The Man on the Bus: Part 1

Shalin caught his 7 am bus. Starting the journey on the footboard and getting a seat after 20 minutes. His office in Bkc was the last stop. Daily rigmarole. Jump on the footboard, push the way through, get a seat and dose off. Chalaa… Chalaa. Utraa last stop… That was how his day started.
This journey had started 10 years back when he landed his first job. Straight out of college. Shalin had an idealism equalent to the leaders of independent India. He would change the world, given a chance that is. This was his chance. Nothing till now was set on a platter for him. Living in a pigeon hole somewhere in the shanties on the outskirts of Mumbai. It was the dream of getting out that fueled him through his graduation and post graduation.

10 years down, the idealism was replaced by despondency. A feeling that could possibly be shared by prisoners on a life term. 

A bad marriage, mortgage, his mother’s illness meant he was a dead horse that was being flogged day in and day out. Self doubt writ large on his face. He couldn’t conjure up courage to look out for a new job, pull the plug on marriage or leave his home. He was absolutely incapable of taking any decision. His mind had caged him so hard that the only luxury it allowed him was his daily routine, anything beyond would be dangerous.

Today as he prepared to get out, he felt an old man smiling at him from the last seat. That smile was unsettling. Also it seemed like the old man had that gaze on him from a long time.

Shalin ignored and walked out.

Next day just before he got his seat, he checked for the old man. Relieved that he couldnot spot him, he caught his seat and prepared for his customary nap. But it wouldn’t come. The harder he tried the more difficult it was to sleep. Suddenly he saw the old man was sitting next to him. In his struggle with himself, Shalin didn’t notice when the old man came and sat beside him. Shalin was spooked but was not showing it. He started looking outside.The old man had the same zen like smile. Nothing bothered him. It was too much for Shalin. 

He looked back at the Old man and asked, “Why are you smiling at me?”  The old man calmly responded,” Is that a problem?” “Obviously, isn’t that a problem, how do you expect one to react when an unknown person is smiling at him, stalking him if I may?”Shalin shot back. That obviously had no effect on the old man, his face was still as a placid lake,the smile was not disturbed one bit. ” I came to help, what’s ailing you dear?” Shalin was stunned. “What do you mean? Who are you ?” “That’s not important. I have been observing you for about a month dear and I can sense an extremely negative energy field around you. I have been looking at you since a month hoping you would catch me and possibly I could help. So tell me dear what is it? I can help.” ” Nothing, just go away, its none of your business…. He kept mumbling, each word coming out with a lower decibel, the false courage was eluding, his eyes were becoming red and suddenly the dam burst, Shalin kept crying… The old man didn’t utter a word. After a while Shalin slowly looked up, a little embarassed, what had he done? Who was that man? How could he come from nowhere and do this to him? He was equally amazed how his normal self gave way, how could the facade crack?But after all this, the truth was, he was feeling very light, like a huge weight was off his back. As he slowly looked up, the old man put an arm around him and said, “Look around, no one is looking. It’s OK to let go once in a while. How are you feeling son? Slightly better? ” He queried. Shalin nodded. “By the way your stop is coming. Something important at work or can you bunk? This old man would not mind some company. There is a bus from here to Juhu beach.” Shalin followed the old man. They caught the bus and landed at the beach. On the way Shalin kept looking out, he never looked back. The old man was silent. No word. But this silence was agreed from both sides. There was no need to say anything. They both got down at Juhu Beach and walked towards the beach. “Sahab Chatai lelo..” The old man gestured the rug man to place the rug on the sand and handed him 10 bucks.

It was about 9 am. the sky was slightly over cast. The beach was relatively empty. The morning joggers had gone. The couples would come in the evening. The stalls selling Pav Bhaji and other street food were not open. Both of them sat facing the shore. A wave came with a flurry and died in a whimper, pushing the sand slightly higher. 

Do you like the waves? The old man asked rhetorically and continued. I personally love them. What are the waves? For some they could be water, For some they could be energy, but for me they are the ocean expressing itself. Come to think of it, the wave is the ocean afterall, isn’t the wave the ocean’s eternal offer for friendship with land. The land is dense and solid, the ocean however keeps working, bit by bit. The beach is where they meet. Another way to look is, the land is Yin and the Ocean is Yang. One gives and the other receives. The energy is being transfered eternally. Close your eyes son and tell me what you see?” 

What do you mean? What can I see closing my eyes? Asked Shalin. The old man would have none of it. He didn’t bother answering and gave him his signature smile. 

Shalin slowly closed his eyes. After a while he realised that the old man was expecting an answer. “Well I see nothing. Wait it is a faint red. The sun is able to penetrate my eye lids. My eyes feel warm.”  “Ok now tell me what you feel” said the old man. ” Well my face is warm. I can feel the wind, its blowing my hair. The wind is getting really strong. I can hear the waves. I can hear the crows. I can smell so many things. The smell of the wet sand. The smell of the Pav Bhaji.” 

