Friday, November 24, 2006

2nd chance..?

It was late. And the play wasn't anything to write home about. And in any case, Damu (Damodar) had gone there to please Suchi (Suchitra), who'd pestered him to buy the damn tickets.

"Please, Damu. For me?" She'd implored, with those beseeching eyes he'd fallen in love with silently, over the years.

"But.."

"Please Damu. It's for the eye-camp."

A beat..."Eye-camp?" She'd repeated, looking him in the eyes.

He'd handed out the hundred bucks in silent resignation. Money-mindedness was the last thing he wanted her to guage him with.

Now he walked across the dark street (no street-light as usual, he noticed), and reached the main road that connected the grid-separator and the alley towards his home. Suchi had decided to stay back to help her friends change. She was one of the organizers anyway, so well..it made sense.

They were through with college a few years back, and still lived in the same neighborhood, but he couldn't muster enough courage to convey his feelings to her.

"Loser," Amit, his pal since first year, had hissed, as Damu silently watched Pritam whisk her away from under his nose. He hurried his steps as the memories bobbed up and down his head. Pritam had joined a year late, but was more popular and had even won the affections of Suchi. I mean, it was almost like those 'good-boy-loses-girl-to-smart-hero' movies he'd seen so many times. And here he was, his life an almost identical replica of...

Bang.

He turned his head. Fine time to burst crackers.

Bang... again.

Behind him. He turned and saw some commotion on the main road. A wail. Some shouting. He was in the alley now and hastened, his heart beating faster. Then he heard someone running into the alley. Behind him. And then a car turned into the alley, following the runner.

Bang. This time it deafened him and he lunged to the ground. He thought he'd been shot at. But no, it wasn't him. He looked up and right behind him, the runner was lying on the ground. Two guys stepped out of the car and pumped two more bullets into him and hurried into the car.

"hey, who's that?" A voice inside the car demanded. Then a command to shoot him also.

Damu started running. A bullet whizzed past his ears and entered a tree. His mouth all dried up, his first thought was - I'm dead.

He turned into a cross road. A voice inside his head commanded him to head into the construction site on the side; without thinking he ran inside and ducked behind a pillar. A few seconds later, the car stopped outside. A few muffled voices. "...probably hasn't seen us. Cannot identify us.." were the all-important words he heard. Oh please, make them go away, he prayed. Then the engine died, sending a wave of panic again. The doors opened and slammed shut. He quietly hid behind sacks in the inner room of the house.

"Come out, you rat," they were speaking in the local language. He wondered how many of them were there, in all? Probably four. Maybe he should just talk his way out. Then another voice in his head, "don't be a fool. They are here to kill you, and they'll do it anyways. Talk or no talk. So just be quiet."

Scuffled footsteps entered the room.

"You think he's here?"

"Let's find out. But first, ask these guys to move. We don't want cops welcoming us outside."

The other guy left and a moment later Damu heard the car come to life and drive away.

Just then the caretaker of the site walked in, sleepy. "Who?"

"Your in-laws, just shut up." It was obvious the caretaker had seen the gun, for he didn't speak after that. The second guy walked in again.

"Find him," commanded the first guy.

"Who...who's here, sir?" The caretaker squeaked.

"None of your business."

Damu couldn't believe he was watching a harmless play only an hour back, only to be facing his death now.

A hand moved the sacks.

"Just pump a bullet or two into all the sacks. That's how you kill rats."

Damu offered a silent prayer, thanked his mom and dad for everything, expressed his love for them...and thought about Suchi. "I love you, Suchi," he said in his mind. There. He'd said it at last. And having said that, he suddenly wanted to live. He didn't want to die like this. He'd been a loser all his life. He couldn't die without first proclaiming his love for her. Maybe things could indeed be worked out by a cordial talk. He stood up.

"Ah..there you are, you rodent" smiled one of the guys. He couldn't see them clearly but they looked like they meant business.

"Look..please leave me. I..I didn't see anything."

"Oh yeah? You think we're fools."

Come to think of it, they were..wondered Damu. All they had to do was do their job and scoot. Why the hell did they have to come after him? And now he'd really seen them. And he had to die for that. Drat.

