Saturday, April 14, 2018

The curse of beauty

                   She stared at her reflection in the mirror, wiping her tears from her damp face. The summer heat was unbearable, her clothes stuck to her skin even as she was gasping for breath between sobs. Once again, she fought the urge to hit her head on the glass and ruin the face that had caused her so much agony. While she was still struggling with her thoughts, he came back to her. She did not even have a moment to cry in despair. He begged her to stay back, his moist eyes pleading her to understand his love. Like always, she gave in to his unreasonable demands after some time. He would not leave her alone until she did as he wished. It was the same story repeating every time, but it was not how this story began.

                    He belonged to an affluent family of their times. Their family had acres of lands cultivating rice and a variety of vegetables enough to sustain the whole village. The transport in the village was their monopoly as they owned all the vehicles that connected to the town. He was the youngest and most pampered son. Even though he could have chosen to manage their farms or transport business, he chose to move away from it and make his mark in the city. At a young age, he moved to the city and decided to set up a textile shop in the heart of the city. It was easy to start with the support of his father who sold a few vehicles in their village. When he had established himself well, it was time for his family to look for a suitable bride for him. He was the most eligible bachelor and proposals from nearby villages were flooding, but his parents had other plans. They wanted a bride who was from a poor family and would always be submissive to her husband.
                                                                      Image credit

                  She was the most beautiful girl he had ever laid his eyes on. Her fair, flawless skin glowed in the plain, cotton pink saree that she had draped. When she looked at him with her dark brown eyes, his heart skipped a beat. It did not take much for his parents to know that their son was enchanted by this girl. They became skeptic that the girl would have their son hen pecked and were not too keen on the match now. But, he had fallen head over heels in love with her and rebelled to the extent that he refused to marry anyone else. Giving in to his wish, the parents agreed and within a month she became his bride.

                It was the happiest day of their lives. She was blissfully unaware of what a vision she was on her wedding day. Relatives from far away places had heard of her and had come to attend the wedding. Beaming with pride next to her, her husband had the most victorious smile. For him, she was the trophy wife. He had never felt as accomplished as that before. She hardly knew the man she had married, but she knew he adored her already.

               The first night that they spent together, he couldn't take his eyes off her. She looked so delicate, so pure that he was scared of hurting her. She looked terrified on her part. He sat beside her, talking to her about her likes, her dislikes and everything he could think of. Slowly she began to relax in his presence and opened up to him. Before they knew, it was the crack of the dawn and relatives started hustling about for the feast to follow. They had spent the night sleepless, talking.

               As per rituals, the girl had to leave for her parent's house following the feast. When the time had come for her to go with her parents, her husband was teary eyed much to the embarrassment of his family. It was something that people laughed about for years to come. But for her, it would remain a memory she would revisit fondly. It was then that she had wholeheartedly given herself to him for a lifetime.

             When she returned back, they move to their house in the city. Those were the blissful days of their wedded life. She set up the house beautifully, cooked for him during the day. He started coming home earlier than usual, accompanying her to temples. They had numerous invites for lunch and dinner after marriage at their relatives' houses. Everytime someone commented on the beauty of his wife, his chest swelled with pride. The initial days rolled by with ease. Though his absence was affecting the business, he kept leaving early to spend time with his wife.

                                                                         image credit
            In the third month of their marriage, she became pregnant with his child. Their joy knew no bounds. Since it was her first pregnancy, it was assumed she would stay with her parents till the child was a few months old as per customs. The thought of parting from his wife for months was unbearable for him. He refused to let her go to her parents. Instead, he came home earlier to take care of her. He missed work when she was unwell. His negligence to the business was now turning to losses. The numbers started dwindling, the cash inflow reduced. He was hanging on to the business on his finger nails but his priority remained his wife. In the final month of her pregnancy, her parents joined them to help with the delivery. Even then he hardly left her side. He was terrified of losing her in childbirth.

             She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She couldn't have been happier in her life. Even though he wished for a baby boy secretly, he was happy to see his baby girl. He started becoming more regular with his business as a new sense of responsibility arose in him. She spent all her time with the baby. When he returned in the evening, she was exhausted with all the work. Many nights she stayed awake as the baby cried in the cradle and then slept with the baby between them. He had lost his wife, all he could see was the mother of his child. He even started resenting the child sometimes. She could feel his aloofness. She tried to be cheerful around him but she herself was dealing with gloominess that she couldn't explain. With no one to share her thoughts with, she was increasingly getting depressed.

            It was a confusing phase of her life. She was grappling with the new motherhood, but she was also failing as  a wife. Every time he came close to her, she moved away. As the child started growing, her interaction with the outside world also grew. She talked to the neighboring women who came to see the baby, went to the doctor for the vaccination, started shopping for baby on her own. Her social circle was slowly increasing. It was during this time that he started becoming increasingly insecure. Each time someone said they had met her in the market, or commented on how she hadn't changed one bit after pregnancy, he felt uneasy. He would go home and make love to her passionately. If she was exhausted and tried to deny him, he would be furious and blame her of not loving him anymore. She would give in out of guilt. She could not identify when his insecurity became his obsession. He would drop in home at unexpected hours. Some days he would go to his shop and return within an hour to simply be at home with her. By now, the business couldn't be sustained and he had taken heavy loans in the market. He made his father sell all of their vehicles to get some more cash inflow. His family started resenting her and blamed her for keeping her husband home all the time. For them, she was the one who was tempting her husband to stay with her, while she was herself struggling with his excessive love.

