Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Matchbox

All the other kids were in the playground. She wasn't. I found her on the stairs.
"Zuby, what are you doing here? Why aren't you playing with the others?"
I said while I climbed the stairs. There were about fifty matchboxes spread around her. She was probably counting them when I came looking for her. She tried to hide them but there were too many for her tiny hands.
She was queer. I knew children collected matchboxes, but they often collected empty boxes for their craft work. Zuby, on the other hand, was only interested in matchboxes full of matchsticks. She never did anything with them. She just kept them tucked in a corner of her cupboard. Wherever she found a full matchbox she would nick it.
I went and sat beside her. She quit her attempt to hide the matchboxes and began counting them again.
"One, two, three..."
"Zuby, why do you collect these? Why don't you pick the empty ones?"  I asked.
"Empty ones? But they are of no use. Are they?" She said, perplexed.
I said "No, they aren't of any use to an elder but I think they can be of great use for you. You see you can make many things with empty boxes..."
"But don't you see that is why I need to collect these."She cut me short.
"And how many will you collect?"
"All of them." She said.
"What will you do with them?"
"I will destroy them all. Throw them in the big pond."
I was surprised to hear this. This child took so much pains to gather these boxes so that she could throw them in a river.
"But why do you want to do that? Don't you like your collection?" I asked.
She picked a box which had a small red kangaroo printed on the top.
"Aapa" she said, "Do you see this one?"
I nodded.
"Those bad men I told you about, you remember?"
I nodded again.
"They burnt my house with a matchbox like this one. My Ammi and Abba were still inside, screaming and they laughed. I saw them throw the box aside after they lit my house. I decided then, that I will collect all the matchboxes in the world and throw them in the pond, so that nobody lights anyone's house ever again."
I looked at her, shocked. I tried to read her face. But there was nothing there, only pure innocence. Her sad eyes found mine and gave me a smile. She began counting again.

"One, two, three..."

