Prakash entered the room, shutting the door behind him softly. Then, as an afterthought, he opened the door a little and slammed it shut. It did have the desired effect, in more ways than one. The three children sitting in a row on the bed were startled by the loud bang. It also reached the ears of his wife Pooja who had sent him on this mission.

He stood near the door, his hand still on the door handle, and looked at the children, his eyes trying to adjust to the insufficient light in the room. Two-year-old Shyam, sucking his thumb and with his tiny legs barely crossing the edge of the bed, was sitting in the middle with the twin sisters Megha and Varsha on either side. Varsha, sitting cross-legged on the bed, looked at him with a steady gaze while Megha fidgeted nervously and avoided looking up.

He advanced a few steps, cleared his throat, and said, “You have been naughty again! Why don’t you become good children and listen to Mummy?”

He sounded indulgent, almost cajoling. It was not that his brain had not registered the clear instructions of his wife that he must be stern and give them a dressing-down.

“Here I am struggling all the time to discipline them and you become the goody-goody parent. This will not do.” Pooja had said this in a firm, steely voice and he merely nodded his head in acquiescence, moving towards the children’s room with a determined step. But the commands of his brain had floundered by the time they reached the execution stage.

 The toddler was the first to react on hearing the father’s voice. He broke into a smile and rolled over onto his stomach so that he could climb down from the bed but he was restrained by his sisters.

Prakash wanted to get over with the assigned task quickly so that he could change into comfortable clothes and relax on the balcony with a cup of tea. With a hardened face and a peremptory tone, he admonished them, especially the twins who caused the mischief.  He upbraided them for giving so much trouble to their mother, besides setting a bad example for their kid brother. He gave them an ultimatum that if they continued with their wayward ways, there would be no outings, no treats, no this, and no that. He glared at them and from the look on their faces, he surmised that he was doing quite well.

He should have immediately stomped out of the room after that, perhaps slamming the door again on his way out.

But he lingered for a moment longer taking in their stricken faces laced with disbelief. The momentary flicker in his eyes gave him away. The twins, who were adept at reading their father, saw the chink in the fake armour and bore down on him with ferocious glee.

Soon he was down on the ground lying on his back with the three of them climbing all over him, punching him, and tickling him.

When a furious Pooja opened the door on hearing the commotion, he looked up at her sheepishly and gestured “Next time.”


PS: This short story was published on the mobile-based App, The Cabinet Story.


The house was quiet and there was no sign of his mother. The punishment breakfast was on the table – a plate of upma and coffee in a thermos flask – the two things that Shrikant disliked the most. Especially the coffee, which loses its aroma and picks up a peculiar taste from the flask. He liked to have a good and healthy spread for breakfast, ending with freshly brewed filter coffee.

Shrikant left for work without breakfast. His mind kept going over the ugly argument with his mother last night over his impending marriage to Esther. Esther and he had been dating for two years and had decided recently to marry in court under the Special Marriages Act. His mother did not want him to marry outside their religion and had tried everything from being sullen to being hysterical to playing the victim card to taking the stance of indifference. Upma and flask coffee was her way of saying “Get lost, you don’t deserve my loving care!”

As he waited for the traffic signal to turn green, Shrikant checked the time and decided to drop in at his aunt Seema’s place, for a quick breakfast and some cheering up.

Seema, his mother’s younger sister, was more like a friend to him than an aunt. Her vibrant personality inspired him and he was very fond of her. She had had her share of difficulties when she had to cope with her husband’s untimely death, taking up a job at the age of forty to run the house and educate her daughters. But he never found her whining or complaining. She was full of life and laughter and was a great raconteur with a vast repertoire of anecdotes. And when she talked about her late husband, it would seem as if he was still with them and would emerge from the next room.

She heard him out as he devoured the idli, soft and fluffy as always, and told him to stick to his decision.

“If you have found a person whom you love and with whom you want to share your life, you should not give up but fight for it.”

“But Mausi, I want Ma to live with us, always, and there would be constant friction at home. I would be caught in the crossfire.”

“So what? Cope with it rather than lose the love of your life. And I am glad that you are committed to taking care of Didi for her lifetime. Proud of you.”

She smacked him affectionately on his head and went to the kitchen to make coffee. Shrikant found her in a pensive mood as she returned after a while with two cups of filter coffee.

