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Saturday, September 19, 2009

“WHY did he have to be late today of all days? Especially with what’s going on in the city,” she thought.

The rains poured down hard and without relent. The narrow ledge overhead provided but a semblance of protection against the downpour. The night had already set in and the few functioning street lamps on the EM Bypass fought in vain against the darkness which had by now enveloped most of Calcutta.
Today wasn’t one of those perfect days. They were few and far in between since her mother had died. The boss wasn’t happy with her work, and office gossip, something she looked forward to, revolved around the morose. The recent spate of killings in the city by an unknown killer was all people talked about, and she couldn’t stand the speculations by the know-italls. They said the killer looked for lonely targets. They said he hunted without purpose, because he loved to kill. They said the last thing the victim saw was the red ribbon he tied around their necks as he slit their throats and left them to bleed. Brrrr… A shiver went down her spine. The speculations scared her. Yes today wasn’t one of those perfect days. But the day had seemed to turn for the better when he called. “Meet me today,” he had said. “Wait for me tonight near the bridge after work and I’ll pick you up. I have a surprise for you.” It was where they had first met. She was stranded in the rain at night and he had appeared out of nowhere and had offered to drive her home. It was an unlikely place for anyone to be. But something in
his eyes made her
trust him and
things hadn’t
looked back
since then.
He made her
laugh, made
her feel special. He
filled up the lonely void her mother had left. She was lost in her thoughts. The movement startled her. The figure in the raincoat had appeared out of nowhere and was now an inch behind her. It was one smooth motion as her hands reached into her bag and clasped the smooth ivory handle of the knife she had bought after her mother was assaulted on the street. The blade shimmered before it plunged deep into the assailant. She felt the warm blood trickling down her arm as she saw her lover’s face. Not him. Why him of all people? She loved him. But then it was done. The raindrops had started washing the blood off. A tear left her eye as she took out the red ribbon from her purse. It gives me great pleasure to fly in dreams. I can move upwards easily avoiding whatever comes on the way. The phenomenon puzzled me till I met a stranger in the lakes the other day. Trees lining the lake sheltered the migratory birds during winter. The stranger, sitting beside me, keenly watched the birds as well as me.
“Are you still thinking about flying in a dream?” The man asked me as if he were a thought reader. His voice was so mysterious that I forgot to get offended although being spoken to by a stranger.
“Yes, but…?” He said, “These birds fly across mountains and deserts to reach warmer environs.” “But how is it related to my dream, sir?” “You fly in a dream when a particular window of your mind opens. You must have observed that you fly in dreams in a pleasant state of mind.” “I am not exactly sure, though I feel great pleasure in dream-flying. I wonder why I lose height slowly after some time. The gravitational pull becomes too much to overcome then. ” The gentleman ignored me and went on elaborating his theory. “The brain stores enormous data which include your coded anthropological history. Once decoded, you can reconvert yourself to one of your earlier forms of existence, which might even be that of a bird.” “Has anyone busted the code yet, sir?” “The code is a complex matrix based on all the relationships involving the four-dimensional vector distances among the stars of a particular constellation. For example, you can change yourself to a bird with the code Sagittarius and so on. You must be very careful about time, the fourth dimension. It’s the key.”
He smiled happily revealing the greenish inside of his mouth. “Is the future also written in the brain like the past? Is the brain a kind of a continuum, sir?” I could not suppress my puzzled look while asking this.
His reply confused me still more.
“Yes, the time-space continuum forms the canvas of the puzzle. Otherwise how could I tell you things, which are still on a different time plane?”
I tried to grasp his contention. Time flew. A few moments seemed like eternity.
The person vanished into thin air in those missing moments. A big green frog jumped from his place into the lake and looked at me with bulging eyes wearing a familiar expression on its face.

Wrong Side

MAJOR Rajiv Verma crawled through snow, shells and minefields - the terrain was treacherous but there was no looking back. He had to keep crawling to reach the other side of the snowy ridge, which was a safe zone for Indian soldiers.
Rajiv had been left behind... being hit by shrapnel, he had lain unconscious beneath a thorny bush. When he had regained his senses, it was already dusk. Realising what had happened, Rajiv lost no time and started crawling forward. The injury on his shoulder had made his limbs stiff and had restricted his movements.
Somehow Rajiv had to make it to the other side of the ridge to avoid being captured or shot dead. Night was approaching fast; incessant mortar fire and gunshots filled the air with rancid smoke as he pre
pared himself to meet his destiny. Although he was not afraid to die for his country, he would never give up without a fight.
In the midst of gunfire, Rajiv distinctly heard the crunch of heavy boots inching closer to him. Looking up, Rajiv found himself staring into the eyes of an enemy soldier who had his rifle pointed at him.
A shiver ran down his spine and before he could gather his wits, Rajiv clearly saw the silhouette of a Sikh army officer emerging from the shadows. Even in the gathering darkness, Rajiv could not miss the bravery in his eyes.
Abruptly turning around to face Rajiv, the Sikh officer growled his orders, “Get away my son, quick! Before the enemy gets you!” Unable to disobey the stern orders of an unknown officer on a desolate battlefield, Rajiv crawled on with all his energy towards his destination - the other side of the ridge.
The war was long since over. Rajiv had to go on an inspection duty to a nearby army base. It was an hour’s drive to the base into where duty awaited him. On stepping into the corridor leading to the main hall, he received a jolt and stood staring at a framed photograph of the Sikh officer he had encountered on the battlefield. Even in the photograph, his eyes shone with a rare brilliance. Colonel Ranbir Shekhawat had died in action during the Indo-Pak war.
Somewhere afar the bugle sounded and Major Rajiv Verma’s hand went up in a salute to his surreal benefactor.

