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.”

I Dated HER for Three Months

“So how was it meeting HER,” Larisa asked her as she witnessed a smile on her face.

“Who?” Marta was dodging the question for the third time now and it was visibly irritating Larisa.

“Come on! It’s been three months since you have been dating her and you still haven’t told me anything. I am your best friend Marta. I NEED to know EVERYTHING.”

Exactly five months ago, Abram had broken her heart. What hadn’t she done? Everything! And what was the result of everything? A separation from her husband. And just because she had chosen ‘Her’ over him. Was it that bad?

Marta had spent her life pleasing everyone, and especially, Abram. Unfortunately though, her giving and forgiving attitude had become something that Abram started taking for granted.

“Look; it is perfectly alright to be bisexual, but, Marta; at least I deserve to know HER,” Larisa was pushing her to know who this new friend of Marta was!

“Jesus Larisa! Jesus!”

“What?”

“I am NOT bisexual!” Marta revolted after coming out of the jolt that she just felt when she heard the word BISEXUAL from Larisa.

“Whaaaa? Wait a minute! Then who is she that is making you feel so good, so blushed, so refreshed? Isn’t that supposed to give me a clear indication that you are DATING a GIRL! And wait a minute; I have been with you for more than 15 years now. You haven’t felt so good with me?”

Marta raised her eyebrow jokingly.

“Oh, stop that! Not that I am saying, you should have felt that way with me. But I am just perplexed, you know!” Larisa retorted, giving way to Marta’s conversation.

“You know a friend like you can be a real pain in the ass?” Marta said as she put her little Victor in the cot.

“Why? Okay, you speak!”

“You know Larisa what had happened five months ago. I had spent years with that man and I had given him everything, listened to him word by word, and devoted myself to him as if there was no other world for me. And what he did? He left me when Victor was still in me. Is that what a man does? Should he be even called a man?”

“I know Marta. Life has been really tough on you all this while. And more than that; persecute of releasing the baby out of you all alone! I know. Had Abram been there, everything would have been so different. But he is not. And I clearly understand how everything was for you. But I am just sticking around you because I have never seen you like this in years. You have changed and SHE has changed you. Not me, your best friend; not Abram, your husband and not even Victor, your precious part! But she! That is why; I want to know everything about her.”

“You really want to know who she is? Okay, I’ll tell you.” Marta brought two cups of coffee and sat on the chair.

“Finally,” Larisa took the cup and sat with an expression of curiousness, on the chair opposite to Marta.

“She is no one, but me!” Marta said.

Still confused, Larisa decided to keep quiet and let her do the talking.

“Abram was a great man. He was all that I wanted, all that I have ever wanted in my life. But you know, the first time he slapped me; I was shocked! Abram had taken me for granted since years. And I hadn’t said a word. Why? Of course, it was my fault throughout. But, you know what Larisa? Women are made of that flesh and blood. We allow ourselves to be taken for granted because we think it’s our responsibility to do so. We think that man in our life has the right to do so. And what happens eventually? We forget ourselves. We forget who we are and we become what they make us- subjugated, deprived and fragile. And guess what? They like it that ways!”

Marta continued, “But when he raised his hand on me that night, without thinking once that I had Victor in me, it broke me. It shattered me. That night, I went to the other room, looked at the mirror and asked her- why is this happening to me? That reflection, you know? That is what has made me what I am today.”

“What? A reflection? Have you taken yourself to the philosophy classes?” Larisa said.

“No! I have learnt the meaning of life and she has taught me that! My reflection in the mirror- my inner self- my soul- the real me! You may find it funny, but you know, that night when my reflection told me that my life was in my hand completely, something happened inside me. Victor kicked that day for the first time. May be, it was a kick from God’s little messenger! Or perhaps, my reflection had told me that if I could produce another life, then I am stronger. Not Abram. And that changed everything.”

“Ahan! That is making a little bit of sense. But do you want to say that your reflection or whatever you are saying, your inner self, your so-called soul, is the one you are dating from past three months?” Larisa moved to the kitchen to put another pot of coffee on the flame. Only God knew what Marta said and how she took her life!

“Yes! Larisa, I have been dating myself from the past three months and that has made all the difference in the world. Dating myself as in, I have learnt to spend time with my own self. I have learnt to be alone and to like it that ways. I have learnt that wounds would heal, if I allow them to. I have learnt that things will change, if I think about that change. And more than anything, I have learnt that no one in the whole wide world is more precious than me. If I don’t love myself, no one else will! And that’s what happened with Abram.”

