Why so curious?

Kathir pressed the calling bell and checked the tag dangling on Mohan. He looked down at his own attire and almost smiled.

‘I look like a thirty year old,’ he thought.

A middle-aged woman opened the door.

She ran her eyes through them, noticed the tag of Kathir’s ID card and sighed.

Mohan did not give her time to think, “It’s regarding Ramya’s case, madam”.

“Even the milkman doesn’t come to my doorstep as often as the detectives and policemen,” she said in a distraught tone.

“One last time. We won’t bother you much. We already read the reports,” Kathir said.

The woman ushered them in and had them seated on the couch.

Bold Hindi letters danced on the LED screen, with a Mute sign on the right bottom corner.

The woman surprised them by asking if they’d have something to drink. They tried refusing her, but she insisted.

She left to the kitchen glancing at the Hindi soap opera playing on TV.

Mohan found the bungalow in the soap opera similar to the bungalow he was seated in. The couch felt feather soft, the air ice-cold and the walls were paneled with wood, half a dozen speakers here and there. He was lost in awe.

“Work on your look, buddy. You look like a kid brought to a circus,” Kathir whispered to Mohan.

‘Beautiful bungalows hide ugly truths,’ he thought.

Minutes after the serial started rolling, the woman returned, and placed two cups of coffee from a tray onto the table. She pointed at the packets on the tray, “Sugar packets, in case you need more sugar.”

Kathir began even before she settled, “We’ll verify a few facts that are on the record, first.”

Mohan took out a recorder from his bag, switched it on and placed it near the tray. He drew out a pad and a pen and looked up at the woman.

She did not wait for a question. “Ramya was like a daughter to me. She was 19 when she fell from our terrace and died, during a party my son hosted for his graduation. Date – fifteen, six, two thousand fourteen. In the course of the investigation, my son revealed to your authorities that he had proposed her once, to no luck. He is perfectly sane and has had no history of substance or alcohol abuse prior to the incident. Okay? Make the other questions quick.”

Mohan was busy noting down when Kathir asked the next question, “So your son was a teetotaler prior to the incident. What is he now?”

The woman’s visage turned into a grimace.

“I’ve seen him smoke a few times, on the terrace and in a tea stall in the opposite. Your people are to be blamed. He holds himself guilty for her death,” she replied.

“What type of party was hosted by your teetotaler son?”

“It was more of a get-together. He’d asked me money for a party. Knowing the outstanding quality of his friend circle, I decided that I’ll give him the money but supervise the party. It was so much fun, to be frank, until she tripped and fell down.”

The lack of emotion in her tone was striking. Kathir wondered if it was the repeated telling or something else that had taken away the horror of a death.

Mohan questioned her next. “Why was the terrace parapet so small at that place?”

“I begin to doubt if you’ve gone through the reports,” she said sweeping a glance over them.

“We have, Mam, this is just for verification,” Mohan answered.

“The parapet had a minor crack that remained since this house was built. A few weeks before the party, it fell off, thankfully, on the lawn and not on anyone’s head, or we’d be dealing with the authorities from then.”

She turned to the TV. An advertisement was playing. A countdown timer showing ’13’ followed by hindi text was on the top left. “Shall I un-mute it, or will it a disturbance to the investigation?” she asked no one in particular.

Kathir sighed. “We are sorry for the questioning, but we need you to take this a bit more…”

The calling bell rang.

The woman got up to open the door. Kathir noticed Mohan’s face turn ghostly white and pressed his hand in assurance.

When her husband came in, she whispered something to him and was sent into the adjacent room.

The man winced. “Who the hell are you?” His voice sounded more manly than the man he seemed.

“We are investigating Ramya’s case, sir… there are some… things,” Mohan fumbled.

Kathir completed it. “We want to know if she’d worn her slippers to the terrace and if they were in her feet when she fell”

“I’d answered that… already… to a bunch of people last month,” he replied.

The shakiness in the man’s voice gave Mohan the confidence. “And what was the answer, sir?”

“She must’ve worn her heels to the terrace, but there was only one… when she was in the… hospital,” he replied.

He went into the room undoing his buttons. Kathir wanted to follow him in, but decided against it.

Mohan turned to the LED TV. An actress in the serial was crying inaudibly. He turned away on impulse.

The man came back moments later, in a T-shirt and a track pant, after a hushed conversation with his wife.

Mohan recalled the tennis court near the lawn that he’d noticed when he walked into the bungalow. He wished the man would move them over there for the rest of the conversation. The room felt like it was closing in on him since the man had entered the scene.

