The Boat Festival – A short story


The village of Mayilakam and the areas around it, baked in the hot summer sun. The Earth was dry and the small river that flowed through the village had very little water left.

The people of Mayilakam were farmers and depended on the timely arrival of the Monsoon rain for their livelihood.

The rains brought joy, prosperity and  much-needed respite from the sweltering heat. The villagers marked the onset of the Monsoon season with a unique festival called the Boat Festival.

The local meterology department had predicted that the Monsoon would set in a week’s time.

The boat festival was celebrated on the third day after the rains started. The  river actually flowed through the village, through the backyards of all the homes, which stood on either side of the river.
During the rainy season, the water nearly came up to their back doors.

That year when the rains started, the villagers got busy with preparations for the boat festival.

The villagers made paper boats of different colours and shapes. They had become masters of this craft. Even children were quite adept at making these boats.

While the boats were being made, the village band was readying itself to play on the day of the festival.

The other and most important specialty of this festival was that inside each boat was a small pocket, where messages could be placed. The message was written on a piece of paper, folded, with the addressee’s name on top, put into a small plastic pouch and tucked into the boat.

The philosophy behind this practice was that all of them, who lived as a community, and who depended on rain water, welcomed the water and sent their boats down the river, where another group usually waited to pick up the boats and remove the message packets. The messages were sent to apologize to others, to profess love, to share love, to brighten up someone’s day.

Again, there were boats made up of black paper with messages that contained the bad qualities people wanted to change in themselves. These boats were allowed to float away, symbolically purging away the villagers’ negative qualities.

The whole village was happy, as the rain lashed and the boats floated down merrily.

As the band played, the messages were given out – two young women smiled shyly as they had received proposals from eligible young men; two brothers, who hadn’t spoken to each other in a year, hugged each other in remorse, a child who had lost her parents was adopted, the richest man in the village had gifted the village school its own computer center.

They danced, drenched in the rain, united in that moment of collective happiness, where they let go, and felt lighter in spirit, ready to take on another year of hard work on their land.

What’s really important?


This afternoon, after a crazily busy month, I finally got some free time. I lazily flipped through the hundreds of TV channels that never seem to stop churning out programs.

I finally decided to watch a movie. The channel I watched was playing a blockbuster Bollywood film from the eighties. And this movie triggered memories about an incident that happened during my childhood.

In the small town, where I grew up, we had a club house that screened movies, every weekend, for its members.

Our slot was on Saturday evenings at 5.30 p.m. The movies screened were usually blockbusters or those that had won critical acclaim. So, Saturday evenings were quite exciting.

On one such Saturday, my sisters and I were on pins to watch the movie being screened, as it had been released just a few weeks ago, and was a huge hit at the box office.

We were ready from 3.30 p.m.,waiting for my parents to finish their chores, and get ready. At around 4.15 p.m., the door bell chimed.

We had visitors. Two of my grandma’s friends had decided to pay grandma, and all of us, a surprise visit.

Those were the days, when social networking was actually done in person! So people just dropped in unannounced, and were welcomed with joy and fanfare.

My grandma was visibly excited. So were my parents.

I also have to tell you that my grandma & mom were life members of the ‘Whoever visits our home will not leave without a heavy meal’ Club.

So, as my grandma caught up with her buddies, the aroma of filter coffee, masala dosa, and rava kesari, wafted in the air.

My sisters and I were really down. The movie….? The clock was merrily ticking away, fast approaching 5 p.m. The club house was a 7 minute walk or a 4 minute run, so there was still some hope.

We were in our room, feeling sorry and worried. At 5.10, we quietly slipped into the kitchen to ask mom if we could leave, as grandma could keep her friends engaged till we came back.

I will never forget what my mom told us. Our ears rang as we slunk back to our room.

She said, “There are some things in life that are very important. Whenever guests come home, they take precedence over everything else. Our priority is to be good hosts and feed them well. This movie that you want to see, will be there forever. When you grow old, or retire, you can sit and watch it anytime. Now, go to your room and play a board game, I will bring something for you to eat.”

That was an important lesson. The simple joys of being with loving friends, and all the camaraderie that goes with it.

At that point in time, my sisters and I moped and sulked; Mom’s lesson totally lost in our sorrow.

But what an important lesson!

We never got to watch that movie after that, but funnily, this is the very same movie that I watched this afternoon, just as my mom predicted – when I had all the time.