“Well you are making progress son. Now feel all of it together.” OK I can feel it. All of it together. I feel so alive. I feel so good. How did I miss it all this while?” Leave that live in this moment…. After a while Shalin slowly opened his eyes… “Well that felt good…

…Ok  but tell me all this mumbo jumbo is just momentary and all my issues are real. I need to get up and face them. So all this makes no sense in the real world that I live. Like today I just bunked office. I ran away from my work. That makes me a coward…

The old man:

“Okay let me ask you this. What makes you happy?  That’s a simple question.”

Shalin:

“Well these days… Just about anything on TV. Ice cream. I crave icecream.”

Old man:

“Nope… That’s not what I meant. Those are things you do to escape. Tell me what makes you happy. ”

Shalin:

“I don’t know. I thought that was happiness. I don’t know what is happiness. What is happiness?”

Old man:

“Ok a moment when you forget yourself, a moment when you are intensely active but deep within you are still and in harmony. When did that happen to you last?  Look within son, Shut the mind off. It is a fool. It is just filled with the past. Feel… Use your lymbic brain.. ”

Shalin: “What the hell is the lymbic brain. ”

Old man:

“Don’t mind. Close your eyes and ask this question to yourself.”

As the eyes closed, Shalin started looking within. At the periphery, the wind, the sun and the smells where playing their part but deep inside what was this feeling called happiness? When was it that he felt alive? When was it that he felt still but bustling with activity. His life was flashing by, sifting through multiple images as if his life where a movie. 

Shalin:

“Yes. I felt happy when I organised events. That was my forte. I was the best in that. I organised events in my college, in my mohalla. It was so hectic but I felt so good. Yes  I felt happy doing that.”

Old man:

“What do you do these days?”

Shalin:

” I work as an accountant in a bank.”

“Hahahahahaha…. “The old man laughed uncontrollably.

“Ok , let’s do an experiment. We will meet each other one week from today at the same place at the same time. In this week you have to do what your gut ask you to, however scary or weird it sounds. Just follow your gut, for that is the God’s GPS. I know you are scared. So follow it for one week.

Do we have a deal ?” Asked the old man

“Deal!!!…

What’s your name? I don’t even know your name.” said Shalin.

” That’s not important. With a name you will label me.” said the old man with his Zen like smile.

The Urban Melancholy

A chilly winter night
Delhi, Cannaught Place, 10 PM

There was a nip in the smog filled air. The flag at Cannaught Place was taking a nap when the  wind picked up speed and forced it to sway evoking a faint patriotic fervour to the chilly night. Across the road the scene had changed at “Lord of the Drinks” an upscale lounge bar. A day that started like any other, had changed dramatically.The whole place was radiating a different energy field

About two hours back… The crowd had started settling in. The heaters were powered on. The projectors were beaming a boring test match between Srilanka and Newzealand. By the looks of it even the players were not interested. The tables were just  filling up. 

Earlier that day…

Lajpat Nagar 3 PM

Vicky was woken up by  a loud ring on the mobile. “Hello… Abhi milna hai…kaha??? Yaar graveyard shift karke aaya hu soya nahi hu…theek hai 5 baje milte hai… Guitar laata hu.” Vicky caught the metro and reached Rajiv Chowk Metro station at Cannaught Place. He and his friends jammed at Hari’s place nearby.Hari met him and both of them reached the Jam room. “Saale  kyu bulaya mujhe??? Queried Vicky. ” We have a problem, Freddy has taken ill and we don’t have anyone to play the guitar ” said Hari. “Ok , so then is it my lucky day?”said Vicky. ” Looks like. Don’t worry I will manage the vocals, Arun will be at the drums. Just go through the list of songs, regular stuff. I promise if you do well today you can be a regular with us” said Hari. Vicky had got his lucky break. He was labouring in the call centre only to meet ends, his heart was in music and today seemed to be his day

Defence Colony 6 PM

The Ahluwalias of Defence Colony were beaming. It was the 50th wedding anniversary of Mr. & Mrs. Parminder Ahluwalia. The octogenarian couple had seen it all. From starting his life in Delhi from a refugee camp, to joining the Army, fighting three wars, becoming an Ashok Chakra recepient, Col.Ahluwalia epitomised the spirit of Punjabis who grew up in Pakistan, were forced to migrate to India leaving their homes and built this country called India. Off late, age had started catching up with the Colonel. From being the life of every party, he had become a recluse. 

Today was no different, he was showing no excitement for the 50th anniversary. The Ahluwalias called off the lavish party and decided to go for a quite dinner given the old Colonel’s disposition. 

