Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cough Off

If the headache is more of your thing, click here.

At first I thought I’d name this article ‘Saved by a Cough’, one might think it was a grammatical mistake, after all, we all want to be saved from a cough, not saved by a cough, but, trust me when I say there is no mistake, and it was as intended, saved by a cough, also I wear I’m as sober as you are, so worry not. And there was always the problem of pharma companies having read the title and not bothering to read the actual article, spamming me asking for the miracle cure, so I settled for the above title. I have come a long way from having thousands of unread mails to having almost zero unread emails. I actually have negative unread emails; I mean some of those emails I have read more than once, so I call it having negative unread emails. It took me almost three full days, fifteen full cups of coffee and three pizzas to finally configure my Gmail with all those email filters so that I don't have too many unwanted unread emails, in the process of which I sacrificed three days of facebooking. That was actually a thrilling wait as I was expecting a burst of notifications, although, it didn’t happen, that’s another matter altogether. So I don't want to ding all this by opting for the former title, ‘Saved by a Cough.’

Cough is like a spork. Like spork combines spoon and fork. Cough combines sneeze and seriousness. It’s almost like a sneeze only looking more serious. People might laugh when one sneezes, but have you ever seen people laughing at a cough? The answer is a resounding no, that’s because the cough is very good at looking very serious. And it comes handy in quite a few situations.

For someone like me cough is a great tool. But what exactly do I mean by ‘someone like me’, no I’m not talking about my lineage when I said it, I meant in a behavioral way. I’m a very, very - not that any number of ‘very’s can do the justice here - very shy person, and won’t talk out unless it’s absolutely important, and for a shy person the absolutely important is much beyond anything normal. To illustrate, one time during snorkeling, I jumped from a two storied boat, and as someone who doesn’t know swimming, I jumped with my breathing pipe attached to my face and as expected, upon the impact it got ripped from my face and I was there thrashing and flailing in the azure waters of the ocean near the boat. My love of water made me jump, although a part of me had been warning me, ‘You don’t know swimming, dumbo!’, but who would listen to good advice from the brain, right? Anyway, as I was there thrashing in the water, I was evaluating my options, should I shout? It seems logical before I die out drowning, but my shyness didn’t let me utter a single cry, besides it forced me to step up to the situation and do something stupid. It made me dive deeper into the ocean and catch my snorkeling pipe before it sank and with a great difficulty I had finally put it on. Although I was saved, coughing all the swallowed water out - a real cough -I got nasty cuts on my legs, thanks to the bottom edges of the boats. If a drowning and possible dying scenario didn’t classify as important, I don’t know what would.

For a person as shy as me, from times immemorial it was the cough that came handy and helped us out in most situations. There are many types of coughs, I’m not talking about the chronic cough, which threatens to pull the lungs out and throw from the mouth. Rather, it's  a mere affectation, an adopted cousin of the real cough, who claims to be the twin of the earlier cough. This is a fake cough, which comes in various lengths as the situation demands.

We always get stocked from the same grocery shop, time and again. The shop looks as yellow as it always did. As if it’s painted thus, a dull yellow with greasy smudges covering all the walls, possibly because of the shop boys rubbing their hands on the walls after handling tamarind. The shopkeeper knows my grandfather, my father and mother and my brother and me. Uffff! So when we go there and if he is still attending someone else, it’s because he wants to attend to us in peace, or so I would like to think. There are others who would budge their way, pushing others until they are face to face with the shopkeeper, get their list packed, and pay the money and leave. But I stand back at a respectful distance from everyone else, almost screening myself from the eyes of shopkeeper, trying to merge in the background, so that he wouldn’t attend to me first which would irk others. I let them shop in peace and when I think people who came before me completed their business, I move ahead to give him my list. But there’s a catch, people who come after me often tend to wedge themselves in that respectful gap I’ve left and try to force their way. This is where I issue a respectful cough, just audible enough to the person who has jumped the line, and if he/she has any decency, they would come back and wait for the turn, although I must admit the success rate here would be less than 25%.

