The Mirage

It was the sound of birds chirping in the bushes below that woke her up. She didn’t want to open her eyes though; the dream had been too good to be true, and she didn’t want to let go of it, just yet. Especially since it had been one of those precious ones in which he played a part, even if it was to just stand there and smile at her in an indulging manner. That smile, those eyes, they had the magnetic ability to cast a hook on her heart and tug at it hard and fast. In the past few months, it was this smile that had been the very pivot of her existence. With nothing else significant enough to look forward to, it was the one cornerstone she held on to, to keep herself sane and smiling as she milled through the monotony of her life. So yes, to see the same smile come in her dream was nothing short of a miracle, and she wanted to hold on to it. Nevertheless, her clock reminded her that it was time to set the wheels in motion. She got up from the bed, his piercing eyes still vivid and scintillating behind her half-closed eyes, and walked to the bathroom.

Later, sitting in her balcony, watching the sun crack through the clouds as she sipped the hot tea, it struck her that it was exactly a month since she had seen him, or talked to him. The yearning to do either had been too great in the beginning, too cruel, too obsessive.

Yet, in a world that’s connected too close for comfort, she had been able to do neither. He seemed to a have wiped himself off the face of earth, removed all the traces of himself and his existence. Of course, she could ask around, talk to common friends. She had tried that too, with one common friend who turned out to be too loyal to him than to her, and wouldn’t divulge anything she did not already know. After that, she didn’t want to risk asking anyone else. She couldn’t figure out a set of questions that she could ask without coming off as unusual, intrusive and even suspicious. In her part of the world, it would certainly raise eyebrows if a married woman with a preteen child went about asking questions about a man, also married and a father.

As the thoughts raced through her mind, she experienced the same constriction in her heart that had occurred every time she thought of him in this past month. This was a pain she had to endure alone, a burden she had to carry alone. And she had been largely successful in doing it. From morning to night, discussing the lockdown with her husband, helping her child with the lessons sent by the school, trying out new culinary skills or finally getting on to that long pending spring-cleaning, she did it all with a smile on her face, a song on her lips, and a skip in her step. She bragged about her small and big achievements on the social media, mused and wondered there about the happenings of the world, and watched in glee as her posts garnered likes. She also scanned, with a small, flickering hope, amongst those likes, to see if his name too would feature someday, a small nod, to tell her he was still there, to acknowledge her existence. Nothing came yet, and she continued to look for it, with the same vivacity that was characteristically her.

Nights were harder, the time between closing her eyes and actually falling asleep, hardest. It was the time when the façade came off, making her vulnerable and weak. With nothing else to distract her mind, the thoughts and memories came at her with full force, and she was left defenseless and totally battered. On many nights she would sit up suddenly, gasping for breath, so suffocating would the constriction inside her become. It was only after the free-flowing tears washed away the unspeakable grief would she feel relieved and strong enough to will herself back to sleep.

“Mom….”

The moan shook her out of her reverie. She gulped down what remained of her now tepid tea, and went in to coax her child to wake up. She would have to get everything ready at home, before setting out to do what she had planned to. The husband was awake and busy clicking away at his computer, with not a side glance at her as she walked in with the hot tea for him and placed it beside his keyboard. She had stopped expecting the glance a long while ago, in the same way she had stopped expecting a warm good morning smile, a surprise hug or a peck on the cheek. Not that those were non-existent, but they were too few and far between for her liking. There was no use faulting him; he was simply wired that way; it was simply not his way of showing love.

What she had felt for the him, was something even she did not understand. Something about him made her feel excited, alive as she had never been for a very long time. It was that feeling she wanted to preserve with her forever. She did not care for a relationship; she knew she was not ready to forego what she had painstakingly built in her marriage. She did not envision herself living with him, only perhaps, enjoying the pleasure of looking at him, talking to him, and having his gaze on her. Or perhaps, the feelings she had were not really for him. Perhaps they were for her idea of her ideal man, and perhaps, he was just a muse, to give a face to her idea.

