In medias res

My day

“What does your typical day look like?” I asked an accomplished musician and composer.

“I compose and record in my studio, perform for the public, some days I just stay at home, sing along with my little girl and take care of her.”

Short stories


August 2005

After making love, Sakhi hugged me tight, perhaps she was worried that I might jump off the window and run away from her. We sat on the aisle next to the French windows in our bedroom wrapped in a warm and cozy blanket.

“It is a quilt,” she would correct me every time. She had picked it up from Beijing when she had performed at the UNESCO Conference.

Light from the full moon tossed on the waves at the beach nearby. Monsoon had been kind this year and had cooled down the city’s temperatures considerably.

“I am going to make some pop corn,” she said and kissed me. She did not wait for my reply.

“Wow, she is beautiful,” I wondered as I smiled looking at her, walk away from me towards the kitchen daintily. Her bare back looked toned and sexy. Years of dancing and yoga had kept her in shape. It was a similar moon kissed night on the beach that I had proposed to her. Her large beautiful eyes had said yes before she could even mouth it. That was four years ago.

“It is chilly tonight,” she said and snuggled her head onto my shoulder. The winds were nippy and our skyclad bodies yearned for each other’s warmth.

“Dodo?” she said while I dug into the pop corn bowl.

“Yes, my love,” I said and kissed her on her head.

“I want to have a boy and a girl. No, first a girl and then a boy.”

I chuckled. She really was so endearingly cute.

“Stop teasing me and don’t you dare tell me that you are not prepared.”

“Sure,” I said.

“What sure? I hate this about you. Sometimes you can be so insensitive. Be serious when I expect you to be,” she retorted angrily.

“Sorry baby. We shall have,” I said.

“I want to give myself completely to them. Perhaps I will cut down on my tours. Atleast the first five years I want to be a full time hands-on mom. They need to get everything this world can give. I will be good mother, I promise,” she announced and stared directly into my eyes.

“And whatever happens to us, we shall ensure that they will never have to suffer for anything.”

“Yes my love,” I concurred.

“Promise me dodo.”

“Promise me that you will support me in every decision that I take.”

“Without a doubt,” I agreed. “But, why would you doubt my commitment?”

She averted her eyes, “You men change. For you only your career is important.”

“Do I have to be worried about what promises that I should be making later after this? Customer services head Christina is quite a hottie and I think she has thing for me. Should I?” I laughed with a roar.

“If you ever dare to even contemplate such a thing, I would pull her eyes out and you will have to do with a blind second wife.” She ignored my laughter. “I want you to promise me that you will support me in my decisions and never leave me or our children in the lurch.”

I controlled my laughter with some difficulty. “So be it.”

“Say it!”

“I promise.”

“What do you promise?”

“That I will support and take care of you hundred percent and would not subject them to any hardship or suffering. Are you happy now?”

“No matter what?”

“No matter what.”

She kissed me on the cheek and sighed with relief. I hugged her close while we stared at the dark bluish sky, eagerly awaiting the dawn.

April 2008

“I called you earlier,” she was abrupt.

I was busy in a meeting with some international customers.

“Told you I was busy,” I replied.

“The least I expect from you is to be slightly sensitive and caring. And I am not really asking too much. I am tired of always taking care of you,” she was breaking down on the phone.

I remained silent. I did not know how to respond. I did not have the mind space for a duel now, but I knew I had to say something before it became a downpour.

“What happened?” I said.

“I called you two hours before, and are you saying that you did not even have two minutes to call?”

“Why are you silent?”

“I can’t be the only person talking?” she said angrily.

“What do you want now, Sakhi? I am terribly busy now and I just don’t have the time for your drama. Can we do this when I get back home?” I said.

“When have you ever had time for me? I only figure in those time slots when you take a break. I am like some detergent ad between a TV sitcom. Reduce the time you spend flirting with your girl friends,” she pushed.

“If you are not there for me when I needed you the most, then I don’t see any meaning in this relationship. Why can’t you change even this one thing for me?” she continued.

I bit my lips in anger and frustration. I avoided my secretary’s eyes who tried signalling me about an impending call. I silently pounded my fist on the wall.

“What the fuck is so important that you have to do all this psychoanalysis about me now? I am just sick and tired of all this whining,” I was livid, “can we fucking postpone this drama for later?”

There was a brief silence at her end.

