Thursday, April 28, 2011



The glass walls of the elegant office cabin on the 45th floor of Emerald Towers looked out at the beautiful twilight touching the city of Mumbai. The alleys and lanes and by-lanes zigzagged their way through the maze of concrete and shanties as the city in all its unpretentious splendour spread its arms to greet the inevitable embrace of the Arabian Sea.

He stood on the beige carpet looking out at the maze and beyond, scanning the city which 12.5 million called their home. He was searching for some space; some space to breathe, to escape from his harrying thoughts, some space to just be. On his desk, beside the laptop and the bunch of printouts lay his wallet containing a few crisp notes. An array of colourful plastic cards flaunting various logos, which had till then filled up the space of his wallet, lay carelessly scattered on the carpet.
It was past seven thirty in the evening. He was done for the day. Yet he felt himself incapable of going through the routine of winding up work and dashing straight home. The mobile was ringing; possibly his wife checking where he was, under the disguise of the familiar question, “When are you coming home? I am making rajma and pulav tonight.” He ignored the rings.
Space. It was in quest of space that he had locked himself up in his plush cabin. On an impulse he had thrown out the cards from his wallet. They took up too much space. There was one that bonded him to a particular restaurant to have recurrent meals there to earn points; yet another to a retail chain where the platinum membership promised incredible deals to keep him off competitors’ territories. Then there was a card tying him to a particular multiplex experience, another to a gaming experience, yet another to an elite club and so on. His life seemed to be controlled and his choices stifled by the conspiracy of the plastic cards that ruled him like an obliging puppet. Yes, the cards were taking too much space in his life.
Now as he gazed at the skyline of the city, he realised that it was not just the cards. Everything took up space; his relationships, his memories, his commitments, his work schedules and deadlines, his dreams, his failures. And in the midst of all this, there was no space for him, Anirudh Mehta, 38 years of age, Chartered Accountant. Even his name and title and his business card took up space. Claustrophobia hit him and he wanted a breath of fresh air.
He sent off his chauffeur and found himself driving, negotiating peak hour traffic and heading on a different route than usual. He stopped a few yards off the base of the flyover at Marine Drive, opposite a sprawling five storied building that stood next to the Aquarium. The lights were just coming on and one by one the jewel-studded Queen’s Necklace (as the entire stretch of that seafront promenade is known in the evenings) revealed itself in its full glory. He carefully removed his blazer, tie, and shirt and stripped himself to the bare minimum of trousers and vest. Throwing off the pile of discarded clothes along with his cell phone on the back seat of the car, he decided to take a walk along the sea front. The salty air carried a trace of nostalgia, something that invited a momentary flicker of a familiar sensation and then disappeared. He walked briskly heading towards the direction of Malabar Hills. He felt light without the unnecessary burden of his formal clothes. He wondered how long he should walk to catch a fragment of that elusive space that could hold him.
A few yards down, he was interrupted by a nagging beggar woman who kept following him and tried to touch him with her filthy fingers hoping that he would be disgusted enough to toss a couple of coins her way in the haste to get rid of her. Anirudh was irritated as expected, but on a weird impulse, he surprised himself by doing something unexpected. He told the woman to wait at that very spot as he needed to complete his walk and that he would return in an hour’s time. If she would still be waiting, then on his way back, he would give a ten rupee note as value for her time. This suggestion threw the pestering woman off track and she retreated promptly wondering if she had been following a lunatic.
This incident somehow made Anirudh feel light headed and he chuckled to himself as he walked oblivious to the amused stares of passersby, who, taking in his attire and manner may have been impelled to reach the same conclusion as the beggar woman. After a while it dawned on him that he had exercised a wonderful option, in fact a key instrument to ward off unnecessary intrusion to his space. And that instrument was choice. He had chosen to break the pattern of his familiar thoughts and actions and attempted something different. All at once, the concepts of ‘space’ and ‘choice’ overlapped with each other to point towards the same thing.....freedom.
His intuitive mind was guiding him now through a zone where logic didn’t know the way. He realised that to find space he had to get rid of needless encroachments that cluttered his sense of self. He had to be free. He had to choose to let go of his past; the past where things happened and did not happen; where he failed time and again and then tasted success whose essence was immediately swallowed up by some other loss. He had the choice to forgive. He had to free himself of the desires and fears of tomorrow that took up all his space today. He had a choice to be detached from worries of uncertainty. As if on cue, the sea wind picked up pace and eroded the record of thoughts that played and replayed on his mind incessantly. The sea breeze carried the allure of freedom. Just as he crossed Chowpatty Beach and Wilson College, the wind had eroded everything except an all pervasive feeling of self and at that moment there was a space so huge that it engulfed his complete sense of being. He felt himself expanding to fill in that entire space till the space and he became one.
The city hurried by, never stopping, never asking, never intruding. The traffic lights changed from red to green, then yellow, then red again. The scent of pani-puri and bhel pervaded the evening air. People talked, children laughed, a lone blind man sang an off key note. A bunch of eve teasers made lewd gestures at a teenage girl who was jogging along with earphones plugged in, blissfully unaware of the injustices of the world.

