THE GAZING PURSUIT

nathan-sowers-dawn-millers-friend

(PHOTO CREDIT: Nathan Sowers)

Staggering out the cabin, drenched in sweat and blood, she took huge puffs of breath. Heaving and gasping for fresh air, she felt the welts and abrasions on her neck with her bloodied hands.

The handle of the knife which she had employed to save herself from the clutches of her psychotic husband had created deep indentations on her bruised palm. Turning back to make sure that neither he nor his now probably active apparition was pursuing her, she hastened her way through the grassy path.

She accidentally knocked down a mirror from a picnic table reflecting the ill fated cabin.

(WORD COUNT: 100)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

The credit for the breathtaking photograph goes to Nathan Sowers 

THE PILGRIM

Pilgrim john-brand

(PHOTO CREDIT: JOHN BRAND)

First you need to come down the rolling meadows. The lush greenery enveloping you will be, to put it mildly – enchantingly distracting. But don’t worry too much as the scenery will grow into you. The chances of you crossing paths with a fellow pilgrim are exponentially remote. Relics attract neither cause nor consequence these days. In an era where Facebook smothers facts and selflessness is sacrificed at the altar of selfies, the urgent and pre-occupied world has neither time for tributes nor patience for tolerance.

Ok enough of this mindless muttering. You are nearing your destination. The solitary house which is a latticework of roughly hewn stones and tiles that have experienced the raw wrath of nature stands guard like a solitary soldier. The one remaining dusty window neither facilitates an inward peep nor an outward glance.

To the right of this house, dear pilgrim stands the noble monument in the form of a single small blue barn door with a grassy architecture adorning it as a roof. The place where an unknown soldier dived on a grenade blowing himself to smithereens so that his brothers could live!

The only thing left of him was a Cross.

(Word Count: 198)

Written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. Write a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt given (above). Hosted by Susan Spaulding. For more details visit HERE.

To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, visit HERE.

BILLY & THE SHAPE SHIFTER

FFfAW Dog

(PHOTO CREDIT: YINGLAN)

As seemed to be the eerily unique trend, only Billy could see the shape shifter at work. But whether Billy grasped either the magnitude of the situation or fathomed the consequences of the metamorphosis was open to conjecture. His mind was immature and he could not describe what he saw. The killings usually began a couple of days after the shape was fully formed. It was a Siamese cat the last time when Billy’s grandmother died under mysterious circumstances with her throat slit and wrists slashed to virtual ribbons!

The first victim of the shape-shifter however was even before. It was the first time Billy saw the entity at work. A porcelain vase turned into a dreaded moth and Billy’s nanny lay at his feet drenched in a pool of blood.

It was time for the next round of mayhem.

Two-year-old Billy would watch this one too!

This story has been written as part of the FLASH FICTION FOR ASPIRING WRITERS – FFfAW Challenge #180, more details about which may be found HERE

The photo credit is due to Yinglan. Thanks!

Borrowed Flow

Water drip

(PHOTO CREDIT: MorgueFile May 2018 1421077743edokn)

The piercing shrill of the alarm clock jolted him out of a pleasant slumber. Lazily slapping the alarm button to cut out the shriek, he slowly tumbled out of bed, stood and stretched both his arms upwards, all the while yawning with a mouth agape. It was Thursday. A day of fisticuffs,  battered containers and broken bones. Thursday was also the only day in the week where the community bore-well spluttered into life coughing up water.

Some inexplicable combination of ground water non-cooperation coupled with the perfectly understandable intransigence of the local municipal council contrived to create a unique situation where the hand operated bore came to life only once every 7 days and that day was Thursday. Hence on every Thursday, amicability transformed to animosity, friends turned foes and neighbours turned nasty!

To avoid beating up his nearest competitor & get beaten, he had decided to rise earlier than everyone and take his rusty iron container to the bore well. As he slowly trudged towards his destination in the dark, he could already hear the flow of water & the working of the bore.

There would be a fight after all!

(WORD COUNT: 192)

This story has been written as part of the FLASH FICTION FOR THE PURPOSEFUL PRACTITIONER- 2018 WEEK #34 Photo Prompt, more details about which may be found HERE

The photo credit is due to PHMorgueFile May 2018 1421077743edokn

One Lonely Lantern

The muted and yellow glow of the solitary lantern hanging from a makeshift hook on the wall struggled in vain to pierce the unsympathetic veil of the dark. Vidya sitting on the damp and cold earthen floor of the thatched hut mechanically stirred the pot of boiling gruel with an old and twisted ladle that had seen warmer nights and cooler days. The firewood on top of which the pot was delicately balanced was the last stack left. “There is no more wood left in the house”, she exclaimed directing her remark at no one in particular.

