Burn Till All Left Is Ash and Coal

By Shreeja Singh

Breathing in the familiar, fresh air of my home had been one of the few moments in my life that had not been riddled with purpose. The act itself filled me with poise and grace, like adding fuel to an ending fire that was riddled with black coal and white ash. The colorful curtains that I chose for each of my sons and little characters I had etched on their beds when my womb was swollen with them, were my salvation. The example of unconditional love that I rarely got for just being me, not the most beautiful woman on earth or as the Queen of Indraprastha or as the wife of the five great Pandavas or even as the daughter of the King Drupad, my father. I had been born into hatred nurtured by disappointment and formed into destruction. I was born to be the cause of laments not praises, a job I fulfilled with extreme efficiency and accuracy but my children were those little bursts of sweetness in a barren and sour landscape. They were mine. Mine to love, hold, and care and cherish. They were the only part of me that allowed me to see the mirror because they made me feel real, they made me feel alive, and they made me happy.

But like the sacrificial fire from which I descended, I burnt them. It was I who condemned them into an early demise, not only did I burn away their life, I took away their past, future and childhood. It was I who caused the sacrificial fire to burn, it was I who destroyed them and it will always be I who would suffer. Tears that flow down my face are worth nothing, like me. They would never fulfill the true purpose like the other water droplets to quench thirst but like me they will stand as sinners and act as angels of pain, misery and anger. People will remember me as the woman who changed the world, the inevitable change of era and maybe even as a powerful woman known as Queen Draupadi but would they remember me as a mother? It has been said that a thousand doors of death open when a woman goes into labor. I have gone through many of them but they never said that after braving those thousand doors of death, motherhood becomes an eternal heaven.  I had been humiliated in a court, I have visited the death more than enough times but why , why did even after all my torment I could barely taste my eternal heaven?

My husbands, the men I am supposed to love, could not fight in schemes and had me humiliated to an extent that I could have ended my life then, but I consoled myself by saying they were honourable and honest men so they did not know. I was nearly raped by their so called cousin in law and they didn’t kill him and I consoled myself by saying they care for all even their enemy. They broke our marital  vows of never allowing another woman in their beds by marrying multiple times but I still made excuses for them by saying that they were preparing for war and being far sighted. But when they could not save their own sons in the arena of war, what excuse should I make? They failed in their prime duty as Kshatriyas and men, they failed as fathers and they expect me not to lament, not to cry, to be a Queen of a kingdom whose throne is wet with the blood of my children? I refuse! Oh I refuse!

I will burn like I was meant to be. I will burn till my wrath is felt by the heavens and feared by the hell because I no longer have any reason to fear the rain. They changed an era and built a new one on my account, they made me their pawn, and they killed my children and tore my heart out. They will pay. They will pay in blood and misery. I was fuelled into a righteous wrath for decades now I will burn in hatred. I burn by my heart to protect my children, I will burn into an inferno so violent, maddening, so amoral that even history would rub my name away in hope to forget me!

Burn like a broken lamp….. Burn like a sati on the pyre…. BURN ! For all that will remain is the fire within and ashes outside…. Burn to forget ! Don’t love them ! Don’t care just burn like the endless fury of my heart…


Doctor ?! The patient…

Sita heard a shout that resulted in a splitting headache. Her head was hurting, her chest was hurting ; her whole body was hurting and in pain , but the worst part was not the pain in her body but a pain from within her soul like a fire burning that flickered into her with every movement she made. She did not remember her name; she did not remember anything except the cry and voice of that woman. It was like a last roar from an injured tigress, it was haunting and horrifying. It made her eyes hurt like she cried excessively and her lips felt chapped. Sita went on introspecting and she did not notice the doctor who had entered and looked at her with shock. He was old but well-kept and slightly weird, something about him made her tick but it all settled when she looked him in the eye and saw the real him. He was a monster, he killed children, especially little girls, and he had to burn…

He hurt our children , burn him like he burnt us… BURN!

And my vision went black.

I looked up from where I had dumped my tired body to see the news. The reporter kept on talking about a murder of a doctor in a hospital who was found to be convicted of multiple illegal female feticides. Then she went on speaking of multiple break-ins into prisons where pedophiles and child abusers were found burnt with a little blood lotus next to them, quite similar to the doctor.

I heard the news with a horrified face for the people around me but the fire inside me was preening like a wolf as the voice cackled maliciously, asking me to burn more and more until I was coal and ash and I agreed with a smile because I will for sure burn, burn like a fire. Burn because no one touches little babies… My children, mine.

Playing With Matchsticks

By Mannat Sidhu

It had been an average night. Chicken for dinner, bland and overcooked, as usual. Shriya had watched television with her husband, then they’d gone to sleep. The kids had probably gone to sleep around the same time, or so she assumed. They weren’t really the kind of family who said goodnight to each other. The only thing that had been out of the ordinary was how hot it was. It was sultry and humid, highly unusual for late October in the sleepy little town they called home. She had left the windows open that night, in hope that a cool breeze would enter. But that had been a mistake. Maybe, if she had closed the windows, the wind wouldn’t have caused the fire to spread. There were a lot of “what ifs” but the reality was that on that very night, at 11 p.m., a fire spread across the house. Shriya woke up with the smell of smoke in the air and bright flames dancing before her. She and her husband rose to check on their kids, but they never made it out of the room.

