Survivor’s Diary

Hey there,

This is Aanya. 

It’s been fifteen years since the modern world faced its deadliest pandemic. Covid-19, was it? I think probably more than fifteen years. I’m writing this vlog from my apartment in Mumbai.

Today is April 20th. It is ten degrees outside. It had been raining incessantly for the past three days in a row. The rain finally stopped today morning. Yes, it’s not weird to have showers in April anymore. I know that the seasons used to be a thing back then. Not anymore – thanks to the climate crisis. 

I cannot wait to step outside and get some sunlight. But there’s still too much dust in the air. My glasses detect the air quality index as 397 AQI. It’s become slightly better because of the rain. I have been locked inside the apartment for more than two months because of the Pico virus pandemic. I couldn’t even open my bedroom window because the next building, which is at a one-hand distance, is coded red. 

Anyway, I’m trying to pick my clothes for the day, but there’s too much to match. I think I’ll go with a simple white top and blue pants. I guess I’ll wear my denim jacket. Yes, you are right! It’s trending again. Besides, that jacket has an attached viro mask. It keeps me protected from at least 70 percent of viruses out there. I haven’t upgraded it yet, though. The premium version of the mask comes with better air quality, and you can skip three ads a day. I heard from my friend Ron that Google recently launched masks with in-built ear pods. How cool is that? But then the government has partnered with Google. So, you have to listen to the president’s speech at least once a week, or your ear pods’ subscription gets put on hold. Yes, the president! We don’t have a prime minister anymore – only one president and only one party! We don’t have voting rights to choose the president either. But then, we can vote for our cities. The city with the most votes gets to have the president visit them in person. The rest of the cities will still have the president’s holograms to interact with, which are at every 200 meters.  

So, I am finally going out. Since my phone is doing all the writing, we can continue to be in the conversation. I am heading toward the central park. It’s the largest one in the city and my skin desperately needs sunlight. Doctors say it’s better than vitamin D shots. 

Anyway, here I am at the park. I need to key in my citizen code at the entrance. The AI will detect my social appreciation score. Those with more than 10k followers can move to the green zone. It is less crowded and more frequently sanitized. I am still at 8k. If you’re watching or listening to this vlog, please give as many hearts as you can.  

I’m sitting in the blue zone. It’s slightly better than the yellow zone. Fortunately, the park is less crowded today. I’m wearing a mask that covers my whole face. Please don’t feel bad for me. People can still see each other’s faces on their masks’ screens. We can interact virtually without directly talking to each other. We hardly do the latter anymore. Oh, I see someone in my vicinity just sent me hearts for my vlog. Thank you!

The last time I was sitting here, I found a match on the Purple app. It’s a dating app where you can meet people virtually. A few people even catch up in person. The app is integrated with my mask. I can put it on a search mode or hide myself to be unavailable. It’s interesting. People are a lot more honest on their profiles these days. There is a section to reveal if you are a carrier or under clinical depression. It helps your future match learn about you beforehand. A lot many people have also identified themselves as asexual these days. They say that they’d rather have a conversation with someone than sex. And that’s usually harder to find.

Okay! It looks like I’ve absorbed enough vitamin D for today. I think it’s time for me to go back home. I need to pack for my evening ride to Dharmshala. My parents stay there. They never moved to Mumbai because the air quality is slightly better over there. It would take me fifteen minutes or so to reach Dharmshala by the hyperloop train.

I can’t wait to see them. The recent lockdowns prevented me from visiting them for months together. They have a beautiful indoor garden and you can sit there without a mask. Moreover, they have two cats and a dog. I miss them. My dad is a writer. You wouldn’t believe it, but they both still write with their hands. Ron didn’t buy it the first time I told him. So, I took him there to visit them. It was quite embarrassing. My mom couldn’t stop but show off her collection of screenshots. She has an array of screenshots of writings by her and my dad. Some of their blogs date back to the pre-pandemic era. Dad says that he would often go to coffee shops when he was young and write his blogs. Imagine sitting among people at an open café and without masks! Sometimes, I get a strong feeling that I should have been born in the 2000s. I think I belong to that time. My mom laughed when I told her this. I was like, “why is that funny?” She said, “it’s not. It’s just that your father and I would often say the same thing. We always thought that we belonged to a different time than the one we were living in. We always wished to go back to the 80s!”

Three months of therapy

It was sometime in May, and the summer was at its peak in Mumbai. I was sitting on the sofa with my flatmate in the living room of our rented apartment in Andheri. It was a regular Sunday afternoon when we all had just eaten sumptuous chicken masala and roti prepared by our cook Asha. My flatmate Ravi was swiping right on Tinder and I was doing the same on LinkedIn jobs.

“Any luck?” we both looked at each other and laughed.

“Let’s keep trying!” we said to ourselves and continued with our attempts, fueled by our belief that the probability will continue to go up in this manner.

It did work.

For Ravi.

He had found a match, which led to the rest of our flatmates gathering around Ravi to discuss who the girl was and how soon they could meet each other.

“Asshole, you are lucky,” said one.

“Yes, and highly photogenic,” said the other.

I retreated to my failed trials at finding a match between my future employer and me.

It was Day 28. 28 days since I had lost my job and could not find the next one. But I was hopeful that I would land one soon – maybe in the next week or two.

I looked at the multiple tabs open on my browser and decided that I had done enough for the day.

So, I said what most young lads would to survive such harsh times.

“Hey, guys! Let’s get some beer?”

“Of course!” my roommate Pavas jumped up in response.

“Oh no! But I have to meet Neha later in the evening. She won’t find out if I have just one, right?” He continued.

We waited for him to answer his own question.

“Yeah, I can have one. I’ll tell her about it. Big deal! Plus, Ravi has found his match. We’ve got to celebrate that. Hahaha!”

We all laughed in response, and Ravi reminded Pavas that Neha was friends with him as well. He could easily text her about his drinking plans.

The Sunday was well spent. We didn’t post it to Instagram, but I promise it was fun.

It was the Monday that I was afraid of. No, not because of Monday blues. I didn’t have an office to go to. But all of my flatmates did. Mondays now meant that I would be sitting alone in the apartment throughout the next five days. What made it worse was the fact that I had had a serious breakup with my then-girlfriend around the same time when I lost my job.