The Toothless Granny – A Short Story


The village of Marakad was far away from any town or city, comprising a small community of farmers who grew rice. Life went by at a pace dictated by the planting season and the harvest season. The people of the village were a happy lot.

In this village there lived a granny – who was in her late nineties – its oldest living member.

She lived with her sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The village folk called her ‘The Toothless Granny’.

After her retirement from active life, she took on the role of investigator and village observer.

No incident, however small escaped her hawk-like eyes. She sat on the open verandah, anytime after 9 am in the morning, after a breakfast of rice porridge.

She sat with her legs stretched out and her back against the wall for support.

She had a small iron cup with a small pounding rod, in which she pounded cloves and cardamoms that she chewed throughout the day. The metal rod’s ‘ting ting’ sound alerted the village to her presence.

She stopped women, who were on their way to the market, asked about their shopping, gave liberal advice to squabbling neighbours, took away and hid the cricket ball that hit her once, when the boys played cricket, played with babies and sang songs to them in her cackling voice.

She ruled her family with a constant barrage of words, had a comment for anything and nothing, and from her vantage point, lived the lives and experiences of almost everybody in the village.

Her family put up with her various moods and chatter, the villagers tried to avoid her, but sometimes she sent word for them, and they came, if only out of respect for her age.

She took care of her health and appearance, and pulled up young ladies for their sloppy dressing. She was a matchmaker and a walking almanac of prospective brides and grooms within a 10 km radius of their village. Such a personality was she!

As with everything else, change came to the village. The village had suddenly become quiet. For the first few days, nobody realized it, then people started wondering. Then they heard that The Toothless Granny was unwell, and ailing with a bad chest congestion.

People dropped by at all hours to visit her and they could not bear to see her, so frail and quiet. They prayed for her recovery. Somehow the village had lost its charm, without their granny to chide them, scold them and watch them.

Somehow the key to the soul of the village’s happiness seem to lie with The Toothless Granny.

Ten long days went by, and then one morning the villagers heard the most joyous ‘ting’ of the granny pounding her mouth fresheners for the day.

People queued up to talk to her about the mundanities of their lives, their petty squabbles and everything else.

The village was alive once more.

Twilight Walk – A Short Story


Fiona had to run across M.G.Road, and walk about 300 m to drop off a set of documents to another office, and get back to her workplace to wind down for the day.

She grabbed her handbag, took the folder containing the documents, and left the building.

The Sun had already set and most office-goers were heading home, some in a rush, some strolling, others busy on their phones.

Hundreds of crows were cawing raucously in the twilight, catching up on the day’s gossip. Fiona smiled to herself, as she imagined what the crows would say to each other.

Traffic was heavy on MG Road and it took her sometime to cross. She quickened her pace. She walked down 1st Cross, took the second left, went into the office, dropped off the folder and headed back.

She badly wanted to have a cold drink. The humidity was stifling. As she walked back, there was a stretch of road where the street lights were not working. As she looked up to see the lamp post, she was grabbed from the back and forced against a wall.

A masked face pointed a knife at her neck and asked for her handbag. Fear paralysed her, as the handbag was snatched, and she felt darkness engulf her. She felt herself going limp as her legs gave way. She felt that these were her last moments. After that nothing.

When she came to, she felt water drops on her face. She could hear many voices, indignant, worried and lots of murmuring.

She opened her eyes and looked into ten or twelve pairs of eyes. They helped her to her feet and asked her what had happened.

She was too tired to talk and told them that she was okay and that she could manage. One of the women offered to drive her back. Fiona declined and said she could easily walk back.

Another man said he would walk her down to the office, just to ensure she reached safely. She agreed.

She thanked everyone for their concern and started walking towards the office.
The man made polite conversation. He looked like a banker or sales guy, well dressed, and she noticed he wore branded glasses. Smart, she thought.

The office building was fast emptying, as they reached the lift. He smiled.

She smiled and said, “I can manage from here, thank you so very much.”

He said, “No trouble at all. I will see you up.”

She did not want to be rude, and they got into the lift.

The door closed. And then he caught hold of her neck and pushed her against the lift wall.

“You silly woman, there was nothing in your handbag, except trivia, no money, no smartphone, nothing”, he said.

Her eyes widened in terror.

“I will not go back empty handed”, he said.

He snatched the thin gold chain she wore around her neck, yanked it off, pressed the lift for the next floor and disappeared into the night.

She then remembered that her wallet was in her laptop bag along with her phone. She rubbed her neck, which now had an angry red line.