And after all the waiting when I finally come face to face with the shopkeeper, there can be two contextual coughs. If the shopkeeper is still attending some other list and not have looked at me, a cough to announce my presence, just a bit bigger in length. And when, after paying the price sometimes shopkeeper forgets to hand me change, or whenever has not given the full change, I cough, but this time looking not at him, but at currency notes in my hand, making a counting gesture, this always goads  him into handing me my change. Magic!

I’m shy even to say ‘Excuse me,’ when my path is blocked by two people who have decided that that is the right place for them to stand and exchange gossip, or by couples in park canoodling and lay there in wonky twists. Here the cough comes in two short bursts, with minimal amplitude, unless of course when I’m in a moving train, as it would require a greater magnitude to cancel out the ambient noise.

When two friends are calling me names and talking about me, not knowing about my presence, it’s a good idea to go away from there. But if I must go there, I’d clear my throat clearly and audibly before any damaging piece of gossips reaches me. Clearing-throat is, after all the little brother of cough.

When someone wrongs me and I hate them so much for that but he happens to be physically well built than me thereby denying me the possibility of going and breaking his leg, I sneeze and cough a lot in his presence, thereby trying to gross him with my saliva and hoping they would be attacked by some airborne disease to which I’m immune to, till he realizes his mistake and apologizes to me. Although I’m not sure how I can cure him if he really happens to apologize to me. I’m still working on this hypothetical situation and update you once I have an answer.

I have this habit of pulling up my left sleeve of my shirt to my shoulders. Why do I do that? I have no frigging idea, and I do it subconsciously, just like I spin a pen with my fingers, And every time I’m in the presence of my teacher/instructor my friends issue a small cough which reminds me to pull my sleeve down. Although to be honest, sometimes I’ve no idea why they are coughing and if their cough is real.

My uncle, it seems, to never get a listening ear at his home, and he vents that out whenever he comes to visit relatives. He talks at great lengths about everything and anything, which is most often trivial poppycock, even going to the length of reading from the Sunday magazine, adding his own face expressions and exclamations to every line, expecting me to nod my approval every time, with clasped arms. It’s the worst punishment. The stories are meant to be read aloud, but magazines aren’t. No one ever reads a magazine aloud and it should be made a criminal offense if anyone attempts it. At these times I let out a big drawn out cough and I clutch at my throat and run for water and that’s my chance of escape, and I go as far from that room as possible, But this works only if the water bottle is not near me or kitchen is far from us. Ah! This would definitely come under life threatening situation, where no cough would work and I would get up and say I need to go to the toilet. But if I’m very unlucky and happen to be sitting in room with attached bathroom, I’d have no choice but to go to the bathroom and wait there patiently, peeping from it time to time, hoping someone to call him, and making my escape path clear.

Speaking of the bathroom, I’m reminded of the situation when a loud cough becomes the de facto savior. Whenever someone coughs in a class or a meeting I invariably tend to assume it’s because he/she needs to pass the gas and using the cough to muffle the decibels if any, and gain some peace of mind. But, bear in your mind ‘With great fart comes great responsibility,’ so here one has the additional responsibility of timing both of them exactly at the same moment. Otherwise that person becomes the cynosure of the crowd and the purpose is lost, exposed and caught red-handedly, or more like red-facedly. It’s as good as calling out, “abracadabra, look at me!”

You think that a lazy, shy student is the only species using cough as best as he/she can? Well, you are wrong. In an Indian high school context, in the tenth-grade biology there comes a lesson about the human reproductive system. Bizarrely enough all the strong and healthy teachers suddenly seem to have caught up indubitably in a chronic cough which leaves them as soon as the chapter is completed. Somehow those high-pitched coughs, and those obscure diagrams which don’t make sense go hand in hand. Suddenly you see a whole lesson filled primarily with teachers’ cough trying to escape the manscape of wry, suppressed, and tight smiles.

