The Last Beer

architecture-black-and-white-blur-1762182

(Photo Credit: pexels.com)

In seven minutes’ time, the train would depart the station. As it had been doing from the past twenty-three years. Today should have been no different. And it was not. At least not for the train. A creation of mechanical precision which catered solely to the ticking of clocks, blowing of whistles and waving of flags.

Venky downed the last of his by now insipid Asahi beer, wiping the froth off his lips with the back of his palm.

“For heaven’s sake use a tissue.” The repulsion in Ash’s voice was unmissable.

“At least spare me the sermon this evening. You won’t have anyone left to keep proselytizing to after tonight.” Venky’s otherwise prosaic and non-decrepit voice rose an octave or two spontaneously.

A brief interlude of absolute silence punctuated the stillness of the bar room before Ash resumed their conversation. “The work permit came through. I would need to….”

The piercing shriek of the engine now signaled haste.

Picking her suitcase in one fell swoop, Ash rushed out of the bar, towards her compartment just making it in the nick of time. She saw Venky wave and mouth something from the platform. The piercing scream of the engine drowned out his voice entirely.

“Goodbye.”

Word Count: 205)

#TellTaleThursday with Anshu & Priya

To access all the stories for this week, click HERE

A Hot-dog called Hope

(PHOTO CREDIT: Jean L. Hays)

The Red Mtn Market & Deli, was cluttered, crowded and cramped. A smudged, smeared and smelly poster tacked onto the wall abutting the main entrance proudly promised – in faded letters – everything from hot dogs to hope. While Venky religiously avoided hotdogs, even a sudden interest in religion would not suffice to hope.

His decision to enter the building was, if not whimsical, unplanned. Unable to quieten down an annoyingly restless mind, he sought solace in distraction.

“How much for a pound of hope?” he asked the old saleswoman.

“No price is steep enough Sir” came the response.

(Word Count: 99)

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

 For the complete list of entries, please click HERE

A Protuberance Of Hope

(Photo Credit: Sue Vincent)

An ugly appendage jutting out asymmetrically without rhyme or reason. Black, dark and foreboding with a proliferation of algae at its base. A short squat protrusion of inconsequence. Or was it? It could have been a monument of love or a humble testimony to an unnamed martyr who laid down his life in a fusillade of bullets and patriotism. An unsung hero whose exploits have been relegated to the unsparing confines of an unmoving history. Whatever it might be it certainly stuck out as a sore thumb.

The weather was blustery and dreadful. Anything less from an English weather would have been a shocker. Venky blew on his exposed palms, rubbed them vigorously before shoving them back into the expansive pockets of his greatcoat. Leaving his gloves back home was a real mistake. The unforgiving wind cut like knife and the exposed parts of the skin were as numb as nuts.

He had walked out of the house in a fit. A head full of swirling thoughts, a restless mind and otherwise restless senses numbed by a generous imbibing of Chivas Regal had all contrived to drive Venky to some semblance of action. Aimlessly walking in a direction dictated by instinct, and decided by emotion, he had walked a fair distance before the jutting adjunct caught his eye.

His life was at a crossroad. Hemingway had his boat, Thoreau had his walks and Walden, Agatha Christie had her artifacts and Sylvia Plath, her bees. Venky only had his hope. It might even be an illusion masquerading as hope. He only had a tinge of optimism to cling on to. A shard of optimism that had a beautiful face; a tinge of positivity that had round, big and twinkling eyes; a semblance of sanguinity that represented a bundle of irrepressible and unconstrained energy.

He was wagering all his bits, banking his entire reputation and clinging on for dear life, on just three letters. It was a name.

ASH!

This is a response to the #writephoto Prompt – Timeless curated over at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Click on the link to read other stories inspired by the image.

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick)

Image result for The dip

If there is one common tenet that has been drummed into our heads with such sustained vigour and frequency, it is certainly the one that exhorts us “NEVER” to “QUIT.” Phrases such as “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, and “Winners ever Quit”, are so commonplace that their employ has transcended beyond the use into unfortunate abuse. Thus, in this cliché laden environment, it is easy to get muddled and thereby miss the woods for the trees. Are we never supposed to keep ploughing on in spite of knowing that the desired result is only an wishful fantasy?

Seth Godin, the founder and CEO of Squidoo and one of the world’s foremost business bloggers attempts to show us the way out of this conundrum. In a book, titled “the dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick), Mr. Godin Encourages us to move beyond exhortations and euphemisms, all the while, emphasizing the fact that winners do quit and constantly. But it is the timing and context of their abandonment of an endeavor that still makes them the best. Mr. Godin highlights this feature by taking recourse to three key “curves”: The Dip, The Cul-De-Sac and The Curve.

