Monday, July 30, 2012


The compartment was fairly empty for a Saturday afternoon. She thought that it was probably not season yet for travel. But the thing she felt a little queer about was the guy sitting opposite to her. It had been an hour and he had not taken his eyes off the scenery his window was offering, not even to have a peek at a pretty girl sitting right in front.

“Anything particularly beautiful you are looking at?” He was taken aback by the hint of sarcasm in her voice.

“Nothing particular. But beautiful, yes!” He looked at her for the first time. Eyes so expressive and purposeful! She gave him the “care-to-explain-yourself” look.

He smiled. It was an innocent one. “Here, come this side and see for yourself.”

She came and sat by his side. The sight was perfect. They didn’t speak a word for a long time.  It was the sun’s last act of the day and the most beautiful one!

He spoke first. “What a spectacle! It actually looks like our train is chasing the sun down into those curvy mountains. He seems to be pretty tired after the day’s work and we are catching up on him. On his way, he stumbles upon those gorgeous trees which add their color to his light. What a delightful duet!”  

She soaked in the beauty that his eyes had just conjured. “My visualization was not so enthralling. What are you? A  writer? A poet?”

“No, someone less profound! I am a photographer.”

“Wow.. I could never be one!” There was a subtle pain in her voice.

They watched the sun as it disappeared into oblivion. “It rests to scorch another day.” She sighed as the last traces of the sun left their eyes.

He took a few beats to crystallize his thoughts. “For the last half an hour, we have seen the sun grow on us. Its golden shimmers accentuated the beauty and serenity of every animal, foliage and emotion they touched. As our train got tantalizingly close to the mountains, the sun was bigger, clearer and more meaningful than ever. And then he disappears leaving us to be consumed by the darkness. Does this mean anything to you?”

“I see you are poised to say something profound. Go on.”

“Well, profound or stupid, is for you to decide. It reminds me of the shallowness and the false hopes and promises that make up our lives. Don’t you share my melancholy?” He looked at her intriguingly.

She smiled playfully. “Not really. I think he dims his light for us to search for it within.”

“Now that is profound indeed. What are you, a philosopher?” He winked.

“Well, something more human. I am a painter.”

“I am sure having such expressive eyes helps! They can temporarily arrest nature’s splendor and you can immortalize it later on paper.” She gushed at his poetic compliment.

They were about to go back to their silence when he suddenly asked her a question she was hoping he wouldn’t. “Why did you say you couldn’t be a photographer?”

After being pensive for a while she opened up. “Because my dad was one!” This time he couldn’t see any emotion in her eyes. “And he was brilliant at it. The best! He took several pictures which were adored and celebrated. They brought him name and fame. But most of these photos were meant to portray a world that was not real. A world that was clinically enhanced; sprinkled with artificial beauty, fake emotions and non existent colors! The world as you want it to look like! A world of your dreams!” He did not interrupt her as emotions were slowly starting to erupt.

 “And then one day he took his best photograph. It just told a simple truth. It was a piece of art. Sometimes, that is the worst curse. It shows life in its purest and darkest shade. It is too much for one to take. It tells you a story you so hoped didn’t exist. And the story of this photo changed my dad. It made every other photo of his look inconsequential and meek. It was the last photograph he ever took!” She was still breathing heavily but had slowly managed to gain her composure back.

A stunned silence ensued. “It must have been a very potent picture!” He whispered softly.

“Sure it is!” She took out the photo from her bag and gave it to him. It was a breathtaking capture of a man was carrying his son on his shoulders. He looked at it intensely for a while and then handed it back to her. “It is priceless.” His eyes had a semblance of torture.

“What happened? I thought you would want to see that picture a little longer.” She could not understand the emotion he was going through.

He smiled contritely. “If you allow me, I will keep looking at this picture for the rest of my life.” She did not understand but didn’t want to press, fearing she might hurt a raw wound. But that had already been done.

“Well, you see, I don’t have a photo of my father and I never seem to like any of mine.” He said nonchalantly.

She was shuddering. “Is this…. You?”

He was gently caressing the man in the photo. “Yes. I am the unfortunate son of this man who did not have any reason to smile in his whole life but found every opportunity to do so. He spent his whole life with a heavy baggage on his slender shoulders. In the morning he would carry me to school. It was 10 kilometers from our village and he had to cross a dense forest barefooted. He would then chop wood in the forest the whole day. He would carry my little baby sister along with him to the forest. He made her a little cradle in the woods and the birds would sing her lullaby. In the evening he will carry the wood to the local timber house and sell it to them for a paltry price. He would then come to fetch me again. Those three hours on my father’s shoulders were my most precious moments of the day. He would tell me about every single sight, event and incident on the way. I started seeing the world through his eyes. I wish time had frozen at that very moment. But that was not to be. May be I was too much a burden for him to shoulder! Or may be, I was not destined to play with my baby sister!

