Sunday, December 10, 2006

Letters - 6th April, 2003

My dearest Gunnu,

How is my dearest little sister.By the way, I found this little cyber café pretty close to home. Do not want to call it home though. Home is with you at Ahmedabad. But I guess I should start calling it home. Splendid parting advice from dear Abba. It might make the two years I need to spend here pass quickly. Otherwise, all that I may be reduced to, is pine about home and that’s not the best thing to do.

College is about a kilometer away from where I stay. I prefer walking coz I don’t want to spend ten rupees on a rickshaw. Mumbai is pretty expensive. Abba, please send me the Yamaha, it may come in handy. Most roomies here have got their mobikes from home. It’s easy to get around.

The place is a Christian one. Its called St. Anthony’s Boys hostel. I couldn’t find a better place. The rates are nominal. I’m paying 2,500 for a month and it has all the facilities that I can hope for. We have an attached bathroom. There are four of us in a room. And the rooms are pretty large. So there isn’t any problem of space. But yes, it is not easy after being so used to sleeping on my own, I didn’t get sleep yesterday until 3 am. But it was my first night…and I am also feeling so tired now, that I’m sure I shall drop off at 10 tonight.

I shall write to you every weekend. Weekdays might be difficult but I still will try. College is from 10am to 4 pm every day. Tomorrow is our first day. Hope the people are nice. I am not too concerned about them though, but I hope the faculty is up to the mark.

I shall send this out now. I will email you all at the soonest. Love you all very much.


Letters - 13th April, 2003

Dearest Gunnu,

I have already begun to miss you so much. Its not that I am not enjoying my stay here but home is where the heart is, as they say. How are all you doing? I especially loved opening my email and finding your letter, Gunnu.

The girls here in Mumbai are very unlike my dear Ahmedabad. But I may learn to like them. ;) They do look at us as out-of-towner’s though. When I speak about us I am talking about the new friends I’ve made. Three of them in number…Asif, Rajendran and Dhaval. Asif is from Surat. He started talking to me in gujurati as soon as he met me. I don’t know how he knew I was from Gujarat but I consider him to be of exceptional insight. At times, I feel he can almost read my mind. Splendid Personality. Rajendran is from Chennai and Dhaval is from Mumbai. He is a gujurati too.

The professors are pretty good. We have quite a few subjects to begin with for the first semester. They gave us a long list of books to buy. Buying them is going to cost me a little fortune. But they seem so interesting that I’m raring to get at them. I have just begun to get to know the professors. We have professors from all over the industry. Most of the professors are part of the visiting faculty. Most of them are freelancing as professors.

I don’t know if I have told you this before but my room faces a graveyard. I know you must be sitting up straight in your seat when I tell you this. Lol. The graveyard belongs to St. Anthony’s church which is one of the larger parishes of Bandra. But one does feel pretty strange staring out every night and every morning at gravestones. They look pretty dark and foreboding under the moonlight. To think that there are bodies buried under all that soil. But for that matter, we might never know how many bodies might be buried under our house in Ahmedabad, centuries and centuries ago.

Ok…that’s not a nice thought. But I have to end this letter now. To end on a sweet note…I love you tons and tons my little sister. Take care of Ammi and Abba.


Letters - 18th April, 2003

Dearest Gunnu

I saw a serpent today. I saw it in my room. It entered from the window. I had spoken to Abba about an hour ago. So he must have told you already. But Ill tell you what happened.

It was about 2 in the morning. I was asleep and so were my room mates. I woke up all of a sudden. I do not know if it was a sound that woke me up but I felt a presence in the room. My bed faces the window (which overlooks the graveyard) and its then that I saw it. I could only see the eyes…yellow…a dark yellow aith black slits down the centre. The serpent was huge. His head was poised as if it was ready to strike. It seemed to look right at me. It was coiled around the bars of the window and made a hissing sound as I watched it barely able to breathe.

And then…it moved uncoiled itself from the window bars and disappeared. It must have taken me a minute before I found my voice. I rushed to the window while calling out to anyone who would listen. But it was gone.

I tried explaining what happened to my roomies. It was not easy convincing them about the serpent but I could make out that they were pretty afraid of the likelihood of having any around. Pure Evil they are…Serpents.

But wow…what an adventure. I spoke to the hostel authorities about it, but then realized it’s a bad idea. They laughed it off. They told me I might be imagining things. Well, we will all know soon enough. I’m having my windows bolted…that’s what Abba told me.

Chalo dear…Ill send this out for now. Take care of yourself. And do not worry about me…ill be fine.


