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"I have known music to be her timeless reverberation in a forlorn corner of my soul; just when life was closing down upon me with its pangs of haunting silence."
"Hope is the point the 'world within' comes to an equilibrium with the 'world around'."
"The cold that my body feels can be comforted by pullovers of our choices. It is the winter that comes back each year, inevitably; is how we are connected on the face of time. A sweet suffering of forever..."
"My poverty, I know, was glamorous because trading you, my love, for a better life is outright heinous."
"Love was the day when she drank and I felt quenched."
"Life, ever since, had been one gripping tale. Your happening gave it a genre."
"Want is the soul's desire. Need, the mind's crave. Love, thus, I believe, is a bit of both."
"Art is how you lie to the world without ever feeling sinned."
"Sorrow is true and beyond the powers of healing, when you can taste the oceans on your lips."

going away: a night left behind

going away: a night left behind
~ Sobhan Pramanik | Monday, September 11, 2017 |

you wouldn’t know
this day coming.
the 3 AM alarm
buzzing by the pillow,
and my dismissing it
instantly, as if waiting,
which I were in an
acidic insomnia;
before staggering through
the dark hallway to your room.
with a soft tap, i wait with
my knuckles on the door’s
shiny timber
hearing you wake:
the rustle of your
clothes, your bare heels
lowered to the marble.
it’s always the same.
platform number 2.
sparing its somnambulist
travellers the ardour of wandering.
from the parallel of
of the foot-over-bridge,
i glimpse at the idle
column of coaches beneath –
freshly washed with water
splashed on glass windows
of AC cabins, its tail
vanishing beyond the bright
signal poles in night’s translucent
mist.
an IRCTC kiosk, half-opened,
hosts a ring of travellers at its
fa├žade. sweet aroma of hard boiled
tea wraps around the complex
like gauge tightened over a wound.
i purchase packaged water and tea
through the crowd of tea-sipping,
news-reading travellers,
and head back to the coach.
you’re on the lower berth. the VIP
suitcase chained to a ring under
the seat. the adjacent ones to
be occupied from distant stations.
in the cold hum of air-condition
we drink tea, partly veiled from
footsteps milling the aisle.
only a fluttering blue drape of curtain
to our humble guard of privacy.
it’s 30 minutes to departure
when i leave, ascending the same
bridge out to the exit, feeling the
moist tip of your fingers on my chin,
and your lips on my forehead.
back home, it’s still too early.
close to 5, the air quiet. cold.
the horizon ablush and trees dewy.
i lay to bed and immediately fall asleep.
when you call to wish
morning, I squint my eyes
at the window looking down
at me spilling hot light.
you tell me about the
station you just passed.
i imagine of the sun risen
on your back, of meadows
rolling by bathed in day.
may be joined by another traveler
on the next seat. but you sure
have missed this day. one that’s
on my city. in my eyes. feeling like
an abandoned night in the wake
of your absence.
nights
that the leaving
shall never know of.

© Sobhan

going away: the day before

going away: the day before
~ Sobhan Pramanik | Monday, September 11, 2017 |

the kitchen’s
unusually quiet
this morning.
no clanking
of pots or of
water running
down the sink.
the counters
too are clean;
untouched.
there’s no marinated
meat glowing
saffron in turmeric
awaiting by the flame.
only a pot of rice
steams quietly
on the oven,
boiling starch
bubbling to its neck.
and next to it
in a deep bowl,
shimmers the last
supper’s remains.
i cut out the rice’s
flame, looking for her.
she is in the adjacent
room, hauling from
under the bed her
maroon VIP suitcase.
she racks messily
folded sarees – Bengal Taant
and South Indian silk –
in its dusty hollow.
a pharmacy envelope
with her hypertension and
B-Complex pills, ticked on
its back: Morning-Night;
is zipped to the side.
an old Eveready torch
rests between the clothes,
and in a cotton pouch
held by a drawstring,
is her gold bangles,
that she didn’t
prefer wearing in travels.
an elastic strap buckles
over in a cross to hold things in place,
before the lid comes down.
click.
i keep the ticket
in her purse. with your Boroline
and comb, letting her know.
at lunch, we do not
look at each other.
silence stealthily
crawling up my spine:
like a damp millipede
treading monsoon-earth
as our toes brush under
the table, mistakenly,
and recede. i raise my fingers
to forehead and lower it to
the base of my neck; impulsively.
she gets up from the table,
looking away and i lower the
full plates in the sink.
it’s not just
the person that
departures steal
from you. you lose
your light too,
caught in the gap
they leave in your soul.

