Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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The Grind


(Third Floor)
A nonchalant company label,
Atop the elevator panel reads
“Committed to people flow.”

I descend, to a lower level.
Shoulders stoop, the diaphragm allows,
Some discontent to uneasily pass.
The coup did not happen today;
Another of several unremarkable days.

(We go down a floor.)
But fret not believers.
We work at ministries of magic.
We, who fashion charms, work spells.
We who talk education, agitation,
And unsettling
The order of things.

(Ground level)
Outside, October is grouchy still.
The summer was unconstitutional.
Sweltering, the monsoon,
An uninspiring fall.
How does this city not relent at all?

(We are in the metro.)
Regardless, regardless,
The grind must return tomorrow.
We’ll fight for space,
In the penultimate compartment;
Find equality,
Inside a shared rickshaw;
Maybe even reflect at the intersections,
Contemplate the race.

(We are at the exit.)
A cyclist swims through the pool of traffic.
He blurs into the tumult, reflectors intact.
Some fifty metres above me,
A few hundred people, huddled together,
Are flowing through the middle of the night.

Some will disembark at platform no. 2,
Some will have more flowing to do.


Cover image designed by Raneesh P.R — Creative Director, Indian Ruminations

Octopus by Eva Badola


The Forgotten Daughter of Port Adamaro

Art by Raneesh Raveendran

The clouds had thundered over our Island on the day of my sister’s funeral. It was the midsummer of May 1972. The heat was rippling over our paltry Island. The parrots were screaming out of the Peepul and the sky like pewter was glaring.

The island of port Adamaro was a scattered affair. At one end of the island was the port and on the other end was the old factory. In between the two dwelled a town that had no desire to thrive. Our Island had small colonies and had a quaint quality that did not seem to grow on you right away. The days were the same, like the Mandavi over the harbour flowing so slow into the island, one couldn’t see it.

The sun was hiding behind the bulbous clouds and the grey sky engulfed the bay around us. The lurch that came first sounded like a rumble of thunder; it gurned of an impending storm on the horizon.

Mother, Father and I huddled together in a shed as the storm passed away. The pyre was lit. We watched it grow, blazing into a fire mountain, cascading, backed against the violent sea. The tempest’s wind couldn’t topple it over. Even in her death, she burned bright. They scattered her ashes into the sea. The pyre fizzled as the twilight loomed around us.

It was two weeks and five days after her death when the realisation settled on us.

I’d left the tap open and it had flooded the living room. I scrambled to remember. How had I forgotten to turn it off? Again. Mother and Father realised much later. I’d sit in a corner when the mourning guests would visit us, to trail off and ask them why were they here. I would forget to have dinner, only to eat twice in the middle of the night and vomit it. I would delete sister’s pictures and then search for them frantically on my phone. Mother would cry and scream, “I do not want any of this”. They watched their two daughters evaporate, slowly and then sharply, then all of a sudden, unlearning their own rules. The boats lost their oars and the lighthouse stopped navigating ships.

The doctor’s report from the city arrived on the Sunday ship. Amnesia. The aftermath of grief. My sister’s parting gift.


It all began with the murmurs and the whispers. On the day of the funeral, the members from the opposition party had come by in their jeeps, flaring their party’s flag. They had put up hoardings and graffities all over the Island.


‘The Panthers are an American menace. We do not want them on our soil too’, they would circle in the city market with loudspeakers.

The Dalits from the neighbouring town had attended her funeral. The police had intervened only to let the killers go off on a bail. Floating in the middle of the sea, our island was not safe. The violence had seeped onto our little Island. Distance couldn’t really hide the human ugliness.

The Island had flourished when my sister lived, now bleeding with musky tears of brown soil streams. On Sundays, we would go down to the beach. Mother, Father, Sister and I would go to the market and buy snacks. We would carry a picnic basket and would fish by the harbour. Sister and I would sleep on Mother’s lap and Father would tell us stories.

My Sister had become a ghost. An imaginary figment of our memory.

I would forget to carry books to school, the word for stairs became the word for sky and the curry cooking on the pan would dry into a thick paste. I would stack random items together: common juice boxes, caps, books, underwear, pencil shavings, wax cream.

I found myself forgetting ­­­­conversations, discussing fuddled foggy memories, repeating stories over again and cherishing strangers as old friends. My mind felt like a pulp mango, ripe with the memories of my past but slowly sulking and rotting into a yellow lifeless seed.

The report revealed numerous spikes. A zig-zag of green and blue lines. A terrain of my diseased brain. I forgot what my sister looked like. She slowly faded away from the puzzle of my mind, one piece at a time, rumbling and smashing into the other pieces. Trying to make up an image that no longer existed. To make up something that had already been forgotten.

The local doctor analysed the report. He sat down beside me, with a notepad in his hand and looked at me with a countenance of utter vulnerability. “You will forget”, he said. I wasn’t upset at the sheer notion of sister’s absence. I was forgetting, while the others had already forgotten. Who would remind them?

