle!” It was the sound of little Neha and Raju who had come to give the stranger a gift. It was a little clay statue of Goddess Lakshmi, the God of good luck. They wanted to give it to the man who had brought good luck to their family. Suresh accepted their pious little gift and went on. When Suresh said his last goodbye and left for his home, a few tears rolled down the cheeks of the man who was known to be emotionless.

Teevranshu Vashishtha is an 18-year-old student. He is a graduate of St. John’s Senior Secondary School, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. He is a dilettante writer who mostly pens short fiction and poems. His favourite writer is Ernest Hemingway.

Poetry | ‘Hope’, ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ by Deekshita Rajesh Athreya | School Student Writing


A shadow of darkness fills my gaze,
As the nightly air patrols around
The once lovely countryside all in a haze,
So deathly a silence, my heartbeats resound.

The moon appears to heal my wounded soul,
Emerging as a ray of hope through a gaping hole,
Sending a subtle hint straight into my heart,
If darkness comes, light is not far apart.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

A fruitless day spent idling on the couch,
was made endearing by a cuckoo’s call on the porch.
A single note that rang out, pure and clear,
Enchantingly beckoning its near and dear.

Come on comrades! Let us rejoice,
Sans pollution, nature has regained her poise,
For, the heartless humans are still behind bars,
Just this once, we can truly see the stars.

A single voice with so much hope,
Of expressing it, no music has scope,
All the guilt the humans are stalling,
Has been brought forth by the Cuckoo’s calling.

Deekshita Rajesh Athreya is a 15 year old student at Udgam School For Children, Ahmedabad. She has a passion for the English language and enjoys reading. Her favourite authors are J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan. She loves Robert Frost’s poetry.

Poetry | ‘Glass Grows’ & Other Poems by U. Sai Sruti | School Student Writing

Glass Grows

we live in a glass world
glass dolls and glass minds
growing out of glass jungles
glass bodies cracking and green
this glass shatters in this glowing stream
of green blood and green hearts
bleeding blackening grease
green governments eyeing the glass green
and piercing glass into these bodies
that spew their spleen of earth-shattering green
glass breaking, burning, brewing
glass minds that grow glass ideas
and pierce shards into these green goats
glass ministers take glass decisions
as the glass pushes through the
cracking earth sprouting out
of these concrete jungles
into the glass tongues of these
glass people silencing these glass voices
you are glass, and I am glass too
living in a world that is growing glass roots

lies my mother told me

mama said she saw the purple flowers decorating my back
she also saw pomegranate blood dripping from my thighs
she says that daddy loves me a lot
but mama why does it hurt so much
when he runs his hands along the whip
and paints my back with flowers
mama is wrong
this cannot be love
mama lied to me
and i only realized that when
i saw mama’s back littered with wild petunias

How to Get a New Heart

the thud of my footsteps
reverberates with the sound 
of my heart leaping 
out of my body
and falling onto the middle of
the road
I watch as it
vibrates with so much intensity
and finally comes to a stop
there is a cavity
in my chest now
where my heart once was
I look at it in desperation
waiting for it to
show me something
give me a sign
I try to pick it up
and put it back
where it’s supposed to be
“you are not supposed to be here,
go back inside”
and suddenly
a car runs over my heart
as I watch in horror
my poor crushed heart
now has blood leaking
from every cut
blood splattered on the streets
how do you feel safe
when the ones protecting you
are the ones inflicting this pain
tell me
teach me
how do I feel alive again
how do I feel alive again
how do I feel alive again
ink marks on my fingertips spread
as I keep writing
painting these pages
with my heartbreak and sorrow
one day I will scream these poems
and you will listen
someday, I will find
a new heart
waiting to beat
full of life
I will feel alive again
or so I tell myself

When the Reality Sets In

when the reality sets in
his buoyant veneer cracks
as the truth 
slowly crawls its way to him through his façade
cracking it little by little
as he clutches his little sister’s lifeless body in his hands
the soulless body (he is not used to saying corpse, please don’t say it)
staring into his being with beguiling chasms (please wake up, I love you so much it hurts)
his mother stands there and screams
as the reality is slowly hammering itself
into his brain (I am so sorry I couldn’t protect you, please forgive me)
screams lacerate his throat
he spills honey words into her ear
waiting for his love to manifest itself
in the form of a miracle
he wants a miracle to bring long-gone sister back home
as he shakes violently
hugging her close to his chest (can’t you see that I’m hurting? please come back)
the universe gyrated the day Esteban’s sister
put herself to sleep
fifteen years later, eidolons haunt Esteban as he sits on the kitchen stool. “Eat up Julia, we don’t want to be late for school now, do we?” he says, turning his head towards the empty kitchen stool next to him.

