Strange Happening in the City – Part 1

Sunday, 6pm- Dubai

It had been an unusually long day, thought Jubilee as she took the elevator to the 3rd floor of her apartment. It was located in Bur Dubai- historically one of the oldest parts of dazzling Dubai.

The area was on the western side of Dubai Creek. It always seemed bustling with life as residential buildings jostled for space with 24×7 stores, hotels and street side joints serving anything and everything – from dosas and samosas, to biryani and kebabs, to the more local Middle Eastern cuisines including falafel* and the delectable shawarma** coupled with hummus.

Most of the country’s expat crowd lived in box life apartments stacked next to each other. If there was ever an example to be given for a cosmopolitan cocoon, this would be it.

Your neighbours in the adjoining flats could be as diverse as the colours on an artist’s palette. They could be a Pakistani family, a Lebanese businessman or even a group of Russian girls peddling their services as escorts in the innumerable night clubs across the city.

Jubilee who had celebrated her 38th birthday a few weeks ago, was an attractive looking lady. Marriage and motherhood had only enhanced her beauty over the years. She was tall, dusky with an impish smile! Right now she was wearing a beige coloured skirt with a slightly darker shaded brown top, the sleeves of which extended up to her elbows. All this was matched with fawn coloured sandals, giving her a sleek fashionable look.

Jubilee’s family had moved here only 2 weeks ago as this locality was much closer to her kids’ school than the previous one. The school bus stop was just 100 meters away from this building. Moreover, the metro station was simply a 10 minute walk, ferrying her husband daily and depositing him almost in front of his office. Oh, to have such convenience in a city like Dubai was indeed a blessing!

The elevator door finally opened on her floor and she took quick strides to her apartment and unlocked it. The cool waft of the AC welcomed her arrival into the empty flat. She dropped her handbag and plonked herself on the sofa.

It felt good to be back in the pleasant confines of her house. Temperatures above 40 °C scorched the desert kingdom outside. She had been outdoors most of the time today.

The school bus of both her kids was off the road. The school authorities had simply texted a terse message in the morning to all parents informing them of a breakdown in the bus engine. So, could they ferry their wards today, both ways? It simply ended with an apology for the inconvenience caused.

(Middle East follows a Fri-Sat weekend schedule)

If that was not enough, it coincided with her weekly shopping excursion to the supermarket. Later both kids, post lunch had wanted to spend some time at a common friends’ house. So, she had dropped them there and as agreed would pick them up a couple of hours’ later.

Jubilee was a proud Mom to 2 daughters – the elder Luvena and younger Solaina. While the younger was the sober one, Luvena was a live-wire and handling her sometimes left Jubilee exhausted! Yet there was no other happiness on Earth just to spend time with them and hug them to sleep with a bedtime story.

So yes, here she was finally with some moments for herself. That was also essential; to have some me-time, when she could just chill and relax on her own. Her hubby would return from work only around 8 pm. That made her check the time on her mobile phone screen. It was closing in on 6 pm.

So, she had a good 2 hours to unwind before she needed to start cooking dinner, pick up the kids and invest in some family affairs.

It would also be almost 7.30 pm in India now. (India is 90 minutes ahead of U.A.E) This made her think about her ageing parents in Bhubaneswar and she wondered what they would be doing. Most likely her mother would be having her evening snack- a bowl filled to the brim with ripe succulent slices of papaya, to take care of her constipation and her father would be tuned into the evening news.

Jubilee did not want to be disturbed for the next one hour at least. First, she decided she would take a nice relaxing shower. Then maybe she would watch some Tv. The thought of the cold water hitting her body reinvigorated her as she quickly got up from the sofa and proceeded to her bedroom.

Same Evening -Sunday 7.30 pm, Mumbai

The bedroom was in complete darkness. Sarita woke up with a start. Oh God! I have overslept, she thought to herself. She had planned on taking a short nap but at some point the exertion of daily life had taken its toll.

Thunder rolled in the distance warning of impending rain. It must be that sound which woke me up, thought Sarita.

She got up quickly from her bed, feeling around for her mobile in the darkness. She found it and turned on the torch app. She stepped out into the narrow corridor which led to the spacious living room cum dining hall.

Why was the entire house in darkness? She flicked on a couple of switches and realised there was no power at all.

Sarita who was in her early 40’s was an effervescent personality. Whoever came in contact with her, could not help but fall in love with her cheerful, bubbly self. She was a typical Aries – passionate, energetic and confident at almost everything! She was a bit chubby and that only added to her overall cuteness factor.

Her family had moved in only a couple of months ago into this building. It was a very old one- dating back to almost 2 decades; but her reason for moving in were almost the same as that of her friend Jubilee’s- proximity to her hubby’s office as well as to their kids’ school.

With the ever increasing traffic in the Maximum City, daily commuting had become a burden. This move meant sacrificing their previous modern furnished apartment but on the flip side this gave them more time to pursue activities other than just their work.

Being the home maker she knew there were no candles left in the house. She had intended to purchase some since the past week but each time it had slipped her mind or she had simply procrastinated leaving the errand unfinished.

Sarita changed her slippers into her walking shoes and stepped out into the foyer. There was a small convenience store just across the street.

She let out a sigh of dismay as she realized she needed to walk down and then back again over 6 flights of stairs.

A sudden roll of thunder brought a sense of urgency in her and quickly closing the main door, she stepped out.

She glared at the closed steel doors of the elevator in mock anger; which in turn stared back at her, standing like a cold, silent spectator to her obvious discomfort.

………………………………………………………………..

By now, Jubilee had collected her towel and change of clothes for the evening from her bedroom closet and headed for the bathroom.

She pushed open the bathroom door, but it would not budge. Surprised she looked at the bolt securing it from the outside. It was locked. She smiled and pulled it back.

She tried to push it open again. It refused to yield. This time with her palm open and her body weight on the door she pushed against it with force but the result still remained the same.

