PUN CHRONICLES 11 – DOUBLE DATE

As Charity skipped excitedly to the edge of the cliff, striking a yoga-inspired-pose with perfect form, Shubham sighed, raising her Canon DSLR to his eyes for what seemed like the 100th time.

“Try and see if you can get the sun placed between my palms in the picture,” she said, holding her hands above her head in the shape of a lotus.

Behind the camera, Shubham rolled his eyes, but did as he was told, nevertheless.

He was not particularly enjoying his first date.

It was Charity’s idea, just like everything else they did. They had first spoken on Tinder one week ago. Shubham had seemed like an exotic choice to her, something her whimsical mind always loved. She had never dated an Indian before and was interested in seeing what they had to offer. Shubham, on the other hand, had never matched with anyone before Charity on Tinder, and was therefore not in a position to really exercise any form of choice.

Charity was significantly more attractive than he was, and she had immediately taken command of the conversation and before Shubham knew it, he had agreed to a 6-hour trek amongst the boreal forests of Canada.

And so, he found himself on a Saturday morning, hours away from civilization and his beloved television, walking a forest trail with no prospect of a rest anytime soon.

“So, what’s the story behind your name?” he asked, prying his mind away from the trail.

“Well, my family has always believed in working for the betterment of the community. Philanthropy is our family business, you could say,” she said, her pristine teeth flashing a dazzling smile at him.

“So, you work for an Non-profit?” he asked.

“No, no, I just got done with my Arts Major. I decided I wanted to take a break before I start working in earnest, so this year I have just been travelling and seeking new experiences. I feel it is very important to witness first-hand the troubles that people all over the world face. It teaches you to not take what you have for granted. Don’t you agree?”

Shubham smiled and nodded.

Coming from a country that overflowed with such “troubles” and never having had the luxury of taking a “break year”, he could not really bring himself to see her viewpoint. But he did not see the value in pointing this out to her.

And what the hell kind of a name is Charity?

“How much longer before we turn back?” Shubham asked.

Charity looked back at him, slightly bemused.

“It’s only been an hour and a half, we have a long walk ahead of us. Are you getting tired already?” she asked.

“Oh, no, nothing like that,” he lied, “I just like knowing what’s ahead of me so I am prepared mentally.”

“Ah, well, we have another 45 minutes of walking along this trail, which is level all the way and so shouldn’t be much trouble. Then comes the hard part. We have approximately an hour’s climb up the side of this mountain that is slightly rough going, and then it’s down the other side and looping back to the road, and we’ll be just dandy.”

“All right,” he said, defeated.

For the next hour, Shubham did not speak much. Charity did not notice it, she was used to dominating conversations and spent the entire time regaling him with tales designed to move all sympathetic beings to tears. Shubham proved largely impervious to her tragic stories, however, limiting his reactions to grunts and nods.

As they reached the foot of the mountain they were to climb for the next leg of their trek, the skies, as if reflecting Shubham’s inner state of mind, clouded over. He immediately felt the temperature drop and the world grow noticeably greyer. The breeze picked up, and Shubham thanked the Gods that he remembered to pack a sweater for himself.

Ten minutes into the climb, the first pitter patter of rain reached Shubham’s ears, bringing with it dread and fear akin to the Nazgul’s cry.

“Uh-oh, it’s beginning to rain. I hope you brought a raincoat,” Charity trilled, pulling hers out from her rucksack.

Shubham stared at her, hoping that her half-joking tone was an accurate appraisal of the seriousness of the situation if he hadn’t, in fact, brought a raincoat.

It began to rain in earnest, and Shubham’s weary muscles now had new foes to contend with. The wind now struck wet clothes, making the cold much more severe than he had accounted for. The rain had turned the trail to slush, making the uphill trudge slow and slippery. Shubham fell often, and every time his fingers touched the ice-cold rocks, his hands seemed to drop five degrees in temperature and never recover.

Even Charity’s spirits, which had tolerated no drop in levels of joviality until now, appeared to be dampened somewhat by this unseasonal downpour. She had meant for this trek to be relaxing and rejuvenating, not a battle against the elements.

“Shubham, you better get out that raincoat, these storms can get pretty harsh in these parts.”

“I don’t have a fucking raincoat,” Shubham snapped, shivering.

“What? Why would you come trekking without a raincoat?”

“I don’t know, I have almost no experience with this kind of stuff. I’ve lived in cities all my life. And tropical cities at that!”

