Through the Dark Clouds - A Short Story

The lady on the microphone announced in her squeaky voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Mumbai airport.” Oas groaned, closed his eyes, and contorted his face like only an exasperated 75-year-old can. Having heard her numerous times in the last couple of hours, he was tired of listening to her any more.

“Does she think I’ve never been to an airport before?” he muttered under his breath. “Bah. I’ve been on planes for longer than she’s been on earth!” The staff was running helter-skelter on the airport with some angst that Oas couldn’t fathom. “Freaks,” he sighed in disappointment.

The constant low hum of the music from the headphones of the young guy beside Oas didn’t help his mood either. As the guy shuffled in his seat, the huge laptop on his lap brushed against Oas’s arm again.

“Do you want my lap too?” Oas blurted out loudly as he knew the guy couldn’t hear him. “Take it, I am happy to help you save the world which is what I assume you must be doing,” he continued muttering. The guy hardly budged.

Bored of the one-way conversation, Oas got up and stood gawking at the hustle-bustle around. He was a lost alien amidst the time-poor professionals. He walked to a television screen in the lounge playing CNN. A news scroll read about a novel disease spreading through China. The main news being run on the channel though was about a kid at the Mumbai airport traveling alone. Oas massaged his forehead in disdain, wondered why this was news, and walked away.

He began to stroll around the airport. He had to buy nothing, but he also dearly wanted to interact with another human being. He wandered through the Crosswords bookstore, hoping a salesperson would ask him if he needed any help. No one did. Lacking the patience to browse around the towering walls of disparate books, he walked straight to the bestseller section. He glanced at all the self-help books crowding the non-fiction racks. The fiction ones were full of tales from fantasy worlds. Oas was fond of neither; so he strolled out. 

He saw a deserted coffee stall. Hoping that the person selling coffee would be as bored as he was, Oas walked to him. The person was seated on a low stool chair; to Oas’s disappointment, even he was lost in his smartphone’s screen.

“What’s hot?” Oas asked the guy with a wish it would trigger some small talk.

“We only sell coffee here,” responded the guy without glancing away from the glowing screen.

“Do you serve it hot?” Oas quipped.

The guy hadn’t looked at Oas yet; he didn’t even now. He jerked his face towards the coffee vending machine and said, “We serve it however this machine dispenses.”

With all his hopes for even a meaningless interaction crushed, Oas ordered a cup. The guy shrugged in annoyance, got up and walked to the machine. He served the coffee with eyes as dull as sloth’s. “Sorry to put you through so much trouble, my friend,” mocked Oas. The sarcasm in his voice was lost on the mindless guy. He responded, “It’s alright.”

With a bitter taste in his mouth, Oas walked back to the gate buzzing now with the regular pre-boarding bustle. A lot of people had gotten up in the anticipation that the queuing would start soon. “Would they prefer to stand up longer just to be ahead in the boarding queue?” Oas wondered. “Just so that they could sit inside the plane longer?” The rationality behind the thought had always stumped him.

“Mr Puri?” Oas heard a soft voice calling for him. He turned to face a flight attendant, smiling a very plastic smile at him.  The nametag on her read ‘Anjali’. Oas stopped himself from telling her that she had unnecessarily puffed her face with makeup. She had helped Oas earlier at the check-in counter; he had stopped himself even then. 

“Would you please follow me?” It sounded more like a command to Oas than a request.

He looked at her, puzzled. He couldn’t think of any reason why he should follow her. “I’m ok, Anjali,” he said curtly. “I don’t need any help.”

“Sir, we have a priority boarding policy for all the senior citizens,” she spoke without letting her two pepper-red lips touch one another for long. “We will get you on the plane first.”

Oas stared at her like a child would at his examiner. “Why does the world make us elders feel a lot more helpless than we are?” He didn’t have much choice though; the stewardess looked adamant. 

“Fine. But I would need to be taken care of. I don’t want to get stuffed in and forgotten,” instructed Oas.

“Won’t happen, sir.” The plastic smile didn’t leave Anjali’s face.

Oas followed her. He was stuffed into the plane. And forgotten.


Oas looked at the kid from the CNN news report boarding along with Anjali. He wished the kid wasn’t sitting anywhere close to him. Sure, Oas was yearning for interaction with another human being, but he was convinced that kids didn’t fit that category. He did not hate them. He just believed they were dispatched by God to make people live through misery right on earth for the sins they have committed.

“Kids are too clumsy,” he used to tell his wife, Sara, “and too stupid to spend any time with. All they can do is leave you more frustrated than you were before.” Sara, on the other hand, believed they were godsent to spread joy amongst the grieving souls, to teach them valuable lessons about life. “That’s why God sent us no child. We are not grieving, you see.” She used to joke with tears soon shimmering in her eyes. Oas let her settle with her fantasy.

Oas saw the kid follow Anjali till they reached right next to where he was seated. She started pushing the kid’s backpack inside the overhead compartment. Oas dropped his face in his palm; the kid saw him do that.

“Avik, this is your seat, right next to nice Mr Puri here,” introduced Anjali. “I’m sure you would enjoy your flight.”

Oas saw the kid slide onto the seat next to him and blurt, “Thank you!”

Avik shuffled into his seat by the aisle. He looked towards the open overhead compartment. Then he stuck his neck out into the empty aisle. He wanted to see someone around; he didn’t. Displeasure cloaked his innocent face. He then looked at Oas who had picked up a magazine and was clearly pretending to be engrossed in it.

“What are you reading, Mr Puri?” Avik was looking curiously at Oas.

“Nothing that will interest you,” Oas answered curtly without looking at him once.

“I don’t think you like reading Mr Puri,” continued Avik. “You don’t look too interested in that book. My mum says if you enjoy doing something, you are always very busy doing it. So much that you won’t even answer a question from someone else.” Avik had pulled out the envelope kept in the seatback pocket and rummaged through what was inside. “I never answer my mum when I am watching cartoons, you know, because I looooveee cartoons.”

Avik was doing nothing to thwart Oas’s beliefs about kids, rather, he was only making them firmer. “Why are you alone, kid? Why are you not with your mum?” Oas asked while putting the magazine back into the envelope.

“She’s in Bangalore. My father is also in Bangalore,” said Avik while pulling out the printed safety instruction manual.

“Why are you not with your mum?” Oas asked again, thinking, “of course kids never answer the question that’s asked”.

“Because they are not in Mumbai?” Avik shook his head a couple of times and continued staring at the pictures in the security manual. “I was living with my grandma here. She is very old –” Avik paused and looked at Oas’s face again. “Not as old as you, though. But she still says she can’t fly; she says she is afraid.” Avik wasn’t accustomed to staying silent. “I am not afraid at all. My mum says I am very strong.” Oas himself had started rummaging through the envelope now, searching for headphones that he could plug his ears with. “She says I am stronger than all my friends in the school. Rohit, Sid, everyone. Neil does beat me sometimes, but I always hit him back. My mum says I am stronger than even my father. My father -” Oas had found the headphones and had quickly plugged his ears shut. He looked at Avik; he could see his lips move, but heard no sound at all. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was happy that he had booked a first-class ticket; at least they provided the customers noise-cancelling headphones.

Oas saw Anjali standing by the gate welcoming the other passengers that were boarding the flight now. He watched a couple enter the flight with a baby. The father was walking in front carrying all the luggage. The new-mom was struggling to carry the baby through the narrow aisle without letting even its sock touch anybody around. “That kid’s going to wail throughout the flight now.” Oas let out a deep sigh.

The guy with the huge laptop under his arm and headphones over his head walked in next. Oas smirked looking at him. “The Avenger,” he muttered and chuckled at his joke.

Oas felt a pat on his arm; Avik was gesturing at him to remove his headphones. Oas didn’t want to, but Avik had shifted his attention to work the seat belt that was holding him in his place. Worried the kid would set himself free, he pulled them away and gave Avik a probing look.

“Did you hear what I was saying, Mr Puri?”

“Sorry, I didn’t. You see …” Oas pointed at his headphones. “… I was listening to music. Now that is something I like doing, kid.”

“Why do you keep calling me ‘kid’? Everyone else calls me ‘Avik’. My mum says she spent many days thinking before she settled on that name. You know what it means?” Without waiting for Oas to speak a word, he bent his arms, flexing his biceps. “It means brave, just who I am, my mum says. But she always cries when she says that, though.”

The last statement made Oas freeze in his place. He saw a moving image flash in front of his eyes; of Sara hunched down next to Oas, laughing and crying at the same time. “Oh, I know you are brave, Oas!” He could recall Sara lying to him, preparing him for something he just wasn’t ready for.

“Why does she cry?” He asked Avik in a much softer voice suddenly.

Avik shrugged, “I don’t know.” He continued his assault on the seat belt.

Oas continued to stare at the kid, gloomy thoughts clouding his mind. Feeling increasingly restless, he asked, “Are you going back to your mum?”

“Yes, I’m. Grandma says my mum’s missing me. She always misses me.” Avik had given up on his fight with the seat belt. “Who are you going back to?”

“No one. I am going back to being alone.”

“Alone? Do you like living alone? Don’t you have a family? My mum says everyone has one.”

The innocence in the kid’s voice caught Oas off guard. “I had, once. I don’t now since my wife… uhmmm… you know - ” Oas wasn’t sure if the kid was old enough to understand the concept of death. This was one more reason he didn’t like spending time with kids. “They could keep making the mindless fart jokes around you, but say ‘shit’ around a kid and the whole world starts judging you,” he always complained. Sara was good at manoeuvring such situations; Oas wasn’t.