Anyway, the Monday arrived, and I woke up to my roommate Pavas saying goodbye to me and shutting the door from behind. The others left for their offices too. It was around 11 am, and I decided to wait a little longer to eat something. It was my newly-found hack. If I eat around noon, it would be brunch! This would basically mean that I wouldn’t have to cook twice and could also save some money if I were to order from outside. It was my learning over the past few weeks.

It was almost three years that I had been staying in Mumbai, and I had slowly started to realize how lavishly I had spent my money over my lifestyle. It was time to curb that habit and to think of saving for the rainy days.

I made some black coffee for myself and grabbed a packet of Parle G biscuits. I looked around the house and couldn’t help but feel lonely. In the past one month, I had started to realize how big the house really was with no one around. At times, I could feel the walls closing down onto me as if they were trying to eat me alive. I felt the sudden need to go out and grab some fresh air. At the same time, it felt as if my pockets were full of stones and I simply couldn’t move. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

I gulped down the coffee and grabbed my phone. It was 11.40 am. I thought of texting one of my close friends, who knew about my job situation. I wondered if I could meet her over lunch. In my head, I calculated how much I would spend over traveling and whether I should pour all my negativity onto her. I decided it would be best not to ruin her day with my mood and kept the phone down. I switched on my laptop and put on some music.

I logged into my inbox to see if the content writing vendor had responded to any of my emails for the payment. I had been freelance writing with the hope that it would pump some cash into my bank account.

‘Mom calling,’ said my phone screen. I picked up the call with the intention of keeping it short.

“All fine, Neel?” asked the motherly instinct.

You wonder how they do that!

So, I did what most children would. I lied to her about being busy with some office work. But the phone call once again reminded me of my choice – to either resume the job search while saving money to survive the next how-many-ever days of unemployment or leave Mumbai and go back to my hometown. My gut instinct was to continue with the harder option of staying in Mumbai and not giving up hope.

I spent the day refreshing the career websites to see the same job openings pop up and later, watching random videos on YouTube. It was a challenge to pass the time. Social media was of no help either. At times, I would just stand near the window and look at the life outside. I often thought of using the free time to work on my novel writing, but the thought of job search sat in my head like a giant writer’s block.

The most depressing time was after the sunset. As soon as it would become dark outside, I would desperately wait for my flatmates to return home. It didn’t matter if it was someone that I was close friends with. I simply didn’t want to be alone in that house. I understand that it probably was none of my business when they came home from their office, and I obviously never shared it with anyone.

I looked at the wall clock. It was almost 7 pm.

“Pavas is usually home by now. I wonder if he has gone to meet Neha,” I thought to myself.

The doorbell rang and I opened the door. It was Pavas and Neha.

“Hi!” I said while trying not to look too happy that I finally had some company.

“Hey, Neel! How are you?” Neha greeted me and sat down as Pavas went inside to freshen up.

“Pavas told me. Did you have any luck with the job thing?” she tried saying it in a tone that would not hurt me.

“Not yet, but I’ll keep trying.”

“I know. You will get it. Don’t worry. Ganapati bappa will make everything alright!”

“Neel, I spoke to my marketing team colleague. But they don’t have any openings right now. Do still send me your resume. I will check with my other friends also.” Pavas came out and joined the conversation.

“Yeah, no problem,” I replied.

We were soon joined by our cook Asha who started with her everyday questions about how many rotis to make for dinner and whether or not any of the flatmates were planning to eat out.

Few more days passed and the routine of seeking the right job and not getting any decent leads continued. One of these days, I woke up super hungry. I told myself that it was time to stop eating junk and do away with things like noodles and pasta for brunch.

“Maybe, it’s time for me to learn how to cook meals!”

I played a YouTube video and followed the recipe for daal rice. It turned out to be rather easy. In fact, I believe that I did a brilliant job as a first-timer. However, my friend Yugmala who came over to visit me later that evening, told me that I had overcooked cumins.

“Apart from that, the daal is great,” she said, nodding her head.

I suspected if she was simply saying that to make her unemployed friend happy. I decided that she was not that nice and was rather honest about my excellent culinary skills.

I went out for a walk with her and she tried to cheer me up. She asked me whether I was open to Sales jobs or would only want to pursue Marketing Communication opportunities. I looked at her in response and unlike the last so many weeks, I suddenly felt confident in answering that question.

“I think only Marketing.”

“Okay. I was simply checking with you since there would typically be more sales openings, and you still don’t have as much experience in Marketing. Don’t mind, I’m just being honest.”

“Yeah, I know. No worries. It’s just that somehow I am more sure in my head now. That’s what I want. I want to pursue Marketing Communication.”

“Well, that’s good. I’m happy that you have some clarity now.”

“Me too!” I wore my first genuine smile in months as I said that.

I got back home and went to my study desk. It was a little corner in the room next to the window. It was where I had spent numerous nights reading my favorite books and writing stories for the blog. Sitting at that window, I had watched Mumbai bathe in monsoon every year and the huge oak tree outside shedding its leaves in the summer. I pulled out a few sticky notes and started scribbling my plan for the job search. The green sticky note had a list of people who could refer me to their companies. The yellow one was used for the job applications, which I was hopeful about. I drafted a schedule to track a few specific jobs meticulously and follow up with respective people who were my point of contact. The sticky notes joined the Mickey Mouse stickers on the wall posted by the landlord’s kids, who must have used the room at some time in the past.

Then came a day when I received a call from a company I had never heard about before. They had apparently liked my profile and offered to interview me. It was a Marketing Communications profile – just what I was looking for. I wasn’t sure about the organization, though – how good they were as a workplace and whether I could have a good career path there. But I followed my instincts and decided to go for the interview. The company was located in the suburbs of Mumbai. It was a cool, little office with not more than fifty people in there. The team had a friendly vibe and I immediately liked the place.

I soon got selected for the role. However, they couldn’t offer to pay me any more than what I was earning at my previous job. I asked for two days to make up my mind.

Somehow it was not a difficult choice to make. The last few months of struggle had cleared the storm of confusion in my head and helped me understand what I really wanted in life. It was as if the storm had calmed down and the dust had finally settled to reveal the path – what I wanted to become and more importantly, what I did not want to pursue anymore. I took up the job. Eventually, it turned out to be one of the best workplaces of my career.

