Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hello, again.

She knew she was fidgety in class today. She even missed the tips that she always gave her students during the lecture for their benefit during examinations. Something she had gained from years of teaching, paper setting and research in Biology. Teaching was her first love, and over the years had become her only love.

But today was different. She knew it was coming. He was going to pop the question. That was probably another side effect of being too deep in love. One couldn’t keep surprises.

It had become quite evident in the last few days. Their bond had become stronger than ever. They had come a long way from the day they had met, three months ago, on her forty first birthday; and longer still from the day they had first met, eighteen years ago in her parent’s house in Kanpur, amidst his relatives and hers. She had sat across the room from Shiv, revising the list of questions she wanted to ask, reciting in her head the right tone and manner of putting them forward. Without being particularly handsome, Shiv had managed to send the right vibes across the room. She found herself waiting to speak to him. And when they did, she was relieved to know that the feeling was mutual.

Like all weddings in the neighbourhood, theirs was a grand affair for them, the grandest her parents could afford with their modest medical salaries. The marriage had lasted three and a half years. The disagreements had lasted longer, till she finally moved to Delhi.

And then, three months ago, while he was visiting her city for a conference, they crossed paths again. It was almost like a gift from the heavens. As she was returning from home after a ceremonious dinner with colleagues – her birthday treat – she happened to stop at the same place as his taxi had for fuel. Conversation fuelled between them like firework. Differences melted like ice and a new bond began to grow.

A lot had changed in the one and a half decade when they were apart. They had experienced life up close, savoured independence, regretted loneliness, overcome situations, ran the rat race and settled in their comfort zones. Things they had fought over appeared silly when they looked back. They even laughed on some of the situations they had managed to put themselves in, while they were together. But there was one thing that hadn’t changed. The vibe they gave each other. It was the same vibe she had felt again when she noticed him staring at her curiously from the other side of the fuel station.

It was perfect – perfect time, perfect place, perfect plan and the perfect man. Too perfect, maybe, to be disturbed by anything.

 Sargum, will you be my wife?” he said. Just the way she had imagined all day in college and before coming to the restaurant. 

“No.” She said. 

Of course he was stunned. But she knew he understood. Because they met at the same place the next day as well… just like before. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

We didn’t want to elope.

So we tried convincing our parents. But the questions were too many, and the answers, too few. Rohit’s monthly take home was a few figures less than mine. And in a society that visualises men as its pilots, it was difficult for my abiding family to imagine a co-pilot existing in peace. I didn’t see their point, but surrendered in view of their ‘experience’. 
A few weeks later, I was offering tea to a California-based software engineer who wore a very amused expression on his face. 
Personally, I was never in favour of settling in another country. But Arvind Mehta was an interesting guy. In these few meetings we had come to realise that we have a lot in common, including our love for adventure.
It was time to finalise the wedding date and so, my parents met his, at our place again.
“We were thinking of the second Saturday of the next month.” My to-be father-in-law suggested.
“Oh, yes of course. But we’ll have to consult Pandit ji, to confirm if it is an auspicious day for our children.” My Mom declined, politely.
Pandit ji is on his way.” Dad assured.
“Ok, but I hope we can suggest a date that’s close?" Arvind’s mother insisted, but the priest crushed her hope. The dates got auspicious only after three and a half months, on a Tuesday.
“But my friends won’t be able to make it. And I'm sure even our relatives…” Arvind started to object, but was quietened by firm stares from his parents.
Now that the dates were decided, other things had to be finalized.
“We have a beautiful, ancestral bungalow in Kaliwadi. It’s just an hour from here. We can have the reception there.” Dad announced.
“Oh no, no! The reception will have to be in California. We have so many relatives there, who may not attend the wedding.” Arvind’s Dad proposed, carefully.
“So, we can fly back on Wednesday, and have the reception on Thursday.” His Mom completed the idea.
“But Behenji, how is that possible? So many ceremonies follow the wedding, which  have to take place at the Bride’s house.” My Mom reasoned.
The smiles were getting strained and both Arvind and I were having a difficult time dealing with it. As the to-be weds, we hardly had a say in the planning of our big day. The meeting concluded abruptly, understandably, to avoid any further tension.
A few days later, I heard my mother babbling to herself in the balcony. “I don’t understand why they’re behaving as if… uh...  just because they’re the Groom’s family?”
“Ma, what happened?” I asked, sensing the tension again. Arvind had been complaining to me that his parents were complaining about my parents, and that he didn’t understand. Well, nor did I.
“Now they're saying he won’t ride a Ghodi, because his uncle is phobic to four-legged beasts! Beasts? Ghodi is sacred!” She spited out.
“But Ma, how does it matter, as long as he’s coming?” Really, I failed to understand.
“Of course it does. Already, we are agreeing to the him wearing black at the reception. BLACK, imagine!”
“Er, what’s the connection?” I wondered, but Ma ignored my question.
Beta, you go inside and send your father here!”
I obeyed her. Then, called Arvind from my room.
“Hey, how are you?” He asked.
“Confused.” I replied, “and irritated.”
“So am I. What difference does it make whether your parents give you diamond sets or kundan? What’s kundan? Why is it more important than us?”
“It’s just a form of stonework. But... where did you hear that?” I was baffled.
“Mom was telling Dad. I overheard. They're being ridiculous."
“My parents are no less! Listen, I need to see you. Now."
“Yeah me too. Barista, in half an hour?” 
“Done, just get your residence proof and two passport-size photos.”
“Mom, Dad look who’s here.” I called out as I entered the house with Arvind. Ma came running from the kitchen, while Dad looked up from his newspaper. It had been a month since I had met Arvind at the coffee shop. Two days later, we had called off the wedding stating 'compatibility issues' and our parents had happily agreed.  
“Hello Uncle, hello Aunty.”
“A-r-v-i-n-d? How come…”  My parents exclaimed in unison.
“We, er… got married.” I announced.
“You what?” Dad screamed. Mom was too shocked to say anything.
“Yeah, don’t be so shocked. We always wanted to marry, but without the great wedding drama.” I didn’t quite know how to reason it out.
“So Aunty, now you don’t have to worry about the colour of my suit.” Arvind tried to lighten the air.
“Hmmm, I think you can call me Ma now.” She said, not knowing whether to smile or not.
“Hello, Mr. Mehta, I think both of you need to come here.” Dad spoke into his cellphone, as we approached to touch his feet.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Under The Blanket

