Stories to Stir your Soul...

A Promise Kept -sumandatta

His bleary eyes slowly panned over the faces in the room. His parents were there, his sister and brother-in-law, a few colleagues from his office and a motley crowd of neighbours and well-wishers;all except her. He sighed and closed his eyes. There was time yet.


"Why do you always insist on complicating things?", she shouted. She was visibly upset, her lips quivering, fair cheeks flushed red with anguish and pain; but he wasn't about to let her go - yet.

"I am not complicating things, you are! All I am asking is for you to be with me this evening. And even that's not something out of the blue- you yourself made me a promise yesterday", he retorted.

"Yeah, but I `have` to visit Larry today! Now I am getting late, he must be waiting. We'll talk another day." She picked up her handbag and made to leave.

He blocked her way."You are not going anywhere! Don't you have the slightest remorse at having broken all the promises that you made me day in day out? You call me up and fix a date for a Sunday evening and then go out with another guy with just a "Sorry.I have to"! Another day you promise to help me shop for my shoes and go off shopping for your stupid hostel mate's dress instead. And that day we plan for a movie together and you are held up with some work so that we cancel our plans and then that very night you go with your co-workers for the movie! I mean I can understand this once...twice, but not every damn time! What else am I supposed to understand but that you absolutely do not care for me?!"

"Understand what you will. I am sorry if broken promises are all you remember and choose to forget the rest. Anyways I have to go now." Her face was devoid of emotion. Unable to bear the onslaught she had withdrawn into her shell. And then all of a sudden she broke out of it to make a final plea. "Why don't you understand? Larry's suddenly taken ill. I have to visit him today."

He wouldn't budge. "Ill is he? So now I have to fall sick to have you with me is it? What do I do? Jump from this balcony and break a leg? Will you be with me then? Or do I crack my head against this wall? Would you come to visit me at the hospital then?"

"No.Never for you.I promise", she said with a final sigh. "I only visit people who are close to me." And she hastened off into the darkness.

"Fine then", he shouted after her. "If you are so eager to throw away a three year old relationship. Go to hell with your "loved" ones!"


He opened his eyes once again.Darkness. And then he could make out the blurry faces. Hers wasn't one of them. It couldn't possibly be that she didn't know; they still had common friends and word of his accident must have reached her. Yet...

He closed his eyes again. More than two years had passed since that fateful night. "It's strange",he thought, seconds before his weak self finally gave in."Of all the promises she made me, she never kept a single one. Except...this. Of all her promises she had to keep this!"

She never came to visit him.


The smile and the conscience - Arundhoti Banerjee

Someone named Rima called me up last Thursday, whilst I was madly trying my hands at C++ and MPI and those loops and brackets in the code was getting me claustrophobic. With all phone etiquette forgotten, I gruntled my displeasure at my privacy in office and my concentration at work being violated. I shouldn't have taken that unsolicited call at all. On second thoughts, it could be my despondent subconscious self that knew the need of carrying myself with sobriety in office, even under conditions of growing despondency at my ineptness to produce a petty piece of code. The poor female on the other end provided the much needed vent to my fretting self.

Though guilty she was at having caused me trouble, her reluctance to hang up told me of the urgency of the call and got me a little softer. I had two minutes to spare. She cited some vague connections( a friend of some consultant who had supposedly helped me a couple of years ago and whose name I couldn't recollect) and stated the purpose. She was on the lookout for a job which brought her to my city and my organization, where she had appeared for a written test a couple of days back. The test takers were promised intimation in a few days if they made it.
She was putting up in a hotel waiting for the test results.That told me about her paucity of acquaintances in this place and I could imagine the kindling of a faint hope when she had tracked my number down. The favour she wanted of me was an enquiry at the HR Department as to the procedures and if possible the results. She promised me a call in another hour and I promised her the favour.

I dived deep into my code and comfortably forgot all about the call and the caller. It was only when the phone beeped after an hour and the screen flashed the same booth number that I recollected the deed I had to do. I cancelled the call( I always guard my laziness or sheer callousness with the excuse of being in a meeting) and rushed to the HR Department. After a hasty enquiry I was informed that the person who could tell me the things was at some genuine meeting. Now I took the call that came again, and with that meeting thing as the prelude( that made her feel guilty yet one more time) I quickly modified the requisite information as the concerned person being on leave for a day. I could hear her disheartened, but grateful at the same time for having granted her the favour. I felt a pang of guilt for a minute, but that was the only way to avoid being called again.

That didn't work though. She called up again the next day because she had this natural expectation that I would have the information when the leave duration was over. And the fact that it wasn't unjustified in the least, pricked my conscience one more time. With all that messy work left at my workstation and grudging this favour trap I had fallen into, I returned to the HR Department and collected the information this time. I told her that she would get to know the results in a couple of days' time and that the Department wouldn't divulge the results to anyone but the test takers. At hearing this she faintly mentioned the difficulties at her lodging and how two more days would add to her discomfort but the disinterest in my tone caught her in the middle and she stopped, thanking me again before she hung up.

