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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Madras Chronicles—Fathers and Sons

We were driving home after I picked up my sons from violin class. The underground tunneling work for the Metro Rail had made our drive home a tad longer. I stopped humming Yuvan Shankar Raja's Billa theme and asked the boys, “What do you want to become when you grow up?”

“I want to become an actor!” said the younger one while the elder one kept quiet. It has been a pretty standard answer for him for almost as long as I can remember.

“What about you?” I kept prodding the elder one.

“I am not sure...”, he said.

“You should start with your interests. Don't ever get into something which doesn't interest you!” I let out a pearl of my wisdom.

“Okay.”

“So, what interests you?”

He paused for a few seconds and said, “Video games, sports and cooking.” He seemed to be sure of his answer.

“That is a very good start... knowing what your interests are. Now, you need to develop and nurture these interests and find your calling.”

He looked at me and smiled.

“You can become a gamer and build a big business around video games. You can become a sportsperson... you will have to pick a sport that you absolutely love. I know you can become a chef because you already cook so well...Your dosas are fantastic! The possibilities are endless.We are going to build upon these ideas and you can figure out what you really want to pursue.”

In the two minutes before we reached home, the younger one started narrating his movie screenplay.

* * *

I had dislocated my left thumb for the second time. This time it was a game of football during a substitute P.T. period at school. I was the goalie. JVB kicked the ball. I tried to defend it with my left hand. The ball hit my thumb and I knew immediately that it had dislocated. I felt a sudden rush of panic that was immediately overwhelmed by the feeling of failure to defend the goal. I kicked the ball and continued play as if nothing happened.

Later that evening, I told my mother. My father took me to our family doctor. He called the visiting orthopaedist, the same doctor who fixed my thumb earlier when I got it dislocated trying to ride my bicycle hands-free on the road off Poonamallee High Road that led to the old Naduvankarai bridge. I learnt two lessons that day. One - don't try to steer the bicycle with your leg, especially when you are driving hands-free downhill. Two - you will never forget your first dislocation however old you get.

We left the clinic and my father started his faithful maroon Bajaj M-80. I rode pillion. Just as he merged into the traffic on Poonamallee High Road near the toll-gate bus stop, I hear a bang. A second later, both of us are thrown off the vehicle. Half a second later, I see the rear wheel of the speeding Tempo that hit us just a few inches away from my face. My whole life flashes before me. The Tempo screeches to a halt. I come to my senses and look around. My father is down on the ground. He had a few minor scratches. I feel a shooting pain in my right knee and toes. My pinky toe had its nail ripped and my knee had a bloody gash about an inch wide. I was a bit dazed from my near-death experience.

We went back up to the doctor and he treated our wounds.

For the next two weeks, my dad and I had to visit the doctor to get the wound dressing changed. One such day while waiting for the doctor, I tell my father, “I find the medical profession to be a noble one. I think I want to become a doctor!”

* * *

My dad worked as an accountant at a government-owned organization. The accounting department got two brand new IBM PCs from the head office. One of them was an IBM PC XT with a monochrome CRT monitor and another was an IBM PC/AT with a color VGA CRT monitor. You booted those monstrosities with a 5¼-inch floppy diskette MS-DOS operating system. My father was the go-to guy on computers in that company because he could do spreadsheets (Lotus-123, anyone?) and knew Ashton Tate's dBase III+.

He was the go-to guy for me for three reasons. One - he let me type the school projects using Wordstar on those machines and fire up the dot-matrix printer and look at it with awe as it rattled away (and I just loved greenbar continuous stationery for some Freudian reason); Two - he let me work on Harvard Graphics Presentation or the extremely popular Banner software and go crazy printing text in cool fonts (Did I say I loved continuous stationery?); Three - he always let me play Prince of Persia and Chess on those computers.

So, when I took the Biology/Math/Physics/Chemistry/English group in class XI, I volunteered to get our class notes for “The Human Reproductive System” printed. Due to time constraints this was typed by my dad's colleagues in record time so that our class could meet the deadline.

The first and only choice I made, when I couldn't get into medicine and chose to pursue engineering instead, was Computer Science & Engineering. Instead of class notes, it was now slides for technical papers created with Harvard Graphics Presentation on Overhead Projector film.

I think I owe it to Prince of Persia and my dad for being able to tell my son today that he can become a gamer, if he wants to.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Madras Chronicles—Guitar Hero

The first audio cassette player I used was a Sanyo. It was a cassette recorder with a built-in microphone and a mono player. My uncle bought it and it was in my grandmother's house. It was the year when Mouna Ragam released in the Grand Theatre in Annanagar, the first Tamil film in a theatre that ran English films and directed by a new director named Mani Rathnam which went on to become that year's biggest grossing film.

The same year saw the release of Punnagai Mannan by K. Balachander starring Kamal Hassan. It was widely publicized as the movie in which Ilayaraja, the composer used the MIDI synthesizer to bring computer music to the Tamil film industry, believed to be operated by A. R. Rahman. Oomai Vizhigal was another hit movie that year, a film written by Aabhavaanan and directed by R. Aravindraj, starring Vijayakant. But there were three reasons why the film that is etched in my mind from that year was Vikram, another Kamal Hassan starrer. The first reason—the story  and screenplay was by my favorite writer Sujatha. The second reason—it had Vanithavani,vanamohini…, a song considered too risqué at that time that Oliyum Oliyum, a program that was telecast every Friday by the state-run Doordarshan TV (Channel 4), never showed it. It was a song that a trio of friends secretly sang in the back benches at school while the teacher was busy with the lesson. The third reason was the beautiful Dimple Kapadia who was brought from Bollywood to act in that movie as a princess of an exotic land.

