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Have You Met the Phantom of My Life’s Opera?

By 20/10/2023books
the phantom of my life's opera is here

This edition of WEP Writing Challenge is a prompt fiction based on “Phantom of the Opera”

As usual, I’ve used characters from my writing universe: from upcoming literary thriller, THE BLUE MONSOON. It releases on the 24th October–wish me luck!

——–So here’s my WEP entry, a prompt fiction flash piece I’ll feature only here on this site.

(I set a timer for half an hour, and cleaned up the results–this is part of my practice to not take myself too seriously and recklessly put up quick sketches for the world to see. These snippets of prompt-fiction show aspects of the story only hinted at in the novel. When you read the book, you’ll recognize the characters, and the voices will (hopefully)  blend into the tapestry of the book. If you want more such vignettes, look up Blue Mumbai Stories.)

Damyanti Biswas © 2023

TAGLINE: Things only begin with mistakes. That’s not where they end. 


You lot, you. You think of old age as a failure, and youth some sort of achievement.

You know, don’t you, that it’s coming for all of us? Old age, I mean. Also, death. And disfigurement, if you’re not careful. I wasn’t careful and yet survived with a few bruises and broken bones, but that’s a story for another time.

For now this is what you need to know: it all started with a mistake, as many things do.

My sister married the wrong man. He was low-caste, but good looking, the poor bastard. I’m not high-caste myself, and I don’t mean to curse–he actually didn’t know who his parents were. His smile made women turn around and giggle, covering their faces with their hands. By the time my sister married him, and left the village to come stay in our chawl in Mumbai, that smile had curdled into a sneer.

He beat her, but she said that was no reason to leave him. Most men in our tenement beat women, and so what. She asked me, a priest at the Kaali temple, to pray for her husband’s well-being. A better temperament. As if my fierce-eyed, long-tongued goddess cared about such things–my Ma Kaali can swear and kill with the best of them. She’s the dark vengeance incarnate after all, the slayer of wicked demons. I burned incense and prayed for her to take him. I rang bells, clanged cymbals, and prayed for deliverance for my sister.

At any rate, my brother-in-law’s temperament grew worse, aided along by cheap liqour. He and I got into shouting matches. He always won, because he was married to my sister. By the time their son was about to be born, my sister spent more time working even at nine months pregnant than her no-longer-good-looking wastrel husband.

The goddess Kaali in her wisdom listened to my prayers and took him away one night, snuffing out his life with an affectionate puff of air. My brother-in-law walked out in a storm, and was blown off the roof. Or he lurched off, who knows. He fell neatly into a wheelbarrow parked near the dustbin, and waited, quite dead, for us to find him and take him for cremation.

His son entered this world soon after, wailing his lungs out. Many said it was the father re-incarnated into the son, but I didn’t agree.

The infant took after my sister: her snub nose, her thick head of hair, her tendency towards misfortune.

My sister died a few nights later, while still feeding her baby.  Ma Kaali is a capricious goddess, who knows why she wanted my sister.

The tiny nephew nearly choked, but my wife heard his cries, and that’s how we found my inert sister. My wife said there was a man loitering in the corridor when she rushed there. He looked like the infant’s father.

But he’s dead, I protested. My wife would have none of it. I know what I saw, she said, and that was that.

From then on, many people caught glimpses of the phantasm, my dead un-dead brother-in-law. Whispers raced through the chawl: those who saw him would die soon.

I named the boy Ram Chandra, after Lord Ram, another powerful slayer of demons. I lay my hand on his soft head and swore to protect him. To no avail. My nephew was ever-terrified–he saw this scary man, he said, as soon as he could speak. The good-looking man with angry eyes.

At sixteen, he ran away from home with a bunch of disheveled, drugged-up tantric monks. There wasn’t a thing I could do about it, because a priest can hardly abandon his temple and his family to run after a determined, wayward, possessed boy. So I prayed to Ma Kaali and waited.

Sure enough, my goddess has a sense of humor. Ram Chandra returned, a full-fledged tantric, a passionate devotee of Ma Kaali.

That proved to be both his calling, and his ruin.

As a tantric he earned some money–people trusted his promises because he was my nephew, the nephew of a temple priest. He saw the phantom, who he now knew to be his father. I cursed it, but I couldn’t remove it from our lives.

You lot have no clue the trials I went through for my Ram Chandra’s sake, but what I was supposed to do–I couldn’t save my sister, was I supposed to abandon her son, too? You’re here for one crime or another, but you understand family, don’t you? All of you have family, of one sort or another.

My Ram Chandra flew into rages–always when he saw the phantasm, his dead father haunting his days and nights–but my nephew harmed no one, at least no one I’d heard of. He was irresponsible, ungrateful, but no–I don’t think he ran from the police lock-up because he’s a murderer.

I know my nephew is in that cell opposite, where they put under-trials, and he might confess if they give him a good going-over with the police baton, but I don’t think it will end like this. His phantom father might goad him, bully him to admit to a crime he didn’t commit, but things only begin with mistakes. That’s not where they end.

Ma Kaali is as compassionate as she’s capricious, and I’m her priest. You wait and watch, all of you.

In the end, if you stick with your family, if you make fun of no one, certainly not an old fat bastard like me, it all turns out all right.

By morning, when the inspector who put us here comes in, I’ll tell him a few things I’ve been keeping to myself. I’ll beg the police if I have to, because I don’t think I’ll last another night here.

