Thursday, April 30, 2020

Not Foolproof!

Today's prompt:
A first-person narrative in your or any other assumed character's voice, telling an anecdote into which is woven a recipe. Woven is the operant word - not listed. 500 words.

Being newly married, enthusiastic, over confident and absent minded can lead to interesting results, particularly in the kitchen, particularly in the pre-Internet, few phones era.

I thought I could cook.  There were things I could, and things I couldn’t. I had never cooked ridge gourd, for example, so the first time I made it in my mother-in-law’s kitchen it was extremely watery. She gently told me that it gives off a lot of water when you cook it. Lesson learnt.

We were in Thailand, sharing a flat with a colleague whose wife and son hadn’t yet joined us. (More staff flats were under construction). So it was a point of honour to serve good food to both husband and flatmate. I had overheard my neighbours talking about their recipe for gulab jamun. It sounded simple enough. There was a locally available Molly Milk Powder, a cupful of which you mixed with two tablespoons of maida, a large pinch of baking powder, and you kneaded a soft dough with a few spoonfuls of milk. I took out my steel paraat, (brought from desh, along with two thhaalis, pressure cooker, and rolling pin, and sundry other essentials) and did so, and made two dozen small balls which I covered with a damp napkin.

I decided to fry the balls in desi ghee, since I was making a sweetmeat for the very first time. (It was Australian, but ghee nonetheless). I planned to serve these as dessert, after lunch, which I had already prepared. Those were the grand days when the plant hadn’t yet been commissioned, the men were working a general shift, and came home every day for an hour’s lunch break. Once production started, we had to get used to the regime of morning, afternoon, and night shifts, all rather unkind to one’s body clock. On one side I made a syrup of two cups of sugar and three cups of water, into which I crushed a few of the precious cardamom pods my mother had given me, and on the other side I fried the gulab jamun on a slow fire.

I was humming to myself as I laid the table. Each batch was fried and immersed in the syrup. The men came home and we ate our lunch. Then, all eager and excited, I served my precious dessert. But…

Their spoons didn’t seem to be cutting the sweet. Both men smiled politely, and said, very nice, very nice, and managed to eat one gulab jamun each. I served myself, now full of trepidation. It was as hard as a rock. Oh no. What had I done wrong? I rushed to my next door neighbor, and told her exactly what I had done. To my chagrin, I learned that I had forgotten about the critical two tablespoons of ghee that the dough required.

I didn’t let that defeat me. I ground up the cannon balls in the blender, dry roasted some atta, and made some really delicious gulab jamun barfi.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Family Jewels

--500 words
-- Tell a tale fictional or otherwise in the voice of a "sutradhar", not so much in the manner of a puppeteer as a not completely dispassionate, but a slightly detached yet empathetic observer and know-er of the mechanics of this tale
The Family Jewels
Bahurani is crying her heart out, it seems. My son has been working in his study: these lockdown days means he can happily work from home. No tiffin–shiffin lafda. No outside food. Better for his system. Not so good for his maharani. Three hot meals every day, without fail, and no maid to help. I do chop vegetables and clean the rice and dals, but the flat is big, hard to keep clean. Poor Prem has just finished for the day, but instead of having a tray of tea ready for him in the drawing room, Bahurani is busy with rona–dhona. Let me go and make the tea, then maybe I will get to know what has upset her so much.
I told you not to send her to the hostel, Prem. I knew it wouldn’t be good for her.
Rama, what on earth is the matter? Reena’s fine, isn’t she? She’s also staying in her room, I hope, not stepping out? Covid 19 is so unpredictable and scary. Woh thheek toh hai na?
She has gone and got the craziest idea, Prem.
She’s okay, na?
Haan, but I think she’s gone crazy.
She hasn’t eloped with anyone, has she?
No. Maybe this is worse.
Arrey Rama, just tell me what the matter is.
Poor Prem. Having to deal with so much suspense. I put the tray on the coffee table and move towards the door, but Rama stops me with a gesture:
Mummyji, you should also hear what your precious darling wants me to do.
Bahu, she’s a sensible girl. She’s twenty six. She’s a PhD scholar. She won’t do anything stupid.
I sit on my easy chair with the extra high cushion.
Reena wants us to sell all the jewellery we had got made for her wedding and donate the proceeds for feeding the homeless migrant workers.
What is there to cry about, Rama? It’s a noble thought.
Noble thought my foot. Has she forgotten how we struggled and scrimped and saved to buy those sets? How we’ve dreamed of seeing our only daughter adorned as a bride? She even says (huge sob) that she doesn’t plan to marry, anyway.
Rama, she has never asked us for anything. She’s been a scholarship holder throughout her college years. She obviously can’t give anything much from her stipend. How much does she actually want to donate?
And she said to keep Nani’s and Dadi’s jewellery for Nannu’s wife, the ancestral stuff, for whenever he gets married.
Chalo, good she didn’t ask you to dispose of those heirlooms.
Mummyji, what should we do?
Listen to your daughter, what else? What else can you do, anyway? Do what makes her happy. Who knows what will happen tomorrow, especially these days. If you bought it for her, it is hers, wedding or no wedding.
I smile to myself. At eighty-seven, I am my granddaughter’s confidante. She has told me that she is in love with her roomie, Priya.

