Tag Archives: stories

Of Things Left Unsaid

I looked at him, my eyes pricking with heavy tears. A blinding headache was slowly making it’s way, and I sat there with throbbing temples and an almost breaking heart.

“You- you’ll leave?” I spoke slowly, holding on to the slightest hope that he might just laugh it off and say that he’d been kidding.

He shrugged and looked at me.

“I have to,” he muttered.

“But-,” I shouted. He waited for me to say something but suddenly, I could find no words to fill in where I left.

“Say something?” he pleaded. “Please, anything. But just don’t sit silently.”

I nodded. Pushing myself up from the bench, I stood facing the withering autumn forest and the sunset that slowly approached. With every shade of orange that turned darker, I broke a little more inside, because time was flying by.

“I told you,” I whispered. “I told you not to apply for that freaking program because heck, I knew you’d get through. You’re a bloody genius! I knew you’d ace the exams and then you’d have to go! That is why I told you not to apply for it!”

“But,” he interrupted, “you had mentioned some other reason! You told me not to apply because you wanted us to apply for some other program!”

“I lied!” I spoke. “I lied. Would it have stopped you from applying had I said I didn’t want you to leave? That I was afraid of losing you? That I just can’t imagine a day without you? And that would have stopped you? No! We’re grown ups now! We’ve to take decisions for our own lives! And no, no matter how great a reason I’d have given you, you’d have left anyways! You do that! You leave!”

Falling back on the bench, I buried my face in my hands and cried. Shoulders heaving, my hair plastered against my cheeks in a mess of sweat and dirt, I cried because I knew he was leaving and that he’d never return back. What hurt even more was he didn’t even try to console. He had always been there to hold me when I cried. But today, even when he sat only inches away from me, somehow it seemed like he was so far away. Like he was slowly moving away from me.

“You’re being too immature,” he retorted.

I shook my head and between brimming tears, I laughed.

“See, I knew you’d say this!” I said, looking up at him and smiling. “There was a time when you were the immature one! And you’d come running to me for advice! And now, here you are, leaving in a couple of hours and I’m suddenly the immature one?”

Taking a deep breath, I continued.

“Yes, you’re probably thinking now as to why I’m acting like this. Things will be totally fine, won’t they? There’s phones and internet and Skype. Heck, what could even go wrong? But you don’t know my stories! I’ve been through a whole lot of situations like this! People change. They change. Time and place changes them. I know! I’ve changed. My old friends say so. And you’ll change too. I don’t want that. I don’t want you to leave.”

“But we’ll be fine!” he said.

“How?” I cried. “What about the Sundays? What about our plans? What about the parties? I can’t imagine a single one of them without you! But does it even matter to you? No! Because you’re going to a new place! There you’ll meet newer people, may be a few who are better than me. You’ll forget. And then one day, we’ll meet somewhere and there’ll be nothing to say! And no, no matter how many times you say me that is not going to happen with us, I’ll not believe you.”

The rest of the things were a blur. All I remember was him standing up and muttering a goodbye while I got into my car and cried. He left. He never called me once. And I never did too. It was surprising because never had I thought I’d get over him so quickly. It felt strange. It felt bad. But somewhere, it felt better.

Then one day, we met again. He had come back to the town during his vacations and we ran into each other at the ice cream parlour.

“Hey,” he greeted me.

“Hi,” I smiled back.

Then, both of us turned away and placed our orders.

“How have you been?” he asked.

“I’ve been great,” I replied. I lied again. Somehow, even though I had convinced myself that I had gotten over losing my best friend, it hurt ten times more, standing in front of him, seeing him all changed.

“And you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he muttered. “I’ve changed.”

“We all do,” I smiled. “When are you leaving? I thought if you’re in town for the next couple of days, we could may be hang out?”

“I’m not going back,” he said.

“But it’s only been three months!”

“I’m not going back.”

“Why?”

“Because, I don’t want to. Yes, we’re grown ups, but I don’t want to go anywhere without you. There’ll always be better chances in life. But this place, you people, you’re worth every missed chance. I’m back. I’m back for you,” he said. “And no, there’s never going to be a moment when we meet somewhere and have nothing to say.”

Over melted scoops of butterscotch ice cream and heartbreaks, we talked like there’s never going to be a tomorrow.