Anirudh slipped on his shirt and checked his phone. He answered the missed calls of his wife and chose to ignore the business calls. He understood that he had a choice to keep his work away from the space of his personal time. He had a choice to refuse to be a slave to plastic cards or to familiarity. In his sphere of commitments he had a choice to keep his soul untouched by personal history. He had a choice to trade irritation with amusement, a choice to forgive himself; in fact wherever he looked, he had a choice.  He kicked the engine and the car plunged forward. Just as he was about to change lanes, he spotted the beggar woman on the sidewalk cradling a child on her lap. He slowed the car abruptly and lowered the glass. As the car passed the woman, he tossed his wallet at her; a deep chrome wallet bearing the Hideskin logo and containing 2 five hundred rupee notes, a few coins, and a lot of empty space.  He was priding his mastery over the incredible option of choice.
The car whizzed through a blinking yellow light, flanked by a jungle of zooming traffic and drowned by a cacophony of unnecessary honking. The unbearable lightness of space all around and within him found him choosing the familiar route once again through the peak hour rush in Mumbai where 12.5 million people live and breathe every single day, fighting for a scrap of roof and some space.

(I dedicate this post to the city which has been my home for the past 20 years, where I learned to experience freedom in many forms and which, in spite of my occasional curses, never ceases to inspire me and has taught me that space lies in the incredible power of free will. The sprawling five storied building facing Queen’s Necklace is the government women’s hostel which is home to some of my most beloved memories during my college days.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Comedy in Japan

She stood there, the young lady wearing the ridiculously oversized T-shirt and jeans, clutching a Japanese doll, 2 Japanese floral umbrellas, and some Haniwa handicrafts which she had managed to buy from the street side shops flanking the market area of Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Sakai, Japan. She looked hilarious enough for me to choke on my mid-morning coffee. To top it, she was about to burst into tears. My purple glasses told me that she was 26, Indian, married to a sailor, on a trip to this port of Japan for just 3 days for which she had researched intensely in advance for 3 weeks! She actually believed she could sample a specimen of Japanese culture in just that time.
The prankster in me had taken over from the moment she set foot on shore. I made sure it was Sunday. It was very important that all banks and money exchange counters be closed. She set out on her solo trip with 10,000 yens and a map of Sakai in her pocket and with stars in her eyes. It was easy to blow off most of her money as cab fare and then train fare and then bus fare till she finally reached the heart of Takashimaya. She made it easier for me from there by pouncing on any trash in the pavement shops believing with heart and soul that she is buying a worthwhile souvenir for her wall unit back home or a rare gift for her best friend’s neighbour. As expected, in no time she was left penniless, stranded, and with no way to communicate.
Yeah, that was the fun of it. She spoke English reasonably well (albeit with a weird accent) but of what use is Greek in Russia? I mean to say, of what use is Shakespeare in the heart of Japan? I fell off my high chair laughing when she made wild gestures at that smiling old man asking for directions to the correct railway platform and was politely guided to the ladies room of the station instead!
Now she stood there in the sun, clutching her priceless treasures and checked for the nth time if any Japanese currency was still left among the wad of dollars. I told myself, let’s be imaginative, what the heck! So I pushed this tall American fellow who was having a trying time searching for the ideal cell phone and made him skip two turns just so that he comes face to face with the lady. If you had seen her reaction, you may have been prompted to think of a lone traveller in a desert who had his first view of the oasis. She was so overjoyed to see the American, for a moment I thought she was going to hug him. Here at last was someone she thought who could understand English and would listen to her endless stream of woes and provide the right solution in a platter. My day was going better than I expected!
Obviously, the American could not help in any way beyond the English. He simply shook his head and confirmed that there was no money exchange open on Sunday and was about to attempt a quick exit. I was thinking of my next trick and must have lost my grip on the drama, for just as he was about to walk past her, he unexpectedly added as an afterthought that he was staying at Hotel Rhiga and with an abrupt change of intent, he plunged into being the Good Samaritan and help a lady in distress. He grabbed the map from her hand, drew elaborate directions and labelled them in ENGLISH and as if that was not enough to ruin my fun, he even gave her a few coins as bus fare that would ensure that she reaches the destination. He promised that the hotel had a counter where they would exchange her dollars.
Now, I could have intervened if I wanted to but the look on her face spoiled all chances of that. She was bursting with a new tide of hope. My purple glasses told me she was doing quick calculations in her mind and had already converted the dollars into yen. I knew she had her eye on that expensive burgundy and gold silk kimono. She was out to capture the spirit of Japan in 3 days and 300 dollars!
In spite of some excitement I had with her shoes which made her stumble a couple of times and drop her floral umbrellas, she did finally make it to Hotel Rhiga.
Poor girl! I actually didn’t need the purple glasses to know that her heart was about to be broken. The hotel only offered money exchange services to resident guests. Her hopes nosedived and she herself dived for the nearest couch in the hotel lobby. And there, in the full view of all the people lounging around, she unabashedly burst into tears. My, oh my, enough of my pranks! I had to help this woman somehow before she made a total fool of herself, if she hadn’t already.
Now, did I tell you that I am often clumsy when I try to act in a hurry? I did send someone immediately to her rescue but it turns out that I sent the wrong guy. This idiot tried to actually put an arm around her supposedly to console her. If she was distressed before, now she was infuriated. And before I had a chance to pull a few strings, she had hurled the floral umbrella right on his shoulders and was about to follow it with the rest of the contents of her shopping bag. Quick! I needed to act! Plump, old ladies are always handy. I found exactly one such lady at the gift shop and shoved her right in the way. Well, it at least saved the day for the doll and the terracotta handicrafts and gave a chance for the idiot to run for his life.
What followed next was not exactly part of my master plan. The lady I had chosen actually spoke some broken English and she was a resident of the hotel. In a fit of tears our lady in distress narrated how she did not even have the means to return to the port where the ship was waiting for her. As if in cue for competition, the plump old lady soon overtook the younger one and wept whole heartedly with unnecessary intensity and vigour. The absurd scene invited quite a few bemused spectators and my purple glasses told me that soon things will go out of hand. So I sighed, I had to use my precious resource which I always save for precisely such emergencies.
Well, the dust of common sense that I sprinkled had the desired effect. Both the ladies stopped howling. The young lady handed over her precious dollars to the obliging grandma who in turn exchanged the same at the hotel money exchange thus exercising her privilege of being a resident guest. Unfortunately that augured the end of my Sunday fun. It is always a great entertainment when folks remain stupid.
One would have thought that after the profuse display of gratitude our young lady would have the common sense to go back to her ship and stay put there till the vessel left the port. But no, she actually skipped and whirled out of the rotating doors, her heart set to capture the flavour of Japan! And tell you what; she even managed to add that burgundy and gold silk kimono in her shopping bag among a whole lot of equally useless things till she barely had enough money to cover her return fare!
And did I tell you it was a Sunday and no-one understood Shakespeare in Japan?