An Ode to My Past Self

this is an ode to my younger self
and to my present self
and to my future self
sunshine and candies sound marvellous
but that is not what
it will be like
tick, tick, tick
you see, time will not stop for you
and there will be days
where your voice will slither
and hide in a hidden curve
of a hidden place
in your intestine
where it will stay there
till what feels like eternity
and sometimes not
and your tongue will swallow
all the venom coated lies you tell yourself
that sometimes drip of honey
lies that will break your home
lies that will break you
lies that will forever remain lies
truth will stare you down
it will make you queasy
jittery uncomfortable
your neck will itch and your insides will twist
twist into a knot
the kind that takes patience to undo
and that day your mouth will run dry
your fingers cold
your body will be on fire
you will think of sacrificing yourself
and succumbing to the
but that day
stare your fears down
stare the doubt down until
you burn holes in its head and it stumbles
backing away from
the truth looming over you
find that voice
and tell yourself that you will be alright
that you will do this again
and again
and again
and again
till the truth seeps through the crevasses of your mind
and stays there
maybe it will never stay
but tell yourself
that you will fight this fight
till you feel alright again

Dark Girl’s Magic

Some days I wake up
Brush my teeth with anxiety
And braid my hair with pain
There are days I chafe at my dark skin
As insults burn holes in my heart as I walk in
The school corridors
A sense of alienation hammering into me
I carry anguish on my shoulders
I feel like my soul is being crushed by boulders
Boulders of my thoughts and your words
Standing in front of the mirror I scratch my skin
As the sin of me being dark-skinned weighs me down
You pointed at me and laughed
As I stood there staring at the ground
Waiting for the earth to split open and swallow me whole

Aunty tells me that I am pretty for a dark-skinned girl
That I have nice hair and that almost compensates for the colour of my skin
No, I don’t want your almost compliments
I suddenly forget how to breathe as it slowly dawns on me
That dark is an atrocity
I am almost convinced that the universe
Is making me pay for all my sins
My world gyrated the day I told myself
I can never be enough, not in this skin

One day I thought I finally found
A solution to my
White semi-liquid substance encapsulated in a bottle
My hopes and dreams died
As I frantically slapped it on my face
And rubbed it in until my skin was sore
I screamed
I screamed in rage
As I looked at the bottled in duplicity

You see melanin is only pretty
When it comes in tiny amounts
That day the oceans collided
and my cries were futile
But thank the Gods it didn’t work
My skin is not a painting open to your criticisms
I am not a doll sitting by the window waiting
to be admired by strangers
you see, I was taught that dark skin didn’t deserve to be loved
that I could never love myself
I blame the unrealistic beauty standards set
For young girls and boys
The perfect hourglass figure
The toned muscles
The plump lips
The doe-eyes
And the fair skin
And of course, just the right amount of curves
Stop this

We are going to claim our identities back
We are going to truly find peace in ourselves
So to all those who scratch their skin
And try to bleach it
I say don’t
Stand up for yourself and don’t you drown in dismay
For dark is magic
Dark is beautiful
Dark is elegant
Dark is powerful
Dark is the pupil which sees the world
Stars etched into the crevasses of your mind
And embedded in your arteries
You are made of stardust
My love, you were born from a magnificent supernova
Your skin is as wonderful as the limitless dark depth of the universe
Gold spills from your mouth
There is so much more to you than just your skin
And don’t you cry, o’ moonchild
You have magic running through your veins
Feeling beautiful is loving your thoughts
your mind and your soul
listen not to those
who tell you that you aren’t enough
for you are a child of the dark cosmos
you are more than enough

U. Sai Sruti is a student in her final year of high school at Tagore International School, New Delhi, India. Her writing has been recognised at several forums, most notably Katha Utsav, a national event where she was awarded the grand prize. Rudy Francisco, Nikita Gill and Porsha Olayiwola are her favourite poets.

Short Fiction | ‘The Change I Want to See in the World’ by Anshika Kodukula | School Student Writing

“Congratulations! It’s a boy, Mr Rohit!” The doctor conveyed the good news to my Dad. That tall man looked quite like Iron Man with curly hair, a long nose and arched brows that seemed to make a rainbow. His delicate peach lips formed into a wide grin as I stopped crying upon seeing him. He slowly put me in my cradle when a stout two-year-old girl with a plump face appeared in front of my half-opened eyes. Her bulbous nose was grotesque compared to her beady eyes, soft lips, knitted eyebrows and fringed hair. She saw me and left. I missed that face as I lay awake for the next few hours.

