My End-Times Playlist

Because it’s so strange right now:

Because our conditions have conditions:

Because some of us need treatment:

And some of us need shelter:

Because we don’t get around much any more:

Because people are just sitting around all day:

Because the economy’s tanking:

Because the whole world’s headed to the pawn shop now:

Because there ain’t but one way out:

Because there’s so much left to lose:

Because what else are you gonna do with all that free time:

Because when things seem black, you can still take comfort in the blues:

Because there’s no point pointing at the moon:

Because when all this over, it still won’t be over over:

Because on the other side of endings are more endings:

Because, ultimately:

The Detective's Day Off

Hello there. This blog will periodically serve as a receptacle for old short stories that don’t seem to fit in anywhere or have passed their sell-by dates. This one, below, was originally going to be the first chapter in a book I was writing back in 2010 / ’11 (until I chucked the idea and moved on to other, less questionable things). It still sort of works as a minor stand-alone comedic piece, though. You be the judge —

A bleary prayer call scrambled in through the ventilator and kicked my half-sleep in the nuts. “Crap.” I remembered I had a visitor, and hit the intercom. “Please come in.”

The man who had barged in earlier was in his mid-60s. His face was shiny lobster red from speed-walking. “Monday I am busy, so we can talk today? Today is convenient.” Convenient for whom?

And here he was again, a nervous spectre of good health. The man wore a white tennis shirt, tiny white shorts and white canvas shoes. Sweat yellowed his shirt in patches, the two largest ones arcing from the tips of his half-sleeves to the lower creases of his moobs. Some of it poured down a leatherite folder that was clutched under his left armpit. A frizzy grey strand of misplaced combover dripped off one side of his head, forgotten in the stress of the moment.

“FINALLY!” he shouted. “FINALLY! I have been waiting outside for SO long! You know what is my AGE??”

“Sir, it’s a Sunday. It’s not even a working day for us!”

“But you are HERE, are you not?”

That much was true. I was in the neighbourhood, having dropped in to check on the fish. But it was only dawn and I was still in my track pants, dammit.

“Show some consideration!” he said. “You know what is MY age?!”

“Please! Please, sir, kindly be seated,” I said, waving to the window sill. “Look, you are agitating the pigeons!”

The man reddened some more, swaying dangerously like a sea anemone contemplating motility, and turned to follow my gaze. “I see no pigeons, Mr. Baman. There is nothing there. There are no pigeons.”

“Yes, but what if there were! Their automatic response to loud sounds is to shit all over the…”

“Eh?” His chaos struggled to find expression. “What?” His eyes bulged.

“Over the… Ah, what the hell. Please, sir. Kindly sit.”

He flicked his folder out from its moist confines and slapped it on my desk. A warm teaspoonworth of sweat flew up off the folder’s edge and made a precise target of my philtrum. I licked it away.



“Please go on. You were saying?”

“Baman, I want to talk to you about the bomb that went off in the Coffee House.”


“I want to know: what was the significance of the biscuit case in Mr. Garware’s satchel?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You are following the news reports?”

“Not really, no.”

“Look at the file, Baman. It contains clippings. Read them. I will wait while you read them.”

“One moment, sir. First things first. I didn’t quite catch your name.”

“Ah. I failed to introduce? I am Dr. Chandraprakash Batna. Retired from service.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Samir. I’m the first Vaman from the signboard. That’s Vaman with a ‘V’.”

“What signboard?”

“The one outside. The one that says ‘Vaman, Vaman & Bros.'”

“Oh? There are three? You are siblings?” Great. Now he wanted small talk. Hello, friendly Sunday!

“Four, actually. The second, third, and fourth Vamans are siblings, yes. But not me. I’m unrelated. We just happened to share a last name. Pure coincidence.”

“Aha. Very fine.”

“However, it does give our business a kind of direction, Mister… er…”

“Doctor. I am Dr. Batna.”

“Yes. Doctor. It’s our rallying cry, in a way. It unites us against the non-Vamans of the world!”

“Eh? Come again please?”

“I’m kidding, Dr. Batna. Levity, sir. Levity on a Sunday morning! Levity in lieu of waffles!”