It was then that she realised that the door had been locked both from the inside as well as outside.

………………………………………………………………..

Sarita huffed and puffed her way up the stairs and back to her flat. The exercise yet again underscored the fact that covering any distance on flat ground was starkly different to covering the same over a flight of stairs.

Her husband, Shirish with both their kids – an elder son Shlok and daughter Ira, were at her in-laws’ place. He had gone to catch up with his parents’ well-being and the three of them would be back only post dinner.

Her reasons for not going were dual – Not only was she feeling a bit under the weather today but also in no mood to meet her in-laws and especially face her mom-in-law’s acrid tongue. So, she had decided to stay back and catch up on some sleep.

She lit up a couple of candles in the hall and got hold of the emergency lantern from the wooden cabinet. The lantern was a delicate hand-made glass piece crafted with intricate artwork and purchased during one of their exotic holidays to Turkey a couple of years ago.

Clutching it in one hand she started walking back to her bedroom.

Even as she approached it, she could feel something was not right. She slowed down her steps and realised the bedroom door was shut. Did she close the door when she had left her flat a few minutes ago? She was unsure. She never did that normally.

Gingerly she shifted the lantern onto her left hand and placed her right hand on the door knob and turned. It stayed put. She tried once more, a bit harder this time. It did not yield.

With her uneasiness growing she realised that someone had locked the door from inside.

………………………………………………………………..

Jubilee stood perplexed. How was this possible? The door had been alright when she had left the apartment a few hours earlier. She again tried pushing it open, this time with more force thinking that maybe she was missing something.

Just as she was about to step away, she thought she heard a sound coming from within the bathroom. As if someone was moving a chair around. It was a scraping sound; wood against floor.

A chair was being dragged on the floor! But why? And by whom? But for herself, there was no one else  present in the house.

With a growing sense of alarm she stood in front of the door watching it, unsure of what to do next.

………………………………………………………………..

Sarita felt sure that she had left the bedroom door open when she had stepped out  a few minutes earlier.

Yet the door was now closed. Not only that, it was locked too. Had there been a strong gust of wind which had shut the door? Yes, that was possible. She had seen the weather turn for the worse when she was outside.

A storm was building up. Not unusual at this time of the year in Mumbai. The monsoon was in full force!

Just as she was about to step away, she thought she heard a distinct sound from behind the door. She quickly put her ears against it.

Someone was moving around in her bedroom! The sound was unmistakable-shuffling of feet on the floor. But who? But for herself, there was no one else present in the house.

Suddenly she heard a slow sobbing sound from the room. A girl’s voice! Whoever it was, she seemed to be in pain- heart wrenching sobs cloaked in deep anguish came from within.

Sarita felt herself going cold.

At that instant, a sudden stroke of lightning and thunder surprised her. She stepped back hurriedly and thudded against the wall behind her dropping the exquisite lantern onto the floor.

The crash made a deafening noise in the empty flat with the glass breaking into a hundred pieces.

She stood trembling as darkness engulfed her once again.

To be continued…

Falafel* A deep-fried patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Falafel is commonly served wrapped in a pita like a sandwich.
Shawarma** is a dish consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical fire spit.
Hummus*** is a dip or a spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic.


Copyright © 2020 Wasim Jawaid

This work of fiction, written by Wasim Jawaid is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. For permission requests, send an email to the author wasim.jawaid@gmail.com

Strange Happening in the City – Part 2

Jubilee was trying her best to quell the rising sense of panic. Everything inside the bathroom seemed to be still now. She held the door handle again and furiously tried to yank it open. To no avail. It stayed locked.

“Who’s in there?!” she shouted, banging on the door a few times but all her calls were met only with a stony silence from the other side.

She strained her ears to the door again. All was quiet. She breathed a bit normally. Maybe she was just imagining things.

Just then she heard someone hum. A female voice! Jubilee stepped back abruptly as if an unseen hand had slapped her.

It was a sad melancholy tune and the person humming it seemed to be in some untold grief.

The voice drifted out slowly, wrapped in mystery and Jubilee could feel the hair on her arms bristle and stand erect.

………………………………………………………………..

“Ira, is that you?”, cried Sarita in alarm. No sound came from behind the door. Teenagers sometimes behaved in a weird manner. Did her daughter have a fight with someone at her in-law’s place? Or had she been bored and come back early? If that was so, then where were the others?

“Ira, open the door for God’s sake!” she almost yelled in the empty flat. She thumped the door a few times, with an unknown fear increasing its grip on her with every passing moment. “What happened sweetheart, why are you crying?!”

For a moment everything went absolutely silent. The rain seemed to be falling at a distance and even the thunder had gone quiet.

Then just when she thought the crying had stopped, it started again. This time it was louder, more painful and heart wrenching. Who was it inside in so much agony?

An involuntary chill passed through her body, making Sarita shudder and go absolutely still.

………………………………………………………………..

Jubilee stood in the hall now where she was relaxing only a few minutes ago. She had run away from the bathroom door, no longer able to withstand the fear.

A dozen questions were slamming her head from all directions. Who was inside the bathroom? From where had a chair come inside it? She cast a quick glance across the hall and then the bedrooms. No piece of furniture seemed missing.

The drifting voice had instilled a sense of fear in her which she had never experienced before. There was so much sadness in it, yet it was chilling. She quickly remembered to dial her hubby’s mobile. A beep and then an engaged tone greeted her. He must be busy at work. Damn!

She gingerly started to step back towards the bathroom again. Her hand trembled as she got hold of the wall for support.

Just then she heard a loud thud come from behind the door. It was as if a chair had been toppled onto the floor with a crash! In the empty flat the sound reverberated like a bullet shot.

A sea of blackness swept over Jubilee as she fell unconscious to the floor.

………………………………………………………………..

The rain was pelting now. It had reached a crescendo and was being punctuated in between with shards of lightning and thunder.

