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​I dont want to be your published story

I dont want to be your published story

I want to be your first draft
Raw and spontaneous

Flushed with emotions

Haphazardly written 

Crude and Impulsive 

Full of typos and errors

When the backspace is useless

And the thought is fresh

Your fingers are racing

The curse words are rasping

The audience has no role

Savage expression is the goal
You are shedding honesty

About an untold history

I want to be that draft.

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Crime, Fiction

The Millionaire’s Gift

He was neither handsome nor young, in his mid fifties and wore a pair of frame-less glasses with golden temples. He read a lot and always had a look on his face as if he’s solving a calculus equation or probably calculating the density of Saturn rings. He was a mathematical mess.

Yuvavir Rana was a chairperson of a real estate giant called the Helium corp. He was also the promoter and stakeholder of Citron plaza hotel, a leading business hotel in Gurgaon. He was among the top 50 people in the HNI list.

Sometimes he closed his eyes in a deep thought process. Maybe that was his idea of meditation. He barely slept. His only break was when he pitched those overburdened shoulders in the backrest of an old fashioned brown leather chair.

He always suited up in greys and blacks and wore shoes with matching socks. He had loads of ties but never wore them. But he loved brooches. He pinned up a different one every day. Sometimes it was a dolphin, or a sun, or a deer. His favourite was the golden Saturn which was gifted by his wife, Kavya on his 54th birthday.

Kavya, a renowned surgeon was in her late 40s, was a delicately gorgeous woman. She mostly wore pastel coloured tunic dresses and suede heels. Her graceful walk and soothing smile were her most pleasing features. She was soft spoken and a confident lady.

They lived in a 9 bedroom villa at the Sirius road. They had a pet beagle, Uno who she was deeply fond of. He was her best friend and sole companion when Yuvavir was away for business. They never had kids as they had decided in their early 30s. But they had an interesting relationship. They respected each other’s work, time and space. They went out of dinner once in every fortnight. It was the only time when they caught up with each other. Over the years it had grown into a norm and a rather mechanical in nature. As much as it suited Yuvavir due to his growing business commitments, Kavya had begun to feel a void. She missed the yester years when they would be traveling and seeking different adventures. They would attend music festivals and ball games, or a wine tasting or horse race. Although her work kept her occupied but the vigour was lacking.

This November was going to be their 30th marriage anniversary. Kavya wanted this event to be special. She hoped this would boost the missing spark between them. It was 2 weeks to the day.

I worked closely with Mrs Rana who gave directions on the tiniest of the detailing. She was personally involved in most of the things, be it guest list, the catering, selecting the menu, the decor, the flowers and even the linen. She was really looking forward to this party.

Today, when she took Uno out for running, he was acting odd. He wouldn’t fetch the ball and seemed dull. She had an urgent surgery this morning so she requested Yuvavir if he would take Uno for a check up. He said he’ll take care of it. She thanked him. They exchanged a customary peck and she left for the hospital.

As she left, Yuvavir picked his phone, dialled a number and said, “You can come around 12 noon.”

As I entered the villa, I saw Uno coiled up miserably in a corner. I went to pet him but his response was disapproving as if asking me to mind my own business. I wasn’t a stranger to this villa or Uno. Not to mention my visits would take place mostly when Mrs Rana wasn’t around.

The couple had hired me a year back to manage their ‘personal schedules.’ My qualification was being 23 year old. That was enough. The old man would sometimes shag with me and I only had to pretend to like it. In return I had a job with a decent pay that helped me sustain in the big-ticket city and afford my college tuition.

“You have a special task today.” he said buttoning back his shirt.

“What is it?” I asked as I gathered my dress.

“Relax, I have to take that dog for a check up. I need you to come along.” He said tying his shoe laces

“Sure Sir. I will call the driver.” I got off the bed.

“Not required. I will drive.” He put his blazer on, finished his orange juice and left the room.

I quickly fixed my hair and makeup and went downstairs. Uno was seated in the backseat of the range rover.

He drove outside the society and within 5 minutes we were on NH 48A. Those were long wide roads with greenery on both sides. He looked back and saw Uno who gazed outside the window with wonder.

Mr Rana, slid down the windows deliberately as if wanting him to escape. As soon as the windows went down, Uno jumped out of the car.

“Uno! He has escaped sir!” I said alarmingly.

He didn’t reply, only coughed a little.

He stopped the car and adjusted the rear view mirror to spot Uno a few meters behind the car.

In a split second he set the vehicle in reverse and there was a squealing sound. He turned off the engine. It was eerily silent on that wide road occasionally filled by the swishing of fast cars passing by.