I see my brother-in-law, and you can too–look, there, at the end of the corridor, that bit of darkness that moves against the shadows. He’s here. The phantom of my life’s opera is here.

If you’d like to meet this character in THE BLUE MONSOON, all details and pre-order links are here. If you’re in the US you can also enter the GOODREADS GIVEAWAY–it ends soon. This will support the book at no cost to you!

Do you read or write flash fiction? Do you feel intrigued about this character, like him or hate him? Have you read any of the Blue Mumbai novels?

My literary crime novel, The Blue Bar is on Kindle Unlimited now. Add it to Goodreads or snag a copy to make my day. The sequel, The Blue Monsoon is up for pre-orders! And if you'd like to read a book outside the series, you can check out You Beneath Your Skin. All info about my books on my Amazon page or Linktree.

My literary crime novel, The Blue Bar is on Kindle Unlimited now. Add it to Goodreads or snag a copy to make my day. The sequel, The Blue Monsoon is on Goodreads, and now available for preorders! Signed copies are available in these independent bookstores. And if you’d like to read a book outside the series, you can check out You Beneath Your Skin.  Find all info about my books here or on Linktree.
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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Kalpana says:

    Damyanti! That was delicious! So well written – and in half an hour! Thanks for a great read.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thank you, and I’m sure you recognize the priest and his nephew!

  • An excellent and gothic themed tale, shaped by your culture. Well done, Damyanti.

  • Olga Godim says:

    What a powerful story. I wonder: what have the priest done for his family?

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – Dead un-dead BIL … kept on being seen … no wonder there were whispers. Then being a priest you could only do what you could for your nephew …
    Yes – I have family … thankfully I have no phantom of my life’s opera …
    Interesting tale for the WEP prompy … with much to ponder on – cheers Hilary

  • You captured the essence of belief systems in the crowded hutments around major populations in India and certainly in remote villages there so it was not imagination but rather observation that prompted you to write this.

  • cleemckenzie says:

    This is my third try. Security is good, but there’s a point where it blocks everything and defeats the purpose of using the Internet. Sheesh! Anyway, loved the piece you wrote. It was a great take on the theme with a very different cultural perspective.

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I loved this piece on this month’s WEP theme. Excellent take from the east Indian perspective.

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I’m still not able to comment, or if my comments are going through, I don’t see them. I loved this piece on this month’s WEP theme. Excellent take from the east Indian perspective.

  • C. Lee McKenzie says:

    A wonderful take on this theme. Such a great read!

  • Denise Covey says:

    Damyanti, happy birthday and book release on the 24th. I hope this one is bigger and better than your others. You’ve worked so hard and deserve success yet again.

    Thank you for your the Phantom of My Life’s Opera story. Loved it, loved the cultural aspects I didn’t fully understand at times. Both a tragic and hopeful story, which is what the POTO is all about.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – a tale only you could tell … sad, and in many ways true I’m sure … I do hope the Phantom of My Life’s Opera’s not here … but I’m no priest … believe it or not?! Good luck for the 28th … Cheers Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks so much, Hilary. You’re always so encouraging :). And thanks for the luck, I need all of it. The book releases on the 24th, my birthday.

  • Pat Garcia says:

    An engaging story of a man’s phantom within himself. I wonder did he ever find peace within himself.
    Well done.
    Shalom shalom

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thank you, Pat. As to whether he found peace, you might have to check out The Blue Monsoon 🙂

  • Jemi Fraser says:

    You pack so much power into your words! I do NOT want that phantom in my life!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks, Jemi. This is a raw first draft, spooky Halloween in Mumbai–something like my A to Z stories written with the help of a kitchen timer and a certain brazen shamelessness.

  • Ornery Owl says:

    An amazing, powerful story. I enjoyed every word.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Cara. It was a quick exercise, so I’m pleased it entertained you.

  • I wonder as I read this how many of us have our own phantoms…
    And also wonder (perhaps my mind is leaping further than it should) just how much the narrator knows or suspects about the death of his brother in law. Thank you so much for this vignette, which puts yet more flesh on the bones of your story.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Your mind makes all the right leaps is all I can say, Sue. Thanks so much for reading. I’m happy my backstory snippet intrigued you. It is my way of expanding the Blue Mumbai universe.

  • Sonia Dogra says:

    Loved how you took this piece to the end. The last couple of paragraphs gave me goosebumps.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks! It’s tricky with these stories: I can’t give spoilers to the book, it must be in the Blue Mumbai universe, follow the prompt, and (hopefully, lol) make sense.

  • Shilpa Gupte says:

    Hey, did you receive my comment?

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, it came through fine, thank you. I hope my blog isn’t in a comment blocking mode again…sigh. Some people DMed me saying they couldn’t comment on your guest post 🙁 –not sure why.

  • Shilpa Gupte says:

    The voice in this piece stunned me, D. I was right there, in the scene, where the priest, his nephew and every other person saw the phantom. I saw him too!
    I love how you create the atmosphere in every piece you write, even if it is a quick sketch, as you call it.
    Much love and bestest wishes for the book <3

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks, Shilpa. It was just a quick writing exercise, and I don’t think it will get another coat of polish–but to anyone who’s read the book, it is a fair bit of backstory that I never could include in the body of a thriller 🙂

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