I often look back on those months for inspiration. It’s ironic how I romanticize the time associated with my struggle. Possibly, because that struggle helped me become the man I am today. It worked as therapy for any future difficulties I would face later in my life. 


I grew up in a fairly small-sized house. As a kid, at times, I thought of it as a challenge and wished that my father should have gotten us a bigger place to stay. After completing graduation, I moved out of my hometown. I got a nice job or two and moved to cities like Delhi and Mumbai. There, I stayed in much fancier and bigger apartments.
I tried to make up for the size of my childhood home by spending more money on rent and more time between those walls. Over the years, I earned enough to have more distance between the walls when I shifted from one place to the next.
As a writer, one thing that remained constant throughout these years was my love for reading. During the four years in Mumbai, I’d often pick up books from Crossword or the tiny bookstalls on the streets of Andheri. I’d be talking to my father over the phone later that day and telling him about the Jeffery Archer novel in my hand. He’d respond by saying – “Why did you have to buy that one? We already had it at home.” He’d even share the spoilers for fun.
Nevertheless, that phone call always transported me back to my childhood home and, specifically, to the one-third of that house that my father had filled with books.
There were multiple closets lined with fiction novels by authors such as O. Henry, P. G. Woodhouse, Hemmingway, Jeffery Archer, John Grisham, Frederick Forsyth, and many more. I particularly remember this green cabinet built inside one of the walls that did not take space inside the house yet had ample room to host a hundred classic authors. It’s funny how I struggled to find space for books in my new apartment, but he had managed to have a mini library for us.
An established writer himself, that was one gift he had quietly bestowed upon his kids. He instilled the habit of reading in us quite early.
That gift stayed with me through the years of growing up. When I was on a flight to Delhi for my first job, it was with me. It gave me company during the nights in Lucknow. It kept me entertained during my daily local train rides in Mumbai, and more importantly, it made me who I am today.
I could never complain to him about not buying a bigger house, but I will make sure that one-third of whichever home I stay in will be reserved for books.
I once wrote about preferring paper books to Kindle ones. A few of the readers mocked me by calling me anti-technology. I do not blame them. Maybe, they never got to smell the musty old books and be transported into another time. Perhaps they are unaware that one could ‘favorite’ special corners in their life with a bookmark so that their future selves can revisit that space.

About time.

“May I”? He asked her finally.

“Sure,” she turned around and let him join her at the bar counter.

He ordered a drink. With a side glance, he watched her askance.

She was nodding her head to the tune of some song and was humming along with it .

She stirred her drink and smiled a little. She was conscious of him looking at her.

“You like The Smiths? They’re one of my favorites,” she lowered her head as she spoke.

“Yup. I like them,” He replied.

“And I like this time, specially.”

“What, 10 pm?” she had her eyebrows raised.

“No. The 80s.”

“Why so?”

“Because it was the best time.”

“Was? Hmm…” she looked at him from head to toe as if to study him and asked again, “Why so?”

“Well. You know, the rock music. People becoming more open-minded. Technology was changing. TVs and later, computers coming in…, and there was some innocence in these times” he scratched his head and continued speaking.

“In 90s, we had FRIENDS as well.”

“Well, that’s true. But then, no Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. No Twitter,” she responded.

“No virus pandemics either.” He completed.

“Wait a minute! How do you know about the social apps from the future?” He said with a surprised look.

“Well, you think you’re only one who can travel?” Her left eyebrow went up and down like a wave.

He smiled and the edges of their glasses kissed.


“I didn’t’ ask. What’s your favorite time?” He turned his chair to face hers.

“2040s.” she answered instantly.

“2040! Wow. I don’t get it. I keep coming back here for the love of simplicity and the tranquility of this time.”

“Why 2040s?” He stared at her.

“You’ll know.” She smiled and gulped down her drink.

He pondered over that for a minute before turning back to her.

“I do not see how a girl from the 80s be in love with 2040s. I mean I live in 2020. And It’s terrible.

I can only imagine how 2040…”

“It’s beautiful,” she interrupted. “And I like it precisely for the same reasons that you keep coming here for.”

“For ‘the simplicity of…?’ I don’t get it how 2040s can be beautiful.”

“Yup.” She stared at him for a few seconds before speaking. “It’s a different kind of beautiful to be honest.”

“Tell me more. I don’t think I can wait for ten long years to figure it out.” They both had pulled the chairs closer as he spoke.

“Ever heard of post-apocalyptic world?” She said.

“You mean there’s been a world war? The world’s come crushing down?” he almost kept his drink away.

“When was the last time the world was not crushing apart, eh?” she retorted.

“Agreed,” he said, still impatient to hear more.

She could sense his curiosity and decided to push him a bit more.

“Shots?” she tapped her fingers on the bar table and looked at him for an answer.

“I’m not getting more out of you that easily, am I?”

“Nope!” Her cheek sported dimples as she giggled.

He couldn’t miss them.

The shots were ordered.

“The 2040s isn’t perfect. But it’s closest to what we have imagined of going back to creating a perfect world.” She spoke while licking the aftertaste of vodka off her lips.

He rested his right elbow on the table and gave her all his attention.

She went on speaking as if on a momentum.

“The 2040s are changed times. Third-world-war means that we have pretty much damaged the painting of the world map. The technology has sunken deep into the black sea. The phone lines are dead. The internet is a distant dream. But owing to our character of adaptation, those who managed to make it through the night have learnt to survive under the new Sun. For the time that’s on our hands that is. It is in a way a utopian dream for us lovers and the artists. The borders have been smudged. Who is the refuge and who owns the burnt lands is a question as orphan as the small faces around.”

“Tell me more.” He was all ears.  

“What do you want to know?”

“Are people still fighting? Is living in the mountains back?” His questions were almost ready.

“The gunshots behind the mountains are slowly fading out. People have gathered from the lands afar and speak the common language of survival. Because what better than to swim together in the waters today that could drown us tomorrow? We light these little campfires in the corners of the lakes and sing the songs we thought we never will.”

“We? You mean you have friends?”

“Well, I did meet someone. He was singing this Bob Dylan song…” she snapped her fingers as if trying to recall something.

“Blowing in the wind?” he said rather confidently.

“Yes” she said cheerfully.

