short story

The Unintended Curse

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Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzuup.  Unwind into a line. And zzzzzzzzzzzuup back into my pouch.

Antara could not stop playing with her brand new magical pouch, which was in fact one long zip. It zipped all the way into a pouch, and almost looked like a zebra with alternate black and olive green. And this was where she kept all her precious stationery : her favourite pen, her special calligraphy pencils, stapler, and lots of other colour pens.

It was only it’s eighth day, and it had already grabbed surplus attention. Antara was not sure if she was happy about this, or fearsome. She dismissed her fears and decided to enjoy the limelight. School was almost over, fifteen minutes to the bell, when her class teacher glided into her classroom, with evaluated answer sheets.

Oohhh… Finally! Thought a very nervous Antara, as she eagerly waited for her roll number. She did not dare to look at it till she’d sat down in her seat. Slowly, she opened her folded answer sheet, which was bleeding at the margins.

44 and half out of 50? Wow, this is one of my best performances this year! I don’t remember the last time I did so well in any exam, Antara mused.

Trrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnggggggggg.

She immediately dumped her books in her bag, and ran off to the hostel. She hated it there, but she really had no choice – she was stuck there. But nevertheless, that day she was in a very good mood. After dinner that night, she decided to use the ‘study hour’ to study. The study hour was compulsory, and was to be utilised for homework, and for studying – but she never did either. She did all that she wanted to, anything but studying, only to stare at a random book when the wardens are watching her.

But that night, for the first time in a long time, she was in a studious mood. She dug her hand into the bag to fetch her books and her pouch. The books landed with a thump on the metal table, but the pouch did not make it.

Where is it? I had kept it inside the bag today! It must be here somewhere. Antara ransacked her bag in vain. Oh no! Did I leave it behind in class? Antara realised that she had been in a hurry that day while packing her bag. She spent the rest of the study hour in memory of her special pouch.

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Next morning, she stood staring at the large white door. It was latched, but not locked. The class was empty, and she ran inside. Her desk had no trace of her pouch. It had simply vanished into olive green dust.

It’s not there in the hostel, not there here, not in the lost and found. Where could it possibly have disappeared to? Did somebody steal it? Haaw. What if  somebody has it and does not want to return it? After all it has all my precious stationery.

A tearful Antara was frustrated.

Well, whoever has it, I wish you’ll never have a chance to use my special pencils. They’ll also lose it the very next day. Then let them go around searching for it like I did.

Akshara sat in class, happily remembering the look on Antara’s face the day before when she couldn’t find her pouch. She could not bear Antara, and was tired of all the attention that had been so cruelly snatched away from her. And so, when she came across the pouch, while leaving class, she did not bother to return it. She couldn’t wait to lay her hands on those pencils everyone was talking about. She ran to the hostel as soon as the bell rang, but even after raiding her room twice, she could not find it.

Nisha had fallen in love with those calligraphy pencils ever since she’d laid eyes on them. She was not sure at first, but that pouch under Akshara’s bed was definitely the one that once belonged to Antara. Initially she did intend to return it, but then she wondered what harm would it do if she decided to keep it for a day? Just to give those pencils a try. She ran to her room after the study hour, and took out a beautiful royal blue pencil. But before she could even put a full stop on the page, Akshara entered the room – she immediately hid it.The next day, during the Library period, she realised that it was no longer in her possession.

Saara was the last to leave the library, and the only one to notice the olive green pouch all alone in a corner. She vaguely remembered it to belong to somebody in her class, but she was not sure whom it belonged to. Later, as she walked out of her class with her bag, she was not sure it belonged to one of her classmates anymore. So she dropped it at the lost and found counter.

The next day, Nita ran in search of Antara. She was bursting with excitement –  finally she had been able to locate her best friend’s most valued possession. Antara could not believe her eyes, she had lost all hope. She held it to herself, she didn’t want to lose it ever again. She was happy she had got her pouch back a day before her practicals. Now she could write her practicals with her favourite lucky pen.

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The following evening, Antara had had her coffee and was on her way back to her room.  She was in a good mood – her practicals had gone really well, and now that all her stationery was back, she could sketch again. She sat on her bed, took out her pouch and her book. But something was missing – there was no zip. It wasn’t her pouch, it was only stripes of olive green and black. 


short story

The Emotional Gene

​In a mad world, only the mad are sane. And into a highly advanced, no nonsense, seriously mad world Mo was born. She was seven when she first displayed that she was not quite normal. The majority say she is cursed, and a minority claims she is gifted. She was not sure of anything, until she had been sent to the Reset Centre. There she had had a late realisation: that this war had come to a climax.

She remembered that day very well, eleven years ago how she had failed miserably in her practical telekinesis class. Her blood pressure was going haywire, and she could not speak. She had cried out loud that day. That was the first time she had displayed her defect. As she grew up, the defects increased, and after her seventh public display of defect, the Social Affairs Court had taken matters into their hands. 

