Blame Game

Bogale approached his mother and said, “I know that vase meant a lot to you. It was your mother’s last gift to you. I am sorry Mom you lost it because of me.”

Zeni quietly looked at him and said nothing.

“Mom, why aren’t you angry with me? Accuse me for what happened, please say something.” Bogale said.

Zeni looked at him, smiled and said, “Bogale, you know that this vase was the last gift one from my mother but do you know that she had given me some other gifts that are more valuable than that vase.”

Then she took out some milk from the bottle, poured in a pan and put it on the stove to boil.  Once that milk started rising she took some lemon juice and poured it on the milk. The milk began to curdle. She poured more lemon juice and it curdled more.

Lemon+ heat = Curdled milk

Bogale was not sure what his mother was trying to do. He kept looking at her closely.

“Bogale, a perfectly normal relationship get spoiled if you loose your calm or get angry and start blaming each other. A bad situation becomes worse. And we don’t want that to happen in our life, son.”

Where is He?

It has been almost two weeks since I saw him last. Where is he? How is he? Why did we meet? Not even a single day has gone by when I didn’t think about him. I look for him every time I walk past the gate, I saw him last.

It was a fine morning. I decided to walk to my son’s preschool to drop him there for the day. The school is not too far from my house; less than a quarter of a mile but it’s on the other side of a major street. When I was about to reach that intersection, I saw a woman briskly walking to her destination. And then moments later I saw him. He was running haphazardly; he seemed to be little confused. He stopped in front of that woman and started barking. She picked something and hurled at him.

I am not speaking figuratively; he really started barking at her because that’s what dogs do. I stopped in the middle of the road watching him bark. I was scared, even though it was far from us and facing in the other direction. I am not an animal lover but I don’t want to harm them either. I enjoy a very neutral relationship with them. I don’t try to get close to them and I don’t want them to be anywhere close to me. Where I live, we usually don’t come across a lion or a tiger in the middle of the road, it’s usually a dog and they are enough to scare me. If by any chance they come in my vicinity, I generally forget to breathe. Dogs are dogs; the size, shape, color or design doesn’t make a difference. A Chihuahua is as scary as a German shepherd or a Bulldog. Long story short, this barking, and four-legged creature; supposedly ‘man’s best friends’, scares crap out of me.

Without much thinking I just picked up my son and quickly crossed the busy road. I think someone even honked at me but that didn’t matter. My main aim was to get away from that barking dog as quickly as possible. I reached school, dropped my kid off, talked to teachers, other parents and forgot about the dog. On my way back, I crossed the road and came to the side where my house is. I waved at my friend driving by. Smiling, humming and enjoying the morning I came to the corner of my street. Suddenly, all smiles vanished.

I saw the same barking dog charging towards me. I froze; by God’s grace he also stopped. I don’t remember breathing at that time. I looked around to find someone who can help me, may be the owners or someone who can shoo him away so that I can run to my house never to look back again. There was no one around. Not finding anyone, I looked at him. He was already looking at me. He seemed to be confused but it was I who was more panicked. I felt as if the only option I was left with was to fell on his feet and beg him to let me go, “please, please … Bhagwaan ke liye mujhe jaaney do.” (… for God’s sake let me go.) It is well known dialogue from Hindi movies but don’t worry that didn’t happen. It wasn’t as dramatic.

I kept looking at him. He barked at me once or twice but stood at his place. He didn’t try to come near me, which was kind of relieving. While looking at him I realized that something has gone wrong with his life. He seemed to be kind of lost and looking for someone who could help him or understand him. He too needed help. At that moment, I remembered reading something about oneness with all life in the book “The Power Of Now” By Eckhart Tolle.

That thought helped me; my feelings changed towards him. I was not as scared as before but I was still not ready to touch him. I was much relaxed and back in control. As soon as I got a grip on myself, I found myself talking to that dog in my mother tongue. It might seem crazy; Imagine a woman talking to a dog in Hindi in the middle of the road in America but yes that’s what happened.

I felt as if I was standing before a 5-6 year old boy (not a dog,) “Hey you, what are you doing here in the middle of the road? Who are your parents? Where’s your house?”

The dog opened his mouth, probably to bark but he just squeaked and sat down.

I took few steps towards him and continued my dialogue with him, “Don’t you know it’s not safe to run around in the middle of the road. Come now, go, go to your house. Come’ on go now and stop this horse play.”

He moved. He stepped back and quietly entered a slightly open wooden fence gate. He went in and calmly sat down on the grass.

I stood there for sometime then took a deep breath and began to finish my rest of journey to my house. After taking few steps, I looked back and called out at him, “Now be a good boy and stay safe.”

That was it. It was the last time I saw him and since then I have been looking for him. Even after two weeks, I look for him everywhere, left and right; I tried to listen for his bark. A sign or something that tells me he is fine and that the house he went in was his but till now no luck. I am kind of missing him, which is peculiar knowing the kind of person I am.

Deja vu

Everything looked perfect. Yellow and green, pink and blue braided streamers ran across the ceiling. Few balloons were placed at each corner of the room and others were taped on each side of the banner that read “HAPPY BIRTHDAY.” Tables were moved by the wall to put the snacks and food on. And rest of the room was arranged to accommodate Saakshi’s friends from school and neighborhood.

Meena, Saakshi’s mother was as excited as her daughter. She was a proud mother of a smart, confident young girl, who had just turned thirteen. While putting a natural shade of pink on her lips Meena was crossing off the things of the list she had made in her mind for her daughter’s party.

“How do I look?”

Meena’s chain of thought broke but she was pleased to hear that eager voice. Saakshi was standing before her in pink and white floral new dress. The dress was Saakshi’s choice. Meena couldn’t agree more that she looked graceful and beautiful in that dress. She praised and congratulated Saakshi for her decision. She was overwhelmed by her mother’s remarks but before she could hug her the doorbell rang. Saakshi jumped to look out the window and see who was there at the gate.

Her smile suddenly vanished. Gloomily Saakshi asked Meena, “What is he doing here? Why did you invite him?”

“That’s no way talk, he is an elderly person and you should be respectful of him. Go open the door and welcome him.”

“But Maa,” Saakshi tried to say something but Meena interrupted her.

“No, buts… no nothing… please let him in. Growing up doesn’t mean that you become disrespectful and forget your manners.” Meena said sternly.

Saakshi gritted her teeth and stomped her way out of her mother’s room. She grumbled, “Why don’t you ever listen to me. No one understands me here.” And then she yelled, “Maa, you could never stand for yourself how could I expect you to stand for me.” Saakshi opened the living room door and let Vinayakji in. Without saying anything she slipped into her room.

Vinayakji was a frequent guest in the Agarwal household. He was a sixty-three years old, retired personnel from Indian Railways. Both Meena and her husband Satish respected him a lot. They revered him as father and his wife Ammaji as mother. Meena and Satish had lost their parent early on in their lives. They had always felt the need of filling that empty space. This vacuum began to fill up when year and half back Vinayakji and Ammaji moved into their neighborhood after their retirement.

Meena felt sad by her daughter’s remarks. She knew that her daughter was pointing towards her weakness; her low confidence. She decided to say nothing and once again she let it go and be trampled by someone (after all Saakshi was her only daughter and it was a special day for both of them.) She smiled and went to the living room to greet Vinayakji. She bowed and touched his feet.

Slowly sitting down on the couch he asked, “It’s Saakshi’s birthday but she looked upset. What happened to her?”

Meena was not prepared for this question. She tried to deviate and asked, “Where is Ammaji? Why didn’t you bring her along?”

He quickly said, “She was not feeling too well but I had to come. After all it’s our Saakshi’s birthday. She is a big girl now.”

“That’s the problem.” Meena said nonchalantly.

Suddenly Vinayakji stood up and said, “Don’t worry, I will go and talk to her. She will be happy to see the gift I bought for her.”

Before Meena could say anything he was halfway through the hallway and was about to enter Saakshi’s room. He looked back at Meena, smiled and then slowly knocked at the door. Meena smiled back and went into the kitchen to prepare tea and snacks for the guest.

Soon, Meena heard the sound of music coming out of Saakshi’s room. It was the sound track- “Sheila ki jawaani” from the new movie, Tees Maar Khan. This was the biggest hit of the year and Saakshi wanted this CD for sometime. Meena was assured that her daughter’s mood must have lightened up with the gift she got from Vinayakji. Soon she will be ready to have fun at her birthday party. She pictured a smile on Saakshi’s face and got busy in making dumplings.

Ten minutes had passed since Vinayakji went into Saakshi’s room. A different number was playing on the player. Tea and snacks were ready, so Meena went to her room to call them.

A couple of steps before she reached the door- she froze. Her legs were heavy and she couldn’t walk any further.

The door to Saakshi’s room was not closed completely. From the space between the door and the frame she could see what was going inside. Vinayakji was sitting next to Saakshi and trying to slip his hands under her dress. Saakshi was trying to stop his hands but she looked scared and confused. She was perspiring. Her mouth was dry, she tried to say something but words didn’t come out. After a lot of effort she said, “I don’t like this.”

