Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Crow

The Crow

The little hamlet of Ambala surrounded by green hills on all sides has just one source of livelihood, Lake Ambala. It is situated near Ramtek, fifty kilometers from Nagpur where I live (in India). Lord Rama is said to have stayed at Ramtek during his fourteen years of exile. A temple stands there in his honour.

Ramtek is also the place where Sanskrit poet Kalidasa wrote the epic Megha Doot. A beautiful structure has been built there, in memory of the great poet. Ramtek has other tourist attractions as well. It is an important Buddhist site. It is also a heaven for the archeologically inclined. Centuries old monasteries have been unearthed in the hills along with stone-circles that served as burial grounds in Stone Age. Nearby Nagardhan was the capital of Vakataka dynasty that ruled considerable part of India between third to sixth century AD.

However, people from surrounding districts visit Ambala not for tourism, pilgrimage or archaeological reasons. They go there to bid a final adieu to their dead. It is believed that the departed soul will attain Moksha (freedom from the cycle of rebirths); if one’s mortal remains are immersed in the holy lake. Every day, hundreds of shraaddhas (rites) are performed at the lake. It is an important part of Hindu religion.

For centuries, the lake has been accumulating ashes and bones of the dead and hair of the living. Relatives of the dead have to get their head shaved before they can perform the shraaddha! As a result, the lake started resembling a cesspool and it became a worthy cause for the conservationists. Finally, about eight years ago, the administration decided to get the lake cleaned.

They floated tenders for the job. Contractors dredged the centuries old cocktail of ashes, bones and hair from the lake and dumped it on the shore. A year passed before it was removed and the shore cleaned again, because the tender had no provision for transporting the filth.

But meanwhile, birds in the region had feasted on the poisonous thing and they all died. This posed a serious problem not just for the conservationists but also for those who sought Moksha for their dead. The shraaddha is not complete until a crow consumes the offerings. This species of birds is attributed with special powers. They can carry the offerings into the next world to the dead, it is believed.

We know how voracious crows are. Yet, when it comes to shraadha offerings, a crow can be very finicky. It is said that a crow cannot touch the offering unless the departed soul is fully satisfied. I have witnessed this on several occasions when crows gathered around the offering but did not touch it until a close relative of the dead prayed and promised to do whatever the dead person would have wanted done.

So, the relatives of the dead had to go searching for crows, after they performed the shraaddha at Amabala. Ramtek, the nearest town is about ten kilometers away. There, a few crows could be found near the butcher's shop. I too had to do this when my father died. The crow had not touched the food until I had prayed and promised my dad that I will take good care of my mom.

I had to visit Ambala in October this year once again, for the tenth day rites for my mother. Mother was a very devout lady. She had shown exceptional control over her own death. While I was performing the rites, I heard a commotion. People had gathered outside and they were talking excitedly, gesturing towards roof of the shed under which the shraddha was going on.

Once again to Ramtek in search of a crow, I thought as I finished the rites and came out of the shed, carrying the crow’s offering in my hands. Someone from the crowd now gestured at me and pointed at the roof. I looked up. A jet-black crow was perched atop the shed! He seemed quite unaffected by the commotion going on. His attention was riveted on me or rather on the plate of food in my hands.

Something gave way inside me. Could it be possible that…? I put the food down and stepped back. In one deft movement the crow descended on the food. Within seconds he had finished everything. I watched in awe as the feathered courier to the land of souls flew away with the last morsel in his beak.

When I regained composure, I heard everyone around me say just one thing. They had seen a crow at Ambala for the first time in seven years.



A Trilogy of Coincidences

A Trilogy of Coincidences

(Call them coincidences, divine interventions, willpower or whatever. These are true events. )

I had married quite young. I had fallen in love much before that. We two had vowed to be together for life, at the tender age of eighteen. Since then, we had spent enough time living apart, I reckoned as soon as I got my first pay-check. It was just after I graduated and got my first job. There was no resistance from either of the families except my parents wanted me to wait for few more years. I did not agree.

I was just twenty-two when I tied the knot with my childhood sweetheart. I remember the hard time I had had while explaining to my boss that I needed a leave of absence for my own wedding and not for that of my older sibling. The duration of leave depended on that.

Anyway, I was in seventh heaven when I boarded the bus to my hometown from my workplace, three days before the event. I was painting some beautiful pictures in my mind with my eyes closed, when the bus came to a screeching stop. Jolted from my daydreams, I looked out of the window to see a horrible scene.

A truck laden with coal had overturned on the highway and there were several mutilated bodies lying around, some still writhing. Apart from the shock, I was very worried about the bad omen though I am not particularly superstitious. ‘Please God; please let my wedding be postponed. I don’t want to arrive for the wedding with this scene on my mind.’ I prayed hard.

I knew it was impossible to postpone the wedding. All the preparations had been done. Hall booked, invitations sent, some guests already arrived. The families wouldn’t agree to postpone the wedding now, just because I saw an accident. Especially so since it was me who had thrown a tantrum to get married so early, against the wishes of my parents. When I reached home I didn’t talk about it to anyone and spent the night wide-awake. The spectacle of coal-blackened writhing bodies refused to move out of frame.

In the morning, news came in. A distant uncle had passed away. No wedding could take place in the family for at least a month for religious reasons. My parents were worried when they broke this news to me. They feared that I would rebel and insist on marrying the next day as scheduled. They were puzzled to see me relieved to hear about the postponement.

I didn’t know if it would be right to thank God for answering my prayers in this way, with death of that distant uncle!


After the month long wait, I finally got married in June 1982 and spent a few months in heaven. I was still there in heaven when my wife announced her pregnancy. My parents were overjoyed with this development, since it would be their first grandchild. My elder brother had been married for seven years by then but my sister-in-law had failed to conceive so far.

My only grudge was that I had to leave my wife at my parents’ place because there were no good medical facilities where I worked. A civil engineer has to work at some really odd places! I was forced to live in solitude again.

Next month I got a message from my parents that the gynecologist had suspected some problem. An X-ray was advised and done at the public hospital. But there was nothing to worry, according to my parents, because the X-ray had come out normal. Ultrasound was a rarity then, in our medium sized town.