“I just had a miscarriage, wanted to tell you that. Sorry to have disturbed you. Please continue with your work,” she answered calmly and disconnected the call.

“Shit!” I said and banged my head against the wall.

“I am sorry Sakhi, really sorry,” I said silently.

Feelings of disappointment, grief, anger and guilt flickered in my mind screen.

I cried all alone.

I did not call her back immediately.

She cried all alone.

October 2009

It was a balmy Sunday evening.

I was reading the day’s newspaper while Sakhi placed her head sideways on my lap, her legs crossed close to her stomach like a foetus. I observed that she had added some weight around her waist. Her neck was thicker than what I had known. It was not very hot outside, but the wrinkles on her neck were sweaty.

She had cut down on her performances and stayed mostly at home. I was feeling worried at her losing interest in dance, which had been her passion all her life. A child of her own was all that mattered to her now.

“Why don’t we adopt a child?” I had suggested.

“I am sorry, please don’t force me into it,” she was emphatic.

I did not push her. I missed a child too. This obsession to have a child was driving her crazy. I did not know how to help her through this traumatic journey.

A gentle note from a single stringed Tampura music instrument floated along with the mild breeze from the cool sea.

“Omana thingal kidavo,” a mellifluous voice joined our room. It was a lullaby. I could hear a voice from the balcony.

The song was composed in Malayalam in the seventeenth century to put the baby prince Swathi Thirunaal of the Travancore kingdom in present day Kerala to sleep. It rose and fell gently like a quiet wave.

Perhaps, a child needed some comforting.

I reclined my head and closed my eyes. I knew she was awake and listening. I miss her the most when she is next to me. I ran my fingers through her hair.

“Aren’t you my bright crescent moon, beautiful lotus flower?

You are my treasure from God to dispel my darkness

My most precious jewel you are and by the mercy of the God

You are the source of my happiness.”

The chime in the living room danced to the winds and added a melodious note to the beautiful rendition.

We remained there silent, soaked in the emptiness of our lost lives, desperately yearning for a child to help us find each other.

November 2010

For the past several months coming home meant walking into a dead zone of complete silence. There were no conversations. Each one did our own things. Rarely spoke.

She had taken an interest in folk art. I remember her asking me some money for admission to a college.

Even a child did not figure in our miserly conversations.

We have not had sex for a long time.

February 2011

Tara, my colleague and I had gone for a conference to San Francisco last week. She headed my communications team.

The first day of the conference was very hectic and I desperately needed a drink to get some steam off. So I settled into the club at the hotel as soon I got out.

“Mind if I join?” Tara asked. She cleaned up quite well. Actually she looked ravishing in a flowing long black gown.

“Sure. Looking gorgeous Tara,” I said and she smiled.

We spoke about plans for tomorrow, office gossip, politics and generally laughed a bit. She has very eclectic taste when it comes to reading and I have loved discussing books with her always. Sakhi has never been much of a reader.

It was 1 am already and we decided to call it a day.

“How is Sakhi these days?” she asked while the elevator’s doors closed in.

I don’t know if it was her question or I was just waiting to vent, but it triggered a down pour of my miserable life. I had no inhibition in sharing every detail of what I thought was going wrong in our marriage, Sakhi’s obsession for a child, lack of any physical intimacy, basically just about everything.

Tara was a patient and empathetic listener. Somehow I felt I could talk to her.

My verbal diarrhoea laboured for over an hour in my hotel room and I suddenly realised that I needed to stop. I paused briefly and sighed. She smiled and said that it was late and would like to return to her room. I thanked her profusely for the patient hearing.

Before she left, she hugged me and before I could realize I was all over her. She pushed me away and looked visibly shocked.

“I am terribly sorry Tara. I am so sorry. Maybe it’s the drinks,” I rambled.

“My last advice to you,” she retorted angrily, “own up your fuck-ups. Don’t pass the buck,” she said and banged the door behind her.

I felt like an idiot. I was very ashamed of myself.

The next three days she remained formal in our conversations and she dismissed me when I tried to apologise again.

I was very anxious on my way to my house from the airport. I was afraid to face Sakhi. Would she have known already? Tara knows Sakhi. Now I recollect, Tara’s CV was actually forwarded by her. I am so screwed.

She was already asleep when I came inside the house. I tried to escape any confrontation by not making any sound. I retired quickly.

