Friday, February 24, 2017

Once Upon.... Ever After - Part 1 of 4

"..And they lived happily ever after," Arnav was struggling not to grit his teeth, as he almost chewed out the words from the book as he slammed the book close. This was the last time. Bloody last time. Arnav stifled a groan, wishing for the millionth time from the morning, that there was a law which made reading fairy tales, illegal. Well, if that was not possible, Arnav was seriously considering all possible ways of making all fairy tale books invisible to human eye. That would give him immense relief and some breathing time. Both of which he had not had for the past twelve hours.

Even more annoyed, Arnav saw the hideous Kai - the stuffed panda, with one of it's button eyes gauged out and its arms twisted far too many times, and Arnav decided that along with fairy tales, he was going to outlaw stuffed pandas or just about any dolls. He was really done playing with them.

Arnav stifled another groan as he pulled some clay dough sticking from his arms and realized that he really was in a mess. Less said the better.

"Arnav, that was so beautiful." Nandini, all of six years and the recipient of the fairy tale stories, with her twinkling brown eyes, looked at Arnav with some sort of idol worship in her eyes, as she studied the dog-eared and much abused Book of Fairy Tales, in Arnav's hands.

As Arnav saw the tiny brown hands clutching his own, Arnav felt his anger melt away faster than he had felt it. What was it that Aarvi always said? A child's imagination could even make magic come alive. In the past twelve hours that he had been babysitting his niece, he had just about read every single fairy tale in the book. And Arnav found the fairy tales extremely annoying and insulting to his intelligence.

But Nandini's cheery smile at the end of the book somehow made the entire story very interesting.

Which just went on to say that Arnav spoke too soon.

"Arnav, I have a question," Nandini said.

Arnav was really worried because the clock in the room showed the time to be 8.45. Aarvi had specifically told him that Nandini had to be asleep by 8.30 and nearly threatened him with dire consequences if that was not done. And remembering the way his day had gone, Arnav had no trouble in believing how bad the day could go.

At 8.15, after a hasty dinner Arnav had started reading the fairy tale hoping that the kid would go to sleep by the end of it.

Promisingly enough, she had looked extremely tired as he put her to bed and wrapped her under her favourite blanket - "Nicky". Exactly how someone managed to name their blanket as Nicky was beyond Arnav. But then Arnav decided not to ask too many questions.

As it is, Arnav was facing far too problems in the questions department. For instance, Arnav just did not know why the seven dwarfs had eight rooms in their house - one just for Snow White. That Nandini forgave him for not knowing. What she did not forgive him was when he told her that Snow White slept in the kitchen.

Nandini looked so furious with his answer that someone would have thought Arnav had asked Nandini to go sleep in the kitchen. She had pouted for the whole of fifteen minutes, stomping her foot and refusing all and any attempts by Arnav to pacify her. It was only when Arnav had promised Nandini that he was going to build the eighth room in the home of the dwarves that Nandini had relented.

And Arnav had wasted no further time as they had had their dinner and now when Arnav thought Nandini was going to sleep, she had a question.

"Can you ask the question in the morning?" Arnav asked as he hoped he did not sound too desperate.

"How can I sleep, if my question is not answered?" Nandini asked Arnav furiously as Arnav sighed to himself. And as he studied Nandini's stubborn chin and furious pout, Arnav realized that Nandini really resembled her mother too much. It was Arnav who was Aarvi's twin, but Nandini's features were exactly like Aarvi's features, down to the way, her brown eyes turned dark when she was furious.

Arnav said nothing, which Nandini took as a license to ask her question. "Did Cinderella not trip on her dress when she married the prince?" Nandini asked Arnav seriously.

Arnav blinked, resisting the urge to groan. Seriously?

"The servants of the princes," Arnav said suddenly feeling almost inspired, praying to the Powers That Be that none of his friends ever heard his answer. If that happened, he was going to die of embarrassment even before he started explaining. "They made sure Cinderella did not trip."

Arnav was shocked, because Nandini was actually satisfied with his answer.

She clutched his hands lightly. "Mom would come tomorrow, Arnav?" She asked sleepily.

That was another thing between the two of them. Despite the twenty two year difference between them, unless, Aarvi was anywhere in the vicinity, Nandini always called Arnav by his name. And Arnav encouraged that. Arnav would never admit it, but he always felt close to Nandini. Way closer than he felt to Aarvi.

"Yes," Arnav said gently, hoping the kid did not notice that he was worried. The past twelve hours had told him that it was practically impossible to fool kids. Any kids. Because kids just realized that something was wrong as soon as people pretended that things were normal.

But thankfully, Nandhini was too tired to note that Arnav was worried.

Arnav was worried that Aarvi did not call. She had called him yesterday night just to ask him to come over today morning, saying that she had some work. From the morning, there had been no calls from Aarvi. Nothing at all. Arnav had expected Aarvi to be a broody hen and call every one hour, to check on whether the home was still in one piece or whether they had blown it up.

But apparently Aarvi had more faith in Arnav's babysitting skills than he did.

Arnav sighed to himself and turned his attention to Nandini and was shocked to find that Nandini was fast asleep. No one would have believed that until two minutes back, the kid had been asking question after question, making a grown man like Arnav pray the the kid fell asleep.

Arnav pulled the blanket over Nandini covering her, unable to stop smiling, as the book fell down with a thud.

Terrified that Nandini was going to wake up, Arnav snarled angrily at the book. And if the damned book had been alive, it would have been terrified that a really badass judo teacher was looking at it with such a terrifying expression.

But Arnav's look was wasted. Nandini was fast asleep and nothing, not even an earthquake, could wake her up.

Arnav was picking up the good when he saw something written in the back of the book.

Bonded they are right,

They shall both enter together, the Kingdom of might,

One will choose the Dark and the other Light,

One shall pay the price for the other, with the final breath, in the final fight.

Arnav read the lines and that was when everything went blank.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Heartless



Shankar plucked all his courage as he was opening the door of the sixth floor of the News Flash. Shankar's hands which had never trembled while holding a gun or the eyes which looked completely fearless while facing the nameless criminals he had caught, were now cowering in fear.

And Shankar could not let Shreya see that. Shankar told himself that one more time as he opened the door.

The first person he did see in the floor, was Shreya. Her gray eyes were twinkling as always, as she was pulling up a big file and walking towards her seat.

Probably, it was her eyes that drew him to her. Her eyes always seemed to look into him. Shankar did not know how. She seemed to divine what he was thinking, most of the times.

And right now, Shankar wanted nothing more than to just keep seeing her. The ready smile on her face, that absurd dimple...it just drove him crazy.

But along with that Shankar saw something else.  A scar on her forehead. A fresh scar.

And Shankar felt a fresh stab of fear assault him. That prick Karan. Just because Shankar had closed down Karan's smuggling business, Karan had tried to hit Shankar. And Karan really knew where to make Shankar hurt.

Even now, when Shankar thought of the five hours that followed the time, he had come to Shreya's house and found the house in complete disarray, Shankar felt a cold fear assault him. That nameless dread which filled him when he saw that it was Karan's handiwork.

And the following five insane hours, where Shankar had spent doing nothing other than snarl and try his best not to kill people. Shankar had lived and died every second in those five hours.

And he had found her at last, near the abandoned building near the Harbour.

She was barely conscious, as she was struggling not to show how terrified she was. She did not even know that she had hurt her forehead, and Shankar knew she was finding it extremely difficult to focus of him. Her gray eyes looked haunted as she had hugged him tightly as Shankar could feel sobs racking her entire body.

Shankar knew he could not go through all that again and live. Which was why he was here.

That was when she saw him.

