That Girl

9 Am, Kings Circle Junction, Mumbai

“What’s wrong???  Tell me…
I can help… Don’t do it…”

He was speaking in a monotone.

“Who are you???” asked her friend

“Smitha do you know him??”

She said nothing.

“Come with me…”He said

She got up and walked along.

“Smitha, wait… wait… wait…” Her friend called out.

They kept walking.

“Arun, buddy whatsup? where are you going?” His friend screamed from the car.

The honking sound from behind was unbearable and Vivek reluctantly got into the driver’s seat and drove off…

Arun and Smitha were walking, oblivious to the world.

There was a rare silence amidst the urban cacophony

After about half an hour, Arun stopped.

“Are you hungry? Will you have something?” 

No word.

Arun said, “This restaurant is famous for its south Indian spread.”

Still no word.

At the restaurant

He ordered for two cups of coffee and asked her, “What will you have?”

No word

“Ok , tell me why do you want to die?”

Arun asked with a straight face.

Tears appeared in her eyes, the first two tears showed a rare symmetry, they came slowly bulged her eyes and flowed down together and then came a slow stream. It just kept flowing, as if a crack had appeared on a reservoir and the first stream of water found its way.

“Sahab aur kya loge? Ae  chal do number pe idly bol, teen number pe masala dosa… Sahab bolo..” The waiter asked as if he was on auto mode.

“Do coffee..” He said.

They both kept looking into each other’s eyes, the stream had become a river and was gushing down, he didnot bother interrupting.

Then again the waiter came. 

“Do cup coffee” he said..

This kept happening some 20 times. Three hours had passed.

This table was now receiving a fair share of attention. What was interesting was the no of fights that took place in the last three hours around the table. A couple had broke up in the next table. A family almost came to blows.

Even more intriguing was Gulshan sir’s behavior.The old professor was a regular to the joint and had his favourite seat. 

As he sat on the table next to Arun and Smitha.He called out..”Arre aaj idhar itna heavy kyu lag raha hai??? Khidki khol, pankha chaalu kar, agarbatti jala” 

It was absolutely unusual for him to say that. That feeling hung for someime and Gulshan sir got up and moved out. He said “Khaate me likh do, baad me aata hu”

“Saahab kuch  aur loge?? ” The waiter queried, in a worried tone.

“Do plate dosa le aa”  said Arun.

 “But madam to kuch  kha nahi rahi hain” said the waiter.

Arun started laughing…  This dialogue had momentarily stopped the tears.

“Tu le aa…” said Arun

“Ok , My name is Arun, I know it is a very deep wound that you are nursing and death looks like a serious option now. But tell me, in the last three hours aren’t you feeling slightly better? 

I once considered this option, planned for it, decided and then that day when I was about to, I stood there at the bus stop pondering. An interesting thing happened. An old woman kept asking me for alms, A destitute who possibly had no shelter and no food, she was a regular at that bus stop, but that day she just stood by me. It took me about an hour to notice that she was standing there. As I picked my wallet to hand her some change, she whispered in my ears,”Jaau de… Jaau de,  Hou de je whaiche aahe te..”(Translated from Marathi) (Let it go, let it happen, whatever it is.) 

I suddenly felt like a stone hung from my back had been lifted. There was a sudden lightness. I realised, All that I was trying to fight was getting stronger and breaking me. I took her advise and stopped fighting it. I let it happen. As my resistance fell, so did the problems, everything that was unsolvable just dissolved. God has been kind, here I am.”

She smiled… The glint in her eye was unmissable. As if the rays of the sun had shone after a long cloudy day, as the rays filtered through, everything that was hidden was sparkling in a new found luster.It was all so clear, the light on her face was like a halo. As if it was someone else. 

The lips pouted hinting she was about to speak, She was about to say something and then for the first time today, She spoke “Well, I drink Tea.”

Hahahahaha…

Both of them started laughing, the waiters listening in joined the laughter and the entire restaurant started laughing.

As the laughter died down, She asked, “How did you know?”