"Look, you could've just gone away. I was shit scared anyway..Please.."

This made them think. Just then, two loud 'thungs' like a tuner fork rang in the air..and the two guys were lying on the floor. The caretaker was standing behind the gangsters, with a flat iron rod.

"Quick sir, go call the police. I'll tie them up."

"Yeah...ok..uh..hey, that was quick thinking. Thanks. But...are they..dead?"

They bent down and checked. They were alive. Damu sighed with relief and ran out.

*********

"Construction worker helps nab two dreaded gangsters. Saves possible victim's life."

Damu read the detailed report, his name and all...folded the paper and leaned back in the sofa..closing his eyes, with gratitude, and some guilt. He was sure Suchi would've read the report. He sighed again. Maybe he should've taken those bullets after all...

*******

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Back from the...


From the Frankly Spooking outtakes
"Are you sure you want to do this, Kishore?"

He patted her shoulder. "Trust me."

"But it looks desolate, honey. It might be spooky, for all you know." Preeti pulled her shades over her head and winced at the large, greyish two-storeyed building. It was evident that it was an abandoned structure, the tall bushes and dry leaves all over testimony to the fact.

"Yeah, but just look at the weather. It's all nice and sunny," he chuckled. "Have you ever been scared of a building on a day like this? It's all about the darkness, the rains..and of course, the background score." Now he laughed, but Preeti was not amused. She followed him inside reluctantly.

The iron gates, so archetypal of spooky stories, groaned and they walked in. No watchman, no caretaker. This building sure was nobody's favorite legacy.

"You know, it's bang in the middle of the city. I've been watching this place ever since I came here. 10 years ago. That's a long time for something to be left untouched. Not in an area like this. And whenever I passed by, I swore that one day I'd come in and snoop around. It's a childhood habit I can't help." Kishore parted the bushes with his bare hands, making way for them.

Preeti frowned, looking around. It almost looked like the set of a scary movie. Only, the crew had left it as it was, without bothering to clean up behind them. Outside, the sound of traffic reassured her that all was fine, and they could just leave whenever they wanted.

The door was obviously locked. It didn't take much for it give away, as Kishore tugged at it a few times. He smiled at Preeti, who just shrugged. They stepped into the ruins. She turned back, almost expecting the door to shut behind them...and then shook her head at her own silliness. This wasn't a scary movie after all.

"Hmm...," Kishore picked up a vase lying on the floor. It was muddy, but he could tell from the doors and other fixtures that it had been the dwelling of someone wealthy. He wondered why such a magnificent house was abandoned this way. Well, the reasons could be many. The living room was bare, but the windows were open, letting in the light. That helped. There was wild growth all around...the damp smell of earth coupled with bird droppings. A couple of sparrows fluttered around, as if annoyed with the human visit.

Thankfully,the stairs didn't creak, but the cracks showed. "Careful," Preeti whispered, but Kishore kept his head up. The first floor was different. It was darker, and the windows were shut. There were two rooms right across the landing, one on each side. The space in the middle was a corridor that led to the balcony, or sitout, he guessed.

"Let's first take the rooms."

They entered the first one. Not much different from the one below, except this one didn't have undergrowth, but still a few leaves from the ceiling hinted at the green invasion pretty soon.

Must be the peepul tree outside, Preeti thought. The room itself was pretty spacious for a bedroom. A closed wardrobe on one side...and..Kishore started moving toward it.

"Kishore, don't..." Preeti started.

"Why? You're afraid skeletons might come out?" He laughed at his own little joke and pulled at the door. It came in his hand, with a ball of dust escaping the wardrobe. he shook it off and covered his mouth.

"Did you hear it?" Preeti said.

"Hear what?"

"Shhh.."

It was coming from the other room. Like a groan. Must be a tramp, come in for shelter, thought Kishore. They stood still for a while. A sparrow flew in and out of the room. They tiptoed out and across to the second room. The door was ajar. Kishore pushed Preeti behind him and pushed it further.

Nothing. Nobody.

They looked around. Up at the ceiling. Down the rails at the living room.

"Huh." Kishore frowned.