The old man grinned and said, “you are big girl now, you have to learn to enjoy it… and soon you will thank me for teaching this.” He moved his hands underneath her skirt and began caressing her. Saakshi gathered some strength, pushed his hands away and ran out of the room. Meena quickly moved and hid herself behind the door. Her heart broke to see her daughter go through the agony of being touched by a mature man.

Meena slowly dragged her feet to the kitchen. She knew what it was like when someone marauds ones body and soul. She went through similar pangs of molestation when she was young. She remembered living in the dark shadows of sexual harassment when a distant uncle came to live in their house. He often touched her inappropriately, forced her to give him massages. He even scared her and threatened to tell everybody that she was the one doing ‘dirty things’ to him. Luckily, one day Meena’s father and her uncle had a fight over something and the uncle was thrown out of the house. The assault stopped but by then Meena was scarred for life. She lost her self-confidence. She held herself responsible for letting that happen to her. She lived with that guilt and never spoke for herself. She did whatever others told her to do and kept punishing herself for the crime she didn’t commit.

Vinayakji knocked slightly at the kitchen door. Meena’s face was red and her body was burning with hatred for these sick, vile men. But there was not a single grain of regret or shame on this old man’s face. With great ease he said to Meena, “ I think you should talk some sense into this thankless girl. I got her the gift she wanted and still she doesn’t listen to me. May be I’ll get something better next time.” And he laughed at his own pathetic joke.

Meena pricked her fore-finger with her thumb to suppress her anguish and whispered, “yes, I’ll talk to her …Tea is ready, I will be there in few.”

She boiled the tea twice and poured it into the cups. Meena promised to herself that she will not let her daughter go through same pain and misery that she went through. The crack began to appear on the wall; the wall that she built around herself many years back because of someone else’s misdemeanor started to crumble.

She put the cups on the tray and quickly went to the living room where Vinayakji was sitting and reading the newspaper. He began to fold the newspaper. Meena handed him the hot cup. But before he could grab it, she left and the whole cup of boiling tea fell on his groin.

Vinayakji howled in pain, “You B…i…….” he tried to stop himself.

Saakshi came inside the house to see what was going on.

Meena pretended to help him and quickly escorted him to the bathroom. In the bathroom, she slapped him hard on his cheek and said, “next time your hands tried to touch any girl it wouldn’t be tea … it would be something else. I promise even your wife won’t be able to know if you are a man or otherwise.”

He couldn’t dare to look at Meena. She had broken the wall. Her eyes were blazing, she roared, “Now leave and never ever enter this house again.” And she pushed him out.

Vinayakji quickly limped out of the bathroom and into the living room where Saakshi was standing with the CD in her hands. She quietly moved it in his direction and closed the door behind him.

Meena was washing her face when Saakshi came into the bathroom. She handed a towel to his mother and moaned, “I was wrong, Maa… I am sorry … about what I said earlier … you are so brave Maa… I never liked him because he always tried to touch me …”

Meena held Saakshi’s shoulder and said, “Don’t be sorry … you are reason for my strength … And I am sorry for I misjudged him. At times as adults we forget to differentiate between faith and blind faith on people.”

Then she continued, “Saakshi there’s a famous quote by a great author- Don’t allow your wounds to transform you into someone you are not. You are a smart, confident, creative and happy girl … so be that.”

And then she hugged her daughter and began to cry inconsolably. The years of pain was being washed out of her heart and her eyes.

Lost And Found: The Crinkle Of Destiny

…Part 3

      The Soul of the World is nourished by people’s happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one.”

      “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

      When Samir entered the room he only heard the last line that Somesh was reading to Priya from his iPhone.

      Samir repeated it, “All the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. It’s profound. Where is it from?”

      Somesh slowly took off his glasses, held the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger and pressed it down to release the pressure built. He looked at Samir and answered, “I was reading Priya her favorite book ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. This book is her ‘Geeta’ and her ‘Bible’. Therefore, I downloaded it on both of our iPhones.”

      “It seems that there is some truth in this phrase because Dr. Karni consulted the CT Scan results with a neurosurgeon and then told me that the clot is not that big thus they would first try Thrombolysis.” Samir told Somesh.

      Somesh couldn’t understand the medical term but he was comforted by Samir’s relaxed expressions. Samir further explained him that it is a process of breaking the clot with the help of medicines. If Priya positively responds to the medications she wouldn’t have to go through the brain surgery.

      Priya was still unconscious. She was connected to IV, which was supplying the necessary fluids and medicines to her body. There were few other cords and wires attached to her to monitor her vitals. When the nurse came into the room to administer some medicines into Priya’s IV, Somesh walked away from his wife’s side to the dark red sofa, by the window, meant for people attending the patient.

      “She should be conscious in half and hour or so. After that the doctor will come to examine her.” Then she stopped, looked at Somesh and said, “don’t worry, she would be fine. She is in good hands.” She smiled and continued, “can I bring something for you Soomeesh?”

      Somesh just nodded his head and said, “No, thanks Alice.” He read the nurse’s name from one of the many tags that she was wearing on a lanyard hanging around her neck.

      “Thank you so much Aly, don’t worry I’ll be here” said Samir to the nurse.

      She smiled again and left the room.

      Samir pulled a chair and sat next to Priya.

      Somesh removed his crocs from his feet, lifted his legs and stretched them in front. He was exhausted. “Samir, your mother was a good woman. She didn’t talk much but when she did, it had depth.” Somesh was talking again.

      Samir turned back and looked at Somesh. He slid his chair backwards and turned it slightly to the right so that he could face both Somesh and Priya.

      “When I came back home from Uday’s house that night, your mom was waiting for me. We didn’t know each other much. She was more of a stranger than a family member to me but I felt that she was the only one there who understood my anxiety during that crisis. While she served me food she spoke about a couplet by Rahim that stresses on the importance of being truthful in one’s relationship. I still remember that- ‘Rahiman dhaga prem ka mat todo chatkaay, tode se fir naa jude jude gaanth pad jaaye. (Never ever break the relationship of trust and love because if its break it will never be the same. Even if it joins, the knot will always be there. So, never hurt the feelings of the one you love.)I took it as a signal that my decision of talking and discussing the matter with Priya was right. Your mom had fueled in extra strength to the promise that I made to myself at Uday’s place.”

      “Samir, at that time I was mad at everyone, even at my father, who was neutral to everything. I gave your Mom the benefit of doubt and respected her because of her composure. From her expressions, I couldn’t figure out if she was forced into that vile plan or she herself was so desperate to be a mother that she didn’t care about the chosen path.” Somesh stopped and then continued, “but one thing that I was always sure of was that she would be a wonderful mother. She was so good with my boys that they didn’t miss their mom even once during our stay in Haldwani.”

      Samir got up and checked the IV bag. It was almost empty. He picked up the telephone and called the nurse station and asked her to come in. Alice brought a pitcher filled with water and some disposable glasses with it. She told Samir that lunch would be served in the cafeteria soon. He should go and get something for him and Soomeesh. He softly nodded and said, “sure… thanks, Aly.”

      Somesh told Samir that he didn’t feel like eating at that time but Samir could go and get something for self. Samir shook his head and said, “I am fine for now.” And came back and occupied the chair he was sitting on earlier. Samir asked, “How soon were you able to reach badi Maa? What did she say?”

      Somesh lounged back on his sofa. “Thirty years back it wasn’t as easy to connect with people. We didn’t have the mobile phones then. Having a simple phone was a luxury and not everybody could afford that. I booked a trunk call to talk to my wife but when the people from telephone department called me back my mother said that it must have been a mistake, we didn’t book a call and disconnected the line. My mother made sure that I was not able to talk to Priya. She went to the extent of cutting the telephone wires at our place. We didn’t have the Public telephone booths then. I was in a limbo. I sent Priya a telegram that she should come to Haldwani. All that meant more waiting but I was desperate to talk to her. So, I decided to go to Chennai and meet her.”

      Somesh’s friend Uday knew someone in Indian Airlines who promised him to get next days flight ticket from Delhi to Chennai. Somesh’s mother was furious when she found out that her son was flying to Chennai. She tried to stop Somesh from travelling. She repented why did she even break the telephone lines. She commented, “My stupid son is spending a fortune to go and meet that wicked witch of south. She has done some black magic on my innocent boy.”

      Somesh wanted to get rid of that drama so he quickly packed and left. Outside his house, he was waiting for Uday who was coming to give him a ride to the bus station. Just then he saw Priya stepping out of a taxi, on the other side of the road. He trembled; he felt the goose bumps and his hairs rising on his limbs. He had never been so excited to see her in his whole life. He dropped everything, rushed to his wife amidst the honks from motor-cars and scooters passing by. He stopped before her and just hugged her in silence.

      Last time when Priya heard from Somesh, he sounded different. And after that she didn’t hear from him for quite sometimes. She began to worry for her husband and her boys. Finally, she made up her mind and came to Haldwani with her Dad. Priya’s mom wanted to answer the trunk call that Somesh had booked and tell him that Priya was on her way to his place. But because of Somesh’s mom foul play they failed to connect.

