Happy Birthday!

From wealth to outright scarcity, Jack takes his family for a ride not many fathers can afford. What remains in the end is, however, only joy, derived from grim acts. Happiness, after all doesn’t come cheap.

A solitary yellow lamp sufficed the meagreness of the room that Jack and his daughter, Petra occupied. The four walls of a battered house was where they had camped since the past few weeks and Petra agreed that it was better than the previous arrangements that her father has been able to provide. It was a euphemism for having illegally occupied. She knew it was only a matter of time until they would be found trespassing and would be thrown out like garbage, but the anxiety associated with that anticipation stopped bothering her five houses ago.

Petra was approaching her 16th birthday and she had now started to believe that Jack’s promises of being able to afford her education for Medical Science were beyond his reach. Just like the previous hundreds of times, she did not let his failure bring him guilt. Nevertheless, she remembered Jack’s lessons vividly. She knew the organs, their placement and also how to cut open each one of them.

What’s up, skank?” barged in Tom, her elder brother, with a brown glass bottle in his hand and ugly insobriety on the rest of his body. Petra resisted her fury. But no matter her restraint, these words rang in her head like a bee in a bonnet. She hated those words, she hated that abuse so much that it made her cringe out of helplessness. She knew he only envied her for going to school and acing it despite the social difficulties, nothing else. Deep inside, she felt that he loved her.

For the last time, Tom, this is not the way to speak to family!” Jack’s voice boomed across the walls of the dilapidated room as he got up, and stared at his wasted son with bloodshot eyes.

Alright, jackass,” Tom responded with noxious apathy and found himself a corner behind where Petra sat and passed out into momentary bliss.

Jack could not meet Petra’s sorry eyes. “Whatever happened with mom and whatever is happening to Tom is on them. It is not your fault, dad.”

Jack was taken back to the days when they prospered in a house four times bigger than this and moreover, a permanent house. His salary as a surgeon sustained them on pillars of safety, security and prosperity. What missed was love. While Jack had given his all to Mary, his wife, she had her love reserved for someone else. Despite having given her several chances, she did not budge and continued with her external love affair. Her destitute paramour influenced her to run away from Jack, which she did. Had the misery ended there, it would have been mercy for Jack. But, Jack’s fate was written in a sour mood. Mary went after his wealth.

After a few months of her running away, she sued him for his money under the pretext of spurious charges, which her genial husband couldn’t defend. While he lost his job, his reputation, most of his savings and his house, he was surviving through his two children, the burden of whom Mary did not want to deal with. One of those two children, Jack knew, would only spell his doom.

Tom, an under-achieving student, broke under the pressure of parental expectations early in school. What the parents deemed motivational, Tom saw it as a deluge that pressured him to the ground face first. Whatever hopes he had of trying harder at school melted away along with his parents’ relationship. Now, he had an excuse for failure. Hiding behind an excuse felt easier than studying hard for school. But, as life had it, no choice is bereft of consequences. It was this first step that took him towards befriending failure and reclaiming accomplishments that fate snatched away from him. He stole, borrowed and begged for his indulgences and he learnt exactly how to. Influence of intoxicating habits started to weigh heavily on his relationship with his family, what was left of it.

His unfiltered anger cut through every fibre of love of warmth that Jack and Petra had for him and his constant abuses made it only easier.

I know it was not my fault and yet I seem to be the one down in the dumps, no?” He brushed away his tears. But those tears returned nimbly when he saw his son on a path of self-destruction. However, this time, Petra did not sympathise with Jack. She did not feel sorry for Tom; not only was he undermining her father’s genuine love and care, but was also abusing it.

I promised you,” he said sobbing with giant drops of tears in his eyes. “I promised you to make you a surgeon like I am.” He repeated these words until he cried himself to sleep, his hands clasping Petra’s, knowing little that she abandoned that dream long ago, given the circumstances.

One evening, she returned to the borrowed room from school. The walk back was long and it was almost dark by the time she reached. Upon entering the door, she was surprised to see the room so dark and his brother not around to insult her.

When she dropped her school bag in a corner, Jack appeared and handed her a pair of surgical gloves and showed her a tray brimming with surgical tools. “Happy birthday, sweetling. Come, walk with me.” He took her to the centre of the room and turned the yellow lamp above them on and Jack was pleased to note Petra’s joy. “I know I may never be able to make you a doctor, but the least I can do is to walk you through an autopsy. You remember the drill, right?”

Teary eyed, she affirmed. “Yes, dad, I remember.” She jumped with joy and then Jack pulled off the sheet that covered the body. Tom’s dead eyes looked straight up at Petra’s lively ones. Her blood turned to stone in that moment. Her face took a menacing turn under the yellow glow of the solitary lamp above her. Jack saw her quickly shake her fear off, snap the surgical gloves on, hold the scalpel expertly in her right hand and saw her speak to the corpse. “What’s up, skank?”

Book Review: The Ryders’ Riddance

Review by a popular book blogger on The Ryders’ Riddance!

Wanderingg Soul

Title: The Ryders’ Riddance

Author: Nik V

Publisher: White Falcon Publishing

Genre: Crime Thriller

Pages: 383

Rating: 5/5⭐

More about the book:

(BLURB)

Samson Ryder, under the protective guardianship of Ulrich Sebastian, is tracked down by two men from Secret Intelligence Agency (SIA). Math Professor by profession, Samson is provided an enticing offer by SIA, which nudged his dormant sense of vengeance into violent awakening.

An offer to hunt down and kill the one who took his parents away was too dangerous for his guardian Ulrich to allow. Under circumstances that went awry, Ulrich changed his mind.

Global Police (GloPo) took this opportunity and decided to place their bets on Samson Ryder for the same mission with more money and guaranteed another layer of safety in a potentially fatal mission. Along with his partners Khloe Denver and Panlo Kippins, Samson was cutting deals with his new found, vehement hatred for…

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TRR – Cover Page

As the release date comes closer, the time warps and the time seems to crawl. However, moments like these are delightful!

I share with you the cover page of my debut Crime Fiction novel: The Ryders’ Riddance.

untitled

Hang on for just a few more weeks until you can lay your hands on this book!

Thank you for all your love and support. Without it, this day could never have been more than a dream.

TRR: Dedications

You know how life is. You meet people you never thought you would and take away from them what you never thought you would.

I, in my life, have been blessed by those who have let me take away values and virtues that have enabled me to complete writing a novel.

As my expression of dedication to each one of those gentle souls, I have named one character in the book after their initials. While I am bound by the limitations on the number of characters I can have in the book and the number of people I can dedicate this book to, I would like to assure you that this list is not exhaustive and I feel terrible for not being able to include them all.

Meanwhile, feel free to browse through the names of my beloved people & their character names:

