Join our amazing community of book lovers and get the latest stories doing the rounds.

We respect your privacy and promise no spam. We’ll send you occasional writing tips and advice. You can unsubscribe at any time.

T & T Story Writing Contest 2019-20

Long Shadows

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

The etiquette training that her mother had been so obsessive about in her early years was definitely working overtime as she managed to clamp down on her instinctive urge to shout something particularly rude as she surreptitiously sneakedbehind the ornate fluttering curtains in the back and deliberately swore after making sure that no one was within earshot.

“Bloody Mr. Perfect!”

Anger and frustration weaved inside her grating at her nerves and making her feel suffocated at the familiar cream walls and arched hallways that were now adorned with yellow curtains and vivid flower ensembles. It was just like a fairy tale palace. Yet every time she heard someone gushing over it, there was this vehement urge to push them off the second-floor balcony.

It was all yellow and it caused her a headache.

They were the Perfect Pair, people called them. From the local gossip to the social gatherings; all of them spoke of how well they matched. Everywhere people saw them; they saw the fairy tale perfect union.

Yet she, hated it.

He had not done anything antagonistic to her and the distaste had more to do with the fact that she was being made to marry. This instead of being the blushing bride, she had the air of someone being led to the altar for sacrifice. The smiles were faked and everything was taxing her spirit.

It was then, however, that a shrill voice dashed her seclusion.

“There you are Gargi! We were searching for you everywhere. Come, it is time for the ring ceremony,” her future sister-in-law sauntered towards her with a wide smile.

Gargi turned to look at her and her stomach turned. Something tangy rose up her throat and she felt bloated as her breaths came in gasps.She trembled.

Her eyes watered as they took in the mustard yellow ensemble. She tried to swallow hard but as bile rose up to her mouth, she did the only thing she could.

She puked.

Hatred was not at all fiery and volcanic like it is often described in novels. No, it was instead icy and cold like sharp pointy knives treating the body like a dart board. This feeling unfortunately had become quite familiar with her.

She took a deep breath and tried to supress the groan while the other two occupants in the room successfully ignored her presence as they went on discussing a deal. Her eyes fell on the slightly balding older man dressed in a sharp white suit and her gaze softened. True to his appearance, her father was a precise and sophisticated man. He was successful and she definitely cashed into his success. But that did not mean that she was a free-loader. She had aced her academics and graduated top of her class from Harvard. She had numerous accolades to her name too.

A soft sound of laughter broke into her thoughts and her head snapped back to attention as she realized that the two men in front of her were laughing amongst themselves and, she relaxed. Her eyes took in the other man sitting in front of her father. He was apparently one of the most important employees in their office and it was well known how much her father trusted him. The right hand, people called him, she thought sourly.

He was the best, as her father always sought to remind her repeatedly. Her father would even look at her and clearly state how lucky she was that she will always have him by her side to help manage the Company.

As for the employee, the irritable bug that he was; he would give her patronising looks and slowly enunciate that she ought to handle only the HR section and leave the running of the company to him. After all going to construction sites was no job for a woman, he would say.

What hurt more was that her father always agreed.

A throbbing headache made itself known and she swallowed. At times when thoughts like this swirled in her mind, she felt like breaking her pen on someone’s head; hard.

A cough snapped her out of her thoughts and she raised her head to find two pairs of eyes focused on her.

“Day dreaming again, aah?” her father asked his accent colouring his tones. Her eyes met his and she nearly winced at the displeasure reflected in them. She was about to say something, anything in her defence when Parveen Agarwal spoke up.

“Ah, leave it Chaudhary Sir. She is at the age to day dream. Let her live a little,” he remarked his eyes smirking as he looked at her.

She stiffened. Pretentious slimy lying goat!

As the duo filed away from the cabin, she remained there, seething and frustrated. Once again she had been made to feel incapable and almost like a child that needs to be led on carefully. The future would be no different. No matter how much she studied or more certificates she framed on the wall, her being a woman gave a whole different qualification of incapability to her.