“What? Did your wife die?“ 

Oas was taken aback by this unexpected straightforwardness. He gulped the heaviness of the moment down his throat and nodded.

“But she did love you, didn’t she?” Oas nodded again. “So, why are you alone then? She must be still around, you know?”

Oas looked at the kid expressionless. His mind was full of questions that he knew he would get no answers for from this unripe mind.

“My mum says the people that love you do not go anywhere even if they die. They do disappear but continue to stay around. They never leave you.” He was busy unfolding and folding the tray table over his lap now. “My mum says she also is never going to leave me alone. I don’t know why she keeps saying that; I know she won’t.”

Everyone around had settled down into their seats now. A calmness spread through the plane that Oas didn’t share. Uneasy, he stared out the window into the darkness outside, illuminated by the occasional flash of lightning. Within, he was storming through the dreary thoughts.

Anjali was now ready with the security demonstrations. She was used to being ignored, but the kid craned his neck to take in every word she said. Oas, on the other hand, was lost in his thoughts.

“Uhhh … Why do they rush through these security instructions? Do they even want people to understand them?” Oas looked at him struggling with the seat belt again. He finally got it open and squeaked an enthusiastic “yay”.

“Cabin crew, prepare for take-off please.” Oas heard the Captain announce. Avik was jumping up and down on his seat; he didn’t look alone any more. Oas unbuckled his seat belt, stretched towards the kid and put him back tied to his seat belt. “Don’t you unbuckle the seat belt now. Your mum won’t want you to do that.”

Avik settled back into his seat. Oas locked his stare at the darkness outside. The flight took off, passing through the stormy clouds. The raindrops pattered against the window and then stopped suddenly as the plane cut through the low dark clouds.

Avik had unknowingly slid his hand around Oas’s arm. Oas smiled at Avik. “Your mum’s right. You are a brave child.”

Shuddering - A flash fiction

Raghav woke up from his deep slumber; he wasn’t prone to these breaks in his sleep as long as there wasn’t a reason for that. He felt he heard a constant buzzing sound; he wasn’t hearing any now. He attempted to gain his full senses. He looked at the dimmed screen of his iPhone; it hadn’t woken him up as there were no new notifications. He wasn’t fully awake yet as he could hardly see anything around through his dizzy eyes. He attempted to see the time again on his iPhone; the screen read 03:28. He didn’t feel thirsty nor did he want to take a leak.

He got up and tottered along the floor to the bathroom. “I am awake anyway, might as well go visit the bathroom”. He got back to the still, dark room. The clock on the wall read 03:30 now.

Just as he fell flat facedown on the bed, the sound hit him again. He could clearly hear the steady, deep buzzing noise that had woken him; he was absolutely certain it wasn’t coming from something in his room. He got up, this time fully awake, wide-eyed. He was convinced it was a sound he had heard before, a rattle of sorts on a wooden top. He got out of his bedroom; he was certain now that the sound was coming from downstairs. He tried to calm his mind, suspecting it was his loneliness that was playing games.

Raghav stepped onto the first stair and the sound stopped with the first creak of the wooden stairs below his feet. The lack of sound now made him even more nervous. Did he make someone or something aware of his presence? Why did the sound stop? The lack of persistent hum was making his legs shake. He stood frozen on the stairs peering into the darkness beneath. It was lifeless, as it should be. But even the normal made Raghav quiver. He felt that the narrow staircase was closing in on him on both sides, becoming narrower with each second that he stood there.

I cannot stand witless here anymore,” he thought. He flicked at the switch panel. The light hadn’t even filled the staircase yet and the heavy hum filled the empty soundless surrounding again. He was sure now that his mind wasn’t playing any games with him; there was something rattling on the dining table in the kitchen. He took a deep breath and ran down the staircase. He stood at the entrance of the kitchen and peeked inside. It was pitch dark inside, except for the dancing light from a buzzing mobile phone on the dining table. Raghav was relieved it wasn’t an unexplainable sound. But the relief was only short-lived as the realization that the phone wasn’t his soon hit him.

He ambled slowly towards the shuddering device; the screen visibly showed that there was an incoming call. Before he could see whom the call was from, the phone stopped ringing and fright struck him as the room went dark around him. He scuttled across the floor to the dining table, picked up the phone, and brought the screen back to life. He heaved a sigh as the faint light illuminated his surroundings. He hadn’t even exhaled the full sigh yet before the phone in his hand started to vibrate again. He slowly turned the now-brightened screen to face him; his face went white. The screen read Incoming call … Raghav iPhone.

The Aging Spaceship

Note: I was recently held back by the 10th prompt of Microblogvember. I couldn’t come up with a satisfying subplot. I asked my 6-year-old daughter to tell me a story about space. This is her short story — I believe she has a better plot than what I could come up with. She always beats me with her creativity and freedom of thought.


There once was an old spaceship. No one used it. Everyone wanted to use the new spaceship. The new spaceship had too many lights and it flew fast. So all new people wanted to use the new spaceship.

Some old people were talking once how they wished they could go to space and see the stars from close. The old spaceship heard them, it felt sad. So it took them to space. It showed them the stars and the moon. The old people felt very happy.

Some young boys did not like those old people were also going to space. So they stole the old spaceship and hid them. The old people felt very sad that their friend was stolen. So they searched for the old spaceship everywhere. But they did not find it.

One day they got an idea. They announced to the young boys that they have got a very new spaceship. They should come and take it from them. The young boys came to take the new spaceship. But they fell and all the old people held them.

The young boys got afraid and gave the old spaceship back to them. The old people were happy that got their friend back. Now they went to space every day with the old spaceship.

Dues to Clear

Yes?” Ninad heard a confused, deep whisper at the other end.

This is God speaking,” Ninad spoke loudly, trying hard to control his laughter at the same time. You have some dues to clear, mister. Can we talk?”

Ninad was having the time of his life, making prank calls from the comfort of his room. The rotary dial telephone had been his entertainment hub for the last few hours now. But things were about to change for the worse.


Need a single-bed room for today,” Ninad ordered the receptionist. He was exploring the morbid looking hotel lobby, still unsure of whether it really was a hotel. It was a small hut with utter lack of air, heat or light. But it did display fancy looking furniture and sculptures. Well kept, tidy.

Wokovu homely heritage resort,” it had announced itself at the side of the highway. He still wondered if selecting the hotel just by its peculiar name was a right decision.

Sure sir. And I assume it would be just you alone?” Ninad looked around and sighed, but then nodded, not really amused by the gratuitous insult.

The receptionist was right in a way. He was alone and stuck. The stormy weather outside didn’t leave him much choice to roam outside too. Not that the town had anything worth exploring. Even Google had struggled to pin it on its map.

So, what amenities do you have?” Ninad inquired curiously. And what’s Wokovu?”

The receptionist looked up at him, for the first time that Ninad could recall. Nothing. And we are proud of that. It gives you time to spend time with yourself, for yourself. Frees you of your day-to-day burdens and distractions. Wokovu.”

Ninad forced a smile on his face, nodding. Sure.” The sarcasm in his tone wasn’t lost on the receptionist too.

All the plans Ninad had for the day were cancelled, thanks to the terrible storm that had cordoned off the small town, closing off all the roads leading out. There was no way either for Ninad to leave this rotten place or for his colleagues to arrive. He now had to find ways to entertain himself in this so-called resort.


There was a silence on the line for some time. Ninad wondered if the phone had given up and died with age. But then he heard a tired sigh.

You should not have come here. You should not have stayed here. You should not have used the phone. You should not have called me. Now be ready to face the consequences. And the first one on the list will be your wife Saba.”

Before Ninad could fathom the voice and words, the receiver of the rotary dial telephone burst in flames.


Wokovu  —  Swahili word for salvation

(noun) deliverance from sin and its consequences

The Unnatural Case

May I enter Detective?”, Mr Rao peeks through the open door of the kitchen. I heard you had something you wanted to talk to me about.”

Of course, Mr Rao. Come in. And please call me Naik. Detective’ burdens the conversation for no necessary reason. I just want to have some chat. And at the same, if I can get the work I am here for, done quickly, better for all of us. Right?”

Sure. By the way, Mr’ is no less burdensome,” quips Mr Rao, half-heartedly.

So what do you know about the situation we are in Rao?” Naik’s quick, curt response takes Rao by surprise. He realises that irrespective of the words used, the conversation to follow is going to be somber. His brow is getting damp, and he knows that isn’t a good sign.

Nothing much to be frank. I came late from work yesterday, was completely tired you see. So I went straight to my room and went to sleep. I was woken up only in the morning by your friend, asking me to join you here. So in a sense, I know lesser than you do.” Rao blurts out everything he had come prepared with.

That was lickety-split, huh, Rao.” Rao sees Naik lean closer and look deeper at him. He could sense Naik believes he knows more than what he was revealing. Anything else you want to mention? We can also go through, you know, the regular drill. I can ask some questions to remind you of stuff you may know.”

Rao sighs. I gave you what matters Naik. Others’ just stuff. Details.”

Naik is again quick to respond, It is the stuff, the details I love Rao. You see otherwise this detective job is boring. What fun is it to listen only to the sad, murky bites from people’s lives?” He pats Rao’s lap a couple of times, then slumps back into the beanbag. I love this job because I get to know people - their habits, their thoughts, their behaviours. I happen to solve some crazy cases over last few years just through such chats. Nothing much.”

