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About the Book

Weaving through the expanse of emotions that make up love, debutant writers and well known authors bring you a collection of stories that will pull at your heartstrings. These heartfelt tales take you on a journey across India. In Sultangarh, a young school teacher contemplates the better rishta for herself. At Esplanade, a man awaits a rendezvous with his much younger ‘girlfriend’. In Chennai, an IT Projects Manager meets a mysterious stranger. Love blossoms in unexpected places at a jhalmuri stall outside a BPO; two insomniacs from Mumbai meet by night; and in the quiet of Flurys café, a man revisits a time gone by with his lover.

Many of these stories delve into secret places. An intimate moment reveals darker secrets. A bride sits at the altar conflicted. The truth about a marriage comes unfurling ‘out of the closet’. A passionate couple try to address a ‘loud’ problem. While a once happy couple grapple with the stings of betrayal.

Laughter, as fortune favours the believer of positions of the stars; a street smart young lad walks into a marriage proposal setup; a boisterous middle aged woman chatters away about her secret love life and many other stories. Edited by Sneh Thakur, and with popular writers like Arunava Sinha, Ira Trivedi, Paritosh Uttam, R Chandrasekar, Ahmed Faiyaz and Malathi Jaikumar among many new voices, this is an anthology of urban Indian fiction, translated regional literature and stories never told before – straight from the heart.

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About the Editor

Sneh Thakur

Born in Kuwait, Sneh Thakur travelled her way from refugee camps during the Kuwait war to study in DehraDun, Delhi, Indore and finally an MBA at the Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune. She describes herself best in 6 words, “Pint Sized Rapunzel. On a Cloud.” She is the editor of Urban Shots – The Love Collection.

About the Authors

Abha Iyengar

Abha Iyengar is a poet and writer. Her work has appeared in Mannequin Envy, Muse India, Bewildering Stories, Urban Shots, Up the Staircase, Danse Macabre, The Fabulist and many others. Her story, ‘The High Stool’ was nominated for the Story South Million Writers Award.

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

Anant Tripathi

Anant Tripathi was lucky to be born to loving parents in one of the long northern winters of the early 90s. He grew up watching films and reading history books. His mother read to him as a child and his father taught him to be good. Presently, he thinks of himself as an immodest filmmaker, storyteller, athlete, artist, philosopher, bard, gardener and romantic.

Anitha Murthy

Anitha Murthy is a software consultant from Bangalore, who writes whenever inspiration strikes and has been pleasantly surprised when her stories have won prizes in quite a few contests. She likes to dabble in various genres; she has been published both online and in print.

Ayeesha Khanna

Originally from New Delhi, Ayeesha is currently in her third year of engineering at BITS Pilani, Goa. Lost in the maze of workshop tools and acetone fumes, at the end of the day she finds herself in her art and writing.

Bhabani Shankar Kar

Bhabani S. Kar is a Consultant by profession, but a writer and poet by choice, oscillating with great difficulty between the two. A romantic at heart, bound in the chains of professional courtesy, he awaits the time to break free and explore his state Odisha and then the world.

Gayatri Hingorani

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

Hina Siddiqui

Hina Siddiqui writes, teaches and does theatre, often at the same time. Her special skills include challenging the system, questioning traditional belief systems and making one heck of an omelette.

Ira Trivedi

Ira Trivedi is the author of the best-selling novels “There is No Love on Wall Street, “What Would You Do to Save the World?” and “The Great Indian Love Story”. Her books have been translated into several regional languages and met by critical and public acclaim. She holds a MBA from Columbia Business School and a BA in Economics from Wellesley College.

Jairaj Padmanabhan

Jairaj Padmanabhan, an advertising professional, scriptwriter and director with a penchant for short stories.

Kailash Srinivasan

Kailash Srinivasan, is author of What Happened to That Love - a collection of 12 short stories based in India and Australia. Second book (a novel) comes out in 2012.

Lipi Mehta

Lipi Mehta, student and writer, is the Editor-in-Chief of dfuse.in, a youth-oriented online magazine.