Letters - 27th April, 2003

Dearest Gunnu,

I had quite an uneventful week. I am planning to watch a few movies this week with Dhaval and Rajendran. Asif is not a movie buff and he doesn’t have a contact number in Mumbai. I know that sounds hard to believe, but it is true. So it gets pretty difficult, actually impossible, contacting him on the weekends. We are planning to watch some Salman Khan flick. By the way, he stays at Bandra…I am sure that will be more reason than ever for you to come visiting during your vacations.

That reminds me…Please thank Abba for the Yamaha. The delivery was safe. Not a scratch on it. As soon as I set eyes on it, I checked every inch of my proudest possession for scratches. You know how I treat my ‘first love’, don’t you.

But it’s easy to get around when I got it. Asif and I went for a ride yesterday. We should have taken Dhaval along, as he knows Mumbai so well. But it’s nice discovering Mumbai by oneself. Not a bad city…especially since I love the ocean so much and there is so much of it here. Especially at Bandra, we have a place called Carter Road which is a promenade (where people can sit and chat) by the sea. It really is nice. I can spend hours just watching the waves and sun descend from the skies.

We got a new professor. Oh, he is a whiz of sorts. His name is Professor Mathias (Mathias, professor of Maths…funny eh?). He is a short rotund man with unkempt hair, Einstein like, and sparkling dark eyes.

You know how much I love Maths but you should see Asif at it…he is almost as good as me. And I am not the modest type, so he is really good for me to say this.

The classes are almost like private tuitions. We have to opt for applied mathematics which Asif and I did. So the class consists of only the two of us…and every class is so much fun. With Professor Mathias, it almost feels like he performs magic whenever he teaches Mathematics. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled a rabbit out of a hat, to demonstrate a mathematical concept or to elucidate a point.

Ok dear, enough of Academics for now. That’s all I think of sometimes…even on my weekends. Ill send this out for now. Give Abba and Ammi my love.


Letters - 3rd May, 2003

Dearest Gunnu,

This place is haunted.

It happened last week. I woke up at 2 am again. I am half afraid when I wake up at this time as I have dread something terrible might happen. And it did.

I heard someone call my name. The voice was female and distant. But it came from the window. I thought I was imagining things. So I simply turned over and tried to sleep. But then I heard it again…and it was louder and clearer. It seemed as if it was getting closer.

“Sarfaraaz….the voice went. I sprang up…and looked over at the others. They were fast asleep. I walked over to the window…It was open. I looked out. I could not see anything except moon lit gravestones. I was about to turn away when I heard the voice again…it came from underneath my window. I looked down and I saw her.

She was standing beneath my window, watching me. She was dressed in a white translucent robe. Her face was pale and drawn but she mouthed my name again when I saw her…” Sarfaraaz…”. It was almost like a hiss. She beckoned me to come downstairs. I did not have the disposition nor the ability to comply. My mind was confused and afraid.

I jumped into bed, pulled the blankets up over my head and tried to shut my ears to the sound. She called out to me thrice before the voice stopped. I couldn’t sleep…I made my way gingerly to the window to look out again. There wasn’t anyone.

I did not wake my roomies but I told them what happened as soon as I woke up. They laughed. They speak to me a lot less after the serpent incident. I do not know whom to talk to about this. I told Asif about it in the morning on the way to college. He was a lot more sympathetic. He suggested I should meet her. Bad Advice, I must admit.

I will call you and speak with you tonight. I love you, my dearest sis.


Letters - 8th May, 2005

Get me out of here. I have seen enough. I called Abba…and he must be on his way already.

I did not want to write this down…but I know I have to put what I have seen, felt and experienced into words. I am afraid I might lose my mind.

I am being haunted by apparitions and ghouls. I cannot sleep because she calls me every night. Her voice shrieks…but I have begun to believe that it is only me who can hear her. I cannot shut my ears to the sound. Her voice seems to reverberate in my head.

She seems omnipresent. I see her everywhere in some form or the other. Her eyes…I cannot see her eyes. Sunken orbs they seem. I feel fear, gunnu…I feel it, in spite of myself, every moment.

I am afraid to look around at this moment. She might be here…as I write you this. I can hardly type.

The only ones who believe me are Asif and Professor Mathias. They have understood how dangerous it is for me to stay here. I called Abba soon after.

I do not know if I can stay here in Mumbai. I am afraid of every shadow, every object, every person. It seems like the city will swallow me whole. It seems evil. It reeks of evil. I am afraid to shut my eyes even during prayer.

