My short story ‘A Tiger’s Tale’ in The Literary Yard

The seeds of my short story ‘A Tiger’s Tale’ were sown during an ‘Intro to Creative Writing’ course (a birthday gift from the hubby) that I took at The Writing Salon early last year. As part of an assignment to write something starting with “I remember…”, I began to imagine an old lady narrating her childhood experience about an electrifying night in her village, arising from a visit by a fearsome beast of the jungle. I have always been fascinated by tigers and have been fortunate to feast my eyes on this magnificent creature in the wild, as documented in an old blog post ‘Orange Royalty‘. In class, I read aloud my short but incomplete piece, building suspense and stopping just short of the actual thrilling encounter. I was happy when, during the round of feedback, my classmates asked the one question every story-teller wants to hear, “what happens next?”

A whole year went by before I was myself tempted to find out the answer. In the process, another narrative sprouted up that was different from the Grandmother’s account, thus creating a story within a story. After I wrote it, I decided to have it critiqued by asking three people – my younger sister, my husband and a friend from my workplace – to read it and provide honest feedback. They did a great job and I came out of this informal workshop feeling grateful for their suggestions and becoming aware of aspects of my writing that I was otherwise blind to.

In my writing class, the instructor would provide feedback at the end after everyone else was done. She mentioned that she had liked my piece and spoke about how the tiger always seems like a magical creature. I could not agree with her more. There is something about this animal that is mysterious and otherworldly, giving stories about it a special spark.

Here is a small part of the story that is similar to the piece I first wrote for the class assignment:

. . .

“It happened a long time ago,” Grandma continued, “we lived on the outskirts of this busy and as yet, unborn city. It was just a tiny town surrounded by a smattering of villages and thick jungle growing ferociously between every settlement. There was no electricity back then and my parents and us four children would eat supper by the wood stove over which my mother prepared every meal. That night, we talked about the tiger that was terrorizing nearby hamlets and attacking cattle, listening wide-eyed as our father warned us not to venture out alone after dark in the sugarcane fields. We finished eating and began to prepare for bed. My oldest brother, not a boy anymore but a young man, was in the habit of strolling down the path that lead away from our tiny hut to smoke a beedi* after supper. He was my favourite sibling and I was always the one he brought home the choicest sweets for after work. Undeterred by the earlier conversation, he got ready to leave, promising not to stray from his usual route that stopped before the fields and the forest. I whimpered in protest and tried to appear angrier by widening my eyes until they almost popped out. Laughing at what he considered to be mere childishness, he left the house. I decided that I was not going to give up so easily. My imagination was on fire and in it, I clearly saw him becoming the tiger’s dinner. I pretended to lie down in bed and managed to slip out soon after. As he set out, I followed him like a cat, jumping between shadows under the full moon hanging like a bright lantern in the starless sky.

. . .

Hope you enjoy reading the entire story ‘A Tiger’s Tale’ found on ‘The Literary Yard’ at:

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Where the mimosa blooms…

And sometimes you close your eyes
And see the place where you used to live
When you were young

- ‘The Killers’, from their song ‘When You Were Young’

No matter who actually owns the place you live in, memories associated with it stay on and peek out from the hidden recesses of our minds long after. My old blog post titled ‘Sunshine‘ talked about how the hubby and I enjoyed mornings in the spacious living room of our one-bedroom rental apartment. Perhaps a few years later, we’ll still be reminiscing about happy times spent in that small but comfortable place.

When we decided to buy a house a few months ago it had not much to do with space. The decisions leaned more on saving rent money and the practical aspect of financial investment. The story of buying our first home in the US is luckily a short one. We spent only about two and a half to three months looking at potential houses. The weekends buzzed past as we set out on house hunting expeditions. Then one fine day, our agent took us to an open house that made us say, “this is it!” Not far from the downtown area, a lovely corner townhouse with a small backyard and one additional enticing aspect – its location right opposite a lively public park. Our family members also took a look at it and gave it further stamps of approval. Now came the hardest part – entering the bidding competition for this prize.

And bid well we did, coming up with the best offer that we could afford. We lost, coming in a close second. “Oh well”, we said, “our house is still waiting for us” and continued to look at other options. We were going to make an offer for another one when the agent informed us that the original buyer had backed out and since we had signed on as first back-ups, the house could be ours!

We were happy about it no doubt, but the actual excitement came only later. First, we got busy with arranging our finances, applying for a loan, doing all the paperwork and going over all the practical details. In the contract the previous owners, a young family of four, had requested a couple of months time to look for a new house of their own even after the title was transferred to us. We also faced a gap of two weeks in between moving out from our old rental place to our own new one because the apartment building had to be evacuated due to renovation work. So we stayed with our family in the meantime.

