Call for Submissions Extended : VEILS, HALOS AND SHACKLES

Veils, Halos and Shackles : International Poetry on the Abuse and Oppression of Women

For Veils, Halos and Shackles, an anthology of international poetry that will respond to the horrifying incidence of rape and other forms of violence and oppression directed at women in our time, Smita Sahay & Charles Fishman are seeking published and unpublished poems in English, or English translation, that center on any aspect of this issue.

Please send 1-3 poems (up to 10 total pages), to both editors, in a single Word attachment, along with a short bio of approximately 100 words and a paragraph or two regarding your reasons for addressing this subject in your poem(s). Deadline for submissions: June 15, 2013.

Update about deadline: The anthology is currently under consideration by several publishers, and the final deadline for submissions will be determined by the contract Charles Fishman and I ultimately sign. For further information, please see our call for submissions at www.charlesfishman.com.

Please help by putting us in touch with other poets who may wish to contribute to this anthology & by re-posting this announcement on websites that provide current information about poetry, women’s lives, & other topics pertinent to this project.

Smita Sahay: sahaysmita@gmail.com
Charles Fishman: carolus@optimum.net


Blue Lotus Treasure

The wind blows, like a child swooping gracefully with outstretched arms, rustling grass, flowers and leaves. Everything ripples so softly, it seems to blend into the background of everything around – the earth, the sky, the water, the plants and the buildings. The red brick building is alive with sounds of maids hollering in a tongue I don’t understand and vessels clinking. Was that the handle of a water-filled steel bucket falling on itself? The water would be clear, to be used for cooking. And here is some water in a stone tank, a bowl snug in earth. Blue lotuses, seven of them, soak the sun and patiently let dragonflies buzz over them. The tall cactus forgot to grow and burst into seven leaves, lush like the petals of a flower in bloom. The stone bench is rough and sun-warmed below me. Would there be fish in the lotus pond? The rockery behind the pool is like the remains of the wall of a fortress. Stones – rough, uncut, of evahshape, cling to each other. The unskilled gardener pruned this rose bush, which now has dried in confusion of being hacked. It is woody and prickly. Why do flowers go, leaving behind thorns to define a dead bush? An elfin Christmas tree, in its slenderness and lacy grace, sways its tip like the head of a dancing doll. Is there a treasure in the pond? Guarded by the fort-like rockery? Was the rose bush trying to get to the treasure and got cursed? I don’t know. But looks like, there is a blue lotus treasure in the pool.


To Love

Would you choose
To love
Or to
Be loved ?

Would you choose ecstasy and craving
And to hurt and be hurt
Or peace and happiness
And the occasional bliss?

Why is love so terrible,
So grand
It makes commonplace happiness seem
A modest pay when love is your royal coffer – even if you are a prisoner of war.


Clenched Soul

~ Pablo Neruda

We have lost even this twilight.
No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.

I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.

Sometimes a piece of sun
burned like a coin in my hand.

I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.

Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Saying what?
Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel you are far away?

The book fell that always closed at twilight
and my blue sweater rolled like a hurt dog at my feet.

Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight erasing statues.


Is Your Tongue Orange, Sweetheart?

featured on Asia Writes dated 23rd April 2011.

HOUSES AND TREES FLEW by as her taxi sped toward the train station. Everything was routine – idling crows on slanting tiled roofs, the occasional cyclist and empty roads. Poona was lazily waking up on a Saturday morning. She was happy, hopeful, in love and decidedly nervous. She pulled a strand of hair out of her eye and smiled to the song playing in her head, “Que sera sera”. Her mind involuntarily raced to that afternoon long ago.

SHE WAS SEVEN. SHE wanted those candies grandfather had gotten her. Mom stored them in a bell jar in the top shelf of her cupboard. The shelf was so high up and she so tiny that she would tilt her head back and back, her little chin sticking up in the air and gaze longingly. But mom had said that too many candies spoiled little children’s teeth and of course she didn’t want to have teeth like grand ma which needed to be put in a glass of water every night. Mom would say, “Those candies are all yours, sweetheart and you get them one at a time.”

That summer vacation afternoon, dressed in a breezy cotton slip, she lay in bed next to mom for a nap. The curtains were drawn to darken the room. A ceiling fan rotated overhead, not quite helping relieve the stillness of Indian summer. She couldn’t sleep. She longed for those candies. She looked at her mother sleeping peacefully like an angel and whispered into her ear, “Mum, can I have a candy?” Mother mumbled something but slept on.