The Dip, according to Mr. Godin is “the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.”  Successful people are those who do not believe in restricting themselves to riding the Dip. “They lean into the Dip. They push harder, changing the rules as they go.”

The Cul-De-Sac (French for dead end) is “a situation where you work and you work and nothing much changes. It doesn’t get a lot better, it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is.”

The Cliff is “a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, and the whole thing falls apart.” The practical working of the Cliff is illustrated by Mr. Godin with reference to the habit of smoking. “Because smoking is designed to be almost impossible to quit, the longer you do it, the better it feels to continue smoking.” One only quits when one falls off the Cliff, let’s say due to emphysema.

So when does one quit and when does one keep striving? The “brave” thing is to develop grit and gumption and tough it out at the Dip so that one reaches the other end. The “mature” thing to do however would be to not even commence upon a task about whose outcome you are not confident. And finally, the “stupid” thing to do is to start, give it your best shot, expend efforts, resources and time, before finally calling it quits right in the middle of the Dip. “When Jack Welch remade GE, the most fabled decision he made was this: If we can’t be #1 or #2 in an industry, we must get out.”

Finally, Mr. Godin provides us with three questions, which he expounds, we must ask ourselves before we decide to quit.

Question No.1: Are we panicking?

“Quitting when you’re panicked is dangerous and expensive. The best quitters as we’ve seen, are the ones who decide in advance when they are going to quit. You can always quit later – so wait until you’re done panicking to decide.”

Question No.2: Who am I trying to influence?

“If you’re trying to influence just one person, persistence has its limits. It’s easy to cross the line between demonstrating your commitment and being a pest. If you haven’t influenced him yet, it may very well be time to quit. If you are trying to influence a market though, the rules are different. Sure, some of the people in a market have considered you (and even rejected you). But most of the people in the market have never even heard of you. The market doesn’t have just one mind. Different people in the market are seeking different things.”

 

Question No.3: What sort of Measurable Progress am I making?

“Measurable progress need not be a raise or a promotion. It can be more subtle than that, but it needs to be more than a mantra, more than just saying “surviving is succeeding.” The challenge, then, is to surface new milestones in areas where you have previously expected to find none.”

The Dip may be a short book. In fact, it is a very short book. But within its pages lie a wisdom that is commonsensical, logical and most importantly, practical.

A Melting Conscience

The subject matter was provocatively named, “Our Future – Or is there One?” For all those who knew the speaker, the choice of the title did not come as a major surprise. A fervent and ferocious advocate of environmental conservation and leading proponent of Climate Change, Joanne Chan Ming Choo had taken it upon herself to introduce a paradigm shift in the global thinking underlying global warming. She had made it the foremost mission of her existence to push, peddle, purvey and pile on both facts and pressure with a view to jettisoning dogmas and denting stereotypes.

This also made Joanne the most hated nemesis of the corporate world. Torch bearers of wealth accumulation and beacons of crony capitalism spewed venom and spouted malice at her work. Resorting to tactics ranging from the asinine to the arcane, these modern robber barons were unrelenting in their efforts to act as disruptors of Joanne’s every cause. One favourite and most resorted to tactic involved sending paid hecklers to symposiums where Joanne was a speaker. Hooting, hollering and heckling her at random intervals, the paid purveyors of nuisance caused enough ruckus to usually detract from the matter at review.

Joanne knew today was going to be no different. Attired in an elegant dress with her locks left untied, she slowly took the stage before scanning her audience with a pair of arresting eyes. In a voice that was charming yet determined, she began with the usual introductions and fact spiels that constituted an integral and indispensable part of every talk on Climate Change.

“Drivel” came a harsh voice from the middle of the third row from front. A shrill sound mimicking the hooting of an owl followed from the back. A chorus of “boo boo” succeeded by slow clapping finally made Joanne pause and look away. After a few seconds Joanne, with the help of a few keystrokes projected the following image onto the big screen:

(Pixabay image by Marianne Sopala)

“This ladies and gentlemen is a picture from a theme park at Muhafazat Al Wafran in Kuwait. A place where the sun blazes down in perpetuity. Can you see the snowstorm that is wreaking havoc? The flakes of snow wafting down in slow motion do not represent the cheer of Christmas for the unsuspecting elephant playfully nudging the little house crookedly nesting in the tree. The poor mammal does not know that she just has approximately 63.25 years left on this Planet after which both she and her entire breed will go extinct. Neither does the pack of mice huddling close to one another on the roof of the artificial tree house know that the next 30 hypothermia filled minutes would be the final ones in their lives.”

