The Pun Chronicles #8 – The Schema of Emphysema

Sooraj walked into the apartment complex with his customary smile plastered across his face. This smile was not necessarily a reflection of his mood, but simply a necessity. He was a well-known figure in this area. Every person he encountered knew him, and in return, he knew them or someone closely related to them as well. This was what necessitated the smile. Acquaintances tend to expect you to be happy to see them, and take it personally if your expression is anything short of mirthful, even if they are not the cause of your mirthlessness.

Greeting all the passersbys by their first name, stopping every few steps to greet yet another acquaintance, it took him a while to get to the elevator, where he finally was allowed to gather his thoughts to himself again. He stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor, and approached the apartment at the end of the corridor and rang the bell.

A woman, with the miserable countenance common to those of the lower strata of society, opened the door and sighed. Sooraj stepped inside, bowing to the maid, and requesting to meet the master of the house.

“Hi, Ramma. Is Jake in?” he asked.

“Yes, Mister,” she spoke, her voice sounding muted, melancholic.

He entered Jake’s room, staring enviously at the bed. Sooraj’s own room had no such luxuries, merely a mattress. Jake lay prone across the very same bed, deeply in the throes of slumber, mouth slightly open, breathing lightly. To Sooraj’s ears, Jake’s breathing sounded a bit ragged, and his skin seemed a bit pale,  but he couldn’t be sure, since there was hardly any light in the room.

He walked back outside, looking for Ramma. He found her squatting near an empty vegetable crate, her shoulders silently shaking as she cried. Hearing Sooraj approach, she composed herself and turned to face him.

“Is Jake ill? He looks extremely weak,” Sooraj asked.

Ramma’s lower lip trembled as she spoke, “Yes, Mister. He has been getting worse every day.”

“Every day? How long has he been ill?”

“He has been ill for more than a fortnight now, Mister. Ever since Mr. Chandra came over.”

The alarm bells sounded for the first time within Sooraj’s head. Something was off here.

“What happened when Mr. Chandra was here?”

“Well, Mister, he came over three weeks ago. He refused to eat anything I cooked. They both stopped stocking up the vegetables. There is no rice, no flour, nothing for me to cook. Mr. Chandra ordered food for himself, but then would find the food not so much to his liking and give it to Jake. Every day the same routine. I saw it happen before my eyes, but they never listen to me.“

What was Chandra up to?

Sooraj knew Chandra well, having studied in the same class as Chandra’s father. He also knew the owner of the restaurant that Chandra was habituated to ordering from. Neither of these facts brought much comfort to his mind. In fact, it discomfited him no end. He had never considered Chandra to be of much consequence. In the areas that mattered, Chandra had always been a pawn.

But this situation seemed to be exactly the kind Chandra thrived in. He may have been only a pawn, but this was a pawnsy scheme.

Hesitating no longer, convinced that Jake had been poisoned, Sooraj pulled out his stash of homeopathic medicine. Feeling the vibes emanating from each of the bottles, he chose the one that exuded the purest vibes, and handed the bottle to Ramma, directing her towards Jake.

“Listen carefully, Ramma, you must feed Jake five of these tablets. Exactly five, no more and no less. That is imperative. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mister.”

Approaching her Master’s bed, Ramma’s hands shook. The gravity of the situation, coming as it did at the tail end of a stressful fortnight, was taking its toll on her nerves. Tilting the bottle over Jake’s mouth, she counted as the pills fell in.

One.
Two.
Three.
Four.
Five.

She stepped back, relieved at the completion of the task. Sooraj, too, breathed a sigh of relief.

Suddenly, Jake awoke.

“What the fuck…” were the words of erudition to first emanate from his mouth.

Sooraj and Ramma chuckled, but their joy was short-lived. Jake had bent over the side of his luxurious bed, and was now retching and puking violently. Rushing to his side, Ramma noticed blood all over the floor, and shrieked in horror. Looking around to Sooraj for guidance, she saw the room was empty. She ran through the house, searched every corner, but he had vanished without a trace.

All the while, the sound of Jake disgorging the contents of his intestine impelled her to act faster and more decisively.
Quickly grabbing her cell phone, she called up the resident doctor, trying, between hysterical bouts of crying, to explain what happened to him. The doctor did not understand much, but understood immediate attention was needed. Showing up at the apartment, minutes later, he rang the bell, and was greeted by Ramma, almost on the verge of lunacy by now.

“Hello, Ramma,” he said, trying to introduce some calm into the situation, “What seems to be the issue?”

Ramma set off on another convoluted attempt at bringing him up to speed, but the Doctor was unable to make head or tail of what she said.

“Ramma! I need you to calm down and explain to me what happened. The quicker you calm down, the faster I can help you.”

The wisdom of his words seemed to register belatedly in Ramma’s mind. She visibly calmed down and, taking a deep breath, gave a brief, but concise synopsis of the situation.

“Doctor, Jake ill, and Mister hide.”

The Pun Chronicles #7 – The Plight of Khosrow

 

Ashkan’s tale:

Amongst the outer reaches of the Shiite province of Bakhtiari, Iran, there lived a boy who was to shatter every mold that was unfortunate enough to encounter him on its path. His name was Ashkan. A slender frame, always bedecked with the most tasteful of clothes, gave no indication of the strength, both mental and physical, that resided within the boy. His radiant face, with an aquiline nose and an impeccably trimmed beard, always held an expression of vague irritation. The sort of expression one wears when one is upset but cannot quite remember why.

Ashkan’s childhood and adolescence was a miasma of experiences out of which only two kinds of people emerge: The broken or the extraordinary. Ashkan was the latter.

Battling society, parental pressure and his own conscience, Ashkan decided to pursue a life of extreme, on-the-edge, creativity. Armed with his guitarrón, his fingers bled for music, weaving melodies that were not necessarily understood, but certainly appreciated by onlookers wherever he performed. Eventually, his talent gaining wider recognition every day, his street performances began to pull in more money than he had ever dared hope for, allowing him to devote more time to his craft undisturbed, and also to widen his geographical horizons. Previously, Ashkan had never been beyond the outer limits of his own province. The entire world outside of Bakhtiari was known to him only through the highly unrealiable medium of village gossip, and the mythological and fable-istic renditions of the world’s current events that filtered through to him via illiterate tongues. He was aware that his perspective on the world could only be described, at best, as skewed, and so he yearned to right that wrong the only way he could. By travelling.

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Khosrow’s tale:

Khosrow was born into a wealthy and influential family in the most affluent part of Khuzestan. Never knowing what it meant to need something, Khosrow spent his entire life relentlessly hunting down and acquiring whatever pleased his fancy most. His wing of the house boasted the most eclectic memorabilia from unimaginably diverse fields of activities. His tales of how he acquired those items were almost as awe-inspiring as the items themselves. Now a grown man of 32, his interests had evolved from objectophilia into an interest in the uncommon man.

He had taken to travelling to the remotest corners of Iran, letting his gut guide him more than anything else, and searching for any form of extraordinariness. Once he found something that caught his exotic fancy, he would do whatever it took to add that person to his entourage. He would become their guide, their sponsor, their caretaker… Their God. He usually got his way pretty quickly. There are very few obstacles that money cannot overcome. And so it was that, walking along the streets of a godforsaken town in Eastern Iran, he encountered a melody that, even to his trained ears, sounded other-worldly.

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Ashkan’s tale (contd):

The world was multifarious and infinite! How Ashkan wept when first he realized all that had been denied to him because of the small-minded fear-mongering by the elders of his village. But it was not too late. Ashkan, a veritable sponge, who once would walk almost doubled over in fear of human contact, now thrust his chest out forward, and walked with his eyes scouring the populace for a bright face or a welcoming smile. He found everywhere in people a willingness to share their experiences. And from their experiences, little droplets of wisdom would fall to the parched tongue that was his mind. He discovered an underground network of musicians that functioned as a loosely connected web, never intrusive, but always within reach. Tapping into this underbelly of craft, Ashkan honed, modified and polished his already formidable virtuosity with the guitarrón. Even amongst musicians, he was one of the few who was widely considered capable of going international; something very few dared to dream about. Along with his growing fame, Ashkan had to deal with his share of detractors too. They ranged from the self-anointed music critics to the conservative radicals that periodically vented their wrath on the perpetrators of whatever they decided was the corruption of Iranian morality at that given time. However, an artistic constitution is no stranger to struggle, and Ashkan took it all as a matter of course. To the critics, he presented his guitarrón, allowing his fingers to reduce their critiques to dust. To the radicals, he preferred not to give reply. Theirs was a world that he never hoped nor ever wished to inhabit. And he had, with some success, managed to avoid any open confrontations by sticking to side alleys and underground performances. It was, however, a battle that he knew would come someday. And that day, he needed to be ready.

On some days, when his performances hit new levels of brilliance, he would be approached by agents or other musicians for a collaboration. Sometimes these worked, more often than not, they didn’t. But after much sifting and excruciation, Ashkan found himself surrounded by a solid group of musicians, all of whom understood what he aimed for, and provided the perfect platform for him to get there. For the first time, he felt prepared.

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Khosrow’s tale (contd):

It’s all coming together wonderfully well.

Khosrow inspected himself in the mirror with the same satisfied expression with which he looked upon all his possessions. His face bore all the marks of majesty. Perfectly oval, with thick eyebrows, and a beard of absolute magnificence. He wore traditional Iranian clothes, but with a panache that left few in any doubt as to his position in this world. He needed to look his best today.

Having heard Ashkan perform on the streets to a crowd that was far too small and far too illiterate to appreciate what was being served up to them, Khosrow resolved to create the perfect environment for his newest ward. Unbeknownst to Ashkan, Khosrow arranged for musicians all over Iran to “happen across” Ashkan performing in the streets, allowing Ashkan himself to choose from amongst them who he needed to form his own band and complement his music. Khosrow did not like to reveal himself too early. He worked from the shadows, revealing only partially to his wards the paths to success, and allowing them to believe the paths were of their own making. And then, when the time was right, he stepped forth from the shadows, all light and glory, and reveled in the gratitude of the artist.

Ashkan would be no different. His newly formed band, thanks to some shrewd marketing by Khosrow, had acquired something of a cult following amongst the locals, and word was spreading fast. Today, with a well-placed word or two from Khosrow, they had been invited to perform to a crowd of 2000 people; a crowd several times larger than any of them had ever encountered in their lives.
They even got special mention in the local newspapers. They were well and truly on their way to the big time.

