The Misunderstood Insomniac

She noticed the whirl of the ceiling fan in the faint glow of the light streaming through her window. If she peered closely she could distinguish the individual blades of the fan; and resembled a spinning top when she half-shut her eyes. She checked the time. Eleven pm. For the next half an hour she tossed and turned in bed, but sleep eluded her.

She checked the bedside stool for a bottle of water. Empty. Reluctantly, she got out of bed and walked towards the kitchen. The icy gulps of water felt blissful. Humidity made the night unbearable. She felt sweat trickling down her neck and headed for the shower. A refreshing shower might help her sleep better. Once in the bathroom, she took off her sweat drenched t-shirt and examined it. The colors were fast fading; the material over-stretched yet soft, and a clumsily stitched patch of cloth on the sleeve was quite distinct. It was a decade old but she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of it. Every night she slipped into it; the soft feel and the faint, powdery smell of the fabric was a source of comfort. Her mother teased her about it, called her a pack-rat. She smiled thinking about it as she stood under the shower, briefly shivering as the first drops of the cold water fell on her. Drying herself off, she stood in front of the mirror and checked her reflection; she loved being curvaceous, but resolved to shed the few extra pounds off her waistline. Chuckling at how often she made this resolve and its earlier feebleness, she slipped into the first t-shirt she could lay her hands on. It was bubble gum pink, a color she wouldn’t be caught dead in. But with no one around, she put it on and cursed her sister for gifting it a couple of years ago. Her mother is right; she is a pack-rat hoarding even the stuff with the least sentimental value. She checked the time again. Midnight.

She knew she had to leave for work at six in the morning for a 24-hour shift at the hospital, but sleep still eluded her. Maybe she can utilize the time she is awake to surf the net and gather information about the obstetric procedures she might get a chance to assist. An hour of peering closely into the computer screen and scribbling tiny notes on her obstetric and gynaecology text followed. She even updated her blog and checked her mail. One a.m.

She hurriedly got into bed, and desperately wished for a meagre four hours of sleep! Lights dimmed, pillows fluffed up, fan on full speed, few drops of lavender oil on the pillow, a glass of warm milk; she didn’t want to miss a single trick in the book. After half an hour of eyes tightly shut, she sat up wearily on the bed. There wasn’t any use pretending, she wasn’t feeling the least bit sleepy.

Her stomach grumbled. That wasn’t the sound she wanted to hear. She wanted to hear a yawn! Maybe she would sleep better on a full stomach; noodles for dinner are hardly filling. She made a mental note to strike off Maggi from next month’s grocery list. A frantic search for mustard sauce to make her favorite sandwich followed. Plopping down the couch with sandwiches in hand, she thought about the sleepless ordeal before her. The professor who would be on the rounds was infamous for terrorizing the interns; and tomorrow would be no exception. No sleep and a tough taskmaster prodding all day would literally be a lethal combination! She checked the time again. Two a.m.

She picked up the TV guide; and was torn with indecisiveness about whether to watch “American Graffiti” or “Annie Hall”. Never being good with decisions she alternately surfed both the channels watching bits and pieces of both the movies. Woody Allen isn’t half as amusing when one is struggling to sleep. She thought of how closely the gum-chewing dude, driving around town in the first movie, resembled her first crush in high school. And instantly fell into reminiscing those days. Bliss! She was snapped out of her fantasies by the ZooZoos giggling in the new Vodafone ads; and she burst into a fit off giggles to how these egg-headed characters resembled her next door neighbor. Drawing resemblances is something that comes to her instinctively, a secret pleasure that delights her often.

She walked into the balcony to watch the sunrise two and half hours later; basking in the first rays of the day and also enjoying the slight chill of the morning breeze. She dashed into the kitchen for a quick cup of green tea and sat on the balcony again, enjoying the calmness and serenity of this part of the day. A few people were out on the streets…the joggers heading for the nearby park, the vendors on the way to the market, and even few teenagers grudgingly setting off to early morning tuition (the gawky, tall one slouching all the way resembled a character from “The Corpse Bride”).

Five a.m. She had bath again, breakfasted on milk and cereals, and then got dressed for work.

Five-thirty a.m. She lied down on the couch, waiting for her colleague to pick her up at six. A thirty minute long wait.

*Rrrrrrrrrrring Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrring*

She rubbed her sleepy eyes, picked up the phone and mumbled groggily, “Hello”.

“Wake up you sleepyhead! We’ll be late. I’ve been waiting for you downstairs for the past ten minutes.”

“Oh sorry! I must have dozed off.”

“No surprises there. You ALWAYS oversleep!”

“But I…”


“Nothing. I’ll be downstairs in two minutes.”

Photo Courtesy:

TaT Contest # 1: My Childhood Dream

A true story.

