Friday, June 30, 2017

The Mending – A Short Story

She took a tiny bite from the burger and gave the rest of it to him.

“You need it more than I do,” she said, her eyes shining brightly.

He took the burger but did not eat. He just stared at her hungrily. It had been so long. Who knew how much time he had this time?

He looked around. It was a deserted railway platform without a shed and no one else could be seen for miles.

She closed her eyes and quietly munched the morsels of the burger. He felt relieved. He was being needlessly worried. She seemed hale and hearty.

“You know, I scored a hat-trick in yesterday’s match. Everyone was cheering for me. It was such a great day,” she said, her big, round eyes sparkling in excitement.

He nodded, feeling thrilled to see her happiness.

“I can’t wait for the final match. Amma will be there too. I know it,” she said confidently.

A train came into sight.

“It’s time,” she said, looking at the train calmly.

His heart began thumping. No, not so soon!

The train halted at the platform. She got up quietly and boarded the train, standing at the door.

She turned to look at him. “I have to go now,” she whispered.

He tried to stretch his arms to hold her back, but they seemed stuck.

No, no, no! This can’t be happening. Not again!

“It’s alright, Appa,” she smiled. The train jerked and began moving.

“Just promise me one thing…”

Anything, anything…

“Don’t ever forget me, Appa…Please, never let me go,” her eyes glistened with tears, but she kept smiling.

He struggled, trying hard to break free.

No, no, no!

“Never let me go…”


Srinivasan woke up with a start, screaming loudly. He was breathing heavily and perspiring. A cell phone was ringing beside his bed. But the sound seemed very distant. He was panting, the images from the dream still fresh in his mind. He gulped in the air to steady his rampaging heart.

Srinivasan looked around. His little room was a complete mess with clothes, plates, bottles, and bits of papers strewn across the floor. There was a steady hammering of falling rain outside the window.

Slowly, Srinivasan began collecting his thoughts to come back to the present. 

The present. 

His insides ached again as realization of the present dawned on him.

The phone rang again. This time Srinivasan turned around to pick it up from the bedside table. It was Anitha, his elder sister.

He took in a few more gulps to stabilize his breath and then took the call.

“Yes, Akka?”

“Srini, where the hell were you? This is the fifth time I have called you,” she hollered into the phone.

“I was sleeping.”

“Sleeping! Srini, it's 1 o'clock in the noon right now!”

He checked his wrist watch and realized his sister was correct.

“Um! I overslept. I was not feeling well,” he mumbled.

Anitha sighed.

“Srini, you came to Cherrapunji more than three months back, despite my repeated objections. You said you will start a new life there. But what are you doing, Srini? What are you doing?”

Srinivasan remained quiet. He knew she meant well, but he simply did not have it in him to reason with her sister at the moment.

“I am worried about you, thambi. I can’t imagine what you must be going through. But you have to move on now. It’s been…”

“Akka, I have to go. I am hungry,” he cut her off mid-sentence, knowing what was coming.

Anitha paused for a moment and then said, “Okay, Srini. But at least tell me if you are rejoining the school on Monday. This is your third break. If you don’t want to carry on there, you should come …”

“Akka, I will talk to you later, okay?” Srinivasan said and disconnected the call.

He knew he shouldn’t have done so, but he wasn’t in the mood for any conversation. He looked outside the window beside the bed. The rain was unrelenting and was falling in the same steady rhythm it had been for the past six days now.

Srinivasan turned and sat at the edge of his bed, staring vacuously at the floor of the room. Although it was a rented single room apartment, it was still quite systemized. The room had a half-bed at the far right-end corner and two armchairs and a table at its opposite end. There was a tiny space near the chairs that worked as a kitchen and opposite the bed was a small bathroom. The best thing about the house was that it opened up to a little lawn outside which was always lush with green grass.

The current inhabitant of this house, however, hadn’t really given heed to any of its finer elements. Ever since Srinivasan had moved to the small town of Cherrapunji in Meghalaya from Chennai about three months back, he had been leading an almost impassive existence.

Srinivasan now realized that his head was throbbing. Perhaps it was because of the disturbed sleep or because of the incomplete dinner he had last night, but the need to focus on getting rid of the pain inside his head allowed him to momentarily forget the distressing dream.

