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
































































Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
- Ravindra Nath Thakur

For the most part, our society treats children the way a gardener treats his plants
 
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He is a seed and I am going to sow him in a pot. She is another seed and I shall sow her in another pot. I am the world and I am going to reap the fruit that comes out of them.
 
They say as one sows, one shall reap. It better work that way. I have plans for the seeds I sow; they better not reap anything else other than what I sow.
 
I assign the pots and I sow the seeds as I, the gardener, see fit. I have designs and plans, and the harvest shall be as per those notions. They are, in fact, seeds of my expectations.
 
He, the seed, is a particular type of fruit, and he shall grow up to give that exact same fruit. She, the seed, will grow to give exactly another. They call it the law of Nature - a mango seed will always bear a mango fruit, never another. Whatever fancy names or laws they wanna call it...
 
I shall provide them fertile ground, and water them everyday, and let them bask in the sunlight. I believe they have fancy names for it too. They call the ground as society, the water as culture, and sunlight as knowledge. I hear they have built great theories and philosophies about each of it, especially the sunlight. It tickles me how innocent they are - they have no idea how much the sunlight plays games with them...
 
For what it's worth, I don't mind them playing their games. Poor little seeds - they need some entertainment while they bide their time growing up. I let them play.. as long as they keep growing and bearing the fruit that I have deemed them to!
 
 
 
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On a bright summer afternoon, amidst the vivid crowd of a bustling metropolis, Arjun walked up the stairs to the terrace of a posh hotel he had been staying for the past week. When he reached the top, he paused to catch a glimpse of the city - to absorb the fabricated reality of the urban landscape all around him and to pick on its verdant randomness that had been so much taken for granted. His stomach felt uneasy.

Arjun took a moment to recall a jibe he had shared with an uncle of his. The joke never failed to ease him up. "Uncle, what would happen if an earthquake were to hit our city right now?" he had asked of his uncle. And uncle had replied, "Oh! not much difference my son. Other than a few perfect corners broken out of shape, our city cannot get any worse than what it already is..." and the both of them had laughed all afternoon. They had even shared a beer while at it. The joke made Arjun laugh again, and also made him wonder how reality had embraced (read: enraptured) us in its arms of happenstance and inevitability.

He had missed his uncle so much. And that is why he was here, on the terrace of the same hotel where his uncle was seen alive for the last time.

Arjun stood still and tried to feel his uncle's presence, but all he sensed was traffic honks and gusts of smoky wind. It was a bright sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. The sun burnt down upon Arjun and, in the distraction of the city, he missed feeling his uncle's warmth in the sun's rays.

After ten minutes of silent contemplation, Arjun walked up to the parapet wall, climbed on it, clicked a selfie and posted it on his Facebook account, took a deep breath and jumped to his death.

2 hours later:

News of the suicide spread all over the Internet and reactions poured in. "Such a bright boy, what was the need for him to do it?" wondered one friend. "He had no pains or complaints. His parents gave him such a comfortable upbringing. Why would be do something so foolish?" posed another. "Some kids are pampered so much that they don't have any idea of the real suffering.. " commented some, "they take some trivial issue and kill themselves over it." "Yeah," agreed another, "like that girl who killed herself because people did not like her profile picture."

And then the tweeple, the beliebers, the face-bookers and all the keyboard warriors jumped in.. "These kids of today have no idea how to appreciate what they have.." "his parents gave him such a comfortable life and see what he gives them in return.." "there are so many people out there like the blind, the deaf, the handicapped, who continue to live with so much courage... what was wrong with this boy?.. So healthy, fit and fine he was.."  "he insulted all the blessings that life had endowed upon him.. "

several months ago:

Arjun's uncle had gone missing after being last seen at the hotel on the sea-front. There was no trace of him. Uncle was a social worker, fighting for the suffering and marginalized, and he had made some enemies in that pursuit. Some people talked that the mafia had kidnapped and murdered his uncle. It had left Arjun distraught - his uncle was the one good friend he had had.

Then, unable to give up, Arjun had ventured into the forbidden parts of the city in search of his uncle. He had felt an invisible push that had shoved him out of his house. It was a push, not a pull, so quite certainly it wasn't his uncle working invisibly upon him. So Arjun ambled around, walking into dark spaces, empty alleys and neglected nooks of the city. On some days he went into the slums, some days he walked the markets and bazaars, he even visited many hospitals and several police stations. Other times he would sit at the beach and blankly watch the waves, or walk upon the train tracks from one railway station to another.

Rarely sometimes he even visited the malls, but not the front and showy side, rather he went around to the back where the garbage would be dumped, where the noisy air-conditioners hummed and spluttered and spewed hot air, where the distraught walls with peeling paint and the dripping toilet pipes spoke the story of abject human carelessness, where the pariah children of men and dogs played hide and seek. Maybe Arjun had hoped to find his uncle there (because uncle had cared about such forgotten spaces). He never knew what pushed him to be there though...

On evening walks on the city streets, Arjun saw the crowd rushing to get back home. Tired bodies and confused minds seeking their place of rest, jostling and hustling in its pursuit. It was an explosion of colour and life undergirded by tragedy and apathy. Handicapped beggars crying for help, encroached stalls fighting for space, mongrels and calves sleeping in their own shit, open drains and dilapidated pavements gaping at the sky, buildings bearing dusty and cracked facades, and ugly overambitious posters vying for attention. Arjun saw that the rushing sea of people noticed neither the vibrancy of the streets nor the murk they were walking in. They were just walking past like zombies. Were they blind to all this? Yes, maybe they chose to be! Such was the world we lived in that it befitted only the blind. The ones with eyes - the ones who see - have no place in it.