Ajay walked into his examination centre, slowly. He had had a rather long night with his Physics textbooks and his eyeslids felt heavy. It also felt rather cold for the time of the year. But his brain cells were too busy going over the formulae, to spend any more than a few minutes on this unnecessary observation.

Equipped with his instruments and preparations, he sat down on the bench that had his roll number chalked over it. In just a few minutes, the exam would begin. A sharp shiver went down his spine, leaving him disoriented. But Ajay was quick to bring back his focus. He had to. He ought to. This was his grand finale, his last step on the ladder, his final leap towards his dream, his parent’s dream – the Indian Institute of Technology. He knew he could crack it; he had no other choice. It was either this or nothing!

The IIT was both, his family pride and tradition. He had to follow in his father’s and elder brother’s footsteps. And as his father put it ‘defeat us, exceed us and surpass our expectations.’

Ajay was a brilliant boy – his parents’ pride and an asset to the school. Bragging about his achievements was his mother’s favourite socialising topic and voicing his expectations, his father’s favourite leisure time activity. Failing to live up to their pride and expectations was unthinkable. Even being at par with his father’s elder brother’s achievements would be unremarkable. For him, the only way forward was to outshine them all by sweeping the higher secondary examinations at the state level.

Ajay was going well, really well. His tireless romance with his course material had won him the past two conquests - Math and Chemistry. This was his third last one, and he could almost see the victory cup gleaming at the finishing line. But with every victory, a pressure steamed up inside him, a building fear of ‘now or never’ - the knowledge of the growing criticality of the conquests and the consequences of a single slip at this stage. It was a realisation that came in sudden strokes breaking his concentration and, usually, making him sweat. Only today, it was bringing him the shivers. Sudden, unexpected shivers, seemingly caused by the unusual chill in the air, but as he very well knew, were rooted much deeper within him.

Nevertheless, Ajay continued writing the exam.

Question after question after question, he conquered all. But a strange tiredness loomed inside him at the end of each victory. By the time he finished solving the last problem, he was exhausted, physically and mentally. His memory of the paper blurred and he just could not get himself to revise the hard work he had put in, in the past few hours. He decided to submit his answer sheet right away and leave. Never before in his life, had he been this careless with his examination. But today it seemed all right. Today, there were other things that seemed much more important.