He looked for the bottle of aspirin on the bedside table and his eyes fell on the solitary photo frame kept there. Enclosed within the frame was the picture of a little girl of about eight years old. Wearing a red, floral skirt, the little girl was laughing widely and holding a football in her hands. Adorning the frame was a peacock-blue scarf; it had been lightly wrapped around the frame.

Srinivasan stared at the picture for a moment, his eyes devoid of any expression. Then, turning his back to it, he curtly got up and headed to the bathroom.


Perhaps a lifetime ago, Srinivasan would have been enchanted by the view in front of him. But right now, he quietly munched at his soggy sandwich thoughtlessly. It was a clammy Saturday afternoon and he was sitting on a bench in a park at a little distance from his house. Wearing a hat and a large raincoat - apparels he wore daily to shield himself from the rain that pounded this town literally every day - Srinivasan liked coming to this place and particularly to this spot; there was hardly any soul around to bother him here.

There was a little pond in front of him and rich foliage all around. The persistent falling rain had only accentuated the verdancy of the surroundings that Srinivasan was so familiar with now.

The 39-year-old had become accustomed to the never-ending gray clouds and the incessant rains of Cherrapunji ever since he had moved here three months back. The steady drum of the unfluctuating rains here was something he woke up to almost every day and it was also the pattering of the rains that lulled him to sleep every night.

About four months back, Srinivasan was a respected English teacher in an elementary school in Chennai. A widower since the age of 32, Srinivasan had been living his life with his nine-year-old daughter Aswini. His wife and childhood love Rohini passed away just one year after giving birth to their daughter. Srinivasan did not even get the time to grieve his loss as he had to tend to his one-year-old infant then. Rather than brooding over the enormity of what he had lost, Srinivasan dove into the role of being a single father with great passion.

As she grew up, he saw traces of his lost love – the innocence, the warmth, the tenderness – in Aswini as well and slowly Srinivasan found a reason to smile and love again. Being a teacher himself, Srinivasan did not have much difficulty in tutoring Aswini and the two of them bonded over studies, books, and sports. Much like her father, Aswini grew up to be an ardent football fan and the father-daughter duo would often stay up late at nights watching English football league matches.

After picking Aswini up from school, Srinivasan would take her to the local park near their house in Chennai where they would spend their afternoon hours playing football. A natural at the sport, Aswini looked certain to make it into her school football team. More than her skills at football, however, what made Srinivasan surge with pride was how nicely Aswini was shaping up to be as a person just at nine years of age. He felt he had done a good job and knew that Rohini would be proud of him. He was eagerly looking forward to helping mold her growing up years and be the perfect guardian to her. Aswini was not just the light of his life but had become his singular driving force. To love. To live.

And then, in a single moment, everything changed.

It was a Saturday afternoon in June and Srinivasan and Aswini had just finished an extended game of football at the local park. Srinivasan was picking up a pack of burgers from the food stall just outside the park gates. While he was paying for the purchase, Aswini, who was dribbling her football beside her father, lost control of it. As her precious ball bounced away from her towards the middle of the busy road, the little girl ran after it. And just as Srinivasan turned around, he saw Aswini bending down to grab her football right in the middle of the road and an SUV heading straight towards her.

And just like that, everything was over.

Srinivasan had gone numb with shock after the loss of his daughter. He had no recollection of how the last rites and the ensuing rituals were performed; his elder sister and other friends took care of it. Strangely enough, he could not even bring himself to cry or mourn the loss. He had simply retrieved into a shell.

Anitha, his elder sister, and all his close friends desperately tried to bring him out of it. But Srinivasan did not want to. He was getting tired of their constant display of sympathy and wanted to get away from it all. Hence, he quit his job in Chennai, and with the help of a senior professor in the city, he got himself a job as a teacher at a government school in Cherrapunji. Srinivasan had deliberately chosen a small town far away from his home; no one would know him here, no one would pity him and no one would remind him of his past life.

But a change of place had not allowed him to get away from the torment he had hidden deep inside. Regular, disturbing dreams kept plaguing him and guilt had enshrouded his soul. Despite not wanting to, Srinivasan would keep revisiting that fatal day. “Why didn’t I turn sooner?” “Why hadn’t I held her hands?” he would keep thinking. All of this had taken a toll on his body and who was once a clean-shaven, handsome and sturdy God-fearing Brahmin man had morphed into an empty shell with a gaunt face, unkempt hair and shaggy beard and absolutely no interest in life.