              At last he had to close his business. The loses were so huge that he had to sell his house in the city to pay for it. They moved back to his village. They had become talk of the village. She had got used to the taunts of bringing about downfall of his business. Being the same village as his relatives also meant more family functions to attend. Wherever she went, he accompanied her. Her mother-in-law was fed up of her son not working and asked her to stay at home. She was socially isolated but at home she was not spared of the taunts. When he saw her crying, he too broke down. He fought with his father and asked for his share in the inheritance. Nobody had ever asked for inheritance while the head of the family was still alive. They cursed her for separating their son. He sold his part of the lands and with the money built a new house away from his family home. She thought this would be their new start. How wrong she had been..

            Once again she was alone in the house and he would be worried about who would come to visit. She had long stopped going to any function or visiting any relatives but a friend or relative would sometimes drop to their place. She wasn't sure if he had doubts on her loyalty or was petrified of someone winning over her, but the presence of another human being near her would make him anxious. After trying his hand at textile business, he was giving agriculture business a shot. A few months it had actually run into profits, but soon he returned to his old ways and started coming home early. If someone happened to join them for tea, he would tell her to stay inside and himself serve tea and snacks. Soon, they again became a subject for ridicule. People started avoiding their house. She was pushed deeper into isolation. He started running into debts again and went to his father again to ask for more money. This time, his family refused to give him a single penny. He broke off all ties with them and again sold the house to pay for the loans.

            With no other alternative, they moved into a remote village closer to her parents's house. It was a place where she had many friends and relatives. Familiarity and her own people made her happy. She began to be cheerful again. Her daughter too was growing up to be a replica of her mother. He was overjoyed to see his wife just like he had married her. But he discouraged her from leaving the house for any purpose. She was ready to do that as well as long as he regularly worked and made life easier for them. But she knew it would only last for sometime. But this time he had a plan. He bought a piece of land in the interiors of the village which was difficult to access. They were practically the only humans in that stretch of land. The house was literally atop a plateaued land and had coconut trees all around it. They had a walk a bit to go to the main road. No one ever visited them there.

            It had been  6 months since she had seen another human apart from her daughter and husband. She was craving for normal human company. Once in a while he took her to see her parents but even there she hardly had time to talk to them alone. For those who saw them, she was lucky to have a husband who showered her with so much love. He practically did everything possible to make her life comfortable except let her be on her own! Every time she fought with him, he would be devastated and plead for forgiveness. It was frustrating to hate a man who loved her so much. She no longer knew if she loved him or pitied him. He was scared that another human being would influence her to leave him or love another. He confessed this during one of his break downs. In his thoughts, she was the perfect human ever and at no cost did he want anyone to take her away from him. That is what his nightmares were made of. She wondered what she had done wrong to give such impression. She had always loved him and kept his needs above anything else. Why did he feel that she would think of leaving him and behaved in a way that would actually make her want to? She couldn't have imagined her palace of happiness would turn to a prison with no escape.

                                                                     Image courtesy
           She was the most beautiful girl he had ever laid his eyes on. Her beauty had killed every happiness in their life. She wished she was just an ordinary looking girl. She hated to see the mirror that reminded her of her fate. While those who knew her still admired her beauty, her dark brown eyes had a sad story that only she knew..


Saturday, March 3, 2018

I am not a feminist

                          In a casual discussion that turned into a stupid argument, one of my female colleagues took sides with another female colleague. To justify her action she quickly said, "I am not a feminist, but I will stand by what she said." 

                   In another woman's group that I was once a part of, we discussed ideas of what we planned for the year ahead and someone said, "I would like women to lead. I am not a feminist but I feel that women have a lot of potential to lead"

                   It's a pattern. "I AM NOT A FEMINIST" is a disclaimer before any woman asserts herself. Women add it to make it clear that they are talking generally and not in support of the sisterhood that has established a society where they can freely voice their opinion. 

                  Over the years, the term has been twisted and perceived in ways that women now think that being a feminist is a bad thing! Almost every strong woman that I know is scared to admit she's a feminist. And yet, all of them are feminists. What they do not know is, what is feminism!