“He was humming that song while we sat there, and I warmed my hands at the flame. That’s my favorite memory from it.”

“That…that sounds interesting,” he replied while slowly getting lost in his thoughts.

She circled her forefinger around the edges of her glass and looked at him.

“What are you thinking?” She probed him.

“I’m thinking that I’ll be quite old by that time and you’ll probably come around.” He said getting up.

“Maybe you’ll have gray hair and all the wisdom of past years. Maybe you’ll sing me a song.”

He looked at her for a moment and said, “Maybe.”

They both wore their biggest smiles of that night.

He checked his watch and said, “I so want to ask you for your number. But you guys don’t have them yet, do you?”

“Don’t worry. You don’t need to exchange numbers when you have the same hiding place.”

“See you around!”



What comes to your mind when someone says Aaji? (Daadi/Grandma)
I immediately think of the MasterChef from our childhood. I remember the one who used to cook delicious sabudana khichdi and thalipeeth for me. The one who would tell my mother, “I know exactly what he will like. Let me cook it for him,” with a sense of love and pride beaming across her face.

The one who narrated stories of Mahabharata to me and my sister. And also the same person who would scold my mother not to fast because ‘Gods would never want their children to stay on an empty stomach’.
I have far too many fond memories of her. Of course, I have seen her fight with my parents too. But the good parts outweigh those times far too easily.

I remember few funny incidences from my childhood. I had an aunt who lived downstairs – the one who never got married. As a kid, I have asked my aaji at least a thousand times ‘Why does she not have children like other people?’. Aaji would burst into a laughter every single time I said that and instead of answering me, let someone else know what I had just said. It was hilarious the way she’d try to control her laughter. Interestingly, she never told me anything else just to kill my curiosity. She’d rather say, “You’re a kid. When you grow up, you’ll know why.”

And I’d just add that to the list of things I was supposed to know automatically once I grow up. My next unanswered question in childhood was about sanitary napkins. As soon as the TV commercial would start, I’d demand everyone in the room to tell me what exactly it was. I had to wait all the way to my teen age to figure out why lady in the commercial was jumping around and throwing blue ink on what i thought were diapers.

I think my aaji along with others cared for my innocence, knowing well that that’s exactly the beauty of childhood years. I’m glad they did.

Recently, I went to meet my aging aaji. She has not been keeping well. She is bedridden and can barely stand on her own. It hurts to know that I would never see her cooking sabudana khichdi in the kitchen again like old times. I doubt she has accepted that though. I think she still thinks that she can do that one day.

When I sat next to her, she started asking me about what’s happening in my life. I told her everything was good, and asked her how she was doing.

“This lady is waiting for her daughter-in-law to cook some jalebis.”

“Who lady?” I was confused.

“This one. The one in green saari.” She pointed a finger at the television screen playing some series that she was so fond of.

She then went on to narrate the entire story plot that she remembered rather well.

In my mind, I thanked the makers of the series for keeping my aaji busy and entertained during her illness.
Thankfully, they make content for everyone. Funny how I had never thought this way before.

While I was lost in my thoughts with my eyes staring at the TV set, she told me to stay alert.

“What for?” I asked her with amusement.

“See, now a butterfly will come. It only listens to the little girl. This girl…Her name is Nanda. Keep watching…,” she spoke without moving her eyes off the screen.

I looked at her and the TV in turns with a smile on my face.

She was right. In the TV series, the girl whose name was Nanda then called the butterfly and an animated butterfly fluttered its wings only to come and land right on Nanda’s shoulder.

“How do they do that no?” Aaji asked with her eyebrows raised and the chin resting on the palm of her hand.

I had not seen her that curious for a long time.

Of course, I could see and knew that it was simply a computer-generated image of a butterfly. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give that as an explanation to her.

“How they must be guiding the butterfly to fly when they want and to sit on her shoulder like that no?Aaji smiled with joy as she asked me that. Her eyes were still glued onto the television set.

“You will know how. Once you watch the entire series, I think you will come to know,” I looked at her and grinned.

Baherche Nath (God outside the temple)


Along the banks of Godavari,
17th century…somewhere near Paithan.


“FASTER! Don’t waste time. And don’t pick up that spoiled cotton” Naamdev was giving instructions to women of his family picking cotton from the plants. It was a harvest season and traders from Paithan would be coming in just few weeks of time.

If we could collect good amount of cotton in time, we can barter enough gold and goods for it” he thought to himself.

“Where is Ilaa?” Naamdev shouted as his daughter was nowhere to be seen.

None of the women deviated from their work, as they knew Ilaa would be whiling her time away somewhere, thinking of an ideal world she wants to be in.

An ideal world was still a dream. But for now, she had to settle for a peaceful place like ‘baherche nath’ (God Eknath outside the temple). It was a small passage along the banks of river Godavari which was famous for housing the tomb of Saint Eknath. It was also the end point of Paithan city connecting to Sauviragram village. Paithan housed the temple called ‘aatle nath’ (God inside the temple) which previously used to be the residence of Saint Eknath.

“I am sick of this! Why do we have to work in the fields when Arun and Ganesh get to learn about Vedas and Shastra from Dharamguru in the temple?” Ilaa grunted loudly.

Iravati and Padma simply looked at each other. It was a routine. Ila’s frustration at what men could do and what women weren’t allowed to.

“Let that be. You two! Now start reciting what I taught you the last time.” Ilaa ordered in the same tone as town’s Dharamguru used to speak.

“Umm…namo aadimaya bhagwati…umm” Iravati fumbled her words as she bit her lower lip trying to recall rest of the lines.

“Ohho…this is not even half of what I had taught you” Ilaa was clearly not impressed.

“Ilaa, can I ask something? Do you know how to write?” Padma spoke finally while double checking, if someone was around to catch them not working.

Ilaa was taken aback. But keeping her composure, she nodded ‘no’.

“Why do you ask, Padma?”

“I have heard in Paithan’s temple, where Saint Eknath used to stay, they teach women to write. And since you visit the temple with your grandfather regularly, I thought you might be…”

“Oh I wish!” Ilaa exclaimed. She knew it was not their fault not being able to remember the poems. But reciting to each other was the only way they could keep it in their memory…unless they learn to write, like Ilaa.

