Short Stories

Mice and Rabbits

An excerpt from A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land


“It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole.”

As the days and months passed by without a job in sight, Mythili started wondering what she had become. In the course of six months she had transformed from a journalist passionately espousing the rights of the downtrodden to someone who went to women’s parties to gossip about her maid. Her life was careening all over the place making as much sense as a writing desk to a raven.

Her relationship with Siddharth was like a patient diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. On weekends, the world would right its course and just be about the both of them. Siddharth cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Walking into to the tiny bathroom to see a tub full of bubbles and scented candles everywhere. Sitting on bar stools, holding hands and watching the world go by; getting high on wine and laughing at the un-funniest things. Being with Siddharth made Manila wonderland, the right kind. Both of them would neatly throw a rug over their arguments and frustrations and live the life they had dreamt of when they were a long-distance couple yearning to be together.

But come Monday night and Mythili’s world would turn topsy-turvy again. The disgruntlement and frustrations would jostle their way out from under the rug, threatening to spill out even before the work week started. The cracks would start to show as Mythili checked her mail and found no responses from head-hunters. And as Siddharth left for the office, the fun-loving, bright and happy Mythili would leave too. In her place a bitter, judgmental bitch would walk in to toil and trouble and boil and bubble resentment through the week.

It was like she was a werewolf whose full moon was hidden under a swathe of clouds on weekends. On weekdays, she would catch herself changing and try and stop, but not really succeed. It was maddening. It was frustrating. This moody Mythili would obsess about how much she had changed. She missed who she used to be—hanging out with her friends, the random outings, dancing to Bollywood hits and calling her sister at three in the morning.

She was not the only person noticing the pendulum-like swaying.

“You’ve changed,” half her friends declared on chat. “You’re like so married now! Maids, vegetables! This is not the Mythili we know!”

“What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you change your name to Mythili Siddharth? What is this newfangled notion of not changing your surname? Are you still pretending to be single? Embrace the married-ness of your life,” the other half of her friends declared.

Had she changed? Was she one-half of a stereotypically married couple? Or the other half of a stereotypically ‘don’t-want-to-be-seen-as married’ couple? Or was she borderline schizophrenic?

As soon as Siddharth left for work at night, the walls closed in on Mythili. Nothing distracted her from how lost she felt. There was nothing familiar to turn to. The glossy television shows lost their luster. Her job hunt continued with a lot more rejection than she had ever expected and no concrete progress. She switched her chat status back to ‘invisible’ and spent hours clicking through pictures of friends and family on Facebook.

“Was I better off at home?” she wondered tearfully. Then she pinched herself for forgetting how miserable she had been during the long-distance relationship phase of her life. The red welt triumphantly stared at her, happy at having reminded her why she was there. She smiled. She was tired of people telling her she was this or that. She was tired of not knowing whether she was this or that. It was high time she got on with the serious business of finding herself and getting to know the city. Two birds with one metaphorical stone if you will. And on the lines of the well-known cliché of getting lost to find yourself, Mythili decided to explore the city on her own.

News & Events Short Stories

Writing ‘Serendipity’

When Indireads asked me if I was interested in writing a short story for an anthology that focused on the India-Pakistan theme, I was more than happy to jump on board. I tried my hand at two or three different plots, but it was a romance that finally turned out to be the best fit.

Neha, an Indian, and Riyaz, a Pakistani, meet at Changi Airport in Singapore, while they are en route to Mumbai. Sparks fly (the good kind), and Riyaz insists they should forge ahead, but Neha is troubled by the rift that divides their countries. Later, Neha decides that matters of the heart cannot be impeded by lines on a map and tells Riyaz that she wants to meet him. However, their hopes of a happy reunion are thwarted when the Taj, where Riyaz is staying, is bombed in a terrorist attack. Whether their romance is burnt to cinders, or if they meet again is the crux of the plot.

