Sunday, September 18, 2011


They sat on the veranda overlooking the busy city. She poured two cups of lemon ginger tea and they sat in silence absorbing the sights and sounds of the city. The city had a pace and the pace was a disguise to make the people feel vital, their work indispensable. The pace diverted the people from the only things that matter, from the few empty moments of life, full of meaning. The pace held the city on a tight leash and made it swing with self importance and pride.
He looked at his wife. She still looked pretty after fifteen years of marriage. He wondered what had caused her to have the affair. He had been a dutiful husband as far as he knew. He was a bread winner and a provider. He had tolerated all her quirks and eccentricities. Yet she had had an affair; she had found another man more attractive and had shared herself with him. The hurt and resentment churned within him and he felt nauseated. He looked at his wife. She had attractive eyes with long lashes. When she smiled, her smile lit up her whole face and her eyes danced in the glow of that light. Why had that smile embraced another man? Why had those eyes caressed someone else?
He looked back over the journey of fifteen years and wondered exactly what had gone wrong where. He had done fairly well in his career to provide for a life of comfort and luxury for themselves. He had never let her wishes and desires go unfulfilled. He looked at the city hustling by below; he absorbed the beats of the frenzied pace. Pace. It must have been the pace that cajoled him and slyly led him away from her. He thought about the impossible deadlines at work which he had consistently met. His success had created new standards and raised the benchmark for future successes and he had played along, a puppet to this pace. His mind wandered over the various late night meetings, the weekends spent in attending seminars, the constant travel on business. He wondered whether it was the design of this pace or the mere refusal by him to share his work tension with his wife that had first created the wall and hurled him towards Tania. Tania was his colleague and partner at work. She attended the same meetings and seminars with him, she worked with him to meet his deadlines; she understood his work pressure, his commitments, and shared his success. She was his confidante, the one with whom he could unwind and freely discuss his anxieties and celebrate his triumphs. She was his colleague, and also his good friend.
His mind played back on the day when his wife had discovered some text messages on his phone from Tania and suspected something. She tried to make light of it but he knew she was being eaten up with jealousy. He should have assured her perhaps that there was nothing more to it apart from a couple of office colleagues sharing a lewd office joke. But he had led his ego command him. He had been irritated and annoyed at his wife for making a big ado over nothing.
Perhaps she had needed comfort then but he continued ignoring her fear. This had caused a further rift in their marriage. His days were eaten up by the pace of work, his evenings were empty. Now looking back he knew that he could have set it right then. Perhaps he could have planned a vacation with her or put aside one weekend to spend alone with her and really talked to her only if she had given him the opportunity to make an effort. But she had continued to ignore him, busying herself with her household and motherhood duties. She had now joined a music class and she devoted all her spare time in it. And so he had not made that extra effort to bridge the gap. He had not known that one day that gap will expand to engulf his life and swallow up their marriage.
He turned instead to Tania to share his thoughts, feelings, emotions; Tania who always understood and who posed no threat to his ego or his marriage; Tania who continued to be his good friend.
She looked at her husband sipping his tea in contemplative silence. A familiar feeling of warmth tugged her heart. She yearned once again for him to see, to understand.
It had been a while since she had stumbled upon and gradually unearthed the level of intimacy he shared with another woman. Yet, try as she did, she could not detect a single instance of indiscretion on his part. She came to understand that he shared his heart and soul and not his body with another woman. And this began to kill her. Strangely, a physical affair would have been easier for her to cope with but the thought that her husband belonged to another woman in emotions and feelings enveloped her with deep grief and resentment. She felt unloved and unwanted. She tried to ignore him hoping that he would care enough to coax her back into the bond they had shared, but he did not even notice her silence. Her desperate loneliness gnawed at her heart and drowned her in a sea of self pity. She took the advice of a friend and decided to enrol for music classes in an attempt to nurture her long neglected passion. But even music could not assuage her hurt.
He was away, always away. The children missed him, didn’t he realise? Even when he was there, he was not actually with her but in a world of his own, a world where she had no clue how to enter. Her loneliness gave way to frustration and she felt a void opening up before her. She panicked.
Jai came into her life as a support that helped her get back to her feet and avoid falling into the pit. He came as a distraction to bring back the romance and colours in her life, to make her smile for a while and look forward to life. She remembered that phase as a mist of golden days and clandestine meetings with her lover. Her heart had felt light, her steps lighter. She had fancied being in love all over again. Yet, as all good things come to an end, that golden phase had run its course. All that was left of it now was a feeling of shame coated with guilt. She pulled her thoughts away from it and concentrated on her lemon ginger tea.
