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Some days I have wonderful knowledge of my thoughts, my actions and my feelings. Some others I am wandering lost within my own head. The ability to understand myself has grown through bad experiences, of course. She, on the other hand, is nothing like that. I have seen her react with such grace. She bounces back after every fall and her emotions are skillfully hidden behind her veil. She perpetually masked her feelings. Even while we watched a romantic comedy, her face would just wear a smile. The tears never emerged. In fact, I was yet to see her cry or throw a tantrum in our 9 years of being together.

I once confronted her in anger and called her unbearably cold. She responded patiently that it has taken years of training to withhold her expressions. She was okay with me leaving but her ways were set in stone. “Selfish or not, this is what suits me,” she said. I couldn’t get her words out of my head. I wondered what made her close the world out. Her behaviour steadily kept me at an arm’s length away from her emotions. For the most part, it worked for us. Though I felt she was remote and sometimes even inaccessible.

As individuals, we managed just fine. In our relationship, we don’t fit. When I mentioned it to her, she dismissed it and said, “Where is the fun in boxes, Abhinav? Or even stereotypes?”

What I withheld was the difficulty I faced in living with her. However, I wasn’t ready to face the possibility of living without her.

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Often I feel I am very lucky. I have been bestowed with many wonderful friends, the ability to buy all the books I desire, the freedom to binge on high sugar, a full heart to give out love or even quit jobs in the hunt for one that satisfies.

Through my jobs, I travelled to Ahmedabad and then Bangalore. Though many of my indulgences were satisfied, I felt the urge to leave. When I left the city of Ahmedabad, I was happy to move on to find spaces that felt more right; although I was disappointed at having to walk away from some wonderful friends. In my short stay, I had made friendships. No, not good relationships with colleagues but friendships. To my pleasant surprise, the process repeated itself in Bangalore. Yet again, I was fortunate enough to make friends who dug a hole and settled themselves in my life. More loving, warm and passionate people in my life. What more could I ask for really? But sometimes I don’t like the uncertainity. Not just of a new job, but meeting new people. Having done it a lot in the past few years, I am unnerved by it. But then again, if I had not travelled I would have never encountered these souls and I would have missed out on a lot of experiences.

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My brothers had been brought to what is home in Ahmedabad a while ago. Despite the excitement to see them, I hadn’t come to Ahmedabad in over a year. Finally after much hesitation, my sister and I booked tickets to come to this city. I was finally going to see them. Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I had seen photos but I anticipated them to be smaller and more aloof. They were an exotic black and often looked like panthers. Their sleek bodies helped in their agile movements that I watched closely. I was amazed to see how playful they were and how ninja quick their reactions were.

Bageera and Gulmarg would jump elegantly from tables to the floor, never knocking anything down. Their movements are so delicate and silent that I am truly fascinated by them. They managed to enter, sit and even leave rooms unnoticed. Bageera even playfully pawed me and attempted to steal my pencil while I was writing! Gulmarg stayed hidden for the most part, shy that he was. But emerged and purred to make his presence felt.

I felt myself warm up to them and yearn to pet their tiny heads. Just like loving parents, my sister and brother-in-law showered them with love and the kittens returned the love in their own subtle way. It reminds me of the wonderful seven months I spent here. It makes me miss living in this home.

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She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Will she ever find her body attractive? She took of her shirt and looked closely at her torso. It was not ugly; there were no huge blemishes. It was for the most part smooth and without any age or stretch marks. But her body had always felt detached from her. As if, it didn’t belong to her. Initially she felt, it was not how the bodies of the women in advertisements looked. The lumps of weight around her waist were the worst. They clung to her and made her feel un feminine.

Soon, she was completely naked. The full length mirror showed her every inch of her body. She turned around and looked at her back side for a while. Her sweet-sixteen birthday had resulted in a drunken night and a butterfly being tattooed on her lower back. She smiled to herself as memories of that night came floating back. It wasn’t a night she liked but it had led her to get inked. In a sober state, she would have never gotten a tattoo. Let alone a butterfly. Sometimes it was the only part of her body that was welcoming and partially because the butterfly didn’t fit her personality.

She dressed herself again with contempt in her heart; a repulsion that could not be explained.

