Delhi Diaries-Short Story, Part 1

I must have been around 3 years old at that time, young enough to still have that cute accent that all little kids who are new to talking, have. Old enough to walk up to the neighbors house on my own. They were 2-3 men, I suppose in their early 20s. They were running a small scale photo development lab, sort of a darkroom out of an empty house in our street.

At first I must have gone there accompanied by my older cousins. The ambiance would have looked fascinating to the eyes and mind of a child yet to see the wonders of this world;  photo films submerged in a colored liquid, some clipped to a clothesline, interesting and even scary images peeping out of the plastic film.

My next memory is of a quiet summer afternoon while I was being showered with chocolates and attention, my mother climbed up the steps of the empty house cum workshop, out of breath and tired looking, at the same time emitting sighs of relief.

It so happened that I was missing from my home for quite some time. My mother and other folks were searching for me in the homes and shops of relatives and acquaintances all around the neighborhood, no one thought I would be in the empty house with a bunch of strangers.

Anyways it all ended well except I don’t have anymore recollection of those friendly strangers. I came to know much later that the photo lab was operated from the neighboring house only for a brief period of time. Either they did well and moved to a new place or the enterprise failed to take off, no one knew with certainty.

This incident remains special to me to this day for two reasons, first because it’s one of the few memories I have of myself that young. Secondly even in my overall hazy memory of the incident, the genuine affection and happiness of those youngsters while interacting with me, emerges crystal clear. That’s a rarity growing up in a place that’s overfilled with children one cuter than the other and grownups with limited bandwidth to truly appreciate each one’s zing.

Bombay Diaries- Part 1

Bombay 1994/1995

Quicker strides begin to first turn into slow running and then faster and faster…. bus # 5 is approaching the bus stop right outside the gate of my housing colony. I see it and can feel that I am going to miss catching it by few seconds.

The conductor in his clean khaki uniform and nice leather sling pouch is now pulling the string to the bell 2 times, signaling the driver to GO.

I feel disappointed with my poor luck and am worried about being late to my class. It’s my first week in the new junior college and it’s important to not miss out on these introductory classes.

Anyways all is not lost, I tell myself as I do some quick thinking. There’s a traffic light around a quarter mile ahead that I know takes really long to turn green, chances are that I will be able to catch the waiting bus there.

I start to run again. My new woodland shoes are looking good.

I am thinking about the pathetic red and blue line buses of Delhi and those uncouth and unclean conductors who are always shamelessly scratching their balls and blatantly forgetting to return your change. Compared to that this is pure heaven. I am able to run on the road without being mocked or bullied, the old conductor in Bus #5 might get little cross with me boarding his bus in between stops but he will quietly take the money from me, would demand to look at my student pass and will hand over my ticket while I settle down in a nice empty window seat. Life is good.

Yes! The traffic light is red and my bus is right there, a beautiful red Double-decker, so elegant. I am almost there now…

But Oh no! The light has turned green, my bus starts to move again, should I run after it as the road ahead looks pretty jammed? Or wait at the adjacent stop for the next bus??

The bus stop of the coaching center is in a crowded market area. It’s been raining since afternoon so trains and busses are running late due to waterlogged roads and train tracks. There are at least 3 times more people waiting at the bus stop than normal days.

It’s 6:30 pm, I have been waiting since last 45 min and there’s no sign of my usual bus #336.

Still new to Bombay rains and relaxed about getting wet in the wonderful warm rain once in a while like “Delhi-wallas”, I had yet again forgotten to carry an umbrella with me this morning.

But today it’s getting a bit too crazy even for me. I had a friend share her umbrella with me to walk to the bus stop and now I am under the shelter of the bus stop with only my head protected from the heavy downpour and water splashing on me from all sides. Turns out my woodland shoes aren’t really water proof so feet are soaking wet. There’s no way I can go around searching for a pay phone to call my parents, I guess they will anyway know that I will be home late today.

Suddenly there’s excitement amongst the waiting commuters. Our bus is just around the corner. People start to get up hurriedly and organize into a single file. I get the glimpse of the awaited bus and am not surprised to see that it’s already packed. I am in the middle of the file and would most likely manage to get pushed inside the bus and find a spot to stand through my entire journey.

I am thinking fast.. I have to choose between at least an hour of standing in the bus packed with wet, sweaty passengers or wait for the next bus to come with possibly less people in it.

The bus is here… I have to make up my mind in next 10 seconds! Someone yells at me from behind for being too slow…

Love, Faith and Agony- A Short Story

Mrs. Irani looks at the wall clock in the living room, right below the picture of Zarathustra. It’s 7:45 pm and Shirin isn’t yet back from work. She would have reached home by now if she had taken her usual 6:10 local train from Andheri.

