The Untimed Green

imaepqck7urvkv2e._see-more-self-designer-red-and-green-color-tassar-silk-saree-with-blouse-piece-sathiya-banarasi-5-red-green--code---sathiya-banarasi-5-red-green-When the afternoon sun suddenly peeped inside Mansi’s room, the vermilion powder on the silver decorative plate popped up as the plate sat quietly on the dressing table. Few rice grains that adorned the water in the silver goblet shone brightly. 

Mansi quickly pulled the curtains. The thick dark grey curtains stood like huge bouncers outside a club, blocking the uninvited sun but even they had no control over the transom window above. The weak rays followed Mansi as she opened the cupboard and took out a red and turquoise silk sari. She looked pleased to find it as exquisite as she had left it last year. Mansi placed it on the bed and caressed it with hard press of hands where it had seemed slightly wrinkled.

She heard a rustle from the kitchen. Must be the mother in law. She checked the time. It was 4 pm. Shouldn’t she have already have left by now? Once the noise subsided, she glanced at the door lock to make sure it was securely closed.

A minute passed. Then another.

This was now her time. She had a few hours to be herself.

She checked her phone and swiped a few rights to find her favorite picture of her and Kenny together. She smiled cheerfully when she found the one. Kenny holding her up in the air. She screaming to be put down. He looked so handsome. She held the red and turquoise sari on her breast to show it to the man in the phone.

Look, Kenny. This is what I wearing for you today. Hey, hey, don’t peak too much. Give me half an hour to get ready. Then you can have all of me.

She blew a few kisses to the phone and ran to the adjoining bathroom to take a quick shower. When she came out wearing the red blouse and underskirt, the room picked up her energy. The walls bloomed into henna patterns and the droplets in her hair refused to leave her hair no matter how hard she whipped them off with the towel. She blew hot air and finally tamed them into a nice plait.

The sari was easy to wear. Last year she had checked DIY videos on the net about how to get the pleats right. The lady in the video had shown how each pleat has to be set. She tried to remember the video.

Make pleats on the front and in the
process fold the sari near the left waist to show the border
in an extra pleat, then tuck the pleats in the center.

She made the pleats as she remembered.

Set.

She draped the pallu and pinned it. A smile blossomed on her face. She remembered how one time Kenny fiddled with the pin while trying to remove the pallu and in turn hurt his finger. She had laughed and then took the finger in her mouth to ease the pain and stop the blood oozing out.

I love you. He had whispered on her clavicle. Mansi had tried to shrug it off as the clavicle felt warm and cold. It still felt warm and cold.

The mirror had an advice for her. Do smokey gold eyes, turquoise bindi, just a little rouge on cheeks and only clear lip balm for the lips. You don’t want to overdo it. Mansi obeyed the mirror and only when the mirror approved the final product, did Mansi look way to find her bangles and chandelier earrings.

Ready.

She picked the silver plate from her dressing table and sat on the ground. Just before she meets Kenny she wanted to do the Karwa puja. Even thought it was all by herself in this room. Just because they wouldn’t allow her amidst the other women, doesn’t mean she wouldn’t complete her duties of a loving Hindu wife. 

The raspy voice on the video recited the entire karwa katha story and even though there was no one to exchange thalis with, she was content she did her best. After the puja, she waited for Kenny to come home so they would go up on the terrace to see the moon through the sieve. As she waited for him, she played another video on her phone. 

Aap ki nazron ne samjha ..
Pyaar ke Kabil mujhe ..

The sun went down and the moon announced its arrival with a glow behind a cloud.

In the evening, Kenny came home and exchanged a hug with his mother. I will eat later. He said when she asked him come for dinner. He entered his room and switched on the light. He saw a dusty oxidized plate with matching  goblet lying on the ground. He picked it up and placed it on the dressing table. Just like he did every year on a particular day for the last four years.

Ever since his wife died.

Anuradha Sharma

There were two notes


There were two notes. ‘I love you.’ & ‘I leave you.’

He had to pick one.

He picked, ‘I leave you.’

She stayed silent for a minute, then turned around to pick her bags. Under the handle on her worn out suitcase, a little velvet black box peeped out.

Surprised, perplexed, and unable to contain her smile, she quickly looked back at him, who was now kneeling down and trying hard not to smile. No one knew what to say next, both smiling through tears nevertheless.

The ring stayed in the box as is. As she wiped his tears, a tiny drop escaped and glistened on her finger. Like a diamond of eternities.

Story : The Lullaby Of A Birdland

images.jpgThe November auburn sky was ready to dissolve in the vast darkness of the indigo night. The birds were rushing back to their nests, chirping to the rest in the flock to move faster. Behind the clouds, the moon hung like a skinny band of radiance.

In the Malik’s residence, soft jazz had found a dwelling on the music player. Mehroonisa swayed her hips slowly and lip-synced on the songs, holding her empty wine glass like a microphone. Occasionally, she looked into the jewel encrusted mosaic mirror on the wall, singing to herself and coquettishly adjusting her nose stud. The blue chandelier earrings that Farhan bought for her birthday last year looked dazzling with her black georgette  sari with sequins. The dark violet border on the sari matched the color of Mehroonisa’s eyes.

“You are beautiful.” Farhaan said, with a naughty smile on his face.

Mehroonisa beamed, cranked up the music player volume.

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves of a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont
Evening summer breeze
Warbling of a meadowlark
You and I and Moonlight in Vermont

Farhan saw his lovely wife do a twist as poured another round of drinks for both of them.

“Here is to the beautiful birthday girl. Cheers!” Their glasses chimed together.

Dancing and getting drunk was their once-a-month ritual, but on birthdays and anniversaries, they took out their cherished favorite CDs of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and fantasized themselves in glamorous sounds of romance and old world charm.

