The Intruder

by Vrinda Baliga


 At 7:29 a.m., the elevator in the Iris block of the Gardenia Housing Society trundled to a halt on the ground floor and disgorged nine children and one grandfather. Anant Kamat shouldered his seven-year-old grandson’s schoolbag and hurried out behind the children.  

“Hurry up, Dhruv, you’ll miss your bus.”

“Relax, ajoba, it hasn’t come yet.” Dhruv’s attention was fixed on the fidget spinner balanced on his forefinger. The boy had somehow managed to keep it going in the jam-packed elevator.

“How do you know, hanh?”

All the yellow school buses looked the same to Anant. Every morning, they entered the gated community in a steady stream, their sides adorned with slogans about the making of the next Einsteins and the joys of learning and the blossoming of flowers and the metamorphosis of butterflies, all sporting the faces of smiling, young geniuses doing happy experiments with test-tubes and beakers. Like clumsy leviathans, the buses manoeuvred past each other into their allotted spots along the society’s main interior road.  In his three weeks in Hyderabad, Anant had still not learnt to decipher their various logos and mottos from afar.

Anant tried to hurry Dhruv along and ended up jostling his hand and upsetting the fidget-spinner whirring precariously on his forefinger.

Ajoba!” Dhruv protested. “I was about to break my previous record!”

As it turned out, he was right about the bus. When they reached his pick-up point, his school bus with the Rubik’s cube logo had yet to arrive.

“See, I told you,” Dhruv said, reproachfully, and ran off to join his friends. Anant stood there awkwardly, wondering whether to go after him or join the other parents. The parents, mostly mothers, were clustered like parentheses around a discussion, no doubt about the latest burning issue— the tablets the school was planning to introduce.

Anant took a couple of tentative steps in the general direction of the group, though not enough to commit himself.

“What’s wrong with good old textbooks, I ask you...”

“I allow my kid to do computer only after homework. If homework itself is on tablet, then what to say?”

“Yes, as it is, it’s so difficult to keep control on screen time.”

When Anant had first heard about the issue, he had wondered why in hell the school wanted to hand out medicines to students. It was a while before he understood that they meant tablet computers. That the same word could evoke such a radically different image in his mind was yet another in-your-face reminder that he had grown old, too old, for this generation. It seemed like they spoke a whole different language, deceptively disguised in familiar words.

The arrival of the bus ended Anant’s dilemma. There was the usual flurry of bags and water-bottles and rolled-up charts and teetering models, followed by arguments about who got the window-seat, but finally the bus started to move. Only the younger kids bothered to wave; Dhruv, Anant was relieved to note, was still among them.

Over the next ten minutes, the street emptied of the buses and the housing society of its junior population, leaving the adults to finish their morning walks and exercise routines before the day heated up and drove everyone indoors. The monsoon rains, according to the met department, were still a few weeks away, and until they arrived there would be no respite from the unrelenting heat. With not even a hint of a breeze, it seemed the city, as much as its occupants, was waiting for the rains with bated breath.

Anant began his walk along the perimeter of the housing society, along a path that took him past the car-lined parking lot around the five tall apartment blocks on one side, then crossed the society’s interior main road and went around the five remaining blocks, all this under the watchful eyes of security cameras that peeked from walls and lampposts at regular intervals.  It was a poor substitute for his morning walk back home in Panaji.

Mornings in Panaji started on Miramar beach. A walk along the length of the beach, past discarded sandcastles and shells and scurrying crabs and nimble-footed sandpipers, his sandals dangling from his hands, the waves playing tag with his bare feet. Then the return journey home, along leafy streets, past squat apartment blocks and bungalows with blue-and-white mosaics decorating their gateposts, past the Kala Academy with its warm, welcoming spaces and a canteen that sold a mean vada-pav, which, Varsha had always claimed, was enough to cancel out all the benefits of his morning walk. Along the Mandovi riverfront, the fresh breeze coming in over the water tasting just a tinge different from the sea breeze of Miramar, past the fishing boats bringing the morning catch in and the fishwives setting up shop for the early customers. Turning into his lane, he would inevitably hear the deep-throated horn of the poder’s cycle announcing freshly baked bread from the neighbourhood bakery. "Patrao, what will you have today?" the poder would ask for form’s sake, even as he was already wrapping up Anant’s usual double pao in the previous day’s newsprint of Gomantak Times or O Heraldo...