Oh! She wanted a candy – just one, to lick on the tangy orange drop till it colored her tongue! She turned a couple of times, but could neither sleep nor get the candy out of her head. She got up, hopped out of bed and found herself pulling her dad’s heavy shisham study chair towards mom’s cupboard. The chair screeched on the floor, as if in protest. Thankfully, mom slept on.

She reassured herself, “Mommy said the candies are all mine anyway. And I’d just take one – only today. One candy will not spoil my teeth.” Heart thumping, she climbed the chair, pulled the jar toward herself and fished out a candy as noiselessly as she could. Then she closed the cupboard, replaced the chair and slunk like a cat back into the bed next to her mom. Yes, the drop was sweet and tangy and it did turn her tongue orange.

Now, there is an uncanny ability in mothers to whiff thefts involving toddlers, and sure enough, mom had gotten to know. Mom had then figured that the candy jar should no longer be kept in the cupboard and moved it to the little daughter’s study table itself – to save such efforts of pulling a heavy chair and all.

THE DECAN QUEEN CHUG chug chugged past the Lonavala – Khandala valley. She’d always been awed by the breathtaking beauty of the Western Ghats, the gushing sound of air as the train would pass through tunnels and the rattling of the rails. Today she frowned at that memory and shifted guiltily in her seat. It would have been a lesser punishment had mom distributed the candies among street kids.

She concentrated on the metallic sound of the wheels, every fourth rattle accentuated or was it the fifth, propelling her toward Bombay and toward him.

She didn’t need to feel guilty now, she thought. That afternoon had been two decades ago, plus, this was the man she was going marry. Their parents had met and liked each other. She tried to convince herself that a stealthy date in the given circumstances was ok. He is such a nice person; mom wouldn’t have objected, would she?

Arranging her hair and smacking some gloss on her lips she clutched her little overnight bag as the train slowed to a stop at the Dadar station. She gulped hard, told herself one last time that she wasn’t doing anything wrong and got off.

She saw him at the exit. His face broke into a grin. She thought he looked sweet. Touching the bunch of chrysanthemums he’d gotten her to her cheeks she smiled. They blushed, beamed and laughed like two children sharing a secret. She looked into his eyes, registering with some surprise that this was only the second time she was meeting him and realizing with a mild shock this was the guy she would spend the rest of her life with. He was thrilled that she’d come all the way to see him. She glowed with his happiness.

She pulled out a wrapped present for him. He started to tear it open just as her cell phone rang. “Sshh! It’s mum” she cautioned.

“Hi sweetheart, goodmorning.”

“Goodmorning, mom.” He squeezed her hand. Of course it was a good morning.

“I thought you might be asleep. When did you wake up?”

Her watch said eleven am. “Pretty early for a weekend, mom, about two hours back.” She lied, recollecting her alarm going off at five thirty – very early, in fact.

“So, what plans for the day? Are you at home?”

“Of course. Where will I go so early on a Saturday?” She crossed her fingers.

“Well, I have a guess because your landline kept ringing out all morning.”

Oops! She gulped “Yeah, I am out in Bom.. I mean I’m in the balcony.”

With eyes all big and round, she looked at him tearing his present open and hoped that mom believeed her. He held in his hand a bell jar – full of orange candies and looking bewildered – probably not his idea of the first romantic gift.

After a moment of silence mom asked, amused, “Alright, you don’t need to answer this. But I have a question – Is your tongue orange, sweetheart?”


Black Blood

Published in Ripples by APK Publishers, an anthology of short stories by Indian women writers.

I stand as Shivani pulls out her luggage and looks at her home for one long moment before shutting the door. She turns the key and pulls it out as the lock clicks in place. Then she places the keys in my hand, saying, “Anju aunty, Rohit will take it from you after work.”

I nod and notice that she’s pulled out the letter ‘S’ from the key ring and the keys now dangle from a lone wooden ‘R’. I want to hold her hand and ask her to stay.  But I am an old woman and she is young – too young and too heartbroken. Before getting into the taxi she bends to touch my feet. I pull her into a tight hug.
“Aunty, take care of your health. Take your medicines in time. ”
“Beta, call me once you reach. And come back to your home soon.”
“My home is not here anymore.” She turns away, pulling a corner of her dupatta to her eyes. The pain in her eyes is so deep I feel helpless. As the taxi leaves, I feel a pang as deep as parting from one’s own child.