Remember the Sanyo cassette player that I started with. The very first recording I made using it was songs from the Hindi blockbuster movie, Bobby from many years earlier, starring Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. That was the first time that I saw Bobby and instantly fell in love with it, the same way that Rishi Kapoor's character is enamoured seeing Dimple's. The movie was telecast by Doordarshan and I meticulously taped every song. A Sanyo cassette player, Bobby, Dimple Kapadia, Vikram—the universe conspires to design your fate.  That moment marked my unofficial introduction to music.

My school had co-curricular activities every Thursday and I had signed up for Yoga. After a year, I felt that I should switch because I felt the other kids were having too much fun while I was stretching my body into uncomfortable poses. We also had a guitar club that sounded cool and I decided to join. When I told my mother, she asked me if I was really interested. I answered affirmatively.

Photograph of Musee Musical, Mount Road, ChennaiThe next week she took me to a quaint shop in Mount Road called Musee Musical. I instantly fell in love with that shop. There was an old-world charm to that store. They had violins, guitars, drums, flutes and every other musical instrument that I had seen before in my life. I got myself a yellow Givson guitar. It cost 650 Rupees and the salesman gave me two complimentary picks. My mother and I returned home in an autorickshaw. I held my Givson carefully as the autorickshaw navigated the potholes in the Madras roads.

Our guitar teacher in school started with music theory, treble clef, bass clef, notation etc., One day, someone brought a leaflet for a CASIO electronic keyboard that had numbers instead of the notes and was playing Jingle Bells using it as reference. Initially, the teacher was smiling and walked up to that boy. When he discovered that he was playing it from that leaflet that didn't have notation—an abomination to say the least—he was horrified. He went into a rage tearing it apart and throwing it into the trash can.

On another instance when he found three of us talking during class. Saravanan was my classmate and the other one was a junior student. I vaguely remember his name as Ravi. He asked each one of us to make a fist and knock the other's head with our knuckles. The first one to get struck was Saravanan and the Ravi was to do the deed. It was my turn next to strike Ravi and then Saravanan was supposed to strike me. I had to think quickly to escape, so I did the unexpected. I rolled my right palm into a tight fist and gathered the maximum strength that I could and struck Ravi hard on the center of his head! It must have knocked the living daylights out of him that he immediately began crying, tears flowing uncontrollably down his cheeks. The guitar teacher was stunned and didn't know what to do. He asked me why I hit him so hard. I just shrugged and told him I just did what he asked me to. He then ordered the three of us to get back to our seats and consoled the boy who was wiping his tears and stroking his head. I don't think Ravi ever spoke to me after that.

I continued in the guitar club for the next two years and then my interests shifted to dramatics. The guitar gathered dust at the corner of my room except for the occasional time when I would feel like strumming.
After I finished college and got into a job, I gave my guitar away to one of my younger cousins. That was my brief brush with music.

A decade and a half later, I am a happily married family man with two sons. My wife wanted to wean them away from TV by putting them into—you guessed it—music class! Both the boys learn Classical Carnatic violin. A random thought crops up in my mind and out of a whim, I ask my wife. She says it is never too late to learn anything.

A week later, at the insistence of my wife, I register for guitar classes at the same place where my sons go to learn violin! On the first day at class, my classmates are a couple of college students and a school-going boy and girl, just a few years older than my sons. It was a true Vasoolraja MBBS moment for me. The first day was just basic theory. At the end of the class, the teacher instructed the little girl to bring her notebook during the next class and then turned to me and asked me to copy the lessons from her. Jokes apart, I was truly thrilled that I decided to learn the guitar. There was only one thing left. I needed a guitar before the next class.

I was very excited about the thought of buying a new guitar. I wanted to take my family with me to the store. Unfortunately, our washing machine broke and my wife said she needed to stay home until the technician finished fixing it. Luckily, he came early and she was on board for the trip to the store. My younger son loves shopping, so he said he would join. I told my mom that we are going to the store and she asked me if I want her to come. Not to be left out, my brother and his wife also join the group and off we go to the store!

Madras is now Chennai and Chennai Metro Rail is busy digging up Mount Road for laying the tunnels. Policemen on horseback are crossing Mount Road at the Walajah Road / Mount Road signal. We take a U-turn on Walajah Road and come back to Mount Road. Almost twenty-five years later, after asking directions from a bookseller who had set shop on the sidewalk, we arrive once again at Musee Musical. The store looked very different from what I recollect from my memories.

I select my guitar. The salesperson tuned it and gave me two complimentary picks and a guitar belt. We took pictures at the store. Minutes later all of us are on our way back home. I am sitting in the front passenger seat of our car holding on to my guitar firmly as the car bumps a little. Damn potholes!


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Triggers on a Leash

Based on two very different blogs by yours truly, and drastically adapted and written as a play by Naren Weiss and uniquely shot as a short film by Ashwath Nair - Presenting, Triggers on a Leash!

The original short stories on which this short film is based are here on Storywheel.

See Transference and The Heist

Enjoy and share the joy!

 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Tourist

“How was your flight?”

“Long, but comfortable...”

“You can crash at the hotel tonight. I will pick you up tomorrow morning. We begin work the day after. A day's rest would help you get out of jet-lag.”

“Okay.”

“First time in India?”

“Yes...”

“Welcome to Chennai. It wasn't called Chennai a few years ago, you know!”

“Yes. I saw that... on Wikipedia...”

“Would you like to do some sight-seeing tomorrow? I can take you around...”

“Sure. Thanks... I hope I am not taking you away from your family on a Sunday!”

“No, that's perfectly fine. My wife and kids are out on vacation at their grandparents' house. I am alone at home at the moment...”

“Wow! This is some crazy traffic in Chennai... How do people even drive here without running over someone?”

