My Lucky Seven

>> Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ok, I am new to this tagging game. Had been tagged once before by Amrita, but then I was in the middle of my never ending story, so couldn't write it (It was a different matter that it was an extremely difficult tag, so I ran away from it!) Now, that I have nothing else to do, here's another tag from Yamini about seven places that I love in this world. This seems a little easier. So, apart from my abode, in chronological order, here they are:

1. Shivaji Park Tennis Courts, Mumbai: Sweating it out after a tiring school day, this is where I developed my love for sports. And for the assortment of chat items we used to get outside the courts. This is also where I realised that I am supposed to get attracted to girls. A plethora of beauties in short skirts hitting the ball hard all around me didn't hurt either! I would truly say that this is the place where I started growing up. Whenever I go there even now, I can still see the little boy inside me. The downtown boy who wants to be a part of the uptown crowd...

2. The basketball court at PICT: Ohh, the games we have played here. Sports and otherwise! I remember one time, there was cricket, football, basketball, handball and rugby happening all at the same time here! Not to mention the "batting" that kept happening at the courtside katta. This was the place where I first used to go when I went to college. This was invariably the last place from where I used to leave for home. People get nostalgic about a lot of stuff in college. This is what gets me all welled up.

3. Coffee House @ Taj Blue Diamond, Pune: There was a time when this was the only decent joint in Pune which used to be open through the night. And a friend's girlfriend had this nagging habit of arriving at the Pune station by a 4 a.m. train. So, we used to hang out here, before and after she arrived. That's how i discovered it. And then I kept coming back. Many friendships have been forged here. My first "official date" was here... Even now, whenever I just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and sip a nice hot cup of coffee without shrill teenagers around (normally present in a CCD or a Barrista), this is where I head to.

4. The classroom at Kothrud where I taught Seed PGDET, Pune: For six months, I had a bunch of eager students who would discuss, assimilate and implement anything that I threw at them. This is where I realised why teaching as a profession is so hallowed and revered. The only time in my professional life, when I literally used to put not just my heart but my very soul into what I was doing. After three hours of teaching every morning, I would be mentally and physically exhausted. I am sure I learned much more from the students in these six months than they learned from me. A defining place in making me what I am today... and something that I would love to do any given day.

5. Sus road Tekdi, Pune: This is the place where I have spent probably the most memorable evening of my life. A beautiful setting sun spreading it's glow across the bustling city. Artifical lights flickering on as natural light dimmed out. Just you, your love in your arms, the open starlit sky above you and the city of lights in front of you. It can't get more romantic than this. It was a moment which I wanted to last forever. Still feel as if it should have lasted forever! I just can't go there anymore. I am afraid of disturbing the picture of it I have in my head. I feel a little pang in the heart whenever I cross the place!

6. The first carrom board, KPIT Recreation Area, Pune: This seems to have recently made it into this list. It is my getaway vehicle in office. A couple of sets quickly after lunch, hoping that my manager doesn't catch me sitting here. Long championship games between me/Rahul and Sunny/Gaya that go on into the night, neither team willing to give up! While writing this I have realised how much I look forward to this board during office hours!

7. The weirdly round thing sitting on my shoulders - my head: I like to get lost here. In my own world. I know it sounds a little loony. But I like it. And most of the time, it gets manifested as idiotic writings on this blog - pretty much like this one! I guess, being a little insane in the head is what keeps me sane in this world...

That's it. Phew! I ended up writing a lot here. And along the way, realised a few things that I had not noticed earlier... Thanks Yamini! Now, to continue the tradition, here are seven people whom I would want to write this one (those of you who don't want to write on their own blogs, please write it as a comment):


Hope you have as much fun doing this, as I did!


The Storm

>> Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The wind howled around her. Standing on her terrace, she could see people scurrying for shelter below. The tin sheets that formed a makeshift roof of a hut across the road cluttered. They fought a fierce battle with the wind. Trying to hold on. To their identity. Without the four walls beneath them, they would be nothing but tin sheets. Those four walls made them a roof. They were the last line of defense for the simple people that lived under their shelter. They were the only thing that kept those poor beings from being homeless. They had to hold on. They had to fight this battle.

She watched this with a smile. She seemed unperturbed by the howling wind. She stood firm. Her long hair flying away behind her. Her white dress clinging on to her, flailing like the torn sails of a ship caught in mid-storm. She stood there with her back arched, as in defiance to the world.

He watched her. The lines of her face were sharp, unlike the soft features that have come to be recognized as the standard of beauty these days. But in her face, he found something which was rare to come by. He found truth. It was naked. There was no mask. There was the sheer arrogance that she could and would do whatever she set out to do. He realized that she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. A beauty not masked by years of faking emotions or hypocritical wanderings, but that derived from sheer competence. From the happiness that is inherent in you after a work done well.

And he thought about all the work that she had done. All that she had accomplished. Fighting through the inefficiencies of the bureaucracy, trying not to get entangled in the political games being played out in the capital, she had sustained her march, taking the nation along with her. But somehow, the wolves had caught up. They had ended up making such a big mess of it all, that before she could react, the world had collapsed. She could fight against the biggest masterminds. But it was the most stupid of things that had sent across a crippling wave of losses throughout the world.

Many had been crushed. But she had stood resolute. She had not despaired. She knew what had to be done. And she had started going about it with the single-mindedness of a bricklayer intent on rebuilding the whole building - brick by brick. What she had planned to do was going to ruffle quite a few feathers. But it had to be done.

It was at moments like this that he hated his job. He looked through the lens again. He looked at the hope she gave. At the sheer confidence that she exuded. He saw the steely resolve in her eyes. He traced her from toe to head, taking in the surreal beauty in front of him. A beauty that invigorated the basest of human qualities in him. As her forehead came into his cross-hair, he shrugged, "Oh, what the fuck." And pulled the trigger.


9: Epilogue

>> Saturday, August 15, 2009

Spoiler Alert: Please don't read this epilogue if you intend to read the story. There's a whitish kind of box on the left side of your screen containing the links to the storyline. 0:Prologue is where the story actually starts. (Well, I had to put up this spoiler alert as a few of my over-enthusiastic friends actually read the epilogue first! And then cursed me for it!)

9: Epilogue

She slowly came out of the water. Waves slashing against her glowing tanned skin. Sand desperately trying to cling on to her, as if it didn't want to let go. The sun beating down on her, making the sand particles glow. She pulled back her hair. And just whipped them around in the most nonchalant manner possible. Sid looked at her and sighed. This is the life! He grinned as he lay on a hammock sipping on his drink. He looked around. He could just see the virgin beach stretch to eternity on both sides. She came up to him. In her peculiar Carribbean accent, which Sid just loved, she said, "Sid! Naughty boy! What were you looking at?"

"You know what I was looking at. Don't you?"

She laughed out aloud. And lay down on the hammock besides him.

Sid looked at her. He looked at his surroundings. And he sighed again. He had done good. India, Pune, Big Mac, SecureSoft, all seemed so far away right now. But he was in the midst of it all - just a week back!