Finally, it was time! We visited our new house in the evening after the previous owners had emptied it. It had been apparent even before that they had taken loving care of the residence. Now the place was bare and clean. On the mantlepiece above the fireplace stood a small envelope addressed to my husband and I. Inside was a ‘thank you’ greeting card with flowers in the shape of a heart, in which were the following words:

“Thank you for being the ones to choose our (and yours now) home. We wish you both many happy memories in this house. We imagine you will enjoy living near the downtown and the park. Peace + many blessings to you both!”

The 'thank you' note

The ‘thank you’ note

We had never met the husband-wife duo and had only exchanged some emails with them before. Those few heartfelt words in a simple thank you note touched us deeply and gave a warm glow to this event of stepping into our new home. Also, isn’t the power of the the written word truly admirable? It can travel across space and time to touch a chord with strangers!

We are settling in and still setting up the place slowly. The farmer’s market in the downtown on Sundays offers fresh produce and the street bustles with dinnertime activity at upscale restaurants on evenings. On weekends the park becomes packed with revelers at picnic tables. Running along the path under redwood trees that allow shafts of golden evening light to filter through on to the green grass below is a refreshing sight. And just like the card said, memories are being made as we look out into the patio at the star-shaped jasmine flowers that bloom on the vines draped over the fence and at the delicate pink mimosa clusters on the tree branches swaying gently in the breeze.

Mimosa flowers

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My story ‘Gardening’ in eFiction India magazine

eFiction India magazine May 2014 coverThe May 2014 issue (Vol.02 Issue. 08) of eFiction India magazine describes their theme as follows: “This month’s issue is all about celebrating our flaws and giving them a shape that makes them truly flaw(e)some.”

Flawed indeed, is the central character in my story titled ‘Gardening‘ that appears in this issue. I was happy to receive the following feedback from the editorial staff on my submission:

One of our favourite submissions this month. An immensely novel plot that begins rather quaintly and then ends with a delightfully unnerving twist. Beautiful use of imagery and colour.”

Some people in my close circle who read it, however, did not like it. Perhaps the story is flawed, too. Anyway, I’m always thankful for negative feedback and I would like to encourage readers to openly provide it. The story begins very early one morning with the arrival of a twelve-year-old girl, Suzie, at the doorstep of her neighbor Ms. Anderson who is already up at dawn to pursue her passion for gardening. “Ms. Anderson, have you seen my cat?” Suzie asks her.

Read on to find out what happens next. Here is the online PDF version of the magazine:, containing an enjoyable collection of engaging stories by my fellow contributors.

                                                                       *     *     *


(Screenshot) Partial contents of eFiction India magazine, May 2014 issue

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Sibling Love

I have very select memories from the time I was around three years old and there are specifically two incidents that I still remember about the arrival of my younger sister. One is an image of my mother walking past a doorway with a heavy, protruding belly and my extreme excitement about my younger sibling’s arrival. The other is of rushing to greet my mother in the hospital room after the baby was born, where I, beaming with happiness, ate my favorite okra vegetable with her and the newborn by my side.

My sister and ISiblings Day does not seem to have caught as much of manufacturers’ and advertisers’ attention as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day have. Ignoring the commercial aspect that usually accompanies them and considering only emotions, I feel that Siblings Day deserves equal importance. After all, we have to commemorate those epic moments of fighting like cats and dogs!

At a party a few months ago, a teenage son of a friend was narrating how he had succeeded in scaring his younger sister with a scary costume during Halloween.

“That’s so cool! Hahaha!”, was the remark that escaped me while two other girls who were also listening showed the opposite emotion with a sympathetic, “Oh no! Your poor sister!”

I thought about our reactions for a moment and said to them, “Do you see the difference? Both of you girls being the younger siblings in your respective families immediately empathized with his younger sister. I, on the other hand, being the elder sibling had the opposite response to the elder brother’s actions. I expressed joy because he succeeded in tormenting his younger sibling!”

Oh, the joy of teasing them with the silliest of things! When my sister was around two or three years old, while going somewhere by car, I would wait until we passed a prominent statue and then boast about how I had successfully seen the statue and taunt her that she had missed it completely. This would drive her wild. Then there was my usual sing-song voice and victory dance that would drive her up the wall if I got something right or managed to do something and she didn’t. I truly relished this devilish happiness. How I enjoyed those fists coming at me in boiling rage! It is not just the boys who get physical when quarreling. Both of us sisters not only engaged in such fights but enjoyed the action immensely. As we grew older, we would turn the large bed in our room into a fighting rink by pummeling and wrestling each other on it vigorously. It was so much fun!