 Lord of the Drinks, CP 9 PM

The evening was slowly lighting up. Most tables were taken. The place looked like a melting pot of cultures. There were people from all walks of life. A heated discussion was going on in one corner about a hostile board room takeover. On another table there were kids who looked like they had walked straight out of school, smoking hukka, drinking everything that flowed, every one on that table the guys and the girls alike looked like they wanted to fit into a club that surely they didn’t look from… They must have been from an international call centre. Those kids sure must be making some money, A pint of Bud cost 350 bucks here. Then there were the couples. The over dressed guys and the under dressed girls. Well for this time of the year with the weather outside at 5 degrees those mini skirts would look inappropriate in any city except Delhi.

At one end sat the Ahluwalias, all 10 of them. The colonel and his wife, their children, their grand children. The Old Colonel seemed lost in his own world oblivious to the hullabaloo around him.

The band arrived. The mike was set up. The bass guitar  was wired. The drums were placed. The whole band was going through their motions. Hari took the mike.

“Mike check…123.. Good everning guys. We are the Bandits. I am Hari I will be singing. This is Vicky on the Guitar and this is Arun on the drums. We are here to play some soulful melodies. I hope you will enjoy…”

 “Hmmm…

Na wo akhiyan ruhani kahi,

Na wo chehra noorani kahi,

Kahi dilwali baatein bhi na,

Na wo sajri jawani kahi

Jag ghumeya thare jaisa na koyi…”
This was followed by some more soulful melodies.Sufi, Ghazal, Indipop even Kishore Kumar was played.

Requests started coming in and the audience started swooning. The winter chill, the smog, the alcohol, the milieu of people, the smoke from the hukkas had all got mixed in the soft sounds emanating from the Bandits. The place was swinging along with the Bandits like they were under the spell of another pied piper.

Vicky gestured to Hari and whispered something in his ears.

He switched place.

Hi guys, My name is Vicky and this is my first live show. I have heard a song recently. It’s written by the great actor and play wright Piyush Mishra. He has sung it in Coke Studio. I havent been able to get the song out of my head from the time I have heard it. It is a song about love, longing and much more… 

Playing Husna …

Vicky strung the guitar…

“Lahore ke uss
Pehle jile ke
Do pargana mein pahunche..

Resham gali ki
Dooje kuche ke
Chauthe makaan mein pahunche..

Aur kehte hai jisko
Dooja mulk uss
Pakistan mein pahunche…”

The whole place stopped. Not a soul moved. Some had heard it before and some didn’t but not one person moved.

Vicky continued…

“Likhta hun khat mein
Hindustan se
Pehlu e Husna mein pahunche
O Husna…

Main to hun baitha
O Husna meri
Yaadon purani mein khoya

Main to hun baitha
O Husna meri
Yaadon purani mein khoya

Pal pal ko ginta
Pal pal ko chunta
Beeti kahani mein khoya
Patte jab jhadte Hindustan mein
Yaadien tumhari ye bolein…


Hota ujala, Hindustan mein, batein tumhari ye bolein
O Husnaa meri yeh to batado
Hota hai aisa kya
Uss gulistan mein
Rehti ho nanhee kabutar see gum tum jahaan
O Husna

Patte kya jhadte hain Pakistan mein
Vaise hi jaise jhadte yahaan
O Husna

Hota ujala kya vaisa hi hai
Jaisa hota Hindustan mein haan
O Husna…”

There was a certain density to the air around. There were many moist eyes around. People from the adjoining disc started making their way to the restaurant. The stewards, the waiters, everybody stood still. As if time stood still.

“Woh heeron ke ranjhe
Ke nagmein mujhko
Ab tak aa aake sataien
Woh Bulley Shah ki
Takriro ki, jheene jheene saaye
Woh Id ki iddi
Lambi namazey
Seyvaiyon ki jhaale
Woh Diwali key diye sang mein
Baisakhi ke badal
Holi ki woh lakdi jinmein
Sang sang aanch lagai
Lohdi ka woh dhuan jis mein
Dhadkhan hai sulgai
O Husna meri ye toh batado
Lohdi ka dhuan kya ab bhi nikalta hai
Jaisa nilkalta tha uss daur mein vahaan
O Husna

Dhuan mein gulstan yeh barbaad ho raha hai
Ik rang sya kaala, ejad ho raha hai
Dhuan mein gulstan yeh barbaad ho raha hai
Ik rang sya kaala, ejad ho raha hai
Dhuan mein gulstan yeh barbaad ho raha hai
Ik rang sya kaala, ejad ho raha hai
Ke heeron ke ranjhon ke
Nagmein kya ab bhi
Sune jaate hai haan vahaan
O Husna

Aur rota hai raaton mein
Pakistan kya vaise hi jaise Hindustan
O Husna…”

Vicky had stopped.

Not one word. Slowly claps started and in a moment the whole place was bursting with claps.

As the claps receded an elderly gentleman at the last table started sobbing uncontrollably. Col. Ahluwalia who had not uttered a word for one entire year cried and cried. He looked like he would not stop.The song seemed to have  ruptured a wall that held an ocean of emotion that was locked away somewhere deep inside the colonel. 