And then much before the expected date, on September 1st 1983, I got a telegram from my father. “Congrats! You have become a father. Come soon.” I caught the first bus to my hometown and proceeded straight to the maternity hospital. When I arrived there, I found my wife alone in her bed. No sign of baby! I feared the worst.

Imagine my joy when I was told that my wife had delivered twin daughters and both of them were alive and well. The gynecologist had suspected this in the early stages of pregnancy. But a mix up of X-rays at the public hospital had prompted her to change her diagnosis. And so, when my wife had walked in for a routine check-up in her eighth month, the doctors were worried to hear the twice fast heartbeats from a supposedly single fetus. They had decided to do an emergency cesarean.

I worried about the other woman whose X-ray showed she was carrying twins, but would deliver only one baby!


Both the babies being prematurely born (for no fault of theirs) were in neonatal care in another hospital. When I reached there, the doctor in-charge refused to let me in. “No relatives allowed. Only parents!” said he with a stern face. I had to prove that I was the father, not a young uncle of the twins, before I was allowed to have the first look at my daughters.

At the 1200 grams each they weighed, they looked more like kittens without fur than babies. But I decided their names in that moment. Sai and Jui, I would call them. My joy knew no bounds, until I met my parents back home.

It was a full family meeting. All my uncles, aunts, sisters and the brother were there with their spouses. “Look here son. God works in mysterious ways. Your elder brother has no child and you have two! It must be God’s wish that you should give one of your twin daughters to your elder brother.” My father said. Everybody agreed, except me that is.

It was true that there was no hope for my brother to have a child of his own. All medical tests had proved that my bhabhi (sister-in-law) was incapable of conceiving. I was too young to take up fatherhood of two daughters, they all argued. But I desperately wanted to hold on to this double blessing God had bestowed upon me.

The pressure was tremendous. Finally, just to ward off the pressure, I said my piece; “I will part with one of the twins if my brother does not have a child of his own within one year from today.” They all agreed. When I told my wife about the commitment, she cursed me no end.

From then on, every time I looked at the twins, I was gripped with fear of parting with one of them on their first birthday. Which one? I shivered to think. The twins took turns in keeping us awake for whole nights. One started crying when the other stopped. True, it was hard to take care of two little ones for the young couple that we were, but it was much harder to even think of giving one away.

Jui was the weaker one. At three months, she was hospitalized for a full month for some infection. We were not sure if we would still have both of them by their first birthday. When finally Jui was discharged from the hospital, my wife said to me, "I don't want to lose Jui. She needs me more. If it comes to it, let your brother have Sai. She is healthy." I choked on my reply. I just prayed hard for a miracle.

It was when my daughters were four months old, that we got the news. My bhabhi was pregnant! “It’s unlikely that the pregnancy will last. Don’t forget your promise!” my father cautioned me. I prayed harder.

On 31st August 1984, exactly one day before my twins’ first birthday, bhabhi delivered a baby girl. “Let’s see if the baby survives. It’s hard to tell in such cases" my father still had his doubts.

This year in 2005, we jointly celebrated the birthdays. Twenty-second of my twin daughters and twenty-first of my niece.



Saturday, September 03, 2005


is it rain
or you within,
dancing in drops
on my parched skin?

each drop brings
a piece of sky
each pore
becomes an eye

dance in rain
I still do
and the rain dances
around you...



The heat. Nothing but the heat wherever one can see. The heat that one can actually see, not just feel. Wafting up from the asphalt that has gone soft under the relentless sun, making those leaf-bare trees seem to shiver in this scorching summer afternoon. Dusters rising in tight columns, dancing frenziedly around trees like demented ghosts, snatching away whatever dry leaves still left hanging on their bare branches. Not a green thing in sight. In the distance, flame trees in full bloom as if set afire. Up ahead, this relentlessly straight patch of road threatening to catapult my speeding vehicle into a bright cloudless sky. The white hot sky, not content to wait for me at the horizon, stepping out on to the road and teasing me with its white flames dancing in the shimmering pools of false hope.

Trying to avoid the glare from the mirage, I roll down the windows. The air-conditioner already dead, several pothole scarred miles ago. A swig from the mineral water bottle parches my throat even more. The water has turned unbearably hot. Must stop somewhere and get a refill. But no shops, no villages in sight. Just a forlorn bus stop, its roof casting a futile piece of shadow, its walls diseased with AIDS slogans. That too soon becoming a distant past as the Safari races ahead impatiently, as if she too wants to end this travail in a hurry. While I wish not to reach there, anywhere. I wish for no end to this journey. As if to cling on to the few last pages of a book that I have grown fond of. Afraid to read ahead for fear of losing a friend that the book has become.

Once on such a bright lit summer day
I had gifted her
a full-blown bloom of flame trees
of my primal passions
and then forgot to tell her,
never to succumb
to the lure of rain-gods
and allow little green leaves
to sprout from her womb.
Now, I am afraid of reaching there
before the rains do.
And afraid to be
too late too…


© Rajendra Pradhan


Each one traverses
this path only once
I too must, but
for my own reasons
I carry on my shoulders
a bagful of seasons

When hunger calls
I pause,
take one out
and put it in my mouth
Candyfloss monsoons
Icecreamy winters
Hot chilli fried summers
Getting spicier
as I travel further

Bite by bite,
I have to finish them all
before I reach
my voyage's landfall

© Rajendra Pradhan

Sweet - a story

Aparna was against the idea of moving into this magnificent but old house. She wanted to live in the posh apartment we had purchased the year before. Her job at the art gallery would be easier that way. But the architect in me had instantly fallen in love of this bungalow. So what if it was a little away from city? A dirt road for just a mile or so, and then the highway would take me quickly to my office. Aparna need not leave the house, for now at least. She had received a scholarship from a foreign art society and her job was to paint a few landscapes for the society’s show in December this year. That was four months away. She had taken a furlough from the volunteer work at the art gallery. That actually helped me in persuading her to move to the secluded house. She would get all the time and solitude she needed for her work there.