“This is normal for us! You see, we have lanes and traffic rules so that we can observe them in the breach...”

“I now understand why they insisted on me having local support.”

“Yes. Foreigners would be lost without locals guiding them... You see that flyover?”

“The what?”

“The flyover...”

“Oh, you mean the overpass?”

“Yes, yes... it is the Kathipara Junction. A few years ago, we did not have the flyover and traffic was a nightmare.”

“You mean to say it isn't a nightmare now?”

“No. What I was trying to say is... you are booked at The Hilton which is near that.”

“Okay. Why is that young woman sitting behind that man on the bike covering her face with that cloth. Is that a custom or tradition?”

“Ha ha! No. They are probably lovers. She is hiding her face so that she isn't spotted by someone who knows her, say a family member...”

“...or her husband! I get it. It is a flirtation device...”

“What? No, it is not a flotation device...”

“...”

“Oh... Okay. I get it now! Flirtation device... you are a funny man.”

“Is this the Hilton?”

“Yes, it is. The room is booked in the name you gave me over the phone. Here is a prepaid cell phone. I have saved my number under the name Mr. X. What time should I pick you up tomorrow morning?”

“Let us meet at 9 AM in the lobby!”

* * *

“Good morning, Mr. X!”

“Ah, Good morning. Are you ready to go?”

“Yes...”

“Lets go... This way please... If I may ask, do you believe in God?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not that it does. I just assumed that you might be a believer. You wouldn't mind if I stop at a temple on the way, do you?”

“No...”

“Thanks. I go to the temple every Sunday. There is a small Ganesha temple at the corner of the street. It'll just take a couple of minutes...”

“Fine. I'll just wait outside in the car.”

“...”

“What's so funny? Why are you laughing? Did I say something wrong?”

“No. I was just thinking... I believe in God. Therefore, I go into the temple...”

“I don't and that is why I am staying outside, in the car...”

“Have you thought about this? If you believed God wasn't in there, inside the temple, why do you have to stay outside? Doesn't staying outside just confirm that God is inside?”

“You have a point... Let's go.”

* * *

“I was wondering... What is all this graffitti on the walls?”

“We Chennai folks like to adorn our walls in public spaces with names of our politicians in block lettering! It is political graffitti...”

“I see... There is so much about India that I don't know! Do you have cows? I haven't seen any since I came here and I was told that people here worship cows. Do you worship a cow, Mr. X?”

“There are cows in India, but it would be very rare nowadays to find one roaming the street in Chennai. You would find them if you go into the outskirts of the city... and for the record... No... I don't worship a cow!”

“Hmm... Are you a good man, Mr. X?”

“Thats a moot question, don't you think?”

“Since you believe in God... may I ask you another question?”

“Fire away!”

“If someone told you to maim and kill a child, would you do it?”

“Ugh... No! I wouldn't!”

“Why?”

“It is morally repugnant to me!”

“Why is that different from what we would be doing tomorrow?”

“Killing for hire is a vocation. But killing an innocent child is a matter of principle...”

“Okay. Stay with me on this thought experiment. Lets assume that you won't maim and kill an innocent child because God wouldn't want you to do it...”

“That is reasonable...”

“If you are doing what God wills you to do, would you still do it if it isn't something that you would want to do?”

“I don't get it!”

“Let me rephrase my question... Suppose God wanted you to maim and kill a child, would you do it?”

“No!”

“Therefore, whether you maim and kill a child has nothing to do with what God wants, but everything to do with whether you want to do it or not...”

“I see the logic, but...”

“Logic dictates that there is no need for God to exist... at least to guide us on what should or shouldn't be done!”

* * *

“Did you know that there are only three Basilicas in the world built over the tomb of an apostle of Christ and one of them is right here in Chennai?”

“I've been to the St. Peter's in Rome and Santiago de Compostella, Spain. Sight-seeing, of course...”

“This is the Santhome Basilica. There is an underground chapel behind which holds the Relic of St. Thomas.”

“This is a beautiful church...”

“Did you notice that Jesus stands on a lotus flower with two peacocks by his side?”

“Yes...”

“This is probably something that you would see only in India and only in Chennai...”

“Is that a bride waiting to walk the aisle? Did we crash a wedding?”

“Maybe... Let's go around to the underground tomb chapel.”

“In my country, we don't have weddings on Sundays, ever! You know...”

“That's funny! We schedule weddings on holidays to ensure that everyone attends it... and they better bring a gift or cash!”

“Oh...”

“I had been thinking about your logical rebuttal of the existence of God. Let me ask you this... Are you a rational man?”

“I believe so...”

“Therefore, you would make choices based on the benefits of that choice and not based on emotional reasons?”

“You could say that...”

“Let's say there is no hell. You wouldn't go there for not believing in God since it isn't there. But, if there is a God and there is a hell, it seems to be a very serious penalty for not believing in Him. So, even if you are a rational person, the rational choice would be to believe in God, isn't it?”

“I see your point...”

“Are you changing your mind?”

“Not yet. There could be one God or there could be many. If I believed there was only one God and in reality there were many, I would be going to hell for not believing in some of them. If I believed there were many Gods and I discover after the fact that there was only one, I would be going to hell anyway for doubting the omniscience of the single God. So, why bother?”

“Touché. Lets change the topic. Shall we?”

“Okay. Do you watch movies Mr. X?”

“Yes.”

“What is your favorite movie?”

“Kill Bill.”

“Volume 1 or 2?”

“Both!”

“Uma Thurman is my favorite actor...”

“I see...”

“I love her so much that my girlfriend has given me blanket permission to go out for a dinner date with her, if I ever get invited by her!”

“... if you ever get invited by her!”