“Well, we needed an anniversary present anyway!” He smirked without looking at me.

I was in aghast and sat frozen on the seat.

He stepped out and brought back Uno’s collar belt. Wiped off the blood with a paper napkin, and handed it to me. “Get this gift wrapped and bring it to the house tonight. On what happened to Uno, he escaped from the moving car. Okay?” He cleared his coughing throat again.

“Yes Sir. Could you please drop me at the Metro mall?” I said handing him his cough syrup.

He distastefully gulped in the prescription and then dropped me off.

 

The party was magnificent. Guests came and congratulated Kavya who looked ravishing in a beige satin gown. Although she smiled but the warmth in her eyes was missing. Yuvavir was nowhere to be seen, perhaps was running late as usual. Kavya was tired of making excuses for his absence which is what she did most part the evening. She picked two whiskey glasses and reached on the terrace of the Citron Plaza Hotel. It was 18 floors high.

It was past 10 and guests had gradually started to leave the property. One of the catering boys told me that he saw Mrs Rana going upstairs. I took the lift and then the fire exit to reach up. She was standing leisurely with both hands on the wide fence and facing the city. The two old fashioned glasses and a bottle of Jack sat on the side. Yellow lights from the opposite buildings shone on her face as I moved towards her.

“Are you feeling alright, Ma’m?” I asked hesitantly.

There wasn’t any reply.

“There’s something Mr Rana wanted to give you” I said as I presented the gift to her.

She un-wrapped it and examined the collar. “This is Uno’s. What kind of a sick joke is this?”

“I’m sorry Mrs Rana. This is really sad. But Uno, that poor thing….” and I started weeping.

“Oh dear, don’t cry!” She gave me her handkerchief. “It’s alright, You did great! And I must congratulate on your skills. You’d make a fine actress.” She handed me a drink.

We both burst into laughter and clinked our glasses.

“To better days!” She said.

“To Independence! But where is he? He’s missing from his own party.”

“Oh dear, he will not make it to the party. Late Mr Rana, that allergic son of a bitch.”

“What! What happened to him?” I asked alarmingly.

“His real estate business had taken a huge hit after demonetization. To pay off the heavy bank debts and unsecured loans he used profits from our Hotel. When I noticed the depleting assets in the annual accounts I asked the General Manager. With some influence he revealed the situation and very reluctantly about his ludicrous activities at the Hotel. The owner himself was bringing young girls every week and the staff couldn’t object it. I had my suspicions when his business trips started extending beyond normal duration. But what he did now was unbearable. He was bringing girls to the hotel and even to our home. I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

“I am so sorry Kavya.”

“No reason you should be. I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. All I can tell you is how he was murdered.” She took a sip and continued.

“Remember that Saturn brooch I gifted him last year.”

“Mr Rana’s favourite! Of course, but what is it got to do with..?” I was bewildered.

“I had slipped that brooch in his cough syrup. It had an internal cavity. Enough to store 50 mg of Trazodone, a sedative that can put you to deep sleep within a span of 25-30 minutes.”

“His prescription medicine?” I confirmed in shock.

“The very one, my dear. His throat is sensitive to citric juices. Thanks for unknowingly administering the medicine.” She smiled in approval.

“I called him to pick me up from my office which is a 30 minute drive from the mall where you were supposed to get off. I really hoped he’d collide in a loading truck, but he got off easy. The divider had him. They said the car toppled once or twice. I wish I had been there to witness the action.” She was high on adrenaline.

“Well, you’d have all the coverage in the news tomorrow- Millionaire had a closure, in the front seat of his Rover!”

(They both stormed into laughter)

“I only regret trusting him with Uno. I didn’t have the slightest idea he’d kill the poor animal.” She rued.

“At least he sent you back the collar.”I tried to lighten the tension.

“You are right. And the collar needs a new neck now. We need to go shopping!” She said mischievously.

“So what is it going be, a new pet or a new husband?” I teased her.

“Pets are loyal silly. But a cheating millionaire isn’t bad either!” She winked and held my hand.

She, Mr Jack and I, then continued the party in the honeymoon suite.

Dating & Relationships, Women

“Beta, Shaadi Kab Karoge?”

It’s funny how we make Facebook accounts for our parents and in return they make our matrimony accounts.

Staying with your folks has its pros and cons. While you have a good schedule, great house, amazing food and family time, things might go a bit out of hands. Like occasionally being pestered about, when will you get married! So this article is dedicated to all the 26 – 30 plus victims out there and of course my beloved parents.

