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If it is not red.....
by Apurba Dutta

It was the last Tuesday of August, and a very different one for the very peculiar Mr. Pandey.

Unfortunately for him, the office had closed for the day right on schedule, which seemed so early and so unfair. For Mr. Pandey, any work of substance got done in office, and that was where the best part of the day, evening and night (sometimes), was meant to be spent.

Feeling out of sorts at home, he sat on the terrace, appreciating nothing and silently cursing the whole world. The outside held no value for him. But his children, glad to have the company of their father, played happily in his midst, chirping all the while.

"Look papa, up there." It was Vinod, his younger son. He was pointing to the sky, specifically at the bright object that had seemingly made a perfunctory intrusion.

"Only an aeroplane." His father replied, after just a cursory glance.

"No, it's a plane…"

Pooh! The snort, not used to the word 'no', was big enough.

Neha was his daughter, older than Vinod by two years, with enough intelligence and common sense to understand where his father’s dilemmas lay. She refused to be cowed down so easily.

"Papa, I can bet it's the red planet. How come it isn't moving, if it's a plane?"

All of a sudden, Mr. Pandey found himself sweating. He loved bets, but with his office colleagues. He loved being heckled, but only at the hands of his boss. He longed for the air-conditioner idling away in his office cabin.

He couldn't let this happen. His pride was at stake, and he needed to defend it with all the weaponry at his disposal, and that included browbeating.

"How on earth could any planet come so near? Another week and we would be smashed to pulp. What daftness!"

"It's in the newspapers. Mars is closer to earth now than it's been in sixty thousand years."

Mr. Pandey's venture into newspapers was limited to politics - ignorance in other matters forced him to try his hand at deception.

Pointing to the sky, he exclaimed.

"Okay, that is a planet, but I also saw a plane."

"Come on, don't fool us. There was no plane." The nobility in Vinod went to defending his sister.

"Yes, there was. It went behind the planet of yours and vanished."

Mrs. Pandey was in the kitchen, dutifully preparing supper for her husband and children, and listening to all that was being said. She was a proud woman who had tolerated her husband's obstinacies for years without much fuss, but as they say, all dams have to burst one day.

Providence chose the evening of the last Tuesday of August, when she could no longer hold on to her emotions.


Mr. Pandey heard each and every word, capitals and all. There was no way he could have avoided. For a long time, his face borrowed a colour from the heavenly object that dangled in the sky.