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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

HT Brunch Cover Story: How millennials write…three 20-somethings write exclusive monsoon-themed stories

Turns out, their way of romanticising the rains is quite different from that of generations gone by

brunch Updated: Aug 18, 2019 00:21 IST

Hindustan Times
Vivaan Shah, Bilal Siddiqi  and Gurmehar Kaur pen exclusive rainy day reads for HT Brunch. Styling by Henna Akhtar; Make-up and hair by Cash Make-up artistry; On Vivaan: Suit, NM Design Studio; T-shirt, Zara; shoes, Berleigh; On Bilal: Suit, NM Design Studio; T-shirt, Tommy Hilfiger; shoes, Berleigh; On Gurmehar: Jumpsuit, Zara; shoes, Heel & Buckle London
Vivaan Shah, Bilal Siddiqi and Gurmehar Kaur pen exclusive rainy day reads for HT Brunch. Styling by Henna Akhtar; Make-up and hair by Cash Make-up artistry; On Vivaan: Suit, NM Design Studio; T-shirt, Zara; shoes, Berleigh; On Bilal: Suit, NM Design Studio; T-shirt, Tommy Hilfiger; shoes, Berleigh; On Gurmehar: Jumpsuit, Zara; shoes, Heel & Buckle London (Subi Samuel)
         

Providence By Bilal Siddiqi, 25

Suleiman first lost his folks to the rains and then it beat him down once again...
Suleiman first lost his folks to the rains and then it beat him down once again... ( Photo illustration by Parth Garg )

Bilal Siddiqi released his first book, a spy thriller called The Bard of Blood, when he was just 19 years old. This was followed by a biography and a romantic thriller. Plus, Bilal is also working as a screenwriter with a production house and is open to writing in different genres.

Hindustantimes

Suleiman in all his 13 years of age had been told about God and his mysterious ways. Living in an impoverished part of Mahim, he had lost his parents a few years earlier in the most unfortunate of ways. Their little makeshift house, made of asbestos sheets, metal rods and loose bricks, caved in one rainy night and crushed them while he happened to be outside with his friend Javed. Javed and he had been enjoying the hard beads of water hitting their faces as they waded in the muddied puddles and played catch with well-rounded pebbles. Upon returning home and witnessing what had transpired, Suleiman broke down, unable to fathom how the same rain that he so enjoyed had also caused great heartbreak. “It is all providence,” he was later told by the craggy-faced maulvi at the dargah nearby.

Almost a year later, Suleiman and Javed sat opposite a seedy restaurant, longing to sink their teeth into the cheap kebabs and naans. It was humid and the smoke from the tandoors and the collective body odour of the crowd enveloped the road. It had been a while and the rain had still not arrived. Global warming and suchlike were the justifications of the elite. Out here, it was all God’s will.

With Suleiman and Javed was the local handicapped ragpicker Abdullah. The restaurant, run by pot-bellied Faizan bhai, had scores of beggars lining up outside awaiting some do-gooder to pay for their meal. Faizan bhai, when he came across the said do-gooder, would pocket a large chunk of the money that was meant for the beggars and feed them with whatever his limited generosity allowed him to. Abdullah cursed at the unscrupulous Faizan. Suleiman watched pensively and then made up his mind.

“He is stealing from others,” he shrugged. “So we can steal from him.”

Abdullah chuckled.

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“Suleiman,” he flashed his ugly grin, “You are the better runner of the two. Javed, you distract Faizan. Suleiman you run off with the food. Whatever you can lay your hands on. I’ll see you at the end of the road. Okay?”

The two nodded. Javed walked up to Faizan and began to annoy him with a well-rehearsed plea that he often used at traffic signals. An irritated Faizan tried hurling curses at Javed to send him off. But Javed was going nowhere. Faizan got off his stone platform with a piece of wood that he used to beat his rotis into shape, exposing a stack of freshly-cooked butter-naans behind him. Suleiman saw his chance. He darted through the scores of beggars, swiftly grabbed the food, and made his way out of the restaurant before Faizan could register what had happened. Faizan ordered his men to chase Suleiman. A few beggars cheered Suleiman as they saw the nimble-footed boy negotiate his way through the crowds.

