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SUB ROSA: THE SECRET

THE RITUAL

Shreya seemed to be in a trance, the drum beats reverberated, the temple bells chimed in symphony. She was part of the teeming crowd of women, huddled together, sticking leaning against each other. All of them were compulsorily dressed in saris, it was a prerequisite in the ashram rules. Their sweat seemed to have mingled in that confined space of the narrow room which was lost in the smoke emanating from the thousands of incense sticks that burnt there and vermillion being thrown in the air along with marigold petals. The scent, the aroma and the effluvium in the room gave the entire atmosphere a surreptitious aura. It was a special ritual after all; only fifteen women had been selected for it after spending a week in the ashram, for barrenness was their bane. Shreya had been dragged here by her husband and his family after not being able to provide an heir five years into marriage.  Ironically baba’s ashram had specialized in curing these women of the curse. Hundreds of women had conceived after visiting the ashram and participating in the culminating ritual.

In that room Shreya was supposed to be the lucky one to be handpicked by baba himself. The trance seemed to be reaching its crescendo, the drum beats echoed inside her head, her eyes were half shut, she seemed to have been intoxicated by the smells and sounds; then she felt the hotness and complete and utter pleasure radiated from her body. The ritual was complete, she had attained ultimate state of bliss, claimed Baba to her in-laws, she’s sure to bear a child now.

 Birthday in Marseille – France

Aahana wanted to make Shreya’s birthday a special one so she had reserved the best seat at the waterfront café at Vieuxport. Aahana shared her birthday with her mother and she was twenty today and she looked beautiful. Her blond hair fell in soft curls over her shoulders and her black eyes twinkled with nervous excitement as she had an important announcement to make.

Shreya lived in Marseille with her partner Frank. After two failed marriages she had called it quits and was happy to live with Frank, a decade her junior, who shared her love for museums and art. They had met discussing contemporary art. Aahana was fond of Frank too, he brought her mother happiness and she was happy with that. She had ordered Shreya’s favourite strawberry cake and bouillabaisse – her favourite fish stew.

Shreya and Frank arrived looking like a young couple in love. Aahana was getting more nervous, she did not want Shreya to feel sad or burdened by her decision, but this was that had been weighing on her mind for a while now and she had to do it.

Frank was ever charming and gifted her beautiful string of pearls and promised to take her Fete de le Musique, the greatest music festival in Marseille, set to happen every summer solstice, just two days from today. They looked a happy family.

Happy birthday mom! You look absolutely stunning today.”

“Thank you for organizing this and now you should spill the beans.”

“Beans?”

“You have something going on in your mind, don’t you? How long are you going to keep being quiet about it?”

“You sure know me well. Actually I’m going to India tomorrow.”

Shreya was taken aback but was not really shocked at her decision. Aahana had been asking questions about her biological father and his family for long now, but she did not know it was going to be this soon.

“June is hot in India, hotter than here in Marseille, plus your father’s family lives in Mumbai, which is one of the hottest cities in India.”

“Isn’t it a port town just like Marseille? I think I’ll like it there.”

“The city? Of course you’ll love the city, but don’t be too enthusiastic about your father or his family. They had rejected both of us twenty years ago. There is nothing of the metropolis blood of Mumbai in them.”

“I still want to see him once. I don’t know why, but it’s like a void, which however hard I try to forget I cannot. Not that my life with you is not happy or that I missed my father growing up. It’s just heat I want to give a face to the vacuum that shows up in my head when someone mentions the word father.”

“I understand, go by all means if you want to go, I’ll give you the address that I remember so vividly, but it has been two decades, everything could have changed.”

Aahana was so relieved; she was convinced that Shreya would never let her go after what she had suffered there. Keeping the address safe she set out, hoping to meet that man once who never stopped to look at her.

Shreya wished her luck as she saw her off the next day. “Just return, as soon as it gets too much for you; don’t get stuck in negative vibes. You do not deserve that. I’m warning you once more, this will leave you disappointed.”

As Aahana settled in her plane seat, inadvertently her mom’s life permeated her thoughts.

SHREYA

Her mom was a hill girl totally, belonging to a small hill town in India. She was the eldest of five sisters and her parents married her as soon as she turned eighteen, to a family in Mumbai. Arranged marriages in India are not between the boy and the girl, they are between families, everyone gets involved and you just accept everything as part of the package. Shreya too accepted everything, moved from the hills to Mumbai and did her best to adjust to the sudden change in her life. Her husband was five years her senior and had just finished his law studies and joined the family firm. He never made her comfortable or helped her navigate through this new phase in her life. In fact, he made it clear to her that he had married under family pressure and he had no interest in a small town girl who wasn’t even educated enough.

“Aditya,” Shreya would manage to say, “I’m not uneducated, my father married me at eighteen as he has four more daughters to settle, you should treat me with respect.”

Aditya smirked, “Stay at home, do the chores, be satisfied.”

Shreya’s mother-in-law began pressing for a baby in the first year of marriage, but Shreya did not conceive for five years, much to the chagrin of her in-laws. “A barren girl they gave us. They must have known that is why they married her at eighteen.”  The endless stinging comments left her in tears. Her mother in law took her to numerous doctors, but all reports came in fine. Then she began taking her to shamans, to priests, temples, dargahs, anything to get her daughter in law to conceive.

During this time someone told them about of a miracle baba in the suburbs. He had opened an ashram only a year back and he had special powers. Any barren woman visiting his ashram is cured of her condition and will conceive by his blessings. Even though Shreya had protested, “Please don’t send me to that ashram. The doctors have told you there is nothing wrong with me.”

“I want to see my grandson soon, just leave.” Shreya had been admonished. Aditya left her at the ashram and when she came back she did conceive and gave birth to a baby girl and that began the second ordeal, but by now Shreya had had enough. She picked her daughter and walked out of Aditya’s home.

Being a single mom was tough, but going to her parents’ home wasn’t even an option. Not only did she take care of her daughter, she enrolled to do a course in contemporary art, also picking up jobs to provide for both of them. She fought and won a divorce from Aditya. Five years she struggled and then she met a young American artist who she married and went to live in the United States. She worked in the art galleries, libraries and museums gaining experience, but a happy married like still eluded her. Her husband now was too eccentric to settle down as a married man. He called himself free spirited artist and wanted to travel to experience life, but Shreya worried about Aahana and separated from him and moved to Marseille, France. It was here that she finally found peace. She was happy working at Museum of Contemporary Art, bringing up Aahana.

The plane touched down in Mumbai and Aahana stepped on the hot tarmac with the hot humid air hitting her with full force, making her shiver at the step that she had decided to take.  

MUMBAI

Aahana checked into her hotel taking in the sights, sounds and smells of an alien land, though she was Indian by birth she did not connect to anything, she was un a foreign land with foreign customs and manners. She did understand a little Hindi, Shreya spoke to her in conversational Hindi, but she could not speak fluently. She decided to visit her father the first thing next morning. As she reached there the next day she developed cold feet. “How can I just show up? He must have a family. What if he has never mentioned us?” These questions had plagued her before too. She waited for an hour for someone to come out of the building, then left. Next day she decided firmly that today she had to meet him. She waited for someone to emerge from the building. A woman came out; she looked like she worked there. Aahana accosted her, “Is this vakil saab’s house?”

“Haanji,” she said politely.

“I wanted to meet Aditya saab.”

“Oh! But he doesn’t take cases now; he’s paralyzed and can’t walk.”

“I just need his advice on something.”

“They have an office on the first floor. It opens at ten. You could meet someone there. Maybe they can help you.”

“Thank you.”

At ten Aahana went up. There were five young men sitting looking listless and disinterested in their surroundings. One of them looked up surprised, as if they weren’t expecting a visitor.

“How may I help you?”

“I wanted to meet Aditya sir.”

“He doesn’t take visitors.”

“But this is really important; I’ve come all the way from France to meet him.”

“France!” They all said in unison.

“Ok. I’ll ask him. Who may I say has come?”

“Shreya’s daughter.”   

After waiting for what seemed eternity, Aditya wheeled into the office. He ordered all the others to leave, and then observed Aahana from head to toe, staring at her face with expressionless eyes, and stoic face. “Have you come to claim your parentage? You aren’t even my daughter.”

“I know you rejected me long back. I just…”

“I am not your father. I can prove it with any DNA test you want. You are a result of the licentious life your mother led. I hate your existence.”

“How dare you call my mother promiscuous and deny being my father?”

“I cannot be your father because doctors had told me I could never have children, yet you were born. So am I wrong? I hated you and the woman who bore you. Leave and never return.”

Aahana stood absolutely still, numb, confused. A cold shiver went through her body. She was so flabbergasted and stunned at what she had heard she didn’t know how to react. She walked down the stairs in a kind of stupor when she saw an old lady who told her to follow her to the park nearby. Aahana followed.

“You are Shreya’s daughter?”

“Yes.”

“I am Aditya’s mother. Listen carefully. There was nothing wrong with your mother, but I had to protect my son so I let everyone believe that Shreya was at fault. Shreya had visited the ashram of miracle baba like many others. The baba is no longer here, but some people in the nearby slum still follow him. You can ask there. Maybe you get some answers. Tell Shreya I am sorry.”

Aahana called her mom. “Do you remember what happened in the ashram?” she asked gingerly.

“The entire scene was murky,” said Shreya. “All I remember was the loud beating of drums, but nothing significant happened there. Are you ok?”

“Yes.”

Aahana began gathering news of this baba. He had fled to the hills of Himachal, the Himalayas. She began skimming the area around where the ashram used to be. She began asking random people about the ashram. After about two days she saw a girl who looked just like her, the resemblance was so striking that the girl stopped to stare at her too. Aahana went up to her and asked about the baba. “Yes, my mom prays to one baba, she even has his picture.” Aahana’s heart skipped a beat as she entered a small ramshackle of a home.

SUB ROSA: HILLS REVEAL THE SECRET

The train moved ever so slowly on the narrow gauge line meandering through the deepest pine forests she had ever seen. The railway line seemed to be wrapped around the mountain like the legendary Vasuki in Samudra Manthan. The pristine beauty and untamed nature left her totally awed. Lush mountains, rustle of the wind and bird songs seemed to remove her worries even temporarily.

She reached the small village of Kiari, as the lady had told her that’s where baba resides now. At the bus stop she saw a sweet mart vendor and she showed him a worn out faded picture inquiring if he recognized the man in the picture. He took the photograph in his hand and strained his eyes to see, “Yes, that is Manohar, but why is he wearing these robes of a sadhu?”

“Where does he live?”

“There is a government school about six kilometers from here. You will have to walk uphill. His house his next to the school. And yes, avoid taking the track in the forest, go along the cobbled path.”

Aahana followed the instructions and by the time she reached up she was out of breath and sweaty. She saw the most picturesque school ever and a hut close by. She walked in measured steps and saw the silhouette of a man working in the field.

Excuse me,” she shouted, her voice trembling.

He turned to look at her.

“May I speak to you?”

Manohar had a look of bewilderment on his face as he walked upto the girl.

“Is that you?” she showed him the picture.

“Have you come to arrest me? Let’s talk inside,” he said almost in a whisper.

He took her inside his mud house, with small windows and slate roof. “Sit,” he said, pointing to a single string bed near the window and he sat on his haunches on the floor.

“What do you want to know, I’ve left everything and trying to live in ignominy, I don’t want any attention.”

“Were you the owner of the ashram?”

“Yes, me along with four other boys. What fun we had!”

“I’m looking for my father, obviously there weren’t any miracles.”

“That was our revenge on all those rich people who lived in bungalows and think people working for them are scum of the earth. Its easiest to exploit and beguile people. They still give into superstitions and miracles. We built an ashram that gave boon of children. Stupid men hiding their incapabilities behind their wives. I don’t even remember how many children we fathered after drugging those women with the smoke from the incense sticks. I can’t tell you who your father might be. I don’t even remember where the rest of them are. We ran away after those stupid people realized there was no miracle.”

He laughed a laugh that sounded vile and nasty.

Unable to control her anger anymore she smacked Manohar right across his face. The vileness of his actions, his misplaced notion of revenge and his unapologetic tone disgusted her so much that she ran from there promising to keep it a secret forever.

©Deepika..

      Photo by Rafael Guajardo from Pexels

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KISS OF THE WILD FLOWER

SHASHIKANT DUBEY

Shashikant Dubey was reading his transfer letter. He couldn’t believe he would be transferred so soon, it hadn’t even been a month since he joined the school. The children of his school had just begun to warm up to him and he loved being with them. Shashikant had been the best student in school and a topper at Allahabad University. Shashikant’s father, Ravikant Dubey, was a pujari, a priest at the temple. He earned his living by performing poojas of all sorts for his subjects. He was very well respected in the town because he wasn’t greedy at all like his compatriots; he was well known to perform the rituals in the lowest cost possible. He would say, “God doesn’t need your money, he needs your sincerity. If you pray to him with a sincere heart you do not even need to perform these rituals. These rituals are only an excuse you give to your self to lessen the guilt of having ignored him for so long. So go back and connect to your God. I’m only a medium to remind you and reset you on the path towards him.”  Also he did not look like the other priests who were potbellied and proud of their huge bulging stomachs. Ravikant Dubey laid a lot of stress on physical fitness and practiced yoga early morning before he got ready to meet his Lord. He had infused the same spirit in his son. Shashikant’s mother Bimla Devi was very well educated but chose to stay at home. She was the one to infuse him with secular and philanthropic spirit, so as he grew up he was very clear that he will choose a profession that will help him somehow uplift the people around him. Growing up he was not very sure how he would do that, but sure enough as grew he found his true calling. He decided on becoming a government school teacher, so he is able to able to serve even in the remotest areas and make his contribution however little it may be; and now they had already transferred him. The letter stated that he had been appointed as a teacher in a small village in the foothills of Himalayas. The previous teacher had run away and never returned. No one knew the reason why he left unannounced. He was found in his home town refusing to rejoin service and unable to provide any coherent answers. He said he didn’t remember anything of that place.

It had been two months since he left and no one wanted to go to this small village. When Shashikant thought of the little children in the school and how they must be suffering from this ordeal of not having a teacher he knew he had to go immediately.