Rao knows that wasn’t really the case — Naik was in the news a lot recently because he was a sagacious detective. He realises his attempt to skim through yesterday’s happenings was futile. He also knows the regular drill with Naik would be a lot more dreadful.

As you wish Naik. I have been living in this house for last 4 years. You must already know ..”

Rao sees Naik signalling something to his friend. Realising Rao has stopped, Naik grins and mouths a nimble sorry’ and leans back again.

Rao continues, You must already know that we are 4 people sharing the house. Actually, 3 now, given, you know..” He peeps at the chalk outline around where Joy’s body lay. I met Joy just a couple of weeks back when he joined us in this house. Adi and he knew each other from the beginning. I am not sure how though. I haven’t got much chance to talk to them about their acquaintance. Adi and I have known each other for last two years. He is a good guy, so was Joy, I guess. Unfortunate, he had to fall this way.”

Naik’s scratching his soul patch, deep in some thoughts. How do you think Joy died?”

Rao shrugs and then responds, Well, it was an unfortunate accident, wasn’t it? An electric shock while using that Microwave? And that is why I was stumped in the morning when I heard you are on the case. Why, do you think there is some foul play here?”

Sir,” Naik straightens up, I rarely do think when I am on a case. As I told you earlier, I just come to chatter. I have just happened to have solved few cases over such chats. Anyway, do you know a lot about Microwaves?”

Rao is taken aback by the direct question. Why? Me? No. I mean I am not an electrical engineer.”

It’s alright, of course,” Naik grins. I just felt you looked a lot confident on the reason behind Joy’s death. So I thought you must know something about Microwaves that I don’t. Why do you feel that that harmless device is the reason we are sitting here Rao?”

Rao continues to stare at Naik, his heart pounding now. I have no idea what’s cooking inside this devil’s mind. The perspiration is now clearly visible on his forehead. Mr Naik, I have no idea what you are hinting at. On my way here, Adi had mentioned that Joy’s died of electric shock. I see him lying here on the floor, his legs towards the Microwave, with it still displaying the time since it had been on. Other than Joy’s fallen body, nothing else looks out of sort for this room. There are no signs of any combat that might have played out here last night. So I connect the dots and feel his death has to be natural — he got the electric shock while using the Microwave and ..”

.. and he then turned around to fall face first?” Naik isn’t looking at Rao anymore — he is busy noting down something in his diary. After a momentary pause, he apologises, Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to break your train of thoughts. But you were doing my job so well, that I felt I should help you too.”

The tone of snark in Naik’s voice isn’t lost on Rao and he is done fooling around though. See. I have no clue what’s going on here. I have no idea why you are even here. I came home late yesterday, slept right away. I haven’t been to the kitchen since then — came here only in the morning today when you called me. I do not know Joy well, neither did I have an issue with him. He appeared to be a calm sedate guy, it’s unfortunate that he passed away. Even more unfortunate is the fact that now that you are on the case, we all would be held up in this house till you are done and I have to chat with you.”

Aha, that’s how you summarise,” Naik is already jotting something in his notebook. Thank you so much, Rao. You can leave now.” He goes through the content of page titled Mr Roy (x)”.

Does not know Joy. Adi knows Joy well. Rao knows Adi well.

Easily swayed by bites of information and runs with it.

Lies about not being to the kitchen yesterday after office — has his tiffin at the wash basin.

As Rao is about to leave the kitchen, Naik stops him. Just a food for thought Rao. Why do you think Joy died while using the Microwave and not, say, after using it?”

Rao, wiping his brow, shrugs, I don’t know. Maybe because people do not instantly die after using a microwave. They usually eat?”

Naik slumps back, satisfied, in his beanbag, There you go. Thank you, Mr Rao. You can go back to the living room.” He makes another note.

Did not have food at home last night.

When No One Cares

Rick was following this foreign body across his own home for quite some time now. He did not like new people entering his den, rather he scorned all who did. The loneliness that the fate had stewed into his existence had made him finicky. For him, the life was far better when he was left alone.

And Rick was always alone. He was alone when he first opened his eyes in an orphanage. He was alone when he first learned to walk, when he uttered his first word. He was alone with his foster parents — people who used him as nothing more than a childminder to their younger son. He loved to walk, he loved to talk. But with no one ever by his side, life turned him into a lonely bloke.

So he ran away from the foster home, ran away from the people. He still does not recall how long was he hitchhiking - on the road, on the sea. He just stopped moving a fine day and fell into a surrounding he cared least about. He learnt he needed money to exist, he learnt ways to earn money, he earned money to exist. And he did exist. However, by now, his existence was under the fastidious care of his loneliness.

A silent persistent rumble brought Rick back to the reality. His heart sank to see how much mess the repairman was leaving behind in his house.

Unable to bear the ruin, Rick shouted, Do you really have to screw around my whole house, strewing all your mess all across the floor?”

Of course. Your neighbour has paid me to do,” teased the repairman. Realising how futile it was to kid around this sobersides, he corrected himself, Your neighbour has complained he hears a lot of noise in this wall, he is afraid there is a rat or some living creature in here.”

How can there be?, wondered Rick within. You have to go, now,” snarled Rick.

Why? If there is a rat, it will help you too.” The repairman resumed his work — Rick perceived it as nothing less than carnage.

He has to go. Now.

Herding the Herder

Gotya, wake up, you bum.”

Gotya was shaken up from his sleep. He shuddered, then forced his face to point to where the sound was coming from. He let in as much of his father’s looming figure as his hazy vision allowed.

Gotya’s father was tired of Gotya’s utter lack of competence at any work there possibly was to do. Gotya, on the other hand, was fed up with the extreme truculent manner in which his father constantly chided him. Neither of them attempted to right anything. Gotya continued to laze away the days and the nights. His father continued to bark at him for doing so.

What are you going to do now?”

Just what you told me Baba,” was all he managed to mutter. He was still livid with his father for waking him up early. Just as he was every day. He was still spread across his Charpai — spread even more than the bedsheet beneath him did.

And what is that?”

Not to do anything stupid,” he hissed now — his father just won’t give up.

That is what you are not going to do, Gotya. I asked what are you going to do now?”

Gotya sighed. Haven’t we just gone through this?” he pondered. And finally, annoyed, he shot back, Anyway, what am I going to do?”

We just went through this, you idiot. Stop being stupid.”

See.” It was Gotya who barked now. That’s why I keep saying you are getting old now. Isn’t that exactly what I said I am going to do - not doing anything stupid?”

Gotya sat straight now, his father contrarily bent a little. He then stretched somewhat and then bent a lot more, sighing. Herding this fool is no less difficult than the thoughtless goats, goats are easier withal, he mumbled.


This is another short-story from the series of adventures from this crazy village Tikwadi. I have also published the other humor stories as part of this series — The Lone Conductor, Day when a loan shark was tamed and He who wasn’t welcomed.

Perfecting Existence

A sudden and repeated knock on the door reverberated through the room. It shook Rama, bringing her back from a sombre which had her unmoved for quite some time now. Unmoved, since a rock shattered her windows and her spirit. A rock with a paper wrapped around it.

She had no clue for how long she had been staring at that piece of paper. The words it read were pretty conspicuous in imparting the intentions of the one who wrote them. And they had had her shaken to her core.

Who knows about Sam? And about Ali? And how? Rama wondered.

No one should know about them. No one knows where they came from. No one will ever know where they went. Isn’t that what you always believed? A voice in Rama’s head chided her.

She read the words again.

I know about Sam. I know about Ali.
I know what you did to them.
I know what you intend to do to Rachit.
I will not let you. Beware.

None of the three lines should be written by anyone, but herself. And she was pretty confident she had not written them. Or had she?

Another knock pierced the silence of Rama’s lab. Darkness was creeping through the shattered window into the lab now.

Who can come to the lab? Who even knows you have a lab? The voice questioned Rama again. And you would not be stumped now had you not let Sam and Ali ever leave the lab. Or had them put away forever.

They had to if Rachit, the cherished felicity of my existence, was to come to my life. They were not perfect. Rachit is,” shouted Rama.

The knocks grew louder, and faster now — each thump pounding vigorously at her mind. And, just as they began, they ceased suddenly. The lab went silent again. And a lot darker. So did her mind.

He, who wasn't welcomed

Rains were lashing the village of Tikwadi. No being, living, dead or inanimate, had had any respite from the persistent downfall of loaded raindrops. Pathways full of potholes were transformed into rivulets with uneven bed. Not that there was a dire need for use of any of these pathways.

Tikwadi was known for the distinct hebetude amongst the dwellers of this rugged land. There were different kinds of people - of varied nature, varied colour, varied beliefs and varied professions. What connected them all was their utter lack of liveliness in the face of any hardship. A hint of annoyance, and the whole village would go dead-still. Extreme summers made them spread themselves on the bed. Stormy monsoons had them locked in their houses. Chilly winters had them cloaked and hooded in the layers of Shawls. The village, and the villagers, ran when the nature was kind.

Of course, the incessant rains of last week had got the village long deserted. There was no seeable movement nor any discernible sound, except that of the pounding rain. A whoosh of wind that shook the whole surrounding was, hence, definitely bizarre for its suddenness. It was as if it had no trigger to originate, nor did it have a gradual route to non-existence; it just disappeared. It did leave behind something though, equally odd and a lot more ghastly.

Tikwadi wasn’t ready for Him yet.


Raghu and Ganya were huddled together under the porch to keep themselves dry, and warm. They saw a body, befogged by the rain around, walk towards them.

Has it stopped raining?” Ganya quipped.