Five sons, two daughters, a tiny hut, some land, and a salary of Rs.48 per month. That’s all he had in life. He brooded day in and day out about where he went wrong, while his children were left to fend for themselves. His children were extraordinarily hard-working and slogged for many hours everyday ploughing the fields, selling vegetables, doing odd jobs for neighbors; somehow gathering two meals a day for the entire family. They were overworked, perpetually exhausted; but they never ceased to dream about a way out of the drudgery of their daily lives. They thrived on this single hope.

And one day, the elder two sons joined school on their father’s insistence. They braved the opposition from the rest of village about two boys from the “untouchable caste” mingling with the higher caste students. On the first day of school, they woke up at three in the morning and went about doing their routine chore of ploughing the field so that they can attend school on time. The school was at a distance of sixteen kilometers from their home, but they were too excited to notice the long way ahead of them. They took their slates and pencils for the first time in hand and nervously copied the letters the teacher penned on the blackboard. They learnt to count. And suddenly a new world of infinite possibilities opened before them. A world where nothing was impossible. Despite being the poorest of poor in a remote village, they can now dream of being high officials, lawyers, teachers and even Prime Minister of India! They realized for the first time their capacity to think, to mould their own futures. So, for the rest of the decade and half they diligently studied; and even enrolled the younger siblings in school. They worked day and night to earn money but somehow fitted few hours of school every day.

The eldest son was more academically inclined than the rest. So, the second son took over himself all the responsibility of running the household at the tender age of 15. He attended school and college about twice or thrice a week, and rest of the days he slogged to somehow make ends meet so that the rest of his siblings’ education doesn’t get hampered. Even though his own future seemed bleak, he still nursed his childhood dream of becoming a high official, earning a decent salary, buying a good house and a car. Simple dreams, but way out of his reach.

He was 28 years old by the time his siblings completed their education. He had a commerce degree at hand and no job. And still the responsibility of running the household, as his siblings went for higher studies or on job hunts. One day a girl he had met and befriended in college forced him to appear for a job interview. He refused as he had no time to waste job hunting as his daily income runs his family. But she was adamant, and he finally relented. He got a clerical job in an insurance company. And by dint of hard work over the years he not only overcame his poverty but rose to the position of a high-ranking official in the insurance company. He married the girl, who changed his entire life through a little coaxing. He built not one but two houses, and bought two cars. He surpassed what he dreamt of as a child during the daily sixteen kilometer walk to school. But his greatest satisfaction was that his siblings too had broken the chains of poverty and were all well-placed in life. There was a bank manager, an engineer, a high-ranking government official, and a professor. He had the satisfaction of knowing that his years of sacrifice for his siblings didn’t go to waste. And nothing could surpass the smiles he had put on his parents’ faces. Theirs were the first family from that remote village to have dreamt big, worked continually towards it, and finally achieving it. Others followed their example, having understood the value of education, sheer determination and hard work.

No childhood dream is unattainable. That’s what I had learnt from this story. That’s what I’d learnt from the story of my father’s life, the second son in the story. And he’s the biggest inspiration in my life. And I too am halfway through of attaining my childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

Once again, nothing is impossible! So, dream big!

Recent Reads

Among various genres of literature, short stories had always been my favorite. A novel maybe interesting but tends to get superfluous at times, but a perfectly constructed short story can’t afford the luxury of extraneous content and characters. Every word, every sentence is essential to convey the story. I had always been more fascinated by the works of the masters of short story genre than the rest of the literary world. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to get to read the works of Anton Chekov, Nikolay Gogol, D. H. Lawrence, Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, O. Henry and Ivan Turgenev – the jewels among short story writers. I remember having bought my first collection of short stories…”The complete collection of short stories by Guy de Maupassant”, a really fat volume, after reading his short story “Love” in my sixth standard English textbook; and it still hasn’t left my bedside bookshelf. And thus began a wonderful journey of exploring the best of the short stories ever written.
I’ve also chanced upon the short stories written by authors who are primarily known for their novels. Virginia Woolf, Daniel Defoe, Rabindranath Tagore, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Maxim Gorky…the list goes on and on.

I’ve the habit of reading many books in rotation, and currently I’m reading a mixed compilation of short stories and the novel “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers. The latter I’ve just started reading, so it’s too early to comment on it. As for the short stories, I came upon a few highly captivating ones that made an interesting read. Among the ones that I’ve recently read, these are the ones I highly recommend:

1) “The Idiot” by Arnold Bennett– It’s about a man who when faced with rejection from his fiancée sets upon the task of hanging himself to death, and while attempting it he is intruded by the village idiot, who not only doesn’t realize the gravity of the situation but actually helps the man tie the noose, adjust the length of the rope. The village idiot has no clue that he helped the man commit suicide and happily sets about the task of going to town to buy a pair of new shoes!

