Date in the Morning Bliss

They say, Mumbai never goes to sleep. I think it sleeps in the morning. I belong to Delhi. And, I believe that a city that never sleeps should be Delhi. Because; I have never seen the roads vacant. Never! Secluded? Yes. Vacant? Never.

Today, I woke up early. At about 4 a.m. before the crack of dawn. I don’t know what it is, may be, it is one of those days when I want to spend time alone. And no, I am not upset or disturbed. I just want to enjoy my company. It is a typical Mid-November morning.

In a season like this, a sweatshirt is enough, but I will still feel cold. Since I have grown up most parts in this city, I can say that a winter early morning in Delhi is the best. There is a strange, yet mild fragrance of musk and wood in the air. Like something is burning; but with an air of weird fragrance garnished with smoke of pollution.

I decide to quickly ready myself up and take a stroll across the streets of Delhi. I rub my eyes, trying to keep them open. I drag myself out of the bed that feels so cozy. Waking up from a warm bed in a chilling winter morning in Delhi feels like a sharp object cutting off every part of your skin. I remove my blanket and the cold air makes my lungs jump. What follows is a dozed off effort to feel that I really want to do it. I quickly finish off brushing my teeth and splashing ice cold water on my face. It feels sharp against my skin and my eyes burn as the beautiful siesta forcefully makes a way out of them.

I wear my shoes and quickly pick up the home keys. I am good to go. It is 4.45 a.m. I decide if it is a good decision at all to go alone and wander the streets of this city that has a much maligned image? I argue, but my heart wins the battle. It feels as if an alcoholic is granted mid-night permission to a tavern.

I make way to the main road. I have absolutely no idea what I am doing, but all I wanted to do today was experience the little things around me. My hands are tucked tightly around my body. I am trying to hug myself. There is still no sensation in my feet. It is so cold at this time. The city seems to be engulfed in a blanket of deep sombre. Only the temple priests and infants are awake at this time, apart from those parents of infants who are still secretly accusing each other for having a sensual night at all.

I take a right turn to the shops that are still closed. Apart from one or two shopkeepers, who are touching the ground in prayer and unlocking the bolt of the shutter, there is nothing else. I want my cutting chai. I know a man who would be putting his kettle on fire right now. I reach this chai stall. The old man was up even before me, perhaps. He has cleaned the kettle and turned on the gas stove that has just one burner. The bigger gas is for bread toast and pakora. There is another single burner stove, dedicated only to his huge kadhai that will serve samosas all day.

“Uncle, one chai, please!” I ask him for a kadak cup of hot chai. There’s nothing better than fog and chai in the winter morning! I sit on the bench next to his gas stove. The fire from stove is bliss; especially when the chilling bench has sent shivers up to my spine. The ginger cutting chai caresses my throat. I hold the glass with both my hands, trying to warm myself. Next to me, a beggar with tattered old rug is trying to fit tightly in it while lighting his beedi.

I walk past this tea stall now. A lane of rickshaws wait at the left turn I take. One rickshaw-wallah sleeps uncomfortably on his rickshaw. His old and torn blanket hangs from the rickshaw. A street dog is adjusting into the hung blanket.

A usually noisy city is gradually waking up to the day break as sun makes a peek-a-boo from the sky. The fog is settling down on the city in its glory, painting it almost shaman. A monk in orange clothes rubs his eyes and folds his hands towards the Sun in his first prayer. His white beard looks almost surreal. I take an auto-rickshaw towards South Delhi. Hundreds of pigeons have started flocking the pavement in search of their food. I want to sit at this pavement amidst these birds.

I pass through a few old historical buildings. The sunrays craft a beautiful shadow of these buildings on the road. I stop at Hauz Khas. I walk to the historical buildings here, the Hauz Khas complex. It has pavilions, tomb, mosque and Islamic seminary. The history of this place is rooted in the medieval era, at around 13th century of the reign of Delhi Sultanate. It’s a strange city. Never once in the history, has it stopped the foreigners from walking over it. It has been ruled over by many dominants. I think it is still being ruled by modern dominants whose huge bungalows sit there at the Connaught Place and India Gate vicinity.

I go inside one of the buildings and look at the beautiful shadow of patterns created by morning sun as it rushes through this old, broken building. There is a lake down there. I go there. A bench sits at the shore of lake. I sit here with my thoughts, trying to collect them at one place. There is no comparison to the peace you derive when you sit next to a water body. A little sparrow is hopping in search of food. I look at it. This is the bird of my childhood. It disappeared in my teens and has again started appearing now. Someone said, the radiation from the mobile phone towers killed these sparrows. I am glad this bird is back. She reminds me of my innocent childhood.

