Friday, 20 June 2014

KAMRUP EXPRESS


Balu was a runner. He always knew he was. Clutching his orange potli close to his chest, he ran past Sabal kaku’s tea stall. The jute rope tied around his waist fought a futile battle as the shorts threatened to slip down his frame inch by inch. But Balu had to run.
The Kamrup Express was leaving Jalpaiguri station when Balu dashed past the ticket counter and onto the platform. Constable Sahib and his assistant were on their rounds and Balu knew that he had to escape their screening eyes to get inside the train. He never understood why they would drag him out of the compartment till outside the station and threaten him with a cane beating if he ever repeated the incident. As far as Balu was concerned, he was not a beggar. He was a performer.
It was only when the last bogie swayed away from the station did Balu feel free. He smiled gleefully at the thought of him defying the sahibs once more and knew instantly that he needed to start with his routine. He dug his hands into his Potli and brought out a yellow tambourine that he had named ‘Chamki’. As Balu made his way from one compartment to another, singing the songs of Shyamal MitraPancham Da and countless others, Chamki would assist him with her chimes. She filled up the breaking in his voice whenever he lost breath and hid the errors he made with the lyrics. She was his companion through the journey, jingling with his every move and his every tap. Today like every other day in the past 4 years that he spent on the train, she was ready for him.
The train was a little less packed than usual and Balu could easily move past every compartment without getting reprimanded by the memsahibs for stepping on their saaris or by the babus who pressed their palms on the pant pocket everytime Balu moved past them. Balu sang as he spotted an old man with big black glasses sitting with a folding stick placed on his lap. ‘A stick is meant to be a stick. How is it a stick, if it can be folded?’ Balu thought as he continued to push ahead. The old man cocked his head towards the direction of his voice as Balu stood right in front of him and now was singing ‘Ye Sham Mastani’ for the 13th time. Counting made him feel intelligent. It made him feel like one of those school kids, who in their blue khakhi shorts and polished shoes made Balu upset.
Balu was a singer. He smiled as he sang to the old man with a crooked back, sitting beside a sleeping Mota bhai. The old man grinned as Balu started singing ‘Sheeter Hawaay’. Balu liked the grin. A smile that had unintentionally become a toothless grin making little hills on his cheeks. The old man continued to smile even when Balu stopped singing and clanked the loose change in his palm. No one gave him a paisa except the old man, who shifted a bit as he moved his scrawny palm into his chest pocket and brought out a five rupee coin. Balu took the money pinched between his fingers and moved to the next coach singing the song, now for the 14th time. 
It had become a routine. The race to catch Kamrup Express and singing to this old man for that guaranteed five rupees. Balu always smiled while singing to the old man and the old man was ready with a grin of his own. The little kid always wondered how the blind old man managed to board the train everyday and successfully find a vacant seat at a time when all the babus in their pressed shirts boarded the train, packing the coaches and debating on the superficial loktantra with those they had met during their daily commute. Maybe someone always took pity on him. Balu never spoke to the old man to know his destination and he never stayed back to find out since he had to get down at New Alipurduar and board the next train back to Jalpaiguri. But Balu met him every day with a new song, the same smile and received a 5 rupee coin at the end along with a toothless grin. The old man made Balu feel important. No words were ever spoken or needed.
Today had not started well. Ratan Kaki had declared that there was nothing for breakfast. Not even puffed rice. With a growling stomach Balu watched her wipe empty tins. Ratan Kaki was not related to him but she had taken him up and given him shelter on finding him sleeping below a traffic signal. She used to sell balloons in the signal, lightly tapping on one of the car windows and moving ahead after waiting a second for the window to roll down. She always looked for the ones with little kids on the back seat, because the mothers would make the babu buy a balloon for the little one. But right now she sat wiping the empty tins and couldn’t face Balu who was drinking water from the Matka to fill his empty stomach.
Today as he ran, Balu did not feel like a runner. He stood panting inside the last coach and slowly made his way towards the middle of the train, singing half heartedly, not bothering enough to wait for chillars. He now knew by just looking at the face if a person would give him money or ignore his voice. He saw the old man who was now alert and beaming as Balu’s voice drew closer. Today, for the 35th time, Balu stood before him and sang an old song that Ratan Kaki had taught him once while cooking Khichuri outside their hut. Balu couldn’t smile today as he sang, his mind forever reminding him of the empty tins and the growling stomach. He caught sight of a memsahib carrying a three storeyed tiffin box . She saw him looking at her and frowned as she covered the tiffin with her Saree . Balu continued singing to the old man, sad and forlorn. The old man too did not smile this time. No toothless grin and no familiar cheek hills. Balu wondered as to what made the old man sad. Was he hungry too? Did he too miss the rice puffs? The old man looked away dejected and allowed Balu to take the five rupee coin from his palm. Balu felt odd. He got down at New Alipurduar and left the five rupee coin on a bench at the station. The stomach growled yet he craved for the old man’s grin.
For a few days Balu did not sing. He went with Ratan Kaki to the signals to sell some balloons. She sold more this time. She said it was because society takes pity on seeing a little ten year old kid sell balloons that he cannot afford. But Balu was a runner and a singer, not a balloon seller. The next day he ran his familiar run tricking the constable sahibs and laughing at the thought of doing so. He sang his way from the last coach till the first scanning the crowd for the familiar old face. And he found it. The old man had found a window seat and was looking out. Balu wondered what his blind eyes could see. Was their light even in the darkness? Did colours find their way in somehow? Or did his mind paint a picture of its own on the vast dark sheet? The old man registered Balu’s voice as he came and stood in front of him. Today Balu smiled through the song and as he smiled, so did the old man. The little pink hills on the cheeks and an empty set of gums. Balu was happy at the sight of it. He felt connected, loved. That five rupees at the end of it, had value.
The passengers of Kamrup Express never knew their story. But they knew they had one. A story of an old man, a little singing boy and their connected smiles. A tale witnessed by only one spectator, the mute Yellow Chamki.