Shankar's heart ached as he wished he could record the expressions on her face.

The gray eyes....the beautiful gray eyes. It sparkled with joy and she did not even look like she was thinking about the scars she had. That did not even seem to compute in her head. Shankar wondered how the Powers-That-Be still found time to make girls like that. Then Shankar stopped himself. That was what he was not supposed to be thinking. Especially now. Preferably never.

She moved over and came towards him crossing over the cubicles and never once did her eyes move away from him.

But her smile was hesitant as she studied his foot. "How is your leg?" She asked looking worried at him. "When were you discharged....?"

"I want to talk with you." Shankar said gruffly. He swallowed painfully hoping she would not notice it. The quick concern in her eyes was just driving him insane. He did not deserve that. Not one bit.

Her mouth looked amused as she heard him. "You are talking with me," She said rolling her eyes.

Shankar struggled with himself because he wanted to chuckle.

He did not come here for this.

"ALONE!" Shankar snarled as he saw two to three people from the room were looking curiously at them.

Shankar walked away from the room as Shreya was curiously following him.

They found the first empty room, which turned out to the editor's room. The editor was naturally not there as Shankar looked around the room and found no threat as he looked at Shreya.

"What is with the secrecy, Inspector?" Shreya demanded. "The editor is going to barge in the room and he is going to be very unhappy when he cannot.."

"I cannot do this anymore," Shankar said abruptly, cutting off Shreya's talk. He had never interrupted Shreya before this. He loved to hear her talk. Her melodious voice, her expressive eyes – they made just about anything interesting.

But right now he just could not do it.

"Do you know that your sentence does not have a predicate?" Shreya asked her lips, in half a pout, struggling not to giggle. "All sentences should have a subject and a predicate...." Shreya started pedantically.

And Shankar's heart ached. She was so....

"I cannot do this. I do not see any future for us anymore, Shreya," Shankar said taking a deep breath. He had to finish this as soon as possible. Preferably before he had a complete breakdown.

"What?"

For the first time, there was a doubt in Shreya's face. "What are you talking about Inspector?"

"I do not love you, Shreya,"

There it was. Before coming here, Shankar was sure he was going to gag before the words were out of his mouth. Saying this and saying it like he meant it, just took up all that he could summon right now.

And as he said the words, he could see something in her eyes die. That bubbly enthusiasm which was part of her, it just died.

That was when Shankar felt his bones reeling.

"Shankar, what has gotten into you?" Shreya asked and her voice was not cold. She was just hurt. Too hurt. "Are you doing all this because of what that bastard Karan did?" Shreya asked and she looked like she was gasping to breathe. "You don't have to worry about me, Shankar. I can take care..."

"There is another woman in my life, Shreya," Shankar interrupted harshly, willing Shreya to believe him. "I love her. I do not want to be with you anymore...." Shankar stopped talking because he knew that he could not finish the sentence.

Shreya looked at Shankar in part horror and part disbelief.

And that was when Shankar looked at Shreya and felt confident enough to give her a ruthless smile.

The smile did it.

Shreya looked like she was finding it difficult to breathe as her hurt eyes were struggling to look at Shankar, and she looked like she did not want to believe him. But Shankar's cold eyes and smile were giving her absolutely nothing to hold on to.

"Thank you for telling me upfront," Shreya said in a dead listless voice. "And I hope you have a happy life with her, Shankar." Shreya said in a curiously huddled voice not looking anywhere at him.

She was looking at her feet and Shankar was sure that she did not want him to look at her tear-stained eyes.

And Shankar did not want to do that. He was afraid, he was going to completely break down if he saw that.

And that was at the minute, Shankar knew that Shreya was never going to forgive him. No matter what he said. She would never let him back in her life.

He had broken her heart. Cruelly.

"Goodbye Shankar," Shreya said in chocked voice, walking towards the door and opening it.

She did not even turn back. Not even once.

If she had, she would have seen a broken man. A man who had just had his heart broken.

Shankar closed his eyes, struggling to keep breathing. In-Out. In-Out. Finally, it was over. Shreya would live. She would live with a man who loved her. Not with him. But with a man who really loved her. And who brought light into her life. The same way she did for others.

And Shankar had no doubt that Shreya would find someone else. She was just someone like that. She just needed to blink and men would fall for her.

In a few months, she would probably not even remember him.

Shankar never remembered his journey back home, that day.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An Inventor, his Girlfriend and a Dishwasher

Shreya found Karan huddled on the chair, looking inexplicably sad. And even then, his hands were fiddling with the wires of the machine, which was lying in front of him.
Her experienced eyes were telling her that he was not building or repairing anything in particular. He was just looking dully at the machine in front of him not knowing what else to do. She was more than sure that given a chance he would have told the machine everything about his heartache and his morning. But to be honest, Karan looked too sad for words.
And that was when she saw the man properly for the first time in her life. Karan was a very smart man who loved life with a passion. Karan expressed his love for people in the way he knew best. He built them machines – Machines which he thought would be useful to them.
That was the minute she fell for him. Hard.
Naturally Karan did not notice her expression. But then Karan never noticed normal things. But right now, Karan did not even notice her walk inside his room. He was that glum.
Hi,” She said as he was startled.
The minute he turned, she saw an array of expressions run through his face – a genuine happiness, love and then came the memory of the morning and then his face was riddled with sadness.
I..I am sorry,” He stuttered looking unhappy. “I am sorry, I created a scene in your house before all your guests. I really thought that my machine would be the perfect dishwasher.” He said not looking up from the machine, struggling not to remember the scene at Shreya’s house in the morning.
All the vessels were spewed all over the house. That it made a horrendously bad sound disturbing the events in the hall was half the problem. The “dishwasher” was apparently not done having the final word when it managed to throw a huge pressure cooker right at the hall. And naturally the cooker had to land on the table where Shreya’s father and the other people were already looking worriedly at the kitchen.
The guests were not prepared for the pressure cooker at all and it landed with a thud and sprayed just about all its contents on all the people around the table.
Karan did not remember that scene well because he was for the first time horrified with his own machine as he was trying to get it to stop. Karan vaguely remembered the people in the hall run away claiming something about Martians attacking the earth.
I am guessing your father’s company lost the contract with those people.” Karan said in a tone which he might have used to announce the end of the world. Because just in the morning, Shreya had been furious with him which was nothing compared to the way her father was looking at Karan. Karan did not see movies much. Karan just did not have time for it. But Karan was sure that in all of the movies, there was a bad villain with evil eyes who spewed bad dialogues and generally made a mess in the life of the hero. Karan did not tell anybody, but today morning, Shreya’s father was looking suspiciously like that hero whose life had been messed up by a villain.
Karan unfortunately knew exactly well, what that particular metaphor made him.
I wouldn’t worry about it,” She said struggling not to smile as she sat beside him. “I know my father well. Something new would come up. Besides he has already gone to see some new investors now.”
I will try to behave, Shreya,” He said earnestly. “I would not make a mess like this. I won’t bring my new inventions and dump them at your home,” He said dully.
If you don’t do that then you are not the guy I am looking for,” She said shaking her head as her eyes looking amused.
I know I am not the guy you are looking for,” He said in the same dull tone. “You need someone else...” He looked tired and it was obvious that he could not finish that sentence either. “Not someone like me. Who makes weird things and makes a mess...”
It would help if you sometimes listen to people,” She said interrupting him, struggling not to laugh.
He stopped as he wondered what she had said and he had even stopped fiddling with the wires. “What did you say?” He asked her suspiciously.
Do I have your attention?” She asked him trying not to giggle. “Because I cannot repeat all this and not die from embarrassment.”
Karan frowned and Shreya was really impressed that he turned away from the machine and nodded at her.
I love you Karan. Through everything. Even if you bring down my house.” Shreya said as she spoke she really wished she could record Karan’s expression, at that time. He was honestly looking exactly like a scientist who had just discovered that the earth was flat after all. “Because you are the one who is going to repair it for me later too.” Shreya said trying to keep her face serious.
You like me?” Karan asked as his eyes were shining beautifully and there was a lovely spark in his eyes and Shreya had reached her limit of poker face. “You still like me? After the morning?” He asked again as confusion and thrill were still fighting in his face.
Looking at him, Shreya lost the battle as she broke out laughing and she laughed until there were tears in her eyes.
Are you laughing at me, Shreya?” Karan asked worriedly.
Shreya could not stop laughing, even to explain.