He had lost his will to live completely. The death of his wife Rohini had shaken him badly but Aswini’s passing had dealt a severe blow to his spirit and had ripped his soul to little pieces; try as he might he simply could not bring himself to pick those pieces again. He had fallen into an abyss and knew there was no way he could come out of it now.

At times, Srinivasan had even considered ending his life, because living in the present with the pain and the memories of the ones he had loved and lost was getting too much to bear. But the human brain inside him did not allow him to do so. Thus, he was leading a robotic existence here, allowing nature to dictate his remaining days, and had become numb to everything.

Srinivasan finished the sandwich and threw the wrapping paper on a puddle of water nearby.  He stared at the pond and found interest in the ripples created by the falling rain on its surface. Swathes of greenness everywhere around him were soaked in water and the leaves of the trees flowed brightly and merrily.

Then he heard a sound: a whimper coming from somewhere nearby. Srinivasan looked around but could not find the source of the noise anywhere.

The whimper grew louder and after peering closely for a bit, Srinivasan finally located where the sound was coming from. It was a puppy, about six months old and light-brown in color, stuck near the banks of the pond. The cub was about eight feet at the extreme right of Srinivasan and was half-concealed in the dense underbrush at the banks. It seemed to be struggling to get up and was probably tangled in something. The consistent rain made it slip repeatedly on the grass, but the dog kept trying.

Srinivasan could not recognize the breed of the young dog, but seeing it squirming and whimpering made him feel uncomfortable. He tried to avoid looking at it, but could not take his eyes off. He noticed that the puppy was absolutely drenched and was also shivering. Its mother could not be seen anywhere. Perhaps it had passed out earlier due to weakness, tired and alone, and had only come to its senses now.

But the more Srinivasan looked at the struggling dog, the more uneasy he felt; and he did not really know why he felt so. One part of him wanted to help the poor animal, but the other part, the dead one, held him back.

As the dog’s cries grew louder, Srinivasan hastily got up and without glancing back, marched away.


“Appa! Where are you?”

She looked around, worried and tense.

His heart skipped a beat. He did not want to look away. He could not.

“Appa! Why don’t you say something?”

He wanted to say something desperately. But try as he might, words simply refused to come out from his mouth.

There was water all around her. Up to her knees.

She appeared to be shivering now and held herself tightly by her little arms. Her pretty, wide eyes kept searching for him. But they could not locate him.


He wanted to scream out at her. Hold her. Comfort her. But he couldn’t.

He felt helpless.

And then, very slowly, she began sinking.

The water inched upward, crossed her knees, her thighs, and then reached her waist.

His heart hammered madly in his chest. But he remained motionless.

Her eyes fluttered and a solitary teardrop glided down her cheek.


Srinivasan woke up abruptly, his chest heaving madly and breath feeling constricted.

It took him a moment to realize where he was. The dim light in his room was still on. It was dark outside and the rain was pouring down hard. He checked his watch: 1:20 A.M.

He took in a few deep gulps and steadied himself. And then, instinctively, he turned to look at the photo frame on his bedside table. The little girl was still smiling.

Suddenly, something clicked inside him. Srinivasan got up, hurriedly and purposefully; he knew what he had to do.

He grabbed his raincoat and took his torch. Without wasting another minute, he dashed out.


Srinivasan struggled to walk; the darkness and the heavy rain made it difficult for him to see ahead on the muddy path of the park.

But he knew where he had to go. He had come to this park every day since the past three months, and his brain automatically guided him to the precise location he was heading towards.

There was no one around. The only sound that was made was that of the rain falling on the foliage and the squishy sound of Srinivasan’s footsteps on the puddles of water in the mud. He was completely drenched despite his large raincoat covering him. But he did not seem to care. He strode ahead.

As the pond came into view at a bend and then the bench, Srinivasan literally ran. He reached the banks of the pond in just a few large steps and almost slipped over on the grass. He stabilized himself with his right hand and pulled out his torch from the inside pocket of the raincoat with his left hand.  

