If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Friday, August 29, 2014

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: BIG MAX

Som did not know how to go about it. He left it to chance. He came across Nalini as a witty, willful girl and he was afraid that it would be difficult to steer things round to his way. However, one day, he extended his friendship to her and the next day he asked her out for a walk. In this way the two of them became palls. But Som wanted more …

Early one evening, as the two of them walked aimlessly in the crowded streets of Kolkata, their conversation turns from books to themselves. Nalini says,

See he’s wearing the same T-shirt. Som smiles, she continues,

No, the collar is just your opposite.

Som laughs, Ya, mine’s pink.

Where are you taking me?

To Big Max.

You’ll get to see the cell-phone-girl? They laugh,

May be your Xavarian will be in there too.

What was he like? I mean, how tall. Did he have a beard?

He looked like he didn’t shave that day.

So you won’t know him if he shaves.

I don’t care, says Nalini with a toss of her head.

I wonder what he wanted. Probably lying about himself.

I was wary.

Ya, you should be careful.

At that time I was literally praying that you’d come out.

What’s my coming out got to do with it?

Why, he’d at least shut up then. After receiving no reply from Som, who was concentrating on the street, she says,

But he did mention Gaurav.

Said he knew him.

Wanted him. So I asked him to go to the college. What could I do if he wanted a book from Gaurav?

But he didn’t move.

What’s wrong today? There’s another copy.

What copy?


That’s a pink one, isn’t it?

It’s faded.

Both of them fall silent. The busses make it hard for them to hear each other. They shout at the top of their voices confident that no one but they could hear what they were saying. But by now they had covered more than four kilometers after leaving the bus. Nalini was getting tired. Som was also breathless; he is barely audible when he says,

Shall we go there?

I was thinking something.


Something. Nalini giggles.


They were also wearing the same pink and white stripes, even the jeans, but you look most handsome.

Uh uh.

They laugh loudly, almost forcefully.


Why what?


Come this way.

Hold my hand.


And you are my uncle.


Hold my hand!

This girl.

Okay brother. Now hold.

Don’t you think one can tell by the way we walk …

That we’re not brother and sister? Our faces don’t match.

Som remains quiet. He was thinking hard. She continues,

That’s why I said uncle!

I can’t look an uncle.

Even an infant can be an uncle.

No, I am an uncle but I don’t look …

You look my brother?

Not really. By the way we walk … don’t you think … we look different?

They turn into a side street which she can’t recognize. She looks up at him and asks,

We are not going to Big Max? They were nowhere near Big Max, the famous restaurant on Palk Street in Kolkata.

No. I said we’ll go to that place.

You said Big Max!

Initially I said that, but I told you when we turned this way.

You tell half the things to yourself. Now tell me: where are we going? We’ve been walking too long already. I’m tired.

You get tired very soon, don’t you?

I don’t have your long legs.

I wish you had more stamina.

Your hands are very spongy.



Soft, Som corrects her.

There’s too much flesh, red flesh. I haven’t touched such a fleshy hand before.

Not mine before?

I mean except yours.

See, I’m a soft man.

In palmistry …

Damn your palmistry.

No no, listen first.

It says flabby palms are a sign of deceptive character.


Yes. Contact with you will be disastrous for me.

For once – it is right. Saying this, he laughs without laughter in his heart. His heart squirms.

It doesn’t say that!

It says I’m deceptive.

Yes. Like you haven’t told me where we’re going.

You’ll see.

She is pretty. He sees Nalini looking at a girl wearing black.

Hm? Nice legs.

Go after her.

He laughs again with an effort and says, For once …

Now she looks up at his face and turns pale. She does not laugh. He continues,

So? For once you’ve shown correct sense. Shall I go after her?

Go. And after a while she adds,

I know.


Your company is disastrous to me.

I’m dangerous! D A N G E R O U S !

It was a long silence before Som resumes,

Anyway. He can see Nalini thoughtful. Then she says,

I think that man is the same one.


There, speaking on the phone. I think he’s the same one.

Which one? That’s an older man, out there. That one?

No-o not the Xavarian. That’s the one who talked to me in the BCL.

You never told me about him.

I forgot. He came up to me and asked for the book I was holding. Almost snatched.

Why did you let him?!

I didn’t! He asked, ‘are you taking it?’ I said, ‘yes, I think so’ and held on to it. But he almost snatched it and had a look inside.