You, Mr. Karan Lovan are the only man I love. And I love you, because I know that now more than ever, the world needs goofy inventors,” She told him finally, still occasionally hiccuping and laughing. “To brighten up their lives and make life worth loving.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mothers, Daughters and BFFs



I had been a tomboy my entire childhood. There was not a single game I could not play. Football, cricket, running, skating, you name it and I had to do. I was out with the boys all the time and having match with them, I mostly won.

And it was fun. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing I missed. I was out playing and very far away from homework and other girls, which was exactly where I wanted to be.

Fast forward that to 28 years later, I was astonished to see my daughter Akshaya come home very angry from her school.

"What?," I asked, wondering what could have possibly gone wrong, in the five hours that she was at school.

"I hate Suguna!," Akshaya threw her bag on the sofa with so much force that I was sure she was imagining her bag to be Suguna. You should probably know that Suguna is my daughter's best friend. Or so I believed, until about five hours back.

"What did she do?,'' I asked trying to appear reasonable.

"She wrote a very bad letter, pretending to be me!," Akshaya thundered angrily. There were so many things seemingly wrong in the sentence that even trying to understand it was beyond my capability.

I looked at my daughter wishing that she would explain. My daughter angrily rolled her eyes probably thinking that I was an idiot. But to be honest, I really did not have a clue. Exactly how a six year old could pretend to write another six year old was something beyond my comprehension. And there was the fact that the six year old had written something bad. The definition of 'writing something bad' completely escaped me.

"What did she do?," I bleated again with the genuine hope that my daughter would explain.

"Look at this!," My daughter pulled out a letter from the bag and brandishing it at me like a weapon. I hastily stepped back, thoroughly afraid.

Slowly gathering my courage, I read the letter. Written in a scrawl were:

Dear Sushi,

Anjali is not your best friend.

Akshaya.

I reread the letter, still nothing making sense. I looked at my daughter blankly.

"Sushi found that letter in her bag and she thought I wrote that letter!," My daughter announced in a tone which may as well be the end of the world.

"Why did she think that?," I asked feeling completely out of depth. I vaguely remembered the character Sushi. Another unforgettable gem of a friend, my daughter had.

My daughter looked disgusted with me. I knew that look well. It was the look which meant 'how-can-you-ask-all-the-wrong-questions?'

I thought back hastily as I rephrased my question. "How did you know that Suguna kept the letter in Sushi's bag?,'' My daughter smiled satisfied. Probably she was happy that she had finally made me smart.

Anyway I had no such happiness. My daughter started a very angry tirade. "Today morning, Suguna was looking at me very strangely. That was the reason I knew that this was by her!"

I just missed hitting my head hard on my forehead in frustration, but it had taken one year of practice for not doing that.

"Ok!," I breathed in deeply, because either I was having an irresistible urge to burst out laughing and shouting in a frustrated manner, all at the same time. (How that is possible, I do not know. But that was exactly how I felt) "What did you do?"

"Do you want to know what I did?," My daughter asked her eyes shining with anticipation. I did not try wasting any of my grey cells as I meekly shook my head. "I wrote a letter and put it in Anjali's bag! I wrote 'Dear Anjali, Sushi is not your friend'. And mom I wrote Suguna's name in the end!," My daughter said looking unimaginably proud of herself. "Anjali will think that Suguna wrote that letter, won't she?,'' she continued very happily.

Honestly, I had reached my limit of my poker face. I shook my head in a sagely fashion wondering whether there was anything else. The rest of the evening passed with occasional remarks which my daughter made about Suguna's badness as I nodded my head.

**********

As usual I was waiting for my daughter to come back from home. When I saw her she was still angry. I wondered whether Suguna matter had reached the next level when my daughter threw her bag again on the sofa.

''I hate Anjali," She announced.

I was stunned. ''What happened to Suguna?,'' I asked unable to stop myself.

My daughter looked at me like I was an idiot. ''What about Suguna? She is my best friend!,'' She announced. ''Didn't you hear a single word I was saying?,'' She demanded angrily. ''I was talking about Anjali!,''

*****

I finally heard the entire story. I am not wasting my time and yours telling you about why she hated Anjali. But there was a conversation at the end of it which would probably be interesting.

''You know my life was a lot less complicated, than yours!,'' I told my daughter truthfully.

''That is because you people were a lot silly than us!,'' My daughter said having the last word.

And You Are...?



'Gramps, I have a question!'

I will admit it. Other than the first word, the remaining four words in that particular order, are the scariest words I have ever heard. And any person who has a young kid would totally agree with me. Because you never know what is going to come after that sentence. It could be followed with something quiet simple like what is for dinner to questions which can totally blow you away.

Luckily, this time, I was not the recipient of the question from my nine year old daughter.

And the sixty-three year old man to whom the question was addressed to, was completely unfazed by the question. I put it down to my dad's over-confidence. But then seriously no one was asking me.

"Yeah kid!" he said, giving my daughter his trademark grin, as my daughter settled herself on her favourite sofa – my father.

''What is the meaning of being yourself?,'' she asked.

I was waiting for my dad's smug smile to vanish or at least falter. I mean seriously if I was asked that question, I would freak out. Because I was very sure that, that would end with a very lengthy conversation and my headache. Apparently, my daughter was not yet done with the question. 'Who else am I going to be, if not myself?' My daughter demanded.

My dad laughed, which made me wonder whether he had even understood the question in the first place. Ok, I admit it, it was lame. He is my father and I am not supposed to say such things. I totally get it.

And his answer pretty much proved to me, that I had completely misunderstood my dad. Or probably my father had gotten exceptionally smart over the past few years, just hanging around me.

''Tell me who you are, kid,'' My dad said with a roguish smile, ''And I will answer your question.''

That stopped my daughter. Well, it stopped me too. At nine, exactly what did my dad expect my daughter to answer. Hell, at thirty five, even I did not know the answer.

Much to my horror my dad pointed at me. Horror visions of me explaining the answer to that question were freely roaming my head, when my dad said something, which depressed me. ''Look at your mom. When she was younger, she used to talk, laugh, smile, run, jump and play. Basically she enjoyed herself. And now, all she does, is stare at her computer, looking morose and depressed, all the time.''

My daughter giggled, sparing me a pathetic glance.

Goddammit. These grandparents and grand kids together really gang up on you and no matter what, you are always the bad guy.

''So which is the real her, kid?,'' My dad asked, as I was seething. ''The younger one or the one she is now?,'' my dad asked my daughter. My daughter frowned as my father continued. ''Was she being herself when she was younger or is she being herself now?''

''I do not know, gramps,'' My daughter admitted freely as she watched my father with real respect in those eyes.

I wish, I really wish that she looks at me like that, at least once in her life.

''All of us have been trained to look at ourselves in a certain way. The problem, kid is very simple, we are never allowed to know, who we are,'' my father said simply.

