The Last Hope (A Sci-Fi Story)

The Last Hope (A Sci-Fi Story)

A massive stroke of wind gushed through the dusty roads of what seemed like an abandoned and isolated town. It was though not as waste-clad as one would presume since the debris had either withered away or had become one with the stationary. There was no sign of any life anywhere. The absence of any traces of beings indicated how the place had long been deserted. A squirrel came out of a small opening to the sewer. It moved about for a while, searching for something to eat. The window-pane that lay behind her slightly gave way to reveal a dark pair of eyes staring directly at the little animal. All of a sudden, the window slid open as a woman, with her face wrapped in cloth, jumped out towards the squirrel. She chased the animal for a while. Then, a large number of humans started barging out of the different structures and corners of the block. They were all wholly wrapped in rugged clothes and were all chasing the small squirrel. A riot began amid the road as more people kept joining and jumping on each other, beating each other down and trying to grab the squirrel.

Suddenly, the public address system attached to the posts started sounding a substantial and long Siren, the sound of which could’ve rendered anyone deaf. The vast mob immediately started dispersing in a terrified manner, trampling over a few who couldn’t carry themselves well. The stampede left behind a few of them crippled, unable to reach back inside. The Siren went on for a few minutes and then became silent. No one was coming to help the fallen. The woman observed from her window-pane as the injured looked towards one side of the road with terrified expressions. They cried out for help, but no one listened. The winds started gaining pace. Everyone inside rushed further indoors. What followed was an enormous dust-storm. It continued for some time, causing no conspicuous damage to the buildings and other structures. They had apparently become used to it and had shed whatever they could have. As soon as the storm subsided, the woman slowly walked back to the window. She was shivering as she dared to look at the ones who had been left behind. They were all dead, and their bodies had turned black as if charred.

“Three more lost… They could’ve been fed to the scavengers…” said the young and muscular man standing on the window-pane beside her. She slowly turned back and walked inside. She then slid open a wooden cover on the ground, revealing a stairwell. Walking down, she reached a dark and small basement.

“Aasha…” she whispered as her sound reverberated.

“Aasha…” she repeated louder after hearing no reply. A small warm hand came and clasped hers. She took out a solar torch from her coat-pocket and switched it on. The light revealed a little girl sitting beside her in the dark. She was wearing half-torn and saggy clothes but had nothing covering her face.

“How many times I told you to cover your face?” the woman said in anger, as she looked for cloth in the little room.

“But… I don’t need it you told me…” Aasha said.

“No… but the world needs one on you or else they’d be afraid of you…” the woman said as she picked a ripped piece of cloth and started wrapping it around Aasha’s face.

“I feel Hungry, Mother…” the young girl said.

“I know… The storm hit before we could get any food. I’d be going out again soon. Did you finish the water-bottle I gave you? Preserve it. Asmit is acting weirder every day. He might not let many take their share of water next time…” the woman said. A rattling sound started coming from above immediately followed by someone saying “SCAVENGERS…”. The woman quickly pushed the child to a corner of the basement.

“No matter what happens… DO NOT MAKE A NOISE… AND DO NOT COME OUT…” she said while shutting her lamp off. She then climbed out of the basement and shut the lid, putting broken rubbles to cover it up. Everyone had gathered near the windows again. Outside, two black motorcycles had stopped, each ridden by one person. They both were completely covered in grey bodysuits which extended as helmets over their faces. They took out some electronic devices from their backpacks and put them on the road. Inside, everybody had picked up a piece of wood, knife, sword or any broken piece of equipment they could’ve used as a weapon.

“I have never seen such scavengers before…” said a young man standing at a corner of the building in which the woman stood.

The two riders were doing something with a signal-dish on the ground. One of them walked up to the charred bodies of the people who had died earlier. The other one said looking at their device “Radiation is low here… So is the groundwater… We can stay here but cannot extract for long.”

“Radiation is low… No Kidding… These are freshly burnt… We should expect company” the other one said while gazing at the charred bodies.

“Guess what… this place reported merely seven hundred thousand cases at peak…” the one sitting at the computer said.

“They must have migrated to the camps long ago… Damn, I feel hungry…” the other one said.

“Grab me that bar when you take one for yourself. I would do a pulse mapping of the place. We then move ahead. Sounds cool?”

“They have food…” said the muscular man standing inside the building. The woman looked at him and whispered: “Please do not do anything foolish Asmit…”

“Sarita… Why do you fear fights so much? Don’t you have that little girl below to feed? Feed her well, or she’d become too weak… and possibly scavengers’ food…” Asmit replied.

Sarita looked back at him with anger. He then gestured towards some people to come forward with their weapons. He reached inside his pocket and took out a revolver.

“Asmit… Where did you?…” Sarita questioned.

“It is just the two of them… We apprehend quick and steal whatever they carry.” Asmit said.

“And what about them?” Sarita questioned.

“We leave their fate outside… Storm or the Scavengers… whichever comes first.” Asmit replied. He then quickly opened the door, pointing the gun towards them. They were both startled. A crowd gathered behind him as he slowly walked forward.

“You are not from around here… What brings you?” Asmit questioned.

The two riders had both stood up and raised their hands slightly above their waists to show that they were both harmless.

“We are not here to take anything from you… We just wish to scan the red zones for habitable land… And then we’d be gone…” the rider next to the computer on the ground said.

“Hahahaha” Asmit laughed as the others behind him followed.

“What decade are you living in? There are only red zones here… Here… if you’re unarmed, you’re a settler. Or else, you are a scavenger…” he continued.

“Kill them and take their stuff.” A man behind Asmit said. “Yes…” many others followed.

“Are you a scavenger? Well… We come a long distance from the green zone…” said the other rider, as instant silence prevailed. They all looked at them in awe.

“You’re lying… There is nothing like that anymore… We were abandoned years ago…” Asmit said.

“No… we do… he is not lying. We’re from the Federation…” the rider near the computer said.

Everyone started discussing amongst each other after that revelation. Then, there was a gunshot. Asmit was holding his revolver up in the air. He pulled the revolver’s hammer to load another bullet and pointed his gun at the rider near the computer.

“The Federation is a myth… And those who speak of myths… Must die…” Asmit said furiously. Suddenly, a loud voice was heard from inside “NOOO”. It was Sarita. She came running in front of Asmit.

“If what they say is true… we can find the haven we once longed for…” Sarita said.

“Get out my way… I cannot waste bullets on the weak…” Asmit said. All of a sudden, another gunshot was heard. This one, not from Asmit’s gun. A man standing behind him had been shot in his leg. They all looked towards the other side of the road to see shadowed figures rising above the horizon. They were all riding horses.

“SCAVENGERS… RUNNN…” screamed one of them as they started escaping back inside. Sarita had run towards the fallen man. She tried to seal his bullet wound with her arm, trying to find a piece of cloth to tie over it. One of the riders came to her and said “It’s a waste… He’d die. Save yourself…”

Sarita looked up. Her eyes were desperate. She took off the cloth wrapped on her face and measured it. It was too small to be torn in half. She wrapped it around the injured leg of the man. One of the two riders pressed a button on their helmet, which slid open to reveal another glass coating beneath it. The rider’s face was visible. She was a woman.

“Let me help you get inside…” she said as she began to help Sarita drag the wounded man inside the building beside her. Meanwhile, the other rider was busy packing their equipment. After doing that, they pressed a few buttons on the electronic device attached to their wrist. They went close to the motorcycles and stood beside them. The scavengers had reached the spot. The heavy man sitting on a horse at the centre stepped down.

“My My… Someone give him a fancy-dress award…” he said, as the others behind him laughed.

The woman rider walked outside. Her face was still visible.

“We’ve got a pair have we now?” the man said.

“Who are you?” the woman rider asked.

“My apologies… My name is Mandeep… Though, with all the love that is due, around here they call me Rakshasa…” he said as he punched the woman in her gut.

“Hey… We want no trouble… We are here for the Federation’s work. We’re under oath and are protected…” the other rider said.

“The Federation you say… Vali…” Mandeep said as another man stepped down off his horse. He carried a substantial automatic rifle in his hand and a long knife on his side.

“They are from the Federation… I have heard of it before… much before the bright-night. You were one of them… those fighting for the cure… Weren’t they Vali?” he said as Vali replied, “Yes Sir…”

“It was because of a war of wealth that you and your likes waged that humankind was destroyed… My family… All our families… Everything. We lost. And with humankind… we lost our humanity too… And now you shall suffer a worse fate. Tie them up… A Man and a Woman… They would satisfy both the of hungers of my men…” he said as his men stepped down and rushed with ropes.

“Don’t go too close to my brother… He’s positive…” the woman said. Mandeep turned around.

“Brother… So, you’re siblings I see. He’s positive…” Mandeep said as he made a gesture towards Vali. The latter brought a small leather satchel to him. He took out a shiny metallic from inside and loaded it inside his pistol.

“The thing I have put in my gun is a raider-tech from the days of the civil war. When the ballistics of the world had expired, and the human-race still survived… Millions of these were made after the bright-night. The weapon of domination has never been the one to inflict the most harm. It is the one to inflict the most fear. The virus, in its most lethal mutation, was frozen with its carrier blood in these bullet capsules. Fear… The weapon of the Gods… Well, why am I telling you all this? Let’s see how positive your brother is…” Mandeep said, pointing his gun at the rider. Suddenly, the Sirens started sounding.

“It cannot be… So soon…” Mandeep, alarmed, said nervously. The scavengers behind him started climbing their horses.

“Fools… we cannot escape the storm… Find refuge inside… We would deal with them later… Come on” he said as the scavengers stepped down again. Mandeep and his men started trying to get the horses inside but to no resolve. The openings were too small to fit them. They then abandoned the horses and rushed inside the building where Asmit and Sarita were there.

“Everyone move inside… Whoever moves a muscle will be thrown out in the storm. Everyone other than my men are to drop whatever they hold…” Mandeep said in a commanding tone. They all followed his command. Then, Asmit spoke up “Mandeep… We told you… You’d find nothing here. We have been looted many a time by the eastern scavengers.”

“We still happen to find you every time, don’t we? Don’t push me to take more of you. We’d search… If we don’t find something… we take one of you. If we do find… I would take you this time…” Mandeep said. His men dispersed with their solar-torches trying to find anything of value. They grabbed all the little water containers they saw and collected them.

Meanwhile, the two riders sat in a corner on the floor near Sarita. The latter was trying to mitigate the pain of the man who had been injured earlier. The second rider also pushed a button on his helmet to reveal his glass-covered face.

“Hi! My name is Abdul… That’s my elder sister Inaya. We were not expecting… so much turbulence here…” the man said.

“Hey… I am Sarita” Sarita said, as she kept gazing at the rubble she had earlier kept above the lid. Abdul followed her eyes and observed meticulously to see the small wooden latch.

“What’s down there?” Abdul asked.

“Nothing… What? Where?” Sarita said anxiously.

“Abdul has the habit of troubling people. Ignore him. Why did you save this guy?” Inaya asked.

“We… Kill. We have been killing only. For once, I wanted to feel how it is like to save someone. But I couldn’t…” Sarita said as she left the wounded man’s hand. It fell down. He wasn’t breathing.

“It is a survivor’s world right now… Tell me. When was the last time you ate?” Inaya asked.

“It has been more than a week…” Sarita replied.

“We have food in our backpacks outside. We would give it to you… Don’t share. We only have one person’s worth extra, and we would want to give it to someone that believes in saving for a change.” Inaya said.

“But it is going to rot and burn in the storm outside…” Sarita said.

“There is no storm… I triggered the Siren.” Abdul said.