Shashank, once muscular & strapping but now frail and bony, looked at his wife and responded, “I will go and chop a few pieces of wood at the break of dawn tomorrow”. Both knew that it had to be before the blazing sun towered over the horizon lest the energy sapping heat tire Shashank to submission. He turned his gaze towards the only cot inside the hut on which lay a human form wrapped in a rag tag bundle of hastily assembled clothes. Ravi, their two year old son. A child deprived of nutrients, bereft of warm clothes and devoid of happiness.

The crops had failed yet again, courtesy a crippling drought that brought small landowners and crop growers such as Shashank to their knees. The remorseless sun kept beating down on their acreage thereby putting paid to hopes of a decent harvest. Meanwhile the co-operative banks which had loaned them funds against the security of a future reaping of produce were fast losing patience and had even taken possession of a few farm implements and mechanical harvesters of a couple of farmers. Shashank thankfully did not own any mechanical accouterments.

Hope was fast dwindling like the stock of fuel feeding the one lonely lantern. A whistling wind began battering the hut from outside and as a few gusts made their way inside through the ‘un-thatched’ and ‘unpatched’ roof and walls of the hut, the one lonely lantern started swaying with a violent rhythm and the flames flickered impatiently.

As the light from the one lonely lantern extinguished itself, the last thing Vidya saw was Shashank staring intently and unblinkingly at a container of fertilizer which could, under dire circumstances also double up as a potent poison. Poison enough to snuff out the lives of two adults and one unsuspecting little child.

(This post has been inspired by the plight of farmers in India who are exposed to the remorseless vagaries of weather and the capriciousness of money lenders. Unable to bear the pressures imposed by nature and invoked by fellow human beings, a plethora of them resort to the only means available to rid themselves of misery – suicide)

August Writing Prompts

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXIT LIGHT

Yarn Spinner

(Photo Credit: Yarnspinner)

With a head feeling like a ton of bricks and every bone in the body creaking like doors in the Addam’s Family Mansion, Antonio made a feeble & futile effort to bring himself onto his knees. The beating had been severe, savage and spontaneous. Blows rained down upon him as fists made contact with jaws, knees kneaded into abdomen and boots cracked open hapless ribs. Even a state of extreme inebriation did not help in dulling the sense of excruciating pain. But what hurt the most was the malignant abuse that accompanied the bashing:

“Get lost you bastard”; “The doors to the performing arts are closed to you forever filthy drunkard!”;

He knew he was filth; he knew he was abusing his liver in a manner which would make even George Best seem juvenile.

He also knew that there would be “No Entry” to the very temple of fine arts which he himself had founded.

(WORD COUNT: 152)

This story was written as part of the Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers (“FFfAW”) Challenge #179, more about which may be read HERE

Photo Credit: Yarnspinner

 

THE FLOATERS

tribute-carla-bicomong

PHOTO PROMPT © Carla Bicomong

Each lambent lantern that floated past the invigorated humanity was given a name by my head racked by tumult and turmoil. It was a baptism of absolute significance. A christening that had to be done with great purpose lest one forget the ‘floaters’.

‘Hope’ slowly meandered away in lockstep with ‘love’, as ‘friends’ made a determined push to get away as far as possible from the river bank which was by now a cacophony of shrill voices and shriller laughter. Yet I could see my ‘laughter’ drifting further away from me every passing second.

Then I stopped.

(WORD COUNT: 97)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

The credit for the breathtaking photograph goes to Carla Bicomong

The Common Good – Robert B. Reich

Common Good

The America of today finds itself at a seminal crossroad. Riven by an imploding income and wealth inequality, racked by rising intolerance towards the marginal section of the populace and roared on towards inexplicable paths by a demagogue playboy-turned- entrepreneur-turned-President, the world looks on with a mixture of astonishment and admonition as The United States of America totters under the weight of its own contradictions and teeters perilously close to a precipice of socio-economic catastrophe. With asinine trade wars, tariff barriers and dangerously egregious military posturing, America is not only fast losing its renown as the bastion of responsible super power, but also acquiring a reputation bordering on the shameful.