People spitting and littering all over. They surely must be blind, not to see the mess they were causing.

He saw the traffic moving at snail's pace; the cacophony of honks blaring with no purpose other than to vent out the owners' angst. What else are they honking for? They know the traffic won't move any faster. Potholed roads; Inappropriate, insufficient or missing traffic signs; bovine speed-breakers; haphazard pedestrians; opportunist traffic cops looking to snare some quick bucks all ensured the traffic was never in smooth flow. The streets of Arjun's city were not for the able-bodied. He saw pedestrians limping across uneven pavements, skipping over open drains; he saw motorists dragging their feet along with their vehicles. Were they all physically challenged? Yes, maybe that is what they have ended up being. Such a world that does not allow space and avenue for the human body to fully express itself; The able human body has no place in it.

He saw people driving awkwardly - left shoulder lifted high and heads bent sideways trying to balance their cell-phones and talking while they drive. They surely must be handicapped, for they do not seem to be so inclined to avoid such funny postures.

Arjun observed the absolute cacophony on the streets. The blaring vehicle horns, the spattering and cranking of engines, the loudspeakers at various shops, cries of beggars, whistles of the policemen and loud calls of auto and cab drivers. He wondered how everyone ever so casually walked around in this discordant medley. Nobody seemed to be getting disturbed or irritated by the constant stream of dissonant voices. Were they all deaf? Yes, maybe they are! Such a world that does not seem to realize the vocal aberration it is creating must surely be deaf. In such a world someone with proper auditory skills has no place.

He saw a few men playing random songs on their cell-phone loudspeaker. They surely must be deaf, for they do not realize how stupid it is to play a song that others don't want to listen.

Back to the present:

All the months of confused questioning had finally brought Arjun to the seafront hotel. He had come looking for his uncle, for he wanted answers which only his uncle could give. It was a push, not a pull that had brought him to the hotel. His quest for answers was the push. As he walked up the stairs, on to the terrace, and as the sunlight beamed upon him, a vague peace settled into Arjun's mind. It was like the questions troubled him no more, for the answer lay right in front of him. He climbed up the parapet wall, looked down at the ground far below, felt the whiff of breeze caressing all over his body and waited for the final push. Meanwhile, he took a deep breath and clicked some selfies for his Facebook wall.

Then the push came.. the final and redemptive one. The one that lifted him and helped him escape from a world he did not belong. This world was not for Arjun whose senses were all working fine. It was a world meant for the blind, the deaf, and the physically handicapped. By continuing to live, Arjun was, in fact, using the resources that were meant for the blind, the deaf, and the physically challenged. It was not right of him to use up resources not meant for him. Hence, the push that threw him off the building.

It was a push for justice. The push that delivered justice both to the world and to Arjun. Firstly, justice to the blind, the deaf, and the physically handicapped who got their resources back from Arjun; and secondly, justice to the able-body that Arjun had been gifted with but which had been mistakenly sent to the wrong world.

Arjun did not die by carelessly disregarding his able-bodied self; he died exactly because he ever so consciously regarded his able-bodied self.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In memory of Arjun Bharadwaj, with whom I might have shared a momentary thanatological connection.



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If we had paid no more attention to our plants than we have to our children, we would now be living in a jungle of weed. - Luther Burbank, horticulturist

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"This is the grand old tree of my garden," said the old man as his face lit up with pride, "my great-grandfather had planted it and it has given us a rich harvest of delicious Alphonso mangoes every season without fail."

"But the credit for it goes to you," I smiled back and replied, "your gardening skills have made sure the tree bloomed more and more, even though it kept aging."

"That's what the right mixture of knowledge and experience can deliver my boy," he replied as he bent down to pick up a ripe mango that had fallen off the tree. "Look at this beautiful fruit. It's the fruit of labour, the mango of knowledge..."

Mango of knowledge? I wondered if the expression existed, but I got the essence of what he was trying to say. His training in horticulture had brought forth amazing results. The garden which was covered with weeds during his father's time was now an avatar of natural glory. It was like he had established a new generation of life with his bare hands. 

His garden was his laboratory, where he experimented with the plants, trying out different cultures with the seeds, grafting various breeds, using new methods of fertilizing, etc. Most of the times he failed, but he never gave up. He knew the potential of the seeds and he kept trying. Ad the result was there to see - a luscious garden brimming with an infinite variety of life. 

"Plants are wonderful creatures," he said, "they have to be nurtured, like children, and they will respond to your care and love," he caressed the lush pink bunch of Bougainvillaea. "It takes a lot of patience with hours of meticulous care, and look at them, the flowers smile back with their blooms, the fruits reciprocate the love with their fruity aroma and taste, and every leaf thanks me through the dancing glints of sunbeam."

He saw his garden as an orchestra of life, of which he was the conductor.

"Nature does not work with man's cycle or under man's command. One needs to look at it maturely. There cannot be a master-slave relationship with it. One ought not look at Nature as a slave or as a master. It is a friend, a collaborator in the construction of life in this world..." said the old man as we walked back inside the house.

As we entered the hall, the old man froze with horror. His daughter had come back home and her stuff lay strewn all over. Her shoes were thrown by the door, bag lay on the sofa, and some books scattered on the floor, while she crouched by the window busy with a video chat. The old man gave a long hard stare at his daughter, which she did not care about. He turned around and strode back to the garden, while murmuring, "this new generation is so useless... nothing can be done about them.."