"Deep in thought, Mr. Kamat?"

Anant looked around with a start to find Vardarajan hurrying to catch up with him.  Vardarajan lived in the Edelweiss block with his wife; his grown-up children lived abroad. Vardarajan was a civil engineer and had retired from one of the top construction firms in the country, having overseen an impressive list of prestigious projects during the course of his career. This had been established in the very first meeting; Kamat noticed how this was one of the first questions the fellow-elderly asked you when they met —this establishment of status, of what one had been and where one therefore stood in a hierarchy that had long flattened out and now existed only in their minds. He also noticed how the young never bothered with this question when they met a person above a certain age.

“Oh, I was just wondering why all these blocks in the society are named after exotic foreign flowers,” Anant said.

Vardarajan guffawed. He was a man who laughed easily. No wonder then that he was the founder of the society’s laughter club into which he was trying to induct Anant. “Deep existential questions you are thinking about early in the morning, Mr. Kamat? If the developers had named the buildings after local vegetables instead of exotic flowers, they would not have been able to sell the flats at such exorbitant rates, no? Who wants to say they live in Dondakayya block?” He looked at Anant and grinned. “Dondakayya, Mr. Kamat. How do you say it? Tendli, am I right? See, I also know some Konkani. I was in Goa for many months on work.”

They were passing the gated community’s grocery store and the talk of vegetables reminded Anant of his indignation at the way the shop was fleecing its captive audience. Flaccid palak, wilting beans, tiny worm-infested cauliflowers! And the fellow hadn’t even heard of tambdi bhaji! Or kokum soal for that matter. His prices, though, were like he were selling nectar from heaven! But the only alternative, as Anant had found to his detriment, was a mall two kilometres away where you first had to descend level after level almost down to the very pits of hell before you could find a spot in its labyrinthine multi-level basement parking, and then hunt for what you needed in a vast football stadium-sized hyper-market. Anant had given up after two visits. Now, all he could do was to think nostalgically of the heaps of fresh vegetables and fruits at Panaji market, where one could not only get quality stuff but also bargain for it.

He was about to complain yet again about the grocery to Vardarajan, when he realised the latter was muttering under his breath. Anant followed his line of vision to a middle-aged man spread-eagled on a yoga mat on the society park’s lawn. The man was ruining every yoga asana by craning his neck to view the YouTube video tutorial he was following.

“Gadgets everywhere!” Vardarajan said, irritated.

A young couple strode past, ear-pods in place, their phones strapped in shoulder pouches. They glanced briefly at the two elderly men, and Anant recognised the familiar dismissal he saw everywhere these days, the way the young casually cast him into a category defined only by his age and nothing else.

Vardarajan was still on the topic of gadgets, though he had taken a slight detour and found his way to his favourite bugbear—the security cameras.

“Several lakhs of rupees,” he was exclaiming. “And all for some dog poop!”

Anant had heard the story before, more times than he cared to remember. The security cameras had been installed at great cost, citing child safety, theft detection, deterrence effect and so on, but the worst it had detected, to date, was an occasional pet owner who wouldn’t clean up after his dog.

“For some, money may be growing on the trees, but what about retired people like us, I say?” continued Vardarajan. “Now they want RFID-activated boom barriers at the gate! Because someone’s driver stole their car. Arrey, I ask you, if you fight with your driver and fire him from the job, forgetting he has the spare key to your car, what do you think will happen? And how will RFID barrier prevent it? The car has the sticker, so the barrier will open, no? Big, big things they bring in, all this hi-fi technology which causes more problems than it solves.”

