Marriage of Men

FLASH FICTION #17:

I think it was the wedding of my mother’s cousin’s son, in Trichy, in which we entered familiarity. Familiarity, not friendship. Friendship is too costly a term to be used to describe, even now, the poor bond between us.

Originally, the friction we had always had developed during our first meeting in another marriage we attended as primary school children. It had to do with a plaything he refused to share with me, and then on, until this Trichy marriage, only cold glances had been shared both ways.

Between these two marriages we had met at many familial occasions. He was a writer, his mother would proudly announce to all who were obliged to listen. But since our family was mostly philistine, no one understood what it was to be a writer, and so simply nodded and prevaricated the subject. ‘My son is doing his Engineering,’ my mother would say, and at the turn of awed faces, she would proudly add, ‘At IIT.’ There would follow the immediate question of how I managed to place myself in an IIT, and then my mother would drop into an hour long monologue of how I had always been academically strong, and how she had never had the trouble, right from my wee years, of entreating me to study. And if the moment was opportune, she would even quip at the end that her son had conscientiously refrained from anything extra-curricular, like writing, for example. Although, I must admit, this remark only made me feel profane and less intellectual; especially so in his presence.

All through the occasion we would mutually try our bests not to come too close to each other. We would meet the same cousins, same relatives and same family friends, but never together and never at the same place. And Ramya! She was the object of a sort of competition between us; always individually sneaking to speak to her, and trying to gauge the feeling she had for the other of us. There just had been this indescribable thing between us, so much that I could not come to understand it myself. But looking back from now, it seems ludicrous that we had not considered the bitter resentment a temporary, immature feeling.

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Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

Back to the Trichy wedding. Nothing had changed; only I had begun to work, and heard he was attempting to publish his novel. We still maintained the same frigidity, even while lunching at the opposite corners of the long dining table. After the meal, at the same time the ceremonies got over, the bride’s father summoned me. ‘Go home, open the locker and get me the white envelope inside; we forgot it,’ he hurriedly dropped the words. I nodded my head to display responsibility and darted off to the exit, where I realised it.

‘Didn’t you go?’ Bride’s father again. ‘Uh-no, I don’t know the route; we reached the hall directly.’ He sighed in reply and noticed Keshav sitting in the last row. ‘Keshav, you have your father’s bike? Good. Go home – ’ ‘I don’t know to ride it,’ came back the quick reply. ‘Useless boys! Give this fellow the bike, go home with him and bring back the… he knows; now go fast, you two.’

Keshav and I stared at each other. Before us was the white car, ribboned and taped with roses, soon waiting to carry away the happy couple. Without a word, I went to start his father’s old Suzuki, and watching about him strangely, he came to sit pillion.  The directions were indicated with silent gestures, and when at times he brought his hand in front of my eyes, I shook my head to warn him. The search was even more difficult, not because of the deep location of the envelope, but we had to coordinate silently, both not wanting to be the first to talk. We returned similarly, just as the couple were climbing down the steps.

Uncle, from behind, raised his eyebrows at us. I quickly parked the bike in a corner and let my hands into my jeans. Keshav pointed at my shirt pocket, from where the envelope was projecting. I jogged to Uncle and handed it. To this day, I don’t know who spoke first, but I’m sure the ice has broken, and it would only need another marriage to melt the pieces.

*You can find her other amazing artworks here.

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Lost in Beauty

FLASH FICTION #16:

Encouraging night. He kissed her cheeks and licked powder. Sucked her lips, but only rubbed off a bitter chunk of red paste. Simply wanted to hold her by her exposed arms, but his hands kept slipping down their polish.

He wondered if he would feel a woman behind the veneer.

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Kalyana Samayal Saadham

Flash Fiction #15:

The most anticipated marriage of the 1997 NIT-T batch was performing in Madurai. Inside the hall, every body smelt of rose water and every forehead of cool sandal (except Mary’s). Festoons of red and yellow patterned every wall and silks of all colours parcelled every woman. Shankar, Ravi, Prem, Hema and other classmates entered the hall as one cheerful group.

‘Poovalan’ Pavan soon started sighting the young ladies of the occasion, as though reliving his college days, and Latha was already sharing recent gossips with Malini and sister Shalini. Gradually everyone melted in the cacophony of music and chatter, but Chandran, in an aisle seat, looked like he didn’t belong there, like tomato soup placed at the corner of a pure non-vegetarian buffet.