At the age of two, my parents made the biggest decision of my life–enrolling me in school.

“Roshni, I think DPS is the right choice for Aadarsh. What do you think?” my Dad asked.

“That’s okay, but what about Aadhyaa? You can’t afford to send them both to such an expensive school,” Mom answered.

“Aadhyaa, do you like this school?”

“Yes Dad, of course! There is no other school like DPS in the city. I just love it!” my innocent sister answered.

“Oh, that’s really nice, Aadhu. I have a surprise for you! You’re going to join a new school, okay?”

“Really, Dad?” her voice choked. She stopped the tears from rolling down her cheek.

“Aadhi, you’ll be going to DPS from now! Are you so excited?” Dad asked.

“I can’t wait!” I said. Smiling hesitantly, I turned towards my sister. I’m sure she wasn’t pleased with what our Dad had done. She immediately went into her bedroom and closed the door. It was dark as I stepped into the room. She was lying on the bed, her tears flowing freely. As I switched on the lamp, she immediately wiped them away and said, “Hey Aadhi, nothing happened. It’s just dust. You’re happy right!” 

I asked, “Why are you crying? Shall I tell Dad you want to study at DPS?” She hugged me tight in response, barely leaving any space for even air to enter.


I know I was not good at academics and that Aadhya was the real gem. I told my Dad that one day but he simple defended me, stating: “If your sister can do something, so can you!” I hated the way they always put me on a pedestal and neglected Aadhya when she was the one with far more potential. 


“Aadhee, Aadhee! You sleeping donkey. Get up Aadhi!” She kicked me off the bed for reasons that elude me.

When I threatened to call Mom, she put her hand over my mouth and whispered, “movie” into my ear. I immediately knew what she was getting at and started grinning like the Cheshire Cat. We bunked school and headed straight to the cinema to catch the latest Marvel movie, still clad in our school uniforms, our heads hanging low in fear of being recognised. We got away with it that day and for the next six years until she graduated, it became our ritual. Aadhya was always better at sneaking around than me. She came up with the most believable lies on the spot and our parents never doubted her stories.

In the coming years, we made a lifetime of memories together; from staying up all night on the balcony and climbing trees to find the best mangoes to planting saplings and competing in cricket, Aadhya was my best friend.

She was also extremely popular in the neighbourhood. She wasn’t recognised as “Mr Rohit’s daughter”, rather he was recognised as “Aadhya’s father”. Her kind nature had won her a place in everyone’s heart—she was always ready to lend a helping hand. The children adored her for her playfulness and she would always patiently clarify any doubts they had from school. She was my role model in every sense.


“Aadhi, come on we have to go grocery shopping. Mom’s orders. You’re not getting out of this one,” she called out to me.

“Okay fine, let’s go. But I’m getting myself a Cadbury.”

As I trailed behind her towards the supermarket, I noticed that she’d taken an unusual turn. She never makes mistakes like these so I was sure that she had a trick up her sleeve.

“Aadhu, a surprise for me?” I asked curiously.

She just smiled in return, a twinkle in her eyes.

Soon we arrived at our destination: the local hospital. I learned it was to donate our blood. I was a little nervous at first and found myself slowly backing towards the door, but Aadhya assured me that it would be fine and I began to grow confident.

On our journey back home, we met with a small accident. Unfortunately, my sister was badly injured–her right hand was scratched up and bleeding. She covered it up with a cotton scarf so as not to attract our parents’ attention and lied, saying that all shops were closed.


Her grade 10 exams started in three days. Despite her injured hand, she was sure to do the best among her peers. I was enjoying myself in grade 7. Not putting in any effort, kicking back and relaxing as my sister spent sleepless nights with her nose buried in her textbooks.

Weeks later, she finally received her grades and they were just as good as I had predicted.

“Papa! I topped my class,” Aadhya screamed.

“Oh, congratulations, Aadhyaa,” he said without looking up from his newspaper.

It was a proud moment for us all. Being the daughter of a middle-class family, it was no easy feat to top such a competitive examination. She was working hard towards improving our parents’ future but they didn’t even bat an eyelash.

My academic performance, on the other hand, was in the gutter. All the money they had invested in me was down the drain. Yet, I was the one to be enrolled in an international college while my sister at a local one.

Though they continued to ill-treating her time and time again and gave me their utmost importance, she never treated me with any viciousness or jealousy. Whenever we went to a temple, she wished for the wellbeing of my parents and I, never once thinking about herself.

One day, in a fit of rage, I finally plucked the courage to ask her the question that always weighed on my mind:

 “Aadhya, why do you bear all this? Why don’t you tell to parents?”