I slowly climb back the stairs of our building and come home. I look at this picture on my fridge - Rohit and Shivani look radiant together as Sameer clings to Shivani’s knees showing his tongue, eyes twinkling, perfectly gleeful. I’d taken this picture 3 years back on Sameer’s first day of school, almost a month before he’d had a fall so nasty, he needed to be hospitalized and given blood. This picture always made me smile till Sameer left us. Today it reminds me of terrible losses.

Sameer had always been a handful – as a baby, as a toddler, as a neighbor. Precocious and sensitive, he was a brave little child.

He would say to Shivani, “Mommy, don’t run down the stairs, you’ll fall.”

He would say to me, “Nanu aunty, I’ll put balm and your headache will go.”

He would say to Rohit, “Pappa, I’ll grow as tall as you and then we can share our clothes.”

That day in the hospital, with blood dripping into his veins, he had lain in the white bed, tiny, pale and quiet but not scared. I missed Sameer. Now I miss Shivani too.

Rohit doesn’t speak when he comes to take his keys. His eyes are empty. I ask him to come in for dinner or maybe a cup of tea. He silently shakes his head and leaves. Sometimes we don’t trust our voice when it is on the verge of trembling because we fear that we too might tremble with it and break. I want to talk to him, ask him to get Shivani back – for his sake more than her own. So I go after him and see him unlock his door. The first key doesn’t fit; he struggles with the second till finds the third that fits. Clearly a man used to coming home to a wife who opened the door for him after a long day. I feel a lump rise in my throat. This time I don’t trust my voice. I walk back.

I enter my house, fling the keys onto the sofa and switch on the lights. A yellow post-it in Shivani’s familiar hand on the refrigerator tells me that my dinner is in the microwave. In the room I find the bed turned down, ready to be slept in. My head hurts and I massage my temples; I would have liked that cup of tea that Anju aunty was offering. But I want to be alone.

I am not hungry. I don’t want to change either. I open the microwave to find a bowl of biriyani. I heat it anyway and put a spoonful in my mouth. I close my eyes. Sameer loved this biriyani too. I open my eyes to the empty house yawning back at me.

Anger grips my heart vice-like and hatred bubbles in the pit of my stomach like acid. I throw my plate. Brown white rice and pieces of meat soil Sameer’s crayon drawing named ‘My happy family’ on the white wall.

I think about the dream I had last night. It was a brilliant yellow dream. I’d seen Sameer and held him. I’d breathed his baby smell and touched the softness of his skin.

He’d asked, “Mommy, why does pappa call you Shivi but Anju nanu calls you Shivani?
“Just like I call you Chhotu, pappa calls you Sam but your teacher calls you Sameer.” I’d replied.

 The dream had been so real I’d woken up half expecting to find Sameer curled on my stomach, sleeping. But Sameer is not here. He is not in my world anymore. Neither is Rohit. It is all black where I live now – soundless, lightless; soundless except for a buzzing in my ears that doesn’t go.

I’d first seen this blackness in the Pediatric AIDS Ward. I’d seen it as Sameer lay in his hospital bed day in and day out, the light in his eyes slowly extinguishing. The blackness had seeped out of his veins, shifting shapes. It had risen like a wall, holding Sameer, Rohit, Anju aunty and me in and holding everyone else out. No one had seemed to mind. All our friends and family had stayed out, offering help over phone calls and emails. They’d known this virus could not infect via electronic media.

Needles would go in and out of Sameer, drawing blood, injecting drugs. Red blood would remind me of another day – of a blood bottle dripping into a tiny wrist. Blackness would engulf me at the memory and I would pass out. Black-red pain danced destruction in Sameer. The little boy kept fighting a virus, incomprehensible and invincible, holding my fingers bravely with ever diminishing strength.  

One day the blackness entered Rohit’s eyes. It took the shape of a wounded animal, angry, mistrustful. It licked out of his eyes like flames. Blackness took shape of questions demanding to know how many men I’d slept with, questions that made my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth. Blackness took shape of purple bruises on my body.

Rohit had said it was my blood that was black. Red blood tests had not answered black questions. Purple bruises had kept coming. I’d wept, begged, gotten my blood tested multiple times then surrendered to unanswered questions and purple bruises. It had been a black world.

It is when Rohit had asked for a divorce my whole world (black though it was) had been swallowed by a black hole. I found myself in a limbo, hearing a never ending white noise. I’d to run away from that limbo so I’d to leave. But the white noise hasn’t gone. I want the white noise to go so I swallow white pills. I see red at first but white calm surrounds me and I float into the colored world of my dreams.

