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About the Book

 

Edited by bestselling author, Ahmed Faiyaz, this anthology explores the conflict, chaos and confusion in the lives of interesting and colourful characters in Urban India. The reclusive kid with a beautiful bicycle; a migrant to Mumbai with Old Monk on his breath, trying to get off a Virar Fast at Borivali; the misunderstood watchman at the library who befriends a little girl;a playstation loving spoilt brat, who is smitten by his mathematics tutor; an old widower who longs for some intimacy with the opposite sex; a confused writer who has to choose between his wife and a seductress; the gargoyle who is the boss’s pet at a call centre; a mild-mannered doctor whose love for yoga puts him on breaking news; a project manager who hates handing out the pink slip; an emotionally scarred woman in the bazaars of Kamathipura; the baraat on a silent night in a one-horse town in Rajasthan; the neighbourhood didi with dark secrets of her own and a lot more...

Racy, compelling and heart rending stories by popular writers such as Pantosh Uttam, Reeti Gadekar, Sharath Komarraju, Malcolm Carvahlo, and a number of popular bloggers and debutant writers.

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Praise for URBAN SHOTS

"Deceptively simple and intriguing, Urban Shots paints a delightful picture of life and times in colourful Indian cities."
Yuva

"Urban Shots miraculously manages to retain a vivid freshness about it, despite covering the familiar and mundane. It unabashedly portrays the good, the bad, and the ugly that exists in our society today . . . Do pick up a copy and immerse yourself in this fictitiously realistic dizzying world."
Helter Skelter

"Urban Shots has the right ingredients for a breezy read."
DNA Mumbai

About the Editor

Ahmed Faiyaz

Ahmed Faiyaz grew up in Bangalore and now lives in Dubai. He’s a book and film addict, and apart from reading books and watching cinema of all genres, he is a passionate writer. He is bestselling author of Love, life & all that jazz…, Another Chance and Scammed, and the editor of Urban Shots – Crossroads and Down the Road. www.ahmedfaiyaz.in

About the Authors

Anita Satyajit

Anita Satyajit, is a journalist, writer, poet and photographer who can be found online at www.anitasatyajit.com.

Anitha Murthy

Anitha Murthy is a software consultant and a prize-winning writer (first prize - Unisun Reliance Time-out Short Story Contest 2011; 2nd prize - Deccan Herald Short Story Contest 2011) who loves writing whenever inspiration strikes.

Ayesha Heble

Ayesha Heble is an Assistant Professor of English at a university in Oman; she has a home in New Zealand, which she shares with two handsome sons, a dog and a cat.

Chandrima Pal

Chandrima Pal has been a journalist for 15 years and has interviewed political bigwigs to cultural stalwarts, but she likes nothing better than disappearing in the high Himalayas with her guitar-playing husband. Her debut novel, A Song for I, is expected to hit bookstores next month.

Gayatri Hingorani

Gayatri Hingorani, is a communications professional and closet blogger, who enjoys writing short fiction when she is not word weary.

Karthik K

Karthik, is an engineering graduate, blogger (http://unalloyedwritingpleasure.blogspot.com/) and a novelist in the making.

Malcolm Carvalho

Malcolm Carvalho, is a software engineer from Pune. When not writing code or fixing the odd bug, he writes poetry and short fiction; he has also written a book and is cooking up plots for the next one.

Manisha Dhingra

Business writer by profession, short fiction writer by passion, Manisha Dhingra, is obsessed with cats, chocolates and blogging on www.quickshortstory.wordpress.com

Maryann Taylor

Maryann Taylor, amongst other things is primarily a teller of anecdotes, devourer of books, compulsive writer, dog lover, daydreamer and traveller, who still takes delight in reading Enid Blyton and riding bicycles.

