Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Farewell Children, May You Find a Better Place!

               My son rides his bicycle, smiling next to me, uttering gibberish. He is singing a rhyme he learnt recently and now he has totally jumbled it. He giggles when he passes by. When he comes again, he notices my stare and looks enquiringly. I hold him in a tight embrace, a tear trickles down unknowingly.
            Somewhere in the land of enemies (or so are we told) hundreds of kids are killed.  
            I try to imagine the assassins. They would have planned it meticulously. Months ago they would have selected target; months ago they would have decided to slaughter these kids. During nights, or in the time of leisure when they not working hard for their chosen deed, they would have been with their family. Did their children recite rhyme in gibberish? Before leaving, would they have kissed their children on forehead, like parents do before dropping wards at school?
          They would have checked their ammunition, lifted their guns and started for school. Would they have carried one bullet for each kid? On reaching school, they would have taken positions, loaded their gun and started firing. Would they have smiled after hitting target? A small skull opened from middle, blood oozing and a white school uniform turning red. Bull’s eye! Bravo!
          I try to calm myself. It is a far far place. What it means to me? My eyes do not relent and tears start tricking in. I curse them from the bottom of my heart. My curse is as sincere as anything can be. I can feel the heaviness of heart of bereaved families. May you rot in hell! If this is religion, no man can have anything to do with it. I feel ashamed to be a fellow human being. We failed you kids, we seriously did. You deserved a better place.   
         My son senses that there is something wrong. He insists on playing with him. This time it is clay castle and I am asked to plan it properly. Trust me son, I will not fail you! 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Till We Meet…


Dear Vidya,
Pardon me that I did not write for many days, the work is keeping me engaged and I had a hectic week. I had gone to Haridwar and Dehradun to finalize a deal. Yes, it was necessary to go; you know I hate travel. There was a day to spare and I rushed to Mussorie. I stayed in the same ‘Padmini Resort’, the old heritage hotel where we stayed during our honeymoon. It is not like it used to be; they have done away with the wooden dining room and small concrete cubicles have come up in its place. You do not see many people but the place is noisier than before.  
View from hotel’s balcony is still the same. You see snow-capped mountains shimmering during the day and expanse of valley beneath. At night you see bright lights at Dehradun and the city appears twinkling with Christmas bulbs, as if you have risen above the star studded nocturnal sky. The balcony has a swing, though you have to resist cold wind to enjoy it. I could not sleep thinking about those days.
We had just entered the hotel room when you said, “Honesty should be the basis of our relationship.” I could not understand what you were getting to. “People build relationship on lies by being pleasant all the time but we should not emulate that. Tell something about me which is not flattering.”
“You snore while you sleep.” I had taken the bait. Even today I can imagine you as a young bride; somewhat chubby and extremely beautiful, sleeping softly on bed; and snoring. You used to put a vermillion dot on forehead and there were henna marks on your hand.
“Your face resembles a frog.” I was not handsome but no one had told me that before.
“You look funny when you cry, especially when you make that wheezing sound. I resisted laughter while you cried taking leave of your family on our wedding day.” I could see a frown on your face.
“You look like a moron when you talk gibberish to your pet fish in the aquarium. Fish can’t hear whatever you say.” You were mocking me now.   
“You have a tendency to become fat, especially when you resemble your mom.” I realized I was in trouble as large tears swelled in your eyes and we could have divorced that day. I did not say your mother was fat; I just wanted to say she was on the heavier side or something like that but it was a wrong choice. It took million apologies (two of them on my knees), detailed explanation about everything I said before and three hours thirty minutes to mend things. Honesty is not always the best policy.
Barring that day we had a good time. We roamed for hours discovering the picturesque landscape and large oak trees covered with moss kept us company. There were occasional paintings on the rocks, or a name inscribed on tress and we relished tea at roadside stalls. Yes, I remember everything. For the first time in my life, I felt what proximity means; it was a mixed feeling of togetherness and sharing personal space. You know one day after making love, when you had fallen asleep, I lay awake. You appeared so carefree, so pure that I promised myself, I will always keep you like that; and I will always love you. It was one those solemn promises that can be made rarely in lifetime.    
Fifteen years, looks like ages we have been married. Imagining life when you were not there looks distant, remote. I feel I was incomplete before and our identities merged after meeting; both of us became new. It is difficult to put in words what I mean. Right at this moment, when I am thinking about you and looking at this paper wondering what to write next, there is a strange feeling, something which is strong like incense or music with déjà vu. I am not sad or happy but it is blissful. How do you write something which can only be felt? I think you already know what I mean.  