I do not look at mirrors. I seem grotesque. I hardly recognize myself. I have stopped going to college for the last two days. I cannot stay in my room, so I spend my day at the promenade. The only one’s I have met is Asif and the Professor. They are the only one’s I speak to.

I just need to leave.

Professor mathias said that I can do my Management from Ahmedabad through distance studies. Once Abba arrives I shall ask him to accompany me while I speak to the Dean about the arrangement.

My roommates are terrible. They laugh. They poke fun…and they spread nonsense about me. I avoid people at college…they look at me as if I’m possessed. The only friend I have is Asif. He has offered to accompany me to Ahmedabad to help me get things straightened out.

I feel so weak and defeated. It seems like my dreams are dissolving into nothingness. I can hardly concentrate on studies. I hardly eat.

I miss you terribly…and I want to come home.


Letters - 31st May, 2003

The Dean
The Indian Institute of Planning and Management

Re: Sarfaraz Moizuddin. Ref: PGP 03-05/SS/AVESD124445

Dear Sir,

I appreciate your gratuitous help, assistance and concern for my brothers health and well being.

It was difficult to understand my brother’s troubled state as he had become incoherent by the time my father reached Mumbai.

It was during this time that my father visited your college in pursuit of the guidance of a certain Professor Mathias. On being told there never was a professor by that name who taught at the college my father was troubled and distressed. It was kind of you to speak to my harrowed father and suggest and provide help in understanding Sarfaraz’s clinical condition.

Medication for Sarfaraz’s condition is debilitating in more ways than one and I can hardly recognize my brother at times. But it’s a lot better than seeing my brother wide eyed and fearful as he was on the day he arrived at Ahmedabad.

Asif still exists…in my brother’s world. We do not have the courage to tell him otherwise.

Fond Regards,

Gunveen Moizuddin

Shikandi - Prologue

The night was cool, even within the confines of the Rajdhani express. I was on a vacation but I was already beginning to feel restless. The train was nearing Delhi passing through the desolate wintry landscape of the plateau. The lights were dimmed inside the steel chugging monster, and the world was quiet. My mind was awake, and after failing attempts to lull it into slumber, I rose.

I walked in the direction of the compartment door. It was easier to pass time at the pleasant passing of life in general, as we stood on this chugging metal monstrosity. Air Cooled compartments with their dark tinted glasses provided no visual delights. I walked through the narrow train corridor lined on either side with berths adorned with families that occupied them. Opening the door at the end of the corridor and closing it behind me I found myself in a narrow passageway with exit doors parallel to each other, on either side.

There was a man crouched at the doorway to my left. He was swathed in a mass of shawls and donned a woolen monkey cap that covered most of his face. All that I could see was the grey wisps of hair on the nape of his neck. His head was scarcely visible under the wool of his warmers. It was a chilly night and I patted my woolen sweater aware of its comfort, almost of a sudden. I was slightly crestfallen at his presence but decided to select the doorway to my right and satisfy myself in the assumption of his non-existence.

I prodded the door open, which it did easily as it swung open on well oiled hinges. The wintry caress of the night embraced me as I steadied myself with my back against the doorway. As I looked out into a landscape of dark shadows of trees and mountains, I began to wonder about the existence of so many lives outside our own, as I passed them by. For me, it was just a fleeting glimpse of a land, some called their home.

I was jolted through my reverie by a voice. The voice was old, and racked with the rough rasps of a breathing ailment and prolonged illness.

“How old are you?” asked a wizened face, now visible as its tired dark eyes stared at me.

I paused for a second. I fought the urge to look around as if I expected the question to be answered by someone else.

“17”, I said.

He shuddered, as if, at my reply. “I thought you were younger”. “You look younger”.

I turned away. I was not in a mood to engage in conversation and at the moment, my rejoinder might not be too pleasant.

He seemed to stare in my direction though. I could still feel his gaze on the nape of my neck. I continued my gaze at the blur of grey, as the train proceeded and so did the steady mechanical monotone of wheel against rail.

“Do you like to travel?”

“Yes, pretty much”, I said, “Who doesn’t?”

“So are you traveling to Delhi?”

“Yes”, I said as I added, almost impulsively, “I have never been there, before”. I didn’t need to mention that, I thought to myself.

“How could you be certain that this is your first time”.

I gave him an incredulous look. I was beginning to wonder if he was in his senses and whether his mental faculties were intact. I was not sure if I wanted to continue answering inane questions, but I found it hard to don the air of cold aloofness.

“Because, I have not been there before”.

“But you could have been there, probably 18 years ago”.

“I am 17”, I said. “Not 18”.


For the first time, I turned to face the crouched mass of wool and flesh. My expression was a mixture of annoyance and the overbearing suspicion of his sanity. I turned away, with a shrug.

