Dear Indian Parents, why so entitled?

Now this is something I feel I need to talk about, especially in the context of our society. I haven’t written in a while and my writing skill has become quite rusty, but I have been feeling extremely confused, hurt and misguided lately and I needed to vent. So, coming to the question I am trying to pose – Dear Indian parents, why are you so entitled? Why do you think that you are entitled to your kid’s love, respect, obedience, compliance and support? Why do you think that your kid, in some way, is obligated to make you happy?

Because you went through pain to have them? Because you invested time, money, emotions and energy into raising them? Because you made sacrifices and compromises? Because you fought with others to keep them happy and safe? Because you put their well-being above your own? So now that they’re a little grown up and have a mind of their own, you expect something in return for everything you did? Wait. Was this arrangement supposed to work in this investment-ROI like fashion? Why wasn’t I told?

Before addressing the core issue here (which is extremely unhealthy and screwed up) I would like to pose another question – Why do people decide to have kids? Is it because you are already in a happy place in life, and feel emotionally, mentally and financially secure and strong enough to be able to share love with another human being without expecting anything in return or is it because you’re extremely unhappy with your life and feel that a kid will make it better? or because you’re lonely? or because you’re too bored in life and want a ‘project’ to work on? or because you can’t stand your spouse and want a reason to stay in the marriage? or because you are concerned about your old-age? or because you want someone else to fulfill your incomplete dreams? or because you want to fill a void in your life?

What is it?

I truly feel that people don’t decide to become ‘parents’ for the right reasons, especially in our country. Even if we exclude the people who are pressurized into having a child, the remaining percentage don’t have very healthy reasons either. That is where the dysfunction begins and keeps spiraling out of control. If you decide to have kids for any reason other than unconditionally sharing love and raising a healthy human being who will be (and should be) independent enough to make his/her own choices, then you my friend, have a problem. You are invariably going to download all your problems, issues and sorrows onto your kid and expect him/her to somehow a) either give you a solution or b) be the solution.

There are so many parents who tell themselves – we will not end up being like our parents. Well, bullshit. You are your parents plus more issues. It is so difficult to dissociate ourselves from our parents’ identity and personality in our culture – it takes a lot of awareness and almost an entire lifetime’s work to achieve that. Why? Because most of us are brought up within enmeshed relationships. Boundaries? What are those? Our parents have a right to know and interfere in everything. Free will? What’s that? I can only go out with friends that my parents like and marry the love of my life as long as my parents approve. Questioning parents’ decisions, opinions and beliefs? Prepare for a crash landing, kids. That’s never going to fly.

We’re never taught to be individuals with our own separate set of beliefs, opinions and principles. We’re always an extension of our parents. Any form of disagreement is seen as disrespect. (Because ‘respect’ is gulping down your opinion and putting your parents’ happiness above your own) Respect is a concept that only works one way, because parents will never respect our choices and decisions. And if those choices fall way beyond their radar of “what’s ok” – then you’re officially a rotten kid and have given them so much pain you should die in a pool of guilt. In short, the term ‘Indian parents’ should officially be synonymous with ‘insecure’. They’re so insecure about themselves that they cannot stand their kid being too different, or else – a question is raised on everything they did based on their belief system so far in their life, and they cannot be in that uncomfortable position of accepting that they might have been wrong at some point. (The horror)

You see, part of being a secure and mature human being is the ability to empathize and accept your mistakes when you make them (everyone does). In my understanding, Indian parents are neither. But the blame isn’t just theirs, it’s a dysfunction that has been passed down generations.

Coming to the core issue – if you think your kids owe you anything in return for your love and care, then you have issues that need to be dealt with before assuming that you deserve to be parents. Love, respect and care are mutual emotions that should be given unconditionally without expecting anything in return. If you are going to guilt trip your kids about your sacrifices and financial investments – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to use the victim card to get what you want – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to expect your kid to support you emotionally – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to shove your beliefs and opinions down his/her throat – Don’t be a parent. If you have a problem accepting your kid as a separate individual who will have different opinions – Don’t be a parent. If you cannot accept the fact that your kid will not always agree with you – Don’t be a parent. When you bring a child into this world, he/she needs you and depends on you for physical, mental and emotional well being and continues to need you until he/she becomes an adult. You do not, and should not, need or depend upon your kid for any of those.

You don’t have the emotional bandwidth or maturity to be a parent. Please deal with your issues first. Also, if you do your parenting right – your kid will shower you with unconditional love and support, without you having to ask for it. A child’s first impression of the world is his/her parents. If you have truly loved your child without emotionally fucking him/her up – he/she will always stand with you and before you. Try it.

A kid’s love is a precious gift. It’s not your right. You chose to have a child and bring another human being into this world. If you’re putting your best foot forward to take care of him/her, it’s not a favor or a debt the kid has to repay later. If you have problems, they’re your responsibility, not your kids’. In US, if you put undue pressure on your kids or raise them in unhealthy households, the social security services will come and take your kid away. They have an accountability system in place. Raise your kid in a healthy environment or lose your right to be parents. Unfortunately in India, just having given birth to a child is enough criteria to qualify to be a parent. You can do whatever the fuck you want with that child. Because maa ke charnon mein swarg hota hai.

If a kid is being abused emotionally and physically in a house, there is absolutely nowhere he/she can go to seek safety and protection. We just have to wing it. And the number of kids being raised in abusive and unhealthy homes in our country is shocking. What is even more shocking is that most of them don’t even know they’re being abused.

I may not be a human child’s parent, but I am a pet parent to a wonderful and amazing dog called Brownie, who I adopted out of my own free will. It is my responsibility to make sure that she receives care, love and a safe environment. I didn’t do it because I wanted a watch dog or because I was lonely. I did it because her being there truly made me happy. Sometimes I have to put up with messy situations, she poops and pees anywhere, she tears everything apart, she whines for no reason and doesn’t listen to a single command, she demands too much attention, interrupts work and hardly shows any affection in return – I get annoyed sometimes. But I have to remind myself that I signed up for this. If I wanted a picture perfect dog who would sit when I asked her to sit, stand when I asked her to stand, mingled only with the dogs I liked and showed affection to me all the time – I would just sit and watch Scooby Doo on TV.

Even after 4 or 5 years, if I give her too much stress or take away her sense of safety, she will either show me aggression (biting) or simply run away, and I wouldn’t be able to do a single thing. She felt threatened and left to preserve herself. Is she obligated to stick with me despite the stress and abuse, just because I took care of her for so long?

NO.

I am just glad that I have a dog who will bite me if I cross her boundaries, as compared to a human child who will continue to suffer in silence thinking it’s okay just because I’m a parent. Nothing scares me more.

 

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Counting those days – One shot | Fiction

I’ve written so much fiction and posted it across so many portals over the years; I don’t even remember all my stories. Which is a shame because it seems like I had much more clarity of thought back then. I wrote this about 6 years ago 😮 (I know, I’m equally shocked) when I had the emotional range of a teaspoon and had major rose colored glasses on. I should really hunt down all my stories and upload them here. For a perspective check, if nothing else. Look at me, trying to be all mature at the age of 17 about things like love. Pfft. (I’m no better now btw)
Anyway, here it goes.
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2 months, 28 days, 7 hours and 20 minutes since he walked away, and I’m still counting.

I get into my car and start the engine, something that I do everyday. My body has coped with the fast pace of my life, and it has become more of a machine, that responds to orders quicker than emotions. Start the engine. Get the car into gear. Go back home. Eat. Sleep. Back to the hospital. Simple routine.

I don’t want to feel the rush of emotions in my heart, because it gives way to vulnerability,always. Vulnerability is one of my top 10 fears of all time. It gives others the power to control some or the other aspect of your life. A mechanical life maybe difficult to get used to, but in the long run, it’s better than feeling pain.

Then why am I still counting ? I don’t know, probably because it’s just another custom I follow in my daily routine. Probably because maths is my passion. Probably because I’ve lost my mental balance. My brain keeps giving me all sorts of reasons, but my heart always gives me one reason – I haven’t let go. I refuse to believe it.

