Thursday, December 29, 2022


Temperature dropped suddenly. Fog rushed in. All the buildings surrounding the office, despite all the fancy high voltage lights, disappeared in the haze. As I head home at midnight, with hazard lights of my car on, the RJ makes a special request, “All societies in Delhi NCR, please ask your security guards not to burn wood at night. Please provide them electrical heaters to stay warm. Let’s reduce pollution together.”

Having snoozed away multiple alarms, with great difficulty I get out from under the blankets to open the door for Rebika. She walks to the kitchen sink. “Didi aaj to geyser chala hi lena.” I have asked her to use warm water to do the dishes a few times in past weeks. Every time she says will do it in few days. Tap water has been cold for weeks now. Today it is freezing.

I light the gas chulha and keep water for tea.

‘Bhaya, wo 1001 wali aunty ka geyser ka switch jal gaya. Wo mere ko bole tune jala diya.”

“Koi na didi, nabbey saal ki umar mein koi kuch bhi bolta hai.”

She is quiet for few moments. Her hands are busy with the dishes. Isn’t this water cold? I feel the chills a few meters away.

‘Ye 2001 wali didi, Bengal wali. Wo mere ko boli agar bijli ka bil jyada aaya to salary se katoongi.”

I begin to understand her hesitancy of using warm water. There is another type of cold she is more afraid of.

I pour my cup of tea, head to my warm blanket and open the news app. It’s the fourth headline “Watch: Domestic help beaten by a women in Noida Housing Society.”

RJ rushes to his studio for an emergency broadcast, “Security guards, please hold on to your wood.”   

#HWR #FDC10 #Prompt14

Latifpura Christmas

It has never been about chimneys in this part of the world. So, I come and go using whatever means available; as long as it’s a quick stop (much distance and many wishes to cover in one night!).

It had been a very productive night so far. My next stop – Latifpura, Jalandhar - a colony of 50 homes. Only three little girls waiting for me here. They have been good this year. Good to others. In school. In home. In their hearts. In their prayers. And they didn’t ask for much. A doll, a sweater, a storybook. This will be a quick stop.

I am where the first home is supposed to be. I only see torn down walls, broken doors and windows, damaged household items. The other houses in neighbourhood seem to be similar condition. I didn’t hear of any earthquake in this region. And the houses on other side of the road seem to be in good shape. Only this colony looks like a storm brought it down and that too in a hurry.

Where will I find the girls?

I see few tents. A group is gathered around the fire. My tiptoe generally goes unnoticed.

“Beta, we survived the bloody riots, left our homes, land and villages and settled here after partition. And to suffer this at the hands of our own govt.”

“Bhaji, 75 years this has been home. And in one day they made us homeless.”

“Baba ji, Veere, they don’t care. When you all settled here, this was a wasteland. Now this is prime property. 1.5acre worth 150crores. That is very valuable to them.”

“Beta, was there no value of our homes? And what about the value of our dignity? Our little children witnessing the demolition of their homes, our women pleading, begging with police, and to live in tents. Tents you volunteers have setup for us. For us homeless people. In this freezing winter.”

I am not made to know such cruelty. That is for my more real and more relevant friend - death. I know cheer. I know joy. I walk away.

I find their tents. I leave their gifts. A doll, a sweater, a storybook. They had been good this year.

#HWR #FDC10 #prompt12

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Autumn is here

Autumn is here - in the garden where we walked,

The rotating gates’ welcoming embrace,

A painful, cruel, piercing squeak now.


Autumn is here - under our tree,

The space that completed me, completed us, our ephemeral bliss,

A hollow, empty, existence of sorrow.


Autumn is here - in the gathering of these birds,

Their chirruping, our music. Soulless.

Their fluttering wings, our heartbeats. Flightless.


Autumn is here - in its sounds, sounds without your laugh.

Autumn is here - in its silence, silence without your rhythms.


Autumn is here – in the garden where we walked and in my heart.

#HWR #FDC10 #prompt7

Memory Lanes

The girls place the lit candles on the marble floor of the Gurudwara. “We celebrate sixth guru’s release from Jahangir’s prison as Bandichor Diwas,” the girls answer his ‘why’ together. They exit towards Chandni Chowk memorial. “Ninth Guru was executed by Aurangzeb here. We remember him as Hind-di-Chadar.”

Behind the Gurudwara he shows them the shop where his grandfather worked after partition - “He lost his family in Lahore during riots.”

Through the narrow lanes, teeming with festival crowd, they reach Jama Masjid. The girls race up the stairs.