                   What exactly is feminism? To quote Wikipedia "Feminism is a range of political movementsideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes"

                    In short, believing that women are as good as men is feminism. Believing that women are better than men is not! If you get the meaning right, even men can be feminist! No one needs estrogen to be a feminist.
Image courtesy: Credit

                         "What do you need feminism for? Reservation for women, free education for women, lesser loan rates for women, there is everything under the sun for women. Women are abusing the power they now have. Did you hear Deepika Padukone talking about "her choice". She says its her choice if she wants to cheat outside marriage. If a guy said that he would receive so many flacks from the society. But she is a woman. Shes free to do whatever she wants!" This was a discussion among some men I knew.
                        I find it funny how some people take one example from an elite group of women and generalize it for the whole women population. These same people cannot digest the fact that majority of the women still do not even have human rights, let alone equal rights. It is not just men who belong to the category, I know women too who feel threatened by feminism.There exactly lies the biggest problem women face. 
                        Most of these women have a low self esteem and look for validation in the family they have kept together, at the cost of their crushed dreams. When another woman dares to challenge the structure, they feel intimidated and try to make her surrender instead. They find pleasure in seeing another free bird caged, wings clipped when they couldn't dare to fly themselves. It is a vicious cycle. One broken dream after another.
                        I find submissive women repulsive. They suffer their whole lives and bring up men who grow up believing they can dominate any woman. It is also the reason I have no tolerance for women who put up with violence or disrespect from their family. I speak about the women who belong to the same income group or background where they can stand up for themselves and lead a respectful life. I do not have any idea about the hardships that other women might have in doing so, but I have seen brilliant examples of courage from people who have the least!  We need feminism so that we stand a chance at a better tomorrow.

                       It is a long talk. One that has multiple dimensions. Bigger problems and smaller solutions. This is a topic that cannot be handled in a single post and hence I have decided to start writing every second Monday about it inspired by Soumya's feminist Monday posts.

                       I find hope in the fact that ours is at least a generation of covert feminists. Most women don't call themselves feminists but are fighting the exact same battles as that of feminism. I think we could start with just saying "I AM A FEMINIST" 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Girl Next Door

                    It was barely a month since we had moved into our new apartment. It was a newly built place in an area that was yet to see the real estate boom and since the place was a little away from the main road, it did not garner much attention. It was just the kind of peaceful location where you would like to come  home after a tiring day. Since I and my husband stayed away for work long hours, we hardly knew anyone by their names.

                    It was just one of the regular evenings; I was sitting in my balcony having a cup of tea when I saw a tempo enter the building. Since our balcony faced the main entrance of the building, I could make out someone was shifting into the building, but did not pay much attention to who it was.

                   Later that night, when my husband went downstairs to take out the trash, the night watchman was full of news about the new occupants. A couple had moved into our next door flat as tenants. As per the watchman, the wife was heavily pregnant. We wondered why someone would move and take up the task of setting up a house at this stage. From experience, I knew that watchmen were pools of unfiltered news and gave out information that even they were not sure of and did not give the couple another thought.

                  Our flat entrance was just opposite the common lift whereas the neighboring flat had its entrance towards the left which faced a wall. We could not directly see who came and went into their house even if we stood at our door. The purpose of mentioning this blind spot will become clearer in the events that unfolded later.

                  A few days later, I saw a man get into the lift and an older lady rushing out from the neighboring flat with a tiffin box in hand. I gathered this must be the pregnant lady's mother who must have come to help her out during pregnancy. When there are only 2 houses occupied in the building apart from your own, normal humans you see in the building tend to pique your interests, even for someone like me who keeps to herself most times. The older lady smiled at me but the man was stiff in the lift as the door closed after him.

                 The same evening, my husband told me that the man next door was a cab driver! I just couldn't believe it. I told him not to listen to the watchman. A cab driver moving into a building like ours seemed too far fetched, even though uber success stories were everywhere. But, the husband had proof. He had seen the man driving a yellow plated car a couple of times and informed me only after he was sure. He reasoned that since the building was away from the main road, rents were affordable and not more than 10-12 K and drivers could easily afford that much. He also told me that the older lady was the man's mother and not the pregnant lady's. Till this point, I had not seen the pregnant lady to comment anything about it.

                 A month rolled by and more people started shifting into the building. When we came back from work, we could see kids playing in the corridor, running on the stairs and making the kind of noises only kids can make. One such evening, there was a new shriek added to that. A new born baby crying next door. I thought of visiting but for some reason never did.


Image: Credit

                The next Saturday, someone rang my door bell. Opening the door, I saw a girl in three fourth track pants, loose t-shirt and hair roughly held back with a long clip. A little wheatish in complexion and on the thicker side. She had come with a box of sweets and told me that she just had a baby girl. I stood there, dumb-founded and meekly uttered "congratulations". I don't know what had shocked me more. The fact that this girl was the girl next door who delivered the baby or that she was the wife of a cab driver. I admit that I expected someone who would be dressed in a salwar or saree and not someone who would talk in English. But the next surprise came with the sweet that she gave. It was then that I first started doubting something fishy. It was a sweet with generous amounts of dry fruits and something that I had rarely had myself and would think twice before buying to distribute. This couldn't be the choice of sweet for a middle class family to distribute to whole building.

                 After that one visit, I hardly saw her again. Of course, she stayed next door but she never came out of the house on weekends or occasions. Some evenings I heard the baby cry and her playing with the baby but never heard a sound from her husband. It could not be said if they had visitors as it later occured to me that not just me, but no one in the whole building could see the entrance of their house. It was a long corridor and one could not say who went to which flat unless you actually saw anyone enter.

