When The Gold Went On A Trip – A Children's Story

Part 1

In a village off Ujjain, there lived a merchant Sukhdev. He had a shop in the town selling fabric and garments. He did brisk business and built up his wealth over the years.

Presently, a spate of robberies took place in his and neighbouring villages targeting the community of merchants and traders. When the King’s soldiers were brought in, the robbers would lie low; and resume their nefarious activities once the soldiers withdrew.

It made Sukhdev nervous; he knew for sure sooner or later he would be visited too.  A mitigating factor in his favour was: being a miser by nature, his Spartan household and life-style gave no hint of his affluence or the gold he had hoarded.  Nevertheless he decided to act.

One day, his son and he loaded the casks with his gold on a couple of donkeys, threw some clothes over to make it appear he was taking merchandise to the market. They marched off to a jungle just beyond the village. Keeping their eyes peeled for any observer or follower, they reached an abandoned temple inside the jungle, a place no one ventured to. Holes were dug in the ground with the help of the tools they carried. Carefully, without making noise, they carried the casks and lowered them one by one into the hole. Half-way through the job, the son paused.

‘Father, I think there’s someone out there. Let me go and look,’ he said, pointing to a thicket at some distance.

‘Take these with you, there could be some wild creatures,’ the father gave him some small tools.

After a while the son returned: ‘Just as I suspected, there’s a man lying there. Looks to be a beggar. Not to worry, he’s dead. Probably starved without food. Just to be sure, I nicked his ear. No sound or motion, dead as stone.’

They moved more casks.

This time it was the father: ‘Let me also go and check. It’s better to be doubly certain – this is my life-savings.’

He too returned in a few minutes, ‘You’re right, Son, the poor guy is gone. Like you did, just to be sure, I nicked his other ear. He won’t be needing them anymore.’

They finished their job, all the casks lowered into the hole. The hole was filled back with the dug-out earth, the surface flattened, dead leaves spread over, all to leave no signs of the spot having been dug up.

That night and the following, they slept peacefully.

Part 2

The man was not dead yet. A destitute who had hit the end of road and did not even have the energy to carry out what he contemplated – suicide. Starving for several days, he had fainted near the bush.

The sharp pain on his ear-lobe woke him up to see someone attack him with a sharp tool. Fearing worse, he simply played dead biting the pain somehow.

His attacker withdrew to a spot ahead where an elderly man was burying in the ground some urns.

Ignoring the pain he watched the proceedings.

After a while he saw the elderly man heading in his direction.

Quickly he resumed his posture.

He felt being kicked a couple of times and then a sharp pain this time on his other ear.

With great difficulty, he once again played dead.

Luckily for him, the elderly man went back to the spot without inflicting anymore damage.

And in a short while he saw them both leave all the time looking around for any prying eyes.

He waited. They could come back looking for something they had forgotten.

Once the coast was clear, he mustered his last ounce of energy, not minding the throbbing pain, made it to the spot, clawed away the soil with bare hands to reveal close to the surface the lid of a cask.

He took the lid off and peered into the cask. Thrust his hand in and grabbed a fist full of coins in gold and silver. That would set him up nicely to begin with, he thought.

Part 3

Monsoon arrived with a bang in Ujjain and the surrounding villages. Torrential rain caused streams of water to wash away anything in their way.

Sukhdev was worried. It would be calamitous if the top soil was carried away and the casks were exposed.

At the first instance of the rains letting up he son and he went back to check if the casks were safe in their place.

To their shock they found the hole uncovered and the casks missing. They looked around for any clues and found none.

They returned home devastated.

His son gathered his wits and said: ‘Father, we’ll find him and recover our treasure.’

‘How? We don’t know who took it.’

‘Did you notice one thing – we never got any news at any time of a dead-body being found in these parts? Because he was not dead. He saw us burying the casks…took them away after we were gone. That’s him, the guy we saw.’

’‘Be it so, how do we find him? We know nothing about him.’

‘Nothing? Father, don’t forget we nicked his both ears.’

‘How do we still find him in the multitude? Do we go around entire Avanti looking at people’s ears? You’re forgetting one more thing. Even if this guy walks right past us, we won’t figure out.’

‘Why so?’

‘Simple, because he is head would be encased in a turban. Notched ears are no badge of heroism to flaunt about.’

The old man had a point…in fact, several points, the son thought.

