Sunday Long Reads: Fictional stories on meetings, families and cities

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Exploring what the end of a year means. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

Extra Passes

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Where's the party? (Photo: Getty Images)

Samples of paneer lababdar were being packed and sealed by the Inspector in the office of the Restaurant Manager when the Restaurant Manager crept up to the Officer.

“Sir, the year’s end party at our place is quite famous. Full family entertainment with music, buffet, drinks”. The Officer was not expecting this intrusion. He had come out of the Restaurant Manager’s office because he needed some respite from his job of inspecting eateries. It was good for those who could take advantage of their position, but this Officer wasn’t the type to ask for things in return.

There were many regulations involved and the Officer couldn’t remember more than two or three at any given time. To assist him in his task, there was the Inspector who did the paperwork, sent notices, and accompanied the Officer during the inspections. The Officer was somewhat aware of the inner workings. He’d been told about the deals that the Inspector made with the business owners, but the cuts from those deals did not reach the Officer so he just luxuriated in his ignorance and clean image. Let the Inspector manage things and keep all trouble away from me.

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Mindful

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Start the new year with a clean inbox and clean phone. (Photo: Getty Images)

Her husband’s hair was largely the source of his happiness and as Rhea was beginning to realise, largely the source of her dissatisfaction. Though he was 36, Mathew’s thick hair conveyed an air of barely repressed irrepressibleness. That combined with the enormous warmth he turned on as soon as he left his house, it was no surprise to anyone that Mathew was a success at work. Only Rhea found it hard to compose her face whenever she had to respond appropriately to his fans. She bumped into his admirers among strangers, his large family and the hordes of her own family she was still discovering in the three years since they’d moved from Delhi to Ernakulam.

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December

One Hell of A Lover was written by  Unni R .

O, my lazy child, please get up and see the sun rise, his Umma* would tell him each morning. When Umma’s voice opened the door and entered, he would lie in the darkness under his blanket, like a speck of the sky untouched by light, giving Umma the slip. The dog, cat and the trees of the neighbouring house would stand around stealthily and call him, O, you lazy child! Each day, Umma, the breeze, the cat and the trees, thinking that he would rise early that day to see the sun rising, would sit foregoing sleep, waiting for the lazy child to wake up early and to come out from under the blanket. But, the lazy child slept on, snoring and ignoring everyone.

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Brand New Days

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Exploring what the end of a year means. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

The Boxing Day funeral was never meant to be a sombre affair. The deceased had stated clearly to all visitors at the cancer ward. So there was laughter, music, whisky for the old, ganja for the young. The spread was sumptuous, no frugal funeral rice here. It was a proper Christmas dinner.

The guests were mostly friends of his wife who knew him hardly, but pigged out on cured ham, mince pies and pastries filled with curried flesh. The champagne was served when the VHS came on, and there, projected on the wall, was his smiling face delivering his own eulogy. If-you’re-seeing-this-I-must-be-gone, sort of thing.

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Galaxy Premier League

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Sheetal Rathi thought of herself as a feminist. It was she who had convinced the society committee to start giving every flat two slots on the board that displayed the names of residents: one each for husband and wife. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

Sheetal surveyed the coupled names in the entrance foyer of Galaxy Saraswati.

101. Mr Harshit Rathi and Mrs Sheetal Rathi

102. Dr Suraj Fernandes and Dr (Mrs.) Alisha Fernandes

201. Mr Ravikumar Nambiar and Mrs Sumitra Ravikumar

202. Mr Puneet Hingorani and Mrs Bindiya P Hingorani

And so on. The wooden board hummed with fairness and order, names perched on it in neat pairs.

All but one. Flat 504. Mr Anirudh Iyer. Ms Neha Rao.

Now, Sheetal Rathi thought of herself as a feminist. It was she who had convinced the society committee to start giving every flat two slots on the board that displayed the names of residents: one each for husband and wife. Eighteen years ago, this request had caused a flutter. Sheetal the new bride, with half-a-dozen red-and-white choodas glistening on each wrist, had insisted on attending a committee meeting just three days after returning from her honeymoon. She had reminded the committee that they were in the 21st century, not in 1921. The men of the committee had looked at each other, prayed for a note of protest to rise above the chham-chham of her bangles, but when none came they were forced to release the funds for a new slotted wooden board that would hold twice as many names. Eight months later, Sheetal had become the first woman on the committee and for three years she had remained the only female representative across the four buildings in the housing society; all four named, incidentally, after river-goddesses. Ganga, Jamuna, Saraswati, Narmada.

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Kushtaka

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Kushtaka (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

The American is talking to her daughter. Sacchi, twirling a blade of grass in her fingers, bumbles around him. The mountains look too perfect behind them, but that’s only because Durga hasn’t spent enough time outside dying Indian cities. She stands on the wooden porch of the guest home, her hands on her waist. She can’t decide whether she wants to get into the intricacies of striking a conversation with the American. Sacchi makes the decision for her. A high-pitch twang hits the air, she screams theatrically. “Mama! Listen to this story, it’s too scary.”