Of Late Night Talks (III)

“Your life is pretty interesting enough,” he muttered. “You can write about that. I’d read it.”

I gave him a small, half-hearted smile.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write about my life; pen down the little happenings and the hundred people I come across everyday and write about my dreams and hopes. I can’t do that. It’s too-” I paused, searching for the right adjective. “Too difficult. The story will start to sound too mechanical. There’ll be no soul to it.”

“I don’t think I understand that. My bad I’m not a writer,” he said.

“Where do I start, in case I ever decide to write about my life? The problem is, there’s so much I could write about and yet, it feels so less! What do I write about? Of how I spend nights crying, wishing I weren’t alone? Of how I look at every person, trying to understand them only to have them push me away because they love their facades? I don’t go to parties. I don’t drink. I don’t have a huge social circle. You’d find me on weekends, curled up in my bed, stating at the ceiling fan and thinking nothing. What do I write about? That? That sometimes I feel like doing nothing? That sometimes I just want to sit on the edge of a cliff and spend my entire life there? That sometimes, I feel so empty it almost kills me? Will people read any of it?”

“I’ll tell you what will make then read it,” he said and turned to me. “Somewhere between the lines, down the few hundred pages, they’ll find a person like them.”

“No! We’re all so very different!” I cried almost immediately, but then, I paused again.

He sighed and leaned back. “I’ve gone through all that too, everything that you mentioned. Let’s accept it, each one of us is a little scared, a little confused and a little sad. We cry. We laugh. We fall. We are hopeless. We stand up. We live. We die. We are little miracles. Our lives can be wonderful. Why do you think nobody would be interested in reading about your life and seeing how much it resonates with theirs?! You should write your story. I’d read it.”

“Where do I start?”

“It’s your story.”

“I can’t,” I said and stood up. “My story seems so small, so insignificant than the stories of people I come across everyday.”

“They feel the same too, that your story could be so moving than theirs. But you know what, that is probably what makes each one of our stories so magical. In the midst of our busy lives, starting from waking up and travelling in crammed buses to returning late and spending sleepless nights, there hides this one beautiful story, struggling to be told. And yet, no one gives it a chance.”

Somewhere, I knew, he had struck a chord. The corners of my lips fell into a frown and my breath hitched.

“So, let’s start this another way,” he said and stood up. “What’s your story?”

“Average girl. Vibrant dreams. Too short a life. Confused. Writes not because she has a lot of ideas, but because it keeps her sane. Likes stormy days and moonless nights. As hopeless as others when it is dark. Finds solace in the dawn. Hopes to get somewhere in life. And I don’t know, that’s it. What’s yours?”

“Running scared. Running away from something I’ve no clue about, but I know one day when it catches up, it’ll shatter me. Lives happy days with a lingering doubt that it is the calm before the storm. Is hopeless most of the time. Doesn’t wish or dream much because he doesn’t believe in himself. Hopes to get somewhere in life too. Clueless most of the time. Likes to hear people. Likes to travel because somehow he feels that it gives him a chance to start anew. And yes, though there’s more to it, that’s all I can think of right now.”

“I’d read your story,” I replied.

“I’d read yours too,” he said again. “And you know why you’d read my story and I’d read yours? Because though are stories seem simple, they are beautiful in their own stand. We know our struggles. We know how we get through each day. Why wouldn’t someone like to know more about that? It is the simplicity of our stories that makes it so beautiful and so unique.”

The night turned a shade lighter.

Of Meanings

Sometimes, I like to stare into the horizon. Alone. Sitting in the crisp mid-August air of one of the buzzing metro cities, I sit in silence, staring at the zoning headlights and the one, solitary, constant streetlight right outside my window. There’s no meaning to it. It’s like staring at a blank piece of canvas for long, only this scene right in front is filled with myriad colours.

Cars line the sidewalk. A few happy teenagers walk alongside, laughing and singing to themselves. The evening is slowly drawing in and yet, the sky is empty. Devoid of stars. But it’s no genius prediction that they’ll soon be there. Twinkling and zoning out into the oblivion. It takes a little bit more darkness to see them in full light.