“I wish I had the sense and courage to do that years ago.”

“Do what?”

Shrikant was sipping his coffee one minute and the next minute, he was staring at her. Something wispy, both frightening and thrilling at the same time, flitted through his bewildered mind, beyond his grasp.

As he drove to work and all through the day, his mind went back to the same subject. For once, even Esther had taken a backseat.

‘How could Ma do this to her younger sister? And how did Mausi manage the affection and even respect towards Ma for all these years?’

Glimpses of his aunt’s failed romance when she was in the flush of her youth, as gleaned from the twenty minutes’ conversation that they had that morning, had unsettled Shrikant. In his world, happily married aunts do not have a past love story. He pieced together bits and pieces of her love story and how it was squashed under the feet of her family. Even after all these years and a seemingly happy married life with children, he saw the sorrow and hurt in her eyes when she spoke about it.

He cancelled a scheduled meeting that evening, invented for his mother a fictitious late-night dinner meeting, and was at his aunt’s doorstep again at six. He had to know the details. He had to hold her hand and wipe her tears. He also had to come to terms with the person his mother had been and perhaps, still is.

He was sucked into the sweet and heady romance between Seema and Keshav that had taken place in a small dusty town in Uttar Pradesh decades ago. Girls did not mix freely with the boys in those days and he was curious to know how it began and flourished. Keshav’s large family with several siblings surviving on the meager income of a clerk in the Postal department was in stark contrast to Seema’s family headed by a District magistrate. Keshav’s mother taught music, mostly bhajans, to supplement their family income. That was how Seema started going to their house to learn music and, later, as she befriended Radha, Keshav’s younger sister, her visits to their house became frequent.  Their house was tiny with too many inmates but Seema loved the vibes.  Being an eager and gifted student, she generally stayed back to practice some more music and often ended up having the night meal at their place.

The love between the two bloomed unexpectedly even though they were always surrounded by people. One moment he was her friend’s brother and the next, he had become something more. Who knows the ways of the heart, mused Shrikant going back to the moment when he fell in love with Esther.  And when has love cautioned the ones in its grip to be discreet and keep it under wraps? Times are different now but the heady feelings when caught up in the first throes of love have always been the same. The tell-tale signs were there for all to see and, in any case, discretion or being secretive were never Seema’s strengths.

“It was a strange and indescribable mixture of agony and ecstasy. Have you ever been at such a torturous place with Esther?”

Shrikant lowered his eyes instinctively. Perhaps not, he thought. They have had their share of pining and longing but nothing too poignant. My love life seems to be insipid, he concluded.

Driving back home after dinner, Shrikant was haunted by his aunt’s expression while narrating how her family trampled on her feelings when matters came to a head. Her sister, that is his mother, had been the most vicious and forced her to break the ties. And why? His family’s low social standing, a bleak future with no promise, and too many familial responsibilities. His aunt shed a tear as she recalled that she was called shameless to start an affair at twenty when her elder sister was yet to marry. Shrikant, who had vowed to wipe her tears, held her hand and wept.

He had no idea how Seema coped with the heartbreak and the forced arranged marriage to Girish a few years later. But he knew that his resilient aunt had brought back the sunshine and laughter into her life and built a happy home for herself and her family, on the remnants of that pure and unsullied love.


PS : This short story won a prize and was published by The Story Cabinet, a mobile-based App.



I have not seen a typewriter for ages.  This is one gadget that is reminiscent of my early years in a Central Government office when you could find one perched on every other table.

I was quite young and found the transition from a teaching job to an administrative one in a large Ministry quite overwhelming. I felt lost, sitting at my desk in a huge hall with old and sturdy iron shelves lining the walls, crammed with files and papers. In the two or three hours between the morning tea break and lunch, the typists would be at their productive best. The simultaneous clanging of several typewriters would create such a din that I would find it very difficult to concentrate on the files.  As it is, whatever was written in those files looked like Greek to me then. I would look around and would find that everybody is going about their work normally. And Gupta Ram, the aged Record Keeper, would be dozing through all that cacophony, in his chair in one corner. 

At the turn of the millennium, computers took over and gradually replaced typewriters. By the time I retired, I was clearing e-files with my digital signature. India started late but it had caught up with the digital world. And how!


