War

The darkness pressed his face as cold air brushed against his exposed arms. He stepped forward tentatively—he didn’t want to trigger whatever was lurking just beyond his vision. Or perhaps it was sleeping. He couldn’t tell.

Bling!

Suddenly, out of no where, light was everywhere. Bright, white, blinding. Jason doubled over—he’d never thought lightness could hurt. As he crouched in pain, his grip tightened around Lyfe, his custom-designed handgun. Whatever was out there, he would get it. He would get it and thrash it, and get out of this hell alive. Couldn’t afford to lose this battle.

He raised his head from his navel, and—bam! A big blurry blob knocked the wind out of him. Searing pain shot up his head as blood flow scattered. Hitting the ground hard, he rasped for breath while peering for a glimpse of his attacker. It was Marcus. Marcus, his friend. Marcus, his partner. The same Marcus who who’d spent all his childhood weekends playing soccer with him, had almost cracked his skull open.

Towering over six feet, with shoulders as wide as a guitar, and muscles that bulged from its sockets, Marcus waited for Jason to stand. Jason took his time. He knew Marcus. Knew that he never liked killing dead rats. Regaining his breath, Jason stood up—there was no use stalling the inevitable. It had to end, and it had to end today.

“How dare you?” He spat at Marcus. Marcus wasn’t rattled—years of practice had taught him never to let personal emotions get in the way of getting the job done. And his job was clear—kill Jason and get the others one by one.

“Spare the chit chat.” He growled and attacked. Thrusting his fist at Jason’s unprotected ribs, he drilled his way deep, cracking a few as we did. Despite a seasoned fighter, Jason stood foolishly, his weapon still in his limp hand. But his mind raced, and he retaliated even before he’d recovered from the hit.

Swinging his arm at nothing in particular, he pulled the trigger hoping to hole Marcus in the shoulder.

The bullet never made contact.

Before he knew what happened, a grand fire erupted around him, searing his skin, tearing away at the tiny fragments of torn cloth wrapped around his calves. His brain paralysed the body, and he stood helpless as the fire enveloped his shoulders, as if assuring everything would soon be over.

Marcus was still standing, unmoved from his stance. The fire danced about him without a single graze. Jason took a great shuddering breath, and preparing to fight his way back, looked up at Marcus’s black eyes boring into his.

And it happened. A tiny piece of metal pierced Jason’s chest, crookedly making its way to his heart. In less than two seconds, the world went black.

Beep!

Game Over. The mechanical voice rang through the living room.

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Gone too soon

Dear stranger,
I knew not much of you
except that your eyes glowed
at the prospect of new horizons
that your curiosity piqued
and your spirit lightened up
when your fingers were at play
on the vastness of a canvas
I knew not much of you
except that you dreamt big
that you craved experiences
which will change your art forever
that you remained in patience
and eagerness-pulsing heart
for the one big opportunity
of great exposure of your talent
I saw expectation in your eyes
for all the world’s appreciation
and the applause you deserve

Dear stranger,
I knew not much of you
yes I’d planed to change that
but alas, you moved on in a flash
I know now—death is dismissive


In remembrance of a colleague who went too soon.

Siblings

With joy the house filled
as mother’s womb with child

second offspring twas to be
and the forefront of attention
became therefore the first one
master of the second place

jealousy knocked on the door
as they rolled up the new born
warm and soft in woollen blankets
that were once the older one’s

hatred raised its ugly head
when toys, they handed down
retrieving from the archives
rattles unseen in many years

a nightmare school became
setting an example, the older
teaching and taking care of
shepherding the little one

ages went by in mute anger
bosom brothers of a mother
never tormenting the big was
ever in support, yet still in rage

with poison his heart filled
whilst younger’s with admiration

Hello, stranger

“Just send me a message if you need help.”

That was the last thing I told her. She was neither a friend nor a family member—just a colleague. I wouldn’t have met her if I hadn’t stopped by a friend’s seating location at work—she’d joined their team a few months ago and was, along with my friend and a few others in their team, expecting to attend her first corporate event in the United States. They were all preparing for the visa interview—filling up forms, double checking spellings and passport numbers, cross-checking each other’s details, and raining me with questions of what to do and whatnot.