The picture in front of me is meaningless. It’s like a page ripped apart from the perfect storybook and it flutters with the wind, falling in the hands of a lonely stranger or two, causing them to stare at it awhile longer, just to see if it resonates with their lives.

It resonates with mine. It feels empty. The picture feels empty, though there are people moving and cars honking and lights speeding. There’s a wonderful beginning and a glorious end but somehow, I’m stuck in a scene which has no meaning. Nothing. But somehow, it captures me. It fascinates me. I’m perfectly happy with being stuck in the same scene for long. I’m not waiting for a shattering climax or a surprising breakthrough. I find meaning in the meaningless scene. I find everything and yet nothing.

So, I lean out of my window and watch. The people walking below the street don’t know what tomorrow holds. Yet, they want to wake up to that newer dawn, believing their lives will be better. The streetlights flicker and stay and stay and flicker, a silent witness to the everyday world. They are the much needed light for that one lost traveller who is likely to stop by right below and peer at his phone and call his family. People may think that they don’t need the weird, old lamppost there, but they do need the light. And though nights have been synonymous with darkness, surprisingly I see every picture ten times clearer. Sometimes the night hides the reality and paints a distorted illusion. But sometimes, it shows the world in all it‘s glinting, real colours. To me, the day hides more demons than the dusk.

The scene is slowly starting to metamorphose into a meaningful picture. Or may be, I’m looking at it from a different set of eyes. It doesn’t matter. I feel like I could’ve paused and stayed in this scene for even longer even if it was devoid of meaning. Surprisingly the hunt for a meaning doesn’t haunt me anymore. For sometimes, I’ve realized, that every thing in life needn’t have a meaning. Every thing in our lives doesn’t need to be making sense. All we’ve got to do sometimes, is believe, that someday it’s all going to fall back in place. Someday, when we are miles ahead, having passed that meaningless phase, we’re going to look back and it’ll perfectly make sense.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s beauty is not lost. We don’t need to find the meaning, sometimes.

Of Tomorrows And Todays And Golden Yesterdays

“I’ll be gone,” I tell him. “In less than a month or two, I’ll be packing my stuff and leaving.”

I watch a slow frown draw itself on his face as he hears me intently. His eyes blink slowly and from the heaps of books spread out in front of him, he looks up and meets my gaze.

“You’ll leave forever?” he asks.

Shrugging, I flip a page of the ruled notebook that lies in front of me and put my pen there. Closing it, I sit back on the chair and sigh.

“Not really,” I tell myself that it is the truth, but deep inside, something hurts. “I mean I’ll return twice or maybe thrice in a year. It’s not like I’m leaving forever.”

He nods his head carefully and looks down at the fluttering pages in front of him.

“Things are happening so fast!” I exclaim. “I remember waking up to August afternoons and cribbing. I wanted to leave sooner. The boredom was killing me. Each day, I’d put my books aside and tell myself that there’s still so much time! But look, it’s nearing April already! It seems like it was just yesterday when I was waking up to late mornings, lazily sipping on a mug of coffee and whiling away my day.”

His eyes are focused on the page but he nods slightly.

“Only four years to this date, you’d be thinking about this too. You’ll be done with your school and preparing for college already.”

“Right, four years,” he mumbles. “It’s all happening too quickly.”

I nod in agreement.

Leaning further back into my chair, I think of the glorious days of the year I had spent with my family. Each night, we’d sit at the dining table and hear Mom and Dad’s events in the office. Each morning, we’d wake up amidst hesitation and grogginess, wishing the darn alarm would let us sleep for five long minutes only. Each afternoon, we’d make ourselves steaming bowls of noodles and settle in front of the TV to watch a movie.

But all that is about to change. In a few months, I’ll be far away from this home. And it filled me with utter sorrow.

“And after college, you’ll return back?” he asks.

I shake my head slowly.

“It scares me,” I tell him. “After this, home is a far away thing. You have to stand up on your own, get yourself a job, live on your own, cook your food, wash your clothes. From this point on, I’ll be so far away.”

“It sure is happening too quickly,” he remarks.

“Every tomorrow that dawns, I want to go back. I really want the clock to stop. I want time to pause. Right now, it’s running too fast and I have yet to slowly lose myself in every moment. I want to touch everything and imprint its every crevice in my brain. I want to smell that musk of the attic and trap the scents in my brain. I want to make lasting memories so that I won’t miss all this so much.”