Monday, 21 July 2014

Another Fairytale



Aurora was pacing up and down her room. She was in an anguished state. She constantly kept looking at her hands and wondered something. She would stop in her tracks every now and then but then resume walking again. What was it that infested her thoughts?
The King had tried to find what troubled his wife but he was not successful. He held meetings with astrologers, magicians and even went to meet the witch who lived on the outskirts of his kingdom. But no one seemed to have any answers. He had finally given up. If it was something really serious she would speak it up. He engaged himself in the affairs of the state.
Aurora had become another woman. She was no longer the fair, graceful queen but a pale, scornful shadow of her former self. Everyone feared her fits of anger and no one wanted to stay in her company for longer than a minute. The King too found her unbearable and started spending longer times in the courtroom with his advisors. It was a dire situation.
One day all his subjects got together to speak with the King. They had a suggestion. It was supposedly her childlessness that was troubling the Queen and so they asked the King to take necessary steps. After they bowed and left the courtroom, the King laughed at his foolishness. It was so important and yet so trivial. He decided to have a talk with Aurora. Apparently it was time she gave an heir to the throne. When he reached her chamber, he found it empty. The whole palace was searched but Aurora could not be found anywhere. The King felt bewildered. Where could she have gone? A close confidante of the Queen reluctantly informed him that she had gone riding in the meadows. The King decided that he could wait till tomorrow and departed to his bed chamber.
                                                                                                ***
Aurora had a lover. She was in love. Again. Or was it for the first time that she was experiencing love. When she reached the small stable beside the green cottage on the river-side she felt a surge of happiness she had not felt before. There he was, smiling serenely waiting for her. She flung herself into his open arms and a moment later kissed him passionately. She wanted to say a thousand things. She wanted to tell him how much she loved him and what he meant to her. But she could only say his name, again and again, as if it was a spell to strengthen this enchantment that had befallen her.
“Jacob”
And in that one word she expressed the universe. She knew he understood. After a while when her passion subsided, Jacob led her to the bank of the river. It was their usual routine. Sometimes they sat at the foot of the hills, sometimes on the bank of the river. Sometimes they sat their silently gazing at the stars, at others he told her of the distant kingdoms he had visited and the wonders that were to be seen in the world. Jacob was not a prince but he had something which even the greatest kings of the world did not have – a free soul. Aurora secretly envied him. She wanted to be like him- a wanderer.
Tonight they sat beside the river. Neither spoke anything till it was time for Aurora to leave. It happened every day. She was growing weary of the palace.
“I do not wish to return Jacob. I want to stay with you. Please take me with you.”
Everyday she said this and everyday Jacob replied the same thing.
“I am no one to take you anywhere Aurora. You should be the one to take yourself anywhere you want.”
Every day she would ask him to run away with her and everyday he would say “But you are still a Queen.”
She never understood what he meant. She had declared a hundred times that she had no desire to be a queen but he always said that she was not ready yet.
How would he understand that she was ready? How can she make herself ready? These were the questions which plagued her mind all the time she was in the palace. Her inability to understand would make her resentful and then she would get into a passion throwing things around, punishing her servants on trivial things. She knew they had begun to call her the mad Queen.
When she returned to the castle after a tearful goodbye with Jacob she was informed by Annabell her faithful servant that the King had called for her. She asked where the King was and when she learned that he was sleeping, she retired to her bed chamber.
But sleep was miles away from her eyes. Sleep. That is what she had done for hundred years.
                                                                                ***
The servants lined up outside the Queen’s private chamber. Listening through the keyhole. The Mad Queen was in one of her fits. She was throwing things around while the King watched her helplessly.
Aurora could hear the whispers of the servants outside her parlor. It was enraging her. Her chest swelled and she drew a sword. The King decided it was time for some action and held her by her waist from behind while trying to wrestle the sword out of her hand. She struggled for a moment and then resigned. The King took a sigh of relief but trouble had only just begun. Aurora began to cry, hot, fat tears gushing out of her eyes like falls from a mountain. She was crying uncontrollably. The King did not know what to do. He decided to leave her alone and moved toward the door but then returned back. He stood irresolutely for a second then softly touched her on her left shoulder “Are you in pain?”
That was the most stupid thing he could think of and yet for Aurora it was of great immense importance.
“Yes…yes…yes” She replied amidst her sobs. “I am in pain. Pain you can never understand Philip.”
He sat down beside her and patted her head.
“I know, I know. I have a solution.”