“Eh? What?” His hard red lobster-shell-head began to crack, the meat underneath seething and straining with impatience. “Look here, Mr. Baman…”

“You may call me Samir.”

“Eh? Look, are you interested in solving my problem?”

“Let me hear it first, Dr. Batna. And out of interest, sir, what kind of doctor are you?”

He pointed at his sweaty folder. “I will tell you after you read the clippings I have brought.”

“Ah? Fine.” I wiped it down with a lens cloth and flipped it open. The folder contained several newspaper clippings, as promised.

“All of them?” I asked.

“Just understand all the facts, Mr. Shameem.”

“SAMIR, sir. It’s Samir.”

The first two clippings were nearly identical. They mentioned the bomb blast (“A low-intensity blast shook MG Road on Saturday afternoon, injuring one person and frightening officegoers”), made the customary protest against police inefficiency (“Two constables appeared on the scene a full fifteen minutes after the bomb went off, followed by their superiors nearly an hour later”) and produced statements from the CM’s office (“Mr. Ramanagarayya expressed his commiserations to the Coffee House staff, and announced Rs. 15,000 in compensation to any injured or mentally anguished parties”). I stifled a yawn.

The third clipping contained an additional piece of information. Apparently the only soon-to-be-richer injured party was one Ravi Garware, who also happened to be a member of a newly formed anti-graft political party. He was hit by a flying piece of crockery. At the time of the blast, he was carrying a jute satchel containing a cookie box. The report disclosed neither the contents of the cookie box, nor Garware’s exact condition or agenda.

“Okay. I think I’ve got the gist of it.  So?”

“You run a security agency, no?”

“Among other things, yes.”

“So you are an expert in these matters. What do you conclude? Nothing strange happening?”

“There’s plenty that’s strange, of course. A bomb went off in the heart of Bangalore, Dr. Batna, during peak hours!”


“And no one was seriously hurt! Heavenly intervention? Perhaps!”

“Let us keep God out of this, Baman. Did you read, also, about one Mr. Rabi Garware?”

“Yes, the chap who caught a shard of ceramic in his elbow. The sole victim.”

“The word ‘victim’ was never mentioned, Baman.”

“Look, Dr. Batna. It’s perfectly clear from these stories that…”

“There is a conspiracy afoot, Baman.”



“With a ‘V’, sir.”


“Never mind. How do you reckon there’s a conspiracy, Dr. Vatna? Don’t you think you’re being a bit silly?”

“It is BATna!”

Batty. I bet his thumbola friends call him Batty. I bet he plays thumbola. “With a ‘B’, no doubt! And why do you suppose there is a conspiracy?”

“Baman, you are young, so you are slow to understand. Why did the report mention the fact that Garware was carrying a biscuit case in his bag? Yes?”

“It was a cookie box.”

“Same same.”

“Whatever. So he was carrying a cookie box. So?”

“Why was he? Why this box?”

“Perhaps the writer of the article thought it was an interesting detail.”

“It is not a convincing argument, Baman.”


“Why will he choose to leave in this random detail? Interesting or not, Baman, it is random, you will surely admit. And what is inside this cookie box? What is its contents, I am asking you!”

“Cookies, I presume.”


“They’re a kind of hard cake, made of dough. They go pretty well with warm beverages like…”

“I KNOW what a cookie is, Mr. Shameem! It is like a biscuit! I am not a BUFFoon! Do you think I am a buffoon, Mr. Shameem?”

“Samir. It’s Samir. No, Dr. Batna, not at all. I don’t even know what ‘buffoon’ means, to be perfectly honest.”

“The cookie box had something inside it! Something of significance to the investigation of this blast!”

“Hmm. And what would you have me do about it?”

“Find out more! Are you not a concerned citizen? You too have a responsibility to find out the truth! Be patriotic!”

I pointed to the cell phone that lay on my desk. “I can place a call to one of my friends in the Crime Branch, if you like.”

“I have already talked to one of my brother’s son. He is Assistant Librarian of State Forensic Lab in Madivala. He knows all the important people in police. He will give me all the details.”

Then why did you come to ME, Chandraprakash (so cried my fatigued brain), if you’ve figured it all out? WHY? On a SUNDAY, when I could be out brunching on aappam-stew and spinach smoothies with my girlfriend by now?!

