Sep 13, 2014

Jeep & Bourbon Part 2 #CelebrateBlogging

  By the Team:

 Read the previous part of the story HERE


 Chapter 2: Touch- Me-Not

"You're my superstar!" he'd said and I'd fallen for him almost instantly but then he flew away to the States never to return.

"Tara, you truly are worthy of your name" Shekhar had said, looking up from the script I'd written for our college drama. Sheku was the only guy who was as perfect as that 'first love' of my life. That winning smile, the glint in his eyes and the awe in his voice is so clear in my memory, like it was yesterday.

Now he just sits there with that smile pasted on his face, come what may! To the extent that it now appears fake. How can anyone be so happy and contented with himself? Fifteen years of lolling about in those track pants and Tees, writing a stray article here and some web content there.  Sheku, Oh, Sheku! Today, you're just a mere shadow of that man I'd married. Where's that promising young writer with frizzy hair, that complete creative genius?

"Dreams? I don't think there's much left there!" I slide my fingers off Sheku's bald pate.

"Look he keeps it so smooth and shiny. Everything just slides right off!" I hear myself saying, as I tickle his French beard. Those shots were one too many for me, I suppose. I can hear myself laughing too!

"BITCH!" Jennifer gurgles, picking up her camera once again. The flash tells me there's going to be another awkward photograph of me and him. Try as we might, we haven't been able to pose happily for a single picture together, in ages.    

" Jenny, just you wait!" I kick off my Pumps and begin chasing her around the coconut trees, like little school girls at play. As we stop, gasping for breath, I cannot help but notice Cyrus ogling at Jennifer again, through his oversize spectacles.

"Why the hell did Sheku have to let this strange Parsi Bawa tag along with us? The chain smoker and the drunkard, a perfect match indeed!", I whisper to Jenny.  

"You've achieved your dreams and ambitions. I'm happy for you. You've blessed me with a beautiful Roohi.." he trails off.

Typically Sheku, making a feeble attempt at brushing off my rebuke with a sickeningly sweet response.

His words draw my eyes towards our little angel. She loves ice-creams and frilly frocks, those expensive Barbie dolls. And an animated 3D movie every Saturday at Inox is a must.

"What do you know, Sheku?" That's exactly what I've slogged for. No regrets. My only regret is YOU!" I've almost barked it out aloud. I quickly gulp down yet another shot instead.

I let the cool sea breeze play with my hair. My head suddenly feels lighter than ever. Memories of giddy-headed sea-side escapades with Sheku, back in the days, come like tides. I am off, barefoot on the cool sands to the distant end of the beach, away from it all. The spray from the high waves wet the front of my  white shirt and add to the salty aftertaste of those shots, on my lips. I shut my eyes and opened my arms to the full moon in the open sky. A momentary respite.

"Expecting a miracle, are you Tara?" I'm becoming quite a soliloquist.

I suddenly catch a faint scent of Mimosa in the air and open my eyes to see a bunch of pretty lavender flowers being offered to me. 

"These look so other-worldly" I am cooing like a teenager and readily accepting them, while being increasingly aware of romance tingling my senses.

Held firmly by the elbow, I'm swirled around to come face- to- face with him.

" Oh! It's you!" I exclaim, partly shocked, secretly thrilled.

"Freedom comes on quaint wings,
And yet fly, thou shalt not!"
 The baritone voice is waxing lyrical.

I reached up to wipe off the Jeep's grease from his left cheek, as I peek over his shoulders to check if  Jennifer would notice her boyfriend's prolonged absence.


" I'm feeling adventurous!" I reply.


“Me and my team are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com. #CelebrateBlogging with us.”
  



Sep 5, 2014

A tryst with Cyclophobia - a True Story......

On the occasion of TEACHER's DAY I would like to pay a tribute to a different kind of teacher. I had the privilege of sharing some very beautiful days in his company, when at Karla, near Lonavala in Mahrashtra. That phase of life was abruptly cut short by an unexpected turn of events and as destiny would have it, we lost him, very suddenly. Within those couple of years the amount of knowledge he had imparted, the thoughts and principles he had shared left a lasting impression and have also transformed me into a better, thinking person, I can most definitely say.

