Fiction | Issue 2 (October 2023)

Funny John, Brave John, Happy John

Shrutidhora P Mohor

John always had large waterproof boots on. Always.

He would stomp his way over the ribs of the earth, dry and cracked open forever, where he has been for the last few months, pretending to draw lines on imaginary mud after a deluge of smart showers.  

Although it had not rained one drop for the last several months that he has been here, he would never take off his boots for even a minute and would often look up at the pale blue sky marked by a fleet of sailing white clouds and nod in anticipation of rain. His eyes would have a twinkle at such times, as though he quite approved of the schedule of the rain-god.  

When they asked him about it, he said, looking far and his face sombre, “It rains ten months a year there. It’s best to be in the right attire. Equipped. Prepared.”


He remained silent for long, tweaking his fingers and squeezing the sides of his finger-nails and then finally said in a voice as low as freshly-cropped grass, “At home.”

“And, where is your home?”


“Yes, your home?”

“It is where we all used to be together until they came looking for us.”

One of them asked, more out of curiosity than concern, “Who came looking for you?”

“They. The ones whose eyebrows are knit together in suspicion, whose skin smells of rotten hides, whose fingers have turned crooked, who eat all that they have for dinner lest they don’t live to see the next breakfast.”

Uneasy silence. Then a hushed query, “Who are they?”

John concentrated on scraping a small piece of dirt from the wooden table in front of him and didn’t seem to hear.

Exchange of glances, nudging of elbows.

Finally, another voice, “And why did they come looking for you?”

Throwing his head backwards for a moment, John replied, “They look for whoever is not like them. They make plans for others, they have dreams for others. They live our lives. We treat them with compassion though, for they clearly don’t have their own lives.”

Silence again, followed by the gradual retreat of curious but resigned faces.

Within a few minutes, John was left alone, in his big waterproof boots although the land had seen no rain for the last few months.  


Left to himself, John was a funny person for most of the people most of the time. Fun to watch, fun to interact with, fun to anticipate what he would do next.

For example, he often entertained his neighbours settled on the other side of the grand ditch that divided the town into two unequal parts. Unequal in size, unequal in status, unequal in resources. His unequal neighbours liked to have a good laugh at his quirky ways as long as he stayed on his side of the ditch and didn’t cross over to their side. John never did that. He knew his assigned place. 

“I used to be a curly haired boy when I was a teenager,” he declared one day.

“What happened to your curls as you became a man?” A dozen fun-filled faces asked, already smiling ear to ear in expectation of a funny conversation.

“My curls used to be chow-chow!”

“Chow-chow! What is that?”

“Like roadside noodles, wavy, wavy, wavy, wavy! And you pour Tabasco on it and it’s yummy!” He enacted munching on an endless strip of noodles, his mouth moving vigorously like a regurgitating cow, his arms swimming in the air beside himself.

“Did you eat up your own hair as noodles, John? Where are your curls now?”

“No! I didn’t do anything! They gave us medicines. We changed! Men changed, women changed, our children changed. Our heights changed, our weights changed, our sleep schedules changed, as also our food choices. Our diseases are new, and we make love in new ways too.”

“Oh John, you are so funny!”


“John, what work do you do?” One day a group of men, sitting idly after one more day’s drudgery in front of the desktop screen, asked him.

“I chase away rodents!”

The men looked at each other. “Are there rodents in your colony?” They asked, feeling uncomfortable. They were waiting to get into their fluffy beds after a warm dinner.

“At home, I used to chase away rodents,” John clarified. “Now of course, there are large plantations. Both our homes and our pests have vanished. Whoosh! Gone!” He swept his hand across his chest like the cover drive of a confident batsman.

“What do you do here?”

“I maintain records.”

“Of what?”


“Records of what?”

“Oh, of anything they consider important. I count, I note, I count again, I write everything down. They say they must have records of everything. They love memories of the past, for they have a past.”

“You make us laugh, John!”

“Haha! That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”


John had adjusted well to most things here in the colony set up especially for them. It’s best to take life as it comes, he said to anyone he had a chat with in the colony. Secretly, there was only one thing that hurt him. He wished for the rains to come, heavy rains, insane rains, rains which seep under your skin even when you are indoors, rains which make you cry in unknown delight, in longing for a future which will never be yours, rains which cling to your crushed, dusty soul.