                One afternoon, I got a call on my phone while I was at office. A courier on my name had arrived via India post and the postman did not agree to leave it at the security cabin. He instead knocked on the door of the next door girl. The postman handed over the phone to her. This was the first and only time I talked to her.
                "Hi, I am Kruthika, I stay in the flat next to you"
                "Hi, Kruthika, if it won't be much trouble, can you please keep the courier with you. I will collect it once I am back from office."
                "No problem. I will take it."

This was exactly what we had talked. I once again noticed how fluent she was in English, almost like a convent educated girl. I am ashamed to admit that all these months I did not even know her name. Kruthika.

              That evening when I rang her door bell, I could hear her feet fast approaching the door. She had the parcel in hand. I could hear the baby crying.

             "Thank you so much. I hope I didn't wake the baby"
             "Oh no no, she was already crying."

              She seemed in a hurry. She handed me the courier and quickly closed the door. I found it odd. When I walked back to my door and was putting in the key, I saw the lift open and her husband come out. Oh so this was the reason! I thought. Was she scared of her husband finding her talk to me? He looked at me in without expression and quickly hurried to his flat.

              Later when I repeated the entire story to my husband, he thought I was reading too much into it. I was getting too influenced by all the crime patrol I was watching! Perhaps I was, but my instinct told me that there was story that I had to dig. It was none of my business but still it was a thought that nibbled my insides.

              Almost a month later, when I was simply going through Facebook for the random time wasting things, I saw a girl in the "people you may know" row. Someone told me once, that if you find people in this row with whom you have no common friends then this person had been stalking you on Facebook. I don't know how true this is, but it does seem so. Because the girl in this picture was none other than Kruthika with a name of "Shweta". We had no mutual friends. The profile picture looked a little old. She was thinner and little more dusky back then. She had studied in one of the premier institutes of Bangalore in the heart of the city. There were only a few photos that I could see on her timeline as I was not her friend but from what I saw, she did look from an affluent family. My suspicions proved right. This girl was from well to do background, convent educated but had somehow landed here and mostly under a fake name. I went through her profile some more, searching her friends to see if her husband was there. But, no clue. So was Kruthika actually someone called Shweta or did she change her name post marriage? Why did she marry a driver? Were her parents against the marriage or had they fallen on hard times?  Was her husband keeping her happy or was she being a victim of domestic abuse?

             Months rolled by and slowly I stopped thinking of her.

             On a cold winter evening, I returned home late after sitting in the cab for 4 gruelling hours in the traffic. I just wanted to sleep and could think of nothing else. There was a commotion in the building when I entered. The kids were not playing outside and people crowded our wing. The stairs were eerily silent but I could hear hushed voices, cries and screaming. When I reached my floor, my heart skipped a beat. There were people standing in front of my door. My house door was open and people were scanning my face like I was some alien. Color flushed back into my face when I saw my husband among the people. He quickly pulled me inside and whispered
             "There has been a murder in the next flat. You stay inside"

             It felt like time had stopped. My brain registered this, one word at a time. Kruthika.Shweta.Her husband.His mother.The baby. Who?

             Before I could ask, he had rushed out again. The police jeep arrived at the location talking in a language I failed to understand. Hours passed in the confusion. No one knew whom to contact. The house owner was abroad. No one in the building knew anything personal about Kruthika or her husband. Kruthika and her husband were found murdered in the house. The baby was nowhere to be seen. The police ransacked the house for any clue about them. By midnight they had found documents hidden in the loft and contacted dozens of people. Most people they called from Kruthika's husband's phone were customers who had hired his cab. Kruthika's call records showed only a couple of calls which were unanswered. Call records were asked from phone companies. From the documents, cops found their name as Shweta Gowda and Gopal Shekhar. Whole night the neighbors stood guard. It was like a vigil for the dead people whom we all saw but never knew. Someone suggested searching the name on facebook. Oh Facebook! Why did it not strike me before. I had seen people with her on facebook. Anyway the cops did explore her profile and found what they were looking for.

             By next morning, we all knew their story when Gopal's friend was identified.

Shweta and Gopal were both from affluent families but different caste and community. Gopal was an adopted son of wealthy businessman whereas Shweta was the eldest daughter of landowner and politician. Both had fallen in love and invited the wrath of their families. Shweta had been locked in the house for months before she had secretly eloped with Gopal. Shweta's father had resolved to kill Gopal for the dishonour he had brought into their family while Gopal's father had disowned him from his house and property. Having no financial support and fearing for their life, Gopal and Shweta stayed in a Tumkur village for 6 months. But cash was running short and Shweta had gotten pregnant. Gopal had a nanny who was very close to him and considered him her son. She came to help Shweta with her delivery. With the help of the friend, Gopal had taken the risk of setting up home in our area till Shweta delivered since it was quite far from the city centre. Since Gopal had not been very bright with studies, he could not get a job very quickly and again his friend managed for the cab which he drove to sustain. He only took rides near our area or outside the city limits. Never did he venture into his old neighborhood. He worked night shifts and also helped his friend with hotel business. Slowly their life was looking up.

