The Park Bench by the Phone Booth

Rupa liked to sit on the bench beside the park, by the red telephone booth next to it. The bench was always vacant, so she sat there reading her favorite story book every evening, undisturbed. She was new to the neighborhood, and she had no friends. She had found refuge in the books, which were always her companions.
One such evening, as she sat reading her favourite author, she heard the phone in the booth ring. Startled, she looked around. People were busy with their walks, and the other kids were playing happily. She went up to the booth and picked the call. ‘Hello, what is your name?’ she heard a voice at the other end. Scared, she hung up, and decided to go home. The next day, the same incident repeated. This went on for about a week. Rupa was confused as to why the phone rang only when she sat on that bench? After a week of these daily incidents, she almost decided not to sit on that bench. She hesitatingly looked at the booth, wondering if the phone would ring. She stood by the bench, thinking whether to sit and read, or to just take a walk in the park.
And as expected, the phone rang. But today, the voice said ‘look up!’ She peeped outside the booth and looked all around. She couldn’t see anyone. ‘H..hello’ she said with a quivering voice. Dummy, look across the street! I’m waving at you! The voice said. This time she looked at the building across the street. At a window on the third floor, she saw a face, and the person waved at her. The girl seemed about her age. She hesitatingly waved back. Then the voice said, ‘come up here, to my house. I am at 304’ and disconnected.
Rupa was in a dilemma. Why didn’t the girl come down? Was this a trap? Mummy had warned her not to trust strangers… but this was a young girl, of about her own age! Finally, curiosity won, and she went to the building, to the third floor. She knocked on the door at 304.
A maid opened the door, and she took her to a room. There she saw the girl with one leg in a plaster cast.
‘Hi! I’m Rita!’ She said. Rita had broken a bone and couldn’t walk. She had missed school for some time, and was getting very bored. She had seen Rupa sitting alone on the bench, and had decided to talk to her.
‘Why didn’t you say so the first time, you idiot? You almost scared me!’ Rupa said.
‘I had fun looking at your scared face!’ Rita laughed. ‘Today I felt that you wouldn’t come back if I scared you anymore, so I revealed myself to you!’ the naughty shining eyes said it all.
And it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Thanks to the bench by the phone booth.

Word-building on the Metro

The ladies’ compartment was quite crowded, and I found a place to stand comfortably. And as I looked around within the restricted space, I could see a cellphone with a half-done word-building game. A young girl held the phone in her hand. Puzzles are something I get easily addicted to, and I could not resist myself. She was stuck on a word, and I thought I knew the answer. As I peered into the young lady’s phone over her shoulder, I felt like a trespasser. Like those nosy aunties who ask too many questions. But I was stuck, since movement was quite restricted, and we were like packed sardines.
So there I stood for a little while, with the two sparring voices in the head. I could completely empathize with Hamlet, and could feel the ‘to be or not to be’ moment, or rather, ‘to speak or not to speak’. After a few tense moments, I just blurted out the word. She looked up, startled. It was too late to look away. I apologized for poking my nose, as she typed in the word and it was correct! Phew! She smiled and said that was okay. She moved to the next level in the game. My internal chatter had reached a frenzy as the voice was telling me to just shut up and mind my business. So I tried to act nonchalant and stood quietly, trying very hard to not look in her direction.
And then I heard a soft voice – “it’s a four letter word?” she was asking me for help! Gleefully I joined her in the quest for words, and we continued to slay. And in no time, I had reached my destination.

What’s Stopping You?

I am in a few WhatsApp groups where there are people I don’t know, or have never met. On one such group of talented and beautiful people, there is this wonderful lady who posted pictures of her paintings, in oils and watercolors. They were very beautiful, indeed – and I commented once saying ‘you make me feel like picking up my brush!’ to which she replied, ‘what’s stopping you?’ with a lovely smile (to be more precise, a smiley emoticon). And the words somehow stuck in my mind. As I went on with my day’s work, I asked myself, ‘what’s stopping you?’ But I still didn’t pick up that brush…
The paints have gone dry!
I don’t have the canvas to paint!
These were some of the excuses. I then decided to overcome these excuses. I went out and bought the canvas and some fresh paints. Brushes, I already had – collecting dust over the years of neglect. And then some more days passed. Still, no paintings! What’s stopping you?!!
Oh, let me finish this work I am doing right now!
I haven’t cooked yet!!
I’m not in the mood right now.
I have to go out in some time.
This went on till there was another beautiful painting by the same lady that inspired me. ‘So, what’s stopping you now?’ I asked myself. And I set out to paint. It is not a great masterpiece, but I have overcome something that has been stopping me… at least for a while, till the next bout of inertia attacks me, and I ask myself ‘so, what’s stopping me now?’