A strong yellow glow filled the stage where the bride was posing with her soon-to-be husband. A photographer was clicking endlessly as family and friends from a long line spent brief moments onstage. Hema waved her hand at the couple until Vidhya noticed and waved back. She then nudged Karthik to see their classmates. The group stood up, waved and cheered at the couple. Vidhya and Karthik teethfully welcomed them all. The hall, many guests and Vidhya standing at a distance were but only a confluence of colours to Chandran; like objects seen through a glass of water.

Cups of Badam Kheer with soaked saffron were being served to all guests. Chandran received his and kept staring at it. Prem, sitting beside, swigged his and inferred that the distributing ladies were not as kind as to serve him another cup. Noticing one full in Chandran’s hands, he plucked it for himself. Chandran loved Badam Kheer, but what could he do! it was his friend’s now.

As time passed, the chairs in the hall were rearranged to form batches of circles. Some joined in at the middle of conversations, some excused themselves out for early dinner. Vidhya and Karthik could no more naturally smile; their cheeks were aching from continuous stretching. All through, Chandran alone stayed stiff.

Malini felt it was time they all went upstage to meet Vidhya and Karthik. So the group got up, adjusted shirt sleeves and sari ends, and approached the stage with Chandran at its tail. With Prem’s urging measure on the ladies to march quickly (he feared dinner would fast get over) the group was soon onstage. Embraces and handshakes were conducted. The photographer had a hard time fitting everyone in his frame. Some had to go behind the couple and some bend knees at the front. Their collective gift – a blue velvet case containing a silvery pearl necklace – was proudly displayed before the camera. After a couple of flashes, Vidhya received it with a natural smile.

‘Chandran, put it on!’ Vidhya sounded and Karthik, pure-heartedly, seconded. After all, Vidhya and Chandran had been thick friends in college. He was pulled to the front and handed the jewel. As his hands neared Vidhya’s neck, they seemed to go out of control and shake obviously. While knotting at her nape, the necklace slipped and beads came unstrung. The wire fell dead at Vidhya’s feet while the beads bounced and settled all over the stage.

Anatomy of Love

Flash Fiction #14:

When Koushik met Ramya for the first time, he changed his image of the girl he had always wanted to fall in love with.

It was a New Year’s Eve party. As an antonym of the people she was with, Ramya stood in a corner, away from the maidens laughing and dancing. She was a wallflower.

During the next six months, Koushik built his mind and body, all for that day he would go and speak to her to champion her heart. Wanting and needing and coveting and dying to be her ‘Yes’ candidate, he took care not to let slip the confidence and courage that had never been his.

On the marked day, he walked into her classroom after smelling his breath and adjusting his sleeves. Ramya was there, distributing to her classmates her marriage invitations. ‘It can’t happen without you, Shreya,’ she said to a girl in the front row. They went for a long embrace.

Koushik felt deeply disappointed. But when he met Shreya for the first time, he changed his image of the girl he had always wanted to fall in love with.

The Idiot

Flash Fiction #13:

In haste, he inserted his feet into the casuals instead of the black leathers and climbed down the two floors. Arjun, roaming in his territory at the parking lot, pointed out the blunder with a filling bark. Pausing, Tommy looked down to see his formal trousers reaching his casual shoes. He climbed up the steps in twos and corrected the footwear, but forgot to collect the helmet from beside the shoestand. Another filling bark from Arjun and Tommy again climbed the two floors. He took his helmet and some heavy breaths.

Tucking his shirt in, he walked to where his bike was relaxing under the drumstick tree. A few nosy stems from an overgrown branch lovingly scratched his helmet as he kickstarted his bike.

He was about to exit the parking lot when Arjun again barked. This time it was an overflowing bark; just too loud. Tommy braked and checked the side-stand – it was safely lifted up. He turned to Arjun questioningly, and got an indicative bark again. After confirming he hadn’t missed anything, Tommy ignored the further barks as he sped away.

With his project status meeting due in 1 minute, he was flat out like a lizard drinking when the junction signal switched making him come to a sudden, swerving stop. If he hadn’t forgotten his helmet, he would have escaped the irritating red.

An old man sounded his horn from behind him. Tommy stayed. But as the oldie didn’t seem to let go easily, Tommy tilted his bike and created way for the deathbed Honda. The oldie, once at par with Tommy, slapped his helmet – tup!

His Project Manager would have begun addressing the team. Tommy lifted his buttocks from the seat, stretched his left palm and brought it harshly on the oldie’s wrinkled cheek. The neighbouring cab driver had to step out to keep the frail man from falling. Tommy then rode away, leaving the lizard twitching on its back on the hot tar.

Dear Aaila

FLASH FICTION #12:

Salim sweatingly pedaled to the stop. He had to be there at 8 to meet Kajal, but was late by many minutes. If not today, all his dreams would go shapeless.