“You told me you had been trekking before,” she retorted. The abrupt change from cheerful chirping to fearful interrogation did not go unnoticed by Shubham.

“Yes, I have. But not like this. I went for walks into the hills around a hill station lodge, I haven’t climbed mountains in the Canadian wilderness.”

They both stared at each other, Charity pale with worry, and Shubham panting heavily, with his hands turning noticeably purple in the cold. The wind was verging on storm levels now, and the intensification in the aforementioned pitter patter alerted Charity to the fact that they were now also in a hailstorm.

“Okay,” she said, “There’s nothing to be done now, we just have to push through. Let’s stay calm and just plod away, it’s gonna be all right. The storm will pass.”

Shubham stared up at the climb before him and internally asked his legs if they had it in them. The answer was a resounding “No!”

“No, he echoed to Charity, “I’m done freezing my ass off. I’m going back.”

“Okay, wait. Have some of this, first,” she said, pulling out her flask.

“What is that?”

“Brandy. It will warm you right up.”

“I don’t drink.”

“It’s all right, it’s to warm you up, it isn’t going to get you drunk.”

“No, you don’t understand. I don’t drink. I am forbidden to do so by my religion.”

Charity stared at him, wondering if he was being serious or just being an asshole.

“Okay, at least have a sandwich, something to keep you going. You look half dead.”

“What’s in the sandwich, Charity?” he asked, wearily.

“What?”

“What is in the sandwich?”

“Ham and cheese.”

Shubham turned away in disgust and starting making his way back down the slope.

“What? What’s your problem?” Charity asked.

“I don’t eat meat. I’m a Jain.”

“Is that like a vegetarian?” she asked.

“A more extreme form of that, yes.”

“But you need to have something, you’re too weak right now.”

“I…don’t…eat…meat!”

——————————————————————————————–

I need some meat.

The lynx slinked along, slithering silently between the trees and through the foliage. He had a pronounced limp, one that signaled the beginning of the end for a predator. Sure enough, this lynx, once majestic and in command of prime territory, had now been relegated to the foothills of the Canadian rockies, where prey was sparse. The fact that one of his legs was pretty much non-functional merely added to the difficulty he faced in getting himself a meal.

It had been three long days since he had had anything to eat, and he saw no reason for his fortune to turn favourable. He had begun to notice prey standing brazenly in his vicinity, no longer afraid of his predatorial abilities. His limp pronounced the absence of a threat loud and clear to animals all around him. There were even traces of lynxes from neighbouring territories making inroads into his territory, sensing the weakening of its owner.

As he stared at his crumbling empire, sullenly, drenched in the rain, his ears picked up a commotion. Loud, aggressive voices reached him over the sound of the brewing storm. Every instinct told him to flee, but these were desperate times. Even the hint of a meal warranted an investigation.

He picked his way through the brush, moving, as felines always do, in complete silence. He circled around the source and came up from behind it. He saw two bipedal creatures stumbling down the face of the mountain. He saw, with a hunter’s eye, weakness. One of them seemed sturdy, resolute and calm. The other, of darker skin and more appetizing scent, was in no condition to live.

Humans were familiar to the lynx. In his heyday, he had watched many a human walk these very paths, while he remained unseen in the undergrowth. His instinct had always taught him not to interfere with larger creatures and he left humans well alone. But this was a question of life or death. He needed that meal.

The choice was a no-brainer. The weaker one would be the target. The lynx could smell the fear in him. He would make an easier prey.

Poised as all felines are when ready to pounce, the lynx felt the rush of the hunt return to him. His rear legs jettisoned him into the air and he let out a menacing snarl as he lunged for the throat of his prey.

———————————————————————————————–

Shubham’s weary walk down the trail was interrupted by a snarl coming from right behind him. He snapped his head around, arms raised, to see what new abomination fate had in store for him. He immediately felt a searing pain in his arms as he felt a set of teeth sink into his flesh. Squealing with terror, he flailed his legs and arms desperately in an attempt to deter the attacker. He looked around to his companion for help just in time to see her fleeing into the distance.

Around them, the storm came into its own and the wind howled through the trees, mocking the screams of the dying man.

The lynx let go and lunged for his throat once again. Shubham tucked his chin into his chest, and this time he felt the teeth clamp onto his face. All the while, the lynx’s claws sliced his clothes and then his skin to shreds on his torso, shoulders and head.