               Gopal was cautious still of the fury of his father in law. He was powerful and did not mind twisting the law. Gopal did not like Shweta talking to people and nor did he talk to anyone apart from his trusted friend. He was scared of betrayal. Her father was a well connected man and Gopal worried he might get wind of their whereabouts and make true of his promise to get them separated.

               Gopal and his friend had taken a heavy loan for setting up a new hotel business in Mysore. Gopal and Shweta were all set to start a new life in Mysore and had even started looking for a new place to live in the new city. Perhaps the new found happiness had made them a little reckless. Someone must have spotted them and informed her father. That was all that was known. No one ever saw who exactly came to their house. No one heard a sound. Gopal and Shweta were shot with what is assumed to be a silent gun. Their bodies were found in the hall and was discovered by the watchman when he went to put on the lights in the corridor and found their door wide open.

               The CCTV was scanned multiple times, everyone in the building questioned endlessly, the watchmen grilled day in and day out but there was no hint. The money lender who gave loan for Gopal's business was also questions but Shweta's father remains to be prime suspect but there has been nothing to put him behind the bars.

                Gopal's nanny and Shweta's baby were not traced by the police. There are rumours that the nanny escaped with the baby. I hope that is true.

                I still hear the cries of the baby when I am home alone. It rings in my ear and I wonder where the baby is and how she is managing without Shweta. Or Kruthika as I knew her. The girl next door.

                                                          Image: Credit                   

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Twilight years

              Read the previous part HERE      

                         It was their first child. Rajeev left no stone unturned to make Meera comfortable. They even hired a maid to look after the house, much to the annoyance of his parents. Meera had a rough first trimester, staying in bed most days as she felt weak with the frequent bouts of nausea and vomiting. The thought of her child and Rajeev's tender care kept her going through the difficult days. They had so many dreams for their child and often kept talking about their new family.
                        She had hardly been into her second trimester when she had to be rushed to the hospital. She had gone pale, her body shivering and holding her abdomen as the sharp pain rose. Rajeev was heartbroken when he was told that Meera had miscarried. He could not even bare to look at her. She was inconsolable. She refused to talk or eat. Rajeev's parents found fault with all that she had done in four months that could have led to this. Rajeev thought it best to send her to her parent's house for some days.
                        There were speculations that Rajeev had left her. Meera's parents were worried for their daughter, who had become uninterested in life. She stood in her balcony all day, looking at nothing in particular. She blamed herself for the loss, of her child and Rajeev. Her thoughts killed her everyday, what could she have done better?
                        It took time for Rajeev to come to terms with the harsh truth. He had not yet revealed to Meera that they might never be able to have a child of their own. The doctor had told that her chances of conceiving again were slim and even if she did, it could endanger both her and the child. Before he could bring Meera back, he had to make his parents understand the situation. When he told them of Meera's medical condition, they straight away asked him to separate and marry another. What was the point of staying with her if she couldn't bear him a child. His mother tried to reason with him but he would not listen to any of their logic. As a last resort, he stopped talking to them and threatened to separate from them if they ever asked him to separate from Meera or taunt Meera. At last they relented and Rajeev could go to bring Meera back.
                        For months, Meera couldn't smile without feeling guilty. She worked extra hard at the house to occupy herself. Her in-laws hardly spoke to her. Even though she did her best to care for them, within the same year both her in-laws passed away. Her father-in-law passed away in sleep and shortly her mother-in-law had a massive heart attack while she was praying. Rajeev was a broken person. Within a year, he lost his unborn child and both his parents. It was now Meera's turn to care and make him happy again.

                       After a year of mourning, life was back on track for both of them. Rajeev soon got promoted and transferred to another city. They both moved to Assam for his posting. It was then that they discovered the joy of travelling. Once wanderlust bit them, there was no turning back. They saved up all year and went travelling during the summer. Meera started to write about her experiences. Rajeev encouraged her to perceive her hobbies now that she had lot of time on her hand. She taught kids in their locality to read. It brought her immense satisfaction to contribute into the lives of these kids. Taking her interests a little further, she asked Rajeev if she could teach underprivileged children for free. Rajeev was more than happy to let her do that. They saved up more to help in the education of children who belonged to poor families.

                    Meera had known it all along, when she lost her first child, that she wouldn't be able to have a child of her own again. It was maternal instinct for her. When Rajeev told her three years after that incident, she was prepared mentally. Maybe her purpose in life had always been to touch more lives. For years, they travelled in distant villages of India, discovering new people and traditions and always giving back to the betterment of the people. When they could afford, they took an international holiday, once in five years. It was rare in those day for middle class people to travel abroad, but they could manage it with their savings and investments. Her albums were full of photographs from their travelling. The next few decades of their life went about the same, with lots of adventures and new experiences. With time, both her parents passed away. The circle of relatives she was close to became smaller. It was just the two of them now. Rajeev had grown in his designation, and with every raise in the salary they had increased the money they kept aside to help the children Meera taught. Some children often turned to them for monetary help for higher education, and Meera would invest in their education, always keeping a check on their grades and counselling them if they needed any guidance.