2 months 28 days, 7 hours and 25 minutes.

It’s raining outside. It fails to stirr any emotions within me, haven’t I mentioned that I’m a robot ? Well, I am, and accepting this fact doesn’t stirr any emotion either.

I don’t blame him, he had to go, but back then when I was human, I did feel angry at him, at my fate. I did feel shattered, I did feel deperate to cling onto him as long as possible, but over the time, all those feelings have evaporated, and have left behind a fully functional robot.

“God Neeta, you look like hell. You need a break dude” said one of her colleagues and friend, Rohan Khanna.

She smiled, “No Rohan, I’m fine. Besides, Hospital hours don’t allo-“

“Let go Neeta..” he cut her off, staring at her intently.

She stared at him for a long moment and then lowered her gaze, “I’ve moved on, Rohan..I have”

Rohan slightly shook his head, “Don’t expect me to believe that. For how long will you be in denial ? Face it Neeta, running away from this fact is not courage”

He paused for a long moment, and then said, “Please Neeta, free yourself from this misery”. He patted her arm, warmly nodded at her and walked away.

My best friend Rohan thinks I’m in denial. I don’t understand why. I’m absolutely ok, and it’s high time he accepted that. I don’t need a break, hospital is the only place that helps me retain my sanity.

2 months, 28 days, 7 hours and 51 minutes.

I’ve reached my house, it’s still raining. Darn, I forgot my umbrella at the hospital. I jump out of my car and quickly lock it. Not long after I start walking towards my house, I see him.

He’s completely drenched, from head to toe, but he’s standing at my doorstep, waiting for me to come back. I’m standing in my place, transfixed. All the nuerons in my brain seem to stop functioning at once. All the rational commands stop overpowering my heart, I’m standing here like a statue, unable to move an inch.

He turns to look at me, and even though it’s raining, I could make out that he’s been crying. Involuntarily, my feet start taking me towards him. I don’t know whether I want to slap him or hug him, whether I’m esctatic or angry. I had said I don’t want to feel the rush of emotions, but right now, a huge tide of emotions is sweeping through every part of my body, overwhelming me to an extent that the heavy downpour seems non-existent.

We’re standing close now. He’s saying something, I’m not listening. All I can see is his face, and slowly, the walls that I had built around me start crumbling. I don’t want them to, but it’s as if a strong force is destroying them and my brain is too numb to do anything. The last wall cracks, and tears form in my eyes.

I manage to hear his last line, “Neeta..I-I’m sorry..I’m-“

I cut him off, trying hard to fight my tears, I say, “Shekhar, Can we talk..please ?”

He looks at me and nods. All the pent up emotions can wait. Although all I want to do at that moment is bury myself in his arms and allow myself to succumb to my feelings, but all that can wait. There are questions, and there are answers, there are misunderstandings, and there are solutions, and they need to be cleared before we can make space for emotions between us. Before I give in again, I need to talk with the man standing before me, and I know he understands.

We’re finally aware of the rain, and walk towards my house. I finally allow myself to be happy to see him.

Deep down, I’m hoping that I’ll get my happy ending, and that he’s back forever, because I’ve finally stopped counting, and the robot in me just stopped functioning.

Revisiting Saathiya

The phase from 2000-2005 was arguably one of the best phases Bollywood has seen; it’s just not given enough credit. The industry churned out some pretty amazing films before the mindless south-indian remakes and Rohit Shetty took over. Films like Hera Pheri, Mission Kashmir, Dil Chahta Hai, Lagaan, Kal Ho Na Ho, Munna Bhai MBBS, Swades, Yuva, Hum Tum – and many many more amazing films were made during these years. I think the above films pretty much sum up my favorite films of all time (minus the terrific 90s of course)

I will probably re-watch them all and dedicate one blog post to each film. This one is about Saathiya – one of a very, very, very few bollywood romantic films that I have loved. Bollywood has always been about formulaic stories when it comes to the romance genre with little variations and tweaks here and there. Up until now, which I consider to be bollywood’s transitional phase, we have hardly been served any truly moving romantic film. Saathiya, however, is a major exception to that norm and stands out in the past decade and a half as a game changer in it’s genre. Perhaps not to the same degree as DDLJ, but a strong voice nonetheless. Mani Ratnam, who is undoubtedly a genius when it comes to the romance genre, is not surprisingly the architect of the screenplay (the original Alaiyapayuthe was directed by him as well) and owing to his solid writing and the presence of a strong reference point, Shaad Ali pulled off a brilliant product.

Films that explore the dynamic of marriage fascinate me. It’s not an easy feat. I assume that’s the reason why bollywood has always chosen to drop the curtains when the hero and heroine are galloping away into the sunset. No one wants to talk about what happens after the grand finale; when the cheers die down and the celebration ends – that’s when the actual journey begins. Saathiya does exactly that. The romance is cute. The chase is fun. The chemistry is great. The passion is scorching. All of that adds up to rosy dreams about a gorgeous future filled with nothing but happiness and togetherness…but when those dreams start to become reality, the couple realize that it isn’t as rosy after all.

The beginning of every romance is exciting, it gives you a high like no other and makes you feel like you could conquer any problem. But the excitement can only get you so far. Real life isn’t exciting all the time. You can’t be romantic and passionate when there are bills to be paid and food to be cooked. Marriage is in the mundane things of life. It’s loving someone even when you don’t like them. It’s about seeing the same face for years and years and still finding some magic. It’s about fighting over issues like laundry and wall color and grocery lists. It’s about supporting each other through thick and thin because not supporting is simply not an option…and it’s not always a pleasant journey. It’s not always as appealing as popular culture would have you believe.

Saathiya is about a young couple who fall madly in love with each other and elope away after their families don’t accept their marriage. They make a vow to never turn back as they enter this exciting new phase of their lives. Afterall, what could be worse than being kicked out of your respective homes? The worst is already over, right? Apparently not. After the first few blissful months of matrimony, when the chase is over and there are other problems waiting to be addressed, cracks begin to appear in their relationship. The guy isn’t the romantic goofball the girl had fallen for. The girl isn’t just a challenge anymore. They aren’t always there for each other.

One of the important scenes in the film that highlights how much of a thin ice their marriage is on is when Suhani has had a bad day at work and hugs Aditya in the balcony of their house, not caring about all the eyes. But apparently Aditya does, and squirms as she clutches onto him. She realizes how emotionally distant they are from each other and that he cannot even understand her state of mind, leave alone being supportive. That is also the moment Aditya realizes – shit, I didn’t know I would have to be emotionally available as well. 

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Everything starts to spiral into a downward abyss after that. They can’t seem to put their marriage above their personal interests. A love that had survived the resistance of society begins to crumble under it’s own pressure. They reach the breaking point when Suhani’s father dies unexpectedly and their marriage is not able to take the strain of that setback. Suhani blames herself for his demise and Aditya feels resentful about his perennially sad wife who can’t seem to put her mind anywhere else. These are the times when a solid partnership, mutual understanding and maturity are the need of the day. One person needs to take a step back and allow the other person to take as much space as he/she wants, because he/she is the one going through a hard phase. Unfortunately, Aditya doesn’t put Suhani’s needs above his own and they reach a point where they can no longer stand each other.

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The film captures the failing marriage brilliantly. Their immaturity was one of the major reasons why their relationship was always on uneven grounds and that fact is highlighted many times. They were too young to be able to have a successful marriage. Like I said, love and passion can only get you so far. After that, it’s being selfless and truly wanting someone else’s happiness more than your own that matters.

Despite their immaturity though, they still try to hang onto small threads. Aditya’s attempt to reconcile Suhani’s sister and ex-fiance is endearing; more so because he knows it would mean something to Suhani. It is this event that both becomes a boon and a curse for them. It makes Suhani realize that Aditya isn’t a completely unsupportive husband afterall; but it also leads to her getting into a fatal accident, that puts her at the verge of losing her life.