"Kishore?"

"Hmm?"

"Chalo. Let's go..I'm not liking this."

"Arre, it wasn't coming from this house. Maybe the neighbors. And moreover, we've not yet explored the terrace."

"Whatever, I don't want to be here."

Kishore was rubbing his right shoulder.

"Are you ok?" Preeti patted him.

"Yeah..don't know why, looks like I have a muscle pull here."

"Doing what?"

"Beats me. Ok, let's go. I'll come back later some day."

They walked back to the car. Kishore was rubbing his left shoulder now.

"What, the other side paining as well?"

"Hmm, looks like. It's nothing anyway..". He started the car. Preeti looked back at the house. Her eyes roved over the walls, the building itself and then the terrace. She clutched at Kishore's hand so hard, he scowled. "Ow..what?"

"I thought somebody was watching us from the terrace."

Kishore chuckled. "yeah, probably it was him we heard."

She turned back and frowned. Did she really see somebody or was it just her imagination? Anyway, they were out and away. And that's what mattered.

******

Probably the pain, Kishore felt heavy and his walking was laboured, as they opened the gates and walked in.

"Still paining, sweety?" Preeti rubbed his shoulder. " Don't worry, a couple of pain-killers and a hot-water bag should do. I'll give you a massage as well" Preeti said, with a naughty wink, as they entered their home. They'd visited friends after their adventure and returned late. It was past nine. Kishore had as usual showed off about their snooping around. "Will take you guys there the next time."

Now, as Preeti prepared the hot-water bag, he stood at the sink and washed. As he dabbed his face, he noticed small drops of blood on the basin. He saw himself in the mirror and touched his nose. No, wasn't his nose. And he'd not cut himself. He bent down to wash his face once again, for good measure. Then he did a double take.

There in the mirror he saw a boy, not more than fifteen, sitting on his shoulder, smiling. Blood trickling from his mouth. Instinctively, with a gasp Kishore tried to shake him off, but his hands just went through the boy's legs.

And then, the boy tightened his legs round Kishore's neck. Smiling all along.

******

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Draw...

She looked at him through the large glass doors. Luckily the place was abuzz with people and noise. She was safe. She got behind a guy in the long line at one of the food counters. As they inched forward, she kept an eye outside. He was still facing the other side, looking sideways. Probably searching for her. And then he swung back. That was so quick, she had to literally hold the shoulder in front of her and duck behind the hapless guy who almost gasped.

"Sorry, sorry.." she muttered as he shrugged and turned to the moving line. She was still behind him, peeping out a bit from the shoulder. Oh no, he was moving to the food court. Her heart raced as she clutched her bag tighter and muttered a desperate prayer. He now stood in the entrance, roving his eyes. And then he turned and walked away toward the escalator.

"God...go, go, go..." She gnashed her teeth.

******

She spotted an empty table and settled in. The guy in the line spotted it too and approached. She buried her face in her meal and pretended not to see him. She felt stupid holding his shoulder now.

"Uh, excuse me?"

She looked up, pretending as if his shoulder had not existed.

"Is this taken..?"

"Oh no, please.." She moved away a little.

He sat down and started his meal. She avoided his glance. Too late.

"Uh...I don't want to sound nosey."

Oh yeah?

"But...are you in some kind of trouble, ma'am?"

"Excuse me?"

He seemed embarrassed now.

"Uh..I mean..you hid behind me. From someone, obviously" He rubbed his shoulder. "YOu are quite strong, you know."

She smiled sheepishly. Actually this guy was cute. And yeah, she was a bit tough on the clamping.

"Sorry." She pushed back a lock of hair.

"That's ok."

They laughed.

"That guy...well, forget it. It's..it's not important."

"Are you sure? He might be waiting outside, you know."

She stopped eating and contemplated for a minute. He was right. She swallowed her mouthful and pushed back the plate a bit.

"Well, he's..I don't know how to say this..but..he's my fiance."

"What?"

"Yeah. Strange, isn't it? I behaved as though he were a psychopath or something."

She laughed nervously. The guy didn't talk.

"Atul."

"Huh?"

"The name's Atul. You could call me that." He smiled.

