Monday, 24 July 2017

Dating in the time of feminism!

“You’re the ‘feminist’ kinds, I heard. It should be fun dating you”, he texted and added a wink smiley.

I wondered what that really means. I read it again. I replied the same way I respond to most texts which I cannot come up with an appropriate reply for - ‘Hahahaha’. It perturbed me a bit, though. ‘Feminist’ types – what is the stereotype that he is expecting? Is he intimidated by me? Am I supposed to come across as intimidating?

His expectations compounded a lot of pressure on me. What if I do not come across to be ‘feminist’ enough? Will it shatter his bubble? Am I supposed to wear thick rimmed glasses and have conversations around the third wave of feminism? What was I supposed to do? What are feminist women supposed to be like? Should I be too assertive? Should I put red-lipstick on? Should I get offended by casual sexist jokes? Am I supposed to cut him in middle of conversations every time and womansplain things (Yes, I just invented that term)? Should I come across as a difficult woman?

Oh my God! This was too much pressure for me to handle, already! What if I come across as a ‘normal’ girl? It would break his world into a thousand tiny pieces.

I dressed up and hoped that it come across to be ‘feminist’ enough. I guess adding thin framed glasses to a sexy black dress does the trick. The neck of the black dress, however, should have the right amount of depth- neither so deep that you come across as slutty, nor so high that you seem prudish. It should be exactly 4.78 inches deep – it is the ideal feminist neckline depth. He then texts me and asks if he should pick me up; I am about to type yes, but then suddenly I think about my clan and how I would come across as a sheer disappointment if I let him pick me. I immediately text back, saying, ‘I am good, I’ll drive there.’ Having pressed the sent button, I suddenly realize that I don’t even have a car- ‘Wrong move, Charul. Wrong move!’ I immediately book an Uber and reach the brewery where we were supposed to meet.

He is waiting for me at the entrance, smiling. ‘Hey, you look beautiful!’, he remarks. I blush a bit and say thank you. (‘Blushing is acceptable, right?’ I whisper to myself. ‘I guess you are doing fine’, I respond back.)

Then the conversations get going and we become comfortable talking to each other. Suddenly, the guy at the next table started smoking. I coughed. It was co-incidental and I didn’t mind the smoke. He gave me that ‘Emraam Hashmi from Ashiq Banaya Aapne’ look and said, ‘Is it bothering you Charul, the smoke? Should I ask him to put it off?’ The alpha male instinct almost made me weak in the knees and I wanted to cough harder and tell him, ‘Yes, please save me from that big bad boy because I can’t say anything to him. Save me, will you? Please? ‘. However, I smiled and said, ‘I’m fine. I don’t really mind the smoke.’

The conversations post that went almost fine. Apart from the occasional, ‘Look I am all for feminism, but I don’t understand why women want reserved compartments in Delhi metro and talk about equality at the same time’, ‘I’m all for equality but then why can’t I hit you like I hit my guy friends?’, ‘If feminism stands for equality why is it called feminism in the first place’. Now, I have come across these questions so many times that I paused for a while, thought about the appropriate reply and was just about to lash at him when something within me stopped me saying, ‘Maybe I don’t have energy for this debate, today.’

However, just moments later – my clan started calling out to me loud and strong, ‘You must say it, Charul. You have to.’ I told him to get a drink and relax. Then, I started – one after another discussing all the ‘concerns’ he brought forward. Two minutes into the conversation, and he couldn't take it – ‘This is the problem with your kinds. You are so easily offended. You cannot take a joke.’ I wondered which of his statements was intended as a joke. I tried telling him that I am not offended, I am just trying to have a discussion – presenting another point of view. We can agree to disagree. He raised his hands, rather dramatically and said,’ Fine, you are right. Let’s just end the discussion.’ I did something between an eye-roll and a smile or a little of both. I don’t believe that I could do it well enough, though.

We were done with our food and drinks and I was prepared for the main test. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary test. It is the most important test to qualify as a true feminist. This round has the veto power.

Was I ready for it? Yes, I was ready for it. I excused myself for the restroom, opened my wallet, took out my credit card and kept it in my pocket for easy access. Then, I waited, with bated breath. ‘Why are you sweating?’, he asked. ‘Nothing, it’s just too hot, suddenly.’ ‘I-have-to-grab-the-bill. I-have-to-grab-the-bill. I-have-to-grab-the-bill’, went on in loops in my head. I could see the waiter walking towards us. ‘Was I sitting at the right angle for him to offer me the bill? Did I seem rich enough? Will I be quick enough to grab it in case it is titled more to his side?’ Oh my God, I was nervous. Five, four, three, two, one – and, he kept it on his side of the table. I don’t remember being this quick ever, but I grabbed it and said, ‘It’s my treat.’ He looked at me, rather bewildered, not able to understand why I seemed so keen on treating him. He insisted on paying and we did some bit of drama for three minutes, post which, we agreed upon letting me pay this time. I sighed in relief. I passed the final, most crucial test.

I could hear claps in the background, ‘Thank you for not letting us down, Charul’, they said. He will no longer tell his friends, that when it comes to paying the bill- these feminist types forget about equality, suddenly they start preferring chivalry. I did a little dance when he was not looking.

Meanwhile, my phone beeped. It was a message from a dear friend- ‘Woman, you owe me 30k on Splitwise. I am not your husband; you do realize that, right?’.
‘Shut up! I’ll throw the money on your stupid face, you ass’, I reply.
‘Yes, how about you throw it today. I need to pay my rent.’
‘Fine, whatever!’.

Ah, things you do for your clan!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

A letter to the girl who radiates happiness!

Dear best friend,

It has been two long years in Hyderabad and I was contemplating over how I have changed as a person; over things, experiences and people who got added to my life. Surprisingly, what stood out in the entire list was you and this fact compelled me to write something about you – about us, disregarding how cheesy it might sound. I seldom write about people, because how can you put down what someone means to you in words and do justice to those emotions, but, today, I want to try.

I remember seeing you at office for the first time – bright blue shirt and black trousers, poker straight hair, make up so heavy that it could give one of those models a deep complex, heels so high that I wondered if you need to directly rush to a party right after office; and I immediately stereotyped you to be this loud Delhi girl I can never become close friends with. Funny how first impressions and be so misleading at times!

Destiny and a bit of conscious maneuvering of it got us together as flat mates and I want to write about how much I fell in love with you with every week that passed. Is it too cheesy already? Oh, I am a cheesy and mushy person – I pretend to be this cool girl, but I am so not her.

I want to build up and then reach this point where I tell you that I have found my soul mate in you, but an impatient person that I am, I will blurt it out already – ‘Honey, I have found my soul mate in you.’ I want to recollect incidents, you know those incidents when you look at your partner and think, ‘He’s the one.’ I want to talk about the ones when you made me feel that you’re the one.

