Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Kidnapping of Anjali Jay

When Anjali jay opened her eyes, the first thing that hit her mind was the dryness of the room around her. It seemed to have been blown with the dust stored out of an old vaccum cleaner’s bag. The dust seemed so fine and powdery that it almost choked her with every breath that she took. It was an odd smell. It made her feel weak and tiresome again and again. As does the human mind and body does in any situation, her own did the same to adjust to the environment of dust around it. The next thing that she noted was how badly her neck hurt. The lower joints in her neck were aching so much for her to even look up and take a look at her surroundings.

Slowly she pulled herself to lift her head. The conditioned and perfumed hair of hers strayed in front of her eyes and obscured her view. But she could clearly make out what was around her. It was an old room. Dilapidated. The wall papers were hanging half way out of the wall, begging to be torn out. The room was almost entirely dark save for the lone gap between the door and the floor which allowed a burst of white light to pass between them. It was this light that illuminated everything around her, enabling her to see.

She had never been in this room before, not even seen it from the outside. ‘What am I doing her?’ Her mind questioned. She tried to remember what happened. All that she remembered was that after class, she was walking back to her room. Then she had felt a hand clamp over her mouth and nose. She felt a pad was being held again her nose. A strange and tinkling feeling enveloped her body before she had passed out. Her mind knitted together the incident with her current scenario. Involuntarily, she said ‘Kidnapped?’

Even before the sound from the uttered words had internally reached her own ears, her brain had already directed her heart to increase her pulse rate. Testosterone levels were now increasing within her body, surging her with emergency energy. ‘GET UP! ESCAPE!’ her mind screamed and she tried to move out of her current position towards the door. But she realized she was not able to move her hands and legs as freely as they generally would. It was then that she realized that she was tied to the chair. They looked like large flat silver straps and they ran around the middle of her both her arms and legs. The straps were holding her back to the metal chair that she was seated in. Then she realized that they were not straps but duct tape. ‘Someone has taped me with duct tape’ her mind reasoned.

She studied herself. Her hands were free to move. And so were her feet. However her arms and legs had been tightly bound with duct tape. Even a slight bulge from her current position was not possible. She was still wearing the same tight navy jeans that she had worn at the time of her kidnapping. Her white shirt was ruffled but was otherwise unharmed. No other indications of sexual assault were present. Then she noticed that she had been duct-taped around her waist as well. But the person who tied her up was humane enough to let the tape a bit loose so that she could breathe freely.

She gave a tug at her arm and feet once again, trying to loosen them up a bit. But to of no avail the duct tape refused to let go even of a micrometer of its hold on her. Had she been awake during the time she was put in the current state of entrapment, she would have breathed in and held the air in her lungs and clenched her fists. This would have saved her some space between her arms and waist that later on she would have used to free herself up. She was a smart woman. But being tied up in an unconscious state, all those were not possible now.

After a few minutes of desperate attempts to break away from her chair, she realized that it was not going to be possible. She turned her attention to survey her surroundings once again. To her right she noticed an old table with no draws on it. It looked as old and as decadent as the room itself. The legs were rotting and its surface was covered with the same dust that covered the floors. About five feet above her head hung an old single hold lamp that had no bulb in it. There was a window to the right. She had not noticed it previously because it had been paneled from the outside. Despite the paneling, the window had been painted black to prevent any light from streaming inside.

To her far left there stood another table. It was too far way and she was partially blinded by the incoming light to figure out its state. Just opposite to the on the other side of the door was a badly stained wash basin. The tap had been rotted out from years of no use. She noticed that the waste pipe that ran from the bottom of the basin to the ground was still intact. It stood out sorely among the other things that were in the room. Upon squinting her eyes she was almost sure that the drain pipe had been recently replaced or atleast fixed. Apart from these things there was nothing else in the room, save for the comfortable metal chair she was now sitting on. The chair was clearly not a part of the environment. Like the drain pipe it was new. Even more eerie was the fact that it seemed soft and comfortable to sit in.

Too many questions but no answers. She was going to get her questions answered.

It was impossible for her to determine what time of the day it was. She was beginning to understand how those prisoners at Camp X-Ray would feel. Finally there were footsteps. Then they stopped. There were some shuffling noises from beyond the door. It sounded like something heavy was being moved on the other side. A thud followed it. The footsteps started once again, this time they were sharp, not like the muffled ones she had heard first. She heard the sound of a key being inserted into the door’s lock and immediately hung her head as if to appear unconscious. The key turned in the lock and the door creaked open. The foot steps moved in the form of a straight line from the door to her right.

They stopped immediately to her right. She slowly opened her eyes. Her hair was still falling before her face. It partially screened her view. But what she saw was undeniably clear. Beyond the shanty door that guarded her prison was another one that was half open. An overhead light bulb burned with such furious intensity that it almost seemed like the sun itself. The room ahead looked much the same almost as shabby as the one that she was seated in, although from her point of view she guessed that was all there was to see in it. The door that guarded the other room looked much the same.

Out of the corner of her eyes she saw that to her right stood her captor. The captor was preoccupied with something on the old table. He wore a long black overcoat that hung to his knees. The vacancy of the overcoat below the knees betrayed that he wore black pants below them. All these observations did not take more than a second for her to make. She rolled her eyes back towards the open front door again. The door to the second room was half open and in that gap she saw a spiral case of stairs that ran downwards.


Her captor turned and she shut her ayes again. Her heart was wildly beating. She had trouble in concealing and slowing down her now heavy breathing. Her mind was screaming repeatedly ‘ESCAPE’.

‘Hello, my dear’ said a soft voice. She was so surprised by that soft and golden voice that she forgot to feign unconsciousness and looked right to whence the voice came from. He was standing before the table, an aged man. His face seemed to have been cast from some wealthy painting that adorns plush living rooms. Strong veins of aristocracy and wealth showed. There was a prominent vein that pulsed on the left of his forehead. He wore gold rimmed glasses. The spark on the gold frame told that they were not ordinary. They were of real gold. The receding hair line was made of silver gray hair. The face was slightly wrinkled. He wore a jet black over coat. English cut and clearly up market. He was smiling down at her.

‘Hungry?’ he asked. She tried to open her mouth and reply ‘Yes’. It was only then that she realized her mouth had been duct taped as well.

‘Oh! I forgot! Only a little inconvenient, I presume’ he continued with a slight exclamation and out of his overcoat came a little switch knife. When he flicked it open, she saw that the knife had been replaced by a razor sharp scalpel shaped blade. She pursed her lips while he expertly slit the tape with the blade.

