Chapter 4

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When she regained her composure, Cathy found herself propped against a huge boulder, her legs pulled up and her arms wrapped around it with her head resting on her knees. She had no idea how long it had been since she saw the frightening illusion flash before her eyes. She looked around hesitatingly. All eyes were trained on her peculiarly. Sanjose, sitting next to her became aware that she was out of the trance. He took a deep breath and moved closer and gently put his arms around her. She could feel the concern in his voice as he asked her, ‘You ok Cathy?’

Cathy shook her head in affirmative. The crowd heaved a sigh of relief. Even Sanjose couldn’t help but smile.

‘Jesus, you gave us a fright. What’s happening to you darling? I think you need rest.’

‘I’ll be fine… obrigado.’ She said forcing a smile on her face.

‘I think this place is evil.’

‘No!’ She quickly blurted aloud.

The others looked at her perplexed. Sanjose started to say something and then stopped. He gave her a queer look. Over his shoulder she saw the guide walk towards them. As he neared her, his shrilly voice rang out.

‘If she is alright, let’s move on.’ He turned his back on them without waiting for a answer. ‘Ok guys we are moving.’ He yelled out aloud. ‘We still have a few more places to visit before the night sets in.’

Sanjose turned to Cathy. ‘Think you can manage?

She simply nodded. She didn’t want to spoil their fun. She called out to the guide. ‘Hey mister, do we visit the inside of the church?’

The guide looked at her hard. ‘Not after what we witnessed outside. No way!’

Sanjose intervened quickly. ‘Ok ok no problem. So what’s next on the itinerary?’

The guide replied with disdain. ‘We visit the palace of Viceroy Fonseca. The place where evil took it’s roots and calamity befell this village.’ He looked at Cathy with a sly smile and turned to face the young crowd. ‘The place where Rosalin first met Fr. Kane and the very place where the family had their last supper together.’ He started to walk away. ‘Come on, follow me. The palace is just a short distant away.

Cathy stiffened again. She badly wanted to visit the church again and explore the interiors. She knew the church held the key to the mysterious illusions she had been seeing and the dreams that had been haunting her all over the years. She dreaded the idea to visit the palace so soon.

The trek uphill on the other side of the small mountain was much lighter. Unknown to the visitors, the guide had his reasons to avoid visiting the inside of the church. It was rumored that the ghost of Fr. Kane still stalked the interiors of the church. And this has resulted in the church being completely neglected from the interiors though the church was of historical importance to the people of goa.

The dusty patch ended in front of a huge crumbling palace surrounded by high walls that kept the intruders at bay. A wide wrought iron gate now dark brown with rust and half open beckoned them. The small group marched towards the gate. Cathy raised her hand to push the gate a little to see if it would move but over the years, the gate had cemented its position and wouldn’t budge. But as her hand touched the wrought iron gate, a shiver seemed to pass through her body. She quickly pulled back her hand and wrapped her arms around her waist to ease herself.

The palace had faced the wrath of some rough weathers over the years. The small group observed its aged facade as they walked through a half broken entrance of the old fortified palace and in the empty and barren courtyard. In the courtyard, on either sides of the path that led to the entrance of the palace, there were two big gardens facing the palace. In the middle of both the gardens, there were old fountains made of the finest marbles of those times but now in complete ruins. The gardens were untended and covered by wild grass and shrubs.

The group looked across at the majestic palace as they slowly walked up the path and entered the main building. They looked around in awe taking in the magnificent construction work, the beautiful arches, the carved pillars and the huge hall with rich carvings that was done ages ago.

‘Man, this is a magnificent palace for sure. It still hasn’t lost its old glory. I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life here.’

‘Yeah with some ghosts of the past for company.’ Bono remarked.

The small crowd burst into laughter as the last boy walked in the hall followed by Sanjose and Cathy, his arms around her shoulder. As she took a step inside the hall, Cathy gave a quick shudder, her breathing got heavier. She abruptly closed her eyes as sounds of a female laughter echoed in her ears yet unheard by others. Sanjose pulled her closer impulsively. The sound seemed to diminish and she slowly opened her eyes to find the group staring at her oddly. Embarrassed, she kept her head down.

‘Cathy,  are you ok?’ Sanjose asked her gently.

She gravely looked up at him. ‘I…I think I want to go back.’ She told him haltingly.

Someone from the crowd broke in.

‘Hey come on Cathy, you are spoiling all the fun. What’s wrong with you baby?’

‘What’s wrong with me? How do I answer to that question when I don’t know myself what’s wrong with me? Why am I living through this horrifying dream? Cathy thought to herself. She slowly turned around to look at him.

‘You stay. I’ll go back to the hotel alone.’

‘Cathy! You crazy? You seem to be behaving awkwardly ever since we landed here in Goa. Our mistake that we listened to you and followed you all the way to this godforsaken place. Only if we were to know that you’ll be a spoilsport!’ Bono exclaimed wildly, waving his hands in the air in resentment.

‘He’s right Cathy. You have brought all of us over here and now you are the one to spoil the show.’ Sanjose joined in.

Cathy looked at him pleadingly. She felt bitter for being a spoilsport. She looked around at the others.

‘I am sorry. I just don’t feel too well. I think I want to go back.’

The guide was adamant now.

‘Miss, the hotel is quite far and it’s not easy to get transport here to go back to the city. And we can’t let you take the bus.’

‘Hey Cathy baby, the dude’s right. We’ll all be stranded in this spooky place and the sunset’s just a couple of hours away.’ Bono quipped in as he read the city guide from his pocket.

‘Hey cut it Bono…’ Sanjose yelled at him. He turned to Cathy with a sympathetic look. ‘Cathy, what’s wrong? Tell me. You have been behaving weirdly ever since we arrived here.’

Cathy looked at him tearfully, unsure what to tell him.

Bono slowly looked around the hallway with a pensive look. Others too follow suit in apprehension as they saw the make believe look of concern on his face.

‘You bet Sanjose, this place is giving me the creeps too. It looks like Rosalin’s spirit has got hold of Cathy. Woohh  Cathyyyy… Woooaaaahhhhh.’

‘Will you fuckin’ shut up Bono? Cathy lets…’

Words got stuck in his mouth as Sanjose looked back at Cathy. Her face had turned white in fear. The sound of laughter seemed to ring in her ears again. She quickly covered her ears with her hands to ward off the sound, her eyes tightly shut. Sanjose pulled her close and held her in a tight embrace in reassurance. The sound of laughter seem to diminish and she slowly opened her eyes. And then she heard another laughter, a soft, mellow laughter of a man. She quickly pushed Sanjose away and looked around in fright.

A white light flashed in front of her eyes and once again, she found herself witnessing an illusion of the long gone era. She saw herself in a strange place and among a strange crowd. It took time for her to realize where she was. She was back in time when the palace was at its majestic best at the time of Viceroy Fonseca. She could see the other side of the hall in the palace richly decorated for a festive occasion.

Towards one end, around a big dining table, she saw 12 men and women seated as they enjoyed the supper. She had no trouble recognizing them from her dreams. As they ate, they were watching Rosalin, the girl she had witnessed earlier being burnt at the stake. She was playing a musical instrument something that looked like a harp, on a raised dais just a few steps away.

Rosalin looked beautiful. What surprised Cathy was that she was looking at herself. Rosalin was an exact copy of her. Rosalin must have been about 17 just the right age as Cathy, elegantly dressed in a white flowing silk wedding gown that clung to her well shaped body. Her hair was neatly tied in a bun and she wore the minimum of jewelry that did justice to her natural tanned beauty. Servants walked in and out of the room carrying food and other items serving the guests. Soft music was floating in the air.

One of the men at the table appeared to be in a cassock, the dress priests wore. Cathy tried hard but couldn’t see his face. His face was hidden behind the others who were seated ahead of him and obstructing the view. Next to him was Antonio, a man in his late 20s, a handsome and debonair looking man, dressed in official uniform of the court. Antonio’s eyes were trained lovingly on Rosalin as he watched her play. His body thrust prohibited Cathy from having a look at the priest’s face as Antonio kept blocking the view unconsciously as he conversed with others, eyes glued on Rosalin. Pascal, Rosalin’s father was seated next to an empty chair. He was a short fat man with a huge belly and a huge handle bar moustache.

At the end of the encore, the small crowd applauded eagerly. Rosalin stood up elegantly and giving a soft bow, walked down with slowly determined steps to the table gracefully, her hips swaying like gentle breeze.