© Sobhan

The Joke of Being Alive

The Joke of Being Alive
~ Sobhan Pramanik | Thursday, August 10, 2017 |

Indu was in the kitchen, bent over the counter and removing spongy, biconvex discs of idlis onto a plate from the steamer’s belly. Plumes of hot smoke dispensed through the open lid and grazing past her face died on the low, oil-filmed ceiling. The mixer grinder rumbling in a corner on the shelf, choked and crackled to a sudden stop.

‘Aargh.’ grunted Indu. ‘It’s high time I get a new one.’ Grabbing the rolling pin, she, twice, struck the head of the jar, and the motor roared back to life. An unpleasant, screechy clamour of metal blades smashing through chopped coconuts, chillies, grains of lentils and mustard seeds filled the kitchen, literally disconnecting Indu from every other sound of the world.

‘Anu’ she called out, placing the plate containing four idlis and a generous serving of the creamy coconut chutney by the side on the hall room table. ‘Have your breakfast, dear.’

Walking across the dining in quick steps, she threw opened the windows, undid the blinds. Bright sunshine flooded the room, driving away the rancid, late night odour. The pendulum above the closet was caught by a streaming strand of sun and a coin of light, like a restless butterfly, merrily fleeted through the room. It was 8 in the morning.

She headed over to Anuja’s room and softly tapped on the door, before starting to push. It felt immensely heavy at the hinges, as if guarded by sandbags, but Indu, with some efforts drove it open. Her first foot in landed on something pudgy, slimy and then, too stoned to even express her horror, she dropped to the floor. There, lay Anuja—naked, bloodied, and barely breathing.

*****
One Month Later

‘She’s resting. All the surgeries went well, we were finally able to…put the intestines together.’ Dr Mehra lowers his voice, as if trying to sound less grisly. ‘The infection…. haemorrhage…it was too much. Out of danger, finally.’ He says standing by Anuja’s bedside, taking readings of every beeping, dripping, and draining machineries surrounding her.

Indu does not reply. Her eyes are bereft of life, as she feels the soles of her daughter’s feet under the white, medicine smelling sheets—cold with her toes turned inwards. She then places her curled palm on her forehead and almost immediately, Anuja withdraws her head into the pillow. Hostile to the touch, a quiver in her eyes. Unclear words, like a scream choked, bubbles up her throat. ‘No’, she breathes in delirium. ‘Please’, her chest falling away like a pit with every expulsed word. Indu, sensing her displeasure, rests her hand on the pillow for a while, before the motherly instincts gets the better of her. She leans over to kiss her temples that Anuja stiffens in sleep, in her tortured, brutal world where she is still fighting her predator, and shoves her in the face, falling back unconscious; and crying. ‘No. Please, no.’

Gaining her foot against the wall, Indu stands watching Anuja from a distance, now drugged to sleep, and the doctor beside her.

*****
Outside, in the corridor, news played on the television. A content looking, almost smiling journalist reported the news of the rape victim being out of danger, hailing the hospital and its doctors for their tireless efforts and the State for incorporating advanced facilities for its people, before slyly adding about the convicts still absconding—a rather unscrupulous ploy perhaps to brush the matter under carpet. On one hand was this appalling broadcasting for the State to encash on, on the other was her daughter, ‘out of danger’ as they say, on the ICU bed, with her soul ransacked, unable to recognize her mother. The brain-deadness of which rages Indu, and she storms past the corridor towards the exit. Each step a recollection of that fateful day.

Pieces of her dressing lay scattered in the room. A pillow burst open from a long struggle perhaps sat on the disheveled bed, its cotton fill dispersed by the whirring fan. A long window overlooking the main road, generally kept closed, that day, was wide open. Books, toppled from shelves, lay flat on the floor. And there, two tiles away, was Anuja, convulsing in her lap. Her face swollen, a purple clot throbbed under her eyes and her lips, chipped, bitten, forced in, bled in thick drops. There were deep scratches down her shoulder, her bosom mottled in blue and red, as a dying tremor in her legs continued to pulsate blood out of her pubis. On the door knob inside were blood stains from her hands, her desperate, futile attempts of getting away from the barbarism. And all this while she was away in the kitchen, disconnected by the boisterous groaning of the problematic grinder, deaf to every shriek of help or agony that might have been.  