“What? You did? But… I would just need a little… not for myself…” Sarita said.

Abdul turned towards the rubble again. “For the one who is down there… Your child?” he asked.

“Not mine… She… I found her. I adopted her…” Sarita said. Just as she did, a scavenger tripped over the rubble. He fell and saw the latch.

“Sir… There is a lid here…” he said as he moved the rubble away. They opened the lid. Sarita began tightening her fist out of worry while Abdul and Inaya tried to calm her down.

“There is nothing down there…” Sarita screamed.

“Let’s see…” Vali said and went inside. There came a screaming sound of the young girl. Then, Vali came out, grabbing her in his arms.

“We have found a hidden treasure…” Vali said.

“Dessert today men…” Mandeep said. He then raised his gun towards Sarita.

“I have said to never hide anything from me… You shall get a reward for this…” Mandeep said, as he turned his gun towards Aasha and pulled the trigger. The bullet pierced through her shoulder. The little girl screamed in pain and fainted. Sarita got up and was held back by Abdul and Inaya. The scavengers were pointing their guns at them all.

“Reminds me… Why hasn’t the storm struck yet? Vali… Go outside and check…” Mandeep said.

“Me? Sir? Outside?” Vali asked.

“Don’t make me repeat myself…” Mandeep said. Vali asked a few men to follow him and went out. Mandeep walked towards Asmit. “You lie and lie and lie…” Mandeep said, moving his gun around Asmit’s face. He turned around over his shoulder and asked Asmit’s people “What should I do with him?”. Simultaneously, Asmit slowly drew his pistol. He immediately grabbed hold of Mandeep’s neck and turned him away from himself, pointing the gun to his head.

“I would kill your boss…” Asmit said. Everyone began laughing.

“You know why they laugh? You kill one head of a Rakshasa, and another takes its place…” Mandeep said as he threw Asmit over his shoulder. Utilising that distraction, Abdul and Inaya took out their guns from their suits and started shooting at the scavengers. Mandeep got shot in his right foot. There was an all-out battle. Suddenly, Asmit picked up his pistol and shot Mandeep in his head. The scavengers were shaken. They were immediately overpowered by the people around them and rendered weaponless within seconds. Vali came inside again with his men and was shot in his leg by Abdul.

“Seems like the head of this Rakshasa was without brain… The one that replaces (turned to Vali), hopefully, HAS a bran. Return now… There is no storm coming… The alarm was fake. We’d let you live.” Inaya said.

Vali asked his scavengers to retreat. They went out, climbed their horses and started back in the direction they came from. As soon as they did, Asmit said “Everybody… Grab all the plastic you can. We need to wrap the little girl. None of her blood or body remains here…”

“What are you doing? She would bleed out…” Sarita said. Asmit turned his pistol towards her.

“You stay out of it… We’re not going to die of the thing we have successfully avoided for so long…” Asmit said with determination.

“No… SHE IS IMMUNE…” Sarita said. Silence prevailed in the entire building.

“What… How can that be?” Asmit asked.

Sarita lashed out in tears “Yes… I found her… Post the bright-night… When those raiders unleashed the civil war and created fomites in every possible corner of the country… I was a health-worker for one side. We were sent to look for survivors. I initially didn’t know what they had planned for them. Eventually, I learnt that the immune were too big a threat to them… To all of them. They were ruthlessly killing them all. That’s what happens when you have cowards giving commands… But I found her. She was merely an infant… covered in too many bodies of the dead. All who died of the virus. Yet, she lived. I hid her from them all… And ran. Became a scavenger for as long as I could, but kept moving till we got tired. Then we became settlers with you… But she would never be infected of the virus. Let me heal her… or she would die of the wound…” Sarita said. Everyone was shocked to hear her.

“The risk is too high…” Asmit said as he pulled the hammer and started moving the gun towards Aasha. “Hey, Big Man…” Abdul said, trying to intercept him. Asmit, startled, shot Abdul twice in his neck. He kept pulling the trigger, but his barrel was empty.

“Nooooooo… Brother…” Inaya said as she rushed to her brother. Sarita ran to have a look at Aasha. He took his last few heavy breaths and then passed away. Inaya lost her senses and ran towards Asmit. She pushed him down and pointed her gun to his face and screamed at the top of her voice “I AM GOING TO KILL YOU…”. Everyone grabbed some or the other thing and assembled around Inaya.

“STOP IT… PLEASE… NO MORE KILLING…” Sarita screamed.

“Why are we humans, so hell-bent on just thinking of ourselves… First, the Pandemic… Then the war for the cure… We bloody launched nuclear missiles on each other. I don’t know why we call the darkest of all nights as the bright-night. Worse is what followed… a species already divided into so many warring nations was even further divided. ‘Every Man for Himself’ they said. What did it give us? WHAT DID WE GET FROM ANY OF IT? LOOK AT US… We have destroyed everything… and we keep on destroying each day we extend our hands to take away from another… rather than spreading them to help another. They say a virus defeated us… No… Not a virus. We alone defeat our own bloody selves…” Sarita said as she tried to stop Aasha’s bleeding. Inaya got up and kept her gun back inside. She was still furious. She walked to Sarita and got down on her knees. She then took a small tube out of the belt-strap she was wearing and applied the jelly-like liquid inside on Aasha’s wound.

“That’s an instant coagulant. She won’t bleed out. But we’ve to get her bullet out soon…” Inaya said. Sarita kept crying. “I’m sorry about your brother.” Even Asmit burst into tears as he sat up. “What have I done…” he said to himself. Everyone kept their weapons down and sat in circles around Inaya and Sarita.

“Can you save her?” Sarita asked.

“Yes… And she can save us all…” Inaya said as the Siren started sounding again.

“Is this you again?” asked a woman sitting beside them.

“No… This time it is for real… I have to leave immediately…” Inaya said as she lifted Aasha over her shoulder and started walking outside.

“My brother’s body… I would come for it…” she said as she walked to her bike. She kept Aasha over it and sat behind her.

“WAIT…” came Asmit’s voice as he came running out with a water-bottle.

“That’s the last of my water… Take it…” he said.

“Then keep it for yourself… You would need it. And wait (grabbed the two backpacks from the ground). Take these… Share the food and water with everyone. And, my brother’s guns… They hang by his sides. This time… Use them to protect your people…” Inaya said as she started her bike and moved forward.

After covering a little distance ahead, she tried to establish a connection with her base. “Foxtrot… Come in… This is Dr Inaya Rehman… Can you hear me?” she said over the radio.

“Yes, Dr Inaya… We can hear you loud and clear…” a woman’s sound came from the radio.

“I am reporting from the heart of the north-western red-zone… in the province of Awadh. Requesting relocation to nearest safe-bunker due to incoming storm.” Inaya said.

“Finding the nearest location for you, Doctor. Is Dr Abdul still with you or had you already parted your ways for mapping?”

Inaya took a pause. She then sighed and said with a shivering voice: “Dr Abdul was killed in action due to scavenger raids”.

“I am sorry to hear that…”

“One more request… Please make sure there is an infirmary at the bunker since I carry a wounded with me…” Inaya said.

“A wounded… Who?”

“It is a little girl. She has a bullet wound. But she has to live. She is Immune to the virus…” Inaya said.

“What? Immune?”

“Yes… We have found a Naturally Immune Subject…” Inaya said.

“What? Can you confirm that you said “Naturally Immune Subject?” the woman on the other side of the communicator said.

Inaya looked at Aasha. She controlled the tears dripping down her eyes for her brother, concealed the pain that was still fresh and was engulfing her heart, gave in to the small spark of faith that the little girl had revived inside her, smiled and said “Yes… We have found… Hope…”

Beyond The Pandemic: A Journey of Self Actualisation

Beyond The Pandemic: A Journey of Self Actualisation
 “The Greatest pursuit is that of finding oneself.”

Millennia worth of efforts in enhancing the comfort and convenience within our households has brought us to the world of today; a world presumably ready to fight obstacles of any magnitude. Nevertheless, in our incessant attempts to improve the external, we somewhat lost track of everything that is within us. This is not a tale of fiction or a euphemistic or eulogistic account, but a brief narration of experiences of the pandemic of 2020 from my perspective.

It all began on the 14th of March, when all of a sudden, my University announced that it was shutting its classes indefinitely. Although the fear of the virus was prevalent yet it hadn’t yet materialised for any of us at a personal level. The rumour of a nationwide lockdown started making rounds, coercing those from outside Mumbai to book their tickets back to their hometowns. I did the same. Coming back to my family under such circumstances was both relieving and worrisome since their fears became mine too. The pandemic hadn’t spread to a large extent in India till then. Yet, the uncertainty was terrifying. Though, not as terrifying as the thought of isolation and loneliness.

The pace of life today has made it robotic and monotonous, all the while making that monotony inconspicuous with the veils of ambition and achievement. At the beginning of the quarantine, we all resorted to virtual socialisation trusting the tested deft of the digital. It sufficed for some time, but after a while, it started feeling unnatural to me. Virtual could be a momentary substitute for the real, but never a replacement. Soon, my online classes and courses ended too. It was then that began my actual quarantine; one filled with solitary thinking, introspection, experimentation, and the pursuit of true and unrelenting happiness.

The first few weeks were the most difficult. There were always so many things that I wished to do but couldn’t, owing to the density of my schedule. Sans the lack of time, I still didn’t. Perhaps time was merely an excuse I had always used to fuel the superficial bubble in my head of my ability. It was the primary realisation I had that my joy had become completely dependent upon diversion and distraction, which further bolstered my internal excuse and satiated my guilt. To evolve beyond that dependency was my primary goal. Then, as I had just resolved to find true happiness, something happened. I stepped out.

Mask, Gloves, Jumper, Full Sleeves, Face Shield and a bottle-full of sanitizer, and I was ready for my very first day out for grocery shopping. I trod carefully and bought everything on the list, but just as I was walking back home, my eyes fell on the roadside. A family of homeless sanitation workers was cheerfully conversing as the children played with sticks and stones. I felt an urge to walk up to them, and I did. I naturally asked them if they had eaten that day, to which the kind lady replied that a van had dropped by and had given them each a course meal. I was devastated on my way back home. I checked online and found that the biggest indirect victims of the lockdown were the migrant workers and the homeless. I called up my friends and we started investigating as to how we could contribute, even minutely, towards easing their plight and pain. We took due permissions from the authorities and started cooking, collecting, and distributing food to those in need. To serve the needy was something I had always wanted to do but had presumed that I would need a much more stable economic condition to be able to do that. I was wrong.

Another disadvantage of the lack of distractions was that escaping any kind of information or following the principle of ignorance for the preservation of one’s sanity became impossible. The news of deaths, riots, suicides, rapes, Etcetera started taking a toll on my mental health. Facing the negatives of life became real for me. I could finally address with confidence what I felt wrong about the world. I could’ve only influenced the world in any way if I had considered myself a part of it as a whole, which further required me to lend it my eyes and ears. Calling up everyone I thought I had lost touch with, texting anyone I thought I need to be in touch with, ranting about anything and everything on social media or talking it out with friends, or discussing endlessly on subjects with my parents viz. misogyny, patriarchy, the LGBTQ+ community, casteism, religion, Etcetera, I did everything I always wanted to but wasn’t able to due to my procrastination.