What a day it had been! Phew!

On my guard


So, my left ankle is slowly getting better and I am able to walk around, albeit with a pronounced limp. After my fall, my knee seems to have a problem with the ankle’s movement and for the last few days, I have had to wear a knee guard to keep the knee from buckling.

Both my children have been so very very helpful over the last ten days, making cards, running errands, spending time with me and generally giving me oodles of love.

They are quite relieved that I am mobile now.

Yesterday, when my son got back from school, he heard me talking on the phone with a friend, who had called to enquire about my leg. I mentioned to her that I was wearing a knee guard.

After the call, my son asked me if I was really wearing a knee guard and if yes,   could he see it?

I told him I was wearing a knee guard, but that it would be difficult to show it to him, as the jeans could not move up till my knee.

Strangely though, he persisted and wouldn’t let go.  I finally showed it to him.

“Phew! he said.

“What?” I asked.

Pat came the reply, “I thought you had borrowed my sports knee guards, and I was worried about how I would attend my training this week.”

I laughed out aloud and assured him that these were my own.

Really, the things that kids worry about!

The Search – A Short Story


It was raining heavily, as she opened the door to the flat. The rain had started without notice, and she was thoroughly drenched. Rivulets of water poured down her body, as she struggled with the many plastic bags, containing grocery and other mundanities that their home seemed to need every week.

As she entered, she heard the landline ringing. She clucked in exasperation, as she realized that the clothes that she had hung out to dry in the morning, were all swaying merrily in the rain. She ran to pick up the landline.

It was her husband, Jay.

“Hi!” she said.

“Hi! I need you to do something. I’ve forgotten an important paper that I worked on over the weekend. It should be in my chest of drawers, in one of the racks. It is a handwritten design drawing, A4 size. Take a photo of the paper on your phone and send it to me. It is quite urgent”, he said.

She said ok and hung up.

She changed into dry clothes quickly and went to the study. The table was in absolute chaos, but she had strict instructions not to clean it.

She sighed at the mess and got started. All kinds of papers were strewn around.

She started sorting through them. Lots of server designs, hardware architecture, proposals to customers; but no sign of the ‘paper’.

She moved from the table to the first of  three drawers. More papers, more chaos.

She continued to search. Second drawer, same story. She only had one more drawer, hopefully it had to be there. The third drawer seemed to be better organized than the others. Sheafs of paper had been bundled with rubber bands.

As she processed the second bundle, a smile lit her face, as she saw the bill for the gift Jay had given her for their wedding anniversary earlier that year. She had asked him many times, how much it had cost, but he had refused to reveal the amount. Now she knew. Her eyes widened in shock as she saw the amount, $10000! But wait, the quantity was for 2 bangles. Jay had given her just one of them.

She felt a violent shiver ripple through her body as she tried to understand what that meant. Had Jay not realized that the shop had billed him for 2 bangles and given him only one? But he was very very careful about anything to do with money.

Ice cold fingers clutched at her heart as she felt a deep pain, when realization dawned – maybe he was cheating on her.

Her senses were on high alert as she sent off a text to Jay that she could not find the paper. Then with a sense of purpose, she sorted through the documents again, looking for something, anything. Actually, she was not even sure what she was looking for.
There were only more papers of technical drawings.

When Jay called to say he would be working late and not to stay up for him, her heart thudded with cold fear, as she hugged herself.

She decided to call his landline number after an hour or so, just a wifely call to check and reassure herself.

When she called, he picked up on the second ring. She felt a wave of relief.

But the niggling worry started all over again. Should she confront him, or let it go. Why had he not giving her the other bangle. Whom had ge given it to?

She paced up and down. She waited up for him. She couldn’t survive the night without knowing about the mysterious second bangle.

He looked tired as he sat down to have his dinner.

She was too upset to talk and he was too tired to notice that she was not herself.

When the pressure inside her head reached bursting point, it rushed out as a powerful torrent of words.

“While I looked for that paper you wanted this morning, I found this”, she said, thrusting the bill under his nose.

He laughed and said, “So, now you know its value eh?”

She said, “But you gave me just one, but the bill amount is for two bangles, where is the second bangle?”

“Oh! that. You know, Mihir, my roommate from University? We bumped into each other at the jewelry shop. He was looking at buying something for his wife, just like I was. He liked the design too…so both of us bought it, he paid me in cash, as I was a member and would get more points added if we billed it together”, he said.

“So, why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.