Here’s a list of sarcastic communication (one way) from my parents that I have been accumulating since my 26th birthday. It’s time to share the wealth.

  1. When you are attending a friend’s wedding-

“All your friends are getting married, what are your plans?”

  1. When your ideal friend posts a baby picture-

“All your friends are having kids, when you will decide to marry?”

  1. When you come up with an academic course to buy time-

“You have done your B.com, CA, CS, CMA, LLB, M.Com, MBA, and also have a job, you should now get settled.”

      4. When you are staying with parents-

“Your friend’s kids are getting married and we are still raising you.”

  1. When.. you know-

“Sharma ji’s son got married, when will you get married.”

  1. When you are a whatsapping happy family –

“Beta, share some recent pictures of you. Put it on the family whatsapp group.”

  1. When at a random day, they are extra nice to you –

“So, the “typical Rajput” family has shown interest. Their son Teja is a software engineer, 6ft, working in a MNC and wants to settle abroad! You must consider this job opportunity.”

  1. When you say you are not ready yet-

“When will you be ready, when you are 30? We had our second kid at that age!”

  1. When you are tagged in a group photo-

“Who is the guy in that picture? How do you know him?”

  1. When you share some stories about friends and they catch on to a name –

“So, Lallan huh! Seems like a decent guy. What’s his last name? Does he have a job? Which village is he from again?”

  1. When you go out for meals with friends –

“Why don’t you invite your friends over for lunch sometime? Ask Lallan to come as well!”

  1. When you are chilling on a Sunday –

“You know, you should visit the kitchen at times, help Mom!”

  1. When you make tea-

They suspiciously sip and say, “Thank God, at least she can fix a cup of tea”

  1. When you agree to meet Teja at family restaurant –

“You guys talk and we will just be at the next table and pretend to not listen.”

  1. When you act like you don’t care –

“All are grown up and responsible now. Let them do as they wish. Who are we anyway?”

I also tried to put together a graphical representation of how our parent’s expectations mould over a period of time. Turns out, the more you delay, the healthier the expectations!

Capture

Age – 26  Match should be of same caste/religion

Age – 27 Match should be within the same religion at least

Age – 28 Match should be of same Nationality/Indian at least

Age – 29  Match should be of opposite Gender at least

But then again, you somehow overcome all this poking and commenting over a period of time because they are your parents!

And when you socialize less and increasingly spend your weekends with them. Here comes the bummer –

“Beta, Koi ho toh bata dena.”

This is exactly what you wanted! 😀

(Hope you enjoyed reading. If my fellow singletons have any such interesting or funny dialogues to contribute, then please share. Will include in my listJ)

 

Crime, Fiction

THE GETAWAY

The last 4 hours had been a nightmare. No one had imagined the evening would shape up that way. I wish it was a just a bad dream, only it wasn’t.

How it started:

It was a week ago when Jai, Yusuf, Trisha and I had come up with this plan. We told our folks about a field trip organized by the school and that attendance was compulsory. There was no trouble in seeking permission.

The four of us were what you can call a bunch of trouble makers at the St Xavier’s high school, Kolhapur. Our fellow 10th graders looked up to us and some were even envious.

Trisha was straight A student and the student body president. She was popular and outgoing. Yusuf was reserved, a man of less words, really matured and reliable. Jai was the humor house of the class. His slapstick one liners would take the teachers before they even realized.

I, Niah, was an above average student, who liked to mind her own business. It was the mid of July and the monsoon was lashing rains like wild fire. The much awaited weekend had finally come. A road trip to Goa and we’d be staying at a nice beach house that Yusuf had suggested.

We started at the break of dawn on 22nd July. Jai drove the Honda city and took us to our destination in less than 5 hours. That was a weary Saturday afternoon and we decided to hit the beach and just relax with bottle of buds. The four of us were in complete bliss enjoying the soothing sound of waves, feathery drizzle in the winds and a soft country music played in the breeze.

We definitely deserved this break after the stressing periodicals. A vacation without parents was like a dream. It was a result of meticulous planning. No blips or errors and everything went as planned.

“To getaways.” Trisha raised her bottle.

“Cheers.” All toasted and bottles clinked.

By the dawn it was unusually cold and windy. The tides had gotten high. I decided to head back to the villa. It was a 2 storey mansion, Portuguese in architecture and a spread out courtyard surrounded by a variety of trees. A huge crescent shaped balcony threw a majestic view of the ocean.

“I’ll stack us up with some more beer! You guys drink like a camel in desert!” mocked Jai.