“In Goa, we have a saying—just because the knife is made of gold, don’t stab yourself,” Anant said, mildly.

Vardarajan nodded. “Yes, correct. Very correct.”

A sudden movement at a balcony of the Tulip block distracted them.

“Is that a monkey?” Vardarajan said, squinting his eyes.

 But the blur of brown had already disappeared from view.


*


Vivek Kamat sat at a long conference table with a projector at one end and three triangular conference phones spaced evenly down its length. Everything looked sleek and tidy on the top, the chaos of wiring neatly concealed from view underneath. Much like this company he worked for.

His team members were walking in, balancing coffee mugs, phones and laptops, looking like they were in for the long haul, though it was just a brief status meeting. The daily scrum, it was called, and no, it had nothing to do with football; the name was just meant to make project management sound sexy.

"So, what's the ask on this new feature?" The lead engineer came up and took a seat next to Vivek.

"The specs were circulated yesterday," Vivek told him.

The man looked blank for a second, then quickly recouped. "Oh, yeah, I just meant we should surface the main points, and then drill down into each one."

The jargon! It never failed to irritate Vivek. It seemed designed specifically for hedging and obfuscation. Why couldn't everyone just speak like normal people, instead of behaving like some privileged tribe with their own codes for everything? Yet, it was a life-jacket, this jargon, and he too grabbed for it when he felt like he was going under.  The company was “restructuring”, he could say as glibly as the next guy, to become more “agile”, so they had to “let go” of a few folks. But, of course, “change was the only constant” and the “reduced headcount” should only be seen as an “opportunity to step up to the crease and show your A-game”. And all that crap.

"It's a feature to let users wipe their mobile devices of sensitive data remotely,” he said now.

"The UX on the device will be terrible.” This from the user experience guy, whose only contribution in most meetings was exactly the same as the one he had just made. “The spec mentions several restarts of the app and auto-refreshes of the screen. Imagine how startling it will be to the user."

Vivek took a deep breath. "Well, the ‘user’ in this case is the owner of the device, and if he wants to wipe data remotely I think we can safely assume the device is not exactly in friendly hands. So, perhaps we should not overly concern ourselves with what user experience the person who filched the device has when the data is being wiped.

The look on the chap’s face, as realization finally dawned, was the only highlight of the meeting.

Afterwards, Vivek walked through the maze of cubicles and past the rarely used foosball and table-tennis tables that struggled to maintain the illusion that this was a fun place, and entered his cabin. An office with a view of a sliver of sky—the reward for fifteen years of service. He had joined the company right out of college, a bright-eyed computer science graduate convinced he would change the world. Now, he understood he was a mere cog in a gigantic wheel that didn't know where it was headed.

He stood at the window, looking out at high-rise buildings that were shouldering their way up through the rocky land, pushing the boundaries of the city ever further.

Perhaps he would have been better off with lesser expectations from life, like the car dealership in Goa that his father had wanted him to take over. There had never been angry words between them over Vivek’s refusal to take charge of the business. But, in families, disappointment can be communicated well enough without words. And when his father had finally decided to retire a few years ago, he had sold off the dealership, not bothering to consult Vivek.

Vivek sighed, thinking of his father, a silent and brooding presence, behaving like a visitor in his own son’s home. He was making an effort with Dhruv, at least, but Vivek wondered how long that would last if Dhruv didn’t reciprocate. As for the two of them—Anant and Vivek—Aai had always been the one who had hyphenated their separate existences, and with her gone, they had drifted inexorably apart. Neither had been prepared for these new circumstances ....

As if on cue, his phone buzzed. The hospital.

"Mr. Kamat. This is with regard to your father's treatment schedule. We have scheduled the preliminary tests for tomorrow. Could you bring him in for the blood work and comprehensive check-up at around ten in the morning?"