“Eh Mehroo, Your present. It is in my wallet. Let me get it.” Farhan said, as he held her close while dancing.

“Eh Faaru, You are my present and my future.” Mehroonisa tightened the hug.

Farhan shook his head at the silly joke as he softly pushed her back and went to the bedroom to bring his wallet.

Mehroonisa snatched the wallet and looked at Farhan while opening it. She found a small green satin paper envelope. She slid it out then slid it back and threw the wallet on the sofa. Her annoyance was visible.

“Gift card? Seriously? You got me a gift card?”  

She hated gift cards. They reeked of laziness.

“No, listen baba .. I wanted to buy you that handbag you told me about. But I don’t know about brands or colors or style. ” Farhaan tried to make her see the point.

“No, That is not acceptable” Mehroonisa was adamant. She didn’t think she needed to explain to her husband why.

“Mehroo, it really doesn’t matter.”

“No means no.” She said walking towards the kitchen.

Farhan smiled. He knew his wife of 27 years. She was still the same stubborn lass he fell in love with in college, who fought with him to give her fewer gifts because she felt embarrassed in front of her friends whose boyfriends were not so rich. He had only stopped because she had threatened to break up.

“Mehroo”

Mehroonisa glanced back and pretended to have glaring anger in her eyes. The hands fanned into a cobra hissing at him.

“Ok fine, snake girl, don’t kill me,” Farhan surrendered.

But Mehroonisa wasn’t listening. The next song on player had caught her attention.

Bees do it , bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

Farhan laughed at his wife’s ageless theatrics and blew her a kiss. Mehroonisa gleefully extended a hand to catch the kiss in the air. Then she closed her eyes and pouted gracefully like a professional Jazz Singer to blow him a kiss back.

***

She opened her eyes on the hospital bed. Six machines cramped in a tiny room. She closed and opened her eyes a few times to ensure it wasn’t a bad dream.  Something thick had started to curdle up in her. She tried to sit up and shrieked when she couldn’t.  She had no strength.

Their 23 –year-old daughter, Taani, rushed to her side. The parents wanted to come in too but the nurse asked them to wait. The nurses adjusted the bottle, took her temperature and made small talk until the doctor came inside with reports. She was doing much better now, he had assured her.

“Ho kya raha hai? Why am I here? When did Taani return from Bangalore? Where is Farhan?” She had wanted to scream but she seemed to have no control on her voice.

It took a lot of patience from both sides to come to the point. Taani sat on one side on the bed and on the other side her parents had taken her hands in theirs and told her that her Farhan had died following a massive heart attack the evening of her birthday. She had run to get help but had fallen off the stairs and had been in a coma for 20 days..

Coma? Heart Attack? Farhan had died? It made no sense to Mehroonisa. It was not Farhan’s way of dying. He was a health enthusiast, marathon runner and even  occasionally retreated to yoga.

The unbelievable was happening. Are they lying? Is this a prank? She looked towards the door expecting Farhan to pop his head from the side of the door and yell surprise! as he often did in college days.

It irritated her then. I’ll kill you, she would say. It wouldn’t irritate her now.

“No No No I wouldn’t kill you. Show me your face.” She pleaded to her husband.

She wanted to cry but all she could do was scream. It was simultaneous painful and confusing for her.

While she slept peacefully, her husband’s body had been religiously returned back to the elements it came from. No questions. No answers. Her college sweetheart, the doting husband was gone. Just like that. Accept it or not.

Her lips started to quiver. She went back to sleep.

Taani watched her mother go back to sleep and fixed a few strands of hair from her face. There was one thing Taani knew about her mother. Her mother did not love anybody the way she loved her husband. And with her father gone, Taani had lost her mother too.

As she caressed her mother’s limp hand she cried without tears. Her eyes wandered outside the grimy window.

Outside the ward, the hospital staff talked about how the daughter of room #309 patient had been running around to get all necessary paperwork done first for her father death and then for her mother’s hospital dues.

***

Mimmi, Chai.

Mehroonisa opened her eyes and watched Taani, moving medicine bottles aside to keep the tea cup on her bedside table. The mother and daughter exchanged a kind glance at each other and a half-smile formed at the corner of their lips.

Did you eat something? Mehroonisa asked, trying to sound as motherly as she could.

“Haan. Toast. I am leaving now.” She said wearing a watch her father gave her.

“On a Sunday?” Mehroonisa had wanted to ask.

But she heard the door shut before the words could make their way to the mouth.

Mehroonisa looked on the framed pictures on the wall. Not too long ago they were all happy and together. She felt a strange pang, similar to that of an empty nest. All the birds were gone. Some of them had gone too far.

The doctors had advised two months bed rest but she had taken more than six. She felt safe and closer to Faaru under this blanket. It still carried the smell of his after shave mixed with the odor of his night flatulence.

She got up from the bed slowly and limped towards the bathroom. The bed sores were beginning to sting. Now that she had the home to herself, she could come out of her shell for a bit to wash up. There was no one around to judge her for her latency in getting back to her feet.

She looked at the bathroom mirror and the mirror shot back with spiritual wisdom.

Let go.

No! She shot back. A thick lump in her throat refused and threatened to hurt her eyes. She looked away.

She splashed her face and wiped her blank expressionless face with a towel. She opened the Almirah and glanced at all the saris hanging. The pink jamavar, the red and gold bandhani, the yellow with pastel flowers, the black with violet border. She looked away, quickly pulled the purple house gown and beige shawl and closed the Almirah.

The phone rang twice as she was changing. The brain was in no hurry to take telecommunication urgencies. She did however pick up at the third ring.

“Ma’m, we have a special discount for mother’s day. Would you like to..?”

Is it Mother’s day? Today?

