Saturday, May 27, 2006

Not a story but reads like one

I was on my usual evening run - sprinting down the last hundred yards or so, visualising the afternoon's excesses melting away, picturing myself in a size 10 skinny jeans, doing my Kelly Holmes imitation - when, at a distance, I spotted an old red VW Golf parked in the middle of the road. The hazard lights were switched off and only the left indicator was blinking. It is a 50 mile zone and I was thinking what an odd place for a car to be parked in. And dangerous too, as other cars seemed to notice the parked car only at a close quarter and were avoiding it narrowly. As I drew nearer, my curiousity was piqued but a recent unpleasant incident alerted me to possible mischief.

I noticed the driver stretching his hand out of the passenger window to draw my attention. I slowed to a jog and carefully peered inside the car. The driver was a 60 plus gentleman with a friendly smile on his face. Hello, he said. Hello, I greeted warily. Don't worry, I'm not a dirty old man, he tried to reassure me. So, you would tell me if you were one?, I wanted to ask but simply nodded. I'm not a dirty old man, he repeated noting my guarded expression. And then, quite unexpectedly he asked me if I had a problem. Did I have a problem with what? I didn't understand what he was getting at. Sorry? Do you have a problem?, he persisted. Problem? No problem. Why do you ask?, I replied still unclear where all this was going. No, he hastened to add before I got the wrong idea, I saw you running very fast. I thought, may be you had an emergency. And I was wondering if I could offer you a lift. His explanation caught me unaware. I grinned stupidly and gently assured him that everything was fine and that I was simply out on a jog. Oh, bless, he smiled before engaging his car in gear. I thanked him profusely and as I saw the red car drive away into the distance, I felt extremely grateful for the crisis I never had. And tears were stinging my eyes.

What a Gesture!

Details here. Thank you, Mrs Smith. Whoever you are.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A quick tale 138

To my niece, 3 hours old

When you are old enough to read this, I hope you will not be embarrassed of me. But chances are, you will roll your eyes and mutter what a sentimental old fool I am. Just like how I would have reacted. And if you're anything like your aunt, you too will have a short fuse and a broad forehead. The second of which you will come to dislike. Immensely. But whatever your attempts at hiding it, don't ever try a fringe. It will not work. You will be annoyed at the way it falls over your eyes and before long, you will have pinned it back. And that, my dear, will only draw attention to what you seek to cover.

There's so much we need to discuss. But by the time we meet you will already be a toddler and your mother will be full of stories. I will hear about your first words and about the time when you climbed up the stairs all on your own! I will have missed most of your antics. Something I can never reconcile to. And in ten days' time it will fall upon me to call out your name. I will ask them to hold the phone close to your tender ears and I'll whisper it long distance.

The One in which Ammani becomes Athai

It's a girl!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

You are invited

Premalatha has put in a lot of hard work into organising a charity fundraiser on the 20th of May 2006 at Hemel Hempstead. It's in aid of an Indian charity (soon to be decided). Tickets are a mere £12 per head. Kids under 10 go free.

There's going to be good food and plenty of fun. So don't miss this opportunity. More details may be found here.

I look forward to seeing you.

Thank you.

(This is a sticky post. Please scroll down for the usual)

Friday, May 19, 2006

A quick tale 137

The gift

"You shouldn't have, really!", protested mother as she eagerly accepted the huge box her brother-in-law had just handed her. Our uncle had come from abroad and we had all gathered to witness the annual gift-giving ritual. Preparations for this day would start weeks ahead. Friendships would be forged and bets traded on the mystery gifts that the relative from abroad would bear. And with the arrival of his bulging baggage, furious speculations would begin. Tiny hands would caress the sides of his luggage hoping for tell-tale clues. Elders would stand around and gape at the baggage wishing they had x-ray eyes. And the hours before the suitcases were due to be opened, excitement would reach fever pitch.

"This", said uncle pointing to mother's gift, "is a curd maker". He paused for effect before elaborating, "It makes curd". He said it with such flourish that some of us broke into spontaneous applause. The curd maker came packed in a shiny, brown box which had an image of a stunningly beautiful woman with even teeth and impossibly golden hair.

Mother opened the box delicately to reveal a smooth round container with several small glass jars inside. "You pour warm milk inside", explained uncle, "stir in a teaspoon of curd and leave it covered overnight. The next morning, you have pots of thick curd like you have never tasted before". The gathering was stunned in disbelief. "The things they invent abroad!", said grandmother. "I tell you, these foreigners are so clever!", said father. "Let's put it to test", suggested a neighbour.