My daughter's forehead creased.

''Meaning?'' she asked.

''Mom tells you not to do something because it is wrong. Your teacher tells you not to do something because it is bad. Your dad tells you not to do something, because you do not understand it. Your friends, they decide what you should do. So in all this, when was the last time you ever asked yourself what you wanted to do,'' my dad asked.

Forget my daughter, even I was speechless actually. Which was kind of stupid, because I was not talking at all.

''You let other people decide your happiness. You let other people measure you. You let other people determine your success.'' My dad laughed shaking his head. ''There is no 'you' left over. So you can pretty much be sure, you can never be yourself that way.''

''So what? I should not listen to others?'' My daughter asked, a little annoyed.

And I was really willing to bang my head on the table. The girl talks as if she is a saint from heaven and she is an obedient kid who listens to me (God, even thinking that, was giving me a headache.)

My dad laughed heartily shaking his head. ''Most of the times adults tell you stuff for your own good. I am not saying don't listen to them,'' My dad caressed my daughter's cheeks and said quietly, ''What I am saying is also listen to yourself. Once you start doing that, you are on the first step to becoming yourself.''

My daughter smiled as my father had the last word. ''You are a unique person kid. There is no one else in the whole world who is like you. So when others try to make you like themselves, they are taking away what makes you, you. Probably being what you are would not make you as successful as them. Probably being what you are would not make you as rich as them. But being what you are will definitely make you more happy than anyone else.''

For a second, a huge second, I saw something change in my father's face as he was talking to my daughter. Because I could see my father without the mask that life had trained him wear for the past sixty three years.

And the fifty-four year difference between the two people before me, seemed non existent as the two hugged and laughed.

When Time Stops

Aarvi suddenly opened her eyes and felt something wrong. Her head was hurting, as Aarvi gasped falling down, her eyes watering. She was sweating and it was feeling like she had run a mile. And then there was the feeling that something was wrong. The feeling if any was accentuated right now. She ignored her burning head as she looked around.

Beyond the blurred eyesight, Aarvi stared and saw that it was her classroom. Her classroom. The one where she and the others were practicing something..... Aarvi winced as her head started hurting real bad. She was taking deep breaths trying to control herself. And then again she was feeling something. She did not know what. It was....Unable to understand, Aarvi stumbled as she walked towards the classroom window. Carefully she peered down and was shocked slightly.

And it was not because of the view. The view of the Institute from the classroom was always the same. She could see the rest of the Institute from here.

But what she was feeling was worse than anything that Aarvi could imagine. It was silent. That was the whole thing. It was too silent.

Aarvi's heart was thudding painfully and the blood rushing to her ears was making it impossible for her to listen, as she collapsed. Slowly calming herself, Aarvi pushed herself up and stumbled out of the classroom. And Aarvi gasped.

The Institute was empty. The entire Institute, which had at least a hundred rowdy teenage students was empty. The empty classrooms...the huge place....It was almost making Aarvi claustrophobic and she was hyperventilating. Her headache was threatening to overpower her as even without realizing it, her hands glowed as Aarvi formed a shield around her. If Airan was after her, Aarvi realized that right now, she was really not going to offer any defences. She was too badly freaked. Really badly freaked ....

She looked around and there was no one there. Not one soul.

"Where is everyone?" Aarvi yelled and stopped immediately. The echo of her own voice through the empty Institute sounded....almost like a death knell. It was so loud...So unimaginably loud.

Her legs were feeling like jelly as she was whimpering, and stumbled towards the ground floor. She saw no one in the corridor. She was pushing open the other rooms. No one.

"Guys?" Aarvi whispered as she ran down the steps. No one. Aarvi's shield collapsed as she could no longer keep it up. She was already feeling real bad and the shield was draining her.

Aarvi ran towards the office in the ground floor and almost yelled hoarsely as she heard noises coming from there. She nearly collapsed as she pushed the office door open and unceremoniously collapsed there as she saw Mono there sitting in her usual chair, looking smug and boring as usual.

There was a small part of her telling her that she and Mono were sworn enemies from the time Aarvi joined the Institute. Mono was that perfect, strict, boring, following the rules...blah blah blah and everything else as the warden of the Institute and Mono was everything that Aarvi was not. They had hit it off the first time they had met. Literally. She and Mono had had a furious mind shield exercise and the entire thing would have ended with both of them killing each other. Only Aarush's interference prevented the matter from going any further.

And right now Aarvi just did not care. Aarvi made a weird gurgling voice as she saw the warden sitting in her usual chair, looking imperiously at her and she could not stop smiling, breathing in short gasps. And Aarvi was appalled to find that she was very close to weeping...

"What are you doing here? Why the shield?" the warden demanded looking at her slightly stunned. Probably, Mrs. Marika Mona, the warden of the Institute, realized that something was really wrong and forgot the usual tone that she usually used when talking with Aarvi.

"Where is everybody?" Aarvi asked stammering as she slumped on the chair opposite to the warden. There was a time when Mono had specifically told Aarvi never to do that. Mono had said that she had to wait until the person in any room, asked her to sit, or some such crap. Aarvi never listened to that before. And she definitely was not doing it right now, when she was half out of her wits.

"What everybody?" the warden asked looking slightly surprised. "You mean Raila and Sharila?" Mono asked pointing behind Aarvi. Aarvi sighed almost going limp with relief. Both Sharila and Raila were coming inside the Mono's room.

"Has Airan attacked the Institute? Has he done something to the others?" Aarvi asked trying to calm down her heart which was beating real hard.

"Aarvi, is something wrong with you?" Sharila asked, frowning as she looked at Aarvi. "Who is Airan?" Sharila asked.

And that stopped Aarvi. Real hard. She was feeling numb. More than numb. "You don't know Airan?" Aarvi whispered, not able to get the words out.

Sharila and Raila looked at each other worried. They then watched Mono. And even at that time, Aarvi had no doubt that the three of them were thinking of her as a candidate straight for the mental asylum.

"How can you not know Airan?" Aarvi shouted. "He is the dark Magi! The one who turned bad and has been hunting other Magis for the past week!" Aarvi looked at Sharila hoping, really hoping that the others would snap out of this. She was seriously freaking out.

Actually she was already past freaking out.

"You have been reading far too many books!" Raila said grinning as she sat on the chair beside Aarvi.

Aarvi was almost gasping for breath trying to concentrate.

"Aarush?" she wailed trying her telepathy. Aarsuh, her twin had to reply. Even before they had come to the Institute, the telepathic connection between the two of them was strong. Their mother used to complain that what she told one, the other automatically knew....They were always like that. And now, after training with Manar Kal in the Institute, the connection between them became stronger.

Aarvi could not believe that she had not thought of contacting Aarsuh first. And a second later, Aarvi was shocked as she opened her eyes suddenly, crashing as she fell down from the chair. Aarvi was getting up, running down the stairs with the two girls following her. "I cannot feel Aarsuh!" Aarvi said her breath coming out in gasps. "My....brother!" Aarvi said her voice trembling as she ran out of the hostel.

"What?" Raila asked looking confused.

Aarvi turned clutching Sharila's shoulder's hard, almost shaking Sharila. "Your brother Nehar. He is a powerful telekinetic. Where is he?"

Sharila was watching Aarvi like she was a disease as Aarvi fumbled. "Guys! We were all being taught by Manar Kal in our classroom at the Institute. He was taking a class about the time freeze bubble. The five of us and Veneera was there."

Aarvi winced as she struggled to remember that thing and fell down and would have hurt herself if Sharila had not caught her.

