A Really Long Short Story Titled “Cause & Effect” [Chapter 1]

Marine Drive

-CHAPTER 1-

For a long time he stood there, naked except for the wet towel around his waist, eyes closed and arms wide, inviting the strong flow of cold air that the window-mounted air conditioner spewed out. He knew that it wasn’t the cleanest air he could breathe, and knew that a lot of dust and potentially harmful things were being hurled at his face at a high speed, but he didn’t mind. It was the cold he wanted, the momentary relief from the unforgiving, sweaty humidity of the summer that forced him to shower twice a day. He didn’t mind the showering part – what he didn’t like was that he sweated so much every day, even if all he did was sit on his desk all day at work. The weather was all that he hated of the city – the city that he had moved to a couple of years earlier in search of a new life. He had found it and much more. He loved the chaotic harmony of the tiny city made up of all those tiny islands in the corner of the country. He loved the fact that he was barely twenty minutes away from a secluded beach. He loved the fact that he could get lost in the crowd in this city and not panic. It was a city of straight lines and parallel tracks. And he loved every inch of it. Except for the bloody weather.

He came out of his trance-like state and walked around the room, discarding the towel and mined his clothes for the day from the wardrobe – a chore that always made him feel a little bit like an archaeologist digging for buried treasure. The room was tiny, but given the standards of the city, a palace. The apartment was a one-room deal with a kitchen and a living room. He shared the bedroom with the only person who made living in the cramped quarters fun – his wife.

He dressed quickly and sat down on his desk, angled the air-conditioner’s vents so that he could feel the cold blast of air on his face and lit a cigarette. Even before he lit it, he knew it was asking for trouble.

He had hardly taken a couple of drags on it when his wife opened the door and entered, wrapped in a wet towel of her own. She stood there, staring at him and his cigarette and folded her arms across her chest and said, “Why the hell are you smoking?”

[to be continued]

How To Survive An Encounter With A Wild Animal

In this handout photograph received from the Delhi police, an Indian schoolboy is confronted by a white tiger inside its enclosure at the Delhi Zoo on September 23, 2014.I’m sure you have either watched, heard about or read about the tragic accident that happened at the Delhi Zoo yesterday. A 20-year-old man climbed into the enclosure of a white tiger (either by mistake or stupidity) and was killed when the tiger attacked and mauled him.

I watched the footage and I was repulsed, obviously. I don’t condone videos of people being killed. But there were a few things that I noticed that struck me as unfortunate. The man could have actually survived the ordeal if he knew a few basic things. I am going to list them out here and I urge you to share this with as many people as possible. It might just save someone’s life.

These four basic survival rules are applicable if you ever find yourself face-to-face with a tiger or a lion – either in a zoo or in the wild.

  1. Don’t run. The minute you turn your back on the animal, it chases you down.
  2. Don’t make yourself a small target. The natural predator-prey relationship works on the intimidation principle. Stand up tall, maybe even take your shirt off and hold it out behind you to make it look like you have wings. If you make yourself look larger, the tiger or lion will think twice about attacking.
  3. Don’t urinate. Urination is a way of marking territory – the second the tiger smells your urine, it considers it a challenge and will fight you to the death to defend its territory.
  4. Make a lot of noise. The tigers are just as scared of you as you are of them. For the tiger, you are a strange sight in its otherwise human-free habitat. They are also curious about you, and being natural predators, they will want to assess whether you are edible or not. The best way to discourage the tiger is to make a lot of noise. Shout and scream  out as loudly as you can by looking at the tiger. Look the tiger in the eye when you make the noise. Don’t look away and don’t run! Stand your ground and shout.
  5. No quick. repetitive movements. Don’t move your hands around too much or twirl your shirts around. A quick moving target irritates the beasts and they will charge. Stay as still as you can, while you shout and stand up tall.

When you realize the tiger or lion is either scared or going away, back away from the place slowly. Whatever you do, do not turn your back on it. Do not run. Retreat slowly but steadily without ceasing the noise.

Follow these five basic rules and you may just live to tell the tale.

Thirty And Me

Keep Calm Turning 30

At precisely 42 seconds past 5.30 PM this evening (on Aug 20, 2014) the Earth will complete it’s thirtieth revolution around the Sun with me on it. I have spent the past four hours reading about what it means to people when they exit their twenties.