The film is beautifully interspersed between the present and the past and slowly merges into one. The one thing we know about the present is that Aditya is looking around madly for Suhani. What we get to know from the flashbacks is that he is looking around madly for her despite all the problems in their marriage. Her absence makes him realize her worth and importance in his life; and how much he took her for granted. It is only when he is at the point of completely losing her that he tries to hold onto their relationship with his life. As he says at Suhani’s bedside – “Sach toh yeh hai ki, aaj samjha hoon main humara rishta. Ab tak to bas khud hi ko dhoond raha tha” – being with Suhani was also one of his attempts to find himself. It wasn’t selfless love until she was about to be snatched away. It always takes a life changing event to make us realize the most obvious things.

Another wonderful arc is the highlighted relationship between Yashwant Rao and his wife, Savitri (brilliant cameo appearances by SRK and Tabu). The way Yashwant supports his traumatized wife and acts as a strong anchor even in the most tense of times is heavily contrasted against Aditya’s casual approach to his own marriage, thereby also establishing the difference between the commitment of a man and the passion of a boy. He is there for his wife to fall back on when she is crumbling down in a way that Aditya never was.

In the end, a dialogue from Alaiyapayuthe sums up marriage perfectly – “A young tree might look beautiful with it’s lush green leaves and blooming flowers; but can’t sustain a storm because it’s roots aren’t thickly embedded into the ground..an old tree might look ugly and rusted, but it can sustain hurricanes because it’s roots are so firmly sewn within the earth. That’s what a strong marriage is”

Scenes that stay: Love Aaj Kal (Climax)

There are times you watch a film and one particular scene sticks with you for a very long time. It may be because it stumped you visually, had a catchy dialogue or moved you emotionally. With me, it’s mostly when a scene has emotional impact that it stays with me for years to come.

I am a movie buff. I love bollywood and I love watching films at any given point of time. I grew up on the cheesy 90’s flicks and unabashedly admit to watching films like Badshah, Yes boss, Biwi No.1 and even Ghar ho to aisa every single time they air on TV. I try not to miss a good release (and that excludes horrors like Happy New Year, Dilwale, Rowdy Rathore, Bodyguard etc) and catch every flick on the 70 mm screen. Even though I am not someone who cries during a film, I do feel moved or affected just as deeply and keep that emotion with me for a while.

Love Aaj Kal is a fairly good film. I liked it despite it’s flaws. I agreed with what it was trying to say – true love will find a way to come back to you; and once you have found your soulmate (for the lack of a better word) it is difficult to lead life with someone else or even alone; no matter how hard you try. Something will always be amiss. What takes the entire film a notch higher for me is the climax – Meera’s breakdown when Jai finally returns to her.

Pain, fear, relief, happiness – all rolled into one fine moment. I don’t know what it is about this 3 second scene that hits me hard every single time I watch it. It is deeply humanizing and shatters the glorified bollywood reunion of the hero-heroine where people clap as the heroine runs into the hero’s arms. You feel Meera’s pain as she tries to contain her emotions at his re-appearance. It is so brilliantly directed by Imtiaz Ali. It is these nuances that make him the master of the ‘romance’ genre. His films are more about discovering different facets of love than going through the motions of a formulaic film. Even though Socha Na Tha is his best film (After Tamasha, in my opinion) – this particular scene is somewhat of a masterstroke. The fact that she doesn’t breakdown in his arms like the typical heroine would is brilliant writing in it’s own right.

I didn’t look at Deepika the same way after this film. People usually credit the upswing in her career to Cocktail but this film showcased her talent long before. This scene and the one where Jai rants on her wedding day, while Meera stands there resolutely, are testament to her talent.

Special mention to Dooriyan – a song that never goes out of fashion for me. That song is magic.

Scenes from a married life #1 – Dry Cleaning

Well this is mostly a drabble on the daily struggles of married life (As if I know anything about a successful married life) I find the dynamic of this relationship very interesting. After all, it’s the little things that fill life with joy. Also, I have been watching some amazing short films and I feel very inspired. Hope you enjoy this. I plan on writing many more situation-based sketches.

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Ragini rung the door bell and being the impatient person that she was, immediately started tapping her feet. With the weight of her laptop bag bogging her down emotionally just as much as physically, she waited for Akash to open the door and greet her with a welcoming smile. All she wanted to do was crash into bed and sleep.

After only a few seconds, the door opened and Akash stood before her wearing soiled clothes and a goofy smile on his face.

“Hey baby, why’re you so late?”, he asked jovially as he gave her a hug and a peck on her lips. Despite her exhaustion, Ragini gave him a smile and said, “Overload of work, as usual. There were too many deadlines that needed to be met and it seems as though none of my team members want to work in my absence. And that Trivedi – I don’t know what problem he has with female bosses. It takes all of my strength to get him to work and…” she cut off midway because Akash didn’t seem to be listening, “Why do you look so happy?”

He grinned and said, “You’ll see soon enough. Why don’t you go and change while I put dinner on the table?”

She nodded, dumped her laptop bag on the nearby sofa and said, “Let me just have a glass of water”

He nodded, kissed on her cheek and walked into the kitchen. She took out a bottle of water from the fridge and just as she was about to drink, she peeked into the kitchen to see what Akash was upto. What she saw completely horrified her. The kitchen was in a complete mess. The masala jars were all in a disarray and there were dirty utensils lying all over the place. There were half chopped vegetables on the slab and all the kitchen towels were soiled. As she kept the bottle back in the fridge, she noticed less than half of the quantity of milk in the big steel container that she usually kept on a daily basis. There was no dahi either.

With piling annoyance and resentment, she marched into the kitchen and said loudly, “What the hell are you upto?!”

He dropped the spoon he was holding in surprise and turned towards her, “Ragini why are you in here? I thought you were going to go freshen up! Please go, chalo leave”, he said as he started to usher her out.

Tch, I’m not going anywhere. What have you done to the kitchen? And why haven’t you bought milk and dahi? I had told you before leaving, hadn’t I?”

Arey I’ve made your favorite mattar paneer today! and you know the kitchen gets messy when I cook. I’ll clean it up na baby, why’re you getting so hyper?”

Ragini held up a hand and scowled, “I know how you clean the kitchen okay…don’t try to fool me. All you will do is dump the dishes in the sink and wipe the slab. I’ll have to reset the mismatched jar caps, throw the left-over vegetables, clean the stove and the microwave and keep those kitchen towels for laundry. And you will probably have used the same spoon for salt and haldi!”

Akash immediately lowered her gaze and peeked at her with guilty eyes. She let out an exasperated sigh and flung her arms, “I knew it”

“I cooked your favorite dish and that doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?”, he said in a hurt voice.

“It does, but does that mean you ignore all your responsibilities for it? When will you grow up Akash? Am I the only one responsible for keeping this house together? Will you only do as much as you’re instructed to do? Can’t you do things on your own, accept some responsibility on your own? Bolo?”

She was glaring at him with furious eyes and her face was lit up with one expression – ‘I-have-had-enough’. It was intimidating yet familiar at the same time. She had this habit of giving long furious pauses in between her outbursts during which she expected him to tell her what she wanted to hear, but on the contrary they always made Akash want to laugh. He always struggled with keeping his grin in check during one of those but it was really difficult to say the least. Unfortunately his self restraint cracked and he let one grin slip.

Nothing could have infuriated Ragini more. She hated it when he did that. She felt like she was raging at a wall and would only end up hurting herself if she tried anymore. Unable to find the right words to express her indignation, she flung her arms in the air once again and said, “That’s it. I don’t want to talk to you anymore. You think this is funny don’t you? Leave me alone and don’t you dare try to talk to me!

With that, she turned on her heel and made to march towards their room. Realizing that this would end up in silent treatment and passive aggressive behavior for days, Akash rushed towards her and held her arm, “Acha wait wait wait…I’m sorry, okay? I’m really sorry”

She jerked her arm out of his grasp and said, “What are you sorry for? For smiling or not taking up responsibility?”