“It is an incurable disease.”. It was not a disease; it was how humans survived.

We forget. We do not want to remember the things that make us uncomfortable. Father, Mother, the trees, the sand, the sun, everyone had let go. I wouldn’t.

It was during the morning prayer, that I’d questioned my sister. She had peddled on the cycle, back to the house in the wee hours of the morning. She had escaped through the back door and had come home with a document hidden beneath the pleats of her saree.

“Don’t tell Father”, she said. I nodded. It was then, the beginning of the end.


Father had been to the city. When he came back, he announced, that I would be going to a college in the city. Mother was apprehensive. Sister was elated.

“Why don’t you come with me?”, I asked her.

“To babysit you”, she laughed, “no, please”.

“What do you want? You could teach in a school or a college.”.

“From you? Or life?”

“What do want for yourself?”. She had looked out of the window.

“You’ll come visit me?”. She promised.

We went to the park and loitered around. To celebrate we ate coconut ice cream. She saw a Nightingale sitting on the tree. She stared at him for far too long. It was a few minutes before I realised that she was stuck. I waited for a long time. I was looking at her and she did not seem like herself.


Sister picked out the key with her yellowed fingers, “How many nights?”. She shrugged and continued to speak with the man. His silhouette was stiff, like spare people whom no one is concerned to introduce. I was now an accomplice in her late-night charades. We’d cross the narrow road between the high ivied walls that ran along the creek behind the parallel side of the ruined old factory. There, a man would collect the papers and the leaflets. He did not dare to count or read the text. He patted her with respect.

“That is some good work comrade”, the man said.

At the time I believed she was meeting boyfriends. The man then left the ruins unobserved, looking around, making sure he was not followed. Not that there was anyone to follow him, but it was a sound procedure. We would enter the backyard by the iron gate, climbing up the tree and skirting across the roof to our bedroom window.

On other days when the house seemed silent, when Mother and Father had an early dinner; she would slip into the bleak dark of the night and disappear into the obscure madness, to come home at dawn with the nocturnal wind. She would stretch into her bed, smiling at me through the sheets to wake up with a fiery expedition at the first drop of Father’s morning call.

In my own lifetime, the creek had changed from blue to dead grey brown, so thickened with the scum that humans bring with them, that one could not see one’s feet in the shallows.

Sister persuaded me to come for the poetry reading event at the school. My sister was a teacher at the only school on the Island. The kids wrote about local folklores and mythical monologues. Only the Dalits, one kid recited, are bought together by forces unknown, so very far from the many rivers and the roads, and are deserted into tiny Islands and secluded waters across of India. The other recited a poem: The golden nightingale of the empire wails, who has withdrawn sailing earthward. One could glimpse her shadow against the edge of the moon, disappearing from the daylight.


In the sun and silence, I would sit on the warm trunk of a fallen Peepul tree, from where one could see the old post office. Perhaps before the goons had marched there with their guns and batons and had found sister’s post records. They had ransacked the office, leaving letters and documents flying through the roof, stomping over them, frantically looking for evidence.

It was the first incident.

The goons from the opposition party, who had led the anti-Dalit rally, had received an anonymous tip that had every postal detail coming to the Island. In the quiet that followed, they traced links coming from international cargoes- The clippings of the Panther Chronicle, letters to the Panthers, leaflets, post from the Americans. The letters which started with,

My brothers and my sisters”.

I knew then that the world was constructed solely for subjugation, nothing was fair and forgetting was necessary. I still feel how wrong was I then. They cajoled Mother and Father. They ransacked our home. We had our mouths half open, breathing slowly, eyes suspended over the batons. One of them spoke to Father; it was a small husky sound, barely a whisper but clean and distinct: She stops or we kill her.

I focus, steadily, on a moment from my own past. I have watched my mind evaporate like camphor into the air, in love with what is left of my sister. On Fridays, I practise remembering her voice, duplicating her walk, mimicking her body language, humming songs the way she would to which my Mother interrupts me, “Stop, you won’t remember!”.

At night, when Father falls asleep, I hug Mother, pressing my face into her chest and listening to her heart beat while whispering sighs of grief. We both shut our eyes and endure through the night.

I dance to music to realise that I have been listening to the same song since half an hour. I keep waking up in the middle of the night and walk towards the window. Peering into the dim shade of the abyss at the end of the street, I expect sister to wave at me from there, promising me that she’d be home soon. I wake up in the morning, and the rest of the night seems like a blur.

Amnesia and grief, are sisters, they work hand in hand.

My mind is persistent; it doesn’t remember. I try to keep a last broken picture of my sister in my mind but it holds on its desire to burn it away.

The neighbours come by to ask for some salt and for some sugar. It frightens me, Mother and Father have forgotten. The days refuse to change at her absence. I cannot tell if she was here. Her ghost lingers somewhere. But not here.

