When Santa Claus was stopped at Customs.

It was the night before Christmas. I was on duty at the Bombay Airport. Dubai had just landed. The passengers slowly began to walk out in the halls, like a herd of cattle that has cleared immigration. There was this guy dressed in bright red on whom my eyes were set from the moment he had entered the baggage hall. As soon as he crossed the Green Channel and walked towards the Exit gate, I stopped him.

 “Hey. Red Nighty. Come here”

 He was an elederly gentleman, all dressed in a red fur coat with a white lining and matching track pants. Rotund and slightly out of breath, he shuffled across the hall as he walked, possibly under the weight of the large duffel bag he had slung across his shoulder.

 “Ho Ho Ho. How can I help you sir?”

 “You can Ho all you want later. Tell me. Where are you coming from”

 “Er. Canada. But via Dubai. Emirates EK 502”

 The moment he says Dubai, my ears cock up and signal my officers with my eyes. They soon swoop down and surround him.

 “When was your last trip?”

 “Who are you sir?

 “Tera Baap”. I flashed my ID card. “Now speak.”

 “Exactly a year ago”

 “I gather you are coming from Dubai? Gold leke aaya kya?”

 No sir. Nothing at all. I am not a smuggler sir.” He looked back at me in indignance.

 “Yeah yeah . that’s what they all say” I kept looking at the passenger, assessing the possible places where he could have hidden gold. The big fat duffel bag slung over his shoulder seemed very suspicious. He had a generous posterior. Rectal concealment couldn’t be ruled out.

 “So No Gold?”

 Absolutely not sir.”

 “Sir”, I heard one of my other officers shout from behind the last of our counters. “You were right. This passenger’s emergency light. 4 gold bars.” The proud officer was brandishing four shiny metallic bars as he grinned joyfully.

 “Look at him”, I pointed to another young man standing in obvious disappointment behind my officer in the distance. “He also said he wasn’t a smuggler when we first intercepted him. Now look at him”

 “Sir. But look at him. Look at me. I don’t look like a smuggler at all.”

 “Arey Wah. So you are already racially stereotyping people here. I thought that was my job.”

 “Sorry sir.”

“So now tell me. You’ve crossed Green Channel. Anything to Declare?”

  “Lots of Love”, he hesitantly says hoping for some laughs out of me.

  “Love eh? Lots of it you say? Must be above your free allowance. Arey. Internet se price dekho. Whats in that duffel bag?”

 “Gifts Sir. Gifts for Christmas”

 Whats their total value?”, I perfunctorily asked as I scratched my head disinterestedly and looked around for other suspicious passengers. It was standard procedure. Passengers are allowed to voluntarily declare the value of their goods before we actually start an inventory.

“I don’t know sir.”

 “What sort of an idiot are you? Don’t know the value of the gifts that you’ve purchased”

“Sir. Would be around 2-3 Lakhs. Rough estimate sir.”

 “Show me your passport please

 “Why sir?”

 “Dikha mote. I want to see your previous trips”

 *Hands over passport with trepidation to my officer*

 “United States. Brazil. South Africa. Thailand. Egypt. Dubai. Syria” the officer rattles on.

 “See Chavan”, as I assumed the air of a savant instantly. “His entire itinerary is through countries on the white powder line. ( That’s the word we use for drug trafficking routes). “Looks like this clown has something more to hide than he is telling us.”

 “Abey. Drugs bechta hain kya?”  

 “No sir.  I would do no such thing. I never venture anywhere near such intoxicants sir. Any intoxicants. Never.”

 “Then what is this?”  I gingerly open the duty free bag on the trolley and viola! Three black label bottles cozily tucked in beneath a pullover.

 “That’s just alcohol sir. Nothing much”, he sheepishly admitted.

 “Teri nothing much ki mother sister. Do you know that your allowance is only 2 litres of alcohol?

 “Sir. Sorry sir. It slipped my mind. I was in a hurry to get out” He takes out a big red napkin and starts dabbing his perspiring forehead.

 “Arey Chavan. Write this down in the inventory. Excess alcohol. One Black Label. Start screening his bags once again. Fellow thought he could get away on my shift”

 “Yes sir. No way sir. He couldn’t have avoided your hawk eyes sir.” The officer shifts into sycophant mode.

 “Theek hain . Whats his nationality. “

 “Canadian sir.”

 “No wonder. Looks like a polar bear in a dress”

 Sir. Thank you.” He started to smile slightly.

 “That was NOT a compliment”


“Chal. Let’s sit.” I escorted him to the chairs behind one of the screening machines. “Now tell me man. What is the purpose of your visit to India?”

 “To distribute gifts sir”

“To whom”

 “Little kids. I sneak into their homes and give those gifts” his eyes lit up as he continued to narrate how he would climb into their houses through windows and leave them gifts in the night.

 “What? That’s disgusting. What sort of a creep are you Meeting little kids in the middle of the night when their parents are asleep. Arey Suresh. Call the Sahar Police Chowky. This fellow looks like some geriatric sex offender.”

 “No sir. No sir. My intentions are very noble.”

 “So were Hitler’s when he invaded Poland”

 “Sir. No sir. I am good man. I give gifts to little kids.”