I whistled as gravel crackled underneath my car’s tires as I swung into the dirt road. I rolled down the windows to breathe in the faint smell of damp foliage coming from the woods that lined the dirt road. Moist warm air invaded the car interior. And then the bungalow itself, coming suddenly in view as the woods cleared. Regal, imposing, though in need of some paintwork. I had already got it cleaned and repaired. The paint job will have to wait until the monsoon is over. Aparna was looking around wide eyed as I stopped the car. Her painter’s eye did not miss the hills in the background. “Liked it Appu? Go and paint this landscape. See those clouds resting on the hill tops! Wonderful, eh?” I said as I opened the trunk.

Most of our furniture had already been moved here. Picking up the two cases of clothes and such, I walked to the front doors. Aparna was still engrossed in the view. I opened the doors and called her. With a glint of mischief in my eyes, I scooped her up in my arms and entered the cool dark inside. How light she was, even after five years of marriage! “Put me down” she was screaming and laughing. I didn’t plan to, but we were startled by a sudden gasp coming from a shadow in the doorway. Putting a confused Aparna down I turned round. “Oh, this is Radhabai. She will cook and help you keep the place going. She lives in the nearby village.” I introduced Aparna to our new help.

Stifling her laughter at the spectacle she had just witnessed, Radhabai hurried inside and we joined her on a conducted tour of the house, mostly for Aparna’s benefit. A huge drawing room, store, dining, kitchen and a few large rooms on ground floor. Two bedrooms on upper floor. “I will make this one my studio” Aparna exclaimed as she marveled at the view from upstairs room. Then moving to the window she looked down and called Radhabai, “what is that?” pointing at a single storied structure at rear of the house. “Servants quarters” replied the middle aged heavyset woman. Then she went downstairs to make tea for us and I embraced Aparna and planted on her lips our first kiss in this house.

“Are there any servants living there?” Aparna asked me looking down from the window. “Not now. But soon we will have some more help. A watchman, a gardener and a nanny perhaps?” I answered mischievously as Aparna glared at me. It was our pact not to even talk about having children for another five years. Not before she achieved her own place in the art world. She never has been fond of children in our previous neighborhood and just about tolerated the way I entertained them on Sundays. ‘I am prepared to wait’, I said with my apologetic look.

Rest of the day was spent unpacking and doing the things people do upon moving into a new house. By evening, we got quite hungry and we decided to have dinner before the sunset. Radhabai served a simple dinner and went home. Aparna suggested we take a walk. The rain had stopped too. Taking an umbrella in one hand and her hand in the other, I took Aparna behind the house, to a spot I had noticed earlier. The view was great. The hills in the distance had turned dusky blue, gray clouds hanging on their tops. A small rivulet running in the valley between those hills and our house. We decided to return as it began to get dark. On our way back, Aparna had a look at the servants’ quarters. They were locked.

We had chosen the other room upstairs as our bedroom. From this room too, the hills were visible but not those servants’ quarters. We made passionate love and then fell asleep in each others’ arms. I must have slept soundly but Aparna complained in the morning that she kept hearing cries of wild animals, may be hyena for whole night. No problem though. She was not afraid. I helped her set up her studio and then went to work.

We settled into a nice routine. I spent the days at my office and returned well before sunset. She painted during the day. In the evenings we went on walks or watched the rains from our perch in her studio. Both of us hated TV and didn’t miss it. Radhabai cooked and kept the house clean. We didn’t get around to employing more help, though I told Radhabai to look for suitable candidates. Aparna said she didn’t need any more people in the house. Her first landscape was halfway done by the third week. Then she had another idea, to paint this house into one of her landscapes. On a Sunday we went on a long trek and reached a spot among those hills, from where the house was visible. Even from this distance, the house atop a small hill itself was quite picturesque. Aparna did her sketches as I clicked a few snaps and sipped beer. We had a fantastic picnic.

She started work on this new painting ignoring the one half finished. The house and the servant’s quarters began taking shape on canvas. “I will paint the hills around the house later” she said. Fine with me. She was falling back on her schedule and now started painting at nights too. I was used to her artiste’s moods and didn’t object. But I noticed her fascination with the house on canvas. She had painted the open windows on the servants quarters and even shown some human figures in those windows. Whereas we had never opened the quarters and all its windows had been closed since we arrived here.

Then one night I woke up and noticed she was not in bed. I remembered her sleeping next to me. I tiptoed to her studio and there she was. Brush in hand, but not painting. Just standing before the canvas with tears in her eyes. “Aparna, Appu!” No reaction to my calls. I went in and embraced her, “What’s the matter Appu? Why are you crying?” I asked softly. She didn’t answer. On the canvas, there was a young woman holding a baby to her breasts, standing at a window of the servants quarter. Not details. But Aparna had managed to create the scene with just a few rough brush strokes. The woman seemed to stare right at us through the canvas. I took Aparna back to bed, but she was in sort of a trance. She went back to sleep in my arms.

In the morning, I made tea for her and woke her up. She smiled brightly. No trace of last night’s trauma. She finished the tea and said excitedly, “I dreamed something strange last night. I had told you about those cries of hyena in the woods, didn’t I? Well, I dreamed that those were not hyena cries. It was a baby crying in the woods. I felt so sorry for the poor thing!” I just looked at her with unbelieving eyes. Doesn’t she remember anything from last night? Without showing the concern on my face, I took the tea cups and on my way downstairs, peeked into her studio. The painting was there alright. But the woman and the child were missing. Just a smudge in their place as if erased by thick stokes.

I didn’t mention this to Aparana. It was her painting. She could have erased it while I was asleep in early morning. On my return from work that afternoon, I found Aparna so engrossed in the painting again that she didn’t even notice me standing in the door of her studio. I tiptoed back and found Radhabai in the kitchen downstairs. She stalled and dodged my questions but my firm queries got some sketchy answers after all.

The previous land lords of this house were once far more richer and powerful than their indebted descendents, from whom I had purchased this house. As was customary in those days, the female domestic help in the house was not out of bounds for their landlord’s insatiable sexual appetite. Most matters would be literally buried in the backyard, after a forced abortion and a small sum will be paid as compensation to the family of the girl.

But one girl had resisted all attempts at extinguishing the life in her belly and given birth. She wanted not a paltry sum but the just share in property for her baby and her place in the palatial house. Radhabai didn’t know what happened to the girl, only that she had vanished suddenly. Her baby was left in the servants quarter and was alive for two days. Nobody dared feed it as they were afraid of a backlash. The baby must have died of hunger.