Aarvi's eyes were watering real bad as she realized that remembering anything was becoming too difficult. Almost painful.....Sharila opened her mouth and that was when Aarvi felt something behind her.

Aarvi turned her heart thundering.

"Aarvi?"

There was a bright swirling multi-coloured light before her. Too bright. And Aarvi was feeling giddy, as she was struggling not to break down.

Aarush. Aarvi was struggling to breathe properly. She could finally hear Aarush.

"Aarush?" She sobbed for breath, yelling as she forgot to use her telepathic connection. "What happened?"

"...gone! Can't see...come!"

And then even before Aarush could elaborate, the lights, the swirling connection, it was all gone.

"AARUSH?" Aarvi yelled running towards the place and found nothing there. No lights and worse no Aarush.

Aarvi remained rooted on the place as she heard Sharila breathing in sharply behind her.

"What is wrong with you, Aarvi?" Sharila asked her warily. "You are talking and behaving like...."

"Where is Raila?" Aarvi asked still whsipering, her heart beating real hard. "She was here just a few minutes ago..."

"Raila?" Sharila asked looking confused.

Aarvi watched Sharila her heart beating like a sledgehammer. "You don't know do you?" Aarvi asked looking around. "Why am I the only one who can remember?" Aarvi looked around trying to make sense of something.

Sharila was watching Aarvi warily. "Something is really wrong with you, Aarvi. First you run to the empty office, all the way from the classroom and you claim to be asking for people...."

"Empty office?" Aarvi asked Sharila numb. "Mono was there! Our warden!" Aarvi gasped. "You were the one who gave her the nickname Mono!"

"Mono? What is that?" Sharila mouthed looking confused. "It was always just the two of us in the entire Institute!" Sharila said looking real scared of Aarvi.

Aarvi stared at Sharila for a few seconds. She could not think. Too many stupid things. And none of it was making sense.

Aarvi looked around the empty place. Aarvi was struggling to remember what it was that she had felt from Aarush...Gone...Can't see...

Aarvi looked around and suddenly...

"Oh my God!" she said, as she nearly pushed the stunned Sharila aside, running.

"Hey! Where are you...?" Sharila called running behind her.

Aarvi was running at top speed towards Institute. Her footsteps thudding in the empty Institute and it was actually more than terrifying.

"Wait up, Aarvi!" Sharila called as they both ran up the Institute.

Aarvi ran to the fourth floor...her classroom.

The place, where it had all started. And Sharila was right behind her.

"Aarvi, what are you....?" Sharila called and Aarvi was slightly freaked out, as Sharila disappeared as she was talking.

But right now, Aarvi was beginning to understand.

"Aarush?" Aarvi called quietly.

It was quiet.

Aarvi closed her eyes and focused. "Aarush?"

"AARVI?"

Aarvi nearly broke her connection with Aarush. The barrage of feelings that she was feeling from Aarush was too high. Concern, worry, anxiety, anger, hopelessness, fear...And Aarush was nearly yelling in her mind.

"I managed to create the time bubble and I am inside it?" Aarvi asked as she tried focusing again on Aarush.

"Yes!" Aarush nearly screamed inside her mind. "You were gone! I could only feel you. I tried forcing the time bubble open before. I could not. Manar is trying to get you out. He says that you have to stand in the exact place that you entered the bubble. He said that you are the only one who can break it from the inside. You created the time freeze bubble. You have to create an opening to come out!"

Aarvi nodded as she tried to recollect where she was standing when Manar was taking the class. They were all practicing the time freeze bubble. A mind shield which could freeze time inside a particular area. Nehar had just practiced it and failed. It was Aarvi's turn and then....

Aarvi stood at the place where she had started learning it.

"I do not know how I did it, Aarush!" Aarvi said as she was trying to calm herself. She could not keep up her connection when she panicked.

"Follow me!" Aarush said desperately. "I am not going anywhere. Not without you. Just think of me! I will wait for you. I am waiting for you."

Without meaning to, Aarvi smiled. Aarush was always like this. Her brother....Always thinking with his heart. And that was the heart she was trusting herself in. That heart would always guide her.

Aarvi closed her eyes letting Aarush guide her. His thoughts..his feelings....his path...guiding her to the place where he was in.....

And then suddenly she saw the bright coloured lights swirling before her. It was so bright. So bright that she could barely see it. And still feeling Aarush she stepped inside the light.

**********

Aarush was almost sick as he saw Aarvi appear before him. He collapsed as she appeared before him outside time bubble, she had managed to create.

Aarush was just not able to do anything, as he felt drained....physically and otherwise.

"If you ever do that again, I will kill you!" he whispered as Aarvi hugged him tightly, looking unable to stop herself as he could feel sobs rack through her body.

Gray Areas



"I will tell you a story!"

These were the most thrilling words I have heard, even now. Especially when these stories are from my dad. My dad's stories are really too good. I like hearing them for the very simple reason they though they are short they make you think for an unnaturally long time.

"There was a sage sitting outside his hermitage and like most of the people in his time he made a vow. A serious one...." My father said as I giggled. "The sage vowed that he would always speak the truth!" My dad said solemnly.

I rolled my eyes wondering whether the story was even relevant today, in our times when there were people like me, who lied so effortlessly that most of the times I did not even know I was doing it.

Anyway, my father continued. "The sage had a hermitage and just beyond his hermitage was a forked road – one of the roads led into the forest and the other road led to another village."

Now that my dad had laid the premise of the story, he continued. "One day, the sage saw a terrified man with blood oozing down his arms, running on the road. The sage saw the whole thing and also saw that the injured man entered the forked road to the right and hide inside forest. A few minutes later, some thugs came and saw the forked road and then they spotted the sage. The thugs who were armed with big sticks, knew that the sage had taken a vow to always speak the truth. So they asked the sage where the injured man had gone!"

Now I was horrified, as my dad continued. "The sage did his duty perfectly and told the thugs where the man was hiding. The thugs then went inside the forest and killed the injured man hiding there."

God. This was a horror story. I thought as I watched my father wondering what my dad wished to tell me with this parable.

Unmindful of my mental status, my dad now looked at me. "A few years later, the sage died. Do you know what happened when the sage went to the Abode of the Dead?" my dad asked me.

Seriously, I did not expect my dad to ask me that. I am very sure some very smart people somewhere were probably trying to find the answer to that one....

"It was ordained that the sage had to go to hell." My father said simply, not waiting for me to give the answer.

I blinked. I honestly had not seen that one coming. "Why?" was all I could manage.

"The reason was that, the sage spoke the truth, when he should have lied!" My father said with a small smile.

Ok, Now I was speechless. For a really long time.

"But we are taught to always speak the truth, dad!" I said slowly, after some time. I am more than sure that one of my boring teachers would have told me that. Or probably all of them did. "It is right to speak the truth, isn't it?" I asked quietly, watching my dad.

My dad laughed. "It is not about lying or telling the truth, kid! This story got your attention, because it addresses a gray area." he said. "As children, we all learn that the world is always black or white; good or bad." My dad looked out of the window wistfully. "But then as we grow, we realized that life is never like that. People are never good or bad. They are just people put in different circumstances, other than our own. Some people choose a particular way driven by a particular emotion. The others choose another path, based on another emotion." My father watched me with a smile. "Once we begin to analyze people and their reasons, we may know the reason for their decision. But then as life goes on, we come to know that there is nothing to go on, no exact path which can be followed when there are gray areas."

My dad shook his head and for a brief second I could see an old man...Not my dad, but an old man with the weight of all he had done, in his whole life. "The rules and the laws are there and made for us to lead a happy and comfortable life. But then in some cases the rules cannot be followed. The laws cannot be made applicable. So what do we do? We bend the rules...We bend the rules to suit our needs for that purpose. And in doing so, there is one question that always haunts us – Was I correct in doing so....?" My dad said watching me.