The book. It was The Heart of Darkness and he asked if I was in M.A. English. I said ‘what are you in’ without answering and he said research in something and got away. Didn’t I do the right thing?

You should be careful.

I think I must wear faded dresses and put oil in my hair.

He looks much older. Probably lied to you.

Maybe it’s not the same man. I didn’t even look at his face.

Hah !?

Som can’t tell what she was thinking, but he finds that she has screwed up her nose and her gait has become slower. He turns round the next bend and waits for her to catch up with him. Then she says with a forced smile,

I’m getting scared of everybody.

Including me?

Uh, except you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Suvojit Banerjee and Sheikha A.: The Crimson Tiding.

They ignored the sign when a great famine ravaged the earth, and a great war tarnished whatever was left of humanity. Amidst the crimson tide and gray skies, befell the third prophecy - death, the third horseman rode through. And along came his army of undead.

A few of the remaining houses still stood lined like brave soldiers in a once thriving boulevard now desiccated to a thin spray of embers. The horseman of the army wore no mask, and neither did the rest. On his shoulders gloated a large, bone-mass of merciless veneer as he turned to Pestilence hanging in a far corner of the dominion, hands bound like a prisoner walking the revived march of a resurrection he was once meant to initiate.

One of the houses flickered precariously, the light inside gasping for life, giving the appearance of a soldier ungiving to impending death until a ray of promise for continuance cued. Inside, a soldier did breathe. Her dark eyes projected through the window by the front door. The night could not be denser than the darkness in her eyes but there was a glint, of resilience, that shown visibly through.

Pestilence knew those eyes well. He had looked into them and through them into another world he imagined existed but wasn't allowed entry. He had been created from a different element altogether, pre-tailored for predestined tasks. It was her eyes that had roused a sensation in him he wasn't familiar with; now knowing was an urge to flout the predefined.

Since time immemorial our manuscripts and arcane texts had predicted the end of days, alerting us with the signs when the seven seals would be broken. A day of cataclysm, when heaven’s wrath and hell’s terror would engulf the human kind: but we were too ignorant. When the first signs appeared – we failed to pay heed. The Great War ravaging the lands were dismissed as acts of human greed, and the devastating famine afterwards was called an aftermath by the pundits.

Then on a day when the sun lashed crimson-red rays onto the barren land, the third prophecy manifested itself. Ancient tomes said he rode a pale horse whose hooves were as ominous to vigor as a hawk to mice. But here, beneath the soigné cut-suit and a glass of chardonnay in hand, Death looked more like a businessman out on a trip.

“I’m utterly bored. Looks like War and Famine had a field day.”
He lowered his sunglasses, and took a sip from the glass, looking at his watch.

Behind him, armies of undead continued sapping the lives of the remaining souls. A few faint screams were heard at a distance, but apart from that, the living did not resist. Death was like a saving grace for them, and they embraced him with open arms.

She watched, as the insidious talons of Death clawed at all living matter not unknowing that the eyes of the rider of the pale horse bore her with a foreboding. She knew they were coming for her. Her eyes travelled the trails of the massacre as far and wide her vision would enable. Gifts of clairvoyance unassisted by a greater power to leash such rampant carnage seemed futile to her, this moment, as she felt her frail cage of an earthly body, which had been a keeper for a fierce empathy for humankind, begin to dysfunction.

In Death’s queue, she desperately sought Pestilence. Her body crumbling rapidly as her eyes darted and careened through the army that stood not far from her house. The cage that held her fragile frame, in this world, shed off of her spirit as did leaves from their branches in jilting winter. Pestilence was her rescue. Eyes in which she had witnessed a softening for the eccentric principles he initially reckoned as weak morals of a decrepit land, those for which she saw, in his eyes, an acceptance, if not readily, but with steady inclination. Those eyes, she had also begun to realise, were missing.

She continued to dissipate, until only her essence remained. Casting away the cloak of a weak vessel she wore, she was now reinstated to her primal, feral self. Akin in appearance to the bone-masses approaching her, bare in true form, compassion began eroding what otherwise had held her petite earthly face as eyes -  they gouged  invertedly as if a different entity sucked them in from the inside as fodder or feast, relishing it as if having long awaited this resurrection.

There was not going to be a Resurrection – a Convention, yes. She was to unite – with Pestilence and save mankind.

As she watched the army inching towards her house, through menacing cavities that now formed her eyes, the ground underneath crippled away into the chasms of a deathless death, a death she’d been visited by once before, she knew it was time. She only had to get to Pestilence. And order would restore.      