2)“The Honour of Israel Gow” by G.K. Chesterton– This is an eerie tale about a castle inhabited by two eccentric characters, the owner of the castle and his solitary manservant, Israel Gow. The story sets about tracing strange clues by a priest and a detective to investigate the mysterious death of the castle’s owner.

3)“The legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller” by Gustave Flaubert– I found it very disturbing. The author writes about the legend of St. Julian that he read about in a note stuck to the church window. It describes the life of St. Julian, born as the heir to a wealthy Count and Countess, and his childhood and youth spent in a frightening and wild desire to hunt animals and birds for pleasure that is very disturbingly portrayed in detail in the story. He’s cursed by an animal later that one day he would accidentally kill his parents. This torments him and he leaves home and wanders away to get involved in other conquests, but returns to his hunting after a few years and one day accidentally murders his parents. Later as repentance, he helps nurse sick people and one day goes out of his way to comfort a leper. The leper was Lord Jesus in disguise and thus goes the legend of St. Julian.

4)Nikolay Gogol’s “The Overcoat/The Cloak” (for the 5th time) – I love this classic about a man whose life revolves round copying documents at work, and lives the life of a recluse unaware of the going ons in the world around him. And one day the cold weather makes him realize the need of a new overcoat, and it’s this very garment that brings about in his routine and uneventful life an unexpected twist. A delightful read.

5)Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Mrs. Bullfrog”– An extremely witty tale about the search for the perfect wife by a certain Mr. Bullfrog, and on finding her he feels blessed to have married such a woman. The hilarious events that ensues following shocking revelations about his wife’s appearance and past, makes him realize that he couldn’t have been more wrong in the choice of a wife. These revelations coupled with the pitying glances people threw him scares him but the feeling is replaced by a gush of tenderness for his wife when she tells him the amount of dowry she brings with her to aid him in his

6)O. Henry’s “the Master Of Arts”– It’s about two men, an artist and his friend, who plots to con a vain ruler who is ready to part with any sum of money for a work of art glorifying him. They manage to do so, but face conflict with their own principles about the craft they excel in.

7)James Joyce’s “A painful case”– A middle-aged man who leads a solitary, unobtrusive life has a chance meeting with a married woman that leads to an affair, but he abandons her and leaves her heartbroken. Four years later he reads a newspaper article about her death and goes through a range of emotions from anger to remorse.

8)H. G. Wells “The Truth about Pyecraft”– It’s a uproarious story about an unusually fat man, Pyecraft, who persuades the narrator of the tale to help him lose “weight” by asking for his grandmother’s recipe about a certain concoction. The results were too literal…and he lost “weight” instead of “fat”. He lost the pull o gravity and began to float around the house. This leads to an amazing transformation in his home décor to fit his new weightless state. But later on the narrator comes up with the idea of lead undergarments to keep Pyecraft rooted to the ground!

9)Edith Wharton’s “The Other Two”– It describes the plight of the third husband of a rather charming lady. The plight doesn’t arise from something amiss in the marriage, but due to his frequent encounters with her ex-husbands and through these uncomfortable, awkward encounters he realizes that his wife’s horrid description of her past husbands aren’t quite true. It also portrays an unusual character in the form of the wife who neither makes an attempt to approach nor avoid her ex-husbands much to the discomfort of her present husband. But he later laughs this off and takes it in his stride.

10)Virginia Woolf’s “Lappin and Lappinova”– This is not one of her best works. But nevertheless, I liked it. It’s about a newly married couple; the wife who is scared of leading a suffocating, routine married life. So she weaves a tale of imagination around themselves…a world where her husband is Lappin (French word for rabbit) and she’s a Lappinova (a female hare)…who rule the kingdom of rabbits and the people they encounter in their daily life are part of that imaginary forest too. They slip into this secret, imaginary world and role play when they are alone and even amidst a busy gathering. The husband plays along to keep his wife happy. And one day he grows weary of this role playing and that ends his wife’s imaginary, happy world. And that’s the end of their love and marriage too!

11)Tagore’s “My Lord, the baby”– This is the story of a devoted servant who cares for his master‘s son from his childhood till the boy grows up, gets married and has a son of his own. The servant then takes care of the new baby in the family. But in an unfortunate accident, he loses his master’s baby, who gets drowned in the river. This leads to him being thrown away from his master’s place and he returns to his village. He has his own son shortly thereafter and raises him just like a rich man’s son by enduring hardships himself. He later gives away the boy to his master’s family saying he is their son whom he had stolen earlier and convinces them that it’s the truth. Thus he pays off for the loss he had caused them earlier and walks away from their lives forever.

12)Dorothy Parker’s “You Were Perfectly Fine”– It’s a delightful, funny tale about the revelations a man learns about his drunken antics of the previous night and it turns out to be a nightmarish hangover!