Watching Jurassic Park when it had newly released way back in the nineties, my five-year-old sister had clung to my mother, trembling in her lap, scared stiff as the dinosaurs went on a rampage on screen. For a long time after, I extracted immense pleasure in torturing her with the idea that there were dinosaur eggs under her bed and swore that I had seen one of those mighty beasts outside by the window at night. During school years, when she was in a sour mood, tired, hungry and sleepy after a long day, with me sitting opposite her at the dinner table, I would be slyly waiting to catch her eye and do something like smile an evil taunting smile or make a face that had the potential to trigger an immediate outburst from her. Ultimately, all our arguments, name-calling, screaming, physical fighting, complaints and disciplining by parents only added up to cement the beautiful bond we share and now they provide fun memories during adulthood conversations.

It is difficult to note down in a small space all the glorious things about the relationship between us. I have known her since she was born and she has never known a life without me in it. We currently live on different continents with a strong, invisible rope tethering us together. If I do not get to speak to her for more than a few days, I start to feel uneasy. We talk about almost everything under the sun. A voracious reader, she shares her views on a topic that is very close to our hearts – books. She encourages me to pursue my passion for writing as I turn to her for precious feedback. I have often told people how mature she is for her age, how she is in reality my older sister despite being younger by three years. We swap tips on make-up, fashion and cooking. We talk about our jobs and daily routines. Current events, science, history, geography find their way into our conversations. We talk about our troubles or about things that make us burst into fits of laughter. In spite of living apart and missing each other more than words can say, we try to find a way to continue to open our hearts to each other.

Healthy sibling relationships make us better people. They teach us to be friends, to share, to be responsible, to co-exist and to love. They can influence the person we become and prepare us for other interactions in society. This article ‘How does birth order affect relationships?’ shows how they prepare us for relationships with our partners and spouses. Many of the wonderful, conflict-free interactions I have with my husband have been influenced by those with her. For example, if we disagreed on something and were annoyed with each other, my sister and I never got into the habit of not talking to each other. I find that the concept of giving someone the silent treatment is immature and egoistic and am glad that my sister and I never did it. In the end, I can say that my sister is not only related to me by blood but she is my best friend. She is the most precious gift my parents ever gave to me …

… as well as a chance to better appreciate the hilarious video below!

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Snowflake earring

My special snowflake earring!

I arrived in Bay Area, California as a student from India some years ago and as long as I’ve stayed here, I have never traveled to any other region of the country in winter. During this season, while most other places shiver as temperatures dip, Bay Area continues to frolic under the sun (previous post: Sunshine). Consequently I had never known what it felt like to experience snowfall or never had a chance to play with all that white goodness. Even in India, I had never been to the Himalayan regions during winter. My husband and I had gone skiing before (previous post about our first trip: It was s(n)o(w) very good). However, it was at the tail end of a mild winter and the slopes had begun to turn slushy under the rising heat later on. By this year, I had developed a nagging craving to witness snowfall. Fortunately, if you live in the Bay Area, all you have to do to reach the nearest snowy place is just hop into a car and a four hour drive later, there you are in the whitewashed mountains around Lake Tahoe. California had seen a severe drought this season with very little rainfall or snowfall. When the weather finally took a turn for the better, hubby dearest immediately planned an overnight trip there so that those wishful thoughts that shrieked ‘snow! snow! snow!’ in my head could be laid to rest.

Our car climbed upward into the mountains around the lake and soon enough milky peaks began to rise over the tops of coniferous trees lining the road. I started to give excited squeaks as gorgeous mountains covered entirely in snow burst into view. The narrow road wound up higher and higher until the pines bordering it began to show up decked in white as well. The noises coming from me grew into chuckles, shrieks and whoops. It was when snow flurries came whirling toward the windshield that I finally lost my mind. I was finally seeing snow fall! We stopped at a vista point with a heavenly view of the lake in the distance so that I could get out of the car to jump and dance by the side of the road.

SnowmanThe light shower stopped soon after as we descended into the town. We had lunch and checked in to our hotel. Snowfall was predicted again towards evening and we decided to head up to higher elevations at that time. We parked at a popular vista point that overlooks Emerald Bay and turned around to notice a clearing amidst some pine trees on the mountainside where people had stopped to play in the snow. Kids slid down small slopes in their sleds and played to their hearts content. Snowmen made by tiny hands stood around smiling their friendly smiles. It began to snow as I ran toward the play area with an excitement to match the kids’. I was late to this party by so many years! Powdery, pristine snow lay undisturbed, untrodden, waiting for me as I leaped onto a giant white bed. My husband and I had our first intense fight – a fun, snowball one  – as we gathered, packed and hurled balls of snow at each other.