My maiden publication of short stories titled 'Not Totally Unbelievable' was dedicated to him- my Father-In-law and my mother, the Teachers who taught me so much in life from their anecdotes, stories and quotes. Oh, why did you'll have to leave me so prematurely?

So here's a funny but true story from the same book -'Not Totally Unbelievable' that was based on my Father-in-Law's personality, his belief in a higher power in every aspect of life!

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“Aagya Baitan, Telya Masaan, Jantar ki Khopdi, Bhaisasur!” This deep, throaty, ominous sounding chant rented the chilly evening air on the patio of our sprawling farmhouse. With still, undisturbed eyes like poached eggs, the twenty and odd, mix of gurgling tots and chatty adults watched the enthralling performer in rapt attention. It was Daddy, at his elemental best, performing his famous magic tricks. Only the knowing knew that the fearsome mumbo-jumbo was a random mix of irrelevant Hindi words personally coined for pure entertainment. This was the highlight of the weekend merry-making, where Daddy’s fan following of relatives would huddle together and enjoy to the hilt.
Daddy was a people’s person alright! He once draped a colorful red sari and even talked some of his cousins to don their wife’s saris too. Then they danced that famous jig ‘Mere Angne Main’ with swaying hips and lip-synced to the music with red rouged lips. Just like it was right out of that Bollywood movie and had their audience in splits.
Daddy could stretch to the limits in playing host at his party. Well, so giving was Daddy that his relatives had not spared even borrowing his air-conditioner for good.
This lanky septuagenarian’s company was of wholesome goodness and there wasnt a single visitor’s soul who would not vouch by that. Even the ladies of the family always picked a tip or two from this culinary creative genius. With his knack for cooking up a sumptuous menu, all that his kitchen dished out was lapped up within nanoseconds. From Prawn starters, followed by soup to the main course and a yummy caramel pudding for dessert, was all gobbled up as soon as it was served at the table.
Lovingly addressed as ‘Daddy’ by the youngsters of the clan, my father-in-law also went by the nickname ‘Bhavaji’ which means respected brother-in-law in Konkani (a widely spoken language along the south-western coastal belt of India.). Taking the old highway from Mumbai and mid-way to Pune you could drive-in to our haven. And it was most likely that you’d find the lovable Daddy perched on his bucket swing, his throne of sorts, on the patio, if its day. By night you’d find him before the television set. He hardly slept. He’d spring up and out of his reverie to warmly greet you with open arms, all smiles. Friends were more than welcome any time of the day or night, rain or sunshine.
On one lazy Sunday afternoon, came on his old moped, Mr. Gulrajani, his old friend from Talegaon. “Arrey Tu? What a pleasant surprise! Come in, come in!” Without wasting time on exchanging pleasantries, the dear old Sindhi got to business. “Let’s go get some meat. My taste-buds are longing for your spicy curry in this chilly weather.” And that was what Daddy dreaded the most. “Argh!” thought Daddy, “I don’t mind the shopping, but the ride on his wobbly M80. Save me, Lord!”
Daddy could feel his knobby knees go weak even at the thought of pillion riding. Before the journey could even begin, a pearl of sweat tickled Daddy’s brow. Daddy reluctantly straddled the mount while his feeble pleas went unheard. Daddy’s pride kept him from vehemently speaking up about his fear of riding bikes. The motor purred to life once again and the twin riders were off.
The speed at which they were moving, Daddy could have easily walked right beside Mr. Gulrajani and his bike to the station. Trembling knees et al, the duo finally made it to the Lonavala Mutton Shop. Slicking back his tousled silver hair, the pilot of the M80 got off and immediately asked Daddy to excuse him, stepping away for a quick smoke. A not-so-surprised, but irked Daddy proceeded to pay for the meat.
Like a glimpse of the sun from behind water-laden dark clouds, a bright thought dawned on Daddy. He felt a sudden assurance rise in his heart. “The speed at which Gulrajani was riding his phutphutiya, a fall is certainly not something I need to fear,” said Daddy to himself.
Now, smiling like a valiant hero, Daddy was ready to start the journey home with new-found self-confidence. He was happy that he hadn’t forgotten to wrap a muffler around his neck and his ears were safely snug in the thick woollen monkey-cap.  As they drifted past the toll naka, Daddy closed his eyes, face turned up to the clear blue sky he was enjoying the cool mountain breeze on the contours of his wrinkled face.
Only when he opened his eyes again, things were different! Neither was Gulrajani nor he on the bike. A crowd had gathered around them and were peering down in bewilderment at Daddy. “What does Gulrajani mean by coming so close and breathing heavily down my collar?” thought a befuddled Daddy and as he tried to turn around to take a look at his nosy friend, he was jolted back to his senses.
 “We had a fall?” Daddy inquired with Gulrajani while he was being helped back to his feet. “How?” Daddy continued to ask but there was no answer.
“Like it is God’s decree, my bike journey mysteriously always ends this way!” a nonplussed Daddy thought aloud.
 The crowd dispersed as quickly as it had gathered. And the duo was left to their fate, pushing the remains of the two-wheeler home, in weary silence.