      Soon Uday arrived. He saw Somesh hugging a woman; he figured that must be his wife. Somesh decided that they would go somewhere else rather than going inside the house. Uday dropped both Somesh and Priya to a nearby restaurant. Uday took Priya’s Dad with him to his house.

      Over the cup of coffee and some snacks, Somesh started telling Priya what had been bothering him for last couple of weeks and why he had been so anxious.

      Priya listened carefully to what her husband had to say to her. Her mouth didn’t utter a word but her eyes did the talking. Tears continuously flowed out of her eyes. She was going through mixed emotions; happy and relaxed to find that her husband and kids were fine; sickened by the evil mess that they have landed in; worried that her husband would get in bed with other woman; distressed that her plan to unite with her husband’s family failed; exhausted by hours of travelling to reach from one end of the country to other.

      She asked the waiter to get some water for her. She gulped the whole glass, wiped her eyes and asked Somesh to get up and leave that place forever. Somesh clutched her hand and stopped her. She was repulsed. “There is nothing to think about Somu, I hope your heart is not craving to get in bed with her!” Priya remarked sarcastically.

      “No… It’s not that and you also know that that’s not the case…so stop making situations harder than they already are.” Somesh said looking at her. Then he started fiddling with water that had spilled from the jug when waiter poured the water in Priya’s glass. “There is something else that I would like you to know.” Somesh said still moving his fingers restlessly in that little puddle of water.

      Priya calmed down to see his husband’s meek expression. She occupied her chair and settled down.

      “Piu, you are not my first love. There was someone else in my life before we met. But I don’t love her anymore. She was my past but you are my present and my future. Please trust me, I never regretted once after meeting you that I am not with her.” Somesh was filled with remorse and kept talking without even looking at his wife. “I met her while I was doing my engineering in Delhi. We steadily went along for three years but I couldn’t gather the strength to talk to my parents about her. She felt cheated and left me… her name was…”

      “Ranjana,” Priya had said.

      Somesh stopped doodling with water and looked up in disbelief. His eyes widened, his brows twitched and then he asked, “How did you know?”

      Priya smiled and said, “I have been waiting to hear this story from you for last eight years since we got married. But you never fully entrusted me with your feelings.”

      She stopped and interlaced her finger with Somesh’s index finger with which he was drawing figures in water a couple of minutes back. Somesh kept looking, waiting for her to continue her story.

      Priya spoke again, “Actually Ranjana and I were in same school for four years when my Dad was posted in Baroda. We were best friends and even after we parted we remained friends for many years through letters. She told me about you but I didn’t realize that you were the same Somesh until when I shared your picture with her, just before our marriage. I didn’t tell you about it because I wanted to hear from you … I asked you many times about your ex-girlfriends but you never told me. At first it was a silly prank but then after we had Sanjeev and Shobhit it became redundant so, I didn’t even care.”

      “Piu, I am sorry but I was scared that you wouldn’t understand and you would hate me for having an affair. I am sorry but this will never happen again … She please excuse me darling.”

      “humm… It will be my rain-check.” Priya said and laughed. “By the way, Ranjana is in Delhi these days… if you like we can see her before flying back to US…Then you would know that I am the bestest.” Priya said jovially.

      “I already know that sweetheart.” Somesh smiled back and softly pecked on her cheek.

      Priya’s hand twitched slightly. She was waking up. She tried to turn her head towards the window from where the light was coming. As soon as Somesh saw the movement he jumped up the sofa and was right next to her. He held her hand with one of his hand and put the other palm on her forehead. She rolled her lips to say something but words didn’t come out of them. Few drops of tears rolled out of the corner of her eyes.

      “I wouldn’t let you go so easily … you lazy bum.” Somesh tried to make her laugh at their husband-wife joke, “come on get up …let’s go home.”

      Samir came into the room with Dr. Karni. He shook hands with Somesh and started examining Priya. He started asking her questions- “What is your name? What is today’s date?” Pointing towards Somesh he asked, “Who is that man?”

      Somesh eagerly waited to hear her voice. She slowly began to answer the questions, “Prrrriya Sharrrrmaaa, June 29, 2011.” She stopped and looked at Somesh and said, “Somu, my husband.”

      Somesh was relieved. Even through her voice was not clear, she slurred. The date wasn’t June 29th but 30th. At least she was comprehending and responding. And most of all she remembered her Somu.

      When Dr. Karni left, Somesh went closer and sat next to her. He took her hand and rested his forehead on it. “I was so scared Piu…so scared that I even told Samir his truth.”

      “You did???” Priya whispered. “We had to tell him sometime … you did the right thing. Is he okay?” She asked slowly.

      “He has been going through some ups and downs but he is willing to hear. He has been here since morning and taking care of…” Somesh stopped as he saw Samir coming in with their older son Sanjeev.

      Samir had updated Sanjeev about Priya’s condition. Sanjeev asked Somesh and Samir to go to the cafeteria and get something while he stayed back with his mom.

      Somesh followed the instruction and walked out with Samir.

      Samir broke the silence and told Somesh that Dr. Karni has suggested to call American Stroke Foundation who would help Badi Maa in her recovery. He said, “we are fortunate that it was not a major stroke and only a small part of the brain is impaired, which is also temporary. She will be all better soon.”

      Somesh patted Samir’s back twice and smiled, “You are a good son.”

      Bade Papa, when Badi Maa refused to even think about you being the surrogate father how did you manage?”

      “There was nothing left to manage. It was ‘The End’ of the story. I didn’t even think about it any further. We went back to the house to pack our stuff and pick our boys. Your grandmother was happy to see me back so soon. She thought that I had changed my mind and have come back to her but when she saw Priya behind me she was agitated. She started cussing her. She was hyperventilating; she was so angry with me that she started spilling out all my secrets to Priya. Everything that my wife already knew then but my mother didn’t know that she knew.” At last she said to Priya, “If he could not be loyal to his mother and to his pre-marital family where his roots are… do you think he would be loyal to you …Witch???

      Priya who was quiet till then faced my mother, looked into her eyes and said, “Yes, Mrs. Geeta Sharma, I have no reason to doubt him.” Then she walked away into the hallway that lead to my room where your mother was playing and taking care of my sons, Sanjeev and Shobhit.

      Shobhit jumped off Samir’s mom’s back when he saw his mother walk in. Sanjeev came and hugged her too. It was a happy reunion. Priya looked at Samir’s Mom carefully, “So she is the one,” Priya thought to herself. Samir’s mom sensed the tension in air, she left the room. Shobhit also followed her. Samir’s mom felt the little steps following her; she turned and picked him up, kissed him and took him with her upstairs to the terrace.

      Priya started picking up her kid’s and husband’s clothes and other stuff. Within a couple of hours they were packed and ready to leave. Before leaving Priya went back to Somesh’s Mom. His mother turned her face away from her daughter-in-law. Priya said, “I know your love for your family is devout and you can go to any extent to keep’em safe and happy but Maa …love is not about keeping your loved ones encaged in a golden cage but it’s about giving them wings and then waiting to see if they come back to you at the end of the day.” For the first time Somesh’s mom turned her head to look into this young woman’s modest, graceful, kind face. She didn’t say anything but her eyes were brimming with tears.

      Somesh mentioned that some of the clothes were drying on the clothesline upstairs. So, Priya got up and went to the terrace to get them.

      “ I didn’t see your Mom and Priya exchanging any words but something was going on. As I was carrying the luggage out of the door, Priya held me by my shoulder. She looked at me meaningfully and said, Somesh, we have one more week in India. Instead of touring we will spend it here with your family.”

      Samir gave Somesh a confused expression. They had picked up some bread and pasta and went to the cash counter. There Samir showed his card so they didn’t have to pay. They walked to the corner table and started eating.

      “Samir, it’s difficult to understand women. They are so unpredictable, especially Priya. I was also confused when she said that. I was surprised because it was her decision not to stay in Haldwani any more. Then all of a sudden why this change of heart?”

      “Priya signalled me to stay quiet while she pulled me to the terrace. She stopped at the door and pointed towards your mom. She had stuffed some clothes in Shobhit’s t-shirt and pretending as if that bundle was her baby. She was humming the tune of, ‘Yashomati maiya se bole nandlala radha kyon… and in between she kept cuddling, hugging, and kissing it. She seemed so happy and content. She didn’t even notice that we were there. I turned to look at Priya, she was crying.”

      Then when we came down to our room, Priya narrated what she had witnessed earlier, when she went upstairs to pick up the clothes. “Priya told that your mom was talking to that doll and saying, ‘Samir, your Chacha and Chachi are leaving and Shobhit is going with them. You know Shobhit made me realize that I am visible, people can see me and I am a living person.’ Then she hugged that bundle ‘of joy’ and started sobbing.”

      That was the turning point that made Priya decide that she had to give a life to Samir’s mom. Priya had said to Somesh, “I’d like to use the rain check that I gave you earlier today… please give this poor woman a life; a child whom she can call her own.”

