Her Breakup Movie

She’d played the movie in her head time and time again. He’d ask her to join him for a walk. They’d hold hands and let the end sink in. Then he’d kiss her goodbye at her doorstep. But it didn’t happen that way when it really happened. She was shocked that he just stopped taking her calls and broke up by email. “This is so wrong,” she thought. She hated this movie.

Between Two States

After spending 15 years in the United States, my parents decided to move back to their homeland. India was always home for them. I remember their friends thinking they were crazy. “You’re leaving the land of opportunity,” they’d warn them. Then they would turn around and gossip, wondering if a layoff or family discord had resulted in the decision.
Two decades down the line, my parents realise that moving back was the best thing they ever did. There is hardly a month when a friend doesn’t call to whine about his hectic life in the States. “I hate travelling to work in the snow every day,” one says. Another complains about the expensive health insurance plans. My father smugly reminds them that they chose to live the American dream–which seems to have evaporated in the recent years.
Yes, it isn’t like life in India is smooth, but there are advantages. For instance, social security benefits converted to Indian Rupees can give comfort that it cannot in the US. Then there’s always the family support. Most people have something to bank on like a parental house, furniture and the like. Even for the ones who are self-made, like my father, emotional support is a plus. And who doesn’t love to have conversations in the language that they grew up speaking at home? Think about the pleasure your dad feels when he can sit and watch a cricket match while he and his friends swear away at the opponent team in their mother tongue. Complete bliss, I say.  Well, a lot of retired people are doing their best to grab what India has to offer–without giving up their social life and property in America. A lot of my parents’ friends do the 6 month here, 6 month there thing. That means that they avoid the cruel Indian summers by staying in their American homes at that time, and then they avoid the very cold US winters while they sip tea in their homes here. Of course, there’s the added benefit of relatively cheap domestic help.
My mother was always the envy of her friends after she moved here. “We have to go to the office and then come home and cook and clean,” they’d tell her. In the United States, a weekly cleaning lady is more of the norm than daily cooks and maids and drivers. So when a couple spends half the year in India, they can lie back and let people take care of them and their house. Travel into the mind of one of these 6-month-plan couples, and what do you see? A sincere effort to keep in touch with their roots? Or the end of a long road of trying to be as American as possible? It could be both. I once asked an uncle why he couldn’t just choose between the two lands. He sighed. Then he said: Child, we built our home there. It’s where we have our homes and our friends and our children. But we spent too much time away from India. He also admitted that it was like taking a holiday. If you ask me, it isn’t about making up for time lost as much as it is about trying to get the best of both worlds. It seems that the 6 month here, 6 month there plan gives them just that!

First published in The Huffington Post India Blogs

Getting Home Late

His eyes looked sad. They weren’t full of mischief like other days. She sat down beside him on the bed, patted his head and tried to hug him. But he was giving her the silent treatment. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have been so late.” Her apologies were not accepted until she lay down on the bed and gave him a long belly rub. When she finally stopped, he turned right over and licked her face. They both grinned.

Pink Dresses – Part II

“What do you eat at school?” Shreya asked her. Rhea told them about the salad bar, little milk cartons and baked fish.
“Wow, that sounds like a restaurant,” said Sree with jealousy. She hated eating her boring home food every day. The school only had a muriwala and an ice cream cart.
The girls spent the rest of the afternoon talking, until Sree’s mother announced that Rhea’s aunt had come to take her home. “Don’t worry, I’ll come again tomorrow,” Rhea said and waved goodbye.
Rhea did come the next day, but she was too busy to look at her friends for more than a minute at a time. She had a mobile phone with her.
“Mom set up the Internet connection today,” she explained.
“I’m chatting with my friend. Her name is Sue.”
Shreya wanted to say that she was being rude. The old Rhea had always given them her full attention. In fact, Rhea had been the one who would stop them from staring at computer games and messenger. She would stand in front of the monitor with her arms crossed.
It wasn’t a fun afternoon. Rhea was too distracted. Sree was upset. Shreya was sleepy because she was so bored by the quietness. The three girls were known to talk nonstop. Even during lunch, they watched Rhea eat her pizza with a fork and knife and frown at the Indian toppings.
“Pizza in India isn’t as good as pizza over there. Who puts paneer tikka on a pizza?” Rhea complained with her new accent.
When they said goodbye to each other that day, Rhea didn’t hug them back. She looked uncomfortable. Sree couldn’t help but ask her what was wrong.
“Nothing is wrong. I just don’t think we need to hug every time we see each other. It’s weird,” Rhea said.
She waved goodbye with her eyes on her phone. Shreya and Sree felt like crying.
Time flew by and it was the day before Rhea was returning to the States. Sree’s parents invited Shreya, Rhea and all the parents over for dinner. Rhea came dressed in a pretty pink dress. There was no phone in her hand. She was carrying gifts for her friends. Shreya and Sree said thank you.
“Open them,” Rhea requested.
They did. Both packages contained pink dresses like the one Rhea was wearing.
“Wear them now, please,” said Rhea with hopeful eyes.
They were angry at their friend but listened to her. When the three of them were dressed identically, Rhea’s mother took a picture.
That evening, Sree and Shreya realised that their friend had changed but that was supposed to happen. People changed. When people moved to new places, they would change. They also realised that Rhea felt bad about not being the same anymore.
“I’m so sorry for being rude that day,” Rhea said with her eyes on her feet.
“I just feel like something has changed. It makes me feel terrible.”
Now her old friends felt bad about her feeling so bad. They decided to enjoy their last evening together.
“One thing is still the same,” said Shreya.
“What’s that?” The other two asked.
“We all still love pink!”