He had planned it perfectly. He had destroyed the DVD. He knew he had to. He couldn't risk it falling into Big Mac's hands. But Big Mac didn't need to know that. He had sent across the mail to SecureSoft. He knew they couldn't refuse his offer. Big Mac and the two gentlemen, whoever they represented - all to be caught redhanded. Sid's freedom and a new life in a country of his choice was a small price to pay in return.

And then there was the dealing with Big Mac. He had known Big Mac long enough to know his pressure points. Once he had told Big Mac that he just wanted more money for the DVD, Big Mac had agreed. Again, a few million dollars in a Swiss bank account was small price to pay in return for the DVD and the bounty Big Mac would earn from the two gentlemen. It never occured to Big Mac that Sid would have had a deal with the police. Big Mac walked straight into the trap. Thereafter, tracking everything else was pretty easy.

Meanwhile Sid was on the flight to the Carribean. He had always wanted to come here. He loved the carefree life that people led here. There was just one thing that he wished he could have done. Meet Neha. Whatever they had, it had been special. He would have liked to say good bye.

But maybe, it was better he had vanished the way he had. He didn't really know what he would say to her. And how would she react? Oh, what the hell! Sid thought. Let bygones be bygones.

As he looked into the sunset, with a drink in hand and a Carribean beauty besides him, Sid couldn't help but remember one of Big Mac's special ones, "Sid, my boy! It's always better to leave a girl's bed without waking her up and leave a country without telling anybody... Saves a lot of explanations!"

The End


8: The message

>> Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The steaming hot cup of coffee warmed her hands as Ishika held it. As she drank it, the steam fogged her glasses but the warmth spread from her hands to her jangling nerves. The blanket that she had pulled around her gave her a sense of calm. Through her fogged up glasses she looked at Neha sitting across her on the bed. They both needed that coffee after the evening's events.

The clock behind Neha struck two as Ishika thought about the last few hours. After the call, Neha had literally dragged her out into the car. Ishika was completely flummoxed. Here she was, at one moment sitting and chatting up with her friend, and in another moment she was holding onto her life as Neha shot the car precariously through Pune's bustling evening traffic! On the way Neha told her everything about Sid and his recent activities. Ishika just couldn't fathom it. It was straight out of a Hindi movie!

Neha's dad had meanwhile mobilized the state machinery. The Bund Garden police were on the lookout for Sid. They had positioned plainclothes policemen across the Bund Garden compound wall and on the bridge adjoining it. But they could find nothing suspicious. It was Saturday evening and there was a plethora of people milling around the various eateries and shopping places near the Garden.

Neha and Ishika reached Bund Garden at about the same time that Neha's dad did. He looked at Neha. Ishika sensed that he was about to scold her. But then, he held himself back. He must have understood. Maybe Neha wanted to get to the bottom of this as much as he did - though for completely different reasons. They waited at Bund Garden for quite a while. But there was no sign of Sid. As expected, his phone was again switched off. Ishika had calmed down by now. And she started thinking about the call. She asked Neha to describe it to her in detail again. The promise that Sid made to Neha, telling her to reach Bund Garden with her dad and the police and then the sudden groan at the end. It all pointed to the fact that maybe Sid had realized what was in the DVD and did not want to be a part of this theft anymore. And before he could do anything about it, he had been attacked. Or worse.

But wait. Sid had not called Neha. Neha had inadvertently called him. So, it could not be that Sid had planned to call Neha. The phone call and the subsequent directions to come to Bund Garden must have been spur of the moment actions. He must have already planned something else with the DVD. God knows he had a lot of time since last night to do anything he wanted to do with it. The fact that he was attacked while on the phone would mean that he had not delivered the DVD to whoever it was supposed to go. So, there was a high probability that the DVD had not fallen into the wrong hands as yet. Maybe all was not lost.

Ishika spoke with Neha and her dad. She put her hypothesis in front of him. Neha's dad smiled. "Well done Ishika. Infitech were fools to let you go! Now we just need to figure out what he could have done with the DVD. The best thing he could have done with it would have been to destroy it." Neha and Ishika looked at him. Ofcourse! That would be the simplest thing to do! "But often when you are under pressure, the obvious answer eludes you," said Neha's dad.

Just then, an aide came up to him and started speaking. Ishika looked around. It had gotten dark. The crowd was thinning out. Some of the shops were downing shutters, happily counting away the profit they had made on this busy Saturday. Neha's father spoke up, "We may finally know what Sid has done with the DVD. Apparently, we just got a mail at our office email id marked to me from Mr. Neel Siddique. That's the alias Sid had used when he had come here."

He paused. His aide gave him a printed piece of paper. Neha's dad read it aloud. Neha and Ishika could just look at him, mouths agape.

As Ishika finished her coffee, she looked at Neha and smiled. "You do have one hell of a choice in men!"

"The rat bastard!" Neha said aloud and then suddenly grinned. "When all this is over, I would sure like to meet him once!"

"And do what?"

Neha grinned again. She switched off the lights. That was some day, thought Ishika as exhaustion slowly took them into the deep recesses of sleep...


7: A dark room

>> Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sid slowly came to his senses. He got up and looked around. His head was pounding. He put his hand to the back of his head. It hurt like hell. He tried to see if there was any blood. Atleast, his fingers couldn't feel any. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he looked around. It was a small room, about 6 ft by 8 ft. He had been lying on a creaky old bed with a smelly torn mattress. There were no windows. The only light came from the gap formed by the door's hinges. He tried the door. It was locked.

A slight feeling of claustrophobia came over him. He brushed it aside. Focus, Sid, focus. How did I land up here? He tried to remember. The cobwebs in his mind slowly cleared as he remembered the last hour before he lost his consciousness. And then it all suddenly dawned upon him.

'Big Mac! The French bastard!' he thought. It had to be his doing. Nobody else knew where he was staying in Pune. It had to be his men who must have knocked him over. And then Sid suddenly smiled. He now realised where he was. This had to be one of Big Mac's new places just on the outskirts of Pune. Big Mac had told Sid about it. In fact, boasted about it. It was a huge villa on one of the hills near Paud, a small town some 30 kms from Pune. To an onlooker, it looked like a typical weekend getaway place for one of the rich businessmen of Pune. Well, weekend getaways did happen here. But not the kind rich businessmen would want to take part in.

Judging from the artificial light coming from the door's hinges, Sid could make out that it was still night. So, it had not been long after being hit on the head. And then Sid smiled again. This was typical Big Mac strategy. You want information from somebody, knock him over his head from behind. Leave him in such a dark room and wait for him to wake up. The fellow, however hardened he maybe, slowly starts panicking. Wait for about 6 to 7 hours and then bring him out and do some tough interrogation. "Being in the dark with a girl, my dear fellow, can bring out the devil inside you. But being in the dark alone, young man, can also easily set the Devil on you!" Most often than not, it worked.

