Monday, October 22, 2012

Shayad



In the memory of Asheesh Sharma My Bestest friend...one of the brightest pilots in Indian Air Force who passed away in a freak accident....

शायद

सर उठा के नीले शून्य में देखती हूँ
सोचकर कहीं तुम नज़र आओगे शायद

उड़ते हुए हर जहाज़ के पर गिनती हूँ
उम्मीद में की तुम हाथ हिलाओगे शायद

हर उड़ते पक्षी के पर गिनने लगती हूँ
सोचकर की अब तुम्हारा यही रूप हो शायद

हर कल्पना तुम्हारे उड़ने से जोडती हूँ
हवा के झोंके से ही आये थे तुम इसलिए शायद

और मेरे जीवन का सारा दर्द ले गए थे
अपनी मीठी मुस्कान के साथ शायद

क्यूं उड़ते उड़ते ही चले गए सदा के लिए
सोचा होगा की अब मैं जी लूंगी शायद

जानते थे जाना होगा एक दिन इसलिए
स्वयं के लिए जीना सिखाया था मुझे शायद

Friday, June 8, 2012

His Falling




She was thoroughly enjoying her stroll when a man lying prone on the roadside caught her attention. Fearing the worst, she turned the limp figure over. Her heart leapt a mile when she saw the man's face...” Raina was dumbfounded. It was Rajeev. He was lying beside the wooden bench on the side walk.
She thought he had suffered a stroke or a cardiac arrest. She bent down to check his pulse and sent up a silent thank you that he was not dead. A wave of nauseating odour hit her nostrils. He was inebriated!! The sight of this good looking man lying sloshed on the roadside was perplexing and she remained standing there looking askance. It was early morning. There were only a few joggers, strollers and little children going to school in this small city and everyone was glancing at her.
She was in jeopardy. She wouldn’t leave him alone here, she just could not.  Waiting she looked at the prone man again. Clean shaven and dressed in smart casuals, his tall frame looked awkward and out of place on the roadside. She noticed a red bruise on his forehead. flagging down an auto-rickshaw, She asked the driver to help her get Rajeev to her home nearby.
While he was sleeping she kept looking at him and wondered what had lead to his falling unconscious on the roadside. It was not like him to loiter around and get drunk. A bright student in college, his friends and teachers knew he would make a name for himself. She also knew that he admired her silently. His eyes spoke words which he could never articulate.
“Things took a different turn”, she rued. He woke up and rubbed a finger against the painful bruise “How are you feeling now?” Raina asked him. Rajeev was shocked out of his wits. She was sitting on the bedside. He looked at the evening sky through a large glass window “It must be a dream! What is she doing here?” he thought. Raina smiled “You should be thinking; what are YOU doing here?” She said.
He looked around. He was in the bedroom of a small apartment. The kitchen and living room were further visible from where he sat. It was sparsely but tastefully furnished. He could feel a harmonious vibe emanating. It certainly reflected the personality of the woman by his bedside. The curtains and carpets were earthy rich brown complementing the smooth ivory white furniture. There were just a few accessories strategically placed. “Just like Raina; simple and elegant”, he thought to himself.
She brought him some tea “How did you land up on the roadside?” She asked in a direct tone now, her hand going up to his forehead. He instinctively shirked back, stiffening at her touch. There was an unseen chord of tension between them. It suddenly started vibrating in his head. She kept quiet and removed her hand.
“I am sorry for the trouble”, he said, evading her question. He was still wondering how and where on earth she found him. He remembered he was in the bar of the hotel. He had been drinking there alone and had stepped out for a smoke and fresh air. “It is ok, though it wasn’t easy to haul you up here”, she said.
Suddenly the sequence of incidents became clear to him. He was feeling uneasy, having had more than his usual quota of drinks and had suddenly collapsed. His nerves were always high-strung when he came back here. Every visit took its toll. “You were lying unconscious. I had guessed that you had a bad fall.”  She was trying not to further embarrass him. But he knew he was totally drunk last night. Being back in this city always undid his resolve.
Five years ago, Raina was his only reason to have stayed back in this nondescript town after his father’s transfer. He had been destroyed on knowing that she was engaged to a boy from a high class business family. Presuming that Raina never knew about his feelings, he had decided to leave this city.
He had stopped responding to all calls and messages, shut himself off from everyone and receded into a closed world. His career was his only salvation. He joined his family in Mumbai and immersed himself in reaching the top of the corporate ladder.
 “I have to get going. I must have missed my flight back home.” He started fiddling with his smart phone to book his flight. Raina came back from the kitchen carrying a glass of water. “Have your medicine”, she said standing near him. “The doctor said you have a mild concussion”, he was once again struck by her warmth and simplicity.
Having booked his ticket, he spoke “I owe you an explanation.” Raina cut him short, “No, I don’t need one.” She feared it. He knew she was afraid that he would blame her. But she didn’t have a reason to fear. What happened five years ago was no one’s fault. He had never gathered the courage to express himself to her. “Your family must be waiting for your call.” she said. “Call them and inform that you are alright.”
“Ma died last year, there is no one else”, he said flatly. Her heart skipped a beat. That means he is not married. “Girlfriend?” she questioned. He shook his head in a no. She was relieved.
She had been thinking all day. It was her last chance. She spoke aloud, “You should have called me sometime. I convinced my father to meet you. But you were gone! ” He didn’t know what to say further. “I never married.” She said.
The thought struck their minds together. The falling had brought them together again. They both knew it was a second chance and they were determined to not to let this go by.
They embraced each other. “You will never fall after today”. She said. “Never” he closed his eyes and smiled.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tea Stall