However sad the story was, I couldn’t tie it with Aparna’s strange behavior last night. I warned Radhabai not to say anything about this to Aparna. Must be one those moods these artistes experience. I convinced myself and went to work. But I returned early and spent the rest of the day with Aparna. She was in quite a jovial mood and we chatted while she painted the hills around our house on the canvas. We dined and had some brandy before going to bed.

The brandy must have made me thirsty. As I woke up well past midnight for a drink of water, I noticed the empty space on bed where Aparna had slept. Oh God! not again! Rubbing my eyes I walked to her studio. But she was not there. I called out loudly for her. No answer. The painting was on the stand. And instead of the smudge, now there was a baby painted on that spot. Even from the minimalist strokes, I could distinctly feel the pain, the agony of the baby’s cries.

Suddenly I broke into a cold sweat. Where was Aparna? Check the toilets. Upstairs. Downstairs. Kitchen, store. Calling her, now screaming her name I ran frantically around the house. Finally I noticed the front door ajar. I stepped outside. Where has she gone in the dead of this night? And without any apparent reason I started running to the rear of the house.

Full moon casts sharp shadows. Now why am I thinking of that? Has she jumped from her window? Look. Search the ground below her window. No. Nothing there. Further ahead, the servants quarters. Its doors and windows shrouded in pitch dark shadow. Locked they were last time I saw. She doesn’t have the keys. No use searching there. As I turn, a sob. Stifled. Very feeble. But enough to carry in this quiet night. Can’t be her. Some wild animal. Again a sound. A whimper of a child?

I feel very reluctant to turn around and look in the shadows. But must do it. Have to find her. Slowly I turn and walk in the cold air. Towards the sounds. To the servants quarters. Door still locked. But from inside. The tricks the mind plays! Assuring myself I walk around the quarters and approach a window. A moon beam probably from some missing roof tiles. Nothing in there. In my relief I almost forget to ask the question, but why the window is open? In that dazed state, I call out, “Aparna, Appu!” Softly, as if I don’t want to disturb the moon beam.

A scratching sound. Somebody sliding on the floor. A hoarse and loud whisper. “Shhhh Don’t make a sound. The baby is sleeping.” Not a human sound from the texture of it though it reminds me of her. She screams in such whispers when I reach deep within her, at the height of our passions.

Now the thing that was once her, slides into the moon beam. No clothes. Clutching a bundle in dirty cloth to her naked breasts, she signals me to silence by putting a finger to her lips. Winks and then the hoarse whisper again, “See how sweet he looks? Was so hungry! That’s why my baby was crying. I fed him and now he sleeps. Here, take a look at our baby.”

As she lifts the bundle from her breasts, I see the blood leaking from her nipples, making its way over her belly into the dark valley below and spreading in a pool on floor. I don’t want to look! But she turns the bundle around and shows me. She must have dug it up. Soil still clinging to the rags. The tiny skull smeared with blood that looked strangely dark in the moon light.

© Rajendra Pradhan

Dance bar girl : PALIMPSEST


1. A manuscript, usually of papyrus or parchment, on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing incompletely erased and still visible.

2. An object or place whose older layers or aspects are apparent beneath its surface.

Dance bar girl

She looked pretty in the flickering light
swirling ghagra, bare back, hair in flight
Gyrating suggestively on the glass floor
among whiskey fumes and cigarette smoke,
she keeps an eye on the closed door

She would wink, unmindful of the beat
and accept twenty rupee notes
from stupid drunken blokes in heat
and allow them to cop a hurried feel
Perhaps negotiating a carnal deal

For a fifty she would pick up the drink
and put it to someone’s glistening lips
A watchful mother making sure
her naughty kid doesn’t miss
the daily glass of nourishing milk

For a hundred she would giggle,
sit & wriggle on a stranger’s lap,
A loving wife gifting herself
to her loved one to unwrap

Then the show was over
lights switched on, I could see
Eyes shrewd like a fox
Caked make-up and worry lines
counting money in the box

Last night on TV she was seen
championing the cause of her sisters
With fierce words, unlike prayers
I saw the warrior she has always been
Behind all those various layers

©Rajendra Pradhan

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Trip

'I am definitely going to enjoy this trip', Jiteshbhai thought as he took the window seat. Mostly business men traveled on this train. But today he found the compartment occupied by five comely girls. He guessed from their conversation that they were going back to college in Mumbai. All doing MBA at some fancy institute, it seemed. Now Jiteshbhai didn't plan on doing anything naughty. He was no sex maniac. He rather considered himself a respectable businessman in his forties. Still, it is a pleasure having young girls around. Beats traveling with stock brokers and grain merchants, thought Jiteshbhai though he was one himself.

One of the girls, the bespectacled one, started reading a book. Her friends were chirping away, mostly in English, ignoring him. He could understand only some of it. 'I too should read. Something English. Would look good.' Thinking thus, Jiteshbhai pulled a copy of Stardust from his bag and proceeded to look at the pictures. But when he sensed the girl next to him looking at the magazine, he put it aside.

'Sleeveless tops do look good!' He thought as he stole a glance at the girl opposite him. She was looking out of window. Cupping her chin in her palm, elbow resting on her jeans-clad thigh, she leaned forward unaware of the view she was presenting to Jiteshbhai. He looked on, not wishing to look as if he was looking.

“Can I have a look at the magazine, uncle?” Jiteshbhai was startled by the question. It was the girl next to him. “Of course,” he offered her the magazine. “I am Jitesh” he added, dropping the “bhai”. The girl smiled sweetly and said “thank you Jitesh uncle”.

Now that he thought he was caught looking, Jiteshbhai closed his eyes in embarrassment and slumped in his seat. He had not been in such young girls' company for a long time. Breathing deeply, he inhaled their mingled perfumes. He was more than content to just hear their young voices, flipping the pages and laughing aloud. “See this hairstyle! Looks strange, no?” “I think it looks cute!” They went on.