Name Character
1 Abhay Soningra / Ayaan Sayyed / Angela Shao Ashton See
2 Abhinav Umbarje Alexys Underwood
3 Ajinkya Adukia Alvis Alekseev
4 Akash Pol Aaron Palmer
5 Anuja Mulye Alan Myke
6 Bhalala Raj Benjamin Ryder
7 Bhavesh Parmar Brando Purnell
8 Bhavika Shah Bob Sally
9 Chetan Gandhi Clyde Galloway
10 Chetan Vartak Cristos Viera
11 Deeptanshu Thakar Donnie Trugirl
12 Dilip Mulye Dom Miller
13 Dominik Klaus Darren Knox
14 Elesh Mehta Emily Min
15 Emily Coe-Bjorsell Eliah Cassia-Barrco
16 Eugenia D’Amario Enid Douglas
17 Filippo Qiao Fabian Quine
18 Flora Chardigny Fitz Cresto
19 Francisco Santos / Furqan Sayyed Faye Sebastian
20 Garv Gandhi Glen Gonrow
21 Gautam Rajadhyaksha Gene Rocco
22 Geeta Vadhani Garrey Vicari
23 Geoffrey Brown Gehard Berner
24 Gianmarco Clementoni Graham Carlton
25 Gwyneth Perreira Giuliano Penna
26 Hardik Mehta Husani Maalouf
27 Harshad Vadhani Heike Vicari
28 Heena Gandhi Haemon Gedney
29 Jan Otta Jaffar Osman
30 Jasmin Thakar Jake Trent
31 Jessica Thiry Jurgen Tobias
32 JF Mlaki / Jigna Mehta / Jiyaan Mehta Jeremiah Miko
33 Jyothi Bhat Jacob Barnes
34 Kedar Naik Kimberley Nettle
35 Khusbhu Botadra Kirk Bradford
36 Kirtan Mehta Kris Mahone
37 Kunal Sehgal Kristine Sebastian
38 Kushal Dave Khloe Denver
39 Leelavati Vadhani Lars Vosz
40 Lev Fomchenkov Layton Fishler
41 Macher Gabor Myriam Ginny
42 Marta Csaszar Micah Chambers
43 Mayuri Vora Mario Vaccaro
44 Miriam Vergara Mel Vatican
45 Monali Mehta Merrick Martin
46 Mrinmayee Anerao Mervyn Aubrey
47 Namrata Kudav / Nandha Kumar Nelson Kraft / Nene Kris
48 Namrata Vadhani Nolyn Vicari
49 Nandan Chiklikar / NC Nigel Castillo
50 Naveen Narayanan Nadeel N’Cree
51 Nikunj Mehta Nelson Madden
52 Nimish Fadnis Nicholas Floros
53 Parag Shah / Parth Shah / Pranav Shetty Pauline Salters
54 Paras Botadra Pam Bryan
55 Pia Doshi Prince Dunce
56 Piyush Mahendru / Pratham Mehta Peter Martin
57 Prachi Pandya / Pooja Pawar Petronela Peska
58 Praveen Kumar / Prashant Kale Panlo Kippins
59 Rishikesh Ganapathy Ryan Greg
60 Rohit Solanki Ronald Salters
61 Rushabh Doshi Ricky Dexter
62 Rushali Thakar / Robin Tiroloque Ramsey Towner
63 Rutuja Mulye / Rupal Mehta Rodwell McLarty
64 Sagar Raiyani Samson Ryder
65 Sahil Maru / Sushila Mulye Sugreev Murthy
66 Sarfaraz Hussain Shannon Hoover
67 Sergio Cano / Shishir Chitnis Slade Collymore
68 Shilwardhan Wakode Seline Watt
69 Soniya Sanap Scoville Som
70 Sudhir Kedar Selwyn Karpin
71 Sumit Upadhyay Samuel Underwood
72 Sunny Ambekar Simeon Ang
73 Tania Cameron Ty Colton
74 Tanuj Diwate / Tripti Daulatani Timothy Denver
75 Tejarshi Hardas Tam Heinersdorff
76 Uthi Sree Ulrich Sebastian
77 Vaishali Mehta (Doshi, not Mehta) Vaughn Mills
78 Veer Bhalala Vincenzo Baldwin
79 Vidya Mulye Vestar Marken
80 Vidya Rishikesh Vincent Ryder
81 Vikrant Hardas Vetero Heracio
82 Vikrant Naik Vitus Naim
83 Yolande Chen Yusuf Chandi
84 Zachary Smith Zavier Schutz
85 Zuzana Mullerova Zane Martinez

Note:

  1. The above list is arranged alphabetically and not in the order of my closeness with them. I do not like Abhay any better than I do Zach. They both suck.
  2. Some of the characters in the book are short-lived, while some are running the show. Once again, it does not reflect my true admiration and love for the people after whom I have named them.

If you are interested to know more about the character, ask me in the comments! Sending you a lot of love. Hold on to your seats until The Ryders’ Riddance is out in the market for your grab!

The Ryders’ Riddance

I would like to start with an apology for not having touched this blog for an unacceptable duration of time. All this while, I hid behind an excuse of being busy working on something much bigger than a short-story.

Since the last seven years, I have battled against a bucketful of self-doubt, a dollop of laziness, several handfuls of procrastination and the nerve-shattering contender of all: fear. Fear of judgement, fear of failure and fear of having wasted my time. Not head on, but slowly and steadily, I allowed my perseverance to take over, which put every contender to sleep eventually.

And through these enriching struggles of working & reworking & reworking yet again, I have compiled a Crime Fiction novel.

If I know you, or if I know about you, then I want you to know that you have been a major influencer in helping me shape a series of stories and plots and sub-plots into singular novel, which I am going to call ‘The Ryders’ Riddance‘.

I have felt not unlike how the legendary author Stephen King says,

The journey of writing is like sailing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub; there is plenty of time for self-doubt.

My journey on this bathtub is approaching the shore and this 120,000+ word-novel is coming your way.

I pray for your continued support and your well-wishes, now, after the publishing of the book, and beyond, for this is only the beginning.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Yours truly.

A Cry of Deliverance

Deploying tools of insensitivity, succumbing to the easier way out, the society today stands proof to the fact that not everyone is alike – some put the cart after the horse, some before.

“I am going to break your bones when I see you next,” a shrill voice pierced through the slum as a crone voiced her anger at me for drenching her in a water balloon.

“What does it matter to you,” I provoked her. “It is already raining, what harm can a water balloon do to you, aunty?” I resumed laughing and chortling, only to have it interrupted by a loud crackling sound of a threatening thunder from kilometres away. It was scary and I was sure that it was God’s punishment for my misbehavior. I felt proud to remember the lessons my father teaches me about the God.

The old lady ambling without an umbrella had vanished in between the narrow passages of the slums, when I had my eyes back on the courtyard, two floors under.

My thoughts circled back to the time. It was 10 PM already. At least that is what his beaten wristwatch displayed. I honestly could not yet tell apart minutes from hours. I wonder how adults do it. At times, I find it amusing to assume that they are simply making up words with numbers. Past fifteen, quarter, etc.

It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back and I sprang back to life. Mom and Dad got out of their rooms and hurried to the door. I played my classic act of keeping my eyes shut next to the window. So far, it has successfully fooled them into believing that I was fast asleep. However, the beans are spilled when I am not able to get up for school in the morning. And, tomorrow is the first day! Wonder who it is and I wonder why neither mom nor dad has thrown metaphorical rocks at me!

The knock on the tattered door was louder than the regular creaky knocks that our regular intruder – winds. It was only a few months ago since I began to tell apart from a breeze and a human knock. Saves me a lot of trouble now, believe me. 

This knock had inspired my parents very differently. An odd hour. They know I was awake and they were not surprised at a visitor this late. They must be expecting someone. As a matter of fact they looked happier; dad more than mom. Mom had a dull undertone of sadness that I could see through her false pretense of delight. A man in a dress as white as milk, a skull cap on par with his dress in colour and a voice thick as the swooshes of wind outside brought a glow to the house, which was subsumed by an even powerful glow of the tube lights. 

He was welcomed, greeted with water, and refused any offers of food and sweets. He kept looking at me with a friendly stare, but he received back none until my parents introduced him to me. 

“Ashraf, he is a very close friend of mine. He is the one who has helped your father through all the difficulties that your father was going through in the past few months.”

I pondered on it for a while and although too late, it wasn’t too little for it to dawn upon me that my parents seemed jollier than the usual quarrels that they used to have. 

“Does that mean that you will not hit my mom anymore?”

Embarrassed, my father did own up his sins and bravely confronted them. “Yes, beta. I will never hurt anybody ever again.” Tears welled up in his eyes, which made me feel little inside, a feeling that I could not describe so well. 

A part of me considered him an angel already. The boisterous days and querulous nights, the sounds of which travelled through half the slum attracted gossip and back-biting to a level which was hard for me to handle. While some kids in the slum made fun of me, elders cheered me up and sent undue pampers, which I could barely digest. Apart from my difficulties, my mother used to get beaten so much. My mother hid behind several excuses. Her most favourite one was that she slipped and fell in the kitchen. She thought of it as an excellent excuse, and I let her believe it.

If someone comes home saying that he resolved all of this, then he is angel to me. I dreamed of playing normally with the kids again, without being the centre of the bullying. 

And my dream was then interrupted by another pleasant surprise from a man, an angel whom I saw first only a few minutes ago. A gift. I quickly unwrapped the pink foil sheathing the gift underneath, while his thick voice spoke. 

“It’s for your first day in school, son.”

I jumped in joy as I saw a new school bag. I used the one that my brother used to for three years, which he had used for over many years – I can’t remember how old he is than me. This bag was a brand new, pure black bag with cartoons over it. I remember some cartoons from Sumi’s TV, but can’t recall others. It didn’t even matter. I’d be happy for this bag even if it had no cartoon on it. 