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He wandered around in a trance. He stayed away from bright colours and cheery people. The darkness enticed him. “Stay away,” the voices in his head warned. But he was drawn to excruciating pain. The force of attraction was stronger than gravity. What is it called to ache to free fall into the abyss? Insanity, he thought. In this world, they simplify it to depression and say falling is the wrong way out. He didn’t suffer from insanity though. He didn’t have depression either. Just an inkling to fall freely. A delusion that the falling would seize the wanting to fall. Does that make sense?

What can this feeling be called? And why is it shunned? The words of caution forced him farther away from the safe house. Occasionally, he went closer to the edge to peak. “Too close,” the voices warned again. But he was drawn to the noises of emptiness, tempted by the rush of breaking free. He was fascinated enough to take the leap; to follow his gut till it spoke no more. His mind was engulfed in this longing. And honestly, nothing else quite made as much sense.

But he didn’t leap. He didn’t fall. He just lived precariously on the edge.

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I grabbed the copy of Roget’s thesaurus just as she stretched her hand out. Was I supposed to apologise? The next instant, she leaned across and pulled out an older copy of the book. Damn! I hadn’t seen that one. The pages looked yellow and she ecstatic. She opened it to inhale the smell of yellow paper. I was still shy to do that in public. She seemed to be experienced. She smiled at me before walking away.

From then on, we shared passionate stories from Sartre to Camus, from Woolf to Nin, from talking toads to talking foxes; the list was exhaustive. Our conversations were inspired by the literary world, often surrounded by the literary classics. A world we both fondly escaped to for inspiration as well as for pleasure. But, our mutual aversion to technology had restrained us from exchanging phone numbers. Our conversations were through long letters, eventually, and animated face time, initially. We never needed to plan our meetings. With serendipity by our side, we bumped into each other in every book store in the city. The relationship itself had begun at a rickety, old second hand book store that few in the city knew of. In many ways, she found me at a time when I felt lost. It feels like she saved me. In that distinctive way in which a lost soul is saved; through the magic of words, through a riot of colours, through the soul of music.

Just like the day we met, our thoughts were always freakishly in sync. She seemed to understand from the little I said. She even comprehended from the nothing I said. We are only a year old. Yet I feel our relationship is far too deep, too complex for my vocabulary to express. Sisters in another life? Two peas left to find each other? Other such cliches pass through my thoughts. I open my copy of the thesaurus and inhale it. It makes me miss her presence.

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He rode from home to his shop on a broken down scooter. It was a routine now accustomed to for several years. The road was still deserted. It was too early for the shopping crowd. But soon they would be in and he must clean up before they come. He parked his scooter in the dingy lane perpendicular to the shop when two policemen walked up to him. One of them said in Hindi, “Are you Azeembhai?” “Yes,” he replied. He was flustered as the officer continued, “You must come to the police station to answer some questions.” Without waiting for a response, Azeembhai was marched over to the jeep and taken to the police station.

The old city of Hyderabad was famous for its bangles shops and it’s delicious biryani. Tourists and city dwellers came to the old city to shop and be merry. For the past 35 years, Azeembhai’s family owned a small shop in Laad Bazaar, which was in a lane beside the police station. Ever since he could remember, Azeembhai went to the shop on the blue scooter. First with his father and then by himself. Even the scooter was handed to him once his father had been bed ridden. His 6-year-old son, however, did not come to the shop. Sameer enjoyed studying and Azeembhai didn’t see the sense in taking him out of school.

The distance from his shop to the station was not far. But the officers were insistent he rode in the jeep. Two other stern looking officers came out of the station and hustled him into an interrogation room. He was searched and all his possessions were confiscated. Two hours later, an officer, who could only be described as crooked, walked in and sat across him. “I have done nothing officer. Why am I here?” he pleaded. “Do you know Rawalbhai?” the officer questioned. “Yes,” came the meek response.

“Where is he?” the officer continued. “I don’t know. We have adjacent shops in the bazaar. That is it officer. I say hello. We talk about our families and go to the mosque together,” Azeembhai said.

“How many times did he pray?” the officer asked. “What?” Azeembhai said, shocked.

“Answer the question!” screamed the officer as he hit Azeembhai on his hands with his staff. Azeembhai’s screams cut through the tension in the room. “I don’t know,” he blurted through his sobs.

The policeman slammed the table to the wall before storming out. Azeembhai sat on his chair which was now unguarded by the table and soothed his hurt knuckles waiting for the officer to return. After a while, a burly officer with a thick moustache and glasses came in. He bolted the door shut behind him. He punched Azeembhai in the face as he asked him, “Where is Rawalbhai?”