*


Dhruv had left for school, Vivek for office, and Shashi for the NGO she volunteered at. Anant was alone at home. He sat on the sofa listlessly watching the news, still tired from the previous day. He had a suspicion the exhaustion was more mental than physical. Yes, there had been needles and electrodes and probes and pressure cuffs—everything they needed to confirm that he was ill enough to need treatment, but also that he was well enough to start it. It was not that though, but the place itself that had overwhelmed him. The gleaming reception area with air-brushed folks who smilingly welcomed you and noted your dire details with complete neutrality and wished you a very good day, like they were checking you into a resort for a vacation. The smooth artificiality of it all grated on his nerves. He had felt so much more at ease in Dr. Dias’ no-frills nursing home back in Panjim, the place that had handled all his body’s infidelities for the last fifty years. Nowhere in its old, scrubbed, tiled floors, its single ward whose walls were adorned not with abstract art but with medical charts hung on nails beside each bed, or its disinfectant-infused air, had it ever claimed to be anything other than what it was—a hospital. And elderly Dr. Dias, always short on time and temper, whose patients knew better than to ask him too many questions, had never pretended to be a friend or confidante or philosopher or soothsayer. He had just spelled out in firm terms what was wrong with you and how he was going to try to set it right.

All the smooth talk and glib reassurances at the corporate hospital in Hyderabad only served to put him on high-alert, as if the whole place was conspiring to put one over him.

After Varsha’s unexpected death, Anant had surprised himself. He had not only got used to living alone but had even begun to like it. Old age was a tightrope walk between one’s insecurities and the need for independence, and he fully expected to walk that rope well into his eighties. He had not bargained on fate tripping him up so soon.

He fiddled with the small bandage on his chest, just below the collar bone. It could not get any more real than this. This thing that had been surgically implanted under his skin, which was now as much a part of him as his new reality, was called a ‘port’. Like a computer socket. That’s where it started—the dehumanising. Soon he would only be viewed in parts and sections by various specialists, never as a whole, and his life would become a vocabulary he could not understand.

He put down the newspaper, lay back on the sofa and closed his eyes. Within minutes, he was back in his kitchen in Goa. Vardarajan sat beside him, nursing a cup of tea. Varsha was washing vegetables at the sink and cutting off the ends of the cucumbers and removing the outer two layers of the onions to discard.

Kidhe karta, go?” Anant said. “Throwing away half the vegetable!”

“Whatsapp-ari palaiinii?” she demanded. “All the pesticides get accumulated at the end of oblong vegetables and outer layers of layered ones. You say what you want now. But you’ll thank me later for saving you from cancer.”

Vardarajan muttered, “All these security measures are of no use. Put a hundred cameras, but a determined thief will still get in.”

Anant woke up with a start. He had not realised he had dozed off, and for a moment, he thought the noise that had woken him had come from the dream. But there it was again—a clatter of utensils. From the kitchen? Had Shashi returned when he had been asleep?

He walked towards the kitchen. No, it wasn’t Shashi—there was something both surreptitious and clumsy about the noise in the kitchen. The thought struck him the instant he reached the kitchen door that he should have picked up something for self-defence. But it was too late for that, and all he could do was stand dumbstruck at the door.

On the kitchen counter, amidst some scattered cutlery and an upturned box of cornflakes, sat a monkey, a large rhesus macaque. It startled at his presence, but only for a second. It looked at him, calmly, evenly, then, after a moment, padded sedately over to the kitchen balcony, and swung over the railing, never relinquishing hold of the packet of biscuits clasped in its paw. 


*


When Vivek unlocked the door, he was pleased to see his father sitting at the dining table with his son. Anant’s mood had noticeably improved over the past week. He had undergone his first round of chemotherapy a few days back, and though the oncologist had given them a whole list of possible side-effects to look out for, Anant had not had such a hard time of it. Of course, this was just the beginning. Still, having braced themselves for the worst, they were relieved.