Like the dark blue blanket that sat on the cozy bed in his room.

He rode his kinetic slowly, conscious of his sudden lapse of ability to control the machine. He said ‘great’ instead of ‘awesome’ when his father asked about his exam and soon drifted into an uneasy dream about extreme temperatures and unsolved problems, under his dark blue blanket.

“Ajay, Ajay? Beta are you ok?” He recognised the concerned voice as his mother’s, but could not gather the energy to respond.

“E = mc2”, hovered in his head as he made another effort to answer, but a sting of cold shiver ran across his body, dismissing all efforts.

“Oh my God! You’re burning with fever!” He felt his mother’s icy palm touch his forehead, as she screamed. Within half an hour, his father was in the room with a frowning doctor, who tortured Ajay’s ailing body again, with his cold touches.

“Breathe deeply”, the doctor instructed. It took a lot of Ajay’s diminishing bank of energy to do so. Nothing was making sense to him. How could he fall ill? Such things don’t happen in the middle of Final Year Exams! Or do they? But he didn’t have enough energy to muse over it, or size up the consequences. He closed his eyes and tuned in to the voices in the room.

“… a blood test, but as far as I know, its malaria.” Was the doctor’s indifferent declaration.

“Oh lord!” The father exclaimed in a tone that, though concerned, was pretty much diluted with disappointment.

“Oh my poor baby.” The mother’s tension lines were visible in her voice, even as she continued speaking to the doctor, “What should we do now?”

“I’ll take the samples, meanwhile, I recommend at least two week’s rest. I’ll prescribe a medication that will keep him…”

The doctor’s voice trailed off in his head, as it put a full stop to his family’s legendary dream. He won’t finish his exams this year. A year’s drop in school, a year’s lag in attaining the degree is too much of a scratch on the impeccable family canvas.

“Things won’t be the same anymore”, he thought. “Papa won’t be full of expectations any more. Mumma won’t be so full of pride anymore. Ajay won’t be the ‘unbeatable’ anymore.”

And then, he felt a weight lifting away from his body, evaporating in thin air. At first he though he was under some kind of medicinal effect. But the more he thought about it, the lighter he felt. A smile broke across his trembling face. He tried to recall the last time he had smiled like this. No, not the victorious smile he wore after he ‘killed it’ at an exam, but a ‘happy smile’, the kind of smile he cannot pinpoint a reason for.

Well, maybe he was just ‘happy’!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Electronically Yours

Deepak hovers over the ‘looking for’ tab and wondered whether selecting ‘women’ will rule out his possibilities of finding old friends here.

At a time when people of his age, or any other age for that matter, have ritualised online socialising, as part of their duty to stay in touch with friends and relatives (in separate circles, of course), Deepak is still trying to understand the excitement within the blue and white interface of Facebook. Our man is only a week old here, with a bare minimum existence in a name, sex, age and contact info. And of course, in the fact that he has a Degree in Biotechnology from the All India Institute of Medical Science.

Deepak had promised his parents that he’ll dedicate his life to the noble cause of vaccination research and development, and had promised himself that he’ll not engage in any unnecessary social activity that might distract him from fulfilling his promise. Now that he has made himself capable, and his parents proud, he is free to explore the world beyond organic cells.
After establishing his presence on the world’s third largest populated country, Deepak wonders if he needs to seek his friends' advice on how to explore possibilities within the medium.

“Accept our friend requests, and then we can talk and share stuff with each other on Facebook!” One suggests.

“But we do that anyway, including sharing tee-shirts", says Deepak.

“Not this stuff, interesting stuff, news, photos…” Another friend, intervenes.

“As in, reference articles for my… uh! What’s Google for?” Deepak really can't understand.

“No man, you’re getting it all wrong! You know, you can find old friends here. You have anyone you’ve lost touch with?”


His friends give up, after a while.

A few days into aimless exploring of the social network, Deepak gets a friend request.

Swati Srivastava [confirm] [not now]

The name rings a bell in his head. And then, a flash of memory hits him like an electric wave. Green eyes, charcoal hair, pearl skin and a smile that used to make him forget all his formulae, back in school! 

Swati was a childhood heartthrob of most of the bolder sex in the science section, including Deepak. But the face he used to hide behind his glasses could never ever gather enough courage to let her know what he felt inside. To stop his eyes from staring at her unashamedly, he would purposely take a seat in the front row, with no possible chance of any eye contacts, and with no other choice but to listen to the teachers, and listen carefully, lest he would be caught ‘inattentive, right under their nose’! So, he buried himself in the course material, shamelessly responding to questions posed at the class, while the rest of the students chattered away to glory in eager whispers, right behind his back.