The man took a ceramic plate from the table. On it were three club sandwiches. On the table stood a glass of milk. ‘My hands’ she gestured, expecting to be cut from her bonds so that she may eat. But the man smiled and shook his head. He instead took a sandwich in his hand and fed it to her. She was amazed when realized that enough room had been slit for her to eat properly. She chomped down the sandwich hungrily, it came with turkey and potato salad.

Her meal complete, she was fed her glass of milk as well. Not a word was spoken. She figured she would have a round of explanation from the old man after the meal. It did come as she expected. But it was different. Right after the last drop of milk went down her throat, the tape came prominently over her mouth once again. It was then she realized how strong the man was. Looks seemed to deceive in this regard. The right hand that held her face, as the left taped her mouth, had an intense grip, something many would never believe as that of the old man who now stood in front of her. After seeing her captor for the first time, she had automatically assumed that he must have had a hired hand, who in turn must have kidnapped her. Now that very assumption seemed to be faux. ‘Idiot’ she scolded herself. ‘Next time he slits the tape on the mouth, ask questions first. If he does not acknowledge, refuse to eat’

The old man went over to wash his hands in the wash. The empty plate and the glass of milk stood on the rickety old table once again. She waited until he turned around. He turned around and then flicked his fingers and hands to rid himself of the wetness they had now possessed.

‘My name is Jack’. He started. There was that golden, polite voice again. It seemed to her that the voice was wildly out of place. It did not seem right that the old man had such a voice.

He was staring almost right ahead of him directly into Anjali’s face. He was staring so much that she couldn’t fathom if he was staring at her or through her.

Her thoughts were interrupted as he continued to speak.

‘This is my absolute inspiration!’ He spoke at her face.

‘Tell me miss do you like Halloween?’

It took some time for her to realize what he was asking her.

‘Halloween? Why the hell is he asking me about Halloween?’

Seeing her perplexed expression, Jack put forth the question again, ‘Miss, do you like Halloween or not? ’

She slowly nodded yes to his question.

‘Good! Good! We will be having a great time together! ’ He sounded almost childlike in his expressions. The joy in the voice seemed genuine.

Then the rambling started.

‘You see, the world sees Halloween as just a time for kids. Little brats, dragging bags with chocolates and candy bars, and still asking for more. Many do not give importance to it as they should be giving. Dressing up children in those awful abominable costumes, what are they thinking? Halloween is not a play. It is for serious art. What has art come to? Look at those god awful things that they place on their footsteps on Halloween! Are they supposed to be Jack O’Lanterns? Unacceptable! Jack is a hero! The man who tricked the Devil Himself! Have you heard of anyone fooling Lucifer and getting away with it? Jack did it! He made the Devil look like a simpleton, the common moron that you see everyday on the streets….’ He paused.

He was slightly out of breath from the endless talk.

‘Do you understand what I am saying Ms. Anjali? I know you have been here, in this country, for quite some time to understand what Halloween is…’

Anjali, by now, was getting groggy. The full stomach after an arduous hunger and that full glass of milk were making her sleepy. Her hands and legs were now wooden from hours of being clamped down in the same position. She was not able to feel her feet, legs or her hands. The old man’s golden voice was ringing in her ears like a lullaby.

She was conscious enough to make out the words, ‘Do you understand’ from his rantings. She bobbed her head once again. All she could figure out about her captor at this point was that he seemed to be an old lonely man, with considerable humanness and lack of external contact. He was clearly no danger to her, although slightly psychotic. She was under the impression that he probably kidnapped her just to have someone to talk to. She was sure that she could convince him to release her.

Satisfied that his subject was still listening, Jack continued to talk.

‘As I was saying, you see Halloween is a time for art...’

He was pacing across her chair as he was speaking. That was all she could remember before dozing off.

When Anjali opened her eyes again, it was due to the nasal sense. This time it was a powerful lemony odor that woke her. It smelled just like vikron, only much stronger. It made her feel nauseated. Vikron was the standard disinfectant that her hospital used. During the past two years she had come to hate that smell. It was in part actually a physical realization of her hate for her working environment. Now that very smell seemed to permeate through her. She felt as if the fumes were oozing out of every pore of her body.

When she opened her eyes, she was staring at the ceiling at the worn out lamp holder dangling above her head. Her neck felt stiff. She felt the cold of the metal chair below her neck running in a straight line. It was then she found that her neck had been strapped to the chair too. She was now clamped to the chair in her legs, hands and neck. Totally immovable. Her hopes of escape and release immediately vaporized. The thick soft wad of band that held her to the chair was forcing her to face upwards all the time. From the lower part of her eye, she was able to see a strong light being focused over her. It shone over the front of her body. She heard the old man before her. He must have been sitting, for she was not able to see him. He was humming a little tune to himself and was doing something that she was not able to see.

Every minute seemed to be an hour for her at this peculiar position. She tried to move her arms and legs once again, but the bonds seemed stronger than before. There was a sigh from Jack. He seemed to stop from whatever he was doing and sat back, for now, she was able to see a tuft of the grey hair. Her movements and efforts became more and more furious and violent with every tug. Finally she relented. She was breathing heavily now. Sweat was pouring from her eyebrows and into her eyes. It made her feel inconvenient.

Jack finally spoke, ‘Are you done?’ It was the same soft and polite voice. There was no hint of anger in his voice that seemed to indicate any irritation at her attempts to escape.

‘If you sit still my dear, I can finish this faster. It takes heavy concentration and mental stress to do this job. It’s a fine piece of art when finished. Look I will show you!!’

He got up from his chair and moved away from her. She presumed that he must have gone to the room in front of her. She resumed her attempts at tugging and pulling. A few moments later he came back and stood looming above her. She was able to smell the scent of a costly Joy’s perfume. He brought what seemed to be a small cut paper in from of her face.

‘Look’ He told her.

Upon closer inspection, she found it to be a photograph. The background was all black. But the middle of the photograph was enlarged and she was able to see a single index finger. The nail on the finger was very peculiar. There were a series of line criss crossing on it. They looked as if they had been etched on the nails. It took a moment for her to realize. When she did she saw a beautiful geometric pattern evolve from before her eyes. They seemed to stand out in three dimension showing a geometric flower in bloom.

‘So this is what I am here for?’ She questioned herself.

‘You see how beautiful it is? Do you know how hard it is for me to produce such a design? And I must say I am working on one of the most beautiful designs for you’. He smiled.

‘But why does he have to bind me up in this position for this?’ She puzzled. ‘no, there is something fishy with this.’

She began to struggle against her bonds once again.

‘Please dear, do not force me to turn on the anesthetic’ Jack pleaded.

She paused for a moment to peer into the eyes of her captor. Then once again, defying him, she started to struggle to get free.

‘Alright, if that’s what you want….’ He said and moved away from her.

She heard him move something near her.