The agony he felt had was unparalleled, but it also woke him up. His muscles forgot their weariness, his skin forgot what it is to be cold, and his brain forgot the feeling of fear. His entire body geared itself to aid him in surviving this attack.

Shubham, face still clasped firmly in the lynx’s jaw, felt about for a decent sized rock with one hand, while punching the lynx and pulling at its fur with the other. He managed to get hold of an oblong rock about the size of a brick and jammed it into the lynx’s skull with all his strength. The ploy was successful, as the lynx let out a roar and let go of his head.

The next time the lynx lunged, Shubham was ready. His vision was blurred by the blood streaming down from his scalp and the tears from the sheer pain he was experiencing, but his adrenaline pulled him through and he swung at the lynx while it was mid air and knocked it to the ground. He then let out a primal scream and, raising the rock above his head with both hands, pummeled it into the lynx’s skull again and again until nothing but a red pulp remained.

Shubham’s mind was overwhelmed with emotion and, in a final insult to the once-might lynx, he picked up a piece of flesh from its brain and began to chew on it.

The storm abated, the rain slowed to a drizzle, and Shubham, kneeling in a pool of human and lynx blood and rainwater combined, stared up the mountain face into the sky.

Silhouetted against the grey clouds was the blood-curdling figure of another lynx.

Shubham blinked, sure he was hallucinating. But there was no mistaking it.
Before he had time to contemplate what he had done to deserve his luck, the second lynx, a hunter just coming into its prime, pounced.

This time there was no struggle, this time there was no fight. The prey had lost its will.

Shubham’s clothes were found hours later by a search party that had been alerted by one Charity Faye.

The spokesperson for Canadian tourism warned the public that though lynxes were known to be reclusive, they posed a threat nevertheless and thus warranted caution.

Using the example of Shubham, a life lost to bad preparation and bad luck, she said, “Please remember, a Jain is only as strong as the weakest lynx.”

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Pun Chronicles 10 – It’s Not Cricket

1904 – Congo

Shiva had lead a most peculiar life. Having travelled widely in Africa, he had seen sights so outlandish, so outrageously beautiful that even his patriotic heart had to accept that this strange land was prettier than his own. After a while, however, even the unimaginable becomes mundane, and Shiva found his heart yearning for the monotony of his home. India, enslaved though it was, still figured in all his fondest dreams. He was not suited to the harshness of this continent.

Shiva used to be an intimidating sight. Though not overly tall, he was as stout as they came, and had immensely broad shoulders and burly arms. However, his recent travels had seen him fall victim to various forms of diseases, and, though he survived them all, he did not make it through unscathed.

He had lost his former stockiness, his body having shrivelled up into a much tinier frame due to weakness. His skin had a jaundiced tone which lent him a slight radiance, but a sickly one. His muscles could no longer bear the strain of the soldier’s life, and he had been allowed to leave the forces, provided he aid the soldiers in other ways, doing odd jobs around the camp. This allowed him some time to himself, and he used it to roam the wildlands and soak in all he could before he set off on his journey back home.

It was on one of these meandering walks that Shiva met the man that would unwittingly change his life. Walking leisurely through the tall grass, Shiva heard the unmistakable sound of a man running at full pelt. The intermittent prayers being offered up in the local dialect and the absolute abandon with which he ran told Shiva that this was a flight for survival.

Moving towards the sound, he intercepted the man, a petrified looking local, and asked him if he could be of any help.

“A spirit!” he gasped, “An evil spirit is come.”

He continued in this vein for many minutes before Shiva could calm him down. From his incoherent mutterings, Shiva gleaned that some beast was on the prowl. There seemed to be a lot more to the tale than that, but it was beyond Shiva’s ability to comprehend the rest.

Armed with his rifle and the confidence of his days as a soldier, Shiva undertook to seek out this beast, if only for the thrill of hunting and the gratitude of the locals. Crawling through the undergrowth, he came upon a clearing within which a little round hut sat, drawing attention to itself by means of the plumes of smoke emanating from it.

A menacing growl reached Shiva’s ears, one of a large cat partaking of its victuals. Crawling sideways to get a better look at it, Shiva espied the lion tearing into a woman’s corpse.

The lion was a majestic specimen, its coat without a blemish, its fangs glistening red. A shudder ran down Shiva’s spine, one that was an admixture of fear and awe. He sat there for who knows how long, contemplating the clash of civilization and the unabashed brutality of nature that the spectacle before him presented. However, as he watched on, Shiva’s eye was caught by a protuberance on the lion’s forehead. At first glance, it looked like the beast possessed a third eye. It’s positioning and otherworldly appearance fell right in line with the many mythologies Shiva had acquainted himself with regarding this very characteristic. It was only on more careful and considered examination that he realized that it was merely a tumour, or an overgrown wart.