P.S- This is my first ever fiction write-up and I wouldn't have done so if I was not smitten by Sid Balachandran's blog iwrotethose.com . He writes fiction so beautifully that I was forced to churn out a story of my own. I wrote this and decided to get his valuable comments before publishing it, and boy! those were some serious comments that he gave. What you see here is a short story made better because of his assistance. For that I am thankful. :)

126 comments:

  1. You definitely need to write more fiction. This was amazing. I am so glad that a smile returned to their face at the end :)

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    1. Thank you so much for reading!!!!

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  2. Super narrative. Great first attempt. Loved it, Red :-)

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  3. Tell you what Red. It is a proud moment for me to hear that my writing inspired someone to try their hand at fiction. And it has turned out superbly. May this be the first of many many more. And thank you. The pleasure has been all mine

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    1. Hheehe I still owe you a big THANK YOU!! Your comments were amazing!

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  4. This was damn nice! Loved it! :)
    Write more, I say! :)

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  5. This was such a good first attempt red.. :) Hope you write more fiction.. :)

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  6. Beautiful story red....I loved it.

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    1. juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhiiiiiiiiiii thank you

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  7. Ah! What a story. I love reading fictions and this one made me happy. :)
    Great start with fictions. Keep writing more and make people blissful.

    Keep blogging!

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    1. I am sooooooooo happy that you liked it!!!!! I shall try writing some every now and then :)

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  8. Wow! Red...great story. Keep them coming :)

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  9. Heard melodies are sweet, unheard melodies sweeter.

    What the eyes see is nice - what the mind's eyes perceive is beyond description.

    Well-written :)

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    1. That was deep! Thank you so much for reading!