"Oh.." she chuckled. "Shraddha."

*******

They walked into the parking lot, Shraddha's eyes looking around in fear. It was almost deserted, except for the security guy at the far end, manning incoming cars.

"I can't believe someone could behave that way with his own fiancee." Atul took out the keys.
They sat in his car.

"I think I'm troubling you a lot.." Shraddha started.

"Nonsense." He smiled and before he could start the car, the passenger door opened and a guy slid in. Then, two simultaneous clicks. From the corner of his eyes, he caught the gleaming barrels, one beside him, and one in the rear-view mirror.

"Keep the hands on the wheel, Atul. And just drive."

"Easy..ok?" Atul said with just a hint of nervousness, easing the car back.

"And don't try to be funny, mister." The fiance growled from behind.

"Ok, ok..please keep the guns away."

********

The car hurtled down the National Highway.

About fifty miles down, when the highway was near empty, the car swung hard and spun a few times before standing still off the road.

A moment later, two quick shots rang out in the quiet afternoon. The car was soon back on the road, this time headed back to the city.

Atul was panting, but just. In five minutes, he was composed. He looked at the hole in her head and another gaping hole in the guy's neck. "Not bad," he said to himself. He drew up the tinted windows and pushed back Shraddha's seat, so it looked like she were napping.

He laughed."Amateurs."

**********

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Duck..?

Ashish's eye flew open and his heart leaped to his mouth. Damn, he should've set his cell's profile to silent. He quickly reached to his side and flipped it open. Through groggy eyes, he tried to identify the number, and frowned. What the...

There went his siesta.

"Hello?"

"Ashish?" Whoa, the voice was sexy.

"Yes?" He was wide awake now.

"Hi Ashish, Mrinalini here."

Mrina...oh, Mrinalini. The RJ!

A second, and he was all ears. In fact he was all everything.

"Uh, hi! Hey..thanks for calling."

Finally, all those emails paid off.

"You wanted to meet?"

He fell back on his pillow. Ahh!

******

He looked at his watch for the 500th time. Was he looking good? He checked his breath, ran a hand through his hair. The usual guy things. They'd agreed to meet up at Ulsoor lake. They could've met up in a cafe, but she preferred it that way. And he was ok with it so long as she agreed to meet him. And then she walked in. Oh boy, was she beautiful or what.

She came up to him, with a faint hint of short breath. Maybe she walked a bit. He didn't seem to notice any car outside. Good. He could give her a ride home. They sat on the bench.

He smiled at her. She smiled back. He smiled some more, nervously now, not knowing what to say. She raised her brows and smiled again.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"So, say something."

He was sheepish.

She turned to him for a better view and threw her hair back, which almost killed him. No, not the hair..his heart stopped for a fleeting second that is...

"Do you know how many emails you sent me?"

He shook his head.

"54, to be precise."

He grimaced. That's all? So much for being an admirer.

She read his mind.
"Well, I've received more fan-mail, but you were different."

Ah, so it proved it. He had a way around girls. He settled in now.

"So, what is it that you 'so badly' wanted to talk with me?"

He scratched his head. "Don't know, Mrinalini. I just...love your voice. I mean, you're so damn good." She raised a single eye-brow. He bit his lip. Damn good? all those rehearsals in front of the mirror and all he could come up with was 'damn good?'

"Err..what I meant was..it's..it's - wow!" He chuckled.

"Thanks." She smiled coyly.

"So..what is different in my emails?" His turn to interrogate. Anyway this is how any real conversation could come about. So he played it straight, like her.

"Ummm, don't know. The way you use your words, perhaps?"

"How do I use my words?"

"Ashish.." She frowned mockingly.

"Ok, ok."

They spoke about themselves, he about his personal life, interests etc etc..and she followed suit. To cut a long story short, they got comfy with each other.

She looked in his eyes for a moment and turned her gaze on him. "You know, I wanted to meet you. At least to see who you were. At least once. I really liked the way you persisted in your emails. Maybe you should try your hand scripting my shows."

"Sure! But why did you want to meet me only once?" He feigned disappointment.

She smiled. "Once is enough, don't you think? You've met me, so my inbox can breathe now."