The time could not have been riper for one of the most balanced progressive minds working his wares today, Robert B. Reich to not only encapsulate the perils of such a pressing time, but also to provide a prescription (neither pun nor opioid intended) to wriggle out of what seems to be a god-awful mess. “The Common Good” does exactly that. Purposeful in its content and powerful in intent, the latest book by Mr. Reich is a clarion call for his countrymen (and to the world) to bring back the edifice of Common Good on top of which stands (or at least once stood) American ideals and values.

The compact of the Common Good that first reared its virtuous head under the able stewardship of titans such as James Madison, Edmund Burke and Abraham Lincoln, and which has as its wellspring the collective contribution to the common good for the combined wellbeing of citizenry and country, began fading away in the late 1970s. Bemoaning such a trend, Mr. Reich highlights dastardly behavior of immoral and unscrupulous capitalists such as Martin Shkreli – who after buying up licenses for generic drugs went on to jack up the price of Daraprim, a vital drug from $13.50 to $750 – exacerbated an already worrying trend of income inequality boosting the personal wealth of a select few at the cost of the remaining. Egged on by the philosophy of beacons of capitalistic creed such as Ayn Rand, the incentives for norm breaking began to show enormous gains. As Mr. Reich points out, this led to the “broken window” syndrome first noticed by political scientist James Q. Wilson. “……a broken window in a poor community left, unattended signals that no one cares if windows are broken there. Because nobody is concerned enough to enforce the norm against breaking windows, the broken window becomes a kind of invitation to throw more stones and break more windows.”

This broken window syndrome led to a raft of jaw dropping scandals including but not limited to the Lewis Powell memo; Richard Nixon’s Watergate; the green mailer Carl Icahn’s hostile takeover of TWA; the Savings and Loan scandals; The Michael Milken conviction; the Enron saga; The Deepwater Horizon Spill and the Financial Crisis of 2007. Mr. Reich in his book devotes an entire chapter titled “Exploitation” to list out the macabre scams and scandals that rocked both the US economy and people’s faith in the Government to rule in a manner unbiased and bipartisan.

Mr. Reich identifies “three structural breakdowns” as being the primary triggers leading to the collapse/breakdown of the Common Good:

  • Whatever-it-takes-to-win-politics;
  • Whatever it takes to maximize profits; and
  • Whatever it takes to rig the economy
  • While, Whatever-it-takes-to-win-politics, “disregarded what had been the unwritten rules of good government, based on equal political rights – enabling the most powerful players to extract all political gains”, the whatever it takes to maximize profits rule, “rejected what had been the unwritten rules of corporate responsibility, based on obligations to all stakeholders – allowing CEOs, Wall Street and Investors to extract all financial gains. Finally, the third structural destabilizer, whatever it takes to rig the economy, “dismissed what had been the unwritten rule that the “free market” should work for everyone – permitting the most powerful economic actors to extract almost all economic gains.”

These three insidious destabilizers according to Mr. Reich rigged the game in favour of the singular preserve of a few elites thereby creating social, civil, political and structural imbalances. “Duty is replaced by self-aggrandizement and self-promotion. Calls for sacrifice and self-denial are replaced by personal demands for better deals.”  To quote the renowned sociologist Robert Putnam, “we bowl alone.”

While the situation seems to be hopeless, Mr. Reich asserts that it can still be reined in and the Common Good can make a revival. Citing the stellar examples of Senator John McCain who returned to Washington in July 2017 from his home in Arizona – where he was undergoing treatment for brain cancer- to cast the deciding vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to Arizona Senator Jeff Flake wading into his fellow Republicans for not standing up to Trump, Mr. Reich demonstrates that the tenet of Common Good has not yet been completely eviscerated from public conscience. Borrowing from political scientist Archon Fung, Mr. Reich notes, “when losing candidates congratulate winners and deliver gracious concession speeches, they demonstrate their commitment to the democratic system over any specific outcomes they fought to achieve.”  Mr. Reich thus argues that politicians and corporate chieftains alike must view leadership as a trusteeship which entails responsibilities toward nurturing and enhancing the power and virtue of the Common Good.