Raghu rolled his eyes, then on second thought kneaded his eyes a bit and looked around. But then rolled his eyes again and looked pitifully at Ganya.

Don’t look at me like that.” Ganya responded, a bit flustered. If it hasn’t stopped raining, who is that walking around?”

He cannot be someone from here.” Raghu finally spoke.

Then where is he from?” Ganya looked at the rolling eyes of Raghu and complained, Whoever taught you that did not tell you when to do that.”

He had reached next to them by now. He spoke something that, to Raghu and Ganya, were just noises. They looked at each other, weighing the option of enquiring further. But their lethargic self won. So they just rolled their eyes, went inside and slammed the door in His face.


This is another short-story from the series of adventures from this crazy village Tikwadi. I have also published two other humor stories — The Lone Conductor and Day when a loan shark was tamed.

Equaling Out

Sana hated Joel. It was not because he was a terrible person. It was, rather, for exactly the opposite reason. He was a gem of a person.

He always adorned his face with a wide, charming smile. A smile that captivated everyone, but was neither an attempt at hiding some innate stupidness nor a craving for being characterised as the cheery guy. It was all authentic. At work, he was best at what he did - extremely smart and diligent. He mesmerised everyone in the team, inside or the outside, with his knowledge and his stories. Sana had not yet come across a single topic which had him stumped.

Sana, on the other hand, was miserably inadequate at work. She rarely completed stuff assigned to her on her own, helping others was unthinkable. She wasn’t too keen either, as it involved interacting with them. As part of a group, she was perceived to be the pensive dumbo. She rarely added anything to a conversation, but got always swayed by everyone’s perspective. More often than not, she left a conversation being bitter for her inability to contribute.

Not Joel. He was never seen fussed. Outside of work, he dialled his impressiveness up a notch. He was a terrific singer — Sana believed he was good enough to be a lead singer of any band. Every party had a performance from the cheery guy. Him, strumming guitar, and his soulful crooning.

Sana had no interests, no passions. She was into her late twenties, and she had no profile to boast of. Every attempt of hers to break free was shot down mercilessly by her fate. Some by the fateful accident that took her family away. Some by the untimely fire that took her friends away. Fate never allowed Sana to be the unfettered child, burdening her always with the needs of ever debasing circumstances.

Sana?”

Sana was woken up by a collective shrill around her. Everyone was looking at her. And she, through her teary eyes, had been looking at Joel, a usual guitar in his hand. She, then, heard Joel speak.

Yes, her. She is a great singer. I have heard her croon many times.”

Fate, over her life, had nurtured Sana to be a grouchy wench. Sana hated Joel for dissuading her from being herself.

Walking to the Happy Place

Oas looked at the grumpy old sod again lying down in front of Sara’s picture. Well, at least that is what he thought Mr Marvel was. Somewhere deep down he knew he too was exactly the same — an old grumpy looking sod. And Marvel had made sure Oas is never allowed to forget that. He saw a human reflection in the feline every time he looked at him.

But as Sara had wished, Oas had made him his buddy, his partner for years now. They were inseparable — waking up and cleaning together; cooking and eating together; reading and sleeping together. Marvel made sure he spent, with Oas, every single minute of the day, spreading happiness and contentment. And Oas always believed things would stay the same.

Alas, the time has a way of unearthing one’ fallacies — putting one face-to-face with history. Didn’t Oas hold similar beliefs about his happy times with Sara? How can he have forgotten so quickly that they didn’t last him for the lifetime either? And today he woke up from the self-induced dreamy slumber again.

Not by Marvel, but by the absence of him on his side. Oas trotted down the stairs to find him motionless in front of Sara. He knew the grumpy sod was done being grumpy. Sara would’ve been ululating next to Marvel’s body — that was if she had been alive. Now, she must be dancing with joy, with Marvel to her side, at whichever the place it is where people go to stop being the sad mortals.

The thought cheered Oas up. He too was close to done being the grumpy old sod.


This is the conclusion of the story I had published on how Sara brought these two grumpy old souls together.

The Unearthly Baggage

Sara is getting restless in the queue. There are still a couple of people standing ahead of her; they both look defeated. She wonders if she, too, is donning the same look. I am a Roy, she reminds herself, Roys may lose, but are never defeated. She plasters a smile on her face.

She has been standing in the queue for quite some time now. And that makes beaming further more difficult. Especially so, given she has no clue what the queue is for. She peers around; a vast, white, closed hall surrounds her. But all it holds is a queue spiralling outwards, inching slowly towards the centre. Towards a lady, running an apparatus. And a grater — not much different from a normal cheese grater, just unnaturally large.

This was in no way the entrance to the afterlife that Sara had always imagined. Not that of the heaven, for sure. Sara feels suffocated. She isn’t prepared to embrace the death yet.


The person in front of Sara moves ahead and hands the memory stick to the craggy looking lady. Sara tilts her head with a childish curiosity, and observes the lady and her apparatus. There is a charcoal like block right at the centre of the hall. The lady inserts the memory stick in the only slot the block displays. The block makes some abrasive, unpleasant noises and pops out muskmelon-sized orbs of a person’s memories — some vibrant, some pale. She expressionlessly picks up every orb, the vibrant ones and the pale ones, and grates it.

Sara watches as the shreds of memories drop straight down the drain below.She tightens her fist around the memory stick she holds. She won’t let her priceless memories die such a dreadful death; it doesn’t matter that’s just how her’s had been.

Next,” Sara hears the lady call out. The voice lacks any emotion, but that makes it sound further weighty.

Sara greets the lady, just the way she is taught Roys do, with a smile. The lady though — without lifting her chin even slightly — stretches her hand out further.

I can’t recall how this ended up with me, but here,” Sara hands her the memory stick. She continues in an attempt to sound confident and cheerful, That’s the memories spanning 20 years of my colourful life.”

Sara looks on as the block starts spitting the orbs. From the queue, this process felt a lot faster. She could, however, now see the memory that every orb represented.

She looks on as the lady picks up Sara’s first vision of her mum and grates it. She then picks up Sara’s first word and drains the shreds of the faint mma. Her first step meets the same end. The lady continues as she pounces on every dear memory of Sara’s and scrubs it on the grater.

Drops of sadness, helplessness flood Sara’s eyes. She has to do something; she couldn’t let this massacre continue unquestioned. Do you have to grate all my memories?”

The lady looks up momentarily and then lets out a dull sigh. Of course, not. It’s not about what do I have to do. It’s about what do you want me to do.”

Well, that’s unexpected. Sara ponders, But why did no one else get that option?”

Did you see anyone else question?” The lady had her brows raised, holding Sara’s first day to school. Some, like you, do. And they get the option. But once they realise what it means, most do not hold on to any of their memories.”

Sara sees the lady grate her cheery self, hopping to the school. And what does it mean not grating some memories?”

It means next time you are born, it’s not with a clean canvas.” Sara sees her first crush get shredded down the drain. You begin your life with some memories; memories without context, without backstories. The questions such memories can raise in one’s mind could potentially draw her crazy.”

Sara wasn’t convinced. Can the answers to these question be quested for in one’s lifetime?”

Of course, they can be. The vital question is do you want to be born with the baggage?”

The lady expected an answer, or more questions, from the feisty girl. Failing to get either, she looks up and catches a gleam of excitement sparkle in Sara’s eyes — an excitement she has not seen for a long, long time. She heedlessly looks at the vibrant orb of a cosy pinkish hue that she holds. She sees a dreamy Sara, with the same sparkle in her eyes, looking at a guy walk into her class.

Day When a Loan Shark Was Tamed

village-2

Thursday dawned on Tikwadi. For an outsider, no dawn in Tikwadi was any different. Villagers idled around just the way they always did. Men meandered, dilly-dallying with some unknown angst. Women hustled helter-skelter, pretending to be busy with some unknown chore. And kids spurted kooky from all directions, engulfed with some unknown euphoria. But for a resident of Tikwadi, every day dawned with a new crazy chapter.

Even today, a group of men squat around a smallish bonfire. They had Neem stems sticking out of their mouths; and hands, searching for heat, sticking out of their bodies. The chilly month of December always made them do such concoctions — they were never sure which body part they wanted to heat by the bonfire and which one to keep warm in the cloak. Raghu and Ganya were doing nothing different.

I heard Paka saw a ghost yesterday?” queried Raghu.

Where?” Ganya raised his brows.

In his farm, it seems. He was returning from his evening choir. Got late. Heard he saw lights dancing in front of him.”

That idiot must have just seen some fireflies. Anyway, who did you hear it from?”

Him.”

Him Who?”

Paka.”

Who else did you hear it from?”

No one else. Why the fuck does that matter?” Raghu bit on his Neem a bit too hard.

Why would you say you heard” if the only person you heard it from was the one whom it happened to?”

Raghu spat a chunk of chewed Neem extracts — the stem wasn’t the only thing that was leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.

Fuck, is that Lala?” he howled. Why the hell is he out of his den?”


Lala was horror personified. A moneylender by profession, and unlike the tradition of Tikwadi, he did not suck at lending money. After all, there are only so many ways someone can lend money. He did not lend money, he sentenced people to lending money from him. He would devise a ploy so intriguing that people just took money from him irrespective of their needs.

Paka, the lone conductor of Tikwadi, had fallen for a similar ploy. He once sat at the window of his bus with Lala next to him. He knew he should just keep his mouth shut and eyes focused on anything but the evil. There was a word around the town that Lala can taint one’s brain with any opening he finds on your body. Paka did not want his brain to get spoilt; he pulled his beanie tighter over his ears.

