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.

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.

Fiction

Winter wine

The room was full of excitement and cheer. Soft ballad music made of piano, violin and cello played in the air. The chandeliers were just perfectly lit to cast a magnificent golden shadow upon the beautiful gowns that ladies wore. While some gowns glared in crimson and sliver, some flowed with the violin sonata.

The New Year was shying away from 60 seconds, and the tempo had risen! The dancing couples took a delicate pause, all eyes fixed on the giant clock, where the second hand stole all the show.

The others stood encircling the love birds, ready with their champagne. With a sonorous clinking everywhere, it was 12 when the three needles came together and so did some lips. The dancing continued with more wine and louder music.

Further away from that joyous halo, sat a maiden in a blue chiffon ensemble, sipping on some red and dancing her fingers on the wine glass. “If this is love, it’s everything I always want to be” she hummed to herself. A perfect moment it was.

Let’s go out! You don’t want to miss the fireworks! Whispered Adrian in her ear.

“But its freezing, not to mention it would pour in sometime”, she remarked without turning back.

“Please!” Adrian extended his hand. So they walked out towards the icy garden. The fireworks were faintly visible as it was disadvantaged by the twigs. So they crossed the pavement to take the downhill road until they had a clearer view.

They both shivered, she because of the cold and Adrian in excitement. In a moment, the sky lit in a thousand colors and they stood still.

It’s magical isn’t it? Smiled she.

It is, he nodded

They both had the reflection of this magic in their eyes. An anticipated silence thrilled the two.

One again they shivered. But this time, both due to a fragile moment they had landed in.

What are you thinking, Adrian broke the ice.

Umm, nothing! She concealed.

When their eyes met, Adrian came closer and wiped off a tear drop from her cheek.

Well, it wasn’t from her eyes. In a moment, it started raining. They rushed and took a temporary shelter under a bus stop kiosk. She looked down at her gown which was drenched in rain water.

No bus or taxi could be seen. The rain only got heavier mixed with unattackable wind currents.

They shivered.

Their eyes met again. She stepped closer and removed a tiny leaf from his hair. He extended his hand, “May I have this dance?”

The fireworks had now stopped in the skies, leaving for some potential under the kiosk.