Weekend saw me very deliberately missing her calls uncountable number of times, cursing her all the time for the annoyance she caused in the middle of my coffee-day conversation with my friends or more importantly my mid-day naps. Once I had almost picked it up while watching television, but my cunning self got the better of me just in time. I told myself repeatedly that I was a busy person and I had already done the most I could have. But then, something kept pricking my conscience repeatedly too.

Monday morning, the receptionist at my office reckoned while I was immersed in work. I walked there and found a dark-complexioned, ill-dressed and excessively lean female, greeting me with a smile that flashed eager anticipation. She introduced herself as Rima. I had no idea that she was so middle-class. I was wrong. Middle-class was an overstatement. The cheap salwar-suit, the unkempt hair, the almost-torn chappals, all of them talked about her plight with money.
I could imagine all the unstated discomfort in a second.

She was still smiling and I quickly cooked up my excuse for not having picked her calls. I was out of station with my cell switched on and left back here, that informed me only today morning when I returned, of all the calls I had missed. And I was so sorry that I missed them. I couldn't tell how I felt at having cooked that one. Only that I couldn't have felt worse.

She continued. She had managed thousand bucks from home for the trip and add to that a small hoarded amount as pocket money for emergency. The hotel took away most of it and she could only afford 6-bucks per plate idlis for all her meals. Her smile never faded. I added to that all the phone calls she had made to me. I could feel my heart thumping and my stomach sinking into a pit. I felt like running away. I was still listening. She cursed herself for not having foreboded an extended stay over the weekend. She wanted the entire selection procedure to be over at one go. She couldn't have convinced her family for more money to come down to the city yet another time. Her stupidity, as she put it, got her into dire straits because she hadn't the amount to pay at the hotel for another two days. So she called me to ask me of another favour. If I could allow her to stay with me for those two days. But my being out of the city( she had innocently believed the story) was her ill-fate and she shifted to some cheaper place. By God's grace the amount was enough. I hated myself and smiled.

I couldn't help asking her about the results. She replied that she hadn't made it. She was finally going back to her village and she just came down all the way here to try her luck at finding me. Again it was by God's grace that she found me and she couldn't stop thanking me for being the sole point of contact in this unknown city. I vaguely smiled. She thanked me for all the help. I could feel tears and remembered sobriety in office. She waved me a bye and left, smiling. I stood there. I couldn't feel.

- arundhoti banerjee

The Grandson - Suraj Kamath

( The basic facts are that I'm 24, an engineer, likely to be unemployed within 3 months, only
marginally tolerant of authority, deemed by most to have fallen off the tightrope into the realm
of insanity sometime around 2001. I read like crazy, do some meditation, work out intermittently,
have an eclectic taste in music, and have been writing on and off the last few years.
That, I hope, will be enough for an introduction. :)
Homepage : http://surajkamath.blogspot.com

"Yes, your grandfather was a fine man, a fine man indeed." The old lady had a sweet voice and a face that crinkled in a hundred little lines around her eyes when she smiled, which was often. But she wasn’t my grandmother. She didn’t know that though. For her I was her very own grandson, a fine upstanding young man who came to see her every day. I had seen her today for the first time in my life.

"She's got Alzheimer's." The nurse told me before I went in. "She'll probably think you're her son, or her grandson. Just go along with it. Don’t upset her. She's really a very sweet lady."

"What about her real son and grandson?" I asked.

"Son's dead, Grandson will probably come back to claim her body when she's gone, if even that. She's completely alone. It’s a shame, really. She deserved better." She gave a resigned shrug of her shoulders and walked off.

I was there at the old age home because I was at the end of my rope myself. I figured maybe if I helped someone else for a while, I could forget about my own screwed up life. My aunt was the director of the home, and she was always telling me to come and help out. She never really expected that I would, but what the heck, miracles do happen.

Its strange that I would ever feel like this. Me, the iceman, the rock, the android, laid low by relationship trouble. Well, shit happens. Sometimes even a person like me, with supposedly no feelings, finds that he has some, and worse, that he's actually a romantic at heart. Its hard dealing with that at short notice. Especially when you begin to see that there are actually very few romantics left today. Makes you feel like you're on an endangered species list.

Well, my aunt is a very astute person, good at reading people and moods, and she sent me to this lady who thinks I'm her grandson. And all I'm supposed to do is listen to her and nod once in a while.

"You remember how your grandfather and I met?" the old lady asked. I shook my head. "Liar." She said leaning forward and caressing my face with both hands in what I assume is a very grandmotherly gesture. "I've told you so many times. Why don’t you just ask if you want to hear it again?" I smiled as she released my face and sat back in her chair next to the window. I dragged my chair closer and sat leaning forward, elbows on my knees and resting my chin on the back of my hands, so I could hear her better. I hoped that was a grandson-like pose. I wouldn’t really know, since I'd never really known any of my grandparents.

"We met when we were in college. He was one of the quiet studious fellows in the front rows no one ever remembers except at exam time. I was a nutcase who flirted with all the guys and drove the professors mad. I never gave him a second glance. He was reasonably good looking, but not in my league at all." She said this so matter-of-factly that in a strange way, my male ego was hurt. I guess I could've just as easily fit that description.