(Dear readers, this was a pathetic attempt to make you laugh. I have had enough of folks telling me how my posts brought tears to their eyes. This time it is for a couple of friends going through challenging times who I know can do with a good laugh. And btw, you have guessed right. The ridiculously dressed young lady was me 11 years back on my maiden voyage after marriage with my Captain hubby and the Japanese doll and Haniwa handicrafts still grace my wall unit. I had the great brainwave of gifting the useful floral umbrella to my mom-in-law. Any guesses who the narrator is?)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


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She knocked on my door on that rainy night. It was just past the midnight hour and the incessant rains lashed the window panes mercilessly. The wind howled in agony. It was one of those nights when I craved to drown a bottle of Scotch and lose myself to blissful oblivion rather than tempt the anguish causing havoc in my mind. She could have gone anywhere in this huge, crowded city. There are a million places to lose yourself if you want to. Yet she knocked on my door.

I was surprised, well not really. The rains always create a strange backdrop, where time flows at a subdued pace. It unearths forgotten thoughts and kindles latent desires and gives them an illusion of romance. Against that backdrop, something unexpected seems the most natural thing in the world.

She stood at my door, drenched, sari clinging to her slender frame, drops of water dripping from her long, dark hair, her lips glistening, highlighting the seductive appeal of her chiselled face. She was Nandini, my best friend’s wife.

Pritesh and I were childhood buddies. We both hailed from the same city of Ahmedabad and shared the same school and same memories. At one time, we dated the same girl and were simultaneously rejected by her. Professional aspirations brought me to Mumbai where I slowly built my business from scratch, married the girl my parents had chosen and lived a respectable and monotonous life. My wife Toral is a pretty woman with all the homely virtues of making the perfect pickle, mending the torn buttons of my shirt without being told, and keeping our humble abode clean and tidy with rare zeal. She is easy to please; a trip to the jeweller often achieves the result. She laughs and cries over silly soaps in the television and is absolutely unaware and unenthusiastic about anything beyond the cocoon she lives in.

Pritesh, on the other hand, went to USA to pursue his dream of becoming a neurologist and after completing his MD from a reputed university, he worked as an intern in a leading hospital in New York City. It was during his internship that he met Nandini who had a boutique in the city, showcasing ethnic Indian wear. They had a brief courtship and plunged headlong into holy matrimony before knowing anything about each other save their respective names and the needs of their bodies in bed; both insufficient ingredients for a lifelong bond.