As she unlocks her car and pulls at the gate, it comes to her from nowhere. ‘Teri toh main ghar me ghuske lunga’ (I will fuck you in your own house). Two years back at a traffic signal, she remembers a guy on the motorcycle coming to stop by their car. She and Anuja were returning post a movie at the nearby theatre, that the guy waiting by their window, started to lech at Anuja. A lustful gaze in his eyes, he seemed to look through her, rubbing his groin and blowing kisses. He had then leant close to the window glass, sliding in and out his middle finger through the ring of his index and thumb, right in their eyes. The signal by then had turned green, and Indu, furious at his audacity, had steered left and rammed into his bike, throwing him over the divider.

‘Who the hell do you think you’re?’ Indu screamed getting out of the car as a passing PCR van stopped to intervene and caught hold of him. He had a gashed forehead.
  
They were taken to the nearest police station and in a series of vague interrogations, revealed of him residing in Vasant Kunj. Indu and Ahuja, in a night long explanation to the cops of what had happened and the lecher crying foul, did they slightly succeed in making them believe that the guy had done something wrong for Indu to react that way. Otherwise, for them, it was Indu, who, out partying at night, was probably drunk and simply crashed into the biker. And all the while, the creep sat in a corner, making phone calls to everywhere to get him out. Finally, in the morning they were let off—with warnings and obviously, money.

Outside the police station, a group of guys waited in a shining white Audi car. He walked up to them and engaged himself in a casual chat, before getting into the car. That was the last he said – ‘‘Teri toh main ghar me ghuske lunga’, vengeance peeking from his eyes, before the Audi stormed out of the kerb.

Indu hardens her grip on the wheel with the memory, her knuckles turning white. She guns the car’s engine. The roaring shakes awake the security at the hospital gate. He puts back his cap that had slipped to his face. Another hard press on the accelerator this time, the RPM needle going all the way down to red. The security, furious, gathers his baton and marches down the steps. She slams the gear stick to reverse and flies out of the drive.

‘Crazy woman’ the security exclaims standing in a blast of exhaust.

This time there will be truly gruesome stories for the media.

---THE END---

By Sobhan Pramanik


   

In the Autumn of Life

In the Autumn of Life
~ Sobhan Pramanik | Wednesday, July 19, 2017 |

A shadow on the hall room wall, cast in hot bright stripes of the August sun seeping through the curtains, of his still forlorn head and shrunk shoulders ended abruptly like a cliff on both sides as he sat at the table, was what it took me to look at the despair, the melancholic social abandonment that had gradually descended his life. 

Four slices of crisply warmed bread, buttered, waited beside a bowl of chopped cucumber on the plate. Just the way he always preferred—cucumbers separate, bringing to bread right at the point of eating, lest it left his toasts dank. Baba. I watched him draw 20 units of Insulin, the vial pierced through its membranous head and raised to light slightly above his face to ensure the right count. The hem of his kurta held up under his chin and the drawstrings of his pyjama unfastened, dangling, revealed two permanently calloused speck of brown on either side of his belly button. He plunged the needle without a flinch and the concoction vanished into his cells. With the emptied syringe in one hand, he smudged the spot with his thumb. A subtle tremor in his knobby fingers as they hung mid-air by the table. Once the cooker’s fuzzy whistle died in the kitchen, I heard the telephone ringing in the backdrop. Baba looked around from his chair before getting up to reach for it. He picked the cordless receiver from its set and strained his eyes across its flashy screen, his thumb hovering unsurely over the keys. There was a strange clumsiness I observed in his gait, as he strode back to the table for his glasses. Meanwhile mother entered from kitchen, annoyance furrowed into her brows for having let the phone ring that long, as Baba lends her the receiver. Fingertips smeared in turmeric and barely wanting to touch the phone, she dug onto the ‘Talk’ button with the corner of her nail and raised it to her ear.

