Friday 22 September 2017

Short Story 9 : The Perfect Lover.

Theme : Plot Twist.
A surprise end to a story can be as satisfying a reading experience as any other kind of story.The author usually attempts to give the reader a fair chance to figure out what’s going to happen.

Even though a twist ending is supposed to give the reader a jolt, it should seem perfectly reasonable in hindsight. Not all the twists are sudden, but they would be surprising or shocking in some way or the other.


The Perfect Lover

The laugh reverberates across the long hallway. It wasn’t a real laugh, more a kind of giggle. The kind of giggle that I’d heard from shy schoolgirls who enjoyed the ogling attention of their amorous boyfriends.
I’d have found the giggle rather cute, under any other circumstances. Except that I am supposed to be alone here. Damn, I am alone. Aren’t I?
But the Chaaiwala’s words resound in my head again.
‘Saab, that house is haunted…the man of the house, Christopher sahib, died there 2 years ago. He never left…’
So, was this Christopher giggling? I feel cold needles prickle up my spine.
‘Oh, don’t be silly, there aren’t any ghosts here.’ My mind admonishes me.
‘Who was it then?’
‘You’re hallucinating, that’s what it is,’ the dark devil in my mind replies. ‘Remember, you aren’t quite normal…’
‘Right, that makes sense.’ I reply wordlessly, to the devil and heave a sigh of relief. My devil is rarely wrong. I get up from the ancient sofa and head towards the stairs, to get to the bedroom.
‘HEHEHE,’ It is just behind me this time.
I stop short! There it is again, louder now…
I turn slowly, the hair on my neck standing up like the spikes of the porcupine I’d seen at the zoo a few years ago.
No one. Not a single soul.
I hear the wind howl an eerie tune outside, through the single open window. I peer into the dimly lit hallway again. One large, faded and sunken sofa, that I’d just vacated stands solemnly against the far wall. A worn out wooden table is at the right corner with a lampshade that emanates a glow from a dusty zero-watt bulb. An ancient grandfather clock stands grimly next to the table, I notice that it is quarter past eleven.
I am alone, I reconfirm. So, who giggled? 
I decide to make a run for it. I turn and begin to dart at a gallantly fast pace up the stairs. I dash past the long corridor, with rows of dead people staring down at me from the paintings on its walls. I rush into the single bedroom on the right, with the black door, high ventilators and no windows.
Panting, I shut the door and lean against it, trying to catch my breath.
‘Yeah, congratulations, moron! You just outran a ghost…’ Devil clapped a slow applause in my head.
I take a deep breath and look around the empty room carefully.  
You aren’t really afraid, are you?’ Devil is disdainful.
I don’t reply. I do not have an answer to his question.
Sometimes, all I want is to do is revel in the thrill of being afraid. Simply because, I enjoy the fear. I have placed myself in dangerous situations, many times in the past, only to enthrall myself in the sheer thrill of imminent terror. I wait. I try to make no sound, even as my ribcage heaves in a weary protest.
 ‘You’re a 44 year old man. An old man. You can’t run about, not with those arthritic knees of yours…’ Devil is curt and ruthless, as usual. ‘What if you died or something?’
‘Shut up, Devil! Don’t be daft…’ I scold him. ‘I must listen…’
I stay motionless for a full two minutes. Silence. Complete silence. Good. Maybe Devil is right. I was hallucinating out there in the hallway…
I take in a deep inhalation and move to the single cot on the right. My half unpacked suitcase is still lying on it, the contents spilling haphazardly over the uncovered mattress.
Damn, this room stinks…there’s this flowery stench here…! That estate agent must have sprayed air freshener before I moved in…yikes. Why couldn’t he have just left the delicious aroma of the dilapidated dwelling for me to enjoy?
I lift the suitcase and plunk it on the dusty floor, with the clothes still hanging out of it.