Once in a while, when I am in my bed, not asleep, I see Mother and Father standing in the doorway of my bedroom watching me. I know their thoughts. They think of my sister and how they cannot keep me away from harm. There is no answer but they are relieved that I am forgetting. I could see the dissatisfaction and the jealousy their eyes screamed; like they were the ones who deserved to forget it more than I did.

Mine is a family of believers. There are lies which are fading away and diminishing with time. We either deem to accept it or forget it. But the Island remembers.

The collective amnesia basks on the surface, till it chips into tiny screams which seep into the Island, deeper and stronger by night. The Island shakes at the nonchalant animosity and the sheltering of the forgotten. It births baby turtles and baby crabs between the same sand grains.

Only the Island remembers. It rumbles in her memory. The coconuts crack open and the leaves recite her tales. The baby turtles grow older and ask their mothers about my sister. The ocean growls and the Peepul’s roots reach for the soil wanting to go back into the earth. The Island slips into the rhythm and its shadow strangles me. The Island howls for her.

The doctor switches off the machine and scribbles on his pad. How do I tell him I need medicines before I forget her or a reminiscing syrup for Mother and Father. It frightens me, the lingering silence and the comfortable oblivion that everyone has settled into. In forgetting her, we are erasing a part of who we are.

I look out of the hospital window and I see fleeting images; I envisage faces peering through the sails, searching for the forgotten voice that had chanted from a tiny Island and echoed across oceans and continents.

My mind struggles to keep her alive. I panic; will I forget her? Perhaps in the end, I will not remember her at all. Perhaps, she will be forgotten. The doctor prescribes me the medicines. The report says positive. “It is not forgetting, but remembering that we need”, I murmur. The doctor does not hear me. I want to scream instead.

On weekends Father and I play songs on my sister’s piano. In the late evening, we go down to the departmental store. I buy biscuits for us to eat by the beach. Mother scuffles around in the food section. There are many tourists buying fishing supplies in the store. The beach is crowded and there are youngsters buying alcohol from the store. Father waits by the door for us. I glance out the window. It begins to drizzle. People run to get shelter. I look at Mother and she smiles at me through the shelves. Outside a storm thunders and the Island, it roars.



i have arrived at my altar. hark!

i rise, i flourish,

i pirouette on my one toe and float like a prayer.

this is my triumph; the issuance of mornings,

how they roll out to the percussion of a pulse.

to what does one ascribe these complexities?

for twenty years, all of life, cradled by a pair of parentheses,

crackled in the bones of some equation;

certitude quietly burrowed itself under folds of skin.

verily had i exhausted my set of sure events.

in the canopy of my youth, i counted holes and not enough sheep.

O arithmetic, you brute! i wrung you out my fingers that night.

thus came the spring in which i heaved like the ocean.

one thousand faculties hurled atop a giant wave;

when it broke, i broke so carelessly with it.

the heart, wont to crucify, fluttered dirges and ate the moon.

i shelled out a vein, a puff of life yet to be snuffed out;

i sobbed, i survived my torched Thornfield.

i prostrate; i am no longer rocked by the tremor of emotion.

here i design, here i dwell in stillness and embellish inwardly.

O Providence! you stir, you hum, you consume like a lone poem.

and so it is: in my palms rests a love that does not torment.

i shatter, i conquer with a syllable. this is my beginning.

Stalking Prisons


The rough white marble’s like stained silver
under the scorching light of the
blazing July sun.
It’s everywhere. Blinding me,
hurting my vision, my limbs,
suffocating, reminding me of the trap I was held in.
The streets are empty with no one in sight,
I check the big clock of the tower
behind the basilic of Saint Francis of Assisi.
It’s 2 o’clock on a mid-summer Tuesday afternoon.
Everything’s shut.
Everyone’s resting.

My heart’s hitting the walls of its all so tight ribcage,
as I need to cross the brightly lit square
and go to the other side,
leave the shadow, leave my hideout,
leave life under the trees.
Steeping out in the open square’s
walking directly into the firestorm,
on a battlefield
in an occupied territory
of a dying city.

I take a heavy step, followed by another.
My feet are made of lead, my breath- of gunpowder
my hands numb, my fingers trembling,
my skin hurting,
my eyes against the dazzle – worse.
But I keep going until I reach another shadow,
until I reach the comfort of a breeze
under an umbrella- it’s the tent of a café
“Are you perhaps French?”
My breath catches, a deep voice in a lulling Italian accent, and I turn.
“No, I…“

“Please, come in, sit here in the shade.“
Away from the light, away from the world.
Away from remembering.

I follow in relieved
under the indifferent eyes of the Medusa
peeking at us from above,
perched on the nicely decorated façade of the building across.
I take a final look at what’s been left behind-
at the white sunlight square
so much like a white, burning desert,
so much like home.
Yet not really.
Because no one gets shot –
blood and brains, and bones and lungs spilt
on pretty open squares here.

Cover Art by: Raneesh Ravindran for Indian Ruminations

Revisiting Ambedkar’s Vision of ‘United States of India’: Can It Stand as Modern India’s Viable Alternative?

