Tag Archives: short story

‘Us’ does not exist

I have seen them in the traffic jam, in the lines of waiting crowd, when she sat back on his bike and caressed the dog peering outside the window of the car next to them.

I have seen them in front of the museum; him holding the kid in his arms, her trying to find something desperately from the cheap green faux leather bag. Perhaps, she was fishing for the blue handkerchief to rub the snot below the baby’s nostrils, or the bubble gum to keep it silent.

I have seen them in shopping malls, sitting together with big cups of coffees on small white table, flanked by matching white chairs. She had a brown leather sling bag and long leather boots. He looked chic in a pair of blue jeans and white shirt.

I have seen them in buses, in the metro, in the pool cab that I take to save money that needs to be paid towards the bills.

I have seen the love, the care that flows between a man and a woman. The care that one finds in little day-to-day things. The way the girl on the bike holds onto her boyfriend in black leather jacket in one hand and in the way she caresses the dog with the other. I have seen the attraction in the eyes which reflects the coffee table. New love is always fire.

The married couple in the front of the museum can be just about anyone, with a kid early in their marriage because he did not believe in planning and she had no choice.

Perhaps, they had fought on the way to the museum. Her bickering about the nagging kid, him tired of her tantrums. Perhaps, the boy on the bike is going to drop the girl off for good and ride his own separate direction. Maybe, the couple on the coffee date will no longer meet for the next one, because she speaks a little too much and he turns out to be a snob.

But, in the moment that I see them, in the moment my heart skips a beat at the sight of people doing ‘couple’ things, I miss you.

I miss you on my way to work, when a random stranger walks by wearing the same perfume that you wear. I miss you when I re-record songs in a broken voice and send to all the people who do not matter, but stop before sending to you, because I no longer can.

I miss you in them. I miss us in them.

Us does not exist.

You and I do.

In separate cities, in separate worlds evolving around us.

(c) 2017 Arpita Pramanick

The rains that wash away

The night was dark and grey. The city lights illuminated it, but the luminosity could not reach the depth of the darkness that lay in her heart. She was walking in the rain, the pitter-patter rain that smelled of late monsoon and a ton of irritation.

She was not angry about getting wet. Even though she hated that her feet was soiled with the water from drainage system.

Her heart throbbed faster because she was lost.

She had just gotten out of her office, a steel-grey structure that was impartial to all emotions. Her umbrella was in her hand. Like her, hundreds of other people left the building at the same time, with their deodorant soaked sweaty bodies, each destined to their own destinations.

Her hostel was two kilometres away. She crossed the billboard of a smiling television actor, with a skin so smooth that she ended up feeling her own skin for the acne. She expected the familiarity of the paan shop right after the billboard. Only, today it wasn’t there.

The road was still filled with mindless traffic, whistles blowing and curses being yelled. The dirty water came rushing at her feet, her trousers.

Her eyes widened and blurred as she saw the unfamiliar buildings around her: a grey-yellow two-story house, a small tin-roofed hut. Where were the tall apartment buildings that lined the road to her flat?

The sound of the rain increased as she crossed a dank pond filled with water hyacinth. She had never known any pond in this direction.

Her hands trembled as she looked at her phone. It read the date correctly. She had not teleported into another century, another city. She searched her contacts for a number. A face popped up on her screen. Quickly, she rubbed out the face from her screen and dialed her mother’s number. The phone rang two times before her mother picked.

“You reached home?” her mother said, amid the buzz of some curry cooking on the oven.

“Yes, I’m walking back.” Her voice was heavy with emotion. Her eyelids were drooping with the heaviness of tears.

“I’ll call you when I reach,” she said, quickly, before her mother could ask more questions. She could not do this anymore.

She had walked into a park. There was a lone cement bench, glistening with rain water, illuminated by a yellow lamp overhead. There was a darkness above it that came from the trees. She walked up to the bench and sat over there. Her umbrella fell from her hand. The bottom of her dress got wet. The tears came pounding from her chest and knocked the breath out of her.

Lost, so lost.

Some years ago, there was a bench like this, in another city, in another park. A man and a woman ate roasted peanuts from a single paper bag. Her head was on his shoulder. It was all water under the bridge now.

She clutched her stomach to stop the pain. The liquid in her belly swarmed up, up, up and came gushing from her mouth. It tasted like rotten worms and failure.

She was too tired to think. So she lied down on the bench. The rain kept falling. The vomit washed away. She waited for the heaviness on her heart to abate.

In a different corner of the park, life went on, as a snake gobbled a frog and passers-by crossed them, without knowing that one less life breathed in this universe.

(c) 2017 Arpita Pramanick

 

Never let go

WordPress reminded me it is my 2 year anniversary today. To celebrate that, 8let me share with with you all a story I wrote today. After all, the primary reason for starting this blog was to become a better story-teller. Let me know what you think!


Never let go

Arpita Pramanick

It was the spring of 2009. The winter chill had not yet gone from the suburban air, but summer was slowly making its presence known. People had begun to turn on the ceiling fans.

For the past few days, thick dark clouds hovered over the small, independent houses as soon as the clocks ticked four. The air would suddenly stop moving. There would be a momentary hot phase. Then the cool winds would start rushing in. The trees would bend with its vigor and the clouds would look darker than ever. They seemed to be carrying deep, dark secrets. Only, the rains would not come as fierce.

In the newly painted Mukherjee house, Supriya was pacing in the balcony. She was frustrated with the clouds. Why couldn’t it rain and be done with? She desperately needed to make a move. Tomorrow, the boy’s family would come to bless her. Probably, the final plans of marriage would also be chalked out tomorrow. Ever since her uncle brought news of this probable match, her mother had been extra cautious with her. She would not let Supriya go anywhere alone. Even her phone calls were monitored, Supriya realized. They would not let her go to the roof even to pick up clothes in the afternoon.