Mr. Reich also makes a very interesting case for balancing honour and shame. While America seems to be honouring and extolling greed and capitalism, true courage and selflessness goes unnoticed down the wayside of history. Mr. Reich argues for heroes such as John Mindermann and Paul Magallanes, the FBI agents on duty when the Democratic National Headquarters Committee break-in took place at the Watergate complex in 1972. He also exhorts the nation to institute appropriate “Common Good” awards for exemplary acts such as whistle blowing, civil servants, teachers and social workers. Mr. Reich also warns the people to keep an open mind and not fall prey to tactics enlisted by various quarters to elicit a particular reaction thereby fueling and funneling their individual agendas. In an era where political results are influenced by cyber bots and powerful conglomerates, Mr. Reich echoes Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words of wisdom, “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.”

Finally, Mr. Reich finishes with a flourish demanding a comprehensive civic education for all irrespective of any divide. He talks about a civic education, that “must instill in young people a passion for truth. It should enable them to think critically, be skeptical (but not cynical) about what they hear and read, find reliable sources of information, apply basic logic and analysis, and know enough about history and the physical world to differentiate fact from fiction.”  This view mirrors that of the political philosopher Martha Nussbaum who recommended, “students should learn not only that citizens of India have basic human rights, for example, but also about the problems of hunger and pollution in India and the implications of these problems for the larger issues of global hunger and global ecology.”

Robert Reich has done his bit and more. It is for America to now listen and act. In the interest of general humanity and the Global Common Good, the world hopes it will!

The Old Man and the Sea and Life’s Lessons

Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was a clash of contradictions, an entanglement of passions and a bundle of paradoxes. With an infuriating ego, an intransigent outlook and an impetuosity that rankled eyebrows, Hemingway could have easily competed for the most avoidable role model award! However, in spite of or despite these frailties, the man could write and HOW!  The Nobel Laureate’s cathartic work, “The Old Man and the Sea”  is a monumental testimony not only to the breadth of human imagination, but also a testimony to the sweeping depth of a writer’s ability to impact, influence and innovate.

Right from the time I read this epochal work, I have been repeatedly drawn to it like the pull of the most powerful magnet ever invented. On its surface the story is a simple, not so stellar one involving the travails of an old fisherman, Santiago who endures a dry spell of 84 days without a significant catch. On the 85th day of his unfortunate sojourn, he experiences a veritable tryst with destiny by baiting a gargantuan marlin. Locked in a Herculean struggle to bag it, man, marlin, harpoon, skiff and the sea brave the elements of nature as well as one another for the whole of three days. Finally, after an exasperating spectacle that leaves him enervated, Santiago manages to overpower the marlin and gets the fish onto the boat. However, on his way back, ravenous sharks attracted by the smell of the marlin mount a dreaded attack on Santiago and his boat and in the process reduce his prize catch to mere skeletal remains.

That is all there is to this simple story. Or is it? There is a primeval essence that under girds this magnificent tale and the message it conveys to the reader transcends the mere requirements for awards and criteria for recognition (notwithstanding the fact that the book went on to win the Pulitzer and was a great contributor to a subsequent Nobel). The lessons imparted by this story are immense in their gravity and intense in their elucidation. My prime picks (the ones that make this book an all time favourite and irresistible) would be the following:

Bide your time and it is never too late

What never materialized for a frustrating period of 84 days changed instantaneously on the 85th day for Santiago! As Hemingway himself was wont to say, “a man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

Adversity can be the Mother of Inspiration

What matters is NOT the fact that the sharks decamped with Santiago’s catch. The bottom line is the reinforcement of Santiago’s belief, a reiteration of a faith in his abilities and a relentless pursuit of his aspirations.

Don’t expect fortune to favour you even if you are brave

Exclude the elements of luck and fortune as extraneous to whatever you are out to achieve. Just do your bit to the best of your abilities, intention and conscience. If you want to make a mark, then don’t mull over the outcome!

Age is indeed a clichéd number

Vision is neither linear to age nor directly proportional to weary limbs (unless one attempts to do the insurmountable such as scaling Mount Everest or fostering a hope to land on the moon at 100!)

You are your own Invictus

You are the master of your soul and the Captain of your ship!

These are what makes Hemingway’s work immortal, inspirational & indelible!

(WORD COUNT: 581)

THIS POST IS WRITTEN FOR NOVEMBERSCHILD IN ASSOCIATION WITH KALAMPEDIA – QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE”.