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I can never forget the charming Dr. Mahesh and his adorable family. The tireless doctor of my beloved native town and his devoted wife, and most of all their effervescent son who seemed to inherit every bit of his father's passion. And even more unforgettable is that fateful night, when the waters of Godavari flooded our town and erased it off the map forever.
 
That night my father, the town collector, had received a hotline call from the state administration. Someone, who was close to my father, had called to inform the dam had burst and that the gushing river was on its way to drown all of us. He had said we had only an hour to save ourselves. I can recall how frantically my father had woken me and my mother up and rushed into the car. How crazily he drove out of the town that he was supposed to save. And then stopping over at my sister's house to gather her family, and then madly driving out of the town.
 
As we passed the silent streets, me and my mother had cried, seeing many of the houses we knew, and had shuddered imagining the painful fate that awaited those good souls.
 
And then we had passed Dr. Mahesh's house, and I had expected dad to stop to pick them up. The doctor was held in great reverence all through our town - for his dedication in helping our town, for his sacrifice of rejecting lucrative offers in the city so he could help the forgotten people of our remote town. My father had been so proud of Dr. Mahesh. Yet he did not stop that night and kept driving. I had looked at his face and shrieked, and he had replied back in hush tones, "We don't have much time son; the flood will be here soon! And then, we don't have any more space in the car too. My family comes first for me, and I am just doing my duty towards my family.. first!"
 
So we had driven away, abandoning a soul that had abandoned its luxury for our sake. Just because for us, family came first.
 
Today, as I sit facing the whisky bottle, with my parents long dead, I ponder if it was worth saving us. My dad had sacrificed his duty towards the town in fulfilling his duty towards the family. He had chosen to save a son who could not claim a bright future, and a daughter who spent all her time fighting property battles with her in-laws. Had Dr. Mahesh been saved that night, it would have led to the saving of many more lives, through him. With his courage, commitment and knowledge, Dr. Mahesh could have been a building block of our society.

But it wasn't to be. That night vanity had won over sanity, and bonds of blood became the ark that floated high over the waters of fate, whose blind current drowned rationality and humanity.
 
They say family is the building block of society. But to me it seems that, actually, family blocks the building of society...
 
 
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"So now that we went through the lesson, tell me, what is the real purpose of education?" asked the teacher pointing to one of the students.
 
The boy sheepishly stood up, "ma'am, the real purpose of education is to make each student so independent that he becomes self-thought..."
 
Some of the brighter students chuckled. Teacher immediately responded, "What? repeat that last words again?"
 
"Ma'am... self-thought"
 
"That's what happens when you sit in the last bench. I have stressed so much on that point. It is self-taught, not self-thought. It is pronounced as T-O-T, tot. It is not thaw, it is tau. Taught, not thought."
 
Boy did not want to be embarrassed in front of the girls, so he tried a retort, "But.. ma'am.. how can one teach without first thinking? So first I need to self-thought na?"
 
"Enough now smarty pants.. don't think too much. You can sit down now" and teacher gave him long hard stare.



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"Most of the people in this country are such horrid dogmatists," he rued as he took a sip of water. "Especially the older generations. They only focus on the rituals and procedures, and call it their proud culture."
 
"So many of social norms are pure dogma - they never enquire the purpose behind their traditions. Festivals and functions are celebrated in such a wasteful manner; children sent to school like clockwork, and then pushed to take up the courses which everyone takes; religion is sacrosanct and its tenets just cannot be questioned. It's a blasphemy for children to ask why for their elders' diktats." and he took another gulp of water.
 
"How can science even think of setting foot in such a dogmatic land yaar? We, the rationalists, who use the open-minded enquiries of science are branded as anti-social and are attacked." and then a final gulp of water which made the bottle empty.
 
"But does science have all the answers that are needed to dispel this dogmatic veil?" enquired his friend who had been thoughtfully listening to him.
 
"Maybe not, but we do have all the necessary tools to get there: like the openness to pursue broadminded enquiry, the steadfastness to be persistent in the face of failure, the courage to question the obvious, the dynamism to adapt to new contexts and the pragmatic maturity to strive for relevance..." he tried to take another sip and finding the bottle empty, rose up to walk to the water filter, "can religion and tradition claim to be so dynamic and relevant? They still ordain the same old rituals which are so out of place in modern times. These dogmatic fools don't have any understanding of the issues we face today, like environmental crisis, human right violations, declining living standards, etc., and they still continue to push the same old foolish rituals. They create all these blind rules in the name of some God and then foolishly tow the line. The dogmas have killed their spirit of asking those difficult questions."
 
He turned on the water-filter to fill the bottle. His friend looked at the filter and jibed, "Hey isn't that the RO filter which wastes more water than it purifies? You should switch it off during these hot summer months man. So much water shortage out there.."
 
"Oh, and risk my health with the municipal water is it? No way my friend," he laughed.
 
"But the municipal water isn't so bad.." his friend smirked in response.
 
"Sorry! No ifs and buts when it comes to health man..." he interrupted his friend, "science has taught us how to keep good health and I shall never compromise on those principles."
 
 
 
 
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"It doesn't work that way, Amar!" she gave a sharp look at her husband, "I am not your tuition teacher who will hold your hand and make you write. I am your wife. Yes! as a loving partner I will stand by you and will mutually work with you in our family and life decisions..."

She stopped for a moment to watch her son playing in the garden. As a doting mother she always made sure her son was protected and taken care.