Art by Reneesh Ravindran

In April 2020, Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor waded into the debate, arguing that a Presidential system would prevent the “one-man show” that the Indian system has evolved into. The proponents of this line of thought also cite the United States’ (relative) political stability as one of the key reasons to support their argument. The proposal challenges the Indian Constitution’s “Basic structure doctrine” decided by the Supreme Court in the Kesavananda Bharathi case. However, this requires further examination: a Presidential form of government might fix some of India’s political gridlock, but it may also open Pandora’s Box, releasing a whole wake of issues in its place. This includes a politically biased Supreme Court and horse-trading of MPs on a scale unheard in Indian politics.

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Her Dead Alive Octopus


I caught upon an uncanny creature,
Amidst a fish vending street.
Like the ghostly alien hands,
Its spooky limbs shined in the summerish streak.

“Snap up some dried Octopus”
The vending woman wobbled,
“With bit of cooking, the leathery chewy Octopus
Will get ready to be gobbled.”

But I being from urbanity
Imagination fed with fascinating myths,
Where giant alien octopuses
Gulp down the ships.

I heard a legend
Those doddery fishermen often remark,
Its bulging eyes
Lurks boats from the dark,
And swells up the sea
With the grandiose sweep of its sucker arms.

She scoffed at the sea monster I narrated
“Wrapped in fear”, she says,
“A devilfish was created”.

“Far contrary to the maddest fiction and ferocity,
Its arms are gentle and open to curiosity.”
“Sometimes smooth, sometimes spiky,
It mimics shapes and colour in every variety.”

“Born with unsettling bizarre intelligence”
She apprised,
“It shoots out ink
Blindfolding its enemies’ eyes.”

“Like the slippery noodle slurped in the mouth,
Its slimy body slips into the tiniest hideout.”
“Deceiving enemy like shape-shifter,
It regrows out of its den,
Like a genie flare up,
Once out of its magic lamp.”

Suddenly her admiration
Stirred an agitation,
For hunting down the octopuses
Was her occupation.

Her striking narratives,
Resurrected them alive.
But glancing it dead,
A sense of pity flew through my eyes.

“But this is our food”,
She vigorously strived.
“Hawking it earns some penny
For my family to survive.”

“For ages, women are one with nature”,
Her eyes shimmered wise.
“And nature rewarded us,
Not for greed, my dear
But for lives to thrive.”

Cover Image by Raneesh P.R, Visual Editor, Indian Ruminations

Her Dead Alive Octopus

Fruit Punch

Art: Indian Ruminations

1. Choco Bar

“Will you wake me up when we reach Goa?” Agneta lifts her niqab and takes a bite of her choco bar. I look around the crowded compartment, worrying she might make a spectacle of herself.

“Goa? Why?”

“That’s what Abba did on our trip…” There we go, again! Abba did this, Abba did that! During our one-year-old marriage, ‘Abba’ is the word that Agneta has uttered the most. We are on this trip, in the second class of Mangala Lakshadweep express, during the peak of summer, thanks to her Abba.

“Harris! Are you listening?”

The half-eaten choco bar is about to fall apart. Agneta is struggling to manage her niqab with one hand and the fast-melting choco bar with the other. She isn’t an expert at handling either. Vanilla ice cream oozes through the cracked chocolate shell.

“Ok. I will wake you up.”

I try to tear my gaze away from her chocolate-smeared lips. A fragment of the chocolate shell falls down onto an olive-green suitcase. The middle-aged lady with two teenage sons stares at me. I shouldn’t have agreed to this trip.  

“Harris, will you say no if I ask something?” Agneta had asked me a few months ago. We were interlocked in a posture that made it impossible for me to say no.

“Tell me,” I said, panting.  

“Shall we go to Aurangabad in May? During my summer vacation?”

“Auranga… Where??” I thought she wanted to go shopping or to a movie.

“Aurangabad, in Maharashtra.” She sat up and collected her hair in a top knot. Aurangabad, Aurangabad. The sound of it intimidated me. But, as usual, I was a fool around her. I agreed.

“I should be cuddling a grandchild by now, but they are still on their honeymoon!” I overheard my Ummachi complaining to my elder sister. Of course, she didn’t say anything to my face. She never does.  

Agneta has finished her choco bar and lowered her niqab.

“On our trip to Aurangabad, Abba woke me up before sunrise. We sat on the side berth and watched the paddy fields of Goa. He told me that the Konkan railway was indeed a boon, cutting our travel time by at least fifteen hours.” Agneta explains as if I was one of her students. And, of course, she remembers every word of her ‘great Abba.’ No, I shouldn’t think ill of the dead. I should offer a Tawbah.

At night, we lie on the middle-berths across from each other, lulled by the soothing oscillations. It’s my first night on a train.

“Why do you want to go to Aurangabad again?” I ask her.