Yet, she thought as she put on her favorite black kurti, this sudden radio silence was doing the complete opposite of what it’s supposed purpose might have been. She too had wanted to pull back and gain balance before it was too late, before she ended up doing something she couldn’t back out from. She too wanted to move on, keep her feelings restricted to what they were – just a fleeting emotional phase. She too wanted to stop them from developing into something irreversible, but the abruptness of his departure from her life unnerved her. She couldn’t find closure and move on as if nothing had happened. Which is why, her plan today was so important for her.

“I am headed out to buy some vegetables. Do you need anything?” she called out to her husband. The coronavirus lockdown had ensured that something as mundane as grocery shopping had become the highlight of everyone’s day.

“Bring some paneer if possible. There’s this new recipe I found on the net that I want to try out.” She smiled. Her husband was indeed a lucky person, for he could find contentment in the simplest of things. She wished she could too, and be free of this constant restlessness that gnawed her insides.

The scorching sun greeted her as she started her scooter. It had been almost a month since she had ridden on it. For the past month, like billions of others around the country, and the world, she had been confined to her home, hoping the coronavirus couldn’t find its way in there. Unnecessary movement on the roads was prohibited. You couldn’t go out unless you really had a genuine reason to. Thinking up the excuses she could give to the police if they were to stop her, she drove towards her destination.

After driving around for about an hour, she finally stopped in front of a Food Bazaar supermarket. The mauve-colored house stood only a few buildings ahead of her. This had to be it. She had managed to find a picture of his house on Facebook, on the wall of his wife’s account. She had known the general location already, so today she had mustered up the courage to come and visit him. She had thought long of what she would say to him when she met him. She would come clean with all that she felt for him, and would tell him that she wanted to continue to be his friend. She had been able to successfully suppress the small voice that questioned within her, “What is it really going to achieve?” She did not have room for doubts now, for inside her mind, she knew she would feel better only having poured her entire turmoil out to him.

 She parked the vehicle and hesitated. What seemed like a solid plan an hour ago, felt like absolute foolishness now. A part of her wanted to turn back and head home, but the other, more stubborn one, held fast to this manic obsession. Like a possessed person, she got down from her scooter and walked towards his house, her heart beating loudly against her ribs. When she had reached the building beside his house, she saw him suddenly come out of the front door. She quickly dived behind a car that was parked in front of the building and craned her neck to see what he was doing. He seemed to be fiddling with his phone, and then he pressed it to his ears.

“Can I please meet you, just one time?” She heard him pleading into the phone.

“It is hell living like this, away from you for so long. You know I have feelings for you. I am going crazy without meeting you. My wife and child will be going to her mom’s place tomorrow. We have got the permission to travel. Can I please come and see you after she leaves, Vinita? Please my dear, I am begging you.” Vinita was a common acquaintance.

She chuckled, disbelief and relief suddenly flooding through her in equal measure. It felt as if suddenly a cloud had shifted, and sunlight had streamed through with full force. She let out a big sigh. The mirage was somehow gone, and everything was crystal clear now. She shook her head, walked back to her scooter, and got ready to head back home, but not before buying those vegetables and the paneer.

Until Death Takes Us Apart

A peek back into the past… a post from about 8 years ago. Something I had written in 2006. One of my first attempts at romance. It is filmy, it might also seem cliched and cheesy to some. Yet, I still cherish this story for all that it meant to me then, and even now, after all these years…

I put my cell phone down with exasperation. It had been mom, and for the umpteenth time I had to reassure her that I would return home early. Mom had been reluctant to even send me to office today, but then she did, just to humor me, lest I change my decision again. A decision, which had required months of persuasions by both mom and dad, heated arguments and tears shed at nights, before it was finally taken. Decision, to get married.

I looked at the monitor. I had just compiled a code and now was running a job for testing it. What was I feeling now? What was I supposed to feel now? Happy? Ecstatic? No, I didn’t feel a thing. My mind was now expressionless to the point of numbness. I looked at my watch. 11.00 AM. It struck me that I better complete this code today before going. Then my team would be good to deliver this next week. With this thought, I put all other thoughts into the back burner and got to work.

I don’t remember how much time passed before Krishma walked up to my cubicle and exclaimed, “Hey! What are you doing here? Didn’t you take leave today?” I looked up from my screen and smiled, “I am leaving by 4 o’clock bus.” “What! For Christ sake Mini! Your prospective husband is coming to see you today! It’s your ‘Girl seeing ceremony’!”