A famous actress of that time adopted me from my father; for a good sum I guess. Thanks to your dad’s priceless photo that melted her heart. My father was happy that I was going to get a life that he could never give me. But I knew he cried and bled internally. I knew his heart would never be able to give me up. He wanted to carry me on his shoulders all his life. But life is cruel. It takes your soul and you can’t even cry!

Time slowly heals you. I started afresh. For 10 years, I lived a life of solitary luxury. I had everything. I even had love. My new mother was not the best but she took good care of me, though I never felt the mother in her! But I had nothing to complain until one day she had a son of her own. Now I was just a complication! So she got rid of me. To be fair, I was well taken care of. She put me in college and fixed a decent accommodation as well. So here I was, after being rooted out from my father’s heart and shoulders and planted in a place where I never fit in, alone, out in the world to find a soil again.

I had always looked for an inspiration, a calling to live or die for, and I found it through your dad. Strange it may seem, but he shaped my destiny! This unknown man, who immortalized my father in a frame of memory, who gave me new parents (for a while), a great house to live, a great school to study, gave my father and my sister the opportunity for a better life; he became my idol. He still is! That is why I am a photographer today!”  

His eyes were moist. So were hers! “You never tried to find your father again?”

“I wanted to. So many times. But then, what would I tell him? That I have been an orphan for 15 years! That I have everything I haven’t even asked for but not the one thing I have always longed for: his love. He would have imagined great things about his son. I do not intend to bring down the fond castles he has built in my memory. He will not be able to forgive himself. He has had enough agony for one lifetime already. Sometimes it is best to live in the truth we have come to believe in. I am happy to live with the belief that my father and sister are happy somewhere! I can’t take any other truth!” He was choking for words.

She caressed his shoulders soothingly. She had no words to console him. She knew that none were necessary. She put the photo on his lap. “You can keep the photo. I think it means much more to you!” He had no words to thank her. He knew none were necessary.

She moved away and took out her diary and started writing something. He looked at her eagerly.  

“It’s nothing. I just like to record memorable conversations.”

He smiled affectionately. “I am so glad you thought this one is memorable!” He was still looking at the photo. Tears were parting his eyes profusely. She finished her diary and went away to shed a tear of her own.

He glanced at her diary. Something inside him urged him to read it and he tried hard to battle that thought. A truth’s destiny hinged on his action!

Excerpt from her diary:
How can I tell you that this photograph means as much or more to me!

I wish I could tell you that I am your little sister. I wish I could ask you to sing me a lullaby.

How can I tell you how much our father loved us? How can I tell you that he would have never given you away if he was not dying? Yes. Dying slowly but surely!

I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent looking at this photo, touching and feeling the two of you.

How can I tell you that my father watched our father die in my arms and then took me in his arms? I cannot tell who I love the most, but both these men are our heroes!

And how can I bring my heart to tell you that both of them are no more! I have suffered the agony of watching them die: one of pain and the other of grief. How can I let you go through the same?

This photograph is our destiny. It is our doom. It broke us. It made us. I can’t allow it to break us again. I am just happy it brought us together, what if it was for just a moment! Sometimes it is best to live in the truth we have come to believe in!

                                                                                                                 A SHORT STORY BY RAJ

This post is part of the contest A picture can say a thousand words.. on

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I recently had the great honor of meeting with the great Mr.C’mon man. He gave me his expert opinion (uncalled for as you should have guessed by now) on everything under the sun and beyond. He felt that I have been too serious and my writing reflects melancholy. I tried in vain for a little while explaining my sanity to him but he went off on rigmarole as to why he is the next Nostradamus which I found rather amusing. 

So I decided to share that interesting bit of comedy (or tragedy) with all of you! Enjoy!! A year ago, his prediction went to deaf ear, but today he has mastered the art of grabbing attention!

Friday, July 20, 2012


I am sure all of you are eagerly awaiting the commencement of the 2012 Summer Olympics. But I hope you have not missed our own version of the Presidential games which has been a roaring success over the last several months, thanks to the popular gimmicks, intriguing twists, spine-chilling maneuvers and daredevil stunts of our political gladiators. Please don’t ask me who the athletes to watch out for are! I reserve the right to not answer this preposterous question. For the benefit of some folks who are a little weak in (general) knowledge, I would like to highlight that there are in fact two contenders and not one. And Mamta Banerjee is not one of them!