I walk towards the Delhi Metro station. The first few rays of sun have painted the city canvas in the shades of rustic orange and yellow. The morning sounds are making way now- a few honks here and there, newspaper vendors peddling their way to the houses they are supposed to literally throw papers at, the birds flapping their wings ready for their flight, the wheels of Delhi Metro shrieking against the tracks and thunder of shop shutters opening. It’s a very normal Delhi morning, yet calm and peaceful.

I tell my heart it wasn’t a bad idea at all. Sometimes, all you need is serenity in the very basic things of life. It is almost rejuvenating. As I take a walk back to my home, I decide to treat myself to the old Delhi street food, later in the day. It is a good day. I promise to have more dates with myself.

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“If she had been a little like me, she would have danced and laughed a little more and sang in a voice that’d make people take a bow,” Aranyaka thought after coming home.

She had gone for a dinner at a fine-dine restaurant yesterday, with her husband and friends.

“How long before we can go and eat in?” one of her friends, Samarth enquired.

“Sir, that would be about 20 minutes waiting.”

Aranyaka sat on a couch adjacent to the glass window. Sitting at the left of her was her friend, Enakshi and on her right, her husband, Karthik.

While the four of them waited, a random conversation began.

“What do you call wife’s sister’s husband in Hindi?” Samarth smirked and the four of them, as always laughed like no one was watching.

To that Aranyaka responded and Karthik, her husband said something. To this point, it was a senseless conversation, without a purpose.

Suddenly, a girl sitting next to Karthik on another sofa said, “You haven’t been to a village, it seems.”

The four of them burst out laughing, including Karthik. Enakshi pulled herself a little close to Aranyaka’s ear to mutter why the family sitting next to them was listening and responding to their conversation. And, they both laughed at the thought of it.

This family, until now, was totally non-existent, but now that they had joined the little humour party that the four of these friends were enjoying, it was something peculiar. But, what was odder was the fact that Karthik was continuously talking to them. To Aranyaka, this was stranger since he didn’t talk to random people the way he was doing then. Enakshi too noticed this and told about it to Aranyaka.

Until this point, Aranyaka hadn’t seen that the family next to them had a little girl, who was physically challenged. It instantly hit to Aranyaka that perhaps this was the reason Karthik was inclined to the conversation with them.

Karthik had been a person who found tranquillity in helping people or animals. In their 4 years of marriage, she had, time and again learnt from her husband, the art of compassion. He had a strange affliction towards poor, needy, downtrodden and ill people or animals or even plants and trees. This, Aranyaka had found especially attractive in her husband, although she had never said this to him ever.

The bizarre thing was that Samarth, who, most of the times didn’t like kids, was also being extra nice to this little girl.

Something that started off with a weird encounter had now turned into a light hearted conversation among everyone sitting in the waiting area of the restaurant. Samarth, who has usually been, the most talkative and funny, was as always saying things that were making people laugh hard.

Aranyaka, by this time, was totally focussed on this physically challenged little girl, who looked so happy that it made her feel overwhelmed. Not only that, the little girl’s sister was also a chirpier one and their father looked totally at peace and ease with his life.

From the corner of her eyes, Aranyaka looked at the little girl’s mother, who seemed like a simple lady. She was smiling at the conversations and her girls’ exuberance with these four friends. But, this mother didn’t smile the way others in the family did. It seemed that she was the one reeling under the effects of her daughter’s physical circumstance. There was a tinge of sadness in her smile and her eyes looked tired.

But, out of all of them, the little girl with disability seemed to be the most adorable.

Tired of waiting for a long time, Samarth said, “Is there anyone who has an exam tomorrow? If yes, I will tell the manager here to let us dine and go home early because the kids need to study.”

While Samarth was talking to his friends, once again, the elder sister in that family jumped in. She raised her hand immediately and said, “Me. Me. I have an exam. I need to prepare for my civil services exam.” She was her usual cheerful self and as soon as she said it, she laughed hard.

Her little sister joined the laughing crusade too. “She also has an exam. She has her board exam,” the elder sister referred to this little girl with disability and continued, “She has an exam in special category.”

As soon as she said it, she realized that it shouldn’t have been spoken. Perhaps, it was an unsaid bond of the family.