“It gets very cold here, even in summers, so get enough warm clothes.”

This was added as a footnote in the letter, but Shashikant wasn’t sure how much would be enough. He had been posted to a government school at Kiari, in the hills of Himachal. He had to take a train, then a bus and would have to walk a few miles before he reached the village. The phone number and name of the caretaker was given.

Shashikant bought what he thought would be enough woollens and set course for his new place.

ABODE OF GODS

It had just rained and the air was crisp and fresh, the mountains greener than before with the mystical fog embracing them. Shashikant was still lost admiring the scene when he felt someone tapping on his shoulder. He turned around to see a short stout man with scanty beard and receding hairline.

“Namaste saabji! I am Kalu; you must be the new teacher.”

“Oh, hello. Good to see you.”

“I’ll carry your luggage, can you please carry these umbrellas. The heavens pour anytime they like,” he smiled his toothless smile. This was just the beginning of many wise cracks that Kalu would be dispensing over their time together.

“Your house is here in Kiari, the school however is about a six kilometre further up. It’s a steep incline so we will walk there tomorrow morning.”

Shashikant kept walking, absorbing Kalu’s information and the surroundings. As they took a turn to the right Shashikant just stopped, his mouth agape at the splendour. The mountains rose high kissing the azure skies, the fog that had surrounded them was rising up and revealing, a hidden treasure; the orange hue of dusk colored everything golden. The mountains were covered with huge deodar trees about which he had read in his books. The peaks of the mountains still had snow on them even though it was the beginning of October. Shashikant was mesmerized; it all appeared to be a painting, a picture he had seen hanging on the walls of expensive restaurants of Allahabad. “Chaliye saabji, we’ll get late, we should reach before it gets dark.” It became clear to Shashikant why Himachal is the abode of gods.

Kiari was more of a hamlet than a village, few houses, a temple and fields. He hardly saw any people outside at this hour; the vehicles seemed to have disappeared after he had walked about a kilometre from the bus-stand; few bikes he saw parked outside some homes.

Kalu walked holding the luggage which he refused to share even after a zillion entreaties by Shashikant who was embarrassed to be walking with just two umbrellas.

The house was well maintained by Kalu; it was neat and clean with everything at its proper place. As soon as they reached, he promptly placed the luggage in the bedroom. The house had a slanting slate roof and thick mud walls like most houses in Kiari. There were two rooms and a kitchen. Kalu served him hot tea and biscuits and told him he had prepared hot water for his bath and the he disappeared again to make dinner.

The night was peaceful, in fact Shashikant found the silence deafening, plus that heavy quilt was something he would take time getting used to.

After breakfast the next day they began their climb to the school. They passed near the temple where near a bend Shashikant saw a track going up into the forest. “Is this the way up to the school,” he inquired.

Kalu hesistated, “it is the shorter route through the forest, but the track is muddy and is dangerous during rains. We will take the longer route, you can see the entire village, the road is cobbled, and the incline is less too.”

Shashikant could not deny that. Kalu kept pointing and houses and naming the kids who lived there. The village had a small grocery shop, a post office and a dispensary. “So even on a bright day the children take this longer route?”

“Yes! The school only begins at ten. They walk slowly up, this route isn’t muddy and while coming back they have fun picking fruits and vegetables. Also by the time they reach back their parents come back from the fields.”

Walking through Kiari was akin to being in the protected arms of a mother. After a long walk on a steep incline they reached the school perched on the top of the ridge on the mountain. It gave a spectacular view of the valley below with lush green fields and the majestic snow covered mountains behind. Such a picturesque place thought Shashikant. Kalu had maintained the records well and he had kept the classes going, even though his learning was limited. Around the school boundary he had planted marigold flowers making it appear like a garland around the school. Shashikant quickly got busy with his work.

ATTRACTION

It had been only fifteen days since he arrived but it seemed to Shashikant that he had spent a lifetime here. Time seemed to be moving at its own pace. He knew now where the children lived, their parents, the shopkeepers, bus drivers, the post man and the occasional doctor who visited.  The people too accepted him as their own, loving, trusting and all encompassing. The only sore point was walking on that winding road all the way up when a shorter route was in plain sight. He decided to try that track, as he wanted to reach early and finish the administrative work before children arrived. Kalu was not in agreement and said in no uncertain terms that he’ll not accompany him. This left Shashikant intrigued and aroused his curiosity. Next morning he picked his umbrella and started walking.

The path was covered with grass now as people had abandoned it. It was a meandering path covered thickly by deodar and rhododendron trees, even the sun rays seemed to be fighting to reach the ground. Midway he saw a hut dimly lit, smoke was rising from the window allowing him to presume someone stayed there. He wanted to check but left it for some other time.

Just before he reached the school, he saw a beautiful pasture, full of flowers of all hues, lavender, yellow, white and pink reminding him of “jocund company.”

As he neared the pasture he saw a girl lying down on the grass soaking the slight drizzle that had just begun. She lay with abandonment eyes closed. He went near her. She was the most beautiful girl he had laid eyes on. Absent minded he sat next to her. Her skin was radiant almost glowing; her clothes were wet and sticking to her. He was admiring her doe eyes, pointed nose with a nose ring, long black hair which she had braided and embellished with flowers, the sindhur on her forehead had trickled down with the water and given her face a reddish glint. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She opened her eyes after awhile and met Shashikant’s gaze. She was unfazed, got up slowly and smiled at him breaking his trance. She didn’t say a word just walked away. On his walks to school, he started seeing here every day, picking firewood or collecting wild berries. They would smile at each other, till one fine day he decided to talk to her; he had never felt a stronger attraction.

As he approached her she stopped and looked at him smiling her enigmatic smile. “Hello! I am Shashikant. I’ve joined as the new teacher. As you know I see you everyday, I am attracted to you even though I can see that you are married. I think I am infatuated by you maybe I love I’m not sure.”  He was acutely conscious that he was blabbering and wanted to stop; suddenly she came close to him and kissed him on the lips, a long passionate kiss. Shashikant went rigid and cold, he’d never kissed a girl before, he just stood there and when she broke off the kiss she was still smiling and not saying a word like before she left. He reached home playing the kiss again and again in his mind. He reached home and went straight to bed and told Kalu not to cook dinner. Kalu looked at him skeptically, “Did you by any chance..?” Kalu was cut mid sentence as Sahshikant closed the door on him.

The annual school inspection was due and also the exams. He was very busy, but his rendezvous with the girl went uninterrupted. She never said a word, he didn’t even know her name, yet he wanted to meet her everyday. She held a powerful spell over Shashikant whenever she was near. He couldn’t think of anything else; her kisses, her touch, her closeness and their bodies entwined was all he wanted, all other questions just vanished.

Finally the inspection team left and it was late. Kalu and Shashikant packed everything. The sky was overcast with thunder and lightning ripping the skies predicting a heavy downpour, the icy cold wind piercing through the bones, but all Shashikant prayed was that she was waiting for him, her warmth. He left the rest of the things to Kalu and was in a hurry to leave. Kalu requested him not to take that route as the weather was packed, “Saabji, it’s dangerous to go from that road, besides today is amavasya.”

“So? You think I will encounter a ghost?”

“No! Something more sinister.”

“What?”

Kalu slipped a khukhri – a Gurkha weapon, into his hand. “Keep this with you, just in case.”

“Case of?”

“Animals, wild animals,” he looked away fast.

Shashikant kept it in his bag and rushed out. He was moving fast, with flash light in one hand and umbrella in the other, his eyes kept searching for her.

He felt her fragrance before he saw her. He couldn’t contain him self and ran, but slipped, the flashlight went rolling into the forest casting ominous shadows on the huge trees, his umbrella too went flying with the strong gust of wind, but all he wanted was to embrace her. It was too dark for him to understand the directions, he was soaking and shivering. The raindrops felt like pins piercing his skin. There was a huge flash of thunder and lightning and he saw her standing right next to him, her hair open not braided falling over her shoulders and covering her naked torso, her expression was that of someone possessed and she held a trishul in her hand. Behind her stood a sadhu, a burly man, tall with a long beard, stark naked. The entire scene numbed Shashikant.

“Today we will be immortal,” roared the sadhu and she raised her trishul and toward Shashikant. The wind roared, the thunder grew louder almost exploding.

RUN” came another voice shaking him. “RUN” and he sprang down the road not caring which direction he was running in; he just had to run down. He could feel them close behind, the hustling of bushes, the landing of feet on slush made him run faster. Shashikant was almost slipping and skidding when someone pulled him into a hut. A dim lamp burnt in the corner and he the old man who had pulled him inside. The duo entered right behind him and the old man tried to push Shashikant further away and as he fell his khukri jutted out of bag.The girl charged at him with the trishul but the old man lunged at the khukri and ran toward her pressing it deep into her abdomen. The trishul fell on the floor as she collapsed. Shashikant picked it up and thrust it into the sadhu who was about to strike him with a knife.

Two bodies lay there, grotesque and askew, and then an eerie silence enveloped them.

The old man shoved him out and told him never to return and never talk of what just happened.

When Shashikant reached home he was disoriented, his clothes stiff with mud and blood. Kalu looked at him with a stoic expression, got him a towel, fresh clothes and hot water for bath. Shashikant came down with high fever and Kalu devotedly stayed by his side and not questioning anything. Finally Shashikant broke the silence, “Did you know?”

 “Yes, in parts. Her name is Jyoti. She is the daughter of Durga Prasad Rana. He used to be our village headman. Her mother was mauled by a bear when she was little, when they had gone to collect firewood. She became mute after that, she never spoke. Durga Prasad tried all sorts of doctors and medicines. A sadhu came to stay in our village in the temple, all of us revered him. Durga Prasad took Jyoti to him in the hope that he might cure her, but he started taking advantage of her and molested her. No one knew for a long time. In guise of curing her he began to drug her, chanting mantras, burning special incense and giving laced prasad till he got total control over her. He shifted his base to deep in the forest and took Jyoti along. He used to practice bizarre rituals and at night everyone heard weird noises, screaming, and screeching, mixed with ringing of bells and drums. Durga Prasad tried his best to get his daughter back. Everyone in the village is scared of of the sadhu. Slowly young men who went to that area of the forest were found dead. Initially we thought there were wild animals but it was they who were behind the killings, he was using Jyoti as bait. We decided to abandon the track only Durga Prasad retired into that hut hoping his daughter would return someday. Did they try to attack you? Seems you fought back. Did they return to their spot in the forest? Were you able to at-least hurt the sadhu?”

Shashikant quietly thought of going up the track tomorrow.

chaliye: lets go

sadhu: ascetic

sindhur: vermilion, generally used by married women in India

saabji: sir

deodar: tall broadly conical cedar tree with drooping branches, native to the Himalayas.

khukri: a curved steel knife with razor sharp edge used in combat by the Gurkhas.

pujari: priest

pooja: rituals

namaste: greeting with folded hands akin to hello.

trishul: trident

amavasya: new moon night or dark moon night, generally associated with pagan rituals

prasad: a substance of food that is a religious offering

©Deepika

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WHEN THINGS FADE

THE STORY CONTINUES……

PART II

Fifteen years later, Dia was in Mumbai. She had completed her engineering and MBA and was working with one of the best companies there. She was a total workaholic. Every time she had a project in hand, her team knew they would be finishing it off before the deadline. Rhea was the one Dia trusted the most when it came to work. All projects followed the same trajectory; Dia would brief her team members and Rhea would take the notes. What followed were endless meeting, self imposed demands, over indulgence in work to the exclusion of most other life activities, work was priority. She would put up a grueling schedule for herself and her team. They liked her for her perfectionist attitude as that helped them receive many accolades which she gladly shared with everyone.

She would emotionally over invest in her work and that hardly left anytime or space for other interests. Though this attitude helped her in being recognized as of the best, she did not have any friends socially and she really didn’t mind.

Dia had developed this attitude to tide over her depression after Rajesh had left; now it was her lifestyle. She had dated a few boys but every time anyone would show any real interest in her she would run away. She had built this protective shell around her and she did not let anyone tamper with it. She did not want to be emotionally hurt again. Rhea would pull her out, even though she was unaware of her past, and made her social life appear a little normal. She would take her to experience the night life in Mumbai and was largely responsible to prevent her from becoming a total zombie, Dia would otherwise be happy being her own island.

Rhea was the one to introduce Amit to Dia. Amit came from an affluent business family in Mumbai but was unlike the rich brats around him. Having studied in a boarding in the hills, he was more of a small town boy than a flaunting rich guy of metropolis of Mumbai. Having interacted with Dia he liked her approach to life. He felt she was practical, grounded and was good at reading people. Dia would laugh, “I am the last person to understand people.”

Having known Dia for over five years, Amit had grown fond of her, yet he never knew why she avoided getting close and committed. She would astutely avoid the topic. He asked Rhea, “Does she like someone else?”

“No! I’ve never seen her go out anywhere.”

“She seems to be having commitment issues. She knows I love her, but she doesn’t want to even discuss it. I know for sure that she likes me too, but every time we get close, she shuts herself in.”

“You know she doesn’t make friends easily, perhaps she is shy. I’ve tried many times to make her talk, but it’s like she’s running away from something that happened in her past.”

“The incident must have been heartbreaking for her. I won’t force her to tell me till she wants to speak about it herself. All I know is I love her and I am willing to wait for her.”

Dia was aware of Amit’s affections and she was running away from it all, not because she did not trust him, but for the fear that she would not be able to give him the same degree of love. Rajesh had left a deep hole in her heart. However hard she tried, Rajesh’s wayward obstreperous behavior toward her and the tumultuous way their relation ended left her unresponsive and devoid of amiable feelings. She wanted to speak to Amit about it all, but was too ashamed to admit how naïve she had been and how she had allowed Rajesh to manipulate her, but she did not want to lose Amit. “I’ll tell you everything one day. Please have a lot of patience. I’ve been through a bad phase; I had stopped loving even myself. I’ll talk to you as soon as I’m ready to accept my feelings for you.”