The unpredictability attached to the idea of following our passions and dreams, or just doing what makes us happy develops our affinity towards the mundane and the monotonous. That affinity eats away our happiness while making us feel like it is channelling it. I cooked, I cleaned, I exercised, I wrote, I sang, I composed, I talked, I expressed, I heard, I shared, I created, I consumed, yet there was nothing that I did which I didn’t want to do or hated doing. The pandemic and the subsequent quarantine taught me fear, taught me how to overcome that fear through action and not ignorance, taught me my privilege and what I can do with it, taught me to address my internal sadness and work on it, taught me to acknowledge my dreams and passions, taught me the significance of both outdoors and indoors, taught me the overlooked importance of those who silently do our routine tasks for us, taught me a plethora of cuisines and recipes to impress even the most sceptical of tongues; but most importantly, in a world where we are endlessly seeking knowledge about others, it taught me who I am.

A Memoir of Insomnia and Dreams: Mumbai

A Memoir of Insomnia and Dreams: Mumbai
 “You should be ready to move a few steps back to take the leap of faith

Mumbai… A city with millions of stories and journeys, of success, of failure, of happiness, of loss, of love, of heartbreaks, of reaching the top, and of hitting rock bottoms, Etcetera. This one is a short amalgamation of a few such experiences that one goes through when they just begin their journey in the city of dreams. Of course, it is completely from my very own perspective, that of a middle-class hustler who didn’t come here chasing his dreams but did so while being oblivious to the existence of his dreams altogether.

I first came to Mumbai in 2007, as a kid, and then once again in 2012 as a late teen. Was awestruck at the sight of this strange contemporary city where nothing seemed to stop and everything appeared to be so organised. Well, it was the opinion of a tourist… not often considered an apt assessment of anywhere. This was something I came to know of much later when I visited Mumbai again in 2014. This time I had not come as a tourist. I had come as… I technically do not know what. I was lost at that point in time. It had already been a year post my schooling and I had spent it in pursuit of what I wanted from life. I remember like it was yesterday, how I joined the prestigious St. Xavier’s College for my BSc. IT, but couldn’t go through with the course for more than a month. I then joined NIFT Mumbai too, and that didn’t work out for me as well. I stayed alone in Mumbai for a while after that. Not physically, but psychologically alone in my own mental space. I was not at a good spot in my life. Opportunities which others were struggling to procure, I had casually let go. I couldn’t see much of the city then.

So, I came back to my hometown to return to the majestic city the following year. It was 2016 and I had taken admission in a technical course at NMIMS. The sheer paradox of choices that appear to a common reader… well… I was definitely confused in life. Not about my passions or pursuits, but finding a balance amid the pragmatic and the utopian. College life began as usual on a high note. The one-year sabbatical had helped me work on my own mental health. I was now ready for the majesty of the city in its entirety. Commenced the beginner’s exploratory phase where I tried everything new (for me), from beach-walks to food, midnight Gedis to unplanned brunch, from walks at the marine drive to those at reclamation, from the tea at Powai to the one at Band Stand… and much more that the city had to offer. As soon as the honeymoon phase subsided began the observational phase. I realised that everyone in the city was always behind schedule… always in a hurry. It was an anomaly that bothered me for quite some time. Be it in a local train or on the western expressway, the expressions were always tensed, the foreheads sweaty and the kinetic energies high. Regardless of the time of the day, one could easily find an abundance of such extremely motivated individuals all around Mumbai. It was a very monotonous way of life. Or was it? Spending more money than I had imagined on a lifestyle much lesser than I desired, traversing to and fro each day, sleeplessly working on my freelance projects to make the extra buck and then scraping down on the little rest and sleep I could get to start the next day… I had soon become a part of that monotony.

At first, I couldn’t cope with it. The pace of the city was effortlessly defeating that of mine. I couldn’t keep up with my schedule while pursuing my passions and supplementary desires very easily. The ambiguity was getting on my nerves. I couldn’t at all strike the correct balance to manage them both well. I was losing my sleep, my health and my energy, and it felt like I couldn’t have carried that on forever. So, one fine day I just gave up… rather gave in. I weighed in on what I absolutely had to do at that moment for the preservation of my long-term mental peace. If at that moment, it was something part of my curriculum, then I continued… if it was something else then I completely halted whatever I was doing and did what I felt like. I ended up compromising on one thing each moment. It had to be done. A single human mind cannot carry multiple targets, milestones or expected outcomes every second. There has to be just the one thing or one would be clouded with restlessness. Then, whatever decision I was making was a conscious one and not made out of desperation. It was then that I could be exposed to the real Mumbai.

Came the third and last phase of illumination. I went back to the same places… the same local trains, the same beaches, the same roads… but this time I didn’t see any monotony. The people paced not to be somewhere or achieve something, but simply because they desired to make their compromises worth it. Many had left behind their ‘well-settled’ lives to pursue their dreams, whereas many had forsaken the best of opportunities due to their underlying circumstances. But the thing common amongst them all was their resolve to not let whatever they had left behind, whatever they had compromised go in vain. Everyone had their own ends, and own means towards that end, but the city had a place for all. It had a way for us all in its routine and accommodated all of our dreams, desires, purposes and ends within it. I had become one with the city. Seeming sleepless and desperate to the world but being content within.

Today it has been more than four years for me in Mumbai. I have been sleepless, I have overslept, I have laughed and cried and what not. I came here aimlessly but it reignited my passion for writing. I completed my first novel post coming to Mumbai and have published five so far. I have pursued my childhood hobby of music. I have wilfully absorbed my education and learnt a lot. Moreover, I have formed great bonds of friendships and have been fortunate enough to find love. I owe it all to the city for teaching me the significance of making a choice in life. For so long, I was chasing the balance which never existed. That chase had taken a toll on me. Coming here made me comprehend how it is neither possible nor desirable to have it all. The right balance is not about having finished everything that’s there in front of us, but about selectively choosing and doing whatsoever makes us truly happy.

To be one with the city of Mumbai is to know your truest desires, not the ones channelled by your circumstances or your urges. The city is both what makes us and what is made by us. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from… The city would treacherously test your resolve but also be the biggest bolster in your pursuits. It would accept all our dreams, and at the same time make us realise the harsh reality of how difficult it is to walk the path towards those dreams. To be one with the city of Mumbai is to be one with yourself.

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To Those Independent… And Those Not

To Those Independent… And Those Not

This wish of mine might be offensive to some. I would come to ‘whom’ and ‘why’ later. Firstly, let me start by saying Happy 74th Independence Day to those who have been independent for the past 73 years. I am excluding a few. Why? Because I don’t think they are independent. At all. Curious? Let me elucidate.
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Most of us are celebrating 73 years of Independence in our households with a general consensus of being free within the house. Look beyond that consensus. It veils the plight of the mother, who has surely not been independent for the past many years; that of the grandmother, whose only chunk of freedom lay in her ailments and age, which one day had her excused from the duties of a household slave. A patriarchal world can never be totally Independent.
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Talking about patriarchy, look towards the daughters now. Maybe your family is quite forward and has not placed any restrictions on their children. But what’s the gut feeling you get when a young girl in your house wants to go out alone after it is dark? If it’s that of fear, I am sorry to say that she is not independent. There is a rape reported every 15 minutes in the country. We cannot imagine the number of incidents not being reported. More than 50 lakh cases of crimes against women were reported in 2018 alone, including acid attacks, domestic violence, molestation, rape, Etc. Those who are afraid are not independent.
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Coming to fear now, there are still those in the country who are victims of fanatic violence. There are so many who are expected to ‘prove’ their patriotism merely because of their religion. Furthermore, there are those who are consistently facing the barriers of caste, language, etcetera. If you are afraid to speak your mind, if you are afraid of going to certain places, if you are afraid of socialising with someone else, if you are made to feel lesser than anyone else who calls themselves ‘Indian’, if you are still to find your identity within this nation, then you are not Independent.
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Identity… Yes… For more than 70 years, many of the people in India didn’t have an identity at all. If you exist but are told that your existence is illegal, I don’t think you are at all free. Even after winning the ‘legal’ battle, the one that exists in the social sphere is greater. Our society doesn’t understand the LGBTQ+ community. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have had to make a separate community in the first place. If insults are hurled at you, if there is a social boycott against you, if just generally you are not considered ‘normal’ because of your gender identity or your sexual orientation, I am sorry but you are not independent.
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So, this is just a summarisation. There is so much more we can talk about. Firstly, just like me, if you have not personally experienced the aforementioned, congratulations, you are independent. We generally tend to assess the world from the level of comfort and support it is providing us, ignoring others along the way. That brings us to why this wish of mine is offensive to a few. Many fear that in the process of making the world comfortable for a few others, their own comfort might be usurped. They are the ones who get offended by the very idea of someone else’s plight, simply rebuking it. They either corroborate the differentiation by re-iterating it viz. ‘Girls should wear longer clothes’, ‘If you are not free here then go to XYZ country’, ‘We gave ‘them’ reservation, they are the privileged ones’ or ‘How can you love someone of the same gender?’, Etcetera; or they take offence and start abusing you for seeking freedom and in this case even me. These are the ones who are definitely independent in the country. So, once again, to those who are independent, it is time to compromise a little of your comfort for the freedom of others. And to those who aren’t yet independent, the fight is not over. Jai Hind!

To Make Love

To Make Love

What ’tis to make love?
To take that ‘step’ in life?
Be it with a partner or stranger,
Or that with a husband or wife…

Is it just an act of the body?
Or does it need something much more?
More than a simple orgasm…
Something that is rooted and pure.

It takes courage to show your nakedness,
Even in front of a mirror.
Only love embraces your bare self,
And not only for the sake of pleasure.

It can be self-love or by someone else,
To find the beauty in even a scar.
Both kinds accept your reality,
And they both hold their separate power.

Self-love is not just of the body,
But also that of your soul.
It isn’t the mere self-gratification,
But a gift to yourself as a whole.

Similar is the love by someone else,
Where ‘to please’ isn’t the only motive.
But to also peep within each other’s souls,
To share, to experience and to live…

Making love doesn’t end with the night,
It continues beyond the so-called ‘climax’.
Holding each other’s bare, warm bodies,
As they both, in their dreams, relax.

Having sex is pretty normal,
And neither an achievement nor a crime.
It is simply not an act as special,
As is finding love in one’s lifetime.

But very few accept it as it is,
Keeping the feeling locked up in a box.
‘Robotic’ prevails over the world,
And ‘human’ is considered orthodox.

But if you’ve still kept that feeling alive,
You’ve already transcended above.
Blessed you are… if you know,
What ’tis… to make love.

Featured Image Credit: Alexander Krivitskiy (Sourced From Pexels)

A Love Lost Across Continents

A Love Lost Across Continents

I have a story to tell;
Different…yet all the same.
Don’t know if it all went well.
It all comes down to one name.

Two thousand and Fourteen.
A year of my aspirations.
I was a robotic teen
Fidgeting over my ambitions.

‘A little different’ is what they called me;
For my apparent lack of emotions.
But I knew that for me
‘Love’ wasn’t ever a notion.

I thought I knew everything;
Especially what the word meant.
Never had I had the feeling;
I think I was over-confident.

Came the month of September,
I was active on the internet.
Facebook brought the strangest wonder;
A name that requested to connect.

Blamed for having unfriended,
I fought with all my might.
But soon we had concluded,
It was ignorance that caused the plight.

The 25th day of the month;
Our bond was on a new hype.
The talks reached a new length.
The only option was Skype.

The talks became very regular;
Though there was no such intention.
My departure to passion was the trigger.
She had become a strange compulsion.

Then came the news of my failure,
Dejected, rejected, loitering around.
She became my only pillar.
It was new what I had found.

It took me months to really know
What exactly it was;
Recalling the events in a row,
I wondered why our paths did cross?

There was that strange urge in me
Accompanied by a dark fear.
‘Does she feel the same for me?’
It was yet not that clear.