Khosrow got to the venue early, carefully keeping out of the public eye. He watched Ashkan and his band set up the equipment and finetune the sound settings with an ease that was astounding in a group so inexperienced. He saw the expectations of the crowd render the very air electric. People lounged about, almost uneasily, not quite sure what they were about to experience, but salivating at its prospect nonetheless. Khosrow did not like to admit it, but he was nervous.

And then the performance began, and Khosrow wondered why he was ever worried at all. His grin widened steadily throughout the performance, reaching its zenith as the band ended their set to an ovation the likes of which are reserved for the ruler of the nation. This was the moment!

With a nod to the stage security, he walked around the barriers and strode up the steps to meet the band. Walking straight to Ashkan, he spread his arms, inviting him into an embrace. He felt a surge of emotion within himself, as he felt he was on the cusp of a life changing experience. And, in Ashkan’s eyes, he felt, he could see a hint of the same.

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Ashkan’s tale (finale):

Ashkan’s felt giddy with delight. The past month had been a blur to him. Between the forming of the band, the seamless transition from a group of solo musicians into a well-drilled unit, and the bewildering invitation to a performance that he was sure he would not forget for the rest of his life, Ashkan felt like he was on a joyride with Willy Wonka, tasting the greatest pleasures in life, all of which had been concentrated into an extremely brief span of time. His life as a street musician, dependent on the generosity of the locals seemed a lifetime away. Today, two thousand people swung to the tune of his fingers.

But with the giddiness, there came also fear. Ashkan was not naïve. He knew it was not normal for everything to fall into place so easily. And since he had no reason to suspect a silent benefactor, he merely assumed that he was on an extraordinary run of luck, and that it was bound to end soon. It was the crash that he most dreaded, but it was also something he awaited with something akin to impatience. He wished it would come so that he may be done with it and see where he stood in its aftermath.

Today, however, giddiness prevailed. They had played a perfect set and the crowd had not stopped cheering throughout. All the world seemed at his feet. And just then, as his exhilaration hit its crescendo, he spotted a flurry of movement off stage, to the right. He saw a man, obviously one who held a position of power, walk through the security with not so much as a hand laid on him. He saw all his fellow band members separate to make way for the man to get to him. The man had a smile on his face, a wild smile, one belying undercurrents of tyranny and possibly insanity. His eyes shone with a fervor that only served to intensify the fear growing with Ashkan. All his insecurities and fears about performing in Tehran came flooding back. His fellow band members had assured him he had nothing to fear from the radicals, that they were not significant enough to warrant such attention. But now, seeing their demeanour, Ashkan understood that they were in on it from the beginning. This, then, was the reason everything had gone through without a hitch. It was a set up!

His dreams crushed, he stared into the eyes of the bearded fanatic. His Shiite upbringing in the slums of Bakhtiari had ingrained in him one undying principle. Fight!

And so, as Khosrow spread his arms, welcoming Ashkan to the embrace of brothers, Ashkan’s body tensed up. Using all his strength, Ashkan struck, hitting Khosrow under his right eye with astonishing force, knocking him to the floor, motionless. The crowd, all at once, became silent, and the looks of horror on his bandmates’ faces told Ashkan that his fairytale was over.

The Shiite had hit the fan.

Speak Now, Or Forever Remain Silent

Part 1:

The sparsely staffed upper story of GM Towers that housed the diner that billed itself the best Konkani Restaurant in town was having a slow business day. The mostly unworked waiters lounged lazily at the corner tables, out of eye and earshot of the handful of customers who happened to be there. All eyes in the diner were turned towards the grainy, miniscule television that was mounted on an improvised stand near the ceiling of the restaurant. A politician, clad in the brightest orange, spread his arms in a gesture of magnificence, enthralling his junta with all the wiles and Machiavellian schemings that 40 years of politicking had taught him.

This hardly uncommon arrangement was rendered so by a seemingly innocuous rendezvous that took place on its premises on the Sunday of December 31st, 2017.

At one of the tables sat a man, aged around 40, gold chain shining forth from within an entanglement of chest hair, a massive paunch belying a life of lazy Hedonism. A handful of rice was held suspended in his hand, with the gravy running down his arm, unnoticed, as he stared at the TV screen.

Another table entertained a mother, child by her side, staring with glazed eyes at the screen, while the child shrieked for attention, striking her unresponsive arm with petulant pleas.

At the third sat a man, age 32, with head bowed. A green polo t-shirt, impeccably ironed, hid a body that had been assiduously chiselled at a gym. Size 5 converse shoes peeked out from within a pair of denims that looked like they had come fresh from the launderers. The unusual proliferation of creases between his eyebrows spoke of a man who has many reasons to frown, and not as many to smile. He stared down at his plate of prawn ghee roast, apparently taking no delight in it. A laptop bag, lying on the chair next to him, was a constant reminder that work beckoned, as soon as he was done with his lunch.

Across from him sat a woman, aged 23, whose face bore evidence of a sleepless night and much deliberation, and no small amount of determination. Ever since this couple had arrived, it was she who had dominated the conversation, with the man hardly getting a word in.

“…had just about all I can take,” she was saying, as his eyes unattentively followed the wisps of smoke emanating from his steaming lunch. “There are many things I admire about you, Auro, but partial admiration can only take you so far. I don’t feel the effort that needs to be put in to this relationship is coming from both of us.”

That last bit struck a nerve for Auro. He had never liked anyone questioning his work ethic. Frown resumed its rightful place, and he glanced up at his partner. As her lips continued to emit their discordant notes, his eyes strayed up to her ears, noticing for the first time how they were not unlike prawns, themselves. He looked down once again to reaffirm his notion and was pleased to see that he was not mistaken. Frown fidgeted, not so sure of its seat anymore.

Behind him, the speakers continued to act as the harbingers of Separatist propaganda. Auro found it mildly distracting.

“When was the last time you came home with a smile on your face, wanting to spend an enjoyable evening with me? When was the last time your face did not have that God-damned frown!” she exclaimed.

The speakers began to crackle, the politician’s voice cutting in and out intermittently.

“I really think you need to get some help. It isn’t healthy to be this angry all the time. Will you listen to me just this once and get some help?”

Auro had traversed elsewhere within his mind. He was travelling amongst physical representations of sound notes, repairing the ones that had been damaged or destroyed, adorning himself the sound carpenter.

“Are you even listening to me?” she shrieked.

Auro snapped out of his reverie. “I’m sorry, Mona, I didn’t catch that last part,” he said, looking up with the faintest traces of apologetic feeling softening his features.

Mona seethed, “You know what, I’ve had it. This is so typical of you. Here I am, trying to salvage something from our relationship, and you don’t even have the decency to hear me out. You never have. You have always been a terrible listener.”

“Don’t say that,” he said, voice trembling with emotion, “Please don’t say that.” Frown returned, triumphant, dominant.

“Well, I’m sorry, but it is true.”

“Mona, I understand you’re upset, but there is no need to be bitch.”

Her mouth fell open. “Wow, just wow. You know what? You can just fuck off, you Konkan bastard.”

Auro, ears reddening, began, “Are you insulting my mother tongue?”

But she had already left.

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Part 2:

Auro walked towards the Five-items-or-less counter at the supermarket with his 5 Kg jar of Serious Gainz protein shake. The cashier was running through customers at an impressive pace, but there were still a couple of people before him in the line. The guy immediately in front of him was broad shouldered and tall. He seemed especially so to Auro, whose deficiency in the height department had always been a source of great insecurity. The man in front of him seemed to encompass his whole field of vision. Auro suppressed a surge of anger, and switched queues. He now found himself at the last counter, closest to the exit.

The tinted sliding doors provided a reflective surface that few men who hit the gym as hard as Auro did would have been able to resist. He found himself flexing his arms with the 5 Kg jar in his hand, and admiring how well his muscles had developed over the past couple of years.

His eyes travelled upwards, noting the muscle mass build-up around his shoulders and the purple of his veins straining at the skin of his neck. His face was now hidden away beneath a full, lush beard, but his head was clean shaven. The lights of the supermarket reflected off the beads of perspiration that formed on it from time to time. The lines between his eyebrows had become significantly more entrenched. Frown flourished.

It suddenly struck him how much he had changed. How, somewhere along the way, he had lost the innocence of righteous anger, and how his evolution from that had not only changed who he was within, but had been corporealized and was now there for all to see.

“Good afternoon, sir, how may I help you today?” asked the cashier, an unpleasant looking woman well past her prime, smiling wearily at him.

“Oh, just the one item, thank you,” he said, setting the jar down on the counter.

“Gladly, sir. There is an offer on this item, sir. With every purchase of a Serious Gainz jar, you receive one set of Zebronics Multimedia Speakers absolutely free,” she said, with all the magnanimity of Alexander granting a life of continued Royal Luxury to Darius III’s family.

Frown twitched, agitated.

“That’s all right, I don’t want them,” he said, voice curiously subdued.

The cashier was taken aback. This was unprecedented behaviour. Perhaps he misunderstood.

“But, sir, it is completely free,” she repeated.

Auro remained silent, handing over the money, keeping his eyes averted. The cashier bagged the jar and the speakers and handed it over to Auro, who wordlessly walked out of the store.

On reaching the road, he immediately reached into the bag and, extricating the speakers, unceremoniously dumped them into the trash can that lay right outside the store. Then, as if afraid of lingering there, he walked off at a brisk pace.

A short metro trip later, he was home. Setting his new purchase on top of the cabinet, he walked across the hall and turned on his sound system. Immediately, the whole house was drowned in the dark melodies of doom metal, with Queen of All Time blaring from the network of speakers Auro had set up all over the house.

His eyes closed in silent ecstasy for a brief moment, as euphoria overwhelmed him, and he felt that familiar sensation in his groin.

Frown shuddered. Tonight was going to be a good night.

He switched on his computer, grabbing an apple from the fridge, feet moving rhythmically to the music. Logging on, he immediately opened multiple tabs, clicking on his neatly organized bookmarks in alphabetical order. Each bookmark pertained to a different forum for audiophiles. Long months of practice had taught him the areas he needed to concentrate on to get his daily fix, and the areas he needed to avoid, so as to avoid perverting the purity of his knowledge base.