So under our uncle's watchful eyes, we poured lukewarm milk into the little bottles. We fought over who would spoon in the curd until it was decided we would all have a go. With nervous hands, we carried out the task with extra diligence. Then, the all-important task of putting the lid on the container was entrusted to the guest-of-honour. Casting an appreciative eye over the crowd, he clicked it in place. "And now", he said, "there's nothing to do but wait".

The next day, at the crack of dawn, we gathered around the mystery contraption that had been at work while we slept. "Are you ready to taste heaven?", asked our uncle. Tantalising us where there was no need to. Several heads nodded in unison. And so, with the utmost care, he opened the case and brought out the jars. He shook one of them gently and the curd inside trembled. He scooped out a spoonful and held it aloft for all to see. And then with our eyes trailing it, he slid the spoon inside his mouth. He closed his eyes and savoured it. Several seconds passed before he opened his eyes and said "Perfect!".

We never used the curd maker again. Mother said it was too much trouble cleaning. Plus, what was wrong with the old way of making curd? It worked perfectly fine, she reasoned. But every year, whenever our uncle came visiting, she would bring the appliance down from the loft, dust it, clean it and display it prominently in the kitchen. "It makes such wonderful curd", she would lie to him.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A quick tale 136

Guilt

I stepped on a snail this morning. I swear I wasn't looking.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Double take on a quick tale - 6

Apu's story

The short life of a fish

Last night I dreamt that I had morphed into a fish. I swam around a rectangular tank, my sleek propeller body cutting through the water. Point A to B and Point C to D and Point A to B. What is life, if not this endless repetition of hours, days and years? I asked myself rhetorical questions to which there was no answer, and spent my time pondering over the nature of God and the wisdom of his or her existence. I deigned to accept my fate, I rebelled against the laws of nature, I tossed about frantically between these two extremes. I worshipped Darwin, I claimed the Hand of God. And while I was doing all of this, a big hand entered the water and pulled me up, gasping, rasping. I woke up on the kitchen tale, just before the knife sliced me in two.

--

The short life of fish (my version)

Last night I dreamt that I'd morphed into a fish. My piscine alter ego was prone to a lot of idle pondering. Like wondering about the point of life. Musing about the origin of species. And ruminating over rise of real estate prices. Pointless contemplation, as I pointed out earlier. But then, what was a fish to do all day? I tried to rebel for a while. But it's not as if a fish can dye her gills pink or pierce her tail. Plus where would I find a tattooist in my 2x2 fish tank? So I simply thrashed about trying to look cool.

Which was when a hand came in and grabbed me by the tail. It scooped me out and laid my writhing body on the kitchen counter. Wait, I screamed. This is a dream! I resisted but the hands that held me down were strong. I saw a knife being sharpened. Don't chop me up, please! It was futile. I was growing weak. And my pleas were getting feeble. I don't want to become sushi! My system was shutting down. For heaven's sake, don't feed me to the dogs! No chance. I watched in horror as the shining metal came slamming down on me.

I hope you like your curry today

Double take on a quick tale - 5

Prabhu's take on A Quick Tale 20

Cyber Sex

They were having cyber sex, and he never knew she had two windows open.

Double take on a quick tale - 4

Deepa's take on A Quick Tale 128

When she showed her 2 friends the picture of the guy she'dprobably marry, they thought he was ugly, dark and had nopersonality. "He looks good", "Come on, he is a surgeon, whats wrongwith you? Unlike you, he doesn't wear thick glasses" She was disappointed with their reaction. She wasn't impressed with that guy. Apart from all the physical drawbacks, he couldn't even speak2 sentences in decent english to the convent-educated her. And tothink her friends were actually supporting him even after she hadmentioned this "huge" drawback! She thought, "Maybe, I am beingvery superficial. So what if people might nickname us 'Beauty andthe beast'. He is educated and comes from a good family. Maybewe'll be happy together and have a good life. Maybe my friends are right" and she said "yes" toher parents."I feel bad about lying to our best friend. She deserves someone better", said Friend 1. Friend2 said "Are you crazy? The way things are going, she'd probablyget married to that guy with or without our approval. Do youwant our best friend to think we were very judgmental about her hubby?"They both nodded in agreement.