 “Well. Gifts are not free. They cost money. When aforesaid mentioned gifts cross Customs borders, they become liable for taxation. Is the inventory finished?”

 I looked at Chavan who was obediently taking out all the gifts out of the duffel bag and preparing an inventory.

 “Sir. These are all wrapped in gift paper. To identify them, we will need to tear up the paper.”

 “Wait. Don’t do it. We’ll ask this fellow only. Please declare a value for the goods being carried out by you. “

 “Sir. Three Lakhs.”

 Ok. Let’s accept his declaration. As a Canadian citizen, you get only 8,000 rupees as free allowance. We will charge you duty on the rest. You will have to pay duty on them at 35%”

 “Duty? Why? I have never paid duty anytime earlier when I came to India.”

 “Aah. A repeat offender I see. Lets book a case. Been a while since we have arrested someone under COFEPOSA”

 He began to panic as soon as I talked about an impending arrest.

 “Err… Sir Can’t we settle it amicably? I shall give you some good wishes and blessings if you let me go”

 “What? How dare you offer me a bribe? Me! Of all the people! And good wishes and blessings? What sort of a crappy bribe is that?” he could see my face flush in bright colours as I yelled at him.

 “I apologise sir. Sir. I am sorry.”

 “You just offered a government officer a bribe. How dare you? Now you see. On one hand, Anna Hazare sits on fast after fast asking for cleaner governance and here you are perpetuating corruption!!” I pointed an accusing finger at him “It is because of people like you that India gets a bad name”

 “I am sorry sir. Extremely sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” He pulled out an asthmatic inhaler and started to puff from it.



Just then, like a dream, Sushmita Sen walks by. It appears that she had just landed in a Air India London flight and was going home.

 She stopped as she saw me and waved in recognition. Before I could process what was going on, she strolled towards me and said “Working hard making cases I presume Mr Kumar?” That voice. That bloody beautiful voice.

 “Ye… Ye…. Yes. I think so. Work. Hard. Duty. Government of India. Sushmita. How am I doing? I mean. How are you doing?

 She gently smiled and tossed her hair back and ran her hands through it, clearly enjoying my obvious infatuation with her. That gentle chuckle made my knees go weak and I called out “Chavan. Cant you see? Sushmita Madam is here. Call for Chai.”

 “No Kiran. Its quite ok. I am tired and I want to go home. What’s this gentleman doing here? It looks like he is in some big trouble with you guys.”

 “No. Some old hack who claims he is distributing gifts to little kids on Christmas. Hasn’t declared the goods nor has he paid any duty.”

 “Aww.. What a noble gesture. I like such good Samaritans. Jaane do na isko”, she said this in a husky guttural voice and drew her finger across my cheek, and let it linger on my lower lip for the slightest moment.

 “Haaa…Whatever you say. Theek hain. Theek hain.. Arey Chavan. Uncle ko Jaane do” I waved my hand towards my officer never letting my gaze slip from her.

 “But the inventory and all sir?”

 “Do one thing. You pay the duty Chavan”, I snapped back. Chavan realized that this case was now closed.

 “Hello Uncle. Go. Sir has allowed. Say thanks to Madam also.”

 The gentleman, extremely glad, shoved all the gifts into his duffel bag and sprinted towards the exit.

 “Merry Christmas Sir”, he yelled as he ran.

 “Haan. Teri bhi Christmas. Now get lost.” I looked towards her now “ Sushmita. How about adding me on whatsapp?”,

 She laughed again, this time louder and I swung around to find myself a chair. I needed some water.


 *Just to clarify. This is total fiction ( except the part about me having a crush on Sushmita Sen).


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Break Up on Marine Drive ( excerpts from my novel)

             A stream of memories filled her as she looked at them.

                   It was almost two years ago. It was at Marine Drive, and late in the evening. The sun was sinking slowly over the Arabian Sea, a large refulgent ball of flaming fire slowly being engulfed by the endless expanse of crimson stained water.  The whole stretch of  Marine Drive, from the Jawahar Bal Bhavan until the road ended abruptly at the Nariman Point was a favourite haunt for lovers, young and old, straight and gay. In the midst of such a multitude of couples, sat the couple in mention.

     She was inspecting one of the bangles that he had handed over to her. It was one of the four that he had held in his hand. They were heavy. They were made of iron, it seems. He explained to her. Bengali women were supposed to wear a piece of iron touching their body all the time and so this bangle was created. Iron, which was then heavily worked in gold to make a bangle. He had told her its Bengali name, but she forgot. The bangle was beautiful and she held it up against the setting sun. the ochre of the bangle blended into the crimson of the sunset and it looked as if she had captured the sun for a moment within that little circle of hers. She felt the intricate handicraft work on the bangle as she ran her fingers through it and smiled at him.

                “ These were my grandmother’s bangles. She had willed that these should pass onto my wife. I had picked them up from my mother last week when I had gone home to Kharagpur. Mother was reluctant to part with them, always worried about my gift to misplace valuables. But finally she relented. I thought you should them wear them. They belong to you now”.