Suleiman turned to look at the chasing men. He also felt his skin moisten. It wasn’t sweat. It had started raining. Not a gentle drizzle. The rain beat down hard on him. The same rain that had taken his parents from him. As he ran on, the ground beneath him got more slippery. He turned to see that Faizan’s men were still hot on his heels. He could not afford to get caught. He pushed himself to run faster and the inevitable happened. He fell. The naans he had stolen fell in a muddy puddle next to his face.

He felt a few kicks to the ribcage. Well, it certainly is true. The wise maulvi’s words echoed in his ears. “It is all providence…”

Rain By Gurmehar Kaur, 22

Househelp Kusum’s love for the rain lasts while she’s working in a sleek apartment, else it’s all smell and muck ...
Househelp Kusum’s love for the rain lasts while she’s working in a sleek apartment, else it’s all smell and muck ... ( Photo illustration by Parth Garg )

Student activist and writer, Gurmehar Kaur is a youth icon who has authored Small Acts of Freedom and The Young and the Restless. Edgy, crisp and straightforward, her writing strikes a chord with the youngsters in India today.

Hindustantimes

The rains have arrived, Kusum thought gloomily as she looked outside the window, dreading the terrible wet walks she would have to make from house to house, progressively having to get her sari messier as the more houses she cleaned. For her the heat was bearable and she often found repose in Kalyani didi’s house where she would turn the air conditioning on and breathe for a few minutes as the house was often empty since both Kalyani a young interior designer and her husband left for work early before she arrived. Kalyani and her barely had any conversation, but she was far kinder than many of the people she worked for and she showed her kindness in small acts of gifting untouched food gift boxes, which she received at work. “I’m always on a diet and neither me nor Arun will ever eat this mithai or namkeen, you take it home,” she would roll her eyes on the word diet and pass Kusum her sweet smile. On days she returned with the food boxes, her children’s eyes shone with endearment for their mother and that was enough to make her day. Small satisfactions of life.

The door opened before she could rummage out the keys from the jhola she carried on her shoulder. Kalyani shot her a quick smile as she actioned Kusum to walk inside quick while she hummed yeses in the phone, she did not want the rain water puddled in the corner of the staircase leading unto the apartment drifting inside her home. Kusum leaving the umbrella outside closed the door behind her as she began gathering the drenched bits of her sari into a knot as to give her more mobility to work around the sleek apartment. “Didi how are you home today?” she asked as soon as Kalyani put the phone down. “Today it’s raining so much and you never know where it might flood, didn’t want to to be stuck at work for hours, so I’m taking a work-from-home day,” she went on to explain a work-from-home situation to Kusum who nodded enthusiastically. “Kash hum bhi work-from-home ker saktey per kismet mien kahan” (I wish we could also work-from-home but don’t have the good fortune),” she said jokingly but wishing it were true. Kalyani looked up from her kettle and giggled at her.

“Today, the road was blocked again as usual because of the corporation work, so I had to take the longer way, a longer walk in the rain here but what to do? I had to make it here somehow,” she continued “and it’s still easier on the side of the roads, you find footpaths, but in the slum where we live the water in the open gutter mixes with the shit and floods the whole road, that is when it gets the most disgusting. Buhot smell aata hai (It smells a lot).”

Ek toh I don’t understand what is with the protests in your slum against the relocation to Mahul, they will give you a proper house to live, no more of this gutter nonsense,” she said casually and added. “The government is trying to do so much for development but we as citizens must also cooperate na?” she looked expectantly at Kusum waiting for her to agree with her, which Kusum did because why argue with a nice woman and how will she explain to her existence – wasn’t garbage needed to be dumped in a corner next to chemical refineries to be left to die so the posh Bandra area could be developed to spare the flooding. Plus, when it floods they could always ‘work-from-home’ she thought but didn’t say it.

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She would admit to herself that she did often wonder what it would be like to move to a pakka ghar, no matter how small.

Development wasn’t supposed to be a bad concept, it was the same development project that had her husband employed but she did wonder whose benefits in mind are kept when they think of development. How did it cater to her and her people if in the larger scheme of development they were nothing but obstacles needed to be disposed off. Everything in the world seemed to exist to comfort the richer.