So where’s the bus going?” Lala began his session.

Why the fuck does that matter? Where are you going, you devil? Paka cursed in his mind. But he stayed inert, as if lifeless.

You people controlling this bus are genius; it looks so old. It must be holding a world record for being the oldest bus plying on the road. Why do you still work, as in do a job?” Paka looked at Lala with quizzing eyes. Strike one.

Why are you looking at me like that? For this alone, The Guinness Book of Records must have paid you a fortune, no?” Paka, still mostly unmoved, had few frowning lines on his forehead. Strike two.

Lala continued, Now don’t tell me you did not even apply for the Guinness records?” Paka heard him. Strike three. Game over.


Of course, Lala did not suck at taking the money back from people. He was a ruthless maniac at that. So much so that there was a belief around the town that he had hollowed his cardiac chambers too — and used that space as safes for hiding people’s documents.

Both Raghu and Ganya owed him money. And neither could pay him back. So they stood up and started a brisk walk away from Lala. Lala, with his husky loud voice first, caught up to them in spite of an ancillary tummy dangling from his torso.

Stop. I am not here to ask money from you, you fools.”

Both Raghu and Ganya stopped.

Have you seen Paka around?”

Must be at his home.” Raghu shot back.

You think I did not try that? I went to his home and he is not there,” Lala lambasted.

No idea, in that case, about where he is. I did hear that he saw a ghost yesterday. So maybe he has run away from Tikwadi.” Raghu informed.

Ganya raised his eyebrows and howled, Paka did not see any ghost, and this idiot did not hear it from anyone. He only heard it from Paka, or so he says.”

Then why the fuck does he say that he heard?” Lala shrieked. Ganya shrugged. Anyway, I think he has a ghost living in his house itself,” Lala theorised.

Neither Raghu nor Ganya spoke a word. They just stared at Lala in an expectation that he might clarify this theory further.

That lady living with him? She is no lesser that a witch.”

Of course.” They spurted out exactly at the same time. Indeed she is. What did she do now by the way?”

Well, I went there to ask my money back. That witch managed to pull another ₹100 from me. And also a monthly business, I am afraid”

Both Raghu and Ganya instantly flattened their hands to smash them together, all in full respect for this godly lady. Realising they have made Lala aware, they stopped. And gave him a puzzled look.

Don’t ask. But hear me out anyway.”


I reached Paka’s house pretty early in the morning, I knew he always left his home early. But he had already left. He loves his bus more than his lady, I tell you.

Anyway, I reach there and catch his wife squatting in her front-yard, milking her goats. Howdy Bindu,” I greet her and ask, Where is Paka?”

She was startled as if no human had ever greeted her. So much so that she sprayed some milk on me. I felt even the goat looked at me and chuckled with a shake of her head.

He is not here — has left for work.” I saw a fly strolling over the craggy surface of her face.

So early? Must be to his second wife, no?” I attempted to crack a joke. She was not impressed. I attempted a cover-up, I mean his bus.” Even the fly on her face need not change the course as it continued its trek.

She howled, What do you want?” This time the fly did fly away.

My money that Paka owes me.”

He has not left any money at home.”

Well, it has been very long since I have lent him the money. I won’t go home empty-handed today,” I looked around and pointed to the top subconsciously. I am taking your tin shelter.”

Our house does not have any, you took away the last one last month. It is all grass and mud now. Take that if you want.”

Bah. What will I do with that?”

How will I know? I do not do the business of selling mud and grass.”

Duh. Is there any idiot who does that?”

Well, you sold us the mud and grass when you took our tins last time.” The goat shook her head again. I was not liking it one bit.

Whatever. I have come out of my house, I need to take something. Anything. Your goat. Aha. Yes, I will take your goat.” The goat yawned and looked away. I am still not sure if it did that in fright or disgust.

Ok, pay me ₹100 and take the goat away?”

Tchah. Why the hell should I pay you anything?”

Well, it’s your goat now. And I have just milked her,” she said pointing at the bucket full of milk. You will anyway take the milk too with you and sell it, making more moolah. So you owe me a ₹100 for my service.”

The goat bleated, mocking me.

Ok. I will deduct the amount from what you already owe me.”

Nah. I do not do business on credit. You have to pay me right now, and take the goat away.”

Ok. here’s your ₹100,” I opened my briefcase, prepared a document and handed it to her, Now I own this goat, sign here.”

Bindu wiggled and wiped her wet hands, took the papers and put her initials.

There you go,” I sounded triumphed. Sigh. Little did I know what the hell I was getting into.

I failed miserably to manoeuvre the goat, it just wouldn’t budge. It kept lazily munching on the grass, idly looking at me every now and then. Its chomps were dull, eyes were dull. Its whole body was still as death, the only thing moving was its frothy mouth.

Well, it won’t move,” I complained

Well, it’s yours,” Bindu quipped.

That witch, she must have done some sorcery. Realising what a big mess I had gotten myself into, I said, I can’t take your goat. You keep it.”

Well, how can I keep it. I have already signed the document stating it is your goat.”

Never mind. Keep it.”

How can I? That would mean I am servicing you again, I am taking care of your goat. That will cost you extra.”

That witch. And her goat.


Lala sputtered, So, next time you meet Paka, tell him I am never lending him any money again.”

In their minds, Raghu and Ganya were already in search of a place where they would one day hoist the statue of Bindu. That would be Tikwadi’s own Statue of Liberty.


This is a second part in the series of short series about Adventures of Tikwadi. First part was also published as part of the publication Crossing Genres.

That’s My Sun

Sam sat there in the corner looking at his fingernails. With a shrapnel in his hand, he was digging the dirt, which only he could see, out his fingernails. He looked up for a moment, and then looked around. Nothing much had changed.

It had been so long since he had locked himself up in this damp room on that fateful day that he had lost a sense of time. This was his personal man cave before that. This was a space where he ran all the experiments, all the projects that his day-to-day job did not allow him. He spent most of his out-of-office hours in this room living a life he always dreamt of living. That was before the epidemic engulfed the town. He never dreamt of living a day like today outside of a reel projected on a movie screen.

And since that day, he had been to no place else. The room has been his attic and his living room. His kitchen and his bathroom. It has been his world, his universe. And the light bulb dangling in the centre has been the sun around which his life revolved. The quietude lent an altogether different perspective to Sam. All the perennial void was his vast canvas; and the numbing silence his music room. His imagination brushed the canvas with glittery moments from his past life and slippery periods that could never check in. He laced it with his creations from the instrument-less music.

He had been directing this fancied life for so long now that time was not the only thing he had lost the sense of — it was reality too. His world was full of personalities and voices; he could no longer distinguish which ones were real and which ones were just the makings of his mind.

They are coming, Sam. Sam heard the voices speak. He was startled out of his dirt-digging exercise by some stutters outside, back to the reality. At least his perceived reality.

Who do you mean by they’?” Sam queried. He was still searching for the source of the voices, his eyes staggering all around the room.

You know very well who are coming. Sam knew to whom the voices were referencing.

Since the day epidemic broke out, the world all around had been a raw hunting ground. And Sam had somehow managed to lock himself away from the walkers and the hunters outside. All he knew was no one worked in dark as if the darkness could hide the savagery of the fear all around.

And if you are to survive, you need to switch the light bulb off. Rather just shatter it, the voices were growing more authoritative now. You can’t keep it glowing when you know that’s the way they can find you.

Yes, that’s the only way someone can find me,” Sam repeated. He looked at the light bulb that was still shimmering, blanketing the darkness. But that’s my sun,” he quipped.

Shuttering noises outside were growing, getting closer. Sam kept leering at his sun, and his universe. Grinning.

Whaam. The sun was killed and so was the canvas for Sam’s life that he had so merrily painted.


There is no light anywhere Commander. Safe to quarantine.” A voice was heard as the army moseyed past the room.

Till the Fireworks Last

Pia looked at the screen again and then looked down at her boarding pass. AI-245”, she hummed, scrolling the screen flashing the flight numbers with her eyes. She was getting edgy unable to find the flight number on the list. She had long stopped relaxing in the passenger lounge. She had been standing right under the screen for last 20 minutes, every now and then darting her eyes at the Air India kiosk.

Such careless attitude, not an iota of professionalism, her heart snapped and sank. Should have listened to Rini and booked United, a thought loomed in her mind. It receded, even before it could linger. Well, better late than getting boarded and then dragged out, she heard her mind chuckle. She liked that — it had been long since it had expressed anything but grief.

Hello, Pia.”

Pia turned around and went completely deadpan. Om? What are you doing here?”

Om looked down at his shoe, scratching at the floor. Pia had her questioning eyes fixated at him. Will you please come with me for a moment Pia,” he finally replied.

What games is fate playing with me now? Pia pondered. She crossed her arms and quipped, Now? Where? You do know that I have a flight to catch, right? And anyway we met, what, like an hour back. You people gave me a send-off. Remember?”

Yes, we did,” Om was still looking at his shoe. He finally kicked the floor as if dusting it of some invisible mud and stepped ahead. But there is something really important I need to talk to you about.”

Pia kept looking at him, crossing her arms tighter across her chest. She wanted to scream at him, but words had suddenly deserted her. She finally gave up on her struggle to conjure them, took her luggage and walked outside with him. They walked, and then walked some more. Neither of them wanted to break the tension that the silence had woven between them.

Once they reached a quiet hillock, Pia looked back at Om, her eyes searching for answers on his face.