Sid relaxed. He could play along with Big Mac's game. He still had an ace up his sleeve that Big Mac didn't know about. Sid reclined back on the bed, propping himself up with his elbows. He took a deep breath. And his mind wandered to the happenings of the evening.

The moment he had laid his eyes on the contents of the DVD, he knew what it was. And a plethora of emotions had broken out in Sid's mind. His whole life had flashed past his eyes. His parents' fatal car crash when he was just 17, his completing his college education with whatever insurance money his parents' death had given him, and then his slow and steady involvement with Big Mac. Sid's was not a typical story of a street urchin rising through the ranks of the underworld. Sid was an educated, English speaking graduate about to join the boring routine life of thousands of engineers passing out from mushrooming colleges across the country. But Sid never was interested in that life. Even in college, he was the daredevil. He had trained himself in martial arts. His Royal Enfield was a prized possession. With no parents to hold him back, he had enjoyed his college life to the hilt. With his parents' insurance money slowly dwindling, he knew he was not going to be happy with a typical fresher's salary in IT world.

Through a friend who knew of Sid's other talents, he had a chance meeting with Big Mac. Big Mac had immediately realised Sid's potential. Sid, being Sid, had immediately realised the opportunity that existed for a educated, polished, English speaking conman in Big Mac's world. And the rest, as they say, is history. Sid had led a good life. He knew he was good at what he did. And he knew Big Mac knew he knew. So, they both had an understanding. It would be only the classy jobs that would come Sid's way. In sheer professional terms, Sid would have to agree that this DVD job had been the classiest one of them all.

Which brought him to the DVD. Sid knew that he was not particularly patriotic. Hell, he was a conman. He also knew, he was no Robin Hood. What he did, he did just for himself. But one thing Sid knew and Sid knew well, was that he was not a terrorist. Neither did he want to be associated with one. Big Mac had, for once, bitten off more than he could chew. Doing this would be taking them into a completely different league. And with that would come the additional attention of not just India's intelligence agencies, but also those around the world. He didn't mind dealing with the Bombay police, but Sid knew that there was no point getting all this attention just for money. Screw Big Mac, he had thought.

And then he had decided exactly what he would do with the DVD. He set about doing it. It had been a roller coaster ride of emotions and thoughts. And in all this, he hadn't realized that it was half an hour past the meeting time with the two gentlemen. In a moment of weakness, he had switched on his old mobile phone. And just as luck would have it, Neha had called at that time. Somewhere inside, he really liked this girl. When he got to know she was involved in this as well, in another moment of weakness, Sid had uttered probably the corniest line that he had ever uttered to a girl in his life.

As Sid sat on the old bed thinking about it, he almost laughed out loud. Two moments of weakness in one day. Not good. Who did he think he was, a Hindi film hero? After doing a world of bad-doing, the hero realizes in the end that he has found his true love and gives up his crimes! Sid laughed again. What Sid had said to Neha on the phone had been true. But the way he had said it, Sid couldn't stop laughing at himself.

The he remembered what he had in mind for the DVD, Big Mac and the two gentlemen - whoever they might be. As the door to his room was suddenly thrown open, blinding him with light, Sid's laugh slowly turned into a sardonic smile...


6: The DVD

>> Tuesday, June 02, 2009

At around the same time that Sid was making the decision that would probably change his life, Neha sat along with Ishika in her posh Aundh bungalow thinking about the events that had unfolded in the past 12 hours.

The moment she had reached Pune, she had found a company car waiting for her at the bus stop. She was a little surprised to see the company car. Her father was very particular about keeping work and home as two different aspects of his life. Even though he owned the company, he would never use a company vehicle for personal use. The fact that he had sent a company car for Neha meant that her destination would not be home. It would be her dad's office. And the important thing was definitely related to his company. That's weird, thought Neha. How would she be involved in the company's matters? It wasn't as if she was a technical expert that her dad would call on to help with some problem they might be facing.

She called up her dad and told him she was on the way. He asked her to come to the main conference room in the main building. One more ominous sign. That room was always reserved for brainstorming sessions on big problems. Her heartbeats increased a little.

The car shortly pulled in through SecureSoft's massive gates. On reaching the conference room, she expected it to be brightly lit with a bunch of geeks with laptops in front of them discussing away some technical mumbo jumbo that she wouldn't understand. But she was surprised to find pin drop silence. The light was dim. And instead of a group of people, she found her dad at the far end of conference table, sitting alone. He got up as she came in. She quickly went to him and gave him a quick hug.

"How are you Pa?"

"Have seen better days, beta... Come have a seat. I am sorry I had to call you directly to office. I am sure you would have liked to relax a little at home first. But, this was a little too important..."

Neha sat down with a perplexed look on her face. She waited for her dad to continue.

"See beta. I don't know how to put this to you. You know I hate involving personal equations into company business. What I hate even more is getting into your personal business. I have always tried to let you make your own decisions and never doubted your judgment on people around you."

Neha still couldn't put a finger on where her dad was going with this. "Papa, what are you getting at? Come straight to the point na. I am getting a little confused here."

"I guess there's no use beating around the bush. I will come straight to it. Do you know this guy?"

He pressed a key on his laptop. What Neha saw in front of her took her so much by surprise that she couldn't speak for a while. Staring at her from the big conference room screen was an image of the same guy that she had tried so hard to forget for the last month or so. His hair color was a little brighter, his skin tone was a little lighter, but there was no mistaking him.

She just looked at her dad. Her mind was too numb to process anything right now.

"Well, we had this person visiting our office today. And there have been some problems and we have been trying to desperately locate him. It just so happened that Ramesh glanced at his picture while serving me tea here and he said that he had seen this guy in Mumbai once. With you!"

Ramesh was their trusted family help. He would be the one traveling to Mumbai to deliver anything that Neha might need from home. Neha remembered now the one time when Sid had come to drop her off at her place after a lunch date. And she had completely forgotten that Ramesh was supposed to come home with some of her stuff. He had met them downstairs and left.

"Is he a friend?" Her dad asked.

"Yes, I know him. Or rather, knew him." Neha replied. "What has happened dad? Please tell me." she urged.

"Ok. I will. But understand what I tell you is extremely confidential. This has to remain between us."

Neha nodded. This was turning out to be a little too surreal for her.

"My dear, you know that we build software for our country's defense forces. Well, unknown to anybody, we had undertaken a top secret project a year back, right around the time you left for Mumbai. It was also one of the reasons that I agreed to send you to Mumbai so that I could work long hours here overseeing the project without feeling guilty about you at home."

Neha nodded. That was all she could do at the moment.

"Well, the defense ministry recently purchased a huge number of specialized missiles from the Russians, capable of launching with pinpoint accuracy towards any target within a 400 km radius. What was so special about this deal was that India also got a centralized control system from the Russians.

The missiles are currently spread out along India's western border, many of them at crucially hidden locations to nullify the insurgency threat from our neighboring country. Even though the centralized control system could work to some extent, it's software had to be heavily modified according to India's strategic needs.