Aurora looked up, bewildered. What possibly could he suggest to ease her pain?
“You should have a child. You should become a mother!” He exclaimed triumphantly. Poor Philip, he hardly knew that he had renewed Aurora’s anguish.
Aurora looked shocked and her tears stopped falling. She stared blankly at Philip who thought it was a sign of agreement. He kissed her forehead jubilantly and left. Aurora fell into renewed sobs.
                                                                                ***
Aurora knew that Philip cared for her. He might even be in love with her. But she was not. She felt imprisoned. Why was it that she had no choice? She agreed that it was true love that awoke her, but now it was no longer there. The love had faded away in the years of longing for freedom. She longed to see the oceans and wished to visit the end of the world. She would often dream herself on a ship sailing toward an unknown horizon. Once she had told Philip about her dream and he had dismissed it as a childish thought. He had said “Aurora, You are supposed to be a Queen. You are not a vagabond. How can you think of leaving all this behind?”
She remembered how hard she had tried to devote herself to the works of the Kingdom but there was none to be done by a woman. All that was required of her was to dress up in the most exquisite of fabrics and grace everyone with her presence. She tried to do it but it was all so stupid, so vain. She had vague memories of the time when she was a little girl. She would run after butterflies, soak her dress in mud and laugh. She longed for that freedom. Why was it that she had to remain prim and proper all the time? It was these thoughts that slowly drove her mad and induced her with the fits of rage which had now become a part of her personality. There was only one place where she found solace, beside the river bank. It was there when she had met Jacob for the first time. He was a rugged looking tall man. There was nothing handsome about him. In fact he looked like a bandit but there was something which attracted Aurora toward him. He had an air of indifference about him. He looked like he had no care in the world. He was not affected by what others thought of him. They started meeting secretly and gradually Aurora fell in love with him.
                                                                                ***
Aurora decided that it was time for her to come clean about her night time escapades with Philip. She didn’t want to be a mother, not yet and definitely not with Philip’s child.
She was pacing up and down in her chamber when Philip came. It was almost midnight. When Philip first saw her, he was taken aback. There was something different about Aurora today. She looked like a different person altogether. She smiled. He had not seen her smile for what seemed like ages. She came toward him and held his hand. It did not feel right. Something was wrong.
Before he could say anything Aurora shushed him. She began speaking. It felt like she had spoken for hours. All Philip could understand was that she did not want to be a mother and that she was leaving him.
He sat down. He could not understand. Why would she want to leave? After all she had everything. She was the Queen. When he had composed himself he said “Aurora, you cannot leave. You are a queen. How can you leave?”
She smiled politely and said “I can Philip and I am leaving, but you won’t understand.”
And suddenly it dawned on him. He asked “Do you love another?”
She said “Yes” and left the room. Philip remained behind, wondering what she had just said, pondering over what went wrong.
                                                                ***
Aurora was riding her steed, racing toward the familiar cottage beside the river. Her heart began to pound loudly when the cottage slowly came in her sight. She urged her steed to run faster. She did not want to be late anymore. But there was something wrong. The cottage lay in darkness. There was no light. Terrible thoughts began to cloud her mind. Had Philip known all along? Is he behind all this? She shrugged all such thoughts, and rode with hope in her heart. She climbed down her saddle when she reached the fence and reached the gate of the cottage running, tumbling. She cried “Jacob…come out…”
No one replied. There was definitely something wrong. She went inside the cottage and searched for the candle on the wooden rack by the door. The matchstick lay nearby. She lit the candle. The cottage looked fine. There was no sign of any mishap. She heaved a sigh of relief. She sat on the cot. Jacob must have gone to the river. But he did not return for an hour. Aurora was troubled now. She frantically searched for any signs of him, where he might have gone. There was a letter under the pillow. She suddenly had a feeling of foreboding. She opened it with trembling hands.
“Dear Aurora,
First I need to tell you that I love you. Never doubt that, even for a moment in your life. I have loved you like an ocean loves a river, like a mountain loves snow. None is complete without the other and yet they both can exist without the other. I love you and it anguishes my heart to leave you behind. But Aurora you must understand that the thing we both love most is freedom. Freedom is why you love me.
Dear lately I have felt that you have begun to rely on me. I do not want that. You can never find freedom till you stop relying on others. Freedom should come from within. Freedom is in your soul and it should come from within. Not from someone else. Not even from someone you love. Love frees, it does not bind. I know we all have to settle at some part of our life and it is a part of the journey. But it is not the time for me to settle, not yet. I cannot say if it is for you. You will have to look out for yourself.