“I’ll miss you,” he says.

My lips quiver. My eyes feel heavy. And my heart holds a profound pain.

In that one moment that is weighing me down, I can only think of a dialogue from a favourite show of mine:

It is the oldest story in the world. One day you’re seventeen and planning for someday, and then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today and that someday is yesterday and this is your life.”(One Tree Hill)

Silently, wiping the slight trail of a tear that had managed to escape, I turn around and look down at my books again.

“It’s late. Let’s study,” I say.

“One last question though,” my brother interrupts. “Is it really happening so quickly?”

I wish I could tell him otherwise.

Of Sad, Little Tales Of Sorrow

She stared at the picture for long. Her eyes narrowed as she took in the curves and lines and strokes. Her head tilted from the right to the other, taking in the picture from every angle. Yet, something was amiss.

In front of her eyes stood a work from fifteen years of experience. Around her, in rows that ran to infinity, hung every picture that she had taken over the years. They sang tall tales of glory and of raw beauty. Anyone who had stepped into the cozy little, dark and damp room had never failed to remark how peaceful the place felt like. They told it felt like falling down a black hole filled with wonders.

Colours – bright and dark; people – so innocent and beautiful – the sheets of paper felt like a wonderland of memories. The people trapped in the pictures, spoke for themselves.

Each night, she would sit in the broken, wooden chair and under the light of the red fluorescent bulb, she’d watch her pictures come alive.

Yet, today, she frowned.

It was a bad picture.

Her brows furrowed and she paced.

Beside the tall camera that rested upon the mahogany table, there lay a crumpled paper. Amidst a forest of majestic trees, stood a lonely girl. Her cheeks were sunken. Her eyes were grey. In between her thin lips, slept the lazy butt of a lit cigarette. Perhaps it was the smoke or the haze, but her hair lacked colour. The mascara was smeared. The sick, old, brown hat with its tattered ends clung helplessly to her hair.

Amidst a swirl of vibrant colours, she stood – without a trace of red or blue or gold. It seemed as if the artist had left the painting there. It was incomplete, indeed.

She walked to the far end of the room, ducking several rows of drying photographs and stood in front of the mirror. Her hand shot up and traced against the curves of her cheek. They moved down the bulge of her lips. And she gasped in horror.

Turning around, she didn’t bother to duck this time. With every step, she ripped every photo from its place. Carefully, with hesitant steps, she walked to the table and lifted the paper up. In horror, she cried.

Looking around, she saw those million beautiful pictures and then stared at the ugly one she held in her hand. It was not the fault of the sun who cast an unnecessary glare; neither was it the fault of the specks of dust at the corners of the lens. Now she knew why. She was the ugly one. She was the one who made the picture look rather incomplete. Because though she captured justifying beauty through her lens, deep inside her, she was nothing, but a void.

And like the million times before, with the picture clutched firmly in her hand, she walked to the very corner where rested a little tank of water.

And laughing and cheering in merry, she shoved the photograph into it.

As the colours faded away and mingled with the clear water, under the faint red light of the room, she saw her reflection down under.

Hers was never a beautiful picture.

Of Twisted, Random, Crazy Tales

During Christmas nights, when the moon was high up in the sky, she and her children would sit near the window above the fireplace, their noses pressed against the mullioned windows, waiting for Santa and his reindeer to fly through the dark winter sky. Halfway through the freezing night, their mother would find them fast asleep on their beaten leather couch, their lips curled into smiles and dreams fleeting in their little hearts.

The mornings that followed Christmas nights, they’d sigh and grumble for having fallen asleep so fast. Perhaps, Santa visited them then, they’d reason. Their mother would be standing near the corner, listening to their every talk, feeling pangs of burning pain running down her heart when she revelled in their infinite hopes. Her kids never had any gifts. They didn’t have proper mittens and sweaters. They never had pies for Christmas desserts. Yet, they would never blame Santa. They would never question his existence. Every Christmas they went by, they would take the blame on themselves.

“Santa left perhaps, when we blinked!” and “Santa didn’t visit us perhaps, because we haven’t been so good this year!” They would tell each other. Dreams never died in their eyes. Hopes lit up in them with each passing day.