 She gave me a glass of cold water, “drink first,” she muttered, her cheeks red from embarrassment.

The cold water calmed me down and I settled down on her bed. She caressed my head and smilingly said, “You are all mine!”


The day finally arrived when Aadhya received her grade 12 exam results. She’d secured an unbelievable 98% and her future looked bright. My GPA, on the other hand, started with a one. Although my parents were dejected upon hearing that, they didn’t acknowledge any shortcomings in their ways.

Aadhya approached my father with the hopes of becoming a civil servant.

“Papa, I want to become a civil servant. I need to study in a big city to secure a better future. Will-“

Dad interrupted her, “What? A big city? A civil servant? What are you talking about Aadhyaa? Are you okay? Have you gone mad?”


“Look, you’re intelligent, I know, but stop being so absurd in your demands. You’re not going to convince me. Take these and relax,” he said as he handed tickets to Chomu to her. Chomu was where my aunt lived and where my father had decided Aadhya would pursue her bachelor’s degree.

With her dreams crushed, Aadhya was off, leaving me all alone.


“Hello, Aadhyaa! It’s a decade since I’ve seen you! Look at you all grown up now. How is everybody doing?” said our aunt with a wide smile.

“Hi, Auntie! We’re all doing good. Hope it’s same with you all too!” My sister answered.

“Yes, we’re all fine! Come inside!”

Auntie and she got along well. She loved the home. But told me that she majorly missed all our mischief.

A few days into her stay, Aadhya finally told her aunt, her true desire:

“Auntie, I’m interested in civil services but Papa is forcing me to pursue an insignificant bachelor’s first. I need your help to prepare and train for the exam—you know how tough it is. Please help me out and don’t tell Papa at any cost.”

“Aadhya, you can’t make such a major decision without telling your parents and seeking their approval. It’d be better for all of us if you let go of this dream. I hope you understand where I’m coming from,” she replied with an incredulous look on her face.

“Auntie, please, I’m not at all interested in what Dad is forcing me to do. I only came here without a single word of protest because of you. I was sure that you’d understand and help me out. You’re my only hope for a brighter future. I could study in Jaipur–it’s right here and so much better than this village. I’m a good student, please trust me. I can do it but I need you!”

Auntie got emotional at her words and agreed to it. “You’re exactly what your Dad was three decades ago!” she exclaimed.

I’d been sent to California to complete my higher education but my grades didn’t budge in the new environment either.


After dedicating a year to her preparation, she received the first “fail” of her life. The constant back and forth between Jaipur and Chomu, the long bus rides, the sleepless nights…they’d amounted to nothing. Aadhya’s resolve was in shatters.

Our aunt stayed strong, though. “Aadhya, you have to fail before you succeed. No one cracks it in their first attempt. Look how far you’ve come, you can’t give up now. Don’t worry, I’m here for you. I know you can do it, I’ve seen your dedication. Don’t stop now!” That proved to be the need of the hour. Aadhya wiped her tears, sat up straight and fervently returned to her routine.

Finally, Aadhya got the letter she had desperately hoped for! The state emblem was printed on top of the envelope and she felt just as strong as the lions in it. Incidentally, her first posting was as a collector for Bhanswara, my father’s native home.

“Congratulations, Aadhyaa, I always knew you’d do it. I’m not a normal woman anymore, no, I’m the aunt of a state official!” she gleefully shouted.

Aadhya had a different expression on her face. She was pacing nervously and her voice was trembling, “But what are we supposed to say to Dad? I’m terrified of how he’ll react. I don’t want to leave them, especially not Aadhi! I need your help.” The urgency in her voice was growing, “Oh, his dislike towards me will only grow!”

Our aunt reassured her and invited my parents and me to Chomu on the pretext of the opening of her new boutique next month.

The 30 days passed quickly and soon I would be able to see my sister in person.

We were on our way to what we thought was my aunt’s shop but the car pulled into a huge government building. The place was riddled with security guards that all saluted us as we entered. We were confused, to say the least.

We were soon led into a cabin by my aunt.

“Ma’am, may I enter?” my aunt asked, knocking on a blurred glass door.

“Yes, please, come…Oh my god!” my sister exclaimed upon seeing us. “All of you are here? I just can’t believe this!”

We were in shock. Our eyes were wide and jaws hanging open. She was here for university but was now the collector of an entire district! A government official! Mom and Dad were overjoyed; they finally saw her true potential. The four of us hugged after a long time and even my father got misty-eyed.


A daughter is not a tension.

A daughter is equal to ten sons. 

I know that there are many girls like my sister who don’t get the education they deserve. This is the twenty-first century, and women can do anything. I hope that girls with circumstances like my sister’s are rare and few.

