Saturday, July 30, 2016

Daund – A Railway Junction

Monsoon lasted a little over three months in Daund – a small railway junction. Daund was a quaint little taluka which no one visited unless posted forcefully by the government. Daund, back in the 1920s was known to not many, but it sure did have all the salient features required for a countryside vacationing. It had lush green landscapes spread as far as the eyes could see, three tiny villages in the north mostly made up of bamboos and sticks covered with hay all around. There was a humble school, The Shalimar Certified High School, consisting of mere two rooms – in one room neat benches and desks were arranged and the other room the students were made to sit down on the floors covered with worn out rugs.

The two adjoining dilapidated rooms on the extreme east of the taluka were converted out to be The Shalimar Certified High School. There ran a pair of railway tracks cutting the whole taluka into two halves – North and South; only one train carrying coal would pass every afternoon steaming its dark smoke out whilst whistling thunderously to declare its arrival.  

The south of the tracks was what Daund was famous for – The Railways’ Quarters. Those were built by the British way back in the second decade of the twentieth century. It was as if a golden necklace was put on the chest of the map of Daund. The quarters spanned from one corner to the other and was sorted systematically with allocations of bungalows and apartments, for the officers, neatly placed in the better end of the south zone and the humongous chawls for the labor class which constituted for eighty percent of the quarters. The only egalitarian thing about that colony were the walls – they were cobblestones embedded in mortar – and the cobbled streets giving out dark black against a green canvas.  

In 1930, Richard Brown, the station master, was posted to Daund from Bombay as soon as he had arrived after his wedding from England to resume his duties along with his wife. One year later, Ricky came into existence. Richard worked harder and harder for the first three years so as to get a transfer to a better city or, even better, to England. But as luck had it, no such transfers came his way and he resorted to alcohol. As Daund was an emerging junction the British concentrated a strong youth force there.

Ricky grew among his Indian counterparts and a few fellows of his own kind – stuck in a brown land boring white color. Ricky often wondered why his last name wasn’t Andrews or Smith like the other kids or even Patil or Kulkarni like the Indian kids, but he had made peace with his name assuring himself of its temporary nature and that it would be changed once he flew back to England. When Ricky came of schooling age, he was naturally put into the only school available.

There were two nuns, from London, who took classes from grade 1 – 10 for all the white students and would take only English subject for the Indian students. Ricky was better than his Indian counterpart in English and would try to teach them and make them speak in it and in return, knowingly , unknowingly was learning their local language – Marathi.

As the years passed and Rick became a teenager, he had developed into a tall boy with a fluent British accent along with a fluent Marathi. He left Daund rather reluctantly and went to London to pursue his further studies, unlike his father who couldn’t afford to leave his job. Against his wishes, he was sent to London as his father had now started believing that once one is stuck in Daund, it will absorb one for the rest of his life in the lands of absolutely nothing and into the perpetual nothingness. The same shouldn’t happen with Ricky, so he was sent. Ricky thought otherwise.

Ricky grew up quickly and became an automobile engineer, took up a job, married a girl, had children and finally settled down in London. And thus the life went on.

It was 2000, the beginning of the third millennium, wasn’t so great for Ricky Brown. He was an early septuagenarian who had lost his parents and wife and his children weren’t living with him in his house. As the beginning of the new millennium drew closer he felt severe pain in his left shoulder and chest area whilst shopping for the New Year presents for his children in the market and collapsed. When he could make sense of things; he realized he was put into a hospital for a cardiac attack. As he looked around with his feeble vision, he could see his children and grandchildren around him. He looked past the shoulders of one of his grandchildren to notice a huge semi-transparent glass fitted window overlooking the green trees and lawn of the hospital.

He had been there for four days, after everyone had gone, with no nurses to bug him he rested himself in a chair so as to enjoy the outside view through the glass. London was pouring down heavily that afternoon. His old, tired eyes tried following the trickles of water and the patterns formed on the glass before they disappeared after following down. He tried keeping track of every drop until it reached down and he couldn’t bend his neck any further. Amidst doing this and the drenched greenery outside him, he went back to the green canvases of his Railways’ quarters.

Many questions came to his mind raising a big “If” in his journey down the memory lane. He cherished his old colony, especially in the monsoon. The big bungalow he grew up in. How he walked back home from his school along with his friends John Andrews and Ray Smith? He even wondered what they were doing in life or were they even alive. He remembered all those chawls he would cross to reach home from school. The crevices on the cobbled floor with running water and racing with them. He remembered the scent of Daund and suddenly remembered his parents’ faces. ‘God! Dad was so huge and mom so delicate.’ His marriage was the only occasion that his parents visited him and the last time he ever saw them. He hated himself for not even making time to go to their funerals. Why did he not ask them to move in with him in his London apartment?

He remembered about Mahesh, Ravi, and Rohit whom he taught English and learnt their language. They were his only Indian friends. There were times all five of them would cross the tracks or run along the tracks or play with the stones kept between the tracks. The long wait with berries and mangoes in hands waiting for the only locomotive that passed there and chasing it at full speed until the legs gave in.

There stood a small shop across the tracks in desolation. This shop when looked closely was a shop-cum-house with a counter in front and a bed for one at the rear. There lived Ramu kaka who would only appear smoking bidis.  The villagers called him fool and a dangerous man so no child ever dared to go and talk to him. Even Rick and his friends would keep a safe distance. Whenever they used to wait for long hours for the locomotive to pass steaming gas out, Rick would always wonder about why Ramu kaka kept the shop so far from the main market? Why did he live alone? It suddenly struck him that he didn’t even know what did he sell; never did he enquire. Most of all he was answerless of the fact that why everyone was so scared of him and why in the world did he smoke so many bidis? ‘If only I had been more of a conversation striker I would have known him well.’