I should have asked her months ago. But I have been preoccupied with my family’s concerns. How will you protect your wife in that unknown place? What will you do if someone harms her? You have no experience in travel. You don’t even know Hindi. How will you get things done? Why can’t you go someplace nearby, like Munnar?  But I had promised Agneta, and I couldn’t break it.

“Since the days I can remember, Abba, Ammi, and I would go on a trip every summer vacation. When I turned eight, Abba told me I was old enough for longer trips. Aurangabad was the first place I visited outside Kerala. So, it’s special. Abba had friends all over India.” Agneta’s eyes glisten under the shimmering yellow light. Her Abba was well-read, well-traveled. Agneta too. I haven’t even gone as far as the borders of Calicut. I will never be good enough for her. Maybe, I should have settled for an average girl.

“Harris, do you regret marrying me?” Her voice turns mellow.

Did she just read my mind? My parents weren’t keen on this relationship. They didn’t want me marrying a working woman. But, Agneta’s Abba had passed away a few years ago, and her uncle, Uppa’s friend, wanted to get rid of her before she crosses the ‘marriageable age.’ Uppa yielded and arranged the marriage. Last year hadn’t been smooth. Problems started when Ummachi heard Agneta calling me ‘Harris’ instead of the customary Ikka.’

“Harris?” Agneta’s kohl-lined eyes are looking deep into mine.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” My heart beats fast. I reach out and stroke her hair—an ‘ahem’ from the upper berth. I retract my hand as if I had touched fire.

The next morning, I wake up before Fajr. I put on the map on my mobile, so that we don’t miss Goa. When the first rays of the sun enter the coach, I wake her up. The rest of the compartment is fast asleep, despite the scorching heat. We sit across each other on an empty side berth. Our legs are stretched, our toes nuzzle against each other. We look outside at the vast expanse of paddy fields—waiting in the sweet expectation of a new season.

“I still remember that morning, Appa telling me how paddy is cultivated.” Agneta presses her nose against the iron bars of the window. Yes, of course! Her Abba had told her. I wish she said something romantic instead.

I pick up my brush and walk to the toilet. People are sleeping on the floor near the washbasin. I wade through them and reach the stinking toilet. I yearn for the comforting routine of home. I shouldn’t have agreed to this trip.

The next evening, we reach the Manmad junction. From Manmad, we get a connecting train to Aurangabad. The jam-packed local train feels like an oven. Men, women, and children are stacked together—sticky and damp like the layers of a chiroti.

2.Tughlaq and Lipstick

“Harris, are you ok?” Agneta asks, seeing me flushed. We have just reached the Aurangabad railway station. I have never seen such a big crowd—their attire and language alien to me.

“Yes, I am fine.” I squeeze her hand in mine, trying not to get lost. She looks at me in disbelief. It’s the first time we are holding hands in public. Agneta hails a taxi and negotiates the rate—all in Hindi. I didn’t know she spoke Hindi. What else don’t I know about her? The driver keeps staring at Agneta’s eyes that are revealed through the niqab. How do I keep her safe in this alien city full of strangers?

“Everything has changed. Aurangabad had no flyovers or malls back then.” Agneta wistfully mumbles as we pass a huge mall named Prozone.

“Even in Feroke, everything has changed.” I console her. But the fact is, nothing has ever changed in my life. I still live in the same house I was born in. I have always worked at our supermarket. I have known my friends since childhood.

I gape at the city outside—women with colorful dupattas wrapped around their faces, a man selling some green liquid in huge earthen pots, street vendors selling Amul ice cream, colorful pushcarts full of skillfully sliced fruits—watermelon, mango, papaya, and muskmelon.

It seems like the taxi keeps going and going. The Google map shows it’s the correct route, but uneasiness grows on me. How did Agneta’s Abba manage to travel with two women? Wasn’t he worried?

“Aurangabad is called the city of gates,” Agneta blurts out, snapping me out of my thoughts. We have just passed through an ancient archway.

“The gate we passed through just now, it’s called the Delhi gate. It faces the North, towards Delhi. Aurangabad has a strange connection with Delhi, you know,” She is about to start a story. I love her stories. She seems to have inherited them from her Abba. Sometimes I feel she is the Scheherazade from the Arabian Nights.

“You have heard of Tughlaq, right? In 1329, Tughlaq decided to move his capital from Delhi to Devagiri, near modern Aurangabad. Tughlaq asked his entire populace to walk from Delhi to Devagiri, more than a thousand kilometers. It was the high summer, just like now. Many people died on the way…”

“You know so much history,” I marvel. 

“Harris, I am a history teacher.” Agneta laughs. “Abba never missed a chance to teach me history. When we were in Aurangabad, he told me many such stories.” She turns silent and stares at the dusty sidewalks—as if she hopes to spot her Abba in the crowd. When he died six years ago, he seemed to have taken a piece of her heart with him. Will I ever be worthy of her heart?

