Friday, 29 August 2008


[Dedicated to the traditions of the sacred game of chess]

Toxic fumes came out of Akshay’s nostrils, contaminating the atmosphere. His cell phone beeped.

SMS from Dada. ‘Take 1 hr. Rod Blk.’

‘K.I’ll wait..Mke it fast’. He replied.

He took out Mohit’s photograph from his pocket and forcefully exhaled at it.

‘I’ll finish you bastard. You might be intelligent, hardworking an all. But I’m wicked. I’m smart. I can’t let you have Sunita.I’ve invested a lot of effort for her. And I want my dividends. Once you’re gone, I’ll be having her. And naturally the firm too. Then I’ll bump off the old boss one day. With that I’ll be the king of the firm.’ His nicotine clouded brain thought. The last puff, he inhaled it deeply, threw the butt down and stamped on it with the sinister vision of Mohit struggling under his feet.
Marine drive was getting busy. Many Mumbaiites had come there to unwind themselves. Akshay walked towards a nearby paan shop to have another Navy Cut. Old habits die hard. He’d started with a navy cut, and had not switched his loyalties although he could afford Marlboros and Davidoffs now. He was walking with great difficulty, for the prolonged sitting had frozen his legs. Though he was only in his late twenty’s, his body had the wear and tear of the middle age. The receding hairline-apparently caused by excessive utilization of brain cells; the darkened lips-really caused by heavy chain smoking; uneven stubble-possibly because of irregular shaving; undulating eyes-caused by the periodic shrinking whenever the thought waves attained a zenith; pointed nose and a solid square face gave him the look of a vigilant warrior, who was impatient for the next move. However, the look of a warrior would be negated by a protruding belly, of which the cause is untraceable. He was always on his toes. Whether it was his high ambitions and effervescent confidence or his lack of direction and restlessness, the reason for that, was yet again indeterminable.
He reached the shop and lit a Navy Cut.


He looked to the direction of noise. A child of about twelve years was playing chess with a middle aged man. They were sitting on a bench next to the shop. The child had given a white diagonal check to the black king with his queen. There was an air of self-admiration around the child. Probably his first check in life. But the opponent easily covered the check with a black bishop.

“Now you’ll have to take back your queen. What was the point in giving this check? Can’t you see, it was a waste move. You can’t afford to make such moves which don’t have any strategic importance in the game.” The opponent stated in a pontificating tone.

“But Papa, I gave you a check” The child replied proudly.

“It’s not about giving the maximum number of checks, you idiot. You have to put the king in a check mate. Now come on, make the next move.”

The queen was moved horizontally and another white diagonal check was given from the other side, followed by a loud “Check!”. The child was chuckling. The father was, obviously, irritated by consecutive futile checks.

“Stupid ass! Can’t you see my pawn standing right there? Wouldn’t your queen get killed by it? What are you thinking while making the moves?”

“Sorry Papa. I’ll make another move. I didn’t see it.”He implored

“Nothing doing. It’s not the first time you are doing this. No leniency anymore. Learn to play without the queen.” The pawn ruthlessly killed the mighty queen.

The child stood up, with his arms placed on his waist and with a long frowning which evinced all signs of childish tantrums. “I don’t want to play chess. Such a stupid game. I’m going to play cricket.” He announced rudely.

“Appu, Stop there..Listen” But he’d disappeared to the ground.

“This boy wouldn’t learn the game of chess. Always wanting to play cricket. Senseless game played by idiots! This will at least help improve his concentration. This ass wouldn’t understand. He and his cricket.” He pronounced cricket with a mocking accent.

Akshay was watching the proceedings with keen interest. That brought back to him the memories of his father. He was also a great chess aficionado and tried to inculcate the interest in young Akshay too. As he was a school teacher, briefing to Akshay the rules and regulations of the game didactically came spontaneously to him. Chess playing sessions would be held often, as an academic exercise with the fun quotient being nil. Contrastingly, Akshay couldn’t accept the rigidities of the game. The concept of each piece to be used in a structured manner was indigestible for him. The craving for shortcuts was in his blood. Accordingly he would attempt to move the knight horizontally, or make reverse movements for pawns, or vest in king the powers of the queen. His father would fume at such deviations and would reprimand him for desecrating the sacred traditions of the game. Thus the unfinished game would end up in Akshay getting chastised. His father’s rigidity reflected in his ideals too. He was an idealistic socialist with a nationalistic-democratic spirit. And his son-the perfect antitheses. He’d high ambitions for himself. The modest life of a school teacher didn’t entice him. Ideals were scoffed at. The course of life taught him another ideal-‘hook or crook’. Euphemistically, he could be termed as a pragmatist. But what he deserved actually was a nasty sobriquet. A second hander who had made his way through by mooching, looting, gratifying, coercing , backstabbing…one who’d attained ‘success’ not with his competence but with his ‘soft’ skills.

He went near the bench. “It seems you’ve won the game.” He said with a sardonic smile.

“Ha, Ha! I’m not playing to win. Just trying to teach my son the game.” His paan stained lips did the exercise. The reddish garnish stood in contrast with his dark face, which sent out an air of affability. The tall lanky body might have borne sun and wind for at least fifty years.

“Prashant Gawre. That’s my name.” He extended his hand.

“Hi. I’m Akshay Mahant” Generally Akshay was reticent to strangers. But he felt closeness to this man.

“I’m a clerk in Bombay Muncipal Corporation.” The other man said. “Often on Sundays I come here with my son. I love this cold see breeze, this crowd and the steamy wada-pavs made by this Kale.”He pointed towards a tea-stall on the foot path.

“By the way, will you have tea?” He asked.

“Ok. I don’t mind” Akshay said.

“Hey Kale ,don chai ani don wada pav.”

Chai and wada pav arrived.

“So, you are an engineer” Gawre asked.

“No kaka, I work in a law firm. You might have heard-Desai &Co.”

“Oh, means you are a vakil”.

“Technically speaking, I’m not. But a lay man like you could say so.”The lawyers’ arrogance, which treats those ignorant of the letter of law with sheer contempt, woke up from its slumber. “You know, I’m the smartest of the employees. Within a few weeks I’d be one of its partners.”

“Oh..You’re really great..Hmm…Do you play chess?” What prompted the query?-his awe with the revelation or his want to change the topic. Again unsure.

“I play chess with my life” Akshay replied.

“Ha,Ha! I play chess in my life”

“See, for me life is a chess board with my fellow beings being its pieces. I don’t know whether a lower division clerk like you would be able to understand such abstract philosophies of life. Anyways, I’ll give it a shot. Arrange the board. I’ll take a puff and come.”

Gawre arranged the board. Akshay came back.

“You know Gawre, I graduated from the prestigious Vidya International Law School(VILS). I missed the National Law School test just by a whisker. Anyways, I was the most brilliant student of VILS. I represented college in many moot court competitions. Many of my articles got published in college law journal. It goes without saying that, in academics I was unbeatable, though I used to spend very little time for studying and hardly attended lectures. Everyone was just envious of my success. Finally, I got the highest pay package offer from the present firm”.