      Somesh interrupted her, “It’s not right…Piu.”

      “Somu, right or wrong but we have to do this,” Priya said with a shrill in her voice.

      Somesh asked her back, “will that not effect our relationship?”

      To that she replied, “I trust you fully and you are just a donor. At times, there might be some repercussions but I promise it would be temporary.”

      Their discussion went on for sometime and finally Priya said,”I know it’s not easy for any of us but we will share our sins. I am ready to be your partner in Crime.” Priya stopped and wiped Somesh’s eyes with the a small towel lying there.

      “Yupp… mom had told me that she had named me Samir even before I was born.” Samir said excitedly. He took a sigh of relief as if he was travelling back in time and was present there with his bade papa, badi maa, parents, and grandparents when they told their decision to their family. He cheerfully added, “I am sure, Dadi must have hugged you both when she found out that you had made a decision in her favor. Now I know… Why Dadi and Mom made me call you Bade Papa and Badi Maa. It was out of their reverence and love for you guys, even though you were younger to Dad. I am sorry Papa, I misjudged you. Please excuse me.” This time there was no hesitation in Samir’s mind or his tone while calling Somesh ‘Papa’.

      Somesh smiled. He threw his dirty disposable dish and cutlery into the trash and went to the restroom.

      On the way back, Samir asked “Papa, what happened to your friend Uday?”

      “Oh! he is doing fine. He and his wife got together, two months after we met. They had four kids and they are also doing well. We try to meet them when we go to India.” Somesh chirped.

      As they walked into Priya’s room they saw Alice was measuring Priya’s temperature. Sanjeev was on the other side of the bed adjusting pillows by his mom.

      Alice saw Samir and asked, “How are you related to the patient?”

      Instantaneously Samir looked at Priya and said, “She is my Fairy Godmother and I am her youngest son.”

      Somesh and Priya looked at each other and smiled slightly. But this time it was Sanjeev’s turn to give those confused expressions.

Lost And Found: The Conflict With Fear

…Part 2

The signboard painted in yellow on a three-lane highway indicated- FREEWAY ENDS 1500 FT. The road turned slightly to the left and soon Somesh and Priya were on a narrow road running through an orchard. The Orchard was blooming with pinkish-white flowers. Hundreds of 8-10ft long trees were perfectly aligned. Each plant was 1.5–2 feet apart. Like always, Priya got excited to see nature’s beauty, she said, “It’s heavenly! These are peach trees Somu, please slow down; there must be a fresh-fruit stand near by. Please stop there, I feel like having one.” Somesh smiled and shook his head in agreement.

As Somesh’s head fell back, he woke up. He found Samir sitting beside him when he looked around. “When did you come back? And where did you get hold of these?” Somesh asked Samir looking at his hand.

“About five minutes back. You looked so peaceful that I didn’t feel like disturbing you. These peaches were in the cafeteria, I thought you haven’t eaten anything since morning, so, I brought’em for you.”

“Interesting!!!” Somesh said with a smile. “Samir do you know, peach and peach blossom are considered to be good omens in Chinese culture?” He didn’t wait for Samir’s answer and continued, “the blossom is a symbol of spring, marriage and immortality, while the peach is a sign of longevity.”

Bade Papa, we should keep our fingers crossed. The pager, I got earlier, was from Dr. Karni. I called him, he told me that they are preparing to take badi Maa for CT Scan to find out the damage the injury has caused. After the scan, they will transfer her into a private room. We would be able to see her after that. I hope that it hasn’t caused much damage. May these peaches bring us some luck too.”

“Samir, Piu had been such a health freak. She had been exercising regularly for years now, just to avoid the hospitals. And she of all people has to go through this pain.” Somesh lamented.

“Please Papa, please tell me, who my real mom is? One who died two years back or one who is suffering right now?” Samir asked softly trying hard to hold back his tears .

“You are a grown, mature man and I hope you would understand Samir” He stopped and then spoke again, “Priya is not your mother. The woman whom you have been missing for last two years is your mom.” Somesh said.

Samir tilted his head backwards and rested it on the wall. Tears trickled from the corner of his eyes and fell on collar of his shirt. “So, my mother was cheating on my Dad?” just the thought made him shudder, “And that makes me a bastard.” He was struck with revulsion. He tried but failed to articulate his own words. He spoke incoherently, “How can you??? How can you guys? And you call this, a family? Why did you do that to Dad? He never ever asked for anything from anyone and …”

Somesh interrupted. In a controlled voice he said, “no one cheated on anyone. And yes, your dad never asked for anything but when he did, I was left speechless.”

Samir once again looked back in Somesh’s direction. “So, he knew?” Samir asked.

“Of course he knew. He was the one who started everything in the first place. He unearthed the love affair, I had before marriage and based on that he threatened me to do a vile act.”

“Why? Why would a husband do such a thing as to ask his brother to be intimate with his own wife?” You guys make me sick.” Samir snapped.

“He didn’t want anyone to find out that he was impotent and I was scared that he would ruin my relationship with my wife and my family.” Somesh tried to explain him.

“Scared??? That’s your excuse for getting in bed with your sister-in-law. That’s pathetic Mr. Somesh Sharma.” Samir was angry. His heart was pumping hard. His pulse began to shoot up and tiny beads of sweat began to appear on his forehead. He rushed out of the main entrance to get a wisp of air.

“Samir, it wasn’t easy for any of us.” Somesh tried to stop but he was gone.

Samir briskly walked for about fifteen minutes when he saw a convenient store at the corner of the street. He went in and bought a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He stood at the edge of the wall and smoked. His mind was running like the 12 inch gramophone records of eighteenth century. The needle stuck on his self composed song, “I am my mother’s son but my father is not my dad“. Samir was frustrated. He ridiculed the idea that his dad asked his brother to get cozy with mom to save his male ego and my uncle obeyed. My dad became the Rama and Somesh became the Lakshmana of the Sharma family. Samir gurgled and spat.

The young lady with stroller who was waiting to cross the street looked at him with disgust but Samir didn’t notice. He was too busy fighting his own thoughts. “Why wasn’t their any guilt in anyone’s behavior or words? How was badi maa involved? Can anyone be so insecure or scared that he would agree to such an odious deed?” He turned back and started walking towards the hospital.

When Samir returned, he saw Somesh talking on the phone. He was telling his elder son Sanjeev about his Mom’s condition. Samir couldn’t see any other expression on Somesh’s face and tone but ‘concern’ for his wife. He waited for him to finish the phone conversation.

“I don’t know how to react to such circumstances. I realize that even though I don’t like hearing it but still I need to know. You are the only one who is in the condition to make me aware of my past. So, please tell me- how was your wife involved as you had said earlier I was born because of her?” Samir asked.

Somesh rested his hand on the arm of the chair and slowly began to narrate one of the most difficult chapters of his life. “I was not the bad guy at that time but I suffered. After twenty-eight years it still isn’t easy for me to tell you what happened. It was not a mistake and I don’t regret that I am your Papa. Your Badi Maa is a great woman. She did what no other woman can easily do. So, please stop judging us.”

Samir sat next to Somesh as he started, “Geetesh Bhaiya, invited Sanjeev, Shobhit and me to celebrate my parents 40th Anniversary. He explicitly said not to bring Priya along. I didn’t want to go without her but she forced me to. She always carried an olive branch and wanted to have peace with my pre-marital family. She thought that it would be good idea that my parents meet their grandchildren. They might accept Priya for their sake. So, we all travelled to India but Priya went to her parents in Chennai and I came to Haldwani.”

“My parents were happy to see us. I thought Priya was right and hoped that everything would return to normal but the needle turned. After the party Geetesh bhaiya unveiled his preposterous demand. I tried to talk him out but he was adamant. When I refused, he threatened that I should not share this idea with anyone else. Nobody should know that my brother was not manly enough and he was unfit to give a child to his wife or he would ruin my life as well,” Somesh said.

He stopped and took a deep breath and then added, “I didn’t know what to do, whom to turn to? I wanted to save my family. Priya and my two sons were more important to me than anything else. But I couldn’t muster the courage to share my past with my wife nor I could imagine the truth being revealed to her by anyone else. I couldn’t sleep for days. I was a mess.”

Somesh felt uncomfortable reviewing the events he experienced decades back. He was anxious but he went on, “Seeing no way out I went to my parents. I knew that they did not approve my marriage but I saw a glimmer of hope that they would help me and talk Geetesh Bhaiya out of it. My mother was a strong-minded person and if she was willing she could force anyone to change his or her mind. And I have seen that work many times in my favor when I was growing up. She used to change my father’s ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ within no time.” Somesh gave a little smile thinking about the good times he had with his mother.