“For both. I know I’m irresponsible and callous. I’m working on it, seriously”

“You just don’t get it Akash. I feel like I need to take care of everything in this house. You take me for granted. If I don’t pay attention to the bills, they don’t get paid. If I don’t give instructions to the maid, the house won’t get cleaned. If I don’t keep track of the groceries, there will be no food on the table. If I don’t make sure that everything broken gets fixed on time, you will probably not even notice a leaking tap…or, or a seepage in the plumbing. Do you ever notice anything?”

He pondered for a second and said, “I got the TV repaired last week”

“That was only because you turned it on to watch the match and it wasn’t working! You only notice things that affect you directly!”

“Alright, I accept that. But I will make a conscious effort to make changes, Ragini. Just give me some time. I’ll even maintain a to-do list from now on wards”

Once again, she slipped into one of her dramatic pauses but she seemed calmer this time. She unfolded her arms and her gaze softened a bit. A few seconds later, she said, “Do you mean it?”

“Yes, baby, absolutely”, he said earnestly.

“Okay. I’m telling you though, I’m going to stop taking care of everything if you keep this up. And you are going to clean the kitchen after dinner today. Completely”

“I promise”, he replied with a smile.

Reluctantly, she smiled and Akash let out a sigh of relief, “Can I get a hug?”, he asked.

With the smile still on her face, she walked into his open arms and felt him enclose her warmly. Snuggling her head in his shoulder, she asked, “Did you pick up the clothes from the dry cleaning? They were due today”

Akash’s smile melted away like ice-cream on a hot pan.

 

A Leap of Faith

I sometimes wonder if I walked into this world with a special type of kismat – one that guaranteed non-stop action and chaos. I feel like I’m constantly on a roller coaster ride, and even though I enjoyed it in the beginning, now it’s simply wearing me off and making my nauseous. In Geet’s words in Jab We Met, “Bahut excitement ho gaya ab is raat mein. Boring bana do ji is raat ko ab”

A boring life would be such a relief. I wish I didn’t want to be a professional dancer. That way, I could do what my parents wanted me to without the burden of that choice. How simple and straightforward life would be, if all I had to do was follow a pre-laid, well structured and 100% positive-results-guaranteed wala plan towards success and happiness. Then I could build my life around getting good grades/a high flying degree and then getting a well-paid job that would give me just enough liberty to take a month off every year to go an exotic location like The Maldives or Bahamas and take endless selfies for my jealous colleagues to see. In a nutshell, how I wish I wasn’t someone who endorsed and practiced the idea of ‘choice’, because it comes with a truck load of responsibility and accountability that can suck the happiness right out of you like a dementor.

This post isn’t about how pathetic my life is. It’s about what I’ve learnt, time and again, from my experiences. A lot of people advocate the idea of free will (just like me). But there are very less people who are willing to face the consequences of their choices. These are the ones who shout “Mah lyfe, Mah rulezz” until reality kicks in and they scurry away like rats. Life is unfortunately a bitch and even though in an ideal world, the ability to make one’s own choices would be celebrated, we live in a far-from ideal world and even farther-from ideal country. A country where a 15 year old student does not have the liberty to pick the stream that he/she wants without the consent of at least 51% of his/her (existing) family. A country where a woman does not have the liberty to wear what she wants without the entire city ogling her. A country where a couple cannot decide to marry without the 100% consent of their (even the dead ones) families. A country where a person does not feel supported or encouraged enough to follow his/her passion. A country where a director cannot make a film with the following – sex, drugs, smoking, drinking, history, religion, politics, poverty and cows – without having either the censor board or some political wing/religious fanatics/people who have nothing to do with their lives and are sexually frustrated, jumping down his/her throat.

A country where someone cannot express his/her opinion without the fear of being physically attacked.

Even then, people who strongly believe in their choices and beliefs, stand by them no matter the cost. Whether it is a gay couple fighting for section 377 to be scraped off or a straight couple fighting with their families to let them get married – These are people who make their choices and stick to them for life.

Then there are people who make their choices and later chicken out because of the fear of (a) family, (b) extended family, (c) society and/or (d) failure. Interestingly I’ve seen how the combination of ‘fear of family’ and ‘fear of failure’ works wonders when it comes to someone changing their stand. Our society has manufactured some very standardized templates of “success” and anyone who strays too far from them risks the chance of ending up a loser AKA not earning enough money and a ‘respectable’ job. Let’s just make it simple.

Success = Money {jhooti izzat + commendable social standing (AKA foreign return) + expensive clothes + tons of hypocrisy + PROPERTY (oh, heaven)}

Just multiple everything with money. I took it common.

As a dancer, I’ve come across many people who give up on their passion and talent simply because the idea of taking it up professionally scares the heebie jeebies out of them. It’s a risky career in terms of every parameter. There is absolutely no guarantee of success and even if it does come, it does not fetch too much money. It is a life full of uncertainty, disappointment and lack of money. People don’t take our profession seriously and think we’re wasting our lives. That kind of pressure is too much of a burden to carry apart from the challenges that the profession has to offer. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting along with being physically demanding. Most people want to keep doing it “on the side” along with their mainstream profession. Some people choose to go ahead with it, but crack under the strain midway.

And then there are people who sail through despite all odds. They may have been kicked out of their houses, looked down upon by immediate society, faced failure multiple times, been discouraged by peers and colleagues – whatever the situation may have been, they make it out alive. And there is only one driving force behind them – conviction and commitment.

This is the kind of force that enables us to make decisions and stick to them in all areas of life – career, relationships, friendships and even the commitments we make to ourselves. Whether it is to lose 5 kgs in 20 days or to begin a start up with a small idea. If we believe in what we want and where our heart lies, then we would find that mustering up courage is not such a difficult thing to do. We just know that we’re doing is right. The end.

Unfortunately, nowadays people “know” a lot but stand for nothing. They have a lot of information but no knowledge. They have degrees but not real education. They want many things and forget about what they need. They make money but not wealth. They invest in property but not in themselves. I remember reading about the difference between a “crowd” and a “group”. A group has a face; it stands for something. A crowd has no face. Just people scurrying around trying to nab the closest possible gratification.

I guess that’s what all of us want now – immediate gratification. If something doesn’t fetch success immediately, it’s useless. If someone doesn’t make you happy anymore, they’re not worth it. If a relationship is causing trouble in your life, drop it. If a job is putting you under too much strain, change it. If your wardrobe isn’t getting you any attention, get a new one. If your profile picture on facebook isn’t getting enough likes, click a new one.

We have nothing worth fighting for in our lives. We have nothing we would put our necks out on the line for. There is no commitment, passion, loyalty and most importantly, love for anyone or anything. None of us know what we want, or why we want it. We just know it will make us instantly happy and therefore it is something we are willing to take a step forward for. Taking a leap of faith for something though? No, that’s just not practical anymore.

 

Crash & Burn

“I swear to god; I will kill myself!” she cried whilst holding a sharp knife to her wrist.

“Mom, please! Don’t behave like this! Sambhalo apne aap ko!” screamed Vikas frantically. He couldn’t believe how quickly things had spiralled out of his control. At the outset, he had been so sure that he would be able to handle this well. He had been so sure that he would be able to get through to his mother. Little did he know that he hardly knew his own mother and how inaccessible she had become, surrounded thickly by her own grief and sorrow.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do! You have betrayed me all along! I trusted you so much, I thought you would listen to me!”

Hair unkempt, dupatta having slipped down onto the floor, tears streaming endlessly down her face, the frail and tiny woman shivered as she screamed each word. It did not seem as though her son had confessed that there was a girl he was in love with and wanted to marry, it seemed as though he had proposed to disown her. To her, perhaps, there was simply no difference between the two.

“Mom, please calm down! You’re really scaring me! At least try to understand what I’m saying. I’m your son!” Vikas screamed the last three words in a desperate attempt to make his mother understand.

She let the knife linger at her wrist a for a few more seconds before her knees gave in and she fell down on the floor, the knife slipping away from her hand with a loud clunk. She immediately started sobbing like a baby and held her head between her palms. Vikas slowly walked towards her and sat down next to her. He grasped her hand and said, “I’m sorry mom, I know I have hurt you. I know a lot of things have come as a shock to you. I lied and that is hurting you the most. But you must understand why I did it. I did it because I knew this is how you would take it. I cannot see you like this”

“T-t-hen wh-why dd-id you-u d-do it a-at all?” she asked in between sobs.