"I am not the right person to answer that question." I said watching my dad.

My dad smiled, shaking his head. "Nobody other than the person who did the act, is the right person to answer that question. All of us know, deep down in our hearts, we always know whether what we did was correct or not."

My dad watched me. "Some gifted persons already know the value of listening to their hearts. Such persons act because it was necessary to act in that particular way at that particular time. They see no regret in what they have done, because they know that that was the only thing they could have done at that time. They are the ones who are truly enlightened..."

I nodded.

"But to the rest of us, the normal humanity, we are always at conflicts with our heart and brain. The heart asks us to do something because it is right. The brain overrules it, because the act is against the Rules.....The Rules which always deals with black and white....."

"So then what can determine what is right or wrong?" I asked finally.

My dad made no reply. He just pointed his hands at my heart. "That is the only guide we have. Would be a good idea to listen to it!" was all he said.

The House



'I got a buyer for this house.' Chinar told Karan, as he sighed and nodded at the cleaner he had brought along and nodded him to start sweeping the place.

'FOR THIS HOUSE?' Chinar's best friend Karan remarked looking shocked.

'Yeah!' Chinar said nearly laughing at the stupidity of the woman who was buying the property. The woman was living abroad and frankly Chinar knew many like that.

'Oh! Those boring people!' Karan said sighing, wishing he had some more clients like that. Such people who lived abroad and brought abysmally bad properties across the country, which no one here was willing to buy.

'That seems to a door to the basement!' the cleaning man spoke in a coarse voice interrupting the two of them. 'Shall I get down?'

'NO!' Chinar said almost horrified. 'Do not open it! It must be barricaded shut eight years back by the police.'

'Police?' Karan murmured to Chinar. The cleaner looked at the house almost scared as he rapidly walked away from there, walking to another room, sweeping the floor with an almost broken broom.

'Otherwise, this house has no option of getting sold at all. It has been lying in the burner for all the eight years that it was uninhabited.'

'Who does this house belong to, man?' Karan asked Chinar a little suspiciously.

'Professor Jaganath Oran.' China said quietly.

The house was suddenly quiet. Almost a sinister type of quiet.

'You shouldn't have done this Chinar!' Karan said finally.

'The woman does not know. She does not need to know.' Chinar said firmly. 'And probably, all this house needs is a change in name, Karan.' Chinar said sharply watching Karan. 'Then I am sure its fortune is going to change.'

Karan looked angry but he said nothing. Because as far as he was concerned what Chinar was doing was wrong. This house....this house was the reason, their otherwise calm city was in a mess about eight years back and all that was brought to an end literally with a bang.

Because since the fire accident eight years back, the house had had absolutely no takers. Professor Jagannath who was living in the house had drained his wife's money while he was pretending to invent 'the next big thing'. After the first few attempts, the wife had been sensible. After realizing that she just could not let her husband waste her money, she had taken her kid and left town. There were rumours that the professor was so engrossed in his work that he did not even know that his wife was not at home for the first two days. But then life definitely had a weird sense of irony. The professor had announced to the world on the third day in the morning that he had made the greatest breakthrough ever known to science. The papers all laughed at him. Many of them realized that it was nothing than a pathetic attempt of the man to get his wife back with him. And frankly that was all the attention the man's interview got.

And despite this, the evening papers were all full of him.

Because that evening, the entire house blew up. Literally. Along with everything and everyone inside it....

The police had put the entire thing down as the crazy man's stupid experiment and passed it off as an accident and forgotten it.

The press had tried to get an interview from the wife or rather the widow and had failed in that and had eventually forgotten about it.

But the people in the city did not forget it. No one came up to buy the house. It had always been vacant.....Until now, some rich woman abroad was making a blind purchase here.....

**********

'Thank you! I can take care of myself here.' the very foreign looking woman said taking the key from Chinar. And frankly Chinar was shocked and surprised. That the woman lived abroad was more than obvious.

And Chinar was shocked for obvious reasons. He really had not expected the woman to come. But she had and the woman looked like she would find out very soon about the history of the house....

And that made Chinar very unhappy.

Because he knew that he would be selling this house very soon. Just about as soon as the woman learnt the history of the house by talking to the people around her.

*********

The woman said nothing as she saw the hastily done paint job outside the house and nodded at the man.

Chinar watched the woman go inside the house and waited for a few seconds. Then he got inside the vehicle. The woman could call him, he thought in a surly fashion, as he started his vehicle.

The woman slipped the key inside the house and blinked. This house....She inhaled deeply as the scent of the new paint struck her. But that was not what registered in her head.

She waited for her dizziness to pass through.

She then opened her eyes. 'Daddy! I am home! I have come and I am going to make it right.' the woman whispered to herself as she walked towards the door leading to the basement.

Any Time is Coffee Time!



"This is bitter!,"Suhani said making a face as she took a sip of the coffee. Even smelling the damned liquid, she was more than sure that she would not like it. Tasting it just proved her right. Considering that she was seriously addicted to all sweets, no one in their right minds would consider that she would like coffee.

In his usual mysterious fashion, her husband Omkar merely looked at her and smiled, not saying anything.

It was in the evening she learnt the reason for her husband's smile. "Oh! He is practically addicted to coffee," Her mother-in-law said giving her a knowing smile. "I have really tried to get him off but I think this is the one thing which he just does not want to give up."

Suhani looked at the dark brown coloured, vile liquid blinking before her with anxiety.

Milk and Decoction together with sugar made coffee. OK! Was not exactly rocket science. It was in the span of the next three days that she realized exactly how many ways she could get that combination wrong to make a really bad coffee. Milk could be more, the decoction could be light, the sugar could be more, the milk could not be warm enough. Yes, even the heat of the coffee changed its taste.

The fourth day Suhani was more than depressed wondering how wrong she could get mixing three ingredients in one cup.

That morning, Suhani looked at her husband with apprehension as he entered the kitchen. There was an excitement in his eyes, which made her wonder. He obviously loved the drink and consistently for the past three days Suhani had denied him a really good coffee and he was still here on the fourth day with probably a little hope. Suhani studied his face again ....No....there was only excitement...

That was when the heaven's opened and realization dawned. Suhani knew how to make a good coffee...She just needed the right reason to make it.

Looking at her husband's face she realized that she would make the coffee right, just to make his eyes light up with excitement while he drank it.

Her hands were a blur as she mixed the ingredients and this time, the smell of the coffee was delicious....She passed the coffee to her husband smiling.

Suhani saw his eyes lit up with joy as he took his first sip which lasted down to the end of the cup....

Many years later, still nothing has convinced Suhani that coffee is a good drink and nothing has managed to tempt her to drink it, but then she makes the best coffees in the world.

At least she makes the best coffees for the people she loves. Because now she knew the best ingredient while making the coffee. Just a little amount of love. Not just the coffee, anything which comes out with that ingredient is heavenly.

The Sicons of the Moon



Two Hundred Years back, Inside the Biome of the Moon:

Mayan was cursing and screaming in just about all the languages that he knew. That bitch...He thought angrily. He was going to kill her. He was really going to kill her. The scanners on the moon were searching for the woman. And it was not helped by the fact that the woman had switched off the radio. She had disobeyed a direct order and gone off outside the Biome, on her own.

He had let her work on the Moon Base as a favour to Siddarth Miran, the Chief of the Institute and he had been warned all about her. And he thought he had been careful. And yet she had done it.

Mayan fumed angrily.

He was going to kill Sidarth Miran too.