She remembered the last Mother’s day. The mother-daughter had gone shopping for a new bookshelf. They had similar taste in furniture. Classic but modern with artsy bent to it. They made the purchase and then spent the entire afternoon sipping wine at the new bistro in broad day light, something Mehroonisa always wanted to do. Taani brought out the adventurous side in her, just like her father did. She made her laugh like her father did, too.

She took her Teacup to the balcony. The May afternoon air was dry and itchy against her skin. She came inside and observed the house like someone who has no attachment to it does. The hall and kitchen were mostly clean. One of the plastic place mats on the dining table had a water streak, like it was just wiped. The rest looked good as new, never touched.

She opened the door to Taani’s room and found it spick and span. Not a thing out of her place. Tears welled up in her eyes. The Taani she had known never bothered with cleanliness. Her room always looked like a Sunday fish market. The maid had to be paid extra to clean the room. Even when Taani moved to Bangalore, she returned home once a month for 3 days.

Farhan’s death had changed Taani, too. And for the first time, Mehroonisa realized that she had never once thought that Taani too had lost her father. She had been so occupied in her own pain of losing a partner, she had become selfish and oblivious to her own flesh and blood’s feelings.

She was a bad mother. In fact, Taani had become the mother bird and she had become the dependent bird, waiting all day in the nest to be fed and taken care of.

She ran to her bedroom and opened a few drawers looking for Farhan’s wallet. The satin envelope shone in sunlight. She took it out and opened the envelope.

There was a note attached to gift card.

To Mehroo, My Jaan

 The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, No, They can’t take that away from me.

From Your Faaru

Drop by drop, the unannounced tears fell on Mehroonisa’s cheek like the big raindrops do a sunny day. She sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed until she thought the time stopped still.

It hadn’t.

She got up, limped to the Almirah and picked out her new aqua green chiffon sari and looked for a matching blouse. There wasn’t anything that matched.

She wasn’t sure she will have the courage to wear it today, but one day soon, she will have to get a blouse stitched.

The gift card had been neatly tucked in the inner pocket of her old handbag. She looked at it and pouted in mild scorn.

It was time to buy Taani and herself a new handbag.

It was time to go on a wine sipping date with her daughter.

It was time to become her daughter’s mother again.

It was time to ask Taani how she was feeling.

***

In the evening when Taani came home carrying five grocery bags, she stopped in her tracks to see her mother wearing a Sari, fiddling with CDs. Mehroonisa waited for her daughter to say something but Taani stood there for 2 seconds then went straight into the kitchen without any expression on the face.

Mehroonisa found it a bit strange. She had thought Taani will be happy to see her mother decked up.

She walked into the kitchen and saw Taani standing there looking at the floor.

“Taani “ she said.

No answer.

“I am sorry, Taani. Betu.”

No answer. The silence was deafening.

She waited and then took a few more steps to touch Taani on her arm.

Taani let out a huge sigh and turned back to face her mother.

Her face was a pool of black, blue and purple tears. Mehroonisa wiped her tears. And in wiping her daughter’s tears, her own tears resolved a few knots.

They two birds then hugged till the tears were replaced by trust and comfort.e4090a72d44f11c807d1d8b39ce40091

In time the Rockies may crumble
Gibraltar may tumble
They are only made of clay
But our love is here to stay
Together we’re going a long long way

(c) Anuradha Sharma

(The title of the story and lyrics quoted above are by Ella Fitzgerald, my favorite singer. She puts me at ease on cold December nights.)

Take Two

 

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Somebody on social media made an uneducated remark on divorces. They should be ignored because while everyone has the freedom of speech but not all have the sense of what it means to have that freedom.

I have been a witness to so many stories about people after divorce and most of them can be classified under Chicken soup series on the wondrous ways of the universe.

Here is one such story.

My friend was in a relationship for 11 years; 7 years of being together + 4 years of marriage. This was her one and only relationship ever, right out of school, and one which she thought was love of her life. She basically left everything to be with this person, including higher studies.

He was much older to her and had no ambition in life. As nice as he was, he was just careless about money and would spend whatever he earned on food and entertainment. After marriage she decided to pursue her studies again. So she held a job, went to school, came home, cooked and attended her husband who sat all day at home and watched TV. She was the bread maker and also the maker of the bread. She paid for his car and other expenses. So one day she told him to get a serious job. The response she got from him? “You are henpecking me.”

This is so wrong right! But she was in love. She did not know this was unacceptable. Coz when you love someone, you love them for better or for worse. So she dragged the relationship. You don’t break relationships just because one of them is lazy.  One day she asked him for ‘his’ money to fix a bathroom leak as her balance was running low. He refused to give it to her because he wanted to buy another TV. She argued that they already have two TVs in their 3 room apartment. But he was adamant he needed one in his personal room and refused to be “henpecked” by her.

This was first time they ever had an argument. She was always the subservient one and never raised her voice. She said the word because she wanted him to see that she was in pain about being the only one pulling the relationship.  But he agreed without any qualms.

At first it was just a little tiff but there was no communication from his side so it was clear it was over. Few days later he was partying up with common friends and telling everyone about the separation.

How do you feel when you say things to hurt people and they don’t even get hurt? It is the kind of loneliness that is often unexplained. Couples who fight even after divorces are better because that shows they both got hurt.

After the separation she waited for his calls, hoping everyday he would call to make up. Taking tiniest of hints and making them into stories about them getting back together. “Oh he called to get his belongings. He had that look on his face, you know. I am sure he wants us back.” or “I saw him at the mall today and he was wearing the same shirt I got him. I am sure he misses me”

One by one the stories she told herself started to fade and she was left nothing but her own words, which too, had stopped to soothe her. She would call us and just cry for hours. Remember the famous drunk crying scene from movie Queen. She would cry like that but there was no funny undertone to it. It was all serious and it was all happening.