Part 4

Days, months passed. The son was no nearer to figuring out a way.

Two years later,

It was a Sunday. It was a once-a-month ritual: The old man was sitting there in the back-yard getting his hair cut by a barber. To be followed by an oil bath.

The man was not his usual self looking woebegone.

Sensing it, the barber tried to perk him up by engaging him in small talk and some village gossip: ‘I shouldn’t be saying this…but you know your neighbour’s son is losing hair at his young age…’

Suddenly an ‘Ah’ moment. Who would know but the personal barber?

He checked if the barbers networked among their kind.

They did, it turned out, directly or indirectly.

That’s it – he tasked the barber to find out through his network, for a handsome fee, the whereabouts of a man in thirties, possibly quite rich, with both his ears nicked.

Part 5

It was about one long month before they struck pay dirt.

On the far side of the city, he was spotted. His ex-barber whom he had dismissed recently spilled the beans. The man was a top jeweller in the city claiming several royal families among his clients.

The father and son rushed to meet the dismissed barber. They assured themselves the jeweller was indeed their man. It was easy to find out where he lived. It was a huge mansion guarded like a fortress by armed staff.  All their attempts to gain an entry or even get a message through to him failed.

They thought enough about the options and decided to approach the King. Though the King himself could be one of the clients for the jeweller.

The King holding a public court was easier to reach; he heard them out and summoned the jeweller to appear before him.

When he arrived, the father and son recognized him despite his opulence. But he could not; for, he had only seen them from a distance and when they stood close on that occasion his eyes were shut playing dead.

The King briefed him on why he was summoned to the court.

The jeweller looked at the complainants for a few moments. And then he readily admitted:

‘Yes, I did take those casks away from where you had buried. I used part of the gold in one of the casks as capital to start and build my business in gems and jewels. And whatever I’m today, it is the fruit of my labour. The remaining stuff, in fact, remains in a safe room even today untouched. Was planning to…’

The father and son breathed a sigh of relief. At least good part of their hoard still remained intact.

The jeweller further offered: ‘…it is okay by me for you to cart away your stuff anytime you wish as long as I’m adequately compensated for what you did to me.’

The son countered: ‘What you took from one of our casks – wasn’t that already an adequate compensation? We thought you were dead – why didn’t you scream when you were hurt?’

’I feared for my life. You were two, ready with tools and here I was sprawled on the ground…’

The wrangle was cut short by the King.

‘Listen, folks, here’s what I think,’ the King turned to the jeweller: ‘Thankfully you admitted to it without any run-around. Knowing you to be an upright person of ethical practices, I want to be fair to you. There’s a choice for you: Either you similarly nick the ears of these two and return all the casks, making good what you took from them or simply let them go with their casks as they are now.’  

The jeweller thought for a moment like a businessman he was. Was notching the two worth the gold he had taken? He decided against and opted to return the casks as-was.

When they received the casks, the father and son checked: five carried their original seals.  The sixth with its seal opened…

…too was full to its brim.

It was his ‘Thank You’ for starting him off to a meteoric success.

End

Source: Inspired by a story in Chandamama (1955), Images from Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin’s, Inc. and shutterstock.com

The Dead Too Tell Jokes – A Dark Flash Fiction (Oxymoron?)

The man was sick – his hands that had killed and robbed manynow too feeble to move. Lights around the bed were dimmed for it hurt his eyes, save the soft glow of a solitary lighted candle set on the far-end of the fairly long bed-side table casting exaggerated shadows on the walls.  

Beyond the ubiquitous medicine bottles and flasks close at hand, the maid – a loyal servant of the house over many decades, now attending to the needs of the sick man – had also kept unobtrusively on the table a small picture of Shiva (*) in meditation, hoping against hope He helps her master recover.

She heard footsteps on the marble floor heading this way. A dreaded moment for her.

The footsteps stopped and a man in late thirties, well groomed, entered the room with a bustle. Looked at the man on the bed and then at the maid inquiringly with irritation and impatience.  

The maid informed him his father was tottering in and out of consciousness. Heartless as it might sound, she was in her mind thankful of being spared of another round of a nasty show-down.

“Good. I don’t know how – get his left thumb print on these papers, even if he’s dead. Will be back soon,” he shoved a sheaf of documents in her hand and set a stamping pad on the side-table.

She had seen them before in their hands.  