The discomfiture in the room was now palpable. A few murmurs and whispers were interspersed by a deliberate shuffling of feet and needless repositioning of chairs. “I asked my grandfather, he said there has never been snow before, one local man commented to a newspaper. Everyone is surprised.” Joanne continued unabated. The polar vortex, or stratospheric jet stream, is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of Earth’s poles. It can expand or shift, sending cold, Arctic air down into many regions. The expansion and shifting of the polar vortex to various degrees is regular occurrence during the winter.

“I implore you to at least pay attention to the elephant in a snow storm even if you are willing to cast a blind eye to the elephant in the room.” A cathartic Joanne was now trembling on stage and unbeknown-st to herself she felt the sting of tears streaming down her cheeks. The deafening silence hung over the room like an invisible shroud of ominous foreboding. After what seemed like an eternity the audience got to their feet as one and now the sound of the frenzied applause was deafening.

This is a piece of fiction piece written for D. Wallace Peach’s monthly Speculative Fiction Writing Prompt. 

The Surging Waves of Life

20190224

(Photo Credit: Susan Spaulding)

You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life” crooned Ash as she pirouetted with an unbelievably languid grace.

“From where on earth did you get hold of that hideous pair of shoes?” Venky’ s reaction bordered on the apoplectic.

Abruptly abandoning her dancing maneuvers, Ash shot a look of daggers back at Venky. “I find nothing wrong with my selection. White is purity, white is transcendence and white IS King Elvis!”

The last line made Venky break into a smile. This was typical Ash. A woman of resoluteness, resilience and resolve. “The feet don’t discriminate between the colours adorning the footwear” now Ash was in full flow. “Dance as though your entire life depends upon it. Swing for the soul, swivel for the celebrations. If music is an ocean, dancing constitutes the waves. White as they come surging in, white while they gracefully sweep back.

“What have you been reading these days?” Venky wondered out loud. This philosophical side of Ash was one which had never before manifested even remotely.

“The ebb and flow of life needs to be lived and not just read, Mr. Socrates” replied Ashita. “You will realise it when you begin dancing.”

(Word Count: 200)

This story was written for Sunday Photo Fiction hosted by Susan Spaulding. For more details visit Here.  To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Reveling In The Wind

(Mount Everest base camp, Nepal | mkslalove Google Maps)

Thick milky white clouds obscured the snow-capped mountain. Whistling winds buffeted the fluorescent tents housing intrepid mountaineers eager to summit 8,848 meters of imperial splendour. Resembling the mournful howls of a pack of scheming wolves, the wind cut like ice whenever they found an opportunity to escape the protective clothing of the climbers before making contact with a patch of exposed skin.

Holding a mug of steaming soup in her gloved hands, Ashita stared intensely in the direction of her destination. As far as the eye could see there was an explosion of white. Clouds, Snow, Ice.

“Why such an obsessive passion towards mountains?” Venky had once asked her.

“It was and never will be an obsession.” Ashita replied thoughtfully. “Mother Nature issues a clarion call to her children to assimilate themselves in her beauty, to absorb her lessons and admire her workings. I just obey.”

True that.

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw

For the complete list of entries, please click HERE

The Bell’s Dome

Sunflower Dead

(Photo Credit: Crispina Kemp)

Low Siew Kuan’s eyes brimmed with tears. Tears of fury, futility and forlorn hope. Siew Kuan’s prodigious professional career as an environmentalist and cultural anthropologist was made and marred in equal measure by locking horns with the beacons of crony capitalism; running from pillar to post fighting to obtain project funding, which even after securing legitimate accord seemed to be obscured in a myriad mish-mash of obstinate bureaucracy and obnoxious paperwork; and driven to exasperation by a media which danced to the tunes of corporate largesses and diktat.

Now her worst fears had come home to roost. The beautiful but rare species of flower called “The Bell’s Dome” was at the last leg of its grandeur on Earth. The ominous pre-conditions of extinction, in the form of brown caterpillar like appendages had begun ravaging the Dome.

“We do not deserve Nature” cursed Siew Kuan wiping tears that now flowed hopelessly.

(Word Count: 150)

Written as part of the Crimson’s Creative Challenge #15 More details regarding this challenge may be found HERE.

Big Week: The Biggest Air Battle of World War II

Image result for The Big Week

While the whole word extols the exploits of Normandy, waxes eloquent about the siege of Stalingrad and gasps collectively at the recollection of the Battle of the Bulge, there are a few battles – which even though, indispensable in influencing the final outcome of the War itself – have been relegated to the confines of obscurity. One such battle is OPERATION ARGUMENT. Popularly known as ‘Big Week’, the operation had at its cornerstone a relentless round-the-clock pummeling of German armament factories and strategic manufacturing bases. Targeting locations at Leipzig, Berlin, Schweinfurt, Hamburg and many others, the very gestalt driving this strategy was breaking the spine of an already demoralized Luftwaffe and thereby giving the Allies, a definitive air superiority. Mr. James Holland in his riveting book, “Big Week” recreates the exploits, endeavours and enervation surrounding OPERATION ARGUMENT.

