creative expression unleashed: support for budding writers …

A Voice from the Past …

Tazeem Akhter

Trrring … Trrrring!!!

The telephone bell rings just as we have locked our place to leave for Kalai on Eid morning.

“Inauspicious!” I fume exasperatedly, jokingly alluding to the old superstition that it’s inauspicious to be checked just as one is leaving home. I fumble and linger, hoping the call would get disconnected and I wouldn’t have to unlock and open the doors again. But the phone keeps ringing determinedly.

“It’s Eid today; someone may have called to convey good wishes … better go and answer the phone,” suggests my father. Irritated, I unlock the doors hurriedly and pick up the phone.. Hmphh!

“Hello!” I say politely, holding my irritation in check.

“Helloo!” a voice echoes from the other end of the line.

“Hellllooo!!” I give vent to  my irritation.

“Hello… Can I speak to Tazeem please?”

“Sure …  may I know who it is?”.

“Hey Tazeem! It’s you! How are you? I just called to say ….” silence!

Who on Earth could it be?

“I’m fine,” I say, and then repeat “…to say?”

“To say… Happy Eid ... and please convey my regards to Mumma, Pappa and your brothers,” says the charming voice in a typical South-Indian accent.

Ahh … I know who I’m speaking to.

“Good Morning! How are you? Where are you? And thanks a lot for the call …” I rattle off cheerily in a single breath, my happiness and excitement spilling over.

“I am good … at Poonch,” he answers. “But you don’t remember your alma mater any more.”

“I’m truly sorry,” I say contritely. “I’ve been a little busy these days, but I will definitely be there in a day or two,” I assure him.

“Okay … so any celebrations today? And how are your studies going? And keep on writing dear … I just love your writing style and feel great when someone praises my students. I’m proud to be your teacher, and one day you have to make me feel proud of you … Got it?”

That ‘Got it’ transported me to class X, when he would say, “Akhter! Got it?” and I would simply nod my head .

He continues: “I am quite sure you will make it happen soon.” I bite back my words, too flattered by his pride and trust in me to be able to speak.

“I’ll try my best,” I say at last, with a smile. “I just need your prayers.”

“We are going down for Eid celebrations to Kalai, our native village … on the way to Surankote. If you are free, maybe we can pick you from school and we can celebrate together,” I say impulsively, overcome by the warmth of sweet memories.

“Some other time … some other time,” he promises. “Kokab and Sanam too are here at Poonch for Eid celebrations.”

“Is that so?”

“Oh yes! Haven’t you met them yet?”

“Tazeem di…. Tazeem di” my brother shouts from outside, before I can answer.

Aa rhi hoon” (I’m coming)

Turning back to the phone I say apologetically: “We’re getting late … got to go to Kalai … will call you once I reach there. I know you won’t mind.”

“No problem Akhter,” he says and disconnects the call.

Re-locking the door swiftly, I rush to the car, and as we drive to Kalai I feel a poignant longing for the call I’d had to cut short.

It was Fr. Mathew Nelledath at the other end.

Fr. Mathew, my English Tutor, whose face I clearly remember and whose voice I will never forget, was one of the most important influences in shaping my growing years–not simply by telling me what to do, but also by encouraging me to do it my way. And when I went wrong–as I often did–he explained that a mistake is not a crime. It is better to try and fail than to never try at all. And that is the BEST lesson he taught me, besides contributing towards enriching our school lives in innumerable ways.


Eighteen year old Tazeem Akhter is a resident of Kalai, Poonch, in Jamsmu and Kashmir. She is passionate about writing and photography.

Sonali Karande Brahma

The boys were chasing her again. Shuchita, blinded by tears had broken
into a run although she could see almost nothing of the road ahead, the
pouring rain adding to her woes. The canal road was deserted as it was
late evening and the dark clouds had pushed the sun out of their way
long back. They were coming after her on bikes and she knew that soon
they would close in on her. She kept on running, heart pounding furiously
against her chest. Then she saw him, coming towards her on his cycle – a
small frame pedaling fast with a purposeful gait. Prasad, thank God for
him! Mom must have sent him to look out for her. He reached her before the

boys did and got off his cycle. Shuchita relaxed her grip on the umbrella
and started walking with him towards home and safety. The boys lingered
around for a while, but got confused on Prasad’s sudden show and went away.