“Ma,” they happened to ask one night. “Have you ever seen Santa Claus?”

What could their mother say? Her heart broke in sorrow. How could she tell her kids that she didn’t know if Santa did exist! How could she tell them that the fairytale they look forward is a mere illusion! How could she tell them the things that could only bring pain?

“Yes,” she lied.

And every Christmas after that, she watched them wait.

Until one Christmas night, when they had no roof over their head and starved. The night was vast. Snowflakes covered them in its snares. To the occasional howl of a street dog, they slept. Santa was forgotten that night. When hunger scratched their poor bellies and tears dried against their cheeks, suddenly the fairytale they had dreamed of for so long, metamorphosed into a painful reality. They realized, with a heavy heart, that the fairytale was gone. The freezing winds, the lonely streets, the hungry groans – how did they even dare to think that their life was going to be a fairytale?

“Ma,” they asked again. “Does Santa exist?”

“Yes,” their mother lied.

They slept without any food. They slept to racking shivers and mumbles. They slept without waiting for Santa. In the back of their minds, they knew they wouldn’t wake up again for another Christmas.

When the morning arrived, they found themselves in a warm house, next to the fireplace. Lavish breakfast awaited them. Without a bother, they ate and cried in joy.

Santa was remembered again.

“See! Santa gave us this, Ma,” they cried in giddy happiness.

Their mother nodded in agreement.

“Ma, Santa does exist, right?” they asked for the third time again.

“Yes,” she said. Only this time, she didn’t lie.

Of Returning Home

The train jerks to a halt, the metal wheels screeching against the rails, momentarily piercing through the drone of noises in the station. Picking up my duffel bag and grabbing the door handle to steady myself, I stare out at the maddening crowd of people all around.

Hawkers and taxi drivers and stationmasters and masses of men – it surprises me as to how the ground doesn’t crumble under their weight.

Stepping out of the train into the light of a scorching autumn sun, I take a moment to look around and breathe in the air. A smell if roasted peanuts coupled with a faint aroma of lemon oil teases the breeze.

Somewhere a hawker screams at the stray dogs that are running away with s piece of his bread. To my right, a coolie picks up the luggage of an old Lady, wincing under the weight of the blue suitcases. He complains and asks her to pay more as he starts walking, dragging the other bag behind him. Somewhere far away, a little boy sells newspapers, shrieking wildly, running after every person, hoping they’d buy a copy.

Silence is evasive as a xerox machine next to a shop, whirs and clicks, throwing sheets of paper all around. The owner shouts at the boy who is serving customers at the counter and he immediately comes to the rescue. Together, they slam the metal top to shut the machine.

Heels click against the gravel pavement. A little boy who us wearing a pair of oversized bunny slippers, jumps on every drying puddle, clapping his hands in excitement.

It is an unusually noisy Sunday.

But amidst all this, I find a deep sense of oblivion.

Nobody seems bothered. Everyone walks their own wat, occasionally stopping by to take a look here and there. Children hold on to their mothers, tight, while the men load the luggage into the train. Some people are leaving while some are returning back from where they had arrived.

As the evening air quietly blows, I can’t help but spread my arms and take a deep breath. It smells of home.

As if on cue, a frail man dressed in a pair of white pants and a grey shirt, approaches me.

“Madam ji,” he says. “Are you looking for a taxi?”

A slight gasp of surprise leaves my mouth as I withdraw my hands and shove them into the pockets of my overcoat.

“Why,yes!” I reply him after some time.

“Where to?” he asks but doesn’t wait for a reply. Instead, he picks up my bag and motions me to follow him.

“I’ve parked my taxi just there,” he talks as he manoeuvres around the people who’ve fallen asleep on the platform.

As we walk past the swirling rush of people, hearing a plethora of noises zooming into a drone, I can’t help but feel a strange peace within me. The noises don’t affect me.

With a slight spring in my steps, I walk out of the station into the slightly thick air of the parking lot. Every second fills my heart with profound happiness.

I watch him put my bags at the back of the car. Before he gets inside the taxi, he motions me to take the backseat.

Pulling open the door, I glance back at the station again. It seems as if it is moving away from me with each passing second.

Soon, I tell myself, I’ll be home. The little daisies in the garden will greet me and a bowl of corn soup will be waiting at the table.

