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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Love Actually….


‘Who asked you to take the car out on your own? Are you out of your mind?’ shrieked Joy looking at Sirin. 

Tears welled up in her eyes, she felt humiliated to say the least. How could Joy be so insensitive? Sirin had driven the car to Joy’s office to pick him up after work. She had thought that it would be a nice surprise on his Birthday. But his reaction left no doubt in her mind of exactly how surprised Joy was. Sirin was tired of Joy always telling her to do this and not to do that. She felt like an overgrown child with an adopted parent, who was over-protective of her. 

Where had they gone wrong? Was five years too long to stay with someone or was it too short a time to know each other? They were married for five years now. It was a love marriage certainly. Sirin had always felt that they were complete as a couple. Each completed the other. But down the line, something had gone wrong; their relationship had gone from a loving one to a suffocating one. Joy’s idea of caring had taken the turn of suffocating Sirin out of her life. Lost among her thoughts she could hear a faint voice. She slowly came back to the present. Joy was telling her something:

‘I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to shout at you. It’s just that I’m concerned that you may hurt yourself! Come sit in the car I will drive!’ Sirin did as instructed. She looked out of the window at the passing scenery. Maybe she was giving chance to a dead relationship. She certainly needed a break from all this. She could hear Joy say something. But she was not paying attention…. they had drifted apart and she didn’t need a qualified psychiatrist to tell her that. Just a few days back, she had rejected an offer from her office to go for an on-site project for a month. She did not even think about it for once because she could not bear to stay away for Joy for such a long time. But…now…. she felt that she needed to be alone. She needed to be herself again.

‘Let’s drive straight to home…..I don’t think it will be healthy for you and also for me to eat outside today. Remember we had gone out for dinner even last week….’ instructed Joy. Sirin was too tired and emotionally drained to answer. She just nodded in agreement. What was wrong…..why had Joy suddenly become so insensitive towards her. Was he seeing someone else? Was she thinking too much about it? Or was it just a passing phase? It was too much for her now. She needed a break. She prayed that her boss was still ready to consider her interest in the on-site opportunity. Returning home she mailed her boss stating her change of mind.


‘You don’t have to go on an onsite project…. You can’t do that to us?’ shouted Joy to a stubborn Sirin. ‘I don’t have to go but I want to go…’ was all Sirin said. ‘But why….if it is for the money, then….’ pleaded Joy. ‘No it’s not the money….’ added Sirin even before Joy had finished. ‘See… my work is important to me and I need to do it. There are others contesting for this opportunity but I was chosen…so I don’t think I should let go of this’ replied Sirin logically. ‘Fine…if that is all you want…but before that I will have to be in Hyderabad for a week starting day after tomorrow. Since you are not leaving before the end of this month I will be back well within time’. 

That’s it…. wouldn’t Joy fight any longer and plead with her; the discussion was over….?  What was the point in going away if Joy didn’t care at all….! In an attempt to punish Joy she was actually punishing herself. She felt stupid, to say the least. This was a new phenomenon in their relationship. They avoided fights because of lack of time or simply because of fatigue. It seemed that they had burdened each other with so many expectations that they were always tired of carrying the relationship around. Everything had become mechanical. Things were done because they had to be done. Gone were the days when they had spent hours trying to persuade the other person or apologizing for something silly. Likewise the topic of Sirin-leaving-for-an-onsite-project was dropped…dropped for the time being….dropped because they had become fed up of arguing with each other!

The irony of the matter was that, they fought with each other because of a peculiar reason. The main reason why they had got married was the reason why they fought with each other. The reason was that Joy felt, Sirin was a carefree, happy-go-lucky girl; while for Sirin, Joy was the responsible family-man. And now after five years of marriage, Sirin felt that Joy was too responsible and actually very boring, while Joy felt that Sirin was too casual and actually immature and childish. How can people change so soon? The very reason why they had fallen in love with each other had become non-existent. Both of them were aware of the fact that they had once liked these qualities in the other and now hated each other for these qualities itself. 

However, since Sirin always insisted on the rule that ‘Work is work’, she couldn’t ask Joy to stay back and not go to Hyderabad. In that case, he may also ask her to leave her onsite project and stay back. And then, the focus of the matter will shift and she will lose her point to him. She couldn’t let that happen; she would not let Joy steal the emotional limelight from her this time, not in any way. Although irritated, she reluctantly accepted his official trip to Hyderabad. 


What was that noise….Sirin was jolted out of her sleep by some noise. She sat up straight and tried to assess the situation. She was sweating…the fan had stopped…probably a power cut, and the clock in the hall had just struck 12…. And most importantly she was alone…Joy was in Hyderabad for a week. It was too boring…fighting with Joy was much better than this peace…. Whatever new happened in office she itched to tell Joy…but talking over the phone was never the same as talking in person…. She had even contemplated a divorce few days back…..she shuddered to think of that now. Her whole existence was filled with Joy’s presence. She hated herself for loving her adversary…for missing the person who was responsible for all her worries. She felt helpless and sad. Was Joy feeling the same? Maybe… but Sirin did miss him and that was the simple fact….irrespective of the fact whether he missed her or not…

She will have to make this marriage work….and what about her on-site project? She cannot even survive a week, how on Earth will she survive a month without Joy? She was worried as how to handle this. Her ego was too huge to tell Joy that she will not go because she will miss him. Miss Him? Was that at all possible after so many years of being married to each other….. It certainly was… that was what she was feeling at that moment. She realized foolishly that happiness, sadness, anger, confusion and every other thing had a meaning…only when she was with Joy. But she could never let him know that. Not in this life at least! With these thoughts clouding her mind, days became noons, noons became evenings and evenings ended in sleepless nights. The week finally got over leaving Sirin relieved to have Joy back from Hyderabad.


Routine life once again pushed behind all sorts of worries from both their minds: Commuting to work every day, meeting work targets and dealing with weird colleagues, planning the months’ budget while having quick lunches and quicker dinners, while almost never having breakfast became the routine of their lives again. The day when Sirin will have to leave for a month was drawing to a close; even Joy had become very busy with his work. Work had become demanding for both of them and rightly so, they wanted to be busy to avoid any unpleasant confrontation with each other. Joy never discussed the topic of her leaving. He never even pleaded with her to stay. Sirin was certain that he was no longer interested in her. There must be someone or something else that made him uncaring towards her. Time just flew past them and it was almost time for her to leave.

