"Life is the price we pay for running away from death "
































































I watched him with overwhelming sorrow. With its every beat my heart was pumping fear, more than blood. There was a quivering sense of helplessness that ran through my veins as I watched his frail body lay morose on the couch, his eyelids twitched occasionally and he shuddered in his sleep now and then.
She sat there by the window sill, as usual resting her head on the grille, with that sullen hard stare into nothingness. Her personality was so morose, so wooden, that even though I had lived-in with her for a few months, I had not managed to start even a basic conversation with her. Yet I was not gonna give up. I sat right there, day after day, on the couch opposite her, and ogled at her for hours at a stretch, wondering which would break first: my reticence or her hesitance?
I reposed in my armchair, and peeking above the rim of the newspaper I fixed my steely gaze upon the young lad who lay so heedlessly and arrogantly upon my couch. His mother - my wife - had beckoned him a dozen times to have his dinner, and look at him! lying there in utter disrespect.
"I need to decorate my puja room. Can you buy me a glittering picture of Lord Ganesha?" asked the mother.
O dear breast of a woman,
Oh! you,
gentlest of God's creations,
How do I sing your ode?
JC sat under the tree in his classic pose - the pose that almost everyone recognized him in, the pose that was, so to say, his trademark. His long silken tresses dancing to the afternoon breeze, his kind eyes half-opened looking gently down upon the lamb that he, ever so delicately, caressed and cajoled. It was a picture postcard of love, compassion, and motherly affection. The lamb seemed to have a subtle smile on its face, like it felt safe and secure in JC's arms.
While Sarnath lay on the couch watching his daily dose of late-night news, he stole a moment to glance at his lovely wife. She sat there, reading a novel, unmindful of the two men seeking her attention - one, the newsreader blaring on the television, and two, her husband ogling at her. Sarnath watched her satin nightie complement every juicy curve on her body, and couldn't stop himself from moving close to her. He flung an arm around her, gently resting it on her bosom. And cupped his palm on her breast, like an emperor clasping the jewel of his sceptre. Sarnath liked to feel that sense of owning her - it always turned him on.
The lads were about to light the serpentine garland of crackers laid out in a neat line on the street when someone shouted them to stop. An ambulance was approaching and it was human to make way. The entire crowd of kids and immature adults stepped aside to let the shrieking vehicle pass along. Inside the ambulance, Nath craned his neck from his stretcher to catch a glimpse of the festive atmosphere outside, but the oxygen pipe they stuck on his face made it tough for him.
There was a husky sulking around the room. The body of the grand old lady, wrapped in gum-taped plastic sheets underneath a hastily wrapped silk-sari, lay in the middle, motionless, within the cooled glass enclosure to keep her from rotting in the summer heat. While the female relatives sighed and consoled each other, the men just stood around discussing hospital bills and funeral arrangements. The lady's daughter sat in the corner, her swollen eyes buried in her palms that couldn't hold her tears back. The son-in-law had gone out to get the priest, without whose supervision the body could not be cremated.
Go out at night and look up at the night sky. Experience its depth. It is not a canvas of shining stars that is waiting to enthral you; rather, it is a bottomless ageless void that is mocking at you. Mocking, not as in laughing to ridicule you, but to incite you to transform. To move beyond your limited and prohibitive human space, and enter its grandeur.
"I don't understand why they do it? It's disgusting. Don't they have any power to reason? Are they humans or bloody cockroaches?" he got up from her lap, as if in protest. He looked at the roof, avoiding looking at the fan which squeaked and creaked as if chuckling at his disgust. She let out a smile too, not mockingly but adoringly. She loved seeing him at the height of his passions.
As soon as the guests left, she grabbed his arm and dragged him to the terrace. "So all this while you were playing with me?" her breath trembled, with a mixture of anger and disgust.
 
His face was flush red - a mark of shame and/or guilt - "No, you should not say like that," he tried to helplessly explain, "how can you even use the word 'play'? Please don't make it sound like I exploited you."
It was after a long time that I had returned to this place. I stood at the threshold of that very gate where, decades ago, I used to stand albeit on the other side and stare blankly at the people and things passing by. I would stand bogged down and decrepit, my face hard-pressed against the railings, not knowing what drained me – the temptation of the outside or the frustration of the inside?
<Buzz>
 
I did not notice the buzz as I was busy cherishing the exclusive space I had just created for myself. Having had my dinner at rocket-pace, I had galloped to my room, leaving all the chatty guests behind, and locked myself into my room. I had faked a migraine so that they won't follow me and disturb me in my room. Yes! I was alone, and I loved it. It was so peaceful. And then as I settled on my bed, with the pillow leaned against the wall, staring into the blank orange wall opposite, I saw it.. <Buzz>
Raju hid behind the banyan tree and watched the elders gathered around the sacred fire pouring ghee into it, while chanting the mantra as per the priests' direction. He cranked his neck to look at the piece of meat he had precariously hung over the branch right above the ritual fire. The meat was tied to a thread whose other end was in Raju's hand. He just had to tug it a little and the meat would fall into the fire, ruining the ritual and rendering all the villagers' efforts wasted.
"Hey buddy, do you remember that football match we played on the terrace once? How irritated grandpa was that he couldn't get the ball. Man we had such a ball that day, isn't it?" Vikram looked at his son, expecting to see a chuckle; there was none. The kid seemed to be warming up though, so he went on, "and then last Diwali when we burst bombs at 5 A.M. to wake everyone up? Remember you insisted on the atom bomb and, man, how resounding it was?" Still not even a smile, leave aside the chuckle. He knew it was a difficult exercise to get his son back to how he was. He had tried for days with no result, but he didn't want to give up.
"Where am I to go, God?" Eve sighed as she looked up at the heavens, the place where she believed His voices were often heard from. Burly clouds hung about like huge tufts of moustache curled upon God's face. Every now and then the wind distorted their shapes as if His invisible hands twirled and twisted them in a mocking way.
Traffic at this junction was normal fare, and it was peak hour too. One bus was attempting a U-turn in the middle of the road and held everyone back. The driver tried to back-up a little so he can turn but an auto had wedged in the gap behind him, trying to make a quick run but had got stuck due to not enough space. The auto was honking for the bus to move forward, and the bus driver was shouting at the auto to back-up. Meanwhile another bus blocked the gap in front of him. Two cars tried to circumvent the mess by crossing over to the wrong side and an approaching bus blocked them there. More cars followed them and, as a result, they log-jammed the other side too. Each was asking the other to back-up, there was honking all around. I murmured a hasty curse at the undisciplined drivers while she sat pillion and silently watched.
"Yes! I loved you, I love you, and always will. I don't know any of those different names or labels or types of love that they talk about. I am a lover, and I know just one love. The 'lover' that is the verb form of the one and only noun - 'Love'," exasperated he looked up at her. There was no response. She gazed blankly ahead.
As a child he would spend hours playing hide-n-seek in the phosphate mines. Every now and then a military jet would fly past, roaring its way at 2 to 3 Mach, and leaving a trail of icy smoke. He would run out of the mines to watch the jet, but all he would find is the smoke-trail, which appeared to him like a gigantic friendship band in the cloudless sky. And then he would beam a salute, with every hair on his body standing up to acknowledge the roar.
 
He burnt with desire, to leave the mines and fly those jets.
I fell in love with a prostitute, and now I don't know what to do.