Clearly offended at her sister’s statement, which she didn’t mean otherwise, the little girl folded her hands against her chest and gave a look to her sister that clearly said, “I hate you.”

The elder sister tried making up immediately and said to the little girl, “You are special. You are our princess.”

The father jumped in the conversation and said, “Okay, now enough,” and the two sisters went back to their accustomed cheerfulness.

Soon, the manager called the father’s name to get a table inside and the father picked up her disabled little girl to carry her inside, as if it felt like the simplest thing in his life to carry his young girl with disability on his shoulders. May be, this father had to carry her like that throughout her life, but he didn’t seem to feel sad or sorry about it, at all.

Aranyaka felt like this was one of the most jovial and happy family she had ever met, despite all odds. The little girl with disability was enjoying her life and it clearly felt like the family had found joy in modest things of life. This “special category” princess had enormously positive aura about her and it reflected on her face and family.

And then, it felt to Aranyaka that perhaps the little girl had a disability, but she had a million more things in life awaiting her!

 

Reeta’s Beautiful Smile

“Hello mummy. Yes, I am good. You won’t believe what happened today,” Divya immediately gave a call to her mother in law after the domestic help, Reeta left in the morning.

“What happened?” Divya’s mother in law asked.

“I saw her laughing for the first time today. Can you believe it? Forget smiling, she was laughing and it reflected in her eyes today.”

Divya’s happiness had no bounds today as she saw her maid laughing. After having done the daily house errands, Reeta didn’t immediately leave today. Instead, she decided to stand there and talk to Divya for some time. May be, she wanted to pour her heart out today, which she seldom did.

Divya remembers that once Reeta came in the noon to clean the house utensils. Divya had asked her if she had eaten anything since morning. Reeta said a sad ‘no.’ Divya was appalled at her answer.

Every morning Reeta came at around 8 a.m. and then again at 3 p.m. for their domestic errands. Her extremely petite figurine was already a matter of concern to Divya from day 1. Sometimes she even doubted whether she would be able to continue work with them or not.

When she heard that Reeta hadn’t eaten anything since morning she asked her why.

She didn’t answer directly. Instead, she started crying inconsolably. Divya held her hand and took her in the hall.

“What happened? Why are you crying?” Divya asked her.

“Didi, he beat me again today. With a rolling pin (belan). It hurts a lot didi. All I can do is crying all day.”

Divya didn’t know what to say. Seeing her expression of grief, Divya embraced her as Reeta kept crying in her arms. Her small body felt even littler.

“Come here and sit down. Eat something before you clean the utensils,” Divya told her.

“No didi. Leave it,” Reeta retaliated.

Divya shushed her and gave her chapatti and vegetable to eat with a glass of cold water. She kept crying with every bite. Seeing her, Divya’s eyes too started brimming and she went to another room to cry. Then she came back to her and asked, “What is your age?”

“17,” Reeta said.

Shocked, Divya couldn’t believe her. At such a tender age, she was not even eligible for marriage. She was a child. Divya thought of her cousins who were same age and felt utterly sad to think of the disparity that existed in two different strata of society.

Since that day, Divya had felt a special soft corner for her domestic help, as if she started seeing her cousins, her own younger sister in her.

Today, when she didn’t leave for home immediately, Divya asked her, “So, what will you do with your first salary that you get from here?”

“What salary didi? He said he will snatch it from me.”

“Why did you tell him? Why didn’t you tell him that you were getting lesser money from here?”

“Didi, he told me to swear on my mother and my sisters. I couldn’t lie,” Reeta answered innocently.

Divya couldn’t say anything more. But Reeta kept talking. Today, she was talking about her life. How she got married. Who married her off to this man and what she really felt about her life.

Then she looked at the photo-imprinted coffee mug of Divya’s husband and asked, “Didi, is that bhaiya, your husband?”

“Yes.” Divya smiled as she followed Reeta’s eyes in the direction of the coffee mug.

“Didi. I never look at bhaiya directly. When I mop floor, it is then that I look at this mug decorated on your TV trolley.”

Divya smiled at her innocence. Reeta smiled too.

“He looks exactly like aunti ji,” Reeta was referring to Divya’s mother in law.

After some time, Reeta laughed hard and said, “Didi, you know what. Once he came to beat me. I was just about to eat my food. I told him to let me eat and then he could beat me. Didi, he actually waited for me to eat.”

“…and then? He left?”

“No didi. I ate two bites and then he started beating me. It hurt really hard.” And Reeta started laughing, as if she had learnt to laugh off her life’s tragedy.

