Month: June 2016

Middle-class, forever

This post came to mind when a friend (and a regular follower of the blog) called today morning and expressed interest in knowing which of my short stories represented a story of my own life. I was surprised to know that people are interested in knowing about me too. It may have to do with the fact that writings create curiosity in the minds of  readers. As I write, I reveal a little more about myself with every post, allowing the readers a chance to read my mind and judge my thought processes, a luxury I had given to very few people before I started blogging. Though I have been thinking about writing about myself, my experiences and my experiments (ha-ha!) for quite some time now, I choose to keep them for later. It will require a hell lot of time planning what to write, what not to write and how to present the information, in the fear of being judged. That is something my work schedule does not permit right now. So here I am, with a little more truth about myself. Enjoy reading!

I have had the privilege of being born and raised in a very well-to-do Marwari household in the city of Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh. I’m sorry, not well-to-do, but RICH (I don’t know the difference, but ‘they’ prefer it that way!). I have been born Miss Richie Rich. I have had the pleasure of experiencing true bliss in the items of luxury that I have been surrounded with. With a huge white bungalow to call home, a fleet of at least a dozen luxury cars dying to be used in the wide porch of the bungalow, a lush garden lined with flowers of every colour imaginable, an elevator in the house – I’ve seen it all. The impact could be noticed way early in life. In fact, I have noticed a lot of girls in my school pass envious glances at me. Unfortunately, the stigma of being RICH has had the effect of separating me from most people in school, even when I never carried those airs in my behaviour. People would see me getting out of a large, chauffeur-driven car and presume something, which I do not know till date. I’m sure they’ve always believed, and wrongly so, that I have been lucky, blessed and ‘endowed’, if you wish to call it that. But trust me, being Miss Richie Rich has not been the most pleasant of experiences.

I agree that my physical self has had a great time in those surroundings – late night TV shows on a television set of your choice (every bedroom has one, with a Tata Sky connection!), waking up to find your family eating lunch, lazing in pyjamas all day, ordering outside food some ninety times a month, uttering commands to all the labour force around, sipping coffee once every hour, for want of anything better to do and the like. While the body may have had a ball back then, the mind has always been in a fix.

There are no free lunches though. In return for the luxury I availed, I had to pay a small price – to keep shut! I was not expected to ask questions, or seek logical explanations or act curious or suggest a better solution – it wasn’t allowed. Whenever I have spoken against wasteful use of scarce resources (pardon the jargon. It simply means money!), I have been asked to shut up. Whenever I suggested that we eat for lunch, whatever remains out of dinner last night, I have been given ‘the looks’. Whenever I insist on not wanting to go out to shop, just because I have nothing else to do, I have been greeted with contemptuous faces. I have always felt, as well as been made to feel like a misfit in the entire set-up of things.

It’s not that I do not like to shop, I do, in fact I love it. I can spend two hours out of twenty-four doing it, every day. But my rather detailed sense of finance and even worse, accounting tends to overpower my philandering genes. I cannot buy anything without undertaking a cost-benefit analysis (a term used to describe the relative comparison of advantages and costs associated with a decision. If the perceived benefits exceed costs, you go for it, else you don’t.) How am I wrong to revolt purchases of items of luxury when people make claims of a downfall in business? How am I wrong to preach the ownership of eleven sunglasses, instead of twelve, at a time when you must conserve cash for a future rainy day? Or suggest that one must buy a roof above one’s head before investing in a dazzling diamond ring, which might be gathering dust in the locker for a good part of its life? But I must shut up!

It’s just that I respect money and can’t waste it. Even worse, I can’t even stand the sight of it being wasted, whoever it may belong to. However, I am not into the habit of expressing opinions unless specifically asked. I remember the time when a family member asked ,“You think I should buy the watch with this stone and that metal. It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” I replied, with a professor-ish tone, “No, you shouldn’t. Your business suffered a currency loss, isn’t it?” He would then snap back saying, “It’s no point asking you. Crack-pot.” Now the question is, why was I even asked if I’m a crack-pot? But I cannot ask. I simply walk away, after the usual dose of insult.

It is only lately that I have begun to find solace in my middle-class life – lower-middle, middle-middle or upper-middle class, I am not sure. I work and my husband works too – in two different fields, with different sets of requirements and expectations. We earn, save and spend. My heart swells with pride to see my two-year old growing up in the same set-up I have always wanted to grow up in. He respects the bread-earners in his family, recognises money as a useful and a scarce resource and understands that everyone can afford everything, it’s just that priorities differ.

