Sunday, December 28, 2014

kitaab mili hai

किताब मिली है 

आज बहुत दिनो बाद जो धूप खिली है
छज्जे पर पड़ी एक पुरानी किताब मिली है

मटमैला, बदरंगा सा गत्ते का कवर
आधा चढ़ा है, आधा उतर गया है 
बस लटका है चंद धागो के सहारे
और कोने से ना जाने कौन कुतर गया है

अंदर, पीले पड़े पन्ने धूमिल से हो चुके है 
ना सर समझ आये ना पैर! बड़ा झमेला है 
बस श्ब्दो और अक्षरो की रस्साकशी समझिये
वैसे, किसी ने पीछे कटटम कुटटा खेला है

काका हाथरसी की चुटकिया है, या कृन्दन गंभीर
रासलीला युक्त पन्कितयां , या दैत्यो का साया है 
सोचता हूं, एक बार को कलम ले मैं खुरच कर देखूँ 
या दुबका कर लिटा दूं दोबारा, जहां से उठाया है 

आज बहुत दिनो बाद जो धूप खिली है
छज्जे पर पड़ी एक पुरानी किताब मिली है

- अक्षय सिंह 

Friday, December 26, 2014



To him, winters were all about smoke. Smoke, haziness, wafts that arose and settled (rather naughtily) in nooks and corners.
The puffs of air that escaped when he wrinkled his nose in disgust. The slow measured stream of smoky breaths. Warming those frozen hands and creating a canvas on dusty widow panes.
The hot embers that sizzled under layers of ash. The coffee mug that warmed the tip of his frozen nose as he inhaled it.

The fog! Oh, that dreadful morose fog that swirled and descended every night. And was found cuddled and frozen on shivering leaves next morning.
Scattered lights, hazy windshields, spooky strangers,dusky afternoons and dark inky sky.

Summers! Summers were a Hawaiian shirt darned with multihued patches of colour.
Winters! Winters were all about smoke.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014



Outwardly, he was the life of parties. Inwardly, he hated celebrations.
The noise of crackers, the over painted faces, the fake smiles, the over indulgences in greasy food and the desperate attempts at ignoring their inner hollowness.

Weddings where people bitched and exchanged fake small talks. Festivals where the opulent showed off their pitiful acquisitions. Wine gulping that ended in puking. And strained selfies that ended on social medias. 
They celebrated so that the world would notice. They celebrated to forget the wretchedness of their day to day existence. The true meanings had long been forgotten. The true spirit rotted in its grave.
Celebrations made him insane. Made him want to curl up and sob. Or bang his head on the walls. Immature? Yes.
Outwardly, he was the life of parties. Inwardly, he hated celebrations!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Of killing and mockingbirds

“If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? ”  
- Jem Finch ( To Kill a Mockingbird)

Jem is around 10 years old, in the book. And Jem could have not have put it more precisely. Like most children, he has the knack of getting things right ( digging beneath the murk of social prejudices). Since the author did not write about Jem's or Scout's (his sister) adulthood, I sincerely hope that their spirit remained intact all life long.
Children always get it right. Like insane people, mystics, poets and a few old people. Unfortunately, children do not know how to gift wrap their opinions in words, philosophies and mutterings. And are hence, shushed and reprimanded. Although, considering that the rest of the 'get it right' crowd is actually shunned by the society, I think it's a blessing that children lack the tact.

The novel was written in the 1960s. At a time when words like nigger, colored and black were freely used. And the discrimination on the basis of colour and ethnicity was well marked. Black people knew their place and toed the line. 
Today we have replaced black with African American, crippled with 'differentially abled', leprosy with Hansen's Disease, faggot with lgbt and whore with 'sex worker'. All in the name of 'political correctness'. 

But, have we really moved beyond our prejudices? Do we really 'mean' these phrases when we use them to describe people? Why is it that 'To kill a mockingbird' is still widey read (and associated with)? 

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 

And how many such innocent mockingbirds do we persecute everyday? In our minds or in the real world. Persecute them for their color, their caste, their social status, their religion, their ethnicity or just their appearance. 

People from Kashmir are terrorists, people from U.P are goons, people from anywhere down south are Madrasis, Mallus are cunning, Marwaris are stingy, Punjabis are loud and Bengalis are pseudo-intellectuals. As soon as a person tells you his/her name ( or is unfortunate enough to actually have an accent), your rifles start loading themselves.