The sand appeared a faulty red; almost mirroring the scarlet shades of a poseur sky. The war had initiated. The war was fought. But the war hadn’t ended.  Bodies were now historic remnants of souls without abodes to go to – no traces of posterity, the earth and sky were now beyond distinction. All that remained was a gathering of mist.

The council was too buried in enjoying the destruction that their henchmen brought upon mankind. Dressed in glorious golden and murderous red, they gorged on the visceral scenery that the big portal presented in front of them. While the metallic smells of rivers of blood were giving their minds lascivious wings, one of the minions cried out: “Sir, Pestilence hasn’t yet completed his course!”

“Silence!” One of the councilmen snapped, “He will show up soon! Do not interfere!” And the minion disappeared into one corner and melted with the pillars.

Amidst the ruins of a massive city, a lanky young man slowly moved about. His eyes were two shiny marbles of emerald, and with them he scrutinized every corner of the dying conurbation. The poisonous footsteps irradiated the earth whenever they fell on it, and the hideous plague flowed from his hands in a serpentine line of dazzling, sparkling green smoke. There was a neigh in the background. Stirred, he looked back. The majestic white stead with the same emerald eyes as his stood there, hooving the ground. “Looks like we’ve been summoned”, the man said, and smiled. He rode the horse and disappeared through the outskirts of the city.

She stood before them, unarmed and reneged. Her body had dilapidated but grazes of her empathy that clung to her like war-bruises glowed strongly through her torn skin. She still awaited Pestilence – before these men, her strength crumbling, but with determined intent.

“I want Pestilence!” She screamed with the last bits of accumulated strength.

For a moment, there was a smirk in their faces. Then, a demonic hiss released through War’s closed jaw. The hollows of his eyes flared as he roared, “Pestilence!”

The rumble of dead leaves gave way to a whirlwind of green and black, and when the dust settled the lanky man with green eyes was standing in front of her, looking at the defiance of a mortal. He had been thinking about the visions: that the future would be written by not man, not angels, not demons, but by an alliance; and that he was chosen.

He was looking at the other piece of the puzzle, but he did not know how to put them together.

“What now?” He said, and looked at the rest of his brothers.

They were looking at her. When Pestilence looked at her a second time, he saw something no human had ever done in front of the horsemen of apocalypse.

She was smiling.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: Hey Swamiji !

There was a time when the Ganga waters were effluent. The river tore down bridges, pebbled ridges and cemented borders. She was furious during the monsoons and angry during winter. In the region of the foothills of the Himalayas all the towns were crowded with temples and tourist spots that were watered by the Ganga.

The river Ganga has been controlled and guarded by the authorities so as to minimize life risks for the tourists. Still once in a blue moon someone may be heard to have lost a dear one in these waters. The stream flows swiftly by a natural downward slope and carries away all the things that are daily dropped into the water. People drop all sorts of things into the river and watch them disappear under water immediately. If a body dropped into the river like a thing it would disappear equally swiftly.

Once, on the banks of the river near the Lakshman Jhula, a family spread out its picnic basket. It was a family from Haridwar. There were indeed two families, one of a brother and the other of his sister. There were four children and four adults. They were oblivious of the fate that was about to gust out their enjoyment. But I’ll talk about that later.

Chintoo and Mintoo were two brothers of about twelve years in age. Their uncle lived in Haridwar. Ever so often they visited his place. In October,  during the Diwali vacations, the days were pleasant and in the evening there was a cool breeze that refreshed them. They preferred to stay out late in the evening and take a stroll hand in hand with their cousins in the crowded market to look at the fancy items in display. Their uncle also took them out to Mansa Devi temple riding on a tonga.

The ropeway to the Mansa Devi temple was a familiar ride for them. They enjoyed it every time they came to Haridwar. They looked forward to the day when they would be grown up enough to be able to go up to the summit of the hill on foot. On top of the hill they found a viewpoint with a telescope which they would invariably peep through. They quarreled with each other to decide who would be the first to view through it. They loved the garden on the terrace, and at times when it rained they loved to get drenched, howsoever their mother protested that they might catch flu.

Their reckless manner made their father swear every time that he would not bring them to Haridwar again. But each year, after several phone calls from their cousins who were more or less of the same age, they boarded the bus from Delhi to Haridwar and reached their uncle’s house during a break from school.