Ricked cursed himself for being an introvert and today was the day of all he wished he were more of an extrovert. Had he been an extrovert then, he wondered, he would have mingled with so many families who were local there. Taken part in local festivals, which nevertheless he did, but just with more sense of understanding. He would have also mingled with other Christian British families and maybe had been better friends with Mary, his childhood neighbor, and classmate. Suddenly, he remembered a dove like face, fairer than the usual, something cleaner from the lot present but not white – Sandhya.

Sandhya was a daughter of one of the Indian parents who resided in the apartments. She had moved in with her family from Calcutta when Ricky was in grade 8th. He remembered how kind she was to him and helpful as well; when he would loaf around with his useless friends she would sit at home and finish his chores without him asking for them. He wished if he were a more expressing, then the last time, before he was to leave Daund for good he could have made their last meet, under the tracks bridge, memorable for both of them. How stupid was I? He wondered where did the dupatta go that she gifted him as his sendoff present as she had nothing to offer him but the very piece of cloth which left the shape of her breasts open. A dress without a dupatta was frowned upon back then. She loved me! I wonder whether she is still in Daund or left for Calcutta. Would she be missing me, still?

Dusk had set in, a knock on the door broke Ricky’s reverie and as he turned around wiping off his tears he saw his two sweet grandchildren through the glass of the door. Insinuating them to come inside he said ‘Aat ya.’ The bewildered children asked, 'What?'

‘Ah! Marathi. I knew it! You are still there somewhere in me even when all left me or I left them.’ Ricky murmured to himself and laughed loudly with more tears rolling down his eyes.   

Eventually, Ricky Brown died a brown dead, apparently, his last name never wore off.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Booth

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. 

"Ten, nine, eight, seven... what do we do now? “He is looking for us,” I whispered to her. “In no time he will be onto our door… and what if he messes up with the booth? What will happen to us…?” I stopped mid-way trying to hold her who just fainted in my arms. The ten seconds were over and the booth was accessed. First she fainted and then I went all getting dizzy and giddy.  

I believe the history that is known to the human-kind, isn’t accurate. There is more to that than just finding facts and writing it; there are the main leads, whom the world knows, then there are the supporters, who supports the lead. There is also a special team, which tries to fit the happening as per the written history; be it five thousand years back.   

Ria, was five years younger to me. My parents said, which I believed incredulously, that she was my birthday present, since we shared the same birthdates. She wasn’t a normal kid, she had big brown owl-like eyes which periodically were dug into pages of unfathomable Math-Science books. She wanted to make friends but couldn’t dare to approach and no one approached her taking her to be a weirdo, leaving her with me as her only and best friend.    

The feeling of being at home was a little different for both of us as unlike other children, we only had our father to us. Our mother couldn’t make it after Ria’s birth, the sole reason for my father to hate Ria. Post mother’s death, dad, albeit, didn’t get another wife for him and a step mother for us but got us an array of tantrums thrown at us post his one-bottle-down inebriated state. Our Grandparents brought us up, especially our grandmother, as grandfather also believed in on the misfortune brought upon our family by Ria, and hence loathed her. Poor Ria, could never reckon what was that she had done wrong, and often, would open up in my arms weeping her eyes out for the day-to-day injustice done to her. “Am I really that bad? What have I done so bad to face such brunt of loveless upbringing?” All I could say, to soothe her, was that I loved her the most in the world and would do anything to protect her, but I was as timid as a rat and couldn’t stop the atrocities done against her.  
When Ria turned thirteen, one month later, our grandparents expired due of an accident on their pilgrimage. It furthermore pushed Ria into a corner of the house making a deep bond with her books. She was much ahead of me and even my seniors in terms of theoretical knowledge and its applications. I, often, would take her help to solve Mathematical problems. The school, with special request and permissions got her eligible for class 12th-Science at the mere age of fourteen; which she aced. I knew she could have even aced class 15th!, after all she was our school’s super kid.  
“They all are using you, don’t you see that?” I asked. I always felt bad that she only had phonies around her who, only for their academic gains, would approach her and then, forget her. “I know! At least this way I get someone to talk to other than you, and for how long can one take your ceaseless boring lectures.” She would always mock making some excuses. I could feel, past her appearance she was very lonely and broken.   

When I moved out, to pursue MBA, at 21, to a different city, she had also graduated in Mathematics and Physics; only at 16. Time and situation got us closer and we knew each and everything about each other. I had also taken-up self-defense classes to protect her from the world. I made myself strong; stronger!    

We got each other’s back: she helped me with academics and I didn’t let her feel alone and left out.  
Ria, meanwhile, had started blogging on various applications and theories of sciences. As fate had it, she got her hard work payed of, firstly, by the monetization of her blog and secondly, by selling it to a publisher. Before I could even grab a job she had become a multi-millionaire. Nothing about which was broken to our drunkard dad, who, after the loss of his parents, had stopped working also. He pampered me as much as he hated her. Thus, he never took any interests in her achievements and never interfered in her life.  
As a netizen: incessantly blogging and reading others’ blog Ria had come across a special blog of a secret team written in mind-twisting riddles, which Ria deciphered and fell for its very existence. She searched a few websites regarding the same and enrolled for it, only to know that it was some 2000 odd kilometers and a trek of four days away.  

I got placed as a sales trainee in a big organization post MBA. It was over two years and six months that I was working for this organization, uninterested, trying to hit some irrational targets set by my boss just to have my pockets filled. Over these years, I got so engrossed in the work that I couldn’t give much time to Ria, who had now became a self-sufficient, well know blogger-cum-author. She had left home, for which my father didn’t mind at all, and was putting up on the outskirts of Gangtok, Sikkim. She would do her writing business from there and would earn her livelihood. We both were doing well in life as oppose to our father who had become his own nemesis.   