I remember those mornings after some reckless drinking nights when I walked up to you with regret, sobbing softly. Sometimes I would walk up with a vomit-engulfed T-shirt, sometimes with a blacked-out memory, telling you, ‘My life is over. I have turned into one of those girls I hated.’ Thank you for telling me outright that you’re not going to say that it is fine, and it happens, and it is okay to be young and reckless. I want to thank you for being brutally honest and telling me that I am turning into a shitty person and that you don’t like this person. Thank you for loving me just enough and not being the forgiving and endearing person that I wanted you to be at that time. Thank you being the friend I needed, not the one I wanted.

Thank you for being at the first row for all my plays and performances and cheering for me every time, every single time. It means a lot, you know to have loved ones telling you that they’re proud of you. Thank you for the jewelry, make up and dresses that I borrowed every time. I often wonder what I’d do without your wardrobe.

I remember the days when I went through an existential crisis and forgot how to smile for days, and even weeks. Thank you for helping me get out of it to figure out who I am. Thank you for shaking me up and telling me that I’m your hero and that you derive your strength from me.

How can I forget my fracture and the way you cared for me like a mother – taking my tantrums, cooking for me, cancelling your parties and working from home because I was being a baby. The time when I was admitted to the hospital for the viral fever which chose to not leave me for three straight weeks. Thank you for taking my tantrums when I refused to talk to you because you left me alone for an hour to have dinner. I behaved like a cranky little baby. Thank you for letting me a baby, then.

Thank you for paying heed to my whims and remembering the little details that I whimsically throw around sometimes. You remembered that I once whimsically stated that I want to have a swing where I can sit and read, and went ahead and gifted me that swing on my birthday. I remember staring at a Winnie the Pooh soft toy for five minutes and claiming that I want it. It was both funny and flattering how you without another thought walked into the store and bought the Pooh. I remember being cranky and telling you that I am bored of you and that I need new friends. You smiled and patiently took my uncalled temper, went an extra mile and suggested some new people whom I can be friends with. I often wonder if I deserve this kind of love – the kind of love which spoils you. Thank you for spoiling me, sometimes.

I reminisce over our breakfast discussions, about my bizarre ideas of love and life and you understanding those ideas. It’s strange how we’re two extremely different people and yet understand each other so well. Thank you for supporting me on my solo trip despite knowing how reckless a person I am. Thank you for gifting me a solo trip package with a book, a diary, chocolates and flashlight. These little things, these little things that you do for me – they are everything!

I often wonder how some people continue to love me despite my expression of love being so vague. Thank you for understanding my expression of love even when it was so indirect. Thank you for understanding that I love you even when I wasn’t by your side for days on end when you were sick – emotionally and physically. Thank you for understanding that I love you the same even when I failed to plan your birthday even half as meticulously as you planned mine. Thank you for understanding my quirks and idiosyncrasies, accepting them and loving me despite them and sometimes, for them. Thank you being the person I can share my dreams and stories with, thank you for waiting for me at dinner. Thank you for being my person.

My vocabulary is not capable of doing justice to my emotions, but I’d just like you to know that I feel extremely lucky to have you in my life and you belong to the group of people whom I call mine and take for granted, sometimes. I love you!

I forgot to mention one thing – you radiate happiness. It falls off your shining cheeks, glittery eyes and infectious laughter and everyone in your radar gets a gift of that happiness. You can walk into a dank, dingy room and brighten it up with your smile. You are amazing! I think I have already crossed my threshold of the number of cheesy words I can use in a day.

Love,

The girl with the fake accent

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Celebrating selfish mothers

Of late, I had been reading myriad of answers to the question, ‘What is it like to be raised by an Indian mother?’ on Quora. You browse through the answers and there you go- tales of selflessness, unconditional love and sacrifices galore. The stories were almost identical; each spoke about how their mothers’ selflessly cared about the children, gave up their careers for the cause of their children’s development, woke up at odd morning hours to make sure that the kids get their morning tea and how they are superwomen who are the epitome of support, affection, selflessness and greatness.

I read one story after another and I could relate to each of them because my mother was there in each of those stories. She has always been the one to wake up at the earliest hour. She would then make the morning tea, wake the rest of the family up, prepare breakfast, get my siblings and me dressed, send us to school, send dad to office and it will go on for the rest of the day. She would then be the last person to go to bed. My mother seldom complained, she always seemed happy. Hence, I never asked her if she had a problem with it all because it seemed to come naturally to her.

I would often wake up thirsty in the middle of the night with an urge to drink water. ‘Mom, Water!’, I would shout at the top of my voice. She would wake up, without resistance and get me water with a smile. Back then, it never occurred to me as to why I never called out for my dad instead. I remember her dressing me fondly for every fancy dress competition that I took part in and hear me rehearse my debate speeches over and over again. I don’t remember being thankful for it though. I always felt that she ought to be there for me. However, every hour that my dad spent in teaching me or hearing my elocution speeches seemed like a privilege. I was always grateful for his time. 

I remember mother telling me fondly about her college days and how she used to frequently visit the forests for her Botany research. She smiled broadly every time she spoke about her classes, her students and how she used to elaborately prepare for each class. ‘If you liked it so much, then why did you leave it all?’, I asked. ‘Darling, someone had to be there and take care of you all. I worked in a different city and your grandmother used to keep unwell. I had to take the call. And oh, I have no regrets’, she smiled.

This is not my mother’s story. This is almost every mother’s story, specifically the Indian mother’s story. The sacrifices may be different, the stories may have different characters and varied incidents but at the core of them lies a woman selflessly juggling many roles, putting everyone else in the family before herself and being the ultimate support system of everyone in the family. ‘What is the problem?’, you may ask. The problem is that this is often what one gets reduced to - a support system. A selfless goddess who cares for everyone else above herself and this is not what scares me; what scares me is the widely accepted notion that this comes naturally to them. The notion that this is how mothers are - selfless, giving and supportive.

I have come across a lot of mothers who have often failed to live up to the standards of ‘great’ and have dwelled in guilt on every such instance. I remember talking to a colleague who was working till late night, when she exclaimed to me about how terrible she feels about finding her son fast asleep when she reaches home. Another friend, started crying soon after my midnight birthday celebration. ‘I am so selfish. How could I leave my one-month kid at home with my mother and come here to enjoy a party?’, she exclaimed and drowned herself in guilt. Her husband, however, did not even distantly feel that there was anything wrong in his behavior. You might argue that it just comes more naturally for the mother. However, if we examine the behavior more closely, we find that both the parents wanted to come for the party. It is just the post party guilt which dawned on the mother and not the father; which stems out of the fact that the mother assumes that it is primarily her responsibility to take care of the child. The guilt of putting yourself, your enjoyment or your dreams first almost always hits the women rather than the men in a family setting.

I wonder how it would be for a mother to think about her dreams. I wonder what it would be like to not want to wake up at six one morning because she is too tired after a long workday. I wonder what it will be like if she happens to skip a parent-teacher meeting or a football match of her daughter because she was busy weaving her dreams. I wonder about the ‘selfless’ tiara with which we grace all mothers. What if all of us cannot bear the weight of that tiara and do not wish to wear it? What if we do not want to be ‘great’? What if we want to be mere mortals who have their own dreams and goals and want to chase it with the same vigor that the family wants to chase theirs with?

