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”

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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 Actress and the Bai

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“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..

22

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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??”

Being Human

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Monday, 10:00 Am , Mumbai, Goregaon, Oberoi Signal.

This was Michael’s daily routine, A 60 second wait was inevitable, the highway was jammed,Malishka was screaming her lungs out on the radio, Michael however was tuned to another frequency, a frequency from hell, his mind. Michael and Gracy were married for 10 years, it was tough, they were medically fit but unable to conceive a child.

Thak thak thak

The knock distracted him. There was a kid only wearing a big T-shirt and nothing underneath, he must have been about 8. He was looking at Michael and saying something. Michael pulled the glass down, the sound at the signal was deafening. He was about to ask the child and the signal went green, the cars zoomed ahead, the honking sound became unbearable, he had to leave.
His boss noticed him sleep walk the whole day in office, at home Gracy was trying to liven up the place, but Michael was still on his personal frequency.

Tuesday, 10 Am, Oberoi Signal Goregaon

Thak thak thak

The same scene again. Michael pulled down the glass, ” Kya bol raha hai?” He queried. “Uncle mere T-shirt pe kya likha hai?” The child asked. Michael was stunned, he was expecting the child to ask for money. About 4 feet in height. This kid was a real piece of work, absolutely unkempt, it was impossible to have more dirt on his body than there was already. OK so what did the T-shirt say? ” Being Human likha hai.. Kyu tu pad Nahi Sakta kya??”  Michael replied. “Nahi uncle ye log mereko chida rahe hai… Bol rahe hai Salman Khan ka T-shirt hai, Ye mera hai” The signal went green, and the honking started, it looked like the traffic cop was shouting at Michael. Michael left.

Wednesday, 10 am, Goregaon, Oberoi Signal.

Thak thak thak,

“Arre uncle kal chale gaye, matlab to bataya hi Nahi” the kid was there. It was like everyday Michael was noticing something new in this kid. There he was all of about 8 years wearing the “Being Human” T-shirt, there only seemed to be some more kids around, possibly they were the ones who teased him, in all that grime and dirt, the kid had an attitude, a devil may care one, he looked like a born vagabond. ” Tera naam kya hai?” Michael asked, “Are mereko sab Pintya bolte hai” Michael handed him a 10 rupee note, the kid said “Are tu paisa rakh re sahab, apun ko paisa Nahi chahiye terese , apna shift abhi shuru nahi hua, tu bata na matlab” signal went green and Michael drove off.

Thursday, 10 am, Goregaon, Oberoi Signal

Thak thak thak,

“Are matlab batao na sahab?” This kid was not going anywhere.Something clicked. Michael opened the side door and said “Andar aaja” Pintya jumped in.
The signal turned green, Michael drove off, they started talking, Where did Pintya live? Who were his Parents? Why was he begging? They went to the mall, had sumptuous food, and bought clothes from… Yes “Being Human” store. After all of this they went to Michael’s home. Gracy and his mother gave him a perplexed look, Michael said meet my new friend “Pintya” he will be staying with us. Michael’s mother just went off the handle and started shouting. Michael asked Pintya to wait in the drawing room and took Gracy inside. Pintya stood there dumbfounded, he had no clue what was happening. In the meanwhile Michael’s mother called somebody and after sometime the door bell rang, An elderly gentleman came in. As he came in, Michael’s mother called Michael and Gracy outside, She said “Father Francis is here” Gracy had tears in her eyes, She came out and hugged Pintya tight. Pintya was perplexed, he thought “Saala ho kya raha hai? pehle chilla rahe the ab gale laga rahe hai, ye Buddha koun hai?” Then Father Francis said something that was unbelievable, ” I am proud of you my son Michael, this is called Being Human”. Pintya shouted “Saala wapas Being Human??? Are koi to iska matlab batao” the whole house burst into laughter.