"One day, I was in this terrible fix with my assignments, and I was almost in tears in the library, trying to complete them all. He just came over, sat down and started drawing diagrams for me. He didn’t even introduce himself, or ask or anything. He just silently drew one after the other until they were all done, flashed me a broad smile, hefted his bag over his shoulder and left. I was so zapped I completely forgot to thank him.

I thought that he'd come and start talking to me after that, but he never did. We sometimes caught each others eye across the hall, but he'd just grin and look away. He never tried to come near me. I was highly irritated with him. I mean, there was this beautiful girl clearly inviting him to talk, at least for courtesy's sake, and this darned helpful goof just wouldn’t. I also felt obliged, and I wanted to say thanks and get it over with.

I finally caught him reading under a tree in the campus grounds. I sat down next to him, and got that goofy grin again. I waited for him to say something but the idiot just went back to his book. I wanted to say thank you. It came out 'Do you even know how to talk?' in the most irritated tone I possessed.

'Well, yes' he answered 'when the situation demands it.'

'Well, it demands it now. Why wont you talk to me?'

'Let's see... we've been in the same class for a while now. You never spoke to me either. I just thought you didn’t want to.'

'But that was when I thought you were a damn .. ' I caught myself in time. I always put my foot in my mouth, don’t I dear? Your grandfather always teased me about that." the old lady smiled showing all those cute little lines. I didn’t say anything, so she continued.

"Your grandfather smiled. 'A damn what?' he said 'Geek? I am, there's no denying that. Look, if you just want to say thank you and get it off your chest, do it and get going. If you want to talk to me, be prepared to hear about geeky stuff.'

'Like what?' I asked. 'What are you reading anyways?'

'Dostoyevsky. `The Idiot`.'

'Dust of what?'

'Dos-toy-yev-skee. Russian author. Very insightful.'

'What's it about?'

'About this very simple man who begins to love a woman who’s torn between her love for him and her intense desire to punish herself for a shame that is truly not her fault.'


He smiled. "Too heavy?'

'Much too heavy. When you finish, tell me how it ends.'

'I can tell you now. I'm reading it the second time. It ends in tragedy. She's killed by a man who only wanted to possess her, and when he realised that he could never really own her he killed her. The man brings Myshkin, the simple idiot, to see her body, and his love and pity for both the woman and her murderer is so great that it drives him back into the madness that turned him into an idiot in the first place.'

'Typical. All love stories end in tragedy. This love shove thing is just a stupid joke.'

'I take it you don’t believe in love.'

'There's no such thing as love. You just get used to people. After a while, when you get used to a person enough, you think its not such a bad idea to say you're in love with him, that’s all'

he started laughing. 'that’s a novel thought. Are you used to anyone right now?'

'No' I said. 'I know too many people to get used to any one now. What about you?'

'I'm afraid I'm not a person people can get used to. They find it hard to get used to me.'

'why?' I asked.

'I'm not quite sure. Maybe because I read books like these. Maybe because I believe there is something called love, and there is a way to love someone so that you don’t get up every morning and think, heck, I'm just used to her being there next to me.'

'My god, you're a romantic' I teased.

He laughed. 'A geek and a romantic. Guess you're never going to get used to me either.'

I just kept laughing and he gave me this wistful, slightly sad smile. He went back to reading and I got up silently and went away. That was how your grandfather and I met."

The old lady was still smiling as a tear crept down her cheek. I wiped it away on impulse. She caught my hand and kissed it. "You look very different from him, more like my own father. But you have the same sort of heart. You were always such a loving child. I'm so glad you still come to see me."

"But how did you and grandpa get along after that?" I asked, fighting to keep the lump in my throat from showing in my voice. The iceman never shows emotion.

"Well, He used to sit there under that tree everyday after college, and I would go and sit there and talk to him. Slowly I got used to his smile, and his books and his thoughts and all his funny emotions. He made me laugh so much, I couldn’t help getting used to him."

"And he got used to you too?" I asked her.

"No. He fell in love with me. He always believed in love." She was crying freely now.

"I'm sorry" she said, as I took out my handkerchief. "Its just that I miss him so much these days. I never thought anyone could get so used to anyone else. Funny how this love-shove joke usually gets the last laugh."

"You need to rest now." I said "You've tired yourself out with so much talk." I helped her to the bed and tucked her in. I kissed her on the forehead and turned to leave.

"You know, you're just like your grandfather." She said sleepily. "The same kind of heart. Your father and mother weren't like that, but you got your grandfather's heart."

I turned and kissed her again. "Get some rest" I said. "I'll come and see you again soon."

I walked out into a cold winter evening, and I stood at the entrance of the home watching people walk past. I was trying hard not to let that lump in my throat get the better of me. It was strange. I had lived through a hard childhood, an abusive home, a death, and an ice age within myself. I had done things I was ashamed of, said words that need not have been said, hurt people who had never deserved to be hurt.

And yet, for this sweet old lady, I had inherited my grandfather's heart.

- Suraj Kamath

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