The next morning, she did her normal chores and I did not notice any anxiety or anger in her body language.

When it was time for breakfast, she surprisingly joined me.

“How was your trip?” she asked.

“Fine. It was okay,” I replied nervously.

The anxiety was killing me and I don’t handle conflicts very well.

“I have a confession to make,” I said and looked at her eyes. She did not reply.

I felt that I had to tell her everything that happened. I would rather face the consequences than live in continuous fear and guilt.

She listened to me with intent, looking direct in to my eyes.

“I am sorry,” I said and paused.

She looked down tiredly at her plate. “I am glad that you told me directly, and Tara has not spoken to me about this.”

“What hurt me the most was not your moment of indiscretion, but you talking about our problems, something so personal to an outsider.”

“I am sorry, terribly sorry,” I apologized again.

“You should be,” she said, pushed her chair behind and walked briskly back to the kitchen.

April 2011

She decided to live with her friends after the last incident. She scowled at me when I called last time and used the word ‘incident’. I find it hard to say the right words these days to her. My brain gets intertwined with my tongue and exactly the moment I say ‘hello’ in some twisted way the tongue squeezes the brain to vomit the most inappropriate words against my will.

Perhaps it is not the words; she may have blocked her senses to prevent it from seeing my feelings behind the words.

I miss her.

The other day while I drove to work, a little kid in the back seat of a moving car looked at me and stuck her tongue out with eyes closed. The kid wore a pink floral frock with a purple wool knitted cap. I had not seen such a gorgeous baby in a long time. If Sakhi had been around, her eyes would have become wide open in glee and her face would have crinkled up with all the smiling.

August 2011

Sakhi had still not returned to me. The last time I spoke to her she was busy preparing for her dissertation.

I have been reading a bit about pregnancy, children, parenting, the works on the internet lately. Some of the things that women do to get pregnant are weird and hilarious.

–        Stop love-making midway and squirt raw egg whites into theirs with a ink filler, it’s reputed to assist the feminine fluid that speeds sperm to the egg

–        Substitute two teaspoons of Robitussin in the morning coffee. It is the main ingredient that thins and loosens mucous in the lungs, and although there is no actual proof, it’s thought to work similar magic down under

–        Inject the urine of post-menopausal Italian nuns. Apparently they were the original source of some fertility drugs, though it would have been quiet a voodoo effort to gather the goods.

When I sent this on email to Sakhi, she replied “ROFL”. I am slightly thick with new age lingo, so I replied back perplexed.

She emailed back in a jiffy, “Rolling On the Floor Laughing. Idiot :).”


October 2011

“Hey, how are you?” it was Sakhi on the phone, she continued before I could reply, “I think I am planning to do an IVF.”

I did not reply immediately.

“Test tube baby?” she clarified.

“Shouldn’t we have some discussion before you go ahead?” I said.

“Why? It is my body, I have to go through the procedure, inject myself everyday with cancerous hormones for atleast three months and hopefully there is a baby in the end. What do you lose?”

“If you are not happy with giving your sperm I will still go ahead with a donor,” she was curt.

“Why do you speak so rudely, Sakhi? I ask because I care for you. I am not sure if it is the safest thing for you. Why don’t we meet and take a call? Maybe speak to a senior specialist for a second opinion?” I said.

“Alright, let’s get one thing straight. I am not getting back with you. Atleast for now. I need that space. I feel good now after a long time. I am no more feeling depressed and lonely. We are talking now. Let us keep it that way. We lived like strangers under the same roof, remember?” she said.

“Why don’t I atleast help you with the doctor visits,” I said and before I completed she interrupted, “No I am perfectly fine. My friend Aryan would help if I need anyone. Don’t worry, I am not sleeping with him. I am not like you,” she said rudely.

I did not expect that she would throw that back at me. I was angry but remained impotently silent.

January 2012

“I am pregnant…yaay!!” she texted me.

I had gone for work to Shanghai for a fortnight and I was delirious with joy on seeing the text. Strangely and very frustratingly she did not answer any of my calls. I should have dialled atleast 25 times, but she did not take my calls. I was treated like a pariah by my wife, who was now bearing my child.

“It is my child too, dammit!” I texted her.

February 2012

I was still stuck in Shanghai. I did not get any calls or messages from her. I was slowly resigning myself to the possibility that she might not even show me the baby.