There is a burden on my heart Pia,” Om muttered, which I need to offload. Else I would be crushed beneath it.”

Her eyes grew wide with her fists closing tighter. Then they narrowed, watery, across her slanted face, as if questioning Why are you doing this, Om?

Please don’t go, Pia.”

Simple words, but they carried a baggage that made them loaded enough to take Pia aback. She looked around, dazed, and then somehow managed to stutter her first words since minutes that felt like an eternity, No, don’t.”

No words followed post that. Om blanked out. Pia, nonplussed.

Both were startled back to reality by a firework that brushed a multi-coloured spider across the sky. Looks like a multi-shot cake firework”, Om simpered, a smile donning across his face. Hear me out till the fireworks last Pia. Then you can leave.”

All Pia could do was nod. Her eyes, her fists, her arms had returned to normal. But as a whole, her body had gone wooden.

I have always been in awe of you, of your personality, of your nature. I still remember the day when I first met you at Rini’s home, the day that ended in a night out with Jerry Maguire” show. I have been your friend since then, and I have never felt emptier than the last 6 months when you were away.”

Another firework lit the sky. Om tried to read Pia’s face, but it was still as a calm sea — there was some movement, but he could not gather what was to come.

You are the one person I need to have around me for life, else my life would be a total mess. With you not around, everything was amiss. Well, I may not be the most handsome guy out there. I may not be one of the richest, the smartest guys out there. But..”

The sound from another firework muffled Om’s next words. He cursed the timing, he did not want his last words to linger around any longer. So he attempted to override the effect the firework had.

But I am confident that I will be the one person that will care for you more than anyone has ever cared for someone else.”

Om paused to let the words sink, to see if they had any effect on Pia. She stayed unmoved. He continued, dejection apparent in his voice, Last 6 months have, professionally, been the most fruitful ones for me, but I wasn’t happy. Because I could not share the joy with you. I had the world to cheer me Pia, but I was crying inside.”

Firework lit the skies again — this time, Om appreciated the timing. Pia had been looking at her toes for quite some time, digging the dirt out. As the firework was dying down, Om felt he saw a shimmer of a drop leave Pia’s eye and collapse.

And as I stand here on the verge of sending you off to another country, another world, I can’t imagine what my life would be without you around, ever.”

Om could hear Pia whimper, but he persisted, It would be empty, and I have seen my empty heart bleed. If you leave today, you will leave my life empty, hollow. You have always been my Dorothy since that first night out. You complete me, Pia. And..”

Yes,” emerged a sound amidst the sobs.

The word that he thought he heard leave Pia’s mouth left Om perplexed. What? I don’t ..”

Shut up you fool. Here’s your Dorothy saying You had me at hello’.”

Many fireworks engulfed the stars in the night sky. The only thing left gleaming were the tears rolling down Pia’s cheeks as she collapsed in Om’s arms.


This story was first published at Medium as part of the publication The Weekly Knob.

The Quiet Onlooker

Shri sits on a roadside bench looking at the traffic as it crawls by. It is the early morning, and so is way too crowded being the peak office commute time. He looks on as vehicles drag themselves along past him. Now and again, there is that one lunatic who dares to zoom through such traffic.

Pedestrians walk around Shri trying to cross the road through this maniacal traffic. He sits there, staring blankly at nothing specific.

Tired, he looks at the calendar he holds. There are few scribblings on today.

10:03 AM. A thin man wearing a red t-shirt & navy blue jeans. Zebra crossing, opposite Walmart.’

As he waits for the watch to announce 10 am, he sees a tall, thin man approaching the roadside. He’s certain that this guy is his task for the day. He watches him get closer to the roadside at the zebra crossing. The thin man looks at the cars coming his way. With each passing car, he grows antsy.

Shri watches him unsuccessfully try crossing the road multiple times, every time ending at the roadside again. He dares to hop on the road finally spotting a possible window for crossing. However, he realises very late he won’t be able to cross the road and turns back, barely missing the car. As he heaves his first sigh of relief, a painful screeching sound fills the whole area, followed by a loud thud. A bus has come to halt, sending the surrounding in a rusty silence followed by an eerie snarl.

Shri sees people rush around him, some even rushing through him, towards the thin man’s body lying lifeless in the pool of blood.

He indolently gets up, looks at his watch. 10:03 AM. A content smile spreads across his face. He looks down at the calendar in his hand and puts a cross on today’s date. He has only one more day to cross out on this calendar and he will be a free man again.


2:37PM. A toned lady in a black suit. Edward lane.’

He reads a lady described on the calendar today. And unlike the earlier 9 events, today’s event is planned in not so crowded place. He wonders how he will be a witness to an event in such a deserted location. Somewhere deep down, he hates himself for being so inquisitive.

He strokes his moustache and leans back on the pavement to cogitate what tomorrow holds for him. Last 9 days have been pretty extraordinary for him. He sat through watching 9 souls leave their earthly body and embrace the fate. It wasn’t easy doing that, knowing a death is imminent — knowing the person, the location, everything, and not taking any action.

But he had to endure for he himself had to survive — 10 souls, 10 crosses on the calendar, and he would be back to his life. Back to his town, his home. Back to his family. Back to Riya. He can’t give up on his life. He was awarded a chance to regain his soul, decide his own fate. 10 souls from an unknown land, in return, is a very low price to pay, he reckoned.

He looks up to see construction workers fitting a huge glass slab onto a wall. A nefarious smile spreads across his face again. A how” that had clouded his mind a while back is answered. All that remains unanswered is who”.

His eyes follow the narrow lane to the corner, waiting for somebody to show up. Somebody does appear. He sees a silhouette of a lady turn around the corner — unmindful, though, of the frightened face of Shri looking back at her. He stands there frozen as the calendar, which he was clinging on to so tightly just a moment ago, tumbles from his hands.


This story was original published on Medium as part of the publication The Weekly Knob.

Marvelling at Life

Oas trotted to the window to peek outside, sliding aside the recently dusted curtains. He had dusted them just an hour back, but he still found some dust on his hands. He wiggled his hands and muttered few muffled swears towards the polluting city dwellers.

He went to the wash basin, took some liquid soap from the dispenser he had just refilled and washed off the dust. As a matter of fact, the dispenser did not need a refill. But a routine was the only thing that kept Oas’s life rolling. So refilling soap dispensers was one of his Sunday morning’s routine chore. As was dusting the furniture and curtains.

He was also particular at being absolutely certain about things. So he washed his hands off again a couple of times.

He realised he had forgotten to peek outside when we had slid the curtains aside, well, to peek outside. He also realised that not enough dust had stuck to his hands earlier to make the curtains clean. So he reached closer to the windows and gazed fixedly at the curtains as if he possessed some superpower to wipe things clean just by his stare. He wished he did. He did not.

He wanted to check the weather outside, of course without letting his hands be all dusty. So he pulled an old umbrella from the cabinet and poked at the curtains, as if he was worried that the dust particles were monsters hiding behind, ready to pounce on him. He wished they were. They were not.

Once he was convinced that nothing will pounce on him, he used the same umbrella to slide the curtains to the side and swiftly moved closer to the window to peek outside. He instantly tumbled backwards as he saw two green shaken eyes gawking back at him. Some more muffled swear words left Oas’ mouth.

Oas saw the shaken eyes come back to their sleepy normal — one eye open three-fourth, another the remaining one-fourth. Both belonged to one lazy creature dwelling in their block. Oas’ neighbours called it a cat — he called it Mr. Boneless Marvel. Marvel it is — given it belonged to no one, no one freaking cared about pets in our block and it was too lazy assed to care about itself. Still, I have never seen it lose a sliver of weight. Phenomenon. Prodigy. Miracle.” Oas always advocated his case to Sara.

Mr. Marvel had a total of half eyes open now looking at Oas, chin strongly pinned on its paw. Oas attempted to shoo it away with the umbrella. It winked back at him. Oas attempted it a couple more times. It winked back a couple more times. Oas slid the curtain closed.

He again realised he did not peek outside for the weather, so he slid the curtain open, ignored Mr. Marvel and checked the weather outside, finally.


Oas saw a grumpy old man peering back at him in the mirror. There were so many things Sara would not like in what reflected back. So he straightened his eyebrows, opened his eyes wide, curved his lips up into a pleasant smile and slowly flattened the visible creases on his sweater. He wished somewhere deep inside he could do the same for the wrinkles on his forehead. And the ones on his nose too. He couldn’t. So his face went back to be being grumpy again.

He could be his grumpy self for some more time. As per the Sunday routine, he still had an hour to ready himself for Sara.

He finally walked outside, locked the door behind him and, of course, tugged at it a couple of times. He realised something, muttered few muffled swears again, unlocked the door and brought an umbrella back with him. He knew it would rain soon.

He started ambling towards the bus stop. As he did every Sunday, he stopped next to the electronics store and inspected himself in the glass at the store front to make sure he was ready for Sara. Today, he saw Mr. Marvel standing next to him. He tried to recall last time he had seen it standing. He could not, so he started walking. So did it.

Oas wasn’t sure why it was following him. He shrieked, go away, shoo” waving his hand. It blinked. He wielded his umbrella almost touching its nose. It stopped, purred, licked its grey moustache and looked back at him, winking. He gave up and started walking, holding his shoulder to abate the pain from all his freakish swordplay.


Oas sat on the bench at the nearest bus stop. He never missed this small trip, rather he was breathing only for these Sunday walks of his. It was here that Sara had arranged for a letter to be delivered for Oas every week before she left him once and for all. It was here she narrated, via the letter, an incident from her life which she could never share with Oas while she lived.