Amit was ready to wait. He knew Dia was the one he wanted to be with. He wanted to take Dia home to meet his parents, but Dia kept putting it off. Finally Amit coaxed her, “Oh, come on, it’s just a casual meeting, I’m inviting Rhea and others too; just friends getting together, don’t over think this.” Dia agreed reluctantly. Amit’s parents were genial. Dia offered to help in the kitchen while others sat outside on the freshly mowed grass lawn. Amit’s mother was jovial and very proud of her son. She spoke with a lot of affection about Amit and readily narrated snippets from his life, “You know he hates lauki (bottle gourd) ki sabji, but eats it without complain just to make me happy.” Dia laughed too.

    PART III   

Dia’s company had just bagged a huge project; everyone was pumped, it was a whole new venture, the excitement was palpable. Dia was busy getting her team ready for loads of presentations that were to follow. It was a big day and Dia was the obvious choice for giving the presentation where delegates from various companies and countries were going to be present. Amit promised to be there, Rhea was with her day and night trying to keep her as sane as possible. The presentation went as planned. Dia was surrounded with accolades. In the after party, Amit was the first one to congratulate her. She was happy and Amit saw her smiling genuinely, from her heart, for the first time.

And then her face went blank, like a ghost, her face lost all signs of life, and her body became stiff. She held Amit’s arm and pressed her fingers so deep into them that Amit felt all the pain being transferred from her to him. Her eyes were fixed on the person standing right in front of them, congratulating her. Amit held her close to prevent her from falling.

Rajesh came to her office the next day. Rhea was surprised and so was everyone else as they saw the change in Dia. She was blushing like before, her heart raced exactly like the first time she had seen him, she could feel all her emotions rushing back. She told him to come to her cabin to talk.

Once inside Rajesh began talking without a prelude and without waiting for Dia to say anything.

“Hi Dia! Good to see you. You know I’ve been in Mumbai for almost a year. I see you’ve done good for yourself, looks like some of my charm finally rubbed on you too. I guess that is the reason why you are where you are today. You didn’t even thank me,” he said without batting an eyelid. “How about meeting Saturday evening; then we can discuss our future.  In fact I can move to your home on Saturday itself, wouldn’t that be awesome. You know I am still popular among women, of course you know that, but I have decided to choose you. I am willing to take you back,” he ended his monologue.

Finally Dia smiled, she got up and hugged him long and tight, “Thank you,” she said, “Thank you so much,” and she opened her cabin door and walked out.  Rajesh was smiling a victorious smile, “You know Dia you can even hand over your finances to me. I’m good with money. I’ll take care of everything for you; you will never have to worry.”

Dia kept walking till they reached the office elevator, she pressed the button, as the doors opened she pointed to Rajesh to step inside. “So where are we going?” quipped Rajesh as he waited for Dia to join him.

She stared at him and as the elevator doors closed she said, “Thank you for being stuck in the same mould for fifteen years.” She turned back and dialed Amit’s number.

©Deepika.

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WHEN THINGS FADE

  

PART I

The pain she felt was strong, almost physical, like a limb had been severed from her body, she screamed in agony. Rachna was next to her holding her, letting her cry again. Dia looked a shadow of herself. She was barely recognizable; swollen eyes, haggard uncombed hair, sunken cheeks. She hadn’t moved out of the room for a month. Every nook and corner, flowers, trees, birds even her own breath reminded her of him. She wanted to shut everyone and everything out. She wanted even her breath to stop. She had lost all concept of time for the past few days. She would sleep in fits and starts for she was scared she would see him in her dreams. Rachna had to force feed her; it broke her heart to see Dia falling apart. Rachna would put up a brave front infront of her, but would shed tears when Dia wasn’t watching.

Dia and Rachna were bossom buddies. They were born only a day apart, their parents had been friends and it was just a natural fall out that they were akin to sisters. They had recently celebrated their eighteenth birthday together. Both were different like chalk and cheese. While Rachna was outgoing and extrovert and made friends easily; Dia was shy, introvert and had very few friends. Dia was sane to Rachna’s rash, she was calm to her storm, and she was patient to her rushed.  Even their appearances were different; Rachna was tall with long hair, doe eyed and a dimpled smile. Dia had a short frame, curly hair, big innocent eye; she had calmness on her face akin to the nuns they had in their strict convent school.

Given Rachna’s friendly nature boys easily fell for her charms and Dia was pleasantly amused to see Rachna dismissing their proposals like a queen. She was secretly happy she didn’t have to deal with any of these boys.

However it was in class ten when Dia noticed Rajesh. He had accompanied his friend who wanted to befriend Rachna. Rajesh was already in final year of his college and was too handsome. Many thought him as a perfect match for Rachna, but it was Dia who ended up having a crush on him. She wanted to hide it from Rachna as she was never going to act upon her crush; she planned never to tell anyone.  She wanted to keep her feelings to herself but it was impossible to hide anything from Rachna who was quick to notice the change in Dia’s body language as soon as Rajesh approached. Dia would blush instantly, even her ears would turn red, and she would avoid looking at Rajesh, burying her gaze into the ground so deep as if she could see through all those layers.

Rachna was happy. It was first time ever Dia had shown any kind of interest in a boy.

“He’s handsome isn’t he?” Rachna would tease Dia and all Dia could do was blush. Rachna decided to play cupid. She made sure that Rajesh was aware that Dia was totally smitten and infatuated by him. Rajesh on his part dismissed this little crush and laughed it off among his friends. Rachna began searching facts and snippets about Rajesh, as she thought Dia would make a wonderful first impression on Rajesh if she knew little things about him. Her boyfriend, who was a friend of Rajesh, helped her. But what came to fore was rather disturbing. Rajesh was not just a Casanova, with endless girl friends; he was involved in various nefarious activities. His outer persona seemed to be a camouflage for the evil that lay within. He was involved in boot legging and drugs besides being a womanizer. Well Rachna was shocked beyond belief; she did not want her innocent friend to be hurt by him so she told her to stay away in no uncertain terms. “Look Dia, he’s just not the right guy! I’m sad that the first boy you ever had a crush on had to be him. Please don’t nurture any feelings toward him, let all of this pass, please.”

Dia promised not to think of him, but everytime she laid eyes on him, her heart would flutter and her brain seemed to leave her body. His smile, his laughter that reached his eyes made her weak. It had been more than a year since Dia had seen Rajesh and she had settled on remaining away from him, but he was always there in her subconscious mind.

One Sunday afternoon as Dia was sketching and Rachna lay next to her, Dia received a call on her phone.

“Hi!”

“Hi! Who is that?”

“Rajesh.”

“Rajesh!!!”

Rachna sprang up straight, Dia’s heart fell out literally. “Yes?” Her voice was quivering.

“Can we meet?”

“What? You want to meet me! Why?”

“Yeah! I’ve something to tell you.”

“Regarding?”

“Let’s meet at the Mall tomorrow.”

“Ok.”

Rachna looked at Dia, exasperated, “Ok? You said ok? So you are going to meet him?”

“Yes,” Dia sounded so desperate.

“But…” Rachna stopped.

Dia was almost in tears, “just once, please.”

“Ok. Once. Promise?”

“Yes! Promise.”

Rachna got Dia ready the next day. “Just say no to whatever he says. Please listen to me; please do not forget the sort of person. Just say no. Ok?”  Rachna was apprehensive, she knew Dia won’t be able to refuse, she was already madly in love with him, and that’s what happened. Rajesh asked Dia if she was interested in dating him and Dia just couldn’t say no.

What followed was a pattern that Rachna did not appreciate, but Dia was beyond all reasoning. Rajesh would fix a meeting with Dia and forget to show up most of the times and would give a flimsy excuse and Dia would forgive. He would hardly ever pay for the lunches; instead he began borrowing money from Dia. Once he told Dia to buy movie tickets and promised he would reach on time, he didn’t show up and Dia watched the movie all alone. All he told her was that he forgot. Rachna confronted Dia “why do you put up with this?”

“I love him.”

“Does he love you?”

“I don’t care.”

This went on for three years, with Dia’s affection growing strong and Rajesh neither acknowledging nor caring for her in return. He was haughty and remained that way.

One fine day Rajesh called Dia to a restaurant near her college and told her he was marrying a girl he loved and had been seeing for over a year. He told Dia to forget him and move on. “That’s it?” asked Dia, “you have nothing else to say?”

“What more do you want? I lugged you for three years because Rachna’s boyfriend wanted to remove you from her side. I’ve never really liked you. It was a favour to a friend. You are so naïve and stupid; how could you imagine that I would ever have even the remotest interest in you or that I would like you one fine day.

Dia sat there speechless long after he had left. It was late, almost dinner time when Rachna came to pick her up. She found Dia sitting frozen like a statue, she brought her to her house and Dia hadn’t left since then.

To be continued..

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Summer in Winter

Archana was happiest today. She had been dancing all day. Amit was trying his best to calm her down and stay as calm as possible himself. This indeed was a special day. He hugged Archana, he was as happy as her.

They had been married for five years now and today was not just their anniversary, but their child was due to be born today. Archana and Amit’s marriage hadn’t been easy, though they had known each other all throughout college and later, and were always very certain that they wanted to be together. Convincing their parents had been a tough task, yet both were adamant to marry only when their parents were fully convinced. It had taken a lot of patience, wait and an equal amount of hard work, but it had been worth it.

It was a happy marriage. They worked in the same company and since both their parents were in the same town they remained in contact with both.

Archana looked at herself in the mirror. She caressed her baby bump. Her brown eyes twinkled with happiness, as she saw Amit standing near the bed smiling to himself as he packed the essentials they needed to carry to the hospital. He was wearing his favourite blue shirt, and had a boyish grin on his face. His smooth hair fell over his forehead and even now it made Archana fall in love with him all over again. She fondly remembered how when they had first met they were arguing about the last remaining packet of sticky notes left with the sole stationary shop outside their college.

Both were happy with their jobs and extremely happy to be together. Life had been good, and would be better now with the arrival of their baby. They had bought everything they deemed their child would be comfortable in.

Finally, they moved to the hospital. Archana’s pregnancy had been free of any complications. Everything had been textbook perfect. Amit accompanied her, the doctors were also satisfied with the way things were moving. Soon their little son was born. Amit looked too stunned to react, so were the doctors. Archana looked at Amit’s face, it had been drenched of all its colour.

Is our baby safe?” She heard loud wails, of course he was safe. The doctors wrapped the little boy and handed him over to his father. Archana wanted to see him, but doctors advised that she take some rest first, the baby was very healthy and safe with his father.

She probably had been given some drugs to make her sleep, because when she woke up it was late into the night. Amit was there, the baby was sleeping in the cot and a lady was standing next to her. She did not recognize her, but assumed she must be a doctor.

“Hi! I am Dr. Kavita. I’m the clinical psychologist here. How are you doing?”

Clinical Psychologist? “Hi, but I don’t think I’m having postpartum depression just yet. My husband tends to go overboard.” Archana smiled at Amit, who smiled back.

“I know, you have a wonderful husband. He wanted me to speak to you.”

“What is it about?”

“About your son.”

“Is he alright?”

“Yes he’s healthy, but he does have a condition and that’s what I want to talk to you about.”

Archana couldn’t think beyond this. She wanted Dr. Kavita to speak faster. “Your son has what is known as Goldenhar Syndrome. It’s a genetic condition that distorts the fetal face. His face is distorted, in the sense that his eyes are bulging, his jaw is undersized, has a soft palate, is skewed, and his right ear is fused together.”

Archana kept listening, trying to assimilate what was being said. Dr. Kavita continued, “as he grows up there are many corrective surgeries that can be performed. His ear, for example, can be reconstructed. The bulge in his eyes too can be reduced, although his jaw is what will be a challenging task to fix. Since all surgeries are delicate we need him to be at least six before we can start. You must me wondering why I’m here. Well! The first step is that you look at him and accept him the way he is. He is a healthy child. Would you like to hold him?”

Archana’s eyes were misty. She saw Amit holding their son, close to his chest. She knew he had already accepted their son and had made up his mind to provide all the love and care that he may need. Archana held out her arms and Amit handed over their little boy to her. She saw him for the very first time, by now tears were freely flowing. He was sleeping peacefully, didn’t wake up, he recognised her. She gently moved her fingers across his face, his eyes, his mouth, his ears, his jaw. Then she started checking his body. His toes, legs, arms, finger and suddenly he cried at the disturbance and then held her finger tight.

“He’s absolutely healthy, other than the distortion on his face he’s absolutely fine,” Dr. Kavita reassured her. “You’ll have to remain positive and strong for him and for yourself. People will not be kind, neither to you nor him. You’ll have to learn to ignore their jibes, sneers, and vileness. There will be times when your son comes crying to you. You have to teach him to look past such comments and stay positive. It won’t be an easy task. I’ll be there with you every step of the way. You can count on me and I can safely tell you that Amit will provide you all the support you need . He himself will be there.”

Archana smiled at Amit, “you should have been more scared of my postpartum depression rather than thinking how I will accept my son. I love him and you. Together we’ll give him the best of everything just as we had promised.”

It was not going to be an easy task. They named him Karan.

The first scorn came from the grandparents. They gasped as soon as they saw him, they didn’t lift him in their arms, they wouldn’t kiss him, they gave him looks of unfamiliar and weird like he was some kind of abomination sent on their family by the gods. Amit did not want the same reaction over and over again, neither did he want to explain to everyone what and why their son looked like he did. He found a house in the suburbs and he shifted with his family there, so they could focus on Karan instead of the negativity which people brought with them.

Karan was a happy child. He didn’t trouble Archana much, slept peacefully at night. Dr. Kavita had taught her how to feed him as he was not able to suck due to the condition in is jaw.

Karan was about three years now. He had difficulty pronouncing words clearly. The flinching reaction of strangers had become a routine for Archana. Earlier she would feel the need to go and explain, but she had learnt to control her anger and other emotions. Karan underwent his first corrective at the age of six. A piece of bone was taken from his ribs and added to his right cheek bone and jaws. By the age of eight his outer ear was reconstructed too, though his hearing was really low in this ear yet.

Every time Karan went to the hospital, the nurses and doctors were filled with love for him. He was a talented little boy. He painted and sketched beautifully. He would make sketches of nurses and gift it to them. He was a great mimic too and would mimic how gravely the doctor explained about his surgeries. He would paint and color the landscape he saw from his hospital window and stuck them all over his room. He was extremely fond of Kavita aunty who sneaked in chocolates for him.