Larisa brought the pot to the table this time and sat with a very serious look. She knew Marta had really learnt something and that was serious. A girl whom she knew as a chirpy, bubbly and a very kiddish one, had changed! She wasn’t a girl anymore. She was a woman now.

Marta re-filled her cup and continued, “Abram fell in love with my personality. The way I was. The way I did what I always wanted to. The way I spent time on myself- dressing up, singing, dancing, painting and doing whatever I wanted. He fell in love with my distinguished personality. And what I did after we got married? I changed myself for him. I did what he wanted, and unfortunately, I lost myself. I started hating myself. And if I didn’t like the way I was, how could Abram love me? I wasn’t the girl he loved, I was changed.”

“But he changed you Marta. You didn’t do it at your whim.”

“Yes, but I allowed that to happen.  And, then one day, after I started spending more time alone, I re-discovered who I was actually. I just rushed into his room one night and said it straight at his face that I needed him to leave. I actually bought time from him to let me know what was happening with me. And then, when I talked more often to myself, I listed down the things that I needed to do ASAP.”

“And that is why, you are like this now?”

“Yes Larisa. Exactly yes. Over the past three months, I have met people that I hadn’t met in years after my wedding. And more friends I met, more I realized who I was. And you know why? Because these friends belonged to my past. They told me how I used to be in high school, university, my first job and the subsequent jobs. And they told me, how very dull I had become now! That was eye-opener. I couldn’t go to a supermarket alone. I needed Abram every time. And once he left me forever, I went everywhere like the world was with me. Like, I was with myself. You know, like my confidence had bounced back. And more than anyone, that precious little one in the cot, was with me, inside me; and for once, I wanted to make him hear that his mother was laughing and not crying!

Larisa’s heart melt. She felt goosebumps on her skin as she saw her friend talk like that.

“I went to watch movies alone. I went to the parks all alone. I went to my doc alone. I spent time with myself to know who I was. And that reflection, sat like a little angel over my shoulder all the time. That inner soul of mine, kept guiding me through my tough time. That reflection held my hand throughout and didn’t let me fall apart into pieces. That soul didn’t let me shatter.

In fact, it made me happy in a way, I had never been. It made me blush in a way I have never felt. And you know why Larisa? Because I had found myself. Because I was dating my inner soul since months. And when Victor pushed himself outside me, I was a much stronger woman than who you befriended years ago!”

मेरा घर

अपने कमरे की खिड़की से बाहर देखती प्रीती आज सुबह की बात पर फिर मुस्कुराई.

“दोपहर में क्या खाओगे?” सुबह जब उसने दिवेश से ये पूछा था, तो बड़े व्यंग्यात्मक तरीके से उसने कहा था, “एक काम करो, आज आलू, पूरी, रायता और सलाद बना लो. स्वीट डिश में हो सके तो खीर भी बना लेना.
और यह पूरी न हो सकने वाली फरमाइश को सुनकर, न केवल प्रीती, बल्कि स्वयं दिवेश भी खूब ज़ोर से हंसने लगा था. शादी के सिर्फ तीन महीने ही तो पूरे हुए थे अभी. कभी रसोईघर में कदम भी ना रखने वाली प्रीती ने फिर भी दिवेश की हर फरमाइश पूरी करने में ही खुद को समर्पित कर दिया था. लेकिन आज दिवेश की आलू, पूरी, रायता, सलाद और खीर की फरमाइश को पूरा करने में वो असमर्थ थी. और ये इसलिए नहीं था की प्रीती ये सब बनाना नहीं जानती थी, बल्कि इसलिए था कि घर में पूरे तीन दिन से एक बूँद भी पानी नल से नहीं टपका था.

“कपकोट, ये कहाँ है? ये कैसी जगह हुई भला?” शादी से मात्र दो महीने पहले ही तो दिवेश का ट्रांसफर कपकोट नाम की जगह पर कर दिया गया था. और जिस रोज़ दिवेश ने प्रीती को ये बताया था, तो मानो प्रश्नों की एक बौछार उस पर अचानक ही बरस पड़ी थी. अपनी बैंक की सरकारी नौकरी से पहले ही ऊब चुका दिवेश, उस रोज़ प्रीती को बस यही कह पाया था, “है एक बकवास सी जगह उत्तराखंड के बागेश्वर ज़िले में जहाँ अब हमें रहना है.”
उसके तुरंत फोन रखने के बाद ही, इंटरनेट पर ना जाने कितनी ही रिसर्च प्रीती ने कर डाली थी. अलग अलग वेबसाइट पर या जहाँ से भी संभव हो सके, उसने कपकोट से जुड़ी सारी जानकारी घोट कर पी ली थी. क्यूंकि अब यही जगह तो उसका नया घर बनने वाली थी.