I laughed at her literal Tamil to English translation. “So what! Those people are coming only at 7 in the evening. I would reach home by 5 and would still have plenty of time left to get ready.”

“Uh! How utterly unromantic! If only this had been for me, I would have spent my half day dreaming about that guy and the other half in beauty parlor, getting ready!” Kris was always like this. Die hard romantic.

It was 3.30 PM now. Finally I had caught the culprit variable that had been causing the S0C7 abend for the larger part of the last 2 hours. I finally decided it was time to wind up and started for the food court to grab a sandwich, to compensate for the forgotten lunch.

Half an hour later I settled comfortably near the window behind the driver. He had started to rev the engine. I remembered Kris’s accusation in the morning. Me, an unromantic. A wry smile spread on my lips, as my thoughts flew backwards, 2 years behind.

One of my friends had introduced me to him. At that time I didn’t know that this face was going to be carved in my very existence, forever. From acquaintances, to friends, to something more than that, we grew close quite fast. I used to be overawed by his personality. Those eyes, their piercing quality! I didn’t want anything else in my life except to keep seeing them forever.

Advait. Even his name is fascinating. He used to be a quiet personality, but a man of substance. Everything he did, he did with style. And the more time I spent with him, the more I got attracted to him.

How he sensed my thoughts, I do not know till today. May be it was too conspicuous. He asked me one day about it, and I could not deny. I had never been able to lie to him. It still remains so. I told him all that I felt for him. It sure took a lot of courage from my side to do that. I had never been so bold until that point in my life. He didn’t say anything for a while, and then slowly confessed that he felt the same for me too. Did this love spring up from my confession, just as reciprocation? I asked him. He told that was partly true. But for the most part, it was his attraction towards me too.

I was as happy as I had ever been in my life. And the days and months that followed were heavenly, to say the least. There was nothing unsaid, unshared between us. I was glad, almost proud to be the one to whom this secretive personality opened up. I am now too.

Days passed, it soon it was time to think of the next step. What were we going to do with our relationship? Surely we could not go on like this forever. All this while, it had been just the two of us. Now it was time to think of the wider picture. Parents. Would they agree to this relationship? We both knew we would have a hard time convincing them. Even if they did get convinced in the end, they would still be hurt at our decision. We asked ourselves, do we want to hurt them? What were our priorities?

Though our outlook on life was very different from each other, one thing we both agreed upon was that come what may, we would never be the cause of even a minutest agony to our parents. And that principle obviously was the biggest obstacle for the continuance of our relationship. We both knew that, but we also knew we could not do anything about it. Coming to think of it now, maybe we could have given ourselves at least a chance. But no, back then we knew that there was no way we could be together without making our parents shed even a single tear.

And so, one day, we decided to end it all. We might remain friends, but we had to drift apart from each other. Forcefully, if need be. We both promised to each other to get married, have children, and write to each other occasionally, meet up with our families sometimes.

I remembered the day when my dreams had died. And suddenly I realized, with a stab in my heart, that it was the same day, last year.

My dreams had died, but it took a long time for me to bury them. When my parents started looking out for a suitable match for me, I tried putting them off. Many offers were rejected on various accounts. It was not that I still believed I could reunite with Advait. But I felt I was not ready for marriage yet. I needed time.

One full year had passed this way, and here I was today, finally relenting to the inevitable.

As I stepping into the house I could sense the excitement. Seeing my mom’s face, lit with expectation, tense and happy at the same time, I knew that our decision was cent percent correct. I forced Advait out of my mind and quickly went off to my room to shower and get ready.

The guests arrived promptly at 7. Pleasantries were exchanged, introductions were made and everyone was seated. I was inside my room, touching up my make up. I looked at my mirror and said, “Goodbye, Advait.” And forced a smile into my lips, and a tear, into my eyes. Something seemed strange, but I could not figure what.

After about fifteen minutes, my mom walked into the room and said, “Come out dear. Take this coffee tray and serve them.”