“Do you have a warrant to question us? You have not shown my wife anything as proof,” he asked just as he sat on the opposite.

Mohan looked for the papers inside his bag. He closed one zip after not finding them inside, and opened another.

The woman hurried from the adjacent room and handed a phone to her husband. She picked the coffee cups from the table and headed to the kitchen.

Mohan felt the papers in his hand, but knew they’d be of no use.

After about half a minute on the call, the man slammed the phone on the table, and turned to them in fury, “Who the fuck are you? You cannot investigate a closed case. No one’s got permission to question us, bastards!” His yell echoed across the room like thunder.

Kathir thought of so many things to say, but it was Mohan who answered, “Sir, we’d come for our… project…”

The man pulled the recorder from the table and smashed it against the wall. He tore down the sheets from the pad and dragged the two out of the bungalow.
——————————————————————————————————————–

Kathir had changed to his T-shirt by the time he was called to Professor Surkanan’s house. He stopped only once before he reached there.

The gate of Sarkunan’s house was open, and as he removed his slippers, he noticed Mohan’s.

‘Coward!’

The Professor was pacing left and right in the hall.

Mohan was seated facing him, with a coffee cup in his hand, still in the dress he’d worn earlier in the day. The fake ID card was lying on the glass table.

“Here comes the main culprit, eh?” Professor Sarkunan noted.

“Sit down,” he said in his firm voice. Kathir sat beside Mohan.

“When I meant you had to submit a project, I wasn’t this serious,” he said.

Mohan tried to justify his position, “I asked him, no, begged him, sir, to do something less criminal.”

“You said a bad case could get us failed,” Kathir protested.

Sarkunan sat on his bean bag. “I don’t want you solving a high-profile murder mystery, lads. You could have got into jail. You most probably will in the coming days.”

“But the other day, you talked about the Detective Instinct… And I just happened to follow it.”

“That’s where you went wrong, mister. You are not even half-a-detective.”

He continued, “You guys remind me of my mentor, being wild, brave and stupid.”

Kathir wondered if that description fitted Mohan except for the ‘stupid’ part.

“There are simple ways to pass this subject. Take this Karthik’s case for example,” he said, gesturing to a stick file on the dining table,”he has solved a domestic mystery. Missing ice creams – refrigerator – black hand print on freezer door – bam! His father was the culprit. Very good observa…”

Kathir had been thinking of the elusive title. “He’s given you a short story I studied in my sixth grade text. I can’t recall the title.”

The amusement in Sarkunan’s face slowly faded.”But it’s okay, I guess. The first school lesson that has helped someone I know.”

Mohan smiled, but Kathir was honest enough to keep mum.

Sarkunan’s eyes were on Kathir, “The point was this. You needed to show your skills of observation and deduction. It’d be easier to observe details in simple cases. If you’d only solve something highly challenging, then I suggest you start with a societal mystery. How about trying to find who lifted this street’s CCTV camera to which marriage hall.”

Sarkunan turned to Mohan, “I’m not used to having sugared coffee. You might add some sugar from the kitchen if you want.”

Mohan drew a packet of sugar from his pant pocket, “I can manage, sir.”

Kathir didn’t hide his smile.

When Sarkunan looked at him, he continued, “But the girl has a cinema background which kindled my curiosity. A Death Under Suspicious Circumstances was filed, but that was the end. Her death was labelled an accident. Isn’t it…”

“So, you mean to say nothing is an absolute accident. No child of a big shot is allowed to die by accident?”

Kathir did not know what to say.

“Understand this first, you two.”

“It was Kathir’s idea, sir, not mine,” Mohan protested.

“Whatever. Stop questioning everything around you. That is the thumb rule. Nine times out of ten, you are not dealing with subjects and suspects, but people, like you and me, and such people do not like to be questioned the way you’ve done today. Did you even imagine what sorrow your questions would evoke in that businessman’s family when you went to his house? You need to weigh the damage your actions can cause.”

Kathir did not take his eyes off his professor. There was a long pause before he began. “True, sir. I think I’ve learnt a valuable lesson here. I’ll go find the CCTV camera for the project.”
———————————————————————————————

A faint bit of excitement struck Kathir when he wore his sandals, but he decided to ignore it.

He checked his watch. “The tea was so good there.”

“What? You just heard what the man said, right? We are not going back to that case. Moreover, I had coffee just now.”