There was a mechanical noise to her right. It was followed by a hand moving before her eyes. When she finally realized, that he was to administer ether to her, she started to struggle again. The strong hand came over her face once again. It prevented her from moving her face even for an inch. With the other hand, Jack brought the naso-oral mask (which covered her nose and mouth). Gripping it firmly again her, he freed his other hand from her face and turned on the knob.

Anjali was able to hear the slow hiss of ether flowing into the mask and found that ether’s characteristic smell was overpowering the smell of vikron finally. Then she blacked out.

Anjali awoke after what was to her an indeterminate amount of time. Her mouth was wide open. She felt something inside it and her throat hurt. She was able to feel that something hard was running from her mouth through her throat. As an impulse, she tried to move her hands and touch and feel what was in her mouth. Surprisingly, she was able to move her left hand. She immediately ran her fingers over mouth. She felt a plasticized touch.

‘It’s a plastic tube’ she determined. She had used a lot of them at the Hospital. She sensed that Jack was not around her. By instinct, she knew she should not be awake. She knew she had woken up too early. She felt around the collar on her neck. She tried to remember the neck collars she administered on her patients in the hospital. Fate was on her side. She felt the release catch of the collar at exactly the place she assumed it would be: to the right of hers. It needed a little twist and jerk movement to release the patient from its hold. She tried to do the same. It was hard to do it. Its one thing to release and put on collars for patients, but trying to release one which was on her was hard. The second time she pulled harder and it became tighter. It hurt her throat and she winced in pain. By now she had tears in her eyes. The third time she gave a gentle twist and tug motion and she immediately felt relief around her throat.

A moment later, the collar, sprung open and she immediately straightened her neck. A sharp dagger of pain hit her in the back of her neck. It was from the hours of being clamped down in the same posture. She now saw that a translucent white tube was running from her mouth to a hoisted plastic medical bag. The bag contained what looked like an orange liquid. Obviously he had been trying to feed her while she was unconscious. The regulation valve had been closed so that, the flow of liquid had stopped. She slowly started to pull the plastic tube out of her mouth. As she did so, she was able to feel the end of the tube move inside her food pipe and finally out of her mouth. She threw down the tube and it hit the floor board with a tap.

She was seeing the front of the room in many hours now. The old rickety table that was to her right was now in front of her. On it were laid numerous metallic objects. There was a small cushioned stool that was in front to her left. Adjacent to her left stood the hoisted plastic medical bag that stood on a medical stand used for Intra Venial saline injection purpose. Old Jack seemed no more to be in her surroundings. The door to the front of the room was open again. There was a desktop reading lamp shining on her left side of her body. It too stood on the old table.

She turned her attention to the table once more. She was now able to recognize the instruments on top of the desk immediately. To her horror, she realized that they were what she used on her patients during surgery. There were electrocauters, curettes, forceps, calipers and even a motorized bone cutter along with an assortment of bowls, scalpels, scissors and knives.

It was then she realized that her right hand was covered in a black cloth. All this time she had not noticed it for it was under the shadow of the lamp itself. With trembling hands, she proceeded to remove the cloth from her right hand.

Underneath the cloth, she was relieved to see the natural colour of her hands. After the sight of the instruments, she had believed something worse would now lie under the cloth. She tried to move her right hands up and down, but was not able to. Some thing about her hand was not right. She was not able to feel it. With a thumping heart, she tried to grab the reading lamp. It slipped under her sweaty palm. She caught hold of it once again by its neck and slowly moved it over her right hand to focus the beam.

She almost fainted after seeing her right hand at close quarters under the beam of light. There were cuts made all over her fingers. The cuts all resembled a distorted trapezium in shape, only that they were more curved than straight. Still shaking with the shock, she ripped the duct tape that was holding her right hand in place to the chair. She was not able to move the entire right hand and it dropped heavily towards the floor. She proceeded to clutch her right hand with her left and move it between the lamp and her face for closer inspection.

The light from the lamp shone through her fingers, and cast beautiful shadows across her face. Rays from the lamp shone trough the gaps in her fingers. There were no bones inside the fingers where they should have been. The rays had nothing to stop them. Each finger had the same design. The cuts on the fingers had been made such that instead of the fingers standing up like pillars, they now showed a helical structure that resembled the DNA of the human gene. The insides of the fingers had been hollowed out and the fingers stood straight even without them. The nail at the end of each finger was still in place thought complex geometric shapes criss crossed them, just as Jack had show her in the photo. There were no finger tips. The finger tips had been cut exactly to a circle.

Anjali was still not able to feel any pain. Tears were now continuously running down her face. With care, she laid her right hand on top of the table with the help of her left. The fingers were now wooden like to touch. There was a gloss of shine over her fingers that looked like lacquer. This glossy covering seemed to hold the finger, or whatever left of it, in place without the finger bones, and not drop down.

A minute of uncontrolled weeping followed. Then suddenly her intelligence kicked in.

‘Escape’ her heart screamed.

She ripped off the duct tapes that held her legs. It took a minute or two before she could stand up. But blood started to flow to her legs once more. Her movement initially was difficult following days of strapped posture. Her knees felt weak and wobbly. But her strength and stability improved with every step she tried to take. She went on to gather a handful of scalpels and knives from the table with her left hand. All she wanted was to escape safely and call the cops.

Then she accidentally set her sights on the bowl sitting in the middle of the table. Inside this bowl were the rosy white pieces and bits which she then realized to be the bits of bone from her fingers. She had never been thrown off by the sights of human parts, but when she looked up all that changed.

It was the first time she had seen the back of the room. Behind the chair where she was bound only a moment ago, were three large glass cases. Inside each glass case stood a woman. Two were Caucasian and one African-American. They all stood still and wore the same set of clothes: a white top and a white skirt. She moved closer to investigate. She saw that they had all partially closed eyes through which shone a mild yellow light. Their hair had been done beautifully. Their hands had been carved in a way similar to how her right hand had been carved. The palms had slits in them through which the same yellow light shone through. Then she realized that each inch of the women’s body had been carved up, save for the scalp. The electronic yellow light shone from within the bodies, through every hole in the human body: through the cut fingers, the palms, the hands, the nose, the ear, the eyes and the mouths. The entire body had been hollowed out, and their skins preserved artificially. They stood like three fairies that were ready to bless her. They had all been carved up by Jack.

Suddenly she understood everything. When he said ‘This is my Inspiration’, he was not looking at her face. He had been looking at these dead women. They were his inspiration! By art he had meant human art! When he dismissed and threw away pumpkin carving, he had took up human carving! When he was praising Jack the Wanderer, he was praising himself! Worse! He was enacting the part of Jack himself, taking up an art so repelling that even the Devil himself would disown him.