"How many times, Amar? how many times?" she got back to staring the husband, "I understand that when things don't go your way, and there are external factors troubling you, then you need help. My father has pitched in so many times. I, myself, have stood by you and helped. I even gave away all my jewellery to help you..."

Amar's face went from crestfallen to distraught. He did not want this lecture but he put up with it as he needed her help.

"We can save you from everything, but not from yourself Amar. You are a human being, for god's sake, not some dumb animal. Humans have some bit of common sense about the consequences of their actions, don't they?" she turned to look at her son in the garden once more, "how do you expect me to help you from yourself, Amar? There is only so much someone can do. Finally, after one point, if you are stupid human being, then I think you just got to pay for it..."

She shrieked as she saw her son going towards the rose bush yet again. Just the previous week he had scratched himself with the thorns. She got up to run towards the garden.

"Look Amar! I cannot help you anymore. Once or twice is fine, but if you keep doing the same mistake again, then you have to face it. I can save you from the world, but I cannot save you from your own stupid self. I am just a human being, not a God..." she ran into the garden to save her son from the rose bush.
 
 
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My wife says that she touches herself whenever she misses me.. i mean, is that okay? Isn't that somewhat perverted?

If you see it as desperation, then may be, but let's not defile the notion of touch itself. The concept of touch is a deeply human aspect, very intimately bound up with our emotional selves.

I guess so. Our skin covers us completely. It is the home we live in, the layer that separates me from the rest of the world. So when I touch someone or something, I make a brief foray beyond my boundary into the reality outside.

We are all born with the need to touch. It pervades our lives and our thinking. It unconsciously undergirds our self all the time. For instance, imagine someone has left the lights on, the fan running, and the water tap flowing. Which one would you first go to turn off?

The water tap ofcourse, because water is so precious and can't be wasted.

But isn't electricity precious too? So after the tap, which one would you switch off next? Fan or light?

The fan - maybe because it consumes more electricity.

No. Bulbs consume as much as the fan. It's all because of the importance we give to touch. When light, wind and water all three are flowing, we are more concerned with what we can touch and feel. And in that order we decide to respond.

Oh I see!

The concept of touch has infiltrated so many other aspects. Don't you see advertising slogans like 'touching lives'? Alas, why is the world so besotted with sex? Precisely because sex is such a touch-filled activity. Has there ever been a concept of remote sex or sex from a distance?

I had heard of something like that, but I guess it never picked up.

Yeah, it won't; there is no human aspect if there is no touch. Something that lacks touch is not human. That is why your partner touches herself when she misses you. She imagines you touching her that way. She has no stronger way to feel your presence. .

No wonder, many businesses today speak of having a human touch.

Yes. They had started with saying 'business with a human face', but quickly realised that face is just a mask. The reality was in the touch, not in the face or the voice, and soon started saying 'business with a human touch'.

And other similar metaphors I can think of. When someone forgets, they say he is out of touch. And when one is angry or sensitive, she is said to be touchy. When they need luck, they touchwood. 

Yeah, and doctors are said to have a healing touch. And why do you think the whole world is going gaga over touch-screen phones. No wonder everyone is so hooked up with their gadgets. They just want to keep touching...

Oh that was a good one! I guess I will have to go now. It was a nice topic to touch upon.

Okay! see you some other day then. Do keep in touch...


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They called her Indus. But deep in her heart, she was always Sindu - the flow. And when they named her Indus, it was like they were playing with her letters in order to reverse her flow.
 
It was in the heart of her home where she was born, she found the most comfort. But, as the tradition would have it, women never stayed in their mother's home. She had to leave one day. She had to flow out, navigating the boulders of custom, meandering through the dreary sands of culture, babbling over pebbles of society and Nature, until one day she would flow into the sea of nothingness - that realm of dissolution - where all souls merged into the great undifferentiated waters.
 
The thought of flowing beyond the borders of her home petrified her. Who knows what lay beneath! What kind of men crouch there and what parts of their body would they dip into her. Here in her birthplace, she was still reasonably pure, but out there she did not know how they would defile her. She had heard scary stories, of rivers of blood (i.e. trains of dead) flowing back and forth.
 
But she felt the push to flow forth. She did not know what compelled her. They said it was tradition; she felt it was more like Natural law. Yet she did not want to go... as she found solace in the cold confines of her glacial home, far from the territorial pursuits of terrestrial animals.
 
Then one day, like manna from heaven, came the walls. Those thick concrete walls that divided, delineated, and deterred. The dams - which they called 'temples of modern civilization'. Built with bricks of fear, glued by the concrete of suspicion, reinforced by steel of caution, and watered by streams of lethargy, the dams stood strong, breaking the law and stopping her flow.
 
Far out there, beyond those dams, across the borders of her home, lay thirsty hearts, yearning, craving, pining, for her waters. Yet, Sindu, though designed to quench their thirst, chose to stay back, in the home where her cold heart lay...
 
 
 
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He had been living in the rented room upstairs for years, and through all those years he kept observing her - the maid - coming to work at the landlord's house downstairs. He was an author and would sit by the window for hours, trying to find the right words for his story, and all he could think about was her. He would love those moments when she came to the terrace to dry the clothes. That was when he got a chance to say a 'Hi' to her. He waited for those moments.
 
She always carried a grumpy face, as if to say she did not like the work and yet had to do it. Over the years the grumpiness had left a permanent mark in the wrinkles of her face. Yet, for him, the grumpiness did nothing to dent the joy he derived from beholding her visage and its glum expressions.
 