“Simran, Shoa, careful.”

“Come Shagufta,” he takes his wife’s hand and follows.

#HWR #FDC #prompt7

Happy New Year

Another day of waiting at labour chowk. Another day without work. He spends the last coins in his pocket on poori-sabji at the corner cart before walking few miles to his spot.

The damned dog is still here. He repents offering him that biscuit the first day. He repents giving him a name.

He shoo the dog away.

It is a chilly night. His footpath bed behind the nightclub barely keeps him warm.

Three. Two. One. Happy New Year.

Loud cheers wake him up.

He feels the freezing breath. He feels the shivering body.

He pulls Sheru inside the blanket.

#HWR #FDC #prompt7

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Debt-Death Trap


This early, on a North Indian winter morning, only the brave venture out. Or those who must.

He starts from his village at three, just as the priest at the gurduwara wakes up. He reaches the city outskirts as the priest switches on the loud-speaker and starts reciting the morning gurbani.  The village wakes up to gurbani.

The tempo he hired to bring the produce to mandi has threatened to break down multiple times in last one hour. On the empty roads of the morning, it is a wake-up alarm to the sleeping city.

He pays the vehicle entry fee at the gates of the mandi. The driver helps him unload the sacks of produce. He moves them to the auction area. The driver will wait for him. He waits for the traders.

Five months of sweat and toil, five months of caring for the seed and soil. Weather Gods were kind, and the yield is plentiful. The extra cost of high yield seeds and expensive pesticides have been a good decision, even though the interest the money lender would charge is a big worry. Plus, the balance of his earlier loans, costs of the failed summer crop and this year’s rent on his own land, which is pledged with the money lender. All his hopes are on this crop.

One by one more tempos and trolleys arrive for morning mandi. Slowly the auction place is overflowing with produce. It has been a good season all around. His face suddenly has a worried look. Will he get a good price?

As the village priest winds up morning prayers and as his wife goes inside to wake their children, three daughters and a boy, the traders start arriving. The munshis serve their masters steaming hot tea and report the quantity of produce arrived. A good season means a buyers’ market, their market.

By the time the first trader reaches his pile of sacks, he already knows the prices have crashed. Munshi rips the heart of few sacks. The trader pulls out few samples. ‘Daagi hai.’ ‘Keeda hai.’ ‘Daana kamjor hai.’ Traders can afford to be as picky as they want to be today. He listens with bent head, folded hands. The trader makes his bid. He gasps. Its so low, he can’t even pay the due of the seeds and pesticides. One by one other traders give their verdict at his pile. One by one his hopes are shattered.

He does what he has come to do. He sells. The driver knows. He drives back in silence. The stray dogs chase their tempo and them out of the city, out of their city.

He closes his eyes and leans back. Outstanding loan of the money lender, rent of the mortgaged land, his wife’s medicine, the daughters are of age, the boy wants a mobile and a motorcycle, the tubewell needs repairs, dues of kirana shop, money he borrowed from his neighbour, his cycle needs a new tyre, the roof needs repair before the coming rains, seeds and fertiliser for the next crop. His hand grips the pocket and keeps his money safe from his expenses.

The tempo driver drops him at the village square. He pays him his fare.

The village kirana shop is open. The seth is at his seat.

“Aayo Mohan Singh. You had a good crop. Please clear my dues now.”

He pays him. Hesitantly.

There is one currency note left with him. He looks around the shop and at all the things his wife has asked him to bring.

He steps out of the shop. His feet refuse to turn homewards. He stands there, glued to the ground for an eternity. The gurdwara loudspeaker croaks to life - Officers from town are visiting today for enrolments to Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Bima Yojana. The panch made him put his thumb impression on papers last time they were here.

His feet move. He enters the shop, asks for a length of strong nylon rope. He hands the last note to seth and hurriedly walks toward his field.

Dada ji had him plant the tree next to their motor when he was ten. He watered it regularly, protected it from the goats, and grew up with it. The little stem with few tiny leaves turned to a tall trunk and many wide branches, green and laden with fruit. The tree had been his companion.  It is old and withered now, like him, but he knows that one branch, where he put swings for his children, is still strong enough to carry his weight. One last time.

#HWR #FDC10 #prompt4



This August Ravi shared an article ‘The value of owning more books than you can read’ with a caption ‘Surdy, your secret is out. You have tsundoku!’

It started in June though.

When he asked, “Have you heard of Ved Mehta?” To my negative reply he shared few articles including an obituary. Ravi and I were at college together and later we were flatmates during our early working days. In his words, ‘he was blown away by Ved’s story – a blind author who saw India like none other.’