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To the moon and back

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There are no real names, of course. He said he’s from Estonia or Czech Republic or somewhere. (Source: Parismita Singh)

— Let me put on the coffee, first…

— You look well. I expected…

— What did you expect?

— Seriously, I thought I would find you in a slightly deranged state. Like you get sometime. Your phone call had me worried.

— (Laughs) I didn’t mean to alarm you, but I am glad you came. I had a good night’s sleep. I must have slept after ages.

— So, I presume you have solved whatever it was that kept you awake all these days or weeks, was it?

— Come. Let’s drink our coffee in the balcony. It’s nice in the mornings, before the crows get here. You know, as a teenager, I read somewhere, of how looking into space is like looking back into time. I think that’s what got me hooked to the skies.

— You told me that once. That there was nothing romantic in the night skies, the stars we see could have burnt out in the time it took for the light to reach us, that its shining was from a time that had already passed in whatever distant gallery it was.

— I did?

— So you have been looking at the skies?

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Being touched

Never in his life has he seen such a crowd, or a curiousity for books in such a congregation. (Source: Getty Images)

Raavan is a 21-year-old boy from the Vadar caste. For the last five years, he has been living in Mumbai, working as a cleaner in an IT company. No one has ever enquired about his caste in this city. What he likes about this city is that one can live here, without being ruled. Yet, it is his past that does not let him feel free, that reminds him of who he is. Here, his only solace is books. His search for himself is unknown to him. But codes of his destiny are hidden in his past, which appears in his dreams. He sees them, everyday.

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The Last Day

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At one point the sea became gold. Then it became darker and darker, and, finally, the sea and sky melted into blackness. (Photo: Getty Images)

That day, last day of the year, we were in Goa on one of those grey beaches and we were lying on those beach beds at one of those shacks. You know those shacks? The Goa shacks. They put striped, torn towels on the beach beds but that was nice of them. The food was average, naturally, what do you expect? So we lay there. It was sunset time and the colours were doing that thing in the sky. At one point the sea became gold. Then it became darker and darker, and, finally, the sea and sky melted into blackness. But there was still an orange and a pink in the clouds. So we lay there drinking beer calmly, smoking cigarettes regretfully. And we were speaking about the usual things: somebody else’s relationship, beach runner’s weird body. Dogs wandered about tails wagging, then charged off barking wildly.

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Take Us Home

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“A mango farm?” they wonder. “Maybe he’s had a dream. But if it’s true, where did he get the money to buy it?” (Photo: Getty Images)

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Professor Iyer wakes up to the memory of a mango farm he once owned when he was young and single. With the revival of his memory comes unforeseen trouble. Torn between belief and disbelief, his two sons argue to ascertain the veracity of their father’s claim, while the father reminisces about the farm.

“A mango farm?” they wonder. “Maybe he’s had a dream. But if it’s true, where did he get the money to buy it?”

“Maybe, he won a lottery or robbed a bank… maybe, it’s a gift from someone,” says the younger son.

“A gift? From whom?” says the elder son.

“From a childless relative or a rich student’s family about whom he never told us! Or, perhaps, from a Maharaja! He’s been mumbling something about the Maharaja of Travancore lately.”

“Really? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Maybe he’s fibbing on purpose,” says the younger son, concealing his emotion.

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Taking Stock

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He does everything on his phone these days, and he can barely type now that voice recognition apps understand his Indian accent. (Source: Getty Images)

Arun K walks down 2nd Street and pauses at State, amused that his wife has asked him to be cautious when crossing the street as she might their 13-year-old daughter, who would have rolled her eyes.

Cars stop for him, politely. Porsches, BMWs, mothers with strollers. He sees the same people in the same cars and same cafes all year round — they never seem to go to work. Granted, today is December 31, but it is a Tuesday. How do these people manage to sit in sunny cafes and sip lattes on a working day? There is something about Los Altos — beyond the affluence and the absence of streetlights and sidewalks and chain stores — that sets it apart from Palo Alto. “If you stop for lunch in Silicon Valley,” say breathless columnists who don’t live in Silicon Valley, “you are lunch.” But they have not walked down 2nd Street and crossed State. Work is so last decade here.

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An Opening

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The joke is not just for him.

he catches his attention with a joke. The joke is about suicide. Specifically, her own. More specifically, about hanging herself with a few yards of rope she’s using for a project at work. The joke is a little morbid for his taste but exaggerated in a way he knows Americans are prone to be.

The joke is not just for him. She posted it along with a link to a show she’s curating. Presumably, something will be dangling from the ceiling at the opening. He wants to like the post, particularly because the show is going to be at a gallery nearby. It’s local. Convenient. It would be nice to go to an event like this. It would be nice to see her again after all these years. He’s never been to a gallery opening.

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