Old photographs

Tuesday, 28th April 2020

-- 500 words
-- Divide your age by half.
-- Rummage old computers or cupboards or annals of memory and find a photograph more than (insert number = half your age) years old that does not have you in it -- can be public memory from internet photograph also
-- Tell us a tale about said photograph
-- Post scan of photograph with your piece

Ancient person that I am, halving my present age takes me to the late nineteen eighties, a time when the spouse and I had three school going children,(the fourth arrived in early 1990), a second–hand Ambassador, and very little money. As soon as I read the prompt, I knew what I wanted to write about today. I also had a memory of photographs of that day, that place. The problem was trying to locate them. Ours is an old household. We have thousands and thousands of photographs of various vintages, kept in various levels of order and disorder. Albums have been raided by marauding daughters, others have been inherited. (Today I discover myriad college time photographs belonging to the older son). The lockdown and current maidlessness and spousefulness of my life leaves me with less time than ever, so Marie Kondo-ing the house remains a distant dream. I had actually, after more than an hour of fruitless searching, given up, and had decided to use pictures from the Internet. I was desultorily flipping through the last bundle of photographs when I struck gold.
Our eleven years in Lucknow had a charm of their own. Although we lived across the Gomti, in a much newer part of the city, Lucknow had more than enough history and historical buildings to remain eternally fascinating. (My grandfather used to work in the Allahabad Bank Chowk Branch once upon a time. On one memorable visit, my father tried climbing up the stairs to the flat above the bank in which they used to live until he was summarily stopped by an irate bank employee).
 One fine Sunday, perhaps in 1987 or ’88, we pack selves, camera, picnic, and assorted kids into the trusty Ambassador. I see my neighbour’s younger son in one photograph. Did our older daughter bunk? Or did she take the photographs? (She has always been a keen photographer). Was this our second trip to the Residency? In family lore, it has become a space of spousely strife. Apparently we fought whenever we visited it. The Residency in Lucknow is one of the saddest places I have ever seen. The Residency consists of a group of buildings, now mostly in ruins, that were occupied by the British Resident at the court of the Nawab of Lucknow. The gardens are beautiful, but the tales of violence it holds are most distressing. Whether you call it the Indian Mutiny or the First War of Independence, the Residency was under siege for months and witnessed a great deal of bloodshed. Scarred walls, bullet holes, walls shattered by cannon balls. It was fascinating, no doubt, but somehow the very walls seemed to hold the cries of the dead, including women and children. It was a terrible, violent lockdown for those families. Our children were happily exploring the ruins, clambering over the huge cannon, now a plaything, once a source of violent death. These photographs hold memories of joy and of profound sorrow, of many lives lost…

Monday, April 27, 2020

Another day in paradise

-- 500 words
-- Write a fictional/non-fictional piece about/ around/ a dinner party
-- Tone of a gossip column (Think Stardust and "Nita's natter" or Mayank Austen Soofi's Delhi-walla blog and "The Netherfield Ball")