“Spinach smoothies are gross.”


“And what did your nephew say?”

“He will find out and tell me in two days. Meanwhile, I will also be submitting an RTI query tomorrow. Better to be safe than sorry, Baman.”

“Ah! Then the mystery will soon be over! Of what further use am I to you, then?”

“I thought you may be knowing something more. Something else.”

“Why did you think that?”

“Because you are the expert, no? I was thinking from early morning about this problem and banging my head on the wall. But then fortune came on my side when you attended your job on Sunday.” Sigh. “I stay in the same locality of your office, you see. My house is next to the HOPCOMS depot.”

“Oh, is it?”

“Yes. I saw you parking your Maruti. I was walking for my exercise regiment.”



I had had enough. “Look, Dr. Batna, is it possible that this mystery you propose to solve on behalf of the proper authorities stems from a sudden cookie craving?”

“What? I do not understand what you ask.”

“Have you had breakfast? When did you last eat?”

“I do not eat cookies, Baman.”

“It’s Vaman. But please call me Samir. Why not? Have you tried the cookies at Ramya bakery? The one on 16th Main?”

“I am diabetic, Shabeer. I cannot eat such things.”

“Which only further illustrates my point.”

His face turned red once more.”So you are pooh-poohing me? You are mocking me? You know how old I am? I am old enough to be your father, Shammi!”

This was true. He was right. I was being an asshole.

“Look, sir, I am not, er, pooh-poohing or, er…”

“Then you will take this case?”

“What case?”

“This cookie box. This Garware fellow. What all I have told you. Are you not listening to anything what I have been talking, Baman?”

Not very well, I’ll admit. Exhaustion and hunger had been crowding my ears. “Yes, of course. As I already told you, I can call one of my friends at the…”

“NO! There is no need. I understand, Baman. I understand!” He stood up, and his chair keeled over. “I am leaving. My misses will be searching for where I am.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help.”

He leaned on the desk with both hands and bent over me, his every consonant spraying bullets of spit onto my forehead. “You are not mature, Baman. After many years only you will come to understand!”

“Ahh. Er. I’m sorry. Look, I told you I’m sorry, okay? Dr. Batna?”


Small talk to the rescue? “You never told me what sort of doctor you are, sir.”

“It is not of your concern, Baman. It is NOT of your MOST unhelpful concern! This is a WASTE of precious time!” Indeed!

He picked up his folder, tucked it back into its fleshy home and frothed out of the room without setting his chair upright.

I wiped Batna’s slime off my face and slumped in my chair. Then I picked up the cordless and dialled. “Hello? Is that Ramya Stores? Have you opened for the day? What’s that? In twenty minutes? Great. Can you connect me to the bakery? Thanks…. Hi, good morning. Do you have ginger cookies in stock today? What? Okay, I’ll wait…”

A buffoon is a sort of clown. An idiot clown. I’d lied about not knowing that.

“Yes? No? Damn. Mince pie?… No? Ah. Lemon tart? What…? Okay, super! Thanks! Please reserve a couple of pieces. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes… Okay, fine, twenty minutes. Name’s Bam… er, Vaman. That’s Vaman, with a ‘v’… Great. Thanks.”

A pigeon fluttered onto the window ledge. I threw an eraser at it and missed. The pigeon sat down, plumped itself and stared stoically into the distance.

“Shit happens, bird!” I yelled at it. “Deal with it! Sky rodent! Damn rat pigeon!”

The pigeon cooed at me.

I cooed back.

Vinayak Varma / 2020

P.S. I drew the b/w illustration of Koshy’s (up top) for a book called ‘Love Bangalore’, back in 2008. Hardys Bay Publishing owns its copyright, so please don’t steal it.

The Old Woman of the City, Keeper of its Soul

“Elgin Talkies” / Copyright © 2020 Vinayak Varma

She was last seen in the abandoned house on St. Mark’s Road,
Floating above the broken syringes and beer bottles,
Lotus-legged and arms outstretched,
Radiating a swirling white light,
Scaring the shit out of stoner trespassers and bandicoots.

They say it was this fear of her inside it,
And not the fists of the goons outside,
That knocked the old house down.
Some know enough to know better
Than to know what they know to be true.