   Joy spilt onto the boulevard that hugged the sea.  She embraced the gentleman. She was never the person to talk much, reticent and almost petrous in her emotion, and even now she expressed the gratitude by a tender squeeze alone. He moved close to her and planted a kiss on her neck, gently adjusting her hair backwards as he moved in to cuddle. A few couples saw this brazen expression of romance and smiled. A woman walking her dog stopped to watch, another woman dragged her kids ahead. An old man raised his fist in mock reproach. The couple in question didn’t seem to care.

          Her mind whirled ahead, sifting through her memories, struggling to find peace and struggling to separate the layers in her mind and zero in on the particular evening which she wanted to remember. It was the monsoons and Bombay’s monsoons were always ruthless. It was the same couple, but the situation was different. They were sitting in a dank and damp café facing Marine Drive. She had always felt safe in this particular café, which served only vegetarian food, a lifestyle choice influenced by its propinquity to a large Jain housing society. Although Bombay had altered her in innumerable ways, it failed to shake her strict vegetarian dietary habits.

     The gentleman was no longer gentle. He had suddenly assumed the role of a demonic nether-creature who was ripping her life apart deliberately. She had just returned the bangles to him, rather ruthlessly banged them on the countertop. She wanted to fling it at him, but she didn’t want to create a scene. She figured out that she had already drawn enough attention to herself . Her blood red eyes would certainly raise a few eyebrows. She knew the waiters well here.

“ Take them back. Give them to whichever whore you are sleeping around with right now. I don’t want them anymore. I just realised that these were not bangles. These were handcuffs. Handcuffs by which I had bound myself in some sort of a mental prison, pledging undying fidelity to you, while you sleep around”

 “Paddy…!” he interjected, visibly flustered by this violent demonstration of hate.

            “Don’t call me Paddy! You bastard! I hope you are dragged through Vaitarani and that you burn for a million years in the depths of hell.” She had lapsed into Tamil. She stood up and pushed the chair back with such noise that half of the café was now looking at her. She just didn’t care. She was tired of it all. The waiter had walked upto them. She recognised him as her regular. He tried to smile, unable to say anything. 

                She passed him a 1000 rupees note and said, “Don’t give the bill to that son on a bitch. Keep the rest as tip. I am not coming back to this place ever again”. She just walked out of the door into the evening rain. That was last year.

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Our Daughter From Nepal

“And then I said ‘You may have danced in a hundred movies but here you are a passenger. Go back into the line. Welcome to Bombay Customs’ and pushed her trolley back.”

The rest of us started laughing as Sridhar made a clumsy gesture with his hands, in an attempt to imitate the heroine in mention. It was half past two in the night. Air India Riyadh had just left and it meant only one thing. For an hour, we had a break since no flight would land, giving all of us a much needed respite from the maddening crowds.

“Sahib.”, a middling man with wrinkled features and folded hands walked towards the counters where we had arranged our chairs in a circle. His rugged nose, short stature and round colourful hat reminded us of the hills. The green passport clinched it. He was a Nepali.

Behind him was a young girl. Twenty years of age probably. We need to look at her passport for the exact dates. She looked scared; actually she looked positively terrorized by the airport.

“This girl is from Nepal.” He pointed towards her. “She is returning from Riyadh in fifteen days. She doesn’t have ticket to Kathmandu. She has no money also.”

The laughter ended. Further enquiries started. She met this man in the flight back to Bombay and told him her story of horror. She was sent to Riyadh fifteen days ago by an agent who picked her up from a village ten hours by bus from Kathmandu. He had promised her family quick money saying that she only had to clean houses in Riyadh. After landing in Riyadh only, did she realized she had been trafficked into the flesh trade.

“Sir. You know everything wrong happens to girls in Riyadh in the hands of these old sheikhs.”, the Nepali man stuttered as he spoke, a tone of disgusted acceptance could be gleaned from him. “Now that fellow has kicked her back to India, with only a 100 Riyals in her hand. She has to go back to Nepal and doesn’t have money. I have only 1000 Rs with me. The ticket is 25,000 rupees. Can you help her?”

There is no Nepali consulate in Mumbai. Only in Delhi.” I looked up from my mobile phone.

“What sir? Why Embassy and all? Today is Diwali. Let us send her home. Come on everyone. A thousand rupees each out of your pockets right now.”  It was Mrs Salma, my superintendent. All of us reached into our wallets and started retrieving notes. Sridhar started collecting.

Madam she might be hungry. Tiffin has come. Why don’t you take her into the office room and ask her to have something to eat?”

Yes sir. The lady officer gently escorted her into the office room. I noticed her properly for the first. A little over five foot two inches, she wore a worn out yellow kurta. She had the typical large flat eyes of the hills and walked with a slight limp. The hair was tied up in a messy round bun behind her head. There were remnants of aquamarine nail polish on one of her feet. Not the other. Strange. She spoke nothing. She knew nothing except Nepali. Only a smattering of Hindi. Even with a knowledge of Hindi, I don’t think she was in the state of mind to speak anything. All she said was “Saab. Ghar bhejdo (Send me home)” in a tired inaudible voice.

Armugam went upstairs to the first floor Air India counter to book the tickets. He kept chanting a slight prayer as he approached the counter. As soon as he saw the corpulent figure slouching in impatience behind the glass window, his crest fell a little. It was Joyce. She was the Air India floor manager with whom he had picked a massive fight a few weeks ago. They had a slanging match across the tarmac of the airport, where in Armugam, stolidly supported by me had used the choicest of adjectives against her.