In all these months I have known you I have learned one thing about you that you love freedom. You love freedom more than you love me. And that’s okay. The love I got from you is enough. But you were beginning to think that I am your key to freedom. No dear I am not. The only person who can truly free you is you, yourself.
Please don’t wait for me. I may not return. Wanderers are not meant to. And don’t waste your time grieving, lamenting for me. Instead use your time to find yourself, your destiny, your freedom. Hope you find the true meaning inside you.
Love Jacob.”
She read and re-read the letter and yet she was not satisfied. She drank his writing with her eyes. She caressed his signature, the last she would ever see. She sat like that for a long time, trying to understand his words.
It was almost dawn when she left the cottage and moved toward the river. It was so serene. She had always liked it here. She still held Jacob’s last letter in her hands. She sat on the rocky riverside and looked at the sun which was beginning to rise from behind the mountain. A pair of doves flew past her into the horizon. Aurora watched them fly till they became small dots against the scarlet sky. She looked at the letter in her hand. And suddenly it all made sense. She understood what Jacob had said.
She stood up. Her steed was grazing nearby. It was time to return to the palace for one last time.
                                                                ***
There was uproar at the palace. Annabell came running to her when Aurora reached the palace. She briefed her about the King’s fits of anger and how he was uttering incoherent things. Aurora told her to stay behind. She went inside the chamber where Philip was waiting, angrily.
He spun around when he heard the door being shut. There she was, taller than she had ever stood before him. He would not let her talk, not this time.
He tried to grab her wrist but she held him aloft with her hand. His anger suddenly began to subside. He was not used to this strong Aurora. All his life he had known his wife to be weak, vulnerable, dependant. What had happened to her?
He said “Aurora, what has got into you? Have you been near that witch?”
Aurora interrupted “Don’t call her that. She is a woman like me like any other you know.”
Philip swallowed then began again “Ok. Whatever you say dear, whatever pleases you. Tell me what has changed you? You said that you love another but how can you? Don’t you remember? I kissed you. I woke you up from your enchanted sleep.”
Aurora looked at him. There was pity in her eyes but she did not interrupt him this time.
He continued “Wasn’t it prophesied that you will be woken up by only true love’s kiss? Wasn’t it my kiss, your true love that woke you up?”
He looked at her questioningly. He waited for her to answer. Aurora looked in his eyes, then held his hand and motioned him to sit on the bed. She then went to the window and opened the curtains.
It was time for her to say, to make Philip understand before she goes on her journey.
She began “Philip do you see that mountain at the end of our kingdom?” She pointed out of the window.
Philip nodded affirmative.
She asked “Do you know what lies beyond that?”
Philip said “No.”
Aurora again asked him “Have you ever in your life wanted to know what is beyond that mountain or where does the river Thelma comes from?”
Philip looked bewildered. What was the point of these questions. He said “No. But Aurora…”
She interrupted him “I have. I have wanted to know all this and much more since the first day I came here as your bride. I want to see the world, Philip. I never had the opportunity. I was asleep for hundred years and things changed and I didn’t know. I still don’t know. But I want to.”
She paused for words, kinder ones to make it less painful for Philip. “When you woke me up I had no idea who you were, I didn’t know what might be waiting outside for me. I was like a newborn Philip. So when you asked me to marry you I said yes. I was scared, not prepared. I never wanted to be a Queen, I  wanted to be a wanderer Philip, a vagabond. “
She was facing the sun now.  She turned back toward him.
“When you say that it was true love’s kiss that woke me up, you are right but Philip it was not your love that woke me up. It was my love for freedom that woke me up.”
Philip was now beyond bewilderment. He did not understand a word that Aurora said. He looked at her shocked. He could only say “What do you mean? I am not your true love?”
She smiled again and said “No Philip. You are not. I had been asleep for hundred years and my heart longed for freedom. It fluttered when you came along. You became the medium for my freedom, Philip. You know Philip my heart, inside of me, it is of a vagabond. I cannot stay at one place for a long time and I was forced to, for hundred years.” She paused. “I may be wrong. May be you are my true love. But it does not feel right at the moment. I am suffering and I am making you suffer. You are a King, Philip. You have a kingdom to look after and I dare say you despise it. But I am not a Queen. I never was. I hope you will understand. I am going and I need you to not come after me. I may return some day but that day is nowhere near. I give you right to remarry and have children. I won’t despise you for moving on. But please don’t wait for me.  I am a wanderer and Wanderers don’t return.”
With this she turned away from him. She knew that Philip won’t stop her now and someday he will understand. She did not feel the need to pack her belongings. She just walked outside the palace barefoot, toward the stable. Her steed would be her only companion on her journey.