As the attention shifted to the table, the band stopped, the audience recognised the War Hero. The younger Ahluwalia spoke to the colonel and gestured  Vicky to the table. The entire place sat perplexed, The Colonel kissed Vicky and settled down. His son came and took the mike

“Vicky and the Bandits, You sang well. Of course the Original was written, composed and sung by Piyush Mishra in Coke Studio. Vicky, My father Col.Ahluwalia has a a story very similar to the one you sang. He had a Husna in Pakistan whom he left when he migrated to India during partition.Yes he has fought three wars, Yes he is an Ashok Chakra recipient, but till today he longs for his Husna…”

The evening slowly drew to a close.

A few meters away…

The Indian Flag, was again picked up by the wind and it swayed.

The Glass Window

The setting:

It was raining and the sky was grey, the ground wet, the foliage was beaming. The estate had 20 villas all lined up one above the other. The Villas were made of wood and each had a glass window. Each window opened with a view to the sea. The sea was getting rough and each tide was getting bigger than the other.

At the reception counter.

Three Families checked into the premium villas which were nearest to the sea.

Chalet No. 100:

The  Sharmas were celebrating 20 years of holy matrimony and their children had gifted them this surprise holiday. Although about 50 years in age, Vikram looked in his late 40s and Priya looked possibly in her early 40s. After 10 years of courtship and 20 years of marriage, the flame was still burning bright. It was very easy to say that they were a couple in deep love. As the boy ushered them though the wet pathways, Vikram & Priya had closed the umbrellas and were enjoying the rain on them. As they got in, the Chalet was quite warm. As both of them settled in, the rain intensified and Priya gave up the thought of opening the window. While Vikram went to freshen up, Priya kept looking through the Glass window. In the midst of the swelling sea, there was a small skiff and a fisherman was sitting on it. The sight kept repeating itself, with each tide it appeared that the sea had swallowed the fisherman and then he appeared. Neither the sound of the relentless onslaught of rain on the wooden roof nor  the whistling sound made by the coconut trees mattered as Priya stood as if she heard nothing. The sight of the man on the skiff in a rough sea had Priya transfixed. Her zen like silence was broken when she felt the warm breath of Vikram on her neck and his hands around her waist. The body twitched longingly and Priya sank into Vikram’s arms… But the eyes where still stuck on the vision. “Did you see that Vikram?” Priya asked. “What?” Vikram queried and looked up. “That fisherman..?” “Yes, what do you make of him” responded Priya. “Let me see…he is still, absolutely no movement in his posture, the sea is tossing him up, wonder what he is doing? How long has he been in that posture?” Asked Vikram. “Since we came, might be even before that, there is something mesmerising about him, he is so calm, absolutely unperturbed, the sea has no power over him”. “Hmmm..could be waiting for a big Salmon to take his bait”. ” Vikram just look at the situation. On the outside the sea is wild, tossing everything up in the air and on the inside so calm n serene almost as if it were two different worlds and look at the man on the boat, the boat is jumping up and down but he is sitting as if none of this exists. He is as calm as the ocean bed. Now imagine the fish that he would hook. It might be there somewhere deep swimming with all its fellow companions and then it sees the bait. It slowly moves away from its shoal, and would be swimming around the bait observing it for some time. It would be tapping into the collective knowledge of its brethren and ancestors on whether to yeild to the temptation or whether to observe. Now look at all these visuals together. About 80 to 100 feet under the ocean floor the big fish is encircling the bait, the bait is looking back and is still. About 100 feet higher, the fisher man is sitting holding the chord with zen like stillness inspite of the sea trying its best to rattle him. This action in inaction will continue till the weakest gives in, I mean the fisherman, the sea and the fish. The first to blink loses that’s the law.” “Hmmm….. , no Priya I see it this way, all of us have our destinies intertwined with one another and each will connect with another at a prefixed time. The fish will take the bait at a predesignated time, for her fate is connected with the bait, the chord and the fisherman, that’s how nature intended it to be”. There was some movement on the skiff,  the fisherman was moving. He kept pulling and finally it looked like, he had landed his catch. Vikram and Priya looked at each other and smiled, Vikram pulled the curtains.