It is funny that she was the one who called off the marriage after 11 years of consistent servitude but she was the only one feeling sad about it. She oscillated between hope and hopelessness, like patients of bipolar syndrome do. She was crushed because she was invested in this relationship. It mattered to her. All she wanted to change was him to be responsible. It wasn’t that she wanted to leave him. Too much to ask?

Anyways, an year later, they sold their apartment and finalized the divorce. It all ended the day after the divorce papers were signed and she was sitting in mourning. He called. She was so happy that he called. She wiped her tears and answered, ready to make it work if there was still a chance.

The call was about him getting his share in the money she got from the selling of the apartment. The one he never paid a penny for or took care of. Her family was all against it and told her to go to court. But she called him the next day and gave whatever money she had to him.

And this is what she said to him.

“This money is not because I owed you anything but because all lessons in life must be paid for. Thank you for calling me yesterday. It feels amazing. I finally found out what I did wrong all these years. I tried giving you a home but all you wanted ever was money. The divorce is the best ever present you could ever give me. I am grateful.”

He took the cheque and left.

She was homeless, penniless and deliriously happy.

That was two years ago.

In the last two years, she has made lemonade with the lemons she got. She is now a business woman starting her own work, goes to college for further studies and also works as a part-time child counselor.

I am also happy to report that a few weeks ago she has married again. To the first guy she dated right after the divorce. Anything said about her husband would be full of clichés so I will just say he is like Amol Palekar and Salman Khan all rolled into one; down to earth, hardworking and generous to the core of his soul.

Here is a story that proves that divorce is just a speed breaker not the end. It is so hard to come out of a loveless marriage because people only accept divorces if there is violence or cheating involved. But good for her she took her mental health as importantly. Good for her that she wanted love and not the fake sense of security marriages promise.

She is blessed.In fact, her happy ending has just begun.

– Anuradha Sharma ©

Story: The Weight Of Rejection

indian-wedding-big-image-21-imgarcade_1427799396_725x725

Romi looked in the side view mirror of her car. It was her fiance’ Arhaan with her best friend Samyukta. They were laughing and walking towards a jewellery store.

Romi had parked her car behind a row of shops so that she won’t be seen in the plain eye. She pulled out her phone and dialed Arhaan’s number. He did not pick up. She dialed again. This time, he picked up but ended the call hurriedly.

“Hey. I am in an urgent meeting. Let me call you back.”

He had lied to her. This was it. She was going to call off the wedding. She anyway knew something was wrong. The way he treated her with so much respect and care, had to have a catch 22. Bullshit!

“I may be sweet, but I am not stupid.”

She thought to herself.

As she sat there, she felt a little hot and shaken. She rubbed her eyes and felt they were too dry. While she waited for them to come outside of the store, she looked at the shopping bags on the passenger seat. She opened one of the bags and saw the outfit she bought for her mehndi function, She touched the fabric of the green georgette Anarkali dress with intricate zari work. Mom had said she wanted her to look like Kareena Kapoor.

Me! Kareena Kapoor!

She smirked.

“There will be no wedding, Mom. May be Arhaan will marry Samyukta. But no wedding in our house.”

For somebody whose wedding was going to be over, Romi looked too calm and collected. There was strange peace on her face. As if she finally got her answers. But her eyes were tell-all. She was hurt.

♥♥♥

Romi was sure Arhaan was cheating on her since the day they got engaged. She knew she should not have said yes to this wedding. There was something not right with Arhaan. He was decent, not bad looking, worked in a great company, volunteered at an NGO and, he was fit. He was really fit.

This bothered her a lot, because, Romi was fat.

Yes Romi was big, huge, above average, plus size.

Not just pleasantly curvy or blessed in certain areas.

Not even like the item song girls in Bhojpuri films trying to seduce political goons with her carefully placed jhatke.

No.

She was fat of the kind, which makes people laugh about but secretly fear about becoming one. The kind that makes shopkeeper turn you away from the door.

Aap ke size ka nahi milega yahaan.

She was fat like those female film side-artists who run with bananas in their mouth trying to woo the hero with their comically romantic gestures. The hero runs away from her like one does from a mad bull.

When Romi went to movies with her friends and a similar scene came on the screen, she’d stop eating her popcorn and feel sad for that female side-artist. In the darkness of that theatre, she would look around to see couples snuggled together and tried to see if any of the couples was chubbier than that female side-artist. Or herself.

But just like the hero, nobody wants their woman to be fat.  

It was not always like this. Up until high school, Romi was slender, tall and had a healthy body weight. She was one of the most popular girls in school. She played volleyball, designed the school newsletter and headed the school assembly. When half of your beauty is your brain, you gain respect more than you gain attention. Boys crushed on her but they didn’t think they deserved her so they kept quiet. The girls envied, admired her, but kept their distance. Romi always felt she was enough for herself. She had so much to do the entire day and then so much to talk at home about it, she never missed friends.

But when her Dad died in an accident the following year, she suddenly felt all alone. Her mother, now a single parent and working two jobs, wasn’t around that much to notice the sadness that had engulfed Romi.

The grief is a hungry thing. It often finds comfort in food. For Romi, food became her friend. Just like her father, food too imparted wisdom lessons.

Be in shape. Round is a shape.

Life is cold. Pizza is warm.

When life is bitter, have some butter.

Chips are innocent potatoes that got fried. Just like you.

The only people who talked to her at college were her professors and the librarian. Other than that her life was devoid of any conversation. Food worked for her. And films. Films were conversations she had with outer life.

Eight years had passed since her dad’s passed away. In these years she had gained a post-graduate honours degree, a well-paying job as a copy writer in a big firm and 35 kgs weight. Along came Samyukta but that was completely incidental.

Samyukta and she met about four years ago at their local gym, which she had joined upon her mother’s incessant lectures about losing weight. They both had the adjoining treadmills and while Romi showed no apparent sign of willingness to make a conversation, Samyukta had told her all about her college life, her not so well going fashion degree and boyfriend troubles.