He had developed a fearsome reputation in these circles, ruthlessly mowing down anyone who held misguided views on the characteristics of sound and its gadgetry. People all over the world knew to step out of his way and respectfully accept his opinion, whether out of simple fear, or out of deference to his near encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject matter. Gone were the days when simply good sound quality and reasonable pricing were enough to satisfy him. Now, he travelled only in exalted circles where the philosophy of sound overrode any quantifiable benchmark by which a particular device may be judged. Auro was the judge, and his intuition served as benchmark enough.

Scouring the various screens, he spotted an unwelcome intruder on an otherwise enlightened post. The intruder, styling himself “CranialDessert”, not realizing the majesty of the company he was in, had naively ventured to express a contrary opinion (with the best intentions no doubt) to that of Auro’s. What followed was to go down in audiophilia lore.

Chat Window 1:

CranialDessert: Well, I originally thought using human subjects to determine experimentally what “characteristics” of sound they found enjoyable and then to build these characteristics into loudspeakers was a pretty good idea. But now it just seems like another way of trying to force feed us linearity in every facet of our lives. #anarchy

Auro-al-Illusion: And what is wrong with linearity? It is the sole driving force of accurate reproduction. Go back to your Momma’s breast and do some fucking research, you Skull Candy bitch!

Chat Window 2:

FieryFoxtrot97: Ha! “Skull Candy bitch.” Nice one. :* :*

Auro-al-Illusion: Bitch-ass noobs trying to troll our threads! I bet his cries for attention couldn’t be any louder if he played them through a Backes & Muller BM 100.

FieryFoxtrot97: Ha-ha, yeah…

Auro-al-Illusion: I’m sick of people not even taking the effort to learn about something that they are talking about. I bet this sad excuse for a human being still equates price to quality of product.

FieryFoxtrot97: So, anyway, we on for tonight?

Auro-al-Illusion: Would you believe, they tried to foist a Zebronics piece of trash on me today. Some crap about it being free with my protein shake. I should have given that to CranialDessert, I bet he would jack off to those.

FieryFoxtrot97: …

Auro-al-Illusion: What? Oh, sorry, I didn’t see your message. Yeah, yeah, we’re on for tonight.

FieryFoxtrot97: Great, I’ll seeya at seven, then.

Auro-al-Illusion: Yeah. So do you think we should block him from our thread? I think I’m gonna have a word with the admin. I wrote to him last week as well, he never replies.

A couple of hours later, having destroyed any vestige of self-worth that CranialDessert may have salvaged within himself, Auro logged out and began to get ready for his date.

A special occasion warranted a special effort, and Auro did not pull any punches. A smart blue shirt with impeccably fashionable pants to match, a careful comb-through of his beard, and he was not at all disappointed with what he espied in the mirror. First impressions were key. Until now, his entire spectrum of interaction with FieryFoxtrot97 was online. He had never spoken to her in person. He did not even know how she looked.

What he saw was disappointing, but Auro was never picky when it came to looks. She stood at 5’3”,
with a largish build. Bordering on obese, if he was being honest. A shock of curly hair mercifully covered the majority of her face, and she had chosen an unpleasant shade of shock red lipstick to adorn her lips with. Her overall vibe was not quite revolting, merely pathetic.

But ever the picture of chivalry, Auro took no notice of any of that, and the twain proceeded to have a wonderful evening over wine and Coorgi pork. The lady, unused to a charm separated from superficiality, was swept off her feet by his passionate discourses, and pretty soon, with a seemingly natural progression, she found herself accompanying him to his house.

On entry, what struck her first and foremost was the neatness. The almost obsessively perfect arrangement of furniture, entertainment systems and miscellaneous paraphernalia. What struck her next was that this house was an utter and completely accurate representation of Auro’s personality. It reflected the personality of a man who knew what he was doing, who had his life and its direction sorted out. The kind of man who would wake up every morning with a purpose, and not take each day as it comes, but will life into submitting to his whims.

“Come, I’ll show you around,” he said, tenderly, sending her innards into convulsions of delight. She rose silently, taking his hand, giddy with pleasure. He led her through the hallway, down a narrow corridor. The corridor had four doors diverging from it, one on the left, two on the right and one right at the end.

Auro led her into the second door on the right, a room enveloped in the deepest shade of darkness. She shuddered in anticipation, waiting for what they both knew was to come.

CLICK.

A string of light bulbs turned on, illuminating to the awestruck lady what could only be described as a temple.

From the ceiling to the floor, there were speakers. Old school, mid-range, retro, storm-jammers, the best of every genre and age of speakers was represented there, and cross referenced with the current market price of that particular device.

Front and centre, she spotted a massive structure, shrouded reverentially in a protective blanket of the softest cotton. Despite the overwhelming multitude of similar structures around her, she found her eyes drawn to this item alone. This fact did not go unnoticed by Auro, who pressed home his advantage.

“Ah, this,” he said, his hand stroking the cotton suggestively. “This is, as they say in France, La Piece de Resistance.”

“You speak French too?” she gasped, breathily.

Frown, for the first time that evening, made an appearance, albeit not with its usual pronouncement.

A curious feeling of foreboding began to seep into Auro’s mind, a premonition of sorts. He looked at her for the first time with a new look in his eyes. He had offered to take her out for dinner on the vaguely optimistic hope that a fellow audiophile and him would have plenty to talk about and that he would find a companion to share his greatest passion with. But now, thinking back over the evening he had spent, he began to see multiple clues pointing to the fact that this was now no more than wishful thinking.

With an extravagant flourish, he pulled off the cotton blanket, displaying the pride of his collection in all its glory. He had made sure it was positioned just so that the lighting of the room did it justice and that it was acoustically in the optimum position in the room.

“So, tell me,” he began, working hard to keep his voice from trembling, “what do you think this… This structure… This work of art… This… This masterclass of audio technology, what do you think it has that other systems don’t?”

The lady, intent on Auro himself rather than what he was talking about, did not process the question entirely, nor did she gauge the apparent importance it held for Auro. What she did spot, however, was an option to flirt.

“Um, I dunno,” she said, “Maybe ‘cause it’s really, really big?”

Frown cast down its anchor. It wasn’t going anywhere for the rest of the night.

“I see,” said Auro, now visibly worked up. “Could I interest you in showing you something truly beautiful?”

A playful smile lit up the lady’s face as she said, in a sultry voice, “I’m all yours.”

Auro took her hand and led her back out into the corridor. Turning right, he led her into the last door at the end of the corridor.

He unlocked the door, and seemed to struggle with its weight when pulling it open. Beyond yawned a gaping chasm of the most absolute darkness.

“After you,” said Auro, showing her in.

She walked slowly, cautiously, feeling with her feet. Behind her she heard the heavy door thud shut and the click of multiple locks. A shiver ran through her.

“Well, this is… Unusual,” she ventured.

Her comment received no acknowledgement as Auro had seemingly busied himself with something else, of which the only evidence reaching her was the vague sound of shuffling in the darkness. She braced herself, expecting to feel his touch at any moment.

Suddenly, the lights flicked on. Initially blinded, her eyes took a few seconds to adjust. The room she stood in now was threadbare to say the least. There was one chair in the middle of the room. And three of the four walls were covered in drapes, even though there were no windows to this room. The floor contained no panelling, and the room came across more as a basement than anything else. It certainly was a far cry from the king-sized bed the lady had been imagining.

She gasped as she suddenly felt Auro’s hands wrap around her from behind.  Sliding his hands across her belly, they came to rest in the crevice between the bottom of her breasts and the first fold of fat from her belly.

“Are you ready?” he whispered, nudging her forwards towards the wall.

She was beginning to feel quite disconcerted, by now.

“Erm… Not really. I don’t quite like this room, can we go back outside, please?” she asked, her tonality taking on that childlike quality that every woman seems to have at their beck and call when required.

“Oh, but I haven’t showed you what we came here to see,” he said. He had manoeuvred her until she now stood within arm’s reach of the draping on one of the walls. “Pull it off,” he commanded.

“I really don…”

“Pull it off!” he hissed.

She flinched, and then yanked at the draping.

After two long seconds, in which her mind processed what it was being forced to, the silence of the night was rent apart by a blood curdling shriek.

She writhed and struggled, but Auro’s once sensual embrace was now an unbreakable grip, as he manhandled her into the chair. His forearms closed around her throat and he began applying pressure until it was no longer possible for her to scream, and eventually even to breathe. She blacked out.

————————————————————————————————————————

When she came to, she was still in the chair, but she had been stripped naked, and her hands and ankles were tied to it. She noticed, too, that the chair had been nailed down. The chair sat in such a position, that the person occupying it had the best seat to appreciate the collection that resided behind all three drapes.

Auro had left the lights on, and removed the drapes for her benefit, and so it was that she beheld the entire collection in all its wonder.

Adorning all three walls, labelled, tagged and arranged according to size, shape and colour were ears. Human ears. Starting from the left wall, where the smallest and frailest ears were displayed, some of them undoubtedly the ears of babies, the size increased all the way to the wall on the right, where the adult male ears were displayed.

Auro stood at the wall directly in front of her, having labelled and indexed an empty spot on the wall in front. He turned to face her, an expression of maniacal pleasure on his face, though not without Frown. He emitted a laugh, but not like anything she had heard before. It was not a normal laugh, not even an evil laugh. To her petrified ears, it sounded like a long exhale from an asthmatic, or the final expelling of breath from one who has not the strength to inhale anymore. It sounded like death.

Tapping the empty spot, he said, “This is where you belong, you pseudo-audiophiles. This is your rightful place. Before you, my dear, is a collection of all the most imperfect ears mankind has created. Not imperfect to look at, mind you. A true audiophile isn’t as superficial as that. No, no. Imperfect in their ability to detect the truly sublime sound from the merely good sound. You, who had all the equipmental knowledge gleaned from constantly scouring that forum, how could you allow your ears to degrade to the point where they can’t discern between volume and clarity? How, despite your excellent aural education, could you say something as ignorant as you did outside?”

“I WASN’T LISTENING TO YOU!!! I JUST SAID THAT TO FLIRT WITH YOU! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU PSYCHO!! HELP ME! HELP!” she screamed.

Auro shook his head disapprovingly and, approaching her calmly, bludgeoned her with a right hook, shutting her up and cutting open her cheek. Her pleas for help were replaced by groans of pain.