                   When Rajeev retired, they decided to slow down, keeping in mind their deteriorating physical fitness. They now had all the time together. Since then, every morning she would snuggle close to him to wake him up and then get to the kitchen to get the tea ready. Then they would go for a stroll in the nearby park, meeting people and then going to their laughing club. Once back, she would set to make their breakfast and lunch. They would watch movies, keep talking about their life. On some days, students that she had once taught would come to meet her. She would feel proud of what they had become and insist that they stay for lunch or dinner. They were living a content life. And then one day, Rajeev too left for his heavenly abode.

                  It was just like any other day. They had their dinner early and lay in bed talking until they fell asleep. She was just not prepared to deal with her life alone the next day. Sometimes she wondered if it would have been any different had she had children. Would her house be filled with more laughter? Would she by now had grandchildren coming to meet her? Then she thought of the numerous friends in laughing club who had children who never came to visit and lived a life similar to hers, only they still worried about their children and felt sad.

                 She realised that in the twilight years, the only true company that we have is that of the spouse. With Rajeev's demise, that was taken away from her. A lone tear trickled down her eyes as she thought of him. Just then, the door bell rang. She opened the door to find one of her student. It has been long since someone had visited her. This student was a girl she had taught during her early years in Assam. She had got a job in Mumbai and had tracked Meera. Now in her forties, Meera could hardly recognize the girl until she called her Meera Mai. In her life, there was only one girl who had called her that, Ishita. Ishita was shocked to learn about Rajeev's death. She had corresponded with him over facebook some months back. Rajeev had known about her intention to move to Mumbai and meet them. Rajeev had kept it a secret from her.

                 Ishita had worked her way up the corporate and was now a businesswoman. She had lived for some years in the US where she had met another man who was once taught by Meera. It was then that she had the idea of setting up a trust for kids who were deprived of education because of financial condition. From Rajeev she had taken details of several students benefited by Meera and him. One of them had a plot in an area not more than a few kilometers from the main city. Another one offered to build make-shift classrooms. The idea kept increasing and soon they had the blue print of a school with residential facility. Many of the students Meera had taught, could make it to higher education or were themselves into teaching and volunteered to help in the trust. All they needed now was a principal. When she had told this to Rajeev, he had suggested that Meera would take it up. It was all to be kept under wraps until Meera's birthday that year, which happened to be the same day.

                Meera had forgotten all about her birthday. Ishita asked Meera to check her postbox. It was something Rajeev had planned long back. They hardly got any letters and Meera never checked it. It was Rajeev who would clear it. When she opened the mailbox, she saw an envelope. It had a letter in Rajeev's writing.

              "To the headmistress,

                Life is not about how many children you bring into the world, it is about about many children in the world you bring to life. Today, the children whose life you touched have come together to keep your work alive. Who said our names continued with our progeny? It continues with the deeds we do. Here's to the second innings! I know you will do a great job as a headmistress, bringing light to even more lives. I will always be with you in whatever you do.


                Meera could make out Rajeev had written this before he left her, but somehow he knew that she needed something to continue living. How right he was! He was always there with her, giving her hope when she lost all, making her smile when she did not see a reason to and now giving a purpose to her life when she had no will to live. She realised that in twilight years, all that you have is the love that you shared.

                              Image result for old age love
   Image courtesy

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Twilight years

                  Can anyone die of a heart break? Can you feel your soul leaving your body, the pain that you harbour in your heart turning into a physical one until it strangles your very being? Perhaps, the greatest test in life is not living but dying. As she went from one day to another, Meera waited for nothing but death. The burden of living was no longer bearable, not since she was left all alone.

                  She woke up each morning at 6, as she had done for 50 years of her life. Every morning, she opened her eyes, straining to adjust herself to the darkness around her. Involuntarily she reached to the other side of the bed, the one that was no longer warm with the person she loved. She hugged the pillow and curled for a few minutes, taking strength to live another day. Her knee ached as she climbed out of bed, another reminder of her age. She opened the drapes to let the sunlight in, set the tea for boiling on a slow flame and went to freshen herself. Once the tea was ready, she poured it into the single cup that was left from the porcelain set that had been her anniversary gift. The rest from the set had been broken by the man who insisted on washing the cups every morning. For some reason, after he was gone, Meera thought that this lone cup represented her. She was the last one left from the set of people who had once formed her family.
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                  She had all the time in the world now. Time stopped being a factor for anything in her life. As always, she made the breakfast and ate in silence. She put on her glasses and read the newspaper from page to page, folded it neatly back in place, went about getting her meal ready. By 9 am her chores for the day were done and all she did was waiting. Sometimes she sat in the balcony and dreamed of gone days. Some days when it was too sunny, she reread some of her favourite books. Some afternoons she opened the huge suitcase of albums that was now kept below her bed and spent all day reliving those moments. Once it was dark, she closed the windows, had an early supper and retired for the day, hoping that the next day she would be somewhere with her husband.