Vivek ruffled Dhruv’s hair. “So what happened in school today, buddy?”  

“They gave homework,” Dhruv responded, morosely indicating the books scattered on the table.  

“Which you will finish before you get any computer time, mister,” Shashi called from the kitchen.

“My pencil is broken,” Dhruv responded. “And I lost my eraser in school today.”

Shashi came out, shaking her head in exasperation, and began hunting around in the drawer where the stationery was kept. “And they plan to give these kids tablets,” she muttered.

By the time Vivek changed and joined them at the table, Dhruv had finally settled down with some math worksheets.

“So many sums,” he said, his brow furrowed. “Ajoba, your father was lucky. He never went to school.”

Vivek winced inwardly. He had mentioned this fact long back in the context of a standard parental lecture about how Dhruv should value the privileges he had. But Dhruv had apparently retained the exact opposite meaning, and the way he had just said it... would Anant take it as a put-down?

“That’s true, he never did,” Anant said with a smile. “But he was a very wise man. He understood how two and two sometimes add up to more than four.”

“How?” Dhruv asked, surprised.

“Baba, don’t confuse him,” Shashi called from the kitchen with a laugh. “He has a maths test coming up.”

Vivek envied the easy jocularity she had managed to achieve with his father. Something he was still striving for after all these years.

Dhruv’s curiosity was now properly piqued. “How?” he demanded. “How is two plus two more than four?”

Anant laughed. “I don’t know now. After I went to college I forgot how.” 

Vivek pretended not to hear, wondering if that was meant as criticism targeted at him. His phone came to his rescue and reverberated noisily on the table.

“Papa, your phone just farted,” Dhruv said, giggling. Toilet humour figured high in his current fancies.

“It’s been farting all day,” Vivek said with a laugh. He picked up his phone and pulled down the notification drawer. “Yup, the society discussion board is at it again. It’s been abuzz all day with this monkey business. Even the RFID and water scarcity debates have been forgotten.” He scrolled through the messages. “‘Can the management committee please take immediate cognisance of the monkey nuisance?’ ‘What for we are paying such high maintenance fee if wildlife is coming inside our house?’”

“Wildlife!” Shashi, who had joined them at the table, laughed. “You would think it was a tiger or something.”

“There’s more. ‘How about getting trained langurs to frighten away the rhesus monkey? It’s been done in some places.’ ‘Get more monkeys in to try to frighten the existing one? Don’t we have enough sitting on the management committee?’”

“Ouch. Below the belt, that one,” Shashi said, grinning.

“‘There are some among us who are feeding the monkey. Such irresponsible behaviour will ensure it never leaves.’” Vivek shook his head. “No prizes for guessing that last one is from our friendly neighbourhood Vigilante Vijay.”

Shashi laughed. “How can he let something like this pass?”

“‘My children are too scared to go out alone.’—” Vivek continued, reading aloud. 

“Yes,” Dhruv cut in. “Even Aarav and Rishi are scared to come to play. They came only because ajoba came down with me.”

“Oh, tell them not to worry. I know all about dealing with little monkeys.” Anant made a mock swipe at Dhruv and the latter squealed delightedly. 


*

           

Anant was slightly out of breath after his walk and he paused at the notice board on the ground floor before taking the lift up to #103.

“Please note: Monthly water surcharge of Rs. 1000 will be added to maintenance dues this month towards water tanker charges. Request all residents to use water judiciously. Management Committee.”

“On-site car washing services. Contact Ganesh. Ph: 9880987091”

“Whoever has parked their car in my parking slot#112, I will wait till evening for you to remove it before deflating all the tyres.”

“All donations to the Sharing is Caring campaign can be made in the Club House Activity Hall between 2-6 p.m. tomorrow.”