“If you had paid attention, my love,” he said, “you would have noticed that this room has been soundproofed. You could scream till your sub-par ears are rendered even more useless, but nothing will come of it. I recommend, therefore, that you desist.”

As she sat, hunched over in her chair, Auro produced a backpack. From within he pulled out an iPod and a pair of headphones. The model number on the headphones read MX-50, an upgrade on the now obsolete MX-20’s.

Working slowly but surely, he chose the track he wished to play and set the headphones over her ears. They were tightly clamped and she found that shaking her head, however vigorously, would not dislodge it.

Turning up the volume to the maximum, Auro hit play. Immediately, a cacophony of sounds blared through the headphones, filling her head, drowning out any coherent thought.

She screamed and flailed, trying to escape, but the headphones stayed clamped. She felt like she was being subjected to a million nails being painstakingly drawn across a million blackboards, with all the collected wails of misery ever voiced by mankind added in for good measure. The sound made her skin crawl, and its sheer volume ensured that it reverberated within her.

Seconds melted into hours, and she had no idea how long she sat there, screaming, blacking out, coming to, screaming again. But, do what she might, the sound did not stop. In the midst of her travails, she had lost control of her bladder, and now sat drenched in her own urine and faeces, but found herself unable to even process that fact enough to be disgusted by it.

Her screams now blended into the wails and screeches emanating from her headphones, and everywhere she glimpsed ears, as if mounted to hear her scream. She passed out again.

She came to, conscious of a stinging pain in her neck. She opened her eyes to see Auro withdrawing a syringe filled with her blood.

“For filing, you understand,” he said, airily. He knew she could not hear him over the sounds playing into her ears, but he still kept a one sided conversation with her. He found that he enjoyed conversations most when he was the only one talking.

He returned with a knife. It looked sheer, was made completely of metal, and looked, even at first glance, to be immensely sharp.

Nonchalantly, and with no foreplay, he held her head in place by wrapping his arm round it, and held her right ear with his hand. His other hand brought the knife and began slicing through. Her agony touched new peaks and she positively shrieked in excruciation. The knife, thoroughly sharp, sliced through the ear with no trouble at all, and soon he had his latest specimen.

He held it up for close examination. His sensitive ears were inundated by her continued shrieks, distracting him. Frown fretted, agitated, and suddenly Auro swung the knife across her face with all the force he possessed. It struck her on the left cheek, slicing through her jaw, all the way to the other side of her face, until her lower jaw lay hanging by cartilage. The next swipe sliced open her throat, causing blood to cascade down her breasts, down to the foot of the chair, mingling with her refuse.

And at long last, he had his beloved silence.

————————————————————————————————–

Part 3:
Six months later:

Mona sat in a hotel room, munching on a piece of toast, flicking through the channels, when onscreen flashed the picture of a person she was all too familiar with. She watched in silent horror as the gruesome details of Auro’s deeds were explained over and over again with sadistic glee by journalists from every channel in the country.

“…police say the suspect has admitted to kidnapping, theft, assault, manslaughter, graverobbing, cannibalism and many other heinous crimes. The suspect also furnished details in support of his statement, lending further credence to his claim that he had no accomplices. However, the police admit that they have hit a snag in determining his motives. On being asked to state his motive, the police report states that the suspect emitted a loud, wheezy laugh, and simply said, ‘She can’t say I’m not a good listener. I listened all right.’ On being asked to elaborate, the suspect clamped up and refused to speak any further.”

The piece of toast was still suspended midway between the plate and Mona’s mouth; its holder had not moved for the past few minutes. Snippets of their last conversation flashed before her eyes. Those words that he had immortalized in criminal lore, those words were hers. She had cast them at him, carelessly, unthinkingly. She had set in motion, with a careless remark, events that would affect hundreds, maybe thousands of people.

She set her toast back down on the plate and switched off the TV. A headache began to assail her. She felt her head being invaded by an alien presence. She felt heavy, weighed down. She glanced into the mirror by her bed.

Frown stared back at her.
————————————————————————————————————————-

The Pun Chronicles #6 – Darryl’s Unfortunate Tryst with Fate

Darryl loved to think of himself as an innovator. The thrill of it came from the knowledge that innovation was the only really true form of uniqueness that still existed in this world. The only way to step out of the crowd, to experience the full glare of the spotlight before the next fashionable trend stole it away again. This was the Age of Lightning. Nothing lasted. Never had the phrase “30 seconds of fame” held more poignancy than it did today.

Darryl understood all of this perfectly well, but what was conspicuous by its absence from his train of thought was malice. He bore no ill will to this whimsical crowd, this fickle audience that he co-populated the Earth with. There was no resentment, no grumbling, no flicker of jealousy when his moment of inspiration, of sweat, blood and toil, was cast into the ocean of has-beens along with a billion others, as the masses moved on to something passing, superficial, un-sublime. He bore the fact with some grace that, to get a foothold of any kind, one must constantly innovate.

And so, innovation became life to Darryl. He could not take two steps down any road without coming up with an incredible, naïve and fantastical idea about how to radically change this or revolutionize that, and how the principles of the idea were simple, and the execution only required the power of will. When he was with company, they were usually sane enough to bring his flight of imagination back safely down to Earth.  But when he was alone, his imagination ran riot like an Australian bush fire, brushing aside the obstacles that reality puts in its path with all the disdain of a Dickensian Nobleman.

It was during one of these phantasmic reveries that he hit upon what he was certain would be the mother lode. His train of thought began from a judgement that he had silently passed on a friend of his. His friend, munching on a bar of Snickers, had grimaced and then unceremoniously dumped the rest of the candy bar, less than half eaten, into the nearest bin. On espying Darryl’s outraged expression, he shrugged and said, “Too sweet.”

Too sweet. How can that be a bad thing.

But Darryl had heard this same refrain many times before, and from many different people. It always boggled his mind to hear phrases like “Too much cheese,” “too much chocolate,” or “too much meat.” He could not understand what they meant when they said it was too much of a good thing. The idea, like Quantum Physics, lay outside the boundaries of his understanding.

Well, if I can’t fix it, I sure as hell can cater to it.

And so thinking, he stumbled upon his masterpiece. He resolved to create a candy bar that lost none of its original sweetness, but was tinged and accented by a contrasting flavour, so as to avoid offending the tongues of those who could not handle too much of a single flavour. Now that it had occurred to him, he marvelled that no one had thought of it before.

Never the type of guy who procrastinates, Darryl immediately set off to his little laboratory, armed with a carton of snickers bars and a whole arsenal of different flavours to test on them.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Many weeks passed without event. But we must not allow ourselves to be misled by this. ‘Twas but the temporary withdrawal of the ocean before the onset of the tsunami.

On that fateful day, Darryl resurfaced, triumphant, holding a box aloft in his arms a la Lion King.
His eyes strayed ne’er a moment from his path as he resolutely traipsed on toward the friend who had set this ball rolling.

His friend, having not heard from Darryl in weeks, neither in person, nor through digital media, looked on bemused as he spotted his quirky friend walking towards him, face aglow with the radiance of elation, holding a box of what appeared to be candy bars towards him.

“I’ve done it,” he exclaimed. Every syllable quivering with the weight of achievement.

“Done what?”

“Lime flavoured Snickers.”

“What?”

“Don’t question me, just give this a try first. We can talk later.”

So saying, he handed his friend the candy bar.

“You know, I have eaten Snickers bef…” his voice trailed off as Darryl impatiently held his hand up and gestured enthusiastically at the box.

“Shut up and eat up.”

And so he did. The first burst of flavour surprised him, it being nothing near what he had expected. And the shock of it caused him to choke on the morsel. An expression of doubt and dismay crept across Darryl’s face. But that quickly changed as his friend recovered and began to chew in earnest.

The obsession of parents with announcing every little achievement of their kids to the world at large, with no regard for whether that information was required or relevant in any way, is somewhat an indication of the thrill a creator feels at watching his creation flourish. Darryl partook of this thrill, albeit in a slightly less glamorous manner. He watched with glee as his friend stared at the candy bar in astonishment, as if close inspection would reveal the source of this new pleasure that had been bestowed upon him.

For the next two minutes, Darryl enjoyed the intermittent animalistic groans and sounds emanating from his friend. Finally, three candy bars later, his friend managed to gather his breath and speak.

“This is fucking good stuff, Darryl! I could eat this forever.”

“So, this isn’t… too sweet?” asked Darryl, in an almost menacing way.

“Heck naw, man. Oh, my God, this is… Oh, God,” he groaned, grabbing a fourth candy bar from the box.

Darryl gave a smile, which, to a close observer may have looked like a smile constructed more of condescension and patronizing emotion than genuine joy. It was the smile of the victor who was delighted with the fact that he won, but had not been given enough of a challenge to be able to respect his enemy.

“Hold on,” his friend cried at Darryl’s receding figure, “D’you got any more of those?”

Darryl walked on.

———————————————————————————————

The manager at Frosty Fares Supermarket sat on a plastic chair, fanning himself with insurance forms, staring out at the dusty street into which, it seemed to him, humanity itself was forbidden to wander. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and business was about as slow as it had ever been. His mind, however, was a million miles from his petty financial concerns. His thoughts flew along with the gulls, on a distant beach a long time ago. The lingering touch of that feminine hand was still to him as vivid as it had been all those years ago. It was his fondest memory. The last remaining memory of life when it had been worth living to him. He could almost feel the breeze, and taste the salty tinge of the sea. It tasted like lemons to him. Strange, he thought to himself, that in all these years, it was only today that he realized it had tasted like lemons. It had always been a vague, pleasant sensation for him, but today it was tangible and substantial.

“Good morning, sir, and a good day to you.”

Jeremy, the manager, shaken from his reminiscing, assumed his customary expression of perpetual suspicion and regarded the man standing before him.

“Well, whatchu gonna be wantin’ then?”

Darryl extended his treasure till the box lay right under Mr. Jeremy’s nose. A look of understanding crossed the elderly man’s face as he realized he had found the source of lemon scent.

“I wondered if I could promote my candy bars at your supermarket, sir. I will, of course be giving you a commission. They’re a new kind of candy bar, sir, and I’m sure they’re gonna be the next big thing.”

Jeremy, struggling to recover from the nostalgic effect of the scent, acquiesced before he had a chance to properly consider what it was that he was agreeing to. However, it did not seem a bad deal to him. After all, it would be nice to have some company around the shop.