Not fair!!

April 2012

I was back in town and was completely engrossed in budgets and reviews at work. I had quiet frighteningly forgotten both my baby and my unreasonable wife.

“Sir, it is your wife on the line, she says it’s urgent,” my secretary said. I normally switch-off my mobile during appraisals. I hate to be interrupted. “Can you tell her that I am busy and will call back?” I replied.

“Yes I did that, but she says it is an emergency, I sense something is wrong in her voice. You should answer the call,” she said.

“Hey Sakhi, what’s up,” I answered nonchalantly.

“Can you take me to the hospital? I am bleeding. I am afraid I might have lost the baby again,” she said. She was nervous, afraid, anxious and possibly in pain.

I excused myself from the meeting and ran. It took ages for the elevator to get below 16 floors to the basement. Nothing mattered to me more than the life of Sakhi now. Not even the baby. Whether she likes it or not, she was the love of my life. “Oh my god, she cannot handle pain. She would make a hue and cry even for a small bruise. She would be in misery. I am sorry baby for having been a recluse and irresponsible. Even if she did not ask me, I should have gone atleast once to see how she was doing. Hope this did not happen for lack of money or better facilities,” I wondered very anxiously while I drove to her place.

She was sitting in a pool of blood and her gown was wet. As soon as she saw me she cried aloud and held my hands tight, “Please save my baby, please. I am so afraid. I am really, really worried. I don’t want to lose this child. God, please, please take me instead” she cried hysterically.

“I am there for you baby. I am there, everything is going to be just fine,” I said pretending to be strong and confident. I tried hard to control my tears.

I drove to the hospital like a maniac. I did not know what possessed me. Nothing else mattered to me. No other life. I am not going let her down again. She took quick deep breaths and held on to the seats tightly. I felt like a warrior consumed only in the desire to achieve the mission in the quickest time possible. I drove the car straight to the emergency doors. The hospital staff was quick and sensitive; they wheeled her directly to the intensive care unit.

Sakhi held on to my hands tightly. I ran close with her. She was moved to an ICU room, which already had two patients. “I am sorry sir, we are running full. Now you will have to go out and wait,” the female attendant was direct and quick. Sakhi looked at me with her large eyes as I moved out.

I did not know what to do. I wondered if I should call someone for help but decided against till I had met her doctor. I always hated hospitals, the smell, fear, blood, medicines, doctors, death, birth, pain, everything. Sakhi would distract me by doing an impersonation of the visitors and patients in the waiting area. Her face looked pale earlier. The glow was missing. I sensed only fear.

“How arrogant and stupid of me to have avoided her,” I blamed myself.

“Mrs. Sakhi?” a nurse called my name loud. She directed me to meet the doctor.

The doctor was an elderly lady with a fair skin and neatly combed white hair.

“I would like to be frank here,” she said and that frightened me to my very core. “Your wife is in a serious condition. She has lost a lot of blood. I suspect a miscarriage or…” she warned and paused.

“Or what doctor?” I asked nervously.

“Considering her age and all the hormones that have been pumped into her, it can also be a case of tumour or much worse ovarian cancer. However, I need to do a scan to confirm anything,” she said completely without any emotion.

I got out of the room shattered. I got out of the room and went straight to the men’s room. I just could not hold myself. I cried my heart out. I just couldn’t imagine my Sakhi, my love, my soul mate having to go through such pain and suffering. I washed my face and got out of the hospital. I felt claustrophobic inside, had to get out for some fresh air. I did not know what do to.  It was beginning to slightly drizzle outside out of tune to this part of the year and I decided to take a quick walk.

An old wrinkly lady in a black saree suddenly crossed my path and stunned me. I stood staring at her. She smiled wide open and held out her palm. I reached out to my trouser pockets to find some loose change and discovered a side of my trouser was wet with Sakhi’s blood and other fluids. I felt stupid to have wandered away from the hospital, “What if they needed something from me,” I wondered and slapped myself. When I looked up, to my utter disbelief I did not find the old lady. I surveyed the surroundings briefly looking for her, “Where did she go?” I thought and then quickly ran towards the hospital.

“Where did you go sir? The senior doctor was looking for you,” the nurse yelled at me as soon as I got to her desk. “She is with your wife in the ICU, please go fast,” she said. I did not know what I should be expecting.