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Rain in the City

Rain in the city



It  was  pouring  heavily. A woman  was  looking  in  to  the  night  through  her  window. She  turned  to  reveal  a  well  lit  drawing  room  in  a  high  rise  apartment. A  man  was  sitting  on  a  desk  in  a  corner  writing  by  the  light  of  a  table  lamp. The  woman  came  toward  him.
“Madhav, what  are  you  doing?”
“Nothing.”
“You  never  have  time  for  me.”
He  did  not  reply. She  grew  impatient.
“Madhav, what  is  your  problem?”
“What  is  your  problem  Vaani?”
“Talk to  me.”
“Okay. Say what do you want to say.”
“It’s raining heavily outside.” Madhav resumed his writing.
“Hmmm”
“You are not listening.”
“I am listening.”
“What did I say then?”
“It’s raining heavily.”
“So?”
“So what? What can we do about it?”
“Don’t you feel anything? There is a storm out there. God knows how many huts will be destroyed. How many families will suffer.”
“Are you feeling sad?”
“Aren’t you?”
“No.”
“No?” She was bewildered at his insensitive demeanour.
“Now before you draw any conclusion, let me tell you something. Universe has its own rule. Everything is balanced out. So if there is destruction somewhere, somewhere else there is creation. So I am not sad, because I know this rain might destroy something but it will create something beautiful too.”
“You and you philosophies. You know what write your stupid story.”
She went over to the armchair and stood there irresolutely. She came back after a few seconds.
“Shall I switch off the lights?”
“Why?” he asked.
“You can write by the lamp light. Why keep all the lights on? There is enough light coming from the lamp.”
“No. I don’t like the darkness. See there is enough darkness outside. We need to balance it out, Universe’s rule.” He finished his sentence with a chuckle. He knew this would annoy his wife the most.
“Madhav...” Her sentence was cut short by a phone’s ring. Madhav’s phone was ringing.
“Hello..” Someone said something from the other side.
“Yes it’s me.” A pause. “What? When?”
The other person took some time explaining.
“Okay. Okay. What can we do now? Wait for her to calm down.” Another  pause.
“Yes, yes. I know. Bye.”
“Who was it?” asked Vaani.
“Agni. Swadha discovered about Malini.”
“What? How? This had to happen. I knew it. How long did Agnivesh thought he could hide about Malini. What did he say?”
“Not to tell you anything.”
“Wha..”
“Calm down now.”
“How did she find out anyways?”
Agni and Swadha’s story
Swadha was returning from an emergency operation when she got stuck in the rain. Somewhere a road had washed out and the traffic was being diverted to another route. She kept on looking at the watch on her dashboard. It was already 9 in the evening. She was really late. She dialled Agni’s number on her phone. It was out reach. Now she was feeling really frustrated.
The traffic was moving slowly and there was no way she could reach home before 11. Signal tuned to red again. She swore loudly. Suddenly she remembered a short cut nearby. All she had to do was to take a left from the next cut instead of going straight. She remembered the route well. When the signal turned green she sped toward the cut. No longer had she tuned left she realised her mistake. The road was clogged with water and a few vehicles were trying to make their way slowly. She cursed her fate. She could not go back as there was no U-turn around and the street she had left was already jam packed with cars. She decided to brave her way on this road. Driving slowly she made her way through to the t-point. From there she turned into a deserted road. She drove quickly but fate had other things in store for her.
She had moved a few hundred metres ahead when her car broke down. She tried to restart it but her efforts went in vain. She opened the car door and climbed down. This move sealed her fate. She had kept her phone in her lap after she last tried Agni’s number and completely forgot about it. Her phone fell with a thud in the murky rain water below. This time she swore loudly. She bent down and picked her phone from the water. The phone had switched off. She tried to restart it but her phone too ditched her. She suppressed an instant urge to cry loudly. She looked around to see for some help. No car was coming this way. She was all alone on this street. She began to feel scared. After all crime against women was not new in the Capital. There were houses on the other side of the street. She decided to go and ask for help in one of them. She picked her bag, locked her car and made her way to the nearest house. She read the name-plate. It belonged to some Mr. Kakkar. She went towards the second house. The name-plate read Miss Sahay. She pressed the door bell.
A few minutes later she heard someone open the door. A woman stood in the doorway. Swadha could not see her face as she was standing against the light. Had she seen her face she would have known something was wrong. She began telling her plight to the woman and that she only needed to use the phone. She had finished speaking when she heard a man’s voice from behind the woman.
“Who is it Malini?”
The voice was oddly familiar. The man came closer. Things could not have gone more wrong that day. There in front of her stood Agni, wearing a bath robe. Swadha stood there stupefied. Staring from the woman to Agni. Agni could not speak anything for a minute then he regained his consciousness.
“I can explain everything. I WILL explain everything Swadha.” Said he.
“Oh, will you now?” Swadha said in a tone mixed with fury and sarcasm. “I think I should let you two enjoy.” She grabbed the door handle and slammed it shut in their face.
                                    .                       .                       .