My mom I saw was in tears again, perhaps the tears of joy or perhaps the tears of seeing me joyful, I didn’t look deep enough for I allowed myself some moments of refined happiness. 

I hugged the new man who’d come in our house and thanked him hard. I was then asked to go inside the bedroom and that my mom and dad would come soon. Having handed over the remote control of my happiness in their hands, I agreed to go to bed immediately and thus began my presence game. 

“Is this the only way, Bhai? Is there no other way to find peace and heaven?” I heard my dad speaking softly with the visitor. The rain had stopped and winds gave way for words to flow from our living room to the bedroom. 

“If not this, there is no other way. God is forgiving, and it asks for very little. You’re doomed to this fate for it is what He wants from you. My sermons never fail to stress on the fact that God gives ten in return for one. With your jewel so precious, you’ll be soon rid of debts, will have a house of your own and also a car. You’ll have more kids.”

At this point I got bored of their talks. I wished they would rather discuss about more gifts for me. 

Early morning, I woke up with a surprising zest and energy that my dad had not seen before he said. 

“Will I please take the new bag today?” I begged. I was told that I look cute when I say please. So, I said it until he gave up his shield and agreed for it. 

“Of course you can, beta. It’s for you only. And it’s all packed with your books and tiffin. Go, get fresh.”

Like an obedient one, I hurriedly got dressed, mom combed my hair flat on my little skull and I put on the bag. Had we had some money, which I think this angel will give us someday, we’ll buy a camera to take my picture with this new bag. 

“How do I look mom? I think I look very good. See, I assure you that all the kids in the school are going to be so awed.”

My mom knelt down and hugged me for quite long, tears again in her eyes. “You’re the blessed one, Ashraf. May God look after you.”

“You too, mom.” I said in a kind of a hurry that one would have who wants to eagerly show off his new school bag to the world. 

Dad dropped at school. While I had forgotten, he reminded me of his promise. “Beta, remember my promise? Believe me, it will come true today itself.”

I simply had a very hard time trying to contain the rush of happiness within me. I got a bag yesterday and will get to see my brother too after so long. “I will return his old used bag to Shasha today. But I’ll never give this new one to him.”

My father laughed a little on my childishness and that is the last I saw him for the moment. School bell rang and all kids fresh with memories from summer vacations found it hard to focus on the studies. 

When I pulled up my bag to take out the books, I saw that the bag didn’t have any books at all. It had a strange box. Curiously, I pulled it out gently and I fell asleep. I do remember harsh cries and heat radiating through my head and body, but I remember it faintly. I tried to check if my new bag was okay, but what he saw barely looked like his school anymore. Where his classroom walls were white, now there was a dancing fusion of yellow and orange. Where I remembered my friends seated in excitement and new school clothes, I then saw undisciplined order of enflamed wood and broken furniture. 

I was feeling an odd sort of a pain, and especially since my bag wasn’t in sight, I cried. I remember falling in a deep slumber before I was done crying. 

When I woke up a few hours after, I ran and I ran very fast to my mom because I could not wait to tell her about what happened with me. As strange as it was, I was free of pain and my mom needs to know or else she will cry again. Probably she was already crying. And she was!

I approached her. “Mom, look I am here. My bag, my clothes, it’s all here. I am all fine.”

Dad tried to calm her down too, but she kept crying harder and harder. I spoke louder. My voice passed through her. I was confused. I touched her cheek because I knew that was always calmed her down. But my hand went through her body. I could not touch her. I could not be heard. I started to sob and I sobbed hard and heavy. 

Dad spoke to her. “The sacrifice was necessary!” He shouted. “It was necessary. We will now be free from all our miseries. This is God’s will and he is now going to be so happy with his brother, playing together once again in His paradise, His heaven.”

Amarnath Yatra – 2017

An unforgiving trek to meet The Most Forgiving One.

For those who wish to skip the detailed narrative, a short summary is in the end.

Lord Shiv, who shall be called as Bholenath, Mahadev or Bhole in the following post is known to have taken solace in one of the deepest recesses of Himalayas, far away from the human greed and chaos. The Amarnath Cave at 12,756 feet or 3,888 m altitude, it is said that He let out the secrets of immortality (Amar Katha) to His beloved wife, Parvati.

An ice stalagmite that naturally forms in a cave surrounded by snowy mountains is symbolic to the Ling that represents the Almighty Mahadev. While it is well known that finding God is never easy, I am about to narrate the experience that I had with my beloved fiance on this greatly distinguished trek.

Back in 2012 or around, I was introduced to trekking by a dear friend and vet, Kushal Dave. The child-like enthusiasm that drove me to the belief that if I could conquer a trek in a tropical weather, with cool rain washing off the summer sweat, set trails showing us the path to the top, which still somehow felt to me as an insurmountable 3-hour trek in the vicinity of my home, then I can also march through the snowy 3-day trek, about 2,000 kms from home, in an extreme environment that robs one of oxygen among other things like self-respect, dignity and arrogance.

Given the superior overestimation of my fitness, I consider it fortunate that the plan that I had made in 2012, to see Mahadev along with dozens of friends did not turn out well and the plan had to be cancelled. The next opportunity that showed up to my door was when it was favourable for me to attend to this mighty zest for the Almighty in 2017. My beloved, Anuja, packed her bags in her mind, 4 months prior to the trek. I could not be happier.

Arriving in Kashmir was an enchanting experience, as their airports, the systems and the unrestrained politeness of the local folk was charming and most welcoming. Amidst the stress that they are subjected to due to the political unrest between Pakistan and India, Kashmiris seemed to be unaffected and rather caring of the tourists. Tourists for them were nothing but the sole source of income, for Kashmir demands a sort of tourism that any other part of the world seldom does. Green plains, white mountains, blue lakes and white rivers, they form an integral part of the Himalayan paradise, suitably concomitant with unparalleled hospitality of the Kashmiris. 

Srinagar and Pahalgam saw us for the first 2 days where Anuja and I took our rest before we began with the notable two days of our lives. 

 Dal Lake @Srinagar

Of the two routes that reached the Cave, one was from Baltal, which was a one-day affair. A 14-km one way ascent to the Cave was famous for those having too little time for their devotion for the Mahadev, while was infamous for being monotonous, depriving the trekkers of the purest of views that the route #2 offered.

The route #2 was the harder (which of course, I chose, given my inclination for challenging bigger powers), started from Pahalgam and if done on foot, would take 3 days to get to see the Almighty. Blessed with picturesque landscapes, it was sinister and influential.

Day #1

Pahalgam – Chandanwari

We awoke at 3 am, for the simple reason that we should be among the first people to reach the base camp and to start the trek. The penchant for being early at the trek was tantamount to the one we had for getting ourselves registered (4 months ago) at the hospital and the bank at the earliest. The expedite actions allowed us an entry on the 1st day of the Yatra. It was a blessing for me. Although I knew that there would be thousands of Yatris along with us, I was hoping that the public toilets would be cleaner. As you can now imagine how seasoned a trekker I am to expect spotless and hygienic sanitation on the remote mountains of Himalays.

An evening before, Pahalgam was pouring rain droplets, small enough to be called as harmless, but for long enough to threaten the commencement of Yatra the next morning. We prayed for the rain to stop much like the nursery rhyme, but the rain did not budge. We slept on it.

Morning was dark, and the only sound that could be heard outside the room at 3 am was the monstrous gush of Lidder river across the hotel and gentle, much despised rain droplets. It rained all night and due to pilgrim safety, Amarnath Yatra could have been reasonably postponed. But, it did not.

Chandanwari – Sheshnag

Pahalgam

Pahalgam (2,740 m) is the initial base camp for the Yatra, while Chandanwari (16 kms away) is the next. Chandanwari (2,923 m) is the last point until which the motor vehicles go (and we went), where horses replace the cars and buses. A long queue for baggage checking and the entry pass verification saw several devotees, some of which exhibited their unwavering passion for the Mahadev in form of fake entry passes. Sadly, in the name of security, they deprived entry to such passionate devotees.