Chalet No.101

The Agarwals checked into Chalet no.101. Vinay, Anita and their 6 year old son Arush. Arush was totally unlike any kid his age. Arush always looked lost in his thoughts. The doctor had said that he was absolutely fine, just a touch sensitive. Vinay and Anita had learnt to accept this as normal behavior. So when they checked into the hotel on a stormy day, they were hardly amazed to see Arush stare through the glass window looking at the sea. Vinay and Anita soon got lost in their discussions, the TV was turned on, food was called for, calls were being made. “Arush, what are you staring at? Come freshen up and then do whatever staring you want to do.” Anita told. “Let him be Anita, he is grown up and will do without being told.” Arush looked outside and saw the sea go up and down like a seasaw. It had the power to gulp the hotel in which he was staying, yet chose to keep a safe distance. It moved everything. A small insignificant boat was dancing to the tune of the sea and a man was sitting still and composed as if he was levitating and Arush looked at the man with amazement. After a while, he was lost in the sight with all his sensory perceptions tuned into the solitary spectacle. What was the man doing? Why was he not afraid? Did the sea not scare him? What if the man is communicating to the sea…Asking it to give him what  he deserves. The sea was not agreeing and was expressing its displeasure at this request. The mighty sea was trying to trip the man from his state. There was a conversation going on. At the deep end the ocean was communicating this request to the fish who swam in its belly. The man looked resolute. He wasn’t going to budge until the ocean heeded to his request. Slowly the tide calmed, the man moved and pulled out a big fish, possibly nature had answered his call, the ocean had summoned the fish and one fish had made the decision. There was a smile on Arush’s face. “What are you smiling for Arush” asked Anita. “Nothing, I am hungry said Arush”.

Chalet no.102

Chalet no.102 was occupied by the newly wed Ragini and Ruchir Khurana. Ragini was about 22 and Ruchir 35. This was not exactly a marriage made in heaven. Ragini’s parents had found out about her relationship with Iqbal the neighbourhood AC mechanic. The Bhatias panicked as they couldn’t digest the thought of their daughter marrying someone from another religion, that too a poor ac mechanic. Ruchir’s family was known to the Bhatias for long. The marriage was a a hush hush affair. Ragini had been told of all consequences that Iqbal and she  would have to face given the contacts of her IPS father. Ragini gave in. From that moment on she was like walking corpse, just a figure of flesh n bones, the last ounce of life was plucked out. Ruchir was a son of a wealthy politician and was known for his misadventures in Lucknow. His bar scuffles were folklore. There was a news which the media gave a lot of air when he had slapped an on duty police officer for stopping him for a breath analyser test. As always Ruchir got away.

Today as they had checked into the hotel by the sea, Ragini was as silent as she was and Ruchir as contemptuous as he was known to be. Ragini’s state of disconnect was broken when the first drop of rain fell on her during the walk to the Chalet. There was a hint of a smile on her face, a hint that’s it. Inside the Chalet, it was warm and cosy. As they stepped in and closed the doors. Ruchir grabbed her by the hand. Tore her shirt, the buttons dropped on the floor without any resistance. This had become routine since the day of the marriage, so much so that the feeble resistance that Ragini put up had also faded. The violent act which left her bruised each day was repeated. The feeling of being raped on a daily basis had numbed her deep down. After a while Ruchir turned on the other side. The sound of his snoring filled the room and over powered the sound of the drops on the wooden roof and the whistling sound made by the swaying coconut trees. Ragini got herself together and started looking outside the glass window. There was a different world outside. There was symphony in the air, the rain was falling rhythmically, the wind was whistling, and as if on cue the sea was dancing to a heavenly tune. There sat a man on a boat in the middle of the sea. His sense of calm gave her an impression that he was conducting the orchestra and all the elements were yielding to his instructions. Then a thought hit her. What was he doing there sitting on the boat in the rough sea? Of course he had laid a a bait and was waiting for an unsuspecting fish to bite. Inside the ocean there would somewhere be a fish who was playing around in the world of her own. She must be the most beautiful fish in her shoal. There would be many a fish who would want her attention. Her eyes would be beaming with the pride that her parents would have for her. Then today just another day in her beautiful life, she will come across a bait, a moment of indecision and all her dreams will come crashing down. The fisherman moved and pulled up a big fish. A tear flowed down Raginis’s cheeks. She got up quietly opened the door and stood outside the chalet. The rain drenched her and her tears. As she shut the door, the sound of the rain was the only thing she could hear. The snoring sound faded.

In the evening all the three families were seated next to each other at the inhouse restaurant. The Sharmas of 100 were looking as youthful as ever lost in each other. The Agarwals of 101 were discussing what to eat with Arush staring outside looking at the rain. Ruchir was on the phone talking to someone and Ragini was fixated with fork. The steward arrived and gave the menu to all of them. He said ” Sir would you like to try the Salmon? we have caught one of the biggest salmons found in this part of the world. It was caught today morning from the coast right outside.”

A rainy Conference

It was about 11 am, the weather outside was something else. The clouds were coming together and sticking up a dark blanket blocking the last possible ray of sunlight. The Hill resort atop India’s most famous monsoon hill station was shining in its element. The clouds had descended on it. The white haveli in the black background was just like a shining pearl in the abyss. The clouds had swelled up and the heavenly dance could happen any moment, the wind was picking up speed.

The Conference hall was full. It was the venue of the National meet of one of India’s largest dotcom companies. The atmosphere inside was a clear contrast from the weather outside. The windows were covered with curtains and the conference hall disconnected the people inside from the last sensory perception of Nature’s dance that was about to begin. 