Paradise Times, April 27th, 2150
Grand Hall, Paradise
By our Special Correspondent
It’s not just another day in paradise, folks. We are having a special evening hosted by The Delhiwallah, in which some of his favourite literary figures are special guests. If you have read his writing you will know that he has been enchanted by the writings of Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson. Since he lived in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the ladies belonged to earlier, different periods, across centuries, Paradise seems like a great place for these kindred souls to finally meet. Yes, dear readers, in paradise it has to be a meeting of souls. Who else can live here?
Just so that they can be recognized easily, all our souls appear clad in simulacrum of the garments they wore during their life time. Jane Austen appears in a high-waisted, Empire style gown, and The Delhiwallah bows deeply to her.
My dear Miss Austen, I have been so enchanted by your writing that I have taken your surname as my middle name, he says.
Jane Austen simpers. My dear young man, if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.
Emily Dickinson floats in, and nods curtly at Jane Austen. Did you know, dear Jane, that he has read all my poems several times over, and carried them with him all the time?
My dear Miss Dickinson, your poems are now part of my very soul:  Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all.
Miss Austen glares at Miss Dickinson, and picks up a glass of ambrosia, from a tray proffered by a  hovering cherub. The Delhiwallah tries to soothe ruffled feathers.
A grand feast is laid out in the annexe of the Grand Hall.
Many of The Delhiwallah’s contemporaries are in attendance too. The writer Arundhati Roy has just come in. He has, in his earthly life, taken some wonderful photographs of her and for her. Their matching grey curls gave them a twin-like vibe when they inhabited the earth. She is draped in a glorious handloom saree. Delhi denizens, Sadia Dehlvi, in a gorgeous gharara,and Nini K.D. Singh,in a quiet salwar kameez float in, followed closely by Rakhshanda Jalil and William Dalrymple. Laila Tyabji, and Ellen Tomaseo wonder about the dinner menu.                                                           I hope there’s a good biriyani, says Ellen.
The Delhi souls form a little clique, looking restlessly at their host trying to pay equal attention to both the senior guests.
He should have called just one today, mutters Sadia.
How could he have chosen only one? He worships both of them, says Nini.
That’s true, says Mayank Austen Soofi,The Delhiwallah, as he simultaneously manages to hug all his old friends. Let me introduce you all to the ladies, and then we will see what heavenly delights await us in the dining room.
He smiles happily: Now this is truly Heaven.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Stuck in Traffic

Sneha’s prompt:
-- 500 words
-- "Stuck in traffic" - Interpret as you will
In what feels like several lifetimes ago, the eternally broke spouse and I splurged on tickets to a concert by Lobo. Yes, the same person who gave us Me and You and a Dog Named Boo, and Baby, I’d Love you to Want me, A Simple Man, and so many more. We were fans. We lived in a small industrial township near Ang Thong, about an hour and a half away from Bangkok, where the concert was being held. This was back in late 1979 or the early nineteen eighties. I do not remember what he sang, and whether or not I was pregnant at the time, and if not, what had I done with the infant son for that evening. What I do distinctly remember is his crack about the infamous Bangkok traffic: it was supposed to be the only thing that could prevent the Vietcong army from invading Thailand. (The war was over by then, incidentally).
And then, when I watch movies like the fabulous original Golmaal, the absolutely crazy car chase towards the end, and I wonder at there being such a time, when cars ran freely on the road, unfettered by others of their ilk.
There was this unforgettable cartoon of a road full of cars, unmoving, with space for one single car. A helicopter is about to drop a car into that space. The End.
I do not drive. (Not any longer, barring a very brief period in my life when I did.) City distances are measured by time taken. You have a general idea of how long a particular journey will take at a particular time of day. Getting to the airport, a moderate distance of thirty-odd kilometers, can take anything from forty minutes to an hour and forty minutes. You keep that in mind while planning your journey. If you are like me, you drink a quarter of a cup of tea to wake up with, and a tiny sip of water with your post-breakfast medication, just so that you do not die of loo desperation before you reach your destination. Have you been in the awkward position of charging straight to your host’s facilities even before you can say a proper hello? I often have. My only comfort is that most other women feel my pain. Especially when you live in the National Capital Region, and often drive in three states to reach your destination.
Before smart phones became ubiquitous, I would read books at traffic lights and traffic jams. I managed to read a lot.
Before Covid and lockdowns came and put an end to traffic, traffic had, in Delhi, become a deeply political issue. The anti-CAB protests at Shaheen Bagh involved the closure of one of the major roads between Delhi and Noida. Whatever we felt about the protests, and given that the NCR had horrendous traffic at the best of times, it often felt simpler to just stay home.
Stay home, stay safe, and beat the traffic as well.
P.S. : The spouse clarifies, the baby attended the concert with us.

Friday, April 24, 2020

If you ask me on a Monday

-- 500 words
-- Write an absurdist piece, beginning with "If you ask me on a Monday" and ending with "I'd say yeah!"

If you ask me on a Monday if the moon was made of cheese
I’d turn around and look askance, and fall on bended knees
Asking you if you were sane, or just being a pain?
As you can often be…

If you ask me on a Tuesday if my love was true,
I’d turn to you, and say, What ho! I’m living here with you.
It could be love, it could be lust, could be financial need
Or even simple greed. (Great cook, you know you be)
Try and guess, till then you know I’ll bless you when you sneeze.

