The cat and the cage

metal_cage1Her grandma had a cat; a cat she found wandering around in her farm when she was a little girl. That was a long time ago, even long before India’s partition in 1947. The life on the farm was simple back then.

The little cat loved to run through the farm and all over the house, always on the run. Grandma named her Tufaan, which meant storm.

The day her grandma got married, they caged the cat under a big wooden box. Perhaps, they did not want Tufaan to run through all the sweets and the decorations. The grandma remembered it vividly – the cat scratching the box, begging to be freed. They had to put extra weight on the perforated box to keep her from escaping.

The wedding went smoothly, grandma lived a long and happy life.

“Let me tell you Aman,” Grandma would love to talk about her cat, ” Tufaan was my good luck. Our family’s prosperity is tied to that cat! She was my best fried!!”

Twenty years later, when Aman’s mother got married, grandma told the servants to arrange for a cage. For two days, during the ceremonies, grandma made sure that the cat stayed in the cage.

She repeated the same ritual when he other daughters got married!

“I am not very superstitious, only when it is logical,” Grandma would say if anybody asked about her cat being restrained in the cage during the ceremonies. Nobody questioned her; they did not question their elders back then.

And then, many years later, Aman came to Canada for studies. After her graduation, she got a good job in Toronto and decided to stay in Canada.

For last two years, she was in her first serious relation. She was happy, for a while. Earlier this year, she decided to back out; things were not working out.

Last month she went ahead and bought a large animal cage from the local pet store.

Now, all she needs is a man, and a cat.

Did I tell you – she is not very superstitious, only when it is logical!

Other Short Stories Continue reading “The cat and the cage”

The whispers and the shouts

“You have to go! I am done with you! This marriage is over!!”
She said nothing.
“Wait till I show these pictures to your family!”
“Please listen…” she stopped mid sentence, not sure what to say next, or how to explain it.
“Sleeping with a married man! Shame on you!!…” Panting and puffing in anger, he paused to catch up his breath…., “You are disgraced all over Surrey! I will make sure!!”
Tears dribbled down her big brown eyes, scrolling down to the flustered cheeks, and to the sides of her big red lips. Her dark brown hair all ruffled up, she periodically wiped her forehead with the back of the right hand. With each and every nervous motion, in the nightlights of the front hallway, her tall and slender frame looked very fragile
It was late night, long after dinner time, long after the bed-time. He had already opened the door, asking her many times to ‘get the hell out of my house’. She resisted, she pleaded. Her futile efforts were useless. He grabbed her by the shoulder, almost pinching her with a firm grip. Turning her around, he pushed her out of the door.
She cried, this time much louder, but the door was already shut and locked behind her.
Standing at the front porch, she looked around. The upscale neighborhood was deserted. Other than a couple strolling down the side-street towards the pond on the far end, there was no one around. She was relieved that nobody saw her being thrown out of her own house.
The relief lasted only a few moments, only a few seconds. She looked around again; she looked down. She was bare feet. Scantily dressed in her summer Indian clothes, she was already starting to feel the chill of September night. The British Columbia weather and a full night ahead – she was scared. Very scared.
She turned around and knocked on the door, gently at first. No response. Then she banged on it, much harder. She could hear his footsteps on the other side of the door, getting closer and closer. She waited.
“Go away! Go call your boyfriend!” Her husband shouted from inside the house.
“Please open the door, Raj!” Her voice trembling, barely audible.
No response. She started to panic. They have had fights before; they have had long arguments that lasted beyond midnights. Being thrown out of the house, this was the first time.
A car drove by. She turned around, facing towards the door; pretending, as if unlocking the door. The front porch was dimly lit. The solar lights alongside the hydrangea bushes lit up the well-manicured front yard. The half moon was up in the middle of the sky; the stars were already out. For any other day, this would have been a perfect night to be outdoor, to admire the nature. Not tonight. Beyond the lights, moon and stars, she was more focused on the dark – a long night ahead.
Another car drove by, slowing down as passing by, perhaps to look at the house with woman standing at the door.
“Open the door!” She banged the door again. Continue reading “The whispers and the shouts”