It snowed more after that and I stood gazing up in wonder, at times with my tongue sticking out to catch those icy cold flakes. How delicate they looked as they landed softly on my arm! How silently they fell from the sky! How prettily they decorated the earth! They were even better than I had imagined them to be in childhood when sprinkling flour or icing sugar in the kitchen.

Foot prints in snowWhile returning home we stopped by a golf course that stretched white in all directions and began to stroll alongside it. Ah, the satisfaction you get when walking on snow as it crunches deliciously under your feet! A therapeutic feeling similar to crushing dead leaves underneath or popping bubble wrap with fingers! An hour later we visited a park consisting of a heavily wooded snow-covered forest. There was not enough time to explore it further but I stood for some time among the pine trees with what looked like huge dollops of plain yoghurt at our feet and the sunlight falling in patches from time to time. The crisp air and the silence of that winter wonderland filled me up completely. It was pleasantly broken by the snow that had accumulated on the branches falling off them like fairy dust and making sounds like that of some animal scrambling away. I closed my eyes for a moment and let the entire experience sink in before it dissolved into a memory, like a tiny snow flake that had landed on my palm before it turned to water and dripped off my fingers.

Snow covered golf course

* Title of this post taken from the old song ‘Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!’ that would play on repeat in stores while shopping during the holiday season.

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Freak incident on California’s Highway 101

US Highway 101My workplace is around twenty miles away from my home here in California. Fortunately two of my colleagues give me a reliable and convenient carpool option to commute. For traveling to office we take U.S. Highway 101, which carries a high volume of rush hour traffic with delays and accidents sprinkled liberally along its length during peak hours. On Monday evening last week, we made our way home as usual, taking advantage of the comparatively faster moving leftmost carpool lane. The other non-carpool four lanes to our right hand side on the freeway were in motion as well with speeds at around fifty to sixty miles an hour. I was on the backseat chatting with the colleague who was driving. Our third colleague sat next to him in the passenger seat, checking something on her phone.

All of a sudden the car in front of another one in the lane next to ours on our right started wobbling. It began to turn itself in the middle of the road and continued thus, making not one, not two but almost three and a half circles while crossing the lanes to its right hand side. All this RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF MOVING TRAFFIC! Sparks flew from underneath it as it performed these antics. To top it all, after spinning like that, the car now became completely reversed, facing the OPPOSITE direction, with traffic coming at it! And for a second or two, it kept moving backward in that state!

The driver somehow managed to turn it around. It started to spin once again, this time, to its original place towards the left. There it came whirling in circles towards us as if in an action movie! In my mind’s eye, I still see all this happening in slow motion – the out-of-control car careening madly towards ours, our driving colleague slowing down and instinctively beginning to lean our car to the shoulder of the road on our left, my other colleague on the passenger seat and I shrieking and the man in that crazy car with his white hair, dark sunglasses and a red and blue shirt coming closer and closer in what seemed like an imminent collision.

Then the car slowed down. Before it could get into our lane and hit us, it lost its momentum and our car passed it safely as we sped ahead on our way. I looked back and saw it finally come to a stop with other vehicles around it decreasing speed and stopping as well.

The three of us in our car erupted into exclamations and shouts as we tried to make sense of what we had just seen. I was so freaked out that I could not even remember what type of car it was. My passenger-seat colleague said it was a Mercedes Class C and added that she had spotted a cell phone in the driver’s hand. My colleague who was driving had seen everything from the start. He put two and two together and figured out what might have happened. The driver, having been distracted by the cell phone in his hand, had begun to drift into the lane on his left, that is, our lane. Suddenly he had realized what was happening and while trying to get back within the boundary of his own lane, had probably jerked the steering wheel too hard. This overcompensation might have caused the car to begin spiraling out of control.

Miraculously, the car had not hit other vehicles in spite of being right in the middle of heavy traffic. All the cars around it had somehow managed to give it enough space while it went nuts all over the place. How we all wished there had been a dashboard camera to record the whole circus! Because the ‘incident’ had not turned into an ‘accident’, we could spare some amusement at it. However, there was a valuable lesson in there – never to use cell phones while driving. I’m sure that every spectator on the road that day, after having been scared stiff, must have been very glad that it had not been a lesson learned the hard way.