Mom will be sitting in the living room, sipping in her usual cup of tea and flipping through the pages of some random magazine. Outside, on the street, my brother will be playing with his friends, crying in joy with the other children. And Dad will be glued to the TV screen, watching the latest political debate. They will be waiting for me. They will be calling to each other and sneaking glances at the clock, waiting for me to ring the bell. And when I will, they will rush to the door and hug me like there will be no tomorrow.

“Madam ji,” the driver’s gruff voice breaks me from my train of thought. “Where to?”

Slipping into the backseat and peeling down the windows, I feel the same air brush against my face again.

“Home,” I say and he smiles.

Of Friends

He never understood why she had to look perfect. He never understood why she had to spend hours in the mall, shuffling through a thousand dresses. He never understood why she had spend so much time gazing at the rearview mirror of his car, trying to fix every strand of her hair. He never understood the girl that she became after stepping out of his car and entering the school premises. He never understood why she’d scurry off in another direction and leave him alone.

But the day he walked into the cafeteria and found her sitting amidst the bunch of popular kids in their grade, he understood why. He understood that she no longer wanted to be his friend. So, he stayed away.

Each day, he would see her walk past him, chattering merrily with her new friends. He would see her flashing smiles and laughing endlessly with them. But he could tell, those smiles were not hers. During lunch breaks, he would see her skip her meals along with the dozen other girls in their group. Every day after school, he would see her at the bleachers, cheering for some boy he didn’t know she knew.

He wanted to tell her to stop being the person she was not. He wanted to tell her that she looked all the more beautiful without the make-up. He wanted to tell her those people were not real – their façades his a hundred truths. Their lives were not so perfect. The people they were were not the real them. He knew because he had been there.

But he kept quiet because clearly, she didn’t want to hear him.

One autumn evening, however, he met her on the street. Her hair was messy and her eyes gleamed. As they walked past each other, she held him back. Words never left her throat. Instead, she broke down next to him.

Amidst busy people and muffled voices, he held her as she cried. She spoke things which made no sense. Yet, he listened. Her shoulders fell and she sobbed against him.

The lights above then rippled below their feet on the slippery, gravel road, breaking into a million rays.

“Why?” she asked, her gaze burning into his. “I listened to them. I was there when they cried. But why was there no one when I needed them to be?”

How he wished he could tell her all the things he wanted to, ever since the day she left him! How he wished he could tell her about her friends’ sheltered lives! How he wished he could tell her all this and more without causing her more pain!

“You,” she continued in a broken voice, “are the only person who has always stayed by my side. But now, I’ve lost you, I guess. I was so stupid to leave you for them!”

He smiled, but inside, he was breaking.

“Everything about them is like a carefully scripted play,” she complained. “I don’t want to be them. I’m just happy being whoever I am.”

“They are nice people,” he said. “It’s just that, at times, they are misunderstood.”

Shock spread across her features.

“I know because once upon a time, I was one of them,” he spoke carefully. “I went from one party to another and drank till dawn. I laughed to jokes which were so bad. I did all that because I wanted to fit in in their group. The popular group. But half way down, I realized that there’s no such thing as that. I didn’t need to be in that group just to be popular. I could be popular in my own league!”

Amidst the bright city lights and increasing unrest, they sat in silence, thinking of things which made no sense.

“It’s getting late,” he spoke, first.

She nodded and stood up and began to walk.

A pang of sorrow ran through him. How he wanted his old friend back! He waited for her to turn around, but she never did. So, he turned and walked his way.

Only, she called him back.

“Did I really lose you?” she asked.

He didn’t know how to answer that one. So, he kept his back to her.

“Can we go back to being the friends we were? Will you forgive me this time, please?” she said.

He turned around and saw her smile.

“That’s what friends are for, after all,” he smiled too.

Of Grandma’s Stories

I bet no storyteller can beat the way grandparents tell stories to their grandkids. Stories of lions and tigers, of brave kings and beautiful queens, of hardworking farmers and intelligent women – their stories have a different charm.

Now, I remember that during summers, when there’d be no classes, Mom would send us off to our grandma’s house.

When dinner would be over and Grandma would be done with her daily chores, she’d come into our room and tell us a story.