How many times are we ( consciously or subconsciously) rude towards those 'beneath' us. The beggar by the side of the street, the cleaning lady, the poor patient in the ward, the kid serving tea at the roadside hotel and the driver. What happened to basic manners? A right to dignity? Or, must be attach a brand label to that too.
Blame the maid for breaking the vase, the driver for stealing, the guard for sleeping on duty and the nanny for spoiling the kid. It is okay for kids to misbehave with them (and reserve their best behavior for the 'guests'). 

What use is education if people continue asking each others' castes? ( and judging and bonding over it). 
Why are we still stuck to 'reservations' in examinations when generations of people have already profited and are no longer 'subjugated'. To look at the grass on the other side, why are we still facing the brunt of communal violence and khap panchayats? 
How does one's religion make one a terrorist or a saint? Why is it that caste and religion politics still dominated the country? Why are we still looking for 'fair' brides? 
Are these not the reflections of the society's mindset? Are these not equal to hanging an innocent man for his colour? 

 "I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."

To understand all this, we must ponder over eight ear old Scout's words . There is just one kind of folk. How long will it be before we look beyond all these social constraints and see an individual, as an individual? Train ourselves to greet, treat and accept everyone equally ( until you come to understand their natures well enough).

Or, must we wait until someone labels us as a mockingbird too? And shoots us down. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

WITCH ( Short story)

Dharini wrapped the shawl around her. These autumn winds were always just, her grandmother used to say. Their brazen heat and stabbing cold, were both equally merciless. And they whispered too, if only Dharini was careful enough to listen.
'How eerie must all this seem, to an outsider', she wondered silently. 
A woman on the outskirts of a field, clad all in black, hurrying alone from the direction of the village. Her swinging threadbare 'jhola'  and the rustle of her heavy ghaghra, piercing the deadly silence of the night.

She hated to go out at night, even after spending all her life near the village. If only the sarpanch's grandson hadn't fallen ill tonight, she would have never taken the risk. With the nearest doctor being hours away, most of the people ended up relying on her knowledge of the herbs. She hoped that the broth she had brewed up for kid, would suffice. 

A dog howled somewhere, and she came back to reality. She had reached her humble hut. Mud thatched, with a small courtyard in the front, beyond which lay her tiny piece of farm. Someone passing by would probably not give it a second glance. To Dharini, it was home.

She threw off the shawl on the 'chorpoi', squatted down on the dusty floor and dipped her palms into the 'ghara'. She splashed it all over her taut arms and literally drenched her face with it. 
As she scooped up her hands again, she came face to face with her reflection in the rippled surface. Big eyes, looking deeper with the layer of kajal painted all around, full lips that spread into a warm smile, her tousled over hair, greying at the corners and a high pointy nose.As water washed away the dust and grime, she took a deep breath and finally let go of the knot in her chest.

Probably she shouldn't have. Misfortune has a very appropriate ( almost comic) timing.
Dharini did not know what hit her, as her head hit the ground hard. Lights blinked in front of her eyes, and even in that state of dizziness she could hear the vessel being smashed.
Before she knew, two pairs of strong hands had pulled her up and thrown her down again. She landed on the gnarled roughly hewn chorpoi, her bangles clanged with her jhola lying there.

"What the fuck were you doing out there for so long?",the voice almost spat in her face!
She jerked open here eyes, to find four men standing before her. Their sweaty, muscled bodies glistened in the moonlight. Lathis in hand and reeking of liquor, she met their stare as hard as she could.

"We have been waiting for you for an hour now."
"Bitch! We finished off three bottles in there", the second one aimed a slap at her face.

Dharini ducked and jumped off the cot. She darted her eyes towards the gate, but they had made sure that she was blocked.

"Oh! this one's got spirit. What will you do? Huh? Beat us all down or throw some fucking potion in our face?"

"Ok. Let's not get violent. Not yet", the fourth one came of the shadows. He looked sober. As menacing as the other three, but sober.

"Dharini. I am sure you know what this is about.", he leaned forward, face to face with her.
"I do not think so", Dharini kept staring. Unflinching. 

"Oh yes. You do. What will you do with this piece of shit land you own? You know Thakur wants your land. How many times must he come and ask you? I know times have changed, you caste people have some little power now. But,some things never change. Do they?"
Dharini stared even harder. Hoping, praying that they could not hear the wild thumping of her heart!

