spoon

Kiddo

14

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Dedicated to my baby brother, whose childhood days were some of the best days of my life.

Lesson 1

Should you ask him to introduce himself, he would start in his mother tongue, which is Kannada. But his mother, like most mothers these days, wanted him to learn English well and insisted on his answering in the same. Either ways, he would just say something for the heck of it, as he always has a busy schedule. Those who hear him might find it funny, but the boy is nothing less than serious:

Hi my name is Kiddo and I am six years old. Actually I am six years and one month old. I celebrated my happy birthday last month. I study in 1st Std ‘A’ section in Saint Charles English School. Kiddo is not my real name. It is my duplicate name. My original name is Kishan. My elder brother kept that name to me and now everybody calls me Kiddo. But now I am very very angry with my elder brother so I don’t talk to him now. My best friends names are Deepak and Abdul. And I like Maggi. OK, bye.

It was Friday, the 5th of November. Having woken up at seven in the morning, Kiddo was waiting for his mother to take him to bath. It was Deepavali, the festival of lights, and his mother was busy decorating the house. Kiddo knew that it was a festival of crackers. He also knew he would be ignored by every member of the family today, for his mother had assigned work to everyone. He would be the cynosure of all eyes only in the evening. For now, he was ignored, and he didn’t like it one bit.

Kiddo went and stood next to his brother, who was busy decorating the front door with a festoon of mango leaves. He cast a glance at Kiddo, who was standing with his head up and hands locked behind his back, like an invigilator minding the exam hall; his hair all rumpled and his night dress – Bermuda shorts and banyan – all cringed. He occasionally rubbed his face and yawned, but stood his ground until he got his elder brother’s attention: “Good morning, Kiddo.”

“Good morning. Call me if you need some help, OK?” Kiddo said, with his hands still locked behind his back. The very next moment he remembered that he was actually angry with his elder brother, and slapped his forehead for having talked to him and ran inside.

His brother smiled, shook his head, and continued with his work.

Kiddo’s next stop was the kitchen.

“Mummy,” he cried.

“Don’t come inside, you dirty boy. Go to the bathroom. I’ll be there in a moment,” his mother said, before he could even attempt to step inside the kitchen.

Kiddo made a sad face and walked towards the bathroom. Once inside, he removed his Bermuda shorts and banyan, and stood in front of the mirror in his underwear. Just like everyday, he could not see himself in the mirror, for it was hung a bit high.

‘I should grow taller,’ he made a resolution, not knowing how to do it, and stood on the stool. He could now look himself in the mirror properly. He rubbed his face once again with both hands and smoothed his hair. He then stretched his lips, baring his teeth. ‘They are so clean. Why do I need to brush them?’ he said to himself.

“They certainly look clean, but you should still brush them today,” his mother announced as she entered the bathroom.

He got off the stool and took his toothbrush, realizing that there was no way he could avoid brushing his teeth and taking bath. At least not until he grew up.

After finishing his ablutions, his mother readied him in his new pair of shorts and t-shirt. When she took the comb, he didn’t allow her to comb his hair and insisted on doing it on his own. His mother gave up and handed over the comb. He stood in front of the mirror and tried to copy his brother’s hairstyle. He tried for about ten minutes, but to no avail. He got angry, threw the comb away and ran towards the kitchen.

Kiddo’s mother heaved a sigh of relief when she succeeded in making him drink his regular glass of milk. Her next challenge was to make him eat his breakfast. Half an hour later she heaved a sigh of relief for the second time.

By the time he wore his shoes, his brother Kiran was waiting for him outside, with his bike. Kiddo went and sat behind him on the bike, without a word. His brother kick-started his bike and his mother waved him goodbye. They were headed to Deepak’s house, Kiddo’s classmate.

“So what’s your plan today?” Kiran asked his little brother.

The boy didn’t respond. Through out the journey Kiddo never responded. Should you ask him why, he would tell you:

Remember I told you I am angry with him. You know why? Because I saw him with a girl last week. I hate girls. You know why? Because last month in the class my bench-mate Sonia complained to miss about me. I don’t know why misses make girls sit next to boys. I don’t like it. Girls are always smelly. Their hair oil smell and powder smell are very very bad. Sonia smells nice but still she is a girl. So I hate her. It was my happy birthday that day and I was wearing colour dress. My 2nd best friend Abdul sat next to another girl Priya. He sat in 2nd bench and I sat in 4th bench. It was the drawing class and he didn’t have rubber. So he turned to me and asked rubber. I opened my geometry box which has Harry Potter picture on it and took the rubber and throwed it towards him and he catched it. Miss saw Abdul catching rubber and asked who throwed it. Abdul didn’t tell so miss shouted looking at me. I was very very scared. She didn’t have know but Sonia told it was me. Miss made me stand up on the bench for the whole period. From that day onwards Abdul, Deepak and me decided to hate girls. I tried to tell my elder brother Kiran that he should not make friends with girls but he just laughed. So only I am angry with him.

Kiran and Kiddo reached Deepak’s house at about eleven o’clock. Deepak’s elder brother Darshan and Kiran were classmates in college. The moment the bike stopped in front of the house, Kiddo ran towards the house, yelling Deepak’s name.

Two gulab jamoons later Kiddo and Deepak headed towards the garage, which was behind the house. It was more of a Cricket and Football stadium than a garage. Sometimes it turned out to be a club when the boys decided to play WWE trump cards. At the present moment it was a Cricket stadium. An hour later it turned out to be a club.

Another hour later Deepak’s mother called the boys inside for lunch. It was a herculean task for Deepak’s mother to make the boys finish their lunch. But somehow she found it easier to make them sleep for about two hours. It was four o’clock when the boys woke up.

Lesson 2

The garage had missed its owners for nearly three hours, and now that the boys were back, it looked alive again.