Why don’t people just get the point? Everyone in this world is poor, poor relative to his wants and needs. I’m sure even billionaires think they don’t have enough, because their aspirations in life are very costly too. If no one is rich and everyone is poor, why all the drama?

If being rich is about being reckless and irrational, I don’t want to be rich. If being rich is about not respecting what you have, I don’t want to be rich. If being rich is about being treating the not-so-rich as swines, I don’t want to be rich. I was born middle-class and continue to live that way. I think I have enough good deeds in my kitty to deserve a middle-class life.

Image taken from Google images.

The Secret

“Please Avinash, let’s please tell him na. I feel like a sinner each time I think about it…It’s the perfect day to tell him…please!” Malini begged. A delicate looking woman in her early fifties, Malini was composed of all things soft and sober. With her head resting on her husband’s outstretched arm, she was trying desperately to convince him into revealing ‘the secret’ to their son, who had just turned eighteen that day. “You don’t understand Malini..he’ll begin to hate us. It’s been eighteen years and it doesn’t matter now! Why don’t you just get the point?”, he retorted. “It’s time you sleep. No more discussion about this.”, he said, as he turned to his side.

For this middle class working couple, life had been rather eventful. However, no matter what life may have served on their plate, they had never let go of their biggest virtue – gratitude. Not a day had passed when they had not thought of how blessed they were to be alive, to have a son who revered them like idols of worship, to have a little enclosure which they could call home and the biggest of all, to have found each other. After years of trying to have a child of their own, they had finally given into adopting a child. Through one of the lesser-known adoption agencies in the bowels of North Delhi, they had spent nearly ten months before they could finally hold their little bundle of happiness in their arms. Today, he had turned eighteen, and Malini firmly believed that time was ripe to let him know about his adoption and the fact that he wasn’t really their biological child. Avinash didn’t seem convinced. Should she still tell Akshay, her son? Her mind was a battlefield. After hours of contemplating, she had made up her mind. She wouldn’t hold the truth from her son any more. She would talk to him tomorrow morning, first thing.

Malini stretched her arms above her head and felt every muscle in her body rejoice with laziness. After all, it was Sunday morning. No work and limited responsibility. She must get out immediately and speak to Akshay, she reminded herself, as she tapped gently on her temple. She was rather disappointed to find that both the father and son were missing from the house. Avinash would be eating junk food with his middle-aged buddies in some road-side stall somewhere, while Akshay must be making career plans with his day-dreaming friends. She walked into Akshay’s room, only to find it impeccably neat and arranged. The bed looked untouched and unslept on. Not a crease, she thought. But the restless woman that she was, she couldn’t stop herself from lifting each pillow on his bed and dusting it against the edge of the bed.

As she was doing what was for her, routine, she spotted a neatly folded piece of paper under one of the pillows. Curious, she unfolded it and immediately recognised Akshay’s flawless hand-writing.

Maa,

I knew you would do the pillow thing again this morning so decided to communicate this way. As I was trying to get into your room last night, I overheard your conversation with Papa. Just like you, even I think it’s high time we talk about this.  I will come straight to the point. What you and Papa call ‘the secret’ I have known since I was twelve. Remember Sudha aunty, who visited us for Diwali six years ago? She had revealed it to me, also adding that you and Papa had adopted me only to save a life from poverty and that you would abandon me the day you had your very own child. Since then, I have lived each day in fear of hearing from you the news of your pregnancy, the news that you’re bearing my rival and that I will be asked to leave the house when he comes into this world. Can you now connect the dots? Don’t you remember how distraught and aggressive I had turned in my early teens? It was the direct consequence of that insecurity that ate every inch of me, minute by minute. I will be honest, I grew so resentful of the two of you that I tried really hard to hate you. Even I am surprised at how I managed to resist the uncontrollable urge of telling the two of you that just like you do not need me, I don’t care about you! But I think I have failed and disastrously so. But trust me, it’s one of those failures that bring you peace. From your tone last night, I could tell that you will leave no stone unturned to reveal the secret to me today, even if it annoys Papa.