My colleagues recounted fascinating incidents they had witnessed while driving in the past. One of them had been inside his car that had skidded in circles in a similar fashion and the other one told us how a car had on the opposite side had crossed the divider and leaped over hers to land on her side. What fantastic tales from the road, dear reader, do you have to share?

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My short story ‘Sailing Away’ posted on The Bactrian Room

My short story ‘Sailing Away’ has been accepted and posted on The Bactrian Room. The editor gave me valuable feedback. Here is what he said:

I notice that you use the word “but” a lot. You need to watch that habit. Also, stay away from long sentences. English is better short and quick. I thought it was a good subject, and I like the ending image.

He made minor changes to the submission, which I totally agreed with, like removing an over-the-top simile, breaking down a large paragraph into logical smaller ones, removing pesky ‘buts’ that were butting in all over the place and chopping one very lengthy sentence that was twice as long as this current one you are reading!

Please read the story on and feel free to leave feedback in the Comments section below it on The Bactrian Room or here below this post.

In keeping with the pattern from previous posts under the Published Work section on my blog and because this is a short one, here is the story in its entirety.

                                                                        Sailing Away

In the gathering dusk, Shantanu sits on the worn-out back door steps of his uncle’s house, absentmindedly flipping through a book that belongs to his cousin when a familiar voice calls out his name from beyond the compound wall. His best friend Nitin hops off his motorcycle and pushes open the creaking gate. 

“Will it be the last time he comes over like this?” The thought flits through Shantanu’s head.  He hastily brushes it off and smiles up at him. 

Six years ago, it was Nitin who had first approached and befriended Shantanu when he was newly admitted to their school. A poor boy who had recently turned orphan, bounced from one relative to the next until he landed up at a reluctant uncle’s place, Shantanu had found himself adrift in the sea of his uncle’s own four children as well as two other nieces overflowing a single crumbling old house in a town far away from his own. Nitin had saved him from drowning, had pulled him ashore by consoling him when his uncle beat him and everyone else barely even noticed or acknowledged his existence. 

Nitin, who had shared his lunch with him, played with him, invited him home, and lent him school textbooks.  Who taught him to ride a motorbike, introduced him to girls and constantly hung out with him.  Nitin, who had given him someone to call his own when he had absolutely no one else. Now after spending almost every waking hour together through college, he might tear himself away, changing time zones and crossing seas. 

After completing first degrees, both of them had applied for and had been offered jobs in the same company in a neighboring city.  But Nitin had wanted to give higher studies a shot. He had applied to five universities in the U.K., out of which he had received rejections for four of them, much to Shantanu’s relief. They both awaited the arrival of the outcome of the final application with increasing anxiety, wishing for opposite results as each day melted into the next.

Now Nitin is walking towards Shantanu with a long envelope in his hand.  It might as well be a ticking time bomb that he is bringing towards his best friend’s hammering heart.

“What have you got there?” Shantanu asks coolly.

“It’s here!” Nitin replies, breaking into an excited grin. “The letter of response from the last remaining university.”

“You haven’t opened it?” He asks Nitin.

“I just picked it up on the way out while coming here.” Nitin replies. Shantanu has a feeling that his friend has waited on purpose to open it in front of him.

“Wish me luck!” Nitin says, carefully tearing open an edge of the envelope and pulling out the document.

Shantanu keeps sitting on the steps, watching Nitin’s face as his eyes hungrily eat up the contents of the letter. The light from a nearby street lamp illuminates his face like a stage and the actors on it – his features – change emotions rapidly from excitement and curiosity to disappointment, then anger and finally sorrow. Shantanu tries to hide a relieved smile as Nitin shakes his head at him. 


He gets up and gently pats Nitin’s shoulder. “It’s alright. We…I mean you already have a great job offer in hand.”

Nitin shrugs. “You are right. What did I expect? Getting into a Masters program at such a prestigious university without prior work experience…”  He still looks crestfallen.

Shantanu takes the letter from his hand and reads the dry words informing Nitin of his rejection. Beginning to fold the piece of paper in his hands, he starts walking towards the end of the backyard beyond which flows a dirty canal.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Nitin asks him.

“Wait, just watch.” Shantanu says and keeps folding and turning the paper until Nitin can see a boat emerging out of it. Bending over the short wall separating the house from the canal, he drops the paper boat into the water.

Nitin throws his head back and cackles. “I get it! I get it! You don’t have to be so dramatic!  I’ll let it go.”

They both laugh together but Shantanu is the loudest as they watch the boat sailing farther away, bobbing up and down over the dark water.

                                                                                   *     *     *

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