Turning 30 is supposed to be a big deal, an achievement of sorts, having survived tsunamis, earthquakes, riots, murderers, diseases, ninja assassins and of course, traffic. It is also supposed to signify the fact that I’ve officially a grown up and cannot rely on my youthful ignorance as an excuse when I screw up. I am supposed to be responsible, financially and emotionally stable, be able to hold down a job for more than three months and not throw boogers at passersby. I am not supposed to scratch my balls in public and have random fits of paranoia causing me to run down the road naked, dodging invisible aliens. I am supposed to be mature enough to realize the difference between right and wrong, morals and immorality, black, white and grey, and most importantly, coffee and tea.

I am supposed to start leading a healthier lifestyle – no more smoking, no more drinking binges and definitely no more weed. I am supposed to drink lots of water and work out regularly to ensure that my first heart attack happens only three decades from now.

I am supposed to be a strong pillar of support for my parents, be able to provide a good quality of life for my wife and be a responsible role model for my younger brother. I am supposed to be mentally strong to deal with the real world and I am not supposed to get depressed with the fact that I am growing old and am one year closer to death.

When I look back on the things I’ve done during the past three decades, I am surprised at the level of ignorance, insensitivity and intolerable cruelty that I have exhibited at times. I am also surprised at some of the intelligent decisions I’ve taken, something I was not sure I was capable of.

I’ve alienated people, I’ve infuriated those who love me and I’ve driven others to murderous rage. I can think of people who would put a bullet through me right now given the chance. I can think of people who would walk past me on the street and pretend to not recognize me. I can think of people who would smile at me and stab me in the back with the metaphorical knife when I turn around. But I can also think of people who would love me unconditionally and take me in as a part of their family. I can think of hundreds of people who would still acknowledge my existence without any animosity.

In a world filled with hate and anger, where people are being slaughtered each minute, the fact that one insignificant boy in Bangalore has grown up and turned thirty should not make a difference. But when I look at the journey I’ve been through to get here, I am overwhelmed. I am moved to tears at the kind of experiences I’ve had – the good, the bad and the ugly ones.

We all have fantastic experiences in our lives every day. Each moment of joy we experience means so much to us that it’s hard to imagine hordes of such people being killed. Millions of dreams and hopes being crushed every single minute by people pursuing theirs. I ask myself if it’s all worth it. Is it worth having a really ‘happy’ birthday when there is so much grief all around us. Or maybe, these tiny sparks of happiness keep the world turning.

We are all allowed meaningless rants straight from the heart, once a year. Today is my turn. As I see the clock inch closer and closer to the hallowed hour, I am filled with a little hope about hope.

Image Courtesy: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Listen To Mr. Jim

So, I get this weird email this afternoon. Here’s the screenshot:

Email Screenshot

First of all, who the fuck are you to call me “Sirs”? I may look like I’ve eaten 3 people but I’m just one person. So, when you begin your email with a fat joke, I immediately assume you’re an idiot.

So, when you send me an email saying you have submitted MY domain name to Mr. Jim even though he has advised you to move on to another, then you’re really pissing me off. Listen to Mr. Jim, asshole. Move along. This domain is NOT for sale, rent or lease. Unless you are willing to pay a ridiculously high amount of money for it.

Shit, I’d be disappointed is this were spam. Oye, Jiang Zhihai! Are you for real? I need two suitcases full of money in cash if you want this domain name. Let’s make the exchange in a dark alley wearing overcoats and hats, while ominous music plays around us. You hear me?

 

The Misjudged Criminal

“This country has gone to the dogs!” muttered the mechanic as he bent over my shiny bike.

I stood behind him and said nothing, boiling in the unseasonably hot weather that seemed to force every drop of water out of my body as sweat. I glanced at my watch and realized I was getting late for work, and the traffic would have built up to an impenetrable mass of steel and smoke by now. Bangalore on a summer morning is not for the weak-hearted.

“You’re lucky they didn’t rip this whole thing off. It’s a custom-made part and very expensive,” he said and continued to tinker with the bike, crouched so low that he was almost squatting. I asked him to hurry up and told him that I was getting late for work.

1 Year Earlier:
He knew he didn’t do anything wrong. He hadn’t meant to steal the diamond. He’d just found it lying on the floor next to the dead body, shining prettily in a pool of congealed blood. He’d picked it up, wiped it on his shirt and had tried his best to avoid looking at the corpse, which was stinking up the place a bit. Just as he had thanked his luck on finding a diamond as big as a gold ball, he heard the distinct sirens of an approaching police vehicle. He’d panicked and run in the wrong direction, almost directly in front of the two bright headlights that screeched to a halt. Two constables had jumped out, armed with their lathis and had yelled something at him. He hadn’t paused to think. He had just run.