I had not met Ria, for over two years, after that trek which she took in search of something, reading from an anonymous blog. She had turned spiritual; joined a fraternity of a few Buddhists monks, deep into the woods of Kangchenjunga, practicing tantrism in a lair. Ever since she stepped out, she never returned; not even on our birthdays. I implored her to come, but she would gently decline it; even I couldn’t go visit her as I had to look after father.   

“These are his last days… you got to be home ASAP!” I set a ruse, partly true, to call her back home under the pretext of father’s inability to make it any further because of his ever deteriorating health. His health was deteriorating due to incessant drinking habits but he wasn’t going anywhere, at least not this sooner. Ria, had always wanted to get his attention and love and was ready to go to any extent to please him. I knew only this news could get her. The ruse hit the bull’seye. Ria, initially furious and later thawed, was happy to see me and heartbroken to the unfazed hatred showered from her father. She was nothing like before except for her big eyes, now behind big spectacles. She had turned into a big, beautiful woman with hilly weather glistening her skin and slope making her slender. Now, that I had hold of her I pushed and probed her to the extent to which she disclosed all her secrets. 

‘What...? That’s impossible!” was my first response to her. After a lot of negation and persuasion and also by being piqued rightly, she said, “I’m breaking many rules by involving you into this. It’s a matter of life and death and not a child’s play. We over there correct history. One can assume a body of any living being in the history, mostly animals, and control their minds to set the wrong right. One can, whilst on a travel, can have the vision to look back at our booths as well.”    

“Who gave you all the permission to do all these and why do you all think the history needs to be corrected. Just let it flow like a wild river.”  

“A man is his own nemesis; if not corrected then humans won’t exist; you and I wouldn’t exist. Evil would have triumphed and the Good ones would have long gone without any trace in the history. I had read about it only until I stumbled upon that blog that day, deciphered it and took that trek to change my life, forever! Worry not brother, it is an ancient practice, done in a secret group spread across the globe, across the time zones and your sister is a proud member of it.” She said winking at me.   

“How do you judge who is evil and who is not.” I asked incredulously.  

“We go back in time, study who is closest to that particular subject and incarnate ourselves into that subject. Mostly, these subjects are their pets… and set the events as per our speculated written-history.”   

I persuaded her to show me, to which she reluctantly agreed. She made me make a promise of its secrecy until I die. I readily accepted.   

Meanwhile, father’s health was getting worse and he needed someone to manhandle him. Poor Ria, did all his chores only to get more hatred spewed over her.  It took us 9 days to build the whole setup; we called it ‘Booth’ as it looked like one. She had warned me that no one needs to disturb the booth once we were teleported or else would get stuck with our bodies in the booth lying lifeless. Taking father’s immobility for granted, we teleported ourselves.   
The feel of seeing my soul teleport, travel at a speed through a space of varied colors with no air, pressure, senses working; leaving a feast, for the eyes, of these vibrant colors heaving and passing by and reaching the destination in a fraction of second. My first time travel with my sister was to the era of King Akbar, incarnating in his Macaws. We were freely flying in his humongous palace, I was so electrified to see this era. Humans were so different then. Their dress sense, the language, the food and almost everything was different.   

Ria, was happy to see me so amazed and awe-struck with this kind of sorcery, but little did I know that time travelling was an uncomprehending science. She flew me through the markets, cities and the forest. We saw the real Akbar, Birbal and many others. The beautiful queen Jodha, captivated me by her beauty. We spent a happy weekend there and got back home in our real avatars.   
We kept taking such weekend-vacations across different eras embracing the real history.  

One Saturday, we had teleported to 16th December, 1773 to attend The Boston Tea Party. Ria in a cat and I in a dog, happily wagging my tail. “We run through a strict code of conduct.” Ria told me with a stern face when I asked her for how to make the booth and set the exact time. “I’ve already broken a lot of rules for you. I can’t break anymore. It’s not just the happy vacations that we take; we do some serious work. We match history.”   

“Rather than watching and correcting it, why don’t you just tell the historians about the real facts?”  
“Rules! We can’t let anyone use these powers. Humans are full of greed and you can’t imagine the amount of damage caused to the world if it falls in the wrong hands.”   
“…hmmm, so, what have you-all done?”   

“We have helped King Akbar; a colleague of mine was into one of his parrots, perched on his shoulder, in a public rally, took an arrow dipped in poison, coming from an ambushed attack, for the King. Hence, Akbar loves Parrots the most. Another colleague got into Chetak, the famous horse of Maharana Pratap, who saved him on the battlefield when wounded. A few have met and shown the right paths to the eminent scientists and inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and more. I was Cleopatra’s favorite cat and persuaded her to minimize the massacre.”    “…and what about the common people?”  

“We do cater to them as well. They just thank their fortune or their gods. Humans!” As we were enjoying the Boston Tea Party, I saw a vision of my father approaching our room to seek for some help. I looked at my watch on the bed, to fathom why he was approaching. Unlocking the door only to see us lying lifeless there in the booth, he ran towards me and disturbed the whole system leaving both of us stuck in 1773.    

Thinking we’re dead, aghast with heavy heart, he called for relatives and for the last rites to be performed. We had only seven days to return into our bodies before being burnt into ashes. Now, our souls were neither in our body nor in the animals’. I panicked!  

Ria, as always, knew all the hacks. She arranged for a co-traveler from Sikkim through telepathy, which I was not aware of hitherto. That guy, an expert, angry with Ria, took around 6 days to build a booth in 1773. Fortunately, for us, we managed to get back into our bodies before being burnt. Thousands of questions were raised to as when and how it happened. I said we did drugs.  

