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.

Poem: Some Days..

 

Some days I am poetic,
some days I not..
Some nights I am in love,
some nights, without a heart..

Some days I wait by the phone,
some days I unplug the wire..
Some nights I am as cold as ice,
some nights I am simmering in desire..

Some days I scream out loud,
some days I lay quiet in my grave..
Some nights I dance to the truth,
some nights I pretend to be brave..

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Some days I share stories with the trees,
some days I let the nightingale speak..
Some nights I push dreams away,
some nights I just seek..

Some days I look in the mirror,
some days I turn off the gaze..
Some nights I find life in me,
some nights I am lost in the maze..

Some days I drown myself in the questions,
some days I let my answers breathe..
Some nights leaves lay silent,
some nights flowers wreathe..

Some days I smile without reason,
some days I smirk away..
Some nights the water is red,
some nights rainbows are grey..

Some days I heal the world,
some days I belong to the pain..
Some nights I am just a frozen sky,
some nights I cry like rain..

 

Poem: Like you just didn’t care..

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The legacy of your words.. 
The inheritance of your thoughts ..

Preserving your last hymn.. 
As you cross this galaxy .. 
Into another..

The dried up flowers 
collected from your rusty old books 
make your burial wreath ..

Unread books, unopened journals .. 
dust-collecting pens.. 
Like you..
an era of incomplete musings..

Moist walls.. 
Mossed up ceilings.. 
How the silence grew in your wounds..

You spent a lifetime here with these fallen leaves.. 
You caressed them with your poetry ..

There’s a vase with your goodbye drops.. 
With countless lotuses humming your paean..

It is unbelievable.. 
That you are gone .. 
Leaving your crouching words behind.. 

Like you just didn’t care..

To Papa, With Love

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Papa strewing a garland for my brother’s wedding.

Dear Papa,

It is very hard to write a letter to someone whom you meet often. I am trying to put words into feelings that I have for you but I am failing miserably.

The language of the ancients do not have a word for a person who is your father, friend, guide and spiritual explain-er all rolled into one. or May be, the word is just .. Papa.

I was a mumma’s girl. You were almost always away. Sundays you would spend sleeping in. Mumma took such good care of us, I honestly do not remember missing you.

The first time you appeared in my conscious life as friend was when you removed that abscess on my knee. I was eight or nine. The abscess had turned big and filled with pus overnight and hurt like thousand bees stinging. I wouldn’t let anybody near it. You got hold of my knee without my permission and did the needful to open the abscess. I screamed on top of my voice. I hated you. You knew nothing. You made it hurt even more.

But fifteen minutes later, the pain was gone. It was all calm. You had bandaged it. You had smiled.

I remember telling my friends at school. Someone asked if my father was a Doctor.

But you were not a Doctor. You worked in a bank in the day. Then the nights, you worked as a wedding video-grapher. You were sought after, I remember. Which explains why you spent all those Sunday afternoons sleeping.

When I was thirteen, adoloscence had marked my face with its signature .. pimples. Mom explained it was natural and to not touch it. But you taught me how to clean my face in a way that I would get rid of these and wouldn’t get them anymore. I was so embarrassed but I did as told. Bazinga! A week or two later, my skin was baby-bottom smooth. Yup, you are indeed the passer of secret recipe for great skin. You also made me run 10 rounds each morning. Hated you but it gave me a toned skin and good habits.

I remember sharing it with my friends and them not believing that fathers can be that involved in such trivial affairs of a teenage girl.

When I was seventeen, I hadn’t score as well as I had thought in Grade 12. I was afraid you will be disappointed. Instead, you had said, “Forget it and move on. No one will remember it after a month. Your real lessons begin now”. Not only I was relieved but you pushed me to do harder next time. 

I remember sharing it with my friends and they all wanted a dad like mine.

I would like to mention here that when I was 19, you cheated me. You removed me out of my country. I still haven’t forgiven you but more on that later. <Insert angry emoticon here>. 

When I was 23, you found a suitable match for me and got me married off. I hated you for looking stoic throughout the process. I thought you were made of stone. You looked so happy. Will you not miss me? Your eyes were wet, but kind of happy wet. Probably the effect of your first kanyadaan and that too in a foreign land, without any family support and with meager means.

A huge part of me was largely sad that my parents and especially you aren’t crushed to not live with me anymore. I starting looking at other girl’s dads and getting envious about how the daughters were treated like princesses and here I was, treated as a strong individual. I was no delicate darling princess all pinky fruity lip gloss girl. I was taught to fight my own fights. That’s the opposite of being a princess.

It was a setback and also one of the reasons that I started keeping my distance. Always happy to see you but the sadness gnawed at me that I was not that wanted. I was a stranger, a guest in my father’s house. That was 14 years ago. In these 14 years, you have given me my space but also carefully placed seeds of life lessons. We worked together as team on that film. We discussed spirituality at lengths that puts others to sleep. We had arguments, disagreements. You let me speak. You took me as an adult. You were a friend. A good friend.

I am not complaining.

A few months back I went to the same marriage ceremony hall for a party. I reminded the manager that 14 years ago I had got married at the same hall and in fact he was the manager then too. He thought for a minute and seemed to remember something.

“Oh I know, I know”, He said. I can never forget how much your dad criedcried. Seen so many weddings here but  I never saw the father of the bride cry so much.”

A gloom washed away that day. A confidence restored. You being a man probably have no idea how much it means for a daughter to be missed. We wear it like pride, like a constant reminder that we are taken care of in our parent’s heart. It gives us tenacity to bear any fight in life.