Woolf had it all wrong. Women do not need a room of their own but the choice to call a room as their own with the power of moving out of it whenever they wished to.

The jingling of the bell brought her to the present as she saw customers entering the cafe. Another day; same routine!

With a lazy sigh, she begun cross checking the online website to see if any new orders had been placed as the smooth jazz began playing through the speakers. As she minimized the window, her eyes drifted across her café.

It was perfect, just as she had imagined and a small smile flitted across her face. The walls of the entire place was done in brown, just the way she liked it and was fitted with beautiful paintings and cheeky quotes along with the name of the café in bright letters. Round wooden tables made up the rest of the café with cosy armchairs completing the picture. Just opposite to the door was the counter where the baristas milled about; taking orders and operating the machines. There was another shelf nearby that displayed the baked goods that were made fresh from the kitchen attached to the café. It was all a successful whole; something that would not have been possible without the most important person of her life – her brother.

Once, she had been a fearful little thing, obedient, pliant and more than a hundred percent sure that she would never be able to do anything by herself. All she had imagined was marriage and children.

But all that had never come to pass for she had been married to a school teacher as soon as she reached the twentieth year of her life. However her fate had other things planned when barely a month later, her young husband had met his end in an accident and she had been left alone.

Those three years were the hardest part of her life. No one was near her except sometimes her parents. Her new family had hated the sight of her. Kuloikhoniya, they had sneered at her. Her friends had stayed away from her and people walked around her with a wide berth and shuffling eyes.

But then her brother had come and changed everything. He had wanted her to be independent and had emotionally blackmailed her into boarding the train with him and actually travelling out of the state.

He was a pure nutcase, she remembered fondly. Today at this phase of her life, she realized how much she owed him. She lived independently, earned by herself and was her own boss. Her business thrived and she enjoyed the one thing she felt she would never have – her own private space, along with an important realization.

The bells jingled and a woman dressed in a suit rushed in.

Some people were completely wrong when they said all that men were eternally the enemy of women. Instead the truth was that this black and white dynamic of right and wrong, of correct and being incorrect was a corrosive acid that corrupted not just the life of a woman but a man too; resulting in myriad of false delusions that people ended up living in. Instead there were many like her brother who wanted their little sisters to always go forth and blossom.

She was lucky, she thought, to have even gotten a chance to spread her wings. Much luckier than many!

“Hello! Hello! Check!”

The sound of the mic broke her thoughts.

A woman with her face covered by a chunri stepped in front of the mic to start the Open mic session. Uma sighed. Hopefully this one would not be as boring as the previous ones.

Gargi gave a smile as her best friend entered the café with a harried look on her face. Dressed in a grey suit, she looked the picture of a high scale official, except the pursed lips and her scrunched forehead that did not go with her image.

“Gargi, hi,” she puffed as she settled into the armchair in front of her and nearly sighed at the comfortable and fluffy backrest. No wonder she liked this place so much. “Sorry I am late. The traffic was insane today. Just an inch more and I would have rammed my car to a taxi. Seriously, these people drive like maniacs.”

Gargi raised an eyebrow. “While you drive rather reasonably don’t you! Anyway, shall I order you a cup?”

“Yeah, get me one. Black with…..”

“A dash of whipped cream and no sugar. I know.”

As they waited for their order, Gargi peered at her. “You look a bit down. Is everything ok Abha?”

Abha rolled her eyes. “Same old buddy, same old! That Agarwal eyeing my inheritance and putting me down every time with my father continuously underestimating me; nothing has really changed. Anyway forget about me, what about you? I heard your engagement was postponed?”

Gargi flushed. “Ah that. Um actually, I may have, by mistake… pukonsisinlaw,” she finished in an inaudible rush.

Abha blinked. “You did what?”

Gargi sheepishly smiled at her. “Puked on my sister-in-law!”

Both looked at each other in silence and next second burst into laughter. Trying to control her giggles, Gargi went on narrating the entire incident and as they talked, time faded.