He faked a smile, and went upto her. “Joyce madam. We need to block a ticket on the Delhi route to Kathmandu”

“No tickets to Kathmandu left. Get lost”, she spat without looking out of her magazine.

“This is urgent madam. I never call you madam. Today I have. It is urgent.”

“Who has died and needs to be shipped to Nepal?” She finally threw her magazine aside and turned her computer screen on.

As Armugam narrated the incident to her, her demeanor melted and she said “The ticket is 26,000 rupees. Give me 24,000 rupees. I shall adjust the rest of the money.”

“Make it 23. I shall pay a thousand bucks also”, another Air India employee who had overheard the conversation passed a crisp new note to Joyce.

I knocked and turned the knob of the office room to tell the girl that her ticket was done. It was a heart wrenching experience. She was cowering inside, face hidden within her hands and crying loudly. Two lady officers were consoling her. “Let her cry sir. Looks there were no other women there to help her out. She started crying when we gently tried to find out what happened. There were burn marks on her neck and wrists”

I winced when I heard it “Did she say anything? Address or name of that mofo?”

“Leave it sir. Nothing will happen. Those bastards are sitting on stockpiles of petrol.” Mrs. Salma heaved a long sigh, looked at her and said finally “Our Daughter of Nepal”.


“The seat is on standby sir.” the young man at the ticket counter hesitated to reply.

“What in the name of Air India’s losses does that even mean?”

“The flight is already full sir. If someone cancels their flight from Delhi to Kathmandu, we shall be able to accommodate her today. Otherwise we shall send her on the next flight tomorrow morning.”

“No. No. No way. She is going on today’s flight itself. How did the ticket get booked if the flight was already full? This sounds ridiculous. Stupid stupid Air India. Is this Railways to have a waiting list”

“Wait sir. There are always a few seats blocked by these Air India people for emergencies. Like our Headquarters Quota in Railways. That’s why”, Armugam interjected.

“Who is your duty manager?”

“Rodney sir.”

Rodney Gonsalves? Usko phone lagao. No. No. Not on the phone. This is too urgent. Ask him to come down to the transfer bay. Tell him Karlapu is standing here. Its an emergency

After banal pleasantries which are mandated at five in the morning and few clicks of the mouse, Rodney announces “Sir. Mumbai quota is full. We shall have to talk to Delhi to release a seat for you. Shall I make a call to my Delhi manager? You’ve met him already sir. Mr Jagjit Arora”

Arora ji. Good Morning. This is Karlapu here. Must be a chilly morning in New Delhi. Happy Diwali to you too. Listen Aroraji. Remember those two Chivas Regal bottles last month that your nephew took home?” I looked at the girl sitting in a corner of the arrival hall as I spoke to him.

A hearty chuckle could be heard from the other side.

Yes. You’ve got it. I need a favour. Delhi Kathmandu is full. We need to unblock a seat. It won’t happen from Bombay because the servers are showing “stagnant seat block here”. Youll need to log in from Delhi and get it done. Its urgent. A dear friend of ours is going.”

Ten minutes later, Arora calls back.

“Sir”, thunders the voice through the mobile. “Tell Rodney to check the status. I have released a seat from Delhi. Ask him to capture it and transfer it to the passenger.”

I gave my officer the thumbs up and he immediately ran behind the Air India counters and nudged Rodney. A few moments passed and the printer whirred to life. A smile appeared on Rodney’s face.

“Karlapu sir. The lady can go home. Seat has been released from Delhi.” We told the girl that. All she said was “When Kathmandu?”  ” Three O clock in the evening


We stood there. Armugam. Salma. Rodney. Joyce. Sridhar. Me. Outside the gate. The coach for the domestic transfers had just come. The girl had boarded the bus and would be taken to Santacruz for her flight to Delhi.

As the bus started chugging along, she didn’t look out. She just sat there next to the window stoically looking down. We waited for the bus to leave and returned inside.

“Our Daughter from Nepal”, Mrs Salma quietly whispered.

Exploitation of people from the Subcontinent is rampant in the Gulf. Especially women. Our governments conveniently look the other way. My officers tell me of the heart wrenching stories from the 90s when women from Andhra and Karnataka would land up at Bombay airport from the Gulf pregnant and crying. It’s a sad situation when we have allowed a few medieval sheikhdoms rich in hydrocarbons treat our brothers and sisters like animals.

FYI This was the second such Nepali woman who came back from the Middle East in the last week.


This is a true story. Minor artistic liberties have been taken to keep the narrative taut. Names have been changed.

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Should Students be Allowed to Cheat in Exams?

“Why aren’t you helping the kids?”

“What??? Are you mad? I am invigilating this exam. I have been walking across this big fat classroom for the last three hours.?

“Why? Werent there any chairs?”

“Stop being stupid.”

“My original question. Why aren’t you helping the kids in the exams.? History must be tough for tenth grade, with all the excitement over Katrina Kaif and IPL. When can they concentrate and actually study? Must be hard. Don’t make it harder for them.”


“No. Kiran. I am teaching them an important lesson in lifetoday.”

“They are all going to fail. You are teaching them lessons on exam day. You are a disgrace to your profession. Disgrace I say!”