He thought back on his stupidity as he ran down the deserted roads of Rajajinagar, past the Navrang theater. He could hear the running feet of the constables pursuing him, yelling at him to stop. They had probably just wanted to question him. He should have just stayed there and answered their questions. Who am I kidding, he thought bitterly. They would have just framed him for the murder, confiscated the stone from him and thrown him in jail to rot for the rest of his life. The cops in this city were notorious for their stupidity and laziness. I did the right thing, he thought, as he ran.

He picked up speed and decided to dodge the pursuers in the countless narrow alleyways that peppered Raj Kumar Road on either side. His heart sank as he heard the sound of the siren at a distance behind him. The police jeep had joined the pursuit! He looked around and saw a half-open shutter of what looked like a motorbike service center. He didn’t think – he ducked in and the darkness of the warehouse enveloped him. He could hear his heart racing madly as he stood still in the corner, in complete darkness, and worried that the cops would hear it too. He didn’t move a muscle and stood there for a long time after the running constables and the police jeep had passed the warehouse. He dared not move and go out again. He felt around him and his fingers found a blanket hanging from a wall peg. He snatched it off and draped it around him. He could feel the bulk of the diamond pressing up against his thigh through his trouser pocket. He clutched it tightly and made a decision that he would regret for almost a year.

Yesterday:
Midnight found him walking alone, dejected, shoulder slumped, clutching a half-empty bottle of the local whiskey. His whole life had been a series of missed chances and unlucky coincidences that had almost ruined him once. He still shuddered a bit when he thought back to that fateful day a year ago when he had almost been caught for a murder that someone else had committed. Every now and then, his hand went to his thigh where the golf-ball sized diamond had poked him – in his darkest dreams, he dreamed that he had the diamond in his hands and enjoying the wealth that it brought him. Not a day went by in which he kicked himself for hiding the stone in one of the parked motorbikes. The only thing he remembered was that it was an Avenger motorbike. He had hid the stone in a crevice of the engine and stepped out of the warehouse to make sure the coast was clear. He didn’t want to be caught with the stone in his possession in case a constable or two were canvassing the area. He had walked around slowly, ready to drop to the ground and pretend to be drunk and homeless at the first sight of a cop.

No one had been around. After about fifteen minutes of walking around, he had decided to chance it and had headed back to the warehouse to collect his precious diamond. He had stood in front of the warehouse, shaking in anger, cold, fear and the deepest despair, staring at the shutter that was now firmly closed and locked. In his panic, he had walked all around the building trying to find a way in, but in vain.

The next morning, he had been present at the warehouse door when it opened, and had been chased away by the security guard. He barely had enough time to notice that the precious motorbike that held his diamond was a black Avenger 220 CC bike with the registration number 9669, before he had lost it in the seemingly endless traffic of bikes and people that came in and out of the warehouse. He had taken up an all-day vigil across the street from the warehouse, waiting for the precious bike to be wheeled out, and he had decided that he would take his chances in broad daylight and try to remove the diamond from its crevice. All his hopes had been dashed by a fat man who rode off on the bike. He had seen the fat man riding the bulky motorbike through an endless stream of tears in his eyes.

He stumbled and fell to the ground as he remembered that fateful day and let out a wail of despair. He cursed God and everything that he felt like cursing and crawled on all fours in the middle of the empty tree-lined street, with only his shadows and the harsh orange street lights for company. He crawled to the sidewalk and sat down heavily, taking a swig from his bottle. As he lifted his head to drink, he saw the goddamn bike parked across from him. It was that bike! It was a black Avenger 220 CC bike, numbers ending 9669. He looked at it, his hand paused mid air and the whiskey pouring on his legs and onto the street, which he didn’t notice. He stared at the bike for a good, long minute and looked around to see if there were anyone else on the road. He dropped the bottle and scrambled hastily on all fours across the street to the cursed bike, grunting with anticipation and pain. He crawled up to the bike and his hands trembled as he touched it. Tears welled up in his eyes, his lips quivered as he cried, this time in joy. He seized the strange-looking engine part with both hands and ripped it apart. He looked longingly at the little golf-ball sized diamond that fell out of the crevice and sat in his palms. The engine part that he had ripped apart dangled from a few cables and wires, dripping petrol, oil and other fluids on the ground, and saw the man run away, whooping with joy and laughing hysterically.