“I never said about taking the case again. That’s done, it’s just that we both loved the tea, and why should a bad day stop me from getting good tea?”

Mohan could not convince him otherwise.

At the tea stall, Kathir’s eyes were fixed on the bungalow, looking into a glass pane that showed a flight of stairs inside.

“Kathir, I’m telling the Professor,” Mohan warned.

Kathir ordered a tea and sipped it leisurely. “It’s not as you think, Mohan. It’s over, I promise. It’s just…”

A guy in a stained shirt, riding a tricycle of gas cylinders, stood at the gate of the bungalow. The watchman let him in. Mohan frowned. He couldn’t fathom what Kathir had set up.

A few minutes later, as the two watched on from the tea stall, the boy struggled up the steps dragging the cylinder, with the woman close behind. When he re-appeared behind the glass pane, coming down, he showed Kathir the thumbs-up gesture.

Mohan sighed, “What in fuckin’ hell does that mean?” His words were more curious than angry.

Minutes later, the boy casually drove his tricycle out of the bungalow and stopped at the tea stall. His face did not show any sign of familiarity even when he walked past Kathir to order tea. He settled on the bench and ran through the newspapers.

“That’s the face I always wish I can put on while investigating,” Kathir whispered.

Before he went, the boy left a smart phone on the bench next to his half complete tea glass.

After the boy was gone from the place, Kathir filled his seat, and casually put the phone into his pocket.

Mohan tried not to sound curious. “What did the guy do with your phone? Photos?”

“Remember what Sarkunan sir said? We must forget what happened here. This case is over, Mohan. We shall burn this phone… Or better, use Factory Reset, huh?”

Mohan’s ego hesitated to beg him further.

Kathir took some time to finish his tea, pondering pensively about something, and left the empty glass beside the boy’s half-complete one.

He took the phone from his pocket and turned to Mohan. “Do you want to know what’s in this?”

Some two feet behind them, inside the tea stall, a guy of about twenty-two stood with a cigarette between his fingers wondering what details these two strange men could have collected from his house.

———————————————————————————————

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An Untitled Dystopian Story – Feedback

Note:

I’ve published this story in the hope of getting honest feedback. Please let me know what you did not like about the story, be it the language, the characters, or whatever that strikes you as boring. Thanks!

….

PROLOGUE:

It was the 99th year since the last natural rainfall was reported on Earth.

Seeded rain, as was the day’s standard, came into existence some 70 years ago. Nobody knew exactly how long it had been. Days did not make sense. Each human had his own date and quarrelled with his neighbour over it. Paper couldn’t be wasted for writing dates, and so, only memory was employed.

India, once a country of a billion people, had a population of 13,785 according to the latest census, taken only a decade ago. The population expansion of 13 births/month could make a billion strong nation only in forty million years, taking into account the death rate of 11/month.

Suzane breathed heavily in her Human Psychology class.

She wore an oxygen mask and was given a bottle of glacier water that had a proven 79% purity.

She was definitely special. She carried a baby, that too, when she was just 15.

A lot of women lost their sanity trying to procreate, starting from the time they reached puberty, if at all they reached it. A pregnant women was held in the highest regard wherever she went. Sick people got out of her way, a lot of potentially harmful humans were evacuated to at least a mile from her and so on.

Suzane was impregnated by the third guy, a feat considered almost impossible. She had no records to prove that it was only the third guy, but she did not care. She loved the attention. She wished to get pregnant again and again till she died.

She tried recollecting the face of the child’s father, not that it mattered, but because she had nothing to think of.

“The end of the internet was the most lethal blow to us humans and our psychologies. It demoralized and threw back to reality millions of people. It was, as beautifully put by Karzark, a doom of facts and the birth of uncertainty. People believe, pollutition was actually called pollution in the olden day. Same goes for populition. Nobody knows where words diverged or where discrepancies arose. The internet took with it human integrity as it fell” The Professor stopped for a cough.

Before he began again, Suzane yelled in excruciating pain. Fortunately, the class was very well prepared for things that were to happen. The representative ran as fast as his lungs could allow him and brought back a doctor.

The doctor’s assistants rushed behind him, bringing supplies of hot water, syringes, a C-cup and a battery. There was a lack of cotton in the area and its usage had to be neglected in the procedure. The doctor yelled, “Leave the room, everybody, especially the sicklings”

No one moved. No one wanted to miss the opportunity of seeing the birth of a life.

The doctor could sense hatred in the room. He did not dare to ask them leave again.

Labour was divine, and birth carried cosmic significance.