"Sir! Strange readings on the Scanners." one of the workers of the Nuclear Reactor on the Moon, Aarush Saxena, said.

"Have you found her?" Mayan snapped angrily.

"No sir! As we were tracking the path she could have taken, we have encountered something else." Aarush continued typing on the keyboard furiously.

"Put it on screen." Mayan fumed angrily. Dammit. He just wanted to run a nuclear reactor station. That was all. And he was good at that. Which was why he was given the job of running the most important nuclear reactor station. This particular one which was set up on the Moon was very powerful. And it was important, for the very simple reason that the nuclear reactor powered the entire shield of Earth. The shield without which life on Earth would cease to exist. Because ever since the disintegration of the ozone layer around the planet, ten years back, the transparent shield surrounding the planet was vital. And the nuclear reactor on the Moon powered this Shield.

The disintegration of the ozone layer was completely out of the blue and no one even expected it. Even now, ten years later, the scientists could not determine how it had happened. But it had happened and in order to save the lives of the people, the shield had been devised. A transparent shield which could keep out the harmful radiation. Without the shield, life on earth was not possible. The people on Earth, hailed the shield and welcomed it and the scientists went on to deal with the next problem – the very high tidal waves affecting the planet.....

Mayan was thinking all these things, as he stared at the screen in front of him and was wondering what it was that he was seeing and swore angrily again.

He had a runaway from his Biome and at this time, the scanners were acting up. Mayan swore again. If that woman was in anyway responsible for this, she was finished...Completely and totally finished. He was going to make sure of that.

Mayan's attention was however drawn to the image on the screen.

And that was when suddenly the dials in the system started cranking up. Mayan yelled as smoke suddenly came out from the machines.

"EMERGENCY SHUT DOWN!" Mayan yelled as he pulled the key from the chain slung on his neck and ran to the mainframe computer in the left of the lab. The mainframe there seemed to be working furiously...computing data at a furious pace..and Mayan inserted his key inside the machine and punched in his codes as the machines suddenly went offline. Right now, only the biological support systems and the core nuclear reactors were online.

Mayan was breathing heavily, sighing, as he realized that the others in the lab were already out of the lab. Following protocols.

Mayan was breathing in deeply trying to calm himself.

And in that silence and darkness of the space station that Mayan heard it.

Wild shrieking and howling, the likes of which he had never heard in his five years of working on the moon station.

That stupid woman...Mayan thought angrily. She was stupid and she brought in black luck wherever she went. Just like back on earth, she was making impossibly tall claims here too.... Mayan was really glad that he had not listened to the stupid woman, when she was talking to him twelve hours back.

Twelve Hours Back, Inside the Biome.

"I am telling you, this is impossible." Suhani yelled angrily as she was clutching the scanner in her hands.

"Ms. Sudarshan," Mayan said taking a deep breath, already reaching the limits of his patience. "I am in charge of running this nuclear power reactor here, on the moon. It is important that I focus on my job. I cannot waste my time and resources to investigate something which you "think" is important." And Suhani missed none of the veiled barb. She had been facing this for three years now.

Suhani was taking a deep breath trying to control herself. THIS WAS NOT ABOUT THAT. She wanted to yell. But Suhani controlled herself. It was not going to help. None of it was going to help her. In the eyes of everyone she was a joke...That was all. No one was ever going to take her seriously. Not after 2190.

"Please." Suhani said hoping she did not gag on her words. "We have the scanners outside the Biome. Please use them to scan the surroundings of the Biome. We will know whether I am right or wrong."

"I don't need the scanners to know that you are wrong, Ms. Sudarshan." Mayan said with a silky voice. "Rest assured..." Mayan said, jeering at the woman in front of him. "You are not going to find any aliens here on the Moon. I have been working here for five years one and never seen anything with green aliens...."

Mayan staggered as the punch was really powerful. And it nearly broke his jaw and Suhani was watching him furiously, panting hard, her hand pulled back in another punch.

"Consider this my resignation, you bastard!" She yelled walking away from there.

"You are not to step out of the Biome, until the next shuttle comes and picks you up, taking you back to earth!" Mayan yelled, watching her furiously as he vigorously rubbed his cheeks.

Suhani's return shuttle was to depart in six hours.

**********

Suhani was in her quarters watching the door angrily. She was sure she was going to explode. In hatred. In anger...In...Suhani took another deep breath to control herself as she realized that her life was nothing, but a waste. She was pretending doing so many important things and in the end...it was all nothing....All for nothing.

She furiously rubbed her tears, trying not to think....

Year 2187 – Suhani Sudarshan – The youngest graduate from the best Institute in planet Earth. She had graduated with honours.

Year 2188 – She had joined the very Institute in the Interstellar Study Centre – a post which had remained unoccupied for almost two years, because no one could live up to the research which was conducted by the previous Head of the Department – Dr. Lavinia Tark. The very year that Dr. Lavinia Tark had become a renowned Council Member of the Unified Earth.

Year 2190 – Suhani was ousted from the Department. No inquiry. Nothing. The only reason given was that she was wasting too much of the resources of the Institute in her "false" beliefs.

That was her life, in a nut shell, Suhani thought, as she sniffed trying to control her tears. This was stupid. This was worse than stupid. The only thing she had guilty of, was being curious. And she had tried to find answers. Because during her tenure in the Interplanetary Study Centre, Suhani had discovered some strange signals being beamed from outer space. These signals were beamed to the waters oceans and there was a pattern in it. She did not know what to make of it.

And since the disintegration of the ozone layer, the waves had become more pronounced. She dismissed the possibilities of the signal being an anomaly in space or some interference. The magnitude of the waves were being altered regularly. It was when she was researching the origin of the waves further, that the Institute had shut down her research. Unceremoniously. The only reason given was that she was wasting too much of the Institutes's money, trying to find "aliens" in the ocean.

Suhani had tried explaining that she was not doing anything. But no one listened.

She had become the laughing stock both among academic circles and otherwise.

It was to escape that, that Suhani had transferred to the Moon Base - For the very simple reason that people were becoming impossible to deal with. Where ever she went, people always taunted her.

Suhani felt that in the Moon Base, there were very few people and honestly that was all, Suhani wanted.

She was given a completely worthless job of scanning the surface of the Moon for any anomalies, in the name of space research. And Suhani did not mind it. And now on her second day here, Suhani had found that some of the readings from the scans outside the Biome showing the craters to be moving. That seemed impossible. At least there was no explanation for it. Which was what Suhani had reported.

And obviously, she was being called delusional for pointing that out.

Suhani was panting angrily. This was just not...fair.

Suhani was finding it difficult to breathe as she ran out of her quarters.

She was finding it claustrophobic as she ran...Ran and ran and suddenly found herself in the Hangar Area....

**********

Suhani slumped and fell down hard on the rocky surface of the moon, sorely wondering whether Mayan could do anything more than dismiss her from duty.

She had disobeyed a direct order and now she was wearing her space suit and she was outside the Biome, investigating the "moving craters".

A brief panic filled her as she thought that she had to go back to earth and she had endure the looks of other humans...jeering her and calling her a lunatic...

She might as well make the best of it, Suhani thought angrily, as she pushed herself up and slowly walked towards the crater...It was fifty meters ahead of her, her space suit scanners told her. She had disabled all radio for the simple reason she knew that Mayan would first order her back to the Biome.

That she was not going to do, Suhani thought stubbornly. Not without finding out what it was...

Suhani blinked as she was studying the scans in front of her.

It did not make sense.

And that was when Suhani saw the scanners reporting that something was approaching her. Huge...Something huge.