Somesh was surprised to find out that the mastermind behind this horrifying plan was his mother. She had suggested Geetesh and his wife to have one night stand with Somesh so that the matter Geetesh’s impotency would remain within the family. According to her, Somesh was her son and he owed that much of loyalty to the family. She tried Somesh to agree on her plan through love and emotional pressure but when she failed she blasted, “Your wife is a wicked witch of south who stole my son from me. We used to be such good friends and now you don’t want to look at me. She is heartless; she is a baby stealer. She would not let you do this as she would never understand the pain of a childless woman. She is a never-ending eclipse on our family. Just because Sanjeev and Shobhit look like you, they are fine otherwise they would have been a disaster like the witch herself. I don’t know what you saw in her …” And she continued

Somesh couldn’t stand the filth anymore. He dashed out of the house. He didn’t know where to go and whom to talk to. It had been years since he left his hometown. He hardly knew anyone there. He wandered around like a stray dog. After walking for sometime he stopped at a street café and ordered some tea. Half way through his tea, he felt somebody touching his shoulder. He looked up.

The man asked Somesh, “Are you Somesh, Maharishi Vidya Mandir School, 65 batch?” Somesh looked carefully and behind a slightly wrinkled face and receding hairline he saw some resemblance. That was his school friend Uday. Somesh’s heart jumped with joy; he forgot his pain and hugged him.

Uday took Somesh to his house. It was not far from cafe where they were. It was a nice and cozy house decorated with his wedding pictures. Uday informed that his wife was out of town. They spent hours talking about their lives after leaving the school. Uday was a businessman. His shop of ladies suits and garments was in Ranibagh.

As the evening turned, the two of them raised a toast to old days. Under the influence of whisky, Uday started telling Somesh about his wife and their marriage. They had been married for three years now but something had been missing. She was a good wife but Uday couldn’t give her the attention she deserved. Actually Uday didn’t want to get married to her but only because of the family pressure he agreed. Uday was madly in love with some other girl and even though she married someone else, he was unable to forget her and get on with his life. Uday’s wife tried to gain her husband’s attention but whatever she did had a negative impact. After sometime she stopped trying. Uday was relieved as she stopped bothering him but then one day she left him. It had been two months since she went to her parents’ house in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh.

Somesh felt as if all marriages were falling apart. He hoped that he wouldn’t have to ride the same boat as his friend. He wanted to help him therefore he spoke, “I am sorry to hear about what’s going on but I don’t blame your wife. Your pre-marital affair was your past but once you agreed to get married, your wife is your present and as Alice Morse Earle has said- The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”

“I just can’t forget my true love” Uday replied. “My wife is nothing compared to what she was. She understood me so much better.”

“But, did you ever give your wife the time that you gave to your girlfriend? It’s easy to play the blame game. Uday, somebody recently told me that marriages are built on four T’s – Time, Trust, Truth and Touch. Did you tell her about your past? You are complaining but did you ever try trusting her with your true feelings? Why are so scared? It still isn’t too late …contact her and tell her the truth. Truth has some amazing powers. You might be surprised with what may happen in the end. You will not loose anything just give it a try.”

Somesh didn’t realize that Uday had left the room to get some ice for the drinks and he was talking to himself. “…just talk to her, tell her the truth- the past, the present; everything. Don’t hide anything from her. She might be your savior…she is the only one who could help you get out of this mess.” Talking out loud helped Somesh to understand the importance of Truth and Trust. They are not just any five-letter words but are the founding pillars of a marriage.

As somebody has said, the darkest hour is just before dawn; The light had dawned on Somesh. That darkness was about to end. Solutions to his problems were inside him. He had overcome his fears and insecurities. He was a winner; and was ready to take up the challenge. He thanked Uday a million times and happily walked back to his parent’s house.

Somesh was walking ahead of Samir. Even though Samir was thinking about what Somesh did after departing from his friend but he couldn’t help noticing the bounce in Somesh’s steps. He was excited at the prospect of being with his wife. The nurse had just informed them the CT Scan was complete. Priya had been transferred to a room number 117 and they were allowed to see her.


Lost And Found: The Secret Revealed

    Part 1: The Secret Revealed

    “Is this it? Is this the time when I am going to loose her forever? But she is not even sixty? Is it because of me? I nurtured my fear of loosing her so much that I have attracted her demise even before it was destined? Isn’t that what the Law of Universal attraction states- Like Attracts Like” Somesh speculated. His nephew, Samir, a junior doctor and other staff of Stanford Medical Center, were moving Priya, Somesh’s wife into the Emergency wing from the back of the ambulance.

    While following the ambulance carrying Priya, Somesh had called up Samir. He informed him about his wife’s condition. Yesterday, she slipped in the bathroom and hit her head on the wall. She had a slight concussion but she came out of the bathroom herself. After laying down for sometime, she was fine. In the evening she complained of headache, so Somesh had given her some over the counter pain relievers and then she slept early.

    Somesh, giving a quick glance at the rolling stretcher, repeated what he had already told Samir, “This morning when I woke up she was lying still by my side. I tried to turn her but she didn’t move, her face was swollen and she didn’t move.”

    The nurse stopped Somesh from going in with Priya into the ward. He was left anxious in the waiting area. Samir had just been relieved from his night shift and stayed back with his Uncle. He made him sit on one of the chairs that lined the brown colored wall with a huge art-piece having lots of concentric circles in it. The wall ended in a big glass door with “EMERGENCY” written on it in big, red font.

    I took this picture from:

    Samir brought Somesh a cold glass of water from the nurses’ station. Taking a sip of water he moaned, “Samir, save your Badi Maa. It’s because of her that you are here. Save her. Please save my Piu.” Somesh couldn’t control his grief and tears began to flow out of his eyes.

    Inquiringly Samir looked at Somesh. He failed to hide his curiosity about what his uncle had just said.

    Although Somesh felt tired he immediately realized that he had spoken too much. He wanted to say to Samir, “I am sorry son. I understand that you are confused; you are not that many years old. So, how can you be held responsible for something that happened prior to your birth?” But before he could gather the strength and courage to express himself a nurse came. She gave a clipboard to Somesh with few yellow, pink and green papers clipped on it. She asked him to fill out the hospital forms. He wiped his eyes and carefully started filling out “Patient’s Information.”

    Date of Birth: 07/07/1951
    Medical Record Number: 0029518

    Somesh noticed Samir getting up slowly and going inside the glass door leading into the wide, spacious gallery.

    “What do I have to do with my Dad’s younger brother’s life?” Samir mumbled.

    Somesh and Priya had been in US for last 30 years. Whereas for Samir it had just been two years since he came here after his Mother’s death to fulfill her dying wish. She wanted him to be close proximity with his Uncle’s family. His dad had already passed away four years back.

    Samir failed to understand the mysterious pact going on between the families of these two brothers. He always remembered that his mom made sure that he always regarded his Somesh Chacha and Chachi and referred them as, bade Papa and badi Maa respectively. He had been curious since his childhood, why mom and dad revered them so much. They were no special than his friend’s uncle and aunty living abroad. He had not witnessed them doing anything special for Samir or his parents. They didn’t even get him the expensive video game that his friend Sanjay got from his aunt who lived in America.

    Whenever Samir raised his doubts to his mom, she said, “Because they are family.” He was never satisfied with their incomplete discussion but his Mom used to change the subject quite skillfully. He secretly started to despise the word “family.” He had never heard his mom or dad say any negative things about his younger brother or his kins. They had always agreed to what Somesh or Priya had to say to them. Even Samir’s career choice was not his own. It was his Uncle’s ‘wish’ that he become a doctor. So, that was it. Soon Samir was preparing for medical exams. He got way too busy in his own life that he hardly had the time to care about others’. He stopped thinking, “why some people become so important that their simple wish becomes a command for others?”

    While Samir was striding into the Emergency Wing, Somesh was treading back in time. He began his life with Priya thirty-five years against his family wishes. Priya and Somesh used to work in the same office. She was the most unpredictable person he had ever met. At times she would be younger than a five year old and at other times her advise and discretion would easily pull him out of the gravest problem. She was more sociable and likable than he was. Her amiability and popularity was a reason that made Somesh feel insecure. Although she never gave him a reason to distrust her but he always feared that she would leave him alone and be gone forever. He loved her so much that he couldn’t imagine his life without her, without- her free laughter, her poor jokes, her silly comments, her bad singing, and her loud sneezing. Even the thought of loosing her made him numb.

    Another ambulance siren was approaching the hospital. Somesh was pulled out of his past; the staff was running towards the main entrance. He turned his head and looked in other direction towards the emergency door. Samir was approaching to him. On reaching him, Samir took a deep breath and said, “Bade Papa, Badi Maa is not doing too well. After doing an ultrasound doctors have found out that there is a clot in her brain.”

    “Is she conscious? What’s going to happen?” Somesh asked him.

    “No Bade Papa she is still unconscious and we don’t know anything yet” He stopped and said, “Doctors’ are doing the tests and we have to wait to find out what they have to say. Worst case, she might have to go through a brain surgery.” Samir replied.

    “So, she would be fine after that?” Somesh enquired but Samir remained quiet.

    The nurse who gave Somesh the forms came back to check of its completion or if he needed some help. Somesh filled out his credit card information and handed back the forms. Samir looked at Somesh- he was staring at the emergency door. Samir couldn’t help thinking about what Somesh had said earlier. He wanted to ask him why but was not able to make up his mind if the time was right.