Prasad was Shuchita’s younger brother, with just a couple of years
between them. They both went to the same school, had the same teachers
and the same enemies (Shuchita’s enemies were Prasad’s enemies) - a group
of rowdy boys from her class who loved troubling Shuchita for some
unfathomable reasons best known to them. Shuchita was the school’s Miss
Goody Two Shoes and perhaps they simply loved seeing her in a ‘state’.

But Prasad would always come to her rescue and most of the time when the
boys tried their dirty tricks he would save her. It was a comforting
thought that Prasad was always around. He would accompany her to and from
school despite his classmates teasing him about being his sister’s
bodyguard. He would carry her books on his cycle and walk besides her
when he could have easily cycled back home. He would wait for her whenever
she would be alone or with her gang of girls. Once as they were cycling
back home from somewhere, one of the rowdies came after Shuchita calling
her names and embarrassing her in front of passersby. At that time Prasad

who was trailing behind, pedaled up to the rowdy and threatened him, not
worrying about the rowdy’s daunting size. Another time when Shuchita’s
cycle tyre got ten punctures in a single day, Prasad went and delivered
the same treatment to the rowdies’ cycles – ten punctures to each cycle.
How he went to the school cycle stand and ‘punctured’ the tyres without
being seen was a mystery no one could solve. Caring brother that he was,
Prasad always stood by Shuchita whenever she got a dressing down by their
Mom for some mistake she had committed, although such situations were
usually reversed, as it was Prasad who was at the receiving end more
often than his sister.

Prasad was like his sister’s shadow protecting her. This despite the
fact that he was always meted out secondary treatment by teachers,
friends and family alike, for the simple reason that Shuchita was the
preferred darling who always stood first in whatever she chose to do and 
Prasad could not live up to her achievements. Those days being days
when teachers did not sugarcoat their whippings, verbal or otherwise,
Prasad usually got to hear things plain, loud and clear. But this
favoritism did not seem to worry him at all. He stood by his sis rock
solid, his frail frame staunch; his mind devoid of ill devise.

Years passed and Prasad left home for studies. After tearful goodbyes,
Prasad and Shuchita learnt to live life on their own handling the
good and the bad, taking things in their stride. They met several
times, as they lived in the same town, on occasions and otherwise.
Despite the distance, the bond remained strong. A number of Raksha
Bandhans came and went, and life passed through a number of milestones.

It was Shuchita’s fortieth birthday and her husband had thrown her a
surprise party with close family and friends. Everyone came, but not
her brother. As the evening passed into the wee hours, and he didn’t
even call, Shuchita started worrying. But nobody could reach him anywhere.
Days went by but Prasad never called. Birthdays, anniversaries, her
son’s birthdays – all of which Prasad never missed, but now he was
missing from them all. Shuchita tried calling him but all her calls
went unanswered. Emails were sent but they never got a reply. She knew
from her Mom that he was carrying on with normal life. Then why wasn’t
he responding to her?

Now they barely exchanged pleasantries, their homes became enemy
territories, egos replaced bonds and Raksha Bandhans were spent solo.

Then one day she got an email from him, a bolt from the blue. It
simply said “that he had a life of his own and he did not want anyone
to interfere in it”. It did not need rocket science or an astrologer
to tell Shuchita that the ‘anyone’ in his mail meant ‘her’. She was
deeply hurt and the tears wouldn’t stop for days on end. But at least
she knew the answer to his sudden withdrawal. Obviously, it was his
pent up emotions that had burst like a dam. That she was the chosen
one all along the years, that they all loved her more than him and
that he had been given a raw deal as he thought, had caused this.

As much as she would have loved to change things, she knew that
only time would resolve the situation. She also knew that her brother
was not in a ‘listening’ frame and whatever she said would go unheard.
But Shuchita believes in the ties that God has created and has immense
faith in the bond that, for her and for her little brother goes far
beyond the one-day Raksha Bandhan. She knows in her heart that a day
will come when her little brother will come to her. And then everything
will be the same again. Sweet, happy and blissful.