Jiteshbhai remembered his youth. Seemed so distant now. He always cursed himself for not being brave enough with girls. He finally married a girl of his parents' choice and took charge of the family business, a grain shop. Jiteshbhai tried and expanded the business slowly. He had to make numerous trips to Mumbai for various permits. Once on such a trip he had chanced upon just such a girl, alone with him in their compartment. It had been a rare occasion with so few passengers. Past midnight, the girl had been sleeping blissfully under her shawl. Jiteshbhai's intentions were never bad, he now convinced himself. But the ticket checker had thought otherwise. He abhorred the memory and shut it out with some effort.

Now, growing restless in company of five attractive girls, he wanted to talk to them, impress them with his knowledge! But alas, his knowledge was limited to grains, their varieties, and prices. Even that he could not have talked about in fluent English, the language these girls seemed to prefer. He just pretended to be asleep and sat there with closed eyes.

Suddenly, Jiteshbhai was thrilled beyond his wildest imagination, as he felt the soft touch of a young female body pressing into him. Her scent from so close up sent his mind on a roller-coaster. He could feel her hair touching his shoulder. Then he heard a male voice, “show your tickets please!”

The girl had moved close to Jiteshbhai for making space for the ticket checker, who now sat beside her and asked them to show their tickets. It was the bespectacled girl who handed him five tickets and said, “he is not with us”, pointing to where Jiteshbhai had been sitting. And then she screamed.


The TC was very understanding. He consoled the girls, “it is not a vicious type of ghost. It has never harmed anyone. It appears on this train some times. But it fears us ticket checkers. Twenty years ago a TC found him peeking under the shawl of a girl on this train. The guy panicked and jumped out of the stationary train! But he missed the platform and just then the train started. Poor fellow, got crushed. Don't worry. He has disappeared now.”

The girl holding the magazine was crying inconsolably. But Hema Malini was smiling on the cover of the June 1985 issue of Stardust.

(c) Rajendra Pradhan

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Three Short Poems

Truth &

Truth & reality
two sides
of a coin called perception



Afraid to wake up
into another dream,
from this nightmare


Then n now

I must have grown up
Your soothing words,
don't hurt me anymore


Friday, May 06, 2005

Cosmic Dance

Cosmic Dance
(a poem with some science facts and a little fiction)

Traversing the infinitely curved
Space & Time,
emerged a ray of light
with its speed unchanged
and basked in my plight.

“On my speed are built,
all laws of your Nature.
You are nothing but
just an effaceable signature.
Just a speck of dust,
that was blown away
by the mother of all explosions.”

I pondered & smiled
and said in a mild fashion-
“An explosion my friend,
if it was without passion,
is it just by chance
that in pairs they do
the cosmic dance?
All these charged particles.
in the vortex of a black hole,
as also in my blood vessels?

And why this expanding universe
that was blown apart,
also recedes
into an infinitely dense mass
within my heart?

In life & love I rejoice
The beginning & the end,
are just a matter of choice,
from which end of time line, my friend
you look at yourself.

Whatever little time
that I am granted
in my little curved space,
let me remain planted
and one day, explode with grace

© Rajendra Pradhan

Friday, April 29, 2005

Hazal - English Ghazal

HAZAL = Humour + ghAZAL

I will live for you my love and I will die for you
but dahling, please don't ask me to buy for you

ask me not, to sing songs of your beauty
I cannot , may be the mirror will lie for you

believe me my love, I didn't kiss the neighbour
(I knew you had put somebody to spy for you)

digging my grave, I paused to hear her say
"hand me the spade honey, let me try for you"

love cripples you they say and gives wings too
just send me the air ticket, and I will fly for you

don't just give up, stretch and try to reach it
although my ghazal is a bit too high for you

there's glint of daggers in caferati's hands, Raj
if you post another ghazal, the end is nigh for you

Your Words - English Ghazal

Your Words

"to your friends", they say, "don't ever give your words"
you will lose them both, your friends and your words

beware of those ripples, they might turn into a tsunami
like a stone, into serene silence, don't throw your words

words are cheats, mean one thing and another they say
better listen to them, before you speak your words

confused I stand on this shore, whom to trust now?
there you are on the far shore and here, your words

let them paint pretty pictures, with their colorful words
but like water you keep Raj, transparent your words

Come walk with me - English Ghazal

Come walk with me

"let's seek the Truth" he said, "come walk with me"
"that way is the tavern" I said, "come walk with me"

where have they all gone, who once held my hand
and had said with conviction, "come walk with me”

standing at the crossroads I just watched them pass
life kept whispering in my ear, "come walk with me”

when you start getting afraid of your own reflections
smash all those mirrors and come walk with me

with such warmth Raj, life had never embraced me!
as did Death, and said lovingly “come walk with me”

This Year - English Ghazal

This Year

Gujarat had good monsoon they said this year
bumper crop of swords was reported this year

who says politicians have forgotten their voters?
promise of new promises is being made this year

Congress kisses communists and Mulayam the BJP
everybody has a strange fellow in bed this year

Indian industry has grown up, the survey said
perhaps bonded child labour will be paid this year

for fifty-eight years she fought for euthanasia
will they let democracy finally be dead this year?

no fire in Kargil, but there's danger of flood
crocodile tears Musharraf has shed this year

she is smiling at me with those ruby-red lips
I wont ask her how many she has bled this year

I promise to bring home, some butter next year
but my child you'll have to eat just bread this year

"caferati sold out, get your share in cash or equity"
such lovely rumours, those devils spread this year

Once Again - English Ghazal

Once Again

may be these fields will turn fertile once again
let us sow some seeds of dreams once again

I see the heavens bowing down at the horizon
is she drying her hair on terrace once again?

she asks me the proof of our first embrace
time to open my bleeding heart once again

I tell the same tale, and with the same fervor
the crowd goes strangely silent once again

was it my question or the way that I asked?
those hands firmly back in pockets once again!

with great rush everybody's running to bazaar
they giving away rumours, for free once again?

they tell me she is likely to visit my tomb
should I start turning in my grave once again?

night falls, I look around, but she is gone
was I holding hand of a shadow once again?

ages ago 'Raj' has stopped singing his songs
yet someone still cries, 'Encore' once again!