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  10. While reading this story I got the feel of R.K. Narayan's 'Malgudi Days', dunno why...
    You should most definitely write more fiction. You have a knack for it. I was surprised that this happens to be your first story. I sure hope that there's more to come. And thank god it didn't end in a tragedy. I would be devastated otherwise. :D

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    1. That was some serious compliment..unintentional though :P
      I did not want to do a tragedy this time. :D

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  11. I loved it. That was great for your first one. :)

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  12. This is beautiful. Excellent narration. :-)

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  13. I can't believe it's a first attempt! Long way to go, don't give up!

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  14. Lovely tale Red.. of the young boy and Chamki :) Sid has inspired a lot of us hasn't he? :) Hope to see pen down more stories in the times to come :)

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    1. Reading Sid's blog was the reason I attempted this one. Thank you so much for reading!

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  15. great narration .. :) and to be frank the humorous you still reflected here .. see the name Chamki :P ( forgive me if this name has any living resemblance :P )

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    1. hahaha unintentional!!! But glad :D
      Thank you.

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  16. Hats off to Ratan kaki for taking care of a boy who is not related to her. I could hear 'chamki' hiding the boy's vocal cords. A lovely sweet story.

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    1. I am so glad you read this one. Thank you sooooo much!

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  17. Superb Red!! I'm a frequent traveller of The Kamrup Express (last stop my hometown Dibrugarh) and yes, I have seen numerous Balus on the train.. absolutely awesome dear!! :*

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    1. wow..I have never travelled in that train...I never never been to those places. I am so glad you could relate!

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  18. uh oh my net went off..dunno if the comment gt posted or not...so here goes again..uhm!

    the details of the story rocked! they maketh it a more awesome read! hve u ever read that short story night train at deoli by ruskin bond? its about one night bt describes hw a boy stops at a station..meets a girl.ah u shld read it if u havent already..and yeah this story reminded me of that. itna beautiful it was honestly, u shld def write more fiction!

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    1. Really? I need to read that story then. I am so glad you liked this one!! I wasnt sure if anyone would :)

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  19. A very cute story! :-). I'm surprised you said this is your debut work. For a beginner, you are exceptionally awesome :-)

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    1. Thank you so much for saying so :)

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  20. I am too from Guwahati and boarded the Kamrup Express many a times and met many such Balus but never ever thought that they might have a story of their own..a wonderful read red..

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    1. wow..I am so glad you could relate to this one. Thank you so much for reading!

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  21. This was a great story. You should write more of these. You painted a remarkable scene that conveyed half the story! I liked that you didn't go verbose and, for a blog post, it was optimum length.
    Kudos!

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    1. Thank you Prateek. I don't like lengthy posts.I think this was my lengthiest ever. I am glad you did not get bored. :D

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  22. Your story reminds me of Ruskin bond's short stories! So natural and sweet story of daily life. Very well written Red! Write more....

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  23. Wow Red! This was a superb start! Keep writing more fiction. I am waiting to read more :)

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  24. Beautiful and touching :). Glad that you have started!

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  25. Like one of the other commenters stated, it is extremely hard to believe that this is your first attempt at fiction. This was just such a beautifully woven small tale and poignantly brought out the relationship between the small boy and the old man on the Kamrup Express.

    Please do write more such fictional pieces and let us readers enjoy the magic you weave with your words.

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    1. Thank you so much! This comment seriously made my day. I wasnt sure if anyone was really digging this one but your comment made me feel good. Thank you.

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  26. Good start. Multiple stories with multiple dimensions when told in the shortest possible way becomes a good short story I think..

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    1. thank you so much for reading this one!

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  27. Finally...... good fiction on a blog! And not something about some teeny bopper or upwardly mobile young professional. You should write more and more fiction !!!

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    1. hahah I am so glad you liked it. Thank you!

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  28. If this is the first, wow, it eclipses the big bang. I imagine sitting in another corner of that rail compartment and watching it all. I imagine stopping at the lights, rolling down the window of my car, feeling the blast of the hot and dusty summer wind and throwing down a fiver at the old woman who has that 10-year old boy tagging along.