She threw down the scalpels and knifes and grabbed the largest metallic catheter and a knife on the table. The catheter shone with the spark of a razor edge, which it was, over the reading lamp. She had now turned her priority of calling the cops to killing Jack.

Then was the familiar tune of Jack whistling coming up the stairs from the other room. She quickly moved to the other room. The roof on the other room was rather low than what she had thought.

Anjali crossed the room in five furious strides. She took her position next to the old door by the stairs. The door had hinges on the left hand side, so if Jack was to open it, it would open to the left, thus providing a non-obstructing view for her to strike him down. It was the first time she had seen the outsides of her room in which she was kept captive. On the other side of the room stood a glass casing exactly similar to the one that she saw the three women in. She realized it was meant for her. The whistling was getting louder by the second. The footsteps finally reached the other side of the door. The old man was unlatching the door.

The next second was when everything happened. First the door flew open. Jack took a step forward. His eyes were still gazing in front of him through the open doorway in front of him and into the next room. He then realized that the metal chair in front of him where Anjali should have been seated was now empty.

Anjali had been readying herself for this moment. She held the catheter and the knife in such way as she would hold a hypodermic needle to inject adrenaline inside a patient’s heart. She had done it many time over in the emergency ward. She had brought back numerous lives of cocaine addicts and powerball addicts, with that single doze of adrenaline which was delivered directly to the heart puncturing through the chest plate.

She was now going to take one.

The next split second, Jack had sensed that Anjali was standing to his side, and attempted to swing his arm blindly to that side in an effort to stop her from doing any harm. Anjali was much wilier. She had been lying in the half prone position and thus avoided the powerful blow from Jack, which had missed its mark and landed directly into the hard wooden wall splintering it.

Jack was now all open to Anjali. She rocketed up and utilized that motion to further propel the catheter and knife in her left hand. The catheter was the first and most accurate to find its mark. While the knife had landed roughly in the same region, the catheter had found the surgeon’s precision. It first pierced thorough the layer of white silk shirt, then the skin and then through the chest plate and finally into the heart. The knife followed closely later to puncture the heart right next to the catheter.

Jack had felt a thump in his chest and immediately fell to the ground following a sharp spike of pain in his heart. Anjali was looking at her captor through wild eyes now. With every beat that jack’s heart took, blood was spraying through the end of the Catheter that now jutted from his chest.

Anjali never saw the Artist again, even when the cops asked her to confirm him in the Morgue.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Politician

Raja’s self asset declaration form to the election commission aptly identified his nature. Together with his father’s name and his grandfather’s, it turned out to be Karupparajan Durairaj Raja (K.D.Raja). And the initials were what most of his enemies and accomplices called him, when they were out of his ear shot. Here too lay a twist of irony for most of his enemies were accomplices and most of his accomplices- enemies, for Raja was a self-made ‘Politician’.

He had always prided himself in being a ‘self-made’ politician and often lashed out against those families which thrived in politics through generations. Right now Raja was ecstatic. He was returning to his strong hold, his place of birth, that 4.7 square kilometer area where he had shown intelligence and thus established his supremacy over the other goons. It was where he displayed his first skills of a politician.

Raja was now an integral part of what governs the state affairs. He was the local M.L.A. He even had a personal follower (who also doubled up as his prime henchman) by name of Mani. Mani looked up to Raja for everything, for he was being taught the tricks, the how to and the lies to live the life of a politician. Raja had gotten up at six that morning and after paying proper ‘morning dues’ to the party leader and the state chief minister, he was at leisure now. The opening ceremony was to be held at ten that morning. He had ample time to get ready to attend in time. But he chose not to. He knew very well that anticipation played an important part in maintaining control and respect.

Mani had heard him say it almost a thousand times over ‘People do not respect a man when he arrives on time. He hardly interests anyone. But look at the late comer; he is always besieged by the crowd.’ Today, he was doing what he preached. To attend an opening ceremony for which he is the presiding guest, Raja left home one hour after it was slated to begin.

As he climbed into his white ambassador with the red siren swirling on its top, he called out to Mani and said, ‘Mani, you travel with me today.’ No one had expected this. Everyone knew that the goon was getting closer to the M.L.A. But the M.L.A had always had the habit of traveling alone on such occasions. This clearly was a sign of how high Mani was growing in M.L.A’s confidence. There were going to be rumblings later on

The sturdy Ambassador blew up a gust of wind and dust as it moved forward. In the back seat sat the M.L.A with Mani. Twenty two minutes later they were beginning to enter the City Center. Raja was becoming more and more overwhelmed at the every day sights that met him on the road.

‘Look the nadar shop is still there’. He said. ‘I think that was the place where I first stole! You know till date, I have never been ever caught for stealing. For other reasons, may be, but not stealing. Including that 1.3 crore last month from that bridge construction project. ‘The M.L.A and Mani had a good laugh.

Five minutes on they were cutting across the railway tracks. ‘Sivamani went down here you know. He was waiting for the train to pass at this same railway gate. I was sitting near him. Just like you do now’. So saying he turned to look away from the window at Mani. Mani’s eyes were gleaming with attention. ‘You don’t mean to do the same do you?’ He said.

‘Sir! No Sir! You are my Guru. Without you where would I go? ’ replied Mani, speaking for the first time since they left.

‘My shirt was all bloody from making such a close shot. Luckily no one even suspected me. They thought that the job was done from another car. No one was even looking. The driver panicked and ran away. It took three days to find him!’

Again, they laughed together. The car was now speeding through what was a line of mid-rise buildings that had black dirt and grease all over them. ‘Kumaresan Street! How can I forget Kumaresan Street? Chopped off kumar’s right hand in the middle of the crowd with a sickle! I think it was because he had signed a complaint against thalaivar (leader). After chopping it off, I ran into Rani amma’s house, which laid around the corner, dug in her back yard and hid it there’ He was sober now.

‘I bet its still there if they try to find it.’ Once again they laughed.

By now, the car was slowing down and what was once a stream of people walking down the down, now became a throng of people shouting the M.L.A’s name and wishing him good luck and life. ‘Paid ones. No doubt.’ He knew the public hated him. ‘Mani is doing well these days. Where ever does he find money to arrange all this?’ He thought to himself.

Someone inside the crowd shouted ‘M.L.A K.D.Raja Vazhga (Long live M.L.A. K.D.Raja)’. Raja immediately beckoned to Mani. ‘Smart ass is he? Find out who that is and make him meet me in the outhouse’. The M.L.A’s outhouse was infamous for it usually did not do well to the visitor’s health.

Raja went up to the stands and made a bow. The crowd below him looked at him warily. There was a short speech in which he denounced the opposition party and the advantages it took with the police the two years ago. ‘I now declare the new Police station open!’ He quipped beckoning at the small building behind him.