"Now. Why don't you put your thumb here? A tiny little thumb print. And then you can take your money. Thakurji is very generous. Take your money and go live near your son's college. Make food for him, find a good girl for him . And forget this place. Who will till your land? You are already aging and your son will soon get a job in the city. Eh?"

"Your Thakur has already told me all this. I suppose you brought these goons along, to make the explanation more clear? Or, are there other plans you have in mind", Dharini clenched her fist. She knew she was literally toying with fire here.

"Yes. Well, you see, unfortunately all three of them are drunk now. And well, I can't really control them. Have you heard of chudails? Chandalins? those evil witches that brew potion, curse men and and eat their children.
You must have heard of how they stripped a woman in the other village that day, branded her with fire and then burnt her. Now, think about you. Lonely ageing woman, living in a faraway cottage and brewing medicine. Think of how nicely you fit the profile"

Dharini clenched the end of her choli in her fists. The man was now in an ecstasy!
"See, even here Thakurji is kind. WE will spare you the shame. Just burn your nice and quiet, in the middle of the field. We will take your thumb print first. And mind you, we have no qualms about cutting it off, if you do not agree.
Then we will tell the village that the spirit took over you and you were unstoppable. And how you turned so devilish and attacked us so vehemently that we had no other choice but to immolate you. What do you say now?"

Dharini sat rooted to the spot. Her vision blurry, her head aching with the thumping of her heart. She felt nauseous, faint. Yet she knew she must not let the fear show. She gathered every ounce of strength she had.
"This", and spat in the man's bearded face.

"You filthy little untouchable dumb woman", he slapped her hard in the face. She tasted blood. Another sharp pain in her side told her that one of their legs had made contact with her ribs.
She sprawled on the ground, still not wanting to scream. Blood and sand gulped down their throat, as she tried to stifle her voice.

"Carry the bitch. I am done wasting time on her"
She felt a strong pair of hands grabbing at her hair. another one clasped her hands tight, binding them together. The rope cut into her skin so deep, she could already feel a welt forming.

They dragged her, two of them clasping her arm on both sides. Her bare feet skidded along the mud, over the stones. She could feel their iron grips on her flesh. They were deliberately twisting her arms, until she finally let out a low howl of despair.

The man leading the party, turned back and smiled viciously. 
"Scream now. As much as you want. One we alight you, we'll stuff a rag up your throat, make sure that no one gets disturbed while the witch burns"
The taunting, abusing and twisting kept increasing as they approached the middle of the field. She tried to dig her feet into the mud, in sheer desperation.
HEr knees buckles as the lathi blow landed on her calves. And hard. She screamed in distress, their laughter drowning her misery. 

The fourth one was waiting for them up ahead. Near a long wooden pole that they had planted there. 
"Bind her there. Enough of toying around"

She gave up all struggle. Her ears buzzed as they smashed the back of her head against the pole. Her wrists sore and red, dripping with blood that oozed out from the rope wounds. 
"Move. Let me get her thumb print first", the sober one moved forward, the kerosene container and the papers in his hand. He cupped her face between both his fingers. 
"Any last words?", he smirked as his fingers sought out her thumb.

"Yes. You. You will scream the loudest", Dharini looked him straight in the eye.

He jerked his head around at the sound of the screams. Piercing, shrill, unearthly screams. If he wasn't seeing them right now, he would've never believed that his companions could ever produce such sounds. All three of them were kneeling on the ground, their arms twisted, their heads thrown back and their backs arched! Screaming as if their bodies were on fire!

"What? What the fuck is happening", his eyes bulged with fear as turned towards Dharini again!

Her eyes were white. Opaque. An evil smile lightning her face. As he watched, stupefied, the smile grew into a growl. 
The first one's head popped off. Popped. Muscles tore open, blood gushed out in spurts as it flew into an arc and landed miles away. The maimed body shuddered before it crumpled into the ground.

"Let's have some more fun. Shall we?", Dharini's ropes disappeared in a puff of smoke. Her sinewy arms raised and pointing at the other two.

Snakes the likes of which he had never seen. Snakes. Cobras, kraits, vipers and what not! Crawling, slithering out of the fields. They bodies glistening, climbing over each other almost as if it were a race.
They bit at every part they could find.In front of his eyes, both those frozen figures were reduced to a pile of bites, blood and gore.Unable to scream or protect themselves, they disappeared under the sheer wright of those ghastly creatures. He couldn't help himself, he puked. Puked and threw himself at Dharini's feet.