A week before her departure, she was busy packing her bags when Joy announced: ‘I had applied for a month’s sabbatical in office. A month is not possible but given the fact that I have been working so hard for the last month they have agreed to give me a leave for 15 days provided I report from our onsite location’s office after 7 days. So basically we can be together for 15 days and even enjoy a small vacation…..what say?’ It took some time for Sirin to digest the whole information. ‘What..?? Are you serious?’ exclaimed Sirin. With a smirk across his face, Joy just nodded in reply. Sirin jumped up and flanked her arms around him in a huge embrace. This was by far the best news that she had heard in days. There was no ego involved now… life seemed simple. She felt happy and content just holding him. So…that was it….he was trying to buy out his leaves….and that was the reason why he was working so hard….Sirin was relieved that her worries were baseless. Joy stroked her hair and kept her in his embrace.

It took them some time to return to normalcy after the emotional upheaval that had seen a culmination after almost a month. Once back to the present, Joy took note of his surroundings: Sirin’s half-packed bags were scattered all over their bed room.

Looking around, his first question was: ‘Have you checked all the papers? Let me see ….what you were packing…..’ saying so, he started going through her half packed suitcase. 

‘What is all this? Pack some important things instead of six pairs of shoes….’ scolded Joy. Joy was his usual self again, back in his role of her guardian! Sirin smiled at his rebuke and thanked God silently for having Joy in her life!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Life is perfect…


Riya closed her eyes and rested her head on Ryan’s shoulder. This feeling of safety was primal to Riya’s existence. She was unable to think that a day will come when she will not be able to enjoy such moments of solitude with Ryan. Over these few years, he had become an important part of her life: her friend, love and confidante. She could trust him with any secret of her life. He always had solutions to all her problems. No matter how tricky the situation was, Ryan found a way to bail out Riya from it. His suggestions in her work life as well as personal life were objective and practical. Even Ryan depended hugely on Riya. She was his pillar of strength. With each day their relationship had grown manifolds and found a new meaning.

She felt a slight jerk and looked up to see that Ryan was motioning her to keep her head off his shoulder. Lost in her own thoughts, Riya had almost forgotten that they were traveling in a crowded bus instead of Ryan’s car and both of them had huddled together to occupy the only empty seat in the bus. The journey to and from office was the most memorable part of Riya’s day. This was for the simple reason that she could be with Ryan and share all her happiness and worries with him. All her worries actually, turned to happiness when she was with him. Wherever they went she met a few envying gazes from women around them. Needless to say, she felt very proud to be with him.

‘By the way…why were you shouting at your team members today?’ inquired Ryan, breaking into her stream of thoughts. ‘When…? Oh..Yes…even you would have done the same had you been in my position’ defended Riya.
‘Why? What happened?’ questioned Ryan. ‘You know about that big client delivery that we have on the 20th….? Regarding that, my efficient team members had gone ahead and sought Subho Sir’s advice…even without telling me anything. Naturally….Subho Sir was irritated. He called me in his cabin and asked me to improve my relations with the team. Just imagine….. How big an insult that is to me?’ fumed Riya.

‘And…. you think…the solution to all this is shouting at your team? I don’t think it will help in any way. Just cool your temper for once…and think…. Do you actually give time in building communication within your team? Your team members may find you hard to approach…..maybe that is the reason why they went ahead to met Subho Sir! Why don’t you sit with them tomorrow first thing in the morning and ask them their issues…. What say?’ advised Ryan.

Ryan did have a point. Being busy with the client delivery she did neglect the issues plaguing her team members. Riya thought that maybe she was a little too hard on them. Actually she was stressed and angry at the same time for being called by Subho Sir. Thus, she conveniently vented her anger on her team.

‘Well…I think you are right! I don’t know what happens to me when I get angry…. I will talk to them tomorrow’ said Riya smiling. Saying it, made her feel relaxed. What would she do without Ryan….? She could not even think. He was just the radar of her life’s ship; the savior in her distress. Her thoughts were broken by the incessant ringing of Ryan’s phone. Ryan picked up the phone and cupped his hands over the speaker to avoid any disturbance. Riya looked out of the window to wait for his call to end.

‘So…what are you doing tomorrow? Can we go for shopping?’ asked Riya trying to change the serious atmosphere. ‘Shopping....? let’s see…You know that I cannot stay out of home for a long time after office. If you can manage to leave office a little early then maybe we can plan something..’ suggested Ryan. Riya beamed with joy, such rare moments were always to be cherished to the utmost. She entwined her fingers in his and whispered in his ears, ‘Thank you for being so understanding…..I love you so much’. Ryan smiled in agreement and added ‘I love you too….’ For Riya, the moment lasted for an eternity and everything else seemed to fade into oblivion! He slowly untangled his fingers from hers and motioned her to move and give way. His stop was coming next. She woke up from her reverie and smiled. As he approached the door she waved him goodbye. Riya’s stop was next. As soon as Ryan got off the bus, she also got up from her seat to walk towards the door. For as long as she could, she craned her neck to stare at Ryan’s fading silhouette in the darkness outside.

Ryan walked the ten minutes path leading to his home thinking about Riya and smiled to himself. He pressed the calling bell and waited patiently. The door opened and Sunaina flashed him a hearty smile. ‘Hey…how was your day?’ asked Sunaina enthusiastically. Entering, Ryan gave her a huge smile and added: ‘Just office…you know…you tell me what you did the whole day? And where is our little princess? Did she complete her homework?’
‘Oh…Yes…she has been a good girl all day. But she is fast asleep now’ replied Sunaina, obviously proud of her four year old.

Ryan went straight to his daughter’s room and carefully opened the door, conscious not to make any noise. He kissed the forehead of his sleeping child. She was in a sound sleep. He left the room silently to go back to his room. He then freshened up and sat down to dinner opposite his wife of 7 years. Dinner was the only time when he caught up with Sunaina, and talked about everything, especially, about their daughter. Their daughter was in school now and quite a bright child too. Life was just perfect for this family!