He was a master in blowing his own trumpet. He just thought about the way he buttered the feet of the faculty-in-charge to get an opportunity to go for moot court competitions; the way he lured the student editor with liquor and the offer to help him get a girl, to get his articles published; the way he plagiarized his friend’s dissertation and appropriated to himself, which in turned helped him to get the placement. His friends turned foes. Foes turned friends. He couldn’t care less. For him they were the opportunity cost of success. Driven by lack of scruples and a flexible ego which could be vertebrate or invertebrate accordingly, he scaled many peaks.

The pieces were arranged. Akshay opted for white. The white pawn on the immediate right of the king was moved one step ahead (f2-f3). Black pawn in front of king moved two step ahead (e7-e5). White pawn on the second right of king two steps ahead (g2-g4). Black queen moved from d8 to h4 to give a diagonal check. Actually it’s a check mate. Game over!!

Akshay was taken aback. He couldn’t believe. Game over in four moves. The pride in his face fled to give way to shame.
“It’s ok baba, You’re a bit careless. Might be because of not playing for a long time.”Gawre tried to console.

“I’ll decide whether I’m careless or not. It was just a fluke. Come on. Rearrange. We’ll play another one. A real game” Akshay challenged.

Next game started. He played with rage. He massacred Gawre’s pieces indiscriminately. He didn’t care if he lost his own pieces too in return. Pawns, knights, bishops-all lost in the bloodshed. Akshay did castling and his king was now protected in a fortress of pawns and a rook. His king was in g1 and queen in g3. Gawre’s black knight moved down from c3 to e2 giving a check to king and an attack to queen simultaneously. That was power of the knight ,which hops around the board weirdly. Its check cannot be eclipsed. Either the king should be moved or knight should be killed. There was no way to kill it. He was in a helpless situation. Queen can’t be saved. He moved his king.

“You’ve lost your queen” Gawre said with a victorious smile.
That struck Akshay hard.

‘I’ve lost my queen…In fact, I’d lost her long time back’. Her faint image appeared in his misty thoughts. The only human being to whom he felt a genuine affection. The only person with whom he felt real happiness. The only female who had a place in his dreams. He used to call her affectionately ‘my queen’. But, when materialism infected his thoughts; when avarice blindfolded his vision, he forsook her. When, after the death of her father she had to take the responsibilities of the family which was sinking in debts, she became a dead investment in his terms. The grip on economics enabled him to quantify love. Besides, the advent of Sunita, his boss’s daughter, with a lot of fortunes hinging on her, precipitated his aloofness from her. When she needed him the most, he was after his own needs. To Sunita, he felt nothing. Not even a lustful desire. However, she was a promising investment. He often imagined her in place of Sunita, so that it would enable him to pursue her more efficiently.

He lost interest in the game. He was playing blindly.
“Why so dejected Akshay? Losing your queen doesn’t mean everything. You can still stage a comeback” Gawre encouraged.

“Losing my queen means everything to me.”

He’d no clue about her whereabouts. He took his mobile. He’d her number. Probably the old number. He tried it. Number not in operation. He’d lost his queen.
The game progressed mundanely for Akshay. It’s just a matter of time. Then the black queen moved diagonally from e7 to h4 to give a check. But the ‘h’ column was open for the white rook. It was too conspicuous to miss. Gawre lost his queen. Then black rook was placed right under the attack of a white pawn. Gawre lost his rook too.
Now both the players were facing material deficit. The remaining pieces also got consumed in due course of time leaving the entire board for both the kings. Game ended in a draw!

“Weren’t you willfully getting rid of your queen and rook?”Akshay knew that a good player like Gawre couldn’t make consecutive blunders.

“You could say so” he said smiling. “I was trying to bring back your interest to the game. There is no enjoyment in playing with a handicapped opponent”

“Isn’t winning important for you?”

“I’m not bothered about that. I enjoy playing, regardless of the outcome. I should have good thrilling game”

“You’re that fond of chess?”

“Fond of chess! At one point of time, I was an addict to this game. Even my wife was a chess enthusiast. We used to play a lot. Sometime we’d be so engrossed in the game that we’d forget all our work. It would be late in night, when both of us are hungry that we would realize that I hadn’t bought the groceries and she hadn’t cooked. Then what we’d do? To overcome hunger, we’d again play. She was a very clever player. But she left me ten years back..leaving behind a two year old child..and a chess board..”His voice stammered. He wiped his eyes and continued “Often during sleepless nights, I play alone. We knew each other so well that we could predict each other’s moves with precision. I’d be playing my part and her part as she would have played. Once my son masters the game, I’d be getting a companion. Anyways, leave that all. One more game.”

“Ok. One more. And only one more.”

Akshay looked at his watch. It’s been one hour. No sign of Dada. He gave a missed call.

Dada’s SMS came. ‘Hlf hr..’

Dada would eliminate the hurdle of Mohit, his colleague. Mohit was everything which Akshay wasn’t. Intelligent, sincere, hardworking and handsome. But he was naïve. However he stood in between him and Sunita. She was completely smitten by him. Besides, he was in her father’s, good books. If he marries Sunita, then he’d get the firm. When Akshay felt that his plans were getting jeopardized by Mohit, he decided to get rid of him. Now Dada would take care of that.

Next game started. This time Akshay was circumspect. Gradually, his hitherto subdued aggression came to forefront. He ingeniously contained the attack of Gawre. For him winning was all that mattered. That too at any cost.

His pieces were strategically placed. His white bishop (h5) was attacking the black rook (e8 ) which was adjacent to a bishop (f8), which was sitting next to the king (g8). The same rook was again in the line of attack of his rook (e1). His queen was on b7. The black pawn (c7) with the support of knight on d5 was preventing him from further attack. But that could be sorted out in a few moves. His king was safely placed on b1 behind a line of two pawns.

It was Akshay’s move. He could kill the black rook with the bishop or the rook. He was confused. After a lot of thinking he decided to use the rook to finish the rook. He was sure he’d win the game in a few moves. And he thought the presence of rook in the forefront would expedite his victory.

That made row 1 empty but for the king. Next was Gawre’s move. The queen who was sitting silently on a4 moved to d1. It was a ‘Check’. Akshay thought it was a time wasting technique employed by Gawre to delay the happening of inevitable. He looked for means to escape from it. The king couldn’t move to row 2 as his forward advancement was blocked by two of his own pawns. There was no way to eclipse the check. Nor to kill the queen. It was a checkmate. Had he not moved the rook, the check would’ve been prevented. Moving the rook cost him the game.

Akshay couldn’t stomach it. He was just one step away from the peak and then he slipped and fell into abyss. He whacked the chess board in anger ,flinging the pieces in all directions.

Gawre sprang up. “What the hell have you done?”

“You fucking idiot! You think you’re smart enough to defeat me with your jackass game. Bloody moron, No one can defeat me. You get me.”

“What’s wrong with you? It’s just a game .Don’t get emotional.”