“He called me Sam coz he thought Sam is a cool nick. I even got a bob to match the name and now everybody calls me Sam. Do you like Sam or Samyukta? Sam, right?”

Irritating! Romi had thought but did not know how to shut her up.

Like a love sick puppy, Sam had followed her into the locker room and kept on blabbering about what her boyfriend said and what she thought he actually meant. She suddenly stopped talking and apologized for being so talkative. And then burst out crying.

Romi looked around and there was no one in the locker room. Another human being was crying and she did not know how to proceed.

“Baaaaaah!!! He … He dumped me for being too talkative and .. burr baa aaa aah!!! Grr Braah Bruu!”

She sounded like the old booting dial-up modem. Romi thought and kept looking at her.

“I have no boobs, he told me. I don’t even know how to grow them. Wheeeee.. Gagaa Baaah!! Baa!”

 The first thing Romi thought was the irony of the breast thing.

Mere kam nahi ho rahe. Isko bade chahiye.

Sam was sobbing with hiccups. Romi suddenly remembered what people do in similar situations. She had no handkerchief so she took out a chocolate bar she had kept hidden for bad hunger day from her bag.

“I don’t want it.”

Sam shook her head and cried again. But just as Romi was about to put the chocolate back in her bag, Sam’s hands leapt like X-men Wolverine and grabbed the chocolate and ate it. When Sam smiled in gratitude, her mouth resembled Gollum’s from Lord Of The Rings. It made Romi smile back.

Friendship was a new territory for Romi. She never had friends so she had to learn it.

Step 1 Day 1

First, you hang out with this person at the coffee shop and talk about books and travels.

Step 2 Day 5

You watch a crappy movie and rate the entire film industry one by one like you are Naseeruddin Shah and have the art running in your veins.

Step 3 Day 20

You accidentally watch a bit of news and make strange conversation such as:

Yaar! Ye Kejriwaal bahut draamebaaz hai!

Tujhe kaise pata? Tu news follow karti hai?

Nahi yaar! Twitter pe kehte hain sab! Hoga hi!

Haan hoga hi!

Step 4 Day 35

One day they come over to your house and you show them your clothes, posters, handbags and if they are lucky, your music collection.

Step 5 Day 60

And then comes the sacred level of friendship where you go shopping together. This is the last and most intimate step because this is where you allow the other person to see your clothes size and trial room fashion walk.

One thing leads to another and soon you are on the rooftop at dawn, chugging beers stolen from dad and showing each other your life scars. Romi and Sam had completed all five steps and handed each other the trophies of Best Friends Forever bracelets. Yes, it was Sam’s idea. Romi called it cheesy but wore it anyway.

The thing about best friends is that you never remember to celebrate friendship day. B’coz every day feels like one. Sam and Romi even forgot each other’s birthdays sometimes but they took care of each other like parents do. They never sent each other Diwali and Eid greetings but they bought each other gifts on random no festival days.

And like real best friends, they had seen each other’s flaws too. Romi had seen Sam get drunk at parties and flirt with older men. When those men made lewd calls and indecent proposals to Sam, Romi would pull her out of those parties. Sam had seen Romi on eating binges and self-anger when she could not wear the dresses she wanted to wear. Sam would somehow just say something so cheesy, that they would both end up laughing.

Romi turned 27 last January and like any single parent, Romi’s mother was concerned about getting Romi married. Romi was nervous about marriage but was kind of excited too. Whenever she looked at her dad’s picture, she would reminisce how great of a husband he was to her mother. He read her mother excerpts from books, helped her fix things around the house, talked to kids on the road and always carried a handkerchief just like gentlemen in old movies do. She wanted a husband just like her mom had.

Marriage proposals came and went by without making any noise. Romi got ‘rejected’ by men her age, by men who had much less education or pay scale than her and even by men 10 years older to her. The mothers commented how sweet she was but that may be she should stop eating any. One of the guy’s sisters gave her a gym trainer’s number and another guy’s Bhabi told her about some herbal pills.

Romi felt insulted but more because her mother wouldn’t retort to what they said.

Herbal pills lene mein koi harz nahi hai. Le ke dekh le.

Romi would have no answer, so she took the herbal pills, called the gym trainer, trained for about 75 days and then gave up after realizing that she just lost two pounds. That’s two pounds in 75 days of two-hour gym, healthy diet and herbal pills. If anyone understands finance, you wouldn’t keep making a high investment when the return is so depressingly low.

One guy who was at least as big as her seemed to be fascinated by Romi. The family too seemed to adore Romi so much that they finalized the marriage and even had a mini roka-ceremony that same week. But two weeks later, they called off the wedding citing that the guy wasn’t ready for marriage and kids. Later, Romi’s mom found out that he got married to a less educated but much thinner girl. So that was that; a clear message that even fat men don’t want fat women.

Romi’s mother was livid, first at the guy’s family, and then at her own daughter.

Aisa kyon hai ki tera hi weight lose nahi hota. Gym jaati bhi hai wo bhi bunk karti hai. Office mein kya khaati hai?

Romi was not the crying kind of person, but her mother wept the entire night and refused to eat food. Romi went to the bathroom and looked at her double chin, mounds on her cheeks and small sunken eyes.

“Mom is right. Even I would not want myself.”

She told herself and went to bed. She did not pick Sam’s call for an entire week. Sam kept texting her.

<Don’t worry! There are good guys too.>

<Don’t listen to these nincompoops.>

<Call me or I will kill you.>

A month later, when Arhaan’s family came over to see her, Romi sat like a doll, knowing what their answer would be. But when Arhaan asked to talk to her in private she looked at him in complete astonishment. Why would anyone that good looking even want to talk to her?