Riya walked herself home almost dragging to take every step; all the time thinking about Ryan and sometimes about her parents too. At times, she was worried about her parents, who were busy finding a groom for her. The way they were looking, it will not be long before they find someone appropriate. She was worried that this was also taking a toll on their health. They were always stressed about not finding the right guy. She smiled thinking about their concern for her and thought how lucky she was to have such wonderful parents. Her mother opened the door with a volley of questions.

‘How will I ever explain to the groom’s family that their would-be daughter-in-law has to return at midnight from office? I don’t know how will you manage when you get married? Not everyone will be as adjusting as Ma and Papa. Are you listening to me?’ shouted her mother. Riya flung her arms around her mother to stop her lecture. ‘Ma…enough…I’m tired already…give me something to eat please…’ pleaded Riya. Her mother softened instantly and set out to get the table ready for dinner. Riya freshened up and sat down to eat, all the time fidgeting with her phone.

‘Leave the phone alone and concentrate on your food!’ instructed her mother. Like a school girl, she grimaced at her mother mockingly, but obliged. Her father joined them on the dinner table.
‘How was your day, beta?’ asked her father. She smiled and replied with a nod, signifying that it was 'OK'. Mr. Awasthi was quite proud of his only child and discussing her office at dinner had become a routine for the past few years.

She was about to turn, to tell her father something about her office, when the screen of her phone lit up with the words: ‘Boss calling…’
Riya stopped to smile, picked up the phone and walked away from the dining table.

‘Hello…Ryan...? Calling so soon…..?? Is she asleep already…?’ she asked in a hushed tone.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Strings Detached….

Her lips quivered to tell him the truth, but she was too overwhelmed with emotion to speak anything. ‘Everything will be fine now. We will be together always’, Shayan was whispering to Simi, as he cradled her in his arms.

Simi was jolted out of her dream as a thunder struck outside. She woke up perspiring in the rainy December night. For a while she was too dumbstruck to understand what was happening. She slowly wiped her forehead and took deep breaths to regain her senses. She was sitting on her bed, in her room and she had had a dream. She peered at the other side of the bed to see Joy sound asleep. She was thankful for Joy’s deep sleeping habits as opposed to her light sleeping ones. Since their marriage, she had always been the one getting up earlier or in the middle of the night due to some small noise or sound to find Joy sleeping peacefully.

But that was something else, her mind was disturbed by the dream she just had. Or was it a nightmare? No …certainly not a nightmare! She could not dare to think that whatever she had ever felt for Shayan was a nightmare. Shayan, the name stirred all those hidden memories in her. She was puzzled why after so many years, she was suddenly dreaming of him. They were not even in touch….neither was she unhappy in her marriage and missing him….then what was it? What was it that had not broken off still…sitting there she could still relive the incident on her wedding day. 

Simi was looking exquisitely beautiful. More than her face she had intelligent eyes that did half her talking. In the bridal attire her eyes were to die for. As she sat in the marriage hall waiting for her groom to come, she heard her phone ringing inside her purse. It was Shayan. He must be calling for the direction to reach the wedding hall, thought Simi. He was always early for everything, be it a class or an interview or a date. He hated being late.
‘Hello…Oh my God…. You look too good!’ exclaimed Shayan over the phone. Simi laughed at his easy self. After that day at his flat, there was a weird silence between them. She was happy to find Shayan in his normal self. ‘As if you can see me through the phone…’ retorted Simi. ‘I don’t need to…I know that you’re looking stunning…..I just called to tell you something…..that I…’ he searched for words.

‘That you are sorry to let me go and not propose marriage to me when you should have…isn’t it?’ teased Simi with a mischievous giggle. 

‘How did you…. Yes you are right. I love you a lot and I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have proposed to you that day at my flat when you told me that your marriage was fixed…..’ Shayan’s voice was suddenly serious and almost pleading. The smile on Simi’s face vanished and her joyful expression was replaced by that of panic. 

‘It’s not too late…. I can arrange everything…You call off the marriage….or maybe we could elope and get married….what do say?’ carried on Shayan.

Simi was suddenly furious, ‘How dare you say all that to me…you are still not ready…and you never will be. You really think all this is a game….right? Either call off the marriage or run away….how could you suggest such a thing… could I ever fall in love with someone like you…?’ no matter how much angry she was, Simi had confessed her feelings for him.

‘So you do love me…. Then why are you getting married to this guy?’ pleaded Shayan. ‘Just leave me alone Shayan….just leave me alone….before I lose my temper and….. After so many days and months you suddenly call me on my wedding day and expect me to leave my marriage and family and go away with you. Who do you think you are?’ ‘But I….’ Shayan tried to say something, Simi closed her eyes to let the tears sting her face. She had to do something quickly before any further scene was created.
‘Please do come and have dinner at my wedding!’ added Simi with a strict tone, trying hard to control her tears.

Shayan was too shocked at her sudden change of expression. He wanted to say something to her when he heard voices of relatives filling the room. ‘Silly girl….why are you crying on your marriage day…you are ruining your mascara….Renu…can you please fix her eye make-up? Look at her…such a pretty bride with mascara all over her face!’ exclaimed some female relative. And then there were other voices, which almost engulfed her amidst them. Shayan could only hear the phone click when she disconnected the call.  She had pushed him out of her life.

That was five years ago, now Simi was too happy in her marriage. She could not have asked for more. Then why suddenly did she dream of him. She took out her diary from its hiding place under the mattress and went back to the initial entries. There, on the top of one of the blank pages she found Shayan’s number. She thought of calling him, but why…suddenly after so many years….they would not have anything to tell each other. After that day, they had not talked to each other even once. She didn’t know whether he was married and most importantly, whether that number still existed!

The night passed slowly and unable to sleep or unable to try to sleep, Simi finally caught up on slumber just minutes before the alarm clock struck. She grabbed it and got out of bed. She mechanically did her routine work of the morning and got ready for office. ‘Is everything alright?’ inquired Joy, finding her unusually quite throughout the morning. ‘Yes of course…just worried about a presentation I have in office…’ covered up Simi. 