Sep 3, 2014

PRIVATE INDIA: A book review



Book Title: PRIVATE INDIA
Genre: Murder Mystery
Author: Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson
Publisher: Random House
My Rating: ****

Ashwin Sanghi- one author of today's times whose work I really admire. Became a greater fan of his after Chanakya's Chant. All his books have been based in history and enumerate theological and mythological topics. PRIVATE INDIA -this book belongs to such a different genre visited by the author which also happens to be my favourite, that's how I got very intrigued. Also the idea of a collaboration between two famous writers who have very distinctive styles of writing was unique to me. James Patterson- heard a lot of good about his books but never picked up any of his works, so my mind was like that empty cup!  

Having picked up the book and read through a few pages, I'd immediately shared at my Facebook Page.." Short chapters. Extremely easy comprehension. No complex story telling but prose that triggers great visualization. Suspense and drama, a perfect murder mystery...Remembering my Poirot-crazy days while I turn pages with Wagh and his cane...Super happy that I picked the book up".

Even after reading the book to its last page now, my first impression about the book remains the same. 

Succinct writing that evokes emotions, fairly good use of great words and a style of narration that keeps the tempo of the story built up right till the end. Especially since the serial killer is on the prowl taking down one prey after another in quick succession, it was most essential that the reader remained on the edge of his seat,  turning the pages as quickly as the days went by in the story. 

I must say that Ashwin Sanghi has let the characters in the story develop gradually but so very beautifully. Be it the protagonist Santosh Wagh who is investigating the crime scenes as a PRIVATE sleuth or the underworld goon Munna, I liked the descriptive nature of the story-telling that led the mind into making mental images of the characters, their lifestyle, their personality, their psychology too. Santosh Waghs struggle with his bottle of Whisky to douse the pain stemming from the loss of loved ones, made him so real. I could also feel it, when Mubeen wanted to get the hell out of Dr. Zafar's ghoulish morgue and I could actually feel the chill and stench in the morgue. The most profound scene that has stuck in my mind is the one that was narrated nearing the climax, at the Parsi's Tower of Silence. So morbid, so gripping!
I have grown up reading Agatha Christie's Poirot and Sidney Sheldon's series of books. Not to mention the innumerable Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books read as a younger mind. I cannot deny I was beginning to think how different could this book be, when there were a string of seemingly unconnected deaths in Mumbai, that Nisha Gandhe, Mubeen and Hari Padhi were investigating alongside Santosh Wagh? Given that I'm a confessed cenophile, taking off on movie marathons watching foreign murder mysteries, thrillers, Hitchcocks and even the gruesome true-some, I wasn't expecting that this book would draw me in the way it did. How? Ashwin Sanghi did it, by giving that unexpected dash of spice to the story by adding a pinch of Indian Mythology to it all!
The plot as it began to unravel really surprised me. And the involvement of a Nimboo Baba in the scene kept me hooked. Also the parallel fear of a terrorist attack besides the hunt for this serial killer made for quite a multi-layered plot. However what went amiss for me was a bit more about the expression of motive in the murderer. When the author was giving me a peek into the mind of the serial killer, I wanted to begin hating him for the probable filth on his mind. That part din't pan out as powerful as the potential it carried to be. Felt as if some pages had been edited out or something, in a hurry to wrap up the case.