I am tired of hearing about the secret formulae which ensure how women can have it all. I would love to hear acceptance for women faltering and not being able to have it all. Acceptance for putting herself first sometimes, before her husband or her children. Acceptance so that she doesn’t drown in guilt if she has to leave her toddler with dad for baby-sitting when she goes out to enjoy a party with her friends. I yearn acceptance for a world in which a mother can be allowed to be 'selfish' and cater guiltlessly to her dreams. 

This can become possible if we can let the mothers drop the burden of ‘greatness’. Let the mothers also be flawed, imperfect, selfish, faltering and mere mortals, like the rest of us. Let the imperfection be celebrated and encouraged. You and I can do this together. Let’s take a step in that direction; by imbibing this in the women and men that we become, the children that we raise and the conversations that we may pick up with a random stranger. 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Penance

‘How do I look in this dress?’, Zaara threw a quick question at Rehaan while giving the finishing touch to her eyeliner.

‘You look ugly. Why would you even buy something that looks like a banana for a dress? What were you thinking?’, Rehaan smirked.

‘Why am I dating you? Why? Why can I not date a normal guy who compliments me like normal boyfriends do and makes me feel good about myself?’

‘Love is blind, darling. If only, you could choose.’

‘First of all, this is not love. We’re just having fun with each other. Secondly, you felt that I looked like some model from Victoria Secrets when you had to woo me. Suddenly, I look nothing better than potatoes and bananas to you.’

‘Darling, fifteen kilograms can do that to you. They are capable of transforming you from a Victoria Secrets model to a potato. Moreover, for God’s sake, I never felt that you look like a Victoria Secrets model. ‘Pretty’ is the best compliment that I have ever given you.’

Zaara flung her bag at Rehaan, picked up her car keys and cussed him all the way to the lift.  ‘All you men, all of you are the same. You will keep chasing a girl as long she doesn’t pay any heed to you. However, the moment she gets interested in you; suddenly she is a banana.’

‘You’re a pretty banana, darling. In fact, you always looked like a banana to me. I thought you might take offence to it if I tell you about it even when you didn’t pay any heed to me. So, I kept the feelings to myself and decided to reveal them once the attention is reciprocated’, Rehaan laughed as he rushed towards the parked car.

Zaara managed to mask her blushing cheeks with her long hair as she got into the car. She could never come to terms with the reason behind getting flattered at her boyfriend’s demeaning comments. Love has mysterious ways of turning us into people we can seldom fathom.

She sat at the driver’s seat, plugged in her pen-drive with the updated playlist and turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared transitorily and then stopped. The monsoon had taken its toll on the engine. After four to five unsuccessful attempts, Zaara finally managed to get the car started.

‘The heart wants what it wants’, was the first track that started playing.

‘Can you please change that stupid song? I don’t like it.’

‘I care a lot about your likes and dislikes Rehaan, just the way you care about mine. Can you tell me the exact songs you would like to hear? I will happily oblige.’

‘Zaara, will you stop being sarcastic? Just change the damn song.’

‘Will you stop throwing around your whims? I will play whichever song I feel like playing. Bananas do not like taking orders.’

‘Yeah, just because I don’t have a car, you’re going to look down upon me and dominate me. You preach feminism, but in reality you have the patriarchal mindset which will never let go of an opportunity to humiliate a man who makes lesser money than his lady.’

‘Rehaan, good trick to garner some sympathy; but it is not going to work. So, just shut up. However, now that you mentioned it; I wonder why I date you- you’re ugly, mean and poor. What is wrong with me!’

‘Honey, if only you had a choice. You know I am the best deal for you out there.’ They both laughed heartily as they waited at the traffic signal. The lights turned green and they moved ahead. Thick grey clouds started to fill the sky. It looked like it was going to rain. Another few minutes in the traffic and it started drizzling. There was something about light drizzles that Zaara loved. Tiny water droplets that settled on the windshield mesmerized her. She loved drizzles, not heavy rains, just the drizzles.

The traffic cleared as they moved ahead of the crossing and started driving on the Park Street. ‘That baby now, Take me into your loving arms, Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars, Place your head on my beating heart, Thinking out loud, Maybe we found love right where we are...’, was now playing in the background and both of them were smiling to themselves. Rehaan suddenly muted the song and looked at Zaara, ‘Zaara, please drive onto that driveway by the hills. I really want to go there. Please!’

‘Rehaan, are you out of your mind? We’re getting late for Rajiv’s wedding and going to that driveway will add some eight more kilometers to the route.’

‘There’s no traffic on that route. We will save time. Please, just do this for me. I haven’t said please three times in a row to you in the past three years.’

‘I can never understand you, Rehaan’, Zaara exclaimed as she unmuted the song and took a left turn to route to that driveway. The road was laid with yellowed leaves which added more beauty to the monsoon. Zaara’s annoyance of being forced to the change the route was immediately replaced by rapture and her frown transformed into a lovely smile.

‘Do you remember the day we came here for the first time, Zaara? You were wearing a yellow dress and I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to wear a dress that would make them look four times fatter than they are. You still managed to look pretty; in a strange way but pretty, nonetheless.’

‘I don’t remember meeting you but I remember that dress. I love that dress. You have strange ways of complimenting Rehaan, but at least you managed to use the word pretty this time.’

‘Zaara, I love you! I mean…I don’t know how to say this in a better manner and make you feel special. I am bad at it. I don’t know how to compliment you. In fact, I never compliment you. I never even asked you out because I never felt that I have to ever do that. Whatever we share is just so natural and beautiful that I don’t feel like tarnishing it with the slightest bit of pretense. I wish I could do this in a better manner, at a better time and a better place. But, I really want to say this to you right now. Zaara, you are a part of me and I can never let this part go. I want you to be there in my life, forever, not to complete me but to ensure that I continue living. You’re my favorite part of myself, Zaara. I don’t have a ring right now and I am probably the worst boyfriend in this world but I have to say it right now,” Will you please marry me, Zaara?”’

Zaara’s eyes welled up and tears rolled down her cheeks before she could to terms with the fact that Rehaan proposed to her. She pulled out the pendrive and threw it at Rehaan. ‘Why on earth would you propose to me in the middle of road when we’re getting late for a friend’s wedding. I hate you for it. This had to be my special moment. This is the moment that I had to share with my children. I want the goddamn ring. Rehaan Malik, I hate you!’

‘I am sorry. I just had to say it right now. Yes, or no, Zaara.’

‘Of course, yes. You, asshole!’, she exclaimed and in that moment she felt ecstatic, surprised, elated, passionate, vulnerable and loved; all at the same time. She was crying and laughing; all at once. It felt like those beautiful romantic movies which she privately loves but hates to admit in public. This was her moment. It was raw, unplanned, impulsive, real and in the middle of a yellowed leaf strewn driveway on a rainy evening. She couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful proposal. This was her special moment and she made a mental note to tell her children about it. She was smiling one of her widest smiles as she was driving.

