Firefighting

Back from work, Sahil finds a big crowd spread in small groups across their basement. He knows most of them. They all peek at him as he parks his car. His neighbour Varun splits from one of the groups and approaches him. He presses the lift button and throws a questioning glance at Varun. Varun averts his eyes and halts beside him to wait for the lift door to open.

Varun talks for the first time once they’re inside the lift. He says, “We’d tried to call you, Sahil. You never picked up the phone.”

Sahil sighs. It has been a terrible day. They were on fire since early morning. Some glitch in the client’s securities had depleted most of their CRM database. With a seasonal promotion around the corner, the potential dent would be worth a few million dollars. It was almost at six in the evening when, thanks to a tremendous effort from him and his boss Gautam, the hole was plugged and the old files retrieved. The services delivery manager had commended them both.

Inside the ascending lift, Sahil suddenly feels weak and famished. He hasn’t had anything since morning. The cafeteria was closed for the day before they could manage to wrap up their work and leave their cubicles. In fact, Gautam’s urgent call summoned him to work when he was about to fix breakfast at home in the morning. He recalls the time now. Drooping out of bed, he had stared at Snigdha for a second. Piled somewhat like a turtle with the mess of hair blurring her pale face, she looked miles apart from the ravishing beauty that she otherwise was.

He staggered to the kitchen and fumbled with the matchbox as he turned the oven on with his left hand. This was the moment when the phone buzzed. He quickly switched the oven back off and rushed to pick up the call… his recollection stumbled upon a roadblock. Had he switched off the oven? Or was it on when he talked to Gautam and then, flinging on his clothes, rushed out to work?

He asks aloud, “Varun, do you know if Snigdha is all right? I can’t recall whether I’d switched off the gas oven this morning. I’d almost started fixing our breakfast when an emergency call dragged me to work.”

Varun opens his mouth to say something as the lift door opens. There’s a huge crowd on the corridor as well. An alarm rings in his heart as he steps out of the lift. Has he killed her? Inadvertently?

The alarm in his heart suddenly breaks and he lets out a big sigh when he spots Snigdha chatting with someone in the crowd.

 

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Collage of Contrasts

Heaps of leftovers

and days without food,

gluttons and scrawny haggards,

humdrum wealth

and struggle to make ends meet,

extravagant weddings

and destitution,

breaking laws for pleasure

and larceny out of need

 

are all overseen by the same sky

with a sigh.

The Nativity of Christ: When Was Jesus Born?

Did a guest blog. The topic held my interest since childhood.

Learn Fun Facts

Francesco Londonio Presepe.jpg

Presepe by Francesco Londonio, circa 1750

This is a guest post by Souptik Banerjee.

The Gospel of Mathew states that the Magi (a group of wise men) spotted a new star that cropped up in the sky and used it to trace the location of the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem. They showered baby Jesus with gifts as they believed that the newborn was the “King of the Jews”. Using this proverbial star of Bethlehem as a clue, people have often tried to determine Jesus Christ’s birthday.

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Silent Night: Santa’s Peril

Rudolph had to be lifted to the hospital’s emergency on Saturday. The other reindeer played truant. A helpless Santa Claus had to arrange for a bike to Delhi this year.

Not that he’s in his best health right now. He had severe bouts of cough, indigestion and mild nausea in the last couple of days, and has been mostly grounded for no fault of his.

Here’s the reason:

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PM10 (particulate matter between 2.5 and 10 microns in diameter) are accumulated from crop burning (I mentioned it first as it’s the major reason here), vehicles and building construction. Some recent studies have related this silent killer to the deaths of some elderly people with existing lung diseases. What’s most baffling is the fact that the authority seems to be on vacation right now.

South of the Sindh

Some are overtly dark

while some are white.

Some detest their neighbours,

some hate their lives.

Some blame the government

when trains reach late,

some blame Gandhi when

“she” turns down a date.

Some believe bombs are all

made in mosques.

Some believe saffron* swines

worship cocks.