“I’ll come along.” Yusuf got up retrieving from a long yawn and stretched arms.

They went to the nearby liquor store. Trisha said she’d join me in a bit and opened the last beer from the ice bucket.

It was a sticky weather so I decided to take a shower. The warm water washed away the sand from my hair and toe nails. It felt so fresh and new. After changing to my teal green tunic dress, I looked outside from the balcony. I could see the three of them laughing, hi fiving and probably talking about some stupid episode from school. A smile escaped and in a wandering second my gaze shifted to Yusuf. He was a great guy. I wish I didn’t have to hide what I felt for him.

There was a knock on the door and I went down to get it. As I opened the flip door I was greeted by a Pizza delivery guy. He was panting and trying to catch his breath. The shoulders of his red and blue uniform were wet as it had started raining.

“Why are you panting? Do you want some water?”I offered out of empathy.

“Nn.. Nn.. No Madam. I am f.. ff.. fine. Th.. tha… Thanks.” He stuttered.

“Are you sure? You seem like you walked out of a nightmare.” I said as he handed me 2 large boxes.

“We never deliver in this area. But they made me do it.” He muttered within his teeth.

“What? Why won’t you deliver here?” I demanded.

“That’d be 1150 Rupees Madam.” He retrieved to a professional delivery guy.

“Weird.” I went inside to fetch my wallet.

As I returned, He was gone. The pizza boxes were kept on the floor.

“And, he just vanished without even taking the money?” Trisha exclaimed with daze.

“Yes, can you believe it?”I narrated the entire incident to the three of them as we continued the party indoors.

This time we lied lazily around the coffee table. It was blanketed with food, beer bottles, ash trays with heaping grays, dead cell phones, and a few pizza slices in the carelessly opened boxes. Smoke filled the room.

We talked, laughed, hummed songs, danced and played truth and dare. While Trisha and Jai occasionally stole kisses, Yusuf and I pretended to ignore them. All were drunk and happy.

“Get a room you too.” I teased the couple.

“Oh, are you embarrassed? I am so sorry. But you know what, we actually will tonight and then…” Trisha slipped a bit from the couch and started giggling.

“She is gonna pass out. I’ll just tuck her in and be back.” Jai covered up.

Yusuf and I sat opposite to each other across the coffee table.

I looked at the clock with a blurry vision. The small hand appeared to be somewhere between 12 and 1. It was eerily quiet and occasionally filled by the sound of rumbling thunder.

I looked back at the table and saw Yusuf grabbing the last slice of the pizza.

“Good choice of food. I love pizza.”He praised me.

“Thanks! But I never ordered.” I smiled.

“I know. And neither did you pay the guy” He recalled.

“But he left before I even got back.” I defended myself.

“Maybe he’ll give you another chance.” He drew in closer as our eyes locked. I never expected him to be so forthcoming!

I liked it.

He playfully grabbed my hand and there was sudden noise of glass shattering and a car siren going off.

That woke me up from the nap.

“Someone’s trying to steal the car.” Yusuf said alarmingly.

We rushed outside to check on the car. It was pitch dark and continued to pour. The car stood intact with its parking lights blinking. A stray dog cooed and walked away from underneath it.

There was no damage to the car. But what was the glass shattering sound?

I looked around and my sight shifted up towards the balcony. A lightening chanced upon and it lit up incandescently for a split second. My tongue was in throat as I saw Trisha’s body hanging by a hook on the balcony.

“No! Trisha!” I screamed my guts out and turned to alert Yusuf. But he wasn’t there.

I ran inside and locked the door, too scared to go upstairs. Maybe I was just hallucinating. Where is everybody? I shouted their names, one by one, but only my echo returned followed by a thunder.

I decided to go up and figure out what’s going on. Are these people trying to pull a prank on me?

With a fork in my hand, I carefully climbed the stairs and advanced towards the balcony. My feet were shaking but I continued to walk.  I slowly pushed the door open and got relieved when found nothing. There was a sound of car engine starting, so I took a few steps ahead to look down. Someone was in our car and was stealing it away! Wait, is that Jai? What’s going on?

“And what exactly are you planning to do with that fork?” A familiar voice said from behind.

I turned around, ran and hugged Yusuf with relief.

“Where were you? Do you know what I saw? It was Trisha, she… ” I shrugged with confusion and stopped.

“Trisha got sick. Food poisoning I think. Jai took her to the hospital. But there’s no need to worry. Get some sleep. I will be up till they return.” He filled the gaps calmly.