I first met Nandini at the dinner party hosted by Pritesh to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. He was in India on a short break. Having missed the chance to attend his wedding in USA, I was naturally curious to meet his wife. I had obviously expected a westernised lady, with contemporary tastes. But I was totally unprepared for the lady who met my eyes. She was unlike any woman I have ever seen before. Tall and svelte, she was wearing a transparent, golden chiffon sari and an elegant black blouse. She held the centre stage, shaking hands and chatting animatedly with a combination of graceful poise and unabashed charm. She captivated her eager audience with the easy flow of conversation and seemed to be equally at ease while discussing the sensex figure and Bollywood gossip. I was spellbound and tongue tied, hopelessly entranced, and spent the evening in a daze.

Back home, I could hardly sleep. I tried in vain to remind myself that she was my best friend’s wife and these are tender grounds, not to be treaded on. Yet I ended up fantasising about that very woman. Little did I know that I had allowed myself to kindle a spark that would one day flare up to a full-fledged fire and engulf my entire consciousness to a point of obsession.

A week later, Pritesh called me to say that they would be shortly returning to USA. I took this opportunity to invite them home for lunch the very next day. My wife was happy to display her culinary skills and prepared an elaborate seven course meal which turned out really well. Strange that I remember that detail as most of the afternoon was lost in conversation with Nandini. I had not exchanged a single word except a courtesy “Hello” with her the other evening. But this time, in the comfort and familiarity of home, I opened up and talked like never before. We struck an immediate connection. Our conversation was filled with passionate outbursts of events and memories that were special to us. I did not remember when was the last time I had enjoyed conversing with someone like this. I don’t even know, hardly noticed the reaction of my wife or Pritesh; the latter I vaguely recall had stretched out on the living room couch and fallen asleep after a while.

At around 4.30 in the afternoon, my wife went in to get some tea. I suggested to Nandini that we go inside in the study and switch on the AC as it was a sultry summer day and the temperature reached 36 degree Celsius. We played some music and I poured two glasses of wine, to hell with the tea. This was highly improper, but I was hardly myself.

You put a man and woman together, intoxicate them with conversation that drifts closer to personal issues and pour them a bottle of red. I am sure 90 times out of 100 they will end up in bed. The remaining ten percent can be accounted for by situational constraints or extreme self control. In our case, it proved to be the former as my wife entered with a tray laden with tea and some sweet delicacies. If she was surprised to see us there, with the wine and music and all, she did an outstanding job of hiding it. Anyways, the spell was broken. Soon Pritesh got up and joined us and the afternoon drifted back to normal.

That was the last I saw of Nandini. I did hear that Pritesh and she had separated and were working out divorce settlement. The strange situation that had arisen in our house that afternoon somewhat changed my equation with my wife. I was annoyed that Toral had accepted the scene so naturally and did not badger me with a series of questions and accusations which, to be fair, would have infuriated me more. But her total lack of interest made me mad. I almost longed for her to be jealous. Her nonchalance irritated and confused me.

One year passed. Nandini had never made any effort to contact me. Neither have I. I assumed she had moved on with life. I was not even aware where she was; till that rainy night.

I remember that evening very well. We were invited to the anniversary of my husband’s best friend Pritesh. It was a cocktail dinner at an elite restaurant. I am always uneasy in such situations. I hoped my husband would understand my nervousness and put me at ease.

I had met Pritesh once before, just after our marriage. I remember him as a very thoughtful, composed looking guy who always had kind words for everyone. I was curious to see his wife. However, when I saw her in that room, I was disappointed. She was flamboyantly dressed and was talking too much and laughing too loud and too confidently, absorbing a lot of adulation without batting an eyelash. Maybe I am prejudiced by my conservative roots, but in my heart I do have a modern outlook, if only my husband would care to understand. I do appreciate beauty and brains in women but Nandini appeared to possess neither. She was like the cheap temptress one browses privately in glossy magazines. It was beyond me what spell she cast on my husband as he seemed enthralled by her whole evening. He had eyes and ears only for Nandini and he hardly noticed what he ate or what he spoke. Least of all in his sphere of attention was me, his wife.

A week later my husband invited Pritesh and Nandini over for lunch. Obviously, he took it for granted that I would willingly lay out a fitting meal. I actually didn’t mind. It had been a while we had guests coming over. And I am happy for the care I took to select, prepare and display the meal as it was warmly welcomed by Pritesh. How wonderful it feels to be appreciated for something! My husband made a fool of himself by directing all possible conversation and attention only to Nandini. I knew Pritesh felt a bit uncomfortable, so I suggested that he take some rest. The heavy meal, along with the afternoon heat had had a drowsy effect on us. As Pritesh was resting, I cleared up the table, all the while trying to gauge what it was in her that demanded such unwavering reverence. All I heard them discuss were vague political theories, few exotic locations, some upcoming artistes, a business scam, etc. They had no interest in actual people, actual life. I doubt they were aware of the current price of onions or how many children our maid had or the name of the boy who cleaned our car. My husband would obviously snort at the mention of such frivolities; they do not fit into his lofty world view. Little does he realise that they touch our world more than his obscure philosophies do.