He watched his wife tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ears and adjust her spectacles. He knew that if she smiled, he would smile too. The busy city hastened along down below oblivious to the beauty of a raw unguarded moment in time. She raised her long lashes and looked at her husband. She wondered if she should confide in him and disclose her affair but she feared that it would hurt his male pride. How could she explain that her affair was because she had loved him so much?
He knew he loved his wife, or else why did he not take advantage of her affair and use it as a reason to break ties? The answer was that he wanted this woman, had always wanted her. He knew that he should keep the knowledge of her affair secret or it would break her, he could not bear to humiliate his wife.
The city blurred away with its cacophony of sounds and its frantic pace. All that was left was a moment of rare insight and understanding shared by two souls who have always loved each other. She poured them another cup of tea each. He watched her gentle hands firmly tipping the teapot. He caught her hand then and she looked into his eyes. The warm aroma lifted his spirits as the pace of the city died away. Her eyes embraced him with warmth. He smiled.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gateways To The Heart

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Sometimes a smile is enough to enter somebody’s life.
It was just such an innocuous and spontaneous smile that first drew his attention to the girl. She was browsing the bookstands in Colaba with the assured ease and familiarity of a housewife bargaining over the price of tomatoes everyday with the same vendor in the familiar market. In spite of her bright orange sundress and tall stilettos, she looked as if she belonged there, amidst the dust and noise and the rows of second hand books on the pavement stalls. She could have been smiling to herself over a phrase or a sentence in a book but when she looked up and her eyes collided with his, her smile was still there, radiant, generous and warm enough to envelop the whole world in it.
Five minutes later, they found themselves in the corner cafe, frequented mostly by foreign tourists, the jukebox playing a popular 70’s number. They laughed openly and chatted animatedly over everything and nothing in particular as only two strangers can. Their impromptu date seemed to be the most natural course of event in the world.
Over the next three months, they met again several times, mostly in and around the same area. They lunched, dined, watched movies, browsed bookshops and music stores, bought each other simple, silly gifts. Then one day the letter came. And it opened a doorway to her dreams.
It had been Isha’s most intimate aspiration to pursue her Ph D in Microbiology at the University of Purdue. She had applied last winter wholeheartedly following every detail in the process, yet not daring to hope lest her heart be disappointed. That one letter brought in a surge of relief which was then replaced by pure and wild euphoria. It opened the gateway to her ambitions, her future. It took some time for her to take it in, to believe that her dream was unfolding before her eyes. Instinctively she picked up the phone to share her joyous delirium with Ritesh when she was suddenly struck by the realisation that the very letter which opened up her world of future possibilities would take her very far away from him.
They met at the corner cafe for lunch. They laughed and celebrated the good tidings of a great future. Then they lapsed into a contemplative silence and finally she broke down into a fit of sobs. He found himself consoling her in spite of his own heavy heart. Their love was real and what is for real must also be forever. They vowed to keep in touch regularly. After all, this is the age of the internet and long distance calling is not as exorbitant as it once was.
A few weeks later she was on a flight, embarking alone on a great journey towards a promising future. He had been with her at the airport till the last moment and they renewed their vows through a mist of tears to stay in touch every day. Now, comfortably seated in the airbus, she found herself alternating between joy and sorrow till she gave up her attempt to read a magazine and succumbed to a few hours of sleep.
The USA greeted her arrival with a casual blend of diversity and action. From the moment she landed her feet on US soil, her each moment was engaged in exploring, making various arrangements, seeking out people, understanding rules, and finding herself hostel accommodation. She termed that phase to herself as the tornado of ‘settling down’. Her academic pursuits started almost immediately in full vigour. And along with it, she found herself making a few new friends over the next few weeks.
Back in Mumbai, Ritesh found his days to be empty and his evenings melancholy. He immersed himself in work and stayed back late evenings in his office to put in that extra bit. His creativity, vigour, passion and energy all found expression through his work. His life became a ritual of erratic meals and insufficient sleep that all revolved around his main focus, i.e. his work. Within a span of six months he was promoted from a marketing executive to an assistant manager of the international courier company where he worked.

As promised, they kept in touch every day through emails, chats and phone calls. They shared each other’s triumphs and failures, joys and woes. However, pursuits of dreams have a way of demanding unwavering dedication and time and very gradually, almost imperceptively, these aspirations and the punishing schedules they demanded began to loosen the connection of emails, chats and phone calls. They always explained to each other their respective schedules, were forever understanding and accommodating of each other’s struggles and deadlines. After a while, their mail exchanges dropped to once a day, then twice a week and then the perfunctionary one mail in a week. Their chats almost disappeared and phone calls became less frequent.