“No you idiot. Its about life.”

“Seems complicated. Whats the lesson?

“Things come to people who work hard for them.”

“Come to people? Like Magneto? You extend your hand and break the Golden Gate bridge?”

“Not a movie. Be serious Kiran. I mean hardwork is the key to success. You cant take shortcuts in life.”

“Ever tried negotiating Hyderabad roads? You need shortcuts all the time.”

“No. You idiot. Kiran!!! Please don’t irritate me. Im tired of invigilating these brats. I just reprimanded a kid for trying to cheat.”

What was he doing?”

“He was trying to ask the kid behind him for answers. I scolded him. But since I am a nice person, I didn’t snatch away his answer sheet.”

“You are evil. You should have been helping them.”

“Kiran. I did tell you earlier that…”

“I know. I know. You wanted to teach them a lesson. But you helping them in the exam teaches them a much more important lesson in life which is actually more relevant to the world outside schools and helps them make the transition to real life much more easily.”

“What bullshit. What lesson do I teach my kids if I help them out and let them cheat in the exams?”

“The lesson is that If you know the correct people, you can get away with anything.”

“What? What sort of rubbish are you talking.? You are mad. Totally mad.”

“I am not mad. Look around. Politicians. Officers. Cops. Employees. Everybody follows only that rule. If you know people in high places, you can get away with anything. Isnt that right?

“Don’t confuse me Kiran. Kids shouldn’t cheat in exams. That’s all I know”

And grown ups should do scams and indulge in corruption. Right?”


“But they do so anyway. Why do they so? Because they know people in high places and they can get away with it. So I seriously suggest that you teach the children the truths of life now”

“Truths of Life? You mean the bees and birds story? I am NOT going to teach my kids about sex on exam day.”

“What a simpleton you are. I pity you. Im sure the internet has taught them stuff much better than we all can.  They could teach us. Anyway I meant the truths about how the world really works. You owe it to them.”

“I am not going to…”

“Listen now madam. I shall complain to the school administration that you are impeding the growth curve of these young impressionable kids and as a result they shall become maladjusted and unable to compete effectively in the ever changing global world, and consequently they could turn to a life of crime or overeating, whichever seems more convenient to them and it shall all be on your conscience. Remember. All on your conscience.”

“Yeah right. Go ahead. Call my principal and tell her this. She will ask you to jump off the Sea Link.”

“Ouch. I thought these missionary school nuns are the epitome of goodness and cheer.”

“You are mistaken. My principal is the devil incarnate. Oh. You think I committed some sin by calling a nun the devil?”

“How does it even matter? You are anyway going to hell.”

“That’s also true.”

“How about I tell her that you are teaching abuses and encouraging them to swear? How about a prankcall to that effect?”

“I am going to kill you.!!!”

“So now go and help those kids in the exam. They need to pass. You should be the bigger person here and give those kids some direction in their lives.”

“Kiran!!! I am not going to help kids cheat in their exams.”

“Your choice. But don’t blame me if you get murdered by one of your students after fifteen years for not teaching him the Truth about Life.”

“Please man. My head is already aching. I am going to hang up now. Please.”

“Sure. But you know that I am right. I am always right”

*phone disconnects*



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Mumbai speaks to the Monsoons.

You are early this year.”

“I wanted to see you”, he whispered slowly and gently moved in for a hug. Steadily his arms wrapped themselves around her shoulders and he leaned forward for a kiss.

She brusquely brushed him away and looked into the distance. She stared at the large bronze statue across the street as it shone with the light reflecting off the ancient alloy. She pointed to the triple domes of the building behind the statue and spoke.

Lets sit there on the BMC Building. I want a view of VT


They walked across, oblivious that there existed gravity and that thousands of Mumbaikars were hurrying across the road in the opposite direction underneath them. It was just past eight and the Island city was emptying, as its inhabitants made a beeline to return to the cozy suburbs and dilapidated slums, in lands far far away.

They nestled themselves in one of the corner towers of the second stone edifice in a cozy alcove in the front of the building which officially housed the executive of the city. She leant onto one of the petrous gargoyles that stood guard atop the structure and looked at the majestic terminus in front of them. It had risen like a promise of future grandeur of the city and remained thus.

Aah. Victoria Terminus” she sighed. “I never get tired of looking at it in the evenings. Prettily lit and decked and all with all my people rushing home. You are making them run today.” She gently laughed as she looked at one particularly anxious person run across the road, precariously balancing himself over the slippery road.

Slow down for a minute. Let Anand pass

He smiled in mischief and the rain seemed to suddenly intensify. The person in question, the unfortunate mortal called Anand was now caught in the middle of the road. He stood there, struck in sudden shock and unable to make a decision whether to run towards VT or sprint back towards the VadaPav stall where he had spent the greater part of the last twenty minutes, waiting for the showers to abate. With each drop of  rain that fell, he grew wetter and restless. He looked down at the leather sling bag under his shoulder. Important Documents.