“You are getting married in a month,” her mother said. “I don’t want to wear you out with all these chores now. Just rest and try to look perfect for your wedding.”

But no matter how hard Supriya tried, she could not get rid of the dark circles under her eyes. No matter how hard she tried, she could not close her eyes in the night.

Her mother would notice her restlessness and run her fingers through her hair.

“It is for good, this marriage,” she said. “The boy is an accountant. He can take care of you.”

Supriya tried to think about the boy. Arohan Banerjee. Tall, fair, well-mannered. His hair was neatly combed and he wore a distinctive perfume. He liked books, he had told her. Yes, if her heart was not someplace else, she could willingly marry Arohan Banerjee. She could probably fall in love with him too.

But every time she thought about Arohan, the simple eyes of a dark face would rake through her mind’s eye. Yagnik Roy. Her first love, her heartbeat.

They met in college. He was one of those rare people who was rowdy and polished at the same time. He fought with the guys in the football field when they called names. He answered every question the professors asked with deep thinking and always said something that no one else in the class seemed to come up with.

The beautiful Supriya Mukherjee was initially duly ignored by Yagnik Roy. But once they started talking, everything seemed pre-determined to Supriya.

But Yagnik was not the one who let his feelings be known first. It was just after the Durga Puja holidays in the second year. She had not seen him after the college closed for vacation. Unlike every year, Supriya did not enjoy one day of the glorious festival. Not seeing Yagnik bothered her more than she had thought.

After the college reopened, she had called him after class, held his hand urgently in her hand and told him to accept her. He seemed surprised at first at the urgency of her emotion. But then, the gentle pressure of his hand in hers told her his answer.

Yagnik was a passionate lover. Ever since he discovered love in Supriya, it seemed something in him changed. He became more polite outwardly, but would be very upset if Supriya did not turn up for college one day. It seemed that he wanted her every moment he could have with her. If he saw her talking to some other boy, he would grow tense and refuse to talk to her for days. The said boy would definitely get into some kind of trouble afterwards.

When Supriya finally confronted him one day about his behavior, he simply said, “You are my need. I need you completely or not at all. Your choice.”

As she paced up and down in the balcony, Supriya thought what Yagnik must be going through now. They had not spoken in ten days. He was appearing for job interviews. He had known Supriya’s parents were looking for her marriage and that bothered him.

The last time they had met in a tea shop near their college.

“Give me two months, Su. I will not disappoint you,” he had said. Her hands trembled in his. Had they been in a more private place, they would have kissed.

“I cannot live without you,” he said when they said their goodbyes. “You know I can’t. You have to wait for me.” Supriya almost had tears in her eyes.

Surpiya needed one chance to speak with him. She needed to tell him she was waiting. He  could take all the time in the world he needed, she would still wait for him.

The winds stopped blowing. The clouds vanished. The sky grew dark with evening. The womenfolk began to blow conch shells. The Mukherjee household was preparing to receive the would-be son-in-law and his family the next day.

***

Arohan Banerjee had loved Supriya the day he had set his eyes on her. She had looked absolutely stunning in the blue, checkered sari she had worn when they first came to see her two weeks ago.

Today, however, as she sat on the sofa in front of Arohan and his family, she looked tired.  She would not meet his eyes.

Nonetheless, it was a big day for Arohan. Besides his father, mother and younger brother, his grandmother had also come to see the would-be bride. Madhulika Banerjee put her thin, crumpled, trembling hands on Supriya’s chin and said, “Such a lovely girl. You will be loved more in our house than your are in this house. I, the groom’s grandma guarantee this.” She put her hands on Supriya’s head now. “Don’t look so sad, dear. You will not miss this home at all once you step foot in our house.” She gave Supriya a small golden coin. “My husband gave this to me on our wedding day. Small token from an old woman to the Banerjee family’s would-be daughter-in-law.” Then the old woman kissed Supriya on her cheek.

Supriya fought hard to resist her tears. Somehow, she felt a connection with the old woman. She felt like she could tell her all her troubles. Something Supriya did not even feel about her own mother.

Then the moment passed. The servants brought in food. The elders started discussing possible dates.

Arohan tried to speak to Supriya. But she could not answer any of his questions. His brother, Anuran, was a different case though. He had already started calling her Boudi, the name reserved for sister-in-law. He was still in school. He made her take him into the house, show him around. He looked at Supriya with interest and a happy smile. Clearly, she had been a huge hit with him.

“When you come to our house, I will eat only what you cook. Dada said the fish you cooked the other day was delicious. My mom makes horrible fish. You must cook for me.”

Supriya laughed at the young boy’s innocent demands. No wonder she would be deeply cared for in the Banerjee household. She saw herself in the evenings, watching TV serials with her future mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law while Anuran studied in his room. Arohan and his father would not have returned from work yet. Supriya would be cutting the vegetables as they watched the television drama. Suddenly, her mother-in-law would say, “Careful, Supriya! You would have just cut yourself.” And then she would take the knife and the vegetables and start chopping them herself. She would not listen to any of Supriya’s entreaties to let her continue.

“Just watch and learn. You will have to do this for many more years, silly girl! Enjoy while the old ladies can do the work for you,” her mother-in-law would say.

Four hours later, Arohan’s family left.  Supriya’s father beamed at the hospitality the guests had shown towards Supriya and her family. “Such lovely people! Supriya Ma, they will really take good care of you.”

***

After many days, Surpiya had a good sleep that night. Towards the morning, she was dreaming. In her dream Arohan’s grandmother was patting her head, giving her the gold guinea. Then she was in the bedroom. She was lying on the bed. Arohan came inside and shut the door behind him. It looked like they had been married for some time now. In her dream, Supriya was happy to see Arohan. She was smiling. He came to her and hugged her. His lips touched hers. After a brief moment, when he let her breathe, she looked into his eyes.