Proceeding to the entrance, he cut the ceremonial red ribbon and smiled slyly at the inspector who saluted him. ‘Bastards. They always turn again you when the government changes. No sense of loyalty at all.’ With glee he remembered what he had did to the Police Inspector who had arrested him two years back. When Raja’s party had come to power; his first act was to transfer the inspector and burn down the police station in which he was once locked up. Now, in the same grounds stood a new one, for which he was the presiding guest of the opening ceremony.

Raja strode in royally to inspect the station. It was simple in lay out two cells next to each other and a third room which served to house the desk of the inspector. The last time he was last in a police station, he was in clothes that were tattered from the beating he had took. Now he was wearing a white spotless shirt and dothi. With an air of officialdom, he whirled about.

The inspector stood at the doorway.

‘Crime is pretty high in these areas inspector. Do not show any sign of kindness or weakness in you duty’ he preached. ‘Pity those fools who are to enter these cells’ he muttered to himself. He was still afraid of police stations.

‘Sure Sir.’ Replied the young inspector. It was pinned with a white badge that identified the wearer to be Rahunathan. ‘We are going to make a perfect example of our very first inmate.’

‘Yeah Yeah . I know that idiotic one handed Kumar again. He never learns does he?’

‘Wrong sir!’, the inspector replied. ’Its you!’

‘ME? ARE YOU MAD? WHAT HAVE I DONE?’ the M.L.A was screaming at the top of his voice.

‘No sir , I am not mad. We have sufficient proof of all your crimes.’


Raja was now venting and breathing hard. ‘THAT’S IT. MANI! MANI! WHERE ARE YOU?’

The inspector finally said, ‘Sir, it was Mani who tape recorded all your conversations for us during the past few days. He says there is a particularly juicy bits about which you talked to him while on way here.’

No one moved. Mani was standing at the door step. Raja was clutching the edge of the inspector’s wooden desk. Raja knew from the look in his eye that he wasn’t going to come out alive from the cells this time. The future M.L.A smiled slyly before walking off.

Monday, March 26, 2007


It was twilight when I gingerly set my first foot into little woods. I had a prickly feeling on the back of my neck. There were already sweat beads on my forehead. An invisible line separates the outside world from what everyone knew to be a forbidden zone. None of my friends has ever set foot into little woods. I was the first one to do so. Little woods looks creepy even as far as two hundred meters away. There always seems to be an aura of evil about it. Even the untamed grass stops growing a foot outside the perimeter of Little woods.

Let me tell you why I had to go into little woods. The boys were playing a game of cricket and Mark had hit a good one right into the heart of little woods. Usually nothing would persuade me to go inside little woods. But this was cricket and I realized that I was entitled to hero worship once I went in and came back with the ball. Persuaded by other boys, I had to go inside and retrieve the ball. The sun was going down pretty fast. This made little woods look ever darker and graver than ever. The only consolation I had was that, I had told my friends to call Jaswinder, the local Indian help we had, if I took more than a half hour. Jaswinder was the only man to walk along the edges of the woods and was brave enough to do so to guard his coconut groves from thieves.

There was always a rumor about what inhabited little woods. It was said that there were crocodiles, snakes, scorpions and other venomous insects inside little woods. My father had once said that an unspoken true existed among the creatures of the woods and the outside world. We would not go in and they would not come out. It was that simple. I wasn’t afraid of snakes or killer crocs or spiders. It was the murmur about paranormal existence that deeply troubled me. The particularity and the accuracy of many of the accounts narrated by the Indians varied. But most common about all the stories was that the soul of a young woman dressed in tattered white robe roamed little woods. The eyes of the woman were said to be black and the folklore says that anyone who looks her directly in the eyes is doomed.

All these thoughts went past me as I set foot into little woods that day. The moment I stepped into little woods, sound seemed to mute itself and any trace of activity around me stopped. I turned one last time to look at the far away figures of the boys. The cracked ground beneath my feet crumpled and seemed to mock every step I took on it. Dried twigs cracked and crackled. Every step seemed to indicate that it was to be my last. It was dark inside and what was left of the light from the setting sun came in small bursts of thin rays. They too soon died down.

I stood still for a minute. Sweat was now running through my back. There was not even the sound of popular crickets or grasshoppers which you usually hear in the woods. I strained my eyes to adjust them to the eerie environment. The silence and creepiness seemed to grow by the minute. Judging by the quickly changing surroundings, I made a dash for it in the direction that the ball finally flew out of vicinity. Hardly had I taken ten strides when I saw movement in the woods. I froze instinctively. I tried hard not to visualize a woman in a white gown. Luckily the movement was on the terra firma. ‘Probably a Snake?’ I thought to myself as I moved in the direction of the movement. The movement stopped too. To my relief I found it was a lizard. It was quite as immobile as I was, and with its tail standing vertically it was now studying the intruder alertly. It scurried away in a flash. Temporarily relieved, I moved forward again.

By now I was trying hard to concentrate on the ground to figure out the shape of a cricket ball. My eyes fell on something smooth and spherical on the ground. Happy to at last see it, I bent down and picked it up. It bent inwards as I picked it up. To my disappointment, it was just one half of a cricket ball. Feeling let down, I threw it away. There was an almost inaudible hiss as it landed far ahead of me. I was sure that I had heard a sound. My old fears were now returning. Three steps forward, I felt something moving along the length of my arm. I jumped and wildly started brushing my hands. Five minutes of shouting, shrieking and yelling made whatever that had creeped upon my hand to fall to the ground.

There was a steady trickle of sweat down my chest and my cotton shirt was beginning to get drenched. I wiped the sweat off my eyebrows with the back of my hand. It was getting difficult to see with the sweat pouring into my eyes. I strained hard on the ground once again trying to fathom out the shape of a cricket ball. By now I was beginning to see what an impossible task I had gotten myself into. Getting a cricket ball from little woods is impossible even during day light, let alone the dark. Making up my mind to get a new ball the first thing the next morning I whirled around my path.

There and lo right before my eyes was the ball lying at the base of a dried up neem tree! Ecstatic at the sudden turn of fortune, I swooped down and picked up the ball. I took the next step to move away from the woods and found the shirt being pulled back. I turned cold, but found courage to find what was pulling me back. It was just a low branch where my shirt collar had been snagged. Little woods had granted me what I wanted; now it was trying to hold me back. I shook my head to clear my mind off what I had thought of. Surely a patch of land can’t have a spirit of its own! Slowly, I pulled free of the tree and started walking away.