    “I am not your Uncle, Samir.” Somesh said with a straight face. “I am your father.” Samir fixed his gaze on Somesh in disbelief. The secret was revealed but the events leading to the grand finale yet remained to be disclosed.

    Bade papa but how and why?” asked Samir.

    Somesh looked back at him and began opening the pages of his past to his youngest son Samir.

    “Priya and I married against the wishes of my family. My mother wanted me to marry someone of her own caste but Priya was a South-Indian. It was something very unacceptable to fanatic north-Indian Brahmin she was. She didn’t even come to our wedding. We began our life without her blessings but I think we did fine because soon with the help of Priya’s brother, who was settled in US, we moved here. And after coming here, we began our family. As you know, Sanjeev and Shobhit both of them were born in America. Oh! Did you call them to inform about their mom’s condition?”

    “Yes, Bade Papa…” Samir hesitated, “Bade Papa or just Papa…” He thought. He skipped that part and informed Somesh that his sons are on their way and soon they would be there.

    Somesh was feeling lighter. The shackles that were holding him back from expressing his attachment and love for his son were now broken. He stood up and stepped towards Samir and hugged him.

    Papa…so, Badi Maa, is she my real mom? Did Mom and Dad adopt me?” Samir asked Somesh holding him tight.

    Beep…beep …beep…’ It was Samir’s pager. He looked at it.

    “I have to make a call. I would be back soon.” Samir left saying that.

    Somesh just gave him a frail smile in return.


A Candid Expression

One Sentence Story:

Decades have passed since I was a child myself, I heard someone say, “children make you want to start life over,” which never made any sense to me until now when I myself am a mom of two little boys, now I have realized the depth of that statement and indubitably I am fortunate enough to be able to live the veracity of the above quote; to see these little individuals grow is the most valued thing in my life and I wish I could keep an account of all the wonderful things that they say or do to make my life so beautiful, even though it’s hard but I still try to save some, like the episode that recently happened; my two and half years old Saavi came into the kitchen and said, “Mumma, Saavi doesn’t want red wine,” when I was about to give him his bottle of milk, I smiled and thanked him for making a good choice.

“I’ll Be There For You”

    A Short Story

“No, no, no.” she said, “sixty rupees is too much. I am not traveling for the first time bhaiya. I know the rates.”

Countless human bodies were bustling all over the railway station. Some were trying to get into the train and others were trying to get out and still others were just loitering about the platform. It was a hot summer day. Like previous few years monsoons were late again. They had been working in accordance with the Indian Standard Time. The clouds would come and go without dropping a single drop of water. The air was humid, stale, filled with a peculiar smell.

Shikha had been arguing with the porter for last ten minutes. Finally, he agreed to carry her luggage for forty rupees She was proud of her accomplishment. She already knew that this saving would go towards her favorite Mc Donald’s aloo tikki burger that she had been missing for last three weeks of her stay in her hometown. As she stepped out of Shramjeevi Express she inhaled deeply. The smell of freedom and independence re-energized her. She happily meandered behind the agile porter.

Outside the railway station she hired a three-wheeler to take her to the Hostel. There again she tried to negotiate with the driver but this one didn’t budge. The three-wheeler started inching its way through other vehicles on the road. She opened her bag and took out her precious gift. The day before, on her twentieth birthday, her brother gifted her a new mobile phone. Shikha was the first female in her whole big joint family in Bareilly to get a new phone. Not only did she now own a mobile but also a smart phone. It was a prized possession for her. She was getting used to its working. She took some time before she could successfully connect and inform her father and her brother that she had reached Lucknow safely. She could not wait to show this gorgeous piece of equipment to her friends.

Alpu, Roli and Tanvi were her best buddies. All three of them lived in the city with their families. Recently, Roli got into Roorkee University’s Masters Program and was leaving that night for her orientation week. Tanvi and Alpu had decided to take Roli out for a surprise farewell party and celebrate Shikha’s birthday as well. She wanted to call them to announce her arrival and schedule the time of their reunion at Roli’s residence. But before she could take out the number and dial, the three-wheeler stopped at the College gate.

In her room she connected with Tanvi who was at Alpu’s place. They informed her that they were getting ready to go to Roli’s place. They agreed that they would meet at around three that afternoon and then they would go to Sahara mall. It had been recently inaugurated and it was supposed to be the hippest place in the whole city. Shikha had ninety minutes to get ready and reach the destination.

While freshening, she thought about her commute. It was bus vs. rickshaw; one hour fifteen minutes vs. forty minutes, five vs. twenty-five rupees; money vs. friends. She made her decision in favor of the company of her friends. The extra money spent was well worth the time she would be able to spend with her friends.

She was excited about her new red and black suit. It was a combination of black fashionable sleeve-less top with square laced neck and a black trouser with embroidery on the periphery. It was her birthday gift to self. She couldn’t wear it in her home-town as it was without sleeves. Nobody would have allowed her to wear it outside the house. She had been looking forward to the time when she would be in the hostel and have the freedom to do things and dress up according to her own liking.

Before exiting the room she quickly checked herself in the mirror and she realized something was missing. She forgot to put on the necklace that she bought to go with this outfit. She again looked in the mirror and felt a tickle in stomach. She looked beautiful in her new suit, jewelry, slight make-up and high heels. She could forget her accessories but she didn’t forget to pick her little wallet and her cell phone. She couldn’t forget her most cherished gift.

It was a big old two storied white-colored house with the big yard. The two metal gates at either end of the boundary wall were massive. The boundary wall was lined with palm trees, which made the house look like a hacienda. Three generations lived together in the same house. When Shikha reached Roli’s place, Alpu and Tanvi were already there. Four of them screeched in excitement. They hugged each other. Roli’s family members accepted their thrill and exhilaration with smiles. They were a joint family but not a conservative one. There was no one in the house that would comment, “look at these unruly, misbehaving girls, who is going to marry them?”

Roli’s mom was sweet as sugar. She had special affection for Shikha because of the fact that this young girl had lost her mom when she was just a kid. Shikha went and hugged her. Aunty immediately complimented her, “you look beautiful, sweetheart.” Shikha gloated and told her that she had designed it herself. Aunty appreciated it and showed interest in her talent. Shikha enjoyed her attention and her sweet gesture. She hugged her again and then moved back to her friends.

After a cup of tea and some light snacks they headed towards the mall. One of Roli’s older cousins was asked to drop the girls to the Sahara Gunj Mall. The girls were strictly instructed to come back in about two hours. Roli’s train was at 8:15 that evening. And they all nodded; laughed and rushed towards the white Maruti Esteem parked on the driveway. They couldn’t control their excitement of being together after a long time.

Roli sat in front with her brother Sheersh while other three girls sat at the back. Shikha was sitting by the window behind the driver’s seat. Alpu was between Shikha and Tanvi. As the car started, Shikha showed her new phone to her friends. They crazily welcomed the smart phone with lot of wows and ooooohs. Taking the phone in her hands Roli said, “It’s the same phone as Sheersh has.” Shikha told them about some amazing features the phone had that her brother told her about. They also clicked each others’ pictures to check its quality. In between the entire hullabaloo Shikha suddenly noticed the two pairs of eyes that were admiring her in the rear-view mirror. She could feel the tenderness and fondness in those look. She settled down on her place. The rest of the group continued checking the phone.

No one in the group noticed the color change on Shikha’s face. She felt her temperature rising. She wanted to hide somewhere and get away from those captivating looks. Sheersh understood her uneasiness and tried to look away. It was hard for him to resist the emotions he was feeling for the girl sitting behind him. He couldn’t concentrate on his driving. He almost missed the red traffic light and suddenly pressed the brakes at the last minute. The car stopped with the jerk. Girls propelled forward. Shikha’s hand involuntarily touched his shoulders to get some support. The two looked at each other and smiled. Roli complained, “What’s up dude? Where are you looking?” Sheersh just couldn’t say anything. For few seconds he fumbled and the only words that came out of his mouth were, “I love you.”

Roli gave him a curious look, shrugged her shoulders and said, “What’s wrong? Are you alright?” He heard the girls giggling at the back. He was embarrassed. He checked his mirror, Shikha was quiet. She was looking outside the window. He wanted to get off this situation quickly. To his rescue, the Mall was close by. He took a right and there they were at the gate. Before his sister could ask anything else he stopped the car and got out and opened the rear door where Shikha was sitting. All the girls got down and Roli turned back and gave her brother a confused look. He waved in return and yelled, “I am sorry.”

Four of them went inside the mall. Mesmerized by the size and the lights and the shops they looked all around. Shikha looked around as well but she was looking for something else. She couldn’t help thinking about Sheersh. At times she felt that he was somewhere there and was looking at her with same love and affection. The girls went into the Bowling Alley to try their hand at the new exciting game. Even before they could learn to target the pins, one hour was gone. It was time to eat and then head back home. They ambled towards their favorite joint; Mc Donald.