He was ten years when his parents decided to put him in a regular school. They had discussed it ample number of times with Dr. Kavita, with each other and Karan. They visited the school multiple number of times and took Karan along to meet the principal and teachers. They tried explaining to him that children might not like his appearance. Karan was smiling always, “let’s just do it. If it gets too bad I promise to let you know, but trust me no one can bully your son , mom.” Archana and Amit spent the night as anxious wrecks.

Karan was excited as any child would be. His parents left him in care of his class teacher who took him to grade 5 and introduced him to the class. Karan heard a loud collective gasp, he heard whispers of monsters. His teacher told him to introduce himself. Karan began, ” Hi! I am Karan, ten years old, just like you, but I am special, because I am brave. My house is near the jungle and guess what? When I was eight, I fought a wild bear. He attacked me,” and he lifted his shirt to show the various marks of surgeries, “he even had my face in his mouth, but I punched him till he left me, but look what he did to my face. If you ever see a bear call me. I know how to get rid of them.” The children clapped at his story and during lunch gathered around him to know the details. Karan’s classmates loved him!

The vision in his right eye had reduced considerably, so he had to undergo surgery. He was admitted in the hospital. It was going to be a long procedure. The doctors wanted to perform surgeries on both eyes. Karan was a good sport as usual. the recovery from his surgery meant he would have to stay in the hospital longer than usual and he couldn’t do his favourite thing – to paint and sketch.

Archana would read stories to him, but he was getting bored. He told her he wanted to go out and sit on the bench, alone. She held his hand and walked him to the bench and he told her to come back in an hour and promised not to wander around. He felt the coldness in the air, winters have arrived he thought. He did not know how long he had been sitting there, when he heard a pleasant, “Hi, I’m Kavya and you are?”

“Oh, I’m Karan, as you can see, I can’t see. There are bandages on my eyes.”

“It’s alright. I’m a patient here too, but I’ve never seen you near this bench before.”

“Since I could not see I had been staying in my room, but I got so bored, I told my mom to bring me here.”

“You look strange, but that’s okay. Can we talk?”

“Sure.”

So Karan learnt that Kavya had been diagnosed with cancer and was here for chemotherapy treatment. She visited the hospital frequently just like him. They would meet everyday and she would tell him a fairy tale.

“There once was a prince in a faraway kingdom. He always wore a mask, only his eyes showed. No one ever saw his face. The entire kingdom was intrigued and desperately wanted to see his face. The people of his kingdom loved him, for he did handsome deeds. No one ever heard him deny help to anyone. Only the little fairy in his room knew his secret and she told him that once he is cured he would know her secret too. The young prince was in fact, blind. With her magic wand she would make him see everything when he stepped out of his room, but as soon as he came back inside he went blind again. A witch had cursed him at birth, but the curse would end when he turns eighteen and sees the little fairy and discovers her secret.”

She stopped her tale here even as Karan begged her to tell the secret. They had been meeting everyday for over a month now. Finally the day Karan’s bandages would be opened had arrived. A day prior when Kavya did not turn up his mom informed that she had to be admitted in the ICU as her health had deteriorated.

Next morning after all his examinations were completed, and after cajoling and requesting the nurses he went to see Kavya.

Dr. Kavita accompanied him . Kavya was lying on the bed, looking weak. Karna went close to her. He smiled and Kavya said, “so the prince can see.”

“And what was the fairy’s secret?”

“She’s bald.”

They laughed and at that moment a snowflake landed slowly on the window sill outside Kavya’s room. They both smiled the sweetest smile making it warmest summer in winter.

DISCLAIMER: This story is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

©Deepika….

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BEYOND GRIEF

Mira was lost in the ethereal beauty of the setting sun. Far in vast and uncertain expanse, the sun slowly set in the crepuscular light glowing at the horizon. Mira watched it from her newly acquired farmhouse in the hills of Mussoorie. She felt a little nip in the evening air, a gentle reminder of the approaching winters. Buying this bungalow was an inveterate dream which she had finally been able to fulfill now. A dream that began with her honeymoon, twenty years ago, a dream she had vowed to fulfill even when Vikram had left her too soon, all alone.

Mira was now a successful business-woman. She had as many admirers as foes in the business world.

Mussoorie for her, held many memories etched deep inside its heart. Beautiful and warm, memories that helped her survive, kept her afloat when she would have drowned. Her fifty year old self, was far removed from the demure twenty-three year old bride, who had come to Mussoorie.

She had lived all her life in a small protected family atmosphere in the town of Haridwar. Both her parents were teachers in a school. She along with her sister was given the best of education. Mira’s father was someone from the old school. His way of showing love towards his daughters was by giving them the best he could, in terms of education, social and cultural etiquettes. He was overprotective of them and accompanied them everywhere, from taking and picking them from school, coaching classes, even to college. Though it vexed Mira no end, she knew there was no escaping this, however hard she tried, he was not going to stop. But he respected their private space. Never checked their phones, never questioned them about their friends, infact encouraged them to think independently and take their own decisions. Only thing he could not bring himself to doing was, letting them go. So she completed her education in Haridwar.

Mira grew into an individual who could take bold decisions, but somehow she hesitated being all by herself. Maybe it was because of her father being present at every step. She was tall with beautiful long hair. Anyone who saw her noticed her eyes first, they were doe like and Mira loved highlighting them with kohl. She landed a job as soon as she completed her business administration. After lots of discussions and double the amount of cajoling, her father agreed not to drop and pick her up from the office.

Mira got immediate recognition for her work in the office. Independent, quick thinking, persistence and smart work brought many laurels.

As recognition of her work she was given an independent project to deal with. She had to go to Delhi for this project where she met Vikram who was working in the same project. Vikram was an extrovert. He was a natural leader and someone who soon became the focus of the entire group. He loved all of the attention that came his way. When he saw Mira, she felt like a little child lost in a fair and he wanted to protect her, though he didn’t know from what.

He wasn’t very tall almost the same height as Mira. Vikram noticed how she did her job to perfection without much ado. He asked her out, after lots of thinking, and was elated when she said yes. Soon they were dating and Vikram was totally in love. And before she went back to Haridwar Vikram proposed marriage. Mira was happy and surprised. She was in love with Vikram, but oblivious that Vikram too felt the same.

Mira’s father accepted her decision as always and Vikram and Mira soon married. Vikram too protected her like her father, kept her close. He was aware that she was not comfortable doing things on her own even when she knew she had taken all the right decisions. He encouraged her to be more self-reliant, but she said she was happy to depend on him. Vikram’s family adored her too. His younger brother was pampered by everyone as he was the youngest in the family. Even Mira lent him money for his parties and dates, without Vikram’s knowledge too.

Vikram and Mira had gone to Mussoorie where they had spoken about their future together. Vikram knew together they could win over the world.

Mira happily took a break from her office once Vimi, their daughter was born. She was happy being a stay at home mom.

Vikram started his own new venture. He put his heart and soul into it. Whatever he had saved from his job he used it up to build his start-up. Vikram worked day and night and with his sweat and toil he made it successful. He tried to get his brother to work with him as he had left his studies too, but he paid no heed and was happy partying. His parents too let him carry on and it irked Vikram no end that no one was trying to correct his misdemeanor.

Vikram would explain all details to Mira even though he knew she wasn’t paying much attention to what he was saying. It had been three years and Mira was now planning to find a job but was not in a hurry to do the same. Vikram helped her search for a job that matched her capabilities. He had more faith in her than she had in herslf. When Mira got the perfect job Vikram took Vimi and Mira out to celebrate.

As they were returning their car met with an accident. A truck slammed into the car. Mira heard the sound of screeching tyres as Vikram applied the brakes and then there was a huge crash. Glass shattering. Mira remembered shielding Vimi and Vikram bleeding. She passed out. She faintly heard the sirens of the ambulance. When she woke up in the hospital Vimi lay next to her, brusied but safe. She lost Vikram.

Her life changed its course with this accident. Everyone around her seemed different, even bitter was the fact that Vikram’s brother claimed his venture and her in-laws supported him. She did not shed a tear, there lay a mountain of task right in front of her.

Endless legal battles, being a single mom and suddenly from being sheltered all her life she had to stand and fight for herself and for Vimi. Mira’s internal world reeled. She would wake up and anxious at night. Numb, blank and isolated. She had shut down grief, even though it was emotionally painful for her. Innumerable times should wake up with swollen eyes and damp cheeks. She had to hold on really hard, and put up a good fight, she had to emerge stronger. Vikram cheered her on, she knew.

She toughened herself and began to learn the nuances of the business world, and unlearn the emotional attachment she had with anything except Vimi. She became obsessed as far as her business transactions were concerned. She fought all misogynistic and patronizing comments. Self belief was what carried her. She had built her business, in few months after Vikram’s death. Her hard work, bravery, persistence was met with comments like overambitious, ruthless, greedy, but she was not the one to be cowed down.

She would travel frequently, stay up all night if needed, her singular goal in life was to fulfill each and every dream Vikram and she had dreamt of. Soon she began to be recognised as a force to be reckoned with. She was known to take bold decisions and let of people who seemed an impediment in her work. She wasn’t easy on her business rivals either. It was not that she was ambitious, but she was driven now. Driven towards success, driven to succeed against people who left alone thinking would not fight back, driven to succeed against the hate and sneers she received. She would not forcefully shut others down for benefit of self but neither would it take anything lying down.

Mira managed everything, from dropping her daughter to school, and then attending meetings all day, picking her up after school, taking Vimi out for various sports, and activities in classes. She made sure that in her bid to prove to the world that she could stand alone and stand tall, she did not ignore her daughter. She spent as much time as she could with her. Together they visited parks, museums, art galleries. They travelled together. Vimi had become her constant companion and supporter. She loved, adored and idolize her mother. She recognised her pain and struggles. Vimi knew exactly how much her mother had changed over the years. She knew how she had managed from being shy and quiet to a highly successful independent businesswoman, and how she still liked to be her quiet self when she was all alone, and this was precisely why she loved coming to Mussoorie.

As the sunset in the hills of Mussoorie, Vimi came to remind Mira to come inside lest she catch the cold. Mira smiled at her and Vimi gently helped her get into the wheelchair.

© Deepika..

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My beginning, end and happily ever after…

Iqbal Singh Bajwa was ninety one, and had been admitted to the hospital. He had recently developed difficulty in breathing. COPD in lungs they had diagnosed, and hence needed to be brought to the hospital for his share of oxygen. Wahjot Kaur was sitting right next to him holding his hand and smiling. “We are together don’t worry.” Iqbal did not. He knew as long as they were together everything would be alright.

Wahjot’s great grandson Gurnur, was ten now, and all he wanted for his birthday was spent time with his bauji and badima, as he called Iqbal and Wahjot, his great grandparents. Iqbal and Wahjot had only one son, who lived in Delhi, with his two sons and daughters in law. Gurnur’s parents were all to glad to send him to his great grand parents who lived in Jalandhar, a vivacious city in Punjab. Not every child is lucky to be with their great-grandparents, who are full of life, with positive energy, and fun to be with. Gurnur loved the stories and anecdotes Iqbal and Wahjot would narrate, of their life in Lahore, now in Pakistan, how they came to India and how they missed all the friends who decided to stay back.

Their stories were happy, nostalgic, full of longing of an era gone by. Wahjot did not have any malice when she spoke of partition, after all she found love in Iqbal in 1947, when they had held each others hand and promised never to let go. We’ll be together they had promised and had kept that promise.

Gurnur loved to hear what they did once they reached Amritsar and then Jalandhar. Wahjot would get excited like a little girl and narrate how they went about searching for a home after living in a refugee shelter for sometime. She fondly recalled the friendships that were nurtured there and had lasted a lifetime. She would laugh and say that Iqbal made such a bad lawyer that they had to set up a business. How they setup many small businesses to carry them through, but, she would say, the best part was that they were together, always there for each other.

The hospital staff too grow fond of the couple. Wahjot’s love and Iqbal’s good humour were infectious and lifted the spirit of doctors and nurses. Iqbal was discharged from the hospital in two days and they went back home. Iqbal had a small little case which he kept in his safe. This was one thing he had hidden even from Wahjot. Today he took the case out and called Wahjot and handed it over to her. She looked confused.

What is this? I never seen this before. How long have you hidden it from me!” She said laughing. “What treasure do you have hidden in there?”

Iqbal smiled and told her to open it. Curious, she opened it with her tiny bony fingers. The contents were two black and white photographs kept neatly. A little worn out and faded, but crystal clear in the mind’s eye. Wahjot’s eyes were filled with tears.

“You’ve kept this for so many years.” Iqbal held her hand and they sat there for long, reminiscing the year 1947.

Iqbal Singh Bajwa’s family were prosperous grain merchants in the city of Lahore. Iqbal was the youngest of the five children. His elder brothers were all involved in the family business with their father. All of them were married. Iqbal too, was in love with a girl in the neighbourhood, Satnam Kaur. Their families had decided they would get married in the October of 1947 and Iqbal was over the moon. Being the youngest no one really pressured him for anything. He never went to the shop to learn the business, rather he was studying in a university to become a lawyer.

Rumours of India being split into two nations were doing rounds for long, but everybody thought they were just rumours. Iqbal’s university was abuzz with the news and he would come home and tell his family to be prepared. They rubbished his claims saying something like this can never happen. But it did happen and hit them like a tsunami.

He became aware for the first time that he lived in a Muslim dominated area. His parents were being stubborn and did not want to leave their ancestral home. Things began to spiral out of control. Satnam and her family had left without informing them. Iqbal was shocked, felt cheated and heart broken. She had left him as soon as things got tough. Only four Hindu families were left where they stayed and Iqbal kept trying to convince his father to move. His father could not come to terms with what was happening around him. “How can people kill each other for being Muslim and Hindu?”

It was a hot May night when they heard a loud knocking at the door. Syed who had been working as a cook for over twenty years in their home was knocking frantically.

Bauji leave. Please come with me right now.” He was shouting through tears. “They are coming with torches and swords. Please please come to my home. I cannot see any harm coming to your family. Bauji, come I beg of you.”