The plan was to play Harry Potter. Even the magic wands were ready. But Deepak’s elder brother Darshan had a little surprise for the little boys.

“Hello, boys,” he said as he entered the garage.

“Hi,” said the boys.

“I want to show you both something amazing. Want to see?”

The boys quickly nodded, as they knew from experience that Darshan always had surprises for them.

Darshan went to a table on which lay a computer covered with a plastic cover. He was just about to pull out the plastic cover when Kiddo said in a lordly manner, “I know what it is. It’s a computer.”

“Of course you know, Kiddo,” Darshan said, smiling at the boy. “But it’s not an ordinary computer. It’s something else.”

The boys looked at each other and then turned their attention towards Darshan.

“I am going to tell you a secret. But you shouldn’t tell it to anyone. Can you promise me that?” Darshan said in a hushed voice.

“God promise!” the boys said, imitating the hushed voice.

“But can we please tell about it to Abdul? He is our group member. It is against the rules to keep secrets from each other,” Kiddo almost begged.

“Yes, yes,” Deepak cried, nodding his head vigorously.

Darshan stroked his chin, posing as if he were giving a serious thought to it. Those five seconds he took to decide seemed like eternity to Kiddo and Deepak. “OK,” he said finally. The boys looked relieved.

“OK, tell us, tell us. What is it?” the boys cried, now standing next to the computer.

“All right,” said Darshan, and lifted the plastic cover. “Boys, this is a …,” he paused, much to the agitation of the boys, and said, “Time Machine.”

The boys stood there with their eyes wide open and jaws dropped. None of them said anything. Darshan switched on the computer and the screen came alive. He opened a simple C program that solves some basic mathematical problems like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Before he ran the program, he said, “OK, now to demonstrate how it works, we’ll go back only five minutes in time.” He showed them the time in his digital watch which said 5:07 pm. “All right. Now as soon as I press the button you should close your eyes. I shall tell the machine to take us back in time.”

The boys nodded hopefully. Darshan pressed ctrl+f9 and the screen turned black. The boys quickly shut their eyes. A few seconds later Darshan asked them to open their eyes. The boys did as they were told and looked around the garage for any changes. Nothing had changed.

“We have only moved back five minutes, boys. Don’t expect big changes. Now see the time on my watch,” said Darshan.

The little time-travelers stepped forward and saw the watch. It said 5:02 pm. “Whoa!” they exclaimed with joy, jumping up and down. “Have we really traveled back in time?”

“Of course,” said Darshan. “See there. When I came into the garage that big plastic cover was still there on the time machine, right?”

The boys noticed it for the first time. The machine was switched off and was covered with a plastic cover; just the way it was a minute before.

“Yayyyyy,” the boys cheered as they started gamboling.

Darshan reveled in the boys’ merriment.

A minute later Kiddo stopped frolicking and became silent. Before anyone could ask why, he ran out of the garage. He returned two minutes later and announced, “This is not a time-machine.”

“What makes you say that?” Darshan asked, smiling. He knew how the boy had found out.

“You are lying. I asked aunty what time it was. It is 5:10 pm now,” Kiddo said, making a sad face.

Darshan was just about to try and convince him that it was indeed a time-machine when his mother entered the garage.

“Sonia’s parents have gone out for a while. So she will stay here with you boys, OK?”

Kiddo and Deepak didn’t say anything. It was too conspicuous from their expressions that they didn’t want Sonia’s company. Darshan knew about the little boys’ deal about hating girls. He grinned and said, “Oh, yes, ma. No problem at all. I am going to my friend’s place now, but these two will keep her company.”

The little misogynists looked up and glared at Darshan, who was still grinning. Their expressions clearly said, ‘How could you do this to us?’

“Good,” said Deepak’s mother, “And no fighting, all right?”

Lesson 3

Sonia’s house was right in front of Deepak’s house. Though they were all classmates, Deepak and Kiddo never talked to her because of a pact they had made, following an unpleasant incident in the class.

Darshan said to the girl when his mother had gone back inside, “You look like an angel, darling.”

Kiddo and Deepak studied her person carefully. Though they found her lovely, they didn’t express it. It would take them some years to know the art of flattering girls. They were simply too young for that. But if you had secretly asked Kiddo as to how she looked, he would have told you:

Sonia was wearing white frock and white shoes. Her hair was silky silky and without oil. She has two small small horns, made up of hair and rubber band, on her head. She was looking cute. But I did not tell Deepak. It is against the rules of our gang to call a girl cute.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling, swaying her tiny body left and right, which looked like a little dance. She continued, “This is my new frock, you know.”

“Really?” Darshan asked, “How wonderful is that! What about your shoes? Are they new too?”

“No,” she said, and stopped smiling.

“It’s OK. They still look new though,” said Darshan.

Sonia smiled again. It was the most beautiful smile the three boys had ever seen in their lives.

“All right,” Darshan said, clapping his hands, “The team is perfect now: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Tell me, who is Harry?”

Since Kiddo didn’t want to fight with Deepak in front of Sonia, he said that he would be Ron Weasley. Deepak, who was a bit surprised that Kiddo should give up the lead role without putting up a fight, smiled generously.

Darshan was enjoying every bit of this. He said, “Oh, great. You know, Kiddo, Ron marries Hermione when they grow up.”

“No,” Kiddo almost screamed that made the girl shiver and take a step back.

“Haven’t you read the seventh part? The Deathly Hallows? Oh, oh, Kiddo, you should start reading now. Books are far better than the movies, you know.”

Kiddo turned his attention to Deepak and started fighting over the lead role. Darshan gesticulated to Sonia and whispered, “They are mad.” She covered her mouth with both hands, hunching her shoulders up and giggled, happily.

“I will be Harry,” Kiddo was saying.

“No, I will be Harry,” said Deepak.

“I have a scar, so I will be Harry,” Kiddo argued.

“Liar. You don’t have it. See,” said Deepak, touching Kiddo’s forehead.