Present Day:
“But why would anyone do that?” I asked, as I paid twenty rupees to the mechanic.
“Carburetors fetch anywhere between four hundred and five hundred rupees, sir,” he said. You’re lucky they didn’t steal it. They were probably interrupted by someone.”
“I guess so. Thanks,” I said, climbed on to my bike, and rode to work. The thought of someone trying to steal my bike’s carburetor angered me. The thought of negotiating the traffic in the heat of the summer put me in a bad mood. I just knew the day was going to be a long, bad one.

Pursuit Predators And Missing Airplanes

I stumbled as I ran blindly in the dark. The night seemed eerily quiet all around me except for the noise I made as I ran. When I stopped for breath, the pounding in my chest and my rapid deep breaths of panic were all I could hear. I couldn’t perceive anything around me. As I ran ahead, all I could think of was to survive. And I needed to get back to my ship. I had to escape this hell.

I seemed to be in some kind of an overgrown jungle. Wet leaves, branches and fronds slapped me all over as I ran through them. I was thankful for my body suit but I was worried about my air filters. Through the foggy visor of my helmet, I peered down at my chest and saw that the air filter was choked with dirt. I brushed it awkwardly with my gloved finger and immediately felt the the cool rush of breathable air circulate inside my suit. I took a deep, satisfying breath and looked back at the dark jungle through which I had just run.

I could only see the dark silhouettes of the forest and the looming shadows of enormous trees, standing tall as a black shadow of ancient giants against the dark night sky. A few smattering of stars here and there twinkled down at me, as if amused at my plight. I leaned against the trunk of a huge tree and took a few more deep breaths, calming my nerves. My legs trembled less and less with each passing second and I could feel my heart rate slowing down. I didn’t hear the faint whizz of the metal spear but felt the dull thud as it embedded itself with a sickening impact into the tree trunk, barely an inch from my hand. I jumped back, and ran. The creature had been following me and hunting me for over three hours now and it was showing no signs of defeat. Each time I thought I had put sufficient distance between us I was proved wrong. It was always near, lurking around the corners, hiding in the shadows and shooting its high velocity metal spears with a makeshift bow.

I cursed this planet as I ran. We should never have stopped here to explore. It was all Kai’s fault. If only she had half a brain. Well, she was dead now, killed by one of those deadly metal spears that had flown out of nowhere and had lodged itself firmly in her throat. I shook my head and forced myself to stop thinking about Kai. I was alone on an alien planet that was intent on killing me. I had to make my way back to the ship. That was my only hope. I dodged the forest left and right, high and low, retraced my steps to throw the creature off my track, and finally found a tree trunk that I could climb. It  was high enough to hide me from being clearly visible. I thanked the darkness and climbed as high as I dared, hugged the branch and lay still, watching the forest floor beneath me. Every rustle of a leaf and every chirp of an insect seemed to reverberate in my ear. My senses were on hyper alert.

On the horizon, I could see faint snatches of light from various points, glowing over the tops of the trees. Far away in the distance, I thought I heard the whine and growl of machinery, but I couldn’t be sure. We were told this was a primitive planet. We were told that life was almost impossible here due to the heavy, toxic atmosphere and the crushing gravitational pull of the nearest star. We were told to explore without fear and that it would be routine. I’d love to see the faces of those Command Center fucks now.

We were scientists. I was a specialist in alternative energy studies and my sole purpose on this trip was to collect geothermal readings from various planets, analyze them and rate them according to the ease of harvesting. In other words, I was a lab rat. Not a fucking soldier. I didn’t know how to survive in these situations. These creatures were terrifying to say the least.

We first encountered the aliens four hours into our exploration. The landing was routine, without any incidents. Kai and I had strayed far from our ship, collecting samples and making small talk when the clearing in which we stood was doused in bright, harsh light that blinded us. The light seemed to emanate from the forest itself. I could see Kai panicking, screaming and I ran to her to calm her down. We heard the guttural sounds that almost seemed to be a type of vocal communication. We looked up to see three figures walking towards us, gesturing and speaking. All I could make out was the unnaturally long limbs and the row of white, jagged teeth on their heads. I felt Kai shuddering suddenly in my arms and when I looked down, I saw the metal spear sticking out of her. I felt her body go limp. The creatures had killed her without warning. Without provocation. I ran.

I felt an insurmountable anger boil inside me as I lay on the tree branch. Anger at myself, at those short-sighted Command Center nuts and anger at these vile, merciless aliens and their makeshift weapons. I wanted to destroy it all.