The End

First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)

Pink Dresses – Part I

She’s coming back, finally!” Sree exclaimed.
Shreya frowned. “No, she isn’t. It’s just for two weeks,” she corrected her friend.
Sree stopped grinning but refused to be sad. “We haven’t seen her in one year,” she thought out loud.
The same question was stuck in both their minds: would Rhea be the same as before? Would she like them as much as she did before she moved to the States?
The next Sunday, Sree and Shreya waited eagerly at the airport gate. Shreya’s parents were with them. The girls kept looking at the huge board that showed which flights had arrived or were on their way. Thankfully, the flight arrived on time, or Sree would have bitten off all her nails!
“Stop biting your nails,” ordered Shreya.
Sree replied, “Can’t help it. It’s a habit.”
Her friend made a face and sipped on her mango drink. It was a hot day and she was in no mood to fight.
Suddenly, the big board said that Rhea’s flight had reached on time. The girls tried to get a view of the arriving passengers but there were too many tall adults blocking their view. They managed to squeeze themselves to the front of the waiting crowd.
“Girls, Rhea and aunty need to collect their suitcases first. It will take some time,” explained Shreya’s mother.
So they waited. Sree was about to bite her nails again when she heard a familiar voice shout, “Sree! Shreya! I’m here.”
Rhea ran through the crowd with her small suitcase rolling behind her. She hugged them both tightly, while her mother said hello to everybody. It had been two long flights, so Rhea and her mother looked tired.
“You must be hungry,” said Shreya.
“Yeah, I am. I can’t wait to have some luchi and alur dom,” said Rhea’s mom.
Rhea wrinkled her nose. She didn’t like Bengali food these days. She preferred the pasta and sandwiches that her friend’s parents served her when she visited their houses. Her mom knew that. She patted her head and said, “You must miss your grandmother’s cooking. Enjoy it while you can.”
They dropped the tired travellers home and went their separate ways. Shreya and Sree were upset because Rhea hadn’t talked much in the car. Plus, they had noticed something; Rhea had an American accent. She sounded different. They didn’t like it.
“Sree, did you notice how she speaks like a foreigner?” Shreya nodded.
The next day, the three friends met at Sree’s house. They were hoping to spend a lazy day, lying around the house, talking about their lives.
Rhea asked, “So what is new at school?”
The other girls looked at each other. They wondered for a minute. Then they realised that things were exactly the same as before. Nothing changed in their little school. Every year, they had the same classmates and the same group of teachers coming in for one period after the next. Even their tiffins were the same. Sandwiches one day. Roti and vegetables on another. Sometimes rolls filled with paneer or chicken. No new boys had joined. They still had the same annoying boys in class who teased Sree about her skinny long legs and Shreya about her round cheeks.
“Nothing new with us,” Sree finally answered.
Rhea looked surprised. She had expected some news about a new teacher or a new student or some new rules at least.
“How’s school in America?” Shreya asked curiously.
Rhea smiled. She looked so happy at the mention of her school. She told them about how she had tried out for the class volleyball team.
“They let us try out for any sport we want to play. There are 15 teams to choose from,” she told them. They were impressed.
First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)

Puchke Turns Detective

This story was written in honor of Puchke, my friend’s feline sibling, who passed away two months ago.

The sun was shining outside and Puchke was busy in his room. He was catching up on his sleep because the previous night had been spent giving his sister Ritu company while she worked on her laptop. Puchke loved snuggling in her lap – pushing the laptop away from its designated spot.

In another room at the Mukherjee house, Gullu sat in deep thought. He wondered why Puchke was sleeping when they could have been running around on the roof. He barked at the closed door. “Puchke, it’s past 11 o’ clock! Wake up,” he shouted and woofed. But there was no reply.

Gullu was bored. Ritu was out. Their parents were out too. The house was too quiet. Of course, there was Chorkee in the other room. But he and Gullu didn’t really get along. Last time Gullu had raised a friendly paw for a handshake, Chorkee had responded with a quick slap. “What was that for?” Gullu had asked him. “Stop trying to be so friendly, dog,” said Chorkee, returning his attention to the new cockroach coming out from the bathroom drain.

Pudy, the oldest cat in the family, did not like to play or talk to anybody but their parents. “We speak about important things, Puchke,” he would say. “Like what?” Puchke was confused. “You know, about things like the benefits of eating brown rice and salmon,” Pudy gave an example. “I like my rice and fish too. But who needs to talk about it?” Puchke thought it was a waste of time. In fact, he thought that any talking was a waste of time. He would rather sleep or sit on top of the bird cage and worry about nothing. So yes, Pudy did not interact with the other kids in the family.