“Don’t try to teach me you minion. I know how to live. Screw off, you rascal.” He shoved Gawre with full thrust. He fell down on ground. People gathered around him.
Akshay left the scene immediately. He walked to the other side of the road where Dada would be coming in a few minutes. He thought about Gawre ruefully.
‘Poor man! I shouldn’t have overreacted. It’s a fact that I don’t know to play chess and to feed my inflated ego, I hurt him. To conceal my inability ,I made him to suffer for his ability. I’ve been always like that, throughout my life. To compensate my ineptitude, I punish others’ competence. Such an unworthy life! I’m always insecure. I don’t know what true happiness is. I’m not satisfied. I’m not proud about my self. And my ego is a veil to hide my incompetence. How ruthlessly have I treated my parents, my friends, my well wishers girl…Oh God!!..Mohit too…I have planned to kill him…who regards me as his trustworthy friend…who has selflessly helped me on many occasions…and I’m repaying him by killing..Oh,NO!Why should he pay the price for my ambitions, which I cannot materialize with my own effort…I’m the gravest sinner..Fires of inferno wouldn’t spare me…God..Forgive me!’
Pangs of remorse clutched his mind. Again his phone beeped. Dada had arrived. He spotted his Black Scorpio parked on the other side of the road. He walked towards it. Dada came out of the car. A tall stout man with a callous face.

“Helloji.Sorry for being late. This Mumbai traffic is very irritating.”

Akshay didn’t respond to it. He was caught up in a moral dilemma.

“We won’t waste anymore time. Give us his photograph and address. And the advance too, the most important thing. DD, Ok” Dada continued.

“Well, you need not do anything” Akshay said hesitatingly.

“What do you mean?”

“You need not kill him” This time he said it boldly

“Then we will maim him. That would be cheaper too”

“No. You should not cause any harm to him. I don’t need your services.”

“What?Are you trying to fool us? Now what happened? He’s agreed to share the girl or what?
Anyways that’s fine. We are also glad to see a happy ending. So give us the full contract amount and we will also join the party”

“Why should I pay you if I haven’t received your services?”

“Oh poor child! Don’t you know our rule? Once a supari is given, its irrevocable. Give the advance now and we should get the rest of amount tomorrow. Everything will go according to our plan. Without the murder”

“No, that is not happening. Don’t try to coerce me. You don’t know my real power”.

“Who are you to raise voice against Dada”One of his companions jumped foreword punched him on his face with some kind of steel knuckles.

Akshay spun around and fell flat on the ground. He could hear a buzzing sound inside his head. He tried to get up.

“You rascals… I’ll call the police..” He murmured in his prostrated position.

Then Dada stamped forcefully on his chest. He could feel his rib cages breaking and puncturing his lungs. His heart was pumping hard and the brain got swollen.
“Tomorrow we should get our cash. Otherwise, we will be finishing you. Understand. Good bye”
They left the place

He didn’t make any effort to get up. He lied down there, gazing the setting sun. There was numbness in his body and gradually it waned away and pain gripped his body. His consciousness was withering away. People had gathered around. But no one bothered to extend any help. He had been touched by the underworld and that rendered him untouchable. Akshay lied down, languishing in pain, hoping that this trauma would exorcise the demons of his misdemeanours.

Thursday, 19 June 2008


[Disclaimer: The places, incidents and persons mentioned in this work of fiction do not enjoy any historical or factual accuracy and are purely fictitious]

“From the arguments advanced and on the basis of the evidence presented, this court is convinced that the accused, Mr.Vinay Raj, 35, is guilty of the offence of trespassing into an area of archaeological importance and causing substantial damage to the structure. It has been proven beyond the limit of reasonable doubt that the accused on the 30th day of April 2006, at around 11:45 PM, clandestinely stepped into the tomb of Maharaja Chandrakant Topde, defiled the premises and made an attempt to distort and rewrite the historical facts inscribed on the walls of the tomb. By committing the said offence, the accused has not only dishonored a historical icon but also hurt the sentiments of lakhs of people who regard him as a legendary figure of Anantpuri culture. The slanderous remarks written by accused on the walls of tomb are of such nature that, if Maharaja Chandrakant Topde was alive, it would have given him sufficient grounds to win a case of libel against the accused. However, by taking into account the inebriated state of mind of the accused during the commission of the offence, the odd behaviour displayed by him during the course of trial and the fancy arguments pt forth by him in his defence, the court feels compelled to infer that the accused is an eccentric and absent-minded person. From these and from other circumstantial evidences, the court feels that the act was not done with any malicious intent and it was a result of sheer inadvertence on the part of the accused. Hence, under the relevant provisions of Indian Penal Code and Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, this court sentences him to six months simple imprisonment and Rs.10, 000/- fine…”

The Anantpur District Court judge read out the judgment. I listened to it in a rather indifferent manner. I was trying to come to terms with the fact that the next six months of my life will have to be spent behind the bars. The policemen escorted me outside the court. Lots of people, including the media, had assembled to catch a glimpse of mine. People of Topde Sena were also present. They are the self-assumed followers of Maharaja Chandrakant Topde and the protectors of the Anantpuri culture. As soon as I came out they started their slogans.

Long live Maharaja Chandrakant Topde!
Jai Jai Topdeji!
Kill the Traitor!”

What ensued was a heavy pelting of stones. I was rushed into the police van. Luckily, none of them hit me. Amidst the chaos, the police van made its way to the main road, skillfully avoiding the agitating sainiks

The policemen inside the van were giving me tough looks.
“Scoundrel! See, what all mess you’ve created. How dare you do such a thing to Topdeji?”
Another one pulled out the collar of my shirt and yelled.
“Don’t think that you can easily get away with this. You’ll get to know the real might of Anantpuris in the coming 6 months.”
“Those raging sainiks can chop you off. It’s just a matter of seconds.”

‘Yes. I know that. They can do it’. I thought. Some months back, which means before the commission of my ‘offence’, the National Institute of Historical Research (NIHR) published a treatise which stated that Maharaja Chandrakant Topde wasn’t responsible for the ‘Great Recapture’ of 1750. It was mastered by his uncle and the French forces. It also went on to state that he was a very incompetent and irresponsible king, but on the other hand was a very gifted painter. That enraged the Topde Sena, who views him as the embodiment of machismo and bravery, and they ransacked the entire institute. And my commission of the ‘offence’ added fire to fuel. I would have perished long time back but for the police protection and judicial custody. Since I was a non-Anantpuri, they unwired their ire at all the outsiders. A violent campaign was orchestrated against them. That was the Topde Sena. They are capable of doing anything.

The van went past the statue of Maharaja Chandrakant Topde. A virile stature mounted on a horse brandishing a sword. Broad face with pride in his eyes. ‘This image doesn’t suit you Topde’. I reflected. I thought about that fateful night. Was it just a dream? Was it a drunkard’s hallucination? Did such a thing really occur, or as the court said, was it just a figment of my imagination?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m still trying to grasp it. No one believed it. No one can believe it. My lawyer termed it preposterous. Despite his strong objection, I stated it in the court. Court termed it fanciful. People termed it crazy. I don’t know what to term it. I’ll give you my account it. And you may decide what it is.