Let us talk about something else. You asked many times how I felt when I first met you; I vividly remember that day. After days of incessant rain, it was a sunny afternoon and sky was blue like never before. The weather was good with a cool breeze blowing. There was water everywhere and on your way home, I just managed my trousers from getting stained.
 I was tense with all that continuous bickering of the kids, aunts teasing like never before and a wet peck on cheek that your grandmother gave. People settled in groups and talked about various things, woes of traffic, Ayurveda treatment for incurable diseases and political upheavals. Amid all this, you entered and the limelight shifted.
Your feet were beautiful. I noticed it because my eyes were fixed on the floor. I was conscious that someone will mock me looking at you. I saw your face when you got seated and I saw you were angry. Yes, this is what I felt when I saw you, that you were angry. Your face softened slowly but it took time before smile came. Perhaps you were angry at being paraded in this way. We were left alone for ten minutes to decide our fate.
“Stop fidgeting, they will feel you are disappointed with me.” You said pointing towards relatives hidden behind doors. I was nervous to say anything and I just kept staring; you had deep eyes, sharp features and a prominent nose. Before I could utter a word, you again asked “What is my name?”
“er…Pinki…” I felt being ragged at first day of college.
“No that is my pet name. It is Vidya Arya. You don’t even know that and you want to marry me?” You were enjoying it. I saw you smile and something happened; I realized I had always known you.
“Yes, I am going to marry you. I would have proposed on my knees but everyone is looking and then I also do not have a ring.” I surprised myself when I said that.
 Sweets were exchanged and the date of our wedding was fixed. After I came back, I had doubts. I did not talk to you about anything and I did not even ask if you were ready for this marriage. I wanted to meet you again but lacked courage to do so.
“If we have to get married, we better know each other.” You said after two days when you landed unannounced outside my office. Although our marriage was fixed, we had arranged our love. We talked for hours and I never knew there was so much to tell each other. I learnt all about your neighbourhood, your academic woes and even that you were planning to turn your diary into an autobiography. “Isn't it too plain to be turned into a book?” You were not amused. “I will make sure it does not remain so after marriage.”
I remember we finalized a bucket list. Watching Akira Kurosawa movies was first on our list and we completed it. We even managed to visit Taj Mahal, albeit the moon light was missing. I think we were never serious about earning black belt in Taekwondo and becoming famous before we turn thirty was just a wish. We never went trekking Himalayas and could not manage Nile Safari in Egypt. We could have taken ride in hot air balloon and watched a movie at drive in, but we never tried.
I could not recognize you on the wedding day. Beautician had turned you into a quintessential bride and you looked uncomfortable. We sat on regal chairs and people came to get pictures clicked. By the time it was over, my facial muscles were stiff. After this the photographer expected us to give romantic poses. “Put your hand on his shoulders, only one hand, just slightly ahead, hold his left hand with the other one, now fold both your hands and look there, we will impose his picture. Not like this, bring a smile on your face.” You resisted killing him. Although you were sitting next to me, we could not talk. We will not marry our kids in this way. 