Eggs

RAHUL wakes up. He has just felt a tickling sensation, as if something is moving over his body. But it is dark inside his bedroom. Even his sharp eyes are blinded by it.
Rahul gropes for his mobile-phone. He gets it, flashes it on his legs, then on his entire bed, the floor, the walls. There’s nothing.
Maybe a roach. Time to spray something and get rid of them. He gets back to sleep.
And wakes up minutes later with an even more irritating sensation. The feeling this time is somehow spreading upwards — from feet to thighs to waist… Rahul half-opens his eyes, his brain dulled by sleep, mind not receptive enough. He tries to move his legs and cannot — his legs are too heavy, not quite his own appendages.

Rahul comes to his senses. A strapping boy of 17, he doesn’t fear many things in the world. He attempts to summon all his strength, trying hard to turn his body and get rid of the pest, but utterly fails.
The creatures start clawing and nibbling him all over. There is a number of them — two, three, and four— increasing every moment. Rahul loses count of them. He finds his body under seize. Their icy touch makes him shivers. He hears a weird and unearth
ly whisper. Rahul feels almost suffocated. His tongue dries up, lips quiver. He manages to press a bed switch for light. And what he sees makes his flesh crawl — hundreds of little tortoises crawling all over the bed and the floor. They are coming out, in quick succession, of a big plastic container under the bed, their heads sticking out, eyes fixed on Rahul.
Rahul closes his eyes and hollers.
Rahul’s mother comes running. Just as she enters his room all the tortoises are gone. Rahul points at the jar and narrates his tale, “Yesterday I chanced to catch some tortoises and collected some eggs. Seems that they had hatched.” “Shame on you,” was all his mother would say.

The Figure

JULIE was leafing through her biology scrapbook. She was supposed to write an essay on houseflies and complete the labelling and descriptions. She was putting in much care and effort, trying to live up to the standards her aunt Bidisha, a professor, had set for her.
Aunt Bidisha looked somewhat like an insect herself. She wore large spectacles, was reed thin and had straggly hair. In spite of her slight build, however, the learned aunt was a personification of unbridled energy. She was always doing one thing or another.
Aunt Bidisha would come the day after to check her scrapbook before she finally submitted it at school. Now all she had to do was draw a fly and describe it. While doodling the first outlines on the page, Julie observed a curiouslooking fly getting itself perched at the corner of the page. It seemed to be somewhat critically looking at its image being reproduced on paper. Julie yawned.
“It won’t be a good idea,” said a familiar voice, jolting Julie to her senses. The voice was her aunt’s, but the speaker was certainly not she. Once awake, the thing that arrested Julie’s attention was a fly; only it was as large as a human being. Julie was about to say, “Yes aunty, what do you say about the diagram?” but the words died on her lips.

The insect seemed to be introspective. “Do not ever experiment with flies. It doesn’t pay off. Look what has happened to me,” said Bidisha-fly.
“You begin with a diagram and you end up being the subject of it,” the creature that once was her aunt was losing its voice fast, degenerating into shrieks and croaks. “Why are you crying Julie?” asked aunt Bidisha, who was sitting at her desk, evidently impressed by the diagram. “Wake up! It’s good!” she said, “I’m proud of you.”

The Divination

THE year was 1986.She could not find her name even on the second list of candidates for MA — English Literature under the University of Calcutta. A shaft of remorse and dejection sliced through her heart. Her whole was crumbling like a pack of cards. The only string of hope she was clinging to was also on the point of snapping. She felt despondency spiralling within her.
S h e d - ding copious tears and wallowing in self-pity, she was u s h e re d
in by her sister into an empty classroom the door of which was left ajar. A shabbily clad elderly man was sitting on a desk with his feet dangling.
The man asked why she was crying so much. She was too choked up to speak. After looking at her for a while he said, “Don’t cry, my child. Your name will be there on the third list.” He simply exuded compassion and warmth.
Flooded with waves of sudden relief,
she approached the clerk at the university office counter and asked him about the third list. He simply stated that the second list was the final one.
Her hopes were dashed. Her sister, who had got through, started attending classes.
A month went by. She had taken up a correspondence course under a lesser known University registered under the University Grants Commission.

One afternoon, while she was busy helping her m o t h e r with household chores,
her sister returned from the university to break the news that her name had appeared on the third list and that she should get herself admitted the very next day. She burst into a crow of joy. How could this be possible?
She later came to know that no third list had ever appeared in any stream either before or after this incident.
She never met the man in shabby clothes in her two years at the university.