Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I know, I know. The 100-posts-this-year resolution hasn't exactly started off well, has it? But it's not really my fault. There has been too much travelling happening lately for me to be able to sit down quietly and write. So here's a stop-gap. 

This is a story that I wrote in response to this challenge:
A man who lives alone sees a set of footprints leading away from his house the morning after a heavy snowfall.
The story had to be less than 750 words as well. Mine didn't make the cut, but I still quite like it. 



Ibrahim wakes up every day, and hopes the food will be gone. Most days, it isn’t. He used to put out clothes too, sometimes. But the clothes always remained, even when the food was gone.

He closes his shop at eight every night. Of course, nobody really comes to the shop after seven these days, even when there’s no curfew on. But he likes to potter around behind the counter, tidying up, doing the accounts, postponing the inevitable. Then he walks slowly back to his cottage outside the main town.

He passes a military check-post on the way, one of many in this place. It’s usually bright with light and the bonhomie of young soldiers who haven’t seen blood yet. There’s as much happiness in that one small building as there is in the rest of the town put together.

The two soldiers on duty outside usually greet him. The soldiers know Ibrahim because they buy their cigarettes at his shop. He’s almost the only local they speak to.

He always returns their greetings. Some days, when the trade at the shop has been slow because of news of bombings nearby, he offers them some of the leftover snacks. He knows he should give the food to the orphanage, but he thinks of these snacks as insurance. Pay a monthly premium so they don’t shoot him for a terrorist at the end.

These soldiers are his son’s age, maybe a year or two younger. He wonders if they know about his son, if some tattle-tale in the town has whispered in their ears about the jihadi son of the shopkeeper. He wonders if his son’s photo and name are up on a board somewhere, labelled TERRORIST in bold red letters.

He doesn’t know whom to blame. Should he blame his dead wife, her mind unscrewed over long years by a long-ago night of blood and fire? Should he blame the local maulvi for pouring poison into the young boys’ ears in every class? Should he blame these soldiers for their very presence? Or should he blame himself for always being too busy at the shop to be with his son?

The closer he gets to his house, the slower he walks. Sometimes, he fantasizes about an alternate life, one in which his wife is alive and happy, and his son hasn’t run away to fight for a losing cause. He fantasizes that the house will be yellow and lit and noisy, waiting for him to arrive. His steps speed up in anticipation.

And then he turns the corner, and the house is dark and empty and quiet. He slows down again, walks heavily up to the gate. He unlatches the gate, walks up the narrow path to the front door. The house smells musty when he steps inside, but there’s nothing he can do about that. He fixes himself dinner, eats. Then he prepares the bundle of food, and puts it outside the back door.

Tonight, he smells snow in the air, maybe the ghost of a snowfall up in the mountains. He peers off into the darkness, at the hills hidden now in darkness. He thinks of his son, bundled up in a shawl, hugging his gun for warmth in a cave somewhere. He goes back inside, walks up to his bedroom, finds an old coat of his. He wraps the food in that.

In the morning, the food is gone, and so is the coat. It has snowed heavily in the night, and a set of footsteps lead away from the house, towards the forested hills behind. He looks at those footsteps, and feels something burst and start burning inside his chest.

He sits down heavily on the steps, cradles his head in his hand, stares at those footsteps. In a minute, he will get up and sweep those footsteps away. But for now, he stares at them, the only sign he has seen of his son in the last five years.
• • •

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The February Resolution

The first time I sent in something I wrote for a competition was when I was eleven or twelve. The internet revolution was just beginning in India, and I had just discovered Class on the Web. The site had a lot of material related to my school syllabus, but I was more interested in the monthly 'Creative Writing' competitions they were conducting.

The first piece I sent in was a poem. The first paragraph went like this:
The little girl sat thinking,
With a heart fast sinking
"Oh, so much work to do!
But I want to watch cartoons!"
I guess it's probably a good thing I don't remember the rest. But don't judge me - I was eleven, okay?

Anyway, even though the poem was pretty bad, I won a prize. It was a whiteboard, a tiny book-sized one, and came with a blue pen. I never actually  used it though. Eventually, the ink in the pen just dried out from lack of use.

When my grandmother's eldest sister, a famous reader herself, learnt that I had won a 'writing' competition, she gave me a gift - a beautiful book, with a colourful cover and thick white ruled pages. She presumably wanted me to use it for all the brilliant verse I would no doubt now spew forth. But I couldn't bring myself to use the book, it was much too pristine. So it stayed empty. I don't know where it is now - I guess it must have gotten lost during the later shift to Delhi.

But strangely, despite that early encouragement, I've written very little since then. My friends talk about how they had articles published in newspapers when they were kids, but I never did any of that. Sure, English teachers loved to read my essays aloud in class. And sure, I've 'edited' a couple of magazines in my time. But that's about it.

This might seem funny to people who've been reading this blog for a long time. Yes, I've been blogging for eight years now, on and off. But the posts on this blog are pretty much all I wrote during those eight years.

I did a self-diagnosis last year. My problem, I decided, is that I don't like actually showing my writing to people who know me. The decision I made last year to start writing this blog under my own name was an attempt to correct this problem.

But it hasn't worked out. First of all, I wrote barely twenty posts last year. And secondly, I can see a clear difference (both in quality of writing and content) between the stuff I wrote under a pseudonym, and what I've written in the last one year under my own name.

And then last week, I learnt that I had won this. For those who can't be bothered clicking through, it's a short story competition, the second edition of one run by the Indian Women's Press Corps. The prize money is good - 25, 000 rupees. That lends it a certain weight in the eyes of people who can't really tell one competition from another.

But for me - it's not about the prize money at all. It's a sort of - vindication. YES, I'm a writer. Not an aspiring writer, not a wannabe writer. A WRITER. And that feels damn good.

I'm suddenly glad that I took a year off from work. No matter how the real reason for that break turns out, it allowed me to get back to my writing. I've been writing short stories. I've started work on a novel. I've been participating in short story competitions off and on.

Unfortunately, it's still tough for me to show my stories to people and get feedback from them. Even the short story that won - I didn't show it to anybody before sending it out. In fact, despite the win, I STILL haven't shared it with anybody, not even those closest to me. Especially those closest to me, I should say.

But I realize that if I want to do anything remotely serious with my writing, I need to start sharing it with people.

So here's a resolution. Since we're way past New Year's, I'll call this a February Resolution.

I will write at least one hundred posts on this blog this year. 

That's a post roughly every three days. That's going to be a bit of a challenge of course, considering the fact that I wrote hardly anything last year. So I'm going to allow myself to cheat a little.

1. I can post short stories, no matter how bad they are. Feedback would be much welcome.
2. The longer stories can be split into two, and those WILL count as two posts.
3. Once in a while, I can post inspiring/interesting clippings from books and blog posts, such as this one.
4. Travelogues count, too. And yes, they will obviously be split into multiple parts, because my travelogues are generally long.

So if you don't want to see a LOT of me in the next few months, unsubscribe from this blog NOW. And if you do want to read me, get ready for a bumpy ride!
• • •