Vikas sighed, “I’m in love, mom. I don’t think that’s a crime. I do have the right to choose my life partner, don’t I?”

Although tears continued to stream down her face, she took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself down and said, “You’re doing your masters right now. Don’t you realize how much pain your parents have taken to be able to provide you with such excellent education? How much money we have invested in it, so that you can make a good life? How can you even think of marriage right now? All these things are a distraction!”

“Whose talking about marriage mom? All her family is suggesting is an engagement so that the commitment is final from both sides. We can get married whenever we want. I will focus on my career and so will she. This will validate the relationship, that’s all. Besides, I’m not a baby. I’m 25 years old. You do realize that we both have already committed to each other, don’t you?”

At this point, her temper rose and she said in a raised voice, “So is that my fault? Did you ask me before committing? Why should I bear the punishment and pain of something that I didn’t decide?!”

“That is not the point!” said Vikas in a slightly irritated voice, “I just told you that I have the right to choose my life partner. We fell in love. We didn’t decide to, it just happened. That does not mean that it will ruin my career or I will not be able to make a good life. We lived together when we were in US, mom. I think that speaks a lot for itself”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you do that? How could you take such a step without thinking twice?” she asked as she suddenly got up, “Is that what I have taught you? Didn’t you think about the family’s respect? About us?”

“I know that it sounds wrong to you, but what I’m trying to say is that we were able to take that step because we are so sure about our future. There is no doubt in our minds that we will marry each other one day. It was not a casual deal; it was a mark of our commitment. Please try to understand that”

Once again, she shook her head and said in any icy tone, “No, I don’t want to know. This engagement is not possible. We didn’t send you abroad to do all this. How can you get engaged to someone without even getting a job? Without standing on your own legs? I cannot allow you to make a commitment like that without having a financial backbone!”

“What does my financial backbone have to do with this? I’m not being asked to financially support her or spend money on her in anyway. Honestly, she wouldn’t ask for that even when we’re married! The commitment is already there and has been there for the past one year! That’s what I’m trying to tell you! Her family got to know that we lived together in US, they know that both of us have to go back again, so if we went as an engaged couple it will simply make them feel reassured. Come to think of it, it should be reassuring to you as well! Would you want me to lie to you again?”

Vikas was feeling drained. Their conversation was simply going in circles. She was looking at what had happened in the past and what he proposed should happen in future as two disconnected events that were both crimes in her head. She simply wasn’t trying to understand that the natural progression of any relationship is to take a step forward, especially when the two involved are on the same page. He had hoped that she would at least understand, if not respect, his decision. But he had not even been able to get past the ‘acceptance’ stage.

Living together under one roof is an accepted norm overseas. In India, however, it’s a blasphemous idea, enough to make the immediate society shudder. So naturally when their parents found out, all hell broke loose. Her parents, however, came to the conclusion that if they had to be living together then might as well make the commitment official. “Let us feel safe and not unsure all the time”, was their argument.

Vikas had been apprehensive when that happened. He knew his mom would not take it well, but he also knew that he wanted to spend his life with that woman because she made him happy. She made him feel content. He had given her his word and he would keep it. It was the thought of her that gave him strength in difficult situations.

“My decision is final Vikas. If you want to be with that girl, you leave my house. I will never see your face again. You can do whatever you wish to with your life. I am already dead inside, so what’s the difference? How does it matter to you, whether I live or die?”

Tears started streaming down her face again as she continued to mumble to herself. Vikas realized that there was no point in trying to talk to her right now, he would have to try again later when she was saner and more mature. He took a deep breath and said, “We’ll talk about this later mom. Why don’t you have dinner and sleep?”

“I don’t want to eat anything. I won’t eat until you give up on this crazy idea!”

And with that, she got up and went inside her room, banging the door behind her.

Vikas sat there staring after his mom, trying to blink away some of the tears that were threatening to roll down his face. He was caught in a situation where he had no idea what to do. He wished his mother would stop reacting in such a childish way and using threats to manipulate him. He felt stuck and helpless. If he were honest to himself, deep down in his heart he knew what the permanent solution was. But he also knew that it would take a lot of courage to put it on the table. At that moment, his phone rang. He wiped a lone tear off his cheek and picked it up, “Hi Dad”

“Hi beta, is everything okay?”

Vikas let out a sigh, “No Dad. Nothing is okay. When are you back?”

“In about 10 minutes”

“Okay dad. I need to talk to you about something”

Vikas kept the phone down and tried to arrange his scattered thoughts. If he could convince his father, then he would be one step closer. It would be tough, but doing the right thing was never easy.

15 minutes later, when his father had arrived and had had his customary cup of coffee, Vikas sat across from him at the dining table and said, “Papa, we need to discuss Mom’s state of mind”

His father let out a defeated sigh and said, “Beta you know how she is. I have tried to channel her thoughts in the positive direction time and again, but she simply doesn’t want to. She is mentally very weak”

“Papa you can’t find a solution unless you identify the problem. The way she is right now is not something that has happened overnight. It’s the accumulated effect of all the years she has spent feeling wronged and cheated by everyone around her. She has started looking at herself like a victim in every situation Papa. Can’t you see what is happening here? It’s gotten to a point where she has started to threaten suicide!”

Vikas was trembling as he spoke. They had become so used to his mother whining and complaining all the time that they had accepted it as a part of who she was. “That’s just how she is”, was their usual refrain. They either tried to avoid triggering her or architected their behaviour to suit her wishes. They never really tried to tackle the root of the problem. This situation, however, was one too many for him to handle. It was neither avoidable nor designable. They would have to look at it for what it was and take a small step towards finding a permanent solution instead of band-aid ones.

“I know why you are suddenly saying all this. It’s because you don’t want to lose that girl”

Vikas shook his head lightly and said, “That’s a part of the reason, Papa. But mom’s behaviour has been raising red flags for a while and you know it. Do you think she has a problem with the engagement? No! she thinks that she will lose me in some way if that happens. She’s insecure and that’s why she’s lashing out. This is her fear talking, not her. She is trying to keep me clutched to her chest in whatever way possible. She will behave like a child, threaten suicide, will stop eating – anything to avoid facing that fear. And I can assure you that her passive-aggressive side will come out tomorrow in the form of depression and silent treatment”

His father processed what he said for a while and said, “So what are you suggesting?”

Vikas continued, “Look this situation seems to be the problem now, but it’s not. Today it’s the woman I love and tomorrow it will be my career choice, later my decision to buy a house or how to raise my kid. No matter what it is, she will react in the same manner. Except that it’s getting increasingly worse. She has no faith in either of us. She thinks if I don’t walk the path the way she wants me to, I won’t be successful in life. If you don’t comply with her wishes, her old age is doomed. She needs professional help. She needs someone who can make her face the fact that the real problem is inside her and so is the solution. She needs to stop expecting other people to fill the voids in her life”

“Are you suggesting that we put her in a mental hospital?” asked his father curtly.

“No, papa. And I’m not suggesting that she’s ‘mental’ either. All I’m saying is that her behaviour is alarming and scary, and we should get her some professional help. We can start with counselling sessions in either group or personal. Trust me, finding identification is a huge step in the healing process. Later, if it works, we can try suggesting something she can get involved in and commit her time and space to”

“You know she will never agree”

“I know, which is why we need to give her a dose of her own medicine and show her the mirror. We will suggest this idea to her and get it done the way she would get it done if it was her idea. Refuse to eat. Refuse to talk. Refuse to go to work. Keep complaining about everything. Tell her how dead you feel inside, how people in your life have used you. Be passive-aggressive. I will do the same. At some point, maybe a day, a week or a month later, she will realize what we are trying to put across. She will realize why we are suggesting this. She will accept it herself, Papa” said Vikas earnestly.

