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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The autobiography of a peppermint candy


I was born in a candy factory with a thousand others. Packed in a group of 60 and weighing approximately 9 oz (255 g) collectively with our plastic wraps, we waited at a candy store to be picked. The box above us was taken by a fussy grandmother, who cautioned the boy beside her that sweets ruined teeth, and he would need dentures like her. The boy said: It would look kind of cool Grandma ! She said: Ok! Ok! I will get them, but do not forget to brush everytime you eat one.

One day, a sad looking man came around to the aisle where we rested. He picked us, smelled us and caressed us. His eyes moistened and he sniffled slightly. I wondered what made him so sad. Then, I remembered seeing him before with a little girl with golden hair and blue ribbons. It had been a while since she did not come with him. Some of my brothers and sisters said that she had probably died. Some said that others had taken her away because he was a bad father. I contemplated whether a bad father would weep for his child.

It seemed like we had been waiting for ages. Even in the comfort of the store, we felt we would outlive our shelf life. Our neighbors changed. The decor of the store changed. First, it was a Halloween theme, then Thanksgiving, and soon it was time for Christmas. Chocolate reindeer and premium assortments filled up every stack. The gummy bears and worms grew increasingly thin in population. We still waited for our fate.

The day before Christmas, the store was about to close early when two girls came. A brown and a white one. The brown girl said to the white girl: It was so nice of you to get us that tree. But I am sorry, I don't have much decorations. Maybe we could pick up a few candy sticks and ribbons to make the tree look happy. They both smiled and the brown girl grabbed us while she walked fast.

'They look really neat' she said to her friend.
'They taste great too' her friend said. 'Peppermint candies always get me nostalgic.' She smiled. And they both looked at each other like they knew what the other was feeling. They soon ushered us to the counter where the lady said: $13 for the candy, $5.60 for the rolls each. Total $ 29.80. The girls paid hurriedly: 'I can't wait to see the surprise the guys are gonna get when they see the tree' and they both giggled their way out of the store.


I waited patiently while the girls tied knots with the ribbons and unwrapped a few of my siblings to hang on the branches of a Christmas tree. A few of us were still remaining in the box, when one of the girls declared : I am tired. Let's get some sleep now. Did we hang the stockings yet?

One of them confirmed and then they switched off the lights and went away. Only the tiny light bulbs danced and the fairy on the tree looked so real that I thought it would fly away. I looked at the star on the tree top and I believe that is exactly when I fell asleep.

The next morning, there was a lot of commotion. The girls kept cooking the whole day and by evening, the guests arrived in groups. Two guys particularly caught my attention. The girls seemed to pay more attention to them and giggle more often at their jokes. At night, I saw one of the guys kiss the brown girl under the mistletoe. And I realized that like us, brown or white, at heart they were all candies too.

I also learned the name of the two girls - the brown one was called Anouska or Anouk and the white one was called Lisa.


Two days after Christmas, Anouk packed her suitcase and bid Lisa goodbye. Lisa said: I wish you had stayed for New Year's.
Anouk: I know, I wanted to go to New York too. But my Grandma is ill. I will see you soon.
Lisa: Did you take everything?
Anouk: Yeah. All the documents. I have to come back to this country. My life is here. She laughed.
Lisa: Maybe you should take some candies too. Wait, I guess there are still some from XMas.

She collected us from the tea table and shoved us in Anouk's back pack. Anouk hugged her and went out in the snow.

I don't know how long we waited to see light again. Anouk unpacked us as soon as she reached her home. She said: Ma, is Hari Kaku still around?
Anouk's Mom: Yes, he comes once in a while to visit us, though he is too old to work now. And he has grown a bit weird since his daughter died. His grandkids live with him now. Even his wife is growing old. I don't know how long they will sustain. The kids are too young. Your father and a few of his friends give him a monthly allowance, but it must be difficult with that meager sum.
Anouk: How many of them?
Anouk's Mom: Three kids I believe. Two boys and one girl. And Hari Kaku and his wife.
Anouk: Will he be coming to see me?
Anouk's Mom: I guess so, when he knows - he sure will.
Anouk: What if I visit them tomorrow, the first thing in the morning?
Anouk's Mom: But a few people are invited for lunch, don't be late.
Anouk: Ok Ma.