“You are right, I am practically hallucinating. I need to rest.” I walked back to my room with unsolved doubts in my mind.

We all ate the same pizza, then how come she got sick and we didn’t? Why did nobody inform me? And where did the glass shattering sound come from? Why is Yusuf so calm about it?

I couldn’t sleep. My mind was at unrest. I quietly got out of my room and looked around. I entered Trisha’s room. It was in total ruins. The beer bottles lay broken on the floor, carpet was wet with alcohol, the mattress was tipping on the floor, pillows lay everywhere in the room, curtains were torn and coming off. It seemed as if the room had witnessed a lot of struggle. That certainly didn’t appear like a food poisoning case to me. As I took another step I got knocked over by a carpet roll and it unfurled itself.

It was stuffed with… with her body. Trisha’s gray faced body was laying a foot away on the floor. Her neck was red with blood and had piercings from a pointy object. I leaned in to close her frightened eyes and then it moved.

I had a panic attack, couldn’t scream or utter a word for help. I just ran back to my room and took shelter in a corner. She is alive! Trisha is not dead! I should get help. But how?

Yusuf and Jai had escaped the villa. They left us here. How can they do this? I was crying and panicking. I took my make do weapon and dialed 102 from a landline. Thankfully it was working.

“We have had an intrusion and my friend is badly injured. Please send an ambulance. We are at the Roxanne villa, at the Tiger Beach, South Goa.”

A male cop took down my details and said they’d be sending help very soon. I then rushed back to Trisha and made her drink some water. She was struggling to breathe and was hesitant to drink. Poor girl was tormented so bad that she failed to acknowledge me. I only wished if she could tell me what had happened.

These last 4 hours hadn’t been easy. No one had thought the evening would shape up this way. It was a series of unpredictable events and a point of no return.

It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again steeped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddle 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, closed my eyes and thanked the heavens.

I quickly climbed down the stairs and ran across the hall way and slowly opened the door.

I was in total aghast to see him again greeting me with a confident smile.

“Good evening Madam, here’s your order for two pizzas.” His hands outstretched with 2 boxes.

“Bu.. But… I… I never ord… ordered any. It must be a wrong address” I struggled to compose.

“I’m most certain it is the right address. After all, I have been delivering here every night. I hate it when they don’t pay me. But then I make sure they don’t repeat it.”

I stood still.

“That’d be 1150 Rupees Madam.” He requested courteously.

I didn’t move an inch and froze.

“Madam, are you alright?” He rumbled and I faded to black.

When I returned to senses, I was lying on a bed. Jai, Trisha and Yusuf were sitting next to me and murmuring.

“What happened to you Niah? Did the delivery guy make you swoon?” Jai joked.

“Shut up Jai. She needs to rest. But Niah, what did you say that scared the poor guy away!” Trisha continued the joke.

Yusuf didn’t say anything. He just laughed with those two.

“Did you pay him for the order?” I asked them.

“How are we supposed to know? When we got back from the beach you were lying unconscious on the floor with your beloved pizzas.” Jai said.

“Oh Shit!” I got off the bed and ran outside to find him. He mustn’t have gotten far. It takes a ferry to get here. He came all the way just for a wrong delivery? This is unbelievable.

“I think this will ease up with your confusion” Yusuf held an ID card as he approached.

It was the same face. Yes, it was him. The delivery guy had dropped his ID card.

“We must call him up and pay back. He came a long way and we didn’t return the order.”

Yusuf smiled and said, “Yes, he came a long way but he didn’t make it.”

“What? You know him?” I was surprised.

“I did. He was also a student at our school, a bright boy with big dreams from a family of little means. But he was called back by his father to contribute and support his family here. He took up a meagerly food delivery job. One day he was sent to deliver here, some 8 years ago and he never returned. Those rich kids who had booked this villa never paid him for the delivery. They used him for their entertainment, made him to strip when they were high on cocaine. When the poor guy tried to run away, they crushed him under the car and threw him in the water.”

“This is disturbing and scaring! I don’t believe you. If this is true why didn’t you tell us before? We should have never come here?” I said dismissively.

Jai and Trisha had also come outside now. I showed them his ID.

She examined the card and said, “We don’t know this guy. There’s nothing we can do really.”

I proposed them to track this person down and return it to him at least.

“But Niah, this card has expired. Look, it dates to 8 years back.” Jai noticed.

I took the card from him and looked again. He was right. It was an old card. I never read the name which said it belonged to a Yusuf Kazi.

Yusuf came near and whispered in my ear, “They don’t see me, but I am glad that you do. And keep the door open so I won’t have to break the window tonight.”