I stiffened as I heard the rustle of the leaves somewhere to my left. It was different from the usual rustle of the wind. This was unnatural. I lay very still and saw the leaves part and the creature step forward slowly. It seemed to be looking at the floor, trying to discern my footprints. This type of pursuit predators were the scariest – they never tired, they never gave up and they hunted you down from your footprints and the twigs your feet snapped while you ran. The creature held the makeshift weapon in one hand as it slowly moved on two feet looking this way and that, and passed beneath my tree. I could see the top of it’s head as it passed under me. I was tempted to jump down and fight it, but held myself. I didn’t know how many more of them were out there.

I looked around in the general direction of my intended escape. The ship was somewhere off to the right and from my vantage point here, I could faintly see the outline of the ship’s tail. It was close. Closer than I thought! I felt a renewed surge of hope in me. I made sure that the creature had gone before I descended as quietly as I could and started jogging towards the ship. My heart skipped a beat when I heard the loud guttural shout from behind me. I didn’t look back. I ran as fast as I could. I could hear two, three, four, countless creatures behind me, all shouting and crashing after me. Where did so many of them come from?

I felt a searing pain shoot through my arm and when I looked down, I almost fainted in fright. I saw a thin metallic spear stuck in my arm. It had pierced the palm of my hand clean through! I didn’t dare pull it out. The pain was excruciating. I felt loud bangs from behind and I felt the forest explode all around me. One moment there was a lean tree trunk and the next, a loud bang from behind and the tree trunk exploded in splinters that rained over me as I ran headlong into the forest. I prayed and prayed that I was going in the right direction.The noise behind me was deafening.

I ran through the pain in my hand. I could feel the numbness creeping up my arm from the point where the spear had pierced through. I felt faint but forced myself to keep running. Escape! That was the only thing on my mind.

After what seemed like an eternity and almost when I thought of giving up and surrendering to the aliens, I broke through the tree line and almost collided with my ship. I screamed out in ecstasy and agony and clambered around the hulking machine and into the open bay door at the back. I saw the aliens break through the tree line and stop as they saw the ship. Through the closing bay door, I saw them hesitate. They seemed to be awestruck at the sight of the ship. One of the aliens saw the bay door that was closing and caught sight of my face through the rapidly closing slit. The metal spear it fired  pinged harmlessly off the ship and I heard the satisfying bangs and the thuds of the door closing and the bolts driving home. 

I stumbled my way to the cockpit and hit the big red button on the dashboard. Everything would be automated now. The ship would take me home.

I slumped down on to the floor and looked at my hand. I could see the metal spear sticking out from both sides of my palm, firmly lodged. The ship trembled slightly as the fuel heated up and the ignition kicked in. I almost felt sorry for the alien creatures standing outside the ship. They would all be fried to nothingness in about ten seconds. It was a pity. I could have observed them and studied them, had it been under different circumstances. I thought I heard them scream as the ship fired on all cylinders and cooked them to a crisp and lifted off. I breathed a sigh of relief as it picked up speed. In about fifteen seconds, it would automatically open up the wormhole into our world and shoot into it. I could hardly wait to get home and get someone to pull this fucking spear out of my hand.

I stood up gingerly and saw out of the cockpit window at the fascinating landscape of the vast blue planet beneath me. An entire planet that had evolved to breathe the most corrosive gas in the universe – oxygen. I shuddered at the thought.

I saw the brilliant golden glow of the wormhole opening up in front of me. Just as the ship neared it, out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement out on the horizon. The last thing I saw before being sucked into the wormhole was a huge metal cylinder hurtling through the air at a ferocious speed – almost like an aircraft – crashing into the ship at what seemed like a million miles per hour and the entirety of the fire and the debris being sucked into the wormhole. Drifting in the void of the wormhole, I saw the remains of the object that had collided with my ship. Hundreds and hundreds of those alien creatures floated away in the zero gravity of the wormhole, all dead. It couldn’t have been an aircraft, I thought to myself. This was supposed to be a primitive planet. Someone is going to have a lovely time trying to find this plane, I thought, smiling to myself as I blacked out, and hoped at the back of my mind that my arm and all my thirty-one fingers would be intact.

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The Maroon-Colored Claustrophobic Beauty

Mansi's AltoMansi has always been a car-lover. She has never been in a situation where she has had to depend on anyone else for a ride. In this latest cup of chai on CATW, she remembers her Alto fondly.

I’ve been riding bikes a lot longer than I have been driving cars, and I have no qualms about hitching rides from friends or strangers. My bikes, over the years, have abandoned me at so many crucial moments that I think I almost expect a bike I’m on to break down and force me to push it.

I’ll write a longer cup of chai on my biking (mis)adventures. Until then, we’ll have to use our imagination.