                It had been 3 months since Rajeev died peacefully in his sleep, with his beloved wife at his side. His wife, Meera, was blissfully unaware of the departure of her dear husband until the next morning when she snuggled close to him to wake him up and found his body cold. He sure was one lucky man to have died such a death. For her part, Meera had nothing against her life as well. Meera had lived a full life with her husband. Sometimes she thought she had nothing to blame except for being alive.

               Their life had been nothing but an endless love story that began with an arranged marriage. Meera was married off to Rajeev when she was all of 20 which, according to the times then, was quite late. Girls in her times were married by 16 and had a couple of kids by the time they hit 20. Meera had been quite fierce and put up a fight to complete her graduation. To her advantage, her father respected her wishes and let his only daughter do as she wished. When she finally completed her graduation, her father brought an alliance which she could not deny.

 There was nothing wrong with the guy. He was employed in a bank, which was a rarity and had a stable family. Meera, who read voraciously, had other ideas about the man of her dreams. She expected sparks to fly when she first met her husband, her heart to beat wildly at his smile and to fall head over heels in love with him at first sight. But alas! Nothing of that sort happened when he first came to see her. 

Dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, his hair parted neatly in the centre, Rajeev looked more like he was having a job interview! Meera was dressed in a white sari having a design of red roses, a long red blouse of her mother fitted to her size for the occasion and her hair done in a bun with a red rose tucked at the side. Her wheatish complexion was lightened with powder and her big, expressive eyes lined with kajal at the insistence of her over enthusiastic aunts. She looked nothing short of a diva, but Rajeev was not a fan of made up ladies. He wondered if he could spend a lifetime with a woman like that. Meera saw her dreams shatter when she glanced at Rajeev. Their horoscopes were matched and wedding dates were being discussed when Rajeev insisted on talking to Meera. It was unheard of in any marriage of that time; a man asking to talk to his to-be wife was seen as a sign of trouble. Once again, Meera's father took it upon him to break the norm and let the two of them talk. 

               Sitting in the veranda of Meera's house, Rajeev waited patiently as they were served a second cup of tea that was a pretext of the relatives to eavesdrop into the conversation. Once all of them were out of sight, Rajeev asked Meera directly if she was happy with the match. Meera was taken by surprise. She did not expect him to be so straight forward and ask about her wishes. It was for the elders to decide. Women had no say in these matters. No matter how liberally she was brought up, it was still thought that parents knew and did the best for their children when it came to matrimony. Because Rajeev had considered her wishes, he won her respect if not love. She had kept her gaze lowered all the while, unaccustomed to deal with such situation, but when he asked she looked into his eyes. In his eyes, she saw nothing but honest concern. A gentleness that she did not see while he was with others. Maybe this man was more than he let on. The thought made her feel better about her future. And what a day it had been! From despair to hope, she smiled and nodded. Rajeev, who was preoccupied with the layers on her skin, was dazzled by her smile. In her smile he found what he was looking for-genuineness. Maybe she was not all that she was letting on!

              They had a short courtship of 15 days from the time their wedding date was fixed. Unknown to their parents, they met every day. Every evening, after his bank closed, Rajeev would take the train to her stop and they would spend time together. There were no roses or love letters nor chocolates when he met her. But he would charm her with the little things that he remembered about her. Like he would know what kind of tea she preferred at her favourite shop, that she liked peanuts plain and not salted and her favourite colour was purple and not pink (although he found it all the same). She did not know how love felt, but she knew it was one of the things that made a man travel the other way after a hard day at work just to spend half an hour with someone. 

             Once they were married, she found herself struggling to adjust with the domestic responsibilities. Her in-laws were old and demanding. Her day started at 6 and she toiled all day with the household work. Making breakfast, getting Rajeev's tiffin ready, attending to her in laws who expected her to hand them whatever they wanted at their beck and call, getting lunch and dinner ready and making sure that the house was always spic and span was stressful. But with Rajeev's support she did it all. In the morning, before his parents woke up, Rajeev helped her clean the house. They quickly stole kisses when he left for work. During the day, the thought of him coming back to her would keep her happy. Every evening when he returned from work, he would take her out for a walk. They would stroll the neighbourhood garden talking about their day, sometimes having chaat at the nearby stall, or go for an ice cream when it was hot. She would feel refreshed when with him. Every Sunday he took her out. Sometimes it would be a matinee show, sometimes a dance program, some days he would take her to the bookstore and indulge her as she would be confused on what to buy and some rainy afternoons they would just laze in their room watching the rain. Rajeev's parents never disturbed them on Sundays and it was the best day of the week for Meera.

                                                                Image credit
            They were sailing the boat of marriage smoothly, until Meera got pregnant.

To be continued...