Bholes waiting for the Yatra to commence @Chandanwari

Thus began our ascent of the 12 kms for the day. Horse guides were swarming in numbers and it was hard to tell a pilgrim from a horse guide. Obeying to every instruction we had from the previous Yatris, we were ready to pull out our negotiating cards. And we did. We secured a pony for a certain amount, with an understanding that he would take us to the Holy Cave, bring us back to the base on the 3rd day. Filled with energy and positive vibes, we utilized the pony for our bags (10 and 13 kgs rspectively – again, aren’t we phenomenally smart?) and began the trek. Good we purchased the wooden sticks that helped us pierce through every sort of unholy mess on the ground created by men and horses alike.

The key highlight of the Yatra was spirited Langar-waalas (the ones who ran restaurants) serving hot milk, water, tea and delicacies from all around the country, all for free! That is right. You pay not a penny for anything you eat and drink. They are there for the duration of the Yatra (~40 days) – no less than Gods – enabling the pilgrims to safely and healthily complete the Yatra.

The rain had not stopped. Slowly, but surely, it guaranteed difficulty for hundreds of pilgrims who let it not hinder them…yet. The consistent drizzling had rendered the path muddy. One could not tell apart safe step for a ditch. But, like a herd, pilgrims rocked their trek. Several shortcuts showed up and people – dozens of people – would follow the shortcuts. Our first shortcut was an act of defiance towards the popular advice we had received – Do not take shortcuts. The temptation lay in fact that the shortcut was although steep, a shorter route to the top. We were safe.

The second short-cut we chose was an innocent blunder, where we were following a group of people who were hiking and suddenly found themselves holding on to slippery rocks and fidgety smaller rocks in order to ascend. It was then when we realized that we should not have come up there and then was the precise moment when we realized that going back down was far from sound an option. We climbed up towards a man who was resting on a big rock, which slipped slightly from its location. The destination of the falling rock could have been several dozens of meters downwards, taking along as many pilgrims along as it could. The fellow pilgrim had his heart in his mouth. Both of us shouted warnings to the pilgrims underneath to watch out in case the rock falls. Most of the pilgrims were busy chanting Jai Bhole while others were assessing the next rock to set their foot on. After applying my rudimentary engineering knowledge, I blocked the bigger rock with a smaller one under it. The rock did not fall, the pilgrim climbed up the the actual walking track and I followed.

Way to Pissutop

By this time, Anuja’s nimble and relatively smaller body enabled her to be on the track, waiting for me with bated breath. I almost reached the top and had just one climb to make, but without adequate support. Here is when, I rested myself, awaiting some help who would pull this clumsy, heavy pilgrim out of misery and someone did. Jai Bhole!

Championing the mountain – the pilgrim way! 

The end of this first patch of arduous trek came after 4 kms at Pissutop, where an Indian flag with a backdrop of milk-white fog attempting to mask the white-peaked mountains welcomed us. Truly a delight. Sheshnag, the day’s destination was now about 7 – 8 kms away. Anuja alternated between a horse-back ride and trekking, while I was more stubborn than her in wanting to reach the destination on foot and I did, not without challenges.

Foggy Pissutop. Sorry for the poor picture. Camera was inaccessible due to rain, phone was not good enough, as you can see. Place was heavenly.

Kilometers passed by and yet the distance boards did not seem to change. After every kilometer I passed, it still showed that Sheshnag was 6 kms away. Now, not only was the weather playing games with me but these men who put up the sign boards were, too. A winter jacket, preventing me from the rain helped cover myself but also was seeming too hot at some instances. The weather love was non-existent. Sweat inside, mud and rain and occasional heat waves outside. I was happy that Anuja was covering her distance as her horse sped her away, but the joy of walking along in this dream trek was somewhat compromised.

After another what felt like a couple kilometers, of upward trek in sticky mud on a narrow road occasionally dominated by horses, another Langar came up. I was glad that I would see Anuja again. I waited. I could not find her in the 1st Langar (there were 4 – 5 in all). I pulled up my phone to notice that there was no network on my phone. I cursed the Airtel salesman endlessly for coaxing us into buying their SIM card. My curses were interrupted by the grumbling noises from inside my stomach. I ate sumptuous food in far lesser a quantity than what I am known to eat (fatigue and tiredness) and then walked ahead to another Langars. On the last one, I found her! Happy were we both. She had not eaten a morsel yet and she was not wanting to eat, she said. I should have insisted. Sufficient carbs and water were the mandatory inputs for those willing to conquer the trek.

Langar where we had reunited after a short separation

The trek continued for another million kilometers in the same sticky mud where my shoes got stuck at every step and my pants and jacket were decorated with mud. Shoes were appearing more brown than it’s original olive green. Picking up a foot for every step was a pain, and the pain was not abated by the sore leg muscles that the trek had caused. I overheard people saying that rain ruined the trail and I got influenced. I remember vividly, stepping in ankle height mud and hiking in it for several hundred meters. The mud was now the new normal.

If this frustration was not enough, my walking stick that aided me to get through the worst now fell in the mud, too. Funnily, now is when my lid blew off and I got angry at the circumstances. Imagine – it shows how the only thing going right in my life at that point was that my stick was clean.

Nature pitied me and then showed me some beautiful sights like the Sheshnag Lake. Was I happy to see it? Maybe. Am I happy to see it when I am sitting comfortably on my relaxing chair and writing this post? Absolutely. This eerily clam and green lake at the lap of a snowy peak giving off a strangely calm vibe to the otherwise disturbed or excited pilgrims was a sight I’d happily die for. Sheshnag lake (3,590 m) is the highest lake I have ever seen in my life and the sight is just as good as a wallpaper.

Sheshnag Lake @ 3,590 m

Sheshnag Lake – Calm as Shiv Himself

Sadly, Anuja and i had to grasp the sight of this view independently. The few moments we spent under the watch of this landscape were of my complaining about the difficulty of the trek (such an amateur i am) and in taking some pictures with the lake in the backdrop.

Another 1 – 2 kms and we will be at the destination. As much relief this thought gave me, these kms were deadly. By the time we reached, i was parched dry in my throat. The cold environment had chilled every bottle of water i could find and thus making it unpleasant for consumption. Anuja was waiting at the entrance of the Sheshnag camp site, shivering in cold. Now, we awaited entry into the camp, rent a tent and sleep for 12 hours. It was nearing 4 pm.

Few moments before the Sheshnag campsite

The horse guide we had hired turned back on his words and objected on his wish to accompany us until the third day. He expected us, whose spirits had half-died in 12 kms of first day to complete 20 kms on the second. We ignored him and penalized him for his non-co-operation and sent him back. Now we had to get into the arena of negotiating with another horse guide altogether. With Anuja freezing, with my throat giving up, we stood our grounds and negotiated with one seemingly nice horse man, who also showed us to the best of tent owners, Majid. Majid showed us to a tent, large enough for 3 – 4 couples to fit in, floored with woolen blankets and equipped with rough pillows. We accepted it without much hesitation.

The view from our tent  @Sheshnag

Night @ Sheshnag

We changed into cleaner clothes, applied Vicks to our bodies and slept under 3 thick woolen blankets. My head was throbbing and she was shivering. We expected rest to cure it all. it was 6:30pm and Anuja was still jittery. I stepped out with the shoes untied (leading the laces to gather all sort of mud and mess along) to look for the camp hospital. I brought Anuja there, where she was instantly given an injection. Was she cured? No. Under several layers of blankets and warm clothes on her, she was not at comfort. A hospital with 6 – 7 beds was full with patients who were suffering from what the doctors repeated every time – High Altitude Sickness.

While she is having moments of extreme cold and rest, I was sitting there restless, praying for her good health. At one point, we decided to not continue further and that if she does not feel better, we shall return to Chandanwari and fly back to Mumbai. On top of that a doctor there told me that I was not helping her in any way and that I should bring hot beverages, which I then did. The cold outside was 4 degrees C. I walked over 200 m one way to get her some hot tea, which was not hot anymore, but consumable. After a few more minutes, she was injected with another medicine, which initially brought her miserable pain, but cured her after an hour.

In those hours that I spent sitting next to her, I witnessed patients coming in as cool as a Bollywood actor and as miserable as a fish pulled out of water. Whatever this High Altitude Sickness was, it was nasty and it came to people in all shapes and sizes, bring them to their knees. Shivering, unbearable cold and lack of breathing came along. Anuja was far better than most of the patients that came in. I felt proud of her physical and mental resolve. What an excellent start to the Day #1 of the Yatra, I said to myself. Rain had ruined it for several, but barely had it deterred anyone from the end in mind – reaching the God of the Gods – the Mahadev.