“You have not understood me”, said the voice, after a long uncomfortable pause. “I meant to say. You may have visited Delhi, but probably, in another life. In a previous ‘janam’”

“I don’t believe in rebirth”, I said emphatically.

“Are you a Hindu?”

Not a debate on religion, I thought to myself. “Yes, I am. But I still do not believe in rebirth.”

“Well, have you read the Mahabharata?”

The Mahabharata, the ancient Hindu epic of the Bharata dynasty was one I knew, like the back of my hand. When I was a child, my mother used to religiously buy us pictorial magazines of the epic and I had collected all 59 issues, which completed the series.

“Of course, I do”, I said, “Every little detail”.

“Then you shall know of Shikandi”.

“Yes, I do”.

“Then I shall tell you a story”.

Shikandi - Shailendran Iyer

He was called Shelu Iyer. He hardly remembered anyone calling him Shailendran. He was born in Gujurat in the year 1975. His parents hailed from Kochi in Kerala but his father, who worked in a nationalized Bank had to move to Gujurat after being promoted to the responsibility of a Branch Manager. Shelu was born fifteen months after his relocation.

The Iyer family adapted to Gujurat as if it were there own. Shelu’s father loved to socialize and Shelu grew up to gujurati customs, festivals and traditions. He found every facet of Gujurat fascinating. He began to speak the language better than he could speak Malayalam. He was considered among the best dancers at garba and was the lead actor at the Gujurati play group at school.

Shelu, was exceptional at studies. An IQ test categorized him having an intelligence quotient of 146. It did not require a test to suggest the obvious, as Shelu topped his school every year. He had an avid interest in sports and was careful to never let as much as academics interrupt his cricket practice. Nobody knew what made the boy wonder, as he was fondly referred to by his doting teachers tick, but he did know that his popularity was growing by the day.

At seventeen he stood a centimeter under six feet, had an athletic physique and had the tendency to devise algebraic equations around sports as a pastime. Shelu was the boy ever peer wished to emulate and a son every parent set as a benchmark.

He was selected to join IIT Kanpur but was brought home in a month with a raging fever. He knew he could not leave the state, even though his parents beseeched him to reconsider. Shelu was the master of his destiny, since he was a little boy. His parents could only plead but to no avail. He was given a scholarship at a premier institute at Gujurat. He was always fascinated by Mechanical Engineering and took it up, much against the wishes of his parents, again.

Shelu took to the dynamics of Engineering like a fish to water. He had begun to build prototypes before he even began his second year. He used to browse through Kinesics and Quantum theory during his lunch breaks and followed up with a game of cricket at the university nets after college hours. The prototype he designed at the annual engineering convention was called the ‘Crimson Egg’. An oval egg shaped apparatus encased in lead and silver foil had two distinct halves. At the centre of the Egg lay a red crescent with a red dot placed right at its centre. On closer inspection, one could conclude that the top half had the red dot while the red crescent was a part of the bottom panel. The top could be twisted anti clockwise which would activate the crimson egg’s mechanics as a spring would bring it back to its original position. As soon as the crescent enveloped the red dot once again, the frontal portion exploded letting fly a mass of petals.

His first date was at eighteen and was with a senior girl from his debate team. It did not get far and he found himself distracted even before they began discussing hobbies and interests. He realized that he was not much of a romantic although he could not explain his apathy to the female form.

It was around this time, that met Hosseni.

Shikandi - The Gujurat Samhelan

Hosseni was a party member of the Gujurat Samhelan. The agenda for the moment was to pursue a candidate for the Student Council elections. Candidates were several, but the favourite for the elections was Rupin patel, a student of St. Xaviers College. He was associated with several social causes for the upliftement of the community and was vociferous in his beliefs, which allowed him to achieve prime candidature for the party who’s views he shared. Hosseni knew that he needed more than a figurehead to defeat Rupin. He needed a personality to match Rupin’s diabolic charisma and passion.

The first thing Hosseni did when he arrived at the Gujurat Engineering college was to meet a dear friend Mr. Mathias who was the principal of the college. Being college friends, Hoseeni after exchanging pleasantries and back slaps proceeded to inform Mathias of the reason for his visit.

“I need an exceptional personality. One, interested in politics and the ambition to succeed in this haven of diplomacy”, said Hosseni. “He should also be one with a keen command over the language and above average aesthetic beauty.”
“It makes a difference at this level, he added apologetically”.