Malathi Jaikumar

Malathi Jaikumar, a Chennai based freelance writer, was earlier chief sub-editor, Indian Express, Delhi; Deputy Head Press and Public Affairs, British High Commission, New Delhi and was awarded the MBE. After retirement,worked briefly as Communications Consultant for UNDP doing Post Tsunami advocacy work.

Mona Ramavat

Mona Ramavat, is a writer and journalist, currently with India Today and has written for numerous publications

Naman Saraiya

Naman Saraiya believes in weirdness as a state of normalcy. He takes keen interest in writing – not only in his spare time, but by making some time for it, everyday. From prose to poetry (of late), rants to reviews and the likes – he does enjoy other things such as good food, better movies and the best music (read Lennon).

Narendra Nath Mitra

Narendranath Mitra (1916 – 1975), was a renowned Bengali writer, journalist and poet. He worked for 'Krishok', 'Swaraj', 'Satyajug'. From 1951 to 1975, was with Anandabazar Patrika. His stories have been adapted into popular Bengali and Hindi films by the likes of Satyajit Ray and Shubendu Roy.

Nimmy Chacko

Nimmy Chacko, writes and edits comic books for a living. She updates her blog about twice a year, (but still calls herself a blogger), and has her nose buried in books most of the time.

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.

R. Chandrasekar

R Chandrasekar is a writer and consultant based in Chennai. He is the author of The Goat, the Sofa and Mr Swami, a political farce. His second novel, a satire on management and management education, will be released this year.

Rajni Gupta

Rajni Gupta, is a fashion designer turned writer whose design sensibilities reflect in her vivid imagery. Her short story, ‘Indian Railways’ appeared in “Muse India” recently.

Richa Chatterjee

Richa S. Chatterjee is a writer by passion, HR professional by choice and a traveller at heart. She writes short works of fiction inspired by life in today's urban cities. She resides in Mumbai with her family.

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.

Sangita Bandopadhyay

Sangita Bandopadhyay is a popular Bengali writer of contemporary fiction and is among the most promising new voices in this space.

Shoma Narayanan

Shoma Narayanan is a banker, lives in Mumbai, and is in the midst of completing her first novel.

Siddhartha Lal

Siddhartha is a writer, a quizzer, and a techie (in decreasing order of proficiency), and someone whose solution to the entire world's—and his own—problems is a cot, a mattress, a blanket, and silence. He lives and studies in Bangalore but slays demons and other such apparitions in an alternate reality.

Varsha Suman

Varsha Suman in a journalism student who loves reading, writing and sleeping.

Vibha Batra

Vibha Batra is a copywriter by profession and fiction writer by passion. She translated her grandfather Late Shri Vishnu Kant Shastri’s book on the Ishaavaasya Upanishad. Her work has been anthologised in Vanilla Desires, Just Plain Bad Luck, Down the Road, Ripples, Indian Voices, and the Chicken Soup series. She won the ‘Remix, Retell and Rejoice with Chuskit’ Contest held by Pratham Books and Conde Nast Traveller’s Travelogue Contest earlier this year.

Excerpt from Urban Shots

WRITTEN IN THE STARS

R. Chandrasekar

Tripunathura Mahalingiyer Shivasubramaniam, known as TMS to his colleagues, Chinna Mani to his parents and Bank Mani to his other relatives, banged his head on the windowsill every morning.  This was part of his daily morning routine.  Pain and suffering were a way of attracting the Almighty’s attention, earning him brownie points which would, in due course, deliver him from the cycle of lives.  He took care not to bang his head too hard.  A cracked skull would mean hospitalization and endless complaints from the neighbours who would be responsible for bundling him into an auto and to a hospital.  Neighbourly feelings went only so far.  The worst-case scenario, death from over-enthusiastic contact with the windowsill, was likely to arouse divine ire.  So he knocked his head hard enough to cause some discomfort, just enough to get the Almighty’s attention.