Moving Out

“Can’t you stay?” He pleaded, standing at the bedroom door that was only half way open.
She looked at him, smiled and then continued to pack her things.
“You don’t have to go. You can stay!” he repeated, this time in a more ‘begging’ tone as he gently pushed on the door to open it wider.
She stopped stuffing her clothes into an already full suitcase. Then, she walked over and gave him a big hug.
“You gonna be okay!…Believe me!” She said in an reassuring tone.
He did not say anything, he did not know what else to say.
She returned to her suitcase, started to re-arranged the jeans, trying to make some room for more stuff.
“It is pretty late; aren’t you sleepy?” She said, knowing that he is still there, standing at the door.
He did not reply. he stood there for a few more seconds and then walked off.

He woke-up early next morning, earlier than his normal daily routine. He lay there, in the bed, stretching. The bright light filtered through the customer-made roman shade on the window.
Normally, he would lay there, for ten-fifteen minutes, let his body ‘wake-up’ before getting out of the bed, but not today. He dragged himself out of the bed right away.
He was still tired; he did not sleep well last night.
Rubbing his eyes, he slowly walked over to her room. The door was locked with lights on; he could tell by looking at the gap underneath the door. Obviously, she was awake. He stood there for a few seconds and then decided to walk away. He did not want to bother her again this early.

He brushed his teeth, washed up, and started to get dressed. He put on the blue jeans and the red t-shirt – the clothes she had helped him choose at the Gap store last week.

Lethargically, as if no energy in his ever-active legs, he came downstairs. He slumped in the sofa in the living room and turned on the TV, his usual morning routine. But this morning, he was not paying any attention to the TV; he did not even bother to change the news channel.

Her door opened and she started to bring her luggage downstairs, putting everything by the front door. The big suitcase, the laptop bag, a plastic bag full of shoes, another plastic bag, her favorite pillow, the books… looks like she had packed up the whole room.

He walked over, towards the front door and sat down on the bottom of the staircase, without saying anything.
“come on, lets have some breakfast!” She tried to cheer him up.
Half-heartedly, he followed her to the kitchen. She grabbed two bowls from the overhead cabinet and poured equal amount of Honey Nut Cheerios and milk in each bowl.
“You don’t have to go, you know!” He reiterated his wish as they sat eating in the dining room.
“No, I have to,” she spoke in a convincing tone, like a teacher would talk to a student.
“No, you don’t!”
“You gonna be okay! I will call you; and, you can call me any time! You know my number, right?”
He did not say anything, as if giving up his fight to make her stay. Continue reading “Moving Out”

Weight-Loss Intervention

“it is very noticeable, especially on your tummy!”

“Extra weight doesn’t look good on you!”

“Everybody is asking if something is wrong with you.”

“We have a wedding next month, your own brother-in-law!”

“yes, our own family celebrations!”

“Sari does not look good with tummy sticking out!”

“We love you, that’s why we are asking you.”

“yes, do something. You need to lose some weight!”

Her mother-in-law and the two aunts continue the bombardment. Everyone else is quiet, as if silent witnesses to the ugly situation. Continue reading “Weight-Loss Intervention”

Rendezvous

Love is supposed to make you glow, make you happy. But in her case, it was the other way around. Maybe it was cursed, she wondered. Perhaps, because it was forbidden.

“God damn it!” She murmurs, as another customer leaves her shop without any purchase.
“I really need money! I really need something to support myself.”

She looks in the wall-size mirror behind the counter. He skin pale; the big beautiful eyes don’t hold the same old shine – the glow of a rising sun they once had. Her mom had picked her name – Aruna, literary meaning sun rise.
Even with all the make-up, the dark circles underneath her eyes eclipse her beauty of yester years.

Her father owns the Taj Fashions – an Indian clothing store in Brampton. The well-lit shop in a small shopping plaza is deserted. If the business dies, her income dies – she knows it.
Selling Indian fashion and designers’ clothes is all she has done since she came to Canada. She needs the store to flourish. She needs the business to survive.No customers.
Another ominous sign in two days.

The love brought her stress and misery. It was very hard to hide, to hide from her parents and everyone around her.
Brave and undeterred, she met him every chance she got. He was an addiction, a drug that she needed the most to function.