While Hosseni spoke Mathias surveyed Hosseni with a thoughtful eye. He scarcely remembered hosseni in any other field other than Politics. “Im sure you will scarcely be surprised if I had to state my inability to help you with this task. But I might have a lad who seems to possess the qualities that you search for. But I am unsure of his political preferences and his aptitude for the same. Of knowledge of politics or otherwise he shall stand unrivalled. But the boy he is, you shall need to build his interest before you invite him to run for candidature”.

“Hey, we are getting ahead of ourselves”, said Hosseni raising his hands in mock protest. “I need to see him, talk to him and analyse the fit to our party”.

“Well, Im sure the negations, if any, shall scarcely be from your side”.

“You seem to hold the boy in high regard. Whats his name?”

“Shailendra Mahendran”.

Shikandi - The Interview

“Shelu, can you join us here for a minute”.

Shelu turned back to see Prinicipal Mathias gesturing him over. He wondered, if it was because of the debate preliminaries he had given a miss, the other day. He had won all of them and he was tired of winning.

Shelu sauntered over to Mathias and a short stubby man with a bushy moustache. The man stared at him through beady eyes on a large face with high cheekbones.

“This”, said Mathias turning to the stubby man, “is Shailendran”.

The large face broke into a broad smile causing his eyes to crinkle into two thin slits. He grabbed Shelu’s hand in a firm handshake.

“I have heard so much about you, I am Hosseni”. “I am associated with the Gujurat Samhelan, and I am here to present you with the opportunity of a lifetime”.

Shelu had heard the ‘opportunity of a life time’ bit before. But he patiently listened to Hosseni as he spoke. Hosseni elucidated the strengths of his political party and their beliefs and their vision. It was in the midst of his monologue that Shelu understood the reason for the contrived meeting.

…”And”, said Shelu cutting him short, “you would present me with the honour of representing the Gujurat Samhelan in the Students Elections. I would be proud to represent your esteemed party”.

“Do you know much about Politics”.

“Oh, I do know, that there are 25 candidates. 18 of them are independents and shall simply create ripples. Rupin Patel and Bhavesh Shah of the Congress and the BJP shall be the movers and shakers. Bhavesh, shall hold the charms of the common man and he shall represent hindutva and pledge the common man vote. But Rupin shall vociferously quell any doubts of his allegiance to one of the richest businessmen in Gujurat. He shall wear the cloak of the common folk and debate with top leaders of the inefficacy of present codes and policy and shall uphold the needs of the students and spread the message of his party”.

Shelu paused, allowing Hosseni to ask his questions. Hosseni, enraptured by the conversation could only stutter as he was passed the baton of dialogue prematurely.

“Really good….you do know a lot”.

“Oh. I have always been a keen follower of student politics”, lied Shelu. The truth was; he had based his dialogue on the snippets of information that he read in the newspapers on burgeoning student politics. “If Shantilal Gupta and you do find me worthy enough, I would endeavour and urge the canvassing to begin right away.”

Shikandi - Shantilal Gupta

Shantilal Gupta, was the local MLA. But he was tipped to be minister of state, someday. He was a charming man, and was proficient in the use of language and etiquette. A violent past, he was known to possess, which he blamed to the ravages of youth. But there were police cases that had sunk into oblivion because of the connections and the deep pockets that Gupta professed and possessed.

Gupta did not move into politics without reason. A change of name and stature was necessary. The Gupta empire of textile mills was falling into disrepute because of a worldly life and negative publicity. A change was desired. How best, to shed the curtains of bad repute but by drawing an illustrious political career.

Strong arm tactics came easy and Gupta had soon won the favours of the Gujurat Samhelan who looked upon Gupta as the one to strengthen their base across the three villages of Loki, Behsar and Nubitalao. Gupta, fit in well, with the political ideologies of the Gujurat Samhelan.

Shelu had heard about Shantilal Gupta and had always wondered why was he drawn to the man. He flipped to a page where Gupta’s name was present much before he read the sports page and the editorials. He realized that the keen interest he had beginning to develop in politics had only intensified when he had watched a procession of Shantilal Gupta go past. He had even joined in the slogan shouting, even though, he was only a bystander, much to the surprise of the friends he was standing with. If he had to join politics it would be under representation of the gujurat Samhelan.

A peculiar twist of fate it was, to have the Gujurat Samhelan knocking his door and asking him for his consent.

Shelu - Victory

Shelu’s father did not know whether to be happy or to be concerned. His son had won the students election by a wide margin of about ten thousand votes. When one speaks of a margin of that magnitude it represents close to ten percent of the entire voter base. Rupin Patel, was a defeated man, event though the handshakes and embrace on national television were an attempt to salvage some pride.