Mrs. Irani’s heart begins to sink. She reaches for the home phone, puts on her reading glasses hanging down her neck and dials Shirin’s cellphone number. It rings several times before going to the voicemail. Mrs. Irani slumps into the frayed armchair. She knows where Shirin is right now. Her mind is racing fast; How does she stop her from being there? How can she bring her little Shiru back home to her Mommy again?

She picks up the tattered phone book and maniacally turns the pages to alphabet R. She takes few deep breaths to calm herself down and starts dialing the number. The phone rings, She exhales a quiet sigh of relief when Roshni answers.

“Hello Roshni, this is Mrs. Irani, Shirin’s Mom”

“ Hello Aunty, How are you?

“ I am fine Beta, How are you and your parents? asks Mrs Irani, making sure to not sound desperate.

“Everyone is doing great Aunty, I have just reached home from work”

“That’s nice. Roshni, I just called to ask if you have spoken with Shirin lately?”

There’s a brief pause, Mrs. Irani senses a little hesitation in Roshni’s voice when she replies “Actually Aunty I have been really busy at work and so is Shirin I think, we are just not able to connect off-late”

“Oh OK. Haven’t talked on phone also?” Mrs. Irani presses on.

“Aunty is everything alright? You can talk to me straight, is anything troubling you?”

“No no nothing like that” She stops for a moment, then decides to continue “I only want to know if Shirin is still meeting that Boy”.

The phone line goes quiet. “Roshni beta I know you are Shirin’s best friend but I too am like your mother, am I not? Won’t you help me know what’s going on in her life” Mrs. Irani’s tone gets fervent.

“Aunty, off course you all are like my family. I am not trying to hide anything from you. Shirin and I haven’t talked on this subject since we last met at your place when she made a promise to you that she would break up with Vikram.”

That name! how much she loathes the sound of it. She knows Roshni is lying to her. “OK you want to keep me in the dark, it’s fine, but remember I am her mother and I will find out. Also remember that you have parents too, can you imagine them going through the same pain as me? Mrs. Irani slams the phone down.

It’s past 8, she must eat dinner and take medicines to keep her Diabetes under check. She has absolutely no appetite for food but skipping the daily doze isn’t an option. She drags herself to the kitchen , softly saying hymns from the holiest of all books; Avesta “I approach you with good thought, O Mazda Ahura, so that you may grant me the blessing of two existences, the material and that of thought, the blessing emanating from Truth, with which one can put your support in comfort.”

Food tastes awful and the TV show is hurting her eyes and ears. At the sound of the door bell, she jumps from her chair at the dining table, spilling some water over her night gown.

I will be calm, I will not yell at her for being late, I will not let my baby drift away. She makes a silent resolution, while walking hastily to open the door.

“Hi Mommy” Shirin looks exhausted

Mrs. Irani goes to give her daughter a tight hug “Come my Baby”

“Mommy, I am sorry my phone ran out of battery so I couldn’t inform you that I would be home late”

“I was so worried Shiru. Come come dikri , let me serve you food. You must be starving”

“Actually Mom, I was so hungry that I picked up some junk from the station and ate in the train, you don’t worry I will eat later in the night when I am hungry again”

“Ok baby, you take rest. How was your day at work?”

“My day was hectic Mom and tomorrow I have to leave early. I am going to go to bed. You please don’t forget to have your medicines, OK?” Shirin said going inside her room.

Mrs. Irani sits in her chair again. She gulps down her tablets. She is thinking hard; Did her daughter behave as usual? Was her face slightly flushed with excitement? Did she avoid making an eye contact?

She gets up and silently walks towards Shirin’s room. The door is partly shut, she can hear the water flow in the bathroom.

She goes inside her own room and starts preparing for her night-time prayers. “The fabric of my life work they destroy, The evil doers, extolled as masters and mistresses, Who dispossess persons of their rightful heritage And those who will retard the good and truthful from the realm of the Good Mind, O Mazda.”

Mrs. Irani wakes up with a start. She is used to having disturbed, broken sleep. She decides to check on Shirin before trying to go back to sleep; May be she too is awake and is now hungry. She tiptoes to her daughter’s room, the door is shut but she can hear her muffled voice speaking on the phone. She stands outside the room, holding her breath.

“He is gone, gone forever” She hears Shirin say “I miss him so much Roshni, I feel as if a part of me is amputated from my soul”

She continues talking but her words get buried into the sound of her weeping.

Gasping for breath, Mrs. Irani stumbles back to her own room and locks the door from inside. She is overwhelmed with emotions. She runs to stand in front of the sacred flame to thank Ahura Mazda for helping her daughter stay on the right path and for saving them both from the eternal doom.

She prays frantically before dropping down on her bed out of exhaustion.

She wants to finally sleep undisturbed. She shuts her eyes as tight as she can but the sound of her daughter’s weeping, is getting louder. Her Shiru who brought so much joy to her, is grieving.

Mrs. Irani covers her ears with both her hands but the deafening cries are piercing through her whole body…