Divya too started laughing, but this domestic help had made her hate that man with all her heart.

The two women kept talking and laughing and then Reeta finally called it a day at her house, saying finally, “okay Didi, now I will leave. Bolt the door.”

Divya kept thinking about her beautiful smile after she left. Reeta was like any other normal Indian girl- beautiful and innocent 17 YO little girl who should be either in 12th or first year of her undergraduate programme, but here she was- a sad domestic help, who had learnt to smile with the tragedies of her life.

 

 

Old Shops of Memories

Chhavi stood at the golden sand of the beach in Goa. It was her much-awaited vacation. The long break that she needed to phase out the mundane errands of her life. As the waves touched her feet, a tingling ran through every vein, not leaving an ounce of her body.

She picked up a shell that the waves had brought along. Beautiful it was. Golden-brown patterns drew beautifully on the immaculate white of the shell. After examining it for some time, she put it close to her ear. Truly divine. The feeling of liveliness rushed through her body as she heard the sound of the entire sea in the shells.

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She had once heard that when you put a shell close to your ear and shut everything else, you can hear the sound of entire sea. This shell seemed to be speaking the language of her soul.

She took the shell and put it into her skirt’s pocket. She would later keep it on the book shelf in her home. This shell would remind her of a lot of things, of this beautiful Goa vacation. She walked toward the pier, which was now almost vacant. After a long day & beautiful tan, most of the tourists had gone back. Chhavi was among the last few on this beach.

She proceeded toward the pier that was visible from a distance. As she walked, the wet sand filled in her toes and it felt so comforting; so soft. She turned around. Looked at her footprints on the sand. Some visible, others eradicated from the waves rushing to make it first to the bank. She reached the pier and made herself comfortable at the edge of it.

Lost in her thoughts, she looked at the sinking sun. Last few tourists were making their way back to the banks after an adventurous surfing. The water was shimmering gold and the sky was a palette of colours-orange, pink, red, purple and yellow. It almost felt like the sun was melting into water.

The horizon felt far, too far. She thought about her footprints that she waited to see earlier and the W.B. Yeats’ poetry came rushing to her mind. What was it like?

“THAT crazed girl improvising her music.

Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself

Climbing, falling She knew not where,

Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,

Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare

A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing

Heroically lost, heroically found.”

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Almost on instinct, she drifted back to the lane that is mostly forbidden – the lane of her past. There were some old shops of memories- some good, some bad. She wanted some of these shops to shut down forever. But that wasn’t possible now. These were the shops of her past. But the wounds that they gave to her were now so comforting. It almost felt like they were healed. Yet at the slightest of triggering, they oozed blood. But they were nice. Even the bad memories were nice. They made her feel how long she had come. She no longer recognized her younger self.

This was The Shop of First Crush. The memories came rushing back. She almost felt like being there. Standing there again. This was also the first man in her life. She entered this shop of first crush memories.

She wandered in this shop. Looked at the first kiss incident. It was in a car, when she & that man were waiting for her sister’s annual function to get over, so they could pick her from her school. He had almost felt the urge to kiss her. And he did. But that was without any intimidation. And, it came more like a shock than pleasure. She remembers him getting offended at her reaction. The relation didn’t last long.

She wanders to another shelf of this shop. Stands there. This shelf hurts. She remembers when she was travelling in the Metro one day when she heard he was dead. She didn’t love him anymore, yet it came as a blow. Why, she doesn’t remember! May be, because she had shared a part of her life with him, even if it was for a few months. Lost love it was. And now, also dead.

She moved ahead. Want to take something to your present life, a voice echoed. She just smiled. “No, thank you very much.”

She drifted out of this shop.

***********************************************************************

In the next lane, stood the second shop. The Shop of First True Love. This, she dreaded the most. It was the most hurting one. Yet, she decided to enter it. She had admired every bit of it. Still, this one somehow made her heart bleed the most. It was the most depressing phase of her life.

She wandered in the shop. Shelves of laughter & sorrows, happiness & tears, blush & break-ups were sitting here- looking at her with eyes wide open.

Here is the shelf of their first meeting. She walks calmly through this shelf. She is now married. And happy. She looks at it. She almost feels like he is looking at her walk away. She looks at him. Careful. She manages to pass a smile. A friendly one. She should now be going. William Shakespeare speaks at the back of her mind, “to be or not to be, that was the question.”

“Just go,” says her mind.