Double take on a quick tale - 3

Prakash Chudalayandi's take on A Quick Tale 121

Nerves

Waiting for the dentist is already a nerve wracking experience. Add to that it was HER sitting almost next to me! It feels like it was yesterday... but it was may be 20 years now? She hasn't changed much, same confident look about herself.The confidence about her that provoked me then to initiate a mean conversation. So insensitive of me. No wonder she never wanted to see me again. I have changed, not a mean bone in me anymore.

I should probably start a conversation, I should begin with a SORRY- may be. But what if she still hasn't forgiven me, or even worse, what if she has forgotten me totally? Hmmmm, if she doesn't rememberme then I would be making a fool of myself initiating a conversation. She coughs now, wish I could use this chance to look at her, but I peer into the words in the magazine with unseeing eyes. Well, she could initiate the talk as well, right? The girl I knew then would have already started talking. I am pretty sure she doesn't want to have anything to do with me. Well, that feels better.

Presently, I hear my name called out. This wait wasn't all that bad, thanks to her! I will definitely talk to her after my appointemnt with the dentist. Until then let me pretend not to notice.

Double take on a quick tale -2

Apu's take on A quick tale 94

One or the other

Is that a silk saree you’re wearing? Lovely colour. It reminds me of a story. Yes, Yes, Another quick tale. I hope you’re not yet bored of them, because I haven’t finished telling all of them yet. Well, maybe when I am 95, or when I run out of ideas. Whichever happens earlier. One or the other. Anyways, to get back to my story.
A woman (it was hard to tell her age) was stirring sugar into her cup of tea while looking out at her garden. It’s strange, she thought, there are no butterflies. At this time of the year, the air is usually full of fluttering wings. The red ones always reminded her of this one silk sari she kept at the bottom of her wardrobe. Every year, just this one day of the year, there was always a posse of red butterflies with rectangular yellow spots. How did they know what day it was? It was strange. Still, no stranger than what she did. Whenever she saw those butterflies, she would take out that beautiful red silk sari and drape it around herself, the pallu left loose over her shoulder, trailing behind like a garden vareli ad.

Ok, I admit, this isn’t as quick as I though it would be. Still, sit down, right there, don’t you dare get up. Let me finish and I’ll get you something, maybe one of those imported chocolates, how about that. No, no, not a bribe, just a little something.

The woman in the story, this year, she noticed that there were no butterflies, red or any other colour. It was upsetting. There wasn’t any other occasion to take out that sari. It had to be for that reason only. She could either wear it when the butterflies came out, matching matching. Or she couldn’t wear it at all. This taught her that ultimately, you could never have everything you wanted Everything was a compromise, she concluded. Satisfied that she had reduced all of life’s dilemmas to a simple aphorism, she took a noisy sip from her mug.

Double take on a quick tale - 1

Apu's take on A Quick Tale 15

Bargain

He seemed a pleasant enough chap. No hair sticking out of his ears or warts on nose. He had clipped his nails short and seemed to be interested in what she was saying. They spoke for some half-an-hour. Mostly about their lives, careers and hobbies. Then they agreed to get married.Later, his father called up and said in a soft voice that her father would bear the wedding costs. And furnish the house the newly-weds were going to be living in. Her family agreed it was a fair demand. After all, she was 27, a mere graduate and wore glasses.

Her sister was 22, an engineer from IIT with an unbelievable barbie-doll figure. Once they finished with this wedding, they could get on to the next all-expenses paid one. “Five years should be enough to save up”, their father mumbled to himself, as he wrote out the advance cheque for the caterers.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Polite reminder - Double take on a quick tale

Today is the last date for you to send in your take on the quick tales so far. Pick up any one from the archives, write it in your own words and send them to me at ammania @ gmail.com
You can read all the entries here tomorrow. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A quick tale 135

One Sunday in March

She hears clutter in the kitchen. She tries to ignore it. Pots and pans being rattled about. She turns over in her bed, pulls a pillow over her ears. You sleep in today, he had insisted. I'll bring you breakfast in bed. She had resisted the idea but relented eventually. Now she tries to relax. By thinking of things pleasant. Does she smell something burning? She hopes he isn't boiling milk in the large red saucepan. Did he remember to pick up milk bottles from the doorstep as there wasn't any left in the fridge? She wished he wouldn't put the spoon back into the sugar pot after stirring his coffee with it. What was that bang? That definitely sounded expensive. Could it be, she dared to despair, her favourite Wedgewood teapot? Let it be Ikea, Ikea, she prayed. Presently she hears approaching footsteps. She feigns sleep, smiles with her eyes closed. You spoil me so....