It sounded like the drone of an airplane overhead.  Kiran pricked up her ears and sat up along with her sleeping bag. She looked at the huddled figure next to her in the cramped tent.  He stirred, and peeped out with a question mark on his face. His head and neck were wrapped in a woolen cap and a muffler. He had ignored her advice that he does not need them inside the sleeping bag.

And then, they heard what sounded like gunshots – “khat-khat-khat” – followed by a rumbling of the earth underneath. She knew what it was and unzipped her sleeping bag in a hurried frenzy.

He heard and felt that too. “Oh my God! Is that an earthquake?”

“No, it sounds like an avalanche.  Get up fast.”

There was an urgency in her voice and total panic engulfed him. He spluttered something loud but unclear and tried to stand up while still inside the sleeping bag.  This resulted in a tumble that knocked off several things packed closely in the tent. She turned on the flashlight, unzipped the top of the front opening of the tent, and shouted for Raju, the cook-cum-guide who had accompanied them and was sleeping in the kitchen tent a few meters away.

She then fished out her pair of hiking shoes placed between the inner and outer layers of the tent and tried to put them on in a hurry. No sign of life stirred in the other tent while chaos reigned in theirs. Her ten-day-old husband Ramesh was trying to extricate himself from the sleeping bag, blabbering incoherently.

She felt that she hardly knew him. She had given in to the community norms and had agreed to the arranged marriage. She married a stranger and now had a whole lifetime to get to know him.

Kiran stepped out of the tent and surveyed the immediate surroundings, relieved that she was standing on the firm ground covered with a few inches of snow. She looked up at the dark sky with thousands of twinkling stars. She thanked God that they were not buried under the avalanche, which must have occurred somewhere close by, considering the intensity of the sounds that she had heard.

She ran towards the other tent, calling out frantically to Raju and trying to rouse him from his deep sleep.  By now, she could hear cries of human voices from the small hamlet in the valley, which was hidden from view from the camping place where they had pitched their tents.  They were at quite an elevation and anxiety gripped her at the thought of more avalanches triggered by the first one.

Raju, the young adolescent, stepped out of his tent half-awake, rubbing his eyes. Being a hill person, he understood the situation immediately but was of little help as he ran around in circles shouting in his native dialect.  All his tall claims of knowing the mountains like the back of his hand evaporated in the face of actual danger. Kiran knew then that she was on her own.

She ventured out a few steps from the camping place.

“What are you doing? Don’t go anywhere.  Stay inside the tent.”

The desperate cries of her husband irked her.  He had zipped up the tent and left a small opening through which he stuck his head out to survey the outside scene.  He was a different man last evening when, stretching out his hands in the style of Shahrukh Khan, his favourite Hindi film actor, he had declared, “we have the entire place to ourselves.”

While hiking up the steep, snow-covered trail off Narkhanda yesterday and during their evening stroll around the camping area, she noticed that they were the only hikers and campers that day. 

Once the stiff climb was over, the tents pitched and he had had two cups of hot tea, Ramesh’s groanings and grumblings stopped and he was bubbling with a sense of exhilaration. He was happy that they were far away from the crowds of Shimla and happier that their mobile phones received no signals at that place. But she knew what it meant to be alone at high altitudes in the Himalayan wilderness if the weather turned bad or something untoward happened.

Putting aside her misgivings, she said “Yes, isn’t it fun?” After all, it was her idea to include a little bit of hiking and camping in their honeymoon to Shimla.

She surmised that in all probability, they would have been cut off from the nearest hamlet in the valley below, which they have to cross to reach Narkhanda on foot and from there, by road to Shimla. It was three in the morning and they will have to wait for daybreak, a good three hours away, before any help could reach them or for them to start finding their way down.  

After instructing Raju to search for spots nearby where mobile signals could be received and to establish contact with the village below, she returned to the tent. She found Ramesh cowering in one corner, his face ashen and eyes wide with utter fear. On seeing her, he let out a volley of complaints in a loud and trembling voice.  For a moment, she could not make out what the dominant emotion was – anger or fear. 

She heard a lot of “I told you”, “you don’t listen”, peppered with “you think you are a hero”. She controlled the rising irritation and tried to tell him that they were on firm ground, deliberately omitting the “as of now”, and that they will be able to get out of this place. She did not tell him about the possibility that the firm ground under their feet could be a part of another avalanche and slide down taking them along.