Shelu was to meet Shantilal Gupta. This would be their first formal meeting. And Shelu was tearing the house down. Shelu’s mother, the petite Shyamala Mahendran, had never seen her son so concerned about his appearance. Shelu was one who expressed disinterest bordering on distaste on personal grooming. He used to run his fingers through his hair and wear the first tshirt and jeans he could lay his hands on to leave for another day. His charm and aesthetically handsome features made his uncanny style even more alluring.

But Shelu seemed to be tearing clothes out of his cupboard as a maniac. He could not wear the robes of the bourgeoisie when he was about to meet a man as distinguished and illustrious as Shantilal Gupta. Shelu’s father scarcely understood the nature his son displayed. He was to meet a person who was more feared than respected for his emotional ouotbursts and his violent disposition. Shelu had not displayed the same enthusiasm even when he had met the Chief Minister of Gujurat during a felicitation ceremony at Shelu’s engineering college .

He finally pulled out a pair of formals, he hadn’t worn for the past six months. It was a gift from one of his cousins that still had the price tag attached. He hurriedly put it on, selected the best pair of trousers he could find and he left home, leaving his parents bewildered at a 180 degree behavioral twist in their son.

Shikandi - The Meeting

Shantilal Gupta stood before him, a smile in his eyes. Shelu politely extended a hand in greeting. He noticed that his hand trembled. Shantilal Gupta, swatted his hand aside and embraced him. Shelu felt like a little boy, for the first time in his life. He felt the seconds tick by like minutes. He almost felt faint. He did not understand why. He’s only an MLA, thought Shelu to himself.

And then Shelu felt it, deep within. It was a silent roar of anger and violent fury that rose from the depths and the remote recesses of his mind. Murderous fury seemed to emanate from his soul. Shelu almost gasped as he felt his arms tighten and his muscles flex.

And then Gupta released him. Shelu realized he was standing on tip toes. The emotion that had welled up inside him, urging him to action, appeared to raise him off his feet. And then their eyes met. For a fleeting moment a shadow crossed Gupta’s eyes…a shadow of recognition. A shadow of remembrance. He shook his head, almost to himself, as if dispelling a memory, a face, a person.

As suddenly as it cam, Shelu felt his anger recede. Shelu almost sank to his knees and had to steady himself from falling.

Gupta reached forward to steady him. “Take it easy, my brother. Its not time for twilight. Rest only when your deed is done…”.

“…And you are surrounded by greatness”, completed Shelu. The words almost stung his lips as he mentioned them. He did not know their significance, but he knew that he had ended a verse.

“Oh, dear friend”, said Gupta his eyes wide in astonishment. “You have read the great poet Kalidasa, have you?”

Shelu had only heard of Kalidasa. He had never read his poetry. But he simply nodded his head in affirmation.

Shikandi - Return

Gupta, led Shelu into a spacious cabin. Two hulks of men, armed with carbines guarded the doorway. They made a motion to search Shelu, but were waved away by Gupta. Hosseni trooped behind the two of them like an obedient stooge. From the time, Shelu was declared the student leader, Hosseni beamed the victorious smile of the man who has crafted a diamond out of obscurity. Hosseni knew that this was the beginning of an illustrious career for himself. And to achieve this, he only had to stick close to Shailendra Mahendran.

Shelu dug his hands into his pockets, as Gupta motioned him to a seat in front of a large glass desk. Shelu’s eyes moved to each of the portraits of the illustrious Gupta family as faces stared out from behind glass and silver frames. Shelu’s eyes glazed. He reached into his pocket. His fingers closed around a 6 inch round canister. He drew his hand out holding the Crimson Egg.

He twisted it clockwise and laid the egg on the table with the crescent facing Gupta. A soft tune of Beethovens 22nd symphony wafted from the egg as it glinted its lustrous silver as it moved on its axis slowly.

“I wanted to show you my finest invention, Mr. Gupta.”

The egg slowly moved, the red spot on its silver head moved closer to the red crescent on the base.

“What is it?”, asked Gupta, slightly amused but his eyes riveted to the tiny silver egg that
began to shriek Beethovens 22nd symphony to almost a cacophony. The sound was getting louder, as the red dot touched the outer edges of the crescent.

“ I call it rebirth, Shantu”.

Gupta looked up with a start. “What did you call me. Who are…”, he started.
He looked up at Shelu who stood before him, a half smile playing on his lips.

Hosseni stood behind Shelu, his eyes transfixed on the little egg.