“That summer, Abba, Ammi, and I walked around this city, exploring every corner of it. My lips dried up and started cracking in the heat. Much to Ammi’s disapproval, Abba bought me a ruby-red lipstick. It smelled like rose petals…”

So, one mystery is solved. Even though I have never asked her about it, her lipstick has puzzled and amused me. None of my sisters wear lipstick. Agneta’s lipstick was another thing that bothered my family.

“We should wear modest clothes and make-up. Every woman in our family wears niqab.” Ummachi often stated loudly, not to anyone in particular. A few months into our marriage, to my surprise, Agneta started wearing a niqab. I saw her struggling in it while she walked to the bus stop every morning. Something stirred in me, but I didn’t dare discuss the niqab. I was relieved when my family wholeheartedly accepted this new Agneta. However, Agneta never failed to wear her lipstick. It was her silent defiance, and it gave me goosebumps. But I didn’t know the lipstick had such long history.

I picture the eight-year-old Agneta hopping around the streets of Aurangabad in her colorful summer dress, proudly displaying her stained lips. I look at her, clad in black cloth, her lips hostages under the niqab. I suddenly feel that I am Shah Zaman, the Sultan in the Arabian Nights. Does Agneta tell stories to stay alive too?

3. Stolen Kiss

We are in front of the cave temples of Aurangabad, looking at the valley below. It’s bleak, vast, and overwhelming. Our house in Feroke stands in a narrow lane. Hardly two vehicles can pass through it at a time. In the distance, I see a grand marble dome gleaming against the sun.

“Is that Taj Mahal? But…” I mumble. I can’t believe it! 

“Yes, yes, it’s Taj Mahal,” Agneta laughs, clutching her stomach.

How is it possible? I know she is making fun of me.

“Harris, it’s not Taj Mahal. You know the Taj Mahal is in Agra. Don’t you remember at least that much? That’s Bibi Ka Maqbara.”

“Never heard of it.”

“When I saw it first, I too had thought it was Taj Mahal. But I was just eight then.” Agneta giggles again. I feel a lump in my throat.

“How will I know? Uppa never took us anywhere.”

“Anyway, now you know. Let’s go in.” She leads me into the front yard of a deserted stone temple.

“Are we allowed inside?” I have been taught never to step inside the place of worship of another religion.

“Come on! It’s not even an active temple.” Agneta drags me by my hand. We climb the rugged stairs into the portico of the rock cave.

“Is this Buddha?” I gawk at a stone sculpture carved onto the front wall of the cave. I have never seen anything like this.

“No, not Buddha. It’s the sculpture of a Bodhisattva, like umm… a prophet in Buddhism,” Agneta explains. I didn’t know she knew so much. We enter the cool yet humid interiors of the cave temple. I walk around, gaping at the stone sculptures. Who are all these people? The world is a strange place.

Agneta takes her niqab off, and her unruly hair flies in every direction. Her small face is all red. A drop of sweat rests on her button nose. I don’t know what has come over me. I press her against the stone wall. Under the silent gaze of a half-naked goddess, I kiss her.

What have I done? —kissing her in public, that too in a temple! “Will Buddha punish us?” I ask. But Agneta’s lips muffle my voice. I am lost in the scent of rose petals.

At noon, we start climbing down the thousand stone steps leading into the valley. At a distance, a white horse is grazing near a small pond. The rocks radiate heat. Agneta has lowered her niqab, and under it, our stolen kiss is safe.

There is a temple complex at the landing of the stairs. It seems like a religious ceremony is in progress. Bald men in saffron robes are walking around the stone platforms—chanting and sliding rosary beads between their fingers. In brass pots, incense sticks are burning. The temple complex is covered with champak trees. They have flowered in abundance—saffron flowers. It seems the summer has rained fire on them.

“They are Buddhist monks,” Agneta whispers.

My legs automatically slow down. A strange fear engulfs me. Am I an invader in their sacred space? Agneta, as usual, takes the lead. She starts walking— confidently, yet modestly. I follow her, my eyes fixed on my sandals. No one notices us as we walk across the temple complex. It’s a contrasting sight—Agneta, in her pure black niqab, walking amid the saffron-clad monks.

4. Fruit Punch

“I ate my first ever kulfi here, in Aurangabad. The kulfiwala released the kulfi from its aluminum casing like magic. Abba got me the casing as a souvenir.” Agneta tears the plastic wrapping of her kulfi. We are in front of the Himayat Bagh. The street vendor with the branded ice cream cart looks on indifferently.

“The old kulfiwala told us many stories. He said that he had been making kulfis for half a century, and the mangoes in his kulfis came directly from the Alphonso orchards in Devgad. Abba had had a long chat with him. They talked in Hindi, and later, Abba translated the conversation for me.”

We walk under the lilac canopy of jacaranda trees in the Himayat Bagh. A light breeze is playing with her niqab as we stroll along a canal. The retreating spring seems to have spent its last ounce of energy on the pink, white, and blue water lilies. Pieces of the sun have fallen into the water, creating alluring patterns. I smell mangoes, water lilies, and dried grass. Or am I just imagining them? Do memories have a smell? I don’t know.