And so, Darryl set up his stall just inside the main entrance to the supermarket, hands trembling nervously. His confidence had taken a severe blow this morning.  His efforts in creating the perfect candy bar had taken a toll on his performance at his real daytime job, and today he had been asked to vacate the premises, besides which he was behind on his rent.

He was aware that if he did not make it big with the candy sales, he was in fairly deep water. And he had also learnt the hard way that he was not a particularly good swimmer in deep waters.

The passage of the next few hours did nothing to ease his anxiety. A total of two people had crossed the threshold in the past three hours. One of them, diabetic, had scurried away with a squeal of petrification when Darryl had magnanimously offered her a free sample. The other had simply ignored him as if he were a Christmas tree decoration.

With half the day gone and not even a glimmer of an opportunity, Darryl began to fidget nervously, as sweat beads began to crystallize on his forehead. Every tick of the second hand sounded like the footstep of the Grand Inquisitor, approaching him to smear him with the filthy garb of a failure.

Cutting through the damning, self-indicting daydream came the floating, singing voice of a child. Darryl snapped out of it in a millisecond, training his eyes and ears towards the entrance. In walked a mother and daughter. The mother, about 30, seemed to emanate exhaustion. She seemed to have had the life sucked out of her and went about her task like an automaton, unseeing, unfeeling, out of force of habit. The child, on the other hand, seemed lively, sprightly, full of gumption and energy. It seemed obvious to Darryl that it was she that was the cause of her mother’s threadbare state of anatomy.

Darryl watched closely as the mother wearily, but systematically, worked through the list of items that she needed to purchase. She had barely finished scouring the first isle, when her child began to show the first signs of boredom. Soon enough, she abandoned her mother to the mundane existence of practicality, and set off on her private exploratory adventure.

That was when she spotted Darryl, a handsome man with a pleasant face, beckoning to her. She also detected a faint, but pleasant, scent from about his person. Being a child, this double sensory bait  was overwhelming for her, and she positively ran down to his stall.

Darryl, sensing his first sale, knelt to speak face to face with the child, but before he could say a word, she had run past him and snatched the box with his candy in it. Taking a moment to savour the scent, she exposed the chasm that was her oral orifice and consumed half the candy bar in her first bite.

Darryl watched closely as her eyes shut in delight. Her mouth worked slowly and leisurely and her entire body seemed to shake with pleasure.

“Djis Kvntvn pbnjts?” she asked Darryl, still shaking.

“Sorry?”

“Djis Kvntvn pbnjts?” she asked, louder, petulance now creeping into her voice. She looked strangely blue to Darryl, and the frothing at her mouth certainly did not make her any prettier to look at. Darryl shuddered at the predicament the weary lady must be in, being given a child as terrible as this by providence.

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you,” Darryl pleaded, seeing his chance of making a sale slip away.

The child began to positively throw a fit. She lay on the ground, screaming, writhing, her mouth frothing, her body convulsing, thrashing about.

The din brought her mother flying out of the aisles.

“WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT’S WRONG?” she screamed.

“I… I don’t know. She seemed to be trying to say something, I cannot understand what she is saying.”

He looked up to see the mother had not been listening to him at all. She had a look of the most sickening horror plastered upon her face. Darryl followed her eyeline and his eyes hit upon his box of candy bars.

“D… D…. Does that contain p-p-p-peanuts?” the lady whispered.

The blood drained from Darryl’s face.

—————————————————————————————————————

Darryl walked along the bridge, morosely gazing out onto the river. Homeless, unemployed and hungry, he had lost all he had to lose in life.

But the fact that took stomaching, and that he had not yet been able to stomach, was the failure of his enterprise. The fact that the idiocy of one petulant girl had robbed him of his life’s calling, of fulfilling his role in society as that of an innovator extraordinaire. That he had been allowed his 30 seconds in the spotlight, but not for a feat of intellect, but for the corpse of a child, that was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. It was tougher for him to digest that than it had been for the girl to digest peanuts.

The news in the following weeks had been characteristically ruthless, killing off any chance Darryl had of starting his life over. The furore the child’s death had created had caused collateral damage as well, Mr. Jeremy being forced to shut down his beloved “Frosty Fares Supermarket” under severe pressure from activists.

Stepping over the railing of the bridge, Darryl gazed into the cold, grey expanse below him, and, taking a deep breath, he plunged.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Hours later, the screams of a few children alerted the neighbourhood to the fact that something was not quite right down by the riverbank. On investigation, two bodies were found, lying side by side.

Forensics later confirmed that the first body belonged to Mr. Darryl Johnson, aged 24. Time of death was approximated at 2 PM.

The second body was identified as Mr. Jeremy Sachs, aged 49. Time of death was approximated at 11 AM.

——————————————————————————————————————

This was the tale of lemony snickers and a series of unfortunate events.

The Pun Chronicles #5 – The Joys of Silent Jenny

Jenny Talbut sat, morose, in her room, facing the wall. Deaf and mute since birth, gazing at the blank, white wall was her way of shutting the world out, since she presented the only fully functional sensory organ with zero stimulation.

The world around her had degraded, Jenny thought. Or else it was her perspective that had refined itself to the point where she could see it. Everywhere, she was surrounded by false charity. People everywhere would feel sorry for her, but no one would befriend her. Because that would take a real effort. An effort no one was willing to take. One can’t post efforts on social media. Effort did not get likes.

And so, she sat with the sympathy of the world bestowed upon her, but the companionship of none.

But Jenny possessed one characteristic that no amount of seclusion could hamper, that no amount of superficiality could denigrate. Jenny had smarts. Forced to take an extra effort to experience the same things that others could experience effortlessly, Jenny’s brain had trained itself to be quicker, sharper and more resolute than most. She had grit, and an abundance of it at that.

This determination had given her the drive to clear her A levels and now, University awaited her.

University!

Just the thought of it sent thrills down Jenny’s spine. University would be the Eden that would morph all her malformities into likeable peculiarities. Universities, to Jenny’s mind, were a melting pot where all manner of queer and quirky people intermingled to create an intellectual miasma wherein everyone could be themselves and yet be no stranger than the rest.

There weren’t many universities that had the facilities to educate deaf-mute students in the field that Jenny had chosen. Careful research had whittled it down to two realistic options. However, as one of them required a significant investment in terms of relocation and tuition, all of Jenny’s hopes and dreams rested on one University and one alone.

She had written to them after months of concerted research and superhuman effort allowed her the confidence to send her essay in to apply for the scholarship. Now all that she longed for was confirmation. That email was to be her affirmatory glory. Her ticket to normalcy. Her mortar for the rebuilding of her confidence. Everything that she had worked for depended on that one mail. She had searched online for copies indicating the nature of the letter that is received by applicants that are accepted. From what she could find, the mail was an unassuming receipt, stating the tuition fee that the applicant was required to submit at the time of admission. Nothing more, nothing less.

Jenny Talbut’s mind leaped from fantasy to fantasy, from one in which she spearheaded the opening up of various avenues of employment to the deaf-mute, to another where she overcame her natural obstacles to nevertheless reach the upper echelons of her field of study. She did not dream small. Her imagination tolerated no boundaries.

Even as she dreamt of glorious victories, a letter dropped in through the slot in her door. The world stood still as Jenny recognized the insignia of the much sought after university. Holding her breath, she slit open the envelope and, pulling out the letter, glanced through the contents at the speed of light.

And what emotions ran through Jenny’s mind as she read the following text printed across the surface of the letter:

“Fee- mail: Jenny Tal.”

Mute Elation.

The Pun Chronicles #4 – Onomatopoeia

The clouds gathered menacingly, warning the languid strollers in Cubbon Park of the onset of the storm that was to change their lives.

Rajugopal stood amongst the bushes, clad in dark green clothes, hoping to camouflage himself as well as possible. The failing light aided his congruity with his surroundings. Directly in his eyeline stood two men, one of them hooded, the remaining area of his face hidden away beneath a beard and sunglasses. Next to him stood a mammoth, and a woolly mammoth at that. Bald at the top, the rest of him was covered in dense foliage. His beard, far more impressive than the hooded man’s, swayed impressively in the wind. He, too, wore sunglasses, though it was not sunny.

This strange behaviour only served to deepen Rajugopal’s suspicions. From the very first day, he had regrote allowing these two boys to live as tenants in his apartment. The hooded one was well spoken and knew the local language, and so had won his wife over. But the mammoth, he worried Rajugopal no end. He came from a strange, unknown part of the world. Rumors of extreme good looks and behaviour notwithstanding, Rajugopal was wary of foreigners. They were unpredictable.

He crept closer, careful to remain out of their eyeline. Their sunglasses prevented him from being able to discern the direction of their gaze and that discomfited him.

“Dude, there’s so much roughage around here,” said Hood.

“I don’t think that’s what that word means,” said Mammoth.

“No, no, it does mean that,” said Hood.

“You’re lying,” said Mammoth, “I think you’re a fib-re.” (24)

“You think I’m a fibre?” asked Hood, confused.

“A fibber! A liar. It was a pun, goddammit,” Mammoth exclaimed in disgust.

“You can’t get mad at me. You’re my caretaker,” Hood said.

The wind began to pick up, and the first smattering of raindrops began to descend. Rajugopal had had enough. This espionage was getting him nowhere. An espionaught if there ever was one. (25) He had to get closer to them, get them talking about what they were really upto. But they knew his face, he needed a disguise. Glancing back at them, he surmised that they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and so he scuttled away from the bushes, back to his van in the parking lot.

First, he changed his clothes, donning an inconspicuous pair of jeans and a grey sports jacket over his green t-shirt. Next, he switched his sneakers for a pair of running shoes, in case something should go wrong. Watching himself closely in the rear view mirror, he attached a fake nose and, with a final flourish, donned a toupee to cover his bald head. He looked at himself from all angles in the rear view mirror and was satisfied that he had disguised himself exceptionally well. He had never looked so different. He was almost tempted to say that it was now a rare view mirror. (26)

By the time he got back, the wind had really picked up and was approaching gale force. Worried that the rain would wash away (27) any possibility he had of speaking to the two tykes, Rajugopal hurried towards their imposing figures.

“Ahoy there, goodfellas,” said Rajugopal.

“Did he just say ‘ahoy’”, asked Hood.