The light in the direction of the open ground seemed to be almost out. With every step, my feet were now gaining speed. It was then that I heard the rustle behind me. I started running and in my blind fear did not notice the stubble coming up ahead of me and went face along into it. Lights were instantly knocked out of me and I all I could hear was a ringing tone in my ears. I did not see or hear anything for another minute. Then I felt two strong arms pull me up to my feet. When my senses at last came around, I found Jaswinder staring at me. ‘Mein teek hoon’ (‘I am O.K’) I told Jaswinder. He bobbed his head and led me to the edge of little woods. ‘O.K. Sir. I leave now’ he spluttered in his broken English and walked away towards his grove.

I could now make out the figures of my friends running towards me. I sheepishly grinned towards my friends as they lauded my ‘brave’ attempt at recovering the ball. I will never forget Jaswinder. What a life saver! Sometimes, a man’s face is all it takes to survive. Now I know how Robinson Crusoe would have felt! I parted way from my friends and turned towards the road that led me to my home. On the way I ran into Jaswinder again and thanked for his help. ‘You really saved my life inside little woods tonight Jaswinder. If you hadn’t come I surely would have lost hope.’. He smiled gently and bobbed his head. I think it took a minute for him to understand what I had said. By then I had started walking again. Then he hollered after me ‘Saab mein wahaan nahi thi. Me not there today. I don’t go after sunset …’ My stomach squirmed one last time and I bravely took two more steps before I collapsed to the ground.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Working from Home...

It was yet another Monday morning. I hate Monday mornings. Like most humans, I hate to leave behind leisure for work. To make matters worse, I was already in a foul mood. It all started when the clock failed to chime in time to wake me up and continued with a cup of spilt coffee. I had woken up two hours late to realize that I would be in the middle of an infamous traffic jam if I took my car to the office. Traffic snarls have become a routine in this city ever since IT became a throbbing business in the area. As I sipped my second cup of coffee for the day I realized that today was the start of beta testing. Why does beta testing always start on a Monday?

When I first entered this software industry I was really worked up. I had always dreamed of a job in Pegasus. It was easily many of my friends’ dream to work there. So I was overjoyed to get an offer when my last term ended for my degree in computer science. Most of my friends had applied but weren’t lucky enough. It wasn’t really that tough to get in though. I still vividly remember my first day at Pegasus and the moment my manager labeled me a tester. ‘What could be so wrong about testing?’ I had thought then. The pay was well above average for the industry: It entitled an hourly pay plus a bonus of $2 for every bug found. One year and two months later, I am now feeling the strain of being a tester.

My thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of my mobile. The LCD screen on it said ‘Office’. It was manager Mark. He wanted to know when I would be there. I told Mark that I wouldn’t be coming to office today and would be doing the testing from home. Ten minutes and a bumbled up breakfast later, I was sitting before my PC. To my right sat the Mac that I had newly installed three months earlier. The closed curtains pitted me against the machine. I powered on my machine. With a gentle hum, the artificial brain began waking up. Signing on to the company’s website, I found the package that was waiting to be downloaded.

While I let the software startup, my eyes fell on the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro. It was sitting there looking all rugged. My mind wandered between the keyboard and mouse to the Joystick. A split second later I got up to swipe the mouse and keyboard off the desk; in their place stood the Logitech Joystick. A game is all needed to cool down my frayed nerves. The mobile that my office has provided lay carelessly at the side as I plugged the game controller into the USB of my PC. I felt the testosterone rush through me as I slugged my enemy with an Uzi. It was a first person shooter. I had started ‘Mega Death: The Chronicles’ on my PC.

Three hours and 163 kills later, I realized that I had spent far too much time than I had allocated for the game. My stomach had begun rumbling. My quick lunch was interrupted by a call from my office. Mike wanted to know why there weren’t any Bugs listed under my name for the Beta testing. I assured him that by another hour he would be seeing my name on top of the bug list for the most bugs reported for the day. After lunch I thought about logging on the bugs, but changed my opinion to start up Mega Death again and continue where I left off.

By the end of the fifth level my wrists began to ache. By then I had been playing continuously for five straight hours, to the complete annoyance of Mike who had expected the bug list which I promised him at lunch. I was too engrossed in the game when at the middle of the sixth level, it crashed! I was fuming now. I had not saved it for the past one hour, which meant replaying it again when I start again.

It was past seven when I finally logged the bugs onto the database. I knew Mike would not have expected to see so many bugs in one day. That’s what differentiates me from all the other testers. Later I found out that not many testers had completed level five for the day. I was the first to report a crash on Mega Death. I was a smug game tester when I finally went to bed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Sniper

It had been about four years since I was initially posted in Iraq. I had already been in Kabul and it was my work there for which the military had me transferred here, from one war zone to another. It is not the skills that the Military values a solider for rather the man who holds them, because the best skills are wasted in a man of no right attitude. It took me nearly seven years, a failed marriage and a near loss of society values that made me who I am. A Sniper. Being a sniper is a lot different from what is portrayed in the movies. It requires unnerving grit. Even more of grit, self discipline, and control are required when you crawl back after shooting down the target.

An example of such an incident occurred a year ago when I was asked to move twenty five miles south of Baghdad for a kill that was to take place that night. Missions are always briefed at the nick of time. Absences of tiny details have to be made up for by the sniper’s in field skills. It was to be another Imam. Imams are especially dangerous to the occupying forces because of their inherent ability to control a group which may be termed street fighters. These are no disciplined and trained soldiers like that of the Saddam’s elite black guard. Rather these are common men and boys of cities and villages which face daily oppression at the hands of the occupying forces. But deadly they were. I was to kill an imam at his home that night. I had to do it despite the fact that the imam’s young son, who appeared to be ten years of age, and his wife were with him at the time of the shot. A man’s family should never be around him when he dies from a bullet that travels at 2544 feet per second and splinters through his head.

A kill usually requires waiting at the selected location without moving for hours at end. The life of a sniper tends to slow down immediately following the murder when the enemies search for him. Time stands still when you wish it sped along as it used to before the kill. Even worse is the fact that you are now in the enemy’s stronghold. Woe be told if you get caught after a kill. Such times require a sniper to hold still in his position, affirm faith in his training and suppress savage urges to make a dash for it.

Twelve such missions later, I am now considered to be one of the best marksmen in the army. The posting in Baghdad has been the most morally challenging. I have routinely seen arms and limbs ripped apart through my telescopic lens and remained a mute spectator. The occasion that forever turned my moral standing with the high command occurred a fortnight ago. Four of the occupying forces had been captured two days before. A prized resource that he had now become, one of the spies who had still remained loyal to the occupying forces mentioned that the man who masterminded the capture was in an abandoned bunker. The command was quick to send me and my partner away on the job.

What I saw in the bunker was gut wrenching. The soldiers were naked and were being systematically torn limb to limb. One had died already. The target for the kill was right before my scope and I was able to see his head shatter at the impact of my bullet. I was then given the order to kill no one else but turn back. It is beyond words to describe what was felt to leave back my country men at the hands of furious butchers, who by now had discovered the dead body of their leader.