Or probably it was just me, not wanting the book to end. 

Overall, a very good book for all murder mystery fanatics.

Aug 20, 2014

At the Lingnan Tea House


 Liu and Lin were staring blankly, out of the wide kitchen window with frail timberwork which gave a broad view of their back yard. Farther beyond the peony shrubs that lined their courtyard, Liu could see the vast expanse of the empty patch of land under dispute between the two feudal lords in Guangzhou (Canton). Both had passed away and the land still lay waiting to be claimed by the legal heir. There the tall silk wool tree still stood bare, tall, spiny, cold and would continue to stand so until spring. Not a single of those beautiful, vibrant, red and orange five petal flowers with white silky-cotton in their folds was in sight. The elegant emblem of Guangzhou was still to bloom. Liu felt one with the tree, devoid of emotion, standing solitary in its own steed, on a no man’s land but she never mentioned this to her younger sister.
Most of the Chao Chan family members hadn’t survived the war and neither did they have their own ancestral home in Fujian. Their father, their brothers had all marched away into oblivion, never to come back. What had come back, in 1937, was the news that the Japanese had trampled all of them in the heartland of China. Their mother did not live for very many days after, leaving eight-year old Liu behind, lost and lonely, nursing a sixteen month old, Lin. Years later, now with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, they were slowly recovering from their financial, moral as well as psychological set back.
 Lin watched her sister’s face from the corner of her eyes. Light seeping through the louvers in the top ventilators of the window was banding her face. Lin’s teenage mind started imagining it as the war paint Liu might have used to ready herself for combat. Lin noticed that Liu’s eyes had that steady  gaze. Liu’s face would assume a wooden look only at times of grave impending trouble. She was otherwise a very kind and amicable person to be with. Today, Lin was sure that memories and turmoil of the past were resurfacing, which Liu was trying to conceal behind those steady eyes. Lin had never seen Liu shed a single tear that could give away her deepest feelings. Liu had always maintained her composure, coolly tackling all the hardships that came their way while Lin remained a silent spectator, never allowed to be party to any kind of suffering. This time, however, Liu needed all the support she could get.

Lin was brought out of her reverie by the sound of Liu’s hands, now working again, mechanically chopping the meat with a huge, sharp knife, on the butcher’s island in their kitchen.
“I don’t want your complaints if you can’t give me a solution!” Liu sternly reprimanded Lin without looking up, regretting it later.  
The sisters were now pondering again over the calamity that was to visit them today, predicted a week ago. Lin knew it was time for her to do something.       
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Silver Stream village was a picturesque site, kissing the foot of the mountainous range with a small, melodious waterfall streaming down its western side. The front porch of their maternal uncle Chou Yang’s dilapidated ancestral home was often sprinkled by the clear water from the stream. Uncle had escaped to Hong Kong after bringing Liu and Lin to reside here, in 1943.
With the help of some elderly neighbors, Liu had revived their ancestral business as soon as she’d arrived even though she was just a teenager then. Cha Dao, the art of making tea, ran deep in her blood. After all, generations and generations of her family were at the centre of the massive tea trade that existed between China and Europe during the 19th century. Liu set up her own Lingnan Tea House aptly named after the colonial quarter of Guangzhou it was located at. And six years later it was hustling and bustling with patrons all through the day. 1950 was a very good year for Peurh, aged tea and Liu was expecting tremendous business.
On the wall facing the doorway, she hung a paper scroll on which was a Tang poem written by Lin in her long, slender, slanting, calligraphic hand that said “...One bowl soothes your throat. After two, loneliness and boredom disappear. With the third, you will find rising from your bowels enormous volumes of poetry and literature. The fourth bowl leaves you in a light sweat and all of life's despair will seem to be floating away, out of your pores. After five bowls, your muscles and bones are cleansed of all impurities. Six bowls and you will be communicating with the spirits. Beware of the seventh bowl! You may grow wings and find yourself flying with the winds…"