Friendship is often like a muscle memory that never goes away. As the two friends distanced by their hectic life relaxed into the soft cushiony chairs, their murmurings gave into gossips and then to memories and life. How long they talked, was unknown to both but then the soft echo of the microphone broke into their world.

“Hello! Hello! Check!”

A woman with her face covered by a chunri stepped in front of the mic that was put up at a platform in the corner of the café.

“Good evening to all the caffeine-lovers in the best coffee place of the city. Today I am here to take you all to a journey; a journey beyond time to the womb of the myths long buried under the deepest parts of our soul.”

The voice was eerily beautiful, Gargi thought as she fixated on the figure. There was something about her that she could not pin-point. Her voice flowed like the breeze in a pleasant spring morning lilting at the end to make it appear startling and extremely soothing to hear. Her face was completely covered with only her eyes visible to the world.

The attention of the entire café focused on her and from the periphery of her eyes, Gargi could see the owner of the café peeping out of her cabin. But that was all she could see for the next moment the speaker began and her world disappeared.



“Have you ever wondered,

Who made these tales

That made so many wroth

And many in pain?

Have you tried to see beyond the seen

And known that the world

Is still bleak and unknown?

Then let me take you to a time

When known was unknown and

The grown was alas always sown.

When lives were varied

As Magic lived in the tides

And Gods; side by side.

Five, they were who were tried

With ornate swords of shame and strife

They were called the Panchkanyas by name,

And in their plight they rose to fame.

But fools are those who know

What they only saw.

For what if, the tale was further than now?

And the roots were fabled, down the brow!

Ahalya for all her hurt;

What if was equally a part?

What if not a victim but

An active aggressor of the art?

What if pleasures of the flesh

Had bemoaned her lost mudra

And she had nurtured a grudge

About a weathered land with not a

Single bloom neither of passion nor of compassion

But just the cold rhythm of duty…

What if she had known the face behind the guise

But had wanted to meet her own throbbing vice!

What if, she had just tossed a dice?


When her brother-in-law shred her dignity

The death of her husband further blotted her sanity

Yet Tara stood firm with her sobriety intact

And warned him repeatedly of the adverse fact

Alas when Sugriva, the King dulled and bleak

Dowsed in wine, flesh and need;

It was a Queen that people new

Of valour and strength

And even as they departed to a voyage

Beyond the Ocean’s gale

It was a Queen who ruled, hard and main.

So who was the power in all,

The King nursed in ale or the Queen beyond?


So did Mandodari, the Queen of Lanka

Chose to advice but was snubbed:

Yet look at the fate and wheel of fortune

Kingdom hanged hands and blood replaced blood

But the Queen remained the same.

And my dear listeners

Don’t we all know it

How bound a King remains,

Just like pawn in a ladder of chess

Where the Queen decides

The fate of the game.


Maybe Kunti was not as simple

And demure as most do see

What if she knowingly fed two on her breast

So that blood would never feast on its kin?

Was that the reason that she saw them same

Same eyes, same love, same name

Yet when one difference came

And the jewel of Panchal stepped in name

She made them all a part of the game.

Divide and rule was not the Company’s game

For Kunti played it all in her frame

Begged to her son born of shame

To spare the child whose fame was in name.


When fire burned in her veins

She stepped out of the fiery blaze

Draupadi leapt out, wild and unfazed.

Married to five, never did she despair

Every year she met one as her pair

Yet what tore her was

Not her marriage

But the taunts of the gaze

That stripped her bare

Mirthless in all its name.

And then she carved her own: As the blood rained

Her raze sent down, Millions to their pain.

Kurukshetra, the name suffice

The power of her anger

And this is the true vestige

May hap none too truer!

So are you sure they were helpless

Victims of a hue

Or are they all naught but

Heroines of their due.

They cried and fought

Lived and sought

A life of trials, tribulations and what not

But never sat back, demure and quiet

But went forth to choose their right.


Ages have passed and look at us

We all are stuck still in the mud!