They left in opposite directions for their offices. When alone the first thing Simi did was to dial the number she had written on her palm. Before the ring, she cut the call, then again and…..again. The last time she left a missed call. ‘Damn!’ she muttered feeling like a schoolgirl in love giving missed call to strangers. Strangers….? Was that what they were….? Then what was that they had shared that afternoon in his flat….?? They had been so close to each other, that time seemed to have stopped and everything else had lost its meaning. But then she had moved away…not letting them commit what they had started to….. Was it that unfinished story between them that tied them together? What if…the story had ended as they had wanted it to…??

There were too many questions. She had to meet him once…. maybe, to talk about what happened…. maybe to move on from him and with her life. But had she not moved on? She was married and settled but there was something that still tied her to him. Otherwise why would she dream of him? In the initial days of her marriage, she did think of him often but then she got busy with work and life and he went out of her mind. What was it now that she wanted to know….? Certainly she was not looking for a fling with her ex-flame….Joy was more than what life could give her. Then what was it…that was tying her to Shayan. An apology maybe….or at least to talk about things to make them straight….to depart with a sweet ending than a sour thought. But was it at all possible….??
Her phone’s loud ringtone brought her back to the present. 

Shayan’s number flashed on her phone display. She hesitated but picked up.

‘Hello….I got a call from this number. May I know who is calling?’ inquired Shayan in a business like tone.

‘Hello….I’ was all Simi could start with.

‘Simi…is that you?’ chirped in Shayan’s enthusiastic voice.

‘Yes… how are you? It’s been so many years….I just thought….’ She replied.

‘Oh my God…I’m so excited to talk to you. Where are you? I’m in Delhi… seems from your number that even you are nearby…..My God…there’s so much to talk about…why don’t we meet? Today at lunch….are you free?’ asked Shayan excitedly.

Simi was taken aback at his casual behavior. What had happened? Had they time-travelled? It seemed as if that day of her marriage had not happened at all. Shayan sounded like the good old times. Puzzled, she heard herself say: ‘Yes I’m in Delhi itself and…hmmm…. I’m free… I think we can meet!’

‘Great! See you at lunch then. I will text u the details of the restaurant’ saying so Shayan ended the call.

She instantly regretted her decision to meet him. She toyed with the idea of calling it off till the time when she could no longer cancel it. She reached the restaurant, the address of which Shayan had texted her an hour back, informing her that he had made a reservation for two. Walking in hesitantly, Simi saw Shayan waiting at the table. Always before time, thought she and smiled. Shayan was dressed in smart formals, which spoke of the rising curve of his career. He had also put on a little weight that added a streak of maturity to his personality. Watching him sit there waiting for her, all her inhibitions were gone. She felt relaxed, approached the table and took her seat opposite him.

‘So…how has life been?’ asked Simi. ‘Life had never been the same…since you left me with a broken heart…’ retorted Shayan with a glint of mischief in his eyes. With that they both started laughing. ‘Oh really….I know I have that effect on guys….but in your case I should be given all the credit for your successful career. I broke your heart and you worked hard to succeed in your career.’ she quipped. ‘Oh yes…absolutely…’ added Shayan. The mood was lightened and they started talking about good old days.

‘I am sorry about that day…Shayan. I hope you understand that we were too young then to have taken a more mature decision’ added Simi finally. ‘Apology accepted. But I’m to blame too…. I guess I was too full of Hindi films to think that you will run away with me…. and I’m sorry too. You know after your marriage I did have thoughts of calling you so many times but…. somehow….I restrained myself. Today your call made things a lot easier for me.’

‘I did love you then…but…. There was no childishness or immaturity in that’ Simi blurted out and lowered her eyes. It was too candid a confession but she needed to get it out of her system. ‘I know…..even my feelings were very true…believe me. I know that we were honest then and….now….you and me…we are no longer the same…. Even if I try I cannot fall in love with you again. I fell in love with a pretty girl named Simi years ago……But years of pondering has made me realize that no matter how hard you try you can never go back to a phase in life which you have already passed. It doesn’t happen somehow. We have changed…everything else has changed….. don’t you think so?’

‘Oh my God…. I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear you say that. Yes exactly…that is what even I wanted to say. I don’t want to have hard feelings for you…I think we should put the past behind us’ added Simi. She felt a burden go down her shoulders, she could breathe more easily. They smiled at each other.

‘Oh….it’s almost half an hour past my usual lunch time…. I should be leaving now’…declared Simi looking at her watch.

‘Oh yes…me too. And yes…did I tell you that you have become prettier than before. Had I met you now I would have never let you go!’ winked Shayan. ‘I think…what we finally have now is a relationship with strings detached!’ stated Shayan. ‘I guess so…’ chirped in Simi.

They enjoyed a hearty laugh, shared the bill, tipped the waiter generously and left the restaurant. They hugged each other and waved goodbyes to carry on with their separate ways. 

Simi felt light and happy almost ecstatic with herself. Smiling happily, she called Joy to ask:

‘Will you be able to come home a little early today? I will prepare something special for dinner and…you….’ 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Marriages are made in Heaven

Ritu could hear her mother wail from the next room. ‘I don’t know what I have done wrong? Why is God doing this to my daughter?!!’ wailed her mother and the sobs continued. But strangely enough, unlike the other times of facing refusal from a prospective groom’s family, Ritu was not feeling sad at all. All she had was a little pool of happy feeling at the pit of her stomach. The happiness was slowly spreading all over to engulf her whole being. Her mother entered the room in a tear-stained avatar to console her. To say the least she was surprised to see the happiness on Ritu’s face. She was sure that grief had affected her weirdly. ‘Beta, it’s all right! You put on the face pack and then take a bath. There will be better news coming our ways soon’, consoled her mother. ‘I know’ was all Ritu said.

She was suddenly feeling liberated. She was not sad at all. For five long years Ritu had held her breath to find that perfect guy in the marriage market. She had met hundreds of men, boys and even uncles, who were all ready to marry her. Luckily or unluckily, something went wrong each time and the marriage did not take place finally. Today was also such a day, when Ajay’s family had called in the morning to inform her mother that they were not ready to proceed with the marriage.