She had kept it a secret. She had been asked to, by her grandfather who had taught her to write. He was her secret mentor. He must have been more than 80 year old. One of the most elderly and respected ones in town. He hardly walked. Apart from his pilgrimage to Paithan every year, he was known to keep himself inside the house.

And while at the house, he spent his time telling stories to his grandkids – Ilaa and her younger brother, Arun. He would tell them about the history of Paithan and that of nearby towns. Paithan which was a capital of Saatvahan kings was later called as ‘Southern Kashi’ of our country, he told them. Arun was too young and maybe a bit immature to see, but Ilaa could notice her grandfather’s eyes were filled with tears when he said he had always wished to visit Kashi.

Amongst all the stories she heard from her grandfather, Saint Eknath’s tales were her favourite. ‘About his literature, his social work and his fight for equal rights to everyone’; she was mesmerized by his work. One evening before sleeping, the grandfather narrated them the story of “Bayaa daar ughad” (Oh goddess, open the gates). It was a poem written by Eknath addressed to Goddess Jagdamba. It was during the time when Vijaynagar Empire was on the verge of extinction. Social structure was shattered. Women once treated as equals were being sold and bargained in the daylight in Southern Kashi of Bharat-India. Saint Eknath then wrote this poem, demanding status of women to be restored to what once used to be during Vedic times. His poem inspired people and once again they stood together. Saint Eknath shone them the light needed to push the darkness of cruelty that had engulfed the town.

“So do you mean, women could also sit at temples and learn about Vedas like men do in our village?”

Grandfather decided to answer that question only once he was sure that Arun and his son, Naamdev had fallen asleep.
Ilaa was sitting outside the house, gazing at the star studded sky. The moonlight crawled along the edges of rooftops. He sat next to her and took a deep breath. It wasn’t the first time that she had asked him such a question.

He placed the lantern next to her and started scribbling on the floor. That night, Ilaa learnt to write her first few letters. And then few more the next night. The pace increased as she showed her acumen to her willing grandfather. Slowly she learnt to write the entire poem.

Today when Padma asked Ilaa ‘whether she could write’, it sparked a thought inside her mind. She could see the eagerness to learn in Padma’s eyes. She wanted to help her. And Iravati. And all other women of her village to write, to read, to be able to do the things that only men were allowed to do. She remembered how Dharamguru at temple had reacted, when during Eknath festival last year, she expressed her desire to learn alongside the men of the village. The crowd laughed and one head – that of Naamdev’s, stooped low in embarrassment, his eyes emitting fire. But she decided not to give up. She really wanted to learn.

That night Ilaa was sitting outside the house again, with the lantern keeping her warm.

Her grandfather’s coughing was the only sound in the asleep Sauviragram.

“You have gone crazy” he said as soon as he sat next to her.

“The plan is to teach our village in the language that they understand. Only then they will be ready to teach us”. Ilaa then explained the entire plan to him, with him nodding, asking her to reconsider, nodding again and finally saying yes. ‘You will have to wake up very early from tomorrow’ he reminded her. And determined Ilaa happily agreed.

The next morning Sauviragram witnessed a miracle.

Namo aadimaya bhagwati, anadi siddhamul prakruti” the first line of Eknath’s poem – bayaa daar ughad had appeared on the wall behind his tomb.

The entire town was shocked. Apart from Dharamguru and Grandfather of Ilaa no one could recite and write the poem in the small town. It was not Dharamguru and the old man could barely walk.

It was followed by one new line the next morning. The village people considered it as Saint Eknath himself scribbling it down, with Eknath birth anniversary being just around the corner.

Dharamguru was astonished, as he studied the letters on the wall next to Eknath’s , with the crowd behind him waiting for an answer to the miracle they had witnessed for the first time. He had not seen anything like this. He had not taught anyone. Grandfather of Ilaa had not left his house in past decade or two. Dharamguru took a minute or two and shook his head. He then turned to face the crowd.

“Saint has spoken! Our forefathers have called this tomb as ‘baherche nath’ (God outside the temple) and he wants us to follow his instructions” Dharamguru raised his hand as he spoke and the crowd folded hands in respect.

Dharamguru read the line written that day. It asked the village to collect sunflowers and place them at the feet of Eknath’s idol in the temple. They did so.

The next morning new line appeared on the wall saying ‘Nath (God) was unhappy with the village having abandoned his teachings’. Everyone looked at each other with puzzled faces. Trying his best to look confident of what was written; Dharamguru said, they should wait for next instructions to appear.

There was a week left for traders from Paithan and nearby towns to arrive. A week left for the village to celebrate the birth anniversary of Eknath. And this time the festival was to be held at even larger scale than before, for the God himself had walked along the banks of Godavari again.

That morning Ilaa stood next to Padma and Iravati along with their town men and women. All of them were looking at Dharamguru, who stood firm with his back facing them. Dharamguru’s face was bathing in sweat, his hands were trembling.

Bayaa daar ughad…(Oh Goddess open the gates)” he murmured the words as they appeared on the wall in front.

He finally turned and managed to speak – “Nath (God) has instructed. For us to be fortunate in trade for cotton, for our families to stay safe and blessed by him. He has asked us…he has demanded us to open the gates of the temple again. For women. For us to treat them the way we treat men. For the respect they deserve”.

There was a pin drop silence. The sound of Godavari’s water splashing the banks of village and thoughts of surprise, awe, and respect in everyone’s head played simultaneously.

Looking at the mute crowd, Dharmguru finally raised his finger pointing towards sky.

“Prepare to open the doors to our mothers and sisters on the auspicious day of Eknath festival”.

The crowd cheered in response. A faint smile spread across the Goddess’s face. She had once again shown the light to her people caught in the midst of darkness.

Evanescent Happiness


Through my bedroom window the other day, I saw it was only a little time left for the Sun to set over Rock garden – and my favorite spot over there.

I left home hurriedly & crossed the road to enter the garden located on the opposite side.
‘Hurriedly’ because I knew it was a fleeting, evanescent moment that I had to catch. Universe painting the sky with its blue, pink & saffron crayons to remind us again that the nature is the biggest artist of all. And we both watched it together all those times, pausing for minutes, letting our silence appreciate that moment; for we knew it was a transitory one. We knew that something so beautiful would last only for seconds before the darkness conquers the sky. 
But honey, we let the nature fool us by its artistic sorcery as if it would not return the next day.
It did, right? And we watched it again, enthralled by its magic. I watched your face yet another day, lit up by the golden sunshine and the wind complimenting the scene by gently flirting with your hair.