“So that’s how Swadha found out about Agni and Malini.” said Madhav.
“And where is Swadha?” asked Vaani.
“She called the cops. They gave her a lift home. She is very angry.”
“She should be and Agnivesh deserves it. It was only a matter of time before they separated.”
“Make me a cup of coffee.”
“No.”
“Please.”
Vaani went to the kitchen. She put the kettle on the burner. It had begun to drizzle now. She looked at the drops which fell on the window pane. They were making a curious pattern. Vaani lost herself in thoughts. Her stupor was broken by the whistle from the kettle. She made coffee and returned to the drawing room.
“Madhav I was thinking.”
“What were you thinking now?”
“That thing you said about Universe’s rule. So according to you everything is balanced out. How will the universe balance this out?”
“What?”
“A couple got separated today. A little love lost. How will this get balanced?”
“Wait and see. Universe has all the answers.”
Vaani smiled. Madhav always had a way with words. She looked at the sheet of paper Madhav had finished writing on.
“What’s this....wait a second. Isn’t this Agni and Swadha’s story?”
“Yes it is.”
“What are you? Mad. You wrote a story about them? What do you...” She was cut short by a phone’s ring. Her phone was ringing.
“Hello.”
The person from the other side sound very excited.
“Really. Wow. When did it happen?” asked Vaani.
A pause in which the other person launched into an explanation.
“I am so happy for you. Why don’t you come over tomorrow?”
Another pause.
“Yes, yes. Indeed. He took a long time though. Congratulations dear. Bye.”
She disconnected the call.
“It was Siya, Raghav finally proposed her for marriage.”
“Nice.”
“Nice? That’s it.” She said impatiently. “Aren’t you happy for them?”
“Yes I am.”
“Sometimes I fail to understand you.”
“What is it that you don’t understand?”
“You were rooting for Raghav to propose Siya and now that he has done it all you have got to say is Nice?”
Madhav began to laugh.
“What are you laughing about?”
“See. There is your Universe’s rule working.”
Vaani paused,then he too started laughing.
“Now you will write a story on them too.”
“Yes, I will.”
Raghav and Siya’s Story
It was pouring heavily when Siya got stuck in the heavy traffic jam on the outer ring road. There was no way she could reach her hotel on time. Everyone around in their cars was honking to their best possible capacity. It was highly irritating. She could have been sitting in the warm, cosy bed of her hotel room but here she was drenched in rain, listening to the crash sound of car horns. She laid her head on the steering wheel and cursed the moment she had decided to step out of her hotel room. She wanted to talk to someone. She picked up her phone and dialled the first number that came to her mind. When she saw the name on her screen she smiled to herself. It was so obvious and yet so unexpected. Raghav was just a friend and yet whenever she needed a shoulder or needed to hear a reassuring voice his name was the first to come in mind.  She waited for the call to get connected. A ring went through and the call got disconnected. A message flashed on the screen “I am in a meeting. Call you later.” She felt disappointed. Then she typed a message “I am stuck. I need you.” and sent it. After she had hit the send button, she realized what she had written. She hit her head on the steering wheel.
“Why oh why? Why did I write that?”
Another message flashed on her screen “Where are you?”
“Near the MG Road flyover.”
There was no more message. She turned on the radio. A romantic number was playing. Siya smiled to herself. Atleast something was good today. Call it her luck or  coincidence the radio channel kept on playing her favourite numbers. Soon she was singing at the top of her voice. Suddenly someone tapped on her car window. She jumped with a start.
“RAGHAV......oh thank god its you. You scared me.”
“What are you doing here? You were supposed to be in your hotel room.”
“Yes Aarti needed some help in shopping. She went to the airport and I stayed back to have dinner. Now I am stuck.”
She realized Raghav was still standing in the rain.
“Oh I am so sorry. Come in.” She opened the car door for him. He settled in the seat next to her.
“I love that song” said Raghav about the song playing on the radio.
“Where’s your car?”
“I left it in the parking of the Metro mall, two streets down from here.”
“And you walked all the way down here?”
“I had to. I couldn’t drive in this jam, could I?” he paused then said “How come you are alone?”
“What do you mean?” asked Siya and almost instantly realized that he had been asking about the page 3 news about her. Some tabloid had reported that she was dating a rich hotelier.
“That’s rubbish. You don’t believe that. Do you? Because...” she said impatiently.
“Because?”
“Nothing. What are you doing here? Weren’t you in a meeting?”
“Yeah. You were stuck right. And I couldn’t leave you alone, could I?”
“Well, you could if you wanted to.”
“But I didn’t because...” An awkward silence fell between them.  
A moment later Siya asked “because?”
They both fell silent again. Suddenly Raghav turned toward her and looked into her eyes. What he said next was what Siya had been waiting to hear for a long time.
“Will you marry me, Siya?”
“What?”
“Never mind.”
“No. I mean yes.”
“But Siya I am neither an hotelier nor a business man. I am mediocre. I am just a manager...”
Siya cut him short. “Wait. Why do you think so much? If it really bothers you I will leave all this. I did not ask to be an heiress. I don’t even want to be. I just want to be happy... with you.”
She paused. They looked at each other. Siya began to say something. Raghav shushed her. There was a lifetime worth of time to talk.
                                    .                       .                       .