Cathy could see Marcos, a man in his 30s, with broad shoulders and a face that portrayed hardness about him, say something to Antonio who smiled back at him and got up as Rosalin neared. He pulled out her chair. She in turn smiled and nodded her head slightly at him and sat down. Antonio followed suit. He then lovingly turned to her. ‘Vos sois belos, my rapariga… (‘You were beautiful, my girl…’) …that was beautiful music I should say.’

Rosalin smiled at him appreciatively. ‘Thank you dear.’

Cathy then heard another voice. She felt a lump in her throat as she realized that the voice belonged to the priest as people at the table turned to look at the man in the cassock seated among them. But try as hard as she could, Cathy still had found to it difficult to see his face as she heard him say, ‘Your excellency, if I may be permitted to say, Senora Rosalin here is truly gifted and beyond comparison and you, your excellency is a man beyond words and rightfully deserving this lovely and talented young woman.’

‘Why, thank you Padre.’ Antonio replied with a smile, his chest swelling with pride. ‘But I’d say you deserve a better praise than I, Fr. Kane. For you have devoted your entire life for service to God and to our fellow human beings from such a tender young age.’

The priest, Fr. Kane seemed to shake his head sideways. ‘Your excellency, my life is God’s gift to me. He has given me this life and he has the command over it, to do as he pleases.’

‘You are being humble Padre.’ Marcos interrupted with a faint trace of snicker in his voice.

Cathy knew that the ensuing seconds would be the turning point in Rosalin’s life as Rosalin deliberately cleared her throat as she looked at Fr. Kane directly, her eyes not leaving his face, still behind the veil of others and hidden from Cathy.

‘Your excellency.’ She said with a mellow voice. ‘Marcos is right. Fr Kane too is an enigmatic figure. He is as charming and as beautiful as the morning sunrise. And as pure as the dew drops on the dark and cold winter night. If only he would have chosen another profession, he would have made some poor rapariga…’ Rosalin trailed off just as her father clamped his hand on hers harshly.

‘Shut up Rosa!’  Pascal intervened with masked anger. He quickly turned towards Viceroy Fonseca and Antonio and hastily bowed in forgiveness.

‘I am sorry your excellency…’ He then turned back to Rosa and in a hushed anger tone yelled at her, ‘Rosa, think twice before you say anything stupid. Fr Kane here is a man of God!’

With her eyes still lingering on Fr. Kane’s face, her soft voice filtered across gingerly. ‘Yes Pai, that’s what I meant… that he is a man…’

Fr. Kane broke into a soft chuckle. ‘It’s okay, Pascal Costa. I am sure she didn’t mean what she said.’ Even Antonio seemed relieved though Cathy felt he must have not heard the last line that Rosalin said. He smiled  and raised his hand to calm Pascal down. ‘Hey peace be upon you homem. A rapariga bonita e joking… (The beautiful girl is joking). Turning around to look at Rosalin, he gently asked her, totally smitten by her, ‘Aren’t you my dear?’

Before she could answer in, Marcos broke. ‘You bet Antonio, Lady Rosalin has a way with words. Surely a woman of many hidden talents.’ Rosalin looked at him with a sly smile.

At his words, Antonio broke into a loud laughter. ‘You bet Marcos. That’s what I had told her during our initial meetings. That she is an enigma yet to be solved.’ Antonio continued with his laughter. Rosalin looked at him and soon joined him with a soft chuckle and soon everyone followed the couple and as heads fell behind in laughter, Cathy’s eyes fell on Fr. Kane and she saw his face clearly for the first time. A face that had always been a blur in her dreams. A face she had so desperately wanted to see and hear. Fr. Kane was a handsome and debonair looking man with striking features and with a certain softness around him. His eyes were bluish and oozed of serenity. She saw him staring back at Rosalin devoid of any expression on his face. And then she heard the soft whisper of his voice that echoed in her ears like a thunderstorm.

‘I tell you solemnly, one of us shall betray God’

Words that that echoed in her ears all these years. Her face bored a tormented look as the voice filtered across to her ears distinctively. She realized that Rosalin must have heard him for she abruptly cut short her laughter and stared at Fr. Kane gravely with just a wee bit of a smile lingering on her face while the others continue with their laughter. But suddenly they too stopped as the deep meaning behind his words sank in. Some of them were unsure if they had heard it right. They stared at Fr. Kane and than at each other in apprehension and bewilderment, trying to decipher if they had heard it right and the significance of it. Cathy closely monitored Fr. Kane’s face as he stared solemnly back at nothing in particular, but looking directly in Cathy’s direction or so she thought.

And suddenly the illusion flashed out of her sight as abruptly as it had come. There was a shocked expression on her face as she kept staring at the other part of the hall where she had just seen the vision where she had seen Fr. Kane stare back at her. Her breathing had become heavier as Fr. Kane’s last words rang in her ears again and again. Her body seemed to tremble again as she shuddered in fear at what she had seen and heard.

‘Cathy… Cathy… you okay?… Cathy!

Cathy slowly toppled on the ground unconscious.

* * *

She got up with a jerk, her body covered in sweat. She looked around pensively and found herself in her hotel room. She had no idea how she landed herself back in her room. The last she remembered was the palace episode up to where she had entered the hall. She looked across the bed. Sanjose was sleeping at the edge of her bed.

She stared at him for a moment feeling sorry for the pain she was making him endure for her sake. She closed her eyes for a brief second and then opened it again with sheer determination. She then looked around the room.

Taking a deep breath, she got up, careful so as not to disturb Sanjose. She gave him a slight peck on his cheek, pulled a flashlight out of her bag and walked out with determined steps.

The moonlight cast an eerie glow on the old ruined church as she entered it, shining a flashlight in the dark interiors. Somehow tonight, she felt no fear as she took a firm step inside. The flashlight didn’t offer her much light but she  wasn’t paying attention to it as she hurriedly looked around. She was unsure of what she was looking for in the dimming light.  Her eyes then trailed the path of the light down the aisle. She stared with glazed eyes down at the ruined alter now lit dully in the dimming yellow glow of the flashlight.

And then the scene changed in front of her again as she saw another illusion of the past. She saw a crowd of smiling people as they stood in the pew as Antonio and Rosalin in bridal costume, walked down the aisle towards the alter where Fr. Kane waited patiently. As they walked towards him, he stared at them somberly. Rosalin watched him with a sly smile with every step she took towards him.

A rat scampered across the floor, over her feet and jolted her out of the illusion. She reverted her eyes away from the altar, searching again. She closed her eyes for a split second, trying to remember something.

As she recalled, she quickly opened her eyes and looked around. She rushed to one side of the church and frantically started to look behind a thick foliage. The flashlight was fading fast but her anxiety had increased as she struggled to pull aside the creepers.

There hidden behind the thick foliage, she could make out what she was looking for. It was a confession booth. With difficulty and after much struggle, she managed to pull the thick creepers aside to find a half-burnt wooden door of the confession booth. The door easily creaked open at her push and what she saw inside made her shriek aloud again and again just as the battery in the flashlight conked out completely plunging everything into darkness.

* * *

Chapter 3

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The small group turned around to look at Cathy but her back was turned towards them. Her eyes trained on some Portuguese inscription on the cemented marble plaque at the entrance of the church. She slowly raised her palm to wipe the dust away from its face and tried to read clearly the writings.

The group surged towards her to get a better glimpse of the plaque she was reading, anticipating a mystery. The guide seeing the crowd’s interest was waning in him, was clearly annoyed. Cathy couldn’t miss the sneer in the voice even as she slowly read the inscription. ‘Miss, I don’t think that name is inscribed on the wall?’

One of the other girls from the small group pushed herself closer and tried hard to read the inscription. Though she could make out the characters, she couldn’t understand what it meant. She turned to look at Cathy.

‘Hey Cathy, can you make out what’s inscribed. Is that name mentioned there?’

The guide seemed to flinch in anger. ‘Are you crazy miss? How can a taboo name like Rosalin be inscribed on a church wall?’

Seeing no reaction from the young crowd, the guide was now fuming with hatred for Cathy. For him, his fee and his tips depended how well he kept his customers engrossed and entertained with his bullshit history talk. But this one girl was blowing it away for him.

He quickly walked over to a small crumbling raised concrete platform like construction that measured about five square feet and about a foot high and located bang opposite the church.

‘Hello! Listen… listen folks… listen everybody.’ The guide clapped his hands for attention. ‘I think this little place will interest you…’

The group turned around to look at him except for Cathy. She was still engrossed in reading the inscription and trying to decipher what it mean. But still her body stiffened slightly. She could sense what was coming up next. She had dreaded this moment but there was no way she could let it go or give it a miss. She had wanted to be here. She had wanted to live this moment.