As somebody had said, “Ice cream is happiness condensed.” The girls finished their meal and headed to ice cream parlor. With ice cream cones in their hands they jumped to the topic of going back home. Tanvi and Alpu knew that they would head home together as they lived close by. While Shikha was weighing her options when Roli asked her, “Hey why don’t you come along and spend rest of the time with me?” Then she quickly added, “and we can ask Sheersh to drop you to College later.” She rolled up her lips to hide her smile on listening his name again. She succeeded in hiding the joy from her friends. She calmly nodded her head and murmured “okay.”

Sheersh was playing ball with his younger cousins when Roli and Shikha entered the gate. Roli just hurried to her room to complete her last minute packing and Shikha followed her footsteps. Before stepping into the house, she turned back to check Sheersh’s expression. And she was right; he was looking in her direction. He quickly turned her head towards the kids to avoid being caught. Mechanically she climbed the stairs. She was not in her present; she was caught in the dumbfounded expression he gave her a minute before. She chuckled. She didn’t realize when her smile changed into a laugh.

Roli stopped and looked back at her friend. She asked, “What’s so funny? Is there anything that I should be knowing about?” Shikha returned to her senses, she tried to change the topic, “Oh! nothing, I was thinking about the cake that you baked for the competition last month. It was yummylicious!!! Please teach me how to do it once you are back from Roorkee?” Roli graciously accepted the compliment and added, “I just baked but it was Sheersh’s recipe. He guided me through the whole thing.”

“Knock, Knock.”

That was Sheersh. He looked at Shikha first and then at his sister, “How much time, before we can leave for the station?”

“I will be ready in no time,” Roli answered. Then she looked at Shikha and asked “Hey Bro! Can you please give her the recipe for the cake that we baked last month?” She left the room and without looking back she continued, “I will be back in a few.”

Sheersh was in high spirits. He couldn’t ask for more. His wish was granted. The two of them were alone in the room. They looked at each other and he started talking about the recipe. While he talked about the cream, sugar and flour, Shikha tried to calm down her nerves. And within few minutes she felt comfortable; she was the same, talkative, outgoing girl that everybody knew of.

After about ten minutes, when Roli entered her room, she found her friend and cousin engrossed in a serious discussion. They were arguing about the option of using Mascarpone cheese versus cream cheese for the cake’s icing. Roli was surprised to see Sheersh talk so much. He was generally quiet and shy type of a person. She had never seen him being so communicative and open with anyone. She coughed and cooed to get their attention.

Roli raised her eyebrows and gave them an inquisitive look. Both of them just kept quiet. Sheersh pulled out his phone from his back pocket and showed it to Shikha. Roli was right, it was the same phone that she had. Same color, same make and incidentally they had the same screen saver too. All the while, Roli attended to her last minute packing, two of them were busy discussing the phone. No body came forward to help her. She tried to get their attention but to no avail.

Finally, Roli locked her suitcase and yelled, “Sheersh, can we go now, please?” She looked at Shikha and said, “You came to spend time with me, haaaan???” The couple was pulled out of their ‘la-la-land’. Sheersh lifted the suitcase and went downstairs. Roli and shikha followed him.

Roli poked Shikha with her elbow and asked “What??? What is with you guys?”

With a grin Shikha answered, “He is smart and he was just telling me about the phone. By the way he likes cooking too.”

“So, what? I know that.” Roli said.

Shikha looked at her helplessly and didn’t know what to tell her. She thought to her, “How can I tell you that I am falling for your brother.”

Roli broke the silence and told her “Okay, I want to hear everything, soon.”

She stepped out and patted on Sheersh back “On our way, let’s drop Shikha at the hostel.” Shikha interrupted, “No, no, I will go by myself, please don’t bother. Hostel is out of the way and you have a train to catch.” Roli’s mom insisted, “it’s getting dark and you should not be going alone.” Sheersh wanted to spend some more time with her, he suggested, “we can drop her on our way back.” Roli quickly added, “No, no, it would be too late by then. Hostel gates close at 8:30.” Shikha said, “okay, just drop me at the Aliganj round about and from there I will take a rickshaw.” Everybody concurred to this plan.

Everybody came out to say bye to Roli and her dad, who was traveling with her. Shikha went to Roli’s mom and promised that she would come back, as soon as Roli is back from her orientation. Sheersh and his brother Sunny loaded the luggage in the car. Roli’s dad sat in front. Sunny took the driving seat. Sheersh quickly jumped in and sat beside Shikha. Roli touched her mom’s and her grand mother’s feet and then came and sat in the car. Nobody notice, but Sunny felt strange when he saw his brother sitting between the two girls. Sheersh had never liked it and they have had many arguments about it. He looked at his brother through the rear view mirror and was about to offer him his seat. Sheersh moved forward and signaled him to be quiet. Sunny did as he was asked. He knew something is going on. He knew Sheersh more than anyone else in the family did.

Distance between the station and the house was about forty minutes but because it was office time, the roads were crowded and car was not moving too fast. Sunny tried to twist and turn to get through. Most of the time the passengers in the car were quiet. Roli’s dad asked her about the documents and the tickets that she was supposed to carry. Sunny tried to pick up the speed whenever possible. Because of car’s abrupt motions Sheersh and Shikha’s hands touched each other often. They smiled. Sheersh took her fingers and interlaced it with his. She didn’t move her hands away. She enjoyed his touch. Sunny kept an eye on his brother and soon he was able to figure out that his brother has fallen for his sister’s friend; the girl sitting right next to him. “Not a bad choice! Bro,” Sunny thought to himself.

After about twenty minutes, they reached the round about. It was the time to say goodbye. Shikha picked up her little wallet and phone and walked out to the other side of the car. She hugged her friend and said, “all the best.” Roli asked Shikha to be careful and informed that she would call her as soon as she is on the train. Shikha waved. Car passed by but she stood there for few minutes waving. Sheersh glanced back from the rear window and saw her smiling. He swung out of the window and waved back at her passionately. He surely loved the last glimpse of his new friend. Roli’s dad was oblivious of his surroundings; he was busy with his files but the three siblings just looked at each other and smiled.

Shikha stood at the corner of the road until she couldn’t see the car anymore. It was hard for her to let Sheersh go away. She was already missing him. She decided to walk instead of taking a rickshaw. The money that she had spent that day was enough for one day. There was no point in going to the hostel before the lockout time. She remembered the shorter route that one of her hostel mate once mentioned. If she took this alternative route it would take about twenty minutes to reach the college back door. She checked the time. It was about ten minutes to eight and she had enough time to be there. She started walking towards the lane.

It was an isolated narrow alley. It had lofty walls on the two sides of the road looked like the boundary of some palatial manor. The streetlights were lighted now. Very few people passed by. The few that passed her looked at her questionably. She was beginning to get nervous but she reminded herself that there is nothing to worry about soon she will be in her college compound. She kept walking steadily. On the right side of the intersection she noticed few young men smoking outside a small convenient store. It was hot but mindlessly, she wrapped her stole around herself and covered her slender, bare arms. As she walked by the shop she heard a voice, “Hello, madam do you need help?”

She cussed them under her breath and turned left. She was walking as fast as she could. After going few yards into this alley she realized that this might not be the road that her friend told her. It was taking her away from the college. Soon her fear came true the alley was closed and she could not go any further. She checked the watch it was ten past eight. In twenty minutes the gates would close. It was then that she began to panic. She didn’t know where to go? Which alleyway would take her to the college? Whom to call?

She was reminded about her phone. She took a deep breath and tried to remember few people whom she could call and ask for help. She wanted to call Sheersh, she felt being close to him. She dearly remembered him. In spite of her longing for him, She couldn’t call him. She felt stupid because they didn’t exchange numbers. The only option was to call her college friend who suggested the alternate route. Holding the phone in her hands she tried to unlock the phone. “What the heck???” she murmured.

It was not her phone. It was Sheersh’s. “When did that happen?” That was not important. She felt like crying. Retracing her journey backwards means that she had to cross those bunch of goons again. She was scared. She didn’t have the time. And even if she gathered the courage of doing that she would be late to reach the college. She couldn’t think of anything. She didn’t have much of a choice. She started her backward journey.

She knew she was in a big mess. How is she going to get her phone back? Will the gatekeeper open the door? Will he call the warden? The warden would probably kill her. She didn’t look forward to any of that. Only thing she wanted was to see Sheersh. She was missing him badly. She wished to be with him at that time. Nothing would make her happier than his company. She was engrossed in her thoughts when she approached the convenient store cross-section. Those guys were still there. Sweat trickled down her forehead. Hiding her fear she crossed them with a straight face.

They recognized her, somebody said, “Madam, is in trouble. Let’s help her out.”

Shikha felt that somebody was following her. She didn’t dare to look back but increased her pace and tried hard to get of that secluded alley. She heard some footsteps behind her. They had increased their pace as well. Her legs were hurting. It was hard for her to run in high heels.

“I will drop you madam.” She heard the same voice that she heard fifteen minutes back at that corner. “Where do you want to go?” he continued. She was now running like she had never done in her whole life. She didn’t care about his dress, or her shoes, or her feet; she just ran. Soon, she was able to see the end of the alley. Some rickshaw-pullers were still standing there.