If you ask me on a Wednesday to help you comb your hair
I’d run a mile without a smile, it leaves me in despair
Those tangled knots, those matted locks
That length that you must wear, Rapunzel,
Just go to hell, its more than I can bear.

If you ask me on a Thursday to tidy up the flat
You know you’ve asked for trouble, mate.
When things go flying, splat. Take that, and that,
And that, and then some more of that.
You’re the one that messes up, you filthy, messy rat.

If you ask me on a Friday to take you on a walk
I realize that it is time we had a serious talk
Living in the same house isn’t too bad,
We get along, we do, (most of the time)
But you always want to walk the talk
Which is something I can’t do.

If you ask me on a Saturday to bake a loaf of bread
I’d dive beneath the covers and immediately play dead.

But on a Sunday, oh, beautiful glorious Sunday,
How I truly love everything about you, my little turtle dove.
Your messiness, your tidiness, your silly laugh, your hair
Everything mesmerizes me, for everything I care.
I know I am a nut job, but I am a Sunday flower
My special day I blossom, a gentle pleasant shower
Of goodwill to one and all, even to you, my pet
For the rest of the week, you may have many a regret
At having plighted your troth to this strange behemoth
Of a person who is so strange, so weird,
And yet, there must be something in me,
Which to you has me endeared.
I’ll cook, I’ll clean, I’ll walk, I’ll talk
Whatever you want I’ll do.
I’ll whisper sweet nothings in your ear,  
we can even go to the Zoo.
If you desire, I’ll light a fire
Behind the garden shed
We’ll have a barbecue, just me and you
Next to the old rose bed.

What pleases you will please me too,
I will be your willing slave
For the rest of my life, until I rest in my grave.

Stupid old romantic, with these silly Sunday antics
I can see these thoughts float within your mind
I try my best, on Sunday, to be kind.
If you ask me, just today, if I love you, I’d say Yeah.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Where there's a Will

Svetleena Choudhary’s prompt: 
500 words on 'koi no yokan', the extraordinary sense upon first meeting someone, that you will one day fall in love(Japanese).

Where there's a Will

It was a messy will. It was being contested by several parties, all of whom claimed to be the patriarch’s legal heirs. There was HUF property involved, as well as personal assets. There were also several wills floating around, of different dates and ambiguous signatories. The senior Mehta of Mehta, Mehta, Sarin and Mehta, had long since met his maker, and was the partner who had drawn up the earliest of the extant wills. His grandson, Mohit, was the present day senior-most Mehta in the firm. At thirty seven, he seemed far too young to inspire confidence within older clients, but there was little he could do about that. He did wear unpowered spectacles to make himself look older.
He had verified all the documents the firm had that dealt with Lala Kishen Chand’s properties. The last will they had made had been thirty years ago, but that was not necessarily binding. He needed to know more details about the family. Lala Kishen Chand had died a week ago, the memorial service had not yet taken place, and there were already three different claimants to his property. It had not been easy dealing with them, telling them to at least allow the thirteenth day ceremonies to be over.
He had decided to go for the public memorial service on the evening of the thirteenth day. And pay his respects to this old client of his family’s law firm. The speeches that followed the bhajans seemed interminable. The entire family then lined up near the exit to be swiftly condoled with before the assembled guests gathered for a simple tea in the Ayra Samaj temple grounds. The potential stake holders crowded round him, insisting that Vakeel Sahab have a samosa, or at least a biscuit, with his cup of over sweet tea. A young woman was introduced to him as Lalaji’s youngest grandchild, whose parents had died in a car accident a few years ago. She was her grandfather’s special pet, and had been very close to him, said one of Lalaji’s daughters. Preeti used to take wonderful care of Lalaji, said another.
There was something special about Preeti, thought Mohit. Perhaps it was her quiet, contained air, in the midst of all the clamour. She brought to his mind the Japanese phrase, koi no yokan, the extraordinary sense upon first meeting someone, that you will one day fall in love. He smiled to himself. Getting fanciful thoughts about a client’s relative wasn’t particularly professional. He folded his hands in a general Namaskar to the family, and left.
On Monday morning Preeti visited his office. She had with her Lalaji’s Last Will and Testament. It wasn’t registered, but was properly witnessed by Lalaji’s best friend, Lala Ghanshyam, and his physician. It was all clear and above board. All the residents of the family home and their descendants had claim on the family home, while his personal assets he had willed to Preeti, who had cared for him during his terminal illness.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Fire and snow

Prompt by Vijay Boothalingam:
For today's prompt, I present a Haiku by Matsuo Basho
you make the fire
and I’ll show you something wonderful:
a big ball of snow!
Access this Haiku in your own terms and write a fictional or non fictional piece in whatever form you desire. A dialogue, a soliloquy, gonzo journalism, a burlesque piece, a letter, a poem - all accepted.