Homo sapiens did manage to achieve a lot: they found a way to overcome global warning, they got rid of all the various currencies and came up with Solars and Lunars. Money was no longer the priority, it was just a means to maintain social and economic stability. Humans even managed to make water, and other resources which had been categorised non-renewable years ago. But the most important ‘development’ was that they had managed to upgrade their brains.  From Homo sapiens they became Home cogno sapiens. 

They had finally become a superior race, but in this long journey they had sacrificed a lot. A lot of people lost their lives, and the world population came down tremendously. Earth – or what was left of it – was dying. Humans had to sacrifice life – the joy of life. They no longer experienced or expressed emotions. And that is where Mo went wrong, or rather her DNA.

Mo was certainly not the first case to have reported display of emotions. One was only allowed ‘the first cry’ at birth, as it enabled the baby to take in gulps of oxygen. But after that, there were machines to assist the baby in everything. The whole idea was still under strict research, but the scientists believe that it is due to the absence of a mutated gene. Usually, genetic disorders are due to the presence of a mutation, but in this case, the gene was similar to the ones found in Homo sapiens. This led to decreased cognitive abilities, and also emotions. The scientists were unable to find out why there was a negative mutation (where the mutation takes you backwards in the chronology of evolution.).  Thus, this special genetic disorder was named Inferiority Cognition Disorder and the gene was named The Inferior Gene. 

Thus, people with the gene is often considered genetically inferior. There are people who believe that the gene is in fact a gift; that nature is trying to teach humans something they have long forgotten in this race for success. These people are mostly scientific and psychosocial historians, who have studied Homo sapiens in detail. They, in spite of being genetically advanced, are experimenting with emotions. 

A Reset Centre is where people who suffer from this disorder is sent to be rectified. It is a huge white building where every corridor leads you to another, walls after walls. Seven. That was the ultimatum. There were people who tried to hide the disorder, but then emotions became complex as one grew – and thus more difficult to hide too. If the disorder was not treated privately, then the Social Courts Affairs would take matters into its own hands. They wanted a perfect uniform society of advanced cognition.

Mo had experienced her seventh attack on her seventeenth birthday. It was similar to her first, but much worse. Her parents were both engineers, busy building the city. They were not at all bothered about their only daughter, or that she was suffering from the disorder. They did not show up for her birthday either, and she broke down in front of her guests. It was mixture of anger, sorrow, loneliness and failure. She didn’t know what exactly the emotion was, but it was burning her heart. 

All her life, she believed what the society told her: she was cursed, genetically inferior, a major failure for her family genealogy. Her parents regret the genes they passed down. They soon had another child, a boy, when she was nine. She hardly saw him, they kept him away from her. But, at the Reset Home, she came across so many others like her, and asked herself why should it be abnormal at all?  There were various exercises meant to help upgrade their mental abilities. And after one year at the centre, she was at peace with the whole controversy.

One day, after one of the Reset sessions, she heard voices from behind the door marked ‘RESEARCH’. Entry was limited to staff, mostly scientists who were using the centre’s data to research further into the issue, and to try and avoid such a genetic combination in the future. You could rectify this genetic error, but only if you are able to detect it within the first trimester. This gene, for reasons unknown, could not be detected at such an early stage. The rate at which the ‘defects’ were infecting the population was increasing. Representatives from all over the world decided that this was unhealthy, and had to be cured soon.

But what made Mo stop in front of that door were the voices, and that particular noise which she was unable to comprehend. One of the voice is …. Speaking fast, and in a rude tone. Yes, he sounds angry. And the girl… is crying.. no almost crying. Sob..sobb..sobbing? yes, sounds like that. That’s weird, I thought we were not allowed into the room, wondered Mo. Just then the man walked out the door, almost bumping into Mo. She ran away before he could shout at her, but not before she saw that the girl was in fact one of the researchers.
The centre was divided into various wings (A, B, C, D etc), and they were identified by their numbers, and not names. Mo was G7. Once back in G wing, she shared her experience with her mates. They pondered over it for a while. Finally, G16 asked what the argument had been about. 

“Well, I couldn’t make much sense of it, but it sounded like one of their experiments had gone wrong, and the man was furious.” she replied.

And then, all of a sudden everybody began talking at once, wondering what could have gone wrong. But Mo, was confused. She silenced her mates, and said, “We all know that normal human beings can  feel only one thing – and that is a sense of dissatisfaction or disappointment. Nothing more than that. But we can. And that is why we are here. The important question here is what went so wrong that the man was so angry? That the women was sobbing? What went so wrong that they became like us?”

There was a moment silent realisation, when the dinner bell rang. It was decided they would try to gather as much information possible during dinner. And the next step would be decided afterwards. 