And then Supriya woke up with a start. She felt like the dark pair of eyes was still on her, looking at her with pain. Slowly, the pain became disgust. Supriya struggled to breathe. A deep sense of shame filled her entire body. She felt like she had cheated on Yagnik. She felt certain that he had known her deceitfulness and would never accept her again.

“Please. I love you and no one else,” she entreated. Beside her, her mother shifted in the bed, not quite awake yet.

That morning, it rained like it had never rained before. Supriya was completely drenched when she knocked furiously on the blue door Yagnik had shown her. She had never been inside his house.

“Coming, coming,” Yagnik’s voice came. “Don’t break the door please.”

Yagnik was surprised to see the drenched woman at the door. His lips curved upwards in a smile.

“About time,” he said, holding her hand and pulling her inside. “Let me get a towel. The Mukherjees don’t have umbrellas or what?”

“Wait,” Supriya held on to his hand, stopping him from getting that towel. “I ran from home.”

“You did what?” Yagnik cried.

Supriya looked into his deep, dark eyes searching for an answer. Was he angry? Would he make her go away? What would she do then?

For a moment, Yagnik looked into her wet eyes. Then Supriya felt the familiar pressure of his hand in hers. Her heartbeat relaxed. Her body felt limp as he pulled her into a hug. “Good thing is,” he said, “I have a job now.” His lips kissed her hair.

Copyright © 2017 Arpita Pramanick

Banished Princess

When winter came again, she brought the woolens out. The letter was inside one of the deep pockets in the black cardigan. She found it when she was putting the woolens in the washing machine, to get rid of the dank, closet smell. Her face burned at the sight of the letter, a reflex reaction.

“Meet me in the park at 5 P.M.,” the letter had said. How many years had it been? Four winters, she realized.

Yet, time seemed not to have ticked a minute past since the day she left her home at 4.45 PM, wearing the flowered skirt that he so liked. Her marriage had been fixed, but not with the man she was meeting in the park.

The acid was sudden on her face, and she was unconscious before she could understand what had happened. She vaguely remembered his last words now, “You thought you’d marry a rich guy..” “…live a queen’s life while I pine and die for you?” “Bitch!” and then there was nothing.

Of course, the marriage was called off. Who would marry a girl half of whose face had been burned by acid? But worse were the allegations. Everyone started talking about how the daughter of the prestigious Chatterjees was having a love relationship when her marriage was already fixed. How she had blackened the faces of her illustrious ancestors. Why no one should marry their sons into the Chatterjee family again.

Her father, of course, would have none of what was going on. She was sent to her maternal uncle’s place in the country, where she was passed off as a distant relation, a banished princess.

The washing machine filled up with water. She stroked her face, like she had done so many times in the past four years and wondered if it was enough to drown her pain.

Not Today (Part 3)

← Previously on Scribbles@Arpita (Not Today: Part One & Part Two)

Not Today (Part 3)

(A Short Story spanning a day)

6.20 PM

The hedge was towering over her. The walls were rigid. She had no clue that what was beyond. She walked, slowly at first, in control. She was sure she would find a way. How difficult can a hedge maze be?

She walked on and on and found passages after passages which led on to more passages. But there was no exit. Her breathing grew faster. Her throat felt dry and she gulped her own saliva every so often. There was no exit. She was locked. Locked in a labyrinth with no one to her aid.

The colour of the day was fading fast. Somewhere, far away, the sun was creeping past the horizon.

There was no one. No one to her aid.

Then the birds started to appear. They were small, white birds. She was sure she had seen them before, but she could not place them anywhere. The little birds flew and flew in circles above her head at first. Their screeches grew louder, so she had to close her ears with her hands. And then, the birds broke the symmetry. They started spreading out like a tangent to the circle, and then flew in straight lines along the tops of the hedges. Instinctively, she followed them.

“Ma’am, your bill.” The voice was loud and hammering into her ears.

Adrija started like she had risen from underwater, breathless. It took awhile to focus on the waiter. Her ice cream had melted.

Quickly, she took out the hundred-rupee note from her purse and gave it to the waiter.

“Keep the change.”

She slid the strap of her handbag across her shoulder and got up of the chair. Before she left, she cast one long glance at the large poster on the opposite wall of the ice cream parlour: A hedge maze with a woman lost inside. The woman looked so tiny in the picture that you would miss her if you were not looking carefully.

9.00 PM

Adrija ate a hasty dinner in her hostel room. The food was no different than other days, but Adrija had brought it into her room, unlike the other days. Usually, she preferred to eat with her hostel-mates, sitting on the table in the dining room, watching television and shouting on top of their voices in order to be heard over the noise. Not today.

After she was done with her dinner, she stood before the mirror and looked at herself. She touched her cheeks and lips with her finger and outlined her brow. She ran her finger lightly over her eyes. She looked just the same as yesterday. Only, she felt she had aged by years.

She wondered why the maze generated such images in her mind, because she had been to that ice cream parlour many times, without ever having such an episode. She still had goosebumps imagining the vividness of the incident. She could still feel herself locked inside the green jail of hedges.

The birds! She remembered now where she had seen them. The guy at the mall with the Peace tattoo! He had exact same birds on his wrist.

Adrija was more confused than ever. What did the boy have to do with anything? Nothing made sense. Then again, did anything make any sense the entire day today? First, no notifications on her social media. Then, her friends’ and juniors’ weird avoidance. She checked her phone again. But the gadget had never been more silent.

