Kasturi, Kasturi

Updated on August 6th, 2009 – Please see the “Epilog” at the very end.

This was my 1st work of fiction. I was probably 8 years old. Even though I wrote many later, this particular story is seared in my memory. I’ve been meaning to publish this for quiet some time. I’ve translated it, since the original was in Tamil – and added a little finesse & refinement to it. The story’s framework and flow of events are more or less intact.

Father came home in his scooter, whistling “Saare Jahan Se Achcha” tunelessly as usual. Mother was watering the roses & sprinkling crushed egg shells near their roots. “Are the children back from school?” he asked Mother. “Its only 4:30 PM, you’re back early” she said.

Chari from next door appeared in his trade-mark V-neck banian. “Sir, have you heard the news? The bus drivers are on a strike. There are no buses – none at all – connecting the suburbs with the town”. Mother looked alarmed. “How will the children come back home now?” Father said lightly “Have you forgotten, Alamelu? Mani goes to school in a bicycle. Surely Kasturi will ride “doubles” with him. Don’t worry”.

Somewhat comforted, Mother went in to make coffee for Father. It was 5 PM. The aroma of the 1st decoction was filling the kitchen. Mani came home, limping & sporting an injury in his knees as usual. Kasturi did not come with him. “Mani, where’s Kasturi?” asked Father. “Isn’t the runt home already?” asked Mani, picking his nose. “No, she isn’t. There’s a bus strike. We were hoping she would hitch a ride with you” said Mother, emerging from the kitchen.

“A lot of girls from her school are walking back home. I’m sure you’ll find Kasturi with them” said Mani, helping himself to a slice of plum cake. “I’ve told you a million times to wash your hands first. And – why, you’ve scraped your knee again! What have you done this time?” shouted Father. Mani continued chewing, but maintained a tactical silence.

“Walking? Its 7 Km from here to the school!” said Mother & looked helplessly at Father. “Her legs will be swollen when she gets home”. Father patted Mother’s shoulder. “Ask her to take a day off tomorrow, then” he said, to appease her.

“I’ll make her something she likes. She’ll be very hungry when she gets home” said Mother, to no one in particular. She busied herself in the kitchen. Father moved his easy-chair to the verandah, to keep an eye on passers-by & resumed reading the paper.

Around 5:30 PM, Father spied groups of school girls inching their way back home. Their shoes were dusty & they all looked tired. Slowly the girls trickled in, in small groups, talking desultorily. Father opened the gate expecting Kasturi. But, Kasturi did not come with them. “Subha, did Kasturi walk home with you?” he asked one of the girls. “No uncle. In fact, I did not see her at all this evening” said Subha.

Mother came out, wiping her hands in a dish towel. “Did Kasturi come with the other girls?” she asked. Father hesitated. “No, not yet Alamelu” he said. “What day is it today? Perhaps there’s a special class & she’s attending it” said Mother. Father brightened a little. “Yes, that must be it. That must be it. And do you remember? She wanted to join the basketball team. She’s such a tall girl! Maybe she has basketball practice” he said.

“She’s an idiot” muttered Mani. “I bet she’s in a field somewhere, playing hop-scotch with her friends” he said. Father resumed his vigil near the gate. He remained there at 6 PM, when Mother turned the lights on. “Its getting dark, please come in” she said. “Where could that blasted girl be?” appealed Father to the gate.

That was when Father’s friend Bhatt came in, in his ancient motor bike. “Shankaran, why so glum?” he asked. “Kasturi is not back yet” Father said hesitantly. Bhatt considered the situation. “Right. Have you checked with all her class-mates? Her friends?” “No, Ganesh. I don’t know what to think” said Father. “Then, let’s make a list of her friends & visit their houses”. He dragged Father out of the house.

“Mother, why don’t we call the school?” asked Mani. “That’s an excellent idea” said Mother. She wanted to do something to keep herself busy. Mother dialed the school’s number. She had neatly written down all the important numbers in a phone book, next to the phone. She caught her breath as the phone started ringing. But no one picked up the phone.

Let’s try again” she said to Mani. He nodded his head solemnly. At the 4th attempt, the peon picked up the phone. “Madam, there’s no one in the school. Only me & the Watchman” he said. “What about the children?” asked Mother, fighting to keep her voice even. “The students, the teachers – they all left long time back, Madam” said the peon. “When exactly?” asked Mother. “Long time back, Madam. I told you already. Shall I cut the call now, Madam?” said the peon irritably & hung up the phone.