What would you save if your house was burning down?

It was the kind of thing no one really thought about, a question that people made sure never to ask the kid who had literally lost everything in a fire, who’d barely managed to make it out alive. But then again, there were many people who thought that Anwar had started the fire that killed his parents. The reports had shown that the fire was caused by arson and the detectives considered it to be an inside job. Both Anwar and his twin brother Shaurya were under scrutiny, and there was to be a hearing in the court to decide who was guilty. But for everyone who knew the twins, the case was already closed. After all, Anwar was the twin who had been playing with matchsticks for as long as anyone could remember, and Shaurya was the one who was responsible for putting out his fires.

It was a bitingly cold day, and Anwar could see his breath swirling around as mist as he walked towards the court. All the major events in his life seemed to occur on days with extreme weather conditions. His mother had told him how scorchingly hot it had been on the day the twins were born. He imagined it was as hot as it had been on the day she died. So it seemed fitting for the weather to be frosty and cold on the day that his future would be decided. However, he already knew the verdict as he walked up the stairs to seal his fate.

“And how does the defendant plead?” Anwar been expecting the question, but he hadn’t realised that he would be questioned by the judge himself. “Guilty, your honour.”

All around him, he heard murmurs arising through the courtroom. He swallowed the lump in his throat as his eyes met his brother’s. Shaurya’s face showed nothing but worry as he turned to talk to their aunt. Anwar had no idea what happened during the rest of the hearing. He didn’t even register how long his sentence was. For the first time since the night of the fire, his mind was empty.

It was his last night at their aunt’s house, where the twins had been staying ever since the fire. Anwar knew that if it was up to her, he would already be at the juvenile detention centre this night, instead of leaving in the morning. She hadn’t uttered a single word to him after the hearing, but he knew that she could barely stand the sight of him. Shaurya avoided both of them. With nothing else to do, Anwar went straight to the guest bedroom and prayed that after countless sleepless nights, sleep would finally come to him.

The first things he noticed when he woke up were the heat and the light. He hadn’t forgotten how cold it had been during the day. A sharp contrast to the waves of heat he felt emitting all across the room. He noticed that according to the clock placed on the bedside table, it was close to 3 am. However, the darkness that should have been there was replaced by an eerie glow. And suddenly he understood what was happening. After all, he had woken up in the same situation just a little while ago. Only this time, something made him realise he might not be so lucky as to make it out alive.

The door swung open and Shaurya entered. Behind him, Anwar could see the flames spreading. “I did what you told me to do”, he said, hating how shrill his voice sounded. “I took the blame for what you did and you promised me you wouldn’t kill me”. “So I take it that twin telepathy doesn’t exist. If it did, you would know that I’m no good at keeping promises.”

Detective Sharma was not fond of investigating fires. Especially when the cause was arson. This was his second case of the month and he was not happy about it. He glowered at his witness, even though he knew that he should be sympathetic because while he only had to investigate two fires, this kid had survived them both. “So son, tell me exactly what happened”, he said, in an effort to be more polite. “My brother said that he’d rather die than go to jail. So he lit another fire and didn’t try to escape. My aunt tried, but I couldn’t save her.” As he spoke, a tear rolled down his face. The detective, who hated tears, ushered him out of the room. As soon as the door closed, Shaurya smiled. He thought about his dead brother, who used to play with matchsticks. And Shaurya had only recently discovered that he liked starting fires a whole lot more than putting them out.


“You’ve changed” they say,

Every other person, every other day.

“You used to be kinder and more open hearted,

What the hell happened, what made you this way?”

I know they’ll try to step into my shoes,

They always do,

Wondering what in the world could make a person so bruised,

But they never seem to find an answer that fits in with their views.  

So, I’m abandoned by every other person, every other day,

Alone with no one to call my own, no one to stay.

I won’t say I’m surprised when they tell me,

“It’s not going work out, okay?”

But it breaks my heart,

The feeling of loss doesn’t go away.

Always going through cycles of overthinking and trying not to care,

Honestly, I’ve only wanted one person to truly be there.

I’ll tell you what I tried to tell them,

Time doesn’t heal,

It’s just a momentary lie that creates momentary faith.

Sure, it kept me going, but only for so long.

People who say it gets better couldn’t be more wrong.

The pain was hellfire,

And after years of failing to blow it out,

I walked into it straight,

Sick of giving excuses, accepting my fate.

I set myself afire, thinking it was the end,

Yet as I came out of the flames, I breathed.

I didn’t have arms,

I had wings instead.

The person who I was, to the fire I had bequeathed.  

Of course, that was not something they would admire,

They would have me fall into the pits of sorrow and writhe in pain,

For my adoring “friends” it was a grand sight, watching my life go to waste.