A Cough is as important as a sanitary pad for a girl on periods, but sadly enough, both of those are shoved under a mat as if they are a taboo. But I believe every cough has its day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

To the Fairyland

Far away in the wild meadows there were two houses just beyond the green fields, just beside the great mango tree. The village folk, who lived the other side of the fields say that, that mango tree was the first one ever. It was very big and very wooded and casted large black shadows.  The place nearby was filled with fallen ripe mangoes and anyone could just pick those. They were big, juicy and ripe mangoes. The mangoes which were plucked were all very sour and gave bad stomach aches for weeks together. So the villagers realized it was better to wait for the fruit to fall and thus no one ever climbed that tree.

Of the two houses near the mango tree, one was mansion while the other, although a little small was a cozy little home, where little Rohan lived, and everyone called him Ro.

One day the family in the mansion invited everyone to a party since they were blessed with a little baby girl, whom they called Maggie. And  Ro’s family was invited too since they have always been amicable neighbors. As Ro was still learning to walk Ro’s father was carrying him, and when it was time for a drink he put him down on the floor near the white cradle draped in black velvet, where the baby was hosted. And Maggie, who has been crying all the time stopped as soon as she grabbed the finger offered to her by the curious Ro. And all through the party Ro was standing at cradle holding the baby Maggie’s little hand, for Maggie cried whenever Ro was not in sight. The elders laughed a great deal. And in all this din made Maggie and Ro fall asleep. While Maggie slept clutching Ro’s hand, Ro slept leaning on the support staff of the cradle.


“Dad, could you please talk to the peacock king and ask him for two feathers, and take him if he gives it happily?” asked Maggie earnestly, clinging to her Dad’s leg as he was about to leave to work.

“What for?” said her dad, with eyes so wide and bright.

“Ro says that’s the payment which we need to do to enter the fairyland”

He kissed the little girl on the top of her head and ruffled her hair, “I’ll try and get it sweetheart.”

“But please make sure they are happy feathers.”

And she waited patiently for Ro to return from school because her mom said she can’t go to school yet. She didn’t understand why, “But Ro’s mom lets him go.”

“My silly sweety, that’s because he’s two years older than you.”

“What’s older, mom?”

“It’s like taller. You can start your school when you are as tall as Ro.”

Maggie flipped a bucket and stood on it, “Now I think I’m taller than Ro, mom.”

“Oh! Do you, my sweet little witch,” saying which she tickled Maggie and they both laughed.


And Maggie sat, with an eager face, waiting in front of their yard from where the path leads to the village. Ro came back in the afternoon and she ran to him to tell him that her dad promised to bring her the peacock feathers.

“Oh, no, you can’t do that.”

“But why? she asked with her lips pouting.

“Because the peacock king needs to give you his feathers himself, otherwise they won’t work.”

She almost made a crying face and before she would burst out, Ro said “I’ll take you to the peacock-king who gave me the feathers, but you need to ask him yourself. Don’t worry, he’s the best peacock-king ever.”

They went near the Mango tree where a peacock lived and after bowing to him, Ro nudged a scared Maggie towards the peacock king.

“Dear sir, can you give me two feathers, just like you gave Ro.”

“I’m sorry, little child, but I can give only two feathers only once in three months. And I’ve already given them to Ro.”

And then Maggie began crying and Ro joined her as well.

It was too much for the peacock king to witness two little kids crying, “Don’t worry children, I’ll ask a friend of mine to come here and give his feathers.”

Maggie lightened up, but she scrunched up her face in a visible doubt, “But Ro said only those feathers given by a happy peacock-king would work.”

“That’s true my child.”

“But you’re the peacock-king.”

“Every peacock is a peacock-king, now come near me.”

Just as the peacock king readied himself to call his friend, he shook his head and said, “Oh, wait, I’m sorry my dear. I can’t do that.”

With an incredulous look, pulling up her upper lip, Maggie asked, "But why, sir?”