I used to be a big fan of ghost stories. So, when Grandma would slip under the covers with us and ask us which story we’d like to hear, I’d always beg her to tell us a ghost story. My younger cousins would nod their heads gladly, agreeing to my decision because I was the eldest among the bunch.

Grandma would turn off the lights and we’d snicker and scoot closer under the blanket, grabbing each other’s shirt, afraid that some mischievous ghost would hear us and drag us to hell!

I remember those hushed whispers and scared whimpers of my younger cousins. At times, they’d pull the blanket a little tighter around themselves or look around the room, as if looking out for the hidden ghosts.

Squeezed in the middle, amongst her grandkids, she’d slowly pat our heads or run a hand through our hair while beginning the story. When she’d speak in that cracked voice of hers, everything would fall silent. The creaking of the old fan would die down, the swaying of the coconut trees outside would come to a standstill and the stray dogs on the street would stop barking – as if to hear the story she had to stay.

Be it cold Monday nights or freezing Tuesday evenings, Grandma always had the same ghost story to tell us. Strangely, we never complained.

She used to tell us about a ghost who had a strange craving for sweets! He’d visit every house after midnight, dragging away their trunks from under the bed and search for sweets. At times, he’d walk into the kitchen and make a lot of noises. Utensils would fall down from the shelves, spoons would fly around the room and slow wails would be heard all around. It would petrify the people of the town. If only they’d known that the poor ghost only wanted some sweets.

By this time, no matter how many times we’d have heard the story, we’d huddle closer next to Grandma and wait with bated breaths, our hearts racing rapidly.

Then one day, Grandma would continue in a feeble voice, trying to add a tone of dramatic stance, the ghost’s friend who lived on the top most branch of a banyan tree, would tell his friend that people kept sweets in a refrigerator!

The poor ghost would have never heard about a refrigerator!

‘How does it look?’ he would ask.

‘It’s big and rectangular!’ his friend would tell him. ‘It makes a weird noise at times.’

With a firm determination to steal sweets from the refrigerator, the ghost would walk into a house the next night. He would run straight into the kitchen and look desperately for the so-called refrigerator.

Little Tom who would be staying there would see the ghost and ask him what he is up to. To which, the ghost would tell him the truth. Now, Tom would be kind kid and he would open the refrigerator and give the ghosts a few sweets. The ghost would be too happy and would thank the kid.

And then, he would never return.

And by this time, all my younger cousins would be silently snoring. Only, I’d be wide awake and grumble.

‘You tell the same story every night!’ I would complain.

But by then, Grandma would have dozed off too. And after twisting and turning for some time, wondering why the ghost never returned, I would fall asleep as well.

To this day, I never understood why Grandma kept telling us the same story over and over again. Though I know now that ghosts do not eat sweets, nor do they live up banyan trees and have friends, Grandma’s story continues to haunt me. I find myself thinking of how the ghost looked and why little Tom wasn’t scared on seeing the ghost.

Grandma had simple stories up her sleeves. But those stories were the ones I grew up with. And no matter how stupid they sound, I find myself telling the same story when a bunch of kids ask me to.

And on sleepless nights, when the moon would be high up in the sky and the street dogs would go on a rampage and a slow wind would blow outside, I would think of the same story and fall asleep.

Of Not-Yous

…So one fine night, I asked her something.

“Have you ever had an instance in your life that has changed you?” I said.

“No,” she replied.

“Anything interesting or inspiring?” I pressed.

“No,” she said again.

“Something?” I asked.

She kept quiet. Her eyes wandered momentarily, staring into the far horizon. The evening sunset gleamed in her eyes.

“Interesting,” she mumbled. “My life has been way too interesting. I have been broken to pieces and have managed to glue it all together.”

Her reply surprised me. For all these years I had known her, she had never been like this – so lost. She had always been the bubbly teenager who knew what to speak and when; how to dress right and for what; how to live life and for whom. She was this tiny quantum of energy and never before had I heard her so … defeated.

“You don’t sound like you,” I told her.

“Wow, that’s new,” she said. “Why?”

I shrugged.

“It’s just that deep, dark, sad has never been you,” I said.

She sighed. A ghost of a smile flickered on her face. A sad smile.

“If only someone asked,” she said in a low whisper. I heard her, though.