As he pulled the door open for going away, the sick man suddenly leapt up from the bed in one huge convulsion and dropped back dead. And caused a minor accident – his outstretched hand toppled the stuff on the crowded side-table cascading into the candle tumbling to the floor. It set the maid’s saree on fire. As she jumped in panic, the fire quickly jumped onto the sheets covering the dead man. Her screams, the flame and the smoke drew the other house-staff to the room; they quickly put out the fire before it assumed menacing proportions.

The damage caused by the fire did not appear to be heavy: The saree worn by the maid was charred for about six inches from the bottom. The full-length inner she wore saved her from serious burns. The papers in her hand too were both charred and soggy wet from the water they threw around. And the sheet covering the man was burnt for a couple of inches along the edges.  That seemed to be it.

Very quickly the staff cleaned up the place back to shape. All damaged clothes, sheets and robes replaced, toppled stuff put back where they belonged, the floor wiped dry

The son cursed his luck. Quickly collecting his wits, he saw it to be still a redeemable situation.

He made a show of checking on his father; and then sent away the rest of the staff playing down the fire. The maid was sworn to secrecy on his father’s death. A couple of phone calls made and he would get another set of papers in under ten minutes. So all was not lost.

His impatient wait on the couch was the longest he was ever in this room.

When the papers finally arrived, he summoned the maid.

When he lifted the frail left hand of the man, nay, the corpse to get a thumb print, to his horrorthe corpsehad blood on its hands, this time very much its own. And more, he found melted flesh oozing where the thumb once was.  

He immediately knew the ride from here was going to be rough or, worse, there might be no ride at all. He sat on the couch with hands on his head.

The maid was both sad – for, her master of long years, though evil, was no more; and relieved he was gone before the fire reached him; further evidenced by his face not set in any semblance of a grimace. Instead, strangely, there was a certain smirk on his visage, one might say!  

She certainly had another reason to be sad she was not aware yet: Her Shiva the Destroyer also disappeared in the fire!

Perhaps she might tell herself at that instant there was nothing more for Him to do, so He chose to go away quietly leaving the actors in the human drama unfolding in the house to their devices.

End

Note: Shiva is the designated Destroyer among the trinity of gods in the Hindu pantheon, also easily pleased and kind to his devotees.

Source: clipart.com and Guyana times.

Vikram And Betaal – A Story For Children

Vikram Aur Betaal or Vedalam stories are well known and the staple of many a story teller, grandma’s included.

It is originally based on ‘Betaal Pachisi’, written nearly 2,500 years ago by Mahakavi Somdev Bhatt. These are spellbinding stories told to the wise King Vikramaditya by the witty ghost Betaal.

The fabled King ruled over a prosperous kingdom from his capital at Ujjain. He had immense love for learning as well as for adventure. He was brave, fearless and with a strong will. Everyday he received many visitors who always brought gifts for him. Among such visitors was a mendicant who presented the King with a fruit on every visit. The king would hand over the fruit to the royal storekeeper. One day while handling the fruit, it broke and from the pop came out a ball of brilliant ruby. The surprised King ordered checking all the fruits, and, yes, from all of them yielded a fine ruby. He decided to meet the mendicant. However, the mendicant set a condition that the King must meet him under a Banyan tree in the center of a cremation ground beyond the city, at night, on the 14th day of the dark half of the month.

The King met him as decided. Asked the mendicant why he was doing this. There upon the mendicant said there was a task that only a King like Vikramaditya could accomplish. The King had to visit the northern-most corner of this ground where he would find a tree immeasurably old. There would be a corpse hanging from one of its branches. He must fetch it for the mendicant; for, the mendicant was seeking certain occult powers he would get only if a King brought down this specific corpse to him and if he practiced certain rites sitting on it.

Vikramaditya, obliged the mendicant. He would remove the corpse from a treetop and carry it on his shoulder. En route, the spirit in the corpse (Betaal) would narrate a story to the laboring King and on completing the story Betaal would pose a query. If he (the King) knew the answer, was bound to respond lest his head exploded into a thousand pieces. But if he did speak out, he would break the vow of silence and Betaal (in the corpse) would fly back to the treetop, leaving the King short of his destination! The King would go after the ghost and start all over again. And so on and on.