He would then bathe and go to the temple clad in a crisp veshti.  He was a regular there and didn’t take any short cuts.  He observed the daily, weekly, fortnightly and monthly rituals punctiliously, divine pleasure and displeasure never far from his thoughts.  He would then have breakfast before setting off for the bus stand.

Once a week, Mani met his astrologer.  They usually discussed the weather, the cricket scores and politics before settling down to the business of astrology.

“Sir, they are not giving Manikandan a fair chance.”  Manikandan, Tamil Nadu’s sole representative in the national side, had been making heavy weather of things, leading to concern and consternation among his many fans.  That morning he had been dropped.

“His stars are not in correct alignment.  Saturn is in the ascendancy and his horoscope has some dosham in it.”

“How do you know all this, sir?”  The astrologer smiled mysteriously and said nothing.

“You are actually aware of Manikandan’s horoscope, sir?”

The smile widened just a touch.

“You mean… you mean … Manikandan is your client, sir?”

The astrologer cleared his throat.  “There are ways of countering the dosham in Manikandan’s horoscope just as there are ways of countering your dosham.  In your case, for instance, I see that the number twenty-nine is a bad influence.  You should avoid the number twenty-nine.”

Mani had a hundred questions for the astrologer as he did every week.  He just nodded, though, and walked away after making his weekly donation.  He held the astrologer in high regard and felt at times that he was in the presence of a superior human being.  Asking for clarifications would only expose his ignorance.  In addition, he was always conscious that he might be wasting the astrologer’s time and left as soon the week’s advice had been given.

All the buses that took him to work and back directly were numbered 29.  Mani took the astrologer’s advice as seriously as his head banging: fate was capricious and there was no point tempting it.  Avoiding 29 meant a great deal of inconvenience.  He had to take a circuitous route, which cost him time and money, to work.  It meant a considerable amount of footboard travel with all the unpleasantness that it entailed.  But he felt good.

“I felt that I was doing punyam for my past sins,” he told the astrologer when he met him the next week.  He even added more than the usual amount to his weekly donation.

The astrologer felt guilty when he saw Mani.  He had been a bit annoyed the previous week at the time Mani showed up (for reasons that had nothing to do with Mani).  All the stuff involving the number twenty-nine was bunkum.  He knew that Mani took one of the 29 series to work and it made him feel a bit better seeing someone else’s daily routine thrown a little off kilter.  He had decided to make amends the next time Mani showed up.

Years of experience, and some advice from his father (who had practiced astrology for over seventy years), had made him aware that the successful practice of astrology revolved around three basic principles.  First: know your customer.  Then you knew what he (or she) wanted, and gave it to them in dribs and drabs.  The second principle: too much of a good thing was not good.  If the customer felt too good, he would feel that his life’s problems had been sorted out and wouldn’t come back.  The corollary to this formed the third principle: too much of a bad thing was not good.  Too much negativity and they changed astrologers.  The idea, therefore, was to string the customer along and keep him (or her) slightly off balance.

But here was Mani with a smile on his face.  The inconveniences of the past week had not put him off stride.  This was an odd situation, one that needed delicate handling.  Weekly paying customers were not exactly thick on the ground and the astrologer was loath to lose Mani’s custom.

The weather, cricket and politics done with, they got down to business.

“See, the number twenty-nine is still exerting an influence on you.  Less than last week, for sure, but it is still a matter for concern.  Avoid number twenty-nine for another week.”

Mani’s face fell slightly.

“But,” the astrologer hastened to add, “I think I see something good coming.”

“This week?”

The astrologer frowned as he consulted his dog-eared almanac.  “Perhaps,” he replied, “but things are not entirely clear at the moment.  Next week it might be clearer.”