Mini Menon

Mini Menon is a lanugage teacher with a love for the written word.  Her debut novel, Lesser Lives is scheduled for release very soon by Grey Oak/Westland. mini1menon.wordpress.com

Paritosh Uttam

Paritosh Uttam, is a writer and a software engineer. He is the author of Dreams in Prussian Blue, and the editor of Urban Shots and Urban Shots – Bright Lights.

Pranav Mukul & Avani Rajesh

Avani Rajesh, is a student, prefers pen and paper to a computer. Pranav Mukul, journalist and a blogger, sub-editor at 90 minutes magazine.

Reeti Gadekar

Reeti Gadekar is the author of two Addl. Comm. Juneja novels, Families at Home and Bottom of the Heap. She lives in Berlin and can be contacted under reeti@gadekar.com

Rohan Swamy

Rohan Swamy is a journalist and works at The Indian Express in Pune. This anthology features his first published work.

Rohini Kejriwal

Rohini Kejriwal, co – editor of Down the Road, a writer/ poet, and has been an avid blogger for the last four years. She is the Editor of TheTossedSalad.com. Rohini enjoys exploring life and all that it has to offer, be it through different music artists, mountain trails, or film genres.

Sanchari Sur

Sanchari Sur is a Bengali Canadian who was born in Calcutta, India. She can be found at sursanchari.wordpress.com.

Saritha Rao

Saritha Rao Rayachoti, is a freelance journalist and writer. She lives in Chennai and blogs at saritharao.blogspot.com

Sharath Komarraju

Sharath Komarraju is an IT Specialist based in Bangalore. He tests software by day and writes fiction by night.

Shiladitya Chakraborty

Shiladitya Chakraborty, is a freelancer in love with the written word. When not writing copy, content, game manuals, travelogues, blogs, scripts, poetry or short stories, he plods steadily away at a novel.

Shreya Maheshwari

Shreya Maheshwari studies Economics at Harvard College, and writes for the Harvard Political Review. She loves pop culture, travelling, reading, and red velvet cupcakes.

Siddhartha Bhasker

Siddhartha Bhasker, 27, graduated from IIT Kharagpur in Industrial Chemistry following which he worked as an environmental consultant. Presently he teaches Social Sciences in Mumbai to make a living and writes in his free time

Srinivasan. Venkataraghavan

S. Venkataraghavan is a tall and lanky writer from Bangalore. He enjoys solo travel, meditation and tales well told. His writings are inspired by India, its history and geography, its people and practices, its cultures and beliefs.

Vinod George Joseph

Vinod Joseph, is a corporate lawyer based in Mumbai who makes up stories in his free time.

Vrinda Baliga

Vrinda Baliga lives in Hyderabad. Her short stories have appeared in various literary journals, anthologies and magazines like Urban Shots, Temenos, flashquake, The Shine Journal, Long Story Short, Rose & Thorn and Cezanne's Carrot. She is a prize winner in the Katha Fiction Contest 2010 organized by India Currents.

Excerpt from Urban Shots

HAKO

Chandrima Pal

Hako lived in a house which was a shout and a lamp post away from ours.

It was the oldest and only house in our neighbourhood that still had a garden of its own – with a mango, chiku and guava tree and hibiscus bushes that exploded in scarlet blooms every other day.

All the other houses had long ripped off the hedges and sawed off the trees to make room for cars and bikes and extra rooms.

Even then, our neighbourhood was usually quiet. Apart from the piercing cry of the old maulvi from the green minarets of the mosque twice a day, the occasional auto rickshaws and our school buses which unfailingly picked us up from our stops and released us in the afternoon to our mothers, nannies or grannies.

But all that was set to change, our parents said, as they went through the morning papers and dissected the headlines. The neighbourhood is not what it used to be, they said, shaking their heads and squinting at the march of the cloud-bursting towers from the south.