Majid was regularly following up with us in the hospital while doing his job as an owner of several tents. He wanted to be sure that Anuja and I are okay and that he will arrange better accommodation for us, no matter what. Later, when the doctor allowed her discharge, Majid welcomed us to his own tent, which was also his kitchen that was naturally warm as our bedrooms. A moderate dinner there was followed by a peaceful sleep, which Anuja deserved better than I. Majid had slept elsewhere to make room for us two while his father shared the tent with us. A help – a favour, we would never forget. Jai Bhole!

Day #2

Next morning, at 6, the gates open for the pilgrims to move ahead on their trek. However, a loud announcement echoed through the fabric of every tent that the Yatra had been temporarily shut due to bad weather. The bad weather could have been the endless drizzles that the night saw or the snow that fell heavily on our way ahead. We did not bother and fell back asleep like babies. The gates had opened up at 10 am, until when we were ready to go and had decided that now, we would both take ponies until the Cave (20 kms) and get down to Baltal (14 kms) the same night. We did not want to risk falling sick yet again for another night spent in the tents.

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Sheshnag – Panchtarni

The horse guide who assured us a horse had turned his back in the morning in order to find another customer who’d pay him more. (Possibly the only man we’d met on the entire trip who was unfriendly). Our day started with rejection by weather and by our horse guide. Majid picked up Anuja’s bag and we three went out to look for a horses for both of us. Another round of negotiations and agreements happened with a horse guide, who was ready to take us until the Cave. We were short on physical cash and requested Majid to accept a bank transfer after a day or two, for which he surprisingly agreed. Jai Bhole! He confessed that he trusted the two of us and were the nicest people who have rented his tent in the past few years. God bless him. Only nice people can see the niceness in others.

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The sun came out. Mahadev was looking at us, we could feel it. Every mountain that passed, every river that was flowing threw out the fragrance of the Mahadev. Har Har Mahadev! Sitting on a horse was feeling better than trekking on the same sort of mud. Although this was not the initial plan (I wanted to do the entire journey on foot), I don’t regret choosing this over the potential health hazard that Anuja and I could have ran into – again!

Kilometres passed by faster than yesterday. The only complaint today was the soreness that the saddle caused and God, was it nasty! The horse was too short for my size, thus having me bend my knees in an awkward position and denying my relief on my legs. As much as I wanted to take a break to stretch my legs, my authoritarian horse guide denied me politely. He had a long distance to cover and get back to Sheshnag before it turned dark. As happy as I was about inching closer towards the Almighty Cave, my inner self was being relentlessly critical. Among other things, i also noticed that our horses were particularly slower than almost every other horse. We were being outraced effortlessly by every other horse, thus igniting a suspicion on the horse- guide’s time commitment. In the end, we reached two hours later than what he promised.

And in these trying times, I refocused my thoughts on Anuja’s wellness and the beautiful white landscapes uncovered by the sun, which truly brought me a kind of peace that I seldom experience.

We took a halt twice in the 20 kms trek. One was at the highest point on the Yatra – at Mahagunastop (4511 m). The army men here insisted us all warm water to drink and were greeted gently and warmly. This was where the snow (in the peak of summer) had fallen to disrupt the Yatra schedule and delayed us all by 4 precious hours at the least.

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The shortage of oxygen was first felt when we got down and joyously jumped around in the abundance of snow, in the indomitable setting of snow mountains and relentlessly courageous army men.

A longer halt was to be taken after a 2 km decline at Poshpatri (Post Patthar), where was a splendid Langar that offered Dosas, Tikkis, traditional Indian meals and a lot more – a top-class Langar in every sense. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal – the food and hot water to drink and clean our hands with were an absolute delight. My derriere got a much needed relief from the steel-like saddle that hurt me endlessly throughout the journey. The energy that this Langar emitted was ultra-positive and it fueled us.

DSC_2441Langar at Posh Patri

A few kilometers ahead, a large plain land, guarded by brawny brown mountains was another base camp – Panchtarni (3,500 m) (a confluence of 5 rivers). It is symbolic for the 5 elements that Lord Shiv had left behind – Earth, Air, Sky, Fire & Water. Over here, the regular checking of bags was to happen and the Yatris had to walk for about 500 m through the camp on the other side to reunite with the horse guides. 500 m was not a challenge normally, but in a situation where oxygen was less and bags as heavy as ours, it commanded us to give in. We complained, but we did not give in. We managed to carry our luggage on the other side of the camp and then we continued on a path that was only 6 kms in length but hazardous to life!

Panchtarni – Holy Cave

A narrow strip of curvy land that inclined towards the Cave was swarmed with horses, palkis (2 – 4 men carrying Yatris on their shoulders) and on-foot Yatris. How easy it was for a single mistake to bring death to a Yatri so close to the Cave! Nevertheless, we had our faith in Mahadev and in the horses that guided us.

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In a matter of an hour, we could now see the Cave straight ahead of us. It had not yet sunk in the fact that we were almost at the pinnacle of the pilgrimage that not everyone is lucky to undertake. A pilgrimage that only a handful are fit enough to undertake and that pilgrimage’s main intention was right there in front of our eyes. And then another incident ruined the overly sentimental zone that we were in. The horses unloaded us. A kilometer incline away from the Cave. We had a kilometer long snow-paved track to hike until the Cave and climb roughly a 100 steps or more in order to take the darshan.

DSC_2467-01We kept our bags at one of the tents at the base, and we started. I slipped several times, aggravating my frustration and then is when Anuja snapped for the first time – totally ready to give up. After a bitter-sweet tiff, we agreed to chant Mahadev’s name and push ourselves – 10 steps at a time. We took over an hour to climb the distance.

P_20170630_164323The Holy Cave!

The last 20 – 30 steps were the hardest for we had to surrender our shoes and walk on stone steps garnished with ice-cold molten snow. Our feet were numb in a few minutes. We saw ourselves inching painfully towards the Ice Shivling. Another few steps and we can’t feel our legs any more.

The last few steps we crawled up to and there – an Ice Shivling over 6 feet tall took our breath away. We forgot who we are. We forgot why we were there. The enigmatic and mystic ice formation that could probably be explained by science, but the divine sense of blessing that gushed though in our veins will remain inexplicable. Every hardship, every mockery of fate, every single shock of adverse weather and health was forgotten the moment the Mahadev blessed us. The distance of 32 kms on a hostile land, in a hazardous environment was isolated and we felt one with the divine presence of the Almighty Shiv! Jai Jai Jai Bholenath!

I was overwhelmed with the kind of joy that nothing in the world can replace. I cried. An inability of being able to express the love and joy led me to shed some tears that I shed in the name of Bholenath! Although we could not spot the 2 pigeons who are said to live in the cave as the successors of those pigeons who had heard Lord Shiv’s tale to His wife about the secrets of immortality, we were pleased throughout.

A couple dozen of steps on our return, I asked Anuja to check how much money we have remaining, so as to know how to negotiate with the final horses that we would rent. Then she realized that there was one thing I had forgotten to offer to Bhole. With a sigh, I climbed back, with naked feet, my feet hurting now. Just when I reached the Cave, I overheard someone showing a pigeon and I saw them! I saw both the pigeons! Happiness of seeing them and sadness of Anuja not seeing them mingled with each other but I felt blessed all over again. After having second darshan of the Mahadev, I returned back with Anuja. We walked back until the end of the steps which is when I realized that we missed the place where we had surrendered our shoes. Travesty.

I climbed with my feet hurting to the point of being intolerable and lungs at the point of giving up, I collected the shoes, wore mine on wet feet and got hers back to the base. My legs were shivering until the knees – laughing at my foolishness.

After sipping on hot tea and warm water, we hired a couple horses and began our descent to Baltal (14 kms). They said that the road is good, well-guarded and well-lit. Thus, we were sure that we would not reach the base comfortably. Little did we poor Yatris know.

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Holy Cave – Baltal

After a steep descent of 3 kms, a 12 year old horse guide of Anuja’s horse and a senior horse guide of my horse went on shoulder to shoulder. Now, came a 2 – 3 kms patch of steep accent. I was asked to get down for a few metres to make it easy for the horse. I complained but I managed to make the steep climb with my worn out legs with 13 kilos on my back for about 15 metres and I was short on breath. Oxygen and fate were playing games with me now that the weather seemed okay. When I got back on the horse, the horse refused to move. The senior horse guide refused to budge. Horses had carried both the bags and Anuja without their guides complaining from Chandanwari until the Cave (32 kms) for once and now a horse guide was complaining that the horse was not moving because my weight along with the bag was far too much.