The ramblings of the local man now made much more sense to Shiva. The mere appearance of a wild beast in these parts was no anomaly and would not command such fear. That man must have fallen prey to the same sleight-of-mind that had at first attempted to take Shiva in. A supernatural being in the form of a lion with three eyes is a matter that would legitimately warrant widespread panic, especially when the beast set about attacking the population in broad daylight, with nary a care for the consequences.

A cunning plan began to form itself in Shiva’s head. He had scoured the plains of Africa for many a long year searching for something that would break the monotony of his life. He had given up hope of returning to his homeland with anything resembling a fortune that would allow him to live out the rest of his days in a restful vein. But here was providence dropping just such a fortune into his lap.
With just a little prep and some inspired marketing, he could charge people for the experience of witnessing the all-wise, all-seeing, three-eyed-lion that he, Shiva, had risked his life capturing alive.

If he could get this creature back to India, somehow… But there were far too many obstacles in the way for him to be thinking of that just now.

With his adrenaline pumping, Shiva’s thoughts were all action. He fashioned a trap similar to the kind the locals used when they wished to capture a wild beast. The trap was simple, involving a carcass, some primitive, natural tranquilizers and a cage. Within a couple of hours, the three-eyed-lion was unconscious, in the cage, and at Shiva’s mercy.

The next few weeks were spent making arrangements. First, he obtained permission to return to India. He cited health reasons that were all too well-known to his superiors. He then set about bribing the various officials that he would encounter if he wished to take the beast with him.

Being a lowly soldier, he did not have much in the way of wealth, but he drained most of what he had put away, knowing that if this gamble paid off, the influx of wealth would far surpass his wildest dreams.

The rest of his savings went into arranging for the maintenance of the lion for the long trip ahead. It would not do to have a malnourished, mangy lion when the whole point was to dupe the public into thinking this was a supernatural beast. The beast had to be fed, cleaned and kept in luxury so that, on arrival, it still possessed the aura that had sent the local man scurrying in terror.

The terror was key. Fear kept people at a safe distance. Far enough away that they would not see through the makeup and the ruse.

At long last, Shiva found himself approaching the shores of his country. The very air seemed to wrap itself around him, welcoming him into his new life of comfort and luxury. No longer did his eyes catch the misery of the common man, trampled underfoot as the British Empire wreaked its havoc. No longer did he see in his neighbour’s eyes the vestiges of dreams crushed by colonial rule. Shiva had eyes only for the opulence of princes and the magnificence of the many castles. He snorted in contempt at those who accepted their lowly state and stagnated while they were ruled by the white man. He would show them how one breaks free from chains.

With these thoughts and others akin to these flowing swiftly and nobly through his head, he set foot on his beloved nation’s soil and breathed a lungful of air.

It was to be his last breath as a free man.

Immediately, he was accosted by a group of guards. A large, white man dressed impeccably in a military outfit watched on as Shiva struggled to free himself from their grasp. When they succeeded in finally subduing him, he approached Shiva, somehow seeming aloof while obviously orchestrating the entire episode.

“What is the meaning of this ruckus?” he asked, “Why are you resisting arrest?”

“What have I done, sahib?” Shiva asked, nearly in tears at this point.

“You have been charged with dereliction of military duty, illegal smuggling of animals, bribing members of the army, falsifying reasons to leave military service and a whole bunch of other crimes of which you shall be duly noted in court.”

Shiva’s ears turned red, his breath came in short bursts and his face drained of all its colour as he saw his visions of vulgar excesses turn to dust before his very eyes. Half blinded by the tears now openly streaming down his cheeks, he turned to the imperious white man one last time.

In a broken voice, he asked,

“And what will become of my beast?”

The white man smiled and said, simply,

“The lion belongs to the Empire.”

Pun Chronicles 9 – Infernal Visions

Dante fled through the streets of Florence, his gaunt figure stumbling along, leaving chaos in its wake. And fittingly so, for Dante’s magnificent brain had begun to crumble. The very brain that gave birth to the poetry that was to captivate minds all over the world for centuries to come with its protagonist’s odyssey through hell, today used its fearsome abilities to bring hell to Dante’s own doorstep.