After about an hour of painful shrieking, from the birth canal of a bleeding Suzane came the head of the baby. Some in the room started crying. Some came dangerously close to pull the child out themselves.

Before the doctor could pull further, landed something an entire century of Earth hadn’t experienced– the flash of lightning, the phenomenon that did not accompany seeded rain.

Then came the crying of the child, a boy-human, in a healthy and nourished body.

The class lay flat on the floor as the deafening thunder filled the air.

“Fools! Wake up! These are the lightning! Heralds of good times, demons leaving the planet. THE ONE IS BORN!” The Doctor yelled as loud as the thunder itself.

TWO DAYS LATER:

Suzane leaned on the wall of her house, waiting for sleep. The neighbourhood had been forced into vacancy by the authorities.

The house, commonly called a shelter, was the least amount of space a human could live half-comfortable in.

Her house seemed messier than ever. Suzane tried to clean things up, but her son did not allow her one second of time. He either kept crying, or drinking from his mother. She did not know how to make him quiet. She tried talking to him, knowing he wouldn’t understand what she was saying.

Back at school, post her delivery, everyone at least a year elder to her, half of whom had never seen a new-born before, gave her parenting tips. The doctor had advised to keep the baby warm, fed and safe. Only that stayed in her mind.

‘The holy mother-instinct, as they say,’ she thought proudly. ‘That’s how I found such a safe place for my baby boy’.

A lot of people had been warning her of the Hale ever since she started gestating. People told her of the atrocious ways the Hale adopted to grab healthy children. She’d asked, “Why would they need healthy, innocent and beautiful children like mine?” They did not know the answer. Some said it was to cultivate them for a cause that wasn’t yet known to people outside the Hale.

Suzane caught a faint glimpse of a dream when the knocking woke her.

Three quick knocks followed. She froze pale in terror, not coming to think of opening the door.

The door was just a formality, a metaphor for the agreement of the people on privacy, and so, wasn’t made of anything that could withstand more than a gentle push.

It wasn’t long before the door fell crashing to the floor.

Suzane held her belly protectively, out of instinct.

Before the dust settled, six huge people stood right before her, two of them holding another smaller, heavy man whose visage was masked in blood. They put him down on the floor. He did not seem alive.

“Isn’t he the third guy?” one of them said in a monstrous voice.

Suzane did not open her mouth.

He shouted much louder again.

“I don’t remember. All I recall is that he had a round face,” Suzane answered, trembling in fear.

“Then he is,” the only other woman in the room said. She was the tallest woman Suzane had seen.

She walked towards Suzane and bent to face her.

“Where’s the child?” she asked, her voice as calm as midnight.

“No. Don’t… Don’t take him away. He is my life” Tears ran down to her neck.

“No harm shall come. Just tell me where he is” The woman’s tone wasn’t friendly anymore.

Suzane shut her mouth with her hands.

The woman smacked Suzane with her clenched fist. Suzane did not bleed yet. She slapped her to the floor, “Tell me!”

The woman signalled the two men who had stepped forward to stop. She held Suzane by her hair and hit her head to the ground. “You sold her? Speak up. I don’t want to kill you. Don’t make me.”

Suzane’s nose was blood red by then.

Suzane pointed to her right.

“What?”

She pointed again, this time emphasising.

The woman moved in the direction she pointed. It ended in a narrow cupboard that almost hid in its surroundings.

The woman thrust it open. She found the baby lying motionless on a towel.

“What on Earth!” She picked the baby up in a flash and opened his mouth to blow.

The baby opened his eyes and soon started giggling. The woman checked his hearing and eyesight. They were good.

The boy started pulling the woman’s red cheeks, cackling as he did it.

“Why did you keep him here?” the woman asked, her voice the fury of an erupting volcano.

The boy fell silent, ready to break into tears anytime.

“To keep him safe,” Suzane answered.

“God hasn’t given you the holy mother-instinct? Bless Him that we arrived.” She kept the voice low.

“He doesn’t like it outside. He keeps crying,” Suzane replied.

“So you chose to suffocate him to death on a cupboard?”

“I cut a hole for air”

The woman looked for the hole on the cupboard. When she found one a feet from the ground, she sent her little finger in. It wouldn’t go.

“FOOL! Don’t do that ever again. Am I understood? Are you feeding him properly?”

“Yes. Yes. Whenever he cries,” Suzane managed to say.

The woman turned to her men, “We need to teach them things. Or…”

One of the heavy men took the earthen pot near the door and emptied its water on the bleeding man on the floor.