And that's where SecureSoft came in to the picture. We bagged the contract for doing these much-needed changes. However, the majority of the team does not know exactly what they are working on. It's just me and a couple of designers who know what this is meant for. Everything else has been modularized such that its only on a need to know basis."

Neha nodded. Again.

"Well, now that you have got a background of the work, let me tell you that in the last month or so the project was in its final stages. It was being tested extensively. And for field testing, the actual data that would be used later on was being used for testing of all the functionalities of the software. We also have a system of backing up data everyday for this highly sensitive data, and we had put a tight security system in place for securing that data as well."

"Today, this fellow", pointing at Sid's image on the screen, "had come in posing as an Israeli govt official checking out various security systems that we design. Ofcourse he was shown around the other smaller softwares that we use. But he somehow got one of our project leads to take him to the server room. And using a stomach upset ruse, he got away with the backup DVD containing all the actual data that we are using for the testing of this project."

For the second time in a matter of 15 minutes, Neha had been stunned. The only thing she could muster up was, "What is in that DVD?"

Her dad let out a sigh. "It contains exact locations and details of all the missiles that protect India and it's defended sovereignty..."

"You want some coffee?" Neha was nudged out of her reverie by Ishika. Neha shook her head. "Hey! What's up with you, sleepy head?" Ishika asked her. Neha just shook her head again. She was happy that Ishika was with her right now. But she was in no mood to talk. Ishika, sensing her mood, didn't probe further.

Neha's thoughts went back to last night. After it had sunk in that Sid had been involved in the theft of that DVD, Neha had been able to tell her dad about how she got to know him. She left out the romantic angle. But she knew her dad sensed it. Neha gave whatever details she could of Sid. And while she was trying to, she was surprised to realize that she actually didn't know much about him. The only tangible facts that she had about him was his cell number and the address of the flat he was supposedly living in. Her dad had them immediately checked out. The number was a duplicate SIM and not in use right now. By morning, they had found out that his flat had been rented out just for a month and no details were available. Both had been dead ends.

The day had passed in a daze for Neha. She couldn't make sense of it. Not only had she failed to judge Sid's character, she had failed so completely that she had now started doubting her judgment on everything.

Out of despondency, she had called up Ishika. She didn't want to be alone. And yet, even with Ishika sitting right besides her, she couldn't help but feel even more so. She toyed with her phone. She came up to Sid's number. And not knowing why, she just dialed it. Even though she knew it would not go through.

But suddenly, the display on her phone indicated that the call had connected! Neha didn't know what to do. She just kept staring at it! She could hear a faint voice answering from the other end as she held the cellphone in her hand. Without thinking, she put the phone to her ear. "Hello", she said.

"Neha? Is that you?" It was after a whole month that she heard Sid's voice.

And then she suddenly found her own. "Yes. Who are you, Sid? What else do you do? Kill people?"

"Neha! What are you talking about? Listen..."

"You listen. The DVD that you stole yesterday was from my dad's company. Do you have any idea what is in that DVD?!"

"Oh God! It's a small world! Neha, listen to me! I did not know what that DVD contained. Not until right now. And now that I know, I am not going to let it fall in the wrong hands... I may have broken all my other promises to you until now. But I promise you this. Tell your dad to meet me with the police at Bund Garden in.. Ahhhhhhhhhh!" Neha heard a huge thump and a big groan as the phone went dead.

"Hello? Sid?? Hello???" Neha yelled. No response.

Ishika had been sitting up in a state of major alarm for some time now. Neha looked at her. "We need to call dad! And we need to get to Bund Garden! Let's go! I will explain it to you on our way there!"

She literally dragged Ishika with one hand as she tried to call her dad with the other. Ishika just looked at her with her big eyes. Unknowingly, she too had gotten caught up in the hurricane that was Neha's life at the moment...


5: On the job

>> Monday, June 01, 2009

Sid sighed. It had been a long month. The job had not been as easy as he had thought it would be. The two gentleman had proved to be picky customers, after their initial fear of Big Mac had subsided. But Sid didn't really get their special request. What was so important in the DVD that he was holding in his hand right now?

It had surely not been easy getting it. He was reminded of the Mission Impossible movies. It felt almost like that. Just that, there had been no last moment hitches, no drama and definitely no hot bodied heroine. Yes, he had to plan everything to the minutest of details. But that's the reason why he was Big Mac's favourite for such jobs. Sid never liked the muscle jobs that Big Mac also dealt in. And Big Mac never gave them to Sid. Big Mac knew his men. And he gave Sid the jobs that required his strengths. A sharp analytical mind, an actor's bravado and a cool composure to get the job done under heavy pressure. And his analytical mind had been put to real test for this one.

The place: SecureSoft, a big IT company in the once sleepy town on Pune. The target: A DVD that he was now holding in his hand. Time: Friday evening, when every week a backup DVD like this one of some important data is made and stored in a secure vault at the basement of the main SecureSoft building. Security: Four guards stationed in the basement, with firearms. And ofcourse, there were the security cameras. A little too much for an IT company's data, Sid had thought. But he had encountered weirder and even more panicky people before. The problem: taking on the security guards under security camera surveillance was out of the question. He couldn't get to the source of the data - the server - as the systems used were on an internal network, heavily encrypted and out of reach.

This information was provided to him by the two gentlemen. He had been surprised at their level of homework on this. They meant serious business. Sid also wondered why people who could get this kind of information couldn't also end up snatching the DVD. But he put that thought aside. He could immediately see one place where he could get his hands on the DVD. And that was in the short time when it was being transferred from the server from which it was copied to the vault in the basement. The server was on the third floor of the building and the DVD was made by one of software engineers. Before he made it, he called two security guards. They would come up and escort him out of the room, to the elevator and to the basement. So, the only time he was going to have to make a switch was going to be in the elevator. And he was going to need a strong alibi to be in the building at that time of day. Furthermore, he would have to be somebody of big stature to demand being in the elevator while the DVD was being transferred.

Sid got to work.

First stop - Mr. Mallik. To any outsider, Mr. Mallik looked like any of the typical jewelery shop owners in Zaveri Bazaar.Dressed in a spotless white kurta, matching pyjamas with his round muselin cap adorning his balding head. His neatly trimmed, almost white beard and the rimless glasses on his pointed nose completed his decent, small-time businessman look. His shop, a small one compared to the biggies besides it wore a sleepy look that kept the typical window shoppers out. A half asleep security guard sat outside the shop With his rusty rifle resting on his shoulder. Mr. Mallik had his loyal flock of customers though. But they never came to his store for jewelery.

Sid had met Mr. Mallik earlier, so they knew each other. Sid had straightaway come to the point.

"Mr. Mallik, You had a talk with Big Mac?"

"Yes yes... He told me what you wanted. I already have it ready."

"Great! Let's have a look..."