For now, Shuchita has busied herself with positive memories and positive
thoughts that can go a long way in making things better. People do
change with age and she is banking on that. If she has waited so many
years, what would be a few more years? Blood runs thicker than anything
else and no one can fight that. Not even God.

Sonali Karande Brahma is a Strategist, Creative Consultant and a Writer
with 12 years of experience in creating powerful stories for advertising,
brand building and communication. She has worked in mainstream advertising
for major MNCs and Indian brands. She writes on subjects that interest her
and teaches Creativity and Writing to young student managers at B-Schools.
She can be reached on

First, Cousins

Sonali Karande Brahma

He was tall, good looking, well-mannered and even blue-eyed. Just the boy anyone would have loved to love, she winced. Was it any wonder then that she had fallen for his charming ways hook, line and sinker on the first day she met him? To any girl crossing her teens, it would have been a delightful thought, but to her, it was no less than sacrilege. She was sure she had lost her sanity completely but love is uncontrollable and she could not help feeling what she was at that time.

The ‘boy’ was her first cousin and she had developed ‘feelings’ for him!! How stupid was that! How on earth could anyone develop feelings for a cousin! They were related for God’s sake! And if anyone could have read her mind at that time, they could have picked her and dumped her in an asylum! Or maybe even strangled her.

But her innocent parents were oblivious to all this and the boy was there in her house 24 x 7; just like cousins are, when they come a visiting. Worse, he also had a soft corner for her, or so she thought. He was probably just being ‘brotherly’ towards her, but in her twisted mind she was reading it otherwise. What a predicament, she mused. She was stuck in a situation which had neither a present nor a future to it.

First love and for a first cousin? What was she letting herself into?!!

Days passed by and the ‘boy’ went back to his hometown. But Shuchita could not get him out of her head. It was not a do-or-die kind of love she felt but a constant longing to meet him, talk to him and spend time with him. They talked of course, but as cousins. They met too, but as cousins.

Years passed by and each one went his own way. They got married, each one had a family, and both were happy in their own way. They still meet at family functions, they meet online, call each other up. The soft corner they had for one another has not dimmed with age. It has stayed with them all along but only in their hearts. To the world at large, they were, are and will always remain – first cousins.

Sonali Karande Brahma is a Strategist, Creative Consultant and a Writer with 12 years of experience in creating powerful stories for advertising, brand building and communication.  She has worked in mainstream advertising for major MNC and Indian brands. She writes on subjects that interest her and teaches Creativity and Writing to young student managers at B-Schools. She can be reached on

Me First!

Parul Gupta

Retelling my favourite folk tale from Haryana (recipe at the end) 

‘Hmmm… something smells good!’

Chaudhary Maan Singh sniffed appreciatively as he entered the house, returning from his early morning chores on the farm. Having left at dawn with a thick leftover parantha and a glass of frothing milk, he was ravenous, and judging by the smell, Kalawati was frying some of her mouth-watering goodies! Ah!

He really was lucky, thought Maan as he washed his hands and feet at the pump in the courtyard. The Almighty certainly knew what he was doing when he matched a foodie like him with a fabulous cook like Kalawati. His parents too had left for the customary pilgrimage to Hardwar after his marriage, secure in the assurance that their daughter-in-law would take good care of their only son. And as for him, he just couldn’t get enough of her cooking, and had been systematically overeating ever since they got married, two months ago. Thanks heavens for farm work, or he’d have had trouble entering the house through the door!

In the kitchen Kalawati was frying gulgule and fuming: ‘Here he comes! I love cooking for him and like the fact that he loves my cooking; but he really is the limit—as long as there is anything special left, he just won’t stop stuffing himself! I cook in such enormous quantities, but not one bite do I get! I wish my duty as a wife did not forbid me to taste these gulgule before my husband, or I’d have sneaked a few before ever he set foot inside the house’.

GULGULE!’ exclaimed Maan as he entered the kitchen. He gazed adoringly, first at the mound of golden-brown balls of goodness piling up in the basket beside the stove, and then at his wife working her magic on the mundane flour and sugar. As he reached out for a couple, the unprecedented happened:

‘Don’t touch them!’ shrieked Kalawati.