Thursday, April 21, 2005


they arrive early in the morning
I can see them from my window

scrawny little legs
scrambling to pick up,
whatever they can

at times,
fighting among themselves
for a piece of trash

when their birdlike cries
destroy my tranquility
(while I am enjoying Beethoven's Pathetique)
I shoo them away
but they keep coming back

what are they going to do
with their pickings?
will they build
beautiful, warm little nests?

or will they sell
their pathetic loot
of paper, plastic bags and bottles
to the trash-dealer
in the evening,
and take a sweet brown sugared flight?

these ragpicker children...

(c) Rajendra Pradhan

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Words & Birds

words are like birds
that peck at my soul
(the soul that's left drying,
out in the open)
and fly away
never to return

and sometimes at dusk
they land on my desk
and won't go away
even if I feed them
even if I plead them

words after all,
have their way
until they have my soul
they won't go away

Haiku & Senryu

haiku 1

beware of shadows
pregnant, each one
with scorching summer

haiku 2

blow gently on
the fire within
and it's summer

senryu 1

peck at my soul
and fly away
the wayward words

senryu 2

weak sorrows
constipated joys
words, mal-formed turds

The Executioner

He visits the cell,
the night before
Dotes on the virgin
waiting to be deflowered

Some look at him
straight in the eye
Some plead mercy,
the moment so nigh

But within few minutes,
everything is okay
They all go limp
Death is a whore
and he is her,
favourite pimp

The Ritual

“Yaaaahooooo!” Beni called out to his friends. It was their secret call. The one he had learned from his grandfather. Very wise, the old fellow was, Beni thought. But other men in the village used to poke fun at the wise old man. 'When grandpa spoke, those men snickered' Beni remembered with faint anger.

Grandpa used to tell Beni many wonderful tales. Beni remembered only some of them. It has been two roundtrips of the first sun, and countless many of the second one since grandpa died. 'I should have listened to him more carefully', Beni thought. In those two roundtrips Beni had grown about six fingers taller. These roundtrips, some called them years, but grandpa had told Beni that a real year is something very different. It had nothing to do with these two suns and their wobbly trips around this little planet. A year, Beni's grandpa had said, is the time a mythical blue planet takes to make a trip around a single sun, which is far more brighter than these two suns combined. "What a preposterous idea!" everybody had exclaimed.

His friends too laughed at him when Beni told them these things he had heard from his grandpa. Then he stopped enlightening them and just concentrated on playing. The kids in the village had much time to play around. Menfolk left homes early in search of food (if you could call them slimy wriggly green things food!), when the first sun appeared on horizon and they returned when it dipped to touch the other horizon. The second smaller sun followed its own unpredictable schedule. Grandpa was about to discover some rule about that unpredictable schedule, but then he died. Nobody was waiting with bated breath for his discovery anyway.

It was a hard life and it was the only one they had known since anybody cared to remember. Women remained in the house, cleaning last day's catch that their men had brought in and preparing it for cooking. Those slimy slithery green things were very hard to clean and cook. But they were the only food available. Men had to dig them up with great effort. Again Beni remembered his grandpa telling him a story about some great mistake. Nobody had believed him when he said that before the mistake, people lived in grand structures actually built by other people and ate many delicious things, not these slimy slithery wriggly ones dug up from hell. How could his grandpa know such things for sure? Nobody else's grandfather had told them any such tales, ever!

Beni himself had asked grandpa that same question once when they were alone. The old man had smiled through his muddled eyes at Beni and had said, "My own grand father had told me these tales. I remember only few of them. But they are enough for me to believe in what I say."

Beni looked up at the caves. None of his friends had come out of their caves yet. He shouted once more, with full steam this time, "Yooo Yaaahoooo". He smiled inwardly when he remembered his grandpa telling him that this was a name people wrote many times in their browsers, in some forgotten era. Though grandpa tried, Beni could never grasp what a 'browser' meant. The old fellow might have been going senile, after all.

This time Beni's call was answered with many shrieks of yaahooo. The kids descended from their caves sliding down ropes made from roots of dead trees. All trees were dead trees. Nobody had ever seen a single green tree as of yet. The kids gathered together in a bunch and they proceeded to their playground, merrily hopping on one foot and then the other. The playground itself was a big ditch. So big that it could take many many breaths to run across it. They had never bothered to count the exact number of breaths needed to travel across the ditch, for a simple reason. Nobody could count that high.

They started playing their favourite game. Some kid gathered six stones and placed them three at one end of the ditch and three at the other. Beni picked some pebbles and gathered them in a pile near the three stones at one end of the ditch. Then he took the first turn to throw six pebbles at Karu, his best friend who was standing at the other end.

Karu would have to catch the pebble and throw it as far away as he could, and then start running to the other end of ditch. If he could reach those three stones before some other kid could pick up the pebble and throw it back to Beni, he would win. Kirkut, they called this game.

After a while, the kids were tired and bored as usual and they stopped playing. "Let's us go and see what is there beyond this ditch" Karu suggested. There was a hush. Elders in the village had strictly prohibited the kids to wander beyond the ditch. Beni sensed his leadership of the gang being put to question and he stood up. "Let us go. Not far, just climb up the other side of this ditch and see what is there. Come on, and nobody speaks a word about this to your moms and pops, right?"

Reluctantly they all agreed. Beni was the first to climb out of the ditch and he pulled Karu up behind him. They all stood there. Squinting their anxious eyes, trying to see. But there was nothing to see. Just endless stretch of burnt brown land. No hills not even dead trees. Whole land was lying flat and very still, like his grandpa when he had died, Beni thought. The kids were unnerved. They had expected to see something interesting. Zami the little one was first to panick, "Let's go back. My Mom says there are ghosts out there." At the mention of ghosts, all of them took a step back and turned to retreat. But Beni stood still, "Wait, I see something. There, can you see it Karu?"

Karu had also turned back but at Beni's words he hesitated, "What? I see nothing. Let's go back." But Beni said with conviction, "There, I just saw a glint of something. Wait, all of you. Come on Karu, let's go and see what it is." Karu went ahead with Beni's idea only because he didn't want to be called a coward. Rest of the children stood in awe as Beni and Karu walked carefully, one step at a time, pausing and looking left and right before taking next step. When they arrived at the spot indicated by Beni, he kneeled down and began removing loose dirt with his bare hands. Karu was afraid to be there. He just stood nervously stealing glances all around him.