The following morning Anouk got up early. She had a tired face and I felt that she needed rest. She put on her jogging shoes and her gym attire and looked at us for a moment. She thought for a while and picked us before she jogged out into the foggy street.

After some time, I felt a stench fill me. I tried to imagine what horror or hell was that. But I realized that people lived in that fetor. It was filth everywhere. And the houses were so small and close together that you couldn't say one from the other. I even wondered if they really were houses at all. They had canvas walls and open latrines. I understood where the malodor came from. Soon the muddy roads gave way to a brick scattered path. Anouk calculated each step to reach the only concrete house I saw from her pocket.

She knocked at the open door twice and called : Hari Kaka, Hari Kaka.
The torn curtains waved a little and a tiny, dark man came out. His vision didn't seem very clear. He had cataract in his eyes. And yet, he recognized the voice instantly.

Anouska Mamoni ! Come inside !!

Did you have anything to eat?

Anouk nodded in negative
Would you like to have some ginger tea I used to make that you loved so much?
She nodded again. An affirmative.

Her eyes brushed around the room. It gave the impression of a curio shop. A nightmare for an interior designer with even the simplest taste. Anouk had seen elaborate designs and mansions, but she knew the love these frail walls harbored couldn't be found in a King's palace. Warm tears rolled down her cheeks while she stealthily took out a bunch of currency notes and hurriedly shoved it between the sheets of the small bed.

Soon Hari came round with his wife and his grandchildren. She sleeps in the kitchen now, with Jaya. You know my granddaughter?' Anouk remembered seeing her when she was a kid. Now, she had grown up a little. She had the long sad face of her mother and those big black eyes.
Anouk: How did it happen Kaka?
Hari: What to say Mamoni, it was my fate. I couldn't pay them enough dowry and so they burned her to death.
Anouk: What??? But she had been married for eighteen years now !!
Hari: I had been giving my son-in-law something or the other before. But now, I have grown old and incapable.
Anouk: Did you report it to the police?
Hari: Your father insisted that I should. But I begged him not to. At least, they let me have her kids.
Anouk: But I am sure they would be able to take better care.
Hari: It is a good thing to think but reality is different. He is getting married again. I don't want my Ratna's kids to grow up with a step mother.
Anouk: But then....?
Hari: Don't you worry sweet Didimoni. Your father has promised Tapan - the eldest a job if he passes school this year. And he has been working hard.

Anouk studied the teenager. Did he comprehend fully the weight of responsibilities he had on his shoulders? Of his old grandparents? Of his siblings? Anouk looked away. Kakima had got her the tea in a cup and some biscuits on a plate. She wondered if this was the only one in the house to serve guests. Anouk offered the biscuits to the kids who had hovered round her. They smiled and refused. She smiled knowingly. They were like Hari Kaka.

Suddenly, she remembered something and gathered us from her pocket. ' I got these.'
The kids shouted in unison. 'American chocolates !! '
Anouk: Yes. Only they are called peppermint candy sticks and sometimes they are used to decorate Christmas trees. She offered each one and she unwrapped one and took a bite herself.
I was given to the youngest kid. A boy about the age of six. He clutched at me and ran away. I could hear the others laugh.


We are destined to please, but temporally so. We die in the mouth of our devourer and that is our ultimate fate. Or so we are made to believe. But I have lived - way beyond my shelf-life - in a small box full of hidden treasures. I share my new house with a broken compass, a stringless yo-yo, a dry leaf from an unknown tree, and a spinning top. I survived the attack of an army of ants and oppressive heat when I almost melted, before I was shifted to this abode. Maybe this was my destiny.