“Hmmm, must have slipped my mind. Can you pass some of that yummy chutney here, please?” he said as he continued to eat.

Totally unaware that a typhoon had just tried to uproot what they had built over the last few years.

She sighed with relief.

No Plans …..


There are days, when things don’t go according to plan.

Ask me! I had a long ‘things to do’ list planned for this weekend, and many chores scheduled for Friday; and how did I spend it? In bed, with a swollen and bandaged left foot and ice packs for company.

I had just left home on Friday, and stood on the pavement to hail a taxi. A taxi soon arrived and parked in front of me.

I opened the door and bam! my left foot twisted and I fell on the road, unable to hoist myself up, as excruciating pain shot through my left ankle.

The taxi driver waited, thinking I was picking up something from the ground. I feebly waved through the window. He must have sensed something, so he came around to check.

Another kind gentleman also helped in loading me into the taxi, and off I went to the nearest hospital, with an ankle that looked blue and swollen.

X-Ray done. No fracture thankfully. Nasty sprain. Crutches and lots of attention.

I am enjoying this sudden time out. As I rest my feet, the afternoon sun casts a warm glow in the room.

I can hear some drilling in one of the flats in the building, the chirping of birds, the cotton puff clouds moving across a blue sky. I enjoy this time away, with my thoughts for company…

I am not thinking about my long list of things to do….everything can wait.

The Reunion


The school building had stood there for slightly more than a century. Thousands of children had passed through its portals; to meet life and its various challenges.

The school itself had changed with the times, having been strengthened with new blocks, coats of paint and refurbishment.

The school smiled as it thought of the little children in Grade 1, in their new uniforms, afraid to leave the security of their mothers’ hands. The echoes of small and happy action songs echoing off its walls.

The school sighed at the furrowed brows of the Seniors as they solved difficult papers. The school laughed at the din in the canteen during recess.

The school remembered with fondness the first crushes of teenage, and the tricks children played.

The school heard the thunderous applause and hoarse yelling, when important matches were played.

The school saw young teachers, fresh and bubbly, who had loved the school and grown old with it.

The school remembered the graduating batches as they embarked on a new journey, away from its safe harbour.

Today, the school was awaiting the arrival of its old students, who had graduated 25 years ago.

At 10 am, the school watched them arrive. Little girls in pigtails, now transformed into confident young ladies of poise and grace, mischievous boys now wearing formal blazers, and looking debonair. Children who had grown up together, shared their lunches, giggled and fought with each other…..now looking at each other with love and joy and reliving the delightful rush of memories.

The school watched as they visited every classroom, remembering and recalling – voices from the past, their successes and failures, the small joys and misunderstandings. Every class brought fresh memories. As they walked down the wooden staircase, they sang their school song with gusto and moist eyes.

They sat in the classroom and caught up with each others’ lives.

They realized that ‘life had happened’ to each one of them, in many different ways. They shared slices of their lives, both good and bad. They saw grey hair, bifocal lenses, and searched for their childhood pals, in each others’ faces. They laughed a lot, with so much abandon.

One day of each of their childhoods, relived again. Pure bliss!

The school welcomed back her children with happiness and enjoyed the day with them, before they went their separate ways.

The 50p Cashbox – A Short Story


The vegetable market was alive and kicking at 5 am in the morning, as trucks rolled in from different parts of the state, loaded with fresh produce – crunchy capsicums, lush tomatoes, slender drumsticks, healthy pumpkins – all kinds of veggies that shopkeepers stocked up. Vegetables that would find their way into people’s stomachs, only for the cycle to repeat itself the next day.

As the various shopkeepers opened their shops for the day, the truck drivers stood around sipping their morning cups of tea from one of the many tea stalls that dotted the market.

The market was a big labyrinth of alleys. At the end of the third alley was Raj’s Vegetable Mart. The owner, Raj, was already at the shop, overseeing the unloading of fresh stock, as his bare feet crunched across fallen cabbage leaves and gunny bags.

He looked well groomed and fresh. His shop was much sought after by customers, as he stocked some special vegetables that one couldn’t find elsewhere.

He was a shrewd businessman, his hawk-like eyes observing all the customers in his shop, like a CCTV.

The locals and regulars usually arrived between 9 a.m. and 12 noon. The market took on a whole new ‘avatar’ at this time, as women haggled with the shopkeepers.

The haggling gave both parties immense joy. Everyone went home happy.