It was the 30th day of April 2006. It was supposed to be my last day in the city of Anantpur. I’d quit my un-happening job of an underpaid draftsman in an obscure Architecture firm. After letting out all the suppressed resentment, I took the door before it was shown to me. That liberation called for a celebration. Since I was a loner, the schedule of that solo celebration involved exploring the ghettos of Anantpur, doing an act of self-patting my audacity, by gulping shots of Old Monk Rum masqueraded as an innocuous cold drink in a bottle of Coca-Cola. It was drizzling a bit and I stood at the West-Side Bridge over Nila. Nila was flowing peacefully, carrying all the garbage in her womb. It was almost 11’o clock and most of the city had gone to bed. Then something caught my attention. The silhouette of a structure. Since I’d worked in an architecture firm, I could sense the charm in any building. I was sure that it was no simple building. It was situated right on the banks of Nila. There was a stairway running down from the side of the bridge, which lead to the building. But, to my chagrin, I found an imposing gate, which stopped my further advancement. There was a wall with barbed wire. I’ve jumped many walls in my youth. I jumped over it. In that state of curiosity and intoxication, the bruise that happened in my leg didn’t bother me much.

I walked towards the structure. There was an eerie silence hung there. The structure was an ideal example of architectural integrity. It was built in the shape of a chariot. And there was a triangular saffron flag fluttering on the top of it. I instantly recognized it. It was the flag of Topde Sena. After the vandalization of NIHR, which occurred a couple of months ago, this flag had become a very dreaded thing. Then, I learnt that the structure was the tomb of Mahraja Chandrakant Topde.

On the wall of the tomb the history of Mahraja Chandrakant Topde was inscribed. Born in 1727, he was a very efficient ruler. In 1748 British forces invaded the Kingdom of Anantpur and it was conquered. But Topde escaped incredibly from their hands. He spent two years in exile. During that period he regrouped his army and in 1750 he launched an attack on the British forces occupying Anantpur and recaptured his kingdom. Hence, he attained a cult status among the Anantpuris and the legend of Mahraja Chandrakant Topde became famous through folklores and epics.

I stood there astonished. It would be really great to have Mahraja Chandrakant Topde narrating to me the heroic manner by which he recaptured his kingdom.

“Well done my boy. I’m really proud of you. You taught those white buggers a great deal of lesson. Ha! Ha!” I patted on the tomb.

The drizzling stopped after a while. Moon came out of the clouds. The entire area was lit by prolific moonlight. I sat at the steps of the tomb, sipping my Old Monk.

After a short while, I heard the sound of footsteps approaching. I looked in that direction. I could see a tall slender figure, clad in white kurta-pyjama, coming towards me. He had a bearded face and his long curly hair was swaying in the cool breeze. I grew a bit apprehensive. It could be the guard coming to reprimand me for trespassing. But the demeanor of the person was not at all intimidating. I stood up. He came close to me. He folded his hands and greeted me by saying ‘Namasthe’.
It was done in a royal manner. A neatly trimmed beard, feminine lips and intense eyes exuding elegance formed the features of the face of the person who seemed to be aged around 40.
“I was on my way home. Then I thought I’d just visit the tomb of Mahraja Chandrakant Topde
and pay my tributes to him. After all he’s a great person, you know. I mean, he drove out those Dutch people, pardon, those British people. A great freedom fighter who forced British to quit India. I wasn’t doing anything else. You see, I’m leaving right now” I tried to explain. While doing that I discreetly stacked my bottle into my pocket.

He smiled and replied. “ I didn’t say you’re a trespasser. Nor did I ask you to leave. On the other hand you’re my honorable guest. Please be merciful enough to grant this humble host of yours to grant the privilege to treat you in the utmost perfect manner.”

I was bewildered. What’s he blabbering? What does this crack head mean by ‘honorable guest…’ and all? I concluded that he too was a vagabond drunkard like me. Topde’s tomb might be a haven of drunkards. He read my face and said.
“My honorable friend, this humble host of yours begs your pardon for confounding you by offering my hospitality without introducing myself and asking for your introduction. This humble host of yours requests you to not treat it as insolence from my part. But please be generous enough to accept the truth that on account of my not having received any guests for the past 254 years, I forgot to observe the appropriate protocol.”

That was the height. “Hey man, are you nuts.? I’m not your guest and you are not my host. OK.”I retorted. Then I went close to him and patted on his left shoulder and asked. “How many pegs one has to have to make him feel older by centuries?Eh?. Ha!Ha!Ha!” I laughed incessantly. I took out the bottle from my pocket, had a gulp and offered it to him.

He stood there nonchalantly and said. “I am Maharaja Chandrakant Topde”
“What? Ha!Ha!Ha! Great man. You happen to share the name of this hero. Glad to meet you Mr. Maharaja Chandrakant Topde. I’m Mr.Vinay Raj.” I shook his arm.

“Not only his name, my honorable friend. But also his life, his flesh, his blood, his mind, his dreams, his aspirations, his pains and his pleasures. And finally when his body was buried under lakhs of lies and his life was sealed by plethora of pseudo-legends, this spirit of him had to wander for more than 250 years in search of eternal salvation., which could be achieved only through the rectification of his image.”. The person who claimed to be ‘Maharaja Chandrakant Topde’ said with an air of authority.

I got really dumbfounded.” Did you…er…say ‘spirit’ or something?” I asked with an unusual stammer. I once again closely observed his face. I discerned that he’d a 18-centurish face and it bore a remote semblance to the portraits of Topde which I’d seen. Have I taken in too much of liquor so as to hallucinate about a ‘spirit’? I felt some kind of inexplicable sensation wrapping my body. I decided to leave the place.

“Mr. Topde. I’m sorry. I…I don’t know. I think I’d better leave. You know, I’m not accustomed to talking with spirits. No offence meant. OK. Take Care. I mean Good Night.” I reluctantly extended my arm. Then I withdrew it and walked off briskly.

The breeze was getting stronger. It upgraded to the level of a gale. I looked back. In that bright moonlight, I saw him sitting on the steps of, with his hands wrapped around the legs and head sunk between them. I could see his body shaking in a rhythm. Then he raised his head and looked at me. I saw tears in his eyes. Tear drops flowed out of his eyes and drew parallel lines on his cheeks before watering the roots of his beard. His eyes drew me to him like a magnet. I’d lost my volition.

He rose from his position. He joined his hands in an imploring gesture and said “My honorable friend, I can fathom. It would be difficult for you to stomach. An encounter with a spirit can come as an odd experience to anyone. Yet, I request you to spend some of your valuable time with me. I don’t belong to the genre of sprits being portrayed in your movies and novels. I’m a spirit who is endeavoring to enlighten the society about the real facts of my life and to demystify some of the myths surrounding me. But on many occasions, people have mistaken me for a ghost or a drunken lunatic. However, in you I find a receptive and intelligent listener. Please be merciful enough to accept the request of this royal spirit”. No sooner had he finished this than he broke down to tears. He retreated to his initial posture. I took a gulp from my bottle and went near him.