Ria had to face the brunt of curses and accuses for trying to killing me also. Once, when everything was sorted within the family, she was left with nowhere to go as she had broken the rules and was banished from the fraternity.  

 “You will have to do this for me? I beseeched this of you. I’ve had enough and can’t take it anymore.” Ria implored for the unthinkable with those big brown eyes, looking at me expectantly, fully moist.   

We agreed upon a lair and built a booth. She left to incarnate in a parrot, forever, of an one-eye-patched-pirate, captain of a ship, in Middle-east Asia in 7th century who loved his parrot more than his loot.  

I was heartbroken but promised to protect her lair forever. I didn’t stop her from leaving me, forever, as she had lost everything in her life, lived a loveless life. The fraternity has also banished her. I let her go only to start it afresh, be it in any form.  One month later I was brooding over whether today, the history that we study, the mind-boggling twists and turns in the past which gets us agape, the fortunate things that we come across, some good-signs that we see and believe could be a part of science. We never know who is playing it for us, we must keep our eyes and ears open; signals are coming. They’re everywhere. Are they whom we call gods? I told myself, “Always remember there is a secret team!”     

-Sagar Ghadge

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Snobbish Doll

“…no, now, that’s mine!” Maya yelped at Shushma whilst snatching that latest Barbie model from the embrace of her best-friend. It was gifted to Shushma by her parents on their last visit. A lot of fight and ordeal went into over the possession of that doll; which finally ended up in the tight embrace of Maya, ten, a girl much like Shushma, but narcissist. Shushma gave-in as Maya was stronger and taller and therewas no way, at least not now, that she could have won her precious doll back.
A Snobbish Doll
Shushma, much in a disheveled form, made a note in her mind, as now it was futile fighting over the doll, of complaining it to her parents the next time they come over to see her; and now, once she gets to the hostel she would complain to Mrs. Warden.

“Now, I’m the mother!” Maya’s face showed the pride of victory and no regret. She shocked the very soul of Shushma who from the past week had started raising up her little doll as her beloved daughter. Nothing had broken her this much, not even her father’s scolding. She was aghast by this sudden change of motherhood that this little 10 year old girl couldn’t comprehend; felt a heavy gas squabble pushing down her throat and then through chest in the most strenuous way she had hitherto, leaving her in tremendous pain. Shushma couldn’t hold back her tears; whilst noting the things to do after getting back to hostel from this secret haven of theirs, an old fishing circle neatly placed in the middle of a wooden bridge above a meandering river separating two land-masses, which was no more than a hell to her. She brought herself up to spew a few sentences full of curses, shocking Maya to her very spine.

“I did so much… I shared everything, we could’ve played with this one too, but guess what, I’m done with you as you’ll never change. You are plain selfish and self-centered; learn to share. Mostly learn to deal with other’s happiness. You can keep this doll, but I curse you that despite having everything you won’t be contented ever. You’ll be full of insecurities. You won’t find happiness.”    

Maya, now even more furious, went straight and hit her. Even, Shushma did not hold back and brawled with full strength on the bridge over the mighty river. Their bout got them on the edge of the bridge, with Maya being pushed up to the railing of the bridge, bending backwards. Shushma, went for a big blow, right for Maya’s face, with all the adrenaline rush gathered whilst taking her arm right behind her shoulder to gain maximum power. She punched; Maya, courtesy her reflexes, managed to stoop in time making Shushma miss her shot and lean forward straight above the railing and eventually going off-balance and falling in the river.

Maya, twenty years later, was a practicing psychiatrist in the heart of Banglore. She married Ravi, an orthopedic and an ex-classmate. They shared a few common classes in college, where, Ravi won her heart; married her after three years of completion of their courses. Maya couldn’t make many friends, mostly because of her nature, but she had two friends to her credit: Ravi and Sanjay. Ravi, the most handsome guy in the college, wanted to win her heart and Sanjay was Ravi’s best friend and did whatever Ravi did or asked for. Those three spent their whole college tenure together.

Maya, post the accident with Shushma, was left with an indelible mark on her mind. At times she felt haunted by Shushma and her final words. Maya lied to the authorities about the accident and also kept the possession of the doll. Later, she was moved to a different hostel in a different city. Growing up made her forget the past and move on, but Maya never changed, at least for her nature. She became demanding, craving and vying for the best by any means. She would often store much of her prized possessions. She couldn’t stand anyone in possession of anything better than that of hers. She grew self-obsessed and snobbish, but also tall, slender and enchantingly beautiful.

“Surprise…!” barged in a happy Ravi with Sanjay on his tail.  It was their 5th marriage anniversary. Maya was overwhelmed with joy like she always had. He had again swept the floor beneath her feet and made her fall head over heels in love with him. Ravi made her life beautiful by providing her with everything she’d asked, needed or desired. He also got her social life, which was not possible for her because of her otherwise behavior. He never let the love die by the perpetual surprises and gestures which delighted her. Other women envied her for such a perfect lover, which made Maya happy. He was an ideal lover!

Maya seldom returned any gestures except for a smile, hug, kiss or passionate love making.

Ravi had arranged a small party at home with close-ones. The evening went blissfully with chatting, drinking, munching, cake-cutting, and dancing to soothing, romantic music in the background. Everything went perfect, still Maya couldn’t sleep post party. She was brooding over in the balcony after Ravi was asleep. Something had pinched her deep, right there in the party. Something YOUNG!

She had lost her focus and mind, as well. She observed Ravi for some time, as to study him.

He is perfect. He loves me. I don’t think he can do this. Definitely not to me. I’m just losing my mind. He loves me!