Those were the days when joint families were common. She would be pampered by all the aunts and uncles in the house, and also taken out on outings. Those days, the shops closed by maybe 9 pm, and the streets would be deserted after that. It was one such night that the uncle and aunt had taken her out to visit some friends, and were returning on the scooter. She must have been around four at the time.
As they were on this lonely stretch of the road, the girl had an irresistible urge to eat cake. Not just any cake, but Japanese cake. She started a singsong whine – ‘unnncle, I want caaaakeeeee’. The shops were all closed by then, and poor uncle didn’t know what to do. As they went further down the road, they found a shop that was still open. But he didn’t have cakes. Thinking the girl was hungry, uncle bought some bananas and gave her one to eat. She quietly ate the banana. As they went further ahead, she started again. ‘Unnncle, I want caaaakeeeee’. Now uncle didn’t know what to do. He saw another shop and stopped there. The shopkeeper didn’t have cake, either. But he had ice cream. So poor uncle thought that the ice cream would make up for the lack of cake. So the ice cream was eaten too. And further down the road … yes, you guessed right. The whine started again. ‘Uncle, caaaaake’.
This went on for some time till uncle realized (after some bars of chocolate, some fanta, and a tender coconut) that the whine would not stop till she had had the cake. So this time, he went straight to a place where he knew the bakery would be open (yes, away from the route to the house). And she gleefully jumped up and down, and pointed to the tiny round cake on display. And finally the whining was put to an end.
Uncle had a good story to tell everyone back home.

Guns and Roses

On the day the world celebrated love
And roses exchanged everywhere
They faced explosives and guns
And were shredded to bits –
Was that fair?
By a coward who rammed into them
The forty-four brave men

The world condemns the attack
Candle marches will be held
And display screens turn black
But in different corners somewhere
forty four houses will never know
Of a loved one, the warmth and glow
Of the light snuffed out
In cold blood, in the cold, cold snow.

More Metro Tales

A common sight these days, in any public place, is heads bent over the android phones. Oh so intently, like their lives depend on that message they are sending or the video they are busy watching. This has been such a common sight that it has given rise to a lot of memes and videos telling us of the disadvantages of being glued to the screen. Every time I travel by the metro, I am greeted by this common sight.
As I take the metro in the morning to my classes, I change metro lines. So I take two trains.
Today, on my way back, I saw this young lady so intent on watching Big Boss on her mobile that she was standing quite close to the doors. I silently prayed that she wouldn’t fall off when the doors opened at the next station. Well, she managed to get off without any problem. (I couldn’t click her picture as the train was crowded).
As I changed trains, there was a rare sight that awaited me in the ladies compartment. I did a double take. And also clicked a picture of the girl (cropped for privacy reasons). Take a look!
To the girl in the picture: If you are reading this, dear, be careful as you get down the stairs (I saw you with your eyes still glued to the book as you approached the stairs)! You reminded me of my younger days, when I was just as crazy.
But well – I guess a book is any day better than the smart phone!
Do you agree?

The Unsung (S)heroines

She saw the photograph
on WhatsApp
Bless the Internet
that keeps them connected!
What’s this!!!?
she asked
Chilblain, he replied
You don’t take care
she chided
As she couldn’t see his single scar
To fuss over him, she as so far!
You didn’t wear your gloves?
she cried
I did, he replied
Then he said,
You cry for a chilblain
When my brothers were slain
We can’t let their sacrifices
go in vain
We will stand our ground
whether it rains or snows
as we are duty bound
We face the wrath of man or nature
and we will not waver
We guard the borders
so there is order
and the country sleeps sound
So she hid her tears and pain
As always, it was the nation first, again
And she kept mum
knowing that all she could do
was to support him.