‘Why?’ he was shocked. ‘I’ve washed my hands and feet!’

‘It’s not that …’, she hunted in her mind for a plausible reason … ‘They … they have to be taken to the temple for puja (ritual prayer) first,’ she blurted out.

‘What kind of puja?’ he asked, drawing back, disappointed.

‘Yesterday the panditji (priest) at the temple told me today is Ludhkan Chauth (ludhkan: to tumble; chauth: fourth day of the lunar month),’ she babbled, improvising wildly. ‘We fry gulgule and offer them up in prayers first. Then we bring them home and place them on the chhappar (the canopy that runs round the house). The ones that tumble down are to be eaten by the women and the ones that stay up are given to the men.’

She put out the stove and went to get ready for the temple, leaving Maan in a thoughtful mood.

‘Hmmm … that sounds peculiar! The chhappar slopes downwards, so obviously all the gulgule are going to tumble down … and she gets to eat the whole lot!!! And I’ll probably have to eat the khichdi (rice and lentil stew) or leftover paranthas she would have eaten after I was through with the gulgule … What nonsense!’

Rendered resourceful by the exigencies of his taste buds, he tied some bamboo poles all round the lower edge of the canopy. ‘There! Now let’s see how many gulgule are able to escape!’

Kalawati, meanwhile, went to the temple with the basket of gulgule and rendered prayers and apologies for her perfidy. ‘But I just can’t take it any more dear God,’ she pleaded. ‘I too have the right to eat good things for a change—something apart from the leftover paranthas that usually fall to my lot when my insensate lump of a husband is through guzzling on the goodies I make for him—I do think I have the right to at least a bite or two!’

Wending homewards, and feeling thoroughly guilty by now, she thought, ‘I can’t possibly eat all these. I’ll keep a few for myself and make up some kind of a tale and give him all the rest,’ when she saw from a distance, her Lord and Master, atop the roof with bamboo poles and ropes.

‘Oho! So it’s like that, is it?’ she thought, with the light of battle in her eye, taking in the situation at a glance. ‘Well, we shall see who wins: brain or brawn!’ By the time she reached home, Maan was back down, looking quite innocent and the bamboo poles were out of sight from the ground.

‘Hey! Good news for you,’ she chirped with a smile on her face. ‘Panditjisays he’d mistaken the lunar date. Today is actually Reh Reh Paanche(reh: remain behind; paanche: fifth day of the lunar month). So, that means, that the gulgule that remain on the canopy are eaten by the women, and the ones that tumble down go to the men…’

And she sailed away in triumph, to scatter the gulgule on the canopy …

How to make Gulgule

Ingredients: (8 to 10 pieces)
1 cup wholewheat flour (atta)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp powdered fennel (saunf)
A pinch of baking soda
Oil for frying

Mix the flour, sugar, powdered fennel and baking soda together. Dissolve in just enough water to get dropping consistency. Cover and keep for 5 minutes.
Heat the oil in the kadahi or deep pan. When it starts smoking, drop in tablespoonfuls of the batter and fry to a light golden.
Drain and remove from the oil on a newspaper or sheet of blotting paper to soak the excess oil.
Can serve either as finger snacks or in combination with kheer (see recipe in ‘Sweet Nostalgia’).

Gulgule and kheer as a combination is a traditional monsoon snack in many parts of North India.

Additional tips:

  • Can use crushed gur (jaggery) instead of sugar to make it more nutritious.
  • Can mash a small overripe banana into the mixture to increase fiber and mineral content.
  • Can add powdered almonds into the batter to make the gulgule crisper.

The Juggler’s Joy

Vijayendra Mohanty

(from the author’s blog with his kind permission)

There was once a juggler. He was known across the land for his skills. He could juggle practically any number of things for as long as he wanted. It was said that he had never made a mistake and was, in fact, incapable of making one.

His fame grew as he travelled far and wide and performed in palaces, royal courts, and town halls. Because he made juggling look like the easiest thing to do, many tried their hand at the craft. They gave up when they were bored or became too acutely aware of their limitations. Funnily enough, no one had ever asked the juggler to teach them.

One day a boy came to the juggler after he had finished a show. He was putting the tenpins, balls, chainsaws and other assorted things into their respective bags and boxes.