When I walked in with tea that afternoon, Pritesh was still asleep on the couch. I took the opportunity to let my eyes rest on his reclining figure for a second, and wonder what it would be like to be the wife of a man who had a kind word to say every day. I may be traditional in my appearance but my thoughts are not guarded by conventions. As I stood with the tea tray on my hands, I let my thoughts roam stray and imagined myself to be married to this man who was sleeping on our living room couch. How lovely would it be to have dinner each evening, with the man who understands my thoughts, knowing that I am loved for being myself. As I stood like that for those few abstract moments, Pritesh opened his eyes and was startled to see me staring. Somehow, that broke the spell and flow of my thoughts. I realised that he was just another man, a polite stranger, who had appreciated my efforts to cook; a feat that didn’t necessarily qualify him to be my soul mate who could read my unspoken words. With that realisation, it dawned on me that I was desperately unhappy in my marriage and without knowing myself, I must have been searching for a refuge to unleash my deepest yearnings.

I knew they were in the study, the AC was a pretence, they wanted to be alone. The wine and music at the odd hour did not surprise me; I was still recovering from my own trail of unrestrained emotions.

Over the next few months, I noticed a subtle difference in the attitude of my husband. In the past, he had at least pretended to be concerned about my happiness. He had indulged me in the occasional shopping spree and I let him believe that was all that is needed to complete my sphere of contentment. This delusion cheered him up greatly; maybe he prided himself on performing the duties of a husband with patience. But now, the slightest of things started provoking unnecessary irritation from him. Since charm and overt display of emotions was never my forte, I let myself slip into an abyss of despair. Then one day I discovered I was pregnant.

She stood there on my door, eyes inviting. Well, it was a night of storms, the perfect excuse to let in someone under the pretext of refuge. Who was I fooling? From the moment she walked in, I knew where this was headed. One year was a long enough time to overcome any infatuation I may have felt had it not been for the fire burning in my heart, scorching my soul. I lent her some of my wife’s clothes to change into. I suggested some tea. She turned it down. She wanted something stronger. The bottle of Chivas Regal stood on the table, inviting an opportunity to tread unknown paths. As if by design, the lights went out; an occurrence which is not uncommon during heavy rains. I uttered an expletory under my breath and went to the kitchen to hunt for candles. As I shuffled through the drawers, I heard her tiptoe behind me. My heart almost exploded. You put a man and woman together on a rainy night with the lights out and the rest is history.

The bright lights penetrated the thin veil of my living room curtains and woke me up. My eyes drifted to the clock on the wall. It was 12 noon. I must have been smashed, completely. My head hurt, the tell-tale signs of a bad hangover. Traces of my clothes lay scattered on the carpet. Amidst them I glimpsed a peach embroidered handkerchief. Confused, I stared at it. The memories of last night invaded my mind in a sudden wave and with it came a gush of inexplicable emotions which I could not name. My heart was hollow and all the currents vibrating within were like the empty voices in a cave, banging against the walls, repeating and mocking each other.

Last night I had lived the fantasy that had started as a stealthy thought a year ago and gradually expanded to invade my entire life. Then why was I feeling so futile? Nandini had made love to me. Then why was I not experiencing the ultimate fulfilment? Why were my feet not in the clouds? Why did the memories collide with each other and disappear in a meaningless blur and all that I remember is her hoarse tone admonishing my childhood friend?

The pain in my head was killing me. I forced myself to get up and switch on the coffee-maker. I suddenly missed my wife. I had been meaning to call her to come back. It had been three months since the day we lost our unborn child. My wife was still trying to emerge from the depths of bereavement. She had been away all the while at her parents’ house.

The coffee was ready. I poured myself a mug and tried to clear my brain. I had been shattered. When the doctor had announced our fate that left us with no options to consider, I had felt victimised, incapable. Why was I fighting this alone? If both my wife and I were drowning in the same waters, why didn’t we pull each other up? Why were we fighting separately? The coffee must have worked as some of the fog cleared from my brain. Nandini. It was Nandini or the thought of her that had created this wall. From the time I had set my eyes on her, I had placed her on a pedestal and attributed everything that was lacking in my life to her. It was I who created that aura around her. Her image grew larger than life in my mind’s eye till it burnt me in that flame of obsession. Stripped of that aura, she was just a very ordinary woman who bitched about her ex-husband while making love to his best friend. And I, what about I? Who was I? I must be the most wretched and worthless soul on earth.

I drained the coffee and poured myself another cup. I imagined my wife in this kitchen, making paranthas for breakfast. A familiar longing tugged at my heart. It was not the paranthas I craved for, it was the woman who had gone through the routine of making them for me every day. I missed the woman who was subdued, average, unassuming; the woman whose smile could light up the room easily. I missed my wife. Why did it take me so long to understand the incredible virtue of simplicity?