I argued for his logic vehemently and finally I got down and kept walking hopelessly upward – stopping at every few steps due to the shortage of breath and strength. I then saw that the horse was not moving even when there was no pilgrim or a bag on it. I was beginning to get worried as now, on the narrow road going upward with hundreds and hundreds of Yatris moving in a single file, I could not see Anuja anymore. Moreover, the dusk was nearing. It was 6:30 pm.

As I was trekking alone on the path, desperate to get back with Anuja, a miracle was bestowed upon me. Jai Bholenath! A horse guide with an unoccupied horse offered to drop me until the end of the accent – after which remains 7 kms of descent, which he assured I can do it without a horse, too. I agreed. Anything that got me closer to Anuja was acceptable to me. Steering clear through several dozens of horses, this horse was stronger and faster and sure-footed. By 8 pm, I reached the top. Anuja was supposed to be there because there is a camp where horses and people had place to stop. Earlier, I did not panic with the hope that she would be waiting there for me, but now, I had no reason to not panic.

It was dark, the trail was narrow with mountain on one side and valley on the other, Anuja was lost in an unknown land and I had to give up the horse. Darkness was pitch. It was hard to identify any face, as hard as it was to identify the nature of the trail. I pulled out the torch that was truly feeble in every sense and i started climbing down for 7 kms. I took out the laser light she had gifted me, the kind that forms a glimmering trail as it pierces through, but the batteries had given up. If only something were to go easily for us. If things were not wrong enough already, rain started to pour down. Muddier trail became muddier. I screamed for Anuja – no response. I screamed again and again and again – no response. A 12 year old boy was guiding Anuja’s horse in a condition so hostile that it made me eat my heart. And to pile up on the things that were going miserably wrong for us, a lightening bolt pierced through the sky – the kind that scares Anuja, and thus, makes me worry.

I realized that if I keep marching, I am not going to reach her at all. It was too slow a process given the luggage, the slippery trail and the darkness that prevailed. I was sure that at that time of the day, there was no economical sense for the horse guides to bring their horses empty – there were no mid-way base camps where pilgrims would offload, but I gave it a try.

With fear ruling my voice, I cried that I want a horse. I yelled a few more times; every shout meeker than the previous. I was losing hope the way I had lost Anuja. But then a girlish voice from behind asked – Want a horse?

I begged yes and without any cost conversations, I climbed up. I prayed up to the Mahadev who I knew was looking down on me, regardless of all the self-centred complaints that I was making. Jai Bholenath! I cried for Anuja for more times while we were on the way. The horse guides assured me that I would find her. It did help me and also what helped me was water that soothed my desert-dry throat. After a few kilometres of having the third horse, I saw the face of the horse guides. The girly voice was of a young boy and the one who guided my horse was a full-grown man.

After what felt like an hour, my worry for her was big enough to not remind me of the physical pain I was in due to lack of food intake and the saddle. First Langar was seen up ahead, where there she was – standing with eyes full of hope. We saw, and we hugged in an embrace of tears. We promised to not part ways ever again. The brave 12 year old boy had guided her safely.

After all the drama that I had gone through, with the setbacks that I had, I had guessed that she must have been waiting for quite some time. When asked, she said that she was waiting for merely 5 minutes! Such is the grace of Bhole! Jai Bholenath.

After another couple kilometres was a spot called Dumail, 2 kms from Baltal – but we were so tired of horse-back riding that we decided to pay them and hire a taxi to Sonamarg (15 kms from Baltal), hire a hotel, take a hot water bath (much much much needed) and sleep for at least 24 hours.

We got a taxi, who said he will try, but police will not allow entry. Yet again, things did not stop being right for us. We tried and at the check-post police indeed did not allow us to pass through (Mahadev’s grace once again – 10 days after our Yatra, one pilgrimage bus broke check-posts despite CRPF warnings and were attacked by terrorists. 7 lost their lives.)

We spent 4 – 5 hours in a tent in Baltal; provided with endless blankets and a bowl of burning coal to keep us warm. Next morning, we drove to Srinagar and comfort was back again in our lives.

P_20170629_095846-01Happy together at Pissutop

Summary:

The Yatra was full of challenges – hostile trails, unforgiving weather, horses giving up, getting separated in a threatening mountains, falling dramatically sick, threats of landslides, climbing barefoot on ice-cold stone steps, mercilessness of fatigue, disguised saving of life from potential terrorist attack and more, but Bholenath was right around the corner with an offering that rescued us from all the miseries and the divine memory of the Shiv Ling and the unparalleled landscapes remain in our minds.

As I write this post, over 1,80,000 Yatris have had their darshan. On 30th June, 2017, roughly 8,800 Yatris had their darshan, whereas on any other day, 12 – 14,000 Yatris are blessed by Bholenath’s darshan. Another blessing in disguise?

Win or Laws

Win or Laws
The transition from a mental state of hope to despair was grueling, taxing and exacting. Several years ago, a young woman had decorated opinions about being a lawyer for the National Court, the desire which fueled her zest to outmatch everyone else in her academics. Her career skyrocketed like a space shuttle without sufficient fuel to escape the gravitational force of struggle and rat-race and with an ambition of floating in an eternal weightlessness of success, riches and fame. The community that she grew up in was not encouraging in subjects of academics and career, owing to which Rita was more popular in circles dominated by white men and women. This formed a vital point for her community to issue her a cold disdain. 

Couple of years ago, she left her husband for reasons lesser known to the world. Rumours floated around saying that the loss of her baby girl drove the couple apart. However, the rumours were given only the credit that they deserved – not more, not less. Furthermore, her relationships with her friends remained square and invulnerable to her personal circumstances.

The flames of ambition of entering in the circles of the most renowned lawyers and judges were fighting against the storms of ennui and monotony. She was good at what she did – probably the best – but what she did was fight mediocre divorce cases, petty crime cases and cases related to family money that she wished she had, so she could run away and kick a restart to life.

She readied her bag to call it a day, when her boss, the man next to her father showed up at her cubicle. “Got to be somewhere else, champion?”

He always cheered her up. “Yup! Someone is waiting for me tonight and it must be getting cold. I better eat it before it actually does.”

Dan laughed heartily, he always did. “Well, I am sure that your dinner can wait. Come, see me in my cabin.”

They entered in his cabin.

“Here, have a look at this.” Dan slid a file across the metal-top table towards Rita.

Rita browsed through the file and made a mental note of all the key aspects of the case in hand. A murder case of the house-keeper. Time of death – early morning. Place of death – the living room. Potential suspect – Jake Douglas. Rita’s eyes widened. She looked back at Dan with sheer surprise and did little to suppress her shock. “Is this the Jake Douglas?”

“This is the Jake Douglas. The actor from The Night in the Train, The Bridge of the Blacks and Underside of the underside. This is him, Ms. Ferreira.”

Rita, shivering in anticipation. “And you handed his file to me, because?”

“Well, I will take it back this instant unless you hug it to your chest and run away.”

Tears softened her vision as she found this case as a breakthrough for her career. She was convinced that this case could be the fuel that her rocket needs. A case advocating an A-list actor in a murder incident would lift her up to all sorts of media: the newspapers, the TV, Press conferences and everywhere else. Owing to her size, she was in tears again, dreaming about the large area of the pictures that she will dominate.

She ditched her dinner and stayed back, burning the midnight oil. Meticulously, she studied every detail of the case and prepared herself with her meeting with the cop, Mr. Stan Morse later next day.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Ferreira.”

“Call me Rita, please.”

“Alright. Listen, I don’t think there is any case in this. The housekeeper, an old lady who cannot run or fight back, was killed in the house, where only one man stays and it is that goddamn Jake Douglas.”

Rita did not respond to Stan’s comments. “Thank you for your inputs Mr. Morse, but I will refrain from making judgements at this point.”

Stan took off a bottle from his trousers and popped a pill as casually as candy. “PTSD,” he said. “Those rascals sitting on exorbitantly expensive and ridiculously uncomfortable sofas call it PTSD.”