“Teach me to juggle,” said the boy.

The juggler remembered the boy from his audience the day before, and the day before that, and before that. He remembered the boy because he never clapped or shouted during the shows. He never laughed and he never whistled his approval. To less experienced eyes, the boy might have appeared unappreciative or stuck-up. But the juggler had been expecting him to show up.

“You have tried juggling before?” asked the juggler.

“Yes,” said the boy. There was a note of sad longing in his voice.

The juggler gave the boy three balls. People were still leaving the place. Dust swirled gently in the orange light of the setting sun. He stretched himself and a part-lazy-part-tired smile broke across his face.

“Show me what you can do,” he said to the boy.

The boy juggled. He kept the balls going for a good while before he misjudged and dropped one. He looked at the fallen ball for a while and then his eyes met the juggler’s gaze.

“You need some work, but you are not bad,” said the juggler.

“I make mistakes,” said the boy.

“You will always make mistakes,” the juggler said.

“Yes,” said the boy. “But one day when I have practiced enough and learnt everything you know, I will be perfect. Then I will make no mistakes.”

“You will always make mistakes,” the juggler said again. “There is nothing wrong with making mistakes. I make mistakes all the times. Sometimes even with three balls.”

“But you never make mistakes,” the boy protested weakly.

“Says who?” the juggler asked — a little annoyed, a little amused. Then without waiting for an answer, he continued, “I am glad I make mistakes.”

The boy picked up the third ball from the ground. The juggler took the balls from him and put them back in the bag.

“When I drop a ball,” said the juggler as he tied the bag close, “I pick it up and start juggling again.”

“It doesn’t bother you that you are not perfect?”

“I AM perfect,” the juggler smiled widely. “So are you. Dropping balls is part of juggling.”

“But they say you never make a mistake,” if the boy sounded disillusioned, the juggler didn’t seem to care.

“I don’t juggle to convince people that I am perfect. I don’t juggle to uphold their ideas about me,” said the juggler. “Even if the world thought I sucked at juggling and even if there was no one at my shows but me, I would still juggle all day. I juggle because it gives me joy.”

The boy’s face was unfathomable. Even after a long time, he didn’t speak.

The juggler moved closer to him and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy showing off before crowds. The cheers always give me a boost. They are all very useful side benefits. But that is all they are — side benefits.”

The boy was looking up at the juggler’s bright and cheerful face. He still wanted to learn juggling. But he had learnt a far greater lesson already. He now knew why he wanted to juggle.

“Teach me to juggle,” the boy said.

“You will make mistakes,” said the juggler.

“Yes,” the boy said.

Vijayendra Mohanty is an Indian comic book writer. He has written stories and scripts for publications such as Comic JUMP and COMIX.INDIA. He is the writer and co-creator of Ravanayan, a 10-issue comic book series based on the story of king Ravana of Lanka. He has been mentioned in publications such as The Indian Express, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mumbai Mirror, Mail Today, and DNA Mumbai.

Daughter …

Anisha Jhawar

I am a girl born today

On a black and cloudy day.

For my parents there’s no joy or laughter,

For they wanted a son, and I am a daughter.

And yet, they finally did accept,

And realize that I was God’s gift.

Time passed, and up I grew

Like a flower, unfurling petals new.

Became the sweetheart of my Paa

And the darling of my Maa.

I thanked God for my wonderful life,

But little knew, I would soon face strife.

The very next day we went to a fair;

There I lost Maa and Paa: could see them nowhere!

I cried and cried and cried for hours,

But still don’t know where they are.

I cursed my Fate—it was so unfair!

For years I’ve searched for them everywhere!

To this day, I look for them, near and far;

I wonder where and how they are;

Each day I pray, my heart full of pain:

Maa and Paa, please come back to me once again…..

Anisha Jhawar is 15 years old and a student of class X at Sophia Senior Secondary School, Bhilwara, Rajasthan. She enjoys dancing, singing, reading, writing and her studies.

Splendidly Single!

Parul Gupta

‘For the last time, Mom, I’m not going to the wedding with you!’

‘And for the last time, you’re coming, and I don’t want any arguments!!!’ she stormed. ‘Wear the fawn and saffron tussore silk saree and the gold and tulsi beads. NOW!’