“Why?” says her heart, “what is common now?”

“The past,” her mind says.

She walks away from this shelf. Takes a turn and reaches the one where she doesn’t want to linger anymore. This was the most confusing shelf. She didn’t understand what happened here. How they fell apart. May be, it wasn’t meant to happen.

She smiled. A feeble laughter may be. Every time she enters here, she feels so heavy.

She tried coming out of this shop of memories. Want to take something to your present life, a voice echoed again. She just smiled again. “No, thank you very much.”

***********************************************************************

This is the third shop of memories. She wants to be here. It is most comforting. This is the shop of endless memories that she is still counting. The Shop of Soul Mate. It is here she met the man she is married to. She walks past all the shelves with a twinkle in her eyes. This is the shelf of their first meeting. It was almost entreated, she remembers. She wanted to see him more than her. And he had agreed. This felt almost surreal. Like the love at first sight.

She smiled. Then, walked towards their engagement day. His smile is still fresh in her mind. She doesn’t remember seeing anyone else. It was her own world. Just the two of them. Rest had vanished, she remembers this.

The shelf of courtship is the most delicate. She doesn’t want to touch it. The memories here are fragile. But precious. She dusts them off. Admires them. And, keeps them there, again. She will re-visit the shop once again to see these memories.

She comes out of this shop of memories. Want to take something to your present life, a voice echoed again. She smiles. “This is the recent past. Still, No, thank you very much. I will create more memories & will come back to keep them on the shelves here. Make space.”

She decides to come out of this lane of Old Shops of Memories. She will re-visit them again someday. She will come back to this lane when she had made time for herself, like today. She comes back to her present, but looks at a girl standing on the lane of Old Shops of Memories.

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The girl refuses to come out. Chhavi calls her. She assures her they’ll go this lane together. She is her younger self. She is still stubborn. She still wants what she has decided. And she still sometimes drifts back to these old shops. But Chhavi knows that she will not linger there longer. She will have to come out. She also knows that these are the shops of memories that have made her what she is today. After 10 years, she will again come back here; only to find not recognizing her own self, once again.

Singh Saab and the Active Old Man

Aarna and Swaroop had spent a tough time from past few days; in fact, months. Now that Swaroop’s Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) surgery was over, there was some sort of tranquillity in the head. ASD, in layman’s words is called a hole in the heart, which is one of the most common heart defects in people. Fortis Escorts Heart Institute (FEHI) has a step-down ICU system and after having spent two days in the Recovery Room, Swaroop was now shifted to the room. This was the semi-private room number 310. This meant that Aarna and Swaroop shall be sharing the hospital room with one more patient. The room however, was huge enough to house 3-4 patients or more, as per the standards of the Government hospitals.

Both of them settled down as Swaroop adjusted to the sharp light smashing in from the huge window. Recovery Room was quite closed and from what Aarna had experienced when she went there to meet her husband, it was one of the scariest and the gloomiest places on Earth. Everyone was on life support system with so many tubes and syringes popping out of every part of the body. The dreadful mechanical sounds of ECG machines and a lot more medical appliances, the names of which Aarna did not know, sounded like the time bomb that was about to explode any time. With Swaroop out of that place, Aarna was glad that her husband was one of the first patients in that batch to come out of that gloomiest place on Earth. Doctors said that he was recovering “really fast.” Soon after adjustments and informing the entire family about Swaroop’s well being and condition, Aarna lay down a bit on the couch next to the patient’s bed and closed her eyes. Both of them were waiting, rather praying for no one to occupy the bed next to them so that they enjoyed the benefits of a solo room by paying the price of a semi-private room.

As evening closed in, two old men entered the room with nurses in green uniform around them. One of them was on a stature. It was around 8 p.m. then. The man on stature was quite bulky and even had issues climbing up the bed on his own. So, he was shifted from the stature to the bed, with a lot of discomfort. Aarna, who was looking at that man and one another with him, looked at the scene with a strange expression on her face. Her live updates made Swaroop aware too. The couple talked in hushed voices about the two old men and soon put in the curtains that separated the two sections of the huge room.

They both kept quiet, as they heard the voices from the other half of the room. The other old man, who was the attendant, looked quite active. He was rushing here and there to settle things for his patient. With the accent of the two old men, Aarna and Swaroop understood that they were from Bihar. The archetypical Indian thought made them think that the two were not much educated, just because they talked in their strange language that sounded quite “dehaati.” This young couple stayed quite even now and heard what the two were talking about.