I had been instructed to walk with my eyes down. I walked so till I neared them and then looked up at the sari clad woman, expecting to see my prospective mother-in-law.

It was Lakshmi Aunty! Advait’s mother! I did not understand. Puzzled, I looked around. Mani Uncle, Advait’s dad was smiling at me. My eyes looked around quickly as my heart beats quickened a trillion times. But they didn’t find what they were looking for. Were Advait’s parents, friends or relatives of the boy? Had they come on behalf of his parents? Or…? Now I understood why I had felt that strange feeling. It was the familiar voice of Aunty. I was about to turn to my mom for an explanation, when my brain beeped the ‘object found’ signal! My heart really skipped a beat! It was Advait, walking into the room, completing a call on his cell phone!

He looked up and smiled, and I nearly swooned. He came near me and took my hands into his. “I could not just go away from you Mini. I tried; I tried my best, but failed. For the first time in my life I failed girl. Then I decided to do what you always wanted us to, to give ourselves a chance. Just this time, I was determined, not just to try, but to succeed. I talked to my mom and dad. Convinced them. Then we talked to your mom and dad. Well, it was not easy, but then, it was not too difficult too! I was honest with them. I told them everything about us, including our decision to separate. I persisted and here we are today!”

Now how can I describe how I felt then! I was still unsure if this was real, and turned towards my mom. She came near me and put her arms around my shoulders. “Mini, it’s alright! We are your parents, child, not strangers. We would always want the best for you. Maybe that is why we are a bit overcautious. We need to be so sometimes. But we know Advait is just perfect for you! We are happy for you. Not hurt in the least. We could not have found a better match for you,” she said with a smile.

A still from the movie Kalyana Samayal Sadham

A still from the movie Kalyana Samayal Sadham

“Now dear lady, if I could have a minute of your time, can I ask you, if you would like to spend your lifetime, with me?” Advait asked, taking my hand in his, looking straight inside my eyes, into my soul. Tears of joy poured out copiously, and amidst them, I told him, “Idiot! Don’t copy dialogs from Rang De Basanti!”

This post was written for Project 365 program at We Post Daily. The prompt for today was “And they lived happily ever after”.

Life can Change in Minutes

It is very calm and peaceful, except for the occasional screeches coming from the window. Those must be the piglets in their sty, being fattened up by their owner to appease someone’s taste buds as pork some day. Wonder when the management committee of our society will succeed in removing the sty from beside our compound. Despite the numerous complaints the residents have raised, about the foul smell and the unhygienic practices followed and the irksome screeches of those pigs, the sty continues to function there, with no one being able to do something about it. I turn my attention inside the house instead. Everything is in its rightful place, well, almost. Except for those sweaters and jerk-ins that Nirav wore yesterday, and Aarav’s monkey cap. These are lying on the sofa. A couple of Aarav’s toys are sitting on the dining table, and a single sock, Nirav’s, is hanging limply from the sofa’s hand-rest. The father and son are exactly like each other, never caring to keep their things in order. I sometimes get tired of telling them repeatedly and silently go about putting stuff in order, all by myself.

On the kitchen counter rests the huge steel basket containing washed utensils. I didn’t get time to sort them down before I went out. The counter needs to be cleaned too, for the ‘roti-wali-bai’ has left smears of wheat flour on it after making our rotis. Sigh! Wish I had a magic wand to clean up the whole place with one swish and an incantation. The way Mrs. Weasley does. No matter how much I clean up, my house continues to look as if Ron, Fred, George and Harry just finished playing a Quidditch match here.

I enter the first bedroom that serves as my office room. Nirav’s books are strewn all around, and his white board is filled with 1s and 0s. He is learning some serious stuff. Re-learning rather, the stuff that we learned in our 11th and 12th standards and then conveniently forgot. At least, I did. He is going all the way back into the basics now, in order to understand them better and possibly to come up with something of his own. I only wish that something did not involve papers strewn all over the place. But then, when were scientists and inventors followers of domestic orderliness? That task has, for centuries, fallen on the shoulders of their wives, butlers or if they were alone, none, and they have never paused to wonder who kept their pens polished and their desks clean when they were busy playing God.