My dreams are not black. There I can still touch Sameer and love Rohit.

News in a national daily:

Blood bank’s license cancelled for giving HIV+ blood
Hyderabad, April 28 (IANS) The licence of a blood bank in Andhra Pradesh was cancelled Wednesday after it gave HIV positive blood to a police constable injured in a road accident.Jagruti Blood Bank in Rajahmundry town in coastal Andhra would be derecognised, R.V. Chandravadan, project director of Andhra Pradesh AIDS Control Society, told reporters after a high-level meeting here.

Taking a serious note of the incident, the government also asked the health department to submit within 15 days a report on the functioning of all blood banks in the state.

The blood bank was Tuesday sealed and the owner was arrested after it was proved that the blood bought from there and injected to the injured constable was HIV positive.

The police constable contracted the deadly virus after the blood was injected to him at a private hospital. The constable met with a road accident April 25 and was shifted to Abhaya Hospital, where he slipped into coma.

On the advice of doctors, relatives of the constable bought two sachets of blood from the blood bank. One of the sachets was injected into the policeman. As his condition worsened, he was shifted to Swatantra Institute of Medical Sciences. The doctors there tested the other blood sachet and to their shock found it infected with HIV.

Subsequent tests conducted on the constable confirmed that infected blood was given to him. Enraged over this, his relatives Tuesday ransacked the blood bank.

Police booked a case against the blood bank owner G. Nageswara Rao and arrested him.
A probe by local health officials revealed that the blood bank had collected the blood from a HIV positive patient April 18.

Following the incident, the health department is considering series of measures to ensure safety of blood by tightening the regulations.

The Caretaker

Published in Ripples by APK Publishers, an anthology of short stories by Indian women writers.

Shekharan, the peon, was furiously working across the keys of his typewriter.
“O God! This damned thing is again skipping spaces.” His voice seemed irritated and exhausted, fatigue showed in his blood-shot eyes. He carefully pulled out the sheet from the typewriter with his gnarled hands, as if it were something very precious.

It was a dark room with soot-eaten walls. His possessions were few but immaculately kept and neat. Only the table where he was working looked grimy because of the residue dripping from the oil lamp that was burning, emitting a pale yellow light that encircled the man and his object. Rest of the room lay in blackness.

It was a strange sight: a thin, balding man, with hollowed cheeks and thick glasses was poring over thick journals that spoke in technical jargons of wind velocity, atmospheric pressures and ocean currents. It was the kind of journals one would expect in the hands of a bespectacled, well-fed professor with an intellectual high forehead teaching in a class-room or preparing papers in some research and development department as a scientist.
Shekharan, in his crushed peon’s uniform hardly looked the kind. And yet, he was there and studying, forgetting his dinner that was simmering in the corner and dripping softly onto the floor, feeding a queue of ants.
Dr. R. Rajan was fumbling across his table. His study looked tornado-struck. He anxiously pulled the whole stack of files toward himself and began going through them feverishly, overturning his table-lamp and causing a paperweight to fall and shatter into a thousand pieces of glasses, sparkling like tear drops on the floor. Then he sank, his head in his hands, exasperated. What would he do? His papers were gone - the papers he had to submit the next day were gone.

Dr. Rajan worked as a scientist in the Indian Institute of Oceanography. He had joined there six months ago. He researched on ocean currents and giant waves. His current work was based on Tsunami- the under-water earthquake. He quickly called his guide Dr. Edward Thomas to ask if he had a back-up file of the missing papers on his computer, for his own computer refused to budge.
“Dr. Thomas, have I in any case, left the Tsunami papers in your study this evening while discussing it over tea?”
Sensing urgency in Rajan’s voice, Thomas’s eyes opened wide in spite of the late hour. He snapped on his bed-lamp.
“No Rajan, but, what’s the matter?”
“Dr. Thomas, the papers are missing!” There wasn’t time, or the occasion to feel guilty of being irresponsible.
“O no! Are you sure? Might they be in your cabinet or in your office?”
Thomas wasn’t sleepy anymore. His eyes were alert and his brain was working furiously.
“No Dr. Thomas. They were with me. I left my study at half past eight to have dinner. When I came back, the window was open and the room bore signs of a strange presence. Nothing valuable is gone, but, but my papers are missing… they’re stolen!”
He said the final sentence heavily and could speak no more.