“Singh Saab. Are you alright? Are you feeling fine?” asked the attendant, the active old man.

“Yes. I am fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“Do you need anything Singh Saab?”

“No. Please go and have your dinner. I shall be fine. I don’t need anything right now. I would rather go to sleep,” replied Singh Saab.

“Let me serve you the dinner first and then I’ll go and have it,” argued the active old man, whose name Swaroop and Aarna did not find out even now.

After a few minutes, the hospital dinner arrived. After the room service man left, Aarna got up from the couch and sanitized her hands. She pressed the side button on the bed and the bed started shifting upwards. Swaroop adjusted himself and Aarna made him eat his food.

The active old man too, served Singh Saab and waited for him to wind it up. After having finished the dinner, Aarna sat down and the active old man came to their side and said, “Beta, I am going down for dinner. Will you look after him for me?”

“Sure uncle,” replied Aarna.

“What happened to this young man? Why is he here?” asked the active old man from Aarna and Swaroop.

“Uncle, he had ASD. He has undergone the heart surgery and is recovering now,” said Aarna.

“I see. ASD is quite common these days. Don’t worry, he will be fine soon. Is he your husband?”

“Yes uncle.”

“Okay beta, I will leave now. Please check on him if he needs anything.”

“Sure uncle. Don’t worry. I will check on him,” said Aarna and the active old man left the room.

Soon, Aarna went to check Singh Saab, who was already asleep and she came back to sit on the couch again. It would have been a few minutes since Singh Saab’s attendant left that Aarna and Swaroop heard strange sound, like someone was urinating.

The nurse in green uniform came in and saw that Singh Saab was too fragile and bulky to even go to the washroom himself and so he had urinated on the floor, from his bed only. The nurse asked the room service to clean it up and told Singh Saab to press the Nurse Call Button if he has the next call from nature.

Aarna and Swaroop didn’t say anything to each other, but Aarna felt disgusted. She felt awful that they shall be sharing the room with such patient. Nevertheless, she went to Singh Saab after the nurse left and checked on him again. He was partly sleeping.

“Uncle, call me if you need any help,” Aarna told Singh Saab.

Surprisingly, Singh Saab mistook Aarna for nurse and said, “I will call you sister.”

Aarna did not argue because she knew that there was no point. Singh Saab’s condition was really fragile.

Soon, active old man came back from dinner and thanked Aarna for looking over Singh Saab. He arranged his sheet and pillow on the couch to lie down and so did Aarna. The lights were dim by now. It was around 9.30 p.m. The strange urinating sound came once again and this time, the active old man stood up from his ouch to check on him.

This time, Aarna did not feel disgusted. Instead, she felt sorry for Singh Saab. Old age can be awful, she thought in her head.

The active old man himself cleaned the floor and Singh Saab retaliated.

“Leave it yaar. Don’t do it,” Singh Saab said.

“It’s okay. You should have called me Singh Saab. I would have helped you.”

The active old man again came to the couch and sat down for a moment. His couch was on the same side as Aarna and Swaroop. Aarna could not hold her curiosity this time and she felt the urge to start a conversation with the active old man regarding Singh Saab.

“Uncle, can I ask you something?” Aarna asked the active old man.

“Yes beta. Tell me,”

Soon the two started talking, in English! It’s not strange to talk in English, but what Aarna and Swaroop thought about this Bihari old man was wrong. He wasn’t illiterate. In fact, his communication skill was better than any educated man present there and this was the first slap on Aarna’s face. She ridiculed herself for being so judgemental, and more than that, for being so thought-offensive about a particular state in our country.

“What happened to the uncle with you?” asked Aarna.

“Beta, Singh Saab had undergone a bypass surgery a few years ago. In very rare cases, a few patients start getting fever after the surgery. Singh Saab is one of those rare cases. He started having fever quite frequently after his bypass surgery and my son looked after him,” explained the active old man.

“Your son?”

“Yes. My son, Dr. Vijay Kumar is a senior cardiologist at FEHI.”

“Okay. And how is Singh uncle related to you?” asked curious Aarna.

“He is my friend.”

Something hit Aarna hard. He is his friend? A zillion questions popped in the curious mind of Aarna. Where is Singh Saab’s family? Why is this active old man doing so much for his friend? How long is their friendship? The chain of questions made her look so puzzled that even the old man smiled at her expressions that were spread all over her questioning face.