Mr. Mallik motioned to the old guard sitting outside. He nodded and pulled out a small 'Shop Closed' sign from behind his seat and hung it out from the door handle. Mr. Mallik then pulled on the blinds so that nothing would be visible from outside. He then stepped out from behind the glass panel and came around to Sid's side. He pressed a particular pattern into the glass panel and gave it a slight push. The whole assembly slid inside and revealed a small staircase going downstairs.

Sid smiled. He had witnessed all this before. Big Mac always had his incorrigible one-liners for every situation. "Sid, my fellow! You can't tell a shop by its windows or a girl by her boobs. You need to wait till they both take you in to really know how deep they go!"

They descended into what seemed to be a basement of sorts - Mr. Mallik's work shop. It contained an assortment of imported tools and gadgets which he used for his artwork. Mr. Mallik stepped forward to his workbench and picked up a fresh Israeli passport. "Mr. Neel Siddique", smiling he addressed Sid. "That's your new name. Like it? You are the young new head of the Security Analysis Wing (SAW) of the Israeli government. And as all new turks tend to do, you have been studying various security systems around the world to see what things you can incorporate into your own system. Here." Mr. Mallik handed over a manilla folder to Sid. "This contains documents which will help you establish your identity without doubt."

As they came up to the shop, Sid familiarized himself with the passport. He asked Mr. Mallik a few questions regarding the kind of background he could build for himself as Neel Siddique. Mr. Mallik brought back his glass panel to their original place and it locked into place. He moved the blinds away and Sid walked out into the busy street with a completely new identity.

After this, had been the tough part. Sid had spent the next two weeks in a frenzy of information gathering and planning. He tried to find out information regarding the exact time at which the software engineer made his DVD copy. He got one of Big Mac's Middle Eastern girls to call up the SecureSoft office and make necessary appointments. He had his documents faxed over to them. He got it so arranged that he would be in the SecureSoft building discussing security systems with one of their project leads on Friday afternoon. And ofcourse, Sid sat down and studied whatever little he could about security systems in general so as not to sound completely dumb out there.

As Sid held the DVD in his hand right now, he thought about yesterday. Unlike the MI movies, everything had gone according to plan. His slight makeup and a little slur in speech made him pass off very well as Mr. Neel Siddique. He was accorded the respect expected to be given to such a dignitary. He was shown around the softwares - a little of which he understood. He could figure out that they had something to do with co-ordinated security systems across India. And then he had purposefully asked them, what do you do about backup? And the project lead, a typical indian trying to impress a foreigner, had overzealously taken him to the server room. Sid had timed it all just right. Just when they reached there, the software engineer was done with his DVD copy and was headed to the basement with the two guards.

Sid suddenly feigned a stomach ache. "The spicy food I have eaten here!" He complained. "Oh, yes. That could be it. Foreigners normally have problem eating Indian curry." The project lead added. "I guess we are pretty much finished with the tour. I will just leave now. Can we go downstairs?" And before the security guards could understand what had happened, Sid had gotten into the elevator along with them. "Its ok." The project lead had said. As the elevator went down, Sid caught his stomach and lurched over on the software engineer, falling down as if in pain. The software engineer immediately put down the DVD on the lift floor to help Sid up. As he was getting up, Sid quietly slipped the DVD into a specially made pocket in his waist coat. Out came another DVD. And replaced the one on the floor.

It had been too easy. Nobody checked him on the way out. What with him convulsing and the project lead to clear his way...

Big Mac would be happy, Sid thought. He had to deliver the DVD in the evening. One of the two gentlemen was going to meet him near Bund Garden. Sid looked around in the temporary flat he had gotten for himself. His sight fell on his laptop. He opened it. And then he looked at the DVD. What was in that DVD that had such a security system in place? That had made the two gentlemen come to Big Mac to get it?

He placed the DVD into the DVD tray and pushed it in. He browsed around lazily. What he saw next on his laptop screen sent a chill down his spine. In a matter of seconds, beads of sweat broke out on Sid's forehead. Why did the two buffoons want this kind of data? What exactly were they upto?

He had to leave for Bund Garden in half an hour's time. But what he saw in front of him made him really think. About everything. About what he was doing. About his life. About his country. And in a defining moment of clarity, Sid knew exactly what he had to do...


4: The Call

>> Sunday, May 31, 2009

They were blurring past her eyes. Trees, bushes, people, even cars. Before she could catch a glimpse of them, before she could figure out what they were like, they were gone. At one moment, there they were, going about their business in all glory. And as her eyes landed on them, they whizzed past her. Just like all the good things in my life, thought Neha as she stared out of the bus window.

It had been a month now. She tried to think about her life before things had suddenly gone wrong. Her life had started finally to go back on track. It had been a tough year for her till then. Born and bought up in Pune by a rich doting single father, she had always been accustomed to getting things done her way. Not that she had let it all go to her head. She believed she was still level headed. Just a little pampered, that's all.

When she had graduated, she was looking forward to working in her dad's firm. Why wouldn't she? Her father owned one of the largest IT companies in Pune. His firm had major dealings with India's defence services. They provided them with state-of-the-art software security systems used all over the country. Bu no, her dad had other things in mind for her. He was a self-made man. He had started his company a la Narayan Murthy. From scratch. He may have pampered his daughter a little uptil now, but when it came to her career, he wanted her to stand on her own feet. He asked her to apply for campus placements. He wanted her to experience a world not protected by her father. Atleast for a year. Then she would be welcome into his company.

Neha had been very angry at him for this. And in that anger, she had gone and sat for Infitech's placements. Knowing very well, that her job would be in Mumbai. She thought she could emotionally blackmail her father into letting up. Bargain with him with a threat of going away. But not for nothing was her father one of the shrewdest brains in the business. Not only did he ask her to join Infitech's offices at Mumbai, he even refused to splurge money on her and buy her a flat there. He told her, you need to understand how to survive on the salary you get.

Neha had been aghast! But all said and done, she was her father's daughter. She took this as a challenge. She wanted to prove it to herself that she could survive out there. And she had. Overcoming the occasional pangs of homesickness, adjusting her way of life so that her meagre fresher's salary could take care of her expenses, she had managed to stay in Infitech for a whole year. Along the way, she had found a best friend in Ishika. A person she didn't know in Pune, but now she couldn't live without.

Then she had found Sid. She didn't believe in online romances. She thought them to be unsafe. But she found herself falling in one. She was truly happy. She was happy that she had been able to justify her dad's faith in her. That she would be able to stand on her own two feet, and build a life of her own.

And then, as they always seem to with her, things went wrong. Ishika packed up her stuff and moved back to Pune. And Sid - it was just right out of left field. She had been shattered. Overlooking the setting sun through the window, Neha almost smiled when she remembered her state in those days. She had been angry, she had been despondent, she had been tearful, she had been plain down right depressed. And there had been no Ishika to sit by her side. Two people, whom her new life revolved around had suddenly disappeared. And the sure footing on which she had stood and proclaimed to herself about her independence, had suddenly crumbled.