In no time, was he the teacher’s pet and the class’ outcast. But then, he had his parent’s wishes to fulfil.

He made it to the Med School, with ease. But Swati never left his heart.

Today, when he is not just impressively qualified, but confident of his being, and the handsome man that he has grown into, luck has come knocking again, with the love of his life.

He looks at his cover photo. Unsatisfied, he goes to an album on his desktop from last summer and pulls out a photograph of himself standing tall against a brand new car. He, then, pulls out another one with his two best friends and crops his smiling face from it for the Display Pic. He muses over a few other photos that capture his triumphant journey through the Med School, the best times he has spent with friends, his beautiful parents, and of course, himself. He arranges them in separate albums on his timeline.Then, clicks a few more of his own, in every possible angle that advocates the charmer he's become, and puts them up. The album he names, ‘I, Myself and Deepak’.

Satisfied with the bundle of visual therapy he’s uploaded, he moves on to other impression points.

Interests: lawn tennis, car racing, scuba diving, abstract art, poetry, music, photography. He finds his favourite books, films and sayings and puts them up for her to see.

Another hour of liking and disliking Facebook pages gives final touches to his perfect profile. He is now ready to accept the friend request from his dream girl. No need to hide behind the glasses any more! He is bristling with a whole new aura of confidence infused by this new socialising platform.

Swati Srivastava [confirm] [not now]

Happily, he selects ‘confirm’. Her Display Pic only captures the mesmerising glint in her eyes, and Deepak is eager to see an enlarged view of this adorable damsel. He rushes to open her profile. And reads, read again, then stares at it for the next five minutes.

Basic Info
Birthday                9 December 1972
Sex                         Female
Relationship        Married to Ranjit Srivastava

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Gained Loss

The novice journalist carefully scanned the list of questions he had scribbled in his tiny notebook. He wanted to start with the safest one. It was his first interview, and the subject was sensitive.

What inspired you to become a painter?
The colours and the stories they tell, the colours and the beauty they create.
Do you miss the colours?
I did, initially. Not anymore. As you can see, I have befriended them again.
Oh of course, and how beautifully! But sir, you know, your fans have always wanted to ask you…
How do I differentiate? I paint with organic colours. I make them at home, with vegetable extracts. Every colour can be found in nature. And every colour has a unique scent. I recognise them by their scents.
That’s incredible! So, you always wanted to be a painter?
Not really.
But you always wanted to be an artist?
No, not really.
So, when did you decide to paint?
About three and a half years ago.
No, I mean before this incident happened.
Do you recall any of my paintings before the accident?
No, but you know, not every artist rises to fame. As in, not every ordinary artist…
Aah, I know what you mean! But I promise, the next time you come, you’ll interview me for my paintings.
Oh, no that’s not what I meant. They are all incredible…
They are incredible, because they are made by a blind man.
Sir, I am sorry, if I’ve hurt you. I didn’t mean to.
Don’t be. I am proud to be blind. This is the only reason for my success. But not in the way you think. I gained focus only when I lost sight. My Dad’s a rich man, and I’ve lived my whole life as a rich man’s son. I never tried too hard to get anything because I never had to. I never did well in studies, or sports. I’ve repeated mistakes, been in wrong company, disrespected people, ignored my parents, and broken hearts.  
But, when I hit the truck that drunken night, I lost everything. My friends, my idea of fun and life, my confidence.  
In the beginning I wanted to kill myself. But even that is not easy for a blind man. I was left alone, and with no choice but to listen to the sounds around me. Gradually, I started enjoying them, especially the ones that came from the garden. I could feel the beauty of flora in them. Something I had never felt before. The greens and the blues, the flowers and the hues.
Tired of sitting idle and living on sympathy, I decided to create the world I wanted to see. I decided to stop missing the colours. And you know what the best part was? No one laughed when I asked for a paint brush! They may have smiled, though.
Hey, you wanna see my first painting?
Yeah, yeah sure, sir!
There’s a blue file on the window sill behind you. It’s in that file.
And you can laugh on it now, now that life’s smiling again!
The reporter shifted the painting in his hand, to avoid blotting it with the salty drops running through his eyes.