“You have this smell, my dear. The smell people acquire when they stay indoors most of the time. That smell makes the happy feathers become normal and therefore, they don’t work. But you don’t worry you’re still but a bud, from now you can spend more time in the woods and get yourselves rid of that smell. And then come back to me.”

And presently Maggie burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. And Ro, with a pitiful face, and a helplessness uncharacteristic of his age, said, “Please sir, Maggie is a really good girl. She shares her candy with me. Although she hits me sometimes I don’t really mind. And she waits for me to come back from my school.”

“Oh, dear child. There’s another way, a new currency actually, introduced because they felt there are many good people who spend their lives locked in their rooms. But you’re too young. I can’t tell you that.”

“What is young sir?” asked a confused Ro.

Suddenly finding a chance to display her newfound knowledge, Maggie wiped her tears and with a newfound enthusiasm, said, “It’s-it's, like-ah-like, peacock-king thinks you’re not tall enough to do that, am I right sir?”

“But you’re very short too,” said Ro addressing both Maggie and the peacock-king.

And the peacock king said in a louder voice, “I’m tall for my species.”

Maggie and Ro backed away scared by the voice. And the peacock king felt bad for scaring the kids, “I’m really sorry children. It was odd. It’s just that I don’t like being called short. Come here Ro I’ll tell you the other way. But will you do it for her, for she is even younger than you.”

And as Ro went near the peacock king, he told the other way.


One Day Maggie and Ro asked their parents to take them to the next village with them. And Maggie’s dad and Ro’s dad agreed after they made a lot of promises that they won’t bother their parents during meal times, and eat whatever they were asked to eat, and won’t be running away from milk every morning. That village was a little bigger than their own hamlet. It has a golf club and railroad. So they Maggie, Ro and their dads started in Maggie Dad’s car.

Once there Maggie and Ro started running away in the golf club while their dads played golf. And after some time they went to the edge of the club which had wild bushes and trees and just across it a railway line.

“Peacock king said, there’s a new currency introduced along with the happy peacock feathers. Instead of the feathers, now they can give coins. But not just any coins. Only those coins which are flattened in between the rails and wheels of a train on a railroad.”

Ro placed two coins on the rails and waited for a train to come. He adjusted it several times before he thought he heard the sound of something coming. Maggie was excited as well as scared, she never saw a train. And when it finally came, she first hugged Ro very tightly for she was scared, but after watching a few cars of the train pass by her fright left her and she was all giggles. And they got two perfectly flattened out of shape coins.

“But we only have two, what if we want more?” asked Maggie.

“We just need two coins. I can pay feathers and you can give these coins. Once we go there we don’t need anything. Once we go there we won’t be forced to eat lunches and dinners. There we can eat all the candy we want and there is no boogeyman there. And that place is monster free.


Equipped with the currency, they went to peacock-king and showed him the coins, who taking a look at those the said, “These are perfect. Now you can go.”

“But how do we go, from where?” asked Ro.

“Why from this very mango tree, of course. This is the first mango tree ever, brought into this world by me, accidentally, of course. And ever since it became a portal for beings of your world and I the guardian of it,” seeing their confused faces the peacock-king laughed and said, “I suppose you don’t understand what I said. Anyway, knock the tree respectfully and request it for an entry.”

Maggie and Ro knocked on the old bark of the tree twice and requested loudly and earnestly that they want to come in. A large swing made of plants and leaves came down and knocked the kids on to it and took them up into the foliage. 

There was a squirrel there standing who made a whistling sound and the swing stopped. She stretched her hand, asking for the payment and Maggie and Ro gave them their respective payments. She sniffed the feathers and nodded, that they were, in fact, happy feathers. And then she scrutinized the coins to her satisfaction and putting them into separate pouches made of leaves, she whistled again and the swing went up, up and up. Maggie and Ro, enclosed by a bucket of leaves were frightened as they went up and they closed their eyes.

And when they opened their eyes, they weren’t in the swing anymore. They were on the solid ground. There was a chirping noise and they turned to see what the noise was.

“Hello,” chirped a little excited blue fairy, whose wings were buzzing continuously.


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