Jeez! She forgets I’m more than twenty-five years old! I try again. ‘But I’m exhausted, Ma. It was a very, very busy day at office. I had two interviews on the other side of Delhi. I’m totally pooped! Please!’

‘Oh! You mean your father doesn’t work in office?’ she asks sarcastically. ‘And what about all those other people attending the wedding after work? Are they useless idiots? Are you the only one in the world who works hard?’

I know when I’m defeated, and go to have a bath and deck myself out like a Christmas tree on display. It’s no use telling her that when you are under thirty, female and single, it’s a trial of nerves mingling with the extended family, especially on wedding-related occasions.

I realize that my attending these functions is as important to her as it is abhorrent to me. This incident took place about fifteen years ago, when a twenty five year old single daughter was a social anathema. So, for Ma, such an occasion is an opportunity to prove to the world that if her daughter is unmarried at twenty-five, it isn’t because she is ugly, or jobless or any such thing. Plus, there is also the unexpressed hope that someone in the family might pass on word of my ‘eligibility’ to an interested party!

And that is precisely why I shy away from all this … relatives, especially old, female ones, have a tendency to peer at you, and wonder aloud in your presence: ‘She’s not bad looking … well educated, good family, and has a good job too … why isn’t she married as yet?’

Must be involved with someone …,’ some other gossip monger would whisper in scandalized tones. And I would be barred by my upbringing from telling them that if I were involved with someone, I’m sure my parents would support me.

Suddenly remembering a cousin in a parallel situation, I ring her up quietly and ask: ‘Are you coming to the wedding?’

‘As if Mom would let me skip it’, she retorts, ‘even though I utterly loathe all this, and I’m dead on my feet!’

‘Same here,’ I reply gloomily, ‘but hey, it won’t be so bad if you’re there too … we can always sneak away into a corner’. I hang up, somewhat cheered.

Duly presenting myself to mom in said saree and jewellery, I’m instructed to ‘hold myself up and smile pleasantly, for God’s sake!’

SMILE PLEASANTLY!!! I’m not scowling or making faces, or anything … so why am I expected to simper? We reach the venue and are greeted with: ‘Oh! Welcome! So glad you could come … and bitiya (daughter) too … are you very tired?’

‘No, aunty,’ I lie through gritted teeth. We move away.

‘See? I told you to smile, but you have sworn never to listen to your mother.’

‘Oh for heaven’s sake, mom … look! I’m smiling! Okay?’

My eyes search frantically for my fellow sufferer. I finally spot her, trying to be invisible between a pedestal fan and a potted plant. I excuse myself and head for her, followed by Mom’s instructions to ‘mingle, and not hide myself in a corner’.

My cousin sees me and hails me with relief, and we thankfully slink away into a corner where there are two chairs and no relatives! Bliss!

‘Did anyone comment on how tired you are looking?’ I ask.

‘What d’you think? It’s their stock-in-trade’ she replies. ‘So many people here look more tired than us, but they’ll pick on us because they want to imply that as independent career women heading towards spinsterhood, we must be fading blossoms, and that’s why we look perpetually tired’.

‘Hey, you’re exaggerating! It’s not as bad as that… it’s just the way they are,’ I say pacifically.

‘Then tell me, why don’t they comment on the exhausted looks of our male cousins?’ she asks.

‘Maybe they do?’ I say. She laughs derisively.

And, as if on cue, my grandmother’s sister and her daughter pass by:
‘Ma, bhabhi’s son looks really tired; he must have come straight from office … poor boy! And uncle’s grandsons too look exhausted … well, what can you expect on a weekday? The poor things have come directly from work and haven’t had the time to freshen up’. I look significantly at my cousin.

And then, in the next breath … ‘Oh Ma! Just look at those two madams … totally off-colour! Well, what do you expect! Growing older by the day, and not married yet … obviously the bloom of youth is on its way out! Poor things!’

‘Let them be’, I sigh, holding my cousin back, as she starts from her chair, presumably to tell them off. ‘Just let them be’.

‘You’re right’, she says, calming down. ‘Let’s go eat … I saw some wonderful kulfi!’

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