As the name ‘Betaal Pachisi’ suggests the Betaal told the King twenty-five stories. However, looking at the determination of Vikramaditya, Betaal finally disclosed the true motive of the mendicant. The mendicant’s plan was to practice certain rites sitting on Betaal (in the corpse) but he would also kill the King to get all powers to rule over the world. This put the King on the alert. In the end Betaal proved to be right and the mendicant tried to kill the King. However, Vikramaditya outwitted the mendicant and killed him.

Over a period of time many more episodes were added by imaginative story tellers that it grew into a big collection it is today. The stories piqued the young minds with those questions coming up at the end and the King’s intelligent responses.

Here’s one based on a vague recollection of the plot-line of a story I had read many decades ago in, yes, where else but Ambulimama (Chandamama):

**

Part 1

Once again, Betaal spoke up from the shoulders of Vikramaditya: ‘Hey, King, why are you engaged in this infructuous and risky enterprise?’ Eliciting no response from the King, Betaal continued: Looks like you are not going to be dissuaded. Okay, let me once more tell a story to take your mind off this tiresome task you wouldn’t give up. And, as always, ending with a question for you. You know well you answer it wrong and lose your head or you answer it right and you’re right back where you started. Here you go, listen carefully.

Once upon a time the kingdom of Kasigarh in the northwest was ruled by King Jayachandra.

The land was fertile fed by a perennial Himalayan river coursing through, the harvests bountiful. The subjects were content and happy under the fair and just rule of their King.

No surprise the neighboring kingdoms cast their covetous eyes on Kasigarh though no one made any moves.

All this changed when the evil Ugrasena came to power in the neighboring kingdom of Sooryadhara. It all began with sporadic incidents of their villagers, emboldened by the support of its soldiers, stepping over the borders and stealing cattle. Soon it became more frequent and escalated to harvesting standing crops on this side of the border. Resisting villagers were beaten up blue and chased away.

The news of these incidents of transgression reached Jayachandra along with a plea for protection from the affected.

Independently the King also received news from his sources in Sooryadhara of Ugrasena secretly mobilizing his forces for action against an enemy unspecified.

He was alarmed at these developments. The pacific minded King did not command a large army of soldiers to confront in conflict the much larger and powerful neighbor. He immediately sought the counsel of his ministers. It was decided to send out without delay an emissary to talk peace, even concessions, and restore normalcy on the borders.

The emissary returned snubbed – he didn’t even get an audience with Ugrasena.

By now the intentions became clear. Jayachandra had no option but to gather his forces together for a possible action, fully realizing they were far fewer and no match for their foes-to-be.

Not satisfied with the arrangements he had made, the King called for a session with his ministers on what else could be done to strengthen their defenses.

Many ideas were put forth. Of them, the ones deserving more serious attention were:

Could they buy peace? But then at what price? Also Ugrasena did not seem to be in a conciliatory mood. May be they should reach out to those advisors if any who had his ears.

Did Ugrasena make any powerful enemies they could tie up with? After all an enemy’s enemy is a friend.

Could they hire mercenaries to bolster their numbers? Were there any other force multipliers they could bring to bear upon the offender?

These were pursued with haste only to draw a blank at the road’s end. All, categorical no-go’s. They were not able to identify such advisors with access to Ugrasena who was rearing for some bare-faced aggression and nothing less. The kingdoms around Sooryadhara were all small like Kasigarh and would not dare to get into a confrontation. And, there were not many mercenaries around available for hire to make a difference to the numbers.     

Luckily this was when monsoon broke out over the land providing them some respite. For another couple of months, the river – a natural line of defense – swollen with stiff currents would be almost impossible to cross, the land would be rendered too boggy under their feet for men and horses.

But to what avail? While the gods for their part had done their job, the men still hadn’t a clue on how to save themselves from a certain defeat and depredation lying in wait.

The days rolled by.

With the rains showing signs of weakening, clearly time was running out for them.

Meanwhile, the subjects, becoming aware of their looming misery, began packing up and moving to safer places. The deserted streets – only making it easy for the enemy to march to the palace for the denouement.

And then one morning

Part 2

A commoner stood before the palace wanting to meet the King, claiming he could save the kingdom!

His clotheswere not of an itinerant.

He was taken to the court where the King and his ministers had assembled to ‘stir up a pot that had no stew.’

Asked to explain, he said he had a cousin, Shailendra, a great sculptor, taught, according to family sources, by none other than Vishwakarma himself up in the Himalayashis stone-works were so life-like.