Crouched on his knees, Srinivasan directed the light from the torch at the spot he had noticed it the last time. It was hard to see anything, and his heart was hammering inside his ribs. He did not want to fear the worst but he could not hear any sound at all.

“Come, on! Please! Please,” he said out in desperation.

And then, finally… A little cry; almost like a soft moan.

Srinivasan jerked around and shone his light at the source. There it was!

He could make out the light-brown fur. And then he saw the little puppy, concealed behind a bunch of big leaves and twigs. He had stopped struggling, apparently, and was shivering badly, barely being able to make a noise.

Holding the torch by his mouth, Srinivasan quickly tore at the leaves that the puppy had been entwined in. He had to be careful, lest he hurt the little animal, and all the water made his hands slip on the leaves. But with one big grunt, Srinivasan was able to rip out the leaves from the soil and the dog was finally free.

He threw away the clump of leaves and put the torch down. Then, he held the puppy in his left hand and brought it close to his chest, covering it with his raincoat. It was soaked and was shuddering, taking very slow breaths. Srinivasan touched it lightly on the head. Its eyes still closed, the puppy whimpered feebly.

“It’s okay, buddy. It’s okay,” Srinivasan whispered to it, collecting his breath.

“I got you….” he said and got up, all the time ensuring that the dog was properly covered inside his coat in the pelting rain. 

“I got you…”


Srinivasan scoured through the little toolbox, ensuring that everything he needed was in place. He had borrowed the box from his next-door neighbour and looked very composed as he searched through its contents. The room looked much cleaner from last night; the bottles and newspapers were neatly stacked at one corner and a fresh bedsheet had been fixed tightly on the bed.

Satisfied, Srinivasan got up from the edge of his bed and then moved to the kitchen where, in a small vessel, milk was being warmed on the stove. Checking the warmth of the milk with a spoon, he then poured it in a little bowl and took it back towards his bed. He kept the milk bowl beside the toolbox on the floor and exhaled softly.

There was only one thing remaining to do now.

He turned to look at the photo frame on the bedside table. The little girl with the football and the big, round eyes smiled back at him. Srinivasan breathed in again and very gently removed the blue scarf that had been wrapped around the frame.

It was Aswini’s favourite scarf, given to her as a present by her father when she was seven. It was a blend of cotton and velvet and Aswini loved wearing it around her neck on all her excursions. The scarf was the only item of his daughter that Srinivasan had brought back from Chennai; everything else had somehow felt inconsequential.

Srinivasan held the scarf in his hands and closing his eyes, he smelled it. A whiff of a floral scent emanated from it, instantly bringing to his mind the image of his daughter; her pure, innocent face, her smile, her flowing hair and the pleasant fragrance of lily flowers that always came from them. He could hear the echo of her giggle and every little note of that laugh reverberated through his soul. “Appa…!” 

Srinivasan’s chest heaved up and down and a little pearl of tear coursed down his face. The knot that he had bound inside his chest so firmly and for so long was slowly unfastening. He buried his face in the scarf and finally allowed himself to let go. He sobbed and sobbed while taking slow, convulsive gasps. He drenched the scarf in his tears and as every tear leaked out from within, he felt that the toxins that had filled his heart were now being slowly removed.

After what felt like an eternity, Srinivasan finally removed his face from the scarf and kissed it tenderly.

“I love you, baby!” he whispered.

He wiped the scarf with his hands and neatly folded it up. He then opened the last drawer of the bedside table, containing just a few sheets, and placed the scarf at its deep end.

“I will never let you go, my baby!

Very slowly, he proceeded to close the drawer.

“I promise. I will never let you go,” he whispered and shut the drawer securely.

Srinivasan stood up and let out a few deep breaths. He then went into the bathroom and washed his face. After coming out, he picked up the bowl of milk in one hand and the toolbox in the other. With a slight push of his left leg, he pushed open the main door beside the bed and stepped onto the lawn.

Warm and pleasant sunlight greeted him. After a week of incessant rain, the sun had finally shown its face in its full splendor in Cherrapunji.

The sun was directly above him and Srinivasan closed his eyes and allowed the warmth to permeate through every cell of his body. He would have stood there for some more time, but a yelp distracted him.