I saw her with different eyes,
She sat there with a halo above.
Saw those heavenly eyes,
Yes… I had fallen in Love.

The end of the first month,
My fear had almost subsided.
I was a soldier on the battlefront,
With his life, all decided.

My plans were postponed;
When our friend found our dire need.
But then my heart condoned…
I cannot delay the deed.

Came February the 12th.
I restlessly read my verse.
I could have given all my wealth,
For a ‘yes’ from who meant me my Universe.

Long Distance was difficult,
I knew it was not impossible.
For it was true what we felt.
Nothing else seemed as credible.

It took us a while to share,
The beautiful three-word phrase.
It was all more than fair.
A reality we had to face.

The bond strengthened in your visit.
We were still shy and conserved;
The relation had been tightly knit.
It was what our bond deserved.

You returned, a sad day indeed.
The few days thence were painful;
Understanding my life’s only need,
I tried to make yours colourful.

We achieved in long distance,
What few achieve together.
Trust, Love, and Patience;
To sum it all together.

Months of cries and laughter;
As if we always held hands,
Sitting beside each other.
It all went as planned.

Until the day I came to this city,
In the midst of all my fears,
Confounded, in a bad self-pity,
I couldn’t then see that clear.

What was the most beautiful,
I made it so dark for you,
Trying to grasp with a handful,
My horrors had all come true.

I couldn’t give you what you needed,
That was my biggest mistake.
I had already conceded…
That my actions would lead to your heartbreak.

Desperate to find a solution,
Though it was straight in my sight;
I had dissolved myself in confusion,
Couldn’t give circumstances a fight.

Came that unfortunate night,
It was long that I had been away.
My actions were never right;
I led it all to that day.

It all hit me in a go,
All the wrongs that I had done.
In my desperate attempts to grow,
I had lost the one.

I was born stupid.
That is needless to mention.
When I had all that I needed,
Follies were all I had done.

Apology is a minor repentance,
I shall regret being myself for life.
I have no excuses for my ignorance.
Myself dropped my heart on a knife.

I regret being so senseless.
So much more I could have been.
Born with an inability to express,
I came between our own dreams.

Can give anything for what we held.
Those were the best times.
I have so much more to tell.
Can’t get it all in rhymes.

I was a big failure,
But that’s not what I wanted to be.
I have shed my idiotic demeanour,
I just wanted her to see.

These past months were difficult for me,
Even if it was all my fault.
What I needed, I couldn’t see,
Our bond had come to a halt.

But that doesn’t change a few facts,
Even if we have missed out a lot.
I couldn’t show through my acts,
But live without you, I might not.

I failed my first promise,
I cannot hate myself more.
But I want us to have what we’ve missed,
I won’t hold it back anymore.

You have always deserved the best,
That I couldn’t be.
Fate had laid down a test,
I failed at it, miserably.

I want to make amends,
To make up for what we lost.
It is not here that it ends…
I just need the last of your trust.

I know it would be very hard,
The fear of feeling that pain.
The pain of being so apart,
You do not want to feel again.

But trust me when I say this,
I fear losing you even more,
Won’t commit the same mistakes.
Won’t ever shut the door.

It has always been so very simple,
That a complex answer is what I sought.
Talk, share, cry and giggle.
But my absence formed a clot.

The journey would be unparalleled,
If you are a part of it.
You have done all you could have,
To me… Leave the rest.

These aren’t mere flowery lines…
I tried to be as real as I could have.
I think I took a lot of time,
To say what I just should have.

I don’t want you to leave me,
I know I couldn’t be more selfish.
But I know, you still love me.
I cannot let ‘us’ perish.

Whatever is your decision,
I would ever be there for you.
I would give you every reason,
To start it all anew.

Just one last thing I need to do.
I really think I owe it to tell you.
Even through the darkest of blues,
Girl… I will never forget you.

The Perfect Imperfections of ‘Love’

The Perfect Imperfections of ‘Love’

After a decade of experiencing the innately patriarchal Indian Society and witnessing certain chauvinists and misogynists dominate over specific females of modern India, a group of four heterosexual male friends had taken a latent yet resolute oath that when-so-ever any of them would be granted the grace and opportunity of a female partner in life, he would let her superintend the general decisions and hence bring balance to the natural ways. Roger and his three best friends. This is a narrative of certain events, recent and past, entailing the experiences of two of the other three. Their names are Andre and Simon.

It was the dawn of the month of February 2015. Roger and Andre sat in a corner of Roger’s house. The usual hookah and the melancholic melodies drew teardrops out of Andre’s eyes, just like every other yesterday. Roger had to play the role of the best friend and act bothered and hence he was compelled to put forward the query “Why are you crying, bro? She’d come back to you; you know?”

“I am not crying… I just feel something getting on my nerves…” Andre said, fidgeting through his statement.

“Come on… Chill bro. She has just left you to concentrate on boards. She’d come rushing back to you right after the exams…”  said Roger, trying to ward off the gloom out of the room.

“But why did she leave me in the first-place man? All those years of dreaming to be together… and towards the end of my high school, our relationship was on a new high… then suddenly she left me. Why? She called me obsessive… called me desperate…” Andre said.

Roger replied in the routine fashion “Dude… you have been neither obsessive or desperate… Although I don’t call either of them insults… I mean Gandhi and Lincoln were both obsessed with the idea of freedom and desperately tried to achieve it through their patient means. Don’t worry… everything would be fine… Okay, let me check on Simon… It has been almost an hour since he hasn’t tasted the hookah. I wonder what he is doing…”

“He must be having those gushy pushy conversations with her… why do you think he wants isolation?” Andre followed.

Roger left the room to go and check on Simon. Co-incidentally, he entered the room right at the moment when Simon had hung up his silent conversation. Before even inquiring him about it, he came up with the reply “I just got fudged, man”.

Simon and Andre had seemingly permanent and exemplary relationships back in school. Both of them were intensely committed with their respective girlfriends. Andre had once left his girl for a day over his ex, but that was pertaining to an emotional blackmail of his ex to undertake that action immediately. Other than that, he had always been true to his commitment, never even trying to glance at other girls, live or digital. His girlfriend, Susan, was the most possessive and controlling person that can be ever witnessed on the face of the earth. Not that any of them ever judged her back then. As long as she kept their buddy happy, she was nothing less than a protagonist in their eyes. They had a decent relationship. Simon, on the other hand, was famous to have the coolest of relationships ever. Checking out other guys and girls was like the common past time for him and his girlfriend, Marla. Out of Susan and Marla, these friends could always hang out with the latter because she could present herself easily as a friend. They all loved her and somewhat knew that Simon and Marla are definitely going to be married. But the past few years have been nothing less than Buddha’s cycle of enlightenment for them.

“She left me man…” came Andre’s sobbing voice over the phone. It was Summertime and Roger was enjoying the regular deck-chair sunbathing in Goa. Andre had called over another one of his breakups. Roger couldn’t really grasp the significance of the situation back then. Maybe he was too relaxed… or maybe Susan had broken up with Andre for so lame reasons and so many times in the past and then patched up again, that the Déjà vu had become quite monotonous. Andre and Susan had recently celebrated their third-year anniversary and that too pretty extravagantly. Susan always came out as a cheesy and controlling immature girl, not that they ever said anything to Andre. This is a redundant statement. Why would they risk losing a best friend? He was being controlled. He had taken up the medical field as per her ‘instructions’ and fought with various guys and girls as commanded by her will. In their eyes, she was the puppeteer and he was the puppet. But whenever there was an emergent conversation about her, there always came the convoy of her praises and compliments from Andre’s mouth, seemingly hypnotized. Roger used to love those conversations where Andre used to mention his plea of her anger. One time when he was committed, he had mentioned that she was furious over the physical boundaries of the relationship. Andre could only talk of her as being the omniscient party, although she came out as a wannabe control freak.

“If she hugged you herself… why is she angry with you for being desperate? If she kissed you… then why are you the bad guy?” came Roger’s nonchalant worry.

“No man… that’s not the point. I have no problems with her anger. Her anger is completely justified since she is angry because I forced her to cross her boundaries, directly or indirectly. I am just sad that I am not able to live up to her expectations… She is right man. I being the elder one should have taken the call on whether we should kiss or not. So, what if she wanted to… she had earlier declared that she wanted ME not to and I failed in doing so…” Andre said.

Roger thought to himself “The Hell… Whatever he ever does is whatever she always asks. I mean she is still angry… God save the earth man…”

Such conversations had become a default regularity of their telephonic talks. After Simon’s breakup, they became the subject of their sittings. Yes… even he faced a ruthless breakup. His was more ruthless… you know why? Because, unlike Susan, his girlfriend started acting a jerk only towards the end of his relationship. So… both of them lived in their respective bubbles which kept their partners in high esteem. Andre’s bubble was one of his own creation whereas Simon’s bubble formulated over the years giving to the Oscar Winning performance of Marla.

Simon and Marla had a very healthy relationship… both physically and mentally. On the other hand, Andre and Susan had a relationship which anyone in their right mind would call nothing but ‘toxic’. Simon and Marla had more of a symbiotic relationship than Andre and Susan’s relationship where whatever Susan said was the law and whatever Andre said was wrong. But both of these two relationships seemed lasting to Roger, Simon’s for obvious reasons and Andre’s because of his submissive nature and gullibility. Nevertheless, they were wrong.

Why did they break up?

Susan failed in her 10+1 finals and was given promotion on trial. The blame inadvertently came on Andre and he had to face the guilt of her failure.

Marla broke up with Simon because she couldn’t bear with their long-distance relationship, and all of a sudden fell incestuously in love with the batch-mate she had introduced to Simon as her brother.

Simon’s relationship was quite healthy and approaching, even in its dying days. This was more because of the fact that he never even had a fight with his partner, leave it be a breakup. So, when Marla revealed her sudden intention of leaving him and rather instantly cut off from him, he immediately travelled to her city to mend the gaps. But to his horror, after a three-and-half-year relationship, she completely neglected his presence in the city and was more like dicey about even meeting him. She even cursed him for destroying her life by being in the same city as hers. Till then, Simon was not aware of her illicit relation. Well… till the moment he went over to her college and saw the two of them embracing each other in front of him. The sight, as described by him, was even disgusting for his three friends. The girl they remembered, either she had been possessed or had always faked her attributes. Roger used to get regular notifications from his sister, whose place Simon resided at during his time in Marla’s city. Their irritation amplified to furious trepidation when Marla direly abused Simon and asked him to ‘F Off’. Thankfully, Simon took a trip to a place of worship and meditation and calmed down his suicidal tendencies and returned safely to his city, where he stayed with Roger for the next week. Why? They had planned only a day of that… but as soon as he left after a day, he tried to kill himself by ingesting poison. Realizing the magnitude of his pain, Roger recommended that he stayed with him under strict supervision and counselling of friends and family. There was a moment where he somewhat unintentionally lured Roger into tears as well, who rather rarely cried. But he was always the one who was considered the ever-happy ‘Soul’ of their group. He shall always remain the ‘Soul’ but the ever-happy fragment of his had been lost to just a façade he takes over to divert attention off his pain. Their hardest of attempts to make him take it all in good sport and remain genuinely happy, all went in vain to no resolve.