Oas hated Sara for being shrewd enough to see he would have died, or killed himself, long back if it weren’t for these beads of secrets from her life. It was now six months since she died, but Oas lived on for, and she lived on via, these letters.

Just as every Sunday, an unknown guy delivered a letter to Oas at 11AM. Clouds crowded the skies, and Oas’ heart too. He neatly opened the letter and read on.

Dearest Oas,

When I met you, I was a touchy, bitter girl with a life laden with sorrows. It was you who pulled me out of my miseries and made me see the beautiful side of life. And I realised how necessary it is to reduce pessimism from other’s life. That day onwards I lived my life just to protect you, cover you from any despairs; just as you have done for me. We have been each other’s shields.

But I saw one more soul who needed bouts of optimism, of love. And I gave him that. I know you would have never liked me doing so, but I just couldn’t see him sad. With me gone, I know you are grumpy. And so is he. So you must continue to help him, for me. Be nice to him, I am sure he too will do the same. Be each other’s shield, protecting other from pouring sorrows. Bring your Mr. Marvel, my Buddy, home. You need him. So does he, you.

Love, Sara”

It had gotten a lot gloomy around. Oas looked at Mr. Marvel sitting, grumpy, near his legs, with its shrunken eyebrows and wrinkles all over the face. He chuckled, as the clouds suddenly started pouring down.

Oas pulled Mr. Marvel near him and covered it under his umbrella. He stood up and called out, Come, let’s go home, Buddy.”


This story was first published on Medium.

Our Mutual Pact

Remember that day when the Coffee House owner had thrown us out of his restaurant?” Jai stirred his coffee, and his memories.

Of course,” Jui guffawed. Any owner would have done that. We were shooing away every customer that was walking in.”

There. That’s the laugh that was causing everyone to just freak out.”

Jui raised her brows and whacked him on his shoulders. Yes, you had made me spit the coffee out of my nose, almost. Coffee running down my nose, water running down my eyes. And then this laugh. Such an idiotic witch I must’ve looked.”

But how can you blame me? I was just trying my best to woo you. I wasn’t sure I had won you over yet.”

So you thought let me be this joker that had already made me fall in love with you?” Jui asked, rolling her eyes. Sometimes I quiz myself what was I even thinking when I accepted your proposal.”

Jai was all smiles — looking at her, so full of her carefree laughter.

It was also the day you had promised you will never leave me.” He was staring at her now, smile slowly receding from their lips.

Why did you leave, Jui?”

You know why I did, Jai.” She looked down. She knew she won’t have any answer for what was to come. You also know I didn’t want to.”

But you did.” Jai was a tad vexed now. It’s so unfair — this should not have happened to me, to us. What wrong have I ever done?”

Don’t be too hard on yourself. And you see, I am still there for you. We have made sure I will always be.”

Jai shrugged, You know it is not the same anymore.”

He looked back at Jui, in an attempt to read her face. But she was already looking down, eyes closed. He knew it was coming any moment.

And it did. I should be going.”

Promise me you will come back.”

Of course, Jai. All you have to do is call.”

She looked at him, looked deep into his eyes. She wondered if he will ever stop blaming himself for how their lives turned out.

His eyes revealed nothing though — plain void stared back at her. Every emotion, every thought, every dream was washed away during the numerous tearful nights he had spent.

She stood up. Jai watched her saunter along, climb into the mirror on the wall and disappear. He wished he could follow her there.

But he knew Jui would want him to stay back for their little princess. He looked at her — cuddled up, so calm, in her blanket.

Jui had promised, after all, that she would always be looking at them as long as he continued to live for their princess. Their secret little mutual pact.


This story was first published on Medium as part of the amazing publication The Weekly Knob.

A Walk to Remember

It was pitch dark across the town of Diu. The street winding down was deserted as usual. It had recently been washed off its weariness by the unseasonal rain. In a way, it was a perfect setting for one pleasant, romantic walk.

A couple silhouetted against the discontinuous bouts of illumination from the lighthouse nearby. But their walk was no way romantic, may be a tad tipsy rather.

Roy and Joel had been walking down the street for almost an hour. Yet their individual opinions were divided. Joel thought it must have been four hours. Roy, however, opined that he was off by at least 3 hours and 30 minutes.

No way” bawled Joel, We must be just debating this for last 2 hours.”

Again, you are off by an hour and 30 minutes at the least” Roy countered.

How are you so sure? It’s as if you want to stay here longer.”

Of course, I do. Don’t you?”

Well, not in the shape I am now” Joel hit back with his fiery eyes. Anyway, shouldn’t we be searching for what we are supposed to search?”

That is exactly what I am doing” replied Roy, peeking at the byroad they were passing by.

I don’t think we are searching for the same thing, though. If that were the case, you would be peeping minutely down the manholes. Not glancing at the lanes as we pass by.”

Roy just smiled.


Ganu saw the two bodies tottering along. He wasn’t sure if it was their walk or his drunk vision that was unsteady.

One was looking minutely at the footpaths, and in the garbage bins, and over the plant pots. He thought he also saw him once peeping inside a manhole. He was for sure searching for something.

The other, the skinny one, was not searching for any thing, though. He might well be searching for someone. thought Ganu.

There was something about these two people that appeared odd to Ganu. They looked unconventionally fresh for the time of the day, the season of the year, and the condition of the city. All were in shambles.

Ganu did not like such clean people. He felt no one should be this clean when he was drowning in his sorrows.

Ganu started following them.


I think that guy there is following us. Is it ok if he sees us?” asked Joel, in a worried tone.

How would I know? I too am going through this for the first time. I, anyway, do not think anyone ever has faced this. I think even he would not know.”

Of course, he would know. He is the one who sets the rules.”

Roy shushed Joel as he heard the muffled voices, the wailings. He walked towards the next alley — there was a gathering of saddened souls.

Roy just smiled, again.


Ganu walked behind them to the crowd and steered himself towards the middle. He saw the back of the skinny one now, looking down at a weeping woman. And just as he saw what lay unmoving on the ground in front of her, he collapsed with his eyes wide open.


Oh, crap!” exclaimed Death. Now this hasn’t happened ever.”

He looked at Roy, Joel, and the other souls. Well people, the only way in now is down. Let’s go search for that key to the heavens.”

Best Day of My Life

Trust me, Sam.”

I trust you Pihu. But I can’t believe what you just said.” Sam was minutely observing the can Pihu had just handed him.

Ok. You don’t have to. What worse do you think can happen?”

We can die, of course. And are you really sold on the story that by gulping the contents of this can, I will live this day again, as many times as I want?”

Oh don’t be a child, Sam. You are not going to die. And yes, I believe in the story.”

Am I the one who is being a child? And this can resembles a plain antique mess to me.”

It is antique, passed on for ages. It was handed down to me by grandpa. And you know he was one hell of a psychic.” Sam knew.

Don’t think too much, Sam. Pass on that can opener.”


Today’s going to be the best day of my life”, Sam said as he sipped his coffee.

Pihu sat there in an attempt to be attentive. She looked deep into her coffee mug as if fishing for the words to utter. She knew why he was so giddy.

So what’s the plan for tonight?”, she finally asked.

As if you don’t know. Aren’t you the one who booked the evening for us?”

She struggled to put a grin on her face. Her mind was meandering, searching for the reasons why she helped Sam this time.

But then he considered her his best friend — a person, the only one for that matter, with whom he shared all the facets of his life.

And that was the reason he had been with her right from the morning. Today was a special day for him, and he wanted her to plan it for him.

Pihu realized this might have been the only instance when they had spent the complete day together — enjoyed it thoroughly in each others company.

He had woken her up, breakfast in his hand. He had brewed the coffee while she freshened up. They munched on the sandwiches he had brought, parcelled. He cooked and they dined together as she planned the night out.

They teased each other over their frailties. They laughed. And they played. They danced. And they eased off. They enjoyed like they never did before.

She was happy. And boy did she plan when she was at her happy-best. Classy ride to the movies in an Uber Mercs. A rom-com with popcorns — platinum seats in the house. A candlelight dinner under the clear skies to sign it off. A picture-perfect evening, she thought as she patted herself.

It dawned on her, though, that it wasn’t her who he would finally bow down to and propose. It would be Rita.

And this realization unsettled Pihu. She was suddenly filled with extreme rage, even as she sat there warming off in Sam’s embrace.

He was anticipating that the evening will make today his best day. It had already been Pihu’s best day. She hated Sam for sharing everything, but not her feelings for him.

She wished their day, their lives even, ended at once, with her in his cozy embrace.

I wish I could just relive this same day again and again.”, the words spurted from Sam’s mouth. And Pihu’s lips spread themselves into a mean smile.


Pihu opened the can, poured the black gooey contents in a glass. As Sam held it, he saw Pihu raise a toast to him.

Here’s to the best day of our life.”


This story was first published on Medium as part of the amazing publication The Weekly Knob.

The Lone Conductor

Today’s was a typical summer morning in Tikwadi. It was a calm & pleasant dawn that the midnight breeze & the sun-beaten land had hatched together. And like every typical morning — summer, winter or of the rainy season — Paka sat expressionless at the window seat of his bus. His bus it was, as he was the lone conductor available in the village.

It would not have been the case in reality though, if not for Paka. He was just smart enough to convince those who appointed a conductor that no person there was suitable for the job. He also convinced those who wanted to get appointed as one that no job there was suitable for the person.