It had started to grow dark and the drive way narrowed as they drove ahead. Suddenly, she saw an old lady crossing the road. The car was at a reasonably high speed. She honked, applied brakes immediately and deflected the car to avoid hitting the lady. However, the road was too narrow for the lady to escape and the car hit her; throwing her onto the ground head first.

Zaara started hyperventilating and could not come to terms with the accident that took place. She was unable to move. Rehaan rushed out of the car and addressed the old lady. She had got a head injury and was bleeding profusely. He lifted her up and got her into an upright position. Then he tore Zaara’s saree and tied it across her head to control the bleeding.

He called the police and narrated the incident to them. He then, called the ambulance which reached the location within five minutes. Zaara accompanied the lady in the ambulance and was checking her pulse, throughout. Time refused to budge. With each passing second, she contemplated about how the accident could have been avoided. ‘If only, Rehaan had not proposed to her and she wouldn’t have been so excited’, ‘If only she was driving slowly’, ‘If only the road was better lit’, ‘If only they had not changed the route’, ’If only the lady moved to the side on hearing the incessant honking’. She kept thinking about these possibilities all along the way to the hospital.

They got down at the City Hospital and with trembling hands Zaara helped the lady out of the ambulance. She finished the formalities as the doctors rushed her to the emergency ward. She called up the last dialed numbers on the lady’s phone.

The first person who picked up was apparently the son. ‘Hi, I am speaking from City Hospital. This lady...may I know how you are related to her?’

‘She is my mother. What happened to her?’

‘She met with an accident. Please come to the hospital as soon as I can. I was driving the car which crashed into her. I have signed all the forms. She had to be operated immediately. Please come here as soon as you can.’

‘What? How did she meet with an accident? Who are you? Are you sure about it being my mother? What is she wearing?’

‘She is wearing a brown saree. The name on her Aadhar card says Uma Lakshmi.’

‘Yes, that’s my mother. Is she all right?’

‘No, she is not all right. Please come to the City Hospital.’

I will ruin you, woman. If anything happens to my mother, I will ruin you.’

Zaara disconnected the phone. She wanted to cry but could not bring herself to cry. She was numb. It seemed like a nightmare which will pass when she wakes up in the morning. It was too terrible to be true. She went down on her knees and for the first time since the crash, she wept uncontrollably. She wept and asked for forgiveness, for another chance and traded everything for the lady’s life.

Funny thing about being an atheist is that in the times of crisis, you don’t even know with whom you are having these conversations. You don’t even know who you are asking for another chance. However, you ask, nonetheless; converse, nonetheless and hope for a miracle, nonetheless.

Rehaan found Zaara weeping at the corner of the hospital. He hugged her as he fought back tears. ‘I don’t want her to die, Rehaan. Please do something. Please save her, Rehaan. Please! ‘. He kept hugging her and controlled his emotions. He was as broken as Zaara but he had to be strong for her. He had to comfort her and tell her that it will become all right.

I felt sorry for Rehaan. I pitied him for not being allowed to break down and tell Zaara that he is as scared and broken as she is. I pitied him for not being able cry and expose his vulnerabilities. I pitied him for having to crush his pain and put up a brave face for Zaara. I pitied him for being a man.

The doctor came out of the operation theatre. He looked content. The nurses made a casual joke as they walked out. The scene gave a ray of hope to Zaara and Rehaan. ‘She must be fine’, Zaara told herself as she breathed a sigh of relief. ‘How is the lady, doctor?’, Rehaan managed to utter.


‘I am sorry; we could not save her. There was way too much blood loss and her body was too weak to survive the operation. Please complete the formalities with the police before checking out.’

Sometimes time just seems frozen. You force yourself to stay in that moment as long as you can because any moment after that will only be worse. It was happening for real. ‘I am not a murderer, Rehaan. I am not a murderer’, Zaara kept repeating in a loop as she fell on the floor, weeping. She was broken, shattered into pieces which seemed too many to ever be put back together, again. 


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Sitting at her rocking chair and braiding her granddaughter’s hair she exclaimed, ’Penance is important, my child. It is very important and so is forgiveness. We should all learn to forgive ourselves. Forgiveness after penance.’

That night, she wrote into her diary, ‘I forgive myself. It was a mistake.’ 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The quest for the ultimate purpose is killing me!

You have been thinking, over thinking about the purpose of your life since the time you could make out what the words ‘purpose of life’ mean. It is a fancy term and you love the idea that we’re all here to add some value to the world around us; that your existence, your presence has a larger purpose to solve. You believe or have been believing, for a very long time that each one of us has a unique gift to offer to this world. When you realize what gift you bring along with you, you can start adding more beauty, more value to that gift each day so that when you’re gone, your gifts have reached their utmost potential.

It becomes overwhelming and even frustrating sometimes to keep seeking for that one place where you belong. You feel empty inside and think that maybe you will stumble upon some place where it will suddenly start to make sense, when your existence will suddenly become life. You keep looking for that place which will probably have all the answers. You try with all your might and put together your skill-set, interest and pragmatism and look for the most probable places where you might seek solace. However, after a while you realize that the shoes just don’t fit right. They are either a little too big, a little too small or bite a little too much but you’re looking everywhere for that perfect pair.

You have read so many articles on how to be more productive and turn your twenty-four hours into forty-eight hours, how to be successful and achieve your dreams. Suddenly, it strikes you that you don’t know what your dream is and you have been existing here for twenty-three years not knowing where you have to go. You’re stuck at the platform, the trains are passing by and people are catching their trains. They are bidding goodbyes. Some are happy, some have moist eyes, but they know their destination. You, on the other hand are standing at the platform, not knowing which train to take; not knowing where to go. Before you can make a choice, you’re pushed onto a train because it’s a crowded platform, people have to keep moving on and the world cannot give you forever to make your choices.

Then, you get down at another station and it feels home for a while and you feel maybe destiny got you to the right place. After sometime, you realize that the language is foreign and the people don’t seem friendly anymore. You want to spend more time here to understand the language better. You want to spend time getting closer to the people but you’re torn between spending more time at this place or exploring another place, which you might identify more closely with.

This goes on for a long time and you’re left thinking if you’re a misfit completely. You wonder whether you will fit in anywhere at all. You wonder if you will ever be good enough for anything. This seeps into your soul and gives you shudders sometimes. You have list of things to accomplish each day. You have a list of tasks to track your growth. When you check on them, there is a green checklist but you still feel stagnant and wonder if you performed the right tasks at all.  

Every day, you go on with your life telling yourself that probably this is how it is supposed to be, this is how it is for everyone. You tell yourself that this is real life and that it’s only in a Utopian world where people love what they do and do what they love and are content with their lives. You make peace with it and seek refuge for a while in a book or in that dance during which you almost break a leg at the pub. You seek happiness in pieces and tell yourself that eventually you will be able to put them together and it will make sense, complete sense then.