I wait each day for the call to come. I wait for my husband. I want to rise from the shadows of the gloom that is fast consuming me. I am not broken yet, my spirit longs to go on, to recreate, retune. Then one day he arrives. There is no phone call to announce his intention, no elaborate arrangements to greet him; he just arrives. And when I look at the man who has come, I realise he is not the stranger I had shared a house with. My heart smiles in expectation. He is my husband and he has come to take me home.

The fire had burnt itself. It was time to sweep away the ashes and light a new flame.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Game of Choice

The temple bells were ringing somewhere not very far away and the sweet pungent smell of fodder filled the air. A young goat was bleating. There was some residue chill in the air from last night although daylight permeated the small, damp, barn. There were footsteps approaching – soft and gentle. He smiled, it was Fatima’s. Soon his sister would wake him up with a bowl of fresh, warm milk and jaggerine. The sweet smell reached his nostrils as he turned over in his bed of hay. He saw the face of his sister, a young girl of ten, bathed in the pure, nascent rays of the early morning sun when suddenly there was an earth shattering explosion.
The man woke up with a start. His whole body was tingling. His soul was on fire. The temple bells nearby were ringing with full vigour. He drowned half a bottle of water and looked at his watch. It was 6.05 in the morning. Still 10 minutes to go for his alarm to ring and one more hour to kill before the first phase of the plan. Strange, that he saw the same dream again. It had been ten years and the dreams have not stopped. He could still feel the smell of the cows she carried as she brought him his bowl of fresh milk straight from the cowshed, each morning.
The first call came. It was as expected, brief, coded, and precise. He had a breakfast of fruits, managed a cold water bath from the tube well and offered his practiced prayers. Why did he see her face today? Was it a sign? He removed the contents of his duffel bag and laid it out on the floor. His sharp mind scrutinised every object to the last detail. He had gone through the same routine last night and the night before but today, a new object was going to be delivered. He looked at his watch. Time seemed to be moving in slow motion. Once again he resisted the urge to dial a number far away, in a small village at the foot of the hills, just a heart beat apart. He had trained for ten years to forget the number, and the village, and the hills.
His watch showed him ten past nine. The visitor would arrive soon. He tried to mumble the prayers he was taught once more when he heard the sound of a motorcycle. He peered out from the half drawn wooden shutters and saw the vehicle approaching. Everything was as expected.
The man who knocked was tall, and walked with a limp. He handed over the parcel. Not a single cordial word was exchanged. The man asked for some water, was offered a bottle which he gulped down, then he said a prayer for wishing success. It was again a prayer that had been taught so well; a prayer that brought out all the passions from an unfathomable depth of human psyche, a prayer designed to erode everything save the single point of an all-consuming obsession.

It was a beautiful evening in the city of Mumbai. The sea breeze was caressing the soul of the city, pleading the people to slow down, to take in the beauty of life, to breathe. Men and women were rushing to catch the locals at their usual times, not a minute later. They had to reach home, take their wives out for shopping, meet their girlfriends at the same place, help their kids tackle the maths homework, cook for their husbands and children. There were a thousand reasons to go home. Work was over and Mumbai rushed in its hurry to catch a foothold in the evening locals. No-one had time to understand the sea breeze. Life was hard, and the pulse of the city ran over the railway lines.
The date was 11 July 2006. It was peak hour rush as Mumbai was returning home from work. Within a period of eleven minutes between 18.24 and 18.35 Indian Standard Time, seven serial blasts rocked the suburban railways, the lifeline of Mumbai. 209 people lost their lives and over 700 were injured. Of the 11 terrorists involved in the operation, one lost his life in the blasts.

The flames scorched his skin and the odour of burning flesh permeated his nostrils, and just as the pain reached the maximum threshold of human bearing, he saw a radiant face filled with life and the sweet scent of fresh milk drenched his last whiffs of consciousness. As the world slipped away to oblivion he said one last prayer, the only prayer that was not taught, nor conditioned by years of fostering obsessive hatred towards the killers of his sister. And with those prayers he asked for forgiveness from mankind. Those killers of a decade ago were in his blood, and now he was one of them. This was no game of religion; it was just a game of choice.

 ( Please watch the video in the link above. The above story is a complete fiction based on a real event which rocked Mumbai 5 years ago)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Island of Loneliness