He made promises, big promises – about them being together, about their future. She trusted him with everything, she trusted him with herself. Like a newly wed bride, she dressed up for him; she did everything for him – everything.

And, all this time, carefully, she hid him from her family, from everyone. Her biggest secret to date. Or, so she thought.

Time changed, it always does.
People. Nosy people. They always find out. The rendezvous, just like an odor, are impossible to hide. Her boyfriend crumbled under the weight of the society. He showed his true colors; he deserted her. He decided to stay with his wife.
Her faith faltered, the rosy future quickly got covered under a dark cloud, just like the dark circles under her pretty eyes. Continue reading “Rendezvous”

A boyfriend, a husband and the God

“Oh God, what should I do!!” She asked

‘What do you mean?” The God replied.

“I mean what should I do?”

Silence. There was no response from the Almighty.

“Seriously, I am in pain. Please help me!”

“Pain? Are you sure? Why?”

“You are supposed to answer my prayers, not ask question after question!”

“That is what you think!” He paused. “Why would you be still in pain?” the God asked again.

“My husband hates me, and my boyfriend doesn’t want me anymore?”

” A boyfriend and a husband –  looks like you have one of each. That is non-traditional. Most women have them both covered in one person!” The God chuckled.

“I know, I am torn! That is a sin, right?”

“It depends on you!”

“For my child, I have decided to stay with my husband. Not an easy choice, you know.”

“I know!”

“But he is mad at me everyday!”

“Oh!”

“He found out about my boyfriend!”

“Love is hard to hide, especially the forbidden one!”

“Forbidden, I know, but I could not help it. My boyfriend gave me love that my husband could not!”

“Looks like a bad husband.”

“He never loved me!”

“Did you love him?”

“I tried, yes, since the day I met him.” She paused, “We rushed into the marriage.”

“Why?”

“My parents liked him because he lived in Canada; I did not think twice!”

“Arranged marriages – very common in India.”

“i did not know what I was getting into!”

“That is normal….And, your boyfriend?” Continue reading “A boyfriend, a husband and the God”

The green door

I cannot believe he is dead!

He lived on the north side of my town, on Dorothy street. I used to pass by his house during my evening strolls. His house had an over-sized green door that did not seem to fit the neighborhood, just like him.

With a white beard and a grey turban; he was easy to spot from a distance. I always found him outside his house, gardening in the front-yard or just admiring the outdoor. As I would walk-by, I exchanged hello/hi with him. I was just being polite – out of respect for our elders. But over time, I made his acquaintance. He liked to talk, I found out pretty soon. Chatting with him became a part of my evening routines.
“Beautiful weather! Nice day for a walk!! Scattered clouds over there, look like a floating goat!!!” He would say random things with a chuckle. He laughed at his own jokes; that used to be a cue for me to laugh.

He was very fond – actually very proud, of India and all things Indian, I could tell. Not that I needed to know, but he often told me the virtues of Indian society, the pride of being Indian. He also reminded me how advanced Indian are, compared to the ‘white people’ as he would call them.

“I was the first Indian in this town” he mentioned one evening, “There were no Indian shops in this area!!”
“It must be hard back then”, I once asked; that was bad idea. For next 20-30 minutes, he told me all about the hardships of being an isolated Indian living amongst white folks.
“Many mornings I used to find eggs shells all over my new car in this driveway; these racist people, I tell you!….”

Sometimes, he complained, but he was not bitter. He told his past stories with the same braggadocio as a captain would shares his encounters with the rough stormy weather.

He was different. I enjoyed these brief daily encounters, and his stories from all over the places. He came across as a fanatic Indian; he never tried to hide his obvious bias for ‘the great India’. Without hesitation, he would share his thoughts about superior Indian culture, the sins of the western society…. But it was never monotonous; he always had new anecdotes.
I did not agree with many of his views, but I never argued with him either. When in serious mood, he spoke like a professor, like a preacher – as if never in doubt. I thought to myself – you cannot change the thinking of an old man, those outdated views….