" ..go. I will ask Thakurji to let it all go..og..g...go!"

He dared not look at her face. She grabbed his hair and whispered in his ears, "But I told you that you will scream the loudest"

He had no idea where the flames emerged from. All he knew was, he could not move. His skin, muscle and bones were on fire. And he could do was scream. And how he screamed!
He screamed at the fire that devoured him, screamed at the stink of his charring flesh, screamed at the glassy eyed terrifying apparition in front of him. He screamed and howled and moaned, till there was nothing but a mass of blackened soot. And even then, his screams lingered in the air, echoing in the still darkness of the night.

Dharini made her way back to her cottage slowly. The autumn winds seemed warmer now. And quiet. The whispering had died out.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Chand munda saga II - Dhumralochana

"Oh! If only you had seen her lustre. Her beauty radiated among the valleys of Himalayas. We have never seen anyone as exquisite as Her, O Shumbha!
You must collect Her, take possession of Her and make Her yours. You have all the treasure in the world. The mighty elephant Airavata, Parijata tree and the horse Uccaihas'ravas have captured them from Indra.
Look at that resplendent chariot yoked with swan, the shimmering gem which belonged to Brahama. The treasure of treasures, Mahapadma, taken from Kubera himself.
Ah! This everlasting garland named Kanjakini, that the Ocean bestowed upon your Holiness. The gold showering umbrella of Varuna, Prajapati's chariot, Yama's weapon of death ( Utkarinda) and all gems that have ever been found in the mighty seas.
Agni deva has gifted you and your brother, Nisumbha, with garments purified by fire.

Why must you not add this woman to your collection? This epitome of beauty, grace personified, embodiment of womanhood ... She must be yours, sire"

Shumbha looked upon Chanda and Munda silently, his gaze unwavering. His fingers drumming softly over the hilt of his sword.
Both these servants of his, were dumb to begin with. But he trusted their judgement in this matter. And his curiosity had been roused. There must be something special about this woman, that made these two dim witted fools go on and on.

"Carry my message to her. Make sure you deliver it with respect and love. I want her to come to me. Not get scared and try to run and hide", he exclaimed with a sigh.

                      *           *                   *                  *                *
Chanda stamped on Munda's foot.
"Don't bow, you oaf. Master told us to be polite. Not degrade ourselves", he hissed in Munda's ear.
"Why don't you try clearing your throat? That gruff bull like voice of yours will scare her away. And then masters shall skin both of us alive"

Both of them cleared their throats and looked upon the Devi, seated on the mountains. She looked clam, magnificent, radiating an energy that both of them could palpate in the air.

"We come here to deliver a message from Shumbha and Nishumbha. Both our masters are unmatched in their prowess. They are not just ruthless monsters, they are great connoisseurs of art.
Their treasury is filled with gems from all over the universe.
You, my lady, are a gem of such sort. A gem among women. Unmatched and unparalleled. We invite you to come marry either of our masters.
You shall be gifted with wealth and ornaments, the likes of which you wouldn't have dreamed of."

The Devi looked upon them, her face gave away nothing. She spoke slowly, deliberately, each of her words ringing with deep notes and deeper gravity,
"You have spoken nothing but truth. Alas! I have made a foolish promise.
I can wed only him, who defeats me in battle. Only when a man can match my strength and pride .. will he be my husband.
Go deliver this message to your lords. If they wish to win my hand, they must come and prove their worth first"

Chanda and Munda looked at each other, a little taken aback. They had expected hesitation, pleading, even a little womanly temper and flirting.
But this, this was unacceptable.

"Do not be so vain and foolish! The entire might of Devas could not stand in front of Shumbha and Nishumbha.
How will you, a lone woman, face them? Do not make her drag you by the hair!", they roared together.

Their hair were disheveled, eyes bloodshot, fists clenched and teeth bared. They were bound by their orders.
If only they weren't here as messengers, this woman would have been reduced to pieces.

The Devi smiled and repeated, "Go tell Shumbha and Nishumbha that this all I have to say. If they are not scared to accept the challenge, let them come and face me"
                                       *             *            *                 *

Dhumralochan stood still, blood pounding in his ears and his heart beating wildly in anticipation. This was what the rakshas loves best, the pre-war stillness.
"Come! come surrender to Shumbha and Nishumbha. Or else, I shall be forced to drag you by the hair. And do not have nay doubts, I shall show no mercy to you."