Taking the advantage of time, as Ravi was asleep, she slipped into his phone and started gathering evidence. She often checked his mobile-phone without his knowledge, this time she felt ashamed, but couldn’t control the urge to lighten her mind and have a sweet slumber. What she saw got her eyes more widened and kept her up the whole night!

The next morning, Maya wasn’t herself, she was in pain. Ravi could see the change but didn’t confront her as they both had to rush for work. Maya’s behavior changed a lot she started keeping to herself and was always found brooding over about something. She didn’t have any close friends to talk to. She didn’t know how to confront Ravi or whether whatever she was inferring was true? Her incessant thinking was killing her.

“What’s wrong, babe? Rough day?” Ravi would ask and show concern but she would only avoid by saying work pressure. He often suggested her to take a leave and plan a small vacation with him, she averted that as well. Later that party night, she kept slipping into his phone repeatedly and read all the chatting; especially of a particular person.

I need to know the answers. This feeling is killing me. It’s been weeks now. The chatting is not stopping. Has he got her? Their chatting seemed quite casual though, or were they flirting? They make fun of each other, quite often. Those nicknames… God! I must put an end to this. I’ll make Sanjay speak on this, he must have all the answers. Tomorrow!

‘What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?' Maya's patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.

Sanjay knew that she was serious. 'Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I'd say.'

'Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .' she rolled her eyes in disgust. 'That's what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.’

Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.' She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, 'Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?'

‘Oh, God! Maya! Don’t be a child. You know how much he loves you. How can you even infer this that too just from a chat?’

‘That day, when she stepped-in in the house for the party, I knew they two shared some kind of chemistry. Their dance had flair. She was so beautiful, energetic, friendly and YOUNG! Ravi must be feeling like a champion amongst his peers for doing such a beautiful trophy, doesn’t he?’

‘Maya, she’s his apprentice, he is her teacher. That’s the only chemistry they’ve. Also, she took your permission to take him from you and insisted him to dance, didn’t she? Although, all the attributes about her are true but I can assure you that Ravi is not into any women but you.’

‘Oh, you’d only take his side and defend your best-friend. I’m only your best-friend’s wife, after all!’ Saying this she left with trickles of tears falling down.

Later, Maya made Sanjay promise on the secrecy of the conversation they had. One week later, Sanjay broke his promise.

Ravi, already worried over the change of Maya’s behavior, had been trying hard to cheer her up. All his actions proved futile. After Sanjay’s disclosure, Ravi meticulously made sure to minimize the chatting or to delete and edit the chat from the day. Ravi showered even more love, care and affection but all in vain, as for Maya, she only perceived it for a deceit to overshadow his extra-marital affair. The more he showered love, the more she got pushed towards the edge.

Weeks passed. Months passed. Ravi had tried everything to cheer Maya, but she didn’t budge. It only made things worse between them. They hadn’t made love to each other or even touched. The atmosphere had gotten weird. She hardly spoke with him. She was deeply sunk into her imaginary world of them making love, laughing, walking hand-in-hand and living a married life and every single thought of it made her more lifeless.

Maya had realized that the seed of doubt was ever growing into a humongous tree, because of which she hadn’t been eating, sleeping, bathing regularly; she had gotten herself thinner and paler. She had resigned from work and would lay in a corner or in the balcony like a dead furniture for whole day. Weeks!

‘…but I can’t stop thinking of you two when you’re at work,’ Maya would always put this up as defense to silence Ravi who had nothing left to prove that he was not guilty. Having tried everything and also not wanting to end the marriage, they both agreed on changing the city, as a measure to solve the problem. 

They agreed upon Mumbai. Soon, the process of relocating began. Finally, they were talking to each other, restricted to shifting.

One day, while packing stuff, alone at home, Maya went into her store room to ascertain if anything of importance that they needed to shift to the new home is not left behind. She came across a box labeled ‘Childhood’. Much delighted she opened it and went through her old stuff only to come across an old, shabby doll.

That doll!

–Sagar Ghadge


Friday, September 11, 2015

A White Trek - Part 1

“Only last peg is remaining,’’ announced Akshay, like a class-representative does in a class, to everyone present in that hut made-up of special wood on top of one of highest peaks in the Himalayas – Kalatop sanctuary. We all were parched on the heap of sleeping bags, provided to us by the trek guides, drinking the regular Old-Monk rum to tackle the winter from within; at least we thought so. We were in a small paradise. Paradise not because it was amidst the most enthralling places on earth but because there were no mobile network or internet connections due to which my friends were rendezvousing, drinking cheerfully and not the otherwise.

The HUT!
At 2 o’clock, it was -14 degrees outside and we, without heater or any sort of heat providing devices, were enjoying the kick of our beloved rum to the tunes of the frosty, nail-biting night. The night first of its kind for me as well as for everyone with me.

“That’s life!’’ yelled Abhijeet, the only sober guy amongst us who lost his teetotaler’s title on the eve of 31st night. “This is why I implored everyone to accompany us here, but those rats won’t dare to bunk…”
“Now see, what they are missing,” said Lokesh, standing up adjusting his black jacket above a thick protection of thermals, a T shirt, a sweater, pretty much the pattern followed by all, passively high as he couldn’t drink because it was somvar and since he fasted on somvars. He asked for the lighter, which had gone deep within the crevices of the sleeping bags

Ah! Here, take it,’’ Hemant stepped forward lighting the lighter-up to light the cigarette held tightly between Lokesh’s lips. We adhered to one rule - One cigarette at a time. We had to do that as it was dead chilly out and we couldn’t keep the “only” window open; and more than one cigarette meant too much of smoke within the hut of zero ventilation.  He puffed-out like a star; smoking out a ring in the end.   
Salla, we needed more daroo, didn’t we?” I cried. “Bloody buddy, you are never satisfied, are you?’’ mocked Pratik.  “No Pratik, Sagar is right, only two khambas, bottles are not suffice, were never enough!” said Yadav.  Yadav, for most cases was taken for granted by many in the group. It would happen exactly opposite of what he predicted. He was our black cat; whom we could control. Whatever be the case he was a good leader and always had his things done from us. “Look at me I’m still sober and in senses. Two is nothing,” said a wobbling Akshay whilst getting up.