The red dot stopped right in the centre of the crescent. Beethoven was silenced with a high pitched whine. The front exploded spraying Gupta with hundreds of needles. The needles pierced the skin of his face and neck as he moved back into his seat instinctively.

His leather upholstered armchair swiveled backwards on its wheels causing him to slide the chair to the back of the wall. He attempted to get up…his eyes livid with anger and fear.

‘Who are…”, he began. He couldn’t complete his words. His throat seemed parched. His face was beetroot red
Hosseni, stood transfixed. He did not seem to believe what he was seeing. He stood gaping at the proceedings.

“You have ten seconds to live, Shantu, use it wisely”.

“You cannot be….”, said Gupta in a hoarse voice.

He was dead before Shelu left the room and strode out of Gupta enterprises, onto the street.

Shikandi - Release

He remembered filling the load chamber of the crimson egg with needles. He remembered glazing each needle with hydrocyanic acid. He had done so, with unquestioning faith at the necessity of his actions. He had remembered to pocket the egg before leaving home.

Shelu’s strides grew weaker. A part of him seemed enveloped in a mixture of revenge, relief and uncharacteristic elation. Another part of him was appalled. He heard footsteps behind him. Frantic, hurried footsteps.

He turned in his tracks. Three guards with carbines stopped in their tracks as soon as he turned.

They had their carbines pointed at Shelu. Their fingers, white and tense, as they clutched at their weapons. Their faces were ashen. They seemed confused…their minds unsure of the next step.

“Put your hands where we can see them.”, one of them screamed. His voice seemed raspy. Shelu knew that the guards had seen the contorted features of their master moments before they rushed out. Shelu knew that these guards were afraid, unsure and needed little instigation to fire.

His cellular phone rang. Shelu knew what he had to do. He dug his hands into this pocket to retrieve it.

Three guns fired simultaneously.


I stood staring at the old man. His story had captivated me for the past half an hour. It did not seem like the story had ended.

“How do you know so much?”, I asked.

The man sighed and looked away. He did not seem to be able to answer my question.

“And why? Why did he have to kill a man he was so enamored by?”

“It was not enamor, it was affection. It was not murder, it was retaliation.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You did not ask me about the photographs that hung above Lal’s desk.”


“That’s the name we called him. That’s what I called my son.”

I realized that my first question was answered.

“Whose picture are you referring to?”

“His wife….an angel I cherished almost as a daughter. A woman, as gentle as she was intelligent, who sacrificed all that she held dear for the man she loved, only to be consumed by his violence and insane and unwarranted jealousy.”

“What was her name?” I asked, intuitively knowing what the answer would be.

“Her name was Susheela gupta. But we used to call her Shelu”.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The curious incident of the witching gale

It was a day in June. College was out for summer and I was beating the sweltering heat at home at 7.30 pm. It was one of those days when you feel locked in your own personal web of boredom and lethargy where you would jump at a suggestion from the devil for a romp around town.

The call came, it was James. The suggestion was to meet Kreisler at Sea Rock, Bandstand as he needed to deliver a note to one of the premium hotels employees. On any other day, I would have passed the inane messenger boy baton to a lesser mortal, but I knew James would have done the same, had it been another day. The escape plan seemed the only option so I got dressed and left home.

A little about Sea Rock. Sea Rock as the name suggests was a 5 star hotel set at Bandstand, gazing out onto the Arabian sea surrounded by a rocky waterfront at the western tip of Bandra. The name has changed now and the hotel has been razed but ten years ago when this incident took place, the hotel was a landmark and still remains to be, even in its absence. Bandstand though, was nothing more than rocks that led into the ocean and at its northernmost tip was a fort built by Shivaji. The fort was in an advanced stage of depredation and ruin. What it safely sheltered were prostitutes, drug peddlers and amorous couples. Not the best place for 15 year olds but as usual it was not an opinion that adolescents share. A tarred road led vehicles to Sea Rock after which a dusty path wound on to end at the dilapilated mouth of the fort.

I got on my BSA Mach 1. For those who do not know, the BSA Mach 1, with its fancy credentials is a bicycle. We were too young to drive. I met James and Kreisler on hill road and we proceeded at a leisurely pace to the hotel. It took us fifteen minutes to reach, from the time we met. Kreisler asked us to wait, as he went in, James and I wheeled our bikes onto the dusty road leading to the Fort until we reached the mouth. There wasn’t a breeze as we had expected. The spot we were at, allowed a beautiful view of the coast. Engaged in conversation that bordered on teenage crushes and college pratter we were joined by Kreisler a little later.