Rita observed how Stan turned red, veins showed on the top of his balding skull.

“What do they know, eh? They sit in an air-conditioned room, counselling people in what they have never experienced. A fancy degree gives them the right to judge me? Do you know how a war feels like Rita?”

Rita nodded a negative.

“Bring to your eyes your worst nightmare, Rita and tell yourself that it is real. That is what a war is like.”

Rita brought her nightmare to her eyes. Her nightmare was not remotely linked with deaths or violence. Her nightmare was dying or fading away into death without achieving what he has struggled to achieve all her life – fame and respect. 

“Anyway, I am sorry for my outburst. It is just these goddamn pills.”

“Assuming that Mr. Jake is innocent, who is in the list of suspects? There is no one in this list I have. Has there been any advancements?”

“None. There is nobody who has entered the house or left the house in the last two days, except for his poor old black lady.”

“Thank you Mr. Morse. I will see you at the court hearing.”
As hard as it was, Rita had to bend over backwards to prevent her affinity to Jake Douglas from coming in her way of her judgements. 

“You know you are not a snowflake, right?” Jake’s words hurt like the friction from sandpaper. 

“I don’t believe I am, Mr. Jake. But thanks for the reassurance.”

“Ah cut the Mister and Missus crap, already. Let us get me some freedom, alright. Listen, I did not kill this lady at all. Now, go, save me or I will have you cut off from the case and would hire someone more attractive than that ugly ass of yours.”

Rita bottled her ferocity. She felt her affinity for the highly famed actor evaporate like fuel. “The police have found no other suspects as of yet. Little would you know about how things work in the real-life, so let me tell you exactly how this will go down.” Rita was riled up in fury. “There was a murder of a black old lady in your house during ungodly hours. The cameras prove that the only person coming in and out of the house for the last two days was your housekeeper, who is now dead. If your best defense is going to be that ‘I did not do it’, then pray to God that capital punishment is issued to you. That way you will die early and will be saved from the assured defamation that will be launched at you, while you get your ass raped in the city prison.”

Jake stared at Rita, holding his tongue. Rita was hardly sure about the reality anymore. A few nights ago, the idea of defending one of the most popular actors swept her off her feet; now, the same idea brought her back to her feet. 

“That is right, Jake. May I now kindly request you to shut your attitude up and let me do my job?”

“Sure,” he murmured. “You being my lawyer, I might as well tell you the truth, Rita.”

“I already know it. What I want to know is why.”

“You know how it is with famous people, Rita? People are greedy around me like it is their lunchtime. Why am I single? It is not my attitude; my attitude is the outcome. I am yet to find someone who loves me for me, not my money, not my fame. This housekeeper duped me into recording some words I spoke while rehearsing an act. She got it doctored and threatened me to go to the court with the tape and shame me for life unless I paid her her ransom.”

“Marvellous. And you decided to just kill her in your own house, with your own hands. Wow. Only if you were as smart as the Jake on TV.”

“Yes. I did it, alright. Because it’s easy. And I’m Jake Douglas. No prick can threaten me into misery.”

Rita prolonged her stare hoping for it to drill a hole through his chest. Emotions aside, Rita. It’s your job. Do it. 

“So, you’ll still fight for me? I mean, after knowing that I am the culprit here?”

“I don’t care what happens to this society Jake. This world has showed me only the ugly side of the moon. I am not letting it take away a stepping stone to success, too. I will fight and we will win.” It’s my first and probably the only chance at earning a name that they’ll regret they ever subjected to shame. 

Jake sighed.

“In the meantime, may I tour your house and look for information that could benefit the case?”
The tour took longer than she imagined. Superficially, she crossed ever corridor, every room and every corner to look for loopholes that could be used by the police or the opposite party. Mr. Stan must have taken care of it, she was certain. 

A small room at the corner, facing the garden was open and Rita took note of a childish bed with cartoons printed all over them. The size of the bed was too small for Jake to place his head on and she was aware that there isn’t any kid in the house. To crosscheck, she asked and he confirmed. 

“There is nothing there, Rita.”

She didn’t listen. She lit the room, the blue and the pink of the walls were coming alive. The walls made her feel confined to the room, crushing her presence between the four walls. Chocolates, comic books, toys and every thing that a kid would fantasise about. Except for one black book. 

Jake saw Rita storm out of his house, stomping away. He’d expected worse. “Rita,” he called out, but he got no response. “Rita, you said you don’t care about anyone, right? What’s wrong now? Come back here you-” he held his tongue and witnessed Rita fly away faster than a bird.
A week later, the court hearing began and ended. Jake observed the blinding fury with which Stan interacted with his lawyer. “How could you as a woman?” And “How is it that you could defend a monster like him?” And “Might as well you marry that insensitive son of a bitch!” And “I’ll make sure you end up a big fat black widow!”

The outburst was deafening and nothing like Jake has seen before. Stan’s eyes widened, his face reddened and his limbs shivered. Rita let it all hide under the rug until the jury was out, defending Jake innocent and due to the personal circumstances, the old lady killed herself. 

One branch of this success was celebrated by Jake, while the second one was a trade off for fame, name and endless popularity or the lack thereof. 

The night following the case, Jake met Rita upon her request. “How can I help Rita? Don’t worry about the payments. They’ve been made and I’ve added 30% as a variable fee. 

Rita was drowned in gloom as Jake could sense. She was fumbling in her purse as she spoke. “You think you’ve won, haven’t you?” She pulled out the book she took from Jake’s house. “Yes, I still don’t care about the sorry world that has served to pull my leg every time I climb. But I care about my world.” She shoved the picture from the book on his face. 

“This was my world, you god-forsaken son of a bitch!”

It took seconds for Jake to switch to an ’actor’ mode. “Rita, it was all a mistake. I swear I’ve left it all behind. I’ve realised that the more crime I do, the more I’ll end up doing. Believe me, the housekeeper was just there at a wrong time. She wasn’t supposed to come that day.”

A speeding white van came to a screeching halt at he mouth of the alley where they stood. A group of strong men abducted Jake and before he could realise what befell upon him, he was half way to hell. 

Rita stood there, welcoming the rain, cleansing her of her sins. With her arms outstretched, she peered through the falling tears of her angel at the sky. “I hope you know that mamma did this for you, baby girl.

The Hues of Death

The sunlight perforated through the large window that dominated the wall behind his plush leather chair. The humble wooden desk was the only thing in his room that did not comply with the decadence that he had inculcated in his lifestyle. It was not his house, anyway, he always thought, and gave in. A son of the mountains, he had survived the harshness of the savage beauty the mountains had to offer in the Alpine Europe. Facing minimal competition, Jimmy Kew had an easy way into the world until he stepped first in the warmer and a venal part of the globe – Gellet.
Air-conditioning was a must if he had to serve as the Branch Head of a major Multi-National bank, located in Gellet. How he ended up in India still throws him into a state of pondering. Pondering ceases when an illegitimate wealthy bastard comes across his way, to make use of Jimmy’s special services. Struggling to settle at an optimal room temperature, he nudged the Air conditioner every few minutes. However, today, he did not. The room was freezing – cold enough to enable a snow leopard feel comfortable. The only thing colder than the room was Jimmy himself. Dead.
In another part of the city, a real estate agent shut down his office, and examined his new possession in sheer privacy. In midst of the ruckus of the city that bore a population more than that of several countries, and away from the banal misappropriation of funds within the company, right now, he was in a state of zen. He admired wealth like many admired virtues, but he was shy to make a garish display of it. It was best for his profession to look modest. He wore a shabby black suit that fit him not, for it was borrowed from his cousin, starkly opposite in appearance. A face that the world related with humblest of raiment had today chosen an extra-ordinary selection, owing to the rules of the venue he had to attend. “Mr. Harman, you are looking stunning”, is what he heard all day, but he cared least to offer them an explanation to it. He knew that most of the people surrounding him were sycophants, who loved his money more than him. Of what use is money, if you can count it till the last penny? He quickly undressed his suit, unbuttoned his shirt and stared at the marvel that was now under his possession. He understood nothing of it, but he knew how much he paid for it. The overwhelming excitement that stirred a storm within made it harder for him to breathe. It must be the damned tie, he thought. His head started to get lighter, the more he kept his eyes open, so he decided to shut them down. Dizziness took charge. In a span of a few excruciating moments, he found himself lying on the floor of his office, with the shutters down, and the noise of the city drowning his feeble cries for help. This is why I never wear a tie.
Elsewhere in the outskirts of Gellet was someone who wore a suit by choice, and loved it to the skin. High heels that brought up her overall fashion quotient clacked across the hallway as she entered a house – no, a mansion, that lay its foundation on the pile of money stained by the blood and sweat of hundreds and thousands of honest men and women. Who’s fault is that if they consider this living anything but a competition for survival? It was her birthday, and the mansion was swarmed by dozens of men, decorating the walls and the floor and the ceiling and the pictures and the tapestries and the windows. The lady who led the decoration team briefed Mrs. Sharma of the idea that she is putting life into. Resha Sharma was pleased, or so her expression warranted. “You are sweating, Mrs. Sharma.”
“Oh, am I?” Surprised, she ached to reach for her napkin. At the acquisition of which, she ached to bring it up to her face and wipe the sweat off. At the completion of which, she ached to maintain her balance. At the failure of which, she ached to breathe. Succumbing to it, she ached to survive. Failure hit her like a truck. Dead.
“Three dead and counting, Mr. Freemont. Third one was found two days later, when his office shutter was forced open.”
“I hear you, Willy.” Svent Freemont had just returned from a long vacation that the Agency had forced on him. “You need to have a break or we might run a risk of being driven crazy.”
“I feel a little rusty with the practice, I admit. Would you be kind enough to brief me on the details of the deceased while we drive?”
Svent was filled in on the details. “What did you say the third one was doing in his office when he was found dead?”
“It appears that he was looking at a painting.”