Fiction

​Jharokha – A buried episode of the Lodhi Empire

It was the time when Badshah Salamat was returning after signing a treaty with Hussain shah, the ruler of Bengal. A lot of chaos and blood was averted as both the kings had sealed a political friendship. The ruler of Bengal presented the Sultan of Delhi, Sikander lodhi, a tohfa (gift) as a departing felicitation.

I was the 15 year old tohfa and the youngest addition to the King’s Harem, a priest’s daughter. I had forgotten my voice after they abducted me from the ghats of Jamna, where I witnessed my father’s martyrdom.

Upon arrival, I was examined to make sure I didn’t have any physical defects or any diseases. I was taken to the Hamam (bath house) and taught how to clean according to the traditions.

My education began with religious training about Islam, etiquette at the royal court and skill training in embroidery. Most time was spent caged in the four walls of this glamorous inferno where they taught us the palace attitude, how to greet people, and walk backwards to leave the Sultan’s room. The other concubines told me, Sultan liked his women obedient, silent and who had firm flesh.  Apart from the fear, terror and suffocation there was a relief of security and a foolish hope of becoming the Sultan’s confidant.

Most girls were awestruck with him. Sikander was endowed with an extraordinary physical charm, had a rare quality of eloquence and was fond of literature and poetry. After knowing his inclination towards poetry, I felt my first connection with Sultan, a week before I was scheduled to serve him. 

The harem was comfy prison which housed beautiful foreign girls. The prison wardens were eunuchs who kept a close watch on us. Sometimes they brought news and gossip. One of them told me, Badshah salamat was born as the third son of his father Bahlol from the abduction and rape of Ziba, the daughter of a Hindu goldsmith of Sirhind.

Sikander was a devout Muslim and was intolerant towards non believers. From the Jharokha, I watched him practice his Morning Prayer and recitation of the Quran before he began his administrative duties. May be he noticed me too, but that was only my imagination. 

The night of my first encounter with Sultan arrived. I took timid steps towards his bed where he lay. My gaze never moved from the floor, carpeted with white feathers. Sultan approached, gently lifted my face and asked, ‘What’s your name, delicate one?’

‘R… Ruk… Rukhsar,’ I answered faintly, ending a year long silence and beginning a barren relationship. A night after another and in a few weeks, I became his preferred. 

Sultan was kind to me. Sometimes he would spend the entire night talking gallantly about his conquests and even reading his poetry. He composed poems more often than before, called me his missing inspiration. At times, I could find myself in his compositions, which described the way he saw me;

Her sapphire eyes and chestnut hair,

Masha-allah is there a maiden so fair?

Tender like a bird, yet fierce like a sword,

Her touch is gold, her absence despair.

On a moon lit night he called me his Gulrukh (Rose face) and soberly told that he had to leave the city for his next conquest. He gave me his Persian katar (dagger) as a safety measure. With a promise to write letters, the next morning he left for his expedition against Gwalior.

At the court, the other concubines had already grown hostile due to his fondness towards me. They saw me as a thorn in their way. With the Sultan gone and after a week of alienation, I was thrown in the dungeons. 

I cried for days, begged for weeks to let me out and speak to Sultan, but no one returned a word.  I never received a letter from him. I was hurt beyond repair and felt deceived. After two months, the misery came to an end when a guard on official orders grouted me with a bow string. 

It was a fleeting vision, oblique like the rays of sun. My cheek rested on a dusty floor, followed by a fainting sight of footsteps leaving the cellar. A familiar white feather swirled with my last gasp.

A constant screeching on the stone walls broke my spiritual sleep. A hand with a pointy stone drew something on my face. Baffled, I aviated out of the wall surface and saw some designs. The jharoka has been my home for some 500 years. 

These walls have several clustered letters drawn on them.  Apart from hearts, arrows, petals and leaves I never understood what they meant.

A young boy and a girl were talking some sweet nothings and it seemed acceptable. Strangers visit this place, ignorant of the dead. Insufficiently dressed people pose openly in the gardens just to be seen by another man through small black bricks. 

I moved away to the corridors of the mosque which once shimmered in all its beauty. The tiles had lost their blues, but I hadn’t. Sikander’s faux promise still aches like a violent cut refusing to turn into a scar. I spent countless days and nights revolving around his tomb with the katar. Maybe someday he will rise and I will confront him.

Sometimes I hesitantly stare at his grave, and he appears to be smirking at me for my ignorance. And I laugh, at how foreign people use his burial site for reading, exercising and feeding birds, completely disregarding his once royal being. These inferences are only a failed attempt to feel better. So, I looked at the sky and hatefully cursed him.