Sarita could not hear a thing. She nervously put her head against the door again trying to catch any sound. By now she realized it was not Ira. Her daughter would not behave nor sound like this. Moreover, she could not have come back alone without her father and brother.

So if not Ira then who was it? Just as she moved to collect her mobile from the hall to call her hubby, a blood curdling scream pierced the night trailing off into the wet darkness.

Involuntarily Sarita put both her hands onto her ears and even as she stood in shock disbelief, the enormity of the fact hit her squarely on her senses.

(tap to play)

The girl had jumped off from one of the bedroom windows to her death below.

One Year Earlier;  Bur Dubai, 6 pm

Surubhi was humming her favourite tune as she dragged the chair slowly across the bathroom floor.

This tune was a song which both the sisters had learnt from their father. They had grown up hearing it countless number of times until it had been imprinted on their minds.

When they were kids, Surubhi piggy backed on her beloved father’s shoulders and younger sibling Suruchi clasping her hand in his, walked alongside.

He would take them to the nearby park and along the way he would be humming this tune. The only difference was Surubhi always had happy memories associated with this melody.

Now as she hummed it, the strains had a ring of deep sadness around them.

This was because her best friend and her soulmate – her dear father Mohan had passed away under the most shocking circumstances. He used to run a shelter home for destitute women and their children back home in India. It was named Sewa Ashram. This year the local MLA had been invited for flag hoisting on Independence Day.

It was then that trouble started for her father and his sacred Institution.

The resident women of Sewa Ashram had recited the National Anthem and presented a short skit on the Independence struggle. Some of the children had presented a colourful song and dance routine. Overall, it had been a satisfactory affair. This was followed by a short speech from the MLA in which he praised Mohan Babu’s shelter home and the noble work he was pursuing.

What he did not mention was that he had already noticed a couple of women who had caught his fancy. His roving eyes had quickly taken note of their physical attractiveness and their mental vulnerability.

When her father had been away for a few weeks- he had spent a fabulous holiday with Surubhi and her children in Dubai- the shelter was left in charge of a Manager.

The Manager had been easily bribed by the henchmen of the politician. Initially it started with a couple of the women being forcibly taken away to a nearby guest house and dropped back the next morning. However, the carnal temptations of the politician and his coterie were too deep and their desires limitless.

Soon this started happening every night, leading to a chain of physical abuse and mental agony for the women until one of them gathered enough courage and called up their guardian Mohan Babu in Dubai. He had immediately taken the next available flight and landed at Sewa Ashram.

Police cases were filed and soon the shameful events were all over the media. Despite knowing he was up against powerful forces, Mohan knew he had to stand up for his inmates and bring them justice.

However he watched in dismay as not only the MLA managed to pull strings and get away unscathed but also the Manager pleaded not guilty shifting the entire blame onto Mohan. Some of the women inmates, threatened of dire consequences to them and their children by the MLA’s henchmen, became hostile witnesses turning against their beloved Mohan Babu.

His entire life’s dedication and hard work to a social cause lay in shambles. His own neighbours bayed for his blood. News reporters went after him demanding the strictest punishment possible.

On the morning of the incident a large mob had gathered outside the shelter home. A by-stander recorded the entire event on his mobile phone and it was soon viral on all leading Tv channels. Both sisters watched in shock and agony as their father was dragged out of his home by the crowd and beaten mercilessly. Who could dare to reason with a mob that had lost hold of their senses?

By the time the police had arrived and taken a bleeding Mohan to the hospital, he had suffered internal haemorrhage and was declared dead on arrival.

It had not even been 48 hours since her father’s death, that Surubhi’s husband had spoken of divorce. His family no longer wanted to be associated with a daughter-in-law of such ill repute. She had to pack her bags and leave Dubai. She had to sever ties with her only child too.

She knew life would never be the same again.

………………………………………………………………..

Now as Surubhi balanced herself on the chair inside the bathroom she closed her eyes for one final moment. She paused before taking the next step. Her father had gone the same place two evenings ago; she would follow him there- into the darkness, into oblivion- until she would meet him. Then there would be light.

Created by phantasmicart!



She pulled the red dupatta around her neck and tightened it against the hook on the bathroom’s ceiling. This was her guillotine. The hang man was ready.

The humming stopped as the chair swayed once before crashing onto the floor.

………………………………………………………………..

One Year Earlier;  Mumbai, 7.30 pm

Her elder sister had promised her it won’t hurt. It would be like entering into a dark tunnel but there would be light at the end of it and soon she would be re-united with her entire family- Surubhi, their mother and above all her beloved father!

Suruchi stood almost on the edge of the window ledge. City lights twinkled far below her and when she looked up stars sparkled gently in the night sky above. Soon, she would be there.

She had celebrated her 19th birthday with her college friends last week. There was a double reason for celebrations as in the same week she had landed an Internship at a prestigious firm where she would learn her craft. Life could not have been more perfect!

She had excitedly shared her happiness over phone with her dear father. During her birth, their mother had passed away. She no longer remembered her. For Suruchi her father was not only both parents, but also their buddy in whom she could confide all her fears and happiness.

How had their entire world come crashing down in the past 48 hours? Her father was gone; she still found it difficult to believe that. Surubhi would soon be gone too. Both sisters had agreed upon a common time to exit when they had spoken over the phone today.

Yes, she had to go now. The time had come. She was the youngest and they would all be waiting anxiously for her above.

Her mind was numb as she took a step forward balancing herself on the 6th floor window ledge of her Mumbai apartment. She had a mini statue, carved of sandalwood of her favourite deity on her study table. Suruchi whispered His name once.

She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and jumped.

Present Day; Mumbai

Sarita lay slumped against the wall in front of her bedroom. The storm had subsided. The rains were gone but they had left behind tears which now welled up in her eyes.

Even as she watched, the bedroom door slowly and silently swung open, revealing the darkness beyond.

