TATA Litlive MyStory Contest 2017
Public Choice Winners
(5 winners picked from the 25 entries with the highest number of votes.)
(All winners are in alphabetical order by last name)
The Girl With Sealed Vagina by Vartika Sharma Lekhak
In Laajpur, a notorious town on the outskirts of Delhi, strange things were happening. It all happened after the arrival of THAT girl. From where she came, why she was there, no one had any idea. It was the tea vendor at the railway station who had spotted her first. Under a peepal tree the girl was sitting cross-legged. She was all alone. No male relative or friend to escort her. It had never happened before in the town. Everyone knew how dangerous it was. Even an eighty-year-old dreaded venturing out alone after sundown. Families lived in a permanent state of paranoia to protect their daughters. It was this lawlessness which had earned Laajpur the epithet of rape capital of India. The girl would arrive at the tea stall every night and sit there for hours. Her presence had started to make the men uneasy. The swearing, loud crackles had a nervous edge, not that they were scared of her, but because the sight of a female in a male territory was frustrating, a challenge to their supremacy. They even hurled abuses at her, poked her with their mean eyes but the girl would keep sitting there, eating pakoras at an unhurried pace. Later the chai wala told others that her name is Rmaa. ‘But how do you know, did she tell you’, a customer asked. ‘It is tattooed on her arm. I saw it when she stretched her hand to take the cup.’ ‘What more is tattooed? Did you peek anything else’, the men winked at each other and broke into loud cheering, eyeing the girl like a piece of meat.
Even in her loosely fitted orange blouse and long green skirt, which she wore every day, they could figure that she must not be more than fourteen or fifteen. There was just a hint of curves in her dress, which the men fantasized with an open lust while sipping tea one after another. Then one night, true to everyone’s premonition, the girl was pulled into a van by a group of boys looking for an adventure. This all happened right in front of everyone, at least fifty people in their full senses. But not one uttered a word of protest. She asked for it herself. Next day the girl was sitting in her usual spot with the same aloofness as if nothing had happened. Everyone was astonished. In such small town, this kind of news travels faster than its digital versions.
‘There is no vagina!!!’ The group exclaimed in unison.
The story that finally emerged after the gossips and facts were pieced together was beyond anybody’s comprehension. She was taken to the fields next to the canal where the boys had planned to rape her and then dump her in the canal if she resisted much. But there was no need of bruising her body or tearing her clothes as she herself lifted the skirt when they pushed her on the ground. At first Surender, it was his turn this time to hit the jackpot first, thought that he was hallucinating because of ganja. There was nothing, no hole between her legs. It was all sealed. Like a dead-end. The girl kept lying on the ground with some mock satisfaction on her face. This increased their frustration further and then in a fit of renewed rage Surender pressed onto her. But in the very next instant he was yelping in pain. His thing was scalded like it had touched a hot iron. The laughter of the girl was still reverberating in the night sky when the boys started the van in hurry and ran away.
The news of the sealed vagina was spreading like wildfire. The ripple which had stirred in this small town had gripped the whole country like a storm. One after another bizarre things were happening everywhere. The priests at the Shakti Peeth temple were vexed to see that the Brahmaputra water was no longer turning red, the goddess had stopped menstruating.
But the actual chaos began when women started arriving one by one, unescorted. The peepal tree had transformed into a sort of a shrine. ‘Rmaa help us,’ the chai wala strained his ear to catch the conversation. Or did they say Maa?
The tea vendor was astonished to recognize a woman who was presumed to be dead after, on the behest of Panchayat, the village council, she was brutally raped by almost everyone in the village when her brother eloped with a girl from a higher caste. There were many more, a mason’s wife, a school teacher, a farmer’s mother, the women who were raped and forced to live with it.
‘We knew that Devi will liberate us from this misery,’ the mason’s wife was weeping at the feet of Rmaa.
‘Seal this vagina like you have sealed yours’
‘Help us Maa, salvage us,’ the women were chanting.
The tears of anguish were floating in her eyes as the girl embraced the women one by one. They were tired of carrying the burden of fertility which had started to consume them. The gift that nature had bestowed upon them to flourish the mankind had now become their very weakness and thus it was now time to surrender it. With their wishes granted, the women returned to their abode, leaving behind the veils which were now fluttering on the lower branches of the peepal tree.
Just Legally by Sujay Malik
The morning wasn’t unusually different. The humidity in the air lurked ominously as early morning coolness was being nipped out rapidly. He stepped out of his bed lazily, unaware that the morning would get more uncomfortable. Weather was only going to be an incidental factor. He was going to feel the heat for more reasons than one. The flat wasn’t huge, but a 1 BHK in North Mumbai was enough for a family of four. He stayed with his wife and two kids.