She never smiled at him, even tried to avoid his brief conversations, yet he kept at her. He loved her body. There was something ineffably attractive about it - like a mix of menace and delicacy, or stubbornness and sensitivity, like insanity and sensibility roasting each other to bring about that perfectly tanned skin.

On days when he got aroused seeing her, he would use that flow to pen some amazing chapters in his story.
 
For her, it was exactly the opposite. Her body was her biggest burden. It always came in the way of her life - it was a stumbling block. During childhood she could not run around and play freely like her brothers: her mother always kept covering her with a bundle of clothes and restrictions. "You are a girl. Be careful about your body when you are outside." She could not sleep freely too. Even in the hot summers she could not sleep outside (like her brothers) as she had to be careful about her body. Later on, when she went to college, nearly every guy friend that she made seemed more interested in her body than in her. She had to drop out of college, just because her body always came in the way. Finally she had ended up doing these domestic chores. And even here, the old man would not let her work in peace and kept trying to touch her in many places. She hated her body for how it had bogged down her life.
 
For him, her body was an inspiration. He saw how it gave her power over the men in a male-dominated society. In fact, he thought that from the perspective of her body it was a female-body dominated society. Every thing in her life revolved around it. She never had to stay hungry - the body had the means to feed itself, and the more it fed the more it become empowered. Such a powerful influential positive feedback loop that binds society and Nature into a vicious circle. It was in its pursuit for the female body that the naked face of the male libido wore the diplomatic hat of chauvinistic finesse. Though it was primarily for her body, yet men were being nice to her, unlike how they were towards him. He was talented and creative, yet he was out of a job. He had to struggle to earn his bread, but she could just command it with one nudge of her body.

He long pondered over the miracle of her body, visualizing it like a sceptre of human dimensions. While she spent sleepless nights in her room, imagining the blank and objectified future that lay ahead of her.

For him, her body gave meaning to everything in her life. For her, the body stole meaning from everything in her life.

Then came the point where he got so besotted with her body that he began madly desiring for it; while she became so disillusioned with her body that she began detesting it. He wanted to steal her body and wear it upon his soul; while she wanted to escape from her body and bare her soul from it.

One afternoon, while drying the clothes on the terrace, she noticed the author wasn't in his room. This was her chance. She climbed up the roof, up onto the huge water tank, took a deep breath and jumped in it. In the evening, when he got back to his room, tired and famished, he went straight to bath. He turned on the shower. As the drops began to pour, he sensed a vague temptation in the water and instinctively opened his mouth and began to drink it.

The water, which carried the juices of her body, would turn to blood and integrate with his. What was her body in the morning, became his by evening.
 
 
 
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His daily ride to work was a long one, meandering through winding city roads choc-a-block with careless parking and haphazard driving. Yet he was in good spirits today, as he pondered upon how his city living was vastly better than his father's village life.
 
Urban life was what civilization was about - village life was apparently relatively downtrodden.
 
"When my father was a boy, he had to walk many kilometres to the neighbouring village for school as well as to work," he recalled the tales his father would tell, "but my city is so full-fledged that everything is within city limits. I never venture out to another city in need of anything. City life is so empowered."
 
He had to brake suddenly to avoid an unexpected pot-hole. He went around it and continued...
 
"They used to walk through the forest barefoot. That's so risky, especially with those sharp rocks and thorny shrubs.. But city life provides us with so much protection.." he had to honk hard to force his way out. A traffic cop had stopped many riders without helmet and they had jammed the road.
 
He always wore a helmet. It was necessary to save those last strands of hair on his head.
 
As he drove, he reflected upon various improvements that city-life had bestowed upon him compared to his father's village life, like, he could listen to the radio while the village-boy only had the chirps of birds and the swish of the day breeze; he could glance upon glamorous advertisement banners and movie posters along the way, while all that the village-boy had was trees, muddy roads and cattle.
 
"Oh the cattle are no exception, even today. They amble upon the roads even today as if it was still a village for them.. " and he laughed at himself, "Some things never change in this country..."
 
And he continued driving through the smoke and cacophony, to his office at the other end of the city. A city that had grown so big by slowly (and silently) consuming all the villages around it.
 
 
 
.
Her life had been a long tale of darkness. No light, not even a ray of it.
 
For starters, she was born in the dark-skinned lower caste family which, as per custom, had to live outside the village. In the marshes, where the mangroves grew so thick that not a ray of sun reached into their houses. They could not light a lamp as they could not afford it.
 
She could not go to village in the day time as her family was amongst the untouchables - her shadow would defile anything and anybody that it fell on. She had no right-to-form-a-shadow.
 
So she went into the village only at nights, to do the menial jobs like cleaning toilets, collecting and burning garbage, and scavenging food from the discarded bins of the tent-houses.
 
Despite such wretched survival, she was blessed with a physically fit body. It must have been a blessing, isn't it? Because thanks to it, on some days she would get good food to eat. On the days when the priest would grab her hand and drag her into the dark chambers of the temple to do things to her all night, while she gorged on the sumptuous food he threw at her. Most in the village knew about her affair with the priest, yet they chose to keep mum as the priest was a powerful man. Some lesser men would look for a night when the priest was out of town and compete with each other to offer her food, in the dark chambers.
 
All womenfolk of the village hated her, for being a manipulative woman who lured their men into one-night-stands. They cursed her to death.
 
Yet, unmindful of the curses, she continued to tread her life, lived in abject darkness - from the darkness of her skin, to the darkness of her house, to the nightly dark of the village, and finally (on blessed days) to a good meal in the dark chamber of the locked temple. A life that never saw the light of day. A life that seemed like one dark extended night that stretched from birth to death. Yet she continued to stand - a lifelong one night stand.
 