Concluded

Reader's Corner

1) Do you think Surubhi's and Suruchi's spirits would appear every year on the same day and in the same rooms where they took their lives?
2) Would the killers of Mohan would ever be punished? If yes, would both sisters get the redemption they deserve? Do leave your comments and thoughts on the story.

This story is not complete without the mention of Ritwicka Banerjee, student of NIFT, Bhubaneswar. Both her sketches done specifically for my story add heft to it. I hope you will agree.

phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity is amazing! Thank you so much 🙂

Copyright © 2020 Wasim Jawaid

This work of fiction, written by Wasim Jawaid is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. For permission requests, send an email to the author wasim.jawaid@gmail.com

La La Land

The Background

“Once upon a time there lived…”well this story is of present times and not so long ago- however since interesting stories begin like this, I thought of starting mine too with the famous opening line!

Before I start telling you the story, it would be prudent to let me briefly describe what the term La La Land means.

Collins Dictionary describes the term to mean an imaginary place, a place that is remote from reality.

The Urban Dictionary defines it, “A mental state of being high or actually being high where one envisions happy images” while Oxford says it is “A fanciful state or dreamworld.”

What we do know is the term La La Land started being used in the late 1970’s and early 80’s as a nickname for Los Angeles, California, specifically to refer to Hollywood.  It puns on the city’s common abbreviation as LA and comments on the cinematic illusions made by its film industry— mostly dreamlike sequences detached from the harsher realities of life.

However I personally heard it the first time when I saw the 2016 Hollywood blockbuster musical La La Land.  Oh! the romance and those dance sequences between the lead characters – Sebastian and Mia portrayed by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone respectively, set my pulse soaring!

Since then the images have struck a chord in my heart and when this story idea developed in my head, I thought the term as its title was very apt for it 🙂

So, this story is based in a fantasy land named ଲା ଲା (La La) Land located in a remote corner of Odisha. In it dwelled a few indigenous tribes. Our story focuses on a small tribe of about 50 families who resided here too. They were named the Nature Lovers of Odisha or in short The NLOO tribe.

Our state of Odisha is home to approx 60 tribes spread across various districts. Unlike in towns and cities, where rapid advances in modern living has caused irreversible changes in some of our traditions, many of the tribal population have somehow managed to keep their ethos and entire culture intact.

They still worship nature (hills and streams), follow peculiar customs in various aspects of life ranging from agriculture to marriage and have an infinite passion for music and dance.

Some of the tribes still believe in sorcery and for some using bows and arrows to kill and defend, is still the preferred mode of weaponry.

Some of them have existed since centuries in Odisha and even find their names mentioned in The Mahabharata and Ramayana! 

So dear readers with this rich backdrop forming the crux of the story of La La Land let me give you a snippet of things to come!

PRELUDE

A narrow mud path wound its way upwards towards the house. Clumps of shrubs bordered it on both sides. Even when it rained the roots of these shrubs would never let go of the soil, holding them together as much as possible against the water inundating the hills.

The dark hued saffron colour of the soil mixed freely with the green foliage. In nature, both the colours seemed to co-exist in harmony.

The path itself had forked to the right from the main road which curved and continued further into La La Land. This area was on a hillock and if you had a chance to visit it, you would definitely take a moment to pause here and admire the beauty of the place.

(Art by Reshmi. My dear cousin and creator of wonderful oil paintings)

From this vantage position you could see the young folds of the Elephant Mountain in the distance. At one point it seemed to touch the sky and then at another it seemed to stoop to kiss the cool waters of the river Behta Pani – the main source of water for the various tribes of this Land.

A slight mist hovered above these waters; as if an old lady was trying to pull a shawl around herself to protect her body from the winter chill.

Somewhere up in the trees, myriad birds warbled and formed a soothing lyrical background. At this morning hour the sun had yet to reach the top of the trees and thus part of the scenery was still in the shade. If you drew in a lungful of the crisp chilly hilly air it would make you feel alive!

However this morning was different than the rest. Troops of villagers were busy making their way up this path. They were in small groups and their excited chatter filled the air.

A very unusual event had happened the evening before warranting the panchayat to call for an assembly. Hence things more important than admiring nature were on their minds today!

A sole Palash tree stood on the right of this path, with its roots exposed and it seemed to be greeting the villagers like a doorman in front of a landmark house.

This was apt, for you see the path sloped slightly upwards and ended at the door of the most important person of La La Land – it’s Sarpanch.

To be continued…

(This is completely a work of fiction. It will be told through several chapters. Hence it occupies its’ own pride of place in my blog’s menu bar :))

Strange Happening at Bamboo Hut – Part 1

Chapter 1

About 30 members of Utkal Enclave – a small apartment block in Bhubaneswar, were getting ready and completing last minute packing of picnic baskets which they were carrying for the day’s trip.

About 10 families resided in this 4 storied Block in identical 2 and 3 BHK flats. The landowner Mr. Satish had partnered with a Real Estate developer some years ago and converted his ancestral bungalow into this modern residential set-up giving him a steady rental income.

Mrs. and Mr. Satish had 2 children, both of whom were settled and working outside Odisha. So it was to their pleasant surprise that they got more than what they had hoped for. Not only the monthly rents gave them financial comfort but the people residing there became their extended family providing both with a wonderful support system in their retired years.

It was winter vacations and like previous years the families had decided to go on a picnic with food and evening refreshments. Each of them had contributed to the menu and now with their hands full with the picnic baskets they made their way down to the 2 waiting TATA Wingers. These were 15-seater vehicles which would take them across to the picnic site.

While last year it was The Botanical Gardens in Nandan Kanan, this year the chosen destination was the Bamboo Huts at Deras Dam. It was located only 25 odd km from the city making it an ideal getaway for family and friends. There were quaint bamboo cottages near it which one could book and enjoy the time there.