To make things easier for you, I tell you that I know it. The secret is no longer a secret. To me, parents mean you and no one else. I am awestruck by the selflessness with which the two of you planted a tree, and the audacity with which I enjoy its fruit. Let me also make it clear that the adoption story shall never be discussed at home again, for as Papa said – it doesn’t matter now. One last thing, the reason I wanted to see you and Papa last night was to let you know that I have been offered the Commonwealth scholarship for a four-year graduation programme in the U.K. Having said that, we celebrate doubly today. Get ready and see you at your favourite restaurant at 1.30 pm. My treat!

Love and a tight hug,

Akshay

Tears swelled up in her eyes and before she even knew, they were all over her face. When did he grow this big, this sensible? Even if she were to bear her own child, she could never have had HIM. The next minute, Avinash was in the room, in one hand the letter and the other on his stubbled chin, with a curious look in his eyes, as if he had just caught his wife red-handed with her lover’s letter. After nearly two minutes, he looked at her face. She saw him remove his golden-rimmed spectacles, to wipe the moisture around his eyes.

“You must shave today Avinash..you must look your best. We don’t want to embarrass the kid.”, jeered Malini, as she gently pulled his cheek in a loving gesture. They smiled at each other, their eyes red and their faces calm. Both felt as if a giant rock had been lifted from their heart.

Image taken from Google images

She’s gone!

I saw her resting in the glass casket,

As if in a slumber too sound.

Undisturbed and unperturbed,

By all that happened around.

Her skin looked as dry as sandpaper,

The same skin that once beamed.

Her eyes looked puffed and swollen,

Yet as marvellous as I have always seen.

The fire welcomed her with open arms,

And put an end to all her woes.

As she transcended to a new world,

She left all behind- family, friends and foes.

Thanks to the strength she feigned all her life,

No one dared touch her as she lived.

Only death could have crumbled her spirit,

And so it did.

Image taken from Google images.

The curious case of gender dysphoria

I don’t even know why I’m writing this post. I think it’s to do with trying to reduce the guilt of being so biased against transgender people for a good part of my life.  I remember reading an article in a local newspaper few months ago. It was an account of the experiences of a transgender person, who beautifully described how trapped he felt in his own body, how he found it challenging to relate to his own looks and how this gender confusion was gradually leading him to the dark abyss of depressive disorder. That writing changed my mind and today, I have finally managed to write about transgender people, a very-little-understood section of the community we live in.

We may not realise how stingy we become in counting the little blessings of life. Let me illustrate though an example. Think about this – one fine day, you, a pretty young woman, decide to wear tacky pink lipstick for work. Okay, you apply it, peep into the glass, dab it a little here and there and leave with an air of self-obsession. Yet another day, you so much want to put on a delicate-looking floral, sleeveless top and you end up wearing it. Simple. Another day, you want to flaunt your latest possession- a Swarovski string of stones. You put it around your long and slender neck and step out, feeling like a queen.

Now think of the same situation, the same feelings and desires, except that they arise in the mind of someone we believe is a man. His lips are too dark for a bright pink lip colour, his arms coated with a thick lining of curled body hair, his neck upright with his voice box jutting out like a hook on a bathroom door. How will he able to pull off those simple things? He cannot. While on the one hand, his physical appearance seems to revolt to his fantasies, on the other, the world outside will kill him with their looks, or stones, who knows?

This is gender dysphoria- a case of dissonance between the gender we are assigned at birth (the gender we are born with) and the gender we identify ourselves with. Both are meant to be the same, right? But the truth is, that in the rarest of cases, they are not. Earlier referred to as Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in medical terms, gender non-conformity has now been termed as Gender Dysphoria. People experiencing gender dysphoria are known as transgender people, in common parlance. While most people believe that dysphoria is a mental illness, the fact remains that it is not. However, given social discrimination and often boycott, psychiatrists acknowledge the fact that gender non-conforming people are highly likely to develop mental conditions, particularly anxiety and depression, because of the social stigma attached to behaving like a woman when you look like a man and vice versa. Recently, a black American transgender woman was murdered for her sexual identity. In fact, a study reveals that about 41% transgender people are likely to take their own lives for reasons of being judged and discriminated against.