 
 
.
Yashomati maiya se bole nandalala,
Radha kyun gori, main kyun kala?

(An adolescent Lord Krishna questions his mother, Yashoda,
as to why is Radha so fair while I am so dark?)


The bhajan filled the air of Haridwar on the bank of river Ganges as Krishna, the fair skinned lad of the temple priest pranced around the steps, looking for Radha, the dark-skinned daughter of the crematorium keeper. Given the huge caste difference, Krishna and Radha's friendship was unusual, and not accepted by the elders, and so they met secretly.
 
Every time the above bhajan played in the temple, Krishna would chuckle. Being a fair-skinned person, he could not relate to Lord Krishna's question. So he would just laugh away the bhajan...
 
Krishna took the risk to meet Radha secretly as he loved the curves of Radha's voluptuous body and the fire she aroused in Krishna whenever they met. He had not seen such a well-endowed female body in his caste. "Probably because she works so hard," he would say to himself.

And as for the dark-skinned Radha, she loved to bask in the attention of a fair-skinned boy. It was a sort of redemption for her. When Krishna would dance to her sexual music, it compensated for the indignation her low-caste family faced at the hands of the fair-skinned upper-caste community.
 
Yet, for Radha, sex was never a means to take revenge. It was, above all else, a form of love, where she found a true and uninhibited bond. In that orgasmic moment, she always saw an innocent Krishna, with a raw and divine face, bereft of any hierarchies of colour or caste; just one pure soul ineffably connected with another.
 
For Krishna, Radha was just a means to satisfy his lust. He knew that someday he would marry a fair-skinned pretty lady from his caste and settle down. He hoped he would still be able to use Radha later on too. Her curves were too irresistible to let go. Krishna had secret flings with many low-caste ladies around the temple, but Radha was his favourite among them.
 
So as the bhajan played on, Krishna finally found Radha in the corridor behind the temple. His lust peaked as soon as he saw her and he grabbed her hand. A shy Radha smiled back and gestured him to come later. But Krishna had other ladies to go to, so he could not wait. He naughtily and hastily dragged Radha into the abandoned pantry of the temple basement.
 
For the next couple of hours, a heart throbbing with sexual arousal would enjoy the abuse of its power of social superiority and gender advantage by exploiting a pure soul's weakness for love. The darkness of lust would ejaculate itself all over the fairness of love-filled empathy and affection. While the bhajan would play on..


Yashomati maiya se bole nandalala,
Radha kyun gori, main kyun kala?
 
(Asks Krishna, why did Radha have to be fair while I am made to be dark?)
 
 
 
.
"Haven't I told you not to stand on the road and hitch a ride like that?" shouted the brother. He was very upset at the sister. This was the third time in 2 months she had come home with the complaint of being molested. He had warned her not to get into those cabs which offered a ride. "Why don't you just wait for the bus?" he tried to advise her.
 
"But the buses are so crowded, and those old men are always leaning on me. Isn't that molestation too? And not all cab drivers are bad, okay?" revolted an exasperated sister.
 
She was upset that he was debating with her when he should be consoling.
 
"I know these cab drivers, or any male driver for that matter. I have walked on that road so many times but they never stop to give me a ride. When they see women walking, they will all slow down as if it's some social service they are doing."
 
Sister looked away as if in disgust of her brother's argument.
 
"They have no goodness sister. It is not helping you that matters to them. You have no value in their eyes. They only value your body. That's what its all about. They want to help you in the hope of getting a favour in return. That's why you had a third molestation attempt in 2 months. Don't you get it? They only value your body..."
 
"Please brother. I had enough of your parochial judgments. I have many guy friends and they all value me properly. The world of men has kind souls too..."
 
"You never know sister. Maybe your guy friends are just waiting for a weak moment. The body of a woman is what a man always values..." trumpeted the furious brother. "I will prove it to you. I will hitchhike on that road tomorrow. And let's see how many of your so-called kind men stop to give me a ride..."
 
And next day, as he had announced, the brother walked the road, waving at every car passing by, asking for a ride. The sister followed far behind, watching him. Many cars slowed down seeing her, but she ignored them. The same cars just drove past the brother, even though he gestured at them.
 
Sister did not make any judgement yet. She watched with patience.
 
Then finally one car stopped to pick the brother. It was one that had not slowed for her. Sister was overjoyed. The brother had just been proven wrong. She got into the next available cab and rushed home to face her brother. When she reached home, the brother had not yet reached. She waited for hours, and he wasn't to be seen yet. She stayed up the whole night waiting for him. The next morning they found the brother's body dumped on a street far away. His kidneys were missing.
 
While a woman is valued for her entire body, a man, it seems, is valued only for his kidneys. The world of men is, after all, still kind to the women.
 
 
 
.
As far as he could remember, he had never seen his father. He had never enjoyed fatherly love first-hand, yet he knew the concept well; firstly, from observing the fathers of his friends, and, secondly, from the detailed accounts his mother told him about how caring and affectionate his father was. The son yearned to see his father, yet he never could come face to face with him.
 
"Your father does a lot of hard work for our sake," his mother would tell him, "he travels far and wide so he can earn a lot of money. That money is what takes care of us."
 
"But why don't I get to meet him anytime?" the son would pleadingly question.
 
"That's only because whenever he comes home either you are at school or fast asleep. On many nights, he has kissed your forehead before he left for work. Haven't you felt the kiss anytime?" mother would ask.
 