Without a preamble, the active old man started, “You know beta, Singh Saab is retired from the post of Director of SAIL (Steel Authority of India Limited), New Delhi. He has seen such prestige and reputation in his life that we cannot even comprehend. A man of such stature is lying here, in such condition, in front of you.”

Aarna felt another slap. Director of SAIL, and she thought that these old men were illiterate Biharis? She was illiterate, she thought. Aarna once again felt sorry in her heart for being so judgemental. How wrong she was!

The active old man kept talking, “When in past he had frequent fever, I brought him to my home and took care for him for 45 days. My son looked after him all the time. He was cured that time. Now again he has started showing such signs. We want to check for the underlying cause of this fever. That is why we have brought him to FEHI so that we can take better care of him.”

“But uncle, where is his family?”

“Beta, he has no family.”

Again it felt like Aarna was listening to something that only happened in movies. Hospitals are a strange place. You hear so many sad and interesting stories that every tale sounds like the Bollywood film. But soon you realize that things like these actually happen in real world.

“Why? I mean where is his family?” asked Aarna.

“Beta his wife died of cancer about a decade ago. He has two sons, both of who died at a very young age. He is all alone now. His wife had four younger sisters. Singh Saab took care of all of them like his own daughters. He sponsored their education, helped them establish their careers and married all of them off. All of them are today settled abroad, but none of them has asked about Singh Saab’s whereabouts ever since they got married. They never phoned him again. They don’t know anything about him today and they don’t bother about him at all.”

Aarna bashed the four sisters of Singh Saab’s wife in her head. How cruel is that? In fact, that is so mean. What has the world come to? Is humanity dead? Is there no reward of goodness? How can God justify this? A man with such stature, prestige, good heart and such a lot of money in his good days is left all by himself in his last phase of life? Why?

“So uncle, you are his family now?”

“Yes. You can say that.”

“That is really kind of you uncle. World needs people like you. How long have you both been friends? Aren’t you both childhood friends?”

Aarna’s questions were very obvious. What kind of a friend, no matter how good he is, does so much for other? No one in the world does that. Not even relatives. And here he is. A friend doing so much for other! But why?

“No beta. I am not his childhood friend. I have known him for just 5 years.”

“Then why are you doing so much for him uncle? I am really impressed by your friendship.”

“Beta, I was there with him in SAIL. The story of his life makes me do so much for him. Think about it. Here is a man in front of you. He has retired from one of the most reputed positions in this country. Imagine the kind of life he has lived. Can you think of the luxuries he has lived in? A huge home given by the Government, handsome salary, a whole army of servants to look after every little thing- a kind of life that we all want to live. Isn’t it? But look at him today. This is life beta. You are too young to understand all this. But here is a man of this stature lying on a hospital bed, without anyone to cry on his death and urinating in his own pajamas because he can’t even get out on his own.”

It broke Aarna’s heart. A lump formed in her throat. This was a real story. Not the one that she as seeing in a TV. It was a real tale of friendship, life and what not, perhaps a lot of things that her little heart and head could not understand at just 26 years of age. But she understood one thing- that life can take you to strange roads without a companion. Something changed her forever.

With shattered heart, Aarna held Swaroop’s hand tight, requesting God to not be so harsh on both of them ever in life. She didn’t want a reputation like that of Singh Saab. All she wanted from God was calm and a “normal” life that does not serve a sad story to anyone in the world.

Soon, the active young man went to the Singh Saab’s side as his son Dr. Vijay Kumar came in and checked on him. Doctor asked the nurses to shift him to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) immediately so that he could be attended in a better manner.

Aarna witnessed them all vacate the room and bid adieu to the active old man, praying at heart for Singh Saab’s speedy recovery. She saluted their friendship at heart and soon, all her initial thoughts about these two “illiterate Biharis” changed forever.

Swaroop is discharged now. He is home with Aarna, but this Escorts story and a million more tales that Aarna heard in the hospital will dwell in her heart and mind forever, like a shadow.

Ticket From Girlhood To Womanhood

Usual course of household cleaning was going on. It was just another day for her. Nothing special, nothing boring- just the usual one. After the room was cleaned, she washed her hands, wiped them off with the hand towel and picked the keys of her cabinet. The clothes in that cabinet had been waiting since long to be arranged immaculately in a queue or in hangers. She inserted the key, twisted it in the clock-wise direction, and a few clothes jumped out of the cabinet, as if on cue. “Pheww!” she exclaimed. The cleaning and organizing of things is still not over. There is a whole lot bundle lying here, that needs to be arranged.