Just as he was about to get into his routine, there was a knock on the door. When he opened it, he was slightly surprised to see his friend, also an inspector in Mumbai Police standing at the door.
“Hey man. How are you? You’re here early morning today?” A huge smile lit up his face, as he greeted his friend.
However, his smile wasn’t reciprocated by the Inspector. In fact he looked pensive, almost concerned. He realised looking at the Inspector’s body language that something was definitely amiss.
“What happened? Is there something wrong?” He asked.
“Well, you can say that.” The inspector said, as he stepped further inside, but continued to stand.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, visibly confused.
“I have cracked the minor communal riots case that transpired in this society a few months back,” said the inspector.
“Oh. That’s great,” he said with a smile on his face.
“Yes two perpetrators are under arrest and a manhunt is launched for another two. We will nab them soon,” the inspector continued.
“That’s nice. But I still don’t understand how that concerns me,” he said with slight apprehension.
“Well, we have received a complaint which names you as an accomplice and being complicit in the skirmish that occurred a few months back,” the inspector looked at him intently all the time while saying this.
“What are you saying, brother? You know me well, don’t you? Will I ever indulge in any kind of violence?” he said with apparent petulance. Anger had started to surface in his voice, albeit in slight undertones.
“No. But the complaint alleges this. It doesn’t say you indulged in any violence,” said the inspector.
“Then?” he asked, clearly peeved.
“It says you were complicit,” continued the inspector.
“Look man. You know me. I pray multiple times in the day. I don’t have vices. I do not drink or have flings. I like to lead a calm life. I do not like violence. How will I ever be complicit? I don’t even know the perpetrators of this act,” he continued, his voice rising involuntarily.
“But we have to do our job, since there is a complaint naming you,” the inspector said.
“So what does the complaint say?” he asked.
“I told you. It simply says you were complicit. I have the picture of the complainant. Actually I am not supposed to show you this. But just have a look. May be it will ring a bell somewhere in your mind,” the inspector reiterated and held a photograph.
“I guess I know him,” he said looking intently at the photograph. “Yes I know him. A couple of days after the riots, he knocked at my door and requested me to take him and his son in. He said his son was ill,” he continued.
“Hmmm. Go on,” inspector said.
“I didn’t want to take a chance with ongoing riots. When he disclosed his identity, I realised he was from the religion which was under attack. So I shut the door on him,” he said turning his eye away.
“So you avoided violence, just like it is your nature,” the inspector looked straight at him.
“Well you can say what you want. But I wasn’t complicit in anything!” he almost screamed.
“His son died the same day because he was really ill. No one killed him but he has alleged that no one accommodated him anywhere as well,” the inspector slightly toned up his voice to commensurate with the already rising decibels.
“Does that make me complicit?” he asked.
“Not legally. But you tell me. Are you complicit or no?” the inspector asked pointedly.
“Of course not!” he stated quite simply.
“Yes. Well. You didn’t kill him but you left him to die. There’s nothing legally wrong in this. And I cannot do anything about it,” the inspector said intentionally avoiding eye contact. “May be I will need to come back to ask a few more questions in this relation. But yes, you haven’t done anything wrong, legally. Legally!” the inspector continued as he decided to leave, at least for now.
He looked and continued to look. There was relief written large on his face. He held his children against his chest even as his wife continued to look on. It was a small happy family right in the heart of the city, the same place where some other families were ripped apart.
“Was he really complicit?” He asked himself, but he found it difficult to answer it now. Verbally answering to the inspector was probably easier. But answering himself was arduous.
He saw the inspector start his jeep. Dust swirled in the air as the jeep scurried off. He continued to hold his children tight against his chest. Something prompted him to make his grip tighter. He felt like not letting go of them, at least for now.
The Mango Candy by Sachi Mulki
I sat by the window, resting my head against the rusty bars of a late-evening local. “Maa, I am going to give the blue band to Eisha and the yellow one to Sid”, the little boy sitting in front of me exclaimed as he held out two friendship bands. Smiling, his mother asked him to keep it in his bag. The happiness on the boy’s face took me back to my childhood in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. Manu and I were neighbors. We lived on the same street and attended the same school till the age of five. He was my best friend. We would scurry through the mustard fields on summer afternoons, taking dips in the neighborhood pond.