More on Resolutions

It was a Sunday, and I was inspired to cook sonny boy’s favorite breakfast. ‘Healthy home cooked food!’ I thought. I set out to make kandha poha, which he likes. We had got up late, and he wanted to order in, but I told him that the breakfast would be ready quicker than the delivery from outside (along with the lecture on the benefits of home-cooked food, of course! I am Mom-bound to do that!).
And thus I set out to cook. I chopped the heap of onions and started tempering, when my phone beeped. I set the flame to low and as I waited for the onions to turn brown, I happily read through the messages, watched videos, and replied to some personal messages. It was my ever-active nose that told me something was going amiss – just in time to look up and see that the brown shade of onions I had been waiting for, had passed me by. They had transitioned and reached nirvana – to a pure black!
What followed is anybody’s guess – yes, restart with the chopping of onions and chillies, the seasoning, the whole process and, not to mention, to see a ‘hangry’ (hungry and angry!!) face with the ‘I-told-you’ look.
Thus the not-so-new-year resolution was born. No WhatsApp/social media in the morning. At least till the cooking is done. Would you all agree?

Metro Tales

As I got into the 7:10 metro this morning, I was happy that I would be on time. I rejoiced too soon. As we reached Majestic, where I had to switch metro lines, the train did not leave station for about a good eight minutes. And again, at the stop just before the one where I got off, it again stopped for another ten minutes or so. It seemed there was some snag and the authorities were taking care of it.
The train was jam-packed, and people fidgeted on being late. It was with mixed feelings that I restlessly looked this way and that. Then I realized there was nothing that I could do at that point of time. Getting off the metro and taking a rickshaw would mean more loss of time. It seemed safer to bear this delay. So I just accepted the situation and looked around at the crowd.
The young people were, quite amusingly, engrossed with their smartphones. There was a young lady watching a video with great interest. Another young man was busily at a game. One was engrossed in a chat, with that dreamy look in her eyes. These were the ones that seemed unmoved by any delay.
And then there were a few who must have been really getting late. The ones who were vocal were those on their way to work, it looked like. One started cribbing and I wondered if he was worried about a missed meeting at office… Or did he dread facing a Hitler boss?
The older generation sat calmly. One such elderly gentleman pointed out that we should support the system. ‘What if you were on the road and got stuck in a traffic jam? Who would you blame then?’ He asked. Point there. By then the train had started, and had arrived at my destination. I got off the train pondering on the thought if I should rue the missing out of more than half of my class, or be glad it was just a small snag, or whether to be patient with the system.
It was just a delay. I chose to count my blessings.

The Empty Bowl

You begin with an empty bowl.
This was the writing prompt.
I had hit the writer’s block, and I was going through the chores, thinking of the ‘empty bowl’. It was not until late that evening as I emptied the garbage bowl in the recycling bin that I got that ‘aha’ moment.
You cannot fill a bowl which is full. You need to empty it, to fill it with what you want. This sentence I heard first when I turned towards spirituality. At the time, I did not fully understand it. I got the words, yes. But the depth of the meaning hit me only after some time. Easier said than done, though, and we need to put in constant efforts.
Coming back to the bowl. I collect kitchen waste in a bowl. Around evenings, or when the bowl is full, I transfer the contents into a bigger bin on my terrace. I have some good manure this way. And I am saved from the tantrums of the garbage collector in the mornings (you will be nodding your head in agreement if you live in Bangalore). And as a bonus, I get some tiny saplings now and then that spring forth to life, from that heap of waste. I had a few tomatoes recently. There is a small plant that looks like some gourd. So it is a win-win situation all the way.
So, as I emptied that bowl today, the thought came to me that our minds are similar to this bowl. We collect garbage as we go about our lives. What others said or did, or did not do. And the anger, resentment, sadness, and all the other negativities that go with it, get collected in our ‘bowl’. And then the mind is a place of filth. We need to empty the mind of all the garbage, for us to fill it with new things. When the garbage finds a right direction, new life springs forth.
As we empty the mind’s bowl, we make space for fresh and productive thoughts. And thus a new day starts, with an empty bowl.