“Why? You think I don't stand a chance? Stop laughing...”

“That would be like Vincent Vega taking Marsellus Wallace's girlfriend out on a date to the Jackrabbit's diner in Pulp Fiction!”

“You know why Quentin Tarantino is my favorite director?”

“Why?”

“Reservoir Dogs. A bunch of bad-ass gangsters talk about everything but the heist... heck, he did not even show the heist... and people bought it!”

50

This is a stub for the 50th story on Storywheel. See Contest Rules for details.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Win a Free EBook!

Do you want to win a Free EBook?

It is very easy! Send me an idea, theme, logline or title of my 50th short story. You can send your ideas in the following ways:
Rules: Please limit your comment to 3 sentences or 30 words, whichever is shorter. This is more a guideline than a rule. But remember that if there are ties in selecting the winners, I will use this rule to break ties.

Prizes: There are 3 prizes. All 3 selected winners will receive the ebook Storywheel Collection - Combined Vol I & II. This is an EPUB ebook readable on the Amazon Kindle and other ebook reader devices or on your PC/Mac or smartphone (with appropriate software). Sorry, this is the only digital format in which the book is available. Prizes will be sent via email, therefore please provide your contact info. (I hate spamming and your email address will not be used for purposes other than contacting you related to this prize.)

End date: This contest is open until Midnight Indian Standard Time Feb 29, 2012. Winners will be announced within 48 hours of closure of the contest. UPDATE: This contest is open-ended and perpetual. Winners will be announced monthly.

Legalese: By participating in this contest, you are granting the rights to Giri Vijayakumar (Author) to write and publish a story using that idea, regardless of whether it is one of the 3 selected winners. You also represent and warrant that the idea is your own and not plagiarized. Stories may be published in the Storywheel blog, digital ebook(s) or print books. Winners will be credited by providing one link to their blog or website at the Storywheel Collaborators page.

Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/girivijayakumar
Join the Storywheel page on Facebook at http://facebook.com/storywheel

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Wishing all Storywheel readers a very happy and prosperous New Year 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Storywheel: The Best of 2011


As the year draws to a close, here is The Best of 2011 from Storywheel. This list is in order of my preference, so the first one is what I like the most (Sorry, David Letterman. This is my blog and I get to do my lists, my way!).

Siachen:
This is top of the list of stories for 2011 and deals with guilt. One of my personal favorites. I have a fascination for train stations and this story opens with a railway station scene.

Unfinished Business:
This is a fictionalized account of true events from twenty years ago... the part about Hindi movies.

Madras Chronicles — Billa and Ranga:
Nostalgia.

Madras Chronicles — Summer of '79:
More nostalgia.

The Crush:
Pure fiction. I loved writing this story and coming up with a totally twisted ending.

Happy reading. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Random Acts

The train was not crowded for a Tuesday morning. Velachery station was next and a few minutes away. I was sitting on a seat near the door and noticed the commotion behind me. A man had fainted and the passengers clamoured to make him lie down.

I moved towards him.

He was about thirty-five years old, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans.

“Please! Make way... I am a doctor. Let me take a look at him!” I said.

I checked his pulse. He was still conscious, breathing irregularly and looking dazed. Small beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.

“Do you feel any pain in your chest?”

“No,” he nodded.

“Have you ever fainted before?”

“No...”

“Did you eat this morning?”

“No,” he nodded again.

“Okay... Don't worry. This might just be a low sugar situation. Drink this...”

I handed him a bottle of Fanta I had with me.

“Your body needs sugar right now... You are very likely running low on blood sugar.”

The train was approaching the station. He sat up and had a few gulps of the Fanta. He seemed to feel better.

“Well... This is my stop. I will be getting down. Are you feeling better?”

“Yes...”

“Get something to eat, alright?”

The train stopped. I joined the other passengers who got down at that station. I would have just taken a few steps when I heard him calling me.

“I didn't get to thank you...”

It was him.

“That's alright... I am glad I could help!”

“I am taking your advice and getting some breakfast. Would you care to join me, if you don't mind?”

“No, I have an appointment...”

I hesitated, looking at my watch. I still had forty minutes before my meeting with my insurance agent.

“On second thoughts... Let's go. There is a restaurant right outside the station,” I said.

The man appeared visibly pleased that I agreed.

We reached the restaurant. He ordered a masala dosa and I had coffee. We talked about each other. He told me that he was looking for a job and hadn't found one in the last two months.

The waiter brought the bill. I reached for my wallet and was shocked to discover that it was missing.

“Are you looking for this?”

He placed my wallet in front of me.

“I am sorry! I won't steal... ever again!”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Crush

I glanced at my watch. Coach Singh was still answering a question from a reporter from The Sydney Morning Herald. The press conference should be over in a few more minutes. I looked around the room full of sports reporters covering the London Olympics. I stopped when my eyes met hers. She looked familiar. Who was she?

“We are quite confident that our champion boxer Sibi will win the Olympic gold. He is fully prepared and in excellent form. That is all we have time for today!” The coach turned to me and I nodded in agreement.

“That's a wrap folks!”

We got up. The cameras clicked incessantly as we left the conference room.

I ran into Anwar Mubarak, the Egyptian I was going to face tomorrow in the finals. He was in great form too and a formidable opponent. I waved to him and smiled when I noticed the woman from the press meeting walking towards me.

“Excuse me. Can I talk to you for a few seconds?”

I recognized her now.

“I am...”

“Shoba! Right?”

I couldn't contain my surprise.

“Yes! I am glad that you remember me.”

“It's been, what... ten years? Since we last met...”

She nodded.

“I live here in London. I am a reporter with The Guardian.”

“Wow!”