“I think he said ‘Hi’, he must be Bengali,” clarified Mammoth, helpfully.

“My name is Bhishnu Beliappa Bhaath, you can call me Bisi Bele Bath (27),” Rajugopal said, “I wonder if I could trouble you guys with a few questions?”

“Sure,” said Mammoth, “state your bisi-ness.”(28)

“You see,” began Rajugopal, “I’m new to Bangalore, and need to get a place to stay. Do you guys have any idea about good areas to live in?”

“Oh, we live in Indiranagar, it’s a nice place. Very chilled out, no sunlight,” said Hood.

“And no kids,” said Mammoth.

“And how is the owner?” asked Rajugopal, pointedly.

“Owner, ah. He is okay, but we can’t seem to come to an… agreement (29),” said Mammoth.

Rajugopal raged on the inside. Here, he had had sleepless nights, wondering what these boys were upto and the legal trouble he would have been in, had anyone found out they lived in his house without a rental agreement, and these boys were sitting there cracking jokes about it. However, in the interest of his objective, he maintained a cool exterior.

“Hoodie-baba(30), you live without rental agreement?” he asked, in feigned surprise. “Isn’t that illegal? How come you haven’t gotten one yet?”

“Ah, too much work,” said Hood, dismissively.

Suddenly, something within Rajugopal snapped. He had been brought up in a household with militarian discipline, and instilled with the values of toil and labour. Living those values, he had raised himself to the position of a landlord, and now here were two upstarts spitting in the face of all that was noble and respectful.

Slowly sliding his hand into his jacket, he wrapped his fingers around the grip of his pistol. Barring his wife, he considered his pistol to be the most beautiful entity on earth. At times, disturbingly, he was even aroused by it. It was a real Sex Pistol. (31)

The wind howled, mirroring the wrath that churned Rajugopal’s blood.

“Too much work. Too much work, it seems,” he repeated, over and over, under his breath.

Glaring at the two tenants, he pulled the gun out and, remembering that Mammoth was the caretaker, pointed the gun at him, first.

“What the fuck, man?” asked Mammoth, covering his beard with his hands, protectively.

“You boys deserve to die,” said Rajugopal, nostrils flaring. “And you will never know who it is that killed you or why. And the setting, the setting could not have been more perfect. The wind will cover the sound of the bullets, no one will hear you scream. You will die alone. And all this for a mere… disagreement. (31)”

Time stood still. Hood was stricken with fear, his hands trembling as he rolled a cigarette. Mammoth stared down the barrel at the piece of lead that was about to end his life. The wind gnashed its teeth, the rain poured down in lashes. All of the universe seemed coterminous with violence.

And then, Fate intervened. A gust of wind, slightly stronger than its predecessors, swept down towards the threesome and washed over them with particular severity. Mammoth was unaffected, due to his mammothian size. Hood was protected by his hood. But Rajugopal, who stood facing the wind, got the brunt of it and lost his balance. The rain had melted the glue that held his fake nose in place. The wind, finding a nook to exert pressure into, did so, and off came Rajugopal’s artifice. Mammoth gasped in surprise. That face looked familiar.

“Oh, no, where did my nose go?” bemoaned Rajugopal.

“God nose. (32)” replied Hood.

The next gust swept down and lifted Rajugopal’s toupee clean off his head. Hood and Mammoth stood aghast, confronted by their landowner. Rajugopal stood facing them, knowing his gig was up. Staring at them, his mind drew a blank. He collapsed to his knees, whispering to himself.

“Oh, no, my toupee… Ah.” (33)

The Pun Chronicles #3 – A Secret to Die For

“I tell yer, Huck, there ain’t no risk in it,” said Linus, voice quivering with excitement. “That ol’ shanty there’s been sittin’ like yer mama’s ducks, just there for the tak’n.”

“What’s my mama’s doctor got to do with anything?” Huck asked.

Linus and Huck had wasted away their teenage years chasing dames, mostly unsuccessfully. This was partly because an extended habit of chewing tobacco had wreaked havoc with the boys’ set of dentures, and partly because they had an annoying habit of cracking a joke every so often and clapping their audience on the back with an uncomfortably hard slap. Some lasses may go in for that sort of stuff, but there certainly wasn’t a surplus.

Now approaching the age where their parents were starting to get fidgety and were beginning to hatch plans to turn the boys out of the house to fend for themselves, Linus and Huck realized that they needed some sort of gameplan to provide for their luxurious habits, albeit temporarily. For weeks, their unimaginative minds had come up with nothing, barring a few brutish plans to mug passerby’s or to con the residents of the old age home into paying them for some ponzi scheme.

It was only now that Linus had spotted his opportunity and hatched a plot that would have put Mata Hari to shame.

“All right, let’s give it the ol’ run o’er one more time,” Linus said, “Do you got yer notebook on yer?”

“I don’t know how to write, Linus,” said Huck.

———————————————————————————————

Tom Finnigan’s star had been rising fast within the Police Department. He had everything going for him. He was married and settled with two kids, something the experienced Sheriff of that precinct always encouraged. He had a good, honest face and he could piece the puzzle together quicker than most. An all-rounder would be the colonial term for it.

At home, his wife was as satisfied as a wife could be in those parts. She had her hands full with the kids all day, and when Tom returned from duty, on the days he didn’t put in extra hours, he made sure to spend some time with her and the kids.

All, in short, was as well as could be hoped with his life. And yet, if one caught Tom in an unguarded moment, when he was unaware he was being watched, one would see a forehead wrinkling away to make way for his furrowed brow. One would see his eyes shift suspiciously, and hear a low, worried muttering. A stream of consciousness soliloquy aimed at oneself. A stream of self consciousness.

The reader would be forgiven for asking what cause Tom had to worry. The cause, as it so often is, was that Tom had dipped his pen in more than one inkpot. There was another woman, who, if the metaphor was not clear, was the second inkpot.

The “extra hours” he had been putting in were real enough, he had just lied about where he had been spending them. And he had taken to accepting bribes in order to account for the additional income that comes with working extra hours.

All these factors lay heavy on Tom’s conscience, almost as if they lay on his brow, weighing it down.

He was not worried about getting caught, he had made sure of that. He had found a neat, old shanty in the suburbs, sufficiently dilapidated from the outside to not warrant a second glance, or to not warrant a warrant; and sufficiently neat on the inside to avoid the second inkpot from spilling over with consternation.

———————————————————————————————

“Now, listen well, Huck. That shack over there has more to it than meets the eye. Why just yesterday I seen Tom Finnigan lug a dress’n table in there. And I tell yer, where there’s a dress’n table, there’s a woman, and where there’s a woman, there’s sure to be jools. And it’s the jools we’re after, Hucky boy.”

“But how are we to get inside,” Huck asked, “I sure as hell don’t know how to pick locks, and isn’t old Tom a policeman?”

“Now don’t you worry your wee noggin about tha’ ol’ chestnut, Hucky boy. Why, we have the dirt on Tom, now, don’t we?”

“We do?” asked Huck, uncertainly.

“Huck, youse is dumber than an inbred platypus that been smacked upside the head with a broadsword. What do you think Finnigan does in that shanty with a lady that ain’t his wife? I can tell yer they sure ain’t calling on the Lord, that’s for sure.”

The light of knowledge flickered on inside Huck’s head. His interest piqued, he now listened in earnest, eager to bring the plan to fruition.

“Now, as I was sayin’, there’s sure to be jools in there. But we can’t get at ‘em while Tom’s away, since none of us know a darn thing about lock-pickin’, and Tom sure as hell ain’t gonna appreciate us walkin’ out with the jools while he’s in the house. So what we gots to do is, we gotta spook ‘em outta there so quick they won’t have the time nor the wits about ‘em to lock the door behind ‘em as they make a run for it. Then we walk in, nice as you like, and get what we came for. But here’s the important part, Huck. Yer can’t let Tom get his eyes on yer. Get that fact wedged into your think-box. He can’t lay his eyes on yer. If that happens, it’s all over.”

———————————————————————————————

On that fateful day, Tom and Stacy, which was the name of his second inkpot, whom he thus affectionately called st-inkpot, met as usual at the shanty, unaware of the storm that was about to disturb the calm waters of their romance.

The lovebirds had just sat down to dinner when they heard a large crash right outside the bedroom window.

“MAKE SURE TO GET A PICTURE!” shouted Linus, in an intentionally loud and artificially thick voice.

Inside the house, Tom and Stacy shot out of their seats in an instant, Stacy screaming incoherently while Tom strained to stop his knees from trembling as he saw his world crashing down around him. Stacy fled, pell-mell, in a state of undress, uncaring, unheeding and scampered down the street into the night.

Tom took the same approach, but in a slightly more sober vein, taking quick, measured steps towards the door. It was his calmness in the face of disaster that was to prove his undoing.

Linus watched with glee as Stacy reacted exactly as he had predicted she would, but his laugh died halfway as his eyes sought in vain for a glimpse of Tom Finnigan.

Huck, who had whipped himself into a state of frenzy, did not stop to observe these events, but ran, cackling diabolically, into the shack before Linus could utter a word of warning. Three steps into the house, he stopped short, having run straight into Tom, who was on his way out.

The silence was broken by a belated patter of footsteps that brought Linus to the door, confirming his worst fear.

With the situation as it was, Tom’s mind was swamped by a whole spectrum of emotions, thereby hampering his usually sprightly speed of thought. Huck, at the best of times, was never quite quick on the uptake. And thus it was that Linus’ mind was the first to jump into action and arrive at the solution.

“Yer gotta kill him, Huck. That’s all there is to it.”

“Huh?” Huck balked at such an extreme course of action. His mind was still recovering from the shock of seeing Tom Finnigan face to face.

“He saw yer, Hucky. You gotta kill him. He saw yer.”

Huck, still coming to his senses, asked, “Who saw me?”

“Tom. Tom Saw-yer.”

Once again, the spark of understanding flamed the haystack that resided between the ears of Huck. And, without a further moment of delay, he raised his pistol and shot Tom Finnigan.

Linus and Huck stood staring at Tom’s body. Once again, Linus’s mind reacted first.

“All right, all right,” he thought to himself, “Just a li’l snag, that’s all. We can still get what we came for. I’ll go in and start searchin’ around for the jools, and Huck’ll bury Finn.”