Today I ran away to reach my spot and thought of all the times we could rewind the sunset and beat the so-called fleeting happiness. The other side of the bench was empty though, as I let myself to be tricked by the Universe again, as if I was Vikram & nature, Betaal.

The warmth of the setting Sun reminded me of your nudging me when I used to be lost looking over the horizon. And then you would shake your head like you always did, before you smiled, showing an even row of teeth. I would ask how your day was. And as I rummage through this past, I realise that the biggest trick the Universe ever pulled on us was not hinting that ‘us’ sharing that time and space was the only evanescent moment of them all.

You know, I desperately bleed ink on the paper tonight, gasping for thoughts and hoping to preserve our memories before the darkness conquers the sky yet again. Because every time I sit at my favorite spot, I remember so much and yet forget a little. That little is a scary part. I keep wondering if you remember the part of the memories that escaped my fingertips. For I am just a writer with only a limited power to immortalise the part of us that I can recall. I sometimes wish you could lend me few of our laughter & fights that I must have forgotten now.
Because I’m just a lover with an aching heart. If only we could become those purple sunsets and make a pact with the Universe to let us meet behind the horizon. If only if we could blindfold the Sun and trick the time into thinking that it isn’t yet the time to set apart. Because girl, I am just a writer, not yet a match to beat the nature’s art.


Little Winston



Sunday late evening, December 1989.
Rajendra Nagar, Delhi.

“Not now, buddy. It’s almost nine. It is super cold. Let’s go home” Prateek told his roommate standing in front of Winston Bookstore.

“You go ahead. I’m going to take a look once. The chap had told me that they are getting a new stock soon” Ayush said with his eyes fixed on one of the oldest bookstores in the Capital city.

Prateek exhaled out fog once and nodded his head with an expression on his face that says ‘this has happened before and there’s no way he can change the outcome’.

Ayush, on the other hand, rolled up the sleeves of his Navy Blue sweatshirt and swung open the door of his favourite hangout place.

The old man behind the counter was playing with the knob of his newly bought Crown television set.

“We are about to close down for the day, son. The keys are up…”

“I won’t take that long” spoke Ayush and marched towards the section marked FICTION in bold Gothic letters.

Winston bookstore was quite old. More than 100 years as per the old man.  Ayush did not care much about the intricate details of its history. But he liked it for a couple of reasons.

First, it was the musty, dusty smell of that place. He would say that it transports him to another world.

Second, a tiny room behind the Comics section which only he knew about. On a busy day, when the bookstore would be filled with people more than Ayush, he would take a refuge in that room he called ‘A little Winston’. The old man did not mind as well, as Ayush had already bought more books in a year than anybody he had known for a lifetime.

For the first time, Ayush was not able to find anything interesting in the Fiction rack.

‘Non-Fiction’  – No.
‘Autobiography’  – No.
‘Education’  – No

So he moved towards the last section of the Winston.


The shelf’s top half was filled with Archie. ‘Archie and Veronica’, ‘Archie and Betty’, Jughead’…’ Ayush browsed through the stacked books. The bottom half of the section was a mixture of Marvel and DC comics. ‘Star Wars’, ‘House of Secrets’, ‘Conan’ and much more.

He pursed his lips and raised eyebrows in admiration of the effort of the owner to have gathered as much variety in the book shop.

Let’s pick up ‘Archie’ tonight” he murmured and as he said that, Winston blinked its eyes twice.

Lights went off and came back on. And went off again. And…off. Still off.

Ayush hoped in his head that he would not need to curse the state government again for the power shortage. To his displeasure, the power did not come back.

Damn!” He suddenly realised how scary the bookstore looked in darkness.
Struggling to find his way out and dropping a few books off the shelves, Ayush somehow managed to find his way to the front side of Winston. Near the billing counter.

The area near the counter was partially illuminated by light blue moonlight crawling through the crevices of the thick glass door. It was without the old man. The television set was already turned off. And the door. It was locked with ‘WE ARE OPEN’ sign facing inwards.

Oh no! Do not do this. Let me out. C’mon.

The keys are up…”

He remembered owner’s words.

“Up what?”

He glanced around. The entire bookstore was draped in darkness. How the hell was he going to find the keys?

Ayush thoughtfully scratched his forehead.

‘Little Winston!’

Yes. He normally keeps his torch over there” Ayush thanked his memory and decided to go check in the tiny favourite room of his.

Don’t think much. There are no ghosts. The bookstore is never haunted. 100 years old place. Oh, stop it. No, don’t think of Evil Dead. Think of good stuff. Think of… Don’t think at all, damn it.

Ayush brushed towards the end of Winston and was suddenly greeted with a cold breeze coming from Little Winston with its door pushed open.

“Holy shit! Who’s there?”

“Who the hell are you and who turned the lights off? It’s only nine” said the girl coming out of Winston. She balanced a pair of books on her one hand and moved streaks of hair off her eyes with another.

“I am…Well, first thing, I did not turn the lights off. And second, it’s not nine. It is ten thirty” Ayush said while trying to make out how she looked.

“Oh! Okay, I’m sorry. I guess…I guess I was a little rude. And is it ten thirty? I mean it was just Eight O’ clock when I went inside the Pumpkin room.”

“Inside what? It is called ‘Little Winston’ and not some ‘Pumpkin room’”.

“Says a guy who reads Archie?” She smirked. He was sure she had a smirk on her face as she said that. Not sarcasm. A light smirk.

“Hahaha funny! Anyway, here is the situation. Do not panic. But the store is locked. I mean it is shut. We are locked inside.”

“Yes, I figured that out.”

“What do we do now?” Ayush was rather perplexed by her lack of worry.

“We wait for it to become morning. What else can we do?”

“We can find the keys. I’m sure he keeps an extra set somewhere” Ayush was consoling himself rather than her.

“Stop panicking. It is all right” she said and flipped on the torch.

“Let’s go find the keys,” said Ayush, and she followed him.

Ayush focused the torch light onto the desks, on the top of books shelves. He tried to see her face as the light ricocheted off the window bars onto her.