On the mike was Vikram Singh the 35 year old head of the famous Indian online shopping company “ShopIndia”. A pioneer in the online shopping space, “ShopIndia”was facing some real tough competition from two major online Giants, One from US, the world’s largest Online market place and another from China, Asia’s largest market place. Shop India was holding up till now, however in the last few quarters some major sellers had veered off. The Competition had deep pockets and the Investors in ShopIndia were worried. Some tough decisions were to be taken. Some segments had a really tough time, Vikram these days was known to be really temperamental. A bad review with him could mean the end of someone’s career.The tension in the air was palpable, an absolute far cry from the weather outside where the dance had begun, the drops had turned into bucket loads, the heavens were pouring down. Vikram began speaking, he laid out the vision to a crowd that was listening in rapt attention, efficiency was the goal, the company would be ruthless to bottom performers, some people at the back were looking down. 

Suddenly the door of the conference room was flung open and two kids barged in… They started running around in circles, it was like a stone thrown at placid  water, there were ripples every where. The entire conference room burst into laughter. The hotel boy was called, he went looking for their parents. Vikram could only  manage a wry smile. The kids were not listening. They went and opened the door outside . the water came in and they just jumped and played in the rain with absolute disregard for etiquette & conformity. After about 5 minutes the parents arrived, they could just about manage a sorry. The younger of the two kids while being pulled back said, “Mama kitne boring log hai ye Sab. Aisi baarish me pata Nahi kya kar rahe hai?? Koi aaya hi nahi khelne.. “The mother could could only give an embarrassed look.

The entire conference room burst out laughing. The setting had changed. The door outside was flung open, the floor was dirty. The sound of thunder filled the room. The mood in the room had become more lively, as the smell of monsoon mud entered the room there was a lightness in the air. Everybody was far more relaxed. 

As everybody tried to settle in, Vikram asked, What is it that you guys want to do right now? “Off with the Blazer n Tie” came a voice from the back. “Tathastu” he said. The formality was off. “Now what?” “Let’s play in the rain” who said that? Before people could look back, Vikram said “Tathastu,let’s play football.” There it was every body in their leather shoes jumped out, quickly two teams were made and the lawn of the hotel lawn had become a football ground. People fell on their backs, clothes were torn. After 90 minutes there was a winning team. The whole hotel looked at the spectacle where corporate professionals broke into the most keenly contested mud football match ever seen. The entire hotel applauded the winning team. As the game was over, Vikram signalled everyone to the conference hall. They begged him to allow them to change. Vikram didn’t budge, he said pls come as you are.

“What did we learn today?” Vikram asked.

Many hands went up. 

Rahul stood up and said “Vikram the kids taught me that it is important to play your game irrespective of what others do” 
“They taught us to enjoy our game deeply and rest will be taken care off” said Sunita, the head of Customer service.

“They taught us to get drenched in the rain when it demanded and not be coy” said Mr. gupta.

“OK so are we ready to play our game?”Vikram thundered, 

“Yes”  “Yes”  “Yes” came the reply.

The kids were still playing outside oblivious to the effect they had on one of India’s largest companies.

The Actress and the Bai

image

“Chup chap apna kaam karo, mujhe kisiki nasihat Nahi chahiye… ”

That stung, Ruksana bi was stunned into silence

It was only her 3rd day in the posh Yari road flat of the 20 year old Vedika Singh who in a period of 6 months had become an overnight sensation. Her serial Mere Apne where she depicted the journey of young girl with dreams to an abusive marriage had struck a chord.

The journey from Bombay Central station an year back with Rs.25000 in her bag and the no of one friend who happened to be a production assistant in the industry was no less ordinary. Vedika’s dreams couldn’t be contained in the small house in a nondescript village of Kapurthala. Education was not her calling. Rebellion was in her blood, complying would mean marriage. She took the leap, boarded the train and in an year here she was living her dream.

While it all seemed like a dream from a distance, things were not as simple as they seemed. Yes there was money in the bank, a posh house on rent at Yari road, a swanky car, but her family had practically disowned her. Mom used to pickup the call and listen, that’s what she had in the name of family at the moment.

Things changed at a personal level as well. Her boyfriend Sidharth had moved in with her in her flat. Sidharth was her co-star in the serial and their relationship was talk of the town.They hooked up at the set, She had no friends in Mumbai and she was spending about 16 hours at the set with him. This relationship was only a natural progression. Almost the same age and similar backgrounds both of them hit it off. Off late the relationship had become very violent. The neighbours could here screams, things breaking from their flat.

It was Rukshana bi’s 3rd day in the house. She was going about her chores, picking up bottles and glasses. She saw Vedika had a cut on her elbow and a mark on her cheek, “Kya hua baby? Kuch problem hai kya?” That’s when she was shut up. Rukhsana bi put her head down and went about her business. She had worked in many such homes and knew what to do. Vedika sat on the couch and started crying.