The puppy was looking up at him, its little tail wagging furiously behind it. The little thing had been tied to a small piece of stick and stood under a big cardboard box. After bringing it to his house last night, Srinivasan had dried the dog clean with a hair-dryer and had fed it warm milk. He had stayed awake tending to it all through the night and had wrapped it firmly in a warm blanket. Miraculously, the dog had revived within hours and as the sun came out, Srinivasan had taken it outside in the lawn and tied it up in a temporary cardboard kennel before going out to take the toolbox from his neighbour.

Looking at Srinivasan, the puppy jumped up and down and rolled itself on the damp surface of the lawn. He bent down and placed the bowl of milk in front of the dog. Without wasting a second, the pup began lapping up the milk with great relish, its tail wagging behind in delight.

Srinivasan smiled and caressed the dog’s nape softly; its light-brown fur felt smooth and dry. Aswini would have loved the puppy. She had always wanted one but Srinivasan had repeatedly insisted that she was too young to handle a pet. Perhaps, she would be pleased now.

“Have your fill, buddy. I will now build you the perfect home,” Srinivasan muttered.

The dog looked up at him with its small, innocent eyes.

“You will never get lost again. I promise,” he smiled and patted it again.

The puppy resumed its focus on the milk and Srinivasan then turned towards a set of plywood sheets of different shapes kept at a little distance from the dog. He got up and took out two long sheets of wood. He had bought these from the local market a little while back and it was now time to give them their purpose.

He placed the toolbox down and took out a measuring tape, a claw hammer, and a bunch of nails from inside it. Carpentry had been his hobby as a teenager – a skill gifted to him by his father – and it was going to come in handy today.

Placing the two sheets of wood at a slight angle so that both their corners were closed together, Srinivasan deftly put a nail on the top and began driving it in with the hammer.


The puppy’s ears twitched up at the noise and it glared at the wood in his hands with suspicion. Srinivasan smiled and continued his work. One nail was done. Time for another one.


Suddenly, his phone rang. Srinivasan halted and took the phone out of his shirt’s pocket. It was Anitha, his elder sister.

“Yes, Akka,” he answered.

“Oh. I wasn’t expecting you to take my call so soon,” Anitha said, sounding quite surprised.

“I woke up early,” he said simply and placing the phone down on the floor, he put it on speaker mode.

“Oh, I see,” she said. “So, are you joining the school tomorrow?”

Srinivasan adjusted the sheets of wood again and took out another nail from the tool box.

“Yes, I am.”

There was silence for a moment at the other end and then Anitha said, “So ... you won’t be returning to Chennai, then?”

“I don’t think so, no,” he said while placing the nail dexterously on the surface of the wood with his left hand and gripping the hammer firmly in his right hand again.


“What are you doing, thambi?” she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

Srinivasan paused, took a breath and smiled ever so slightly before bringing the hammer down on the nail again.

“I am rebuilding.”


“I am rebuilding…”


(Suffice to say, I have never written anything even close to something like this ever. It was very challenging as I had no reference points to take for the events in the story and neither could I relate to the lead character; except maybe in one little way. But, somehow, this was something that I had been waiting to write for months now. It's a very simple story; perhaps unexciting and dreary for most of you. However, writing this one, especially, made me feel extremely relieved as I was quite nervous about it prior to attempting it.

The idea for this post came from the picture I have posted here. I can't really explain why or how, but it just did. I was looking at this picture while listening to a song and the story began forming on its own. Whether it is good or bad, I do not know. But over the past three months, this story has been constantly on the back of my mind. Hence, I am quite pleased that I was finally able to finish it. 

I hope some of you would have liked it. )

Monday, June 19, 2017

GUEST POST : Rabindranath Tagore the Storyteller by Dr. Sunanda Bhattacharya

(Pleased to present to you the first 'Guest Post' in my blog: a short, informative and engaging essay on Rabindranath Tagore the storyteller.)

By Dr. Sunanda Bhattacharya
Department of English
Women’s College, Shillong

Storytelling is something that one is familiar with from one's early days of life. It is an art that when handled with extraordinary skill surpasses time and space. A good storyteller is capable of weaving magic and wonder through the stories, which has a lasting impression in one's mind. 