"No, I haven't at all..." and then he would think to himself, "I should sleep light next time."
 
His mother would show him photos of his father, and then show the gifts and toys that the father brought for him. "Look at this grand house," she would say, "and the nice furniture, the food we eat. All these are provided by your father. If it wasn't for him, we would be on the streets."
 
His mother's words were sacrosanct for him. He never doubted her love, care or her stories. She was his world, his holy spirit, and he was thankful to the father for keeping his mother happy.
 
Every night the mother would narrate tales of the father's travels, and he would sleep in rapture. He would dream of himself going on those expeditions some day.
 
One day, when he got home,  he had a strange question for his mother. "Mom they were debating about the existence of God at school today. Most of my friends believe in God because they are scared of him, but I told them I believe in science. As long as there is no solid proof of God's existence, I don't think we should believe in him. Isn't it ma?"
 
"But you see his pictures all around. Isn't that proof enough, son? And there are so many tales of his adventures that everyone talks about. Can't you believe those?"
 
"Anyone can make up those stories ma! And those photos are just someone's imagination. I think I need more solid proof. Something that science can accept."
 
There was silence in the house. Mother paused from her cooking, turned back to look at the son, smiled once, and got back to her cooking.
 
"Okay, I got it. I will ask dad when I meet him. I will be meeting him soon, right ma?"
 
"Indeed, my son..." and the mother flashed her angelic smile once again.
 
 
 
.
The kid froze, partly in embarrassment partly in fear, as the mother stopped to hand over the food packet to the dishevelled beggar on the pavement. It was her daily routine. And as was his routine, the beggar would sit up, receive the packet, and thank her by briefly folding her palm into his hands. There would be routine tears of joy in his eyes.
 
"Why do you bother so much about him mummy?" asked the kid.
 
"My son! Just because someone is on the street, it does not mean they don't deserve care." replied a proud mom.
 
"But mom, there are so many people walking by. Why don't they care too?"
 
"I can't speak for the others dear. I just know that, for me, humanity means caring not just for our near and dear ones, but also for those who are disadvantaged and ignored. It's what makes us a good human being dear," and the proud smile shone brighter.
 
"But isn't it dangerous? He touched you with his dirty hands. What if it causes an infection? And what if he is mentally unstable and attacks you? Or follows us home mom?"
 
"Yes those risks are there, but that does not mean we stop caring, do we? And I will just get home and wash my hands thoroughly, isn't that alright?"
 
Kid agreed. And they walked on, towards home, dodging the uneven pavement and scurrying walkers. They had walked a few yards when the kid abruptly stopped and bent down to pick up a comb lying on the pavement. It was a shiny artefact that had fallen off some pocket or purse that was in a hurry.
 
"Hey what are you doing? Throw that away. Are you stupid to pick up like that?" thundered the mother.
 
"It looks so shiny and it was on the street. I don't think it belongs to anyone mummy!"
 
"Do you just pick up something lying on the street just like that? Do you have any sense? Look at all the people walking by. Is anyone picking up like that?"
 
"No mummy. But I was just..."
 
"Don't you argue with me. You should know it is absolutely wrong to touch something lying on the streets. Moreover, the comb may have been used by someone. It will have lice and dandruff and what not.."
 
"But I will wash it as soon as I get home mummy!"
 
"You won't understand.. " and mother plucked the comb from the kid's hand and threw it away. She kept cribbing about their soiled hands until they got home.
 
 
 
.
He looked at the commotion in the office, all the software engineers running around, trying to fish their way through Corporate waters, while the managers sat on the benches sipping tea and bantering.
 
That was how the corporate world was designed - a game of snake and ladders. One had to think like a snake, to climb the ladder. He laughed to himself about it and, though reluctantly, he rushed around too. Their project was neck deep in troubled waters, with deliveries slipping and all, and this was the best time for the software engineers to impress their managers. It could be their trump card up the ladder.
 
He looked at his manager, perched so disdainfully on his bench, ever so relaxed, while he rummaged through the project mess, hoping to find success. He watched the manager playing the crowd, as he baited some of the engineers with tasks, which they instantly jumped at and competed with each other to do it hook-line-and-sinker. He ran around too, because he did not want to be left behind, in impressing the manager.
 
Though he went up to the manager with a smiling face, deep inside he hated the man. "What a monster," he thought, "sitting up there like some God, while we run around. How haughty of him to be so insolent towards us. He gives us menial jobs that kills our self-respect. Treats us like some dumb fry. How can there be so much imbalance in the value of life, that he gets to sit there and I have to run around?"
 
Manager gave him the task to do a bunch of photocopies. So off he went to the machine with a curse whispering in his mouth.
 
As he photocopied, he imagined a day when he would be a manager himself, "I would earn a lot of money and take that long break that managers get," he imagined with a smile, "and then I would go fishing. Oh! how peaceful and enchanting it would be. That Mormon lake is always teeming with fishes. It would be so nice to sit on one of the lake benches, throw the bait in the water, and watch while the fishes run around. And I could catch myself a good one and make a nice fry. Oh so yummy."
 
"I got to somehow climb this ladder and get to where I can enjoy the goodness of God's great world," he concluded and got down to finishing the photocopying faster...
 
 
 
.
That was his location - the hub of traffic - that open space just beyond the steps which everyone in the office took to reach the cafeteria. And everyone came to the cafeteria at least once a day, either for breakfast or lunch or a simple platonic coffee. He knew those peak hours when the crowd came and those were the hours he would man his location. His location was prime as all the cafeteria crowd passed through it and gave him an opportunity to watch his entire target group.
 