“You are drenched Kusum, come have a cup of chai with me and enjoy the rain,” Kalyani said as she poured her a cup of tea from the kettle. And Kusum did enjoy the rain, at least for those 15 minutes the chai existed in her cup and then she got up, finished her work and left the house to face the downpour that she was dreamily gazing at not 30 minutes ago. Even the rain seems to exist to comfort the richer.

The Reptile Kind By Vivaan Shah, 29

Rachna’s love for helpless creatures transcends all barriers, but animal instinct gets the better of her...
Rachna’s love for helpless creatures transcends all barriers, but animal instinct gets the better of her... ( Photo illustration by Parth Garg )

Son of veteran actors, Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah, Vivaan Shah garnered acclaim for his role in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf. But his writing debut Living Hell, a murder mystery set in Mumbai essays his skills as a fast-paced fiction writer with a penchant for dark humour.

Hindustantimes

It was pouring buckets the day Suzy, the light brown terrier pup from the animal shelter, was delivered to the ground floor doorstep of my clinic, cradled tightly within the capable elbows of my friend and associate Rachna Nimkar of the Pramodhini Foundation, an animal adoption NGO that rescued strays from the street and brought them to me for proper medical care.

I had at that time a client by the name of Niladri Bandhopadyay, a distant relative of the Gaekwad royal family, who had been referred to me by the Baroda Institute of Veterinary Studies for the treatment of a now deceased pet peacock named Rameshwari. He owned a large bungalow on the outskirts of town, and had scarcely a guard dog in the locality to look after the property.

“How old is she?” he asked, as he examined the wet dog.

“Two months old,” said Rachna, scrubbing Suzy dry in the hope of making her more presentable. “Even vaccinated by Dr Sonthalia here,” she added, pointing towards me.

“That’s right,” I nodded. “Had her rabies shots, no ticks, perfectly toilet-trained.”

“She’s very loving!” Rachna assured him.

We managed to facilitate the transaction without much hesitation from his end.

Once he left the clinic with the scrawny terrier cradled in his arms, wading back into the pouring rain, we both let out simultaneous exhalations.

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I started to switch off the lights and fans of the clinic after we split the proceeds, spreading out an umbrella to cover the two of us up till we got to my Hyundai i20, parked in a distant corner of the compound. On the count of three we made a run for it, already soaked by the spills from the parapet while locking up the front door.

My phone started to glow as we got into the car. My younger child had been calling me since dinnertime to inform me that a slum near the Subhash Bridge was flooded. I gazed through the foggy windscreen, and spun the wheel around with a jerk, adjusting my spectacles so as to squint through the speckled high-beam.

“I can’t see a thing,” I blinked, as we hit the main road. A distant thunderclap sounded over the soggy scenery.

We were crossing the bridge that spread out upon the Vishwamitri River when I noticed through the entangled shadows a settlement of shanties perched on the banks of the swamp. As the car splashed into a puddle, the tyres crunched over something that seemed softer than a zebra-striped speed breaker or a tree-trunk. I immediately squealed to a halt and we both got out of the car in an instant, leaving the headlights on and rushing back for a closer look at whatever lay on the road. While approaching it, the two of us soon became aware of the scaly silhouette of a crocodile. The snout had been entirely trampled, and the tail partially torn.

Rachna rushed to the aid of the bedraggled creature without flinching, but just as the half-open eye caught sight of her outstretched arm, it suddenly snapped at her, nearly tearing out the same elbow that had moments ago so lovingly nursed another helpless beast. She let out a shriek that probably rattled the croc, which left its mouth open long enough for her to escape its grip. Then, snarling at her care and consideration for it, it scampered about the bridge and slid back into the mucky recesses it came from.

We stood there stunned, getting drenched and looking into the swamp. I knew a storm was coming. The rain slowly graduated into a torrential downpour.

Illustrator bio: Parth Garg is a Delhi boy who, at 24, is a millennial himself. In addition to illustrating for HT Brunch, he is currently involved with a project that promotes education for all.

Additional reporting by Lubna Salim

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From HT Brunch, August 18, 2019

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First Published: Aug 17, 2019 23:28 IST