Wait, is this the time to talk abouthis audience stopped him in irritation.

But he had not finished yet. Known only to the family, Vishwakarma had also blessed him with the siddhi – art, science and mantra – of breathing life into his pieces in stone!

Truly incredible! Was this possible? But what was it to their current predicament? His audience silent, incredulous and unclear yet where he was heading with this…

Thinking for his audience he said: ‘Just imagine, he makes a few fearsome monsters like fire breathing dragons and then

Suddenly the fog lifted. They gasped in comprehension. That’s itif that was possible, good heavens, it would completely turn, nay, overturn the table on Ugrasena and his forces. They couldn’t but smile seeing visions of the invaders fleeing in fear, death in their eyes like the proverbial bats out of hell.

Without further ado, at the King’s bidding, the man took them to Shailendra’s workshop.

Shailendra was taken aback to see the royalty suddenly appearing at his doorstep.

When he learnt about the purpose of their visit, he was even more aghast. He had never talked about it to anyone – of course the family knew about it – and, worse, he had never put it into practice even once before.

When he so expressed himself, the King pleaded with him to do it for the sake of the kingdom and all its subjects. And if he failed in his efforts, no harm would come to him, he was reassured.

Needless to say Shailendra finally agreed to undertake the exercise for the larger good of the people. 

On the following day, the plan was discussed in detail: What kind of monsters? How many? Where to position them? Etc.

And, Shailendra was left alone to chip away without any distraction.   

When done to perfection, his wards (in stone) were moved to their appointed station.

They waited for the assault to commence.

The rains had ceased, the river tame and the ground dry – just right for the invaders.

And then it happened

Part 3

To cut the long story short, the plan worked flawlessly exceeding their expectations.

The invaders ran for their lives and did not stop until they were far back into their land – for long after, they were in a daze muttering incoherently, their eyes fixed in fear and disbelief.

The job done within a few hours of action, the monsters now stood at their station lifelessly serving as a permanent and nightmarish reminder for the aggressors to stay away for now and ever.

The King showered Shailendra and his kin with lavish gifts. Made him a minister in his court. Allotted him living quarters within the palace.

It took a week or so for normalcy to return, people coming back to their abandoned homes, etc.

And then, Shailendrawent missing! Nowhere to be seen, neither in his new quarters nor in his old workshop. Nor anywhere in the kingdom.

All attempts to trace him failed.

It was rumored he was sighted by some, sneaking away on a horse-back heading for the hills under the cover of darkness.

So, my friend, that’s the story, concluded Betaal.

Now the question for you: Why did Shailendra walk away from all that one could dream of achieving in one’s career and life – recognition, honor, awards, wealth, royal patronage, etc. etc.? Think well before you respond. You well know it’s either your head or a repeat of a burdensome task for you. Over to you, Sir.

Vikramaditya broke his silence: The lesser of the reasons was he worried about being unceremoniously sacked very soon for non-performance as a minister – he was never equipped for it, but the King wouldn’t listen. The main reason however was: Though the King himself was fair and just presently, Shailendra wasn’t sure if the next request for his siddhi would necessarily be for public good. Power – more so, this kind of power – was very likely to corrupt. The sculptor may not have the choice to refuse – that’s why, he took the easy way out.’

Betaal lauded the astute King for his intelligence and flew back to his abode leaving the King short of his destination.

End

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikram_Aur_Betaal, merisaheli.com and Cambodian lions.

‘Scare Me In Sixty Seconds Or Less’

This little girl is Maria. She was five years old when she was brutally murdered by her own father. She was tortured and her eyes were gouged out and finally killed.

After her death, she returned as a ghost to avenge her father. This photograph was captured by a photographer who witnessed this shocking incident.

He later went to his studio to develop the film to see exactly how the girl looked like. As soon he saw the picture, a chill ran down his spine and felt that something was wrong. Just then he heard a knock on his door. He was trembling with fear when he heard it. He stood still for a solid minute but the knocking kept continuing and it became louder every passing second.

At last, he gained the courage and went ahead to open the door. He turned white as soon as he saw the sight. The girl from the photograph was standing right at his door smiling at him creepily. The next day the photographer was found dead at his house with his eyes gouged out.

The legend is that, the girl will knock on people’s door who sees this picture and kill them exactly the way she was murdered.