I lie down on the bed and reach for the switch to turn off the dim yellow light.
I freeze, my hand halfway to the switch.
A cold sweat breaks out on my back. He was here…Christopher, that guy who died in this house was here, in my bedroom!
‘What the hell are you gonna do now?’ Devil mocks me.
‘Maybe I should talk to him. Should I tell him to leave me alone…?’ I ask Devil.
‘Try,’ Devil sounds bored.
I clear my throat and begin ‘Er…’
My voice comes out in a croak. I clear my throat again and say ‘Hi…er…Christopher? Is that you?’
‘Hehe,’ comes the reply.
I rub my eyes and look around the room. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was somewhere to my left. That’s where the voice came from.
I gaze at the empty place where I thought he stood (or sat or knelt, for all I cared) and wondered what I was supposed to do next. Devil, was quiet too, for a change.
‘Hehe’ the voice was closer this time.
‘He seems to have a very limited vocabulary’, Devil observes. ‘Maybe, he lost his words when he kicked the bucket…’
I pull my knees closer towards my chest and feel the cold wall press against my back, as I involuntarily move away from the voice.
I rack my brains to recall what the rumor was. How had Christopher died?
‘Heartbreak.’ Devil supplies.
‘Yeah, Christopher died waiting for his lover to come to him...’ I remember the Chaaiwala at the village telling me this, earlier in the evening.
‘Is he angry or something?’ I ask Devil, mutely.
‘Ask him, how’d I know?’ Devil is a merciless scoundrel.
“Err. Christopher…how are you?’ I enquire the empty room.
‘I am the same,’ is the faceless reply. The voice is rather pleasant, for an unseen ghost that is.
‘Ask him why he died…’ Devil urges me.
 ‘Christopher, how did you die?’ I venture.
‘Maybe, he was murdered,’ Devil’s voice emanates undisguised hope and excitement. ‘Maybe, it was gruesome too…!’
‘I died, while I waited,’ the voice is devoid of emotion. A fresh tingle moves up my spine.
‘Waited for whom?’
‘My lover, he never turned up’
‘So, the rumors were true! He was gay,’ Devil has a mirthful tone now.
‘How did you die?’ I hazarded.
‘I sat on that sofa in the hallway, waiting and waiting…’
I hear the muffled bang of the window downstairs. I must have forgotten to latch it up properly…
Christopher is very quiet now.
‘He is miserable, oh, he is so heartbroken…this is amazing!’ Devil’s crimson dress flares around his waist in rhythm, as he begins a slow solo-tango across the damaged floor of my mind.
‘Er, how long did you wait?’ I ask, to fill the awkward silence.
‘Two days. 48 hours…’ Christopher sounds wistful. ‘I died after that, an awful ache in my chest…it killed me. I died at exactly five minutes to twelve, in complete darkness…slowly, silently...alone.’ The voice seemed far away, somehow.
‘So, he did die of heartbreak, after all. How boring! I hoped someone slashed his throat at least…’ Devil sighs, shaking his head in disappointment. I see his red-horned crown slip a little, even as he continues to tango around the bumps in my cranium. 
‘Did he come?” I ask, trying to sound sympathetic. ‘Did your lover come?’
‘No, he didn’t. He never arrived…,’ Christopher replies. ‘I was terrified that he had returned to Wiltshire without me…I’d even worn that new grey suit he liked so much…’
‘So what happened after you died?’ I ask, trying to imagine the expression on the nonexistent face.
‘This guy is a mental case…,’ Devil announces. ‘More mental that even you, wow! That’s something, isn’t it?’
‘Was, was a mental case…’ I correct Devil, silently.
‘You’re having a ridiculous conversation with an invisible ghost, in a haunted old mansion and you still have the gumption to correct my grammar?’ Devil is incredulous. ‘Are you crazy or what?’
‘What happened to your lover, Christopher?’ I ignore Devil.
‘Guess what I did to him…?’ The voice is playful.
‘What did you do to your lover, Christopher?’ I ask, adopting the tone my mom used to, when she suspected I stole her carefully hidden chocolate cookies from under the lingerie in her drawer.  