“Mr. Topde, it’s true that I’m a bit baffled by this encounter. Still, I’m willing to listen whatever you’ve got to say about yourself. Mr.Topde, please stop crying. This sort of behavior doesn’t befit a courageous king who recaptured his kingdom from his enemies.”

He instantly rose from his position and lashed out at me. “Stop it! This… this’d been harrowing me for the past 254 years. Neither was I a courageous king nor did I recapture anything. You know, I haven’t used a sword or a weapon in my entire life. I haven’t even killed a mosquito in my life. Then how can I recapture your idiotic kingdom from enemies”. His expression changed from that of a weepy lad to that of an ‘angry young man’.

I got dumbfounded again. “Hey Mr.Spirit, are you sure you are the spirit of the right person or have you got mixed up with some one else’s identity? As in, you sound more of like the spirit of some royal belly dancer! Only thing, the gender doesn’t match. But one never knows…the kings of that time…Ha!Ha!Ha!” I got a bit mischievous.

“No, my honorable friend. We spirits are not susceptible to such fallibilities. Now please grant me a chance to enlighten you about the true life of mine and to invalidate the lies being perpetuated in my name.”

“Yes, Mr.Spirit. You may…you may proceed.”
“I, Chandrakant Topde, took birth as the single issue of Maharaja Brihidishwar Topde and Rani Saraswatibai Topde in the year 1727 according to the Gregorian calendar. My father was a valiant and visionary king, whose only concern was the security and prosperity of Anantpur. Unfortunately, in the year 1742, when I was 15, my father breathed his last on account of contracting some chronic disease which the doctors of that time couldn’t diagnose. And, as the custom was, I was coroneted as the next King. Since I was a novice in the nuances of governance, my mother’s only brother, Mr. Balwant Kishen Rao , resigned the post of minister of the kingdom of Cholamandalam, and came to Anantpur to guide me with his wisdom and gradually he assumed the status of a de facto king. Honestly speaking, he was a man of scruples and that erudite man, who’s committed to Anantpur, tried his level best to inculcate in me all the desirable attributes of an ideal king. However, all his efforts went in vain. For, from the very young age itself, I’d not evinced any intrest in matters of governance and armory skills. What fascinated me was the world of art-world of colors, to be precise. When I was young I used to graffiti the walls of the palace with my colors and imagination. Although they seemed like crude strokes of color, they bore different meanings and conveyed many thoughts But my parents and relatives, who were bereft of artistic and aesthetic sense couldn’t appreciate my efforts and tried to dissuade me from pursuing my passion.

My behavioral and thought patterns were not in conformity with that of the image of a normal prince. I was, in fact, a royal aberration. Things like hunting, archery, wrestling, oratory, adjudication and diplomacy skills didn’t amuse me. I always kept to myself and my world of dreams. My uncle and the royal teachers grew apprehensive about the future of Anantpur. To an extend that was justified too. When I was 18, along with painting, I added one more vice to my life-Gita. Oh my honorable friend, she’s a goddess. She’s the daughter of one of the employees of the palace. She’s the ideal muse for an artist and the beauty she possessed and elegance she exuded inspired me to take my paintings to new zeniths. Moreover, she was endowed with artistic sense too. She’d possessed a good taste of music. Our romance blossomed and love flourished, with the River Nila and countless twinkling stars being the only witnesses to that holy sacrament. We’re living a surreal world of ecstasy.

However, as all love stories have, there were people who’d resolved to spoil our happiness. My mother and uncle couldn’t bear the truism of my live with a girl who occupied the lower strata of the financial and social hierarchical order. They cajoled; they coerced; but I was adamant and asserted my freedom of choice. Finally, my uncle adopted a very callous measure and forcefully deported Gita and her family to some undisclosed place. They were probably killed too. I never knew about that. I couldn’t bear that loss. I ran amuck through the corridors of the palace, crying and yelling out the name of Gita. Rumors spread among the subjects that their king’d gone mad. Meanwhile, my uncle tried to force me into an alliance with the daughter of king of Ratnagiri. I was taken there against my will to meet her. I whined before that princess not to accept me. After that she openly declared in front of every one that she’d rather marry my horse, which was more masculine! That insult was more than bearable for my uncle. We instantly left the place. I was reprimanded through out the journey back for my misdemeanors. Finally, my patience broke. I lashed out at him, for separating Gita, and me for spoiling my works of art and for acting against my will. I accused him of trying to usurp my authority. For the first time I asserted my royal power and declared that I’d renounced the kingdom of Anantpur and that I’m going to be a sanyasi. I ran into the forest. When they followed me, I took out the sword and threatened to kill myself if they tried to chase me. They gave up and I ran deeper into the forest. After two days of wandering, I found an ashram and I tool respite there. I spent about three months there. I didn’t become a sanyasi as I’d vowed. I tried to detach myself from the world. But the reminiscences of Gita were haunting me and I tried to recreate her and her love through colors.

It was 1748. On day I got the news that British forces had invaded Anantpur and it got crushed under their might. I instantly set back for Anantpur. I also came to know that my uncle and my mother had escaped from their hands and their whereabouts were unknown. I could see British presence in my vanquished kingdom. It was actually the result of collusion between Ratnagiri kingdom and British forces. I also heard that the Prince of Ratnagiri was to be coroneted as the titular king of Anantpur soon.

I wasn’t actually affected by the downfall of Anantpur. It can be said that I was indifferent to it. I came back to my ashram. After some months, I got the news that my uncle and mother had taken political asylum in the kingdom of Pandyaraja, which was being controlled by French forces. In the year 1750, my uncle with the help of forces of Pandyaraja and France recaptured the kingdom of Anantpur. At that time I was afflicted with chronic tuberculosis and was bed-ridded.

But you wont find these facts in history. My uncle wanted the clan name of his sister to survive with its prestige intact. He initiated rumors that it was me who’d spearheaded the campaign and it was because of my strategy and planning that the recapture of kingdom happened. But in that process, I got injured and courted a heroic and proud death. Then this tomb was erected and the body of some anonymous soldier, which was badly disfigured, was buried as Maharaja Chandrakant Topde. He took the help of historians and fabricated fake documents to validate his claims. He commanded musicians to compose ballads about my legend, writers to write about my heroics, sculptures to erect valiant statues of mine. His efforts were a reply to Ratnagiri king and an effort to prove the ‘masculinity’ of Topde clan.