Kajal was standing on the pavement tapping her foot in expectancy, waiting to receive the letter from Salim and deposit it with Aaila. It was the last day of her college, and the first time she was postmanning a love letter.

After handing over the letter and receiving promises that it would find Aaila, Salim turned his bicycle around. Kajal, in hurry, stepped down the pavement to cross the road. The sound of a large vehicle coming to a sudden stop, and the synchronous exclamations of the passersby tapped Salim’s instinct. There was no Kajal; only her blood squeezed out by the front tyre.

Salim didn’t sleep that night. He cried, hit himself on the forehead and went on hunger for days. He knew it was his fault. Only if he had arrived a bit earlier that morning… Aaila would have received his love letter.

How Edison Didn’t Invent

an illuminating conspiracy

Flash Fiction #11:

After another day of excessive, obsessive experiments to invent the electric light failed, Thomas Edison decided to take a stroll to clear his thickly wired mind with fresh air.

At the end of the pavement, on which he didn’t know how he had come, for his mind was still jiggling in the dingy laboratory, his eyes caught a flicker. One, two flickers. Approaching the small, tattered boy sitting there under the oil-light post, Edison’s heart went tup-tup-tup-tup-tup. The boy was meddling with a carbon filament.

Of course! How stupid am I to have not realised this. Carbon. High resistance and low voltage.

‘Son, what do you do?’

‘I work in the mines, sir. After work, I do this, sir.’

Thomas Edison spared some currency and conscience. After a year, he patented the Electric Bulb under his own name.

The boy? He died in his 54th year as an unknown miner.

Sherlock’s Solid Case

THE PERSONAL BLOG of Dr. John H. Watson

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A war doctor from the Afghan camp

I couldn’t understand why Sherlock was dazed. I was taking him to a better doctor then. Didn’t know if it was because he hadn’t had a case in the past 6 months, or if it was just one of his Sherlock-esque idiosyncrasies, but he was just so shocking to look at.

His eyes were staring ahead blankly; occasional murmurs sounded from his throat; and his face was so white, as if he had seen a live ghost.

All he did this morning was to hear cases, just like any other day, and pooh-pooh them on grounds of simplicity and blandness. Men and women and constables and children came one after another to narrate. Oh, there was even a seven-year-old who wanted Sherlock to find his red whistle! Could that child have pushed him to that state? I can’t say.

When we had met the doctor, Sherlock began to slur some words out. ‘There was a fat lady,’ he said, with a glint in his eyes, and immediately brought his hands to his frail chest, as if to guard himself from some horror. And I knew for a fact that there came no fat lady today, because I was right there, in the kitchen, helping Mary with the sausage.

‘There was a fat lady. She was so afraid and angry and tearful and desperate all at once. I didn’t like the air about her; she smelled. Right when I was about to dismiss her, she said, “Dear Mr Holmes, they all think it is a suicide. But no. Please prove it wrong. I’m telling you (sob, sob), my husband murdered me.”‘

Court House

Flash Fiction #09:

By the year 1949, H J Kania had amassed a sum of 20 lakhs while being in public service. On his thirtieth birthday party, he was pointed the index for being in possession of disproportionate assets. Charge sheets were filed and a shackle was used. Young Kania was taken to the then recently formed Supreme Court on 28 January 1950 for its first case. A Bench of three heard the plea, and have been hearing for the past 66 years.

The well-oiled machinery of the Supreme Court had been excellent in perpetually procrastinating Kania’s judgement over the years, as the man, at his bungalow, first passed onto his son, and then his grandson, the secret of gathering Gandhi notes.

However, in the year 2017, the reason for this unexpected movement being in light only to the Almighty, the Bench pronounced a sound judgement of 4 terrible years on the weak head of Kania and a hefty sum of 2 lakhs as fine. Kania, on a wheelchair, was rolled into a rusted cell. On the same evening, his great-grandson, a young man of unconventional appearance, came jumping into the cabin of the warden waving a wad of folded papers.

H J Kania was bailed out to celebrate his 97th birthday.

A Costly Mistake

Flash Fiction #08:

Sher Khan was a successful robber. How much wealth he and his 99 apprentices had amassed over the years is upto the imagination of greedy minds.

One night, while robbing the house of the Inspector General’s secret mistress, a serendipitous mistake committed landed him in prison.

But his pride and feeling of importance were unsurpassed by even plump tomatoes. While in prison, he made a call – not to a lawyer, though he could have hired the most expensive of black gowns.

Following this call, the Inspector General was handed divorce papers and dragged to court for a lofty alimony.