Lost in the vastness of humanity, there is a soul, a lonely soul. He lives in the guise of an old man in a small island surrounded by the strong waves of the ocean. He has lived there for a century and the island remains his home.
A long time ago, this island was actually a part of the mainland. It was green and lush and covered with thick foliage. It was a place where humans and other species lived, breathed, fought, loved and bred young ones. There was life and there were the companions of life...laughter, jealousy, greed, passion, romance. The daily chores of survival posed a challenge for passion and romance to survive and slowly they faded away and died. Laughter too vanished after some time and jealousy found no support to continue. All that remained was greed.
Greed, being lonely, invited a few friends. They were lust, chaos and obsession. Together they decided to create their own space. So they cut off from the mainland and drifted away till they were sure they had broken all connection with the rest of the world. The rough tides of the ocean shielded and protected them from any unforeseen foreign intrusion. Many centuries passed. The constant lashing of the waves made the island rough and rocky. Cut away from love, greed and its friends were stifled by their own company and died a natural, inevitable death.
Emptiness always invites new life. The island evolved itself to be a breeding place of many species of birds. One day, a storm created havoc and capsized a ship. The lone survivor, a young boy, was washed ashore, in the rocky coasts of the island. When he regained consciousness, the boy realised that he was saved from death. This realisation brought a tide of relief which swept through him. The relief was soon replaced by fear, the fear of being alone without a soul to share his loneliness. The fear soon became stronger and stronger and almost exploded in a burst of panic. The natural instincts of hunger and thirst prevented such an explosion and survival became the sole motivator to keep him going.
In the days that followed, the boy learnt to overcome his fears but the emptiness remained. He longed for a connection with someone. He longed to pour out all the tides of his restless mind, all the questions, the theories, the hopes, the anguish with someone who is also marooned in the same way; for that soul, he knew, would understand the meaning of his island. He began to hope that one day his saviour would appear and they would together manage to escape from loneliness. In the meantime, he made friends with the birds, the bushes, the wildflowers and berries and the squirrels that provided him silent company. After a while, the silent company became a language of signs and sounds which he began to identify and understand. He never realised how long it had been but he ceased to be lonely like before. His wait for a saviour was replaced by a wait for a soul who understood and would share with him the signs and sounds of the island.
Then one day, an expedition of explorers came to study the flora and fauna and the birds and bees of this long-forgotten island. The boy was overwhelmed with hope. Maybe, He had arrived. The boy was alone no more. He became the guide of the island. The expedition took a few months to complete their research. They dissected each and every aspect of the island to search for evidence that supported their theories and ended up losing the meaning of the island. As the boy tried in vain and yearned to make them see, he started experiencing a vacuum which was all encompassing and much deeper than the emptiness he had felt when he first arrived. He realised through unbearable agony that he was now more lonely than he had been when he was alone. And when the expedition, returned to mainland with their research results, they offered the boy the passage of return, for which he had waited for ten years.
The boy, who was now a young man, returned to mainland. He was soon surrounded by sights and smells and sounds. He strove hard to relate to the assault on his senses. He sought love, romance, and passion. He was told that they were long dead as there was no time for them in the mainland. He waited for that connection, which would transform all the activities and resources to a music of enlightenment. He soon became more and more disillusioned. He could not bear the loneliness he felt in the crowd. When you are lonely alone, at least you do not have a soul with you, from whom you can crave for understanding. Hence, that loneliness carries no pain.
Pain. It was pain that drove him to get on that boat and sail to the island that had been his prison. He set foot once again on the rocky shores and felt the waves drench his soul with relief. He was back home. He was at peace with this loneliness. There was no pretence about it. It was not guised to deceive.

Lost in the vastness of humanity, there was a soul, a lonely soul. He lived in the guise of an old man in a small island surrounded by the strong waves of the ocean. He had lived there for a century and the island remains his home. Then one day, he saw a boat approaching.It sailed with ease and purpose towards the lonely island.The waves broke into a thunderous applaud and the island echoed the sound in each and every heartbeat. He knew the signs. He knew the sound. It had been a long time, but now his wait was  over, at last.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Autumn forest scene with white birch and red maples. Acadia National Park, Maine, USA. (color)
The woods were always dark, deep and intense. He could not remember exactly when it had been the first time that he had set out of his house in the morning, meaning to do all the tasks earmarked for the day and had found his way into the woods instead.
He had passed that way a million times, but then one day, someone had actually called out his name and the voice allured and dared him to explore and defy the unknown.
He entered the woods tenderly at first but was soon sucked in by some mystic indomitable force that enticed, charmed and captivated him, and stripped him one by one of all his carefully cultivated defences, leaving him a willing and helpless pawn in the game played by the elements. The woods were magical, more magical than anything he had ever conceived possible. There was a veil of mist that surrounded him and let him see just enough to lust but not enough to really trust. It vaguely created a turmoil and challenged him to make a choice as he treaded spellbound deeper and deeper. In his mind he knew, he always knew that there was no choice, he had already crossed the threshold. There was no turning back.
And if this path was leading to hell, he was prepared for it, or so he thought. He would have it no other way.Just then he would have the first glimpse of her. She was the Lady of the Woods, the ultimate temptress whose charm had held mankind in a trance created by her whim through centuries of evolution. She sat on the carpet of fallen leaves, defying and wearing the jewels of Reason itself. When she set her eyes on her prey they surrendered themselves with the full force of their will. And then they never knew what hit them next.
Many a times he had woken up, with a bitter-sweet taste in his mouth, shattered and ruined, but alive enough to believe in a road ahead that would take him to his home.
Many a times he had walked by those woods, swearing to himself that it had nothing more to seduce him with. He shut his ears and looked away, whenever he passed that way; but the voice, always the voice from the woods reached his head, anyway. And it always found a way to lure him back into the misty woods.
Then one day, he changed his way to work. So what if he had to circumvent the whole town and take twice as long to reach his destination? At least that way he would be safe. And he followed that safe route for many years. No more adventure graced his path. He was free; free from being captured and rendered powerless by an illusion. He led his life with dignity and faith. Gradually he even forgot the existence of the woods although the Lady of the Woods did appear a few times to haunt him in his dreams.
Then one fine morning, he woke up. The sun was shining, the sky was clear. A lovely summer breeze caressed his senses. He was free. But doesn’t freedom in truth entail a freedom of choice? Doesn’t it necessitate the freedom to kill the monotony of security? It slowly sank in that he was more bonded than ever before by offering himself as a slave to the life that forced him into a long and winding path everyday that went against the path of nature.
He made himself a rich brew of his morning coffee and sipped it savouring the essence of freedom in every drop. Then he showered and dressed with care and put on his hiking shoes. He chose to deliberately traverse the forgotten path that led to the woods. When he approached the now familiar trees, he paused, and smiled. The woods were waiting for centuries to be explored. Why had he not realised that before? He shouted out to the Lady of the Woods that it had been a while but he was now ready. His voice echoed all around and reverberated in every heartbeat of the woods. He plunged forth with pride, penetrating the layers of intensity as the mist cleared. Stripped of her veil, the virgin Lady of the Woods exposed herself for the first time. And then, with extreme joy and purpose, she raised her eyes to him. There was no seduction, just an appeal. Innocence revealed itself and they made love in the shade of the trees, with nature celebrating the triumph of love over temptation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Conversations With The Flowing River