So, the last thing I told them after I was reincarnated from the ashes,

It’s not my fault that the Phoenix I’ve become,

Is not to your taste.

I won’t apologise for becoming something you disdain,

I won’t apologise for the outcome,

Of unending pain.

So, slowly I learnt to step from away from every other person, every other day,

And somehow,

I think I’ve turned out okay.

The Only Way

By Tushita Rana

Ahmed had always associated fire with warmth and motherly love. The first memory that popped up in his mind was of his mother, Noor, making soft, round and fluffy rotis for their family. How she made her rotis perfectly round was still a mystery to him. The shape of the roti was not the only mystery that surrounded his life, his mother’s death was one as well. It’s been seven months since her death and Ahmed hasn’t been able to find how his mother’s unnatural and untimely death took place. However, one thing is clear, fire had caused it.

The case of Noor’s death was peculiar because it was not a case of arson , wherein the damage is caused to human life as well as material things. Noor’s body was found in a burnt state and everything around her seemed to be untouched by this fire, this is what made her death strange. The fire that caused her death did not seem to have a source as her body remains, which were largely in ashes, were found among the remains of a chair in which she had been sitting in the middle of their living room, which showed little evidence of fire. Since her death, Ahmed was on a quest to find out how his mother died.

Various onlookers from the town were of the opinion that the fire had started from within and witchcraft had played a role in Noor’s death. Ahmed’s family resided in a town where witchcraft and faith healing were common practices, however, their family had never shown any ounce of interest in such practices and this had set them apart from the other families. Ahmed had tried to gain some insight about his mother’s death by talking to the forensic team but that had proven to be unfruitful, as they themselves weren’t able to determine how she died.


“Ahmed, have you heard about spontaneous human combustion?” Atifa, Ahmed’s sister, asked. Atifa had heard her friends discuss human combustion and had recently decided to delve deeper into this concept. The subsequent research had led to establishment of the belief in Atifa’s mind, that their mother was a victim of spontaneous combustion.
The mystery of their mother’s death had become a means of distracting herself from the pain of losing a loved one.

Atifa! How many times do I need to tell you to stop believing in such foolish concepts!?” Ahmed replied.
Don’t let this town-gossip get to your head. These people can relate anything and everything to witchcraft or some other nonsensical thing.” , he further elaborated. It was not as if he hadn’t seen Atifa’s search history and not clicked onto the link directing him towards various cases of this ‘absurd and nonsensical theory’ of human combustion, but having a practical and scientific bent of mind, he simply refused to believe it.

Feeling suffocated by his own thoughts, Ahmed decided to go out to clear up his mind and organise his thoughts.
It was late evening, the sky was lilac and appeared to be  mourning. Ahmed stepped out into the backyard of his house and stumbled upon something, upon close inspection he realised he was holding a knife which was completely covered in dried blood. Horrified he immediately dropped the knife. The fact that the knife belonged to someone he knew, appalled him.
Not knowing what to believe and who to trust he rushed outside, wanting the universe to answer his numerous questions.
He had solved the mystery and wasn’t certain as to how he had come to this conclusion but was sure of it. Slowly, almost reluctantly he approached his house, the house which held so many memories but now seemed to be haunting him.

With the bloody knife he entered his house and suddenly felt deprived of air, he realised that Atifa was strangling him. ‘She must have seen me discover the weapon.’ he thought and it seemed that he was ready to be killed by his own sister.
He couldn’t comprehend as to why Atifa murdered their own mother, this thought itself had ignited some sort of fire in him. His burning passion to know the what’s and how’s of life had always driven him, and at that very moment it helped him to tackle Atifa to the ground and he put his arm around her neck as a method to block her.

“Why did you do it!!? Why!?” , Ahmed shouted . Atifa laughed hysterically and started crying.

I-I-I didn’t do it. She wanted me to do it!” she said sobbing.

She wanted you to kill her, and you did it?! What were you thinking!? Why would she tell you to do that!?” Ahmed questioned, completely baffled by her confession.

Obviously, I had to murder her. I am the second born and hence she had to be killed by my hands and later cremated but only partially. She was infected!
If you weren’t so self-absorbed you would have seen her suffer.” , Atifa elaborated.

“Infected! What are you talking about!?”

“Yes, I have been in contact with the people who practice faith healing to cure her but they said, that she couldn’t be cured and the sadness inside her would remain forever. The only way out of ammi’s suffering was to do what I did and that is she herself was eager to carry out my plan! Do you understand now? Aren’t you proud, brother?”

I don’t understand. How… could you?”

“I took ammi to those people and stabbed her with the knife you found outside. Silly of me to leave it there.” giggles “And we partially cremated her to let her sadness escape her body and then very carefully placed her in the living room. It wasn’t easy, Ahmed. But it was the only way out.”

I- I can’t. I don’t understand…” Ahmed collapsed

Ahmed! Ahmed! Why can’t you see! It was the only way out. Ammi had to be freed from the sadness inside her… The only way… The only way…”