Read the next part HERE

Monday, June 5, 2017

All the time in this world

The child that stopped you on the stairs,
wanting to play catch with you,
you left hurriedly with a smile
making a promise for another day
Because you have all the time in this world

The drizzle in the evening and a hot cup of tea,
A moment to yourself all alone in the balcony
You put it aside, engrossed in networking,
You glance outside, wishing it rains tomorrow
Because you have all the time in this world

A phone call you have been putting away
Too busy to spare a few memories
A pleasant surprise in someone’s rather dull day
you could to it today, but you put it off yet again
Because you have all the time in this world

One day to another, you pass by
Letting go of things that make you happy
In hopes of a better chance at life
You let the one you have slip by
Because you have all the time in this world

Unsaid words, incomplete dreams
a whole world of emotions unexplored
You live the same day over and over
Keeping happiness at bay, just because you believe
You have all the time in this world!

Image result for time running out

P.S: Just some abstract thoughts I had today. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Kid me not

                She closed the door quietly behind her, tip toeing her way into the house and into the washroom. In her bag she hid the small kit that she had purchased on her way back from work. Although the instruction was to wait until early morning, she couldn't hold on and broke open the kit. She prayed hard before she saw it. Two lines, one faint against the dark one. It had to be the dreaded line. She was pregnant!

                She disposed the kit before she heard the door click. Her husband had turned home unexpectedly early. She looked like she had seen a ghost. Her pale face and fatigued body at once concerned him. He had been telling her to slow down at work. After all, she was just 26. She did not have to burn herself to achieve anything. Together, they could manage the house conveniently and she did not have to strive so hard for a promotion. But for her, it was not about the "have", it was about "want". She wanted to excel at her work, to be looked up to by her coworkers, to be acknowledged in the corporate world and more than anything, she wanted to feel accomplished. Setting up a house and bring up a child was not her idea of accomplishment. She never put down women who gave up full time jobs to look after their kids, but she was not made for that. She couldn't hold a conversation involving recipes, vegetables or child behavior. She was the kind who could grab attention with her knowledge of world affairs, something which amused male relatives from their family and was beyond comprehension of the women she knew. She gelled up better with males as she found it easy to talk to them and on par with the topics they discussed.

              She went up to him to give him a quick hug. She knew he would realize that something was off with her. She did not want to hide the news from him, but she knew very well what his reaction would be. He would be delighted! He would want her to continue this pregnancy and focus all his attention on their family. He had no issues with her working, but she feared the equation would change once a baby would come into picture. For this reason, she had always been cautious, never giving in to moments. But who was she kidding, nothing is 100% safe. She went into the kitchen and started to get the meal ready. She would think about the situation when she the time to herself.

             She lay next to her husband as he watched TV after dinner, not really focusing on anything but simply trying to acknowledge the fact that she was not alone. She could never be alone to make this decision, there was a life already inside her, sitting snugly without judging her. She turned over, quietly calculating how long it had been. Long after her husband dozed off, she kept staring at the ceiling, afraid that the life inside her would give out the secret she was holding on to.

              The next morning, she called in sick to work. Her husband insisted they go to a doctor but she made him go off to work. She just needed some rest and promised him to go to doctor if she didn't feel any better. Once she was sure he reached his office, she got ready to visit the clinic.

             Even though she had made up her mind the last night, she was constantly battling her conscience. It was tough being a woman! She was not ready to commit herself completely to another person who would depend on her. On the other hand, a feeling of unease tucked at her, almost making her question the rationale of her action. Did she really want to give up a part of herself? No, no she was not falling into this trap. She had to be more practical than that. It was a life long responsibility which, no matter how much she shared with her husband, would weigh 24X7 on her.

             She went through the procedure in a detached manner. The doctor confirmed that she was 5 weeks into pregnancy, tried to counsel her into keeping it, told her the options she could have and she patiently sat through the entire thing. At the end of it, she booked her abortion for the day after. Once outside the clinic, she felt the  moistness in her eyes. The maternal instincts had kicked in and she considered going back and cancelling the appointment, but she walked on.

             She coiled on her bed, unknowingly keeping a hand on her belly. She cried to herself. If she told her husband about it, he would see a murderer in her. A woman incapable of loving her own child. Why was it so difficult to understand a woman who did not want a child? It wasn't her choice to be born as a woman but it was her choice to not bear a child right now. Why was it unacceptable to people when a woman chose not to carry on her biological role? Was she just a womb? What about her ambitions and dreams?

            That evening while she was sorting her laundry, she had a terrible ache at the bottom of her stomach. She shouted out in pain. Her husband who was busy on the phone, came rushing to find her unable to move. It was only later that he saw the blood. They rushed to the nearby hospital where they were told that she had miscarried. It took a while for her husband to take in this fact. She was inconsolable. She did not know what was more heartbreaking, the disappointment on her husband's face or the fate of her unborn child.

            The kid she did not want, was perhaps aware of his destiny. Maybe, he too was not ready for the kind of end that his mother had planned for him or maybe he was the one who understood the plight of his mother. He decided to leave, like an unwanted guest who had made a brief entry into his mother's life. She felt guilty of keeping her husband in the dark, who was trying his best to console her, unaware of what her intentions had been. Maybe, it was best for them to keep the facade on. Her kid had carried the secret with him.