Wherever he looked, he saw evidence of the nine infernal circles crystallise before him.  Florence was no paragon of virtue and nobility, but even so, Dante’s visions bore such extreme elements of ghastliness that he was forced to admit that even humankind was not capable of this, and this hell came not from without, but from his own mind.

It is a terrible fate for great minds to descend into insanity, but that fate is rendered infinitely worse when one is aware of it, but helpless to avoid it. And this was the fate the Gods had reserved for this king amongst writers.

Before his very eyes, his beloved city was transformed into a seething pit of despair. Red-cheeked children no longer frolicked on the pavements, but in their place, goblins crept out of the ground, foaming at the mouth, slobbering with ravenous glee, feasting on excrement. Proud men and soldiers graced no more the street with their presence, but hideous abominations, humanoid only in the broadest sense of the word, stalked back and forth, sullying every inch of the street with their filth, tearing each other to shreds in a wrathful frenzy. He saw no sign of the heavenly beauty that Beatrice wielded, but the hidden nooks and crannies of the streets were chock full of malformed whores choking on the entrails that the Wrathful left behind. The city itself had taken on a visage that would deter the stoutest of men from lingering. Dante’s constitution could not bear the strain.

With a primal cry, he ran at full pelt, vowing not to stop until the city was behind him. Around him, the goblins gawked, the abominations glared, and the whores tut-tutted at this unseemly behaviour, only adding to the surrealistic anguish that was being inflicted on Dante. Where was his Florence, his beloved, sophisticated Florence, his refuge from the vulgarity of life? Not even in his darkest moments had he ever imagined that he would see it like this.

As he approached the outskirts of the city, the Chianti mountains rose before him, still pristine and majestic. Certain that the mountains were his salvation, Dante made straight for them, unsure of how exactly they were going to help, and yet overwhelmingly sure of the fact that they were to be his saviours.

Nearing the woods near the base of the mountains, Dante’s feeling of dread deepened with every step. The mountain he was making for was surrounded on all sides by a forest, one that Dante had frequented in his youth, whiling away the days reading poetry under its boughs. Now it stood shrouded in mist, with the howls of fell beasts and the smell of putrified flesh the only evidence of its existence. He knew better than to expect an easy passage to his salvation, but he was beginning to feel he did not possess the strength to stand this test.

Nevertheless, seeing no other path open to him, he plunged into the forest, keeping his eyes low to the ground, determined not to let his surroundings add fuel to his fears. That resolution held for all of five minutes, however, as a vicious snarl set Dante quivering uncontrollably and caused his eyes to search frantically for their source. The source was a leopard. A massively oversized leopard was seen thrashing around in the thick foliage, seemingly struggling with another, smaller leopard. Dante, to his immense horror, saw that the oversized leopard wielded genitalia of unnatural proportions and the deadly struggle was caused by the smaller leopard doing everything it could to avoid being impaled upon it.

Quickly averting his eyes, Dante managed to avoid seeing the finale of this grisly performance, with only the anguished wail of the smaller leopard bearing testament to the victory of the larger.

Dante hurried on, still shuddering from what he had witnessed. There was to be no respite, however, as he was soon brought to a standstill once again, this time by a lion. In contrast to the unrelenting gruesomeness that Dante had been subjected to, the vision of the lion’s perfect coat and full mane of hair was a welcome tonic to his eyes. Its strength and vitality on full display, the lion itself seemed to know its perfection, and walked the floor of the forest with an appropriately condescending strut.

Mesmerised by the graceful motion of the lion’s muscular legs, Dante’s eyes happened upon what seemed to be a carpet of living mass. Looking closer, he realised that the carpet consisted of lion cubs, each writhing and wriggling, attempting to claw its way out of its predicament. Each held in its place by its neighbours trying the same. With every step, the lion stamped down upon one of the cubs, crushing its skull beyond recognition, accompanied by the inimitable wail of a dying child.

Dante waited no more, and, his stomach dangerously close to emptying its contents, he fled further in, hoping to God that there was no more in store for him. But there was to be one last obstacle. Right in his path stood a she-wolf, her paw victoriously perched upon a buck’s corpse. As Dante approached, the she-wolf began to chew through the buck’s flesh at a ferocious pace. In a matter of minutes, the buck’s corpse was all but gone and then, without missing a beat, the she-wolf began to chew on its own leg, still chomping with the same gusto. Its roars of pain punctuated with growls of extreme satiety. Watching this morbid spectacle, Dante’s stomach gave up the fight, and his flight up the face of the mountain was intermittently patched with bouts of vomiting.

