The cursor blinked on his laptop screen. Kamal’s fingers paused for a moment on his keyboard, before they typed out the single word.


He was filling up an online form and this was a word he typed into one of the fields.

Kamal was nineteen years old, wore black-rimmed glasses, a black t-shirt and sported a neatly trimmed black french beard. He liked black. He felt it expressed his belief or rather lack of belief in the power that made more than half the world kneel.

“Why do you guys point upwards when referring to God? What if he’s below? You do claim he’s omnipresent.”

He began his journey with this argument and later graduated to, “Do you believe in astrology? Such rubbish! Don’t you control your life? My astrologer predicted that the planetary positions pose a life threat to me this year. That silly man can’t make ends meet and he claims to know my future!”

And then from this enlightened state, he moved on to, “Let’s suppose there’s a planet between Earth and Mars. You can’t see it. If I told you this planet controls everything, then how would you disprove me?”

These words that tumbled out of his mouth, were of course, the after effects of reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. He ensured that at the canteen, anyone who wasn’t busy eating or sipping a drink would receive his anecdotes for free.

Kamal was a second year Computer Science undergraduate at National University of Singapore. He didn’t manage to get a scholarship. So he had only a three year bond to serve after his studies.

“Once I’m done with my bond, I’ll roam around India on a bike. Just like Che Guevara!”

He leaned back in his chair and imagined the long mountainous paths, valleys and towns that he’d travel through and how he’d awaken the intellects of people on the way. He’d go on a black bike of course. His favourite professor at NUS was Dr. Stephen Brown. He came to university every day on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. His lecture was coming up next. Siddhartha and Kamal were seated in the canteen and munching some masala vadais before heading to his class. And that’s when Susantharan came along.

“Hey Kamal! We’re looking for volunteers for the Theemidhi festival tomorrow. Are you game? We’ll give you eight points.”

Susantharan’s question was addressed only to Kamal. He didn’t bother to look at Siddhartha who sat nearby. And that was because Siddhartha was a local student and he had a comfortable home to get back to every night. It was Kamal who needed a hostel. And to get one, he needed co-curricular activity points to compete with other foreign students. Susantharan knew that.

“I’m happy with the four points I got for Thaipoosam last time. Thank you!” came Kamal’s retort.

Kamal could never forget what he was made to do for those four points. “Route marshaling!” it was called. On the day of Thaipoosam, you get to stand on Tank Road, in front of two queues and then announce to each passer-by, “This way if you want your head shaved. That way if you want to see the Lord!” And if you said it well enough, then you’d get bee hoon in a takeaway box, along with four co-curricular points.

Thus it was that Kamal was deeply indebted to Lord Murugan of Tank Road for ensuring that he retained his hostel stay for his second year. And it was a pretty good hostel too. When he showed his mother the photographs on Skype, she was blown away. “Even the best flats in Chennai don’t look this good!” His mother and grandmother were easily awed by Singapore and its architecture. They had been primed through tales from relatives who travelled here before. Tales of super clean roads on which one could serve rice and sambar and eat without a worry. No matter how hard Kamal tried to convince them that was an exaggeration, his mother didn’t want to believe him.

“I’ve been watching you for a while. You talk weird… Don’t you believe in God?” Susantharan got straight to the point.

Siddhartha moaned with a piece of vadai stuck halfway in his mouth. He sensed that the goat had volunteered itself to the butcher.

“How can I believe in something that doesn’t exist?” Kamal sharpened his knife.

Susantharan was seated directly opposite Kamal. He was the exact opposite type as well. “The Hindu religion has several hidden treasures. This is my humble attempt to impart this knowledge to young students” Susantharan had given such interviews to the Vasantham TV channel about a workshop he conducted for school kids. “Youngsters like Susantharan are the ray of hope that Indian culture will survive into the future” the news reporter’s voice choked with emotion as he said this.

“How do you know he doesn’t exist?”

“How do you know he exists?”

“Guys! Do any of you want a coke? I’m heading to the vending machine.” Siddhartha’s question went unheeded.

Susantharan looked at Kamal without batting an eyelid. He knew such guys very well. They studied English in schools, read English books and took India and its rich, cultural heritage for granted. They’d debate hours on end about US politics and the secrets hidden in the Da Vinci Code but knew not a thing about Panini or Charvaka.

“Do you know what’s the problem with humans?” Kamal began speaking as if he were explaining it to a little kid, “We make things. And so when we see anything, we think somebody must have made it. To be more specific…”

Kamal looked around. He could see a tower crane in the distance. “Take that tower crane for example.”

Susantharan turned to look in the direction that Kamal pointed. A clubhouse for university alumni was being constructed nearby and a seventy-metre tall tower crane stood in the distance.

“This crane picks up stuff by bending just like a human arm. But when we look at it, it seems gigantic. Overpowering. What strikes you first when you see it? Wow! Who made this? How did they make it? Isn’t that so?”

“What’s your point?”

“Likewise when we see this world, we’re overwhelmed by its grandeur. And we think who made humans? Without embarking on a quest for an answer, we kill the question by saying it’s God.”