“So that’s... Siya and Raghav’s story.”
“Why don’t you give it a rest, all this writing.”
“Why are you annoyed?”
“Well, you never write a story about me?” Said Vanni laughingly.
“Maybe I have already written one.” Madhav said sheepishly.
“What! Really. Show me.”
“It’s getting late.”Madhav left his chair yawning. “I will show you some other time.”
They switched off the lights and darkness fell.




Thursday, 5 June 2014

A Page from a Diary




Divya was standing alone on the platform. The big clock at the end was showing that it was quarter to eleven and she was late. It was either her imagination or the metro indeed was late today. It was still 6 minutes before the next metro was due to arrive.  She had had yet another row with her mother minutes before leaving. She was now getting fed up of all these arguments. She did not want to think about what her mother had said and so tried to register the few passengers who were standing on the platform. An old woman was resting on the iron railing on the other side trying to cool herself off with the pallu of her saree. A few college students were loitering here and there, presumably waiting for some friend. A woman was walking up the stairs with her small daughter in tow, on her side of the platform. Divya began to look at her, not out of curiosity but out of sheer boredom.
The woman was carrying a number of bags in one hand and held onto her daughter with the other hand. When she reached the platform she settled herself on one of the chairs beneath the large clock. No sooner had she placed her bags on the chair beside her that her daughter began to cry. The woman tried to calm her down but the child seemed too adamant on something. The woman finally resigned and stood up. She picked up her daughter and then with some difficulty picked all her bags too. Then she began to walk slowly down the platform. The child stopped crying immediately. Divya felt surprised at how the woman was able to carry all the bags and her daughter all at the same time in her hands.
“It must be so difficult”, thought Divya “but then mothers are supposed to be that way, aren’t they? Always doing the most difficult things to keep their children happy.”
 Suddenly Divya began to feel remorse for quarrelling with her mother. After all whatever she said was for her own good. Her mother had gone against the whole family to make sure Divya could follow her dream of becoming a dancer. And here she was always at loggerheads with her mother.
“I will just say sorry and...” Her train of thoughts was broken by the swishing sound made by the arriving metro. It came to a halt and the door of the ladies compartment opened in front of her. She entered the compartment and found a few seats were empty. This line of metro was usually less crowded than the others. She searched for a corner seat and settled in it. The mother daughter duo from the station boarded the same compartment and had settled in a seat opposite her. Their eyes suddenly locked and Divya smiled at her, a smile of gratitude toward all mothers.
                                                     .     .     .
Madhvi had become a housewife the day she learned of her pregnancy. Her husband Keshav earned enough to support the family and sponsor a yearly vacation to some remote place. Her life was good. It was only fair that she quit her job when the baby was due to arrive. But she missed her job, her workplace. It felt like her life lacked purpose. Once Sana began to go to playschool, Madhvi’s restlessness began to grow. It was not the anxiety of a mother from being away from her child. It was an emptiness, a blank space in her heart. The feeling was particularly high today so she decided to step out and visit her childhood friend in Greater Kailash. The driver had been summoned at the office by Keshav so Madhvi decided to take the metro.
Soon she realised it was a terrible decision. Madhvi was carrying four bags laden with Sana’s toys, other essentials and a few gifts for Priya and her twins. It was already difficult managing all the bags when Sana decided that he could not walk anymore and Madhvi must carry her and stroll around. Madhvi felt irritated with her daughter. Sana would just not stop crying. She was about to slap her when her eyes fell on the young woman a few yards away looking at them. She restrained herself and picked Sana up. It was difficult but she knew she could not slap Sana here, not when that girl was looking her.
People judge. All they know is to judge others. Who cares if her daughter was indeed annoying her? Who cares if she could no longer find a purpose in life? All people knew was to judge, to say that she slapped her innocent daughter. Will they ever know what a brat her daughter is?
By the time metro arrived Madhvi was bitter. She entered the compartment and found a vacant seat. She arranged her bags before her. Sana climbed in the adjacent seat and began looking at the dreary scenery outside. The girl from the platform was sitting opposite her. Their eyes met and she gave her a pleasant smile. Madhvi too forced a smile on her lips.
She looked around at other women sitting in the compartment. She looked at their faces. Each looked at peace with their life. Madhvi began to feel more discontented. The metro halted at the next station. An old woman entered and just in tow was a veiled woman. The veiled woman was pregnant. The old woman looked uncertainly around the compartment and spotted a vacant seat in the same row as Madhvi. She asked other women to shift a little a make room for her daughter-in-law as well. The two women sat with some difficulty. The old woman was ranting about how women nowadays ran to doctors for the smallest problems. Soon she began chatting with the elderly lady sitting next to her. The old woman seemed to be obsessed with the idea of having a grandson. The woman was talking so loudly that Madhvi could hardly miss out any of her words. The old woman told the other woman that she had three grand-daughters and this would be her fourth grand-child. She was hoping vehemently that this time her daughter-in-law delivered a grandson. She had had enough of daughters in her house.
Madhvi began to feel pity for the veiled woman. What kind of life she had where the value of her whole existence was weighed by her capability of giving birth to a son. She looked at the veiled woman, sitting silently beside her mother-in-law, making no movement, no retort, silently accepting all that her mother-in-law heaped on her. She felt her heart ache. Suddenly she realised how fortunate she was. Her family loved Sana and Keshav’s whole life revolved around her. Madhvi, herself felt that her in-laws had become more protective toward her after she had given birth to Sana. And to her? To her she meant the whole world and beyond. She suddenly felt a twinge of guilt for wanting to slap her daughter. After all kids her age wanted, rather needed their parents’ attention. And it was not Sana’s fault that she quit her job. It was her independent choice.
She suddenly bent forward and kissed Sana on the forehead. Sana gave a jubilant cry and kissed Madhvi on her cheeks in return. Madhvi’s eyes suddenly met with the old woman’s and she gave her a defiant smile.

                                                .       .       .