They are camping high up in the hills. It is cold.
They are, at this point, questioning their own sanity.
She: Who goes camping in the dead of winter?
He: We do!
They shed their heavy backpacks, the tent, the camping gear. Setting up the tent first is logical.
The wind is bitingly cold, their faces frozen. He notices her fatigue. It is early afternoon.
He leaves the tent where it is.
Out comes the camp stove.
The matches.
The saucepan, the tea bags, the mugs. The biscuits.
He lights the stove, and efficiently produces two cups of steaming hot tea.
They cup their chilly hands around their mugs, and savour the rich brew.
They pitch their tent, unroll the sleeping bag.
They walk for a while, before it gets too dark.
The pine forest is carpeted with dry needles.
They gather fallen branches and head back to their tent.
They will have a campfire, and, later on, snow.
Not enough for a snowman, or even a snowball fight, but still,
Something wonderful: snow.

The ten year old is city born and bred.
His grandfather has promised to take him
On a trip to his roots, up in the Arctic circle.
The child knows he has Inuit blood on his mother’s side.
He knows a lot of the history of his tribe.
He has learned, from school Geography lessons
How igloos are made, cutting up blocks of snow
Assembling them with the characteristic dome and passageway
He wants to stay in an igloo, for one night at least
And his grandfather has promised that they will.
It’s a long journey, from Toronto, where they live,
To Nunavik.
Grandpa’s cousins welcome them warmly.
He speaks to them in their native tongue,
While the child looks on, bewildered.
The village folks are warm and welcoming,
Delighted with the tobacco that grandpa gives to them
A precious commodity indeed.
They get busy, helping the visitors
Build a brand new igloo.
The child is delighted
It is all so clean and white and cold.
What was the word his teacher had used?
Pristine. It is all pristine. Even the large snow bed/couch
Against the curving wall, pristine.
The family gets them piles of sealskins to sleep on,
Pots and plates, salt, tea
And firewood, and fish, and rice.
Grandpa asks him to light the fire
Which he does, happily,
He’s a Boy Scout, after all.
But his beautiful, pristine igloo
Gets sooty, to his great chagrin.
And he finds himself sweating, near the fire,
while the ceiling weeps with the heat.
He sheds his parka: much relief.
Grandpa crawls out of the passage,
And is back soon,
Pushing a big ball of snow.
What’s that for, Grandpa?
Will we build a snowman inside our igloo?
This, dear child, is our water supply:
We have to melt water to drink, and to cook our rice, and fish.
It is all strange and wonderful.
He is glad that he doesn’t live here
All the time!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Preethi Sanjeevi's prompt: write about Loss. any Loss. physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. throw in a dollop of self-derision & a sprinkle of humor.
500 words. or slightly less chalega!

Being scatterbrained is a sure shot formula for losing stuff. Losing stuff, particularly important papers, makes me lose my mind, such as it is. Therefore, I do my level best to be as organized as possible, so that I know exactly what is kept where. If things are kept in place, following a system (my system, I mean) they remain under my control. If not, they can be a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s not that I haven’t lost things. I have. Or misplaced them, more likely. A prime example of my absent mindedness is from my long ago school days. For Biology practical classes, we used to have a special record book which the school ordered for us, with thicker than usual drawing sheets interspersed with ruled paper for writing on. I was supposed to collect the money from our class and give the list of names to Mr. Shambhu, the lab assistant. And that is what I did. Or thought I did. A weekend had intervened, and when we went to the lab for our practicals on Monday, Shambhu ji asked me for our class list and the money. I was quite sure that I had given it to him, which fact he stoutly denied, and I was on the verge of tears, because it was a question of my integrity, and a lot of money! Our Biology teacher came in, and sorted out the matter. Since Shambhu ji wasn’t in the lab on Friday afternoon, I had handed her the money and the list, and had completely forgotten about it.

It so happens that the man I married is a couple of notches ahead of me in forgetfulness. He tends to ascribe supernatural powers or phenomena like dematerialization to things that have disappeared, especially if it is something of mine that is lost. A case in point is my rolling pin which went missing when I went to the USA for the delivery of Grandchild No. 1.