Urmilla was sitting under the huge tree on the side walk. It was beside the parking lot in front of the Secretariat and Estate Office building in Sector 17, the commercial hub of Chandigarh. It was a big parking lot across the tree lined roads and the footfall was numerous. People from all walks of life came with files and documents to get some or the other work done. It kept her busy all day.
She made tea on the footpath and served it fresh to those who couldn’t either afford the grub served at the tea stall inside the building or they didn’t like the vending machine tea. She sold cigarettes too though she really didn’t like doing it. But then she didn’t like vending tea either. A jerry–can cut off from the top, served as her water reservoir. A kerosene pump stove, a few blackened aluminium pots, old aluminium cans for sugar and tea leaves with a broken plastic spoon in each and some wheat flour biscuits in a plastic jar- that’s what she ran her tea-shop with. Not to forget the cutting-chai glasses and stands which the nouveau –riche now adorn their living rooms with.
She was wearing a red and green cotton sari with a red blouse, a bindi on her forehead. Red glass bangles tinkled on her wrists with every movement. Silver anklets adorned her ankles. She had toe- rings on her toes, her heels were cracked and the soles blackened with ash and dust. Her eyes were fixed on the gates of the building across the road.
She was squatting near her stove and sitting idle. The biting cold was over in this small, modern city and there were not many customers for tea in the afternoon. Her makeshift stall was bang opposite the office building and she could clearly see people entering and exiting. She sat there, waiting for him. She was sure she had not missed him; he surely had not come today. A gloom was creeping on her like the amarbel on the nearby tree; slowly, silently, it was taking over her thoughts. It was a morose day, overcast with glum looking gray clouds which just hung like a wet blanket. As if nature was grieving with her. “Or was it that it was grieving FOR me?” She asked herself.
She was silently praying again to save her from this second loss. She knew she would not be able to cope up with this grief again. She had just started to pick up the threads of her torn life again.  
 Raju the young tout crossed the road from the secretariat and asked for a cigarette. “No, you won’t have any from now onwards. Pay up your outstanding amount and then ask for new merchandise,” Urmilla said. He started pleading, “I will pay up all your money tomorrow didi. I have two customers lined up tomorrow.” She gave in and gave him the stick. He picked up a matchbox and ran away shouting, “Write this in the hisaab too.” She shook her head, muttering “scoundrel” to herself. That was always her problem; she was too soft on her customers, as Mahesh used to say.
Mahesh, her husband, used to wash cars in a locality in the sector. He had a network of boys whom he helped getting employment. They all worked together as a team. He made good money out of the network as he charged a percentage of earnings from the boys. He was their agent.
They were comfortable in life; a one room shanty to live in and their three children went to school. The two girls were naughty but their boy was a smart one. He had managed to buy a second hand motorcycle and zipped around town in the morning from one row of houses to the other, supervising his team of car cleaners. He wanted Urmilla to stop selling tea now. The new city had lived up to their expectations, they were far better off than when they were at Shahpur; their native village in Bihar. Urmilla didn’t agree, she wanted to retain her shop, she hoped that some day she might get a chance to set up a tea shop inside the secretariat. She kept hearing of how money exchanged hands during auctions of stalls inside the building and she was saving for it.
One October day tragedy struck. Mahesh and his friend were killed in road accident. He was driving his bike and they were coming back from Mansa Devi temple after a darshan. Urmila’s world turned upside down. She was struck first with the emptiness in her life and then the stark realities.
The realities took over at a startling pace. The team of car cleaners simply vanished, taking all the earnings with them. There never was a formal agreement in place. She had to take care of the three children and for their sake keep herself alive.
The roadside tea stall was her only chance, her salvation.