The idea of getting the characters to meet at the airport of a country foreign to both appealed because Indians and Pakistanis are often a lot friendlier when they meet on grounds away from both homes. I wanted to stress the notion of how, when you strip away the burden of social restrictions, bonds can be forged a lot more easily. I wove in the Taj Hotel bombing (2008) to show that such attacks claim the lives of people—no matter which country’s passport they hold. Above all, I wanted to write a story that touched on differences, but in a way that sought to highlight that they are largely in our minds.

I hope you enjoy reading this story, and all others included in this anthology.

Yamini Vasudevan

News & Events Short Stories

Oh Romeo, Fair Romeo!

Romeo, in my short story, An Unlikely Romeo, is based on a young man I met in Vienna, while I was helping my husband, Saachi, film a documentary on human smuggling. The boy—he was little more—we met and interviewed over the space of several visits intrigued me. He had experienced so many horrors and so much rejection ever since he set out to cross continents that he had to cocktail nicotine, whisky and doda (poppy heads) to be able to sleep. Yet, he retained an innocent enthusiasm for life that was infectious—and touching. He stayed on in my head, long after the film was finished and released.

When I was asked to write a story for Indireads’ Love Across Borders anthology, the Vienna boy popped up in my head and refused to go away. I thought of his life and I thought I had to write about the futility of borders. People draw borders, but people cannot be confined within borders. Borders lose meaning when necessity and need draw people together.

My protagonists, Nafisa and Romeo, are underdogs, outcasts, rejects of their families, but they are determined to carry on. It no longer matters to them from across which border help and succor reach them. Survival is all. And in the game of survival, any hand that offers help is welcome.

Short Stories

Anjum & Vandana – Unlikely Friends

My first instinct on hearing about the Love Across Borders anthology was to write a story based on the Wagah border. Dividing the two strife-torn neighboring countries is this fascinating place where, paradoxically, some semblance of unity is found. The audience sitting on either side of the fence bear the same complexion and features with the only obvious difference being the style of clothing. This place holds immense potential, and not just for story-telling.

Surprisingly, when I actually sat down to write, my story took on a mind of its own. Away from the border and the parade, it started talking of Anjum, a Pakistani girl who lived in Bombay. That caught my attention. I had never heard of a cross-border migration in urban India, not in the recent times. Vandana, the narrator, was Anjum’s neighbor and after her initial guardedness about a Pakistani padosi, gradually lowered her defenses and took to Anjum like she never had to any other neighbor. While I was bent on knowing how Anjum was ‘smuggled’ to India—this was before the Shoaib-Sania alliance—Vandana could not probe beyond the point of decency.

Nevertheless, she was struck by Anjum’s simplicity. Strife, anarchy, political unrest did not exist for Anjum. She had grown up in a secure background amidst relatives, food and festivals and thought that the rest of the world was an extension of that warmth. That was how she disarmed Vandana.

And that was something! Having known Vandana all my life, I knew how hard it was to be her friend. She was in a constant hurry to accomplish her tasks; her tutorial was her pilgrimage and her students her pilgrims. She knew no life beyond them. As the eldest of three siblings she was equally adept at household chores and went about them with the professionalism of an event manager. It was a joke among friends that if we were to go to Vandu’s house unannounced, she may ask us to do our dishes because it was not on her agenda!

For someone as rigid as her, marriage was difficult. She detested the fact that she had to follow Vineet to Bombay, giving up her lifeline—her tutorial. It did not help that Vineet was her exact opposite. He was laid back and relaxed and lived for the moment. Vandu disliked him at once, but she was practical enough to know that she could not remain a spinster all her life. As she was convinced there was nobody who would be compatible with her, she said yes to Vineet. One alliance was as bad as the other, why waste more time!

Post-Anjum, Vandu was a different person, though. Anjum opened up a part of Vandu’s life that she did not think existed.

Read about Vandana’s journey with Anjum and decide for yourself if the fence between the two countries is just a mental block, or are friendliness and love actually hostage to geography?

Andy Paula, India