‘I went looking for him the next night. To his manor, down at the foot of the hill, by the lake.
Foot of the hill by the lake? That sounded a lot like the house I lived in a couple of years ago…
‘What a coincidence that is,’ Devil sounds a little scared too. I notice that he has stopped dancing now.
 ‘What happened then?’ I ask, trying to hide the shake in my voice.
‘I saw him at the half-moon shaped balcony of his bedroom, chatting…with someone,’ Christopher sounds a little agitated.
‘Alright, then?’
‘Then, I saw who it was! The heartless cheat…he had promised me that he would never talk to Her again…’
‘Who? Who was he talking to?’
‘His wife, who else? He should never have married her in the first place...that was his biggest betrayal to me…’
‘Ohhhhhh…his gay lover had a wife…, haha, this is excellent!’ Devil revels in Christopher’s sorrow. ‘Such an apt misfortune to befall him…’
‘And my sis? She knew I was in love with him and still…she could’ve refused his proposal…he would’ve stayed with me then…’ Christopher’s voice has a strange edge to it.
‘Ohhhh hell…he married his gay lover’s own sister…what a bloody jerk!’ Devil is ruthless in his character analysis.
‘What happened then?’ I ask Christopher.
‘I waited till it was quarter to midnight and crept up the stairs to his room. I remained hidden behind the drapes till she left...I watched them laughing and making out in the moonlight…imagine the pain I was in…’ Christopher’s tenor is an odd mixture of fury and sorrow.
‘Lovely, just lovely!’ Devil’s twirls on his toe, in a blissful pirouette.
‘What did you do next?’ I’m breathless in anticipation of what happened next.  ‘Did you confront him? Did you ask him why he hadn’t come to see you..?’
‘No, I just killed him.’
I freeze. Devil, freezes too, for a change. He stands motionless on one toe in a half-whirl; both arms raised high above his head, his mouth wide open in a gape.
Christopher didn’t need any more urging this time.
‘I pulled out the butcher knife he’d gifted to me on my 35th birthday from under my trousers…and stabbed him. At exactly five minutes to twelve…’
‘Lovelier and lovelier! This is the best of all hell broken loose…!’ Devil is moving his claws to and fro in the air, a frenzied dance of a wild animal in heat.
‘Shut up, Devil’ I say aloud. ‘Sorry Christopher, that wasn’t for you…’
‘Three times. I knifed him three times. One for the first day of waiting. One for the second day of heartbreak. And the last for the treachery of marrying someone else...’ Christopher’s tone holds unmasked delight.
 ‘I love this guy! Muwaaaaah!’ Devil brings his long red-tipped fingers to his lips and blows a loud kiss across the room. ‘I simply love him!’
‘Behave yourself, Devil!’ I am shocked at his impudence.
Christopher doesn’t seem to mind.
‘Heehee…my perfect lover…he died when I pulled the knife out, after the third time I drove it into his chest. And now, here you are…’
The old grandfather clock chants a cheerful chime to welcome the witching hour.
Christopher’s form materializes in front of me, little by little, as if by magic. His skin is pale, paler than it used to be in life. He is attired in the grey suit he wore when he died, the one that Devil loves so much. He wears the dimpled smile, too…the smile that Devil finds irresistible. 
I follow the drip of beautiful little tear-shaped drops onto the floor from the butcher knife hanging loosely from his right hand, in utter fascination, as they circle into a perfect pool of scarlet on the pale yellow mosaic.
‘Ah, blood. My blood…’ Devil begins to hum an exultant tune under his breath. He holds out his arms, as if in anticipation of a long-awaited embrace.
‘Yes, Chris my love, here I am. I have finally come. Come to you at last…’ I grin, as I look down at the three gaping wounds on my chest.