His father drummed his fingers lightly on the table and said, “Are you sure this will work?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that we need to do something drastic to get her to see what she is doing to herself and this family”

His father let out a sigh and said, “Okay then. Let’s do this. I am with you”

Vikas smiled and said, “Thanks Papa. We need to do this as a team”

His father smiled and nodded, “Yes we do. And what about this situation? Will you go ahead with the engagement?”

“Yes I will. If we want to find a permanent solution, we need to stop enabling her by giving in to her blackmail. There are healthy boundaries in every relationship, and its high time I defined them. If we do this together, I’m sure we can get through to her”

“Okay, beta. I trust you” his father said with a smile before patting his shoulder twice. Vikas smiled back and let out a sigh of relief. That’s one level down, he thought to himself. He picked up his phone and messaged her:

Baby, we will get engaged. I am happy this happened, because I could finally find the courage to do something I should have done long ago. I love you : )

 

 

 

She got up with a jerk and wildly looked around. She was in her bed, in her room, in her house. She quickly checked her phone for any messages. It reflected nothing but the time: 9:30. She opened her whatsapp contact list and scrolled down to V. She was still blocked by Vikas. It had been 7 days since they split because his mother threatened suicide and he couldn’t take a stand against her. She spent each day dreaming the same dream and waking up expecting the message she so badly wanted to read. But reality offered her nothing but the same disappointment every day.

She sank her head back into her pillow and let a tear roll down the side of her face. They were happy and content. If only he had done the right thing instead of the easy one. If only he had tried to fight the problem instead of giving into manipulation. If only he didn’t let her go so easily. If only.

All she had now, were her dreams that crashed and burned every single morning, taking a piece of her with them in the flames.

Ever After

Naina flopped down on her berth, panting. She had almost missed her train once again. It was starting to become a pattern with her. Her friends said she would be awarded the Nobel Prize that day she made it anywhere on time.

She was travelling to Bangalore via Rajhdani Express for her cousin’s wedding. For some reason, she never enjoyed weddings. They always left her feeling morose. She supposed it was because they reminded her of the void in her own life..a void that had not been filled ever since her last relationship failed. Akash was the one for her, she believed it then and she believed it now. He understood her at a completely different level. However, what happened needed to be done despite and in spite of everything.

College was such a high in her life. It seemed a lifetime away now though, with reality having made it’s presence known. She had an amazing friend circle, and Akash was her friend before he became her boyfriend. All of them thought they would always be together. It had seemed so easy back then; to make promises of a lifetime and plan futures together. But the truth is that everything eventually meets it’s end, and life goes on.

“Madam, ticket please?”, a distant voice said, breaking her out of her reverie.

She looked up to see a paunchy TT looking at her with raised eyebrows. She opened her bag, took her phone out and showed him the M-Ticket along with her ID Proof. The TT stared at her for a second, then shook his head and muttered something like, “Today’s generation..”

She smiled as the memory of Akash mocking TTs in trains came back to her in a flash..

                                                                                      *

Nitin was an impatient person. He idly flicked through his playlist trying to find a good song while he waited for the train to move. He hated AC 3 tier. Whoever invented it deserved to be hanged. There was nothing worse than being suspended in a position in which you could not sit properly without getting your head hurt. Added to that was this extremely infuriating family in his compartment that simply did not shut up. The kids kept yelling, the mother was a very loud woman with loud make up, the father didn’t seem to care and his father kept dunking tobacco. Nitin was sandwiched between berths and this family. Literally.

Finally, he heard the final whistle and heaved a sigh of relief. The train started moving slowly. There was something about being in a moving train that calmed him down. He felt as though the hours that the journey lasted for, he didn’t need to live up to anyone’s expectations. He didn’t need to work towards something. He could just be himself and think about what he wanted.

Ever since college got over, his life had been a series of consecutive and quick steps. He didn’t get a chance to think about what he wanted to do, his family had already done that for him. He was to do an MBA in Finance whether or not he liked it. So he was now being shipped off to Bangalore to study in the Mount Carmel Institute of Management.

Swati always told him that Advertising was his field. She thought he would excel and do very well in it. He was creative and impulsive – a combination that had yielded very many interesting ideas. He had put up some great presentations in his classes as well.

She had had a lot of faith in him, despite the fact that he was temperamental and impatient. She always believed that he would get somewhere in his life. For some reason, when she left, Nitin lost his self-confidence too. He never realized how much of his strength came from her presence. After that, he never fought for what he believed in, and settled for what had already been planned for him.

He suddenly realized that the old man was trying to talk to him. He took his earphones off and said, “Sorry uncle, what did you say?”

“I said, are you also going to Bangalore?”

No, I’m going to hell, he thought, but said, “Yes Uncle, I am”

“Oh good, that’s nice. To meet family?”

“No, for my MBA”

“I see. That’s good. We are going to Bangalore to attend my sister’s daughter’s wedding. This generation is so modern, they select their partners on their own. But I like the groom, he earns well and does a good job. My sister is also happy…”

Nitin’s thoughts wandered away as the old man went on with his story. Indian train rides and random stranger conversations will always go hand in hand. I suppose my expression is not proof enough that I’m simply not interested.

He remembered when all four of them – Swati, Akash, Naina and himself had gone to Manali for a short trip. That train ride had been so memorable. Everything seemed fun, even the talkative families huddled around them. They chatted with random people and made random contacts. It was all so great. They played Antakshari with a family the whole way. It’s unbelievable how experiences can differ across situations. That was a train ride; this is a train ride too. But there was simply no comparison.

*

Akash smiled as he looked at a small girl trying to climb up the middle berth. It was 3 in the morning and he wasn’t sleepy at all, and neither, it seemed, was that girl. Her mother kept trying to get her to sleep but she simply wouldn’t lie down. Akash had been like that as a kid – hyper and restless all the time. His earliest memories were those of running down the aisles in planes and wreaking havoc in trains. As an adult too, he loved kids. He loved their innocence and honesty. People told him that he was quite the kid himself, so he never had any problem mingling with them.

He loved Bangalore as a city. He had grown up and done his schooling there. Some of his good friends still lived in Bangalore, and he had been wanting to pay them a visit for a while now. Since he had just left his job, he thought he wouldn’t find a better opportunity to go meet them.

He didn’t know how he sustained a year in his job, considering the fact that he was the most carefree and irresponsible person on earth. The world could be coming to an end and he would still want to talk about making a trip to Leh Ladhakh on a Harley Davidson. He was someone who lived in his own little world of fantasies. Reality was simply not for him. The only reason he took up that job was because his parents had been reiterating for quite a while that he was a useless son, and that he needed to do something in order to prove otherwise.

He had had plans once, back in college. But all of them included Naina. He never imagined that he would be left alone with nothing but fruitless plans. She was a huge support in his life. She stabilized him, gave him a sense of sanity. With her gone, things didn’t make sense anymore. In fact, his entire friend circle had made his life worthwhile. Their absence made him realize how much he had been counting on their presence. The memory of that day  still gave him shivers..

“I can’t do this, Akash. Not anymore”, said Naina, tears streaming down her face.

“Don’t do this, Naina, please. You know I need you in my life”, replied Akash in a trembling voice.

“Don’t you see, Akash? I don’t have a life of my own, I’m so busy managing yours! You need to grow up. Ever since Nitin and Swati broke up, you have been so invested in getting them and our friend circle back on track that you’ve forgotten about us. And this is just the last straw, Akash. I have been single handedly managing this relationship since the beginning”

“That is not true, Naina. You know-“

“Goodbye, Akash. I need to focus on my life now. I don’t want you in my life anymore”

If only he had stopped her. If only.

*

Swati woke up feeling disoriented. She never slept well in trains. She feared not waking up on time and missing her station, so she consciously slept light. She checked her watch, it was 6:20 in the morning. The train was scheduled to reach Bangalore at 6:40.

She sat up and stretched. One of the advantages of travelling in AC 2 tier was that you could sit properly. Sometimes she couldn’t help but feel glad that her parents weren’t too big on saving money like other households. She liked their financial setting – they spent almost as much as they earned. The present mattered more than the future, anyway. Mostly though, she was quite organized and saved money wherever she could. She liked making plans. They gave her a sense of comfort and predictability.