“Oh! Believe me, I am not going to talk shop! I am just excited to see you after such a long time. Listen, do you have some time now? I would like to catch up with you.”

“Sure. I was heading back to my room and retire for the night. But, we can go to the bar and talk over a few drinks.”

“Great Sibi!”

I inhaled deeply. Here she was... the girl I had a crush on during high school. Beautiful as ever, maybe even more now than what I imagined her to be. The mild fragrance from her perfume hit my nostrils as she stood inches away from me. It brought back memories of how madly crazy I was about her back in the days.

We grabbed our drinks and settled down at a table at a relatively quiet corner of the bar. My phone rang. It was the coach.

“I am sorry. You'll have to excuse me. I have to take this call!”

I excused myself and stepped out to take the call. I returned a minute later.

“Sorry. Singh is super pumped about all this. I hope I win the Olympic Gold!”

“You didn't want to talk shop...” She reminded me.

“Yeah, sorry... Tell me about you. How have you been?”

“I am doing great. I've been in London the past couple of years...”

“Married?”

“No... Still looking for the right man.” She smiled.

“Oh, that's a shame...” I said sipping my drink and looking at her dark black eyes.

She was quiet. I felt that familiar feeling of butterflies in my stomach.

We talked for thirty minutes about everything except what I wanted to tell her. I couldn't muster the courage to tell her how much I loved her. We shook hands. She left.

I returned to my room. I closed the door behind me and banged my head lightly a couple of times and stood there cursing myself.

* * *

I stared at the Olympic Gold medal that was mine from yesterday's fight. I had knocked out Anwar in the third round to grab the gold. I couldn't believe it was being stripped away from me!

The morning newspapers lay in front of me. All of them carried the news about the doping scandal. They reported that high levels of the banned substance 4-hydroxytestosterone was found in my blood and urine samples taken before the fight.

The official letter from the Olympic Committee banning me from future fights lay on the table.

Coach Singh was furious.

“The damn bookies! They stoop to any level to influence the odds. That is why I called you yesterday after the press conference to warn you...”

I felt as if someone grabbed my heart inside my chest and crushed it into a million pieces when it dawned on me that the girl I loved from high school had spiked my drink.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Storywheel Turns Two

Dear Readers,
   Storywheel turns two today. I would like to thank all the regular readers for their support.

When I started posting my stories on Storywheel, I had taken on the goal of completing 100 short stories in one year. That goal is far from being complete. As of the second anniversary, I have written 47 stories. Still short of the half-way mark. Nothing captures this better than the last story that I posted titled Unfinished Business.

The last year has been quite eventful.
  • I wrote a total of 9 new stories. The pace has definitely slowed down. I am hopeful that I can pick up the pace and finish a few more before 2011 ends.
  • I did my first radio interview with Sanobar Sultana on Chennai Live, mostly about Storywheel.
  • In July 2011, I published the first 40 stories as Storywheel Collection ebooks on Kindle.
  • As of today, the Storywheel Blog's Facebook page has 184 fans/followers.
  • One of my most popular short stories (by traffic), Genome is being translated into Bulgarian by a reader! It also got a raving review on BestScienceFictionStories.com
  • I started a part fiction, part autobiography series titled Madras Chronicles
As always, thank you for your support. Spread the word.

Happy reading!

Giri

Monday, November 28, 2011

Unfinished Business

Sundaram sat in the backseat and looked outside his car window. The city had changed so much in the last twenty years. He had come to India on business for the first time in many years. He had a nostalgic feeling looking at some of the landmarks that still stood the test of time among the more modern coffee shops, retail stores and fast food joints.

The two elephant statues by the side of the stairs at Annanagar club reminded him of the day when his school bus had a minor accident with a truck right in front of it. You generally don't forget the moment when you learn your first swear word. The Tower park was another regular place where he spent countless hours with friends.

The car was now past the Annanagar Roundtana. Sundaram noticed the store and asked the driver to stop the car.
* * *
“Anbu, the farewell is just a week away. We need to get gifts for our school teachers,” said Sundaram.


“Yeah, I know. We are going to a movie this weekend. Are you coming?” asked Anbu.


“Which movie and who else is coming?”


“Ram, Kumar, Ashok and I are planning to see Kishen Kanhaiya!”

Sundaram thought about it for a second. He had seen the Shilpa Shirodkar's stills in Filmfare and wanted to go. Although the practical problem of convincing his mother to get money for the tickets remained, he said yes.

* * *

The gang walked out of the Melody theatre after watching Anil Kapoor's double-act in the movie. They got into a bus. Along the way they were cracking jokes about movie clichés and voluptuous Bollywood women among other things. They got down at the Gemini stop.


“Lets go to Landmark. Maybe we can get the cards there?”


“What is our budget?”


“Part of the money is going into decorations and other event arrangements. I think we have 200 rupees give or take for buying the Thank You cards.”


“Thank You cards are a good idea, but can we gift something useful? Like a pen or something...”


“That is a good suggestion.”

They spent the next one hour at Landmark looking for Thank You cards and didn't find anything that met their budgetary constraints. The pens were even more expensive and they finally walked out without buying anything from the store. The store assistants probably heaved a sigh of relief upon their departure as they were getting antsy about these punks ruffling through the display copies of Filmfare, Debonair, India Today and other magazines.

The job was now delegated to Ram and Sundaram as the friends split up on their way home.


* * *


It was a small stationery shop. There was a person at the counter and another man at the cash register. Books, pens, ink, cellophane tape, scissors, glue and other items adorned the shelves. Sundaram and Ram walked in.

“We are looking for pens...” said Ram.

The assistant at the counter showed regular fountain pens. Ram looked at Sundaram who was shaking his head in disagreement.