You’re too drained after wandering for way too long, too drained looking for that purpose everywhere, searching every nook and corner of the world for it. Exhausted, dejected and failed; you return home and you cannot believe what you see there. There, amidst everything that you had and everything that you brought along with you when you left, lay your purpose. No, it was not always there. All along when you thought you were wandering aimlessly; you were creating it. Ironically, just when you thought everything was over, your purpose was born.






Friday, 20 May 2016

A broken foot and a cup of coffee!

I met with a road accident, again. I write ‘again’ because those of you who know me would know about my affinity towards accidents. I somehow attract them; the universe has bestowed me with unique powers. If you observe closely, there are more scars on my body than skin. Each of them have a unique story to tell and they are great conversation starters for any social gathering but I still feel that I would have been better off without them.

This time I ended up getting a fracture on my left foot. Funnily enough, I was initially even mildly excited at the knowledge of a fracture. Somehow, the x-ray reports which showed a crack in my foot gave me an adrenaline rush for some strange reason. In retrospective, I think it excited me because it made my story more interesting. I believe that we are all spinning the yarn of our stories and unless there is a tragedy and the protagonist picks herself up emerges out strong, the story is not powerful enough. However, the adrenaline rush staying true to its meaning did not last long enough. My face fell the moment the doctor said that the cast would stay for four to six weeks and advised minimal to no pressure on the left foot.

It is amazing how we become wiser and start understanding the nuances of life when an adversity hits us. My bike skidded and I fell down with it landing on my foot. I remember the people who stopped by fairly clearly. I could identify two circles of people. The outer circle was the larger one. It consisted of the curious ones, the ones who just wanted to know what happened. They observed me for a while, expressed dismay at the accident and moved on. The inner circle was the one that mattered, although it consisted of very few people. The people in this circle lifted me and my bike up, gave me first aid, offered water and asked me if I need a ride home. I believe the same thing is true about life, the inner circle is very small, consists of four to five people but it is the one that truly matters. These are the people who will lift you up when you’re down and become your support system, these are the people you can bank upon. We all need to identify this inner circle of ours, nourish and cherish it throughout.

It is ironic how my happiness got a boost after the accident. I suddenly became aware of all my blessings which I took for granted throughout my life. I am grateful for the fact that I was and will, in another month be able to walk myself to the washroom independently. I feel extremely blessed knowing that I will not need to call out to my mom for getting water or food. I feel blessed knowing that I will be able touch the ground with my bare feet, run, jump, swim, dive and perform a full split. The very feeling of having a certain capability which I lack today in future is extremely gratifying. I feel invincible and capable of doing just anything. It is funny how we take our blessings for granted until a few of them are taken away from us.

Now that I cannot walk around too much and have an excuse to stay away from office, I have taken time out to indulge in myself. I have decided to pamper myself with amazing coffee which I plan to make by perching on the kitchen sill, while my mother would shout at top of her lungs asking me to get down. I plan to read all the amazing books which I had stacked away in my shelf for ‘someday’. I want to write to my heart’s content and flood my blog with absolutely obnoxious to absolutely delightful content. I want to get myself a facial and a massage. I want to dress up and look beautiful for myself. I want to think deeply and madly about life and my purpose in it and everything bizarre that I cannot take enough time out for on usual days. I want to drink coffee, lots of it; read books, lots of them and tell my mother lots of times that I adore her more than I can ever express.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Broken Toys

It took Aanya eleven years and four months to understand thoroughly the meaning of abhorrence, disgust and grief. It is too young an age to be exposed to the gravity of these dark emotions but life doesn’t give us much of a choice sometimes. Even she wanted to live in the fairy tale world for a very long time, wanted to keep her knowledge of grief limited to scraped knees and scolding received for not finishing the homework, wanted to keep her innocence intact but if only it were in her hands. Sitting in her room and studying intently for her Biology test, she lost huge parts of her innocence and cheerfulness that day, parts which never found way back to her again.

‘Meiosis’ and ‘Mitosis’, she scribbled on the white board. Having spent the past five minutes recalling the differences between the two types of cell division, she got restless and flipped open the Biology book. ‘Mitosis is a process of cell duplication, or reproduction, during which one cell gives rise to two genetically identical daughter cells ‘, ‘Meiosis, on the other hand, is a division of a germ cell involving two fissions of the nucleus and giving rise to four gametes, or sex cells, each possessing half the number of chromosomes of the original cell.’ Then suddenly, that word struck her- ‘sex’. She had heard girls talk about it in hushed voices, she never participated in those conversations though. Somehow, a part of her disapproved those conversations; quite another, however, yearned to be a part of them and decipher the reasons behind the giggles and the smirks.
‘Sex must be having something to do with reproduction’, she wondered. Then, gradually all the thoughts about ‘meiosis’ and ‘mitosis’ and the biology test were driven off her mind and all that remained was this three letter word ‘sex’. Curiosity was killing her. She flipped open the Oxford dictionary and looked for the word ‘sex’, to find ‘sexual intercourse’ as one of meanings. She quickly scanned the pages and looked for ‘sexual intercourse’, and there it was- ‘insertion of the penis into the vagina’.

She stood still for some time trying with all her might to shrug the meaning off her mind. She couldn’t keep it off for long, though. The meaning took refuge in her head and stayed there, refusing to move out. The dictionary dropped down off her hands and she fell down on her knees trying desperately to fight back the tears. ‘No, it could not be this’, she tried to assure herself. However,they kept coming back to her-those scenes from childhood; the different places he played that ‘game’ started flashing in front of her eyes.

White pleated skirt. Washroom of her old house. He told her that he will teach her a new game that day. He asked her to lift up her skirt as he unbuttoned his pants.
‘I don’t like it.’
‘This is how the game is played darling. You will start liking it gradually.'
 'Promise me you will not tell anyone about it. The game is cursed. Another kid told her sister about this game, a week later her parents died.’
Aanya shuddered at the thought of it. She stayed quiet, never told anyone about this ‘game’. ‘Regret’, she had memorized this word only two weeks ago as a part of the class assignment. Little did she know then that life itself would teach her its true meaning and so soon at that.

Golden frock. Brown bed. Waking up feeling uneasy. Creases on the part of the bed where she wasn’t sleeping. Smelling of something unfamiliar, something dirty. Hurried footsteps right outside her room. The sudden urge to get up and check on those footsteps. A part of her suppressed that urge. It was probably afraid that she may come in terms with the cause of that uneasiness. She let that part win. She denied the confrontation. She chose to live in ignorance. She was scared, scared of the reality that she kept denying to herself. Regret!