There was the time when I could not find our folder of life insurance policies. I hunted high and low for them over several days, looking in the most unlikely places. I was at the end of my tether, when, following some strange instinct, almost as though the policies were calling out to me, I opened a large suitcase standing next to the steel almirah in the guest room. They were there. Along with a cheque book and other important papers. I had cleared up a lot of space in our room as my uncle and aunt were going to stay with my parents when the spouse was taking me on my first ever trip to the USA.
I discovered that our car’s original registration certificate was lost only after we were stopped by a traffic cop for allegedly jumping a red light. That remains lost.

The deeper losses that Life necessarily inflicts by the time you reach my age are the inevitable ones, the ones beyond human control.

Monday, April 20, 2020


500 words, write a fictional piece in the form similar to that of a continuous painting. I learnt it is called triptych.
Prompt courtesy Veena Mani
Three little girls sitting on the floor, each one nested between her older sister’s legs. The youngest one is holding a home–made rag doll, rocking it to sleep and singing softly to herself. The middle sister is oiling the little one’s hair, and jerking her own head away from the comb which her older sister is wielding. The older sister takes her role as Little Mother very seriously. Their mother is addressed by them as Bibi. The oldest daughter goes through life being addressed as Chhoti Bibi by her siblings. There are also three brothers in the mix, but they are, at this point, busy somewhere in the outside world. Sisters are, for now, merely background music in the rhythms of their lives. Their father finds this everyday scene so endearing that he expends upon it one frame of the precious film of his Agfa box camera, recording it for posterity.
The youngest sister is getting married. She is standing with her right foot on the sil, (the stone used for grinding chutneys and spices), her favourite brother’s arms around her, pouring parched rice into her cupped hands. Her bridegroom, seated, looks on attentively. The older brothers and their wives form the backdrop. The middle sister is hugely pregnant, and stands leaning against her husband. Chhoti Bibi is caught in mid-shout, as she tries to control her three unruly children, while her husband is deeply engaged in conversation with one of the many uncles. Their parents, of course, are seated at floor level, attending to the priest’s many instructions. This is one of the rare photographs which actually has all members of the family in the same frame, with a few extras!
The oldest nephew’s wedding. A huge group photograph, with the groom’s grandparents centre-stage, standing behind the bridal couple on their ‘thrones’. Fortunately the wedding ceremonies are over, so the new bride can be photographed with the clan. Getting everyone together for this one photograph has probably been the most difficult part of the entire evening, barring the nervous rearing up of the groom’s mare when the band suddenly struck up with a loud clash of cymbals. (The intrepid groom kept his nerve, trusting the mare’s handler to deal with her jitters). The youngest batch of grandchildren have been having a gala time, guzzling down all the cold drinks they can lay their greedy hands on, and creating games with the decorative marigold gardens which they are pulling down with impunity. One greedy toddler has been sick, and his mother is trying desperately to clean him up. The older boys are engaged in aankhon aankhon mein conversations with the pretty girls on the bride’s side. Who cares for a stupid family photo? The patriarch is getting tired and cranky. He bangs his stick hard on the stage, and lets out a loud protest: I am leaving. Everyone obediently scurries into whatever position seems apt. The photographer heaves a huge sigh of relief, and clicks away.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Kabira khara bazaar mein

- 500 words
--- Write a non-fictional piece based on your interpretation of this:
"Kabira Khara Bazaar Mein, Mange Sabki Khair
Na Kahu Se Dosti, Na Kahu Se Bair"
In the marketplace stands Kabir, Asks for the good of all
With none does he claim friendship, nor for enmity to befall"

In these days of Covid 19, Sant Kabir wouldn’t be standing in the marketplace, selling his wares.                           As a weaver, fabric wouldn’t be treated as an essential commodity, and he would have to remain in lockdown at home. Since, however, he has had the great good fortune of departing from this world several centuries ago (in a most dramatic fashion, if the stories are to be believed), we will not literally transpose his words to the present day, at least not just yet.
Kabir is the one poet whom I personally admire greatly. He has, over the years, become a core part of my being. The more you read of him and study his words, the more there is to know. His wit and wisdom, his radical thinking, his incisive observations on practically everything, his equal opportunity religion bashing, his deep spiritual core, what is not to love?
In these lines written above, he reveals himself as a truly evolved soul:
The marketplace is not just an actual marketplace, it depicts the world with its myriad pleasures.                 So many things to crave for, to desire. All human senses can be satiated in this world. When, while in the marketplace he prays for the well-being of all, it includes the wish that they not be led astray by the temptations of this world, that they also remain detached from it. Similarly, when he says that he wishes for neither friendship nor enmity, he also wishes the same to the denizens of the world. The burdens of both friendship and enmity lead one astray from the path to salvation. Humankind’s well-being is rooted in detachment. Friendship and enmity both have roots in the ego: my friend, my enemy. (However, I do believe in kinships of the soul that ease our paths through the messiness of life, which, in common parlance, we do call friendship).
And yet, humanity has strayed so far from the path of limited wants. Greed has messed up our poor Earth, perhaps irretrievably. At the present moment, we are living almost saintly lives: far away from the clamour and temptations of the market place, far away from friends and enemies alike. At this point in time, we pray for the well-being of all, even our ‘enemies’. The descriptions of the disease in its final stages are truly terrifying. It is hard to imagine that so many people, many in the prime of their lives, have succumbed to it. The very thought of the final moments of ones life without the comfort of a loved ones touch is truly tragic.
Can we, at this critical juncture, (post-lockdown and post Covid 19, if that happens), learn to be able to traverse the marketplace of the world without getting caught up in its fascinations? Can we actively seek the well-being of all, friend and foe alike?  A little less consumerism, a little more detachment, a lot more concern for the creatures on our planet.  We all need to channel our inner Kabir!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Letter to the Editor