He paused and said, 

“You tell me… It was you who called me”

Advertisements

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 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.”

The Ocean of Blue: Part 2

image

“Ammi samandar kaisa hota hai??? Ammi bataona…???”

“Arre khaana bana nahi abhi tak???

” Javed ko kya bolu??? Roz aata hai… Arre kab tak aisa chalega???

An average day in the life of Naseem, On one hand a very very  inquisitive 5 year old Sahil who would question her on anything and everything that he saw and on another hand a nagging Mother in law. It is not easy being a young widow with a child in a conservative muslim family, especially  when you are just 24 and you need to be running the house. There were all kinds of people, There were the oldies who said she brought bad luck to the Qureshis and blamed her for the untimely death of Imtiaz, Then there were others who despised her for going out to work in a call centre. There was also the neighborhood lech Javed who would pry on her any given opportunity.

But life wasn’t like this always, Naseem was the most beautiful girl in her mohalla, for her mother she was her Pari whose eyes had Noor. Life was beautiful. There was the neighbourhood paramour Imtiaz who had a special corner for her. Naseem liked the way he looked at her, he was earnest, and respected her, yes he was uneducated but believed he could change his destiny with his hands. Naseem’s mother hated Imtiaz, She had big plans for her daughter and Imtiaz was no match. Well…as they say time had other plans, She was 18 and he was 24, they eloped and by the time they reunited with their family, Naseem had a 3 yr old Sahil. It was one helluva ride with Imtiaz, no expectations, each day was a new experience, Imtiaz had a way of surprising life, staring at it, every day was a lifetime, simple pleasures like catching the double decker at Colaba to see the Queens necklace, the best nalli nihari and ran masala at Mohammad Ali road or just sitting by the Ocean, every cell of her body was full of life, it was like they were on a constant high. They lived like there was no tomorrow. Imtiaz was a shayar to the core. He wrote for her only for her, for her eyes, made her feel like a princess. It didn’t matter they stayed in a shanty, with room only enough to keep a double cot. One day Imtiaz didn’t return home, a rogue car came the wrong way and  knocked him over. Naseem mourned for three days, on the fourth day she got up and took charge, there was a family to feed, her life had changed forever. Naseem was the man of the house.

Naseem packed off Sahil to her  neighborhood kindergarten, packed her lunch, kept her mother in law’s food in the plate, pulled over the burkha and ran to catch a rickshaw. The Call centre had punch in, punch out timings and every late mark would knock off half a day’s salary, from her precious Rs.7500 that ran her house. The train pulled over, Naseem’s friend Rehana would keep her place at the door, Naseem jumped in, greeted Rehana, she moved back and the train started, slowly catching momentum, there was a rhythm to the sound of the rakes almost like it was the rhythm of life. The wind touched her like Imtiaz, reminded her of his presence, it wanted her to be free, this was her quite little daily epiphany. Something hindered her thought process today, someone was watching, as she looked across there was a figure of a middle aged man in the distant train, looking at her in the most impervious fashion, the look froze Naseem, those eyes they were seeking something, something that was ethereal. She looked back, straight in them, at first he hesitated then he looked right back, it was a moment when a connection was made, she touched something, the moment seemed like a lifetime without a time or a space dimension. It was endless, like two oceans had met. Suddenly the sight was gone as her train pulled over, the other had passed. The connection was interrupted.

Naseem started to laugh out loud. Rehana was clueless, Naseem told her “Chal aaj bunk maarte hain” Rehana had not heard such a thing ever. Naseem wouldn’t listen. She took Rehana for a movie. Naseem laughed like a 5 yr old during the movie, almost as if she were someone else. After the movie Rehana could not stop herself and said “Naseem aaj kya hua tujhe??? Bataana” Naseem said, “Rehana ek bat bataoon, mujhe ishq hogaya hai” “kissse ???” she queried… “Zindagi se” answered Naseem. Rehana was about to say something when Naseem’s phone rang, it was Sahil, he asked “Ammi batao na  Samandar kaisa hota hai??”
“Neela, Gehra aur Behadd” answered Naseem.