13)Hemingway’s “The Three Day Blow”– This is a classic. It’s all about a conversation between two friends over drinks as they talk about fishing, sports, books and love. Must read.

14)Voltaire’s “Jeannot and Colin”– It’s a simple tale about two friends; one gets instant wealth and fame and attracts fair-weather friends, becomes proud and arrogant, shuns education in the delusion that wealth is permanent, gets duped in love by a gold-digger, and the other has a rags to riches life by dint of hard work and never loses touch with reality and also valued his relationships with others.

15)Tolstoy’s “God sees the truth but waits”– It’s about a trader who is falsely accused of murder and lives his entire adult life in prison. But one day as an old man he meets a new prisoner, and in the course of conversation realizes that the actual perpetrator of the crime that he had been accused of is the new prisoner. He feels anger and resentment but leaves to God to do justice. By the time the prisoner confesses his crime and the trader awaits his release from prison, a long time passes and he dies before the arrival of the release order.

Few other stories that I read and would like to recommend are- “True relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal” by Daniel Defoe, “The Christmas tree and the Wedding” by Feodor Dostoyevsky, , E. M. Forster’s “The other side of the hedge”, and Mark Twain’s “Luck”.
Do tell me about your favorite short stories. I’d love to hear about them. I’d keep sharing more interesting short stories in the future.


There are times in our life when we bump into a stranger with whom we want to make a connection, share a word or two, but with the frenzied pace of the world we live in, it’s nearly impossible. Who has the time to stop by and chat when there are more important things going on…money to earn, exams to give, travels to take, family to raise. And then God plays a mischievous trick, adding some flavour to our boring, routine lives. And we’ve one of those bluemonic experiences that’s called “serendipity”, a fortunate accident. One of those incidents least expected but leaving us with a lingering feeling of contentment long after it’s over.

I remember the first time I met him. He was my cousin’s friend and my cousin introduced me to him as a spoiled brat of a sister. He grinned at the remark. And the smile…it started my serendipity! It was on an autumn morning; warm, cozy atmosphere due to hustle and bustle going on in our home for my cousin sister’s upcoming wedding. People jostling about running wedding errands…but strangely they had a smile while they carried out their tasks. Maybe it was the festive mood or maybe it was my imagination because I had started seeing everything through rose-colored glasses!

I was a confused kid of fifteen then (it’s a different issue that I’m still confused about most things)…looking at the hectic activity all around me. Amidst all the frenzy, I saw him. A feeling, as never before, took hold of me. I have a porous soul and he osmosed into me. Every nerve, every sense reached out towards him.

And ever since that moment for the rest of the days till the wedding, I carried him with me. Always. “Is this love?” I wondered. I couldn’t define it. Because I along with every other human being, can only feel it. He devoured my every waking moment and reined my dreams. But the weight of this intangible, invisible thing called love didn’t weigh me down. In fact, it uplifted me…every time I thought about him. I was scared that X-Rays can detect his 6 feet frame wrapped in 6 inches of my heart! I didn’t want anyone to know. He was mine, my own treasure. He was so much a part of me, I was becoming him. Dreamy-eyed, stupid grin…I was a sight!

My cousins sensed something was amiss. Maybe it was the idiotic grin plastered on my face 24/7 that gave away the state of my mind. But all those feelings faded into nothingness. He never knew. It was a wordless first meeting. Perhaps, back then he didn’t even acknowledge my existence. I’m one of those persons who tend to blend into the crowd quite well and go unnoticed. And my emotions when it came to love had always been controlled, very controlled. I walked past him, stood next to him, gave him a bored look without a trace of him knowing what he was doing to me. I could never take the risk of him knowing it ever. I would be doomed. Ridiculed in his eyes. I wasn’t afraid he would hate me. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate his indifference.

A week went by. The wedding was over. My cousin left for her honeymoon. And here I was experiencing the first brush of love or infatuation, whatever it was! He never knew how happy he had made me unknowingly. The shy glances, the knowing smile, laughing uncontrollably at my “not so funny” jokes. I loved everything about him. I must have been so obvious at times. And even if he had sensed it, he didn’t show it.

We met again, long after my crush sank into oblivion and my world no longer revolved around his smile! We talked a lot, met often. He read voraciously and that created a bond between us. A friendship had begun. He got a job, moved to another city. I got busy with my studies. We kept in touch through the occasional phone call or email. Few months back, he called me to share the news that he’s getting married. I’m writing this on the eve of his wedding thinking about the “fortunate accident” that had occurred in another wedding few years back. Strange are the ways of God bringing us reasons to smile, memories to cherish in ways we least expect. So, be open to every little experience of life. I’ve an ear-to-ear grin now reminiscing about something.

FICTION: Written in December,2006 for the college fest literary event