At home, her daughter was hooked on to Mere Apne and asked her, “Ammi ye Vedika kitni khoobsurat hai na, dekho bechari ke  armaan kuchal diye uske gharwalo ne.. Mujhe milaaoge kya vedika se??? Mai uski bahut badi fan hu…” Rukhsana bi didn’t utter a word. She went and fed Iqbal. Iqbal had been paralysed for about 10 years now. And depended on Rukhsana for everything except breathing. Everytime she fed him, Iqbal’s eyes would turn moist, and then would stay fixed at the fan.

This ritual continued for many days… Here was Rukhsana who was witness to two daily soaps, one reel and one real played out by the same characters. In one serial Vedika and Sidharth were trying to find love among all d hostility in Sidharth’s house. There was an innocence in their story which connected the masses. At home in the real story here were two people who fed off each other’s abuse, as if each fed of the other’s weakness venting out their deepest insecurities and misplaced this emotion as love. All Rukhsana bi could do was to put her head down and clear the glasses.

Today was Iqbal’s birthday and Rukhsana bi had made his favourite sevai and fed him, the moment she fed him, she paused for the now usual single eye drop, instead she saw a hint of a smile on his face. It took 10 years for this to happen and Rukhsana bi couldn’t control her tears. As the tears dried, she felt very light. She started laughing uncontrollably, Iqbal’s eyes were responding. There was a shayari in the air, a shayari composed by the eyes. The 50 year old Rukhsana bi had a spring in her step. She gave a peck on Iqbal’s cheek and left for work.

Rukhsana bi just hugged Vedika as she opened the door. “Kya hua Rukhsana bi?” Vedika asked. To which she replied “Aaj meri zindagi muqammal ho gayi baby, aaj Iqbal ki saalgirah hai aur aaj Allah ne mujhe mera aajtak ka sabse pyaara tohfa diya. Aaj Iqbal hasse…” Saying this Rukhsana bi started crying uncontrollably, then started laughing.

Vedika:  “Bass sirf itna…?”
Rukhsana: “Ha baby”

There was silence in the room.

After a pause Vedika asked “Rukhsana bi pyaar Kya hai ?”  To which Rukhsana replied “Pata Nahi baby, Shayad woh Jo tumhe muqammal banata hai” 

“Kya hua baby? chup kyu ho gayi?” Rukhsana bi asked in a harried tone.

Vedika stood there silent..

Chhotu

image

“Hello… Is this Mrs Makhija? I am Sister Carol the Principal of Mount Carmel International School, This is regarding Rahul, Can you come to school tomorrow? It would be great if you could get Mr. Makhija as well. It is better we speak in person”

“Rahul what are you up to? Why has the Principal called? Did you do some masti? Why don’t you answer me? I can’t stand this house. Don’t become like your father.” Not a word from little Rahul.

Things were not OK off late in the Makhija house hold, Akhil and Anushka were going through a troubled marriage, The tiffs started with finances or the lack of it, Debts, Akhil being away most of the time, alcohol, one leading to another.The secretary had sent a notice on behalf of the housing society about the noise in their house. The entire building avoided the Makhijas.

At the school…

“Mrs Makhija where is Mr. Makhija?” Anushka let that pass… “Is everything OK at home Mrs. Makhija? We have seen a sudden change in Rahul’s behavior off late. Last year he was one of the most energetic students in the entire class. In the last 3 months all teachers have noticed that Rahul has suddenly stopped talking. He always seems preoccupied with some thought. How is his behavior at home?” Anushka took a gulp, her face became red, eyes clouded & exactly two droplets rolled down her cheeks, as if they had somehow just sneaked through a big barrier, “Can I have a glass of water? Sister there have been some issues at home, I never realised they have started affecting my child.” The Principal said “Mrs. Makhija, the resident psychologist of the school has told me Rahul is showing signs of clinical depression. I suggest you discuss this at home and meet a counsellor.”

On the way home no one spoke a word.
As usual Akhil came home in an inebriated state, and as was the custom of the house another big fight ensued, the decibel levels went up, crockery broke, the TV was having a tough time with the things hurled at it. The word Divorce came up for the first time in today’s argument. Rahul did what he knew best he turned the volume up, saw his cartoon and pretended everything was fine.

Nothing changed…

One month passed.

“Hello is this Mrs Makhija? I am sister Carol the Principal, Could you please come to the School tomorrow? Let’s discuss in person.”

Sister Carol was beaming, “Pls have a seat Mrs Makhija, What transformation!!! Rahul is back to his energetic best, his class participation has gone up, How did you do this? after our discussion, did you meet a counsellor?” Anushka was stunned.
“No miss I don’t know. We didn’t do…Also I noticed he is coming home late…”

The silence… Palpable.

“Mrs Makhija, I don’t know what Rahul is up to in that case, with my experience it could be two things. A. He has found a way to reconcile with the issues at home. B. This is another symptom of clinical depression, we must meet a psychologist. I suggest you don’t confront Rahul and observe him when he is alone, Does he go home by himself? Yes. OK. Just observe him in that case. Don’t let him know you are watching.”