I now miss the late-night movie sessions with my partner in crime!

Anshika Kodukula, 13, lives in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. She is a student in grade 9 at Slate, The School. She is an avid reader of mystery and adventure novels. She loves travelling and is a travel photographer. She admires Ruskin Bond and Sudha Murty.

Short Fiction | ‘I Love You, My Tim’ by Shreya Anil (14)| School Student Writing

I did not have pets. I did not want any either. I had never felt any true emotional attachment with animals, especially the ones you keep as pets and tend and nurse so prudently. I had always thought that it was simply a dumb showcase of internal love because they couldn’t possibly say that they loved them too, could they? That was my belief until a few months ago. Things have changed now.

One of the most terrible things I had to encounter on my way to school was passing a house on the roadside. Through the way I am describing it, I don’t want you to misunderstand that it is haunted or dominated by evil spirits. It is just that there is a very unwelcome guardian over there with thick brown skin and vulgar red eyes, tongue hanging out, upper canines and what not! He would make my heart thud loudly every time I would see him that I felt close to fainting. 

Every time we were ten feet within reach of that house, I would clutch my grandfather’s hand tightly.

‘Appu[1]…’ I would say. ‘I don’t think I will be able to make it this time.’

‘Come on, Ponnu! Don’t be so silly. It is trapped behind the gate. It couldn’t possibly jump over and bite you!’

‘Appu…. Please don’t take his side! I can’t take another step. My feet have gone numb. I just can not!’

‘I am not taking anybody’s side. After all, it is just a dog, Ponnu… It won’t kill you.’ 

Just a dog! How well said, I thought sarcastically. But I dared not tell Appu.

‘How do you know it will do no harm? Did it say so to you?’ I replied instead.

‘I am a veterinarian, Ponnu. I know animal psychology.’

I did not know whether he spoke the truth or not about knowing animal psychology as I failed to notice the childish twinkle in his eyes, but he had caught me there. He really was a veterinarian and my innocent mind was forced to believe him. The incredulous ways in which our elders fool us, innocent stupid kids…or was it just me?

He took hold of my arm and started walking. Now and then, I pulled him back, an expression of cowardice and fear overcoming my face, but he clutched on with power, lest I run away. 

I saw him near the gate of the house (on the other side, to my subtle relief), which bore intricate carvings, the sculpture of lions and two gargoyles. One could not be blamed if one believed that it really was a haunted house!

He knew I was there. He knew the smell of the person who was most terrified of him, of the person who even shut her eyes and chanted mantras while she passed him to prevent herself from falling unconscious. He took a deep sniff and spat out his tongue. Yeah…he knew I had come.

There was silence all around. I was looking into his eyes and he into mine through the railed gates of the house. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. The only sound to be heard was the dog’s heavy breathing (and perhaps, my rapid, overlapping, unusually loud heartbeats).

Abruptly, my grandfather gave me a pinch and gestured me to move. Paralysed by fear, the sudden revival to the present world by my grandfather’s pinch made me yelp.

No sooner did I open my mouth to let out what seemed like an unfathomable scream, the dog did the same. It began to bark and growl.

That was too much for me. I freed myself from Appu’s clutch and ran. I ran as if the world knew no bounds. I ran until the end of the world, till the end of time and the end of my weird imagination, screaming all the way, while poor old Appu stood there, his palm on his head, fed up of his little girl and her indecipherable tantrums.

This was the reason I hated pets, especially dogs! Amma[2] used to talk about a dog she had in her ancestral home when she was a kid and the love they shared. I would see her eyes well up with tears as she drowned in the painful reminiscence of her loving dog. But I had never understood any of it, nor had I been able to feel the love she felt.


One day, my parents were going to visit that house–that scary looking, enormous house with its wide gates protecting an even more enormous and intimidating being–for a leisurely house visit. It had been a long time since they had gotten together and thought it only reasonable to call on them.

They called me but I said that I wouldn’t go as I was afraid of their dog. But they cajoled me stating that ‘it is just a dog’, ‘it can cause no harm’ and so on just like Appu did until, at last, I could take it no longer and decided to go and courageously confront my destiny, no matter the outcome. So, I set out like a brave soldier willing to risk her own life to uphold the name of her tribe, to fight face-to-face with her formidable enemy. 

It was in the afternoon that we went. The dog was not out of his kennel, much to my unexpected pleasure. Before stepping in, I glared at the kennel with the look of a winner who had ruthlessly defeated his enemy and embraced victory. I saw the dog looking back at me with his ferocious red eyes and growl. I put on a heroic grin and walked away, completely sure that I was at a safe distance.