10.00 PM

Adrija lay in her bed, toying with her phone. For some time, she played Angry Birds. When she was bored, she fidgeted with Talking Tom. It was good to hear someone speak, even if it was her own words twisted in a strange mechanical, cat accent. Couldn’t they make an app into which you could speak your mind and the app would listen and answer you like a human being, a friend?

The maze was a cage. The phone was a cage. The people around her were cages. Once she was inside, she had no way of getting out. No way not to feel bad about the lack of attention. About the lack of noise around her. About the stronghold of silence.

Yet, for the few hours when she was sitting on the stairs in the mall, watching people, as an observer, not getting involved, not interacting, she had felt a sense of peace.

Peace, written in black ink in a fancy font that you see in ancient books. Peace, with little birds circling around it. Peace, with finding a way out of the maze.

3.00 AM

It is late and Adrija is asleep. She is dreaming but she will remember it no more when she wakes up in the morning. In her dream, she is seated in an open air restaurant. There are scores of tables around her. Each table is surrounded by four wicker chairs. A vase of freshly plucked long-stemmed flowers sits on each table. The flowers are white.

Adrija is sipping hot chocolate from a large mug. The guy with the Peace tattoo is walking on the other side of the cobbled street. Adrija does not see him. As she dreams, Adrija thinks that she has never visited this place. It is true.

But she will visit this place, in some years, of course. Because tomorrow, when she will wake up, she will shed her old skin. In six months, she will throw a few clothes in her back-pack and go for a mountain trek where the electromagnetic signals become feeble and feeble as your scale the altitude. There will be no more notifications on the phone.

The End

Copyright © 2015 Arpita Pramanick


This is the end of the 3-part story that started as an assignment for the Writing 101 blogging course. The goal was to write a story spanning about a day. I am thankful to everyone who followed the firsst two parts of the story and offered their feedback. I had not published a serialized story on the blog before, so when I found interest in the story rising among the readers, I also felt excited to write the next part. I must do more of these in future! What do you think?

Day 15 of Writing 101: Not Today (Part 2)

Previously on Scribbles@Arpita: Not Today (Part One)

Not Today (Part 2)

(A Short Story spanning a day)

1:10 PM

It was lunch time. Adrija was sitting in the cafeteria. The two classes after Professor Ghosh’s were as boring as his and she didn’t get any time to speak to Sourav or any of the others about what was going on either. As soon as it was lunch time, Sourav rushed out of the classroom. “I have a meeting at the sports club. Catch you later, Bunny.”

“Don’t you Bunny me,” she wanted to say, but he was already out of earshot.

Just like Sourav, the rest of her classmates quickly crawled out of the classroom before she could confront them. Smita, the fashion queen of the class and a keen observer of what others wore, did not seem to notice that Adrija was wearing a different dress today, which was the oddest thing. Smita was quite known for her tart tongue.

Something was seriously wrong. Adrija could feel it in her bones.

At the cafeteria, Adrija ordered a chicken sandwich and a coke and munched on in a relatively solitary corner of the filled cafeteria. Her confidence was shaken. She dared not approach anyone anymore.

Her mind worked furiously as she chewed. She hadn’t said anything bad about someone and had been recorded saying that, had she? Not that she could remember. Adrija wasn’t the kind of person who spoke behind people’s back. Okay, a little, maybe, but generally she went along with people and they went along with her.

A smile returned to her face. “Do these people think it’s my birthday and want to surprise me later?” But her smile was short-lived. Her birthday was in February and it was only October. Also, all her friends knew when her birthday was. She checked her phone again. Not a single person had liked her good morning status! Not a single comment. No reply in her Whatsapp group. It was as if a she was placed within a microwave shield, the one she learnt about in the electromagnetic theory class. She sent out signals to the world, but they were not received because of the shield. She, Adrja Ray, was being treated like a nobody. She was sure she was going to cry. Something was definitely wrong with the Universe!

Adrija called her mother. She picked up after three rings.

“Hi Adrija! Wassup?”

“Nothing’s up, mum.”

“You never call at this time.”

“Well, I just did,” she shrugged, irritated.

“Okay, okay. Where are you? There’s much noise.”

“College. What are you doing?”

Now, Adrija, tell me, seriously, what is wrong? You don’t call your mother at lunch and ask her what she’s doing. Not on usual days, you don’t.”

“I don’t?” For the first time Adrija realized that it was nearly two months she had last visited home. She couldn’t remember the last time she had a real conversation with her mother. The tears threatened again, but she was determined not to cry on the phone. “Well, nothing is usual about today!” she sighed.

“No? What’s unusual about today?”

Suddenly, she realized how stupid it would sound if she told her mother that no one was liking her Facebook status or replying to her messages.

“It’s nothing, mum! I gotta go, talk to you later. Love ya!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes, Ma. Lunch is over. I got classes! Bye!”

2.00 PM

Adrija was back in her hostel room. She couldn’t deal with any more classes. She needed some alone time to make sense of what was going on in her life.

What if people continued to treat her like she was invisible for the rest of her life? She felt a lump form in her throat. She wasn’t used to oblivion; she wasn’t used to being alone. She felt a strong impulse to throw her phone at the wall. It took every ounce of her will-power to resist herself.

5.00 PM

Adrija was at the salon, getting a facial. A mud pack was on her face and two slices of cucumber covered her eyes. The beautician was working at her nails, giving it a fresh coat of paint. She could feel the cool of the chemical on the nails as the brush lingered on them. It was hypnotic, she was almost falling asleep.

6.00 PM

Adrija was sitting on the stairs outside the shopping complex, admiring her nail-art. Her nails now had little flowery patterns done in thin black lines above the pink base. Beautiful! Simply beautiful! She took a picture of the nails and shared it on Facebook via Instagram. Had she quite forgotten what a failure she was on Facebook lately? Good for her!