 Andre and Susan were more on a track to set the world record of breakups. Susan used to always make Andre take the blame for her wrongs. Not being able to score in ANY exam, being scolded by parents, hugging and kissing Andre with her consent, not wanting to talk to him (trying to ignore him) and thus blaming him for being obsessive for trying to speak to her, Etcetera. Once, she broke up with him when she called her best friend more beautiful than herself and Andre, just like for any other thing, gave his innocent consent. Making him change career streams, instilling fake chivalry in his mind to show off her ‘idealistic’ boyfriend to the few people she called friends (that is those who could stand her existence), trying to change his dressing sense and also making him follow some untoward extreme celibacy, all in all, she never accepted him and just wanted to change him miraculously into her showpiece partner. All giving in to her inner ego, her complex. Susan lived in complete denial. She wanted to be someone, to present her as the best, and when she couldn’t at all do it, she needed someone or something to blame or else she would have imploded. The only thing that was more expendable than her friends and family was this relationship at her leisure disposal. So, she left Andre. He cried for a year and controlled his tantrums because of the assertion by Susan’s elder sister that she would definitely come back to him after her boards. He waited… and waited. He never disturbed her for she had asked him not to if he wished for her good. And all he ever wanted was her good. Then the judgement day arrived… the board exams had passed. It seemed like a year of Easter Eggs from Susan who seemed to have been indicating towards a possible reunification. But… when contacted… she seemed to have been even blunter than the last time. She refuted any feelings for Andre and called her relationship a mistake. People cease to cry at the fall of hope. He did that as well. The pain he had kept close to his heart… still rebuking anyone and everyone that whatever that girl did was not all wrong… he gulped that pain down and tried to move along. He now only cries in solitude.

Now comes the part which is most painful. Justification. They wouldn’t leave you just like that, would they? They would use all the force in the world and try their level best to justify their actions making you feel the antagonist. It happened here as well. Marla blamed Simon for not understanding her various gestures signalling the detachment from him. When he put the argument forward as to why was she being physical with him when she didn’t see a future, a faint reply came back saying “I was just trying my best for everything to be normal so that you are not hurt…” In a moment, her actions had become completely righteous in her eyes. Now she didn’t care he lived or died. Rather literally… because she had acted extremely ignorant of his quite realistic suicide attempt. Now Susan blamed Andre for a variety of things ranging from not loving her and leaving her for a day for his ex like 3 years ago, to loving her a little too much and in turn irritating her. She could easily justify all her actions. Of course… only in her eyes, that is. The Alibis, the only things remaining that don’t defile their reputation in their very own eyes. If at all these alibis formulated by them over various periods of time were negated, then their minds would have gone haywire. Hence, they completely transfused into a new life, shedding the past relating to their partners and hence founding a new self so that their past doesn’t haunt them.

Overall, two famous and envied relationships came to unfortunate ends. Years have gone by now, but both of Roger’s three best friends cry still. They find their solitude to surrender to their sentiments so that they can rejoice in the other hours of the day. Andre is working hard in the very field he had undertaken for Susan, that is the medical field; whilst Simon is all set to enter the business field as a stepping stone to his future tycoon status. They are both quite focused in their lives and are completely ready to take on the adversities the world would put against them. One thing that came out well from the breakups. The other thing is that they have both shed kilos of weight and have adhered to a healthy lifestyle, now that they have time for themselves.

A relationship is neither about the exploitation of freedom nor its encroachment. An intimidated Susan once commented that she would leave her father if he ever slapped her. Why…? They don’t understand the concept of love… which is more about forgiveness than grudges… more about accepting the wrongs than expecting the rights. Love is something which cannot be merely orchestrated as per someone’s whims and fancies. It is a symbiotic and mutual relationship. Understanding is the most important part of a relationship… ‘Favour’ is not a word in the dictionary of love. If you ever stood in the afternoon sunstroke and waited for your partner and saved your share of water for him… then it is not a favour you shall present before him while breaking up with him… Do you know why he never did anything like that? Because he did way more and never made you realize it by telling it again and again… and forgot about it himself. Love is not a give and take business. It is not to keep it as complicated as they both did. It is very simple. There are no prerequisites to love. It just happens.

Susan wanted a fairy tale life and love story where she was the princess of limelight everywhere. For Marla, she was never in love with Simon. She was just his fan and that confounded her in making that decision. But at the end of the day, we cannot blame them for the tears of Simon and Andre. It is love which is to be blamed. For loving someone nowadays is a bigger rarity and moreover a crime than hating someone. What is their fault? They couldn’t have faked all their lives with someone whom they didn’t love, right?

The phrase ‘I love you’ comes and goes so often nowadays. It is the phrase of the century, thrown around every now and then to friends, acquaintances AND strangers. People say it without even thinking twice. Of course, it is not compulsory to know someone to love him/her. Sadly, ‘I Love you’ is no more the one-way journey it used to be. It is retracted as easily as it is released. We need to keep a check on the urge to convey this beautiful message. It is not compulsory to know people to love them… but it is imperative to know yourself to love them forever. I would just request my readers… before you tell someone that you love them… think it over. Think if you can commit yourself to be with them. And most importantly, ask yourself why do you love them? If you can answer this ‘why’, then never say it to them. The love pillared on reasons falls when the pillars break. By doing this you would be preventing an innocent soul from breaking apart.

The Lift (A Sci-Fi Story)

The Lift (A Sci-Fi Story)

Amidst the symphonic shimmers of the endless evening traffic, a dull set of footsteps, pierced asymmetrically as if on a scout for a particular destination. It was Amar. The dejected soul failed by life all over. Too afraid to think of a future because of a frightening deterring past, Amar had given up. After some thoughtful wandering around the place, he finally gained the so-called ‘courage’ to enter the tall premises of the huge skyscraper. He walked past the reception, hiding his face in nervousness, and stood against the elevator door. A translucent oscillation in his dizzy vision accompanied a strange echo in his ears. Suddenly, all the echoes were halted by the pinging sound of the elevator’s arrival. There was sheer silence now. He waited for the door to open. As soon as it did, everything went back to its normal pace for him. It was the moment of truth, to enter or Not to enter.

The clique around him rushed towards the lift, pushing him ahead. He tried to control his body but was being manhandled with a push here and a shoulder-thrust there. He then gave in to the force and took the voluntary step forward; but while entering, his shoulder banged with some strangely dressed old man exiting the elevator, gazing down his eyes all the while with apparent suspicion. Amar’s nerves had now become more tensed and he stood amongst the crowd perspiring endlessly as the door closed shut. Ignoring it all he tried regaining his breath and also wiped his forehead. The panel showed a cluster of numeric buttons ranging from minus five to sixty-one. Everyone started pressing their pick. Amar resented from making a move due to his anxiety. He restlessly waited for everyone to get down at their respective floors so that he could select his floor number, the last floor, Sixty-One.

Yes, he wanted to reach the end… he wanted to end his pain… he wanted to end his life. As the last person got down on the forty-third floor, he slowly leaned forward to push the button. The lift started climbing again as soon as he did so. This time, to him, it seemed much slower than before. Every time the screen above the panel incremented the floor number, the climb became seemingly slower and slower to him. Amar started becoming more anxious with each floor, with each increment signifying the countdown decrement of his life’s end. When he reached floor fifty, he panicked and de-selected the sixty-first floor followed by pressing the ground-floor-button; but the lift kept climbing. He pressed the zeroth floor again, but, strangely, the sixty-first-floor-button got auto-selected this time. The elevator started speeding up its climb. He started pressing random buttons on the panel in a hurry, yet the lift kept accelerating vertically. Soon, to his horror, the elevator reached floor number sixty-one but didn’t stop. The number on the display kept on increasing further. Amar became afraid. He pressed all the buttons on the panel but the acceleration continued. The speed increasing… seventy-five… ninety… one-twenty… one ninety… three hundred… six hundred… nine hundred… one thousand… fifteen hundred… The elevator lights were fluctuating and the floor was vibrating heavily. The quick climb, getting quicker by the second, was creating immense physical pressure on Amar’s senses. He soon started blacking out. The last thing he could see with his fading vision was the floor number seven two nine two, and the lift door slowly opening.

***

A blinding brightness unveiled a faint shadow. Against it lay Amar, with his evanescent recovering vision. The shadow started coming closer with near-soundless whispers tickling Amar’s ears. A smile broke through the Penumbra with a light giggle. Amar was still lying with an expression of shock. He gained his apparent consciousness and immediately started trying to drag himself towards the shadow, but to no resolve. He wasn’t able to move an inch.

“Madhu… is it you?” he inquired with an elated aura in his expression. The shadow completely uncovered itself to reveal a woman. He observed carefully to find that her little finger was being held by a small girl.

“Saisha… Oh My God… Come here and hug your daddy baby…” Amar said. The girl tried to step forward to reach for Amar, but the hand that she had extended started fading.

“What happened beta?” Amar said. Just after that, an infernal fire engulfed the girl and she started screaming. Amar struggled to go forward to help the girl and called for the woman to do the same. But neither of them could move regardless of their efforts. The ground started shaking as the girl kept screaming in pain. The ground below the girl broke apart as she was submerged inside it. The entire place rubbled and suddenly came to an untoward still. Amar lay with high nerves. He heard a faint whisper again “We are ought to be apart”. The ground turned over and the place fell apart. Amar could barely hear his own voice when his senses shut off. He immediately woke up gasping, this time in a stranger world.

(Trying to regain his breath) “What is th… That dream again…” Amar said in a restless tone. He looked around to find that he was lying on a muddy bed-like structure with his legs buried in the hard mud. He wasn’t able to move around at all. He tried getting up, using all of his strength, but he failed miserably. There was no more strength to put in his efforts. Once again, he was giving up. He tried comprehending as to where he could have been, and he could not see much in the dark. He heard a loud clank from outside and laid down in pursuit of pretending to be still unconscious. He heard a pair of two different footsteps enter and stand beside him, chatting away in some unheard tongue. Then, all of a sudden, another pair of footsteps came inside. Amar tried to take a glance through his semi-closed eyes. It was a huge muscular man with a large fire-torch in his hand. The visibility inside the room had increased. The huge man was followed closely by a small woman. She came in and instantly caught hold of one of the two who had entered the place before, who in turn was also a woman. She caught hold of her hair, said something in her language in an aggressive manner, took a knife out of her back and cut the other woman’s hair lock. She then placed the knife against her throat and seemingly threatened her. The other woman burst into tears and fell on her knees. She tried running out but was intercepted by the muscular man. The woman with the knife now walked closer to Amar, conversing with the huge man simultaneously. She then kept her knife over his exposed chest and raised it above her head. Amar was alarmed and he thus spoke up “Nahi No Nooooooo! Please No!”

The woman paused hearing Amar. She kept her hand down. As soon as Amar was heaving a sigh of relief, she screamed out loud and stabbed his thigh. Amar moaned in grave pain. The woman and the man walked out. Amar started bleeding heavily and was again rendered unconscious.

***

Amar regained his consciousness again and immediately became very cautious and sceptical. He sat up and found that his legs had been released. The woman who had lost her hair was sitting beside him with another man accompanying her. She started trying to calm Amar down. Amar struggled restlessly. She kept speaking in her native tongue and Amar kept becoming more afraid. She then exclaimed in a weird accent “Stop… Please”. Amar immediately halted his fidgeting. He looked down to see that his thigh injury had been properly bandaged.

“You healed me. You know English? What are you, where am I?” Amar asked.

“We… Shodian. You… Dorian?” the woman asked.

“Dorian… what is a Dorian? My name is Amar.”

“Amar… me Shalia. Him… Mantra” she said as the man beside her smiled at Amar.

“Where am I? Why am I being treated like a prisoner?” Amar asked.

“You speak Dorian. You must not. You alive because you said some Ancient Shodian. She spared. I not spared. She cut me.” Shalia said.

“Your hair. She cut your hair. That’s not a big deal.”