    And I feel the tears. Those are not imagination...

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    1. Your comment made my day Sir!! I am so glad you could visualize everything and feel the hidden emotions! Thank you.

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  29. Chechi... chechi... chechi! It was a beautiful story. And you know what the way you painted Chamki, I just loved it. Sherikkum adipoli :D And keep writing more and more fiction. ( now that's an order ;) )

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    1. ahahaha thank you sundari!!:D
      I shall write fiction now and then. Thankssssssssss

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  30. Very nice but can be abridged to greater effect.

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    1. Thank you. I shall take that into consideration. I agree with it. :)

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  31. I love the way you describe the small things, the setting of the scene. And you express emotions really well, without actually saying it.

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    1. I am so happy you felt so. Thank you soooooooo much.

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  32. WTF! First attempt, no chance.

    A story filled with emotions of all kind. This was brilliant Red. You are simply awesome :)

    Thank you Sid, for getting her to do this. I hope we are treated to some more of her work soon.

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    1. Soumya, I was merely "instrumental". Red is so supremely talented :) But yes, I will graciously accept the "Thank you!". The fact that story and the narration has been well-appreciated makes me feel a bit smug :)

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    2. Thank you so much Leo for reading! It was only and only because of Sid's valuable comments and pointers to the right direction!

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  33. it was such a gripping write up...:)
    So many stories go on as we go about our lives and there it is- one captured and conveyed so simply and so beautifully....:)
    loved it Red....:)

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    1. You are a gem my love. Thank you for reading!

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  34. Red, I refuse to believe that this is your first time at fiction! You are amazing! I could see traces of R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond in your writing :) Loved it, hope you pen more stories for us!

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    1. That is what is called 'BEING GENEROUS WITH WORDS'..only beautiful people do that. Thank you.

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  35. Why does this remind me of The Train to Pakistan and Khushwant Singh?!
    May be its the train or may be its the hindi words. :)
    Very good for a first attempt. :)
    Keep writing, Red.

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    1. It did remind you of that? Must go read it then. Thank you so much!

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  36. Good first attempt Red! Wish you'd write more fiction! :D

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  37. The picture brought vivid images of the local in Mumbai alive and love the way you connected the strings to make an expressive human story about heart felt emotions, chemistry between the old man and Ballu with dollops of humor. A sensitively beautiful take.
    Superb
    www.vishalbheeroo.wordpress.com

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    1. Thank you so much for reading!! I tried my best.

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  38. It is beautiful! You know, there is so much love, beyond the traditional 'boy and girl' type, and this is one such example. It is beautiful in its innocence. Beautiful read Red!

    Cheers,
    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. haha I am glad you digged this one. Innocent relationships..how sometimes we overlook it all.

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  39. it seemed as if I was reading a story from some story book! the writing is that good! I loved the silent connection Balu and the old man shared. that's a very touching story :)

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    1. You are way too kind. Thank you so much!:)

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  40. it does not even seem to be a first attempt , this looks like you been writing fiction all along .. beautiful

    Bikram

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  41. This looks straight out of some book. It is beautiful and reminded me of Malgudi days :) You are awesome redness! Must write more fiction.. Now this inspired me to write something on my forlorn blog :)

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    1. MAITHILIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII Thaaaaaank you for that reference. Makes me feel good. Now update that awesome blog of yours.

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  42. The narration is good, Red though I expected more from the denouement. For the first attempt this was good. And I agree with KP Sir, you could have abridged this for better effect.

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    1. I understand. Will do that in my next. Thank you soooo much!