The Pun Chronicles – Story #2 – The Root of All Evil

The gang lounged around the house, some playing videogames, others sleeping on the floor next to the mattresses. The halls, both of them, were thick with pungent smoke, condemning smokers and non-smokers alike to the bliss of nicotine. Rum flowed freely, depleting at rates that would alarm most geologists.

This would seem, to most, a story about a group of friends in their mid-twenties. A group that had not yet transitioned into the mundane, humdrum existence of middle age, but had grown up sufficiently to have gained some semblance of control over their life. It would seem so, and yet, it wasn’t. The characters in the story we are about to read were not in their mid twenties, but in their late teens. A fortuitous twist of Fate had brought them everything a teenage mind could possibly dream of in abundance, and much too soon for their frail, impressionable minds to have come to terms with it appropriately.

It had all begun with Miso. Miso, 17, had spent his entire early teen years wasting away his creativity without releasing so much as an EP. And despite harsh remonstrations from his friends, and even a rooftop intervention session, he had always put it off in favour of finishing the next best videogame to come out on the market. But on one fateful day, the prodigal son decided to be prodigal no more.
The inspiration came to him in a flash, and he quickly jotted down a paragraph, badly edited, onto his notepad.

Ecstatic at his sudden outburst of creativity, Miso sent the paragraph to Mimi, expecting a gracious, but honest review from his friend. Mimi, also 17, misconstrued Miso’s intentions, and thought he was being asked to collaborate on the construction of the story. Pretty soon, the entire crew of teenage would-be writers were in on it and a fantastic fondue of frivolity ensued, resulting in a tale that catapulted the gang into the annals of history.

The book, written mostly tongue-in cheek, unexpectedly rose to cult status and gained a readership worldwide that was previously only reserved for masochistic-romantic novels. The money flowed in and the gang were celebrities before they had a chance to get their bearings.

And so we find them, a year later, whiling away the days in idle leisure, surrounded by empty bottles of rum, overflowing ash trays and empty pizza boxes. The creative frenzy of the year just past had long since died, and they lived amongst the squalor of teenage luxury.

———————————————————————————————–

On this particular day, the gang had, incredibly, tired of eating pizza and decided that they would cook up a meal that day. Uzi, the chef par excellence, compiled a list of ingredients and immediately dispatched his butler, Rammsey, to the grocery story.

On his return, Uzi took control of the kitchen, stirring, sprinkling, coddling the ingredients until they melded into a blissful concoction.

“Dinner is served,” he called, over his shoulder.

The gang slowly trudged into the kitchen and, heaping large portions onto their plates, made their way back into the two halls. Uzi himself joined them, his neatly combed beard quivering in anticipation.

“It’s too salty,” complained Chims, squinting her eyes at Uzi.

Uzi frowned. He was sure he had got the proportions right.

“Yeah, something’s off, bro,” Mimi concurred.

This got Uzi off his seat. That Chims griped about food was understandable, expected even. But two out of three was not just happenstance. Something was wrong.

“Guys, hold on, I think something is–” began Uzi, worry flooding into his tone.

“Calm down, man, it’s not inedible, just not up to your usual standards,” said Mimi.

“No, I really thin—“

“Dude, Uzi, like, ya, just sit and eat off,” Godse interjected.

“Leh,” concurred Ashley.

Thus outnumbered, Uzi returned to his seat, eyeing his plate suspiciously. His friends seemed unconcerned, but he could not fight the feeling of impending doom that was growing inside him.

Even as his mind painted picture after stark picture of despair, Uzi’s morbid reverie was interrupted by the sound of violent retching to his right.

Nixon had collapsed to the floor, right next to the mattress, and was vomiting his guts out.

“Nixon!! What’s wrong?” Miso asked, frantically, “Did someone give him whiskey?”

“No, dude, he hasn’t had a drink all day,” said Mimi.

The gang crowded around, trying their best to get Nixon to stop vomiting, but it only got worse. And then, when with the latest heave, Nixon threw up blood, then panic took complete hold of them.

Uzi stood between the two halls, looking first one way, then another, unable to fathom how things had come to this.

His friends were collapsing all around him, as if being stricken by the plague, but with exaggeratedly accelerated effects. Helpless, he watched as, one by one, they were struck down by bouts of vomiting, finally collapsing lifeless in puddles of puke.

Suddenly, Uzi connected the dots. He rushed into the kitchen, rummaging through the ingredients Rammsey had gotten for him. And soon enough, the blood draining from his face, Uzi held up a bottle in horror, becoming the very personification of mortification.

“R-Rammsey!!”

“Yes, sir?” asked Ramsey, calmly.

“This is beetroot jam.”

“Yes, sir”

“Did you do this on purpose? Betroot-hful.

“Yes, sir.”

“But wh…” The last question died on his lips as all strength left Uzi and he too fell to the floor, dead.

———————————————————————————-

Six months later, the double halled apartment stood empty, bereft of all evidence of the vulgar Hedonism indulged in by its previous inhabitants. And yet, it remained unsold.

Some say the reason for this was that, if one stood in any one of its two halls, one could feel a presence. They could feel the souls of the stricken teenagers still trapped within the eight walls of the two halls.

And then, one would get a faint scent. The scent of rum and cigarettes, the scent of pizzas and chicken. The scent of teenage life at its best and worst.

Some said the house was unsold because it…

Smells like teen spirits.

The Pun Chronicles – Story #1 – A humble account of affairs

So, this boy, extremely good looking and quite intelligent, made a plan with his friends, who admired him no end, to go to the Shalimar dam in the rural realms of J&K, a land which no country can claim for its own.

“Let’s go,” exclaimed Usman, “on a Shalimar-ch.”

“Oh, Usman,” gushed his friends, “how do you come up with this stuff?”

“Ah, pshh pshh,” said Usman, dismissively, not used to hearing his praise sung so unabashedly, “let’s change the subject. How are we to get there?”

“We can take my van, my father won’t need it this weekend,” said Ghulam Rasool, helpfully.

Ghulam Rasool liked helping his friends. Helping his friends made Ghulam Rasool happy.

“That’s great!” exclaimed Usman, in his sultry, bluesy voice.

“Oh, Usman, what a nice voice you have,” exclaimed Sameena.

But Usman was already on his way to Friday prayers.

———————————————————–

Saturday morning arrived with a smile, glistening dewdrops dripping onto the noses of lazy canines lounging under trees.

Usman awoke, waking all his friends up, for he was righteous and responsible, and then Ghulam Rasool cooked them all a wonderful breakfast because Ghulam Rasool enjoyed helping his friends. He made eggs and toast and bacon and milkshakes, but Usman did not eat the bacon because God would be very angry.

And so, the friends set off in Ghulam Rasool’s van to Shalimar Dam. The path led through a thickly wooded area, unmolested by humankind because some benevolent benefactors had fenced off the area, claiming a property dispute. There was no doubt an altruistic motive to these property conglomerates, for massive corporations always have the best interest of laymen in mind.

As a result, the friends’ trip was rendered exponentially more enjoyable by the accompaniment of the chirping of birds and the dancing rays of the sun that filtered through the leaves of the trees on both sides that arched overhead, as if in respect to the beauty of Usman.

Suddenly, Usman, with his exceptional audio fidelity skills, heard the call of an ape. His radiant smile darkened into a slightly subdued and worried look, as his encyclopaedic knowledge base also included the knowledge of the various implications of different animal calls. And he knew this particular call to be a call of alarm, signalling the close proximity of a feared predator. Usman, with his beauty, could never be mistaken for a feared predator, so it must be in the wild.

Through faultless logic, Usman concluded that the postulation that a wild predator’s presence in the wild was a safe bet and had more plausibility to it than the other theories flitting through his magnificent labyrinth of neural pathways.

Just as he had decided to act according to this theory, he heard, with the aforementioned exceptional excellence in audio fidelity, a growl.

The ominous sound waves did not seem to have filtered through the trees but seemed to be perilously close. Usman whirled around and espied a spotted leopard with a hide second in beauty to only Usman’s himself, straining every muscle to keep up with the van, that was trawling along at a weary pace.

“Why are we driving so slow, Ghulam Rasool?” asked Usman.

“It’s the weight. Because of Diabetic Dawood,” answered Ghulam Rasool.

Seeing the leopard catch up, Usman slid open the sliding door, and, using his impressive upper body strength, hung by the arms and aimed a kick at the leopard, trying to deter him from keeping up the chase. The leopard, taught by instinct and evolution to react and adjust to the most insignificant of manoeuvres by its prey, contorted its bodyshape and swung a paw at Usman’s leg.

Usman would have been in serious trouble, but, hardened by an upbringing of severe severity and hard hardship, his instincts were as finely honed as the leopard’s itself, and so he flinched away from the counter attack.

However, Usman’s jeans were not sentient and so did not have the same skill set as Usman himself, and so were no match for the leopard’s claws. The sound of shredding rent the air and Sameena screamed, imagining Usman’s beautiful skin suffering imperfections from an animal as unevolved as the leopard.

“Oh, the humanity!” she exclaimed.

However, realizing that the loss was sartorial and not body partorial, she calmed down and fainted into Usman’s arms.

“Usman, I always knew you were braver than Mel Gibson, but what if you had been injured?” Ghulam Rasool asked, as he parked the car at the Shalimar Dam.

“Frankly, my dear,” Usman said, “I don’t give a dam.”

And that was the Jean claw’d van dam experience.

Square Dregs and Round Souls

The six young men, returning from their weekly football match, bundled into the dhaba, raucous and belligerent, confident in the interestingness and hilarity of their conversation. They made their way to an empty table, consigning their bags unceremoniously to the indignity of the filthy floor. Their conversation alternated between two extremes, at one point discussing the degradation of culture and art, and the very next moment, descending into vulgar barbs aimed at each other almost in mockery of the pretentiousness of the conversation that just preceded it.

Finally, they fell silent long enough for the group to hear the collective rumblings of their stomachs, and Nouman was assigned the task of ordering the food. The faultless logic behind this election was the simple fact that Nouman was the goalkeeper and so did not have to run as much as the others had to.

Bowing to the weight of reason and to the protestations of his innards, Nouman rose and trudged wearily to the counter, encountering a face he had become habituated to seeing every week.