One afternoon as John was bending over a stack of files, he noticed the room getting too dark. He looked up and found the sky unusually black, as though someone had emptied bottles of pesticide on the fertile, moist soil of the plantation fields. He startled and moved to a window, the only one in the room, a minimalist arrangement made by the employers so that the outside scenes would not disturb the employees at the warehouses.   

“Aah, it is raining!” He said dreamily.

In an instant his memory graph went up and down, the past and the present, blurred and lost, erased and altered, suppressed and re-formed. “It’s actually raining, for the first time since I have come here,” he hummed. He glanced at his feet and smiled. “I always knew I would need them one day. I must be prepared for everything.”

Outside the rains had intensified.

“Are you sure it’s your size? They look too big for you.” An amused voice asked. It was John’s manager, from the same community but efficient enough to be promoted to higher ranks.

John took time now to look down at his feet and began inspecting his boots with attention. Then, as though he suddenly remembered a fact of vital importance, he said, animated, “No! These aren’t my size. These are my grandpa’s. He was a huge man.”

“You inherited his boots after he passed away?” There was a mild chuckle in the query, mild but unmistakable.

“Yes, I did, because all else that was there to his life and earthly possessions, they had seized or destroyed. His writings, his files, his pictures, his books. The commander who came on the last day was similarly huge, same size. As they dragged us out and forced us into the police van, I saw the commanding officer try out grandpa’s suits and jackets. He seemed to take a fancy to the stuff and I remember seeing him shoving those inside a carton while his men destroyed the rest of the things. He missed the boots though, these boots.” John pointed his fingers towards his feet. “I picked it up and put it on when no one was looking, for one never knows, I told myself, John, be prepared, anything can happen at any time. They might send you to a place where it rains all the time, like it does at home. Or even if it doesn’t rain on its own, they might make it rain. If they can make men stronger or more immune, women shorter and fatter, children fewer in number and more productive in their warehouses, they can also make it rain where they send you.”

The sense of a joke had gone from the manager’s queries. Taking some time to run over the words in his mind, he asked, “John, do you feel angry about everything that they have done to you?”

“Angry? Not at all. That’s an emotion all of us left back at home. And as long as I have my boots on, I am ready to live life bravely.” He smiled as the sun smiles for a brief while from behind lean clouds which have just finished shedding the raindrops.

“John, do you miss home badly?”

His eyes looked blurred for a moment. Then, as though there was no audience and he was merely talking to himself, he muttered, “We miss home less, we miss our memories of home more. When we were relocated here, they changed not just our future but also our past. We lost our history; we lost our memories. We have difficulty remembering what it is that we have lost. We remember it rains there always, but we can’t recall how the tiny snails used to take shelter on large leaves of low bushy trees. We remember it used to be moist and dripping, but we can’t smell the wet soil anymore. We know our women fried black fish wrapped in betel leaves which our children used to hanker for, yet we can’t recall that tangy taste or name the combination of spices which they used to grind together to make a paste for the gravy. The lines of hills, blue and green and brown, we know for sure form the boundaries of our land, the terrain hilly and rough, and the absent-minded traveller prone to slips and falls, but sadly, we don’t recollect even one of the names of the species of birds which used to migrate from one hill to another, or the tall trees girding our villages. We ask each other, but none of us remembers…”

John moved his lips but there were no words which came out.  

After some time, he spoke up, “We don’t despair though. We make new memories of the present since we have lost our old ones of the past. We have silent parties after work in which we sing and dance and play cards and win medals but they don’t come to know anything. We turn up for work just the same the next morning, energised, charged, having taken our medicines without fail, so they can’t catch us. Most of us have one token memento from the past to carry us through the present.”

He smiled and added, “My boots, for example. I am always prepared, equipped, ready to face a deluge. Look at the way it’s pouring! There will be a flood soon. They don’t know how to wade through flooded lanes, I do. I have no worries, he grinned. We don’t remember much and we are happy. That’s it.”

Booted John had nothing more to say. At least for some time thereafter.


His happy silence skimmed its way into the muddy, marshy, swampy roads through which for the first time in many months rainwater flowed as blood running through the veins spills out when it finds its way out of even the smallest wound.

Shrutidhora P Mohor (she/her; born 1979) is the pen name for Prothoma Rai Chaudhuri, MA PhD, Faculty, Department of Political Science, St Xavier’s College, Calcutta, India. Her literary fiction has appeared in several literary magazines. She was nominated for Best Micro Fiction 2023 and was listed in several competitions like the Bristol Short Story Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Retreat West Annual Prize for short story 2022, the Winter 2022 Reflex Fiction competition, Flash 500, and more.