‘Hello’ ‘Ha’ ‘Yes yes’  

For what seemed no less than a minute, there was nothing expect mother’s wondering, monosyllabic responses to the caller. Her eyes narrowed in recollection was the only give away, interspersed by deep thinking exhales, before she held out the phone for Baba who sat at the table wearing a phlegmatic look.

‘Noor’ she whispered, as he grabbed onto the phone. A warm reflection from nowhere, like a sleeping child’s disbelief being awoken at midnight to be surprised with a long-awaited wish, I watched, creep to Baba’s face.

There it was. A name. Just a name to whom I was only as close as a reader can get to character in a novel while reading about his antics, and was supposed to distance and wear away, perhaps, with time and new books; but from how I felt with the mere sound of his name mumbled to Baba across the table, I knew there lied a bond unwreckable underneath and, that the affair had just begun.

*****

There was no rain that year; the aridest in the history of our village. Long, toiling months of cauterizing sun had rid the earth with every bit of moisture. Fields had cracked open, as if struck by an incomplete earthquake, and crops had started to wilt. Just a single tube well system planted by the village council at the far end of the fields barely sufficed for the water necessities. Adding to the struggle was failing power supply, rendering the tube well less than two hours of runtime each day to water the crops. There was too little money in the family for us to get peasants dig up irrigation channels to our fields, and the only viable option was to pick a shovel myself. And that, was how I met Noor. 

I was digging a trench, the sun unforgiving above me as sweat ran in dripping streams down my head to the tilled soil. I might have been at it for long, for every smack of the shovel felt like a nervous force pulsate through my wearied arms. That was when I noticed him behind me, shovelling along, continuing with the trail of my trench. I was far too exhausted to probe him on why was he doing so and decided to embrace the welcome help as a heaven-sent blessing. By dusk, together we had dug an eighty odd feet trench to our field and spent, we sat on the field. Two zombie figures enswathed in sweat and soil with the setting sun glistening upon us, we watched a silver stream of water travel along the trench to our field. 

‘Why did you help me?’ I asked.

‘So the water could come.’ He beamed and washing the chunks of mud from between his toes, hopped onto his bicycle.

That was a rather straight answer, the blatantness of which left me dwelling about the plausibility of my own question. But it was no time to better my question or understand his motives. Smiling, as he cycled away from me down the clay road, I was glad to be witnessing the start of a friendship that was to change the course of my life.

Baba paused, ripping the scales of a sugarcane stem with his teeth for me to chew upon the fleshy part and relish the sweet, sublime juice. It was a Sunday morning and like every Sunday, we were sitting out in the courtyard of our quarter in Dehri. He sat on a lawn chair under the shade of a guava tree, his feet crossed on the grass, a teapot and a cup to his left on a three-legged stool, looking out at the manicured garden, peeling succulent stems of sugarcane for both of us. 

The years that saw bud us into one entity. It was a friendship that felt like brotherhood. Our hearts were a vault of trust that held all the laments and glories of our lives without ever once breaking anything to the world. If he were hurt, I could see that in his eyes, and if I were to grieve, I couldn’t imagine anyone but his presence beside me. Some relationships are just like that. You don’t have to make grand efforts, and yet, nothing falls apart. Like a river that continues to flow, carving its destined path without having to be told about the mountains, heaths and forests that lay on its way. We were rivers flooded in awareness about the obstacles in each other, climbing them graciously without a grunt and keeping the lamp alit through turmoil. 

Noor came from an affluent family of lawyers in a nearby village, and as it is mostly with doctor and lawyer families, the child is not left with much option but to pursue the same. With my father working at a grocery store, the flow of money into the house never really bettered, and being the eldest son, the onus was on me to assuage the conditions. When I graduated from school, it was Noor who presented me with the idea of pursuing engineering which, back in the 70s used to be a coveted degree and came with lucrative job offers, something my family was in dire need of. But then came to perspective the bigger and by far the most important question: will I be able to afford it? That moment, had it not been for Noor’s helping arm across my shoulder and that clear, endearing smile with nothing but love at its core that I saw on that first day of trenching, life would have been entirely different, a world more difficult perhaps. He went onto enrol in judicial studies and even though we were into different things at the fore, leading engrossing schedules, there was hardly any impact to truth of the bond that held us together. Often on weekends he would come to my place, spend the day in lazy gossips and have lunch. Once he had left, on several occasions I had found in my study rolls of engineering drawing sheets, drafters and other equipment needed for my course. I never told or asked from him anything, but he still saw through me. As if I were clear glass and he, Noor, the light. He truly lived by his name.