Suddenly out of nowhere, a woman ran upto him with a large bright yellow umbrella. Actually it was more of an ochre shade than yellow, similar to the colour of the paint they use on the Mumbai local trains. She approached him without hesitance and grabbed his shoulder and pulled him under her umbrella. Before his brain could process what happened, he was under the foyer of the station, being pushed into the main entry hall by the tired huddled masses. He looked back and forth, searching frantically for the yellow umbrella. But all that could see was a sea of black, with a smattering of reds and pinks. No yellow.

The young man atop the BMC building looked at his lady companion, amused and proud. He looked back at the station, only to see Anand walk out in search of the yellow umbrella and spoke slowly.

“Three things. That’s not Victoria Terminus. Its now known as the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus. And secondly. How do you know his name? Thirdly. Who uses a yellow umbrella?” his gaze still fixed on the young man who walked inside dejected and crestfallen.

Its always VT for me. And secondly I know everyone’s name.” She smiled back smugly at him. “Thirdly, there are people who use yellow.” She contemplated the yellow umbrella at her side, which she finally showed him.

“That makes me love you even more. Now where is my kiss?” He bent forward eagerly, searching for her lips. She pushed him away.

Listen. I am still mad over 2005. I have not forgotten it.”

“I have been apologizing for the last 8 years. I am sorry. I didn’t mean it. I was angry that year. I have been apologizing every year. I even touched your feet . Will you ever forgive me?”

No. I have forgiven you. I never said I haven’t forgiven you. I just haven’t forgotten it.”

The man was certainly not accustomed to his overtures being thwarted so prematurely. He bristled into a tirade as they stood up and walked. In minutes, they were walking towards buildings in the lanes of old city of Bombay, a place called Byculla. Here the lanes twisted and crossed each other at acute and unexpected angles and opened into tiny vestibules and verandahs. The fresh rain had raked up the mud from the crevices and garbage from bins and strewn them across the above mentioned narrow lanes. The couple stood on the parapet of a flyover that split into two lanes as it landed. Between the two prongs of the flyover, stood a statue. Yet another silent memory to the changing fate of the city, this Parsi gentleman was going to be the sole spectator to the impending diatribe.


“I hate coming to Bombay. I don’t know why I come here every year. This is a dark city. Just like you. We suffer. We make others suffer. We are in a mad rush for money, power, sex or revenge that very often, we forget our humanities.” The rain had turned into a downpour. Her saree didn’t seem to pick up the rain as it continued to fly and flutter in the gusts that accompanied his trite complaint.

“Broken Promises, missed appointments, lost jobs, aborted fetuses, abandoned children, molested kids, unfaithful marriages, tortured wives, raped women, beaten men, defeated dreams, destroyed hopes, misplaced files, torn pages, faded ideologies, spilt blood, ostracized communities, ghettoized populations, deracinated generations, failed exams, lost causes, dried taps, unpaid bills, unkept commitments, decomposing garbage, clogged drains, submerged suburbs, This is what you have to offer.” His arm spanned across the city, right from the cotton mills of Bhiwandi to the plush apartments of Cuffe Parade.

You are right. All that you say about Bombay is true. It’s a dark city. But it is the city of dreams. It represents freedom, success, fame and most importantly opportunity. People leave family and friends behind and come here to live and die. They struggle here. In the locals, in the shanties, in the offices and homes. Everywhere. They come to me to make a living. Most of them times, they make a life with me. I bear their pains and support them on my shoulders.”

I need the energy to survive another year. A whole calendar of running people’s lives is extremely draining. There is always a man whose suicide has to be foiled. There is always a girl to be safely escorted home. There is always a lady whose delivery I need to supervise. There is always a kid whose chocolates I have to protect. There is a marriage I have to attend. There is a death I have to mourn. There is always a young man  who needs a guardian angel”

She looked at him “I am alone and weak. This is why I invite you to stay in Mumbai for three months. I need to cleanse myself of these maladies and responsibilities. I need a new start in October. I need to go on. This city is an eternal enterprise. This city is me. I am Bombay.”

She suddenly sprinted into the great unknown above the city. He ran behind her. He clutched her hand in the rain and drew her closer to him. They embraced. Two tired souls finally found peace. The rain finally touched her and she allowed it to drench her. Beneath them a fast local pulled into Kurla. Next to them an airplane took off from Sahar. The rains had landed in the city of Mumbai.


After three months…

It was another evening. The clouds thundered as they crashed against each other. You could almost feel their pain as they knocked against one another, over and again and the ensuing friction produced streams of searing flashes of lightning, which formed giant wavy creepers coursing across the skyline of the city soaking Bombay in moments of brilliance before dying out, only to be replaced by another bolt somewhere else. Random dark clouds rolled in from all directions as if a divine power had thrust them inwards They crashed and burnt. Below them sat a man, angrily pointing his index finger into the air and swirling it with fury. The clouds followed his movements.

Stop it. You’ll scare the city.”, she implored as she hid in his shirt, both hands cupping her ears in a futile attempt to drown the terrifying noise. “You behave like a kid every year. Its raining very heavily. Stop it. Ankle deep water has started flowing into Parel. I am not cleaning up again.”