“Can we get something better? We need twenty five of them!” said Sundaram.

The man sitting at the cash register walked towards them.

“Why don't you get #210, #302 and the Parkers?” He directed the assistant.

He must be the owner of the store thought Sundaram.

The assistant climbed up on a stool and returned back with half a dozen boxes with different kinds of pens.

“These are seventeen rupees a piece. These are twenty...” The shopkeeper explained about the writing instruments.

Ram looked at Sundaram. They both did the math mentally. There was no way to fit any of that in their budget.

He looked at the shopkeeper with the corner of his eye without making eye contact to ensure that he wasn't looking at them. He then lifted the box of cheap fountain pens to check the price as he was too embarassed to ask. Luckily, another customer walked into the store and the assistant walked away to help them. The owner was still with them. Ram pushed the boxes away from him and looked up at the shopkeeper. That is when he noticed. The shopkeeper was blind.

Ram pulled Sundaram aside and whispered into his ear.

“The man is blind!”

Sundaram was shocked. He looked at the man. His eyes were transfixed on an imaginary point behind them. He was blind indeed.

“I don't think we can buy any of these pens. They are all outside our budget! Let us end this embarrassment right now and get out!” said Ram.

“Okay. Let me handle the exit strategy...” said Sundaram and turned to the shopkeeper.

“We need something nicer! None of this stuff impresses us. Do you have anything better?”

The man paused for a second. “No, this is all we have. I am sorry.”

“Alright, thanks. We don't need them!”

Sundaram and Ram walked out.

“God! That was embarrassing...”
* * *

The place looked very different. But Sundaram knew that he was at the right place. He got out of his car and walked in. The store looked much brighter and spacious now.

“Can I help you sir?” asked the shopkeeper.

“Yes. I would like to get twenty five pens please. The best ones you've got!” said Sundaram.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Odds

Prakash looked at his watch. It has been more than forty minutes since the scheduled departure time for his flight. There was no sign of the aircraft leaving the departure gate. The cabin was getting warmer. The flight attendants were busy handing out water bottles to the passengers who were getting increasingly impatient.

The PA system came alive with the captain making an announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for this morning's delay. Our ground staff have been attending to a technical snag trying to get this aircraft flying and have been unsuccessful. We have a standby aircraft and our staff will assist you in getting you boarded soon. Once again, we apologize for the inconvenience.”

The passengers got up murmuring and lined up to get off the plane.

Prakash was concerned about missing his connection flight to London from Mumbai. He was on his way to attend a due diligence meeting with a potential acquisition target that his company was considering.

* * * 
The flight touched down at Mumbai airport almost an hour and half delayed from what Prakash had planned. As soon as he got out, he headed towards the shuttle bus service to get to the international terminal. There was a small queue waiting there for the shuttle. Prakash was getting nervous about making his flight as he reckoned he would reach there less than thirty minutes prior to the departure of his London flight.

The agonizing wait was finally over as the passengers boarded the shuttle bus.

* * * 
Prakash got down from the shuttle at the international terminal and sprinted to the check-in counter. He was surprised that the check-in counters were all empty with no one at the desks except at one where a supervisor was finishing up her shift. He ran to that counter before she could get away.

“Hi, I am on the flight to London...”

“Sorry sir, boarding is closed! I can help you get on the next flight that leaves late tonight...”

“Look, my incoming flight from Chennai got delayed. It is very important that I get on that flight to London to attend a business meeting. There is still twenty-five minutes to departure. Can you do something?”

“No sir, I can't!”

Prakash was getting angry. But, he also realized that the only person in the entire world who could help him get on that plane was the lady in front of him.

“Please! Can you at least check if there is a possibility? I would be very grateful...”

The lady looked at him for a second of hesitation and then picked up the phone.

“I am going to check with the gate. If they have still not closed the gate, we can try...”

“Thank you!"

Prakash let a sigh of relief.

“Okay. The last few passengers are boarding the flight. I am going to upgrade your economy ticket to business class. You may have to run in order to make it before they close the door. Here's your boarding pass. Have a pleasant flight!”

“Thank you! You are a lifesaver...”

Prakash picked up his hand luggage and ran towards security. He thanked his stars for packing light without any check-in bags. The security lines were also empty. He breezed through it and ran towards the gate hoping to make it on time.

He finally reached the gate. The last three elderly passengers were boarding the plane.

‘Thank God for old people!’

Prakash finally was relieved. He stood at the end of the line wiping the sweat off his face.

A few minutes later, he was well settled in his seat smiling at the flight attendant who was serving him a welcome drink.


* * * 

The television channels were running the news about the crash non-stop. A red bulletin in the bottom of the screen announced a toll-free number that relatives could call to inquire status. The nation was shocked and sadness filled the air.

No one expected any survivors from the crash. So, it was indeed a miracle that one person out of the four hundred plus passengers on that fateful flight lived to tell the tale.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Escape

The alarm sounded signaling the end of the hour. The watch tower had a change of guard. Superintendent Jackson had tightened the security protocols after the riot that broke out two days ago. One guard had been killed in the violence. Some said Jackson was pissed at the thought of such an atrocious incident under his watch. There were others who had a conspiracy theory that Jackson staged the whole thing to get rid of the guy for reasons unknown without having to face a departmental inquiry from the Bureau.

Jackson was a short and stout man with his balding forehead. One would mistake him for a store-clerk or a restaurant waiter except that the nasty scar that ran down his right cheek was evidence of a much darker character. He cut his teeth as a gunnery sergeant in the wars and joined law enforcement after leaving active service. He specifically asked for a job within the Bureau of Prisons and was granted it without much difficulty thanks to his war credentials. Now, he runs the Lunar Penitentiary Colony where the worst offenders are shipped off from the Earth to lead life sentences. Jackson ran a tight ship and held an enviable record. No one has ever managed to escape from his prison, yet.