My father cried when he took Pakhi in his arms. “Welcome to our family.” He said with a lump in his throat. Pakhi was wrapped in light pink clothes and there was a woollen cap on her head. She was so small that she almost disappeared in those clothes. She had tiny fingers and always clenched her fists. My mother declared with a grin, “She looks like Vidya, but she will be more beautiful.” Everyone made strange faces while greeting her and uttered gibberish.
 I was afraid she might get hurt if I hold her but when my mother put her on my lap, I realized I was longing for it. She lied still with her eyes closed, and I felt she smiled in her sleep. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen; she would always be. I took my finger towards her palm and she held it tight. That day while looking at her face, I realized what innocence means. 
I remember the look we shared when you came out of the delivery room. I held Pakhi, a part of our shared selves and it was mesmerizing. It was a feeling of pride, happiness and something which is beyond words. When Aryan came four years later, our family was complete. Life changes when kids come in the family and how we relish in mundane.
You never completed your autobiography but I will write a book about life of the ordinary. In this world of extraordinary, there is not much about simple people. I do not know about the protagonist, probably an average man who is average in everything; average life, average aims and average accomplishments. But he will have a lovely wife and most wonderful kids. 
The book will capture images that have stayed with me. I remember lying next to you on winter mornings and the warmth of your body, the fragrance of desert cooler during hot summer afternoons which reminded smell of earth after rains, recipes tried by you and the aroma from kitchen, rainy days with tea and gossip in the balcony, Aryan reciting nursery rhymes one after the other, Pakhi dressing as an angel, birthday cakes and blowing of candles (which invariably always Aryan did), doctor’s appointment and tears of kids after getting vaccinated, sores at Aryan’s feet which came again and again, new year resolutions that often failed but enthusiasm when they were made, the wrist watch that you gifted me (I am still wearing it), festivals, new clothes and chirpiness of Paki when she was happy, playing cards and you letting Aryan cheat, social gatherings and sharing a ‘let us leave soon’ look, debates if we were raising our children properly,  sharing a kiss when kids looked other way, seeing our children grow and wondering how time flies, and being thankful for being a family.
Do not think that I will write only niceties about you. I hated it when you ensured a hundred things before we made love. You spent hours finalizing the perfect background music. The lighting should be perfect, not too bright, and not too dim and children should be completely asleep. The room also should have pleasant odour. No I am not cribbing; I am just stating my point of view. I like to keep my mouth open while I chew. I also enjoy burping sometimes and not saying sorry. I know how to tie shoelace, how to wear socks and how to fold clothes properly. There are different ways to do these things actually.

Pakhi and Aryan have just fallen asleep; they insist on sleeping in my room. I listen to what all they did during the day and them I read them a story. I am not good at animating but Aryan cannot sleep without listening those. Even Pakhi enjoys them though she is almost reaching teenage. The good thing is I also lie down early because of this and it is rejuvenating to watch children sleep, they look so serene.
The wall clock has started making a distracting sound. It announces every second at night as if no one pays attention during the daytime. Many crickets have appeared in our colony and they chirp loudly, disturbing the otherwise silent neighbourhood. A lone night watchman took round outside, beating his wooden stick loudly on the road. Somewhere at a distance, there was a turf war of stray dogs. I turned sides for long, but then gave up the effort to sleep. I took out picture albums from the store room and cleaned dust gathered on those. I could not have done this in front of children. I have started growing old and tears come easily.
We were so thin when we got married. There was a spark in our eyes, a feeling that our future was going to be great. We were smiling in those romantic poses; we were genuinely happy. You wore blue sari and you looked good. Your father looked tense in all the pictures; perhaps being father of the bride has that effect.
There are so many people we never met again. Shyam uncle, who had come all the way from USA got paralyzed after that. Kamala aunty also never came again. Do you remember she was the life of our wedding? She danced and sang all the time and made everyone else do so. She gifted you a seductive nightgown before we left for honeymoon. You had promised her that you will try it out soon; you are yet to fulfil it.
I created a collage of pictures. It was a lot of work, selecting pictures from various events and gently pasting them on a sheet. Touching old pictures is a different experience, something like going back to that age. I even found pictures of our childhood. Sounds strange but our parents were as young as we are when they were of our age. I read somewhere that if two persons live together for long, they start resembling; I think we started looking same.
I found pictures of Bidyut. Although he was my elder brother, he was best friend I had. He was so happy and full of life and I was shaken when he left this world after few days. I could not face bhabhi. You were a pillar of strength for our entire family and I can’t imagine how I would have managed without you.
Last year on that day in hospital, when you left us alone, there was no one to comfort me. There was a heavy weight on my chest and it was difficult to breathe. I felt that there was no ground beneath my feet. There was so much to be told, so much to be said. I hated those monitors kept in the room, those tubes attached to your body and your swollen face. It wasn't you, there was some mistake. Your hand was cold, it did not move when I held it tight. It was a kind of test, nightmare may be but it was not the truth. I could not have cried in front of you, it was bad for your recovery.
I failed my promise that nothing will happen to you and I never felt so helpless before.  It was difficult to see you sink. There were dark circles under your eyes, your lips were dry and you were white as snow. The vigour left your body and you were skin and bones. I knew it was side effect of medicines as you were responding well to the treatment, even doctors admitted that. I kept sitting their holding your hand, praying for a miracle. How could you leave me like that?  I wanted to scream but no sound came from my throat.
Other memories of that period are vague. There were lot of people at home and I was never left alone. They decorated you like a bride and I applied vermilion on your head. Everyone cried; I felt extremely lonely and there was no privacy to grieve. I wanted you to console me; I wanted you to say that everything was going to be well. A glass bier took you to the crematorium; you slept peacefully on your way. I was asked to lit a heap of wooden logs and someone who resembled you.
I was afraid to face Pakhi and Aryan but they took it better than me. They have grown more than we knew. Pakhi has your grace and authority apart from your looks and Aryan is mature for his age. He was our pampered child but this incident has made him sombre.
My day begins with missing you. I hate the stubbornness with which I continue to live another day. Your memories live with me but I am not happy. I want to feel you, to hold your hand and listen you speak. I never thanked you for many things. You taught me how to live, you taught me how to bear success and defeats and you turned our house into a home. I never thanked you for walking by my side, for weaving your life together with me. I never thanked you for your companionship; I never thanked you for loving me.
We will meet again one day. We will meet when we are young and still have those dreams. It will be on seashore, when the sun is rising and it is a beautiful new day. We will watch fishermen going in the sea and large waves swinging their boat in its lap, we will watch lovers playing on the beach and make castles of sand; we will watch the tides wash it away. We will walk hand in hand and get amazed at vastness of the sea. We will meet when everything is calm and the sea is still. We will meet when there is silence all around, silence which is not melancholic but serene. We will meet when everything is as it is supposed to be. We will meet when there nothing but happiness.
Waiting to meet you soon,