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A quick tale 134

On a train, about 3 weeks ago

You see him at the far end of the carriage. His once black coat now a tired shade of grey. It hangs onto him like loose skin, sagging at the shoulders, flopping around the elbows. Ticket, please. Thank you. Ticket, please. Thank you. He criss-crosses the coach muttering his endless litany as he checks the passengers for valid tickets. He doesn't dwell on the tickets for too long. A perfunctory glance, a vertical rip at the top right hand corner and it is returned to the owner. At this rate, he should reach you in the next few minutes.

But at five rows from where you are sitting, the entourage comes to an abrupt halt. He asks a passenger something. His ticket presumably. You see a head shaking as if to say no. You can see the expression on the ticket checker's face change. From dull nonchalance to one of brisk authority. You see him uttering a harsh rebuke as he scribbles something on his notepad. Does it say, this man was found travelling ticketless?, you wonder. And would he stick it on the free-rider's back to warn his colleagues of the danger this man poses? You watch as the hapless passenger is escorted to the door by the scruff of his collar. The rest of the carriage watches, smug in their law-abiding complacence. A mother points out to her little boy the evils of stow away travelling. You hope the boy grows up to be a responsible citizen of the world.

Ticket please. The voice is very close to you. A rip, a return. Ticket? Ticket? The voice is right above you. You look up at him. With a blank expression. What a silly little demand, you would like to have said. Ticket? the voice repeats not bothering to hide its irritation. I broke my arm in an accident last week, you say. The ticket checker looks at you with open hostility. And my house was burnt down, you add. And my wife ran away with the post man. You see a hand grabbing your collar.

What's the world coming to?

A quick tale 133

Turn of phrase

On the 16th of March last year, Ian was out having a smoke with a colleague when he uttered the words 'the lucky ones are dead'. He could not remember how he came up with the phrase. But he loved the way it was twisted around. What a clever little expression, he thought to himself. And spent the rest of his cigarette break chuckling. He decided that he would use the expression at the first appropriate occasion. Which presented itself in the next few minutes when, over the course of discussing a mortgage application, a client remarked about rising prices. Ian pounced at the chance. It is getting tough for the living, he said. Indeed, he paused dramatically, the lucky ones are dead. The client was struck by his choice of words but managed a smile and enquired about her APR.

Bolstered by her positive reaction, from that time onwards Ian never missed an opportunity to use the expression. Often people looked puzzled or if they were Ian's friends, they shook their heads bemusedly. Soon, he grew indiscriminate in the use of the phrase. At supermarkets, in cinemas, in casual conversation with strangers in public saunas, Ian would be heard mentioning the fortunately deceased. He wished that it would soon become a catchphrase. In the same league as 'See you later, alligator' or 'Shit happens'.

A few months later, Ian was having dinner with a colleague he fancied. Over dessert, his colleague brought up the topic of genocide in a certain African country - a most inappropriate dinner table topic, if you ask me. And Ian was quick to announce his opinion of it. The lucky ones are dead, he said with a nonchalant shrug. It was such a grand utterance that his companion almost choked on her maple and pecan ice-cream. Sorry? she enquired. Ian, never to shy away from an encore, repeated his pronouncement. The lucky ones are dead. The lady friend who was of particularly sensitive disposition pushed her ice cream away and looked down at her shoes. Ian was lost in such a self-congratulatory mood that he did not notice that his date had gone silent for the rest of the dinner. After a while, she excused herself to use the ladies and never returned.

The following day, when Ian saw her at work, she turned her face the other way. And wouldn't return his calls. What a tosser!, she was heard telling someone, he says these things about dead people being lucky and thinks it's funny. Ian had trouble believing his ears. Surely she must've meant someone else. Not him.

Damn.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A quick tale 132

A fight that never was

This morning, a woman who likes to rise early, stands in her kitchen thinking. She has just realised that it is an important anniversary. It is six years today since she was proposed to and she is pretty certain that her husband has forgotten the occasion. She realises with growing annoyance that he has never remembered the date in the past. That it has always been upto her to remind him of it. After which he would be so sorry that he would quickly make it up to her. By going down on his knees and proposing to her again, just like he did all those years ago. The re-enactment would have the desired effect and she would forgive him instantly.