Yellow pajamas. She was sitting at the study table. ‘Hey, Aanya. Mummy left you all alone. Let me take you around my new house. Come’, he said. She did not want to go. She was not bold enough to say a blatant no. She resisted the proposal.
‘I have a lot of pending homework. I will come some other time.’
‘No, it will just take ten minutes. You should take a break, you have been studying for too long, anyway.’
Then, he leaped forward, lifted her onto his shoulders and carried her to his house. ‘You’re my little princess, aren’t you?’, he said as he put her down and placed a kiss on her cheek.
‘You love strawberry shake, don’t you? I’ll make it for you. You can watch Tom and Jerry till then.’
‘No, I am full. Can I go home?’
‘I make the best strawberry shake in the world. You’ll never want to go home once you taste the shake.’
‘But…’
‘Now, be a good girl and watch television.’
‘Maybe, it will be fine this time. I think he has changed. Maybe, he will not play the ‘game’ with me. I do not like the game,' she thought to herself as he prepared the ‘best’ strawberry shake in the world. 
‘And here it is. Did anyone tell you that you’re the most beautiful girl in the world?’
She smiled awkwardly.  She took the glass and started having the shake. She sipped in as slowly as she could. Something told her that that was the longest she could push it. The shake finished off eventually.
‘Let’s play something.’
‘I don’t want to play; I have homework to do. Please.’
‘It’ll just take five minutes, I promise. Let me help you.’
‘I don’t like it. Let me go.’
‘Okay, okay princess.’
‘See, that was all.’
She let him do it again. She still didn’t tell anyone about it. Regret!

Magenta parallel suit. It was so much in vogue those days.
‘Honey, I’m going to the market. Bhaiya will help you out with the sums. Please take care of her, okay? The food is in the fridge, warm it for a minute in the microwave if she feels hungry,’ mom said.
‘Don’t you worry Aunty, she’s my little princess.’
‘You’re always such a help, darling. Aanya is one lucky girl.’

It ended with ‘Don’t tell anyone about it. That kid who told her sister, her parents died a week later’, again.  She let him do it, again. She didn’t tell anyone, again. Regret was pinching her like a thousand sharp needles being punched into her body. It pained immensely but she embraced it. she felt that she deserved the pain, each bit of it. Weakness meets pain and deservedly so.

Scenes after scenes flooded the room. She was in all of them; different coloured dresses, different rooms but they all ended similarly, creating the same suffocating feeling in her chest. She wanted to scream, cry and rebuke herself, all at the same time.

Tears kept falling down her cheeks for what seemed like a very long time. She stuffed her handkerchief in her mouth to dampen the sound of sobbing. She slapped herself repeatedly for being so weak that she could not put her foot down and tell him to get lost. She drowned in the pool of regret for not telling anyone about it. And, finally she pitied herself for the remainder of night. She felt sympathetic about the fact that she let her body be used by someone and guilty for letting it happen.

There are many Aanyas around us, stuffing the handkerchief in their mouth to dampen the sound of their cries. We need to hear more intently. There are many Aanyas who lose their innocence, their pink rosy childhood, a little too soon. Let us talk to the children in our family; educate them about the right and wrong touch, about sex, about physical intimacy.  Let the tears be there only for the broken toys and not broken souls. 

Monday, 11 January 2016

Free

I often wonder what it is like to be absolutely free, to be able to just go ahead with what your heart yearns to do. I wonder what it is like to not be held back by relationships, societal norms, responsibilities or gender. I seldom do things that I want to do, more often than not they are influenced by those around me thereby incorporating their interests. There are several times when I have cancelled that solitary dinner that I yearned to have with myself to accommodate some plan with my friends. I could have said no but there is something that stopped me; I guess it’s the fear of losing them out. We humans are herd animals. We cannot survive completely on our own and out of the fear of not being able to survive in future, I have forgone living in the present a lot of times. There are several times when I have said a ‘yes’ when each bit of me yearned to say a ‘no’ just to keep someone’s heart.



I remember the afternoon I wanted to wear my favorite bright pink dress but couldn’t because we were going to a not-so-civilized locality and according to my mother it showed my thighs a little too much for the men there to handle. I wonder how liberating it could be to just pick out anything I find beautiful in my wardrobe and drape myself in it, without considering how everyone around me would feel about it.

I remember the evening when I was six vodka shots down and started doing the notorious ‘Nagin’ dance when I was supposed to just groove in a lady like manner. My friend had to pull me off the dance floor because I was being such an embarrassment for everyone. I think I like my drunk self a lot. She is more liberated than my sober self can ever be. I am certain that in that moment when I was recklessly dancing with every ounce of energy, I was the happiest I have ever been while dancing. I wonder who I truly am sometimes. I envy that my drunk self’s sense of freedom. I envy the way she could dance to her heart’s content without a care in the world. I envy the way she could walk up to the guy she has a crush on and tell him that he’s incredibly attractive. I envy the way she could let go off her inhibitions and live in the moment completely, wholly. I wonder if I really am that drunk girl after being bound by the shackles of decorous behavior, societal norms, responsibilities and the burden of being lady-like. My drunk self was happy, happier than it has ever been when sober. This is probably why I share a very amicable bond with alcohol. Life would probably be a lot easier if we just had to care about leading a happy life, not a dignified one.

I remember the time when I just wanted to go ahead and tell that guy how amazing he is but didn’t because it would probably sound inappropriate and it might make me sound too desperate or simply because women are not supposed to make the first move. It’s a pity how I have to hold myself back to just tell someone that I really like them.

I remember losing it at work one day, taking a deep breath and asking myself what I am doing with my life. The answers that I got sounded feeble and they mumbled something about money. They did not sound satisfactory enough to me. I went on with my work anyway because I received a mail of my credit card statement and that something which they mumbled about money suddenly seemed very important. A monthly salary can be an addiction, an addiction more dangerous than drugs, I believe. You think you own it but it ends up owning you, making you its bonded laborer for life.

I wonder if absolute freedom exists and whether it comes at its own price. Is it possible to throw away the filters that the society comes with and still be happy? Freedom brings along with it solitude and how much ever liberating it might be, solace eventually gets filled with loneliness. If you’re against the society, you’re most likely standing alone. Will it be a happy world if it is lonely? I wonder if it is possible to love and not be bound by it. I wonder if it is possible to seek for your space and not be engulfed by it entirely. I wonder if a freer life would actually be happier or just end up being more chaotic. I wonder if the ‘I’ and ‘we’ can coexist and respect each other’s boundaries. I wonder how emancipating it would be to not have to fit into any mold, to not have to belong to a category. Would it not be amazing if I could be the workaholic girl, the reckless party girl, the tomboy who would tie her hair in a bun and wear a XL T-shirt and walk around whistling to her heart’s content and the lady who would dress up in elegant fashion and speak in decibels too low for anyone not giving their complete attention to understand? How wonderful it would be to preserve each part of me and not let any bit die! 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Ordinary Is Beautiful!

 “What is your true calling?”, “What is that one thing that you crave to do every waking moment of your life?”, “What is it that you’re meant for Riya?”, he threw one question after another at her.