It was maybe the fighting spirit that she got from her mother and her dad's inherent belief in her that made her still stand. Somehow get through it all. Ofcourse, Ishika's constant calls from Pune didn't hurt.

Neha thought about Sid. In the last month or so, had she been able to get over him? Ofcourse, its not hard to get over a philandering scoundrel, she thought. But somehow somewhere she had glimpsed something in him that she still held on to. It was something so small, so tiny, insignificant even, that it never made its presence felt amidst the fury, the sadness and finally the acceptance that had been her emotions throughout. That something insignificant was still buried somewhere deep inside. Never to surface again.

Slowly, but surely, she had gotten back on track. She was surprised at her own resilience. In a month's time, she had come to a point where she would go days without even remembering Sid. Her friend circle kept her busy. Her boss tried to keep her busy, but she was too smart for him - what with no distractions now. Life was slowly going back to what it used to be. Until today...

She had just finished up her work in office. She had been getting real good at it lately. It was just 4 o clock. She was wondering whether she should call up the gang to make plans with them or indulge herself with some shoe-shopping. And the phone rang. It was dad. "Neha, I know this is on short notice, but catch the next bus out of Mumbai right now. Something very important has come up. I have already booked the ticket and Ramesh will be waiting for you at Dadar."

Since her mother had passed away, Neha had kind of been her dad's care taker. She knew his every mood. She could understand just from his tone what he was thinking. But the tone that Neha heard today was something she had never heard before. It was grave. It had such a firmness to it that she didn't even ask a single question. She just said yes and picked up her bag. She went home, packed a few clothes and took a cab to Dadar.

As the sun finally set and the shadows turned into darkness, her wandering mind came back. She didn't know what to expect. Even though his voice had been grave, there had been no panic in it. There had been a chilling calm. She knew her dad. He would have things in control. She looked forward to meeting him and figuring out what was the important thing that had come up.

Little did she know, that the very thing hidden deep into the recesses of her subconscious, never to surface again, would exactly do that. And therein would lie a test of her character that she would have never imagined...


3: Big Mac

>> Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Like a tiger, she growled as Sid came into the alley. The growling turned to a purr, menacing still, as Sid slowly came to a stop. Kicking out the side-stand from his Royal Enfield Machismo, Sid lovingly caressed the beast. She was his pride. He spent hours on lazy Sundays tinkering with her. She was probably the only constant in his life right now.

Sid looked around at the familiar alley. To a normal bystander, it would look like any one of the hundreds of typical, dusty back alleys in the heart of South Mumbai. The one thing that stood out though was the collection of bikes parked there. Shiny Royal Enfields, imported Harley Davidsons, renovated Mazdas and Bullets, 'Hot Rod' Choppers. It was a biker's dream. As Sid locked his bike, he smiled. There was actually no need to lock it. His bike was small fry amongst the monsters out here. And then ofcourse, no thief in his right mind would try to put his hands anywhere on a bike that was parked in Big Mac's alley.

The sun cast a beautiful glow over the evening skies as Sid walked to an old wooden door. He knocked. A small slit slid out and two eyes poked from it. Then they seemed to smile. The door opened. Sid shook hands with the old doorkeeper, grinning at his toothless grin. "Sid's here!", he hollered and there was a roar as Sid went inside.

What was an old wooden door outside, seemingly of a run down establishment, transformed into a chic bar inside. The bar was styled after the Italian hangouts in the Godfather movies. Big Mac loved the Godfather movies. Sid had an inkling that he thought himself to be one too. There was a long bar at one side, with all kinds of drinks neatly stacked behind it. An overlying frame structure held glasses of all shapes and sizes across the length of the table. True to its styling, a short portly bartender was behind the bar, trying to look busy. In the area up front, there were two rows of short tables with three to four chairs around each of them.

A mix of 20 odd guys, mostly of Sid's age were either sitting at the tables playing cards, flirting around with the ladies, or downing drinks at the bar. All of them had one thing in common. They had a certain swagger about them. They were men in control. Men with power. They talked with the girls in a sort of off-handed way that can only come with that kind of power.

As Sid walked through, they nodded, winked and grinned at him. "What's Sid's score?" someone asked. "He's scored one more, haven't you?", someone else asked. "Update the scoreboard!", another one pointed at a white board on the wall. "You are the man, Sid!" One more yelled. Sid just smiled. He didn't react much. There was admiration, there was envy, but there was also a sense of belonging.

At the far end, there was a plush leather sofa. In the middle of it was sitting a huge mass of a man, with a cigar in one hand and a drink in another. A twenty something girl was trying to cozy up to him. But Big Mac was busy discussing something with two skinny gentlemen in front of him. Big Mac not just had a huge physique, he also had an impressive personality. Shoulder length hair neatly combed back, a graying beard hiding most of his fair-skinned face. But what kept you captivated were his eyes. While his overall persona seemed laid back, his eyes told a different story. They were intense. They didn't miss a thing. They bore through your whole being, trying to figure out exactly what you were thinking. Like they were doing right now to the two people sitting in front of him, scared shitless.

Sid walked right up to him. Big Mac looked up and roared in his guttural voice, "Ah Sid! My boy!" He gestured Sid to sit down. "You don't have a drink in your hand! Tony... get Sid a drink." He yelled out to the portly bartender. Like a mouse who has just realized that the fat cat has noticed it, Tony scurried around to prepare the drink. "So, how you doing Sid?" Sid nodded. "I see you are still topping the scoreboard ha!"

"I wouldn't be anywhere even near you hadn't you taken yourself out of the competition, Big Mac."

"Ah... I have grown too old for that, young man. And nowadays, this flesh does not excite me as much..." He looked at the pretty young thing besides him. He took his cigar towards her ample cleavage. She thought he was joking and started giggling. "Oh Mac, you naughty boy..." And then suddenly, she shrieked as she felt her bare skin singe. Big Mac laughed out loud as she ran away, sobbing. The two sitting in front seamed to cower down even more.

"But yes, these two gentlemen here do have a proposition for us that excites me a little. Sit down Sid. Hear them out. I am glad you are back to your old ways. That bitch of yours had me worried!"

Sid grimaced a little as Big Mac referred to Neha. But he hid it well. "Well, Sheila solved that problem without even doing a thing." Sid replied. He remembered the look on Ishika's face when she saw Sheila cosying up to him. And then, it was all over.

Since he had joined Big Mac, there had never been a dirth of girls. Big Mac had just one rule. Don't get involved. 'Ain't good for our business. No more than two months with one gal', he always said. 'Two months is just about enough time to fuck the living daylight outta her and yet not get completely involved', was his mantra.

Neha had been different. She was not one of the girls that Sid used to date. After his last job for Big Mac, he had taken a break. He wanted to live normal for a while. That would keep him sane, he figured. He had gone to one of the flats that he had bought recently. And then he had accidentally met Neha on orkut. She was searching for someone else, but found him. The messaging started. And the rest fell into place pretty quickly.