Finally the enormity of what was happening struck his family. “Your shop has been burnt and they are coming here. Please move fast.” Iqbal and his family gathered some money and jewellery as fast as the could and ran out, before the mob arrived.

They remained inside the house for over a fortnite. Living like prisoners, hidden in a room. Syed would fill them with what was happening. One day he told in the Muslims of the neighbourhood had arranged for a bus to take them to a refugee camp at Attari from where they could cross to Wagah. A hundred other Hindu families were also going along. The bus would be ready at midnight. Iqbal’s family packed their things, but his parents refused to leave. Bauji cried and peaded with them to leave them there. “I want to die here. This is my home, my heart. Syed, I’ll stay in this one room. You take all the money and jewellery and let me stay.” Syed could not bear to see bauji cry like this and promised to keep them safe till his last breath.

The bus arrived and they prepared to leave with other Hindu families, when news of mob carrying torches reached. Everyone rushed into the buses. Iqbal made sure that his brothers and their families were safe inside the bus. The driver drove away as fast as he could. Iqbal could not get into the bus and he along with few other boys ran to hide in the street.

Next few days Iqbal spent running and hiding. He could not even recognise which part of Lahore he was in. The most beautiful city, mana to the soul, today lay bereft.

Iqbal had forgotten count of days now. Given the heat, he guessed it was middle of June. He was running from a lynching mob when he had tried to steal some bread, and hid in a dilapidated gurudwara. He was about to take a bite when he saw a small boy, about two years old, peeping from behind a burnt pillar. He went there and saw a lady wounded badly.

What’s your name?”

“Wahjot.”

Don’t worry I’ll be with you. I’ll take you to your family.”

No one is alive. Everyone was killed.”

I am going to India. Do you want to come along?”

“I don’t have a choice. My son will die here.”

“Fine then. We’ll be together from today itself. Tell everyone I am your husband and this is our son.”

Wahjot was sobbing non stop. “We are together for ever I promise.”

They had managed to reach India. Iqbal could not complete his studies, though he was given a degree based on the social work he did.

In that small case, that he had taken out, Iqbal had kept two photographs. One of his parents and other of Wahjot’s husband.

Deepika..

Image courtesy pexels

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Once upon a time…..

The town of Stratford woke up to the shocking news of the death of Mr and Mrs Smith and their teenaged son, on a cold winter morning of December. The police had sealed the home and the inn of Mr Smith. The cook and the servant who had reported the crime were taken in as witnesses. The bodies of Mrs Smith and her son were missing. It was still six in the morning when detective Jane was called to the crime scene. This was the second killing in a month and this time it was three people of the same family.

Straford was a small and close knit town. Everyone knew everyone else. All the members of the town not only knew each other, but each other’s family and even the family history and disputes. The town was calm and serene. It was nestled between soft rolling hills with a lot of green pastures on one side and deciduous trees on the other. The houses were small little bungalows, each with their own little garden and kitchen garden. They were still connected with cobbled stone roads. None of the houses had walled boundaries, though they did have wooden fences to demarcate their areas. Walled boundaries were never needed as there were hardly any disputes ever.

The town had been prosperous given the state highway that passed from between the town. Lots of business was dependent on the highway. Travellers often stopped at the Inn and shops that lined the highway and belonged to the townfolks. Everyone was happy and contented.

Detective Jane had been posted to Stratford three years back. She had requested the authorities to give her a soft posting. Keeping in mind the tragic circumstances through which she had just emerged, the headquarters had obliged. Jane had always been fiercely independent. She was tall and lithe. She was not beautiful but her appearance was attractive. Her tenure here, had been very peaceful. Some petty thefts, some disputes which generally involved tourists. But the past one year had been restless. The town’s mayor, Mr Jackson and Mr Smith had vociferously advocated in favour of a bigger retail mall that would come up near the highway. The townsfolk argued that the rent would be unpayable and small businesses would die. The entire town was simmering with the dissent. The tensions would boil up in the form of arguments. People were worried and scared.

The Green Pine Inn was a favourite among the tourists. It had a large parking area and the eating area was warm and comfortable. The rooms were clean. Mr and Mrs Smith owned the inn. Mr Smith was tall, with salt and pepper hair. He loved to run and had participated in many marathons. He had an athlete’s body, slim and dank. Mrs Smith had been a housewife, looking after the only son who was a teenager, but needed help with his daily chores. He had been a little slow at all things. Mrs Smith hardly ever got any time to groom herself as her son took up most of her waking time. They were an unlikely couple. Mr Smith was sauve, well kept and good looking, while Mrs Smith hardly ever worked on her appearance. Mr Smith was rich and influential man. He was a close friend of the mayor and was the first person to sign the petition to build the mall. There were rumours that he had already bought stakes at the upcoming retail mall. Now all three of them were dead.

The first murder has taken place in the beginning of December. Jack, the homeless man who lived on the streets and begged for food was found dead. His body had been dumped in the woods, and was found in a highly decomposed form. It has been put in a sack and stuffed into the hollow of tree. Some children had gone playing in the woods and had reported of a foul smelling tree. Since Jack was homeless no one had reported him missing. The autopsy revealed he had been poisoned. His body had missing internal organs. But the body had been stiched back with surgical precision. They suspected organ trade, but who in Stratford would be involved in this and where would such a ghastly act be committed.

Mr Smith’s body showed no signs of struggle. Two wine glasses lay on the table. Rigor Mortis had set in, indicating he had been dead for over six to eight hours. So the murder had taken place in the evening. The cook and the servant revealed that the Mayor had visited yesterday evening and Mr Smith had told them to leave early. The door was not broken nor the windows. Also Mr Smith was in his evening clothes. So it was clear the murderer was known to Mr Smith and Mr Smith did not perceive him as a threat.

The police meanwhile had begin search in the woods for the missing bodies.

Detective Jane, hated murder investigations. It reminded her of her wedding day, three years back when a gun yielding youth had randomly fired at everyone in the church. She had lost her love and the murderer was allowed to go free on grounds of insanity.

She moved around the house. Cigarette pieces were found in the backyard. They had also found some, near the tree, during the investigation a month ago, but were too damaged to be investigated. There were also, footprints in the mud, one foot went deep into the mud than the other.

The cook and the servant filled the police about the lesser known facts of Mr Smith’s life. He did not like his wife and blamed her for producing a son who was slow. He also had a mistress Ruth, who lived a few streets down from here. The autopsy of Mr Smith revealed death by poisoning. The wine glass had no trace of poison, and the other wine glass did not have the Mayor’s fingerprints. Strangely it had no fingerprints at all.

The cigarette pieces were sent to the forensic for further investigation. Detective Jane went to meet the mayor, Mr Jackson in his office. The entire town knew Mr Jackson and Mr Smith were very good friends, and the mayor visited him often. They were also business partners. Detective Jane was certain that another person was in the house that day. But why did he hide his fingerprints? Mr Jackson was shocked to hear about the death of his friend. He said Smith was hale and hearty and they had discuss their business. “Who else was with you?” Asked Jane. She saw a shadow pass over Mr Jackson’s face, just for a moment, before he said no. “Who was drinking the glass of wine? I know you don’t drink and I’m sure Mrs Smith was not invited. Mr. Jackson fumbled with his words, but could not provide a concrete answer and she knew he was lying.

Next Detective Jane paid a visit to Ruth’s. Her house shouted opulence, given the fact she was a college dropout and just about twenty one years old. She was loud, in her dressing, actions and speech. She was stunning, to say the least. Ruth maintained that Mr Smith was her boyfriend and visited her often. She was opposed to being called a mistress. When asked how she managed her expenses, she was candid and said her boyfriend paid. “Do you have more than one boyfriend?” A smirk, “Of course not. What you think I am. I was not unfaithful even if he was.” As Detective Jane was about to leave she spotted cigarettes lying on the table. “Do you smoke?” “Yes”. “Oh! I would love to. May I borrow one?” “No”, said Ruth and snatched the cigarette packet.

The last person that Detective Jane visited that day was Major Bruce. He had been staying in the Green Pine Inn for over six months now. Townsfolk did not know much about him. He was a recluse, and stayed aloof. He was a large man, muscular and tall. He has a slight limp in his right foot. The limp, explained the uneven footsteps in the backyard.

Detective Jane went about checking the army records of Major Bruce. They did not show anything promising. It showed that he was relieved from duty on disciplinary grounds. They were sure that Bruce was the one who was involved in the incident somehow, yet they could not point out that he was the one carrying out the murders. So before he could leave the place they decided to search his room in the Inn. Of course as they reach there Major Bruce had packed his bags and was about to leave. He was arrested on being a suspect and trying to run away. Search of his room and his baggage was carried out. They found surgical instruments, he had passports under different names, and papers of a business company showing the ownership and the partners as Ms Ruth, Mr Jackson and Major Bruce. Next Bruce was brought to the investigation room.

Detective Jane and Bruce were now face to face with each other.

“Why have you been staying in the Inn for so long?”

“Because I like the place and people here are naïve”, he said, with a smirk. Detective Jane was surprised at the ease with which Major Bruce was telling everything. This was probably because he knew that all the evidence was there and he could not escape anymore.

“How do you know Ruth?”

“Like everyone else knows her. She wanted to make money and it was easy to manipulate her. She could give me what I need the most men. Healthy men. And I gave her what she needed, money.”

“And you know the Mayor too?”

Bruce laugh out loud. “You need the law by your side when you are exporting expensive material.”

Jane felt a lump rise in her throat. She wanted to knock him down. Her voice was rising now. “Why did you kill Mr Smith? Where are the bodies of his family? How many people did you kill? How did you kill Mr Smith?”

They never actually found out how many people he had killed. Bruce never admitted to killing anybody else. Ruth and Mr Jackson were arrested as accomplices. The first murder of the homeless man was done in a hurry. All of them were involved in organ trade. Detective Jane’s suspicions were right. After the first murder, they had become more cautious and had shipped the bodies along with the organs that they were exporting. The bodies would eventually be traced. Mr Smith and the victims were killed using poisoned cigarettes. Bruce would you roll cigarettes with rodent poison. It was odourless and potent. The victim never suspected anything was wrong and the smoke would poison the victim, crushing his nerves and causing death. He would then perform the gruesome act himself in the basement of Mr Jackson’s home.

Smith, Smith has to be removed as he came to know of the illicit trade. They tried to convince him and get him onboard but he refused to be involved, instead threatened to reveal everything. They left his body as they wanted the police to believe that he killed his wife and son as he had an illicit relation and wanted to get rid of them.

Deepika.

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CONVERSATIONS AT NIGHT

Mansi was sleeping peacefully in their two month old apartment. They had bought it together, a small yet a plush and polished apartment. Mansi had taken all care to make it look modern, yet cosy and comfortable. It had taken them months, from saving to buy the house, hunting down to find the right colony, the right home for them to move into.

Atul opened the door quietly. He just come back from the shift at the call centre. His usual time to reach home was four in the morning. He would not disturb Mansi and slide quietly into the bed beside her. Today she looked calm and peaceful. He kissed her forehead lightly, so as not to wake her up, and lay down and slept.

Mansi woke up, tired she looked out of the window, forlorn. Life seemed to have been sucked out of her. She felt the burden of her limbs. It required enormous amount of willpower to begin the daily chores. She dusted, cleaned the house and as she did she picked up a framed picture of her and Atul. It had been clicked on the trip to Leh. The picture was of Hemis monastery, tucked away in the mountains. For Mansi, peace here seem to have acquired a strong physical presence. She felt it was a palatable energy that surrounded her. How she wished they could go back to those times. Life however has its own way of taking you in its ebb and flow. She skipped her breakfast again and got ready for the long haul in the office, as it was the only means to keep her sanity alive.

Atul saw that Mansi had gone. How he wish he could hug her! He looked around the empty house. He remembered the excitement in Mansi’s eyes when they first came here. She had dance around, excitedly running around the rooms. It was their home, even though they had decided not to marry till both of them were steady with their jobs and totally ready to marry. They had decided to move in together.

Atul and Mansi, worked in the same company. What brought them together was the fact that both were introverts, and liked to plan everything down to the last detail. They sat at the same table eating dinner at the company. Even though it had taken them three months to say the first hello, they had connected instantly after that. They had planned everyday meticulously. How much they would spend on the meals, how they would spend their weekends, what would be the budget of their weekend binge, everything. When they started dating they decided they would not spend more than a night together. It moved to twice a month, then all weekends, until after year, they finally decided to move in together.

Atul look at the picture, the same Mansi was holding in the morning. They had taken the bike, which they had bought together and were paying the EMI for. They had planned to buy a bike and then a home, which they had planned to pay the mortgage for, in five years and then get married. Everything was planned. Atul usually left after Mansi came home. They spent four hours together before he left. Discussing, laughing, planning. Life’s little pleasures. These days however he left early. He did not like to see her forlorn, sad and lost. He hated when she cried and he was not able to comfort her.

Atul returned home around three a.m. It was still dark. He had developed a sort of ritual, since the past fifteen days, of sitting and talking with the night watchman of the society. Infact, as he had entered fifteen days ago, Sadhuram had called him and offered a cup of hot tea, that he sat sipping alone. Even though it was a summer night, Sadhuram liked to sip hot tea to keep himself alert. Seeing Atul, he had smiled broadly and and invited him for a cup. Atul was surprised at being called out, but he gladly obliged as going home wasn’t going to be easy.

Sadhuram seemed to be a big talker, probably because he rarely had any company. He was, after all, the night watchman. As they started drinking tea, Sadhuram would talk of his family. He had come from the village many years back. It was apparent that he loved his family. He had a big family, wife, five sons, all married and working. He even had grandchildren. Being inquisitive he easily pulled Atul into conversation.

Daily they would share a snippets and anecdotes from their lives. Sadhuram spoke nostalgically about his village and his marriage and Atul about the days Mansi and he were dating. Sadhuram fondly spoke of his sons and Atul was lovingly reminiscent of how beautiful Mansi looked and even now, a smile from her stopped him right in his tracks.

Today specially Sadhuram was particularly sentimental. He was full of emotions as he described how once he had a heart attack and his entire family stood by his side. He told Atul he had to be hospitalized. All his sons and daughters in law were keeping vigil round-the-clock. His condition got worse and he was on a ventilator, but his sons left no stone unturned to see that he got the best of medical facilities. When he was finally awake he saw how relieved everyone was. He expressed how satisfying it was and how he felt he was the richest man around. Today being the day he had been hospitalized, all the memories had come rushing in. He asked Atul if he had ever felt the same.