“Is this communication with the spirits drawing the Cantonese to our tea house?” Liu wondered in proud admiration.
Her personal favourite was the Red Heart Ti Kuan Yin Tea, considered the mother of all Oolongs. One king had done justice to the tea by describing it as heavy as iron and as beautiful as Kuan Yin, The Goddess of Mercy, and thus the name was given. This year’s tea was not tightly rolled and that meant after the first two brews, the toasty roasted flavour with the rich bready notes would completely open up, giving a warm aroma, bright taste and a comforting feeling to the patron. Liu particularly felt that notes of honey lingered on after the tea was set to brew and there was also an unmistakable soft and heady scent in the air like that of red roses on a hot summer day.
“This Tea will definitely elicit romance!” she had giggled to herself unaware that the same magic of the tea leaves would spell trouble for the sisters the very next day.                                           
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The Lingnan Tea House seemed like a tranquil oasis that morning. The quaint bamboo furniture and the tinkling sound from the waters of the small fountain placed near the South window, added to the serene and peaceful ambience.
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Liu looked on as Lin served at a table with a sharply acquired skill and artistry. She had selected the White Needle Tea and was treating an old customer to cup after cup of the superbly made tea. The full fragrance was wafting across to her and the sweet notes of the white tea were evidently satiating the guest. Lin carefully picked up the covered Gaiwan, the tea caddy, on its plate with the left hand and placed it on the up-turned fingers of her right hand. The lid was positioned slightly askew and held in place with the thumb, just enough to allow the tea to pour out while retaining the leaves. The tea was then lovingly poured from the pitcher into individual, tiny, tasting cups. Lin was sure to be attentive enough and refilled it when emptied.

The Indian guest who accompanied the old man was happily observing and unable to contain his awe exclaimed, “That’s amazing! There’s neither a timer nor a water thermometer employed and yet each cup has the amazing consistency of the one prior to it. It’s simple, graceful perfection at its unparalleled best!”

At that very moment of exhilaration entered he, who Lin and Liu would dread later. After being dutifully served a series of cups of Ti Kuan Yin Tea by Liu, “Yum Cha, the culture of tea drinking, runs deep in my veins.” boasted Ming Hsien. “We complement each other so well, Liu. What a handsome suitor I will make!” Ming Hsien had declared to Liu, proclaiming his infatuation for her. This haughty, stout man seated before Liu seemed to be in his late 30’s and was laden with Jade ornaments, strongly reminding her of the malicious feudal lords. His eyes didn’t laugh when he flashed that toothy smile. A fear gripped Liu’s heart at the sight of this admirer because he looked as if he was faking it. The very first feeling at his appearance was that of instant abhorrence and she couldn’t fight it at all. Even Lin had mentioned later that she couldn’t imagine her demure, petite sister standing besides the husky man at the betrothal ceremony. “His receding hairline makes it worse to imagine!” Lin had bitterly observed.

Ming Hsien had not only proposed love but had also issued a death threat after sensing probability of rejection from Liu. His fiery eyes clearly said that he meant every word he’d spoken. Each word of love was as sweet as nectar but each word of retribution also dripped venom. Before leaving the Lingnan Tea House Ming Hsien had menacingly slammed two freshly minted, coffee coloured, twenty Yuan bills on the cashier’s table, promising to return the same day, same time, next week.

Money meant nothing to Liu but their safety did.
                                                     
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A week of worrying and despair had gone by. He was to arrive again today. Lin knew she could help her sister. She watched Liu chopping away at the meat randomly. Liu’s mind was elsewhere. She was obviously bothered by the abominable proposal.

Meanwhile Liu was searching for a specific reason to refuse. She knew that turning Ming Hsien down would mean another term of loneliness besides the threat to their lives. “He’s definitely not the one!” Liu had finally, bravely decided.

“I have a solution!” offered Lin, trying to sound as convincing as possible. Liu looked up in an instant, searching her younger sister’s face for an explanation. “Don’t ask me how but I will send him away. You just wait and watch!” assured Lin.

When Ming Hsien entered the Lingnan Tea House punctually, Lin and the tea house staff surprisingly welcomed him. He was astonished at the hospitality and almost celebrated this obvious favorable change of mind with Liu. He was ceremoniously led to the table where the lissome beauty was seated in the choicest corner of the tea house that granted a fantastic view of the building’s surroundings. Hsien studied her face, searching for any trace of the bitter hatred he’d seen in her eyes the last time he’d voiced his emotions. Liu had no clue about Lin’s grand plan, but was playing along for she trusted Lin’s intelligence.