A sudden thunderstorm struck and a flock of pigeons near his grave, dispersed in fright.

One of them shed a feather. It glided down gently and perched on Sikander’s grave. As it did, the grave started sinking in the ground. The tomb pillars and walls started falling apart. The earth swallowed everything that surrounded it. In that bewildered minute, the spot turned into a vast green field with only an old banyan tree under which I stood. I saw a vague shadow of a horse coming in my direction. As the vision got better, I couldn’t trust my eyes.

It was Sultan! He stooped on the horse’s back, bloody and wounded, like escaped from a battle. My eyes pooled.

He fell from the horse and I rushed to help him. His hand hung around my shoulder as he struggled to sit, and uttered with pain, ‘Rukhsar, my love. Forgive me. I failed to keep my promise. I am a gunehgaar.’

‘Rukhsar has always loved you Jehanpanah,’ I choked and tears escaped.

‘Ya Allah,’ he ached ‘only your love can save me my Gulrukhsar,’ he pleaded. 

‘My father taught me, God is one and can’t be split into Ram and Rahim. Like love, ignorant of names and beliefs,’ I reminisced.

‘What do mean Rukhsar?’ he was puzzled.

‘The priest you burnt alive, was my father. And I am Rukhmani, not Rukhsar.’

I silenced him with a jab of katar in his chest. A few minutes later I started flying on my own, amazed at my new white feathers.

Interview, Women

Journey of a Dancing Queen

“I quite jokingly say that rhythm runs inside me as my mother is a dancer and father a drummer. I used to watch all of her shows. So, dance has been a really important part of my life and will always be”, says Abhina Aher, a transgender and trans rights activist.

Born in a middle class Maharashtrian family, Abhina, at a very early age of 3, lost her father. Defying the stigma, her mother, a strong and graceful woman, raised her sole child very elegantly.

While she was at work, I’d pull out her saare and playfully wear it with makeup and jewelry. Embracing that aura, I gazed at my own shadows on the wall and pictured a beautiful woman dancing. That is what I was longing for! But when my mother found out about this craziness, she got really mad. I protested that I wanted to dance! Dance like her. She said. No, Boys do not dance.

Abhina who was an extremely feminine kid, hated wearing boy’s clothes. Like her friends she wanted to wear frocks. People used to make fun of me. At school they called names like chakka and all those lingos they use for female aesthetics.

Growing up, I faced a lot of problems. The teachers insisted me to use the boy’s washroom. So I used to wait till recess got over and stealthily use it during lectures when nobody could harass me.

In India, parents seldom talk about sexuality and sexual behavior. Even girls are not sufficiently made aware about menstrual cycle or body changes. In our patriarchal society women are taught not to have sexual pleasures.

When I was in 9th standard, I was nearly raped by a bunch of boys. They tried to rip my clothes, brutally kicked me and also tried to beat me with a metal ruler. But I was too ignorant to understand that it was a sexual harassment.

I was in total aghast when my own teacher said that the problem is with you. Because you don’t behave like a boy, they tried to punish you. I was too scared to tell my mother. The entire world tried to tell that I am not a girl. But I knew I was a girl.

I would get attracted to males. There was no body I could talk to. I had no friends, felt lonely, afraid and used to sulk all the time. I tried committing suicide 3 times.

But with that 3rd unsuccessful attempt, I knew I wasn’t meant to die. I had some unfinished business and I decided to serve that purpose.

After school, Abhina studied arts and economics from the R D National College in Mumbai. She graduated college in male clothes.

In 2010, Abhina moved to Delhi and worked with a plethora of organizations. She worked for 8 years at Humsafar trust and learned counseling, research, advocacy, capacity building. She also worked with bar girls and sex workers. She has been a part of WHO for HIV issues, tran violence, trans acceptance, gender discrimination, consultant at John Hopkins Univ and India HIV Aids alliance, Family Health International (FHI), International Trans refer group (IRGT) on HIV, Global Action for Trans Equality (GATE).

I want to set a solid foundation for progress of transgender people and give back as much as possible.

After 20 years, today Abhina runs her own organization called Tweet (Transgender Welfare Equity & Empowerment Trust)

But in between this journey there are a lot of sub stories.

8 years before, the Kathak dancer started a dance group called the dancing queens which is a tool to advocate gender and sexuality issues like coming out, family support, main streaming, stigma, violence, employment and education.