The annual accounts closing meant that Mani had to work late into the night.  By the time he was done, most buses were off the road and he looked around for an auto.  Mani hated autos and their drivers: they ripped you off; they drove like madmen; they insisted on chatting with you.  At this time of the night, though, he had no choice.  Some fifteen minutes later a lone auto came limping along.  Its license number was 2933.  He hesitated, and then waved it on.  No point tempting providence, even if 2933 was not exactly 29.  By midnight he had resisted temptations bearing the numbers 4293, 3529, 1729, 3290, 929, 2929, 7297 and finally, momentously, 29.  He knew this had to be a sign.  He had been tested and had not been found wanting.  Someone, somewhere, was keeping a close eye on him, and he hoped that his forbearance had been noticed.  He walked home, arriving rather weary in the limb, but feeling very virtuous.

Mani half thought of walking to work the next day, but his legs were not up to it.  He had gone through the head banging and the temple rituals perfunctorily.  The number 29 was burned into his brain: what had happened the previous night was clearly an omen.  He scrutinized the bus license plates, the bus number and the route number of each bus with care, and finally got a toehold on a barely vacant footboard of a bus which met all his criteria.   The physical discomfort he felt was amply compensated for by the sense of mental calm he felt for having stared temptation in the face without giving in.

Mani’s thoughts turned to the astrologer.  Clearly the man was special.  There was something to this 29 business.  Just what it was wasn’t clear, not least whether 7297 was really 29.  Did those extra sevens matter?  These were deep matters he needed to discuss with the astrologer.  Then there was the weekly donation.  He had been handing over fifty rupees each week more from habit than out of complete conviction.  He now felt remorse at his stinginess.  The man was a genius and deserved better.  There couldn’t be too many such geniuses; theirs was a precious science that deserved generous support.  Momentous changes might well be in his future and he wanted to be sure he missed none of them.  Better to visit the astrologer twice a week.  That way there was less chance of his doing something wrong during the week, less chance of something falling between the cracks.  The future was not something to be trifled with.

The astrologer was surprised to see Mani on his doorstep.  Even as he ushered Mani in, the astrologer was worried.  Mani was a Wednesday client and here he was, showing up on a Friday.  Had something gone wrong?  Perhaps he should have stopped that 29 rubbish after a week.  But Mani had been so eager, keen almost, to continue his 29 penance.  The astrologer peered at Mani’s face as they sat down.  Know your customer, his father had told him, and now he wished he had a way of knowing what was going through Mani’s mind.

Mani, mindful of the presence of a Superior Being and a genius, kept a straight face.  Levity, ardour, good cheer, any form of overt enthusiasm on his part, would be inappropriate here.  What few words he had were stanched by the sight of the astrologer’s eyes boring into his innermost self.  He stared at the floor silently, unable to meet the astrologer’s stare face on.

Both stared silently as long minutes ticked by.  The suspense built, became palpable.  Unable to take this anymore, the astrologer cleared his throat.

The floodgates loosened, and then broke.

“Guruji!” began Mani, falling at the astrologer’s feet.  “You are a genius!  A genius not just of this world, but of all worlds!”

The astrologer heaved a huge sigh of relief.  Thank God this hadn’t ended up as a big screw up.

“I must tell you all that has happened,” continued Mani.

“Yes, yes,” sighed the astrologer, his voice weak with relief.  “Get up and sit down.  Make yourself comfortable.  It was the number 29 wasn’t it?”

Mani shook his head in awed disbelief.  He really had underestimated this man.  “So you do know all about it.”

“I endeavour to look into the future, Mani, and the Almighty God sometimes gives me a glimpse at things that are to come.  But you seem eager to tell me the story as it happened to you.  So go on, I am a good listener.”

The astrologer listened and scratched his head in puzzlement.  This was all very nice, he could see that this would mean an increase in his emoluments, but he hadn’t the foggiest idea what to do next.  Astrology, after all, was psychology practiced with one’s fingers crossed.  It wouldn’t do to have someone felled by a heart attack a day after good health was prophesied.  You tried to get things out of the customer.  Had he seen a doctor?  What had the doctor said?  Had he been asked to undertake any tests?  Did he feel breathless when he laughed along with his morning Laughter Club friends on the beach?  And so on and so forth, but with some cunning and subtlety.  And when you did venture a prophecy, you kept things vague and open to interpretation.  Those nine autos with the number 29 - that was just his luck.  A prophecy that was too good was just as bad as one that was completely wrong.