Taj Mahal complex reflected in Yamuna River at sunset. Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
She came to sit once again, on the banks of the flowing river, and spend the night under a starlit sky. The summer breeze caressed her hair and played with her senses. The jasmine spread its fragrance as a token of love to the night.
She wanted to talk to her lover.
Hello, she said, “I have often wondered what to call you. What is the name that you are known by?”
“I have none,” replied the river, “And neither do you.”
“My name is Esther,” said the girl, smiling.
“Esther is beautiful but you are more than beautiful. Tell me one name that can contain you, or define you. Try.”
No answer.
The breeze blew away the debris and uncovered the pure, blissful calm of the night. The river smiled.
“Fine, try to call me a name,” it challenged.

The breeze blew randomly & embraced her in a hug while making small ripples in the water.
“You may call me passion,” said the river, “But in me you will also find your tranquility.”
“Some call me the force of life, I am impulse and joy,” the river laughed, “Yet I am serenity, peace, depth, I absorb you and your thoughts and carry them with me.”

The girl pondered on these sentiments. She had never understood love. Whenever she had attempted to understand, define, or contain love, it had eluded her.
Let the river flow on. There was no need to give it a name.

The night was caring and alive. A thousand unspoken words were whispered. “Can any communication contain more meaning?” she wondered.
“How can I take you home with me?” she asked.
“Try,” urged the river.
So she bent down on the sparkling, silver water, played with it, splashed it on her face, and filled her small container with some of it.
She carried it home, and placed the container on her sideboard with care. She went about her daily chores and returned in the evening, tired and spent, and sat down beside the jar full of river water. She stared it for a long, long time, seeking, waiting...
But there was no sparkle, no ripple, no lust, no freedom, no force, and no love.
The river had lost its essence in her attempt to possess it.
That night, she returned to the banks of the river, angry and hurt.
“You deceived me!” She cried, “I cannot own you, you do not belong to me.”

The river answered, “I never deceived you, I asked you to try. It will take many lessons but you will realise one day that only by not trying to possess me, can you belong to me forever, and I to you. The moment you try to limit, contain, define or possess that which is indomitable and free, your love is doomed.”
“Where do I find you then?” she pleaded, “I cannot come here to see you every time, I have places to go.”
The wind blew away her scarf and the stars twinkled with amusement. The river smiled.
“You will find me eternally with you, where you are, outside the space and time of the world.”

She spent the rest of the night in silence, soaking in the wisdom of the Himalayas carried by the river on its journey to the ocean. And then she fell asleep.
When she awoke, the sky was a reddish tinge, birds were chirping in excited anticipation of a new day. The river flowed on, full of new visions to be carried to new banks, far away.”
Her soul was refreshed, her thirst was quenched.
“Who are you?” she asked.
And as she said the words, the sky woke up and exploded into a festival of colours and sunshine brought warmth to her heart.
She could see herself in the moving stream of water, impatient, yet still.
“I am what you see,” said the river, “I am a reflection of your soul that is both restless and calm. I am undefined, like you, and that is why they call me Love.”
The girl got up, she had understood just enough to savour the essence, and not even try to give it a form.
Let the river flow on, she resolved. And then, inexplicably she felt herself to be light and free and loved ...all at once.