Now five months later, things were better. Her life was in balance again. The children went to school. They had three square meals. All due to the tea stall. She was grateful for her instinct in retaining the stall, when Mahesh had wanted her to dispose it off.
Suddenly, she saw her girls playing football with the makeshift dustbin and ran after them. They were still as naughty and always squabbling. Geeta, the elder one was pulling Seema’s hair. Urmilla gently separated them and took them both back to the cook-stove, dragging the cardboard box that served as the dustbin. She sat them both down and gave them a biscuit each. The day was drawing to a close. She was tired. She had been waiting the whole day... and he hadn’t turned up.
He came every day, carrying an office file. He came at 11 AM and stayed inside the secretariat all day, coming out for lunch at the rice stall and then again to have tea in the afternoon. He wore leather chappals and a white shirt and grey trousers on all days.  It had been close to three months now since he had begun frequenting her ramshackle tea stall.  Every day he walked over to her stall and asked for tea sans sugar. Initially she had tried selling him the biscuits, but he didn’t want them. He drank his tea, sat there for some time and left, never talking and always paying her the two rupees she asked for.
Around two months ago, as the two girls were punching and hitting each other again, she had slapped both of them. He had intervened, protecting the girls and requesting her to stop. She was startled and stopped hitting her daughters. The girls took to him that day onwards. They looked forward to his daily visit and he started sharing stories and jokes with them. He also started talking to her, asking about her husband and family. Then one day he told her about his wife. He had lost her in an accident and since then had been trying to get her house transferred. That was the reason for his daily visits to the estate office. She learned that he had loved his wife dearly and was devastated after her death. His sons did not take care of him. He had given up all work and just wanted to get the house transferred in the name of an orphanage that his wife had started. His life’s aim now was to save the property from the greedy claws of his sons and give it to the orphanage. “That was Uma’s last wish,” he said. She was touched by the love in his voice as he talked of his late wife.  She herself had vowed to look after her children and educate them well, as that was Mahesh’s only passion.
Urmilla and the secretariat visitor developed a strange affinity towards each other. He started writing down her accounts and coaxed her to recover her money and she introduced him to a man who could fast-track the transfer of property. She waited for him each morning. She even started dressing better and discarded her white and pale clothes. He also finished his work and came out for tea eagerly. He started looking well, and took care of his appearance.
Strangely, customers started materialising again and her business became organised. The flow of money helped her to continue the children’s education. But beyond all this she started depending upon him for emotional succour. They were like foils to each other, providing support and strength. It was a friendship beyond norms, caste and social divisions. People looked at them and wondered what made the two stick together. They were so different. She was an illiterate poor woman with no social standing and he was an educated middle class gentleman. But their life situations didn’t deter either of them. It was a simple understanding. They didn’t want anything beyond companionship.
But today their ritual had been disrupted and she was worried. He had not come and she didn’t even know where to look for him. He had never been late before. She didn’t know where he lived; she had never bothered to ask. She was not able to concentrate on her work. The anxiety was gnawing at her innards. She had a sense of foreboding. As the hours passed she thought of every frightening possibility and simultaneously shook it off. By mid-day she was praying fervently for his well being. As the evening drew to a close she decided to pack up.
“He is not going to come. Maybe his work at the estate office is over. What would he come for, then! Had she read too much into the relationship?”
As the evening dragged on and the first few stars twinkled in the sky, a car stopped near her tea stall. A fine looking young man alighted from the car and started walking towards her. She instantly recognised him as his son. Her heart skipped a beat. Why was he here?
 As he approached, her instincts took over. She scrutinised his face for some tell tale emotion, some sign. His lean face was creased and weary. He looked at her, as if assessing her. She was painfully conscious of her poverty for the first time in ages.
He asked for her by name and then said, “My father, Mr. Des Raj Sharma died of a heart attack last evening. In his will, he has stated that the mess contract in the orphanage, which will be opened at his residence, be given to you, on a permanent basis. He has also left two rooms in the house for you and your family.”
Urmilla was dumbfounded. The security and support she had been working for was now within grasp but she had again lost her anchor. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Shadow


It came to my house.
It sat on my shoulders.
Your shadow is yours. I told it so. I said it was yours.
I have carried it with me too long. I give it back
The Shadow