Thursday, May 01, 2014

Dearest !

‘Give me an idea to write a story.’ Aniket said.
He quietly placed his head on Vidya’s lap as he lied on sofa. She turned her face towards him and strings of curly hair came on her face. She was wearing a big red bindi, her cheeks were not thin as they used to be and her petite frame of adolescence had given way to graceful womanly shape. She looked at him thoughtfully, resting her chin on her palm. Her bangles clinked while doing that. She probably wanted to say something but just stared and gave a smile. Her dimple looked exactly the same.    
‘Write something different this time, something not inspired from our story.’ Aniket guessed her words.
The wall just behind the sofa was covered with their photographs, bright happy moments of their past, neatly set up in black outlined frame. Vidya had personally selected each of them.
The picture on the topmost left was a school group photograph. Vidya dutifully played the ‘guess where I am’ with anyone who was ready to play. It was a typical school photographs devoid of fun, with teacher sitting at front and children sitting or standing behind in a row. No one smiled in the photograph. A blue banner at the background read:
Class VI B, Sacred Heart Convent School
August, 1998
It was the year when she got admitted to his school. She was the daughter of new District Collector and her sitting posture, erect, proud and full of grace bore testimony to that. She became new star of the school and he never gathered courage to speak to her for next three years. That was the reason he wrote his first story; to express what he could never say.
It was an honest story written with naiveté and the school magazine did not find it worthy of being published. Vidya, being the ornamental ‘student editor’ on the editorial board found it labelled ‘Not suitable for kids’ and read it for curiosity’s sake.  That day when he was sitting alone, she came and said ‘Promise that I will be the first one to read whatever you wrote’. There was something in her eyes which told they had known each other for years.   
He came rushing whenever he came up with anything new. He loved to observe her facial expressions while she read; clear symmetric lines appearing on her beautiful face. That was enough reward for his work.
As years went by, a bond emerged between them which people termed love. They found it a blend of camaraderie, trust and craving for each other. Her father, who had retired by this time, did not approve. Aniket was not affluent and her father saw no future in him. ‘You are going to repent one day. He writes childish love letters in garb of stories and I will not let you ruin your life for a struggling wordsmith.’
Time passed by and it became difficult to keep count of publishers who rejected his work. Only Vidya kept him going and just when it appeared that everything was lost, his first book got published. It was a story of hatred, not love. The protagonist was struggling middle aged writer who found inspiration in a beautiful teenage girl. It was a dark story and the writer was possessive and cruel. He followed this girl wherever she went but she could never notice him. Her beauty increased every day and young men who proposed her multiplied exponentially. These young men also vanished without leaving a trace, and she was always left alone. As the story progressed it was difficult to decide what was more intense, his longing for this girl or his hatred for anyone she loved. When the story ended, countless corpses were scattered in writer’s chateau.
Vidya gave this book to her father to read and he consented to their wedding. After his first book got published, he never looked back. There was a rush amongst publishers to print his old work and he was termed as king of romance. His best work was inspired from his life. His latest book got him the prestigious Palm Award and an honorary PhD. That was a year back. Slowly he found difficult to concentrate and was never happy with whatever he wrote.
‘You know Vidya, I am aware of my mediocrity. This world is going to brand me failure.’
‘You are again stuck in Writers Block, you need a good break.’ He did not recall if she actually said it or just meant to say. They hardly needed words to communicate. Was this perfect union of man and wife? This finality did not comfort him. Why was he so restless at the height of his success?  
‘I think I have given this world whatever I had and it’s time to leave. I want you to hold me tight, I feel very lonely.’ Aniket said. There were tears in his eyes. She had never seen him like this. He shrunk on the sofa like an old man. There was a melancholic smell in the room, something which could have been labelled as the smell of death, and she was determined to ignore it.