My honorable friend, that was one of the greatest manipulation of history ever done. Subsequently, my uncle’s son was adopted by the Topde clan and thus the family survived. Thus, as a result of the ingenious distortion of history cleverly engineered by my uncle, I earned a name for a feat, which I never accomplished. When this entire hullabaloo was going on in my name in my kindom, I died a silent death in the ashram because of chronic tuberculosis, in the year 1752. But I was never able to have a peaceful after-life existence, because of this undeserved fame. Ever since, I’ve been trying to rectify that. But, as you know, a dead man has his own limitations. My honorable friend, please be my medium. Only you can help me. Mr.Vinay Raj, now that you are enlightened with the knowledge of truth and with the aid of a spirit, do something to invalidate the lies about me and let the world know about the real Chandrakant Topde, who was an artist, who was a lover and who was everything but what he is deemed to be. Please help me to attain eternal salvation so that I can hope to spend the rest of my after-life with the spirit of Gita. Please…Plea.s.e….P..l..e..a..s..e…P…l…..e……a…..s……e……….”

I was completely astonished by this. I was not able to bear the sight of the image of great Maharaja Chandrakant Topde falling down like a house of cards. And the fact that he himself, or his spirit, was responsible for this plummet added to the implausibility. I finished my bottle and threw it away. A sudden sense of dizziness got over me and I fell flat on the ground. I lied there for about five minutes. The request of Topde was still echoing inside my head. I got up. But there was no Topde! Not even a trace suggesting that such a person existed there! As if he’d vaporized. But his words were rattling against my ear. I looked around. I could see some paint cans lying near the compound wall which was being painted. I went there and took it. There was a brush too. I came back to the tomb and blackened the wall on which his history was inscribed. When the blackening was over, I took the raid paint and wrote his ‘real’ history on that black background. My experiences of being a draftsman came in handy this time as it enabled me to do the job with dexterity. Once the job was done, I fell asleep there.

Next morning, when I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by policemen. Then followed the police custody, bail, remand, interviews, debates, threats, attacks, trial, incrimination and finally the conviction. I’m still not able to figure out what was it. Was it a ‘real spirit’ or was it some idiot’s prank? Or was it my tipsy hallucination? I don’t know. The only thing I know is that my next six months food is from Anantpur Sub-Jail Canteen.

Friday, 18 April 2008


Mehboob Rehman was an accomplished writer-thus concluded the article Mehboob Rehman had been reading.

‘Am I?’. He thought.

The rickety Maharashtra State Transport bus was advancing through the National Highway. Although it was quarter past midnight, the road was crowded with vehicles. Pune was still hours away. The cool breeze seeping in through the window disarrayed his grey curly locks. The fetish for window seat was something he carried from his childhood, among other things. Concerning that he was quite uncompromising.

The literary review article did not help Mehboob Rehman to mitigate the boredom of bus journey. It aggravated his doubts nonetheless. The reviewer was just reiterating what the entire world had been doing for the past five-six months. ‘Literary maverick’, ‘Torch-bearer of the new renaissance’, ‘Wizard of words’, ‘Juggler of emotions’-these were some of the titles he’d earned on account of his accomplishments in the field of literature. His ascent from obscurity to fame was something phenomenal. People found his works riveting and rejuvenating. As a result, his works occupied the top places in chart busters. The final note of his symphony of success was his clinching of the Nobel Prize for literature. That set his readers into a state of frenzy. They found exaltation in extolling him; derived energy from the encomiums heaped upon him. He too let himself to indulge in that ecstasy. His works brought him fame; facilitated his hedonistic pursuits; helped materialize his love. However, the latter was a peak accomplished just for the sake of accomplishing. For, the recipients of the reciprocation of his feelings were the benefits accruing out of his talent, not him.

His works, which had the power to break all stereotypes, highlighted the inherent goodness of mankind and celebrated the triumph of the human spirit. His works were concentrated on some issues and his characters were the reflection of philosophical ideals. That trend could be traced in all of his works- be it ‘Sagacious Saga’- where the story of an underprivileged person materializing his dreams against all set backs was narrated with utmost perfection or in the ‘Lock and Key’ which depicted the intricacies of man-woman relationships or in the collections of his short stories ‘On the River Bank’.

The most acclaimed and at the same time the most controversial of his works was ‘The Gospel of Logic’. His attempts to marry mysticism with rationality were construed as blasphemous.

In fact he’d tried to state through this that religions had destroyed man’s self-respect and had kept him under shackles. They demotivate man and fill his mind with guilt and remorse. That irked the religious fundamentalists. Nevertheless, the book was very popular.

He intended his works to be moralising and purposeful. Through his works he advocated equality, respect for the human spirit, rationality and reasonableness of every act. Through his satire and sarcasm, he lashed out at the discrepancies of the society. However, the social malaises and stigma, against which he wielded his pen, of which the elimination he desired to accomplish through his writings, not only remained there as earlier but also spread its tentacles and wrapped the society tighter. He felt that his writings failed in its purpose. He felt that his forty eight years of life was futile.

Thereupon he started to hate felicitations and reviews. He felt that every word of praise uttered in his favour was accompanied with a subtle reminder of his failure. He even developed an aversion towards writing. He wanted to escape from the sight of the world. The bus provided him with shield of anonymity. That was why he chose a rusty State Transport bus to travel from Nagpur to Pune. Most of the passengers were farmers who were carrying there agricultural products and migrant labors. They wouldn’t recognize a Nobel laureate amongst them. Most of them were sleeping. He was not feeling sleepy. The only thing straining his eyes was the light beams of the vehicles coming from the opposite direction. He was against the idea of wasting nights by sleeping. Nights were for creation and recreation.

He could sense some kind of uneasiness building up in his stomach. It gradually rose up through the length of his body. His mouth turned bitter. He spat it out. He couldn’t comprehend whether it was the constant curves the bus had to negotiate or the stench within the bus or the disgust at his own self which made him feel nauseous. He tried to suppress it. But the pressure was increasing. The bus stopped at a bus station. He sprang out of his seat and ran out. He threw everything out of his stomach. It made him feel light and dizzy. He sat on the ground.

The bus was preparing to leave the station. He didn’t want to get in. He was feeling very reclined in his present pose and he didn’t want to disturb it. His baggage was inside the bus. After a few minutes, the bus left. He felt relieved of the baggages of his past.

He rose from his position. He learnt from a board that the place was ‘Bhusawal’. It was 1:30 AM. And it was freezing cold out there. Further down the road, a group of people were warming themselves around a bonfire.

He walked towards them. He wanted to ask ‘When is the next bus for Pune?’. But he refrained himself from it.

‘Why should I want to go to Pune now? To attend that literary festival? No. I’m not going.’ He decided.

He joined the circle. They were very welcoming. They didn’t pester him with queries. He had a glance of the place. It seemed that modern civilization had a peep of this place and shied away from setting its foot here. The people were enjoying their drink. He was also offered a drink. A drunken man is always generous. Initially he was a bit reluctant. But after much persuasion he accepted it. The tipsiness was racing though his nerves to conquer his brain. He felt very relaxed.

He reminisced about his life. It was through the book collection of his grandfather he had his first acquaintance with the world of literature. Charles Dickens and Mark Twain fascinated him. Later he was thrilled by the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. His mind and thoughts were immature for Shakespeare. But he knew the characters through the recitations of his grandfather. That left an indelible imprint of characters like Mark Antony, Julius Caesar, Othello, Iago, Hamlet, Shylock etc.