Lots of people were scattered on the stairs: some couples, a group of boys and girls no older than her. There were even middle-aged people who seemed to have come directly from office: they were in their formals; some even wore ties, albeit loosely wound around the neck.

To her surprise, Adrija liked sitting there, alone, watching the people. She was glad no one was asking her from where she had got her nails done or why she couldn’t get over pink. Not talking, not being loud wasn’t so bad, at least not half as bad as it was in the cafeteria.

Adrija didn’t hear him until the guy was already in front of her, asking, “Mind if I sit beside you?” He was wearing a white v-neck shirt and faded jeans. There was a small tattoo on the inner side of his wrist. It said Peace and had little birds around the word. She did not know him.

“Yes, though I don’t believe I am saying this, but I do mind. Please excuse me.” Wow. This was a first! Where was all this coming from?

Adrija found herself walking towards the ice cream parlour.

“I’ll have the chocolate,” she said, when the waiter looked at her.

…to be continued

Copyright ©  2015 Arpita Pramanick


Here’s the result of the poll conducted on Day 6 of Writing 101.

poll

Even though my short stories rank third in the poll, I decided to give it  shot today because of the following reasons:

  1. Bettering myself at writing fiction is one of the fundamental reasons that motivated me to take W101
  2. After I wrote the first part of Not Today, I wanted to know more on what was going to happen with Adrija and I wanted to know it fast!

So, dear Reader, are you enjoying reading Not Today? If yes, then why? If not, why, as well? Does the narrative keep you interested, or do you feel like clicking away? Please let me know in the comments. I am looking forward to your feedback on this story.

Day 14 of Writing 101: Not Today (Part 1)

Not Today

(A Short Story spanning a day)

7.00 AM

Adrija smiled as she woke up from the dream. She saw herself sipping her favourite cup of hot chocolate in an open-air restaurant she had never been before. The flooring underneath was cobbled. Four wicker chairs surrounded each table with white tablecloth and a vase of freshly plucked long-stemmed flowers.

Today is going to be a great day, thought Adrija as she walked to the wash-basin.

7.15 AM

Ardija flipped open the cover of her smart-phone and checked for notifications of good morning messages on Whatsapp and Facebook. Unlike most popular girls at college, Adrija was admired by both boys and girls because of her easy manners and approachable demeanour. She was slightly plump and dark and had a long, flowing mane. She was forever buzzing with activity and filled with oodles of confidence.

No notifications? Adrija’s face fell.

“Not an issue,” she smiled and typed it into her group of college friends on Whatsapp: Good morning, beautiful people! She added in a few cute-looking smileys and hit Send. She sent a similar one to her group of school friends.

7.30 AM

Adrija collected her bucket and walked to the bathroom. Six girls shared this bathroom and almost everyone left the house at the same time, so the mornings were pretty busy. There was already a queue in front of the bathroom, made by buckets. The blue one in front of the row belong to Sayani, the pink one to Aditi, the bigger, iron one to Rita. Adrija placed hers at the end of the line and returned. She met Sayani at the end of the corridor.

“Hi, Sayani.”

“Hi, you!” Sayani smiled briefly and walked past Adrija.

“What happened to her?” Adrija muttered to herself. Usually, Sayani was a chatterbox and Adrija would take great steps to avoid her if she was in a hurry.

Once in her room, Adrija checked her phone again. There was still no notification on Whatsapp. What happened to everyone?

She quickly opened Facebook and wrote a status: Good morning people, wakey wakey!! and tagged her bunch of college buddies.

Everyday her friends would be online at this time, furiously commenting and liking her status. They’d send her jokes and funny quotes on Whatsapp. Not today.

9.00 AM

Adrija had bathed and was brushing her hair in front of the mirror. She wore a new dress today, a salwar-kameez that she had not worn to college before.

The phone-thing was biting her at the back of her mind. What the hell happened to all the people? Why was nobody replying to her texts and status? Had everyone suddenly gone off the phone and internet? Impossible!

Adrija decided to call her classmate, Sourav. The phone rang for a long time. No one picked up. “Must be getting ready for college! I should get the breakfast, too.”

10.00 AM

With still no notification on her phone, Adrija slowly walked the college corridor. People were rushing past her, busy talking among themselves. No one looked at her. She saw a group of juniors in front of the physics lab, poring over their lab files. Almost all of them knew her from the Music club or Nature club or Science club.

She walked towards them and tapped a bespectacled girl by the name of Leni on the shoulder, “Writing lab reports, are we?”

Leni turned and smiled. “Yes, Adrija Di. Kinda busy. Catch you laters?”

“Yes, yes. Sure thing!” Adrija walked on, curious how none of the others turned to speak to her. Usually, they’d crowd around her and ask her something about the lab report. She had taken the same subject in a previous semester.

10.30 AM

The professor drew a series of sine curves on the blackboard, to explain the effect of Frequency Modulation. Adrija was sitting beside Sourav. She poked him in the arm with her pen and whispered, “Why didn’t you pick up?”

Sourav gave her the ‘don’t disturb me now’ look and scribbled on, matching pace with the professor. Adrija placed her right hand on his copy and eyed him. He glared at her and muttered in a dark voice, between clenched teeth, “What?”

“Why didn’t you pick up the phone? I called. And sent a bunch of text on Whataspp and Facebook, too. I thought you had died.”

“I was busy.” He removed her hand from the copy and attempted to continue his drawing. Adrija quickly placed her hand on the copy again and muttered, “Busy? That’s it?”

The professor turned then. “Adrija, dear, what exactly are you two discussing? Care to share with us?”

“It’s nothing, sir, really!” Adrija gulped. Professor Ghosh was a stern man. He took no crap.