Gasping and cursing, Suhani pushed herself back, as she activated her rocket boosters. Mayan would know where she was...But to hell with that. This was...

Suhani fell back hard as the thing surrounded her completely.

Welcome human of earth.

Suhani wondered about from where she was hearing the sound. Her radio was off. It was impossible to hear anything. And Suhani was afraid. Genuinely afraid. Probably all the people on earth were right...She was delusional...

Suhani felt a tear fall from her cheeks, as she was trembling.

You are not delusional, human of earth.The voice said again.

Suhani pushed herself back, wondering how she was going to find her way back to the Biome. She had to get herself committed. She was seeing and hearing things. Things which were not possible. Mayan was right. All of them were right. She was mad. Certifiably mad. And the realization made Suhani weep.

We are here to help, human of earth.

The voice continued as Suhani was running blindly away from the place. She did not know what had prompted this madness in her. But she was right now in danger. And she could hurt people. If anything happened to the reactor at the Moon because of her carelessness, millions of life would be lost on earth.

The oxygen content in her space helmet was good for another hour but Suhani was gasping for breath.

And that was when Suhani saw something before her. The scanners in her shield shut down as she could see the surface of the moon.

And Suhani saw her father. Her dead father, who had died in her second year in the Institute. Suhani screamed as she tried running from the place....

**************

Two hundred Years Later,

Even now, two hundred years later, the colony on the Moon has the statue of a woman of earth, outside its colony. The statue was a strange one. It showed a woman of earth looking straight ahead, with a very strange expression – the expression on the face of the statue showed strong fear and still no one who had looked at the statue could ever say that the woman was afraid.

And below the statue were captions carved in the Ancient Sicon language.

Suhani Sudarshan

She believed so she could.

The Sicons of the Moon were known for their simplistic and uncomplicated speech patterns and they felt that this was all they could say for the woman.

For the Sicons and the humans of Earth, the woman – Suhani Sudarshan was a hero. Because despite her personal fear, the woman had managed to discover the Sicons of Moon. The Sicons who were a silicon based life form and who could communicate only through mind patterns. The Sicons who were responsible for the disintegration of the ozone layer of the earth. The very species which had been trying to communicate with the humans, for ten years before the woman landed on the moon as the Sicons were trying to tell the humans that they had developed a means of repairing the ozone shield of Earth.

It was because Suhani Sudarshan had been able to communicate with the species that all that had been possible and the humans ventured out deeper into space, trying to explore more species.

All because of one woman, who believed that she could...

A Journey Back Home

Ranya breathed in deeply, as she saw the very faint light at the end of the tunnel. She put the fire torch in the handle at the end of the tunnel, as he saw the young child who was clutching her hands. Ranya's dogs were trained to perfection, as they watched around the two people, who were near the tunnel.
''Why are we here, mom?,'' the six-year old Sreya asked her mother, watching the light at the end of the tunnel.
''This was our home, baby!,'' Ranya said quietly.
''I do not understand ma! Why are we here?,'' Sreya said as Ranya led the child towards the end of the tunnel.
''Have you ever seen the sunrise?,'' Ranya asked Sreya.
Sreya frowned as her black eyes were shining with anticipation. ''I have seen sunlight,'' Sreya said watching her mother gleefully. ''From the holes in the caves, I have seen the sky!,'' Sreya looked at her mother. ''It is such a strange colour, mother! Sometimes, the sky colour is red, sometimes orange, mostly blue...Why?''
Ranya looked sad as she watched the child. ''We have never asked that question!,'' Ranya said, as they neared the edge of the tunnel.
''Mom! Why are we going to the Surface?,'' Sreya asked clutching her mother's hands tightly, as Ranya could feel the terror of her daughter.
The dogs looked around as Ranya studied them for any signs....anything wrong....
Breathe...Ranya remembered her father's words. Breathe and let it all in....See and watch it all....Immerse yourself. That is how you enjoy Nature at her best....
''This Surface was our home, darling!,'' Ranya said watching Sreya. ''It did not belong to the Droids! It belonged to us! I want you to see it! I want you to see Nature in one of her most beautiful forms, one last time before we go!,'' Ranya said pushing the hair on the child's forehead, as the child's tiny ponytail danced like it had life of its own.
''Where are we going?,'' Sreya asked as Ranya nearly laughed. Question...Always question...That was what her father had taught her. Her father would have been proud if he had seen Sreya.
''The sunrise, first!,'' Ranya told Sreya. ''Answers will come later!''
Sreya nodded as Ranya saw her animals. They were alert and showed no sudden movement. Ranya nodded as they both stepped out of the tunnel.
''Tiger! Jenny!,'' Ranya called the two animals. ''Guard!''
The animals wagged their tails as Ranya took in a deep breath, watching the faint light grow stronger, and she stepped out of the tunnel.
It was a beautiful sight. The sunrise was always the most beautiful part of the day for Ranya. For her, it marked the beginning of a new adventure....something new....
The rising sun, giving out a dizzy of colours, red, orange, yellow....brown.....And that mixed with the colours of the earth always made Ranya feel....powerful, like she was one with Nature.
Even after five years, the thing still took her breath away....
Ranya watched Sreya who was looking at sunrise and her heart ached as she wished she could record that expression on the face of the child. It was an expression of pure delight, one that could not be expressed. One that need not be expressed. It was something to be felt.
Ranya knew that Sreya was feeling it too, because for the first time, Sreya was not talking. Sreya was just content watching...Watching and letting it soak her...Both mother and daughter had climbed on top of the cave and were watching the sunrise and for the full ten minutes, Sreya did not speak a word.
''Who paints the sunrise mom?,'' Sreya asked finally.
Ranya shook her head, unable to hide her smile. ''A crazy artist!,'' Ranya said finally, because that was the only answer she could think of.
''This happens everyday?,'' Sreya asked as Ranya nodded.
''You said we are going away!,'' Sreya said as Ranya chuckled sadly. Always down-to-earth....Probably she should not be using that expression anymore.
''The Council has finally finished making the space ships, baby!,'' Ranya said.
''For leaving earth?,'' Sreya asked.
Ranya sighed taking a deep breath. ''Ever since the Droids came five years back, we have been trying various ways to destroy the machines!,'' Ranya said as her eyes were continuously scanning the sky. ''But the machines proved to be too strong! Almost indestructible! And nothing we did seemed to damage them! That was the reason, we moved underground!''
''What do the Droids want, mom?,'' Sreya asked, her eyes suddenly frowning as she watched Ranya.
Ranya sadly shook her head. ''We do not know! We do not even know how these machines reached earth! We just know that these machines spell destruction! Total and complete! So for the past three years, we have been devising various means of getting the remaining people off the planet!,'' Ranya paused to control the tremor in her voice.
She remembered that Friday well. She was coming back home to tell her father she had been selected for the ISRO training program, a special program for a a trip to Mars....Ranya wondered why Life always had such a weird sense of irony. Her father never even knew of her achievements...The Droids came before that. Destroying life as she knew it. The thriving human population of earth was reduced to a rubble...None of the major cities in the world survived the Droids. Millions of lives were lost that day. And the left over people were forced underground.
Ranya never knew why the Droids would not come underground....but they did not.
And now, the Droids had won their battle or rather the humans had lost.
Humans were leaving their home...Once and for all. Never to come back.
Which was why Ranya brought her daughter here....
Ranya did not know whether they would survive any of it.
But at least her daughter would know...
Sreya would know what it was that was waiting for her and if possible when the time was right, lead the people back....Back to their home, on earth.....

''Let's go!,'' Ranya said, as she got up, leading her daughter. Ranya watched the Sun one last time and bid adieu to it.....