Though our Presidential process is a fairly insignificant one and its impact is going to affect no one other than our Tourism Department, it has still lived up to the reputation of a tamasha! And what do I say about the sincerity and vigor with which our two crusaders have gone about their campaigns? Certainly in terms of the entertainment quotient, Sangma has an upper hand. He has shown time and again that he has got the moves. His dance performances have lent some flavor to the otherwise monotonous rat race. But he has got some competition from Pranab who has mastered a completely different dance form: dancing to the tunes of Sonia jii. Give the veteran some credit: after all there are so many exponents of this art and to stand out is no mean feat.

But when it comes to planning, no one beats Pranab daa. Right from the day his dream of being Prime Minister was squished, he has been meticulously and masterfully moving the pieces in anticipation of shifting base to Raisina Hill. Right from taking travel tips from Pratibha Patil to ensuring that he is already a President in university textbooks, he is running one hell of an organized campaign. I bet you can accredit two five year plans to this noble cause. I have insider information that even Mr.Obama is seeking his tips. I hope not on matters of Finance though.  And in my not so humble opinion, I think it would be of international interest if they consider a Rotation program in their tenures. Surely the Americans (and the world) would for once welcome a President who is fairly inactive while Mr.Obama can talk his way into the hearts of the Indian Public. Some loose “Change” would help too!

In this entire hullabaloo, the Governmental institutions have been kept on their toes. The Postal Service particularly has had to deal with an unusual surge in the letter traffic as the candidates are on a writing spree urging for support from all quarters. And with majority of those letters being directed to a Ms. Banerjee, a lot of people are wondering about the mysterious absence of an entity called the telephone in the whole process. A Mamta wing has been set up in West Bengal post offices to handle this emergency.  There is also a lot of bustle in jails these days as several inmates are shuttling in and out to wine and dine with the future President of India. If you thought jails were intended to be some form of punishment, you are in the wrong planet.

Be it reaffirming their solidarity or grabbing some brownie media points, the politicos and party allies are enjoying all the attention. Mulayam Singh Yadav has had his share of fun in the process, first by flirting with Mamta for a few hours in what would go down as one of the shortest flings in political history and then doing a sly volte-face showing his homely allegiance to Sonia Matay. Not to mention his latest gimmick, accidentally voting for Purno instead of Pranab. Oops! And there are others who take their team player roles a little too seriously. Mr.Karunanidhi for example keeps announcing his support for Pranab every other day on television, first cordially, then warmly, later resolutely and then officially.  Finally, the cat and mouse courtship drama of the Congress to woo Mamta had all the ingredients of a blockbuster reality show and it narrowly trumped the Paes-Bhupathi-Bopanna extravaganza.

Since there was never a buzz or anxiety (except for Mr.Sangma) around the outcome of the President’s race, the entire country had waited with bated breath as to which side Didi would sway. And boy, did she arrive in style or what! She rendered complete justice to a famous Rajnikanth punchline: “Late aa vandalam latest aa varuven”. Guess you won’t need a translation for that. But even the ever astute politician in Mamta missed the biggest trick that could have changed the landscape of Indian politics. Instead of choosing the poor old pawn Mr.Singh as one of her choices, she could have played the biggest political check mate by choosing the Rook(ie) Mr.Rahul Gandhi. By doing so, she would have had the once in a lifetime opportunity of confining the future of the masses permanently to the future. Now he has announced that he will soon assume a larger role. May our souls rest in pieces! Even a 1000 God Particles cannot save us now!

Friday, July 13, 2012


I have always believed that we get a sense of our real self when we are on the road. It may sound a little far fetched but I may not be too off to think that traffic is a strong signal to the values of our society. The roads have a cold blooded indifference and candor. They lay us bare. Our humanity, gentleness, rectitude, courtesy or the utter lack of all these is on public display and we feed off of one another. And over my lifetime, I have seen more souls than bodies bleed to death on these roads.

I don’t drive anymore. I prefer to get killed rather than committing suicide. Or is it the fear that someone else would get killed or worse might get to see a glimpse of the darkest corners of my heart? Whatever it may be, I take the auto everyday. Some bonds are strange to describe and trying to understand them defeats the whole purpose. Thankfully the auto driver doesn’t question why I give him the luxury of taking me anywhere he pleases to and I don’t wonder why he entertains me every time. We are both comfortable in our uncomfortable silence.