Isha excelled in her academic pursuits and soon gained quite a few admirers and friends. One of her new found acquaintance was an Italian named Piedro. He was amusing, entertaining, always full of jokes and high on life. In short, he was a good fun to be with. They started hanging out together along with a few other friends, all foreign students. Perhaps it was the loneliness hidden amidst her daily activities or the absence of someone to unburden her irritation or trepidation on, or it could have been the sheer chemistry of two different people in a foreign place, but the fast companionship between Isha and her Italian friend soon graduated to a level of intimacy where they started sharing each other’s hopes, fears and getting a glimpse of each others’ aspirations and lives.
Ritesh busied himself by taking on challenging projects and impossible deadlines and making them possible. He came across various women in the sphere of his work, even dated some, but he was not serious about any of them. His longing for Isha was hidden and locked in a safe deposit zone of his mind and he became fanatically passionate about his work.
Away from sight, away from mind....spelled true in essence for Isha. In the absence of Ritesh with whom she could once share each moment of each day, she found herself gradually gravitating towards Piedro as the nearest contender for all her attention. Within six months she moved in with him and they embarked on a delightful and adventurous affair. Focussed in her research and busy with her affair, she hardly had the time or the energy for anything else. Communication with Ritesh became scarce and infrequent and one fine day she decided to write to him and tell him about Piedro.
His eyes were blurred. He had drowned a bit too much of Scotch and his head was feeling light and dizzy. When he had first read the mail, he had quickly closed it and shut the contents from his mind, meaning to reread later, at ease. But somehow her words found a way to haunt him throughout his busy day and even busier weekend which he spent attending a management seminar. He found himself unable to concentrate on the seminar and the picture of Isha with an imaginary Italian guy invaded all other thoughts in his mind.
In the evening, he left early which amazed everyone, including himself. He went home, showered, listened to some music, tried to compose himself and then opened the mail again. Her words pierced him like a dagger and he realised for the first time how much he had taken their relationship for granted. He could live a solitary life knowing that she was pursuing her career dreams but he could not imagine living a life where she was not the unconscious centre of all his emotions. He locked away her words, along with the emotions it triggered in him, in the same safe deposit zone of his mind and tossed away the key. He resumed his life.
Two years later.....
Isha had proved herself brilliant in her chosen subject of research and was working part time as an associate lecturer as she neared the completion of her thesis. Her affair with Piedro had run its course. They had traversed the whole path from not wanting to spend a single moment apart to not being able to tolerate anything about each other anymore. Piedro was too casual, irresponsible, immature and too happy go lucky to be an achiever. Isha was too serious, focussed and career oriented to enjoy and live life every moment ...the way Piedro would live. They separated like oil and water. Isha devoted all her time to her academic pursuits.
Ritesh was now the area manager of a multinational travel agency. He was engaged to marry to a good looking, homely girl arranged by his parents and approved by him.

Sometimes it is a stroke of tragedy and intense sorrow that can bring some forgotten person back to one’s life.
Isha’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly from a road accident. Isha flew all the way back to Mumbai to attend to the last rites of her mother and whilst fighting the tide of loss and depression, she had a desperate urge to check base with her old friend. So she took a deep breath, and dialled the familiar number etched in her memory with the ease and comfort of someone who has been dialling the same number every day.
He practiced in his mind how he would offer his condolences, how he would  greet her after all the time that had lapsed and the events that have changed their equation. Yet, when he met her at the familiar cafe in the corner, all his practice was tossed to the winds. He went up to her and they hugged and let the tears wash away the years. They ordered their same coffees and talked small talk. Then gently, sincerely, he tried to assuage her pain with unrehearsed sincerity that arose naturally and spontaneously from some long forgotten ‘safe zone’ of his psyche. She cried unabashedly and smiled naturally. They laughed without reason. They laughed for all the reasons. She did not care a damn about her smudged eyeliner. He was least bothered about all the weight he had gained. They sat in that cafe, listening to the familiar jukebox, living the moment as intensely and naturally as only soul mates can; savouring their time together; each moment containing more depth and meaning than a whole decade of living life for irrelevant reasons.
One year later....
She has an offer from a leading pharmaceutical company in India. He had broken his engagement and has several career options in the USA.
The tides of fate can turn this way or that but what is more important is the assurance which lies beyond the twists and turns of the paths of life, of the love that resides somewhere just beyond the reach of reason.
And miles away from each other, they chase and pursue their life missions with the assured ease of having known all the things that lie between a smile and a tear; of finding love and then losing love only to rediscover that love can never be lost.
 Sometimes a sincere smile and a genuine heartbreak are the only true gateways to the heart.