“I don’t have it on my forehead. I have it on my neck, see,” said Kiddo, tugging his collar.

Deepak broke into a peal of laughter. “Harry Potter with a scar on the neck!”

“At least I have a scar. What do you have?” Kiddo said, seething.

“I have –,” Deepak was cut in by his elder brother.

“Deepu, let Kiddo be Harry today.”

Deepak started crying. It took about five minutes for Darshan to convince him as to how Harry Potter couldn’t survive without Ron Weasley. Deepak finally stopped crying and agreed to become Ron.

With that Darshan decided to take their leave. He kissed Sonia on the cheek and wended his way out. J K Rowling’s characters were left for themselves.

No one knew how to begin. Kiddo and Deepak took their wands and stood silently. They kept looking away from Sonia, but occasionally stole glances at her. Sonia, on the other hand, stood there, tapping her toes.

“We have to test you before we can accept you as a team member. So we are going to ask you some questions, OK?” Kiddo managed to say at last.

“OK,” said Sonia, meekly.

“What is the spell that makes things fly in the air?”

“Wingardium Leviosa,” she was quick to answer.

“Good. Tell us the spell Hermione uses against Professor Snape while Harry is playing Quiddich.”

“Expecto Patronum.”

“What is the spell that kills Harry Potter’s parents?”

“Avada Kedavra.”

The interview went on for another few minutes, and Sonia answered them all with certitude.

Kiddo and Deepak looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. A new member had joined the gang.

Deepak gave Sonia a wand – one of the five his parents had bought from a children’s gift shop for his birthday.

Sonia took the wand and eyed it as if she were building a rapport with it. She looked around the garage and settled her gaze on the computer, which was previously known as time-machine. She waved her wand and cast a spell, “Wingardium Leviosa.”

As co-incidence would have it, a gust of wind lifted the plastic cover from the computer, making it float for a few seconds in the air before touching ground.

The boys were surprised beyond means. “Wow! Your spells actually work,” Deepak cried out.

“I know,” she said, haughtily, and tucked her wand in her frock’s faux belt.

They started playing, waving their wands and casting spells at each other. They played for an hour and the boys loved Sonia’s company. They found her adorable and fun to be with.

Several minutes later a small rat fell on Kiddo’s shoulder and he started screaming. Deepak just stood there, not knowing what to do. Sonia took out her wand, waved it and said in a shrill voice, “Expelliarmus.”

The rat didn’t move and Kiddo continued screaming, closing his eyes.

Sonia cast her spell again, “Expelliarmus.”

The rat still didn’t move. She thought for a moment, took a brave step towards Kiddo, waved her wand at the rat and said, “Stupefy.”

This time the rat jumped from Kiddo’s shoulder and ran away. Kiddo was still screaming. “It’s OK,” said Deepak, “He’s gone. Sonia made him go away.”

Kiddo slowly opened his eyes and looked at his shoulder, and then at Sonia. She smiled. He thanked her. For Kiddo, for the next few years, Sonia would always be the girl who saved his life.

Deepak’s brother came running into the garage. “What happened? Who screamed?”

When he was told about the rat attack and Sonia’s presence of mind, he laughed wholeheartedly. None of the gang members understood why.

Ten minutes later Kiddo’s brother arrived in a car to pick him up. Kiddo saw Sonia standing next to Deepak and thought of becoming Ron Weasley next time. He called Deepak aside and said, “Now that Sonia has joined our group, can we not hate girls anymore?”

Deepak thought for a while and asked, “But do you think Abdul will agree to this?”

“We shall explain it to him in detail. Especially about the rat incident.”

“OK. I too like her,” said Deepak.

He then took cautious steps towards Sonia and asked her, hesitantly, “May I touch your hair?”

“OK,” she said, blushing and smiling, divinely.

He touched her hair and exclaimed, “Whoa, it is so soft.” He suddenly let go and said, “OK, bye.”

Having said ‘bye’ to all and Sonia, who smiled and waved at him, Kiddo started walking towards the car. A few seconds later Darshan caught up to him and gave him a black cap.

“But I already have one at home,” said Kiddo.

“This is not an ordinary cap. It’s a magic cap. Anyone who wears it becomes invisible. Just like Harry Potter’s cloak,” said Darshan.

“You are bluffing,” said Kiddo, shaking his head.

“All right, I will prove it to you. Wear it in front of your brother. You’ll know what I mean.”

Kiddo’s brother smiled as they approached him. “Hey Kiddo, how was the day?”

Darshan whispered, “Wear it.”

Kiddo wore the cap and stood with his arms folded. Kiran knitted his brows and looked around. “Where is he?” he cried.

Kiddo circled his elder brother, tugging at his shirt and punching him in the stomach, laughing as he did so.

Kiran continued his act. A minute later Kiddo stood in front of him and took off his cap.

“There you are. How did you do it?” Kiran asked with an astonished look on his face.

Kiddo looked at Darshan, who gestured not to say.

“I won’t say,” Kiddo said and walked towards the front seat of the car.

Lesson 4

Kiddo always sat in the front, next to the driver. But now there was a girl sitting in his seat. Kiran’s friend. He angrily muttered something under his breath, shut the front door hard and went and sat in the back seat. The girl turned to him and asked, “You must be Kiddo. I’m Priyanka.” She didn’t get a response.

Kiran took the wheel and drove off. Just when they were passing a big, empty field, Kiddo yelled, “Kiran, Kiran, Kiran, Kiran…”

Kiran brought the car to a screeching halt and asked, anxiously, “What happened?”

“See that big stone over there? We peed on that stone last week when we were returning from Deepak’s house. Remember? Shall we pee again there?” Kiddo asked, with his hands on the doorknob, ready to jump out of the car.

To Kiddo’s annoyance, the girl burst into laughter. Kiran turned to Kiddo. “Just keep quiet till we reach home, all right?”