Atul was silent for awhile. Of course, he said only fifteen days back his office had given him a day off. Mansi was not aware of this, so he decided to surprise her. Both of them never deviated from their plans, as both of them disliked surprises. But today he wanted to reach home with flowers and chocolates for her. He thought he would explain the expenses later. He bought lilies and her favourite chocolate and was driving home. He was waiting at the traffic signal when he was hit from behind, by a car driven by unruly drunken, underage young boys. He fell of his bike and his head hit the pavement, and started bleeding immediately. They drove the car over his legs. He screamed in pain and they ran away. An ambulance pick him up and he was taken to the hospital. The pain caused him to lose consciousness and when he opened his eyes, he saw a bizzare scene. He saw Mansi and his parents sitting at home crying inconsolably. Mansi was telling them that Atul never ever acted rash. He always went according to the plan. He was the kindest person she had ever met in her life. How could God snatch him away from her when they had just begun their life together.

Deepika

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I – AM A WOMAN

I am a woman, a woman no less than the millions around me. Maybe not recognised, maybe forgotten, maybe not placed on a high pedestal, without a name, but I am a woman. I may not have borne children but I’ve nurtured one. I love her and I’ll narrate about it.

My day starts early, earlier than most, 4:00 am. I visit the temple near by before the crowd trickles in, to avoid the sneers of the masses. I come to what I have now accepted to be my home for I’ve lived close to three decades here. It keeps me well hidden, like people want me to be, hidden and silent.

I wear the mask after that, a mask I show to the world, it’s painted, painted bright and gaudy. I seek refuge in this mask, it gives me a new personality, a personality to survive the society that rejected me long ago. Wearing this mask I confront them, everyday, every minute, and then return home to my safe haven, to hide and remain hidden.

My unyielding unchanging burden of life was dragging on, when one morning I spotted street dogs pulling at something, dragging it out of the drain. I heard what sounded like meowing of kittens. Curious, I shooed them away to check if a cat litter was there and if I could save them before the dogs devoured them. As I went near I saw the black garbage bag torn at places and on closer scrutiny saw tiny little limbs of a human child. An abandoned girl child, my fears came true.

I held the child, few hours old, a , a survivor, just like me, in my arms and began walking home, missing my temple prayers. She could barely even manage to cry, with the plastic bag her sole covering. I quickly wrapped her in a shawl, while checking for injuries. Thankfully there were none. I warmed up little milk for her and fed her with the spoon. She stopped crying and I held her close to me, to let her feel warm. She fell asleep. I sat there with her in my lap. My tears wouldn’t stop, as hard as I tried.

Sensing my absence, my friends, colleagues if you may, came to check on me, all of them. Adversity has a way to create unbreakable bonds among people, bonds that go beyond words, bonds that understand silence. They saw me with a child, they understood, they were shocked, they were sad. It was a nemesis for all of us. All of us, who were counted among society’s bête noire.

We decided to keep her. She filled our lives with laughter, her cries, her innocence, made us all forget the masks that hid us. She loved us unconditionally. I was going to educate her. She was not to grow up to lead a life of ignominy or opprobrium. I was never going to let her grow up with guilt. Guilt of her birth, guilt of not being accepted, guilt at her own being.

I too had to change myself. I had to become stronger for my daughter. I had to fight the system that made me hide and feel ashamed of me. I had to rise above all the disdain and claim my rightful position. My first fight was to adopt her legally. I won the petition for adoption rights for transgenders. Thereafter I put her in a residential school to keep her out of the pervasive negative vibes around the place we called home.

She had given my life a new meaning and purpose. I decided to help others in similar predicament as me. I set up an NGO to educate transgenders so they didn’t have to go through hell like me.

I saw my daughter growing up in pictures and photograhs, for I was scared to go meet her, till she was sixteen and I got this letter from her:

Dear Ma,

I know you will not come, however hard I try. Principal ma’am wants to honour you on woman’s day but you believe “mother is beyond gender”. You are right. You are my mother and I love you unconditionally. I wanted to tell you this in person but I think you are scared of rejection. The society has let you down too many times. They have their own ideas of boxing people into male or female. Life with dignity is your birth right, but you were denied this right at birth, yet you protected mine. You were rejected at every step, yet you accepted me. You were unable to find love yet you opened your loving heart to me.

The world calls you many names, they shy away from your presence, your being, your clapping your hands at them, unsettles them, perhaps you touch a chord deep within them that they do not want to acknowledge. They keep you silent, invisible, but you have proved that you are a formidable force. You’ve chosen to be a woman, not everyone has the courage to be a woman, to raise a child with love.

I’ve seen you emerge, phoneix like- scarred from zillion battles you fought within.

Each scar a winning story, of love you embraced yourself in.

They called you sin, they called you bliss. Negating passion, emotion, beauty

Vulnerable yet serene.

Danger, darkness, fire brewing like a storm.

Undaunted Resolute Audacious A Goddess took form

I hope I can be a woman like you some day. I am coming home and I will be part of you from now on.

I was silent. She understood the woman that I am, the woman that she’ll be. I am a woman who never quit. I am a woman, who could love. I am a woman who believes I am a woman because I chose to be one.

This piece is dedicated to Shri Gauri Sawant whose petiton recognised transgenders as third gender and Laksmi Narayan Tripathi: who was the first transgender person to represent Asia Pacific in the UN in 2008. And hundreds of other women who are silently fighting a battle against ignominy everyday.

Deepika…

This post is a part of ‘The Woman That I Am’ Blog Hop #TheWomanThatIAm organized by Rashi Roy and Manas Mukul #RRxMM. The Event is sponsored by Kraffitti.”

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THANK YOU

This post is to say my heartfelt thanks to the co hosts of my first blog hop. Rashi Roy and Manas Mukul, thanks a ton. I learnt so much being part of this amazing blog hop that saw participation of over 75 bloggers.

Winning it was even more amazing. I am at the top of the world.

Feeling happy and full of gratitude.

Deepika…

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THE ORANGE BASKET

“Time and tide wait for no one”, read Shahid, for the millionth time, as he sat drinking tea in his office once again. He had pulled an all nighter third time since he joined. This poster probably belonged to the previous occupant, and Shahid just let it be.

It had only been two months since he had moved to Mumbai from his native place Alwar. Life in Alwar was nice and slow. No mad rushes, no deadlines. It gave you a warm feeling akin to being caressed by a loversecure and loving.

Shahid was the third of the five children, all of whom had chosen to be doctors, just not him. He was not very ambitious to begin with. He wanted a small job in Alwar, anything that could feed him and Farida, a home and little children. Infact, he would have loved it if Farida worked and he stayed at home, looking after the daily chores.

Their families had lived in the same neighbourhood since, forever. They had grown up together, studied together- they were never apart. Shahid was madly in love with her. He surrounded himself with her pictures and her thoughts. Her beautiful black hair cropped short, mesmerising deep blue eyes and her tiny delicate frame, made him go weak in the knees. There was not a day they didn’t spend together, sometimes sneaking out even at nights for a hug or a kiss.

Both had opted for same stream in college. Criminal Psychology. Farida loved what she was studying. She dreamt of solving complicated cases, interviewing criminals, making case files, she was totally absorbed by what she was studying and Shahid was absorbed by her thoughts. He had joined only to be with her, look at her, listen to her, feel her next to him. His reverie was broken by the cries of a wailing mother who was at the police station, where he worked, to report her missing six year old boy.

The dawn had not even opened its eyes yet and another child had been snatched away. The circumstances being narrated outside were repetitive. Mother had gone out to the shop to buy milk, as she turned to pay the shopkeeper the child went missing. No eyewitnesses. All the kidnappings seem to be happening at the break of dawn, when hardly a soul is out on the street. Even the animals tuck in for a longer siesta before the first light.

As the winter was approaching these cases seem to be rising. Shahid and everyone else at the police station were racking their brains trying to find a pattern. They compiled the data trying to find a pattern:

  • AGE GROUP: THREE TO EIGHT YEARS
  • SEX: BOYS AND GIRLS
  • TIME: EARLY MORNING
  • AREA: ALL OVER THE CITY
  • STRATA: POOR FAMILIES
  • TYPE: STRANGER ABDUCTIONS
  • CASES REGISTERED:
  • AUGUST – 6
  • SEPTEMBER – 10
  • OCTOBER – 12
  • TILL NOV 15 – 5
  • TOTAL CASES REGISTERED: 33

The strangest fact in all these abduction cases was that, no one received a single call for ransom, so they were unable to make any headway. Not one eyewitness, and 33 children missing, 33 hearts shattered, 33 mothers praying, 33 houses gone silent. Something was wrong, very wrong and they had to move fast.

Shahid’s boss, Arvind, a genial middle aged man, a little taller than him and fit as a fiddle, as opposed to his stout frame, ordered him to go home and come back in the evening. “A fresh mind will bring in a new perspective.” Shahid was actually thankful. He wanted to go away from the wails that ripped your soul.

His house was in south Mumbai, a studio apartment in one of the toniest commercial and residential localities. From his apartment he could look across and see a flat in the opposite building on the ground floor, probably belonged to a family he thought. What caught his attention in this particular flat was an orange basket that was always kept outside. Morning it would be full of milk, bread, biscuits, fruits and vegetables, must have been ordered by them, by evening it would be empty. This orange basket, over the days came to have a significant meaning in Shahid’s life. It represented to him, love, family, warmth, children.

Everything he loved and dreamt of with Farida, those hot summer nights when they would steal away from their homes and meet at the children’s park. He missed her touch so much. The soft feel of her hand as they intertwined with his. The warmth of the hug they both had been waiting for even though they spent all waking hours together. This rendevous at night was special to them. They could be lovers not just friends. He missed the stolen kiss, its softness, its sweetness, as if nothing else in the world existed. A feeling of floating in the air, fireworks glowing inside.

He had to move on, he sighed. He was preparing to take Arvind at his word and find some rest, when his phone rang, which he ignored, but then it screamed, this time he had to surrender. It was a frantic call from the office. There was an attempted kidnapping. The child had escaped and run to the police station, finally they had a witness!

Shahid grabbed whatever decent clothes he could and drove his bike fast to reach the police station. The little girl’s parents were still being traced. She had stopped crying now, a little bundle all but five years old, wearing a yellow suit and two pig tails. Arvind was already there. Shahid absorbed the details. The terrified little girl had described the man in detail. He was tall, limped and had long flowing hair. He was thin and skinny, hollow cheeked. He resembled a movie star she said. He had offered her an expensive doll that she had been eyeing for long but her parents, both workers at a shop, could not afford. She said, he smiled sweetly and she followed him to take the doll. He had a big car. The moment they reached near the car he tried to kiss her and grab her by the waist. She bit him hard, kicking and hitting with all her strength and ran as fast as she could without looking back even once. She did not know if he followed her. She stopped only at the police station.

They got the sketch ready. They mapped the area of the crime scene, but they knew he wouldn’t come there again. The sketch was sent to all the police stations. Plain coloured policemen were spread out throughout the city.

As crime analyst, Shahid sat infront of the computer feeding the details vigoursly, trying to map all possible scenarios. He was praying all along that the children be safe. He did not even want to imagine what these kids must be going through.

Farida was with him in the park. Tears flowed from their eyes, his and hers. No. No. Don’t say goodbye. Don’t go. Let’s get married, you can study, work, anything you like. No! I don’t want to be tied down. I want to make it big. I’m moving to US. Please. How am I supposed to live, I can’t even breathe without you. Sorry. No. No. Don’t go. NO! And Arvind was shaking him. “You fell asleep on your computer. Bad dream, I guess. Go home and rest.” Shahid moved out without a word, too choked to say anything. Went to his empty apartment and from there he glanced at the house with the orange basket. Without thinking he ran towards it. He almost rang the bell. Right now he wanted the feel of a family, to be surrounded by happy faces and laughter, but he stopped, glancing at the orange basket which seemed to sympathize with him.

For next two days he sat analyzing the profile of the criminal and trying to think like him . He was definitely rich, did not want ransom and he did not want to return the kids either. What was he doing to the poor little kids? At 2 am the phone at the office rang. Someone had seen a man matching the profile lurking outside a shopping mall. This was the fifth sighting in two days. All previous reportings turned out to be a wild goose chase. They swiftly access the security camera footage and see a man with a “big car” move into the parking holding hand of a little boy and driving off. The policeman outside followed him. Arvind and Shahid and their team followed too. The man was driving fast given the thin traffic on roads.

Shahid realised they were moving towards where they lived. By the time they arrived the man had gone into his flat. Shahid was staring at the orange basket, he couldn’t believe it. The basket stared back at him, mocking him, making fun of his naivety. This time he did not hesitate to ring the bell, the house was surrounded. They all were prepared to see the worst inside. All previous cases were running through their minds. They waited long enough and were almost ready to smash the door open, when they were greeted with a smile, invited inside. They were flummoxed.

Inside, the flat looked like a scene from Neverland- the mystic land of Peter Pan- the boy who wouldn’t grow up. The children were all there, dressed up in weird costumes, they looked scared, but safe. They were quickly made to sit in a van and taken to the hospital. Peter Pan was taken for interrogation. Shahid moved around the flat looking for evidence. He found costumes, toy trains, statues, a mini pirate ship, battery operated cars. He seized the laptop and cameras.

The children showed no signs of abuse. On being questioned they said they were well fed, but never went out of the house. They slept huddled together as Peter Pan danced and sang in the house. He never slept. He called them his lost children. He would hug them and kiss them. He dressed as a girl to feed them, as a boy to play with them and as a pirate to scare them. He would shout and scream when they got tired, some days he would forget to feed them and keep singing. He loved playing most with the new children he brought. The older ones forgotten and placed in another room. He got wild with anger if anyone called him uncle. He said he was Peter Pan and that’s what they will call him. Shahid was relieved that the children were safe.