-- 500 words
-- Write a "Letter to the editor" focusing on any one of the following words: Joy, Courage, Discretion, Patience

To the Editor,
The Indian Express, Delhi Edition
Dear Sir,
We, the undersigned, are writing to you as a last resort, as all our attempts at bringing our problems to the local authorities are proving fruitless. We are the long suffering residents of several gated communities in the National Capital Region. (NCR). Our area has, for the past several weeks, been invaded by troops of monkeys. We have had the joy of observing all sizes and shapes and ages of monkeys from the privacy of our homes. There are babies clinging to their mothers as they leap from ledge to terrace to balcony. Most of us dare not step out, for fear of being bitten by these creatures. So many of our outdoor, routine activities are curtailed. Despite the brilliant sunshine, laundry is being dried indoors, under ceiling fans. Most of our potted plants, (and pots), have been destroyed by these merciless simians. We dare not let our children play outdoors, for fear of their being bitten. A balcony door carelessly left unlatched can spell total havoc within our apparently upper-class homes. Our societies’ security guards spend a good part of the day trying to chase the monkeys away, but however fleet footed they are, they are obviously no match for these agile creatures. The occasional rifle shot into the air offers only temporary relief.
In previous years, when this annual invasion occurred, we had collectively managed to repel it by the simple method of hiring a langoor-wala. The rhesus monkeys are terrified of langoors, so they stay well away. The langoor-wala has a very long rope, which is tied around the langoor’s neck. Once he has been around the entire area, the languor is tied to a tree-trunk, and can relax in the branches of the tree. In fact, grateful residents come with many offerings for the languor, especially bananas. However, according to the Wildlife Act, this is an act of cruelty to a wild animal, and therefore punishable by law.
We understand that human beings have taken over the habitat of several wild animals, including monkeys. We do not wish to engage in acts of cruelty towards any living creature. We are, however, at our wits’ end. Patience is, no doubt, a virtue. But our patience has now worn thin. This letter is an appeal to the authorities to do something, soon, to make our homes safe again. This letter is also a public appeal: any person who has any knowledge of any (legal) method to rid us of this menace may please get in touch with any of the undersigned. Our Societies have also ear marked funds for this purpose, so please be assured that suitable remuneration will be given.
We also wish to inform you, that in the absence of any concrete suggestions/solutions within the period of seven days, we will go on a hunger strike, outside the district magistrate’s office.
K.Singh, Bluebell Society
A.K. Kapoor, Diamond Heights
S. Makhija, Lotus Towers
P. Wadhwa, Paradisio

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Dreaming of Food!