She remained still, her back towards them, her fists tightly clenched, eyes closed awaiting the shocking moment.

Having attracted back the crowd’s attention, the guide quickly climbed over the small crumbling platform. Turning around, he stood dramatically to attention, his hands clenched together, obviously pleased by the interest he has managed to regain from the group as they walked towards him curiously.

‘So what’s with this place man?’ Bono asked him inquisitively as he eyed the non-descript place.

Cathy knew she didn’t have to look at the place to know what Bono was talking about. The place was the center of everyone’s attention now. And once again, she found herself answering Bono’s question as much as she didn’t want to. She started slowly, her voice trembling in grief and just about in a soft whisper.

‘That’s the place where Rosalin was burnt alive for adultery she never committed and in front of a cheering crowd. The very crowd whom she had favored in various risky situations, that very place where she had ordered a stop to the practice of Sati, a tradition of the locals in which the widow burns herself to death on her dead husband’s pyre.’ Cathy paused and took a deep breath. She then continued, yet not daring to turn around.

‘That very place where she uttered her last dying words…’

She stopped. She felt a deep premonition that something horrifying was about to happen. Something that shouldn’t occur. She could feel it and she deeply regretted answering Bono’s question. She could feel the crowd’s eyes pierce her back as they stared at her in awe and in anticipation that she would continue. Her eyes were still glued unconsciously to the small inscription on the plaque. She seemed to have instigated the guide with her words but she couldn’t help it and he in turn couldn’t help himself from questioning her sarcastically and in a loud voice.

‘Oh really… so you were there that time…’ The guide said with a sneer. ‘You seem to have done your homework pretty nice. Ok… ok… so what were her last dying words? Go ahead tell me. Let everybody hear her last words… tell me! Come on tell!’ His voice was now filled with resent and anger directed towards her.

Slowly Cathy turned around to face the guide, her heart beating wildly. There was a painful expression on her face. She looked around at the faces of her fellow students. They were all waiting patiently for the answer. Most of them had a queer look on their faces as if they were not sure if it was really Cathy who had so much knowledge of this place. With a heavy heart, she turned to look at the raised ground forgetting the guide who was staring back at her. Seconds passed. She closed her eyes as she tried to reminisce the dream that was so clearly etched in her mind. Softly she began as she recalled the words.

‘Her last words… Yeah her last words… No… No…’

She jerked her eyes open her and stared hard at the raised ground as a scene flashed before her eyes. She felt as if she was transported back in time 400 years ago. It was as if she was there at this particular place watching a live scene as she saw Rosalin, a young girl about 18 with a slender body and dressed in an exquisite gown tied to a stake on the raised platform. Her loose beautiful hair blowing with the gentle breeze was obstructing the view of her face. There was a slow fire burning around her but she was obvious to it or to the crowd. Her mind completely focused on the church opposite. There was a big crowd gathered around the platform and cheering wildly shouting slogans, waving sickles and knives in the air.

Rosalin, her face still obstructed by her flowing hair, watched with fear as a small group of men piled dry wood and hay all around the church wild with enthusiasm. They too were shouting slogans against the Church Padre. Satisfied, one of the men then picked up a burning wood from near Rosalin’s stake, even as her gown caught fire and rapidly spread across her body.

Rosalin tried to free herself violently but failed. She watched in fear and desperation as the man walked lecherously to the Church and threw the burning piece of wood on the hay.

The guide and the group of students watched the fear emote on Cathy’s face as she stared with wide eyes at the illusion that played in front of her. They had no idea what was going through her mind as her eyes simply stared at the spot profound with fear witnessing a spectacle that happened hundreds of years ago.

Sanjose broke out of the group and quickly walked towards her while the others continued to watch her pensively and slightly afraid now, afraid for her sake. Sanjose quickly wrapped her in an embrace but over his shoulder, her eyes were still trained on the platform. Words came tumbling out of her mouth as her eyes kept viewing the spectacular vision, seen only by her.

… No… don’t do it… please… please… he is innocent… And Rosalin’s voice played in her ears as Cathy repeated her words, her tone matching Rosalin’s pleading voice.

‘… Please don’t do it, please don’t… he is innocent… don’t hurt him. He is a man of God… He is innocent… please dooooooooooooooon’t …’

For a second, the guide too felt the fear gripping his heart hearing the chilling voice of Cathy. Sanjose turned his head to look at him on the square with deep anger. The guide knew what was going on in his mind and he quickly raised his hands as he jumped down to indicate that he had no hand in the mumbo jumbo that was going in Cathy’s life. Sanjose turned his face to Cathy and pushed her to arms length and held her but over his shoulder, her eyes were still locked on the stake on the square in deep fear and shock.

Non-Filmi Unions demand compensation

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“THE FILM INDUSTRY SHOULD COMPENSATE US!!!” A mob of professionals’ alleged demand rocks the biggest film industry in the world

Faking News Agency

Mumbai: Since last two days, angry mobs have laid siege outside Film City, Goregaon demanding compensation from the film fraternity. In what seems to be a first of its kind, various non-filmi unions such as the Maids’ Union, Drivers’ Union, Construction Workers’ Unions, Waiters’ Union, Cooks’ Union etc. have come together for a common cause, that they be compensated for the financial and emotional losses that they are  incurring because of the films being made in India.

This comes as another jolt to the producers and the film fraternity who are already at a loggerhead with the multiplex owners over profit sharing and the side effects of the recession that has hit the economy waist down.

In order to get a clear picture from the agitating mob why they were seeking compensation, Faking News  (FN) decided to speak to the leaders of the various unions stationed outside the biggest film studio in Mumbai. But before that the reporter first met with the film industry representative to get a first hand report but according to the representative Mr. Bol Bachchan, he clearly had no idea why the mob were agitating against the film industry.

‘Frankly, I have no clue whatsoever why they have congregated outside the studio. All they are screaming for is compensation. But compensation for what?’ Mr. Bol Bachchan argued.

‘I have asked all my esteemed colleagues and everyone denies having used any of these people for any of their productions. So what are they seeking compensation for? It’s sheer conspiracy by vested interest to malign the name of our film industry’.

Not clear with the reason for the siege, FN then met with the leader of all unions who had all come together for a collective pause, Ms Gangubai to get an appraisal of the situation and their demands.

FN: Gangubai, you represent the Maids’ union?

Gangubai: Hoi (Yes).

FN: Gangubai, can you tell me the reason for this protest outside the film studio?

Gangubai: You see, all these people are simply asking for compensation…

FN: Compensation for what? I met with the filmi representative and they deny that they ever used your service.

Gangubai: Service? Tyacha ayshi cha gho! Aamhi tashi log nahin. (That bloody… we are not that kind of people) Me tumhala boltey (Okay let me tell you). All these years, these filmi folks have been showing us maids in such bad lights that today we have to pay the price for it.

FN: I don’t undersand…

Gangubai: Okay, wait first see this man here. He is Maharaj, a professional cook in Lokhandwala. He is also the head of the cooks’ union. See what the film industry has done to him and his fellow members. Nowadays, their employers expect these poor cooks to multi-tasks. It’s simply isn’t about cooking anymore.

FN: Multitasking? A cook is simply supposed to cook and that’s it.

Gangubai: Gone are the days when the cooks simply had to cook. Thanks to Rajesh Khannas and the Govindas and the David Dhavans of this film industry, these cooks are now forced to supplement their cooking by singing and dancing and what not and that too at such a paltry salary.

FN: What’s Rajesh Khanna, Govinda had to do with all this?

Gangubai: Oh my god. You don’t watch too many movies, do you?. Does ‘Bawarchi’, ‘Hero No. 1’ ring a bell?

FN: Yes but…

Gangubai: Then you will know that in these movies, the lead actor’s primary profession was being a cook. And yet they went about singing and dancing and what not to appease their employers. In fact, they are psychologists too, understanding other human minds so easily. And now Maharaj’s employer too expects him to do something similar. I mean nowadays the cooks in order to get a decent job, they not only have to master the art of cooking but they also has to learn singing and dancing and yes fighting and what not to stay ahead in this highly competitive world.

FN: Aha now I understand the cooks’ stand. But where do maids come in?

Gangubai: You are such a dumb ass. Have you seen how the maids are portrayed in films? Most of them are shown wearing brand new starched sarees, heavy jewelry, make up on and appear well fed and are treated as a family member. Take the case of the maid in No Entry. You tell me in real life are we such kind of maids? How can we afford this kind of attire in real life and at such low salary and look at our sizes, size zero! Even Kareena looks well fed at that.

FN: But Gangubai, there are also skinny maids in films who are in tatters at times, ill-fed and sans any jewelry.