“Hair proud for Shodia. We grow and we display experience. She our leader. Man her guard. Him one of many.” Shalia said.

“Baap Re… just where exactly is this place? I remember entering an elevator…” Amar said.

“You said again. How do you know it?” Shalia asked.

“Know what?” Amar asked.

The woman grabbed the torch beside her and placed it against the wall to reveal many old-looking inscriptions on them. They were all seeming as if written in Hindi.

“Yes… that is Hindi…” Amar said.

“You can read?” Shalia said with an expression of awe.

“Yes… that is my language.”

Shalia and Mantra immediately got up and spoke to each other.

“Wait here. We come.” She said as they left.

Amar started trying to get up. He fell off the bed and groaned out loud. He dragged himself against the wall and got up pushing himself against it. In the persisting darkness, he could get a glimpse of the scribbled scriptures on the walls. Amar could read the words very well. He then slowly limped against to wall to leap outside the curtain cover. As soon as he came out, he saw a huge cauldron set on fire. Around it stood an innumerable band of people, observing, chanting and dancing. There were many others who stood beside the hilltop shelters observing the supposed ritual. He tried to be inconspicuous while trying to get as far away from the place as possible. But he found himself at the centre of a huge crater-like structure, inside which the whole procession was going on. He couldn’t have escaped on his own no matter what. He was soon seen by a few who then alerted the others.

Not long after, he was surrounded by a huge number of people. Some of then started chanting what seemed like slogans at him. Then, the crowd started making way for someone to enter. It was the woman who had stabbed him. She walked through with two women behind her, holding torches to lead her way. The crowd had now turned silent. Amar was frightened. He was still in disbelief of whatever was happening around him. The woman apparently ordered a few people to grab hold of Amar. They came and held him down and placed knives against the back of his throat. Suddenly, Shalia came running and screaming “He knows the Ancient Text. Don’t Kill Him!”

The woman commanded her loyals to grab hold of Shalia as well. Then, Mantra appeared at the scene to their rescue. He started talking to the people, addressing the woman leader, in their native tongue. He held what seemed like a book in his hand. The woman, after hearing him, asked the people to let Amar and Shalia go. Mantra walked up to Amar and opened the book to a random page. He held the book in front of Amar’s eyes. Amar slowly and inaudibly read the lines, which were written in Hindi. Mantra asked him to be louder, and he did. Everyone was caught aback hearing him. The crowd started murmuring in a scared demeanour.

“Silence,” the woman said, as the crowd stopped making any sound.

“How can you Dorian read our Ancient Guides?” the woman asked.

Amar replied “This is a book of medicine I suppose. It is (interrupted)…”

“I asked you a question Dorian…” the woman said.

“This is my language…” Amar replied.

“LIAR!!! All ways of learning the ancient scriptures were destroyed by the Dorians. After the great war those centuries ago, the Dorians made sure that every human record of History, Science or anything at all are destroyed, other than those in these ancient scripts. They made sure no one but the unholy mother can comprehend or decipher what is written, cutting off tongues, fingers and punishing all who knew or taught it. So, how do you know the script?” the woman said.

As soon as she did, a heavy tremor started flowing through the ground, followed by comet-like lightning covering the face of the sky and striking the mountaintop nearby.

“It is them… Hide away Shodians… Hide away or be forgotten…” the woman screamed. There was utter ruckus afterwards. Everyone started dispersing to underground shelters. Amar couldn’t get up and was helped by Shalia. She pulled him to one of the houses where Mantra stood by. She requested him to help others. In the bunker close-by, two small children stood crying for help. Shalia rested Amar and ran for them as another comet-like strike hit the ground beside her. She was thrown away across the ground. A flock of drone-like bots appeared in the sky, descending to find their targets. There was also a huge mechanical structure hovering amidst the clouds. It was larger than ten such villages put together. Amar was clueless as to what to do. He wanted to help Shalia, who lay unconscious. He started dragging himself towards her when one of the drones intercepted him. Suddenly, a spear came and pierced the drone, which fell on top of Amar. Mantra appeared and escorted them both to a small shelter. The attack had now amplified. Amar was carrying the disabled drone with him. He started fidgeting with the panel on the bot, but it was in an incomprehensible code for him.

“Hey! Mantra… where is everything I brought with me? There was a small thing…” Amar said.

“Yes… that unholy brick. We concealed it from her or you would have been executed in your sleep.” Mantra replied.

“Yes, where is it?” Amar asked.

“It is with me,” Mantra said as he took out Amar’s mobile phone from his satchel and gave it to him.

“I would also need that,” Amar said, pointing towards the knife on Mantra’s belt.

Amar grabbed the knife and cut the back panel of Mobile open. He then opened the panel on the drone and took out a wire, which he rolled and connected straight to the soldered part of his USB connector. He then switched his phone on and started fiddling through various on-screen buttons. His screen started loading and displaying the drone’s control.

“Let us see what is controlling you,” Amar said, as he continued his clicking and sliding.

After a few seconds only, he said “What… this is not even the minimum international recommended standard. Ain’t these people overconfident…” Amar said.

Mantra gazed at Amar as Shalia still lay unconscious.

“Hey! Help me outside, just to peep,” Amar said, as Mantra held his upper-body out. Amar started looking at the giant ship hovering over the village.

“I hope this works; jammers redirect to reverse control feed. And (pushes a button)” Amar said, as the ship started to thrust across the sky.

“YESSS!!! Now the master would know what it feels to be a slave…” Amar said as the ship started tilting downwards towards the mountaintop, spearheading into it and exploding in loud flames. All the drones combing the ground automatically shut off. Everyone was still ambiguous about what transpired.

“What did you do?” Mantra asked Amar.

“(Groans in pain) Nothing much. I overrode their controls hacking into their amateur server and brought it down.” Amar said.

By that time, Shalia had regained consciousness and was trying to get up. Mantra went towards her to help her up. The three assembled as they started hearing loud cheers outside. They supported each other to walk outside and saw that everyone was celebrating the victory that they couldn’t comprehend. Then, all of a sudden, a cloud of gloom covered the village as a few people carried the woman-leader to the centre of the crater. She seemed to have been hit and was bleeding from her upper abdomen. They kept her down as people got in closer.

“Where is the invader?” she whispered to one of her underlings. They all made way for Amar, Shalia and Mantra. The woman raised hands towards Amar as he limped towards her. He got in close as she said to him “You… it was you who brought that demon down, didn’t you?”

“Yes…” Amar replied.

“I saw it. He did something with the flee and it came down.” Mantra interjected.

“(Gasping for breath) You are not a Dorian… What’s your name?” the woman said.

“My name is Amar… Well (nervously) it means immortal in English.” Amar replied.

“And the immortal shall set us free…” the woman said in a disappearing voice as she raised her enclosed fist towards Amar. He grabbed hold of it, as she dropped a glowing pendant in his hand. Her hand fell down as she seemed to have passed away.

“What is this?” Amar asked.

Shalia came walking behind him and said “That is the medallion-key to Shodia… it is given by one ruler to the next…”

“What… Wait… that means… I am a…” Amar said.

“You are our king now…” Mantra said as everybody bowed down in reverence of Amar.

***

A dark smoke-filled room, with the door slowly opening to show some light. Amar and Shalia walked in as she guided him towards what seemed like an enclosed cave-way.

“The path from this is to be traversed by the ruler alone. No one in past ever understand what’s inside. I wish you luck. In there you would know the weapon of our survival.” Shalia said.

Amar took his pendant off and inserted it inside a small hole at the centre of the wall. The wall started displaying illuminated patterns as it started sliding upwards. It was dark inside, so Amar carried a torch with him. The wall closed behind him. Shalia went out to wait for his arrival.

“What do you think Mantra?” Shalia asked.

“I think nothing. I just hope for everything…” Mantra replied. A few minutes later, they heard a sound. Amar walked outside with his torch and a bundle of books in his hand.

“There are just thousands of bookshelves inside covered in paper-preservation oils. There isn’t any weapon there.” Amar said.

“WHAT… It isn’t possible. You are the one who shall wield the weapon to defeat the Dorians.” Shalia replied.

“Well… I am sorry to disappoint you.” Amar said as he carried the books back inside. Shalia and Mantra followed him. They accompanied him inside out of rebellious curiosity and saw that there were literally thousands of concrete bookshelves built there.

“Everything is in Hindi…” Amar said as he started picking up and opening books out of random.

“They are the holy text… the weapon must also be here…” Mantra said as he vigorously started searching the place for some clue. Amar opted to join him and started throwing random books off their shelves. Shalia interrupted “These are holy books. Don’t mistreat them…”

“Okay, my apologies” Amar said as he started placing them back on the shelves. He then saw a strange-looking book covered with red paper. It seemed like a diary. He opened the first page which read in bold letters in Hindi- Bhavishya ke bhulaye kisse- Bhaag 1/9.

“What is it?” Shalia asked.

“This is strange… It reads the ‘Forgotten Stories of the Future, Volume 1/9’.” Amar said.

“It is no time to read stories… Find the weapon.” Shalia said as Amar tucked the book behind his trousers.

Their search failed as Amar returned with them back to his bunker. Mantra and Shalia went on with their daily errands as Amar started reading the book.

A few hours later, Amar came rushing out. Everyone was surprised to see his weird behaviour. He ran towards the cave again and Mantra and Shalia followed him. He started scanning the entire area for specific books. He grabbed one from a corner. His search continued while Shalia and Mantra stood questioning what he sought. He didn’t say a word and continued searching for hours. Eventually, he got seven more books. He sat down and started randomly reading them all. Mantra and Shalia kept inquiring but to no resolve. Suddenly, Amar got up and turned towards them “I know how to defeat them. Or should I say… defeat her.”

“What do you mean? How?” Mantra asked.

“These are specific guides as to when did it all begin and what exactly are the Dorians… The Dorians are not humans you see. They are androids. They are artificial beings created similar to humans on an organic level using genetic cloning technologies. And they were created by the rebel artificial intelligence program centuries ago, called ‘Mother’. The mother controls them all and began decimating humankind by erasing not just their existence but their purpose of existence. Their history, their language, their knowledge… everything. Initially, the mother was controlled by this crazy man who could communicate in Hindi. Hindi enigmas were used to encrypt it all and that is why it was the only language preserved. Over time, as humans forgot themselves and went downhill the evolution cycle, they simplified their security mechanisms and made it all very simplistic. I know what weapon we have to use against them. The weapon is there in my mind. Help me reach their fallen ship and we can defeat them once and for all…” Amar said.

“I just understood that we have to go to the mountain. But it is impossible. That place must be full of Dorian flees.” Mantra said.

“We’d hide and hike… don’t worry about it.” Amar replied.

***

The three had made their way near the Ship wreckage, hiding in the dark behind rocks and trees. The pace was crowded with drones. Amar got up to sneak inside the back entrance. He went and sat in front of the secure gateway. Mantra and Shalia sat behind him with their spears and swords, guarding his attempt. Amar connected his phone to the security panel and pushed some buttons to open the doorway. The sound of the opening alerted the drones nearby, which started coming in armed positions. Everyone rushed inside. Amar started trying to close the gate behind them, but the drones were closing in fast. The door started closing slowly but two drones made their way through. Shalia impaled one of them with her spear while mantra caught hold of one. The drone stabbed Mantra’s shoulder with a hook as he leapt outside “You guys go. I would stop them here.”

Amar and Shalia ran in as the door closed. Cutter blades started showing up across the door as they heard multiple screams of Mantra. They both helplessly continued running. Soon they reached the bridge control of the Ship. The panels were all powered off. Amar went and tried to reboot the system. As soon as the system restarted, the big screen in front started displaying weird vector visuals and sounding in a strange female sound.