She was a software engineer living in a new city and he had a lot of time on his hands. Long weekends became a regularity. He had no idea when the two months became three. After a long time, he was feeling normal again. And then Sheila turned up.

Big Mac had sent her. Big Mac always knew everything about his boys. Sheila was one of Big Mac's special girls. "Fetch and Retrieve". That was her specialty. Sheila met Sid to make him understand that it was time to move on. And she did that in her own peculiar style. And just at that moment, Ishika saw them. Before he could decide what he wanted to do, his decision got made for him.

He didn't know how he really felt about Neha. Maybe, he didn't actually feel anything. Maybe, she was just another score. Like on of Big Mac's girls. Just a little different. Or maybe, he was too scared to know how he really felt about her. Whatever it was, he decided to act the cold hearted bastard. Maybe that was what was best for Neha. Anything else and she would have required an explanation. And he couldn't give her any.

Sheila had made things easier for him that night. Dragged him back from his so called 'normalcy' back to this world. Where he belonged. And just like that, he was back in contention as leader of the scoreboard. The "WTF" scoreboard they called it. It was a game amongst Big Mac's boys. It was really simple. No rules. Just the number of scores. And Sid had been leading the board for the last year or so. Neha had made the competition a little interesting. In the last three months, others had been able to catch up with Sid. But now, he was back at the top.

"Big Mac, sir, your reputation precedes you. So when we wanted this job to be done, we came straight to you." The mustached one had hesitantly started talking. Sid looked at the two properly for the first time. They were decently dressed in matching flannel suits. You could make out that this sort of a situation was not an everyday occurrence for them. They were scared.

Their kind were the best to work with, Sid thought. Their jobs were typically simple and straightforward. Out of fear, they paid well and on time.

He brushed away thoughts of Neha out of his head and started listening intently to what was probably going to be his next job...


2: A horrible day

>> Thursday, April 30, 2009

As the sun rose, casting an orange tinge across the horizon, Ishika looked at it from her perch atop one of the rocks at the end of Marine Drive. She liked to come here whenever she had a cobweb of thoughts to sort out. The unending battle of the waves against the rocks seemed to calm her down. The sprays of water tried to unsuccessfully reach her. As the waves would go back for another try, she would recede away from her own thoughts and analyze them.

The sun's rays illuminated her petite frame. She knew she was not what you would call conventionally beautiful. Her dark complexion, frizzy hair and the thick-rimmed glasses permanently perched atop her pudgy nose kept her away from the limelight. But they could not hide her from Rahul. Maybe that's the reason she loved him even more. How she wished he was here right now! He had a knack of saying things that hit exactly the right notes in her. They did speak last night, but there are limitations to the duration of a US call. Especially between a struggling student living abroad and a recently laid-off employee.

The last two days had been horrible. She had gone in to work on Friday, happy like everybody else that the weekend was here. Add to it that the salary would be credited the next day and she would have the feeling of a rich software engineer - atleast till her credit card bills came in! She was in an especially chirpy mood. Then she saw the meeting request in her mailbox. The manager, the business HR and her. It was weird. Her appraisal had gotten over last month itself. She put it out of her mind, as her phone rang.

It was Neha. "Could you please tell Rakesh that I am not coming in today? Tell him I am not feeling well."

"Are you really not feeling well?" Ishika asked with concern. Neha had told her last night she would be with Sid. They had a romantic candle-lit dinner planned. And the way these dinners had gone earlier, Ishika did not expect Neha to come home for the night.

"Na re Ish!" Neha always called her Ish whenever she needed a favour. "I am with Sid... We have decided to take the day off. You know how it is... Please handle Rakesh for me. Otherwise he will eat my head. Please..." Ishika didn't like to lie. Perhaps Neha was the only person whom she would lie for. They had gotten really close since becoming roomies after joining Infitech. Neha, the new babe in town. Ishika more like 'Babe, pig in the city!' Neha, stunningly beautiful, vivacious, out-spoken. Ishika, introvert, intense, level headed. They were poles apart, but they had formed a strong bond.

After some more pleading, Ishika agreed. 'As usual!' she smiled.

As she went up to Rakesh's cabin for her scheduled meeting, she thought about Sid. Neha had met Sid on orkut. And they had hit it off. When Neha had first introduced Sid to her, he seemed decent enough. But somewhere, Ishika felt something weird about this guy. She couldn't put a finger on it. He seemed too good to be true. She had never heard Neha and Sid fight over the last three months. Well, not everybody fights, but something about him made her uneasy...

While going into the cabin, she was a little surprised to see a security guard standing outside. Inside, both Rakesh and Shilpa, the HR, had grim looks on their faces. They asked her to sit down. And then Rakesh dropped the bomb. She was being laid off. He gave her the normal talk about project ramp downs, how this does not reflect on her abilities, etc. Once he was done, he looked at Shilpa. As if carefully choreographed, Shilpa started off. He had hit the sledgehammer, she was applying the balm. Ishika felt angry. That's the reason there was a security guard outside, she thought. What did they think, she would take out her claws and maul the two imbeciles?

She was asked to resign on the spot. Shilpa acted all apologetic, even patronizing. Ishika gave her a look of pure disdain. The security guard then escorted Ishika to her desk. She couldn't even write a goodbye mail to her dear friends. She just picked up her purse and walked out.

The cab dropped Ishika off at her flat. It was weird coming home at this hour. She almost mechanically opened the door. Went inside. Switched on the fan. Sat down on her bed. All alone. And then it really hit her.

One whole year. Her whole life revolved around Infitech. Her batchmates, her team, and ofcourse Neha. With the exception of Rahul, her whole social life was Infitech. And she was no longer a part of it. Just like that. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

When she woke up, the sun had already gone down. She looked at her cell. 5 missed calls. Neha. She messaged her. 'I am fine. Don't worry. Just want to be alone for a while.' She splashed water on her face. Got dressed. And walked out. The phone beeped. Neha again. 'Ok. Take care sweetheart. Am out with the company gang. The usual place. Drop in if you want to.'

Ishika didn't. She needed some time to think. She knew she was strong. This was a temporary setback. She knew life had better things in store for her. Maybe, she needed this time off. To regroup. Re-energize. To make a new beginning. This was a good thing. She could finally go back to her writing. She could teach again. Oh, no longer the dread of the boring Mondays! No longer desperately looking forward to Fridays. She suddenly cheered up. Felt light. Felt like having her favourite kulfi.

With a spring in her step she entered the restaurant at Colaba. She looked around for an empty table. And then she spotted Sid. Neha? But she was supposed to be with the gang. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw more clearly. And all her cheerfulness, her new found strength, suddenly drained out of her. It was not Neha who was cosying up with Sid, giving him a peck on the cheeks. It was someone else.

Her anger returned.

She saw Sid notice her. She saw the look of surprise in his face. She saw him look around to see if Neha was there. And then, in the most non-chalant manner ever possible, he shrugged. In that one instant, all her fears about him came true. The thing that had been eating her away came to the fore. She knew it. She knew that the 'decent loving boyfriend' act was a charade. How stupid could she be? She should have warned Neha from the beginning!