The family took us into their cosy living room and served us hot tea and snacks. I also got to see my old friend, little Ammu over there. She was now in the sixth standard and had been a great playmate when I was young.

‘Ponnu chechi[3]!’ she called out to me. ‘Would you like to see Tim? I know that you would surely love him.’

‘Of course! She loves him a lot,’ my mother forestalled me. ‘She talks a great deal about him at home and the sweet way he greets her every morning with a friendly bark. Isn’t it, Ponnu?’

‘“Friendly bark!” I think Amma doesn’t know what “friendly” means.’

‘Oh, is it? Just wait, Ponnu chechi. I will bring him in.’

Without waiting for my reply, Ammu ran out, excited about the whole business. 

My heart began to pound. My hands grew cold. I didn’t know what to do. I was overcome by an unusual sensation. I wanted to run away from there as soon as possible. At the same time, another invisible force glued me to the chair. Oh! What will I do? I wished that a veil of invisibility could fall over me and shield me from the sight of everyone and most importantly from my greatest enemy, the intimidating Dog! The only emotion in my mind was fathomless hatred towards Amma. How could she do this to her lovely little girl? I did not expect this from you, Amma, I never did! You don’t know how disappointed I am in you, Amma. You can never imagine how much. 

I looked at her. She was smiling ingratiatingly and sweeter than ever. That smile could not soften my furious heart. It could not; it never could.

I heard the dog growling.

I looked back startled, my heart beating at its fastest rate ever (at that moment it could have entered the Guinness Book of Records. But there were other more important things to be looked at, at that precise moment.)

There he was–in the same monstrous outlook–coming to scare me.  

Nervously, I said, ‘Hi…’

 ‘Come on, Tommy, my boy. See who has come to meet you,’ said Ammu and brought him close to me. I felt something rise through my heels and up further through my nerves. The dog smelt it and grasped at his opportunity to growl. 

I, of course, screamed in return.

Everyone in the room laughed at me. ‘Oh, come on, my boy. You wouldn’t growl at your dearest playmate, would you? Come on, say hello to Ponnu chechi! Come on.’

The dog looked sharp into my eyes. I hated this look. It warned that something bad was going to happen. I smiled nervously. 

There was silence again. I was expecting a tremendously loud bark any minute. I was preparing my well-awaited scream which would succeed the bark. 

‘Come on, open your mouth and produce your most popular roar!’ I chanted in my nervous mind. 

But his unprecedented gesture surprised me. Instead of barking at me, he gave a little whine and wagged his tail.

‘Oh look at that! He says he loves you,’ said Ammu.

I was pretty sure that he did not mean that, but I decided not to retort and spoil that wonderful moment. 

But I knew deep in my mind that Tim meant something good. Perhaps, he had put forth a hand of friendship. Perhaps he realized that I was an opponent too formidable to defeat when he had heard my earth-shaking scream! Peace is always better than war. Keeping that in mind, I decided to return his gesture of friendship.

I patted his head and smiled. He continued wagging his tail.

‘He wants you to hug him,’ said Ammu excitedly.

Peace may in every way be better than war. But that peace where I had to dangerously touch and specifically hug my new friend did not seem appealing. Moreover, I didn’t know how my friend would respond to it. Thus, it was better to remain at a safe distance. Therefore, I wistfully warded off the proposal with a disguised smile and a veiled twinkle of the eye.


From then on, I began crossing their house without that usual throbbing heart and uneasiness. Now that Tim was my friend, I did not fear him. But I did not escalate to a position as to magnanimously love him either. But the one thing I was certain of was that I no longer feared him and he no longer wanted to scare me. 

Every morning as I would go to school, he’d greet me with a friendly bark, now more like the one Amma had mentioned that day. Every evening, I would peep through their side door to see him take a nap in his kennel. Have I really begun to love that dog? I would think sometimes. But then, I would shrug that notion away and move on. All was going well and good, until one day.


I was returning from school and peeped in through their side door as usual to see Tim. But he was not there in the kennel. I was too tired that evening to go in and check on him. So, I decided to go straight home and did not bother until the next morning, when he was not to be seen at the gateway to greet me. I decided to inquire in the evening on my way back.

At around five in the evening, I went into their house and rang the front bell. After a long wait, Meera Aunty, their maid came and opened the door.  

‘Hi Aunty,’ I said.

‘Hi dear. Do come in. I’ll call Ammu.’

I placed my schoolbag on the floor and sat down on the rocking chair. 

Ammu came out from her room wearing a pinafore, her hair carelessly tied in two small pigtails.

‘Oh, hi Ponnu chechi. How are you?’

‘Ammu, you look dull. What happened?’