Unsure if any answer would favour him, Azeembhai stayed silent. The officer punched him once more before dragging his limp body to the cell. He threw him in and gave the guard orders to release him at sundown.

He was detained for eight hours without any contact with his family. At sunset, when he was given back his possessions, he headed to his shop. He kicked his scooter and sped back home. He dismissed his wife’s queries about his bruises. “I just got into a little fight with a friend over some money borrowed,” he said, “You don’t worry, Fatima.” After staying indoors for two days, Azeembhai went back to work.

Since the arrest, Azeembhai always felt like he was being followed. His phone gave out an echo every time he made a call or answered one. When he confided in his friend over a cup of chai, Saleem laughed it off as paranoia. Azeembhai didn’t quite believe him.

 

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He sneaked out the burrow and screamed. “Sylvie? Where are you?” A pointed hat peeked out of a burrow at the other end of the garden. “Shhh. You will wake the humans.”

She bobbed out of her burrow and waddled close to him. The moonlight made his purple skin glow. “Sam. We need to be quick and effective. We enter the house through the cat door, steal the bread from the basket on the table and escape. No noises. No traces of us. No one will ever figure it out then,” she said in her calm voice. He, however, was still shaking. His red hat kept tilting and when it tilted too much he tipped over. Two seconds later that is exactly what happened. “Sam! Pull yourself together,” she muttered under her breath. Was he too excited or just plain hungry?

He nodded in agreement and they tiptoed towards the house. They got in without making any loud noises. They used the glow from their hands to lead them around the furniture and into the kitchen. There they spotted the bread basket on top of the dining table. Sam jumped on top and greedily began to eat. Sylvie tugged his red coat and begged him to take it back to their home. Refusing to listen, he gobbled a piece noisily.

Just as they were filling their coats with bread, the lights came on. A little boy was standing by the kitchen door and staring at them. Two gnomes complete with their huge white shoes and red hats were standing on his dining table. Only their beards were white and they were purple. Gnomes did not exist in reality. He was positive it was a hallucination. He closed his eyes for a few seconds and when he opened them, they were gone. The only thing on the table were bread crumbs.

He dragged his feet to the fridge and poured himself a glass of milk, before switching off the light. He headed back to his bedroom, unsure what to believe. Knowing no one would believe him, he remained silent.

Sam and Sylvie had escaped out the cat door into their burrows. Sylvie nagged Sam about his erroneous ways. “What if it had been an adult?” she screamed as Sam bit into the bread they had stolen. His loud chewing sounds were the only reply she received.

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She lay on the trampoline in their backyard staring at the starry night. For the past week, she had fallen asleep beneath the blanket of stars and woken up to the sound of birds. It had never struck her to make the trampoline her bed. She would occasionally sit on the trampoline in the evenings and play her guitar. The music and her singing would fill the mountain air. But the thought to spend the entire night outside seemed outrageous.

Growing up in the mountains had created a bond between her and nature. Long walks in the wilderness were her favourite pastime. With no brothers or sisters, she had found many ways to keep herself entertained. She would sit for hours on end after school, outside and watch the birds fly in and out of trees; see the sunset between the mountains; watch the lights go out and the nights lights go on. She remembered distinctly the first time she spotted a firefly in her backyard. She must have been 8 years old. She had gaped at it and followed its every movement till she couldn’t see it anymore. Her heart sank as she felt its abrupt departure. A while later, she spotted many more flying near a treetop. The picture of the glistening fireflies floating with the dark sky as their background cannot be forgotten.

As she drifted back into the present, she felt the warmth and glow she had first felt on seeing a firefly. Beautiful things never last, that’s why fireflies they flash, she hummed.

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Being sick is a horrible experience. For a weakling like myself, the frequency makes it hard to live. Yet for three days in a row, I tried to write a story around being sick or being weak. Each of the story lines have been either naive or just whiny. I cannot seem to find an angle that is worth exploring.

This reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s wonderful quote from her piece ‘Being Ill’:

“Consider how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down in the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the mouth-rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us – when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature”

And I agree. I have written about love quite a bit. Battle and jealousy are themes I feel I can attempt in the future. But illness seems to be a tough one to wrap my mind around. For someone who falls sick a lot, I thought it would be easier. Since for me, a lot of my writing feeds off my personal experience. Over time, I have been able to detach myself from the experiences enough for the writing to be imaginative. But the triggers seem to be from my life.