* Note: For more short stories, click on the label 'short story'*

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day and Night

All characters and incidents in this story are imaginary. Similarity to any person or situation is highly regretted.


'I love him and I hate him to the same degree. I have to let go of one emotion.
But no. It can not be. I seek indifference. That is letting go.'

An year ago, I didn't think I'd be saying this to myself. We were happy. A newly wedded couple, blissfully unaware of what the future might bring. It was on a fateful night we were walking down the street after a late night show when the muggers cornered us. They look his wallet and our belongings. But when they turned to leave, one of them saw his most precious possession- me.

He tried to make a faint effort to save me, but they were armed and dangerous. I saw them fist him to a bloody pulp before they came for me. And yet, I imagined that a miracle would give him the strength to save us both. But no help came. He lied beside me, with his limbs twisted ominously. I can't say who I was more scared for at that moment.

They ravished me one after the another, until my tired screams turned into stifled whimpers. The last thing I saw before I lost my senses was a vague outline of his body. I was hoping he is still alive.

The morning came, I opened my eyes in a white room. I wondered if it was all just a bad dream. But the pain in the body was real. And I saw scratches and teeth mark everywhere. My body disgusted me. I felt warm tears tickle down my face and onto my pillow. For a while, I lied on my wet pillow, forcing my eyes closed- imagining, like I did as a child, it wasn't true.

I saw a plump woman in uniform. I asked her about my husband, not sure what to expect. She said he still hadn't come round.


The harrowing details of our reporting the incident and our endless wait to help identify the culprits can be spared. When we came back home together, we felt like strangers to each other.

He wouldn't look at my face, the face that he once loved. I wondered if he despised me. Months passed, we lay beside each other without him turning once. I felt he is awake, but even in the darkest hours, he didn't make an effort to touch me or look towards me. I felt I wanted to cry. And I cried. I cried till my tears dried the inside of me. I couldn't feel the pain anymore. It was a void, empty feeling.

We went on about on our lives as usual, but something had changed. Something which I alone could not set right.


I looked at her when she was not aware- while she fixed breakfast for me, with her wet hair hanging loose on her back. Sometimes, when she was not at home, I'd take a whiff of her clothes to feel her presence. But I couldn't look into her eyes or touch her or make the slightest effort at a conversation. I felt my voice would give away my guilt. Yes, my guilt . Of not having tried enough to save her.

Sometimes, I wondered if she knew that I was still conscious when they devoured her. I heard her calling my name, trying hard to look at me amidst those dirty hungry fingers. Her mouth being torn apart, and bit by bit her whole body.

She kept crying and calling my name. But I lied like a coward. Afraid of more blows, of the knives, of being shot in the head. Afraid of ending my miserable life, instead of rushing to her and holding her hand and telling her that she was not abandoned. That I felt her pain. For a wretched moment, I even hoped she would just stop calling my name, lest they should think I was still alive. And for that I have not forgiven myself. I never will in my whole life.

* Note: For more short stories, click on the label 'short story'*

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Watch it till the end and maybe, like me, you too will marvel at what a change of perspective can do.

Friday, December 19, 2008

For Mark

and Arko.

Priorities: When you are down to your eyeballs in your coursework, the only thing that matters to you is an A or A-. But I heard someone say - the most crucial thing in the morning for him was to make sure that his poop was alright.

For a moment, I was taken aback - you only consider it in mirth- the possibility of your fecal matter becoming your prime focus. In a passing comment- you might even say to a close friend, 'You look constipated today.' But to hear it in a serious undertone, even if said very matter-of-factly, something strikes you.

It was an unusual meeting resulting from an unusual request. I had just got back from my July 4th weekend in New York and my gtalk status read: Back to Boston. Prompt came a ping, from someone I had not spoken to since ages. And never met.