In the midst of all the notices jostling for attention, blissfully oblivious to the ironies they presented, one caught Anant’s eye.

“The Management Committee has contacted the Forest Department regarding the monkey menace. Traps have been placed at various locations on the grounds. The forest department will also be sending workers to capture the macaque if it is seen on the premises. Request all residents to cooperate with them. Residents are requested to secure all doors and windows and strictly avoid feeding the monkey.”

Anant had seen these traps on his walk—clunky metal cages, clumsily camouflaged with leaves, each sporting some fruit as bait. No simian would go anywhere near them.

Not unless it was starving.

On reaching #103, Anant locked the door behind him and then looked around. Somehow, the place felt more like home now that he had a regular visitor.  He went to the kitchen and put together the usual assortment of bananas and apples on a battered old tray and filled a plastic bowl with water. This had become an extension of his morning routine now.

He had been researching macaques on his phone. “How to...” he had typed in the Google search box, and pressed on determinedly past “... prepare for chemotherapy?”, “...manage side-effects?”, “... fight cancer?”, to key in “...help a lost monkey?” By now, his auto-suggestions were all simian-related.

The macaque was large, but clearly old. How it had ended up here was anybody’s guess. The Gardenia housing society sat at the very outskirts of Hyderabad’s rapidly expanding suburbs. Perhaps a gang of monkeys had been driven towards human habitation by the scorching summer; there were reports in the newspapers every day of water bodies having dried up. The macaque had clearly got separated from its troop. Perhaps it had been ousted by a younger male. Or maybe it had simply fallen behind because of its age.

At around ten, Anant heard the familiar clatter on the balcony. He went to the kitchen. Sure enough, on the other side of the screen door, which he now took care to keep closed, sat the macaque, helping itself to the food and water he had laid out. Anant pulled up a chair and sat down to watch. The macaque was used to him by now. It acknowledged his presence, but paid him no further heed. Every day, the two would sit together on either side of the screen door in peaceful companionship. 

That day, however, their routine was interrupted by a commotion outside. Anant went to the kitchen window. In the corridor two floors below, were two men in khakhi uniforms, carrying nets and snares. They were leaning over the railing, scanning the building. Anant looked at the macaque. It had stopped eating and was sniffing the air, sensing the danger. If the forest department folks caught it, they would release it into some forest reserve. But what if it couldn’t fend for itself in a strange place? What if it could not find water? It would not survive the summer on its own. Not without help. 

Acting on instinct, Anant pulled the screen door open. He clicked his tongue soothingly. The monkey tensed, never taking its eyes off him. It approached inch by inch and with one hand, dragged the bowl of half-eaten fruit slowly indoors. It hesitated briefly at the threshold, then followed him inside.

Anant shut the door behind him and stood still for a moment, filled with a sense of déjà vu. He had done something like this a long time ago, when Vivek was a child.


*


After supper, Anant sat down on the stool beside the door and began lacing up his walking shoes.

“Are you sure you want to go for a walk at this time, Baba?” Shashi asked. “Aren’t you tired?”

“I need some fresh air,” Anant said. His second chemotherapy session had not gone as well as the first and he had remained in bed all day, feeling sick, the curtains drawn against the harsh light and terrible heat outside. Now with the sun gone and the night manageably warm, he finally felt able to step outside.

“I’ll come with you,” Vivek said.

They took Anant’s usual route around the perimeter of the society. At this time, there were not many people about, just solitary walkers or couples. There was little sign of the frenetic exercising that characterised the mornings. People were more in the mood for a leisurely stroll before turning in for the night. Still, Anant was keenly aware of how he was forcing Vivek to walk at a much slower pace than he was probably used to.

“Dhruv has really warmed up to you, Baba,” Vivek ventured.

“Yes,” Anant said. “For a while, I thought he had outgrown me.”

“Kids never outgrow grandparents.”

They lapsed into silence.