भारत की देवभूमि कहा जाने वाला ये प्रदेश था उत्तराखंड और इस पर बसी एक छोटी सी जगह थी कपकोट। इंटरनेट पर ये जगह हरियाली और पहाड़ों से घिरी हुई बेहद खूबसूरत और शांत दिखाई पड़ती थी. चारों तरफ पहाड़ और सिर्फ हरा रंग बिखरा था, और पहाड़ों से बहते वो झरने। ये सब प्रीती को प्रकृति के बहुत पास होने का अनुभव करवाता था और ये एहसास भर ही उसे सकरात्मतक ऊर्जा से भर देता था.
दिल्ली से सटे एक शहर फरीदाबाद में भले ही वो पैदा हुई और पाली बड़ी, लेकिन फिर भी दिवश के साथ वो किसी भी जगह पर रहने को पूरे मन से तैयार थी. और फिर कपकोट तो प्राकृतिक सुंदरता का जीता जागता प्रमाण था. वहीँ दूसरी ओर लखनऊ का दिवेश था, जिसने अपनी प्रोफेशनल पढाई लिखाई और नौकरियां बड़े और काफी अर्बन शहरों, जैसे दिल्ली, बम्बई और पुणे से ही की थी और ऐसी जगहों पर रहने के बाद, वो कतई इस छोटी जगह पर रहने को तैयार नहीं था.

बेहद खूबसूरत होने के बाद भी, ये जगह दिवेश को न जाने क्यों कभी रास नहीं आई – ना तो ट्रांसफर से पहले, और ना ही यहाँ आने के बाद. बस इतना सुकून ज़रूर था की अब उसका दिल का हाल और मन की सच्ची तस्वीर जानने के लिए उसके साथ प्रीती आ गई थी.

शादी से पहले जब दिवेश कपकोट आकर रहने लगा और काम करने लगा था, तभी से प्रीती को फोन पर इस बात का सराबोर करातारहता था की जब घर में हफ्ता-भर बिजली और पानी जैसी रोज़मर्रा की ज़रूरतें भी पूरी नहीं होंगी, तब प्राकृतिक सुंदरता अपने आप में ही घुटन बन जाएगी. लेकिन प्रीती तो कुछ सुनने वाली थी नहीं क्यूंकि इन सब बातों से परे, वो अपनी ही खयाली दुनिया बसाये हुए थी, जिसमे वो केवल दिवेश के साथ एक घर बसाना चाहती थी- अपना घर; फिर चाहे किसी भी परिस्थिति का सामना ही क्यों न करना पड़े.

आज कमरे की खिड़की से बाहर देखती प्रीती, दिवेश की सारी पुरानी बातें याद कर रही है. आज वो कपकोट की सुंदरता को निहार रही है- घर के ठीक सामने एक छोटा सा देवी माँ का मंदिर है, मंदिर के पीछे एक खाई है; ज़्यादा गहरी नहीं है. और इसके अलावा जहाँ तक भी नज़र जाती है, वहां सिर्फ पहाड़, पेड़ और मीलों दूर तक फैला ये नीला आसमान है. कपकोट आने के बाद ये पहली बार नहीं है की प्रीती अपने कमरे की खिड़की से बाहर देख रही है. घर में अक्सर बिजली नहीं होती और वो यूँ ही वादियों में और अपनी सोच में खो जाती है.

मगर आज पहला ऐसा अवसर है की लगातार तीन दिन से पानी की किल्लत का सामना करना पड़ रहा है. किसी तरह पहले से भरे हुए पानी से बाथरूम का काम चल रहा है और पीने के लिए आखरी भरी हुई बोतल आज खत्म हो जाएगी. किसी तरह खाना भी बन रहा है, फिर चाहे वो मैगी और खिचड़ी ही क्यों न हो. लेकिन कल भी अगर पानी ना आया, तो क्या करेंगे, इस बात की चिंता अभी से सताने लगी है.

खैर, कुछ भी हो, फिलहाल दिवेश का बैंक से लौटने का इंतज़ार करती और सुबह से खिड़की पर ही टंगी प्रीती के मन में आज भी, अभी भी यही संतोष है की जो भी है, जैसा भी है, यही मेरा घर है- शादी के बाद मेरा पहला घर. और चाहे कुछ भी हो, दिवेश के साथ रहने का सुख और संतोष उसको आज भी सकारात्मक ऊर्जा से भरे हुए है.