Thank you for being my courage and at other times reminding me to play safe.

You continue to teach me so much about life. Absurd but genius social survival tips, brilliant life-hacks, positive quotes and even tutorials on skin care. You are like my personal Instagram and Pinterest. You are one genius, loving, amazing, full-of-life human and I hope every child has a father like you.

For so many years, you have taken care of me, Prateek and Chhavi. It is now time for you let us take care of you.

I know you are self-sufficient, but I just wanted to tell you that, I am here.

I love you papa. Happy Father’s Day

Anu 🙂

 

Book Review: The Palace of Illusions

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Title: The Palace of Illusions

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Mahabharata is not only one of the two most revered Indian epics but it is also a magnificent piece of story-telling. It is a vast ensemble of characters, countless re-births, karmic contracts and the part-mythical-part-factual lores, everything impressively weaved into the story to bring you closer to spiritual awakening. It is ancient, sacred and stamped by hundreds of gargantuan Gods.

Now imagine rewriting it.

Chitra Banerjee Diwakaruni is one of the most flawless writers and scene-painters there are, but even for her, the task must have been monumental. Divakaruni not only rewrites the epic story with her ‘sensible-flamboyant’ signature writing style, but she also employs the harder task of zooming out the men and zooming in on the women. She goes behind the heavy veils of patriarchal setting to comprehend a woman entangled in a man’s world, where children (boys and girls) are told of their fate probably at their first breast feed. 

The author crafts a delightful narrative that you immediately connect with and find relatable in today’s world. The striking observations about the incomprehensible desires, ideas of first love, curiosity, and lost identity crisis make this novel so endearing to read. When you read the book, Draupadi becomes like the girl next door, who is going through life stuff; parental pressure, half eluded love, the annoying back and forth between rags and riches and oh, a mother-in-law. Although she isn’t my most favorite heroine, she has certainly earned my respect after reading this book. As the novel moves forward, the paradigms of jealousy, shallowness, vengeance and even that oscillating sense of duty will find an all-knowing heart tug in you.

The Draupadi-Karna tangent maybe debatable but it is the now one of my favorite love stories. The quintessential charm of an emotionally distant man, who is strong, silent and sensitive. Fire it up with a pretense of a hatred and you have a story burning on your tongue for centuries. Who knew the original Mr. Darcy was born in India. Haha! If you too have a thing for unrequited love stories, you will be completely swept off your feet with this beautifully restrained love yarn intricately knitted into the novel.

It takes a writer of Divakaruni’s intensity to unfurl a complex relationship between Krishna and Draupadi, bringing it to the humdrum of daily life yet keeping the divineness intact. As you become one with the Draupadi’s naked emotions, the spiritual lesson behind Mahabharata comes to you effortlessly.

My most favorite scene is the one in the end where she lies in the snow, near death, visited by those who have preceded her in death, all of them content with their roles. She meets Krishna, finds answers and overwhelming forgiveness for her own role in this great drama. Panchaali dies in the end to become who she truly was, “uncontainable”. 

The Palace of Illusions is an engrossing and reflective read – painting Mahabharata in a relatively contemporary light. It is equal part ferocious and equal part unhurried, just at the right curves, to create a dazzling experience for spiritual learners as well as story lovers.

As much I enjoyed the fast pace story, I wished the chapters on the disrobing of Draupadi and later when she ties her hair again with Dussasana’s blood were more detailed.  This is what I wanted to devour every bit of, but was disappointed not to find much on.

I am keeping this book on my top shelf.

Stars: 4 out of 5

Anuradha Sharma


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A Closed Letter To Shaktiman.

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I haven’t said a word about Shaktiman yet. Sometimes saying nothing feels better than saying a few non-existent words on social media. But here is my heart-felt letter to you.

I did not know you personally but I feel we had an allegiance. We both got trumped by politicians. You as an dumb animal. I as a muted Indian. I am sorry. I cannot promise you justice. You were just a mute animal. You were obviously no comparison to Mr. Indian Politician. It doesn’t matter what was his name, they are all the same. Well there is no riddance from them. At least, you are out of here!  I will join you not soon enough.

You were a beautiful horse, my friend. You were fair without the use of fair and lovely and had the hair most women would kill for. But I fell for your eyes. They were kind of not beautiful. They were just small and innocent like a baby’s eyes and filled with so many stories. Those stories should have been heard. I wish you were able to tell tales about the ranks you held and people who rode you.

My love and respect to you, dear brave Shaktiman. You’ll go to heaven and they will turn you into an angel horse – may be a magical unicorn. You will come to earth but nobody will be able to see you. Nobody will be able to believe in your magic. And this is a curse what we all deserve for failing you.

Rest in peace, run wild in the sun and neigh all you like. *kisses*

Anuradha Sharma

My First Post. Hello.

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This is my first post. Hello.

I do not know what to post. So I will post this picture of Gulzar saab in his library/study. Don’t know what is about it but it has the same effect on me as sitting in a spiritual place, or watching a sunset, or watching the moon watching over us.

This is the place where many moons come for their pilgrimage, rains confess its burdens, rivers find a way to touch his feet and the mountains come to bow in reverence. And words.. well words are this man’s Lego. He builds towns and cities with words..  and in these towns and cities, there are oceans of emotions, not yet tapped by the average human mind. This man talks of an era before us and of an era beyond us.

Gulzar, the poet, the writer, who puts us to sleep each night.. and then lullabies moons and stars in our dark nights.

Anuradha Sharma