“Guys, just take a moment and think of where we’ve come and through so much of hurdles and uncertainties we have made it here," said the ever quiet Hemant, who wasn’t so much quite after two pegs. Now, he has had way more than two and his talking abilities had just multiplied with each extra peg he had.

I pondered for some time, fully inebriated, for once Yadav and Hemant were making sense. Firstly, which mattered most, was that we were out of daaru and secondly, Yes! We had made it big! To make it so far was no less than a dream for a regular, fulltime MBA doer. It just wasn’t possible to bunk all that lectures that too for seven days, which start immediately after the semesters and even worse was to make it in time to attend the transition-crappy-course. Nevertheless, we all dared, even the CR, most trepidatiously jumped into this well of fun and endless excitement with us.

We all were a bunch of mix group ranging from the soft Lokesh to tough Hemant, smart Abhi, athletic Pratik, incredulous Yadav, representative Akshay and I. We had taken a train, a sleeper class, to Chandigarh on 25th of December post our first semester. Our journey was planned for seven days and with god’s grace it lasted for seven days. There were many epic, lifetime memorable events that took place in that trip but the one I’m going to narrate is the kind of an event that only takes place in Hollywood movies, forget Bollywood movies for that matter.

The main motto of our trip was to let loose and have fun. We made sure we drank each night; followed by dancing to Bollywood numbers. We stayed true to our motto and drank even while travelling in trains or in hired Xylo. Our tickets were till Chandigarh, but we got down at Ambla due to a sudden change in plans. Earlier in the morning in the Northern plains of Uttar Pradesh, we have had experienced the chills in the weather as well as the blinding fog. Thus, we’ve had anticipated dense fog and even colder weather. As we got down at Ambala, we were embraced by the evening chills and fog of the Northern plains. I noticed, the station was neither crowded nor deserted and people wore eclectic types of warmers to keep themselves warm. As we stepped out of station there were tea stalls, pan-wallas, and the most were the ones selling warmers. Ambala station road was very crowded and one could only see a silhouette of a person standing at a distance, such was the dense fog prevailing there.

Fast-forwarding to the main event, we hired a Mahindra Xylo, manned by Mr. Goldie Singh., a hash smoker – Malana cream. We went places from Kangra, to Dharmashala, Dalhousie. We visited temples, had great food, clicked scores of pictures, enjoyed the winter and obviously, drank the whole time. Finally, at Dalhousie we came across extreme cold, no fog and thick snow. We were all contented. For a Mumbai local, he would kill a thousand to get a glimpse of snow clad mountains; this was even bigger and better, like in the arms of those mountains. Like white-mountain mother soothing us by taking us in her arms and gently tapping on our heads, with our heads resting on her bosoms. Heavenly!

 Dalhousie captivated our minds, hearts, souls and bodies. I was particularly more enchanted by the beauty of this heaven. It had mesmerized me by its own way. If one wanted more and was not satisfied with the beatific beauty of Dalhousie, then Dalhousie had a secret heaven, only to suffice those who wanted a little more from life; and it sure does deliver it. It was a trek of 4 hours to the secret place of Kalatop sanctuary, up in the white forest.

For us, now, we wanted more. We all, after a prolonged discussion and daroo, slept with the idea of doing that trek in the morning. We did so, too. When we reached there, the entrance, it was full of snow and some tourists flocked around their cars negotiating with the guides. Lokesh hired guides- one guide for each one of us. Those guides were Bharadwaj, partly Punjabi and partly Garwali. This trek wouldn’t have been possible without the help of these guides. They carried all our bags along with their own bags and still managed to climb faster than us.

The narrow serpentine way that led up was based with thick frozen ice with toppings of fresh and old snow sprinkled abundantly and was surrounded by thick forest covered in snow. The ice based path was the toughest to trek on as one simply couldn’t walk without sliding and falling right on ones face, that too on the hard ice. Balancing ourselves with the worst trekking gears on us was the biggest challenge that prevailed then. Many of us, including me, fell-again and again. Still we trekked- bruised, cold, with numb feet. It wasn’t much tiring, in fact we forgot the passage of time and lost the track of meters of height, ice-based, left behind. There were patches where we waded through shin deep snow and there were also a few spots where Bollywood shootings were done. Thus, in much similar fashion, we climbed - laughing, clicking pictures, posing weirdly, talking about life- fair or unfair and mostly trying not to fall.

We reached up only to find many more life changing experiences and had never dreamt, even in our wildest dreams, of what fell upon us up there.

Sleeping Bags

made up of Special wood

narrow path

Sunday, August 23, 2015

4 O’clock Coffee

‘MAYA’ was a small, newly developed "Smart’’ city to the north of Mumbai. It had outgrown Mumbai in no time. Maya was the new Singapore, a better Bangalore and a faster Mumbai. The ‘Corporate City’ called by many, who were the denizens of this city; as many corporate headquarters shifted to Maya. Despite the small size it had outclassed Indian cities by having the state of the art infrastructure, connectivity, cleanliness and hygiene, almost all the facilities at disposal; in fact it was the apple of everyone’s eye. People, not only from India, but also across the world aspired to be a part of Maya- the city of illusion. The external charm, glamour and the folly of thinking everyone is happy and rich in this city got thousands to this city, but truth be told the people of Maya worked day in, day out like zombies who only understood hunger. Mayaians, as the denizens were addressed, also partied to de-stress themselves; leaving Mayaians with scores of places to hangout. Maya was a golden sparrow—golden and lively from outside, but dark and lifeless from within.