Sounds funny right? I don’t believe in all these things. I mean, who in this age believes in ghosts and stuffs. Even you’ve seen this picture now. Did anything happen to you now? Nothing right?

OK wait, there’s someone knocking at my door. I’ll be back soon. Take care till then. Won’t you?

End

Source: Nirmal Kumar, A photographer in the making.

Times Are Such…(50 Words)

So rude of the fellow. I ask him the time of the day. He just rushes past like he did not hear or see me. Well, the feud has to wait for another day. The honks are deafening – have to get to the other side before it turns green.

End

Games Ghosts Play

This story is a translation (not word by word) of an original in Tamil authored by Venkatesh Radhakrishnan, a prolific writer of, among many things, interesting short stories like this piece. His stories have a certain indescribable quality that pushes one to read more. It is difficult to capture in full the ingenuous charm of his words and the local color of the original. This is as close as I could get.

Here we go:

**

Well, there’s no place like Tambaram, if you ask folks here – I’m one of and with them. The fog in the morning, the cool breeze, entirely unknown to the citizens of Chennai living not too far from here.

Returning last night after a month of as much sweat as of toil out in Madurai and Trichy, abs oppressive if anything, it felt nice to be back and, out on a walk this morning with, on my wife’s insistence, a muffler wrapped chic around my neck.

In the caress of the gentle breeze, I craved for the warmth of a cigarette. Walked up to the tea-stall near the Kamarajapuram bus stand.

Awash with a hedonistic first lungs-full, I dreamily gazed around looking but not looking until…

it was such a shock to see him, Victor! The cigarette slipped from my hand. My face turned pale, mouth agape – a ripe uncut Alphonso would have had an easy passage, and goose bumps in full bloom (horripilation is the word for it? Sounds bloo#y pedantic, wouldn’t want to be caught live saying it).

Victor was my class-mate in college. We joined the air-force together and, at the expiry of our Short Service Commission, we opted for discharge at about the same time. Back into civvies, I took up marketing in the corporate sector and Victor set up a computer sales and service shop and later extended himself to mobile phones and devices. A fairly big outlet doing brisk business near Tambaram Camp Road.  Over the last seven to eight years, we had not kept in touch except for an occasional unplanned contact.

‘All fine, but what made you go pale?’ I hear you asking.

Well, last evening, over dinner, the lady of the house brought me to speed on happenings in and around during my month’s absence, trying as best as she could not dropping the thread, and me distracted by a succession of phone calls urging me to buy stuff we didn’t need – like a gadget that would read off from a news paper held in one’s hands, in 5 different languages and, what more, 12 different voices/accents! Had to sadly stop the poor kid mid-way in his script to say I had stopped reading news papers long ago, the world, since, looking a much better place to live.  Am digressing – getting back to where I was, the update from my wife included the sad news she had just heard: Victor was no more, he had passed away some months ago in an accident. Or was it some ailment, she said? Couldn’t be sure what it was, those dam#ed phone calls. Felt sad for him – a pity we had not seen much of each other over the years.  The lady further decreed I visit his house without delay and convey my condolences along with the reason for my tardiness – she had already done it for her part. Human mind being what it was, he was soon crowded out by other mundane matters demanding my attention until…

Now you know why my legs turned into jelly.

Knew a bit about ghosts and their ways of life from the stories I had read in my younger days; also, real life accounts from people who have exchanged ‘Hi’ and more with the denizens of the ‘spiritual’ world and lived to tell. Informed as I was, I did not put it past a ghost wanting to catch up with an old friend. They are often known to make amends for lapses in their living lives.  

‘Hey dude, when did you return?’ Victor (italics for the reason you know and quite a bother actually to keep it up) inquired, moving closer; strange, this again was completely at variance with my knowledge of them – they always kind of ‘floated’, walking firm-footedly was for us, the lesser mortals. Reasonable guy I was, I let it pass, putting it down to their evolution with time – they can’t be denied in the days of equal rights.

Pausing in his stride, he turned back to the shop-keeper to ask for a cigarette.

Again, an inconsistency. These folks are known – authority has it nailed down – to shun flame and fire. And here this guy was lighting up and smoking a cigarette with utter disregard and supreme nonchalance! What to say, this was Kaliyug when norms and rules did not hold – all foretold in our infallible sacred books; did this apply to Victor too, a non-Hindu? WTH (What The Heck), I wasn’t going to let the thought bother me, as I already had enough on my hands, you’ll agree. The situation demanded a clear head and that’s what it was going to be.