Beni's shriek shook him. "Look what I have found?" Beni was calling, holding some strange contraption in his hand. It looked really strange but Karu did not waste time marveling at its strangeness. He was glad that Beni had found what he wanted and now it was time to head home. "Okay, now let's leave before them ghosts arrive here," he said and started running back to the ditch. Beni followed him, his prize grasped firmly in his closed fist.

They all scurried down into the ditch and there they paused to think about Beni's find. "Show me, show me" the kids gathered around Beni and tried to touch the thing. But he held his arm high up, beyond their reach and shouted them down. Then he opened his fist and let them have their first glimpse of the strangest thing they had seen yet. All kids were watching the black thing in Beni's hand with utter disbelief. Beni wiped it clean with his shirt sleeve and held it up.

The thing was black but still it glinted in the bright light of the first sun. It was small enough to fit in Beni's palm. It was oblong, with rounded corners. It had... what? a window? Yes, that's what it had. Near the top end. And there were strange things like small white rounded pebbles stuck to its front. And the weird thing about those white pebbles was some figures written over them. Each pebble had a different figure engraved on its face. They had not seen anything like this before. Beni looked at them figures and tried to wipe them. But they wouldn't go away.

Beni remembered his grandpa telling him something about counting and numbers but he too could not decipher the meaning of these strange figures engraved on the white pebbles. His mother occasionally etched lines on the cave wall with burnt wood pieces. It was to keep record of the catch his father brought home every day. One vertical line for one of those green slimy things. But his father could never bring more than four or five 'slimies' on any day. So five short vertical lines was the maximum Beni could count. But this contraption had more pebbles. He counted them all, touching each one with a finger. Five fingers of right hand and then five of the left hand were required to touch those white pebbles. Then there were some other pebbles too, differently coloured. And while touching them, he discovered that they all could be pressed and would bounce back, without coming off the black oblong thing.

As he encountered difficulty in counting, Beni turned the thing over and looked at its back. There were no pebbles here, he was glad to notice. The back was smooth to touch and there was some kind of lid. He pried the lid open and something fell out of the contraption. It was a smaller whitish oblong thing and much thinner. He put it back inside and closed the lid back. Now he turned the contraption in his hand and looked at its bottom. There were some holes. One rounded and one like a slit, very small.

What is that stick, he wondered? At the top end of the strange thing, a short stubby black stick was protruding up. It was half a finger long. What the contraption is? His grandpa had never told him about this. But he remembered a ritual. A ritual that whole village participated in, once every roundtrip of the first sun.

All dwellers of the village would come out of their caves and gather in a circle. No hunting for the green slimies on that day. Then the elders would pick stones in their palms and putting it to their ears, would wail loudly in a singsong voice. They believed their words would reach distant shores, where gods resided. Beni had always found that ritual very funny indeed. He decided to try it with this strange contraption. The thing looked perfectly made for just such a ritual.

He arranged all children in a circle around him and knelt down in their midst. He took the contraption in his left hand and put it to his left ear, the stick pointing skyward. Then Beni started wailing, shouting those cries he had heard the elders shout, holding stones to their ears.

Beni was shouting the words, not caring a least bit about their meanings, as the ritual demanded. All his friends were clapping and laughing heartily as he continued his performance in perfect imitation of the village elders, "hal hel hellooo, hal hel hellooo, hal hel hellooo.... Can you here me? hal hel hellooo nine one two ... hal hel hellooo..."

Nobody answered his calls. But that was expected. It was a ritual, after all.

(c) Rajendra Pradhan

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Hidden beneath these
naked wrinkles of an aged skin,
Like black pools
of trapped, stagnant water
after the flood has receded,
Are left some breaths

And these probes
at my breasts,
suckling life away

A forked tongue
slithering up my spine
slowly, surely

And every cell
like a traitor
with the mysterious call
from unknown

I want to puncture
this blind old skin
and peek ouside

(this was read at New Bombay read meet of Caferati on 20th Feb '05)

Echo of a Prayer

Like a seed that's sprouting
insignificant, little green hands
from deep down my womb

Holding on to a feeble beam of light
from a window, too small, too far above
the sound of my prayer tries to reach out
seeking God somewhere, out there.

And bouncing off
the merciless walls of skin
returns unanswered.

Its echo sounding like a twang of a bow,
in the hands of a gallant warrior
his arrow just missed

At least, the echoes are here
till the walls last....
What happens to the sound of prayer
when the walls of skin are shattered


don't tell me,
who adorned these breasts
with flame red tattoo!

the marks,
of Spring's nails
I recognize too!


When I get lonely
around me, I create
a crowd of words

The risk I take
trusting those strangers
with my emotions...

what if they falter...
what if they carry?


this dusk
like a demented mother
cradling the corpse
of darkness in her arms

sun goes down
her venomous breath
releasing slowly
the dark poison
into night's virgin soul

in this dark
abysmal night
not gems
of twinkling stars
nor dreams
of distant dawn
of light

Love You Hate You

"I love you" she had said, while we were jostling to enter the
classroom. Her fourteen year old eyes sparkling with mischief.

"Why? Why do you say that?" I had asked, blushing crimson. My
heart missing a beat for the first time in its fifteen years long life.

"Because I don't, you stupid!" She was practicing a new language.
'Reverse speak' they called it, she had explained trying to keep a
straight face.

"You mean one thing & say the opposite."

"But why?"

"It's the cool thing going around, don't you know?"

Saw her yesterday, in a queue at a bus stop.
Almost didn't recognize her.
Sparkle drained away from those eyes,
worry lines cut deep in that once smiling face,
a few grey strands to mark the years gone by...

Stopped my car and got out.
"Hey, recognize me?"
Yes, she did, reluctantly.
Offer of ride, silently rejected.

Just as I turned back, a voice from the past calls out.
Faint hint of that sparkle in her eyes
leaves me in eternal doubt,
as her eyes say,
"I hate you..."

Hairy Tale

Yet another day, yet another morning. I stand before the mirror, razor in hand. I squeeze the shaving foam bottle but nothing comes out. Only last week I bought this stupid thing! Gone already. I stare at the face in mirror, with its nightly crop ready for harvesting. A crop that will feed nobody, and yet cost me a fortune over my lifetime, shaving it daily.