Most people like you and me, who do not really know the dynamics of such behaviour actually consider such behaviour, a matter of choice, rather than biology. That’s one key reason why parents of such children try their best to persuade them to ‘shed’ their feelings and start behaving normally (in line with their physical appearance). Unfortunately, something like that cannot work, simply because they have not chosen to live that way, in fact they are born as such. While the exact causes of gender dysphoria are not known, preliminary research in this area identifies one contributing factor – the presence of a certain kind of hormones in the mother’s body while carrying a transgender child. To reduce gender confusion in the transgender population, medical science is encouraging surgeries to bring the physical features of these people, more in line with their beliefs about the self. However, this is again not a cakewalk for most – social pressures and financial constraints make this a not-so-easy alternative.

Not that we know what dysphoria is, can we do something? Yes we can, in our own small ways. Well, the first small, yet big step is to stop staring at people who look different or at least inconsistent with what we think their true gender is. Staring won’t help – it makes them self-conscious and strains our eyes. Second, to not think of such people as ‘eunuchs’, for they are not. Third, understand that just like us, they too deserve social respect, and provide it to them. Their gender is their business, not ours.

I end with my favourite line about being different than the rest. “Everyone out there is abnormal in his own way, some more than the others. So why judge?”

Image taken from Google images.

The Curse

Satish had just parked his Mercedes in the porch and was now trying to sneak into the house like a thief. He quietly closed the door behind him, careful not to make a sound. As he entered the living room of his penthouse, with small, careful steps, the pompous Ulysse Nardin wall clock stared right back at him. It was ten past three in the night. He banged his head – he was late again and Arti, his wife wouldn’t spare him. As he gently twisted the door knob, he peeped inside his bedroom. Arti was sleeping, her face calm and child-like, with her blanket tightly wrapped around her face. Only if she could be as calm even when she’s not sleeping, he mused to himself.

He felt the irresistible urge to hit the bed. But he knew he couldn’t. He was still smelling of sterile alcohol, antiseptics and everything else a hospital smells of. Satish, a doctor by profession, worked as a consultant cardiologist for two private hospitals in the city. He was by far, the best the city had. At forty-five years of age, he had amassed a lot of wealth. The only thing he regretted in life was that he had very little time to spend that money. Arti, also a doctor, specialized in orthodontics. While she worked too, she could never really come to terms with Satish’s late working hours and negligence towards family affairs, let alone running away at odd hours of the night. She often blamed him for the fact they could never have children.

But Satish couldn’t do much. He could feel for her and tried everything he could to make her feel better. What he could not do was to let go of his work. Since the time he had witnessed an open-heart surgery as an intern, he had given his life to the cause. What a challenge it is to fix a piece of equipment that wouldn’t stop working, he would often think. After nearly fifteen minutes under the hot shower, he headed straight to bed.

He was finding it difficult to sleep. Not that he had had too much coffee, but the day had been eventful. Three lives were lost while attempts to resuscitation were being made. After nearly twenty years of practice, cutting open and sewing human hearts came as naturally to him, as may be crying to a baby. What he found most challenging was dealing with the hearts of those who accompanied patients to hospitals. They would desperately wait for the doctor to talk to them – explain, comfort and answer. He knew how heart-breaking it was for these people to be told that the battle was over or that arrangements for cremation should be made or that they were hoping against hope.

He hadn’t realised when his thoughts had lulled him to sleep. Suddenly his phone rang. He got up startled. As he pressed his new i-phone to his left ear, Arti had already started mumbling. “Why don’t these people just die? They have made my life a living hell..Calls, calls, calls. How am I supposed to wake up early tomorrow morning? Tell them..just die and go to hell!”, she yelled and buried her face in her blanket again. Satish signalled with his hand for her to calm down, as he tried to focus on what the frantic speaker on the phone was trying to say. As he hung up the call, he cupped his face in his hands. Next he was holding her hand and gently asking her to get out of bed. “We must be getting to the hospital…now!.”, he said. She looked flummoxed. Why should she be going, she thought. “Iiiii..t’s your mom. She had a cardiac arrest few minutes ago. Daddy is rushing her to the hospital. Change your clothes fast”, he said, this time in a state of panic.

She stood outside the suite, in which her mother lay, motionless. Arti was leaning against the wall, to compensate for the weakness she felt in her knees. Every minute that passed was taking a toll on her senses. Finally, Satish appeared from the room. She looked at him in anticipation, her eyes red. As always, he was finding it difficult to choose the right words. He couldn’t break her heart. She began to thump his chest with her wrists, but there was no answer.