After completing my bachelors in civil engineering, I took the test for railways and was soon deployed on probation to a remote town in UP. I were to take the midnight mail to Calcutta. It had been raining continuously for the last few days and that night, it probably got worst. With my belongings—few shirts and trousers, a folder containing my certificates and utensils (a saucepan to make tea, a plate to eat on and a few bowls) wrapped in a bulging holdall, I plodded through swamps and muddy tracks to the station, leaving the village crumbling to ruins under the merciless rain. Only a few concrete houses, including ours, stood through the torrent. Mud houses with their roofs blown, lay heaped on the ground, reduced at the very end to where it originated from.

Just like the trenching day, helpless, when I looked behind and found him shovelling, sharing my labour with a smile; there he was again, my friend, Noor, at the platform in a pistachio green kurta, soaked in rain, looking at me with the saddest pair of eyes I had ever seen. I walked up to him and he embraced me. Cold and rain sodden, the sky roaring above the station’s tin shelter in blue thunders, I closed my eyes on his shoulder, until our breaths turned to convulsive hiccups and we broke into tears.

The mail drew hurtling into the station, awaking the rain silenced village. Noor handed me a packed lunchbox for my journey and an envelope containing some money. I was reluctant to accept the money, but he held the envelope pushed down in my breast pocket, his palm cold against my weeping heart, until the train whistled and shuddered ahead. Holding my hand he jogged a steps ahead with the rolling train, before letting it go. I waited at the footstep hoping to see his smile, the same smile that put us together, but it wasn’t such a day. He was sad to see me go and there was nothing I could do to make him feel better. At the juncture of life’s beckoning and a friends’ breaking heart, I stood numb and incapable, parting like an opportunist from everything that comprised me. And as the engine groaned harder, rain and darkness stole from my eyes Noor’s last waiting glimpse, that had failed to cry.

A gentle breeze, abuzz with the chanting of parrots and the scent of ripened guavas was drifting through the courtyard, when mother’s calling for lunch cut Baba adrift in his reverie. She arrived at the courtyard combing her freshly bathed hair that lay shinning on her back like a cascade.

‘You should have written back to him.’ Mother said collecting the empty tea pot from the table, referring to the few letters that arrived at his office in the initial years of employment. 

Baba got up from the chair, his breathing strained and slowly made his way back to the house. There was too much work, I suppose, too much to manage. Two sisters to be married back home, two brothers studying university and parents growing old. Away from home on a distant land, being the lone bread earner, growing me up, playing the loving father and a dutiful husband; somehow had friendship, unwillingly, take the back seat. 

But then, as they say it, there’s always a second chance to set things right; and apparently, it took destiny forty years to play his hand and roll the dice again. That call from Noor on a Sunday morning in August 2016, I believe, was all about the redemption that was to be made. For Baba to deboard the train and reach out to his friend, who now needs him, like he needed someone, on that arid day of cutting the trench. 

*****

‘HaHa.’ Baba laughed on the call, amber glow in his happy eyes. ‘Don’t worry, I will tell you how the curved tracks are laid so the trains don’t fall off.’ 

It was a long call and by the time he hung up, it was noon. The shadow was now gone from the walls, as if it were never there, as if he was never lonely. It was the most jovial I had seen him in years. Post his retirement from the railways, he had consciously withdrawn at the social front, never reaching out to anyone beyond his immediate family, choosing to live as a recluse in his Calcutta house. Winding together his chores was a loose thread of habit, and except the desolation that he had consciously invited over to his life, nothing ever would seem out of place to an onlooker. After the wellbeing of his wife and children, it was the newspaper, the insurance advertisements promising great retirement returns, the government’s new tax policy and cricket match results that managed to catch his interest. And occasionally, an inflated diabetes result that would see him visit the physician. The world beyond these few elements, as inexistent to him as the cosmos were to its natives in the pre-Copernicus era.  

‘Noor is coming next week.’ He declared, visibly impaired to contain his smile. ‘While travelling in a train he wonders how come it doesn’t fall over in a curve’ Baba guffawed at his dear friend’s innocence. 