It probably started nearly two decades back.

On the streets of Pune. At the second-hand bookshops of its busy MG & JM roads. With some spare change from the meagre salary of those days. From there to Mumbai and book market of Flora Fountain and then to many other cities and their bookshops (and to the lazy e-commerce of these days).

First it was Three Day Road. Then The Fountainhead. And then there was a third book which I bought a second copy of.

It actually started a few years before Pune.

First semester at college. When I volunteered for hostel library duties. Once every week, after dinner, I walked to the hostel PA system and announced, “Ara Lib is open.” Sometimes I added “come as you are.” Not many came though.

The library running experience came in handy now. After the second copy of that third book, I organised my shelves and piles a bit. It took some time, but I made a list of all the books I had.

Updating and checking that list before buying books is a habit now. After reading about Ved, I went to order some of his books and when I checked the list, Mamaji by Ved Mehta announced its presence on my shelves.

I corrected myself to Ravi – “Sometime in last twenty years I must have read about Ved Mehta or seen a book/book review. Just never got around to reading the book.” And I added, “I typically end up buying way more books than I can read. For now, I am calling the unread books my retirement reading collection.”

Few weeks later I learned the name of this bibliophile malady.

‘Surdy, your secret is out. You have tsundoku!’

#HWR #FDC10 #prompt3


The last step of my physical creation - my covers are glued. I join the pile of my clones. Soon afterwards, I travel in the dark world of a carton’s inside and find myself on the shelf of a warehouse. These aren’t the kind of shelves we used to be destined for. There are whispers of a new world - e-commerce.

After many weeks (or is it months?) I am moved. From the shelf into a room where many hands are busy packing all sorts of things. A bubble wrap tickles me, and another layer of cover sends me in dark again. I feel myself flung to a corner. Another movement and I land in a moving thing. The road journey is bumpy. At the end of it, I find myself in a bag. The bag travels on a motorcycle. In the middle of many tall buildings, we stop. The boy gets into an elevator, rings a doorbell and passes me over to another set of hands.

He unpacks me, caresses my cover, and places me on a shelf with the others.

I wait.

A few years later I and others on the shelf are boxed and when we are put back on the shelf we are in a new room. He is still around. This time there is another person in the house. A female. This room is nicer though.

Still, I wait.

A few years later the room changes again. It’s a new city altogether. I can see through the window and there are trees outside. And birds! Early morning sun peeks into the room.

Still, I wait.

That morning finally arrives. With the rising of a new sun, he picks me from the shelf and walks to the balcony and opens me. I am dizzy with the feeling of being alive.

That evening I hear him say. “Raman, this has been with me for over eight years. This morning I opened it. And this evening Hilary Mantel is dead!”

But how can she be? I am alive. I am her.

#HWR #FDC10 #prompt2


Advanced Wide Bore 3 Tonne Broadband MRI with Audio Visual Experience. Manufactured by Philips. A white monster. With the press of a button the technician pulls out its tongue. I am ready meat for it - my clothes have been taken (along with a bit of my dignity) and I am in the cotton of the clinic. I am placed on the extended tongue. The technician hands me a switch – in case of emergency - a polite way of him saying if you panic and can’t take ten minutes of this loud claustrophobic experience inside the monster’s belly. Keep your arms on your sides. Don’t move your head. He can see that rest of the body will not be a problem. All his instructions follow the same theme. Stay calm. Stay still.

Stay still. The thing that I failed at. The reason I am here in the first place.

Shivam and Irfan went first, the base, a strong foundation. Vinay the balancer, our mezzanine went next. On Irfan’s strong legs I rose, on Vinay’s steady shoulders I rested. Raman starts her climb, the tricky part of the organ. All I am to do is watch. Stay still. Till Raman is part of us. Part of what we are to be. I am to breath steadily, feel the strength of us, feel the energy of earth rise through the intertwined limbs. And I am to stay steady. Stay still.

She is so happy. The girl opposite us. Her mother claps. The girl claps. I forget the only thing I am required to do. I wave at the girl.

I remember the green of treetops turning to a dust filled sky. I remember few crows dotting that sky. I remember the sound of a thud. I remember a stillness greet me.

The only thing that I was required to do. Since the moment I failed at it, I have been still.

#HWR #FDC10#prompt1


Temperature dropped suddenly. Fog rushed in. All the buildings surrounding the office, despite all the fancy high voltage lights, disappeare...