Stolen… stolen! It reminded Dr. Thomas of the other two incidents. Last year Dr. Mehra’s paper on Tsunami and a year before Dr. Khanna’s papers on Tsunami were mysteriously stolen. As he was the editor-in-chief of the bi-annual journal of the institute, both had, just like Rajan, panicked and called him up. Dr. Mehra’s paper had been complete and in his office, from where they were stolen. They were anonymously mailed to Dr. Thomas after a week. Something similar had happened in Dr. Khanna’s case.
Edward Thomas’s brain was full and buzzing at the mysterious lost-and-found games.
“Hello.. Dr. Thomas, are you there?” Rajan’s voice seemed broken.
“Yes.. Yes, I’m sorry... I kind of drifted away.” Replied Thomas distractedly.
“I wanted to ask, sir, if the Tsunami file is stored on your computer.” It was Rajan’s last ray of hope. If the data, observations, calculations and results were available, he would stay up for the next few nights and rewrite the whole thesis.
“I think so. Relax, Rajan. I’ll mail your file to you. See whatever can be done. I’ll give you more time of course. In case you need help you can come over.” Thomas’s words were like fingers soothing the creases on Rajans’ forehead. He felt immense gratitude.
“Thank you, sir. Good night.”

Forgetting the phone dangling down the side-table, Thomas threw back his covers, pulled on his dressing-gown and lit a cigarette. He paced his balcony ignoring the chilly droughts lashing him like a whip.

“Both times the papers were gone. But both times they were anonymously returned, rather mailed directly to me without stamps or address. If it were a conspiracy, same papers should have been published elsewhere under spurious names. But nothing of the sort happened. Dr. Mehra had even been nominated for the international award for his outstanding findings. No one tried to steal his credit.”

Deep in thought, poking his mind for the umpteenth time, going over the last two incidents, Thomas lighted his fourth cigarette. In the dead of the night the man was invisible, so were the rings of smoke rising lightly and dissolving into the cold air, like the different possibilities the creature creating them formed and discarded in his mind. He was only a dot of fire moving to and fro, like that one object in his mind- to solve the Tsunami paper riddle.

His chin held between his thumb and index finger, propping against the railing of his balcony, Thomas saw the seam of the sky tear open revealing a pink-gold on the horizon. Dawn broke and cheerful orange streamers fluttering from the fireball of the January sun plunged the world into a new day. And like the dawn, suddenly Thomas remembered something.
January2009, the year before - the day the journal had come out, Dr. Mehra had come to Thomas’s office clutching a copy. He had opened his article ‘Tsunami 2004’ and placed it in front of Dr. Thomas. Puzzled, Dr. Thomas had looked up from the pages to find Dr. Mehra’s eyes bewildered. Amused, yes, but bewildered.
“Did you notice something in my papers when they came to you?” asked Dr. Mehra softly.
“Like what, Dr. Mehra?”
“There are a few changes in my original work. There are new data, new calculations and new findings. The last part is not mine. But indeed, it is some great mind that has worked it out.” Mehra had spoken slowly, emphasizing every word.
“Strange, very strange. Are you sure?” Now Thomas had appeared as bewildered.
“Absolutely. I can show you my rewritten thesis. I’ve never had this new concept at all. It is not mine.” Mehra spoke clearly and truthfully.
“Ok Dr. Mehra, but keep this to yourself. We’ll not tell others about this. It might bring the wrong kind of publicity to the Institute and our Journal. Only when someone claims that the work is his, we’ll need to see what can be done. But do not talk about this with anyone.”
Dr. Mehra had retired that July and no claims had been made yet. Khanna had also told him of some changes in his work but hadn’t spoken of new findings. Perhaps he was enjoying the compliments that came his way.

By the time the sun had risen fully, Thomas made up his mind. “Let the plan work. Please God, just let the plan work”, he prayed.
He drove to the post-office earlier than the working hours. He waited for some time before Raja, the postman who delivered letters at the Institute came whistling.
“Good morning, Raja” greeted Thomas merrily.
“Morning, sahib.” Raja was disconcerted for a moment when the otherwise grave Dr. Thomas cheerfully wished him.
“I need your help, Raja, a small favour.”
“Yes sir. Whatever I can do.” Raja replied, clumsily climbing off_h bicycle.
“My mailbox in the office is broken. All the letters fall off the broken bottom and I sometimes lose valuable mail. Please deliver all my mail in Dr. R. Rajan’s mailbox for the next few days.”
Raja took the fifty rupee note from Dr. Thomas’s fingers and grinning widely repeated, “Dr. R. Rajan. Sure, sir, no problem, I’ll do that.”
“Thanks, Raja. I’ll inform you when my mailbox is mended”, shouted Thomas as he drove away.