But as he stepped into college he distanced himself from literature. He had taken up engineering for his graduation and was marvelled by the possibilities of technology. He discarded off literature as a wastage of human resources and talents which corrupts man’s thoughts by stimulating his fantasies. Thus the flame of creativity in his mind was blown out; or rather it was subdued. But one day, it flickered very brightly and engulfed his mind. Without his knowing he was shoved to writing. It was like some invisible agent forcing him to write. Thus took birth his first short story-‘The Scare-Crow’. It got published in the college magazine. That was appreciated by all. Later on, on many occasions, he felt the motivation to write arising within himself. It was very involuntary. And unpredictable. It could come at anytime. Anywhere. Thoughts ejaculated out of the copulation of his mind and brain.It was very painful to have his mind pregnant with a story seed. It would be harrowing and rattling his inner self impatiently to take the form of words. When the trauma becomes unbearable he would exorcise his mind of fiendish pangs of story by penning it down. It wasn’t satisfaction or self-admiration he felt after writing something. It was plain relief. He’d feel relieved of the agony of bearing it.

The urge to write got stronger periodically. That led him to quit his lucrative job of a software engineer. He got into full time writing. There were days he spent without speaking, eating or sleeping. He got completely engrossed in it. People thought he’d gone insane. Gradually his works found acceptance. Laurels came in search of him.

Later on he started to feel skeptical about the worth of his works. He’d a confrontation with the futility of his endeavours. He always aspired for the materialistic betterment and rational enlightenment of mankind. He thought his works would motivate human race to that effect. But he saw deterioration in those two aspects. Society was reduced to a bunch of demoralised souls, who’d lost purpose and motion in their life. World was getting plagued by all malaises-war, poverty, bigotry,intolerance, hatred, paranoia. Progress of mankind had become stagnant in all fields. And he remained as a mute spectator of this decadence.

His companions had slept off. His eyes too were getting heavy.

‘I strove for a failed cause.’ He thought.

‘I won’t write again. My life is a failure. I’m a loser.’

He fell flat on the ground.


He felt someone prodding him. Slowly he opened his eyes. It was morning. He saw the blurred vision of a face with a thick moustache. From his attire he learnt that he was a police man. He rose. The policeman was looking at him in a quizzical manner.

“Sir, I missed my bus last night. I’m going to Pune”. He said.

The policeman didn’t say anything. He walked away.

The sense of anonymity gave Mehboob a tinge of pleasure. Yet, he was feeling very weary. The vow taken by him not to write again was pricking him. But he decided to stand by it.

He walked down the road. The town was waking up from its slumber. He walked into a small restaurant.He placed his order for a pohe and chai. Besides him, there was a man and his little daughter in the shop. She aged around six or seven years. With large round eyes and a small ponytail, she resembled a doll. Her father was persuading her to have food. But she was not budging. He tried to cajole her. She was adamant. He tried to coerce. And that made her sob. The father’s face evinced an expression of helplessness. Then he took out a book from his bag. Mehboob recognized it at first sight. It was the Marathi translation of his work ‘The adventures of the little clown’. It was one of his initial works. It was a collection of hilarious short-stories involving a little clown.

The father started to read out a story out of the book. There was a gradual change of expression in the girl’s face. There was a tinge of smile in her weeping face. Her eyes sharpened with keen interest. She was totally involved in the story. As he was reading out the story, he extended a spoonful of food to her mouth. Knowingly or unknowingly, she consumed it. As the story was progressing the quantity of food was diminishing. When the story got over, the father and the girl burst out into laughter. Sounds of her chuckle filled the air. Mehboob, who’s keenly watching the developments, sprang out of his chair. He took the girl in his arms and kissed on her cheek. His eyes moved to tears. Her father sat there bewildered.

“You know, I wrote this story. This is my creation” He said proudly.

“I must say that you are an accomplished writer”. The father replied.

Mehboob’s joy knew no bounds.

“Yes. I’m an accomplished writer”. He declared with full conviction.



Wednesday, 30 January 2008


A truck full of assailants clad in white shirt and white mundu and carrying sickles!!

A hero, with rage in his eyes and a heroine in his arms!!

The assailants thrust forward with a roar.

The hero jumps in mid-air, twirls and spins around, kicks and punches the villains and they are thrown all around. After performing a la Superman/Spiderman act, which proved incomprehensible to the laws of physics, the hero and heroine retires to some fancy land to dance off their victory in the backdrop of uniformly clad zillions of dancers. Then the titles scroll up. The crowd is happy to see their favorite hero emerging victorious again.

Ravi too joined the crowd’s frenzy by clapping and whistling. He himself does not know how many times he’s watched the same movie. He carries in himself an unquenchable thirst for movies; and therefore he took up the job as the theatre staff of Vasantham theatre. The job was not a very demanding one. He has to sit in the ticket counter before the show. Sometimes he’ll have to help out Projector Operator Balu to change the reels. Often, after the second show he’ll have to take the film posters to different parts of Chennai and adore the walls with colorful graffiti announcing the arrival of new Tamil movies. The job made his life proximate to the tinsel world. It allowed him to roam around freely in the maze of fantasy, getting astonished by its glitter and glamour and to be in oblivion of the vicissitudes of life.

Balu was his soul mate. Though their salary might seem to be a pittance when compared to the hefty amounts drawn by the corporate and IT professionals, for them it was too much. Their only philosophy of life was pursuit of pleasure; however their quantum of pleasure was much shrunken. Relishing on Chettinad Biryani now and then; getting heavenly sloshed on desi booze; admiring the beauty of abundantly endowed goddesses of earth, although the aestheticity of the act was maligned with a tinge of lust-these were the different facets of their pleasure. Moreover, their profession has made their life inundated with deluge of movies, which gave new manifestations for their fantasies. The quintessence of Epicureanism could be found in their lives. They ridiculed the people who were living under the yoke of the hands of the clock. They were accountable only to their own self and had no obligations arising out of family, society or any other blah. In all sense, Ravi and Balu were free birds who were exploring all available vistas of hedonism.

One day, Ravi and Balu were immersing themselves in the tumult of Marina Beach. Twilight at beach was as usual bustling and it was characterized by an unusually strong sea breeze.

“Hey, Ravi, listen.” Balu opened the conversation.

“Yes. Tell me”

“I’m leaving Chennai. I got a new job in Mumbai”

“What?? Why you’re leaving this job??” Ravi was perplexed.

“I secured a job as a laborer in a construction company. They pay me double this salary”

“But Balu, Why? Then the workload will also be the double. They’ll make you work like a dog. Then what’s the use of a high salary? You wouldn’t be able to even think of spending it. By the end of the day, you’ll be fatigued like anything. I can’t fathom what made you to make such a strange decision!”

“Last week I got a letter from my mother. Father has fallen ill and he won’t be able to work anymore. And the creditors are pestering her a lot. Moreover, my sister has to be married off. With my father falling ill, the responsibilities have passed on to my shoulder. Now I’ll have to take up a job, which pays me more. I don’t care about the hardships which I might incur.”