* * *
Jeff Rhodes a.k.a. Prisoner #3092 at the Lunar Penitentiary Colony, lay on his bed in his cell with palms locked behind his shaved head and looking up through the glass ceiling. Beyond that reinforced unbreakable glass ceiling were stars, distant galaxies and dark space that seemed to extend to eternity. Somewhere, definitely outside the small viewport that the ceiling in his confinement cell offered him, a beautiful blue marble called Planet Earth was spinning around. Jeff Rhodes dreamed about it all the time. If everything were to go as per his plan, he would be on his way to the Earth in less than twenty four hours only happy to leave this godforsaken place.

He turned to his side and caught a figure in the shadows, standing by the gate and staring at him. He could make out the unmistakable contours of Jackson in the darkness, standing there almost like a wax statute. Jeff closed his eyes and mentally started running through the sequence of his escape plan for the tenth time. He didn't know when the tiredness took over his body and when he fell asleep.

* * *
Blaring alarms. Flashing lights. Prisoners lining up for a roll-call. Jeff avoided eye contact with Jackson and the other guards. He sat alone during breakfast, looking up occasionally to count the number of guards on duty. He knew that one of the guards was on special leave and had left for Earth last week due to the untimely death of his wife. Jeff had taken care of killing another guard during the riots last week. The reinforcements sent by the Bureau were enroute and would take two more days to reach the moon base. Meanwhile, Jackson's short-staffed crew would make mistakes. Jeff was counting on it. He hoped that no one would notice him slipping away after breakfast when the prisoners are sent back to their cells.

* * *
The alarm went off and the prisoners got up from their seats and filed into two lines. One of the guards signaled them to move towards the cell block. The prisoners in their orange jumpsuits started walking. Jeff had carefully picked his breakfast table so that he would be towards the end of the line with just a couple of men behind him with the rear guards following them. The prisoners had to navigate two sharp turns and Jeff was planning to slip away between those two turns and hide in a wall recess he had identified. The challenge was to do it without the knowledge of the other prisoners and the rear guards.

The leading prisoners made the first turn to the right. Jeff coughed and stopped temporarily as the rear guards looked up. He avoided meeting them in the eye and let the two other prisoners who were behind him to pass and took the last position in the line. The guards didn't notice and seemed to be relaxed and engaged in trivial banter. He was now just a few steps away from the first turn himself.  Jeff made the turn and quickened his pace. Small beads of sweat formed on his head and ran down over the dragon tattooed on his neck. The rear guards were invisible and were at least ten steps behind him. Another four seconds... and he would reach the wall recess.

As soon as he got there, Jeff deftly moved sideways and cramped himself into the small space offered by the wall recess and hid in the darkness. He could hear the footsteps of guards. Jeff was acutely aware of all his senses and time seemed to slow down as he waited with bated breath. He could see the rear guards passing by. He waited there for a minute and then tiptoed his way to the transportation bay. He reached the door. There was not much time left. There will be a check done after all the prisoners get into their respective cells and his escape would be discovered. He had to be on his way before that.

He took out the key from his pocket... the key that he had taken from the dead guard during the riots. He opened the transportation bay door. He had almost made it. A few seconds away from freedom. He could sense it.

A steel casket ready for dispatch lay in the center of the dimly lit room. The casket held the dead body of the guard he had killed. It was destined to leave for the Earth in the next robotic cargo freighter out of the Lunar Penitentiary Colony. Jeff thanked the broadminded designers of the steel casket for making it large enough to fit two bodies. Of course, he didn't know or care that it was designed that way for saving costs.

He could see the cargo freighter's lights blinking a short distance away as it approached for docking. He quickly got into the casket, by the side of the embalmed corpse and closed it shut. Once the freighter undocks, he would be free to get out of the casket. Every casket had an unlock provision from the inside in case someone was accidentally shut in. He was willing to endure this minor ordeal with the corpse until the freighter was on its way. 

The pod bay doors opened and the freighter completed its docking maneuver. The casket moved into the freighter and the doors closed. A few seconds later the freighter undocked and glided away from the Lunar Penitentiary Colony. 

* * *
Superintendent Jackson finished typing his report on the strange happenings that week.

CASKET A314.
CONTENTS:
 - OFFICER MARK RICKMAN (38/MALE), LPC RIOT VICTIM.
 - PRISONER #3092 JEFF RHODES (29/MALE), LPC RIOT VICTIM.
CASKET A314 SENT TO EARTH.
CASKET A314 DISPOSED IN SPACE AS PER NEW DISPOSAL POLICY AND COST REDUCTION DIRECTIVE 37.






Monday, November 7, 2011

Homework

Selvam sat in his classroom looking out the widow. Two sparrows sitting on a branch of the mango tree in the playground were chirping playfully. The teacher was reading a passage from the Social Studies textbook. Nothing that happened around him interested Selvam. He was preoccupied with something that demanded his entire creative faculties. So, the sparrows and Social Studies had to wait.

The past two hours he had been thinking about what excuse he would give this time for not finishing his Tamil homework. Ms. Malini was a tough teacher and very adept at detecting lies. He remembered how Sudhakar goofed up a few days ago.

“Why didn't you finish your homework?” asked Ms. Malini.

“I was out of station this weekend,” said Sudhakar.

“Where did you go?”

“Bombay!”

“...and you returned over the weekend? In just one day?”

“Yes!”

“How did you go? Did you fly?”

“No. We went in my uncle's motorbike! It is a Bullet... very fast!”

Selvam hit his forehead with his palm. ‘The idiot doesn't even know how to lie... This is not going to be good!’