Since then I had been repeatedly rebuffing any new assault operation upon the enemy and had restricted myself to operating within the base as a lookout. The lookout’s job is much easier due to the fact that there are not many marksmen who could challenge us. The lone enemy rifleman I had noticed a week back was easily identifiable even for a plain clothes policeman and did not require my bullet to be taken care of.

The final operation that I had been handled was the most important one since the day I have had the M40 placed in my arms. The president of the occupying forces was due to arrive the next day and I was briefed about the situation and job the night before. Most of the forces at the base had no idea about the presidential arrival when he entered the breakfast scene. It was about nine thirty in the morning. There was the usual handshakes and backslapping that went around the camp.

All this time I was on post near the top of the water supply tank. My job only began when the president comes out in the open environment to travel to the outer fence to meet the patrol men. It was act meant to show the bravery of the president who instigated, and was now carrying out a war from the safe haven of his office.

My watch showed nine fifty two when the president started walking towards the convoy that was a hundred feet away from the tents. I was watching him through my scope. It was then that I met the glare. It was another sniper no doubt. Briefing information I had from my command I knew that there were to be no coalition snipers in that part of the hills that surrounded the ground. I quickly changed the accuracy and strained my eyes to identify him. It was definitely an enemy in the hiding. I could make out that he was nearly ready for the kill.

The man was clearly not a professional but he was now moving into position. My experience in what had happened in the last six years of my duty suddenly ran across my eyes. Two of my fellow marksmen have been killed within the last year at least. Added to this were more than 3200 other unknown countrymen who nevertheless laid out their life in gruesome conditions. My most trusted partner was one of them. He has left behind a son and a wife just like those of the Imam I had killed. I tried to clear my head. It was common for these thoughts to occur in such an intense situation. With steady hands I focused my top mounted scope at the target. My load was already in the barrel. It was always the case when on duty. What I finally saw from the scope of the rifle before I squeezed the trigger one last time was the gray hair and the blue presidential suit that dominated the sight as I took aim for the forehead. Killing a man who led more than three thousand of his own people and sixty five thousand of fellow humans, to death can never be wrong, can it?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Shooter

It was exactly at four thirty in the evening when the shooter’s pager went off. He was right in the middle of his bath and it took him another twenty minutes to notice that he had a message. He thought about the Alicia, the girl whom he had met at the dry cleaners. It had taken him almost two months to pester her to a lunch at the Swazancy’s. The reservation at Swazancy’s had to go. Reservations there were always hard to get. He had to bribe the waiter there about twenty dollars just to ensure that he had one. Then he thought about his work. It was not peculiar that the organization had called him on a Sunday morning. It was a strenuous and exasperating job. But the pay was ridiculously high. ‘Damn’, he thought to himself, ‘Alicia can wait’.

For him the profession always came first. He thought about calling her up to call off the date. ‘No’, he said to himself sternly, ’this is no time for getting emotional. Never ever get emotional before a job.’ Anger or sorrow sometimes brought shaky hands and shaky hands were no good to the aim. This is entirely unacceptable for his line of work. He messaged Alicia briefly that he was going to a job and asked her not to ring up but suggested that they change the date to dinner the next day.

He never detailed people about his job, for they were always horrified at the details. ‘What has to be done has to be done’ he thought to himself. He knew his Indian parents would be aghast to know what he did to earn his opulent life. Then he switched off his mobile knowing very well that Alicia would call him as soon as she saw the message. He imagined what would happen if he left it switched on and carried the mobile with him. He had a passing image of the mobile ringing while he was right in the middle of his job. He would be busted and the security guards would be upon him in no time at all. Guffawing at his own thoughts and glad that it had somehow lifted his mind off Alicia and the job he proceeded to suit himself up.

It took the shooter exactly an hour to reach the doors of the organization. No one would have noticed it anyway because it was located on either side of it were huge shopping malls. ‘Anderson has really chosen the spot well’ he thought. Anywhere else in the city the small rented space stood a chance of being noticed, but here right in the middle of downtown, there was no way.

As he entered the building he noticed that there was no one to be in the office besides himself and Anderson. Anderson was his boss, his godfather, the man who guided him. However there was no one to protect him from the legal issues. If anything did go wrong, and the client had not exactly narrated the situation that would be available to the shooter, the worst possible thing that can happen is that the cops would be on scene immediately. Then he stood no chance at all. He would have to deny all knowledge of his clients and would explicitly state that he was working alone. He would be right in the middle of a soup. Luckily it had never happened. He had survived only because of his stealth and his ability to lye undetected for hours waiting for his targets.

‘You refused my car for your transport’, Anderson said as the shooter entered the room.

‘You know that’s not my style’, replied the shooter, ‘besides I would rather prefer to get home myself rather than Sam wait on me at the steering wheel. It spoils the day for me as well as him. Why should Sam suffer?’.

Anderson laughed out loud at this ‘True! True! You know you are after all a Humanitarian to be working in such a line of work! Okay enough of the small talk, have a beer. I’ll lay out the job to you’.

‘No thanks’

‘Have it your way then’, said Anderson and proceeded to explain the nature of the job to him.

The job was to take place in a hotel that evening. The exact location of the target was not known currently. However it was confirmed that the target would be at the selected location at a particular time. The Shooter slowly whistled as he heard the name of the hotel. It had considerable reputation across the state and country. A single storied building that laid out its lavishness to its guests. It was the hotbed of celebrity parties and festivities, a hangout for the elite of Hollywood. The hotel had recently, aggressively campaigned to host the wedding union of one of the nation’s top movie stars. The wedding was for the Crème de la Crème of the movie business and to the hotel it meant a deal worth thousands.

This meant that security measures would be too tight to get close to the target. He has to be in a safe place without anyone noticing. This was what worried the shooter. He had almost always had no problems staying hidden from view and shooting at the most unexpected moments, but doing it in the middle of a partying hotel was hard. It involved slipping in and out of such a hotel unnoticed in broad daylight. The shooter made it a clear point that such a job would mean a wait for an unknown period of time and literally meant staying in danger almost continuously. He wanted triple the usual pay.

Anderson nodded and merely copied out a number, handed it over to the shooter and said ‘Park a hundred yards ahead of the hotel and call this mobile. The rest I am sure you can take care of’. The shooter rose from his table shook hands with Anderson and left.

He arrived at half past one at the hotel. He called the mobile that had been provided to him from a coin operated phone. The voice at the other end asked him to seat himself in the car. A few moments later there was a tap on the window. It was the contact. The next ten minutes he filled the shooter with the lay out of the hotel. Then he handed him a snow white dress that resembled that of a chef’s in the hotel. It was to prevent any suspicion.