"Don't be too sure." They laughed over it and she looked away dreamily at the ducks in the pond.

"It's so calming to see them, na?"

"Who?"

"The ducks, stupid."

"Oh, the ducks. Hmmm, yeah." He gazed at the birds now.

"Sometimes I want to jussst float along, like these guys."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Have you ever..?"

"What? Floated? NO way!"

"Offoh! No, I mean thought about floating..like them."

He shook his head.

"Well, you could try."

And then, with a heave she shoved him into the lake.

"What the..."

*****

"Wake up, you lazy oaf. We've a movie to catch."

Sudhanshu, his roomie stood over him, with a mug of water in his hand.

"And who's this Mrinalini huh?" Sud had a smirk on his face. Ashish grabbed the cell from his hand and read the messages. Gosh, 2 messages and a missed call.

He clicked to view the message - Please don't sent me any more emails or I'll have to call the police - Mrinalini.

*******

Monday, November 06, 2006

So long...maybe not.

They'd been friends in college; an occasional chat here and there at the canteen, but that was about it. She was seeing the student union's president at the time and was looked on with grudging respect. He'd seen her campaign enthusiastically during the elections. The only reason he could even snatch a few moments with her was because they shared the same passion for music and were members of the college cultural club. Wasn't something that people noticed, but he'd rarely shown his admiration for her even otherwise.

*****

Raj climbed the stairs apprehensively. Would she recognize him? 15 years was a long time. He'd gotten her address from a common friend who just happened to know her address. It was pure luck. A lot had happened in between. A million questions in his head.

*****

He rang the door-bell and waited, checking his breath. He'd cut down to a half-pack and on his way to quitting it altogether. But he didn't want to spoil the first impression after so many years. Why was he here at all, he wondered.

A head peeped out. It was dark inside.

"Yes?"

"Uh, Mrs. Sandeepa?"

The old man, her father perhaps, opened the door wide and squinted his thick-glassed eyes to study Raj.

"Who are you?"

"Uh..sir, I'm an old friend, college mate? I was in town and I learned..."

"Come in, come in."

Was this really Sandeepa's house? It looked like a stable. There was an unidentifiable stench coming from the far end of the house. Raj squirmed and slowly sat down on the tattered couch.

"Am sorry..this.." the old man looked around.

"Uh, it's ok...sir."

"Sandeepa has gone out. She'll be back soon..uh would you..?"

"No, sir, it's ok."

They sat, neither speaking, for a while. The stench now vanished. Maybe his nose had gotten used to it now. The old clock on the wall tick-tocked the boredom away. He looked around. Sparse, minimalistic furniture. He had a mind to leave. It wasn't worth it maybe. But then, the prospect of meeting Sandeepa after so many years kept him glued.

The door-bell rang. The old man left to answer it. Raj's pulse quickened. He heard them talking. The female voice sounded surprised. Then she walked in.

"Raj?"

"Uh..hello..Sandeepa." He rose to greet her.

*******

The sound of traffic below was strangely comforting. They sat sipping tea in the tiny sitout. The lunch was simple, but adequate. He looked at her. Still the same. A few wrinkles perhaps, but the same. She looked at him and smiled.

"You don't believe what I just said, don't you?"

"Hmm? Oh no..no, not at all, I do believe it. I.." Actually he did find it hard to believe it. But as far as he knew her, she wasn't someone to just make something up, not after 15 years at least.

"So...Neha."

He nodded.

She was dreamy now. "Yes, I met her a few months back and we exchanged addresses. How's she? And how her children have grown, na? Imagine..naughty Neha, with her own naughty ones." They laughed, going back to the college canteen for a few seconds.

He smiled. He wondered if she had any children of her own. This wasn't the time to ask.

He rose.

"Keep in touch, Raj." Was there a tear in the corner of her eye? Guess not...

"I will. thanks. You too..And take care."

They shook hands. He held her hand for a fleeting second more. She didn't seem to mind.

He nodded gently at her father and started down the wooden stairs. She was leaning on the railing.

*******

He started the car and lit up a cigarette. Then he shook his head, smiled and threw it out.