After dinner, they gathered again to discuss what might have happened. There had been rumours that extreme and irreversible defects were often experimented on for research purposes. But nothing more than that. Finally, G20 beckoned everybody to be quiet, and shared what she had overheard. 

She had not made much sense of it, most of it was barely audible. But an experiment had gone terribly wrong, it was meant to ‘switch off’ the gene that was responsible for emotions. She was not sure what exactly went wrong, but it was very contagious, since the rest of the staff were asked to take precautions. Mo knew she was almost there, just one last piece of the puzzle was missing. And she had made up her mind to get to the bottom of it.

The lab was full of workers, but it was not the same after what had happened. Lab Workers 271 and 165 had been put into quarantine. Anybody could be next, and the workaholic air had transformed into one of stress and confusion. Everybody was trying to act normal, to not express anything. But things had gone beyond their control, and their fears were confirmed when LW119 collapsed, his face in his hands, tears rolling down his cheek. One more down. 

Mo was hovering over the Q wing, as she wanted answers. She had heard that it was once used as a quarantine, but she had only recently heard that the members had been shifted to a different wing, so as to use the wing as a quarantine –for special cases. Cases that nobody really knew. She was there to find out more. But she was hardly even let into the wing. She told the staff on duty that she was there to meet her friend Q2, but they merely informed her that the wing had been evacuated. She tried to argue with them so as to try and peek into the wing, but all she could see was that there were three members – 2 males and a female. And then, suddenly, another scientist came up and pulled the staff aside. The staff motioned her to leave, and she nodded her head in obedience. But not before peeking into the wing one last time.

Back in her wing, her mates were eagerly waiting for her to share what she had seen. But Mo was not sure what to make of it. She had seen the same woman, the one who had been crying in the lab. She was also pretty sure that the man who had shouted at the woman was also in the same wing. And also another ‘defect’ was to be added to the wing. She had heard the scientist whisper, one more bed required. 

They all gathered later, after dinner, to discuss the day’s findings. G10 suspected alien invasion, G21 suspected a scam. Most of them were clueless, and finally G9 said something sensible: some sort of contagious disease had broken out, that were turning normal people into defects. But Mo had a better theory. 

What if the experiment had backfired? That was the only sensible theory that she could come up with. What if the experiment that was supposed to ‘switch off’ the gene in defects, had completely backfired. And what if that experiment was ‘switching on’ the gene in normal people?

G9 gasped, “That means…”

“Yes, that means everything we were told were wrong. Everybody must have the gene in them by birth, only ours is active.” said Mo.

The Head of Research had was under a lot of criticism, he was almost fired 5 minutes ago. Who the hell was responsible for that disaster? You should not have measured emotion more than you can handle, the subject was obviously overwhelmed. The public should not know of the radiations that were emitted by the subject during the disaster. This was what the President had to say. 

The gene had always existed, but humans had forgotten to use it. As a result, it had become quite redundant. The effort had always been to remove the gene from the coming generations completely- as per the unanimous decision by the world leaders. But what they did not want to face was the fact that the gene was turned on at least once in everybody’s life. Only the ones with no control whatsoever were called defects. And the lifestyle was such that the gene only become active three or four years after birth – which was why you could never detect it within the first trimester. The whole ‘defect program’ was a scam, a lie. The world leaders believed that emotions could hamper development.

The HOR never really believed that one could feel nothing – the world leaders in fact were scared. They would not call it so, but he knew that was what it was. They had tried to extract emotions from a subject. But the experiment had failed miserably – as the subject turned overwhelming, and overloaded the machines- which exploded- thus emitting radiations. Theses radiations were in fact triggering this gene – turning it ‘on’.

Mo was watching the Q wing closely. More people were admitted every passing day, and she also saw a lot of new people in the centre. The news reported rare cases where people had become defects during old age – an unlikely late discovery. Suddenly, people everywhere were becoming defects, and within months, all centres were full. Mo’s theory was beginning to substantiate itself.

And then, finally, the day came when history was about to repeat itself. The world leaders had ordered a genocide of the defect population. The defects were furious, and they became violent. The President was to declare the genocide at People’s Square. But a mutiny had already broken out. Two of the Reset Centres had completely broken down, and hundreds of defects walked into the Square, as the President was speaking. They were not going to sit simply this time; they had already been tagged defects – they had nothing else to fear. In fact, being a defect gave them the freedom to react, unlike the ‘normal’ ones who were trying hard to keep it together. 

One of the defects threw his shoe at the President. The President was completely taken aback for a second, scared the next, and then it finally turned into rage. But before he could shout, his guards escorted him. A man immediately took the stage – it was none other than the HOR at Mo’s centre. And he revealed the truth that had been hidden from them all along – and what better evidence to present than the president’s reaction?