Very soon they were set to go and being punctual was on top of every one’s agenda. It was already 3 pm and the plan was to reach before dusk so that they could catch the sun set over the forest tops while sipping their evening tea. They were all looking forward to a picnic packed with fun, laughter & some time pass idle chatter.

Of course, the gorgeous views of the Deras Dam waters and greenery all around just added to the overall anticipation.

Other than the sumptuous array of snacks, a live barbeque and a giant bonfire also awaited them. It was no wonder then that all of them, especially the children were eagerly looking forward to the trip.

What they did not know that tonight something else was also awaiting them atop that hillock.

Both the picnic vehicles arrived at the gates within few minutes of each other. The forest department vehicles would ferry them to the huts and one of them would stay back for the return trip. The strict rules banning entry of private cars inside protected green zones meant both the rented Wingers had to be parked outside the gates.

All of them clambered into the official vehicles, their excitement running high anticipating a grand affair atop the hillock at dusk!

However no one knew the colour of dusk tonight would take on a completely different hue matching the fear in their eyes…a colour none of them had seen or felt before.

Chapter 2

Despite their best efforts the families realised they had arrived late. It was already close to 5 pm. A stop at a small roadside dhaba for fritters had taken up a little more time than they would have liked.

Being winter the day light was already beginning to fade. The sun after completing its hard day’s work in trying to keep up the mercury was all set to chill down on the western side.

They were now in groups of 4-5  making their way up the dirt path to the bamboo huts.  Since the entire place had been booked for Utkal Enclave there were no other people now except them.

The climb was soon coming to an end. What was also coming to an end was the tranquillity of the evening.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A slight breeze had picked up in the green foliage above & the sun light ebbed lower…as if someone had lowered the wick of an old oil lantern.

The group was now standing at the end of the steps. The table top picnic spot lay in front of them with the bamboo huts to their left. Coloured plastic chairs had been neatly arranged by the staff for them to sit and enjoy.

However a shocking scene awaited them all. A scene so horrifyingly fascinating that even the most fearful amongst them had also not imagined it possible.

It was beyond any horror flick they had ever seen…and it was happening right now at this moment in their lives.

To be Continued…

Copyright © 2020 Wasim Jawaid

This work of fiction, written by Wasim Jawaid is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. For permission requests, send an email to the author wasim.jawaid@gmail.com

Strange Happening at Bamboo Hut – Part 2

Continued from Part 1….

However a shocking scene awaited them all. A scene so horrifyingly fascinating that even the most fearful amongst them had also not imagined it possible. 

It was beyond any horror flick they had ever seen…and it was happening right now at this moment in their lives.

Chapter 3

The sight in front of them seemed unreal. Not a single chair was empty. Seated in each of the 30 chairs was a member of the group. ALREADY.

They were staring across at mirror images of themselves. As if someone had placed a giant canvas of live multiple selfies in front of them!

Involuntarily all of them shuddered and huddled closer. The air suddenly seemed to be charged with a sinister tinge. A stray dog’s bark from nearby seemed to indicate it was the only one with a voice at that moment. The rest of them all were shell shocked into silence.

Nagma looked at her own seated self. The other Nagma was staring right back with eyes that were unblinking, unwavering. Those eyes seemed to have an un-earthly glow in them. Her smile seemed to have been frozen in a twisted curve.

Nagma had experienced fear many times before in her life.  But what she did not know was that it could exist in this form too.

Pritish who worked as an HR executive at a top tech firm was standing almost at the front of the group. He let out an unprintable expletive and stood transfixed. The first thing he noticed was his favourite cap that the other Pritish was wearing. It was exactly similar.

With a startled look he quickly realised that not only the cap but right from his maroon sweatshirt to his blue denims and to the “Just Do It” logo on his shoes- everything was eerily similar. Had the other Pritish copied his style or was it vice versa?

Hena could not fathom what was happening and why. She closed her eyes and felt her heart beats quicken. A strange fear gripped her.

Someone with a distorted sense of humour had created a weird art piece.

(Art by Subhajit. A talented youngster in NIFT, Bhubaneshwar)

Sofia the popular Odia Tv star had already done a couple of double roles in her acting career. But the same happening in real life came as a shock. She did a quick scan of the seated group and sure enough found the ‘other’ Sofia. That person seemed to be saying something to her but by the time the words reached her they seemed to be swallowed by the breeze.

Was it even in her language? Sofia simply could not comprehend their meaning.

Mrs.Premalata Mishra, a retired school teacher resided with her septuagenarian husband on the 1st floor in Flat 101. Feeling a bit under the weather her spouse had backed out of the picnic.

Immediately Mrs. Mishra regretted coming with the group and the thought crossed her mind that she should have stayed back home with him and watched her favourite TV serial instead.

Sushree’s thoughts already in alarm mode went immediately to Pratik, her only child and teenage son. She was a bit comforted to see his tall, familiar figure standing nearby shrouded in darkness. They resided in Flat 305 and suddenly the warmth of their home seemed far away!

But what did not comfort her was a feeling that an unknown pair of eyes were piercing into her. She looked in that direction & sure enough the other Sushree seemed to be beckoning her towards herself with a slight nod of the head.

Sushree touched the sweat bead forming on her forehead.  It seemed strangely cold on her hot feverish skin.

All this was happening simultaneously and in a matter of seconds! The temperature of the place had dropped un-naturally.

Despite trying hard to control herself Sunanda could not stop the involuntary shudders passing through her. She was a nature lover and had been really looking forward to this trip. This was totally unexpected! It was as if she had stepped on a live voltage wire. Unable to take it any longer she hurriedly sat down on one of the steps.

13-year-old Srishti felt her 6-year-old sister Shreyasi’s little fingers wrap around hers and tighten as if seeking protection. Her own pink dress seemed to be stifling her and sticking to her back – drenched in a mix of sweat and fear.