Soon Lin appeared from within, bearing a pot of tea on a tray which she proclaimed had been specially brewed for the prospective couple to partake. “Let us pray to the great Kuan Yin, before you share the Tisane. However, I warn you Ming Hsien that the spirit of this tea will tell you how your future together will be. That’s the power of the goddess of the Oolong and Peurh!” Lin declared in a formidable tone that would display her immense knowledge of the magic of brewing.

Liu had been warned not to drink the tea. The gullible Hsien, very religious at heart, promptly gulped down the first cup of the magical tea placed before him. No sooner had the first swig traveled down his throat than his face contorted to look like a dried prune. He sprung from his seat like a jack-in-the box, shaking his head in mixed feelings of dismay and disbelief and headed for the exit without another word to Liu. When he halted at the door, Lin feared the worst. Would he turn back? Had he realized she’d pulled a trick? He, however, only turned for one last glimpse of the kneeling, immensely beautiful Liu and then disappeared around the bend.

Liu could not control her emotions. For the first time, tears rolled down her cheeks, blazing a red path on the fair skin. She wrapped her arms around Lin out of relief, gratitude and the immense amount of love she felt for her. “…But what magic did you do, Lin?” inquired Liu.
“It was Che Dang that very bitter tea, dear Liu. Three pearls of the Ilex leaves must have made such a sour brew that he ran away in fear of a future likewise!”



The sisters hadn’t enjoyed such a hearty laugh in ages!  

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This story has been brought out of the archives specially for my readers. This is an attempt to revive my creative writing days and this Blog which enjoyed a great readership. Hope you enjoy this story that opened my published collection of short stories titled "Not Totally Unbelievable'.

Jan 17, 2014

The girl with the red umbrella....



I’d finally found a cozy corner for myself in the spiffy new Tea Café up in the hills, where I planned to spend some quality ‘ME’ time. I’d found a place where I could sit with a piping hot mug of tea and a book, just by myself. Where I wasn’t required to be at my polished best and there wasn’t any ‘propah’ behavior required. Where I would go unnoticed and just be left to my own mulling. Who knew that would just turn out to be my presumption?

 I’m quite a recluse you see. I enjoy my own company the most but how can I deny I’ve also caught myself staring at others, far too many times. Not that I’d ever meant to be rude but I’ve always reveled in the beauty of the detailing and the wide variety churned out of God’s workshop. The myriad faces with infinite different ways of expressing the same 9 emotions. The mannerisms and body languages that have their own codes which even the scholars would take ages to decipher. I could get so lost in observing a new face that caught my fancy, that I’d jerk out of my reverie only at the sudden realization that I’d been caught in the atrocious act of staring.

That day the victim’s eyes were glowering back at me, like in readiness to drill through my skull.  I wasn’t ogling, mind you! I was just taken in by the way there was so much symmetry in her face. The moles at almost the same spot on each side of her delicately carved chin, the broad temple with her hair parted in the middle granted her face the grace of looking like a perfectly drawn heart.

“How unfair on my part,” I reprimanded myself, “I really need to curtail this bad habit! I’m invading her privacy while I yearn for an hour of my own? ”

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when the monsoon skies were overcast with gray clouds that seemed to be threatening to begin their downpour again. I was sitting on a lounger in the extreme left hand-side corner in the verandah of the Tea Café which felt like it was tailor-made to my choice, with the ample shade above and the panoramic view of the luscious greens around. The leaves of the trees trembling in the strong wind would now and then send a spray of rain drops to kiss my face. Or so I loved to imagine. Quite a romantic am I not?

The girl with the heart shaped symmetrical face seemed to be in very pensive mood. She sat 2 tables away in the row across and seemed to be waiting for somebody because she kept looking over her left shoulder as if she felt she’d sensed someone come up the steps. If she was waiting for someone, I wondered why she was sitting with her back to the entrance. With her tall slender fingers she was jabbing with the muddler at the couple of leftover ice cubes at the bottom of her tall Ice Tea glass.