Every house braced itself for the big change. Walls were made taller, thicker and more evil, with spikes, barbed wires and shards of glass. Menacing iron gates were given teeth and spears and people did not leave their bikes out on the road at night anymore. Some even brought home puppies and stuck ‘Beware of Dog’ boards on their gates. There were whispers of how strange men were talking to some of the old house owners, telling them stories of how much more their homes could fetch them, and showing them pictures of tall buildings with glass doors.

But Hako’s home remained untouched.

The powder blue slanting roofs, the red tiled path that started at the creaky gates and went right up to their door, the walls which were perhaps once painted a bright red, but had now faded to a sad nameless shade – everything remained the way it had always been.

Every afternoon, after school, we gathered outside the rusty gate and yelled, ‘Haakkoo!’ The door always opened with what sounded curiously like an old man yawning, and Hako strutted out, grinning widely, dressed in his blue shorts and chequered red and blue shirt, dragging his bright orange Toby cycle with him. The door would close behind him again, keeping its secrets to itself, shutting out the world and a bunch of pesky kids.

We never went inside. We were often tempted to stone the bright green guavas and sweet and sour pairi mangoes into submission, but instinct and rumours made us give Hako’s house a wide berth.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Hako seemed to be the only cheerful thing to emerge from the house. Everyone noticed how his parents seldom spoke or smiled at us and mostly kept to themselves. Even Hako’s birthday was never celebrated – he would mysteriously disappear on that day, only to show us the gifts he had received from his parents a day later or so. 

Dwarfed by houses that had been repainted, scrubbed, cleaned and spruced up, Hako’s house looked terribly uninviting. And on some winter evenings, almost scary. The aggressive trees kept daylight away, moss grew thick on the walls and the smell of all things old and dying stuck to it like cotton candy on a stick.

And then there were the rumours. No one was sure what Hako’s father did for a living, but everyone said he had the temper of the devil and a tongue like sand paper. And that was enough to keep us away from Hako’s house.

But Hako? He was different. He was a quiet boy who had the funniest laugh you would have ever heard. He was also the fastest runner and best seeker among us. But what made Hako, despite his forbidding house and mysterious family, such a hit with all the neighbourhood kids were his stories.

Hako was the best story-teller among us all.

There were days when the road that ran right down the middle of the neighbourhood got too busy. And we would gather behind Almeida’s bakery shop and corner Hako into telling us stories.

‘Hako, yaar, we’re not going to play with you unless you tell us a story!’

‘Ya, tell us a ghost story!’

‘Hey, you never finished that one in which Terminator meets King Kong!’

Hako obliged all of us. Well, almost – because he had no way of knowing what I really, really, wanted. 

When all the kids hung around him as he spun his yarns, I would be there too. But my eyes would be on his bright orange Toby cycle.

As far as bikes went, Hako’s was a masterpiece. His father had tweaked parts of it to make it stand out from everyone else’s. Each of the three wheels, for instance, was of a different colour – red, blue and yellow. At the heart of the wheels were little gleaming metal hearts on which Hako had pasted rhinestone stickers. The seat was a bright shade of green, the handles like dog ears, with candy-coloured tassels hanging from them. And attached to one of the handles was an old-fashioned truck horn that startled everyone who came in his way. Nothing in the world was quite as beautiful. Not even my mother’s hand-knitted lace that covered our dressing table mirror.

Hako’s signature orange Toby cycle was stuff that kept you awake and appeared to you in your dreams. And it was completely out of bounds.

Hako, who was otherwise generous with his chocolates and comic books, never let anyone touch his wheels. And from the day the orange wonder rolled into our neighbourhood, all I could do was look at it lovingly and pray every night that the next morning I’d wake up older, wiser, and the proud owner of my own custom-made Toby cycle.

But that was not meant to happen soon. And every afternoon, I watched sadly as Hako pulled his Toby out of the dark house and joined us as we went pedalling around the neighbourhood’s quiet back alleys.

I tried to ride as close to Hako as possible. But he was always faster.

‘At least I am riding next to the Toby,’ I’d tell myself and push my pedals harder, happy that the orange blur of Hako’s Toby was close to me.