Choice is all we need

That is never we feed

Instead all we are given

Are false ideas cloaked and shriven.

Look at them, and learn

For time waits for none

Remember to make your choice

For that choice is all your voice.


There was a deafening silence that rang loudly in the air; cascading like a glorious fall with naught in the ear except emptiness. The dim lights of the café throbbed as if they too were conscious of the stunned grace that lit across the room.

The melodious and yet haunting voice had stopped, the perpetrator calmly stepping back, her face permanently hidden behind her chunri. Her dark eyes simmered as she took in the quiet faces and deftly turned around. Immediately voices buzzed like bees and someone clapped loudly. Others followed and there was a small smattering of applause.

But she did not care. What she had come for was done, she thought as she took in the pale composure of the owner of the café. As she passed her, she felt a deep longing rise in her. Soon, she thought, soon you will be yourself again for it is nearly time.

She wanted to go to her but she restrained herself. Not now, today was not for her. Today was for the other one.

And so in muted grace she sank down on the corner most sofa and gestured for a coffee.

As she sat, she became minutely aware of those pointed glances at her back. It was quite ironical and sad how some things never really changed. Years passed, kingdoms demolished, civilizations changed; but what remained the same was this utterly human quality to judge.

She could feel those familiar judgemental glances yet she did not feel the need to run away as she had before. But then someone dropped into the seat in front of her and her heart did a sudden twist. She swallowed, took a deep breath and raised her eyes.

Gargi found herself pinned by the eyes of the poet she had heard just minutes ago. They are beautiful, she thought distractedly, as they roved all over her face and stopped at her eyes. Her breaths fastened as her heart suddenly began thundering as if she had run for miles. But she did not feel scared. All she felt was a sudden sense of release, a sudden freedom that she could not decipher and a beautiful feeling she could not express.

“Hi,” the words fell out of her mouth. “You are beautiful, I-I m-mean,” she hastily backtracked, “the way you performed was beautiful. The concept was brilliant. I have always been fascinated with the idea of these five women and somewhere I always felt as if they were more than they appeared. I –I can’t tell you how I felt when I heard you talking about the things that I had always wanted to say,” she finished in one breathe with a gasp.

The dark eyes simply stared at her and Gargi felt the rush of warmth as a flush made its way on her face. Her lips pursed and her ears reddened. Way to make a fool out of yourself, she thought disparagingly.

The woman in front of her straightened and with her nimble fingers slowly removed the chunri that covered her face. Gargi nearly gasped as she stared at the captivating face. She was beautiful, Gargi thought, perhaps the most beautiful woman she had ever seen in her life. As she removed the cloth, her dark eyes latched onto Gargi’s and then…

They burned!

The skin was mottled into a grotesque layering. The pale hue damaged by a crude sheen that was full of boils and her cheeks appeared as if mucus had pooled around them and frozen to a gnarled structure.

Her heart thudded loudly and Gargi blinked. The very next second the beautiful face stared up at her; comely and entrancing.

Her lips curved into a smile.

“I have waited for a long time,” she began in her unearthly voice which rang in her ears drowning all the commotion of the café. The outside world faded and it was only them. “I am glad to finally meet you in this time, Gargi.”

Gargi froze and tried to assemble her thoughts trying to remember if she had ever mentioned her name. But her brain felt as if it was doped by a long standing drug and her thoughts felt sluggish and unconvincing to herself. The air had thickened and there was a vitality that had begun to rise inside her.

The woman smirked. “I am Ghosha.”

The café faded, the colours worming back into a whirlpool of thought. I blinked my eyes and took a deep breathe. Speaking for so long had tired me.

Leaning back to the pillows I turned to look at my roommate who peered at me from the opposite bed.

“So, what do you think? Chalega?”

A snore answered my question and my eyes took in the blankets huddled around my roommate’s sleeping form.

Ah well, I thought, not all people have the talent to listen!



Maitreyee Dutta

A Masters in English Literature student and an avid lover of words, books, and culture.

Write A Comment