Anywhere, but here!

‘Please, stop here,’ requested an excited, yet nervous Maya to the taxi driver. It was her first day on the job; she had an hour before reporting. Meticulously gathering her work paraphernalia and her blazer she got down; with nothing to kill the time, she thought of sipping some coffee and having a bite of a toast or two. She got into the Starbucks on the ground floor of her corporate office building. Coincidently, it was the first day for Starbucks as well; she had a medium Cappuccino. Ever since that day she visited it during breaks. Thus, Maya and Starbucks, both on their first day, developed an ineffable, entwining relationship.
Mayatula Longkumer—Maya—a pinkish-fair, slender mongoloid, was from the Northeastern state of Nagaland. Nagas are world famous for their music and football. They have inherent ability to pick up any form of music in the world and play it seamlessly. She came from a modest family wherein her father was a football coach in the morning, a guitar tutor in the afternoon and a guitarist at night in a restaurant in Kohima—the capital of Nagaland; whereas her mother was a tuition teacher and a home maker. Even she had her way with guitar and mouth organ. Maya adored the small love story of her parents and how they fell in love with each other in guitar classes trying to make fun of each other. She always wanted to have the same, simple life full of love and music in the cold and beautiful valleys of Kohima.
As was written in the fate, with no siblings, she grew up, perfectly strumming the strings and kicking the ball right, but alongside, she also grew playing with numbers; an ability no one in her family possessed. She was a stellar performer in academics, yet she aspired music and love. Her parents wanted something else of her.
‘Beauty with Brains is a rare combination,’ advised Maya’s mother before she was to leave for her job in Maya. ‘You have both! So, beware! Take care of yourself in the foreign land, my dear.’ Maya had unenthusiastically completed her MBA in Finance because of her parents’ wish. They wanted her to be well educated and break the stereotypical Naga attitude. She easily got placed as a research analyst in a one of the best investment banking firms in India, located in the heart of Maya. Finally, capitulating the dream of living the simple life; feeling indebted to parents she moved to Maya trepidatiously.
Maya, like the meaning of her name and this new city, was like an illusion of multi-personalities, as perceived by the people around her. Her beauty ran parallel her brains; especially with her tall, lean frame and small, stretched, dark-brown eyes complementing her light-pink, small-lipped smile. Her hair
was buff-brown, long, silky-straight. She was a bashful young girl, yet full of gusto for achieving her dreams or her parents’. She was only 23, when she first landed in the ‘Corporate City’.
The city of work engrossed this little being in its lucrative webs of incessant grubbing. Maya, was comfortable with research analysis and drawing a conclusion based on company profiling. It gave her an unfathomable kick for exercising power. She loved it, at least initially, when her working hours were regular and had to deal with smaller companies and clients with lesser responsibilities but a humongous pay.
One year had passed since she had assumed her position in the firm. In this one year, things changed. Maya had become confident, self-sufficient and most of all independent. She had rented an apartment for her own, as she loathed living with six girls packed in a small room. Her introvert nature helped her only make acquaintances; hardly any friends. The first year, apart from working, went in her comprehending the lustrous beauty and varied locations of this city bewitchingly. She, along with her parents, was always insecure about the racism done to the Northeasterners by the mainland Indians; because of which she felt apprehensive of the mainland Indians and couldn’t be comfortable with them or in their groups; leaving her alone in her apartment. She made new friends- books.
Two more years went by, she was promoted twice based on her unmatched performance. By now, she had mastered her lone time at home by strumming her beloved guitar, reading voraciously, cooking occasionally, or dancing alone; for she still was a loner with no social life. ‘Why don’t you guys move in here, forever? We have nothing there? Besides, even I’m alone here,’ she implored her parents, but they simply denied saying they can’t adjust to the urban lifestyle. Her parents visited her at least once a year and if not then, they made sure that they kept sending her some home-made Naga dishes or some traditional jewelries. For them, to end this loneliness she should marry and settle down with some guy of her choice. Maya loathed getting married.
Maya was approached by many guys for her beauty and independence. She simply would snap it off politely making reasons even unknown to her, hitherto. ‘C’mon Maya, today is Saturday, at least today allow me to take you for a dinner, just as a friend,’ beseeched Rahul. Rahul was one year senior to her and like her from a different city—Delhi. He was flamboyant and over the years had gained a good amount of Maya’s trust as a friend. He had started falling for her and hence, made few gestures insinuating his attraction towards her. Maya, in return, liked his company and the small laughs they shared, but kept him off the bay by showing no signs of interest in him. Besides, she didn’t want to create a scandal in her own office. Nevertheless, he kept gaining her friendship and trust and she kept feeling secure and cared; something different from her otherwise workaholic life. They started hitting the Starbucks at 4 O’clock for coffee when time permitted them.