I AM BEAUTIFUL!!! I AM beautiful!! I am beautiful! AM I beautiful?? Am I?? Am I? Am I…..
The affirmative phrase was slowly wearing itself down to an interrogative.
It was supposed to work as an affirmation. The self-help book Sandhya was reading had prompted her to follow this technique. The writer instructed her to stand in front of the mirror and repeat this mantra aloud many times. She tried it honestly, for many days but to no avail.
She was standing in front of her dressing table in her room. It was a sparsely decorated room in black and white. The highlight of her room was the big study table loaded with books of all kinds, neatly arranged on the shelves. It was tidy and well kept always. The dressing table had an array of lotions and cream tubes and jars but no hair bands or ribbons and no make-up. Dad didn’t allow her to apply even kajal in her eyes. “You don’t need more shades of black on your face”, he had said, once.
Sandhya was dark, with curly short hair. Not fair. Now twelve years old, she had a dialogue with God every day. She always asked, “Why didn’t you give me mom’s complexion and hair?”  Her mother was fair with smooth black hair. Relatives and friends who saw either of them for the first time unfailingly commented, “You haven’t taken after your mom.” It just broke her heart. Why didn’t they look beyond her complexion? Her features resembled her mom!
In this modern city there were mostly Punjabis and hill people who had migrated from small towns and brought the traditional concept of beauty with them. Fair was the ideal definition of a girl. It didn’t matter whether she had the brain to do anything worthwhile or not. Sandhya didn’t fit the mould. She was smart, articulate, intelligent and a good student. A topper, a great athlete, loved to read, knew how to play the sitar and was extremely good at dancing.
But did all this even matter?
All she wanted was to be called pretty and that she was not…because she had taken after her father. He was dark. Dad had been dazed by her mom’s fair complexion. That the halo was affecting his daughter was a fact oblivious to him. Every fairness cream in the market was promptly brought home and rubbed on to her poor face even if she hated it. She knew that it won’t make her fair…nothing could. Bright colours like red and yellow were banned from her wardrobe, they made her look darker.
Time passed; she grew up quickly. Now sixteen, she was still dark-that wouldn’t change-but now she was tall and slim and had a neat plait. They had a wedding to attend at Agra-  city of the Taj Mahal. Man, was she excited! She had new dresses stitched for different days, matched her shoes and jewellery and this time she was determined to style her hair and also put on makeup. She hoped in her heart that she would meet someone who would find her attractive. Times were changing from Cindy Crawford to Naomi Campbell and she hoped that at least some people would look beyond this deep set complexion bias.
They reached Agra and from the word go a handsome boy was shadowing her…she was thrilled. Absolutely surprised at the attention..(the hormones were taking their toll). Those three days were a breeze. She was in the throes of ecstasy. But she never responded to the advances. Wasn’t it enough that she could attract someone? That she was not ugly. That she was normal. But no, it wasn’t enough. She needed THIS affirmation in more concrete terms. So she didn’t take any risk.
Over the years she met many admirers but none of them whispered those three words in her ears. None of them told her that they found her pretty. She kept wondering why these words eluded her. “Maybe I really am ugly”, she thought. She had tried to grow up normally like any other girl. Had a developed shapely figure and kept fit. She had learned to put on some make-up and refined her dress sense. Outwardly she was smart and confident but the longing to be called pretty was still burning in her poor heart.
Then she met Rajeev. Boy, was he handsome! Fair, with a Greek God face and big, deep brown, expressive eyes. All the girls in the locality swooned over his good looks and wanted to have a glimpse of his smile. If he condescended to talk to one of them, it was an achievement to be touted about for months. It was rumoured that he had at least six girlfriends.
He teased her on the road and she reacted. He wanted to meet and talk. He conveyed this through a friend. They didn’t have Facebook and cell phones those days. She was floored. ‘The God’ himself wanted to meet her!! She dressed with care and applied lip gloss and kohl. She lied to her father and went to meet him in a nearby restaurant. They had a quiet conversation about mutual interests and hobbies, normal chit chat. Just when they were about to leave he asked, “When can we meet again?” “ Anytime”, she wanted to answer but she didn’t want to appear stupid so she said, “I’ll call you” and left.
They met off and on and had long chats over the phone. It went on for two years but Sandhya was always cautious. She didn’t want to be overwhelmed by anyone but the attention was exhilarating. He professed his admiration and love again and again.
Then one day out of the blue, she asked him,” Why did you fall so hard for me?” He smiled and said, “Because you are beautiful Sandhya and I wouldn’t change a thing about you. I always wanted a pretty girl like you. You are smart and intelligent- that is an added bonus.”
Now she could moult. Now she could come out of her cocoon of darkness and go out on her bright wings. Those few genuine words lifted the veil of darkness from her mind and heart.
Now she could stand in the room and not have to repeat those affirmations. She had heard of simple words having profound meanings….now she understood.
Now after twenty years she could get out of her mother’s shadow and see her own self in her mirror and believe the words- “I AM Beautiful.”