They talked generic things girls and boys talk about in an arranged setting. The real shock came after two days when they wanted to meet her again. This time, Arhaan was more vocal about his career and dreams. And in the end, he told her he was going to say yes for the marriage.

“Why?”

She asked him.

“Simple. Because I like you. If you like me, say yes.”

He smiled and left.

Arhaan was exactly like Romi’s Dad. He was polite, talked about big ideas, had a deeper understanding of things and was so affable. If he was not as fit as he was, Romi would have had no problem trusting him. Was he one of those fraud grooms just like they show in TV serials?

I am sweet but I am not stupid”

Romi had said to herself and decided to do her own investigation. Her mother too did the due diligence of asking about family in their neighborhood. They got raving reviews everywhere.

Itne acche reviews to aajkal movies ko nahi milte.

Romi had thought.

But two weeks later, at their engagement, it was clear what Arhaan’s real intention was. He was dancing there with every girl present. But the late night dance with Sam was a thing apart. They both danced till 2 am in the night, taking selfies and making faces whenever a famous song came up. Later, after the party, Romi caught them unaware in hallways whispering into each other’s ears and laughing in a hushed tone.

At first, she didn’t think Sam would do something of this sort but she remembered how she would get drunk and flirt around.

The other day when Romi was in the car with Arhaan, she saw Sam’s name flash on his phone screen but he quickly pulled it away. And one time she heard Sam laughing on the phone with someone and Arhaan’s name came up.

And now today she saw them walking too close, going inside a jewellery store.

When she saw Arhaan and Sam walking out of the store, she got out of the car and walked right up to them.

“So this is the urgent meeting?”

“Romi ..”

“Do you think I am stupid? Tum kuch bhi karoge aur mujhe pata nahi chalega? Just tell me why did you say yes to marriage with me if you are interested in her.”

“Arrey, Wait Roms. You are getting it all wrong.”

“Really, Sam? You both made a scene at the party. You call each other behind my back and I am getting it wrong. Tum logon ko mera mazaak udaana tha?”

“Arey suno to!”

“Tell me your future plans, please, I want to know what were you thinking?”

Before she went on, she heard her name and looked in the direction of that voice. It was her mother.

“Romi. Kya bol rahi ho, In dono ko maine bulaya hai yahan. Ye dekho, tumhaare liye diamond pendant lena tha. Socha tumhe surprise karoongi.”

“But, Mom..”

Romi was flabbergasted. Everyone was quiet.

“You both need to talk. Come Sam!”

 Romi’s mother looked at Romi and Arhaan and left. Sam quietly followed.

When they both were out of sight and and a few minutes had passed, Arhaan looked at Romi, who looked confused.

“Would you like to go for a walk?”

Arhaan asked.

Romi nodded and they started walking in the shopping arena.

“Sam and I are friends from school. And Sam had told me all about you before we came to see you.”

 Arhaan quietly said.

“But you could have told me that. Why would you hide that?”

“Sam’s idea. I told her so many times to tell you. Listen, I can understand your mistrust. I have never told you what I like about you.”

Romi was quiet, so he continued.

“You read books and talk about book characters like they are present in real life. You look at things and find metaphors everywhere. You are interesting, funny , down to earth and cute. Yes, believe me, you are. And in your purple saari with red border, and that small red bindi, you look very pretty and beautiful. And I have something important to show you.”

Arhaan took out his phone and swiped a few screens to look for something and then handed the phone to Romi.

“This was me four years ago.”

Romi took the phone and looked at the photo of a 100 kg man. Romi tried to match Arhaan’s face to the image. It was the same.

“I know what rejection feels like. I have faced it all my life. Girls rejected me, my friends made fun of me and little rascals didn’t even bother to do it behind my back. The teachers punished others in the class by making them sit with me. Even at interviews, I was asked if I can do this job with my weight problem. Ah! But’s that’s all in the past.”

Arhaan looked away for a second, collected himself and continued.

“When I look at you, I see a fighter. You are so much more than the outside built. Sam only told me how beautiful you are and how kind you are to people around you. But I really like you because you are same as me.”

Arhaan was quiet. Hoping Romi would believe him now.

“I am sorry, Arhaan. It’s just that .. I guess.. I was scared. Sorry!”

“Its OK Romi .. I can understand.”

Arhaan smiled and touched Romi’s face, “and where do they say that a sweet girl can’t stress her out being stupid?”

Romi shammed a frown, though it lasted a second or two until they giggled in resonance.

The giggle had given way to a river on Romi’s face. She was crying. It was a cry of relief. Something was washing away in those tears.

Arhaan took out his handkerchief and handed it to her.

Romi took it and smiled. Just like dad, she thought.

She had been wrong. She will have to stop by Sam’s house on her way back. She had a lot to explain to her silly sweet BFF, who had been right all this while. 

Ladke acchhe bhi hote hain!

The sunset in the city that day was a deeper shade of henna. The moon wearing the white veil of clouds, said I do.

♥♥♥

Wedding day. Chaos in the house.

Romi shouts from inside the washroom.

Sam, blouse fit nahi ho raha. Saamne se tailor aunty ko le aa.!

Oh, my god. I’ll leave right now. Kahaan se tight hai?

Arey, tight nahi loose ho gaya hai.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Story: One Night Stand

They weren’t lovers. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Those who knew Sushant and Aarushi, were amused by the sheer theatrical build-up of scenes that would end up bursting like water bubbles leaving the scent of enigma stronger than before.

Aarushi had always been a tom boy of sorts all her life, scolding boys her age and playing hopscotch with the older ones. The opposite gender was not much in contrast to her own, she thought.  Boys were just odd looking people from what she saw and not too bothered about having a clear opinion about them. As a result, the adolescence and her school years had passed before her eyes fighting teachers for extra marks and in beyond curriculum activities. The only time boys talked to her was to ask what a certain friend of hers thought of them, which she would report honestly.