She sat on the ground- procrastinating a bit- thinking where to begin from. The bottom-most shelf or the top-most? “Now that I am sitting here, let me begin from the bottom-most shelf,” she self-talked. Suddenly, her eyes stuck to a dress. Her discovery of an old wedding dress in the lower-most shelf, that she wore that day, compelled her to walk down a few miles on the memory lane- a few years ago.

She was no longer a 38 year old Meera. Her thoughts made her young once again, at least in her head. She was once again a 25 year old bride glammed up; waiting to get married to her prince charming and anticipating a life full of roses. ‘A Life Full of Roses’- really? She came back to the 38-year old self- now much more mature than what she was when she wore that dress. She had 13 years of experience from the social institution called marriage; at which she is still a student and is learning new things almost everyday.

One thing that she has truly learnt is that marriage is not a life full of roses; but also, it is not a bush of thorns. Its a mixed patch. Its like, ever since she has entered the nuptials, she is just brisk walking, sometimes running; but seldom sitting. Marriage, she has learnt, with whatever wisdom she has, is a garden- no matter how many roses you wish to sow, you are bound to get patches of thorns. You cannot avoid it. How can you? Even God hasn’t done that.

A few things may sometimes hit like a heavy stone. And sometimes, the same things may sound like a usual conversation. Depends. Really depends on the mood. Having apprehensions about the veracity of this bond is something that may appear every now and then; but in really wonderful moments, you will self-slap behind your head and say to your ownself-“Foolish! This wedding thing is awesome!”

However, one thing is for sure- marriage changes you like nothing else; especially if you are a girl. Meera has learnt this from the institution since Day 1. You are no longer a girl. You are a woman. And surprisingly, this evolution from a girl to a woman has taken place in just a matter of one day- your wedding date! You no longer remain a girl that is expecting tenderness and complete attention from the entire home. You are a woman- just like your mother.

Ever looked at your Maa and thought how she transformed from a girl to a woman- a stronger one that she appears today? There has been a sacrifice and a struggle behind her present womanhood.

She has successfully passed a test of time, where sometimes she had to let go of her dreams and a million hidden aspirations which now remain buried somewhere in the debris of a lot of thoughts in her heart. Sometimes she was compelled to think that if she was just thinking about herself and her career, she was selfish and also, where sometimes she was forced to talk to herself in her mind and think whether it was really her fault. A lot of times, she has just been flatly hurt so much that she cried herself to nights before being a usual, compassionate, much stronger woman. Behind a beautiful woman we call our mother, there has been a more amazing girlhood that had to be left.

You cannot keep clutching to girlhood and think that you too, will one day, be a strong woman like your mother is today, because we all know one fact- a diamond shines beautifully because it has passed through sharp tools and has been cut immaculately to appear what it is today! This diamond is precious and has more value than anything else today, and that is because only diamond knows its history.

You are the Reason I Love my Life

And then it was Thursday, her favourite day. Her closed eyes felt very heavy, and heart very light. A weight was lifted off her chest. She wanted to sleep that night like there was no morning the next day. For once, just once; she wanted to sleep without thinking that she had to wake up early the next morning; half-heartedly. For once, just once; she wanted to sleep like there was no work the next day; like she could vanish into a world that she knew practically didn’t exist- the world of dreams. And then, as she shut her eyes to do all this- sleep didn’t come. Instead, words came rushing to her and she immediately picked up her diary to pen down her thoughts.

That mountain right in front of her window; that same mountain on which nothing except a temple sits calmly; that same mountain which appeared to her the highest of all- she wanted to rush to that same mountain, close her eyes, take a deep breath, embrace the surrounding and with all the saved energy- let go. Let go of all the malice in her heart; all that was making her feel burdened; all that was keeping her shackled. She wanted to let go and shout so that everything inside her gushed out with all force and purify her soul; shout so that all the pain that dwelled inside for long, came out and melted with the clouds that hovered over this mountain.

And then perhaps, those clouds could take away that melted pain and pessimism away from her, and grant her the same serenity that she once felt.

With all the writing, her heart felt so light. She closed her eyes once again; this time without any sense of grief, without any thought to ponder over. And for a few seconds before slipping into her dreams, she opened her eyes and saw him smiling next to her- smiling at her with all his heart-as if making a silent promise that he is there to look after her and handle all her troubles.

All she could say this time was, “You are the reason I never give up. You are the reason I love my life. You are the reason I wake up every day.”