I imagined Noor— an altruistic character to my mind’s eyes from the tales I had grown up with, now was a week’s time away from being born as real to me—standing at the gate of his homebound local chugging along a blind curve and astonished at the surreal possibility of the speeding iron caterpillar not being derailed.  

There were stories waiting to be told, to burst open. Forty years is a long time. They parted to make a life and were now meeting again to reinvent the life lived. To compare the dreams conceived as adults, with a much bigger and accomplished reality in their autumn. Each passing day thereafter was like holding a flood in his heart, and I earnestly waited for the deluge to drown us all. 

*****

They were at the Veranda. Noor, a man too handsome for his age, sat relaxed opposite Baba in a cane chair. He was clean shaven, with high squared sideburns sprinkled with flakes of silver; and his hair, swept back from his temples was slick with oil. His walnut skin eyes overlooking the ridge of his nose, was much like a boat upturned on the shore. And that smile—the hopeful, benevolent sweep of his lips that accentuated the high of his cheek bones, made for the world a man in whose heart trust was still a new born child, unscathed of vices. He wore a long full sleeved kurta; richly scented. The cuffs starch-rigid held together by a pair of studs and an old HMT model on a silver strap, fastened to his wrist. Strings of vein, blue-green and dilated, emerged from under his sleeves onto the back on his palm. 

Behind him on the window grille, a potted hibiscus lazily tossed in the breeze. Beyond and into the open, dusk silently poured, down ribs of drunk kites somersaulting in air, painting the landscape in a pink sheen. Flocks of birds in a tired flight home, rode past the sinking sun. Their shadows on its orange periphery like craters on moon. In the distance, trees were slowly becoming opaque shadows.  
Baba was scribbling on a newspaper. Parallel lines crossed by horizontal bars; the way railways tracks are. Tea in two white porcelain cups sat on saucers between them. Tenderness apparent in his throat as he spoke, one word at a time. His eyes downcast and wet.

‘That’s how it is.’

‘The curves screwed to the ballast.’

‘Following Euler’s Curvature Law’

‘It moves on.’

‘It doesn’t fall’

‘That’s how it is. It just doesn’t fall over.’

Noor sat there listening intently. His fingers balled under his chin. But none of it really mattered. Really. Not the mathematics, neither the laws. Two old friends coming together to look back at life, talking about how not to topple along a bend that fate sends along our way. Well, there really wasn’t anything else to be understood. 

I watched coils of fumes rise from the tea cups and climbing the curtains, drifted out into the night. Noor reached out to touch Baba on his arm. He looked up as tears trickled from his clouded eyes. They lurched forwards in an embrace. They both were crying. But today, there was no train ready to depart.   








Traitor Tree

Traitor Tree
~ Sobhan Pramanik | Thursday, June 15, 2017 |
Traitor Tree: A Short Story

There is a Gulmohar growing at the fence. Its slender brown trunk though arising from the soft, grassy earth of my compound, has its crimson canopy, like a cloud stranded at dusk, floating low beyond on the other side.

While it wore my rains for years, lived my sunshine and slowly depleted my breast with its roots; now inadvertently sheds its blossoms over a different world, strewing its path in a flaming red.

A little girl ambling past the lawn, twirling a colourful umbrella on her back like a spinning wheel, stops amid the fallen flowers and picks one from her feet. She takes it to her face and feels its petals against her cheeks. Breathes its aura deep before giving in to a complacent smile. She then walks home, the flower aloft on her palm and bliss in her eyes.

I hold onto her smile in my mind and try to feel happy about it. But a strange feeling of loss whips me hard, and the tree I long cared for, now feels like strangulating my existence. I wish to get rid of this feeling, of its everything emanating from deep inside me. It won’t be an easy thing to do, I know. For pulling out a deep-rooted tree, some old feelings, often rips the ground open.
The light and the rain is for everyone to share. This earth is home to all. Perhaps it is the fence that must be pulled down. This feeling of possession in love is what is to be set on fire. There is no way we can let things go by killing them in our heart. It would be making a cemetery within, being haunted by ghosts of old lovers. Instead, let them live. And flourish. Reach out to the sky and dance in the rain. Every once in a while we are going to show up under the tree, I promise, pick up a flower from the ground and smile at each other, reminding us of the better ways to love. From a distance, devoutly and from the soul, without ever being one.

© Sobhan
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