 I frowned at my folly once again and immediately consciously brought myself back to the book in my hands. I decided that I would not give her as much as a second glance now. “For an actor, this couldn’t be a good sign. I must exercise self-control!” I taught myself.

With a big sip I drained the refreshing Moroccan Mint Tea to the last drop and turned to a fresh new page. I’d already finished re-reading the previous page thrice because my mind kept straying while my eyes mechanically scoured the rows and rows of black letters. Somehow struggling with a gist of where the story had reached, I proceeded to the next page with hopes of finding a better read. “Where had all the spellbinding writing gone? I should have picked up a classic then I’d never be losing myself to the insanity of wondering about that stranger seated there.” I thought, as I noted the page number I’d turned to. “45? Is that all? What a shame!” I concluded I needed another cup of tea.

As I looked up again to hail a server, I was suddenly stung by the sight of the empty seat and her absence. I spotted a pencil stub roll of the tabletop to the floor and a tissue paper glided like a feather on the wind, sliding to the floor at my feet.  Like an automated robot I picked up the paper and pencil and rushed to the edge of the verandah to see her walking away.
Photo copyrights remain with Amity 

There was a light drizzle and the verdant tall green trees that laced the road downhill stood a stark contrast to the dark skies. The hemline of her black dress blew in the light breeze but she managed to gracefully keep it pinned to her side. As the fair and petite figure walked away she opened up her bright Red umbrella. The only spot of colour in the otherwise dull background I observed.
 I had begun to think like a painter, now.

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“HULLO!” boomed a voice right next to my ear. I hadn’t realized that Mr. Prabhakar, the manager of the Café had walked up and was waiting for me to move aside so that he could enter the Café.
“Anything wrong Mr. Vivian? He enquired in a worried tone.

I don’t remember if I’d given a polite reply but he went away bobbing his head in disagreement. I was still clutching the tissue paper in my hand and trying to figure out what was scribbled in a light hand on the textured surface. I could read the numerical well but the alphabets were in a very illegible script. It was almost like a cryptic code to me. It read as “ 1 C….Murd…..So…S….” That’s all of the 2 lines that I could decipher. My head started to swim with all kinds of ugly thoughts racing in and out.

“Was she trying to communicate with me through codes? Was she secretly asking for HELP? She did look quite disturbed. And that apparently is something about 1 Cold Murder and the message ends with SOS.” I was talking to myself, aloud.

 I decided it was time for me to exercise some of my intelligence and save a life. I invoked the image of Byomkesh Bakshi in my mind. Had grown up watching the Hindi Teleserial based on a Bengali detective. My heart was racing. She however had left no contact details. How was I to go ahead?
I’d read somewhere that many a times the question itself presents an answer.
“I shall wait and watch.” I proceeded to pay my bill.

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“Make it a simple cup of Green Tea for me today with a dash of lemon please.” I’d placed my order.
 I was going to skip a mid-day meal and head straight for a lunch soiree hosted by my friend, a supermodel who was back in town.  

I’d picked a book from the bookshelf and tucking it under my arm I went ahead and occupied my favourite seat but I knew I was uncomfortable from within. Not at peace at all. A week had gone by. I wondered what must have happened to the girl with the red umbrella.  The Café was busier than usual this weekend and there were quite a many couples sitting around, sipping and having a hearty chat over lovely looking meals. My eyes were however yearning to see somebody in particular.

 I stood up and leaned against the wooden railing. The skies had cleared comparatively but it was still drizzling lightly.

“The rains aren’t over yet” I told myself and began my silent search of the landscape.
Just then like the heavens had answered my prayers, there came a red umbrella, upturned, bobbing on the ground, hopping with the gust of wind. And scurrying after it to get a grip of her errant umbrella was the same girl with the fascinating features. She was in a simple knee-length denim shirt dress this time.
I braced myself for an eye contact and expected a follow-up on the cryptic message she’d left for me the other day.

“I will wait for some sign from you again. I am here for you!” I was saying to myself, hoping that my telepathy would reach her.

She entered the Café laden with boxes and bags and headed straight for the cake counter inside.

“She must be starving.” Was the thought that came to my mind in an instant.