What to do? It is a selfish world out there.” He used to say as he accepted the job — making him evidently look selfless.

And keeping his job as a conductor intact was the only job he ever worked on. As long as he did that well, all he had to do was report to the bus depot every morning, sit at his window seat through the day and get dropped at his home at night.

Paka had also mastered the skill of acting dumb — something he, of course, was not, given the fact that he had managed to keep the whole village away from his job for 5 years now. Every time someone reminded him of the work he has to do as a conductor, he would work hard to screw up hardest. He considered screwing intermittently as the part-time job, holding onto it being the primary one.

Why don’t you ever count the money collected?” An officer had once asked him. Tomorrow, you bring it as counted.”

He reported to the officer next day with no money with him.

Did no one travel on the bus today?”

They did. But you told me to count. I counted. I put every rupee note I received next to me in a separate pile based on their value — as I was taught counting in school. It seems the notes blow away if not held.”

But then why didn’t you hold them?”

Well, I can either hold the money or count it, right? I only have two hands.”

The officer had received ₹700 less in his next salary.

And no one dared to question Paka — he used to yell Well, find someone else suitable for this job”. Of course, he would then be asked to simply do nothing.
In that sense, he was paid to not work. Lesser he moved from his seat, more he not worked — more he not worked, more he was paid.


Not that everyone in Tikwadi was stupid, though. It was just that every individual was a master at being a fool at their work.

Farmers sucked at farming. Carpenters sucked at carpentry. Potters sucked at pottery. Barbers sucked at barbery. The only people that did not suck at their jobs were operators of the water pumps. They never sucked, anything.

Paka met all these people during the rides on his bus. And he dreaded every interaction he had with these fools out in the village.


Today, Paka saw Gotya coming towards his bus. He sighed. He dreaded meeting Gotya the most. Gotya was a herder. Of course, he sucked at herding his goats. But that was not why Paka dreaded him. Gotya was one of the most foolish ones out there & he made Paka work like no one ever did.

He knew it was going to be a hectic day for him.

Gotya hopped onto the bus. And so did his five goats after him.

Goats are not allowed on the bus.”

Where is it written?”

Here — right above me.”

You know I can’t read, right? Read it for me.”

Goats are not allowed on the bus.”

Don’t tell me. Read for me from where is it written.”

I just read for you from where it is written.”

Then why is there a picture of a cigarette on the board & not of a goat?”

It says goats are allowed if they are smoking.”

You did not read so when I asked you to read from where it was written.”

Goats are not allowed on the bus unless they are smoking.”

What if I am smoking?”

Smoking is not allowed on the bus.”

But then how can goats travel while smoking?”

Well, don’t ask me. I don’t make these rules.”

Lucky bastards. By the way, where is that written?”

What? That I do not make the rules?”

No. Smoking is not allowed on the bus.”

Who said?”

You said.”

So?”

So, where is that written?”

Right there — above the next seat.”

There is a picture of a woman there and not of a cigarette.”

It says it is ok to smoke sitting next to a woman.”

Ok. I will sit next to her and smoke. That way I can bring my goats on the bus.”

Sitting next to a woman is not allowed on the bus.”

You know what, I am just going to sit next to that woman there, smoke a cigarette & keep my goats near your legs. Stop me if you can. Do some work.”

No.” Roared the bus.

The journey began.


The story was originally published at Medium featured at the amazing publication Crossing (G)enres.

The Other

He walked back into the room, alone. He fancied such days. He was on his personal day-off when everyone else was at work. He had just finished his last chore.

He did not remember the last time he had lived an afternoon so empty — empty in a good sense it was — empty because he didn’t have any items to cross off his planner. He was idle, and he was loving it.

He closed the curtains to darken the room, turned on the switch and waved his hand to affirm he had the air-cooler lined to his liking. He settled on his chair, crossed his legs on to the desk, put his arms behind his head and admired the emptiness, the freedom the day was offering him.

He closed his eyes and gasped out a smug sigh. He was waiting patiently for the doorbell to ring.


About an hour ago

He had a chore to deal with. He got on to the bike, kicked the side-stand and pushed the ignition switch. He looked at the crumbled paper in his hand, the notes he had made for himself. He still had time at his hand.

He began driving to the home. He looked around him. The city looked empty to him, just as he liked it. He was’t surprised as it was extremely hot out there. As if the sun was seething with anger over the thankless job he got to do, with no day-off from. He was conscious of the feeling, but he didn’t worry about it today.

About some minutes drive and he reached the home. It was a steep walk of four floors through the staircase. But he knew he just had to get it done with - then he can enjoy the freedom, in just the way he wanted, with just the one he wanted.

He was, after all, waiting patiently for quite some time now. He knew soon his doorbell will ring.


Eyes closed, his mind fell asleep. His ears though were awake in attention. The doorbell hadn’t even outed its first ring that he was on his sole. He dashed to the door and, panting visibly, opened it.

He saw a tired, young man standing there. He realised it was extremely hot out there. He thought the other guy must have been running around the town in this heat to sweat so profusely. Such a thankless life full of hardships, he thought.

He pitied the other guy for his condition and thanked god for the freedom he was bestowed upon.

Anyway, all he cared about at this moment was the smartphone the other guy was here to deliver.


He saw a panting, young man open the door. He realised the other guy was alone in there — in an empty house, with no one to talk to. Such a futile life full of loneliness, he thought.

He pitied the other guy for his condition and thanked god for the freedom he was bestowed upon.

Anyway, all he cared about at this moment was to deliver this parcel and reach home to welcome his wife, back from her mother’s place.


This story can also be read at the awesome publication Crossing (G)enres”.

My time travel to the future me..

Tomorrow I am going to travel through the time to the future me. It’s been long that I was planning for one such tour. However just for the need of the future currency, I had to postpone my travel to tomorrow.


Time TravelIn a moment, my friend will return from his visit. I have asked him to smuggle some future currency back to the past. To maintain the time conundrum, I will believe that, as of today, I do not know if he does bring it in. (However the fact remains that I have made the travel tomorrow. So this should clarify the doubts over whether he did. He did. Successfully. Believe me!)


Anyway there was some small calculation mistake while carrying the digit forward, which I normally do, that made me end up a day behind where I was supposed to end at, i.e. tomorrow. Now I do not want to disturb the normalities in here, the past world that is. So I will prefer hiding in this panic room and simply pen down my experiences of this drive.


The first and foremost observation, technology has spoiled the human race in there man. People only speak in command prompt queries. A sentence is no longer than 3 words, the longest (and oldest) being “I am sorry”. (And even there, people hardly mean it!)


Every single software is run by Google and hardware designed by Apple. There is an antique building called “Microsoft Live Centre”. I heard it has hanged in the messy green screen of death that displays a Matrixsque live feed of random numbers. Some say it has gone offline from the day it’s services were tagged “Live”. (By the way, don’t tell anyone. but there were still rumours about the apple tablet and google phone.)


However fun was when I met my future me. The way he was behaving I still feel, as Zaphod Beeblebrox would say, “if I ever met myself again, I will hit myself so hard I won’t know what’s hit me.”


By the way I wanted to tweet this there and then itself. But that future me just laughed at me when I said it takes 140 characters for us to share what we are doing. He mentioned even the novels are 20-30 characters long in there. The crypto-tex-pander fitted in each person’s eyes just completes the novel. Idiots I tell you.


Sat for lunch and there there was another surprise. Those idiots there hardly eat any food. They just gobble down the pills for all the necessary vitamins, minerals and whatever necessary for the body. Floored I was to see they even have the pills for the junk food. These future mens are idiots. Extreme idiots.


Oops!! Need to hide. Someone is crawling towards this dark damp corner. Will blab out the remaining idiocracies of the future. Trust me. There are many. Did I tell you what they have a UCC, a Universe Conservation Committee, a group fighting the Universal Enpansion? Well they do. Blab you later. Ciao!


Image Credit: Picturepost (Interesting writeup. Do read!)

One Fine Morning...

Incidents wait for a perfect time to pounce on you, especially the bad ones. One such incident pounced on him too. One fine morning, it was.


Alike any normal day, he woke fully throttled up, with a hope for fruitful work at office. He rushed through the daily chores, preparing himself for the regular grinding sessions. However there was a tinge of excitement within him today. Surprised as he was with his full on enthu to reach office, a thought brushed his mind, ” something new, something good is about to happen today”. He knew today was, in someway, special.


He jumped into the office bus, just to get further surprised. Usually crowded, the bus welcomed him today to free spaces. He chose the best among the window seats. Clouds had already swarmed the Bangalore skies, further elevating his pleasant mood. “Something is surely in the air today”, he thought.


Whole day he yearned for the change he was sensing from the morning. However except for the persistent clouds, nothing indeed was pleasing him. He had a pretty workless day, which he hardly abhorred. But something was missing. He knew that, he felt that.


And then, on the verge of he giving up on any hope for the welcome change, it loomed, loomed through the hazy weather. He was introduced to the One. He was informed that One would be bossing him now onwards. The first few sentences from the One and he knew this was the change he has been desiring for. Fully impressed he was with the One’s fluent and vast knowledge flow. Fully impressed he was with the One’s sensitiveness for a person’s goals. Fully impressed he was with the One’s clarity of thoughts. Fully impressed he was with the One.


Few chats later an invitation was thrown at him, ” Join me for a smoke. Will you?” And that is how it all started. The incident had pounced on him, he though remained unaware. It all started one morning, one fine morning…


Sunrays


PS: All character are fictitious, resemblance to anyone is completely coincidental.