There is nothing memorable about my summer vacations as a child. All I remember is the long hours I spent playing football on the dried paddy fields. I also remember Uppa scolding me for not going to the mosque or not turning up at the supermarket for work. None of my memories is as vibrant as Agneta’s. Her Abba was a poor lower division clerk, but he created memories for her. Memories that she holds onto and smiles at. Will Agneta and I create memories together?

“Harris, If I ask something, will you make fun of me?” Agneta breaks the fragile shell of silence. I feel a rush of excitement. Does she not want to go back to Feroke? Are we going on another adventure? I am in.

“Tell me.”

“I want to find out something.”


“A fruit punch,”

“Fruit punch?”

“Oh, it’s a long story.”

“Longer, the better.”

Agneta turns into Scheherazade, but I don’t want to be Shah Zaman.

“Abba had a friend in Aurangabad. His family had migrated from Karachi during the partition. One evening, they made their traditional biryani for us. The cooking was like a ritual, a celebration. We finally sat down to eat around eleven at night. We ate, sitting on a velvet rug, around a table that was just two feet high. In the center, there was this enormous pot of steaming biryani. We ate from brass plates. I still remember the taste of that Sindhi biryani.” Agneta turns silent as if relishing the taste.

“By the time we finished our dinner, it was late at night. The heat was unmanageable. I stood near the whirring cooler as water droplets splattered over my face. Around midnight, Abba’s friend suggested that we go out and get some breeze. I was thrilled. Back home, we never went out after eight or nine. We all hopped into the back of his open gypsy. We roamed around the city.”

I picture Agneta on the back of a gypsy, her hair flying around in the warm summer breeze.
“Then we stopped at a crowded juice bar. I couldn’t believe so many people roamed around at night—not just men but women and children too. Anyway, we had this amazing fruit punch. It came in such a big glass that I couldn’t hold it properly. I still remember those bright layers of juice—red, orange, purple—their boundaries gradually blurring. It was like, umm… like having sunset in a glass. Harris, we should find that fruit punch.”

If Agneta had said such a thing back in Feroke, I would have been dumbfounded. But, now that we have roamed around Aurangabad for two whole days, it feels quite natural.

Around the time of Zuhr, we exit the Himayat Bagh. Under the angry noon sun, we walk to the Jama Mosque. After Zuhr and lunch, we set out on our fruit punch hunt.

“These were busy markets with rows and rows of makeshift shops. I don’t know what happened to them.”

 The footpath is now lined with branded shops on either side.

“We had the fruit punch in a roadside shop. It must be long gone now.” Agneta’s voice is smeared with disappointment.

“We will try anyway.” The optimism in my voice even surprises me. For hours, we hop in and out of juice bars, sampling varieties of fruit punch. By sunset, we are too cloyed to walk. Every juice shop we visited was crowded— men eating big slices of watermelon, women boldly biting into ice cream cones, kids eating ice golas and showing off their stained tongues to each other. No one pays us any attention. And I have started feeling like one among them. They are no longer strangers.

“I don’t think we will find it,” Agneta says as if dismissing the quest.

“Let’s try one more shop,” I beg. I am sure we will not find that fruit punch from two decades ago. Maybe that fruit punch wasn’t special or anything. It was just that summer vacation, her Abba, and the excitement of that midnight adventure.

“You really miss your Abba, right?” I ask. We are at the last stop of our fruit punch hunt, sitting on plastic chairs set on the footpath.  

“Harris, I keep wondering what my life would have been if Abba hadn’t gone.” I can see her eyes turn moist under her niqab.

“I miss Abba, but more than that, I miss the person I was when Abba was around. I used to feel… umm… so free and light.”

I don’t know what to say.  “Umm… Will you take me to all those places?” I ask her instead.

“But we’ve seen every place in Aurangabad.”

“Hmm, no. I mean, every place that you visited with your Abba. Will you take me?”

Agneta suddenly raises her niqab and looks at me strangely. I don’t know what to make of her expression.

“I will.” She says after a few minutes. Her face breaks into a smile, and she removes her veil. She fans her face with her palms. Something tells me she is not going to wear the niqab again. I wish she wouldn’t. The fruit punch arrives.

“This tastes almost like the one I had with Abba.” Agneta smiles again. The dimples on her cheeks flash, relishing the warm summer breeze against them.

Our Men are Learning

Art by Reneesh Oldesigns for Indian Ruminations

“Cut them some slack,
our men are still learning.”

“Don’t be so harsh,
our men are still learning.”

Did you know that
the learning cycle of an average male
coincides with the melting of an iceberg? And I’ve heard,
we’re still at the tip.

We have waited for centuries,
not for the icebergs to melt,
but for our men to learn
what women have inherited
from their mothers’ nightmares
and the tragedies of their own.