What was she going to tell her? That I saw the love of your life with another woman in his arms? How was she going to face Neha?

The last two days had really been horrible. The two most important things in her life, her job and Neha, were both in disarray. Neha was a complete mess. She had gone to meet Sid. When she came back, she was a changed person. It was as if somebody had come and yanked out her soul...

As the sun started shining bright, Ishika realized she had been sitting there for a long time. The street hawkers had set up shop. The wannabe lovebirds had started milling around. The uncles and aunties had finished off their morning jogs and were flirting around with each other in front of the fruit juice stall.

As she called for a cab to take her back to her problems, Marine Drive was slowly waking up to just another typical Sunday in its bustling life...


1: The Broken Heart

>> Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Finishing his coffee, Sid looked up. Slap! Before he could even realize what had happened, he felt the burning sensation on his left cheek. As he adjusted his pair of glasses, he looked into the burning eyes of Neha. They were brimming with tears. She was shaking with anger. "How dare you?" she almost yelled at him.

He looked around. People had started noticing them. He coolly looked at her. "Don't make a scene out here, Neha." She couldn't control herself. She tried to hit him again. He caught her hand. Without raising his voice, he said, "The soap operas have gone to your head. Don't act so melodramatic. There's no point in making a scene." His voice had a coldness that she had never heard before. It sent a chill down her spine. She felt his strong grip on her arm. It was hurting. She had come here with a lot of anger. She didnt know exactly what she expected from him. Maybe a sense of guilt, apologies, a desperate attempt to cover up. But she hadn't expected this. She got a little weak in the knees. She sat down. He let her hand go.

"Would you like to order some coffee?" He asked as if a business colleague had just joined him at the table. Neha was too stunned to reply. She couldn't believe that it was the same Sid. Her Sid. The romantic Sid. The one who had written beautiful poems for her. The one who used to send roses with cards saying 'Just like that!' The same Sid who used to keep her like a princess. Who used to make her feel like a princess. The same Sid who had been so gentle and understanding on their first time. The same Sid who was so passionate, so sensitive with her that his every touch made her feel like a complete woman. The way he used to hug her afterwards, and stay like that - as if overcome with emotions. In front of her right now, there was somebody else. Emotionless. She was looking at the face of a complete stranger.

Her coffee came. She hardly looked at it. "Look Neha." Her name sounded weird coming from his mouth. He never used to call her that. She was always his 'motu'. "I guess you have figured out by now that things are over between us. So, let's not make a big deal out of this and get on with our lives. Ok?"

She couldn't believe it. This could not be Sid. Sitting in front of her was a... "Heartless Bastard. Isn't that the words you are looking for?" He asked. He smiled. There was no warmth in that smile. It was almost devilish. He got up. Put down a hundred bucks on the table for the bill. Adjusted his glasses. And left.


0: Prologue

>> Monday, April 27, 2009

This is something I started writing after getting inspired from Yamini's blog. My first try at some semblence of story telling. If it doesn't end up good, pardon me.


Sid slowly came to his senses. He got up and looked around. His head was pounding. He put his hand to the back of his head. It hurt like hell. He tried to see if there was any blood. Atleast, his fingers couldn't feel any. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he looked around. It was a small room, about 6 ft by 8 ft. He had been lying on a creaky old bed with a smelly torn mattress. There were no windows. The only light came from the gap formed by the door's hinges. He tried the door. It was locked.

A slight feeling of claustrophobia came over him. He brushed it aside. Focus, Sid, focus. How did I land up here? He tried to remember...

To be contd...


Ah, Women!

>> Saturday, April 25, 2009

He looked at her. The sun's rays reflected off the water onto her face. She seemed to be at peace besides the lake. Her feet played with the waves. Her anklet glistened. "You look beautiful", he said. She just smiled. He wondered what she was thinking. As is normally the case, he had absolutely no clue. 'Ah, Women!' he thought.

He selected a pebble. A well rounded flat pebble. And then, with a swift motion of his hand, he threw it at the water. It didn't directly go in. It skirted off the water's edge. Tried to land again. But his initial force made it skirt again. Wherever it touched the water, small rings formed. After about five such failed landings, the water finally engulfed it. "Wow!", she exclaimed. "How did you do that?" He seemed surprised. "You haven't seen this before?" She shook her head. "We used to play this game whenever we came here as children." She decided to try her hand. She picked up a random pebble and let it go. Plop. It sunk at first impact. "No wonder you are good at this. You have been playing since childhood!" she complained. He gave a hearty laugh. A man will find the weirdest things cute in a woman.

"No re! See, here's how you do it. You need to select a pebble that's as flat as possible..." He went on to explain the supposed 'techniques' of pebble-throwing. She listened to him, noticing how focused he looked while explaining something as trivial as this. She liked that about him. She thought back to the time when she had first seen him. His intensity while explaining something to a class full of students was what had caught her eye. "Okay. Here's one that would work. Try it!" He brought her out of her reverie. She took the pebble and threw it at an awkward angle. Plop. Down it went again.

"Arre baba! Throw it as horizontally as possible!" He chirped in. She tried again. Same result. This was getting a little lame, he thought. After a lovely drive, he had planned on sitting besides her by the lake and atleast try to have a supposedly romantic time. Instead, here he was, teaching her how to throw meaningless stones in the water! He cursed his luck. I should have listened to Aakash and taken her to a movie instead! This idea of a 'romantic' natural outing was a no-brainer from the start, he thought. "Did you see that? It made three circles!" She almost shrieked as she finally succeeded. "This is so much fun!" And she gave him a little peck on the cheeks. Like a fledgling knight on a three legged horse who had suddenly turned the battle on it's head, his chest swelled up.

They took turns throwing pebbles at the water, he the expert more than willing to guide, she the eager student. As they sat their watching the small ripples form, he couldn't help but wonder at the joy she found, the joy they had found in such a small thing. "Do you think we go through life like this pebble?" He asked her. "Just skimming the surface. Just having a passing taste of what life holds for us? At every instance when a defining moment passes us by, are we too busy doing the things to be done instead of enjoying that moment? And then, by the time we realise it, it's too late. We have lost our momentum. Our drive. And the water then just engulfs us." She looked at him. He smiled. She put her head on his shoulder. In a soft voice, she spoke. "Well, I know I am enjoying this moment. And not letting it just pass by. Thanks a lot for bringing me here instead of taking me to some silly movie!" Up yours, Aakash!

He looked at her. He could smell her hair. There was an inexplicably pleasant smell to them. His heart was beating at a slightly faster rate. And yet, a feeling of contentment had come over him. He felt responsible for her. Suddenly, he felt both tender and strong at the same time. How do women do these things? As they sat in an almost picturesque pose in front of the setting sun, he thought again, this time in a more relaxed and happy way, "Ah, Women!"


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