Picture credits: Google images.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Women Writers' Fest 2017 - A Review

I am the kind of person that buys more books than clothes. I don't buy make-up or any of those girly-thingies that most women make a beeline for.

Perhaps, I'm abnormal. Or maybe just a writer, pursuing my dreams. All I need to make my day perfect is a good book, a steaming cuppa and eventually, a few blank pages with a pen and I'm sorted. 

I have attempted to find a publisher for my novel of 84,000 words, that I had penned three years ago. This is despite the fact that I was one of the top 10 authors selected out of more than 2000 entries (from all over the country and abroad) to pitch my book at the Bangalore Literature Festival, LitMart, 2015. 

And now, while my book lies in the back burner for no convincing reason that I can come up with, I've joined a Write-club, (a brain child of renowned author, Sharath Komaraju) in the recent past, where I've been trying my hand at short stories, which has given my writing a new lease of life.

A host of events have been happening in Bangalore in the recent past. 

The bookworm-author in me gravitates me towards all those events related to books and of course, writing. 

The #WomenWritersFest  was one such event that was held on the 24th of August, 2017. 

It was with great enthusiasm that I landed at the BFlat bar in Koramangala. One is bound of wonder why a bunch of women would discuss books and writing in a pub, of all places. But that's exactly what happened.

After all, who needs booze to get a high, when there are books and authors to give you company?

The venue was jam-packed when I arrived. Three of my Write-Club buddies made it to the fest as well.

Here is a short review of each event in the order of occurrence. I have also taken the liberty of letting you know what I found to be the main takeaways for me as a writer, at the end of some topics. 

A] Blogging: 

The first discussion on Blogging had inputs given by the queen bloggers on the panel: Nandita Iyer, Monika Manchanda, Vidya Sury and Charukeshi Ramdurai. The discussion answered many questions of the eager crowd, the more interesting ones pertaining to the monetary repercussions of blogging. 

Main Takeaways: 
The importance of self promotion of our work or brand on social media, despite the brickbats, cannot be undermined. 
Build a thick skin to deal with trolls, social abuse, nitpicks, etc.
Don't stop writing, learn to move on.

B] Mythology: Does gender influence the narrative?

The second topic of discussion was something that most of us identified with. Mythology writers Arshia Sattar, Anuja Chandramouli and Soumya Aji discussed the various nuances of mythological characters that they had recreated in their respective books. They brought out the fact that Valmiki's Ramayana is open to various interpretations and our own exposure to it is based on who narrated the stories to us.

The most interesting part was when it was pointed out that some things that women talk are understand by all other women despite the cultural, country, economic differences that divide them. The same is true for men as well. We, as writers need to be aware of this crucial fact.

Main takeaways:
Stop using common words in your writing. It makes you a better writer, because you look for synonyms when you do that.
There is no single version to a story, because it is always a reflection of the time, characters, etc.

C] Be Seen, Be Heard : Storytelling, Positioning & Networking Workshop

The pre-lunch workshop conducted by Ameen Ul-Haque of the Storywallahs fame was truly amazing. Mr. Ul-Haque who initially seemed the shy guy amidst a bunch of women quickly showed us his true mettle, when he engaged us in interactive writing exercises that involved self-analysis and soul-searching probes. He also gave us encouraging inputs on publishing. 

The real highlight of the workshop was when he ended it with a poem. The classic rendition in Hindi seemed to reach into each one our souls to rejuvenate hope...hope to never give up, hope to carry on till the end, to success. It was apt for the scores of aspiring unpublished writers that had assembled there.

Main Takeaways:
Publishers look for authors who already have a following. Build an audience or readership.
Rejection is part of life. Do not lose hope.
Self-publishing is not about publishing, but about selling. 

D] Finding that funny bone: Women writing humor

After a short rejuvenating post-lunch speech by the Curator for Women Writers Fest, Ms. Shaili Chopra, the next session was underway. This was the most humorous part of the whole day, because it was about, well, humor. 

The queens of comedy writing namely Jane D'Souza, Rachna Singh and Itisha Peerbhoy left the audience in splits. On a serious note, it also brought out the dearth of women humor writers in the country.

Humor is a sign of intelligence. THe feminists in the crowd had a ball when it was revealed that women have a far better sense of humor than men do. Its just that men take more shots at humor, though they are less funnier than women.

The social conditioning attached to women being humorous, such as judgements, reactions, stereotyping, expectations, tendency of living upto patterns, etc were discussed.

Main takeaways:
     Humor is harder to write than we think it is.
Sarcasm versus humor is a tight rope walk. 
Make fun of someone in a way that it is not offensive.
Self-deprecating humor is funny.

E] Graphic Novels: Pop culture or Literature redefined?

The next discussion was something that I could not identify with on a personal level. I was raised devouring comics and novels for most part of my childhood and continued the same recipe through my adult life. 

Graphic novels have never been my cup of tea, which was why I found the session rather boring, no offence intended to the panelists Shweta Taneja, Kaveri Gopalakrishnana, Devaki Neogi, Aditi Dilip and Milan Vohra. We did glean some useful inputs about the amount of sheer hard work that went into the making of graphic novels, which probably explains the elevated cost of the same.

F] Igniting Young minds: Why stories still matter to children.