Susantharan clapped his hands slowly. “Your friend is a tough nut to crack!” he remarked to Siddhartha and got up to leave. Siddhartha sat sipping his Coke calmly.


“Haan yes! Hello? Do you hear me?”

Static noise. Kamal from his hostel room on a Skype call with his mother.

“Ca… hea… you…”

“Ma, do you hear me?”

“Hello? Do you hear me Kamal? Do you…”

“Yes ma. Tell me. Have you eaten?”

“What are you doing? Yes, I have eaten.”

“Nothing much”

“Why is your room dark?”

“I just finished watching a film.”

Kamal leaned over from his seated position, as much as his earphones permitted, to switch on his table lamp, “You tell me. What’s special today?”

“Which film?”

“Pather Panchali. Satyajit Ray.”

“Grandma made ladies finger curry today. It had no salt.”

“Oh! Nice. You messaged that you wanted to book something.” Kamal spoke without looking at his laptop screen. He was busy scribbling something in a notepad.

“I want to book an Ola cab.”

“Didn’t I install the Ola app on your iPad?”

“Yeah you did. But it isn’t coming.”


“Yeah. It isn’t coming.”

“You mean the cab isn’t coming?”

“It simply says login failed.”

“Oh… why do you need an Ola cab now?”

His mother hesitated.

“Kamal… I must tell you something.”


“Das uncle’s father passed away.”

Kamal jerked his head around and looked at his mother on the laptop screen. For a few moments, the only sound he heard was the creaking of the ceiling fan above her head.


“Today afternoon. Das told me over phone.”

“What happened?”

“Heart attack. That’s why I’m thinking of going to their place tomorrow.”

Kamal heard a voice complaining loudly in the background.

“What’s grandma whining?”

“The same thing. She’s saying take a cab and go see them tomorrow morning. She’s asking me not to take the bus.”

“Yes, ma. Don’t take the bus. The summer’s quite hot this year.”

“But this app isn’t logging me in.”

“Okay hold on. Don’t you remember the password?”

“I had jotted it down in a notebook. And that’s what I tried.”

“Why don’t you call them to book a cab?”

“When I call them, they ask me to book using the app. I’d go for Fast Track but they charged a lot last time. Ola is cheaper.”

“Okay. What’s the password written in the notebook? Did you try it?”

“SaiBaba123. It didn’t work. It says login fai…”

“Yeah yeah I got that. Let me reset the password for you.”

Kamal picked up his mobile and tapped some buttons on the screen.

“Where does Das uncle live now? They were in Mylapore weren’t they?”

Kamal always referred to him as Das uncle. As a child, he used to spend most of his day at his place. Das uncle taught him Hindi. He remembered sitting cross-legged in front of him as he read out each word from the textbook. Kamal would write the word and then turn his book around to show it to him. If there was a spelling mistake, Das uncle would pinch him on his thigh with his sharp nails. As he recollected it, his palm brushed against his thigh, without him knowing.

“Now they’ve shifted to the outskirts of Chennai. Perungalathur. I meet him occasionally at office. I say hi hello. That’s it.”

The image of a huge pair of scissors appeared in front of Kamal’s eyes. The striped blue lungi of Das uncle’s father, his neatly combed white hair and the yellow measuring tape that hung around his neck. He always smelled of cleanly washed clothes. Kamal couldn’t say for sure if it was the smell of the clothes he wore or the clothes he stitched.

“Do you remember ma? Once I bought a pair of scissors for him from Mustafa.”

“Mmm… yeah… he said the handle wasn’t firm and asked you to take it back…”

Kamal remembered that incident vividly. Das uncle’s mother told him in private that he was always very picky when it came to scissors and that Kamal shouldn’t take his comment to heart. Kamal didn’t mind it actually. The scissors wasn’t something he specially sought out for Das uncle’s father. While he was shopping at Mustafa before his trip back home, he spotted the pair of scissors hanging from a rack. It was a pair of sewing shears to be exact. And instantly it reminded him of Das uncle’s father. He remembered watching him cut cloth in precise moves with a similar pair of shears. The shears in his hand would glide through the fabric as his feet gently rocked the sewing machine. And he used it to also cut book covers that Kamal would then wrap around his new school notebooks.

“Ma, check if you got an SMS now. Tell me the number in it. I’ll reset your password.”

“3… 8… 5… 7… 2… ”

Kamal keyed in each number as his mother read it out loud. As a child, he was fascinated by the shears. Its handle had two differently sized holes – one for the thumb and the other for the rest of the fingers. At that time, the second hole was big enough to accommodate all his fingers. And every time its blades cut into something, it would raise a distinct, sharp sound. Zzapp! Das uncle’s father told him that the sound lived within the fabric and that the blades of the shears freed it as they ripped through.

“Try now. It’s the same password.”

“S… a… i… B… a… b… a… 1… 2… 3…”

Kamal watched the pixelated image of his mother typing with her head bowed down, as she pronounced each alphabet to herself. A few strands of hair above her forehead had turned white. Kamal felt something rip through his abdomen.