I recall it was Friday; I did not see him outside his house that evening. It was strange, his absence. Then, even more disturbing, I did not see him for days, for weeks. I looked for him, I even waited and lingered around his house, but he was nowhere to be found. Continue reading “The green door”

A baby’s cry

“Mom, it is a baby girl…,” her voice barely audible, she called her mother in India.
“Are you okay? Is the baby okay?” Her mom inquired, her voice nervous, but excited.
Sonya was too tired to respond, but that did not stop her mother from asking more questions, “When was she born? Who she looks like? Have you named her?…”
“Mom”, Sonya interrupted, “the nurse is here, I am very sleepy; will call you later..”
“Are you okay, is the baby okay?”
“yes mom, we are okay,” she said before ending the call.

The hospital discharged her along with the baby two days later. The nurse gave her a handful of literature, each pamphlet with a different title – ‘How to care for a new born’, ‘what to expect after a natural birth’, ‘Newborn feeding techniques’….
She was tired, she was drained, she was not ready to take care of her first born. The Nurse helped buckle the baby in the new car-seat and Raj drove them home – to their apartment in Mississauga.

“How is the baby doing,” he mom phoned again next morning.
“Esha is okay, she is sleeping now.”
“Beautiful name”, she paused, “How are you doing?”
“I am okay mom, I am very tired. the baby was awake all night.”
“Oh, where is Raj?”
“He is at work, I am home alone with the baby and I am worried”
“Worried about what, Sonya?”
“If the baby wakes up..” Continue reading “A baby’s cry”

The gold pendant

She does not know her real date of birth; nobody does. By her own accounts, “I was 12 when India became free; when England split Punjab into two parts….” The date on her passport is as random as a weather forecast from a medicine man.
In her 70s, she has outlived all of her siblings, and one of her own sons. Her eyesight is fading. The arthritis in her hands bothers her only during winter chills, “a little pain here and there is good for you; reminds you that you are still alive!” Ups and downs of life don’t affect her much.
She is happy; she learned compromises over the years; she learned how to be content, how to adapt.

Her son greeted her at the Toronto Pearson airport. They hugged, for a long time. With moist eyes, she looked around.
“Where is Anita?” She inquired in Punjabi, the only language she can speak.
“She is still at work maa!” He replied in Punjabi.
“How about Jessie, my little angel?”
“At school, should be home by the time we drive there. “
She looked around – a brand new place, a brand new country.
“Let’s go home maa!” He interrupted her thoughts.
‘Home’, she said to herself, ‘I left my home in India…how many homes one can have!’ she chuckled at her own thoughts. And then, she said out loud, “We need to get two boxes of sweets on the way!”
“Maa, there are no Indian stores on the way! Plus, we don’t eat much sugar anyways”
‘Canada – Strange country’, she looked around, again….

They arrived home. Anita and Jessie, greeted his mother at the door. They hugged, for a long time. Her eyes filled with tears of joys at the sight of her 12 years old grand-kid. She hugged her, again. In a strange way, she felt at home!

After the tea and some rest, she opened her suitcase and took-out a gold pendant with a small diamond in the middle. She had it custom made for Jessie. Handing her the expensive gift, she embraced her her gently.
Jessie took the pendant, looked at it for a long time, as if mesmerized. She hesitated, paused, walked over to Anita sitting in the love-seat.
“I don’t want it, mom!” She handed over pendant to her mother. Continue reading “The gold pendant”

The Life Abroad – I

Life. Life is a sequence of seasons – winter waiting for spring, summer-heat longing for autumn. Life is a picnic in the playground, with bread crumbs scattered all around, attracting the pigeons and crows alike. Life is daydreaming and being satisfied with the resulting illusions.
Life. Days spent surfing the net, wandering in the shopping malls, driving to the country side, watching an old tv show re-run, to relive the past – life is what we never thought it would be.

He was 23 when he migrated to Canada – big dreams, bigger illusions. University of Toronto campus was his home for next 2 years – long sessions in the engineering labs, studying for exams until 4AM… working on the gas-station during week-end… His father, a small farmer in Punjab, sent over money regularly, but that could barely support his tuition.
He shared the apartment with 3 other Indian students – it was cheaper that way, more economical for student life. A few times a week, they went to the Dixie Gurdwara; not because they were religious, – half of them were not even Sikhs, – you just cannot beat the free food from the ‘langar’ – the ‘common kitchen’. Continue reading “The Life Abroad – I”

Misplaced Nostalgia

With big dreams, with full imagination, and with an empty pocket, he left India.