Mr. Holland’s marvelous recreation of the deadly dog-fights in mid-air between the Messerschmitt and the Mustangs, B-17 Fortresses and B-24 Liberators makes for some hair raising and horripilation inducing reading. Sitting within the confines of a claustrophobic interior, the brave pilots, co-pilots, navigators, gunners and bomb manning personnel boarded their flying beasts, with neither complaints nor consternations. It might not have been a comforting thought for these courageous airmen to learn that their birds were also commonly termed “Flying Coffins.” Braving the deplorable English weather, which made visibility a mere hope inducing icing on the instruments, warding off annoying German fighters and having to contend with the intransigence, insouciance and inchoate decisions of the people commanding the Allied Air Forces, Mr. Holland’s airmen are deserving of more than just platitudes.

The U.S. Eighth Air Force by the third week of February 1944, was engaging in flying missions over the Continent from bases in Britain. Mr. James Holland pieces together a very interesting piece of contrast in relation to the bombing sorties. While the preference of the British was nighttime area bombing, the American philosophy rested on daytime bombing. The American logic being such a strategy would lead to better precision and assured destruction of the designated enemy targets. But it could not be denied that this option also exposed the Americans to the rabid German defenders. As Mr. Holland painstakingly details, in the initial phase of the battle for Ariel ascendancy, protection for both British and American bombers was provided by fighter escorts. Known as “little friends” these fighter aircraft would however only escort the bombers only part of the way. This was because of a severe limitation in flying range that plagued the fighters. Once bereft of escorts, the beleaguered bombers, attracted the attention, ire and fury of the German fighters like bees attracted to honey. The bombers were hounded, pounded and tormented till such time the escorts came back to their rescue. This situation however underwent a dramatic shift with the advent of the Mustang aircrafts. With an enviable range capable of escorting the bombers all the way to their target and back, the Mustangs titled the scales definitively in the favour of the Allies, and in the process stubbing out the last vestiges of German hope.

Yet another significant landmark point of inflection was attributable to Brigadier General Jimmy Doolittle. Brig. Gen. Doolittle who was at the forefront of the post-Pearl Harbour raid, completely reinvented the role of the P-51 Mustang. Cutting to shreds the accepted notion that the role of the P-51 was to act as escorts to the bombers as the latter went on their bombing raids, Doolittle conceptualized the P-51 going full tilt and all fury in taking the Luftwaffe head on and decimating them both in the air and on the ground. This decisive decision ensured that while the P-51s ran riot rampaging the enemy, the Luftwaffe’s morale was all but incinerated (along with their hapless and ill-trained pilots). Taking recourse to personal notes, diaries and detailed interviews, Mr. Holland provides a memorable, heart-warming and at times heart wrenching account of the extraordinary emotions swirling around the airmen as they readied for battle.

When the dust finally settled on OPERATION ARGUMENT, the final chapters in the fading book of the Luftwaffe’s must vaunted history had determinedly taken shape. The Luftwaffe lost over 500 German fighters and nearly as many irreplaceable pilots. “In total, some 3,300 bombers from the Eighth, over 500 from the Fifteenth Air Force, and some 2,750 from Bomber Command had attacked the main German aircraft industry targets outlined in POINTBLANK. Together, they had dropped some 22,000 tons – 4,000 tons more than had been dropped on London by the Luftwaffe during the entire eight-month Blitz.”

“Big Week” is an indispensable addition to the collection of every World War II aficionado. The interlacing of personal accounts with professional detachment is the telling feature of this book. The supreme sacrifices made by the indomitable warriors on both the warring factions makes one muse, philosophise, rant, rave and introspect about the futility that is war. Some of the notable protagonists meriting mention in Mr. Holland’s book include the Oscar winning actor and bomber captain Jimmy Stewart, German ace Heinz Knoke, and Donald Blakeslee, Acting Flight Lieutenant and the recipient of a plethora of distinctions, including, two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars, Legion of Merit, eight Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Air Medals and a Distinguished Flying Cross (United Kingdom).

OPERATION ARGUMENT has been tended to be generally overlooked when compared with the attention given to some of the fierce battles in the European theatre of operations. But Mr. Holland decisively, firmly and flamboyantly ameliorates this dichotomy with “The Big Week.” The bravery of the remarkable airmen and their sacrifices should never have gone unheeded and with the publication of “The Big Week”, never will. For this we all need to join together in thanking Mr. James Holland for his yeoman service.