“Umm…I don’t know. I like to dance sometimes and sometimes I like to read. Sometimes, I just want to delve deeper into aerospace engineering; leave everything aside and just design those magnificent planes. Sometimes, I love to see those planes get lost in the skies as I marvel at their beauty, at the sheer brilliance of their design. Sometimes, I just like to sit and think about…about you and the next exotic place where we will make love and everything you would do to my body and I would do to yours. Oh…I love all of it and crave to do all of it every single day. How do you get to know Rehaan? How do you know what your true calling is?”

“Not like that. I mean…okay, think about this. What if I told you that you don’t have to care about money? Would you still continue doing this job? What if you had all the money in the world and you just had to do whatever you enjoy doing? What will choose to do then? What is your passion? What is that makes your eyes twinkle with joy? What is it that you would put all your heart and soul into and not breathe a word about the hard work that you have put in? What is it Riya? "

“Do you mind if I kiss you before I answer this? I mean…I am seeing you after six months. Do we really need to have this conversation right now?”

“Well…you totally can and my manhood would be put on question if I say no, but I would still say no because I do not think we can go back to having a conversation if you come any closer to me. We need to talk about this first. What do you want out of life, Riya? I have quit my job because I knew I wanted to start something of my own. Quitting my well-paying job, moving from a sprawling 3BHK apartment in gated community with a swimming pool to a tiny 1 BHK which four sweaty boys who do not even bathe every day, was not exactly an easy decision for me. I had to go through the month in 10k and days went by when we would just live on Top-Ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was hard, more hard than my vocabulary can allow me to describe. But you know what, I did not complain. I did not complain at any point of time because I was passionately in love with my work. And I swear to the lords, nothing…nothing compares to happiness I felt when we got the venture capital funding. I was ecstatic. It has been a huge struggle for me and it will continue to be so for say 1,2 or even 3 years…who knows! But, I don’t mind the struggle because I enjoy the work that I am doing. Do you feel that way about your work Riya? Have you come even close to figuring out what you’re meant for? You’re just doing this job because it’s convenient. Because why would you try so hard to figure out what you would really enjoy doing when it is so convenient to let life make choices for you.”

“Rehaaan…stop it. I’m tired of this constant pressure to find a mould for myself to fit in…finding where I belong, finding that one thing that my heart will ache to do even if it’s five in the morning and I haven’t been sleeping well since the past two days because the love of my life chose to surprise me on a weekday. Well, I guess I know what it is…my passion…it’s you Rehaan.”, Riya said playfully and started caressing his hair.

“No, I’m serious Riya. What is it that describes you best? Who are you?”

“Why do I have to be someone specific Rehaan. Why do I have to be rigid enough and find a mould which will fit me? Maybe I am not meant for one particular thing. Maybe I am not meant to be a master. I guess I am a jack and however notorious they may sound; they are not all that bad after all. I like spending hours designing planes on AutoCAD. Sometimes I do it because I genuinely enjoy designing those structures and sometimes I do it even when I am terribly bored because I love money...like a lot; more than I love you, maybe.”, she winked.

“I love to keep taking these notes on my phone whenever a strong thought strikes me and I make sure I write about it whenever I get time. I think writing is an emotional release of sorts for me. I like it as much as I like designing those planes. And then sometimes…sometimes I just want to dance my heart, muscles and feet out. I have no idea whether that line makes sense but yeah…sometimes I just want to dance to my soul’s content, dance till my feet ache and I fall down on the floor exhausted. Yes, I want to continue dancing till then.
And you. Oh, I love you! I can spend hours and days and months just being around you and the most boring job in the world will become fascinating if you’re just around me. I think you define me Rehaan, as much as anything else that I love doing does. I don’t think I want to go ahead and do something extraordinary to make a difference in the world. I just want to do my part well enough and eventually I will make a difference. I don’t know what is that one thing that defines me Rehaan. I think I am bits and pieces of many things put together and all those things complete me. I cannot choose one. It would be unjust to choose one. What do I really want out of life, you asked. I think it is to go to bed each day smiling to myself, content with the way I spent my time. I think this is what I really want out of life. Maybe I am ordinary Rehaan, but I love being ordinary. Ordinary is content, happy and beautiful.”

“You don’t always make sense but when you do, I end up falling madly in love all over again with you. Oh…you were right it has been way too long. I have almost forgotten what your lips feel like. Can we make mad love like today is going to be our last day alive?”

And then they kissed while he caressed each curve of her body and she felt his chest after what seemed like an eternity. And then they made love and it was nothing like ordinary. Yet, it was beautiful, content and happy. Also, it was magical!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Those Missed Conversations

‘Aarti, dinner is ready. We are all waiting at the table’, Anita called out for the fourth time. ‘Yes mom, I am almost there’, Aarti shouted back. Ten minutes for that episode of Game of Thrones to end. Aarti could not possibly leave it at the climax; Joffrey was dying. It was the most satisfying moment that television has ever given her. How could she leave the show for anything in this world; food was way below in her priority list anyway. The show ended and with happy tears, she left for the dining room. Much like every day, everyone was done with their food by the time she arrived.

‘How’re you feeling now, Daddy’, she asked throwing a cursory glance at him and started nibbling away on her food. ‘I am fine, dear’, Ashok replied, just the way he replied everyday no matter how excrutiating the pain was. He knew that the questions were a formal exchange of words that her daughter found time to utter in the midst of her board examinations, friends and Facebook. He knew that his health was far behind in her list of priorities. He did not blame her, it was a hectic schedule she had; school, then coaching classes, then self-study. Where was the time? His sickness was nothing new to them after all. Over the years of prolonged illness, the family had gotten used to it. However, they were not completely immune to the grief. Tears were still shed every time they held the medical report with trembling hands in which at least one vital health parameter was shot way above the normal range. However, somehow the grief had become an ordinary affair for them, especially for Aarti. She could not recall the last time he was healthy. She grew up seeing her dad take some ten different coloured pills during lunch every day. From the age when they seemed amusing to her to the age when she could understand the graveness of the situation; somewhere in between she learnt how to feel pain most deeply and to let it go of as easily.

‘Aarti, Aarti’, Ashok shouted on one of the usual days. She was in the middle of her novel. She hated it when somebody interrupted her when she was reading. ‘Why can he not call mom or the helper for that matter? Why me? I’m sure it’s some trivial work which anyone could have done’, she thought to her herself as she stormed out of her room in utter frustration.

‘What happened dad, why did you call?’ she asked trying to moderate her voice so that it doesn’t come out as rude. ‘Honey, I want to watch the Television, can you please get the remote for me? I feel too tired to get up.’ She handed him the remote and was about to leave when he stopped her, ‘Can you not sit here by me. You’re always engrossed in your own world. I feel lonely sitting in the room all by myself. You never have time for me’, he managed to let it out. ‘Yeah…okay, I’ll just get my book and come’, Aarti said. She sat there next to him for the next one hour, lost in her book smiling away at the adventures that the protagonist of the story went through, oblivious to the fact that someone sitting next to her was yearning for a conversation with her. She kept flipping the pages and at 4 PM, she got her dad his medicines and kissed him goodbye as she left for her coaching classes.