Gangubai: Oh yes. Them. (spits) And what are these maids’ back stories in these films? Most of them are from rich, affluent families. Remember Karz? They get thrown out of their homes by their sons or daughter-in-laws and they end up as maids. Tell me aren’t these women supposed to be educated since they belong to the rich class? Doesn’t the government propagate education for all? Women empowerment etc.? Don’t they get a decent education or are they supposed to be illiterate because they have lot of money to see them through? Can’t these women take a decent job in some office rather than take up jobs as maids and get humiliated at every second minute? You know the side effect of such portrayal on screen? Half of my people are looked down upon as women from rich and affluent background. As a result, we are paid less, not given enough food and often forced to work long hours. Our background is screened thoroughly. Even spies don’t have such strict background checks. Okay forget about us, look at Annakutty here. Oye Anna, tell this gentleman about your problem.

Annakutty: Saar, I represent the construction workers’ union. After seeing rich educated heroes in films taking up jobs as construction workers, we are fast losing out on jobs as well as decent salaries. We are paid measly wages thanks to stars like Salman and Aamir.

Another Man: And Amitabh too…

FN: What’s Amitabh Sir got to do with this?

Annakutty: Amitabh Sir has a lot to do with this. People watch his films and follow his style, his actions, his mannerism. And soon Amitabh will be in a thick soup when the Merchant Navy’s union too joins our stir. He will be forced to forced to break kala pathar in jail after getting giraftar…

FN: Amitabh… navy men joining the stir? What is all this nonsense?

Annakutty: Remember his film ‘Kala Pathar’? Amitabh, a captain in the navy takes up a job as a miner in a coal mine. And now with recession that’s hit worldwide, captains are facing a similar situation. Soon they will be forced to take up jobs as miners and construction workers thanks to Amitabh and Salman and of course Aamir. Aamir did it in ‘Dil’, Salman did it in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’. They are highly educated in their respective  films and from rich families and what they do? They take up construction worker’s job. At one point even if we were illiterate, we would get a construction job easily and a decent salary but now the builders expect us to be highly educated. Graduates and MBAs and so forth. We are losing our jobs to these educated folks thanks to films and we demand compensation for the same.

Gangubai: It’s not just them or us. Look at these poor drivers. Their drivers too expect them to be highly educated so that they can discuss their work with them… you know that white collar term… hmmm yes brainstorming! Each one of us has got a complete makeover thanks to films. Now if we don’t seek compensation, who will? We need to be compensated for the emotional and financial attachyar that we are facing. We will soon have the pilots’ union, the police union as well as some other unions to support us soon.

Faking News decided to mediate between the agitating unions and the film industry. But the representative Mr. Bol Bachchan flatly refused to compensate for the losses faced by the various union members. “We are a democratic country and have the creative liberty. The demands by the various unions are baseless.” But in principal he agreed that there will be a slight change in the disclaimer in the beginning of the movie.

Disclaimer: ‘This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual person living or dead, is purely intentional. And all characterisation and portrayal have been done by professional actors and should not be imitated or expect others to imitate or follow the same.’

The unions still have not decided what the next course of action will be in reply to the ‘disclaimer’ notice by the film industry.

Stay tuned in for further updates as more unions are expected to join the agitation at Film City.

(This article was first published in the now defunct passionforcinema.com)

Chapter 2

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Back at the hotel, after a hot luxurious bath, Cathy was eager to start with her quest. So far, she had never told anyone about her dreams. Dreams that popped up in her head time and again which she had been unable to understand. And each dream had been different from the other – some haunting while some beautiful. She had kept these dreams a secret from her parents and even her boyfriend Sanjose wasn’t aware of it. Sanjose had no idea what was going on in her mind, of the heavy weight that she carried in her heart, of the disturbing dreams that had plaguing her for years.

That evening she surfed through a dozen or so Goa guides tracing out important historical sites, important enough for her at least and decided that one particular Church ruins whose pictures vaguely looked familiar, would be their first stop on the tour the next day.

That night Cathy had trouble sleeping. The images of a church kept haunting her in her dreams as she tossed and turned around in the bed. It wasn’t however the ruins of the church that disturbed her. Rather it was a different look of the church that disturbed her as if the church was just built and in its pristine glory. She woke up with a start. Dawn was just breaking in.

The tour bus took them to the outskirt of the city and came to a stop at the base of a hill. The small group alighted even as Cathy strained her neck to take a look at the top of the hill – their first destination – St Ignatius Church, the images of which had haunted her the night before.

It was a long walk up the dusty track and it wasn’t as splendid as the group had thought it would be since the path was jagged with huge boulders and dusty. But nevertheless, it still carried a trace of wilderness around it. It also offered the group a lovely panoramic view of the countryside. The long climb up the hill was tiring but everyone was too excited to notice the hard work.

They had climbed the hill half way when they reached a clear ground and beyond it, they could make out the ruins of the church. As Cathy trailed behind her eyes were riveted on a bird as it circled majestically in the sky and finally came to settle on the steeple of the church. She could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand with excitement.

She slowly took in the sight as she swept her eyes from the steeple of the church, down to its entrance and its huge building now lying half in ruins. Just as she had seen it in her dreams, she thought to herself excitedly but in a better condition than it appeared now.

She felt a strange feeling as she walked towards it with a slow gait. The guide had started his litany and his voice guided his excited visitors on the history of the church but Cathy wasn’t paying too much attention to it. Ignoring the group, she walked towards the half burnt church entrance.

Across the church, a few meters away, the guide’s shrill voice rose a bit higher. Maybe to attract her attention, she thought to herself. But her attention was riveted on this ancient monument which still bore faint traces of its lost glory. Over the years, it seems to have been neglected and wild creepers have covered most of the structure. She knew this was the church that held the answers to her dreams.

The guide was getting distracted seeing that Cathy had no interest in his speech. But to keep him happy, Cathy pointed a glance or two in his direction as he went on. She repeated his words slowly in her mind word by word as he babbled again.

‘And what you see here friends was once upon a time one of the most magnificent churches of medieval Goa. Build somewhere around early 16th century by Viceroy Fonseca, the then head of the Portuguese rule in Goa, it was ministered by a young priest, Fr. Kane. This church took 3 years to be built but didn’t last for more than a year…

For a moment, a smile crossed her face as she heard the guide rant. Her friends were listening in awe to the guide’s narration. The guide, a skinny character with a thin moustache, in his mid 30s was talking at a fast pace and hearing him speak, Cathy wondered aloud where he kept his energy stuffed within that frail body. Even Sanjose was bowled over by his talks as he listened in rapt attention, hardly noticing that Cathy was not with them.

The guide’s shrilled voice continued.

‘It was the doings of Fr. Kane who soon got mixed up in some scandal at that time. The villagers in a fit of anger had tried to burn the church down along with Fr. Kane.’ The guide paused again for a dramatic effect as he looked around at his eager audience and then continued. ‘It was rumored that Fr. Kane escaped the burning inferno and over the years, the locals had waited in anticipation and in fear for his return till the epidemic struck and the entire village got wiped out though some of them managed to escape the devastation to safer locations.’

Sanjose broke in curiously. ‘What kind of scandal was Fr. Kane involved in?

The guide turned around to look at him directly. He then paced a step or two to give it a dramatic effect before turning abruptly to face him.

‘Lots of stories floated around that time and over the years many new versions came up. But the one that was rumored to be true was that Fr. Kane had an unholy relationship with a woman and had fathered a child…’

‘Fathered a child? But wasn’t Fr. Kane a Catholic priest. Surely he must taken a vow of celibacy?’ Bono butted in.

The guide threw a mean look in his direction. Bono was a stout but rugged looking boy with a voice to match.

‘Yes, he was a Catholic priest. But one of the local girls, a daughter of a trader, a girl with exotic beauty and charm, had fallen in love with him and it was rumored that Fr. Kane too loved her. Mind you, all this is just a story handed down generation after generation. How much of it is true, no one knows and I guess never will.’

‘The girl must have been pretty hot for sure.’ Bono said with a naughty smile winking at Sanjose.

Even the guide had to force a smile hearing such a crass remark. But then he had learnt long ago, that foreigners were capable of saying and doing anything.

‘She was beautiful beyond comparison.’ He replied turning to look at Cathy. ‘Just one look at her and men would forget all their sorrows and sufferings.’ He turned to look at the small group and continued. ‘Even the wild animals, it was rumored would let her bask in all glory when she played or strolled in the jungle without harming her in any way.’

‘Then surely, Fr. Kane too would have been a handsome man?’