Kiddo made an angry face and wore his magic cap again.

“Oh, no, not again. I’m sorry. Please come back,” Kiran begged.

But the boy was in no mood to forgive. He pulled the cap down, its brim covering his eyes, and sat with his legs crossed and arms folded.

Kiran sighed, feigning disappointment, turned and shifted the gear and drove on. On the way he made one more stop to drop his friend home.

***

Kiddo didn’t remove his cap until he reached home. He showed his magic tricks to everyone by becoming invisible. Everyone looked befuddled.

It was six-thirty in the evening. His mother dragged him to the bathroom and washed his hands and legs. Twenty minutes later when he emerged out of his room, everyone complimented on his new dress – a pair of jeans shorts and a white t-shirt, with a picture of Mickey Mouse on it.

His mother then took him to the Pooja room, applied a tiny dot of vermilion on his forehead as he joined hands and said a small prayer. He lighted an incense stick and ran outside to burst some crackers. His parents and his brother followed suit. The celebration had begun.

There was one primary difference between Kiddo and his elders: he didn’t need a reason, a festival to celebrate.

********************The End********************

Copyright © Karthik 2010

Flight

35

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A few months back I participated in a short fiction contest. The topic was the picture below. The contestants were asked to interpret the picture in anyway they wanted and weave a story in not more than 250 words.

There were around 230 participants. I didn’t win, but I was listed among the top scorers.

I’d somehow forgotten to post it. Doing it now.

*********


Valoury, the bird, was flying majestically over the trees, high up in the sky. Even though he was born a bird, he’d never believed he could fly. ‘I don’t think I could fly, mamma,’ he’d confided in his mother when he was little. ‘Remember, son. You are born to fly,’ his mother had said. Those words had instilled the much needed confidence in him. And now, reminiscing that moment, he flew higher.

After flying for about an hour, Valoury decided to rest. He flew down to a house and sat on the compound.

***

Upon seeing the bird, Viplav, who was playing in the veranda, came running to his mother. He looked morose.

“What happened, dear?” his mother asked.

“I can’t fly like a bird, can I, ma?”

She looked at her five year old son and smiled. Viplav eagerly awaited her response. She gave a peck on his cheek and said simply, “Why not, sweetheart? Of course you can fly. You can become a pilot and fly aeroplanes.”

Viplav’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Yes, my love,” said his mother and kissed him again.

***

Now, Valoury and Viplav were face to face with each other. Staying true to his name, Valoury had not flown away in spite of being approached by a human. They looked at each other in mute amazement. The bird saw his past in the boy, and the boy saw his future in the bird.

********************The End********************

Copyright © Karthik 2010

Unsullied Retribution - Explanation

6

Category:

The three victims in the story represent the three basic weaknesses of a man.

The first one – the old man – when tries to help the killer (who identifies himself as M) is not sure of his knowledge about the right path. The uncertain old man here represents “Self-doubt”.

The second one – the pretty girl in the car - underestimates the killer (who identifies himself as A) and tells him outright that he can’t reach his destination. Here, she represents “self-condemnation”.

The last one – the burly man at the graveyard – tries to scare away the killer (who identifies himself as N). He represents the deadliest weakness of a man – “Fear”.

The letters that the killer gives as his name; when added becomes MAN – representing every person in this world, irrespective of gender, race, culture, etc.

In the story, his journey becomes easier with each killing, and his surrounding, which is quite difficult to interpret in the beginning, becomes easier to understand upon killing the people (weaknesses).

A man can attain his true freedom only when he first realizes his weaknesses, and then kills them. This is what is shown in the last paragraph, when the protagonist, before switching off the light catches a glimpse of the book “Freedom at midnight”. Freedom at midnight it is (freedom at last); he says to himself, before drifting of to a peaceful sleep.

Unsullied Retribution

19

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It was ten o’clock in the night when I made up my mind. It’s now or never, I said to myself, and got off the cot on which I was sleeping, or perhaps, trying to sleep. I took out a brand new pair of black trousers, black shirt, and a black leather jacket from the bureau and wore them. I then sat on a chair and wore my dark leather boots. I went to the bureau again and took out a hunting knife. I shall find them and kill them all today, no matter what, I swore. I eyed my weapon intently. The glistening steel blade had vengeance written all over it. Putting it back in its sheath, I got out of the room. A minute later, I was out in the dark, silent night, on a lookout for my victims.

***

The dogs were silent, the wind was blowing mildly, the city was asleep, and the road was barren. I walked on. There was no moon to guide me, no stars to give me hope; all I had was a purpose to achieve.

Fifteen minutes later I was in the city outskirts, miles away from home. A few hundred meters away I could see the two roads diverge. I had a choice to make. I stood there contemplating when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I swiveled round to see an old man of about seventy.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m here to help you,” said the old man.

“OK. Tell me which road to choose.”

“First tell me your name.”

“I’m M,” I replied.

“OK, M,” the old man said, “Take the one on your right, and you’ll reach your destination.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, getting a little skeptical.

“Well, take the one on your left, my friend.”

“But you just asked me to take the right.”

“Yes, yes, you should take the road on your right. Go on, go on, reach your destiny,” said the old man scratching his head.

“You are still not sure, are you?”

“I think you should take the left,” said the old man, blinking his eyes.

I knew I had found my first victim. Without thinking or saying further, I took out my hunting knife from its leather sheath, and plunged it into the old man’s chest. Blood oozed out of the old man’s chest as he sagged down. A moment later he died.

I looked at the dead body, and then at the diverged roads. I made my choice and walked on.

I, the killer, was on the move again.

***

The surrounding was devoid of all the sounds of nature. The only sound I heard was the squeaking of my boots. The darkness had reigned supreme, and it was a journey into the void. I looked up toward the sky. Blackness. I wasn’t bothered, for I was possessed with only one thing – killing.