Ajay Ahuja was not the most sought after bachelor in town. But he had a simplicity about him that made Ritu notice him. She had met Ajay a month back, through some common relatives. He was an average guy with a well secured job, plans for the future and a confidence about him. Ritu had thought that there might be a chance of a little something happening between them. He looked like an average Punjabi guy, but had intelligent eyes, that seemed to be full of honesty to Ritu. Since their meeting, she had prayed at least a thousand times to God to make this proposal work out. She had always been extra sweet with his parents whenever they had met. Last week they had come to see her and had told that they would finalize their decision and let them know over phone. And there stands the decision: Rejected yet again.

For the first time in her life, Ritu accepted her life as it was. She did not cry or blame herself. She realized that she could not keep hurting the person she loved the most. That person was she herself. She was suddenly happy to be living with her parents and living the kind of life she was. All of a sudden, she realized that she was waiting with bated breath, for her certain life to change into an uncertain one. She had no clue what marriage had in store for her. There was no guarantee that all will be well after marriage. Running after the mirage of marriage she was losing on her real life.

Last time she checked she was 24 and today she would turn 29 next month. She sat before the mirror and looked at her image. Age was not evident on her face but there was a sadness, a shadow of defeat at having left behind in the race of marriage. All her plans were at stake, she could not change her job let alone move to another city because she could get married any minute. She could not go on a vacation because it was not decent for single girls of her age to roam about alone, especially when her marriage could be fixed any day. Her mother selected the weddings she attended and the parties too, in the hope of finding that perfect guy. On such occasions, Ritu was not allowed to be herself, she had to be dressed as a would-be-daughter-in-law and behave very properly.

'Oh…!' exclaimed Ritu aloud, exasperated with her own thoughts. Too many things were clouding her thought process. First things first; she first needed a vacation or a something to break the monotony of her routine life. Once back from it, she would apply for a better job and in the criteria for location she will not specify any specific place. She was open to relocation. Ritu felt a burden go down her shoulders. She was happy to meet her real self: the carefree, happy girl, who was somehow getting lost in the marriage market. She felt a new confidence surround her as she got ready for office. Everything was perfect. She prayed to God before leaving the house. In her prayers, she couldn’t thank God enough for what he had given her.

An idea struck her and she dashed into her parents’ room to announce: ‘We will go to a movie today, Papa. I will get the tickets. Both of you should be ready when I get back’. Her mother was a little surprised seeing Ritu so happy. However, she also felt relieved to see happiness in her face after so many years. She was tempted to ask what had happened suddenly, but she restrained herself replying, ‘That will be really nice…. Of course… we will be ready’. ‘Beta…. Don’t waste so much money. Why don’t you go with your friends? You won’t enjoy with old people like us’ added her father affectionately. ‘No Papa, I want to go with you two please!’ insisted Ritu. Her father saw the genuine request in her eyes and nodded consent. Satisfied she left for office.

Reaching office, she first uncluttered her desk, which was full of stick-on notes, loose sheets of paper, files, pens and what not. She had kept the desk that way thinking that she would be married soon and move to another place and perhaps another office, thus postponing the cleaning of her desk. While in the act of sorting out things, Ritu smiled at herself thinking how foolish she had been. She had practically stopped living, waiting for each day to pass so that the next day would bring some better proposal for her. She looked around and noticed, maybe for the first time, that there were quite a few new faces in office. ‘Am I blind?’ she thought aloud. She had missed so much on her life already. She felt as if she had got back from an emotional coma and waited eagerly to soak in the surroundings as much as she could. Before she could feel, the day’s work wrapped up and it was time to go home. She quickly logged in to get the movie tickets from the theater’s website. Being a weekday there was hardly any rush. She booked the tickets and headed home.

She took a cab instead of waiting for the bus and gave directions to the driver to reach her home. Sitting there, she thought how long had it been when she had last broken her routine. She smiled as the wind lashed at her face and hair, blowing it into a mess. Reaching, she rushed through the stairs and stood outside their flat, ringing the bell impatiently many times. The door clicked open, ‘Mamma, how long do you take….’ she stopped mid-sentence to see Ajay’s parents sitting in their living room sofa. Her mother’s expression was grim; she nudged Ritu at the elbow, indicating her to greet them. ‘Namaste!’ was all she could manage looking at their direction.

Ajay’s mother started saying: ‘I was telling your mother, how nice a girl Ritu is….. It was just a little misunderstanding that made us call in the morning. Actually we realized that Pammy’s family was not as cultured and good like yours. We decided to marry Ajay here itself. Ajay is also liking this house.’ Cultured and good meant wealthy, that means they must have increased their demands on her parents. She looked up to see her father sitting sheepishly beside her mother. Even Ajay was the same, thought Ritu. When they had first met, she thought that Ajay had a personality of his own but even he could not take a strong decision.

She glanced at her watch and saw that time was running out, the show was in half an hour’s time. ‘Actually Aunty, we had a plan for the movie today. Maybe we could talk about this tomorrow. The show will start in half an hour’s time. If you don’t mind, I want to be there with my parents’ Ajay’s mother was scandalized at the request. She was too surprised to say anything. Ritu’s mother started to say something but her father squeezed her hand indicating her to stay silent. ‘Oh…ho…We had completely forgotten about that movie. In the morning itself, Ritu had requested us to go with her’ added her father with a confident smile. Ajay’s parents shot up to their feet, seeing no imminent invitation of prolonging their stay, they shuffled towards the door, forced a smile on their faces and started to leave. ‘Please do come again!’ added Ritu with a genuine smile. Ajay’s mother forced a smile and left.

Ritu’s mother was surprised at the sudden change in her daughter and before she could say anything Ritu pulled her by the hand saying: ‘Come on, you two…. I will never forgive you if I miss the first scene of the movie.’ Laughing, the trio left to rush to the movie hall. 
Movie, popcorn and dinner at a restaurant sealed the day with a happy ending note. Even her mother was not complaining and not even for once did she bring up the Ajay episode. 

Content with the day, Ritu enjoyed a good night’s sleep and was awake early the next morning to prepare for office. The phone was ringing in the hall. Ritu had no mood of picking it up; she lazed around the balcony with her cup of tea.‘Ritu…. Get the phone. It’s for you’ shouted her mother from the adjacent room.