They sat under the stars, albeit you couldn’t see any of them as a thick blanket of clouds shrouded the city like a woman in mourning. It was one of the less romantic spots in Bombay. It was a large park stamped firm on the chest of the city in Dadar. A regal statue of the Emperor of the Marathas stood guard in a corner. The entire park was flanked by trees which drooped graciously onto the narrow paved pathways that circumambulated it and provided plentiful green cover. The two of them strolled around the parapet of the wall for a while, her dress surprisingly dry inspite of the heavy downpour and splattering mud across their feet. The park was deserted, except for the occasional passerby on a bike or a speeding car.


“I don’t know why you insisted that we meet here this time.”

I like this park. It doesn’t have the airs of the South Bombay parks. It is much simpler and the people mild mannered. I have fond memories of this place. I still remember sitting in this very corner with the edge of my saree draped over my head as I listened to a young Marathi leader create fire with his words in 1966. That was a speech I would never forget.I come here every year on Vijayadasami.” She smiled weakly as she pointed towards a spot in the park.

  “I don’t want to leave.”

You never do want to leave. But we are lovers for the eternity. It isn’t like you will not return next year. I can have you only for three months of the year. That was the initial pact when the God of the Oceans retreated to bring me to life.

“I shall miss you. I shall remember you every moment until I return. It shall be a winter of loneliness and a summer of sorrow for me. I love you like the very rain I bring you.”

He snapped his fingers and a bolt of lightning descended from the heavens into his palm and sparkled and shimmered like the moon itself. He gently opened her palm and pressed the splinter of energy into it and curled his fingers around hers. The bolt flickered iridescently for a few seconds and then dissolved into her hands.

“Here. I give you my energy to last you through all pain until I return.”

Why do you love me so much?”

“Because you are the City of Bombay.”

And you are the Prince of the Monsoons

The star crossed lovers closed their eyes and kissed. As she opened her eyes, he was gone and so was the rain. She turned back and walked towards Dadar station, just like everyone else in the city did.

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Excerpts from a Novel i am Writing.

The following lines are an excerpt from a novel i am writing. Having been stricken with writer’s block for several months, i have decided to share a little of it with people so i can get a push ( either frontward or otherwise)


They laughed as they thought of that day.

What was his name ? Shashi? Wasn’t it?”

“Yeah yeah. Even that godforsaken name wasn’t gender clarifying. Where did you pick him up from? Grant Road?”

“No. I think he was from Parel or something. I don’t remember. But you were horrible to him. He felt bad.”

   “You think I am horrible? Have you spoken to Vishnu’s mother? She has got a mouth like a Koliwada fisherwoman. Yeah. Yeah. We met her when she was in that conference in Belapur. You cant imagine her. Hey Ram.! She was so abusive. That taxi-wallah literally cried.”

“Well. His meter was rigged and he was trying to steal money from us”

“So? How do you know the meter was rigged? Only because Vishnu said it was. I saw his face when he was complaining to his mother. He had this devilish grin. And so did she. They were like two lions waiting to take down a poor deer. That taxiwallah must have seen his wife as soon as he got up that day. His mummy created such a scene. I thought she would beat him with her chappal. She almost reached for it. No. I am not joking. She bent forward to take it..Yes. Her chappal. Right in front of that guesthouse in Colaba. All those aunties were looking at us.”

“Her job demands it nani.”

“Since when did a government officer need to swear like a fishwife? But she is fun. And she has got that self-obsessed aura about her which makes her a treat to watch. Looks like Vishnu got it from her.”

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Mom vs Me. Gay vs Straight.

One of those wonderful days at home. You mom is visiting and she has generously agreed to your request of cooking “Pesarattu” for you. For those who have not yet heard of or tasted this wondrous dish, I pity your misfortune. It’s a flat pancake made out of whole green gram and sprinkled with chopped onions, green chillies, ginger and cumin seeds soaking in ghee. I am sure it is the breakfast of the Gods.

I was humming a gentle song and spreading out the heavenly batter on a cooking pan when I hear my mother yell out my name. The tone was louder than normal and shriller than maternal.


Cheppu Amma ( Tell me Mom)

“What is this?”

What is what? I set the stove onto low and walked into the bedroom.

What is THIS?” She was standing behind the far side of the bed and in her hand was dangling a bright coloured dupatta.

“A more relevant question would have been whose is this?”

I froze. A blue dupatta. I needed to think of something quick. I am usually quite the person to think on my feet. I could get out of work, trouble, hospital postings, night duties, skirmishes with policemen and the occasional run in with boss by coming up with excuses and explanations that were generally so outrageous that they would be swallowed with absolute credulity.

But this was Mom. Your brain turns to jelly and slowly pours out of your ears in front of her.

Er. Amma… Actually… I don’t remember whose it is

Among all the answers I could have given her, this was the worst. In cricketing terms, I just managed to “hit my wicket”

“What? You don’t remember? Are they so many girls coming into this house that you can’t keep track? Oh Lord Balaji.!! My son has fallen on the ways of the world after coming to this god forsaken city.” She began to rant and rant with hands flailing all over the place.

The series of events just spiraled out of control. I have no idea what happened next as she bombarded me with a series of questions and demanded answers. She kept tugging at my hand and pointing to the picture of my grandfather and asking me how he would react if he were alive. I had this certain feeling that I could see my grandfather smirking at me in joy. No. I am sure. That picture was smirking at me.