“Come on Balu!! What responsibilities? Don’t try to be like one among that pack of fools who ruin their life in the name of responsibilities. Listen. We’ve only one life. Try to enjoy it to the maximum. Don’t bind yourself with all that obligations.”

“Enough Ravi. I don’t want to listen to your absurd philosophies anymore. I fell prey to your allurements and had been leading a meaningless life hitherto. I had enough. I owe very much to my family. I can’t afford to be selfish. And you won’t ever be able to understand the meaning of family values; for you’ve run off from your family. Whenever you are free from your pursuit of pleasure, just think about the worth of your life. Anyways, Good Bye!” Balu walked off.

Ravi was left stranded in the beach. Balu’s sudden change of mind bewildered him. He wandered aimlessly through the beach. The sun had sunk into the waters. The lighthouse was throwing light in all directions in an attempt to guide lost boats. Ravi sat down on the sand and reflected about his past.

He grew up in a lush green Kerala hamlet situated in the lap of Western Ghats. His father had died when he was very young. His mother brought Ravi and his brother Chadran up. He perceived his mother as a tyrannical character. She was very fussy about virtues like discipline, punctuality, hygiene, sense of responsibility et al. And these things were a strict taboo for Ravi. His mother took the pain to send him to school. There he bunked classes very often to watch movies and to play cricket. On the other hand, his brother, by being an embodiment of all cardinal virtues, was a perfect antithesis of his. He was his mother’s last straw of hope.

Ravi stepped into youth hood. He spent his days sleeping, eating, gossiping, gambling, boozing, watching movies- in fact doing substantially ‘nothing’. One day he was sent by his mother to withdraw some amount of cash from bank for Chandran’s admission purpose in an Engineering College. On the way back he ran into an old friend of his. They decided to regain the luster of their friendship with the help of liquor. Reminiscences about their past adventures impelled them to rediscover the thrill by indulging in gambling. Eventually, the nostalgia about the old friendship siphoned off a lump some amount of the withdrawn cash.

That event dealt the coup de grace to Ravi’s bonding with family. His mother couldn’t bear it. She lashed out at him. “I’ve borne you for ten months. I’ve looked after you for twenty years. Yet, you haven’t done any good for the family. Now, you’ve ruined your brother’s life. What a wretched being are you? Now I’ve only one request. Please do me a favour by complying with it. Please go away. Go away from our sight. We don’t need you. You are a thorn in my heart. Flee off to any other place. We’ll live somehow.”

That was enough for Ravi. He took the remaining cash and landed up in Chennai. He never felt any kind of remorse over his acts. Rather, he felt relieved to be free of his bondages. Here, he discovered a turf where he can act in furtherance of his self-interest by exercising his discretion to the maximum. . The notion of child repaying his debts towards parents did not make any sense to Ravi. He firmly believed that since they have given birth to a child, they have to duty to take care of the child and the child has the right to be taken care of.

Alcohol filled the vacuum left by Balu in Ravi’s life. On a rainy night he was having an inebriated stroll. Then a motorcycle, apparently running out of balance, knocked him off the road. He hit his head on a lamppost and fell into a sewer. There, in that filth, he lied unconscious for hours. Later, some Good Samaritan showed the mercy to hospitalize him. Thus he ended up in Royapettah General Hospital. He had broken his hand. On the top of it, he was diagnosed with acute dengue fever.

Ravi felt like being in an inferno. The nurses seemed to be agents of Lucifer. They had no compassion. He was subjected to merciless injection; forced to swallow insipid tablets, which killed his appetite. The conditions of the General Hospital were worse than the sewer. The over-crowded place was filthy and stinky. Ambulances sirening, babies crying, stretchers rattling, wounded and sick people moving around: everything got into Ravi’s nerves. The disgust, anguish and above all the unbearable pain were harrowing him.

He closed his eyes. The image of mother came into his mind. Whenever he fell ill, his mother used to serve him some medicine made out of household herbs. That had a pleasant aroma. She’ll sit near him and feel his temperature. Her gentle touch itself had a soothing effect. She’ll enquire periodically about his state. She’ll caress him; feed him. She oozed compassion. And her love and care will vanquish the disease.

Here he was languishing. No soul is concerned about his plight now. No one was bestowing upon him any sort of kindness, any sort of humane consideration or any sort of pity. He’s completely abandoned. Tears rolled down his cheek. ‘ Oh God!!. What a worthless creature am I? My mother toiled her entire life for me. And I’ve always been a cause of anguish for her. I’m paying for the grave sins I’ve committed. With my obscene riotous life, I shattered my mother’s expectations. I ruined my brother’s life. God please give me an opportunity to mend my ways’. He soliloquized remorsefully.

After three weeks he got well. He caught the next Kerala-bound train to reach his hamlet.

It was past ten at night when he reached his village. He proceeded towards his house, with apprehensions about the way he would be welcomed. He knocked at the door. His mother opened the door. She couldn’t believe her eyes. She was very much astonished. She hugged him.

“Where were you my dear son? Where had you been? After you’d left I’ve had no mental peace. In that fit of fury, I might have blabbered something nonsensical. Who asked you to take them seriously? And not even a single letter in these three months. Hey Chandran, look who’s come. Your brother. God!!. I can’t be happier than this… Have you eaten anything? Shall I prepare dinner for you?..Look, you’ve grown thin and dark..Lack of proper care is very much evident”

Meanwhile Chandran came. He ran towards Ravi and embraced him.

His family thus witnessed days of rejoice. The homecoming of the prodigal son was celebrated grandly. Subsequently, he got a job as a cashier in a shop. He was happy that he was handling responsibilities and leading a productive life.

Months passed away. Ravi felt something missing in his life. The job was very monotonous and hectic. He had to wake up very early in the morning. And the entire day he was hooked up to the shop. By the time he reaches home, it would be late in night. He was getting salary and was supporting the family. But he felt that his life was very mechanical. There was no time for friends. No movies. No life for himself. Moreover, all his acts were under the scrutiny of his mother. He imbibed in himself a kind of void feeling.

One day he stumbled upon his old gang of friends. And history repeated. He came home very late, that too completely drunk. His mother couldn’t tolerate that. She scolded him profusely and harshly. He also retorted back and vented out his frustrations. And that resulted in a major altercation.

Next day his mother couldn’t find Ravi in his room. Instead she found a letter in his desk

Dear Amma

I’m leaving to Chennai. I’ll get my old job there. My mentality is so programmed that I won’t be able to adjust to your discipline and schedule. Moreover, my staying here would bring disgrace to our family. But Amma, I assure you, I’ll be more responsible this time. I’ll support the family. I’ll take care of Chandran’s education. Here, I won’t be able to live according to my disposition, which is very whimsical. A bird that’s tasted the nectar of freedom will loathe confinement; it will find it more loathsome if the confinement is voluntary. I just want to fly like a free bird. Please forgive this capricious son of yours.

With Love