Why do we have hair? What is the great design of God or Nature (take whatever you like) in giving us humans this disgusting growth of hair everywhere? Speaking of design, the designer should have spent some time testing the prototypes, before launching the product in market on such a huge scale. I don't think it is such a great design after all. Which engineer/architect worth his salt would design recreational areas so close to waste disposal?

Some may argue that this hairy growth is a remnant from evolution. When our forefathers were bored with swinging in trees, they stepped out of the jungle and started building homes. That’s why their tails dropped off. No use having a tail, when you are not swinging from branch to branch. By the same reasoning, hair too should have vanished long ago. In that era hair was the protection from weather. When we started building homes, wearing clothes, having air-conditioned homes/offices/cars, what's the use of having hair?

Look at the economic impact of hair. Every day men (a large section of them anyway) have to shave their faces. Now calculate the money spent on razors, scissors, shaving foam, gels etc. Then every month, the usual hair cut/trim. Add to that the amount spent by women on hair removing creams, epilators, hair dyes, hairsprays, hair oils, combs, brushes, stylers, and what not! Add to that the value of man-hours lost in shaving/maintaining hair.

If you add all these amounts spent yearly by men & women from all over the world on account of hair, I am sure it will equal the annual budget of a medium sized nation. Hundreds of thousands of schools, hospitals, libraries, homes for the aged etc. can be managed in that amount, if somehow we could get rid of hair. Some poor nation could use that money to buy a few hundred atom bombs, hydrogen bombs, fighters, bombers, carriers etc. for welfare of its citizens.

See what hair is costing humanity? I am all for developing a hair-bomb using all this money. Drop the bomb and have a permanently hair-free world!

Some poets may oppose this idea. But once all the women in the world are bald, the poets will start writing poems about shiny domes, I am sure.

(c) Rajendra Pradhan

Doing It Right

The Valentines' Day Special Love Poem?

her eyes lit bright
and hair in flight
such a pretty sight,
kissed her whole night

then in the morning light
holding her close & tight
"how was it my love?"
I ask the question trite

she ponders briefly
and gives me a fright,
"You are okay honey,
but your brother does it right"

In Search of Tantra

Raoul looked at the dog sprawled at his feet and then looked away. There was nothing to look at in this world anymore, he thought. Outside the rain was still going full blast like a drunken old sod. Why did I let Chloe convince me in accompanying her and Chip to this damned place called Cherapunji in India? This godforsaken place on earth, where it rains for weeks without a respite? Nothing to look at but this bleak rain outside and this lazy dog sprawled here at my feet inside this cottage. The old fellow has some teeth broken, probably from a fight over mating rights. 'He won’t have to fight with me for those rights over Chloe, that bitch wife of mine. I would give those rights willingly to any blind dog that wags his tail even slightly at me'; Raoul thought and surrendered himself once again to the three week old issue of Times of India on his lap.

Raoul didn’t want to look at the newspaper either. He loved looking at only beautiful things such as cavities in molars, root canals and dental decay. He loved creating beautiful craters where teeth once stood, proud and erect as if challenging his own masculinity, and then filling the craters with his own creations of implants. ‘Drill out the teeth of the world and then fill those gaping holes with divine implants, bridges and fillings from God’s own dentist’; Raoul had always wanted to advertise on TV. He would have but only for the prohibitive advertisement tariffs. His son Chip’s obsession for Satanic worship and cults of the East had brought him & Chloe to this place. A whole night and day’s journey away from Kolkata on the eastern coast of India, Cherapunji stands in the hills in Assam, infamous for world’s highest rainfall and also for tantric rituals of the ungodly.

Chloe too was worried about Chip’s obsession of satanic cults around the world, but she had dragged Raoul along. "Can’t you see, he is our only son Raoul. We must be by his side whenever he needs us. And looking at his area of study, he will need us anytime. Can’t you take a week off from that clinic of yours?" She had gone on and on and finally Raoul had agreed to accompany her with Chip on their son’s study tour of the oriental occult in India. The week had turned to three weeks and still the incessant rain prevented Chip from making the ‘contacts’ with underground of the local cult. Chip was interested in interviewing a tantrik yogee, a leader of the underground cult who was said to possess powers to enter anybody’s mind, even animals’! It has been four hours since Chip walked out in the rain searching for that tantrik. Just having finished her lunch, Chloe was taking a nap in the tiny bedroom of the cottage. Devoid of any open mouths to look into, Raoul was re-reading the same newspaper he had read several times in the last three weeks. No newspapers delivered here until the rain stops, the inn keeper had said. What are Bush and Kerry doing out there, he wondered. No way to know, with the TV short circuited and the batteries of his transistor radio sodden wet.

Raoul got up, to go to bathroom for thirty seventh time since morning. All this rain and its noise on the tin roofing of the cottage had made his bladder very weak. When he was unbuttoning his pants, he thought he heard a noise outside. He wanted to investigate. But he couldn’t control his bladder. Not now. Later. It must be Thor, that stupid old dog Chloe had insisted on bringing along. A long wait and then a weak stream. ‘Ah pure bliss!’ Raoul finally buttoned up his pants as he stepped out of the bathroom. And then he stood there with his jaw falling open. Chloe was lying on the floor, petting and kissing the dog, her clothes astray. KISSING THE DOG! Raoul wanted to speak, rather scream. But his jaws just stayed open as if he was sitting in the patient’s chair at his own clinic. "Chloe, what is going on?" he finally managed to croak. Chloe looked at him once and barked heartily.

Suddenly, Raoul’s knees gave way. His back was to the wall. He slipped downward until the floor accepted him. The last thought in his mind was, ‘how the hell this dog has all his teeth back in place?’ He didn’t remember doing any implants on the dog. ‘Then how the hell….and why this sudden clasping pain in my chest?’ Just as Raoul was closing his eyes for the last time, he heard the dog say, "wait Mr. Raoul. Welcome to the land of Tantra. Don’t go yet. See the fun. She thinks she is a bitch! Isn’t that what you always thought?"

(c) Rajendra Pradhan