Chapter 4

At the far end of the picnic spot was a watch tower overlooking the rolling greens and blue waters below. A staircase made of wood with bamboo railings wound its way to the top. Many a tourist who had come here earlier had climbed them up and sat on the mini platform atop enjoying the breeze while munching away goodies.

Pooja was an NRI and resided in the UK. She was visiting her brother in this Christmas vacations. She was a devout believer in God and was now reciting a powerful mantra furiously under her breath. She was standing just opposite to this tower. Now as if guided by an unseen force her eyes fell upon it.

Immediately there was a quick intake of her breath! Standing on the platform with his hands resting on the railings was a dark hooded figure. It seemed to be looking down at them. It stood absolutely still & for a moment Pooja thought maybe she was imagining its presence. She wasn’t sure anymore to believe her eyes.

By now Monica, who was a neighbour of Mrs. Premalata Mishra had somehow collected her wits and managed to herd all the children together including hers. She made a dash down the path which all of them had ascended upon only a few minutes earlier.

However, to her it seemed that was ages ago!

Suddenly a realization hit Monica with a sharp thud and she felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There was only 1 car at the bottom of the hill, and they were 30 of them. Escape for all together no longer seemed an easy possibility now.

In this children party was 15-year-old Anum. In her mundane existence until today she had always craved for some excitement in life. This thrill however was even more than what she had bargained for. She swore under her breath as she rushed downhill with a flashlight in her hand. She quickly paused to have one final look at the scene.

What she saw made her blood chill and she froze to the spot. With her heart hammering and her mouth turning dry she let out a piercing scream!

The chairs were beginning to fall empty now.

Concluded.

Copyright © 2020 Wasim Jawaid

This work of fiction, written by Wasim Jawaid is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. For permission requests, send an email to the author wasim.jawaid@gmail.com

The Road Not Taken

BY ROBERT FROST

The Road Not Taken” a poem by Robert Frost was published in 1916. It was inspired by the many walks he took in the English countryside along with fellow writer Edward Thomas.

Since my school days It’s been one of my favourite literary works in the realm of Nature. So, I thought why not reproduce the original with pictures of Odisha’s very own hill station – Daringbadi?

The place is renowned for it’s rich natural beauty. It has been named after a British officer Mr. Daring Saheb who was in charge of this quaint town (Badi means village) located in Kandhmal district of our State.

So presenting Robert Frost’s timeless work with an Odisha twist!

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(All pictures clicked by NIFTian – Anandhu who goes by his Insta ID _skirllex. Thank You! Your pictures are so captivating and rich in emotions !!)

किस्सा cycle का

Hi Friends,

One fine morning a cycle decides to go for a ride around the city. It is the time of Lockdown, so of course it cannot take its master along. Here is a recount in pictures of the experience the cycle had that day 🙂

I lock the door of my home and step out. My saffron coloured dress goes well with the green and white of my home. It is as if the Tricolour is wishing me goodbye!

It is a bright sunny day. The smooth road stretches out in front of me like a black silk ribbon. I move at my own pace enjoying the ride. I am already looking forward to this experience!

As I cycle past stationary vehicles and moving trees a strange realisation hits me. There are absolutely no humans on the road! I marvel at the peace all around. Spying a vacant bench I park myself for a quick break.

Hello, what’s this lovely sight?! White and pink periwinkles flutter in the soft breeze in joyous abandonment. Might as well stop and pick some. Who knows if I meet someone special in the journey?

The sun is at its zenith now. All this pedalling has exerted me. How wonderful it would be if I could get those pair of wings?! I would fly against the azure sky.

As evening approaches, I suddenly see her. Under a blaze of lights she looks dainty in white. Maybe the rain Gods are happy too, as the heavens open up as we meet.

The light drizzle makes me scurry for cover under the same tree as her.

We stand next to each other in close proximity. There is complete silence in the city. Only our heart beats can be heard, thudding excitedly.

Is this the start of something special?

(किस्सा – a story)

Copyright © 2020 Wasim Jawaid

This work of fiction written, photographed and created by Wasim Jawaid is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. For permission requests, send an email to the author wasim.jawaid@gmail.com

Tropic of Cancer

Prologue

The stretcher is being pushed in a brisk manner. The corridor through which I am being rolled through seems unusually long. I can hear a few familiar voices around me. They are close yet they seem to be coming from a distance. There is a hollow effect about them.

Though the anaesthesia effects linger, I seem to be regaining some of my lost sensations. I am aware that I am being wheeled away from the I.C.U. to the Oncology Post Surgery Ward. 4 pairs of hands lift the sheet I am lying in on the stretcher and place me gently on the bed.

The operation for which I had been admitted is finally over.

“Welcome to the world of needles and pain,

Of white coats and red stain.

Where the air perennially reeks of an antiseptic smell,

Where not just the body but even the mind feels un-well”

02nd Dec 2017

The white lights on the overhead ceiling are a silent witness to the dark sufferings in the bodies of the people lying below.

A portable sphygmomanometer on the wall acts like an active twitter handle. It tweets out my b.p. readings every second. I drift in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware of its intermittent beeps as it adds to the un-natural discomfort around me.

I have been lying on my back in the same position for hours now and it seems to me that my back hurts more than my abdomen where the actual action has taken place. Just so that I don’t forget this fact, a burning sensation clutches the lowest part of my gut making me wince. It is stifled by an unknown force and it is then that I realise there is an abdominal belt wrapped tightly around my waist.

It seems to me I can feel pipes everywhere in my body. One has been inserted through my nostrils, down my throat and I am not sure how far inside they extend to. One set originates just above my right shoulder and I know they have been injected into my spine piercing through at some point on my back.

The doctor calls it epidural analgesic and it is just another way how modern medicine has added so many gadgets to its weaponry. And all of them are aimed at fastening you down to life at a time when you feel you are floating away in despair.