The guide seemed to mellow at this question. His tone become gentle and slow. His voice seemed to quaver or it seemed to Sanjose as he listened in rapt attention.

‘It is said that he was one of the most striking figures of his time. Just his presence would make a girl go weak in her knees. And when he spoke, it was like a gentle flow of the river waters, so soothing. Even men would at times feel envious of him. But he was a kind-hearted man and a gentle soul and the locals loved him for it till the scandal broke out.’

Cathy heard Sanjose’s voice break in again as he interrupted the guide. She realised with pain that she already knew what was coming from him.

‘So what about this girl who was besotted by him?’

‘The story goes around that the girl was married to the handsome and brave Captain Antonio, son of Viceroy Fonseca. When the locals came to know of her alleged affair with Fr. Kane, she was charged with adultery and treason against the church and finally burnt at the stake. In fact I wouldn’t blame Fr. Kane for falling for her charms. The story states that she had the power to seduce with such ease.’

So what was this girl’s name?

The guide pondered for a few seconds and slowly spoke, his voice just a faint whisper as if it was taboo to speak aloud that name. ‘Well, she was called by various names but her real name was…’

Intuitively Cathy found herself uttering aloud, ‘Rosalin…’

Chapter 1

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TLS Cover 3

‘I tell you solemnly, one of us shall betray God.’

‘Today, I’ll begin to unravel this dream, a dream which had always been sort of a big curse to me. This is the first time that I am traveling to the land that my people had ruled over some centuries ago. For me, Goa has been just a dream since I was born and today as the aircraft lands on its soil, I will begin to unravel this disturbing dream which had been plaguing my sleep since I had become old enough to think. Dreams which had given me many a sleepless nights. Dreams that I couldn’t fathom. Dreams about people who had lived hundreds of years ago. Dreams about an unknown mystery… of an unanswered question. And after this journey, I wish to sleep peacefully, forever.’

These thoughts ran in Cathy’s mind as her eyes took the passing clouds through the small window of the aircraft. Cathy, short for Catherine, was a young college going girl from Lisbon, Portugal. She was a beautiful girl, of creamy complexion, slim and of medium height. But where here face emitted exquisite and delicate features, her eyes kind of betrayed the pain and the fear that lurked in her mind.

She turned to look at her companion, Sanjose, her fellow classmate and her boyfriend. Sanjose was of the same age as Cathy. Tall, dark and with sharp features, he was the cynosure of girls’ attention. But to him, Cathy was everything. Little did he realize that 3 weeks ago when Cathy had first popped the question to him to accompany her and the students of her University on their annual college trip to Goa in India instead of some traditional place in Europe, his nonchalant yes answer would be so readily accepted by her.

Cathy had always wanted to visit Goa but had dared not venture alone. Her parents wouldn’t have allowed it. It was only at Sanjose’s behest, her parents had agreed to let her go to visit her ancestral place. And in no time, their classmates too had readily agreed to make this trip. For the students, this was a novel idea to visit the land that their forefathers had ruled over centuries ago. The land they had learnt about in high school.

Goa, one of the smallest states of India, is located on the western coast of the country facing the vast Arabian sea. Till 1961, Goa had been a Portuguese colony since 1510 when Afonso de Albuquerque captured the island state and brought it under the Portuguese rule. Soon the land of Goa turned into a great trade center under the Portuguese.

In the years to come, various Viceroys ruled Goa and the locals managed to live without much of negative repercussions though there were some strict regimes to follow which the locals bravely followed. But at times, the Portuguese did witness some revolts from certain sections of the locals who demanded freedom. However, their actions were quickly and harshly curtailed by the Portuguese authority.

But in 1925, with the rise of power of a dictator in Portuguese, lots of new and strict laws and bans came into force. The locals soon started demanding collectively for a free Goa but their actions and pleas went unheard until 1961 when the Indian Army liberalized it and brought it under its fold after years of peaceful negotiations with the Portuguese authorities had failed. Thus ended the Portuguese rule in Goa.

Cathy’s thoughts were broken as the captain’s voice boomed from the speakers, announcing that the aircraft will be landing in about 30 minutes on the Indian soil at the Dabolim Airport. She kind of felt elated but at the same time she felt some apprehension.

She peered outside to look at the vast Arabian Sea spread out below. It looked so majestic in the shimmering sunlight. In the distance, she could see the land as it loomed nearer and nearer as the aircraft made a slow descent. Her breathing became heavy. She was nearing her goal.

The aircraft made a smooth landing at the Dabolim airport and slowly taxied itself to a stop in front of one of the terminals. The group of 20 students all bumbling with excitement, picked up their handbags and rushed excitedly to the exit ahead of the other passengers.

Cathy remained seated, eyes closed trying to savor the uncanny feeling that she felt. She then took a deep breath to ease her heavy heartbeats. Letting out a huge sigh, she opened her eyes and slowly pulled herself up from her seat. She pulled open the overhead cabinet and dragged her handbag out and with baited steps, walked to the exit.

She slowly peered outside and watched the airport with anticipation. This was the modern world. This wasn’t what she had expected but then this was the airport in the heart of the city. And her destiny lay on the outskirts of the city where there was hardly much of human dwellings. Once again, taking a deep breath, she started down the staircase and then took that final step to touch the ground. Finally, she was standing on the land of her ancestors.

She stood still, closed her eyes for a brief second and then bent down. As her fingers touched the ground, she opened her eyes and brought her hand to her lips to kiss it. This was it… her motherland. Her dreams were unraveling. And then she heard the soft laughter that’s been ringing in her ears since she was a baby. She closed her eyes again for a second and the laughter slowly diminished. She was getting closer to understanding the mysterious laughter… the mysterious words that has been haunting her since she was a baby.

A Step… Too Far!

The doorbell rang again. 20-year old Tony tried to ignore it yet the ringing persisted. His parents and his sister were not at home and he wasn’t expecting anyone this time of the day. It was around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He had difficulty catching a nap and had preferred to listen to some music on his pocket radio, a gift from his loving sister that he treasured so much. And now someone had come to destroy his little fiesta. Angrily, he turned his wheel chair around and maneuvered his way around to the door. He felt for the latches and slowly opened it one by one except for the safety chain that he kept on. He then opened the door, his blind eyes seeing nothing except darkness.

“Yes?” he called out with a sneer.

“Hi”, a girl’s voice called out from outside. Puzzled, Tony lifted his face in the direction of the sound.

“Can I come in for a second?” the girl continued in a child-like voice.

For a moment, Tony was compelled to tell the girl to get lost. He hated it when someone intruded on his privacy but for now, he was curious to know why the girl wanted to barge in on his fiefdom. She was a stranger. To him, she sounded naive and vulnerable, not that he was a good judge of character.

He hesitated a bit and then asked her. “What do you want?”

“Oh sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Tara. I recently moved in the house opposite the street and I often see you handle a violin and I wondered if you would teach me or at least play a few notes for me?” ‘You see…’ she continued, ‘I am very keen to learn to play it.’

Teach her? Tony was perplexed. It had been years since he had last played a violin. He had given it up long ago when he was just 12 years old. His failing eyesight had brought him lot of humiliation at the hands of his friends and finally when he had turned completely blind, he had broken down and finally lost the mobility in his legs, unable to walk. For him, playing the violin was like bringing back all those bitter memories of his childhood. That’s just why he always nursed his baby as he called it with his loving hands.

“Sorry. I don’t play the violin.” He blurted harshly. “Please go!” Saying this, Tony banged the door shut.

The doorbell rang again. He waited for the ringing to stop. It didn’t. Angrily he pulled open the door.

“I said go away!”

“Are you always this bitter with strangers?”

“Yes. Now leave me alone”

“Sure. Don’t worry, I’ll be back when your mood’s fine. Take care, see you again.” Saying this, the girl turned around and walked away. Tony stood still listening to the sound of her heels clicking on the wooden stairs till it finally disappeared. He closed the door shut and wearily pushed his wheelchair towards his room. He felt his way around to the cabinet and slowly raised his hand to feel the violin on top of the cabinet. He pulled it down and delicately felt its body.

Across the street, Tara paused and stared back at Tony through the window, a smile on her face.

She was back at his place the next day and at the same time and as much as he wanted to ask her to leave, he found himself opening the door wide enough to let her through. He shut the door behind her.

“Oh what a pretty house you have here.”

Tony couldn’t help but smile to himself as she browsed through the house. It had been years since someone had taken some interest in him and he seemed to be enjoying it immensely. They shared stories of each other’s life. Someone called out her name. She hesitantly got up.

“I have to leave. Tony just for once, will you play the violin for me now… please.” She pleaded earnestly.