“Nothing, sir. Nothing, I promise.” She frothed in anger and wanted to burn Sourav at the stake, but managed to keep an apologetic smile on her face.

“Are you sure?” Professor Ghosh asked again. His eyes were non-blinking, like a fish.

“Yes, sir! I am sorry.”

“Good,” said the grave professor, “If anyone else has anything to discuss, please feel free to carry on outside the class. Now, moving on the what we were discussing…”

Adrija glared at Sourav as soon as the professor removed his eyes from her. But Sourav wasn’t looking at her. He was busy listening to Professor Ghosh. Adrija had never seen him so sincere.

…to be continued

Copyright © 2015 Arpita Pramanick


Note to the Reader: What do you think is different for Adrija today? Why are the people around her suddenly behaving strangely? Let me know in the comments below.

Note to the ‘Writer’ cum Reader: How is Not Today shaping up? Are you interested in what is happening in Adrija’s life? What’s the best thing about this story and what’s the weakest? Please share your advice with me!

Day 7 of Writing 101: Homecoming

“There is more to a boy than what his mother sees. There is more to a boy then what his father dreams. Inside every boy lies a heart that beats. And sometimes it screams, refusing to take defeat. And sometimes his father’s dreams aren’t big enough, and sometimes his mother’s vision isn’t long enough. And sometimes the boy has to dream his own dreams and break through the clouds with his own sunbeams.”
Ben Behunin, Remembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp

I was putting off going to the bank for as long as I could. But my daughter, Anita, is persistent. A new bank has come up near our house, and Anita suggested my husband and I create a joint account there. She has been pestering us about it ever since she came home on a break from office.

“Think about it, Ma. You hardly visit that old bank of yours. Why? Because it’s so far! This is near. You can deposit money on your way back from a walk.”

Today’s kids! They know their money better than they know themselves. At least mine does. Last week, Anita did all the necessary applications for creating the account. She had us sign numerous times on a form she downloaded and accompanied us to the bank to submit it. Today, we’re going to make the first deposit to the account. My husband was supposed to come as well, but his knee started to pain again. I used this as an excuse to skip the bank visit, but Anita wouldn’t budge.

The bank is about seven minutes walk. Along the way, Anita keeps blabbering about how much her insurance covers, how much she has kept in fixed deposits, etc.

All my married life, I never bothered about banks. My husband made not much more than was needed for us to get by. The meagre amount that we saved had been used up in Anita’s education. Somehow, this left a huge impact on her – she has made it a mission to have money in the bank. She wants to be prepared for emergencies. I respect her thinking. But I am too afraid of technology. Everything is computerized these days.

When we are inside the bank, Anita fills up a form for something called a remit card – it has to be used for depositing money. This bank does not have paper slips for deposit.

When we are done with the procedure, we are handed a green-coloured card.

“So, this is not ATM card?” I ask Anita.

“No, Ma. It’s a remit card. You can only make deposits with it. With ATM card, you can withdraw.”

Anita was insistent that I apply for the ATM card as well, but thankfully, cash withdrawal can still be done using paper checks! I want to avoid complication as much as I can. All those news about people being robbed after withdrawing cash from ATMs gets to my nerves. Then if you lose the card there’s hell to pay. I lost a SIM card once. We had to go to the police station for the general diary. God! They had so many questions. What a hassle!

Anita and I stand in the line for depositing cash. People, bored people, are standing in front of me. They look at their phones, touch and type. Screens and screens and screens. Mobile screens. Laptop screens. TV screens. All eyes are on screens now. Even the older folk like me have smart-phones. Whenever we meet a smartphone-savvy woman, Anita makes it a point to remind me why I should get one too. I couldn’t care less.

I am next in line to deposit the cash. I push the green card in Anita’s hand.

“What, Ma?”

“You do it. I can’t.”

“Of course not. You’re doing it.” She thrusts the card back in my hand. When did she become this stubborn? What if I do something wrong?

“I will guide you. It’s no big deal, you see.”

“You better do it. I promise I will watch carefully.”

“No, you can only learn by doing it. That’s what you told me when I was in school, remember?”

The man in front of me leaves the line. I cringe inside. Anita pushes me forward. On the counter in front of me there is a small machine, slightly bigger than a calculator. It has numbered keys, like in a calculator. And one red, one yellow and one green key. Behind the counter, a banker, a man with black-rimmed spectacles, is shuffling pages and typing into a computer.

“Here, swipe the card in this slot,” Anita tells me. I never noticed the small vertical slot on the side of the machine.

I put the card and run it along the slot.

The display reads: Please swipe your card.

I swiped it, didn’t I? What is the meaning of this message?

“Not this way. Here, let me put the card in the slot for you again.” Anita re-inserts the card and holds my hand in hers and draws the card along the slot. This time, the machine gives out a hopeful result.

Anita guides me through the next steps.  I type, with trembling finger, the amount I will deposit. Then I press the green button thrice. But where do I put the money?

“The cash, madam,” the banker says, as if reading my mind. “Five thousand rupees, is it?”

“Yes, yes.” I hand over the notes to the banker.

With a whirring noise, a paper slip comes out of the little machine. One end stays attached to the machine.

“Please hand over the counterfoil to me, madam,” the banker says while examining the five hundred rupee notes.

“Tear off the slip, Ma.”

I fiddle at the machine. The paper is so stubborn, it won’t come out. Oh, God! Can I do one thing properly? Why on Earth do these people make simple things complicated? Somebody please give me the old deposit slips!

“Madam, hurry. We don’t have all day,” says the man behind us in the queue.

“Here, let me do it, Ma. It’s simple, see?” She bends the paper towards the keys and tears it off at an angle. The paper gives in easily.