That day, however, I had no bike to ride. My rusty blue Avon, which once belonged to my brother who had long graduated to a sports bike with a gear and other fancy stuff, had finally given way.

‘You’ll get a new cycle on your birthday, sweetie!’ My mom patted my cheeks, kissed my forehead and packed me off. ‘Now run along and play some new games with your friends, okay?’

It was far from okay. I was the only one without wheels in a gang that was insanely obsessed with riding, and Hako’s Toby was in full form that afternoon.

‘Dad just greased the wheels, see?’ Hako declared before turning into a blur down the lane. My heart sank.

And as the boys and girls whizzed past me over and over again, I curled up behind Almeida’s bakery shop and stared at my feet. I did not want anyone to see me cry.

I was gulping my sorrow hard when, suddenly, an orange apparition screeched to a halt before me. It was Hako.

‘What happened?’ he asked softly. I sniffed hard.

‘Why are you crying?’ Hako sounded more scared than concerned, quickly turning back to see if anyone was watching.

I just couldn’t say anything.

‘Oh, come on,’ Hako pleaded. ‘Don’t cry now please!’

The sight of Hako standing so close with the Toby did funny things to my eyes. I broke into a wail.

That did it. Hako quickly got off his cycle and moved close to me. ‘If you stop crying now, I promise I will let you ride my cycle tomorrow – how about that?’

I could not believe what I had just heard. ‘Really?’ I had suddenly run out of tears.

‘Promise!’ Hako smiled and straightened up, with one arm still cradling the Toby protectively.

‘Let’s go Hako, one last round!’ the boys yelled at him from a distance. Hako suddenly turned crimson, jumped back on his Toby and shot away.

‘Promise, tomorrow?’ I shouted after him.

‘Yeah,’ Hako yelled back, blasting away at the truck horn.

Next day, at the end of what seemed to be a painfully long and slow school day, I was outside Hako’s gate with the others.

‘Haakkoo!’

My heart was thumping really loud. It was my big day after all.

‘Haakkoo!’

I wanted to be the loudest. I wanted Hako to know I was there, waiting for my turn.

‘Haakkoo!’

Something was not right. The others started getting fidgety. Hako’s door remained shut.

Two more shouts and everyone decided to carry on.

But I could not move.

As soon as I was sure the others had left, I called for Hako again.

‘Haakkoo! Won’t you come?’ I was choking on my hurt and I hated it.

Hako did not step out that day, nor for many days after that. No one saw him get out, no one saw him go to school either.

And then, one day, one of the boys came back with the news that Hako’s father had done something really bad and the police were looking for him.

‘Why? What has he done?’ I summoned the courage to ask.

‘They say he ran over some people in his car and killed them.’

Cold dread clamped our mouths shut.

The calls for Hako had stopped completely. No one waited outside his gates anymore in the afternoons. Not even me. My birthday was still a few weeks away and I was stuck with the other group of girls who hosted tea parties for their dolls and played with cups and saucers. It was no fun.

I missed Hako terribly, but I was not allowed to go looking for him. Every time I passed by his house, I’d steal a quick glance, hoping to see him walk out with his Toby. But it did not happen.

And then, one Sunday afternoon, just when I had been dragged into a silly game of Statue, where I was supposed to remain still until someone managed to make me smile, I heard that familiar sound – Hako’s horn.

Everyone – the girls playing Statue, the older kids riding their bikes – had stopped what they were doing to watch Hako as he emerged from his house, the Toby next to him.

‘What?’ he asked incredulously, as no one budged from their place, staring at him as though they were seeing him for the first time.

‘Hako!’ I called out happily. Hako looked at me and smiled.

‘Come, don’t you want to ride this?’

All eyes were now trained on me. It was scary.

‘Well… I…’ I didn’t know what to say.

 Hako looked at me and smiled bravely.