Her words seemed to push Tony back in his cocoon. She quickly realised it and changed the topic.

“I guess I got to go. Maybe some other time.” She walked to the door. “I can meet you again, can I?”

Tony turned in her direction and smiled, a genuine smile that had lain buried in his soul for years.

He kept his promise and they met again and again. They had become an inseparable force now and even Tony’s parents were happy for his sake. Tony had a strange glow on his face. A man who seemed to be content with his life. For his parents and sister Sharon, Tara was like an angel, Godsend who seemed to bring about a change in Tony’s life for the better. But Tara had a lot more in her mind that evening as she chatted with him in his room. All her begging and pleading didn’t make him play his violin. But today, she had something else lined up as she slowly extending the special greeting card she had brought for him. She had painstakingly prepared it with her own hands. For Tony it was a gift of a lifetime as he slowly moved his hand across the card. He could feel the cartoon character on the card which had been done with an engrave feel. He then slowly read out the words inside and as he said aloud each word, joy crept in his heart and tears swelled up in his eyes. She slowly walked towards him and wiped his tears away, talking to him in a motherly fashion. She told him about another gift she had placed on top of a tall cabinet. He would just have to stand up and collect it. But he wasn’t going to do that. It had been 8 years since he had stood on his two feet. Tara wasn’t going to listen to any reason. She wanted to see him walk that day. But yet he stood his ground.

Tara couldn’t take it anymore and she yelled at him.

“You are nothing but a cry baby. All your life you have been wanting things given to you on a platter and for the rest of your life you are going to be the same. I don’t want a friend like you who’ll be a burden to me too. You are too lazy and mean. I am leaving!”

Angrily, she walked out of the room and half way to the door, she heard the loud thud. She turned around and ran back in the room to find Tony sprawled on the floor. Hearing the sound, his parents and Sharon also rushed in the room. Tara lay rooted, tears looming large in her eyes which finally flowed as his mother reprimanded her severely for causing Tony to fall. Crying bitterly, she ran out of the house and over to her place while Tony stared at her retreating back with a deep pain.

A week passed and yet Tara lay confined to the bed. She was dying. She had been sick since the last few years. But now the doctor had diagnosed that death would come wanting any time. All her parents could do was make the transition to the spiritual world smooth. They tried to fulfill all her desires. Yet they were unaware of the desires she had in her heart. Desire to see Tony take that extra step out in the open world…desire to listen to his music….desire to… ”

The door bell rang and with a weary heart, her father walked over to open the door and there stood Tony on his feet with his parents to guide him. Her father led them inside to her bedroom. Her untold desire was coming true as Tony walked haltingly to her bedside. There was a huge grin on her face as she stared at him walking with a drunken stupor. She then looked at the violin in his hand. She realised that all her untold desires were coming true at last as she saw him stand in front of her and play the violin. And as the strains of the sweet melody filled the air, 11-year old Tara smiled away into eternity while Tony slowly crumbled to the ground crying bitterly for a friend wise beyond her years!

Cry Freedom

9th August 1947. India was burning. There was widespread chaos and mayhem all around, not to forget looting and murder.

But Rehmat Ali was in a world of his own as he paced up and down in front of his small house in an agitated state. His mind was preoccupied with what was happening inside his house.

He could neither see nor hear the din outside his Muslim dominated locality as he strained to hear the sounds from within his house. Most of his Muslim brethren had given up their homes and migrated to the other side with the surge. But he had no intention of doing so.

This was his country, his birthplace, his home. He felt pity for all those who had succumbed to the evil designs of those few in power.

His thoughts were broken when the door of his house opened. He anxiously rushed over as a frail old lady walked out smiling.

“Congratulations, son, your wife just delivered a baby boy.”

Rahmat Ali couldn’t control his joy. He quickly put his hands in his pocket and pulled out whatever money he had and held it up for her to take.

“Thank you very much, Daadi (Grandma)� I won’t forget all that you have done for her.”

The old timer pocketed the money. “Son, Allah is great. I am just his servant. Just take care that she gets proper rest.”

Saying this, the old lady walked away with small strides.

Rahmat Ali slowly entered the house. In the dimly lit room, he could make out the bundle of joy lying next to its mother. His face lit up. The baby seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

He gently picked up the child and held it close to have a good look. The features were sharp and well chiseled – just like his mother’s. He looked at her. She was looking at him with tears in her eyes. He gently sat down on the cot next to her, with one hand holding the baby close to his chest. Holding her hand with his other hand, he gave it a gentle squeeze of assurance.

Even a bit of affection in such a tensed up situation was the biggest solace anybody could give. Just a few days before, they had both been running and hiding from various unruly crowds who were hell bent on eliminating them till they finally reached his village. He knew that even this place wasn’t safe for long – at least not till everyone realized their mistakes.

Hindus were killing Muslims; Muslims were killing Hindus. If only they would learn to live in harmony. He had lost his family in the consequential riots and she had lost hers too. Yet, they had stuck together through thick and thin for the sake of the baby and finally today, the baby had come out into this world … a world of hatred and fanaticism.

But he was going to see that the child grew up loving everyone equally. As he continued to hold the squirming child against his body, he sensed that something was amiss. The baby seemed to be crying, but there was no sound. He looked questioningly at the mother.

There were faint traces of tears in her eyes as she realized the thoughts that ran in his mind. Surely, he thought aloud, Allah wouldn’t be so unmerciful so as to not give the gift of speech to this beautiful child. But his fear proved true as days passed and the child didn’t utter any sound.

15th August 1947. It was 12.01 a.m. and the world was lit up with lighting and din at such an odd hour. But it was a different kind of din than what Rehmat Ali had perceived in the last few weeks. There was rejoicing and dancing all around as the country celebrated its independence.

He stood in front of his house and watched the people dance and celebrate. Some were busy lighting up the fireworks, and some were distributing sweets, while others were involved in wishing everyone. He too was happy to be a part of a free country and murmured a silent prayer to the Almighty for this day. Yet, somewhere in his heart, there was a hidden pain, pain for the baby who had not uttered a single sound since his birth a week ago.

He didn’t notice that she had walked with uneasy steps out of the house to stand next to him and watch the scene. As she slowly held on to his hand to steady herself, he turned around to look at her. Just a couple of weeks ago, they were strangers. She was on the run from some people who were out to kill her. He had felt pity for her when he saw that she was pregnant. He offered her protection and they somehow managed to reach his house safely. He promised himself that today itself he would visit the Maulvi and legalize his relationship with this woman who had given him a reason to live like he had given her.

He knew he would have problems in the process, but then, marrying a Hindu wasn’t something he was averse to. He loved her. He had fallen in love with her since that fateful day when he had lost his family to the rioting mobs and in turn, had saved her life.

And for Bharti too, he was her future. Some fanatics from his clan had killed her husband and family, but this man was different. This man was her saviour. And she loved him for it.

Rehmat Ali slowly squeezed her hand gently and as the din grew louder, they heard an alien sound. Both Rehmat Ali and Bharti stood rooted to the ground, unsure if they had heard right. And then the sound of a baby crying, rose over the din and echoed in their ears. They both rushed inside the house to see their baby crying out hoarsely. And while the world rejoiced, the baby cried and his proud parents looked on with tears of happiness at this miracle. It was a genuine cry… a cry for freedom.

Bloody Relationship

(This story has actually being written in a novel format. You can read an excerpt of the novel under the last category on the right. I have just compressed it to make a short story out of it.)

It was the last hour of his life. He was soon going to die at a very young age of 14 and as of that moment, he had no idea about it as he slowly pushed the gate of the Muslim cemetery open and walked down the path with weary steps, his hands clutching one single rose.

He looked much older for his age, tall, lean, athletic and with a charming face with a faint trace of moustache. He somewhat resembled his late grandfather. Maybe it was the case of heredity. And like his late grandfather he too attracted attention wherever he went.

And maybe that was one reason why his neighbourhood Aunty had seduced him. She was the lone person who never forgot to smile at him whenever they passed each other on the street. She was about her mother’s age and had been her good friend when his mother was alive.

He often had secret rendezvous with his neighbourhood aunty since he had matured enough. But today he felt ashamed of it as he walked to the extreme end of the small graveyard.

He felt ashamed to be there with such an unclean thought in his mind, ashamed to face her mother’s grave, knowing that he had an illicit relationship with a woman twice his age and the one who had been his mother’s best friend.

A woman who stood by him through thick and thin, who held his sanity intact over the years and even after his mother’s death. As he walked past the graves, he slowly scanned each grave lazily till he came to an unmarked grave surrounded by simple whitewashed brick stones now stained with mud. He bent down and slowly placed the flower at one end. He then extracted the skullcap from his pocket and put it on his head.