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Sometimes in the middle of the night when she would be working on her Mathematics problems or browsing through Facebook and liking all the pictures of this insanely cute guy she had given away her sixteen year old heart to, her dad would come with his coffee mug and sit by her table. She would hate those interruptions at that time, she had to change the tabs and pretend to be going through some educational websites. It was one of those days.

‘Why do you stay up till so late, dad? It’s not good for your health. You should be sleeping by now’, Aarti said in an emotional mix of concern and botheration.

‘I don’t get enough sleep these days. I feel there is no purpose of my life. I am just surviving each day’, Ashok said.

Aarti- ‘Please stop worrying about the purpose of your life. You’ve lived the majority of your life giving back to the society, now is the time to sit back and enjoy. You have played your role brilliantly till now. The school which you started is well established now. It will provide education to millions of students and positively impact thousands of lives each year.Travel the world, enjoy great food, read books and help me in discovering the purpose of my life maybe; stop being too hard on yourself dad.’

Ashok- ‘Yeah dear…I just feel empty sometimes, like I’m not needed anymore.’

‘Coz no-one told you it’s gonna be this way...’, Aarti ‘s phone started ringing. ‘Anjali calling’, it said.

Aarti- ‘Dad will you excuse me for some time. I’ll just take this call and come.’

Ashok- ‘Yeah, sure honey’

The conversation started with how Sameer has been acting strange since the past few days and was giving disinterested, curt replies to Anjali’s messages. It grew with how there were only three months left for the Board examinations and whether Aarti could solve problem fifteen of circle geometry. Apparently, Aarti could and then she started explaining the details of the tangents and radii to her. They ended on a note that they must finish the syllabus in the coming week and start with their revisions as soon as possible.

The phone call consumed some thirty minutes of her time. She realized that she was having a conversation with her dad and rushed to her room to check if he was still there. To her surprise, he was there perfunctorily scanning the pages of ‘An Argumentative Indian’.

Aarti- ‘Hey dad, how are you feeling now?’

Ashok- ‘I feel okay. I think you should sleep. It’s 2:30. I think I will go and make myself a cup of tea.’

Aarti- ‘You should sleep too. It is 2:30 for you too, you know.’

Ashok- ‘I will sleep in a while. I feel like staying up for some reading.’

Having said that Ashok left for the kitchen staggering painfully with each step that he took. The operation for the pelvic fracture was clearly not undertaken properly. The tea took a few minutes to boil; the water gradually swelled up and reached a peak only to crash down when the gas was turned off. He saw the essence of his entire life in that; rising up with passion, reaching the maxima and gradually falling down only to crash down completely when Lord would choose to turn off the gas. He could that feel the end was near, waiting for him to wrap up his roles before he could bid a goodbye. It was probably waiting for him to finish some conversations, conversations he yearned to have.

Aarti did sense some unsaid words that her dad probably wanted to say. Something told her that he was not really interested in reading that book, he probably wanted to have a conversation with her. However, too fatigued with the day’s work, she pushed the thought away and chose sleep over walking over to the living room and engaging in a conversation.

She curled up in her quilt and dozed off. Five minutes later, the phone beeped rather loudly. ‘There? :) ’, the WhatsApp message read. The name on the screen sent a chill down her spine and trashed sleep out of her system altogether. She took no time to respond, ‘Hey, yes. What’s up?’ and the exchange of messages continued till she no longer had the strength to keep her eyes open.

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The pre-board results were out. She topped the class again. Ashok could not attend the parent teacher meeting as usual because his health did not allow him.  Anita exchanged the usual pleasantries with the class teacher who told her how brilliant a student Aarti was and how she must be a proud mother. Anita was certainly a proud mother. She treated Aarti at one of her favourite restaurants that afternoon and told her that she was an amazing daughter.

Content with her results, Aarti returned home. Back home it was rather gloomy, her dad’s medical reports had been consistently poor. Funny thing how circumstances make you capable of feeling ten different emotions in a single day and surprisingly you do justice to those emotions. From being elated to being melancholic, she sometimes wondered how it was possible for one person to feel such divergent emotions all at the same time.

‘Congratulations love, you’re my darling. Like father, like daughter. You always make me proud’, Ashok was beaming with happiness

Aarti- ‘How is your health now, dad?’   

Ashok- ‘It gets better the moment I see you, love. I’ll cook the best butter chicken in the world for my darling today.’

Aarti- ‘No, I think you should rest. The cook will take care of the food. Also, I have dinner plans with my friends tonight. This is our last get-together before Boards. I have to go.’

Ashok- ‘Oh, okay dear.’

Aarti- ‘Bye dad, take care. I’ll go and get ready. I love you.’

Ashok did not say bye. He probably did not want her to go. Those conversations were still lying within him, waiting to unfurl someday. That day was taking too long to come. He was not sure if he had that much time.

Days passed by and Aarti got busier with her preparations. The little time that she got now and then was spent over the phone discussing either Sameer or Aditya and asking/answering, ‘How much done?’ questions. Results came out and she scored outstandingly in all her papers. Life had been rewarding on the academic side.

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Class eleventh happened and seventeen is the kind of age when friends become family. Somehow our world starts revolving around them. Yes, Aarti did blame the age sometimes. ‘Teenage knocks all senses out of you’, she sometimes consoles herself with that statement. With the board pressure out of her shoulders, the starting months of class eleventh were all about partying, get-togethers and dating. Somewhere amidst all the fun, family took a back-seat for her. No, she was not one of those spoiled girls; she just was not a great daughter, not even a good daughter. A good person maybe, but not a good daughter.

She was in the movie hall, lost intently in the movie when her phone started ringing. She put it on silent mode and kept it away. When she got out of the hall, much to her shock the phone read, ’Ma - 45 missed calls.’  A small part of her knew what those missed calls meant, but every other part refused to accept it. With trembling hands, she called back her mother. ‘Aarti, come home; just come home right now. Please come home’, Anita managed to speak amidst the wailing. Aarti did not ask her what happened. She knew what had happened. 

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‘Girls aren’t allowed to go to the funeral pyre’, they said. She turned a deaf ear to them and kept walking ahead. With every tear that fell, she remembered those missed conversations and wondered what they could have been about. Every scene flashed in front of her eyes. Every day when she could have had those conversations which he was taking back with him kept coming back to her. It was pinching her conscience every second and screaming out loud to her about how she failed to be there for him.

She did not cry. ‘Such a strong girl’, they said. She knew that she was not strong. She did not cry because she wanted to keep the pain within her. Crying might have relieved the pain. She wanted to go through it each day and remind herself about how terrible a daughter she was. It was her idea of penance. Some actions are not worth forgetting and forgiving. She did not forgive herself. The regret and pain was for a lifetime and deservedly so.