Dante was, with the help of the trauma brought on by his visions and due to his recent spate of vomiting, dangerously dehydrated and exhausted. Climbing up the face of a mountain, never an easy task, was rendered even less so by these unfavourable circumstances. His head began to swim and his vision began to narrow, and he knew he needed a rest and began wildly casting his eyes about in search of a shelter. A few metres up the mountain, he espied a cave. Muttering blessings gratefully, he entered the cave, descending lower and lower until the light from the sun outside was all but extinguished. After all the horrors his eyes had been forced to witness, the darkness was a much needed balm, and Dante went ever deeper into the heart of the mountain, hoping to snuff any chance of a return of his visions.

By this time, Dante was trusting to the sureness of his feet, his eyes had been rendered completely useless by the dark. He had been going downhill for a while, but suddenly felt a steep rise in the path. Having climbed some ten steps, his eleventh found no ground beneath it and sent Dante falling headlong into the darkness.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a huge fall, and Dante found himself on a flat floor, and, walking along the wall, Dante gathered that he stood in a cozy, cuboid room. His back to the wall he had just fallen down, he felt before him another wall rise up, with  similar walls on either side closing him in. It occurred to him that he was trapped, but for the moment that comforted him instead of alarming him. He convinced himself that those visions could not reach him here and in this enclosure, deprived of sight, he was at the very least, safe from his own mind.

Time, always deceptive, gave no inkling of its passing to Dante, who was unsure whether he had been there for minutes, hours or even days. His stomach, emptied on the way to the cave, made its emptiness known by emitting growls that echoed in the dark, sounding uncomfortably like Dante’s experiences in the forest.

And then, almost imperceptibly at first, and then unmistakably, he began to see a light. It was not from a visibly discernible source. It certainly wasn’t sunlight. Its flickering told Dante that it emanated from a flame. His first instinct was to call out to the wielder of the flame. However, almost instantly, he remembered what sort of creatures his company had consisted of in recent memory, and the horrors he had witnessed in their presence, and that killed his voice as effectively as was possible. The flame, being the only source of light Dante’s eyes had been exposed to in a while, seemed to come from behind the wall, with the result that Dante still could not see himself or his surroundings. The only thing that had been leant visibility was the wall directly in front of him.

He saw it to be a remarkably smooth wall, and he wondered whether it was naturally so, or if it had been hewn by man. and if man were the architect, then it begged the question of why anyone would choose to wield his craft in the heart of a mountain where no natural light was accessible.

Even as he thought along these lines, he realised that the smoothness of the wall, coupled with the absolute darkness of everything else had leant to the room the aura of a platform wherein a performance was to be staged.

And what a performance it was to be!

Shadows began to dance on the wall before him. At first, they just seemed a menagerie of odd shapes and sizes, but soon he began to spot familiar shapes amongst the crowd. One figure, slightly hunched over, with a noticeable protuberance delineating an aquiline nose, Dante recognised as himself. Using himself as the focal point, all the other shapes now began to become recognisable and make sense. There were politicians and the Pope and there was Beatrice and there were his contemporary poets and writers and there stood his wife and his kids and an assortment of other acquaintances. Each shadow interacted with his own, showing in shadow art, a perfect representation of his life in short summation. All the key moments, some forgotten to Dante himself, were displayed to him now with unerring accuracy. As the performance rolled on, Dante found himself forgetting that he existed in corporeal form, and found himself gazing at the shadows as reality itself.

Suddenly the shadows shifted from humanoid shapes to ghastlier forms, and Dante realised with a shudder that they were replaying the events of the past day, a depiction of his own visions. He saw the goblins, the abominations and the whores. He saw the leopard, the lion and the she-wolf. And, as the last of the visions left the stage, he saw his own hunched figure contort and split in twain. Entranced, he watched with morbid curiosity as, from the depths of his own being, another humanoid shape emerged. Standing with all the grace and dignity of a nobleman, Dante did not need telling that this was the poet, Virgil.

The embodiment of Reason in his masterpiece, Virgil was now being depicted as leaving Dante’s body, an implication that needed no further explanation.

As Virgil exited left, the lights were extinguished, and Dante found himself plunged back into the dark, alone with his mind, such as it was, forever.

And thus ended The Alighieri of the Cave.

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.

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

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.

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)