 He was not listening. Engulfed by his fear, he whimpered “I should not have listened to you. I just want to get out of here and I will never come to the Himalayas again”. 

Something moved within her and the initial anger at his outburst gave way to empathy and concern. Crouching next to him, she held him and pacified the frightened child in him.

As she continued to soothe him with reassuring words, she realized that hiking in the Himalayas was not for everybody. He would have been content to remain in Shimla, take a stroll on the ridge, drink hot chocolate at one of the eating joints along the mall and watch the snowfall from the comforts of their room in the high-end hotel that they had booked. They could have taken a day trip to Kufri on a bright sunny day, with blue skies overhead and soft piled-up snow on the ground. He could have been drunk with joy, making a snowman or throwing snowballs at her.  He could have had the perfect honeymoon that he had yearned for.

She had nothing against these pleasures, the tourist trappings.  But her passion lay in hiking on off-beat Himalayan trails. She loved breathing in the fresh air, listening to the sounds of the forests, and camping under the open sky. She was a fiery girl, different from other girls in her hometown in Gujarat. During the four years in an Engineering college in Chandigarh, close to the Himalayan foothills, she had picked up several interests, a passion for hiking in the Himalayas being the foremost, followed by a weakness for Punjabi cuisine. Ramesh liked nothing other than Gujarati food. Yet another one, among the many differences between them, she had noted.

 He, who had lived all his life in the plains of Gujarat, with occasional holidays in nearby hill stations like Matheran in the Western Ghats and Mount Abu in the Aravallis, was wide-eyed when she talked about hiking in the Himalayas. He had eagerly acquiesced to include the hiking and camping in their honeymoon trip to Shimla with not much insight and no experience whatsoever.

As Kiran spoke to him softly, his trembling stopped gradually. He was quiet now and laid his head on her lap, his body curled up in the foetus position.  She called out to Raju. 

The youngster, after his initial reaction of panic, had picked up courage and ventured a distance on the downhill trail.  His mobile phone could catch a signal at some point and he brought back news about the avalanche and that a large section of the trail was washed away. The two of them exchanged views about its location and how they should navigate their way after daybreak.

They decided that they would leave at the crack of dawn with only the essential belongings and some biscuits, nuts, and water for sustenance till they reach the hamlet. She felt responsible for both of them and hoped that her experience and skill in manoeuvring tough terrains would see them through. She asked Raju to prepare tea.

She bent down and murmured in her husband’s ears that they should be back in their luxurious hotel room in Shimla by lunchtime.  With a protective arm around the huddled figure and waiting for the hot tea, she felt something like love for this stranger with whom she had agreed to share her life.


PS: I submitted this story for Reedsy’s prompt contest #143 on the theme “Beautiful world, there you are”. It was approved and published on their blog at I did not win the contest though.


I had heard of the word ‘pandemic’ but it was not in my active vocabulary. I had never looked it up and had never used the word. The term lockdown was more familiar but mostly as a localised law-and-order issue. And, I think ‘social distancing’ is a brand-new phrase of these times. Our conversation these days is peppered with ‘minimalism’ and ‘new normal’.

Words apart, how has this novel situation we find ourselves in seeped into our conscience? A year and a half have passed and I look back on the shifts in my way of thinking and living.

When the complete lockdown of three weeks was imposed in March 2020 for the whole of India, I was naïve enough, or ignorant perhaps, to believe that by the end of that period, we would have controlled the virus, and all will be back to normal soon thereafter.

I was taking care of two very aged parents, both in their nineties and a chill ran down my spine as I heard the address of the Prime Minister of our country. I steeled myself to get through those twenty-one days of lockdown, one day at a time. In those initial days, the focus was mainly on running the house with a modicum of normalcy so that my parents are not inconvenienced in any way.  And in sanitising everything, from hands to milk pouches to doorknobs. Continuation of the lockdown for two more months was followed by step-by-step unlocking but the spread of the pandemic had not slowed down.  It gradually dawned upon us that we are in for a long haul.

There were days of anxiety, bordering on panic sometimes, interspersed with days of calm and peace brought in by a resolve to handle matters as they come.  I had to search for the reserves of mental strength deep within me when my mother, who was nearing 95, passed away one afternoon during the initial lockdown. Amid the grief and difficulties in arranging for the funeral and the rites thereafter, I also found myself expressing gratitude to the Universe that she had a natural and peaceful death, at home.