Every time we fought or on days when my thoughts would be soaked in sadness, Manu would buy me a mango candy , only to see a smile inch across my face. Bright yellow candy , gingerly wrapped in an orange paper with red dots. ” Now show me how you smile, Guddi?”, he’d lovingly say. This remained the most poignant memory of our friendship. One winter night, Manu and his family left our small town all of a sudden. According to Maa, his father suffered losses in his business. Strangely, no one in Ballia knew about their whereabouts. That day, my childhood came crashing down.
Tears welled up in my eyes. Twenty-four years later, his wheatish complexion and deep brown eyes remained vividly etched in my mind. Nursing a recently broken heart and grappling with the paucity of friends in the city, I pined to taste the innocence and love that laced my childhood friendship.Unable to stop the tears of pain and loneliness from flowing , I quickly pulled out a handkerchief. The train slowly chugged into the station. The little boy and his mother got off. The cacophony gently faded away as the train gently rolled out of the station. Suddenly, my thoughts of despair were broken by repeated claps and the clinking of glass bangles. Looking up, I immediately reached out for my purse, searching for a few coins. “Didi, are you crying?”, a heavy voice asked me. I continued to rummage through my purse. “You can talk to me. Tell me about your problems if that shall make you feel lighter”, she plonked herself on the empty seat beside me. Surprised at the gesture, I reluctantly looked up. Beneath layers of arduously applied powder, her face wore a look of empathy. Set in the middle of dark, kohl-rimmed lids, her eyes shone with genuine concern. “How do you believe in love, when all that you once had is lost. Where do you go in search of it?”, I blurted out, running my fingers against my tear-laden eyes. “You will find it exactly where you decide to look for it”, she replied. Noticing the puzzled expression on my face, she continued to explain. “I came to this city as a twelve-year old boy. I left my home after my father decided to disown me.My family no longer wanted me. I boarded a train at Mathura Station, that brought me to Mumbai. With no acquaintance in the city, I lived on the streets with scraps of tarpaulin over my head and begged for a living. Till one day, I encountered a group of ‘Hijras’ outside the station. On learning that I was of their ilk, they took me along. In them, I found the love that binds a family . The love, I had just lost. I started donning salwar-suits and wearing make-up. For a few years, I helplessly watched my innocence bleed in the bed of strangers as I struggled to make ends meet. Dancing at weddings and birth ceremonies, I hoped to find love and acceptance in the eyes of the people who watched us”. Numb; I could feel her pain scraping against the walls of my heart. “In spite of all that you have gone through, you have such a pleasant smile. That is astonishing and inspiring at the same time”, I said. ” I find a reason, Didi. I beg on the train because no one will give me a job. Even while many mock, a few smile back at me. I feel happy when women in the morning local compliment me on my saree or earrings. I feel loved. In my free time, I teach a few street children”, she smiled. “Teach?”, I asked surprised. ” The little education I received while in school, I share it with these children. In their eyes, I find a deep sense of gratitude and love”.
‘Next station, Malad… She quickly got up adjusting her dupatta. “Didi, I hope you understand what I am trying to say… You can find love in the smallest of things. You must believe you can. Put the blinders on when hate and negativity is thrown your way. Learn to let love filter in. Scraps of broken bonds can be tethered together only with love. Pieces of a broken heart can be cemented only by love she smiled. With gratitude in my heart, I whispered a ‘thank you’. Even before I could ask her name, she hurried towards the door. A second later, she turned around. Scurrying through the contents of her purse, she pulled out a mango candy. “This is for you, Didi. A little sweet always makes one feel better. Please smile now”. Bright yellow candy, gingerly wrapped in an orange paper with red dots.
I sat there, numb and speechless…
The Great Divide by Aastha Sneha Pathak
He loved running. Well, which 9-year-old doesn’t? The joy of mild breeze striking your sweaty forehead- cool, serene, rejuvenating! Oh, the happiness of being unchecked and unstoppable! Ever since he had discovered this wonderful ability to walk, he used to scutter off, giving a hard time to his mother. He would liven up at the sound of trains even as an infant, a liking which evolved into his ‘race’ with the trains. Even at this tender age, he spent a lot of time running alongside the railway tracks near his home. The world was his playground- adventurous, tempting, limitless-and his companions were those ribbons of steel running into eternity! He was way faster than the other boys in his neighbourhood. Yes, he would run faster than even the giant metal serpent someday. Ohh, for the age of innocence when conquering the world doesn’t ever seem impossible!