She had dark brown eyes. Eyes that came at you like an arrow destined to hit the target. There was a confidence in them that said she knew people. What they could do and could not. She wore a pale blue shirt with sleeves rolled up just before elbows and a black skirt reaching mid-calf. Elegant as writers would call it or classy as magazines would like to publicise.

“My name is Nadia. You are?”

“Ayush. I’m Ayush”

“Ayush, hmm. What do you do Ayush?”

“Well, I am a writer and a photographer. I am here for a project.”

“Interesting” Nadia said before continuing, “Do you have those big-sized cameras that you mount on a stand. What you call it, umm?”

“A tripod. Yes”. Her interest made him smile.

“And what camera do you use? Tell me about it” she kept him busy as they searched for keys in all the possible corners of Winston. Upon the shelves, over the desk, under the desk, behind the counter and other places. Ultimately, they gave up and rested themselves on the leather couch kept for visitors.

“Yes, so you were telling me about your project” Nadia was not the one to let go of her curiosity.

“Yeah. I use Kodak Kodamtic 980. It lets me make pictures the way I see them. I think that’s the beauty of photography. Capturing something you have seen with your eyes and carrying that image gingerly in your pocket and presenting it to the world in the form as similar to the original as possible. I feel that’s the very essence of photography. Reaching places not everyone does. Seeing things differently and help other see it with your eyes. But sadly the definition of good photography is changing slowly to enhancing the quality alone. I keep arguing with the editors of magazines over the same, and they keep saying that the readers only want to see beautiful things irrespective of originality. But I do what I do. And so far it has worked well for me. Besides I feel that photography is incomplete without a story. So yes, writing keeps me busy too. In a pleasant way. I think life is too short to click as many places I want to and as many people I would like to write about.”

Nadia kept reading his eyes as he went on speaking. There was a certain spark about him. A spirited one. She watched the muscles of his forearm flex as he lifted a pile of books and wondered how strong his arms would be. He wasn’t particularly well built, but muscular where he needed to be. He moved fast. Like the wind. Yes, that was it. He was like the wind. Maybe he came with it. From somewhere, searching for her to spend time with, that night.

“What’s your favourite book?” He asked her and pulled one out of the rack.

“This is mine. The bridges of Madison County. Maybe because I can relate to it a lot. See here; these are my favourite lines” Ayush’s forefinger pointed to a paragraph on the yellowish page.

I look down the barrel of a lens, and you’re at the end of it. I begin work on an article and am writing about you. I’m not even sure how I got back. Somehow the old truck got me home. Yet I barely remember the miles going by…”

“It is one of my favourites too,” she said without taking her eyes off his.
“You know which are my favourite lines from it?” without taking the book from his hand, she leant close and flipped the pages until she landed on the right one.

I am the highway and the peregrine and all the sails that went to the sea”. He says it to her remember?” Nadia looked up to see him looking at her already.

“You love people, don’t you Ayush? Maybe because you never stay with them forever. Like Oscar Wilde said, ‘people ruin romance by trying to make it last forever’. You, you know when to move to the next place. Shifting gears from one utopia to the next, before the reality jumps in.”

“And what about you? What is it that you keep seeking inside the pumpkin room? What is your kind of utopia?” he asked.

“I am a teacher. I teach the language. I teach because I like the sound of it. The sound of everyday routine. Simplicity keeps me happy. I like giving myself to it, as much as I can. Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Charles Dickens, Faulkner, Sylvia Plath. They all keep me occupied. But I see a different world coming up, Ayush. The world which is far less interested in spending time on one thing you love. Such as books. I don’t see many people who can spend hours in a library. Like I do. Like you do. The world where people keep running, chasing things. The technology that is coming up is kind of scary. I don’t see much point in staying glued to these television sets all the time to watch the world someone else is living. You think I’m making sense?”

“Of course you are, Nadia. I feel the saddest thing is everything is getting too systematised. They are setting rules and orders for you to live in. Right from what should be your education. How much time you are going to spend on it. What shall you become? They are making youngsters chase things they might not be supposed to. I mean who cares if you graduate a little late. Don’t become an engineer or marry by the age of 25-27 and don’t have kids in another couple of years?”

“I understand. And I think there are very few like you who still exist.”

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“I mean you are doing your own thing. I think that’s the most attractive thing about you. You know what you are born for. And you are doing exactly that. You are clicking.”

“And we are clicking” Ayush so badly wanted to say that, but just smiled instead. He thought she heard it anyway.

“You know Nadia, this Little Winston or Pumpkin room as you call it is actually a time machine. It lets you be in a time where you like to be. You want to live in the 70s, and it gives you just that. The golden period as they call it. And me, I’m running ahead of time or maybe far behind. I do not know where I belong. I feel I belong nowhere.”

“You belong here. In this conversation. Right in this moment. You belong now. You were not made to chase tomorrow or to stay back with yesterday” she said, and Ayush felt the sudden urge of telling her how much he liked her already. Is this real? Could this feeling be a little more tangible? He could hardly see her face in that dim light, and yet he found her so beautiful. He loved her already. What was love anyway? A mother of all feelings. An intense belonging to someone.

It must have been past 4 am.

Nadia titled her head to look outside the glass window. An azure sky was filled with December fog. Just the thought of how cold it must have been outside made her shiver. She wrapped her hands around herself and shivered sitting on a leather couch next to him. Her shoulder brushed against his, and he subtly put his left hand on the couch hoping she would rest on it. It took her twenty another minutes and several more conversations to do that.

He looked at her face and tried to read it from whatever he knew about her in the past four-five hours. There was a blend of emotions on her face – of contentment and weariness. Of being happy where she was and at the same time wishing she was somewhere else. He thought of kissing her closed eyelids and then laughed at his thought.

It was good. It was beyond rationality. It was not to be pondered upon, as to how close they got to each other in a matter of few hours. They did not want to think about it. They simply chose to sink in the feeling. Float along the surface of right and wrong.

The hour hand took another walk around the circular path. Nadia woke up, and he pulled back his arm, now aching because of having worked as a pillow.

“Here,” she said and pulled out a set of keys from her bag.

“You had them all this while?” his answer was met with a twinkle in her eyes.

“There’s something I want to give you,” Nadia said while stuffing her right hand inside her handbag. Chewing on her lower lip gently, a search was done for something she considered as the perfect souvenir.