I looked at my watch. It said ten forty. I walked on resolutely. A few minutes later, a sedan came out of nowhere and stopped beside me. The window-glass rolled down, and I saw a pretty girl at the wheel.

“Want a ride?” she asked, smiling.

Without replying I opened the door and stepped in, taking a seat beside her. She drove on.

“So, where are you going?” she asked.

“To the graveyard,” I answered, without looking at her.

“What for?”

“I have an appointment.”

“All right,” she said. After a pause she asked, “What is your name, by the way?”

“I’m A,” I said. This time I looked straight in her eyes.

“OK,” she said, and shifted gear.

The car was moving at 100 km/hr now, and I didn’t even flinch.

“I don’t think you’ll make it,” she said flatly.

“What do you mean?” I asked, without taking my eyes off the road.

“I mean you won’t reach your destination. Graveyard, that is,” she said, smiling sarcastically.

“Why not?” I asked, becoming curious.

“Look around. It’s so dark and scary. Also you don’t look the type who’d take the risk. Only a few people can go there, you know. And you are not one of those special few,” she said, and laughed until she had tears in her eyes.

“Stop the car,” I said with austerity.

She slowed down, and finally stopped. “You want to walk?”

“No, my dear. I’m taking your car,” I said, taking out my knife. She gasped, but before she could say anything I slit her throat. Her body wriggled as the blood gushed out of her throat, and a minute later, she died. I pushed her limp body out of the car, sat in the driver’s seat, revved up the engine, and drove on.

I soon realized that my journey was becoming easier with every killing.

***

The dashboard clock read eleven ten. The wind which I thought was mild until now, was hitting my face tempestuously. I didn’t bother to roll up the window-glass, as I couldn’t resist the challenge posed by the wind.

I put the car into top gear and pressed down the gas pedal. In less than five seconds the speed shot up to 140 km/hr. The stereo system was glowing with green colour, and when I pressed the play button, Eminem’s Stay Wide Awake filled the car.

…come with me to the dark side of the force

No man would boldly go to this place

The devil only knows of this world

So dark and oh so cold, it’s all so cold, all so cold...

Everything was perfect; the speed of the car, the cavernous darkness outside, the song.

Five minutes later I brought the car to a screeching halt in front of a big, rusty, Iron Gate. I had reached the graveyard, my destination. I turned off the ignition key, and stepped out of the car. For the first time in that night I could see and hear some changes around me. A lid of dark clouds had partially lifted in the sky, and slants of moonlight reflected on the metallic body of the sedan. I could see some bats flying over the graveyard; I could hear dogs barking, and owls hooting. The silence and the darkness, both were fractured.

I tugged my jacket and walked toward the gate. It creaked when I opened it slowly. No sooner had I taken a step inside than I saw a burly man standing beside me, lighting a cigarette.

“Thought you wouldn’t come,” he said, blowing the smoke in circles.

I didn’t answer.

“What’s your name?” he asked, blowing the smoke in my face.

“I’m N,” said I.

“All right. Why have you come here?”

“Because I wanted to,” I replied, matter-of-factly.

“Think carefully before you go in, my friend. You might not come back,” he said.

“And why is that?”

“Why, for all the obvious reasons, of course. It’s a bloody graveyard. No one comes back, you know. Everyone who made that decision and went in never came back. They are all gone, dead, vanished. Just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

“Really?”

“Like it or not, these things are immutable. It’s bound to happen with you too,” he said phlegmatically.

Beads of sweat started forming on my forehead, but I knew what I had to do. I reached inside my jacket pocket, and took out my knife.

He laughed, quite laddishly. “You think you can kill me?”

“I have to. I have no other go. You are my ultimate victim,” I said as I took a step toward him.

He remained rooted to the ground. He was at least four inches taller than I, and at least one hundred and fifty pounds heavier than I.

When I was just a few inches away from him, he threw his cigarette, and stood with his hands folded.

“Think before you act, my friend,” said he.

“You are not my friend,” I said, and stabbed him in the chest.

He continued to smile. It wasn’t enough. I twisted my knife into his chest, and took it out. Blood trickled down his chest. I lifted my arm and plunged the knife yet again into his chest. This time he reeled back and stumbled and fell on the ground. I sat astride his stomach and repeatedly stabbed him ten times as blood sprinkled on my face. Finally, just to make sure he was dead; I thrust the knife into his neck.

I wiped the blood off the steel blade using his shirt, and got up. I put the knife back in its sheath, and kept it inside my jacket pocket. Wiping the blood off my face using my hanky, I walked inside the graveyard.

It was dead calm. I didn’t have anything to do there. All I wanted to do was to go and have a look inside, take a stroll in the night. After walking for ten minutes, I decided to leave. After all I had achieved my purpose.

The body still lay near the gate. I ignored it and walked out of the gate. I ignored the car too, and silently walked back home.

***

It was eleven fifty when I reached home. I changed into my night dress and went to bed. The clock chimed twelve, and just when I was about to switch off the light, I caught a glimpse of the book on my table. It was Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.

“Absolutely. Freedom at midnight it is,” I said to myself as I switched off the light, and drifted off to sleep. And that night I slept like I’d never slept before. It was the most peaceful sleep I’d ever had.

********************The End********************

Copyright © Karthik 2010

P.S. Click here for the explanation of the story.


Se7en

24

Category:

I’ve finally taken up a tag – a task I consider tedious, boring, and at the same time, quite difficult. But I’ve always enjoyed others’ tags. *winks*

Guria is a prolific writer, whose write-ups, especially stories, have often influenced me. When it comes to story telling I firmly believe that most of the times, “how” you tell is more important than “what” it is about. And she demonstrates this every time she writes a story, with her brilliant narrative skills. One of the very few people in blogosphere who sticks to the golden rule of story telling: “Show. Don’t tell”. Mind you, it’s not easy. But she does it with finesse, and makes it look so easy.