New responsibilities got her extra workload, working hours and salary package. The earlier self-occupied Maya, now, after returning home, was too tired to even strum a riff, open a book or cook her favorite dish; all she did was to get in bed and go through the meaningless, eclectic posts on social media in her phone of her colleagues or friends from back home making her gloomy until sleep overtook her. This had become her new routine, killing those activities of self-occupancy and leaving her loathing her life even more with every passing night after going through others’ posts. She couldn’t help about her emptiness but brood about it. Her only respite was her 4 O’clock coffee at the Starbucks.
It was July; monsoon at its peak. Maya, like always, was sipping coffee, in an otherwise empty Starbucks. Amidst the crowd she was alone and had grown desperate for a change in life. She saw a beautiful girl, half drenched, walk-in through the door, dressed in rich formals and shoulder padded blazer. Since, the café was running full, she walked up to Maya. ‘Hi! The café is full, if you don’t mind then can I sit here?‘ Maya, only happy to have a company acceded. ‘Hi, I’m Sanyukta,’ she said getting her hand forward to shake hands with Maya. ‘I work with M-Tech, just across the road as a marketing consultant.’  Sanyukta was from Mumbai, recently placed after MBA; she was very genial and exuberant. They both hit it well on the table rendezvousing about Nagaland, Mumbai and their respective lives. Sanyukta got Maya talking and clicking with her, effortlessly.
Sanyukta, just like Maya, had break at 4 O’clock and they met over coffee every day. Meanwhile, Rahul got occupied and couldn’t match his timing. Sanyukta was vivacious and Maya liked the energy and positivity within this little girl. Over a few weeks they became close friends, as they only had each other in this dark city of continuous slogging. Their friendship ascended from a coffee break to hanging out together, drinking, partying, late night chatting, full night talking on phones and even sleeping together at Maya’s place. People would look at them in awe, be it in café or someplace else, when this two were talking or having good time together. Whenever Maya had free time, she would call her over. Maya would harangue about her work life; whereas Sanyukta would only comfort her by hugging and listening to her. It took them nearly three months to make love to each other. Finally, somewhere in her dark world she found her prince, in this girl.
Sanyukta’s behavior perplexed Maya; she would never meet Maya’s friends or accompany her with office colleagues. She wouldn’t take photographs with her, no public posts dedicating Maya on social websites, not meeting Maya’s parents when they were in town, not even meeting Rahul, the only person close to Maya after her. Sanyukta made sure that no one from her workplace or Maya’s should know about their relationship, which was taken to be as a taboo. Maya resented this ambiguity, but over looked it as she was head over heels in love with Sanyukta.
‘I love you, I always wanted to say this but couldn’t...,’ proposed Rahul to Maya. Maya very gently snapped the proposal and disclosed to Rahul about her relationship with Sanyukta. ‘I don’t believe this. You are using that as a pretext to reject my proposal.’ Maya, knowing that Sanyukta wouldn’t meet Rahul, she plotted a plan, wherein the next day over coffee with her, he should catch them red handed.  As per the plan, Rahul hid himself for Maya’s 4 O’clock coffee. Maya and Sanyukta had a normal coffee session but Rahul never showed up. In fact, he was nowhere to be seen around for quite some time.

Four months later, market hit its lowest in the decade. Downsizing was on. Workload quadrupled. Maya couldn’t make time for anyone; not even for her love. She stayed stressed, irritated all the time; working hours doubled lest to get kicked out of the firm. She ate less, slept even lesser and least cared for her personal life. Maya got cranky with Sanyukta’s constant complaints regarding lack of attention; they only fought, getting mad at small things; her new routine made her forget about the absence of Rahul from her life.  She stayed depressed, unhealthy, pale all the time. She was turning mad because of the mounting pressure and the hateful life at home. She wanted to quit. Sanyukta, on contrary forced her to continue. She kept forcing, threatening about breaking up. She simply wouldn’t let Maya have her space, continuously nagging her every single minute making Maya crankier. The already frustrated Maya, couldn’t stand the pressure as well as Sanyukta, who all of a sudden had become a thorny cushion to rest on, called for a break-up. To Maya’s surprise, Sanyukta declined and haunted her wherever she went. Sanyukta kept harassing and pushing Maya until a point where Maya couldn’t take it. After a thousand tries, knowing that Sanyukta wouldn’t go anywhere, she opted for the last resort.
Maya, took Sanyukta for a night walk in the alley. The frenzied Maya with this clingy, spiteful girlfriend, taking advantage of the night, stabbed Sanyukta at least for 20 times; leaving her dead in the backyard of the alley; she went to have coffee. She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf and she pondered over the heinous act she had performed. She couldn’t complete her coffee as she could see Sanyukta everywhere; afraid, she beseeched Rahul for help.
No sooner Rahul and Maya entered her apartment than she started sobbing ceaselessly. Rahul comforted her by hugging. Slowly, steadily Maya confessed him of  her crime. Rahul was aghast, not because she murdered Sanyukta, but because she was ignorant; he took her in arms and started opening up to her. He explained her how that day during catching them—Maya and Sanyukta—red handed, he never showed up because he saw her talking to herself; that she was hallucinating and suffering from Schizophrenia. He had confirmed it with the café staff, to which they agreed saying, ‘it’s the quotidian show of this mad woman. She keeps speaking to herself...’ He presumed that she knew about this and hence never brought it up as it would seem crass.
‘Maya, there was no Sanyukta in real life; she was only in your head. You didn’t murder anyone or how else can you say that you don’t have a single picture of her or her social media page because she never existed. In fact she was the whole of corporate world in one imaginary body, which you couldn’t stand, created by your mind because of the prolonged lonely hours and a desperate need for change. That only means you hate this corporate life. Break free yourself from the shackles of this world and seek what you love, then only you’ll be alright,’ explained her with an unfazed efforts. With shock and understanding of the highest order Maya tried comprehending the whole scenario. Maya had realized that she had been sucked deep down into this corporate swamp and it causes the void in her life. It dawned to her after being brought to senses by Rahul. A big burden was brought off her chest. That night she slept in his arms like a four year old sleeps after a nightmare in his mother’s arms.
Next day, the first thing Maya did was resign. Later, called her father asking, ‘Is your Guitar coaching still on? I’m coming!’