“Wake up, husband of the Healthy Woman and father of the One,” he said in a sarcastic tone.

“Quite a title for a vagabond,” the woman said dryly.

The cold of the water woke the guy. He seemed starving and shocked to death.

“Please! Please!” Suzane could hear him murmur. She rushed to him and supported his head on her lap.

“That is the family of the old times for you,” the woman said.

“Now listen, couple! Listen closely or you might lose the opportunity to raise your baby,” the man said, looking down.

The six loomed tall over the two. The woman sat herself beside Suzane, baby on her lap. The men sat around them in a circle.

The next hour saw the six explain them the nuances of parenting. Suzane felt like being in a family after a long time. She could periodically hear pleas of mercy from the guy on her lap.

Unmindful, she listened to the Hale, teaching her how to raise her child.

‘A Game of Thrones’ – George R.R. Martin | Book Review

A Game of Thrones is by far the boldest book that I’ve chanced to read. It is also the best book I’ve read when it comes to the usage of detail.

The motivation to read the book (or the knowledge of its existence) came from the noise the viewers of the TV series made. I was severely warned that it was brutal, bloody, and disgusting at places. Fortunately, I wanted to take a break from the casual novels I read.

The problem any new reader would face reading this book is its familiarity among people, thanks to its blockbuster TV adaptation.
People let out spoilers as easy as death in Game of Thrones.

‘Eddard, Hand of the King *******(random number of stars to confuse reader),’ was the first spoiler I heard. That pretty much kills the reading, I thought. People also started suggesting that I watch it on TV and not ‘waste’ time reading it.

It’s best to read the book in the dark, I’d say!

On what is so good about the book, I’d say it’s the boldness. I don’t mean the incest, the gore, or the killing. It’s the boldness GRRM shows when he kills important characters.
How many writers have the guts, or the strength, to part with their characters?
LOTR, for example, made heroism seem like a walk in the part, at least comparatively.
Just fight, fight, and you win at last! You won’t die, I guarantee! ?
That’s where GRRM has outrun a plenty of other writers. He is brave enough to lose some characters for the sake of his story.

I absolutely loved how GRRM skipped through scenes as fast as he could. To think this little detailing, and the fast pace the book moves at, had made the book 800 odd pages long, I wonder what would have come of the book had Tolkien got the same seed (gardening seed of GRRM). He’d probably have written twenty mighty volumes of Game of Thrones, rich with family details, reaching the hundredth father of every lineage, describing every handful of sand on the planet, not to mention the pedantic detail on the position of the sun, stars, and the moon every two paragraphs. I haven’t even mentioned the songs. Thank the Gods it’s only GRRM!

However, the GRRM universe isn’t a feminist’s paradise, nor a place for the weak hearted. Child marriage, marriages of convenience, and inhumane treatment of women (people, in general) are everywhere to be found.

Summing it up, I’d say ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was Tolkien trying to portray the land of his imagination amidst a turmoil, whereas ‘A Game of Thrones’ is George RR Martin trying to portray the turmoil amidst his land’.

2 Sentence Horror Stories – #1 – #13

2 minutes into a Skype call on my PC from an unknown caller, I realized I’d switched off the speakers long ago. I never had a mic.

I’m pregnant. I’m a 15 year old orphan living all alone in my late boyfriend’s mansion for over a year.

I hear my friend calling me out in a horrified tone from outside the gate and it’s midnight. I’ve been talking to the same friend since twilight in my room.

The dead guy in my room hates people shouting on seeing his face. Had I informed this to my girlfriend, she would’ve been alive today.

I should’ve taken my wife’s advice and sold our lake-view mansion. We wouldn’t have been living inside the present owner’s daughter now.

“I’m reading this too. From behind you”

Ironically I liked the housemaid’s smile as she was sweeping the floor today. Ironical because I buried her alive for the hatred of it yesterday.

“I met my ‘soul-mate’ a year ago on this date. We’ve been living happily since then in your wardrobe”

My little sister would start giggling whenever she saw me. She screams on seeing me nowadays just because I’m dead.

“Hey you! Do you think you are sitting on something other than my rotting lap?”

“If you’re reading this, you ought to wake up immediately. The zombies, when near your bed, trigger horror dreams.”

“Thank you for reading this far and allowing me to enter your house through the internet. Would you be kind enough to turn around and say hi?”

[ Inspiration: I was severely inspired (or horrified) reading 20 2 Sentence stories on a website (link) ]