When she tagged me recently, my first reaction was, “Heck, no!” But when some curses were thrown in, I decided to give it a go.

Well, this is all about letting you know my seven “deadly” secrets (if at all they are considered secrets). I’m an open book, darlings, and that makes this all the more difficult. Either ways, read on.

1. Unsuccessfully learnt Classical music (Carnatic flute) for seven years. Music, I believe, is the MOST difficult art among all arts, and I couldn’t get a grip on it. Though I’ve discontinued now, and don’t play my flute anymore, I still enjoy listening to classical music, and don’t usually miss important concerts. On the contrary, I enjoy many other forms of music, which includes rap too. Thus, most of my mornings begin with Eminem. Some time later it’s switched to Classical (either Carnatic or Hindustani), followed by Loreena McKennitt (my latest obsession) or some Hindi or Kannada film songs. Also have an eclectic collection of OSTs of Hollywood movies. Classical to Rap to OSTs, you are wondering and rolling eyes? Well, that’s I. Can’t help it. Bottom line: When it comes to music, it’s a mixed bag.

2. A bit short-tempered, and quite impulsive by nature. But my impulsive nature is limited to things like picking up my phone and calling a friend out of the blue, irrespective of time; planning to go to a movie or a restaurant or on a short trip, etc. A few hooligan friends do like this nature of mine, but some “disciplined” ones get really irritated.

3. Got aaaalmost slapped by a girl recently. The innocent me was innocently having cane juice in a cane juice parlour, and a dental/medical babe came and stood beside me, and ordered her drink. I somehow felt that I’d seen her somewhere. So instead of asking her directly, I tried to read the name written on her nameplate (she was wearing an apron). It was written in some bloody, unreadable font (I wonder what’s with girls and fonts) and was taking considerable amount of time to catch a glimpse of it. When I was done and looked up, grinning from ear to ear, she was staring at me as if she were going to kill me. Well, needless to say, she was wearing her nameplate where it’s supposed to be worn, and misunderstood me. What happened next? Yeah, you guessed it right. I "escape"d, and participated in Blog-a-ton 10.

Now that the questions of escaping and girls have come up, lemme tell you one more thing; when I was in school, I was once chased by a girl all over the campus, along with her stupid and silly friends – to tie me rakhi. I had then tried to “escape” and hidden myself in kindergarten. Her rakhi never touched my hand of course. She later agreed that it was vaaaaary silly and stupid of her. (And I’m sure the girl in question is laughing her guts out now) ;)

4. An extrovert. Always need a few extra words to make my point. (You might have already realized this after reading my “short” stories) But what you might not know is that I am a very good listener too. And if the person is narrating an incident or a story, I totally become dumb; as I don’t want to break his/her flow (who knows, there might be a short story hidden, waiting for me to pen). :D

5. I don’t associate masculinity with silly attributes like colour, not crying, being crazy about bikes, not liking love stories, etc. I believe it’s all in the head, and also the so-called media morons and some immature dudes and chicks with additude (not attitude) are responsible for making people believe in this mumbo-jumbo. Masculinity for me is all about acceptance - accepting your true self without worrying about what others might think about you.

6. Not crazy about cell-phones. Any model with basic functions will do perfectly OK. Now that it has come to the subject of phones; I really feel bad when I don’t get a reply for my message or phone call (when not picked up). It’s courtesy to acknowledge (at least later when one becomes free), and it’s very important to me.

7. The above also is associated with blogging too. I really hate it when my comments (on others’ blogs) are not acknowledged. I believe being read itself is a huge compliment, let alone comments, which should be respected and replied. Again, courtesy is the word.

Now, all those who are commenting are tagged. After all why should only I be the sufferer?!

Fracture

38

Category: , , , ,

1

He was sleeping with an easy innocence of a boy child. And boy child he was. There was a delicious sense of repose on his face that spoke of felicity, of calmness.

It was five o’clock in the morning when his mother came to wake him up. He wiggled along the torn mat as he smiled, probably the result of a dream. It was a beautiful sight for the mother to see her seven year old’s delightful face in the morning. She wished for a second she could just leave him alone, to enjoy his sleep like most kids of his age do. A wish: that was the only luxury she could afford. But soon reality shook her. She knelt down, ruffled his hair as she kissed him on the forehead.

The boy slowly opened his eyes. Except for his mother’s silhouette, he could not see anything in the small room, as there was no electricity. His mornings were dark, and he was acclimatized to that. He rubbed his eyes and begged his mother, like he did everyday, “Another five minutes, ma. Please.”

She was used to this. She simply smiled and said, “No, my dear. It’s already late. Get up now, and get ready.”

After planting another motherly kiss on his forehead, she went outside.

***

The darkness was soon confiscated by the dawn, and by the time the first rays of the sun seeped through the broken windows of the house, he was ready. His baby sister, aged two, was sleeping soundly. He kissed her mildly on the cheek so as not to wake her up.

“Krishna,” his mother called.

“Yes,” said he, upon reaching her in the adjacent room.

“I forgot. Here, I’ve brought a new pair of pants for you. See if it fits you.”

Krishna very well knew that it was given by one of the women at whose house his mother worked as a maid. His mother too knew that he knew about it. It was too obvious for both of them.

He removed his shorts and tried the new pants. They fit him perfectly.

“Excellent. You look like a man now,” she said and patted his back.

Krishna grinned from ear to ear.

“All right, drink your milk and get going. And remember. You –,” she was cut off.

“I know, I know. I’m the elder one, and I have to take care of Kavya.”

He drank his milk from a small cup, and ate a small piece of bread.

Krishna’s mother readied him like most mothers do, but only, like most children of his age, he wasn’t going to school.

He wore his slippers and stepped out of the house. Another day had begun.