‘For me??…Who wants to talk to me now…?’ muttered Ritu under her breath picking up the receiver. 
‘Hello? Ritu?’ asked the heavy, manly voice. 
‘Yes…’ answered Ritu curiously. 
‘This is Ajay here. Can I talk to you regarding something…?’ A bit flustered and a little blushing she replied back: ‘Yeah…sure…!’ 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Subho Bijoya

In Bengali tradition, the meaning of the term Bijoya, means Victory in the literal sense. Shubho Bijoya, thus, means "The Positive Victory". Bijoya is celebrated from the final day of Durga Puja, that means, from Vijaya Dashami till Kali Puja or Diwali. That is, it has a celebration time of about almost a month. Vijaya Dashami signifies Maa Durga’s victory over the demon God, Mahisasur. This signifies the conquest of good over the evil. Shubho Bijoya is the way of greeting each other after the Durga Puja to mark this victory of positive energy in our lives.

‘Is he here too?’ asked Khuki to her sister-in-law, Bokul. Bokul was the epitome of motherly grace and charm, the perfect Bengali wife, yet too refined and sophisticated in comparison to her contemporaries. Being the eldest daughter-in-law of a renowned zamindari family had its own pros and cons. She effortlessly fit into the requirements of the character. She was subtle yet strong, sensitive yet supportive of all the decisions taken by her husband. Never once in her 33 years of marital life had she fought or rather quarreled with her husband disgracefully. She had her opinions, and quite strong ones, so to say, but she had her own way of asserting them. Yelling and fighting was too below her. Being a daughter of a zamindari family, she had the restraint and the mind equivalent to a royal Princess.

 ‘Yes, Khuki…. We are all here for the Pujas. How are Samiran and your children? By what I know, both your sons are doing quite well’ offered Bokul. ‘Yes, Boudi (sister-in-law in Bengali)…. God has been graceful to us….but dada (elder brother in Bengali)…. How is he? Is he still angry with me? When I come to think of it now…. I think it was my fault…. I shouldn’t have fought with him regarding the distribution of property rights….’sighed Khuki. Khuki was the youngest of five siblings with Binoy Mohan being the eldest. Of five siblings, one was no longer alive, cancer killed Juin. Binoy was not only the eldest he was the only son, followed by four sisters. After Juin’s death, Binoy had wanted to sell the ancestral home and move towards the city. It was then that the last day of the Durga Pujas, Bijoya Dashami, culminated in an unpleasant row in the family pushing them away from each other forever.

 It’s been 10 years since the last Durga Puja, which the Mitra family had attended together as a family. The misunderstanding or the fight or the quarrel or the event or whatever that infamous event was known as, had successfully split Binoy Mohan Mitra along with his wife and children away from the rest of the family. Khuki was Binoy’s favorite among all his sisters. When she had fought face to face with him demanding equal rights in the property, he could not take the insolence easily. He said nothing and retired that night early to his room. He suffered a massive heart attack in the middle of the night. Although with U.S return and city bred doctors present in the extended family, his life was saved with timely medicines and immediate attention, Binoy was scarred for life. He could never recover from Khuki’s verbal attacks that evening. During the one month, after the Durga Puja when Binoy stayed at their ancestral home to recover, Khuki never, for once, visited him.

 Today, after 10 years, for the first time Binoy decided to visit his ancestral home in Midnapore for the Durga Puja. In these ten years, life had changed a lot: now his daughter was married and was a resident of Seattle, U.S.A, while his son had secured a job in one of the prestigious companies in Mumbai. On the insistence of his Seattle-born Bengali son-in-law, Binoy decided to show them around at their home in Midnapore. When he had checked with the housekeeper, he was informed that no one else was supposed to come at the same time. However, with a sudden shift of plans the rest of the extended family with their husbands, wives, daughters, sons, son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws reached the ‘Mitra Bhaban’ on Ashtami evening (the eighth day of Durga Puja celebrations). The old house suddenly came alive with so many voices, laughter, yelling, smell of food and most importantly, people. People of three generations in different shapes and sizes thronged the house. Needless to say everyone was enjoying the sudden, unplanned reunion as a respite from their daily clockwork lives.

 The caretaker, Topon kaku (uncle in Bengali) was particularly happy to have so many people around him and was happy to serve their many demands. Off late he had started thinking of himself as a mute furniture like all the old furniture in the big zamindar house. It was the last day of Durga Puja, the ladies of the house bid farewell to Durga in the traditional way of smearing vermilion on the goddess and each other; while the young boys and the men in the house physically accompanied Ma Durga and her children to Bisarjan (Immersion of the idol) to the family pond. It was Bijoya Sammiloni then. This event marked the departure of Ma Durga and signified the coming of prosperity and happiness till she returned next year. The younger generations touch the elders’ feet to show their respect while the elders blessed them generously and treat them with sweets. The festivities continued and were more evident in the kitchen; with every daughter or daughter-in law of the house trying to show their finesse in cooking.
Khuki watched Binoy from the corner of her eye and did not try to confront him face to face. Instead she asked Topon kaku to call Bokul aside. Seeing her, Khuki bent to touch her feet and take blessings. Bokul stopped her mid-way: ‘First touch your dada’s feet. He is waiting in his room for you.’ Khuki was too stunned to react and she blurted out: ‘Are you sure he is waiting for me and not anyone else?’ ‘No, he has not mentioned your name but after staying with him for 33 years I think I can read a little of his mind. He is old now and too tired to carry on the fight.’ Khuki could feel the tears welling up in her eyes; she knew that Bokul was right. They were old now and neither had the will or the strength to carry on in life without each other. ‘Come with me!’ said Bokul and tugged Khuki at the elbow. Outside Binoy’s room she asked her to wait and went inside to inform him. Binoy was furious. How dare Bokul reconcile with his sister on his behalf. ‘If she wants she can come but I will not talk to her…. That’s for certain!’ declared Binoy in strong words. Knowing her husband’s temper she did not object to him but went out of the room to send in Khuki.