Peter Pan or Paras, in real life was a depressed young man who was not in a state to narrate his story. Shahid found no evidence of abuse, no pictures, nothing anywhere. It made him sad to think of the circumstances that must have forced Paras to run away from reality to Neverland. The interrogations would take long.

As the police removed the items from the flat, Shahid picked up the orange basket, for him it had represented hope, faith, optimism. The orange basket had been tangible, an anchor that held him from falling into the depths of despair. How he wished he had rung the bell that day and maybe, just maybe, he could have been able to show Paras the promise of the orange basket.

Deepika…

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My First Blog Post

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

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PLEASE ENCOURAGE THIS YOUNG TALENT

Hello everyone,

Today I’ve come to ask a favour of all of you.

My son has been shortlisted in top 100 in Global Book Community Awards 2020. Voting for 2nd round is live now. He is 14 and has a YouTube channel where he reviews books. It’s called Genius Apple. He is the youngest contestant and would benefit immensely if you vote for him.

https://qwertythoughts.com/book-club/genius-apple/5f3b342b61c8f7175ce0f1c4

Just hit the link and vote for Genius Apple. Each vote counts. Would be a big boost to him. Looking forward for your support.

Thank you all.

Deepika..

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Prattles of mind

It was an unusually hot day in Chakki, a small town in Buxar, in the heartland of India. Ganga too was meandering slowly, as if the sun had sucked the life out of her. Sun on his part looked radiant, burning a hole in the sky.

Banke Bihari hollered at his grandson to increase the speed of the rusted pedestal fan, “run and step up the speed, a baby crawls faster than these blades. This joke of a fan just makes noise. Had Ramchander studied and become a clerk like me we wouldn’t be living so miserably, but he doesn’t have any brains.” Ashu his younger grandson got up grumpily, having to leave the artwork his grade four teacher had given him. The brawny little boy shook the fan in an attempt to make it move faster, but of course it was in vain.

Banke Bihari had worked his entire life in a government office, where he had joined as a clerk and retired as one. He wanted his only son Ramchander to study and get a government job, but Ramchander showed no inclination to study what so ever. By grade eight he was playing rookie, bunking school and moving around town. He was reported numerous times for petty crimes, like stealing chocolates, cigarettes etc. Banke Bihari used a rod to set him straight, but alas the rod gave up. Under the influence of his so called friends he decided to work and leave school altogether.

During this time Banke Bihari’s wife fell ill. She was diagnosed with cancer. Banke’s time, attention and money was diverted toward taking care of his ailing wife. He spent his entire life savings in getting the best possible course of medication, and Ramchander, pretty much, was totally forgotten. For Banke Bihari this was the worst era. He lost his wife and his son was lost in the world of drugs. The next battle was to bring Ramchander back and it broke him financially, though he was able to free his son from the clutches of this deadly vice. By now he did not pester his son to study. He let him be.

Ramchander started picking up odd jobs as and when they were available. When Banke Bihari retired he spent his money in buying a two room house for himself and his son who was married now. Ramchander never took drugs again, he had learnt his lesson. 

Banke Bihari continued to live with his son, daughter in law and two grandsons. Money was always short, but Banke would give only a meager amount from his pension. He said he was saving for calamity, so his son would get into an argument with him only too often.

Banke Bihari did not care. He wanted to live on his terms. He would complain all day.

“There’s less sugar in tea today.” “You want me to eat this thing you call food, it’s all water.  Did you add water in my dal on purpose Arti?” “Ashu, I know you stole my almonds, they are for this old man who has to eat watery dal.”

Arti was quiet fed up of his complaining all day. She would in turn complain to Ramchander, “Your father is cribbing all day. He doesn’t spend a penny toward household expenses but wants everyone to run errands for him. Ashu has to bear the brunt of his anger. He’s never happy with food that is served. What are we to do?”

“He’s old and has suffered a lot in life, taking care and losing his wife, his only son going berserk. Just don’t say anything to him now. I’m already embarrassed at my behavior. I was running amok when my parents needed me the most,” rued Ramchander.

“I can’t promise I won’t say anything. Some days he just crosses all limits.” Arti sulked.

Banke Bihari had been waiting for his morning tea unaware that Arti was unwell. When no one brought it for him he went to the kitchen. “Ramchander, Ashu, Arti, Vishu. You all want to see me gone, so you can live peacefully in this house. Now I’ve been deprive of my morning tea. Slowly you’ll not give me food also. I’ll not leave anyone of you alone; even my ghost will haunt you.” He carried on his flurry of protests till Ramchander came storming into the kitchen.

Baba, Arti has fever, she has just slept, and can you keep your voice a little low. I’ll make tea for you.”

“Take her to the doctor then.”

“I’ll get some medicine from the local hakim who sits at the corner.”

“You’ll go to that quack; you have no brains in your skull.” It was Banke Bihari’s turn to storm out.

After Ramchander left, he called his elder grandson Vishu, who came reluctantly to him thinking he’d be scolded for some item which he must have misplaced himself. He gave him money and told him to fetch the doctor and directed him not tell his father.

That evening Banke Bihari went out for a stroll and met his long time friend Kishan Lal, who too had retired and lived with his sons. The two old men sat down on a bench in the park. Kishan Lal looked somber.

“What’s the matter, family squabble again?” asked Banke.

Kishan Lal looked very dejected. “You know old parents become a liability for their children. They have outlived their value.”

“Not at all Kishan Lal. How can the value of parents ever diminish? You think too much.”

“Your son loves you, you wouldn’t understand. My sons have decided to send me to an old age home as they are shifting to Mumbai and keeping me with them will be expensive. Enjoy till they are respecting you.”

Banke Bihari did not like what he had just heard. He went home with a heavy heart. “People just talk whatever,” he tried to dismiss, but Kishan Lal’s words kept haunting him and he kept feeling uneasy. Now he began observing his family keenly. “Vishu go run to the shop and buy me some bidi.”

“Dada I’m studying, besides it’s not good to smoke.”

“So you are going to teach me now, just because you got to school; here take this money and scoot.”

“No. I’m not going,” said Vishu throwing the money on the bed.

They are going to send me to an old age home; no one respects me anymore he mumbled. He kept finding ways to test his family. “Arti you’ve cooked baigan again today…. Ashu stop listening to those silly songs on radio…. Ramchander I need new shirts.” He would randomly say things, prattle and wait for their reaction, just to gauze how his family was treating him. He was getting grumpier.

Ashu went crying to his father one day, “dada hit me.”

“Why?”

“I brought water for him and when I handed him the glass I accidently spilled some on him.”

“It’s alright Ashu. He must not be feeling well go and say sorry.”

“Why should my son say sorry?” interrupted Arti. “Your father hit him over nothing. He’s becoming absurd and puerile as the days are passing.”

Ramchander could not deny this. Something was the matter with Banke Bihari, he seemed out of sorts.

Banke Bihari was soon to turn seventy in a few days and he decided that he wanted to celebrate it with pomp and show. He called his family and announced, “I’m going to celebrate my birthday. I want to have a big party. We’ll call all relatives and friends. I’ll buy new clothes for myself. Ramchander, you have to arrange for all people to stay in a good hotel and get the house whitewashed. Arti, you will be responsible for all the food and snacks. I’ll even get a big cake from the shop. Vishu you click photographs on that phone of yours and Ashu you can play songs all day.”

Everyone was too stunned to say anything. Finally Ramchander spoke up, “Baba, what are you saying? We don’t even celebrate the birthdays of our children. It is a huge wastage of money. All this is beyond ridiculous. You don’t need new clothes and do you even know what the hotels costs and the whitewash?” said Ramchander in a disgruntled tone.

“And you think I will cook for so many people in this sweltering weather when you don’t even like my cooking,” grumbled Arti.

Ramchander was visibly agitated now, “you are being absolutely ridiculous this time around, Baba. All this is unnecessary.”

“I don’t need clothes you say, why? Does an old man have no right to enjoy his life? Do I have to sit and wait to die?”

“You have never celebrated your birthday. What’s happened to you this year? As it is work has been slow. I don’t have enough money. I can barely manage to pay the school fees and cover the household expenses and you’ve come up with a new whim.”

“Whim! It’s not a whim. It’s my wish.”

“Yes! You are the King, our lord and master,” said Arti, “your wish has to our command. Why don’t you spend your own money? What is a greater calamity than an old man celebrating his birthday?”

“Sorry Baba, I can’t allow this.”

“Ramchander all of you don’t respect me anymore.”

“Baba, you are constantly complaining these days, you even hit the children, you shout at Arti too. This is getting out of hand. This party won’t happen and that’s my final word,” and Ramchander walked out.

Banke Bihari sat on the chair in the living room, which also served as his bedroom. They don’t love me at all. It’s about money, only then they will show their love. I can’t live with these people. I’ll leave before they put me in an old age home. They can continue to live happily with their life. He packed a few clothes, a blanket and left the house.

Once outside he wandered where he should go. He decided to spend the rest of the day in the temple and go in search of a house the next day. Maybe if he is lucky he can meet someone in the temple. Walking in the afternoon was exhausting; he found a corner in the temple and sat there.

Ramchander came home to a crying wife and two kids, “dada is missing. We thought he had gone for a walk but he hasn’t returned and it’s so dark outside now.”

“He can’t see properly in the dark. I hope he hasn’t fallen and hurt himself,” Arti was choking with tears.

“How can he leave home like this? Come let’s search for him and bring him back.”

Being alone in the temple brought no peace to Banke Bihari. He kept thinking; they don’t have any respect left for me, all they need is money. I don’t ask for too much. Arti is such a shirker, she is always avoiding work and those two children, they have no manners at all. I’m never going back to them.

It was almost evening and he began feeling hungry. He hadn’t carried anything with him. He got up, drank some water and as sat down he began reflecting on how his family treated him. He recalled that Arti never actually argued with him, though she did complain to Ramchander sometimes, but on those occasions it was his fault too. His grand children did give into his whims, they were children after all. And Ramchander too, he was aware how ashamed he was of his past and how hard he was trying to provide for everyone. He began missing them, but how could he go back now. I will have to live alone for the rest of my life. I am so ashamed of how I behaved. Why did I listen to that Kishan Lal? Such a stupid idea it was to test the loyalties of my family. As he thought of all the things he lay down and fell asleep.

Ashu was the first to notice him in the corner of the temple. He went to him and shook him, “dadaji, dadaji,” but Banke Bihari didn’t wake up.

Ashu ran out crying loudly, “dadaji, is dead. Mom! Mom!” he was wailing now. Arti’s heart seemed to stop beating, her temples began hurting suddenly, her ear seemed blocked, her throat went dry and tears were streaming from her eyes as she entered the temple. She ran to where Banke Bihari lay, “Pitaji, pitaji!” she screamed and wailing. Banke Bihari opened his eyes slowly unaware of all the commotion.

“Arti what happened?”

Without thinking she hugged him. “Ashu thought you were dead. I thought you died. What were you even thinking leaving like that? I’ve never had a father growing up; you are all that I have. How dare you leave me like this? Watery dal or baigan, you’ll have to eat everything I make OK. You can’t go again like this ever.”

Now Banke and Arti both were crying. Banke Bihari called Ashu, “so you want me dead,” he said pulling his grandson’s ear.

Dal: cooked lentils

Baigan: eggplant

Dada: grandfather

Pitaji: father

Bidi: type of cheap cigarette made of unprocessed tobacco wrapped in leaves

Baba: father

©Deepika

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WE ARE FAMILY

Since I started writing stories my little one has been pestering me to write one for children. Even though I had promised her that I will, I had been procrastinating as I honestly felt that writing something that keeps the interest and attention of children alive is a daunting task. But I did fulfill my promise so here it goes..

So I turned twenty today. What’s so special you would ask? People turn twenty dime a dozen, every minute. True, but my turning twenty was supposed to have a huge significance, even impact the universe. Don’t smile like that, I’m not kidding! OK let’s begin with me introducing myself. My name is Clark and it’s my birthday today. I’m good looking, (not being vain), the girls in my college told me so. I receive many gifts and glances and subsequently had the fortune of breezing through college like song and dance. I am tall, have blonde hair, blue eyes and I work out so I have a body to die for. You see, that’s the least I can do for the zillions of girls admiring me each day. But this turning twenty has changed the tide for me. I am supposed to be going home. Yes! Leave this temple of mine and relocate to my hometown, which, though not far is still remote. And to make things worse I am required to be leaving now.

My college is in the most amazing city of Ambampley. It’s full of beautiful buildings, breathtaking monuments and the most awesome clubs. The music and light is something to live by, and it turns everyone into the most lithe dancers. My city never sleeps.

Leaving this heaven I’ve been called to the countryside. I do love my hometown it’s called Gesshill but it’s not Ambampley. It’s like Gesshill has got stuck in some time loop from where it cannot escape.

In my hometown every house makes chocolates. Yes each and every house, and then they exchange them with each other. No, they don’t sell it, they don’t even export it. Just exchange it and I cannot explain why that is so but that’s what it is.

Ambampley on the other hand is where you go to grow. To learn how to live your life and you are taught how to face the challenges life will throw at you. You can also enjoy to your heart’s content here. The amazing museums, libraries, amusement park and shopping arenas. Ah! What an amazing place to be in. But, now I am supposed to go back to Gesshill. Why?

Maybe someone finally had a flash of an idea to end the time loop. Or perhaps my family wants to be pioneers in exporting chocolates to the universe.

Well, travelling from Ambampley to Gesshill wasn’t much of a hassle. People here don’t mess with nature while developing modes of travelling. Everything remains in sync. So moving through beautiful roads lined with amazing blue and red leafed trees, I reached home in less than an hour. My family sure seemed glad to see me for all of them were waiting at the porch.

Wait! I saw Aunt Weeny and my cousin Mart standing alongside my father and sister. I was taken inside quickly as if some important mission was about to commence.

OK, so it was now time for secrets to come tumbling out. The entire thing seemed eerie to me. Mart was shifting from one foot to another. He was almost my age, maybe an year older, fat and clumsy. There was this weird looking mop like thing on his head he called hair and a strange creature sitting on his shoulder. Quite a contrast to his mother, Aunt Weeny, who looked strikingly like my principal with the most expressionless face you can see.