By the time I looked back at my mother, she wasn’t there. She was replaced by Arnab Goswami who demanded all the answers from me but wouldn’t give me any time to defend myself or even to breathe in front of her. She had become the victim, accuser, prosecution, witnesses, judge and the jailor in one stroke.

“Who is this girl? Who are these girls? Who are these women of other castes or religions that you are inviting home?. No . Leave it. We need to end it. We need to get you married. You had enough of running behind locals and girls in this God forsaken city. No. Kiran. You need to get married.”

MARRIAGE!!!? I couldn’t get married. Im too young. I haven’t dated anyone from Virar yet. How could I get married? I need to think quick. What do I say? Married? Impotent? Heartbroken? Poor? Committed? Possessed by the Devil? Gay?

Yup. I choose Gay to save the day.


No. Amma. That dupatta doesn’t belong to a guy. It belongs to a guy. Yes. Im gay. I like guys. Plump cute ones.”

I had played the gay card. This was the last card a guy can play. I had already played the girlfriend card. I had played the “too-young-for-marriage” card. I had played the “grandpa-dead-i-am-heartbroken” card. I had played “i-don’t-have-a-quarter-in-Bombay” card. I had played the “Too-much-work-stress-cant-support-family” card. I had even played the “i-am-too-immature-for-a-girl” card. This was the last card . The card of desperation to stall an impending wedding. The last card of deceit and lies and of abandoning ones sexuality to postpone the inevitable.

“What? What do you mean you are gay?”

Im gay. I like guys

“I know what gay means. Ive seen Dostana.”

Good. So im gay.”

“But I don’t see any chiffon skirts or make up kits in the house Kiran”

Amma. Im Gay,  im not a cross dresser” . The conversation was getting exceedingly uncomfortable.

“Ok. Let me process it. You like boys.”

No. I used to like boys. Now I like men.”

“Ok, Fine”

And then she did the unimaginable. My mother’s actions are truly the acknowledgement of the “Mad-Gult” gene that runs in my family.

She grabbed her bag and took the phone out. She began to dial.

“Hello. Its me. We were looking for a groom for Kavita na. We need to look for another groom as well. For whom? For my son. Yes. Kiran only. I am not joking. He likes guys it seems. How am I supposed to know. He has had a string of girlfriends. I never suspected. But leave all of that. We need to get him married. A tall boy of in the 24-30 age bracket. Are you writing this down?”

Amma. What is wrong with you?” I was appalled at my mother. She had taken this thing exceedingly well. This card, which I had supposed would temporarily save me from marriage was throwing me under the bus, a totally new unexpected bus.

“Let me see. Kiran will like tall guys. Atleast 5’10. Telugu ViswaBrahmin. Well built and fair. Perhaps someone with gym body. What do you say Kiran? No. Ok. Atleast an MBA or MD. Must be working in Bombay. You know his horoscope no.? He is Mithuna Lagnam and Visakha Nakshatram. You put it up on the website na.”

I grew increasingly paranoid. Website?

Amma what is this? Who was that? What is this website you are speaking to him about?”

“It was only Ramana Murthy uncle Kiran. The marriage broker. Your father and I have decided to get you married within six months. It doesn’t matter who you marry a boy or a girl. You are marrying in six months.”

I began to panic suddenly. This woman had gone lost her marbles. “Amma. Are you mad? What will the relatives say?”

“I don’t care Kiran”, she declared loudly. “ I love my little gay son.I don’t care what the world thinks. Your happiness is paramount for me”. She hugged me and began to weep. “I know it will be difficult. It has been extremely difficult to find a guy for your sister. I shall be harder to find a guy for you. But we shall do it. We will find you a boy in our community. I promise you my son.”

What the Fountain!!? What do you mean in our community?”

“Yes. Ofcourse. Just because you are gay, doesn’t stop you from becoming a Telugu Vishwabrahmin. Your father will not approve you marrying some Marathi or Punjabi boy. Oh I Forgot. I need to tell your Dad also. Let me call him”

I froze in terror. My dad finding out that I was gay was unimaginable. He would kill me. Wait a minute. I am not gay. I was pretending to be gay. Well. My dad finding even that out would be more mortifying. He will kill me either ways. I would be the first guy in history who got killed for pretending to be gay. I couldn’t let my mom tell him. This woman had gone totally whacko and was behaving in an exceedingly difficult to handle manner. Next moment she could ask me to wear her stilettos.

She was still sobbing at regular intervals and breathing silently. She finally started to dial the numbers and barked “ Yemandi ( Telugu way of wives to address their husbands). I need to tell you something about your son.”

I lunged forward and grabbed the phone. “Nothing father. Mom is just complaining that its raining too much and that the roof leaks a little. Bye for now

Amma”, I implored as I fell on my knees to apologise. “ Don’t tell dad. He will kill me. I am not gay. I was just acting to get out of the wedding. I am not gay. I agree that I like Idina Menzel but that’s it. I was just acting. Now you don’t tell dad

She caught hold of my shirt and drew me closer. And in a deep scary, almost satanic voice, she whispered to me, “You think you are the only one who can act.? I am your mother and I was born on the banks of the Godavari. Don’t underestimate me. Now look at the pictures of girls Ramana Murthy has sent”

She went into the kitchen whistling a happy tune. I think I regained consciousness after an hour.

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