‘Nothing. It has been a tiresome day.’ But I knew from her voice that she was lying. The usual energetic, excited, all-time-ecstatic Ammu was missing.

‘Well, where’s Tim?’ I asked.

She looked up but did not answer. As she strained her eyes towards mine, I saw something shaky within. Her eyes were welling up with tears. I saw tears of love of a tiny child who was struggling her way through depressing solitude.

‘What is it, Ammu? Tell me where Tim is!’

‘Ammu’s Tommy has gone, she said in a broken voice. Tommy has gone. He has gone. Oh! He has gone!’ She began to scream, a helpless look on her face. ‘Can’t you hear me? He has gone…Ammu’s Tommy has gone.’

She sank onto a nearby sofa and broke into fits of tears. The uncontrollable outburst of emotions engulfed her and she was finding it hard to fight back.

I got up and walked towards her. I sat beside Ammu and hugged her fragile figure gently. Her little mind found warmth in my affection, but she continued weeping.

I did not ask her any more questions but waited for her to get back to her usual self.

‘Since Saturday night, he had been showing some kinds of restlessness and impatience. We thought it to be one of his tantrums and ignored it.’ She sobbed in between. ‘Yesterday noon, his condition grew worse. I had gone to school but Meera Aunty was here. She was worried and rang up Amma. She advised Aunty to take Tommy to the hospital. And then, the doctor, he said, he said, he….’

She broke down again. I sighed. ‘Poor thing!’

She took a deep breath and uttered words which nearly made her collapse. ‘He said that my Tommy wouldn’t make it.’

I gasped. I didn’t know why, but I felt a huge weight on my heart. I didn’t know why, but I felt emotionally unstable. It was just like someone so near to me, someone who made up a part of my soul had suddenly departed from it. 

‘Amma and Acha[4] felt that if he died in my presence, it would be a horrible shock to me. The doctor knew an association which housed old and weak dogs.’ She breathed hard and sobbed. ‘It was he who advised them to send…’ she whimpered. The poor soul was truly shaken into bits that she couldn’t control herself. ‘To send Ammu’s Tommy to that association. We gave him away, Chechi! I didn’t know about it all till yesterday night, Chechi. Amma and Acha were not at home when I came. It was only at night when they came that I knew of it. My Tommy had gone, Ponnu chechi…Ammu’s Tommy had gone…’

I did not say anything. Instead, I took my bag and walked back home. I turned around once again to look at his kennel, every part of me hoping to see the lovely figure of Ammu’s Tommy in it, with his sweet brown skin and his cute red eyes, his tongue hanging out, showcasing his childish canines. But it didn’t come into view. Instead, I saw the lonely kennel weeping in silence in the absence of its playful companion.

I felt an unusual pain deep in my heart. It was beyond words to explain. I did not know the reason behind it. I never knew whether I had loved Tim. I did not want to believe that I did. But now this news about him was depressing me, bringing intricate and indecipherable feelings which I had not experienced before. I didn’t know why. I really didn’t know why.

I sprang open the door to my house and was confronted by my mother. ‘Where were you so long Ponnu? Don’t you…’

I didn’t wait for her to finish. Nor did I reply to her. Instead, I ran to Appu’s room, an unknown force pushing me from behind.

‘Appu,’ I called. ‘Tim’s gone.’

I finished it all in one breath lest someone stop me.

Appu gestured me to come and sit near him. I went without another word. 

‘I know Ponnu. I know about it all. I didn’t know how to tell you.’

My face welled up with tears. My heart pained hard. ‘You knew,’ I stammered in a faint, broken voice.

Tears trickled down my weak face. Appu held me close to him. 

‘I am sad, Appu…I don’t know why! I really don’t know why…’

‘I know why.’

I listened without lifting my head. I didn’t want Appu to see my meaningless tears. 

‘You had learnt to love him, Ponnu. You had learnt to love his cute animal psychology without you knowing it. That is the power of animals, dear. They influence you so much that you begin to love them with all your tender heart.’

I lay down on the bed, staining the bedsheet with my tears of love. I closed my eyes. The only figure which saved me from the eye-pinching darkness was that of ‘my Tim.’ No…no, it was ‘Ammu’s Tommy’ I corrected myself desperately. But some unknown voice continued to chant the words ‘my Tim’ within me. ‘My Tim,’ I repeated loudly. ‘I loved you.’ No. I corrected myself again. 

‘I love you, my Tim.’


To my Tim of my wonderful imagination: You live here today in my heart as tender and fresh as I had first imagined you. Wherever you are, remain happy and healthy and remember that your Ammu and Ponnu Chechi would always love you.