I try to detach myself from everything. Listlessness strangely keeps me sane. The roads are full of bustle and chaos but I merely watch it with a callous apathy.  A man on a bike, in an attempt to impress his pillion interest, zips past us miraculously bisecting the auto and a scooter, almost rams into an old man in a bicycle before his short tryst with the gutter. Alas, a sad predicament to a romantic endeavor. Another who is not acrobatic enough stays behind us and shows his grumpiness with a generous dose of his boisterous horn. The auto-driver is calm and unruffled by the hullabaloo around as he listens to something he calls “a song” that has a pitch to rip apart the jarring loudspeaker which has the potential to replace any hearing aid.

I see a huge car in the distance. Its shimmer tells me that it would have preferred to happily stay off the road in the pleasant confines of the showroom. Reminds me of a newly wed bride who would have rather stayed with her parents. A raw wound is touched. The road’s narrowness is no match for the car’s grandeur. There is a hefty man at the helm. He looks rich from the outside. But the narrowness of his mind is too much even for this road. He is coming right at us and bludgeons our ears with a thunderous honk. It is a one way street and he is on the wrong side. My blood threatens to evaporate.

A dude in a motor cycle comes whizzing from the right hand side and threatens to rewrite all laws of physics and human belief by trying to sneak through the microscopic gap between the car and auto. Physics prevails and he gets caught in the muddle like an arachnid trapped in a Venus flytrap. Everything stalls. Nothing but chaos ensues. In the world of fistfights and word barbs, I stand speechless and thoughtless as an insignificant alien. Meanwhile a miniscule kid in a cycle achieves what the biker dude couldn’t. He gingerly balances his right leg on the auto, provides thrust by pushing his left leg against the car, squeezes his frame through miraculously and accelerates by using his hands as oars against the two vehicles and launches himself through and out of this commotion. A child who was looking at this feat all the while breaks into rapture.

The auto driver gives in finally and backs off slowly in an attempt to create an incredible angle for the mammoth car to slither past him and the horde of vehicles that have accumulated like bees on honey. Seeing his opening, the biker dude vrooms into action as he starts his engine directly in fourth gear and in the process deposits soot on a few fuming faces around, dents the car, teeters off precariously and ultimately spears into a little school girl. A moment of stunned silence is followed by his cowardly flight into oblivion. The auto driver helps her up and nurses her wounds. Why am I so surprised that good men still exist? Perhaps I have been living with myself for too long. 

I am superstitious. I get out of the auto and walk away from the scene. I feel like I am leaving the world on a happy note. I walk aimlessly looking around, searching for something I will never get back. A tall gargantuan tree stands towering above all things living and otherwise. Its branches are spread out like tentacles engulfing infinity ready to suck the blood out of all humanity. I have always wondered how a tree can still look gorgeous without a single leaf on it. Barren beauty if I may. I think I know why it doesn’t have a single spot of green on it. Humans are not made with blood anymore. Why have I always felt that it is the lushness of our hearts that is on display as greenery on trees? Or is it anymore? I wonder if mankind has only aridity to offer.

I haven’t touched my brush. What will I paint when I can’t see the colors anymore? My eyes recognize them but the heart doesn’t feel their radiance. I wouldn’t mind if it was the other way around. I have poured my heart into my paintings so much that I don’t even have any red left to dip in. That my heart will be immortalized piece by piece but seen or understood by no one is another irony! I wish someone would burn all those paintings and mix it with my ash. Perhaps my heart would beat again! But do I want it to?

My legs have been leading my mind for several years now. I amble along. Aurobindo and Mother usher me into their shrine. The Ashram calms my senses for the moment. Everyone around seems to be in peace. The Tulasi leaves bring me to equilibrium. But why are they not sweet anymore? An old lady smiles at me. She knows I am beyond help. Yet she tries! I cry. Something I should have done long back! It doesn’t placate me. The burden is mine to shoulder!

I reach the end of the road. I look the sea in its eye. Its vastness once fueled my imagination. Today it reminds me of my inner vacuum. I stand in emptiness right in between a resolute Gandhi who is in his fervent stride and a tranquil Nehru who is welcoming him with open arms. I will never know if the architects envisioned this when sculpting but it has been my source of enlightenment and resolve for years. Why don’t they talk to me anymore?

I painted the sky blue. I painted the tree green. But I could not paint my life happy.   

                                                                                     - From the diary of a man who was happy once!

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