2

The chilly October wind was trying its best to smother him, or perhaps his spirit, but it didn’t matter to him, as he had found a way to snub it. He jogged. Along the way he saw people, both young and old, whose faces were familiar to him; and his to them. He smiled at them, and they smiled back. He continued to jog. More than jogging, it was frolicking, which, for many old people, was easy on the eyes. Almost everyone who saw him regularly took pleasure in seeing the little boy’s carefree nature, but none knew where he was headed to at such an hour in the morning.

Davanagere, a district headquarters in Karnataka, is quite famous for its many educational institutions. With many schools and colleges, the student population is high. Just like every city in India, some schools in Davanagere are devoid of some bright minds. And one of those bright minds was forced, not by people but by circumstances, to work in Sri Kottureshwara Benne Dosey (Butter Dosa) Restaurant, which is situated right in front of Bapuji Dental College.

It was almost six in the morning when Krishna reached his work place. Having traveled around three kilometers from his home in Nittuvalli, a below-modest area, he was panting, but not without a smile.

Nagraj, the manager of the famous eatery, smiled at the little boy, and got back one for himself from the boy.

“Very good, Krishna. You are on time as usual. I shall give you an extra five rupee in the evening, all right. Just make sure you don’t break this habit of coming on time,” said the manager.

“I shall never come late, sir,” promised Krishna with utmost enthusiasm.

***

Krishna soon got to work. He started arranging the chairs and tables. When he was done with it, he cleaned the tables and kept a jar of water on each table.

It would be a cliché if somebody told you that people of Davanagere were proud of their specialty dish. And also you would be subjected to crude joke if you went to Davanagere and didn’t taste it.

As Krishna continued to work, the chief cook greased the big, flat oven with oil. A minute later he poured the dosa batter from a small cup and spread it evenly on the oven. And when he added a copious amount of butter, it was evident from Krishna’s expression that it smelt deliciously. The manager noticed it and smiled. The cook took the dosa off the oven when it turned to golden brown in colour.

“Krishna, come and have your breakfast. And finish it quickly, OK? Customers will start pouring in anytime soon,” said the cook.

The boy quickly washed his hands and took his plate. He was finished in two minutes. It was six-thirty when the first customer walked in.

3

Two hours later the little restaurant was brimming with life, with all types of people, especially school children, college students, and people that were headed for work. One of them was Vishwanath, a bank manager.

Like countless people across the city, he too was one of the regular customers. But it had been four months since he last came to eat here. The manager’s surprise was conspicuous.

“Hello, Sir. Long time. Have you lost taste for our dosas?” He asked, smiling.

“Oh, no, not at all. It’s just that I couldn’t come. No specific reason,” Vishwanath said.

“OK. I’m glad you could come by. So tell me what I can get you.”

“My regular.”

“Of course,” said the manager and bustled off toward the cook.

Several minutes later when Krishna came to the table to serve the order, Vishwanath was more than astonished.

“Who are you?” he enquired.

But before Krishna could answer, the manager, who was standing near the adjacent table, said, “He’s Krishna. He’s working here for the past three months. A very nice kid indeed.”

Krishna grinned and wended his way toward the oven to get the next order to serve.

“How old is he?” asked Vishwanath.

“Not more than eight,” admitted the manager.

“What are you saying? You are keeping an eight year old boy for work?” It wasn’t anger, it wasn’t accusation, but it was just plain concern for the kid.

“Oh, come on, sir. I’m not the only one. Look around the city. You’ll –,”

“I know that. But you, Mr. Nagraj? I’m surprised. You shouldn’t be doing this.”

“It wasn’t I. It was his mother. She wanted him to work. Besides, I didn’t encourage it. I too have concern for the boy, but just like everybody else, I’m helpless. And nobody is ill-treating the boy. He’s been looked after well. He’s getting paid two hundred rupees per month, given food thrice a day, and also I give him five rupees every time he comes to work on time. That’s just a simple enough reason to keep his spirit high. And he also takes food back home every evening,” the manager explained.

“That’s not the point,” Vishwanath was mildly irritated. “I know you are a good man. I’m not accusing you of anything. But don’t you think the boy should be in school, studying. You needn’t even pay. You know the government is taking care of such kids, don’t you? Education for such children is free.” A moment later he added, “And also compulsory.”

“Do you really think the government is taking care of them, sir?” It was more of a rhetorical question. He continued, “His father used to work at a construction site. He died there last year in an accident, while working.” He was careful enough to stress the last two words. “Ironically, it was a government building. Till now no compensation has been given to the family. His mother works at four houses as a maid. He also has a younger sister, aged two. Do you really think his mother agrees to this? About putting him in school? I think not. If I hadn’t kept him here, he’d have been working in some beedi or carpet factory now. You know how those people treat these kids, don’t you? At least it’s better here for him.”

Vishwanath was quiet. Though the restaurant was clamorous to the core, the silence between the two men was noticeable. It wasn’t a silence of discomfort, but of helplessness.

“Well,” Vishwanath began after mustering up some energy. “But something must be done, Mr. Nagraj. The statistics say there are sixteen million children in India that are subjected to child labour. We can’t take care of them all, but we can certainly do something about Krishna, can’t we?”

The manager threw up his hands in the air. “Trust me when I say this. I tried. I could never convince his mother.”

“Well, let me talk to his mother again. Where do they live?” asked Vishwanath.

4

A yellow butterfly outside the window took all of Krishna’s attention. It was a luxury he couldn’t afford to miss. Though he was sitting next to the window, he didn’t try to catch it. He was just more than happy to simply watch it. A moment later it flew away, leaving a pleasant smile on Krishna’s face.

He turned his face toward the board again, but only there was nobody near it. The classroom was bustling with noise with children. He wasn’t the type of boy who liked to stay still, but now he was forced to. It had been a week since Krishna joined school, and he didn’t like it one bit, not because he didn’t like to study, but because there wasn’t anything much to do with teachers being absent most of the time. At least I was doing something in the restaurant, he thought.