1 Grandfather
2 Mother
3 Elder sister
4 Father

Shreya Anil is a 14 year old student from Trivandrum, Kerala, India. She is an author, blogger and public speaker. Her works have been published previously in The Bangalore Review and the leading supplement of The Hindu. She is also the author of ‘Where the Pen Kisses the Paper’.

Poetry | ‘You Will Never Know’, ‘I Was Not Born This Way’ by Priyanjali Negi (15) | School Student Writing

You Will Never Know

It has been almost a year since you left us alone,
And here I lie on my bed recollecting our last conversation over the phone.
Far away from each other,
But the emotions in our hearts were the same. 
My own little brother, 
And I never knew how well he played this hiding game.
During that silence, I went down memory lane.
It seemed quite pleasant then,
But now it pricks my heart causing a severe pain.
Remember, how once in school you were dressed as a fairy 
Is it okay to say that your absence has now become hard to carry?
These old videotapes of you with dad,
Just makes me more helpless and profoundly sad.
Do you know? I still send you messages on the phone.
I still make coffee and listen to “Here Comes the Sun” until dawn.  
No one knows that I sleep with your photo under my bed,
So that when you go to sleep you come to kiss me on my forehead.
I guess you will never know that I still divide my Maggi into equal halves of two,
And trust me.
There are times; I wish I were dead instead of you.

I Was Not Born This Way

I was not born this way
I know I am not unique,
And my thoughts do not belong here.
That is what makes me unable to speak,
And people think I don’t care.

I like to be alone,
I like to stay quiet,
There is an unseen pain in my tone,
As if each day my survival depends on a fight.

A fight not with the people,
A fight not with the world,
But a fight with the evil,
Which on my behalf is truly undeserved.

I sometimes wonder what I have grown into,
And wish for the child in me back.
The child who was always happy,
The child who was never sad.
The child who would be probably be laughing at me,
Looking at the things that I now lack.

Priyanjali Negi is a 15-year-old student from Delhi. She studies at Carmel Convent School. Her favourite poets is Alfred Tennyson and her favourite writer is Ruskin Bond.

Short Fiction | ‘An Unexpected Rendezvous’ by Simran Aneja (14) | School Student Writing

It was a moonless, rainy night and I was curled up on my couch under a warm blanket, sipping a cup of steaming hot chocolate filled to the brim with fluffy marshmallows on top. I was reading The Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie which perfectly fit the mood of the evening.

The book’s sense of mystery and suspense was what invited me to it in the first place. Today’s evening was a relatively pleasurable one when compared to other recent ones, considering the late-night shifts at my new workplace.

Outside, the rain came pouring down, as if a celestial dam had broken open and the Gods were celebrating. It resembled the sound of a thousand sticks hitting the surface of a drum all at once.

I switched on the radio to catch up on the latest news. The signal was weak, owing to the heavy showers. As soon as the radio was able to catch a slight signal, the speaker announced, “We have been notified by concerned authorities, that there is a serial killer on the loose. We request you to stay calm…advise you to stay indoors…lock…doors and windows…go outside only if it’s an emergency…the serial killer is described as a m–”

I’d lost the signal! I was petrified as I realised that I wouldn’t know if the serial killer was in my neighbourhood. Tensed, I got up and paced around the room, thinking of a possible solution. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the ancient sword that had been in my family for centuries. I felt slightly reassured–if I were to have an unexpected rendezvous with the serial killer anytime soon, I could use the sword in self-defence.

Satiated with security, I walked back towards the couch. As I was about to slip under the warm blanket and return to my book, I heard a loud, firm knock on the door. Horror struck, I plodded towards the door. I looked through the peephole and saw a man. He was crying and looked as if he had no money on him. I opened the door and asked him how I can help him.

He cried out, “Madam, I’ve heard that there is a serial killer on the loose. I am an innocent beggar and I sleep on the pavement. I have got absolutely no place to go. I am extremely terrified, Madam. I do not wish to die.”

Wailing, even louder, he continued, “Madam, I…I’ll…I’ll give you whatever I have. I request you, Madam.” He handed me a fifty pence coin from one of his pockets. My mind told me I shouldn’t be doing this, but my heart felt differently so I invited him inside. I sat him down on one of the sofas, and ran to get him a blanket and something hot to drink. I returned soon, only to witness a shocking sight. I was at a loss for words.

The beggar was holding the ancient family sword, as he flashed me an evil smile and said, “In your next life, on an eerily silent, moonless, rainy night, never let a stranger in.”

Simran Aneja is 14-year-old student at Mayo College Girls’ School, Ajmer. She enjoys writing poems, essays and short stories. Her favourite writer is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.