 ‘Subho Bijoya, dada’ said Khuki touching his feet. Binoy instinctively held out his arm to bless her by touching her head. Doing so, he met her eyes and was shocked initially to look into the old face of his youngest sister.  ‘You look older than me!’ exclaimed Binoy with a sparkle in his eyes. ‘Yes, of course, as if you are getting younger each day!’ retorted Khuki. ‘I can still challenge you to climbing the stairs as many times as you want. Do you remember dada, how we played in the afternoons when everyone was asleep. What silly games were they? Climbing stairs…. then marbles at the back of the house….Do you remember?’ questioned Khuki. ‘Yes I do…. How have you been Khuki? It’s been so long..’ the moment their gazes met, their hearts connected and all the anger and bitterness of the past ten years melted away in tears and concern for each other. Conversation flowed effortlessly and it was not before dinner that they were disturbed by their children and they started sharing childhood memories with the younger generation. Bokul smiled knowingly, as she stood outside the room listening to her husband cite funny anecdotes.
Satisfied, she started walking across the corridor. 
‘You know what happened after that…….’ trailed off Binoy’s lively voice as Bokul walked towards the kitchen in preparation of the grand dinner!  

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Midnight Rendezvous

Rimi stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind her. She heard footsteps reaching the door and turned back to shout: ‘Don’t you dare follow me…. You are the sole reason for my sadness. I did a mistake marrying you.’ Prasun’s visage changed from a pursuing one to an extremely angry look. He just muttered ‘Fine’, turned back and went into the bedroom to close the door on Rimi. Momentarily, Rimi was a little scared at his expression. Did she hurt him a lot? She should not feel sorry. She did want to hurt him, only she had expected him to cajole her into changing her mood and dropping their quarrel.

In her fit of rage she had also forgotten that they were no longer staying alone. Her parents-in-laws were sleeping in the adjacent room. ‘Damn!’ she muttered under her breath. Why was she always expected to remember everything? For the last two hours she had been fighting incessantly with Prasun. There was actually no specific reason. They were married for just two years and love was very much evident between them. Then what was it? It was just that she was irritated…..she was irritated at the way the evening had shaped up…at the way she had thought that this get-together after their return from abroad would be celebrated by all. How naive of her…. She had been staying alone for too long and she craved family… it was she who forced Prasun to change his plans to get back home, because she felt that she was missing out on everything starting from the cousin’s marriages to the friends get-togethers and all the fun their relatives were having back at home. But the moment from when they had reached home, life was miserable. There were too many people around, and everyone had huge expectations from her! At least she thought they did!

Wiping away the tears stinging her face Rimi reached behind the kitchen counter to retrieve the pack of cigarettes she had hidden there after they had unpacked. She had all but completely forgotten about it, until now. There were a few left in the pack. She grabbed a match box and headed for the balcony. Closing the door behind her she huddled in a corner to light the cigarette. She took a long drag…it did not actually feel good but she felt in control. She was simply tired; she just sat there staring at the moonlit road below.

She thought to herself, what had she done…. What a fool she was…she had left her settled job, her known atmosphere and most importantly her independence and come back willingly to a prison house. Not that her in-laws were bad people. No they were not, they were all too supportive but sometimes support and love can become excessive… so much so that she felt suffocated. To top it all, the flow of relatives was non-stop…they were everywhere… and they had too many questions…. One aunt-in-law had also asked Rimi in the evening if she was pregnant and whether that was the real reason why they had returned. ‘What?’ was Rimi’s instant reaction at the question, the aunt-in-law backed up in time but Rimi’s evening was spoilt. Was that what everyone was thinking? While they were too happy with each other… they had not even given this idea a second thought.

‘Ouch..’ whispered Rimi as the cigarette stub burned her fingers. She lit another and kept staring at the moonlit road with these thoughts racing in her mind. She was tired now from the quarrel that she was having with Prasun and with the quarrel she was having with herself. She was even feeling suffocated at her mother’s behavior. Since they had reached India, her mother had been calling her everyday to enquire what was happening to her and how she was reacting to everything. She was enjoying these calls for the first few days but now she did not even pick up her call in the evening. Oh….she closed her eyes tightly to shut out these thoughts….Was the problem with the people around her or with her? Was she actually fickle-minded? She wondered how soon her euphoria of settling in India had waned out…. Every decision had its good and bad consequences… Was she not strong enough to stand by her decisions? She kicked herself mentally for living in her fantasy world and for behaving in the way she was. If there was anything in the world that she was absolutely sure about… it was her love for Prasun. And now she had so conveniently succeeded in hurting him. She was feeling scared of herself now.

Just then she heard a tap on the balcony door, which she had left half open. She did not stub out the cigarette thinking it must be Prasun. She kept sitting and pulled the door towards her with her feet to open it. Reena’s smiling face peeped in. Reena was Rimi’s mother-in-law. At once alarmed, Rimi tried to stub out the cigarette. ‘Oh…that’s not required…it’s absolutely fine with me’ said Reena at once. A little awkwardly Rimi held the cigarette between her fingers. Reena came in and sat on the floor opposite her. Looking directly at her daughter-in-law, she asked: ‘Can I borrow one?’ pointing at the half-burnt cigarette in Rimi’s hand. Too alarmed to respond she passed the pack to Reena. Reena smiled at her awkwardness and offered: ‘Why? Am I not young enough to smoke?’ a small smile crossed Rimi’s face. Reena kept the pack with her but did not light any.

She looked at Rimi to say: ‘You know that you are a very brave girl, right?’ Rimi was starting to say: ‘But..I..’ when she stopped her and said: ‘Let me finish…. You know you are very much like me, when I was young but I was not as brave as you. I could have never done what you have done for us. I could never leave my job and stay with my in-laws…. That was the reason why your father-in-law and I have fought all through our lives…. Prasun is our only son and I knew even I’m destined to the fate that I had written for my mother-in-law. She is dead now and I cannot go back and re-do what is already done but I cannot thank you enough for letting me and your father-in-law become a part of your lives. One day when you will be as old as I am, you will feel very proud of your decision. If today you do decide to stay away, remember that I will always support you in whatever decision you take; because I understand how difficult it must be for you. I see a part of a revised version of me in you. Just give yourself a little time…don’t be so hard on yourself’ saying so she squeezed Rimi’s hands lovingly. Of course….it was so simple. She needed time…Why didn’t she think of it earlier or why didn’t Prasun point this out to her? She was at once relieved to find a solution to her problem and smiled in response. ‘Thank you so much’ added Rimi, ‘Oh…don’t ever mention it’, added Reena smiling motherly. She quipped: ‘Let this be our little secret. You keep my secret and I will keep your cigarette pack!’ both of them shared a little laugh at that. Rimi felt the tension ease out of her, ‘It’s quite late… I think we must go to bed now’ offered Reena. Both of them got up and walked towards their bedrooms. Rimi was feeling happy and relaxed now and she whispered ‘Good Night!’ ‘A very good night and sweet dreams too’, answered Reena with a warm smile.