“There are small teeth on this side which cut the paper,” she says, “but if you do it the other way…”

Anita goes on explaining to me how I was doing it wrong. But I am not listening anymore. I am tired of feeling incompetent every day. Every day there is some change. New laws. New technology. The older I get, the more difficult it is to cope. With Anita so many miles away, my husband and I are lonelier than ever. Helpless, too.

On our way out, Anita says, “Wasn’t that cool? No paperwork. No hassle!” She is smiling. She is content with the inventions of her generation. She is proud of digital technology.

I look at her. She breaks out into laughter. “You should see the look on your face, Ma. You look like you have the flu!”

I feel too weak to say anything. My daughter pins her hands on my shoulders and looks at me in the eyes. “I know it is difficult for you, Ma. But trust me, it will get easier,” she says, “Especially now that I am here to guide you through everything.”

“Well, you won’t be here next week when your office starts, will you?” A stubborn tear makes it down the corner of my eyes. Anita hates to see me crying. She gets all furious. But I feel so lonely right now, I can’t help it.

Anita smiles. The smile touches her eyes. She had the same smile when she came home after winning the Best Sportsperson award in school. The same smile when she got her job and flew away to a different state. She wipes my tear with her finger and chuckles.

“What is it? Tell me.” I feel a rush in my blood. What is the girl thinking?

Anita takes out a white envelope from her bag.

“Ta-da!” She waves the envelope in the air before putting it in my hand.

“What is it, Anita? What is in the envelope?”

“My offer letter. I got a new job, Ma! Here! Now your daughter will work from home!”

“Really?”

“Really, really, really!” She gives me a hug in the middle of the road.

My daughter links her arm with mine. We walk on.

Sorry, she walks. I am flying! I am flying along the edges of the clouds.


Copyright © 2015 Arpita Pramanick

“Women beware – don’tcha leave yer hair open after dusk!” – A Horror Story

This story is loosely based on a story that I have grown up hearing (in spite of the fear of ghosts, I begged my aunt to tell me horror stories, and then refused to go to the loo alone). My aunt told me this was a real incident that happened in the family, but I can’t be sure she wasn’t just making it up. There is a popular belief (or superstition depending on the viewpoint) in my part of the world that women and girls should not leave their hair open after dusk; you may want to remember that while you read this story.


“Women beware – don’tcha leave yer hair open after dusk!”

A Short Story

When Shelley was fifteen, she had hair that reached her waist. Girls with long hair were traditionally forbidden to keep their hair open, especially after dusk, but Shelley wouldn’t listen to any of her elder sisters’ plea to do so. Neither did she listen to her mother. She went about the neighbourhood, quick on her steps, climbing trees in people’s yards, picking guavas and eating them while sitting on the crotch of the tree. All the while, her hair swayed with the wind.

“Leave your hair open like this, and the devil will possess you,” said the neighbourhood aunts. But Shelley wasn’t the one to budge.

One day, as dusk waited to turn into a deeper shade of dark, Shelly was sitting on the guava tree in her neighbour’s backyard, chewing the tasty fruit when she felt a cold wind shiver her skin. From the houses came the holy sound of conchs being blown; women were performing their evening prayers. Shelley’s hair gathered around her face with the gust of wind. When the chill was gone, she felt weak and hungry, it was as if she had not eaten anything in ages. The guava in her hand was half-finished, but she hated the taste of it inside her mouth. She craved something hot and thick. Something that would make her feel energetic.

Shelley jumped off the guava tree, a good ten feet high. She landed on the ground easily. Not once did she wonder how jumped from such height – she had always climbed down the branches. But jumping seemed the natural thing to do now.

Inside, her hunger grew. She felt weak and powerful at the same time. With steps as large as four feet wide, she walked to her house.

In the kitchen, Polly, her sister, was marinating chicken in a paste of salt, garlic and turmeric. Her mother was at the oven, stirring something.

Before Shelley knew, her hand reached for the raw meat. She put a leg-piece in her mouth. Vigorously, she chewed it, crushing the bones noisily. It tasted okay, but the salt and turmeric ruined it all. The warmth of the blood was gone from the meat.

“Geez, Shelley! What did you just do?” Polly’s eyes were as wide as saucers. She had frozen in her place, one hand that had risen to remove the locks of hair falling on her eyes was still in the air.

Shelley stared at her sister for a whole thirty seconds, but she could not process why Polly looked so scared. Her mouth was salivating now. She needed to eat more, but the chicken would not do. She needed something with blood. She was so thirsty.

In a split second, her feet took flight and she was gone.

For two days, there was no sign of Shelley. Her family was anxious. Her mother cried all day long. A missing report was filed at the police station.

Neighbours came asking after her absence. When they learnt what Shelley had been doing moments before her disappearance, the women screamed, “She has been possessed by the demon. Oh, how many times we told her to tie her hair. Leaving that long hair open on evenings and sitting on the guava trees like a ghost, no wonder the demon possessed her.”

“My dear Ranu,” said an old woman with no teeth to Shelley’s mother, “you daughter has most definitely been possessed by a demon. You must call the ojha now. Only he can save your daughter.”

So her mother went to her father and relayed the neighbour’s advice. In the evening of the second day, the ojha was summoned. The ojha was a tall man of over six feet. He wore black robes and had vermillion stain all over his forehead. His eyes were darkened with kohl. His face was bearded and a thick, bushy moustache crowded above his upper lip. He wore a necklace of rudraksh seeds. The same also formed wristbands on both of his hands. He lived in a shack near the burning ghat, where dead bodies were burned and the ashes were thrown into the river flowing beside. He was said to worship Goddess Kali and summon spirits on new moon nights, all alone by the river. He had a generous collection of human skulls in his shack, which formed a shrine and an instrument to summon the spirits. He was the one and only person in the village who could remove evil spirits.