The door bell rang. Mani & Mother raced to the front door. But it was not Kasturi. It was their next-door neighbors, the Charis, with some mangoes in a basket. “My brother-in-law from Salem brought these mangoes, Alamelu. We brought some for your kids. Why – whatever’s the matter?”. For Mother had started sobbing. “Kasturi is not back from school yet” she managed to say. “Where is Shankaran?” asked Chari. “I’m right here” said Father, coming in with Bhatt. It was 7 PM.

“What did her class-mates say?” asked Mother. Father crashed to the sofa. Ever efficient, Bhatt took over. “Why don’t you two have a glass of water?” he offered. “Where is my daughter?” asked Mother, shrilly. Bhatt wiped his face with his hand-kerchief. “She was with some of them initially, when they started walking from the school. They were in a large group. Somewhere along the way, they lost track of her. Kasturi did not arrive with them” he finished reluctantly.

No one spoke for a while. “Perhaps we should go to the school?” offered Mrs Chari. “The peon is a lazy bum, he could be lying without checking all the class-rooms & play-grounds” she added. “Yes, yes, we should check the school” said Mother fervently. So, it was arranged. Mother rode with Chari in his scooter to the school. The school wore a deserted look. “Maybe we should call her name loudly?” asked Chari, averting his eyes from Mother. “KASTURI! KASTURI!” they yelled, as they moved from room to room, floor to floor.

But there was no one in the school. Near the playground, they found a man, stacking Cosco balls in a bin. “How can I help you?” he asked them. “I’m the basketball coach” he clarified. “We are looking for our girl – Kasturi. From VI B” said Mother hesitantly. “Kasturi? I know no girl by that name” said the coach. “You see, Sir. The situation is like this. The child hasn’t returned home yet” said Chari. “My God. Shouldn’t you have checked the school earlier?” asked the coach. “The athletes -” began Mother. “They all left 45 minutes back, Madam. And I assure you, Kasturi did not leave with them” said the coach, not unsympathetically.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me” he said, starting his bike. “Where is the child?” asked Chari, bewildered.

It was 8 PM when they came home. The temple bells were chiming in. Father was still lying in the sofa when they came in. “Any news of Kasturi?” he asked. Mother sighed. “Shankaran, why don’t we call on her Class Teacher & the Headmistress? I’m sure they’ll know about special classes” said Bhatt. “For lack of anything better to do” said Father, getting into the pillion of Bhatt’s bike.

Mrs Bhatt came in with her son Madhav, looking worried. “Alamelu, my husband relayed the news to me. Is there any update?” she asked. Mother started sobbing. “Please don’t worry. God is great” said Mrs Bhatt, hugging Mother. “Shall I make us all some tea?” she volunteered. Madhav & Mani started a desultory game of Carroms. “Yes, we should pray to Lord Balaji in Tirupati” said Chari. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten to pay your respects to the Gods. And the Lord works in mysterious ways” he added.

It was 8:30 PM when Father & Bhatt came back. “We spoke to the Headmistress. She was angry that we were bothering her at an untimely hour. But she says that special classes are held only for the 10th grade” said Bhatt. “And anyway, no special classes were held today” added Father, flinging himself onto the easy-chair.

Mani & Madhav stood near the gate & scanned the road. “You know, sometimes if you want to see someone & you meditate their name for a few minutes – Bingo, they’ll arrive” said Madhav confidently. “Really?” asked Mani. “Oh yes, it has worked for me many, many times” said Madhav. Kasturi, Kasturi, Kasturi. They meditated. But Kasturi did not come.

It was almost 9 PM. “Isn’t it dinner-time? Why don’t we all eat?” asked Mrs Chari. But, no one felt like eating. “Mani, Madhav – why don’t you have some food with my daughters?” asked the tactful Mrs Chari & led the children to her kitchen. There was still no sign of Kasturi.

“Perhaps we should retrace the path the child would have taken. The most likely path” said Mrs Bhatt. “Shankaran, Alamelu – both of you are tired. Why don’t I look for the child?” asked Bhatt. Mother’s face was pale. “No, I’ll come with you” she said resolutely. “I’m also coming with you” said Father. He looked suddenly older.