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I look up. The small attic is almost filled to the brim with cardboard boxes and suitcases. I have been urging Nirav forever to get rid of most of them. I hate clutter, but he always brushes away my pleads saying they might come in handy some day. Maybe he is right. For example, they could probably use that TV cardboard to pack up all my clothes and give them away. And to think I bought those lovely T-Shirts only yesterday. Such a pity.

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My laptop on the table is still whirring softly. The monitor is still on, and my unfinished post glares at me from its wide screen. I so wish I had completed this post and shared it in all the usual places before I went out. If only I had, the world would have at least got to read my last post. If only I had finished up all the work at home before heading out, Nirav would not have had to do them. Especially now, when he is rushing back home after receiving the call. That is why Kabir says, “Kaal kare so aaj kar, Aaj kare so ab; Pal mein parlai hoyegi, bahuri karega kab.” Then again, how was I to know that a speeding bus will come and hit me when I go to buy something as insignificant as milk?

Life is No Life Without You

Eesha opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. The radium stickers of rockets, stars and a moon smiled at her from above. Her gaze lowered down to the clock and she squinted to grasp the outline of the needles. They were both standing straight. The world outside her windows looked anything but 6 am. It was pitch dark. A stray dog cried somewhere.

Eesha sat up on her bed. What was that dream about? She tried to reconstruct the events she had just dreamed of.

Her elder sister was getting married in it. The new in-laws had been there. Her sister’s mother-in-law had told very firmly that the marriage would take place only if Eesha’s family consented to marry Eesha to her second son. Everybody had come and pleaded to Eesha to agree. After all, it was after great difficulty that this ‘rishta’ was finalized for her sister. Everyone would be so grateful to Eesha for sacrificing for her elder sister.

Eesha had looked to her mother for help. “What about Manoj, ma?” How could she leave him? How could she marry anyone else when he was there? “It’s Ok Eesha. I have talked to him and he has agreed,” her mom had told.

Agreed? Eesha knew why he would have agreed. It was not in his nature to raise his voice or put his foot down, her sweet and soft Manoj. This softness of him had irritated Eesha many times, but it was a perfect complement for the firebrand she was. He would temper her down whenever her emotions flew overboard. His smile was enough to melt Eesha’s heart. He would never should at her, never hurt her. For that matter, Manoj was incapable of hurting even a fly. He was the one who always adjusted, always gave in, always flexible, so that others could have their way.

Even in this case? Eesha had gone looking for him. Did he not love her enough to fight for her? How could he so easily give up on him? She had found him at the window at the far end of a lonely corridor. He had been staring out. As she neared him, she could see a streak of dried tear from his eyes. The smell of snot that builds up when tears are formed lingered around him.

“Are you ok?” she looked at his face closely.

He had looked down. “Yeah am fine.” He lifted his face and threw her a smile.

“What are you doing here?” Eesha had demanded, trying to not pounce upon him for his weakness.

“Nothing, just timepass…” Manoj said, grasping the window sill. “So, I guess we will be brother and sister from tomorrow?”

Eesha had been dismayed at the pain in the voice that spoke those words. “Manoj, are you fully ok with this?”

“What else can I do Eesha? Jaya has got this guy after so much searching. And with her disability, there is no telling if any other good match will come by soon.”

“But what about us…? What will you do without me? What will I do without you? Who will take care of you, Manoj?” Eesha’s voice faltered.

Manoj smiled weakly. “Life will go on, Eesha…”

“No, it wont be the same…” Eesha had broken down.

That had been the point when her eyes had opened. She look at the other end of the bed. It was empty. There were noises coming from the kitchen. Eesha got down from the bed and walked slowly towards the kitchen.

“Hey, Good morning dear!” Manoj smiled brightly at her, pouring tea into his favorite cup. “Wait let me mix your Horlicks for you.”

Eesha went near him and threw her arms around him. “I love you Manoj. Please don’t go away from me anytime.” she breathed into his chest.

“Of course I won’t dear. You are my life, what would I do without you?” Manoj cupped his palms around Eesha’s face. “Poor girl. Must have had some bad dream,” he thought. His fingers fondled Eesha’s chubby cheeks. “I will die before I leave you, my darling wife.”