Every now and then, he would scamper across to the other side of the tracks. The Great Divide, as his ‘dada’ used to say. He never quite understood what it meant though. He was more interested in the large open stadium there, which was frequented by athletes. Watching them warm up, exercise and practice from the high stands, he used to copy them in his own childish way.
One day, he was spotted by one of the older men, who everyone used to call ‘coach sir’. This ‘coach sir’ asked him if he wanted to try his hand, much to his delight! He ran with all his might, leaving many other boys behind. Coach sir looked very pleased, and gave him a chocolate, asking him to come over regularly. Sprinting in delight, he carried his ‘trophy’ in pride, showing the chocolate off to his mother. That he received a nice hearing down from her for accepting things from strangers, did not seem to bother him, as he gobbled away at the well-deserved prize.
Dada, his elder brother, all of 17 years, but wiser beyond his age. The precocious teenager was a world of fascinating stories for the little ‘chhotu’. He used to work across the tracks, and would come back with a mesmerizing tale every evening, opening a new dimension of imagination for the kiddo. Nevertheless, he used to wonder why his dada had a hardened, almost dreamless, lifeless look in his eyes, when he had so many wonderful sights to see every day.
It was his 10th birthday, or so told his mother. He was never too bothered about birthdays, or dates, or numbers. It was, in fact, a relief for him when dada told him he no longer had to go to the rickety old school anymore. He never really liked his sleepy, yet strict, ‘masterji’. The only thing he would actually miss was the large open field to run around in.
He was given an old gunny bag and told to go across the tracks, where he would meet other boys who would teach him work. He felt excited, almost adult-like, as he strutted along. It was when he crossed the stadium, that the weight of the empty gunny bag finally hit him. He saw the athletes warming up on one side, and a bunch of boys scourging the heaps of garbage on the other. A school bus pulled over, and kids his age in fancy sports gear ambled out, chatting away happily. As he watched them with a growing hollowness in the pit of his stomach, he felt a tug at his elbow. Dada was beckoning him to the garbage dump. One last look at the stadium and he finally understood the lifelessness in his elder brother’s eyes. His eyes lost their twinkle too. The Great Divide had engulfed him.
Cliché by Swati Singh
For most people in Shey, the road was a variable. Forever breaking, perennially under construction. Yet, for Nedun, it had become a constant. She felt connected to it, almost like it had become a part of her. Even though she knew, it was actually the other way around. She had worked on it for years now- restoring the tarmac, clearing boulders, watching as the cars went past, filled with traders, tourists and military men. She had invested blood, sweat and time into that thing. It was 2013 when the first Border Road truck came to recruit laborers for the site. She had just passed tenth grade. Her parents wanted her to get married, but she wanted to see the world, if only as a stationary spectator to its ways . Further schooling would have meant leaving Ladakh. Going to Jammu. She suspected that she would barely attend even there, what with all the terrorists and curfews. She preferred home. And she liked to mend things. So that, was that. Her sister Simjin had called her profoundly foolish for thinking like that. But Simjin had always been the smart one, and she was welcome to join the civil services if she wanted to. Nedun would stay here with her parents. Besides, she had other reasons to stay now. Handsomer ones. With looks better than the Pakistani tea seller that became a model.
They had been talking a bit more during their breaks of late. He never pelted stones at anybody, (not that she presumed that about people from the valley.) It was his birthday today.
He would be back from his home town after spending the week there.
Nedun did not quite know how to wish him. But she made Ladakhi bread and packed him some special yak butter tea in a thermos. It wasn’t Kehwa , but it would still be warm after three hours, and that was the more important thing.
It was tourist season, and the snows around the Zanskar mountains were melting. That meant more rocks and worse roads. For Nedun, it meant lesser breaks.
But he would be there, and they would be better when spent together. The truck was nearing the site.
She looked out of her window and tried to spot him working. He wasn’t visible. As she got off, she shook away her disappointment. She made tea every day and could make bread even later. He would have wanted his birthday to be with his family. She would give him a phone call, if her phone received any network. If it didn’t, She was used to waiting.
And so she waited, doing what she liked best. Mending things.
It was life as usual for a week. She made tea and read the newspaper. Until the day paper carried his picture, along with the headline about civilian casualties in the war. Nobody knew who killed him.
There were no tears in her eyes that evening.
It was so cliché. Like an overused storyline that she didn’t think it could ever be hers.
There was no shouting, no weeping. There was no staying back from work the next morning. There was only a crushing sense of the vastness of the mountains and the thinness of the air.
Nedun knew how to mend things. She always had. The only trouble was, she did not know how to mend a broken heart.