The group has done about 67 shows across India. We raise money for pride walks and for HIV positive trans people. 30 % of dancers are HIV+ she states. Recently they did a corporate show for Godrej which was attended by around 600 people. Aftermath, Godrej hired their first Trans person!

At times when we performed people threw pebbles at us. So you are always vulnerable. There are some chapters of my life which I never might talk about. These are miserable times when I had to struggle for Rs 100 a day. There are steep challenges in what we do.

While there are challenges around violence, stigma, health care, education and employment, the biggest of all is poverty. Poverty is killing people, she says worryingly.

The 2012 census reported 5 million trans population but that’s just the tip of iceberg. A lot of people do not declare or come out. A lot of trans men are living as women. As of 2017 there are an estimated 25 million trans people in India.

But as compared to foreign countries India is still ahead. We are the only country which has liberated a third gender acknowledgement. The NALSA verdict by Supreme Court sensitized the judges and it was a huge achievement though a lot of work still remains.

She has been a part of various new initiatives and believes in creating history.  We are trying to create work for Trans people. We run online campaigns on trans phobia focusing the main stream society. Unawareness is the biggest form of stigma. Which is quite contradictory as our culture goes back to 7000 years. We had a dignified positioning in the society. We were the fortune tellers, dancers, makeup artists. There’s a temple in Mehsana, Gujrat called the Bhaucharaji mata temple where the priest is also a trans person. Unfortunately today we are only mimicked in movies and TV shows.

Trans people also have a heart and are struggling for dignity and respect. The community has given us role models like Laxmi narayan tripathi, Akkai padmashali, Manabi Bandopadhyay who are pushing the boundaries and defeating the taboos.

From a shy, lonely person to an eloquent speaker addressing a crowd of a lakh people, Abhina too has come a long way.  She says, I will be proud when a lot of people would come to show strength when I die. We don’t take anything with us but only the good deeds. I may not be the best looking person, but I have the best heart inside me and that is what I would cherish all my life.

She then hums a song… Ghir ghir aayi badariya kaari… as she wipes a premature tear in her eye.

Dating & Relationships, Fiction

The Blind date.

A typical weekday. But not so typical evening. Who knew the girl, Sagar was chatting with for the past week worked in the same building as he did.

So a time and place was agreed upon and they decided to meet that evening. Sagar was there before Antara. He picked a table just opposite the bar counter. An interesting bouquet of dim coppery lights hung like a pendant above the table.

It was 6.30 when Antara entered. Sagar was on a phone call. He waved at her from his chair, as he continued the call. When she reached near the table he apologetically took an excuse, as he indicated 1 minute with his finger. He didn’t get up to receive her.

“So, how are you doing! You know you look prettier in person than your pictures.” He remedied the situation as he put the phone back in his pocket.

Antara smiled her thanks and fixed a hair strand behind her ear.

“Interesting watch!” She returned the compliment.

Sagar started talking about his collection of watches. Then they talked about usual things like work, what they did, hobbies, music and so on.

They had ordered coffee but after 10 minutes they cancelled the order. The music and ambience warranted a drink.

“Tell me a secret!” Antara asked notoriously.

“But if i did, it will no longer be a secret” he evaded.

“How about we trade a secret” she made him a deal.

“Okay,” he leaned in closer, “I never told this to anyone but I once used to be a ballet dancer” he mocked.

They both burst into a fit of laughter. And Sagar subtley tucked her loose hair strand behind her ear.

“Let’s dance” she insisted.

“I really can’t” he excused.

“But this is my favourite song” she got up this time.

Sagar was hesitant. He made a face and said would like to enjoy the drink. This upset Antara a bit.

He could have at least accompanied her. She felt offended and embarrassed.

After finishing their drinks Antara said she must leave. He nodded.

They got up and shook hands. Thanks were exchanged. He looked at her in anticipation for another date. But she didnt return the eye contact.

They made their way towards the door. Antara was a little ahead of Sagar. When she got outside she turned back and discovered that Sagar was still walking.

Well not exactly walking. He was slow and was limping with one hand on his crutches. Sagar’s left leg was…. He only had one leg.

A ghost of guilt and regret clogged her chest. So that’s why he never got up and said he couldn’t dance. And she was being so pushy. Why wouldn’t he tell her about it. How could she be so blind to notice. Antara was sad, angry and embarrassed.

I hope to see you again! Sagar said with uncertainty.

“Indeed!” She replied. Trying not to look at the leg.

It had started raining. “My cab is waiting” she waved hurriedly.

Sagar stood there and watched her walking swiftly, then taking quick and long steps, and then running towards the main road.