At Raj’s shop however, haggling was not encouraged. He simply stated the prices and charged for every small thing. He did not give plastic bags with his vegetables, and charged 50p if anyone wanted one. No freebies to anyone. Despite all this he was successful, and people flocked to his shop for the variety, quality and reliability he offered.

He had two cash boxes in his shop. 50p from each customer went into one of these boxes.  Sometimes he haggled with his customers, when they asked for 5p or 10p back in change; change that was rightfully theirs. Most customers walked away without their change, as the amount was very small. All these went into the 50p Cashbox.

There was usually a lull in the afternoons. Business picked up again in the evening, till about 8.30 p.m.

Most shops closed only by 10 pm. But even here, Raj was different. He wound down by 8.30 p.m., emptied his two cash boxes and left the market.

He spoke very little, except when he had customers, so he was not missed much, when all the other shopkeepers gathered for a drink.

While they chit chatted and made merry after a long day, Raj walked a distance of 3 km, with a bag of fresh vegetables from his shop and the collection from the 50p cash box, to a Senior Citizens’ Home, where he cooked a sumptuous meal for the five residents, bought things they wanted with cash from the 50p box, read out articles from the newspaper to them, and gave them their medicines, before he headed home.

The next day, the alarm woke him at      4 a.m.  He showered, dressed and went to the market to open shop.

The Ring – A Short Story


It was an emergency. She was going crazy with worry. She had only two more days. 48 hours. A lot was at stake here.

She had this annoying habit of removing all accessories and jewelry that adorned her ears, neck and arms, the moment she walked into her apartment from work – sometimes dropping them on the shoe cupboard, sometimes on the kitchen counter, pretty much anywhere and everywhere. The same habit had brought this emergency upon her.

She had lost her engagement ring.

On a glorious afternoon, a fortnight ago, her boyfriend of many years had finally popped the question. She still remembered the golden and rust coloured leaves of Autumn raining down on them, as she accepted his proposal. He had then slipped the most exquisite emerald ring on her finger; a
ring that had been passed down in his family, over many generations. He had told her about its significance and history, and about how he had asked his mother to take it from the bank locker, for this momentous occasion.

And, in 48 hours, she would have to meet his mother. She had met her before, but this was different. She had been invited to meet her future family.

She had not told her fiance about the missing ring, very confident that she would find it soon. But after nearly 36 hours of turning the entire house upside down, hope was draining – slowly and steadily. On this predatory hunt for her ring, she had come to know every nook and cranny in her house.

She dialled her fiance’s number. Hearing the love in his voice, courage nearly deserted her.

But she couldn’t take the pressure anymore and blurted out, “I have lost the engagement ring. Please don’t be me mad at me….”

There was a killing 10 second silence at the other end. Finally he said, “Tell me you are joking.”

10 seconds of silence from her end, which told him the truth.

“You know how valuable that ring is, and its significance, don’t you?” he said.

“Can we postpone the dinner at your mom’s? she asked.

His voice was curt, “No way. This is very important to my mom. You’d better find the ring, I have no other solution.”

There was a click at the other end as she stared at the silent phone.

Another round of searching, going crazy, trying to retrace her movements on the day the ring went missing…over and over again. No clue.

She had to come up with a convincing plan. An idea slowly took shape in her head. She would wear a pain-relief patch covering the fingers and wrist on one hand, feigning a muscle pull. That way she could always say she had left the ring at home.

She felt a lot calmer. Her fiance visited her that evening. He joined the search, though his eyes looked hurt.

She gently broached the pain-patch plan. He reluctantly agreed.

The family dinner was a huge success, as she was warmly welcomed into their midst.

At home, however, the ring remained elusive, and the strain was beginning to tell in many small ways.

After nearly three months, Lady Luck decided to visit her in the form of a Dryer Serviceman, who found the ring in the lint trap of the dryer. The dryer was used only when it rained. So, there it was, the shiny ring, bringer of relief and happiness.

Her birthday was coming up, and she decided to surprise her fiance by wearing the ring.

On her birthday, as they sat down to a candlelight dinner, she moved her hand this way and that, but he didn’t seem to notice.

Just after dessert, he asked her to close her eyes and stretch out her hand for his gift.

She heard a loud gasp. She smiled as she imagined his reaction on seeing the ring.

His voice sounded strange, “Why didn’t you tell me that you found it?”

She said, “Wanted to surprise you.”

He said, “Open your eyes.”

When she opened her eyes, she let out a loud gasp as she saw another emerald ring, identical to the first one.

“I had this made especially for you”, he said.