‘So, when did you come back?’ he repeated ‘himself’. ‘Didn’t know you had. And, sister (my wife) didn’t tell me either.’

Struggling to maintain equanimity – the circumstances were very trying, as you can see, I said: ‘Came yesterday evening, Victor. Was planning to visit your place today.’ Stopped short, with an effort, of adding ‘to convey my condolences over your unfortunate death.’

Victor: ‘It’s all fate. Who would’ve knownit was all because of that dam# car coming the wrong way

It was quite creepy – here I was listening to him describing the incident leading to ‘his’ transitionweird.

He continued: ‘Why do you look so ashen? Did you see a ghost or something? So how is sister (my wife) doing? Please do convey my regards to her. Why don’t you come home, say, sometime after eleven? One more thing, pal: Don’t have change on me. Pay for my cigarette too, won’t you? See you then.’

Before I could untie my tongue, he was gone – disappearing into the morning fog.

With a demeanor of a chicken under a spell trotting in a daze, I went up to the counter and paid the shop-keeper for the two cigarettes.

OMG, it seemed ghosts were common place in these parts. And to be transacting with them, selling cigarettesno one appears to sense anything untowardit didn’t matter time-tested laws of physics were being seriously challenged. How could they be facilely hobnobbing with roving ghosts? Though, to be fair to all, in some of those stories and anecdotes, ghosts do come across as well-behaved social creatures.

Suddenly my hands, palms and fingers went cold. I shoved them into my trouser pockets for warmth andfound my cell-phone.

I called up Victor’s residence.

After a few rings, ‘Hello!’ It was his Dad.

‘Uncle, it’s Venkat here, Victor’s friend, you remember?’

‘Yes, Venkat, I remember you. You sound flustered. Are you alright?’

‘I’m fine, Uncle, a little short of breath – it’s just the walk and the chill out here. Called for Victor. No particular reason. Is he around?’

Victor’s Dad: ‘Don’t know how you air force guys are so alike. He said he’s going out for a walk and would be back within the next half-hour. I’ll tell him to call you when he returns.’

I felt sorry for the old man. Must have been in his seventies. Still living under the delusion his son was very much alive and going about his routine as always. Sad.

I signed off politely and turned homewards curtailing my walk, not feeling up to it.

The aroma wafted in pulling me to the kitchen. Thanks to my wife. Hot coffee was just the thing for this weather. Took a couple of gulps (we don’t sip in the south of this land – coffee tastes so much better, we believe, when poured off the lips of a metal tumbler, hot and bitter, straight onto the back of the mouth),  

To my wife, ‘I met Victor on my walk. Had a few words with him.’ (not in italics!)

She was far from startled: ‘I suppose it was all perfectly inane remarks that he could perfectly do without. You never pay attention to what I say. And I suppose you didn’t express your condolences over his father’s demise in that unfortunate accident. What would he think of you

The still-half-full tumbler fell from my hands wasting good coffee on the floor.

**

End

 

A New Ending, Nay, Beginning (< 200 Words)

Good drabbles are difficult to come by – here’s another one. This is EagleAye responding to a picture prompt from here.

Includes a political sounding statement from the author that has not been edited. Note this blogger claims no familiarity with the subject to comment.

Raul was fishing off the Portuguese coast when he found her. Thalassa climbed into his boat as he hauled on the nets. The mermaid was lovely. Beneath her sea green hair were two huge, enticing, glistening…green eyes.

Thalassa told him of the wondrous castles below with lovely gardens. All the creatures lived in fairness and equality. She spoke for hours of the wonders of the deep.

“Your world seems beautiful,” said Raul.

“So is yours!” grinned Thalassa.

“How do you know about it?”

She held up a waterproof cell phone. “YouTube!”

Raul covered his eyes.

“I’ve fallen in love with you!” exclaimed Thalassa. “Don’t worry, I know how the story ends. I sacrifice my home, grow legs, and live with you!”

“Uh….,” hesitated Raul.

“Tell me more about your…my, new home! Isn’t it fabulous?”

Unemployment soared. Violent nationalism and racism spun out of control. The soon-to-be-elected populous president would likely deport Raul’s ailing Sudanese father, and otherwise wreck the country.

Raul sighed, “How about a new ending? Any chance I could grow a tail?”

End

Source: Original post here.