The man was a junior manager in charge of hospitality in the hotel. He would obviously be paid an exorbitant sum for his trouble. ‘Use the kitchen door. You can come in and move out that way’.

‘I need something to hide this in’ said the shooter opening his suitcase. The contact nodded and handed the shooter a silver tray that bore the hotel’s emblem on its underside. Then he climbed out of the car and went into the hotel. Te shooter decided to wait another three hours before going in. The name on his badge read ‘Sanjay’. The guards did not murmur a word at the Indian chef who headed for the kitchen door.

The kitchen was large and was abuzz with activity. Clearly there was a very important deadline to meet for the ten different cuisines being prepared. No one took any notice of the Indian Chef who silently went by or the serving of Kadai Paneer that vanished from the Indian side of the kitchen. He made his way right into the central wing where the ceremony was to be supposedly held. There were 21 suites in that part of the wing. At the farther end was the impeccably decorated double door. It had hid quite a number of private events from prying eyes. Besides it stood the announcement that a certain Mr. Hollywood actor was getting married to a Ms. Hollywood sweetheart at six that evening. He was to go through that door. There were two large bouncers at the entrance. They did not even twitch at the faux Indian chef who carried a covered silver plate which emanated a spicy aroma. They knew there was Indian cuisine to be served that evening. They never suspected foul play.

He rid himself of the aromatic Indian dish and positioned himself for the job. He had never been so close to the target in his six year career. It made him sweat profusely despite the breeze in the open yard. It was another two hours before

the guests started coming in. From then on everything happened at a much faster pace.

The ceremony started at seven. He even looked better than he did in his latest movie. Hysteria was yet to die around the groom who had played the part of a narcissist model. The majority of his fans were obviously women. The bride arrived in a red dress accompanied by her father and the hot shot movie producer who had launched her movie career two years ago. At that time she was just another blonde dreaming about the starry movie life. Two years and three movies later she had come to demand some of the highest paid salaries in the business.

At the altar the two actors looked perfect for each other. The shooter paused to think about the righteousness of his job. Andersons’ words echoed in his ears ‘you are too humanitarian for this line of work’. The thought about buying himself a house on the Sunset Boulevard from the pay erased all sense of morality in him and reeled his focus back to the couple at the altar. The shooter had made a decision and then went about his job effortlessly. Twenty minutes later he was coming out of the kitchen and was moving towards his parked car. No one ever had suspected him. It would even be a hard job for the security cameras to identify him. He was safe. The evening’s shoot of the one of the most secretive and most private Hollywood weddings was going to fetch him a fortune. The Paparazzi had just finished the scoop of his life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kumar gets a Pen

Kumar has been staring hard at the sun beaten walls of his mud house for the past three days. In the time that I have been observing him, his life was getting harder as the days passed. Facing the realities of life as an 11 year kid with no parents was tough enough. But aggravating the situation was the fact that his parents had left besides him a younger brother, all of 8 years old. But it does not end there. They had left him just Rs.1422 in a plastic cover to face the world. The only brightness that I could see for him was that there was at least a plot of land to call his own. The government had issued a decree just two years ago as a means of compensation that enabled his father to try his hand at agriculture.

I have been observing Kumar for the last two years. He is my favorite boy in this village. He always studied hard, rarely shouted, had a calm demeanor and only spoke when spoken to. It is rare to see such a boy in this dusty little village, for it had always been the play ground for noisy little children who enjoyed playing pranks on the elders and passersby. For the past one month all that Kumar had wanted was a Camlin fountain pen. The teachers in the municipality school where he studied were reprimanding him every day for not bring one. He was mesmerized by the pens that the other boys had owned and was craving for one. I have been seeing him plead for the pen for the past one month into the ear of his drunken father, to of no result. But the boy’s persistent nagging had made his father to finally agree to get him the pen in two days time.

Kumar’s mother Laxmi had passed away two years back during the great south Asian Tsunami that lashed the shores of India. Sadly, as Laxmi was swooped away by the waves, so was the little wealth, that had been so meticulously saved, from the family. His father then a fisherman in one of the scanty little villages, that now laid ravaged by the waves was so depressed by the loss of his wife that he decided to move away from it. And that was how he landed in this village, which lay some 200 Kms off the coast, to begin a new life. Life was tough on his father too. He was constantly asking for my help in his little farming venture, but I never did. Now I feel guilty of my actions or rather the lack of. Depressed by the sudden loss of his wife and the loss of the small fortune that he had saved himself, Kumar’s father took to drinking.

I observed that the brothers had developed lean, but strong bodies. I have often seen them helping their father irrigate that parched plot of land to try to grow something profitable. Every morning at six, just at day break, the boys would get up with their father and help him water the plot. The boys would then scurry off to their school which started at nine in the morning and went on till noon. I knew that it was almost impossible for them to grow something without my help and so for the first year, I lent them my help at the plot. The reaping was just about enough for them to fend for themselves. It was the second year that ran bad. I refused help when I saw Kumar’s drunken father. Therefore the yield was subsequently low that year. It made him curse me even more for not helping him.

Then two days back it happened. Kumar’s father was riding home in an inebriated state from the local grameen bank with Rs. 5000 in his pocket, when two men robbed him of his money. What was even worse was that Kumar’s father tried to fight back in his drunken state. A short row ensued that ultimately finished when a blow from one of the men landed on his head. It was the blow that left Kumar and his brother orphans. He was found a few hours later by the local policeman and was brought to the local hospital that lay at the corner of the village. I watched with guilt as Kumar and his brother cried and tried to digest what had happened.

The local lady doctor tried to help as much as possible. But it was inevitable. Eventually it was time to carry the body to the burial ground. But I preferred to devout my attention to the helpless little boys. For two days, the boys did not leave the hut and ate almost nothing, save for the curd rice that the old lady next door made them eat. On the third day, Kumar had dried up to tears. His mind started to reel back to reality again. I watched him as he began assessing what his father had left them. That was when he found the plastic cover with the money hidden behind Lord Ganesha’s portrayal. Other than this there was the land and the bicycle that his father had used.

On the morning of the fourth day, I saw a very different Kumar. Kumar woke up at eight in the morning. He did what was necessary of the household chores and sent his little brother to school before leaving for the farmer’s seed bank that was located a few kilometers away. As he left the hut, his eyes fell on the shiny new Camlin pen that the Doctor had offered him at the hospital in an attempt to make him stop crying. It was still in the pocket in which she had pinned. It was a wry smile, but a smile nevertheless. He took the pen with him. By six the next morning, he was getting ready to plough the land and sow the seeds. And I, the soil on which his produce will grow, was ready to help him as much as I can.

The Earth Elemental.

End of Part Two