The City has moulted
Since the old house was broken,
Since that nasty, smelly witch —
With her judging eyes and shimmery hair —
Was last seen floating in it.

We’ve traded that rotted, storied skin
For this glorious armour of steel and glass.
And good riddance, boss. God only knows
What terrible dark magic those sags and wrinkles held.
Good fucking riddance.

(First published in Black Horse Review, November 2019)


Were you the nit who decided
that north is up, south is down,
west is left, and east is right?
Are you the hack who rhymed
“West” with “the best”,
and not “pest” or “infest”?
Is yours the East
that’s a mythical beast,
or, at the very least,
a weird sensory feast?
And are those things lining your soles
a pair of tiny magnetic poles?

In Space, every which way
is this-way-that-way.
Ignore all imaginary arrows,
only go by what your eyes can see,
travel far enough in a straight line,
and all norths become souths,
and all easts turn west.
Directions are meaningless
for excellent reasons
when you’re a cosmic turtle:
world-burdens are lightest
when down is also up.

In my unoriented map of India,
Kanyakumari is its crown,
while Kashmir is its spiky,
furry, prehensile tail.
Dravidanadu is the head and chest,
and MP, its queasy belly.
Gujarat and Assam
are its outstretched hands
(or perhaps the hems of its frock),
Bengal is a saucy hip,
Kerala, a bloodied lip,
and the NCR is on its knees.

“Quit messing around,” you sass.
“You can’t turn this country on its ass!”
“Shall I put the Centre here,” I ask,
“in the middle, next to its…
uh… daily business?
This makes both strategic
and semantic sense, yes?”
“No, you urban naxal,
the Centre always sits on top.
Nations can’t be ruled
from below the belt!
Brains can’t be stored in one’s legs!”

Because you’re such a mussel
(shellfish, mass of nerves,
and not an octopus
(eight twisty limbs
and nine twisty brains),
my omnidirectional atlas remains closed
to you and your crusty kind.
You may return once you’ve grown
an extra heart or two,
and ink sacs with the power
to blot out every latitude.

Vinayak Varma, 2020

The Viscount Radcliffe Has a Bite

His Lordship blinks awake.
“Whuh? Where am I?”
First and final of his ilk,
Right and Honourable,
Peerless peer, master tactician,
“And blind as a bloody mole rat.”
At 3a.m., hungry like the wolf,
He trips and fumbles out of bed,
And launches himself into the void.
“A nice sandwich would hit the spot.
Perhaps a mug of cocoa too…
But where the hell are my glasses?”

Purple-robed, specs-less Cyril
Scurries through the labyrinthine corridors,
Hands outstretched,
A just-resurrected mummy.
“I’m a velveteen mutant ninja rat!
An International Thuggee of Mystery!”
The shadows bend and twist,
Strip away from the walls,
Swirl, wrap, and tighten around his head,
Layering it like a too-large turban.
“Who knows what evil lurks
In the hearts of men? Not me, Bob!”

That big silver blur – “Ah, there’s the fridge.”
Thence, he conscripts his troops:
Cheese and pickled gherkins,
A sliver of roast beef, some lettuce,
And a dash of Wooster.
He deploys them between
Three fat slices of yesterday’s loaf,
And halves the assemblage
With practised ease
(The way he partitioned
Circles and polygons
As a student of geometry;

Or cultures and peoples,
As an occludent of geography):
Sharp, quick, straight down the middle,
Never mind a few errant crumbs.
“Diagonal cuts are for pansies!”
He devours one half,
And throws the other to the dogs.
Nothing ever goes to waste,
Not in this household, no sir.
And this is a resonant philosophy,
For, in another era, in a different mansion,
Time eats its own tail –

A similarly Honourable Prime Minister,
On his third and final hour of sleep,
Sweats and tosses as he dreams
Of choking to death on breadcrumbs.
His struggles are watched by an old white man
In a turban made of shadow.
Lord Cyril (for this is his restless spectre)
Offers pithy advice in lieu of first aid:
“In hindsight, Mr. M, I’ve learnt
To value vision over eyesight.”
Even this nightmare can be escaped,
Of course, if one simply were to awaken.

Vinayak Varma, 2020