My father and sister were in a somber mood. I sat down gingerly at the edge of my seat. Were they planning to shoot me out into space? Or was I being selected for some kind of pagan ritual that required sacrifice and I had been given the honor of satisfying those pagan Gods. No! No, that can’t be it, my dad is a scientist he can’t be into pagan and occultist things.

Please start speaking someone! “Clark,” said my dad, “you are twenty today. All members of our village come back once they turn twenty and there is a reason behind that. Mart came back too.”

He looked at Mart who was grinning proudly at something only he understood. Continue please.

“Today is an important day as you begin your training and transform yourself into an individual upon whose shoulder rests a huge responsibility. Mart has been trying for a year and hasn’t really reached there yet. Let’s begin right now.”

Everything was still muddled in my head. I hadn’t understood a thing. However I walked behind him. My sister came and whispered all the best in my ear. Not helping at all I want to do scream at her. Dad took me into this huge hall that was full of strange looking creatures I had never seen or heard of. “Stand still and close your eyes,” he commanded.

I did what I was told and could feel I was being scanned. After what seemed like ages I saw a creature smelling my feet. It looked strange. I’ve never seen a creature like this in Gesshill. Only creatures we have here are called Aves, they fly in the sky. They have long necks and wings that help them fly.

These creatures are called animals and today one animal will become your pet.

“And the creature on Mart’s shoulder is his pet?”

“Yes that’s an owl, it’s a bird just like Aves.”

So I get to choose?”

“No, it will choose you.”

And this creature had finally chosen me. “What is it?”

“That’s called a dog.”

A dog! It looks strange.

“Is it dangerous? What is it going to do anyway?” I asked.

“No it’s not dangerous and from today on it will be your conscience keeper. When you leave from here after your training is complete, it will keep you in check. Steering you away from any ill thoughts that may enter your mind. Prevent you from doing wrong and move you towards the betterment of the people you shall be surrounded with.

What! What even is a conscience! I asked and why will I do anything wrong?

“Because you’ll have power and with power you have to have certain responsibility or you will get corrupted forever,” Dad seemed to be talking in riddles.

“But Dad, in Ambampley and Gesshill I’ve never needed a conscience keeper. I obey all the rules here and haven’t ever had the requirement of being corrected.”

“That’s right young lad, because here we respect everything. The trees, the stones, the beautiful purple sky. We’ve advanced leaps and bounds, but our technology and progress is inclusive. We’ve not encroached on other life forms, not even the red and blue trees you see everywhere, not even the yellow mountains and the golden streams. We take care of the air we breathe. It is good and pure, we’ve not messed with its structure and have preserved it in it’s purest form,” informed Dad.

Then what’s all the fuss about, I wanted to ask, but my sister came along and reported to my father that the projection room was ready. OK, so about my sister Eve. Eve is pretty, pretty and tall, taller than me and super intelligent. I don’t acknowledge that to her, but I need you to know this. Eve is responsible for some research work in my dad’s lab and the research is funded by all the citizens. Every good cause is funded by citizens in Gesshill. That’s how I am sure she is doing something good and important.

So to the projection room. Aunt Weeny stood there and as soon as we took our seats, Eve started a movie.

I saw strange looking people on the screen. They were tiny and their faces looked funny. Two eyes! Only two eyes! Who has just two eyes and what are these weird looking projections near their heads I thought. All of us have more than two eyes. What are these? Are they mutants?

It was as if Eve understood my dilemma. “The projections near their head are called ears,” said Eve, “that’s how they hear sounds.”

Really you need these weird appendages for that! “We’ve evolved and our brains are receptive of many sound waves without extra organs but not them,” explained Eve.

Who are they?

Homo sapiens, humans. They live on planet Earth.”

Planet! There is a whole new planet with people on them?

Aunt Weeny paused the movie, “Clark if you want to watch the movie please watch quietly and you’ll understand, then I’ll answer all your questions.” OK, ok I’ll be quiet. The movie began.

These humans not only looked strange with two eyes, ears, they seemed to be destroying their planet. What? They are cutting their trees, strange green trees. Oh my God! Their streams are all black and brown, their sky I think is blue, but looks grey in most places. Then there is worse. They are killing what Dad told me were animals. And what’s next they are killing each other. That is just gross. There are vehicles everywhere. The buildings were spewing black smoke. I cover my eyes it looks so scary.

The movie ended finally and Aunt Weeny got up to explain.

“Humans have been living on earth for billions of years now. They are a new race, younger than us. They are still evolving, but in their hurry for progress they have destroyed their planet. Now the problem is, if we continue like this the layers in space separating them and us will soon be destroyed and all our people will be infected by the viruses in their environment.”

And what are we supposed to do to prevent that?

“We go to earth.”

What! Why would I do that?

“To save ourselves. We are more evolved than them, hence we can influence them and make them take preventive measures. We teach them to live inclusively and not destroy their planet.”

But I don’t look like them and what about the viruses and that star looked too bright.

“Yes that’s their Sun. Clark, you’ve seen chocolates in Gesshill. Each chocolate has a different property and they help you change your appearance, protect you from the Sun and viruses and keep you safe. You will be placed in a powerful position on Earth so you can influence the humans. They follow their leaders and you’ll be one of their leaders and if you ever get too proud and feel like you like you own their planet, your dog will remind you to stay on the correct path. You come back every weekend to collect your stock of chocolates. You have two years to study humans, in minute details. You learn their mannerisms, food habits, how they speak, read, sleep, everything. Only when you look and behave as human you will be put on earth.”

Anything you want me to remember when I am there. Anything that the humans can teach me?

“Learn love from them. They have forgotten that their love has the power to change everything.”

©Deepika….

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Two lives

As Raghu carried his new plant to school he felt proud. It was the most beautiful chrysanthemum you would have ever seen. The beautiful pink colour almost smiled at you. The thirteen year old, frail and shy Raghu had grown the plant himself, right from planting the seed to nurturing this beautiful flower. He wanted to present it to his english teacher, Mr. Ward as teacher’s day gift.

The children were all giggling and laughing looking at Raghu and his unique gift. A boy name Pankaj was particularly spiteful. A little taller than Raghu and blue eyed of all teachers, as he was good in academics, came over to bully him.

“So our farmer has another plant.” The entire class laughed and Raghu bent closer to his flower. “Really Raghu! You think you can impress Sir with a flower? All you want to do is become a kisan, a farmer. Why do you even come to school? Why not go back to your village?” A huge uproar reverberated in the class and Raghu now wanted to sink deep in the flower pot, like the roots of the chrysanthemum.

Mr Ward walked in hearing the commotion, ordered them to be seated. The children quickly fell back to their seats just like soldiers trained to take orders. Only Raghu wanted to become invisible. “Oh! What have we here,” said he in his booming voice. A burly man with receding hairline. “Raghu, so it is you again. Why is there a plant on your table? I am quite fed up of your antics. Farmer is what you want to become, then stay at home boy, don’t disturb the school.” The class was giggling again and Raghu could hardly utter sorry.

On his way back he threw the plant in the dustbin. The smiling pink now withered and smeared with sadness.

At home he shut himself in his room. “Farmer! Farmer is what everyone calls me. Is being a farmer bad? I am never touching a plant again in my life.”

Raghu’s parents were software engineers in a leading IT firm in Bangalore. Being professionals, with high demanding job, his parents were busy and he spent a considerable time with their house help and gardener Naveen, a middle aged jovial man, who was glad to answer the inquisitive fellow’s questions.

Gururaj Rao, his father had moved to Bangalore for work, like scores of others, from their native place of Kigga. His was a family of floriculturists. They grew flowers like roses, anthurium, gerbera, orchids, carnations, but Gururaj was not fond of any of this. Even though his father was satisfied with the market in and around Bangalore for Gururaj this business was not a success. He did not find it satisfying as it did not measure up to the criteria of success he had set up for himself.

Raghu, however, loved going to the farm of his grandparents. Since he was a little child he was fascinated by the magic the soil worked on the seed. His parents were not interested in the farm. They were consumed by the corporate life. Raghu’s grandfather saw his interest and would take him around and explain to him the naunces of how flowers grew, the type of soil required, the correct season for each flower and the exact temperature needed. Raghu roamed around fascinated. For him the summer break from school was absolute bliss. Being near mud, working and playing with it. Planting seeds and watching them grow satisfied him.

As soon as his father Mr Rao came home he summoned Raghu. “What is this? Another complain from your school! That plant of yours created a rukus in the school. How many times do Ma and me have to make it clear to you that you will not be growing any plants inside this house? You have to study to be successful not a farmer. I have had enough of this farming business. Look at Pankaj. He is not wasting his time like you. He is the number one student of your class. He will grow up to be a successful man. Life is like a coin you can spend it anyway you wish but you can only spend it once.”

Thirteen year old Raghu did not understand all, but he did understand the fact that success was what others defined for you. He made up his mind that anything that cannot be measured is not success. He began to work towards getting accolades from his teachers, approval of peers and acceptance from his parents. He grew up amidst sneers and gibes of “Hey farmer what crops are you going this season?” But now he had changed his definition of success and vowed that one day he acquire everything that people called success. Pankaj remained a bully throughout Raghu’s school life. As was expected from Pankaj, he made it to a highly reputed college whereas Raghu barely managed to scrape through.

His college life got easier with Pankaj not around and he found the love is life in Seema. They met in front of a flower shop in Bangalore. Even though Raghu had buried his love for growing flowers deep inside him, he could not stop himself from staring at them with eyes wide open like a child, and wondering at their beauty. Seema, who had come to buy some, saw this young man standing outside the shop with happiness and glee across his face, immersed in admiring the flowers. She was intrigued at what all the fuss was about and went out to stand next to him to see if she was missing seeing something. Raghu noticed her when her hand lightly brushed against his. And his jaw dropped looking at this amazingly stunning girl right next to him. “So, does that flower have some story to it?” “All flowers do,” and he broke into his favourite topic.

Raghu managed to get a decent job, married Seema, but the constant measuring of his success with that of his parents, Pankaj, and various other people in his life left him bitter. He never seemed to have achieved anything. It was always less. Less than this or that, less in the eyes of his parents, less in office, less in school reunions, less in his own eyes and less in his heart.

He felt his life was in a downward spiral. There seemed to be no satisfaction. He wanted to achieve that pinnacle, that bar of success but it seemed to be alluding him somehow. He had this innate craving in him to see everyone praising him, applauding his achievements, keeping him as a measure of success. But his corporate job was like a quick sand that kept sucking him deep inside. Day after day he felt he was free falling into a black hole. Sinking.

It was around Valentine’s one year when his car broke down, as he was coming back from office. He decided to walk back. As he walked on the pavement, he was surrounded by the most beautiful sight. Something he had forgotten even existed in the city that only seemed to be grey and unpleasant to him everyday. There were flowers everywhere. Big and small vendors, little children selling flowers. Suddenly the city had more colour, more life, a soul. He touched the carnations, roses, gladiolus, lilies. He seemed to have come alive. There were young men and women buying flowers. They wanted to show their love through flowers, wanted the flowers to convey the deepest innermost feelings of the heart, where words failed. Raghu bought bouquets of all the flowers he could see. He wasn’t just happy, if felt he just woke up from slumber. He could finally breathe. He sat on the pavement hugging the flowers. Tears filled his eyes and he let them flow. “Why did I let myself die?” He sat there for long. When he finally reached home, Seema was relieved to see him, and pleasantly surprised at the numerous flowers he had brought. Raghu hugged her tight and long.

“I found myself again Seema. I found what was missing. I found it finally.” He informed Seema he wanted to go back to his grandparents farm and revive it. He realised it was a big step at middle age, but he did not want to live in regret anymore. He had to give his passion a chance as he was sure that finally he would be able to achieve success as he had envisioned it. Raghu’s deep craving for success implanted in him as a child clouded his vision. Even now he was not able to recognise that his passion was all he needed. “You can continue staying in Bangalore. You don’t have to come to the farm. You are a city girl and successful in your job.” Seema smiled at him. “Success for me is being with you, seeing you happy. I’ll help you, I shift my base to the farm till you settle down. I’ll work from there, one of us needs to feed us.”

Raghu went back to Kigga. The farm was no longer a farm now. It was a huge jungle of bushes, but there were flowers blooming everywhere. Raghu set to work. Reading and working. Bringing in the newest technologies. It took him almost ten years to reach the bar of success set for him. The definition of success as had been drilled into him. The measure of success was by material things and social comparison.

Finally he thought he had managed to be successful now. People looked up to him. He gave lectures on how to change a career so late in life and rise to become the best. His farm exported flowers internationally.

His school was organising a reunion. Raghu was pumped up about it for the first time in all these years. I am going to show Mr Ward, Pankaj and all those children who call me a farmer. Yes I am a farmer, a successful farmer. I have acquired all the things they can’t even dream of. He got out his most expensive suit, his most expensive car and set out for his school at fifty years of age. “Now is the time for my redemption. Today I’ll show them what success looks like. They will finally recognise me today.” As he entered the hall, he felt proud and tall. He wanted to show Pankaj, who was more successful now, him or Raghu. Raghu wanted to tell him that he had the biggest bungalow in Bangalore and he had been featured by all the major magazines. He was an icon. “Mr Ward will also recognise me now.”

He began moving around searching for familiar faces. He heard someone saying that Mr Ward passed away all alone in old age home. “Such a successful teacher and he was all alone in his last days. Wish he had built more friendships than success.”

He searched fervently for Pankaj. He spotted Pankaj, shriveled up, sitting in a wheelchair. He walked up to him, to say hello. Pankaj seemed to have difficulty in recognising him, but he did slowly and a smile came on his face. “Hi Raghu. Look what happened I suffered a stroke. I kept running to acquire the material success I even bullied you. I was never satisfied. I am happy to see what you are doing, wish I understood it back then.”

Raghu looked at all his classmates. All those who could make it to the reunion. They all looked battered down, tired, lost. They had not come today to show off their success, they had come to seek a smile or a hug.

Raghu recalled his father’s words:

“Life is like a coin you can spend it anyway you wish but you only spend it once.” All people in this room spent their life once. Raghu was glad he got a second chance. He was able to live two lives. He realised that all is life he lived trying to be successful by all the wrong measures. Now in his second life he had a chance to define, envision his success on his own terms.

©Deepika..