By the time she reached the main road, she was breathing hard. She leaned forward. Her stomach was hurting. She had twisted her ankle. She scrutinized her surroundings. Few people were walking by. There were some fruit sellers on the sidewalk. The two guys were standing in the dark corner of the alley.

She hopped towards the round about.

“I’ll be there for you.” She heard the Friends title track. It was coming from the phone. She looked at it; it was showing her number.

She quickly picked up the phone. Sheersh was on the other side of the line, “where are you? Why are you huffing and puffing? Is everything alright?” He asked all the questions in just one breath. “Say something,” Sheersh said.

“I am alright, my phone is with you.” Shikha said slowly.

“I know that. Roli just hung up, she was trying to call you and then I realized that our phones have exchanged. Where are you?”

“Same place where you dropped me,” She said

“We are close. Stay there and hold tight.” Sheersh answered anxiously.

“Please be with me,” she whispered.

The phone disconnected but she felt safe. Soon she would have the most cherished gift of her life.

The Promise

Avi skipped a beat or two when Aarti entered the hall. Tall slim Aarti was wearing a plain, light-blue silk sari. Her head was slightly covered with a dark-blue, long scarf with heavy embroidery. It was hanging freely by her side. Light makeup on her eyes and cheeks enhanced her beautiful facial features. He knew that she would look good but had not imagined her looking so gorgeous. He quickly checked to make sure his relatives didn’t catch him admiring her. But he just couldn’t keep his gaze away for long. After a short nervous look around, he went back to doing what he loved the most; looking at his beautiful fiancée.

It was the night of Avi and Aarti’s engagement ceremony and the marriage was to take place in another two days. Avi had been waiting for the occasion since he met Aarti for the first time. Six months back, at her Aunt’s place, he came across a simple and elegant girl happily participating in the arrangements of his cousin’s wedding. Generally, marriages in India are potent matrimonial grounds for prospective brides and grooms. And that’s what happened with Avi. He was not ready to get married anytime soon. He was just 25 and wanted to wait few more years before starting a family. He stopped arguing when he came to know about his parent’s ideas. He was being matched with Aarti. After that secret was out, he wanted to tie the knot with her as soon as possible but twice his engagement and marriage had been postponed. Finally, after many sleepless nights, the long awaited time had come.

Aarti was sitting right next to him. For very brief moments their eyes met. Her skin was glowing and she was smiling, but something was missing. Instantly, he knew that something was bothering her. He wished he could get few minutes alone with her in privacy, just to assure her about their happy future together. He helplessly looked at thirty other relatives who were also sitting around them as if they were preparing to go in a match of dodgeball. Avi’s younger brother and his friends were hovering Aarti like helicopters in high-security zone. She was trying her best to talk to all of them. Somehow, Avi distracted them towards his younger and available sisters-in-law. As soon as the boys left, the gang of aunty’s invaded with their newly wedded daughters-in-law. And this continued for hours or at least he felt like that. Avi kept looking for a chance to chat with his sweetheart.

Finally, Avi’s mom came forward with the rings. It was the time for the ring ceremony, all the guests collected around them. Cameras flashed and clicked all over. Everybody was in high spirits. They cheered for them as if in couple of minutes the whistle would blow and the first round of boxing tournament would begin. Aarti as usual was quiet and patient. When instructed, she extended her right hand forward.

Avi looked at her beautifully manicured but henna-less hand. He remembered the first interaction he had with her at his cousin’s wedding. She was jumping with joy and showing-off the dark color Kof her henna on her palms. When Avi asked her the reason for her excitement, she bashfully answered, “The darker the color of my henna, the deeper will be my husband’s love for me.” At that time she had no clue that she was talking to her future husband.

He smiled and gently held her hand and put the elegant platinum-diamond ring on her thin, long finger. People showered the flowers on them. Aarti also put the ring on Avi’s left hand ring finger. After exchanging rings elders directed them to feed each other some sweets. Once the ceremony was over, people dispersed towardhs nicely decorated and inviting food counters.

A special table was also laid down for the special couple with a huge white and red colored tablecloth and small flower vase with some orchids in the center. Avi’s parents were being invited to this special stage. Avi and Aarti sat side by side. While they were waiting for others to join in, Avi cautiously slipped his hand under the table and caressed her soft and smooth hand slowly. She nervously smiled. She liked his touch but quickly moved away. She got worried about consequences if somebody saw them sneaking.

They glanced at each other and then few drops fell from the mascara and liner laden eyes. Avi knew that was the only time that they are going to get before their marriage. He slightly pulled the veil away from her hand. With a jerk Arti tried to hide her amputated arm, the one she lost in an accident just a month after their marriage was fixed. But he lovingly pressed the stump of her hand between his palms and tried to calm her down. He hid her hand behind the deep crease of the table cloth and spoke “Everything will be fine. Today, I received the email from ‘Touch Bionics Inc’ and the prosthetic limb is ready. The day after our wedding, we would be flying to Scotland to get the fitting done.” Wiping her eyes with his hands he promised, “I will always be there for you.”

The Neophyte

Eight years have passed since I moved to the United States of America. I was a neophyte, a novice here. The pie chart of my life had three parts. I was a daughter, a daughter-in-law and a wife. Two of which were put on hold when I flew out of India. So, I was just a new wife when I was introduced to American lifestyle. A new resident of this country; about which I knew nothing. A lot of things seemed to be an illusion.

It was quiet an experience when my zip code changed from 226002 to 94086. The process of adjusting to this new environment involved lots of downs and downs. And in this process of learning and also unlearning, I met many people who made my life easier. For example, the airport security guard who guided me towards a “restroom” when I desperately asked her for the directions to the “toilet”. My fatigue from 30 hrs of flying and the pressure that was building within me prevented me from blurting out, “I am not looking for a place to sleep but a place to relieve.” With slight frustration and a short thanks I went in the pointed direction. Soon, I realized that kind lady had sent me to the right place and just in time.

The rolling conveyor belt, at the FoodMaxx was carrying the two Coke bottles. Tomatoes, cauliflower and the potatoes followed the sodas. More and more stuff kept piling up, while I admired the moving conveyor belt with my eyes wide open. Only a couple of days back, I saw those huge conveyor belts in the baggage area at the airport. And now the same principle was being used for bringing in little stuff too. I was valuing the efficiency of the whole system here when I noticed that Ashu was looking intently at me. I blushed but steadily held to the ground and stood there. Finally, he said, “Winky, pick up the items and put them in the bags.” Then I realized that I was blushing at the wrong time and definitely at the wrong place. Those were not the amorous looks of a husband for his new wife, but they were just signalling, “Move lady, there is no Ramu here to carry your load for you. This is America, you need to learn to do your own work.” I quickly followed the directions and started bagging the groceries.

Next event came when we were washing our car by ourselves. My responsibility was to hold the key ring, containing both car and our small one bedroom apartment keys. Ashu was diligently rubbing the soap on his ox, oh sorry on his car. He was working as sincerely as the milkmen in India used to massage their oxen to give their coat a sheen while bathing them in a muddy pond. I felt a strong urge to be a part of it. I am not sure if it was out of concern for him or that I was envious of his affection towards his Honda Accord. I just could not stand there and be a mere onlooker. I securely put the keys in the car and locked the door behind me. With the bang the door closed. Yes, with the keys inside. What followed next you may very well anticipate that. A young couple stranded outside their home with no help or acquaintance around.

The incident that informed me about my residential status in this country involved the beauty of the my life’s first Passport. It was such a prized possession for me and therefore I cannot bear it looking ugly because of some little piece of paper jutting out. So, I neatly removed the staples to take out that paper and restored my passport’s good looks. That 3 x 4 size paper was not impressive enough to capture my attention even for five minutes. I took it out and forgot about it.

At that time I had no idea that ‘that’ paper was as important as the passport. It was the document that proved that I am a legal resident of USA. It was an I-94. I was reminded of it when I went to the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) to get my temporary driving license. The moment the clerk and Ashu looked at me and enquired about the I-94, I realized that I had lost many things including my mind, my voice and of course that I-94. That was the longest time ever in my life that I remained so quiet. I had nothing to say. I didn’t have the strength to accept that I threw it away because it was sacrificing the looks of my passport.

We came back home, quietly. Ashu started doing something on the Internet while I looked for it, quietly. Then, I checked in my bags quietly. Right after that I quietly searched the closets. Finally, I got my voice back. “Eureka……..” it was quietly lying in my big suitcase. The piece of luggage that carried my past life to US was holding my future as well. It was ugly but not that ugly that I would have instantly thrown it in the garbage. For me the quote “looks can be deceiving” came to life.

It’s never easy to start a life at a new place irrespective of one’s origin. People face more difficulties than I did. I feel that it’s fun to reacquaint with those episodes once they have culminated and have a hearty laugh. Now, I am debating, if I should share more stories of the time when I started driving while DMV is still in picture or leave it for another time. I think second option is better so bye for now and I will be back soon with more stuff later. Ciao!