And so they went. Calling her name, “KASTURI! KASTURI! KASTURI!” once every few minutes. Stopping along the way. Peering at intersections. But, Kasturi did not come.

It was 10 PM when they came back home, exhausted. “What happened?” asked Chari. But, he knew the answer already. “Perhaps we should inform the police tomorrow?” he asked. His voice was hoarse. “I’m leaving the entrance lights on” said Mother. “Please, all of you, have something to eat & go to bed. I’m waiting for Kasturi” she said.

But Kasturi did not come.

Please remember that this story was written when there were no cell phones. The story takes place in a small town, like Mysore or Thanjavur. There are not many people on the streets, traffic is non-existent and the streets wear a deserted look after 7 PM. Unless you are in the market area, which passed as the “down-town”. Even there, most activity ceased after 9 PM.

Many of us took the city bus to travel from the suburbs to the school. Bus strikes were not uncommon. We would trudge along, taking the long commute back home on foot, school bags, water bottle and lunch box in tow.

So, what happened to Kasturi?” asked my mom after reading the story, back when I wrote it. “I don’t know” I said. “You don’t know? What do you mean? You must have had at least the germ of an idea when you wrote it” – she said. “Nope, sorry mom” I said.

Mom looked at the story again. Presently she said “I feel bad for Kasturi”. I shrugged. My job ended with creating the story.

Epilog – If you want to know more about the ending, read the comments section. If you’re still not satisfied, click here.


  1. Quote

    Sudar – Thanks for your comment.

    Now you know what your family went thru 😉

  2. Quote

    Priya , very nice story.
    Since you wrote this at a very early age, at that time,deep in your heart may be you were afraid of getting lost, and wrote this wonderful story. Is it possible ?

  3. Quote

    Sharmi – Thanks for your comment.

    Was I afraid of getting lost? Perhaps. In retrospect, the story has a touch of the sinister. Perhaps I was just an evil kid 😉

  4. Quote

    This story can be seen from all perspectives-evil, fear.

    Priya I hope you have started writing a fiction.If not please start.It will be worth reading.Indian writers are big time hitting the international market.

    If you already have a book please let me know , I will buy it.

  5. Quote

    Sharmi – You’re very kind. I did put together some ideas for a book, then fortunately enough (for the readers 😀 ), my start-up business picked up some steam. So, I had to shelve it. Of course, that’s an excuse. If I want to torture international readers by publishing internationally, I’m sure I can find the time 😉

    Thanks for your words of encouragement.

  6. Quote
    Vijay Nagarajan said August 7, 2009, 4:01 pm:

    While reading this story, I’ve had a feel of reading an RK Narayan’s classic short story from Malgudi Days; especially for its typical South Indian characters whom we come across in our day-to-day life.. It is truly a beautiful piece of short story.. The end of this story reminded me of one of this kind by the title, ‘The Lady or the Tiger’ by Frank Stockton, which I believe I learnt in an English lesson of Class vi 🙂 The last few lines of this story which I just pulled from a website goes like:

    Then it was that his quick and anxious glance asked the question: “Which?” It was as plain to her as if he shouted it from where he stood. There was not an instant to be lost. The question was asked in a flash; it must be answered in another.
    Her right arm lay on the cushioned parapet before her. She raised her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. No one but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.
    He turned, and with a firm and rapid step he walked across the empty space. Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.
    Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady ?
    The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer.

    The end of the story was left to the readers to decide…
    HATS OFF to your imagination and writing skill.. I’m looking forward to read more such interesting stories having the South Indian touch from your end…

  7. Quote
    emmarcee said August 7, 2009, 7:56 pm:

    It is not a story, but a picture Priya. We all miss her.

  8. Quote

    Vijay – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    But, you’re too kind – My attempts can never be mentioned in the same breath as R.K.Narayan’s wonderful works.

    South Indian flavor – Thanks, I set it in a slightly modern Agraharam in Small Town South India – I grew up in one.

    Interesting that you mention “The Lady or the Tiger”. What came out of the door, the tiger or the lady? Usually, people put themselves in the place of the woman, to answer this question. Similarly, people have put themselves in the place of the narrator to choose an ending that reflects their preferences the most.

    Thanks for your kind words of encouragement. I’ll certainly write more stories.

  9. Quote

    Emmarcee – Thanks for your comment & kind words. Glad you liked the story.

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