The college-era was more or less the same, except for one scrawny fella who would keep looking at her in the class. Her friends tried to tease her about him, but she hardly understood what was going around her.

Class mein baatein mat karo. Ma’m naraaz ho jaayengi.

She would lightly admonish them.

Later, they found out the scrawny fella was cockeyed and was actually eyeing the teacher, so they eventually stopped.

Aarushi’s dramatic sense of morals mixed with confused adolescence seemed to vex her friends but it was exactly that what pulled Sushant to her like bees are pulled to flower scent. She was peculiar and cute. That and her beautiful almond-shaped eyes, which he thought would speak stories to him for the rest of his life.

He had seen at his brother’s wedding, dancing like a belle who didn’t seem to care who was watching her. While the whole marriage ensemble was dressed in finest silks and weighty jewellery, this modestly dressed girl in a pink salwar kameez with thin gold border caught his heart. He just couldn’t get enough of looking at her. Every few minutes she would close her eyes and twitch the side of nose, which he later learnt, was to adjust her new nose stud. The world seemed to black out, the wedding music stopped and only the violins in his heart played a soft tune and somewhere, the snow was falling on the dried yellow leaves.

 

It was funny because every time he looked away the place seemed to spin fast, but as soon as he moved his gaze back on her, she seemed to dance in slow motion. He tried looking away and back a few times to make sure he wasn’t just dreaming. He nudged his brother, the groom, and found out that she was the bride’s cousin.

The news travelled fast. Although Aarushi honestly thought Sushant had lost his way to the washrooms, a pesky teenager seemed to read that look on Sushant’s face.  Through the cacophony coming from the Aunties table, his and her names could be made out. This made Sushant smile.

The light flirting at the phere got everyone talking. It was even encouraged by their families.

What a lovely Jodi.

The mothers had quipped to each other as they got the garlands ready. The fathers had clicked glasses and talked about local politics. The siblings took out their nintendos and talked about latest video games.

Unbeknownst to Aarushi, everyone was sure this was meant to be. This was a match made in heaven, someone said.

The wedding fare ended with great pomp. The new bride of the older brother had barely entered the house and the gathering of relatives were already talking about the younger brother’s marriage. Everyone seemed adored Aarushi and was taken in by her simple charm.

Chat mangni pat vyaah.

One of Sushant’s aunt teased him. But Sushant had read too much Rumi and Keats to be persuaded to marry without love. He was greedy for her love. There would first be love, if at all. And then there would be marriage, if at all.

And so, to get her attention, he would wait for her on bus stands, outside library, and coffee house in her neighbourhood hoping for glance even if just a sidelined one. She did notice him, as would anyone who wasn’t blind, but was too shy to admit that she did.

She supposed he was okay and she was aware he liked her but love was too strong a word for her to be used casually. Our Jane Eyre had crossed her checklist. No heart palpitations when she saw him. No pressing need to be held in his arms. No increasing interest in admiring herself in her mirror. It wasn’t love, she was sure, because it did not feel what they said love feels like in books that she had read.

One day Sushant after noticing two good-looking boys riding motorbikes in her neighbourhood, he realized his approach wasn’t leading him anywhere, but he decided to take a giant leap in the story. The same evening, when the moon was at its full glow and crickets were lyrical, he showed up at her house with flowers and a velvet blue box. The parents hushed inside to let them talk in the living room. 

I have great admiration and fondness for your virtues. Would you consider a proposal of marriage?

He declared his love as unromantically as he could. That’s how gentlemen do. He did not want to sound desperate and cheesy to her dislike.

She heard him. She considered the proposal but something wasn’t right. Or maybe it felt too good to be true. Or maybe she had never learnt how to deal with this kind of attention. Or maybe boys were just odd looking people.

She did not want to be rude, but she did not want to make a decision. Do I say I don’t know or do I stay quiet. What was the norm?

He said a few more lines about how he started a new job, where he went for schooling, how one of his friends is now settled in America and how he used to bunk school.. he had stopped at this, suddenly apologetic for his verbosity.  She nodded.

The air was stuck between the unsaid. He looked at the wall clock behind her and noticed the hands weren’t moving. The flower vase on the table seemed stand offish. An undefined sense of loss was piling upon him. He had anticipated her inhibition but was not ready for a blatant rejection. He wasn’t feeling good.

An hour had passed so he stood up, thanked her for listening to him and then left leaving a few words for her to contemplate on.

I will always wait for you. Always.

An uneasy current moved in Aarushi’s heart. But it was too insignificant to cause an effect.

The next day, week and month passed in strange quiet. Everybody got busy with their daily chores and except for her mother, no one asked her what they had talked about.

But Ma, I want to complete graduation first.

She had retorted.

Sushant moved to another city. She completed her post-graduation and then the parents found a match for her. The years started to pass with speed of light. Life was kind to her. Occasionally, she felt blessed to have moments where the cup of happiness had brimmed full.

Moving to another country was challenging at first but later worked for her. Family life and a humble career kept her busy. The days were beautifully sinking into nights and her husband, her daughter; the in-laws all seemed to working in perfect alignment. She was lucky. Apart from the sporadic  couple fights about daily chores, there was peace.

A little over twenty five years lapsed with nothing major to write home about.

It was Sonia’s eldest daughter’s wedding. Aarushi wasn’t planning to attend, and but Sonia refused to take no for an answer. She even emotionally black-mailed Aarushi to stay with her.

Tujhe aana hi hai, bas keh diya.

It was going to be uncomfortable to be staying in her house and having to face Sushant every day.

Sushant apni life mein busy hai yaar, zyada soch mat, bas aaja!

Sonia ordered. She relented but it was going to be short visit. She could only manage a week’s leave. She secretly relieved to be reminded that Sushant hadn’t actually ‘waited’ for her as he had said.