That was perhaps a turning point for me.  I started viewing the situation in its entirety.  I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. So, why would something so enormous and encompassing all of humanity occur without a good and sound reason? Mother Earth seemed to be wanting a break from human interference for better sustenance of all forms of life. It was like a mother giving a bitter pill to the child for its good. Amid the grief for the loss of so many lives, it was also heartening to see clean rivers and unpolluted air within a month or two. The universe was holding a mirror to the humans, to ponder on what they have become in their pursuit of greed, aggression, exploitation, and self-centered growth. Interdependence for survival and sustenance is the greatest lesson the virus seemed to be teaching us.

I shifted my attention from the daily news and veered away from messages and discussions that spelt doom. Instead, I started on activities that would give me joy, peace, and perspective. Downloading the Tanpura droid application on my mobile phone, I started practising Carnatic music again. I scheduled a one-hour skype meeting with a cousin, during which we would read 5 verses from the Bhagavad-Gita every day and discuss their meaning and significance. Since the essence of Bhagavad-Gita is in doing one’s duty without attachment to the results and in maintaining equanimity in all circumstances, delving into it could not have come at a more opportune time.  It also revived my interest in Sanskrit, a language that I left at High School.

I started going for a walk in the park in the afternoon when it would be deserted. I also spent more time with my 99-year-old father, chatting with him or reading out something for him as he has lost his vision now. The forced distancing gave the much-needed clarity and perspective about people, situations, and most importantly, about myself. Regular meditation however still evaded me.

Somewhere around this time, I also started writing. The energising effect of a Writing Retreat that I had attended in Rishikesh in March that year, just before the lockdown, spurred me on. I joined a writing group and started writing short stories and travel memoirs, some of which I put up on my blog.

Taking a cue from a fellow blog writer, I enrolled in a free online course on the science of well-being. That put me on the path of regular vipassana meditation which had become sporadic over the years.  Conscious practice of gratitude and kindness were the other takeaways from this course. I could not root out fear and worry completely but removing a lot of clutter freed me to some extent.

Or so I thought till the deadly second wave of the pandemic hit India. We were caught unaware since the decline in new infections and the vaccine roll-out from the start of the year 2021 had lulled us into a sweet and long-awaited complacency.  All that I had learnt and assimilated till then flew out of the window, a window that was shut tight as the delta variant of the virus was believed to transmit through air. Panic attacks, triggered by negative thoughts and news about losing a few friends and acquaintances to the virus, overwhelmed me.

After remaining in this volatile state for a few days, I took full responsibility for the state of my mind and started walking unsteadily but persistently towards a semblance of composure, taking the help of prayers, meditation, mindfulness, journalling, and interacting with support groups. That period taught me not to be too smug about being sorted in my mind.

Another change in perspective that I observe in myself is my attitude towards travel. I was a compulsive traveller and revelled in all forms of travel – going for hikes in the Himalayas, road trips, visits to wildlife forests and historical cities in the country, and the occasional trips to other countries as well. I used to be restless if I did not travel for a while. I would still travel once the world opens up. Earlier, it was a frenzied “must-do” activity. Now I don’t have a bucket list. And staying at home is not that bad too. I intend to savour the experience of travel at a much slower pace.

My pragmatism and optimism tell me that I am not unique and if I have changed in perceptible ways, so would have millions and millions of other human beings and collectively, we may succeed in making this world a better place to live. That would be the greatest and the most precious gift that we would be giving to our children.

But then, on second thought, I am inclined to agree with Clint Eastwood who said that we should shift our focus from leaving a better planet for our children to leaving better children for our planet.


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One look at her face as she let him in and he knew that there was trouble ahead. 

No smile, no inquiries about the day. He was sure that there would be no coffee too, as other things were brewing. Perhaps no dinner too, he thought and waited for the explosion. Instead, he heard the door of their bedroom slam.

But then, the cockroach behind the bedroom door saved the day. She called out sweetly to him and sought his help.



Their eyes meet and hold, the intervening years dissolving in that glance. Questions pop up in his mind as he looks out of the bus window.

Lilting music fills his heart and puts a brief pause on the emptiness of his marriage of nine years.

A few minutes later, eyes averted from her, he alights from the bus and walks home.