Swati did not like surprises, which is why her relationship with Nitin was a shocker, because he was possibly the most unpredictable person ever. He waltzed into her life and took it by storm within a matter of days. His ideas, beliefs, opinions and personality clashed so much with her own; but for some reason they also attracted her to him. They were a classic case of “opposites attract”.

He never paid much attention to her detailed plans about everything, and she never took his crazy ideas seriously either, but despite that they both had so much faith in each other. She still did not understand how that had happened.

But unlike fairytales, their relationship was not meant to be. It got harder and harder to sustain as time went by. Small squabbles turned into major fights and before they knew it, they had fallen out of love. One of their major fights culminated in them breaking up and deciding never to see each other’s faces. Their friends, Akash and Naina, tried to contain it and manage the damage, but nothing worked. Their break up led to the disintegration of their friend circle too.

By the time her anger had cooled off and she had begun to think clearly again, it was too late. Nitin had gone back to his hometown to live with his family, and her parents wanted her to help them out in their business. She regretted doing what she did. She didn’t know if their relationship could have lasted longer, but it shouldn’t have ended the way it did.

She was so deeply lost in her thoughts that she didn’t realize when the train stopped. Chaiwalas and Coolies rushed into the train to cater to the passengers. She quickly climbed down and started gathering her stuff. Her bua must have already reached the platform..

*

Akash was just beginning to enjoy the morning hustle bustle of the platform when he spotted her tying her hair. Naina was still very beautiful. He was transfixed on his spot because of shock. Is this how they were going to meet again after 2 years? Every unresolved emotion was coming to the surface..

Nitin was getting annoyed by a girl who blocking the doorway. She was trying to get her luggage out but was struggling a lot with it. Finally he said, “Mam could you please hurry! Everyone is waiting behind you!”

She turned around to face him. His jaw almost dropped. It was Swati. He could not believe she was actually standing in front of him. The girl he had fallen so deeply in love, the girl who drove up the wall..she was there, right in front of him. For a minute they just stared at each other, but then Swati broke the eye contact and stepped down from the train. Nitin remained rooted to his spot until a man shoved him in the back and said, “Please move, mister!”

Swati released the breath she had been holding. Nitin’s sudden reappearance had taken her aback her like nothing else. She didn’t want to confront him. Her heart was beating fast and she knew she was about to get a panic attack. She quickly picked up her bag and started walking fast towards the exit when she spotted someone else she had known – Akash. He was staring a girl tying her hair. It was Naina.

Nitin slowly walked towards the exit, lost in his thoughts. He had felt a rush of strong emotions when he saw her – anger, love, remembrance, pain, sadness, happiness – all at once. He suddenly bumped into a guy while walking aimlessly. He quickly said, “Sorry, sorry..I didn’t mean to-”

When he turned around, he received another shock. It was Akash.  At that moment, Naina too, noticed them. Her eyes widened in surprise. Between the tug of fight or flight, she always reacted by doing nothing. She stood there, speechless.

All four of them could not understand this extremely strange twist of fate. They had been on the same train, albeit different coaches, travelling to the same place. Naina, Akash, Swati and Nitin – four people who were inseparable in college, who could not imagine getting past one day without talking to each other, now stood in front of each other without having anything to say. 2 years was a long time, enough to create or heal distances. In their case, it seemed as though major distances had been created. All had been lost, except for some invaluable memories.

Swati was the first to make a move. Her Bua was waving at her. She walked past Naina without looking at her and kept walking. Nitin didn’t stop her. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he didn’t know how. He turned around and went in the opposite direction. This probably completed the circle of their relationship – they had come from opposite directions to be together, and they went in their opposite directions now that it was over.

Naina didn’t want to face Akash. Tears were threatening to fall down her cheeks. She was going to break down, but before he knew what had happened, she picked up her luggage and left. He was left staring at her retreating back, once again thinking – if only I could stop her. If only.

Fire & Ice

Finally uploading all stories I wrote for a portfolio.

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“I think I’m going to have to go see him”, said Smriti as she kept the phone down, “He’s in the hospital and it wouldn’t seem nice if we didn’t go”

“Well, okay..how long do you think it will take you to be back?”, I asked.

“By tomorrow morning, I think..do you think you’ll be able to manage?”

I shrugged and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Maybe I could go and have a cup of coffee at Vasant Vihar market complex or something”

Suneha Gupta was a simple girl. She liked simple things, and found joy in small achievements. She was a law student, and unlike many others who chose to do it out of compulsion or family pressure, she loved every bit of it. Being good at it came effortlessly to her. Even though she was a second year student at New Law College, Pune, she was more knowledgeable than most of the third year LLB students.

She was in Delhi to visit her friend of 4 years, Smriti. They were both together in school and were great friends. Unfortunately after school, Smriti chose to be in Delhi and Suneha went to Pune. But distance could not dilute their friendship. They continued to be in touch via mail, skype and ofcourse, whatsapp. They also visited each other a couple of times alternatively, and this time it was Suneha’s turn to be in Delhi.

“Okay, cool. You can even watch a movie if you like, you know. Just keep the house keys with you”, said Smriti.

“Arey don’t worry na. I’ll be fine. You go see your uncle. Afterall family is family, and swine flu is a pretty serious condition to be diagnosed with”

Smriti sighed, “Yes, I know…but I still feel bad about leaving you here. I mean, you’re only here for 3 days…”

“Smriti, it’s okay…really. It’s not like you’re going away for days, it’s just one night. I’ll manage just fine”, I said consolingly.

Smriti nodded and smiled, “Yep…so we’ll plan something nice for tomorrow once I’m back, okay?”

“Sure thing”, I replied with a smile.

A while later, Smriti left with her parents for Fortis Hospital, where her uncle had been admitted. I sat down on the sofa in the sitting room and turned on the television, thinking about what I could do. I wasn’t someone who could enjoy on my own, I always preferred company. Every time I had to face the prospect of having a good time alone, time would slow down. I sighed and looked at my watch, it was 7 pm in the evening. I can go and have a cup of coffeestroll a little and be back by 9.

With that thought in mind, I promptly turned the television off and went to fetch my bag and the house keys. I took one last look at myself in the mirror, walked out of the front door and locked it.

The Vasant Vihar market complex wasn’t too far from Smriti’s place. She lived in RK Puram, which was very close by, so I decided to simply walk. Walking was one of my favourite modes of introspection; it gave me a sense of purpose. A lot of things would go through my mind while walking – where I was headed towards in life, past mistakes, relationships, family, finance…the list was endless. I just wished I had as many answers as well.

Passion Tea had always been one of my favourite cafes to be in. Back when I was in Delhi, I hung out at the Saket branch quite often. The one in Vasant Vihar was bigger and more tasteful. I walked inside and found a secluded spot in one corner. It wasn’t too crowded today except of two couples enjoying their tea date and one guy smiling at his smart phone. I placed my order, caramel tea and honey almond cake, and settled down in a cosy armchair. Rummaging through my bag, I found a novel I had bought a while ago, so opened the marked page and started reading.

“The wife is a psychopath, you know…that’s the big mystery”, said a deep voice a while later.

I looked up from my book and saw the guy who was earlier smiling at his smart phone, smiling at me now. For a moment I was taken aback at this unexpected greeting, but then recovered and said, “So you’ve read this book?”

He nodded and said, “Yep, before the movie released actually”

“And why should I believe you? You could just be bluffing”

“Good point. That just depends on your judgement of people then”

“I guess it does”, I said.

“So do you think I’m bluffing?”

I looked at him for a moment and said, “I think I’ll reserve my judgement until later”

He chuckled and said, “Sure”, and after a moment’s pause, “So you like mystery novels?”

“Yes, they keep my brain active. I’m not much into drama or romance”

“Do you mind if I join you? we look weird talking from two tables apart, don’t we?”

I nodded and said, “Why not?”