Today, Gullu was in the mood to play games and have a conversation or two about how annoying their new sibling was. Brother Crow had joined them recently after their father had found him sitting innocently on the pavement. The silly boy didn’t want to fly around. He loved his cage. But he also made a habit of cawing at Gullu if he wanted to sniff the cage or just say hi. Plus, mother fed him with her own hands. “That’s not right,” thought Gullu. “I’m the first born. Not that annoying crow.”

His thoughts were interrupted when mother came home. She rubbed his head and exclaimed, “Time for your chew stick, Gullu!” Gullu jumped up and down, knocking over some books and the TV remote. Mother reached into the cupboard to take one out. She gasped. “Where are your chew sticks?” She was sure that there were at least five that morning. So she searched and searched the cupboard while Gullu paced the room worriedly. He howled once to show her how worried he was too. That disturbed Puchke’s sleep, who woke up and started meowing at the door.

Mother and Gullu went to Puchke. They told him that Gullu’s chew sticks were missing. Puchke yawned. “Are you sure that he didn’t eat them all already,” he wondered. Gullu protested with a loud no. He was not that kind of dog, he said. “But mother, none of us chew those horrible sticks,” Puchke reasoned. Mother nodded. But then where did they disappear too?

Puchke decided to investigate. He got up and stretched. Then he scratched his chin. “Wait, I need food first,” he said. So Gullu watched him eat his fish and rice while mother went to the kitchen. Once Puchke was done eating, he sipped some water from his water dish and licked his lips. “Ah, good food. Now my brain can work,” he explained to Gullu. “Alright, let’s go to the scene of the crime.”

Gullu and Puchke walked over to the cupboard. Chorkee was taking his third nap of the day in his room. Puchke found Chorkee too immature because all he wanted to do is catch flies, birds and cockroaches. “I’m too grown up for that,” he had told him once.

That evening, Puchke and Gullu told their father about the missing chew sticks. Father asked if Ritu had taken them to give to her friends on the street but she said no. Puchke found no clues in the cupboard or around it. He had to solve this case. Like the last time when mother had no idea who was leaving mice on her pillow and it turned out to be Chorkee. Puchke had caught him and clicked a photo too. He never worked without evidence.

Still, chew sticks was a different thing. They didn’t have another dog in the house. And their parents and sister ate fish and rice like them. Yes, they did eat other things occasionally, but chew sticks, never.

Puchke couldn’t sleep that night. Gullu snored away with his bushy tail resting on Puchke’s head. “Gullu, wake up,” said Puchke at 1am. Gullu opened one eye. “I hear something,” Puchke put a paw on his mouth to tell Gullu to be silent. They heard somebody chewing loudly. The two furry brothers ran to see who it was. It was father. He was eating chips and watching a cricket match. “Oh, father. It’s you,” Puchke said with disappointment. “Yes, it is. You boys should be sleeping,” he replied. So they went back to their room.

In the morning, Puchke had an idea. “Mother, please go buy a packet of chew sticks today.” Mother brought one home that afternoon and put it in the usual cupboard. Puchke grinned. Now they could catch the thief red handed.

At 4 o’ clock sharp, when everybody was taking a nap, Puchke was curled up in a ball next to Gullu. He couldn’t sleep. He waited for the sound of the cupboard door opening, but no sound came. When he couldn’t wait any longer, he went out to see if his suspicion had been right. As he had expected, the new packet of chew sticks was gone!

Puchke went back to Gullu. “Gullu! Get up! Your new chew sticks are gone,” he shouted. Gullu leaped up from the bed. He was upset. Was Brother Crow stealing his chew sticks when he was out for his daily flying session around the house? “I never liked that crow,” he muttered to himself.

Puchke asked mother to get another packet of chew sticks. This time he would not fail. Mother listened and brought yet another packet and placed it inside the cupboard. That night, Puchke and Gullu said goodnight to everybody and headed to their room but as soon as the others closed their doors, Puchke came and hid under the sofa that faced the cupboard. He was ready.

It was hard to stay awake after eating all that rice, but Puchke was determined. He had just fallen asleep when the cupboard door opened. Puchke pounced on the thief. As he jumped through the air, he screamed, “Meeeeooooooooooooooooow!” The thief shouted out a similar shrill sound. Everybody woke up. Ritu turned on the lights. Pudy looked on with disapproval. He felt embarrassed. The chew sticks were all over the ground and there were two cats rolling around all over them, in a fast moving ball. The thief had been caught. He was Chorkee.

There was peace that night as the mystery had been solved and Chorkee had said sorry to Gullu. Gullu was kind. “Chorkus, you could have just asked me about sharing them,” he told him. Chorkee looked down at his paws. Puchke boxed his ears lightly. “Be good, Chorkee,” he said.puchkeandgullu

The First Date

She usually took 15 minutes to get ready. That night, she spent 35. It was her first date in years. She wondered what he’d think of her outfit. Was it too simple? She hoped that he would prefer the minimal make up look. Would he? When she stepped into the restaurant, he was staring nervously at the door and running his fingers through his hair. She felt better knowing that she wasn’t the only one who was nervous. In fact, it all felt like high school again.