-- 500 words
-- Write a fictional/ non-fictional love story with a happy ending
-- Make sure it has three essential elements: sweet, sour, salty
Mathangi KrishGouri DangeParomita VohraVeena ManiPreethi SanjeeviSneha AnnavarapuEmeka Kupeski Okereke
Reena wakes up from her siesta that Sunday afternoon feeling desperately homesick. Not just homesick, ‘home-food’ sick. She ‘sees’ her parents and sister as often as she wants, on video chats. Besides missing being in the same three dimensional space as them, where a hug is something you actually feel enveloped by, not just a word you mouth at the end of the chat, she craves the food that she grew up eating (without cooking). She also remembers her childhood sojourns at her maasi’s house, where every evening there was a fresh treat, sometimes home-made, like pakodas or halwa, or, more often, samosas, or kachoris, or jalebis from the neighbourhood halwai. She remembers being a greedy little thing, especially fond of sweets, so much so that her older cousins would tease her mercilessly, telling her that when she grew up they’d get her married to Chaina Ram Halwai’s son. At eight, it didn’t seem like a bad idea at all. She misses her mother’s fabulous stuffed parathas, and the particular smell of the heeng-jeera tempering in the almost everyday arhar dal. She could live on that dal-chawal forever, she thinks, imagining along with it a selection from her mother’s pickle shelf. Her favourite was the sweet and sour lemon pickle, while her sister favoured the mangoes pickled in oil. She sleepily staggers into the kitchen of the shared apartment, wondering if there is anything remotely ‘desi-ly’ delicious in the fridge. She can, of course, always brew herself a cup of ginger tea.
It is snowing outside, in their mid-Western university town. Rahul and Ritu, her twin flatmates, are in the kitchen.
What’s cooking, guys? she asks. Ritu steers her into the lounge.
Patience, Reena, patience, she says.
Chai, Ritu. I need chai.
I’m getting you a tea-bag chai. Make ginger tea for all of us once we’re out of the kitchen.
Reena cradles her mug for warmth, watching the snow fall, trying desperately to ignore the delicious smells that are now filling the house.
Rahul and Ritu emerge holding a platter each, with a mock trumpet roll: Tan-tarr-arrra.
Reena turns toward the dining table. Samosas and jalebis. She can’t believe her eyes. The jalebis are perfectly shaped golden squiggles. The samosas look professional. Rahul brings a bowl of mint-tamarind chutney, and the ketchup bottle.
We were both dying to eat something fried and delicious. It’s certainly the weather for it, says Rahul.
How did you read my mind? asks Reena. I was dreaming about ghar ka khana and pakodas and samosas.
She takes a bite of the samosa. The filling and the casing are perfectly made for each other. The chutney adds its own little tang.
Mmmmmm, this is so good, she says, I could kiss the cook!
Ritu points to her brother. I am just the sous chef.
Rahul blushes. Try a jalebi, he says.
It melts in her mouth, the golden perfection of it.
That is the moment when she falls in love with her own personal halwai.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Sporting Event

- 500 words
--- Picture a scene, any scene
---- Write it like a live-sports commentator
--- Have fun
-- 6:00 pm deadline

Sporting Event
The equestrian part of the event is over now, and our champion rider, G, is at the venue, waiting for the main challenge of the evening. G’s cheerleaders, both male and female, are all eager and excited, duly boosting his morale as he awaits contender B. The venue is well lit and we can see a large audience, seated in two main blocks, divided by a central aisle. The left of the aisle is mostly occupied by G’s supporters, while the right side, also having greater numbers, is occupied by team B’s supporters. The audience is enjoying catered snacks and soft drinks as they wait.
The muzak playing in the background switches to softer, classical strains. After a long wait, we see Team B approaching. Team B makes a grand entry, with their chief player, B, in an elaborate costume, with four tall minions holding a floral canopy over her head. A regal entry indeed. It seems as though her costume is particularly heavy, not really well designed for a sporting event, but, as you all know, there are conventions to be followed. Team B reaches the steps of the stage, and the waiting G gallantly holds out a hand to help B up the steps. They exchange a sporting smile, while the cheerleaders on both sides get into position for their main event.
The referee ascends the stage, and declares that the match is ready to begin.
The chief minions of the two teams rush to get the necessary equipment for their players.   
Both players stand facing each other, with their many cheerleaders cheering them on. The excitement is palpable. The audience is rapt. People leave their chicken tikkas mid-munch. Cold drink glasses are hastily shoved under seats. Several audience members are crowding round the stage, hoping for a better view.    
It is, as per convention, B’s turn to play first. She picks up the garland and tries to toss it around the much taller G’s neck. He stretches backwards. She tries again, but fruitlessly. G is picked up by two of his friends, while his team shouts ‘Higher, higher.’ B’s team shouts, ‘Not fair, not fair’.
B stands still, giggling. She shrugs her shoulders and makes as though she is going to garland  G’s best friend. G asks his friends to put him down and stands meekly in front of B. B raises her eyebrows, as though asking G if he really deserves to be garlanded after that brouhaha. G puts down the garland he was holding and touches both ears in apology. B stops her pricey act, and in one quick movement, deftly garlands G.
G picks up his garland, while B’s tall brothers hold her, squealing, high in the air. G’s buddies hold him even higher. The referee says that the auspicious time will be over soon. B and G are quickly put down, and G smilingly garlands B.
A standard desi match indeed, with a known outcome, where both players are declared winners!