And as we wait,
we have mastered
the art of forgiving and apologizing.
Dropping ‘sorrys’ like loose change.
Appreciating the bare minimum
like a toddler’s first sketch,
in hope that it would get them
to draw more.
But you know toddlers,
they get distracted easily.

So we become the mothers
cheerleading for our manchildren.
Clapping for our non-abusive fathers.
Thanking all non-threatening strangers.
Surrendering our souls to men
that claim to have cracked the code
on the difference of a yes and a no.

I get this recurring nightmare
that the icebergs might soon
beat our mighty men,
and we’ll all be drowning,
holding on to wooden planks.
But no Jack will show up,
for he still wouldn’t have learned
love or selflessness.

I wish we’d learned swimming
instead of forgiving.

Art by Raneesh P.R, Visual Editor, Indian Ruminations

Submission Guidelines


Indian Ruminations (IR) is a digital content publishing platform that showcases literary and non-fiction contents. IR was launched on May 16th 2010 by renowned historian and Padmabhushan Awardee Prof. K.N. Panikkar. On its decade long journey, Indian Ruminations published numerous poetry, fiction and non-fiction content by authors from various nationalities and on diverse topics. Indian Ruminations has conducted multiple international seminars and workshops in the domain of academia and literature. Indian Ruminations welcome submissions in the form of reportage, opinion, poems, fiction, interviews, book reviews, research articles etc. Submissions are accepted year-round. The Manuscript should be original and unpublished work. The submissions to Indian Ruminations should not be made simultaneously along with other publications. Following are the two methods by which you can submit to IR:

  1. Online Submission of Materials

Manuscripts may be sent as email attachments to with a brief profile. The author will be notified by the editors whether the material is accepted for publication.

  1. Hardcopy Submission

Hardcopy may be sent, under exceptional circumstances only, to T.C.No.40/2473-1, Arayalloor Lane, Thirumala, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695006, India. Please note that unaccepted material will not be returned. Guidelines for Manuscript Preparation Poems The poems submitted to Indian Ruminations should not be published previously in any print or online media (this is inclusive of personal blogs and social media handles). Poems should be submitted in Microsoft Word format with proper titles and word count. Please be sure that poems are proofread and free of errors before submission. Fiction/Memoir Please limit the word count of fiction pieces to between 2000 – 5000 words. Do not divide words at the end of lines. The journal encourages the submission of suitable royalty-free illustrations along with the submission. All sections should be double spaced including notes, references, extracts, poetry, and figure legends. Reportage, Essays and Opinion Pieces IR features in-depth reportages, opinion pieces and essays on diverse topics of contemporary relevance. We promote analytically produced well-written articles bundled with the support of facts and data. IR will fact-check the authenticity of the facts and data explained. The manuscript should be between 3000 to 5000 words. We suggest pitching to our editors with a 200-300 word rough draft and getting the approval before working on a piece.  Book, Film and Theatre Reviews IR features reviews and critical appreciation of contemporary works in the domain of theatre and film. Review articles should be between 1500-4,000 words. Contributors interested in submitting a review should contact our editorial team at Publishers submitting books for review should send a copy of the book to The Chief Editor, Indian Ruminations, T.C.No.40/2473-1, Arayalloor Lane, Thirumala, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695006, India. Please remember to mention the title(s) of the book(s) reviewed at the head of the review in the following style: Author. Title of the Book. Publisher, Year. Print. Amount in Rs./$. Hardback/Paperback Interviews IR welcomes formal interviews of significant people. Interviewers must have extensive knowledge of the subject so that they can engage fully and sensitively with the author’s comments and views. We also suggest that a photo of the Interviewer may be forwarded along with the matter. IR will also consider hosting a recording of the interview online and the editors also recommend that this is discussed beforehand to ensure the recording is of the best possible quality for hosting as a podcast. The format for submission of the recording should be an MP3/MP4 file. The interview should be prefaced with an introduction. The interview should be cleaned by avoiding unwanted/unimportant information and should not exceed a word limit of approximately 1500-4000 words. Seminars, Workshops and Events IR also promotes the dissemination of news articles and upcoming events on literature and events of social relevance. You are requested to limit those to 300 – 350 words and send them in MS Word format. Research Articles The IR journal engages, theoretically as well as practically, with all topics, issues and concerns relating to each and everything around us both from regulative as well as a constitutive maxim. IR welcomes well researched detailed articles with sufficient arguments and references for publication. Formatting guidelines:

  1. IR does not entertain papers that are strictly empirical in their nature or papers that have localized impact alone. However, it does entertain papers that engage with empirical data to unfold or substantiate a conceptual point.
  2. IR does not limit the pages.
  3. IR follow the usage of endnotes rather than footnotes. The number system used for numbering endnotes follows numerals in 1, 2, and case that is superscripted. Endnotes are to be used for further elaborating a point and not for the texting of a reference.
  4. IR follows an in-text parenthetical citation style both for the main body of the manuscript submitted as well as the endnotes that follow the main body.
  5. The articles will be peer-reviewed before publishing.

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