Ms. Malini rolled her eyes and grabbed Sudhakar by his ears. “So, you and your uncle made a trip to Bombay from Madras in his bike and returned in one day!”

The bell rang and Selvam came back to his senses.

‘There is not enough time. It is mathematics class now followed by recess and Ms. Malini will be here for the Tamil class! Think Selvam... think!’

‘Should I say that I lost my homework notebook? No, I have used that excuse already! She would only get mad that I am repeating the same stupid excuse... What if I say that I left my notebook at home? Selvam, come up with something original and believable... Some other idiot would give that excuse today! Should I say that my younger brother must have got my notebook mixed up with his by mistake? Nope... too dangerous! What if she asks me to go to his class and collect it? Oh the perils of having your sibling study in the same school...’

Ms. Jaya, the mathematics teacher was explaining mean, median, mode. Lies, damn lies and statistics!

Selvam's mind was grasping at straws helplessly as he drowned in the river of rejected ideas. I am doomed...

The vice-principal walked into the class and Ms. Jaya stopped her lesson. The two of them walked out of the classroom and discussed something softly. Ms. Jaya returned a minute later. She closed her textbook and asked all the children to gather their belongings and assemble in a single file, in the corridor outside the classroom.

“Children, we are closing the school now as we have received news that the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been shot dead by her bodyguards. Public transport in the city is stopped. No buses are plying. We will be taking you to your homes in groups...” She continued explaining the logistics.

Selvam was not paying attention to any of that. The sparrows were still there on the tree branch, chirping merrily.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Madras Chronicles — Summer of '79

Every kid grows up with a song that keeps repeating in his head. For me it was என்னடி மீனாட்சி, சொன்னது என்னாச்சு from the movie இளமை ஊஞ்சல் ஆடுகிறது directed by ஸ்ரீதர் that had memorable performances by Kamal Hasan, Rajnikanth, Sripriya and Jayachitra. The song performed by S.P. Balasubramaniam was quite popular in '78-'79 and whenever All India Radio played the song, I used to run towards the radio and start dancing. It was a favorite entertainment for all the aunts and uncles in the household. The fact that my maternal grandmother was named Meenakshi must have had something to do with it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Identity

The Police had cordoned off the area at the corner of Sutton and Main streets.  The place looked like a warzone.  Curious onlookers stood behind the police roadblocks trying to get a glimpse of the disaster that had engulfed their community.  The red brick building which housed the Perfect Spirits liquor store in the ground floor was reduced to smoldering ruins from the fire.  The road was coated with soot and rivulets of black water flowed down the street into the drains.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Madras Chronicles — Billa and Ranga

My first memory of Madras is from the year 1979. I was 4 years old. I still vividly remember walking along with my maternal grandfather, mom and dad in a suburb of Madras at that time called Annanagar. The most popular landmark that everyone associated with Annanagar was the Visweswaraya Tower built in the early '70s after the 1968 World Trade Fair held in that area. Most people just call it the Annanagar Tower.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Storywheel meets iTunes

The Heist – A Ten Minute Play is now available on the Apple iTunes bookstore! This play is available for royalty-free performances worldwide.


Here is the link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id454545508?mt=11


Enjoy!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Genome (the comic)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Heist – A Ten Minute Play now available on Smashwords.com

The Heist – A Ten Minute Play is now available from Smashwords.com!

The play is an adaptation from two short stories – The Heist and Transference – previously published on Storywheel. Regular readers of Storywheel may recall that a different adaptation directed by Hariher Balasubramaniam from Strayfactory was staged during The Great Indian Blogologues in October 2010.

This is the original version of the script available for royalty-free performances on stages worldwide.

Update - Aug 13, 2011: The ebook is available on smashwords.com at a discount of 50% until Sep 15, 2011. Use Coupon Code JX74N

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Storywheel Collection - Now available for Kindle on Amazon.com

Dear readers,


You can now purchase Kindle eBooks of collections of stories from Storywheel at Amazon.com! For the convenience of readers, there are different collections available.


The Storywheel Collection - Vol I consists of the first 20 stories published on Storywheel: the short story blog.












The Storywheel Collection - Vol II is the second in the series and consists of another 20 stories previously published on Storywheel: the short story blog.











The Storywheel Collection - Combined Vol I & II is a bargain. Get all 40 stories in one neat package. This is the best deal and has all the stories published so far.











If you are a science fiction fan, the Storywheel Collection - Science Fiction is for you.












And coming soon... The Storywheel Collection - Suspense. For those who like a little mystery in their short stories.

I thank all readers for their continued support. Happy reading.

Enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Precious Cargo

Image Credit: extranoise via Flickr

R
aghavan walked to his desk dressed in a white bathrobe. He pressed a button and a monitor sprung up on his desk and lit up. It seemed to be a busy day ahead for the Minister of Transportation.

An instant message popped up from his daughter Manju in Cleveland. She had moved to the United States with her husband, an American citizen about a year ago. Raghavan opened the message—‘Please send a bottle of spicy mango pickles!’

Monday, March 14, 2011

Prayers and Solidarity

Dear Storywheel readers,
     Join me in expressing our prayers and hopes for the people of Japan who have been ravaged by the recent earthquake and tsunami and its aftermath.

Regards,
Giri

Friday, January 21, 2011

Siachen

Image Credit: Crevasse by Barrie Sutcliffe via Flickr
T
he train stopped at Jolarpettai station. Sundaram collected his bag and walked towards the exit. Porters scurried around looking for customers. It stopped raining a few minutes ago. The platform was drenched.

Sundaram got out of the station and looked for the cab driver who was supposed to pick him up. He found the driver holding a placard with his name.

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