A valve has been fixed on my right hand. They have pipes inserted into them and are simultaneously supplying me with saline and a pain killing fluid. As the bottles hang upside down, I think my life too has gone into a similar position in these past few days.

2 more pipes which I cannot see but only feel hang loosely from my left side and end below the bed. Later I come to know they are carrying out wastes directly from my body.

So yes, I now look like a contraption of plastic tubes lying on an iron bed trying to breathe, trying to stay as calm as possible. To complete the look there is a bandage wrapped around my head. I am not sure why. I know I haven’t come to AIIMS to have my head examined!

I am here because the ‘Tropic of Cancer’ has decided to run through my lower abdomen. A tumour had developed with suspected malignant cells in my colon. The cancer has passed through 5 other patients in this ward too. As it continues to run ahead, I know millions of other lives globally have also been affected by it.

In the past 12 hours I have moved from my bed in the private ward to the O.T. then to I.C.U & now I am here. At different points during the night I have seen vague glimpses of my father, my mamu Hanif, my brother-in-law Safar and my family’s Man Friday Aftab.

The saline drips ever so slowly. Though it seems an hour has passed, but in reality, only 10-15 minutes have elapsed. The thought that I would be in the same position for at least 48 hours more makes my mind go numb.

I need to deal with this! I split the clock into blocks of 8 hours each and tell myself I must survive through each block before proceeding to the next.

In my mind I immediately start reciting a short prayer as suggested by my favourite Shamima aunt. Soon enough I visualise myself lying slumped on the ground. A pair of hands appear behind me, grabbing my shoulders under each armpit and dragging me outside a door.

As the door opens there is dazzling light outside.

01st Dec 2017, Friday

“Hey Wasim, are you ready?” asks Shahed Uncle (papa’s elder brother) with a smile as he enters the room. It is 9.30 am. I am relieved to see him as only 10 minutes ago the nurse has informed; I need to proceed to the O.T. asap. The time has been preponed by 2 hours & everything now is set for surgery.

When I was to be admitted on 27th Nov 2017, a full 4 days prior to surgery Hanif Mamu had turned around and asked me,” Hey why is the Dr. asking for admission so many days in advance?” I had jokingly replied,” perhaps he wants to marinate me properly before cooking!” Little did I know then how close my marinate joke came to reality.

The prior evening a hospital staff had come with 2 razors in hand and shaved off all the hair from my torso and upper legs. He then proceeded to apply Bitadene on these parts. For the uninitiated this is an antiseptic applied to prevent any bacterial infection. It made my skin turn yellow and I now perfectly resembled tender dressed meat all set to be put in the tandoor!

Back to present day. Soon enough Shahed Uncle and I are walking to the O.T. We are accompanied by an acquaintance who has been kind enough to volunteer to donate blood. His will be in lieu of 1 bottle which we have taken from the AIIMS blood bank, Bhubaneswar. He also carries a big box of pharmaceutical items which contains everything related to the operation and anaesthesia.

Papa had worked tirelessly the previous day to purchase all of them from 3 different shops. The list is long, and he has crossed checked it multiple times to ensure none is missing.

I park my slippers outside the annexe room and say “Bismillah” and enter. From here on a ward boy escorts me in a wheelchair. I am made to sign a register and curiously enough the time is the iconic and symmetrical 10.10 am.

When I enter the O.T. I am greeted by a team of almost 8-10 doctors and nurses. I am made to take off my shirt and sit on the operating table. They ask my name and few other pleasantries are exchanged.

3 strong needles are injected into my back in quick succession in what is a very painful 5 minutes. I am then asked to lie down. I am somehow relieved the process has finally started. Somewhere outside the door I imagine in true Bollywood style, a red light would have flashed on!

Then everything inside the O.T. went black.

03rd Dec 2017 Sun

I get to hear 2 bits of good news today. One – the urine catheter attached to my body will be removed. I am now allowed to walk to the toilet. Second – Tomorrow I will move back to my bed in the private ward. Both these pieces of good news are delivered in person by Prof. Madhab Nanda Kar himself who has come on his morning round.

I notice that a few minutes before his arrival the staff get into a flurry of activity; as if an invisible whip has been cracked. Patient records are being updated, junior doctors and the nurses huddle around taking notes to prepare for any question that the professor may ask.

Such is the aura of the man; he is after all the H.O.D., Oncology at AIIMS, Bhubaneswar. Even as a patient I somehow feel indebted to him; for the surgery he has done so cleanly, so effectively.

If I had not been tied down to my bed I would have sprung up and given him a salute!

I silently thank Hanif Mamu who has been pivotal in meeting the renowned Professor and taking multiple initiatives and follow ups to bring him to my operating table.

4th Dec 2017 Mon

I am back in my room in the private ward. Somehow, I have made through the most difficult part. Here after begins the recovery phase.

At this moment I want to pause and thank the 4 pillars of support which propped up the non-stop efforts of my parents. They are – Hanif Mamu, Shahed Uncle, Aftab’s family (they gave hospital duty on all 10 nights+ closed their shop for 4days) and of course all the people in my family including my sister Hena.

Amongst friends I would like to thank Dipta, Vicky, Sattar, Smriti and Dilip Bhai for their unstinting support.

There have been many others whose un-ending prayers and continuous supply of good wishes for me has helped me through this very difficult phase in life, health wise.

During my stay in the hospital I saw people in a far more vulnerable state than mine. Most of them came from the lower strata of society. I enjoy more privileges than them and I still have age on my side. Most of them were senior citizens and at that age handling the vagaries of an operation was far more difficult and hence even more commendable.

My situation made me realize is how we take for granted the simple things in life. When I was in the general ward and unable to use my bandaged hands, I saw an attendant (accompanying a patient) eat rice and dal with his own hands. I thought to myself,” seriously he can do that?!”

Back in my room I missed the informal bonding that develops amongst the patients and their accompanying family members in the general ward. They would ask about each other’s wellbeing and share details of their sickness.