When she saw him at Sonia’s house, Sushant was helping his mother carry up big boxes. He looked the same except he now wore glasses that seemed to age his eyes. He saw her too but continued to carry the boxes after a cursory hello. For the five days she was there, they occasionally crossed each other’s paths but never spoke more than a brief courtesy greeting.

She had found out the woman he was married to had an affair with one of her office colleague and had left Sushant after five years of their childless marriage. After their divorce, he moved from one city to another, moving up the corporate ladder.  Other than this, there was nothing to tell and nothing to ask.

Nobody threw them in a dance together at the wedding. Nobody asked them uncomfortable questions. Twenty Five years was a long time. Everyone either had forgotten about the story or perhaps didn’t want to create unnecessary ripples in still water.

After the wedding ceremony was over, the extended family had started to leave one by one. When Sushant was saying his farewell to the family, Aarushi made an excuse and stayed back in the guest room. She was packing her suitcase for her flight back home next day.

A knock on the door surprised her. She opened the door and saw Sushant standing there. He looked tired.

Hey.

He Said.

Hi.

Uhm .. I thought you had left.

Ya .. just waiting for the cab.

Silence.

So you are leaving in the morning.

Yeah! Just finishing up last minute packing.

Silence.

Yeah.. well. I just wanted to.. Hmm.. This is for you.

For Me? What is it?

She asked taking  the little blue velvet box from her.

Nothing special, just take it. If you can.

Aarushi remembered a similar blue velvet box on the table of her living room twenty five years ago. She opened the box and found a pair of gold earrings, big, old fashioned and slightly dull.

I can’t take these, please!

She held out her arm to return the box back to him.

Listen. I cannot keep them with me. Nor can I throw them away. Just take it, Aarushi. Give it to your daughter! Get rid of it. Sorry, I have to go now.

He said, turned back and quickly left. She stood there feeling thunderstruck. Her name in his voice had a strange echo to it. She had never heard him say her name before.

Aa ruu shii ..

It triggered something in her like a hypnotist’s single click of finger. She was in a trance or perhaps removed from one. Her name in his voice kept reverberating in her.

Aa ruu shii ..

Like his voice made love to her name and the stars played on the flutes. Like she was kissed on the forehead and the wetness of the kiss remained there. Like her name and his voice were made for each other. Meant to be.

Aa ruu shii ..

She felt like a thousand sunsets and sunrises were happening inside her simultaneously.

The heart was beating faster and she was overwhelmed with a strange urge to see his face one more time. She ran after him but before she could reach the gate, the cab had left. She watched the cab disappear, and then walked back to her room, when the velvet box in her hand started to feel a little wet.

Inside the room, she locked herself and looked in the mirror, aghast to realize how old and dishevelled she must have looked to him.  She was a 45-year old woman. A little silver was peeping from her hairline. The brows were thinning and one of her eyes was smaller than the other. She touched her face and the pores of her skin were slightly hot.

The cell phone beeped. The screen flashed a text from her husband. A sense of guilt creeped up on her. She was married and she dare not be in love, she told herself. What was she going to tell her husband? What was there to tell him? That she was touched today like no man had ever touched her before? That her name was in complete surrender today? She was taken by a man who never once lay a hand on her.

The night had no answers for her. She would have to keep this night hidden in her soul for the rest of life. She would have clip the wings of this night for it had no business in her family life. But every night, night after night, she would have release the soft fragrance of this velvet box and relive every moment of their unsaid togetherness. She would let her name sleep in his voice.

She clutched the velvet box to her bosom and slowly drifted into sleep.

Outside her window, the moon had completed another circle.

Tomorrow, it would start to wane.

 

..

.

***

 

Story: The Farewell Story

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I visited her house today. She didn’t want to have company over. I pushed her into making me dinner. She relented, reluctantly so.

She doesn’t smile anymore. Not really anyway. Her sullen eyes do most of the hospitality. They try to bridge the gap of communication. Her lips sealed by grief so deep. Her hands clasping one another, for the company, or perhaps in a sub-conscious prayer.

I saw a bit of anger in her fingers, as she impatiently tried to dial a number one too many times. Other than that, she remained at peace. The scary kind of peace. The one you never wish for your loved ones.

She ruffled in the kitchen looking for something in the noisy drawers. When she couldn’t find it, she asked me. “Do you have a lighter?”

She didn’t smoke. She just wanted to switch it on. And off. On. Off. Just once. And then a few times more. It pleased her. She faintly smiled.

Her apartment looked smaller than the last time. Piles of paper and two cats sitting on them. It wasn’t dirty. It was just hoarded. Full.

She made dinner; her eyes fixed spookily on the stove and two pots. She was silent, and I just looked around for a space to breathe in. Had I made a mistake in getting myself invited? The view from the balcony had no answer for me. The old parenting pigeons too flew away.

A thud in the bathroom & we both rushed. The cat, wanting to reach the cabinet, somehow hit the basin, got scared & fell. I got the cat. She got the wet toothpaste tube that landed in the toilet bowl.

Were those tears? Is she looking at a germ infected toothpaste tube and… sobbing? Wait. No. That’s crying. She is definitely crying.

“That was his paste. I never use it. I hated it. I told him. He still bought it to annoy me.” She talked to me. And to herself.

She carefully washed it with an old dried out soap, making sure none of the crease & folds on the tube get spoiled.

She looked up and sang a lullaby to herself in the mirror. The walls whispered a sad farewell story. He had left her with many questions. And she was tired of finding answers. The mirror was broken.

The cats found a dusted spot and curled up together, purring in temporary bliss. They do not yet know the pain of losing the most loved one. I dropped on the sofa and looked for my phone in my bag.

A long due call had to be made today. If only these tears would stop.