Standing straight, his head bent down with his arms crossed across his chest and with his eyes closed, he slowly muttered the prayer for the dead as best as he could remember.

While he prayed, tears flow down his face as he remembered his mother’s dying days. He ended the prayer and after a few silent moments, slowly opened his eyes. He stood still and stared hard at his mother’s grave, his arms still folded across his chest.

The tears had dried up. He unfolded his hands and with his back of his right hand, wiped the rest of the traces of the teardrops away from his cheek. He then sat down on the ground, pulled his knees closer to his chest and with his hands wound around it, buried his head in between his knees.

He started to rock back and forth humming her mother’s favourite lullaby she used to sing for him when he was a kid, “Sleep of sleep my child, to thee I cry. You are my angel. You are my butterfly”

It was exactly a year ago that his mother had died. She was just 30 when she had died of some disease, a disease so horrifying in the last hours of her death. Yet she had led her life fighting more than one disease. There were a whole lot of other diseases of this world and the worst of it was him, her own son.

And today, he felt sorry for her and for himself, sorry for giving her a troubled and unhappy life. He missed the warmth of her love she showered on him sporadically, her fighting spirit, her frequent outbursts, the tender look on her face in her dying hours. He was totally in contrast to her character.

How he wondered if he could get some of her characteristics in him. His thoughts went back to his early childhood days. He remembered the troubled relationship he had shared with his mother and with the world around him and he wondered aloud why everyone hated him so much? Where had it all started? And why did everyone give him strange looks and treated him like roadside filth? Why, he wondered aloud. Why?

He then remembered the sealed envelope that was stuck in his pocket. He pulled it out. His name was sparsely scrawled on it in his mother’s handwriting. As she lay on her deathbed, she had handed over the envelope to him.

‘This is something that could break you or mould you to be a tough person. You have reached an age where you are old enough to think. But at this stage when death is waiting for me, I want you to wait till you grow a year older.’. She took a deep breath.

‘I don’t want my impending death and the content of this envelope to hit your innocent soul collectively. Cause this envelope answers the question of your existence� of your coming into this world of all your uncertainties the reason for your troubled childhood.’

She paused. She was having difficult breathing. Her life was sinking fast.

‘Son’ Her voice trembled softly.

And he quickly looked up at her. Her eyes were moist. This was the first time he remembered since he had come of age that her mother had called him ‘son’. Tears flowed down his cheek. He quickly sat at the edge of the bed and looked at his mother lovingly as he held on to her hand. Her eyes were glued to his face. A lone tear flowed out of the corner of her eye and then time stood still for her.

With trembling hand, he opened the envelope. There was a single sheet of paper. He pulled it out. There was a single line written on it.

‘You are my father’s son!’

His voice quavered as he read out the line aloud. And then the headline of a newspaper clipping he had found hidden in his house, flashed in front of his eyes, ‘Father molests minor daughter.’

He had the answer to his existence. He had the reason for his destruction.

Cricketer Azharuddin to feature in ‘Murder’ sequel

In the biggest casting couch oops coup of the day, veteran kisser Emraan Hashmi has been shortlisted to play the role of ex-cricketer Azharuddin in a film based on the latter’s life.

The film to be produced by the Ekta Kapoor camp promises to be full of thrills and frills just like its ‘K’ serials on a ‘Test’ level and not one of those 20-20 games that Emraan is accustomed to playing in his films.

It is now to be seen how Emraan who is known for his fiery on screen stunts manages to tame his wild side to seduce the willow and the balls in no particular order.Azharuddin has been a charismatic figure during his playing days both on field and behind the field where he often unpadded, secretly dated an actress in his hey days.  Now that the actress has passed into oblivion, the player that he was and is, Azhar has decided to move on to greener political pastures far from the dusty tracks of the cricketing field.

However, Azharuddin made his displeasure felt with Ektaji over the choice of Emraan to play him. He had always favoured the younger, dapper, dashing and hard hitting Saif Babu to take over his reins on the cricketing field. After all, Saif too is a master of playing the sweep shot – he literally swept Bebo off the Bollywood field and in his life (poor girl’s filmi career is literally back in the pavilion). More over, both Azhar and Saif have been married twice and hence share some additional qualities.

To get even with Ekta, Azharuddin has decided that he’ll feature in the next installment of Murder.Pushing his political career on the backburner, the ex-cricketer has been secretly reading up books by Vatsyayana and has hit the gym to gets his lips in shape for the big role .

The lead actress to star opposite Azhar is yet to be decided but speculations are rife that it will feature a debutant actress from the sports field. Azhar is keen to fight Emraan’s hot jyoti image with his own jwala makeover. And for that the search is on for the right girl who’ll stand up to him. And he’s making sure he leaves no clothes unturned to make his debut film a huge hit.

At the time of going to pitch, Ekta wasn’t available for comments. But Azhar’s change of guard definitely spells good tidings for other ex-cricketers who are resigned to playing support staff off the field. Now they too can look at Bollywood for a new career just like our very own Sandeep Patil in a leather skirt in the now defunct Kabhi Ajnabi The.

In the closet

“It’s a Sapphire…”

No, Samir, it’s not. More like a sparrow” She replied indignantly as she placed the cup of tea in front of him noisily.

‘It’s a Sapphire honey. See those blue wings…” Samir pointed out to Alka who just looked at him firmly.

He sighed expressing his defeat as he looked across at the window sill where a small bird with blue feathers tweeted a series of high pitched tones. He knew the bird belonged to the Sapphire family. Birds used to be his hobby much before he got married. He had his best friend would often find themselves trekking in the wilds of the jungles to explore the surroundings. He sighed again wishing to completely erase the memories of the past…

“All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am…..” he thought to himself as he lovingly looked across the room at his wife Alka. He had managed to shrug off his past to completely delve on the present and the future. They had been married for 20 years and had a beautiful young daughter Tara who had turned 18 just last month. His beautiful sweet daughter, so loving, so calm, so mild, so jovial as he took in her picture that hung on the wall.

“Just once Tara, just once tell me, why you don’t love me.” It was Abhay desperately pleading for an answer. Tara looked at him and then turned her eyes away. She couldn’t look him in the eyes and lie. How could she lie to him, he who was her best friend since her school days and now final year college mates.

“Please Abhay not now…”

“Then when? You know Tara I love you like crazy.”

“Abhay, you are my friend and will always be one.”

“Damn you Tara, I want to be more than friends with you.” Abhay roughly caught her by her arms. “I love you, can’t you see that?”

“Please Abhay, you are hurting me.” She gently pried her arm loose and looked at him earnestly. “I don’t love you Abhay, please try to understand that. I do like you but…” She let her voice trail away.

“Is there someone else?” His voice was sharp.

She shook her head.

“Then what is it?”

She looked at him desperately hoping he will stop the discussion.

“What is it?” He yelled aloud.

Without another word, Tara turned around and walked out of the garden, trying hard to control the wave of emotions that was looming in her eyes wanting to crash out. She ignored him as he called out to her repeatedly.

She decided to walk back home. Her mind was in turmoil. There were so many conflicting ideas in her mind, she didn’t know what to do. She had to inform someone or else she would spend the rest of her life in misery.

The sun was about to set behind the looming mountains in the distance as Tara walked inside her building gate with weary steps.

Her ordeal had just started with Abhay and no sooner did she set foot inside the house, her mother’s screeching voice stopped her in her tracks.

“Tara! Where had you been all this while?”

Tara looked at her mother, trying to control her emotions.

“Mom please…”

“Don’t Mom me…!”

Samir stopped fiddling with his laptop to look at his daughter. Something was bugging her. He could read it in her eyes as they met his.

“Mom, I was with Abhay.”

“Not that idiot Abhay again”

It was enough to set free her emotions. “Stop it Mom, he’s my friend.”

Samir quickly got up and took Tara in a mild embrace.

“Hey, is everything okay?”

“Yes Dad.”

“You can tell me. I am your father.” He gently goaded her.

Tara looked at him, her eyes brimming with tears. She broke free from her father’s arms and took a step backwards so that she could face both her parents. Taking a deep breath, she look at her mom and then her father.

“Mom, Dad I have something to say to you.”

“Don’t tell me that you’re pregnant!” Her mother said indignantly.

“Alka please, let her speak.” Samir firmly told Alka.

“It’s about Abhay.” Tara manage to mumble. “Dad he proposed to me today…”

“There I knew that good for nothing boy was up to some mischief.” Her mother blurted again.