“A mixed tape that I made for myself last year”, she pulled out an HMV cassette and put it in his palm.

Judging him looking at how old it was, she said “Don’t worry. It does get stuck in the recorder at times. But a turn or two of the wheels by a pencil shall do it. And once it plays, the effort is worth it. It has all of my favourite songs.”

She smiled the smile of a ten-year-old girl giving away her favourite toy just to make her younger sibling happy.

“I can’t wait to play it,” Ayush said and pushed it gently down the pocket of his denim.

“I have nothing to give you,” he thought out loud.

“Because I am hoping this is not the last time we meet”.

Nadia said nothing. Just dropped her eyes, and smiled a little.

“I think it is time for me to leave”.

She spoke and set her brown eyes on Ayush’s in the way she hadn’t in past six hours. As if she could read his thoughts.

While Ayush kept wondering if he should shake hands and or hug her goodbye, she leant forward and kissed his cheeks. He opened his eyes slowly and watched the best six hours of his life walk away in the purple mist of December 1989.

Leaning against the counter, he flipped open the note behind the cassette.
See me outside Royal Cafe tomorrow by 7. Don’t forget to bring your Kodak along. I have heard that photos survive time.


Clipped wings


She dreamed of flying, when others were simply learning to walk, learning to cross the street. She was just nine, when she had made white clouds her home and felt wind was waiting to carry her along.

Twenty one and she had made it up there. Flying along with one of the finest airlines, smiling her perfect smile at 200 new faces every day. From one city to another, from another to the next one…she only halted for a while. She wished she didn’t have to at all. But life had some other plans.

And tonight she sang at Eleventh east street cafe, her new job it was since past one year. A favourite hangout place for the young ones in town. And they loved her at what she did – singing their choice of songs with an occasional melody of her own. For Him, it was his first time at the restaurant.

He had taken a small round table close to the fountain overflowing with water, which failed to drown her voice. She had conquered his thoughts, as she put her dark wavy hair on one side and the battle was already half won…by her. She sang American pie and he couldn’t help but hum it along. Feeling stupid, every time her eyes caught his.
He listened intently to her voice and wondered what her story was.  After all nothing entices an artist’s mind more than pieces of a broken heart. He knew she was much more than a singing lady tonight or any other night. Maybe a little late to go back, a too early to leap ahead. Tonight was hers though. This moment sang her song. Her dreams whispered into his ears in hushed tone as he held onto the words.

They had clipped her wings down.  But nothing could kill the magic in her voice.  If you listen closely enough, you could still hear the flutter of her wings…waiting for the cage door to be swung open. Her heart was jailed and tonight he melted his into a key. She sang all night, while he sat there scribbling on his notepad. Occasionally the glass of wine made it to his lips. But his eyes, they only held one vision in that crimson moonlight – of hers in the white dress, singing with closed eyes.

He knew he had to get past the lyrics somehow and she kept hoping her walls to be never brought down, by another man.  Having reached bottom of the glass several times, he felt more confident. He felt he knew her now, probably more than she did herself. He was sure of having unlocked the draft folders in her heart. And he penned down what he thought had been hiding behind those walls, waiting for the peek-a-boo to be played with the right heart.

Her voice resonated in the four walls that night and his words did the dance to the tune of it over the notepad. Dipped in the ink of feelings, they now left a trail of romance behind. The music stopped and he fervently tried to grasp the notes flying around. She sat back and relaxed, sipping onto the drink she had bought.

“You, you sing well” he said and she shook her shoulders in reply.

“I guess I do fine.” She said and he saw she wasn’t as pretty looking as she seemed while she sang. And yet at the same time very pretty somehow.

“You got the tale you were looking for?” She said with the straw flirting with her lips.

“What do you mean?” He smiled wondering if he had completely got her wrong.

“Your story I’m talking about, the one you were scribbling while pretending to sing American pie. I’m sure you had thousand thoughts in your head, with those characters doing a dialogue with your inner voices.” She smiled and offered him a chair next to hers.

He sat nervously feeling a bit stripped down and let her take the charge.

“I am Nadia. And what’s your name, writer boy?”

“Why don’t you read it yourself?” He smiled and handed over the notebook in her hands.

“I hope the ending is good, as I dreamed it to be” she said watching him read her eyes like ‘he’ used to.

“There isn’t one. She learns how to fly. He helps her do that.” He replied.

“And she leaves him behind? Yet again?” she asked.

“He was never hers to take along. She wasn’t his. They met. Like two kites accidently brushing hands in the sky. They were meant to carry on” said the writer boy.

“Well, she is happy that she met him after all” she smiled her perfect smile. After a long time.


Return of Humpty Dumpty


Humpty Dumpty woke up next to a wall.

The same one where he had had his famous fall.

Under the skies of early dawn,

He stood up stretching his tiny arms.

Held his spinning head with a hangover from last night.

Resting his back against the wall, he looked around.

Cinderella was making out with Snow white and,

Drunk Rabbit was still fooling around with Alice in wonderland.

It was end of the year 2013 that had passed by.

He checked the drunken texts he had sent to his ex-wife.

One sided conversations with not a single reply.

And just when he was about to get depressed and feel sad,

He heard someone coughing, followed by a smell he could recognize.

Humpty Dumpty looked up as far as he could have,

To spot Baba black sheep staring at stars with glassy eyes.

“Baba black sheep, you’ve got any gra**?

Yes you stupid egg, I got 4 big packs.

One for the Beauty, two for the Beast.

One for Aladdin,

And one for you mate, come back up on the wall.’’

I shall not get back to where they keep pushing me down from,

Just roll one for me friend and throw it down” Humpty replied.

Taking a drag off the magic wand in his hand,

Humpty looked at New Year’s moon with glassy eyes.

Humpty had fallen for the ones he should’ve never climbed the wall for.

With his falls pretty metaphorical to most of our love lives.

Firecrackers now lit up the sky & reflected in Humpty Dumpty’s eyes.

He spotted the naked Cupid flying around and smiled,

Humpty had finally come up with his new year’s resolve –

‘To be friends with Baba black sheep and beat up blind Cupid’s ass.’

P.S. In order to fully decipher what you read, you must be over the age of 18 & adequately high!