Entering, Rimi saw Prasun was fast asleep. She slowly slipped in beside him and hugged him tight from behind. Waking from his slumber, he asked: ‘What happened?’ and turned to face her. ‘I am so sorry, dear’ replied Rimi ‘I should’nt have said all that. I love you so much’ saying so, she cuddled up next to him. Content, Prasun hugged her back, closed his eyes and whispered in her ears: ‘Love you too!’

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Let’s Meet…

 ‘Let’s meet at the new Mall that has opened up near my office… is that okay with you?’ asked her new found Facebook-friend to Sirin. Instantly, Sirin’s interest in the guy waned. She hated shopping malls. Yes she did…and why would people choose to meet at shopping malls other than any other place in the whole wide world. Sirin felt that shopping malls exuded a sadistic pleasure for the rich, for all those people who did not mind spending those extra bucks for all the over-priced stuff available in the malls. It was a sad place, a place where expectations were raised and broken every minute. Every couple moving hand-in-hand in the long corridors of the malls had a secret to tell. The girl secretly hoped that someday their boyfriends will make it so big that they would be able to afford all the glossy stuff in the windows even if that meant moving ahead from the-then boyfriend to a newer one!

Sirin thought to herself, ‘Why are all men the same?!’ They all thought in the same way. Was she different from the other girls of her age? She must be…. otherwise she would have been happily married like most girls of her age. Sirin Verma was 30 years old. Her dedication to her work has helped her reach quite a comfortable position in her work life, mainly because she had no problems whatsoever, with sudden travels, late night office or any other thing. To top it all, she was pretty in an innocent manner and carried the brains too. Professionally, she was certainly happy but in her personal life she craved company. Facebook had become a comfortable way for her to meet people and interact with them over mails before actually meeting the person face to face. This was the first time she had come so close to someone this way and she liked sharing her thoughts with him. 

Joy Sengupta, the Facebook friend, claimed to be a photographer by profession. Although Sirin seriously doubted that piece of information, she still played along. Photographer or not, she had exchanged some hundred mails with this guy over the last two months and she felt like she was sharing her thoughts in front of a mirror. Their thoughts were so similar! But today suddenly she was not very happy with the conversation. It was she, who had brought up the topic of meeting soon. She regretted it now. Or maybe it was normal to meet at shopping malls, maybe, she was over reacting on this. Actually, she was hoping he would say something intellectual like a bookstore or something romantic like a coffee shop. But a mall was not the idea of her meeting an unknown person, especially with so much competition around!

At 30, she was old enough to chase guys and young enough to lose hope that she will certainly find her perfect match. Her parents were quite fed up with their search of a perfect groom for their only daughter. Momentarily thus, she herself had taken over the responsibility of finding someone nice, at least to spend the life with. She was an architect by profession. With the boom in the real estate industry her career too had found new heights. Working in an environment dominated by males, she had woven a protective cocoon around herself to shield her emotions from the harsh world outside. Once earlier, at the start of her career, an office affair was blown out of proportion resulting in her shifting jobs. She did not want to repeat that mistake again. After so many years of being hidden within herself, she felt conscious now of meeting some stranger suddenly. It felt childish to say the least.

However, there was no denying the fact that she liked sharing her thoughts with Joy. She thought about her odds, if not a partner for life she may at least find a good friend. Like nice grooms, good guy friends were rare too. So why not go for it? After much deliberation, she thought of calling Joy and asking him to meet somewhere else. Yes, they had exchanged numbers some days back but neither had called the other. The mails they exchanged each day were self explanatory and informative enough. Sirin called Joy, half expecting a teenager to answer the call; or maybe, someone old enough to be her father. He was certainly not an average single guy, he was either a possessive demon-boyfriend shunned by all his ex-girlfriends, or a divorcee accused of wife-beating or maybe a terrorist, trying to get entry to her office through her! Phew… she had exhausted all her negative possibilities. She shook her head, as if to clear it of all the various aspects of doubt and tried to focus.

To her dismay or astonishment, the call was answered by a mature and friendly voice! ‘Hi Sirin!’ greeted Joy. Sirin let out her held-breath and replied with a ‘Hi Joy!’ ‘Are you relieved or disappointed that I am me?’ offered Joy at her sigh. ‘Ah… it’s just nice… just nice to talk to you after so long. That’s it!’ was all Sirin could manage. She was relieved that after all, Joy did sound like an average guy. With the initial hesitation over, both of them talked non-stop. It felt as if they were old friends, reconnecting again. More specifically, it felt right and she felt happy. 

Sirin was laughing without any reservation at their conversation. Jokingly Sirin asked, ‘How do I trust you? I mean what is the proof that you are what you claim to be?’ The question was followed by silence at the other end. Sirin thought the line got disconnected, she enquired: ‘Hello?...’ ‘Okay… let me do one thing…I will carry my Passport or Voter ID card….you can verify from it then. I think Passport is a better idea since it is tough for me to recognize myself in the Voter Id card picture; it will be tougher for you and will add to your confusion!!’ it took Sirin some time to realize that Joy was mocking her. When she did, she burst into peals of laughter just like a love-struck teenager, giggling to her heart’s content. A guy, who connected to her mind as well as heart and also had a sense of humor was not bad….not bad at all!

Sirin suggested: ‘Lets meet tomorrow at Crossroads, the book store at Elgin Street; is that okay with you?’ ’Yeah…no problem at all’ replied Joy. ‘Say around 6? What say?’ enquired Sirin. ‘Sure! I will wave my passport, when I spot you!’ came the witty reply followed by another bout of laughter from Sirin!!