Amibka stood upon the snowy Himlayan peak. Adorned with weapons, muscles poised and eyes focused on Dumralochana.
The commanding fury of her voice was accompanied by the terrifying roar of her lion.
" Come! O mighty Dhumralochana. You have come to defeat me, with the might of the Asura army, come and fulfill your duty"

This was exactly what he had hoped for. Dhumralochana ran ahead of his army, trampling those unfortunate enough to come in his path. This woman was his to crush. She shall bear the pain first-hand. He alone shall hear her first screams.
Ambika stood as still as ever. It was the collision of two forces so different, and yet so similar in essence. Her anger rose as Dhumralochana came closer.
She raised her head, shook her silken hair, her lip curled up gently and she heaved. ehr heave was nothing but a syllable, a manifestation of shakti itself.
And as the sound collided with Dhumralochana, he vanished. He disappeared in a puff of smoke, evaporated and disintegrated.

Befoee the army could comprehend what had taken place, Ambika's arrows, spears and javelins were raining upon them. Her mighty lion roared and pounced upon the approaching Asura army.
The bloodbath had begun.

He was an army in himself. untamed, ferocious and lusting for blood. His paws slashed open hearts and threw out intestines, his mouth chewed upon whatever lay in front of him. His hind legs trampled asuras by the dozen, his mane glistened with blood as he turned the army into a mess of broken limbs, severed heads and withering bodies.

                                             *                *                *              *
Shumbha was livid. His entire army slain by a mere woman and her pet lion?

"Chanda and Munda! Go bring that shrew to me. Defeat her, bind her and drag her by the hair. Show no mercy. She must repent for what She has done."

Chanda and Munda bowed deep, smiling. They had still not forgotten the way that haughty woman had treated them.
It was time to take revenge. And then some.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Immortality, my dear Watson.

Way back in 1903, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to bring him back to life. Because people pestered him until he did. But that wasn't the last time he was going to reincarnate.
When Sir Arthur had published the first story (A study in scarlet) in 1887, he probably had no idea what legend was he giving birth to (or maybe he did, with his genius powers of deduction).

I had first come across Holmes in a dusty little book from my school library. Dear old Ma'am. Bhardwaj had thrust it in my hands and roared,
"Sale, how come you haven't read Holmes? Take it!"
And I took him home. Ended up staying up late, missed out on two lunch breaks, one PT period and my sanity. Before long, he began filling up the void in my life.

As first, it was just the interesting observations and the astounding mysteries. Then, his charisma drew me closer. This logical, seemingly cold blooded, classic British man ... gave me butterflies.
He was Howard Roark, Hannibal Lecter, James Bond and Dr.Jekyll all rolled in one. And, he could play violin.
Feluda, Poirot and many others came and went. But he remained the ultimate master.

I thought I was done with him when I flipped through the last pages of 'The case book of Holmes'. But, I couldn't have been more wrong.
He returned on television. The charming Jeremy Brett ( and I remember my mom got hooked to Holmes too).
The hound of Baskervilles kept returning, in countless movies and TV series ( at the cost of my torrent limit getting over early).
And then Mr.Robert Downey sexed up Holmes. And the entire world swooned over him (all over again).
The latest brilliant modern age adaptation by BBC ( starring benedict cumberbatch), is another feather in Doyle's cap.

So, what is it about Holmes? He is an unlikely hero. No superpowers, no particularly striking sense of style, not over-the-top good looking (if you go by Doyle's modest descriptions).
No love affairs to flare up his image. No kung fu, no gadgets, not exactly humble and nothing supernatural about him too.

Holmes appeals to the scientist in all of us. The hope that we all possess powers that we have not explored yet. He is an example of the heights to which man's intellect can climb.
He inspires nothing but awe, undistilled raw awe. He is as significant today, as he was two centuries back.
He personifies the fact that there exists no greater power than that of the mind. Gadgets, methods, missions and time can change.
But as long as you have a clear focused mind, nothing is impossible.

He shall continue to reincarnate and teach us all. But to most of us, he shall always be the overcoat clad, Deerstalker donning, lens holding, pipe smoking, violin playing 'consulting detective' from 221B Baker Street.