Mani, on the other hand, clearly saw a sign in all of what had happened to him.  Now he wanted the astrologer to tell him what it meant.  Something good, something auspicious, obviously.  He had heeded the astrologer’s advice; things were ripe for him to earn the fruits of his forbearance.

The astrologer closed his eyes and sat still in what he hoped would be taken for a meditative pose.  When he spoke, it was in a sibilant voice which he felt conveyed mystery.

“Fortune is about to smile on you,” he said.  Mani listened in rapt attention, eagerness suffusing his face like that of a sage receiving favours from a grateful God after years of penance.

“Thank you!  Thank you so very much!” gushed Mani.  “But could you tell me a little bit more?  Am I going to get a promotion?  Is my luck in the lottery going to change?  The Sikkim lottery is having their drawing next week.  Should I buy a ticket without a 29 on it?”

The astrologer frowned.  Mani stammered and stopped.  I shouldn’t annoy the great man, he thought.  I mustn’t get too greedy.  After all, he has saved me from some major disaster.  He bowed his head and waited for the astrologer to continue.

The astrologer sat silently, his tongue searching out a grain of rice that had lodged itself awkwardly between two teeth.  Just how do I send this blighter packing, he wondered.  Years spent as a very modestly successful practitioner of his art had not prepared him for anything like this.  He had spent his career dealing in ambiguous generalities and platitudes which, after the fact, could be interpreted as predictions as a sort.  He sensed that his clients did not always believe him, but came back out of habit, superstition, or a desire not to break an old, comfortable routine.  The donations he expected were reasonable, the pinch felt by his clients minimal.  And here, now, he was being asked to interpret an omen, to find a way out of a trap of his own making.

Think hard, he urged himself.  What does this chap want that he is likely to get anyway?  Not the lottery: the odds against even the Sikkim lottery were prohibitive.  And certainly not a promotion.  None of his regulars was likely to get a promotion, in this lifetime or the next.  That is probably why they come to me, he realized in a flash of insight.  What, then?  His eyes bored into Mani’s, trying by sheer force of will to pry out the secrets that hid there.  Suddenly, inspiration struck: he knew just what he had to say.

“Not the material,” he intoned in a solemn voice, “but the spiritual.  That which you want, but know not that you want.  That which you need, but know not that you need.”

Puzzlement, fear and awe crossed Mani’s face in turn.

“Seek not what is incorrect,” continued the astrologer, “and you shall be delivered of it.”

With that the astrologer closed his eyes, brought his hands together in a namaskaram, and stopped.  I hope he doesn’t expect any more of this nonsense, he thought, since I’ve run out of things to say.

Mani puzzled over the conundrums set him by the astrologer as he half-heartedly entered numbers in a ledger and later on his way home.  Absentmindedly, he boarded a bus and finding a seat empty, sat down.  Just what did he want that he didn’t know he wanted?  And what was the incorrect thing he was supposed to avoid?  Why was it that things were never simple or obvious?  The astrologer knew something, that was certain, but he also wanted him to look deep within himself and discover it for himself.  All this deep searching was tiring and, lulled by the random lurches of the bus, Mani dropped off to sleep.

“Excuse me, sir.  You are sitting in the ladies seat.”

Mani woke up with a start.  There was a woman glaring at him with intent.  She was short, her pulled-back and plaited hair added to the severity of her expression, her build suggested easy familiarity and facility with a rolling pin and her glasses magnified her wrath.  Several impressive looking volumes perched under one arm, others peeked out of a cloth bag slung over her shoulder.  From a storyteller’s perspective, not promising at all.

“Oh, the men you see these days,” she added, addressing the other occupants of the bus, “no courtesy at all you see.  They sit in the ladies seat even when ladies carrying books and babies and vegetables and all are standing for want of a seat.”