Anant glanced at his son. It had become second nature between them, this avoidance of eye contact. What was it between fathers and sons that made a simple conversation such an obstacle course? Why was it that a father could not say “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” to his son without coming across as slightly unhinged? It felt like just yesterday that he would drive Vivek to Miramar for football practice, or for a surreptitious don’t-tell-Aai snack at Gujarat Lodge on 18th June Road,  the boy sitting behind him on the scooter, his arms tightly wrapped around Anant’s waist, talking nineteen to the dozen about everything under the sun.

Was it selfishness or a mere lack of imagination that made parents, especially of his generation, think their offspring would stay close all their lives, continue in their footsteps like they were mere extensions of their parents’ lives? It wasn’t like that anymore. People now accepted, even rejoiced in, the fact that their children lived halfway across the world and did radically different things with their lives.

“You’ve done well, son,” he imagined himself saying. Yes, that would be a good start. “You’ve made your own way in the world. What you have is much better than anything the car dealership could have given you.” Vivek would look at him, and he would hurry on. “No, no, I’m not dying or anything,” he would say, with a laugh. “It’s just that I’d rather say it too early than too late.”

And while he was conducting the whole conversation in his mind, here they were still walking in uncomfortable silence.

What should he say? Something about Vivek’s childhood? That was safer ground to tread.

He was about to speak, when Vivek said at the same time “Baba, you—”

They laughed awkwardly and Vivek continued, “You remember the stray dog I used to play with as a kid?”

Anant stared at him. That was exactly what he had been thinking of, too.  

“And that day when the dog catchers’ van came?” Vivek said. “I was terrified they would take him. You had just come home on your scooter. You took one look at us, scooped him up and took him indoors.” He glanced at Anant. “You probably don’t remember now.”

Anant smiled. “I remember. I remember your Aai’s reaction when she saw a stray in her kitchen.”

They both laughed.

“But she let him stay. The dog catchers never found him.”

Anant smiled and said nothing.

Vivek said, “Baba, you’re the one feeding the monkey, aren’t you?”

Anant nodded.

“I knew it had to be you,” Vivek said, smiling.


*

           

When the monsoon finally arrived, it came with a bang. The oppressive heat dissipated almost overnight and gave way to cloudy skies and petrichor-laden breezes. Mornings were a duel between colourful umbrellas and kids who wanted to get drenched. Evenings were trapped indoors. In #103, Iris block, though, they passed pleasantly enough with Ludo, Checkers, Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, Scrabble—all the board games that had inevitably arrived as gifts on Dhruv’s birthdays, and had hitherto either gathered dust or been recycled during other birthday parties. Not to be outdone, Dhruv taught Anant to build his first Minecraft dwelling and race his first online Lamborghini.

With the coming of the rains, the monkey stopped visiting. Anant left food out on the balcony every morning, and every evening, he brought in the tray—the fruits untouched and soggy from the rain—and upended it into the trash. After a while, he stopped putting the food out. By then, he had joined Vardarajan’s laughter club, and whenever he felt up to it, he would play carrom or chess with his new friends in the society club house.

He sometimes wondered about the monkey. Had it found alternate sources of food and water, now that the rains had begun? Perhaps it had made its way back to its tribe.


Vrinda Baliga is the author of the short story collection Name, Place, Animal, Thing. Her work has appeared in The Best Asian Short Stories 2018 (Kitaab International, Singapore), The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018 (Kitaab International, Singapore), the Asia Literary Review, Himal Southasian, New Asian Writing, Commonwealth Writers adda, Coldnoon, Muse India, Reading Hour, Out of Print, India Currents, Temenos, and several other anthologies and literary journals. She is the winner of the 2017 Katha Fiction Contest and has also won recognition in the FON South Asia Short Story Competition 2016 and New Asian Writing Short Story Competition 2016. She is a 2014 Fellow of the Sangam House International Writers' Residency. Vrinda Baliga lives in Hyderabad, India, with her husband and two children.