The last time, in May, when they came to Haridwar, they had visited Mansa Devi temple again. After that they took a bus to Rishikesh. There on the ghats they sat in the evening dangling their naked legs. After the Sandhya Arati of Goddess Ganga, they went into the ashram.

In the ashram, out of curiosity, their uncle took the children to a swamiji. He showed swamiji each boy’s palms. All the four boys sat cross-legged in front of the swamiji. The swamiji insisted on seeing both the palms of the boys. One by one they held out their palms together open in front of him. He did not touch any one. He did not bend forward with a lens to magnify the lines. He did not wrinkle up his eyes to tell what he saw in their palms. The light from the bulb hanging from the ceiling was adequate for him to foresee the future of each boy.

To Mintoo, he said that he would grow up to be a big officer. He would have only daughters and no son. But one of his daughters would eventually make him proud.

To Babloo, he said that he should be a good son and obey his parents. To his parents he said that they should be considerate towards Babloo’s feelings and never force him to do anything against his will. They found the instructions contradictory so they asked, “Swamiji, Will Babloo do well in studies?” At Babloo’s age no one thinks of anything but studies. The Swamiji took the hint and decided to drop the topic of his marriage and assured the parents that Babloo was very intelligent and diligent in his studies.

To Chhotu, Swamiji said, “What do you want to do in life, Bachcha?” Chhotu promptly said, “I love painting!” This annoyed the parents and they clicked their tongues. Swamiji turned to them and said, “Don’t be annoyed at his childish wish. He will grow up to wish many more things in the world and all his wishes would be fulfilled. Did you understand Bachcha? All your wishes would come true!” At this Chhotu got up with satisfaction spread all over his face and Chintoo took his position before the Swamiji. Chhotu’s parents quietly made up their minds that they would teach their child what to wish for.

Swamiji looked at Chintoo’s palms and said, “You are a very naughty boy. You are always up to some mischief. You should be more careful otherwise you are likely to bring grief to your parents.” Hearing this admonition Chintoo meekly said, “Yes Swamiji”. His mother complained, “Chintoo eats a lot of sweetmeats, I don’t know what to do with him!” Swamiji kept silent.

That October, all of them decided to go on a picnic to the Lakshman Jhula. It was a pleasant time of the year. While in the sun they did not need to carry any sweaters. And the sun did not hurt either. Babloo and Chhotu carried along playing cards and Chinese Checkers to play on the picnic spot. When they reached there, they spread out their mats and according to their plan, they took out the games. But Mintoo was too eager to touch the water. His father tried to stop him but when he did not listen and started running towards the water’s edge, the father asked the elder boy, Chintoo to go after him. Now both the boys started playing with the waters of the river.

They were throwing mud into the water and fetching soiled flowers out of the water. They squatted next to the edge and used sticks to catch floating objects. The father saw their huddled backs and fumed. After calling at them a couple of times, Mintoo turned his head and shouted, “We are not coming back!” At this the father rose threateningly and both the boys dashed towards a boulder near the edge of the water. They climbed up the boulder and teased their father. Chintoo stood up straight on the boulder and waved his hands. It infuriated the father and he stepped forward. As he did so, Chintoo lost his balance and fell behind the boulder.

No one could see him at once. Mintoo called out his name and climbed off the boulder. The others saw that he was shouting at the river. They rushed towards him. Mintoo said that Chintoo had fallen straight into the water.

There were others in the picnic spot. They had all gathered together to look into the water. A local youth had plunged into the river to save the boy, but the fact was that no one could see him. No one could even see his body.

The authorities sent a search party into the river. They showed the aggrieved family to a shelter. In the shelter, among others, there was a swamiji. The drowned boy’s mother rushed towards him and threw herself at his feet. She cried, “Swamiji, please assure me that my son would be found! Swamiji, please give back my son!”

Swamiji was startled. He had no powers. He did not even know how to read palms. He was a mere ascetic who wandered from place to place in search of inner peace. Being accosted by an aggrieved mother, he could not do anything; nor did he snatch away his feet from her grasp. He found everyone staring at him expectantly. He wondered what would be a suitable reply to this bereaved group. The rest of the people had to be impressed too.

“My child, your son’s body would be found if he died before four o’clock. The holy Ganga takes away only the purest of souls; be assured that your son has gone straight to heaven.”

Everyone checked the time.

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


As of June 25, 2015, The Bactrian Room is closed to submissions.


Search This Blog

Notice of Copyrights

Original material on this site is copyrighted by the authors and artists. No material may be copied or reused without the permission of the respective author or artist.