“Success”, he told himself when he landed in USA; he was twenty-six.

Since he was a little kid, just like every other kid in his town, his ambition was to go overseas. That is how he was raised.

The culture, the people, the society, and the way everybody was …… everything was different, very different. The life in California was not what he had imagined.

But, he adapted.

It was a big adjustment over the years, many compromises at every turn. In spite of all that, he did not complain much; after all this was his own decision – going abroad.

All those days, all those years  in America, he felt homesick. He missed the life he had left behind. The childhood memories, the old friends, the open fields – he often day-dreamed the life that used to be.  At times, he felt empty inside. He wished he could go back; go back to his real home, his real life.

He worked hard. He made lots of money; a lot of money if you think in Indian Rupees.

The recession came; he lost his job – the high paying engineering job he took for granted. He looked for another job, half-heartedly. No luck. Perhaps he was secretly wishing not to work in US anymore. Continue reading “Misplaced Nostalgia”

Just a job

“You can easily find an Engineering job in your field in America… no problem for a smart guy like you…”
“There is no shortage of work for Indian Engineers…this is just the fact…”
“You will find something – something good, no problem….”
….. Back home in India, just like any typical Indian family, everybody was full of advice. Everyone had told him that it was very easy to get an engineering job in America.

“You can make lots of money in a few years”, His future father-in-law told him at the time of his engagement 3 years ago. A year after that, he was married to Anu.
He used to be very optimistic about his career in USA, so was the rest of his American family – his in-laws.

He had big dream. After all, nobody dreams small.

Once in US, he was greeted by his wife and her family and they welcome him into their home. His old classmates, now living within driving distance, came to visit him.
He was treated like a guest for many months. However, he soon realized, you cannot be a guest for too long. He had to figure out the next step – the job. With all the expenses and cost of living, he needed a job soon. His parents and siblings back home were already calling to check on him; to see when he might send them some money, like every other NRI does.

After a few months, the tone of the advice changed:
“You just need to try a bit harder, maybe try something in lower pay scale to gain some experience…”
“Find a way to get your foot in the door…”
“My cousin started as a technician; now he is the director of engineering…but they are not hiring…”
“You cannot give up…We never give up…”
“You will find something – may be not that good but something… something good….” Continue reading “Just a job”

The night before Babbu’s wedding

A sea of beautiful brown skin. Some bare-feet, others testing their newly bought shoes on the dance floor, dancing away with Kesha’s ‘Tick Tock’ song blaring through the whole house. The young, the old, the guys, the girls – all mingled up in the mood for a party, setting up their own pace. Loud music, louder commotion. Kids running all over – a complete chaos. Everyone is lost in the moment.

Every now and then, a car pulls up to the front of the house dropping off new guests. Tomorrow is a big day for the Gill family. Their only son Babbu is getting married.

By the time the sun touched the western horizon, the house is all packed full – to the limit. More guests trickle in – from as far as India, London and Vancouver. For a two story bungalow, the full blasting air-conditioners cannot subside the heat and smell – the smell of perfumes, sweets, masala, incenses and liquors… all mixed together.

The house in Brampton is a short drive from the Toronto airport. Raj – Babbu’s cousin, has been to the airport three times already, picking up the relatives as they arrive from all over the places. He is the most excited about his fourth trip, however. His three cousins from England are arriving next, the cousins he has not seen for a long time.

As the dusk turns into an early night, a black stretched limousine pulls to the front of the house. It is a part of the night-out planned for the groom and his passé. One last time, Babbu is going to enjoy his ‘single’ status before shackling down into the married life. The limo driver steps outside the driver seat, polishes the already clean windshield with a black cloth, like a ritual. Then he lights up a cigarette, while some of the elders watch him with a look of disapproval.

The groom and his passé of five friends get to the limo. Continue reading “The night before Babbu’s wedding”