‘Come, I will take you to a new place,’ he said, now sitting on his Toby.

I must have taken a step towards him when someone shouted, ‘Don’t! We will tell your mother!’

Hako stopped smiling.

‘Come, don’t listen to them!’

I looked at the Toby and at the angry eyes piercing me.

‘You know what will happen if you go anywhere near him!’ It was my brother, in his coldest, angriest voice ever.

I looked at the Toby again and at Hako who was on the bike, hands on the dog-ear handles, the tassels fluttering in the breeze, and the seat, shining, inviting.

And the next thing I knew, I had squeezed myself onto the Toby, right behind Hako, my feet grazing the concrete footpath, my arms around Hako’s sweaty belly as he broke away from the circle of annoying kids and hit the pedals hard.

I was on the Toby at last.

‘Don’t stop! Don’t stop!’ I cheered, as Hako rode faster and faster.

I quickly turned around to check if we were being followed. It would have been such a thrill to be hotly pursued, as the Toby whizzed way ahead of the others.

I looked again. There was no one. It just did not feel right. A funny feeling rising from my stomach, I turned back again.

‘I will ride faster,’ Hako grunted, when suddenly I realised we were on a road I was totally unfamiliar with.

‘Where are we Hako?’ I gulped, holding him tighter. There were cars, buses and way too many people. This was not our familiar neighbourhood.

‘New road. Like it?’

I did not, especially when I saw a black car speeding right at us. I wanted to get off, go back.

‘Stop!’ I screamed. ‘Stop!’

‘Why so scared? Trust me!’ Hako was saying, swaying dangerously from side to side, the Toby groaning under our combined weights and the momentum.

I was suddenly annoyed at how clumsy he was.

‘Hako!’ My fingers dug into his flesh. ‘You will kill us! Like your dad!’

The Toby screeched to a halt, as if it had run into a wall. I opened my eyes and saw my brother.

There were some other people too and, in a flash, I found myself being dragged away from Hako, who just stood there surrounded by some very angry adults who were all trying to tell him something, all at the same time.

I looked at Hako. He was looking at his feet, but I knew he was crying.

That was the last time we saw Hako. We heard his father had been taken away by the cops, and one day we heard he was gone too. With his mother, who had sold the house to one of the strangers who had been seen walking in and out of several other houses on the street.

‘It is only a matter of time before…’ Adults had this weird habit of never finishing what they started.

My birthday arrived but I had forfeited my right to a bike and was asked to be happy with a set of new board games instead, which included a jigsaw puzzle and Battleship.

Cycling around the neighbourhood had been banned, all thanks to me. And we were quickly running out of innovative games to play every afternoon.

It was on one such day, when our fingers were aching after striking the carom discs for too long, that someone suggested, ‘Let’s go to Hako’s house!’

‘Why?’ I asked nervously. ‘There is no one there.’

‘Exactly! Now we can stone as many guavas as we want!’ the kid said, and suddenly it seemed to be the best idea to have emerged that afternoon. And even if I did not want to be party to this misadventure, I was in no mood to be left out again.

We marched towards Hako’s house – some eight or nine of us – and pushed open the rickety gate. This was the first time we were stepping into the place we used to visit every day. The hibiscus bushes were withering away, untended grass and other nameless plants and shrubs were running riot in the garden.

The kids got busy at the guava tree, chucking stones at the bright green fruit. I walked on. The house looked as if it was held together by some miracle – the doors and windows were cracked and mossy.

Had it really been that long? I wondered. I went around the house and behind it. And there I was greeted with the most spectacular sight I had ever seen.

Next to a large bird bath, a tattered lamp and some other junk, was Hako’s custom-made Toby cycle.

And as I looked carefully, I saw my name scratched on one side of the bright green seat.

Our neighbourhood is a different place now. There are several tall towers where our homes used to be. Hako’s was the first house here to be taken apart, brick by mossy brick.