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We are a free country, seventy-five years old. Rheumy-eyed, arthritic. Lethargic with too many liberties. Drunk on the immortal nectar of freedom, we laugh, talk. Sip drinks, check phones. Nibble on gossip and pakoras. Watch celebrations on giant screens. Children dance bare-bodied in the cold, waving tri-colours around the replica of a Grand Ram temple aflutter with saffron. Rape victim burnt. The ticker ticks in red below. A woman (those activist types) says, seventy-five years. Still so many rapes! A man explains. Those are exceptions. Only bad news is reported. And why must they loiter? Get into moving cars with strangers? Wasn’t a man put in jail for cracking a joke? But we are still better than Saudi Arabia, we don’t whip people for cracking jokes. We even let women drive and work. Meet our lady officers and pilots. Diabetic smiles. Tipsy on vodka as on justifications. A little hate—for all this freedom—is normal and necessary. Rights, rights, so wrong, all the time. Respect. Obey. Do the duty. I Proud to be Indian. His stomach wobbles under his MK blazer, his CK tie. The person who works in the ministry of clean air is talking of tall towers fitted with giant exhaust fans to suck-in carcinogenic particles. The way to go. War on pollution. But where will the suction spit itself the pesky woman asks. It would be too complicated to explain. Besides China is also doing it. Smart systems. Magnificent victories. Over tyrannical odds. Peerless wisdom of big bosses. Lies with straight faces. No one asks the woman’s opinion on anything. Her role is to sip and smile. Nod and coo like a pigeon. Every cup is emblazoned with things to save. Trees, Tigers. Water, Daughter. Why can’t we have more towers to suck out hate, the woman asks. Everyone wrinkles noses like she has passed gas. Before answering the man excuses himself. Whispers to his wife. Check on the daughter. Is she back? It’s late, unsafe. The daughter pings. And he sighs, titters at the activist. Nice Jokes you are making. I like your sense of humour. Gossips of three-year old office politics to put her in awe. Networking importance, under Delhi’s umbrella of smog. Soon to be sucked in by giant fins of a giant spitting tower.

Varsha Tiwary writes from New Delhi. Her short stories and essays appear in DNA, Out of Print lit mag, Kitaab, Basil O'Flaherty, Muse India, Jaggerylit, Manifest-station, Spark, Usawa, Café Dissensus, Gargoyle magazine, Outlook blogs, Shenandoah lit mag, Eclectica magazine, Pinecone Review, Months to Years Covid Flash, Thirdlane, and Cordella.

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