It remained the headlines for a couple of weeks. More people gave into their emotions than suppressing it. It took time, but people started to acknowledge the truth. They too started seeing it as a gift, and broke into centres to free other defects. The Discipline Force could not control anything anymore – the world as such had fallen into chaos. The leaders had to meet again, and they quit. And within two months, a new set of leaders had emerged. Reset Centres were converted to Research Centres, to help people understand emotions better, and also to improve the emotional quotient of the world. 

And once again, the human race learned how to live. Emotions were no longer looked down upon, but respected. They were given the importance in life. They learned to care – for each other, about other species, and also about their wonderful planet that gave them life. After all, emotions are what makes us alive, than being vegetative.

family, movie

Why I Should Maybe Stop Watching Horror

And also movies where you have”suspenses”. 

Last Saturday, VJ let us engage in the Conversations about Cinema, and it was super fun. Everybody had stories to tell, but I forgot so many of my own. And that class brought back so much of them. 

I have often been scolded by my friends for spoiling the suspense, which I manage to guess. And there’s this thing I have for animation movies – because I feel they’re like dreams. Anything and everything can happen. 

I don’t remember when exactly I had first seen my horror movie. But then maybe, it doesn’t start with a movie at all? 

The earliest memory I have of anything ‘horror-ish’ is perhaps this weird serial I used to watch with my grandpa and cousins. This is something that happened only at my mom’s house. The room would be dark, lights off and all those trees would be peeking in through those old fashioned grilled windows. I don’t remember the name or the story at all; it has a couple and a yakshi I think. I don’t even remember how old I was – seven or eight? My grandpa used to watch, and we used to sit with him. Somehow, the idea of getting scared didn’t scare us, instead it might as well as have excited us. But one of my cousins was a little hesitant to look at the TV; she had the habit of peeking through the gaps in between the fingers of her hand – which covered her face – so that she would be terrified, but still not miss any part of it at the same time. The same cousin would, years later, sit with me to watch Paiyaa, fast forwarding through all the songs and the fight scenes – it’s a Tamil movie. 

Years later, my grandfather had passed away. The four of us were together in that house after years, for the rituals. And one night, we were in his bedroom discussing the movie ‘Mirrors‘. Well not really discussing, since we hadn’t watched the movie. I had just seen that one scene where the hero’s sister dies, and decided I’ll watch the movie in leisure – from the beginning- the next time. The eldest one, S, then continued to narrate the story. And I helped her scare the other two. And after this, I don’t remember why exactly  – we (S and I) had to step out of the room. It was dark out there, since our mothers were at some other corner of the house. We had to go to S’s room – she lived with her mother and grandpa – to take something. She was searching in the dark, so was I. But then she turned on the lights (on purpose) , and I was standing right in front of the dressing mirror. I had an exciting heart attack, after which we started giggling. We went back to the room and terrified the other two, reminding them that reflections were enough. 
I have perhaps become used to watching horror movies, and writing horror was a much later addition. I had watched Conjuring 2 in theatre, and that was the first horror movie I saw in a theatre. I had planned to go with my two BBFs – Bangalore Best Friends, S and P. 

The movie was, in many ways funny. And there were so many people commenting aloud – even us perhaps. But my classmates had perhaps praised it so much, that I had placed the movie high in expectations. So much that, no matter how scary the movie was, it would still not be scary enough for me. It was maybe unfair of me to do so. But then, it was a beautiful movie -mind blowing I would say. 
I have already written about how to write horror stories. Or rather how I write themI’ve always wondered what somebody expects from a horror movie. Many a times, almost half of the horror effect is lost when you’re watching it on TV. But you can still recreate it to an extent – lights off at midnight that leaves just you and the movie. Shefali says horror films bore her; and I sort of agree with her. It doesn’t bore me, but if you’ve already watched the movie, then you lose the advantage of the ‘surprise’ element. And also, there are movies with a lot of blood shed – killing people or butchering them, piranhas or sharks eating you. All these would never fall into my idea of horror. A little bit is perhaps inevitable, but usually such movies disgust me. 

I guess I’ve always been interested in the stories they tell, even if most of the time it is incomplete. And at times barely there. And this is not just for horror movies. We all keep watching a movie again and again and again. For instance, I don’t remember when exactly I had first seen Manichithrathazhu, but I know that every time after that I haven’t changed the channel if they’re playing the movie. My parents don’t let me see the movie in peace (or in pieces) as they start reciting dialogues as if the Bhoot has got them. And then, I join them. 

Alone, horror fiction

The Staircase

I ran and ran, but it kept going round and round. It didn’t have an end. My hands were burnt each time I caught the railing for support. The higher I went, the tighter it clutched.
One hot afternoon, I stood there staring at the staircase.

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