Thomas then went to the electronics shop and bought a sophisticated, ultra-sensitive alarm. Now, the action was strange, and the happiness in his red, puffed-up eyes looked stranger and he looked little mad, perhaps out of excitement and expectation together.
He was late for his class that day and he seemed distracted. His tongue slipped a dozen times and he banged into walls and cabinets all day.
He waited for something to happen all day and for the next few days. All his work seemed futile when Rajan came into his office a week after the burglary to say that he had nearly completed the rewriting and that his papers would be ready in the next couple of days. He kept the first half of the papers titled ‘Tsunami 2004: A New Insight’ on Thomas’s desk and left.

Thomas inwardly prayed for something to happen. He decided that he would not go home that night, as he had done for the past few nights.

Shekharan, the peon, was checking all the cabins and locking them after switching off the lights. He seemed distracted and preoccupied as he hurried homeward after handing over the keys to the night watchman.

Thomas drifted into sleep around midnight, still praying for something to happen. He was woken by an alarm screeching in the building and the racket created by the slamming shut of the exits.
“Yes! Got him!” he shouted in glee as he ran toward his mailbox. The mailboxes were on the wall under the stairs, right at the entrance.
The watchman also reached the source of noise and finding Thomas there gave a full military salute. But Thomas’s eyes were fixed on Shekharan who was standing with a thick white envelope half stuffed into Thomas’s mailbox. He stood stupefied with wide fearful eyes.
Thomas inwardly thanked the device and alarm system for working effectively as he snatched the envelope from the peon’s hands, tore it open and stared at “Tsunami 2004: A New Insight” in disbelief before switching off the alarm.
The peon, still as a statue did not understand what had made the alarm go off as he had pushed the papers into the mailbox.
“Shekharan, is it you? Why? Was it you who stole Dr. Mehra’s papers and Dr. Khanna’s? But no, it can’t be. They were edited in an outstanding way.”
Shekharan, now fully aware of the situation finally found his voice.
“Yes sir, it was me.” He said quietly.
“Why, Shekharan? How?” Thomas managed to squeak.
Shekharan, on being caught and asked decided to talk to Thomas. “Sir I’ve collected lot of information on Tsunami, especially the one that hit eleven nations in 2004. I have been attending the Open Evening Classes of the Institute and doing my own research. I wanted to share the latest findings so that the best preventive measures could be designed and people don’t suffer like the lakhs that did in December 2004. Who would have taken an undergraduate peon seriously? So I decided to publish my findings under eminent names.”
“Why, that’s commendable, certainly. But Shekharan.. I mean… well, you’re right but…” Thomas could not talk coherently. He was undoubtedly impressed, but all the same, this was unprecedented!
“Sir, let me tell you something about me. Before coming and settling here, I lived in Nagapattinam. I lived with my wife and my 18 year old son Ramesh. He was a champion athlete. That morning on December 26,2004 he went to the beach to run. My house was a few metres away from the sea and a little high up. I saw my son proudly as he jogged toward the water. I saw him run and that was the last thing he ever did. Before I could comprehend, a huge wall of water came and crashed all over the place. My son was being pulled into the sea. I stood stupefied, could not move. Tried shouting, could not speak. Frozen, with my mouth hanging open, I saw my son’s head bobbing for a second over water before I ran. But the crowd running in opposite direction knocked me over. I was trampled over by frightened people running for their lives. “Where’s my son?” was the last thought before I fainted. When I revived, I was on my bed and my wife sat crying.
“Ramesh”, I shouted and ran out of my house. What I saw made my stomach turn. There was nothing but the sea everywhere. No houses, no people. Our house was saved because of being at some height. Dead bodies littered the beach. I ran from corpse to corpse. Ramesh was not there. Two days later, rescue-workers brought back his bloated body. My wife saw his body and died of shock. I lost both of them in that one instant.” Shekharan’s voice shook and faded.
He spoke in a stronger voice, “It is then that I decided that I will not mourn endlessly. I did not want people to keep suffering like that. So I came here and worked for the Institute. I studied day and night. Whenever someone researched on Tsunami, I wanted to give all that I had.”
Thomas was speechless. He held the old man’s shoulders. Silent tears on Shekharan’s creased face made, for the first time look 58. The peon turned and walked away.
Thomas watched the exhausted steps of the old man who had indeed been the ‘caretaker’ throughout. He hadn’t realized perhaps that his head was bowed and his joined hands paid tribute to the man walking quietly away.