It had taken all his might for Vishwanath to convince Krishna’s mother to send him to school. The concerned man and the helpless mother had argued a lot.

“Along with education he will also be getting meals and Rs. 100/- per month,” Vishwanath had said.

“What good is it, sir, when he’s already getting Rs. 200/- per month here. The man he is working for is a very good person. Unlike most ruthless men out there, he treats my boy well. And also he is fed properly,” Krishna’s mother had argued.

“You are not getting my point. It’s not about money. It’s about getting education. You do realize how important it is, don’t you?”

“Right now, it is about money…”

The argument had continued. But in the end Vishwanath had been successful in convincing her to send the boy to school. Two days later Krishna was admitted to a school which was run by the government, specifically for children like him.

Now, sitting in the classroom along with the rest of the children, Krishna was lost in his thoughts.

***

Vishwanath had checked in on Krishna at school during the first few days. Then he had to go to Bangalore on an important Bank assignment. Soon after he returned, the first thing he did was to go to school. He was surprised when he didn’t find the boy there.

Now, sitting in the restaurant, he looked calm, but under the surface he was seething. Whatever had happened was totally unacceptable.

“What the hell happened, Mr. Nagraj?” He asked the manager when he approached the table. “I was gone for just one week, and the first thing I notice after returning is him cleaning tables and serving orders. Back to square one? Just like that?” He looked in the direction where Krishna was working, and his disappointment was blatant.

“I told you it wouldn’t work. He –,” the manager was cut off by a customer who had just walked in.

“Hello, Mr. Vishwanath. How are you?”

“Oh, hello Inspector. I’m fine. Thank you. How are you?” He stood up to shake hands.

“I’m good too. I should thank you, in a way,” said the inspector, taking his hand.

“Thank me?” asked Vishwanath, arching his brows.

“For sanctioning that housing loan,” said the Inspector.

“Oh, just doing my job.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “No offense, but are you doing your job?”

“Sorry?” the inspector was puzzled, and so was the manager.

In the next five minutes Vishwanath narrated the events that had happened in the past two weeks. The manager had remained a mute spectator.

“Why don’t you all do something?” demanded Vishwanath.

Before the inspector could reply, a customer who was seated nearby said to the manager, “One plate Benne Khaali.

“Yes, sure,” he said to the customer, and then turned to the two men, “You both keep talking. I shall come back in a while.” And he was gone.

Once they took their seats, the inspector said, “You mean why the police aren’t doing anything?”

“Yes,” said Vishwanath firmly.

“Come on. You are being naïve. You know how the system works, don’t you?”

Vishwanath kept mum.

The inspector continued, “The Indian Government has certainly tried to alleviate the problem of child labour by invoking a law that makes the employment of children below 14 years illegal. Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was enacted in 1986 itself. However it’s not easy to solve it. Poverty is the main reason for this. Poor families are forced to push their children into this. Take Krishna for instance. His mother is a widow who’s still fighting for the compensation from the government over her husband’s death, a two year old girl to look after; how can you expect her to send her son to school?”

“As I told you earlier,” Vishwanath spoke, “I’d somehow convinced her to send him to school, and I had personally taken care of it. I admitted him to Akshaya School that is run for children like him. It is run by the government, isn’t it? Everyone is careless and lazy there. The teachers never showed up regularly. And he was forced to quit. What do you have to say to this?”

“I agree. I know about that school. That’s very unfortunate. And it is the case with quite a few schools like that across the country. But still you can’t blame the entire system, can you? There are many schools run by NGOs that are doing an excellent job.”

Vishwanath was lost in thought for a minute, and then he spoke again, “18 million children! Isn’t there a panacea?”

“18 million is just an official figure, Mr. Vishwanath,” said the Inspector. “The reality is something more than that. It’s approximately 60 million. As for the remedy, it’s like Migraine. It cannot be treated completely, but the frequency can be lessened. That’s all we can try to do. By doing what you did, by raiding the factories that employ and ill-treat children. As far as Krishna is concerned, like the manager told you, we should be happy that he hasn’t ended up in some cigarette factory.”

Though he had an idea about all these things, it was still difficult for Vishwanath to digest the facts. Both men sat silently for several minutes, floating around in their own thoughts. It was only when Krishna approached their table that their streams of thoughts were broken.

“Hey, how are you, my boy?” asked Vishwanath.

“I’m fine, sir,” said Krishna, grinning with all his innocence.

Helplessness had shaken Vishwanath completely. He didn’t know what to say next. Hence “umm…” became the birth of his vocabulary.

“Ummm…well, what do you want to be when you grow up, Krishna?” He managed.

The boy was quick to answer. “I shall open a Benne Dosey restaurant of my own. The extra five rupees I get everyday for showing up early in the morning is being saved by my mother so that when I grow up I’ll be having lots of money.” He smiled as his eyes twinkled.

Vishwanath was astounded by this. A seven year old boy who doesn’t go to school dreaming of starting his own business someday!

He looked at the inspector who was equally surprised. Then they just smiled at the boy.

“So can I get you anything, sir?” asked Krishna, oblivious to his customers’ thoughts.

“Sure. Two cups of tea, please,” ordered Vishwanath.

The boy smiled once again and wended his way toward the cook. Vishwanath didn’t take his eyes off the boy for some time. And then he silently prayed: May your spirit be indestructible!

********************The End********************

Copyright © Karthik 2010


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Karthik's Book Montage

The Negotiator
Malgudi Days
As The Crow Flies
Swami and Friends
The Devil's Alternative
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Godfather
The Seven Minutes
The Prize
Atlas Shrugged
The Fountainhead
If Tomorrow Comes
Digital Fortress
The Chancellor Manuscript
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Identity
The Fist of God
The Fourth Protocol
The Odessa File
The Day of the Jackal


Karthik's favorite books »