Samir gently latched his fingers with Tara’s. “Tara, you are old enough to take your own decisions.”

“Old enough my foot. Let me lay my hands on that son of a bitch.” Her mother’s voice cut through the conversation.

“Would you stop it Alka?” Samir demanded.

“Yeah that’s what I’ve been doing all these years.” Alka  wailed trying to stifle her tears.

“Mom, Dad Abhay loves me a lot and wants to marry me.”

“And you?” Her father looked at her enquiringly.

She didn’t know what to say. “I don’t know…” Tara hesitated. “For me he’s just a good friend.”

Samir looked at her with a smile. “Then you don’t have to worry about anything. I am sure he’ll understand.”

“He doesn’t. He wants to know why I don’t love him back.”

“Well you must have a good reason not to. Let him know.”

“He won’t understand. I was hoping you would…” Her voice went to a faint cry.

Samir took Tara’s hand and led her to the sofa.

“Is there something you want to tell us?”

Tara pondered for a few moments looking at her parents in their faces and then nodded slowly.

“What is it Beta?” Her father’s soothing voice asked.

Tara averted her eyes to the floor. “You might hate me.”

Her father gave her a hug. “Tara, there is nothing that you say or do that will make us hate you. No matter what, we’ll always love you.”

Tara quickly hugged her father tight, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.

“Oh Dad, I love you.”

Taking a control over herself, she detached herself from Samir and got up. She looked at her father and then at her mother.

“Mom, Dad, I… I don’t like boys.”

“There you go. Now I won’t have to worry about you having a boyfriend till the time of your marriage.” Her mother exclaimed gleefully.

But Samir was thinking hard. “And…?”

“Dad, I think… I think I am not straight if you know what I…”

“What?” Her mother’s scream resonated in the room.

Samir raised his to stop Alka.

“You sure?”

“Yes I am.” Tara replied now with full confidence. How she loved her dad for being so understanding.

“Samir, have you gone out of your mind? Tara what the hell is this?”

“I am sorry Mom…”

Tears loomed in her eyes again. “Dad Mom, I love you both and I just had to tell you this.”

“Oh god. Samir, tomorrow first thing in the morning, we are taking her to the doctor.”

“This is not something for the doctor Alka. We are talking about  our daughter’s feelings.” Her father sternly asserted.

“Then we are taking her to my Baba. He’ll…”

“Will you stop it Alka.”

Samir got up and started pacing the room.

“I am not stopping. Tomorrow we’re going to the Baba and that’s final.”

“Mom, I am not going anywhere.”

“Did you see that Samir, it’s all because of you. Because of your behavior, you have made her sissy.

“So what do you want me to do Alka? Beat her, treat her like a pariah?”

“Please I am sorry…” Tara pleaded.

“Sorry? When the world comes to know of this, we’ll become a laughing stock.” Alka was hysterical. “Oh my god, oh my god.”

“I am sorry Mom.”

“You don’t have to be sorry Tara.” Her father was being understanding again.

“Oh yes”, her mother blurted again. “like father like daughter.”

“Shut up Alka, not another word.” Samir angrily took a step towards his wife. His mind was in turmoil. All the past that seemed so buried threatened to reveal itself.

“Why should I shut up? Your daughter should know it’s all because of you. You are responsible for this Samir damn it.” Alka screamed.

“Please Alka don’t…” His voice was now merely a whisper as if full of guilt.

“What does she mean Dad?”

“Ask me Tara ask me… “ Her mother had taken hold of her arms and turned her around to face her. “My mistake I should have walked out of this marriage the day you were born.”

“Please Alka for God’s sake…”

“What are you talking about?” Tara asked bewildered looking from the anguish face of her father to the hateful look that her mother gave him.

“Tara, you have inherited your father’s genes.”

“Please…”

Alka continued, fire spitting out of her mouth. “Your daughter should know of your past.”

“What past Mom?

“That your father is gay!

The words stung her like a bee.

“What?”

“And he kept it hidden from me.” Her mother continued.

Samir slowly lowered himself to the floor. He looked at Tara earnestly. “I had no option. I was under pressure to get married.”

“You should have told me before marrying me. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t chanced upon your boyfriend’s letter.”

“Please Alka that’s all past now.”

“Past? I should have kept Tara away from you. See the price I have to pay today. Like father like daughter…” Alka’s voice nearly broke as she said the last line.

Tearfully, Tara too lowered herself to the floor not believing what she was hearing. Quickly Samir dragged himself towards her and hugged her.

“I am sorry my baby, I am sorry… Everything is not what it seems.”

“Mom, dad, if Dad… if… what about me then?

“You are my daughter Tara. And that’s the truth.” Samir pleaded with her, crying inconsolably.

Tara looked at him. She could see the truth in his eyes.

Her father continued, “The day I held you in my arms in the hospital, that very day I cut off all ties with my past. The letter your mother found was an answer to my last goodbye to my friend. Trust me…”

Took slowly wiped her father’s tears. “I trust you dad.”

Her father took her face in his hands. “You were one of the most beautiful  moments of my life to happen to me. And my priorities changed after you came in this world, came in our lives.” He looked lovingly at his wife. Their eyes met and she too seemed to soften up a bit.

“But now she is just like you. Damn you Samir.” She said remorsefully.

“Stop it Mom! Stop it! Dad I love you and I am proud to be your daughter…”

Her mother gave a mock laughter. “You both have gone nuts…”

“Mom, we are what we are and if you say he is not a normal human being, then it’s fine with me.”

Her father’s words joined in the chorus, “And it’s fine with me with who she is.”

“What? Oh my god… Oh my god…”

“Stop it Mom! It doesn’t change the fact. And let me tell you that I truly believe in my father unless you have someone different to name… or blame for me.”

“What?” A tight slap left its mark on Tara’s cheeks. “What? How dare you? Are you trying to say that…”

A faint smile appeared on Tara’s face. She had caught her mother temporarily unguarded. “All I am trying to say is I love my dad and I believe in him.”

“Oh my baby.” Samir held on to her. “I love you too.”

Alka realized that she was at a crossroad where here family was the only source of happiness. She looked at her husband and then her daughter. They were no hatred in their eyes for her harshness but only love and warmth and a desire to be accepted. She broke down. “Oh God, what am I to do?”

Samir extended his hand to cover Alka’s. “Believe in your daughter as you have believed in me all these years.”

“But what will the world say?”

“For me, you both are my world.” Tara replied as she took her mother’s other hand in hers. Their fingers interlocked. They looked at each other trying to give some strength, some semblance to their suddenly disrupted lives.

“Alka, I was afraid to open up to you but we should be proud of our daughter who had the courage to open up to us.”

The sound of the doorbell brought the small family out of the cosy little world.

As Samir walked towards the door, Alka called out. “I do believe now that it was the Sapphire that visited the house in the afternoon trying to spread a little cheer.”

Samir stopped to look at her. “And when it flew away, it took away our blues. We should rejoice in that.” He replied as he opened the door to find Abhay outside.

Without a word, Abhay rushed in.

“Oh there you are Tara.”

“Abhay, can we talk tomorrow in college?”

“It’s okay Tara.” Abhay said winking at her and then turned towards her parents. “Uncle, Aunty, I have something to say, I love Tara and wants to marry her.”

“I am sorry Abhay but I can’t marry you.” Tara intervened.

“Come on Tara, don’t be ridiculous. You won’t find a better boy then me.” Boasted Abhay.

“Abhay…”

“Yes…”

Tara took a deep breath. As if to give her the courage, Samir walked over and put his arm around her.

“Abhay, I… I don’t like boys.”

“What? Come again.” Abhay looked at her not believing what he just heard.

“I said I don’t like boys. I like a girl.”

Now more confused Abhay looked at her and then at Alka, followed by Samir and back at Tara.

“What? What? Is this some kind of a joke?”

Samir, Alka and Tara just watched him silently. It took a while for Abhay to realize that Tara was serious and the next moment, Abhay broke into a laughter.

“Oh my god. This is one hell of a surprise. And I thought… Oh my  Lord. Wait till the others find out. I’ve been taken for a royal ride all these years.” He said laughing hysterically.

Samir without a word quickly walked up to Abhay and taking him by his collar flung him out of the door. Abhay went flying and landed with a thud in the corridor.

“Stay out Abhay I don’t think you deserve my daughter even as a  friend.” Samir told him sternly before banging the door close. He turned around to find Alka and Tara eyeing him mischievously before breaking into a thunderous laughter.

“Well Samir, today I can say, I am proud of you for being a protective father.” Alka said forcing a silly grin on Samir’s face.