But not today. Today, she would wait until he remembers it on his own. And once he does, she would refuse to be cajoled by his repentant gestures. She would point out to him that he has forgotten the date every year since he first proposed to her. And this would make him feel sorry even more. She would remain cold for the rest of the evening. Just to make her point. And he would be quite upset by then. But she would be unmoved. Until he begs her for her forgivance. Only then would she relent. And let escape a tiny hint of a smile.

The woman relishes the prospect of a good showdown and is rubbing her hands in anticipation when she hears her husband padding down the stairs. It seems like yesterday, she hears him say as he walks into the kitchen, that I asked you to be my wife. The woman looks at her husband in surprise. It's a good minute before she recovers and finds the words. I'm so sorry, she starts to say, I never meant it like that. Perplexed, the husband waits for an explanation.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A quick tale 131

A groom for Shoefiend's cousin*

What do you mean 'you don't like his personality'? You've only seen his photo!, thundered her father. How can you say you won't marry him by just looking at his PHOTO?
Have you had a look at yourself in the mirror lately?, chipped in the mother for good measure. With your looks, do you think you're going to land a film star?
You're not getting any younger. You won't have a market for long, added the grandmother who may have been referring to the wilting bunch of spinach she was cleaning.
Shoefiend's cousin sighed. And tried to decide which film star she fancied enough to want to marry.

Meanwhile in a land about 21 kms away, the young man whose photo had been the subject of the aforesaid discussion, was telling his mother about the photo she had handed him. I don't know...but she doesn't have...how shall I put it? Personality? His mother leaned across to look at the photo herself. She agreed. And then asked her son if her blouse matched her saree.

*prompted by Shoefiend's comment here . Deepa, since you asked.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Double take on a quick tale

Read a quick tale you did not like? Think you would've written it differently? Here's your chance. Go through the archives, pick any tale you like (or dislike), rewrite it in your own words and send it to me at ammania @ gmail.com

Please don't forget to mention the quick tale that inspired yours. I'll wait until the 15th of May before publishing all the entries.

Thank you.

Update: Aiyo! Upon re-reading this post, I realised that it sounds as if I'm crossing swords with the reader. Daring them to do better. Hardly the case. The idea was inspired by A Quick Tale 130 where we did two versions of the same story. This is just to get a fresh perspective. A new spin on an old tale. Thanks.

A quick tale 130

Same story. Two different takes. He wrote one. I wrote the other.

Cutie

A gripping feeling of helplessness overtook him. Being of an essentially placid nature, he had always felt rather overwhelmed by her. He shook his head, as if to physically shake off the thoughts that pulled him in different directions. It was wrong of her to ask it, he felt. Resented, in fact, her gaze, waiting for an answer. Assent was not possible, not like this. Maybe she knew, and was joking. Intense unease stupefied him, and he looked at her dumbly.

He remembered how he first met her, this sister of a friend. Her too big eyes, solemn, always seeming to look right into your innermost thoughts. He remembered overhearing his father remarking to hers that she was a grenade, not a bouncing ball, and now understood what they meant.

"Mmmm… I think I am late for my class" , he said, and knew even as he said it that it was lame. She exploded, pushing him to the floor with a force he could scarcely believe came from her. "Why did you have to think so much to say no ?" she screamed, and stamped on his hand as she stormed off.

---

When they next met, he was 34 and had a 4 year old daughter in tow. Your age then, he laughed, and she joined him. Then she looked at him, and he knew that she knew.

That he often wondered.

A long ago proposal

How old were we then? 3 or 4? Let's say, I was three. You were a year older. I asked you to marry me. And you said no. Why? Because you had to go to school the next day or something. And then I got really angry with you, you say, and pushed you to the ground. Stamping on your hand as I stormed off. And now we meet, nearly three decades later. Quite by chance. You with your daughter in tow. Me, hoping that you don't notice my greys. We smile, exchange polite hellos and enquire about each other's welfare. But why are you looking at me like that for? I've forgiven you. Honestly. It doesn't bother me that you turned down my offer. Unless you haven't. And the way you wrinkle your forehead and crinkle your eyes into tiny slits, I can tell that you are still wondering. Thirty years on.