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  43. Amazingly good narration! Impressive

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  44. Oh my! This was an awesome read. Loved this post and at the same time missed the signature humor of red handed :)

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    1. thank you so much for reading babe! The humorous red handed took a break this month :P

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  45. The title should have been The yellow Chamki... :) with your typical writing style I thought Kamrup express would have something meaty... :/ my bad for assuming that.. :D :D :D

    and now first things first... If you really wrote this, then you can do anything.. you have the power to make ppl, think, laugh, laugh hysterically, laugh even more, laugh till their stomachs hurt and cry..cry and wonder... wonder and appreciate the subtle things that keep happening around us..

    You are a fantastic writer.... Mwah :* :*

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    1. hehehehe kamrup express and KAAAAM :P Hhahaha I wouldnt blame u.
      I felt so awesome after reading your comment. Thank you!

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  46. That was a very beautifully written story. I enjoyed reading it!
    Even I have never attempted fiction. Would love to but somehow I always feel I wouldn't succeed. Someday I shall try too :)

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    1. I thought the same too.But if you dont experiement on your blog. where else would you.

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  47. Beautifully narrated...amazing how we form unspoken communication with many people whom we see on everyday basis. It is familiar and so is comforting.

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  48. As I read this, I was taken back in time to my first train travel, where I encountered these singing kids , I was so fascinated by them. :)
    If this is your first attempt, I can't imagine how amazing your next attempt will be! :)

    Take a bow, Red! :)

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    1. How kind. I am glad you could associate!!!
      Thnks babe!

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  49. you write fiction beautifully...you should write more often! such a simple everyday occurrence but you brought out the emotions very well!

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  50. Well written. Even though this is fiction, I have seen them during our journey from Bombay to Ernakulam (when the trains had steam engine) Even in those days I used to wonder about the familiar faces their regularity as we used to travel once a year to our "native place"

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    1. ernakulam eh? My place!!!!!!
      Yes its true...so many familiar faces.

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  51. A connection so deep that words become unnecessary. Lovely story, keep them coming, girl!

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  52. Beautiful! Love the way you brought out something unusual here. Gestures speak more, I guess and happiness is spread in unknown ways.

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    1. You said it! Happiness does spread in unknown ways..
      So glad u liked it.

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  53. Wow!! This is a superb first attempt! Esp loved the detailing. Sweet! Anyone who has travelled in the Indian Railways and heard lil kids sing would find a deep connection to this story!

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    1. Hhahah so happy you liked it. I tried :)

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  54. You have to kidding when you say this is your first attempt. This piece clearly shows the mark of a professional writer in the making. Enjoyed the piece and the character portrayal. Touched my heart. :) Keep writing.

    - Eloquent Mind (momentsilike.blogspot.com)

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    1. now you are kind and generous. Not that I am complaining. :D
      I will do fiction now and then :)

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  55. I love the way this is written. Reminds me of Swami and friends by R.K.Narayan. :)

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    1. really? I am takign that as a huuuuuuuge compliment :P

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  56. Touching story, Red.. and well written for a first attempt.. The relation between Balu and the blind old man, the boys' song and the old man's smile, are nicely narrated.. Do write more fiction :)

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    1. I shall do that! Thank you for that wonderful comment. :)

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  57. You have come a long way Red! This is really a great write-up :)


    Misha

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    1. hey hey heyyyyyyy! MISHA!!!!!!!!!! Thank you sooooooooooooooo much.!!!!!!

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  58. Beautifully described. I could imagine it! I love the mute spectator- Chamki :)
    Kudos to Sid as well for inspiring you, Red :)

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  59. You know this has such a sweet charm and innocence attached to it, like the stories of R.K.Narayan. Simple usage of words that strike a chord right away. So now, when are we going to read your book?

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  60. For a first time fiction writer, this is an impressive start.

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  61. This post has been selected for the Spicy Saturday Picks this week. Thank You for an amazing post! Cheers! Keep Blogging :)

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  62. I totally agree with Amrit's words up there. A great write up for the first timer. Keep it up. Waiting to read more fiction from you now :)

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Spit It Out I Say !!!