‘Aniket, you have always bounced back with an amazing story. Do you recall the story that wrote about your proposal? It was really wonderful.’ His eyebrows relaxed after hearing that. He loved whenever she talked about his work. ‘I loved how the character wooed this girl, taking her on long drives in his dilapidated fiat and the manner in which he lighted his house with scented candles before hanging upside down to propose.’
‘And then the house caught fire from those candles.’ Finally a smile came on his face.  
She kept on talking about his stories and he maintained his smile. He forgot if she was talking about his writing or story of their lives. She talked about the night when they made love for the first time. He could feel that scorching summer heat and her tender skin. She talked about his love of her fragrance and his longing for her. He tried to decipher if it was love or lust. Both appeared to be the same thing. He thought about their nights on the terrace when they endlessly chatted till the dawn came, the sound of the trains passing nearby tracks and wind gushing in before the rains.
She mentioned strain in their relationship when she got busy with her work and their fiery debates if they should have kids. He then remembered their stillborn child, a lifeless lump of flesh and bones; and her tears which came every day for years after that. Moments of his life, of pride and embarrassment, of companionship and solitude, of love and his loss flashed before his eyes. It appeared that today was the judgement day. His life was being telecasted and someone was to pronounce judgement. Everything was in compartments, neat, isolated compartments and his eyes kept on moving between them. He was watching the moments and also living them. He could feel each moment’s joy and pain and whenever he tried to look for her, Vidya was standing next to him. He couldn’t remember the face of his mother and it had blurred with Vidya’s face.  He felt that she was his mother goddess.
            Noise of shrill doorbell broke his trance.
‘You slept few hours back.’ Vidya was sitting still, lest she disturbed his sleep. She gently kissed his cheeks and asked him to open the door.
‘Hello Bhabhi’ Harish said as he entered the room. He was Aniket’s childhood friend.  
‘Aniket you should allow Bhabhi at least some sleep at night.’ He had noticed their red eyes and never missed an opportunity to tease.
‘I will get some tea.’ Vidya left the room sheepishly.  
Morning was different from the night before. Birds chirped loudly outside, a beam of sunlight entered the room and everything looked changed. There was a calm expression on Aniket’s face.
After an awkward silence, Harish asked: ‘You have not told her anything?’
‘You are not my judge.’ Aniket said staring at blank. ‘Is everything ready?’
‘Here is your Visa for five years. Best of luck for your relocation to a new world, you never deserved Vidya bhabhi’. He gave Aniket a disdainful look and threw the documents at him. Vidya came with the tea which Harish quietly sipped and left without saying goodbye to any of them.
The day progressed just like any other day and in the afternoon they went to sleep. When Vidya woke up in the evening, she found a note:

I know that you deserve more than just a note. You merit everything that is worth in this world, but then you married me; an unsure restless soul. I am restless now and I do not know where to go. More than that, I know that cannot stay at the same place. I do not have the courage to apologise to you; others will never forgive me.
By the time you wake up, I would have already started my journey for an unknown terrain. To begin with, I am going to Colombia. Why Colombia, because I just found its name in the newspapers and it was Marquez’s land; remember Marquez, you introduced his writings to me.
I feel that my ideas, my creativity is already dead; the thought is suffocating actually. I need life to hit with a brick on my head.  I want to go to a place where I do not find your love. I want to get hurt, and I do not want you to be there to protect me. I always loved you, and I love you now more when I have the fear of losing you. I do not know if I will ever see you again but let us hope that one day when everything is well, when we are young and madly in love, we meet again. 
Everyone will think that I am mad but perhaps you will understand. I did not wish to die, I wanted to live.