For a good thirty minutes she dint step out on the verandah at all. I tried to peer through the window display from my seat but couldn’t get a clear view of the service counter. I began to get a tad bit restless. The book I’d picked went completely untouched. I began to rise from my seat with the intention of checking after her. Right then she came rushing out, picked up her red umbrella from the bay and ran down the short flight of steps. She seemed to have not noticed me at all. However all the other guests at the Café had trained their eyes on me!

“I must be quite a known Telly face by now.” I gloated for half a minute before collecting my senses.
In her hurry, from between all the grocery bags and shopping bags in her hand, a book had dropped out as she made an exit.

 “This girl seems to be perpetually perplexed and leaving something behind.” I was observing as I picked up the book with trembling hands. And Lo and behold! Like I’d expected there was indeed a hidden message in the book again. For me!

The book was Cloud Atlas written by David Mitchell. I’d watched the movie but never thought of reading the original book. She’d ear marked the page No. 451. And on that page in bold letters was written ‘What… were you supposed to do for the next three days?’

I dint care to read any further. I began to mentally run through my schedule over the next 3 days. There was the shoot for my ongoing Tele-serial. And then there were my dress fittings for the grand upcoming awards function by the Tele-channel. Nothing much otherwise!

 “…but what has that got to do with her? What does she mean? Is she asking me out? Is this a love story and not a murder mystery as I’d imagined?” A thousand thoughts were rushing through my head. I was left dumbfounded and was beginning to feel a little stupid.

I put the book back on the Café’s bookshelf and fished out the old tissue paper from my back pocket.  I went through the scribbling again.
“ 1 C….Murd…..So…S….” It made perfect sense now.
She must have meant to write, “1 Cup Tea on Monday Sweets?”
“Her handwriting was really bad. Was she a doctor by profession?” I thought to myself and laughed, merrily, loudly. And suddenly felt ten faces smiling back at me.  The people at the other tables seemed to be happy that I was finally happy and my riddled face must look handsome once again.

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I was ready for her and waiting at the same table in that same lucky corner of the beautiful Café. I was a well established name in the Tele-serials Industry at the moment and there was definitely no dearth of love interests around but this pretty girl with the red umbrella had definitely hooked me for good. The element of mystery around her was my bait. Despite all the other kinds of excitement in my life I was longing for a serious and genuine relationship outside of the Hindi Film Industry.  

I was ready for her. She appeared to be as quirky as I was and her restlessness did echo mine in a way. we were a potentially great match. She had intrigued me. And it was most interesting that her style of drawing me towards her was completely unique. I was sure that it was my staring at her, that had given her ideas but who was complaining? I was more than happy that it wasn't a murder mystery but a love story I was between.

I was ready for her looking dapper in my trendy waistcoat over a cool Tee and Shorts. I was proud of my newly acquired, couture Brogues. I was definitely looking sharper than I ever aspired to, especially at this Café. Here I’d always downplayed my looks with my fuzzy, bed-head look and wrinkled clothes. Today however was going to be another day!

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And she never turned up.

I waited for quite a long while, around the same time of day that I had spotted her twice on the previous occasions. I was boiling in my seat. I’d never been stood up, ever before.

My third cup of Chamomile tea arrived along with my second plate of Garlic Toasties. I tend to binge when I’m tense and I was doing exactly that. Between mouthfuls of morsel, forgetting all my good manners I blurted out a question to my server.

“Do you know who that girl with the red umbrella is? She’s quite a regular here.”

 She was initially taken aback by my sudden enquiry. After pondering for a little while she ventured, “Are you talking about Ms. Bernadette, our bakery goods supplier’s daughter, Sir? ”

The minute the words ‘bakery goods’ fell on my ears I felt a little something sink into the pit of my tummy. My eyes fell down to the crumpled piece of tissue paper I was clenching. While I re-read the illegible writing all over again, I could hear her continuing to explain, “….. She usually comes to collect the payment for the week’s supplies and to pick up the order for the following week. That’s all Sir!”

Everything suddenly became a little too crystal clear now. I was hanging onto a simply random part of a baking recipe that she must have doodled while she was waiting to receive her payment from Mr Prabhakar.  And that was that!
There wasn't any love story cooking for me.

 It was a fantastic case of a horribly grave misunderstanding.