He got up and walked over to where I was sitting. He’s quite confident, I thought spontaneously as I saw him walk towards me. His smile had a sort of laid back charm about it, and his appearance was casual yet classy. I smiled yet again as he sat down and said, “I’m Abhinav Singh, by the way”

“Suneha Gupta”

“Unusual name. So what do you do Suneha?”

“I’m a second year law student actually, at New law college, Pune. Here to visit a friend for a couple of days”

“Oh, sounds pretty challenging”, said Abhinav in an awed voice.

“Maybe, but I love studying law. I have the aptitude for it, so it never feels like I’m working too hard”, I said.

“That’s good to know. You hardly come across people who love what they do nowadays. Passionate people are hard to find”

“True. No one has any distinct personality. Everyone is a copy of a copy of a copy”

“Wow, that’s deep. Which film?”, said Abhinav with a chortle.

I grinned in response and said, “Fight Club. So what do you do?”

“I’m a third year journalism student at JNU”

“Wow, really? That’s great. I have this notion in my head that journalism students are really smart”

“Well, we are…there’s absolutely no doubt about that”, said Abhinav with a smirk.

“Is that confidence or narcissism?”, I asked with a grin.

“A mixture of both, I would say”

“Hmm, I like your honesty”

“Thankyou, miss. So…do you like Delhi as a place?”

“I do, actually. I may not like the people but I like the place”

“I agree with you on that completely. Have you ever had a chance to explore it at night?”

“Not really. I mean, I used be home by 8 max when I was here so I never really got a chance to go clubbing and all…”

“No I don’t mean clubbing. I mean really exploring the city at night, you know, just driving around to places and just spending time there. There’s really nothing quite like it. Delhi at night is magical”, he paused for a moment and then said, “You wanna come with me today?”

My eyes widened in surprise, followed by an incredulous chuckle, “You can’t be serious! I mean, we hardly know each other – ”

“Well this is the best way to get to know each other”, Abhinav said, interrupting her, “C’mon, what’s really stopping you? Just call your friend and tell her you’ll be back by 11”

“It’s not that. She’s not at home, actually. It’s just -”

“Well then that’s great, isn’t it? You’re not answerable to anyone today except yourself”, he said, his eyes shining with glee.

I stared at him in disbelief. I had just met this stranger half an hour ago, and now it seemed as though he was inviting me out on a date. I had always been taught never to trust unknown people, never to take risks or do anything that you weren’t 100% sure about. I had grown up evaluating the risk factor in every situation before venturing into it. My life so far had been carefully planned and meticulously executed. Would it make a difference if, for once, I listened to my gut instead of my brain?

Pushing all doubts aside, I said, “Where are we going?”

He clapped his hands together and grinned broadly, “Now that’s more like it. How about…India Gate? It’s great when it’s not that crowded. Plus you get the world’s best tea at around 11 there”

His excitement is infectious, I thought to myself. He was the type of person who could be very hard to say no to. Besides, I had never done something like this ever before. I grinned in spite of myself and said, “Sounds good. It’s only 8 right now though, what are we going to do until then?”

“Well we’re going to sit and chat here of course. We’ll leave at around 10:30, what say?”

“Okay, good. That’s done then”

“Yep. So tell me about yourself. What do you like to do?”

It was quite surprising how easy it was to talk to Abhinav. I didn’t know if it was because our wavelengths matched or because he was an outgoing person in general, but I felt like I had known him for years. He loved travelling, and especially adventure sports. He explained to me in detail his experiences with rafting, bungee jumping, paragliding and even sky diving. I listened to him with rapt attention, I had never known someone who acted on 9 out of 10 impulses. He had made his mistakes, but he had no regrets.

I told him about my life as a kid, how my parents had always been overprotective of me, how I made less but long lasting friends, how I always hated mingling with the “bigda hua” crowd in school. The most exciting thing that I had ever done was bunk school with my friends once and gone to watch a film. It had given me a panic attack like no other. I had never attempted a bunk ever again in my life. Abhinav genuinely seemed interested in what I had to say, and unlike many others, didn’t judge me for who I was.

Hours passed swiftly and before we knew it, it was half past ten. Abhinav tapped his watch and said, “We should make a move now, don’t you think?”

“We should…it’ll get too late otherwise”, I replied as we got up.

When we walked into the parking lot, I expected to see a sedan like Chevrolet or Honda city, but instead I found myself walking towards an old Alto. Somehow Abhinav’s grand personality had given me the impression that he must own an expensive car. That, however, was not true, and I was impressed to know that he didn’t care much about latest automobiles. As we settled down in the car, I said, “Do you mind if I play my songs?”

“Go ahead.  Just as long as they’re not EDM or rock music, I’m fine with just about anything”

I grinned and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not a big fan either. My stuff is mostly Bollywood”

I put on my favourite song as he started the car. I couldn’t help but recall my father’s words – Beta, never let someone you don’t trust drive the car…but for the first time in my life, I wasn’t going to let those words overpower my heart. I was thoroughly enjoying not knowing the outcome of a situation for once. Besides, Abhinav was a pretty good driver from what I could see. He didn’t seem like one of those people who learnt how to drive with friends. The fact that he wore his seat belt proved that.

We listened to all sorts of songs ranging from AR Rahman to Ravi Kishen as we drove towards India Gate. I rolled down my window and poked my head out. The first rush of air was so exhilarating that it made me light headed. This is what being high feels like, I thought. Fear, that had dominated my life and decisions for the most part, seemed like a stranger right now. I knew this was transient, but I also knew that it would take a while for any other moment to top this one.

We finally reached India Gate at around 11. It wasn’t as crowded or as noisy as it is in the evening. There were less people around, less hustle bustle and less vendors. It looked beautiful masked in golden light, under the dark sky. Mostly people were quietly strolling down the path, having tea or buying ice cream. Of course, there were some drunk people around showing off in their BMWs, but that didn’t really matter. I felt safe with Abhinav. We bought two cups of tea, chai, as Abhinav liked to call it and settled down on the footpath to watch the traffic drive past. For almost 15 minutes we didn’t say a word to each other. It was oddly calming, just sitting there and watching the world go about its business. For the first time, I wasn’t thinking about anything.

“Why can’t each day be like this?”, I asked, breaking the silence.

“It can be, you need to decide for it to be”, he replied, looking directly into my eyes.

“What if it’s not that simple?”

“It is, actually…just eliminate the things that don’t matter”

I didn’t have any reply. He made it all sound so easy, so natural. Being here was a very inconsequential thing for him, but for me, it took a whole lot of strength.

We sat there until 12 am, mostly in silence but sharing some sparse thoughts in between. We were as different as fire and ice, but surprisingly gelled extremely well with each other. We were both doors to different worlds for each other, a world neither had been exposed to before.

At 12:15 am, I checked my watch and gasped, “Shit! It’s 12:15 am! I was supposed to be at home by 11:30 pm. I think we should leave”

He looked at her and said softly, “C’mon, let’s stay here for another half an hour…your friend’s not at home anyway”

Despite the temptation of his company, I lightly shook my head and said, “No, sorry Abhinav, but I really should get back. I want to spend more time here but it’s getting too late”

He sighed and said, “Alright then”

We drove back in silence, enjoying the music and the wind rushing in through the open windows. I could not have imagined 4 hours ago that I would be having the best experience of my life today. In fact, I had never imagined I would get a taste of a world beyond my own anytime in my life. I was quite overwhelmed by how this attractive stranger had waltzed into my day unexpectedly and made an ordinary day, extra ordinary. I couldn’t help but wish that I could have more days this with him.

“So…”, said Abhinav as he parked outside Smriti’s place in RK Puram.

“So..”, I said, smiling, “It was really nice meeting you, Abhinav. Thanks for this experience”

He smiled and said, “Likewise, Suneha. You’re a very interesting person, I really enjoyed spending time with you”

Maybe I should give him my number, I thought as I started to take my phone out from her bag, “Hey we should keep in -”

At that moment, though, Abhinav’s phone rang. He looked at the screen and smiled widely. Picking up the phone, he said, “Hey baby…how are you? No I was just with a friend right now, we went to India Gate to have chai…”