Beef or pork can get you killed^,

you may be roughed up on

marrying a “different” being.

 

Despite all such disfunctionalities,

we’ve breathed the same air for SEVEN decades.

For, despite the serrated peripheries,

the blood in our veins is all the same.

 

*For the uninitiated, the colour saffron is associated with the Hindu religion. Also note that some people believe a) bombs are built in mosques or b) Hindus suck. Neither is my opinion, under no sky and by no means.

^ beef is denounced by traditional Hindus, and pork is forbidden in Islam. They sometimes spark tensions in parts of India.

The Omen

The ghastly winter and a toothless sun hidden behind a thin grey cloud had turned the city into a cold storage. I had blown my cigarette in record time and started retreating towards the office building when the haggard appeared from nowhere and demanded, “Lend me a cigarette, will you?”

It was perhaps the cold weather that numbed me. Instead of dismissing him with a frown or curse, I saw myself retrieve the cigarette pack and offer it to him.

He extracted a cigarette off it with a frown. When I turned to leave, he scowled and demanded again, “I haven’t got no pumice stone, cowboy.”

I offered him a lighter which he snapped to light the cigarette. When I started leaving at last, he demanded again, “Listen, thank me later.”

I gave him a burtstare and marched away. My ears felt hot in that freezing cold.

Inside the building, I reached the lift enclosure just in time to see the lift door shut. With the other lift being repaired, it would now be at least five or six minutes before this one would be back to pick me, and another two or three minutes before I could finally get back to work. Thanks to the haggard, I’d be exposed to my boss’ famous frown yet again.

There was a sudden metallic clatter inside the lift enclosure  which went on for a good three or four seconds and was followed by a loud bang that made way for a shriek from inside the lift. It had apparently plunged into the ground, with all its boarders.

A miraculous escape indeed. A voice echoed inside me, “Thank me later.”

December

As a teenager, Sahil had read about light pollution. It’s the supposed encroachment of the night sky by artificial light. On his way back from work now, he looks at the sky after the cab drops him near his lane. The meagre space, that the tall buildings in his neighbourhood left the poor sky with, has a kind of lemon colour, thanks to the street lights.

There’s a short buzz on his phone. He decides to ignore it for now as he enters his building. The cold button bites his finger when he presses it to open the lift door. It’s chilling inside the lift as well. Reaching their flat, he presses the doorbell and waits for Meera to open the door. When retrieved from  his pocket, the phone shows eleven twenty nine pm on Monday, eighteenth December. When he unlocks the screen, it gives the temperature as 7 degree Centigrade. No wonder the air feels like the freezer compartment of his refrigerator. There’s also an unread Watsapp message that he decides to dodge for the time being.

He presses  the doorbell again and waits for a couple of minutes. Meera must be asleep. He fumbles inside his briefcase and extracts the house key at last.

Once inside their flat, the warmth reposes him. He picks up a bottle from the centre-table and sips some water from it before he notices the note nestled beneath a salt shaker that doubles up as a paperweight now. It reads, “Please check your phone.”

He pops out the phone again. It’s time to open the unread message. It’s from Meera and reads, “I’ll be at Leyla’s for now. I’ve carried my immediate needs here. My brother will pick up the rest next weekend. Thanks for the amazing 12 years and I won’t hate you for the last 7 or 8 months. Not any more. It’s time to part now, though.”

He strolls to the balcony. The cold air cuffs him again. A large part of the sky is visible here. Part of it is coloured like the whiskey he’d shared with Meera on their second date. The centre of the dome is, however, unaffected by the city lights and it looks so deep and distant. There are no stars around. A lonely moon frowns at the sleeping planet.

He pulls a pack of cigarettes, extracts a white stick off it and dunks the pack back in his pocket. He then pulls his lighter out. With Meera gone, smoking is no more denounced inside the house. His blissfull throat drags the first puff and, letting it burn inside him for a while, he blows the warm smoke at the cold world.