They arrived at Mr. Harman’s office. “If not whatever that killed him, cholesterol would have grappled him down, sooner or later,” remarked Willy, finding comfort in blurting silly comments around Svent. Noticing Svent’s expression, Willy slid back into the usual discomfort.
“Why is the painting on the floor?” Freemont began his investigation with the employees that Mr. Harman had working there. The actual painting was cleared away by forensics as evidence.
“It is new, sir. I have never seen this painting before.” The others resounded the comment, and it satisfied Svent’s judgement that the painting was out of place, anyway. Rich, elegant, but out of place. It would rather be well-suited in a plush apartment or anything bigger.

At the mansion of Mrs. Sharma, the decoration was halted, and the mood swayed sharply from joy to despair.
“Where was Mrs. Sharma earlier today?” Willy led the investigation upon Freemont’s order.
A crying lady, her mother, responded, “She had taken off from her work today because it was her birthday.” Sobbing incessantly, the decoration lady picked up from there. “She had told me that she would not be home before lunch, as she had to attend an important event in the south of the city. However, she had dropped this from her purse today. Maybe this is where she had gone today.” The lady handed out a business card.
“Gellet Art Gallery. That is indeed in the south of the city. Thank you.”

Svent had formed an assumption, that would be confirmed only after learning about the death of the third person – Mr. Kew.
His body lay cold as ice on the chair, his face lying on the desk, screaming silently that he did not want to die.
“It is cold up here.”
“We did not touch anything in the room, except that we tried to bring Mr. Kew to life.” An employee at the bank responded. “And we failed,” he said, sinking his head into his chest.
“Was he in the office the entire day?” inquired Svent.
“He is hardly in the office. He is usually with clients or other business meetings.”
“Where was he earlier today?”
Mr. Kew’s secretary sped off to his desk, punched his nervous keys on the computer, fumbling to press the right ones, to open Mr. Kew’s appointment schedule. “It is blank.”
“How is Mr. Kew’s interest in paintings?”
“Oh, excessive. You’d fail to find a piece of wall in his apartment at Malabar Hills! It is covered with paintings – elegant ones at that.”
Svent smiled.

Svent and Willy headed towards the Gellet Art Gallery, and observed the dismantling of the exhibition that attracted the affluent parties from across the country for the 5-hour event.
The gate-keeper opened his eyes wide at the sight of men in suits and revolvers in their holsters. He ran off to alert the owner of the gallery – Mr. Eliah D’souza. Before the owner could be told about the guests, the detectives were at his door, widening the gate-keeper’s eyes further. Willy thought that his eyes might just pop out if he were to be shocked again.
“I am sorry to bring you some bad news, Mr. D’Souza,” uttered Svent as he approached his Eliah’s desk.
“Call me Eliah, please. And what might that news be?” Eliah gestured at the chairs, and the detectives took the seats. Eliah gestured the gate-keeper to find the door.
Willy pulled out three photographs, and placed them neatly under the owner’s nose. The owner studied the photos carefully.
“What about it?” Not a line or a crease on the aging face of the owner gave way for suspicion.
“Well, we are told that these people had visited the art exhibition early today. And, like you can see, they are lifeless. To cut to the chase, we are here to find out how you defend your innocence, Eliah.”
The assault was direct. Willy observed this to be one of the techniques how guilty criminals could be broken. But here, Svent was of the intention to smash the criminal.
“Defend my innocence?” Eliah laughed mockingly. “I own seven other galleries all across the country. I look after the dealings of millions in cash every single day. Do you know how taxing it gets, Mr. Freemont?”
Silence prevailed. Willy felt the weight from under, now rising on their back.
“I guessed not. If you believe that I am going to spare my time to defend myself over what appears to be a mere co-incidence, then you are mistaken, my sirs.”
“I understand,” Svent remarked, absolutely unsatisfied by the performance. “If you think that we are going to spare our time to dig the culprit out, then apparently, you are are not.” The detectives stood up, greeted superficially.
“One last thing, Eliah. We’d like to meet the artist whose paintings the victims were looking for, please.”
Eliah pulled up a card from his drawer, and allowed the detectives to take leave. “A junior artist, but a highly revolutionary one at that. His paintings are attempting to bring the unethically rich and the wealthy to their knees. Like the Stanleys and the Bradleys and also the McKennys. He was a goddamn minister, who was painted in red. It is marvellous, but he is a junior, still unsure of his footing. He seems to have taken a much bolder move, this time. Go fetch him.”
Willy moved ahead, cursing under his breath, only to find that Svent had taken a smaller pace. Svent was in the gallery, exchanging serious gestures with the gate-keeper, whose eyes seemed to have gotten smaller, and friendlier. Nodding their heads an inch, they moved away.
Svent responded to the curious eyes of Willy that were not able to form the question, with mere smirk.
“The artist goes by the name of Bastian LeMac,” said Willy, with anxiety in his voice. “But, he made a casual welcome to us.”
“Hmm,” responded Svent with a natural coolness, unaffected by the tidings.
“Sir, shall we not question him?”
“What for?”
“He could be the one who killed the victims!” Willy was flabbergasted, thinking that Svent was still in his holiday mood.
“The forensics had called,” Svent replied dispassionately. “They have assigned the cause of the murder to a substance that starts with a letter E. I cared not to remember the fashionable names these scientists give them. Upon a very small research, I found out that this substance is light, almost transparent, and has characteristics of oil.”
“Which could be applied on the paintings, to mimic the features of the oil!”
“Yes, my dear Willy. Now you tell me. Why would a junior artist who is struggling for earning his living want to risk his career and his life, while being at a loss to an ability to escape?”
Willy grunted under his breath. Why does this have to be so complicated sometimes? “Who is it, then? The gate-keeper? The owner? An extra-ordinarily co-incidental suicides?”
Svent smiled. “What is it exactly that you write in your notes? Come, let us go.”

At the art gallery, surrounded by the police, Eliah D’Souza had nowhere to go. His confident and charming appearance had allowed him to go through the scanner undetected once he thought, but he was wrong as pineapple on pizza.
“But sir, how?” Willy at a loss of idea. Although there were as few as these many possible culprits, Willy missed it. “Did the gate-keeper tell you something that I don’t know?”
“The gate-keeper made sure that Eliah was not to leave the gallery. What did Eliah respond when we asked for the painter whose paintings the victims were looking for?”
“The name of the artist.”
“Exactly! If he deals in millions like he said today, and that also across the entire country, how would he readily know which person was looking for which paintings in particular?”
Wide-eyed Willy remarked it as genius. “He had not taken even a minute to ponder over the name. Eliah plotted against the artist! But why?”
“Not our job to find out, I suppose. But I believe that Eliah might be the next rich that Bastian would have thrashed under his paintings.”