He heard the engine rev up and could see the bus gliding out of the terminal. He rushed towards it, scolding himself for forgetting his notes as usual. His mobile buzzed in his pocket, as he climbed two steps at a time. The screen said, “Mom”. She didn’t usually call in the morning… what could be wrong. He answered the call with a slight unease, adjusting the strap of his backpack.

“Hello Kamal?”

“Yes ma. What’s the matter?”

“Hold on a minute”

Two seconds of silence.

“Hello Kamal”

Kamal was bounding towards the departing bus with quick strides but came to a sudden halt as if he hit upon an invisible wall. It was the voice of Das uncle. He didn’t know what to say.

“Hello uncle…”

“How are you Kamal?”

Das uncle’s voice felt like his vocal chords were parched. Kamal felt this question was unnecessary given the situation. How did it matter how Kamal was?

“I’m fine uncle. You…”

“Hello? Kamal how are you?”

He realized Das uncle couldn’t hear him. He moved to a corner of the bus stop and spoke a bit louder, “I’m fine uncle! Mom told me… what happened…”

His left hand fidgeted with his glasses. He couldn’t bring himself to say the word “death”. He imagined how Das uncle’s face would look now. An image of Das uncle’s mother weeping with her head in her hands flitted past his eyes.

“You should have met him once at least. I asked your mother to come visit us many times.”

Kamal didn’t have an answer. And then feeling the compulsion to say something, he cleared his throat, “Don’t worry uncle… you have our support”

“Support” – He immediately felt awkward after saying it. He didn’t know why he used that word. Had he heard someone else use it?

“You support your mom” Das uncle handed the phone back to Kamal’s mother. Kamal blinked unable to comprehend what he meant.

“Hello Kamal?” His mother’s voice again.

“Are you crazy?! Why did you pass the phone to Das uncle without telling me first?” He wanted to scold her, but checked himself, thinking he might hear it.

“Bye Kamal. Let’s chat tonight.”

“Shut up and hang up!” he rebuked her in his mind, as he cut the call.

Siddhartha was waiting for him outside the building where the day’s lecture was to take place.

“Why so serious son? What’s up?”

“Nothing Sid. Have you eaten?”

“Not yet dude. We’ve got a class in five minutes.”

“When have we been on time? Let’s grab something to eat!”

Rat-at-at-at-at! Siddartha and Kamal looked up. The sound came from the tower crane that stood nearby. Its gigantic arm swung slowly to and fro as if it had lost control.

Daga-daga-daga…. Rat-at-at-at-at….

There was a bus stop outside the building. A bus stood there, waiting for a few people, who were getting in and out.

Daga – daga – daga!

The gazes of everyone present wandered about for a while before locking in upon the swinging crane in the skies. Siddhartha and Kamal froze. The next few events happened within a span of five seconds.

The swinging crane began to topple downwards slowly… very slowly towards them. The people at the bus stop let out screams and scattered about in all directions. The bus driver sat frozen in his seat and stared blankly at the falling crane above. The few inside the bus gripped the seats in front of them and gaped through the windows. A girl slipped on her flip-flops and fell. Splat! Her books scattered on the road. The crane neared the bus stop and the bus, uprooting a tree nearby. The girl jolted up and broke into a run. Crack! The sound of branches snapping… Wham! A lamp post began to slide down with the crane. Kamal and Siddartha didn’t realize they had started running too. The falling crane gathered momentum. The bus driver shut his eyes.

The crane’s gigantic arm flipped in the last instant and crashed behind the bus stop with a loud thud. Dust and screams rent the air. Kamal and Siddhartha stopped running and turned around. The tower crane lay snuggled beneath a blanket of dust, after ripping through the rain shelter behind the bus stop. At a distance of ten feet from the crane, Siddhartha and Kamal stood with their hearts thumping, gulping down deep breaths.


A few seconds passed. The bus began to crawl out of the stop.


“What did you eat today?”

Kamal was reading the day’s news on a website. The headlines declared that three people died in the crane crash. All three of them were construction workers. Two Chinese and one Bangladeshi. Their names weren’t specified. He only saw their ages.

“We had snake gourd curry today. What did you have?”

One of the victims was an operator who sat atop the crane. Kamal imagined international calls zipping from Singapore to China and Bangladesh. How would they convey the news, who’d convey it…

“Kamal, I don’t hear you.”

He tore his eyes away from the website. “What did you say ma?”

“I asked what did my dear son eat today.” His mother smiled.

“Oh that… I… I had noodles… Maggi noodles…”

The shocked faces of his classmates, when he told them of the crane crash was still fresh in his eyes. He saw his professor rush out to check on his Harley Davidson motorcycle that was parked outside.

“Are you busy?”

“No. You tell me.”

“Nothing here. What’s special in Singapore today?”

Kamal paused for a moment. He looked at the Skype window on his laptop screen. His mother’s face filled it while his own thumbnail was scrunched up in the bottom corner. He could make out the stuttering blades of the ceiling fan behind her. And then, he noticed the white strands of hair on her forehead.

“Nothing special ma. I went to class. And then came back. That’s it.”

As soon as he said it, his ears filled with the sharp snaps of the shears once again.

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