The next session brought back the waning energy of the audience. The panelists Mala Kumar, Aparna Arthya, Priya Muthukumar and Vidya Mani got most of the mothers in the crowd to pick up their ears and indulge in animated interactions about the importance of storytelling in their children's lives.

Main Takeaways:
Best way of earning for children is through Storytelling.
Tweak the stories in accordance with the changing times and contexts.
Answer the 'why'. Build the concept and context, irrespective of the subject.

G] The Eternal Short story: Why short stories work and how place contributes to the narrative.

This was the session was that I had been waiting for all day, here was the topic of my main interest at last. 

We sat at the edge of our seats, all ears, when the panelists, Shinie Antony, Rheea Mukherjee, Gita Aravamudan and Jahnavi Barua began to discuss the various nuances of  short stories. 

I missed most of the next session, which was a replica of a fireside chat with Priyanka Pathak, author of the (in)famous book, 'Godman to Tycoon' on Baba Ramdev. 

I stepped out for a cup of tea and to my absolute delight, I got to chat with Mrs. Gita Aravamudan for quite sometime. Her work on her book on female infanticide in Tamilnadu and her subsequent book on the topic of surrogacy held me spellbound. 

It was with a sense of fulfillment and elation that I exited the venue that evening. Our Write-clubbers' discussion, spilled over to almost another hour of course (on the pavement, no less).

I'm already looking forward to the next edition of the Women Writers' Fest, 2018. Hope it arrives next year, with more amazing discussions and more authors to glean knowledge from. 

Until then, I continue to write and chase my dreams...


Wednesday 13 September 2017

Short Story 8 : Diamond Demon

Story Theme : Rebirth. 

The plots of rebirth stories can be very compelling because they contain protagonists who are unlikeable, but may come good in the end. This could be because the main character is hurt or damaged and has allowed that feeling to consume everything that is good about them. They are not meant to be liked or sympathized by readers at first, but there maybe a redemptive revelation that may (or may not) allow them to undergo a rebirth.


Diamond Demon

This is the perfect chance. Its now or never.

The woman is looking the other way. I glance at my watch fervently. I have very little time left. I should’ve grabbed the stash by now…

‘How long does it take for the cream to work?’ she asks innocently. What a moron she is.

‘Aunty, it only takes two weeks for your skin to start glowing like a teenager’s…,’ I reply with practiced enthusiasm, even as I eye the lustrous stones around her fingers and neck. My mind has already begun a furious calculation the net worth of her jewelry. God, this woman is worth a few millions when she’s adorned with all this jazz…

She uses her right hand to rub the white stuff vigorously over her worn out, wrinkled cheeks. I look at my watch, impatient for the ‘magic’ to happen. What’s taking the damn thing so long to work?

Maybe she isn’t inhaling enough of the stuff to make her woozy…I’m running out of time!

Her husband is due to return from the washroom any minute now…I feel the all-too-familiar rush of adrenaline shoot through my system, as I snatch the perfumed vial from her wobbly fingers.

‘Here aunty, let me help you with that…see these wrinkles here? I’ll show you how to make them disappear,’ I say, quickly scooping a generous amount of cream from the bottle and massaging it around the area above her lips.

‘Close your eyes and just inhale the soothing scents, aunty,’ I coo to her, like a mother would to her infant. ‘There, that feels good, doesn’t it?’

Her lids close, partly at first and then fully, as the languor takes over her senses. I have already begun to remove the tools of my trade, out of my duffel bag.

A few snaps here and a couple of tugs there. I’m done. Aunty is now relieved of at least thirty lakhs worth of diamonds. I hear the flush from within the rest room as I close the door softly behind me.

My hoodie covers my hair and my Ray-Bans shade my eyes & most of my face. I walk casually but purposefully through the corridor, until I’m out of the range of the prying CCTvs. I begin to run down three flights of stairs when I reach the fire escape. I'm panting when I arrive at the side exit of the hotel, on the ground floor. A member of the housekeeping staff eyes me curiously, as he runs his mop to and fro on the spotless floor. I ignore him and dash out the door to the waiting cab.

Back in my opulent room two hours later, in my very different original avatar, I relax to marvel at the genius that is me. I’m neither worried of the so-called long arms of the law finding me, nor do I harbor any feelings of guilt, whatsoever, of the fact that fat ol’ Aunty had lost more than just her jewelry today. She’ll need a highly qualified dermatologist for the rest of her life to rid her of the rashes and resultant darkening of her already damaged skin. How livid the foolish goat would have been when she woke up to an itchy face, a few shades darker to boot…! Would she curse me to the legions of hell and back, or what?