The curse had come true. She could feel something nibbling at her conscience – whether it was guilt or remorse, she wasn’t sure.

Image taken from Google images.

The dynamics of rape

Rape is a rather ghastly sounding word – it leaves a bad taste in the mouth no matter at what time of the day you think about it. I deliberately choose to not talk about the Dictionary meaning of the word – the explanation provided is just as gruesome as the word. And before I start, I must apologise for the repeated use of the word ‘sex’ in the post. I tried my best to use less and less of it, but given the topic being discussed, I think I failed miserably! Also, I would like to admit that while this post discusses the more commonly-heard-of type of rape, i.e. the one a male inflicts on a female, I completely acknowledge that the reverse also happens and it happens a lot! In fact, the permutations and combinations of sexual assault/ rape/ molestation are endless – man to man, man to woman, woman to woman, woman to man, man to child, woman to child and child to someone, and may be more. However, since I choose to write about the commonest one in this article, I shall keep the others for later.

I was shaken, really shaken to hear about the sexual assault of a young girl by a former Stanford University swimmer, while she was in an unconscious state. While this incident is not particularly different from other instances of rape in the U.S. or any other part of the world, it went viral probably because of the rapist’s father calling it ‘20 minutes of action’ for his son.

On considerable reading up after this incident, a rather shocking truth came to light. America is pretty similar in terms of its rape numbers as well its judgemental attitude towards rape victims, as may be India or any other not-so-developed economy in the world. Really? But didn’t we always think that America was THE United States of America – modern, open-minded, hip and all that? Well, at least I did. Also, since I have been in the mode of idolising the American economy since the time I have known how to pronounce it, I was really taken aback. My disappointment was exacerbated to know that rape victims are subject to similar prejudices and rather immoral questioning as we have commonly heard of in India. I mean, are we serious?

Before we can make recommendations as to how to curb instances of rape, I found it worthwhile to brainstorm about why rapes happen in the first place. I could come up with three possible explanations and to segregate the effect of one from another, I categorised rapists into three bins – the desperates, the self-doubters, and the power-demonstrators.

The first category is the most obvious one. The desperates are driven by uncontrollable sexual desire. Unfortunately, I think that this category is the most common one, thanks to smart phones and easy access to pornographic content on the internet.

The second group is the self-doubters. This category, while more in control of their sexual desire, are looking for avenues to explore whether they can really manage to pull off the act! But why do these guys believe in the first place that probably they can’t or may not be able to pull it off? That is a question only they can answer.

The last and by far, the most dangerous category is that of the power-demonstrators. These guys are out there to prove a point, to teach the women of the world a lesson, to demonstrate how powerful they are. Following a heart-break or some other traumatic event, this ‘jilted-lover’ category steps out to seek revenge from anyone and everyone alive. This is the same type that make news by throwing acid on women’s faces. For them, rapes are more about demonstration of power than satisfaction of sexual urges. Think about this – the really hot-looking, athlete-bodied Stanford guy must have had the best girls in town wooing over him. I don’t think avenues for sex were really a problem for him. Then it was probably about power.

It is time for us to understand that the act of sex is much more than physical pleasure. It is sacred. No matter what one’s gender may be, sex involves surrender of the self and not demonstration of power, love and not lust, completeness and not guilt and the most important of all, respect for the partner’s choices and boundaries. The nature of act is such that it cannot be forced, for if it is ‘inflicted’, there can be nothing more dreadful, discomforting and loathsome.

Given that, how correct is it to prove a silly point and let the rape victim suffer all her life by thinking about the horrific incident, undergoing horrendous tests at some shoddy Government hospital and feeling guilty for a felony they have played no part in?

I strongly believe that education and only education can cause awakening of the kind we need. Only when people across the globe understand the concept of peaceful co-existence and the need for respecting one’s choices, can we step out at any hour of the night and not be scared of smiling at those who walk alongside – irrespective of their age, gender, sexual orientation and social class. It might take generations before we wake up to times like these.

Image taken from Google images.