There were murmurs of sympathy from the chivalrous Tamilian crowd.

“Terribly sorry madam,” said Mani rising hurriedly. “I was having a short nap by mistake and I did not notice your good self.  Kindly sit. May I carry your important books so you are not further inconvenienced?”

“Of course not,” she said huffily as she arranged herself on the seat along with her books and bag.  “Men nowadays are not to be trusted at all.  You, sir, would probably abscond with the books and sell them in the second-hand market.”

This hurt.

“Madam,” said Mani with a pained expression, “you have completely misunderstood my good intentions.  I am a hardworking clerk in the Indian Overseas Bank and only try to help others when I can.  I am a regular temple goer.  I humbly apologize, madam, for occupying a ladies seat in this bus.  But kindly do not insult me.”  Having regained the moral high ground, he pushed his way through the throng and stood elsewhere, well out of the sight of his tormenter.

Two weeks went by.  The astrologer counselled patience and, judging that he was on firm ground, gently berated Mani for not looking far enough into himself.  “This,” he told Mani, “is something you have to see and acknowledge for yourself.  If I tell you everything, the Almighty will not be pleased and might well nullify and change His plans for you.  Things will never happen that way.”

Never intellectually minded, Mani puzzled over this as he walked to the bus stop.  The abstract and the metaphysical had always been closed books to him and now it appeared as though his very happiness depended on those very concepts.  He tried hard to relate those mystical allusions to his mundane existence.  What connections there were eluded him completely.

The lady with the books was at the bus stand.  Seeing her, Mani looked away and stood at a distance.

“I am sorry about the other day, sir.”  She had moved to his side and was looking contritely at her feet.

Mani had not forgotten the insults.  He swallowed hard, looked the other way and moved on.

“There are indeed many bad men on buses these days and you will pardon me if I mistook your intentions.”

Mani blinked hard.  He was not used to being spoken to by women.  He shuffled away some more.

“Sir, my mother is an account holder at Indian Overseas Bank and she says that the clerks are helpful.”

“Which branch?” he blurted out.

“Perambur branch, sir.  Only last week a clerk pointed out an error and corrected her passbook, sir.”

“Oh.  Ah.  Yes.  Customer friendliness is our motto.  We are always waiting to help and assist valuable customers.  Like your good mother.”

“You are which division clerk, sir?”

“Third division.  I am always telling my friends, heaviest responsibilities resting on Division III clerical staff.  In fact I am turning down promotions even to continue to discharge heavy responsibilities.”

This was a blatant lie, his conscience twinged and he tried to remember the astrologer’s words.  Had he asked him to seek not was what incorrect or to say not what was incorrect?  Either way, it was best not to take a chance.

“But yes, as you were saying, many bad men are riding the buses these days.”  He looked at her: the hard edge had gone and something approaching feminine softness touched her features.  “You must have experienced many trying moments on the bus.  So many chain snatchers and pickpockets and rowdy college boys.  Only good thing is that politicians don’t travel by bus these days.”

“Yes, sir.  But we also have Division III clerical staff from IOB to help us when we are in difficulty.”

Having undergone the trials and tribulations of bus travel for many years, they proceeded to share their experiences, each more gruesome than the other, at length.  Shared experiences are as strong a basis for friendship as any as Mani and Pushpalatha, his new friend, proceeded to demonstrate over the next few weeks.

A visit to the astrologer helped, of course. 

He smiled knowingly when Mani mentioned his new acquaintance at which point Mani knew that what had been prophesied had come to pass without his even realizing it.  Never one to miss belabouring a point, the astrologer added that the bus they had had their beginning on was entirely 29 free.  He ensured a big fat donation for himself and the seat of honour at their wedding by reading their horoscopes and announcing that never in his long years as an astrologer had he seen two horoscopes so perfectly matched as those of Bank Mani and Pushpalatha.  And, by announcing that a wedding feast consisting of thirty-three items would be triply auspicious, he also ensured a good dinner for himself.