As soon as he stepped onto the threshold, the ojha cried, “I smell Death in this air. It is rotten. Evil lurks near.” His voice was cold and deep; it sent chills through Shelley’s sisters and mother.

At night, the ojha arranged materials to make a holy fire. “Depending on how near evil is, the wood will catch fire”, the man said to the family. “I can sense that it will come soon. You all go inside the house now. It is going to be a long night.”

The family huddled inside the house. They had no sleep in their eyes. Shelley’s mother kept crying, fainting occasionally. The girls kept sprinkling water over her face to recover her.

When daylight came, the house was silent. At some odd hour in the black night the family had fallen asleep. They woke to the loud shriek of the ojha.

“O come near and the fire will burn you, you witch! Tell me who you are.”

The family rushed outside. Shelley was standing in the front yard. Her hair was all over her face. She was gritting her teeth. “Eeeeaaaaaah!” she cried, shaking her head like a madwoman. When the hair parted, they saw red marks at the edges of her lips. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she looked straight at the bright flames separating her and the ojha and her family. Her posture was defensive.

“O my God!” cried her mother, “Oh, what happened to my poor girl!” and fainted. She fell on the ground. The family turned to tend to her and Shelley took the opportunity to advance towards the ojha.

“Go away, Ojha!” she shrieked in a hoarse voice that was nothing like hers. It sent chills through the spine of the girls. Shelley’s father rushed inside to bring water for her mother.

“No,” cried the ojha in a louder voice, “Tell me who you are, or by the grace of Maa Kali, I will destroy you! Leave the poor girl, now.” The ojha sprinkled some powder in the fire and the flames rose higher.

The neighbours started to gather. They spoke in low voices, fear evident in their eyes. A baby began to cry in the mother’s lap. The mother quickly put the end of her sari to the baby’s mouth.

The noise distracted Shelley. She looked in the direction of the woman. At the instant, the ojha switched sides. He was beside Shelley now. He had a big broom in his hand. He began to hit Shelley with it. Shelley was unwavering at first. She was still looking in the woman’s direction.

“They killed me and my baby,” Shelley howled, “They killed my baby!”

“What are you talking about? Who are you? Tell us,” cried the ojha. His broom kept hitting Shelley mercilessly. “Tell us or I will destroy you!”

“I am Nihar’s wife. The bastard and his mother killed me.” Her eyeballs were at the inner edge of her eyes.  She seemed lost in thoughts, and the hitting seemed to have no effect in her, though her skin was red now at the spots where she had been hit.

The crowd gasped at the mention of Nihar’s wife. She had been found dead in her in-law’s house three weeks back. On inspection, the cause of death was found to be poison. Her marriage was a failure. Her in-law’s abused her for dowry. The woman was five months pregnant when she died. There had been no police case as everyone assumed that she had taken the poison herself.

“Woman, I understand your sorrow. But why are you torturing this poor girl? Leave her body now!”

“No,” Shelley growled. She turned towards the ojha. Her eyes were bulging. She did not stop the man hitting her, but she did not seem to let go either. “I will not leave the girl’s body. She was sitting on the tree with her hair open, swaying her legs when I found her! Her body is mine now. I will not leave her.”

In a sharp movement, the ojha dropped the broom and picked up a copper pot containing holy water of river Ganges. He threw handfuls of the water on Shelley. The effect was instantaneous. Shelley shivered as if she had been struck by electricity. In moments, she fell on the ground, writhing vigorously.

“Tell me woman, will you leave the girl’s body now? Or you need more medicine?” The ojha proceeded to heat an iron rod in the fire.

“No, no, no! I will go away. Do not torture me no more. I will leave the girl!”

“Give us an indication that you are going away! Break a branch from the teak tree to let us know.”

The audience watched in awe and fear. Suddenly, Shelley’s body rose in the air and she fell down with a thump.

Her mother recovered. “What happened?” she mumbled. Remembering, she cried again. “What happened to Shelley? Where is my baby?” Her father tried to calm her down, patting her head.

Suddenly, a huge branch of the teak tree near the fence cracked. It fell with the loud thud.

The ojha bent down near Shelley quickly. He sprinkled some more water over her, applying it on the spots where the broom had hit her. “She is gone now! Take your daughter inside. She will recover soon.”

Soon enough, Shelley stirred. When she opened her eyes they were no more bloodshot.

The End

© 2015 Arpita Pramanick


100

Blogging with regularity: Introducing the regular features on Scribbles@Arpita

I have been blogging since March-end, so, it’s close to four months since I started. During this time I have experimented more than once with blog, both in terms of content and appearance. Today, I’d like to familiarize my readers with the recurring features on my blog.

As most you should know by now, my blog is mainly about writing (and becoming a writer). Usually, I post on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Wednesday posts feature reviews/interviews/my suggestions to other authors.

On Saturdays, I am more experimental. As part of the Saturday Specials, in May I ran a weekly series of Guest blogs. In June, I am writing short stories. I plan to try newer things with this feature (maybe book reviews and short stories by guest bloggers/interviews with new authors).

 Here are the links to my regular features for your easy perusal:

Interviews: Monthly

Reviews: I haven’t formed a pattern for this yet, but this is also going to be monthly.

Short Stories: In June these formed part of Saturday Specials. In future, I intend to post monthly/every two months in this category.

Saturday Specials: I try to mix and match with this feature. So far I have published Guest Blogs and Short Stories.

With time, I am evolving. So is my blog. I hope to experiment more with the regular features in future. I love browsing ideas for Saturday Specials in the beginning of every month. It feels good to be the God of my own world: I am free to decide what I post here, and I can choose from endless possibilities.

As a reader, would you like to see any other feature on my blog? Please let me know in the comments.