We were ready to leave. I threw a fleeting glance at the Fort. And it was then that I saw her. I could only see her upper torso, her face, swallowed in what was the matted remains of white hair. She peered down at us crouched behind a wall, two storeys high, a portion of which had collapsed centuries ago. I was startled and couldn’t help but bring the attention of the others to the innocuous and seemingly harmless figure on the fort. "Hey", said James, “Shivaji lives”. I broke into one of my typical guffaws. What happened next, left me gaping at the sight…it was a cross between astonishment and a laugh, swiftly silenced. The figure had stood up, her arms raised above her head. Her arms seemed to end at her elbows…she seemed to be wearing a garb that looked like a Sari and she was moving sideways, her eyes riveted on us. There was not a sound that she made. But she was moving, towards us.

I still fail to understand how could any normal human being move sideways, in the manner that she did. It looked like she was walking sideways but her torso and head was facing us which meant that she was moving sideways with her feet pointing in our direction. But her movement was seamless…there wasn’t the typical bobbing of head that happens when we walk. It seemed like she was gliding.

For a second, which seemed like an eternity, we stood transfixed. Watching her move towards us. She was two storeys up, on the upper sections of the fort and she was moving down the steps of the fort, that led straight to us. James spoke then, in a hoarse whisper, that sounded like “Run”. I did not need any more encouragement.

We sprang on our cycles and dug our feet into our pedals. And we suddenly realized…we were the only ones at Bandstand. There was not a soul in sight. The area was deserted. The hotel loomed to our left, but with no guards at the gate…there did not seem to be a light at a window. It was dark…I wouldn’t have guessed at that moment, that the time was 8.00pm. And its then we heard the shriek.

It was not a high pitched, piercing screech. It was a low guttural sound, that sounded more like the hoarse moan of an animal in distress. And then it hit us. A wind, as strong and powerful that it pushed us back into our seats. We almost fell forward, as our cycles slowed down abruptly and our pedals refused to budge. Moments of surprise gave way to intense fear and an overwhelming desire to escape.

James sprung up on his cycle, hunched his shoulders and used his weight to push the pedals to the floor. ‘Get out of here….we have to get out”, he screamed. I could hardly hear him above the sound. The sound of the wind, in my ears, pounded my senses, I could hardly breathe. I followed suit, punched my Mach I pedals, the slim tyres wobbled as my grip was unsteady and for a brief moment refused to budge.
For a second, I felt helpless…of being caught in a dream…of being reduced to a weak shimmering form. I dared not look behind, because I did not have the courage to face what I may behold. And then the Mach I surged in front. That was all the momentum I needed.

With the strength of a man possessed, I cycled after James. I did not know whether Kreisler followed but I knew if I stopped I would not be able to get moving again. The gale screeched in my ears. We were past the Hotel, and we hit the street…our faces twisted with the effort and the overwhelming thoughts of the supernatural. And then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped.

We were thrown back into our seats…as if an invisible hand clutching us, had let go. We did not bother to wait, to recoup, to reconsider, to converse. I dug deep into my handlebars and raced away behind james. We must have cycled for approximately five minutes before we passed Bandstand and reached Mount Carmels church, that announced the beginning of Hill Road. It was then that I realized….Kreisler was not with us.

“James”, I shouted…”Kreisler!”. He hit his brakes leaving a thin line of rubber as his tyres screeched to a halt. “I thought, he was with you”, he said.

“Well, he isn’t”. I got a look at his face for the first time. His eyes large, face pale and his breathing shallow.
“$5A#, we got to go back".

“I’m not going back there”, said James. Emphatic as it sounded…I agreed with all my heart.

“Whats with you’ll guys”, said a familiar voice. We looked back, over our shoulders, to see Kreisler, his rotund frame propped on his seemingly tiny cycle, round the bend in the road and ride into view. “You’ll could have waited”..

“Didn’t you feel the gale?” I asked. He did not seem to be talking coherently, if he believed he could propose the ridiculous suggestion of ‘waiting’.

"What gale?" asked Kreisler nonchalantly.

“You mean, you didn’t feel it?”, asked James. “You didn’t see her?”

“Feel what, See whom?”, asked Kreisler.

It has been 10 years since that day. I do know, after repeated conversations that Kreisler did not see whom we were pointing at, on that fateful day, nor did he feel the debilitating gale. I also believe that he saw us spring on our cycles and head off…and he followed us. Two varied experiences at a similar location…but with two varied states of consciousness.

One, which epitomized the actions of James and me, was filled with dread, fear and a vision of the unnatural. One, which symbolized Kreisler was of abject ignorance.

Was it just fear that made our feet heavy. Or was it an unexplained, supernatural force? That…I shall never know.