“System reboot initiated. Uplink to Mother streamed. Waiting for handshake.”

Amar started scanning the room for cameras. He took hold of Shalia’s sword and went across all dubious and out-of-place glass panels and broke them.

“What are you doing?” Shalia asked.

“They shouldn’t see we are here,” Amar replied.

Amar then connected his phone to a digital input interface and started fiddling with the device again.

“Input breach detected.” the screen displayed as red alarms started sounding in the entire ship. Loud noises started sounding outside the ship. The drones were all assembling.

“I cannot go through. It needs a familiar signature.” Amar said.

Amar and Shalia started moving around in a panic when suddenly the alarms and sounds stopped. The screen started displaying a set of large blue eyes.

“Hello, Shodians… It has been long since I talked to one.” A voice came.

“That’s mother. We have to go or we be dead.” Shalia said in a frightened tone.

“You cannot leave already. The party is just beginning. At least wait for your host to arrive,” the Mother said as one of the side doorways slid open to reveal dense smoke. A shadow walked in revealing a human-like figure.

“This is Captain Dama to Mother. I am intercepting the intruders,” the man said as he took a huge jump and landed in front of Shalia and Amar. He grabbed hold of Shalia by her neck and threw her across the room. He started walking in towards Amar. Shalia started getting up as a huge drone appeared above her head. Amar hurled the sword towards the man who caught hold of it. He broke it into half and walked in closer to grab Amar by his neck. He raised him up. Amar started searching on the table behind him for objects of defence. He found an open electric grid and pulled the wires. He then stabbed the man’s ear-lobe with them. The man was electrocuted and fell back. The drone was alarmed and left Shalia to go for Amar. Amar ducked the drone and grabbed the broken part of the sword. The man got up and walked furiously towards Amar. Amar was sandwiched between them. He hurled the broken sword towards the man who caught it again.

“Unlike me… you don’t learn” he said. Then came a scream from within the smoke “Duck now.” The man’s attention was distracted as he turned back. Amar ducked down as a speeding spear came and impaled the man’s head along with the drone and nailed them to the metal wall. Amar immediately grabbed the broken upper half of the sword and stabbed the man’s throat. He groaned to death immediately.

Amar looked behind the man to find that a blood-clad Mantra was dragging himself through the smoke. He had apparently lost one of his hands fighting the drones.

“Unlike me… You dead.” Mantra said as he coughed blood.

Shalia went to help Mantra, who warned them against an impending invasion. Amar looked outside to find multiple ships hovering over them and a swarm of drones flying in towards them. He immediately took out a knife to cut the processing unit from the drone’s body. He took it and connected it to the phone. The screen displayed ‘Signature Recognized. Stream to Mother initiated’.

The windows showed the ships loading and pointing their weapons towards them. Amar hurried in typing through various display panels on the screen and on his phone. The screen turned back to display the mother.

“You are already erased… The fleet shall end your existence as well as any memory of you…” Mother said.

“Likewise,” Amar said as the screen started displaying “Master Override. Reprogramming initiated.”

“How much time?” Shalia said, holding Mantra on her lap. Amar looked out to see that the ships had loaded their blue plasma canons.

“Just a second,” Amar said as multiple drones entered the room and rushed in to attack him. He immediately pressed a button on the panel which read “Mother Program Deletion Initiated.” The drones halted midway and started malfunctioning one by one. All of a sudden, they all fell down and the ships in the sky exploded into bright plasma glitters. The screen display started dying with the Mother’s eyes still visible “It isn’t… possible… we… made… sure…” The display went dead as it all came down to perfect silence. Amar immediately ran towards Mantra and Shalia. Mantra had almost bled out.

“We won brother. Don’t give up yet. The life begins now…” Amar said.

“I… never give up. You two… never give up… for me. For Shodia…” Mantra said as he went silent.

***

Everyone stood at the centre of the village crater awaiting the people of the night. Amar and Shalia walked carrying Mantra’s corpse with them. There was sheer silence of remorse amidst the crowd.

“Shodians… Our great friend Mantra sacrificed himself in our war with others… But… his sacrifice has not in vain. He died protect the chosen one… Yes… the immortal… Amar. He has defeat Doria, Dorians and the evil Mother forever. Shodia stands victorious…” Shalia said as people started screaming loudly in joy. They came and held Mantra’s body above them and passed it along to their holy shrine. They then bowed down to Amar.

“We won…” Amar ambiguously said to Shalia as the celebrations continued.

***

23 Years later

The atmosphere of the Shodian habitats had changed and evolved. With Amar helping to build new technologies from old texts, it was now an uphill journey for them. Amar and Shalia had married, with Shalia taking the throne as the official leader. People revered her and Amar alike. Their daughter, Saisha, had grown up to be a rowdy teenager. Amar used to spend his time in the old cave-library, sometimes for recreational reading but mostly for deciphering old texts. He had taught many others to read and write in both Hindi and English. He used to sometimes sit in a hidden corner of the cave and recall his life before ‘The Lift’. He used to sketch his ex-wife and late daughter. Shalia and Saisha often enquired about them. Amar always told them how much like them they were, but how first circumstances and then God took them from him.

One night, when Amar rested in the cave, Saisha came up to him.

“Let’s go for a hike dad. You had promised. It has been weeks since you promised.” Saisha said.

Amar decided to take his daughter for a trek into the unknown forest to have his desired father-daughter time. They both walked for hours through the forest, when Saisha told him she wanted to take a loo break. He waited beside a tree as she went ahead to attend her nature’s call. After waiting for a few minutes, Amar said: “You done baby?”

Hearing no reply, Amar presumed Saisha was playing a game with him. He walked ahead and started desperately searching for her. After not finding her for the next few minutes, he got restless. He started screaming loudly “Saishaaa”. He got high on his nerves as dark memory recalls started making way into his head. Suddenly, Saisha appeared behind him “Look what I found Dad…”

“Are you crazy?” Amar said as he shook Saisha by her shoulder.

“I just went to pee dad. Calm down. Just see what I found…” Saisha said.

“Leave it be… let’s return home. It is getting late.” Amar said as he walked ahead.

“Already… Arghhh (opens the book). What’s this… Bhavishya ke bhulaye kisse- Bhaag 9/9” she said as Amar stopped walking. He turned around and grabbed the book from her. He opened it. The book showed weird sketches on every page. Then Amar turned to a random page which showed the sketch of an Elevator. Amar looked stunned. He kept turning the pages and the last page showed written in Hindi- “Amar”. It was his signature. Amar didn’t understand what was happening. He turned back to Saisha “Where did you find it? WHERE”. He angrily shook her shoulder.

“It was by that weird rock,” Saisha said as she pointed ahead. Amar hurried down followed by his daughter. He found a huge rock and walked in close to it. It looked strangely shaped and oddly placed.

“Where exactly?” Amar inquired. Saisha pointed to a place on the mud which showed the shape of a dug-out cuboid.

“Here…” Amar said as he started digging up the ground. But nothing happened. He soon gave up. He stood up and lost his balance, with his elbow falling on the rock. The rock sounded a hollow noise. Amar got curious. He started walking around the rock to its other side. Saisha followed. To his utter shock, he stood in front of the same Lift that had brought him there. It was covered in vines and weed. Amar took out his sword to cut it all off. He dusted off the door and pressed the button on the side panel. Nothing happened. He then asked her to step back as he inserted his sword between the doors. He kept pressing as the doors opened halfway. He slid through them inside the dark box as the medallion he was wearing on his neck got stuck and fell out. Saisha grabbed hold of it. There was no light inside. He pressed against the front wall to find buttons. He started pressing them. Nothing happened still.

“What is it, dad?” Saisha said.

“Nothing. Just an old forgotten memory.” Amar said, smiling while giving up his efforts. As he began to step outside, the doors suddenly shut.

Saisha became worried and ran to help her father out. Then, the light inside the box lit up. Amar was almost blinded. He started struggling to see something. The only thing he could first see was the display panel showing the numbers seven two nine two. The elevator immediately started descending fast. Amar started screaming for Saisha. He fell down on his knees due to the turbulent movement of the lift. It kept descending. Three thousand… two thousand… six hundred… one hundred… twenty… five… one… zero. The lift stabilised as Amar got up. He was perspiring heavily, still wondering as to what was next. The lift door opened as he took a gulp. A huge crowd started entering the lift immediately, dispersing him out. He slowly walked out when suddenly someone banged against his shoulder. He turned to the most frightful of sights. He saw a young and nervous-looking man walking inside the elevator. Amar gazed at him meticulously to find that it was none but his own younger self. He was shocked beyond recovery. He could do nothing but stand still as the elevator door closed. He then regained his senses and started wondering about Shalia and Saisha. He ran to the reception and asked “Excuse me… How do we get to floor number seven two nine two?”

The receptionist was amazed at the idiotic query. She looked at the oddly dressed man and presumed he was either a drunk or a maniac or both. She said to him “Sir… we don’t have those many floors… in fact… no building in the world has those many floors and possibly can have also.”

“No… I went… I just… that man just went to that floor number.” Amar said as the people ignored him. He then hastily went up to the elevator and started pressing the buttons. The receptionist called the security who came to escort Amar out. He kept screaming “He has gone up… He has gone up…”

“Sir, the most anyone can go up to is the roof at floor sixty-one,” the receptionist said. Suddenly, a huge bang was heard outside with the car alarms starting to sound. Loud screams were heard. The security along with everyone rushed outside. Amar slowly walked out. There was a large crowd surrounding a rubbled car. He saw from behind that a man’s bleeding body lay on top of it. On observing closely… Amar saw that it was the same younger self of his who had gone up. He couldn’t comprehend anything.

“But… he should have… how…” he said as he went breathless. Everyone around him started clicking pictures of the dead body and whispering as to how it must have been a drunk and crazy person. Amar was feeling nauseous, so he started coming out of the crowd. The book he had carried with him fell down. He saw and bent down for it. The book’s back cover had some more writings in Hindi. He involuntarily started reading-

“(In Hindi) Time and Fate are two independent yet collaborating bastards. Where time shall work in the strangest of ways for you… fate shall not let your happiness persist. Nevertheless… they both can be defeated. Only, if you are willing to not give up… Only if you seek to live for those who are yet to be alive… Only if you wish to be for them more than to be with them… Yours Faithfully, The Immortal who Chose to Live…”

Duality

Duality

At the break of dusk, the streets of Chandni Chowk, Delhi were reverberating with the sounds of celebration. Not of an event, season or festival; but the end of the day. There was something unique and special about this street. Each day ended with the inadvertent tribute to the completion of its monotony, so much so that the celebration had itself become a part of the monotony. Nevertheless, it was not something the residents didn’t look forward to. The mundane had to be done with, each day… everyday. Why? So that they could go back home to their families, have loud discussions with their kin, watch cricket matches in groups with their neighbours, loiter around in the street over tea mostly talking ill about the one who couldn’t come that day, and perhaps, for a change, in the midst of this robotic world… be human.