He was very experienced in this feat now. He would stand at his vantage point for hours watching over the ladies that came to the cafeteria, stealing glances, intently watching their eyes. Searching for those eyes that looked back at him, and trying to find an invitation in them. His office was full of single mothers and divorced ladies, and that was his target group.
 
Many of the ladies would invariably look at him - given the weird combination dress he wore to attract their attention. And when they looked, he knew which ones were weak, and he could pursue.

"Just for one night..." was all that he would want. The strategy had worked for him many times and he had managed to get one-night stands with several ladies in the office. Yet it would not fill him, he still stood there and hungered for more. He had so much greed (read: libido) still alive in him...
 
He did not find any suitable ones today, so decided to cool it off and head back home. He would come back the next day and try again. There were always innocent ladies out there that he could prey on...
 
As he drove back home, the slow moving traffic irked him. He honked repeatedly to vent his anger, until he came to a traffic light. Now, this was one of those long-waiting traffic signals. So he shut down his car and waited.
 
As he waited, his eye fell upon a salesman, going from car to car, selling boxes of paper napkins. It seemed the guy was experienced, as he did not target the cars at random. He would stand at a vantage point and watch the drivers intently. That traffic junction was his location - the hub - where all traffic came to a halt and gave him an opportunity to watch his entire target group. The salesman somehow seemed to know which driver was weak enough to be pursued for a sale. He knew that amongst all the drivers in that traffic hub, there were always some weak ones that could be preyed upon. He seemed to have made some sale for the day, yet was greedy to pocket some more. So the salesman kept looking around...
 
He watched the salesman from inside his car and thought, "What a wretched existence! He seems strong in body and mind. He could very well have put it to good productive use, but look at him, doing such a useless job, running behind stupid individuals, trying to earn something that is so unsubstantial. Whatever he earns will only serve him for how long? Probably just one night? Oh how temporary! what an unsubstantial life indeed... huh!"
 
The salesman seemed to come towards him. He rolled up his car windows and began honking at the traffic.
 
 
 
.
"So I just ported my number out.." said the dude on the call with his friend. "What do they think they are, man? Such a slow data connection. It takes ages to load pages. Browsing had become such a pain. And when I called the customer service they give those fake apologies..."
 
"Yeah totally agree dude," replied the friend, "their customer service is so pathetic these days."
 
"Yeah man!" said dude, "These guys don't understand our generation man. We are the fast paced dudes. We can't wait like our boring parents did. Whatever we need, we need it here and now. If I need a song, it has to play right away. If my friend post on Facebook, I need to get the update immediately, else we fall behind man."
 
"Seriously dude. I don't know how our parents waited in those long queues and spent weeks waiting for their letters to reach home. They really wasted their lives."
 
"We are the 'Now' generation man. Whatever we need, we need it right 'Now'. Those customer service guys better get that. Else they wont stay in business for long. Okay I gotto go now man. The show is back on TV. Bye now!"
 
And dude got back to the TV.
 
"Son, have you finished that assignment that dad was guiding you for?" shouted his mom from the kitchen.
 
"There's still time ma. I will wrap it up over the weekend."
 
"Okay! what about your tomorrow's test. Did you finish revising for it?"
 
"Ma! I shall do it later. Will you please let me watch the TV? Why do you have to bring up everything right 'Now'? Damn!"
 
Dude upped the volume and immersed himself into the TV show.
 
 
 
 
.
"It's time to sleep my son," said the father, trying not to be stern with his boy who kept working on his school project late into the night. "I admire your interest and passion, but please don't ignore your health dear."
 
"But this is my favourite project papa," replied the son.
 
"I know, and that is why I let you work an hour past bedtime. Enough now. You still have time to submit it right?" inquired the father, "so why do you want to finish everything in one night dear?"

"I am the one who always submits the project first. I want to impress my teacher again, so I want to finish it..." the son continued working
 
Upset, the father strode into the room, tugged on his son's shoulder and pulled him to bed. "You should listen to daddy. C'mon get into bed now. You can finish the rest of it tomorrow. I know having a good impression is nice, but keeping good health is more important than that. There is no future without health my son."

The son was forced into bed, covers draped, goodnights wished, and lights switched off.
 
Dad then hurried back to his room, where an office conference call was waiting for him. It was his project team back in India. He sat in front of the laptop and addressed his project team. They had slipped on a deliverable and he was upset at them.
 
"Sir. We are working hard to wrap up well before the deadline. There were some setup issues which delayed us, else we could have finished it yesterday," said the team lead on the call.
 
"Don't give me those last minute excuses. You know we had discussed about surprising the client with an advanced delivery, didn't we? I don't wish to miss out on that chance. Can you finish it by your end of day today? That is my tomorrow morning?" asked the stern father.
 
"But sir, that gives us just a few hours into our day time. We will need a few more hours than that. Can we get two days please?"
 
"Why don't you get it man? If we delight the client, it brings so much more work for us. Impression is everything in our careers man. Look, I can only get you a day. Worst case, I want it by evening my time."
 
"Okay sir, that would mean we have one day and one night for us. Fine! I think we can do it. I will ask the guys to work the whole night. Should that be fine sir?"
 
"Yeah, please do that. Tell them to do some sacrifice. It's good for their future itself. And by the way, days and nights don't matter in the offshoring model. We live in a flat world now; where the flight of man goes beyond the cycles of Nature... So I will expect your mail latest by my evening tomorrow. Have a nice day. Bye" and father closed the call.
 
 
 
.