A few times they helped me get up from my bed and one night a couple of boys even held my arms and took me for a short walking exercise. When I was leaving the ward, an extremely old man clutching his urine bag in his hand even had the courtesy to walk ahead of us and open the doors so that my wheelchair could easily pass through. Unbelievable.

The other thing that struck me was the number of needles they inject in you during a major surgery as this. Though you know each time there will be some pain yet every time you see the nurse walk in you feel apprehensive. There came a time when both my hands were so swollen that they actually found out a vein below my right knee to inject into. Now that was a 1st time for me!

Epilogue

The tumour which was sent for biopsy tested positive for malignancy. We did have a suspicion of presence of colon cancer and hence we had gone for an Oncology specialist surgeon and not a general one.

I underwent 6 months of chemotherapy (Jan -Jun 2018) successfully at a local hospital in Bhubaneswar and by God’s grace I am doing fine now.

During this entire ordeal of 6-8 months I thought it was pointless to turn to God and ask, “why me?” What is destined to happen will happen. It is better to take the knock in your stride and continue moving ahead.

I still go for regular check ups and maintain diet and lifestyle controls so that a relapse does not occur. As my Dr. famously quipped, “Cancer is like an untrustworthy friend. Just when you think it won’t let you down it will. By re-appearing again”.

Haji’s Cafe

It is about 9 am on a working day, as I enter the lane next to the Masjid and a familiar territory of Manama begins. It is an area that i have been frequenting a lot during my total stay of about 4 years in Bahrain.  

Rows of tables with wooden benches are neatly arranged to my right in the open lane. Hot meals with cold salads/yoghurt are being served by the waiters, most of whom are from Bangladesh.

On my left I walk past the kitchen tandoor, from where the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked qubuz (the staple Bahraini flatbread) emanates. It makes me smack my lips in anticipation of the meal ahead 🙂

There are majorly 2 communities here – the Arab speaking customers and the Bengali speaking staff. The rest of us are as rare as the Arabian Oryx. I belong to that un-common breed of customer as I step into the air conditioned dining room. On my innumerable visits here I could have counted on my fingers the number of times I would have met a fellow Indian.

Almost this entire lane is ruled by the cafe owner. There are 3 enclosed dining halls – of which 2 are exclusively reserved for families only. The walls speak of the times gone by in Bahrain through the various sepia tinged pictures which adorn them – like a still movie being projected onto the walls.

You can take a walk down memory lane as you view them whilst savouring your meal.

Welcome to Haji’s Cafe, here since 1950!

The food is quintessentially Arabic of course. I did try a couple of those traditional dishes in my initial visits, when curiosity would take over my hunger. But then my palate seemed to settle for something closer home – 2 sunny side up eggs + qubuz so typical to gulf cuisine, in the end a mix of both worlds. The meal washed down with piping hot tea served not in plastic/foam cups but in cutting glass – just like in the days of yore back home in India.

My favourite waiter Mahfooz breezes in the door with a big plate delicately balanced in his hand….to the left of his head. The door is not wide enough to fit both him & his accessory, so he balances the entire paraphernalia carefully and pushes open the door with his foot. On the big plate are numerous quarter plates with various edibles each adding their own delectable aroma to the cafe ‘s homely ambience.

This guy has been working here for about 5 years now. Duty hours are long – 7 am to 7 pm. He visits his country only once in 2 years & shares his room with 4 other people. Yet his smile hides all his hardships. He greets me with a cheery ‘ Assalam o laikum ‘ & asks ‘same same’ ? 

Well that is his code word for my usual breakfast. I have been having that consistently for 4 years now (though not daily!) I have simply clung onto the wonderful taste of the both qubuz & the eggs sprinkled with pepper. By now he knows he must serve me crispy qubuz only 1 at a time – so that i enjoy it while it is still hot & breaks easily in my hand. It is served in an unique way – On a wicker plate made of cane.

My 2nd favourite guy is Hussein. He too has been here for donkey’s years. He supports his family back home with whatever he can save from his meagre salary. His income is augumented by tips from some of the kind hearted patrons who visit the cafe. 

Together they are in charge of this room. They are assissted by a cleaner who quickly wipes off the table & the floor as people leave after enjoying their meals. 

My breakfast lasts just about 15 minutes but it is something I look forward to whenever I am in the mood to visit the Cafe. At the end of it I pay in the telephone booth like counter – and over the years I have realized not only is the meal very afffordable but it’s price has not changed at all ! It seems inflation has forgotten to touch Haji’s cafe and simply by-passed this lane.

I walk back contented to my office desk to take on my share of the day’s work ahead.

किस्सा kursi का

Hi Friends,

While pottering around my house in Bahrain, I clicked a few pics with the chair as an object of focus. However what started randomly, soon gave rise to a coherent sequence as I wondered what if an inanimate object would think too?

So presenting Kissa Kursi Ka, albeit of a different kind!

  1. The curtains are drawn, the stage is set. Let the show begin, you will like it I bet!

2. Once in the Kingdom of Dilmunia, a riot of colours emerged from the petunia!

3. The orange marigiolds’ musky fragrant, the white clouds drift like a fluffy vagrant. The green trees blow my loneliness away, these 3 colours rejoice in my nation’s flag too, I say!

4. Finally, I get a table for company.

5. The setting sun slants in, shadows flicker in the breeze. I relax in the drawing room, sitting at ease!

6. The silent rain has soaked the setting day, the colour of love has since long been washed away.

7. Alone I sit and gaze into the night, life is simply neither black nor white.

Note:- a) Dilmunia is inspired by ancient civilization of Dilmun and has links to present day Bahrain b) I was based in this wonderful Gulf country for a few years until 2017.

Copyright © 2020 Wasim Jawaid

This work of fiction written, photographed and created by Wasim Jawaid is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. For permission requests, send an email to the author wasim.jawaid@gmail.com