Bhavri had faced many tribulations in life. On every step she had to bear the consequences of being a girl. She was taken out of school when she was eight and found herself toiling in the kitchen learning tricks of making sumptuous meals to please her prospective in-laws. When she was fifteen she found herself betrothed to an unknown man and only two years later she came to know that her husband’s name was Mukhiya Jadhav. Married into a family of twelve members, and being the eldest daughter-in-law Bhavri spent most of her next three years in her new home in the kitchen cooking, cleaning and tending to old grand parents-in-law. And then her child bearing years began. Her first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and during the second time she gave birth to a dead child. In the third attempt she gave birth to a girl. Her in-laws were not happy but they did not crib much as the girl was the first to survive. They took it as a sign that others would follow. She gave birth to two more girls before she had Bhuvan. She had to bear a lot of taunts and abuse until God decided to put Bhuvan in her lap. Her life did not improve much after that but the looming fear of a co-wife did vanish away. Subsequent years were difficult. After marrying off all her daughters to grooms her husband selected, she finally set on her quest to find a suitable daughter-in-law for herself. Her dreams however were thwarted when she realised her mother-in-law had already zeroed in on a girl from the neighbouring village. The girl now sat beside her.
Bhavri had a bitter life but she resolved that she wouldn’t let her daughter-in-law go through the hell she went through. When the first grand-daughter arrived Bhavri was overjoyed. She could see the shadow of her own daughters in the little one. She was determinant that her grand-daughter will not be neglected in the same way as her daughters. It was a blow when her daughter-in-law refused to breast feed the little girl calling her an unfortunate wretch. She wanted, she had hoped for a son and this girl had soiled all her dreams. Birth of two more girls embittered her daughter-in-law further. She distanced herself from her children. She came from a family of five brothers and in her growing years had heard the importance of bearing sons. 
Bhavri’s daughter-in-law soon began to wane away. It was the fear of the worst which made Bhavri wish fervently that God put a son in her daughter-in-law’s lap. To keep her daughter-in-law happy and make her agreeable, Bhavri started reiterating her views. When the mother would be away, she would pamper the little girls and in front of her she pretended to scold them. How difficult it was for her nobody knew. Her family, too, found the daughter-in-law in the right foot. After all what good would it bring to love a daughter? Daughters only lighten their father’s purse.
The woman beside her had stopped talking. Bhavri began looking around. Her eyes rested on the little girl looking out the metro window. She reminded Bhavri of her own youngest grand-daughter. She looked intently at the little girl and was reminded of the promise she had made to her own grand-daughters to bring toys from the big city for them. The mother of the little girl suddenly bent forward and kissed her. The small scene between the mother and daughter filled Bhavri’s heart with light. Her eyes met with the eyes of the mother, she smiled at Bhavri. Her smile said a lot. Bhavri suddenly felt weakened and humiliated. She just stared back at the woman. And as sudden as the kiss between the mother-daughter duo, it dawned on Bhavri that she must stop pretending. She must stand up for the happiness of her grand-daughters who are so conveniently ignored by their own mother. She would not let history repeat. Her grand-daughters will not have the same fate as her own daughters.
She pulled her eyes away from the woman and looked in the other direction. A young girl was sitting across from her. A young girl, travelling alone, sitting independently this is what her grand-daughters will become. The girl suddenly looked up. Bhavri smiled at her, a smile of hope.

Divya smiled back. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Married Woman

You can change my clothes, but not my mind,
Put a veil on my face and yet my thoughts will shine bright.
The red color on my forehead can't stop me
From my journey beyond the sun.
It's just a mark of my oncoming adventure.
Those glass circles can not hold my wrists
They are just markers of colors in my life.
The silver anklet can not stop me,
They are the clarion for my movement ahead.
Don't assume I can be imprisoned
'Cause I am free in my mind.
Don't you see, the old order crumbles
And in this new world
My writings will make a place for me. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

"The Saint" and "The Sinner"



The Saint

Here she comes
Gullible and naive.
Young like a rose bud
Wandering like a honey bee.
She comes to me
Running and laughing
For chocolates and sweets
For new stories I promised her.
Today I teach her
the lessons of Body.
"Come my precious
Oh! lets hurry."
I give her pleasure
And yet she cries
"Shh! My honey
Don't tell this to mummy."
She backs away
Step by step on her little feet.
I am not worried
Of what she may bleat.
The world knows
I am a Saint.

The Sinner

Look at the saint they are celebrating
With his heavenly smile.
They say he speaks gold
And thinks like an angel.
He is a modern man
With modern ideas.
He made lives with his gestures
He changed lives with his gestures.
He is my terrible past
Lurking in shadowy corners of my mind.
He dwells there, wandering
Waiting for his time
To pounce on my thoughts
Like he did, on my body years ago.
Look at the happy faces
That surround him
Of friends and family
Of people close to my heart.
They smile and adore him
And it stifles my voice.
My voice gets lost
In the celebration.
I sit in a corner and cry
I am the sinner.