The mentor I never met

Not all relationships are meant to be usual. Some remain undefined, un-understood and bizarre, at best. One such relationship in my life is the one I share with my Professor’s wife – Ms. Rosemary Marangoly George, fondly called Rosie. As I enter my office every day, I find her picture neatly affixed to the tack-board. I see a dusky-complexioned, short-haired and strong-looking woman, smiling over her shoulder. Silently, I say hi, stare at the picture for couple of seconds and start off with work. This has been happening for over a year now. The only catch here is that she’s no more. In fact, I’ve never even met her but know enough about her to write a 100-page something book.

Rosie succumbed to cancer nearly three years ago, leaving behind a loving husband (my Professor who also happens to be my current employer) and a teenage daughter. She was Professor of Literature at the University of California at San Diego. Widely published, the author of several books, Rosie was the champion of the cause of women empowerment and gender equality, both professionally and personally. She and Professor had been married for over twenty-five years and there’s not a day when he doesn’t go gaga thinking about his wife.

He maintains a blog to share stories about her and post old pictures of the times when they dated, of the beautiful times before and after marriage, the day of their wedding, moments with their pretty daughter and practically anything and everything that has to do with Rosie. By the way, that blog of his is widely followed, thanks to Rosie’s popularity and goodwill. She happened to be a very loved woman – loved by family, friends and almost anyone who knew her in any capacity – student, colleague, or just anyone. Professor chuckles as he reminisces how strongly she would react to any event or situation which did not fit into her standards of gender equality. He recollects how she nearly threw a fit when a server at a restaurant served her no meat and all gravy, while the other five at the table (incidentally men!) got their fair share of meat. Just my type, I tell you.

She is the only person I regret not meeting in life. To me, she would be the perfect shoulder to cry on, the perfect brain to offer suggestions and the most perfect set of ears to at least hear me out and NOT offer sympathy. That’s one word I think she didn’t believe women deserved. Anyway, having known so much about her has helped me devise my own strategy – whenever in a difficult situation, I brood over how Rosie would have reacted in similar circumstances or what would she have said I do? Trust me, it has steered me out in at least half a dozen difficult situations till now.

Whenever I sit to think about why I feel so strongly for her, only one answer comes to mind – she was just my type. Again, I do not sympathize with her or feel bad for her because she’s dead. But I certainly miss talking to her because she represents everything I want to be – strong yet compassionate, loud yet soft, a born leader yet an ardent follower.

By the way, before any of you begin to doubt my sanity, let me appriseyou of a similar situation, miles away. Ashvin Kini, Rosie’s last Ph.D. Student earned his doctorate just two weeks ago. In his graduation speech, not only did he dedicate his title to her but also mentioned something strange – he said that Rosie had been his mentor much before he had actually met her! Now this is spooky. Having said that, I am reasonably sure that it’s not about me, Ashvin or anybody else – it’s about HER.

Rosie, rest in peace wherever you are. For when we meet, I’ll ensure you don’t sleep till you hear me out.

Rosie2The picture in my office

Love at first sight

Anand had decided to call it a day at work and get back home. With twenty plus files awaiting his attention at his desk, his overworked brain had pushed him to retire early. As he stood outside his apartment, unlocking the door, he thought of Sapna, his wife. It was still hours before she would be home from work. As he entered their two-bedroom house, a wave of scented air brushed his nostrils – it was the scent of Sapna’s favourite perfume. She must have worn that today, he thought. He went straight to the kitchen to make himself a coffee. It felt sinful to not savour coffee in the tantalising cloudy weather outside. Five in the evening was looking darker than always and the tar-lined clouds seemed to promise lashing rains that night.

As he opened the kitchen cabinet, he saw the neatly arranged rows of spices, condiments and all that Sapna used in her culinary adventures. “How spectacularly organised”, he thought. He knew that while he would never acknowledge this to her, but she really was a hard worker. She would come home late night, heat the food she would stack in the freezer every week, lay the table and clean up after dinner before going to bed. God alone knows where she got the time to do this other tidying up.

The caffeine-kick and the romantic weather were enough to lift his spirits. “Let me surprise her by making the beds tonight”, Anand said to himself.  Little did he know that he was very close to beating his own expectations. It was nearly nine-thirty in the night and the house was beaming with pride. A carefree husband had done his best to please his wife – made the beds, cooked dinner, laid out the table and placed a bottle of wine and a large scented candle in the centre of the dining table. Everything was set. He was dying to see her reaction to this rather unusual gesture. Would she cup her mouth with her hands in surprise or cry out loud or hug him tightly…time will tell, he thought.