It was amusing. I’d gone through the same nerve-wracking experience two years ago when I first applied for a visa. And so I was only too happy to help out these first-timers.

Every one of them was excited beyond words, making plans, discussing which places to visit, and what to eat on the plane. Tiring is an understatement when referring to the journey from India to anywhere in the US—it involves around 22 hours of flying time and additional transit times. No first time traveller has any idea of how they’d endure it. And every far fetched idea they do have evaporates when the plane takes off. I saw the same conundrum in their eyes. I could understand of course—growing up in a developing country, the only thing you want more than to visit the United States is to visit the United States.

But she wasn’t like the others in the lot. Although she, too, was excited, nervous, and earnest in her effort, she had more than blatant thrill in her eyes. She clung to it as if she couldn’t believe she deserved it.

She died in a car accident yesterday.

She should’ve attended her visa interview sometime this week. I’m sure she would’ve got through despite all her fears of not. I’m sure that would’ve cherished the jet-lagging journey and discovered a different side of herself in the new found land. She would’ve brought back more than candy for her friends—she would’ve brought back countless memories and an endless ocean of inspiration for her work. For she was an artist—one who inhales the world with new eyes, expelling a brighter, moe hopeful, version in a consortium of colours.

I never got to know her as a person. And yet, I felt a deep sorrow descend on me when I heard of her death. She wasn’t a friend or a family member—just a colleague I met by sheer chance.

It’s strange how much we under-appreciate the impact of people in our lives. We seldom realise how much we retain from even a brief conversation. I spoke to her only about three times in total. She wanted advice to clear the visa interview. She wanted assurance, and I was there at the right time to tell her it’ll all be fine. However, every time I spoke to her, I spoke from the top of my head—sharing my experience, my lessons, and my joys. Those weren’t deep, soul searching conversations, but they swirl in my head, haunted now, still in shock that the person whose pupils dilated upon hearing my adventures is no longer alive.

You’re invited!

“Is that what you’re wearing for your friend’s wedding reception?”

All the world asked me when I emerged in a long turquoise top and brown leggings. My blouse had a mild embroidery with buttons and a princess line that extended from my shoulder to my knees. It’s my go-to attire for any social interaction my parents deem significant, and I have a duty not to embarrass them. I had no makeup on and had tried to flatten my short flyaway hair.

“Is that how you go to a wedding?”

I can understand their shock and disapproval. After all, everyone who asked me that question has preconceived notions of how you should appear in wedding photographs: While the bride and groom should be the centre of attraction, those standing on either side of the couple should be just as glowing and glamorous. Acceptable clothing for women includes a long skirt with a gold stone studded blouse or a traditional South Indian silk or silk-lookalike saree embroidered in gold strings, both paired with a generous amount of golden jewellery—necklaces, earpieces, rings, bangles, and anklets. Men often stick to full suits, or long silk or silk-lookalike dhoti also called veshti (that resembles a women’s straight skirt), and a crisp shirt to go with it. Golden chains, rings, and bracelet are a given of course. Over the years, people adhere less to the clothing conventions, but synthetic jewellery still has a significant presence.

We’re all raised with cultural beliefs we follow because it’s a tradition. Sometimes we follow it blindfolded that we don’t even realise or consider the point of such habits. My classmate had invited me to her engagement party. We hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in over four years, and yet she remembered our friendship and I wanted to react in kind. That’s how I justify going for the wedding, despite detesting anything to do with lavish ceremonies. Not only was I placing myself in an uncomfortable scenario but I also had to travel four hours on a bus to get there. Wearing heavy jewellery and silk clothes on a stifling journey during the peak of summer was the least of my concerns. Most people would arrive early, check in to a hotel or a friend’s place and then “get ready” for the function. I, on the other hand, chose to arrive in casual comfortable, yet decent, clothing.

In my book, practicality always takes precedence over traditions. Why should we go to such lengths to be uncomfortable?