One such storyteller is Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who remains one of the greatest storytellers of all times. His stories are an assortment of different themes, characters, and situations. He created stories revolving around common human experiences reflecting the different shades of life. In "The Cabuliwallah" one meets Rahmun, a father who has left his home and family in Afghanistan. Like all fathers, he too is extremely fond of his daughter. He carries with him a piece of paper that "bore the impression of a little hand" which belonged to his daughter. Mini a little girl in the story reminded him of his daughter and he showers his affection on her. When he is offered payment by Mini's father for the fruits, nuts, and raisins he brought for her, he refuses to take saying that he too has a daughter in his homeland just like Mini. He says: "I too have one like her in my home. I think of her, and bring fruits to your child – not to make a profit for myself". The words not only have an impact on Mini's father, but also the reader who identifies with the delicate deep emotions expressed by Rahmun, an emotion that any father would harbor for his daughter.

When one meets Phatik Chakravorti in "Home Coming" one is at once captured by the boy's innocence and mischief. This lively boy is uprooted from his natural environment in the village and is shifted to the city of Calcutta. Pahtik was excited to go with his uncle; but once there, the indifferent, hostile attitude of his aunt coupled with his failure to adjust in the city ultimately brings his doom. Fourteen-year-old Phatik yearned for love but received none from his aunt. Tagore brings out the trauma of this free child of nature in such a manner that it leaves one teary-eyed. In an alien space, Phatik is lost completely. "The cramped atmosphere of neglect oppressed Phatik so much that he felt that he could hardly breathe". He could fit himself neither at his uncle's home nor in the city school. Tagore here seems to warn all that if one is denied his natural environment to thrive and grow there lurks the danger of being annihilated.

"The Parrot's Training" is another brilliant piece of a short story by Tagore, where he critiques the system of education prevalent in India. The "ignorant" bird is synonymous of the learners who are taught the routine syllabus during education. The pundits tell the Raja that "the first thing necessary for this bird's education was a suitable cage". There was a particular "method" that was "followed in instructing the bird" which immensely pleased the Raja. Tagore's sarcasm garbed in humour is obvious when he says: "The method was so stupendous that the bird looked ridiculously unimportant in comparison". Gradually the wings of the bird were "clipped". The bird trapped in the "golden cage" was stuffed with information and "every creature…connected with the cage flourished…excepting only the bird". The entire "Education Department" of the Raja kept themselves busy with the education of the bird. This is symbolic of the kind of education that one receives – an education that restricts the learner's imagination and creative freedom. The "sound principle of education" followed by the Raja, in reality, killed the bird. One day the Raja is informed that the "bird's education has been completed". He asks "[d]oes it hop?... ‘Never' … Does it fly? ‘No'". Tagore speaks about this kind of "parrot learning" in connection with his own education. Because he felt strongly about it, he came up with his own university Visva-Bharati. 

"The Patriot", a short story by Tagore focuses on nationalism and patriotism through the characters of Girindra and Kalika who are husband and wife. Kalika is involved in the freedom struggle of India and when the story opens one is told that she is an active participant "in picketing British cloth in Burrabazar". The setting is that moment in Indian history which saw the peak of India's struggle for freedom from British dominance. Because her husband refuses to subscribe to her way of thinking she calls him "unpatriotic". Girindra knows that he loves his motherland but he does not wish to be a part of that "brand of nationalism, professed by [Kalika's] own party". He refuses to "wear Khaddar". This is because he by nature "shrink[s] from all conscious display of sectarian marks about [his] person".

One day an incident takes place which is revealing in itself. A sweeper is beaten up badly by a group of people just because he accidentally "came in contact with somebody, or something". The poor man along with his little grandson pleads with the group but without success. Girindra desperately wanted to rescue the man by taking him in his car. But Kalika threatened him that she will leave the car if the sweeper travels with them.  Kalika fails to rise above the social divisions prevalent in Indian society. Who then is a patriot? Tagore here compels one to think for oneself and comprehend the difference between Kalika an active participant in the cause of nationalism and Girindra. One here understands that India will be really free when Indians rise above divisions of caste and class. Tagore had once said: "The real problem in India is that we must make the whole country a creation of our own. A creation in which all the communities and individuals will participate."

Rabindranath Tagore the storyteller has crafted a huge number of short stories. He uses them to focus on different issues whether it is nationalism, education, or social injustice in India. In them, one finds diverse human experiences of love, joy, trauma, and pain…in short, his stories reflect life.