The man at the counter, known to everyone as Asif, could be described safely as vast. At 6’3”, he cut an imposing figure when he stood up, but fortunately, standing was an activity he wasn’t particularly fond of.  Long years of inactivity, coupled with a flourishing business which surpassed all his financial expectations, resulted in Asif’s girth achieving the steady inflation that Finance Ministers dream of.
He possessed an expressionless face, rendered even more incomprehensible by the bushy beard that grew in all directions in its unique, haphazard fashion. His nostrils flared with the effort of supplying the required levels of oxygen for such a large existent. His ears seemed unnaturally small in comparison to the rest of his body, as if they had been leant to him by someone not as comprehensively endowed.

He sat there now on a miniscule stool with the seat so narrow that it barely seemed to make an impression on the derriere of its possessor. It tempered the otherwise intimidating spectacle with slight twist of absurdism, and allowed Asif to seem much more approachable than he should have.

Asif ran a specialized food stall. He only served maggi, mixed with chicken and cheese, or, for the misery loving vegetarians, fried cauliflower and cheese. This in itself was hardly a recipe for success. What Asif’s stall had to offer was that it was open past curfew. When every other restaurant or stall in the city is shut, then even maggi and cheese takes on the attraction of a gourmet meal to a bunch of starving twenty-somethings. Asif knew this and recognized the potential this business had. He priced the food at double the price that anyone would pay during the daylight hours. He bribed the cops every week for his flouting of the curfew law. And voila! He had a profit margin that would curdle the blood of some of the big restaurant chain owners, if only they knew.

Nouman was ignorant of all this, of course, as he made his way to the counter. His mind was on his food, and the thought would be all consuming, at least until he had consumed it all.

There was a crowd gathered at the counter, all reaching over each other and attempting to shove their way to the front. At the best of times, the Indian public is uncomfortable with the concept of lining up to facilitate smooth service. In the middle of the night, when hunger rules all and a stall has “Self Service” displayed in all its glory at the entrance, Caesar himself would fail to bring order to the ensuing chaos.

Nouman, being a hardened Bangalorean, having spent his entire life in the same city, did not pause to click his tongue at the animalistic behaviour of the customers. He took a deep breath and earnestly plunged into the thick of it, his thousand rupee notes aloft, hoping to catch Asif’s eye with the larger-than-usual denomination.

“Twelve plates of Chicken and Cheese Maggi, six Pepsis, one packet of Classic Milds and two lighters, please, Asif Bhai,” he said, the severity of his hunger forcing a note of servility and pleading into his voice.

“Seven plates of Veg Maggi, seven Pepsis, and two packets of King Lights, please, Asif Bhai,” spoke a rival customer, a boy of barely seventeen, almost simultaneously.

Nouman suppressed his rising irritation. This boy had barely entered the fray, and he had the audacity to shout out his order without even holding the money ready and waving about in his hands. He was sure to get ignored, but, having used his voice in vain, he had also managed to sabotage Nouman’s order, or its audibility, at any rate.

All fifteen men jostling their way to the front also voiced their orders with drone like repetitions with the hope that the order may get programmed into Asif’s head via conditioning. Nouman’s hope of being heard withered with every fresh rallying cry from the crowd around him. For one weak moment he considered letting them place their orders and waiting till they were done before coming forth with his request, but then sanity prevailed and he resumed the voicing of his demands with renewed vigour and enhanced volume.

And then he witnessed the sight that many before him had marvelled at. Asif Bhai, sitting in the midst of a rambling mob, each of them shouting different denominations of different items while speaking in various languages or admixtures of the same, calmly put his hand up and, pointing to first one person, then the other, perfectly reproduced the exact order that person had requested and stated the exact amount that was payable. There was no sign of pen and paper. This was pure memory.

“Twelve plates of Chicken and Cheese Maggi, six Pepsis, one packet of Classic Milds and two lighters. That will be 1900 rupees,” he said, pointing at Nouman.

Nouman handed over the notes in silence, having been rendered speechless by this inhuman retentive ability possessed by a seemingly simple man. As he processed the scale of the task Asif seemed to be handling with nonchalant ease, Asif took the notes, tendered exact change, while still rattling off orders for the other customers awaiting the confirmation that their order too had been heard and processed.

Taking the change, Nouman silently walked back to his table, suddenly lost in thought and no longer interested in the banter that unceasingly flowed from the people around him. His contemplative mood was not noticed by his peers, a silent man can lose himself quite easily amongst a crowd of talkative ones.

After sufficient time had been allowed for the cooks to prepare the simple meal, Nouman ventured back to the counter to collect the food and drinks. Indian Dhabas work on a beautiful system of trust that defies belief. Indian society is one where people run the other way at the sight of the police, where one is reluctant to help a stricken man on the street out of worry that it is a scam or a trap devised by cunning crooks, where people are only interested in accidents as a form of a morbid spectacle, rather than out of willingness to help the victims. And yet, in the midst of this very society, thousands of customers pay money in cash to cashiers, receive no bill in return, and return calmly to their seats, with the blind trust that the correct order will be given to them. They have no proof that the order has been placed, and their reliance is solely on the trustworthiness and also the memory of the person involved. In case the cashier’s memory fails him, he asks the customer to repeat his order, and though the cashier too has no proof that the customer is representing his order fairly and accurately, he accepts it without question and business continues as usual. The mutual trust was implicit, it never needed iteration, it was an unwritten rule and it was followed diligently, contrary to every instinct of Indian society.

Nouman went back to the counter, which was overflowing with bipedal vermin as always, and he mentally recited the order to himself, ready to reproduce it to Asif Bhai again at a moment’s notice. But before he could utter a word, Asif glanced at him, and without a moment’s hesitation, beckoned to his junior.

“Chote, twelve plates of Chicken and Cheese Maggi, six Pepsis, one packet of Classic Milds and two lighters. Give it to this man here.”

A miniscule boy, barely past puberty, sprinted up to Nouman with the tray laden with food and drinks and dumped it unceremoniously into his hands.

Nouman, head buzzing by now, managed to stop the little tyke before he sprinted off again.

“Listen, what time does the dhaba close?” he asked.

“Six o’clock, Asif bhai shuts it and goes home,” came the reply.

————————————————————————————————

The food and drinks had been decimated, the boys felt full and cheerful. Each of them stood up, already contemplating the comfort of their respective beds. All except one. Nouman bid farewell to each of them, assuring them that he too would leave in a while, but wished to stay back for a bit longer.  Half an hour later he found himself seated on the corner table, book in hand, waiting for the dhaba to empty out so he could get his chance to speak to Asif bhai.

As the populace slowly streamed out of the establishment, Nouman hesitantly walked towards Asif with no little amount of trepidation. It occurred to him that he had never actually spoken to Asif outside of their relationship as a customer and a vendor. He knew virtually nothing about the man. This was an unnecessary step into the unknown on a fantastical whim which his mind was all too prone to.

“Asif Bhai?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” came the prompt reply. Asif looked momentarily surprised at seeing Nouman still at the dhaba, but quickly slipped back into his professional demeanour.

“Do you mind if I speak with you for a while?” Nouman inwardly grimaced. This was beginning to sound like he was asking him out.

“Was there any problem, sir?” asked Asif, his whole attention now directed towards Nouman.

“No, no, nothing like that. I just wanted to have a conversation with you about something. It’s not urgent, I can come some other day if you’re busy.”

“No, I’m not busy. Tell me what you want to say,” said Asif, curiosity sufficiently piqued.

————————————————————————————————–

Nouman and Asif sat on the sidewalk on a deserted street. The nightly territory wars between the stray dogs had commenced, and Nouman watched on in silence as he considered what he wanted to say, how he was going to say it, and what exactly he was trying to achieve with this conversation. Even after all this time, he was not sure he knew the answer to any of those questions. It didn’t seem to bother Asif, though. He sat alongside, unperturbed, smoking a cigarette. He hadn’t said a word since they’d left the Dhaba. He was waiting for Nouman to come out with whatever it was that he wanted to say.

Finally, Nouman broke the silence.

“Have you always had the ability to retain numbers and combinations so easily?”

Asif frowned. This was a weird question to begin with, he could not see where this line of questioning led, and the uncertainty unsettled him.

“Yes,” he began, reluctantly, “since I was a child, I always found myself able to remember whole series of numbers or dates or amounts which was not normal for a kid my age, or any age for that matter. It did not take effort on my part, I was born with it, it seemed natural to me. So much so that as a child, I would often wonder why others could not do the same, and I would get irritated at other peoples’ retentive inabilities.”

“Did you go to school?”

“I did for a while. I was still in primary school when my father left. With him, the only source of income for our family left as well. Mother was educated, intelligent. But she had never been allowed to work, and she wasn’t gonna start now. I had two younger brothers. Toddlers still. I had no choice, I joined a tea and food stall. The owners liked me, partly because I was cheap and partly because of this rote memorizing ability. It took no time at all to train me.”

“How long did you work there?”

“I worked there for ten years, I finally left when I was 22. A rich bastard came to our stall and ordered for his group. They ate everything, and then, when it came to payment, he claimed he had not ordered all that we were charging him for. It was 17 years ago, but I can still tell you his exact order today. I can even tell you which of his friends ate which dish. But when a rich man speaks, the authenticity of his statement is never called into question. I argued with him because I was right. My owner sided with him because he was rich. I was fired. I left and started a stall of my own. And that’s where you find me today.”

“Have you never wished to study, to use your brains for something better?”

Asif shook his head, not in disgust or in disagreement, but purely out of failure to comprehend.
“My brain provides for me, what else can I use it for? Is that not its only job?” he asked in all earnestness.

“Yes,” pressed Nouman, “but you can do something more meaningful. Something that will give you purpose. A goal, a dream.” Even as he spoke, Nouman realized how empty and naive his words sounded. Why was he even here?

“Dreams and goals are not for me, sir. I provide for myself adequately, I don’t have any pressing issues. That is enough. As to finding meaning and purpose in life, I will leave that task to people like you. I don’t have the urge to dig in that direction. It doesn’t interest me.”

His cigarette had gone out. He toyed with the idea of lighting another one, but then seemed to decide against it. Glancing furtively at Nouman, he cleared his throat and rose.

“I hope I was able to answer your questions satisfactorily,” he said, with no real conviction. This whole conversation was a big, absurd mystery to him. Turning, he walked away as hastily as he could without being rude.

Nouman sat in silence, wondering what he had expected. All around him, crickets mocked his naivete in chirpy mirthfulness.