He told me, quite concerned, about one of his best friends getting treated for cancer in Massachusetts. He was living with his sister currently in Cambridge. Now Cambridge is just 15 -20 mins on the T from where I reside and is one of my frequent haunts. I didn't think it'd be too difficult to drop by and pay a visit to his friend. Arko furnished me with Mark's address, mobile number and a photograph so that I could identify him.

I wanted to make sure that I didn't appear like a salesgirl trying to sell laundry detergent at his doorstep,so , over a text message, I duly introduced myself, my intended purpose of visit, and mentioned the person on whose behalf I'd be visiting.

There was a certain discomfort, as you can understand, regarding the way I'd have to get around to ask Mark about his illness and treatment. I am grateful that Arko believed I had the delicacy.

When I took the bus to Dana Farber Cancer Institute, it was raining. And I seriously considered my sanity with suspicion. But when an hour later I walked down to Binney Street and met him, I felt it was worth it. He made the conversation easy to make and while we sat at the institute cafeteria, he offered to let me have something. I didn't mention that I had skipped lunch that day in fear that I'd miss the inbound bus, and be late for my appointment, immediately after which he had a treatment session scheduled. I wasn't really hungry anymore but I picked a box of fruits.

We clicked some pictures so that he could send them over to his friends. He told me about his cancer treatment, his stay with his sister, his house renovation, how much he missed playing basketball and California.

It was like talking to a person you have known for sometime. By the end of our meeting, I was praying that he got well soon. By September, he was much better and back in CA. Though he'll be visiting Boston next August again for some extended treatment, his cancer is almost untraceable now.

Lesson for me: Living someone else's life for a moment lets us make more allowance for the other person's predicament and infuses humility in what we otherwise take a vulgar pride in. Maybe even a certain amount of reverence in what we consider our mundane life.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I kicked a purse snatcher :D

The Incident:
I was walking down at William Street, Cambridge and about to enter SG's house when a man approached me and asked :'What time is it?" I stopped to look at my watch. 6:25 PM. He tried to snatch my purse - once, twice, three jolts. But the loser didn't know I could scream so hard. Neither did I. I kicked him left and right- and when he got confused and stepped back- I looked at him, still holding it - breathing heavily and asking- "You want my purse? Come, get it." You should have seen him bolt like a rabbit.

He snapped the sling of my favorite purse though he couldn't take anything.

After math:
By the time my friends came out, he had run towards Auburn Street and vanished. SG was a shirtless rescuer when he was out on the street - still trying to figure what had transpired, and apparently went back to ironing clothes when I said : 'No point chasing him in the cold like this.' Finally, the neighbors peeped out to see if everything was all right. It had all happened in just a few minutes.

I reported it to the Cambridge Police an hour later. Taking some time to gain resilience- it was upsetting. The routine query and my describing the guy followed. The officer looked at my shoes when I told him that I had kicked him, and he remarked: 'That must have hurt him !' I said :'I hope so.'

He asked me if I could identify the culprit if I saw him again and said that a detective might get in touch with me later.

We duly thanked the officer and went to the potluck. They loved the baked chicken legs I made. It was a great party. I specially liked the making of "Feuerzangenbowle" (fire pliers punch)

Don't worry, we didn't have to drink it with the fire.

My analysis:
We had an ad shoot at Prudential, and I was dressed in formal and killer boots. Probably that incited him. Only if he knew I am a Poor Indian Graduate Student (PIGS), carrying everything in my purse- including my new phone and my camera for the party. And of course, my wallet with cards and cash in it, key rings, a perfume, comb, a DVD I had to return. I thought I was carrying my passport too. I wouldn't have given it away for anything.

I had the potluck to attend so I was carrying some food - that put me at a disadvantage. Usually they target women with infants or heavy loads.

He looked like a drug addict to me - in dire need of some cash.

One of my friends said : He was too slow, if it was your purse.
I said: I probably look less dangerous than I am.