As the Sun lethargically made its way down the horizon, the excitement persistent in the street seemed to amplify. The vibrating noise of an archaic Scooter’s engine began cutting its way through the jolliness. On it rode a lean man wearing rugged formals, covered in sweat all around. His helmet’s colour had faded, his beard had aged silver and he was carrying a blissful smile on his face as he greeted everyone around him. They all knew him and he knew them all. “Assalamualaikum Azhar Bhai…” (Salaam Brother Azhar), “Aur Azhar Bhai…” (What’s up brother Azhar!), “Namaste Azhar Uncle…”, “Arre Professor Saahab” (Oh! It’s you, Professor Sir). There was utter happiness and warmth in the micro-engagement he was having with them all. He soon reached his home, got down from his scooter and removed his helmet to reveal his grey receding hairline. He picked up the polythene bags kept in the front of the scooter and gave a call to his daughter “Sana. Dickey se samaan nikal do mere haanth full hain” (Sana. Please get the stuff from the dickey since my hands are full). His daughter hurriedly took the packets out and rushed inside, pushing him aside. Azhar’s phone started ringing in his pocket, but his hands were full. As he drifted inside with a small bag in his hand and his helmet in the other, he took off his shoes at the shoe-rack kept in the small courtyard and greeted his wife and mother. He handed the bag to his wife, washed his hand and slowly walked inside the darkness looming in the small guest-hall of his house. He took his phone out to check on his phone and then kept it down on the table. He then turned towards his wife.

“Kya Hua? Bohot jaldibaazi mein lagrhi hai Sana” (What happened? Sana looks in a lot of hurry).

“Ji… Woh Ajay aarha TV pe… Hume bhi jaana hai” (Yes…That Ajay is on TV… Even I have to go) his wife replied. Azhar smiled and kept walking inside. His wife and mother slowly followed. His two daughters were sitting on the floor, peeling peas in a large metallic dish. In front of them was kept a small black and white television displaying a news channel.

“The young and dynamic author Ajay Srivastava has reached the award-ceremony and he’ll be here very soon. The 25-year old is one of the youngest to receive the Sahitya Akademy award for his excellent contribution towards cultural and historical literature of India. Also, we have heard rumours that he is ready with his sixth book entitled ‘Pashupati’. Yes, the long-awaited book is rumoured to be in the pre-publication process already. Look… Here he is… (A young and well-suited man came walking in front of the reporters of the press conference. The horde of reporters swarmed him instantly asking questions). Are the rumours about your new book being ready true?”

Ajay smiled and scanned the crowd in front of him. He then said in a composed manner “You’d get an announcement soon…”.  The crowd cheered up and a loud call was heard from amongst them “I love you Ajay…”. Ajay kissed his right hand and then raised it, waving at the crowd as he walked away.

“Abba… Kitna achcha hai na…” (Father… He is so good, right?) Sana said. She and her sister started discussing about Ajay. Azhar gazed at them with a joyful expression and said “Haan achcha hai… Par kabhi iski kitaabein bhi padhlo…” (Yes he is good… But at least read his books too). “Ji Abba. ‘Suryaputra’ ki copy issue Karli hai library se par waiting me hai” (Yes Father. Have issued a copy of ‘Suryaputra’ from the Library but it is in waiting). Azhar immediately went to his bag and took out a book from inside which read ‘Suryaputra: The Invincible who Lost’ on its cover. He handed it to Sana and said “Aapke liye… aaj hi ek colleague se li maine…” (For you… Took it from a colleague just today). He then turned towards the television. He zoomed his vision on to Ajay and kept staring at the television with a blissful smile.

The world in front of the television was humble, yet happy. The world beyond seemed magnificent and glorious. But, what about happiness? Yes, it did look happy to them all. Much happier than they could ever imagine for themselves. How can glory and magnificence be devoid of happiness? The elements of nature, in their dire ambiguity, trespassed across the virtual barriers of the telecast to observe the world of Ajay, who was now returning home after the award ceremony. As he walked past the carpet towards his chauffeur-driven vehicle, he was chased by hundreds of his fans looking for a picture or an autograph. He greeted them with smiles, signed copies of the books they brought with them and then sat inside his car. As soon as he did, his Universe changed colour. The cheerfulness outside was left outside as soon as he had closed his door on it. He was all alone in his luxury car, with no one to speak to. His smile faded just as the faces of his fans faded in the car’s mirror. The further he got away from them, the more he entered back into his very own reality. There was a hollowness succumbing him. He immediately grabbed hold of his phone to escape it and go back into his virtual life. He started seeing his pictures from the event and reading the news about himself. Soon, he reached home. The security guard at the gate saluted him and opened the humungous gate to make way for his car. He got out of the car to step inside his huge mansion. Two Siberian Huskies ran out and jumped on him to greet him. He freshened up and began cooking himself a meal. There was no one else in the house. Often, he gazed at the portraits of his parents, recalling times back in his hometown with them. “It is for you only that I’m doing all this”, his nightmares re-iterated his own phrases from the past. Neither could anything be for ‘them’ nor did he now want it all to be for himself even. But fame was now a drug for him. The thing harming him the most yet the only thing keeping him sane.

All of a sudden, he was reminded of something and dialled a number on his phone. The person didn’t pick up. He then constructed a text message reading “Please Help Me. I need it as soon as possible…” and sent it to someone. He received a response immediately “Yes, pick it up tomorrow afternoon”.

***

A loud alarm broke the silence of the morning chirps of the singing birds. Sana woke up in her bed while her sister continued sleeping. Their mother entered the room with a tray in her hand. On the tray, there were two glasses filled with milk to their brims.

“Arre ab toh Uth Jao… School Nahi jaana kya?” (At least get up now… Don’t you have to go to school?) their mother said.

“Aaj Tuesday hai na?” (Today is Tuesday right?) Sana said to her mother while yawning.

“Nahi… Wednesday…” (No… Wednesday) her mother replied. Her dullness was immediately overshadowed by an instant excitement. “Arre Sara utho… Aaj Wednesday Hai” (Oh Sara get up… Today is Wednesday) she said to her sleeping sister, who also immediately got up. They stood upon the bed and started jumping. Their mother tried to calm them down but to no resolve. They both gulped down their respective glasses of milk. The mother then went out of their room towards the kitchen. Azhar was standing in her path, right beside the small doorway below the stairwell. He was wearing his formal office attire. His wife put one hand on his shoulder and he immediately snapped out of his daydream.

“Aapka Tiffin pack kardiya hai. Aur ye list lelijiye. Aate huey lete aaiyega.” (I have packed your tiffin. And take this list. Bring the items while coming back) Azhar’s wife said to him.

“Chaliye main chalta hun Aparmita ji. Aaj ink bhi lane jaana hai” (Okay then I am leaving Mrs Aparmita. I have to get some ink too today) Azhar said as he picked up his back kept on the floor, took the keys hung beside the door and made his way towards his scooter. He kickstarted it and greeted his wife, and then left for his office.

Azhar was a high-school teacher of history at a small school in Delhi. His school lacked the luxuries and extravagance of modern five-star educational centres but faired well in the department of imparting education. He was a senior and reputed teacher in his school, so much so that he had earned the epithet of ‘Professor’. He began his usual schedule in the school until the Sun reached its zenith in the sky. It was time for the mid-day lunch break marked by the hammering of the school-bell. Azhar went to the staff room to have lunch with his fellow teachers. He sat down silently amongst them as they started loudly discussing their household chores as well as those of the school. The discussions included talks ranging from the treacherous instalments of their cars to the mischiefs of the students. Azhar observed them all in his silence as usual. They did try to involve him in their conversation. One of the faculties took a book out of his bag to show to his colleagues.

“Ye maine nayi nayi padhni shuru kari hai… Kaafi romanchak hai. Mahabhrata ke kisse hain ismein kuch aise jo mujhe pata hi nahi the” (I have started reading this one recently. It has some stories from the Mahabharata which I wasn’t aware of myself) the person said. Azhar’s attention was caught by the book.

“Ye toh Ajay Srivastava ki kitab hai na? Meri betiyon ko bohot pasand hai.” (This is Ajay Srivastava’s book, right? My daughters really admire him) Azhar said to the person.

“Ji! Kaafi jawaan lekhak hai. Main padhke aapko deta hun fir…” (Yes! He is a pretty young writer. I would give it to you after reading then…) the person said. The woman sitting across him looked at him with a strange expression. He stuttered for a bit and then continued speaking to Azhar “Par aapko itni samajh nahi aayegi na hi achchi lagegi. Aap dekh lijiyega” (But you won’t understand it nor like it that much). Azhar smiled at him and said “Meri betiyon ko achchi lagegi ji” (My daughters would like it, Sir). The person replied “Chaliye fir aaj school ke baad lelijiyega aap” (Okay then take it from me when the school gets over).

The school hours soon finished and Azhar started making his way towards his home. He stopped for a while at a small grocery store, then at a vegetable vendor and finally at an Antiques and Pawn Shop. After collecting whatever he needed to, he started his journey back home on his scooter. He entered the lively and rather living streets of Chandni Chowk and warmly greeted everyone around him. On reaching home, he took off his helmet and grabbed hold of his bag. His phone was constantly ringing but he couldn’t pick it up. He called out for Sana to help him with the packets. He went inside and heard the loud sound of the television and had a small chat with his wife Aparmita. He then went to his daughters and seeing them so excited watching Ajay Srivastava on television, he brought out the copy of the book given to him by his colleague. He gifted the copy to Sana as she started jumping with exhilaration.

“Par Usse Pehla beta ye batao ki tumko Suryaputra Karna ke baare me kya pata hai?” (But before that my daughter, tell me what you know about the Sun of God, Karna?) Azhar said. Sana held a blank expression on her face. Everyone stared at her for a while and then broke into a loud laughter at her cluelessness. “Thik Hai… Main batata hun” (Okay then… I shall tell you) Azhar said, inducing curiosity in the demeanour of everyone in the room. “Yes, Abba kitne dino baad koi kahaani sunayenge aaj” (Yes, Dad is going to narrate a story after so many days) Sana said in an excited tone. The entire family sat together in different corners of the little room, be it on the floor, on the mat, on the bed or the plastic chairs. Then, Azhar started his narration in his very own and adored style.

So simplistic was the world of Azhar where a mere gift of such a small magnitude could bring all the joy one could wish for their kids and family. It was humble but pure in all its forms. In the void of materialistic pleasures, they had collectively understood that they aren’t pleasures at all. The only they knew were the actual pleasures of life which existed in the smallest of moments of happiness. Whereas on the other side, Ajay seemed to have everything one could virtually desire as a means to a happy life. So, why was he unhappy? Perhaps n his pursuit of achieving ‘everything’, he could never retain the few things that actually mattered.

“Der horhi hai. Bacchon ko khana khila do. Aaj main der raat tak kaam karunga. Tumhari liye firni laaya hun” (It is getting late. Give the kids their dinner. I have to work till late night today. I have brought Rice pudding for you) Azhar said as he gave a small earthen-pot, covered with aluminium foil, to Aparmita. He then took his bag and went towards the stairwell. He took out a key from his bag and opened the lock on the door to enter inside. There was pitch-black darkness inside. He switched on the bulb to reveal the small dusty room, full of bundles of papers. There was a typewriter kept on a small table in front of him. He took out an ink ribbon from his bag and started replacing the one fitted inside the typewriter. He then sat down and loaded a paper and started typing something. His phone beeped suddenly. He took it out to see that he had received a text message reading “Please Help Me. I need it as soon as possible…”. He got lost in thought for a few seconds and then sent the reply “Yes, pick it up tomorrow afternoon”.

Continuing typing on the typewriter, he wrote the words “The End” at the end of the page. He typed down his name, “Azhar Sheikh”, in full below the phrase. But then he immediately cancelled it out by retyping on it. His hands became stiff for a while as he zoned out again. But after a while of contemplating something, he smiled and said “For my family” and typed something below the cancelled-out name. He took the piece of paper out and raised it up, revealing a name written in capitals below the overwritten one. It read ‘Ajay Srivastava’.

The End

-Azhar Sheikh

-Ajay Srivastava

-Rishabh Dubey ‘Kridious’