The vision makes me smile.

How easy, how incredibly easy it is, to fool women into the belief that they are not enough...! 

That they are not slim enough. Not curvy enough, not fair enough, not sexy enough. Nothing is ever enough, is it? You could have more money and power than you'll ever need in this world and yet, would it ever be enough?

Once you plant that notion into their thick heads, no amount of warning or cajoling suffices to convince them to be careful of swindlers. They still choose to fret over perceived imperfections and continue to imagine the dire repercussions of the same.

It is this insecurity that masterminds like me love to prey on. My creams and lotions are nothing but varied doses of inhalation-sedation drugs that I have cleverly incorporated into random beauty products already available in the marketplace. The difference is that I buy them at a rather large discount from the wholesale dealers, only because they have expired long ago and hence useless to them.  Old creams in fancy new bottles that knock you out for a few hours, with no recollection of what occurred before you dozed off… ingenious, even if I say so myself.

And, who am I? No one knows. Not the police, not even my closest buddies. They don’t even know my gender…you see, I’m not just the master (or mistress) of disguises, I’m a cool mimicry artist too. 

My victims have sworn by my appearances, each as varied as the sun and the moon. My famed looks range from a gorgeous young starlet, soft-spoken housewife, tall grad student, short pot-bellied man, bearded stranger, and even a corporate executive. There have been some instances where I have nonchalantly walked out of the venues of my quarries, decked in some of the very jewelry I yanked off their gross bodies or ‘impenetrable’ safes.

I had a whale of a time for almost two and a half years when my modus operandi had the hapless police scour for an organized gang of thugs, who they believed to operate throughout the state.

They should have seen it a lot sooner, given that I’m narcissistic enough to leave ample clues for them to find. I strongly believed that they were truly a bunch of morons of the highest order, but then, they finally managed to zero in on the fact that I follow too many similar patterns to be so many different people.

It’s always the patterns we unconsciously follow, that usually give us away. Just like on social media, especially on Twitter. A careful observation of the obvious, coupled with powerful instinctive insights is all that one needs, to realize that all those different handles are multiple accounts belonging to one and the same person…and they say only thieves wear masks. Is there a dearth of ironies in our society?

Perhaps it is this knowledge that has made me stick to only one handle on Twitter. And there, I use my real name and gender too. After all, social media does offer an equal outlet for the anonymous to be themselves too.

The media has given me several monikers in their reporting frenzy. ‘The hooded monster’, ‘Hoodie-ghost’ and ‘Skin-killer’ are only a few interesting ones. None of them give me due credit, anyways. My favorite one is what The Times lent me: ‘Diamond demon’. Yes, I do have a shining soft corner for gleaming hard stones.

It gives me immense pleasure to follow the outrage against the #DiamondDemon on social media, every time I escape with a new booty.

It’s been a fulfilling four years now, this career. You may call me a common thief, if you please. I choose to call myself a genius. I love stealing. I especially love fleecing loaded, obese women, particularly those braggart bitches, who shamelessly flaunt the unscrupulously amassed wealth of their besotted husbands. There have been a few male victims too, although I  target a specific type most of the time.

Yes, I have a strong abhorrence for rich, fat women. Wasn’t it one such slut that seduced my dad, more with her spouse’s money than with her looks…? If dad hadn’t deserted mom to elope with that female all those years ago, we would still have been a happy family…

I love my job, not because it gives me, a mere 32 year old, access to all this luxury, oh no. Not just because I absolutely revel in the whole process of sourcing out the females and meticulously planning the heist, down to the last minute detail. Not even because it gives me an irrepressible high, every time I get away with it.

I love this profession because it allows me to fund my mom’s dream: The NGO for cancer victims that she set up, just before an ironic twist of fate made her succumb to the very disease she tried to save people from.

I smile again, as I transfer the monthly anonymous online donation to the NGO, named after mom. I take another sip of steaming black coffee, as I begin a fresh hunt for my next source of funds, my 57th quarry.


Picture Credits : Google; Mulga joel moore art painting posca illustration.