“I am not going to cry now. I will be strong. Nothing will happen to Sakhi,” I psyched myself.

There were two nurses and on the one side and the senior doctor whom I had met earlier sat next to her. I came closer to the bed with caution and fear.

“Ha, there you are. Where did you go? We were looking all over for you, come look at the screen,” she said calmly and pointed at the monitor which had fuzzy floating images. She was adjusting a whitish protraction on Sakhi’s stomach that she moved about on jelly like substance. Sakhi pulled my hand closer to her, “Do you see a bright white light on the ultrasound screen? It is our baby’s left arm. Look it’s saying hello,” Sakhi said with absolute excitement but I was in utter shock.

“Your wife and baby are perfectly fine. The bleeding had been due to a blood vessel bursting, but nothing to worry. No damage has been done, the scan is perfectly normal and she is still very much pregnant.” She said and walked away and both the nurses followed her.

“Bitch,” I said softly and broke down in tears pressing my face on hers. Sakhi put both her arms around me and comforted me.

“I am sorry baby, I am really sorry,” I said as I wept.

“I am sorry too. It’s okey,” she consoled me, “Look, look I am a mommy and opened her big wide eyes in excitement pointing to her tummy.

“I am very, very hungry dodo, will you take me home?” she asked.


I gently slapped her.

“Next time you run away from me, I am going to give you two tight slaps,” I said.

“I love you.” It was our eyes that spoke this time.

Copyright © 2013 Sriram V. Ayer

In medias res

‘Payasam’ for the soul

A colleague and I were on our way to a Government school in the northern fringes of Chennai. The neighbourhood was infamous for gangsters and violence. It was 2 pm in the afternoon, but a wine shop at the entrance of the street leading to the school was bustling with business. Sooner we got into the school we were greeted by a thick smell of urine.

Twenty five children from this school had attended our 4 days residential art camp a month earlier and we wanted to meet the kids, teachers and their parents to understand if our camp made any difference. So after an hour of conversations with children and teachers we did feel slightly reassuring that our efforts have not gone in vain.

It was time to meet the parents and only two mothers had turned up. My colleague inquired if they saw any changes in their kids’ behavior. One of the mothers remained silent but nodded along to all the questions while the other lady was talkative and open about her observations. The chatty lady looked prosperous compared to the quiet person.

“Ours is a very poor family,” she finally opened up.

“My husband and son do not work and I sell vegetables on the street to find money. I have never been to a school, but my daughter is very smart and beautiful. I have always the best for my kids, but with the money that I bring home, I can hardly make them rice once a day.”

“But that day she came running to me after the camp. She looked so excited and happy. She announced that she ate payasam, ice cream, biriyani, potato roast, cream biscuits and so much more,” and the lady started crying.

We let her cry. Her tears had more answers than what we wished for.

In medias res


“Sir, I drew this sketch. Do you like it?”

Balaji came in unannounced into my room and laid out his sketch book before me. It was a three dimensional sketch of a traditional Rajastani pot. It was definitely a good effort for a beginner.

He was 14 or 15 when he joined our arts education programme. He used to stay then at the Government Home for Boys. His mother, the lone breadwinner of the family had admitted him at the shelter, so that he could stay away from his alcoholic and abusive father and continue his school education. Besides performing well in school he took active interest in theatre, folk music and performed at our arts festivals.

Balaji moved back home when his mother fell sick. He would start his day by distributing newspaper, cooking food, going to school and later doing other odd jobs. He completed his school board examination with distinction, but continued working to support his mother, younger brother and abusive father. I still remember the joy and sense of achievement in his expressive face, when he was selected for B Sc Visual Communications course at the Madras Christian College.

“Good job da,” and I looked back at him. He seemed uneasy and quite fidgety. He came regularly to my office every day after his morning job and before he left for college.

There were noticeable bruises on his chin and arms. One side of the face looked swollen than usual.

“What happened? Did you have a fall?” I was concerned.

He avoided my question and rambled about something disconnected. After some persuasion he became silent.

“My father bit me barbarously last night because I would not give him money for alcohol,” and showed the bite marks all over his right arm. He had also hurt himself on his face while trying to escape his hold.

“But don’t worry sir. This is not the first time. I am rock solid,” he smiled

“Anyways, I need to catch the bus quick, otherwise I will miss her,” winked at me and made a dash to the door.