As he could feel his excitement grow, he heard the sound of her car’s horn. She was back. As he looked out of the window in the living area, he could see all things wet and drenched. He had probably not realised how heavily it had been raining since at least an hour and a half. She pulled her car to the side and there she emerged – dressed in a white formal top and black trousers, rimless glasses and knee-length hair, open. As she walked towards the house, he could see raindrops falling unceasingly on her, while she made no effort to prevent them from caressing her. Her smooth skin glowed even in the dinginess of the night. How beautiful and flawless she was, he thought to himself. Fair, tall and well-built, voluptuous yet curvy – she was everyone a man could desire. It had been quite some time since they had spent some time together. Their lifestyle had been taking a toll on both of them – they probably couldn’t see the nice little things that existed right under their nose and foolishly searched for happiness outside.

He rushed to light the candle. The flame and fragrance of the candle had barely been around for a minute, when Sapna unlocked the door. A giant breeze came from the door as she entered. As she saw Anand near the dining table, smirking at her naughtily, she ran towards him. The breeze had already put the candle out.

It was love at first sight yet again. Nature had reunited them.

Image taken from Google images.

The mask

My head feels heavy,

And my hair strands revolt.

The mask I have been carrying,

Now seems too much to hold.

Since years forgotten,

I have been pretending to be strong.

Of being smart, calm and rational,

Of being right even when wrong.

Once in a while I think of the docile little girl,

That I once used to be.

Who would giggle on trivial matters,

And cry inconsolably.

I was weak for sure,

But at least I could speak my mind.

I wouldn’t think of what people thought,

As I marched, I left the world behind.

Now I speak strongly,

As I inwardly shiver in fear.

My soul sheds a million tears,

But my smile I always wear.

Sometimes I think of untying the mask,

I even loosen its strings.

I think of being the little girl again,

Who would laugh at idiotic things.

My fear of being judged,

Of being taken for a ride.

Of being taken lightly in the future,

Make me incapable to decide.

Now I am someone unfamiliar,

Neither do I care nor ask.

Though the little girl still manages to peep,

From behind the mask.

 

The title

She turned from side to side in her bed, perspiring heavily. Huge beads of sweat had formed on her forehead even as the air conditioner in the room puffed cold air in full swing. Mathematical symbols and equations fleeted across her eyes as if in a bad dream. What if the exam paper tomorrow had a lot more questions from integration and differentiation than trigonometry? What if the paper was set by the faculty known for failing his students mercilessly? What if the worst came true? She checked her clock – it was five-thirty in the morning and she hadn’t slept at all.

Chandni decided to get out of bed in the hope of getting some relief from these racing thoughts. She was a successful banker with two daughters, aged seventeen and twelve. She spearheaded India’s leading private bank and had just spent her night fretting over her elder daughter’s maths exam, to be held today. Chandni was the mathematical genius of the family and had tutored her daughter all year long and was now anxious about her performance at the assessment today. Out of habit, she sank in her easy chair and grabbed a copy of the day’s business newspaper. It had some good news about investors’ expectations of the performance of the Indian banking industry, with particular mention to the bank she headed. It didn’t seem to matter at the moment.

As she sat in office that day, she was informed about the arrival of Miss Namita, the Chairperson of India’s largest economic forum, who was waiting in the conference room to see her. As Chandni entered the conference room, she was happy to find her old buddy and now, Chairperson of the economic forum, Namita. They had known each other since college times and had gone their separate ways to make their mark in the country’s industry and commerce. Namita was awestruck to see Chandni. She hadn’t changed a bit since last year! She was the same impeccably-dressed woman with an air of elegance about herself. Clad in a stiff silk saree, the string of expensive South-sea pearls around her neck, gave her an almost goddess-like appearance. “Hey”, exclaimed Chandni as she went on and hugged Namita. “Good news”, said Namita, “you’ve been nominated for the most successful woman banker of the year. I came here so I could let you know in person”. Chandni didn’t smile. Her mind was elsewhere. Suddenly, her i-phone beeped. It was her daughter. “Yippee Mom, I rocked the exam”, read her daughter’s text. As if a switch had just been turned on, Chandni’s face lit up. She sent for two cappuccinos from the pantry next door.

The title had already been won and none other mattered.

Image taken from Google images.