Anushka stood diagonally opposite the school and observed Rahul as he got out from School. He was running, cracking jokes, an absolute departure from his self at home, like Jekyl n Hyde, two different personalities. He was however not taking the usual route home, He walked and stood by an old woman sitting by the Street selling Vegetables, both of them were talking like they knew each other for long. Rahul was speaking in chaste Marathi. When did he learn Marathi? Then she saw something that could not be explained. Rahul went and cuddled a small puppy, gave it food, caressed it, started talking to it. ” Chotu aaj pata hai kya hua, aaj class me running competition tha, main 1st aaya, teacher boli main class ka best student hu, tera din kaisa gaya? Aaji ko tang nahi kiya na, nahaya kya? Kya khaaya aaj? He went on an on…while saying this he kept rubbing the puppy’s temple. The puppy kept listening and kept stealing glances..

Anushka could not stop herself and went to the woman as Rahul went a little far with the puppy, she bought some vegetables and generally asked “Ye ladka koun hai? Aap pehchante hai use?” The old lady: ” Arre ha Rahul ahe khoop changla porga, tya divshi mi rastyat padli, are vay zhaalena.. Hya porrane mala paani paazhle, tya diwsapasun roz bhetto mala, dev rakhel hyaala(translated: He is Rahul, That day I had a stroke and fell on the ground, I am getting old you see, he came and gave me water, from that say we are friends, may god bless him)

“Aur ye kutta kiska hai ???” Anuskha queried. “Kutra naahi majha porga aahe, Chhotu mhanto aamhi tyaala, Are eka divshi ek gaadichya khaali yenaar hota to, Rahul la sapadla maajhya kade gheun aala, mala bolla aaji Chhotula tu aaplya ghari thevsheel??? Maajhe aai baba aiknar naahit. Mee bolle are mhaateerichya barobar aahe tari kon? Leka sarkha aahe na to. Bas tya divsanantar chalu aahe aamchi rojchi maja. Mhatareeche janu 2 por, 1 Rahul ani 1 Chhotu. Tu kashala vichartes??”.(Translated: He is not a Dog, he is like my son, His name is Chhotu, One day he almost came under a car, Rahul brought him and asked me whether I will keep him? He said his parents won’t keep him? I said fine anyways I have no one. from that day on we are having a blast, I have 2 children Rahul and Chhotu. Why are you asking?) Anushka didn’t say anything and went home before Rahul could look back.

On the way back Anushka called Akhil and narrated the entire episode. There was an eerie silence after she narrated the entire story. Then she asked Akhil.” Akhil where did we go wrong? Are we bad parents? What did Puppy and that old woman give Rahul that we couldn’t. After a pause Akhil replied….             “They listened to him”

22

image

A neatly pleated suit, matching trousers and a Laptop bag. The perfect corporate executive, he was standing at the Airoli Bus stop in Navi Mumbai, which was looking uncharacteristically deserted for this time.. He was speaking frantically with some one. “I know darling, things are a little tough these days, believe you me things will sort out.” There was something that was different about him. He was getting more than his share of glances.

” Aarti I am telling you, we will be able to handle it.” “Aarti wait I will call you back some body is….”, he cut the call.
” What…? What are you saying? ” the person came close to him. This person, he looked really sullied, his face and his clothes looked very familiar. He started coming near to Mukesh. “22…22…22… 22…22….22…22….22 hahahaaha!!!!” “Be careful…22…22..” Mukesh ran from there… He took a rickshaw to office. The traffic was heavy. The only thing weighing on his mind was 22… What the hell was 22 and who was this guy? As the traffic eased and his rick started moving bumper to bumper, his eyes got set on the no plate of the car in front, MH02AB5722. 22 there it was, the last 2 digits. The Rick accidentally brushed the car and the person in the car came up, pulled the rick driver out and slapped him. Mukesh went out grabbed the driver and banged him on the wind shield of his car. The entire crowd was stung into silence. Mukesh started running. People in the crowd started shouting but none dared to chase him. There he was all pleated up, the perfect corporate executive, what the hell did he just do? What happened to that driver? Was he alive? Why was he running? What should he do? Where should he go? Should he go to the police or run from them? He just kept running. Who was that person? And what was 22? He had no clue where he was heading and what he was supposed to do next. Thudd!!!! He hit a passerby and lay unconscious…

“Doctor Sahab kya hua hai ise? Isne aaj Airoli signal par ek aadmi ko apne windshield pe de maara. Mar gayo wo, I I got a prescription from you in his pocket dated 3 years back” Sub Inspector Daate was in a fix, he had seen many road rage incidents but this was peculiar. “Unbelievable, i don’t believe this. I treated Mukesh 3 years back, he is suffering from Chronic Schizophrenia and he was accused of killing his entire family. He was admitted to the State Mental Hospital, How did he get out??? Hello… Are you there??”